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Bokuto knew something was off as soon as he entered the apartment. He couldn’t place what it was, but there was a sense of wrongness about the tidy little vestibule, the faint smell of incense lingering in the hallway, but especially in the brief silence. “Hitoka-chan? I’m home!” he cried into that silence, kicking off his shoes and sliding into the cozy house slippers she had left out for him.

“Kou!” Relief washed over him as the blonde head of his angelic girlfriend poked around the corner, her face bright and flushed at the sight of him. She ran into his open arms and buried her face in his chest. He wrapped her in a tight embrace and inhaled of her deeply. How strange that he could come to miss the smell of citrus shampoo. “How was your trip?” she asked when he finally released her.

“It was awesome!” His heart swelled with excitement as he recalled his time abroad. Hitoka smiled warmly as he gesticulated wildly, telling her about the tough matches they were in, the places he’d seen, the antics the team got up to on their free days. She laughed at the story of Hinata falling into the Trevi fountain during the Italy circuit. “Rome was beautiful, Toka-chan,” he sighed. His hand found hers and he laced their fingers together, before bringing them to his mouth and giving her fingers a kiss. “Next time, I’ll take you with me. We’ll go, just us!”

In the not quite two years they’d dated, he had never once seen her hesitate the way she used to as a first year in high school. Her time as the Karasuno volleyball manager had really built her confidence and she had been so assured the day they ran into each other outside her university.

He'd been so surprised by how much she had grown in the years since he'd last seen her. The bright-eyed, golden-haired girl calling his name across the sidewalk was a far cry from the timid little volleyball manager he had known in high school. Her friends seemed more like that girl, all nervous titters and embarrassed blushes at her boldness in calling out to the spiker with so much exuberance in public. They couldn’t believe Yachi was really acquainted with a pro volleyball player.

“You know I was the manager of my high school volleyball club and some of my cohort went pro,” she had laughed at their objections. It wasn’t like they had been all that close, but Bokuto had felt a warmth at the familiarity of the sound. She set his heart with her next statement. “This guy was a great help to me in my first year. I was all nerves watching my team from the stands at Nationals but he was right there with encouraging advice that calmed me down.” Her radiant smile spiked it. “I often remember that match for our conversation as much as Karasuno’s victory.”

His teammates often teased him for falling too quickly. Maybe they had a point, but he didn’t even hesitate to ask her, “Do you want to go get some coffee?” He had meant it for right then and there, but it turned out neither of them were actually free in that moment. She still took him up on the offer and they exchanged contact info and set a date.

That chance meeting had led to many coffee dates, many more late night phone calls, several fancy dinners, and plenty of casual nights in together or out with friends. They went out with the team often, usually running into friends old and new. Bokuto loved that she got along so well with everyone. It helped that she was already acquainted with so many of them from high school. 

She had never been bothered by his erratic schedule, and had stuck with him through all of his mood swings. He’d never found anyone as adept at navigating his spirals as Akaashi, but Yachi did just as well. Sometimes she would bring Akaashi in to tag team him out of a particularly rotten funk, but never once did she abandon him.

Something in her current expression felt like an unexpected block. “That would be fun,” she said, her voice as calm and soothing as ever. Maybe he was just imagining it because he was tired, but he could swear there was an edge to her. She squeezed his hand reassuringly, allaying the growing unease that was building within him. “Why don’t you go freshen up? I’ll get dinner started.”

She pulled her hand from his and placed a light peck on his cheek. He watched her walk towards the kitchen, away from him. He shook his head. This was not the time for one of his mood swings. He was home with Hitoka-chan for the first time in six weeks. This was a happy occasion. “Right! I’m probably all sweaty from the flight. I’ll just be a few minutes!”

“Take your time and relax, Kou,” she giggled. “I’m not going anywhere.”

His face felt like it would burst from smiling. She was there, in the flesh, not just a voice halfway across the world. He could wait another twenty minutes to hold her all night. He really did need a shower. 

He dropped his bag off in her room and stripped out of his team-branded athletic gear. He dropped them into the washing machine on his way through the bathroom. The steamy water from the showerhead rinsed away his tension. There was nothing out of place about being home. He hummed an old fight song to keep his spirits afloat, just for good measure.

Draped in a towel, hair slicked back instead of spiked up, he returned to the room he shared with Hitoka. He had his own place of course, but he shared it with one of his teammates. After long trips in shared hotel rooms and hours of training sessions, the last thing he wanted to do was go home and spend any more time with Atsumu. Well, really, he knew Atsumu was the one who needed the break from him, and Sakusa wasn’t always willing to let the setter crash at his place for much the same reason. Bokuto loved his friends and his teammates, but even he knew he could be a handful at times. It wasn’t like he was ignorant of their feelings. And he was lucky enough to have a wonderful girlfriend who had her own place he could crash at whenever he wanted.

He knelt to open his drawer-HIS drawer-of the dresser to retrieve a clean outfit for the evening. At some point, he had begun to leave spare changes of clothes at her place. She teased him for always stuffing them in a corner or on a chair and allowed him to take over the bottom drawer of her dresser. “You may as well,” she had huffed, mock-exasperated. “You practically live here when you’re not overseas.”

