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Finding North

Chapter Text

 

we will call this place our home,
the dirt in which our roots may grow.
though the storms will push and pull,
we will call this place our home.

— sleeping at last, “north”


 

 

 

“Hey.”

Tetsurou glances up from where he’s pushing a firetruck through the grass. Hajime’s standing over him, rubbing at the side of his nose, streaking dirt across it. He’s missing one of his front teeth, and there are band-aids all over his elbows and knees. Tetsurou tells him all the time to be more careful, but, well . . .

“Daishou’s about to make fun of Tooru again, so I’m going to go hit him. You don’t have to come with me, though.”

He’s pretty much hopeless at this point.

“Oh.” Tetsurou looks over to where Tooru’s sitting some feet away, playing with his alien figures. Daishou Suguru’s standing beyond him, watching him with a smirk, as he whispers something to one of the other boys. Tetsurou turns his gaze back to Hajime. “Do you have to hit him?”

Hajime heaves a long-suffering sigh, like the weight of the world is on his eight-year-old shoulders. “If I don’t, he’s going to say something mean to Tooru to make him cry. I hate it when he cries. It’s so annoying.”

“Well . . . okay.” Tetsurou doesn’t know what else to say to prevent this, so he simply sits back and watches, as Hajime storms over to place himself between Tooru and Daishou.

“Hey! You gotta problem?!” he shouts, arms crossed over his chest.

Tooru raises his head, eyes widening, as he looks between Hajime and Daishou. Tetsurou slowly stands, clutching his truck with both hands. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, but the thought of running over and stopping it makes him feel like an elephant is sitting on his chest, so he just watches from his vantage point, as Hajime storms up to get in Daishou’s face.

“I said do you gotta problem?”

Daishou sneers, pointing at Tooru behind Hajime. “He keeps talking about how his parents were abducted by aliens and that they’re coming back to get him. They’re not, you know.” He turns his frown onto Tooru. “They left you here on purpose because they didn’t want you.”

Tooru’s lower lip trembles, his large brown eyes filling with tears. “That’s not true! They’re coming back!”

“They’re not!”

“Hey!” Hajime snaps, grabbing a handful of Daishou’s shirt, bringing his other hand up in a fist. “You keep talking shit you’re gonna get hit!”

“He thinks he’s better than the rest of us just because his parents might still be alive! But he’s not better than us! He got left here just like you and me and everyone else!”

Tetsurou frowns. He might not have the courage to fight the bullies at the orphanage, but he can’t just stand by and do nothing. Moving forward, he kneels in the grass next to Tooru, picking up his hand and holding it tightly. Tooru squeezes his hand back, though his eyes are fixed on Hajime in front of them.

“What does it matter what he thinks, huh? Mind your own business!” Hajime yells, shoving Daishou down into the dirt.

Daishou falls, gritting his teeth. He looks like he’s about to stand and tackle Hajime, when a loud voice booms across the backyard from the house.

“HEY, HEY, HEY! What’s going on out here?!”

Daishou jumps to his feet and runs over to where Bokuto Koutarou stands in the doorway, hands on his hips. He flings his arms around the man’s waist, burying his face in it. “Hajime is being mean! He pushed me down for no reason!”

Tetsurou feels his face grow hot with anger at the false accusation. “That’s not true,” he says, but his voice is too soft to be heard over Daishou’s friends yelling in agreement.

Bokuto looks over to where Hajime’s standing with his hands in fists at his side. He sighs. “Hajime-kun, did you push Suguru-kun?”

Hajime lifts his chin. “Yes, sir, I did!” he declares loudly. “He was saying mean things about Tooru!”

Bokuto places his hand on Daishou’s head, looking down at him with raised eyebrows that make his face look even more comical than usual. “Suguru-kun, were you saying mean things about Tooru-kun?”

Daishou screws up his face like he’s about to cry. “No! I wasn’t!”

Hajime scowls. Bokuto glances between the two boys, tapping his chin in thought. “We will definitely have to talk about this later,” he decides. “For now, though, I need you all to go back inside and wash up. We have a new friend coming today! And I want you all to look your best to greet him, okay?”

“Yes, Bokuto-san!” the chorus of children in the backyard cry out, each abandoning their various toys to head for the house.

Hajime reaches down to snatch up Tooru’s hand, pulling him to his feet and storming into the house with him in tow. Tetsurou stands more slowly, approaching Bokuto, as the man gently pulls Daishou’s arms from around him and pushes him inside. He waits until Bokuto’s alone in the doorway before reaching out to tug on his sleeve.

“Um, Bokuto-san,” he says softly, biting his lip.

“Ah, Tetsu,” Bokuto’s eyes are kind as he looks down at him. He crouches so he’s at eye-level with Tetsurou, tilting his head to the side. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Tetsurou nods. “Daishou was saying mean things about Tooru-kun,” he says, glancing down at his hands in front of him. “Hajime-kun was standing up for him.”

“I figured that’s what happened,” Bokuto admits, reaching up to pet Tetsurou’s head gently. “But you know fighting isn’t the answer, right? Next time, come get me right away when he says mean stuff, and I’ll put a stop to it.”

Tetsurou nods. “I know. I will.”

Bokuto smiles. “Good. Thank you for telling me the truth. Go on and wash up, now. We’re going to have a special dinner to welcome our new friend!”

Tetsurou nods again, hurrying inside and up the stairs to the room he shares with Tooru and Hajime. Tooru’s sniffling, as he buttons up his shirt, and Hajime sighs, stepping over to help him when he misses a button.

“You’re an ugly crier,” he says, shaking his head.

“N-No, I’m n-not. Y-you’re ugly, Iwa-chan,” Tooru protests weakly.

“It’s okay. I told Bokuto-san the truth,” Tetsurou says, stepping over and patting Tooru’s shoulder. “So Daishou should get in trouble, too.”

Tooru gives him a watery smile. “Thanks, Tetsun,” he says softly.

“Come on, stop crying.” Hajime says, rubbing his palms against Tooru’s cheeks to wipe away the tears. “You’re going to scare away the new kid.”

Tetsurou steps over to the dresser to pull out some nicer clothes, stripping out of his grungy ones to change. Behind him, he can hear Tooru giggling softly, making fun of Hajime’s choice of shirt.

“Orange looks bad on Iwa-chan,” he says.

“Shut up! It’s the only nice shirt I have, okay?”

“Mm, Iwa-chan should fight harder to get the good things from the donation box.”

“You’re the one who always pounces on it first! You want me to fight you?”

Tetsurou shakes his head at his friends, picking up a faded blue shirt, turning to hold it out to Hajime. Tooru’s eyes light up, and he snatches it from Tetsurou.

“Perfect, Tetsun! Blue will look much better on Iwa-chan!”

“Stop calling me that,” Hajime grumbles, but he strips off the orange shirt to pull on the blue one. Tetsurou has to admit to himself that it does suit him better, and Tooru coos over him, smoothing the material down over his shoulders.

“Iwa-chan is so handsome now~”

“Shut up,” Hajime mutters, gently slapping his hands away.

The tension from earlier seems to have dissipated, much to Tetsurou’s relief. He hates it when Hajime gets into fights, even when it’s on Tooru’s behalf. He wishes all of the kids in the orphanage could just get along, even though he knows that’s unrealistic. Daishou has been a pain ever since he arrived. Tetsurou knows he’s probably just missing his parents, but that’s no excuse to act like a bully. They all miss their parents.

He wonders what happened to the new kid’s parents. Did they die? Or did they have to give him up for some reason? He glances sidelong at Tooru, who’s attempting to fix his hair into some form of decency after spending hours playing outside. He knows his friend’s insistence that his parents were simply abducted by aliens and will be returning for him one day is a form of denial, but he never has the heart to confront him on it, especially since Daishou and his friends take countless opportunities to do it instead. Hajime knows it’s just a coping mechanism too, but he always defends Tooru’s right to believe what he wants. He and Tetsurou both know he’ll admit the truth when he’s ready.

Sometimes, Tetsurou thinks it’s worse to have parents that are still alive. At least Tetsurou knows his parents loved him, has good memories of them he can cling to when the ache in his chest grows too much to bear in the dark, lonely nights. Tooru was left in a basket on the doorstep of the orphanage when he was a baby, with nothing but a blanket and a note with his name. His parents left him, and Tetsurou knows that, deep down, Tooru hurts more than anyone else because of that.

“I hope the new kid is a cute girl!” Tooru exclaims, earning him a smack upside the head from Hajime. “Ow!”

“Don’t be creepy!”

Tooru rubs at his head. “Iwa-chan is such a brute! He’s never going to get a girlfriend with that attitude!”

“I don’t want a girlfriend, stupid! I’m a kid!”

Tetsurou rolls his eyes. “We’re going to be late,” he says, opening the door. The other two continue shoving at each other playfully, as they make their way down the stairs, Tetsurou following along behind.

Hajime and Tetsurou came to the orphanage two years ago when they were both six, and Tooru instantly latched onto them. Tetsurou’s not sure why, but he’s grateful every day that he’s had friends from the beginning, that he didn’t have to go through the transition alone. Bokuto-san is nice and takes care of them all, but he has so many kids to look after, he’s not really able to spend a lot of time with each one individually. When the nightmares plague Tetsurou’s mind in the middle of the night, Hajime and Tooru are always there to comfort him, and when Hajime’s mood grows sour for seemingly no reason, Tooru and Tetsurou are there to cheer him up.

And when Tooru insists through tears that his parents are coming back for him, Hajime and Tetsurou hold his hands and don’t say anything different.

As the kids line up to greet their new housemate, Tetsurou can’t help but wonder what happened to this newcomer’s parents, and if they’ll need someone to hold their hand too.

The short-haired case worker, wearing a pencil skirt and a blazer, steps in through the door with Bokuto, a woman Tetsurou doesn’t recognize. She’s holding the hand of a small child wearing a backpack and old, faded clothing. Their long black hair hangs forward, covering their face, as they stare at the floor. Bokuto turns to the kids waiting, gesturing.

“Kids! This is Kozume Kenma; he’s going to be living with us from now on! Kenma-kun, these are the kids of Fukurodani Orphanage. They’re all very excited to meet you.”

“Welcome home, Kenma-kun!” all the kids cry out in unison, bowing in greeting.

Tetsurou peeks up in time to see Kenma start and shrink behind the case worker’s leg, still avoiding anyone’s gaze.

He’s like me . . .

The case worker gently pries Kenma’s hand out of hers, crouching in front of him and touching his shoulder. “Bokuto-san has my number. You can call me at any time to talk if you need to, okay? But you’re safe here, I promise.”

Kenma mumbles something Tetsurou can’t hear, and Bokuto pats the case worker on the back.

