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Reader-chan Sings the Blues

Chapter Text

It was widely known at Shiratorizawa Academy that you belonged to Ushijima.

To be honest, you weren’t quite sure how it had happened yourself. It was something more than just, oh, she’s Ushijima-kun’s girlfriend, hands off. No one, not even you, could explain how or why it was more. Toshi-san himself likely didn’t even bother to try. It wasn’t a puzzle that would interest him. But it was nonetheless true that you belonged to him, and not just in the way that made your heart go pitty-pat. This was belonging in the sense of possession. This was possession in the sense of ownership.

You wore your purple plaid uniform skirt rolled just a touch too short because he liked it that way. Because one day, after he had pushed you into the second floor janitor’s closet and fucked you blind, he had rolled it once, then twice, at the waist and then surveyed the results, his large hands sliding up the backs of your bare thighs and squeezing, pleased. It wasn’t so short that teachers were likely to protest. It made your long legs look even longer, and one of the things he liked best about you was your long dancer’s limbs. He was used to watching athletes move, but watching a dancer move—watching his dancer move for him—was such a pleasure.

He had you at all times of the day and night, in between classes, at lunch, after school, before school. One memorable time, he had you in the dark behind a conbini, gasping and terrified of discovery every second but still unable to refuse him. The fact that he had chosen you, that he had made you his, was the most exciting and…and erotic thing that had ever happened to you.

You had known when you got into Shiratorizawa—the only one among your friends to make it through a sadistic series of tests—that Toshi-san existed; he was regarded as a sort of living legend, striding through the halls as if the ground should shake at his passing. But you hadn’t known who the giant brown-haired man was when he sat down next to you at lunch; if it hadn’t been for his uniform, you would’ve thought he was a teacher. It wasn’t just his size, though few grown men could boast that kind of muscle mass. His face had already achieved the hard angles of adulthood, with a chiseled jaw and firm lips, straight dark brows, and eyes the color of café au lait. There was a certain no-nonsense air about him that said, I am here to eat my lunch, and that is how the universe is today.

You weren’t even sure if he knew you were there.

But then he did it again the next day. And the day after that. By the third day you had been informed that this was the Ushijima, Ushiwaka, the captain and cannon of the boy’s volleyball team, number 7 on the Japanese national team.

And you were a friendless first year thinking about joining the dance club.

“Hello,” you tried timidly when he came to eat with you the fourth day. His only reply was a nod and a grunt that might have been “mmm.” He ate. You ate, watching him from the corner of your eye. Knowing who he was, and knowing that everyone in the cafeteria was watching you, made you shy. But ultimately curiosity won.

“Ushijima-san?”

“Mmm?” He glanced at you, but didn’t stop eating his onigiri.

“Why do you come to eat lunch with me every day?”

He swallowed his onigiri. “It relaxes me to look at you.”

You weren’t sure how to take that, but heat rose to your cheeks as he looked at you frankly. You’re going to learn that this is how Ushijima-san is. If you ask him what’s on his mind, he will tell you, without shame and without tact. He waited politely for a second to see if you had a follow-up question, then went back to his lunch.

And oddly, while you would never call his presence relaxing, you came to like it. After that exchange, he seemed to feel more free to look at you. Something in his face made you blush and drop your eyes and fidget, feeling a warm and inexplicable glow, the most pleased kind of fidget. He liked it when you did that. Your eyelashes curved thick and dark over your cheeks, pretty color rising, and in the second week he shocked you both by reaching out and tracing the full curve of your lower lip with his thumb.

“U-ushijima-san?”

“I think I might like touching you, too,” he said slowly, with a sharpening of his keen eyes that said while he had enjoyed looking at you before, now he was seeing you.

Chapter Text

“Sumimasen…” Bright as a sunbeam, you poke your head into the boys’ volleyball gym one fine spring afternoon. You are hoping this won’t take long, so you haven’t even taken your shoes off, but keep your neat white sneakers carefully outside the doorway. “Is Kuroo Tetsurō here?”

The boy nearest to you, middle height with chin-length hair dyed hair, is the only one that can hear you over the din. The sounds of shouting boys, cheering boys, and volleyballs slamming into various surfaces, including into a mohawked boy’s chest, ricochet off the ceiling into a deafening cacophony.

“Hai. That’s him, over there,” the boy says, undisturbed by the bedlam. He jerks his chin at a tall player with spiky black hair like the crest of a rooster, who is currently yelling at someone named Liev. “Oi! Kuro!”

Kuroo-san must have ears like cat; the call is half-hearted at best. He glances back and you have an impression of sly, slanted eyes, one long hand lifting to say be right with you. Apparently he’s not done yelling yet.

It’s all so exciting. Your eyes go avidly from one player to the next, jumping, yelling, diving, yelling, spiking, yelling some more. You don’t know the first thing about volleyball aside from the obvious—ball goes over net, probably needs to stay inside the black lines?—but they all seem to be really good within those parameters. The incredibly tall silver-haired boy Kuroo-san was just yelling at spikes the ball, his long arm wheeling up and over and slamming it down so hard, it bounces halfway to the ceiling.

“Ohayo,” says a drawling baritone voice, snapping your attention back. Kuroo is looking at you curiously from his great height. You’ve heard of him, of course; Nekoma is a powerhouse school, and he’s the captain of the team, but you’ve never met him before. Up close his eyes are so light a brown as to be nearly golden, his right eye half-covered by wild black hair.

“Can all of you do that?” You ask excitedly, pointing as the boy called Liev does it again. “He’s humongous!”

“Most of us can do it better. Lev, it doesn’t matter how hard you spike it if a ten year-old could block it!” He bellows. “Kenma, you haven’t got your shoes yet?”

“I left them in the club room,” the boy with dyed hair says, his eyes never leaving his PSP. “Inuoka is getting them.”

Kuroo’s dark eyebrow lifts skeptically, but he accepts it for the time being. “So what can I do for you—?”

“Oh, right. I’m [Name], second year,” you say, with a little head bob of introduction, and launch into it. “So. I’m captain of my club. And we have these events in Tokyo and Kanto and a few other places, mostly not too far away but all of them are too far to walk or even bike. And if we’re going to be a club, then we ought to go to club events, right, or what’s the point? But the school bus is already booked for the whole year, every single weekend! Hi,” you add. The mohawk boy is approaching with both hands clasped rapturously to his chest. “So we’ve been trying to figure out how to get where we need to go. There’s two showcases in April and the first tournament in May, and we need that practice or, again, what’s the point? I ask you, are you even really doing rakugo if you don’t have an audience?”

“Rakugo?” Kuroo-san repeats, looking blank. “We have a rakugo club?”

“We do now,” you say proudly. “I started it this year. I tried drama club last year but all they want to do is mince around with kabuki masks. It’s not the same thing at all. Though some of the skills do transfer. There’s one story about this actor, and he’s having an affair, and the lady’s husband catches them together, but he’s on the other side of the pavilion, so he doesn’t get a good look at what they’re doing. So the actor sees him coming and grabs one of the masks on the wall—the husband had a thing for collecting kabuki masks, convenient, right?—and by the time the husband gets there, he’s all, and that’s the sort of thing a lady absolutely mustn’t do ever ever, like he’s reciting from Confucius about how ladies should never be naked in bed on all fours looking like they’re getting banged.” Waving an imaginary fan, you hold up an equally imaginary mask in front of your face in head-wagging censure to demonstrate the proper tone of the lecture. “So the drama club helped with that. The mincing. Otherwise, massive waste of time.”

The mohawk guy’s hands have fallen to his sides and he is staring at you, open-mouthed, at the completion of this explanation. Kuroo-san just looks intensely entertained.

“So the school bus is booked every weekend,” he prompts.

“Yes! Every single one! So I looked at the schedules for all the sports teams, since all of you have your own buses.” Your tone makes it clear how unreasonable it is that the rakugo club doesn’t have its own fleet of buses. “There’s a couple times where it just doesn’t match up, but the boys’ volleyball team is going to be close to our tournaments and showcases and meet-ups a lot, like a freakish number of times. And there’s only four of us, and I swear we’ll be there on time every time, we won’t make you even one minute late, so could we please ride with you? I asked Nekomata-sensei and he said it was fine, but I wanted to ask you too, because it’s your bus and we’d be riding with all of you. If it’s not okay, just say so, and we’ll find another way.” Pause, and you throw in your last chip. “We’ll sit on the floor of the bus if we have to, though.”

“Well, I’m not su—” Kuroo begins, but the mohawk boy lunges between you as if to physically cut off whatever he might be about to say.

“A moment, Kuroo-sama!” He bellows, and physically drags the captain away for a word. You glance at the boy called Kenma, mystified.

“How many girls on your team?” Kenma asks mildly.

“Umm, me, and two others. The other first-year is a boy.”

A short distance away, mohawk boy cranes his head over Kuroo’s shoulder. Kenma flashes him three fingers.

“Do you—do you think Kuroo will say yes?” You whisper anxiously. You didn’t miss the interplay, but you have no idea what it means, except that maybe mohawk guy is on your side. For all your bravado about finding another way, this is pretty much your last shot. Without some form of transportation you might as well disband the club.

“Dunno.” Kenma shrugs, his eyes still on his game, but oddly he doesn’t make you feel like you’re intruding; apparently he has enough mental capacity for both of you. There’s a hint of a smile as he adds, “Yamamoto will do what he can, anyway.”

* * *

“Please, Kuroo-sama,” Yamamoto pleads, his hands held out in supplication. “They have three girls!”

How he already knew that was a mystery, but Kuroo is unmoved by the honorific. “We need to be focused on the games, not on the girls riding the bus with us.”

“They’ll fire us up!” Yamamoto waves his arms expressively. “We can tell them about how big our matches are and they’ll be all, oooh, how exciting! And then we’ll go and grind the other guys into the dust just so we can tell the girls about it afterward!”

It is a valid point. If inelegantly made.

Kuroo glances at the girl in the doorway, who is chatting animatedly with Kenma and valiantly trying to pretend not to be looking his way. He has to admit, she is adorable in the Nekoma school uniform, with a clever, foxy sort of face and the cutest way of talking with her hands. And the girl has legs for days.

He is human, whatever his players might say.

“We’ll try it,” he decides, and collars Yamamoto before the team firebrand can charge off to give the girl, the team, and the listening world the good news. “Once. And you’ll keep your mouth shut, be polite to the girls, and do your drills without bitching, right?”

“Kuroo-sama—” Yamamoto begins, overwhelmed at his good fortune.

“Knock off the sama and get back to practice,” he orders, amused all the same. He doesn’t miss Yamamoto’s low, gloating, wait til Tanaka hears about this.

Shaking his head, Kuroo strides over to give the rakugo club captain his terms.

Chapter Text

He appears from the darkness of the party and distant, thumping bass, a tall figure in baggy blue jeans and a sleeveless black t-shirt. Flopping down on the couch opposite you in a sprawl of lanky limbs, he somehow manages to avoid spilling his drink. At first glance, he looks like he meant to nurse his drink by himself, and you can’t blame him for missing you; it’s dark, it’s late, and you’re curled up in one of the armchairs and small enough to be overlooked. His double take when he spots you makes you giggle.

Fortunately, it’s one of the quieter corners of the party, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to hear a word he says.

“Hey,” he says, his gunmetal gray eyes narrowing. “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”

“Maybe.” It feels like a line, but you’re honest to a fault, and this is a universe where all things are possible.

“No, I have.” He sits forward, pointing with the forefinger of the hand holding his beer. “The Onokajuita Band show, right? You were just there earlier.”

“Oh, yeah, I was. You saw me there?”

He smiles, and a small swarm of butterflies takes up residence in your belly. He is cute. Like, really cute. Blondish hair worn long on the top and short on the sides, pierced ears, and even though he’s a little drunk, he moves his long body like he’s made of springs.

“Of course,” he says. “You were the cutest girl there.”

Now you laugh. “That’s such a line,” you say, pleased to have correctly identified one. Maybe you’ve had a little bit to drink, too.

“Doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’m Terushima Yūji. What’s your name?”

You tell him, and then he goes to get you a beer, and makes you come and sit with him on the couch to drink it. His boldness is a little scary, but exciting, too. The guy has confidence.

“What’s your number?” he asks, pulling his cell from his pocket.

“You don’t want my number,” you say, and snatch your phone off the table when he reaches for it, giggling. “You’re just trying to be a nice guy.”

“I am never a nice guy.” Terushima grins. “Watch, I’ll get it from you. For now, though…” He sets his cup of beer on the table. “We’re going to play a game. I’m going to guess stuff about you, and if I’m wrong, I’ll take a drink. If I’m right, you drink. And you’ll guess things about me, and if you’re wrong…”

“You’ll take a drink,” you say, and make him laugh.

“Not much of a drinking game if we do it that way. So…” His voice trails off as he looks at you appreciatively, and with no shame about including your low-cut shirt in his assessment. “You came here with a friend, and she ditched you.”

Wow.

“How did you know that?”

“Girls never go anywhere by themselves,” he scoffs. “Easy one. Take a drink.”

You take your sip obediently, feeling a flush of heat color your cheeks from the alcohol. You’re not much of a drinker. This could be dangerous.

“You’re in a sports club,” you say; a safe bet. More than half of school clubs are sports. “Basketball? No,” you say hastily, reading his face more than anything else. “Volleyball?”

He nods, looking a little disgruntled. “My height, right?”

“It is a clue. Drink.”

You go back and forth like that through an entire cup of beer, and when he returns with refills, you are at that pleasantly tipsy stage where the distant kitchen lights are bright and wavering as candle light. Terushima is at the stage of exaggerated caution; this time he sets the cups down on the coffee table, then flops back onto the couch beside you, closer than he was before.

“You are cute.” He reaches to tuck a lock of hair behind your ear. His fingers tickle and you suppress a shiver. “Your turn.”

“Let me think.”

It’s getting a little harder to do that, but you’re still pretty confident in your observational skills. He watches you with those dark, clever eyes, and it gives you an idea.

“You are surprisingly smart—” you begin.

He starts to protest; that’s not quite the spirit of the game. But you’re not done.

“—And you don’t like people to know it.”

“Good one,” he says, impressed. He reaches for his cup of beer and somehow gets even closer to you, knees touching, his other arm laid over the back of the couch and working its way down to your shoulders. “Why did you say that?”

“Mmmm, let me see,” you say, with mock thoughtfulness, and, greatly daring, touch one of his pierced ears. “You’re not a smart boy, you’re a bad boy, right?”

He grins, and something glints in his mouth that makes you squeak. “Ooooh! Show me!”

His arm slides around you and pulls you to him, and he shows you. Not quite in the way you expected, though.

“Like it?” he asks a few minutes later, his voice a low purr of satisfaction. You are in his lap and pressed against his chest with your knees snugged around his lean hips, your lips still tingling from his kiss. His pierced tongue is making all sorts of images flash through your mind.

“Uh-huh,” you breathe, your fingers tracing his lips, examining the silver stud. “Show me again?”

He does.

It should surprise no one that he is an amazing kisser. Confident, thorough, his lips pressing and nudging, coaxing yours apart. His tongue slides in and rolls in long, sensual strokes that feel like they start at your toes. He tastes warm. He tastes of alcohol, with a naughty metal tang that makes you squirm in his lap. He makes a sound in his throat and his hands slide down your back to give your ass a good squeeze, laying you down on the couch to go about the job even more thoroughly.

“You are so sexy,” he whispers, in between kisses. “You have the most kissable lips, you know?”

“Thank God for that,” you whisper back, and he gives a low chuckle of appreciation, sliding his fingers into your hair and cupping your head in one hand. His lips press and your eyes close, plunging blissfully into the secret dark under him. There’s nothing but thumping bass and his lips and tongue, stroking and coaxing until you melt under him, responding helplessly.

You’re breathing hard when he breaks off, looking down at you with hot, hungry eyes. His cock is tenting his jeans and he pushes it against you, making you gasp.

“You want to go upstairs?” His hands drift down to your waist and slide under your shirt, his thumbs stroking under your breasts. You can’t keep back a moan.

“Ohhhh, yes.”

“C’mon.” He lifts you easily off the couch and pushes you in the direction of the steps, using your body to hide the bulging front of his jeans from the rest of the party. His arms are around your waist and he’s kissing your neck all the way up the stairs, pushing that hardness against your ass.

“Here,” he says, pushing open a door. There’s a western-style bed on one wall and he shoves you onto it, his fingers going straight for the zipper of your jeans. A little fast for you, but you want this; you’d basically decided you were open to a one night stand as soon as he sat down on the couch. He tugs your jeans off and, after a moment spent admiring your panties, slides them off you too. Then he drags you to the edge of the bed, an easy show of strength that makes your heart beat faster.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m not done showing you yet,” he says, kneeling on the floor between your knees, his eyes dark and wicked. Sliding his hands up your thighs, he pulls your knees further apart, and you realize what he means.

Oh, God. The entire party is going to hear you.

His pierced tongue is everywhere, circling your clit, sliding over your pussy lips, then dipping inside and tonguing that rough spot inside you until you want to scream. You have never in your life gotten so hot so fast. Head tossing, hips bucking, hands clenching, about to shriek with pleasure hot.

“Teru!” You gasp, your hands sinking into his hair. “Oh, fuck, oh my God, fuck me!”

He’s watching you, almond-shaped eyes narrowed as if gauging exactly how insane he wants to drive you, his strong hands gripping your thighs to keep you from squirming away.

“You want my dick, baby?”

“Yes!”

“Tell me how much you want my dick,” he says, low and purring. Sadistic asshole. Then his lips close over your clit and he sucks and tongues you and circles the ball of his piercing against that tender nub until you’re very nearly seizing on the mattress.

“I want it! I want it! Oh God please fuck me, I want your dick inside me, please please please!”

“Take your shirt off,” he says, and rapidly strips off his own clothes, kicking his jeans aside. Naked, he’s the most perfectly proportioned man you’ve ever seen, lean and taut and muscled like a leopard. His erection brushes his stomach, and he bends over you and rubs it against you until your legs quiver and your toes curl.

“Does that feel good?” His lips close on your nipple and in his tongue flickers rapidly against it. The sensation is indescribable.

“Yes!” you whimper, pulling at his hips. “Teru-chan, pleeeeeeease!”

With a roll of his hips, he slides inside you, as if he’s showing you just how easy it was for him to satisfy you this whole time. You can taste yourself on his mouth as he kisses you again, his hands cupping your breasts, pinching your nipples.

“Fuck, you’re hot,” he rasps, his hips rocking, driving his cock into you. You’re crying out with pleasure at every thrust. Grabbing your hips, he pulls you up onto him and hammers you, your inner thighs straining as his hips pound into them. “Do you like my dick inside you, baby?”

“Yes! Yes, yes, yes!” Why does he keep asking questions? All you want to do is come, he’s pounding every thought out of your head and his low, sexy voice makes you just want to burst.

“Squeeze it,” he gasps, and his hard palm cracks against your ass, making you squeal and tighten up on him instantly, your knees jerking almost to your chin. “Fuck! Do it again, squeeze, squeeze!”

He’s making you use your pussy to massage his cock and every time you’re the slightest bit slow, he spanks you again, his voice rougher, his grip tighter. Your ass is on fire but you don’t care; you are so wet, you can’t stand it, and if he spanks you one more time you are going to come like a fire engine.

“Oh, fuck, baby, you’re going to make me come!” Terushima pants, and slides his whole arm under your hips with a grip like iron, pinning you onto his cock. His other hand goes to your clit and rubs. Apparently if he’s going to come, you’re going, too. “Come with me!”

Holy fuck do you ever.

Your body bucks under him and he doesn’t have to spank you to make you tighten on him; your body is going wild on his cock, even as he pounds his orgasm into you like a jackhammer. White heat explodes and crashes down on you like a tsunami, and rolls you under.

A while later, he gently shakes you awake.

“Hey,” he says. He’s already dressed. “I don’t want to be an asshole, but we can’t stay here, you know? This isn’t my place. Come on, I’ll walk you home. You live far from here?”

Your hair is a wreck, you know your makeup must be a mess, but you decide to make the best of it and scrub your fingers under your eyes, hopefully getting rid of the worst of any raccoon eyes.

“Yeah, okay,” you say, pulling your hair up into a ponytail and casting around for your clothes. You’re not quite ready to be on your feet yet and either you’re still pretty drunk, or Terushima really did a number on you.

Given the low-grade throbbing between your legs, you suspect the latter.

“Sorry,” you say, as you sit down to slip your shoes on. “I’m still kind of…ummm…sore.”

He grins.

“Baby, you about squeezed my dick off and I wouldn’t have been sorry. In the moment, you know.” Your shoes on, he hauls you to your feet and keeps his arm around you on the way home.

Really, spanking aside, he’s about the sweetest one night stand you’ve ever heard of. And you tell yourself sternly to be satisfied with that.

But you squeal like a little girl and actually hug your cell phone when a text pops up a couple days later.

Told you I’d get your number.

Chapter Text

Anyone who didn’t know him might think that Ushijima-san was stupid. He wasn’t. He was possibly the most straightforward man on earth, yes. Nuance was completely lost on him. But he had tested into Shiratorizawa, and was one of the top five students in both calculus and physics. He excelled at anything requiring linear logic and statements of fact.

He was less successful in literature, and English was outright torture for him.

“Sometimes it sounds like a?” He demanded as he walked you home from school one evening, both of you still sweaty from your respective clubs. This had clearly been bothering him all day.

“Japanese has some inconsistencies too,” you pointed out, but he waved this away.

“It is a waste of time.” From Ushijima-san—you weren’t quite up to calling him Toshi-san at this point—this was the strongest condemnation. But he was happy you were getting over your shyness enough to dare conversation, so he slid his arm around you and drew you against his side. Both your school bags were slung over one of his broad shoulders, which left him free to admire your backside without your bulging bookbag in the way. Besides, he pointed out with inarguable logic, the bag with all your books was heavy for you, but he didn’t even notice the weight. In terms of body mass percentages…

And if anyone wanted to know why the hulking six-footer was carrying around a pastel bag with kitty-chan keychains, well, there you were.

“Will you come over to study tonight?” You asked shyly. The newness of all of it was still bewildering. Your own mother fluttered the first time she saw Ushijima duck through the front door, not at all the sort of boy she had imagined her daughter bringing home. It had been the most genteel and motherly form of holy shit you had ever seen.

“Yes. You still are having trouble with math.”

It’s true, but you can’t help a little jab of your own. Who had elected him arbiter of your arithmetic skills?

“You’re still having trouble with literature, Ushijima-san.”

“Yes,” he agreed, unfazed. “We will both study tonight.”

And he meant it. He dropped you off at your house and jogged home for a quick shower, and then you studied together at your kitchen table, shoulders touching, both of you clean and glowing. The fresh, woodsy scent of his soap mingled with the scent of your mother’s soba noodles, and he went through five bowls of them while you explained figurative language to the most painfully literal person on the face of the earth. He didn’t so much apply the concept of metaphor to the text as memorize the meaning of each individual metaphor, like he was learning a new and completely illogical kanji character.

“The woods are a metaphor for life, Ushijima-san,” you said, trying to be patient, and trying not to be distracted by the press of his thigh against yours. You couldn’t help a sigh of exasperation as he scratched on his notepad, woods = life. “Not all the time. Just in this one poem.”

His pencil tightened in his fist, but he filed that away, too. In the programming center of his brain, the variable sometimes was not just frustrating, but fundamentally unfair.

“Now your homework,” he said when the poem was done, a mix of stern and relieved. This was comfortable ground for him. He pulled you closer and slid an arm around your shoulders, like you were about to snuggle over a bit of geometry. “Every single one of these is wrong, [Name]-chan.”

“They don’t make any sense.” If you are ever inspired to commit seppuku, it will be over proofs.

“They do, you just aren’t thinking logically.” And as he explained why that was so, his big hand drifted to the back of your neck, smoothing your long hair out of the way, his thumb caressing the nape of your neck absently. He wasn’t trying to distract you. In fact, every time you showed any sign that you weren’t paying attention, his hand slid over the back of your slender neck and squeezed gently, a subtle signal of his displeasure that made a little thrill run through you, and immediately drew your attention back to him.

Ushijima-san had little sense of propriety where you were concerned. He touched you where and when he pleased, regardless of who was watching. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be out shopping with him and feel his hand at the back of your neck, caressing, then that gentle squeeze that meant, you’ve looked enough, time to go. In conversation with the other girls in your dance club, you would feel that hand and suddenly have nothing more to say, and they would watch with a mix of jealousy and pity as he drew you away. And if, for whatever reason, he came upon you talking to boys…well. You weren’t forbidden from doing so, as such. It was the way of the world, unavoidable, like literary metaphors. But his fingers traced your spine from the base upward to show that he had the right to do so, ending always at the sweet, slim, vulnerable nape of your neck and drawing you half a step into him, silently claiming his territory. You could keep talking to the boys all you liked, but every minute they were confronted with the patented flat, implacable Ushiwaka stare.

It wasn’t in you to protest, for feminist or any other reasons.

Did he sense that about you, somehow? Was it why he wanted you? Was something wrong with you, that you couldn’t say no to him, to every incremental step of his possession of you?

Or was it just that it felt so good…?

Chapter Text

“So here’s the schedules,” you say, pinning them to the wall of the janitor’s closet. It had been vacated for your club and you had done the best you could with it, but it was pretty grim all the same.

“Your kanji needs work, captain-sama,” Midori says, after a moment, squinting at them. She is a second year who floated on the periphery of your life through elementary and junior high school, until you both bonded over rakugo. “What is this? Kanagawa cow?”

“Kanagawa noon,” you say loftily. You are above piddling concerns like penmanship. “Didn’t you hear? We got a ride!”

“I’ll recopy these,” Hayami says helpfully, taking the pages back down. “That’s amazing, [Name]-chan! How did you do it?”

You all settle on the floor together, cheap tatami stick-on pads that you have sworn will come up at the end of the school year, and you launch into the story of the boy’s gym, Kenma, Yamamoto, and Kuroo’s excellent screaming at Lev. Midori flops back on the mats in a tangle of ridiculously long limbs—she is tall for a girl and had been scouted by both the girls’ volleyball and basketball teams—nearly crying with laughter.

“Lev! If you can’t get your hands up to block, then use your face! That’s that squash six feet above your ass!” You shout, flinging an accusatory hand at an imaginary Lev. Kuroo-san really had been giving him a hard time that day.

“Six feet?” Hayami asks, crouching over blank sheets of paper, her shoulders shaking with giggles. “Stop making me laugh, I can’t write.”

“He was really tall.” You sit back on your heels to distribute the rakugo books, traditional stories that all of you will have to memorize before the next competition. Jun-chan, a blank-faced and bespectacled first year, is still a cipher to you, but he claims he’s always wanted to be a rakugoka and you needed four members to start a club.

A few weeks into the new school year, you all were just developing your rhythm. Most of the time, you would pair off and memorize stories together, with one of you reciting and the other checking to make sure you didn’t make any mistakes. At the end of every practice, you would each take a turn performing your favorite of the day, which a) could not be a story you had told before, and b) must be performed in accordance with strict traditions regarding props, posture, and tone.

Rakugo was a combination of storytelling and stand-up, err, sit-down comedy, an ancient tradition, as Hayami always says, her eyes glowing at the sheer number of years people had been doing it. To you, it was fascinating how people you’d never suspect of it could have you clutching your sides and howling with laughter. Take Hayami, for instance. She was all demure and mild and helpful-shy-first-year—look at her, recopying your perfectly adequate schedules—but the first time you all recited she had picked literally the dirtiest story in the whole book and told the entire thing with a hilariously straight face, and without one blush.

Midori was amazing with props and you were a viciously accurate mimic, and you really hadn’t figured out what Jun-chan was good at yet. Memorization, maybe; he never made a single mistake in his recitations, but he didn’t really give them much character either. You were kind of reluctant to give anyone credit for being great at memorizing.

But that was the hardest part, and the least fun. You hated sitting still and hated anything resembling schoolwork even more, but both were necessary evils if you wanted to do the best part: getting on the stage in front of an audience and telling them stories, making them cry with laughter one minute and just cry the next. You had gone to a rakugo performance when you were twelve and you never forgot the unassuming, bespectacled lady who walked onto the tatami, bowed to the audience, and told a dozen stories on the spot, each funnier than the last.

So as soon as Hayami was had posted the schedules back on the wall, you sat down facing each other and opened your books to read, lips moving silently. It was easier to memorize if you mouthed the words while you read them; it got your mouth used to the idea, and let you experiment with what you’d emphasize and how it might sound when you put some oomph into it.

And it’s funny how it works out, having the boys’ volleyball team fresh in your mind. Who knew that the policeman yelling at the burglar in today’s story sounded exactly like Kuroo-san?

Chapter Text

“Pants,” Kuroo decides, smirking.

You shoot a glare up at your boyfriend, who is still looking at the cards on the table in shock. Again, you’re thinking. Again! Why do I always believe him?!

“Okay, okay.” Bokuto says, standing up and gamely untying his track pants. “It’s okay, I’ve still got boxers.”

“I don’t!” You point out, stepping behind his broad body to shimmy out of your jeans. You’re down to your panties and bra, and Bokuto has boxers and one sock. His shirt was the first thing to go. He is proud of his physique, and takes every opportunity to show it off. “Bokuto, you promised—!”

“I know, I know! It’s all good. C’mere, bunny-chan.” He sits back down in his chair and pulls you into his lap, giving you a squeeze. “I have a plan.”

He had a plan at the beginning of the game, too, you think, despairing. There are a few others who are about as bad off as you and Bokuto; Daichi and Shimizu from Karasuno are also down to their underwear, and Gōra Masaki and Ashiya Yōhei from Ubagawa are only one step behind you, in t-shirts, boxers, and socks. Only Kuroo and Kai from Nekoma still have all their clothes on.

It is a tradition on the last night of summer training camp that the third years from all the volleyball teams gather for some sort of debauchery. There was a dearth of night life in Shinzen, however, or at least, there was nowhere worth sneaking off to on foot.

So you and Ogano, the Shinzen captain, had slipped away during dinner time to pick up a few things at a conbini, including an ungodly amount of beer, with chūhai for the girls. Shimizu had taken up a collection that morning to pay for it.

And Bokuto had proposed strip poker.

“Okay, what do you think?” he whispers in your ear when a new hand is dealt. It’s not a promising start. A pair of threes, five of spades, ten of hearts, queen of diamonds.

“I think we’re screwed.”

“No, no, we’re doing that later. Focus, babe.” He thumbs through the cards thoughtfully, ignoring your angry hiss, and tugs out the pair and the five. Before you can stop him, he’s tossed them facedown on the table.

“What are you doing! That was a pair!” Your whisper-shrieking is so high pitched, a normal person would be unable to hear it, but Bokuto has had cause to hear it many times before. Bokuto has been the cause many times before.

“Your partner doesn’t seem to think that was a good idea, Bokuto-kun,” Kuroo remarks, to a round of laughter.

“She’s just a worrier,” Bokuto says easily, and gives you a kiss. “It’s why I like her, she’s so cute when she gets that panicky look in her eyes. Hmmm.”

The new cards are a four, a seven, and a jack.

“It’s almost a straight,” he says, trying to talk without moving his lips. “Get that look off your face, you’re going to give us away, bunny-chan.”

That’s a fair point. Your face freezes in a rictus of a smile. You’re stuck with the hand, you might as well try to bluff your way out of this. It’s better than strangling Bokuto. You can always do that later.

So. Kuroo is as unreadable as ever, but Kai, the third year wing spiker from Nekoma, has a few tells. Right now he’s shuffling his cards into order, something he only does when he actually has something. Daichi from Karasuno is a little harder to read, and also, you’re momentarily distracted by his bare chest and shoulders, which really are very, very nice. Not quite as nice as Bokuto’s, you add loyally, but while the Karasuno captain is the shortest at the table, he’s also built like a brick wall.

Anyway.

He is showing his cards to Shimizu, who chose to partner with Daichi rather than playing her own hand, but only intermittently shows interest in his cards. Does it mean something? You’re not sure. Shimizu is quiet and generally soft-spoken, but sometimes you suspect there’s a darker side hidden there. Note how slick she was about collecting money from the other third years without any of the teachers noticing.

“Kai has something,” you whisper to Bokuto.

“Daichi doesn’t,” he whispers back. “He only shows Kiyoko-san the bad hands.”

It appears that Bokuto does actually have a plan. He’s not subtle about it, either; he keeps bouncing you on his knee and showing you the cards again as everyone antes up, and then puts the hand down and becomes as bland-faced as a Buddha, which sits about as naturally on his features as one might expect. It is new behavior this game, however, which might throw even sneaky Kuroo off.

Kai stays. Daichi bows out. The Ubagawa guys hang in there, and after a moment’s consideration, Kuroo not only stays in, but raises.

“Raise,” Bokuto says, and shoves in half your remaining chips. It’s not that much; it’s been a rough game, but it’s enough to keep them interested.

Kai matches. Ashiya stays in; Gōra folds. Kuroo looks at you speculatively.

“I’m in,” he says after a moment, and pitches in his chips.

“Bunny-chan?” Bokuto whispers, not quite quietly enough. “The one with the numbers in order that are all the same suit is a really good one, right?”

Your face is perfect. It’s everything he dreamed it would be. Eyes wide, mouth open, cheeks paling, like a small prey animal freezing before a predator. It is the reason he adores you. It is the reason he calls you bunny-chan.

The other players don’t know it’s because he is telling one whopper of a lie and you don’t know how you’re going to carry it off, but fortunately that is precisely the reaction he needs.

“Fold.”

“Fold.”

“Fold.”

“Whoooooo! Hey, hey, hey, check these out!” Bokuto crows, and flings your cards down on the table like he’s spiking them there.

“Bokuto! They’re supposed to have to pay to see those!”

It’s the high point of the game and also the beginning of the end. Several rounds later, you gather yourself up, resigned to your fate.

“One moment, please.” In the waiting silence, you stand, deliberately pick up your fifth chūhai of the night, tilt it back, and chug. The fizzy lemon-flavored soda has about the same alcohol content as beer, and you’re going to need every drop.

You set the empty can down.

“Bokuto.”

“Bunny-chan.”

“If you take off that sock I will hang you with it.”

“Yes, bunny-chan.” He salutes. It’s not easy, getting out of his boxers while keeping everything below the waist hidden under the table, but he pulls it off, and tosses his blue boxer briefs onto the table.

Your face flaming, you sit down in his lap, covering him with your own body. He returns the favor. His beefy forearms shield you as you tug the fasteners of your bra loose and hand it to him. His left arm wrapped securely in front of your breasts, he tosses it onto his boxers.

No one has seen anything more than a flash of side boob.

The table explodes in drunken cheers. Even Kuroo looks impressed, and lifts his beer.

“Kanpai!”

“Kanpai!” Everyone shouts back, and there is drinking all around. Things are getting rowdy. Really, the game is already over, and Bokuto isn’t even interested anymore. You lose the last round handily because you’re more focused on keeping Bokuto’s left arm in front of your breasts than what’s on the cards. And also, his growing erection is pressing against your bottom.

“That’s a shame,” Kuroo says tauntingly, collecting his winnings. “You were dignified in defeat, Bokuto-kun.”

“You call this losing?” Bokuto of the one sock retorts, and you clamp his left arm in place and try to be deadweight, before he takes it in his head to start gesturing more expressively. “But…you guys can just…uhhhh…leave us here, okay? We’ll get back on our own.”

Kuroo snorts at that, but it looks like Bokuto’s not the only one with this idea. Yurie, the senior Fukurōdani manager, is hiccupping gently in Kai’s lap, and Shimizu is whispering something in Daichi’s ear that makes him look simultaneously aroused and terrified. However, Yurie still has her pants, and Shimizu at least has her panties and bra, so everyone else gathers up their own clothes and leaves you and Bokuto to get dressed unobserved. The club room door closes behind Ogano-kun, and Bokuto is kissing your neck, happily drunken.

“That was fun,” he murmurs in your ear. “Admit it.”

“Yes, I love that all the third years from five schools saw me in my panties.”

“Your cute panties, bunny-chan.” His lips nuzzle up the side of your neck to your ear, and you can’t help smiling. He is impossible. “Let’s get you naked.”

It doesn’t take much. He stands you up with a smack on your backside, then hooks his thumbs in your panties and tugs them down, pushing you gently over the poker table. It’s just a cheap folding table the Shinzen volleyball team usually keeps pushed into a corner, and the plastic top is chilly against your bare breasts.

“I love this ass,” he says appreciatively, with another light smack. He’s already fully hard and his dick scrapes against your inner thigh as he scoots his chair forward, sending a wave of desire through you. He squeezes your ass cheeks with both hands. “It was driving me crazy all night. You know how easy it would’ve been to slip inside you during that last round? I could’ve been fucking you the whole time and no one would’ve known, bunny-chan.”

“Bokuto,” you gasp, horrified at the thought and turned on beyond belief. He spreads your cheeks apart, and you feel his tongue tickling at the very edge of your pussy lips, that sensitive place between naughty and very very naughty.

“You would’ve liked it,” he scoffs, and licks again, his tongue pushing almost inside you. He is such a tease. “How hot would…mmmmmm…that have been, eh?” His hands grip your ass and push upward, baring more of your pussy to him. “You trying to play cards, so worried about…nnnnhh…them seeing your boobs…”

His tongue slips between your pussy lips and you whimper out loud.

“And all the time—don’t move, bunny-chan, keep this ass still—you’re secretly riding my dick…fuck you’re wet.” His fingers find your clit, rub it in circles as he licks you. “Maybe next time we’ll…” Lick, lick, lick. “…do that for real, huh?”

Whatever you might think of this proposal, the way your body reacts is unmistakable. Your pussy spasms inside and you blush so hard, you think your head might have blown off. Because this is Bokuto, and he might actually do it.

“Oh, you like that?” His voice is breathier, and he stands, placing his cock head flat against your pussy. It’s weeping precum, mingling with your own unbelievable wetness, and so hard you can feel it throbbing against your lower lips. “You like the thought of everyone watching while you’re getting fucked?”

He pushes inside on the last word and it’s almost buried under both your moans.

“I like the idea,” he gasps, still gripping you, his hands pulling your ass cheeks apart so he can shove every inch of his formidable length into you. He can also see the tight little pucker between your cheeks, which he knows embarrasses you no end, and teases it with one thumb to watch your body contract like a snapping rubber band. “I’d fuck you until you screamed, you’re the best, Ko-chan, the best! You wouldn’t even care that the whole room just saw you c—fuck! Babe!”

Your body has just convulsed on his so hard, you see stars, and he gives you a retaliatory three hard strokes with his cock, his big body slamming into you.

“Fuck, you’re wet, you are loving this, aren’t you?” He gasps, and bends down to kiss your neck, his voice hot and growling in your ear. “Is this another kink you didn’t share? You have so many.”

His thumb pushes into the pucker of your ass. Your face is crimson and you’re wet to the thighs. It’s not that you’re that kinky, it’s that Bokuto has no shame whatsoever. Or maybe your kink is shame, and that’s why you’re about to come just from his dirty talk, never mind anything else.

“Ohhhhhh, you’re close. Hold on.” Panting. He thrusts himself into you over and over, but doesn’t touch your clit and keeps his mouth shut. His thumb rides up inside your ass as he grips your ass cheeks, so hard you think you’ll have the marks of his hands on them for weeks. His cock feels like a brand inside you, blindingly hot, plunging so deep you could swear you feel it in your throat. You are pinned and trembling on the edge, so close the least word could push you over, your body aches you’re so close. You can’t believe he’s about to make you come with five minutes of dirty talk.

“Close,” he gasps. “You’re going to come for me, aren’t you? You have to say it before we come.”

“Ko-chan—” You whimper, your voice high and wavering and breathless. His cock pulses inside you and your clit is throbbing so hard you have to push your thighs further apart. If he breathed on it you would come. “Ko-chan!”

He shoves into you and grinds.

“Say it! Say I’m the best!”

“You’re the best, Ko-chan, the best!” You howl, and he gives a strangled, wordless shout and pounds you, coming into you in deep, hot spurts. His hands, that thumb, you feel like he’s pulling you apart and filling you with throbbing, screaming heat. Every brain cell you have implodes and you are slumped under him and drifting, your sides heaving.

You don’t lie down so much as fall off the table together.

“I am the best,” he says, between gasps, and then hisses as you bite him. “You are also the best. We are the best.”

“Better,” you say, your cheek on his chest and tingling to your toes. You still can’t feel your face.

He holds you for a while, his heartbeat gradually slowing under your ear. You can’t help touching him, one small hand sliding over his ridged stomach, tracing slow, feathery patterns on his broad chest. There’s something that’s bothering you.

“Ko-chan?” You whisper. You’re both almost asleep.

“Mmm?”

“You wouldn’t really…you know…”

“Fuck you in public?” He squeezes you, his cheek pressed to the top of your head. “Who can know these things?”

“You. You can know these things.”

He kisses you, his lips tender, his hands caressing. “Then…I would say that depends on you, bunny-chan.”

You kiss him back.

Somehow that’s not as reassuring as you hoped it would be.

Chapter Text

“Well, well, well.” The voice came from behind you, and you turned with a start, your face already reddening. It was the first time Ushijima-san had coaxed you into any sort of public display of affection, so of course, you must be punished for it. “So this is where you’ve been, Wakatoshi-kun?”

“Yes,” said Ushijima matter-of-factly, and without the least embarrassment. You were dying enough deaths for the both of them; seated on Ushijima’s knees with his arm around you, you felt as if you had been caught without pants. “This is [Name].”

When the red-headed man bent down for a look at you, it was like watching a mountain pine toppling over. You had to fight not to stare at him. He was…unfortunate-looking, to put it kindly. His eyes were sleepy and fishy-looking, a mouth too wide for his pointed face, and every one of his proportions seemed somehow askew.

“Tendo Satori,” he said, boastful and playful at the same time. “I’m the one Wakatoshi-kun ditched for you, cutie-chan. Are you worth it?”

“You’re scaring her, Tendo,” Ushijima rumbled. You were trying to slide out of his lap and he forestalled that with his other arm, pinning you in place. “How did you find us?”

“That's my secret.” Tendo sat down on the other side of the picnic table and still somehow loomed. You were at the picnic tables by the pond, usually too long a walk for lunch, but Ushijima had wanted to eat without the entire school staring at the pair of you.

“Tell me about cutie-chan here.” Tendo steepled long, bandaged figures before him and gestured at you like you were an exhibit. “Does she ever talk?”

“Yes,” You answered for yourself, and won an approving squeeze from Ushijima. “I’m a first year.”

“Pah, you don’t need to tell me that, the whole school is buzzing about the first-year girl who stole Ushiwaka out from under all the other girls’ noses.” You stared at him, fascinated. It was like watching a cartoon character. It also left you unprepared for interrogation. “Is that why you like him?”

“What? No!” A blush flooded your face, and you had to fight to keep from looking up at Ushijima-san, who might actually be having a reaction. “No. He…he…” Is impossible to resist. Doesn’t take no for an answer. Never actually asked, come to think of it. “He’s…” Too many inappropriate and humiliating adjectives, and you seized on something, anything. “—helping me with math.”

“She’s using you for math, Wakatoshi-kun,” Tendo said, as if informing him that he has some terminal illness. “Math.”

“I know. I’m fine with it.” This was the first hint that Ushijima-san had any discernable sense of humor, and you turned to look up at him in surprise. His face was as deadpan as ever, but when you met his eyes you found yourself grinning up at him, winning the smallest smile in response.

Tendo was laughing, actually pounding on the table.

“It is true love!” He twittered, clapping his hands to his face. “My stars, Wakatoshi-kun made a joke!” Propping his chin on his hands, he gazed at you adoringly. “Tell me about yourself, cutie-chan. Spare no details, no matter how embarrassing.”

And to your own surprise, you did. The fact that Tendo actually must be Ushijima’s friend freed you to speak, knowing that you weren’t betraying any of Ushijima’s confidences. You told him about junior high and how all your friends went to different schools, about dance club and how you didn’t think you wanted to be a professional dancer—it’s about as practical as wanting to be a rock star—but you didn’t know what else you wanted to do yet.

“Are you good, though?” Tendo asked, jabbing a bandaged finger at you. “At dancing.”

“Yes,” You said and glanced at Ushijima, who has yet to see you do it. His hyper-competence made you hedge. “I think.”

“Tch.” Tendo clicked his tongue. “We’ll come see, right Wakatoshi-kun?”

“Yes.” He glanced at you, and for the first time, you saw a little doubt, and maybe regret, in his eyes. “I haven’t seen it yet.”

“I haven’t watched you play yet,” you said softly, leaning into his chest.

“Oh, gag me,” said Tendo, and got up. “Stop hiding your cutie-chan, Wakatoshi-kun. Bring her with you, we won’t bite.”

Chapter Text

Be early, you had said.

On time is late, you had said.

We can’t make them wait for us even one minute, you had said.

5:30 am is soooooooo earrrrrrrrrrrrrrly, though.

In the dark, you sprint toward the school parking lot at top speed, your breath puffing in white clouds in the chilly early spring air. Your cell phone is clutched in your hand and flashing the time up to you, white numerals blaring in the dark. 5:21 am. You’d sworn to Hayami and Midori that you would be the first one there, you wouldn’t leave them alone with the volleyball boys. Nine minutes. You’d always considered yourself a fairly fast runner, but had never actually measured it in any concrete terms. How often did you need to know in real life how many blocks you could run in nine minutes?

This early in the morning there was no traffic and no wait at any of the intersections, and at least today you don’t need to wear a hakama or carry one with you; just street clothes and a light backpack, with a bento being battered to death inside. You round the last corner and hurdle a cement barrier, scanning for Hayami, Midori, and Jun. They would be small silhouettes; God, the volleyball players were tall, weren’t they?

“Midori? Hayami? Jun-chan?! I’m here, I’m here!” You shout from the far end of the lot, hoping to reassure them that at least you’re on the way. Midori could probably handle herself; she was tall enough that usually she could loom a little bit over most boys. But Hayami looked fresh as a milkmaid, innocent as a kitten, and you weren’t sure her faculty with dirty jokes would translate into boy-wrangling.

“They’re not here yet,” an amused voice says from the dark. Kuroo-san appears beside you, running with so little apparent effort that you dart a glare up at him. “Were you coming to protect them from us?”

You have to stop to breathe; your lungs feel like they’re on fire. At least if your club isn’t here yet, you didn’t break your promise about protecting them.

“Just from mohawk-chan,” you manage, bent over and panting with your hands on your knees. It surprises a bark of laughter from him.

“Good call. You shouldn’t just stop, though. Straighten up, breathe, walk it off. Did you run all the way here?”

You did, but you just bet he’s going to laugh at you if you say so. Groaning, you decide to take his advice and straighten up, falling into step beside him.

“This is terrible,” you complain, pressing a hand against the stitch in your side. “Running. You can’t breathe and you feel like you want to throw up. You guys do this for fun?”

“No, this is never fun. But winning volleyball games is. Please don’t throw up.” He’s snickering, though.

When you reach the loose knot of boys at the other side of the parking lot, you introduce yourself with a polite bow.

“And thank you for letting us ride to matches with you,” you add sincerely. “Please don’t let us get in the way. Just pretend we’re not even here.”

“Why are you guys coming with us?” asks one of the boys, whose voice you don’t recognize and whose face you can’t see.

“There’s a rakugo showcase a few miles from your tournament,” you say brightly, which is a total lie. There’s a showcase about seven miles from their tournament, but it doesn’t start til noon. You won’t even have to run to make it. “We’re the rakugo club.”

“I didn’t know we had a rakugo club,” says another voice.

“Just started.”

“She started it,” says Midori, trotting up beside you. She inclines her head slightly. “Morning. I’m Kimura Midori. This is Tsukuda Hayami. Jun-chan is coming, [Name]-chan, he texted to say he’s just a few minutes away.”

The boys murmur their greetings and Kuroo politely introduces each of them, though in the dark they’re more or less random names and voices. The dyed-hair boy is Kozume Kenma and mohawk-chan is Yamamoto Taketora, though internally you decide to keep calling him mohawk-chan. By the time that round of introductions is done, Jun-chan has arrived, as blank-faced as ever despite the fact that he is a generous five seconds early. But he is there, and the bus is late enough that you have time to both cool off and start freezing as your sweat dries.

“No, it’s your bus, I insist,” you said through gritted teeth, grimly clinging to all of your promises. You are on time, you’re not being an inconvenience, and the rakugo club won’t even get first dibs on the seats near the heating vents.

Of course, once you get on the bus, it’s plain the boys have very different priorities.

* * *

Kuroo did not in any way participate in divvying up the girls of the rakugo club. As a matter of fact, he could have plausibly claimed to have known absolutely nothing about it; it hadn’t been discussed in his presence, and he couldn’t be expected to overhear every whisper or note every sidelong, expressive eyeroll between Yaku, Kai, and Yamamoto.

He is gratified to see, however, that one of the empty spaces on the bus is beside him. The team captain should have the prerogative of sitting next to someone other than a sweaty, snoring teammate. And no one else speaks until he has smiled and offered [Name]-chan the seat beside him, making his preference clear.

You glance back at the other girls first before accepting, which he respects. If any of the girls looked the least bit shy, he would make one of the guys move, and let the girls sit together. But there are three girls; at least one of them is going to get cut from the herd today, and it’s a captain’s job to take one for the team.

* * *

You slide into your seat, slipping your bag off your back and using it to cover your arms. Sitting next to him gives you a new appreciation for just how tall Kuroo is; nearly a foot taller than you, with broad shoulders and a lean but very solid build. His elbows are propped on the headrests behind and in front of you as he watches everyone get settled. Midori accepts an offer from Kuroo’s vice-captain, Kai-kun, and Hayami is settled next to a much shorter boy who looks mild and unthreatening enough. Jun-chan is unlucky enough to draw mohawk-chan, but they seem to be getting on all right.

“Cold?” Kuroo asks mildly, and you don’t even try to lie. You dressed for a warm day spent hiking fourteen miles, not a sweaty sprint on a cold spring morning.

“Y-yes,” you say, trying not to let your teeth chatter. “If you see frostbite forming, don’t try to save me. I don’t want to live without my nose.”

“I’d have to consider that an inconvenience, watching you freeze to death in the seat next to me,” he drawls, unzipping his red Nekoma uniform jacket and offering it to you. You hesitate before you take it; is he serious? You did swear everything up to a blood oath that you wouldn’t be a hindrance to them in any conceivable way…

That. is. a. smirk.

“Jerk,” you huff, and snatch the jacket out of his hands. His jacket is warm from his body and smells faintly of some male-scented something; body wash, aftershave, something crisp and mountain-peaky. He grins at you and sits back in his seat, not looking the least bit inconvenienced.

“What tournament is this that you’re going to?” You ask. You left your copy of the schedule at home, and only have the address of the rakugo place on the back of your left hand and 6 PM NO LATER scrawled on your right.

“Practice match,” he corrects. “Fukurōdani, a few other schools. They’re really good. Their ace is one of the top five in the country.”

That is impressive. The top five of anything is.

“Wow,” you say promptly. Then, “What’s an ace?”

* * *

You wake up to Kuroo shaking you with a wry expression on his face and amusement in his eyes.

“Nothing but an inconvenience,” he says, teasing. “We’re almost there. Water?”

“You are a saint.” It’s even cold; there’s an insulated cooler and the first year, Inouka, is passing out bottles. The boys travel in style. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

“Eh, I did too.” He yawns, showing a mouthful of straight white teeth and making you think of how lions yawn before they roar. “Everyone usually does on these early trips. You must be really serious about this showcase to put yourself through this.”

“There are two masters performing,” you explain. “To tell you the truth, I built the club schedule around the school bus schedules. But today is a really great opportunity for us. There aren’t that many masters left.”

“Eh?” He looks surprised and stops mid-stretch, which is just as well; it’s hard not to ogle when he’s literally flexing his very, very nice biceps at you. “What do you mean?”

“Well, who goes to see it?” You say matter-of-factly. “Most people go to the movies, not to see a rakugo performance. There aren’t many masters left alive, and not many people want to be apprentices, so…”

“Well, it is kind of old-fashioned,” he says apologetically.

“Don’t tell Hiyami that,” you say, but it does give you a pang of sadness to hear it yourself. Okay, rakugo is old-fashioned. But the stories are still funny, and it’s amazing to go see people tell them, so why wouldn’t anyone want to be a part of that? “Have you ever gone to see a rakugoka?”

“No,” he admits.

“Well, get back to me after you’ve seen one,” you say lightly, with a smile to take any sting out of the words. “And…thanks for your jacket.” You generally consider yourself pretty unflappable, but you feel some heat rise to your cheeks as you regretfully unzip it and slip it off. You can almost hear him being amused at you.

“It’s nothing.” He shrugs it back on, leans back against the window. You wonder if he knows how catlike he is. Is it an intentional thing? Team Nekoma and all that? You’ve seen alley cats regard you with the same air of smug satisfaction. Like all cats know something but aren’t telling.

Behind him through the bus windows, the high walls of a school appear between the trees, and you realize with an unexpected pang that the ride is almost over. You would have liked to talk to Kuroo more. And, you think with an internal sigh, you have a very long walk ahead of you.

“We’ll be back here before six,” you promise, but Kuroo doesn’t really have time to listen; he’s busy ordering so-and-so to be woken up, another boy to make sure all the bags get taken off the bus, and telling Inouka that if he wanders off and they have to come looking for him again, he’s going to hitchhike back to Nerima.

The bus pulls away. You look at the address on the back of your hand and type it into your GPS, wondering why it didn’t occur to you to do that this morning.

“Well, let’s go,” you say brightly, and lead the way down the street.

Chapter Text

There had been a lot of firsts, one month into your relationship with Ushijima. The first time he walked you home from school. The first time he silently reached for your hand, swallowing up the small white morsel in his big palm. The first time he had smiled for you, a motion of his mouth so slight that anyone who didn’t know him would never have caught it.

The first time he kissed you.

He did it just around the block from your house. There was a spot where a large shrub blocked the alley from the road, and he wordlessly drew you back there, letting both your school bags drop onto the grassy strip. All at once your heart was thudding and you realized he had maneuvered you exactly where he wanted you: into the corner between the tree and fence, with no way out but through him.

And—it bears repeating—Ushijima-san was a big man.

Looking up at him, you felt more acutely than ever the difference in your sizes; your eyeline was slightly below his nipples, for God’s sake. Why were you thinking of Ushijima-san’s nipples? His hands went to your shoulders and lifted you to your tiptoes easily, your lips parting with surprise, a little pink oh. He was going to kiss you. Your heart was suddenly pounding in your ears and for a second you shrank back just because you had never done this before; what if you were bad at it? What if he didn’t like it? What if he set you down and never talked to you again?

It didn’t matter, because he was going to kiss you anyway. His hard mouth covered yours.

Oh.

Oh.

Kissing was such a silly thing. Two sets of lips. You did a dozen things with your lips every day: putting on lip gloss, eating, speaking, drinking. Tapping a pen against them when you were thinking; pressing them together when you danced, which was a problem because you should be smiling, smiling, your sen-pais said, with hugely exaggerated grimaces to show you how. None of it was the slightest bit sensual. None of it made your heart race or your head spin; you never even thought about it.

The feel of Ushijima’s lips, firm and confident, was a revelation.

They moved against yours, pressing, urging, demanding all at once. Your head was tilted up to meet him and your arms slid around his neck, feeling the wonderful solidness of him, the contours of his back and shoulder muscles. And his arms went around you as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and swept you off your feet altogether.

The wind whipped down the alley, chilly spring wind, as if to emphasize the howling void of the world outside his arms. His lips pressed yours apart, open, and that was his tongue. He tasted vaguely of the grapefruit sports drink he drank during practice, and you tentatively met him, parting your lips further. You couldn’t stifle a soft moan at how good it felt. Then you were embarrassed and flustered that you had moaned for him, but you did it again anyway.

“Good,” he breathed, his voice deep and rough. His lips pressed harder, more insistent. His tongue delved deeper, gliding along yours. Why did it feel so good? This tangle of tongues was so ridiculous, there was no reason why it should make you burn and leave you breathless. But a whimper escaped you and Ushijima crushed you against him until you felt like you were drowning in the best and most blissful way.

When he set you down again, you were floating.

“Ushijima-san,” you said, without any idea what you meant or why you said it. You felt bruised, your lips swollen and tingling, and he looked just the same as always, as expressive as a stone golem. But when you looked into his eyes, it was all there. The light brown was glowing so much, it looked golden.

He slung your bags onto his shoulder and took your hand, lacing his fingers in yours.

“You should call me Toshi now.”

Chapter Text

You look like art.

Kuroo Tetsurō pauses in the bedroom doorway for a moment, taking you in. Holding his breath, he shuts the door and sidles to his desk, slipping his cell phone out of his jeans pocket. He has to crouch to bring it level with the bed.

You’re still sleeping. Lying on your side with his red sheets twisted around you, your long hair trailing over his pillow like a ribbon of satin, baring your beautiful back. Skin like cream marred with love bites around your shoulders, the marks of his hands on your ass. Beautiful shoulders, lightly muscled, with a long, lean waist that flares outward like a fiddle into your hips. There is a sensual vulnerability that makes him ache to kiss the dimples above your ass, to trail his fingers up the valley of your spine and hear you purr.

He takes the picture.

Replacing his phone on his desk, he sits on the bed beside you, his hand curving along your cheek and cupping your chin to wake you.

“Hey,” he murmurs, his thumb tracing the line of your delicate jaw. You blink up at him. He is wearing a towel wrapped around his lean hips, with water droplets still beading over his chest, smelling crisply of aftershave.

“Tetsu?” you say sleepily, rolling over onto your back, baring your breasts. Your nipples are still swollen and red from his mouth, lightly bruised with use, and his cock twitches under his towel.

“I have to go to practice.” God, you look edible. “You stay and sleep as long as you want.”

“’Kay…” You lift your head for a kiss and he obliges, his fingers sinking into your hair to hold you in place. With you, all his kisses linger longer than he means them to. His lips nudge yours, then angle, deepen, a sly sliding stroke that brushes your lips apart. He can’t resist. His tongue touches yours, just one taste, and then he forces himself up before he takes it any further.

“Be here when I get back,” he says, with a final caress, and dresses with your soft, regular breathing bringing the room to life.

Chapter Text

“This is [Name].”

Ushijima—err, Toshi-san—put that down and let it lay there.

“Ohayo,” said one of the giants at the table, after gaping at you in the friendliest way. Tendo was watching with visible delight as you fought the urge to hide behind Toshi, suddenly faced with the senior half of the boys’ volleyball team, and all of them almost as tall seated as you were standing.

“Wakatoshi-kun is helping her with math,” Tendo said helpfully, and made you turn pink. Toshi ignored this; instead he shot a meaningful look at one of the players that made him shift down the table to another seat, leaving a space for you. There was no choice but to sit down.

You felt like a kid at the grown-ups’ table.

But under the table, Toshi gave your hand a reassuring squeeze, then opened his bento box and set to with his usual efficiency. It took a lot of fuel to stoke that hulk.

Really, they were all pretty nice, though clearly wrong-footed by Ushijima’s bringing you to their table. Ōhira-san, nearly as large as Toshi, was for some reason nowhere near as intimidating, inquiring after your teachers and warning you about their peculiarities.

“I had her for English,” he said, with a jab of his chopsticks. “She cares a lot about grammar. Like, deeply.”

“It is the very foundation of the language,” you said, directly quoting your sensei, including a timid stab at her Kagoshima accent.

Ōhira-san nearly snorted his milk out of his nose and a few of the others chuckled. Oddly, that little sally took their attention off you, as if the small conversation had been a test you passed. You glanced out of the corner of your eye at Toshi and there was a bare hint of a smile on his face as he munched through his fourth onigiri.

As it turned out, they were hardly discussing the secrets of the universe at the senior volleyball table. Soekawa, Toshi’s vice captain, was failing science. Yamagato, the libero—whatever that was—had gotten a part time job that he hated at a local conbini. Semi, a large, scowling boy with blond hair, rather sweetly had a crush on a girl and wasn’t sure what to do about it.

“What did you do to bag this one, Wakatoshi-kun?” he asked, with a jerk of his chin at you and a flash in his eyes you weren’t quite sure how to interpret.

