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they break up in the spring

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spring

They break up in the spring, just three days before graduation, when it becomes clear that their paths no longer have to cross. Winter came and suddenly Kageyama Tobio had a signed contract with the Schweiden Adlers in hand; Tsukishima Kei with an admission letter to one of Miyagi’s prestigious universities. Chances of meeting again were slim, and acceptance dawns on both of them as cherry blossoms begin to flutter in the wind.

There’s no real reason to break up; at least, that’s what Kei thinks. The past year of dating had been amazing, filled with study sessions and post-practice nighttime walks, volleyball marathons and weekend evenings spent making out on Kageyama’s single bed, a luxury they got to enjoy because neither his parents nor his sister were ever home. Their initial aggravation made way to attraction, to Tobio’s haphazard confession, and suddenly Kei was in a relationship with his setter. Overall, dating Kageyama Tobio during his last year of high school had been one of the most pleasant experiences in his life.

But reality is everything but pleasant, and above all Kei prides himself on his rationality. He’d always known that time with Kageyama is temporary, because Kageyama was meant to be a professional volleyball player since the day he was born. Professional volleyball players should not be fucking around with average teenage boys in their college dorms; even more so when the university dorm is a bullet train ride away from the volleyball training base. Professional volleyball players should be traveling to games all over the world and working their way towards the Olympics; university students should be studying and dating around instead of waiting for their significant others to return. It’s defeatist, but some things aren’t worth putting in effort for.

Winter chill had made way to spring breeze, but Kei surprises himself with the way his words come out as ice-cold:

“Kageyama. Let’s break up.”

 

 

summer

It’s summer and things constantly remind him of Tsukishima, which is unfair because he’s more than a year removed from graduation, had spent just as long out of that one relationship he had in high school. Missing the other boy comes second nature to him, and it’s ironic that the time he’s spent pining is more than the time they actually spent together.

But it’s not a debilitating kind of pining: Kageyama Tobio is in top form, as he always is. His contract renewal with the Schweiden Adlers is an automatic no-brainer, an amazing showing in his first season in the V-league earns him a spot in the Olympic team, his agent recently received an offer from a curry company that wants to use his image for endorsements. Life goes on and work is great, but once in a while he finds himself laying down on a bed that’s too wide in an apartment that’s too large, wondering if loneliness is the price to pay for all his dreams coming true. Tsukishima insisted back then that it would be worth it. Kageyama does not completely disagree. Just because he sometimes misses his ex does not mean that he lives every day in pain.

Summers in Tokyo are the oppressive kind. A sticky heat tends to always envelop his skin; back then he thought heat is the pleasant feel of Tsukishima’s body against his as they would press impossibly close together in the darkness of the Karasuno gymnasium closet; now, heat is just the too-heavy air in the middle of July.

He’s packing his bags for the Rio Olympics when his phone buzzes from the spot beside him: it’s a message from Tsukishima. Of course he remains in contact with his friends, even if said friend is his ex.

Got accepted

Kageyama’s fingers are quick to type a reply.

Prove it

A year of dating means that to him, Tsukishima is on some level of predictable. He expects a picture of the signed contract, or a shot of his folded-up new uniform, or a stern No.

Instead, he gets an image, a full-body shot of Tsukishima in a uniform so green that it borders on hideous. It looks like a photo one would send to a parent for approval; a picture that would end up on a Facebook feed, captioned with a mother’s love. Tobio can tell Tsukishima sent this picture because it was convenient: Akiteru probably had nagged for it earlier in the day, so there’s really no reason to consider how long and sturdy Kei’s legs look in shorts that seemed like they were a tad too small, the brand-new breadth of shoulder Tsukishima seemed to have because he’d been increasing focus on his upper-body workouts this past year, the deliberate lack of expression Kei tries to maintain. Except his eyes are brighter than normal and there’s a smile threatening to creep up his face. He’s really happy, Tobio can tell.

It hits him that it’s been sixteen months since they broke up, and Kei is more handsome than ever. There’s a heat that creeps up his neck that had nothing to do with the sweltering summer.

There. You happy, your highness?

