This is the tenth time it’s happened. Tadashi has been counting.
The first was Ikeda-san, which made sense, because she sat behind Tsukki in class. She was friendly, and Tadashi had absolutely no reason to get so annoyed when she asked him, “Is Tsukishima-kun single?”
The next was Masuda-san, and then Chiba-san, and then—well, six more girls, all of them from Class 4 or 5. And they were all perfectly nice, and Tadashi really couldn’t fault them in any way, but after every time one of them asked him about Tsukki, he couldn’t look at them the same way. It was just, well, Tsukki wasn’t even interested, probably—he wasn’t interested in anything, really, except paleontology and maybe volleyball. And also, Tadashi was sort of. Jealous. In a way that he hadn’t really thought much about, and wasn’t going to think about if he could possibly help it.
But this is the tenth time—it’s lunch and he’s in Class 1 to pass something on to Hinata when a girl comes up to him and asks if she can talk to him for a moment. Tadashi instinctively assumes that she’s going to ask about Tsukki, and he realises that maybe he ought to think a bit about this jealousy thing.
“Can I ask you about something?” she says.
He doesn’t know her name, but she’s kind of tall, and she looks very determined. Tadashi tries not to let it intimidate him.
“Of course,” he says, forcing a smile.
“You’re friends with Kei-kun, right? The tall guy with the headphones? Do you know if he’s single?”
Tadashi sees red.
No-one calls Tsukki “Kei.” Tsukki seems like he’s spent a lot of time cultivating the impression that he doesn’t even have a given name, so Tadashi’s not even sure how this girl knows it. Tadashi sort of feels like, if anyone should get to call Tsukki by his given name, it should be him. He doesn’t know if he’s been this angry since Tokyo—except there’s a bit of a difference between being angry at Tsukki, and being angry about Tsukki—so Tadashi reasons that he can’t be held accountable for anything that leaves his mouth when he’s in this state.
“No?” the girl echoes. “No, he’s not single?”
“Did I say that?” Tadashi says, backing into a desk.
“You did,” the girl says. “You said Kei-kun isn’t single!”
There it is again—Kei-kun. Tadashi grips the edge of the desk and hopes he isn’t blushing. He’s probably blushing.
“Well, he’s not single,” Tadashi says.
To her credit, the girl’s face doesn’t fall even for a second, and if anything she just looks more determined. “Who’s he going out with, then?” she asks.
“Who do you think!” Tadashi blurts.
If Tadashi could watch her face in slow motion, he’d get to take in every moment of angry turning to surprised turning to understanding, and then back to angry. Instead, he has to settle for mirroring her gasp. He's probably more shocked by his words than she is.
“No!” she exclaims.
Tadashi has never experienced feeling terrified and elated at the same time. It’s kind of nice. “Yeah,” he says. “So, uh, if you don’t mind, I, uh, have to get back, now…”
“O-of course!” she says.
Tadashi tries not to think about the fact that he hears her voice calling Hinata’s name. He practically sprints down the corridor back to the classroom, trying to pretend that he didn’t just tell a stranger that he’s going out with Tsukki.
He definitely just told a stranger that he’s going out with Tsukki.
The pride he’d felt in telling the lie has passed, and he stops outside the classroom and presses his back against the wall. He tries to steady his breathing and make it seem like he hasn’t been running. Act natural, Tadashi! Tsukki is just on the other side of the wall, and he doesn’t know anything about what just happened. In fact, Tadashi hasn’t told him about any of the girls asking about him. It’s probably for the best.
Wiping a hand across his forehead, Tadashi pulls himself up straight and walks into the classroom.
Tsukki’s already finished eating, and he’s listening to music by himself at his desk. He’s got a frown on—the frown that means he’s not exactly annoyed about anything, but that he’s sitting right on the edge of the potential to become annoyed. It’s the “tread carefully” frown, so Tadashi takes a deep breath and treads carefully.
Tsukki raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t reply. He’s probably listening to one of his favourite songs.
“I was just down in Class 1,” Tadashi continues, unperturbed.