It seemed like even his teammates thought that might be a little bit too much; Ohira was suddenly focused on his own lunch, and Tendo-san leaned forward avidly, as if a flattening might be in order.

But Toshi chewed, swallowed, and said mildly, “I told her I liked looking at her.”

Six pairs of eyes swiveled toward you, half of them dubious. That was all it took?

“It was the way he said it,” you explained lamely, feeling your face heat.

“Possibly not the path to true love for you, Semisemi,” Tendo said, with exaggerated tact, to general laughter. And as you took a bite of fish from your own lunch, you thought: how would you ask out a girl, anyway? Glancing up at Toshi-san, you wondered if it really was as easy as that. Walk up to a girl you don’t know, sit down next to her, tell her you like looking at her?

Well, it didn’t hurt that the man was gorgeous.

“Was it easy to do, Toshi-san?” You asked in an undertone, when you were certain none of his friends were paying attention. And one thing you loved about him: he always seemed to know exactly what you were thinking.

“No.” Under the table, his knee nudged yours. “Not easy at all.”

Chapter Text

You had been on the periphery of his life for years.

Kenma had been the first friend Kuroo had made after his mother died, and his father moved out to the suburbs, where Kuroo’s grandparents could look after the boy while he was at work. Outsiders might have wondered how they got along, with Kuroo being quiet and Kenma not saying anything, but the companionable silence and hours of video games were exactly what the wounded, shell-shocked boy needed.

“His Oka-San died,” Kenma explained to you one day, with all the wisdom of his extra two years. “So we have to be nice to him, and not talk about it, or we’ll make him sad. Okay?”

“Is that why he had to move here, Ni-San?”

“Uh-huh. So he says he lost his friends, too.”

Unspeakable tragedy. For a solid week you took to presenting Kuroo with gifts of grubby flowers pulled from the garden, your snacks at snacktime, and even, in a moment of searing self-sacrifice, your Pometan cupcake bear, Sprinkles. All of these were shoved wordlessly into the hands of a mystified Kuroo, and then you got over it.

He spent as much time at your house as his own house, and every summer, Kuroo went with your family to Shirahama beach, where your grandparents lived. He mostly alternated between tolerating and teasing you, with occasional small, boyish kindnesses when no one was watching. But then around twelve or thirteen, he had started getting serious about volleyball, and there wasn’t much time for anything else.

You were just as self-effacing as your brother and you had your own awkward adolescence to cope with. A burgeoning love of surfing kept you out of his orbit even during the summer, when he was actually living with you. He was on the beach playing pickup volleyball, nagging Kenma into tossing him a few, and—as he got taller and less awkward—flirting with girls. You were up before dawn riding the waves, where there wasn’t anyone to worry about impressing, or worse, embarrassing yourself in front of. A childhood stutter tended to resurface when you were stressed.

Such as whenever Kuroo was in earshot.

You didn’t know why he suddenly made you so nervous. You had known him forever; he was Kenma’s rather intimidating friend, sort of a big brother, the only one who had ever successfully nagged Kenma into doing something he didn’t want to do. Kenma was quiet, but when he made up his mind that he didn’t want to do something, neither whips nor spears nor threats to his PSP would budge him.

Around the time you turned thirteen, it became impossible to even look at him, let alone talk to him. Acid-tongued Kuroo never made fun of your most painful inanities, but after a few awkward conversations he more or less let you alone. And that was okay. He was sixteen, and a boy, and if the spheres of your interests had been plotted on a Venn diagram, the one point of overlap might have been Kenma. And honestly, Ni-San could kind of be a dick.

But somehow Kuroo still managed to give you the one of the absolute worst nights of your life, down by the Shirahama Pier.

You had taken to running on the beach at night, after the day’s heat had dissipated. Notionally you were training for track, but really it just let you stay out on your surfboard longer. That summer you had gone from spending the morning out on the waves to spending most of the day, and every blissful hour on your board just made you want more.

That’s what you were thinking when you jogged toward the piers, your sneakers almost soundless on the wet sand.

“Oh—ohhhhh, Kuroo,” a voice said, a throaty, breathy, feminine voice you’d never heard before.

You froze on the spot.

“Like this?” A male voice said, eager and deep with desire, and unmistakably that of Kuroo Tetsurō, busily losing his virginity to some Shirahama beach bunny.

At thirteen, this was an abstraction. An embarrassing, traumatic abstraction, like walking in on him masturbating. You didn’t want this yourself, you didn’t want to be her, you barely knew what she was. But your eyes filled with tears and you turned and ran back the way you’d come, thinking bitterly of all the stupid girls in all the stupid movies and stupid books, nursing their stupid puppy love heartbreaks. Was this just inevitably part of being a girl? At your rented vacation house you slipped into your room and silently cried yourself to sleep, without ever really understanding why.

The next morning you got up before the sun rose to finish your run.

You never went running at night again.

Chapter Text

After the first kiss, things progressed…rapidly.

You had no idea there were so many private corners at school. Or how you found time for them at all; with volleyball, the spring dance showcase, and homework, you felt like you were barely keeping your head above water.

But for Toshi-san, you would have drowned with a smile on your face.

You felt like that’s what you were doing in a little-used stairwell on the southeast corner of the main building. God knew how Toshi had come across it; probably some telegraph the boys had that tracked the places where it was safe to get your girl alone for a few minutes. The funny thing about Toshi-san was that while he didn’t look like he was paying attention to that sort of thing, he was carefully filing all of it away, to be brought out in the unlikely event it was needed.

Such as when he wanted to sit you on his knee and kiss you until you were dizzy.

He did it with a deliberateness that made every neuron in your brain fire at once, one arm around your waist, one large hand sliding perilously up your thigh, his eyes closed, that handsome face bent over yours. He was breathing deep and ragged, and even the sound of that was exciting, booming in your ears like the deep and inevitable crashing of ocean waves.

But today was different. Things were escalating. You had never been so aware of his thighs under you before, the corded, massive muscles that had powered him through opposing team after opposing team almost single-handedly. Why were you thinking of his thighs? Why did the feeling of him shifting under you to turn you toward him make you flush hot and then cold?

You loved his hands. Large, long-fingered, calloused down to his fingertips, surprisingly well-groomed for a teenage boy. He said it was for volleyball; he didn’t want them snagging or tearing on the ball, his uniform, or—in this case--you. One of those long-fingered hands was sliding up and down your back, curving around your waist, feeling the smooth curve of your torso and shading toward—unthinkable!—the rounded side of your breast. He hadn’t touched you there yet, but God you wanted him to.

Deeper. Rougher. His hands gripped you almost painfully, your tongues stroking. Your arms were around his neck and you were kissing him back breathlessly. He was panting too. His hand was on the back of your thigh, his fingers sliding dangerously near to that hot center of you and you just might explode if he touched you there…

The hard ridge pushing against your right leg was not his hand.

“Toshi-san…” You broke the kiss with a gasp, shuddering with desire. You knew what sex was, of course, in the clinical sense. Tab A, slot B. But it’s one thing to know intellectually where things go, and another to feel the irresistible urge, a need so deep it feels like you just might die if you don’t put them there.

“I want you,” he said hoarsely. He was clearly so hard it was painful. It burned in his eyes. You could feel his hands shaking with the effort of restraining himself. “You want me.”

It wasn’t a question. It was a statement of fact. That was indeed his…him…throbbing against you, and all you could think about was what it would feel like if you turned to face him, slid your legs around him, and…

“Yes.” It seemed like such an insane thing to want. You could feel the blush all the way up to your forehead and looked everywhere but up at Ushijima. Toshi. If you couldn’t even look at him, how were you going to let him—

“Hmm,” He said, amused, and caught your chin in his fingers to kiss you, gentler this time. The stairwell at lunch was not the right place or time, though in his mind he had already torn your clothes off and dragged you to the foot of the steps to fuck you up against the wall.

That will happen, but not yet.

“We will do something about this.” His deep voice rumbled through his chest, thrumming under your ear.

Just the sound of it made your heart beat faster.

Chapter Text

In his seventeenth year, Kuroo became something of a slut.

It was a bizarre and inexplicable transformation. Hair that had been derided as rooster head in his first year of high school somehow became a sexy bedhead in his second. He grew another couple inches, and his shoulders and chest started to broaden, beginning the transition from skinny to lean. One day you heard a man’s voice talking downstairs and had to actually go peek to confirm that that sly, drawling baritone was Kuroo.

Kenma, annoyed by the attendant drama of Kuroo’s new sluthood, let this fact slip without ever thinking about whether his fourteen year-old sister really needed to know it. For a horrible moment you flashed back to those panting voices under the pier and then put it resolutely out of your mind. Why did you care what he did or who he did it with? He barely even came over anymore, and when he did you were busy with school and practice for the track team and a new love for ska music, which was not greatly appreciated by your family.

The stamina you developed surfing translated neatly to the track team your last year in junior high, and you kept grimly at the tedious running through the long school year, living for that short season of bliss that was summer vacation. Now, it paid off. You were getting really good at surfing, even winning some applause from spectators when you shot triumphantly out of the barrel after a record nine seconds, and got off the wave on your terms.

Other surfers were noticing, too.

At first you were flattered, though you didn’t know quite how to respond. You were accomplished at being invisible, hiding behind your long hair and sensitive about that stutter, which still made odd appearances. But here were these older boys who seemed to want to talk about surfing with you by the hour, who held the best waves for you and almost embarrassed you with their concern when you wiped out. Of course, you had also shot up four inches over the previous year and developed a sort of lean, curvy body that your swimsuit did nothing to hide, but that didn’t rate anywhere in your psychology.

Then the other surfers got a little too intense.

You bailed, moved down the beach. Shifted your surf schedule. You’d promised your mother you’d start coming in in the afternoons anyway; she didn’t want you out in the sun quite so much. But they found you dozing under an umbrella during the worst heat of the day, and they didn’t seem to want to talk about surfing.

“You ought to come out with us tonight,” Ichiro said. They had introduced themselves to you out on the water, and Ichiro was usually the first to talk, a tall boy with longish hair standing up in spikes from the salt water. “There’s a club down on the boardwalk we could get you into.”

“Sumimasen, I don’t like dance clubs,” you said, your eyes on your feet.

“Have you ever been to one?” Koichi asked. He had a pierced eyebrow, which both fascinated and repelled you.

“No.”

“Well then how do you know if you’ll like it? Come on, we’ll text you where to meet us. Give me your number.”

“S-sorry, I can’t go to a dance club,” you said, clutching your phone and starting to get a little scared. Koichi was reaching for your cell like he meant to physically take it from you, smiling all the while, and you really wanted to hold onto your phone just now. You weren’t even sure if Kenma would come if you texted him, but you wanted the option open.

“Look, I’ll give you my number,” he said, and nimbly plucked your phone out of your hands. “I’ll even put it into your—”

“Give that back,” you snapped, lunging for it like it was a lifeline. But Koichi dodged, and Ichiro caught you like he thought you were playing, laughing as he wrapped his arms around you and lifted you off your feet.

“Add my number too, man.”

“S-s-stop! Let me go!” You were enraged at yourself for stuttering now, of all times, but Ichiro’s arms were like iron bands and trying to pry them off you only made his hands close humiliatingly over your breasts. Then something grabbed Ichiro’s shoulder and yanked him off you so hard, you went sprawling in the sand.

“She said to let her the fuck go,” Kuroo said furiously, bending to pick you up. “You okay, [name]-chan?”

“K-kuroo! Th-they t-t-t-took—" You were stuttering too badly to even explain what happened, tears of fright and anger and embarrassment burning in your eyes. Other people were turning to look, it was so stupid, why couldn’t you have just said no? Why did Ichiro have to grab you?

“Hey, man, we were just playing,” Koichi said uncomfortably, handing the phone over.

“Yeah, sure you were. Why don’t you go jerk each other off until you learn how to play nice with girls, you stupid motherfuckers?”

“Fuck you, man, she’s been flirting with us,” Ichiro shot back. But after another look at Kuroo, already over six feet tall and muscled like he was carved out of wood, he decided discretion was the better part of valor and settled for, “Why don’t you teach the little tease not to play big girl games if she doesn’t mean it, ne?”

“C’mon, dude, don’t be an asshole,” Koichi muttered, giving him a shove down the beach.

“Too fucking late!” Kuroo shouted after them, and sat down next to you on the blanket, pulling you into his lap like he had when he was nine and you were six, and no one was looking. “Hey. Don’t cry. It’s not your fault.”

“I t-t-told them—”

“I know you did.” His body shifted, sand gritting against your skin. He had been playing volleyball and his bare chest was sweaty and sand-streaked, radiating heat like he had been storing it up. His voice was gentle. “I thought you got over that stutter, huh?”

That reduced you to humiliated silence, slow tears trickling down your cheeks.

“Look,” he said. “They were assholes. But you’re…well.” He brushed your hair back from your face, his thumbs wiping away the tearstains, and he blinked, his eyes widening as he looked at you. “You’re…pretty cute. Unfortunately that means you’re going to attract assholes.”

“But I d-didn’t—”

“I know you didn’t. You didn’t do anything wrong.” He said, so ferociously that you believed it. “How about this. You hang out on this side of the beach, okay? The waves aren’t any better on the north side, right?”

“No.”

“Okay. I’ll keep an eye out for you. Anyone gives you trouble, I’ll see.” His long fingers combed through your hair, soothing. “It’d be a shame if you let some jerks keep you away from the water, huh? I heard you’re an amazing surfer. Kenma said you’ve gotten really good.”

That made you smile, just a tiny bit. “Yeah.”

“You want me to get Kenma?”

You nodded. Kuroo slipped his phone from his pocket and sent off a quick text, and you expected him to leave you then, maybe with a last pat. But he only put his phone away and sighed, resting his chin on top of your head, his arms wrapped loosely around you like that was the most comfortable place in the world for them. There didn’t seem to be any need to speak; maybe he was just sparing you the embarrassment.

It felt…good.

Ni-chan came at a trot that was kind of heart-warming, his eyes narrowed and scanning the beach, his lips pressed tight together. There was a flash of something else in his face when he spotted you and Kuroo, and Kuroo was suddenly gone, striding over to meet him with a few words too quiet for you to hear, followed by an actual smack against the back of your brother’s head.

Probably explaining what had happened, in case you couldn’t, you thought, furious with yourself all over again. Most girls probably could’ve just said, knock it off, I’m not going, give me back my phone, and that would’ve been that.

But when Kuroo glanced back and gave you a lopsided smile, you felt a warmth like the sun had just broken through the clouds, and for a moment there was a glow around him that dazzled you.

Quickly, you looked away, your long hair falling back in front of your face, and hugged your knees.

“You okay, imouto-chan?” Kenma sat down next to you, squinting up at the bright sky with displeasure.

“I don’t know,” you whispered. But you weren’t thinking about the surfer boys.

Chapter Text

“[Name]-chan?”

“Mmm?”

Toshi, looking concerned. The signals were the slight lift of his eyebrows, the way his firm lips were set with concentration. It was…far less subtle than usual. Odd.

“Are you feeling all right?”

“Yes?” You glanced down, looking for some clue, but he pressed a big hand to your forehead.

“You feel hot,” He said, spacing out each word a little more deliberately. “You said you weren’t feeling well yesterday.”

No you hadn’t. You narrowed your eyes, mystified, and then suddenly it clicked.

OH.

You didn’t say that out loud. The most unsubtle man in the world was actually hinting at something, you weren’t entirely to blame if you didn’t immediately pick up what he was laying down. Then, you really realized what it meant, and flushed so hard you were momentarily dizzy.

“Oh,” you said, small. It was one of the short breaks between classes, and the sound of the other students might as well have belonged to another planet. Toshi had snuck a quick kiss when he found you, easily hidden from prying eyes with his own broad back, and now he was making a show of feeling your hands and looking worried, with such careful exaggeration that if you hadn’t been petrified, you would have laughed. He looked like he was going down a checklist.

You never thought you would say it about Toshi-san of all people, but in some ways he really was adorable.

“Today?” You said, and your voice came out in a squeak.

“Yes. We’ll go to my house.” The hand touching your cheek, ostensibly for medical reasons, turned caressing. “I want you.”

Your eyes closed at his touch, but inside a thousand questions whirled like a typhoon. Would it hurt? Would he still respect you afterward? What if you got caught? What if you got pregnant? What if—?

You shivered involuntarily, looking up at him as if he were suddenly a stranger. He was so big. So strong. So stern. What if…what if he didn’t like it? Surely he must have done this before, he could have any girl he wanted, why would he want someone like you who hadn’t the least clue what she was doing? Why had he ever wanted you, really?

His hand slid around the back of your neck, caressing. And squeezed.

“What are you—damn,” he said, as the warning bells rang. He snuck another kiss before departing at top speed for his class on the third floor. You spent the rest of the day in a daze, to the point where your teacher actually asked if you were feeling all right.

“Yes, sensei,” you said mechanically, and then a vision of what Toshi was going to do to you later flashed in your mind and you had to look down, blushing again. What if you don’t like it? You thought suddenly. What if you’re not good at it?

Then you remembered the stairwell and the feel of his cock pressed against you and almost burst into flames on the spot.

He was waiting for you outside the school’s main gates at the end of the day, in a golden afternoon where the sun was just beginning to blaze its way toward summer. His dark hair lifted in the warm breeze, settled. He had the silkiest hair. No one would know it to look at him, but…

And just like that, you were running, your bag thumping against your back, running toward him and so happy you could almost burst. Because his arms were already open, waiting for you, and his smile glowed in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Oh my God.

You cannot with this man today.

“Tōru?” You call, a miserable lump in the middle of the bed, your death—if God is merciful—imminent.

No answer.

For a while, you just lie there, breathing shallowly and wondering if it’s possible to go back to sleep. One of the worst things about when you got sick was that insomnia tended to come along with it, as if your body were willfully sabotaging all attempts at healing. It left you cold, weepy, and with a persistent feeling of unreality that you had actually looked up online as a particularly interesting symptom. Most of the diagnoses had been some form of psychosis.

But left to his own devices in the kitchen, Oikawa Tōru makes a typhoon seem mild in comparison.

“Tōru?!”

“Stay in bed, sniffles-chan!” He calls cheerfully, unmistakably from the vicinity of the kitchen. He must have just gotten home from class; you just have to distract him for a couple hours before he leaves for volleyball practice.

Sitting up, you tug on a bathrobe over your t-shirt and a pair of Tōru’s (clean) boxers, an outfit that would be adorable on you if you weren’t at death’s door.

“Tōru, you don’t need to cook.” Please. You shuffle into the living room, but he’s already heard you coming, and he’s in a giving mood.

“You need to lie down and rest,” he admonishes, like a character in a drama, drying his hands on an ominously filthy hand towel. One of the most maddening things about Tōru is that even when he’s being the most infuriating creature alive, he is also one of the most beautiful men you have ever seen. His eyelashes are as long and thick as a girl’s, his skin is so creamy smooth you should be able to dip various fruits in it, and his hair is softer than yours will ever be.

As a matter of fact, that’s how you mentally caption most of your photos of him. Oikawa Tōru: Better than You.

“You’re burning up,” he says, laying a cool hand on your forehead. “Come on, you can lie down on the couch while I fix you something.”

“What are you fixing me?” You ask thickly as he maneuvers you toward the couch.

“This soup my obaa-san used to make for me when I got sick. Here.” He actually fluffs a throw pillow, then lays you down on it, his fingers smoothing over your hair. “See, isn’t that better?”

Horizontal is currently preferable to vertical, yes.

“The thing is,” you say, searching for a tactful way to say, at the present moment I would rather you did literally anything else than fuck up my kitchen and leave me to clean it up, “I’m not really hungry. Couldn’t you just come and lie down with me instead?”

You give a little extra oomph of puppy eyes with that, something he usually finds irresistible, but today he just kisses your forehead.

“You’ll just have to take your medicine, sniffles-chan,” he says ominously, and vanishes back into the kitchen. You try to count the number of pots you hear banging together. And fail.

This was the kind of thing that made your friends question you, at length, about whether he was really worth it. Sure, he was a feast for the senses; nearly a decade of intense volleyball training has sculpted layers of perfectly defined muscle on his long limbs, and he likes nothing better than to show them off, to see his own beauty reflected in your eyes.

Because he’s also vain, flippant, petty, and sometimes unbelievably childish.

“I know how to work a stove,” he says testily when you call for him again, and you roll over on the couch and try to suffocate in the back padding.

For a while, you fade out a bit on the couch, the noise in the kitchen of something boiling over receding into the background. You had been dating Tōru for nearly a year, and he had been more or less living with you for half that. This was not new. You had at least one fight a week. Once it was because he had more products than you did in the bathroom, and you wanted somewhere to store your makeup that wasn’t in the sink. Last month it had been because instead of just telling you that he didn’t want to go visit your parents during Golden Week, he had tried to convince you that you had agreed months before to go see his family, but they unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute.

And of course, there was the sheer number of times he simply wasn’t there, because his obsession with volleyball had hit a new crescendo and his clever, manipulative, single-minded brain just wasn’t capable of multitasking.

A year later, you still sometimes wondered who he really was. There was a slick veneer on him that made you think uncomfortably of a manufactured J-Pop idol, which covered up an occasionally spiteful child, which covered up massive insecurities, which covered up…

“Here,” he said, emerging from the kitchen with a steaming bowl on a tray. “Sit up, sniffles-chan.”

He sits down next to you as you drag your legs sideways, pushing the blanket off your head where you’ve pulled it up like an Eskimo hood and tugging you against his side, setting the tray on your lap. The soup doesn’t look bad, actually. There are identifiable vegetables in it.

“All right, there,” he says, with the teasing J-Pop Idol sing-song gone from his voice as if he’d turned it off with a switch. His hand brushes your forehead again; his other hand pushes a pair of chopsticks toward you. “You’re so hot, baby.”

You are almost sure, about 95%, that this is the real Tōru. Not an alternate personality, but the true self he keeps buried under a hundred gallons of bullshit because of some psychological damage you still haven’t quite unraveled.

“Is the kitchen a mess?” You ask, too miserable for tact, and because you just have to know.

“Not anymore. Eat up.” He picks up the TV remote and turns on one of the reality TV programs that he hates but knows is pure comfort food for you, fingers gently rubbing your back as you bend over the soup for a first tentative bite.

It isn’t bad. It really isn’t bad. You’re not that hungry but you make an honest stab at the vegetables and the floating, flaky chunks of a fish you can’t identify because all of your taste buds have died. It goes down easy. The rich miso even seems to coat your sore throat, and makes it feel less like you’ve swallowed a handful of finely-ground glass.

He’s watching you from the corner of his eye as you eat, this six foot tall, gorgeous man who’s on the Japanese national volleyball team and has actual screaming, stalker-y fans who want his autograph. This clever man who picks apart his opponents’ psychology like he’s the Deer Hunter reading animal sign, but who’s so insecure that every time he puts himself out there, he is terrified of failing, for reasons you don’t yet understand.

“It’s good,” you say, pushing it away three-quarters eaten, and he silently sets the tray on the coffee table and lets you curl up beside him, his arm wrapped around you. His fingers brush your cheek, subtly urging you to look up, let him see your eyes. The eternal boy in his eyes is asking, was it really good enough?

“Yes,” you say, and cover his hand with yours. There’s a moment where he tests you, his chocolate brown eyes searching yours and looking for a lie, for rejection, for some sign that he’s failed. It seems like a silly thing to stake your relationship on, but that’s the test. Not just, are you telling the truth, but also, is he capable of believing you?

“I hate this show,” he says softly, and brushes his lips against your hot forehead, letting you rest your head on his chest. And you find yourself blinking hard, your eyes burning a from the fever, as his fingers gently rub your aching head.

You might never know why he is the way he is. You just know that his grandmother’s soup might have helped heal you both.

A little bit.

Chapter Text

You barely even got a look at Toshi’s house. He was stretching his legs as you walked the ten blocks from school, faster and faster, until you had to trot to keep up. Every so often he glanced down at you with such heat in his eyes that you shivered.

His house was small. Traditional. Little front garden. You had the impression of tatami.

Inside the front door he swept you up in his arms and carried you the rest of the way, the tips of your toes swinging thirteen inches from the floor. His kiss was hot and eager and you clung to him with all your might, feeling his arms tighten around you until your bones creaked. You never saw his bedroom. His futon was suddenly at your back, its covers puffing out in clouds of white. It smelled freshly laundered and there was a dark towel laid in the center, the first clue to exactly how much thought he must have given this.

It was just as well that he had planned ahead of time, because he was clearly beyond planning now. He knelt above you on the futon, his eyes drinking you in. The sheer intensity of his gaze on your breasts, covered by your school shirt and bra, was enough to make your nipples tighten. Then his eyes traveled down to your bare thighs, your skirt rumpled nearly up to your panties, and your knees twitched together.

“Toshi-san,” you whispered, without any idea what you were going to say next.

He stretched above you with a low growl, his body fitting against yours so neatly, he was like an interlocking piece of you. This was what you had both wanted, all these weeks. His hands slid up your bare thighs and pulled your knees apart, fitting his hips between them. The hard, hot bulge of him ground against your panties and you cried out. You couldn’t help it.

“Get undressed,” he grated, yanking at his white button-down shirt. The whole thing went at once in an explosion of buttons, baring smooth, lightly tanned skin, and the sculpted muscles of a classical statue. He ought to be carved in marble all over Japan, for people to gape at and marvel.

The sight short-circuited your brain. You lay there with numb fingers, looking up at him, your breathing strangely loud in your own ears. You didn’t know what your face was doing, but it set Toshi off. He grabbed you and dragged you toward him by your hips, your much smaller body skidding over the coverlet.

He could see your panties.

WHICH PANTIES WERE YOU WEARING?!

“Wait, wait!” You cried out; he looked like he meant to take you through the fly of his trousers and with your (still unidentified) panties yanked partially out of the way. “Toshi! I’m not—I’m not ready.”

The last words were uttered in a stage whisper, and he froze in place, visibly struggling.

“Right. You’re right. Sorry. Sorry, [Name]-chan.” He kissed you, apology mingled with desire, but his fingers worked on your clothing with the focused intensity of bomb defuser with ten seconds left on the clock. It was all so surreal, you were almost convinced it was a dream. You were in Ushijama Wakatoshi’s bedroom. You were in his bed, and he was giving one hundred percent of his formidable concentration to not tearing your shirt off you. He could see your bra. It was plain white satin that absolutely screamed virgin.

At least your panties matched.

You shirt fell open and his big fingers ran over your belly, skimmed it so lightly you shivered.

“So beautiful,” he whispered, looking down at you. His eyes were glowing. His cheekbones could have cut glass. That mouth, that firm mouth that had kissed and tasted so much of you already. Him. He was beautiful.

“Kiss me,” you breathed, reaching for him. His mouth latched onto yours like it was drawn there by a magnet, and now you felt his bare chest and stomach pressed against yours, skin to skin, drinking in his warmth. Now you could touch his back and feel the muscles rippling without his clothing in the way, sleek and raw and primal. He groaned at your touch and you did it more, your hands pressing harder, tracing the straight valley of his spine, pulling upward. His hips bucked against yours.

His mouth was rough and hungry and demanding, making you moan into his lips. Down, his breath searing your throat as he kissed it. Down, to the hollows of your clavicles, his thumbs tracing your delicate bones, his lips like a branding iron against your skin. Your nipples were so tight they hurt.

Your bra straps loosened and fell away, and the first touch of his tongue on your nipple made you suck in a breath, quivering, uncertain whether to grab him or lie still or just combust. His tongue circled your pink areola, wetness mingled with the heat of his breath, and then he sucked your nipple into his mouth and tugged until you writhed for him.

“Ohhhhhhhhh that feels so good!” The suction of his mouth was making your toes curl. Your fingers tangled in his silky hair, tugging, your satiny thighs rubbing against his. “Oh, oh, Toshi!”

“[Name],” he groaned into your skin, his hand sliding up your body to cup your other breast, his thumb circling that nipple. It felt good. It felt amazing. His other hand slid between your legs, stroked over the satin of your panties, and pressed, the fabric rubbing over you and making your hips leap upward as he wrung another cry from you.

“You’re getting wet,” He whispered, and his fingers twisted to slip inside your panties, and then inside you. “I want you ready for me. You’re going to take all of me.”

His long fingers already felt like more than you could handle. Two of them slid inside you and you squirmed, panted, your knees trembling with reaction. It felt like he was looking for something inside you, his fingers turning and pressing, stretching your tight inner walls apart. His knuckles brushed something and you jerked under him and sank your fingernails into his shoulders, eyes squeezing shut.

“Mmm, there,” he grunted, and shifted the angle of his fingers until they found a spot inside you that made you come apart under him, your whole body a jittering, boiling bundle of nerves. His fingers worked you, in and out, slipping and diving and then stroke, stroke, stroke on that place again until you cried out under him and burst, soaking his fingers.

“Good,” he breathed, and kissed you urgently. One hand went to his belt and the other hand went to your panties, trying to remove both and doing it poorly.

Your head was spinning, but you knew you weren’t done. This was just the beginning.

“Let me,” you whispered, your fingers tugging at his belt. His cock was rock hard under his uniform pants, you could swear you felt it throbbing through the fabric. He had to move to peel your sopping panties off you and the look of pure, animal lust on his face when he saw you naked made you blush so hard, your ears burned. Slowly, he unzipped, unbuttoned, and slid his boxers and pants off together. His cock sprang free, twitching against his rigid belly. The effect when he closed one big hand around it was to make his hand look smaller.

You were pretty sure you said oh God out loud.

He stroked it in slow pumps, kneeling between your spread thighs, then angled it downward. This was real. This was Toshi holding his breath above you, trying so hard to be gentle as the hard, blunt head of his cock pushed against your opening. His considerable girth didn’t make it easy. Your body slid over the blankets and he hissed, grabbing your hips in one hand to pin you down for that first penetration.

“Don’t move,” he said through his teeth, easing into you, shaking with the effort to go slow. A pop, a stretch, and the head of his cock was inside you, pushing you open wider than his fingers had. One inch at a time. You were trembling at the strangeness of it, not pain, not yet, but the burn as inner walls pushed apart to make room. And then you felt something inside you resist and give way in the same instant with a blaze of pain.

“Ow! Ow! Toshi!” You yelped. Your body bucked upward, trying to escape, which was the worst thing you could have done. He didn’t move out of the way and you sheathed yourself to the hilt on him, the whole length of his cock, all at once.

Both of you cried out, for different reasons. To his eternal credit, he did not instantly pound you into the floor.

“No, don’t move! Are you okay? Are you okay? You’re so tight!” He panted, stroking your face, your breasts, kissing you everywhere.

“Pull out, pull out, you’re too big—!”

“No, it won’t help, for fuck’s sake don’t move!” Iron hands gripped your hips to hold you in place, his face screwed up in a different agony than yours. Ushijima Wakatoshi was undone. “Wait, wait, it will get better!”

“How do you know?!”

“I looked it up.” His head bowed, powerful shoulders bunching. You felt so raw, so tight you could have taken his blood pressure by the throbbing of his cock inside you. “Okay,” he gasped. “Okay. Kiss me, [Name]-chan. Calm down.”

Trembling, you did. His lips nudged yours apart and his tongue eased inside, gently, gently. Stroking yours, gliding, a deep and rhythmic caress. His hips moved carefully, withdrawing the barest fraction, pressing back in. Ow. Kissing, kissing, kissing, his hands framing your face, stroking your hair. Out. In. He felt so huge inside you, but were you getting wetter? He shifted his angle fractionally and the next slow stroke made you cry out, pulling away from his kiss and trying to muffle the sound with the back of your hand.

“No, no, don’t do that.” Toshi caught your hand and kissed your wrist, the soft, ticklish skin of your inner arm, his hips moving faster. “Be as loud as you want…”

His hands clutched you to him and he thrust deeper, making you cry out again. Your long legs slid around his, instinctively drawing him into you, finding the rhythm. You were good at rhythms. He found that spot that struck sparks in you again, and you cried out louder, your fingers digging into his back convulsively. Ohhhhh. Your hips met his coming and it was like being the hammer and the anvil at the same time, the pleasure ringing through your body until your ears buzzed.

“Yes. Exactly like that.” Toshi’s arms slid around you and you found your footing, pressing your heels into the futon, hips rocking smoothly as a cradle, and now it was ohhhhh, now it was dark and hot and all you could feel were your bodies working together, building and building. There was nothing in the world but his bed, the blankets that smelled of him, that gorgeous, powerful body flowing against yours like iron sheathed in satin, and his handsome face lost in pleasure, moaning your name.

“Toshi,” you whimpered, sweat beading on your skin. You were getting close to something; every stroke felt more molten than the last. He was going at you like a steam engine, back and then deep, back again, letting you feel every single inch rasping its way out of you before he slammed back in, his hips spanking into your backside. The rhythm was dissolving.

“Close,” he grunted, and slid his arms under your legs, pinning you under him helplessly. Now you were just the anvil, and he was the hammer.

“Toshi!”

The entire weight and strength of his body was coming down on you, driving his cock into you with a power that left you reeling, you were scratching the hell out of him and he pinned your hands to the futon, his face blank and snarling and feral. It hurt, it hurt so much! But why weren’t you begging him to stop?

“Don’t stop, Toshi, Toshi, Toshi, don’t stop!” You wailed under him, your body straining, closer, closer. His head was bowed and his cock was throbbing inside you, swelling in massive pulses that made your knees jerk uncontrollably.

“[Name],” he gasped, looking down at you with wide eyes, and you felt his whole body contract. “[Name]-chan!”

“Toshi…” Your voice was high and breathless, your teeth clicking together from the pounding you were taking. The pulsing between your legs was driving you insane. “Toshi-kun, I think I’m going to—”

“Come!” He gasped, strangling. “Come, come, come!”

It didn’t seem like you had much choice either way. He rammed into you and you came like fireworks, tightening inside until you could have screamed with pleasure. Maybe you did.

“Ungh, unnnh, fuck!” He threw his head back and dragged your thighs against his, his hips driving into you in sharp, stabbing thrusts. His cock pulsed inside you like a molten sun and he was coming in you, sudden lashings of fiery wetness deep inside you, the friction of his swollen cock making you jerk and tremble under him, and fall completely to pieces.

You took all of him. Every inch. Every drop.

Just like he said you would.

Toshi let your legs slip off his arms and sank onto the mat with you, kissing you everywhere. Your eyes. Your cheeks. Your chin. Your lips, long and lingering, his big hands framing your face. Somewhere along the way, his cock slipped out of you and you moaned, achingly empty, and just aching.

You felt simultaneously like the luckiest girl in the world and the lone survivor of a war.

Rolling over, he pressed your face into his chest, his hand stroking your hair.

“Did you like it?” he asked, low and still breathless. “Maybe we should have talked about it first. I tried to make it good for you.”

“Yessssssssss,” you whispered, a drawn-out sigh of pleasure. “It did hurt, but…you really looked it up?”

“Yes.” One coffee-colored eye popped open. “I didn’t want to hurt you. And I wanted you to like it.”

He looked so serious.

“You…you are adorable,” you said, possibly the most daring thing you’ve ever said to him, and kissed him again tempestuously. And he liked it, oh yes, he almost crushed you in his arms, his deep voice rumbling in his chest.

“Good. Because we’re going to do that again.”

Chapter Text

After that, Kenma stayed down on the beach most days. He could play games just as well under an umbrella as under a roof, though his proximity to the volleyball pits meant he got nagged a lot to join in. A shocking amount, actually, and not just by Kuroo. Occasionally Kenma would dart an exasperated glance at you, as if to say, you are the cause of this. You couldn’t really argue. If he hadn’t been doing his duty as big brother, he could have been in an air conditioned living room, blissfully playing video games all summer.

As such, you tried to support him during this difficult time.

“Do you have sunscreen, Ni-chan?” You asked, rummaging through your knapsack of peace offerings, and spraying it for him when he grudgingly extended his arms. “Do you want water? Potari Sweat? Pocky?”

Kenma was light and wiry and would never acquire Kuroo’s bulk or his protective tan; Ni-chan seemed doomed to perpetual sunburn. But no matter how much Kuroo nagged him to run, his stamina was impressive even to you, who knew exactly how exhausting it was just to contend with the sand. He played patiently for hours at a time in even the hottest sun, with only minor outbreaks of rebellion.

“Why does everyone want him to play so much?” You asked, trotting beside Kuroo one day after Kenma had been physically extracted from his beach blanket.

“He’s really good.” Kuroo was still smirking from having been the one to peel Kenma’s fingers off the umbrella pole.

“But he never does anything.”

“He’s the one that sets up the spiker.” He pushed sweat-dampened hair off his forehead, sending small showers of sand cascading down. Half the time you looked like you’d been run over by a very fine cheese grater because of rough surf, but just looking at Kuroo made you itch. “That’s why you don’t see it. You just see me or Norio or Taro spiking the ball down, but Kenma is the one that decides who’s going to do it.”

“Oh.” Kenma had sort of explained that to you before, but it had never impressed you deeply. “How does he know where to throw it?”

“That’s why everyone wants him to play,” Kuroo explained. “He’s good at figuring out what the other team is doing, how they like to play, and what they’re likely to do next. He’s the brain of any team he’s on. Here, you can sit here if you want and you won’t get in the way. Watch Kenma, see if you can pick up what he does.”

Well, that was all well and good, but you were watching Kuroo. You had never realized how physically strenuous volleyball was. He must have jumped a thousand times a day, his powerful thighs propelling his tall body upward over and over again, with the soft white sand dragging at his feet the whole time. Jump and run, jump and then dive, his tall body folding like a switchblade to dig deep for the ball and then spring up to block, slamming the ball into the sand. More than once you laughed out loud when you saw the sly smirk on his face that meant he’d figured something out, caught their rhythm. After that his opponents might as well have been trying to get past a brick wall.

“How do you always know where they’re going to go?” You asked one day, after watching a series of blocks that looked almost supernatural. Kuroo was taking his turn on the bench and you handed him the bottle of water you’d stashed under it to keep it out of the sun.

“Thanks. I watch their eyes.” He drained half the bottle in a single long gulp and poured the rest over his head, the water slicking his black hair down and sluicing through the ever-present coating of sand on his bare chest and belly. He had filled out even more over the summer, and the hard ridges of his abdomen shifted as he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “But I don’t jump until I see the ball.”

“You practice a lot.”

Being used to conversing with Kenma, he understood the underlying question.

“I’m going to be captain of the volleyball team next year,” he answered. His eyes, a scorched amber as clear as glass, followed the ball with the hungry avidity of a cat with a mouse. “I have to learn all I can.”

“I got accepted to Nekoma.” You said, smiling at the thought of Kuroo with his own volleyball team. At least it would give him someone other than Kenma to improve upon. “I’ll come cheer for you.”

“You did? Kenma never told me!” Kuroo gave you a damp, sweaty, sandy hug, just to hear you squeal ewwwwwwwww. “You better come to our games, then. I want to hear you screaming all the way from the court.”

You giggled at that supreme unlikelihood, but that was how Kuroo was with you; even when he was kind of making fun of you, you were still in on the joke. He swapped back into the game a few minutes later, and shot a warning glare at Taro, who had already been informed that you were Kenma’s little sister, you were still in junior high, and you were off limits.

Kuroo had absolutely no sense of humor where you were concerned.

Of course, you were blissfully unaware of this byplay. You did find it strange that the boy who replaced Kuroo on the bench sat on the opposite end, refused all offered refreshments, and jumped when spoken to.

Chapter Text

Bokuto Kōtarō was an ass man.

Your ass, to be precise.

He cuddled it. He caressed it. He was rough with it sometimes, tender afterwards, as if to make up for his ungentle loving. Sometimes he even spoke to it.

“She says you don’t like this, but you do,” He told your uniform-clad backside on the way to school, and gave it another pinch to make it blush. He couldn’t see it turning pink, of course, but he was confident that it was.

“Bokuto!”

Sometimes it seemed like it had been like this forever: your life, with the infuriating, ridiculous, embarrassing, exhilarating Bokuto-love. Your classmates even mimicked you for comedy effect, though without the tiniest hint of malice; the sight of their good-grades-having, perfect-hair-styling, never-a-false-move class president contending with the splendor that was Bokuto seemed almost karmic in its perfection. It wasn’t quite, whom the gods would destroy they must first make mad, but it was in the neighborhood.

“I’ll see you later,” you said at the school doors; Bokuto was many things, but he was not in class 1-7. He smiled and bent down to kiss you, sweet and gentle and endearing.

“Be careful today,” he said softly, pressing his cheek against yours. “I’m very fond of you, I want you to be treated gently today, so I can treat you roughly tonight, okay?”

It was an unusual parting benediction even for him and you felt your face burn that he was saying this in public, but then you felt his hands patting and realized he was talking to your ass cheeks.

“Bokuto!”

“BOKUTO!” chorused the six or seven students closest to you, and Bokuto almost laughed himself into a hemorrhage.

“See you at lunch, bunny-chan,” he said, still laughing, a mobile wave of good cheer rolling down the hallway. You watched him go with the usual cauldron of wrath, embarrassment, and amused adoration; he was so infuriating, so how come he made you so ridiculously happy?

* * *

After club activities, you and a few other girls had a habit of wandering through the downtown shops with the Fukurōdani volleyball boys, all of them sweaty and usually exhilarated from practice. They talked excitedly about upcoming tournaments and whatever new, unstoppable techniques they had developed that night, which usually lasted only a day or two before they were stopped and the cycle began anew. You and the girls stopped at stationary stores to replenish your supplies of adorable erasers and pencils, your boyfriends bought them for you as gifts, and everyone usually bought mochi or dango or Western candies before going their separate ways.

“How did you end up together, [name]-chan?” Akaashi’s girlfriend Chizue asked curiously. She was a first year, a year younger than you, and you liked her quite a bit; watching her with the level-headed Fukurōdani setter was like watching two little birds building a nest together.

“Persistence on his part,” you said wryly, but giggled when Bokuto pulled you against him, propping his chin on your shoulder. He was proud of having won you and didn’t care who knew it.

“You may not have noticed,” he said conspiratorially, “but my bunny-chan is amazing. It’s easy to miss; the aura of her amazingness covers all of Japan, so when you’re inside it, it’s hard to tell where the end of it is.”

Well, that was new. It even kind of made sense, conceptually.

Akaashi rolled his eyes, exchanging a look of amused patience with the Fukurōdani libero Komi Haruki, who also knew what was coming.

“So that’s how I knew she was my destiny,” Bokuto continued. “She was the only one as awesome as me.”

“There it is,” said Akaashi.

“So then I said to myself, self, I said—I call myself self—how can I persuade this gorgeous girl that it’s in her own best interests to be with me?” Bokuto continued, warming to his story. His arms tightened around your waist, appreciating the giggles he was sure were already bubbling there. “I put forth all my best arguments.”

Chizue was everything he could have wanted in audience. Her relationship with Akaashi was still new, so she hadn’t been quite sure what to make of his friends yet, especially the noisy Bokuto; he and Akaashi were such unlikely friends. She was a watching him like he was a carnival rolling into town.

“I pointed out to her how devastatingly handsome I am,” Bokuto said, ticking the point off on one long finger. “I also noted my considerable athletic accomplishments. I am one of the top five spikers in Japan, you see.”

“He is number five.”

“Akaashi, please, I am explaining things to your girlfriend.” Chizue had covered her mouth and was giggling helplessly, which just egged him on. “You might have also noticed, number three: I am hilarious.”

“Number four is his modesty,” you said, barely managing the words through your giggles. “Ko-chan, stop bragging and buy me some manjū.”

“Okay, bunny-chan,” he said cheerfully. “Akaashi, I am also buying some for your girlfriend, she deserves it for putting up with you.”

“We ought to take up a collection for your girlfriend then,” Komi-kun muttered, opening the door of the sweet shop with a tinkling of bells.

* * *

It occurred to you later that you had been very, very lucky that it hadn’t occurred to Bokuto to either add your ass to a) your list of accomplishments or b) the list of his own accomplishments, specifically his gift for appreciating said ass.

You were studying together on the floor of your apartment, as was your habit after club activities, reading your few overlapping texts together and then going back to your own books as needed. Bokuto was, you regretfully had to admit, not a genius when it came to schoolwork. He might have been if he had an attention span longer than a television commercial, or if he could sit still for more than ten minutes at a stretch, but he just wasn’t interested.

Once, this might have been a deal breaker for you. That had been your own arrogance, that the only kind of guy who was right for you had to be at least as smart as you were, or he didn’t qualify. Ko-chan might have been hopeless at explaining why the political structures of the Edo period had persisted for so long when in most other countries, a similarly rigid class system was grounds for revolution, but if most people dismissed him as a feather-brained simpleton, what did it mean if he consistently surprised and outwitted you?

You had developed several studying techniques that accommodated his need for stimulation and incentives, but you weren’t sure about this particular method.

“Come on, bunny-chan, you promised,” he wheedled, patting his lap. “Give me the flash cards, I waited all day!”

You hesitated another moment, and then capitulated.

“Okay,” you said, with a secret frisson of excitement at the prospect. “If you ever tell anyone—”

“Bunny-chan,” he said, in tones of injured offense. “Have I ever told anyone about the way you squeak when you come? Or about that one time I did you from behind at the Pole Lantern Festival and your yukata ripped and you almost flashed the parade? Or about how when you suck my—”

“I can’t do this.”

“I won’t, I won’t!”

He patted his lap again, with that adorable pleading look in his golden eyes, and you capitulated. Sinking to your knees on the floor, you stretched over his lap slowly, feeling his knees press into your stomach. Ko-chan actually sighed with pleasure.

“There you are, my darlings,” he crooned, and rubbed your ass cheeks. “Have you missed daddy? I missed you too.”

“Ko-chan, if you refer to yourself as daddy again, this ends now.”

“That is a fair statement of principle, bunny-chan. Okay.” He shuffled through your flash cards, his tongue slightly protruding in concentration. “Tokugawa Yoshinobu.”

“The proposed heir to the shogunate, son of Tokugawa Noriaki,” you said. “Easy.”

“Bo-ring. You are the best, bunny-chan. First Japanese embassy to Europe.”

“1860…no, 1861?” You had to admit, years were not your best thing. Bokuto hummed, and then one big, hard, number-five-spiker-in-all-Japan hand cracked down on your ass.

“OW!” You squealed, immediately trying to escape, but his heavy arm pinned you inexorably.

“We made a deal, bunny-chan,” he said sternly. “1862. Say it.”

“First Japanese embassy to Europe. 1862. You’re the best, Ko-chan.”

“Order to expel barbarians?”

“1863, April and May,” you said quickly. God, your ass was burning from that spank.

“Very good. You’re the best, bunny-chan.” He lifted the card, and then paused. “And,” he added, “this order was significant because the Emperor…?”

Crap.

“Ummm….” You remembered writing this card; Bokuto’s hand caressed your ass, loving and warning at once. “Oh, I know this!”

“Five. Four. Three…”

“Ordered the firing on all foreign ships?”

Smack. Now both cheeks were stinging, and you yelped again, your thighs rasping the tatami mat.

“No, the Emperor specifically forbade that, you naughty bunny. This was significant because the order was the first time the Emperor broke tradition to intervene in worldly affairs. You are not repeating all that crap or this will take all night.”

“You’re the best, Ko-chan. That really hurts when you spank that hard,” you complained, squirming in his lap.

“Awww, I’m sorry, babe. Here.” He flipped your skirt up and pulled your panties down, then planted a gentle kiss on each cheek. “There, now I can see how hard I’m spanking.”

His hand caressed your hair, brushing it out of your face, and then he bent and kissed you, too; your ass really was red, and he was kind of sorry about that. It wouldn’t stop him from spanking you again, though. He shuffled the cards into a more interesting order—they had been almost unfairly chronological—and caressed your ass again.

“Mito Rebellion.”

“1864. May.” Mito-May, you had said to yourself when you wrote that card.

“Oooh, very good,” Bokuto said, and his hand slid over your ass and down the smooth back of your thighs. “You’re the best, bunny-chan. I think I want to modify this study method a little bit, you deserve a reward when you get it right.”

His fingers slipped between your thighs and his other arm pressed down again, anticipating your squirming as his fingers pressed, circled, and slid inside you.

“Now, what was the Mito Rebellion?” He asked, working his fingers slowly in and out, going a little deeper every time. His hand was big, his fingers were big, and long; you felt each knuckle as it pressed inside, drawing the wetness out onto your thighs.

“It was…ohhh…” His fingers brushed your clit and you moaned loudly. “The Kantō Insurrection. Against the shōgun.”

“Good, good. When did it end?”

“1865. March?”

This time his spank left your own wetness on your ass. You cried out, but it was not the same pain-filled yelp he’d heard twice before; there was a little squeak at the end that betrayed you, and he could feel your pussy lips swelling, slick with excitement. He continued, ruthlessly administering both punishment and reward until you were soaked and writhing in his lap. You could feel the hard length of his dick pressing into your belly and it was making it very hard to concentrate.

“Second Chōshū expedition?”

“Dates?” Spank.

“Boshin War.” Two fingers inside you. Out. Pinching your clit until you squealed.

“Kinmon Incident.” Three fingers inside you, and you sucked in a breath and cried out at the fullness, your thighs spreading wide apart. You were drenching him, your hips jerking up and down, your round, red, beautiful ass cheeks bouncing, bouncing.

“Ko-chan!” you begged, when your ass felt like it would sizzle if you touched it. You wanted him to fuck you so badly, you could hardly stand it.

“I know,” he said a little hoarsely. “That’s enough studying. Turn around, babe. Suck me.”

God, you couldn’t do it fast enough. He divested you of your clothing as fast as you stripped off his, and you almost fell against him in your eagerness to touch him. Bokuto naked was a treat; tall and sturdy as a tree, solid from chest to hips rather than narrowing through the waist, with a flat navel that you loved to tease with your tongue. His dick was similarly thick and sturdy, and he moaned as you licked his balls, gathering up your hair to watch you better.

“I don’t…fuck…want to come in your mouth,” he groaned, his hips pushing upward automatically as you began to suck his dick. Your mouth felt heavenly, wet and warm, your tongue knowing just where to tickle to make his balls contract in response. “Oh, fuck, your mouth is so good!”

You couldn’t speak with his dick in your mouth, but feeling his response was driving you crazy. That hot, aching core of you was just throbbing, and even though your ass felt hot enough to fry an egg on a sunny day, somehow that made you even hotter. Ko-chan reached for your nipples and pinched, tugged, thumbed them as you sucked him, his cock straining in your mouth.

“Mmmmmmm!” You squealed when he pinched hard, and he yanked you off his dick and turned you over in a tumble of limbs, knocking your thighs apart with his knees, grabbing your hips in his hands, and sheathing himself in you in one stroke.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He gasped, pounding the daylights out of you. Every smack of his hips against your red ass sent a shock of pain through you, but the heat exploded and spread, every stroke, every thrust, building it hotter and hotter inside you. “Oh fuck, you are so tight on my dick—do that again!”

His hips slammed into your ass, your poor spanked, crimson, stinging ass, and your pussy tightened up on him like a vise. He almost came on the spot.

“Ko-chan please!” You cried out, hardly knowing what you were asking for. You were so close, you weren’t sure whether the secondary spanking was speeding things up or slowing thing down, your pain and pleasure circuits were so jumbled you might even be coming right now. Your hair fell over your face and your breasts bounced, lightning cracking behind your eyelids every time he pounded you and pounded you and pounded you.

“[Name]-chan, fuck yes, milk my dick!” He was making those short, stabbing thrusts that meant he was about to come, swelling inside you until you could feel his dick throbbing in you like you were made of his throbbing.

“Bokuto, ohhhhhhhhh, I’m going to—!”

“Fucking God, do it!”

You exploded together, his hands gripping your ass and hammering you, coming with a long, wordless shout of pleasure as he filled you in long jets. All you could do was take it, your whole body shaking as you came and came in waves, so filled with him that you barely knew where you were.

“Uuhh.” Bokoto fell onto his side beside you, and you felt his come smearing wetly between your thighs.

“Ko-chan…”

He inhaled, loving that soft little squeaking breath you made when he’d worn you out. He gathered you up and kissed you, one hand drifting gently over your ass.

“I love you,” he said, his eyes closed, kissing you softly once, twice, again. You froze in his arms; you hadn’t said that to each other yet, though you had thought it a few times. “You sweet, beautiful, bouncing little peaches…”

“Bokuto Kōtarō, if you’re talking to my ass again—”

“Of course not,” he said, insulted. “Babe. I am talking to your rack.”

“Bokuto.”

“I love you,” he said again, his eyes opening, laughing. “And your rack, and your adorable ass, bunny-chan.”

“Mmm.” You smiled up at him, and he pulled you against his chest, his cheek on the top of your head, the position he knew you loved. He was ridiculous. If he didn’t become a famous volleyball player he was virtually unemployable. He had spanked you so hard you wouldn’t sit down for a week. And yet…

“I love you, too,” you whispered, and his lips brushed yours, teasing.

“Hey, hey, hey, look at us,” he whispered back, and kissed you until your head spun.

Chapter Text

“Holy shit,” Kuroo exclaimed, unable to help himself. “Fucking ow.”

Both he and Kenma flinched sympathetically as your board shot out from under you and you went tumbling into the water, to be pounded into the sand underneath. Kuroo had already been witness to more than one vicious beating by the surf, but he still scanned the water anxiously until your head reappeared, bobbing between waves. You were a small, sleek figure in the distance, identifiable by your bright green swimsuit and streamers of wet hair, fronded like seaweed in the wind off the waves.

“She learned this by herself?” He asked, shading his eyes to watch.

“Yeah. Well, she gets a lot of magazines and stuff,” Kenma said, watching Kuroo watching you. “She’s been learning since she was—”

“Ouch,” Kuroo said for both of them. Your board had flipped off the wave and then shot into the ocean after you like a thrown spear. “Shouldn’t she come in after that one?”

“No. She says it’s best to get right back on the next one.” And after a few puffing breaths, that’s what you did, swinging your board around and digging deep with your arms as the next wave rolled under you and swelled toward breaking point. Kuroo could almost feel the thump of the board as it caught the angle of the wave just right and bumped solid under your feet. It was what you would call a righteous wave.

Kenma was right. You were amazing at it, carving your way along the foam like a bird on the wing. You loved the barrel, vanishing into the breaking blue maelstrom of the wave and soaring out the other side, with a whoop of triumph Kuroo could hear from the beach.

But some days you did have to crawl back to shore to shake off a particularly rough tumble, and that afternoon was a brutal one. After another couple bad wipeouts, you dragged your board up the beach and flopped down on the blanket next to Kenma to catch your breath. Your arms and legs were red from the scouring sand and a welting bruise was slowly blackening across the middle of your back where your board had done its best to impale you.

“Was it worth it?” Kenma asked mildly, without taking his eyes off his game.

“Totally,” you said, with a satisfied purr that wouldn’t have been out of place on a cat. “You don’t know ’til you try, Ni-chan.”

“I would try it.” Kuroo was as surprised as you were to hear himself say it. Your eyes popped open.

“I could teach you,” you offered shyly. “Though…though today probably isn’t good. It’s rough out there.”

“You don’t think I could handle it?” he teased, and watched, entertained, as your eyes actually flicked over him as if you were considering it, and your cheeks flared pink.

“I think you could.” The words were slightly muffled; you’d hidden your face in the blanket, pretending like you wanted to nap. “Until you don’t suck at surfing though, totally not worth it.”

* * *

So it wasn’t until a couple days later that you headed out into the water together, with Kuroo on a rented surfboard and you trying to remember everything your earliest instructors had told you. The fact that it was Kuroo made you nervous and excited, as much because you so wanted to show him how amazing surfing was as because it was Kuroo, who had been having a most unsettling effect on your pulse lately.

You couldn’t have asked for a better day; the sky was clear, the swells were coming in perfect three-wave sets, and the normally oppressive humidity had decided to back off for a bit and let you breathe. Strapping your leash around your ankle, you dipped your hands in the ocean and dragged the seawater through your hair to get it out of your way.

“It’s not that complicated, Kuroo-san,” you began. “We’re going to paddle onto one of these waves, and when it swells under you, you’re going to turn and paddle until it starts to break under you. That’s when it gets foamy, right? When it does that, you’re going to put your hands on the—what?”

Kuroo was looking at you skeptically.

“We’re doing this here?” He asked, watching one of the two foot swells roll by. He was not impressed.

“Oh, well, ummmm…you’re not learning out there,” you said, shaking your hair out of your face and glancing at the bigger waves. “Those are big girl waves.”

“They are, huh.” He grinned at your joke and you smiled shyly back. He liked this person you were out in the water.

“Yeah. But maybe we can go out there later.” You knocked on the surface of your board, already gritty with wax. “So…what part of the board is this?”

“The…rails,” he said. You’d warned him there would be a quiz.

“Uh-huh. That’s what you grab when you pop up. Paddle out, turn, grab the rails, push up with your chest first and then up onto your feet.”

“That’s it?”

“Mmm-hmmm.” You smiled. “Simple. Just like hitting a volleyball.”

What were these little jabs? he thought, immensely amused. Your eyes were sparkling with something very like mischief, and on your board, you looked more relaxed than you ever did on land, the sleek, satiny muscles of your arms and shoulders gliding smooth as a sea otter’s.

“Ummm, Kuroo-san, scoot back a bit on the board,” you said as the nose of his board dipped, and you turned into the swells together with the sun just breaking the horizon, and no one—fortunately—to see him falling off the kiddie waves. And then…

“Paddle, paddle, paddle!”

His hands dug into the water and his board moved reluctantly into the wave. It felt like an awful lot of effort to get the thing going and he just missed the wave, but got to see you demonstrating the proper technique close-up. Your shoulders pushed up with a roll of lean muscle and blue water streamed off your legs and feet as you ripped them up and planted them, a smooth launch that gave you a good ten second ride before the wave flattened under you.

“See?” You asked, beaming as you returned to him and giving a happy little bounce on your board. “Come on, you can do it. Paddle! Paddle, paddle!”

That word, almost always said in threes, was the least fun part of the whole day. But the rest was fun; on his tenth or twelfth try he managed to almost stand, on his twentieth he cracked his face on the board, and sometime after that he rode the tiniest wave in the world for three heart-stopping seconds, with you cheering wildly behind him.

You ate lunch from one of the many food trucks lining the boardwalk, chattering a mile a minute about waves you had caught, rough days, the first time you got barreled, that one wipeout where somehow your leash ripped off and you came up to find your board headed for China. You made him laugh. You teased him about inhaling four sandwiches off the food truck and going back for a fifth, almost like he’d been working on those little waves or something.

On the way back out to the water, you told him you supposed a real wave probably wouldn’t kill him, and when he pulled you against his side in a quick one-armed hug, it went through him like an electric shock.

You made him catch his breath when he watched from a dozen feet away as you dropped into a wave with your arms spread graceful as a dancer, vanishing into the streaming curtain of blue water as the barrel rolled away. You were a small, lithe shadow in the foam, one hand outstretched into the wall of water as if to prove to yourself you were there, in the calm and perfect center of the thunder of the wave.

A little before sunset, his arms almost shaking with fatigue, he dropped in on a real wave, the board crunching upward under his feet so unexpectedly he almost immediately toppled off.

“Arms out, Kuroo-san!” he heard you screaming from a thousand miles away, and he threw them out like he expected to fly with them, feeling the board shifting underfoot. Like a skateboard, you’d said. The board heeled left at the pressure of his foot and that was it, he was in, watching the water rise up on his left, the barrel beginning to form ahead. Holy shit. For a second, he could see the palm trees of the far side of the bay through the blue telescope of water, like a glimpse of paradise.

Then he fell off, and the glimpse of paradise became a thousand pounds of water smashing him into the ocean floor like a giant, vengeful fist.

“You did it! You did it!” You were cheering when he finally came up, streaming water and half deaf from the wave breaking directly on top of his head. “That was amazing, did you see the tube?! Another minute and you would have totally barreled!”

“Speak Japanese.” Climbing back on top of his board, he tried to shake the water out of his ears, and you grinned up at him, you glowed up at him.

“Do you want to try again, or do you want to get dinner?” You asked, hoping he would say the first.

“I need food,” he said, and smiled at the way your face fell. “You’ve kept me out here all day, mermaid-chan. You have to feed me after working me to death.”

