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the strange music of your heart

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"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?"

"I—”

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 don't—”

"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.

 

Chapter Text

If Bokuto thinks about it, he’s pretty sure he and Akaashi are best friends, though they’ve never really referred to each other as such.

But for all their familiarity, their closeness, Bokuto never presumes to truly know Akaashi. Akaashi is a complex creature, with much more hidden beneath the surface than what is visible. Oceanic in his depth. Then again, in light of recent events, Bokuto is beginning to realize that he might not really know himself, either.

He wonders what Akaashi thinks of him. Perhaps—and Bokuto knows he's being rather wishful here—perhaps Bokuto is just as much a mystery to Akaashi as Akaashi is to him. That would be nice, he thinks. Being a mystery is nice because it means someone might try to solve you one day, to learn you. Bokuto probably wouldn’t be that hard of a mystery, though. At least not to Akaashi, who knows him like the back of his hand. And Bokuto is flattered by that! Really! But… it's a little unfair, isn't it?

That's why Bokuto is currently trying to learn as much as he can about Akaashi these days. Currently, he's going through the vast collection of literature in Akaashi's room, trying to glean what little information he can from the imposingly thick volumes. After a while, Bokuto gives up—he's never much liked literature over more straightforward subjects like math and the sciences—so he just asks.

"What do you like about these, Akaashi?" he says, and Akaashi looks up from his desk. Today, Bokuto has somehow finished his homework first, leaving Akaashi to work through an essay that's due soon.

"My books?" Akaashi asks.

"Yeah," Bokuto says. "They all look so complicated."

Akaashi shrugs. "They're well-written," he says. "It's easy to just read them and forget about everything else."

"Oh," Bokuto says. He wonders if Akaashi wants to forget things often.

"It's just my way of having fun, I guess," Akaashi says. "You can borrow one if you like."

Bokuto does not particularly want to read a novel, but since he's doing his best to learn about Akaashi, it would be a good idea to try one. "When you're done writing, you can give me a recommendation," Bokuto says.

Akaashi smiles. "Sure."

They stay in peaceful silence for a while. From where he's sitting, Bokuto continues to look around at Akaashi's room, though he's been here so many times already. It's neat and plain, if a little cluttered near the bookcase: on the whole, a very Akaashi-esque room.

Absentmindedly, Bokuto pulls the sleeping Momo onto his lap. The cat makes a slight noise of protest at being woken, but eventually settles in, purring. Bokuto's always liked animals. Maybe if he asks, his parents will let him get another dog someday. Or maybe he'll move out and get a pet himself. If that's the case, he'll start small: maybe a hamster, some guinea pigs. And when Akaashi comes over, he'll take pictures of them and talk to them, and they'll like Akaashi just as much as Bokuto does. Maybe when Akaashi graduates, they'll be roommates by some stroke of luck, and Akaashi will bring Momo to live with them too.

His increasingly outlandish daydream is interrupted by Akaashi getting up and stretching.

"You done?" Bokuto says.

Akaashi nods. "It wasn't great," he says. "But I finished."

"Congrats!" Bokuto says.

Akaashi smiles, and makes his way over to the bookcase. "I was thinking," he says, "you don't really like novels, do you? I do have manga, if you want."

Bokuto shakes his head. "I wanna read what you read."

"Well then," Akaashi says, laughing a little. Gingerly, he picks out a volume with a pale cover. "This might be a little sad, but I like it quite a bit. Take your time; I don't need it back anytime soon."

Bokuto takes the proffered book and looks it over. "Thanks, Akaashi!" Ten pages a night, he tells himself.

"Don't mention it," Akaashi says, and settles down next to him. Bokuto feels a bit of a blush coming on at the proximity of their bodies, the warmth of closeness, the feelings he knows Akaashi harbours for him. But Akaashi does not seem to notice—he looks genuinely weary, a hint of dark circles under his eyes. Bokuto is suddenly reminded of how late Akaashi had stayed up the night before, and how early he'd had to wake for volleyball practice. He feels ashamed then, at his own embarrassment.

"You should go to sleep, Akaashi," Bokuto says, gentling his voice.

Akaashi sighs, closes his eyes. "Yes," he says, and does not stir.

"Come on, Akaashi," Bokuto says. "Your bed is right there."

"Yes," Akaashi says again, eyes still closed.

Akaashi gets like this when he's properly tired: he shuts down in a matter of minutes. At times like these, Bokuto's shoulder is often his choice of headrest, and Bokuto will stay as still as he can to make sure Akaashi doesn't wake. It's hard—Bokuto has always been inclined to movement—but necessary. So he shifts closer, and lets Akaashi lay his head on his shoulder. Bokuto is enveloped by warmth, Akaashi on one side and Momo still purring in his lap, and he feels a wave of contentment wash over him.

Quietly, he opens the book Akaashi had just lent him. Might as well get a head start on reading, anyways.

 

Things have pretty much gone back to normal since Bokuto's apology in the form of snacks and Akaashi’s gracious acceptance of it. In a few weeks, summer fades into the cool vibrancy of autumn, and life goes on. Bokuto prepares for nationals, studies to the best of his ability, has fun with his friends.

He remains keenly aware of Akaashi's feelings for him, but does his best not to ask or talk about it. He doesn't trust himself not to be insensitive anymore. But Bokuto can't help but wonder sometimes: when he feels Akaashi's gaze on his back, when Akaashi turns away to hide a blush—why do you like me? What should I do for you?

That, perhaps, is the biggest mystery about Akaashi that Bokuto would like to solve. But about this, Akaashi is inscrutable, and even Bokuto—the closest thing the team has to an Akaashi expert—cannot read him.

 

Bokuto finishes the book surprisingly fast. Granted, it’s not a very long volume, but he's proud of himself anyways. It’d been a quiet little story, about a man and his dog, and a lot more interesting than Bokuto had thought it would be. But even more interesting are Akaashi’s little notes in the margins, his neat handwriting and wise little insights about plot points and characters and language. Trust Akaashi to be just as diligent with his hobbies as he is with homework.

It's the weekend, and while Bokuto could technically return Akaashi's book on a school day, he has a sudden urge to see him right now. This isn't entirely out of the blue: it's not like he ever doesn't want to see Akaashi, and their friendship has always been one of frequent weekend hangouts. So Bokuto takes his phone out, and texts Akaashi: hey, can I come over right now?

It takes a few minutes for his phone to ping with an alert. sure, but my friend is here, Akaashi replies.

friend? Bokuto replies, frowning. Not that Akaashi doesn't have other friends, but Bokuto was under the impression that he was the only friend Akaashi ever invited over. He's not jealous, though. That would be stupid, and Bokuto's not childish enough to get irked that his best friend has other good friends. He's just a little… curious as to who else Akaashi would like so much.

ennoshita-san from karasuno, akaashi texts. I'm helping him with a project.

cool! Bokuto responds. He vaguely remembers Ennoshita, an inoffensive, calm second-year who was relatively quiet and enjoyed making movies. Akaashi had mentioned him once or twice—they seemed to enjoy working with each other. he's okay with me coming?

he'd like to meet you, actually

And that's how Bokuto finds himself at Akaashi's door, using his own copy of the house key in a rare show of friendship dominance. So maybe he is a little jealous! Sue him.

"Oh, Bokuto-kun," Akaashi's mother says, coming out from the study. She and Akaashi resemble each other greatly, all the way down to the tips of their wavy dark hair. "Akaashi said you'd be coming. They're in his room."

