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Morikatsu holds up two green VIP badges as a giddy grin spreads across his lips.

Tadashi barely offers up any sort of acknowledgement before promptly turning back to his computer and beginning to type again.

“Come on Yama-kun, I thought you liked volleyball!” Morikatsu whines as he steps into Tadashi’s cubicle. He waves the passes in Tadashi’s face before he has the mind to knock them away.

Tadashi likes volleyball just fine. He doesn’t like the idea of spending his Saturday evening with Morikatsu at a Frogs game. That sounded like a personal hell carved perfectly for Tadashi. Morikatsu may have been the only person in his office he could actually tolerate, but that did not mean he wanted to spend any more time with the guy. Drinks every few weeks was enough (thank god Tadashi had finally stopped being invited to those though).

“I’m busy,” Tadashi tries to lie. It’s a poor excuse, but he doesn’t have much else to give.

Morikatsu gives him a tsk and turns his attention towards Tadashi’s desk. Before he can stop him, Morikatsu removes a picture frame and holds it up, out of Tadashi’s grasp. He turns it around, pointing at the people in the picture.

“Were you with her last weekend?” Morikatsu teases.

The photo shows Tadashi at his college graduation with Yachi at his side. He’d invited Hinata and Kageyama as well, but they were deep into training and unfortunately couldn’t make it. Yachi, however, came and cheered with Tadashi’s mother as he accepted his diploma. He went to her graduation the following weekend, of course, and the roles were reversed when he got to cheer her on with the elder Yachi.

“I visited my mom,” Tadashi explains.

Morikatsu snorts. “Ha! Oh man, you really are lonely. You definitely need my help then. We should get you a girlfriend ASAP.”

“And you think that a D2 volleyball exhibition match is the place to meet someone?” Tadashi asks back.

“‘Course it is,” Morikatsu says, as he sets the photo back in its rightful place. “Though I’m kinda upset we lost the Raiders. I’m gonna miss those games…”

Tadashi, who attended one singular game in his entire three-year career at the company, would not miss those games.

“You know my high school team went to Nationals,” Morikatsu mentions. Again.

“I know,” Tadashi says. He attempts to brace himself for the story of Morikatsu’s high school success, but he can’t find the energy to do so. He wants nothing more than to finish out his work for the day and go home and sleep. Finally get some proper rest.

Morikatsu’s about to begin his story when a sharp, “Yamaguchi-kun,” rings out over the offices.

Tadashi immediately rises and drops to a bow when he sees Suzuki and Hayato outside his cubicle. Morikatsu follows suit, albeit a little slower.

“Frogs update?” Suzuki asks, making it sound more like an instruction instead of a genuine query.

Tadashi rises to say, “Everything is going according to the outlined plan. We are finalizing the last details of the release, and I will send over the files as soon as I’m done with them.” “Mmm,” Suzuki gives as a response. Better than anything else he usually gives.

Hayato peers in from over Suzuki’s shoulder, giving him and Morikatsu a dirty look. “What have you been up to? Why isn’t Mr. Nationals over here in his own office?”

Tadashi quickly yanks the passes out of Morikatsu’s hands and presents them to his superiors.

“We were discussing the details of attending the Frogs game this weekend. I wanted to observe their gameplay and confirm this is the right direction for our sponsorship.”

Both Suzuki and Hayato give little indication they’d heard Tadashi in the first place. They simply nod and leave, allowing Tadashi to live yet another inglorious day in the office. He still lets out a pent-up breath when they’re out of sight though, grateful he hasn’t fucked anything up yet.

Tadashi looks over to Morikatsu. He’s grinning like a stupid idiot.

“So what time should I pick you up on Saturday?”

 

---

 

“You’re going… to a Frogs game?” Yachi asks slowly, as if each word was a foreign concept she simply couldn’t wrap her mind around. Tadashi guesses the behavior is a bit out of character, but it shouldn’t be that surprising. He was friends with Tsukishima for years. He can support him.

“Yeah…” Tadashi affirms.

Yachi shakes her head as she rubs her hand along the side of her mug. “Sorry, I sound rude, and I don’t mean to, but… why?”