“I guess so,” you said dubiously, and giggled when he tweaked your hair. “But you saw it, right? I know you did, the wave was about to break right over your head.”

“The wave broke on my head,” he reminded you as you paddled back in together, but you weren’t interested in talking about the wipeout. The ride was all that counted.

At the food truck, you were still chattering about it as you ordered American-style hot dogs, two for you and six for Kuroo, insisting that it would be your treat since he had bought lunch.

“Jeez, sweetie, you got any bigger bills you want to break?” the guy at the cash register growsed, and it broke Kuroo’s heart a little to see your quick, instinctive retreat behind your hair, your stuttered, s-sumimasen.

“I have to practice tomorrow,” he began, sitting down beside you at a little café table nearby. The sun was just setting over the water and the soft golden light lit your face, making his hands suddenly itch to brush your hair back so he could see it better. He could smell the coconut of your sunscreen, the tang of mustard from the hot dogs, and the salt of the ocean, scents that were linked for him forever afterward with a single perfect moment, a vision of paradise through a vortex of thunder and the blue crush of the sea. “But maybe I’ll take a break in the afternoon and we can go back out for a bit, huh?”

Your smile was lovely. It followed him even when you went back to your separate schools, and he was busy with homework and volleyball and already planning for next year, building the team he would take to nationals. There were girls, too; he was male, young, and increasingly confident in his own powers of attraction. But it was you that wandered through his mind long after the last girl had departed, a question needing an answer, a puzzle to be gently—so gently!—pieced together.

Because he knew a secret no one else knew.

He knew who you were supposed to be.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, as a dancer, you were used to a certain amount of muscle pain.

You practiced five days a week leading up the spring showcase, spending nearly as many hours on the stage as Toshi-san spent in the gym. The dance club covered all types of dance, from traditional Japanese to ballet to contemporary American, and while you had tried the others—your mother had started you on ballet when you were four—contemporary was by far your favorite.

You had two routines to learn for the showcase. An ensemble piece that was almost entirely traditional Japanese dance, and a contemporary piece that you were pouring your heart into, admittedly sacrificing a little too much practice time for the ensemble piece. It really was very pretty, and sad; a woman’s lover betrayed her and so she threw herself into the river, and you and two other girls were playing both the wind that told her of his betrayal, and the river that called her into its depths.

It also called for a seductive, aggressive, almost masculine energy, which you still hadn’t quite figured out.

“It’s like a youkai, the wind and the water,” you said shyly to the others; you thought you were becoming friends with Emiko and Ayame, but it was still too soon to be entirely sure. “It’s the same demon. The wind is telling her that she was betrayed, and the water is saying he’ll never betray her.”

“I like that,” Emiko-chan said, after a moment. “So we need to look like we’re all the same creature. Some part of us should be touching at all times when we’re water.”

“Oooh,” said Ayame, and repeated the last few steps of the dance, a minor modification that made her arms wind around yours, her fingers coiling just like you imagined tendrils of water would. “I’m going to go tell captain-sama!”

That was what you were practicing the night Toshi and Tendo-kun decided to make their visit, and the three of you had been hard at it for over an hour, repeating the same winding, coiling variations again and again, trying to distinguish wind from water. Wind was lighter, captain-sama kept saying when she came by to watch your latest improvisations. It was hard to be light and intimidating, but when the three of you whirled by the betrayed woman, whispering, whispering, you had to be ominous. The motion made you think of seagulls skimming ocean waves, those sharp wings.

Your legs felt as wobbly as they had when Toshi had finished with you by the time practice was over, and you smiled at Emiko and Ayame as you pulled your gym bag over your shoulder, promising each other that you’d get it next time.

“Your boyfriend is waiting for you,” Emiko teased on her way out, and you looked out into the auditorium to see Toshi and Tendo standing in the back. Tendo was pretending to be weeping loudly.

Well, you kind of wished you’d had some warning, but you weren’t ashamed of what they’d seen, you told yourself as you climbed off the stage. Still, you felt almost as shy as you had that first day as you walked the long aisle to meet them. Tendo was smiling, but Toshi’s face was as expressionless as ever, and you really wanted an expression just now.

“You have seduced me, cutie-chan,” Tendo said, spreading his arms out. “I will come to your loving, non-betraying embrace.”

You were used to Tendo now, and shoved his arms aside, laughing.

“You should have warned me you were coming,” you told him, smiling, but your eyes were all for Toshi.

“We finished a little early,” Toshi-san said. “When you didn’t answer your phone we figured you were still practicing.”

“What he is trying to say is that you are very good at being water, cutie-chan,” Tendo remarked. You had come to appreciate him as Toshi’s friend; he had a way of drawing information out of Toshi that no one else would have dared to try, and of translating for him when apparently the required communication exceeded Toshi’s daily allotment of words. “I will attend your showcase with great anticipation.”

“I’ll have to practice harder to make it worth your while,” you said, wondering if you actually needed to. Toshi still hadn’t said anything resembling a compliment. Maybe he hadn’t liked it after all.

“Do that,” Tendo said, and patted you on the head like you were a puppy. For some reason Toshi didn’t object to Tendo touching you, though you could hear him bristling when anyone else did. “Be nice to your cutie-chan, Wakatoshi-kun, she’s worked hard,” he added, and sauntered out of the auditorium.

“Did you like—mmmph,” you started to ask, but Toshi’s hand cupped your face and drew it up for a sudden, startlingly thorough kiss that seemed to begin at the tips of your toes. You swayed into him like he was the water demon and forgot everything in the sheer pleasure of his kiss.

“Yes,” he said, that deep voice thrumming through his chest. “You are beautiful and it made me proud you’re mine. Let’s go back to my house, we can study there.”

“Your—your mother won’t be home again?” You asked shyly, your heart skipping a beat. You only went to his house when it was empty. And you really would study. Just not right away.

“No.” His arm slid around you and pulled you to his side, propelling you out the door.

In his bedroom, he laid you down and undressed you as if he meant to take his time about things, tugging your t-shirt and sports bra off you and piling them neatly to the side of his futon, peeling your tight leggings and panties off you slowly, kissing his way down your thighs. You were slowly getting used to this, being naked for him, and your blush was more because of the look of focused, intent hunger in his eyes than modesty. His hands followed his lips, his strong fingers sliding down the long, sleek muscles of your thighs and pressing, squeezing, mingling caress with something almost like an inspection.

“You didn’t stretch after all that dancing,” he admonished, and his fingers pushed and pinched at your calves as he stretched your legs apart. “I never thought how hard it is, dancing. You should stretch after.”

“Normally I do,” you said, a little breathlessly. “I just saw you and Tendo-san and…ohhhh…”

Your eyes almost rolled back in your head. One of his hands was on your right thigh, the other was pressing his thumb into the groove of your right foot, and he was using his body to gently lever your legs apart, stretching, massaging, and arousing you all at once. The feel of his thumb pressing on that sore spot after hours on tiptoe almost introduced you into an entirely new form of climax.

“Don’t forget again.” He was massaging you, just this side of pain as his hands pressed and pulled downward, as if he were pulling each individual muscle fiber into an alignment more to his liking. He pressed a kiss on the inside of your ankle and suddenly the room shrank to the confines of his futon, your skin tingling where he touched you.

“I like this better though,” you breathed, and his lips twitched, almost a smile.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be rewarding you, then,” he said, but showed no signs of stopping. “Maybe I should be punishing you instead.”

He was hard. You could see it through his shorts, and your heartbeat sounded in your ears. He stretched your other leg the opposite direction, his lips brushing against the inside of your ankle, then moving upward, ticklish at your knee, unbearably sexy against your thigh.

“Turn over,” he said, and you obeyed, propping your chin on your crossed arms. He had already kissed a good percentage of your body, but there was still much left to explore, and this was the first time he’d put you on your belly underneath him. His hands slid up the backs of your thighs and his thumbs pressed inward, reaching the core of you and sliding just outside your moistening lips, tantalizing.

“Toshi…”

He was undressing behind you.

“Lie still,” he ordered, moving between your spread thighs. “You used every part of your body, dancing. I saw you. These little muscles, sliding…”

He kissed your lower back, and you felt his cock brushing against you, probing your lower lips and then catching, sliding in.

Both of you moaned.

He still felt so big. The initial penetration hurt, always, but it was a good hurt. Your hips moved automatically, up and down, and his thumbs pressed into the smooth muscles of your lower back, digging down, stroking outward. You were melting. He was kissing and stroking his way up your back, finding every tight place, every sore spot, even as he was slowly thrusting his hips forward and withdrawing in a liquid glide that was just making you melt.

“Mine,” he murmured, his lips, his breath like a brand on your skin, marking every place, claiming it. “You are so pretty. Move for me…”

One hand slid along your hips, and you understood what he wanted. Your thighs flexed, lifted, and you sighed aloud as you met his long, slow thrusts, the pleasure rolling from your core outward in waves.

“Ah, ah, Toshi, you’re so deep…”

His body shifted as he reached your shoulders, and he had to slide an arm under you to keep the connection, kissing along the back of your neck while you shivered and moaned for him, louder. The angle from the back was different; it felt like he was going even deeper than before, and stroking over some new pleasure center that made your limbs jerk and quiver.

“What—what are you doing? It feels so good…”

“Fucking you,” he said, a low rumble like the warning tremors before an earthquake. “Kneel. All fours. I need to go harder now.”

His arm tightened under you, lifted, and his hips thrust forward and made you cry out.

“OH!” It was so deep, so deep! And again, a sharp buck of his hips that drove the breath from your lungs and made you cry out, vibrating like a sounding bell. Your knees pushed apart, finding just the right height, and when he drove into you again you almost saw stars.

“So wet for me,” he panted, his hands curving over your hips, holding you in place as he took up a punishing rhythm. “Lie down, [name]-chan. Flat on my bed.”

It was another stretch, your arms pushing at the blanket ahead of you, your shoulder muscles flexing as you tried to brace against him. Your nipples brushed over his bed sheets and the scent of Toshi was everywhere, your face pressed into the blankets that smelled of him, the woodsy soap he favored. You turned your head to watch him and he was breathtaking, his face lost in pleasure, grunting as he pounded into you ferociously.

“Toshi-kun, I-I’m getting close,” you said, with a whimper that punched straight through him. His hands tightened on your hips, a grip so hard you would show light bruises the next day, and he would kiss each and every one of the them the day after that. He was hammering you, he felt huge inside you, you were dissolving under him—

“Almost.” His eyes squeezed shut and his jaw clenched, the cords in his neck standing out like steel cables. “Fuck, you feel so good, why do you feel so good?!”

“Toshi!” You cried out, feeling yourself going over the edge. His cock was stroking just there, over and over and over and over, unstoppable, the pleasure was flattening you. Your fingers spasmed in his bed sheets and you cried out wordlessly and came, your inner walls fluttering around his cock and then tightening like a fist.

“Uhhhhn, [name]-chan, you’re—so tight!” He gasped, and exploded all at once, coming endlessly inside you. It felt like you were fucking pulling it out of him, the slick heat of you was so good, so good! “Ahhnn, uhhhhn!”

That voice, that moan, God, the sounds he made when he was coming!

Toshi pulled himself out of you with another moan at the stimulation, his hands running over your thighs, even kissing along your spine before he flopped down beside you, his chest heaving.

“Come here,” he said, and pulled you into him, his lips brushing against your forehead.

“I want you to stretch me out every day,” you said, and then blushed so hard your ears burned when he started laughing. “Not like that.”

“You didn’t like it, then?”

“Stop it,” you said, and giggled, settling beside him. His hand slid up and down your back, and he slipped his fingers into yours, tightening, caressing, then drew your arm out straight over his chest. You could feel the muscles in your shoulders and upper arms shift and stretch, warming.

“I didn’t get to your arms properly,” he explained, and you kissed him again, adoring this linear, simple-minded, single-minded man.

Chapter Text

“Kenma!”

The startling bellow of Kuroo’s voice rang through the house, and you scuttled down the stairs in your stocking feet, terrified of making them late. Anxiety about beginning at a new school had kept you up most of the night before, but you were wide awake now and had spent the better part of an hour in front of the bathroom mirror, applying and removing various cosmetics until Kenma banged on the door and told you if you didn’t let him in to pee, you weren’t going to like the place he chose as an alternative.

Normally you had already left for school by the time Kuroo showed up, so you had rarely seen him in his school uniform. He was slouching in the entry way in his outdoor shoes, his eyes sleepy as he nursed a black can of Boss coffee, and you skidded to stop, a little bewildered because he looked so much…older. How long had it been since you’d seen him last? Had Kenma even told him that you were going to take the train with them? The thought of appearing, uninvited, to be the tagalong little sister—

“Oya, [name]-chan,” Kuroo said easily. “How do you like your new uniform?”

“It’s okay,” you said, so soft he could barely hear you. You sat down on the step to put on your school shoes, black leather saddle shoes with a gray scalloped detail that you had been looking forward to wearing for three months. The Nekoma girl’s uniform was one of the attractions of the school, but you looked especially cute in it. It was mostly same as the boy’s, charcoal sweater vest over a white dress shirt, with a red tie tab for the girls and a gray skirt that showed off your legs. But your long hair in its side part still covered most of your pretty, slightly feline face, and he blinked when he realized he was staring. Your lips looked like two rose petals pressed together.

“Here,” he said when you straightened, thrusting something into your hands. It was a hair ribbon with the kanji for Nekoma printed along its length in black and white, and you took it with wide, startled eyes. “Nekoma red, eh?”

“Oh, it is!” You said, your face lighting up like the sunrise, and promptly slipped it under your hair and tied it in a bow on top, leaving several long locks in front to shield your face. He supposed he didn’t really have grounds to object about you leaving your hair in your face, but his hairstyle choice was a result of sleeping position and laziness, and—okay, fine—a certain aura of smoldering sexiness he was trying to cultivate. Yours was a curtain to hide behind.

“Is this all right?” You turned back to him, eyes bright with pleasure at the gift. “Thank you, Kuroo-san!”

“Good luck for your first day,” he said, giving the ribbon a tweak it probably didn’t need and then shoving his hands in his pockets and reminding himself, again, that you were Kenma’s little sister. It was so hard to resist, though. “Are you going to join the track team?”

“Probably,” you said, with such disinterest that he smiled. You’d just slung your school bag over your shoulder and the zippers were weighed down with surfboard keychains, as if you wanted to make sure no one was confused about where your real interests lay.

“You could start a surf club,” he teased, flicking one of the brightly colored little boards. “Listen to ska music and plan trips to Hawaii.”

That made you giggle, which was about as much seriousness as the suggestion deserved.

“Your tie is crooked, Kuroo-san,” you said, and stood on tiptoe to straighten it. He let you, even though it was going to be crooked again before you made it to the train station, and would probably stay that way the rest of the school year. Your eyelashes curved in two thick, dark arcs over your cheeks and he didn’t hear Kenma coming down the steps, barely even registered his voice.

“Ohayo, Kuroo.” The barely-audible beeping of Kenma’s game floated along with him, the constant soundtrack of his life, but he took his eyes from the screen long enough to silently observe the tableau. You were unaware of his scrutiny; Kuroo met his eyes and looked away, brows briefly drawing together. “Imouto-chan, do you have your lunch?”

“Oh, no,” you said, kicking off your shoes and scurrying to retrieve your bento from the kitchen.

“We haven’t even left the house,” Kenma said when you were out of earshot, sitting down to put his own shoes on.

“Sorry.” Kuroo gave his schoolbag a self-conscious tug, the chest strap promptly disordering his tie.

“You broke up with your girlfriend last month.” Kenma observed, and made him flush red to his ears.

“That’s my business,” he said, showing a little more teeth than was strictly necessary, but Kenma’s retort to that was so obvious, he didn’t even need to say it out loud.

“Is—is it okay that I go with you?” You asked, pausing in the hallway with your bento in your hand and looking from one to the other anxiously. There was some tension between them, and the first place your mind went was to assume Kenma hadn’t told Kuroo you were going with them after all, and the third year was less than pleased about baby-sitting his friend’s little sister all the way to school.

But for some reason, Kuroo looked at Kenma for the answer, and Ni-chan’s lips pressed together before he picked up his phone and stood.

“Hai. Get your shoes on, imouto-chan.”

Chapter Text

Your first day at Metropolitan Nekoma High was…okay.

You waved goodbye to Kuroo and Kenma at the school entrance, determined to find your classrooms on your own. Your friend Chiyo was in 1-5, and had informed you more than once that you would be there too if you had studied the tiniest bit harder, but even the endless laps you were about to run around the school’s track were more interesting than that. Besides, you would at least be able to see her during breaks. And Tomiko had promised to join the track team again, so you would know at least one person there.

“All right, settle, settle,” said a teacher, waving as the class stood and bowed their greeting. He was a bespectacled man in his forties who might have been pictured in the dictionary beside average: average height, average weight, average amount of receding hair. “I will be your homeroom teacher and English teacher, Nakamura Sensei. Let’s start with introducing ourselves in English, ne?”

The most unfair thing about what was about to happen was this: you didn’t even know you were nervous. Of course you avoided speaking in class whenever possible, but usually your classes were big enough and your teachers merciful enough that you managed to fly under the radar, and after a few failed attempts at drawing you out, they would pick on someone else.

He called on you. You stood, automatically letting your long hair slide in front of your face as everyone’s heads swiveled toward you. But when you opened your mouth, nothing came out. It was as if your vocal chords had been paralyzed.

You should have known you were scared if anyone did, right?

“Kozume-san?” Sensei peered over his glasses. “Where are you? Try again.”

You did. You heart was suddenly pounding madly in your chest, and now you knew you were scared, now that the room was a sea of curious eyes and your palms were greasy with sweat and all the oxygen was gone from the world.

“I’m going t-t-to join the t-t-track t-t-t-team…”

By the time you spit it out, your face was scarlet with humiliation and fury with yourself. You knew English. You knew exactly what you wanted to say. No one actually laughed, but the pitying glances were almost worse, and you put your head down on your desk, pretending to go to sleep while the sensei moved on to Kuramoto Ume, who was joining the swim club and had gone skiing over winter break.

It wasn’t that bad, you tried to tell yourself. Kenma had once told you, no one is as interested in you as you are. It sounded mean and kind of hurt your feelings at first, but what he meant was that no one was watching you as closely as you watched yourself. It was a peculiarly Kenma-type observation, but it did make you feel better. Most of the time, any stupid thing you said or did—or failed to say—would be forgotten a few hours later by everyone but you.

And it was the worst thing that happened to you all day, which on a scale of dropping your pencil case to a public case of headlice, was a solid three. After school, you changed into your gym clothes and trotted down to the track, joining nearly thirty other girls sitting down in the grass. Tomiko-chan took her seat next to you and knocked her shoulder companionably against yours, looking almost like a stranger with her hair cropped to her shoulders.

“One more month, surfer-chan,” she said, throwing up a thumb-and-pinkie shaka sign. You habitually greeted each other with a countdown to surf season.

“How was Enoshima?”

“Blown out,” she said, with a shake of her head. Tomi-chan had gone to her grandparents’ in Enoshima over the winter break, boasting about all the winter surfing she was going to do, but even you weren’t crazy enough to go surfing in March. You put your heads together, already planning for summer; when surfing wasn’t possible, talking about it was a poor second best. And there was plenty more to talk about, comparing notes about your days, which had not been resounding successes. Except…Kuroo. You touched the ribbon in your hair self-consciously. You weren’t sure you were ready to talk about that to anyone. You weren’t sure it meant anything to anyone but you.

“Everyone,” said a tall girl, standing up front and waving a hand. “Thanks for coming, hi. I’m Sunada Haruna, Suna-san. I think I’ve got all your applications?”

She seemed nice, but your attention still wandered. You knew Nekoma’s track teams were national competitors, and you’d compete if you had to, but you’d be just as happy on the bench. Tomiko was the one that prodded you into putting forth an actual effort in competitions. Anything worth doing was worth winning, according to her, and if you weren’t testing yourself, you weren’t improving, were you?

“You’re from Yokosuka Junior High, aren’t you?” Inaba-san, the vice-captain, asked after the introductions had been made, and everyone was warming up for wind sprints. “You won the 5000 meters last year.”

“Yes. I mean, yes, Inaba-san.”

She waved a hand, unconcerned with protocol. “Let’s see if you win it this year,” she said, with a wink that made you consider actually trying.

* * *

You slipped into the gym so quietly, Kuroo didn’t even see you arrive. It was only when he switched sides after the sixth or seventh practice game that he spotted you at the far end of the gym, sitting on the floor in your sock feet with your books scattered around you. You’d changed into the school’s black-and-white gym uniform, black track pants and a white t-shirt, but the red ribbon was still in your hair.

As if you felt his eyes on you, you glanced up from your books, and he could read the question in your face as easily as if you’d said it aloud.

Am I okay over here?

He gave an almost imperceptible nod and you flashed a shy smile that made him want to scoop you up, brush your hair out of your face, and tell you to do it again so he could see it properly. But of course, every part of that was out of the question. He was afraid to let his eyes even drift in your direction. It wasn’t just Kenma he had to worry about; Coach Nekomata had had strict conditions for allowing you into the gym during practice.

“Only if she’s quiet and doesn’t draw attention to herself,” he said, unusually severe. “I don’t want her cheering and distracting you. You’re here to practice.”

“She won’t do that,” Kenma said mildly, and Kuroo had to stifle a smirk at the thought. You would just as soon strip naked and perform a dance.

And why, oh why did he have to think of that?

Resolutely, he directed his attention back to the game. There were four new first years, two of which stood out. Inouka and Lev were both completely raw and eager as puppies, but he thought there might be something there. Lev’s height alone was a huge asset; if he were even halfway coordinated, he might be a formidable weapon. He watched them throughout the game, mentally shuffling his players in his head, wondering what the most lethal combination might be.

“Keep it in the air,” he kept saying; if Nekoma had a motto, that was it. “So long as it doesn’t touch the ground, we can win.”

It was a brutal practice, even though it was the first one of the new school year. If the first years couldn’t hang, he wanted to know now. Spikes. Serves. Diving drills. Run a lap, and do it all over again. He knew some of the powerhouse schools liked to drill with sheer, mind-numbing repetition, a hundred spikes, a hundred diving drills, a hundred serves, but this was Nekoma. They were nimble, ready to switch from one thing to the next at moment’s notice.

When he was sure he had wrung everything he could get out of them, he let them stop.

“Clean up,” he ordered, and went over to talk to Coach Nekomata.

“I like the tall boy,” the old man said, getting up from his chair with a groan. “Though Inouka is more competent right now. It’s a promising start, Kuroo-kun. No more practicing tonight, not even by yourself.”

“Yes, sensei,” he said, and as soon as the old man was out the door, sighed and did what he’d wanted to do all night. He headed over to the opposite side of the gym with studied nonchalance and squatted down on his heels beside you.

“Hey,” he said, noting with amusement the surf-related doodles on most of the pages scattered on the floor. “We’re going to be closing up soon, you probably want to pack up.”

“Do you guys practice this late every night?”

“Not my fault the track team lacks commitment,” he said, with a lopsided smile. “We’ll meet you outside in a few minutes, okay?”

You nodded, yawning as you gathered your things and clearly chafing to be gone. He couldn’t blame you; he would have been pissed too, if his parents made him wait for an escort home, like an elementary school kid. He didn’t especially like the thought of you heading home from practice in the dark by yourself, though.

“Are we bringing girlfriends to practice now?” Yamamoto asked, craning his head after you as you stepped out of the gym.

“She’s my little sister,” Kenma said flatly, which killed all possible flirtation, romance, and joy in the presence of a pretty girl as effectively as if he’d shot her. Kuroo rubbed his hand over the back of his head, feeling a twinge of guilt.

“She’ll be here if her club practice ends early,” he said. “Pretend like she’s not here, all right? We’ve got other things to think about. Interhigh will be here before we know it.”

He locked up the gym a few minutes later, and the three of you headed down to the train station, six blocks from the school.

“How was school?” Kenma asked, managing the trick of playing games, holding a conversation, and not being run over by city traffic with practiced ease.

“Oh fine,” you said, without enthusiasm, but perked up a little bit when you talked about the track team. "They want me to be one of the distance runners," you added. "Inaba-san says it will be mind-numbingly boring, take a ton of extra training, and the people who do it should have a high tolerance for tedium, but I told her how I had spent my entire young life watching you two play video games, so I have effectively been preparing for this since I was five."

That was a good one, Kuroo conceded.

"Talk like that isn't going to convince me to help you persuade Mom and Dad to let you go to Tokyo with Tomiko-chan," Kenma said, and then actually stopped you at a busy crosswalk without ever taking his eyes off his handheld.

"You were going to?" You asked, your eyes opening wide.

“What will you give me?”

The haggling lasted until the three of you got on the train, where sibling arguments and most other forms of noise were heavily frowned upon. With a glance at the nearly full train, Kuroo took his seat next to you, with Kenma on your other side, clicking away at his game.

There was a certain inescapability about it, like the breaking of a wave overhead. The train rocked from side to side, almost restfully silent after a long day. Kuroo watched from the corner of his eye as your head drooped, a flower too splendid for its stem, your cell phone descending by degrees into your lap. Even dozing you still kept a death grip on it. Your eyelashes slid down, you swayed right, then left, and then wilted over onto his shoulder with a graceful inevitability that made his chest tighten.

His eyes found Kenma’s automatically. His friend had paused his game and was surveying you with a flat, unreadable gaze that Kuroo couldn’t answer. All he could do was shrug with his other shoulder and spread his hands, eloquently expressing the futility of struggling against fate.

Chapter Text

High school life quickly assumed three distinct dimensions, with very little overlap.

There was the dimension of safety that was your friends, and the track team, which was gaining a surprising amount of significance in your life. As little as you cared about competing, you couldn’t argue Tomi-chan’s and Inaba-san’s points: if you were going to be on the team, why shouldn’t you try to do the best you could? Suna-san was less compromising. If you were on the team, then you would try to win, or you would find another club.

Which was probably what a captain should be saying. There were a couple other first years on the team besides you and Tomi-chan, but no one from your classes. And honestly you were grateful for that demarcation.

Then there was the dimension of joy—and terror—that was Kuroo. You weren’t sure what was happening there, but, incredible as it seemed, you were sure something was. You could feel the force of his wanting like the change in the air before rain. On the days that you had to wait in the gym for volleyball practice to end, he always came over to speak to you, helping you gather up your homework and teasing you about its contents.

“I don’t think they’re cool I guess is an acceptable answer for why we should preserve the traditional arts, [name]-chan.”

“Do you have a better reason?” You asked, and made him burst out laughing. His hand moved toward you as if he wanted to hug you, or pet you, or something, but then stopped and diverted, scooping your papers together. But you were sure that wasn’t what he’d wanted to do.

And always, at least once during practice, his eyes found yours for an instant of wordless communication that made you bloom as if he were the sun shining down on you.

As it didn’t seem to affect his play, Coach Nekomata noted it with amusement, but forbore comment.

And finally, the dimension of despair that was school.

You didn’t understand what was wrong with you.

You didn’t understand why Nakamura Sensei seemed determined to pick on you for it.

English class was worse than the tortures of the damned. You would rather have been boiled in oil than face the misery of another recitation. You had never been this bad before, even in elementary school when your parents sent you to a speech therapist to at least minimize your stutter. Visualize the word before you say it. String it together in a whole sentence. Feel it on your tongue.

“Try again, Kozume-san,” Nakamura Sensei would say, tapping the spot on the page as if you were confused how books worked. Once he even sounded out the words for you, like you had never learned English pronunciation, and only when you failed utterly at that too seemed to realize that the problem was not one of comprehension.

Every day. He called on you every day. If there was a passage to be read, he called on you to read it, and waited through every stutter, every agonizing silence where your voice failed you altogether and the only sounds were the ticking of the clock and the titters of your classmates. You weren’t wishing the floor would swallow you or that you would drop dead on the spot; you couldn’t have managed anything that coherent. All you could do was stand and stare at the words in the book until they swam on the page, and feel individual beads of hot, sticky sweat roll down your spine while you tried to force the words out of your mouth one stuttering syllable at a time.

You didn’t know it, but Sensei Nakamura was trying to teach you to conquer your stutter the same way he’d been broken of left-handedness as a child: through relentless and public repetition. It just wasn’t working. And while most of your classmates found these exercises almost as excruciating as you did, the snickering of the others made your back prickle and face burn long after the actual sounds had stopped.

“Kozume-s-s-san,” Miki Emi called you, and it stuck.

“She’s just a shallow bitch, surfer-chan,” Tomi said, exchanging a worried glance with Chiyo at lunch. You picked at your bento box, trying not to watch the clock, trying not to count down the minutes until English class started (twenty-three minutes remaining).

“I know,” you said despondently. “Why can’t he leave me alone? All my English homework is right, he knows I understand it, why does he have to make me s-say it?”

“Have you tried talking to him?”

“Yes.” You pushed your lunch away. “He said public speaking is important, and if I can do it in English, then I won’t be afraid to do it in Japanese. I’m going to the infirmary.”

This was not a long term solution.

Lying in one of the quiet beds in the back of the infirmary, you stared at the ceiling, angry tears that you so far had managed to hold back during class threatening to overflow. You didn’t know what to do. You could have gone to Kenma or your parents, but pushing your troubles onto someone else had never been your way. If Tomi-chan and Chiyo hadn’t happened to overhear Miki’s bitchery, you would never have told them about it, either.

You didn’t want to be this person, this mute, pathetic loser, who needed to have other people talk for her.

Quietly, you unzipped your schoolbag on the floor next to you and pulled out your English book, paging to tomorrow’s section. You started at the beginning, your lips moving as you read it, barely audible. The words flowed almost as fluently as Japanese, six pages of English idioms. Hit the nail on the head. Pulling my leg. Out of left field. Lots of farm-related ones, oddly.

You read it to yourself seven times before the nurse kicked you out.

Chapter Text

You couldn’t help laughing.

“You are so full of shit, Oikawa-kun.”

“A nice way to talk to your senpai,” he reprimanded from the other side of the court, spinning the ball in his hands.

“I’m sorry, when my senpai is moaning to me about the all the pretty girls who will deluge him on Saturday, I have the right to say he’s full of shit. Please serve the ball, senpai.”

You shuffled your feet as you settled into position, watching him narrowly. He had practiced himself into a knee injury on these serves, and whether or not the sacrifice had been worth it would be determined by how crippling that injury was in years to come, but there was no doubt about it: he had the most beautiful serve you had ever seen.

When he was serving, there was none of his bullshit. No flirty J-Pop idol cuteness, no bursts of staggering egocentricity, no flip little comments that made you want to throw the ball straight at his gorgeous face. There was only the look of intense focus as he decided where the ball needed to go, tossing it in the air a few times to get the feel of it. Then the run up, and the leap, his tall body curving like a bow in the air and almost seeming to hang there as his arm swung up and spiked the ball from the other side of the court.

He wasn’t going easy because you were a girl, either. Because he was a bastard, he aimed at the furthest point from you, the left rear corner of the court, and you barely snagged it, diving to the floor. This was libero’s work; the extra seconds it took for you to fold your tall body down to save it almost cost you the ball, and your arms vibrated with the shock of receiving it all the way up to your shoulders. But you did get it, and it popped up as neatly as a gentle toss to a child, high and floating directly to where your setter would have been.

“Again,” you said, retrieving the ball and tossing it to him, but he immediately threw it back.

“I told you to serve it. Listen to your senpai.”

He had all of one year on you.

“I don’t want to practice my serves. I need to practice receiving monster serves this week. Interhigh is this weekend.”

“Excuses,” he said, waving his hand airily. “Serving it over here is just as fast as tossing it, lazy girl. Come on.”

He knew you too well, after all these weeks. You still only completed the serve forty percent of the time, on a good day.

“Relax, [name]-chan,” he called, in that sing-song tone that always came off as mocking. “I can see how stiff you are from here. Let your chi flow.”

“Fuck off about my chi.” But you did try to relax. Tried to picture your body doing what his did, the run up, the leap, legs up, that endless floating half-second. You were as much an athlete as Oikawa, tall for a girl at 170 centimeters, taller than even some players on the boys’ team. He had noted that fact with appreciation more than once when he was positive you weren’t looking. Normally he went for petite girls—all of his girlfriends had fit comfortably against his chest—but he had to admit there was something pleasing about your long limbs, the agile grace with which you managed them.

You were getting better at your jump serve. Sure, it still hit the net, but he could see it in the shape of your body, closer to arched-bow shape you needed.

“This is why it’s a waste of time,” you said, retrieving the ball irritably. It had hit the net again, just on the lower edge of the ball.

“If you really think it’s a waste of time, then go home, [name]-chan,” he retorted, minus the sing-song. “Don’t waste my time. I can practice by myself just as well.”

But of course, you weren’t going to do that. You bounced the ball a few times, and he could see your mind working in your eyes, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. He knew, of course…

“Your toss was too far back,” he called, after weighing the merits of telling you versus withholding it from you. You did need to know it, of course, but you were so much fun to toy with. “You need to toss it where your body is going to be, not where it is.”

Like so much athletic instruction, this was of limited usefulness.

“How do I know that?” You said.

“Practice.” And practice. And practice. And practice, until your limbs gave out under you.

But instead of snarling at him, you just nodded, puffing out a breath, and stepped back behind the serving line again.

* * *

This had started a little over a month before, when the captain of the girls’ volleyball team had kicked you out of the gym and decisively locked the doors.

“That is enough practice,” she said, and it was not with a smile. “You keep going and you’re going to hurt yourself, [name]-chan. You know what sensei says, muscles need time to rest and rebuild.”

Well, maybe hers did. You felt as fresh as you had three hours before, and frustrated because you knew you could still do better. You watched as she and Nami-chan headed down the path toward the school entrance, rocking a little on the balls of your feet, and then happened to glance behind you.

The lights of the boys’ gym were still on.

For a second you hesitated, irresolute, and then gave yourself a shake and strode into the gym.

The sight of Oikawa-san himself in there, by himself, was the only possible thing that might have given you pause. He was a legend at Seijoh—admittedly more so among the girls than among the guys—and while you’d never spoken to him, you had seen him frequently. The boys and girls teams traveled to matches together, most of the time. He was intimidating, he was snarky, and he also just was not your favorite person. You had seen enough girls fawning over him and watched how he just ate that up to determine that you never, ever would be one of them.

And that was exactly the expression on his face when he saw you at the door: a quick, startled recognition, and then the pop idol mask slid into place, like he was going to cheerfully sign his autograph on your tits. With a little heart over the i in Oikawa.

“Hi,” you said, before he could speak. “I got kicked out of my own gym. Can I practice in here?"

“Why did you get kicked out?” He asked interestedly.

“Because no one else wanted to stay.” Irritated as you were with captain-sama, you still weren’t going to slag her off to Oikawa. “I’m not tired yet, it’s not late, and you’re not using that half of the gym. I promise I won’t be in the way. Do you mind?”

“That’s a nice way to ask,” he observed. “You’re [name]-chan, right? One of the wing spikers?”

He had a point; you had been kind of abrupt and he was your senior. The senpai/kohai relationship was taken seriously at Aobajohsai.

“Yes. Sorry, Oikawa-san. I—I need to practice more.” And it occurred to you, even before he asked, what he was going to think if you told him what you needed to practice.

“Oh?"

Bastard.

"Yes,” you said shortly. “Is it okay?"

"Welllllll,” he said, drawing out the word to relish it a bit longer. “I guess you won’t be in my way.”

“Thank you.”

And then you tried to forget he was there.

The thing about the girls’ team was that it was good. Really good; you had missed nationals by one round last year, and you still weren’t really over that. It hadn’t been your fault. It hadn’t been anyone’s fault. No team was bulletproof; you had played your hearts out to the last point. But that last point had been a no-touch ace from one of the middle blockers on Shiogama’s team, who had been wiping the floor with you for three straight sets.

That was never happening again.

The jump serve was a weapon your team didn’t have, and so you decided you would learn to wield it. You had the height, you had the reach, you had the power. It was harder for a girl to pull off an across-the-court spike like Oikawa did just because of the height difference; you had to jump higher to make sure it cleared the net. But you had, as sensei said, some hops; anyone could work on jumping higher if they just had the stamina.

You had started running in the morning.

That was what you brought to the table, but it was hard. So many things had to flow together to put the ball where you wanted it: the toss, the run up, the jump, the spike. Getting all of it right was like trying to push the stars into alignment, and you didn’t have to do it just once; you wanted to be able to do it over and over again. Twenty-five times in a row if you could, and then another twenty-five to shut them out and win the match.

Oikawa watched cynically you as you practiced serving. Serving! As if no girl had thought of that before. Oikawa-kun, you’re soooooooo amazing, couldn’t you show me…?

Well, you were easy on the eyes, he decided, bouncing the ball thoughtfully in one hand. A little tall, but an excellent figure, lean and willowy. Your face was pretty, a little stubborn around the chin, with a full upper lip shaped just like a bow.

He supposed he didn’t mind a temporary distraction.

But two hours later, when he finally called a halt, you hadn’t so much as glanced his way.

* * *

“Okay. I can’t stand this anymore,” Oikawa said, three and half weeks later. Ducking under the net, he held up his hand for the ball. “Look, [name]-chan, you’re not going to make it on pure athleticism. Watch me.”

There was none of the usual fake charm in his voice, except for his slight drawl of chaaaan, but you could tolerate that for the greater good.

“Toss it above the point of the strike,” he said, swinging the ball toward the court line. “Know how many steps you’re going to take. Same every time, just like a machine. How many steps are you running?”

“Six.”

“Too many. The more steps you take, the more variation you introduce. The more things can go wrong. You step long, you step short, and now where are you compared to the ball?”

He showed you then, one, two, three, four steps. The turn of his body between steps three and four, his arms swinging up as if he were going to take flight. His calves and thighs tensing as his body dropped on step four, and then shoved upward like he was pushing away from the world, driving his six foot tall body upward, his reach an incredible ten feet high. You had to get there, you thought, and realized you were holding your breath, watching. His palm caught the ball perfectly and slam, like a rifle shot, on the other side of the court almost faster then you could track it.

“See?” He said, glancing back. The thing was, when he was being himself, he was almost attractive. Of course he was physically gorgeous; pretty as a girl with those long eyelashes, almond-shaped eyes like milk chocolate, and that expressive, almost artistic face. But when he was being himself, when he shed that layer of plastic, then it was hard to take your eyes off him.

“Yeah,” you said, and took the ball from him when he offered it, batting it between your hands. “Oikawa-san?”

“Mmm?”

“Can I do this?” You met his eyes, bristling. This was the first time you’d asked him a question about anything other than, when do we have to leave, and you didn’t want him getting any false impressions. “Even when I do hit it, I just clear the net.”

He looked at you, considering.

“You probably need another few centimeters to do it reliably,” he said finally. “Height or reach. You can’t make yourself grow, so practice jumping. Every day. You know how?”

“Other than the obvious?”

“Don’t be a smartass to your senpai when he’s helping you,” he said, but he was smiling. And he told you exactly how, dragging over the coaches’ spiking platform to demonstrate.

That night you went through the jumping exercises he had showed you until your legs actually, literally gave out under you. You tried to jump onto the spiking platform and your thighs seized up and you went over the side, banging your shins in the process.

“Ouch,” came Oikawa’s voice from the other side of the gym.

“Shut up. Senpai.” He started laughing as you dragged yourself back up into a standing position, your thigh muscles and hip flexors quivering like jelly. There wasn’t any meanness in the laugh, though.

“That’s the sign that means you’re done for the night,” he said, and you cleaned up together in companionable silence, rolling up the nets, pulling down the poles, and sweeping up the floors.

“Thank you,” you said as you stepped into your shoes at the door, and grudgingly took his hand to stand up. You weren’t sure you could get up on your own, and it would have been more embarrassing to let him watch you try. “For teaching me. I really didn’t come here expecting it.”

“Don’t expect to improve overnight,” he warned, turning out the lights and locking the doors of the gym, with a shake of the door handles to make sure. “It takes a lot of practice to jump one centimeter higher consistently. You need three or four. I mean, you could just grow taller…”

“I’m not going to count on that,” you said, and marched away, wobbling only once. You had never expected to get his help, you hadn’t gone into the boys’ gym wanting it, but you weren’t going to turn it down. And the fact that he had offered it at all meant something else, too.

It meant Oikawa Tōru was taking you seriously.

* * *

On the other side of the gym, the ball bounced off the rear wall and rolled to a stop.

You gasped.

“I did it.”

You spun to look at Oikawa, the first real smile he had seen from you after nearly six weeks.

“Oikawa-san!” You squealed, and actually did a tiny three step dance. “Did you see?! I did it! I did it!”

“I saw it! Over the net and four inches inside the line!” He shouted back, with a clap of his hands that echoed like thunder in the empty gym. He laughed when you did that ridiculous little dance again, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to cross the court, sweep you up in his arms, and swing you in a circle. “That was perfect! Did you feel the difference? You got your feet up, that gives you the extra hang time.”

“Yes!” You pushed him away when he set you back down, a little pink but still grinning. “I want to do it again.”

“Keep your feet up,” he said, backing off to watch you try breathlessly. You still didn’t quite have the height you needed, but you were getting there. His eyes followed your long form, long arms and long legs, your messy ponytail damp with sweat. Your calves were more defined than he remembered them being, a sign of the hard work you’d put in, taut and sleek and curving.

You missed the next time. Missed the time after that.

The third try, you were on the fucking line.

After watching a few more times, Oikawa went back to his own practice, unable to resist after watching you. It was like a dance as you moved together, with the participants ten meters apart. It helped. Why hadn’t you thought of it sooner? You moved with him, at exactly the same time he did, working harder because you were shorter, pushing to gain the height. This was what you needed, this perfect synchronicity.

Your toss with his toss, right in front of the serving line. Your feet moving with his, step, step, step, turn, and push, the last step propelling you up. And then time seemed to slow as your arms and legs swung up together and your palm slammed into the ball with a sound like a gunshot.

You landed, breathless. On the other side of the court, two volleyballs slammed into the ground at almost exactly the same time.

And you looked over at Oikawa-san, meeting his exhilarated, chocolate-brown eyes in a moment of perfect understanding.

Again.

Chapter Text

Kuroo lasted nearly a month before he kissed you.

There were a number of reasons why it was a bad idea. Anything he did with you would immediately constitute a serious relationship because he couldn’t just screw around with his best friend’s sister. You were either going to be his acknowledged, monogamous girlfriend, or you were going to be his best friend’s little sister who was not to be touched, flirted with, or even really acknowledged as a female of the human species. There could be no middle ground. Anything less would cost him Kenma.

It was terrifying.

On the other hand, it was so hard to resist. He tried, he really did. It helped that you were never alone together for more than five minutes. But he liked talking to you. He thought it was adorable how you were shy when strangers were around, but when you were with people you knew, you had an apparently endless supply of snarky, funny, absurd comments that must’ve just been bursting to come out.

He wanted to be there to hear them when they did.

In the evenings, he would be standing next to you on the train and he would have to forcibly shove his hands into his pockets to keep from touching you. It felt like he should. He wanted to do all the stupid little couple things like covering your hand with his on the grip bar, or bracing your body with his own so you didn’t have to worry about any hard stops. That was the part that he couldn’t get over. It felt like he was supposed to be doing these things.

What decided him was Golden Week. The first week in May, you were going to the beach with your friend Tomiko, he was going to a volleyball training camp in Miyagi prefecture, and if he was going to do something about this it was now or possibly never. More than once he had to push his pillows over his head at night as he imagined your happy face telling him and Kenma about this boy you met surfing, and he’d have to watch you shaka-ing at each other, and he just didn’t think he could take that.

The stars lined up on a night when your track practice ran long. There was still no sign of you as he locked up the gym, and Kenma was standing there, for once not tapping away at his handheld, waiting to head down to the track. Kuroo swung the keys on their ring around his finger, his heart speeding up in his chest.

“Kenma. You go ahead to the train. I’ll pick up [name]-chan.”

“Oh?” Kenma’s eyes flicked upward, that flat, unblinking gaze that always made Kuroo suddenly feel like he had sins that needed confessing.

“Yeah.” He cocked a half-smile at his friend, his best friend since they were in elementary school. Kenma wasn’t the type to play the overbearing older brother. He had a very quiet, intense dislike for authority, and resisted imposing it on others.

But he would also expect Kuroo to understand exactly what he was proposing, and the risks involved. He would expect him to live with the consequences.

“I know,” Kuroo added, in answer to all the things Kenma wasn’t saying. “I’m sure.”

“All right.” Kenma let that sit there in the starlight for a second, then slipped his handheld out of his pocket and flicked it on, turning down the path toward the school entrance. “She likes that gelato place by the station.”

Well, that was that, Kuroo thought, filing away the advice. He puffed out a breath, even did a couple jumps like he was warming up for spiking practice, and headed down to the track.

Everyone was leaving when he arrived, and for a second he wondered if he’d missed you somewhere, but then you and another girl came out of the girls’ locker room by the bleachers, giggling quietly together over something. You were wearing your practice uniform, white t-shirt and red track pants, and for once all your hair was pulled back into a ponytail, your hair dark with sweat.

You stopped when you saw him with a pretty look of confusion.

“Kuroo?”

“Kenma’s going ahead to the train station,” he said, trying to sound casual.

“This is Kuroo-san?” Your friend said, with a little lilt in her voice and a glance back at you. “I mean, I’ve heard of our demon volleyball captain. Hello, captain-sama, nice to meet you. Juba Tomiko, I’m a first year.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, hoping he wasn’t going to have to separate you from your friend somehow, or worse, put up with her flirting when he’d just crossed a Rubicon to flirt with you. But Juba-chan smiled and said good night a second later, with a muttered order to you to text her instantly.

It was embarrassing, but he knew enough about girls to read that as a good sign.

“Your hair looks nice like that,” he said, and picked up your gym bag before you could, slinging it over one shoulder. “C’mon, [name]-chan.”

“Okay,” you said softly, with a little shake of your head that would have flicked your hair into your face if it had been left down. He was so glad that it wasn’t. “Is Kenma okay?”

“Yeah, he’s just going ahead. How was your day?”

You never had much to say about your classes, but you chattered happily about track practice as you wended your way together up the hill. The school was mostly deserted at this hour, and the path from the main campus down to the track was wooded, the pines sighing softly as they moved in the breeze. He glanced behind, scanning the track for any stragglers, but it looked like they were all headed in different directions. He slowed his pace, nerved himself up, and took your hand.

“Hey.”

You glanced back, startled, and he suddenly wished he’d done this by daylight, or at least a little bit closer to one of the light posts along the path. He knew you so well, he could picture the pink blooming in your cheeks, the pretty color rising under your skin.

“So I guess you know I like you,” he said. Your fingers gave a little tremor in his, and he stepped closer.

“Well, I don’t know for sure until you tell me,” you said, but if he’d needed an answer, it was already there in the way you were tilting your face up, the breathless little sigh in the last two words. He let the gym bags slide off his back, and bent to kiss you.

Your kiss was just like you. Tentative, shy at first, ready to burst into color and dizzying depth if you were just given a little encouragement. His hand slid along your beautiful, slender neck, his thumb finding the hollow between your jaw and your neck where your pulse was beating, frenetic as butterfly wings. He pressed gently and your head tipped to one side, your mouth meeting his so smoothly, it was like it had been made to fit precisely his shape.

You were hesitant. Trying to match him, and it was as if you were brushing warm, living silk along his lips, almost sinfully decadent. For a moment he was tempted to move in, to begin teaching you about lips and tongues and what it felt like to be kissed breathless, but just this second, he wanted more than anything else in the world to look at you.

When he straightened, you almost didn’t want to open your eyes. Let this moment go on forever, the feel of his mouth tingling on your lips, his fingers curved so tenderly at the back of your neck. Your eyes slowly slitted open, met his, and a smile spread across your face, wide and foolish and beautiful. He was smiling that lopsided grin that you loved, and his eyes looked every bit as dazzled as you felt.

“I guess I like you too,” you said bashfully, and he gave a short laugh and pressed his forehead against yours, a gesture nearly as intimate as the kiss. He still hadn’t let you go. His thumb stroked your cheek and he made a sound in his throat of pure, masculine pleasure, like the sound a tiger would make if it purred.

“Good,” he said, and reluctantly stepped back. It was the first kiss, and he already wanted another one like he wanted air. Tugging both gym bags back over his shoulder, he laced his fingers in yours, and the skip you made as you fell into step beside him made him laugh, almost giddy with joy. “I had to lock you down before Golden Week, [name]-chan.”

“What do you mean?” You asked, so happy that if his hand hadn’t been there to tether you, you might just have floated away.

“You’re going to go break hearts all over Enoshima, and I didn’t want mine to be first on the list.”

“As if I could even look at anyone else,” you scoffed, and then blushed so red he could see it even by starlight.

Chapter Text

The girls’ match against Shiogama had ended about twenty minutes after Seijoh defeated Senseki at the Interhigh preliminaries.

Nearly an hour later, your face was still frozen in the same expression it had when your serve struck the net, bounced on the edge, and dropped.

On your side of the court.

It was actually kind of fortunate that there had been a twenty minute gap between matches, and then another hour or so getting everyone showered, changed, and packed onto the bus. It gave the boys time to celebrate and the girls time to mourn, without either feeling like they were being actively cruel to the other.

As soon as the bus turned onto the highway, almost everyone fell asleep, but Oikawa was wide awake, unable to stop replaying the match in his head. It had come down to a whisker’s difference between Seijoh and Karasuno, and he knew it could just as easily be the entire bus sitting silently, reliving the points of the game, the failures and victories, but most of all the last critical failure, the last point that ended the game.

For the girls’ team, that last point that had been yours. He glanced at you at the back of the bus, staring out the window at the rice paddies of Miyagi, and knew there could have been a thermonuclear war out there and you wouldn’t have noticed.

“You did exactly what you were supposed to do,” Umeda-san, the team captain, had said gruffly as you lined up after the match. Shibata and Tami-chan were already crying, but you weren’t going to. You had known your serve wasn’t ready, why hadn’t you just done a standard serve? Just get it over the net.

She shook your arm.

“If you do anything else next time it’s your turn to serve with the game on the line, I swear I’ll call in a pinch server, do you hear me?”

“Yes,” you had said mechanically. You hadn’t, really. But she sighed and let it go, more interested in getting all of you back to the locker room where you could have all the reactions and emotions you wanted, without an audience.

You got off the bus and moved out of the way as it was unloaded. You could swear your palm was still tingling from that last hit, and somewhere in the back of your mind, you thought: practice. It was all you could do. It was what you needed.

“Meet me in the gym,” Oikawa hissed in your ear, and evaporated before you could look back in surprise. By now he considered you his student, and it would be a poor kind of sensei that let you go home wearing that expression.

It almost seemed like fate, that your wills were in such perfect alignment. He left a few minutes before you did, begging off a celebration with Iwaizumi-san and the boys’ team, and you turned and made a lap around the clubroom quarters, a long row of small rooms behind the gyms. It was a Sunday afternoon, shading toward evening, so the grounds were deserted as you slipped off your outdoor shoes and stowed them in a cubby, then stepped inside the gym.

To your surprise, Oikawa wasn’t setting up the nets.

“Come sit down,” he said, beckoning from the edge of the stage at the other end of the gym. The boys’ gym sometimes doubled as an auditorium, after a dozen hapless students spent an hour lining up rows and rows and rows of folding chairs.

“I don’t want to sit down, I want to practice,” you said obstinately.

“Well I’m not going to let you practice, so come over here and sit next to your sensei and tell me about it,” he snapped, with a flash of his dark eyes that told you he meant business. “And stop sulking,” he added, when you actually dragged your feet on the way over. “You’re so childish.”

That was rich, coming from him.

“We lost. On my serve,” you said, pushing yourself up onto the edge of the stage and turning to face him sullenly. “What more do you want me to say?”

“But that’s not it,” he said, cocking his head. His hair was damp from the showers at the athletic center, just beginning to spring up into its usual effortless flyaway waves. “Start from the beginning. You wouldn’t be this upset if you’d just screwed up a serve. You’ve screwed up hundreds right in this gym.”

“We lost against Shiogama,” you said, and there was a traitorous tightness in your throat that made you look away. “They beat us last year, twice. The third years gave up and retired after we lost at Interhigh, and then we didn’t have a chance in the spring tournament. We lost our libero, a middle blocker, and the captain, just like that, and they were all regulars.”

It still hurt, thinking of it. Umeda-san was good, and she meant well, but you had one captain, and she wasn’t it.

“And?”

“Shiogama has this one girl who can serve like you do,” you went on, glaring at him to hide the prickling burn in your eyes. “Service ace after service ace. I couldn’t receive them. I was on the back line, and she just hit them at me, one after another…”

“After you lost your libero,” he observed. “That’s why you were so obsessed with receiving the last couple weeks.”

“Yeah.” You said thickly. You needed to sniff, but didn’t want to do it in front of him. “But I need someone else to practice receiving anyway, and I do that during regular practice. I can do serves by myself, so I focused on receives during practice, and came here after. I hoped I could at least offset her. Ashikano Miyako, that’s her name. The Shiogama middle blocker.”

“You aren’t good enough yet,” he said matter-of-factly, and watched as your face crumbled, your shoulders hitching. It didn’t surprise him, and he wasn’t thrilled to be watching it, but what were senseis for?

“No,” you said, your voice wobbling as badly as your legs did after jumping practice. “I only got one service ace. The ball didn’t go where I wanted it to go, it went out of bounds four times, that’s four points I cost us, we could have beaten them—”

Well, this wasn’t quite what senseis were for.

He wasn’t sure who had moved first; him to slide beside you, or you leaning in to him, or maybe you’d moved together, but he stroked your hair while you cried on his chest, one arm braced around your back and feeling every jerk of your shoulders. He knew this hurt, and knew there probably wasn’t much he could say that would make a difference, but he couldn’t stand to just sit and listen to you cry.

“I lost four points in one set today,” he said quietly. “It came down to one point with Karasuno, and I still served, and I still went out of bounds four times in one set.” You probably weren’t even hearing him; you were sobbing full-throated now, muffled only by his t-shirt and his arms around you. He kept going anyway. “If you only look at the shots you miss, it doesn’t make sense to try. Much less try when the game is on the line. But everything you do is a risk in a match. Spike or feint? Set to Kindaichi or Iwa-chan or Makki-kun? Which way will the serve go? Should I move back or forward?”

You shifted and he gave up and pulled you into his lap altogether, your long legs stretching out over his thighs.

“You make dozens of choices like that every match,” he murmured, his fingers still running through your hair. “If you played it safe, you’d be safe. And mediocre. You’d be better than some, but worse than others. Because you have to take risks to be great. The teams that win the championships don’t play it safe. They practice to minimize risks, but they still take them. That one girl, Ashikata—”

“Ashikano.” Sniffle.

“Whatever. How many serves did she miss?”

He watched as you thought back, your tears slowing. Counted up. Lost count.

“I don’t know,” you admitted.

“More than four?”

“Yeah. Way more.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” he said, and thoughtlessly pressed his lips to your forehead, his arms tightening around you. And froze.

You looked up at him with wide, startled eyes, your long eyelashes still starred with tears, and he felt like he was outside himself, watching, as he lowered his mouth to yours. Some distant part of him expected to be punched for it.

This was not what senseis were for, either.

Chapter Text

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:27 pm:
They’re both from Fukurōdani, we do a lot of practice games with them
Akaashi and Bokuto

Kozume [Name] 10:28 pm:
What’s with his hair?

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:28 pm:
School spirit
He’s one of the top five aces in the country he’s really good
You might meet him one of these weekends

Kozume [Name] 10:29 pm:
Why
Are we doing something?

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:29 pm:
Maybe
He wants to meet you, he’s convinced you’re too good for me and you will run away with him instead

Kozume [Name] 10:30 pm:
He sounds like a man of great perception

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:31 pm:
That would be the first time anyone anywhere has ever said that about Bokuto

Kozume [Name] 10:31 pm:
Haha

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:34 pm:
Miss you

Kozume [Name] 10:34 pm:
I miss you
I went past the volleyball pits and kept expecting to see you there

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:35 pm:
I went by the janitor’s closet and kept expecting to see you there

Kozume [Name] 10:35 pm:
I can’t believe we did that

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:35 pm:
Wait til I get home

--

Not that he was counting down the hours or anything.

Kuroo propped his head on one arm and scrolled through the pictures you were sending, a series that he called Ocean Waves 1-17. There were a couple pictures of Tomi-chan out on the waves, a girl who seemed nice enough as far as girlfriend’s friends went; at least she was level-headed and genuinely seemed to be happy you were happy, which was surprisingly unusual.

There was a picture of you and Tomi together waiting in line for a roller coaster at the boardwalk amusement park, and a self-conscious selfie of you in a sundress that gave him a pang of jealousy simply for not being where you were. And then, included as an afterthought, a couple pictures that Tomi-chan must have taken; distant shots of you on the waves, identifiable only by your swimsuit and those gracefully outstretched arms. And the last one, a close-up shot of you sitting on your surfboard in the water, your wet hair pushed back from your face, and looking as if you were grinning just for him.

“Oya, Kuroo, is that her?” Bokuto peered over at his phone and Kuroo handed it over.

“Hai. She’s with her friend at the beach this week.” It wasn’t bragging if Bokuto asked, and there was a certain status in being the only captain with a hot girlfriend.

“Her friend’s cute,” Bokuto remarked, handing the phone back and thumping down onto his sleeping mat. At ten o’clock the coaches started kicking everyone out of the gyms, and Kuroo had gotten in the habit of texting you once he was cleaned up and settled down for the night.

The problem with having a hot girlfriend, of course, was that you had to deal with a certain level of increased arousal. Kuroo sighed and adjusted his boxers under the blankets, willing the semi-hardon to go away. You seemed to have a Pavlovian effect on his cock, and he hadn’t even slept with you yet.

He was willing to be patient. Not just because it was you, though if you’d asked him to try to shove the moon a little bit to the left for purely aesthetic reasons, he secretly acknowledged he would have tried to do it. But because it was so much fun seeing how you would react to every new thing, and being the object of your shy explorations was just about the hottest thing that had ever happened to him. So far it had just been hours—blissful hours—of making out, tasting the varying sweet and salt of your skin depending on whether it was before or after track practice, and twice you had let him caress your breasts through your bra, until your breath came short and it was either stop or continue.

And for your part, you had learned a trick of kissing up his neck and to his ears that seemed to tighten the screws in every joint of his body. He was oddly proud of you the first time you did it, even though he had also wanted to yank off all your clothes and fuck you right there on the park bench.

This was not helping.

Kozume [Name] 10:38 pm:
I can’t wait to see you

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:39 pm:
I’ll be over early Monday
Like 30 min

Kozume [Name] 10:39 pm:
My parents might still be there

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:39 pm:
That’s fine I’m not going to feel you up on the couch and hope no one notices

Kozume [Name] 10:40 pm:
Kuroo

Kuroo Tetsurō 10:40 pm:
What, I said I’m NOT

Kozume [Name] 10:42 pm:
If you waited fifteen minutes we might get away with it

--

Who is this girl, he thought, stifling a laugh.

“Something funny, Kuroo-kun?” Bokuto asked sleepily, as Kuroo sent a parting set of emojis to you and clicked off his phone.

“My girl is,” he said, and gave not a single fuck about the snickers that followed.

Chapter Text

He was kissing you.

Oikawa Tōru was kissing you.

For a few crucial moments it literally jammed the circuits of your brain, a cog that had no place in your mental machinery. Alarm bells rang. Your mind ran a helpful montage of annoyance, squealing girls, mind-bogglingly childish behavior for a near-man of eighteen years, all of it overlaid with a smiling pop-idol mask that you found as creepy as one of those old noh masks.

You hand lifted, about to shove him off you, and he took that opportunity to draw you closer, his shoulder dipping under your hand as if you’d always meant to slide it behind his neck, your fingertips lost in his soft hair. This was a bad idea. This was a terrible idea.

God he was a good kisser.

His arms were around you and his hands slid along your sides, his breath inhaling like the susurrus of ocean tides as he kissed you. You could taste the salt of your tears on his lips, taste it on his tongue as he expertly parted them, and even knowing there was a reason he was so good, and it came from hours of intensive practice on superficial nitwits, didn’t make it feel any less good. It was so easy, you were already here, and every single one of your brain cells was humming concurrence.