"Thank you!" Bokuto says, bowing. He makes his way to Akaashi's room—the door is closed, though he can hear soft music—and knocks. "Akaashi!"

The door swings open.

"Hello, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says.

Behind him, Ennoshita is sitting on the bed, sketching something out. He looks up as the door opens. "Ah," he says. "Nice to meet you, Bokuto-san."

"Hi!" Bokuto says, trying to size him up. He steps inside, and Akaashi closes the door behind him.

"This is Ennoshita," Akaashi says. "He's from Karasuno, as you know. We met during camp."

"Akaashi's very good with his camera," Ennoshita says. Everything about him seems calm and composed, but in a way that kind of makes him seem like he's always telling a deadpan joke. "I'm lucky to have found him. The talent pool for film production is a little small in the volleyball community."

"Yes, perhaps because the volleyball community is more inclined towards volleyball," Akaashi says.

"A real shame," Ennoshita says. And then, without missing a beat, "Bokuto-san, is your hair natural? I've always wanted to know. For research, you see."

Bokuto blinks. "I—" He sits down. "It's complicated."

"An enigma," Ennoshita says. "I like it."

"Don't mind him, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says. “Ignore him if he’s being too nosy.”

“It’s okay,” Bokuto says, bemused. “It’s just my hair.”

“Yeah,” Ennoshita says. “Stop being so overprotective, Akaashi-kun. I’m not going to eat him.”

“I don’t trust you anymore after that incident at the McDonald’s,” Akaashi says. “Listen, Bokuto-san, we went to McDonald’s once to do a shoot, and he—“

“No, Bokuto-san, don’t listen, Akaashi doesn’t tell it right—”

Bokuto laughs as they go on like that, and listens to the admittedly amusing story of Ennoshita punching someone at a neighbourhood restaurant. All the same, he can’t help but feel a little wistful and… there’s another emotion there, one that’s greedy and ugly and makes him feel like a bad person for feeling it.

It's not like Bokuto's excluded from the conversation—no, not at all, but he can't help but notice the way Akaashi talks to Ennoshita. Akaashi seems more relaxed with him, more liable to fire back with something snarky, quicker to laughter. All of a sudden, the one year Bokuto has on Akaashi seems huge, an unbreachable gap—he's always been the senpai, treated with respect. Held at a distance.

The realization makes him uncomfortable. The realization that this realization makes him uncomfortable makes him feel even more uncomfortable.

"Keiji!" Akaashi's mother's voice rings out through the house. "Come here for a bit, please!"

"Ah, she's having problems with her laptop again," Akaashi says, getting up. "I'll be back in a bit. We need some food, anyways."

“Okay,” Ennoshita says.

Akaashi leaves, shutting the door behind him and leaving the two of them alone.

"Well, Bokuto-san—" Ennoshita begins.

"I'm jealous of you," Bokuto announces, giving a name to the feeling that's been insistently lodged in his chest since he'd stepped into the room.

Ennoshita blinks. "Oh. Oh, wow." He slides off the bed onto the floor next to Bokuto. "Didn't know you'd start off with that, but that's okay." He looks so calm, almost bored, but his eyebrows are raised in a way that implies interest. "What could you possibly be jealous of me for? It's my spiking technique, isn't it?"

"What?" Bokuto says, taken aback. "Why would I be jealous of that? I'm talking about how close you are to Akaashi—" Mid-sentence, he notices a smile forming on Ennoshita's face, and realizes he's been had. "Hey!"

"Well, go on," Ennoshita says, still looking amused.

Bokuto feels like he's being lead around by the nose, and he doesn't like it. He pauses, suddenly afraid of saying too much. Ennoshita is proving to be the kind of guy who looks quiet and unassuming, but is probably a secret shit-starter that gets away with things because he looks quiet and unassuming.

"Come on," Ennoshita says, sensing his hesitation. "Don't you want to lay bare our souls  to each other as—uh, how do I put this? As… rivals for Akaashi's love?"

Bokuto's eyes widen, his stomach doing a weird little twist. "You like Akaashi?"

"Don't you?" Ennoshita says.

"No, I—" Bokuto says, then droops a little. "I don't think so," he tries.

"Hmm,” says Ennoshita. “That’s interesting.” He promptly takes out a notepad seemingly from nowhere and starts to write.

Bokuto frowns. “What are you writing down?”

“A little bit of you, Bokuto-san," Ennoshita says, not looking up. "Thank you."

“I—” Bokuto is thoroughly confused. Ennoshita is a lot stranger than he looks. Hadn’t he been one of the more levelheaded people in Karasuno?

“You’re probably thinking I’m a lot weirder than I look, aren’t you?” Ennoshita asks, finally putting away his notepad.

“What? No!” Bokuto says, terrified. God, Ennoshita’s an actual telepath. Where does Akaashi find these people?

“I’m not reading your mind,” Ennoshita says, smiling at Bokuto’s expression. “It’s what a lot of people think. I’m pretty normal compared to some of the people on my team, though.”

“Oh,” Bokuto says, still unsure of where the conversation is going at this point. “I don’t really know what to say to that,” he ends up saying, quite honestly. "But what did you mean about—about writing me down?"

Ennoshita laughs. “I'm working on a new screenplay," he says. "Nothing big yet," he adds hastily, when Bokuto's eyes widen (Bokuto really likes Ennoshita's movies, or what he's seen of them, at least). "Just jotting down ideas. And you're—quite the character, Bokuto-san. In a good way. Very inspirational—conducive to the imagination."

Bokuto perks up. Nobody's ever called him conducive to anything before. "Really?" he asks. "Do I get to be in this one then?"

"Hmm," Ennoshita says. "Maybe. But we'll see. Writing is a pain. I don't even know if I'll finish yet. Akaashi's helping me out a little with the characters."

Bokuto suddenly remembers that Ennoshita has just admitted that he's Bokuto's rival for Akaashi's affections. He narrows his eyes. "Do you really need his help?" he asks, a little peeved. "Aren't you just here to flirt with him?"

"Ah," Ennoshita says. "I was just playing around with that, you know. I don't actually have feelings for Akaashi, aside from aesthetic appreciation." He smiles. "It's always nice to have good-looking friends, especially if you're into filmmaking."

"What?" Bokuto exclaims, shocked and feeling more than a little betrayed. "You lied?"

"I mean, yeah," Ennoshita says, smiling that lazy smile again. "I wanted to see how you'd react. Sorry. But hey!" He pats Bokuto on the shoulder, and Bokuto eyes his hand suspiciously, because there could be a secret weapon in it or something—he wouldn't put anything past Ennoshita at this point.  "That means you have less competition, right?"

"I—" Bokuto frowns. "I told you, I don't like him that way."

"Yeah," Ennoshita says. "That's what I'm hearing from Akaashi, too. But you kind of come off like you do, you know? Well," he continues, tilting his head in thought, "that's from meeting you just now. Maybe you're simply that kind of friend? I wouldn't know. But—if you're unsure, there might be something there, right?"

Bokuto blinks, unsure of how to take Ennoshita's sudden sincerity. "Maybe," he admits eventually. “I'm trying to figure it all out."

"Well, that's good then," Ennoshita says magnanimously, like he's just bestowed a gift upon Bokuto. “That was a nice heart-to-heart. I suppose we're friends now?"

Bokuto narrows his eyes. "I still—I still think you're untrustworthy, you know!"

"Well, on my part," Ennoshita says good-naturedly, "I quite like you, Bokuto-san."

