Work Header

of paper and strings and terrible things

Work Text:

I said, "girl can I tell you a wonderful thing?
I made you a present with paper and string
Open with care now, I'm asking you please
You know that I love you will you marry me?"

When you were eight and see the way your father stares at your mother, you thought, with the amount of knowledge a child can grasp about things, that your father doesn’t love your mother like he pretends to do so.

It was an observation made from a child’s perception of love guided by household influences—but mostly from your mother’s movies. Your mother has always loved the American romantic comedies your father never put up with, so you became your mother’s movie buddy. You had probably memorized the lines and the scenes from your mother’s favorites at how often she enthusiastically replays them every Saturday night. Like how Anna Scott was the girl asking someone like Will Thacker to love her. Or how Henry Roth never gets tired of chasing a forgetful girl like Lucy Whitemore. Or even how Katarina Stratford could write a poem that embodies the depth of her love to Patrick Verona.

Things of that sort that make you wonder about love.

For a child to be surrounded with love so pure but fictional, you understand somewhat that what you were watching are a contrary to your parents’.

Your father has been a lukewarm person. He was all blank stares and small upturned lips, barely a smile, and quiet tone. You had never felt nor seen him do things that could make your mother over the moon. It was your mother who was always chasing, always trying to please, always warm in her yellow sundress with her rainbow smile. If your father truly loves your mother, you think to yourself, he would have stared at her like Noah would to Allie when he thinks no one is looking.

But he doesn’t.

Without being prod into, you kind of accepted that love isn’t what the hopeless romantics would like people to believe it to be. Because no one is as charming and pure as fictional people are.

It wasn’t during the summer before your last year in elementary when you are proven wrong as you stare at the beautiful stars cradling the boy with the sunbeam smile, enthusiasm as wide as the sky, almost obnoxious and loud to a fault. And all too suddenly, the unoccupied house beside yours was filled with laughter and warmth and tight bonds that your home always lacks.

You were subjected to Bokuto Koutarou’s constant pestering and volleyball dreams, always curiously following you even when you told him off, always eager to catch your attention with whatever shenanigans he could think.

You feel overwhelm at the unadulterated attention you get from him without asking. It was so overbearingly bright that you could almost wilt from it but his eyes were dripping sunlight and you feel warm all over, warmth akin to the feeling of drinking chocolate in your best winter sleepwear on the eve of Christmas. So, when he offers his hand so both of you could run down the hill, you took it without any trace of hesitation. After all, Bokuto is the kind of person that pulls the best out of anyone.

The summer was filled with climbing trees, venturing into the town’s forest until you memorized the path because you don’t think Bokuto would even try doing so and you are so afraid that you two would get lost so you marked the trees you passed by—and when Bokuto discovers it, you were squeezed into a tight hug that had your heart hammering, his compliments unending, and you didn’t know because he never asked but apparently you’re his best friend now, and best friends do things together like bathe and sleep and wonder what the world will be if they’re as little as ants or as big as elephants.

Being with him is like the sun always rising in the east and setting in the west. It’s natural and easy and you never thought you’ll ever treasure someone as much as you treasure your mother but Bokuto settled so nicely between the spaces of your chest and it’s like a part of you just came back home and you’re finally complete.

You like boys, you realize. It probably began when you love Will’s crooked smile than the billion-dollar quirk of Anna and proceeded from there when you first wished that you met someone like Patrick and be wooed so faithfully by someone like Henry.

Staring at Bokuto from across the picnic table, your hand neatly folded on the wooden surface as Bokuto practically vibrates at the beautiful explosion of fireworks in the sky, it hit you that you like the boy. It’s undeniably real and you feel it even more when Bokuto looks at you with the same excitement he has for fireworks and if your heart stuttered every time he speaks your name, nobody would know because you’ll never tell.

It’s a secret you think you’ll never confess.

When you are twelve, you realize that it wasn’t enthusiasm that your mother displayed for her American romantic comedies. It was desperation.

It could be easily mistaken because your mother is apparently a great actress too. She holds herself so strongly that you were none the wiser when she breaks apart at nights your father does not return home. She loves romantic comedies because it’s something she’ll never have. And really, people tend to long for things so unachievable.

You didn’t know what to do the first time you saw her cry. She was so vulnerable and sad as she holds your father’s shirt to her chest. It’s a private moment you didn’t mean to intrude. You just happen to come back because you forgot your night shirt for your weekly sleepover with Bokuto.

You could have entered the room and comforted her. You could have hurriedly gotten your shirt and left to give her privacy. You could have gone to the kitchen and make her some tea. You could have done anything. Instead, you press your back on the wall, your own tears silently sliding down your cheeks, lips bitten until you draw blood, and stayed until you couldn’t suppress your sobs so you run back to Bokuto.

He never asks about your breaking, he had only held you close to his heart as you are filled with a cocktail of sadness and anger and shame. Sadness for your mother. Anger for your father. Shame for not recognizing the misery your loving mother has been silently through.