Or you could stop this now and go home and think some more about how Shiogama had flattened you.

One of his hands slid under the back of your shirt, his fingers traveling up the long indentation of your spine, and you stopped thinking altogether.

He was crushing you. You were pressed against his chest and suffocating, drowning in the dark as his tongue rhythmically stroked into your mouth and made your toes curl. He was cradling your head, his fingers buried in your hair, his mouth changing angles and pressure and striking again and again until you hardly knew where you were and forgot everything except the feel of his beautiful mouth. And yes, those little whimpering sounds were you.

The question of who removed whose shirt first was one that could be debated by scholars in years to come, but suddenly you were stretched out on your back on the stage with your shirt off and Oikawa’s exquisite bare chest pressed against yours. He was broad, and pale, and perfect, and your fingers almost begged to stroke him.

“Gorgeous,” he murmured, glancing up at your face as if to confirm it really was you under him. He was used to soft girls, curves and satiny skin. Your body was a revelation to him, all springy athleticism, the smooth muscles of your belly hitching as he kissed down your throat. Your pulse was going like a rabbit’s under your skin, and that was what made him pause for the last time and look at you questioningly.

Should we stop?

And even though you knew every reason why you should, your long legs still shifted aside for him so he could move above you, and settle his hips between your thighs.

His hands slid up your bare arms and gently pinned your wrists down against the stage, and you moaned as he trailed kisses down your throat and between your breasts, the small handfuls covered by a turquoise blue bra. He found the spot at the crook of your neck and shoulder that made you squirm under him and moan louder, a surprisingly musical sound for such a foul-mouthed girl, a high and breathless noise that went straight to his cock.

“Keep your hands there,” he murmured, those long eyelashes dark against his cheeks as he unclasped your bra, slipping it off you. Your hands twitched with the urge to cover your breasts. No one had ever seen them before, and when his eyelashes lifted and he looked at you, your eyes were simultaneously defiant and afraid.

Keeping his gaze locked on yours, he slowly bent and licked one small nipple.

“No,” he said, deceptively soft when your hands jerked again, to caress him or clasp him to you or, hell, maybe shove him away. He was still kind of shocked he hadn’t been slapped yet. But he had always been one to push his luck. He shook his head at you, his voice soft and musical and somehow caressing, a sound that you loved and hated all at once. It was like he was whispering the loveliest poetry to you, and all the while concealing a knife behind his back. “I said keep your hands there, [name]-chan.”

Only weeks spent obeying this man, however reluctantly or sarcastically, kept your hands in place. And you were rewarded when his lips closed around your nipple and tugged until you gasped, your back arching. You wanted to watch him but your eyes kept closing with pleasure as he teased and sucked and even bit your nipples, his eyes darkening with excitement.

He was just so beautiful. You’d heard that the ancient Greeks had some mathematical concept of beauty, a perfect balance of form, function, and symmetry, and they could have used Oikawa Tōru as their first exhibit. He wasn’t bulky with muscle, but every single one was perfectly defined, his shoulders and back rippling and shifting as he moved above you. His waist tapered in bold, ridged lines to his hips, a V of muscles ending where his hip bones were just visible above low-slung shorts.

Hot breath seared the sensitive, ticklish skin of your belly as he kissed downward, upward, kissing the underside of your breasts until you arched your back and moaned for him. It was so hard to keep your hands still but every time you even thought about moving them his eyes flashed a warning, and whatever else happened, you did not want him to stop. He was blotting out every thought in your head and that's what you wanted, that's what you needed, you needed him kissing and biting your belly, his teeth leaving faint marks on your skin.

“O-Oikawa-san!” You gasped. His tongue dragged up your belly and he groaned as his hips swiveled and drove forward, a move that sent a wave of pure, scorching heat rushing through you.

He glanced at you again as he unzipped your jeans and tugged them off you, and one more time as he slowly slid your panties off you, noting how your hands—against his orders—crossed over your breasts instinctively, as if you had to shield one or the other.

“Get your hands back up,” he said gently, and leaned back, waiting until you reluctantly lifted them and placed them palms-up over your head, your eyes flashing a fuck you.

Oh, he was going to.

Still watching you, he lowered his head for his first taste of you. You were already wet, which was good, because his cock was throbbing so hard in his shorts that even the fabric rubbing him was absolute torture. Your knees jerked and you cried out as his tongue touched you, heat flooding your face. With your hands pressed flat against the stage, he could watch the play of muscle across your shoulders, your biceps, tensing and relaxing, a barometer for your pleasure and a submissive posture that was deeply gratifying. Your breasts rose and fell and hitched upward as he traced your slippery folds with his tongue, tasting the heat and salt of you.

“Ohhhhhhhhh that—Oikawa-san—what are you—ahhhh!”

His lips closed on your clit.

Your hips jerked upward so hard he actually had to grab them and push them down again, and your moaning dissolved in a wail of pleasure. Your body was shaking to pieces under him, a new flood of wetness limning your swelling pink lips, and he mercilessly stroked into you again, delving with his tongue. His eyes were open, intense and focused as he ever was during a game. He wanted to watch your face while he took you apart, and he wanted you to see his dark, clever eyes, gleaming with sexual heat and enjoying every second of his power of you.

Even now, he just couldn’t stop trying to get in your head.

The feeling of his tongue inside you was incredible. It stroked deep, pushed up, slid out of you and stroked over your clit, that throbbing nub of flesh that you hadn’t even really known was there. You were gasping and panting and biting your lips and building toward something, but you also knew there was something you wanted even more.

“Oikawa-san…I…I want…”

“What do you want?” His voice was sweet and dark and sharp with desire, and the sound of it chased through your nerves and made your pulse leap.

You didn’t know. You were empty. Horribly empty. Aching with emptiness, your thighs twitching together, and if he licked you one more time you might fly apart and never get it. In the whole of your senses you might be a match for him, but he had expertly reduced you to a throbbing mass of desire.

“You!” You gasped, your hips bucking upward and pressing against his mouth, telling him quite clearly what it was you wanted. He wanted it, too. It would be pure sadism to make you wait anymore.

He knelt up so you could see him and shoved his shorts and boxers down, slid them off altogether, and neatly folded them, because he was a bastard. The sight of him, the muscles flexing in his powerful thighs, the firm, muscular curve of his ass, and that jutting length of him, dark and swollen and twitching between his legs, took your breath away. Which was probably good, because the only words you could think of for him were obscene.

“You are such an asshole,” You whispered, the insult swallowed as he laid down on top of you and kissed you until your brain whited out, giving you your first taste of yourself. Between your legs, you felt him pressing, hard and blunt and so, so hot.

“You’re—tight—” He murmured into your mouth, and his hand slid down your side to your hip, pulling your thigh out and up. “Open for me, baby. Open…why—?”

Abruptly he slid inside you and the pain punched through you and made you gasp and yelp, your lips stilling against his.

“Fuck!” That was you.

“Fuck!” That was Oikawa, pushing up on his hands, completely buried in you, and feeling like someone had taken a wet vise to his cock. “Ohhhh, you should have told me, [name]-chan! Oh fuck you’re tight!”

“I know!” You cried back, your face screwed up at the pain and pleasure. It hurt—fuck had it hurt!—but his hips were also balanced on the fulcrum of your clit as he rocked and you were half out of your mind with the sensations. “No, fuck, don’t stop, just fucking do me!”

At least it had the effect of completely disarming him; he didn’t have the wits to play any more sadistic games with you. All he could do was mindlessly pound into you, no finesse, no calculation, his hot breath burning over your breasts, your throat, mingling with yours as he kissed you, panted, moaned, and kissed you again.

“You’re so hot,” he gasped, his hands sliding up your arms, his fingers lacing in yours. His hips were merciless, jackhammering into you until your voice was one long wail of pleasure. Oikawa was doing this to you. Oikawa was about to make you come. Your hands slid over his back and it was all lean, spare muscle, gliding under your hands, the coils of his lower back working frantically to drive his cock into you.

You pressed against them with your fingers and gasped, “Harder.”

He went harder.

“Harder, Oikawa!”

He sat up and slid your legs over his shoulders, doubling you up under him, and pounded you til you shrieked.

And came.

And came.

And came.

It was like flying apart. It was like every muscle in your body contracting at once. You heard his startled cry as your body twisted and gripped him and then he was coming too, coming in you, stroking his heat deep inside you. You held onto his hands as you cried out under him, filled with a vast white static that made you tingle to your fingertips and numbed your face.

My God, am I having a stroke?

Your thighs gave a convulsive twitch, jittering at his hips, and then you lay under him, utterly limp, as he fell bonelessly on top of you.

“Nnngh,” he said articulately, muffled into your hair.

“Oikawa,” you said softly, amazed at your own stupidity. Amazed that he was your first. For the rest of your life you would have to know that he was your first, and he had made you come in a way you hadn’t known it was possible to come. Please don’t say anything terrible, you begged him in your head, squeezing your eyes shut. Please don’t laugh. Please don’t make any comments about deflowering me. Thank you.

“You should have told me,” he finally grunted, and carefully extracted himself from you, making you wince. But when he flopped over onto his back, he tried to take you with him, and you let him pull your head onto his chest. His heart was racing. “I wouldn’t have…well at least I would’ve been more careful.”

“It was fine,” you said, your eyes closing. Between multiple matches, a crying jag, and athletic sex, you had nothing left. “You were…good.”

His lips curved a little bit, and he ran his hand slowly up your bare back.

“Was I?”

“Shut up.”

He chuckled, low and warm.

“I know I’m good,” he said, with that note of purring satisfaction you just couldn’t stand. “When you—”

“Why do you do that?” You interrupted, exhausted. “You’re lying here naked with me, you just came in me, can’t you be real with me for ten minutes?”

That silenced him, and you lay stiffly at his side, his arm still around you, waiting for him to pull away. The thought was like a stone in your stomach. It wasn’t like you liked him, of course you didn’t. No one wanted to be rejected within sixty seconds of being fucked, that was all.

Three, two, one…

He sighed.

“You’re right.”

For a moment you didn’t think you heard him right.

“Sometimes I almost like you,” you said grumpily. “And then you’re an ass again. It’s so nice when you’re being normal.”

“Well thanks.” He started laughing. “Sometimes I almost like you, [name]-chan. When you’re not being bitchy or sullen or grumpy or rude to your sen-pai, or telling me to get my head out of my ass.”

“How is that my fault? You’re the one that shoved it up there.” You shifted and moved to lay partially atop him, your chin on his chest, and he brushed a loose lock of hair out of your face, tucking it behind your ear.

“You sound like Iwa-chan. That is kind of disturbing, actually.” He studied you for a minute, eyebrows drawing together, tracing the tearstains down your cheeks with a fingertip. “You know what Iwa-chan always says?”

“Hmm?”

“There are six people on a court. If you think this is about you, and how you’re doing is equal to how the team is doing, he’ll punch you. I’m paraphrasing.”

“I have always like Iwaizumi-san.” You turned your head, letting your cheek rest on his chest.

“We have this team,” he said, coiling a loose lock of your hair around his finger and letting it go. His voice was nice when he was just talking. “Shiratorizawa. They’re a powerhouse school and they have this player named Ushijima…”

Chapter Text

In Miyagi, where the volleyball team stopped for lunch on the way back to Tokyo, Kuroo had found a little shop.

He had been looking for Kenma at the time. Kenma had a habit of wandering off and getting lost in new places, paying more attention to his game than street signs, and while he would eventually make his way back with GPS, Kuroo usually preferred for that to happen sooner rather than later.

He had wandered through a few alleys that seemed Kenma-ish—mostly downhill—and had almost walked right by the shop with various polished black objects in the window. Sendai Bogwood Craft, the sign said, with a little placard explaining it was a regional tradition going back to the Edo period.

It made him think of you, and your ridiculous, succinct answer to the question of why the traditional arts should be preserved. In the center of the window, there were several necklaces with pendants that looked black as polished onyx, with woodgrain striations like the winking, dilated pupil of a cat.

He had spent every cent in his pocket on one of those necklaces. He suspected it had been priced higher than that, but the shop owner took pity on a poverty-stricken student when Kuroo mentioned it was for his girlfriend, who loved traditional craftwork.

“Kuroo,” you breathed when saw it, letting the pendant lay flat on your palm and stroking the polished smoothness with a fingertip. The craft had made Kuroo think of you, but the necklace itself was pure Kuroo, black and glossy, sly and a little wicked. “It is beautiful, what is it?”

“Bogwood from Miyagi,” he said, rubbing the back of his head with one hand and grinning with pleasure. “I saw it and thought of you.”

“Put it on me,” you said promptly, turning and lifting your hair. The catch was fiddly and it took a few tries, and he was acutely aware of your parents coming into the kitchen in their work clothes, trying to politely ignore the two of you and failing. Kuroo had known them most of his life, but it had been very hard to act naturally in front of them just lately. The thought, I groped your daughter’s breasts and made her squeal kept wanting to float to the surface, especially when he was facing your father.

“Oka-san, look what Kuroo gave me!” You squealed, bouncing into the kitchen to show her. Your father only glanced over at Kuroo narrowly, as if to say he knew his game and wasn’t impressed.

This morning was the first time Kuroo had seen you since you’d parted a week before, and both of you eyed each other impatiently, waiting for your parents to leave. There was only so long before Kenma, who slept until the last possible minute, would be coming down the stairs. The second the door shut behind them you leaped into his arms, your legs wrapping around his waist, with a cry of Kuroo! that he was sure they must have heard a block away.

“I missed you, I missed you,” you said breathlessly between kisses, and then his lips pressed down and his wicked, sneaky tongue stroked yours in a caressing roil of heated muscle that made you lift off his hips and whimper.

“Mmmm,” he grunted, and turned with his hands on your thighs to thump you into the door, bracing to kiss you more thoroughly. You were tanned golden from a week in the sun, there were faint scratches on your arms and legs from the surf, and he could swear he still smelled salt and coconut on your skin, like you were an ocean spirit drifted too far inland.

He was rougher than he meant to be. His fingers slid into your hair, pulling it out of his way, and his hips pushed against yours with a thud that rattled the door in the frame and made you gasp, your thighs automatically tightening. He had tried to be gentle with you to this point, letting you ease your way into it, but the quick, hard grind of his hips into yours suddenly opened vistas of sharper pleasures that you had never imagined existed. You stiffened in his arms.

“Sorry,” he said, muffled in your hair. “I missed you too. More than I thought, eh?”

You shifted like you meant to slide down, but he shook his head and brushed his lips against yours.

“I need you to stay right here for a second,” he said, giving you a lopsided smile. “You got me a little excited, [name]-chan.”

“Oh. Okay,” you said softly, and kissed him, tamping down the fire a bit. He was a little embarrassed at how quick his body was to react to you, and closed his eyes, dropping tiny kisses on your cheeks, your forehead, the delicate arch of your eyebrows. You were so easy to startle, but so superbly responsive. When his mouth covered yours again, those rose-petal lips parted as naturally as breathing, and he had all the taste that he wanted.

“Please don’t make me see this,” Kenma’s voice said.

Fuck.

You instantly hid your face in Kuroo’s chest and expired of mortification, but he gave himself a count of three, set you back down on the ground, and turned to look back at Kenma squarely. One of the maxims of his life was that he would only be embarrassed if he acted embarrassed. And all of you had to get used to the idea that this was the way things were.

At least he was thoroughly unaroused now.

“Just saying hi to my girlfriend after a long vacation, Kenma,” he said, while you spun around to put your shoes on so you wouldn’t have to face your brother with Kuroo’s kiss still tingling on your lips.

“From now on you have until five til to do that,” Kenma replied, one of the few times Kuroo could ever recall him putting his foot down about anything. He sat down on the step to slide his own shoes on, resolutely keeping his eyes on the floor. “Imouto-chan, do you have your bento?”

“Yes, Ni-chan,” You said meekly, but with a glance at Kuroo, and the hint of a mischievous smile.

Chapter Text

That had not been anything like enough.

Outwardly Kuroo was casual all the way to school, chatting with both of you, keeping it light, doing nothing worse than holding your hand. He thought you must look the same as always; most schools forbade makeup so he knew you couldn’t be wearing much. But surely your lips weren’t always so red, your face all gentle feline curves and blooming cheeks. Your eyelashes were like black fans veiling your eyes, and when you peeked up at him with a shy invitation you didn’t even realize you were sending, he found his words flowing away from him, and then he was staring at you, without any idea of what he had been talking about.

Apparently absence did make the heart grow fonder.

If there had been any actual words in the black, smoking heat of the look he sent your way at the school doors, they probably have made you flee in terror. As it was, you stopped in your tracks with large, startled eyes, and he watched his hand reach out as if it belonged to a stranger, caressing your cheek and chin in the same way he would have pet his obaa-san’s cat Haku.

“See you later,” he said, and tugged the pendant out of your vest, letting it rest on his fingers. It really did look like the pupil of a cat’s eye.

“Kuroo…” You said, and he smiled and turned away, stuffing his hands into his pockets before he did something more embarrassing. It was the purest kind of male stupidity, but he wanted others to see that necklace. He had bought it for you, but he liked the idea that people would see it, and know who you belonged to.

Kuroo Tetsurō 11:57 am:
Hey how long do you think practice will be tonight

Kozume [Name] 12:04 pm:
I think I will be done before you are, demon captain-sama

Kuroo Tetsurō 12:06 pm:
Okay good

Kozume [Name] 12:07 pm:
Why?

Kuroo Tetsurō 12:07 pm:
I want to take you somewhere tonight

Kozume [Name] 12:08 pm:
Ooooh okay, where?

--

Girls liked surprises.

* * *

“Kozume-chan,” a voice said, and you glanced up from your spot on the volleyball gym floor to see a boy that looked vaguely familiar, and not just because he was on the Nekoma volleyball team. He was open-faced, sunny-tempered boy of your own age, with brown hair and eyes. “Hi!”

“Hi,” you said cautiously. “Ummm…Inouka-kun?”

“Yeah, I’m in your class,” he said, and your head ducked, your hair falling into your face. You hadn’t known anyone from the volleyball team was in your class; you had barely been able to look any of them in the face since the first day. But all he said was: “You must get bored, sitting back here, I’m sorry we take so long.”

“No, it’s okay. I do my homework,” you said shyly, lifting your book. “Are you all almost finished?”

“Almost,” he said, gesturing with his wide-bristled floor broom, cheerfully ignoring the part he played in determining when the volleyball team was finished. “Was that assignment hard? I didn’t understand it at all.”

“It was a little hard, I’m glad I memorized the list of kanji from last week,” you admitted. “There was a lot of repetition from that.”

“Oh,” he said, so visibly crestfallen that you smiled.

“I have these, if you want to borrow them,” you said, taking out a small stack of index cards in Ni-chan’s microscopic handwriting. “Ni-chan made them last year and gave them to me, they really help. He uses them to make mnemonics, see? He says they’re like puzzles.”

“Oh, wow,” he said, flipping through them. “Are you sure you don’t need them tonight? These are awesome.”

“No,” you said, waving a hand. You tried to forget about school the second you walked out the doors. “I just need them back tomorrow, ne?”

“Inouka-kun,” Kuroo called sharply. “Are you not busy enough? Do you need more to do?”

“No, Kuroo-san!” Inouka snatched up his broom, stuffed the index cards in a pocket, and tipped a wink at you. “Thanks, Kozume-chan!”

There was a certain thrill in watching Kuroo be captain-y. He wasn’t a bully—you were very familiar with that breed and could instantly tell the difference—but his voice dominated practices, cajoling, teaching, correcting. Sometimes correcting with heat; you would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of his wrath. You could see why he had a reputation as the demon captain. He looked the part, tall and intimidating, the spiky black hair partially concealing flashing eyes. He glanced at you and even as well as you knew him, you wilted a little under that level stare.

He couldn’t be mad at you for talking to Inouka, could he?

You gathered up your schoolwork and slipped out the door while Kuroo was talking to Nekomata Sensei, and waved shyly at the boys as they left for the night. You’d passed a few words with all of them here and there by now, and they all seemed nice, though Lev was so tall you always felt like you had to back up to look at him properly, and Yamamoto-san was just so loud.

“Are you distracting my kohai, [name]-chan?” Kuroo asked as he locked the door, and for a second you hesitated, uncertain whether he was teasing or if you were about to be scolded. He glanced at you. “I am teasing. Everything okay?”

“Oh, yes,” you said, and gave yourself a little shake. “Where are we going, Kuroo-san?”

“You’ll see.” That look was back in his eyes, the one from this morning that made your knees wobble. When he stepped close and bent to kiss you, you swayed into him like a sunflower to the sun, stretching to the tips of your toes to meet tall Kuroo, until he lifted you off your feet altogether.

“Not here,” he murmured breathlessly, setting you back down. “Come on.”

Chapter Text

“Toshi-kun?”

“Mmm?”

Turning in his lap to face him, you found yourself presented with his onigiri and obediently took a bite before proceeding. Ever since he had seen you dancing, Toshi had been firmly of the opinion that you didn’t eat enough.

“I want to do something fun tonight.”

You were sitting by the pond for lunch again, and you were almost used to his insistence that you sit in his lap; Toshi seemed to like it for a mixture of practical and completely irrational reasons. It was convenient to have you already there when he felt like touching you, but also, it seemed oddly…soothing to him. It was bizarre to think of yourself as some sort of security touchstone to this giant, intimidating man, but you couldn’t think of another way to describe it. It wasn’t the lake; it wasn’t just your presence.

When you settled into his lap, something in him seemed to take a deep breath.

“This isn’t fun?”

“Not as much fun as some other things we could be doing,” you said thoughtlessly, and then giggled at the sudden gleam in his eyes. “We can do that after we do some other fun thing.”

“Mmm.” He considered, his eyes wandering toward the lake. You loved watching his mental wheels turn over. “I think we can do that.”

“After practice?”

“Yes. Try to finish as quick as you can.” He said, and offered another bite of his implacable rice ball.

Part of the fun would be discovering what exactly Toshi’s idea of fun was going to be. Sometimes, even after a couple months with him, and several weeks of that in his bed, you felt like you were still just beginning to know him. He went willingly enough to the places you wanted to go: for coffee after practice, though he usually stuck to tea; wandering the shopping district on Sunday afternoons, though if anything there actually interested him, you hadn’t identified it yet.

His house hadn’t yielded many more clues. His parents were divorced and his mother had a boyfriend, so when she wasn’t working, she was still hardly ever home. It wasn’t like Toshi needed supervision, after all.

And you had never exactly explored his house anyway. The idea of prying anywhere uninvited was unthinkable; just imagining the look on Toshi’s face if he caught you at such a thing made you cringe. But you had caught glimpses of things over the weeks. Mostly exactly what you would have expected: volleyball and fitness magazines on his shelves, fitness equipment in his closet when he opened it to pull out a fresh shirt. But two anomalies had piqued your interest. The first was several issues of the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, stacked on the back shelf of his desk. He didn’t read any other manga as far as you could tell; why that one?

Secondly, when he turned on his TV one night, you saw he was three-quarters of the way through Princess Mononoke, with Howl’s Moving Castle queued up behind it.

That was oddly endearing.

You cared too much about the dance showcase to ever skimp on practice, but when you wrapped it up fifteen minutes early, you could honestly say that you had done your best; your limbs felt like they had been stuffed with cotton and your legs actually wobbled a few times as you hurried to the girls’ locker room for a shower. Whatever Toshi’s idea of fun was, your idea of fun was not being in sweat-soaked ratty dance clothes for it.

He was waiting for you outside the girls’ locker room when you came out, wearing a fresh pair of track pants and black t-shirt, and clean-shaven because Toshi was deeply self-conscious about his five o’clock shadow. Who ever heard of a Japanese man that had to shave twice a day?

“Toshi-kun!” You bounced into his arms and he lifted you up for a kiss, and gave your backside a hearty squeeze since no one was around to see.

“You look good,” he said when he set you down, eying you appreciatively. You had changed back into parts of your school uniform since you knew Toshi liked the purple plaid skirt, and it was finally warm enough to the wear the cute summer blouse with its cap sleeves.

“Where are we going?” You asked excitedly as you walked into the sunset together; the light was still bright on the horizon even after eight o’clock, and the air was filled with the fleeting golden glow that was your favorite time of the day.

“You’ll see. Tell me about practice.” His fingers drifted up your back in a way that made you shiver pleasurably and move a pace closer to him. He showed every evidence of interest in your dancing, now that he had seen it, and you were making steady progress. The Japanese traditional piece was coming together and with another few weeks’ of practice, you thought you would have the really difficult steps down; the hardest part was the water dance, because the three of you had to be perfectly in sync for it.

The contemporary dance was a partner dance with third-year Hana Shinjirō, and it was going…less well. It was gorgeous, and if you pulled it off it would the triumph of the showcase, but right now there was an awful lot of dropping you on the stage involved.

You didn’t mention that last part. Toshi would get that look.

“I think Hana-kun is in my class,” he said, his brow furrowing. “I haven’t seen you practice that dance before.”

“Hana-san has to catch the 7:05 train home, so we practice that first.” You smiled. “It will be a surprise for you at the showcase, Toshi-san. Oh—we’re going to the shrine?”

He had stopped at the foot of the steps to the Shiogama-Jinja shrine, and when he glanced down at you, it was with a kind of careful, intentional blankness that was somehow different from his usual level of impassivity.

“I know this might not be what you had in mind,” he said, picking each word out precisely, and you realized with a shock that he was embarrassed.

“No, no, no.” If this was what he wanted to do, you were dying to see why he had chosen this place, even if a shrine didn’t generally fall under the heading of fun for you. “I walk by it all the time but I’ve never gone inside,” you added. “Won’t they be closed by now?”

“Yes. They know me, though. I can go in when I want.”

You had one final objection, but you weren’t going to say it; he would think you were making excuses. Shiogama-Jinja shrine was perched on top of a hill overlooking Matsushima Bay, and that meant stairs.

So many stairs.

“Okay,” you said, trying to sound cheerful, and then squeaked as he scooped you up and started up the stairs himself, one arm under your knees and the other behind your shoulder. “Toshi! You don’t have to, I don’t mind—”

“I do,” he said, and brushed his lips against your forehead. If carrying you up the stairs was any strain, he wasn’t showing it yet, and you had to marvel again at his sheer, incredible physicality. “I didn’t think of the stairs. You asked for fun. These are not fun after you've been practicing all night.”

“Not even for you, Toshi-kun?” You asked, teasing.

“For me the fun always seems to be at the top of the stairs,” he said, with his eyes fixed on the red and green façade of the shrine, losing hue as the last of daylight faded. It was an oddly poetic thing to say, even if it was also the literal truth.

You wondered if Toshi knew he had just used a metaphor.

Chapter Text

Kuroo Tetsurō took your virginity on a small strip of sandy beach beside a stream, well away from the main paths of the municipal park.

He had not planned to do so.

He had planned a picnic, even gone so far as to pack a blanket in his gym bag that morning. He had planned to kiss you. Maybe go a little bit further. But tonight the late spring air was cool, the quarter moon hung in the sky like a pendant on a chain of stars, and touching you was like plunging his hands in velvet.

He was under you on the blanket because he didn’t trust himself anywhere at the present moment, busily unbuttoning your school blouse. Your vest had already been discarded; your shoes and stockings were piled neatly underneath it, and your thin linen shirt parted to reveal a pretty pink lace bra and his pendant, dangling between your breasts.

The moan you made when you leaned into his hands went to his head like wine.

“Kuroo,” you mewed, and between your legs felt that hot, hard part of him twitch against you through layers of clothing. You had been aware of that part of him before, but had never found it so acutely interesting as you did tonight. Ever since he had kissed you that morning, when his control had slipped and for a moment he pressed between your legs, you hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that part of him. This was what it was for. You knew what he wanted.

And God, you wanted it too.

His t-shirt was in the way and you pushed it up impatiently, not so much to discover as to reveal what you already knew was there, and Kuroo obligingly dragged his shirt over his head, the muscles of his midsection folding into tight ridges as he lifted his shoulders. You wanted to taste him, you bent and licked those ridges, tracing the lean muscle of his obliques with your fingers in utter fascination. He had such a narrow waist, broadening to the wide planes of his pectorals. He tasted salty from practice, and his chest hitched upward as you slid your tongue over him.

“You are killing me,” Kuroo moaned above you.

“I am?” Your eyes flew to his and you did it again, watching his handsome face react. His hips involuntarily lifted and he pushed that hard length against you in a surge of desire that actually made you light-headed.

“Yes.”

You couldn’t stop touching him. You kissed him, lingering kisses along the rising ridge of his ribs. You lapped at him like a kitten with cream, the hot, wet flick of your tongue against his skin making him shiver like all of it was too tight. He loved it when you kissed his neck, so you did that too, your breasts brushing his chest as your soft cheek pressed against his jaw and your lips seared kisses like burns into his skin.

His breath came fast and short and your pulse was galloping in your throat. You knew you were teasing him unendurably, dancing on the thin line of his control, looking into those narrowed, wicked eyes and seeing the heat blazing there, the control he was struggling to exert…

“Take this off,” he said, pushing your shirt off your shoulders, his hands sliding all the way down your back to squeeze your ass, pulling you against him as he pushed upward with a moan that shook your entire body. He sprang the clasp of your bra with quick, clever fingers, and sighed as he bared beautiful, rounded breasts and nipples that just begged for his mouth on them.

You sucked in a breath. The flash of pleasure went down your spine like a bolt of lightning and your hips bucked against his, a reflex over which you had no control. His tongue was licking, rasping, his lips tightening to tug on your nipples until you clutched his hair with a wordless, gasping cry. It felt so good! How had you not known that it would feel so good?!

Kuroo moved from one nipple to the other, every lick, every suck, every tender bite making your body tighten and your mind go white with pleasure. He sat up and you leaned into his mouth as he sucked your nipples until color rose to the surface and they jutted forward, rosy and swollen and aching.

He kissed you, his tongue stroking into your mouth in a caress of wet muscle that made you feel faint, actually faint, his hands sliding up your body to pinch your nipples between the ball of his thumb and his palm. You cried out into his mouth, your hips rolling forward and pushing down onto him so desperately that he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Okay, we’re doing this,” he groaned, and rolled you over, holding you with one arm and laying you on the blanket under him. His hand slid under your skirt and pulled your panties down, off, the shocking touch of cool air between you legs making your face burn. You were already wet for him.

“Here, here,” he murmured urgently, pushing his track pants and boxers down together, his thighs rolling forward under yours. That hot, hard length of him pushed against you, dragged upward against you and made you gasp, and then—in.

He went in a single long thrust, and you felt something give inside you that made you cry out in pain, but it was gone almost before you realized it was there, and Kuroo was inside you. He was holding your thighs apart and when you lifted your head you could see the coarse dark curls around his—him—and the thick, throbbing base, drawing back and pushing into you again. That was part of him, too, that was as much Kuroo as the ridged abdomen, the neck you kissed, the sly, wicked face above you.

“Are you okay?” he panted, adjusting his angle, thrusting deeper. He knew he was too tall, his thighs were too long, so he slid one arm under you and lifted your hips. There. There. Fuck, that was it. The rest of him slid into you, sheathed to the hilt, and your legs quivered convulsively against him.

You nodded frantically, your hands making fists in the blanket. He thrust again and both of you cried out, his deep voice blending with yours. Again, and your head turned, your body twisting with pleasure, your red lips parted in a deep and ragged moan. Every thrust made him want more. Your nipples were swollen from his mouth and he bent to take one between his lips, unable to resist, and sucked until you were aching, blind, and deaf with pleasure.

“Fuck, you are so beautiful,” he groaned, his hips moving faster, his arm holding you tighter. Your hair fanned out on the blanket and your face was bared for him, exquisite agony in those sensual feline curves. Your skirt was bunched at your waist and your breasts bounced with every thrust, and made him want more, more, deeper, harder!

He drew back, thrust deep, and you were a soaking furnace around him, and still so unbearably snug he felt like he was turning inside out every time he pulled his cock from you, the friction wrenching a groan from him that started at his toes. He could feel the pressure at his back and balls, the constriction inside you that meant you were coiling tight, close to coming.

“Kuroo—” You moaned, high and keening.

“Tetsurō,” he said, his free hand cupping your face even as he battered your body, making you look up at him, shaking you until you opened your eyes. Hot. You were so hot, his touch was burning you. “Call me Tetsurō!”

“Tets…Tetsurō!” You gasped, and your whole body surged up in a wave of cresting pleasure, robbing you of all possible words except his name. Everything was liquid. Everything was heat. Your heels skidded on the blanket and then caught, pushed your body onto him, and he pounded down into you and shattered you.

Distantly you heard him give a shout and then he came too, this was coming, this was his eyes blazing down into yours and gripping you so hard it hurt and filling you, the liquid of his come scalding you inside. He wrecked you. Your dazed mind thought, wipeout, and it was like that, just like that, like the entire ocean had lifted you up and smashed you down and left you floating in a hot summer sea.

“So good, baby, so good,” Kuroo was murmuring, his hands turning up your face and kissing you, the long length of his body on top of yours. Kuroo—Tetsurō, you told yourself, tasting that name like a spiced candy on your tongue—should have been heavy, he had at least eighty pounds on you, but you never wanted him to move. You couldn’t have moved if the park were on fire.

“Tetsurō…” You tilted your face into his kiss, into his hands, purring with pleasure with every caress. He laughed, deep and masculine.

“You look like a cat asking to be pet, neko-chan,” he murmured, amused.

“Mmm, it felt so good,” you whispered back, basking in him. “I thought it would hurt more—ooh.” He had just pulled himself from you, wet from you and still softening, and now there was a little pain deep inside, dull and aching. He matter-of-factly reached for the napkins from the bag of snacks you had bought from a conbini on the way to the park and wiped himself clean, tugged his boxers and track pants back up, and then reached for a fresh handful of napkins to do the same for you, making you blush at the intimacy. He had already been inside you, that was his come, surely it was a bit late for embarrassment.

“I’m glad it didn’t hurt more,” he said when he was done, and brushed your hair out of your face to kiss you again. “None of that. I want to see you.”

There was something on your mind that you were trying to hide, so you shied away, turning your face into the palm of his hand instead and hoping he’d go back to caressing you.

“[Name]-chan?” He wasn’t having it. “Are you okay? I know it was your first—”

“I was…I was thinking,” you said reluctantly. “Th-the other girls…”

“Ah.”

“Ni-chan told me there were…a lot of them.”

Thank you, Kenma. That seemed to be where you stalled, your eyes averted, afraid to say more, afraid of what he might say in response. He sighed and turned over on his side, propping himself up on an elbow. He supposed it wasn’t an unreasonable thing to bring up now. You had to be wondering who else he’d done this with, and how you were any different from the girls he’d left behind.

“Okay. I liked them, at the time,” he said slowly. “I won’t pretend like they didn’t mean anything to me. I was never...with a girl I didn’t like. I never did it just to do it, you know?”

You nodded, and gave him the tiniest smile when his fingers slid lightly over your temple and cheekbone, feeling their curving angles, your soft skin.

“I never went through Kenma for one of them, though.” He bent his head and brushed his lips against yours. “I can’t even compare it in my head. They’re them, and they’re in the past, and you…” He fell silent a moment, and then glanced away. He was a teenage boy, however ridiculously confident, and this subject was making him acutely uncomfortable. “I can’t see past you, okay? You’re all there is for me.”

“Okay.” This time when you turned your face into his hand, he let you, his thumb riding the ridge of your cheek. It was a pleasant way to change the subject. “Me and volleyball, demon captain-sama?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Because that was his dream too, and it would take him away from you. But you knew what it was like to have a passion. Maybe that was what made you different, he thought. Then he stopped thinking as he kissed you again, sweet mouth, sweet lips, and oh, the things he wanted to do with you…

Chapter Text

“Like this?”

“Yesssssss…” Tetsurō’s hips lifted with a moan that seemed wrenched from his guts. “Now lick, slowly.”

It was like he was participating in his own torture. You were kneeling naked between his legs, making your first careful examination of his cock, with far less maidenly reserve than he’d expected. As a matter of fact, none of your reactions had been what he expected. You were so shy in everyday life. Who knew you’d be so straightforward in bed?

“I can feel you getting harder,” you said, stroking it with your fingertips in frank fascination. “Does it feel good?”

“Yes,” he said, more emphatically than he meant to. You were in his bedroom on a Sunday afternoon, his sheets and blankets wildly askew, and you were driving him insane.

“What does it feel like?” You lowered your head again while he answered the question, your tongue curling along the underside of his cock, tickling against that curiously velvety flesh and stroking in a way that sent another rush of blood pooling into his lap. His hands clenched convulsively at the air.

“Hot,” he said, struggling for words. “The…harder I get, the more it feels…ahhhhh…” He moaned again as you licked up his shaft, his hands sinking into your hair. “…like I want to push inside something. Careful, ahh, ahh, ah!”

Your mouth closed around his cock and his eyes rolled back in his head. The sight of that tall, powerfully muscled body quivering under you was so erotic, you could feel a shudder run through your own body, and throbbing desire between your legs. Tetsurō was holding back, as always, so determined not to scare you, not to hurt you.

You slid your hands over his hips, feeling the bones of his pelvis, running your thumbs up over his stomach, watching him as you felt his cock with your mouth. It was actually, literally throbbing on your tongue, and you pressed your tongue harder against it to see what would happen. Tetsurō—you loved that name all the way down to the rō—sucked in a breath, the muscles of his thighs twitching.

“Like that?” You whispered, letting him slide out of your mouth long enough to ask.

“Fuck yes,” He said, his eyes closed, his head tilted back, his throat working. His long fingers coiled in your hair, big hands, strong hands, and they were still almost shaking with pleasure. With the pleasure you were inflicting on him.

You took him back in your mouth and sucked, a slow, intense constriction of your cheeks, and made him actually cry out, his deep voice jerked out of his chest and hoarse with surprise. In your mouth, his cock strained on your tongue, moving all by itself, and you shifted as a flush of heat went through you. This was making you wet. Your thighs pressed together automatically and you moaned around his cock and sucked, sucked again, your fingers sliding up his sides, feeling every jerk of his body, every short, sharp breath.

“Do you like that?” You asked again, breathy with excitement. His cock was so hard you could see his flesh straining, twitching against his stomach, the muscles of his abdomen rippling as he panted.

“Yes…ohhhhh!”

There was a sudden taste of salt on your tongue and you jerked back, looking at the liquid beading on the tip of him, the little slit there you hadn’t paid much attention to.

“What’s that?”

“Precum. Before I come, that starts…coming out.” He had thought himself beyond embarrassment, but this explanation made him a little red around the ears. But you merely nodded, bent your head, and lapped at it, like you were thinking it over. “If you…keep doing that…you’re going to make me…fuck!”

His hands tangled in your hair and his hips slammed upward, driving his cock into your mouth. You had just closed your lips around him and sucked like you were trying to drag his balls through his cock.

“Did that feel good?” You asked, hauling your head up and gasping a little, and he opened his eyes and saw the wickedness lurking in yours.

“You were teasing me?!” And here he’d almost ruptured himself to keep his hands off you while you made your shy, maidenly exploration of his penis! Outrage warring with amusement, he sat up and knocked you over in an effortless roll of muscle, pulling your thighs apart and slamming his hard, aching cock into you in a single thrust.

“Ohhhhhh, Tetsurō!”

“Does that feel good?” He growled, his eyes narrowed, all his teeth showing. He gave you another brutal stroke, his hard body pounding into yours. “Do you like that?”

“Yes!” You cried, and drew your legs up for more.

* * *

Afterward, you were curled up and purring in his arms, deliciously sore, like after a full day of surfing.

“So, so, sexy,” Tetsurō was murmuring, kissing along your shoulder and neck until your eyes closed with pleasure. “My little neko-chan asking to be pet…”

He was still light-headed from the force of his orgasm, murmuring nonsense into your ears, and you couldn’t get enough of it. A minute could have passed, or an hour; you could have spent the rest of your life in his red sheets, spooned against his chest, listening to his deep, drawling voice.

“I love it when you pet me,” you whispered back, turning into his hand. He loved tracing the contours of your face; the large orbits of your eyes, your slanting cheeks. He was constantly brushing your hair back so he could touch you. “I’m not made of glass, either. Tetsurō.”

The sound of his name on your lips was like a caress.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said softly, and dragged his lips along your jaw to your ear, making your toes curl. “Then I wouldn’t be able to do that to you again in another ten or twenty min—”

“Tetsu-chan?” A man’s voice boomed from downstairs, and you sat bolt upright, clutching the sheet to your breasts like an ogre was about to burst into the bedroom. Tetsurō cursed.

“Get dressed,” he said, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of his bed. There was no panic in his motions; he took his time rummaging for your track paints and t-shirt, your panties inside the pants and your bra dangling over the small table beside his bed. Standing, he tugged a pair of shorts on and pulled a t-shirt over his head. “It’s my dad. Don’t worry, he won’t care. I didn’t think he was coming home this weekend. Oya, otou-san?”

The door shut behind him and you tugged your clothes on, blushing so hard it felt like your hair should be smoking. With Tetsurō all that fear and uncertainty went away, but you hadn’t seen his father since you were a little girl, and what would he think of you, emerging from his son’s bedroom in the middle of the day on a Sunday? Would he tell your parents? Kenma had already laid out the parameters of his willingness to lie for you. They ended at the point where he might get caught.

“[Name]-chan, come out here, I want you to say hello to my father,” Tetsurō called. There was an odd flatness in his voice. For a solid minute you hesitated at his door, your fingers combing anxiously through your hair. But hadn’t you just told him you weren’t made of glass? You gripped his pendant in your fingers and then opened the door and stepped into the hall.

They were in the living room and glanced up at you together, two tall men with the same squared-off jaw, the same lean, broad-shouldered build. Tetsurō’s father wore his hair cropped close with wire-rimmed glasses and cool dark eyes. He was wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase like it was an extension of his body.

“Oh,” he said when he saw you. “You have a girlfriend, Tetsu-chan?”

“Hai. This is [name]-chan, Kenma’s sister. From next door.”

“It’s nice to see you again, sir,” you said politely, bobbing a little bow as you came to stand at Tetsurō’s side. You looked presentable enough, he thought with some relief; there was no visible sign that he had been screwing you blind fifteen minutes ago, and you hadn’t completely retreated behind your hair.

“Oh.” His father blinked and looked at you again, harder. “You’ve grown up, [name]-chan. Last time I saw you, you were just starting elementary school.”

“Yes, s-sir.” You bit your tongue and looked down at your feet. Why now? Why? Tetsurō shifted beside you, his hand gently running up your back.

“What school are you going to now?”

“Nekoma.”

“Mmm, with my Tetsurō, then. Doing well in your classes?” He was moving into the kitchen as he spoke, setting his briefcase on the counter and rummaging through it.

“Yes, sir.” You glanced up at Tetsurō, and he shrugged, brushing a kiss on your forehead while his father’s back was turned.

“Good girl.” Kuroo-sama said, and dismissed you. “Tetsu, did you pay the bills?”

“Yeah. The electric bill was high this month, I had to take an extra 5000 yen.”

“That’s fine. Here.” Producing a small sheaf of papers, he handed them over to Tetsurō. “This is the letter of recommendation for Kaneka-san at the university. Make sure he gets it this week. Don’t let him forget,” Kuroo-sama added, with a tight smile for you that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s important for his future, ne?”

“Yes, sir,” you said, glancing between them uncertainly. Tetsurō had curiously little to say.

“I’m in town for a meeting, then I’m heading back into the city,” Kuroo-sama went on. “Do you need any extra money this week, Tetsu-chan? For your club or to take little [name]-chan out?”

“No. I’m good.”

“Good.” He closed his briefcase with a snap and pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, tucking it into a pocket. “Work hard in your classes. I have high expectations for you.”

And with that tender remark, he was gone, his heavy footsteps creaking on the wooden porch outside.

“Sorry,” Tetsurō said into the silence, and tossed the papers onto the kitchen counter. “It was better just to face him, he would’ve gotten suspicious if I’d tried to hide you. You’d have to meet him sooner or later anyway.”

“He wasn’t that bad.” You tugged at his shirt to ask for a kiss, and he bent obligingly. Somehow he seemed to need one. “What was that about—the letter?”

“Oh.” He turned to rummage in the refrigerator. “He wants me to go to Keio University. That’s where he went. Kaneka-sama is on the board or something. Here.” He handed you a bag of sweet dark plums. “I am starving.”

You took them and sat down on one of the bar stools on the other side of the counter, munching on a plum as he heated up leftover somen. Almost everything in his refrigerator was pre-packaged, haphazard stacks of healthy, high-protein meals of the sort a serious athlete who couldn’t cook might buy, with canned coffee filling the slots on the door and sports drinks and water bottles occupying the entire bottom shelf.

“Tetsurō,” you said, with dawning realization. “Do you live here alone?”

Chapter Text

It was always jarring to go into a Shinto shrine in the middle of the city. You had been to a few on school trips, of course, and your mother in particular liked to go and burn incense at a shrine before any major event, like when your father started his new job last year. It always felt like stepping back in time, simultaneously fascinating and a little embarrassing, like looking at baby pictures.

“I started coming here when I was fourteen,” Toshi was saying, leading you through the turnstiles. You had to fight the urge to duck as you went through the tall Zuishinmon gate, lacquered in a pale pine green; it felt like you were sneaking in. “It’s quiet here. There’s no people, except on festival days.”

You knew from Tendo-san that that was around the time Toshi’s parents split up, and wondered if it was related. Toshi never talked about it much, but when he did, it was with a dry matter-of-factness that made it hard to tell how much it bothered him, if it did at all. He hadn’t seen his father in more than a year; you had met his mother exactly twice, and both of those when she was on her way out the door.

“Why did you come here, though, Toshi-san?”

“They have a bench.” He pointed, with a very small smile, on a stone bench under a sakura tree, just losing the last of its spring blossoms. “After I ran up and down the stairs I would come in and sit there to cool off.”

You trailed behind him as he walked further into the shrine grounds. The outbuildings were closed and locked, the lanterns burning, and the ground lighting was just flicking on, illuminating the tall trees and stone paths.

“I like the trees,” he said, glancing back at you. “The cypresses especially. The sound the wind makes in them. It sounds different in pine branches, if you ever listen. Ōmiwa-sama, one of the priests here, used to sit and talk to me when I finished running.”

It was the most you’d ever heard him say at one time before, and you could hear him struggling. He was not a natural storyteller.

“What did you talk about?” You prompted.

“He asked about school. Volleyball. He told me about the shrine and the gardens. I’m not Shinto,” he added, glancing at you again. “But…I like the trees,” he said again. He stepped off the path and pressed a palm to the rough red bark of a cypress tree, a tall boy at the foot of a giant tree. “This one is over two hundred years old. Ōmiwa-sama said the kami here are salt kami, from the bay, watching over the fishermen. I don’t know about that. I’ve never seen a kami. But these trees were here all that time.”

He offered you his hand and drew you along the path, shadows spreading under the trees as the light faded from the sky.

“Ōmiwa-sama used to tell me about how they take care of the grounds. It’s a lot of work. I used to come and help sometimes when they had something heavy that needed to be done, rocks moved or something. Most of the priests are pretty old. I helped them with that,” he said, jerking his chin toward a series of stacked wooden planters, already going mossy.

“It’s beautiful,” you said sincerely, looking around with new appreciation. “What else did you do?”

“Hmm. That,” he said, pointing to a stand of dark boulders set in a bed of raked white gravel.

“You moved those there?”

“Not by myself,” he said, and it was funny because he wasn’t telling a joke; in Toshi’s mind he was just being honest. He pulled you over for a closer look. “This isn’t just random rocks. It’s a shakkei garden. Do you know what those are?”

“No.”

“It means borrowing scenery. This is Mount Kaikoma, next to Nokogiri-san,” he said, tapping one rock almost affectionately. “From the Akaishi mountains. It’s laid out the same, do you see? The gravel is the Akaishi river, it goes around the rocks just like it does in real life.”

“Ohh.” You didn’t have to pretend to be impressed now; you bent down beside him. “And you helped put these here?”

“Hai. I almost dropped Nokogiri-san on Ōmiwa-sama’s foot. He said he wouldn’t have minded, how many people can say they have a mountain actually fall on them.”

You giggled. “How many people can say they almost dropped a mountain on a Shinto priest?”

“Ha.” He pulled you against him for a one-armed hug.

“What else did you do?” You asked excitedly, following him as he took you through the rest of the small garden. It was a the most talkative you had ever seen him. There was a sakura tree in the northeast corner that they had saved from some sort of blight, another set of planters he had helped assemble, and the space he had helped clear, and then replanted, when the roof of the left oratory had needed repairs.

“Who is this you’ve brought with you, Ushijima-kun?” A voice behind you interrupted gently, and you turned to find an old priest in traditional robes, squinting at you through a small pair of spectacles.

“[Name]-chan,” Toshi replied, turning you slightly to face the old man. You bowed deeply, flustered.

“I hope we’re not disturbing anyone, Ojī-sama.”

“No, no, Ushijima-kun and his friends are always welcome.” There was a gentle emphasis that made you glance up at Toshi, but his face was as impassive as ever.

“Thank you, Arata-sama. We won’t stay long.”

“As long as you wish,” he said, waving a thin, spotted hand. “You’re not troubling anyone. Ōmiwa-sama would be glad you visited. I’ll leave you now. Nice to meet you, young lady.”

Both you and Toshi-san bowed deeply again, and held it until you heard his sandals pad away on the stone path.

“I wouldn’t mind meeting Ōmiwa-sama,” you offered shyly.

“He is dead.” Toshi glanced down at you and softened. “Last year. That’s why I haven’t been back for a while. When you said you wanted to do something fun, I thought…this is the place I wanted to take you the most. I’m sorry if it wasn’t fun exactly.”

“It was though, really. I didn’t know about shakkei gardens. And I’ve never heard you talk so much.”

“Mmm.” He looked a little embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“No, no. I liked it. I—I like you,” you said, blushing, and he chuckled and bent down to kiss you, a brush of his lips with none of the usual sexual heat—that was unthinkable, given where you were—that nonetheless made you cling to him for a second. “I’m sorry about Ōmiwa-sama. I think you should come back here, if you like it.”

He looked around, and that restful look was back in his eyes again.

“Maybe. Let’s go home.” He pulled you to his side, almost lifted you off your feet altogether. “I forgot how much I liked it here.”

“Are you going to become a priest, Toshi-san?” You asked, trotting beside him as he strode toward the entrance of the sanctuary. He laughed, looking down at you with a very un-priestly expression.

“I don’t think so. There’s some things I’m not willing to swear off.”

Chapter Text

“I am fine,” he had said curtly.

“I like my life.”

“If it were any other way, I wouldn’t have this time with you.”

“And I’m eighteen anyway, so it’s too late.”

That last had been stated with the finality of a prison door slamming shut.

“Yes, Tetsurō,” you had said meekly, and he kissed you an apology, hating himself a little for making you have that sound in your voice. Then you ate together and he took you back upstairs and loved you until you forgot every word in the world but his name.

Three times.

You didn’t ask again, but you couldn’t forget it, either. Tetsurō had always seemed so confident, easygoing, and really far too adult and well-adjusted, all things considered. Watching him at practice, you could almost think he was the coach, calling out instructions to his players, focus, focus! Always teaching. Now it occurred to you to wonder where that self-reliance had come from.

And at what cost.

Well, whatever it was, you might have been willing to pay it.

Tetsurō was not exactly subtle in his affections, even at school; his parting caresses had earned you both more than one pointed a-HEM from passing teachers, and even though they made you turn red as a berry, you wouldn’t have denied him for the world. You absorbed him like sunlight before you walked into the minor underworld known as class 1-4. But it had made you a subject of wild gossip and speculation, the shy little nobody first-year who had somehow snagged the demon captain. And that was one of the kinder variations.

There was also his pendant around your neck on its gold chain, a constant reminder of him. You were never without it; it made you feel like he was always with you, as if the striated black cat’s eye was somehow him.

Which was purest fantasy, but still. Every little bit helped.

Miki Emi in particular seemed to take your relationship as a personal affront and just could not let it go. She considered herself the queen of class 1-4, had a small coterie of sycophants that supported her in this delusion, and if Tetsurō, the much sighed-after third-year, was going to choose any first year girl, it should have been her. Not a tongue-tied idiot who possibly also couldn’t read.

“Does he know how pathetic you are, Kozume-s-s-san?” She asked one afternoon at lunch, with every sign of sincerity. “Like, has he been informed?”

And all you could do was glare at her in mute fury, your tongue cleaving to the roof of your mouth because you knew if you tried to speak right now you’d stutter, and that would be as bad as just agreeing with her outright.

“I guess not,” she said, waving her hand lightly as she giggled. You hated that giggle, high-pitched and sickeningly kawaii. “It’s not like you could tell him.”

“Why don’t you go tell him what a vicious bitch you are, Miki-chan?” Chiyo-chan snapped from behind her. “Everyone else already knows.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of talking for her?” Miki retorted, but she wasn’t ready to take on both of you, even if all you could do was glare black hate at her.

“You need to stand up for yourself, [name]-chan,” Chiyo said as Miki flounced away, but low enough so she wouldn’t be overheard.

You shrugged jerkily, tears of fury burning in your eyes. You were not going to cry. You had endured almost two months of this and you hadn’t yet shed one tear where anyone could see you. But even so, you didn’t trust yourself to speak yet. You pulled out your lunch and Tomi joined you both a few minutes later, exchanging some silent communication with Chiyo-chan that you pretended not to notice.

”I wish you could go with us this weekend, Chiyo-chan,” Tomiko said, nibbling at a pickled plum. You were going with Tetsurō and Tomiko-chan to Chiba beach on Sunday and meeting some of his friends there, though with the understanding that you would not spend the entire day in the water. “I’m going to be the…what is it now, seventh wheel, [name]-chan?”

“Tetsurō says that his friends that are coming don’t have girlfriends,” you said, and could have sighed with relief that all the words came out okay.

“Oh, that’s good,” she said, brightening. “Have you met them yet?”

“No, I haven’t met any of his friends from outside school.” After meeting his father, your fear of this milestone had greatly decreased. “He mostly hangs out with Kai-san and Yaku-san, but they already had plans.”

“I wish he’d invite Lev,” Tomi-chan confided, glancing over her shoulder at the ridiculously tall boy. He was striking to look at, with silver hair, green eyes, and those exotic features.

He was also the torment of Tetsurō’s life and might actually be murdered by him before the year was out.

“I don’t think he’ll do that,” you said, restraining a smile. You had a strict personal rule about not gossiping about what you saw during volleyball practice, despite some teasing from both Tomiko and Chiyo-chan. “He is really nice though. And funny.”

“You know who else is cute,” Chiyo whispered, leaning closer conspiratorially. “That boy that always sits by the back windows for lunch. No, don’t look!”

Talking about boys was a pleasant subject, but it did occur to you to wonder later why Lev was such a torment to Tetsurō. He got yelled at more than anyone else during practice and took it with impressive fortitude.

“Why are you so hard on him, Tetsu-chan?” You asked on the way home that evening, your fingers laced in his. “Lev, I mean.”

“We’re going to need him,” Tetsurō replied seriously. “The Tokyo preliminaries are in a few weeks. He’s not going to be ready, and Nekomata-sensei is right, counting on Inouka-kun instead. The things Nekoma is good at are the hardest things to master, blocking and receiving. We’re not an attack team. Lev needs to get stronger fast if he’s going to be useful.”

“Nekoma is good at blocking because you’re good at blocking,” You said, adoring him when he talked to you about his plans like this. He never dumbed it down for you or assumed you wouldn’t be interested. He smiled.

“Well, there are six people on the court. Lev could be great. He’s got the natural ability. He just won’t focus. All he wants to do is hit the ball as hard as he can.”

He frowned at these last words and you felt a pang of pity for both of them; Tetsurō with his vision and drive, and Lev who, with all the good will one could ask for, felt like he had all the time left in the world to learn the boring things and never thought further ahead than the next time he could slam the ball down really hard.

“Tomi-chan has a crush on him,” you said, to make him smile. “She says you should invite him to the beach with us.”

“Pet-chan, as much as I enjoy your friend, I need one Lev-less day,” he said, reaching out to stroke your cheek with a grin. “Anything but that.”

You giggled and stood on tiptoe to kiss his chin, a rare public display of affection. Usually Tetsurō initiated those while you blushed and worried who might be watching. And honestly, whether you were going to catch hell for it from Miki Emi or one of her bitch friends later.

“You know who else has a girlfriend?” Tetsurō asked as you walked out of the entrance of the school, thoroughly enjoying gossiping with you. “You remember my friend Bokuto?”

“From when you were away Golden Week?”

“Yes. He won’t shut up about her, he’s been texting me all day. He calls her bunny-chan.”

Chapter Text

The sun was just breaching the horizon as you knocked on Tetsurō’s door, bright and pretty and so happy you could have danced. You had packed and re-packed the bag on your back five different times, changed your outfit three times, and after some internal strife, pulled your hair back with a pretty Nekoma-red hairband, leaving you bare-faced to the world. Today, you feared nothing.

It was beach day.

“Tetsurō!” You called, and he opened the door a second later, bare-chested and barefoot in a pair of baggy shorts, squinting at the sunlight.

“Early,” he mumbled, and bent to kiss you. He turned and shuffled back into the house with another mumble that might have been, come in.

Kuroo Tetsurō was not a morning person.

You stepped out of your shoes and set your bag down on the couch, padding after him into the kitchen.

“Tetsurō?”

“Hmmm—mmmmm…” he said, as you stretched on tiptoe and slid your arms around his neck for another, better kiss. The sight of him, sleepy and tousled and wearing just a pair of workout shorts, was making you wish you’d come over earlier to wake him up properly. His arms slid around your waist and he lifted you up, the early morning fog clearing from his eyes.

“Morning,” you whispered against his lips. “It’s beach day.”

“I know.” His hands slid over your thighs, sliding your dress up and pulling your legs around his waist, and sent a thrill rattling all the way up into the top of your skull. His voice in your ear was husky, but not with sleepiness. “We could be late.”

* * *

Only for Tetsurō would you be late on beach day.

Hurrying to the train station with both your bags on his back and his vigorous good morning still throbbing between your legs, the pair of you might as well have been wearing sandwich boards saying Young Love. You kept glancing up at him and catching him looking at you, and an uncontrollable smile would spread and you’d have to look away until you regained control of your face. On the train he slid an arm around you and you watched episodes of Ame Talk together on his cell phone, sharing a pair of earbuds and smothering your giggles behind your hands.

It was a long ride to Chiba from Saitama, nearly two hours, with a switch to a taxi at Oami for the last ten miles. It felt like ten minutes. All you were conscious of was Tetsurō, as if the world had shrunk to just the two of you. His cologne. His arm around you. His head bent to whisper to you, his deep voice thrilling you just by virtue of being his. Once you caught yourself nuzzling up his throat without even realizing it and blushed red as a strawberry while he shook with silent laughter, and someone nearby tsked.

Really, the two of you probably weren’t ready to be let out of the house.

He was no less lost, even if he hid it better. After he paid for the taxi—a walloping 6000 yen on his father’s transport card—and retrieved your bags from the trunk, he turned to find you already barefoot on a sand dune with your sandals in one hand, like a sea nymph rushing homeward. The sight of you beaming at him from between glossy beach rose bushes hit him with such a sensory shock, he stopped in his tracks.

“Tetsurō, come on, the surfboard rental is over there!” You called excitedly.

“That’s great, but we’re not surfing yet, pet-chan,” he laughed, recovering and plucking a nearby beach rose to tuck behind your ear. “The others should be here already, and you don’t want Tomi-chan meeting Bokuto all by herself.”

“Oh, yes, Tomi-chan!” You exclaimed, and pulled out your cell phone as you trotted after him toward the agreed-upon place by the lifeguard chair. He hadn’t seen Bokuto or Akaashi since Nekoma’s series of practice matches during Golden Week; there just wasn’t enough time during the school week. And, he admitted, with a glance back at you, his free time was otherwise occupied just lately.

“Kuroo!” Bokuto called, and Tetsurō jogged over with a grin to bump fists with Akaashi and punch Bokuto, who had it coming on general principles.