Tsukki pulls a face like he wouldn’t even be seen dead near the non-college prep classes and pushes his headphones down and around his neck. “Hinata?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Tadashi says. And, because he’s on a roll with shooting his mouth off today, he keeps talking. “And this girl I don’t know tried to talk to me about you.”
“Why would she want to do that?” Tsukki asks.
Tadashi rolls his eyes. “Take a guess,” he says.
Tsukki looks up at the ceiling, then back down at Tadashi. “I’ve got nothing,” he says.
Tadashi just sighs, and gets his lunch out of his bag. “Tsukki is so oblivious,” he says to himself.
“I heard that,” Tsukki says, and they share a smile. Tadashi thinks that maybe he would understand why all those girls were interested in Tsukki if they’d ever seen him smile. But they haven’t, or at least, Tadashi doesn’t see how they ever could have.
“Come back to mine after practice,” Tsukki says suddenly. “There’s a documentary on about insect sociology; we can watch it over dinner.”
Tadashi can think of nothing less appetising than a documentary about insect sociology, but he nods and smiles anyway. “Sounds like fun!”
It’s not that it’s a bad day, because Kei has an objective measure of what does and what doesn’t constitute a bad day, and this doesn’t come close. But there’s something weird happening. It starts being weird when he realises that he actually can’t work out why some girl in Class 1 would have asked Tadashi about him, and it gets weirder at volleyball practice.
He passes Hinata on the way to the gym, and Hinata stops in his tracks and points a finger at him, mouth hanging open. “You look like a dead fish,” Kei tells him.
“A lucifer dogfish?!” Hinata shouts, dropping his hand and bouncing up and down on his heels.
Kei narrows his eyes. “I don’t know whether it’s impressive or pathetic that you remember that,” he says. “Wait, yes I do—it’s pathetic.”
Hinata, typically, pays no attention to his criticism. “I’m not a lucifer dogfish,” he continues, “yet. But watch out for Yachi! She’s probably going to kick you!”
And with that, he dashes ahead into the gym. Kei stares after him, trying to work out what he could have done to make Yachi kick him. He reasons that Hinata was probably joking.
He turns around slowly, because, if he acknowledges that Tadashi calling his name is pretty much the only thing that will get his attention, it’d be like giving in. Yachi is at Tadashi’s heels, looking furious, and Tadashi looks so embarrassed that he could crawl into a hole and never come out—although, to be fair, he looks like that at least three-fifths of the time.
“I will have words with you later,” Yachi says, trying her very best to look threatening. Bless her, she’s trying very hard to live up to Shimizu-senpai, but she can’t quite make boys fall at her feet yet. She walks past Kei in a huff, and leaves Tadashi standing by his side.
“What was all that about?” Kei asks.
“Ah!” Tadashi says, rubbing the back of his head. “About that. She’s angry at you, well, because—well, um, she’s not really angry at you, actually, I think she’s angry at me too, but it’s nothing too—”
Tadashi breaks off and smiles like he’s actually relieved that Kei’s interrupted him, like he’d rather not finish that disjointed sentence.
“You talk too much,” Kei says. He starts walking towards the gym. “Let’s go.”
“Sorry, Tsukki!” Tadashi says.
Kei hasn’t been keeping a count of how many times Tadashi’s said those exact words, but hypothetically, if he had been keeping such a count, he would have lost count well into the thousands.
He thinks that maybe the weirdness will stop as soon as he gets onto the court, but if anything, it just gets weirder. Kageyama gives him and Tadashi a dirty look when they enter the gym, and flat-out refuses to toss to Tadashi, mumbling something about “where his hands have been.” Ennoshita tries to apologise for Kageyama’s behaviour by offering to give Tadashi some extra tossing practice after hours, which Kei respectfully declines on his behalf—they have plans, after all, and Kei would hate to miss the documentary because he was waiting so that they could walk home together. But for some reason, what he says to Ennoshita sets Tanaka and Nishinoya off, and they don’t stop laughing for a good five minutes, until Ennoshita puts them back in line.
When they stop for a break, Kei pulls Tadashi aside. “What’s gotten into this lot today?” he asks.
It was sort of a rhetorical question, but Tadashi answers anyway. “I don’t know,” he says, in a way that implies that he probably does know, but he’s trying to protect Kei’s feelings, or something stupid like that—which would not be surprising, because he’s done that before.
