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As Steady as the Tide

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As soon as it’s five o’clock, Tsukishima’s out of his desk chair and bolting towards the library’s heavy, oaken front doors. He remembers his manners long enough to wave goodbye to the head librarian and the older man who runs the small, attached gift shop. They smile at the apparent exuberance of the scowling college boy ready to be done with work and off to see friends.

They’re not completely wrong.

On this island there are about four residents near his age, four potential friends, and they all hate him. Oh, they all know one another extremely well because, until college, they were in the same class every school day. They even had to ride the hour-long ferry together every morning to attend junior and high school at the next island over. But they never actually liked Tsukishima. Which is fine, he never really liked them either. The only thing they had in common was that they all wanted to go to college and leave this tourist trap of an island with a rapidly dwindling local population.

Leaving for the mainland to attend college was like getting a chance to start completely over. Tsukishima made new friends, took classes with people that didn’t know about the time he peed his pants on the second grade field trip, even attended a few parties. Everything was new. In contrast, everything on the island is frozen in time, exactly the same, no matter how many months he’s away.

Except for Kuroo.

Tsukishima pulls off his button-down as he briskly walks towards the beach. He stuffs it in his backpack and cuffs the sleeves of his t-shirt. The local families at the shore wave to him, used to seeing the youngest Tsukishima out for his nightly walk. The few tourists that make it down this far don’t pay enough attention to notice him.

He breaks into a jog, then a run as he leaves the soft sand and the shoreline grows pebbly, then rocky. With practiced ease, he jumps on the flattened rocks on a path he’s memorized until he’s through to the other side, still running until he reaches the secluded inlet, surrounded by worn-down volcanic rock, where Kuroo is already waiting.

Kuroo’s always waiting for him.

The merman has his arms crossed on the sand, cradling his head, while the rest of him is in the water where it must be. From far away, Kuroo looks like a man enjoying some alone time at the beach, but Tsukishima knows to look past the strong lines of his torso to the shimmering shapes below.

His tail would be easy to miss if he didn’t know what to look for, but after meeting everyday for several weeks, Tsukishima’s eyes naturally drift to the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of his tail, those silver and blue scales he wants to touch but will absolutely never ask to. Tsukishima imagines they’d feel smooth, just like the ocean rocks Kuroo brings for him, and delicate, almost as if he were touching the beams of sunlight that bounce off the ocean’s surface.

Tsukishima slows his run to a walk as he approaches, gently waving and sporting his first honest smile of the day.

“Oi, Tsukki!” Kuroo lifts his head and waves wildly. “What’d you bring for me today?”

Tsukishima slides his backpack down one shoulder, resting it in the sand. “I brought,” he drags out the sounds of the word, liking the way Kuroo gets closer in anticipation, “this.”

He carefully places a potted cactus down in the wet sand. There’s dirt in his backpack now, some pebbles, too, but the cactus itself survived the journey well enough. “It’s called mammillaria crinita, or a pincushion cactus.”

Kuroo looks at it from every angle until he carefully reaches out a finger to touch it. He recoils quickly when it pokes him back. “Ow, you could have warned me.”

“But it’s funnier this way.” Tsukishima smirks. “And I’ve brought you a cactus before, didn’t you think this one would feel the same?”

“It has flowers! I thought it’d be softer than the others.”

“You’ve brought me your fair share of weird, stabbing plants and objects from the sea. Revenge.”

Kuroo tips his head back, his cackle filling the air. “Alright, fair. Did ya bring the book?”

Tsukishima pulls out the well-read copy of his favorite book. They started reading it earlier this week, but Kuroo’s already invested. It’s tough to make it more than a few pages everyday because Kuroo asks so many questions and Tsukishima is, for once in his life, glad to answer. “Of course. Want to start it now or--”

Kuroo shakes his head, settling his head back onto his crossed arms, eyes darting between Tsukishima and the cactus. “Not yet,” he starts, sighing contentedly, “how was your day?”