“Late,” Akaashi observed.

“[Name]-chan takes a while to get going in the morning,” Tetsurō said, flashing a grin at you that made you blush. He slid an arm around your waist and propelled you in front of him, as if presenting you to his friends. “This is my [name]-chan.”

“Nice to meet you,” you said, bobbing a bow. They were clearly your seniors.

“Kuroo told us a lot about you,” Akaashi said with an enigmatic smile. He was possibly the most beautiful boy you had ever seen; not the least bit androgynous, but so fine-featured it was hard not to stare. His eyes were nearly black, and thick dark lashes tilted his almond-shaped eyes and made him look a little exotic. You’re welcome, Tomi-chan.

Bokuto was…well, he did kind of look like an owl. A very very tall owl.

“Yes, he wouldn’t shut up about it all Golden Week,” Bokuto said. “My girl is so funny. My girl is so pretty. That’s her right there, see,” he said, thrusting an imaginary cell phone forward and jabbing it with a finger. “Look, Bokuto-san. Look with envy upon my girl.”

“Shut up, Bokuto.” Tetsurō was laughing when he said it, but there was also a little color in his cheeks.

“Well, I get the last laugh. Bunny-chan!” Bokuto trumpeted, pointing down the beach at a tall and pretty girl who was hurrying toward you, laughter in her face. Another third year, you thought, a little mournfully, and this girl looked nothing at all like bunny.

“Ko-chan,” she said, and pecked a kiss on his lips before she turned to the rest of you. “Akaashi-kun, please tell me he hasn’t been telling any horrible lies.”

“Not about you.”

“This is my bunny-chan,” Bokuto announced. “It’s okay if you are blinded by her splendor. Your eyes will gradually adjust.”

“My parents call me [Name],” she said, with an expressive roll of her eyes.

“Kozume [Name],” you said, with another bow and a shy smile.

“Let’s pick a spot, I don’t want to sit under the lifeguard all day. Over there, Ko-chan?” There was a small pile of bags and blankets at Bokuto’s feet, and Tetsurō bent with Bokuto and Akaashi to haul them down toward an empty umbrella, then spread out the beach blankets and weighted the corners with coolers and bags, while bunny-chan marshalled them like a general with her own small army.

“No, put the picnic basket on that corner, Ko-chan, so it’s in the shade,” she said, stepping out of her sandals onto the blanket and shading her eyes down the beach. “I packed us a picnic lunch, and we stopped and picked up a few packs of beer and chūhai. Ko-chan said you were bringing a friend, [name]-chan, is that her?”

“Oh, yes, that’s my friend Juba Tomiko.” Tomiko was trotting along the shoreline toward you, sunny and cheerful in a yellow sundress. “Tomi-chan!”

“Surfer-chan!” She called back, with an appreciative and pointed glance at the waves, which were perfectly level swells without a whitecap in sight. “Sorry, it took forever to get a taxi at Oami.”

“Tetsurō says we have to wait until after two to surf.”

“What an unreasonable beast you’ve chosen,” she said, with a shake of her head, and bowed to bunny-chan. “Hi, nice to meet you.”

Tomi-chan had the knack of immediately becoming best friends with people she had just met; within a few minutes everyone was stretched out on the blankets in their swimsuits, and Tomiko and bunny-chan were chattering like they had known each other all their lives. Tetsurō, Bokuto, and Akaashi had lasted approximately thirty seconds before they started discussing their teams’ prospects at the Tokyo preliminaries next weekend, which honestly seemed a little unfair; if you couldn’t surf, why did they get to talk about volleyball? But bunny-chan met your eyes and made a little face.

“It’s all Ko-chan talks about, too,” she said. “You wouldn’t think twelve men with a ball and a net could come up with such a complicated game.”

“With generations of them working to make it more complicated,” you said, and made her laugh.

“How did you and Kuroo-san meet?”

“We live next door, he’s my brother’s best friend,” you said, glancing over at him with a fond smile that made you feel like an idiot but was nonetheless beyond your control. Tetsurō was stretched out on his side in his red swim trunks, a lanky visual feast, and jabbing a finger into the blanket to illustrate the positions of imaginary volleyball players.

Tomi-chan rolled her eyes. “Their relationship was scripted by a Tokyo screenwriter. It was all very touching to watch, both of them wanting it, too afraid to say so…”

“How did you meet Bokuto-san?” You asked hastily, nudging Tomi-chan with your elbow.

“Oh, we both go to Fukurōdani. It was at a pep rally. The class president has to introduce the teams and their captains, you know? So I read off the roster, then called Ko-chan forward to make his speech, and you know what he said?”

“I said we were going to have an awesome year, we are an outstanding team, and we would go forward to victory in honor of our beautiful class president!” Bokuto, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping, thrust a fist into the sky.

“Into the microphone. In front of the whole school.”

“He paid Konoha and Washio-kun to get the chant going,” Akaashi said, resigned.

“That’s how that happened?” Bunny-chan demanded, and Bokuto shrugged without the least sign of repentance.

“I wanted it to be for our beautiful class president’s beautiful ass, but Konoha refused.”

“Bokuto!”

Tomi-chan dissolved in a fit of giggles at the scandalized exclamation, but it was your look of utter horror that set Tetsurō off, actually holding his sides as he roared with laughter.

“Don’t worry, pet-chan,” He said once he’d recovered, pulling you over to sit in the curve of his body and tugging you down by your hair to whisper in your ear. “I only think that I am fighting for your beautiful ass, I would never say it out loud.”

* * *

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” Tetsurō said after an early lunch, sitting down beside you for another coating of sunscreen. “Akaashi wants to go swimming. I agreed we should all go swimming. Bokuto also agreed we should go swimming, but he had an idea…”

You squinted up at him as you smoothed the sunscreen over his shoulders. Three hours’ acquaintance with the Fukurōdani ace had taught you to treat this prospect with caution.

“What is it?”

“Well, I think you can take her,” Tetsurō said, lowering his voice and glancing at bunny-chan. “You’re little, but you’ve got some power. She’s just in student government, so even if she’s got the reach on you—can you get the rest of my back too, baby?”

This new, frivolous side of Tetsurō had mostly been adorable all day, but your hands stilled in the process of applying sunscreen to his chest. He was trying to distract you. With his muscles.

“Kuroo Tetsurō , did you bet on me to beat up Bokuto-san’s girlfriend bunny-chan in a fight?” You wanted to be very clear on this point.

“No! No, not an actual fight…”

Twenty minutes later, you squeaked and grabbed for Tetsurō’s hair as he straightened under you in the water, his big hands clamped reassuringly on your thighs. The water had been waist-deep for you, but perched on his shoulders, your toes barely brushed the surface.

“Oi, no hair pulling,” he said, shaking water out of his eyes.

“Not until later, eh, bunny-chan?” Bokuto said. He was duplicating the process with bunny-chan on his shoulders, and he gave one of her thighs an appreciative kiss that made her squawk and pull his hair in protest. Bokuto-san was slightly shorter than Tetsurō, but much blockier, with a broad back and wide shoulders heavy with muscle. His hair was plastered down around his face, solid black with silver streaks, and he tried to shake it out of the way. “At least get my hair out of my eyes if you’re going to yank on it, babe.”

“Tomi is going to be trouble,” you whispered to Tetsurō, sizing up the competition. Now that you’d agreed to this, you might as well try to win. Though he was shorter and slimmer than both the Tetsurō and Bokuto-san, Akaashi had bent, caught Tomiko on his shoulders, and straightened without the slightest alteration of expression. Something in his dark eyes made you think it would be a mistake to underestimate him.

He and Tomi-chan had been getting along like a house on fire. Tomi-chan tended toward sarcasm and Akaashi had a dry, deadpan wit, so it seemed like a match made on the alkali flats.

“I know Akaashi, he will have a plan,” Tetsurō whispered back. “Who do you want to go for first?”

“Sure you don’t want to rethink that bet?” Bokuto-san asked a few minutes later, as the three of you squared off and the guys began to circle. “That was a lot of money you put on Quiet Fire up there.”

“Underestimate my [name]-chan at your peril, owl-boy.” You and Tetsurō had agreed that he would squeeze your thigh in the direction he was going to go, so you wouldn’t get caught off balance, and you would press against his side with one foot—firmly because it tickled otherwise, he had warned with a ferocious scowl—if you wanted him to move a certain way.

“My bunny-chan is a vicious and deadly fighter, but in a very real way I have already won, since this seems like the only way I’m going to get her thighs wrapped around my head.” And Bokuto ran his hands over said thighs smugly.

“Bokuto!” Bunny-chan gasped, and for the first time, you did see a glimpse of her namesake in her eyes.

You chose that moment to hit Tetsurō with your left foot and he lunged, barreling toward Akaashi and Tomi-chan. It wasn’t easy because he had to drop down in the water to hit Akaashi with his shoulder or risk going over him, and you ducked under Tomi’s defensive arms and shoved with all your might.

“[Name]-chan!” she gasped before she hit the water, with a look of astonished betrayal. Akaashi came up spluttering, his black hair seal-slick around his head.

“Initiative, my son,” Tetsurō intoned, and sketched his fingers at Akaashi like a blessing. “Take some.”

“Well, now I don’t know who I want to lose more,” Akaashi said sourly.

“Best of three, surfer-chan, that was dirty,” Tomi-chan said, swiping water out of her face.

“You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first,” You said, and gave a little bounce on Tetsurō’s shoulders. “But if it makes you feel better, I did it because you scare me, Tomi-chan.”

“So quick to betray your friends.” Bunny-chan shook her head. “I thought I was going to have to take on both of you on at the same time.”

“I thought Tomi-chan might think the same,” you said agreeably, provoking a hiss from your friend and whoop from Bokuto.

“I like her, Kuroo! C’mon, Quiet Fire, show us what you’ve got,” Bokuto laughed, moving toward you and Tetsurō like the leading edge of a submarine. They did make for an imposing pair; she might not have been in an athletic club, but bunny-chan was solid, and at least five inches taller than you. She would be able to push you before you got in arm’s reach of her.

“We got this.” Tetsurō slapped your calf lightly and faced off with Bokuto. He knew better than to underestimate his friend. While Bokuto might not have been much for strategy, he had that unfair combination of luck and instinct that made him infuriating on the volleyball court. And he had twenty pounds or so on Tetsurō, which meant he would be that much more difficult to knock over.

No, the base was solid, Tetsurō had told you. You were going to have to go for the top.

That was the friendly, smiling, sharp-eyed, long-armed bunny-chan.

You circled.

Bokuto suddenly lunged and you almost went over backward in sheer surprise; only Tetsurō’s grab saved you, and Bokuto and bunny-chan had already retreated before you straightened, with identical smirks on their faces.

“She’s a little jumpy, Kuroo-kun.”

“Bokuto, have you seen you?”

You pressed your lips together, eyes narrowing. All right. It was on. You pressed your right foot, then your left, hoping Tetsurō would understand your meaning, and he circled for a second longer and then drove in toward Bokuto’s right, then suddenly swerved left. It was hard to make quick movements in the water, but he was more used to beach and sand than Bokuto, and you ducked under Bunny-chan’s flailing arms and shoved at her midsection, her skin slippery from the water.

“Get up, babe, get up!” Bokuto was yelling, hustling backward, and you almost overcompensated and went over Tetsurō’s head, but he swayed and caught you. You had been so close!

“I can win if we get in close,” you whispered to Tetsurō, kicking him in the ribs like you would have done to a horse. “Come on!”

“Don’t kick,” he drawled, immensely amused by your turn toward pit fighting. “I’ll try. Bokuto’s fast, though, he’ll move back if she gets in trouble.”

“Then I’ll get her fast.” You said ominously, and bent low over Tetsurō’s head, leaving him to wonder what sort of monster he was creating.

There was a quick squeeze of his hands as a warning before he charged, and instead of going low again, you swung your body around to the left, hoping that bunny-chan would go for a straight-on shove. Her hands slipped off your shoulder and you swung your right arm into her side, Tetsurō pressing forward as Bokuto tried to retreat.

“Get her, bunny-chan, you have the fierceness!” Bokuto was bellowing, backpedaling across the water.

“Keep going, Tetsu-chan, he’s going to trip and fall if I don’t knock her over!” You yelled, ducking your head and grappling with bunny-chan.

You’d been right; once you were close enough where her reach wasn’t an advantage, you were more balanced and quicker, and she was just managing to hang on. You’d thought her height might work against her.

Evidently Bokuto-san had figured this out too, because he clamped his hands on her thighs and ordered, “Be shorter, bunny-chan!”

“Ko-chan, that’s physically impossible! Back up, back up!”

“He can’t back up fast eno-ough,” Tetsurō taunted, and pushed you up on his shoulders like he was tilting a lance at a gangly windmill, propelling you into bunny-chan.

“Got you!” You shouted joyously, and even gave her feet a push as extra assist as she toppled over backward, taking Bokuto with her.

“Set and match!” Tetsurō yelled underneath you, and slid you over his right shoulder and into the water, where you came up with both fists raised and shouting wordlessly in triumph, with his beach rose draggled in your wet hair. He didn’t care if anyone was watching; he turned you around and kissed you until you squeaked and pushed away, your face reddening with embarrassment and pleasure.

“Best of three, best of three!” Tomi-chan was calling, and Bokuto was already hauling Bunny-chan back onto his shoulders. Tetsurō grinned down at you, so proud of you he could burst.

“What do you think, Quiet Fire?”

“I think we must destroy them,” you said, giggling as he ducked down for you to climb back onto his shoulders.

Chapter Text

Did the fact that you’d slept with someone before you got their number make you a slut?

Did the fact that you’d been a virgin mitigate that in any way, or make it worse?

Monday.

You stared impotently at your cell phone. Oikawa-san didn’t have your number, and even if he did, you had no reason to expect that he would text you to tell you how the match about Shiratorizawa went. You weren’t his girlfriend. You were barely his friend.

You’d just fucked him.

Every time you thought of that, you had to fight the urge to bang your forehead repeatedly on your desk. Sure, it had taken the edge off your defeat by Shiogama, but at what cost?

“Umeda-san says we can have the day off practice,” Yasu-chan told you at lunchtime, clearly meaning to be encouraging, but you could have thrown your bento box through a window. What the fuck else were you supposed to do but practice?

“Are you kidding me?!” You erupted, and shoved out of your chair to sprint toward the third-year classrooms before the bell rang, just barely catching Umeda-san before she went through the classroom door.

“Captain!” You skidded to a stop behind her, clutching a bank of shoe cubbies. “Captain-sama, you canceled practice this afternoon?”

“One day of rest won’t kill you, [name]-chan,” she said testily. “Don’t think I don’t know about you practicing in the boys’ gym.”

“That’s how I got better at my serves!” That came out way louder than you meant it too, and you hastily dialed it back. “Please, Umeda-san, I swear I’ll lock up by eight. I just need to practice.”

“You are weird,” she informed you, but turned her bag around to rummage in the front pocket. “If it’s later than eight, I’ll hear about it. If you hurt yourself, sensei will bench you and keep you benched.”

“Thank you!” You weren’t listening. Not even a little bit.

“Don’t lose the key,” she said, rolling her eyes, and shut the classroom door behind her.

By the end of the school day, word had traveled that Seijoh had been defeated, again, by the steamroller of Shiratorizawa in two sets, 25-22 and 25-23. You could imagine how Oikawa was feeling. Last night he had told himself all the things you had to tell yourself before a big match, about how they would win this time, they would finally break through the impossible wall of Ushijima Wakatoshi. He had made himself believe it because you had to do that, too, if you really wanted to win; the one thing a captain couldn’t have was self-doubt.

He had made you believe it, and even though he was an asshole who hadn’t even asked for your number, your heart broke a little bit for him when you heard.

The only thing that would fix any of this was practice.

At four o’clock you turned the key in the lock of the girls’ gym front door and stepped inside, inhaling the familiar smells of sweat and floor cleaner and that unmistakable but indescribable smell of athletic equipment, rubber and latex and sweaty palms. It was like perfume to you. You shrugged out of your blue and white Seijoh track jacket and started stretching, hearing not Umeda-san’s voice in your head for the count, but her predecessor’s. Ishida-san’s voice had always been steady, unflappable, and—when she spoke to you, anyway—vaguely amused.

Ichi, ni, san, shi…

“Go, roku, shichi, hachi,” You muttered, counting through the warm-up exercises. Your body felt good today, only a little soreness between your legs that you were refusing to think about.

You got out the net. Pulled out the volleyballs. You had practiced this serve so many times by now, probably thousands. You knew exactly how your feet should feel on the floor, you could hear the squeak of your shoes in your memory.

You could also hear the sound of Oikawa’s shoes, which should be thudding along with yours.

Open for me, baby.

You slammed the volleyball against your forehead and then clutched it, trembling. You just wanted to forget. Why did you keep thinking about it? It didn’t mean anything, it was just a stupid thing you had done when you were upset and Oikawa wasn’t being a fucking jackass for ten consecutive seconds.

Your next serve was a little wild. It got over the net, but that was the best that could be said for it. You backed up, and did it again. You couldn’t find your rhythm. You collected the balls scattered on the other side of the court and tried again, trying to blot out everything except for the sounds of your feet and the crack of your hand against the ball. You should be thinking of Ashikano Miyako. You should be picturing her on the other side of the net.

Eight o’clock came and went. Nine o’clock.

Nine thirty, and you silently took down the net, gathered up the balls, and swept the floor. At ten o’clock you turned the key in the lock, your shoulders burning, your body so exhausted you could barely think straight. That was good. That’s what you wanted.

Oikawa Tōru had not come.

Chapter Text

You fell asleep on the train ride back home, worn out with sun and surfing and being roundly and vengefully beaten by both bunny-chan and Tomiko, who had developed a strategy of grabbing for your feet and pushing you over Tetsurō’s shoulders.

There had also been a can and a half of chūhai that left you tipsy enough to shamelessly climb into Tetsurō’s lap in full view of the entire beach and declare that he should never wear shirts.

Tetsurō adjusted the flower behind your ear, much the worse for wear after its day’s adventuring. It was a perfect day, the most perfect day of his life, and when you got home he was going to take you to bed and end it in style.

It was funny how he had never noticed how empty his own house felt, he thought, only halfway paying attention the movie he was streaming on his phone. He was used to falling asleep in the silence; it had been that way since he was at least thirteen. But now he couldn’t stop thinking of you in your bed next door, so close and yet so unreachable. Having to say goodbye and send you home got harder every night he had to do it, and his mind kept idly wondering if there wasn’t some way around the problem. He didn’t want to say goodbye to you at night. He wanted to go to sleep tonight with you in his bed, wake up with you in his bed, and ideally spend all the minutes in between with you in his bed.

Your parents were fairly permissive, but he doubted they would be receptive to letting you just move in with him, no matter how compelling his arguments were.

“How much longer?” You asked sleepily, and he had to smile at the odd echo of his own thoughts.

“About an hour,” he murmured, but you were already asleep again, your head resting comfortably on his chest.

He was just gone for you, he realized, playing idly with the ends of your long hair, still damp from the ocean.

You revived on the walk home, talking a mile a minute about how much fun it had all been, and next time you were going to beat both bunny-chan and Tomiko again, you would ally with Tomi-chan first to throw her off her guard and take out bunny-chan, and then Tetsurō should go for Akaashi-san—

“It wasn’t fair how they kept double-teaming us,” you added, with a little pout rounding your lower lip.

“You did keep calling Tomi-chan a punk ass.”

“Well, I was excited,” you said, and trotted up the front steps to his house, with a quick flick of your eyes toward your own house next door to make sure no one was watching. “I think I won’t be missed for a while yet, Tetsu-chan.”

The door closed behind you and he dropped both bags with a thud, turning you around for the kiss he’d been wanting since at least lunch time. His arms slid around your waist and his mouth descended hot and hungry, feeling your body yield instantly under him, your lips part welcomingly, and your arms wind around his neck.

“Tetsurō,” you whispered, your lips tickling his. “I’m sorry, but I can’t…”

“Hmm?” That was odd. You’d never refused him before.

“I have sand and sunscreen all over me, and my hair is all salt,” you said, shaking it out to demonstrate. Gently, you disengaged yourself from his arms. “I couldn’t possibly before I’ve had a shower.”

And, lest he miss your point, you glanced over your shoulder at him as you slid your sundress off your shoulders and let it fall on the floor. Your bikini top followed a moment later, and several feet down the hallway, your bikini bottom, your bare backside vanishing through the door of the bathroom.

He would win nationals for that ass, Tetsurō thought, trailing after you as though hypnotized.

“We need to get you your own shampoo and stuff here,” he murmured as he soaped you down a few minutes later. He was hard, very hard, his cock nudging against your backside, but he’d never done this with a girl before and having his wet, soapy hands all over your body was not something he wanted to rush.

“I like smelling like you,” you said, and turned in his arms to pour more of his body soap into your hands, rubbing it gently into his slightly sunburned skin. It wasn’t bad, just a little pink laid over the top of his brown hide, but you had been wanting to do this to him all day. It was amazing that he managed to get burned at all. You had never known a man to demand so much sunscreen, and with others watching you couldn’t really enjoy running your hands over him, admiring every single ridge of his exquisitely muscled torso.

Much less the rest of him.

Your hands slid down his belly and you looked up at him as they strayed toward his cock, gently soaping that too, your fingers sliding up and down the shaft and feeling him throb with a thrill that made your legs weak.

“You’re so hard, Tetsu-chan,” you whispered, and his hands slid into your wet hair to draw it back as you lowered your mouth to him, sinking to your knees. Just the sight of you there, your hands braced against his thighs and your eyes closed with pleasure, made him throb. Your mouth closed around him and he moaned, his face turning up into the spray of the shower, his black hair plastered down.

“Your mouth is so good…” His hips moved lightly as your head bobbed on him, pushing deeper into that heated wetness. Your hands ran up and down his thighs as you sucked him, lifted your head to lick, and then met his eyes with an impact like a hammer blow as you wrapped your lips around him again. You were so shamelessly sexual with him, the last thing he had ever expected from you.

“I can feel you throbbing on my tongue,” you said, licking him again, the hot water of the shower rolling off the hard length of him. God, you loved feeling him react to you. “Do you like me sucking you, Tetsurō-san?”

“You know I do.” The words left him as a low growl, deep with desire. You also loved teasing him. The inside of your mouth ran the length of his cock, your tongue pressing up against him, and his fingers twitched in your hair, a shudder running through his entire body. He could come in your mouth. He had before.

You had learned already how to make him do it, your fingers delicately stroking his balls as you sucked, your breasts swaying with the motion. You loved feeling his balls tighten as he got more excited, loved hearing him breathe faster and faster, loved feeling his cock get harder and harder in your mouth.

He had to let go of your hair. His hands were braced on the shower wall, and he was moaning loud and constant and breathless, his hips moving in sharp jerks. Your head was bobbing frantically, your hands cupping his balls and squeezing the base of his cock. You knew that right before he came, his balls drew up toward his body and you could press down with your mouth, so deep that it was hard to keep from gagging if you were honest, and use your lips to drive him absolutely wild.

Tetsurō’s body jerked and his thighs trembled under your hands and then he was coming, crying out hoarsely in his deep voice as his hips thrust forward and he came in jet after jet, and you swallowed it all because he loved that and this was Tetsurō and there was nothing you wouldn’t do for him.

You licked your lips and lifted your head with a gasp as he staggered and went down to his knees, jelly-limbed with the force of his climax.

“Tetsurō,” you gasped, almost as light-headed as if you’d come with him, and he pulled you up and kissed you, his lips ravaging you. He could taste himself on your tongue and cared not at all; if you could swallow him, he could kiss you afterward without the least shame. He had never imagined this kind of closeness, this fearless exploration. Maybe it was because you had known each other for so long. You trusted him completely, in a way that would have taken years with another man.

“[Name],” he groaned into your mouth, pulling you with him as he sat back against the shower wall, the hot water pounding both of you as he held you against his chest and kissed you, kissed you, kissed you.

In the bedroom, he slid into you as easily as breathing.

“Tetsurō,” you moaned as he filled you, so liquid inside that you felt like you were already in the throes of a low-grade, constant orgasm. One strong arm slid under your leg and caught at your knee, opening you for him, that length of him driving so deep into you that hurt, yet you couldn’t stop panting for him. His mouth, his mouth, it was everywhere, leaving love bites on the soft skin of your throat, bending to catch one nipple, then the other. He loved seeing his marks on you, loved seeing your nipples red and swollen from his mouth, achingly tender. He was going to make you come and you were going to respond to every thing he did to you.

“You’re already close,” he gasped, his forehead pressed against yours as his body worked, levering up and down, stroking into you with such vast pleasure that you could have drowned in it. “I can tell…you get so wet inside, and you…start squeezing…”

“Tetsurō!” You cried, the only word you knew at the moment. “Oh, oh, oh!”

“Not yet,” he panted, never stopping those endless strokes into you, angling his body to keep away from your clit. He kissed you, hot and hungry, keeping you pinned and trembling on the edge while your wet internal spasms wreaked havoc with his body. “Not yet not yet not yet…”

“Tetsurō…” Your voice rose pleadingly, breathless, your body twisting under him, you were throbbing so hard you couldn’t stand it. You couldn’t tell when he was thrusting in or drawing out anymore, you were just a vast and endless aching, a boiling liquid surge that made you cry out helplessly, your head jerking back. You needed to come. You needed to come. He was panting, going at you, his hips thumping harder into your body and making the headboard rattle against the wall.

“T-tetsu, please!” You cried out under him, clutching him in your arms, your nails raking down his spine.

“So close, baby, so close!” He only sounded like that when he was about to come. His voice was unstrung with pleasure. “Ahhh, ahhhhh, ahhhhhh!”

His hips swiveled, rocked up and then down, the weight of his body suddenly grinding against you, and you came so suddenly and so hard, it smashed into you skull-first like a lightning bolt. Explosion. White. Heat. The feel of his coming inside you and his voice calling your name, and pleasure so immense that it swallowed everything else.

“I love you,” you cried, your face in his shoulder, shuddering under him. “Tetsurō, I love you, I love you!”

“I love you,” he said, low and hoarse, and cupped your face in his hands to kiss you again, his fingers buried in your hair. “I love you.”

* * *

After that, it didn’t just feel unfair to send you home. It felt wrong.

The earth had shifted. Stars had paused in their courses. Nothing could possibly be the same ever again.

“Could you say you’re staying with a friend?” Tetsurō murmured, kissing drowsily up the back of your neck.

“No. They know Tomi-chan and Chiyo-chan’s parents, they would ask.”

His alarm clock glowed like angry red eyes in the dark, ticking inexorably toward ten o’clock. At 10:05 you would receive a text from your mother, and at 10:15, a warning from Ni-chan. Your parents trusted you and gave you a wide amount of latitude; their shy, ocean-loving, stuttering daughter had never been a moments’ worry to them, aside from the stuttering. It was why you could spend hours in Tetsurō’s bed in the first place.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Tetsurō whispered, but the way he turned you around and crushed you against him belied the words. “I’ll come over first thing in the morning. When’s the earliest you think would be okay?”

That almost made you smile, if not for the imminent tragedy of your parting. He was barely alive in the morning. To offer to get up earlier was the supreme sacrifice.

“What time do you go running?” You asked, in sudden inspiration.

“5:30.” He pulled you closer approvingly. “You think you can keep up?”

“We’ll find out in…seven hours and thirty-eight minutes.”

“Okay. You don’t have to go yet, though.” He kissed you again, lips, cheeks, closed eyes, forehead.

When he stepped outside later to see if the coast was clear, he almost managed to let you go. Almost. His hand shot out all by itself and caught your wrist, dragging you back for one last embrace on the porch steps. Your head fit just under his breastbone like you’d been made to go there, and he stroked your hair, feeling your arms around his waist. You were so perfect for him in every conceivable way.

“Look,” he whispered, when you both reluctantly straightened. At the end of the street, the moon was rising, huge and full and surrounded by numberless stars. “I don’t remember seeing it that big in…ever.”

“Me neither.” You turned, one arm around his waist, watching it rise for a few moments. It didn’t mean anything, of course. Just the full moon rising, as it always had and always would. But somehow it made it easier to turn to him for one last time—for real this time—and kiss him, so stupidly in love you could hardly believe you were the same person you’d been this morning.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Tetsurō whispered, and watched you go. He could already see you in his mind’s eye, sleeping in your darkened bedroom, making the hours fly faster until the morning.

In the dark, the light streaming through two bedroom windows came from the same moon.

Chapter Text

“Toshi-kun!” You squealed as he appeared around the corner, and leaped into his arms in three bouncing strides. You were so proud of him, you could hardly find words to tell him, and he swept you up in his arms and let you pepper his face with kisses.

Shiratorizawa had just defeated Aobajohsai in two straight sets, and it was Toshi that had done it. It was the first time you had actually seen him play with your own eyes, and though you knew how incredible he was just because everyone else told you so all the time, it was something else to see it. He had been almost terrifying in the sheer, ruthless machinery of his play. The whole Shiratorizawa team was extraordinary, tall and powerful and trained within an inch of their lives, but Toshi was just incomparable. He shouldered the burden of the whole game without complaint, and he broke the opposing team in two sets.

Seeing him play was worth the trouble you might get into for faking illness in homeroom to sneak down to the Sendai City gymnasium.

“You were so amazing, you must have scored half those points yourself!” You exclaimed, and kissed him again, wrapping your arms around his neck to do a thorough job of it. You knew you were gushing, but you couldn’t stop. Your eyes glowed as you lifted your head and stroked his face and said, feeling like an idiot but unable to stop the girlish, admiring whisper: “you’re so strong, Toshi.”

“I’m glad you came.” He was holding you against his chest, his back arched to lift you above him, and now he pulled you down for a kiss, hot and hungry. He was drenched with sweat from the game and still buzzing on adrenaline, and the sight of you, fresh and pretty and adoring, put his hindbrain firmly in the driver's seat.

“Toshi-san?” You whispered into his mouth, feeling his hands tighten on you.

“We don’t have much time,” he rumbled, but started down the hall with you, your toes dangling two feet off the floor. His hands slipped to your thighs to wrap them around his hips and color rushed to your face; what if someone saw you? But he was still kissing you, and you couldn’t help but kiss him back, making the whimpery little noises that he loved best. He banged through a doorway with your backside, set you down with a jolt, and then turned to check the empty hallway one more time, shutting the door behind him.

His hand caught the back of your head and pulled you up on your tiptoes, kissing you with a heat that made you tremble.

“Mmph—Toshi—what if someone comes in?” You managed between breathless kisses.

“They won’t. Nobody is in this side of the building at this time of the day.” His voice was bass with desire.

He was already pulling down your panties, his erection large and urgent against the front of his volleyball shorts. You had bought a pair of sexy panties to surprise him with later, and they stopped him cold now, his eyes going from the black satin to your flushed, panting face, and then he yanked them down your legs and lifted you bodily against the wall with a thump, using his hips--and his erection--to pin you there. His mouth stifled your cry of surprise and your hands pushed at his chest as he kissed you, his tongue invading, his body crushing you. Even you didn’t know whether you were caressing him or trying to undress him or just beg for room to breathe.

“Toshi,” you whimpered, torn between wanting him and terror of getting caught. He made you feel so out of control and at the same time so firmly his, like he would be the shield between you and the world.

“Mine,” he murmured, his big hand sliding into your hair and holding your head against the wall, where he could see your eyes. His other hand dropped, pushing his shorts and boxers down together, freeing the throbbing length of his cock. Panting, you looked at him, his face inches from yours, and felt the velvet heat of him the inside of your thigh.

“Toshi, please…ahhh!”

He thrust into you in one hard shove. He was huge and overwhelming inside you and you weren’t completely ready for him yet, and you cried out, feeling your inner walls giving way to the iron-hard length of him. He could see the pleasure and fear in the vulnerable curve of your lower lip, the pleading in your eyes, and he let you feel the tug of his hand in your hair as he thrust again. You didn’t want to resist him. But even if you did, you couldn’t have, and somehow he was telling you that, and somehow that dark, dangerous knowledge made you wet.

“So hot for me,” Toshi breathed, and bent his head to kiss your throat, his hands sliding up your body to caress your breasts, squeezing and stroking them through your clothing. His hips were working, fucking you furiously, and you felt like one raw, exposed nerve, jangling helplessly with every new stimulation. You cried out, and cried out again, feeling the marks he was leaving on your skin, the heated wetness he was forcing from your body. This was such a bad idea. Having sex during a volleyball tournament in the stairwell of a public gym, where anyone might come upon you? What were you thinking?

And yet you had known what he was going to do. Dimly you had known that it would be just like this, this feeling of being invaded by him, the roughness of his desire. Something in you wanted to respond to his growling mine with a breathless yours, yours, yours!

“Toshi! Toshi! Toshi-san!” You cried, your hands clutching at his back as he ravaged you, driving so deep your inner thighs screamed at the strain. His breath was hot against your throat as he panted, his deep moans making you writhe. You would both come quickly, he was driving you toward it like a runaway train, every thrust forcing you higher, higher. How had he gotten you so hot, so fast? Your hands slipped under his shirt and you could feel his bare back slippery with sweat, feel his muscles working as he fucked you. Later, in his bedroom, he might be loving you. Right now he was having you.

“Close,” he grunted, one arm sliding behind you to hold you still more firmly. You could feel him throbbing and swelling inside you, preparing for release. You were touching him everywhere, your hands sliding over his forearms, his biceps, the rigid muscles of his trapezius, thrilling at the power in him. He was going to make you come when he did. He was going to pound your climax out of you.

“T-Toshi,” you quavered, feeling your body beginning to tighten, the throbbing between your legs unbearable. “Toshi, I’m going to—”

“Come, come,” he gasped, redoubling his efforts and pounding you so hard all you could do was hold onto him and cry out, your body rattling with pleasure. The heated juncture between your legs was molten, you felt battered inside and you were so close, so close! He was sawing into you and then all at once you were coming, biting the fabric at his shoulder to stifle your cries, spasming wildly inside. Toshi filled you with a long, low groan, both of his hands on your ass, pumping himself dry into you in long, heated spurts.

Your legs dangled loosely around his hips as he finished in you, still unable to believe you had actually done this. His head was on your shoulder and you stroked his sweaty hair, your soft cheek pressed against his.

“I had to have you,” he said, low, and lifted his head, cupping your face in one hand to look into your eyes. “You are mine, aren’t you.”

It wasn’t question.

“Yes, Toshi,” you whispered, feeling him still inside you, gradually softening. You felt wonderfully limp and satisfied, even though you knew you might just die of mortification if someone were to come upon you right now. It just didn’t seem to matter in the moment.

“I have to go back soon,” he said, brushing his lips tenderly against yours, one kiss for every couple words. “The coach will be looking for me, and we have to go back to school on the bus.”

It gave you a pang to think of separating from him so soon after this, with your lips still swollen from his mouth, your body bruised from use, but he seemed to understand.

“I wouldn’t leave you otherwise,” he murmured, the low voice he used only with you. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Toshi,” you whispered again, and he laid his forehead against yours, his fingers running gently through your hair. A few minutes later he bent and tugged your panties back up your legs, pressing a kiss to the little bow in the front, and the look in his eyes made you shiver. It was tender, it was gentle, and it was…possessive.

“Come on,” he said, slipping his arm around your waist to take you back into the hallway. “I’ll get away as soon as I can and text you when I’m coming for you.”

He kissed you again, and then he was gone, vanishing back into the maze of hallways, leaving you yearning after him, and aching.

Chapter Text

At eight o’clock on Tuesday, like clockwork, you showed up at boys’ gym.

“[Name]-chan,” Oikawa-san said, with something less than his usual ebullience.

“Oikawa-san,” you said flatly. You were not going to be a girl and give him the silent treatment. But you really didn’t have much to say to him. You went to your side of the court, dragged the cart full of volleyballs over, and started serving.

“I guess you heard about Shiratorizawa,” he said, a little while later. You had been serving together for some time, long enough to almost get back into the old rhythm. He was still in shock. It always took a while to hit him; Oikawa Tōru had never cried on a court in his life. There was a long period of numbness, where he went through the motions of normalcy and, somehow, even said sensible things to his players. Next time, he had told Kindaichi; you did well, to Kunimi and Yahaba-kun. Only to Iwa-chan did he betray some of his torment, as a parting question half-shouted at the sky: why can’t we beat him?!

“Yes,” you said shortly. You really had improved, though he didn’t like the stiffness in your shoulders, he thought, examining your form with mechanical detachment.

“I thought we were going to win. I actually did. For real.” He served again. “Your shoulders are stiff, [Name]-chan. Did you warm up at all today?”

“Fuck off.”

This was not an unusual level of hostility from you, in aggregate. You had generally been friendlier than this over the past few weeks, though. He served again, the run up very nearly matching yours, the ringing slams of your palms into the volleyballs almost in unison. He liked it when all the sounds came together. It sounded right.

Maybe he just couldn’t beat Ushijima.

That was the thought that had been haunting him, like a low-grade case of food poisoning. Maybe he just wasn’t good enough. Maybe he could never get good enough. It was the same problem as Tobio-chan. Some people just had it.

And some people didn’t.

“Maybe I should just quit,” he said aloud.

You didn’t answer. You just kept serving, your long body arcing up, your arm turning over. On the other side of the court, the ball slammed into the floor and bounced fourteen feet in the air. He had never been much impressed by the girls’ volleyball team—he was competing against Ushijima, for God’s sake—but your physicality would have made even that mutant have an expression.

He had absolutely no idea, looking at you, what you were thinking. Had it just been mistake on Sunday? Something you needed to get out of your system? A long-game ploy to be able to say you’d fucked him?

He didn’t like that. He’d thought he’d learned to spot those, and weed them out.

“I’ve been trying since junior high,” he went on, resuming his own practice. Run. Jump. Serve. Land. “I live volleyball. I practice almost every single day.” Run. Jump. Serve. Land. “I dream of it.”

Your silence continued, and it made him want to pick at you more. Even he couldn’t have said why; some perversity of his nature.

“You know how it is, [name]-chan.” He timed the next serve perfectly; every single step rang out together, and from the corner of his eye he could see your body rising, feet lifting, the beautiful arched-bow form that made you seem to float as your arm rotated around, your palm cupped the ball, and slam. You landed together, panting. “Sometimes you try your hardest and you’re just not good enough. Maybe I should just hand the club over to the second years.”

The volleyball slammed into his head so hard he actually saw stars.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

You stomped over to him, and through the fireworks exploding in his peripheral vision, your eyes were bright with fury, your fists clenched at your sides. For a second he thought you might actually kick him.

“What are you trying to say? You’re not good enough, or I’m not? Or we’re both losers? Maybe that’s why I was stupid enough to fuck you, you jackass!”

It took a lot to piss Oikawa off, but you were getting there.

“Well we both lost, didn’t we?” He shot back, stepping forward, invading your space, daring you to take another shot at him. If you’d been a boy he would have hit you for nailing him with the volleyball; his ears were still ringing. “Right now Ushijima is training just like I am. Tobio-chan is training, just as hard. Ashikata—”

“Ashi-fucking-kano!”

“Whatever! She’s practicing right now, too. Practice, practice, we’re killing ourselves with practice and we never. Ever. Win!”

The shock, the fury, the hurt in your eyes stabbed him. You weren’t in his volleyball club. You weren’t even one of his kohai, technically. He thought of himself as your sensei but he hadn’t just fucked you, he’d been your first, and even though it didn’t seem to mean anything to you, he didn’t like how he’d gone about it. And worst of all—yes, it was worse than being your first and doing a bad job of it, he was an asshole, this was not news—he’d told you the some of the truth of himself. And he never did that with anyone.

He didn’t know where the lines were anymore.

“We could though. They’re not machines,” you said, the words squeezed out and a little wavering.

“Maybe Ashikata isn’t.” He could have kicked himself for that one. “Sorry. You haven’t seen Ushijima. I bet they have to plug him in at night.”

“It doesn’t matter. You can’t do that to your kohai!” Your voice rose and you turned away, scrubbing your eyes where he couldn’t see.

He’d forgotten about your third years retiring on you last year. It had never even seemed like a possibility with his own senpais; even when he was a first year, Seijoh had been a powerhouse, the only serious challenger to Shiratorizawa. He entered high school with the shared dream of defeating Shiratorizawa; his senpais had never showed a second’s doubt that they would achieve it.

And they had been wrong, that insidious little voice in his head whispered. His senpais had fought to the end. And lost.

“Don’t do that to them,” you repeated, and there was a pleading note in your voice he’d never heard before.

‘Why do you even care?”

“I don’t know.”

“No,” he said sharply, hauling you back in front of him where he could see you properly. You knew Oikawa-san was an athlete and knew exactly how strong he was—a secret known only to his teammates and the giggling ninnies he bedded—but for some reason it always surprised you. “My kohai will never tell me. You tell me.”

He could feel the surge of anger like an electrical current through your body and clamped your elbows to your sides, his eyes firing as he met you glare for glare. He put up with violence from Iwa-chan because it was an integral part of their friendship; Iwaizumi was grandfathered in, he’d been pounding on Oikawa since they were in elementary school. But he wasn’t going to tolerate it from you.

“Use your words, [name]-chan,” he said, with the deceptive gentleness that could turn to poison in an instant. And you just didn’t have the stamina for defiance today. Your shoulders slumped.

“Did you know Ishida-san? The girls’ team captain last year.”

“Not really.” He had known her by sight, a tall, dark-haired girl with a squarish face and steady dark eyes. “I mean, we rode the bus together after matches. I never had much reason to talk to her.”

“She said we were going to defeat Shiogama. She said it from the first day. We’re going to beat them. We’re going to nationals. Everyone says that but she made you believe it, you know? Like she could see the future.”

Your hands, without even you noticing, lifted to grip his arms.

“We trained so hard. Evenings, weekends, before school, I used to go to the gym at lunchtime, and she was always there, working even harder than I was. I remember the night before the last match, I was the last one there with her.” Your voice tightened and you gritted down on it, pushing the terrible words out. “She said, I’m so proud of all of you, [name]-chan. I know you won’t let me down.”

“Oh. Fuck.” It wasn’t even a conscious thought; his arms went around you, pulling you against him, maybe because he didn’t want to hear what came next. “[Name]-chan, she didn’t mean it that way—”

You shoved him back, furious tears spilling from your eyes.

“But we did! I did! They scored so many points off me, but I don’t know—” You gulped, scrubbed at your eyes again, enraged by these stupid, endless tears. Why did you keep crying in front of him? “I tried, Oikawa-san, I did my best, I used to fall asleep on the bus ride home every night I was so tired, and I tried…so…hard…”

Whatever else you were saying was lost in his shirtfront, and for the second time in three days you sobbed into his chest, the deeper pain exposed, the worst failure laid bare. It wasn’t defeating Shiogama that kept you in the gym until all hours of the night, that drove you so relentlessly that you’d come to him, of all people, for help.

It was that you’d failed Ishida-san so badly, she had given up on her dream. Given up on you.

But you hadn’t, Oikawa thought, his head spinning. What was it he told his players, every single match?

I believe in you.

“Come here,” he said, drawing you down to the floor on legs that felt suddenly unsteady. He didn’t even know what to say. There was something important here, and he found himself wishing desperately for Irihata-sensei. How did you thread this needle, making your team believe that you would win and not leaving them shattered if you didn’t? How did you tell them you believed in them without making them feel that failing to win meant that they had failed you?

However you did it, he knew he was going to have to come up with something in the next couple minutes.

Winners didn’t say, let’s go give it a try, he thought. He was stroking the back of your neck, the fine baby hairs under your ponytail curling around his fingers, feeling your shoulders shaking against him. He didn’t want to leave any of his players this damaged. You had to set your sights on winning, as an athlete. You prepared and trained as much as humanly possible; when you failed, you didn’t give up. He knew that. Every athlete had it hammered into them from the first day of training. But what about when you were facing a machine like Ushijima?

You still tried. You had to believe it was possible, and in a universe of infinite possibilities, it was. No matter how slight the chance, it was still possible. That possibility gave you the wedge you needed to believe in yourself, believe in your team.

Okay, he thought, his mind working furiously. Even Ushijima could be defeated. Take that as a given. Next: did Seijoh have a better chance of defeating him with or without Oikawa Tōru?

Well. All modesty aside…

So where had Ishida-san gone wrong? What had Coach Irihata said, while they were standing there after the last match with Shiratorizawa, reeling from two lost sets back to back? He had barely been listening.

I am proud of you. I couldn’t have asked for more from you. Tomorrow, we’ll try again.

“That’s what she needed to tell you,” he murmured.

“What?” Your shoulders hitched again as you hiccupped.

“Ishida-san. She should have told you she was proud of you. That she knew you’d given it everything you had. Sometimes you do that and you still lose.”

“Everyone says that.”

“Because it’s true. You still need to hear it every time.” He sat you up, his thumbs brushing the tears from your cheeks. “I won’t quit, okay?”

“Really?”

This was why he kept kissing you after you cried, he thought, feeling a shocking wave of tenderness. With your defenses down, he could see the sweetness buried underneath all that defiance and stubbornness. He admired your strength of will, your athleticism, and your blunt and abrasive honesty was pretty entertaining when you weren’t calling him a jackass. But it was this look in your eyes that made him want you.

“Yeah.” His head lowered, moving to catch your lips for another salty kiss, but you covered his mouth with your hand and pushed his face back.

“No,” you sniffled. “You’re an asshole. You didn’t even ask for my number.”

“I thought you would tell me to go fuck myself if I did.”

You sniffed again and scrubbed your face on your sleeve. “It’s a risk you’re going to have to take.”

Chapter Text

“Tomorrow we seriously have to go running.”

“I know.” You sighed with pleasure, wrapping your arms around his neck. The morning sun was peeking through the blinds and dusting your skin with gold, illuminating the graceful muscles of your arms and belly, the roundness of your breasts. It was beautiful.

“This does not—ah, ahhh!—constitute cardiovascular training.” You had tightened on him intentionally; you were rapidly figuring out what did what down there.

“Maybe that just means we’re not trying hard enough…ohhhh, Tetsurō!”

He had slipped his arms around you and rolled over, and suddenly you were astride him, your eyes wide as he thrust up into you, making you cry out.

“You’re so deep!” you cried, quivering, your hand pressed to your belly.

“Try harder then,” he invited, with his slow, sexy half-smile, his hands sliding up to your hips to show you how.

* * *

“Kuroo-kun,” Coach Nekomata said at the end of practice a few days later, folding up his chair and tucking it under one arm. “Walk with me to my car.”

Tetsurō ducked under the net and jogged over obediently, but not, Nekomata-sensei noted with displeasure, without another glance over at you, working on your homework in the corner with a secret smile on your lips.

“I miss my garden,” the old man said, loading his chair into the trunk of his car. It was an old rustbucket that sounded like it was coughing its last every time he started it up, but he resisted replacing it because he sympathized with it, in some curious way. He had been a tall man in his youth, only a few inches shy of Tetsurō’s six foot two, but age had shrunk him. And been especially cruel to his back. “I’ve been neglecting it lately and the weeds are going to swallow up my radishes. Have you ever done any gardening?”

“No, sensei,” Tetsurō replied, mystified.

“It takes persistence,” Nekomata acknowledged, and slammed the trunk shut. “Things don’t grow overnight. You have to till the soil, fertilize it, plant, and watch. Pick off the pests. Weed out the things you don’t want growing. Day after day, all through the growing season. If you let it go even a few days at my age, you get behind, and it’s hard to make up the ground you lost.” He patted the boy’s shoulder, then gripped it and squeezed. “Do you ever feel that way?”

Kuroo-kun was a clever boy; he looked abashed. “I guess so, sensei.”

“Hmmph.” Nekomata rolled his back, rubbing it with his knuckles, and decided to speak plainly. “Listen, Kuroo-kun. I wasn’t always an old man. I remember the first time a girl took my heart like that girl’s taken yours. But if you’re going to let go of a dream for her, make it a decision. Don’t just let it happen.”

Tetsurō’s eyes widened.

“I’m not—I still want to win. I still want to go to nationals. I’m not—” But he stopped there, the protests dying as he faced his sensei. He had known the old man a long time, and one thing he had never done was lie before him. To Nekomata, or to himself.

“I know you don’t mean to, Kuroo-kun.” If it had been anyone else, Nekomata would have been far less sympathetic. But it was hard for a boy of eighteen to stay on the right path all the time, especially when Nekomata knew that Tetsurō didn’t have anyone at home to show him how. “Some of your teachers have spoken with me, too. Sleeping in class, homework incomplete, far below your usual standard. You’re in college prep and you’re a third year. You can’t afford that. Is it true?”

“Yes, sensei.” Kuroo looked away.

“I’m not telling you to become a monk,” Nekomata added. There was a bawdy, humorous glint in his eyes that made Tetsurō rub the back of his head with a shamefaced grin. “She has homework to do, too. Do it together. You don’t need to choose one or the other. Just find a balance.”

“Yes, sensei.” Tetsurō glanced at him, a little color in his cheeks. Most of the time they kept their relationship strictly related to volleyball, but a few times he had gone to his coach for advice when he didn’t know who else to ask, or shared some small victory with him because there was no one else to tell, and right now he felt like he'd been keeping a secret so incredible, he barely had words to tell it. “She’s…amazing.”

“I am happy for you. Don’t do anything you’ll regret later.” Nekomata moved into his car, exhausted by young love, but Tetsurō caught the car door before he could close it.

“Nekomata-sensei, do you…are you really behind on your gardening?”

The old man looked up at his earnest face and then cackled with laughter.

“I ought to make you do my weeding, and your pretty girlfriend too, just because I had to watch you making eyes at each other for weeks.” He chortled. “No, you have enough to do, Kuroo-kun. Make me proud.”

“Goodnight, sensei.” Tetsurō shut the car door for him and watched the ancient, rusty car roll away, headlights vanishing around the gravel road behind the gym. It was the second man who’d given him that order in less than a month, but as far as Tetsurō was concerned, only Nekomata-sensei had the right to ask.

* * *

Tetsurō locked the gym doors and then turned, scooping you up so suddenly that you gave a little shriek of surprise, giggling as he covered your mouth with his.

“I have been wanting to do this for hours,” he murmured, and your giggles died away as he kissed you again. Even after many weeks of his kisses, they still wreaked havoc on your nervous system. Your lips parted in a little gasp and his tongue flicked yours, a teasing touch that made you melt against him. But after a few moments, he pulled his head up with a visible effort. “Let’s go. Tell me about your day.”

“Track club was fine. Inaba-san thinks I have a good chance in the five thousand meters next weekend,” you said, slipping your hand into his as you walked together. “There’s only five or six other girls that might be able to beat me.”

“No one can defeat you, Quiet Fire.” He stole another kiss. “I won’t be there, but I wish I could be.”

“I know.” The second week of the Tokyo volleyball preliminaries were on the same day as your track qualifiers, and you were both positive that Nekoma would be in them. “It would be boring for you to watch anyway. Distance running isn’t a spectator sport until the last two minutes. But Chiyo-chan said she’ll come with me to watch you win this Sunday.”

“I want to hear you cheering.” He had never had a girlfriend come and watch one of his games; none of his relationships had lasted that long. Surprisingly, he actually felt a little nervous about it. He wasn’t keen on the idea of you seeing him lose. But he wasn’t going to lose, he told himself. Nekoma was going to nationals. “How were your classes?”

“Okay.” It wasn’t that much worse than usual, anyway. After two months, Nakamura-sensei was still grimly determined to drag fluent English out of you, though you thought he was actually making your stutter worse.

You couldn’t even look Inouka-kun in the eye at anymore.

But Miki Emi had finally hit on something that did get to you, and you were having a hard time hiding it. He’s just with her because she’ll sleep with him, she said snidely, in your hearing. He doesn’t have to listen to her talk if he keeps her mouth busy.

It was shockingly crude. And it wasn’t true. You knew that. But the first time she said it, the first time she had sidled up to you and asked, Are you fucking him, Kozume-s-s-san? Is that that he sees in you? You hadn’t been able to keep the insult and embarrassment and…sickness out of your face. It made what you did with him seem shameful. And it wasn’t. He didn’t want you just for that.

She knew. She knew this was the chink in your armor.

For a moment, you had an urge to tell him about school, for real, not because you thought he would somehow fix all your problems but just because he was Tetsurō, and he would understand and be on your side. But at that moment, his arm around your waist propelled you past the usual turn to the train station, and you looked up at him questioningly. “Where are we going?”

“I have deprived you of gelato for too long,” he said easily, and then glanced down at you. “I want to talk, [name]-chan. It’s nothing bad, I promise.”

“Okay,” you said, a little softer, and he kissed your forehead reassuringly.

He was thinking about how he wanted to say it as you both ordered scoops of gelato, coconut pineapple for you and mocha espresso for him. He hated to admit to you that he hadn’t been doing well in his classes. He had been blessed with a good memory, so it wasn’t even that he had to work especially hard; as long as he did the work, he generally got good grades. And you had a way of looking up to him, like he was larger than life, that made him feel like he could do anything.

He didn’t want to tell you that you were wrong.

But if he didn’t tell you the truth, you might think he was making excuses to spend less time with you, and hurting you like that was unthinkable.

At the low table by the window, he set his ice cream down, crossed his long legs on the tatami, and fished his notebooks and textbooks out of his bag while you watched curiously.

“This is my homework for tonight,” he said, turning the pages to show you the reading, the calculus problems, the kanji, the English. “I usually do some of it at lunch, and a little more before practice. But not all of it. Sometimes I finish it at home after I drop you off, but…”

“Oh.” You frowned a little, looking at the pile of books and papers, and then your eyes flew open. “Oh. That’s barely enough time to sleep, Tetsu-chan. All this time?”

“Yeah. And I don’t know what I want to do for real yet, but I do want to go to college. And play volleyball. And go to nationals. And I want you with me when I do all that, okay?”

You nodded, your eyes serious, troubled, but not hurt. “I—I haven’t been doing well on my homework, either,” you confessed. “I mostly finish it, but sometimes…”

“Yeah, I know. And I need to actually run in the mornings. Like, for real. It’s not just nationals,” he said, covering your hand with his, his thumb gently stroking over the back. “There’s this school in Miyagi, we had a practice match with them over Golden Week. You remember me talking about Karasuno?”

He told you then about Nekomata-sensei and his long history with the former coach of Karasuno, and his dream that the two teams would meet at nationals. Honestly, it didn’t matter much to Tetsurō; he liked the guys at Karasuno, they were a fun team to play against, but he only cared because it was something Nekomata-sensei had hoped for, all his long life.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Tetsurō said, a little gruffly. “So I want to make it happen for him. But that means I have to work hard, even though I want…Nekomata-sensei says I don’t have to choose,” he added in a most un-Tetsurō-like rush. “Between you and all the rest of this. I don’t want to choose. I want you. I love you.”

That last was added in a whisper after a quick glance over at the café employees. Usually I love you was something a man said in either the throes of orgasm or on his deathbed, and it actually made you giggle, and the panicky butterflies in your belly dissipated all at once.

“I love you,” you whispered back, turning your hand over to slip your fingers into his. “Are you telling me we can’t live in your bed for the rest of our lives, Kuroo Tetsurō?”

“I am, and I am very upset about it.” There was that half-smile, his eyes gleaming with humor under his dark hair.

“We could study together.”

“Yes,” he said, relieved.

“And I could train harder for track,” you admitted. “I haven’t been…I don’t really care,” you burst out. “I don’t care about running. I just do it so I can surf. But Tomi-chan and Inaba-san care, and I do care about not disappointing them.”

“Then you’ll run with me in the mornings,” he said, resisting the urge to lean across the table and kiss you with every fiber of his being. A quick kiss on the street was fine; a tongue kiss in the middle of a café was socially unacceptable.

“And you’ll leave me behind if I can’t keep up,” you said. He moved over on his side of the table and patted the tatami beside him.

“Come here.” He was so relieved he was nearly light-headed with it. You scooted around the table to sit beside him and when he was sure no one was looking, he did kiss you, and ferociously tried to blot the image of feeding you ice cream in bed out of his head.

“Do you think we would have time in the mornings after our run if we were quick?” You whispered, and he crushed you against him until the café manager harrumphed at both of you from behind the counter.

Chapter Text

“I’m trying,” you said. “I’m sorry, this is weird.”

“Could you stop referring to my attempts to get you off as weird?” Oikawa said, exasperated, sitting up on the edge of the mat. Any other girl would have had the sense to at least give him an oooh or two.

There was an artificiality to this whole thing that just wasn’t working for you. Did you have to have just sobbed yourself sick in order to have sex with Oikawa Tōru? Were there some fundamental judgment circuits you needed to compromise? Would getting drunk help?

“I don’t know what’s wrong, you’re just being fake again,” You said, frustrated. “Stop being fake.”

“I’m not being fake! What the fuck does that even mean?!” He was sitting naked on a mat on a stage with you, for God’s sake. How much more real could it get?

You sat up too, just as naked as he was. He had been over you a second before, kissing you and acting like he was appreciating you, like he was going to appreciate the fuck out of you, like an actor in cheesy drama. It was still a little embarrassing to be naked in front of him, but at least you weren’t equipped with an external barometer that showed exactly how exciting—or unexciting—you were finding this encounter. From the looks of Oikawa, he wasn’t enjoying this at all.

“You look like you think there’s cameras recording you,” you said, and leaned over to kiss him angrily, even giving him a little tongue before you sat back and glared at him. “There. See the difference?”

“Fine. Say something else to piss me off.”

“Your hair is ridiculous.”

He leaned over and kissed you, a hard, angry press of his lips that pushed your lips apart and let him stroke into your mouth in a way that suddenly made your breath come short. Your hands plunged into the hair you had just ridiculed—and really, it was so soft it shouldn’t be allowed—and you kissed him back, your legs untangling under you so you could lean into him, following your instincts without hesitation. He moved so you were kneeling up together, his face angled down to yours, his hard body pressed against you. This was all way, way hotter.

Then his fingers slid up your sides, each finger moving like the tine of a rake, and you squirmed.

“Fake,” you said into his lips, and went back to kissing. He was glaring down at you now, his tongue meeting yours in angry, aggressive strokes, his hand pinching your jaw. You hoped this didn’t mean you were secretly some form of masochist but it made your lips part for him and your eyes close, a little noise escaping you.

You swayed together and then he laid you down on the exercise mat, one hand moving to cup your breast, your body arching automatically into his. The way he was pulling your body against his was like a full-body caress, the feel of his long legs against yours, the ridges of his belly against your own more lightly muscled torso, your nipples hardening as his chest brushed against them. It was so exciting to touch him and feel his hands on you, and his head bent, his tongue tracing your nipple as he met your eyes.

“Fake.”

He vengefully drew the nipple into his mouth and you jerked under him and cried out, the tremor shooting down the length of your spine. Then he did the same thing to the other one, his hands sliding up and down your waist, feeling the supple strength moving under his fingertips. He liked that. He liked that a lot.

He lifted his head and licked up your belly, his long eyelashes so dark against his cheeks.

“Fake.”

“What the fuck, do you have some kind of radar?” He demanded, and you reached and stroked his cock, which was far more excited now.

“You are so hot when you’re not trying to show me how hot you are, Oikawa-senpai.”

The corner of his mouth twitched, and he lowered his head and kissed you again, hot and urgent, both of you moaning now, into it. You kept stroking his cock, feeling it bump against your stomach, stiffening further as you jerked him off. You were already wet. When his cock head brushed against you between your legs, you tightened so hard your toes pointed.

“Oikawa-san,” you breathed, in quite a different tone, and when he looked down at you, he was so beautiful. His chocolate brown eyes were sharp and hungry, avid with desire.

“[Name]-chan,” he murmured, moving his hand down to angle himself properly between your legs, and then thrusting in.

Both of you gasped in unison and then moaned, and kept moaning as he instantly set up a spanking pace between your legs. He was doing something with his hips, not just thrusting but a swiveling, rolling motion that ground his body against your clit and felt so good you couldn’t seem to breathe properly.

“Oikawa-san…ohhh…what are you—what are you doing?” You panted, and then cried out as he rolled his hips upward and thrust again, driving his cock into you from an entirely different direction.