“It’s for work,” Tadashi says. He clears his throat and readjusts his seating. Why did he say that like a lie?

Yachi presses her lips into a tight smile. “Yamaguchi, I don’t know if you should go. What if something happens?”

“We’re adults, Yachi-san,” Tadashi assures, even if his voice is wobbly. “We’ll be fine.”

Yachi nods. Tadashi takes a sip.

Around them, the café is bustling with life. The whirring of the latte machines and the soft ambiance of conversation allows the silence between them to not contain too much awkwardness. In a strange way, the clanking of spoons and the customer-friendly voices of the baristas is somewhat comforting.

“When was the last time you talked to him?” Yachi asks, shattering any sort of act Tadashi's been building over the last half hour.

“Um…” Tadashi tugs on the edge of his shirt collar. Is it hot in here? Is he going crazy? “2018… I think? Um… yeah.”

Yachi lets out a breath. She doesn’t know everything. Tadashi’s never quite been willing to share. Maybe one day… but certainly not now.

“How did your date go?” Tadashi asks, so he can do what he does best: toss the conversation away from himself.

Yachi shakes her head. “Not good,” she sighs. “Definitely the worst date I’ve had in awhile. I think dating apps are so pointless. Is it too much to ask to meet someone the normal way?”

Tadashi shrugs. “I mean, I always think it’s better, but online dating has some perks.”

“Is that how you met your person?” Yachi asks, fully aware she’s intruding despite her fake innocence. “What was their name again?”

“Yachi-san…”

“Yamaguchi, you never tell me about your life,” Yachi sighs as she fidgets with her fingers. “It’s like… well it’s like after you graduated from college you stopped talking. Maybe it was before that… I don’t understand it but I know that I’m worried about you.”

“You shouldn’t worry,” Tadashi says, guilt rising in his chest. He’s been such a bother that he’s caused Yachi to stress for him more than necessary. She shouldn’t be spending any time concerning herself with Tadashi’s issues. He isn’t worth the trouble.

The silence settles between them again.

Tadashi checks his watch. “I should probably go…”

Yachi stands up abruptly, the table pushing away from her. Tadashi can visibly see the worry plastered onto her face; all upturned brows and agape mouth like she wants to say something. “Yamaguchi-kun, don’t…” Yachi collects herself and releases a steady breath. “Don’t jeopardize your happiness at the expense of others.”

Tadashi chuckles because he doesn’t know how else to react. Yachi’s serious, determined glare deserves an equal reaction, but Tadashi can’t give one.

“Thank you for your concern, Yachi-san,” Tadashi says in the most calming tone he can muster, “but I’ll be okay.”

“Okay.”

They say their goodbyes, which take a little longer than usual. Yachi hugs him tightly and refuses to let go, almost as if this was the last time they’d ever see each other. Tadashi tries to reassure her that nothing is wrong and everything will be fine, but she’s rather unconvinced.

In the end, Tadashi truly feels like it takes everything he has to tell himself that everything will be fine.

 

---

 

Sendai City Gymnasium isn’t as packed as it was when Tadashi led Karasuno to victory against Aoba Johsai for their third straight ticket to the Spring Nationals. That day, it seemed like every single seat was filled. Tadashi felt those thousands of eyes staring upon him and somehow relished in the moment. He was able to stand proud with the captains mark strapped to his chest and a confident team behind his back.

Tadashi wonders where all of that childish confidence went as he re-enters the stadium for the first time in years. Morikatsu’s gawking at all the food stands and the fans dressed in head-to-toe Frogs apparel. He even stops to buy his own overpriced Froggy hat while Tadashi anxiously stands by.

Maybe it’s Yachi’s warnings from the day prior, but Tadashi can’t help but feel like something is bound to go wrong. It’s different from the usual paranoia Tadashi carries in familiar places to the point where he’s nearly jumping at every person that passes by.

It doesn’t exactly help that there’s people everywhere. Not as many as when Tadashi last played here, but plenty to send his uneasiness through the roof.

“Why don’t we grab our seats?” Tadashi suggests to Morikatsu as he makes small talk with one of the vendors.

