Midorima and Takao leave the locker room holding hands. It is almost too much for the Miracle who is not used to physical contact of any kind, but he is unwilling to let go.
(He knows this is practically nothing for Takao, who is accustomed to so much more.)
The ride home passes in a daze of suspended disbelief. He wants Takao to stay the night again. Gold and Silver are still at large. It’s dangerous. He doesn’t know what Takao will do, what will happen to Takao if he’s left on his own. Even now, he can hardly believe this is real - them, together, holding hands, everything . If he lets Takao out of his sight, he is certain Takao will realize his mistake.
Despite Midorima’s insistence, Takao refuses - “I can’t just live at the Kishitani’s from now on, especially now that we’re dating,” he tacks on with a grin. He gives Midorima a hasty peck on the cheek before he leaves and Midorima watches Takao go until he’s out of sight.
By the next morning, Midorima is convinced that it was all a misunderstanding. He knows that Takao is unusually affectionate and that he enjoys nothing more than flustering Midorima. Furthermore, Takao said he “likes” Midorima, which isn’t necessarily an expression of romantic interest. Midorima believes that he was earnest, but it must have been an expression of friendship, nothing more. More would be… impossible. Midorima has not forgotten what he is.
When Takao picks him up for school the next day, he gives Midorima a wide grin that makes his heart skip a beat, even though he knows it spells trouble, and calls out, “How’s my boyfriend doing this morning?”
With a single word, all of Midorima’s expectations are shattered. The only explanation he can think of is Kise playing another cruel trick, or worse - Grey.
"What's your sign?" Midorima demands, already glowing, though he doesn't make the mistake of preemptively taking hold of Takao again.
"Pineapples," Takao answers, no longer chipper. "Shin-chan, did something happen?"
Midorima shakes his head. "No" - only the impossible.
He gets into the rickshaw in silence, and then Takao is too busy pedaling to inquire further.
The rest of the day passes like any other. Takao is physically affectionate, but not much more so than usual.
As always, they both stay late after practice. Afterwards, in the locker room, they are alone for the first time since that morning.
"Want to join me?" Takao asks as he steps into the shower.
Midorima feels his cheeks burning with embarrassment at the thought and he can only sputter in response.
Once they are both clean and dressed, Takao faces Midorima, his hands on his hips. "Something's wrong. What is it?"
Midorima automatically adjusts his glasses. It's embarrassing no matter which way he looks at it.
"I know you don't like being touched," Takao continues. "I'm working on it."
“No!” Midorima exclaims - that is the opposite of what he wants. “I-” he stops short before he can make some dramatic declaration that he’ll inevitably regret.
He adjusts his glasses again for good measure.
When Midorima makes another attempt, he chooses his words carefully; “I know we’re not likeable.” He hesitates.
“Shin-chan,” Takao interjects, “Are you trying to tell me that after my confession yesterday, after I kissed you, you’re still not convinced that I have feelings for you?”
“I-” Midorima begins, but he doesn’t have an argument. He feels his cheeks beginning to burn.
Takao strides toward him with a surprising amount of intensity for a human of his stature. He stops just a few feet away, but Midorima can almost feel his presence - not many people get even this close to him.
“Clearly, I’m not doing a good enough job,” Takao says with a wicked grin that has implications Midorima doesn’t even want to think about yet and sends shivers down his spine.
“Wait!” Midorima panics before Takao can do anything and half curses himself for it.
Takao’s intensity fades in an instant, and all of a sudden it’s just Takao looking up at Midorima with an easy smile. For a moment, Midorima is reminded of Kise disguised as Takao and his cruel prank, but this is different somehow, more natural, impossible as it may be. Midorima was with Takao all day, there was no opportunity for him to be changed out for an impostor, and Grey is dead.
“Don’t worry, we can take it slow.” Takao says gently. “I just don’t want my boyfriend to be able to forget that I like him.”
“I didn’t forget,” Midorima attempts to protest.
But Takao catches on quickly. “You just didn’t believe me in the first place?”
“I-” Midorima hesitates. “I had concluded it was impossible.”
“I know,” Takao says, and he almost sounds sad. After a moment’s consideration he remarks, “I didn’t think it was possible either- that you could be interested in me, I mean.”
It stings more than Midorima expected to hear Takao say it, but he shouldn't be surprised. He adjusts his glasses. "I didn't think I was capable of love because of how I was… raised until Kise-" he stops short, unwilling to explain Kise's prank that no longer seems quite so cruel.
"That's not what I meant," Takao insists, kindly ignoring the mention of Kise. "Well, I did assume you weren't interested in romance, but I meant that if you were, I didn't think you'd want a human like me."
“Don’t be a fool,” Midorima says, but it lacks its usual edge, “of course I want you.” He readjusts his glasses for good measure.
Takao grins as though there was nothing he wanted to hear more than Midorima’s clumsy confession. “And you should know by now that I like you.” He reaches out as though to touch Midorima, but stops short.
His concern is at once incredibly kind and immensely frustrating. Midorima takes Takao’s hand in his own to prove a point. The contact startles him, even though he initiated it, but he doesn’t let go.
“You know,” Takao remarks, some of his mischief returned, “now that we’re dating, you can call me Kazunari. What do you think, Shintarou ?” Takao practically purrs Midorima’s name with a suggestive weight that he will never be able to unhear.
Midorima nearly drops Takao’s hand. He can feel the heat returning to his face, but he cannot bring himself to protest. He is struck with an unshakable feeling that this is why he escaped. This is everything that Teiko was not.