“A better job,” he said breathlessly, and gave a sharp, stabbing thrust that almost made your eyes roll back in your head. He was, he was finessing and coaxing and pounding these sounds out of you, as if he knew exactly where the flashpoint was on every single one of your nerves. He thrust again and then ground down, the hardness of his abdomen grinding on your clit, and you actually trembled under him, an earthquake of pleasure that radiated from your clit out to your fingers and toes.

“Oh-oooh, fuck!” You gasped, your fingernails dragging up his back as he kissed you, his wonderful tongue stroking, his breath panting, uhhhn, uhhhn. You were going to come. You were going to come. Your heels scraped the floor mat as you moved your thighs apart, wanting more of him, wanting all of him.

There was nothing else but this. The cables of his lower back worked under your fingers and it was like feeling the machinery that was wrecking you at work, feeling him coil and thrust, coil and heat, coil and ohhhhhh you couldn’t stand it it felt so good, the working of his body was incredible. You were crying out breathlessly under him and you were both about to come, his voice was rising with yours as he pounded you into the finish line.

He called your name at the same time you cried out his, and he shoved deep and kept shoving, his hands gripping your thighs painfully to push every inch into you, feeling you coming apart around him. It always felt like Oikawa-san was shattering you when you came, like he had found all the fracture points in you and burst them apart. The sounds of his climax rang in your ears, and his head was thrown back as he pushed and came, pushed and came, filling you.

Then he folded up and laid on top of you like a dead thing.

You breathed raggedly at each other for an unguessable number of minutes, feeling his skin gradually cool. His head turned a little to aim a kiss in the vicinity of your mouth.

“Real or fake?” He asked, his voice deep and drowsy with pleasure.

“Real,” you murmured, and turned your head to catch the next kiss properly.

Chapter Text

The block one group of the Tokyo volleyball preliminaries was at Nerima Metropolitan Gymnasium, and for a while it didn’t seem like you be able to find Nekoma in the enormous place. It looked like a cleaner, taller metro station on the inside, with tables full of people handing out brochures and pamphlets, none of which contained the information you actually needed.

“There’s so many of them,” Chiyo-chan said, watching all the tall boys going back and forth in their uniforms. “Tomi-chan is going to be so upset she missed this.”

“Where is gymnasium six?” You asked again, as if she might have the answer this time. “Why are there no number signs if all of them are referred to by numbers?”

“Gymnasium six?” One of the passing boys said, bending down from his great height. “If you want to watch a match, you have to go up those stairs. Then go down to the fourth set of double doors.”

“Oh,” you said in surprise, retreating a pace. When you were talking to Chiyo you didn’t feel the least bit self-conscious, but standing before the four tall boys, you felt suddenly like you’d been shoved onto a stage naked. “Th-thank you.”

“Going to watch the Nekoma match?” The boy asked in a friendly way. He was the tallest of the four, with spiky blond hair, and he and his teammates were wearing blue and green uniforms with white piping and kanji that read Ryogoku Senior High School.

It was a perfectly reasonable question, but your brain just froze. It was like English class all over again. That feeling of being thrust into the spotlight, looking up at four perfectly nice boys who meant no harm at all, feeling every word you’d ever heard twist up in your head and then rush for your mouth at once. It wasn’t even a hard question. You were wearing Nekoma red. The red hair ribbon Tetsurō had given you on your first day of school was in your hair and you were carrying your Nekoma track uniform jacket. It said Nekoma on it. Just say yes!

“Her boyfriend is the captain,” Chiyo said after a second, speaking for you.

“Lucky captain,” the boy remarked, and turned his flirtatious smile to Chiyo. “Is your boyfriend on the team?”

“Her boyfriend is going to be starting the first match any second now,” Chiyo responded, declining to answer with an ease that you envied, and flashing him a smile to take away the sting. “Thanks for your help, though. Come on, [name]-chan.”

She tugged your sleeve, but you hardly needed prompting. You sped up the stairs ahead of her, your face as Nekoma red as your jacket.

“I swear, you’re getting worse,” Chiyo-chan said under her breath.

“Sorry,” you said miserably.

“Don’t be sorry, just do something about it,” she said, giving you a quick squeeze to let you know she wasn’t angry. “Do you see them—oh! There they are!”

You hurried together toward the court at the other end of the gym, where the Nekoma boys were warming up. Ni-chan gave you an unenthusiastic wave between sets to the spikers; he professed not to care whether you or your parents came to watch him play, but you suspected he might be nervous about it. You had promised to ignore him completely.

Tetsurō had warned you he wouldn’t be looking for you, that he needed to focus on his team and the game, but his eyes still caught yours almost instantly, and gave you the same thrill you had felt the first time you met his gaze across the room and felt your heart stop. His expression didn’t change, but he tapped his pocket with a finger before he turned away, and you flushed with pleasure. You had slipped a good luck charm into it while he was in the shower that morning.

“Love is a many splendored thing,” Chiyo hummed beside you, having observed your expression during this exchange.

“Shut up, Chiyo-chan.” You sat down hastily. Why were all your friends smart asses? “Who are they playing, I don’t see them yet.”

“Oh—Ryogoku,” Chiyo laughed, showing you the program. “That must be why they helped us.”

Sure enough, the doors on the opposite side of the gym opened and the Ryogoku boys strolled in, the blond boy giving you a cheerful wave. Chiyo waved back and then spun around to the small crowd of Nekoma supporters, leading a rousing cheer of Push it up Nekoma, fire it up Nekoma! Push it up Nekoma, fire it up Nekoma!

You laughed and tried to forget the Ryogoku boys, calling the chant out along with her, relieved to lose your voice in the crowd. There were never that many spectators at early rounds of tournaments. There were a few other students and some older people and children that must be family members. One small group caught your eye, a Japanese woman and a tall silver-haired Russian man with an elegant-looking girl a few years older than you.

“Oh, Chiyo, look,” you said, trying not to point.

“That must be Lev-kun’s parents,” she whispered back. “Isn’t he handsome? Do you think Lev will turn out like that?”

“He might look like him,” you said dubiously; Haiba-sama looked like a picture of one of the czars you had once seen, stern and a little cold. But the girl was continuing the cheering with gusto, interspersed with calls of Lyovochka! Do your best!

The Russian dignity didn’t appear to have rubbed off on either of the younger Haibas.

“Oh, look, they’re starting!” Chiyo said, and both of you leaned anxiously forward as the boys lined up.

In some ways, every volleyball game was like every other volleyball game. There were blocks, spikes, receives, and sets, in varying degrees of skill and success, repeated in various combinations. Growing up with Kenma and Tetsurō, you had picked up a fair bit of knowledge of the finer points, and Tetsurō had been seeing to your education with more rigor over the past couple months. You understood at least who was doing the various things, and even occasionally why.

But it still looked to you like Nekoma didn’t actually do anything.

There were no exciting, flashy plays. Kai-san, Yamamato-san, and Fukanaga-san spiked the ball. Ni-chan set it for them. Tetsurō was amazing and breathtaking at everything he did. Other players did things too.

Ryogoku was the team shouting, slamming the ball down, digging for it from half a court away.

“They look like they’re doing so much,” Chiyo said, voicing your own thoughts. But after a while, it finally clicked. Ryogoku couldn’t get the ball down.

You couldn’t see it just from watching Nekoma practice; all of them were skilled, so while the rallies lasted forever, no side appeared to have a particular advantage. Even after all the times Tetsurō had told you that receives were important, after all the times you had heard him shout at the other players keep it up, keep it going, after you had watched him almost literally beat it into Lev, you hadn’t really understood what he meant when he said Nekoma wasn’t an attack team.

Nekoma had powerful spikers, but the team didn’t rely on them. Their strategy was to steadily and inexorably wear the other side down. The rallies were endless. Ryogoku spiked it again, and again, and again, but no matter what they did, Nekoma had practiced receiving and passing so much that they barely needed to call the ball. And on a long enough timeline, no other team could match them. Most other teams focused on offense. Forced into endless defense, they would drop the ball.

And while they were doing that, while they were shifting and adjusting and trying to cope, Ni-chan was watching and learning.

“It’s Ni-chan,” you said, feeling something that could have been pride. It was so unfamiliar it was hard to tell. “They’re giving him time to figure out the other team.”

It wasn’t all Kenma, of course. The Nekoma spikers were a force to be reckoned with, with Yamamoto-san getting through blocks on sheer power while Kai-san used finesse to carve his way through tight spaces. Lev-kun had improved tremendously; when he and Tetsurō were in the vanguard, Ryogoku might as well have been trying to spike through the side of the mountain.

Inouka-kun was just everywhere. His blocks weren’t as high or impregnable, but somehow it seemed like even when the Ryogoku setter thought he had found an open space for his spikers, Inouka managed to wedge his fingers in the way. He must’ve covered twice the distance of anyone else in Nekoma, and he was still bright-eyed and eager, calling out, I got it, Kuroo-san!

It gave you a thrill every time you heard it. You wondered if Tetsurō knew how much the first years looked up to him, how much his opinion meant to them. He was such a good teacher. Demanding, but he never failed to slap Inouka on the back when he caught the ball, or give Lev a few words when the tall boy covered half the court in two bounds and shut down one of the Ryogoku spikers. Tetsurō’s own blocking, exceptional as it was, was almost secondary to his role in pulling the team together. Ni-chan was the one working out the strategy, but it was the force of Tetsurō’s will that set it in motion.

Ryogoku didn’t have a chance.

The first match ended after two sets, 25-22 and 25-20.

“A bit disappointing for Ryogoku,” Chiyo said, watching the boys in blue and green line up, their easy bravado gone.

“Tetsurō says that block one is the hardest block this year.” You felt bad for Ryogoku in abstract; you had been there, and knew what it felt like to face a crowd and thank them for witnessing your defeat. But your heart was with Tetsurō. He lined his team up to face the Nekoma crowd and his strong voice boomed out, thank you very much! as he bowed, the rest of Nekoma echoing him in unison. He caught your eyes as he straightened and you could have kissed your hands to him, you were so happy for him, watching him glow with pride, one step closer to his dream.

Chapter Text

“Sumimasen, do you mind if I sit here?”

Aone Takanobu blinked in surprise. The girl standing hopefully in front of him was tiny and exquisite, butterfly-like in a pink cardigan and flowing yellow skirt. It took an awkward ten seconds for him to realize that a) you had spoken to him b) you had asked a question and c) a response was required.

“Hmm.” He said, with a very slight nod.

“Oh, thank you,” you said with a sigh of relief, sitting down beside him and attempting to pile all of your shopping bags onto your lap. Stacked on top of each other, they completely blocked your view of anything in front of you, which left the screen by the bus door to your right, an enormous arm to your left, and the owner of the enormous arm if you looked up. “I’ve been shopping,” you confided, gesturing with your bags. “It’s my little sister’s birthday and my mother couldn’t take the time to go, so I had to go get everything. She’s four today. Don’t you think it’s funny how someone so small can need so much stuff?”

That was amusing. You were peering earnestly at him from under that pile.

“Hmm,” he said again, his cheeks coloring a little. Aone Takanobu knew how people saw him. Since he was eight years old the other kids had called him Furankenshutain, after Mary Shelley’s Western monster. They had only reverted to Aone in junior high, when his height started winning volleyball games for them.

“I got her this from me, though,” you chattered on, rummaging into one bag and holding up a fuzzy stuffed dog that looked like it was being birthed from a strawberry. “It smells, see?”

“Nice,” he said, leaning down to take a sniff. It smelled like the dry strawberry candy his sister used to buy at the corner store for a hundred yen.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” You asked, replacing the strawberry dog in the bag.

“Yes. Sister.” He could feel the color burning hotter in his face as you looked up at him and knew that it would be impossible to miss against his pale, nearly-white hair. But if you noticed his blushing, you didn’t give any sign of it.

“Older or younger?”

“Younger.” He tried a very small smile.

“Oh, you know what it’s like then!” you said, as if you had discovered you both shared the same crushing burden. “Do you have to watch out for her and take care of her too?”

“Sometimes. She is three years younger.”

“She’s lucky to have a big brother to look out for her,” you said, a very gentle joke, with a flick of your eyes to indicate his height. “I always thought that would be nice, to have a Ni-chan to go to if I was in trouble.”

“Not to hear her tell it,” he rumbled, startling himself, and making you giggle. The sound was as musical as birdsong and he flushed hotter.

“You watch, she’ll tell you she was glad of it one day. Oh, this is my stop! Thanks for listening, I know I talk too much.”

“No, no.” He had liked it. He couldn’t take his eyes off you as you gathered all your bags together, and the words burst from him all at once. “Do you—do you live near here?”

“Oh, yes. We just moved here last week.” You said brightly, then squeaked as the driver leaned on the horn. “Oh—sorry! Nice to meet you, bye!”

It had been a creepy question, Aone told himself. Stupid, stupid. You were just being nice. You were naturally friendly.

But he craned his neck, watching you go until the bus turned the next corner.

* * *

“Hello again!”

Aone started in surprise from his usual eyes-front position to see you smiling beside him, clutching the bar by his seat. It was the third time he’d seen you on the evening bus ride. He had been watching for you for better than a week, and the second he stopped looking, here you were, fresh and butterfly-like as ever in a ruffled blue dress, and all he could do was gape at you.

“Aone,” he said intelligently. He had told himself if he ever saw you again, he would ask for your name. No matter what, even if you stared at him in horror and ran screaming into the street, even if it meant the villagers would turn out with torches and pitchforks, he would ask for your name.

Wait, he had said his name.

“I’m Aone Takanobu,” he said, trying to recover, and inclining his head. Color was creeping up his neck again.

You bowed back. “I’m [Name], nice to meet you. Formally,” you added, with an enchanting little laugh. Then you sat down next to him, just like that. You had less bags in your lap than last time, but that wasn’t saying much; it was still a solid amount of stacking and rearranging to hold onto them all, and you sighed when you were done, twisting your head to look up at him.

“Where are you coming from, Aone-san?”

“Volleyball practice. I’m in the club at my school.”

“Not Date kōko, are you?” You asked, your eyes widening, and taking him in again. “Oh, I’ve heard of you! Well not you specifically, but isn’t Dateko supposed to have a really good volleyball team? I don’t play, but my friend is on the girl’s team and she says the boy’s team always loses to the Iron Wall.”

“Yes.” Yes to all of it.

“That must be so exciting! I’ve only been to a couple games so I don’t know much about the rules or positions or anything, but I remember the ball moved so fast I couldn’t follow it sometimes. How would you even stop a ball like that?”

“You can’t, sometimes. We do read blocking at Dateko. We wait til we see where it’s going to go, then go after it. If it’s a quick, though, sometimes there’s no getting it.”

“A quick?”

“Oh. That’s a fast set from the setter to the spiker.” He floundered; you had said you didn’t know positions. “When you said the ball was going too fast to see, odds are that was a quick.”

But you were just nodding excitedly.

“Yes, I remember, the one player always seemed to be passing the ball to other players. That was a setter?”

“Yes.” He was having a conversation with you, he thought, almost giddy at the realization. A conversation. With a pretty girl. With the prettiest girl he’d ever seen.

He explained volleyball the rest of the way to your stop, dreading its approach. He was worried he was boring you; maybe you were just being polite, or passing the time. Maybe you were just friendly. But he nerved himself up, and when your stop came, he asked, “Do you want help carrying all that?”

You glanced down at the pile of bags in your lap.

“I wouldn’t want to be any trouble…” You began hesitantly, and he couldn’t be sure whether it was because you didn’t want to trouble him or if you didn’t want to trouble him.

“No trouble. I’m at the next stop,” he lied. And your smile was all the reward he could have wanted.

“Thank you, Aone-san!” You said, and he shoved all the little shopping bag strings and loops over his big hands, hoping there was nothing fragile anywhere. He broke things sometimes.

“I’m not far, just a couple blocks this way,” you said, gesturing. You had kept a few bags for yourself, and heavy enough that it was an effort for you to swing your hand in the direction of your house. He silently extended his hand for them, and you glanced from the bag to his hand and then gave him a full-wattage smile.

You had a dimple in your right cheek.

“You’re carrying enough, Aone-san,” you said, and skipped away up the hill.

He wanted to say he could have carried you and your bags without ever noticing the weight, but that would be stupid. So he slowed his pace to make sure you didn’t have to run to keep up and just watched you, your long hair bouncing with every nod or decisive little jerk of your chin. You were talking about school—second year at Shiogama High School—and your club, and your friends at school, a never-ending stream of conversation that seemed somehow to include him without ever putting him on the spot.

“Thank you so much,” you said when you reached your house, a tidy little row house with a low fence around the front yard. You tucked your hair behind your ear a little self-consciously. “I’m sorry for chattering like that, I know I talk too much.”

“No. I like listening to you.” He paused for a second, not wanting to leave, but with no idea what else to say. “Good night, [Name]-chan.”

“Good night, Aone-san,” you said, with another dimpled smile, and he walked the eight blocks home feeling like he’d been hit between the eyes with a hammer.

* * *

“Stop. Stop the bus.” Aone jerked out of his seat, his heavy steps thudding down the aisle. When someone Aone’s size said stop the bus, the bus stopped.

He darted out the door and sprinted back down the street, non-existent eyebrows drawn together in a ferocious scowl. He should have gotten off the bus with you; hadn’t he felt uneasy when he saw those three guys go out the door after you? It was his own pride. He hadn’t want to act like a big, stupid shepherd dog, without the excuse of helping you with your usual load of shopping bags.

“No, that’s all right,” he could hear you saying as he rounded the corner. “I’m just going home, I’m not allowed to go out during the—Aone-san!”

“[Name]-chan,” he said, with a quick visual inspection to make sure you were all right. You were clutching the straps of your yellow school bag and your eyes looked a little larger and rounder than usual, but that was it. “Do you want me to walk you home again today?”

“Please, Aone-san,” you said, with obvious relief.

He redirected his attention to the three guys from the bus, who looked as if they’d thought they’d found a kitten to play with and suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of a tiger. White-haired Aone Takanobu was almost six feet four inches tall, nearly two hundred pounds, and all of it was muscle. There was no particular verbal threat that occurred to him; he’d never had to actually threaten anyone out loud in his life. He just looked.

“Good night,” you chirped beside him as they slunk away, and he darted an amused glance at you. Once they were out of sight, you looked up at him and released the breath you’d been holding. “Thank you, Aone-san. I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm but I just wanted to go home.”

“I’m sorry they bothered you. I saw them get off the bus and—I’ll walk you home from now on. If you want.”

“I would like that,” you said, turning to walk with him up the hill to your house. “It made me want to go shopping, Aone-san.”

“Mmm?”

“To give you a reason to walk with me,” you said, with a glance up at him that almost stopped his heart.

“You don’t need a reason,” he finally said, and, greatly daring, touched your hand with one large finger.

* * *

He was going to kiss you.

He was going to kiss you.

He was going to kiss you.

“Taka-san?” Your voice piped beside him, and he looked down at you, sure that his plans must be written all over his face. “Are you okay?”

“Uh. Yes.”

“Hmmmm,” you said, with a look of exaggerated skepticism. You had been calling him Taka-san, and once Taka-chan, for a solid week and he still wasn’t sure what he’d done to earn it. “You haven’t asked me about my day. Or told me I look nice. Or told me how volleyball practice went.”

“It was fine.” He had no idea how it went. He had woken up this morning and decided today was the day he was going to kiss you, and everything had been more or less a blur ever since. “You do look nice. I like that shirt.”

How did you transition into a first kiss? Was he just supposed to grab you? What if he grabbed you too hard? He’d accidentally knocked Obara over on Monday doing a chest bump and Obara had twelve inches and ninety pounds on you.

He was never going to kiss you.

“Taka-chan?” You said, taking his hand. “Come here.”

You led him off the main road and into an alley behind a row of houses, the garage entrances broken by small patches of trees and shrubs. He would never forget how you looked that day, wearing a ruffled blue skirt and white blouse with a pink cardigan, always pastel clothes, always things that made him think of a butterfly fluttering along beside him. It was nearly eight o’clock and the street lights were just coming on, and your eyes looked as deep and soft as the eyes of a doe when you turned around and looked up at him, crooking a slender finger like you were going to tell him a secret.

He bent down obligingly.

You kissed him.

It was like a brush of wings against his lips. For a second, he was too shocked to properly appreciate it. Heat flamed into his face and then he didn’t know what to do next; he’d never kissed a girl before. He just stayed there, bent over, his head sticking out like one of those giant Easter Island heads. He could feel your uncertainty, and the fleeting brush against his lips ended.

“Sorry,” you whispered, embarrassed, but he shook his head and closed his hands around your waist, lifting you up, this beautiful fairy girl who for some inexplicable reason wanted to kiss him, of all people.

“I don’t know how,” he admitted.

“I don’t either.” You looked down, amazed that he was just holding you there, with no sign of effort, like he could hold you against him forever. “I thought you wanted…”

“I do,” he said, and lowered his face to yours, his lips pressing. At first that was all there was, his firm, slightly chapped lips pressed against your soft ones and wondering what came next. Then his lips moved experimentally, and he adjusted his head a little bit, tried again. That felt…better. He tried a different variation and your lips tentatively moved to match him, soft, so soft!

Then it got good.

“Taka-chan,” you whispered, your arms winding around his neck, and he adjusted his grip and leaned back to support you better, so he wouldn’t have to hold you so hard. You kissed again, figuring it out, closed mouth kisses because lips were enough to learn with.

You stopped kissing and he just looked at you, marveling. Your face had never been this close to his before. There were details he’d missed; the tiny white line of a scar next to your right eyebrow, the way your bangs curled under toward the left.

“I like you a lot.” He said, the words bursting out before he could think better of them.

You brushed your fingers over his forehead, smoothing away his habitual frown. He did have eyebrows, they were just so light, it was easy to overlook them. And he wasn’t handsome exactly; the bones of his face were too strong for that.

But you had liked the look of him since that first day on the bus, when he had blinked in surprise and then blushed when you asked to sit beside him. He was so ferocious in his volleyball games. You had seen him play against Shiogama’s team and completely flatten them. How strange that someone so aggressive and forbidding on the court could be so painfully shy and gentle with you.

“I like you too,” you told him, placing fluttering kisses all over his face until he captured your lips again.

* * *

At the top of the hill near your house, there was a playground. It was usually empty after eight o’clock, the swings still, the merry-go-round no longer going around, with a view of the city and a few cypress trees to rustle pleasantly overhead. Aone wanted a quiet place where people wouldn’t stare at the pair of you, and more importantly, somewhere he could continue learning to kiss you, in his ongoing quest for self-improvement.

There was a bench that overlooked Sendai and Matsushima bay, the lights twinkling on in the city just as the stars glimmered into the sky, and he sat you on his knee there and kissed you and talked, kissed you and listened to you talk, kissed you and looked down at the city in silence, content just to have you with him.

He had no idea how he’d gotten so lucky. It was the joke of not one, but two high schools, that the center section of Dateko’s Iron Wall was wrapped around your tiny finger, and absolutely delighted about it.

“Do you think you’ll win, Taka-san?” You were asking. The spring tournament was rushing up and you knew he had been worried about it since the third years retired.

“No,” he admitted, resting his chin on your head. “Koganegawa isn’t ready yet. But we’ll do our best.”

“You might though. You all are so good, I don’t see how the other teams can get past you.”

“They can, though. I know I should say we’re going to win,” he added. “If you don’t think you’re going to win, you probably won’t. But the first years just don’t have the experience.”

“You’re so reasonable, Taka-san,” you said, with comical resignation. “I’m still going to come and cheer for you.”

“Mmm. Good.” He took your chin in his fingertips to tilt your face up, and covered your mouth with his.

He was almost used to the idea that he could kiss you whenever he wanted, but it had taken him a long time to find the courage to do it. He was so aware of what he was, aware that while he might have above-average coordination and athleticism, even at six foot four he was still growing. He couldn’t seem to stop growing, and he hoped desperately that he would soon. Every day his arms and legs were a little bit longer than they’d been the day before, his hands a little bit bigger, his grip just that tiny bit more crushing. When he played volleyball, all of that was an advantage. But as soon as he stepped off the court, he stepped into a world that was just too small and too fragile for a man his size.

He could hurt you so easily without meaning to. He broke things all the time, to his parents’ despair; lamps, chairs, dishes, glasses, his obaa-san’s heirloom tea set. For the last six or seven years of his life, every single instruction from his mother ended with, and be careful, Taka-chan.

So once he let it be known that he wanted to kiss you again, he let you lead the way. It was you that turned in his lap and slipped a hand behind his neck to guide him down to you, your fingers in his curiously soft pale hair. It was your tongue that touched, that invited, and finally coaxed him into meeting you, and when he did, it was with a firm caress into your mouth that made you feel like every joint in your body had been unstrung. One of his arms was at your back, solid as the park bench, and his other hand cupped your face like he was cradling a glass egg as his tongue stroked deeper.

“Taka,” You moaned softly, a sound that instantly drained all the blood from his head and made it pool in his lap. This had started happening with embarrassing frequency.

His fingers shook with the desire to grab you harder.

“You can touch,” you whispered into his mouth, your face flushed. “I want you to.”

Chapter Text

He sat in your bed like a lump, big and clumsy and oafish, looking ridiculous—he was sure—on your pretty white bedspread. His shirt was on the floor and you were kissing slowly up his chest, examining with pleasure all the hard-earned ridges and planes, placing feather-light kisses over his collarbones.

It wasn’t working. He was so scared he couldn’t even get hard. He knew where this was going and there was no possible way it was going to work and then he would lose you forever.

“Taka-chan,” you said, and took his face in both your small hands, looking at him from inches away. It was asking a lot of two virgins to get it together enough to do this right, especially when both were of a sensitive temperament, and you had had to be bolder than you’d ever imagined yourself being when it came to your giant boyfriend. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t do this.” He looked so miserable.

“Why?”

“I’m going to hurt you.” His arms went around you suddenly, pulling you against his chest. “I know I am, the guys joke about it all the time.” It was the sort of crude ribbing guys always gave each other, and there was nothing malicious in it, but it had still had a profound effect. And to be fair, the size differential between the two of you was ripe with comedic potential. Kamasaki had joked that that was how he knew both of you were still virgins; nothing had been reported in the news about your untimely death, so clearly Aone hadn’t fucked you yet.

The worst thing was, if anyone knew the truth of the matter, it would be his teammates. They had seen him in the shower.

Aone was convinced he really might kill you.

“Taka-chan,” you said, and pushed up on his chest so you could look at him properly. “I—well, I guess if we’re going to do this we ought to be able to talk about it honestly, right?” Your face still felt hot. “Taka-chan, however…big…you are, don’t forget that this is a place babies are meant to come out of. One day. Far from now. But still. I—I did look it up and if you…if you get me…”

Oh, God, you couldn’t say it.

“Wet enough,” you said, sounding a little strangled. “If you do that, and we’re careful, and I’ll tell you if it hurts…”

“You want me this much?” He asked, tucking your hair behind your ear tenderly.

“Of course I do. When you kiss me and touch me you get me so excited I can hardly stand it. Don’t you want me?”

“So much,” he said, and kissed you, pulling you up to straddle his lap. You were down to your bra and green plaid school uniform skirt, and presumably some kind of panties he hadn’t seen yet. He had seen your breasts once before, he had put his mouth on them, and the sounds you had made when he did that had haunted him through restless nights for weeks after. Now he took it off you again, and then went on to your skirt, and your panties, which were a cute pink-and-green pattern that reminded him of watermelon.

Then you were naked for him, your cheeks bright pink as you shyly met his eyes. He had never seen anything so beautiful as you perched naked on his thighs, your long curly hair tumbling around your shoulders.

He couldn’t think of anything to say. He just reached for you and covered your mouth with his. His hands slid up your bare back as you stretched against his chest and yes, those were your breasts against his skin, your bare thighs pressed against his waist. That alone was so exciting, so erotic, that he groaned as he kissed you. Then he slid his hands down, down your back, caressing your slender waist, and down still further until he was holding your bare backside in his hands, soft and round and—

Now he was hard.

He kept kissing you. You said you needed to be wet and he would get you there. He knew more or less what it meant, to get you wet; Kamasaki had helpfully explained several techniques, at full volume, because it was a senpai’s job to educate his precious juniors. He gripped your backside and pushed you into his hips, letting you feel the growing hardness of his erection between your legs, still safely contained by his workout shorts and boxers. God, that felt good. He found himself grinding his teeth and pushing his hips to meet yours, a mimicry of the motion he was dying to complete later with you, if he could avoid killing you when he did it.

Then he pulled you off him and laid you down, bending over you on his knees. His face was as unreadable as ever, but the desire in his eyes made you shiver, resisting the instinct to cover your breasts. You had decided to give yourself to Taka-chan, and he was just finding his way toward taking you. You had to make yourself vulnerable for him and show him that you wanted to be taken.

Gently, he moved your legs apart, and touched you there, hardly believing himself that he was doing this. You felt warm. Already wet. By itself it might not have excited him, but your reaction did; you sucked in a breath and moaned, your thighs quivering. He stroked you again, his big, blunt fingers pressing more firmly, and then found a spot at the top of your wet pinkness that made you jerk and cry out.

All right. What Kamasaki had said to do.

Aone bent his head and slowly drew his tongue up the length of you.

Like everything else about him, his tongue was large.

“Ohhhh, Taka-chan,” you gasped, your hips pushing upward, and he cupped your ass in his hands again and lifted you effortlessly to his mouth. He wasn’t sure how wet was wet enough, so he was going to be thorough about this.

He didn’t stop until you were bucking in his hands and begging for him, the inside of your thighs glistening. He was so hard he could barely think straight, but he thought he was figuring this out. He licked. He slid his tongue into you and the feel of it squirming inside you made you cry out in half-sobbing, wailing breaths, your hands clawing into the blankets. You didn’t really know what he was doing to you, but you were so hot and throbbing so hard and it still wasn’t enough. When he lifted you, you could see the bulge straining in his shorts, and you knew with deepest instinct that that was what you wanted. You wanted Taka. You wanted him so much and his sweet determination to make you as wet as possible—could it be possible that you had somehow asked for this?—was about to give you a heart attack.

“Taka, Taka, please, please, please!” You begged him, and the sight of you, soaking and writhing, opened with his mouth and fingers and tongue, made him decide to finally try it. He laid you down on the dark towel you’d spread out for the purpose, stood up, and took off his shorts and boxers.

He was enormous. Dark and pulsing, the end of him twitching upward, swaying between his heavy, muscled thighs as he climbed back into bed with you. And you knew that if you showed him anything except desire and trust, he’d retreat back into himself. Desire and trust. Desire and trust. You wanted him inside you, but you didn’t see how that was possibly going to fit.

“You’ll tell me?” he whispered as he took your hips in his hands again, and you nodded breathlessly, feeling the hot, hard head of his cock probing you.

“Yes, I promise. It—it will hurt some no matter what,” you added, thrilled and terrified and so touched at his pink cheeks, his hands trembling on your thighs. “B-because it’s my first time.”

“Okay,” he said, and started pushing in.

The feel of you on his cock, even on the first inch of his cock, was heaven. He took it slow and understood immediately how important it was that you were wet; there was no way he would have fit otherwise. After a second he adjusted his grip, propping your knees up on either side of his hips, kissing the inside of one knee as he laid his fingers over that spot you seemed to like so much and rubbed.

“OH! Taka-san!” You yelped, and those banshee wails you’d been giving him earlier started again as he pressed in, and in, and in.

And then, unbelievably, his hips touched yours.

He was in. And he hadn’t killed you.

It felt incredible. He drew back a little and the silky, wet, silvery feeling of you gripping him—so tight!—made him groan with pleasure, looking down at you with such amazement that you pulled him down for a kiss, breathing in small, panting breaths. For you, it wasn’t feeling especially good yet. It was intense. You had felt him take your virginity in a pinching, tearing sensation that had almost made you cry out, more in surprise than pain. You were honestly as surprised as he was that he’d somehow managed to fit that monster inside you.

“You’re okay?” He whispered, drawing out that tiny bit and pushing in, making you grip his arms and gasp.

“I…think so…” You managed breathlessly, and suddenly you met his eyes and he was smiling, you were grinning at each other, his big hand caressing you from neck to breasts as he so gently moved his hips. You were doing this. He was in you, so deep, and when he bent to kiss you again you moaned into his mouth as he struck the first sparks of pleasure inside you.

* * *

“Holy shit, Aone-kun,” Kamasaki said the next day in the hallway, his eyes scanning his giant teammate. “Who did you fuck? I know your girl couldn’t have lived to tell the tale.”

What the hell. How did he know?

* * *

It changed how Aone saw you.

You had always been beautiful to him, but beautiful in a slightly unreal, untouchable way, so high above him that he thought the best he could hope for was to admire you from afar. He felt deeply that it was a mistake that you were with him, and what he should do was appreciate you for the time he had you, before some millionaire or foreign prince discovered you, or you went back to Avalon or wherever it was you’d come from.

Now you were his.

For real.

And if a prince showed up wanting to take you to his castle, there seemed to actually be a chance that you’d decline.

He was reserved in public, embarrassed by your easy affection, mostly because he knew how other people saw him, and saw you when you were together. Waiters at cafés kept giving you looks that said, blink twice if you want us to call the police.

He would never be publicly demonstrative, but now he looked at the waiter and thought, don’t you wish you were as lucky as me?

It wasn’t easy to find a safe place to be together around both your families, but with both of you intensely focused on this goal, it was shocking how often you managed to sneak into a bed together. He knew the first few times, he had made you feel good, but it wasn’t until the fourth time that he actually made you come, according to the official Kamasaki definition of the word.

You were in his bed this time. It was a specially ordered bed from America that kept Aone’s heels from hanging off the end, a gift from a tall uncle that had sympathy for his nephew’s plight, and you had some hours alone together while Aone’s parents and little sister were at an event at her school. Aone was conscientious about taking his time to prepare you for sex.

This time both of you got a little lost in the preparations.

He was big enough and you were light enough that he could actually lift you to his mouth rather than bending down to you, so he had you by the hips with your shoulders on the bed, his mouth working you into a frenzy. This was one of his favorite things to do. He didn’t think he’d ever felt you so wet. He could even see your clit, now that he knew what to look for, swollen and so sensitive that you squealed every time he licked it. He knew that he fit best inside you once you were absolutely drenched, and he was a patient man, so he carried on, and on, and on, his tongue pushing into you and curling up and down, searching for that rough, spongy spot inside you and flicking it until you were nearly hyperventilating under him and crying his name mindlessly.

Aone wanted you, and he sensed that you were plenty wet, but he wanted to see where this was going.

“Taka! Taka! Please!” You begged over and over, without even knowing exactly what you were begging for. Your whole body was trembling convulsively and every thrust of his tongue made your heart jerk into your throat. You hadn’t known you could even make these noises, your voice rising in gasping crescendos, each higher and more ragged than the last.

“Not yet,” he kept saying, muffled with you in his mouth, his eyes narrowed with concentration. Then his tongue did something, pushed out of your body and down onto your clit, and you came so suddenly it shocked you both. Your back bowed and then arched upward and he almost dropped you in surprise as you shrieked Taka-chan! exactly as Kamasaki-san had described, gasping in a way he had never heard from you before. After an instant’s surprise, he went to work directly on the little nub of your clit with his lips and tongue, and felt the thrill of you coming, literally against his lips. Feeling your body writhing in his hands as you came made him so hard he could hardly see straight.

You had barely finished when he set you down and asked, the words grating through the intensity of his desire, “Is it okay?”

“Okay?” You repeatedly fuzzily. He could have asked a question about the relative positioning of Saturn for all you knew.

“All right,” he grunted, and you felt him thrust inside you, all of him, all at once.

“Ahhh! Taka!” You squealed, and kept squealing as he pounded into you, harder than he’d ever dared to go before. By Aone’s standards, he was still holding back, but his huge body still struck yours hard enough to drive the breath from your lungs, robbing you of any hope of protest. You didn’t know whether you actually would; you were so sensitive that this felt unendurable, but you were enduring it somehow, and the sound of his voice panting above you was making you positively light-headed. He always had to push your legs up to they were partially folded against your body; he was just too big to fit between your thighs, so you had to take all of him, every time, every last hot, hard inch.

“[Name],” he groaned, almost ready to come himself. You felt so amazing on his cock, quivering inside with the aftershocks of your last climax, that all he wanted to do was go harder, harder, every instinct was wearing away at his restraint until he wanted to forget everything and pound into you with blind lust until he came.

“Taka—ohhhh!—Taka, it’s too much, Taka, Taka, Taka!” You wailed, and came again, on his cock, and yanked him right over the edge.

There were no words in the sound he made. He just came, the roar of pleasure building from the bottom of his chest as he filled you. The feel of you coming on him while he was coming was indescribable. Your inner walls were squeezing him madly as he throbbed and he couldn’t think, he couldn’t speak, all he could do was pump himself dry inside you, filling you with his seed.

“Taka, Taka,” you were wheezing under him, trembling, wondering if that was what was supposed to happen. Your head actually hurt a little from the force of your cries, and you ached deep inside.

“Mine, mine, mine,” he murmured, covering your face with kisses, half out of his mind. “Are you okay?”

“I think so?” You moaned as he pulled out of you, tingling between your legs and so sensitive you would have shrieked if he’d just looked at you hard down there. “I came twice, Taka-chan, twice. I came twice. That was coming.”

“Yes,” he agreed. He was feeling kind of smug about the whole thing. He flopped over next to you and pulled you to his side, brushing your cloud of hair out of the way so he could see your face. “I want to do that again.”

“Please not for a little while,” you moaned, your slender arm tightening around him, peeking up at him through your curls in that way you had, that made him feel like he was God almighty. “Taka-chan,” you said again, and he was so happy that he felt like there wasn’t enough room for his heart even in his giant chest.

Chapter Text

You were together all through the rest of high school.

You were there when the spring tournament ended early, as predicted, with a loss to Aobajohsai. And you were there to take Taka-chan to bed to get over the disappointment, because in spite of everything he’d said, he had still been hoping to win. But he had another year, he said afterward, with his eyes red and his voice as level as ever. Taka cried as silently as he did most things.

He was there when your school’s shipment of yearbooks arrived early and you and one other second year girl found yourselves standing in the rain with fifty boxes of hardcover books that outweighed the pair of you by a factor of a million. After a frantic exchange of text messages, he showed up with three first years from the Dateko volleyball team and put them to work.

By then you were a fixture in each other’s lives and families; it was unthinkable that it could be any other way. Your mother adored Aone, almost to the point of embarrassing him and certainly embarrassing you. She learned his favorite foods and cooked them in vast quantities, urging you to come help her in the kitchen under the even more embarrassing expectation that you would one day be responsible for feeding him and needed to learn how to do it properly.

Which was probably true, but still.

“Oka-saaan,” you whined, cheeks scarlet when she said as much. “Don’t say that in front of him!”

“It does taste really good,” Taka-chan said behind you, unhelpfully.

Both your fathers approved the match. Your father thought Taka-chan was exactly the kind of boy he would have chosen for you, had he been consulted. Not just because of Taka’s sheer size, which was like acquiring a particularly large and vicious mastiff to guard you, but also because every time the boy looked at you, he looked like he still couldn’t believe his good fortune.

Taka’s mother had been skeptical the longest, looking between you and her giant son as if nothing good could come of this. But she too capitulated when she caught you studying together—and surely that was the sign of some benevolent kami attending you, that the only time she caught you in Taka’s bedroom together, it was while you were studying—and you were gently urging Taka into the college prep program for his third year of high school.

“You’re smart enough, Taka-chan,” she overheard you saying as she stood in the hallway, frozen on her toes as she listened. “If you want to be a volleyball player that’s fine too, but what will you do when you’re forty?”

“I don’t know what I want to do when I’m twenty,” he said, troubled.

“Well, me neither.” The sound of a kiss. “And I don’t want you to go to college just for me. But don’t you at least want to try to find out if there’s something else you want to do?”

It was an eternal mystery to Aone why, when your eighteenth birthday rolled around, his mother pushed ¥7500 into his hands with the order, buy your girlfriend something pretty for her birthday. He hadn’t thought his mother liked you that much.

But he knew just what he wanted to get you. He had been agonizing over how to acquire enough money to get you something significant for your birthday. Between school and volleyball, he hardly had time for a side job to make money, and he had never been in the habit of asking his parents for anything beyond the small allowance he got every week. He’d been saving that money up and the number of pork rolls he owed his teammates was getting alarming, but now he had enough to buy the thing he had had his eye on for over a month.

After dinner at a cheap café, he handed you a small box, wrapped in a pretty cloth with iridescent plum blossoms.

“The lady at the store wrapped it,” he said, already red with embarrassment and wishing there was some way he could train himself out of blushing. Electroshock therapy, anything.

“You got me a present?” You asked, delighted, pulling the ribbons apart instantly.

“Of course I did.” He scooted his chair closer, not wanting to miss a second of your reaction. He had bought you other small things before, of course; pens and cute pads of paper from the stationary store, manjū, all the usual things guys got their girlfriends. But this was the first Significant Gift.

“Oh,” you said, when you snapped the little velvet box open. Your eyes went from it to his face and back again, and you lifted out the necklace with its tiny jeweled butterfly, glittering gold and set with peridots, aquamarine, and a single tiny pink diamond that could only be observed if you squinted. “Oh, Taka-chan. Oh, it’s beautiful! I love it! How did you get something so nice, you must have been saving up for weeks!”

“Let me put it on you,” he said, and then wished he hadn’t when he saw the clasp. What the hell. Did only people with tiny fingers have to work these things? To cover his fumbling, he started explaining. “It made me think of you,” he said, growing redder as he fought with both the clasp and his explanation. He was glad your back was to him. “I always thought of you like a…well, you remind me of a butterfly. You know. Because you’re so small. And the kinds of clothes you wear. And the way you move. And I can’t get this thing, I’m sorry.”

“I will,” you said, and snagged it between your tiny fingers on the first try. You turned around to find him looking miserably at his huge, clumsy hands, and threw yourself into his arms in full view of the café.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, stroking your hair as if he had just revealed the deep, dark heart of everything that was wrong with him.

“If you think I care about how well you can work the clasp of a necklace, Aone Takanobu, you are a deeply silly man,” you said, leaning back to touch the butterfly. “This is the best present anyone has ever given me, and I love why you got it and I’m so glad you told me why and I am never ever taking it off. I love you.”

That last bit shocked even you; you turned as red as he was.

“I love you,” he said back, after a moment of awestruck silence. “[Name]-chan. I love you.”

Even standing, your head was only a few inches higher than his when he was seated, and he pulled you down for a kiss that felt like what the first one should have been. Your arms went around his neck and his wrapped around you and if anyone had asked him, he would have pointed to that moment as the time when he knew for sure that you were what he wanted. At twenty. At forty.

For the rest of his life.

* * *

“We know we’re young,” you explained to your gathered families on the night you graduated from high school. It was not the first time your family and Taka’s had met; you had planned a surprise party for Taka’s eighteenth birthday, and your parents had spoken many times since. Taka’s little sister had started wearing her hair like yours. Taka had barely been allowed to walk upright since your sister, now five, had discovered the joys of horsey rides on someone who had to duck to get through doorways.

Honestly, this should have surprised no one.

“We’re going to college together,” Taka rumbled, putting an arm around you. “That will come first.”

“But we want to be together for it,” you said, and shyly extended a hand. The small golden ring, which Taka had been saving up to buy for nine months, even taking odd jobs on the side, glittered. “Taka-chan asked me last night and I said yes.”

“[Name]-chan,” your mother whispered into the silence. “You’re both only eighteen.”

“There’s no one else for me, Oka-san,” you said, with a glance up at Taka-chan that expressed where the two of you stood more eloquently than anything you might say. You had thought about this, you had prepared a whole speech, and even warned Taka-chan to forcibly cover your mouth if you went on for longer than sixty seconds without a breath. But you found yourself, for once, at a complete loss for words. How could you even begin to explain how much you loved him?

“What’s the rush?” Taka’s mother asked, eying you. More specifically, your waist. “You’re going to the same university. Why can’t you wait until you’ve graduated and settled into your jobs?”

“We want to be together for it,” you said again. “Not in separate houses.”

“But you’ll be in school, you can’t afford to pay for rent while you’re not working,” she said. “Are you sure you’re telling us everything, Taka-chan?”

“Yes.” Taka hadn’t taken his eyes from you since the second you and your family had walked through the door of his house. He had been sure you would say yes when he asked you to marry him; if there had been a doubt in his mind, he probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do it. But it was one thing to think it and another thing to hear you cry, yes, yes, YES! and set off on a rambling soliloquy about how happy he made you. Right now, all he could do was look at you and smile beatifically, and it was the expression on his face that weakened his mother’s arguments.

Because, with all the force of reason on her side, the two of you had been proving for almost two years that this was no high school flirtation.

“They won’t have to pay rent,” Taka’s father said unexpectedly. “My brother Junichiro has an apartment above his garage he’s willing to let them use for a couple years.”

“The electricity and water wouldn’t cost more than the living expenses in a student dorm,” your father added, and both your mothers turned in utter shock to their husbands.

“You knew?” Your mother gasped.

“Yes. Taka-chan came to us and said he wanted to ask her and asked what we thought, and if there was any way we could help,” Taka’s father said, facing his rather formidable wife unflinching.

“Both of you?” Your mother added a little faintly.

“They’re only a year younger than we were when we got married,” your father pointed out.

“Yes, and we were poor, Hachiro!” your mother replied, exasperated. “For years!”

“We’re going to be poor students,” Taka said, startling everyone with the rumble of his voice. “We will be happier being poor together than being poor separately.”

“Sound familiar?” Your father said dryly, some private reference that you didn’t understand, but nonetheless made your mother turn pink.

“We are talking about two eighteen year-olds getting married!” Taka’s mother said, throwing her hands up. “Am I the only one who sees how ridiculous this is?”

* * *

Aone Takanobu married you at the Shiogama-Jinja shrine overlooking Matsushima bay, on a spring afternoon when the sakura were just beginning to bloom.

It had surprised you that he wanted a Shinto ceremony rather than the more popular Christian ritual, but apparently everyone in his family had always been married in the Shinto tradition, and, he explained, he wanted to see you in a kimono more than a white Western-style wedding gown. And though you did feel a pang at the loss of the voluminous satin dress of your dreams, the sight of Taka-chan in his kimono, in the open air of the beautiful shrine with the trees whispering overhead, more than made up for it.

He must have searched weeks to find a kimono big enough to fit him.

You met each other at the foot of the shrine steps, with Taka-chan red-faced and embarrassed in his kimono, a little ruffled from squeezing into the cab with his family. You could see wrinkles in his underrobe, a pale pine green with embroidered pine needles, and stood on tiptoe to smooth them, feeling breathless with excitement and a little unsteady on your feet.

“You are beautiful,” he said, his eyes filled with you. You were wearing a white bridal headdress and a white and red embroidered shiromuku kimono, the heavy layers of silk almost burying you. You had felt more like a mobile pile of laundry than a bride on her wedding day until you saw yourself reflected in his face.

“You look so handsome in your kimono, Taka-chan,” you breathed, stepping back to look at him properly. He was taller than ever, working his way toward 6’5 with no end in sight, and you thought the kimono suited his huge frame. “I can’t believe I’ve never seen you in one before. Every festival from now—oooh.”

You wobbled in your high slippers, cutting off the supply of nervous chatter.

“Though I guess that means I’d have to wear these shoes,” you added, kicking your kimono out from under them petulantly. As challenging as Taka-chan must have found it to locate a kimono large enough, you had had the opposite problem. “If I die on the way up these stairs, Taka-chan, know that I loved you deeply.”

He laughed and picked you up, making you yip in surprise and then cling to him, giggling.

“I’m not willing to risk it today,” he said, and carried you up the stairs like you were weightless.

The Shinto wedding ceremony was a quick one, and not legally significant; you and Taka were already married, having gone down to the local registrar’s office that morning and begun a new family registration sheet under Taka’s name. You were now Aone [Name], you told yourself, so happy you could scarcely stand still as the Shinto priest lifted the first cup of sake to Taka. The Shinto purification ritual consisted of three cups of sake drunk three times, with gradually larger cups; five sips for Taka and four for you, calling the attention of the kami to your marriage and asking for their blessing.

Then the two of you approached the alter where—of all people—Taka’s friend Kamasaki-san was standing, looking uncomfortable in his kimono and struggling to keep back laughter. He was taking the ceremonial role traditionally occupied by the wedding matchmaker, back when matchmaking had been a thing. Though Taka-kun absolutely refused to tell you why he thought Kamasaki-san was an appropriate choice, he assured you that his friend had been crucial to the early success of your relationship.

“Okay, Taka-chan,” you had said dubiously. You had thought Taka’s friend Futakuchi was closer, or at least they saw more of each other, but Taka would know better than you did.

Then Taka was clearing his throat awkwardly and fishing a piece of paper out of his kimono, his face reddening by degrees as he looked down at you. This was the part of the ceremony he had dreaded most: the groom’s speech to his new wife and his wife’s family. It had given him serious pause before he ultimately yielded to his mother’s wishes about the wedding; if the official Shinto rites had called for him to strip naked and perform a fan dance, that almost would have been easier.

“[Name]-chan,” he said, taking one of your hands awkwardly. His hand was very, very warm. “I never understood why you picked me. From that first day we met on the bus, you made it so easy to be with you. I couldn’t believe you wanted me to be your friend. I couldn’t believe you wanted to kiss me. Even today, I still can’t believe you agreed to marry me.”

From behind him, his mother made a squeaking noise.

“But I knew almost from the day I met you that you would be special to me, and I’m glad I did,” he went on. It was easier to say this when he just focused on you. Your eyes—those big, soft eyes that had reminded him of a doe’s gentle eyes on the day you kissed him—were shining with tears. “Because it meant I knew how lucky I was every step of the way. And I want to spend the rest of my life making you as happy as you’ve made me. Because I love you.”

“Taka-chan,” you whispered. His hand shook in yours and you squeezed it tight, longing to tell him all the things you felt for him, and how amazing he was. But there wasn’t a place in this ceremony for that. You had found it ironic, when Taka-chan explained that to you. As long as you had known each other, you had always been the one to do the talking.

“Oh, and thank you, Kamasaki-senpai, for all your excellent advice,” Taka added, lifting the paper to Kamasaki-san like a toast and clearing his throat gruffly. Even Kamasaki-san, who thought Aone’s wedding was the worst idea he’d ever heard—you aren’t even old enough for me to get you drunk at your own bachelor party! he had exclaimed—was looking a little misty.

“Taka-chan?” You whispered when he was done, and took the paper from him before he could crumple it up, tucking it into your obi. You wanted to kiss him, but you had to wait for the rest of the ceremony, the offerings to the kami, the presentation of Japanese evergreen to the alter, and finally, the rings. They were barely gold, whatever the lowest quality of gold was, but that didn’t matter. Taka slid the smaller ring onto your slender finger, and then you lifted the heavy ring to place it on his big one, this simple gesture making you feel more married than any family registration paper in any registrar’s office in the world.

The priest gave his final blessing, and you couldn’t hold it back any longer.

“I love you too, Taka!” You cried, and leapt into his arms to kiss him, which was absolutely not part of the ceremony. Only a quick grab from him saved you from disaster. You were not wearing leaping clothing. His head pushed your headdress askew and he had to pick you up to kiss you properly, but you didn’t care. You had a thousand words to say, and you whispered them all to him between kisses, in the shade of ancient cypress trees.

Chapter Text

The best part of your kimonos turned out to be taking them off.

It had taken an effort of sheer will to resist changing for the reception; you were carrying around forty pounds of fabric, and you kept feeling like you were going to slide off chairs. But everyone had, one way or the other, acquired a kimono, even Taka’s friends from the volleyball team and your friends from school and yearbook committee, and it gave a feeling of glamour to your otherwise very small and very inexpensive reception dinner. The pictures of Taka’s friends in kimono, mugging for the camera, made it worthwhile all on their own.

For your wedding night you went to a small onsen twenty miles away, and you teetered through the hallways after the manager in your too-tall heels, with Taka-chan hauling your borrowed suitcase and the protective coverings for your kimonos. Both of you were exhausted from the long day, but he thought he had enough energy to do his duty by you. And from the coy little looks you kept giving him, you probably had the same thing in mind.

“Are you here on vacation?” Manager-san asked, kneeling to slide open the door to your room.

“No,” Taka said, startling her with his deep voice. To this point you had done all the talking. “We just got married.”

He had already told that to the cab driver, the bellhop, and the gardeners he’d seen packing up for the day at the onsen entrance.

“Oh, how wonderful!” she cried, clapping her hands. “We’ve already served dinner, but I’ll see if we can’t send something special up for you, ne? And we also have this to go on your door if you…would like to delay the housekeepers,” she added, lifting the Do Not Disturb placard on the doorknob.

“Thank you,” Taka said gravely, while you hid your face behind your voluminous kimono sleeve to hide your giggling.

And then the door closed behind her, and you were alone in your room together, husband and wife.

“Please take this off me, Taka-chan,” you begged, holding out your arms.

“I will.” He crossed the room in a stride and a half, turning you around to examine your obi carefully. “I don’t want to damage it, we’ll have to pay.”

“It has strings around the back,” you said, turning your head as if you could see them, then tugging at your hat impatiently. “I want this off, too. It’s pinned in. I haven’t been able to see more than the lower third of your face all day. You were smiling a lot but I’d like to see your eyes now, Taka-chan, please.” You gave it another tug.

“No, don’t mess up your hair,” he said, and carefully tugged the pins free, lifting the silk hat from your head. “There. Be patient, wife-chan.”

He had been calling you that all day and it made you glow. You held still while he figured out your obi, your outer robe, your inner robe, the wraps inside your inner robe, all of which had made you feel like some species of nesting doll when the dresser had come to put it on you this morning. But as Taka slowly worked on your obi strings, you found your eyes unexpectedly filling, looking up at this giant who was now your husband, working so patiently to undress you.

This was why he had wanted you in a kimono. By now he knew every inch of you. He had undressed you a hundred times, pulling off your clothing in a varying degrees of impatience. Tonight he had to undress you one layer by layer, carefully so he didn’t damage the expensive fabric, watching you emerge from the silk a few precious inches at a time.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered, his thumb tracing the v of exposed skin at the collar of your kimono, a slow dip from your throat. For once he didn’t get flustered or embarrassed as he worked out how to take your clothes off, and you were very nearly hypnotized by him as he looked into your eyes, and kissed you, and peeled away another layer of clothing. He had never been so aware of the smooth softness of your skin, scented like you had feasted on flowers before you came to him. And when he was done, and you stood naked in a pile of silk, he had to blink hard to keep from embarrassing himself on his wedding night.

“Now you,” you said. You weren’t laughing now. It was really hitting you, that you had married this man, that you would be together the rest of your lives.

He had to drop to his knees for you to undress him. He was wearing a simple black outer kimono with that silver-green pine underrobe, and it made his hazel eyes look green as pine needles. The opening at his neck was deeper, exposing his powerful chest, and you loved how it looked on him. You loved the breadth of his shoulders, his big hands at his sides. You knew he thought he was big and clumsy and awkward, but it occurred to you, as you unwound the obi from his waist, that this slow undressing might be your chance to show him otherwise.

“Taka-chan,” you whispered, and kissed him. He was almost a foot and a half taller than you and even kneeling, he was looking down at you, blind to anything but you. “You don’t even know how handsome you are.”

You could see him reject that almost instantly. But you kissed him again, your butterfly-soft lips against his, kissing every part of his lips. You traced his shape with kisses, the stern, uncompromising lines that you knew so well. You knew every mood and twist and quirk of his mouth, you kissed the upper arches and the long line of his lower lip, straight all the way across the bottom, like an apprentice carver had been entrusted with the task and went only for the simplest angles. You loved his lips.

“I love these,” you whispered, tracing the lines of his light eyebrows, your fingers brushing away the frown lines between them, kissing them away.

You loved his eyes, kissing the closed lids. His eyelashes were pale, but up close, so thick, curling like a girl’s. He had beautiful eyes, but no one ever saw them up close because he was so tall. You brushed his lashes lightly with the knuckle of your thumb, to show him that you had seen them and loved them, too.

You loved his face. His jaw was stubbled after the long day and you followed the lines of his jaw with your fingers all to his square chin. You kissed the ridge of his jaw. You pressed your soft cheek against his stubbly one to feel it rasp your skin. You kissed the bridge of his nose, traced it with a fingertip. So many straight lines. So many right angles. You kissed his lips again and when you opened your eyes he was looking at you, his face inches from yours, his lips slightly parted, his eyes wide.

“Do you believe how beautiful you are to me?” you whispered, and you loved him so much your throat was tight.

“Yes,” he said hoarsely. His arms went around your waist, swallowing you in the silk of his silver-green kimono, and his lips found yours with a passion that made you melt against him. You barely noticed when he lifted you and carried you out of the piles of silk to the futon in the adjoining room. His foot hit the end of the bed and he bent to lay you down without ever breaking the kiss, his kimono falling open at last to enclose the two of you in its shimmering folds.

“I love you,” he said, kissing your breasts, kissing your belly, kissing every part of you with bruising intensity. So beautiful. So delicate. And all of it was his now, for the rest of his life. What had he done to deserve it? “I love you.”

He said it again and again as he kissed you and stroked you and brought you to your first climax, and again when he sheathed himself inside you. He said it when he came, and when you lay together afterward; he said it when you moved on top of him in the dark and got him hard and rode him until you both came again. You slept on his chest with his heart beating steadily under your ear, the silver-green pine needle kimono covering your both, and woke up to feel him hard and urgent between your legs, squeezing into you with his head thrown back and his body shuddering with desire.

Congratulatory gifts piled up outside the doorway and anyone passing by at the right time might have heard muffled cries issuing from inside as the night passed, and the morning wore away. Meal trays arrived and were taken away untouched. The housekeeping staff wandered by, exchanging amused glances at the unmoving Do Not Disturb sign, and eventually gave up for the day.

And all of it formed an ever-evolving banner, invisibly laid over your door, that read, Just Married.

* * *

Uncle Junichiro’s apartment was adorable. And tiny. An adorable five hundred square feet with no closets whatsoever.

You moved in together a week after you were married, with a Taka’s specially-ordered bed and mattress from home, and the finest china, appliances, and furniture the thrift shop could offer. Taka-chan was almost heartlessly frugal, and the small amount of money you had received as wedding gifts was the one place where he would not be budged.

“You can either have the flowered dishes or the pretty cups,” he told you at the thrift store, his arms crossed over his chest.

“But the cups match the dishes,” you said, showing him again. “It’s a set. Please, Taka-chan, I want our first house to look nice.”

“We agreed to spend ¥5000 on dishes. Not one yen more,” said the Iron Wall.

Your first shopping trip ended with you sulking on the train beside him all the way home, which badly hurt his feelings, though not so badly that he was prepared to give you your way. You had planned together how you would spend your wedding money. It wasn’t fair that you were making him feel bad for trying to stick to it.

“I’ll put the cabinet together if you want to put away the dishes,” he said when you walked into your apartment, and set to assembling the wardrobe with its many shelves and drawers in a silence so deep, it was almost an aggression.

After you had washed every dish and wiped down the kitchen until it was as clean as it could possibly get—the fish grill had stains that were just going to be there forever, archaeologists would discover them and marvel in a few centuries—you didn’t know what to do with yourself. Underneath your longing for a matching set of dishes, you were beginning to wonder if they were really worth this. And you remembered one of the many pieces of advice your mother had given you, before you got married.

“If you try to win every argument, both of you will lose,” she said, in her idiosyncratically Zen way. Your mother had a habit of condensing her wisdom into things that could be embroidered onto pillows, which sometimes obscured the lesson she was trying to teach. But before you could ask, she added, “That means don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong, [Name]-chan. And if he’s wrong, forgive him. You’ll both be happier for it.”

You struggled with yourself for another half an hour, unpacking more of the boxes that lined the entire living room wall, and watching him work steadily to assemble the cabinet, which really could have used a second pair of hands. He wasn’t asking you for help, though.

“Taka-chan?” You said at last, coming to stand in front of him with your fingers twisted nervously together.

“Mmm?” He glanced up at you. You had forgotten how forbidding he could look.

“I’m sorry,” you said, and sat down beside him. “We did say we would only spend ¥5000.”