Morikatsu waves him off. “You go ahead. I’ll catch up with you later.” Tadashi huffs out a breath. He can’t regret his decision, he has no right to. He’ll simply have to survive. No one dies playing volleyball. He’ll be fine.

Alone, he winds his way through the outer hallways of the stadium until he finds the right entrance. He shows off his badge to the security guard and enters the private viewing area that’s meant for the players’ friends and families. Those who can’t make the exhibition pass on their tickets for the Frogs’ elite friends. Tadashi isn’t sure why he is considered one of these people, but at least the area’s not too crowded yet. There’s a handful of wives and a couple of older kids.

Tadashi overlooks the court below. The players haven’t entered yet, but there’s music blasting over the PA system to get the whole stadium hyped. The chatter outside the private section is overwhelming; the voices consolidate, one into the other, until they form a clamor deafening enough to make Tadashi’s heart go wild.

He’s about to back up and figure out some excuse to give his superiors on Monday morning as to why he didn’t attend the game but a clear voice says, “Karasuno?” loud enough to freeze Tadashi in his tracks.

“With the nasty jump floater, right?” It continues. In one of the seats closest to the railing is a man decked in Frogs memorabilia, happy and green to contrast the serious look on his face. His short, chestnut hair curls against his forehead to reveal the older version of a man Tadashi hasn’t seen since high school.

“It’s Yamaguchi,” he supplies, still taking in the man. Isn’t this section supposed to be for the players’ families?

“That’s right…” he says, nodding slightly. His eyes flick towards Tadashi’s hands before meeting his gaze again. “Yahaba, from Aoba Johsai. Don’t be too frightened, you look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”

“Or something…” Tadashi says under his breath. First Kyoutani, and now Yahaba? Was Tadashi suddenly about to meet Oikawa and the rest of the Seijoh gang now?

“Surprised I haven’t seen you at a game before,” Yahaba admits, patting down the empty seat beside him.

Tadashi takes a look at the stands swirling with people and decides that sitting with Yahaba might actually be a good idea.

“Tsukishima-kun has brought along most of his friends from high school for at least one game,” Yahaba explains. “Some of them are a lot worse than others. That baldy and his wife were the worst by far.”

Tadashi sort of chuckles at that before he allows himself to actually process what it means that Tsukishima’s been bringing people to games. This will be Tadashi’s first time actually watching a Frogs game. He’s seen snippets of gameplay online or at the end of the news, but he could never bring himself to sit down and watch a full game through. He wonders what’s changed.

“Who are you here for?” Tadashi asks, glancing over Yahaba once more. He can’t remember him too well from high school, but he can tell the man’s aged. He has shorter hair and a more pronounced jawline (or maybe it’s just set… does he seem agitated? Tadashi can’t tell). He also has a wedding ring on, even if he’s noticeably trying to hide it.

“I come out every once in a while to support Kyoutani,” Yahaba explains.

As if on cue, the lights begin to dim as the announcer’s voice comes over the speaker systems and begins introducing the game. They pump in high-energy music as people cheer over the anticipation alone.

The opposing team comes out first, a college team that’s ranked high enough to play against the pros in one of the inaugural exhibition matches before the actual start of the season. They go through each player, all of them tall and intimidating as they wave towards the crowds.

Next, the Frogs enter the court one by one, each repping the neon green uniforms with pride. Tadashi watches them all carefully, heart thumping in time with the music as the players do their best to impress the crowd. Koganegawa does some little dance number. Kyoutani gives a firm nod.

Then, Tsukishima emerges from the tunnel. He gives a simple wave, nothing too fancy or showy, and joins the rest of his team on the sidelines.

Ringing drowns out everything else around Tadashi as he squints, hoping to get somewhat of a better view, but he’s so far away and there’s nothing Tadashi can do. Not that he wants to do anything. He doesn’t know, really.

Tadashi sucks in a breath through his nostrils, lets it hold and linger in his lungs, before blowing it out of his mouth. Shimada’s years old advice on how to properly breathe before a serve comes back to him. The older Tadashi got, the more they focused on the intricate details that came with perfecting his serve. Breathing was one of the most crucial tools.