You were a quivering mess but Bokuto held you through the night until your breathing evens out and the soft comforting voice of Bokuto lulls you to sleep. When morning comes and you are ready to speak, you told him, despite your feelings for the boy, that you never wanted to fall in love with anyone at all.

You wonder if it was just an illusion when Bokuto deflates with an awkward laugh.

It was a long time coming but your parents’ marriage falls apart just a month after you turned thirteen. You weren’t even surprised. And as bad as it sounds, you actually anticipated it.

It wasn’t a loud fight that tip you. They were never loud to begin with, rarely fighting or if they even did. Their marriage was not perfect because there were no fights. There were no fights because your father never cared at all and your mother tried to be the most behaved wife so your father would appreciate her. You were the glue that kept the marriage together. But even you, his child, could never hold a candle to the love he found in another woman’s arms.

The marriage came to a quiet end just as it silently began.

Your mother wore the yellow sundress your father bought her all those years ago. It fit her perfectly like a glove despite it being age old. She sat in the kitchen with her back straight, the blue cup your father always uses in her hand, a small sad smile playing on her lips.

“It’s final?” You ask as you pull a chair, hand clasping together like you were praying. She nods slightly and lets out a hushed chuckle, hand tucking a stray raven lock, “He loves her.”

“He said that to you?” You felt the same resentment you possessed since you saw your mother cry. She takes a sip, letting the silence prolong with the weight of your father’s absence.

“Keiji,” She says finally, evening blue eyes crinkling into her rainbow smile and you wished she wasn’t sincere when she says, “All I ever wanted for your father is to be happy even when it’s not with me.”

It’s unfair. She is the most selfless being you know and she deserves the whole world. This is not coming from you just because she is your mother. It’s a fact because she has given love like a free-flowing river to an ocean and never expected anything in return. And it’s just so unfair that you tighten your hands into fists, trembling from fury until your mother soothes you with her gentle words.

She doesn’t cry even after days, even in secrecy, even after years. It’s like she can finally breathe again after submerging and drowning into the deep blue for far too long. The white flag is finally waved after fighting so bravely in a one-sided war that took most of her lifespan—a soldier coming home defeated but at least still alive.

When Bokuto gives you a cup of pudding as you settle into your spot in their living room, you tell him about your father’s saltwater presence and the red scar on your mother’s chest. Bokuto doesn’t understand metaphors but he knows how you speak so he pulls you into a hug and he whispers comfort you thought you did not need.

“Do you want to watch A Walk To Remember?” Bokuto says with a flourish, the cd already prepared on the table and you nod because even if you swore you will not fall in love, it’s not a crime to love romance movies. A Walk To Remember is your all-time favorite. You could not count the times you two bawled over it.

You watch it with enraptured interest like it was the first time you ever saw the movie. It was during the scene of Landon chasing Jamie down the stairs as Jamie accused him of not knowing what friendship is when you look away from the screen and caught Bokuto’s stare.

Bokuto has recoiled in his seat, obviously surprised at being caught staring. He fiddles with his fingers and lets an awkward laugh, stumbling over words like clumsy feet first learning to walk. You give him a blank look laden with your father’s fading footsteps and your mother’s stained yellow sundress.

He speaks fast and full of excuses because he probably knows the heart-wrenching meaning when your solemn blue eyes dim like the sun dipping into the horizon. He flails and squawks miserably.

You took pity at him when you take his hand in yours and squeeze but the silence you offer stretches. You swallow at the expression you receive from Bokuto because it seems like his heart has beaten like the sound of closing doors, beaten like a string going taut before breaking, beaten like it was the last day of his life and he regretted not actually confessing.

“Keiji.” He whispers in a tone that he rarely uses and you gnash your lips tightly before shaking your head.

You don’t want to fall in love. And if you ever did, you don’t want to have a love you have to fight the whole world for.

Your whole bitter perspective about love changes when you turn fifteen.

It has been two years since that somber day in Bokuto’s living room. You played the day off like it never happened even as Bokuto continued with the reckless abandon of his affection. You don’t know if Bokuto is naïve or if he accepted already the enigma of his sexuality.

You fought it off with tail between your legs, so scared of what your feelings entail when you find out the depth of it. You look away every time Bokuto would give you a loving stare, run when he stretches his arms for an ounce of your honesty, cover your ears when he moons for you. You see his fingers like he is going to drown you, his easy confessions are like boulders on your legs.

You retaliate with the coldness you weren’t supposed to give to your best friend. It was a whirlwind of two spacious years and Bokuto becomes something like an itch you are trying to get away from.

A day before your freshman year in Fukurodani, your mother invited you to have tea with her in the back garden. She wears a white halter dress that feels like a wedding gown in its purity. Her evening blue eyes were shining with the weathered years she possesses and her lips were splayed into a honey smile, sweet and floral.

