he expected it to hurt. he expected it to at least sting a little bit, if not feel like his heart had been set on fire. he expected an agonizing, painful sensation; expected tears to fall or a quivering frown to paint itself upon his face. he expected to feel something.
instead, there was no hurt. there was no sting, no burn, no agonizing and painful sensation. there was nothing.
tanaka felt nothing when kiyoko and yachi announced to the entire team that they were going out. not 'dating' quite yet, but they had been on dates (that's dates, plural), and they did have mutual (mutual) feelings for one another. the girl tanaka had loved (or, at least thought he loved) for nearly two full years had feelings for someone else; someone who wasn't him.
and it didn't hurt one bit. in fact, he was happy for the two of them, happy that two of the people he held dear were happy together. and he knew he'd be happy, of course, because he'd be crazy not to feel happy (especially considering the way kiyoko and yachi had looked at each other after sharing the news with the team), but he expected some type of negative feeling to accompany the happiness. heartbreak, jealousy, anger, anything.
but there was nothing.
after practice that day, after everyone had finished changing in the club room and gotten ready to go home, ennoshita approached him, placed a hand on his shoulder.
his voice was soft when he spoke, almost startlingly different from the sharp, loud tone he usually had when he was speaking to tanaka (because usually he'd be reprimanding him for saying or doing something inappropriate or idiotic, often times along with noya).
ennoshita said, "i know you really liked her. i'm sorry."
something about the way the dark-haired boy's hand felt on his shoulder left a weird but pleasant feeling in the spot where his hand had been, something about the way his voice wavered a little as he said those words to tanaka filled his chest with a strange yet not unwelcome warmth… something about the entirety of that quick, small gesture made tanaka feel more than he'd felt all day. it gave him that tingling sensation, it gave him that sting, that burst of emotion he was desperately trying to force himself to feel ever since the girls' announcement.
and that terrified him.
two: late monday/tuesday night
"tanaka?" suga's voice is groggy, like he's just woken up. which makes sense, considering the fact that—
"it's nearly four in the fucking morning , on a tuesday," suga sounded like he was this close to driving to tanaka's house and personally bashing his head in with a hammer (this frightens tanaka a little, as he honestly wouldn't put that past suga). "what could you possibly need to call me about at this hour?"
"s-sorry, suga-san, i know it's late..." tanaka trails off, cursing to himself at the way his voice breaks while he speaks suga's name. his mouth suddenly feels so dry, too dry . how long has it been since he last had water? why does his throat suddenly hurt so much, and feel like it's closing up? why does it feel like the weight of a hundred boulders is crushing his chest—?
"tanaka?" suga speaks up again, and this time his voice sounds less murder-y and more concerned. "is something wrong?"
tanaka swallows and exhales deeply, blinking back tears that have suddenly started to blur his vision (when did those get there?).
"when," it's taking all of his power to keep his voice steady, "when yacchan and kiyoko-san told us they were going out at practice today, i…" he trails off again, unsure if he's not able to continue due to fear of saying the truth out loud or uncertainty of what to say.
"oh, is that what this is about?" suga's voice still has a worried lilt to it, and now it's even softer. "i thought that might be tough on you, tanaka, i'm sor—"
"that's just it!" tanaka cries out suddenly, eyes widening as if surprised at himself for the exclamation. suga is silent now, too, perhaps also out of shock. tanaka takes another deep breath, and continues.
"i… i actually didn't… feel … anything," he says slowly. a single tear rolls down his cheek (he almost wants to laugh; why hasn't he even felt himself tear up?).
"i felt fine, suga-san," he continues. "i felt happy for them, but… that was it. i didn't feel sad, or hurt, or jealous or anything! how can that even be possible, after i liked kiyoko for so long!? all i felt was— i just felt numb."
at this point, tanaka has given up trying to control the steadiness of his voice, ignoring the several cracks and quivers that taint it when he speaks.
"and that's- that must be some type of heartbreak, right? numbness? when it hurts so much you just can't feel it at all?"
desperation. desperation fills tanaka's words, drips from his tone and from his eyes in the form of rapidly falling tears, leaves his mouth in trembling puffs of air.
