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Tadashi takes a shower in the man’s apartment before he leaves. He watches the milky water swirl the drain and wants to vomit at the wretched sight. 

He’s disgusting.

He leaves with wet hair and in his same sweat-stained suit before the sun can begin to peak over the Sendai cityscape. 

 

---

 

The first true hookup Tadashi ever had been during his second semester of college. 

He’d been talking to a pretty, young woman all evening. Tadashi caught her eye the moment she walked into the party, with her long eyelashes and tiny waist. In the end, she was nice, a little drunk, but seriously not Tadashi’s type.

He hooked up with her anyway because his friends were elbowing him all night and saying Tadashi needed to relieve a little stress. 

It was nothing too monumental or amazing. Frankly, it was two bodies pressed against each other and not much else. A relief, perhaps, but it probably caused Tadashi more stress than it was worth. 

In the morning, Tadashi made her breakfast as she sat at his kitchen counter. His roommate came through for some coffee, gave him a raised brow, and promptly went back to his room. 

The night before, she’d been loud and wild. Her persona was stripped during the daylight. 

“Can I ask you something?” 

Tadashi turned back to face her as she palmed her cup of coffee. She had striking blue eyes that would have probably been perfect to some guys. Not Tadashi, for whatever reason. He thought they were pretty, but his tastes were different. 

“Sure,” Tadashi responded. 

Her lips set into a pout. “I mean… are you dating someone right now? Like, are you cheating on your girlfriend or something?”

Tadashi turned off the stove and crossed to the counter. “No… I’m single right now… Why?

She shrugged as he served her some eggs. “I don’t know how to explain it, really.” She looked up at him, trying to gauge his expression. “Did you just get out of a relationship?”

Again, Tadashi shook his head. He served himself some food. 

“And this isn’t your first time?” 

Tadashi should’ve been insulted but he simply said, “No,” once more. 

“Weird…” she said, taking a bite. She chewed slowly, not bothering to look at Tadashi as she added, “It’s like… well it’s like I’ve been the ‘Other Woman’ before, you know? And I’ve been used as a rebound. And as someone’s first… it was all uncomfortable and strange and each time I could feel the guy’s guilt. It’s a little different though that’s why I can’t place it… maybe you’re just sad.”

“What makes you think that?” He asked quietly. 

She shrugged again. “I don’t know…” 

She didn’t say much after that. She didn’t ask if Tadashi was actually sad or if something else was weighing heavy on his mind. She didn’t even say thank-you or goodbye as she padded out of the apartment as soon as she was done eating. 

Tadashi supposed he didn’t say much either. He genuinely couldn’t concoct a response as to why a stranger could feel his guilt of all things. A part of him wanted to ask what that even meant in the first place. 

Sure, he had lots to be guilty about, but did she really feel that? And if so, who else could see the way Tadashi carried around a jaded heart? Were his secrets out in the open for all or just those he delegated to sleeping with?

It took him a year, a whole bottle of wine, and ten times the courage he had that night in order to have another one-night stand. 

 

---

 

Tadashi flops onto his bed, letting himself bounce a couple of times as the mattress settles beneath him. It might be useless trying to get sleep now considering dawn is breaking in only a few hours, but he’ll grab any rest he can. It seems like Tadashi, despite his absence of an active social life, can never take a break. Blame it on work or maybe his mind never wanting to stop. 

How long has it been since Tadashi had a moment to rest? He can’t even remember the last time he felt close to peaceful. It’s just been constant movement. The faster he goes, the less he has to think about. 

It’s terrifying when Tadashi’s mind does slow down to consider the other . Everything he’s missed out on or neglected. He doesn’t want to dwell on anything too long, lest he get attached. 

Tadashi shakes his head, attempting to clear the creeping thoughts away. He doesn’t have the time. He needs a distraction. 

He pulls out his phone and opens up Instagram. Yachi convinced him to get it a few years ago despite his inactivity. His profile has a mere five photos, all of which Yachi helped him to pick out and post. Tadashi doesn’t exactly see the need for social media especially when he’s not too keen on the whole ‘social’ part. 

Regardless, he scrolls on his feed for a few minutes before the restlessness catches up. He tosses his phone aside, strips out of his suit, and puts on a comfy pair of sweatpants and an old college tee. 