“Do you have something to say, Keiji?” Your mother finally asks after a myriad of small talks. You tilt your head in confusion after sipping the Jasmine tea and shrug. You don’t know what to say but your mother shakes her head, “You can be honest with me.”

You inhale sharply in comprehension. There’s a balloon settling in your chest that keeps getting bigger and bigger and it causes your hands to shake. Even swallowing is hard for you to make.

“Mom…” You sigh like the whole world is burning but it was just your eyes, tingling with tears from kept secrets and marooned lullabies from a mouth of a father with prison voice, “I like boys.”

The balloon deflates and your chest is suddenly filled with butterflies as your mother only sagely nodded as if she had known already and she was only waiting for you to spill your secrets on her already stained yellow dress.

“You know that I still love you, right?” Perhaps, you were born lucky to have a mother such as her, so loving and so understanding—and if you could, you would pull the moon with a string to gift her. She wipes the first drop of tears that fall when you blink.

“You don’t have to be so afraid of love, Keiji.” There are markings on her skin, like the remnant of an empty cell from quiet prison voice. You see the traces of your father’s absence in the way she wrings her hands together as if she is still trying to escape her rusty manacled ring. It was a habit that your mother picks up even while she lives so freely now.

You wonder if she misses your father’s lukewarm eyes and the seawater stench his embrace always leaves behind. But you don’t pry open her chest. Instead, you stretch your hand until you are clasping her worried wringing and place a kiss on both palms.

“I am not afraid. I just don’t want it.” You don’t know if it was the way you phrased it or the way you pronounced the words but your mother gave a boisterous laugh, so unlike her soft persona.

“You want love.” She says straightforwardly, eyes shining so openly that you were forced to remain silent, “You want to be loved. You can phrase it however you want but you’re afraid. Because you grew up in a house that had fallen apart because of unrequitedness. You think because you shared the genes of a foolish romantic and a throw away man that you’ll end up with nothing but the replica of our sandcastle love—if you could call it love. But, Keiji, you’re nothing like us. You’re your own person, your own love story—if things go horribly wrong, you probably already know what to do. You already learnt from us. Don’t let those lessons shackle you instead.”

“I see the way Koutarou looks at you.” It was the final blow that shakes your house of cards, sucking a breath that felt sharper in the edges. She kisses the back of your hand, “And I see the way you look at him too.”

It took a month before you find yourself climbing the tree in front of Bokuto’s window. The midnight air is brisk against your face and you count until ten to calm your hammering heart before knocking on the window until Bokuto wakes up.

“What are you doing here, Keiji?” Bokuto asks sleepily, one hand rubbing the sleep from his eyes while he suppresses a yawn. You don’t know what to say even though you practiced it in your head for thousands of times, tongue stuttering and finding words so foreign in his mouth.

“I love you.” You say when your brain short circuited and you are just so overwhelmingly aware of how golden Bokuto’s eyes are under the moonlight. The boy blinks, slow in the uptake. In retrospect, you admit to yourself that it was probably not a good time to confess when the whole town is asleep and you just wanted to get it off your chest so you can also finally rest.

Bokuto wakes his family with his excited yells when the words finally reach his brain. He jumps for joy, almost falling out of the window, and you shush him as his brother pounds on the wall and shouts for him to shut up.

Bokuto’s face is flush, pupils suddenly blown wide, and you tingle with your affections for the older boy. When you kiss him after you both are finally outside and on the ground, you think of fireworks and honey and the wide blue sky.

For a moment, you felt like Kyoto on Gion Matsuri. It’s a memory you two will never forget.

Six months into dating, you are splashed by the cold reality. You knew of the strangeness of your relationship, knew that it’s something to be subtle about—however you can’t help but fume because there’s nothing wrong about it.

You love Bokuto and Bokuto loves you. What you have is something precious like a priceless art and you take pride for having so elusive to find. But when an immature schoolmate throws a bucket of muddy water at the two of you after finding out your relationship, you realize that the world is not yet prepared for a love that knows no boundary or specification.

The first fist that was thrown was from Bokuto. You are a little confused and far too inundated to do something at first. The stares of your peers weigh on you like shackles and the spitting remarks by the brunet were poisonous.

You choked back a noise that was a cross between a scream and a sensible phrase to stop. By the time you actually move, Bokuto sports multiple bruises and the boy has a split lip.

The talk in the principal’s office was long and exhausting. Bokuto and the nameless boy were suspended for a week. You got off with a simple warning.

The walk home was tense. Bokuto speaks like nothing happened but you were consumed by your thoughts to the point that it feels like you got swallowed by a monster who preys on fears and hopes and things sensitive teenage boys hold in their ribcages.

“Are you okay?” Bokuto asks despite his bruises. You blink at him dumbly before swallowing, “I should be the one to ask that.”

“They’re just bruises. They’ll heal.” He assures, stopping in the middle of their trek. You pause as well because it felt like it’s the right thing to do. The silence balloons until it pops with the next words Bokuto spoke.

