"Hey," Konoha says, tone hushed, one day after practice when he and Bokuto end up staying behind together, "Akaashi likes you, you know?"
Bokuto is in the process of putting on a clean shirt. "Of course he does," he says, voice too close to his ears under the fabric. "We're friends!" He pulls the shirt down, freeing his head. "What," he says, suddenly self-conscious, "does someone not like me?"
Konoha looks at him with what Bokuto has finally begun to realize is a mixture of equal parts exasperation, amazement, disappointment, and fond amusement. It's the face he makes when Bokuto has missed the point entirely, like that one math test in first year where he'd somehow used pure geometry to solve a trigonometry question, and had still gotten the answer right.
"Not that kind of like," Konoha says, sighing and tucking away the last of his clothes into his bag. "The other one."
It takes Bokuto a second. Then he laughs, because it's a little absurd. "No way," he says. "He wouldn't."
Konoha looks a little taken aback. "Why not?" he shoots back, looking perplexed. And then he shrugs. "Well, that's what he told me, anyways."
"Maybe he was joking," Bokuto says. "I mean, if he did, he would've told me, right?"
Konoha turns his gaze skyward. "Whatever," he says. "I tried."
"Tried what?" Bokuto asks.
"Don't worry about it," says Konoha.
They walk to the bus stop together, then part ways for the night. In the coming weeks, Bokuto all but forgets the conversation had ever taken place.
The next time, it's Yukie. She's devouring what looks like a full bag of manju for lunch when she gasps, as if she'd suddenly remembered something. "Oi," she says, through a mouthful of bread, then proceeds to utter something completely incomprehensible. It sounds a little like aaaaahye aah a hruh aw ooh!
Bokuto grins. "Yukippe, I have no idea what you just said."
Yukie tries to take a large swallow, then chokes and frantically roots around in her bag for water. After the whole ordeal, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.
"I think I almost died," she says, sounding strangely proud of herself.
"Maybe you should take smaller bites," Bokuto says.
They both laugh, loudly enough for people to start turning around in their seats.
"Anyways," Yukie says, "as I was saying. Akaashi has a crush on you, you know?"
Bokuto laughs. "You too, now?" he asks. "Is this some kind of prank? Did Akaashi put you up to this?"
"What do you mean?" Yukie asks, looking confused.
"Konoha told me the same thing," Bokuto says. "But I don't believe him. And I don't really believe you, either. Akaashi would've told me first."
Yukie sighs, grabbing another manju from the seemingly inexhaustible bag. "You know, Bokuto," she says, biting into the bun, "I don't think that's necessarily how crushes work."
"But that's how Akaashi works," Bokuto protests. "He tells me things all the time. Even if it's stuff about me."
"Yeah, but this is different, okay?" Yukie says. "Come on—you've had crushes, right? Did you confess right away?" Then she winces. "Wait, don't answer that question. I feel like you're going to say yes."
"Yeah, I did!" Bokuto says brightly. "And sometimes they rejected me, but at least I got to tell them. If I liked Akaashi, I'd tell him."
"Akaashi isn't you, though," Yukie says.
Bokuto can't argue with that. "So he really does like me?" he asks. It's such a strange concept—Akaashi liking someone, Akaashi liking him. He doesn't really know how to feel about it.
"Well, that's what he told us," Yukie says. "I don't think he'd lie about it."
Bokuto hmms contemplatively. "What should I do?" he says.
"You don't like him back, do you?" Yukie asks.
Bokuto thinks for a second. Akaashi is a wonderful friend, obviously, and he's very attractive, but he doesn't really make Bokuto feel like he has butterflies in his stomach or anything like that. There might be the tiniest inkling of a sexual pull—Bokuto isn’t one to lie to himself—but that’s more physical than anything, just the product of Akaashi’s looks and teenage hormones. "Don't think so," he says.
Yukie nods. "Well, be gentle with him, first of all," she says. "Don't bring it up unless he does. I don't—I don't think he expects anything from you."
That stings a little, though Bokuto's not sure why. "Of course I'll be gentle with him," Bokuto says defensively.
Yukie sighs. "I know you always mean well," she says, "but sometimes, you can—say things, you know? Just be careful," she says, before Bokuto can interject. And then, "You two are really good friends. I'm sure it'll be fine."
Bokuto nods, suddenly optimistic. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, it will be!"
"Bokuto, you know Akaashi likes you?" Sarukui asks quietly during practice, and Bokuto almost drops the three volleyballs he's holding.
"Does everyone know?" he whispers, feeling strangely mortified as he tries to get a more secure hold on his cargo. He darts a glance at Akaashi, who is taking a drink.
"Well, maybe not everyone," Sarukui begins, but he's cut off by the coach calling for both of them to stop dawdling and bring the balls back already.
In the following days, it becomes painfully obvious that Sarukui had been lying, and everyone—actually everyone—knows that Akaashi Keiji likes Bokuto Koutarou. Romantically.
"Akaashi likes you," Washio says one day after a practice game, completely deadpan, making Bokuto choke on his Aquarius.
"Oh hey," Komi says a few days later on the bus home, "Akaashi has a crush on you, you know?"
