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It evolved. 

After that first stumbling connection, Tadashi and Tsukki’s relationship evolved. Naturally, of course, as relationships often do. It evolved from kisses stolen in empty apartments to honeyed embraces as soon as they were out of practice. It was trying to keep their newly found and delicately formed relationship a secret, while Tadashi continued to push down his ever-growing feelings for the boy he’d long considered more than his best friend. 

Tsukki, on the other hand, didn’t see them in the same light. 

He’d reminded Tadashi, on more than one bitter occasion, that they were friends. Nothing more and nothing less. Even if Tsukki was often the one to initiate contact as soon as no one was looking. Even if Tsukki indulged in… whatever this was just as much as Tadashi did. 

Tadashi told himself that he didn’t mind it. 

He waved off the bouts of jealousy that surfaced and nearly overtook him each time he witnessed a different girl confessing her feelings for Tsukki. Tadashi knew, after all, that at the end of the day Tsukki would be lying in his arms, begging for a kiss. Out of all of those fleeting girls, Tadashi was the only one to really understand Tsukki. 

It was selfish. So horribly selfish and childish for Tadashi to claim Tsukki in that manner especially since Tsukki had never been his to keep. 

Even so, when the weather turned cold and they donned their winter uniforms for the last time, Tadashi had the irrepressible urge to get even closer. He wanted to know what Tsukki was like beyond the flirting and soft kisses. He wanted more. 

Long after the first snowfall of the winter but before the turn of the New Year, Tadashi made his proposal. As soon as he was sure that his apartment was clear for the weekend, he put the idea out for the world to see despite the heavy blush that settled thickly upon his cheeks. 

Tsukki nodded, before retracting his own growing excitement. “Only if you’re sure. I don’t want to force you into anything.”

“I want to do this,” Tadashi affirmed. 

A silent conversation ensued, like they so often did between best friends who had long learned that words were futile devices, unable to truly encapture the extent of their thoughts. 

We really don’t have to do this, Tsukki insisted with the subtle flick of his yes and slight lean of his neck. 

But I want to, Tadashi asserted, inching closer until his lips were mere centimeters away. 

And then, the truly unsaid words passed between them. 

You know there’s no going back after this. 

Tadashi leaned forward, kissing Tsukki to give him the only answer he had left. I know. 

Tsukki— Kei —met Tadashi’s eagerness with his own voracity, taking no time whatsoever to curl his hand around Tadashi’s neck to bring them both closer together. He smiled under the other boy’s lips, even as their own hesitancies for the next steps next began to surface. 

Regardless, they figured it out together, slowly and deliberately, with plenty of nervous laughs to fill up the silent pauses. There was something particularly vulnerable about the process, Tadashi decided. Laid bare and open, he discovered that those imperfections he so often fretted over didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Kei still wanted him, even after everything. 

With shaky hands treading over newly uncovered skin and unsure questions spoken into stagnant air, Tadashi wallowed in the subtle satisfaction of it all. Kei appeared pleased as well,  despite his initial reluctance to indulge. Together, they sank into the novelty of it all as a promise made with the crossing of pinkies swore on another attempt. 

As the fading moonlight drifted in through the shutters of Tadashi’s window, he looked, really looked, for the first time at the boy he’d known for years. Kei stared back, gaze unsteady perhaps due to his lack of glasses, but nevertheless those golden eyes met Tadashi’s own unwavering stare. 

I want you to be mine, Tadashi thought to himself. 

Kei frowned. 

“Tadashi…”

The voice was so soft, Tadashi swore he imagined it. 

He didn’t respond. Kei didn’t say anything either. 

They simply observed one another until they succumbed to sleep. 

 

---

 

High rise buildings loom above them, overarching and even somewhat overbearing as they cast their dominance over the city. Sendai has always been a quiet place. Tadashi used to think the heart of the city was fun and unattainable; he’d stare up at the skyscrapers with an undeniable awe and a lingering sense of fascination. 