“I’m not breaking up with you.”

Your whole body stutters even at rest.


“I see what you’re thinking, Keiji.” Bokuto says with a linen of soft misery like he is repulsed just by the idea, like he is afraid that you will act on the demons that feed on your insecurities. “I know that what we have is hard work. But please, don’t let it go just because others think some bad things about us.”

Being called disgusting is not just some bad things, you privately thought. But Bokuto knows of your silence and your blank stares so he intertwines your hand with his and hope that his warmth reaches you.

“Koutarou,” You began, the world on your shoulder, “Is this really worth fighting for?”

“Yes, it is.” Bokuto did not even take a second to think, the honesty rings clearly around them and it makes your knees go weak, “Why?”

Bokuto tilts his head as if he doesn’t understand your question. He blows air through his nose and gives you the brightest smile he could muster even with the bruises on his face, “Because I love you, that’s why.”

During the years you spent your high school with him, you come to accept that things will not be as easy as a secured plot of a romance movie. You learn to ignore the sneers sent your way or the insecure voice in your head. When Bokuto graduates and you finally give everything to him the day before he moves for college, you realize that you’ll never love someone again like you love the budding man who still cries when you two watch A Walk To Remember.

It is, without much fussing, that you confess this to Bokuto as you lie close together, his arms slung over you like a protective blanket. He bolts up and you thought it was the wrong thing to say but there were drop of tears falling down his bare skin and you follow the source to the sunflower gaze you love since you were a kid.

“I love you too, Keiji.” He kisses you gently between confession, “I love you so much.”

It doesn’t grow heated or sensual. It was a moment littered with the overabundance of affections and you wonder if you got lucky somehow, wonder if the world is overcompensating to you for ever hurting your mother.

Bokuto steps out of the bed and rummages through his drawer until he finds what he was looking. You watch him with curious eyes, following every contour of his body and a sense of smugness and possessiveness swell in your heart as you capture every hickey you bestowed on his skin.

The smugness and possessiveness were replaced with something different. Something mellow and wonderful and warm. You feel your eyes prickle but your tears drop for all the good reasons. The sight of Bokuto kneeling in front of you, naked both physically and metaphorically, and holding a paper ring glued together by strings swept you off your feet.

“Yes!” You shout and pull the love of your life into your arms. You were young and peacefully in love and you think, as you kiss him again, nothing in the world could ever take this away from you.

When you move in with him the next year after you graduate, you found out that there is a Bokuto you do not know about.

You don’t take notice when he calls you every time during your last year in high school. He has been the same boisterous laughter and cooing words and plastering sunlight that you were assured of the familiarity his whole soul brings you. But as the months roll in and you see him with different kinds of people in different kind of places, there’s a fear brewing in your chest like a storm waiting to happen.

You finally break when he comes home drunk three months into your living arrangement. You took care of him as should be. But the next morning was a different affair.

“Good morning, Keiji.” You avoid the lips that Bokuto offers, opting to turn away and sip your tea that felt somehow bitter on your tongue. You twiddle with the words in your head before you finally rasp out, “Is this still working?”

“What?” Bokuto takes a step back and you glare, “Us. Is this still working?”

“Why are you asking that?”

You grit your teeth, slamming the cup on the saucer, “I don’t know. Maybe, it’s because you spent more time with your college friends than me. Maybe, it’s because you come home drunk almost every other week. Maybe, it’s because you have something to say to me but couldn’t. If you don’t like me living with you, you could just tell me, Koutarou.”

“No! You’re wrong.” Bokuto claws back, stomping his way to you, “It’s not that, Keiji.”

“Then why?” Their time together has significantly lessened. Bokuto has created himself a world that you don’t know about. And you have created a space that Bokuto somehow can’t cross.

“I’m sorry.” His voice is little, almost balling into himself. You look at Bokuto and finally see the exhaustion marring his youthful face. There are shadows that you had not noticed that weren’t there before. “I failed a subject last year, Keiji. And I lost my scholarship because of that. I’d been working hard because I’m afraid to tell you or my parents about this.”

“And you were drinking because…?” You trail off when he nods, eyes closing in shame, “It takes my mind off. I’m too embarrassed to even tell you that I can’t play volleyball because of my stupidity.”

You soften at his words, reprimanding yourself for ever trying to hurt Bokuto.

“I’m sorry.” You apologize, taking Bokuto’s hand and kissing its back, “You don’t have to be ashamed of failing a subject. This is college, it happens. I’m sure we’ll be able to make this through.”

“We?” He sounds confused so you smile at him, “Of course we, you idiot. I’ll start searching for a job and—”

“No. This is my problem. I have to own up to this.” He shakes his head but you were more stubborn, “The day you proposed to me is the day we stopped being a separate being. This is our problem. We will solve this together. Because that’s how love works.”