Bokuto groans, raising his head. "I like you too!" he exclaims, annoyed because it's true—Ennoshita seems like a great friend, and smart, and just rather likeable on the whole, even if he's been teasing Bokuto this whole time. "You're really cool!"

Akaashi chooses this moment to return from the kitchen, holding a tray of tea and snacks—the leftovers from Bokuto’s passionate apology. They’ve lasted quite long.

"Ah—thank you, Bokuto-san." Ennoshita raises an eyebrow lazily, glancing at Akaashi. "So…threesome?"

Bokuto almost faints.

Akaashi sighs. "Don't be crass, Ennoshita-san," he says, setting the food on the table and sitting down across from them. "At any rate, you can't joke about stuff like that around Bokuto-san; he'll take it seriously."

Bokuto covers his warm face with his hands. "I take it back," he grumbles. "I really, really don't like you, Ennoshita."

Ennoshita laughs, that annoyingly calm laugh that makes it sound like he's just woken up. He pokes Bokuto's forehead. "Bokuto-san, Bokuto-san," he says, sounding apologetic, "I'm sorry. I was just joking, you know. This isn't a porno. I don't make those kinds of movies. Not yet, at least."

Bokuto peeks at him through the gaps between his fingers. Ennoshita looks completely sincere.

"I mean," Akaashi says, sounding just a bit devilish under the usual façade of calm, "unless…?"

Bokuto freezes, a million thoughts running through his head at once. He thinks he feels a drop of sweat drip down the back of his neck. "Uh," he manages.

Ennoshita bursts out laughing, and after a second, Akaashi breaks too.

"Stop it!" Bokuto yells, jumping to his feet, face as hot as a convection oven. "Stop it! You're both awful!" He runs out of Akaashi's room, the sound of laughter following him all the way to the bathroom, where he washes his face with cold water in an attempt to cool it down.

 

It turns out that Ennoshita hadn’t travelled all the way to Tokyo just to visit Akaashi—he’d also come to see his cousin, who had recently moved back to Japan from overseas. So Ennoshita sets off to see her after an hour or so, and by that time he’s grown on Bokuto quite a bit. Akaashi sure knows how to pick his friends.

"Keep in touch if you like, Bokuto-san,” Ennoshita says at the front door before leaving. “We can talk about Akaashi-kun. I feel like some of his stories really need a second perspective, you know?"

Bokuto grins. “Sure!”

Akaashi huffs. "Thank you for visiting, Ennoshita-san," he says. "Now please leave. You're going to be late for your train."

"Alright, alright,” Ennoshita says good-naturedly. “Since you want me out of the picture so badly.” He smiles, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. “Til next time, then!”

Bokuto and Akaashi wave goodbye to him as he sets off down the street. He turns the corner, and Akaashi closes the door. It’s suddenly very quiet in the house.

"You two seem to get along well," Akaashi says, heading back to his room.

"He's a weird guy," Bokuto says, following behind him. "But I like—"

"You like him," Akaashi says. "Yes, I know." 

Bokuto gets the vague sense that Akaashi seems a little bothered, but he feels a little too nervous to ask about it—he doesn’t want to overstep. “Can we play Smash?” he asks. 

Akaashi looks back at him. He seems calm enough, so maybe Bokuto is just imagining whatever he saw. “Sure.”

It only occurs to Bokuto on his way back home that he had forgotten to return the book, and that Akaashi may have been jealous. 

 

Bokuto, true to his word, does try to figure it out. But it's kind of difficult for him just to sit there and think about his feelings, so he ends up squeezing in some research whenever he can. Unfortunately for Konoha, this also includes early warm-ups before practice.

"Hey," Bokuto says, doing a gentle roll shot to Konoha, "what's it feel like to like someone?"

Konoha shanks the ball to the side, presumably from surprise.  "Is this about Akaashi?" he asks after he's retrieved the wayward ball, looking a little disgruntled.

"It is!" Bokuto says. "How'd you know?"

Konoha sighs, and then looks around to make sure Akaashi's not in close proximity. "How could I not?" he mutters, and tosses the ball up to roll shot it to Bokuto, continuing their warm-up. Bokuto receives it easily. "Well, I'm assuming you mean romantically?"

"Yeah," Bokuto says. Their rhythm is comforting, familiar: pass, set, spike. "I just… I wanna know. If it happens, I wanna be sure."

"Well," Konoha says, setting the ball back to him and readying for the receive, "haven't you liked other people before? What did that feel like for you?"

"I don't really remember," Bokuto says honestly. "I just—I liked the way they looked, I guess? And I'd get happy if I saw them often. But I haven't really liked anyone in a really long time, so I don't—I don't know. Honestly, I'm not even sure if that was real."

Konoha is silent for a bit. "It's hard to say with this kind of thing," he says eventually, a little breathless from effort. He catches the ball, stopping the drill. "Some people will say it's different for everyone. Some people will say it's like—a universal feeling, you know?"

Bokuto hums, wiping his brow. "Well, what do you think it feels like?"

Konoha shrugs. "Sweat," he says.

"Huh?"

"Nerves," Konoha says. "That's what I feel the most, anyways. Being nervous and sweaty because the person I like is sitting right next to me. But it's not just that—it feels good, you know? Despite it all." He meets Bokuto's eyes. "Does that make sense?'

"I suppose," Bokuto says, thinking. "I don't really feel nervous with Akaashi, though."

Konoha shrugs. "Yeah," he says. "There's something different about you guys. It's like you've known each other forever." He laughs a little. "I'm not sure if you could ever get nervous around Akaashi."

"I'm nervous when he gets mad," Bokuto says, grinning.

"Aren't we all?" Konoha says. He tosses the ball up again to hit it. "Well, that's all I've got. Sorry if I couldn't help."

"It's fine," Bokuto says, receiving the roll shot. "Thanks, Konoha."

"No problem," Konoha says. "Just buy me lunch or something."

 

Bokuto ends up eating lunch that day with Yukie and Kaori. Konoha finds his way over to them too, because Bokuto actually does buy him some milk.  

"Konoha told me you had a very specific question, Bokuto!" Yukie exclaims, mouth still rather full. Bokuto is, as always, impressed with her ability to stuff her face and speak at the same time. "Why didn't you ask me first? I'm obviously a much better person to ask—"

Excuse me,” Konoha says, affronted.

Kaori laughs. “To be fair, Yukie does fall in love with someone new every two weeks,” she says.

Konoha still looks disgruntled. Bokuto turns to Yukie, expectant. “So what do you think, Yukippe?”

Yukie grins. "Well, I think it’s when you just—" here, she clenches her fists, "when you see them do something small, like smile or tie up their hair, and you just wanna kiss them stupid in some seedy hotel room, you know—"

"Seedy hotel room?" Bokuto says, vaguely confused but also vaguely comprehending. “Why does it have to be seedy?”

Kaori is giggling. Yukie opens her mouth to respond, but Konoha flicks her on the arm.

"No!" he says, glaring at Yukie. "No hotel rooms—what's wrong with you? Remember who we're talking about—"

Yukie shrugs. "I don't see why it wouldn't work, he seems like he'd be into—"

"This conversation is OVER," Konoha says loudly, and they all shut up and eat their lunch, because there's no arguing with Konoha when he sounds like that.

 

Over the next while, Bokuto mulls over his friends' answers. But at the end of the day, the person he really wants to ask about this is Akaashi, but he won't, because that's just cruel. So then he comes up with the bright idea of asking Ennoshita, which is probably the next best thing. Bokuto still keeps in touch with Ennoshita from time to time, exchanging little snippets of stories about Akaashi or Hinata. So he only hesitates a little before texting him what's being in love supposed to feel like?