For his sanity’s sake, Tobio decides on a reply that was as vague as his emotions:

Lol. Congrats

 

 

fall

Autumn has always been his favorite season, with leaves changing colors from green to brown, weather transitioning from downright evil to a pleasant chill. During fall, the world takes on a sepia tint; to him, fall is as comfortable as the old vinyl records he always listens to, the dusty dinosaur books he used to check out in the library when he was younger. It’s a season of nostalgia as much as it is one of change. Fall also had the dubious honor of being the season that held his birthday, and his birthday meant strawberry shortcake, and—well, he just really liked eating cake.

This year, fall is exams, and volleyball, and papers he needs to get done before he goes off for his first tournament as a professional volleyball player. While he wasn’t playing on the same circuit as Kageyama (hell, Kageyama went to the fucking Olympics this year), Division 2 volleyball is still hard work. Sacrifices have to be made to make his life choices worth it.

It’s funny—he broke up with Kageyama Tobio a year and a half ago because their futures were shaping up to be nothing alike, but several choices later and he finds himself packing his Asics volleyball shoes into a suitcase as he procrastinates revising for his history exam. His first match is scheduled to take place in Tokyo, just a few days after his 20th birthday. Kageyama had taken the initiative to ask him out to dinner, for old time’s sake. University coursework had taken its toll on his last three brain cells, so he agreed. Fall is a season for nostalgia.

They don’t win the match, he barely gets any playing time as a rookie, and Kei gets an entire day off the next day. His teammates tease him when he escapes the team dinner dressed up in a nice sweater and jeans that hug his thighs. He only rolls his eyes in response: I always try to dress nicely, guys. Except the sweater he chooses is dark blue, a color he knows Tobio likes. He tells his teammates he’s just meeting up with Kageyama Tobio, his high school teammate, to which they ooh and aah in amazement, with his more brazen senpais asking for an autograph. He doesn’t tell them that he’s meeting up with his ex.

 

The Yamanote line is hell, and they really have no business meeting up in Shinjuku of all places, but the perk of being a volleyball player in Japan is that being over 190 centimeters means that it’s easier to find and be found in a sea of short people. It takes him only a single glance past the exit gate to see Kageyama Tobio leaning against a wall, scrolling through his phone.

“Yo,” Tsukishima says, raising his hand in an awkward wave. It’s a sound that barely passes as a word. He forgets how to speak as he sees Kageyama—they’ve exchanged Line messages over the year and a half they’ve been apart, but aside from seeing Tobio on his stupid Youtube commercials and watching him play on TV, he’d never really seen him since the break-up. Tobio is slightly taller and much broader. The white long-sleeved button-up he wears looks good on him. Kei buries his hands in his pockets. He tells himself it’s because his hands are cold, not because he’s itching to touch his ex.

Kageyama just nods slightly in acknowledgement, pocketing his phone in the back of his jeans. The silence is awkward—they’ve spent the past few months as something like online buddies. Being face-to-face feels strange.

They exchange pleasantries as Kageyama walks confidently, strides slightly ahead of his own. They talk about things like college coursework and the Olympic village and the match he played yesterday. As they talk, Kageyama navigates the crowded Tokyo streets effortlessly, leading them through various twists and turns before they stop in front of a small café.

“I was doing some searching before you arrived at the station, actually,” Kageyama says, scratching his head lightly. “I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but the internet said this place has the best strawberry shortcake in Tokyo, so—”

Tsukishima’s eyes widen. “You didn’t have to, King, I know you don’t like cake—”

Kageyama huffs, refusing to listen. He turns the doorknob so they could both enter. He picks a booth in front of the window; Tsukishima seats himself in front of him, and the waitress comes to take their orders of cakes and mugs of coffee.

“Happy birthday, Tsukishima,” Kageyama states simply.

Kei doesn’t allow his heart to beat faster at the way his ex’s eyes look so sincere as he says those three words. It’s fall, and he’s now twenty years old, and Tsukishima Kei refuses to fall back in love with Kageyama Tobio.