“Oh.” You cup his face with your gentle hands and kisses your nose together, temples resting on one another, “Oh, indeed.”

You are twenty-two when he asks you to officially marry him after winning the MSBY vs Adlers match.

It was a simple proposal, quiet and intimate. You had been cooking his winner-breakfast at the crack of dawn when you turn and he is kneeling in front of you, a black velvet on his hand and there sit a golden ring.

He would have probably made a grand gesture and pulled the whole world together to see him beg for your hand with his sunbeam smile and ocean-deep love. But Bokuto knows of your taste and you think romantic comedies proposals are too tacky for you.

So, he swells with pride when you accept the ring with dripping waterfalls across your cheeks and kisses you in a way that he breathes life into your core. The two of you never wanted audience anyway to intrude in the world you built together.

Kuroo becomes the best man to your Spring wedding after you turn twenty-four.

It has been a fussy fight, half the world turning against Bokuto for being gay. He almost got kick out the team when he announced his engagement to you. But his teammates were kinder than you give them credit for, boycotting matches that had Bokuto sat on the benches.

So, he stayed being the wing spiker of MSBY and somehow, people just started accepting everything about him. Perhaps, it was the charisma and the charm. You know how drawn people are to him because of those. And in turn, you became attached to the hip, being shown to the world like a proud badge and you can’t help but recoils at the attention. He soothes your anxiety by patting circles on your back and being stubbornly loving until you could look back at the stares and find that they’re not the sneers you used to receive. They’re awe and envy as if they would exchange their soul for a little taste of what true love is.

You still felt those as you walk in the aisle of the garden. The wedding was small and in Taiwan. There were only family and friends but a couple of paparazzi manage to slip in. You did not give a damn shit because it’s your wedding day and nothing could ruin it.

Kuroo manages to embarrass both of you when he speaks of your youth. It was a terrible ordeal and you wanted to slap the pain in the ass. But it seems that the people you love most are in on the joke as they spill memories from long faded pages of your life.

Bokuto laughs as if he was enjoying it. You cringe because he probably is. You draw the line when Oikawa tells the hotel room incident when he walks in on you two copulating like mad rabbits. The whole crowd laughs when you slam your hands on the table, face a reminiscent of pink colored sky. The DJ plays a slow love song just in time and you were pulled into a dance by your lovely husband before your pettiness could make an appearance and retaliate with the volleyball court incident that happened between Oikawa and Iwaizumi.

You sway with him even as you mutter disdain, immediately forgetting the words when you meet his stare. It feels like the two of you are the only ones in the world and you would not ask for anything more. He twirls you in the right angle so you catch your mother’s proud stance and you smile at her because you wouldn’t be marrying Bokuto if she never had spoken all those years ago.

Bokuto would still like to have a child, you learn this when you’re twenty-seven.

You were folding clothes in the living room when you hear Bokuto speaks on the phone. He was scratching the back of his neck, his eyes roaming the expanse of the white ceiling in the kitchen.

“That’s great, Kuroo!” His voice was enthusiastic but you see the way his eyes dilated in envy, “You finally got bumped up in the adoption list? What did Kenma say?”

“Wow. Just wow. After 5 years of waiting. Congratulations, man.” Bokuto is sincere with his sentiments but he doesn’t need to speak for you to hear the underlying wishes in his tone. You suddenly remember his confession from when you started dating—a plan for the future that involves the two of you together and a dozen of children.

When he enters the living room with the news, you smiled at him, “I also want to have a child.”

His eyes were wide but they reflect happiness in a way that still make your heart stutter. He howls with joy, barreling his way towards you and making a mess of the folded clothes. You told him to clean it up with him and he nods obediently despite his great dislike for household chores.

The talk about children went smoothly. You two decided to find a surrogate instead of adoption. Bokuto doesn’t want to wait for five years to have children because he is not as patient as Kuroo and Kenma were.

It took a year to find one after interviewing so many women. Kageyama Miwa suited your requirement perfectly. She was a serious woman with a personality of the moon. You like that she’s also quite smart and steadfast. For Bokuto, as silly as it is, it was her volleyball history and the same aura she possesses that reminds him of you.

On April, Miwa announces her pregnancy. Bokuto does not howl or jump in joy. Instead, he squeezes your hand and cries. You two are going to be a father. It was overwhelmingly delightful that you did not bother hiding behind your hands when you, too, tears up at the information.

He was born a tiny little thing when you turn twenty-nine.

He has the same shade of raven that crowns your head. But his eyes were the shade of a dark blue galaxy. You can pretend that it was the same shade as yours. However, you and Bokuto know that your eyes were more gunmetal blues.

You swallowed at the sight of the bundle and for a moment you wish that he has golden eyes instead.

Bokuto breaks you out of your reverie with his cooing and his jittery tugging.

“Look, Keiji, look. It’s our child.”

There’s something with the way Bokuto articulated it that snaps you out of your guilty wish. A balloon of warmth filling the spaces in your chest and something hot just pour out of you in reckless abandon. You realize it’s love.