Kei shrugs like he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t really care. It’s not like the rest of the team acting stupid is something new, anyway. He tries to forget about it for the rest of practice, but it’s sort of hard when Hinata and Yachi keep glaring at him, and Kageyama’s still acting like Tadashi’s caught the plague. And every now and then, Nishinoya gives Kei a thumbs up, and he doesn’t quite know what to make of that.
The whole team leaves at the same time, but Kei and Tadashi break off from the group at their usual corner. Everyone else is getting food at the Foothill store, but Kei’s mum always makes nicer food when Tadashi comes over.
“I never did find out why Yachi’s angry at me,” he muses, unlocking the front door and sliding off his shoes.
Tadashi doesn’t reply.
As he’d predicted, Tadashi could barely bring himself to eat during the documentary, even though Tsukki’s mum always makes the nicest food. He tries not to let on that he’s hungry, though, because it’s worth it just to see Tsukki get so excited about something. They go up to his room afterwards, Tadashi trailing behind Tsukki as he babbles about the complex social structures of termites—it’s nice to hear him sounding so passionate, even if thinking about termite nests does make Tadashi’s head spin a bit.
Tsukki lies down on his bed, and Tadashi lies on the floor and puts his feet up on the bed—it’s a configuration they’re used to. Tadashi knows Tsukki’s ceiling almost as well as he knows his own.
“—and I didn’t know that, before,” Tsukki concludes, summarising his many feelings about termite society.
“Oh,” Tadashi says, trying desperately to sound like he’d followed a single word of the conversation. “Um.”
He knows he’s usually a good listener, so he’s really letting himself down today, but he can’t stop thinking about how differently everyone in the volleyball club was acting after Hinata had spread the gossip. Was it really so weird that he and Tsukki might be going out? They already spent all their spare time together, at each other’s houses, and they walked to and from school together every day.
Maybe—just maybe—what was stopping people from seeing it as natural was that Tsukki is different when he’s alone with Tadashi. He smiles more, he talks more, he even laughs occasionally. Tadashi wonders if Tsukki’s ever been jealous when he talks to Yachi-san, or other girls. He wonders if anyone’s ever called him “Tadashi-kun,” and if it’s ever made Tsukki angry.
He wonders why he’s never called Tsukki by his given name.
“Yamaguchi,” Tsukki says. “Did you fall asleep?”
“Nah,” Tadashi says, “I’m awake.”
He pauses, a momentous decision on the tip of his tongue. “Um, Kei-kun?”
The silence is so loud that Tadashi feels like his ears are buzzing. Tsukki doesn’t respond for a very long time, and Tadashi stares at the ceiling, scared that if he blinks, the world will end.
“Don’t ever call me that again,” Tsukki says.
Tadashi lets out a breath. “Kei,” he tries. “Is that better?”
Tsukki laughs, and Tadashi wishes he could see his face to gauge what type of laugh it is. “Better,” Tsukki says, “is relative.”
“Right,” Tadashi says. “Kei.”
“This is stupid,” Tsukki says. “I’ve already had to get used to one of your dumb names for me.”
“‘Kei’ isn’t just some dumb nickname,” Tadashi says, “it’s your name.”
He’s feeling bold.
“And it’s about time you got used to it.”
“Alright,” Tsukki says.
Tadashi waits for him to reply, but he doesn’t, he’s just silent, and Tadashi feels like screaming.
It’s almost ten minutes later when Tsukki—when Kei clears his throat.
Tadashi is so shocked that he doesn’t react for maybe ten more minutes. And then he laughs.
“Shut up, Tadashi,” Kei says.
Tadashi is so happy he could cry. He doesn’t cry, though, because that would be pathetic, and Kei would probably scoff at him, so he keeps laughing. “Sorry, Tsukki,” he says, more as a reflex than anything else.
“No, that’s not fair,” Kei says, “you can’t just tell me you’re going to call me by my name, and then go back to ‘Tsukki.’”
“Sorry, Kei,” Tadashi says, his laughter finally fading. “Why can’t I call you both?”
