Tadashi checked his watch and picked up the pace of his steps by a half beat, throwing out a silent curse at his commute. If Hinata beat him here again—
Ah, no contest, Tadashi groaned as he saw the iron door of Karasuno’s back entrance swing open, and a red-headed figure slink inside. So, Hinata would call cakes with Asahi again, and Tadashi would fall aside to the utilitarian roles of the night shift in one of the most famous restaurants in Sendai.
Still, Tadashi shouldn’t complain—
“I get to decorate the cakes with you tonight, Asahi-san, right?” Hinata was saying, bouncing excitedly on the balls of his feet as a tall man, hair neatly pulled up in a bun and hairnet, scratched at his cheek awkwardly, leaving a dusting of flour to catch in his shadow.
“Looks like it, Hinata,” Asahi said in return. “Grab the orders from Yuu, if you don’t mind. He and Tanaka will be heading out soon. Oh, Yamaguchi, would you mind helping Ennoshita tonight?”
Again, Tadashi thought internally, sending a cautious smile towards the gentle giant and glancing around for Ennoshita. After all, Asahi wasn’t kitchen manager, and was just passing along the orders of…
Sawamura Daichi and Sugawara Koushi. Floor manager and kitchen manager, though so inseparable it had taken Tadashi a while to figure out who was which. Tadashi felt a shiver of anticipation snake down the back of his neck as the kitchen manager of Karasuno turned his attention his way.
“Yamaguchi,” Suga said with a warm smile. “Ennoshita is clearing the front with Tanaka and Nishinoya, so you’re getting started back here on your own. Don’t worry, I’ll catch you up.”
"Hi, Yamaguchi!" Tadashi nearly swayed back as Hinata ran past him through the wide double doors linking the large kitchen to the even larger front-of-house, the doors swinging wildly in his wake. As they opened and closed, Tadashi caught glimpses of Hinata speaking with Nishinoya Yuu, who worked front of house, and Ennoshita Chikara, a floater who essentially handled… well, everything. But mostly, staff relations, and… Tadashi. He didn’t mind taking orders from Ennoshita, he only wished that the other man didn’t take the routine of the job as a challenge to be met nightly. There was never any variation or deviance, simply an order to follow. Tadashi linked eyes with Suga again, the man pulling a smile that highlighted his beauty mark, high in the corner of his eye. He was sure that Suga was a mind reader, and before he could think anything that would get him fired, he bowed slightly toward his manager to show that he was listening.
“Right,” Suga said, patting Daichi on the arm as the other man took off through the doors, shouting Tanaka’s name. “We’ll need the dough for the hand pies cut for second proofing by 3:00 AM, so walk your start back from there. Also, we need another prep of fillings, they sold well today. Then, check with Asahi—” Tadashi perked up—“to see what colors he needs refilled for icing. Ennoshita should be back by then and can fill you in on the rest.”
Tadashi bent at the waist again to show he understood, and Suga’s smile really did feel warm in that moment, his appreciation a sudden and sure thing. But then, the doors closed behind him and Tadashi was turning to the cool stainless steel of the appliances that surrounded him on every side, reaching in cabinets for a bowl to start sifting flour into.
“Whoa!” Hinata’s voice reverberated in the quiet of the kitchen on night shift. “Suga said we can do a theme? Can I start on the isomalt?”
Yeah, Tadashi thought, pouring a hefty amount of flour into the hand crank. Nothing to complain about.
He hears Tanaka Ryuunosuke before he sees him, as is usually the case. Tadashi has just stepped through the door.
“Yes, Tanaka,” Daichi says with a firm grit to his teeth. Tadashi can’t help but smile at the scene unfolding.
Tanaka, Karasuno’s bartender with a penchant for flashy tricks, had been on Daichi’s bad side recently after preparing a backdraft for a customer who overzealously tried to put out the flame that danced across the surface of the drink before Tanaka could do it himself. Nishinoya, who had been watching the scene with excitement and who had eventually flung his serving towel over the flames that trickled across the bartop when the customer panicked, vehemently supported Tanaka that a customer should never ask for something when they don’t know what they should expect. Daichi’s response had, of course, been “the customer always knows best” (which was met with an eyeroll from Noya and, surprisingly, Kiyoko Shimizu, Karasuno’s hostess).
“Deliveries,” Daichi was plowing forward as though Tanaka were a simple annoyance in his rearview mirror, “to the local hospital. Special desserts to cheer up the patients there. We need someone to make a few rounds once a day to drop them off.”
“I’ll do it,” Tadashi says, and several sets of eyes turn to him, and oops, he had never intended to create the impression that he didn’t want to work here, even if he was sometimes unsatisfied with the nature of that work. If he could help his coworkers out—“Please,” he added, “let me assist you in this way.”
Daichi was nodding already. “Okay. The deliveries will take place in the morning, on your way out. The hospital has explained that the patients’ families are placing these orders so that patients have something to enjoy before visiting hours start, or during business hours when family might not be able to take time off.”