“Don’t worry, Michimiya-san! He’ll warm up to the place!” He turns back to the kids. “Tetsu!”

Tetsurou jumps, not having expected his name. He steps forward cautiously, hands behind his back. “Um, yes!”

“Take Kenma-kun upstairs to your room, okay? He’ll be staying with you, Tooru and Hajime, and I expect you all to show him the ropes around here, got it?”

“Yes!” Tetsurou says with a nod, peering curiously at Kenma, trying to catch a glimpse of his face behind the curtain of dark hair. He hesitates before taking another step forward and holding out his hand. “Um, you can come with me, Kenma-kun.”

Kenma doesn’t take his hand, but instead grips the straps of his backpack, as he steps forward, eyes on his feet. Tetsurou isn’t entirely sure what to do with that, but since he isn’t protesting, he drops his hand and leads the way upstairs, instead. Bokuto dismisses the children and turns to talk to Michimiya-san again, so Hajime and Tooru follow along behind.

Kenma seems to shrink even further into himself, as Tooru and Hajime don’t hide their curious scrutiny at all.

“How old are you? Where are you from?” Tooru asks, as they step into the room.

Tetsurou grabs an extra futon out of the closet, laying it out beside his own.

“You can put your stuff here for now,” he says, gesturing to the futon.

Kenma doesn’t move from where he’s standing near the door, his knuckles turning white with how tightly he’s gripping the backpack straps.

“I’m Tooru, and this is Iwaizumi Hajime,” Tooru continues, undeterred. “That’s Kuroo Tetsurou.” He points. “We’re all eight. Iwa-chan’s parents died in a car crash and Tetsun’s died in a fire. Mine got abducted by aliens, so I don’t know my family name. How did your parents di—ow!” He rubs his head from where Hajime smacked him.

“Shut up, idiot! You can’t just ask him that!” Hajime seethes.

Tooru pokes out his lower lip. “I’m just curious!”

“What if it just happened? You’re so unsensitive!”

“It’s insensitive,” Tooru corrects haughtily.

“Don’t turn this around on me!”

All this time, Tetsurou’s been watching Kenma’s face, or as much as he can see behind the hair. His lips are pursed tightly, like he’s trying not to laugh . . . or cry? Tetsurou can’t really tell. Stepping around the bickering two, he stops in front of him and ducks his head, peering between the strands of hair. Two luminous gold eyes stare back at him, startling him with how intense they look. He bites his lip, suddenly unsure of what to say. He ends up just watching him, looking for anything that might tell him how Kenma’s feeling.

Kenma breaks eye contact first, his gaze shifting to the side. “Six,” he murmurs.

“You’re six?” Tetsurou asks, thinking he looks much smaller than that.

Kenma nods, lifting his head slightly and glancing around the room. He looks at the new futon Tetsurou set out, walking over to it. He sits down in the center of it, pulling off his backpack and setting it between his crossed legs, unzipping it to rummage through. Tetsurou goes over to kneel on his own futon beside him, watching curiously.

Hajime and Tooru are now arguing about how Tooru shouldn’t just go around talking about how Hajime’s and Tetsurou’s parents are dead either, and Tetsurou tunes them out, as Kenma pulls what looks like a 3DS from the bottom of his backpack. Still keeping his arms wrapped around his belongings, he starts up the device.

“Um,” Tetsurou hesitates, not sure if it’s creepy if he watches or not.

Kenma glances up at him, still half-hidden behind his hair. He looks kind of like that scary girl from a horror movie poster Tetsurou saw at the theater, but he doesn’t say that.

“You can watch,” Kenma offers, his voice still barely above a whisper.

Tetsurou grins tentatively, crawling over to sit beside Kenma, leaning against him just slightly to look down at the screen over Kenma’s shoulder. Eventually Hajime gets Tooru to concede (by sitting on him until Tooru calls “uncle”), and the two of them make their way over.

“Can we watch?” Tooru asks hopefully.

“No.” The curt answer is immediate.

“Rude!”

“Come on, dummy, let’s go help Bokuto-san make dinner,” Hajime says, grabbing Tooru’s sleeve and dragging him toward the door.

Tetsurou watches them go before turning toward Kenma. “They’re not that bad once you get to know them,” he feels the need to assure him.

Kenma doesn’t respond, so Tetsurou decides to drop it, feeling rather gratified that Kenma’s allowing him to stay and watch. Being rather shy himself, he still hasn’t made any friends at the orphanage other than Tooru and Hajime, and they’re closer to each other than they are to him. It feels nice to have someone choose him first.

“Just stick with me, okay? I’m not very strong, but I’ll look out for you,” he promises softly.

Kenma doesn’t reply, but Tetsurou’s okay with that, and he turns his attention back to the game.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Tooru frowns down at the carrot he’s chopping for the ramen Bokuto’s preparing. The man is whistling cheerfully as he stirs the noodles and gathers the various ingredients, apparently having no issue giving knives to two eight-year-olds to help him cut up vegetables. Then again, Tooru and Hajime both have proven to be very careful and helpful in the kitchen in the past, so maybe he just trusts them. That’s a nice feeling, but one that’s overshadowed by the thoughts plaguing him just now.

“Oi, what’s that face about?” Hajime asks from beside him, peering over at him.

“What face, Iwa-chan?” Tooru widens his eyes as large as they can go in his best “innocent” look. Hajime just frowns harder. He reaches over to flick Tooru’s forehead, to which he responds with a yelp. “What was that for?!”

“You’re being annoying,” Hajime says, shaking his head and turning to the green onion he’s chopping. “Is this about Kenma-kun not wanting you to watch him play his game?”

“He didn’t have to be so rude! We were trying to be friendly!”

“You asked him about his dead parents, how is that being friendly?”

Tooru pouts, knowing that’d been rather forward of him, but he’d wanted to know if the new kid’s situation was anything like his own. Had his parents died or were they simply . . . somewhere else for a while?

“I don’t get why he let Tetsun stay,” he grumbles, not about to explain all of that.

Hajime turns back to his green onion. “He was being nice to him.”

“I wasn’t being mean,” Tooru protests.

“Hey, hey, hey, how’re things going over here?” Bokuto comes over with a grin to inspect their work. “Very good! You guys are naturals!” He ruffles both of their hair, earning a squawk of protest from Tooru. He only laughs, picking up the pieces they’ve already cut and dumping them in the pot. “Chop up a couple more. We’re making extra!”

Hajime glances up at Bokuto. “Is Akaashi-san coming over for dinner tonight?” he asks hopefully.

Tooru frowns; another thing to sour his mood.

Bokuto beams. “Yep! So, let’s make sure we make this super tasty for our best benefactor, okay?”

“Okay!” Hajime declares, concentrating harder on his slicing.

Tooru sighs, taking as much care on his own just so he won’t be outdone, but not really caring either way if the ramen is “super” tasty. While he’s grateful for Akaashi’s generous donations that get him and the others nice things, he hates how Hajime looks at him whenever he visits. Like the guy’s a fricking superstar or something. Like he hangs the moon and the stars.

First Hajime with Akaashi-san, now Tetsun with Kenma-chan . . . He glowers down at his knife and carrot, a familiar ugly feeling twisting in his chest.

Logically, he knows that Akaashi won’t steal Hajime from him. The man is an adult, and Hajime’s crush is most likely just . . . intense admiration. It’s still annoying, however.

No, what’s really disconcerting at the moment is Tetsun and Kenma. Hajime and Tetsurou are both Tooru’s best friends, and it’s perfect because they both fulfill different needs. Hajime’s always there to fix things, to be the strong one, to fight Tooru’s bullies and make him realize when he’s being silly or irrational. Tetsurou’s the better listener, always there as a comforting shoulder to cry on without insulting him in the process. (Tooru knows Hajime’s just bad at expressing himself, but sometimes Tooru needs a blanket, not a hammer.)

The thought of losing that to the new kid . . . it makes Tooru want to march upstairs and yank Kenma away by his stupid long hair.

He’s not going to do that, of course. For one thing, both Hajime and Tetsurou would yell at him for it. Besides, Kenma’s not doing anything wrong. Not really.

Everyone rushes to the door when Akaashi arrives, because of course he’s bearing gifts for everyone. He sets the large box down for the kids to rifle through, crossing over to greet Bokuto. Tooru notices the way he smiles at their caretaker, the way his eyes follow him as Bokuto throws himself on the ground a moment later with excitement to look through things with the children.

Tooru wonders if anyone else knows Akaashi is in love with Bokuto or if they all just think he’s super generous out of pure kindness.

He pounces on the gifts himself, of course, and Hajime sets something aside for both Tetsurou and Kenma, because he’s a good person like that. Tooru’s eyes land on a pair of really nice sneakers, and he grabs them before Daishou can get his grubby hands on them.

“Hey! I was going to get that!” the other cries indignantly.

Tooru hugs them to his chest and sticks out his tongue. “Snooze you lose!”

“Bokuto-saaaaaan!” Daishou complains.

Bokuto sits up, his grin never faltering as he grabs Daishou and pulls him over to him. “I’m sure there’s something perfect in here for you, bud! Let’s look together!”

With Daishou properly distracted, Tooru skips over to where Hajime’s holding a blue shirt, a volleyball, and a small pair of socks with cat faces on them.

“The cat socks are for Kenma-chan?” Tooru guesses.

Hajime nods, glancing down at them. “I thought he seems kind of like a cat . . . kinda quiet and prickly but cute, you know?”

Tooru grins. “Which one’s for you then?”

“Oh, um, the shirt is for Tetsu, because he gave me his . . . the volleyball is for me.”

Tooru tilts his head. “You like volleyball?”

Hajime shrugs. “I dunno. I thought maybe we could all try it and play together,” he admits.

“That’s a great idea, Iwa-chan!”

Hajime’s tan skin grows pink, but he looks pleased.

As the kids gather around the table to eat, Tooru notices that Tetsun and Kenma still haven’t shown. Bokuto notices too, and he frowns worriedly.

“Has anyone seen Tetsurou-kun and Kenma-kun?” he asks the table. As everyone shakes their heads, Tooru thrusts his hand in the air.

“They were upstairs. I’ll go get them!” He hops out of his seat and runs for the stairs.

He finds the two exactly where he left them an hour or so ago, though Tetsurou seems like he’s starting to drift off some, his head resting against Kenma’s shoulder. Kenma’s still engrossed in his game, thumbs tapping back and forth quickly.

Now would really be the best time to tell Kenma to stay away from his friends.

“Dinner’s ready!” Tooru calls from the doorway, startling Tetsurou awake.