"tanaka…" suga's voice is basically a whisper now, and tanaka is only able to hear it because of the absolute quiet that fills the night air. "the thing with heartbreak is that that 'numbness' is usually something that settles in later, after a stupidly large amount of pain." he chuckles humorlessly as he says this, and tanaka gets the feeling that his upperclassman is speaking from experience.
"if you didn't feel anything at all when kiyoko and yachi told that to the team, then… maybe you're not heartbroken. and i know this'll sound a little crazy, but maybe your feelings for kiyoko were never really as strong as you thought they were. maybe you actually had stronger feelings for someone else the whole time."
each sentence makes that crushing weight in tanaka's chest grow stronger, and he wants to curl up in a ball and disappear at this point.
maybe his feelings for kiyoko were never as strong as he thought? how could that be possible? he'd liked her for nearly two full years; there's no way that was all some— some illusion he made up in his own head.
tanaka sighs and shakes his head. "thanks, suga-san," he says tiredly. "i'll see you at school tomorrow."
"yeah," suga replies, voice as gentle as ever. "see you."
tanaka falls backwards after hanging up the call, head landing on his pillow with a soft thud.
he stares at the ceiling, at the shadows cast by the moonlight, looming above him. he thinks about the other thing suga said.
maybe you actually had stronger feelings for someone else the whole time.
tanaka shuts his eyes tightly. feelings for someone else? no way. that was insane…
after all, who else could he possibly have had feelings for?
he thinks about the way he'd felt when ennoshita touched his shoulder, when he spoke to him so kindly.
he doesn't stop thinking about it, doesn't stop thinking about how he can still feel ennoshita's gentle touch. doesn't stop thinking about his unusually quiet voice as he expressed pity.
tanaka doesn't sleep for the rest of the night.
two point five: tuesday afternoon
"i really appreciate the chocolates, masako-san..."
tanaka watches ennoshita say this with a smile on his face, a smile that could easily rival the sun in terms of its radiance and brightness.
tanaka feels his heart drop at the sight. he feels like his heart's been set aflame, feels a sort of heaviness and pain that he's never felt before; he feels an agonizing and painful sensation. he feels hurt.
tears fill his eyes and threaten to spill, threaten to run down his cheeks, all carving differently shaped wet tracks on their way down.
he feels that desperation again, but this time it's different; this time it's a desperation to stop feeling rather than start. he wipes at his eyes hastily.
suga's words from their call the other night pass through his mind again.
he turns and leaves.
he doesn't see ennoshita's smile grow apologetic, doesn't see ennoshita try to return the box of chocolates to masako (only for her to frown, push it back towards him in an insistent manner, and look at the ground).
he doesn't hear ennoshita tell masako that he's sorry and that he doesn't feel the same way.
he tells coach ukai and takeda-sensei that he isn't feeling well that day. the two of them frown sympathetically at him, taking note of his watery, bloodshot eyes. they nod and tell him to take care of himself. he is dismissed from practice.
it's a tuesday afternoon.
tanaka doesn't go to school for the rest of the week.
so this is heartbreak.
"rise 'n' shine, ryu!!!! it's a new day!"
tanaka wakes with a violent jerking motion, head knocking against the headboard of his bed. he hisses from the pain and rubs the tiredness out of his eyes, glaring at the source of the voice that so rudely woke him from his nap; his glare bores into the eyes of none other than saeko, who shoots him an annoyingly cheery grin in response.
"well, good evening to you, too, ryu!" saeko chirps.
tanaka rolls his eyes. "if it's evening, why the hell did you say 'rise and shine' and 'it's a new day?'"
"time is a social construct so at the end of the day it doesn't really matter if you choose to say 'goodnight' in the morning or 'good morning' in the night," saeko responds.
tanaka blinks, confused at his sister's strange reply, and then goes back to glaring at her.
"why'd you wake me up?" he asks bitterly. "can't a man wallow in misery in peace?"
saeko joins tanaka on the bed, shifting onto it completely and crossing her legs.