"Hey," one of Bokuto's classmates says, when Akaashi shows up to return Bokuto's eraser, "isn't that the handsome second-year who likes Bokuto-san?"
It gets to a point where Bokuto feels like everyone's confessed to him for Akaashi. Conversely, there's been radio silence—confession-wise—from Akaashi himself, who is acting uncannily normal for someone whose crush has been broadcast across the majority of the boy's volleyball club and then some. Bokuto is fairly sure that even Coach Yamiji knows about it.
He does his best to act normally when he's around Akaashi. Don't stare, he tells himself again and again, don't say stupid things, just be normal, be normal, be normal—
It's hard, but he thinks he manages it.
"Bokuto-san," Akaashi says one day, after morning practice. "Would you like to meet up for lunch again today?"
Bokuto grins. "Sure," he says. "Will you buy for me?"
"Fine," Akaashi says, and Bokuto blinks, because Akaashi never buys him lunch. It's almost an inside joke these days. He's aware of the sudden hush in the changing room, everyone no doubt eavesdropping to the best of their ability.
"I—really?" he asks, nervous. "I mean—I was just joking, you don't have to—”
"It's fine," Akaashi says. "I feel like it." He slings his bag over his shoulder as he makes his way to the exit. "I'll meet you on the roof, then."
Bokuto tries to formulate a response. He is largely unsuccessful.
"You don't have to be so nervous," Akaashi says, turning back in the doorway and smiling a little. "I'm just going to confess to you, that's all." And then, "See you, everyone."
The door closes behind him. Bokuto just stares.
"What the hell?" Konoha says, breaking the silence. "What's the point of confessing on the roof later if he was just gonna tell him that now?"
"I mean, people do that, right?" Sarukui says. "At any rate, I suppose that's the end of that. Good luck, Bokuto."
Bokuto opens his mouth, then closes it again. "Thanks," he finally says, rather weakly.
Bokuto waits for lunchtime with a strange mix of dread and excitement. He doesn't focus in class, gets called out for zoning out twice in one period, and spills his water on a girl's backpack. When the bell rings he hurriedly starts pacing in the hallway, more than a little frazzled. It’s how Konoha finds him, a few minutes later.
"Ah," Konoha says. "I just bumped into Akaashi on the way here. You ready?"
Bokuto turns to him, holding a hand over his heart. "It's beating so fast," he says quietly. "I'm so nervous."
Konoha laughs. "He's just going to confess to you," he says, "not eat you."
"But—I'll have to turn him down," Bokuto says, drooping. "I hate turning people down. For anything! And I'll hate turning Akaashi down more; I know it."
"Akaashi'll understand," Konoha says. "He's not expecting you to accept or anything."
That again—no expectations. Bokuto doesn't know why it irks him the way it does. "I guess," he says.
"Well, get going," Konoha says. "Or you're going to be late, and that'll be worse." He gives Bokuto a gentle shove down the hallway. "Oh, and tell Akaashi I'll return his pen in a bit. It's a really nice pen. Erasable, you know?"
It's a little too cold to be on the roof, but that's what they agreed on, so Bokuto sits in the corner that's his and Akaashi's favourite. He waits. It takes only another minute for Akaashi to arrive, and Bokuto sees him shiver upon stepping outside. "It's chilly," he says, when he comes to stand next to Bokuto.
Bokuto nods, a little too nervous to say something, but he can't tear his gaze away from Akaashi's.
"Well," Akaashi says evenly, "let's get this over with, why don't we?"
"Okay!" Bokuto squeaks. It's very unceremonious, and he blushes immediately.
"You sure?" Akaashi asks. He sounds amused.
"Yeah!" Bokuto responds decisively, psyching himself up. "Yeah, I am!"
"Okay," Akaashi says, a small smile on his face. "Bokuto-san, I like you." He looks beautiful here, against the clear autumn sky, earnest like he always is. Bokuto is struck by a sudden thought: I really wish I were in love with you. How wonderful that would be. But—
"I know," says Bokuto, his heart twisting. He bites his lip, feels his eyes grow warm.
"Yes," Akaashi says, still smiling. "I know you know."
"I'm sorry, Akaashi," Bokuto says. He sniffs. "I—”
"Don't feel the same way," Akaashi says. "I know." He reaches out to wipe a hot tear from Bokuto's cheek. "Come on, Bokuto-san," he says gently, coaxingly. "Don't look like that. I bought you lunch and confessed to you. Shouldn’t you be happy? If anything, I should be the one crying, right?"
"That’s why I’m sad!” Bokuto bursts out, wiping his wet face on his sleeve. “I don’t wanna hurt you, Akaashi, and now—now I have.”
“Well, it’s not the most pleasant experience to have one-sided feelings for someone,” Akaashi says, sounding composed as always, “but it’s not your fault that I like you, so I hope you stop blaming yourself.” He wipes away another one of Bokuto’s tears, and then reaches into his bag and pulls out a yakisoba bun. “Here.”
“Thanks,” Bokuto says, taking the proffered food and sitting down. He unwraps it and bites into it, still a little solemn.