He rubs at his eyes, stretching his arms over his head. He moves to stand, holding his hand out to help Kenma up. Kenma ignores him, eyes fixed on his game. Tetsurou frowns, biting his lip and suddenly looking lost. Tooru sighs, stepping forward and planting himself in front of Kenma, his hands on his hips.

“Hey! It’s dinner time! You gotta come eat!”

Kenma curls inward, not moving. Crouching down, Tooru leans forward to peer into his face. “If you don’t eat, you’re going to die, and then you won’t be able to play any games at all,” he states factually.

Tetsurou kicks at him, but Tooru doesn’t budge. Kenma lifts his gaze, meeting Tooru’s. It’s the first time he’s seen his eyes, and the intelligence behind them surprises Tooru. He’s only six, and yet he looks like he can maybe get one over on Tooru if he wants. Well, Tooru isn’t going to let that happen. He’s not going to lose to a six year old.

“Maybe that’s what you want,” Tooru continues lightly. “Maybe you think you’ll get back to your parents that way, but I can tell you right now it’ll make a lot of people sad; Tetsun here too. Do you really want to make your new friends sad? Or do you not care about anyone but yourself? That’s really selfish, Kenma-chan.”

Tooru,” Tetsurou hisses, scandalized.

Kenma stares at him, unwavering. Tooru matches his gaze, unblinking.

“I’m not hungry,” Kenma says finally, though he closes his 3DS.

Tooru doesn’t believe that, but he straightens. “That’s fine. You can sit next to Tetsun and make sure he eats his veggies, then. He’s really bad about that.”

Tetsurou makes a face. “That’s because they’re gross.”

“They’re good for you!” Tooru says, holding up his finger with his best “I know better than you” expression.

“Kenma’s not going to make me eat them, are you Kenma?” Tetsurou says hopefully, looking toward the new kid.

Kenma glances between them, blinking slowly. He moves to stand. “He’ll eat them,” he says with a nod.

Tetsurou looks horrified. “I thought you’d be on my side,” he says mournfully.

Kenma reaches out and takes his hand, still holding onto the game in the other. Tetsurou starts at the contact, looking down at their joined hands blankly before smiling shyly.

“I guess . . . I’ll eat mine if you eat yours,” he says after a moment.

Kenma nods. “Okay,” he says softly, leading the way out the door with Tetsurou in tow.

Tooru watches them go, not sure why it feels like he won and lost at the same time. He glances at the backpack Kenma left behind, his fingers itching to look through it to find out more about the mysterious little Kenma. In the end, though, he thinks of how hard Hajime will hit him if he finds out and decides he better not.

“Wait for me!” he calls, hurrying after the other two.

Chapter Text

Kenma stares up at the ceiling of his new room, listening to the soft sound of Hajime snoring beside him. Tooru’s on the other side of him, one arm flung out over Hajime’s chest as he sleeps with his mouth wide open, drool running down the side of his mouth. On Kenma’s other side, Tetsurou sleeps face down between two pillows, which he’s wrapped his arms around, smashing them against either side of his head.

It’s been hours since Bokuto told them it was time for bed, but Kenma can’t sleep. It’s strange, here. He’s used to being alone in his room, with everything dark and silent. He usually plays his 3DS until he falls asleep, but Bokuto took it from him and said he could have it back in the morning. So now Kenma’s just laying here, with nothing to distract him from his thoughts.

It’s annoying. He doesn’t want to think, right now. He’s avoided thinking too much about anything this whole time because he’s had the security and comfort of his games. But now as he stares into the darkness, the darkness peers back, and he can feel it crushing his chest.

Turning to the side, he stares at Tetsurou’s right arm. He’s tempted to reach out and shake it, wake him up so he can talk to him, tell him a story or sing him another song. After the lights went out, Tetsurou had gone around to each of them, kissing their foreheads and saying goodnight. Tooru asked him to sing, and Tetsurou softly sang a lullaby about jellyfish until Hajime started snoring, and they both fell into giggles. Tooru dropped off not long after, and Tetsurou’s face has been buried between the pillows ever since. Kenma thinks he’s asleep, but he’s laying so still, he might not be.

The stillness scares him, suddenly. Reaching out slowly, he lays his hand on Tetsurou’s back, waiting. When he feels it rise and fall, warm beneath Tetsurou’s sleep shirt, and feels the fluttering of his heartbeat, Kenma breathes a soft sigh of relief. He pulls his hand away, folding them underneath his head. He should try to sleep.

Closing his eyes, the silence seems even heavier. He’s just about to get up and try to find out where Bokuto put his 3DS, when he hears a soft whimper. Opening his eyes, he sees that Tetsurou’s arms have tightened around his pillows. He’s trembling, tiny sobs escaping. Frowning, Kenma reaches out once more, shaking his shoulder gently.

Tetsurou lifts his head, blinking slowly. In the moonlight from the window, Kenma catches a glimpse of the tears on his face. Sniffing softly, Tetsurou pulls his sleeve up to wipe them away, turning to look at Kenma.

“Oh. Sorry. Did I wake you?”

Kenma shakes his head.

Sighing, Tetsurou’s head drops down onto the pillows he now has gathered in his arms. Kenma can see where he gets his strange hairstyle, now. It’s sticking up every which way, except for the part that’s hanging over his eye. Kenma moves to brush it to the side so he can see Tetsurou’s full face.

Tetsurou gives him a shaky smile. “I’m okay,” he whispers.

Kenma scoots closer. Their noses would nearly be touching if Tetsurou’s head wasn’t propped up on both pillows.

“You’re not though,” Kenma murmurs, eyes fixed on his face, seeing the sadness in his eyes, the slight downward turn of his lips once the smile fades.

“I just have bad dreams sometimes. I’ll be fine.”

Kenma chews on his lip. He knows all about bad dreams. “Me too.”

Tetsurou wrinkles his nose. “Sucks, right?”

Kenma nods.

Tetsurou’s gaze passes over Kenma to look past him at where Tooru and Hajime lie sleeping. Kenma doesn’t know what to say to make him feel better. He hasn’t even fully processed what happened to him yet, he can’t know how to process anyone else’s bad thoughts and feelings on top of that. But still, he wants to help, somehow. Tetsurou’s nice to him, and there’s something about him that makes Kenma feel safe. Plus, he promised to look out for Kenma, despite doubting his own strength. Kenma’s been independent long enough to know he doesn’t need some random eight-year-old to take care of him. He knows how to take care of himself. But . . . it’s nice, to feel looked after, cared for. Especially since . . .

His chest hurts. He rubs his feet together absently, wiggling his toes in the soft material of the cat-faced socks Hajime gave him earlier. Moving his hand slowly, he finds Tetsurou’s in the dark and latches onto it. Tetsurou’s eyes fall back onto him, and he smiles again, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.

“I’m going to go find my game,” Kenma decides after a moment. “You want to come with me?”

Tetsurou’s eyes widen. “But Bokuto-san took it.”

Kenma sits up. “I’ll find it.”

Tetsurou looks nervous, as he slowly sits up as well. “But . . .”

Kenma doesn’t wait for any more protests. He stands and makes his way silently toward the door. Opening it, he peers down the hall. There are three other bedroom doors, all closed, that contain the other kids in groups of four or five. Then there are the doors for the toilet and the bathroom. Downstairs, he knows is Bokuto’s room, another toilet, the living room, the kitchen, and the office. His game is probably in the office.

He heads for the stairs without waiting to see if Tetsurou has followed him. After a moment, he feels a gentle tug on the back of his sleep shirt. Glancing over his shoulder, he sees Tetsurou standing there with wide eyes. His fingers tighten their grip on Kenma, and Kenma makes his way carefully down the steps.

The house feels even larger than before in the dark and stillness of the night. A floorboard creaks, and they both freeze, breaths caught in their throat, until a few seconds pass and nobody shows up to demand what they’re doing out of their room.

Kenma feels small. He knows he is small. The last few months his mom struggled to put food on the table, and Kenma grew thinner and thinner. He’s less thin now after a week of food being thrust in front of his face every five minutes. He’s not sure what’s up with adults and wanting to feed you when something bad happens. They did the same when his dad died several years ago. He doesn’t remember that time, he was too little, but his mom told him about it when he was old enough to understand what “death” meant.
Straightening his shoulders, he continues down the stairs.

“We really shouldn’t be doing this,” Tetsurou hisses in his ear.

“Go back to bed, then,” Kenma says, making his way down the hall past the kitchen to where Bokuto’s office door stands.

Tetsurou follows. When Kenma tries the door and it doesn’t budge, the older boy makes a small noise that sounds like relief. Undeterred, Kenma turns and heads toward Bokuto’s bedroom.

Kenma!” Tetsurou hisses after him.

Slowly, Kenma slides the door open and peers inside. Bokuto’s lying on his stomach on the bed in the center of the room, one arm slung out over the side. He’s snoring softly, and Kenma spots a keyring on his bedside table. His socked feet don’t make a sound, as he makes his way across the wooden floor. Bokuto doesn’t stir, even as Kenma lifts the keys and hurries back out of the room.

Tetsurou’s staring at him with wide eyes. “Are you crazy?” he asks.

Kenma slides the door shut behind him and doesn’t answer. He’s on a mission. He’s going to get his game back. Walking back to the office, he goes through the keys until he finds one that looks right. It fits into the lock and he turns it, sliding the door open with a satisfied smile. Tetsurou stands by the doorway, as Kenma begins to search the shelves and drawers for his console.

“You’re going to get us in so much trouble,” Tetsurou moans.

Kenma ignores him. The office is small, and there are stacks of papers and folders everywhere. Even on the floor, which he carefully navigates around to try and avoid messing anything up too noticeably. He’s not sure why Bokuto has so many hard copies when he has a computer sitting right there on his desk, but maybe he just likes holding paper. There are two simple chairs in front of the desk, and the wall behind it is covered with drawings various kids have made for their caretaker. Most are pretty bad, but Kenma guesses they all must like Bokuto a lot to put in so much effort for him. There are even some letters from kids who’ve gotten adopted. Kenma still can’t read very well, but he knows enough to see the words of thanks written on each one.

Curiosity seems to overcome Tetsurou, as he picks his way into the room, looking around at all the scattered papers. “He’s always going on about us cleaning our rooms,” he says, shaking his head.

“His bedroom was clean,” Kenma remembers. There actually hadn’t been much in Bokuto’s room, aside from his bed, a dresser, a bookshelf that held mostly photos and DVDs, and some work-out equipment in the corner.

“Still . . . how does he find anything in here?” Tetsurou bends to pick up a file, flipping through it absently before setting it back.

Kenma starts opening the drawers of the desk. One seems to be full of confiscated toys and electronics, and he shifts through this one hopefully.

“Oh.”