“Work. Nothing else. Never anything else. You?” Tsukishima folds his knees against his chest, rests his head on a knee and looks down at Kuroo while he talks.

“I ate. I slept. I ate again. And now I’m here!”

“You sound like a cat.”

“What was that one again?”

“The soft, lazy creature that’s full of evil.”

Kuroo locks eyes with Tsukishima and shares a look and a small smile that makes Tsukishima feel important.

Tsukishima’s breath catches in his throat, but then the merman is smirking with a wink. “That doesn’t sound like me at all.”

With anyone else, conversation is tough. Even with his best friend at college, Tsukishima still finds himself constantly replaying everything he’s said and wondering if he was too mean, too weird, too sarcastic, too nerdy, too boring, too quiet, too everything. But not with Kuroo.

When he’s with Kuroo, Tsukishima feels like his niche interests in plants and books are interesting, are something that makes him special. He’s never needed the bitingly sarcastic veneer he wears throughout the rest of the day. Not here.

From the beginning Kuroo’s drawn him in with a steady ease, a wondrous comfort he hasn’t found with anyone else.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s similar for Kuroo. Maybe his obnoxious laugh and his specific fascination with oddly-shaped rocks from the depths of the ocean make him a bit awkward for other merpeople to be around. Maybe that’s why he’s always waiting for Tsukishima. Maybe that’s why he never seems to have anything else to do. Tsukishima wonders about that every time his eyes land on the steadily-growing pile of smooth ocean stones on his bedside table.

Tsukishima reads aloud from his book to Kuroo until it’s almost too dark to see. Then he stuffs his backpack under his head and lies with his back against the sand.

Kuroo points out more constellations that the merpeople use to guide them on journeys or measure the passing of time. Tsukishima listens to his voice and the gentle push and pull of the tiny inlet waves on the shore. He feels a calm he never gets anywhere else and fights the nagging thought that soon he’ll need to dig out his flashlight and make his way back home.

 

***

 

“I thought this one looked like a turtle. And this one looks like that cup you had last week.” Kuroo’s carefully placing the rocks he collected for Tsukishima in a neat line in the sand. “And this one looks like an octopus if it lost all of its tentacles--”

“So, a blob?” Tsukishima snickers.

Kuroo sighs dramatically. “If you want to be so unimaginative about it, sure, but the rock clearly has an expression of longing.” He looks up at Tsukishima through his lashes. “Fine, what do you see?” He challenges.

Tsukishima shifts so he’s on his knees in the sand, their faces only inches apart as they both hover over the small rocks. This close, Kuroo’s scent hits him and Tsukishima feels himself pulled back to memories of his older brother covering him with sunscreen so they could build sand castles all day, the ocean and sand mixing on their sun-kissed skin.

He swallows hard before he speaks again. “I agree, this one looks like a turtle. This one, though, makes me think of a whale--”

“Now who’s the crazy one?”

“A whale,” Tsukishima repeats and he makes the mistake of glancing up to serve Kuroo his strongest glare. It doesn’t work. His face is too close, his eyes are too near. Tsukishima can’t find words anymore and his heart is beating faster than it does when he runs to be here, to be with him.

Kuroo stares back. There’s no sound except for the water lapping at the shore, a seagull overhead.

Sharply coming back to himself, Tsukishima bolts upright and grabs for his backpack. He digs until his hands fall on the small base of the pot he brought. He presents the tiny succulent without his usual flair, plops it into the sand next to the stones.

“This one’s called a fenestraria rhopalophylla, or baby toes.” His voice sounds weird, he knows it. Though he feels a weird tingle all over, he pulls his feet out from under him and presents his toes, pointing to them. “The plant is supposed to look like these.”

“I could see the resemblance,” Kuroo replies, but his voice sounds far away. A tense beat passes before either of them move again. Then it’s Kuroo breaking the silence with a too-big laugh. “Toes are freaking weird. What even are those? They’re like weird, tiny fingers.” He reaches out to touch, but hovers just above Tsukishima’s foot, like he expects him to pull away.