“I’m sorry if my feelings ever make you uncomfortable,” Akaashi continues, settling down beside him. Bokuto shakes his head vehemently—no, no, of course not. “Of course, I’m not expecting you to return them—I won’t make a move on you or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about. And this won’t affect my volleyball performance, if you’re worried about that.”
“I’m not worried about any of those things,” Bokuto says honestly.
“Good,” Akaashi says, and smiles. “I’d appreciate it if you just treated me normally, like you have up until now. Or up until recently, at any rate. You’ve been staring a little. A lot, actually.”
“What? You noticed?” Bokuto exclaims. He’d been sure he’d been doing a great job of acting like nothing was up.
“Well, I’m just saying—”Akaashi scratches his head, almost a bit sheepishly. “Since it’s all out in the open now, officially, you don’t have to sneak around and treat me like I’m an alien or something, you know? I’m still me, so—”
“Yeah, okay!” Bokuto says, more than a little ashamed at being caught. And then, “Wait. Did you just confess to me so I’d stop acting weird around you?”
“Uh,” Akaashi says, rooting around in his bag for his own lunch. “Maybe a little.”
“Akaashi!” Bokuto exclaims, exasperated. “That’s—that’s not how it’s supposed to go!”
Akaashi shrugs. “I don’t mind.”
“Hey,” Bokuto says, “why’d everyone know you liked me, anyways?”
“Konoha-senpai and Shirofuku-senpai were the only people I told,” Akaashi says. “It didn’t really feel like something I needed to keep to myself, so I just answered when they asked and told them it wasn’t really a secret. I never really wanted to confess or anything, though. In hindsight, I probably should’ve kept you in the dark.” Bokuto makes a noise of protest through a mouthful of bread. “But I think it’ll be fine. It hasn't really affected your gameplay or anything, so.”
“Wait,” Bokuto says, “Konoha and Yukippe? You hung out together without me?”
"Is that what you got out of this conversation?" Akaashi asks, sounding amused. "Well, if it makes you feel better, I didn't mean to. I happened to run into them at the convenience store, and we just started talking."
Bokuto still can't help but feel a little miffed. "Oh," he says, and watches Akaashi nonchalantly take a bite out of his own lunch. "Shouldn't you be a little more—nervous around me?" Bokuto asks. "You're not even blushing."
"Am I supposed to blush?" Akaashi asks. Bokuto must look a little expectant or something because he then proceeds to quickly rub his cheeks with his hands. "How about now?"
"That's not the same thing!" Bokuto says, laughing, then realizes how petulant he must sound. "No, no. You don't have to blush! I'm just curious why you don’t."
"Well," Akaashi says. "I wonder. I don't know. I'm not particularly embarrassed anymore. Of liking you. I mean—you know, and I know you know, and you know that I know that you know, and so on—”
Bokuto laughs. "What?
"I mean, it makes sense, right?" Akaashi asks.
"Yeah," Bokuto says, "it kind of does." Though at the same time, it kind of doesn't. But Akaashi has his own way of thinking about things, and Bokuto respects that, even likes it.
"Though I'm sure if you measured my heart rate near you, it'd be higher than usual," Akaashi muses.
Bokuto laughs. "I'll take your word for it," he says. "Thanks, Akaashi. It's nice that you like me."
Akaashi's smile is small but lovely. "You're welcome, Bokuto-san," he says.
For a second, Bokuto is lost in the moment: in Akaashi's quiet earnestness, in the brisk, cold wind that nips at his fingers. He shakes himself. "Oh," he remembers, "Konoha said that he'd give you back your pen later! Apparently it's a nice pen."
Akaashi nods, swallowing a mouthful of food. "Yeah," he says. "Erasable."
Life is surprisingly quite normal after Akaashi’s confession. Bokuto still sees him regularly, both in and outside of school. They talk about the same subjects, do the same things. Bokuto almost flunks his English test and Akaashi is there to pull him through the next one like a beautiful, black-haired angel with the cold disdain of the divine when Bokuto gets too lazy with his verb conjugation. Akaashi tries to lift a little heavier during physical training, and Bokuto spots him, more focused than he is for his own exercises.
“Doesn’t it feel awkward?” Yukie asks one day after Akaashi visits Bokuto’s classroom during lunch to help him study. “Like, even a little?”
“What does?” Bokuto asks brightly.
“Being with Akaashi,” Yukie says. “Like—he confessed to you, right? And you rejected him…”
“Well—yeah,” Bokuto says hastily, uncomfortable, “when you put it like that—”
“So it’s not weird?”
Bokuto thinks, tilting his head. “No,” he says truthfully. “Because before all that, Akaashi’s still Akaashi. And he’s good at—” he frowns, making two finger hearts, “—letting his brain be the boss of him, you know? Not his feelings.”
“Like, head over heart?” Yukie asks. “That seems pretty Akaashi, I suppose.”
“Akaashi’s really cool,” Bokuto says proudly. “Whenever I had a crush, I’d just do really dumb things. But it feels like Akaashi gets even smarter.”
Yukie laughs. “It’s a power up!” But then she frowns, thinking. “So what, is he just gonna wait for his feelings to blow over? Or is he okay with just liking you like this indefinitely?”