The read receipt appears immediately, and Ennoshita calls him. Bokuto picks up on the first ring.

Ennoshita doesn't even bother saying hi. "Well, what do you think it's supposed to feel like, Bokuto-san?" he asks. There's the sound of voices in the background—he must be outside.

Bokuto's a little surprised by the sudden question, but he tries to take it in stride. "I thought—I always thought it was this whole huge thing that happens all at once, you know?" he says. "Like in the movies. Where they can't live without each other."

"Well," Ennoshita says, in the same thoughtful tone he reserves for film analysis, "if you ask me, I think that whole thing—not being able to live without each other—is a little overrated. It's fun to watch in film, but otherwise, I think it's almost better to be able to exist and flourish independently, but choose to be together anyways." He pauses. "Do you know what I mean?"

Bokuto tilts his head. "I—"

"I think what I'm trying to tell you," Ennoshita says, "is that liking someone—falling in love or even being in love—doesn't have to be this whole life-or-death thing, you know? We don't live in movies. It can be… quiet. Subtle."

"Subtle," Bokuto echoes, thinking.

“Yeah. Like waking up one day and feeling happy because you know you’ll see them later. Little things, you know?”

"Oh," Bokuto says, feeling like he understands, if just a little. "Like the way someone sleeps?"

"Exactly," Ennoshita says. He pauses. "What, have you been watching Akaashi sleep?"

"He falls asleep on me!" Bokuto says, feeling his ears grow warm at Ennoshita's teasing tone. "I'm not… I'm not being creepy—"

Ennoshita laughs. "Aren't you both adorable," he says.

"I—" Bokuto tries to shake off his embarrassment. "Do you think it's possible to be in love without knowing it?" he blurts out instead.

Ennoshita hums thoughtfully. "Well, I don't think it's ever happened to me," he says. "But I don't think it's impossible, either. Maybe what you have is so natural you just don't realize. Eventually, though, I'm pretty sure you'll know at one point.” And then, "Don't stress too much, Bokuto-san. Don't force it either, if you're not sure."

"I know," Bokuto says. "I'm not forcing anything." He looks up at the ceiling, thinking of Akaashi, of his warm little smiles and mysterious heart. "I don't need to. I just need some time to figure myself out and make sure, that's all."

"That's good to hear," Ennoshita says, and Bokuto almost hears the smile in his voice. "Well, I've gotta run now, but good luck. Tell me if you ever wanna talk again."

"Ah, okay," Bokuto says. "Thanks, Ennoshita. See you!"

"Bye, Bokuto-san," Ennoshita says, and ends the call.

Bokuto puts his phone down, already thinking. For some reason, he really wants to see Akaashi. 

 

“What are you thinking about?”

Bokuto is jolted out of his reverie. Akaashi is looking at him curiously, book still open in his hands. They’re hanging out in Akaashi's room, as per usual. It's a Saturday, and Bokuto is in one of his rare moods of not wanting to do much at all. Perhaps it's all the ruminating he's doing lately. And Akaashi has noticed, because he always does.

They've ended up sitting very close together, close enough for Bokuto to feel the warmth of Akaashi's body. And yet despite the slight feeling of embarrassment, Bokuto does not want to move away. He wants to be closer. Wants to touch.

I’m thinking about you, he almost says in response, but doesn’t. Akaashi would probably be uncomfortable, ashamed, would probably blame himself for taking up too much of Bokuto’s headspace. So he opts for a harmless untruth.

"The ocean,” Bokuto says instead, thinking of the deep blue-green-grey of Akaashi’s eyes. "Do you like it?"

Akaashi blinks, surprised. "I'm not… opposed to it," he says, and Bokuto laughs: what an Akaashi thing to say. But then Akaashi frowns, thoughtful. "Actually, I think I do like it," he says. "I like how much it changes, by day and by night." He fiddles with his own fingers, and Bokuto finds his gaze drawn to the motion, to Akaashi's slender, elegant hands. "But it's still the ocean, either way. That's what I like the most, I guess. Constancy under change."

Bokuto loves it when Akaashi speaks like this, honest and open. "Let's go there, then," he says. "After I graduate. Together, okay?"

“Of course," Akaashi says, almost solemn, as if Bokuto had asked for a promise. “I’d like that.”

Bokuto grins. He can't help it. "You know," he says, "you talk like a poet sometimes, Akaashi."

"Oh?" Akaashi says. He sounds pleased. "Is that so."

Bokuto nods and moves to lay his head on Akaashi’s shoulder. And then he hesitates, because he doesn’t want to overstep, to play with Akaashi's feelings, even unwittingly. Akaashi is watching him, almost expectant.

“You don’t mind, do you?” Bokuto asks quietly.

Akaashi holds his gaze. “No. Do you?”

And Bokuto’s heart clenches. Ever since his confession, Akaashi has been hesitant to touch him, even though contact has historically been so easy for them. Yes, Akaashi will sleep on Bokuto’s shoulder, but that’s only because he can’t help it, and afterwards he’ll always apologize profusely. 

“Of course not,” Bokuto says, honest. He wants to say more, but he doesn’t know how to say it.  “I’ve never—I wouldn’t.”

“Ah,” Akaashi says. He looks relieved. Pleased. “Well, then.” Go ahead.

So Bokuto lays his head down, relaxing. Tentatively, slowly, almost as if he’s afraid Bokuto will startle, Akaashi places an arm around Bokuto’s shoulder to hold him just a bit closer. The happiness Bokuto feels at the touch is quiet but intense. Almost paralyzing. He closes his eyes, lets the stress melt out of him, and wishes they could stay like this forever.

It’s clear that whatever he feels for Akaashi runs strong and deep. But it’s something Bokuto’s just kind of taken for granted all these years, something he’d never quite bothered to scrutinize simply because it was constant and pleasant.  Looking at it now, knowing all that he knows, Bokuto no longer thinks it impossible that he might have fallen for Akaashi somewhere along the road.

But he needs to be sure before he says anything, does anything. Be gentle with him, Yukie had said, and Bokuto had failed to do just that. Now, though, he knows better.

I won’t hurt you, Bokuto thinks at Akaashi. So, please. Wait for me.   

 

Before the ocean, before graduation, there is the tournament.

The unexpected happens at nationals: Akaashi falters. But Bokuto does not fret—after all these years of playing together, he knows Akaashi's strength and tenacity firsthand, even if Akaashi himself has forgotten in the moment. His trust is not misplaced.  Akaashi returns eventually, strong and steady in body and mind.

Give me everything, Akaashi, Bokuto thinks, give me more than everything, and Akaashi does, simply because Bokuto asks it of him.

That day, Bokuto is resolute, strong. For the first time in his life, he feels like he has truly come into his own. So it’s unbelievably cruel, the way they lose the finals even when they all have their hearts in the sky, when victory is so close they can taste it.

The last whistle is blown, and Bokuto is on the verge of tears. They all are. Akaashi starts crying again, eyes bright and jaw clenched, and Bokuto wants to comfort him though he cannot even comfort himself. But when he turns to look at his teammates, they gaze back at him steadily, and what Bokuto sees in their eyes is neither pity nor blame. Instead—

Gratitude. Respect. And from Akaashi, pure, unfiltered adoration, enough to make Bokuto’s heart shake.