"first of all," she starts, "you're hardly a man, ryu. second of all, what could possibly be causing you to wallow in misery so much that you've been out of school for the past three days? i know you don't care too much for school itself, but that's three days of your precious volleyball practice that you've missed."
tanaka's glare falters, and his gaze falls to the comforters covering his bed. "i had my first heartbreak," he says quietly.
"what!?" saeko shouts. she rolls up the sleeves of the dark red sweater she's wearing. "who was the girl? was it that one you've liked for forever? just tell me, i'll give her a nice old-fashioned talking to, show her to mess with my—"
"saeko." tanaka squeezes his eyes shut tightly again, reminded of the night he called suga. he feels engulfed by that same feeling of dread, of fear, of desperation. desperation for the world to just stop, for all his pain to go away.
tanaka takes a shaky breath before speaking again.
"it wasn't… it wasn’t a ‘her.’"
for a moment his sister looks confused, but then he sees realization flash across her face.
"ryu… i didn't know you liked guys, too," saeko says softly.
when tanaka looks back up at her, his eyes are filled with tears again (it feels like that happens a lot lately). this time he makes no effort to hold them back.
"i didn't know, either," he replies, voice trembling so badly he doesn't think he can even get another word out. a sob comes tumbling out of him before he can stop it, and then another, and another, and another , and he loses count after that because they just keep coming .
saeko moves swiftly, pulling tanaka close to her by tugging on both of his arms and wrapping him in an embrace as continues to sob and sob and sob.
the realisation that he hasn't cried this much since the day he and saeko found out their parents had passed crosses his mind, and it sends a shiver through his body that only causes him to cry harder. he clings to saeko, clings to her dark red sweater as if it's the only thing capable of keeping him in this world, clinging to it as if he'll float off into space and meet his demise if he doesn’t. he cries into his older sister's shoulder and he doesn't stop until god knows how many minutes (or hours) have passed.
"sorry," he whispers, sitting up and slipping out of saeko's arms to wipe any stray tears off his face.
"don't be," saeko replies earnestly. "now, tell me, who was this boy? 'cause i will—"
"saeko," tanaka cuts her off with a wavering laugh. "it's not like he did it on purpose. he never knew i liked him. he got a confession from a girl and accepted it before i could get a chance to tell him how i feel. if anything, i'm in the wrong here for not realising how i felt sooner; for not telling him sooner."
saeko doesn't respond. tanaka huffs, knowing why she's silent.
saeko's eyes look like they might roll right out of their sockets if she tries to widen them any more, and tanaka would laugh at the expression if he didn't feel so drained from all the crying.
"ennoshita… like, that study buddy of yours?"
tanaka feels his face flush. "yeah…"
saeko tilts her head. "are you… absolutely positive he accepted that girl's confession?"
now he's confused. he nods.
"yeah. i mean… he was smiling really big and bright when masako-san gave him that box of chocolates, and he thanked her for it and everything—"
saeko gasps loudly, cutting tanaka off. "oh my god. ryu. tanaka ryuunosuke. you're an idiot. you're the biggest idiot ever known to man, the biggest fool in the entire universe. the waves of idiocy that you give off are reaching astronomical levels; they would shock and confuse even the brightest minds of today."
"wha— wow, okay, that's one way to comfort your sad little brother, i guess."
saeko groans. "that's the thing! you've been all down in the dumps for the past three days for no reason. ennoshita wasn't accepting that girl's confession; he was taking the kinder, gentler, 'let 'em down easy' path of rejection. the smile, the 'thank you…' those are all staples of it!"
"wh-what?" tanaka is so surprised he can barely get the one word out. "how do you even know that?"
"i've been on the giving and receiving end of that approach! trust me, i know it when i see it - or hear about it." saeko speaks with such confidence that tanaka almost wants to believe her.
"what if you're wrong, though?" he asks. "what if i go back to school on monday, and it turns out that ennoshita has a girlfriend now and you were wrong?"
"i highly doubt that i'm wrong," saeko boasts. when tanaka continues to give her an unimpressed stare, she sighs as if accepting defeat.