“Tobio.” You say when the child blinks at you, a gurgle of gibberish falling from his tiny mouth. Bokuto nuzzles against your shoulder and you felt them dampen, “Nobody would be good enough for you, Tobio. I’ll fight them if they hurt you.”

You chuckle because it’s too early for that talk, Tobio could barely even open his eyes. But he retaliates that it’s never too early to declare that Tobio is the most precious thing in the world and how nobody could ever love him more than you two love Tobio. He glares at the giggling baby in the next cradle as if he was going to take Tobio away from him.

“I will burn the whole world if Tobio gets even a scrape.” You proclaim and Bokuto laughs and apologizes for the future because he already planned on teaching Tobio the wonders of volleyball and getting scrapes is part of it.

You shove his shoulder lightly before settling into his hug, “He’ll be the king of the court one day.”

“Of course, I’m his father, after all.”

The three years together were pure bliss and you never wanted anything as much as you wanted it to last forever.

You’re thirty-two and your world is falling apart.

It began surreptitiously. The first time you saw the light bruises on Bokuto, he excuses it as being clumsy. You did not know what was actually happening. There’s only a bad feeling that boils beneath your skin.

When he lightly bumps into a chair one day and a big bruise bloom, you vehemently insisted to take him to a hospital.

It’s leukemia.

The doctor explains that acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is caused by a damage to the DNA of the developing cells in the bone marrows. You don’t hear any of those. There’s just white noise pervading your senses and saltwater darkness flooding your belly.

That was the first time you two went in the hospital. But it isn’t the last.

You did not say you’re afraid. You hug Bokuto tight, clinging to him without words. Tobio does not know so he greets the both of you in his usual serious way after every doctor’s visit.

It wasn’t until the fifth one that you unravel hysterically. Bokuto collapses with a nosebleed, writhing in pain, the orange bottle spills on the ground like farewell letters. You drop the plate you were holding and watch as Tobio yells for his father. It was a blur but you find yourself sitting in the corner of the hospital room.

You were never one for religions but for the first time, you prayed to all the gods that you know.

He has only six months to live. Five years, if he is lucky.

When your mother finds you, you wail like a child. You claw at your skin and try to cut your breath. Your mother hugs you comfortingly. It was Tobio who calms you down.

“Is papa going to be okay?” Tobio asks and you wanted to shake your head, you wanted to break in front of your poor child. Instead, you cradle him in your arms and says, “Yes. He’ll get better soon.”

It was the first lie you ever told Tobio.

Tobio nods his head and clings to you. The first few drops from dark blue galaxies make you tremble. You don’t know if it was really Tobio who was clinging and crying because you, yourself, are a mess.

You’re almost thirty-three and you find out that you hate hospital rooms and orange bottles and Bokuto’s wails of Keiji, it hurts so much, make it stop, make it stop, please.

You are thirty-five and Tobio is six when Tobio approaches Bokuto on his hospital bed. You pretend to be asleep, back facing the two on the unoccupied bed next to your husband.

“When are you going home, papa?” Tobio’s voice is small, curious, and confused as if he still doesn’t understand the circumstance even after three years. You hear Bokuto shift with a groan, hear him tugs Tobio to him, and hear his voice when he begins to speak.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back, Tobio.” Bokuto confesses like he is telling the priest of his sins, “I’m sorry for putting you up with this but you have to protect and take care of daddy a little longer. He is very strong and considerate. Sometimes, he forgets himself. So, you have to remind him to eat properly and live healthily for me, ‘kay? He doesn’t really like relying on anyone. And I think I just made it worse because your papa is a hassle to be with, you know, so daddy has to grow up real fast. Back in college when I failed a subject and I didn’t know what to do, he has a solution to it immediately. I was flailing and he just swoops in and save me. He never asked anything in return but for me to stay. As if, I’ll really leave him.”

“Daddy indulges himself too much with his anxiety.” Bokuto sighs worriedly, “He gets all work up with things in his head without saying anything. Sometimes, I overlook it because he holds himself together so strongly. But there are little signs you have to watch, Tobio. When he wrings his hand together or bits his lower lip when he is thinking, when he suddenly wants to hole himself up in a room and just curl, when he starts spewing negativity at the face of something grand, or even when he is silent for longer than usual—that’s when you have to hold him tight, Tobio. Just hug him and be there. You really don’t have to do anything but ground him, make him feel like he is not floating away, and tell him you love him. Your daddy, for all his pretense of getting over romantic comedies, still can be cheered by romance movies. So, you can put Love Actually or 50 First Dates in the television after hugging him real tight.”

Tobio doesn’t speak and you know that he is doing that little stare he does when he is listening intently. You curl into yourself and hope to God that Bokuto doesn’t hear your tears.