Yahaba gives him a weary glance. “You’re a nervous guy, aren’t you?”

“Sometimes…?” Tadashi responds, a little jarred.

Yahaba lets out a little hmm, and takes that as his cue to open up a conversation. Tadashi had never talked with the Seijoh alum beyond tiny interactions on the court, so he’s surprised to discover how similar they are. Even as the game begins and Koganegawa goes for his first serve, the two remain talking between the captivating parts of the games.

Tadashi becomes quiet at some moments. He’s drawn in by the expert blocks and the quick sets. Yahaba’s engaged with other things. Noticeably, it’s always the powerful spikes that elicit reactions that easily expose his excitement.

It’s especially noticeable when Kyoutani is up to serve. Out of the corner of Tadashi’s eye, he watches as Yahaba clasps his hands together, brimming with palpable anticipation. He leans forward, the action so slight it’s barely noticeable as he presses the lower half of his face into his hands. His eyes are completely locked on the court below.

Tadashi follows his sightline only to find Kyoutani doing a similarly posed motion. While he might be making contact with the ball instead of his hands, the movement still holds the same quiet intimacy of Yahaba’s.

For a moment, Tadashi almost swears he hears Yahaba whisper something. But if there are words, they’re lost amongst the cheers of the crowd and the whistle signalling the serving period.

Kyoutani takes a visible breath and opens his eyes to stare down the court. He tosses the ball, taking powerful lunging steps before vaulting himself into the air. His back creates an incredible arc, almost unnatural in its posing, before the ball is promptly launched across the court and onto the floor of the opposite team’s side.

The whistle chirps and the crowd goes wild. Kyoutani is flooded with approval from his teammates, but he shoots a glance into the stands and for a moment Tadashi thinks he’ll finally be immortalized in stone. But he quickly realizes the gaze wasn’t for him, but rather the person beside him.

The same person who practically has hearts in his eyes and is overflowing with love to the point where Tadashi’s surprised the whole stadium can’t see how obvious they are.

Kyoutani returns to his position and retrieves the ball. Undergoing the same routine, Yahaba mirrors him once more. Despite the crowd and cameras, it’s as if Tadashi’s intervened on some wholly private moment. He doesn’t want to disturb them, even if their gestures are so delicately small.

Kyoutani serves again to score yet another service ace. Hollers and cheers are the response, as well as a time-out from the opponents.

Yahaba sort of relaxes as the players start their huddle on the sideline.

“Your husband’s serves are great,” Tadashi mentions cheekily.

“Aren’t they?” Yahaba says dreamily before realization crashes in and he whips his head around. “Don’t ever say that again,” he threatens once he deems no one else heard what Tadashi said.

“You could have told me you were married,” Tadashi assures, hoping that Morikatsu won’t come back for a while. Tadashi’s absolutely fascinated by successful couples, especially between people he knows. While he may not be particularly close with Yahaba or Kyoutani, the whole idea of their relationship is still too interesting to miss out on.

Yahaba shakes his head. “Actually, I can’t. The less people that know, the better.”

“Why?”

Yahaba leans back a little as he idly spins around his wedding ring. “Well now you’re another accomplice in the Sendai Frogs’ biggest and most incriminating secret. They can come back from a doping scandal in the 90’s, but they’d rather have their entire team die in a bus crash than admit to the public that their star ace is secretly a house husband.”

Tadashi turns his eyes back towards the court. Kyoutani is discussing something with Tsukishima, the conversation lost by distance.

He can’t imagine what it would be like to hide your entire life from the public eye. To always be afraid of scrutiny or messing up. To constantly be aware of your surroundings and fearful of what others might see.

In a way though, isn’t that what Tadashi’s already doing to himself?

Tadashi clenches his hands. “I’m sorry.”

Yahaba’s eyebrows lift. “Thank you… I guess. Don’t feel pity for us though. We’re still very happy.”

“It’s not pity for you,” Tadashi explains, trying to find the most coherent words, “but it’s more a disappointment in the world. You should be able to do whatever you want without worrying about the consequences.”