He forgave you so quickly, it made you feel even worse. He had been sitting cross-legged on the floor while he assembled an endless series of small drawers, and he promptly replaced the drawer in his lap with you.

“I want you to have the things you want,” he said, stroking your hair. “I’m sorry we can’t afford them now. I promise we will one day.”

“I know. I had just been planning—I had this image of what I wanted this place to look like,” you said, plucking at his t-shirt. “For us. I didn’t think everything would cost so much.”

“Neither did I,” he admitted. “It’s going to be hard. We said we wanted to be poor together.”

“I don’t care if we’re always poor if I’m with you,” you said softly, and he bent his head to kiss you.

Your first shopping trip really ended with sex on the floor next to a partially assembled IKEA cabinet.

And the next morning, you woke up to find the bed empty, and a text on your phone from Taka, who said he had run out for coffee since you hadn’t yet found your coffee machine in the pile of boxes, and who returned after a suspiciously long time with a box of pretty flowered cups from the thrift store.

“We’ll have two thousand less yen for the bathroom stuff,” he warned you, and barely had time to set them down on the floor before you tackled him with a squeal of joy.

It wasn’t a precedent he wanted to set, he said to you later in bed. He didn’t care about how things looked, especially; he just wanted things to eat and drink out of, and a shower curtain to keep the water in the shower. But if you were willing to wait, and watch for sales, and figure out what you both needed right now versus things that you could wait for, then maybe…

“Yes,” you agreed instantly, your eyes shining. “I know I won’t get everything I want, Taka-chan, but…I want to make you feel happy when you come home. I want us to like being here. That’s important to me.”

In the end, though, you learned that the most important thing in your apartment was Taka himself.

The following weeks were idyllic. You shopped for the necessities and gradually unpacked. You cooked together. You studied together at your tiny kitchen table. You learned to keep all the surfaces cleared, and anything fragile that you wanted to keep intact went into the small display case beside your bed, because bulls in china shops had nothing on Aone Takanobu.

He wasn’t actually a clumsy man. But living with him, you could see why he’d developed a complex over the years. He was always bumping into things. He hit his head in doorways so often that you seriously feared long-term brain injury. He hit his head on the low ceiling over the bathtub. He knocked his shins against the end of the bed frame. There just wasn’t enough room for a man his size in your apartment, and it was cold comfort to acknowledge that it would’ve been the same no matter where he lived.

It was something you gently teased him about at first, until the night that he turned around in your tiny kitchen—roughly four feet square—and knocked the entire drying rack of freshly washed, flower-patterned, matching dishes onto the floor. The ringing crash sounded like the clap of Judgment Day.

He looked at the dishes, then looked at you with such resigned misery that you flew over to him instantly.

“They’re just dishes, Taka-chan,” you said, tugging at him until he bent down reluctantly to kiss you. In his opinion, he didn’t deserve a kiss. “It’s not your fault. This place just isn’t big enough for you.”

“It doesn’t matter. We can’t afford to replace them,” he said, disentangling himself from your arms and picking up the shattered dishes. Only two of the plates had survived, and three cups were broken. He threw out the big pieces of china, then turned—carefully—to pull out the broom and dustpan from the cupboard. Watching him try to crouch down between the cabinets, angling his huge shoulders so he didn’t push open the refrigerator door or knock over the trash can or rip off any cabinet handles, you felt a moment of almost nauseating vertigo as you imagined yourself in his place, moving in such tight spaces that he lived in a constant hunched, claustrophobic terror.

And they were just dishes.

You went on a quiet campaign to make your home comfortable for him. Your display cabinet, with its glass panes and shelves filled with breakable things that had secretly given him nightmares, went back to your parents’ house one week later. The dish rack went in the corner of the counter, shielded by the refrigerator, and all the small appliances moved on top of the cabinets when they weren’t in use. You would just have to climb up on a chair to retrieve them when you wanted them.

And you never argued again when he asked for cheap dishes and glasses.

Your tiny apartment was fresh and airy and green when you were done—reflecting the shrine where you had gotten married, though you yourself were unaware of the inspiration—but it had also taken on something of Taka’s ascetic, functional nature, with rounded edges on most of the furniture, since bumping into things was inevitable in such a small space. The side tables were tall so he wouldn’t accidentally step on them in the dark, which had happened to his mother’s coffee table, and the lamps all had heavy, sturdy bases, difficult to knock over.

You had also Taka-proofed the bathroom with cheap plastic organizers, which could be stacked out of the way instead of littering the tiny counter with all your brushes and bottles. You had a weakness for vases, the more ornate and gilded and antique the better, but you packed away your collection without a second thought. You loved pretty things, you had dreamed of the home you would make for him—not overwhelmingly feminine, but with a few tasteful touches here and there—but you were making a home for both of you. You never wanted to see that look on Taka-chan’s face again.

It took a couple weeks before Taka caught on to what you were doing.

You always wondered why he suddenly took you to bed in the middle of homework one Sunday afternoon, like a bolt from the clear blue sky, and kept you there until you actually begged him to stop making you come.

* * *

There were adjustments on both sides. Every night Aone Takanobu fell asleep with you in his arms, the most perfect wife anyone could ask for, and woke up next to a wife whose hair became some sort of uncontrollable mutant mass of curls overnight, who snored in the way he imagined bluebirds snored—in almost inaudible little whistles, the most adorable thing he’d ever heard except when they kept him awake—and who stumbled around in the morning like a tiny, delicate zombie until he caught her and poured a cup of coffee down her throat.

You had so many odd habits and quirks that he had never suspected.

The one that most infuriated him was your cosmetics.

Now, he was inordinately proud of his pretty wife, and he knew—now—that you didn’t wake up that way. He knew it took makeup and scented shampoo and conditioner and body wash, manicure kits and salon visits and enough odd implements, some of which looked like instruments of torture, others bizarrely gynecological, to fill several small plastic cases.

He had a mother. He had a sister. He knew such things existed. But until now they had been, at most, clutter to be knocked over. Now it was clutter that he was expected to somehow pay for. And you proved shockingly resistant to logic on the subject.

“But this one is cheaper,” he said, holding up a small bottle of what he had learned was foundation. He couldn’t tell the difference when you were wearing it, which you maddeningly said was the point.

“It will make my skin break out,” you said, taking it from his hands and gently but firmly replacing it on the shelf. “Taka-chan, I have been wearing this for years. I know what works on my face.”

“But it’s expensive.”

“No, Taka-chan, it really isn’t,” you said, and steered him out of the makeup section before he could question any more of your brand preferences.

But it came up again when you needed a new tube of mascara, and again when you needed new bottles of shampoo and conditioner. You had agreed when you got married that you would pool your money, which meant you both had to consult each other for every purchase; you got a typical student living allowance from your parents, and your fathers took it in turns to cover your electric and internet bills.

Taka, who was determined to stretch every yen until it squealed, had very different priorities.

“That kind of shampoo will make my hair oily, Taka-san,” you said, taking your brand of shampoo and conditioner off the shelf and shoving it into your shopping basket. Calling him Taka-san was a clear sign that he was upsetting you.

He didn’t understand why.

“They both say for curly hair on the front, though,” he said, striding after you. “[Name]-chan!” You could move fast when you wanted to, without appearing to run, and he was a little annoyed when he caught up with you, catching hold of the handle of the shopping basket to make you stop. “Those cost five hundred yen more. Each. Once a month. That’s twelve thousand yen a year.”

“It’s what I’ve always gotten,” you said, refusing to meet his eyes. And then you spoke the forbidden words. “It’s my money.”

“Then have we been buying our coffee with my money?” He retorted, feeling his face get hot. He was slow to lose his temper, but you were getting him there. You were coloring, too, two hard spots of bright pink on your cheekbones.

“Let’s talk about this when we get home,” you said quietly, glancing around at nearby shoppers, who were trying not to stare.

“After we buy your shampoo?”

“Are you going to take the money away from me?” You asked, clutching your purse like you were prepared to fight him for it. Over shampoo. This was the stupidest fight he had ever had.

“Buy what you want. I’ll see you at home,” he snapped, and strode away, so furious that people scattered out of his way like he was Godzilla sweeping downtown Tokyo.

He was still mad when he got home, but the worst of the heat had died and now he was starting to analyze things. He thumped down in his armchair and opened his laptop. This was not the first fight the two of you had had over money, but it was the first where reason apparently didn’t even enter into the discussion. His lips pressed so tight together they nearly vanished, Taka opened a file named Budget.

Whenever he was uncertain, whenever he was troubled and disordered and the world seemed chaotic and incomprehensible, Aone Takanobu made spreadsheets. He went into the bathroom and wrote down the name of all the products you used, then tried to estimate how often they had to be replaced. He’d seen you use them often enough to make a rough stab at it, anyway. Then he looked them up on Amazon, calculated how many of them you would go through in a year, and…

Holy shit. That much?

No. No. He was right about this. When you got home, he would explain it to you. The numbers were firmly on his side.

But when you walked in the door, he could tell with one look that you weren’t going to be interested in looking at his spreadsheets. He had thought—well, he had hoped—that this would be a repetition of the fight at the thrift store, where you would come and apologize and he would forgive you and then you would have sex on the floor. Or in his chair. He would have been good either way.

You were clearly not in a mood for make up sex. You put your dearly-bought shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom, stuffed the bag in a cupboard for reuse later, and came to stand in front of him, a tiny, pink-cheeked fury.

“I have never been so embarrassed,” you said, your voice quivering. “I shouldn’t have to fight for things like shampoo and conditioner, Taka-san. It’s humiliating. I won’t be one of those women who has to beg her husband for money.”

“We can’t afford it!” He said, spinning his laptop around on the arm of his chair and jabbing a finger the total, which was bolded, red, and in a 24-point font, as a way to vent his feelings. “Look how much it all costs! I understand you need some of it, but you won’t even consider getting the cheaper stuff—”

“Then I’ll get a job,” you said resolutely, without even looking at the spreadsheet.

“No. If anyone’s getting a job it should be me.”

“When?!” You threw up your hands. “You have volleyball, and school, and homework.”

“You’re not working to support us,” he said stubbornly. You had floated this idea before, and the bare thought of you working when he wasn’t made him cringe. “You’ll just have to economize, wife-chan. Look, it won’t be that bad. Do you really need to get a haircut every other month? Couldn’t you wait an extra month or two?”

“Or I could just cut it all off.” There was no sign in your face that you were anything other than deadly serious. “I could shave it. Then I wouldn’t need to wash it, either. How would that be, Taka-san?”

“I’m not asking you to do that,” he said, frustrated.

“No, you’re just asking me to have oily hair with split ends and a pimply face!” You burst out, and fled into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind you. Aside from the garage, it was the only alternate room in the apartment. Through the thin walls, he could hear you sobbing.

He turned on the television. And turned the volume up.

It was the worst day he had ever had with you. He wanted to go in and comfort you. He wanted you to come out and curl up in his lap and cry on his chest, like you had when your cat Nagi died. But the spreadsheet was still open on his laptop, and every time he glanced at it, he turned resolutely turned back to the TV, though he didn’t have the foggiest idea what was on.

Half an hour later, you came out of the bathroom, your face averted, and sat down at the kitchen table to do study without even acknowledging his presence. By then, he had moved beyond anger. Why was this so important to you, that you were willing to go to the mat over shampoo? He had never known you to be so unreasonable. Until now you had talked together about everything, even some things that he would have died before discussing with anyone else.

And on that thought, he got up and went to you, dropping down to one knee beside you so he could see you properly. You looked at him silently, red-eyed.

“I don’t understand why this is so important to you,” he said, brushing a curl tenderly out of your face. “Come and talk to me about it.”

If you hadn’t been poor, this conversation would never have occurred. He listened patiently while you explained what you used, and why you used it, and why you used the particular type of thing that you used. And it might be petty, and vain, but you liked the way you looked. You liked making yourself look that way for him. He always asked if you were feeling well when you didn’t wear makeup. And you weren’t being wasteful or extravagant, you insisted. You bought your makeup at the grocery store.

“You keep saying that. I don’t understand what that means,” he said. He wasn’t trying to be funny. He genuinely had no idea.

“Let me get your laptop,” you said, sliding out of his lap.

He still didn’t really understand when you were done explaining, though he did at least believe that there were far, far more expensive beauty products in the world than the ones you used. It made no logical sense. But he did understand that this was an argument where logic wasn’t going to win the day. This was about pride, and it was about your vanity, and while the Buddha might have lifted a hand and declared that such earthly things were a hindrance on the path to enlightenment, a fair amount of your pride was bound up in looking a certain way. And he liked the way you looked, too. He loved the way your hair smelled.

And as a final stroke, you directed his attention to the reviews of the products he wanted you to buy, which he had not taken into consideration.

“But we can’t afford it,” he said again. Musing, this time. His eyes strayed to his spreadsheet, and he clicked back to Budget. He didn’t really need to see it. It wasn’t a matter of asking you to make a compromise or two. Neither of you had thought to include items like this into your budget, expenses that occurred every two or four or six months. There just wasn’t money for this. If you juggled things around and spent the tiny amount of emergency money you had set aside and bought the shampoo that one reviewer claimed made her hair feel like greasy steel wool, then maybe you could have squeaked by, but…

“Taka-chan,” you said, the top of your head nudging under his chin, the fragrance of your soft hair rising. “I have to get a job. There’s no other way.”

The thought of you working while he played volleyball, even if it was with the intention of playing professionally, made him recoil inside. He was supposed to provide for you. It would be humiliating to admit that his wife was working when he wasn’t. He would feel like he was failing not just as your husband, but as a man. But…wait.

Wasn’t that exactly what you were telling him? Right or wrong, feeling beautiful and sexy was the reason why your makeup and things meant so much to you. And he—well, he had to admit that regarding a job, he wasn’t being any more logical than you had been.

This was what it came down to. Your pride, or his.

“All right,” he agreed finally. “All right, all right. But nothing that interferes with school, okay? We agreed that came first.”

“I know.” You turned to kiss him, clinging to him for an extra few seconds in sheer relief. His arms tightened around you so hard that you gave a little gasp when he let you up. “I’ll try to find something I can do while you’re at practice.”

“It would be good if we could put a little more away every month, just in case,” he admitted, his mind already working through several levels of plans. “Oh, and I wanted to show you something.” He turned you around in his lap, keeping one arm affectionately around you as he typed one-handed. “Don’t get mad, okay? I was looking at your nail files and the disposable ones you get are ¥200, but you have to replace them every four or six months. But look. These ones are only ¥800 and they are supposed to last a lifetime. And they have really good reviews. They would pay for themselves in eighteen months.”

He looked at you, a little breathless from the rare spate of consecutive words; Taka-chan hardly ever said so much all at once. But this was about saving money.

“Yes, Taka-chan,” you agreed finally, stifling the giggles that were trying to escape. “I am not emotionally attached to my nail files.”

You watched with amusement as he meticulously added the nail files to one of his many Amazon shopping lists, no doubt already dreaming of the day when your current supply of wasteful, uneconomical nail files ran out and he could buy the last set you would ever need.

Then he took you to bed.

Chapter Text

The first month of college was an abject failure, academically. You spent whole days in bed, blew off classes, and Taka barely made it to volleyball practice for the university team. There was absolutely nothing to get in the way of having all the sex you wanted, aside from chafing and refractory periods. You were so loud Uncle Junichiro complained, and set quiet hours from seven to nine thirty in the morning and six to eight o’clock at night, when he wanted to access his car without hearing cries of passion overhead.

But after a severe talking-to by your professors, you settled into a more normal rhythm, riding the train to school together in the morning, separating for your classes, and then you would work for a few hours in the university’s coffee shop until Taka was finished with volleyball practice.

You actually seemed to enjoy the work, even when it was busy and there was a line out the door. You loved learning how to make the different coffee drinks, you loved the smell of coffee and caramel and chocolate, and you loved setting out all the various toppings in their various jars, neat and tidy and ready for sprinkling.

You liked people.

It was incomprehensible to Taka, but it made him proud to watch you working behind the counter, perky and bubbling, with a bright smile and often a little bit of personal conversation with almost everyone that passed by. He didn’t know how you could remember their names, let alone what class they were in or if they had just gotten a new job. But it would take a special sort of bastard to look at you and not smile, he thought complacently, watching your curly head bob back and forth behind the counter.

On the nights you closed the shop, he would come and pick you up, but other nights you came to wait for him at the gym, taking a seat in the bleachers to watch him practice. You loved watching him play. On the court he could use all his speed and speed without worrying about hurting anyone or breaking anything, and you loved to see him shouting, slamming the ball down, roaring in triumph, aggressive and excellent and loving every second of what he was doing.

It was a little embarrassing to admit even to yourself, but some days, when he came over to you after practice, sweaty and grinning with exhilaration and with what looked like every last muscle ripped and chiseled with exertion…well. Home—and your bed—seemed an awfully long way away.

But there seemed to be a real chance that Taka might get to keep playing, too. He had blown by 6’5 that summer, and it looked like he would make at least an incredible 6’6, perhaps even taller. He was one of the tallest university players in Japan, with few rivals even in the professional league, but that wasn’t all. After years of going to his matches and watching him play, you knew that he was incredibly fast for a man his size, with a reaction time that bordered on spooky.

And he worked. He was up and running every morning before you woke up, and he was always trying to learn something new. Taka had made his name with his blocking, but he had been working so hard on his spikes that you thought gleefully he would give even Ushijima Wakatoshi, who was on the team at the rival Keio University, a run for his money.

“They’re going to call you the Iron Wall all by yourself, Taka-chan!” You called to him at the end of one practice, all but hugging yourself with pride. He lifted you down from the bleachers and you kissed him before he could escape, which even after nearly eight months of marriage still made his ears turn red.

“They already call him that,” Ennoshita-kun said, rubbing his sweaty face with a towel. Taka said he had been the team captain at Karasuno, a high school team that had given Dateko some trouble, once upon a time. He smiled down at you, a mild, level-headed young man who was a quiet terror on the back line of the court. “It’s nice to be on the other side of it for a change.”

“Defense in depth,” Yaku Morisuke said, an in-joke that made them all laugh. Taka’s college friends were much quieter than his high school friends, but at least Yaku and Ennoshita-kun had never poured Taka through your front door at two in the morning and expected you to somehow manhandle your delightfully drunken and handsy husband into bed.

“Are you coming over tonight, Yaku-kun, Ennoshita-kun?” You asked, standing still while Taka lifted your heavy school bag onto your back, staggering a little under the weight. You resolutely refused to let him carry it for you.

“Hai, though I’m going to stop by the showers first, Aone-chan.” Yaku-kun gave you the slightest bow, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth. “Try to avoid subjecting everyone to my post-practice manly sweat.”

“Everything about you is manly, Yaku,” Ennoshita remarked dryly. “I’m going to do the same, and I’ll grab some beer. Do you need me to pick up anything else on the way, Aone-chan?”

Ennoshita-kun, you frequently told Taka, was going to make some girl a wonderful husband.

“No, no, just yourselves,” you said, with an attempt at a happy bounce, hampered by your bag. “I’ll make curry, Yakkun! Oh, and here, Taka-chan.”

“Thanks, wife-chan,” Taka said, taking his wedding ring from you and slipping it back on his finger. You kept it for him during practices; he couldn’t wear it while he played, in case it made the ball rebound oddly, and he liked it best when you held it. He never told you, but every time you gave it back to him, it reminded him of your wedding day.

He had been calling you that so much that you teased that he was going to forget your real name, but he was so happy and proud to say it you couldn’t really be protest. It had taken some adjustment from your friends, your classmates, and your teachers at first; the normal course of things was university, then career, then marriage. Most of Taka’s friends in particular had been skeptical, especially with away games and noisy drunken parties on the horizon, but Taka—perhaps channeling Kamasaki-san for a moment—had said bluntly that if they thought it was fun getting in bed with a girl, wait ’til they were with one long enough to learn what both of you liked.

Your teachers in particular weren’t quite sure what to make of Mrs. Aone-san. Some of them were old enough that they felt compelled to address their comments to your husband, rather than to you, which would have been the tradition about sixty years ago.

“Yagira-sensei says that you could be doing better in biology, but you’re not applying yourself,” Taka said on the train ride home, turning his cell phone to show you the email message. Ancient Yagira-sensei had assigned an endless project over summer vacation that involved drawing and diagramming the inner workings of cells, and you hated to draw. “Why aren’t you applying yourself, wife-chan? And why is your sensei emailing me about it?”

“Let’s message him back,” you said, taking his phone and typing away at it while Taka-chan watched over your shoulder. “I’m…sorry…sensei…she was busy…all summer break…riding me like a giant pony…”

“No!” Taka-chan gasped, snatching his phone back, red all the way to his hairline. He lowered his head and his voice. “Is that really why you didn’t do a good job on your assignment?”

“No, silly husband, I just hate drawing,” you said, and kissed him. He worried about the oddest things.

Both of you took it in turns to have your friends over, sometimes hosting small parties if you pooled your miniscule weekly allowance. Taka usually used his entertainment money to buy food and beer for his friends. He did his best to be welcoming to your friends, but—and it was probably your fault—they regarded him as the most remarkable man alive, singular among his species, and observed him with almost scientific rigor.

Taka, already shy with girls, could only take that for so long before he announced he was going out for a run.

“You two did such a nice job on this place,” Ennoshita said as he took his shoes off at the front door, looking around your tiny apartment appreciatively. “Here’s some sake for you, Aone-chan. Tak-kun, catch.”

“Thanks.” Taka caught the beer one-handed and popped the top, taking a long drink and following it up with a slice of red pepper. He was slicing up the peppers and onions at the kitchen table and so far as you could tell, Taka-chan had neither taste buds nor any sensors to detect the temperature or spiciness of the food he ate. He ate like he was filling in a pothole.

“Oh, thank you, Ennoshita-kun!” You tipped a little of the rice wine into the beef you were browning and put the rest aside for later. Curry was about the only thing you could cook with any artistry, and it was tricky over a hot plate. So you missed whatever they were talking about—volleyball, probably—until you heard Taka’s exclamation.

“No. They were there Sunday?”

“That’s what sensei said.” Ennoshita took another sip of beer, and glanced over at you. “Scouts,” he explained. “From Osaka.”

“Watching your game, Ennoshita-kun?” You breathed, the chopsticks falling from your fingers into the pan.

“Well I don’t know if they were watching my game or the Iron Wall’s,” he said, with a jerk of his head toward Taka-chan. “But we have some pretty amazing players on our team.”

“Including you, Ennoshita-kun,” you chided gently, plucking the chopsticks back out. One thing you didn’t like about Ennoshita-kun was his tendency to minimize his own contributions. But you couldn’t help looking over at Taka-chan, wondering, and seeing the same wild hope in his eyes that you felt beating in your heart.

* * *

One Saturday afternoon, halfway through your last year of university, Aone came home from volleyball practice to find a burned dinner in the sink, your school bag lying in the middle of floor with half your notebooks scattered between it and the kitchen, and the door to your microscopic balcony open. Uncle Junichiro had added the balcony while you were both visiting your families during Golden Week the previous spring.

“Wife-chan?” He felt a thrill of fear and strode across the room, poking his head out the balcony door to find you sitting at the tiny wrought-iron table, pale and staring. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m pregnant,” you said, without warning or preamble. You looked up at him, your eyes enormous. “I just went to the doctor. I didn’t even think—how did I not think of that? But I am. Taka. I’m pregnant. Four weeks.”

“Oh,” he said faintly, and hung his head over the side of the balcony.

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of it,” You said again, looking down at your flat stomach as if you could already see it swelling. You were wearing a peach sundress that day, the color making your creamy skin glow, and he found himself wondering if that was just you or if it was the baby. They said babies made women glow, how long did it take for that to happen, exactly? “I was just feeling tired, and…I hadn’t even…I haven’t even been late yet. We can’t have a baby. We can’t have a baby here. We’re so close to graduating, why couldn’t you have waited, baby?” Now you addressed your stomach, framing it with your fingers in a way that made him actually, physically dizzy.

“It’ll be Osaka, then,” he said, pushing himself up off the balcony railing and trying to sound confident. “I’ve had two offers from Osaka. The Tigers and the Kings.”

“Will it be…enough?” You asked hesitantly. There were only ten professional-league teams in Japan, and it wasn’t like baseball. Volleyball was not a very profitable sport.

“It won’t be a lot,” he admitted. “But there’s two teams there that want me, so…” He shrugged one massive shoulder, allowing himself a small smile. “They’re going to have to outbid each other.”

You had been talking for weeks about which team would be best. There had been other offers from teams located elsewhere in Japan, but the biggest teams, the most lucrative teams, were all located in and around Osaka. And Aone Takanobu, who had finally topped out last summer at six foot six and three-quarter inches, would be the most formidable blocker in Japan.

“And you can still finish school,” he added, picking you up out of your chair to put you in his lap instead. It was the most comfortable way to sit together on the tiny balcony, and he badly wanted to hold you just then. “We both can. It’s only five months away, you’ll be six months pregnant then, your professors will just have to deal.” Now he was rambling. It felt like his mind was going a mile a minute. He felt the urge to start making lists. “That will give us two months to find a place and move and we need to tell our parents and you need to quit the coffee shop, you can’t be on your feet so much, you need to go easy with the…the baby.”

Saying the words abruptly terrified him. He looked down at you in his lap, your toes dangling above the balcony floor, ninety pounds soaking wet, five feet tall if you stretched the truth. Having a baby. Having his baby.

“You’ll be okay, having a baby?” He asked. Suddenly he couldn’t seem to get enough air, and he felt like a massive weight had thumped down squarely on his chest. “Did the doctor say you’d be all right? Did you ask?”

“Taka-chan,” you began patiently, but he shook his head, his eyes narrowed, snapping in a way he had never, ever done to you before.

“Did. You. Ask?!”

“No! I will! I promise!” You said, alarmed.

“Right now.” He pulled you against him and tugged out his cell phone, and with your head pressed against his chest, you were astonished at how fast his heart was beating. You caught his hand and looked up at him, squeezing it.

“Okay, okay,” you said soothingly. “Look, I’m dialing. I’m young, I’m healthy. It will be fine.”

“You’re not having a baby, you’re having my baby, it’s probably already the size of a cantaloupe.” He said, reaching around you and hitting the speakerphone button on the phone. You waited for a nurse to pick up, and then waited for the doctor, since Taka wouldn’t accept the word of anyone else.

“Sensei, it’s Aone [Name],” you said, wincing as Taka’s hand all but crushed yours in his sweaty grip. “Ouch, Taka, please. I’m here with my husband. He’s just worried that I will be—okay having the baby. He’s worried that—”

“She’s not too small to have a baby?” Taka cut in. “I weighed eleven or twelve pounds or something. My mother had to have a c-section.”

“She’ll be fine, Aone-san.” Miyazaki-sama said, after a pause. You had seen him a few times before that afternoon, an older man of at least sixty, gray and reliable and patient as a stone. “She’ll be monitored carefully. Did she tell you that she will have a prenatal appointment every month?”

“No.” Taka’s arm slid around you, pulling you back against his chest protectively. “Is that often enough?”

“Yes,” Miyazaki-sama said. “I referred her to the best obstetrician in the city, Aone-san. If there is the slightest sign that she’s having any difficulty, we’ll take care of it. Just make sure she eats healthy foods. Japanese foods, grown in Japan, ne? She should gain twenty pounds or so. I’ve given her vitamins and you should take walks together every night if you can. No strenuous athletic activity.”

“Okay.” Taka-chan looked like he was engraving every word on the inside of his eyelids. You seized the phone before either of them could hang up.

“Sensei, please tell Taka-chan the other thing you told me. About…sex.”

“Oh.” Now he sounded amused. “So long as it’s not uncomfortable for you, there’s no reason that you can’t continue your bedroom activities.”

“Thank you.” You looked up at Taka, who was now just looking gobsmacked by the whole thing. Apparently he had needed to get the initial burst of planning out of the way before he could settle into shock. “Any other questions, Taka-chan?”

“Not offhand,” he said, through lips that felt numb.

You hung up the phone and then turned around in his lap, wrapping your arms around him and hugging with all of your might. He seemed to need it.

“See, I’m going to be fine,” you told him, and took both his hands, placing them on your belly. You were terrified, too, but it seemed you already had a preliminary plan. And okay, this was earlier than either of you had expected. But you were having his baby, your baby together, you were going to make a home together in Osaka and—

“We’ll be fine,” You said again, so happy that you could hardly contain it. “And so will our baby. We’re going to have a baby, Taka-chan!”

“Yes,” he agreed, looking down at his hands on your belly as if he couldn’t figure out how they’d gotten there. “My baby. My baby,” he said, looking up at you, and the wonder in his face made you burst into tears.

Which was good. It helped him get a grip. His throat was ridiculously tight and he had to clear it twice, but he pulled your head onto his shoulder and wrapped his arms around you, murmuring his promise to you both in your ear.

“I’m going to take such good care of you.”

Chapter Text

“Doing okay?”

“Yes, Taka-chan.” Your head was spinning a little. You settled beside him on the train, the last one of the night for the long ride back to Tokyo, and fortunately mostly empty. You were five months along now, and you had to admit you got tired a lot faster. But it was the long day in Osaka that had you reeling. The management from both the Tigers and Kings had wanted to meet Taka and make their cases for their teams and the city in general, which was beautiful, second only to Tokyo in size, and painfully expensive.

“I don’t know if Osaka will be the right choice after all,” Taka said, with a quick glance around to make sure the car was empty before he pulled you into him. His fingers gently combed your hair. You found it relaxing when he played with your hair, but you were also Taka’s analogue for worry beads. “Their offers sound like a lot, but in this city…”

“Make a spreadsheet,” you said, laying your head on his shoulder as the train rocked you. You had come to have complete faith in Taka’s research and analytical skills. “Neither of them are downtown, at least. Aya-san said that we were only two train stops from the suburbs. When will they expect your answer?”

“Next week.”

Taka had brought you with him for one reason: to show both teams what the basis for his decision would be. Most players recruited out of university were single, used to cramped student housing, and only had themselves to think about. It was one thing for him to tell them he had a wife at home and a baby on the way, but having that five-months-pregnant wife standing beside him, charming and tiny and already wearing a ruffled shirt to partially conceal the swell of her belly, made the point far better. Kadokawa-san, the agent from the Kings, had looked a little sour at the introduction, as if this was a complication he would have preferred not to address, but Hashira-san from the Tigers had only smiled.

“Aone-kun has told us a lot about you,” he had said, returning your bow. “Let me introduce Aya-san, one of the team’s managers. If you would like, I’ve asked her to show you around the area later.”

“That’s very thoughtful,” Taka said, glancing at you; Kadokawa-san had left you to cool your heels outside the meeting room for two hours, and Taka-chan was still annoyed about it. But Hashira-san had clearly put some thought into this meeting.

“We’ve also taken the liberty of doing some research on your behalf,” he had said. “Aya-san?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, and tugged a slender binder from her shoulder bag, presenting it to you with a bow. “These are current job opportunities for communications majors in the area, Aone-san, along with salary and benefits information. It may be a while before you are ready to look into employment seriously, but at least this may help you and your husband make a decision about where you might want to live in Osaka.”

Taka looked like he could have kissed her on the spot.

“Thank you so much!” You said, delighted, bowing in return as you took the binder in both hands. Ever since you had announced your pregnancy to friends and family, it seemed like everyone had forgotten that you were still getting a degree of your own, and meant to use it one day. “Yes, this was on one of Taka’s to-do lists. Look, Taka-chan.”

“Thank you,” he said again. Even just a cursory flick through the first couple pages showed a number of charts and graphs that soothed his soul. Tucking the binder into his messenger bag—Taka had forbidden you to carry anything heavier than your purse since the day your belly had become convex rather than concave—he bowed to Hashira-san and Aya-san, more restrained than you had been.

After a tour of the volleyball training facility, Hashira-san and Taka-chan vanished into yet another meeting room, and Aya-chan showed you around the area, walking to local shops and restaurants, then taking a bus out to the suburbs and a train back. She produced numerous other documents over the course of the day: bus routes, train schedules, even a smaller folder with information about schools, child care, and nearby entertainment and parks. Taking Taka’s lead, she insisted on carrying them for you herself.

“What do you do as a manager for the team, Aya-san?” You asked, interested as always in other people’s lives.

“I have a degree in sports medicine,” she explained. She was a tall woman in her late twenties with medium-length hair clipped back in a ponytail, and now that you’d talked with her a bit, you got the impression she would have been more comfortable in athletic clothing than the business suit she was wearing. “If you understand how the athletes do what they do, you can figure out better ways for them to do it.”

“That must be fascinating.” You’d been watching volleyball for years now, and could imagine the biological mechanics of Taka-chan’s jump serve must be remarkable.

“Yes, I can’t wait to get my hands on Aone-san,” she said, and then glanced at you, reddening as she realized what she’d said. “As an athlete. If he joins the team. And see how he does what he does, I mean. I’m sorry, that came out wrong, forgive me.”

“You can tell me what you find out,” you replied, smiling. You had no doubt she meant nothing by it, but Taka-chan had never given you a second’s worry on that score. Ennoshita-kun said that when they traveled for away games, he was so married, he might as well have had it tattooed on his forehead. “I understand what you mean, Aya-san, he is amazing.”

“It’s the double jump,” she said earnestly, as if anxious to prove that she really had meant his athletic prowess. “When he blocks, do you know what I mean? Sometimes Aone-san jumps a little at the setter in the direction he thinks the ball is going to go, then read blocks. He’s so tall and his arms are so long, he can get away with it and still get the block up. It makes the setter second-guess themselves mid-toss.”

“Oh, that’s what he’s doing?” You saw Taka-chan doing these things, but you didn’t always understand why.

“Yes, but it means he’s jumping that much more often. We have another blocker who wants to try it, but it takes a lot of stamina.”

The thought of a professional player trying to imitate Taka made you so happy, you would have forgiven Aya-san far worse than a slip of the tongue. And after a few hours traveling around the vicinity of the Tigers training facility, you came to like her for herself; she might have been studying the Tigers players like volleyball’s answer to Jane Goodall, but she also seemed to care about each of them as people. The stories she told you about them were harmless, but amusing, and she clearly admired them a lot. Some of the names you’d even heard before. Oikawa-kun, a setter who had joined the year before, was from Miyagi.

“Oh, that’s right!” Aya-san said. “Do Oikawa-kun and Aone-san know each other?”

“A bit,” you replied, suppressing a smile. Taka-chan had said after that Spring High loss to Seijoh that he wanted to punch Oikawa in his pretty face, but that was not an unusual reaction to the Aobajohsai setter. “Is anyone else from Miyagi on the team?”

“Iwaizumi-kun joined when Oikawa-kun did, but I don’t think there are any others yet,” she said, which made you wonder if there was anyone else you knew that might turn up on Taka’s team. If he accepted the Tigers’ offer, you reminded yourself. Taka-chan had told you a hundred times to keep saying if.

On the train back to Tokyo, though, you couldn’t help thinking when.

“It was so pretty, Taka-chan. It felt like Tokyo, so many little towns inside the big city. And so many bridges. We walked around for a while and there were all these adorable little cafés right by the water.”

“You liked the neighborhood?”

“Mmm-hmm.” You felt his arm slide around you, his big hand covering the small roundness of your belly, drawing both of you close as you drifted off to sleep, worn out from the day. He would have defied anyone to frown at him for adjusting you gently so you were lying half in his lap, your head pillowed on his bag and jacket. Osaka was far enough south that it never got bitterly cold or snowed in the winter, but it was still chilly at night.

This would be one of the most important decisions the two of you ever made. He wanted to think it through carefully. There was a narrow table between rows of seats on the long-distance train, and he opened his laptop, muting it to keep it from waking you. You had been sleeping a lot more lately.

Spreadsheets clarified his thoughts. He had already begun one, comparing the Kings to the Tigers, because it wasn’t a purely monetary contest. If it was, the Kings would have won handily. But you were moving south, far from your families in Sendai, and though his mother and your mother would come in turns to help with the baby, how you lived would be as important as the salary you had to live on.

The funny thing about his spreadsheets was, after he had laid out all the math and accounted for all the details, how often it turned out that the thing he learned was how little those details mattered.

The Kings offered a better salary, it was true. That meant more flexibility in where you could live, and what schools you could send your children—in Taka’s head, you had three—to, when the time came. Money was important. The two of you had done without for a long time, and though you said you didn’t mind buying your clothes at the thrift shop, he had had enough of telling you that you couldn’t afford things.

But…he liked what Hishira-san and Aya-san had done. It could have just been a show, an excuse to pay him less, but he didn’t think so. The Kings were the more serious team. They recruited the best athletes and paid more for them, but they also demanded a far greater commitment.

The Tigers were just as eager to win, but they seemed less…internally competitive, he thought, struggling to describe it to himself. They seemed to focus more on the connections between the players, building trust and synergy for a cohesive whole. It felt to him like the Kings just wanted to place the highest-quality widgets into the appropriate slots. Their acquisition of Ushijima Wakatoshi the year before had sent the entire Premiere League into a tailspin.

He wished you were awake so he could talk it over with you.

But there would be time. He bent to kiss your forehead while you slept, hardly able to believe that this was his life. That this was going to be his life. His hand went to your belly again, resting over the boy or girl in there that still didn’t feel entirely real to him.

And felt it move.

Aone Takanobu was silent only with a massive effort of will. He shifted your shirt, his splayed fingers resting on the tightening skin, and shook you awake gently with his other hand.

“Wife-chan,” he whispered, so excited he could barely get the words out. “The baby’s moving.”

* * *

She never stopped moving, you thought a few months later, pushing a hand against the portion of your enormous belly that Hana-chan was currently kicking like she was practicing for a career in soccer.

“The world’s cutest doorstop,” Oikawa-san said as he backed past you through the front door of your Osaka townhouse, with a wink and a flirtatious smile that meant absolutely nothing, according to his girlfriend.

“He can’t stop himself,” she said as she went by you on the other end of the couch they were carrying, a tall and athletic girl who had moved to Osaka herself only a few weeks earlier on an offer from the Blackhawks women’s volleyball team. “It’s a significant character defect.”

“And yet, here you are, years later,” he told her, setting the couch down. “Here, Takkun’s wife-chan?”

“A side table is going to go where you’re standing,” you said. You had memorized Taka’s schematic, but most of the other members of your impromptu moving crew had only stared at Taka blankly when he explained it. “But otherwise, perfect. Thank you both so much.”

You had been in Osaka for nearly six weeks now, most of that in a long-stay hotel while you waited for the previous occupants of your house to move out, and the minor modifications you wanted done to be completed. It felt like one of Taka-chan’s new teammates had invited you both out or over for dinner almost every night since you’d arrived, and by now it seemed you had known each other forever.

And the sweetest surprise of the spring so far, you thought, as Ennoshita Chikara came through the door.

“Chikara-chan!” you said joyfully, stepping out of his way as he went by with your bedroom lamps.

“Aren’t you used to me yet?” he asked, laughing, and you didn’t tell him you were still having to resist the urge to hug him every time you saw him. He had been with both of you through so much at university, and you and Taka still missed Yaku terribly.

Chikara had somehow managed to keep it a secret all winter as he listened to the two of you endlessly discuss which offer you should accept, and never once mentioned that the Tigers had made him an offer as well.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Taka had demanded the first day of practice, after gaping at his friend, and then clapping him on the back so hard that Chikara staggered forward three paces.

“You and [Name]-chan had to make the decision that was right for you,” Chikara had replied, punching him back. “It was hard to keep it quiet, though, especially with this jackass dropping hints that he was going to tell you if you looked like you were leaning toward the Kings.”

“Which was clearly the wrong choice,” said Oikawa, who was already imagining what he could do with the Iron Wall on the front line and Chikara, who did not yet have a title, in the rearguard. Chikara might never hear his name chanted by the crowd, but the Tigers—and Oikawa Tōru—knew the value of an all-arounder who could be counted on to fill the gaps between specialists.

Watching them together made you realize again how special high school volleyball had been to all of them, and what amazing players they were. It was the same with Oikawa-san and Iwaizumi-san as it had been with Chikara and Yaku, when Taka had first been making friends with them; different men, but so many overlapping experiences and interests. And maybe Taka-chan and Chikara could use a little stirring up. Oikawa-san and Iwaizumi-san weren’t quite as wild as Taka’s high school friends had been, but they had required a drunken welcoming night in Osaka that left Taka-chan moaning in bed the next day, nearly as upset over the cost of the beer as the aftereffects of its consumption.

And though you and she had very little in common, you were becoming fast friends with Oikawa’s girlfriend. Iwaizumi-san said that she had the singular ability to remind Oikawa-san that other people had feelings, too.

“It’s going to be a long day if you thank us for every box,” she said now, wrinkling her nose up at you playfully as she followed Oikawa-san out your front door. Of course, constantly being surrounded by volleyball players was like living in the land of the giants, you thought, directing Iwaizumi-san into your kitchen with his three boxes. You did miss hanging out with normal-sized people.

You would have preferred to be a mover rather than a doorstop, but even standing still was taxing these days. You pressed your hand into the small of your back, smiling as everyone went back and forth. Already you were convinced that Taka had been right about accepting the Tigers’ offer. It might have been true that the combination of Ushijima Wakatoshi and Aone Takanobu—the most terrifying offensive and defensive specialists in Japan—would have been invincible, but you somehow doubted that the Sakai Kings would have showed up at seven this morning to help you move in. Taka’s new team captain, Chibana Hideki, had won your heart forever by bringing coffee.

It was the kind of thing that you couldn’t quantify on a spreadsheet, Taka-san had explained, but was nonetheless the decisive factor in his decision. He had learned from you to watch out for those things.

And you had learned the value of his commitment to planning, you thought, your eyes filling as you looked around your new house. There had been dozens of reasons to spend the small nest egg he had so carefully saved up all through college, but together you had held out and clung to your little savings. This house, a townhouse three blocks away from the riverside cafés and two bus stops from Taka-chan’s new job, was your reward.

It was hardly a palace. But it was new and clean and high-ceilinged, with tall doorways and enough room in the kitchen for the two of you to work back-to-back without bumping into each other. When the realtor had shown it to you and you saw Taka-chan’s habitually-bunched shoulders relax, you had known this was the one.

The nursery, painted a sunny yellow with a sky-blue border around the ceiling, was where most of the extra money had gone. You and Taka-chan had already furnished that room; the crib had gone in on the same day the previous owners moved out, and you couldn’t resist visiting it again and again, touching the small changing table, turning the flower-shaped lamp on, folding and refolding the patchwork baby blanket your mother had made for you. Taka had found a mobile with small silk butterflies to dangle over the baby, his daughter, he said again and again, already a devoted slave to the little girl who had yet to be born. He was certain Hana-chan would be her mother all over again, tiny and fluttering and utterly charming.

“Not quite yet,” Oikawa-san told his girlfriend when he caught her in the nursery, touching the little white clouds sprinkled along the blue border near the ceiling, and dragged her back out to the moving van. But he looked entertained rather than horrified.

“I am so glad that’s over,” you told Taka-chan when they were gone for the day, with the promise from Chikara, Oikawa-san, [Name]-chan, and Iwaizumi-san to return the next day and help you unpack. Miyagi folk had to stick together, after all.

Ordinarily you would have gently refused, but by the end of the day you were so tired you could barely see straight. At eight months, you felt like you were carrying a medicine ball in front of you every minute of the day.

“Tomorrow you can sit down if you want to help unpack,” Taka said, tugging you over to his chair. It was a hideous chair, a shade of green straight out of the 1970s, and Taka labored under the sweet delusion that because it was green, it matched the rest of your furniture. But it kept his knees a comfortable distance from his chin, and every night he stood you in front of it, unscrewed the cap of your lotion, pushed your shirt up, and rubbed your belly gently.

“Konbanwa, baby,” he murmured, his big fingers pressing in slow circles against your skin, smoothing the lotion in. “Thank you for not making your Oka-san sick today.”

“In spite of the pickles,” you said, laying your forehead against his. Sometimes the skin of your stomach felt so tight it was nearly painful, and you were sure these nightly massages were the only thing that kept you from bursting altogether.

“Mmm-hmm.” He screwed the lid of the lotion shut and pulled you into his lap, caressing you both, one hand on your head and the other on your belly. “Sure you’re feeling all right?”

“Tired,” you said, resting your head on his shoulder. You frequently fell asleep in his lap after dinner, and he had been looking forward to it tonight; he’d even dragged you into the shower with him after everyone had departed for the day, to check that task off the list and leave the evening free to be as lazy as you liked. The living room was still filled with boxes, but the bones of your home were already there, the furniture in place, vacuumed, sprayed down with fabric freshener, and the lamps lit against the soft spring night.

Once you were settled comfortably, Taka turned the TV on to replay a volleyball game he’d already seen, with the volume so low he could just barely hear the athletic shoes squeaking. It was one of Ushijima Wakatoshi’s games from last season. Oikawa-kun and Iwa-kun had a grudge against the former wing spiker of Shiratorizawa, but Taka sensed he was facing his own Everest. Ushijima had been known as the giant of Sendai since he was in junior high school. Taka had never faced him, but he was the only player he had heard of that came close to matching his own size and power. The most anyone else had ever been able to do with Ushijima was to redirect his serves, box him in, beat him with strategy.

Taka meant to face him head on, and meet brute force with brute force.

He was looking forward to it.

His eyes narrowed, he watched the game, pausing and replaying every so often, absently caressing you as you slept on. This wasn’t work to him; it was a puzzle, and he liked puzzles. So he didn’t see your hands creeping around your belly as you lay on his shoulder, or the slow, troubled frown drawing between your eyebrows, half-hidden under your curls.

“Taka,” you gasped, waking up. Another pang went through you, deeper than the one that had awakened you. “Taka-chan, I think we moved in just in time.”

* * *

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” you kept saying as he settled you in the back of the cab and hurried around to the other side. “It’s early, Taka, I’m so sorr—oooh.”

“Ishida Clinic, please,” he told the cab driver, in case the man was too dense to figure out the panting pregnant woman and panicky man wanted to go to a hospital. “Quit apologizing, wife-chan, babies come when they’re going to come no matter what the boshi techo says.”

Both of you had read the official Maternal and Child Health Handbook issued by the Japanese government, though it was unusual for a man to do so. But in spite of his low threshold for embarrassment, Taka had made it his mission to learn everything he could. He had scoured the web. He bought magazines. He downloaded books on his phone. You had caught him reading them in the bathtub, brows furrowed as if he expected a test on the subject. He read them on the train. He read them between classes. When illustrations appeared, he clicked his phone off with a guilty start, like he had been caught reading hentai.

It was the only way he had survived the initial weeks of your pregnancy. In the first place, because sheer terror was going to give him an aneurysm. In the second, you might have killed him yourself if he didn’t stop hovering at the bathroom door while you were throwing up your breakfast.

Turned out it was the pickles setting you off.

So it also meant that he was familiar with the idea that premature births—if that was what this was, it could just be contractions—were somehow the mother’s failure. He rejected that utterly. It sounded to him like blaming athletes for their own injuries. You had done everything you could for almost nine months. He had watched you. You ate what you were supposed to eat when you were supposed to eat it. You walked every day. You gained nineteen and a half pounds. You massaged the child in your belly, sang to it, and both of you spoke to it together every night. There wasn’t a sweeter-tempered woman alive and if you had created any more welcoming an environment for your baby, he would have moved in himself.

So he put his arm around you and said, “Breathe, [Name]-chan, just like we practiced.”

And the cab pulled away from the curb.

You weren’t even that early. Three weeks? Two and a half weeks? What day had you told him you were pregnant? He ought to have had that date engraved in his memory for the rest of his life, but he couldn’t think of it right now. And how was he supposed to help you be calm, like the boshi fucking techo said, if he wasn’t being calm?

“It might be nothing,” he reminded you, his one hand covering both of yours and then some. “And even if it’s the baby coming, we know what’s going to happen, right? We know just what to expect.”

“Yes, Taka-chan,” you said, and tried to smile up at him, though it was more a grimace of pain. For a second, he had a vertiginous flashback to the day you had met, you appearing in front of him on the bus, tiny and exquisite and butterfly-like, half buried under your shopping bags. Sumimasen. Is this seat taken?

“What if we’re going to have a baby today,” he said, suddenly hoarse. “It will be the best day I’ve had with you yet.”

Then you had to remind him to breathe.

The cab driver, a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, pushed open the sliding window dividing the front of the car from the back.

“Konbanwa,” he said, glancing at you both in the rearview mirror. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you to the hospital in eleven minutes. But if you don’t mind, could you spread a few of these out?”

He passed back some plastic bags without taking his eyes off the road ahead.

“I keep them for drunks,” he explained. “I won’t be mad if anything happens, but you know, an ounce of prevention. You should have seen what my wife did to my car when she was having our second one.”

“Th-thank you,” you gasped, more grateful than ever for Taka’s strength as he lifted and adjusted you. “Was your wife—ooh—early for either of them?”

“One week on my first one. First babies come early a lot,” he said, and Taka, who had once done a cost benefit analysis on nail files, mentally tacked on ¥5000 to the man’s tip.

It all seemed to be happening so fast. Your contractions were four minutes apart when you reached the clinic, whizzing around to the emergency entrance, and Taka couldn’t even type the tip into his phone, his hands were shaking so badly.

“Go on, go on, get her inside,” Genzaburu-san said, waving it away. “You’ll be fine! Stay calm, breathe slow!”

“I can walk, Taka-chan,” you said gently, when he bent as if he was planning to pick you up and run with you. It was like the day when you had told him you were pregnant, the two of you taking turns panicking. He walked you through the doors and did not bellow, she’s having a baby! the second the door closed behind him. It all felt unreal, walking up to the desk, the night nurses assessing his panting young wife with experienced glances and whisking you instantly away. People asked him questions. He answered. Where was his wife-chan? Were you all right? You wanted to be together for the birth. He hadn’t the foggiest idea when your contractions started, you had been asleep.

“Where is she?” He asked again. “Her contractions were really close together.”

“They’re settling her in a room now,” the nurse said. Ozu. He focused on her name tag. He had tried to be better about learning people’s names, since he met you. “I just need a little bit more from you, Aone-san, and then you can go see her. I promise, you’ll have plenty of time.”

“Where’s Taka-chan?” You were asking as he came in the delivery room, in a tone that suggested it wasn’t the first time. “I want—Taka-chan!”

“I’m here, I’m here,” he said, squeezing his way through all the people and equipment. Here, of all places, he didn’t want to knock anything over. He bent down and kissed you, your hand vanishing into his, and remembered, again, that both of you were supposed to be breathing. Soothing. Nurturing environment. “Wife-chan. We’re okay.”

It was half-statement, half question, and one of the nurses, Sakurai-san, he repeated to himself, nodded and smiled. They were all used to anxious fathers, though it seemed of particular importance to keep this one calm. He could demolish half the room without meaning to.

“She’s doing fine,” Sakurai-san said, tugging a blanket up over you and arranging you into a half-seated position on the bed. “It’s still going to be a little bit, believe it or not. Here’s some ice chips, and try not to push until we tell you to, ne? You’re not quite there yet.”

“Okay,” you said, popping one of the ice chips into your mouth obediently. Taka’s arms were around you and you wanted nothing more to be back in the home that you’d barely moved into, sitting in his ugly chair, cradled in his lap. “I already texted my mother and your mother,” you said, squeezing his hand restlessly. It was good that it was so big, you could squeeze all you wanted and never hurt him. “They said they’ll come down tomorrow on the first train. Did you text Chikara? And Hashira-san and Chibana-san?”

“No. I was filling out forms,” he said, and took out his phone. It helped both of you calm down, composing the messages together, sending the tip to Genzaburu-san, and you even teased him a little for the extravagance, even though it made you love him more than ever. In less than ten minutes texts were flooding in from Chikara, Yaku, Oikawa-san, your families, and all the other friends you had made together over the years. Taka-chan’s sister would come down over the weekend to meet her niece, wasn’t it great that she was in Tokyo for her first year of university, and so much closer than Sendai?

An hour passed. Sweat was standing out on your forehead, and you muffled your cries, breathing along with Sakurai-san, who was walking you both through the breathing, the acupressure, massaging your sides through the worst of the contractions. Epidurals were not usually given.

“Okay, we’re getting close,” she said, with a reassuring smile, and one of the nurses vanished to get your doctor. You’d only met Ikeru-sama once since you’d arrived in Osaka; your next appointment was supposed to be Monday. She was a small, gray-haired woman, nearly fifty, with pink spectacles and a reassuringly unflappable demeanor, despite ridiculously kawaii scrubs.

Your hair was clinging damply to your forehead and Taka brushed it out of the way, pulling it up on top of your head, baring your slender neck. How many times had he kissed that neck? How often had he run his hands through your hair? In the artificial light of the delivery room, everything looked altered and strange to him. Your large, gentle eyes, bare of makeup and still framed with your thick, beautiful lashes. Your lips, those vulnerable little curves. He remembered how you had kissed him on your wedding night. How you had loved his mouth.

“I love you,” he said, and when you sat up, he braced his body around you, and felt your back, bared by the hospital robe, against his shoulder.

“I love you, Taka-chan,” you said, laying your head against his jaw, and then Ikeru-sama appeared in the door just as one of the nurses said it was time to push.

You did exactly what they said. You pushed and breathed. You waited, panting, gathering your strength, and pushed again. You gripped his hands in yours and it tore him to see you in so much pain, he wanted to tell you how sorry he was for doing this to you, but that wasn’t going to help.

“Breathe,” he said, again and again; it was all he knew to do, in the end.

Through the blankets, he saw a shudder run through your round belly, a shift, and then—a cry.

And under your bent legs, a flood of dark red blood cascaded onto the floor.

“Please go outside, Aone-san,” Ikeru-sama said, the four most terrifying words he’d ever heard in his life.

“Taka-chan,” you said faintly, and then two of the nurses had disentangled him from you and were pushing him back away from you to the door. It all happened through a vast, buzzing white noise; why was he obeying them? Why wasn’t he ripping the door off its hinges to get back to you?

“Please stay here, Aone-san,” Sakurai-san said, and actually slapped his hands to get his attention. “She’s having a little trouble. Stay right here, okay? I’m going to be right inside that door, I will come out and tell you the second there’s any news.”

“She’s having trouble?” He repeatedly stupidly.

“Yes, Aone-san.” She pressed his cell phone into his hands. “Do you have any family in Osaka? Friends?”

“We just moved here. No family. Friends. Yes.”

“Why don’t you ask them to come wait with you. It could be a little while. Sit down right there. Don’t move, all right?”

“Okay.” He couldn’t breathe. He fumbled with his phone. Chikara. She’s having a little trouble, the nurses say. Can you come—

He deleted the message. What did a little trouble mean? He had seen the blood. He would never be able to unsee the blood. He had read the books. But a hemorrhage wasn’t necessarily fatal. This wasn’t the 1800s. Doctors knew how to treat those things.

But you were so small. How much blood could there be in you? And he could see the many pages of the books he’d read in his memory as if they had been burned there.

What are the risks factors for postpartum hemorrhaging?

It’s possible to experience postpartum hemorrhage without having any risk factors. However, some risk factors exist. These include having:

an assisted delivery, such as with a forceps or vacuum
excess amniotic fluid
an episiotomy
a large baby

His throat closed. He closed his eyes, covered them with his hands, but he still saw the words, the blood. Oh, God, please, I have never asked you for anything in my life, but please please please don’t take her from me…

Alarms were ringing. Nurses were darting in and out of the room. They brought carts. Bags of blood. It all felt like a nightmare and he kept trying to shake himself out of it. He tried to grab one of the nurses, but she twisted out of his hands and darted into the room, and he wanted to pound on the fucking door, they’d even covered up the slit of the window so he couldn’t see inside.

“[Name]-chan!” he called, trying to catch a glimpse of you the next time the door opened. But Sakurai-san was too quick, and squeezed through before he could see anything. “[Name]-chan! [Name]-chan!”

“Your wife is hemorrhaging, Aone-san,” she said evenly, and pushed him back toward the row of chairs against the wall. It felt like he was made of wood; whatever was keeping him on his feet was not going to let him bend at the knees. “We are doing everything we can. She is young and strong, but if she hears you yelling like that, it will be very upsetting for her. Did you call someone?”

“No, I—”

“Okay, we’re going to do that right now,” she said, and lifted his phone, helped him find his messenger, type the message.

Aone Takanobu 12:26 am
Chikara
The nurse said I should call someone
She’s hemorrhaging
Please come to the Ishida clinic

“Did I do this?” Taka asked, and he didn’t even know he was crying, couldn’t even feel the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Did my baby do this to her?”

“Your ba—” Sakurai-san checked herself. She had been a nurse for ten years, and had had nights worse than this, had had nights where she had had to shut the door behind her and tell a man both his wife and child were dead, and the life he had thought he was beginning had ended forever. But looking up at the giant man, she dimly realized she was seeing an old terror, a lifelong terror, a terror that haunted. And despite all her training, for a second words failed her. “No, Aone-san. Please don’t ever think that again. I have seen a lot of large babies and—”

Whatever she was about to say, he didn’t hear it. All he heard was a long and droning beep from the flung-open door to your room, and suddenly she was having to shove him back, both hands on his chest and her full body weight behind it, and he didn’t even notice her.

“Aone-san,” she said desperately, digging her rubber-soled shoes into the floor. “Aone-san, let the doctors do their job, please.”

“What—what—” He tried to say, and then he saw the cart wheeling down the hallway. The one with the paddles.

And the wave of terror drove the giant to his knees.

Chapter Text

Ennoshita Chikara burst through the doors of the Ishida Clinic at a sprint.

“Aone Takanobu,” he said at the front desk, already straining his ears for alarms ringing, running feet, and—God forbid—whatever sounds Taka might be making right now. He didn’t expect that his friend would be taking this quietly. “And his wife Aone [Name].”

“Down that hallway,” the nurse said, after what felt like a small eternity with her computer. “Please don’t run.”

That was easy for her to say. He drew himself back to the fastest walk he could tolerate, clutching his phone with its awful message in his hand. He would never forgive himself for the thirty minutes it had taken to notice that he’d received a text.

It was a small clinic; there wasn’t a lot of room to get lost. Around the hallway to the left he passed a few empty patient rooms, an empty office, and then the hallway opened to a waiting room, and Taka was there, sitting alone with his huge shoulders bowed.

“Taka,” Ennoshita said, and all at once the fear rushed up in him and almost strangled him. It seemed like every moment he’d ever spent with the two of you flashed through his mind’s eye, and he could hear your delighted cry of Chikara-chan! ringing in his ears. His eyes burned and he had to force his mouth to work. “[Name]-chan?”

“Chikara.” Taka’s eyes wandered in his direction, but it felt like he wasn’t really seeing him. “They brought her back. Sorry. Sorry you came all the way down here. It’s fine.”

“Oh, fuck me,” Ennoshita said, and collapsed into the chair next to the big man, looped his arm around the enormous shoulders, and held on. Fucking God. “Taka. If you hadn’t called me I would never have forgiven you. I’m so sorry I didn’t…what do you mean, they brought her back?”

“She was dead for a little bit.” His voice was peculiarly hollow. His face didn’t change, but tears coursed silently down his cheeks, like they were slowly wearing river beds. “They said I can go in and see her soon.”

“Takkun.” Ennoshita groped for something to say. Nothing seemed adequate. “I am so sorry. Is…Hana-chan all right?”

“Yes.” Taka rubbed his hand over his face, stubble scraping audibly against his palm. “Yeah. She’s fine.”

“So they’re both going to be all right.”

“Mmm.”

Another question, Ennoshita realized, was whether Taka was going to be all right. His friend looked like he’d glimpsed the far side of hell and couldn’t stop seeing it. But asking him about it right now didn’t seem like it would be productive.

“Okay,” he said, trying to sound like he had a plan. “I’m going to get some coffee for both of us. I’ve got my cell phone on me, all right?”

“Yeah,” Taka said vaguely, the word hanging in the air behind Ennoshita’s back.

He’d seen a vending machine on his way in, and he inhaled the scent of slightly burnt coffee as he waited for the cups to fill, trying to think of what he could do to help, what things might need to be done. He could find out if Taka had called his family. He could get the house keys from him and have Oikawa-kun and Iwa-kun finish unpacking. He knew Taka wouldn’t like the whole team knowing his business, but they had already been planning to help finish unpacking the house, and Ennoshita had never seen such clearly labeled moving boxes, all of them in Taka’s large, blocky hand. He’d even taped up diagrams of where all the furniture should go in every room.