“Pick one and stick to it,” Kei says. It sounds like he’s trying to be serious, but Tadashi can hear the amusement in his voice. He wishes, again, that he could see Kei’s face, just to see how close he is to a smile. He’s right there in the same room—it’s pathetic that he hasn’t done anything about it yet, so he pulls his feet off the bed and sits up, leaning on the edge of the bed.
Kei turns his head away, which means he’s smiling. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose, but they can’t go any higher, which means he’s trying to distract himself.
Tadashi feels oddly like he’s succeeded—even though there are still at least ten girls with crushes on Kei, and countless more who have now been informed that they’re going out, even though they’re not, which is something Tadashi wishes he could fix—even though he might not have the prize, he’s still won first place.
Kei wakes late that morning, his phone buzzing by his bedside.
Good morning, Kei! Don’t be late!! (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑
Tadashi does this thing sometimes where he seems to know exactly what Kei is doing at any given moment—he’ll occasionally get texts reminding him that staying up past midnight reading about cephalopods on wikipedia is not going to get him into college, or that sleeping in because he stayed up past midnight reading about cephalopods on wikipedia is going to make him late to school.
lazy, Kei texts back, rolling over and shoving his head into the pillow.
It isn’t long before he gets a reply. I’ll be outside your house in fifteen minutes! And if you don’t eat breakfast I’ll know!
Kei relents, and pulls himself out of bed. He’s stupidly tired, and he thinks it’s because of the prospect of facing another day like yesterday. He’s barely finished dressing when the doorbell rings, and he checks the time on his phone—exactly seventeen minutes.
“Did you eat?” Tadashi asks.
“Shut up,” Kei says.
Tadashi hums to himself. “Oh well,” he says. “You can have some of my bento if you get hungry.”
“Unlikely,” Kei says.
They walk together in silence, and by the time they make it to school, Kei feels like maybe today won’t be so weird. That is, until a group of five or six girls swamp them as soon as they pass the gates and drag Tadashi away. Kei hears him screech “Ikeda-san, no!” before he’s so far away that he can’t hear a word they’re saying.
He also doesn’t hear Yachi approach him from behind.
“Tsukishima-kun,” she says, “you really have to keep better watch over him!”
Kei looks down, a little startled. Yachi is so much shorter than him, it’s like talking to his feet. “Yamaguchi can take care of himself,” he says, almost defensively.
Yachi pulls a face like he’s being unbelievably dense. “That’s your job now,” she says. “You especially should not let him run off with girls like that!”
She’s speaking nonsense, so Kei shrugs it off and uses the advantage of height to get a head start. When he reaches the classroom, Tadashi’s at his desk surrounded by girls—they stop whatever it is they’re doing and stare at Kei as he walks past to his own desk. He shoots Tadashi a worried look, and Tadashi gives him a hesitant thumbs up.
Kei usually concentrates well in class, but today there’s something a bit off. It’s worse than yesterday—it’s like people are looking at him. It’s like they’re staring. And it doesn’t get any better, even during lunch, when he sequesters himself and Tadashi at the edge of the room and gives anyone who tries to come near them the sort of glare that makes them turn their backs.
The worst part is that Tadashi’s not stupid—he’s caught on that there’s something going on, and he seems to be trying to shield Kei from whatever it is.
“Don’t worry about it, Kei,” he says. “It’s probably just a big joke at my expense.”
Of course, the idea that people are playing a joke on Tadashi sets Kei even more on edge, and the fact that Tadashi is almost certainly lying just makes Kei even angrier.
He’s so caught up in his thoughts for the rest of the day that Tadashi overtakes him on the way to the gym, and he’s left wandering the corridors slowly, willing himself to get over it, whatever it is.
Just before the gym, there’s a tall girl who he doesn’t know waiting by the vending machines, and she waves at him. “Kei-kun!”
The name is jarring, and Kei stops and narrows his eyes at her. “Who are you?” he asks.
She laughs. “Ah, you don’t really know me,” she says. “I just wanted to let you know that I was going to confess to you today.”
No. This has to be a joke. This has to be some stupid prank. This is not happening.
“Yeah,” she says. “I wrote you a card and everything!”