Kenma glances up, noticing the shift in Tetsurou’s tone. He sounds . . . sad? He’s standing on the other side of the desk, looking down at a folder that he’s opened on top of it. His face is cast in shadow, the moonlight from the window to the right of the desk illuminating only so much. He reaches over to turn on the desk lamp, squinting down at the papers in front of him.

“There’s a couple who want to adopt Tooru,” he says softly.

Kenma turns back to his search. “That’s good, right?”

“I guess . . . I mean. Yeah. It is.” Tetsurou sighs.

Kenma spots his 3DS. He grabs it, shutting the drawer and lifting his head to see Tetsurou chewing on his lip, as he stares at the file. Kenma walks around the desk, standing on his tiptoes to try and read what he can of it. He doesn’t understand most of the words, but he catches “bright child” and “very cute” and the family name “Oikawa,” which he thinks is a type of fish.

“Bokuto-san hasn’t mentioned anyone interested in Tooru,” Tetsurou admits, flipping through a couple more pages. “But . . . it makes sense. I mean, he’s always really charming during the open houses and all the couples that come like him. He’s really smart, too. It makes sense he’d be the first one of us to be adopted.” He shuts the file and adjusts it to look as it had before. “I just . . . didn’t think it’d be so soon.”

Kenma glances from the file to Tetsurou and back again. He doesn’t know what to say. He only just got here, and while he doesn’t like Tooru that much so far, he’s been Tetsurou’s friend for years. It’s obvious that the two of them and Hajime are close. Reaching up, he turns off the desk lamp before taking Tetsurou’s hand, leading him back out of the office. He goes about shutting the door and locking it, taking the keys back to Bokuto’s room where he found them.

Tetsurou says nothing on their way back to their room. He looks over at Tooru, who’s shifted in his sleep and is now laying horizontal across his futon, one foot laying on Hajime’s stomach, blanket tangled around his legs and hips.

“I’m not going to tell him,” Tetsurou decides after a moment, shaking his head. He sits next to Kenma, as he starts up his game. “He still talks about how his bio parents are out there somewhere and are going to come back for him one day. I don’t think he’ll like being adopted by someone else.”

Kenma turns his gaze to the screen in front of him, turning the volume all the way down. Tetsurou sighs and scruffs his hair absently, looking over at Kenma after a moment.

“Can I watch again?”

Kenma nods, scooting to the side to give Tetsurou room on the futon beside him. The older boy grabs one of his pillows, bringing it over to hug to his chest, as he rests his chin lightly against Kenma’s shoulder, watching the screen. It only takes a couple levels for him to fall back asleep, though, sagging against Kenma until he twists and gently pushes him down against the futon. Tetsurou curls around him slightly, the pillow a barrier between them, and Kenma leans back against it. By the time dawn starts to break through the trees outside, Kenma finds himself struggling to stay awake, exhaustion taking hold despite the fear of nightmares.

He saves his game, yawning hugely before shifting down the futon to lay his head against the pillow Tetsurou still holds. With his 3DS still clutched in his hands, he falls into a deep, dreamless sleep within seconds.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

All Hajime knows about volleyball is what he’s gleaned from watching it on TV, but it doesn’t seem too complicated, and when Bokuto sees him practicing bouncing the ball off his arms out in the backyard, he excitedly comes over to explain some more of the game mechanics to him. Apparently, he used to play back in high school and college, and he lights up at the chance to teach Hajime everything he knows and even shows him the correct forms for the different moves and positions.

He then relays all this information to Tooru, Tetsurou, and Kenma, though Kenma has his nose buried deep in his 3DS, so he’s not sure how much the kid actually hears.

“I want to be the setter!” Tooru exclaims as soon as Hajime finishes.

“Why the setter?” Tetsurou asks curiously.

“That seems like the most important part!”

Hajime rolls his eyes. “They’re all important, stupid. There are six people on a team, and they all have to work together!”

“It sounds like fun,” Tetsurou admits with a faint grin. He glances over at Kenma. “What do you think, Kenma-kun?”

“No thanks.”

Tetsurou deflates. Hajime hesitates, not sure what to do. He doesn’t want to force Kenma to play, but he wants them all to play together as a team, and he wants Kenma to be a part of that team. He knows Tooru’s jealous of him, but Tetsurou likes him, and Hajime thinks the four of them could work together really well, if they give Kenma the chance.

“Well . . . we can start and if Kenma wants to join us later he can,” Hajime suggests for a compromise.

Tetsurou hesitates. “But it’ll be more fair if it’s two on two . . .”

“We don’t need him, Tetsun!” Tooru exclaims, hands on hips. “If he wants to be a party-pooper he can sit out!”

“Okay,” Kenma replies mildly, not taking the bait but focused on his 3DS where he sits in the grass, knees pulled to his chest.

“Hey, what are you playing?” Daishou sidles up to Kenma, peering down over his shoulder. Kenma’s shoulders rise reflexively. “Oh! I beat this one! It was super easy.”

Tetsurou frowns. “Hey, leave him alone,” he says, stepping forward. His sudden boldness surprises Hajime, and he and Tooru exchange a look.

Daishou puts his hands up. “I’m not doing anything!” He looks over at Hajime nervously. “What are you guys doing?” he asks, puffing himself up.

“We’re going to play volleyball,” Hajime says, twirling the ball between his hands. He really hopes Daishou doesn’t—

“Can I play?” he asks.

“No!” Tooru exclaims, shaking his head quickly. He crosses his arms over his chest. “You don’t even know how to play.”

“Yes, I do! I heard Bokuto-san telling Iwaizumi about it,” Daishou insists. “You only have three people playing, right? So let me play! It can be two on two!”

Hajime hesitates. On the one hand it would be easier to play two on two, but on the other hand he knows if he lets Daishou play with them, he’ll start taunting Tooru or Tetsurou to try and mess them up somehow and that will end in punches being thrown and Tooru crying. Hajime hates it when Tooru cries.

“I’ll play,” Kenma says suddenly, standing. He closes his 3DS and slips it into his pocket.

Tetsurou lights up, grabbing his hand. “Yay! Kenma’s playing!”

“There. See? Now it’ll be three on two if you play and that’s not fair,” Tooru says haughtily.

Daishou’s face turns red. “You guys are mean!” he exclaims. “I hope the ball hits you all in the face!”

Tooru sticks out his tongue, pulling down on one eyelid to make a face. Hajime reaches over to slap his arm down. There’s no need to rub it in the guy’s face. Daishou might be annoying and rude, but after Bokuto spoke to Hajime about controlling his temper and being the better person when it comes to Daishou, he’s decided he’s going to try. So long as Daishou doesn’t do or say anything horrible that Hajime can’t ignore.

Tooru cackles, as Daishou storms off, and Tetsurou grins at Kenma, happily swinging their hands together, so Hajime guesses it all worked out. Daishou has plenty of other kids to play with anyway, so he doesn’t feel too bad about it.

They start off with basic drills that they’re all terrible at. The ball keeps falling on Tooru’s face when he’s trying to set it, Hajime continually misses his spikes, and the ones he does hit, either smack Tetsurou in the face when he’s trying to receive it, or go wild in the complete opposite direction Hajime meant it to go. Kenma tries to set for Tetsurou, but he can’t get the angle right, and whenever he tries to receive, he’s not fast enough to get under it, and he falls on his face multiple times.

After a couple hours of this, it’s clear they have a long way to go to improve. They’re covered in dirt and multiple bruises, but Hajime thinks they’re having fun. He’s having fun, at least, and from the way Tooru’s face lights up each time Hajime manages to hit one of his tosses, he can tell he is too. Tetsurou as well, he laughs with delight each time one of his receives connects, though it’s difficult to read Kenma. He’s frowning throughout but sticks with it, even after falling over and over again. Hajime admires that.

It’s a good distraction. So much of their playtime is unstructured, and Hajime always has to find something to keep his thoughts from wandering to unpleasant things. He likes to watch the bugs that crawl through the grass and up the fence, and he used to collect them in jars and keep them in the bedroom until Tooru insisted he stop because it was “gross,” and he hated how they “watched” him.

With no more bugs to collect, he’s been looking for a new hobby, a new activity to fight off the sadness that comes sneaking into his head when he least suspects it. Volleyball seems perfect. He’s active and engaged and it’s exciting and frustrating all at once.

Hours later they take a break, and Kenma declares he’s done for the day, plopping back down with his game. Sore and tired, the others follow suit, dropping in the grass around him. Hajime wonders if whatever middle school they attend will have a volleyball team. That’s quite a few years in the future, but he can’t help but mention it anyway.

“I think it’ll be really cool if we can keep playing together,” he says.

“Yeah! I’m going to be the best setter that ever was!” Tooru declares.

“I’ll block you every time!” Tetsurou grins.

“Not if you’re on my team! Then you’ll block for me.”

Tetsurou’s grin slips. Hajime watches curiously, as he flops black in the grass with a sigh. “We don’t even know if we’ll get to go to the same middle school. We might all be adopted by then.” He bites his lip.

“I can’t be adopted. My parents are still alive,” Tooru points out, tearing up a handful of grass to drop on Tetsurou’s chest.

Hajime sits beside Tooru, legs crossed and holding the scuffed and dirty volleyball in his lap. “Well, even if we do get adopted, we can still meet up and play together. There might be a class at the rec center we can go to. And if our middle schools have teams, then maybe we’ll get to play against each other. That could still be fun.”

Tetsurou glances over at him. “You think we’ll still be friends after we get adopted?” he asks.

“Of course, stupid,” Hajime says, reaching around Tooru to flick him gently in the arm. “I’m not going to stop being your friend. So, you better not either.”

Tooru grins, wrapping his arms around Hajime’s neck. “Iwa-chan is so loyal!” he exclaims, rubbing his sweaty face against his.

“Ew, you’re all sticky. Get off me,” Hajime complains, pressing his elbow into Tooru’s chest in an attempt to push him away. It’s way too hot for that.

Tooru continues to cling to him, laughing at his attempts to escape. Hajime lets go of the volleyball to grab Tooru’s arm, lifting it forcefully in order to slip out from under it. He shoves Tooru over into the grass, then, shaking his head. “You need a bath. You stink.”

Tooru sits up with a gasp. “I do not!” He takes a sniff of his shirt and wrinkles his nose. “Well, maybe a little.”

“We should all take a bath,” Tetsurou says, sitting up. “Come on, Kenma! Let’s go get cleaned up!”

Kenma heaves a sigh, like the thought of standing personally offends him. But after some needling from Tetsurou, he pushes himself off the ground and allows the older boy to take his hand and lead the way inside.

“Last one in is a rotten egg!” Tetsurou calls over his shoulder with a grin.

“Ack! No fair! You got a head start!” Tooru scrambles to his feet and races after them.