It’s still there though. The image and the guilt and the—

Tadashi turns on his TV. He lazily cycles through the different channels, stopping on the evening news for a few moments before he flicks to some cheap kaiju movie he vaguely recognizes from childhood. All of the programming is old, made for night owls who have nothing better to do than catch the last few plot points of an old law show. It’s all white noise to Tadashi, enough to nearly lure him into slumber until a documentary pulls him back to consciousness. 

He recognizes the photographs, even a little startled as his own image pulls up. He quickly turns up the volume and positions himself on his elbows to get a better look at the screen. 

“Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu successfully brought their team to Nationals all three years of high school,” the narrator explains in a deep, calming voice. The screen fades between photos of them from Karasuno, most of which are focused on Kageyama and Hinata playing together.

He vaguely remembers Hinata talking about how he’d been featured in some made-for-TV movie, but Tadashi never could have calculated that he’d be part of it as well. Even if his presence is small and certainly nothing in comparison to the actual stars of the film, the whole thing still feels like an invasion of privacy. High school was so many years ago; the last thing he needs is someone seeing this and asking about his relation to some world-ranked volleyball players. 

That part of his life is long gone. 

“In their last year, Karasuno placed third in the nation,” the narrator continued. “Their fine teamwork and so-called ‘ultra quick’ proved to be the key to their shared success.”

The documentary flips to a picture taken right after they’d won their ranking game, thinly beating out Itachiyama in order to secure their placement as the third best volleyball team in the nation. It shows Hinata and Kageyama screaming at each other with intense elation after their successful back attack. The other players celebrate as well, while a wide-grinned Tadashi is shown rushing the court with the rest of the team flanking his sides. 

Tsukishima stands near the net, flashing an oh-so-rare smile, towards the back of the court. If the camera isn’t lying and if Tadashi’s eyes perceive correctly, it almost appears that his happiness is turned towards Tadashi of all people. 

How strange. 

How… honest. 

Most of Nationals still feels like a blur. Sure it happened years ago, but Tadashi’s pretty convinced he’s done his duty in terms of suppressing most of what happened. There’s still quite a bit of good memories too, he supposes. Apparently this photo captures one of them. 

“We asked Middle Blocker Tsukishima Kei-senshu from the Sendai Frogs his opinion on being teammates with Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu.”

The documentary switches to a video of Tsukishima post-game, still dripping with sweat while his green Frogs uniform clings to his body. He’s surrounded by reporters, one of which evidently poses the same question. Tsukishima looks right into the camera, gold eyes appearing nearly brown on the low-quality footage. 

“They’re idiots,” Tsukishima says quite frankly, voice warped by the bad recording. He looks around a little, using the towel around his neck to wipe off some of his sweat, before he finally relinquishes, “They’re talented idiots, but idiots nonetheless.”

“What sort of drama brewed on the Karasuno team?” The narrator questions as the video zooms into a still of Tsukishima’s face. “What happened after Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu graduated? Please stay tuned through these commercial messages to hear the rest of the story of the Demon Duo.”

A woman promoting yogurt pops onto the screen, forcing Tadashi out of his almost intoxicated stupor. Maybe he’s still feeling the effects of all that gin from earlier. 

Brief memories from his dirty deeds in the hours prior force a gag to ripple through Tadashi’s frame. The unconformability sets in quickly and lasts even as Tadashi crawls under the covers and forces his mind to think of other things. Revulsion pulses, sound and secure, as the relentless image of those dark eyes peering into him morphs into golden eyes filled with disgust.  

Tadashi flips onto his other side and attempts to soothe his rapid-beating heart. He should really get some rest. 

But the golden eyes stay, as they so often do, a haunting memory Tadashi can’t ever seem to get rid of despite his constant efforts to forget. 

 

---

 

Suzuki is extremely pleased at Tadashi’s work. He even says so, during their overtime of course, much to the dismay of his coworkers. 

Hayato gives him a dirty look, seemingly forgetting he was the one to give out Tadashi’s name in the first place. The coworkers probably won’t invite him out for beers for a while. Tadashi couldn’t mind less, honestly. 

 

---

 

“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” Aiko says smoothly, holding out a hand to shake. 

Tadashi takes it and gives her a pressed-lip smile. She instantly loses her professional persona and returns to the bubbly, fun presence Tadashi’s mostly come to associate her with. 

“Oh, I’m so excited to keep working with you!” Aiko cheers with a toothy grin. She then stops herself and asks, “We are going to be working together… right?” 

“It looks that way,” Tadashi says. 