His cheeks warmed at the memory of her put-upon pout as she said those words. The way his heart had swelled at her indirect invitation to move in. She’d had a spare key made as soon as they managed to disentangle themselves from each other long enough to have it made. Had it really been just six months ago?

As he pulled out a pair of jeans and his Way of the Ace t-shirt, something caught his eye in the corner by the closet. A volleyball jacket? That was unlike her. She usually took good care to hang up her jackets. Except it was the wrong color. He could feel his heart restricting again. Was she secretly a fan of the Kansai Devils? He shook his head again. They were minor league. Why should he feel jealous if she was supporting a small team outside his division? He had friends on that team! It wasn’t weird.

Still, he found himself bringing it with him out to the kitchenn “Hey, uh, Toka-chan? Since when do we have a Devils jacket?”

The edge was back. A crack between them, threatening to split, before she turned around with a fond smile. “Aya-chan let me borrow it the other day. I’d forgotten to check the weather before going over to her place to go over some designs and it got a lot colder than I was expecting.”

Again, relief washed over him. He didn’t know why he was so unnerved. There was nothing to worry about. He grinned. “Aya-chan must really love Kuroo, huh!” The jacket had his name emblazoned on the back. 

A pause. “Yup!” She turned back to check on the rice. “I really should return it to her,” she added softly.

Bokuto draped the jacket over the end of the couch and pulled out dishes to help set the table, watching her warily. Even on the off chance the jacket had belonged to his ex, that was ancient history. It wasn’t like Kuroo had any scandalous tales about Bokuto he hadn’t already told Hitoka-chan on nights they’d had him over for drinks and games. Stories that certainly hadn’t deterred her from continuing her relationship with Bokuto, nor strained their friendship with Kuroo. It wouldn’t have been odd for Kuroo to visit Hitoka-chan. They were like the Three Musketeers, after all, even when one of them was out of the country. 

Bokuto shivered. Maybe he’d caught a bug with all the traveling over the last few weeks. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong but Hitoka seemed perfectly normal. The apartment was as clean as usual. She had even tidied her workspace to match the spotlessness of the rest of the place. No, even her desk was always meticulously organized. That wasn’t out of the ordinary. So why did everything feel so...sterile? That was the word. He was sure of it.

She squeaked as he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind her, resting his chin on her head. “Kou-kun!” she sighed. “How am I supposed to finish dinner with you clinging to me like a barnacle?” Her scolding tone wasn’t serious, but even that had a clinical feel to it. 

“I’m just happy I can feel you in my arms again,” he said quietly, hugging her close. He was a very tactile person. He loved to touch and be touched in return. It had been a point of contention with several teammates over the years, and plenty of exes, but Hitoka had never once spurned his overbearing affections. With the negligible space between them, he couldn’t mistake the brief stiffening of her back against his chest.

Her head lolled back and she grinned up at him as she melted into his embrace. “I did miss this,” she said. Her face grew stern, but it was softened by her smirk. “There will be plenty of time for that later though. After dinner.”

He nodded, placing a light kiss on her forehead before releasing her to finish her preparations. He leaned on the wall to the side, out of the way. He watched her, relishing in the domesticity of it all. The way her eyes crinkled as she tasted the soup, the way she hummed as she tossed the vegetables in the wok, the habitual tucking of her hair behind her ear as it stubbornly refused to stay in place. He felt a desperate need to burn these tiny details into his memory. 

He helped bring the meal to the table as she finished, following her direction. Soon they were seated across from each other at the little table in their kitchen, enjoying a home cooked meal together for the first time in months. It was delicious. Everything was perfect. So why did he still feel like there was a net between them?

“You’re being uncharacteristically quiet tonight, Kou-kun,” she said, taking a bite of a hefty serving of rice that left a few grains on her lips. 

Something so normal, so endearing, he should be reaching across the table to clean them from her face, but he hesitated. The Devils jacket behind him felt like a lion, stalking its prey, lying in wait. He was certain her eyes had drifted to it at least twice while they ate. It was such a foolish thing to be concerned about. He laughed. If she noticed the shakiness of it, she didn’t comment. “I’m just being an idiot,” he admitted.

Her fond smile, the one she reserved for when he was being particularly self destructive, didn’t pack the punch it usually did. “About what, silly?” Was there a hint of poison to her honeyed reply?

“Well it’s just,” he paused, unsure of himself in front of her for the first time, ever. He swallowed hard. He had to say it. He couldn’t go on without knowing. “That jacket is too big to be Aya-chan’s.”

He wished he could take it back. Hitoka’s eyes widened and flickered to the intruding garment behind him. He wished he hadn’t seen the stupid thing. For a long heartbeat he could feel the gulf between them growing deeper. He wanted it to stop. She dropped her gaze to her plate, her shoulders tightening as she avoided his face.

He had to do something, anything, to salvage the night of their reunion. He reached across the table for her hand, but it was too little too late. She pulled away from him, eyes watering and still refusing to look at him. “I’m the stupid one,” her voice cracked.

“Toka, you’re not-”

“It is Kuroo’s jacket!” she shouted, closing her eyes to stem the flow of tears.