 

 

winter

He gets the New Year’s holidays off, because not even the most sadistic of coaches were masochistic enough to want to spend family time away from home. He takes the bullet train to Sendai, and he’s greeted by an empty house when he gets home in the early afternoon. He doesn’t know what he expects by going home: Miwa practically lived in her boyfriend’s apartment, his parents were at work as usual, so he wordlessly trudges to his bedroom door. Japan is brutal to its office workers; he’d always understood that and never took that against his parents. Love comes in many forms.

Kageyama’s favorite season is winter, with the air cold enough so that running never breaks him out into an awful sweat, the holidays long enough to give him more time to devote to volleyball and personal maintenance, with his fleece blankets after a long day of training feeling like one of the best rewards. Though he’s born in winter, his birthday had always been something of a non-event. He gets slightly older every December 22, and that was that.

His birthday had always been a non-event except for that one time two years ago, in those slow, tender moments after sex that Tsukishima had told him he loved him for the first time.

He takes those words to heart, believes it because Tsukishima’s actions were consistent with his words. He poured time to ensure he got decent English grades, humored him whenever he’d talk too much about Brazil’s crazy volleyball strategies. When he told him he wasn’t planning to go to college, Tsukishima held his hands and told him it was all going to be okay. They’d make out and then spend the afterglow talking about the future and what it has in store: that Kei would take on some nerdy major in a smart-person school; Kageyama would go on and score five service aces in a row in the Olympics. Looking back, they never talked about where their relationship fit into the big picture. The breakup that came three months after the confession shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

He’s buried in his covers, halfway to falling into unconsciousness, when his phone buzzes.

You in Miyagi?

He groans, eyes half-open, before typing sluggishly in response Yeah

Wanna go out and belatedly celebrate your birthday?
I should pay you back for the cake anyway.

Before he can hesitate, he types, Lazy. Come here instead

Much to his surprise, he receives two letters as an answer:

OK

 

Winter is the cold gust of air that hits his face when he opens the door to see Tsukishima on the other side. He doesn’t take in the other boy’s appearance, instead letting him in and shutting the door immediately. While in the family genkan, he watches the other boy take off his coat and change out of his shoes to wear slippers with a practiced ease. This isn’t Tsukishima Kei’s first time in the Kageyama household.

It takes a single glance for Kageyama to register the six-pack of beer that Tsukishima is holding. “You’re planning on getting drunk in my house?” Kageyama says dryly, pointing at the convenience store bags.

“Dragging you with me,” Tsukishima answers with a smirk. “I’m just kidding. I don’t even like beer. I just thought it would be fun since you turned twenty, like, two days ago.”

Kageyama nods mutely. He hadn’t had a single drop of alcohol in his life, because two days ago was volleyball practice and he hadn’t been allowed prior to then. When he took Tsukishima for coffee and cake back in Tokyo, the other boy had taken the liberty to order a Kahlua and milk for himself. He didn’t dare tell Tsukishima, but the other boy had been an adorable shade of pink after just one small glass.

There is a lack of thought that goes into the next few moments, because muscle memory leads them both to Kageyama’s room, with both of them sitting cross-legged on the bed covered with a navy-colored bedspread. It feels like old times, except there are six beers in the middle of them, and Kageyama takes one. He opens it, takes a swig, and scrunches his nose.

“This is disgusting,” Kageyama says, flinching. “And people wait twenty years of their lives to get their first taste of this shit?”

Tsukishima only laughs. “Yeah, I hate it too, I was just wondering if you’d like it.”

Kageyama takes another swig. “I don’t.” But waste is a foreign concept to him, and the bigger his gulps he finds that the cold air makes way to something that feels more like a soft summer. Or maybe it was just his heater.

If there’s one thing they mastered during their one year together, it’s the art of comfortable silences, of not saying a word in order to talk. They nurse their drinks silently, except even wordless communication with your ex shouldn’t include hand holds, and somehow, all of a sudden, Tsukishima’s fingers were laced around his.

“You don’t get to hold my hand,” Kageyama says with a slight hiccup. “You broke up with me.”

 

Tsukishima lets go with a start, because Kageyama had a point. There is no use getting carried away in the atmosphere of this room they spent a small chunk of their lives in. Kageyama is here on vacation; Tsukishima is here to visit a good friend. When the holidays end, this room will be empty, a two-hour shinkansen ride will separate the two of them, and winter will eventually make way to spring.