 

The day after the tournament finds Bokuto in Akaashi's room again. Bokuto stays late, the two of them just passing the time with books and games and talking about nothing in particular. There's a slight melancholy in the air: their loss is still fresh. The finality of it hurts. This is not the end of volleyball—Bokuto has received a number of offers—but it is still an end. There will be other teams, other friends, other setters. But there will be no other Fukurodani, the team that supported him and coddled him until he was ready to fly. Nor will there be another Akaashi, who sits next to him now, quiet and loving and the best friend Bokuto could ever ask for.

Ah, it hurts.

"Bokuto-san," Akaashi says, breaking the silence. It’s as if he knows how Bokuto is feeling—and he very well might. "You were wonderful."

Bokuto does not need to ask to know what Akaashi is talking about. It is the first time today either of them have really talked about the tournament. Bokuto turns to Akaashi, meeting his gaze. He wants to cry.

"Wherever you go from now," Akaashi continues, "you're going to be amazing." He smiles, gentle and honest. It feels like he's saying so much more.

"So will you, Akaashi," Bokuto says, voice hoarse. His heart is overfull—he cannot help but be completely honest in his gratefulness, his adoration.

Akaashi laughs softly. “I’m only ordinary, Bokuto-san,” he says.

“No,” Bokuto says, completely serious. “No, you’re not. Not one bit.”

"You think so?" Akaashi says, sounding amused.

"I know so," Bokuto says, leaning against Akaashi and closing his eyes, suddenly tired. "You're special, Akaashi. So special."

Akaashi is silent for a moment. "Thank you, Bokuto-san," he says eventually, sounding quietly flustered.

Bokuto hides a smile. They stay like that for a while, reveling in their nearness and the peaceful quiet. With just a few words, Akaashi has made everything feel a little better, a little brighter.

Eventually, it gets late, and Bokuto heads out. Akaashi sees him off at the door as per usual, silhouetted against the warm light of the house.

“Goodnight, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says, and smiles. And it’s a smile just like any other of Akaashi’s smiles, small and warm and adoring, something Bokuto’s probably seen hundreds of times by now. But now it hits him like a blow to the chest, a surge of feeling both new and utterly familiar all at once. Bokuto blinks, jarred.

“Goodnight, Akaashi,” Bokuto manages, his voice a little hoarse, and forces himself to wave and grin, to walk away from Akaashi and down the street.

Halfway to the train station, Bokuto stops walking. He stares up at the sky, trying to name the sheer emotion in his chest that feels too large for his body. And then—

Ah, he realizes, with a surge of wonder and delight. I’m in love.

The stars above are brilliant in the dark expanse of the cold night sky. Bokuto thinks: when had he fallen in love with Akaashi? Had it been just now, when Akaashi had smiled at him just so? Or had it been the day of Akaashi's confession, when Bokuto had felt like he was seeing a new horizon, the ocean by sunrise? Though perhaps that had that merely been a realization of feelings that had accumulated over the years—in hindsight, maybe it'd been love since Akaashi had first stepped into the gym and gave his name. But that didn't quite make sense: Bokuto wouldn't have known anything about him then. Maybe, maybe it'd been a nondescript morning in the middle of winter a few months after that, when Bokuto had woken up, bleary-eyed but already happy, because he knew Akaashi would be waiting for him at the gym door, would say good morning, Bokuto-san with thinly-veiled fondness.

He doesn't know. Maybe he never will. Bokuto has never been the brightest when it comes to things like this, especially when they concern himself. But—it doesn't quite matter, either. There is a warmth in Bokuto's chest, a quicksilver thrill running through his body that makes him want to jump and shout. It feels like he's finally found the answer to a problem he'd been trying to solve this entire time. It feels like nothing will ever be the same, and yet nothing has changed.

"I like Akaashi," Bokuto says out loud to himself, grinning. His words come out as translucent white puffs in the cold night air. "I really, really like him!" He laughs—he can't help it. "I'm in love with him!"

There is nobody around to hear him, but he feels heard nonetheless.

 

Bokuto doesn't know how he manages to sleep that night—he is excited, exuberant. The next morning during class, Konoha approaches him cautiously, perhaps afraid that Bokuto might be in a mood.

"Hey, what's—"

"I like Akaashi!" Bokuto exclaims, grinning, because he wants to tell someone. "I finally figured it out last night—I think I might’ve liked him forever, maybe!"

Konoha looks taken aback for a moment, then he laughs. "Congrats, I guess?" he says. "Well, shouldn't you be telling Akaashi instead of me?"

"I'm going to!" Bokuto says. He's planned for this—he's texted Akaashi to meet up after school, and Akaashi had agreed. He can't stop smiling. "I just wanted to tell you too."

“Ah,” Konoha says. “Thanks?”

“You’re welcome!” Bokuto says. And then class starts, and he returns to fairly vibrating in his seat with anticipation and joy. Oh, to like someone and to be liked back—what a feeling. He thinks of Akaashi, like he always does, and cannot quite stop.

 

They meet outside the volleyball team's changeroom—now that the season's over, there's hardly anyone around most of the time. It’s cold outside, but rather mild for January, and Bokuto feels himself sweating a little under his jacket as he makes his way over. Akaashi is already there, waiting. When he spots Bokuto coming, he straightens up almost imperceptibly, and his expression softens at the edges. It kind of reminds Bokuto of Momo, who starts purring even before anyone starts petting her: the anticipation of pleasure, of joy. Bokuto's heart swells in his chest, and he almost trips over his feet trying to walk to Akaashi as fast as possible.

"Akaashi!" he calls, exuberant.

Akaashi reaches out a hand to catch Bokuto when he stumbles. "Bokuto-san," he says. "Slow down." He pauses, tilts his head. "Why'd you want to meet here? And… why are you so happy?"

"I wanted to tell you something personal, Akaashi!" Bokuto says, almost giddy with excitement.

"Something personal?"Akaashi frowns, concerned. "Bokuto-san, did you get in trouble with—"

“Akaashi, I like you too!” Bokuto exclaims, the words tumbling out of his mouth. He’s a little breathless and rather less dignified and cool than he’d like to be, but it’s alright—he said it, he told Akaashi! After this, Bokuto’s going to buy Ennoshita a gift card.

Akaashi blinks. He looks genuinely shocked. "What?"

“I said, I like you too, Akaashi!” Bokuto says, gaining confidence. "I mean, I like like you," he adds, just to clarify.

“I—” Akaashi swallows. Several emotions flit across his face. He shakes himself. “No, sorry—I heard you the first time, Bokuto-san. When did you—why—” He looks adorably flustered, usual composure almost completely lost. "You—you mean it?” he finally asks.

“I mean it,” Bokuto promises. “I really, really like you, AkaashiI just didn’t understand before, so I thought about it for ages, I even asked everyone and did research and allI’ve never really liked anyone like this, you know?”

“Oh,” Akaashi says, sounding breathless. His face is red. Bokuto decides he really likes this Akaashi, flustered and embarrassed and happy. "Oh. Okay." Akaashi looks like he is trying very hard not to smile, but can't help smiling anyways. "Well, if that's the case—thank you, Bokuto-san. I'm glad—I'm glad you feel that way about me."

Bokuto reaches out and hugs him. He can't help it—he's wanted to be close to Akaashi like this the entire day, to breathe him in, to feel his warmth. And his heart, ever greedy, is simultaneously satisfied with the contact but also demanding more, more, though Bokuto reins himself in. It won't do to go too fast, after all.