Bokuto’s hand hovered halfway towards her, trembling above the meal she had meticulously prepared for him. So it was Kuroo’s jacket, so what? He came over all the time. It wasn’t weird. Well, it was a little weird that it had been in their room, rumpled in the corner as if it had been tossed there and forgotten in the midst of-

No. He shook his head. His mind was running wild. That was ridiculous. He tried to laugh it off. “Then why didn’t you just say so?” He knew, even if his heart refused to accept it.

She opened her eyes and stared at him with confusion. No, confusion was the wrong word. It was incredulity on her face. “Koutaro, you do understand, don’t you?” 

He pulled his hand back and gripped his legs to keep from clenching his fists in frustration. He did understand. But she hadn’t said the words. He could deny it as long as she didn’t say it. “It’s fine,” he said. “Kuroo’s our friend, after all.”

She buried her face in her hands. He tried to ignore the sobs that escaped her, each one taking a breath from his lungs, too. “Kou, I’m sorry,” she wept. 

It wasn’t fair. His heart was the one breaking, but all he wanted was to dry her tears. “Hitoka-chan…”

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” she cried, meeting his eyes with guilt and shame. “I never meant for it to go so far. I was just missing you so much and Kuroo…,” she trailed off, rubbing her snotty nose on her sleeve. Bokuto didn’t want to hear any more. If she stopped, they could fix this. But she barreled on. “It wasn’t his fault. We had been drinking and commiserating—he missed you just as much—and I...I crossed a line.”

His stomach churned, their perfect reunion meal rotting in it with every word she spoke. “Please, no more,” he whispered.

“The next morning we were horrified, and we swore never to speak of it, but there was no going back to before.” She looked away again, face turned toward the ceiling as if that would stem the fluids dripping down her face. She closed her eyes and made the most pained expression he’d ever seen, one that reflected the turmoil in his heart. “I wish I could say it was only the one time, but it happened a few more times.”

He was on his feet. The loud scraping of his chair as he stood couldn’t cover the shattering of his heart. His hands clenched into fists at his sides. He could barely see the table through his tears. “How long?” he asked, surprised at how steady his voice came out.

He didn’t dare look at her as he waited for her response. “A month ago,” she said. That was Milan. “We were going to tell you,” she added. “Just, not while you were gone.” As if that made this any easier. He had already been written off. They had already decided. It was “them” now. It was over. He was all alone on the court.

He couldn’t stay. This was no longer his home. He barely heard her call his name as he turned and ran out the door.

* * *

Akaashi is familiar with Bokuto’s tears. He’d been witness to most of the man’s heartbreaks over the years. Bokuto loved quickly and deeply and it often overwhelmed his partners, or they felt second-best to volleyball and let the distance grow, or they couldn’t handle his infamous mood swings. He had watched, over and over, as Bokuto had his heart broken, and every time he had helped put the pieces back together. None of those puppy love heartbreaks could have prepared him for this.

The broken shell of a man standing in his doorway is not Bokuto Koutaro. This dead-eyed phantom had appeared after a surprising text asking if he could come up. Akaashi was sure Bokuto would have been with Hitoka-chan his first night back in the country, not barefoot, limp-haired, withering into a husk on Akaashi’s doorstep.

“Didn’t know where else to go,” he mumbled.

Akaashi ushered him in, throwing his shoulder under the older man’s arm before he could crumple to the floor. “What happened?” he asked, half dragging, half carrying Bokuto to the futon in his living room.

The spiker folded in on himself as soon as he was seated, burying his face in his hands as more sobs racked the broad shoulders beneath Akaashi’s gentle hand. “I’m not enough,” he wept. “Why am I never enough?”

Akaashi froze. It had been two years since he'd heard that particular refrain. He had come to believe he would never hear it again. Kaori-chan had been dazzled by the ace, but she had been far more interested in the idea of Bokuto than the man himself and had ended it after just a few weeks. It was one of the smoother recoveries he’d had, thanks in no small part to meeting Yachi-san again shortly after. Akaashi had hoped she would be the one to keep that phrase from escaping Bokuto’s lips ever again.

Watching the fallen star smoldering on his couch, Akaashi felt lost at sea. Usually Hitoka-chan would have given him a heads up if Bokuto was in one of his particularly bad moods, but even then she would have summoned him to their place before allowing Bokuto to run halfway across the city without his shoes. Akaashi winced as he saw the sorry state of Bokuto’s battered soles. What had compelled him to do something so foolish? “What makes you say that, Bokuto?”

Golden eyes, dim with anguish and puffy with tears peered up at him. His fingers trembled at his lips, trying and failing to suppress a pitying whimper. “Hitoka-chan,” he said, voice cracking. “And Kuroo.” He shook his head and buried his face once more.

“What about them?” Akaashi asked, feeling like he was dancing around a landmine that was primed to go off. Bokuto was dramatic and prone to self-destructing, but he wasn’t prone to jumping to conclusions. This was too much emotion to be a simple misunderstanding, but Akaashi didn’t want to jump to conclusions himself. He glanced at his phone on the coffee table. Did he dare reach for it to text either party? To get clarification? The knot forming in the pit of his stomach told him to wait.

“His jacket, in the bedroom,” he choked out between sobs. Akaashi felt bile rising in his throat. “She admitted it. They’ve been...they’ve been sleeping together since I was in Italy.” 