Again, they walk back to Takao’s bike hand in hand. If this is a new routine, Midorima thinks he might be able to get used to it.
He takes his usual place in the rickshaw, but somehow, something clicks and he realizes that maybe there’s something wrong with making his boyfriend cart him around like this. He doesn’t offer to bike, though maybe he should. Instead, he glows green and uses his power to make it a little easier on Takao.
Over the next few days, they figure things out. Takao is a little more affectionate and Midorima tries to be nicer. Sometimes they hold hands at school and once, in private, Takao steals another kiss.
And when Midorima is lost in his own world, clearly overthinking something, Takao leans over and murmurs, “Hey Shintarou, everything alright?”
Takao is completely on board with Himuro's suggestion of having cake to celebrate their spectacular victory over Gold and Silver - if he can say so himself.
Midorima is not.
“You could have gotten yourself killed - again,” Midorima exclaims.
“And what were you about to do?” Takao retorts. In the thrill of victory, he had forgotten to be angry, but now it all came rushing back. “You were going to throw away everything you’ve fought for!” Even if Gold and Silver didn’t kill the Miracles, Midorima would have given up any chance at having a normal life, playing basketball, being with Takao.
“Don’t you see?” Midorima demands. “We didn’t have a choice. They were trying to get rid of us, it was only a matter of time before they realized-” he stops as though choked by the words he’s trying to say.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the only thing that would frighten all of them enough to try something so desperate. At one point, Takao wouldn’t have understood, but he’s learned a lot about Midorima and by extension the other Miracles since then.
He wants to reach out and hold Midorima, but he knows it wouldn’t be comforting, not when he’s so tense. Instead Takao says, “Shin-chan. I’m sorry, we should have told you the plan. Next time we can work together.” Or better yet, let there not be a “next time” and instead give the Miracles the peace they deserve, but Takao knows better than to expect life with Midorima to be so simple.
Midorima nods, but he still looks far from relaxed.
Now, Takao decides, is the right time to throw an arm around Midorima’s shoulders and bring him back down to Earth.
“Oi!” Midorima exclaims in shock, but he doesn’t protest or push Takao away, even as his face turns red.
“But first, we should celebrate our victory!” Takao proclaims.
Finally, he relinquishes his hold on Midorima, his job done. Midorima takes a moment to recompose himself.
“Very well,” Midorima says as he adjusts his glasses.
He gives Takao a weighty look of relief and maybe even some admiration that reminds Takao just how much the Miracle, for all his super human abilities, relies on him.
So quiet Takao almost doesn’t catch it, Midorima adds, “Thank you, Kazunari.”
After the Special Diet, everyone is exhausted. The party afterward is fueled entirely by leftover adrenaline and the thrill of victory. This lasts some longer than others.
The party ends up going well into the evening and Takao would probably have been happy to stay that long, celebrating with the basketball and volleyball players, and a few assorted JSDF officers. It feels unfair to drag him away, but Midorima is done.
With his Hawk Eye, it doesn’t take Takao long to notice Midorima standing on the sidelines. He waves goodbye to everyone else playing volley-basketball and makes his way over to Midorima as the game resumes.
“Ready to go?” Takao asks.
Midorima nods and grabs Takao’s hand - he’s already so overwhelmed, he doesn’t have the energy to be bothered by the contact. Right now, Takao’s hand in his is a warm, comforting reminder of how far he’s come amidst the onslaught of memories brought on by the Diet and Orange’s return.
Together, they walk over to the picnic benches, where Midorima’s guardian and Takao’s mother are sitting with the other JSDF soldiers and doctors who came to support the Miracles. Midorima belatedly lets Takao’s hand go as they approach - this really isn’t a conversation he wants to have with his guardian right now. He doesn’t miss how Dr. Kishitani hastily removes his arm from around Takao Nobuko’s shoulders as he notices Midorima and Takao, clearly thinking along the same lines.
“Takao is going to stay the night,” Midorima declares, and he sounds so exhausted that no one argues.
“Of course,” Dr. Kishitani says with a glance over at Takao to confirm that he is in fact okay with this decision.
Takao nods and his mother looks absolutely thrilled and more than a little smug about it. Takao shoots her a glare, but Midorima can only feel grateful for all of their support - or maybe just relieved; he’s spent the whole day being grateful and he’s not sure how much gratitude he has left.
The trip home passes in silence. Even Takao spends most of the time just watching the scenery. Eventually, Midorima’s hand sneaks back into Takao’s.
When they get home, Midorima leads Takao straight upstairs, into his room. He sits down, cross legged, on the bed and lets his eyes fall shut. He can feel the bed shifting as Takao sits down across from him.
Maybe later, another day, Midorima will realize just how great their victory - Orange’s victory - was, but right now this is all he needs. The soft pressure of Takao’s hand in his is enough to keep him grounded in the present. This is more than enough, more than he could have possibly hoped for.
When he opens his eyes, Takao is smiling at him. His smile is wide as ever, even though he’s looking at Midorima with a gentle, almost concerned expression. Maybe it’s something about the evening light, but he seems to glow. Unlike the Miracles when they use their abilities, it illuminates rather than consumes him. Midorima can only stare and Takao is content to let him.
Eventually they turn in - it’s early, but Midorima is exhausted. He lies in his own bed. He was almost tempted to ask Takao to join him, but that would still be too much, so Takao sleeps on the spare futon on the floor. Midorima’s arm dangles down from his bed to hold Takao’s hand as they sleep.