Aiko leads him through the long halls of the Frogs center once more, only this time Tadashi knows what to expect from the building. The large windows and the extensive staircases are somewhat welcoming now. It’s strange, he thinks. He’s only been here a handful of times before for various meetings over the last few weeks and yet now the whole place is oddly familiar. 

“Okay, good, good!” Aiko nods. She lets out a sigh of relief. “Moving forward our goal will be creating a synergistic relationship but there’s a lot that should be entailed. We have galas with our other sponsors, uniform changes, press releases, promotion directly from our athletes, and a whole lot more. Up for the challenge?”

Tadashi presses his lips together. Quite honestly, he didn’t think he’d make it this far. Under usual circumstances, his position would be transferred to a higher-up better equipped for managing a project this large. Tadashi wasn’t nearly qualified to undertake such an important role, and yet Suzuki had insisted he was the man for the job. Suzuki’s recommendation wasn’t taken lightly, though. Most of the other senior-level managers still saw Tadashi as a widely unqualified rookie. That was fine. 

“I’ll try my best,” Tadashi decides to respond. Aiko seems pleased by the answer. 

“Now the timeline is relatively pressed, given the nature of the sport, but my superiors would prefer if we worked quickly. They said they’d like to debut the partnership as a sort of publicity stunt before we enter the season. That would put us at about mid-September. Now, I know that’s only a couple months away, but I’m certain we can make it work. A press conference is due in order to—”

“Aiko-chan!” A voice calls from the end of the hallway. She quickly pauses her rambling and Tadashi barely has enough time to poke his head out when he hears it ask, “Yamaguchi?” 

He stiffens at the name. A wave of panic soundly courses through his body as a pop of blonde hair and bright eyes come into view. 

Koganegawa gives them a once-over as he nears, walking straight past Aiko to give Tadashi a bone-crushing hug. He looks back to her, catching her look of pure confusion as he lightly taps on Koganegawa’s back. 

“How are you!” The giant setter laughs as he steps back to observe Tadashi once more at arm’s length. The man himself has changed little from high school. The main difference is the appearance of hefty muscles on his arms and a shorter haircut than before. 

“I’m okay,” Tadashi replies, glancing over at Aiko once more. She stares back at them, assessing it all herself. 

“Man it’s been like what, seven, eight years?” Koganegawa questions, tightening his grip on Tadashi’s shoulder. “Seriously, what happened to you? It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth or something!”

Tadashi’s about to come up with an excuse but Koganegawa fills in the pause himself. 

“Ya know, I was actually thinking about you the other day. See, I was talking with Tsukki and he was all like,” Tadashi winces as Koganegawa preps his best Tsukishima impression, furrowed brow and all, “‘I have plans with a friend I can’t come to your party this evening’ and I was like ‘Oh! Are you talking ‘bout Yamaguchi?’ But then Tsukki was all distracted by that or something weird, man that guy is strange…  anyway, he sort of left after really quickly after that saying no and to be honest I don’t know where that came from because it’s not like he talks about you or anything, well he doesn’t really talk about anyone but still, but it’s like Wow I haven’t thought about you in years and suddenly when I bring you up you reappear again. Weird right?”

“Weird,” Yamaguchi agrees.

“Ah, remember that time you used to hate me?” Koganegawa laughs. “Oh my god, you were so angry when I came up to Tsukki at that one practice game but then the next one you got a lot nicer.”

“I never hated you,” Tadashi tries to say. 

“I know, I know, but I still think it’s funny. Anyway, it’s really good to see you!” Koganegawa assures with a slap to the back. “We’ll have to go out for drinks sometime! Aiko-chan, you can come too!” 

Aiko’s features remain stagnant. “I’d love to come and hear all about your friendship with Tadashi-kun.”

Koganegawa nods excitedly. “Oh yeah, totally. Ya know, this guy had the nastiest jump floater in the nation. Swear on it.” He suddenly whips his attention back to Tadashi. “Can you still do it?”

“I haven’t played volleyball in years…” Tadashi’s hoping that’s enough to convince him to back down and stop talking, but Koganegawa doesn’t take the hint. 

“Oh, I’m sure you’re still amazing at it!” Koganegawa bellows at his own thought. Tadashi sheepishly chuckles in response, but he can feel himself becoming more uncomfortable minute by unbearable minute. 

Koganegawa stops laughing as he suddenly lights up, an idea clearly popping into his mind. “We should have you do your serve! You can test it against Tsukki’s and see who has the better one!”