" but," she continues, "on the off chance that i am, then…"
and then she shrugs.
tanaka scrunches his face up in confusion. "what does that mean?"
"it means…" saeko shrugs again.
"did you hit your head a little too hard on something today, sis…? you're not making any sense."
saeko rolls her eyes. "it means that it's... well, it's whatever. in the grand scheme of things… yeah, you got your heart broken because the guy you liked ended up going out with a girl… and, yeah, it sucks and it hurts a whole bunch… but no matter how much or how long it hurts, you'll get past it. and then you'll be fine. and you'll find someone else that you like who also likes you."
tanaka watches saeko with wide eyes. it was typical of his sister to offer random words of wisdom, but nothing she'd ever said before had hit as close to home as this does.
"plus," she adds, grinning, "you'll have me right there by your side the whole time, just like i was today. you're my baby brother, ryu. you mean everything to me."
tanaka grabs his pillow and swats at saeko with it, face burning. "don't give me all that sappy stuff, it sounds so weird comin' from you!"
saeko giggles as she stops the pillow in its tracks with her hands. she grabs onto it and successfully hits tanaka with it. "what," she says, repeatedly batting at tanaka with the pillow, "can't i, a big sister, tell you, my little baby brother, that i love you and want to protect you and be there for you when you need me the most?"
now tanaka is laughing along with her, and eventually he's able to catch the pillow before it can hit him again. grinning at saeko, feeling better than he's felt in weeks, tanaka replies, "i love you, too."
four: monday, again.
tanaka manages to avoid ennoshita for the entire day, but then there's the inevitable, inescapable situation that is volleyball practice. he considers telling the coaches he feels sick again, but he has a feeling they won't let him off as easy this time. plus, he knows he has to face this; has to face him.
practice comes, and all of tanaka's teammates crowd around him, expressing their concern (especially noya, who's near tears, rambling on about how tanaka didn't answer any of his texts or calls, which tanaka does admittedly feel bad about, but in his defense he was wallowing in misery), asking him questions, pointing out things about his appearance and behavior like the bags that still hung below his eyes, the exhaustion that was written clearly all over his face and body language, the way he'd barely said a word since arriving. even kiyoko smiles softly and tells him, "i'm glad you're feeling better," while yachi nearly sobs over how she was so worried he'd died and so relieved that he was still alive.
all of it makes tanaka crack a smile; his teammates care about him a lot, and they know him so well. they really are like a second family to him.
the only person who isn't in the smile gathering, tanaka notices, is ennoshita. the boy in question is standing practically all the way across the room from the rest of the team, eyes cast downward towards the shiny floors of the gym. he has his arms crossed over his chest, as if he's trying to make himself small enough to disappear.
practice is over in the blink of an eye; tanaka doesn't realise just how much he'd missed it until he was doing his best to hit every ball he could, always running so fast and so much that by the time practice ends his legs feel like they might as well be made of jelly.
an all too familiar voice startles tanaka as he's packing up his things in the club room and getting ready to go home. it says, "you were really good at practice today. those five days off must've done you a bunch of good."
tanaka stands and turns to face ennoshita, who has a small, shy grin on his face.
he's really pretty.
"not really," he chuckles, but nothing about it is too funny at all. he wants to continue, wants to look ennoshita right in the eyes and say, not really, because i just spent all five days thinking about you, but he doesn't. instead, he says, "so… i saw you got a confession from masako-san. how'd that go?"
ennoshita laughs nervously (it's cute) and rubs the back of his neck (a nervous habit he has that tanaka has noticed; it's also cute), and he smiles sheepishly (which is also cute - has ennoshita always been this fucking cute?). "well, she's really nice and all, but, um… i turned her down because she's— well, she's not really my. type."
saeko was right! oh my god, saeko was right… she's gonna drop the world's biggest 'i told you so' bomb on me when i get home, fuck.
"what is your type, then?" tanaka presses on, hoping his relief at the news of ennoshita's rejection didn't reflect in his voice.
ennoshita is speechless for a bit after that, his face turning redder and redder as each second passes. "my type is… well, guys."
if tanaka had been drinking water, he'd have spit it all out right now.