Akaashi hugs him back hesitantly at first, almost as if he's afraid he's doing something wrong. But eventually he relaxes into the embrace, holds Bokuto so close and so tight that Bokuto can feel the warmth of his breath, smell his familiar tea-scented shampoo.

"I'm sorry I took so long to realize," Bokuto says quietly, feeling the enormity of it all.

Akaashi shakes his head. He does not speak. Bokuto feels him trembling.

"I'm sorry, Akaashi," Bokuto says again.

Akaashi exhales, warm against his skin. "No," Akaashi says, voice a little hoarse. "Don't apologize, Bokuto-san. I'm grateful."

Bokuto smiles. "Akaashi," he says. "We can be happy now, right? Together. Not that I wasn't happy," he adds, "but you—" Bokuto stops himself, very aware of the fact that Akaashi had probably been hurting all this time, that he'd been hurt, because of Bokuto. How selfish he’d been, how stupid. Bokuto feels his heart crack down the middle, and silently vows to make Akaashi the happiest boy on earth from now on.

Akaashi does not say anything. After a moment, he extricates himself from the hug gently, and Bokuto can finally see his face. For a fleeting moment, Akaashi’s expression is unreadable, but then he smiles.

“Thank you, Bokuto-san,” he says. “Really.”

Bokuto huffs. “Stop saying that already,” he says. “Like I’m doing you a favour or something. I’m not, okay?”

“Okay,” Akaashi says quietly, sounding pleased.

Bokuto grins, unable to contain his joy. He reaches out to take Akaashi’s hand.

Akaashi lets him.

 

The next few days, Bokuto rides the high of his post-confession life.

He sighs a lot. Happy, contented sighs, because—well, who wouldn’t? He’s in love, requited love with beautiful, wonderful Akaashi Keiji, his best friend in the entire world. The best and worst part of it all is the wanting: he wants to see Akaashi, wants to talk to him and touch him and just… be with him. But end-of-year exams are coming up, and with the volleyball season over, he doesn’t get too see Akaashi too much, aside from little encounters in the hallway when they walk by each other. Akaashi is always a little guarded in public situations like these, but Bokuto sees the way his eyes light up, the genuine pleasure in his expression. It makes him happy enough to yell into his pillow at the end of the day.

i like you!!! he texts Akaashi whenever the feeling strikes, and he’s always awarded with a near-immediate response.

I know, Akaashi texts. You don’t have to tell me more than once a day, Bokuto-san. I won’t forget. But eventually, always, I like you too, very much.

And that always makes Bokuto so happy he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Should he run? Jump? Sing a song? In the end, he usually settles for a little shiver of delight and a contented sigh. That’s all he’s made of these days: sighs and happiness and pure, distilled affection.

“Well, aren’t you disgustingly happy now,” Yukie says one day, amused. “Is Akaashi that good of a kisser?”

News had made its way through the volleyball club rather quickly, as it usually does. Most people had responded with surprise, but were generally unbothered by the whole situation. Ultimately, it’d just resulted in Bokuto being the target of some gentle ribbing: it took you how long to realize?

Bokuto flushes, because he’s been thinking a lot about kissing Akaashi lately, and it’s not always very decent. He thinks he kind of gets what Yukie was talking about before, with the seedy hotels. But he and Akaashi haven’t really haven’t done anything more than hugging and holding hands, because—well, probably because they haven’t had much time to themselves lately. “I—I don’t know,” Bokuto says, sheepish. “We haven’t. Yet.”

Yukie raises an eyebrow, surprised. “What are you, ten? Are you sure you two are going out?”

“Well, maybe they’re just taking it slow,” Konoha says, when he sees Bokuto’s expression.

“I don’t know,” Bokuto says, suddenly a little anxious. “We never really… talked about it.”

“I mean,” Konoha says, “you asked him out and everything when you confessed, right?”

“I—” Bokuto swallows.

“Oh,” says Konoha. He shares a look with Yukie. “Well, I’m sure it’s fine. You guys like each other and everything, so—“

“Yeah, we do,” Bokuto says. “I’m sure it’s fine,” he adds, echoing Konoha, though he can’t help but start to worry.

 

The next time he gets to see Akaashi properly is around a week later, and Bokuto’s anxiety has only festered and grown inside his head. He’d wanted to ask, had considered calling or texting or just taking Akaashi aside when they pass each other in the hallways, but something in his gut had always stopped him. They’re on the late train home, a stop or so away from Akaashi’s place.

There’s a lull in their conversation, and Bokuto is no longer able to keep everything inside.

“Akaashi, are we dating?” Bokuto blurts out.

Akaashi gives a start, but responds calmly. “No, we’re not,” he says.

“Oh,” Bokuto says, more confused than sad at this point. Is it really because he didn’t ask outright during his confession? “I mean, shouldn’t we, then?”

"Why?" Akaashi responds, looking him in the eye.

Bokuto is so stunned that he doesn't know how to answer for a moment. "What do you mean why? I like you, and you—you like me!" Then he realizes that maybe Akaashi has changed his mind, has stopped liking him altogether, and feels himself break into a cold sweat. "I mean—you do still like me," he says hesitantly, "right?"

He must look really upset, because Akaashi looks around and makes sure nobody is watching, then reaches out and touches Bokuto’s face gently, a comforting gesture. "Of course I do, Bokuto-san," he says, and Bokuto feels relief swamp him like a wave even as though he stays confused as ever.

"Then why aren't we going out?" Bokuto asks, insistent. "I wanna date you, Akaashi—”

"That doesn't matter," Akaashi says, withdrawing his hand and turning away. "That—it's a different thing entirely, Bokuto-san."

“Doesn’t matter?” Bokuto echoes, confused and hurt. He doesn’t think Akaashi has ever said something that’s hurt him this much before. “What do you mean—“

"You're about to graduate, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says, his voice infuriatingly calm and logical. "What's the point of starting something that'll only last a month or two at the most? We should think about the future."

Akaashi is not being unkind. He is not being cruel, either—he truly believes what he is saying. All the same, Bokuto feels like someone has reached inside his ribs, found his heart, and yanked it unceremoniously out of his chest.

"I'm happy like this," Akaashi continues, smiling a little. A resigned smile. "Aren't you?"

Bokuto sits in stunned silence, reduced to just… staring at Akaashi. Who are you, he wants to scream, you aren’t Akaashi, Akaashi wouldn’t hurt me like this, I don’t know who you are—

The train stops; Akaashi’s stop is announced. Bokuto doesn’t have time to speak.

“Goodnight, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says, with that same sad smile. And then he’s gone, leaving Bokuto alone on the train, alone in his despair.

 

That evening, Bokuto barely eats. Needless to say, his parents are exceedingly concerned, and he makes a flimsy excuse about having eaten a lot for lunch.

There is a roiling mess of emotion in his chest, unfamiliar and hot. Bokuto ends up going to bed early, but cannot sleep, not one bit. All he can think of is Akaashi’s sad smile, the way he’d said I’m happy like this, aren’t you?

No, Bokuto thinks. He rolls onto his side, curling up and trying to comfort himself. He wants to cry. No, I’m not

 

Akaashi texts him several times the next day. Bokuto cannot find the strength in himself to read the messages, much less respond. Konoha and the other third-years do their best to cheer him up, and even though neither of them ask Bokuto what’s going on out of respect, Bokuto’s sure they know it has something to do with Akaashi.

“It wouldn’t hurt to just… read them, would it?” Konoha says, when Bokuto’s phone screen lights up with yet another notification.