Akaashi’s blood ran cold. That didn’t make any sense. Hitoka-chan wasn’t a frivolous woman. She loved Bokuto as much as Akaashi did. She would never betray him so intimately. It was difficult to deny the evidence in front of his own eyes, though. And if Kuroo was involved, anything was possible. For as amicably as their relationship had ended, senior summer fling that it was, Akaashi knew that Kuroo had still held a flame for Bokuto for years. Not enough to sabotage his relationships, though, and he had been as happy as Akaashi when Bokuto had found Hitoka-chan again. When had that changed?

He buried those thoughts, and the dangerous emotions attached to them, deep within his mind. There would be time to sort them out later. Bringing Bokuto off the ledge was his first priority. Distraction had always been the best course of action in his earlier breakups, but this was uncharted territory. His longest relationship before Hitoka-chan had lasted five months. Akaashi tried not to think about how recently Bokuto had brought up the idea of proposing and how readily Akaashi had encouraged him. He counted it a blessing the man hadn’t had time to get a ring yet.

“Koutaro,” he said softly, tenderly combing long gentle fingers through soft, steel-colored hair that seemed far too ashen. Bokuto shuddered a sigh under the familiar calming tactic. “Your feet must hurt,” he said. “Sit tight for a minute, okay? I’m going to get something to clean them.” Bokuto nodded acknowledgement, grimacing with a muttered apology as he took notice of them as if for the first time.

Akaashi grabbed his phone to check the notifications on his way back to his bathroom. There was a frantic text from Atsumu, wondering if Akaashi knew where Bokuto was and if he knew what had happened with their star spiker and his beloved. There was a text from Hitoka-chan herself, asking if Akaashi had heard from him. He informed them both that Bokuto was at his place and assured them he would be taken care of. If he was more blunt in his reply to Hitoka-chan, well, it was the least she deserved. 

Yachi
Thank you. I’m sorry. [20:32]

He scowled at her reply. He wasn’t the one she needed to apologize to. As it stood though, he didn’t want Bokuto to see her any time soon.

He dug out his first aid kit and his foot bath. He didn’t use it as often now that he no longer played volleyball, but he kept it for special occasions when he wanted to relax. Tonight it would serve a slightly different purpose but no less important.

He brought the tub and supplies to the living room. Bokuto was still hunched over his knees, but his hands were busy. Akaashi nearly threw everything on the ground to grab Bokuto’s phone out of his hands. Very nearly. He held his composure though, and set the cleaning things on the floor with care. Bokuto’s eyes flicked towards him and he pulled the mobile towards his chest, looking for all the world like a kid who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Akaashi knelt in front of him. “Bokuto, perhaps we should leave our phones off for the night?”

“I just thought I would let Hitoka-chan know where I went,” he said. “I kinda just ran out without saying anything.”

“I’ve already talked to her,” he said, extending his hand in a nonverbal request for the device. “You both need some time to cool off right now.”

Bokuto’s lips quivered in protest, but he hung his head and acquiesced. Akaashi tucked the phone into his sweatshirt pocket. He would put the temptation away after he had dealt with the injuries to his friend’s feet. Thankfully, they appeared to be minor. Rinsing them in the foot bath, Akaashi discovered there was more mud than blood. Bokuto winced as Akaashi dabbed the numerous tiny scrapes with alcohol. He would be sore in the morning, but as long as he mostly stayed off of them he would be ok to practice again on Monday.

“You should know by now to take better care of your body,” he lectured while picking up the bloodied gauze and disinfectants. “The team would be devastated if you were to come to serious harm.”

Bokuto sighed. “I don’t know what came over me. I just panicked and had to get out of there.” Akaashi nodded understanding, even if he still didn’t fully understand how it had come to this. “I didn’t want to text her, by the way,” he said, pointing at the bulge in Akaashi’s sweatshirt where his phone was hidden. “I was going through our messages from when I was gone, trying to see where it went wrong, but it was all so... routine .”

“Bokuto…”

Bokuto slapped his thighs and rubbed them nervously. “It doesn’t matter though, right? I need to let it go. That’s what you’re going to tell me and you’re really smart.” His voice cracked and Akaashi didn’t have the heart to even agree with him.

“It’ll be alright,” he said softly. “It always is, isn’t it? It hurts for a little while, and then you find someone new. You’ll see.” He wasn’t even convincing himself, Akaashi realized. He didn’t want Bokuto to find anyone else. He didn’t want Bokuto to go through this pain ever again. How many more times would they have this same conversation? He found himself angry with Hitoka-chan again. She was supposed to have been the last one. He forced himself to stop fidgeting with his hands and resumed tidying up. “In any case, let’s forget about all of that tonight. We’ll order out, get drunk, and watch terrible movies, like we used to.” He paused, realizing the time. “Ah, you’ve probably already eaten though.”

Bokuto’s cheeks flushed and he scratched at one side rather sheepishly. “Well, I may have liberated the contents of my stomach in the plants at the gate before coming up.” Akaashi frowned at him, upset that he hadn’t said he’d been sick, though Bokuto seemed to take his displeasure for the location rather than the act. “I didn’t mean to! But it was either the potted plants or some granny’s rubbish bin.”