Bokuto shrugs. “He’s never really talked about it,” he says, brow furrowed in thought, trying to remember. “He’s really candid—is that the word? It is, right?—really candid about the fact that he likes me, but he doesn’t really talk about other things. Like why, or even how. And he doesn't even talk about the whole thing that much—sometimes I almost forget about it altogether, you know?”
“Hmm,” Yukie says. “Well, Akaashi’s always been a strange bird. I mean, so are you, but you’re a different breed of strange.”
Bokuto nods vigorously, deciding to take that as a compliment.
“Ah well,” Yukie says. “At any rate, Akaashi in love is interesting, to say the least.” She laughs. “I’ve never seen anyone be so—dispassionately passionate.”
"Ah!" Bokuto says, grinning. "Yeah, that's a good way to put it! You're a lot better at words than me, Yukippe."
"Well, of course," Yukie says, mock-pretentious. "I've been saying them since I was three, actually." Bokuto claps. Yukie bows in her seat. "Thank you, thank you."
So yes, things are mostly the same. Mostly. Some things are decidedly different. Bokuto is reminded of this one day at the end of practice.
"Akaashi, stop staring at Bokuto and help gather the balls," Coach Yamiji says, in a voice that sounds both tired and resigned.
Bokuto feels his face warm to the tips of his ears.
"Yes, sir," Akaashi says, without a trace of embarrassment, and obediently runs off to do just that.
Konoha takes one look at Bokuto and bursts out laughing. He laughs so hard that Coach Yamiji tells him to go take down the nets by himself, and he even keeps laughing through that whole ordeal.
"You look so embarrassed," Konoha says to Bokuto later in the changeroom. "Who likes who again?"
"Shut up," Bokuto says, miffed. "I can't help it."
"It's my fault," Akaashi says, sounding genuinely regretful. "I should focus during practice."
"Yeah, why were you staring at your Bokuto-senpai, huh, Akaashi?" Konoha asks devilishly.
"Because I like him," Akaashi says candidly. "We've been over this, Konoha-senpai. I like him, and I find him physically attractive, so I enjoy looking at him."
Konoha tsks, annoyed. "Should've known I can't tease you about this, Akaashi."
Bokuto turns to look at Akaashi, grinning. "You really think I'm handsome, Akaashi?"
"I didn't say you were handsome," Akaashi corrects him. "I just said I found you attractive."
Konoha and Sarukui share a glance and burst out laughing.
"Akaashi," Konoha says, snorting, "that is one backhanded compliment."
"What?" Bokuto says, a little confused. "But if you find me attractive, I'm handsome, right?"
"He's saying that you're not necessarily a conventional looker, but you could still get it. From him," Sarukui says. "Right?" he asks Akaashi.
"Pretty much," Akaashi says, nodding seriously but looking like he's trying to hold back a smile.
Bokuto deflates. "Akaashi, you don't think I'm necessarily a looker?"
"Did you miss the part where he basically said you could get it?" Konoha demands. Bokuto ignores him, looking to Akaashi.
Akaashi laughs gently, a sweet sound. "I'm just joking, Bokuto-san," he says. "You're very handsome. Especially when you play well."
Bokuto feels a rush of contentedness, and he brightens up. "Then I'll play well more often!"
"I'll hold you to that," Akaashi says, folding his towel neatly.
"Akaashi, why'd you go and tell him that?" Konoha groans. "His head's gonna get even bigger."
“Because I like him, I suppose,” Akaashi says.
“Having a big head is great because it means you’ve got a big brain,” Bokuto says, feeling strangely victorious. “You bet my head’s gonna get bigger. I’m gonna have the biggest head in the world.”
“Akaashi,” Konoha says, a pained expression on his face, “you’ve got common sense. Looks. A bright future. Why the hell did you have to fall for this idiot?”
“Hey!” Bokuto protests.
“Look,” Konoha continues, ignoring him, “we have two beautiful managers, also older than you, since that’s what you’re into, apparently. We’ve got tall, athletic guys who—get this—also have common sense. Heck, you’ve even got me. So—why? Why?”
“Sometimes I ask myself the same thing, Konoha-senpai,” Akaashi says, smiling.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto complains, voice plaintive. “You’re hurting my feelings.”
“Relax, man,” Sarukui says. “He’s still into you.”
“That I am,” Akaashi admits. “Unfortunately.” He grins.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto whines.
Konoha cuffs him on the head. It actually hurts quite a bit. “Can it!” he says. “Akaashi’s doing you a favour just by crushing on you, whether it’s against his will or not. Stop complaining, you thankless ingrate.”
“Ow!” Bokuto says, rubbing his head. And then, “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Akaashi.”
Akaashi laughs. “You’re welcome.”
Bokuto grins brightly at him, feeling a sincere, warm rush of gratitude and fondness, and is rewarded with the slightest blush that dusts Akaashi's cheeks before Akaashi turns away, so quick he almost thinks he's imagined it.
Bokuto takes the same train home as Akaashi does—it's one of the reasons they got so close so quickly in Bokuto's second year. Now that he thinks about it, they really do spend a lot of their time together. He's a little amazed that he's not partly in love with Akaashi already.