“He uses a jump floater?” Tadashi asks against his will. Curiosity creeps inside, threatening to kill Tadashi after it’s taken out the cat. 

Koganegawa nods confidently. “Yeah. Dude, when I was first on the team, so like a few years ago, I remember always trying to talk to Tsukki when he was trying to study jump floaters. We’d be on the bus or something, and he’d have his headphones on watching a video and no matter how hard I tried I could never get his attention.” He pouts at the memory, quick to embody his sad words. 

It doesn’t surprise Tadashi at all though. For most people, Tsukishima’s headphones were a clear indicator he was not in the mood to talk. Sure they’d been a warning to Tadashi as well, but he was usually able to break the negative curse by tugging twice on the edge of Tsukishima’s sleeve. His most common response was to hook his headphones around his neck and listen to whatever Tadashi had to say that day. Although, there were the rare occasions in which Tsukishima would ignore Tadashi’s attention. At those times, Tadashi was content to simply listen to whatever music Tsukishima was playing (although, his headphones were cheap and the quality was awful, especially at the volume Tsukishima always played it at).

Tadashi doesn’t even realize he’s been zoning out of the conversation until he notices Koganegawa is staring straight at him with a goofy-looking grin and wide eyes. 

“Sorry, what?” Tadashi asks. 

Koganegawa dramatically rolls his eyes. “I said, you should demonstrate your serve! I’m sure Aiko-chan would love to see it too!"

Again, Tadashi’s nearly forgotten she was there. She, too, is looking directly at him, though there’s no sense of giddy or glee, unlike Koganegawa. 

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tadashi says, panic rising in his tone. He seriously doubts he can still even do it. Then again, he’d probably done a million serves and something like that isn’t so easily erased from one’s habits. Tadashi’s pretty sure that volleyball is like riding a bike and that the moment he places his hands onto a ball the thrill of it all will come rushing back to him like it’d never left in the first place. Still… he doesn’t want to see whatever else Koganegawa has in store. 

“Nonsense!” Koganegawa insists, maneuvering himself around Tadashi in order to place his hands on his back. 

“What are you—”

“Come on! Show Tsukki your serve!” He begins to push Tadashi towards the practice gym while Tadashi scrambles to get out of his grip. Unfortunately, Koganegawa has a lot more centimeters than Tadashi, and a whole bout of enthusiasm, which renders him practically useless against the giant setter’s forces.

“Koganegawa, I really don’t think I—”

“You’ll be great!” They near the doors and Tadashi can begin to see inside the small window. There’s already a few players warming up, all long legs and powerful spikes as they fly across the court. There’s a flash of blonde and Tadashi feels himself beginning to panic even more. 

“Please, I—”

“Koganegawa.”

They all pause and Tadashi feels Koganegawa’s hands drop from his back. He turns to see another oddly familiar mop of blonde hair, only this one is paired with a dark set of judging eyes. 

“Kyouken-san!” Koganegawa cheers. He flocks over to Kyoutani’s side and points at Tadashi. “Remember Yamaguchi? He’s—”

“Pinch server,” Kyoutani finishes, brows forming a thick line. 

Tadashi feels himself clam up. He’s a little surprised Kyoutani even recognizes him. While the man himself had an undeniable presence that couldn’t be ignored once he stepped onto the court, Tadashi was more of a silent player. They’d only faced off a handful of times in their overlapping high school years. Tadashi, frankly, didn’t realize he had any sort of presence. 

“Yeah,” he squeaks, making sure to not look Kyoutani straight in the eyes. He’s vaguely afraid he’ll turn into stone. 

“Don’t you think Yamaguchi should show us his jump floater?” Koganegawa asks excitedly. 

Kyoutani, thankfully, doesn’t seem impressed by Tadashi’s old career. “No.”

“What? But—”

Kyoutani pushes past them with little regard. Koganegawa follows after him, already starting up some new insignificant commentary, and they enter the gym forgetting Tadashi was even there in the first place. He supposes that’s how things should be. 

It hits him though, as Tadashi turns back to see Aiko’s face scrunched-up in a newfound anger, that he’s seriously fucked up. That dreadful feeling of things going so terribly wrong is, unfortunately, one that Tadashi is well-versed in. 

“I thought you didn’t know who Koganegawa was,” Aiko says, not bothering to look at him. 