But Tsukishima stays still, lets Kuroo’s hand touch his foot of all places, and he realizes it’s the first time he’s felt Kuroo’s skin against his.

 

***

 

As the yellows and reds of day are gradually swallowed by the darker hues night, Kuroo swims in excited circles, rambling about the last chapter Tsukishima read aloud. “I just can’t believe -- I didn’t see that coming at all. What are they going to do next? Is it going to be okay? Tsukki,” he darts towards the shoreline again, presses his hands in to the sand and stares at Tsukishima, “is it going to be okay?”

A laugh tumbles out of Tsukishima’s throat. “Yea, it’s going to be okay.”

Kuroo lifts himself up higher, his forearms flexing with the effort needed to lean in closer. “Promise?”

“I promise, Kuroo.”

The merman visibly relaxes, melting back down into the water, but his gaze lingers on Tsukishima. “Tetsurou,” he says.

“What?”

“That’s my name. Kuroo is my clan’s name. Tetsurou is my name.”

“Tetsurou,” Tsukishima says carefully. His heart clenches in his chest at the wide grin that stretches across Kuroo’s face in response.

“I like the way you say it.”

Tsukishima looks away, across the water towards the setting sun. “I said it just how you said it.”

Kuroo makes a happy humming sound in response. “Yea, it’s nice.”

In the silence that follows, Tsukishima returns the book to his backpack and carefully puts away the shiny pebble Kuroo gave him today. He’s still looking at the ocean when he says, “Kei. My name is Kei.”

“Oh,” Kuroo replies, wonder thick in his voice, “and Tsukishima is your clan’s name?”

“My family name, but yes, something like that.”

“I like it. Kei,” he inhales sharply, then in an excited exhale repeats, “Kei. Kei. Kei. Kei. Kei,” until he’s out of breath. He breaks out into a wheezing laugh. “Can I still call you Tsukki, though? I like saying that.”

Tsukishima looks down at his hands drawing little circles in the sand, “Sure, I don’t mind.”

 

***

 

All day at the library, Tsukishima feels sick to his stomach. The head librarian and the gift shop man bring him a little cake to celebrate him beginning his third year in college. They compliment him on what a fine young man he’s become, how it’s been a joy to watch him grow all these years. They think it’s adorable that he’s still got his “steely, bookish exterior.” They’re too kind to say “sour” or “salty” or any of the much worse things Tsukishima’s been called in his life.

When he gets to the shore, Tsukishima can’t bring himself to run. He wants to have every extra minute he can with Kuroo, but his legs won’t carry him any faster. He’s mentioned it to Kuroo before, the fact that he won’t be here for a long time, but Kuroo doesn’t seem to get it, he just keeps right on talking over that information like it doesn’t matter.

But it matters. Oh god, it matters. Tsukishima can’t imagine what this year will be like, not when he just wants to take off his shoes and run to the inlet so Kuroo can show him another dumb rock or teach him everything about the stars.

When he gets there, Kuroo’s waiting. Of course. Tsukishima brings out another plant, like always. Today it’s tillandsia, an air plant. Kuroo’s amazed it doesn’t need soil to grow. The whole time Kuroo asks curious questions, Tsukishima has a heaviness in his heart and he keeps trying to bring it up, but each time Kuroo just keeps talking and talking and talking until--

“Kuroo, stop,” he says, his voice sounding harsher than he intended, “I need to tell you something.” He pulls his legs tighter against himself.

Kuroo shakes his head, slinks back into the water. “I don’t want to hear it.”

Frustrated, Tsukishima turns his gaze towards the deeper ocean. “Well, I’m leaving tomorrow regardless, so either you can let me talk to you about it or--”

A choked sob trapped in Kuroo’s throat interrupts him and Tsukishima’s head snaps back to face him. The expression on his face is drenched in emotion. His voice small, Kuroo asks, “Why do you have to go?”