There's a short walk from Fukurodani to the train station, one they almost always make together, save for rare occasions such as sickness. Bokuto likes these walks a lot, because he gets to tell Akaashi everything he hadn't had the opportunity to while they're separated during the school day. And Akaashi always listens, offering his own insights and experiences from time to time. Bokuto likes it when Akaashi is talkative. Akaashi doesn't like to share as much as Bokuto, so when he does, Bokuto grasps at the pieces he's given and keeps them close like precious things.
"I got lectured by a teacher for the first time today," Akaashi says one day, and there's a slight tinge of disbelief to his voice, as if he's still stunned. Bokuto turns to see if he's joking. Akaashi does not get lectured by teachers. Akaashi gets praised to high heaven. He is every teacher's dream pupil and then some. But he actually looks serious—Bokuto's been with Akaashi long enough to differentiate his serious expression from the face he uses for deadpan humour.
"What?" Bokuto exclaims, frankly aghast. And then, with a curl of anxiety in his stomach, he suspects the worst. "What for? Did you start a fight?"
"What?" Akaashi says, frowning. "No! I—I was staring out the window during class. A lot."
"Oh," Bokuto says. That's still pretty off-brand for Akaashi, though it's much better than getting into a fight. "Why? Were you tired?"
"Kind of," Akaashi says. There's a pause before he continues. "But I guess I was mostly thinking about you."
Bokuto is taken back a bit, but then he laughs. "You—you, Akaashi—got lectured for zoning out because you were thinking about me during class?"
Akaashi huffs, looking a little annoyed. "It's not that funny," he says.
"Wow," Bokuto says, still laughing, "you're really into me, aren't you, Akaashi?"
Even as he says it, he realizes how brutishly insensitive he sounds in light of Akaashi’s recent confession. Like he’s gloating, saying, ha ha, I know you like me one-sidedly, what are you gonna do about it? And then he starts to panic, because that’s not what he’d meant, not at all. He’d simply meant it as an observation—something he found true and endearing. Bokuto can't afford to be thoughtless, not with Akaashi. And so he turns, apology threatening to spill from his lips, only to meet Akaashi's gaze, which is even and seemingly unaffected.
“I’m crazy about you,” Akaashi says simply. And then he sighs and shrugs, looking peacefully resigned. Shrugs. As if he’s talking about a persistent ache in his shoulder, or just the glare of the sun.
Bokuto, on the other hand, feels like his face has been shoved into an overperforming sauna. He’s never blushed so hard in his life. And he’s not even the one with feelings. It’s downright unfair, really. For once, Bokuto doesn’t really know what to say—because how do you even respond to something like that?—so he just covers his face with his hands and groans softly.
“Ah,” Akaashi says, sounding a little regretful, “did I make things weird? I’m sorry.”
"No, no," Bokuto says, muffled through his hands. "I just—it's a little embarrassing, you know?"
"I did think you pretty much knew that already," Akaashi says, "given—everything."
"It's different to hear it," Bokuto says, lifting his head to look Akaashi in the eye. "It really is!"
"I see," Akaashi says. "Well, it's the truth.” A pause. “Does it bother you?" Bokuto hears the question underneath: do I bother you?
"No!" Bokuto says vehemently, truthfully. He tries to find the words for what he's feeling through the embarrassment, the warmth in his chest. "It—it makes me happy," he says finally, honest.
Akaashi smiles back. "I'm glad, Bokuto-san," he says.
The rest of the walk is quiet—almost ethereal—but peacefully so. For some reason, everything feels just a tiny bit different, like a world where everything has been shifted just three centimetres to the left. Bokuto looks up at the sky, the sky that is at once altered and unchanged, and cannot break his own thoughtful silence.
Bokuto has a key to the Akaashi house, because Akaashi’s parents love him, and because in the early days of their friendship, he’d once gotten caught outside in the rain for half an hour waiting for Akaashi to come home while Akaashi had accidentally fallen asleep on the train. The sheer shock and guilt on his face when he saw Bokuto, soaked to the bone and without an umbrella, no less—the weather channel had only predicted a forty percent chance of precipitation!—had been the most emotion Bokuto had seen him express up until then. I’m so sorry, Akaashi had said repeatedly, brow furrowed as he towelled off Bokuto’s hair aggressively, I’m really so sorry. Bokuto had laughed and waved it off, chuckling at the thought of Akaashi nodding off on public transit. And then when he was about to leave, Akaashi pressed a bronze-coloured key into his hand: my parents are okay with it, just take it so this won’t happen again. Bokuto had blinked, glimpsing the enormity of the offer, the implicit trust, and wondered if he could accept at all. But Akaashi’s gaze was direct and honest, tinged with residual guilt, and Bokuto could not find it in himself to deny him.
To this day, the key sits snug in his bag next to his own, used sometimes when he comes too early and nobody is home, or if the Akaashi family goes on vacation and needs someone to help with the family tabby. Bokuto uses it sparingly, careful not to be irresponsible with Akaashi’s trust. He is, in fact, much more terrified of losing Akaashi’s house key than his own.
Today, however, he doesn’t need to use it—Akaashi is with him. They study together, efficiently, because that’s how Akaashi does things, even though Bokuto manages to get off-track a couple times by trying to feed Momo the cat potato chips.