“I don’t know if you’ll get this but he means well when he teaches you about his fears. If he says you have to leave a room or if he pressures you into choosing, he really just wants you to be happy. That’s why you have to be as strong and wise as your daddy. You have to really decipher his words and actions. Tobio, he really means well.” Your husband’s voice fills the room with the sound of the distant future, a farewell staining the hospital bed under his tone, and you had to grip the sheet so you don’t disturb their moment, “He loves you so much, Tobio, as I do. Don’t forget that, ‘kay?”

“Okay, papa.” Tobio says, “I’ll take care of daddy until you can go back home with us.”

Bokuto sucks in a breath and his words were shaky, positively drenched in tears, but you know he is still sporting his brave the world smile, “I really want to go back home and teach you volleyball, Tobio.”

You stare at the white wall with the blurriness that comes from crying. Bokuto speaks of his youth like he is trying to carve himself in the young memory of a child, spilling all of him to a five-year-old with a desperation he doesn’t let you see. You understand. You already carry the world on your shoulders and he doesn’t want to speak to you like it’s his final day on earth. He never likes seeing you sad.

He speaks of how he wanted to come home, of how he wanted to see Tobio grow, of how he wanted to bring him to school everyday while you pick him up, of how he wanted to be the one to threaten the person Tobio will bring home one day, of how he wanted to wake up to the smell of your cooking, of how he wanted to still play volleyball, of how he wanted to stay. So, when he apologizes, you roll to your feet and pull the two into a hug and you string together your arms like you never wanted to let go.

You met Hinata Shouyou when you’re thirty-six and it dawns on you that Tobio practically grows up in hospital rooms.

The child is little but bright and Tobio holds his hand with the adoration he remembers seeing constantly from Bokuto. Tobio introduces him to you as his friend who stays over at the next room. It is when you finally pay complete attention that you see his hospital gown and you can’t help but suck a breath at the realization.

“He’s sick too, daddy.” Tobio says when he sees your quivering eyes. You stumble over your words, quiet when you find your tongue, “Tobio…”

“He’s a fighter. Hinata is like papa, daddy. He is fighting.”

There are words that aren’t quite appropriate yet for children. You know this. Yet, you pull him to you while you kneel like you’re begging for alms, “Don’t get too close to him. It will hurt you, Tobio. I don’t want you to be hurt.”

You think you’re being vague but he knows the concept of death. He had asked Kuroo about it behind your back and it took him years to accept that his father isn’t going to come home anymore and teach him volleyball.

“Daddy, Hinata isn’t papa.” He whispers and you shatter faster than a whiskey bottle being hurl from the top building to the ground. Your breath is shaky and you cup his young cheeks with your hands, “I’m only saying this because I love you. Don’t get too attach with people that won’t be able to stay even if they wanted to.”

Later when you get home, you collect all the cds of the romance movies stacked high on your shelves and bury them at the back of the closet in the bedroom you don’t sleep in anymore.

You don’t want Tobio getting any bad ideas from sappy and unrealistic movies.

It is before your thirty-seventh birthday that Bokuto lost the fight.

He wasn’t screaming in pain. He wasn’t crying. He bids you farewell with barely a kiss on your cheeks and later in the evening, when you were tucked beside Tobio, he loses his breath and never takes one again.

The morning was cold and unkind. You walk to the hospital with Tobio. You didn’t want to bring him but he insisted. In the end, you succumb because you don’t think you’ll even make it pass the hospital entrance if Tobio didn’t ground you with his little hand.

Bokuto is as beautiful as you remember him to be. He is pale and thin and you love him more than you imagine you’ll ever do. If you break down crying in front of all the doctors and nurses and Tobio, they’ll understand. It feels like your heart has been ripped away from you and you plead to any gods to let you see Bokuto’s sunbeam smile and sunflower eyes for just one more day.

You howled and you clawed until the saltwater darkness that settled in your belly since that day spilled across your cheeks like a broken faucet that can’t be fixed. Kuroo, Kenma, Tobio, your mother, and Bokuto’s former team watch you weep with their own tears.

Little Hinata peeks from the door and he looks confused from all the noises. You see Tobio runs up to him and with his little arms, he protects Tobio from the nightmare that had come to life.

The funeral was a quiet affair. You greet the guest with a blank stare reminiscent of your father’s fading footsteps and your mother’s stained yellow dress. You speak when it is appropriate but never initiate anything.

For hours and hours, you don’t stand from your kneeling position in front of Bokuto’s smiling picture. Tobio doesn’t leave your side. It is when it is only you, Tobio, and your mother when you totally splinter into a million pieces.

The sky was bright and blue and you feel the spite burning your throat. You held unto Bokuto’s picture like it was your own heartbeats. The quietness of the old room you never had the courage to enter since then brought a sense of comfort to you. You hear your mother comforting Tobio and you think you’re a bad father for neglecting your child.