“It’s nice,” Tadashi found himself saying. It could be a nice way to start his day. It could have… meaning.
He was surprised when Daichi, not exactly stone-faced but definitely not as warm and open as Suga, shared a quick smile with him. “That’s what we’re hoping for,” he said. “You can start today.”
Tadashi’s shift flew by pretty quickly after that, even with Hinata overzealously filling a pastry bag to the point where it overflowed and dripped on Tadashi’s sneakers as he passed by. The pink frosting would leave a stain, but Tadashi had bought a pair of shoes specifically for work for this reason.
Besides, the pink stain is already fading in the precious light of morning by the time he rounds the corner near Karasuno and takes off in the direction of the hospital, three pastry boxes cradled carefully in his arms.
The nurse working the front desk is overjoyed to see him step through the sliding glass doors, saying that she and her fiancé love going to the restaurant on their anniversaries. Tadashi flushes, not used to being on this side of Karasuno—a face for people to compliment—and asks which rooms he needs to be directed to.
Dawn was breaking over Sendai and the rush of traffic had been noticeable on his walk in, but inside the hospital there were new sounds to overtake his senses. Pages overhead and the rattle of carts in the halls, and the low distinct voices of doctors, nurses, and their patients, attempting to keep their conversations clandestine. He found room 506 after a series of elevator rides, rapped politely on the door, and left the first box and the little card that went with it on the sleeping patient’s bedside table.
Room 318 brought him down a set of stairs, and to a room that was already occupied, not only by the patient, but by a pair of men in dark suits. One of them, a man with dark bangs cut severely across his forehead, caught his eye through the glass window, and shook his head imperceptibly. Tadashi took the hint and went searching for 229 instead.
Upon his return to 318, he caught the men leaving, the door held open wide by the dark-haired one as the other, tall, blond, and bespectacled, finished his conversation with the patient.
“Our card is on the bedside. We will have to finish our meeting when you are feeling more up to it, but please don’t hesitate to reach out when you need it.”
He bowed towards the man in bed before walking out with his dark-haired companion. Before the door could shut fully, Tadashi snuck a foot in and held it open with his elbow, hands still occupied with the last delivery. Suddenly, the pressure of the door was released, and Tadashi turned to see that the blond man had caught the door for him, was holding it open with a long arm outstretched. He was taller than Tadashi by a couple of inches, and so Tadashi had to look up at him to meet his eyes, golden and piercing even through the glasses. The smile that caught at the corners of his mouth was not like Suga’s, or Daichi’s, or any that Tadashi had ever experienced before. It caught him entirely off guard.
“Th-Thank you,” he said, turning his attention to the patient who was watching eagerly, arms outstretched to take the treat someone had gifted him.
From behind, Tadashi heard the click of the door shutting tightly, and he knew that the blond man and his companion were gone.
“Don’t mind the lawyers,” the man in bed says, his eyes bright and a little watery as he takes in the delicately frosted miracle in the box. Asahi’s work, Tadashi thinks. And Hinata’s. “Thank you for this.”
“I’m glad to bring it to you,” Tadashi said, turning to leave. He was surprised to find that he meant it.
He was also surprised that when he left the man’s room, and turned a corner, he was still in the presence of the men in suits. The blond man was alone this time, his dark-haired partner in the room that he guarded, leaning against the door frame with a careful, coiled grace. Tadashi hurried past, trying not to stare, and made his way to the nurse’s station that was still well within view. As he checked out and confirmed his next delivery time, he realized that the men were on the move again. He’d have to pass them a third time if he wanted to leave the hospital.
Ridiculous, Tadashi thought to himself, both about the situation and his own anxiety. They were just lawyers, had no sway or say over his life or actions, but something in the man’s cool gaze that seemed to track him around the open waiting area of the hospital gave him… well, chills.
“Excuse me,” a voice to his right interjects through his thoughts, and Tadashi realizes he had been hesitating for too long and was, in fact, staring openly at the blond man. His suit is neatly pressed and dark against his pale skin, and the tug of his lips intones a certain meanness that Tadashi isn’t used to.
“Wondering if this is all legal?” The man is asking him, and the quirk of his lip pulls ever higher.
“Oh, I—I wasn’t. Just heading out.”
“Tsk,” the man looked hesitant. Perhaps he thought Tadashi already had a negative impression of him. He wasn’t sure why it mattered. “Don’t worry, these are our clients. The extent of their injuries make it so that they can’t meet with us yet outside of a hospital bed.”
His eyes flicker to Tadashi’s shirt, emblazoned with Karasuno’s name on his right breast and Tadashi’s own embroidered just below. “Yamaguchi. You work delivery? Ever had an accident on the job? Auto accidents aren’t my specialty, but if it comes up, I can give you my card—”
“I’m not a delivery boy.” Tadashi was surprised by the ice in his own voice. He made to move away. The man stopped leaning against the wall, moved toward him.
“No offense meant. So you’re a baker then? Overnight? Accidents happen all the time in a workplace setting. Just take my card.”