Tsukishima feels a lump in his throat. He delivers his practiced responses but it’s not easy. “Because I’m in college. Because I have to finish and get my degree. Because I can’t just be a part-time library assistant for my whole life. I have to get a job, make money, and--”

“Why?” Kuroo shouts.

“It’s different for me!” Tsukishima’s surprised that he’s shouting, too.

And then it’s quiet. Even the air and the waves seem to still around them. Tsukishima hears Kuroo sniffling in front of him but he can’t bring himself to look. He’s buried his head into his folded knees, wrapped his arms around himself like a tight, safe, little cage.

“Kei,” Kuroo says it so softly, Tsukishima almost doesn’t hear it.

Slowly, he unfolds himself and their eyes meet.

Kuroo plants his strong hands in the sand, pushes himself up, his torso stretching above the water, his skin shimmering as a reminder that he’s a little human, but so much more. “Can you bend down, just a little?”

Tsukishima holds his breath as he complies. He rocks back to sit on his legs, then leans forward carefully. Lower and closer until Kuroo pushes harder against the sand and his lips briefly caress Tsukishima’s cheek. “I don’t want you to go,” he whispers, and Tsukishima feels the words against his skin.

He doesn’t dare move. “I don’t want to go.”

“But you have to?”

Tsukishima closes his eyes, nods.

“And you’ll come back?”

He nods again.

Kuroo pulls away and Tsukishima feels cold at the loss. He opens his eyes and Kuroo’s staring back at him. Earnestly, he promises, “Then I’ll come here everyday. Just to check. I’ll wait for you here.”

The image of Kuroo waiting at the shore, not knowing when Tsukishima will be back saps the last of Tsukishima’s strength away. A tear slips loose, then another. He furiously wipes them away from under his glasses. “About six months,” he chokes out, “about six lunar cycles until I come back for the winter holidays.”

Kuroo smiles, weak but it’s there. The sight of him with that watery smile, trying to look hopeful, makes Tsukishima feel better but also fall apart all over again. He smiles, too.

That night he stays later than any of their other nights. Kuroo asks him about college. Tsukishima asks more about what Kuroo’s life is like when he’s not waiting at the inlet. Every so often the conversation stills and they lie near one another in the wet sand in silence.

When he finally tries to pull himself away, Kuroo again asks him to bend down. Tsukishima holds his breath and wills no more tears to fall. He closes his eyes, expecting another brush against his cheek.

Kuroo’s lips brush against his own. Tsukishima inhales sharply, surprised by the touch. His heart stutters in his chest, and then he’s leaning forward with careful but determined insistence, searching for the memory that will carry him through until the next time his feet can touch this shore.

 

***

 

Tsukishima makes his long journey back to the island as soon as he’s set down his pencil at his last exam for the semester. Catching train after train, leaving the hustle of the mainland behind with each line change, he only thinks of Kuroo.

He’ll enjoy his parent’s cooking. He’s excited to see his older brother who makes it home from the mainland even fewer times than he does. All of those things will be nice, but none of that has been what keeps him awake at night, staring at his ceiling, projecting the visualizations of a hopeful heart on the beige surface.

The moment he can break away from time with his family, he does. His mother is endlessly curious and excited about who on the island is tearing her son away from dinner. Tsukishima explains that it’s “just a tourist friend,” and dashes out of the front door each night after shoving down dinner.

He blinks and it’s over. Two weeks and six days go by so quickly it leaves him with an ache that takes on physical form. He gets headaches when he’s back in school, feels sluggish, distracted.

Tsukishima holds on tight to the memories etched in his mind.

The way Kuroo’s whole face, whole body changed the moment he heard Tsukishima’s footsteps on the sand for the first time in months. How he yelled, “Tsukki!” at the top of his lungs, nearly pulling himself too far out of the water in an effort to get to him faster.

The way Kuroo listened to every book he brought, to every botany explanation that others would find tedious and boring. How he’d lean on his crossed arms or lie on his back, half on the sand, half in the water, and stare up at Tsukishima’s face with a soft fondness.