Konoha’s wrong. It would hurt. It already hurts. But Bokuto relents, reads the latest message. let’s go home together, bokuto-san, Akaashi has texted. please. i just want to talk.

my mom’s picking me up, Bokuto responds, a little spitefully.

i’ll wait with you then, Akaashi texts, not missing a beat. He knows that Bokuto’s mother ends work a little after their classes do.

fine, Bokuto texts. He knows he’s being childish, but he can’t help it. After sending the message, he puts his phone into his backpack and lays his head down. There’s a growing tower of food on his desk, little cheer-up gifts from his friends, but he can’t find it in himself to be hungry. Washio is rearranging the food into their respective food groups: dairy, protein, wheat and grains. Bokuto watches him do it, listless.

Outside the classroom windows, the sky is grey. It looks like rain.

 

Bokuto considers not going to Akaashi at the end of the day. His heart is tired. But he ends up waiting with Akaashi anyways, watching the freezing rain come down in a cold, grey shower. For the most part, they’re alone—Akaashi had picked a rather deserted doorway to wait at.

“Did you read my other messages?” Akaashi asks, almost cautiously.

“I didn’t want to,” Bokuto says.

Akaashi winces, looking genuinely guilty. "I'm sorry I hurt you, Bokuto-san," he says, reaching out for Bokuto's hand. Bokuto lets him take it, and is amazed at how quickly he wants to forgive Akaashi just with a single touch. “I didn’t mean to. I never do.”

“I know,” Bokuto says quietly. He raises his gaze to look Akaashi in the eye. “But why did you say that? Even if it’s only a month or two, can’t we just—just try?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Akaashi says, after a moment. “Especially not for me, Bokuto-san. I know I’m being selfish, but—”

“For you?” Bokuto says, confused.

Akaashi exhales softly, lowers his eyes to the ground. "I—I'm afraid of getting hurt," Akaashi says, absentmindedly tracing patterns onto Bokuto's palm. "And I really do like you, Bokuto-san. A lot more than you know. So it's—it's safer to like you from a distance."

Bokuto blinks. "What do you mean?" he asks, apprehensive.

"Well," Akaashi says, “it’s not like you’re going to like me forever, are you?” Bokuto feels the same surge of emotion in his chest, threatening to choke. “When you graduate and we stop seeing each other, you’ll move on. It’s only natural,” he adds, “but I just—“

"Akaashi, you—" Bokuto finally finds a word for how he's feeling. It's anger. He's angry at Akaashi. "You really think that badly of me?" he bursts out, voice harsh and loud with pain, and Akaashi blinks in surprise, taken aback. Bokuto withdraws his hand. "You really think that I’ll—I’ll stop liking you in a few months? That I'm not serious about you?" There are tears welling up in his eyes. "I've never not been serious in my entire life!"

Akaashi looks stunned at Bokuto’s outburst. “I’m sorry,” he says, after a moment. “I just think—“

"I don't care what you think anymore!" Bokuto says, still furious and feeling humiliated, feeling small. "If I say I'm in love with you, then I'm in love with you!"

Akaashi goes still. For a moment, he is silent. "You're in love with me?" he finally says, very quietly.

"Yeah!" Bokuto says, feeling his face get redder and redder with a mix of humiliation and anger.  He grabs his bag. "You got a problem with that? I don't care! I'm going home." His eyes are blurring. He can't tell what kind of expression Akaashi has.

"Wait," Akaashi says. He looks almost desperate. His voice breaks. "I'll come with you."

"No!" Bokuto says vehemently. "You stay here, and wait for my mom to pick you up. And don’t come to my house! I'm mad at you!"

"Bokuto-san—"

"If you follow me, I'll—I'll never talk to you again!" Bokuto yells, choked, and runs out the door into the winter rain.

 

He gets a fever. A bad one. Apparently it’s not a great move to run to the train station in freezing rain that eventually turns to hail, especially while under considerable emotional stress. A small consolation is that there are no volleyball games in Bokuto’s near future. His mother is furious nonetheless—how could you be so impulsive?—though she cares for him to the best of her ability. Bokuto hasn’t been properly sick like this since he was eight, and it’s a little terrifying to feel so weak.

“Am I going to die?” he asks his mother hoarsely, more than once. His mouth is dry and he always feels like throwing up, no matter what he eats.

“Oh, don’t be overdramatic,” she says, no-nonsense as always. “You’ve got a bad cold is all. Go to sleep.”

Thankfully, she doesn’t ask about the whole deal with Akaashi, even though Bokuto’s sure she’s curious. He doesn’t want to think about it too much—it is very much still an open wound, and if he remembers it too vividly he gets sad and stressed and feels like throwing up. But being in love is stupid and painful, and despite all the hurt, the only thing Bokuto’s brain wants is Akaashi, Akaashi, Akaashi.

 

Bokuto regains much of his health in the next few days, though not his dignity or happiness. A couple of his friends have asked after him, but Akaashi hasn’t texted or called, perhaps afraid of Bokuto having another emotional outburst. On the weekend, Bokuto sulks alone in the house—his parents have left on an urgent business trip—and considers the impulse purchase of a golden retriever puppy from an online forum. But the puppy is outrageously expensive, and apparently it’s better to get a rescue anyways. He bookmarks a dog shelter site to look at for later, and then retreats to his room.

Bokuto sits on his bed and looks up at the ceiling, beginning to realize just how empty his life is without volleyball, without Akaashi. He wants to talk, wants to laugh. Most of all, he wants to stop hurting.

Eventually, he ends up reading the last novel he’d borrowed from Akaashi, just for something to do. Lately, he’s realized he might actually enjoy reading, and while his heart still twinges every time he gets to one of Akaashi’s notes, he settles into a state of calm as he works through the book.

Just as he starts feeling better, the doorbell rings.

Nervous, Bokuto gets up and answers the door. His heart drops when he sees who’s standing outside, but at the same time he isn’t quite surprised.

“Oh,” Bokuto says, feeling a familiar lump in his throat. “Akaashi.”

“Yes,” Akaashi says, looking uncharacteristically nervous. “I’m sorry, I was going to call beforehand, but I—” He shifts from foot to foot. “Can I come in, Bokuto-san? It’s cold outside.”

“Okay,” Bokuto says, feeling like he’s dreaming.

They go inside silently, Akaashi taking off his jacket and boots. Bokuto offers him water and tea, and Akaashi declines politely. God, he’s still so beautiful. Bokuto cannot take his eyes off of him.

“I’m sorry,” Akaashi says, even though Bokuto’s not sure what he’s apologizing for. “I heard you got better, and I—I just wanted to talk.”

Bokuto tenses. “Fine,” he says, and leads Akaashi into his room, where they settle down on his bed.

He sees Akaashi’s eyes flick towards the open book on his nightstand, and quickly makes to put it away with a feeling of embarrassment.

“What did you want to talk about?” Bokuto asks flatly, and sees Akaashi flinch at the coldness in his tone. He feels a sick sense of satisfaction, but also of guilt. He’ll get nothing out of trying to hurt Akaashi—he loves him too much.

“I wanted to apologize to you, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says. “Properly.” He takes a deep breath. “Will you let me?”

Bokuto meets his eyes. Akaashi looks earnest and desperate, and it melts Bokuto’s heart. He nods.

“I’m sorry,” Akaashi says, voice a little unsteady. “It’s just—I never once thought that you’d actually ever want me like that. Please understand, Bokuto-san. I was so happy when you confessed to me, but I never really let myself… hope.” His speech is formal, more so than usual, almost stilted. It almost sounds rehearsed, and knowing Akaashi, it may very well be.