On a field trip to the Sendai Museum in elementary school, Tadashi and Tsukishima had somehow missed the bus back home. Initially Tadashi had started crying, but Tsukishima managed to cheer him up by giving him a dinosaur keychain.

There were times when Tadashi had felt powerless because of Tsukishima. This was one of those times, but he hadn’t known it then. He was simply a kid, accepting a trinket from his best friend, and overjoyed that they could spend their time together in the first place. 

Together, the two children took on the city. They walked hand in hand and watched as the sun dipped down below the city skyline, hues of purple expanding across the sky. Taking refuge in a little candy shop run by a pair of sweet grandmothers, they ate lollipops and laughed until their parents showed up. Tadashi remembers how his mother held him so desperately close, like she hadn’t seen her own son in years.

On the drive back, Tadashi and Tsukishima made a plan to come back to the city. They were simply little kids planning for bigger things. 

Tadashi reminisces on the bittersweet memory as they pull out of the Sendai City Gymnasium. Despite the tears and overwhelming anxiety of being alone, Tadashi remembers the sickeningly saccharine feeling of having Tsukishima at his side, even if they were in some big, unknown city. But now, as Tsukishima leans forward to pull into traffic, Tadashi wonders where that sweetness went. 

The city isn’t unknown anymore. The boy at his side however… 

They pull onto the street, merging with traffic before pausing at a red light. Tsukishima gives him a cursory glance, before readjusting his glasses. 

It’s a game of chess. 

They’ve been pushing off this altercation, but this was inevitable. Their pieces are on the board. The time is ticking down. They only have so long before they need to make their moves. 

Thing is, Tadashi doesn’t know which side he’s on. Does he move first? Which pawn does he use? Should he be bold and utilize some intense strategy to win? Or does he take the loss, still fighting but losing ground as they go along?

Tadashi shakes his head. He’s white. He’ll move first. 

“What did you want to talk about?” Tadashi asks, breaking their less-than-comfortable silence. 

Tsukishima has no right to be nervous considering he asked for this intervention in the first place, and yet his hesitance seeps through, visible with the slight reluctance in all of his actions. He speaks up anyway, voice deep and rough. 

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Tsukishima begins, lip trembling ever-so-slightly, “but I didn’t think I’d be acting on it until I saw you again at that game a few weeks ago. And then, after… everything we did… it only confirms what I think.”

Tadashi can’t read him. He can’t predict the next words that will trickle from Kei’s mouth or how their collective lives will suffer as a result. 

This may very well be the end of their history. That from here, their paths may diverge to never cross again. Everything they’ve been through would be for naught. After all, they’ve spent the better part of their lives alongside each other, at least in one way or another.

When they’d last spoke and screamed and cried, Tadashi was glad he’d never see Tsukishima again. He actually believed that they would be better off apart. But as the years passed and as the distance sank in… Tadashi doesn’t know if he still feels that way. 

“Look we’re both adults,” Tsukishima continues, sucking in a breath, “and we can both agree it’d be best if we—”

“I think we should go back to being friends,” Tadashi cuts in, the words an acrid taste upon his tongue. 

The air conditioning of the car whirrs in tandem with the growing road noise from outside. Tadashi reflects on his own statement in this moment, as the perilous thought of why did I just do that, permeates through his mind.

There’s no need for the end of Tsukishima’s thought. No, Tadashi won’t sit idly by and be broken up with again, even though they’ve never been in an official relationship. That sort of departure has always been cruel and Tadashi isn’t willing to face himself and how he’ll react once he’s lost Tsukishima again. 

Thinking about that night when two cowardly children took on an entire city has led him to hope for something as ridiculous as friendship again. As much as Tadashi wants to push Tsukishima away and ignore the entirety of their history, he can’t. He can’t give it up that easily. Some part of him wishes to recapture those fleeting moments of friendship. 

But… is that really something so awful to wish for? Isn’t he allowed optimism? 

Tsukishima raises an eyebrow. “Friends?”