Hajime looks down at the volleyball in his lap, giving it a small spin before setting it aside and standing to hurry after his friends. They end up play-fighting in the bath until the entire floor is covered in water and Bokuto yells, but even with that Hajime feels like it was a good day. He likes volleyball, and he likes the feeling he got whenever he managed to hit a toss Tooru sent his way. He holds onto that feeling and wonders how it’ll grow the more they play and the better they get.

One thing’s for sure: he definitely wants to see that excited grin on Tooru’s face again.

Chapter Text

Tetsurou doesn’t tell Tooru about the couple interested in adopting him. He’s not sure what would happen if he did, but he knows it probably won’t be good. He tries not to think of the file and its contents at all, focusing on volleyball and looking after Kenma. The former is more fun than he initially thought it’d be, and the latter is easier than he thought it’d be.

Kenma’s surprisingly resourceful and independent for a six-year-old. He proved that the night he snuck into Bokuto’s office, and everything that comes after that just makes it more obvious. He’s quiet and doesn’t seem to enjoy physical activities and avoids most of the other kids, but that doesn’t mean he’s weak.

Daishou tries to mess with him during one of their play times. They take a break from volleyball, and Kenma’s drawn out his 3DS, tapping away. Tetsurou sees Daishou approaching and watches warily, not sure what he’s planning.

“What game are you playing now?” he asks, bending over to peer at the screen.

Kenma hunches forward, away from him. Daishou’s eyes light up. “Oh, I’ve played this one too! I can help you beat that guy,” he says, before snatching the 3DS out of Kenma’s hands.

“Hey!” Tetsurou exclaims, but before he can even make a move toward them, Kenma’s punched Daishou right in the nose, snatching his game back in the same movement.

Tetsurou, Hajime, and Tooru all stare, completely stunned. It even takes Daishou a moment to register what happened. He blinks a few times, clutching his nose. Tears well up in his eyes, but Kenma turns back to his game without giving him a second glance.

“You hit me!” Daishou cries. “I’m telling!”

He runs off toward the house, calling for Bokuto.

“Kenma!” Tetsurou doesn’t know whether he should scold him or laugh, honestly.

Kenma glances up, noticing the three of them staring with a jolt of surprise. “What?” he asks softly, curling further inward.

“You can’t just punch people!”

Kenma blinks. Beside him, Tooru starts giggling. Hajime rolls his eyes and smacks Tooru upside the head.

“Don’t laugh,” he says.

Tooru pokes his lip out, as he rubs the back of his head. “But it’s funny, Iwa-chan! Who knew little Kenma-chan was such a tiger!”

Kenma wrinkles his nose at that. Tetsurou sighs. “Look, just . . . don’t do it again, okay? You’ll get in trouble, and Bokuto-san will take your game away.”

Kenma shrugs. “I’ll just get it back again,” he says, eyes falling toward the screen once more.

Tetsurou doesn’t have an answer for that. It hits him again that Kenma isn’t as helpless and vulnerable as he first appeared. It kind of makes Tetsurou wonder what good he can be to the kid. He doesn’t need protection, obviously, and despite being an orphan it doesn’t seem to bother him very much. Or else, he’s really good at hiding it.

It doesn’t take long for Daishou to return, Bokuto in tow. Their caretaker looks somewhat exasperated, but he smiles, as he crouches next to Kenma.

“Kenma,” he starts gently. “Suguru says you punched him. Is that true?”

“He took my game,” Kenma says, not looking up from this 3DS.

“It’s true,” Tetsurou says, determined to help in some way. “Daishou started it.”

Daishou shoots him a murderous glare. “I just wanted to show him how to defeat the boss guy!”

“I know how to do it,” Kenma says tightly, curling further into himself. “I’ve played this before.”

“You could’ve just said that,” Daishou grumbles, poking at his nose.

Bokuto rubs his hand over his hair. “Well, you can’t punch people, even if they do take your games,” he says, before looking over at Daishou. “You shouldn’t be taking his game, either.” He claps his hands together. “So! If both of you apologize, then we can put this behind us and do better in the future!”

“Why should I apologize! I was trying to help, and he punched me!” Daishou exclaims.

“I’m not sorry,” Kenma states, shaking his head slightly.

Bokuto’s smile looks strained. Tetsurou steps over to kneel beside Kenma, nudging him gently. “Just say it, okay?” he pleads softly, not wanting to see Kenma get in trouble when he does think Daishou sort of deserved it. It’s not like it was a particularly hard punch either. The kid isn’t even bleeding.

Kenma gives Tetsurou a side-long look that he can’t read. He turns back to face Daishou and Bokuto after a moment, though, and lowers his gaze to the ground. “Sorry.”

Bokuto’s smile relaxes. “Thank you, Kenma,” he says, before turning toward Daishou expectantly.

Daishou huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Fine. I’m sorry,” he says flatly.

Bokuto sighs. “Well, I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get. If I hear of any more punching or stealing, though, there’s going to be bigger consequences. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” Daishou mutters.

Kenma says nothing, simply turns back to his game. Bokuto ruffles his hair and Daishou’s before standing and heading back inside. Daishou sticks his tongue out at them all before running after him to enter the house. Tooru and Hajime make their way over to sit across from Kenma and Tetsurou in the grass.

“Is your hand okay?” Hajime asks Kenma seriously.

Kenma appears surprised by the question. He glances down at his hand before nodding. “I think so.”

Tooru grins. “He totally deserved it,” he says. He gives Hajime a nudge. “Better watch out, Iwa-chan! I might make Kenma-chan my new bodyguard.”

Hajime rolls his eyes. “He can have you,” he says, getting distracted by a ladybug that lands on a weed beside him.

“Mean, mean, Iwa-chan’s mean,” Tooru sings, poking Hajime in the side and arm until he turns back around and swats at him, telling him to stop as Tooru laughs.

Tetsurou sighs, running a hand through his hair before glancing over at Kenma beside him. He’s turned back to his game, thumbs moving over the buttons resolutely.

“So . . . I guess you don’t really need someone to look after you, huh?” he says after a moment, as Hajime and Tooru start wrestling.

Kenma bites his lip. “I can take care of myself,” he says softly, almost apologetically, it seems.

“Yeah, I’m figuring that out,” Tetsurou says with a soft laugh, not sure why he feels so disappointed.

“But . . .” Kenma continues, leaning against him just slightly. “It’s nice to have friends.”

Tetsurou feels his heart swell in his chest, the disappointment fading away. He presses back against Kenma’s shoulder with his own. “You can count on us, Kenma!” he assures him. “We’ll be here for you, no matter what. Even if you punch a hundred people!”

Kenma’s lips twitch in a small smile. “Thanks.”

“What’s that about punching a hundred people?” Tooru asks with interest, lifting his head from where Hajime’s got him in a headlock.

“Nobody’s punching any more people,” Tetsurou says quickly, hopping to his feet. “Come on! Let’s play some more volleyball!”

Tooru wiggles out of Hajime’s grasp, scrambling upright. “Yeah!” he exclaims excitedly.

Hajime looks toward the ladybug, watching as it flies away before standing as well. “I’m in.”

Tetsurou thinks that with all the physical activity during the day, he’ll be able to pass out immediately once he hits his futon at bedtime. He certainly feels sluggish as he pulls on his pajamas and brushes his teeth. Tooru begs for a lullaby, so he sings one about flowers, watching as each of his friends settle in and close their eyes. He keeps the song short, placing his customary goodnight kiss on each of their foreheads, before climbing into his own futon.

As soon as he closes his eyes, however, the flames return. They flicker on the edges of his vision, and he can’t see through the smoke, can’t breathe. It burns his nose and down his throat, and he tries to escape on his own, running toward all the windows and the door, tugging at them, trying to get them open. But he’s too small, too weak. He can’t call out; he can’t scream for his parents. If he does, they’ll come for him and be trapped in here, too.

The fire rages all around him, closing in, until he’s curled into a ball in the middle of his bedroom floor, coughing and crying and suppressing the urge to yell for help. Even as the fire begins to consume him, he presses his lips together and doesn’t make more than a whimper.

“Kuro.”

A hand shakes his shoulder. Tetsurou flinches. No. No, go away. Go away or you’ll die, too.

Kuro.” A more insistent nudge.

Tetsurou sniffles and opens his eyes. Kenma’s kneeling over him, peering into his face with a small frown. Tetsurou blinks away the tears blurring his vision. It takes some effort to peel his fingers away from his pillows, but he does, sitting up slowly.

“S-sorry.” This isn’t the first time Kenma’s had to pull him from his nightmares. Guilt settles like a rock in his stomach, and he wipes at his eyes with the sleeve of his pajama shirt. “Did I wake you up?”

Kenma shakes his head. “I don’t sleep much,” he admits softly.

Tetsurou frowns. “That’s not good. You can get sick if you don’t sleep.”

Kenma reaches out and pokes his cheek where a tear has escaped. Tetsurou remembers how he mentioned before that he also has bad dreams and sighs.

“I guess it’s pretty hard to sleep sometimes, huh?” he says, pulling his legs to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.

Kenma nods.

Tetsurou remembers something. “Hey, you called me Kuro. That’s not my name, you know. It’s Kuroo. Or Tetsurou.”

Kenma blinks at him. “Kuro’s easier to say,” he says simply.

Well, he can’t argue with that. Sighing, Tetsurou flops back down on his futon, staring up at the ceiling. He reaches down to grab his blanket, then, pulling it up under his chin. Kenma watches him silently. Tetsurou chews on his lip for a moment, still tired but afraid to close his eyes again.

“My parents died in a fire,” he says finally, wondering if talking about it will help. “My dad . . . he got me out, but then he went back in to get my mom. The whole house collapsed.” He makes a falling motion with his arm. “They got trapped. That’s what the firemen said.” He swallows hard. “I . . . I couldn’t move. I was in bed and I woke up with all the smoke and it was really hot and I just . . . sat there and screamed. If I ran outside, then my dad could’ve gotten my mom out right away and he might . . . they might . . .” He stops, as the tears begin to burn the corners of his eyes.

Kenma leans over him, frowning again.

“B-Bokuto-san says it’s not my fault. Akaashi-san says that too. But I just keep thinking about it and-and dreaming about it . . .” Tetsurou admits softly, his voice sounding tiny in his own ears. “I can’t stop thinking it is my fault.” He chokes back a sob, as it crawls up his throat. Closing his eyes, he folds his arms over his face. “It’s easy to pretend everything’s okay when it’s daytime and we’re playing or at school, but when I’m sleeping . . .”

He feels a tug on his blanket. Lifting his arms from his face, he watches in surprise, as Kenma climbs underneath it, laying down beside him and wrapping his arm around Tetsurou’s waist. He snuggles in close, burying his face against Tetsurou’s chest.