Akaashi shook his head with a light chuckle. “The plants, sadly, will probably survive. I’m proud of you for being so considerate in spite of being inconsolable, though. I’m sure my neighbor thanks you, too.” The corner of Bokuto’s lips twitched, almost pulling up into a grin. Akaashi felt himself getting lighter as Bokuto started to return to normal. He was bound to be volatile for several days, but Akaashi allowed himself a small, early victory. “I’ll order some food. Go get cleaned up. I’ve still got one of your toothbrushes in the cupboard if you want to brush your teeth.”

Bokuto grimaced as if he just remembered the vile aftertaste lingering in his mouth. “Yeah, I think I will. Thanks, Akaashi.” He got to his feet, already looking steadier than when he arrived. “You sure about the drinking, though? Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

Akaashi shrugged. “I don’t have any pressing deadlines this week. I will let Udai-san know I’m taking a day off. I can work from home in a pinch anyway.”

“I don’t want you to lose time because of me,” Bokuto whined. Akaashi fixed him with a stern glower and he flinched. The setter pointed a finger down the hall towards the bathroom. He would order the stubborn fool if he had to, but he also expected Bokuto to trust him to know what was best. The ace crossed his arms and pouted as he moved towards the hall. “I am older than you, you know.”

Akaashi smirked. “Of course.” Satisfied, he brought the foot bath to the kitchen and drained it in the sink, dropping the trash into the bin underneath. He pulled his phone out to let his boss know of his plans to take a spontaneous three-day weekend. He also texted Atsumu back, giving him the Cliff’s Notes of why Bokuto was staying with him, and assuring him their big hitter would be back to himself in no time.

Atsumu
What a shitty thing to do to someone you claim to love. You need us to do anything? [21:06]

Akaashi
[21:07] I’ll probably head over in the morning to get his belongings. Could use backup here to keep him distracted, and maybe an extra pair of hands. He hadn’t fully moved in, but he still has a lot of things there.

Atsumu
The Black Jackals are on it. Let me know what time you need us and we’ll be there. [21:08]

Akaashi felt a grin pull at his lips. Atsumu was a pain in the ass, but he was reliable when it came to his teammates, even when he didn’t always get along with them. Next, he ordered from their favorite take-out restaurant, locked the phone and put it in the junk drawer next to the fridge along with Bokuto’s phone. That one he turned off completely. One less temptation for the heart-broken spiker.

“Akaashi? Can I borrow some clothes? Mine got all sweaty from my run.” Bokuto’s pouty face appeared around the corner atop his incredibly finely toned, freshly rinsed, towel-clad body. It’s not an unfamiliar sight—the team often showered together after practice in high school and it wasn’t the first time he’d used the shower here—but for some reason the idea of Bokuto wearing anything of Akaashi’s made his stomach do flips. He must have had a weird expression on his face, because Bokuto tilted his head to the side and placed his hands on his hips. “You okay?”

He was very much not okay, but he would die before he would admit that. Not here, not now, not when he was doing his best to cheer his best friend up and make him forget about his broken heart. Akaashi’s own heart settled back down as he reminded himself that this was all for Bokuto’s sake. “Bokuto,” he sighed. “You have your own clothes in the closet, remember?” There had been plenty of instances over the years where Bokuto had stayed over and forgotten to take his laundry home with him. He would come get them another time, only to inevitably leave different clothes behind.

Grey eyebrows shot up nearly to his widow’s peak. “I still have clothes here?” He slapped a hand to his forehead and his towel slipped further down his hips. “I’m sorry Akaashi. I always forget.” He stared at the ceiling for a moment, lost in some deep thought. Akaashi was grateful for the quiet moment to reset himself. “Ah!” Bokuto exclaimed. “This is a sign!” He didn’t elaborate. He thanked Akaashi and disappeared back down the hall to Akaashi’s room to get dressed.

As soon as he was out of sight, Akaashi let out a quiet breath. He had forgotten the other man had a terrifying gravity. He needed to be more careful or he would get pulled in too deep. He had contented himself with just being in his orbit, certain that he could never shine as brightly as that star and having no desire to. Now though, he found himself reaching towards that light, wishing to draw it towards him once again.

He finished cleaning up in the living room as Bokuto returned with the towel draped over his head, wearing sweatpants and an old club T-shirt. “I wondered where these were,” he said. The shirt was not remotely as baggy on him as it had been back in high school. Akaashi was honestly amazed that it fit at all with the way he filled it out.

He looked comfortable and relaxed, though, and Akaashi realized he was still in his professional attire from working at the office. “I should probably go get changed too,” he announced. Bokuto settled onto the couch with a hummed agreement.  Akaashi eyed him warily for a moment, gauging his mood before he left. Which was foolish, given the circumstances of his visit and the fact that Akaashi wouldn’t be gone long.

He changed into athletic pants and a tank top, switching out his work sweatshirt for a fresher one out of the closet. His old Fukurodani VBC jacket still hung in there. He didn’t grab it, despite the nostalgia urging him to. Just like old times, but not that old, he thought to himself, ruefully.

“What do you want to drink?” he called as he returned to the kitchen, opening the cabinet with his barware.

“Doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re having, I guess.”

Well that was a dangerous proposition. He checked his liquor cabinet to see what he even had. He didn’t want to kill Bokuto, but he did want him to be able to unwind. There was a bottle of whiskey with about six shots left in it. Might as well polish it off between them while they waited for their food to arrive and then stick to beer for the rest of the night. He had a couple six-packs in the fridge.

Drinks in hand, toasts made (to the bachelors of the world), they fired up Netflix and found a low-rated movie to put on. Something about birds attacking and causing an apocalypse because of climate change. They fell into an old routine of running commentary and easy conversation. Akaashi asked him about his matches in Europe, Bokuto regaled him in wild hyperbole. Bokuto inquired after Akaashi’s work, how was his family, if he was seeing anyone yet. That last seemed to concern him greatly.

“We gotta find you someone, dude,” he said around a mouthful of barbequed beef. “We’ll hit the club, I’ll be your wingman! It’s about time I returned the favor, don’tcha think?” 

Akaashi had no interest in clubbing or meeting the potential romantic partners he might encounter there. But he didn’t want to discourage the other man either, so he nodded without explicitly agreeing. Instead he said, “When you’ve had time to process, we can go wherever you want.”

Bokuto leaned his head back against the wall, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Is it weird that I don’t hate them?” Akaashi blinked at the sudden question. He shouldn’t have been surprised that the conversation would eventually turn to the ones who had hurt Bokuto, but Akaashi had meant for the ace to forget about them for the night. “It hurts,” he went on. “I love her so much. But I love Kuroo, too, and I’ve always wanted the people I love to be happy. If they’re happy together, is it ok for me to be happy for them?”

It was another thing about Bokuto that Akaashi couldn’t understand. He had no illusions the older man was moving on so quickly, but the quickness with which he justified the wrongs done against him made Akaashi’s heart ache. “It is,” he said, even though he didn’t think he could ever forgive an ex so fast. “But it’s also okay to feel hurt by it. You deserved better than that and they shouldn’t get their happy ending at the expense of yours.”

Bokuto’s lip quivered before he threw his arms around Akaashi’s neck and proceeded to squeeze the life out of him. “Akaaaaashi!” he cried. “Why are you so good to me! You always know just what to say!”

He patted the biceps draping him like a shawl, partly in comfort but also partly in surrender. “How many matches did I have to straighten you out in high school?” he teased.

Bokuto gaped at him, indignant for a fraction of a second before turning into a pout. He released Akaashi and folded his arms across his chest. “Well I got over that, didn’t I?” He winked to take the sting out of his words and Akaashi’s heart skipped a beat again.

Conversation returned to commentary on the movie. The special effects were atrocious, and Bokuto laughed at the ridiculousness of the animation used for the demon birds. They started taking sips of their drinks every time the badly animated creatures appeared on screen. By the end of the film, they both had a steady buzz going.

Akaashi got up to get another beer. His hand paused on the way to the fridge as he glanced at the junk drawer. He knows it’s ill-advised, but he’s angry as he remembers Bokuto’s coping logic. He dug his phone out of the drawer. He unlocked it and opened his messaging app, scrolling to his last conversation with Kuroo. They didn’t talk regularly, usually reserving communications to group chats with Hitoka-chan and Bokuto for game nights. He was surprised to see Kuroo’s last text to him had been one such message, a spontaneous movie night to “cheer up our favorite girl.” Akaashi had declined because he’d had a massive deadline looming. Had this been his fault? If he had gone with Kuroo that night, would he and Hitoka-chan still have made their way into each other’s arms?

“‘Kaaaashiiiii,” Bokuto cried from the living room. “What’s takin ya?”

Akaashi relaxed his white-knuckled grip on his phone. No. They had made their choice. If they couldn’t control themselves without a third party present, it was only a matter of time before they found another way. This thought did nothing to quell his anger.

Friday, April 9, 20XX

Akaashi
[18:03] Apologies, I am busy with work tonight. Perhaps next time? I leave Hitoka-chan in your care.

Kuroo
Shame. We’ll miss you. [18:05]

Thursday, May 13, 20XX

Akaashi
[23:51] I hope you’re happy

He turned his phone off and tossed it back in the drawer to join Bokuto’s. He didn’t need to wait for a response. He didn’t trust himself to hold back regardless of how Kuroo responded. The only thing keeping Akaashi from storming over there and knocking his lights out was the heart-broken drunk currently moping on his couch. No matter his personal feelings, Bokuto came first. Bokuto had always come first.

He grabbed another beer from the fridge and returned to the living room. He smothered a chuckle at the sight of Bokuto laying upside down, bandaged feet up on the wall and head down hanging off the edge of the futon, his hair standing up as if he had styled it like usual. His cheeks were rosy, as much from gravity as from the alcohol. His eyes brightened when he saw Akaashi come into the room. The knot in Akaashi’s stomach began to unravel as the light returned to his star’s eyes. The spiker flashed a wide, toothy grin. ”’Kaaashi! You’re on the ceiling!”

It was such a simple thing, but if Bokuto could still smile that brightly, in spite of the worst heartbreak of his life, Akaashi knew he would be alright. The next few days were going to be wild, but he would do everything in his power to bring Bokuto through it. He would do as he had always done. For tonight, they would drink to forget, and in the morning, they would take the next step towards the future.