Later, when he could get Taka good and drunk, he would get the rest out of him.

For now, though…

“Sumimasen,” he said to the first nurse he saw, a small, square woman named Sakurai-san. “I’m a friend of Aone-san and his wife. Are you their nurse?”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Sakurai-san said. She was into her third hour of overtime and still didn’t feel like her job was quite finished. There were many kinds of wounds in the world. “Yes, I am. I think Aone-san is still in a bit of shock. We’ve been keeping an eye on him. I can’t tell you anything specific without his permission. Let me get a cup and then we’ll see if he’s okay with me talking to you.”

Taka was probably not in a state to legally consent to anything, but he said the words. Ennoshita got the impression that Taka would have consented if he proposed burning his new house down and salting the ashes.

“He seems to think it’s his fault somehow,” Sakurai-san explained in a low voice, glancing over at Taka, who was staring at his coffee cup like he wasn’t sure what to do with it. “Hanako-chan is not an exceptionally large baby, and Aone-chan was doing just fine with her all the way up to the end. Sometimes these things just happen. But she lost a lot of blood faster than we could replace it, and her heart…gomen, Ennoshita-san.”

“No, go on,” he said thickly. He was thinking of when he had said goodbye to you that night, you and Taka standing together in the door of your house, beaming at him, your dimpled smile, your hand on your belly. How was this possible?

“Well, she was gone for about twenty seconds. Then we managed to get her back. But Aone-san saw the whole thing. And he kept asking if…if it was his fault.” She spread her hands helplessly. “Forgive me for telling you such personal things.”

“No,” he said automatically. “He’s my friend.”

“We’re going to let him in to see her in a few more minutes, but we’re going to keep her asleep for a while yet. I thought—” She paused, glancing back at Taka again. “I thought he should take Hana-chan in with him to see her. But sometimes, if the wife has trouble, the husband will blame the baby. I don’t know…”

“No, do that.” Ennoshita had no idea why he felt it was the right thing, but it felt like a puzzle piece clicking into place. “He was looking forward to her so much. He named her.”

Ennoshita had been there, that drunken night with Oikawa-kun and Iwaizumi-kun. Taka had just found out that day that he was going to have a little girl, and had announced, in tones of revelation, that he had come up with the perfect name.

“Hanako-chan,” He had said, thumping his beer bottle down unsteadily on the table of the karaoke bar. It took a lot of alcohol before Taka started to show it, but they had been at it for a few hours by then, all the way from Poker Face to Oikawa’s rendition of Hello by Adele. “Hana. Flower and butterfly, get it?”

“Not at all,” Oikawa said, squinting at him. “Congratulations. If you talk about your baby or wife again on beer night you have to pay for the round. Iwa-chan, you’re up.” The opening chords for Exes and Oh’s had just started playing over the karaoke speakers.

And Taka had had to pay for not one, but three rounds of beer that night. It broke Ennoshita’s heart just that little bit more, remembering how excited Takkun had been.

“All right, I’ll give you a few minutes to put him together,” Sakurai-san said, sounding relieved. “Thank you, Ennoshita-san.”

He used that time to prod Taka-chan into sending out messages, which at least partially re-engaged his friend’s brain.

“No,” Taka said, when Ennoshita told him to email Hashira-san and Chibana-san. “They don’t need to—”

“You aren’t going to practice on Monday,” Ennoshita said matter-of-factly. “I can tell them why if you don’t want to do it.”

Looking a little sour, and much more like himself, Taka sent the email. Then he handed over his house keys and Ennoshita emailed Iwaizumi-kun to ask him to come by the hospital and pick them up in the morning. He knew better than to ask Oikawa, who was at least an hour late for everything.

Taka faltered when it came to messaging his mother, and [Name]-chan’s mother, and honestly Ennoshita wasn’t sure what was best there; would it do them any good to know what had so nearly happened, when they were already on the way?

“Maybe you should tell them when they get here,” Ennoshita said, pushing the cell phone in the direction of Taka’s pocket. The big man’s hands were shaking. “You can tell them she’s okay, right?”

“Yes.” He gulped in the word like air. Sakurai-san, with perfect timing, chose that moment to appear with a small bundle in her arms, wrapped in a fleecy white blanket with little printed sheep.

“Aone-san,” she said gently. “Hana-chan is ready to meet her Otou-san.”

“Oh.” Taka blinked, visibly struggling back to himself. He moved as if to stand, then sat back in his seat, his eyes wide. “That—that’s her?”

“Hai. Hold out your arm like this. Her head’s going to go right there, see?” Carefully, she laid the infant in the giant man’s arms, cradled against his chest. She was a big girl, nine pounds, two ounces, with a slick of silvery-blonde hair that stuck up at the end, like it was already trying to curl. “She looks like you, Aone-san.”

“Hopefully she’ll grow out of it,” he said, looking at her red, scrunched little face. His fingers traced the edge of the blanket, as if he was afraid to actually touch her.

“She doesn’t have eyebrows,” Ennoshita said, leaning over to look at her, and startled a laugh from his friend.

“She can draw some in when she gets older. Her Oka-san can show her how.” And then he was near tears, bending his head over his little daughter, his forehead pressed to her tiny wrinkled one. What would have happened if…what would he have done?

“Let’s go see her,” Sakurai-san suggested, pulling his arm, propelling him to his feet. “No, you hold on to Hana-chan, Otou-san. You’re fine with her. We’ll bring her bed into the room with Aone-chan, so when she wakes up both of you will be there with her.”

Taka’s arms wrapped around his daughter like she was a fleece-swaddled football, his shoulders bunching as he stood. He might have been walking a tightrope across the delivery room, shuffling steps, as if he were terrified every second of losing his balance, as if he was already planning which way he would fall. The illusion was so real that Ennoshita had to clamp his hands at his sides to keep from reaching out, in case Taka needed the assist.

Maybe he did. That was why Ennoshita had come.

But he stopped at the door of the hospital room, the shape of it revealed by degrees as Taka’s large silhouette moved across the room. It was dim, the sky outside the narrow window still dark and starry. It felt like it should be later. Ennoshita felt like he’d lived years since he burst through the front door. Sakurai-san followed Taka, silent in her rubber-soled nurse’s shoes, invisible if she wasn’t needed, within arm’s reach if she was. The machines hummed and beeped in the stillness, the green lines that proved you lived, and from the doorway Ennoshita could see your shadowed face, so pale amidst the clouds of your hair.

“[Name]-chan,” Taka said, his deep voice cracking. “I brought Hana-chan. She’s fine. You’re fine. We’re—you’ll…”

And he broke. He went down to his knees, one arm around Hana-chan, his other hand clutching yours, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed silently.

“You’re all right,” Sakurai-san said, her hands pressing where his joined his wife’s, as if to prove to him that she was there and warm and alive, only sleeping for a little while.

And Ennoshita turned his back, feeling the tears rolling down his own face.

* * *

Your chest hurt.

Your head hurt.

Everything hurt.

You blinked awake into a hospital room that you didn’t remember, in a light that was too bright, and with a mouth that was so dry, the first words out of your mouth were, water…

“Taka,” Chikara-chan said sharply, and you looked down to see Taka’s white-blond head next to you on the hospital bed, his hand squeezing yours so tight that you rasped, oww…

“[Name]-chan?” He whispered, looking up at you with red, swollen eyes. He looked terrible.

“Hana…” You tried to say, then licked your lips with a tongue that felt like sandpaper. “Hana-chan?”

“She’s fine. She’s over there.” He couldn’t tear his eyes away from you long enough to indicate where over there might be. “You’re okay? You—” He rose, his knees creaking a protest, and slid his arms around you so carefully, you might have been made of glass, looping around the wires and tubes like he’d been planning exactly how to navigate around them all night.

“What happened? Taka-chan…” You couldn’t really remember. You knew you’d had Hana-chan, you’d felt her go, you remembered…you’d heard her first cry. But then everything went fuzzy. Your hand went to his hair automatically, stroking. He was shaking. “Taka-chan, what’s wrong? Chikara-chan?” Why was Chikara here?

“Nothing’s wrong,” Chikara said, pushing out of his chair. Both men were stubbly and red-eyed. “It was a rough night.”

“Let her have some ice chips, Aone-san,” said a nurse, bustling into the room with a Styrofoam cup and gently pushing Taka back into his chair. It was a different nurse than any of the ones you remembered, and she handed you the ice chips, then rolled over the little bassinet holding Hana-chan, pushing your hands down when you reached for her. “Not quite yet, [Name]-san. Aone-san, do you want to introduce your daughter?”

Both of you cried then, as Taka carefully picked her up and bent beside you, bringing her close enough that you didn’t have to work too hard to touch her, your fingers brushing her round red face. She looked so tiny in Taka’s big hands, making mewling cat-complaints of displeasure at being moved. And she looked so like her father, that silver-white hair, even that scowling little face, that it made you want to laugh and cry at once.

“Ennoshita-san, why don’t you take Aone-san for some coffee,” the nurse said; you still couldn’t quite focus on her nametag. “I need to get [Name]-san settled, and Hana-chan needs to go back to the nursery for a while. You’ll have a long, long time with her later.”

“But I don’t want—” Taka began, but she squared up to him like she was six and a half feet tall, too.

“She will be here when you get back, Aone-san,” she said firmly. “I need to get her settled comfortably, and the longer I argue with you the longer she has to wait until that happens.”

“It’ll just be a few minutes,” Chikara added, giving you a reassuring if exhausted smile and shoving Taka out of the room.

“What—what happened?” You asked, staring after Taka with mounting alarm. Something was very wrong.

As soon as Taka and Hana-chan were gone, the nurse told you. Nurse Fukami; you liked to know the names of the people you were dealing with. She didn’t look much older than you, and she spoke with an Okinawan accent that made you think of the one vacation you and Taka had ever taken, an anniversary present from your families. Her name was a lucky one and you clung to that as she went on, briskly arranging the various wires and tubes connected to you, offering you more ice chips and sips of water, asking how you felt, what hurt, were you dizzy.

“Yes,” you managed, laying back on your pillows, but it wasn’t really physical dizziness. What were you supposed to make of this?

“Your heart stopped for twenty seconds,” she said, in the middle of the calm, compassionate narrative, but went on without giving it the weight you felt it really deserved. Your heart stopped. Your heart stopped. That meant you were dead. You had been dead, and you didn’t remember it. You had almost never known your daughter. You had almost left Taka alone. You had been dead. For twenty seconds.

“I want Taka,” you said, interrupting whatever else she was saying. “I’m sorry, I want him right now. I don’t understand. I was fine, the doctors all said I was fine, they said she was perfect and we both looked healthy and…”

“I know. He’ll back in a minute. I sent him away so he wouldn’t have to hear this. He’s been…very upset.”

That silenced you. Yes. You could imagine he had.

“But I’m okay?” It felt like the most idiotic question in the world. How could you be okay? You had died. For twenty seconds.

“Yes.” She finally stopped doing things, fiddling with things, and looked at you squarely. She had freckles on her nose. “I know that’s hard to believe, [Name]-san. Your doctor will come see you both soon and tell you exactly what what happened, what treatment you’ve been given, and what you’ll need, and I know how scary this must seem, but I wanted to tell you before your husband said something. Have another ice chip.”

You took it and stuck it in your mouth, looking up at her with wide eyes.

“The thing to remember is, something awful almost happened. Like if you’d been in a car accident.” Fukami-san pulled the blanket up over you, and when she adjusted your hospital grown, you could see the red marks on your chest, on the right side, above your breast. “You’re here,” she said, squeezing your arm gently as if to prove it to you. “Aone-san is here. You have a beautiful baby.”

“Okay.”

All of that was true. You were here. You hurt, but you didn’t feel like you were going to die right now. Hana-chan had blonde hair like her father. And oh…Taka-chan. Poor Taka.

“I want Taka-chan now,” you said quietly, and she nodded, as if she had seen every one of the thoughts pass through your eyes, written in perfect kanji. You settled yourself while she was gone, looking at the numbers on the machines, looking down at the body that had so badly betrayed you. It wasn’t quite like a car accident, was it?

It was less than thirty seconds before he burst in the door, and you knew exactly what he needed, what both of you needed.

“Taka-chan,” you said, letting the fear show in your voice, letting it waver and crack if it wanted to, holding out your arms to him. It was how the two of you worked, one of you panicking at a time. Taka would never let himself feel afraid if you were.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, pulling you into his chest, his strong arms around you. You let him tell you it was okay. You let him say over and over again that it was all right, that you were together, you cried at what had nearly happened and all the while, Taka told you everything he needed to hear most.

* * *

Nearly a week later, Taka finally brought his new family home.

For the rest of his life he would wonder if you looked paler than before, and his eyes would always go to the soft baby curls around your face, the pulse that beat in your throat, swift and urgent as a bird's, the fine tracery of veins sometimes visible under your fair skin, the things that made him think just how mortal you were.

Today though, as you stepped out of the cab in front of the house you had yet to sleep in, you seemed bent on proving otherwise. It had taken a few days for you to bounce back from the shock of what had nearly happened, days when you crept around like you expected to be struck by lightning every time you ventured out of your hospital bed. But by Wednesday your contemplation of your own mortality had started to pall and you demanded your own clothing, and by Thursday you were reminiscing aloud about every shower you had ever taken.

By Friday the nurses had started siding with you in your demand to go home.

“Hurry up, Taka-chan,” you said impatiently, tapping your heels with Hana-chan sleeping in her sling against your chest, only a slightly different position than the one in which she’d spent the previous nine months. Your mothers had agreed they had shopping to do, shopping that absolutely could not wait, so you and Taka had a few hours to yourselves before family and friends re-invaded your small house. Taka, laden down with the stroller and diaper bag and the duffle bags of clothing and other paraphernalia that he adamantly refused to let you carry, hardly noticed the weight of it all.

What was that compared to his responsibility for you and Hana-chan? It thrilled and terrified him, watching you hurry up the sidewalk to the house and up the front steps, one arm cradled around Hana-chan, your eyes glowing with excitement to finally be home.

“You’re going to wake her,” he said, trying not to laugh. It was the one thing he could say to settle you. Even with the entire support staff of the hospital and both your mothers, you had both already learned to fear the wrath of Hana-chan.

“Oh,” you said when you walked in the door, your hand going to your mouth. “Oh, Taka-chan, it looks just how I wanted it. Look, there’s my vases. And Hana’s changing table. Who unpacked? You barely left the hospital all week.”

“Chikara, Oikawa, Iwa-kun, and [Name]-chan,” he said, brushing a kiss on top of your head. “They did most of it. They were here almost every night this week.”

“I want a shower,” you said, your eyes bright with happy tears as you looked from one thing to the next. Taka’s ugly chair, with his laptop table beside it and his laptop charging, like he was going to sit down any minute and start analyzing something. Your smaller notebook on the side table, your purse on a hook by the front door, all the little touches that made this house your home. “Then I want to look at every single thing.”

“I’ll put Hana-chan to bed,” he said, bravely assuming the task that secretly terrified him. He still hadn’t figured out what he was doing to wake Hana-chan up when he carried her, but it was like tiptoeing around with a tiny bomb in his hands.

Loosening the straps from your shoulders, you carefully transferred her to him, her invisible eyebrows drawing together threateningly, then smoothing apart again. You would never get over how adorable Aone Takanobu looked with his silver-haired daughter in his arms, her tiny mouth pressed together in the exact same forbidding line as her father’s.

“Wait, wait,” you whispered, and he obligingly bent down so you could kiss her forehead, then press your lips to his. “I love you both so much, Taka-chan. Shower.”

Someone had lined up all your bathing things on the shelf in the order in which you used them, and you suspected it was Taka. Cleanliness—not hospital clean, real clean—was close to ecstasy. It wasn’t just the comfort of actual cleanliness, with the familiar textures and scents of your own things. It felt like you were reclaiming your body after nine months of sharing it, and a further week of indignities inflicted by the hospital. You had tolerated them as patiently as you could, but you had had enough two days ago. You wanted clean hair, you wanted your lotion, and you even touched your lashes with mascara and your lips with gloss just to look like yourself again.

You hated hospital [Name]-chan. Hospital [Name]-chan felt simultaneously antiseptic and gross.

It was worth it when you came downstairs and saw Taka waiting for you in the living room.

“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms, and you flew into them.

He felt starved for you.

He lifted you up, kissing you, inhaling the sweet scent of you. How did you always smell so good? Like you had found time to roll in a field of flowers on the way back to him. There hadn’t been much time to be alone together in the hospital, with nurses in and out and your mother practically living in your room, and he never would be comfortable with showing affection if there were others around to see. You were kissing him back just as eagerly, whispering Taka-chan, Taka-chan, I missed you, I missed you! like you had been separated for years rather than the length of a shower.

But of course, you had nearly been separated by something worse than years.

And on that thought he carried you across the room, sitting down with you in his ugly chair as if he were returning to the scene of some crime, determined to undo it, to start over from the place where it had all begun to go wrong. He swung your legs around over the arm of the chair, stretched you out in his lap, and kissed you until you were breathless, his lips and tongue stroking and tasting with the same steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Your fingers tangled in his shirt front, drawing him down to you, and though you still ached inside, you felt the stirrings of desire for him.

He must have felt them, too. He lifted his head with a gasp and shifted you in his lap, his arms around you and his face buried in your hair, breathing in shuddering gasps. It reminded you of when you had first been together, and he had been mortally embarrassed by the existence of his erection. There had been so many times back then, kissing him, when he would suddenly withdraw like this.

“I love you,” he said into your hair, into the silence of your shared home. He had said the words on your wedding day, promised to love and provide for and protect you, and he had meant them, but he had never understood them the way he did now. They were all the things he would sacrifice, loving you. His sweat. His comfort. He would deny his own hunger so that you and Hana could eat; he would wait to sleep until you had rested. He would sacrifice his own body for yours.

Whatever it took to keep you safe, he would do.

“I love you, Taka-chan,” you said, your arms tight around him, never dreaming of the promise he had just made to you, and the costs he meant to impose on himself.

Chapter Text

The only thing that got you through the weeks that followed was Hana-chan.

Confined to the couch and occupied by your mother and Taka-chan’s mother, which was rather like being Belgium in World War II, the days felt endless. Whether it was feeding, changing, or holding Hana-chan, there was your mother’s way, Taka’s mother’s way, and the boshi techo’s way, and you were the peacekeeping force that was about to get its head blown off.

It took a solid week of suffering before you hit on the tactic of getting your mother to argue with Taka’s mother so you could sneak Hana-chan away to change her diaper yourself. You didn’t have any particular method, but the diapers didn’t fall off. And while changing diapers was not the most fun thing you had ever done, Hana-chan was the one thing you fought for, when your mother and Taka-chan’s mother would have chained you to the couch if they could.

She wasn’t doing much, yet. She slept and woke and ate and needed a new diaper in four hour cycles, and sometimes it felt like you were living in a long gray dream in which Taka appeared sporadically, with an endless argument about the configuration of your kitchen in the background. If you had died—and only a few weeks later the reality of this threat had diminished to the point that you could joke about it in your own head—then you were convinced that limbo would consist of an endless circular argument about where your dishes should go in relation to the coffee pot and the dish drying rack.

The existence of Hana and Taka was evidence of life outside this limbo. You were fascinated by Hana. It went without saying that you loved her beyond all reason; from the first moment you had looked at her little scowling face, all you could see was her father. But you and Taka had read all the books and you knew that soon her eyes would start focusing, and then she would be able to see colors, and then she would start discovering her hands and feet and she would start smiling and you just couldn’t wait to see all of it!

Then she went back to sleep, and you were back on the couch listening to your mother argue with your mother-in-law about your tiny linen closet.

“Taka-chan!” You cried when he came through the front door, sitting bolt upright. He had learned to judge the quality of your day by the enthusiasm of your greeting, and dropped his gym bag at the front door, coming swiftly to the couch. He didn’t want you getting up even to cross the room.

“Wife-chan,” he said, bending to kiss you. He showered and changed at the training center before he came home every day, and he smelled pleasantly of his soap and aftershave. He sat down on your sturdy coffee table, his hands sliding along your arms in a caress that was new but not unpleasant, his thumbs lingering over your wrists.

You didn’t know he was checking your pulse.

“How are you feeling?” He asked.

“Bored. Useless. Bored. Taka-chan, you have to get me out of here,” you whispered urgently, catching his big hands in yours. “We can take Hana-chan, they won’t notice for hours.”

“We can go for a walk after she wakes up,” he suggested, even though his legs felt like jelly after jumping blocks all day, and his ears were still ringing with shouts and squeaking sneakers. “How was she today?”

“Come see,” you said, seizing the excuse to escape the couch and pulling him after you, both of you tiptoeing up the stairs to the nursery. Taka-chan shamelessly adored Hana and was already boring the life out of his mostly single and childless teammates with pictures of his daughter.

“How long has she been asleep?” He whispered, pulling you against his side as he looked down at the sleeping baby. Every time he saw her, he was amazed all over again that you had produced such a thing.

“About two hours,” you whispered back. “I swear she’s bigger than she was this morning.”

Despite Taka’s disappointment that Hana was—so far, at three weeks old—determined to be a sprawling, silver-haired copy of himself rather than a dainty flower like her mother, he was coming around to the idea of a tall, athletic daughter. He liked Oikawa’s girlfriend and she played professional volleyball; he supposed it wouldn’t be terrible if his daughter turned out like that. He could teach Hana to play when she got old enough, he thought, his fingers running absently through your hair.

And, he admitted, he would feel safer if she did turn out to be a galumphing Amazon. He would never have to be afraid of losing her the way he’d so nearly lost you.

“Let’s go back downstairs,” he said softly, resisting the urge to carry you there. He knew you were bored, and fretful, and frustrated, and he knew your respective mothers were driving you up the wall, but he was grimly satisfied with the current arrangements. He knew you. Left to your own devices you would have refurbished half the house by now. Even in your old apartment, he remembered that you had always seemed to have some project, something that needed cleaning or patching or repairing. He had been so proud every time he saw you tug out your phone to watch a Youtube video on refinishing a table or reupholstering a chair.

You couldn’t afford the things you wanted, so you had learned to improvise and make them yourself. He had told Chikara more than once, at length, that there was nothing his clever wife couldn’t do.

But you weren’t going to be doing any of that yet.

“We could get dinner while we’re out,” you said, looking up at him with large, hopeful eyes. “The doctor said limited activities, not none. It won’t hurt to walk down to the riverside and sit down to eat dinner there, and it’s not even that hot outside yet. I feel like a vegetable. I can’t sit all day and do nothing, Taka-chan.”

“I know, I know.” God, it felt good to sit down. He sat back next to you on the couch, the cushions flattening under him, and slid his arm around you. “It’s only a couple more weeks. We’re not going to take any chances, okay?”

“Okay,” you agreed unhappily. You might have bounced back, but you knew the fear still lived and breathed in Taka, and you could see the worry in his eyes every time you even thought of doing something like work.

It was a little sad that your evening excursions were the highlight of your day, but so far, they were the only thing that reflected the vision you’d had for yourself and Taka in your new home. With summer on the way, you waited until the sun had gone down and the street lights were glimmering on, the beautiful evening half-light settling on your little corner of the city. Hana-chan, fed and changed and swaddled into her green frog blankets, was snugged against Taka’s broad chest because he wouldn’t hear of you carrying her for even a short walk, and the two of you walked along the river, looking at the menus of the cafés, window-shopping at the stores.

“Hashira-san says that Horikoshi is the best school in our district,” Taka-chan was saying, his fingers laced comfortably in yours. You were both indulging in your favorite pastime, building castles in the air about what Hana would do, what you would do, what he would do in a year, in five years, in ten years.

“They take them so young though,” you said, looking at the little tuft of blonde hair that was Hana in her sling, who now looked so tiny where only a few hours before you were marveling that this enormous baby had ever somehow fit inside you. “I don’t want to send her off to school at three. My Oka-san taught us to read and do math, I can teach her just as well—oh, look at this, Taka-chan,” you added, pausing to admire a set of jade jewelry in a window, set in spiraling silver teardrops.

“Five is early enough,” he agreed, making a mental note of the jewelry, and the price. You had agreed that none of the plans you hatched together should be considered binding until the time came to actually implement them, but both of you loved talking about the future, watching the years unspool as you dreamed your dreams, a broad avenue ahead and a lifetime to walk down it together.

“Besides, when we give Hana-chan a brother or sister, I’ll still be home with them anyway.” You gave a little skip of happiness at the thought, though both the thought and the skip made his heart almost leap out of his throat, and his hand tightened on yours.

“Mmm,” he said, his reply to everything when he didn’t know what to reply, and steered you back toward home soon after.

* * *

Your mother and Taka-chan’s mother went home, and Hana-chan devoured your lives.

The day they left, Taka-chan sat down with you and made you swear by every oath he could think of that you wouldn’t over-exert yourself. No carpentry. No reupholstery. No DIY of any kind. It was like he could see the plans ticking in your brain, nourished by a month of idleness, and you reluctantly pushed them further down the road and nodded, more persuaded by the urgency in his voice than any logical arguments he might make.

But Hana rendered all oaths unnecessary.

The months passed in a blur of feeding, crying, changing, sleeping, feeding, crying, changing, and sleeping. You tried to make some kind of schedule for yourself, and your week in the hospital had given you a horror of grubbiness that meant Taka never caught you in your pajamas at the end of the day, but it was a near thing. Some days you felt like you had lived your whole life in Hana-chan’s nursery, surrounded by spit cloths and diapers, dozing in the gliding chair while the heartless little creature slept deep and peaceful in her crib until her next bout of screaming.

Both you and Taka were so tired that you fell into bed every night like you were falling down a well. For a while, Taka-chan accepted your rationalization that you were home all day and you could sleep when Hana did, you should be the one to get up at night. He had to work every day, after all. But one night, stumbling out of your bedroom on the way to Hana, you walked into the wall and Taka startled out of a sound sleep to hear you crying in the hallway and trying to figure out why your nose was bleeding, and somehow still not awake enough to find a light.

“I’ve got her,” he grunted at least every other night thereafter, and staggered into the nursery bare-chested in his boxers, squinting down at the tiny, provoking imp that was his daughter. He had entirely lost his fear of her by now. This was a battle of wills, and she was going to find that her father was no pushover.

“You don’t have to scream, you know,” he muttered, his big hands moving easily through the diaper-changing process. “Your Otou-san can hear you. Your grandpa-ji can hear you in Sendai. Shhh, shhh, shhh. There, that’s better, isn’t it?”

He rewrapped her, lifted her, and moved down to the kitchen with her as quietly as he could. She wasn’t screaming anymore, but he knew it was provisional; if she wasn’t fed soon, she would make her disapproval known.

“This is why we make bottles before we go to bed,” he explained to her, pulling one out of the refrigerator and setting in the microwave. “Because you can’t wait the whole two minutes it would take to make a fresh one, which would probably taste better. But here you are. I don’t care what everyone says, you do look like your Oka-san.”

At night, in the dark, with only Hana-chan to hear, Aone Takanobu talked.

“You have her eyes,” he said, offering her the bottle. She was reaching for things now; how amazing was that? Her tiny hand held onto the side of the bottle as she drank, and he padded back upstairs with her and settled into the gliding chair, listening to it creak under his weight with distant anxiety. “And I’ll bet you have her mouth. You frown like me though.”

He had to admit that. Only you would confirm it for him out loud, but he knew what he looked like. The books all said Hana-chan should be watching and copying facial expressions by now, and he amused himself by frowning at her, smiling at her, watching her little rosebud mouth move in response.

“Now you just need to finish eating and go to sleep. Do you know what it’s like to play volleyball on four hours of sleep? One day you will. I’ll teach you to play and then some day in college you’re going to be studying late and you’re going to go to practice the next day feeling like there’s six inches of extra skull around your brain. And I will laugh.”

His voice went on in the dark, a deep rumble that was soothing as a lullaby. She ate. She burped. And she fell asleep safe in the crook of his beefy arm, while her father snored quietly above her.

“Narcolepsy?” Oikawa Tōru guessed the next day, surveying the giant sleeping form of Aone-kun stretched out on a wooden locker room bench.

“A side job as an assassin,” Ennoshita speculated. They all knew exactly what the problem was, but it was much more fun to make up reasons other than a new baby at home. At first, there had been a little quiet envy when Takkun joined the Tigers. He was not just happily married, he was ecstatically married, and not shy about saying so. The fact that you so clearly adored him made the whole institution seem more attractive.

This would be a downside.

“Get him up before Chibana-san gets here,” Iwaizumi warned, tugged his exercise shirt over his head. There was a tight alliance among the men from Miyagi, and Iwaizumi-kun and Taka-kun had hit it off particularly well over the last few months; they shared a limited tolerance for bullshit.

“Taka-kun,” Ennoshita said, hitting his friend in the face with a towel. Taka’s eyes snapped open.

“I’m awake,” he lied, and stumbled off to stick his head under a cold shower.

But then, at the end of the day when you came to pick him up with Hana-chan in her stroller, tugging your giant husband down for a kiss that made his ears turn red, it made even incredible sleep deprivation feel worthwhile. Because there you were, both of you, this was the life and the family he’d dreamed of all those months ago, and even though he could have laid down and gone to sleep right there on the street, he also wanted to point at you and tell total strangers, this is my wife and daughter, can you believe it?

“It’s not even that far from home,” you were telling him, and there was pretty color in your cheeks and a brightness in your eyes that made a mockery of all his fears. “And it’s downhill, Taka-chan, and we can stop for dinner on the way. It’s so nice out.”

“I guess,” he said, and couldn’t resist a caress which he hoped no one saw. After four months you could fit back into your old clothes, and the blue skirt and pink blouse made you look just like you had in high school. He almost expected to see the old butterfly necklace around your neck. The words came to him out of habit. “You look pretty tonight, [Name]-chan.”

You smiled up at him and took his hand, squeezing gently as you finished the ritual. “How was practice today, Aone-chan?”

“Good. Serve practice today.” He nudged you over to take over pushing Hana’s stroller for the very slightly uphill walk back home. In the months since she had been born, it had almost become a distant dream that the two of you would ever do anything but juggle her back and forth. But there would be more of this, he thought, looking down at you walking beside him, at Hana sleeping as the stroller rocked her, impervious to city noise. There would be a lifetime of this.

After dinner and after Hana-chan was asleep, you came to sit with him, looking so sweet and fresh that he instantly lost interest in whatever was on the TV. He was in his ugly chair and you settled in his lap comfortably, your soft hair brushing his jaw, and his hand slid over the curves of your body, a caress that had lost none of its excitement in its familiarity. The shape of your thigh, the dip of your waist, the roundness of the side of your breast, familiar and yet new after long absence.

You hadn’t been together since before Hana had been born.

Was that right? How could it have been so long?

“Taka-chan,” you whispered, turning your face up for his kiss, finding his mouth hot and hungry for you. His arms were around you, drawing you into him, almost lifting you bodily to hold you tighter still. You wanted him. It was in the eager part of your lips, your quick breath, the tangle of your fingers in his hair. “Oh, Taka-chan…”

He wanted you. There was the obvious barometer directly under you, getting harder by the moment, but you could also tell by his kiss, demanding and firm and powerful, straightforward and filled with desire. You could tell by the bruising strength of his big hands, thrilling you as they went over your body. He wanted you. He wanted you.

But then he drew back.

His kisses trailed off and though he held you close, that hungry strength was gone from his grip.

“We’ll be glad to get some sleep tonight,” he said, his fingers tangling in your curls, caressing, but not seducing. “Are you sure you’re not tired from the walk down to my work?”

“Yes, Taka-chan,” you said, puzzled.

“I’m glad you came,” he said, still caressing, but somehow he had maneuvered you so your head was on his shoulder and he was just holding you now, loving, but you would have had to turn back around to kiss him. Maybe he was just tired, you thought. He worked so hard every day. Or maybe later, when you went to bed…

And to be fair, you fell asleep in his lap only a few minutes later.

Another night, maybe.

* * *

There was something wrong.

You tried to tell yourself it was normal, that both of you were tired. You were tired. You fell asleep anytime you were left alone in a comfortable position for five consecutive minutes. But as Hana learned to sit, and then crawl, and sleep for six hours at a stretch, it seemed like there should be time again for the two of you.

It was hard to tell because suddenly, Taka-chan was hard to read. He had never been vocal about what he was thinking and feeling, but from your earliest acquaintance you had always been able to understand him, though most people thought he was about as expressive as a granite statue. But you knew him. You had been together six years, and married for four of them. You knew him better than anyone else in the world.

On the surface, there wasn’t anything you could point to as cause for concern. He was delighted with Hana-chan, devoted to you, and training harder than ever, preparing for his first professional volleyball season. There was a portion of the living room for Hana and her play mat and the three of you spent part of every evening there, talking to her and making faces at her. Taka-chan had a growing repertoire of bizarre voices and noises that made both you and Hana laugh like loons; for someone who was so easily embarrassed in public, he had no hesitation about making an utter fool of himself for his little girl.

You had known he would be an amazing father. Watching him made you love him so much. But when you would meet his eyes over Hana on her patchwork play mat, you could see the wall in them. He was smiling at you, he was laughing with you, his hands touched yours and he kissed the top of your head and you still couldn’t reach him.

“Come here,” he said to you every night when you had put Hana to bed, and he would hold you and caress you and sometimes kiss you, passionate kisses that never went anywhere, and always ended with one of the two of you falling asleep. More and more often, it was him. You would sit awake in his arms, staring sightlessly at the TV and wondering what was wrong.

Was he tired? Was he working that hard?

“Taka-chan says Chibana-san and Hishara-san are slave drivers,” you said to Chikara one evening, artfully insinuated into his conversation with Taka about that day’s practice. The two men were down on the floor playing with Hana while you made dinner, and it was endlessly entertaining how different their concept of play was from yours. Taka was very interested in Hana’s athletic development and approached her, with love, like a tiny science experiment.

“They take it seriously,” Chikara replied, dangling his fingers for Hana to try and grab. “Everyone thinks the Kings are the hardcore team, but we’ll see how that works out for them.”

“Well you all are used to working hard,” you said, with your back to them. “I remember when Taka-chan was practicing for nationals last year, he used to come home after ten some nights.”

“And then study for two hours after that,” Taka-chan agreed guilelessly. He had no head for subtext. “I’m glad I’m not trying to go to class while we’re getting ready for the season. Look, wife-chan, she’s trying to stand!”

And that was that, as far as you were concerned.

But what was it, then? Laying that possibility to rest only opened up a set of other, worse ones. Because if he wasn't tired, then maybe you were the problem.

“Taka-chan,” you whispered one night, kissing him before he could fall asleep beside you. You had never felt self-conscious with him before; his desire for you had always been transparent as glass, and it was the reason you had the courage to take his first kiss from him, to put his hands on your body and tell him you wanted to be touched. Now, with fresh make-up and perfume, naked in the dark in his bed with him, you kissed him, and felt unsure.

“Wife-chan,” he whispered back, his arms closing around you, and then going rigid in surprise when he found nothing but your skin. You didn’t give him a chance to pull away. You pressed against him, your breasts against his chest, kissing him with all the sweet passion you had always given him. You thought of every time you had been together, from the first to the last, the worry that had plagued him in the beginning, the time when he finally realized, nearly two years into your relationship, that he didn’t need to hold back. He had been a little drunk at the time, courtesy of a Futakachi and Koganegawa, but all the sudden you remembered that night as intensely as if it were yesterday. The feel of his impatient hands, his hot breath on your neck, and then he drove into you so hard it scared you, it thrilled you. God, he was strong. He had been in you so deep, he had gone at you so hard, you were sore for days afterward, and you had loved it.

It had been the feel of him at last losing himself in you.

You tried to remind him of that. Your arms wound around his neck and your tongue tasted his, his mouth open more in surprise than in response to your desire. His arms tightened around you and you felt him through his boxers for an instant, hard and pushing between your legs.

Then he pulled away.

“I have to be at work early,” he rumbled, his face turned away from you so the dim light in the hallway only showed the firm line of his closed mouth. He had put a nightlight in the hallway after the night you walked into the wall.

“Taka-chan, is something wrong?” You whispered, so hurt that you hardly knew how to form the question.

“No. No, wife-chan.” He pulled you against his side, his hand running over your shoulders, and kissed your head. “I love you. I’m just tired.”

But he wasn’t. He was lying. He was lying because…why? Because he didn’t want you anymore?

But he did. Or his body did. That wasn’t the same thing, with men. You let him pull you close, felt his hands on you, chastely caressing until they slowed, stopped, and his breath was deep and regular with sleep. Your hands went over your body, looking for what had changed, what it was that had changed his love for you.

You had always been able to talk about things, you agonized. You had always known his mind. He had made you feel safe asking him anything, because you had known whatever the answer was, you knew he still loved you beyond all reason. But now…

You weren’t sure about anything.

But there was one more clue.

You made no more attempts at seduction for weeks. You had some pride; you couldn’t bear the thought of another rejection. And life wasn’t so terrible. Hana stood on her own for the first time. Taka cuddled you every night. He told you all about his day; you told him about yours. You slept together. And you had never felt so keenly the things that made a marriage.

You had been sleeping poorly, and it just happened that you were lying awake one night when Taka-chan started awake with an audible gasp, his big body rigid beside you.

“Taka-chan?” You whispered, startled. His hand fumbled for yours under the sheets and he inhaled like there wasn’t enough air in the room, and he pulled you against him, burying his face in your hair. “Taka-chan, what’s wrong?”

“Bad dream,” he grunted. He was holding you so hard. And Taka didn’t have nightmares. He would have told you if he did. He slept like he’d been clubbed over the head, waking up in the exact same position he’d gone to sleep. But he was showing every sign of having had a nightmare now. “Fuck of a bad dream.”

“What was it?” You whispered, your arms around him, holding him as tight as he held you. Taka never swore. For a second, in the dark, while he was afraid, you thought maybe the walls would come down.

“Just a dream.” He pulled back, but you clung to him.

“Taka, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He disentangled himself from you gently, caressingly, and even kissed you. “Go back to sleep.”

He rolled over, the enormous expanse of his back to you, and you turned your face away to hide your tears as you assimilated this latest bit of information. Something was wrong. Badly wrong.

But you were wondering now if it was something wrong with him.

Chapter Text

The roar of the crowd built as Oikawa-kun tossed the ball and began his run, the demon serve for which he was becoming famous, and you gripped the railing of the balcony and shouted with them, an escalating cry as his hand slammed into the ball.

“He’s so good!” You cried excitedly to [Name]-chan beside you, who was watching the game with the critical eye of an artist surveying a masterpiece. The ball slammed into the left rear corner of the court so hard, it bounced up another sixteen feet, untouched. A service ace.

The Tigers cheered and Taka walloped Oikawa on the back in congratulations, nearly knocking him to his knees.

“Love hurts,” Name-chan remarked, and you laughed and clapped until your hands stung.

“He gets too excited when he’s playing, he’s been like that since high school.” Being congratulated by Taka-chan was an intense experience.

It was the first game of the season, and Taka had been too excited to sleep the night before, though he had to have played a hundred matches by now. You had been unable to sleep for other reasons. Ever since the night of his first nightmare—if it was his first—you had wondered if there would be others. It could have been a fluke; everyone had a bad dream once in a while. If you hadn’t been searching so desperately for something, anything, that might explain what was happening, you would never have thought anything of it. But Taka was having nightmares often enough that you thought it had to be the same one, over and over; they always lasted about the same length of time and ended with him gasping awake, then lying silently in the dark, shaking.

And he refused to talk about it.

You forced that thought away, trying to focus on the game. It was hard to believe it was the same man on the court; tired or not, he was a force of nature. You were sure the other team, the Arrows from Tokyo, had been briefed on their opposition, but it was one thing to be told about Aone Takanobu, and another thing to face him on the other side of the net. Especially when he was playing his usual mind games with the spikers.

“He is an incredible blocker,” [Name]-chan said beside you, pounding on the balcony railing as Taka-chan slammed the ball down for the third time in a row.

“I know! Taka-chan! Taka-chan!” You hugged yourself with joy when he turned to look for you, like he had some sort of radar that let him pinpoint you precisely in the crowd. He wouldn’t smile at you—that would make him look too friendly to his opponents, and the more he scared them, the better—but you could see it in his eyes.

“Where’s Hana-chan?” [Name]-chan asked as the Arrows called a timeout, and the crowd sat back down. “Not quite ready to cheer for her Otou-san?”

“Not ready for this crowd, I think,” you said, laughing. “We found a babysitter.” Elderly Ibuki-san across the street had been admiring Hana-chan for months; apparently her grown daughter was taking her time about providing grandchildren. You still had to resist the urge to check your phone for messages every other minute, but Hana-chan seemed perfectly happy with her surrogate Obaa-san. “I’m going home after the game though, Taka-chan warned me that whether they were celebrating or mourning, they’re going out to drink either way.”

“Tōru-chan told me the same,” [Name]-chan said, resigned. “He’s going to call me at midnight and tell me to meet him at a karaoke bar again. He always wants to do karaoke after he’s had a few.”

That explained so much.

“Well, don’t let Taka-chan have too much if you’re there,” you said, squeezing her arm. “He looks like he could drink a keg by himself, but it just takes longer before it shows.”

You actually felt better if she was going. Even level-headed Chikara-kun sometimes got swept up in Oikawa’s hairbrained ideas, but [Name]-chan seemed uniquely immune. And it wasn’t that anything bad would happen if Taka-chan had a few too many, but you knew he would be upset about it the next day.

“I’ll make sure he gets back to you unscathed,” she said, and then winced as Matsyuma slammed into Taka, closing a block. Matsuyama-san was the only other player on the Tigers that stood a chance of putting a dent in the Iron Wall. “Relatively speaking.”

All that mattered to Taka was that they denied the Arrows another point. He punched Matsuyama in the shoulder in celebration of the block and the teams rotated again, Tigers 17, Arrows 13. The Arrows had already lost the first match and if they didn’t change something up, it was going to be over in one more set.

You had been watching Taka play for six years, but after six months of professional training, it was thrilling to see how much better he had gotten. If anyone had asked you before, you would have wondered how much improvement was possible; he was so good already. But watching him play, you remembered what Aya-san had said the day Taka had first met with the Tigers, about how understanding how the players did what they did would help them learn to do it better. Taka-san was as sharp as ever, unbelievably quick on his feet, but somehow you could see that he was operating less from instinct than trained, calculated reflexes. As a student there just wasn’t time to drill with the kind of repetition needed to make muscle memory.

The Arrows rallied in the third set with some desperately fast combinations, setting and spiking to opposite sides of the court, too fast for even Taka to get more than a touch. And even then, he was so fast; how could he move like that? It felt like the earth should shake as he pounded from one side of the court to the other, his long arms and big hands curving over the top of the net, scowling into the faces of the opposing spikers. He had a way of moving his hands, held forward or tipped back depending on how high the block was, how high the ball was, braced to deflect or reject the ball. The ball slapped against his fingertips and he whipped his head around with a roar like a bull.

“One touch!”

Defense in depth, you remembered Yaku saying; this was what they meant. Taka-chan was the front line, but now Chikara stepped forward—or sprinted backward—to snag the ball with sheer bloody-minded determination. He wasn’t like Taka, whose physical prowess was a blade just waiting to be sharpened. Chikara was quick, he was coordinated, but beyond anything else, he was tenacious. If it was possible on any plane of existence, he would get that ball.

“Oh, how did he do that!” [Name]-chan shouted beside you, joining the screams of the crowd as Chikara barreled off the court and dove almost into the back wall, one long arm shooting forward to pop the ball up and back to Oikawa, so close that all he had to do was nudge his hands a breath to the right. “Iwa-kun! Iwa-kun!”

And slam. The ball was down. Iwa-kun landed so close to the net, he had to turn his face so his nose wouldn’t hit it. You and [Name]-chan were screaming and hugging, the din was deafening, which was why you hadn’t brought Hana-chan. The Osaka Tigers had won their first match by a landslide 25-16, in three sets.

You hurried together down to the hallway leading to the locker rooms, where only the players’ friends and family were permitted, to congratulate them after the game. You didn’t know the other players’ girlfriends well yet, and you smiled shyly at each other as you waited. It didn’t take long. The players were eager to celebrate and there was a wave of screams and cheers as the doors opened and they came into the hallway, tall and sweaty in their black and orange uniforms, hardly winded after only three sets.

“Taka-chan!” you cried, instantly swept up into his arms for an impressively sweaty hug. You didn’t care. You were so happy for him. He was a real volleyball player, he was one of the best volleyball players in Japan, and he had just won his first professional match. “You were so good!”

“Did you see that last save?” He asked excitedly, and didn’t even turn red when you kissed him.

“Yes, I did! Chikara-chan!” You squealed, and ran to him as soon as Taka set you back down on your feet, tugging him with you. “That was so amazing!”

Chikara was looking pleased, himself; you knew from Taka-chan that he had doubted whether he really deserved to be with the Tigers, let alone on the court. Taka’s arm went around you as you talked about the match together, pulling Iwa-kun over to congratulate him, too. It would have made everyone except you and Taka laugh to hear it, but Iwa-kun had always intimidated you. He was so sharp with Oikawa-kun, and forbidding in a way that Taka-chan just wasn’t. And Taka said that Iwa-kun was one of the league’s best-kept secrets; he was physically imposing, but not a giant, so no one knew just from looking that his spikes were every bit as terrifying as Ushijima Wakatoshi’s.

“That was an awesome spike, Iwa-kun,” [Name]-chan was saying, her eyes bright with excitement. “You almost took that guy’s hands off.”

“Not fast enough to get the block up,” Taka rumbled, slapping Iwa-kun on the back.

“They didn’t have anyone who can block the ball just by standing there,” Iwa-kun replied, with unexpected modesty, and slapped Taka-chan back just as hard. “What did you think of your first league game, Aone-chan?”

“So exciting!” You exclaimed, clapping your hands together. “I hope I can come to some of the away games, it’s so much fun to watch all of you play, Iwa-kun! Taka-chan always says it’s a team effort but you can really see it, it’s like you’ve been playing together forever.”

“In some cases that’s true,” Oikawa-kun drawled, with a meaningful look at Iwa-kun that made the other man lift a threatening fist. “Iwa-chan, at this point I expect to be playing volleyball with you in the next life. It’s our destiny.”

“And I’ll be punching you in the back of the head there, too,” Iwa-kun retorted, which made you move a little closer to Taka-chan’s side. This was why Iwa-kun was scary. The casual violence. Taka-chan was different, he never meant to hurt anyone.

Taka glanced down at you, the corners of his mouth twitching as if he had read the entire stream of thought in your eyes.

“Let’s go say goodbye, wife-chan,” he said, steering you away from the crowd. That meant he wanted to kiss you, and he wasn’t going to do it in front of the entire volleyball team. You waved goodbye, your other hand in his, and as soon as you turned the corner together, he lifted you up again to kiss you, long and lingering. When he set you down again, both of you were breathless, and looking into his eyes, you couldn’t see the least shadow.

“I’m so proud of you,” you said, beaming up at him, and he pulled you against him again.

“I’m going to be late tonight,” he said regretfully. He enjoyed his teammates, but drinking and carousing was not Taka’s favorite thing. He didn’t like crowds. “Go to sleep if you get tired, okay?”

“Okay.” Something in the look in your eyes, the soft curve of your pink lips, made him duck his head to steal another kiss.

“I love you.” His big hand smoothed over your soft curls. It was your smile, his favorite smile, the one that made him think like he could do anything in the world just because you believed in him. “I’ll try not to be too late, okay?”

“Okay, Taka-chan.” You wanted him to kiss you again. You were radiating the desire to be kissed. And he did, again, and again, and again, until someone yelled for him down the hall and you realized you had been being kissed for quite so time.

And as he turned away from you, you could have cried. This was the man you had married. He still loved you. He still wanted you. And the times that he forgot whatever it was that was tearing at him made it even harder to endure.

* * *

He wanted you.

Taka made his way up the stairs with one hand gripping the railing, unsteady on his feet. He wasn’t quite staggering, but he hit the doorframe with his huge shoulder on the way into the bedroom, and it knocked him a little off balance as he made his way across the room. He caught himself on the end of the bed and saw you.

God, you were beautiful.

He loved your face. Your eyelashes were so dark against your cheeks, your lips blooming with color, so softly curved that he wanted to trace their shape with his thumb. He wanted to press his thumb between them and feel you kiss and suck, like you had done more than once to his…

Maybe you would do that again tonight if he woke you up.

Distantly in his beer-blurred brain, something clamored a protest, but he couldn’t think what that might be at the present moment. You were his wife. He wanted you. He felt like he’d been wanting you a long, long time.

“Wife-chan,” he whispered, with all the longing he’d held back for months. He climbed onto the bed with you, above you, and your eyes fluttered open as the mattress shifted.

“Taka?” You whispered.

“Want you.” He bent to kiss you, hard. His hands pulled at his belt, unbuckled, unbuttoned, unzipped. He was so hard, he wanted his clothing off. He kissed you as he undressed, he tasted you, he felt your mouth open for him and groaned at the sweetness. “God I want you.”

He loomed over you, huge and naked, the jutting length of him swaying, and he took your hand and closed it around that hot length as if he couldn’t stand to wait another second. He knew he had to get you wet, and to do that he had to get you naked, but he wanted to kiss you and he wanted you to touch him so fucking much. He felt like his skin was starving for your touch.

“Stroke me,” he ordered hoarsely, pulling off your pajama bottoms and then covering your satin-covered mound with his mouth.

You cried out softly, your small hand gripping him, and then beginning to slide up and down. It felt so good he was moaning into your moistening lower lips, panting against them, wetting the satin with his mouth and your growing arousal. With a muttered curse, he yanked your panties off your legs and plunged his tongue into you.

You cried out louder. Your hand squeezed. His hips bucked, and his other hand slid under your tank top to cover your breast, his thumb circling your nipple.

“So wet,” he groaned, muffled with you in his mouth, and your answer was to moan for him and stroke him faster. He was throbbing so hard. He wanted to pound into you so much, he felt like a teenager again, he was too excited, he wasn’t going to last. Why? Why was he so hot so fast? He was trying to get you wet and he couldn’t settle to it, it just felt too good, what you were doing to him. “[Name]-chan, I’m going to—ohhh, don’t stop…”

You didn’t. He was so big your small hand couldn’t close around him, but you knew exactly what he liked, using your palm, fingers apart, feeling the velvet length of him quivering, hot and alive as you squeezed and stroked. The sight of him above you, those massive shoulders bunching with pleasure as he yanked his head up and cried out was so erotic, it left you light-headed. The hall light lit on his pale hair and his eyes were squeezed shut as he shuddered, thrust his hips upward, and came. The hot liquid coated your fingers, spurted onto the side of the bed.

That had been…quick.

But he wasn’t done.

“Why do I want you so much?” He whispered, bending to kiss you again, his still-throbbing cock slipping through your fingers. The question made your eyes well with tears.

“I love you,” you whispered back, the words pressed against his lips.

“I know. I know, I know.” He moved above you, still kissing you. He wanted in you. He wanted it like he wanted air. “Love you. [Name]-chan. I—”

He thrust in and both of you cried out. It was easier now, you remembered some times when your body had felt swollen with the effort of containing him, but you were still so filled with him that you panted shallowly, trying to adjust, trying to take him. His hips rolled up, driving him into you again and you cried out, squirming under him. He felt the fabric of your shirt separating him from you and hated it. He tore it off you and bent his head to your breasts, sucking one nipple and then the other. He was getting hot again. It was so hard to think. Your thighs felt like satin around him and he held onto them, driving into you, feeling your body, so wet, yield around him. It was so good. It was so good.

“T-taka-chan!” You panted, his name shattered by the power of his thrusts. The whole bed was rattling with them, he was pounding you into the mattress so hard that you could barely breathe. This felt like a dream. What if you were dreaming? Your hands slid over him, gripping the flat length of his back, feeling the muscles flex and coil as he slammed into you. He was panting. He was so big you couldn’t stand it. And he wasn’t holding back.

“So good, so good, so good,” he said over and over, his eyes squeezed shut, his face screwed up with pleasure. Every one of your cries struck him as hard as a slap, the sound of your pleasure urging him to go harder, faster, he wanted you to keep making those noises forever. His hands explored your body, gripped you by your shoulders, slid up your slender arms in a habitual motion that brought a flash of fear that vanished as soon as he was past your wrists. Why should he be afraid when he sheathed in you to the hilt, when you were crying out his name in high, breathless gasps?

“Ahhh, ahhh, Taka, Taka!” You cried, out of your mind with pleasure. You came on him and he lifted you bodily off the bed and kept pounding you, with you wrapped in his arms, crushed against his chest, buried in him. His heart was hammering under your ear and you couldn’t tell its rhythm from the pounding of his body into yours, that hard, rutting length of him slamming into you over and over. Had he come in you? Was that why you were so wet? Was he still coming in you?

“Mine, mine, [Name]-chan, you’re mine,” he panted, and he fisted one hand in your hair and pulled you up to kiss you. His kiss tasted salty. “I’m never going to lose you, never, you feel so good, so good, so good!”

“I love you, Taka, I love you!” You cried, your arms around his neck. You felt bruised with pleasure. You felt drunk with it. Your lips were swollen from his kisses, your nipples aching, every thrust of his huge cock was setting you on fire. You couldn’t tell when you started coming again. You couldn’t tell when he did. It was dark and hot and the slickness of your shared sweat made it impossible to guess where his body ended and yours began.

He came in you. He came with a gasp that burned against your skin, your name on his lips, his body jerking against yours. His hands gripped your hips so hard you cried out in pain, your hands covering his, reminding him to be gentle. And he filled you.

He rolled onto his back on his side of the bed, still in you, still hard, his breath rasping in your ear.

“I love you,” he said thickly, muffled against your skin. “[Name]-chan, I love you so much…”

“I love you.” You were a tangle of everything, your hair attached to you in silky, sticky curls, and why were both of you nearly crying? You kissed him again and again, worn out from what he had done to you. You ached in every muscle.

Some time in the night he pulled blankets over both of you, but you slept with him still inside you, slept on his broad chest like you had on your wedding night, with his huge heart thumping steadily under your ear.

* * *

“No.”

He started awake so violently, he woke you, and pushed you off him with a gasp.

“No, no. Fuck.” The gray light was driving splinters in his brain and he clawed at his eyes as if he wanted to un-see and un-do everything from the last sixty seconds, and everything that had led to what he had seen in those sixty seconds. He had felt himself inside you when he woke up; he had slept inside you. There was absolutely no doubt about what had happened.

“Taka, what?” You fought your way out from under your hair, hissing with the pain between your thighs. This was the second time in the same night you’d had to play catch-up after he woke you up, and you hadn’t had anything to drink.

“We shouldn’t have done that.” He moaned, pulling the pillow over his head, his arms knotting as he pressed it down like he wanted to suffocate himself. You sat up and yanked it off his head.

“What do you mean, we shouldn’t have done that?” You asked, feeling a sick knot forming in your belly.

Bereft of his pillow, he turned facedown on the bed. Whatever he was saying was lost in the mattress. You tugged at his shoulder.

“Aone Takanobu,” you said breathlessly. “Talk to me.”

But you weren’t budging him unless he wanted to be budged. He shrugged your hands away and stood unsteadily, striding into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. Dumbstruck, you followed a second later. He’d locked the door.

“Taka.” You knocked on the door. You wanted to pound on it.

Inside, the distinctive sounds that meant he’d had a great deal too much beer last night. The toilet flushed. Water ran. Fear rose, heavy and leaden, from the pit of your belly to claw at the inside of your throat. You had thought…you had wondered last night if it would be a mistake in the light of day. And you had pushed that thought away because it was unbearable. Taka, the love of your life, had to get himself staggering drunk to be willing to make love to you?

Or—and this thought struck you with real horror—was it because it was a mistake to make love to you?

“Taka,” you said again, choked with tears. “Taka, I can’t stand this. Please come out and talk to me. Something’s wrong, don’t lie to me anymore, tell me what it is!”

The door opened. Hungover or not, naked or not, you had never seen him look so forbidding. He tried to brush past you but you caught his arm and held on.

“Tell me!”

“I need to—let go, wife-chan.” He tried to pull away, gentle as always, unwilling to use his strength against you. He was very determinedly not looking at you, and you didn’t understand any of it, but you felt that you had to make him see you and darted in front of him, pushing at him to make him stop.

“No! Taka, we’re going to talk about this. You—I don’t know what you think you’re doing but I can’t stand it anymore, do you hear me? Do you not love me anymore? Is there someone else?” Tears poured down your cheeks and he had no choice but to look at you. “I’m your wife, how can last night have been a mistake? Did you—did you think I was someone else?”

“No.” He said after a moment of dumbstruck silence, his eyes wide, his face pale. “Of course not, wife-chan. How could you even think that?”

“Then tell me what it is!” You sobbed, and he pulled you into bed with him and cradled you against his chest. It was all wrong. He couldn’t think, it felt like he was trying to put things together and his thoughts kept fracturing off half-finished. You were crying, and that was his fault. You should never, ever, be crying. But he…what you had done together last night might kill you.

“What did you say?” You asked, lifting your head to look at him, tears starring your eyelashes.

“What we did last night could kill you,” he repeated dully. There. He had said it. “If you get pregnant again…”

“That’s—Taka-chan, you heard what the doctor said—”

“And I know that once that happens, it’s more likely to happen again!” He shouted. “You bled to death. I watched you. You died. I watched you die because I got you pregnant and you had my baby.”

He was seeing it again, the same thing he saw in his nightmares, the strange light of the nighttime hospital room and you laid down on the bed, your face white as paper and so still. The bundles of bloody cotton. Sakurai-san pushing at his chest, saying things that made no sense when the only sound in the world was the long, endless drone of your heart monitor, announcing the emptiness where your heartbeat was not.

He had seen you. He had seen you dead. He was looking at you, your arm dangling off the hospital bed and he’d had the urge to go and put it beside you. They had brought the cart down the hallway, running with it. A nurse had been counting off the seconds since you’d flatlined. Ikeru-sensei was snapping at people, working frantically, red to her elbows. They brought the cart, and—didn’t use it.

“What are you waiting for?!” He’d roared.

“Sakurai-san, shut that goddamn door,” Ikeru-sensei had snapped, and unbelievably, they tried. He shoved himself into the doorway and three nurses couldn’t budge him. So they left him there, watching as Ikeru-sensei did something, pushed, prodded, stitched, and the blood pouring from inside you stopped.

He’d thought that was it. You’d stopped bleeding because there was no more blood. He thought when she pushed back and stood up and ripped off her bloody gloves that she was about to tell him I’m so sorry, Aone-san. He was seeing you dead and he was seeing every moment of your life, every moment that he’d known you, he was hearing your voice in his ears and smelling your scent and feeling your body in his arms. He heard you say I love you ten thousand times.

He was sobbing.

“I’m not dead, though,” you said faintly, your hand going to his hair. He was lying face down in bed, his shoulders heaving silently. “Taka. I’m here. I’m here. Taka.”

You pulled him up—you had no idea how, he weighed a ton—and got his arms around you. The intensity of his grief and terror was horrifying. But—but how would you have felt, if it had been him? And you had never talked about it, you realized. You had been happy to be alive. You had Hana. It was like a car accident.

This was his nightmare. This was what had been waking him in the night. He hadn’t told you—why?

You didn’t know what to say. You didn’t know what to do. His arms were around your waist and his head was in your lap and he was holding on so tight it hurt. You ran your fingers through his hair over and over. You said the only things you could think would possibly help.

“I love you, Taka. I’m here. It’s okay. I’m here, I’m here.”

He was probably still a bit drunk. He cried himself to sleep.

Shaken, you gently disentangled yourself and heaved him into a more comfortable position. Then you hovered, agonized. You didn’t want him to wake up alone. He was going to be sick when he woke up, and this wasn’t over. If you let him, you knew he would try to pretend none of this had happened, and things would continue as they had been before.

He was stubborn. He would likely abstain from alcohol for the rest of his life, too, just to make sure this never happened again.

In her room, Hana-chan started to wail, like a warning siren.

You had until he woke up to figure something out.