“I’ll be here for you too,” he says softly, mirroring Tetsurou’s words from earlier.

Tetsurou can’t help but smile, even as he sniffles and wipes his face on his sleeve. “Thanks,” he says softly, pulling the blanket up over them both, before turning into him in order to wrap both arms around him, pressing his forehead against the top of Kenma’s head, breathing in the sweet scent of his apple shampoo.

It eases the knot in his chest. Not fully, but enough to help him relax. He holds Kenma’s small, warm body close to his, feeling the steady beat of his heart, hearing the soft sound of his slow breathing. He does his best to match its pace, and after a while he closes his eyes.

The nightmares don’t return.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Tooru has a bad feeling in his stomach when Bokuto calls him into his office. It worsens when he sees the nicely dressed couple seated in the two chairs across from Bokuto’s desk. He stands when he sees Tooru in the doorway, grinning ear-to-ear as he beckons him forward.

“Tooru, this is Oikawa Daisuke and his wife Ichiko,” he introduces, placing his hands on Tooru’s shoulders. “They’d like to adopt you!”

Tooru hears the sound of rushing water in his ears, and he barely understands the woman, as she leans forward and smiles kindly at him. She has a cord of pearls around her neck, so they must be rich, but even knowing that, Tooru feels his entire body go rigid with fear.

“No. I can’t get adopted,” he says loudly, cutting Ichiko off. He doesn’t care if it’s rude. He has to stop this. He shrugs off Bokuto’s hands, turning to frown up at him. “My parents are coming back for me! They’re not dead!”

Bokuto’s expression falls. He moves to kneel in front of Tooru, placing his hands on his shoulders again. “Tooru, we don’t know if that’s true. These nice people want to adopt you. You’ll have a family, an older sister. I told them you like volleyball, and they said they could get you into a good school that has a volleyball club. This is a good thing, Tooru.”

“No!” Tooru wrenches away from him, not wanting to hear any of this. He clamps his hands over his ears. His heart’s racing, thudding against his chest so hard it’s nearly painful. “I want to stay here! I want to stay with Iwa-chan and Tetsu and Kenma! I want my real parents!”

Bokuto glances at the couple apologetically. “I’m sorry, I knew it might be difficult, but I didn’t think he’d react so . . .” He gestures helplessly at Tooru.

Tooru takes advantage of his divided attention and runs for the door. Bokuto calls after him, but he doesn’t stop until he reaches the backyard. He scans the area quickly before catching sight of Hajime by the fence, watching a line of ants make their way up one of the wooden slats.

“Iwa-chan!” he cries, rushing over and grabbing his hand. “We’re running away! Right now!”

“What? Why?” Hajime frowns at him, not moving despite Tooru’s insistent tugs.

“There’s people here,” Tooru gasps out through the tears that are already spilling down his cheeks. “They want to adopt me!”

Hajime stares at him, not seeming to understand the urgency of the matter. “Don’t . . . you want to get adopted?” he asks hesitantly.

Tooru rears back in horror. “NO!” he screeches. “I DON’T! MY REAL PARENTS ARE COMING BACK FOR ME! I HAVE TO BE HERE SO THEY FIND ME!”

Hajime winces, rubbing his ear with his free hand. “Tooru . . .” he says then, gently, and he has that look on his face, the same one Bokuto had before.

No, no, Iwa-chan. Not you too.

“It’s been eight years . . . I don’t think they’re coming.”

Tooru jerks his hand out of Hajime’s, anger burning through him now, replacing everything else. “How can you say that?!” he cries. He reaches forward, shoving Hajime’s chest as hard as he can. Hajime stumbles back but doesn’t fall. He’s stupidly dense. Tooru tries again. “You’re supposed to be my best friend! You’re supposed to believe me!”

“I am!” Hajime yells, grabbing Tooru’s wrists to stop him. His eyes are wide and frantic, like he doesn’t know what to do or what to say.

Tooru yanks his wrists away, turning and running back into the house, ignoring Hajime shouting his name.

Stupid Iwa-chan! Stupid Bokuto-san! They don’t get it! Nobody gets it!

His parents are coming back for him. They are! They wouldn’t just leave him. Why would they leave him? He didn’t do anything wrong. He was just a baby!

He runs out the front door, not even bothering to pull on his street shoes. His house slippers flop against his heels, and he stumbles a few times, falling onto his hands and knees, his palms stinging as they hit the sidewalk. But he gets up and keeps running, tears spilling down his cheeks in earnest.

He doesn’t know where he’s going, just that he has to get away before Bokuto forces him to go with those people.

His vision blurs, and he doesn’t see the man in front of him until he runs face-first into his stomach. Tooru stumbles back, and the man catches his arm to keep him from falling. When Tooru raises his head, he finds himself looking into the concerned face of Akaashi Keiji.

“Tooru?” he says in his soft, calm voice. “What’s going on? Why are you running?”

Tooru feels his expression crumple. He surges forward, wrapping his arms around Akaashi’s waist and crying heavily into his crisp button-down. He spills out everything between sobs, about how Bokuto wants to send him away with strangers, how nobody believes that his parents will come back, not even Iwa-chan, about how his parents have to be coming back, because they wouldn’t just leave him, about how he can’t be adopted because what if these people decide they don’t want him either? What if they drop him off at a different orphanage? He’ll never see any of his friends ever again.

He babbles and sobs and clutches at Akaashi’s shirt, not caring that just yesterday he didn’t like the man because of Hajime’s crush on him. Maybe he can change Bokuto’s mind. He’s the only one who could.

Akaashi’s hand comes down on the back of his head, stroking his hair gently, and before moving to his back, rubbing it in small, comforting circles. Tooru eventually runs out of words and tears, hiccupping softly as he stands with his face pressed against Akaashi’s stomach, shoulders shaking with each inhale.

“Tooru,” Akaashi says, then, moving back to crouch in front of him. He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket (because of course someone like Akaashi would carry a handkerchief), gently cleaning Tooru’s face of tears and snot. “You know Bokuto-san wants what’s best for you.”

Tooru nods miserably. He does know that; he just thinks Bokuto’s way of finding what’s best for him is all wrong. Akaashi takes his arms in his hands, rubbing them slowly.

“I’m sure your real parents didn’t want to leave you,” he continues. “But not everyone has the means to take care of another person. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong or that you’re a bad person. It was just circumstances. They probably wanted what’s best for you too, even if that meant giving you to another family. You know Bokuto-san would never put you in a family he thought wouldn’t treat you well, right?”

Tooru nods again, swallowing hard.

Akaashi gives his arms a squeeze. “If you’d like, I can speak to these people who want to adopt you, make sure they realize how much Hajime and your friends mean to you. I’m sure they’d let you visit or let Hajime, Tetsurou, and Kenma visit you.”

Tooru blinks. “You think so?” he asks softly.

Akaashi nods. “They want you to be happy. They want to love you and take care of you, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? Out of all the little boys and girls they could adopt, they want you.”

Tooru sniffles. “But . . . what if I do something wrong or bad later, and they don’t anymore?” he asks in a small voice. He knows he’s not a perfect child. He can do his best, but he’ll make mistakes. He knows he will.

Akaashi tilts his head thoughtfully. “If you’re ever afraid of that, you can call me, and I’ll talk to you about it, okay? Even if it’s in the middle of the night.”

Tooru stares at him. “Why are you being so nice to me?” he asks skeptically, wondering what kind of angle Akaashi’s working.

Akaashi gives him a small, indulgent smile. “I know you distrust my intentions, but I do care about you children.”

Tooru narrows his eyes. “You like Bokuto-san. You want him to kiss you.”

Akaashi coughs, his cheeks glowing red, as he turns his face away. He takes a moment to regain his composure before he meets Tooru’s gaze again, and his smile widens. “I won’t deny that,” he says, shaking his head. “But just because I want him to kiss me, that doesn’t mean the things I do for you kids mean nothing.”

Tooru studies him for a moment, but he can’t think of another reason why Akaashi might give them gifts and donate so generously to the orphanage, if he’s going to outright admit to the Bokuto thing. “I guess I believe you,” he allows.

Akaashi bows his head. “Thank you,” he says, hiding another smile as he stands. “Now, can I walk you back? You won’t get very far in those shoes anyway.”

Tooru glances down at his feet and heaves a dramatic sigh. “I guess,” he says, taking Akaashi’s offered hand.

They walk back together, and Tooru wonders if Akaashi really means what he said before. If he’ll really be there to assure Tooru whenever he gets doubts about his new family. Truthfully, he’s intrigued by the thought of being rich and going to fancy schools with volleyball clubs. If he gets to keep Hajime, Tetsurou, and Kenma, maybe living with the Oikawas won’t be so bad.

He can always run away if his parents do show up again.

Akaashi releases him once they arrive at the orphanage, telling him to wait while he goes and talks to Bokuto and the Oikawas. Tooru takes off his dirtied house slippers, putting them in Daishou’s cubby and stealing his clean ones, since he’s outside in his street shoes at the moment.

He sits on the couch to wait, chewing on his lip and resisting the urge to sneak down the hall and eavesdrop. He’s seriously considering giving in, when Hajime comes down the stairs, rushing over as soon as he sees him.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he says, out of breath.

Tooru frowns. “Why?”

Hajime stares at him like he thinks he’s stupid before shaking his head. “Never mind. Let’s go.”

“What?” Tooru starts in surprise, eyes widening.

“You wanted to run away, right? So let’s go. We’ll have to take Tetsu and Kenma with us, but I think they’ll be okay with it. I’ve already packed our stuff, we just have to get some snacks and then—” He cuts off as Tooru starts laughing. “What?”

Tooru just shakes his head, throwing his arms around Hajime’s neck and hugging him as tightly as he can. His heart feels like it’s about to burst, and he’s pretty sure he’s never loved anyone as much as he loves Hajime in that moment.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Hajime grumbles, even as he returns the hug.

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong,” Tooru says, planting the biggest, wettest kiss he can on Hajime’s cheek as he pulls away.

Hajime scowls and wipes it off with the palm of his hand. “Gross,” he mutters, frowning at him. “Why are you being gross? Didn’t you want to leave?”

“Yeah, but it’s okay now,” Tooru assures him with a grin. “Akaashi-san is talking to the people. He’s going to make sure we can still see each other all the time.”

“But . . . what about what you said earlier?” Hajime asks, looking lost now.

Tooru keeps his grin, clenching his jaw some as he does. “It’s fine. I know my real parents probably aren’t coming back. But it’s okay. Because the Oikawas want me. They want me, Iwa-chan. So it’s okay.”

“. . . Sure,” Hajime says slowly, though he’s still watching Tooru warily, like he expects something else to happen.