Somehow they’re both on their third beers—their last ones before they run out. Kageyama’s eyes are glassy; his own head feels dull. This was a severe miscalculation on his part, made even clearer when Tobio looks at him dead in the eyes, almost expressionless, but cheeks tinged pink with an alcohol-induced flush. His words cut straight to the point.

“What the hell are you doing in my room on Christmas eve, Tsukishima?”

There’s no correct way to answer this question without somehow fucking up. In Japan, Christmas is a day for lovers; if they make the short commute to Sendai they’d be greeted with an endless flood of couples on an evening stroll. They’re twenty, neither of them are stupid (as much as the taller boy would argue otherwise). But all over the world, an unwritten rule probably exists—ex-lovers should not be spending Christmas eve together.

He plays with his fingers on his lap, trying to formulate an excuse. What even would work well in this scenario? I missed you or I shouldn’t have broken up with you in the first place or Our Line conversations are the best part of my day on most days or Do you want to give us another chance?

All of those choices feel too heavy on his tongue.

He’d always preferred defense to offense, so—

“Why did you agree, your highness?”

Winter is the ten seconds of suddenly uncomfortable silence that settles when he asks the question. Winter is the deep blue of Kageyama Tobio’s eyes as he tries to hold his gaze. Winter is the hum of the air-conditioner on heater mode. Winter is the figurative splash of ice-cold water that hits him when Kageyama finally speaks.

“I’ve missed you.”

“You’re drunk,” Tsukishima deflects, stopping himself from letting out the I’ve missed you too on the tip of his tongue.

“Don’t just miss you when I’m drunk, you know,” Tobio answers. He sets down his can on the floor, sinks down to lay his back on his mattress and covers his eyes with his forearm. “This sucks.”

Tsukishima hates that he walked into his own trap. Unwanted feelings for Kageyama Tobio were easy to deal with when he could shelve them as impossibilities, easier to file away when he could pretend that it was all one-sided. Kageyama is a big-shot volleyball player, a star in his own right. As friends who lived prefectures away from each other he wasn’t privy to Tobio’s private life; the other boy could be dating random athletes and idols in Tokyo, and this was the artificial image he constructed in his head. That Tobio had someone else. That Tobio no longer felt anything for him.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have come here in the first place,” Kei says instead, starting to rise from the mattress. His movements jerk Tobio from his position, causing him to sit up and clutch at the sleeve of the taller boy’s shirt.

“Weren’t you listening? I want you here.”

The sincerity is too much for Tsukishima to handle, stopping him in his tracks. He didn’t listen to Kageyama’s silent protests when he started floating the idea of breaking up back in their third year of high school; chose not to hear the pleading undertones when he agreed to breaking up in that spring. Right now, he’s listening, and he wants nothing more than to stay here in this room, where seasons don’t matter, and distance and dreams can stay forgotten. In this room, they’re eighteen and they can be in love.

Still, Tsukishima doesn’t want to do anything wrong.

“Are you dating anyone right now?”

Kageyama pouts, looking away. “No time,” he says.

“So you won’t have time to date me,” Tsukishima answers, fingers moving to push Tobio’s face lightly to look at him.

“You won’t have time for me either,” Tobio answers defiantly, but keeps their gazes locked. “That’s why we broke up, remember?”

His head is cloudy, his decision-making skills are questionable, but all the words they’ve exchanged put context into the flirtatious messages they’d traded on Line, to the dinner invitation back when he was in Tokyo, to why he finds himself here, in Kageyama Tobio’s childhood bedroom at 6PM on Christmas Eve.

He moves his face closer, right hand still cupping Tobio’s cheek. “We have time now,” Tsukishima murmurs.

Tobio’s assent is something he feels more than he hears, as the setter’s eyelashes flutter against his cheek and their lips finally—after almost two years of wanting—meet in a tender kiss.

Winter is the warmth of a lover’s body pressed against his own.

 

 

spring, again

Spring is a season that creeps up on you in the form of warmer weather and longer days. It’s a season that’s mild, and gentle, and pleasant, but for the past two years the sight of the falling cherry blossoms had just caused him to think of his failed love. Spring is the way flowers fall.