After they finish their homework (Akaashi patiently waiting for Bokuto when he’s done), Akaashi asks Bokuto to play Super Smash Bros with him. Bokuto doesn’t know which version specifically. Probably the new one. Akaashi is strangely good at Smash, to the point where he’s able to put up a decent fight against Kuroo’s friend Kenma if they play with the right characters. Even so, he never seems to tire of teaching Bokuto the basics, which he always seems to forget. Bokuto can’t help it. Smash is way harder than volleyball.
“Look, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi is saying, flicking the C-stick. “Up tilt, down tilt, side tilt.”
Bokuto imitates him, then gets a little distracted staring at Akaashi’s hands. They’re large, long-fingered and elegant, on the cusp of bony.
“Akaashi,” he says seriously, “you have really nice hands.”
Akaashi narrows his eyes. “Are you even listening to me, Bokuto-san?”
“Yeah, yeah!” Bokuto says hastily, looking back at the screen. “Look, up tilt, down tilt, side tilt. Right?”
“Right,” Akaashi says, sounding a little impressed. “Do you remember how to do an aerial?”
They keep going until Akaashi’s parents come home, and Bokuto remembers enough to play against Akaashi a couple times and even put up the tiniest bit of resistance against being absolutely decimated. But—well, Smash is fun, even though most of it is him losing and he generally hates losing. It’s nice to see Akaashi so at peace and relaxed, to see him laughing gently when Bokuto self-destructs three times in a row because he’s pressing the wrong buttons.
"It's not fair," Bokuto mumbles, resting his head on his desk.
A carton of milk is placed against his forehead, delightfully cool. "What's not fair?" Konoha asks, pulling up a chair to sit across from him.
"Akaashi!" Bokuto exclaims, exasperated. He sits up abruptly, knocking the milk over.
"Dude!" Konoha yells, immediately righting the carton, which had begun to spill a little.
Bokuto turns to look at him. "It doesn't make sense," he says. "Why is Akaashi so—calm? He likes me, right? Isn't that like—the opposite of what you should be when you like someone?"
Konoha looks a little irked, pulling out a tissue to wipe up the spilt milk. "What, you want Akaashi to blush over you and and turn into a lovestruck mess every time you interact? When you don't even like him back? That's a little selfish, don't you think?"
Konoha doesn't give him a chance to finish, holding out the milk-soaked tissue. "Go throw this out."
Bokuto obeys dutifully, then comes back. "I just thought that—well, isn't romance the one thing you're supposed to lose your head over? But Akaashi, he's so—” He tries to search for the word, but fails. "He'll be like I'm crazy about you, Bokuto-san, like he's just telling me how the weather is tomorrow—”
Konoha's eyebrows rise into his hairline. "Akaashi said that?" He sounds vaguely impressed.
"Something like that, anyways," Bokuto says, aware that he's running on like a bullet train, but incapable of stopping himself. "And I'm always so embarrassed, but Akaashi is just so—”
"Composed?" Konoha supplies. "Near-robotic?"
"Yeah!" Bokuto says. "That!"
"Well," Konoha says, fiddling with the straw of his milk carton, "Akaashi doesn't really like to express himself when it comes to being vulnerable. Like—have you ever seen him cry?"
"Akaashi cries?" Bokuto asks, mystified. He tries to imagine it. He can't.
"I'm sure he does," Konoha says. "Just because he's good at hiding his feelings doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't feel, you know. Not that I know him that well or anything, but—I feel like it's something we take for granted. That he's always calm and composed." Then he smiles, amused. "You know, before he went to confess to you, I saw him just—standing in the doorway of his classroom for a good minute until I walked by. He must've been pretty nervous, even though you didn't see it."
Bokuto frowns, trying to respond to this new information as best he can. "That's really cute," he finally says, after a moment of deep consideration.
"Akaashi is cute," Konoha agrees. "An all-around top-tier underclassman, really." He takes a sip of his milk, then raises an eyebrow. "You seem pretty fixated on how Akaashi's acting these days. Does this mean you might like him back?"
"I—” Bokuto lays his head on the desk again. It's cool against his hot cheek. "No. I don't think so…"
He must sound really pitiful or something, because Konoha actually pats his head in a rare show of sympathy. "Well," Konoha says. "I'm sure you'll figure it out."
Summer comes along, somehow dry and humid simultaneously, and hot, hot, hot. They host a training camp, and Bokuto is happy to see familiar faces—Kuroo among them, who is probably his platonic soulmate at this point—and to meet some interesting people. His favourite, of course, is little Hinata Shouyou from Karasuno. He’s like a small animal. A small volleyball animal. Bokuto couldn’t ask for a more perfect disciple.
Afterwards, school and volleyball go on as per usual. Bokuto feels the pressure mounting as it gets closer and closer to Nationals. They all do, of course, but he feels it more than usual lately. Perhaps it’s because he’s a third-year now. It is well and truly his last run.
“Or I can just flunk a year and wait for you to graduate,” he’d mused out loud to Akaashi, and Akaashi had punched him in the gut in a rare instance of physical violence.
“Don’t you dare,” he’d almost snarled, eyes flashing and expression icy. Of course, Bokuto does not dare. Not after that.