Tadashi flinches. “I’m sorry…”

There’s an excuse here, a lie to smooth everything over and make it seem like Tadashi wasn’t initially some lying freak who felt the need to hide away his past that wasn’t even truly traumatic. He was blowing the whole thing out of proportion, really. Who even cares if he knew a couple of the players? It’s not like it changed anything. 

He’s pathetic, really. Holding onto trauma from his youth like it’s the only thing he has left. People were out in the world dying and Tadashi’s been feeling sorry for himself for years because he has nothing better to do. What a pity. 

“Tadashi-kun, I don’t like liars,” Aiko says softly. She runs her fingers through her hair. Maybe it’s a nervous habit or maybe she really just likes her hair; Tadashi hasn’t decided yet. 

“I’m sorry,” Tadashi apologizes again. He drops his head. 

He’s really fucked it all up this time. Maybe this will be his downfall. Maybe Aiko will report to his superiors and get someone else on the job. Maybe Suzuki will fire him and put him on the blacklist, so Tadashi won’t be able to get another job. Maybe this is the last regrettable thing Tadashi will ever do. 

Aiko lets out a big sigh and places her hands onto her hips. “Why did you even lie? You could have told me that you knew a couple of the players.”

Tadashi could have done a lot of things but isn’t it easier to forget about fickle things like the past? Tadashi’s pretty sure there’s a saying about that… 

“I…” Tadashi swallows hard. He’s not nearly charismatic enough to make an excuse seem reasonable so he tells her some semblance of the truth. “You look really excited about telling me about the Frogs… I didn’t want to disappoint you…”

He purposefully avoids the fact that he didn’t want to be here in the first place but the thought of losing this all simply terrifies him to no end. 

Aiko drops her arms and takes a step forward. “I don’t like liars. I may come off happy all the time, but nothing bugs me more than lying for no reason. I appreciate that you wanted to protect my feelings, but I’m not some little kid, Tadashi-kun. So what if you know Kanji-kun and Kentaro-san?”

“It’s not just them,” Tadashi says quietly. 

“Who else?” She thinks it through, expression souring. “Wait, didn’t Kanji-kun mention something about Kei-kun?”

Tadashi shoves his hands into his pockets to prevent them from shaking anymore. “Yeah. We’re ah… we’re from the same high school.”

What isn’t said, but is rattling around in Tadashi’s mind, is just about everything else Tsukishima is… 

It’s a terrible fact that Tsukishima now exists with an asterisk. He’s Tadashi’s childhood best friend*, and perhaps the only person in the entire world that knows Tadashi inside and out*. 

The little asterisk added to the end of those statements places their entire relationship into the conditional. The truth that lies in that tiny little star is that they no longer associate with one another. That former should be inserted before childhood best friend. That they are practical strangers with one another, even if they once knew every detail about the other. Tadashi’s unsure if he even knows a single thing about Tsukishima anymore. It’s been so long… 

Where Tsukishima used to exist with semicolons to connect long, winding phrases of emotional thought, he now has an asterisk branded next to his name. Tsukishima prevails with conditions and limitations, things he put in place himself.

Where Tadashi always had a conjunction to keep his feelings alive, Tsukishima placed a period at the end of their names. And so it remains, stubbornly kept there by Tadashi who no longer needs something to keep his thoughts about Tsukishima going. If he placed the asterisk and the period, Tadashi would keep them. 

Tadashi and Kei. Childhood best friends. Kei is the only person in the entire world that knows Tadashi inside and out. And vice versa. 

Tadashi doesn’t tell this to Aiko though. He cannot bring himself to even consider how she’d might react if she discovered everything about them. Certainly, she would also give him a look of pure disgust if she knew. 

But she doesn’t know and Tadashi doesn’t elaborate, and it finally sinks in it that they were simply friends in high school. 

In fact, Aiko lights up. “You should have just said something! It’s not a bad thing you’re friends with them. It honestly makes things on my end easier. We’ve had issues in the past where associates didn’t know how to act properly around the players even though they’re regular people. I can’t even imagine what they’d be like around a Division 1 team…”

Tadashi’s not quite sure where she’s trying to go with her logic but maybe it isn’t quite the end of everything…

Aiko’s hands reflexively return to curling through her hair. “Promise me you’ll be upfront about things from now on,” she says sternly, steadily finding her voice. “As a business partner and as a um… friend.” She’s hesitant on the last word, eyes even flicking away from Tadashi as if to prove her uncertainty. 