The way they drew in close to one another right from the start this time, occupying one another’s space like it was a necessity to breathe. Bold as ever, Kuroo had kissed him immediately on that first day and they spent Tsukishima’s holiday making up for lost time, lost touches, but always waded in a shallow end of their desire. They let a quick brush of lips melt into parted mouths and exchanged sighs once and only once. Then they ripped themselves apart, eyes wide with fear and want.

He returns to college with a small, velvet bag filled with smooth stones that he dips his hand into whenever he feels too lonely.

 

***

 

Summer arrives with a heat wave that makes the journey home even less bearable than usual, but Tsukishima’s mind is elsewhere. Like he does every night when he falls asleep, he’s already catching ocean breezes with Kuroo beside him and feeling the sand mix between their hands.

Of course, Kuroo’s waiting for him when he makes that final jump off the rock that separates the inlet from the rest of the island.

The merman waves and then blows him a messy kiss. The gesture feels immediately childish and silly, but it’s so very Kuroo and it warms Tsukishima’s heart more than the summer heat ever could.

As soon as he’s close enough to hear him, Kuroo shouts, “I found a way for us to be together!”

Tsukishima’s bare feet freeze to the sand. His backpack slumps off his shoulder and hangs heavily on his arm.

Kuroo repeats, louder this time, “I found a way for us to be together, Tsukki!” He grinning so wide it rivals the sun beginning to set on the horizon.

Gradually, Tsukishima remembers how to walk. He puts one foot in front of the other, desperately trying to process what Kuroo is telling him.

“Aren’t you excited?” Kuroo beams, an expectant look in his eyes.

Tsukishima takes his time sitting down. He crosses his legs in front of him and scoots close. He knows his face is twisted in confusion and other feelings he doesn’t have a name for, but he can’t fix it. “What?” is all he can ask.

Kuroo smile falters. It slips to the corner of his mouth and lingers, holding on for dear life. “We can be together now. I found a way for me to live on land, too.” Kuroo reaches out and places a gentle hand on Tsukishima’s leg.

The touch grounds him. Tsukishima closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens them again, he smiles for Kuroo’s benefit and waits for that sunny grin to reach the merman’s face again before he speaks. “Can you-- Will you explain all this to me?”

“Of course!” Kuroo pushes back into the water. He stays close but swims in excited circles as he talks. Tsukishima’s mind reels from hearing about more magic than he knows how to comprehend, but he supposes he should have seen that coming when the closest thing he has to a boyfriend lives in the ocean.

What he takes away from the lengthy explanation is this: a spell exists that can help him. Kuroo’s already gathered the ingredients because, as he says, “most of them are incredibly rare, but I haven’t had much to do for a year.” When the spell is activated, he’ll lose his tail and gain human legs, but he won’t be able to walk.

“But humans have ways to help those who can’t use their whole body, right? Like we do?”

Tsukishima mumbles something about wheelchairs. It’s not even a full sentence, then Kuroo’s speaking again, breathtakingly fast like a riptide.

And maybe just as dangerous.

With the biggest smile, Kuroo rambles about how he won’t miss the water that much, not if they’re together, that the rest of the mermen probably won’t miss him, like he won’t miss them, that swimming is amazing but learning how to be on land will be just as wonderful--

“Kuroo, I--”

“--and having legs, even if they won’t be just like yours, will be so cool. And you can teach me how to--”

“Tetsurou. Please,” Tsukishima pleads quietly.

Finally, Kuroo stops. He swims back towards the shore, crosses his arms, and settles his head on top of them like he often does. He stares up at Tsukishima with sad questions in his eyes, “Aren’t you happy?”

“I--” Tsukishima doesn’t know where to begin. He’s silent for a moment and Kuroo lets him think. He starts somewhere, anywhere, “I can’t ask you to give up your life.”

“You’re not asking. I want to,” and there’s not a shred of worry in his voice.