“Can anyone really do whatever they want though?” Yahaba retorts.

Tadashi frowns. “I guess not…”

Yahaba sort of smirks. “It’s okay, Yamaguchi-kun. You shouldn’t get all upset over someone else’s situation.”

“It still seems unfair.”

“Unfortunately, life is just like that sometimes.”

The whistle goes off and the players flood the court once more. And while Yahaba keeps his gaze fixed on his husband’s next serve, Tadashi uses the opportunity to observe the man sitting beside him. Because even though Yahaba’s maybe only a year older than Tadashi, there’s an undeniable sense of wisdom that seems to pour out. Could it be that he’s truly lived so much life that he can now offer up free advice to poor men like Tadashi who can never seem to get their act together?

Tadashi is 25.

According to his father’s standards, he should already be married and have a child on the way. Not that Tadashi ever really listened to his father, but this archaic mindset has somehow ingrained itself into Tadashi. He wouldn’t mind a wife or a child, but it's the age demarcated that particularly catches him off guard. He’ll be turning 26 in a few months. Maybe his father will call to tell Tadashi how disappointed he is. Maybe he’ll just call for once.

A part of Tadashi had hoped his life would somehow magically get better this year. For once, he thought he could get his shit together. For once, he foolishly believed things would change.

Morikatsu slides into the seat next to Tadashi, stirring him out of his own destructive thoughts. “What’d I miss? Are we winning?” He asks between bites of popcorn.

“Not much and yes,” Tadashi responds easily.

The Frogs are in the middle of some long rally. The crowd waits, learning forward and hearts collectively gripped with positive apprehension, as the opposing team slams the ball back into their court. But the libero makes yet another miraculous save and Koganegawa pulls off a quick set to Kyoutani in the back row. The ball doesn’t have enough power though, and it’s sent flying as a chance ball and Tadashi finds himself enthralled with the game like the rest of the people around him and he waits, not-so-patiently, as the opposing setter gives the ace a perfect toss and the player soars into the air, muscles contracting to form a stretching C before he slams it down over the net—but a pair of taped hands stop the ball before it can manage, and Tsukishima stands victorious as the receivers fail to pick up the ball and the Frogs score yet another point.

Tadashi leans back into his seat. He can feel Yahaba’s curious gaze on him, but he says nothing.

Morikatsu isn’t quite so kind. “Wow, you really like volleyball, huh Yama-kun?”

Tadashi awkwardly readjusts his position. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good game.”

“His high school team went to Nationals,” Yahaba adds chirpily as retribution from earlier as he takes a sip of his beer.

“You know, my basketball team went to Nationals too,” Morikatsu responds, already daydreaming about his past. “It was my second year and I was the Point Guard. My school was a bit of an underdog team but we had a pair of first years come through who were just incredible. I…”

Tadashi zones out of Morikatsu’s long-winded story that he’s heard countless times before and turns his focus back to the game. The other team’s already gone through their turn so the Frog’s Outside Hitter is up to serve. Tsukishima takes his position.. He carefully places his hands on the back of his head, a habit he formed years ago after seeing Hinata’s serve crash into Kageyama.

For a moment, just a brief millisecond really, Tadashi allows himself to imagine what it would be like on the court.

With the roaring approval of thousands of fans and the sticky smell of salon-pas filling up his lungs, it's Tadashi that lets out a deep breath as the ref calls for the serve. He opens his eyes to see Tsukki grinning oh-so-gingerly as Tadashi nods to himself. Because he can do this. He’s done this a million times before and he’ll do it a million times more if it means that Tsukki’s right in front of him.

He tosses the ball into the air, letting it leave his calloused fingertips at the perfect moment. It gets decent air and Tadashi just knows that the serve will go well. He follows after the ball, powerful legs propelling him forward until he takes flight with the rest of Karasuno screaming his name.

The air is weightless and Tadashi grins as he taps the ball just enough to project it to the very top of the net. It catches there, threatening to drop onto their side but eventually bending to Tadashi’s will as it hits down on the Itachiyama court.