“So why are you telling me if you’re not going to do it?” he snaps. He hasn’t got time for this sort of shit.
“Ah,” she says. “Tadashi-kun told me about you two! So of course my confession would have been futile. Still, I went to all the trouble, so I thought I’d tell you anyway!”
“Yamaguchi told you—?”
Kei tries desperately to distract himself from the fact that she used Tadashi’s name so familiarly, and in the process of thinking about other things, several puzzle pieces start to fit together in his mind.
The girl nods. “You two are going out, aren’t you?”
“Oh,” Kei says, adjusting his glasses. “Of course we are.”
“Alright,” she says, “just checking!”
And with that, she’s gone, leaving Kei standing by the vending machines like an idiot, wrapping his head around the lie he just told—the lie Tadashi told. He is going to have some serious words with that boy after volleyball practice.
Tadashi tries not to worry—honestly, earnestly, he tells himself that everything will be fine, but Kei has not said a single thing since volleyball practice started—not to Tadashi, not to anyone —and, okay, it’s worrying.
“Trouble in paradise, huh?” Noya-senpai asks him.
Tadashi is blushing too much to reply. He feels a pang of annoyance at himself for letting this get so out of hand, and for lying in the first place.
Just when he thinks Kei is never going to look at him again, he comes up after practice with a frown on his face—this one is the “I want to talk to you but you need to start the conversation” frown.
“Do you want to get dinner at the Foothill store, Tsukki?” Tadashi asks, settling on neutral words.
“I’m not hungry,” Kei says. “I’ll walk with you if you’re going, though.”
Tadashi makes sure to hold them back from the rest of the crowd, to put a bit of distance between them and the gossip that he’s hoping will blow over without Kei ever having realised it existed.
“Odd things have been happening over the last couple of days,” Kei says once they’ve left the Foothill store.
“Like what?” Tadashi stammers, mouth full of food.
“Like Kageyama refusing to toss to you. Like all those girls mobbing you this morning.” He pauses. “Like someone confessing to me after school.”
Tadashi nearly chokes. He has to stop by the side of the road and cough, thinking he might just die there and then. “Oh,” he manages to say. “Oh, um, what did she say to you?”
Kei shrugs. “Not much.”
“What did you say to her?” Tadashi asks. He’s amazed that there’s a girl out there who hadn’t heard the gossip after Hinata started spreading it. He’s even more amazed that she didn’t check with him first, like the last ten.
“Tadashi,” Kei says, “I know you told her we’re going out.”
It takes a moment for the words to sink in—when they do, Tadashi is convinced he’s about to throw up. He tries to lean against something—anything—but there’s just a hedge beside him, and he almost falls into a stranger’s garden. He is definitely going to be sick. He opens his mouth to speak but nothing happens.
“Tadashi,” Kei says again. “Don’t be so shocked.”
Tadashi steadies himself on his feet and nods feebly. “Sorry, Tsukki,” he says quietly.
“Shouldn’t you call me ‘Kei’? Since we’re going out?”
“Don’t,” Tadashi says. “Don’t mock me. Tell me I’m pathetic, but don’t you dare mock me, Tsukishima Kei.”
“I’m not mocking you,” Kei says. “You’re the one who said it, not me.”
“I didn’t mean to—”
“Wait,” Kei interrupts. “I did say it, didn’t I? I confirmed for her that we’re going out.”
“Why would you say that?” Tadashi almost shouts.
“Why would you?” Kei snaps back.
Tadashi doesn’t reply. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know if he could face telling Kei that he said it because he was jealous, because he’s got a big stupid crush on his dickhead best friend and he wants it to be true.
“Oh well,” Kei says, waving a hand dismissively. “It doesn’t really matter why. The point is, a good boyfriend would have told me first.”
“Are you calling me a bad boyfriend?” Tadashi asks, before he can stop himself.
“Are you calling me your boyfriend?” Kei asks. His glasses flash a reflection of the streetlight, and he’s grinning like he’s won.
They don't say anything for a while. Tadashi feels like he’s been on a rollercoaster, going from mortified to angry to confused in the space of seconds. He tightens his grip on his chuukaman and looks Kei in the eye—this rude idiot who is somehow the kindest person in the world to him, who has somehow been his best friend for so long, is setting the stage for more.