So that’s how he finds himself spacing out in the changing room after a particularly bad practice, in which he’d gotten blocked way more than an ace really should be blocked, so out of it he doesn’t realize he’s been shirtless for almost five minutes.
“Dude,” Konoha says, in the voice he uses where he’s a little frustrated but tries not to show it, “put on a shirt, would you?”
“You’ll catch a cold like that,” Sarukui says.
Bokuto blinks, looking down at his bare torso, and reaches for the shirt next to him on the bench. “Sorry,” he mumbles. Then he realizes—it’s his ace shirt. That talks about being an ace. Wearing it right now would be like telling everyone he’s blonde when he’s decidedly not. It’d make him feel like a liar. He digs through his locker for his fall jacket instead, and puts it on without zipping it up.
“That’s… going to be hot when we go outside,” Washio says.
Konoha laughs. “It’s kind of a look, actually,” he says. “Hey, Akaashi, put this in your spank bank before you miss the chance!”
Bokuto waits for Akaashi to laugh it off. So, it seems, does everyone. What follows, however, is the longest, most harrowing silence he has ever experienced, as Akaashi simply freezes like a deer in the headlights, expression momentarily unguarded. He looks mortified, vulnerable. Young. Bokuto feels a rush of something—it would be too perverse to call it a thrill, but it runs through his body, making his skin hot.
Konoha stumbles over his words to break the silence. “Sorry, I was just joking—”
Akaashi unfreezes. “Yeah, I know,” he says simply, but there’s a waver in his voice that gives him away just barely. “It’s okay.”
They change in silence after that. Everyone is quick to leave.
It stays with Bokuto the next day, even when everyone very determinedly tries to act like nothing had ever happened, most of all Akaashi. But Bokuto can’t help thinking, wondering, so that even when Akaashi is talking about a book he’d finished recently while they wait for Bokuto’s mother to pick them up during a downpour, he can’t quite focus. Spank bank, Konoha had said. Bokuto’s not particularly ignorant of things like that, but to think of them in the context of Akaashi is at once bizarre and dangerously alluring. Akaashi seems so—so above it all, never even touching anything within that realm, save for with a clinical detachment. But evidently, Bokuto’s assumptions are way off the mark, if yesterday is anything to go by. His heart speeds up just thinking about it.
He sneaks a look at Akaashi: his pretty, dark curls, the languid, heavy-lidded beauty of his eyes, his slender hands. Almost always composed, in control. But what about when—
Bokuto clenches his fist. Don’t, he tells himself.
And he—about Bokuto? Does he really—
“Akaashi,” Bokuto bursts out, because he simply cannot not ask anymore, and because he is a teenage boy and a little bit of an awful person at the moment. Akaashi stops talking, blinking at being interrupted so abruptly. “Do you—” Bokuto swallows, “do you really think about me, you know, that way?” His voice is hesitant, but even he hears the edge of greedy curiosity in it, and he wants to punch himself the moment he closes his mouth.
Akaashi raises his gaze to look at him, expression unreadable, and Bokuto shifts, breaking eye contact after a moment. Eventually, Akaashi turns away.
“What does it matter?” he asks, his voice too calm to be natural, even for him.
Bokuto fiddles with his hands, peeking at him. “I mean—it doesn’t, not really, but I just—”
Akaashi blinks. “You really want to know that badly? Why?” He toes at a pebble on the ground. “It's not like it changes anything, does it?” And then, quieter, a realization, “Will it make you feel better about yourself if I say yes?”
Bokuto doesn’t answer immediately, because he doesn’t really quite know the answers to most these questions either. Maybe he’s just…a pervert or something. It is flattering to be thought of that way, especially by someone as attractive as Akaashi—he can’t deny that, but there’s something more at work here, he’s sure—
“Forget it,” Akaashi says, disappointment suffusing his voice, and Bokuto wants to protest, tell him the real meaning of his silence, but Akaashi goes on. “You’re going to be thinking about this the whole time if I don’t answer you, anyways. Well, if you really want to know—yes. Yes, I do.”
Bokuto blinks, staring at him. He feels kind of funny, like his brain’s short-circuited. “You do?”
Akaashi won’t look at him. “I’m not going to say it again,” he says. He gazes out at the grey torrent. “I think I’ll just make a run for it, actually.”
“What?” Bokuto demands, jolted out of whatever he was going through. “No, you can’t, you’re gonna get soaked—”
“It’ll be fine,” Akaashi says, putting his phone in his bag. "Tell your mom I said hello."
“If you’re going, I’ll come with you—”
“No.” Icy and decisive. And then, more gently, “You can't; you’ll get soaked.”
Bokuto makes a sound of discontent. “What, but you won’t, Akaashi? Come on—”
“If you run out after me,” Akaashi says, finally looking back at him, “I’m never helping you with your homework again.”
And then he’s gone, sprinting out into the rain, a graceful figure even when wet. Bokuto watches him run, feeling a dull discomfort in his chest that borders on pain. Even he can tell when he’s screwed up big time, has finally crossed a bright red line that reads do not cross over top of it.
“Where’s Keiji-kun?” his mother asks, when she comes to pick him up in her car. “I brought food for him too.”