“I also-- I’m still in school. We can’t-- What would we--” He keeps asking chopped off questions and Kuroo’s brows knit together. Tsukishima takes a breath and finds the strength to string one coherent thought together, “I can’t. We can’t. I’m still in school. I can barely take care of myself, let alone--”

“But we can do it!”

“You can’t just pop into existence. Where will you live? What will--”

“With you.” Kuroo has answers for everything.

Tsukishima’s brain is filled with questions. “Where?”

“We can get a house. Here!”

“How? You don’t get houses. You have to buy them. With money. You need a job.”

“We can figure it out!” There’s desperation in Kuroo’s voice now. He sounds like he’s clinging to his optimism with a vice-like grip.

“It’s not that simple,” Tsukishima says, finality in his tone.

Kuroo opens his mouth to speak, closes it, then tucks his forehead against his arms, burying his face. “I thought you wanted us to be together, like I do,” he mumbles against his skin.

Tsukishima waits to reply, knowing he must choose his words carefully, but nothing feels right. With the wind rushing in his ears, he replies, “I do. I think. But I don’t know. Tetsurou, I don’t know.”

For a long time, neither of them speak. Kuroo keeps his face buried within his arms, his entire body still. Tsukishima watches the way the water laps against his sides, the way the scales that are exposed to the air glisten in a hundred different shades of blue in the fading sunlight.

“Can we talk about this more tomorrow?” Tsukishima offers, and he already hates the way it makes him like a coward. “I brought our book. We can read together.”

Slowly, Kuroo lifts his head, but his eyes don’t meet Tsukishima’s. His stare lands somewhere hundreds of miles away. “Actually, I think I need to be alone right now.”

The words make Tsukishima’s foundation fall out from under him. He sinks his fingertips into the meat of his thighs, gripping to stay in the moment and not let his mind reel with all the anxiety he feels creeping up inside him. “But you’ll come back tomorrow?” His voice cracks as he asks.

Kuroo finally looks up at him. “Of course. Of course I’ll come back tomorrow.”

He lifts himself up on powerful arms and, instinctively, Tsukishima leans in and is grateful for the kiss that lands on his cheek. He turns, searching for more, but Kuroo is already pulling back into the water. “Welcome home,” he smiles weakly, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tsukki.”

 

***

 

The next day, Kuroo is waiting for him as though nothing has changed, though the wave Tsukishima gets is far less animated than any of the others.

They go through the motions. It’s not unhappy, but its subdued, quieter. Kuroo shares a rock he found that he thinks looks like wave. Tsukishima shows off a tiny succulent, then reads from their book while Kuroo listens and traces lazy circles in the sand with his fingertips.

Halfway down a page, Tsukishima shuts the book. He glances down, studies Kuroo’s face looking back up at him. He finds his voice, “I want us to be together, but I need time.” He sets the book down on his backpack, shifts until he’s close to Kuroo, and laces their fingers together. Kuroo’s hand feels warm against his. There’s sand between their palms. “If we’re going to do this, I want to think of ways to do it right.”

Kuroo nods slowly, but says nothing. His hand, though, tightens around Tsukishima’s a little more.

When Tsukishima speaks again, he slowly lets every word drip from his lips, “I want-- I want to be around you all the time, but it’s complicated on land -- life is -- and I need time to plan.”

“But you want us to be together?”

Tsukishima closes his eyes. He prepares himself to let the truths he discovered about himself when he failed to find sleep last night become real when he says them out loud. “I do. I want us to be together.”

“Then I’ll wait,” Kuroo replies immediately.

“Why?” Tsukishima stares back at him. He still has no idea why Kuroo, this beautiful creature who could have so much more would wait for him, for him of all people and creatures on this planet.

Kuroo lets go of Tsukishima’s hand, then lifts himself until their foreheads are touching. “Because I love you.”

Tsukishima’s never said those words to anyone but his family, but he finds that in this moment, in this inlet surrounded by the beauty of the island, with Kuroo’s forehead pressed reassuringly against his own, it’s simple. “I love you, too.”