Their Middle Blocker barely has enough time to react, hastily sending the ball back to the setter and thus putting himself out of commission. There’s only one place the ball can go as the setter gives it to the ace as he leaps into the air. The path has been carved and while he tries to slam the shaky ball, a firm set of hands appear out of the air to create an unstoppable force.

Tsukki’s blocks are the best, Tadashi tells himself wistfully.

They call out the point for Karasuno just as Tsukki lands on the ground. He turns to Tadashi with a confident smirk and holds out his hand for a high-five. Tadashi gladly accepts and Tsukki compliments him, “Nice serve.”

“Thanks, Tsukki!” The words are light and easy on Tadashi’s lips. A promise, almost, to always call him by that name.

Tadashi giggles a little as Kageyama tosses him the ball for another point. If the whole world was watching Tadashi and Tsukki’s combination, he’d make it worth their while. After all, they were the spear and shield. The serve and block. They were Tadashi and Kei and—

Tadashi zones back in as the solid thud from Tsukki’s actual block pulls him out of his memories. Maybe he let himself go for a little longer than a millisecond…

He silently observes as Tsukishima gives a high-five to the Middle Blocker before promptly returning to his own spot. Tadashi feels his hands involuntarily clench into fists but he can’t understand why.

Why is he being so dramatic? Why can’t he talk to Tsukishima like a normal adult? Why can’t he simply move on from whatever hell Tadashi is putting himself through? “Tsukishima’s blocks are some of the best,” Yahaba comments as he gives Tadashi a pointed look.

Tadashi feigns a smile. “Ts—ah… yeah. They’ve always been great.”

Yahaba’s too smart and perceptive. “Yamaguchi-kun, why did you come tonight?”

“For work,” Tadashi answers too quickly. He motions towards Morikatsu as some sort of physical proof.

Yahaba makes a hmm sound, almost like he’s tracking Tadashi’s movements. He disregards it for now, and talks with Morikatsu between sets. The former basketball star gets bored easily though and leaves to go talk with more of the vendors.

Tadashi and Yahaba remain, eyes glued onto the game even as the Frogs effortlessly destroy the college team. Maybe it isn’t so fair to force their fight considering the Frogs’ high ranking, but the game is enjoyable nonetheless. There’s a few good rallies and plenty of exciting points, but ultimately it isn’t such a surprise when the Frogs reach game point in only the third set.

Tadashi should be paying attention to how the Outside Hitter’s about to make his next jump serve, but his mind is still caught up in his daydream from before. Tadashi can’t get that feeling out of his chest though. The intense, everpresent longing for a time and a place untouched by the realities of the world.

So much of high school, especially his third year, remained in this perfect little bubble. The bad memories had been sanded away with the years, leaving in its stead only the truly amazing times where Tadashi was filled with vigor and youth. The slap of a ball on his hand, the laugh that rang out on neighborhood streets, the stupid jokes Hinata would attempt to tell, the awful smiles Kageyama would give to smooth over his shortcomings, the soothing advice and warm presence of Yachi… all of it was miraculous and special. It couldn’t be touched or tainted but also it couldn’t be reclaimed.

No matter how many times Tadashi saw them after graduation, it wasn’t the same. Those three years they spent together were like a time capsule of their adolescence.

And then there’s Tsukishima.

Tsukishima, who embodies what it means to grow up. Tsukishima, who was at Tadashi’s side for every one of those great memories. Tsukishima, who was so often the cause of the things Tadashi has tried his best to forget.

Tadashi returns his attention back to the game. Tsukishima’s intensely focused and dripping with sweat, oblivious to the fact that Tadashi’s even among the crowd of spectators.

Tadashi has always been like this though. A step behind, and unable to touch without leaving behind his own tarnish. Truly, their whole lives have been a series of blights. How much longer must he—

The whistle blows a long chord. The game’s won. The Frogs are victorious another day.

“What a gorgeous play,” Yahaba whistles.

“Yeah…” Tadashi agrees, peering down to the court to make sense of the last minute. The Frogs are rushing Tsukishima. He must have scored the last point. Tadashi missed it.