The chills returned and cut their way through Tadashi’s arm as he took the card. Was this just inviting some bad karma into his life?
“You never know what might happen, so please give me a call when you need it. My number is first.”
Oh yes. Definitely not a nice smile.
Once he had turned a corner, he studied the card in the fluorescent glow of the overhead lights.
Personal Injury Litigation Firm of Tsukishima and Kageyama
Serving Sendai and the Greater Miyagi Prefecture
Tsukishima Kei: 0X-XXXX-XXXX
Kageyama Tobio: 0XX-XXX-XXXX
For Pedestrian Injuries, and Workplace Incidents
How morbid, Tsukishimia Kei, Tadashi thought, as he deposited the card in the nearest bin.
The man in Room 318 was named Ukai Ikkei. Apparently, his grandson worked long hours at a convenience shop, and had not been able to visit since his grandfather had the accident. So, he sent cakes in his stead.
And with the cakes, came Tadashi.
Ukai was a genial older man, who had been injured in a traffic accident, on the other side of a distracted driver. Ukai had shared with Tadashi the humor he found in the fact that he’d been involved in a traffic accident while indoors—the young driver, distracted by an incoming message—had drifted over a sidewalk and, in a panic, had accelerated straight into a shop. Ukai had been standing near the window and had pushed another customer out of the way when he saw the car coming, but even his quick reflexes weren’t enough for himself. There had been no fatalities, but Ukai’s legs had been injured to the point of double knee replacements—Ukai said the strain had always been there, from years of playing volleyball, and the accident had just accelerated everything.
On Tadashi’s third visit to the hospital, he started staying longer to actually speak with the patients he delivered to, even as the crisp hospital air and whir of overhead lights threatened to put him to sleep at the tail end of a long shift.
On Tadashi’s fourth visit, he asked Ukai what business he had with Tsukishima Kei. He had seen the other man around, passed by him in the halls, and had tried not to be too obvious in his interest—and even though it still made his skin prick to think of the other man’s golden gaze, he harbored a small amount of guilt for discarding his card so easily.
“If it weren’t for Keishin, I don’t know that I would have gotten involved,” he said, speaking of his grandson, the one who sent Tadashi with cakes and pastries every couple of days or so. Apparently, he was a friend of Daichi’s, and was getting a discount. “It’s hard to lay in a hospital bed and not feel like a burden.”
Tadashi bit his lip and felt the muscle shift. He knew a little something about feeling like a burden—his parents had paid for culinary school and had been so excited to hear about his appointment at Karasuno, and he had yet to repay them even with a dinner, embarrassed by his lowly station.
“But—why the lawsuit?”
“I feel that…” Ukai moved forward in his bed, and Tadashi lifted the empty box from his hands, placing the card from Keishin next to the others on his bedside table. “In life, accidents happen all the time. I don’t feel that anyone should be punished for a necessity, something that keeps balance. But when the accident throws so much into chaos—like the young woman, with the concussion, or the child who has had nightmares ever since, or even the old man who won’t be able to jump or even walk like he used to—then some balance needs to be restored. And it seems there are people in this world who think that money can restore that balance.”
Tadashi sat back a little in his chair, felt the strap of his bag shift, and moved to readjust it. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Like it?” Ukai smiled as Tadashi stood to leave. “Tsukishima helped me frame it that way. He’s sharp as a tack, that one. Did you know he used to play volleyball?”
Tadashi laughed at the brightness in the older man’s eyes. “Did he?” At Ukai’s curious gaze, he smiled wider. “So did I.”
It wasn’t like Tadashi didn’t know what was happening. He knew exactly why he caught himself thinking of golden eyes and a cool smile in the quiet, spare moments of his day.
Tsukishima Kei was an outlier in his routine, waiting in the periphery but never close enough to touch, never something to be attained. Just like crafting cakes with Asahi, a prized baking job at Karasuno.
Tsukishima Kei was just another thing Tadashi wasn’t allowed to have.
So Tadashi buried himself in work, in proofing and rolling out dough, avoiding Hinata’s sporadic movements in a crowded kitchen, delivering cakes to Ukai and the other patients, and tinkering with recipes at home, in his own crappy apartment kitchen that was a cold shadow compared to the heat of Karasuno.
But when he found himself wondering what Tsukishima Kei was like beyond business cards and snappy suits, and when he found himself wondering what Tsukishima Kei was like on the court, like he was fifteen again and distracted by the blur of competition, he couldn’t bring himself to snap out of it.
If work wasn’t going to let him dream, then maybe he could have this.
One evening, Tadashi arrived at work and was met with Nishinoya’s excited crowing and Tanaka’s prying eyes, as Kiyoko calmly informed him that he’d had a visitor that day, a tall man in a suit with shorn, blond hair and glasses. A lawyer, hoping to see the place that delivered cakes to the hospital he visited for work. Hoping to see the person who delivered those cakes.
It was only then that Tadashi got his first taste of an attainable dream.