They’d broken up in the spring of two years ago, because Tsukishima thought that it would be better to go on to their new lives unattached. I’m not sure I can handle long distance, he said. And the distance would just grow further because of the dreams they chose to chase. He really didn’t want to break up—why would he, when one of his fears was being alone—but he also didn’t want to hurt Kei.

“Let’s break up,” Kei had said.

Kageyama could only answer with a “Sure, but let’s be friends.”

 

Except: it’s difficult to be friends with someone you were never really just friends with. Their relationship had leapfrogged from a mutual hatred to making out in the gymnasium closet, and while probably “hatred” is an exaggeration, at least on his part he’s sure that the moment it dawns on him that he didn’t really want to kill Tsukishima is the same moment he realized that the middle blocker had the nicest amber eyes. Spring is the flowers that bloomed in his chest as the fact seemed to settle in his bones. They started dating in the spring, just as their third year began.

Spring is gentle, like the tone of voice Tsukishima uses to talk to him while they’re discussing how to solve a difficult problem during their tutoring sessions. Spring is warm, like the fire in Tsukishima’s eyes after spiking the perfect toss. Spring is lots of things irritating, like never knowing what to wear and the pollen in the air that makes his eyes water and the way Kei gets under his skin.

Spring is Kei’s Sure, I’ll go out with you mixed with Kageyama. Let’s break up. Spring becomes ambiguous.

 

They don’t settle what they are that winter night, because drunken actions are one thing, but drunken decisions are another. O-shogatsu comes and goes, volleyball takes over, and Tsukishima falls into a never-ending cycle of academic and sports-induced hell. There are new things: they now flirt shamelessly on Line, the good mornings and good nights from two years ago are suddenly restored. The mildly painful pining makes way to something sweet; instead of yearning for what he lost, he anticipates when they can meet again. Spring is as ambiguous as their lack of label, but it’s pleasant all the same.

 

When Tsukishima texts him that his coach is allowing the team to take a few days off for spring break, Kageyama knew immediately how to respond.

His fingers fly across his phone’s touchscreen. Take the damn train and get down here

The reply is swift: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a demanding asshole?

Kageyama smirks at his phone. You. All the time.

Why do you need me there anyway?
Your sister misses you. Come to Miyagi instead

Kageyama clicks his tongue as he reads Tsukishima’s reply. The thought of Miwa almost has him convinced, except when it comes to Kei he knows exactly how to get his way.

You ruined cherry blossoms for me two years ago. You fix it.

Tobio could feel Tsukishima’s eyeroll emanating from the response he receives. Fine, your majesty. I’ll be there in three days.

 

Kageyama drags Tsukishima to hanami viewing along the Meguro river. It’s crowded so there’s an excuse for their intertwined fingers: it would be troublesome if either of them get lost in the crowd. The sakura are nice, as they always are. He’s seen these flowers for twenty years of his life. What’s nicer is the warmth against his palm.

They pass by some food stalls, and Tsukishima wordlessly gets them karaage to share. When Kageyama sees the stall selling strawberry daifuku, he buys Kei a piece while ignoring Tsukishima’s protests of Oi, I’m not a child. Kageyama sees the way his eyes light up as his teeth sink into the mochi, petals fluttering around the other boy. Maybe spring is beautiful.

They walk past the crowds and Kei finds a spot behind a tree with hardly any people. Tsukishima stops on his tracks and faces Kageyama. His face is slightly pink.

“Oi. Let’s talk.”

“What do you want?” Kageyama asks, though he’s pretty sure he knows what’s coming. The flowers in his chest threaten to burst open.

Tsukishima looks left and right before crowding Kageyama against the sakura tree. He presses his lips against his. It’s soft at first, but then Kei swipes a tongue against the seam of his mouth, a silent plea to let him in. It hits him that all at once, Tsukishima is the heat of summer and the comfort of fall and the calmness of winter and the hope that comes with spring.

“I love you,” Tsukishima says softly against his mouth, for the first time in two years. “Let’s try again.”

Ah, that’s right. Flowers, flowers everywhere.

Spring is the season when everything starts again.