How strange.

The audience collectively rises from their seats and heads towards the crowded gates, creating a traffic jam for an exit. Tadashi rises to join them when his phone buzzes. It’s a text message from Morikatsu.

 

To: Yama-kun!

Sorry to leave you but hope you find your own ride home! Got some important business to take care of.

[image attached]

 

Tadashi clicks on the image to see Morikatsu posing towards the camera with the popcorn vendor girl at his side. He sighs and pockets his phone.

“I usually wait until it’s cleared out a bit more,” Yahaba explains as he still sits in his seat. “I don’t like being around that many people all at once.” Tadashi nods and rejoins Yahaba in sitting. They don’t talk as the people file out; they simply reminisce on their own days of playing on that court.

And when the last dregs of people manage to leave the stadium, Tadashi follows Yahaba through the gate and to a different tunnel from before. He figures with as many games he’s been to, Yahaba must be an expert on maneuvering through the crowds. Sure enough, less and less people swarm them as they wind through passageways Tadashi never knew existed.

They go through another door and find themselves in a wide tunnel with concrete walls and a parade of second-string players leaving the stadium. They make idle chatter, not noticing the two men even as they wait for… something. Further on, the tunnel leads to what Tadashi can only guess is the court. In the opposite direction, it opens out to a loading dock before dropping off into a secluded parking lot.

“What are we doing?” Tadashi asks, standing up on his toes to see over the players. They’re trailed by trainers and other associates that Tadashi can only assume is the promotional team. He even sees a few colleagues from his meetings with Aiko; they give him firm nods and seem to not question why he’s here in the first place.

“We’re waiting,” Yahaba answers and doesn’t offer anything else up.

They wait until lines of people have passed through. Even Koganegawa stops to say hi, excited to see Tadashi at the game. He begins to chat, but he’s pulled away by one of his teammates in order to get celebratory drinks.

A familiar face enters from an opposing door. There’s no hesitancy in the way Yahaba rushes to meet Kyouhaba with a horde of kisses and a lovesick smile. They’re so enamored with one another, it feels like Tadashi’s intruding on their private moment.

That’s why they waited. Yahaba didn’t want to be seen by the masses.

But… why is Tadashi still here? The couple turns to him and Yahaba waves him over. “You remember Kentaro, right?”

“Hi,” Tadashi says, swallowing down his nervousness. Kyoutani grunts in acknowledgement.

“Have a way to get home?” Yahaba asks.

Tadashi nods. “I’ll take the train again.”

“Are you going to come to a real game this season?” Yahaba teases. “I promise they get a lot better as they go along. Maybe the players will even stop stealing tosses that aren’t theirs.”

“It was one time,” Kyoutani argues.

“Mmm,” Yahaba responds, winking at Tadashi. He flicks his eyes over to Kyoutani and despite his tone, gives him a wholesome look that reveals there’s no true malice in his words. Just the genuine desire for him to improve day after day.

“See you later, Yamaguchi-kun,” Yahaba says with a wave. He interlocks his other hand into Kyoutani’s, who similarly gives him a simple, “Goodbye.”

Tadashi watches as they leave. They bump into each other with their shoulders and do a terrible job in hiding their relationship. Tadashi supposes there are only a few places where they can truly be free; perhaps in the secrecy of the tunnel they can act as they please as they head off.

“Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi’s heart plummets.

He’s being dramatic. He knows he is. He knows this is some big overreaction and that nothing is wrong and that he’s fine and that Yachi warned him about things going badly and he assured her that they wouldn’t and Tadashi is simply being dramatic.

He turns to face Tsukishima. Perhaps he is a ghost after all. He’s pale in the fading light, ethereal and unreal. Truly, a phantom of Tadashi’s past.

He is some made-up figment of Tadashi’s imagination designed to make him experience his full range of emotions. Because as much as Tadashi would like to write off Tsukishima’s presence as completely horrible, the tragedy lies in the fact that he can’t.

A handful of bad experiences, many of which came about due to Tadashi’s own shortcomings, simply could not erase literal years of memories with Tsukishima. From the moment they first met to the day it all came crashing down, Tsukishima was there every step of the way.