 

***

 

The rest of the summer is spent sharing more stones, more books, more kisses than before. Tsukishima begins to teach Kuroo about life on land, more than just information about plants or random facts about animals or things Kuroo didn’t understand in the books they read. Kuroo listens with rapt attention, clearly soaking in everything in preparation.

When the time comes for Tsukishima to leave for his final year in college, a summer spent planning their future together crashes into one passionate moment. A kiss goodbye ignites into panting, hurried breaths between hungry kisses and tongues sliding together for the first time. They end up tangled together in the shallows, Kuroo’s strong arms pressing Tsukishima against his bare chest. Tsukishima grips into his jet black hair to steady himself while his other hand finally explores the silkiness of Kuroo’s skin. And the feel of his scales are so firm but delicate under his fingertips. They break apart only to gasp for breath and whisper “I love you” over and over until words cease to fit the emotions Tsukishima feels inside.

He’s still breathless when he leaves to travel back to the mainland.

 

***

 

During his fall semester and over the winter holidays, Tsukishima lays the groundwork for his “tourist friend” suddenly, maybe, probably appearing in the future. His mother is beyond interested, elated that her son has found a friend so important to him. She asks hundreds of questions and Tsukishima thinks quickly to invent a life, a story for Kuroo. He jots down notes when he can, right next to the detailed budget where he makes notes of all the money he’s earned through extra jobs so far this year.

Blissfully, stupidly, wonderfully he starts to believe they can do this.

Kuroo’s overjoyed when Tsukishima shows him the notebooks. His human life is taking shape before his eyes. He asks excited questions, laughing when he makes Tsukishima smile wide as he jots down even more notes for this invented life and their potential future.

“I graduate in five months. By then I’ll have saved up enough to rent something here. The cost of living is so cheap because no one wants to-- Wait, do you want to live here? On this island?” He realizes he never actually asked.

Kuroo nods enthusiastically, water splashing around him. “Absolutely. I won’t miss living in the water, I don’t think, but I want to be near here. It’s still my home.”

And after spending most of his life desperate to leave, Tsukishima grins, “It’s my home, too.”

He thinks of his family’s home, gently sliding into disrepair faster than they can keep up with repairs, but always smelling like fresh lavender. The library that’s also a gift shop and also town hall when the mayor holds meetings there instead of in her home. The tourist side with its luxury and glamour paying for the rest of them to live in peace. The expanse of shoreline with its soft white sands, smooth volcanic pebbles, and sharp juts of rocks. For his entire life he thought this island had nothing. Turns out, it had everything.

Together they sketch ideas of what their future home could look like. Kuroo can’t believe how many things humans need to survive in their shelters. But they fascinate him, and Tsukishima enjoys teaching him about tables and toilets, microwaves and beds.

One evening they’re lying beside one another in the wet sand, both coming down from laughter that stretched their faces wide, when a worry resurfaces at the forefront at Tsukishima’s mind. He turns his head so his gaze lands on Kuroo’s face. “Will it hurt?” he asks.

“Will what hurt?”

“When you,” Tsukishima traces gentle lines with his fingertips down Kuroo’s arm, “change?”

Kuroo bites his lip. “I don’t know. Probably. I try not to think about it.”

“I’m sorry I asked.” Tsukishima’s hand falls to the sand.

“No,” Kuroo says quickly, “I like that you asked. That you worry about me.” He reaches out and pulls Tsukishima against him in a tight embrace. “It will probably hurt, but it works. Since I began asking, I now know of a few who have made the change for reasons like ours. They seem happy.” He holds Tsukishima impossibly closer. “I know I will be.”

“Happy together,” Tsukishima sniffs back tears, but there’s a smile on his face where it’s pressed warmly against Kuroo’s chest.

Kuroo repeats those words with love in every sound, “happy together.”