But Tooru keeps smiling as hard as he can, thinking maybe if he smiles wide enough it’ll make him feel better. “I’m going to have a really big bedroom, and I’ll have you guys over for sleepovers every weekend.”

Hajime rubs the back of his neck. “Will they really let you do that?”

Tooru nods. “Akaashi-san will make sure of it!”

“So you like Akaashi-san now?”

Tooru shrugs. “He’s not so bad,” he allows.

“Tooru-kun.” As though they called him into existence, Akaashi appears at the entrance to the hall, beckoning to Tooru. “They’d like to speak to you.”

Tooru slides off the couch to stand, fluffing out his hair as best he can. “How do I look?” he asks Hajime, hoping he doesn’t look as though he’s been crying.

“Ugly,” Hajime says immediately.

Tooru sticks his tongue out at him, knowing he’s just being his regular rude self. Hoping so, at least. “No, I don’t!”

“Why did you even ask then?”

Tooru tosses his head back walks toward Akaashi with an air of confidence he doesn’t feel.

Everything will work out. If he believes it hard enough, it’ll come true.

Probably.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Hajime’s never spent a night without Tooru since he came to the orphanage. He was there when Hajime first arrived, all excited smiles and eager hands. Still somewhat in shock over the sudden loss of his parents and the broken arm he got from the accident, Hajime was frightened of this new place full of unfamiliar faces. But Tooru never left his side. He took his hand and showed him the best places to hide, the best toys to play with, and when Hajime cried at night from the pain in his arm and his chest, Tooru held him and soothed him with stupid stories about aliens that made Hajime laugh through his tears.

Hajime’s not sure why Tooru chose him to be his best friend, out of all the kids there. Maybe he saw in Hajime someone that needed a specific brand of comfort that only Tooru could provide. Maybe he just saw a broken kid and wanted to fix it. Either way, Hajime clung to Tooru, and his offer of friendship, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.

Until now.

He knows he’ll get to see Tooru again. Both Bokuto and Akaashi told him, Tetsurou, and Kenma that the Oikawas agreed to let the three of them come over whenever they wanted to play with Tooru.

But he’s not here now, and that makes all the difference.

There’s no one to fight over the bathroom sink with. Tetsurou defers to Kenma, and Kenma hogs it until he’s done, but Hajime doesn’t feel right shoving Kenma aside to take his turn. Despite knowing Kenma can defend himself, he’s still a lot smaller than him, and besides he’d have to deal with Tetsurou too, and that’s not a fight he wants either. With Tooru, it was equal footing. They pushed and shoved and growled and laughed and none of it was meant to be cruel. It was just how they were.

But he doesn’t have that with Kenma or Tetsurou, so he just stands in the doorway, watching silently until Kenma rinses and spits and steps off the stool. Tetsurou gives him his turn, then, but there’s no satisfaction in that victory.

Dressing for bed is too quiet. Tooru isn’t there to whine about Hajime stealing the softer pajama bottoms or to preen in front of the closet mirror until Hajime tells him he’ll never get pretty just by looking at himself more. There’s no squawking, no whining, no teasing. Hajime never thought he’d actually miss Tooru’s whine, but the absence of it just feels . . . wrong.

And when the lights go out and Tetsurou sings his lullaby before giving them both his usual goodnight kiss, Tooru’s not there beside him, reaching for his hand, nuzzling his too warm face against Hajime’s neck. He’s so clingy when he sleeps, and it’s annoying, especially in the summer, but now there’s nothing beside him, and he shivers in the dark, his chest aching.

He doesn’t realize he’s crying until he feels the tears reach his ears and tastes snot on his upper lip. He sniffles, wiping at it with the back of his sleeve. Hiccupping softly, he tries to stop. It’s stupid. Tooru isn’t gone forever. He’ll see him next Sunday for sure. But the ache just gets worse and the emptiness just gets deeper, and he can’t stop crying.

“Hajime.” A small hand tugs on the sleeve of his pajamas. “Hajime.”

Opening his eyes, Hajime turns his head to the side to find Kenma watching him. He can’t really see his expression in the dark, but his hand doesn’t let up on his sleeve, continuing to tug.

Hajime sniffs, glancing over Kenma to where Tetsurou’s sleeping, clinging to Kenma the way Tooru used to cling to him. He bites his lip, wondering if this is okay.

“Are you sure?” he asks, voice barely above a whisper.

Kenma nods and tugs again. Sitting up, Hajime scoots his futon over until it reaches the edge of Kenma’s, which is pushed up against Tetsurou’s. He lays back down, then, pulling his blanket up over himself before hesitantly wrapping his arm around Kenma’s waist, above Tetsurou’s arm. Immediately he can tell why Tetsurou likes to cling so much to the kid. He’s small, soft, and warm, like hugging a cat.

Burying his face in Kenma’s hair, Hajime exhales shakily. Kenma pats his arm lightly before turning back into Tetsurou. They’re not Tooru, but it’s better than the nothing from before. Some of the emptiness in his chest retreats, until it’s just a ball instead of a gaping hole.

That’s how he spends his nights, now, curled up against Kenma’s back, holding him as Tetsurou does. At first Hajime worried Tetsurou would be jealous, as he wakes up to find Hajime clinging to Kenma, too. But he just gives him an understanding smile and doesn’t tell him to back off. Tooru would’ve. He gets jealous really easily.

But Tooru’s not here.

Sunday finally, finally, arrives. Tetsurou’s practically vibrating with excitement, talking more than he usually does as they go about getting dressed and ready for their visit. Akaashi’s taking them, so Hajime spends extra time on his hair. There’s just something about Akaashi that makes him want to always look his best. Tooru constantly teases him about it, saying he has a “crush” on the man, but that’s stupid. Hajime knows Akaashi’s way too old for him. Besides, he likes Bokuto. Everyone knows that.

But there’s nothing wrong with dressing nice.

The three of them get into Akaashi’s car, Bokuto apparently not worried at all that an adult male who isn’t their official caretaker is taking them out of the orphanage. But then again, Bokuto’s always trusted Akaashi more than just a regular guy. Maybe he likes Akaashi, too.

Tetsurou continues to chatter on about what Tooru’s new home and new family might be like, trying to get Kenma invested in the conversation, but he doesn’t lift his nose from his 3DS. Hajime’s stomach is too tied up in knots for him to give many answers other than soft grunts, so Tetsurou ends up directing most of his questions at Akaashi, who wouldn’t know much more about Tooru’s new house and family than they do, but he indulges the questions and answers as best he can.

Tooru runs out to greet them as soon as they arrive, grinning ecstatically and waving his hand above his head. He’s dressed in nice clothes, much nicer than any of the ones at the center, and he’s freshly bathed, smelling like citrus, as he tackles the three of them in a hug. He tries to wrap his arms around them all, but he can’t reach, so he gives up in order to hug them all individually.

“Hi! You’re here! Wow! I’m so happy!”

He hugs Hajime the longest, cutting off his air, as he squeezes as hard as he can. Hajime dishes it back, though, until Tooru’s cries out and wiggles out of his grasp, smacking Hajime’s arm reproachfully.

“You’re such a brute, Iwa-chan!”

“You started it,” Hajime retorts, his chest feeling warm and full despite his scowl. He stares at Tooru, drinking in the sight. It’s been less than a week, but it feels like it’s been forever since he saw him.

Hajime wants to take his hand and drag him back to the car, hide him in the trunk, and smuggle him back to the orphanage.

“Come see my room!” Tooru exclaims next, grabbing his and Tetsurou’s hands and pulling them into the house. “You too, Kenma-chan!”

Kenma follows along behind, looking less interested in the large, fancy house than the other two. He focuses on his game, Tetsurou holding onto his shirt to keep him with them, as they go through the wide open space of the front hall and living room. Hajime’s pretty sure he’s never seen a house this big. The orphanage isn’t the smallest, but it feels smaller than it is due to the amount of kids inside.

“Whoa, Tooru! This place is awesome! Your new folks must be really rich!” Tetsurou exclaims, taking it all in.

“They do pretty well for themselves,” Tooru says lightly, like he says stuff like that all the time.

Hajime frowns.

“Ta-da! This is it! My very own room!” Tooru bursts through the door to the bedroom, releasing Hajime and Tetsurou’s hands in order to go to the center of it and fling out his arms.

The room’s color scheme is pale green and white and there are a ton of alien stuff around, from movie posters to figurines to stuffed animals and even an alien printed comforter on his bed (which is an actual bed, not a futon). There’s a volleyball in the corner, and Hajime can see some books on volleyball stacked on the bookshelf against the wall. There’s also a desk and wheely chair, and a full walk-in closet.

“Wow, your new folks got all of this for you?” Tetsurou asks, going over to inspect the alien figures.

“Yep! Bokuto-san told them how I liked aliens, so it was already like this when I moved in,” Tooru admitted.

Kenma steps over to climb onto the bed, sitting cross-legged and resuming his game.

Hajime looks at everything and feels a slight pang in his chest. Tooru’s happy. He likes it here. That’s plain to see. And the Oikawas obviously care about him a lot already.

Even if Hajime could smuggle Tooru out of here, will he even want to go? Does he even miss them? With this new family and all his cool stuff, will Tooru forget about them? Hajime curls his hands into fists, wanting to punch something but knowing if he breaks any of Tooru’s new things he’ll cry.

Instead, he walks out of the room, leaving Tetsurou and Kenma behind. He wanders back through the house, catching sight of Akaashi and the Oikawas in the kitchen having tea. He doesn’t want to interrupt them, so he keeps walking, out onto the front steps of the porch. He sits down with a sigh, elbows on his knees, chin in his hands.

“Hi there,” a voice says from somewhere behind him. A girl, already in her teens and wearing a yellow sundress, sits down beside him. “Are you one of Tooru-kun’s friends?”

Hajime sniffs back the tears that were forming, regarding her skeptically. “Who are you?”

The girl smiles. She’s pretty with dark brown hair and big brown eyes, not unlike Tooru’s. “I’m Oikawa Suzume. I guess I’m Tooru-kun’s new big sister.”

“Oh. Hi.” Hajime doesn’t know what to say other than that. She’s one of the ones who took Tooru from him. He doesn’t want to think that, but he does.

This is stupid. I should be happy that Tooru’s happy. He deserves a good family.

“Let me guess,” Suzume says, tapping her chin in thought. She snaps and points at him. “You’re . . . Iwa-chan! Right?”

Hajime blinks at her. “I’m Hajime. Iwaizumi Hajime,” he corrects. “How did you know?”

Suzume smiles. “Tooru-kun talks about you all the time. He says you like Godzilla.” She gestures to the Godzilla shirt he’s wearing. “That’s how I knew you were Iwa-chan.” She tilts her head. “But why are you out here? Does Tooru know you came to visit?”