"Akaashi," Bokuto says hoarsely, undone. He can say nothing more.

"I don't—I don't think I'm good for you," Akaashi continues, quiet. Like it hurts to speak. "You're going places, Bokuto-san. I don't want to hold you back. I don't want other people seeing us and—and thinking things about you." His voice breaks. "But even then, I still…" He swallows, looking down at the bed.

“Akaashi,” Bokuto says again. He is overfull, heavy with emotion. “Akaashi, look at me.”

Slowly, Akaashi raises his gaze to meet Bokuto’s.

“You’ve never held me back,” Bokuto says fiercely. “Never. And—and forget what other people think.” His heart is pounding in his chest. "Forget what you think I need. I want you, Akaashi—what do you want?"

Akaashi bites his lip. His eyes are unnaturally bright; he looks like he's about to cry. "I want you too, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says. His voice is quiet, unsteady. Almost a whisper. "I want you so much it hurts."

Ah, so this is honesty—no sad, resigned smile, no untruths about being content with less. Bokuto reaches out to cradle Akaashi’s face in his hand. “Then have me,” he says, earnest and quiet. “I’m here, Akaashi. I love you. And I’m not going anywhere, got it?”

“Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says, voice breaking. There are tears in his eyes.

And Bokuto knows, but right now it hits him more than ever: ah, Akaashi loves me. He loves me so much. All this time, he’d been trying to figure out Akaashi like he was some kind of puzzle, an enigma. But Akaashi is actually something much simpler, yet also much more complex: a boy who loves Bokuto with everything he has.

“Akaashi,” Bokuto whispers, wiping away the bright tears trickling down Akaashi’s face. He has never felt so loved, so in love. It is hard to breathe.

Akaashi leans forward and kisses him. Passionately, deeply. Almost clumsy with desperation. It’s a kiss that says I’ve wanted to do this for so long. Says I never thought I’d get to do this. Says finally, finally, finally. And Bokuto responds with everything he has, and all the frustration and sadness from the past few weeks evaporates into relief, joy, euphoria.  They kiss for a long time, just reveling in touch and closeness, and when they break apart, their lips are swollen and Bokuto is a little dizzy. Akaashi looks heavenly like this, cheeks flushed and hair mussed, eyes a little glazed over with pleasure.

Bokuto grins, ebullient. “So you are a good kisser,” he says.

Akaashi laughs. Oh, how long it’s been since Bokuto’s heard his laugh—it’s delightful, the stuff of poems and songs. “Was I not supposed to be?”

“No,” Bokuto says, giddy. “I just didn’t know. But now I do!” He kisses Akaashi on the cheek, just because he wants to, and Akaashi blushes, laughs. “Let’s do that a lot more often. Kiss, I mean.”

“Sure,” Akaashi says, amused.

And then Bokuto remembers. “Oh!” he says, smiling. “Since we didn’t do this right the first time, let me ask again.”

Akaashi smiles up at him. “Okay,” he says.

Bokuto feels like he could fly. “Alright then,” he says, excited. “Akaashi Keiji, I like you. Do you wanna go out with me?”

Akaashi’s smile gets even wider. “I’d like that very much, Bokuto-san,” he says, and the whole wide world falls into place.

 

The road to graduation is a relatively smooth one.

They study a lot, which unfortunately doesn’t leave a lot of time for fun things like kissing. But that only makes their stolen moments even more precious, makes them more daring in their courtship (“Can you guys stop making out in stairwells already?” Konoha says, exasperated. “It’s getting old!”). Together with Akaashi, Bokuto buys Ennoshita another gift card. Ennoshita invites them both to feature in his upcoming short film for the summer, and Akaashi—persuaded by Bokuto—hesitantly agrees to be in front of the camera this time.

And then graduation day comes. Akaashi cries. Bokuto’s come to learn that Akaashi is a lot more sentimental than he looks, and makes sure to kiss his tears away, it’ll only be a year, I’ll be here for the summer too. They’re all looking to the future, to new paths they’ll be walking. It’s bittersweet, but Bokuto isn’t too worried—it’ll take more than that to break apart their group of friends. 

They end up going to the ocean the day after graduation. Not just the two of them, but all the third years as well. Washio, the only one with a license, drives them out to the ocean early enough to see the sunrise, because Akaashi wanted to take some experimental photographs. Bleary-eyed but content, they watch the darkness shift into pale light, the orange brilliance of the sun spilling into the sky, the sea. Yukie falls asleep partway through, and Kaori wraps a blanket around her as she naps.

Eventually, the sun rises high in the sky, and they take a walk along the beach after a quick breakfast in the car. Bokuto and Akaashi walk ahead, a little apart from the others. Akaashi wears his camera around his neck, stopping to take a picture of anything that interests him, which is often Bokuto.

“Can you take a picture of us?” Bokuto asks.

“Like a selfie? I can try,” Akaashi says, but it proves quite difficult, even for him.

“Give it to me,” Konoha says, coming up from behind them. “I’ll take some for you.”

“Thanks, Konoha-senpai,” Akaashi says, handing him the camera.

“Anything for my favourite dumbass couple,” Konoha says, though there’s no heat in his voice.

“More like a couple of dumbasses,” Yukie calls.

Unexpectedly, Akaashi bursts out laughing at this.

“Hey!” Bokuto says, mock-offended.

“Hush,” Konoha says, holding the camera up. “And smile. Dumbass.”

Akaashi laughs even harder at that, catching Bokuto’s eye, and Bokuto can’t help but laugh too, taking Akaashi’s hand in his. He’s a little entranced—he’s never really seen Akaashi laugh like this before, so freely and unrestrained. It’s beautiful.

“Dumbest couple on earth,” Konoha continues from behind the camera, encouraged by their laughter. “Only took you—what, almost half a year? Half a year to get together. You could probably grow corn in the same amount of time. God—”

Everyone is laughing by now, the sound ringing out merrily across the beach. Overhead, the gulls call, plaintive. Above the blue of the sea, the sun is dazzling and brilliant, warming Bokuto down to the tips of his toes. Everything here is bright and beautiful, but even more wonderful is the sweet sound of Akaashi’s laughter and the soft press of his lips against Bokuto’s cheek.

 

At his new apartment, Bokuto always has two things on his nightstand: a novel and a framed photograph. The novel varies from week to week, generally a recommendation from Akaashi, but the photograph is unchanging. It’s Bokuto’s favourite photo: a picture of two boys at the sea, holding hands and laughing like there is nobody else in the world.

 

Bokuto wakes up early in the morning, looks fondly at the photo on his nightstand like he always does, and remembers. Akaashi should be awake by now. Sitting up in bed, Bokuto dials his number, and Akaashi picks up almost immediately.

“Bokuto-san?”

“Akaashi,” Bokuto says, already smiling. “I just wanted to wish you good luck for your first day of third year!”

“Ah,” Akaashi says. He sounds a little embarrassed, but undoubtedly pleased. “Thank you, Bokuto-san.” And then, “You have a tight schedule today, don’t you?“

“It’s alright,” Bokuto says, amused. Some things never change. “Don’t worry about that.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your game?” Akaashi says, increasingly concerned. “I thought—“

"Keiji," Bokuto says, and Akaashi falls silent. Bokuto can almost imagine the vivid flush on his face, and he grins just thinking about it. "I love you, you know?"

A moment of silence. "I know," Akaashi finally says, voice soft and fond, a love song in and of itself. "I love you too, Koutarou."