“Why am I so stupid?” Bokuto groans by way of response, dropping his head onto the dashboard with a thunk.
“Oh, did you two have a fight?” his mother asks, starting the car. “That’s unusual.”
“No, we didn’t,” Bokuto mumbles. ”I just—said some things I really shouldn’t have, I think.”
“I’m sure Keiji-kun will forgive you,” his mother says reassuringly. “He’s a very kind boy, after all.”
“I know,” Bokuto says, his chest feeling more and more hollow by the moment. “I know.”
He hesitates and procrastinates for hours before deciding on what to send Akaashi by way of apology, but when he picks up his phone, there is already a message waiting for him.
don’t worry about it too much. And then, it’s okay.
It makes Bokuto feel like the worst person to ever exist. i’m still sorry, he eventually sends.
i already said it's okay, Akaashi responds, very quickly.
still, Bokuto types, I'll buy you food.
sure. And then, eat well & sleep well, ok?
Bokuto sends him a thumbs-up, then puts his phone away when Akaashi reads his message.
He does end up eating well, because Akaashi tells him to and because that's never really been hard for him to do. But he can't quite manage to sleep well, because every time he lets his mind wander, it always seems to drift towards Akaashi, who thinks of Bokuto as he—
Bokuto decides to count sheep. And owls. It doesn't quite work too well for sleep, but it does help with not being an awful friend.
The next morning, he empties his wallet at the convenience store, stuffs his bag full of snacks until it almost doesn't close properly. Thankfully, they don't have morning practice today, so Bokuto has time to prepare himself a little. During class, he sees Yukie shooting curious glances at him. He probably looks a little bit awful. He definitely feels that way.
The lunch bell has scarcely gone off before Bokuto takes off, grabbing his snack-stuffed backpack and hurtling down the hallway at an unadvisable speed. He doesn't go to Akaashi's classroom too often, because some kind of fiasco always ends up happening when he does. The first had been a heated debate that had the whole class taking sides, up in arms. The second had been a physical fight between a girl and her boyfriend. He'd participated in neither, but had somehow started a conflict by saying… something. He doesn't even remember what. And that's why Akaashi insists that they eat together outside of his classroom: either in Bokuto's, where people are, on the whole, more used to his conduct, or up on the school roof.
But right now, Bokuto doesn't care about any of that. He could start fifty fights and it wouldn't matter. What matters is Akaashi, Akaashi who is currently sitting and staring out at the clear blue sky. Bokuto marches up to him, heart beating in his throat, and dumps his backpack's contents onto Akaashi's desk. The packaging makes a lot of sound, and people are probably staring, but Bokuto has never been one to care about making a ruckus.
Akaashi is, in a word, stunned. His eyes are wide.
"I'm sorry," Bokuto says, bowing his head. "For—for being selfish and asking stupid questions."
"You… really didn't have to go this far," Akaashi says, and Bokuto raises his head, barely daring to hope. Akaashi's smiling, he's smiling—just a little, but he's smiling!
"I did!" Bokuto says earnestly, leaning forward. "I did."
"If you say so," Akaashi says, and he sounds like he's trying to hold back a laugh. "But I don't have any space in my bag to carry all this, Bokuto-san."
"I'll carry it for you," Bokuto says.
"I'll carry it for you!" Bokuto insists, and starts putting everything back inside his bag, which had been discarded on the floor.
Akaashi does laugh this time. He picks out a packet of candy before Bokuto finishes stuffing his bag full of snacks once again.
"Bokuto-san," he says, "do you want to go eat lunch up on the roof?"
Bokuto perks up even further. "Yeah, I do!" And then, cautiously, just to make sure, "So you're not mad anymore?"
"I was never really mad," Akaashi says. "It's hard for me to be angry with you, Bokuto-san."
"That's good," Bokuto says. "It's hard for me to be angry with you too, Akaashi." He frowns in thought. "Actually, I don't think I've ever been angry with you."
"Oh, I can't relate with you that much," Akaashi says. "You've definitely pissed me off before."
"Akaashi!" Bokuto says, stung. "I thought we were having a moment!"
"A moment of honesty," Akaashi corrects him, teasing. He gets up, grabbing his bento, and heads for the door. Bokuto makes to follow him, but is struck by a sudden wave of happiness, and just stands there, immobile.
Akaashi turns, expectant. "Well?" he says. "Aren't you coming?"
Bokuto opens his mouth to say yes. Instead—
"Akaashi, you're my favourite person in the world, you know?" he blurts out, then flushes so intensely he feels himself sweat under the collar. There are definitely people staring now.
Akaashi's expression is even more surprised than when Bokuto had dumped half the convenience store onto his desk. But then it softens with pleasure, a genuine smile tugging at the corner of his lips, his cheeks a light shade of pink.
"Don't be so dramatic, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says, turning away. "Just come and eat lunch with me already."
"Okay!" Bokuto says, running to catch up to him, ignoring the stares of Akaashi's classmates as he leaves the classroom. "Wait up!"
Sunlight shines through the windows in the hallway, as bright and warm as Bokuto feels, and he bounds to Akaashi's side, grinning.