Maybe Tadashi should leave before his body betrays him.

“Hi,” Tadashi answers. He rocks back and forth on his heels.

Tsukishima looks around the tunnel. They’re the only ones still left.

“What are you doing here?”

“I watched the game,” Tadashi responds. “You did well. Your serve looked nice.”

“Thank you,” Tsukishima responds.

Outside, cicadas fill the night with their melancholic song of the trailing summer. While the heat curls and presses against Tadashi’s neck, he listens to the cicadas as a reprieve from the burning situation in front of him.

In the foreground, fireflies dance and flicker, fading in and out of view. They mark the evening with their telltale luminesce, a reminder of juvenile excursions where they’d use to catch the little creatures in jars. They never could contain them.

Back before Tsukishima was Tsukki, he was Kei-kun, and Tadashi hoped to capture them solely for the namesake. The young Kei-kun would brush off the compliments, even as Tadashi explained how he was prettier than any cool firefly.

But like the fireflies, Tsukishima flickers between reality and dreams as ever-changing as his names. Kei-kun… Tsukki… Kei… Tsukishima…

“How have you been?” Tsukishima asks. Tadashi’s lured back into reality.

“I’m fine. And you?”

“I’m okay.”

It's eerie. Isn’t this the boy Tadashi used to talk to for hours?

“I better head out,” Tsukishima says, readjusting the strap to his gym bag. He’d changed out of his uniform and into an oversized jacket with sweatpants completely inappropriate for the season. He always did have cold hands, Tadashi tells himself. He forces away the desire to find out if they’re still cold.

Tsukishima passes by him, steps slow and deliberate as he heads off towards the opening. Tadashi silently follows after him, the position disturbingly familiar.

They both pause as they reach the end of the loading dock. Tadashi peers up to find the full moon staring down at them, casting everything in shadows of soft white. Tsukishima side steps and heads towards the stairs.

“Hey… ah…”

Tadashi reaches his hand out as Tsukishima pauses in his motions. Together, they’re alone and remain with their futile devices. This is dangerous, Tadashi idly thinks to himself, as Yachi’s warning from before rings through his mind.

But Tsukishima is standing there, the man he’s always recognized but maybe never known, and Tadashi is struck by this insatiable desire to connect. He wants nothing more than to understand who this stranger is.

Friendship didn’t work for them. Neither did romance.

“Do you want to sleep with me?”

The voice is so fragile and tiny, Tadashi nearly doesn’t even recognize it as his own. Because those aren’t his thoughts or intentions. A traitorous mind, pulled from the recess of Tadashi’s suppressed memories from a time he’s tried so hard to forget. But it’s his words nonetheless, evident from the sharp rise in eyebrows and quick blush that dots Tsukishima’s ears.

Despite the ashamed, disgusted eyes Tsukishima may have given him weeks ago, there’s no denying that this could actually work. It has to work. It’s what they both want… or at least what Tsukishima does…

Or… does he?

“What?” Tsukishima asks, voice equally as soft as Tadashi’s as if a loud noise would shatter the pretense.

Tadashi swallows, blinks, and slowly reconsiders his next sentence. The first might have been a gut reaction, something he couldn’t control and didn’t know how to stop but he’s fully aware now of what’s going on and understands that the words about to leave his lips will indeed be among his last.

“Do you want to sleep with me?”

An infinite, sprawling cosmos lies between them. What used to be the distance from one planet to another has been stretched to galaxies and star systems composed of years of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Tadashi reminds himself that they are adults. They’ve grown over the last near decade. There’s no need to act irrationally or illogically. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea…

Or perhaps it’s the only idea Tadashi had left. Because even though he may be thousands of nebulas away from Tsukishima, there’s still some connection left. One small step forward to make a giant leap.

Tsukishima answers, saying the word Tadashi feared most but knew was inevitably coming. And although Tadashi is often afraid of the words he cannot say, his fears of what others can say have a tendency to frighten him the most. Because Tsukishima is there, speaking, and agreeing with a nod of his head and the only answer he can give.

“Yes.”