“Papa?” Tobio enters the room despite your mother’s words and you open your arms to him. Eight years ago in a hospital aisle, you remember Bokuto hugging you from behind as you two stare at little Tobio. You remember how much Bokuto cried and how much he adored the precious baby. You remember the first time you held Tobio in your arms and how Bokuto snuggled himself into the embrace and how you were so afraid that Bokuto’s enthusiasm would make you drop Tobio.

You tangle your fingers with Tobio’s raven locks and kiss his temple and pull him close. He is the last remaining connection to your beautiful husband and you swore that you’ll give even your soul to the devil if it means he would never suffer the same way you did.

You discover that Tobio still visits Hinata after your thirty-eighth birthday.

Three weeks into January, Tobio comes home with the biggest smile you had ever seen him wear and he was all excitement and childish joy and you have to hold his shoulders to calm him down.

“He won!” He says, his voice almost a yell. You scrunch your eyebrows in question. Who won? Did his favorite volleyball player play in a match? Tobio pulls you into a hug, lips press to your ears, breathless, “Dad, Hinata won. He’s cancer-free!”

You don’t know Hinata personally but there’s a little prickle in your chest, a cross between envy and joy. You sit down on your chair, your knees weak, “That’s…”

You pause. You wanted to say that it’s great. You wanted to celebrate. Tobio sees the way you hesitate and he stretches his hand until he captures your palm, kissing it with an adoration that only a child could give, “It’s okay, papa, if you’re not happy. It’s okay to still be sad.”

You don’t know when Tobio had become so strong. But there he is, eyes a breath of galaxy, with the same resolution his father embodies. You give him a watery smile, “Wait here.”

You pull out the romantic comedies you had hidden away. It dawns on you that your collection is embarrassingly large and Bokuto’s ownership isn’t even a quarter from yours.

“Your father’s favorite is Love Actually.”

It’s the first time you talk about him again.

Bokuto used to get you two lost in a forest.

Bokuto punched a schoolmate of yours for being homophobic.

Bokuto failed his Statistic subject and lost his scholarship.

Bokuto proposed to you with paper and strings and proposed once more with a golden ring.

Bokuto loves Tobio the same degree you love him too.

You spoke about him with revelry despite the tears gathering in your eyes. When the credit rolls, you had verbally written a biography of the man with sunbeam smiles and sunflower eyes. Your tears were unopened love letters and Tobio wiped them away for you.

Later, when he is tucked beside you, he whispers, “I want to be loved by someone like you too.”

You are Bokuto Keiji, thirty-nine and has spent most of your lifespan loving one person, and today, you received a bouquet of purple lilacs, red chrysanthemums, and azaleas.

The letter sat snugly atop the black velvet box that came along with the flowers. Tobio looks at you curiously, waiting for you to make a move. You shakily put down the flowers on the table and open the pristine white envelope.

The messy blocks were a blast from the past and you almost drop it. It was Bokuto’s handwriting. Bokuto’s, your heart simply aches.

You inhale sharply before reading. God knows you need all the oxygen in the world or you’ll crack faster than the thin ice that covers the town’s river on winter days.

My lovely Keiji. You could almost hear the adoration in his voice. You closed your eyes for a second and see million of memories of Bokuto calling your name. I can’t write much because it hurts.

White room and hospital bed, you imagine Bokuto throwing a tantrum so he could get a parchment and a pen.

But you know that I love you. I love you, Keiji. I’ll always love you. There’s almost a desperation in the way he wrote it, like he wants to engrave to your soul his confession, like it’s his last day on earth and he’ll regret it if he doesn’t scribble it repeatedly. In another lifetime, I’ll promise to be healthy. When I see you again in our next life together, I’ll swear I’ll never get sick so I can love you forever and ever.

Bokuto wrote it like he was sure there’s a next lifetime together, like he was sure that your fates were intertwined. Perhaps, there is. You watch too many romantic movies to even have the energy to be cynical. Perhaps, in the next lifetime, they’ll be together and healthy and in love. You would try to become his setter so you two could play in the court together. You’ll probably play because you had seen Bokuto spike and you’ll probably think he was all the universe stack into one star and you’ll love him so, so, so much.

Happy 15th wedding anniversary, Keiji. I love you.

He doesn’t apologize for passing. But it was noticeable in the way he scrawled his I love you’s, the paper stained with salt water that had long dried, the ink warped by blotches from certain angles that were not caused by you. There was an erasure below like he doesn’t know how to end the letter, like he doesn't want to, and you let out a quiet chuckle under the curtain of tears hitting the ground.

There’s a doodle of you and him and Tobio protected by a warm crooked heart next to his Faithfully yours, Koutarou. When Tobio pats your back the way Koutarou did back in the days, you tell him to put Love Actually in the television.

It’s a nice day to remember Bokuto Koutarou today.

You are thirty-nine and full of love from the traces that sunbeam smiles and sunflower eyes and dark blue galaxies had given you despite your shortcomings, and today you finally admitted that the world is full of beautiful and terrible things.