He allowed a fond smile to form on his face as he played along. “Am I?” he asked, looking around him curiously, glancing up at the actual ceiling with mock confusion. “How did I get up here?” Bokuto snickered. It was a far lovelier sound than the sobs he’d begun the night with. Akaashi pinned him with a questioning smirk. “Are you sure I’m the one on the ceiling, and not you?”

He nodded, straining his neck against gravity. “I would know. I put the room upside down.”

“Ah.” Akaashi placed his hands on his hips and gave him a stern frown. “Could you put it back? I don’t think my landlord would appreciate everything being topsy-turvy.”

“But Akaaaaashi, it’s more fun this way!” he giggled, throwing his hands above his head so they hung off the couch too. “You should try it!”

Akaashi shook his head with a chuckle of his own. “But Bokuto, how will I get down?”

The older man blinked a few times, then his mouth fell open as if he just realized the flaw in his prank. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Akaashi with finger guns. “You’ll be safe if you come sit down! The couch is on the ceiling too! It’s really not all that different from before.”

The former setter chuckled again, and returned to the couch. Bokuto rolled his hips so that his legs fell back to the couch and sat up enough to drop his head into Akaashi’s lap, sending the younger man’s heart into his throat. It wasn’t a new thing; over the years, Bokuto had often relaxed while leaning on Akaashi in various positions, including resting his head in Akaashi’s lap. But he hadn’t done so in a long time, and Akaashi had all but forgotten what that view did to him.

Two-toned hair splayed lazily against his thighs, lips quirked in a soft, secretive grin, glistening, golden eyes gazing up at him as if he were the most important person in the world. Akaashi is uncomfortable in the spotlight of that gaze, but he also savors it because he knows it won’t last. Bokuto will find another. He always does.

A firm hand on his cheek snaps him out of his stupor. “Why do you always look so sad, Keiji?”

The use of his given name shocks him as much as the question. “Why do you think I look sad?” he asked in as level a tone as he could muster given the turmoil in his chest.

Bokuto frowned. Akaashi had to resist the sudden urge to kiss those pouty lips. “I’m always causing you trouble and yet you've always been here for me. I’m sorry. It must be hard to always have to pick me up when I fall.”

Akaashi sighed. He took the spiker’s hand from his face and gave it a gentle squeeze. He leaned forward, letting his head fall so that his forehead rested gently against Bokuto’s. “The only thing that’s hard on me is seeing you hurt. You have always been enough for me. I will always be here for you.”

They stayed that way for a long moment, time seemingly frozen as the quiet stretched between them. It’s finally broken by a quiet sob from Bokuto. Akaashi lifted his head and the older man turned, burying his face in Akaashi’s Black Jackal hoodie, slipping his arms around his former setter’s waist. Akaashi let him cry, gently rubbing his back and whispering encouragement. He knew it wouldn’t be the last time Bokuto would cry over the next few days. It might not even be the last time tonight. But Akaashi is familiar with Bokuto’s tears, and he knows that eventually he’ll be alright.

* * *

The morning after his breakup with Hitoka, Bokuto woke up on Akaashi’s couch. Specifically, he woke up on Akaashi’s chest on Akaashi’s couch. His memory of the night was hazy and his head was full of cotton. Had they started the night with whiskey? He couldn’t shoot whiskey. He always did stupid things when he drank whiskey. Had he done something stupid with Akaashi? He vaguely remembered the younger man’s face being incredibly close to his, speaking things he’d desperately wanted to hear. After that was a blur of tears and the flickering light of the TV. He did not remember the second movie they put on, though he felt like it was a Disney movie. Akaashi knew him best, after all.

The other man stirred, stretching his arms above his head and cracking his jaw with a powerful yawn. Bokuto scrambled to sit up, but they were pretty well entangled under the blanket. “Uh, mornin’,” he greeted.

Akaashi nodded, not really awake yet. He settled his arms back around Bokuto with a sigh. Then his eyes snapped open, steely blue meeting gold, and his face flushed redder than Bokuto had ever seen it. Cute, he thought before he could catch himself. He’d always found Akaashi remarkably beautiful, but this was the first time he could remember ever seeing him so flustered.

“Did you sleep well?” Akaashi asked, interrupting his reverie.

Bokuto nodded. “Did you?”

There was a heartbeat of hesitation before the other man answered. “I did. Surprisingly well, actually.” He pushed them both back up to a seated position and Bokuto was able to extricate himself from the blanket. “You were sleeping so peacefully, I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Oh. Well, thank you,” he said. He ran his hand through his hair. “I couldn’t have imagined being able to sleep like that after…,well, after what happened.”

They sat in silence again, Akaashi watching Bokuto the whole time. The thought that he’d definitely done something stupid kept running through his mind. What had he done? Was it something he’d said? “Bokuto,” Akaashi began, but whatever else was going to follow it got caught up in a cacophony of voices outside the door.

The MSBY Black Jackals were at Akaashi’s door bearing coffee and donuts. “Morning gentlemen,” Atsumu declared. “We got tired of waiting for you to answer your damn phones.”