“I will be,” Tadashi promises in a soft voice. “And I’m sorry.”

Aiko simply nods in response. “And you were doing so well…” she says under her breath, obviously not meant for Tadashi to hear. 

She leaves after that, with a simple goodbye and a plan for their next meeting. Tadashi sees her off before leaving through the reception area. Despite his disposition with the rest of the complex, this room he’ll never quite get used to. There’s far too many images for his brain to comprehend. 

He leaves the building, ready to face the blistering heat of early August. A part of him hopes it’ll get cooler soon. A part of him says the heat is simply retribution. 

As he walks towards the train station, he passes by vendors attempting to sell ice cream and other sweet treats as kids flock about during their summer vacation. They pass by Tadashi, fingers sticky and laughs abundant, like they don’t have a care in the world. 

Tadashi considers stopping by one of the vendors and getting something for old time’s sake, but he can’t convince himself to do so. That would require him to actually stop and talk with the vendor and potentially make a light conversation or try and fill the awkward silence that always inevitably comes. He can’t even handle the thought of what the other people around him might think. Some random businessman out in the day with a strawberry ice pop? An atrocious sight indeed. 

Still, Tadashi longs for that light feeling that used to come with summertime and adolescence. As a kid, he was dying to grow up. He hopped on the path towards adulthood in the hopes that it would bring something new and exciting. He childishly thought something good would come out of forcing himself to grow up. 

He was too young to see what lay beyond. 

He’s still too young to consider what the future may hold and how Tadashi, as insignificant as he is, has any part in it. 

 

---

 

As high-rise city buildings flatten out to become small houses lined with trees and lush green bushes, Tadashi can feel himself ease into the seat of the train. There’s something too busy for the constant movement of Sendai; while it’s certainly not as fast-paced as Tokyo or Osaka, Sendai still feels swarming with people at all times of the day. Tadashi would prefer to live in a place where he can catch his breath every once in a while, but it would be awhile until he settled down in the suburbs. Maybe when he had a wife and kids… 

The train’s relatively barren for a Saturday morning. Tadashi would expect more people to try and escape the masses for a relaxing weekend near Karasuno, but it appears only a few grandparents, another businessman, and a young couple attempting to wrangle a toddler are his only like-minded thinkers. 

An odd memory pops up. From one of those before-dawn drives into the city to catch a couple practice games with the Fukurodani group over the course of a volleyball-packed weekend. The chatter on the bus would always be nonexistent, sort of how it was on Tadashi’s train now, but Tadashi had never minded. He would fall asleep regardless, only to be woken up and discover he’d been drooling on Tsukishima’s shoulder the whole trip. A few times, Tsukishima had fallen asleep on him too. There was always something sort of sweet about finding Tsukishima like that; defenseless as the sun began to peek out over the mountains and catch on his blonde curls. Tadashi would laugh and take in the beautiful, rare sight, before an argument would break out in the seat over and the moment would be ruined before Tadashi even got the chance to admire it properly. He cherished those quiet moments, before Tsukki, and the rest of the world, would rise. He could stare at that—

Tadashi sucks in a breath. 

He rubs at his eyes, trying to convince himself to stay awake a little longer. He shouldn’t be thinking about that kind of thing anyway. 

His stop comes up and Tadashi gets off the train. The toddler reaches for Tadashi as he passes by. They have big eyes that watch curiously, even as Tadashi gives them a little wave. 

The walk from the station back to his mom’s apartment isn’t too awful. While the heat still bites with all the venom of a rattlesnake, Tadashi feels like it’s a bit more manageable than back in the city. The sound of cicadas and shade of the trees is actually somewhat comforting. 

He passes by a group of kids playing volleyball in the park. While their gameplay is rudimentary, their attitudes are incandescently bright. Tadashi sort of smiles to himself, but doesn’t let the feeling linger too long. He continues on the path back home. 

Tadashi doesn’t even get one foot in the door before his mother tackles him with an all-encompassing hug. She abruptly pulls back though, eyeing him from head to toe. If there’s one thing Yamaguchi Sayo is known for, it’s her extreme ability to pick up minute changes to someone’s behavior. Awful for teenage Tadashi and arguably even worse for him now. 

“You’re skinny,” she comments, squinting her eyes. “What happened?”

“Nothing?” Tadashi sort of questions as he toes off his shoes at the genkan. “Nothing happened.”