Hajime nods. “He knows. He’s showing our friends his room.”

“You didn’t want to go?”

Hajime doesn’t know how to answer that. “He just . . . doesn’t seem to need me, I guess.” He bites his lip, feeling silly for saying it.

Suzume’s smile softens. “Aren’t you his best friend? That’s what Tooru-kun calls you. He really misses you. He was so excited that you were going to come visit today.”

Hajime feels the knot in his chest loosen. “Really?” he asks hopefully.

Suzume nods. “So excited.” She nudges him gently. “You know, just because he’s been adopted, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost him. He wants you to be in his life still, and I bet he’ll do whatever he can to keep you.”

Hajime glances over his shoulder at the house. “I guess . . . I could see some more of his room.”

Suzume grins, standing and holding her hand out to him. He takes it, allowing her to help him up. Straightening his shoulders, he walks back into the house and over to Tooru’s room. He finds Tetsurou and Tooru playing with Tooru’s Star Wars action figures in the middle of the floor. A couple characters have been set aside.

Tooru looks up when he steps into the room, and his expression brightens. “Iwa-chan! You’re back! Where did you go?”

“Toilet,” Hajime says, moving to sit on the other side of him. He picks up one of the figures in front of him. “How come I have to be Chewbacca?”

“Because you weren’t here when we were choosing characters,” Tooru says, sticking his tongue out at him. “But I’m Han Solo, so we’re still best friends!” He lifts his figure’s hand for a high five.

Hajime can’t help but smile. He lifts Chewbacca’s hand in order to high-five Han Solo.

Still best friends . . .

Hajime hopes that never changes.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Hajime gets adopted next.

Honestly, Kenma sees it coming. He’s nice and polite and cute, and even though Kuro is all those things too, Kuro’s really shy and tends to hide within himself and not talk much whenever couples come over to get to know the kids. Hajime engages with them, talking about volleyball and bugs and Godzilla with a gap-toothed grin, and the couples fall in love with him.

Because he’s a good person, he feels bad about leaving Kenma and Kuro behind. He hugs them both tightly and promises to visit and have them over. He and Tooru are only a few blocks away from each other, so it’ll be easy to get together. That’s what he says, at least. Kenma’s not sure if it will. Once school starts again, Tooru and Hajime will go to the same one, while he and Kuro will be in a different one. They’ll get busy with homework and club activities and will no doubt grow apart.

But he just nods and agrees with Hajime’s insistence that they’ll stay together, because he doesn’t want to bring the mood down even more. He wants it to be true, at least.

It’s just him and Kuro now, alone in the room, their futons pushed together. Kuro clings to him so he won’t have nightmares, kissing Kenma’s forehead and singing lullabies softly into Kenma’s hair until he drifts off to sleep. Kenma lays in the dark, listening to Kuro’s heartbeat, his soft, quiet breaths, and selfishly hopes no one will adopt him.

It’s a terrible thing to wish for, especially later on when Kuro tearfully wonders why nobody wants him.

“New parents stop by all the time, but none of them pick me,” he says miserably, sniffing in the dark, as Kenma presses into his chest. “Am I doing something wrong? Maybe they know. Maybe they know it’s my fault that my real parents died and so they don’t want to risk it.”

“That’s stupid,” Kenma tells him flatly. It wasn’t your fault . . .

Kuro just sniffles again and doesn’t respond.

Kenma watches helplessly, as he tries so hard to get new parents. He learns a bunch of scientific facts to impress them. He smiles and laughs and cracks jokes to entertain them. He even tells the story of his parents’ death, with big fat tears running down his cheeks, to get their sympathy.

Nothing works. They either leave and never return, or they adopt a younger kid. Kuro cries himself to sleep, and Kenma holds him while guilt twists inside his stomach, making him feel like he’s going to throw up.

About a month after Hajime’s adopted, they start school. Prospective parents come to the orphanage less and less, and Kenma hopes that’ll be the end of Kuro’s torment, at least until the next wave comes through. Kuro likes school, so that helps cheer him up. He chatters about the new things he’s learned in class as they walk home together every day, holding hands and ignoring Daishou whenever he tries to walk with them until he runs on ahead and leaves them alone.

Bokuto calls Kenma into his office the day Kuro’s talking about the Akō incident. Despite the grisly end, Kuro seems really impressed by the forty-seven ronin’s loyalty and dedication to their master. He’s still talking as they enter the orphanage and take off their shoes, but he falls silent when Bokuto calls Kenma’s name, his face paling.

Kenma has a feeling he knows what’s going on, and he silently slips into his house slippers, walking over to Bokuto and entering his office with him. He can feel Kuro’s eyes on him until the door slides shut. In the two chairs facing Bokuto’s desk are a young couple. They smile at him, and Kenma frowns.

“No,” he says, before Bokuto can say anything.

“Kenma,” Bokuto pleads with a pained look.

“You should adopt Kuro,” Kenma tells the young couple. This should make the guilt go away. “He’s better behaved than me. He’s really kind and smart and he listens when you talk and tells cool stories.”

“I’m sure that’s all true,” the woman says softly. “But we want to adopt you, Kenma-kun.”

Kenma blinks. “Why? Because I’m cute? Kuro’s cute, too.”

The woman stammers a bit, glancing helplessly at her husband.

“Don’t you want to be adopted? We have a nice home, a modest income. We’ll make good parents,” the man says with a brief smile.

Kenma frowns again. “If you have to say that, you probably won’t.”

It’s the man’s turn to sputter, as Bokuto shouts his name in admonishment. Kenma just shakes his head. If they won’t adopt Kuro, then he’s not going to leave him behind. He knows what it feels like to be left behind. The ache in his chest reminds him every night. He won’t do that to Kuro. He just won’t.

“If you adopt me, I’ll just run away,” he warns them. “I was a latch-key kid. I had my first errand when I was three. I know how buses and trains work. I’ll run away every day. I’ll be too much of a bother. You should adopt someone else.”

The couple exchanges a glance, and Kenma knows he has them. They chose him because he’s always quiet and keeps to the background whenever new parents arrive, not wanting to be noticed. They want a mild-mannered child, one that won’t cause unnecessary trouble. Now with his threat, they’re second-guessing their choice.

“Thank you, Kenma. You can go,” Bokuto says with a sigh, obviously not understanding why he’s being difficult.

Kenma leaves. Kuro’s waiting for him by the stairs, anxiously tugging at the front of his shirt. “You’re being adopted, aren’t you?” he asks in a small voice.

“No,” Kenma shakes his head. “They’re going to choose a different kid.”

“Oh.” Kuro frowns. “How come?”

Kenma shrugs. “I guess I’m not what they wanted,” he says, taking Kuro’s hand. “Let’s go play volleyball.”

He pulls him outside, knowing that the game will distract Kuro. It does, and by the time they come back inside to wash up for dinner, the couple is gone. Bokuto pulls him aside, telling Kuro to go on before turning toward Kenma. He looks concerned, but before he can say anything, Kenma pats his arm.

“It’s okay. I don’t want to be adopted.”

Bokuto blinks. “Damn, kid! You’re pretty good at reading people, huh?” he exclaims, smiling faintly. “Can I ask why, though?”

Kenma glances toward where Kuro last stood. He’s gone now, but Kenma can hear the downstairs sink running. “I’m not going until Kuro does,” he says softly, ducking his head to hide behind his hair. “I’m not leaving him behind.”

He remembers how it felt, just before summer break, getting home from school to find he couldn’t open his door. He knocked and knocked and called out his mother’s name, but there was no answer. He sat down in front of the door to wait, thinking maybe she went out for groceries. They only had plain rice left, so it made sense.

He still doesn’t know how long he sat there, playing his 3DS. The sun had already set when a neighbor stopped by and asked him if he was okay. Kenma told him that his key didn’t work, and he was waiting for his mom. The man walked over to try the door himself. He tried calling Kenma’s mom, and they heard the phone ringing from inside. Worried, the man broke the door open. He told Kenma to stay put, as he made his way inside.

The next thing Kenma knew, an ambulance arrived, along with the police.

Kenma’s mom was gone.

Dead.

She left him behind with only a note that said she was sorry.

“Kenma-kun?” Bokuto touches his head, stroking his hair lightly. “Tetsurou will be okay if you get adopted. I’ll make sure to take good care of him, just like I do all you kids.”

Kenma doesn’t respond. When Kuro returns, he goes over to take his hand, giving Bokuto a pointed look from behind his hair. Bokuto sighs and holds up his hands.

“Okay, okay,” he says, stepping toward the kitchen. “Who’s hungry?!”

At the bellow, the other kids come running toward the kitchen, hastily sitting down and crying out various forms of “thank you for the food!”

Kuro doesn’t go immediately, though. Instead, he looks down at Kenma pressed against his side. “Are you okay, Kenma?”

“I’m staying with you,” Kenma mutters against his arm.

“Oh, uh, okay! You can sit next to me at the table,” Kuro says, leading the way.

That’s not what Kenma meant, but he’s not about to go into all that now.

Or later.

Or ever, probably.

Kuro doesn’t need to know the details. He just needs to know Kenma will always be here for him. No matter what. He’ll make sure Kuro is happy and healthy and lives a good life.

He won’t fail. He won’t leave. Never.

That night, it’s Kenma who kisses Kuro’s forehead before they go to bed. He starts in surprise before grinning.

“What’s that for?” he asks, reaching up to touch his forehead lightly.

Kenma shrugs, getting beneath the covers. “Just wanted to,” he says.

“Do you still want me to sing? Or are you going to sing to me?” Kuro asks, wiggling his eyebrows.

Kenma frowns. “No.”

“No, you don’t want me to sing? Or no you’re not going to sing to me?” Kuro pokes out his lower lip.

“I’m not singing.”

Kuro laughs. “I’ll sing then,” he says, laying down and wrapping his arm around Kenma to pull him close. Before he starts, though, he nuzzles his nose into Kenma’s hair gently. “This is selfish, but I’m glad you didn’t get adopted today,” he murmurs under his breath. “Do you forgive me?”

Kenma reaches up to flick his ear. “Don’t be stupid.”

Kenma can hear the smile in Kuro’s voice as he starts singing, this one about souls and hearts and watching them get snatched away, singing out for those souls and hearts to find their way back to the place where he is, and where he’ll stay until they do.

It’s a beautiful song, and Kenma can’t help but feel the ache in his chest returning. He hugs Kuro’s arm to him and closes his eyes. His soul and heart will stay with Kuro, and Hajime and Tooru’s will come back. Kenma will make sure they do.

He’ll keep them together, no matter what.