"r-really?" he stutters.
"that's— that's cool."
not THAT kind of something!
"i mean. um. i like guys, too."
this seems to catch ennoshita by surprise. "you do?"
tanaka nods. "yeah. i just found out… um… recently."
"that's cool," ennoshita says, mimicking tanaka. they both laugh. tanaka realises just how close together they're standing.
"youwerethereasoniwasoutforfivedays," he blurts out suddenly.
well, that's one way to rip off that band aid.
ennoshita blinks, seeming to process and understand what tanaka just said. the moment of understanding presents itself in the way ennoshita's eyebrows are raised and and his mouth forms a little 'o' in surprise, and out of nowhere tanaka is filled with an urge to kiss him senseless.
"i- me? i was the reason you were absent for so long?" ennoshita frowns. "is that why you were avoiding me all day today?"
"well… not exactly." now it's tanaka's turn to give the other boy a sheepish grin. he looks at the ground as he continues, "i just wasn't sure how to talk to you today so i didn't want to risk having to do that, that's all."
"but— so— i'm sorry, can you explain how your being gone for nearly a whole week was my fault?"
tanaka looks back up and sees ennoshita's warm brown eyes filled with guilt, but also anger and confusion and bitterness. he himself starts to feel bad for making the other boy feel this way.
"i thought you accepted masako's confession because i saw you smiling when she handed you those chocolates. it made me feel," he laughs a little bit, "it made me feel way worse than when kiyoko-san and yachi told us they were going out. after that i didn't think i'd be able to look at you without wanting to cry so i got out of practice that day and didn't come back for the rest of the week."
ennoshita's eyes are wide now. "tanaka, i…" he trails off. tanaka understands. if he were in ennoshita's shoes, he doesn't think he'd know what to say, either.
"maybe i wasn't specific enough before," ennoshita continues, "about my type."
"what do you mean..?"
maybe it's just his imagination, but ennoshita seems to be standing even closer to tanaka than he was before. tanaka refrains from gasping at the realisation of their new closeness, at how there are flecks of gold in ennoshita's eyes that he's never noticed before, at how the afternoon sun reflecting on those eyes makes them look almost like honey. ennoshita chikara is absolutely gorgeous.
"my type," ennoshita starts, "is wing spikers who are approximately 178.2 centimeters tall according to recent height assessment, who are always loud and rowdy and never let a dull moment come to pass when they're at practice," he loops his arms around tanaka's neck (at this, tanaka wraps his arms around ennoshita's waist, almost like it's a reflex), "who are so, so kind and absolutely amazing at getting people's spirits up in times when the morale is low… oh, and, preferably, his jersey number is 5."
"that's a really specific type you got there," tanaka says, voice coming out much quieter than he'd have liked. but it's okay, he thinks, because it makes the moment that much more intimate, that much more special.
ennoshita laughs softly and places his chin on tanaka's shoulder (the same shoulder he'd touched a week ago, tanaka notices). "i like you, tanaka. i really, really like you," he says. the words are whispered right into tanaka's ear and they send a chill down his spine like nothing he's ever felt before.
"i really, really, like you, too, chika," tanaka responds with a grin. he wishes he could imprint the gasp that leaves ennoshita's mouth after he says that.
suddenly ennoshita isn't in his arms anymore, and is instead standing up straight and looking him directly in the eyes with a gaze that makes tanaka want to melt into a puddle in the best way possible. "you don't get to do that," ennoshita says, voice wavering (but not in a bad way, because he's smiling that same bright smile that caused tanaka to realise that he adores him), "you don't get to just pull the cute nickname card on me out of nowhere and expect me to not want to kiss you immediately."
tanaka's grin only grows wider, "well, what's stopping you?"
nothing. absolutely nothing, replies the shared look between the two of them after that question.
needless to say, daichi was in for quite a surprise when he jogged into the club room to grab a book that had fallen out of his bag before he left, and now, tanaka and ennoshita are no longer allowed to be less than eight feet apart from each other in the club room for the rest of the year.