She thoroughly eyes him once more before deciding she won’t get a proper answer and heading back inside. Tadashi follows after her, taking his usual place at the kitchen counter. It’s been a few weeks since he visited. There’s a handful of new plants on the window sill. 

“Hungry?” Sayo asks, already poking through the fridge. “I can make you some stir-fry vegetables. I should have some from the other day…”

“I’m fine,” Tadashi assures. Sayo pops her head out of the fridge, brows forming a thick line. “Really,” Tadashi nods. 

“I don’t believe you for a minute,” Sayo says back as she pulls out some vegetables. “You’ve got that look on your face like you’ve seen a ghost. Who was it this time?”

“No one,” Tadashi answers. He cuts in before Sayo can dig any deeper. “How’s treatment?”

Sayo adjusts her headscarf, done simply today with a little knot towards the back instead of one of the fancier folds she’s learned over the past few years. “Halfway through now,” Sayo answers with a sort of devilish grin. She flexes her arm out as if to prove her strength. “Told ya’, this thing isn’t gonna get me.”

Tadashi smiles at that. Genuinely. The first round of chemo had been a nightmare. Tadashi’s first year as an intern was hard enough as is with having the constant worry of whether or not his mom was alive. He spent his weekends at home, often the only person to actually check up on her, before heading out to Sendai again on the earliest train Monday morning. He’d offered to quit and help to take care of her full time, but she’d assured him that the new freckle they’d found on her arm would be easily taken care of. Two surgeries, and three rounds of chemo later, ‘new freckle’ had turned into ‘Stage 3 Melanoma’ and years of constant worry. 

Sayo's been strong throughout the whole thing though. She never broke down, not even once. Tadashi genuinely has no idea how she does it. He could probably learn a thing or two. 

Sayo begins telling some story about how a woman in her support group was rude but the conversation easily deviates from there. The one thing that Tadashi shares with his mother, other than a somewhat annoying abundance of freckles, is the ability to ramble on for hours. Lately though, Tadashi’s been doing less of the talking and more of the listening. He doesn’t have much to add once he’s told her that yes, Yachi is doing well (Sayo’s under the horrible belief they’ll end up married) and yes, his superiors are happy with his work. 

Sayo suspects something’s wrong and lets the silence be filled with the sound of caramelizing onions. The sweet smell takes up the little kitchen, almost enough to take away the bitter taste on Tadashi’s tongue when he gets up to examine those embarrassing photos of himself still hung up in the living room. 

“Daisuke is coming by later,” she hums. “Did you still want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Tadashi replies coolly, observing a particularly atrocious photo of himself from his second year of high school. He’d gotten his hair cut way too short and spent practically his entire summer indoors because of volleyball; in whole, an actual pubescent monster. 

“He’s really nice,” Sayo adds, raising a brow. 

Tadashi nods. “I know. You’ve only told me good things about him.”

“It’s because he’s so much better than your father.”

Tadashi sighs, ready for her sprawling rant about how awful of a man he was and how he’d left them behind and blah blah blah… Tadashi wasn’t really in the mood right now to rehash that whole thing. 

Instead, a sort of different horror arises. 

“Have you talked with Kei-kun recently?” She asks innocently enough.

Tadashi whips his head to her. She’s focused on adding in some bell peppers and zucchini. “Why do you ask?”

Is his heart beating faster? Does he sound panicked? Is he panicked? Why is he so panicked?  It’s just Tsukishima. He can talk about Tsukishima without freaking out. Stop being so panicked.

“No reason…” Sayo presses her lips together before relinquishing, “I saw Fumiyo at the store, and she said Kei-kun was doing well and… I don’t know… you haven’t talked about him in so long and—”

“Not all childhood friends make it into adulthood,” Tadashi states curtly. 

“I know, but—”

“It’s fine,” Tadashi attempts to convince her. Maybe he’s just trying to convince himself. 

“I just don’t get it…” Sayo says, almost to herself, as she seasons the veggies. “You were so close…”

Sayo surprisingly doesn’t add on after that. Tadashi doesn’t have anything to say either. 

Yes we were close, Tadashi thinks to himself as he retakes his seat at the kitchen counter. He answers her hidden, peering questions to himself. 

No, I can’t tell you what happened. 

No, I don’t know how to fix it. 

No, I don’t even know if I want to fix it. 

No, I don’t know when I’ll talk to him next. 

No, I don’t hate him. 

No, I don’t like him. 

Yes, I’m fine. Completely, 100%, fine.