Hinata and Oliver stayed behind while Akaashi, Tsumu, and Sakusa left to go get his belongings for him. Tsumu promised to clock Kuroo if he saw him, but Bokuto insisted that would not make him feel better. He was grateful to his friends for having his back, though. 

Life returned to normal pretty quickly. It was odd how easily that hole in his heart could be ignored. The biggest difference from before was his nights were quieter. More dinners alone, no late night phone conversations, a cold space next to him when he slept. He threw himself back into training and practice, spent more time at his apartment with Atsumu, distracted himself with pressers and interviews and charity events.

The interviews were difficult at first. A tabloid had gotten wind of his breakup and blasted his exes in a scathing article. He’d had to quash that pretty early, but it was still a hot topic at every presser. How was he doing? Had he found anyone new? Did he want to? What he wanted was to talk about volleyball and the team and their various community outreach programs. It took a few weeks, but eventually they stopped asking him about his breakup.

The other effect the article had, though, was an influx of fan mail and confessions. He couldn’t go to the market without at least three people asking if they could be the one to fill the void. Why did they always have to phrase it like that? He didn’t need to fill it anyway. He would find someone new on his own time.

On his bad days, he ended up at Akaashi’s. His best friend always knew the perfect remedy to bring him back. They never talk about the night his relationship ended, though. Which is fine. It’s not like he thinks about it much. Not the way Akaashi looked at him or how it made his heart race or how at home he’d felt in the setter’s arms. He never thinks about it until he’s alone in his apartment or staring out the window of a long flight to a tournament half the world away.

He doesn’t think about it much when he’s spending the night after returning from one of those distant tournaments. It barely crosses his mind when they have dinner together a few nights a week. It doesn’t even occur to him when he’s calling him at all hours to share his latest adventures.

It’s not until a year later when he’s laying on his bed tossing the small box from Italy above his head that he realizes how much of an idiot he is. He bolts upright and grabs his phone. Akaashi will be home in an hour. He slips on his running shoes and darts out of his apartment, ignoring Atsumu’s cries asking where he was rushing off to.

He was cooling down on the steps of Akaashi’s apartment building when the object of his intentions appeared. He leapt to his feet and waved. “Hey, hey, hey! Akaashi!”

Akaashi took in his gym clothes and sweaty hair and he chuckled. “Did you just drop by after a run?”

“Something like that!” He grabbed Akaashi’s hands and held them tightly. The younger man frowned at them suspiciously. “Listen! I figured it out!”

Akaashi’s face softened in the way it always did when he’s humoring Bokuto. “What’d you figure out?”

“You were right!”

Akaashi narrowed his eyes, remaining skeptical. “I usually am,” he said slowly. “But about what, specifically?”

“It’s alright. You said it’d be alright someday. I’m alright!”

Akaashi smiled. “That’s good to hear.”

“But that’s not all,” Bokuto went on. “I figured out why it’s alright!”

“Would you like to come up and tell me inside?”

“Oh,” Bokuto said. “Right, sorry.” He’d just ambushed Akaashi on his way home from work. But he was too excited to keep still about it. Still, he’d waited this long. A few more minutes wouldn’t hurt.

“So,” Akaashi said, kicking off his shoes and loosening his tie. “Why is it alright?”

“Because of you.”

Akaashi froze. “Me?”

Bokuto nodded happily, digging the small box out of his pocket. “I was an idiot and I bought this for the love of my life when I was in Italy.”

Akaashi groaned and wiped his hand down his face. “Bokuto. You never told me you got a ring. I thought you were going to wait until after Italy.”

“Yeah, well, you’re like 90% of my impulse control and you weren’t there.” Akaashi glowered at him. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Ok, so she obviously wasn’t the love of my life. I didn’t know the true love of my life yet, but I held onto this in case the day ever came that I found them.” 

“Bokuto, what are you talking about?”

“You! I’ve already said it, haven’t I?” Akaashi’s eyes flicked to the box and widened. “It’s always been you, Keiji. It just took me a while to figure it out. I’m sorry.” 

Akaashi’s face turned bright red, brighter even than the morning everything had changed. He was definitely cute like that. Bokuto grinned and Akaashi had to bury his face in his hands. “You really are an idiot,” he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. He exhaled slowly. “Koutaro. Usually you date someone before you propose to them.”

Bokuto tilted his head to the side. “What do you call the last 10 years, then?” Akaashi made a strangled sound and Bokuto laughed. “Hey, hey, hey, I’m kidding!” He tucked the box back in his pocket and took Akaashi’s hands in his, lacing their fingers together as if they had always done so. “I’ll hold off on proposing then. But at the very least, tell me I’m not crazy and you love me too?”

Akaashi pursed his lips and nodded his head as tears filled his eyes. “You are crazy,” he said, “but I might just be crazier because I do love you, too.”

Bokuto’s heart felt like it would pound straight out of his chest. “Hey, hey, hey!!” he cheered, spinning and pumping his fist in the air like he’d just scored. And really, in a way, he had. Akaashi shook his head and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him in to kiss him with all the feelings he’d held back since they were kids. It had been a really roundabout way to get there, but as they drank each other in, Bokuto couldn't help but think that yeah, they would be alright.