Tadashi can’t help but think—why not?
“I am if you are,” he says.
“I said it first,” Kei points out.
“Shut up, Tsukki,” Tadashi says.
Kei just laughs at him, and that’s when Tadashi realises that this is real life. There are no elaborate confessions—no love letters, no blushing and stuttering, and definitely no second buttons—just two boys standing on the pavement of a dimly-lit street, on the verge of a breakthrough. Tadashi has food in one hand and a paper bag in the other, and he stands on his toes and kisses Kei on the lips.
It’s just quick, because he doesn’t know if he has it in him to attempt anything more, and he almost overbalances as he pulls away.
“It’s cool how you always make the first move,” Kei says.
“When have I ever—” Tadashi begins, but then Kei sort of awkwardly puts his hand on his face, and it probably would be more romantic if Kei’s hand doesn’t feel like he’s been storing it in a freezer. “That’s cold,” Tadashi says.
“I hear that a lot,” Kei says. His tone is flat, and Tadashi takes a moment to appreciate that no-one but himself would be able to pick that as a joke.
Tadashi opens his mouth to reply, but Kei seems to take that as an invitation, leaning forward and sticking his tongue in Tadashi's mouth. It's abundantly clear that Kei has never done this before, but neither has Tadashi, so he can hardly complain. It’s kind of nice.
Kei pulls away after a few moments. "You have food in your mouth," he says.
"I was eating dinner," Tadashi reminds him.
"Do you want me to leave you to it?" Kei asks, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
Tadashi takes a moment to consider his options. Option One is to take the bait and keep kissing, but literally anyone could walk past—even, Tadashi thinks with a shudder, Kageyama—which is a frightening thought. Option Two is to go back to one of their houses—it's technically Tadashi's turn, but his parents might be home, and they'll definitely ask questions.
"Okay," Tadashi says, deciding to take a chance on Option Two. He’s trying to seem calm. "We'll continue this later."
Kei looks a bit disappointed, put out, and Tadashi grins at him. Kei frowns—it’s a new frown, but Tadashi feels like it means “I want to kiss you but I also want you to brush your teeth.”
“Later,” Kei agrees.
They don’t talk the rest of the way—Tadashi eats quickly, and looks over Kei’s shoulder as he furiously texts his mum to say he’ll be home late.
Tadashi holds his breath as he opens his front door. “I’m home!” he calls out.
There’s no reply.
It takes them all of ten seconds to fling off their shoes and run up the stairs to Tadashi’s room—well, Tadashi runs; Kei follows at a reasonable pace, and shuts the bedroom door behind him with a bit too much force.
Tadashi learns a few things that evening. One, that he never had any reason to be jealous of the girls asking if Kei was single. Two, that kissing is pretty much the greatest thing ever invented, even if it did take a while to work out how to do it without hurting your teeth. Three, that he needed to learn to identify the sound of his mum’s footsteps coming down the hall.
The text Kei sends him, moments after Tadashi’s parents kick him out of the house for distracting their son from his studies, makes up for it.
lets do that again >°)))彡
“I have to apologise,” Kageyama says.
“You—what?” Tadashi squeaks. “Why do you have to—”
“Your boyfriend is making me apologise,” Kageyama says, “for not tossing to you because your hands have been on his—”
“That’s enough,” Kei says. “Just say sorry and then leave.”
“Sorry,” Kageyama says. He turns to Kei. “Happy?”
“Not really,” Kei says, “but you can leave anyway.”
Once Kageyama’s gone, Kei turns to his boyfriend—the word still feels weird to him, but it’s sort of worth it to see the look on Tadashi’s face whenever anyone says it.
“Did you—did you ask him to do that?” Tadashi asks.
“‘Ask’ implies he had a choice,” Kei says.
“It’s weird how he thinks I touched your—”
“And now we’re closed for business,” Kei interrupts.
Tadashi laughs—and, shit, it’s the kind of laugh that makes Kei go all stupid, like when Tadashi sends him “wwwwww” and he has to stop what he’s doing and force his mouth into a frown.
Yeah, he could definitely get used to this.