 

***

 

Mornings are slow in Tsukishima and Kuroo’s seaside home. They wake up to the comforting sound of waves and the dawn sneaking in through their curtains. Tsukishima gets a pot of tea going before he comes back to the bedroom to get dressed and help Kuroo dress, too. Their breakfast is usually whatever pastries the bakery had leftover at the end of the day yesterday. If the weather’s good, they sit on their tiny porch where the paint is already wearing away from the salty air and talk about nothing and everything over fresh tea and day-old muffins.

Tsukishima excuses himself before it’s time for work to go to his tiny greenhouse and tend to the plants he’s lovingly growing for themselves and for him to sell to their neighbors and the tourists. When he gets back to the house, sometimes Kuroo’s right where he left him, sipping on a second cup of tea. Other times his brow is sweaty but he’s smiling from the effort of pushing himself along in the sand for a morning visit to the beach.

When it’s time for work, Tsukishima pushes Kuroo’s wheelchair along a familiar path. Neighbors Tsukishima’s known his whole life wave and chat with them about the weather, about whatever new building is going up on the other side of the island. They ask if Tsukishima has any new plants to sell, or if Kuroo has any new paintings because they have the perfect spot in their home for another one of his pieces.

All day long, Tsukishima steals glances at Kuroo in the gift shop from his seat at the head librarian’s desk. They’ll catch each other’s gaze, blush and grin like their life together is still brand new, not years in the making.

On the way home, they stop by the bakery and pick up tomorrow’s breakfast. A few days a week they’ll go to Tsukishima’s parents home for dinner. His mother is still over the moon about the fact that her son has decided to live here permanently and that he brought along the “most handsome man I’ve ever seen” home with him.

In fact, it was her idea for them to restore one of the old houses along the shore for them to live in. The neighborhood worked together to contribute their time in whatever way they could - from painting to plumbing - as a wedding present. Apparently none of them could believe that one of the younger residents decided to stay, couldn’t be lured away by the promise of more on the mainland.

For Tsukishima, nothing on the mainland could ever come close to the life he’s begun building here.

Most nights they eat together at home. Tsukishima cooks while Kuroo tidies up or just keeps him company in the kitchen.

Tonight it’s seafood curry. Kuroo’s convinced it’s the best way to consume fish that he has ever and will ever have in his life. He likes Tsukishima’s curry more than any other place they’ve tried.

While it simmers, Tsukishima takes a seat across from Kuroo at their little, wooden table. He slips his ring back on - he never wants any food to ruin it - and reaches across the table to hold Kuroo’s hand in his. “Any good stories from the gift shop today?”

“No, it’s still the off-season, you know. We only get the best weird ones in the summer,” he chuckles. “I did sell two paintings, though.”

“Oh, which ones?” Tsukshima asks, smiling softly.

“The first was the one I recently did of the rocky cliffs over by our inlet.”

“I sort of wish we’d kept that one,” Tsukishima admits, leaning his head to rest against his open palm propped up on the table.

“I can paint you another! But,” Kuroo gestures around the small room, “we have quite a few paintings of that place already.”

“I know, but I like them all,” Tsukishima sighs, relaxing his shoulders and letting his eyes jump between paintings of his favorite place. “What other one did you sell?”

“The one of the pebbly beach. One of your mom’s friends really liked it.”

“You and your rocks,” Tsukishima smirks. There’s smooth stones on almost every surface of their home, each one a different shape that Kuroo thought was fascinating and worth bringing home.

Kuroo raises his eyebrows, “you and your plants.” Next to all the smooth ocean rocks are just as many plants, from tiny succulents to huge ferns.

Behind them, the kettle whistles and Tsukishima stands to make two cups of the herbal tea Kuroo loves and Tsukishima suffers through because he loves Kuroo. Tsukishima’s mother swears it’ll help them live longer. Looking across the table, he absolutely hopes that’s true.

Tonight when they go to sleep, he’ll press sacred kisses to Kuroo’s forehead, his cheeks, and end with his lips in a silent prayer for thousands more days together, just like this.

In the darkness, he’ll whisper, “I love you.”

And always, as steady as the tide, as comforting as the ocean breeze, Kuroo will whisper back, “I love you, too.”