“Yeah. Friends,” Tadashi repeats, gaining a steady confidence in his voice. He guesses he really does want this. “We were friends for nearly a decade. We can do that again.”

Tsukishima lets out a tsk. “That didn’t work out so well for us last time.”

“You said it yourself, we were doing things that friends shouldn’t do.” Tadashi swallows hard, and then continues, “From now on, we’ll be just friends.”

“So what happened a few weeks ago—”

“—Was a one time thing,” Tadashi finishes for him. Tsukishima seems doubtful. “No more… any of that. I think we’re both aware that’s where things started going bad for us… I have a girlfriend now anyway so—”

They come to a sudden stop, the red light catching Tadashi off guard. 

“You were dating someone when we slept together?” Tsukishima barks, tone pointed and harsh. He’s staring at Tadashi with wide eyes of horror, like he’s some dirty monster who’d cheat when he’s in a relationship. 

Tadashi’s jaw clenches tight. “You don’t get to accuse me of that,” he fumes, trying his best not to immediately blow up. “Not after…” He shakes his head, letting the bitter end of the sentence falter. 

Not after you fucked me while dating some other guy. 

“It doesn’t matter. And not that it’s any of your business, but we started dating only recently,” Tadashi offers, not willing to share more. 

Tsukishima presses his lips into a tight line. “I see. You managed to find someone after we hooked up.”

“Yeah.” 

There’s a beat there, a stretch of silence that cements the situation.

Fuck. 

“Yamaguchi, do you genuinely believe we can go back to being ‘just friends’ so easily?” Tsukishima asks, gaze pressing into Tadashi with all of the crushing weight of their history. “I’m not trying to be mean, I’m simply curious.” 

Truthfully, Tadashi is doubtful. He just wants to find something that will make him happy. It used to be Tsukishima… can they not try again?

“I don’t know,” Tadashi answers honestly. “But what I do know is that I can’t do this anymore. Whatever this is.” Tadashi moves his hands around to show the absolute nothing that currently defines them. 

Tsukishima turns his eyes away as the light turns green. 

Tadashi sighs. “Look, as long as I’m on the team working with the Frogs, we should at least be acquaintances. I just can’t keep fluctuating between being… I don’t even know at this point. Fuckbuddies and strangers?”

Tsukishima cringes slightly at the wording. Tadashi continues. 

“I’d rather just be friends. If we can’t manage that, then let’s forget I mentioned it in the first place.”

Tsukishima nods slowly. “Alright.” 

The car slows down as a bit of traffic pops up. Tadashi watches over the cars and wonders how many other people are having conversations like this. Were they working out their problems or were they slowly deteriorating? Could they move forward or were they forever trapped in a sweltering car, knowing but not understanding the stranger they sat beside?

“So what are they like?” Tsukishima asks, snapping Tadashi out of his own swirling thoughts. “The person you’re dating.”

Tadashi runs a hand through his hair. He sort of wishes he had his long hair again so he had something to fidget with right now. He focuses his attention towards a loose thread on his pants. 

“Her name is Aiko,” Tadashi replies slowly. “She’s—”

“Tsubashi Aiko?” Tsukishima cuts in. 

“Yeah… I guess you know her from the Frogs…”

Tsukishima frowns. “She calls me by my given name.”

“She calls everyone by their given name,” Tadashi responds. 

“Still.”

“Still, she’s nice.”

“Still, she doesn’t seem like your type.”

Tadashi doesn’t hesitate as he contorts towards the driver’s side.  “What’s my ‘type’ then?”

Tsukishima opens his mouth, then promptly closes it. 

Shit. 

“She’s nice,” Tadashi reemphasizes, slumping back in his seat. 

“Is ‘nice’ all she is?” Tsukishima bites back. 

Tadashi turns towards him, brows scrunching together. “Since when did you gain any right to comment on my relationships? I’m with Aiko now. End of story.”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Tsukishima rebukes, twisting Tadashi’s own words into a crafted sword perfect for stabbing Tadashi right back. “Friends can comment on other friends' relationships.”

Tadashi wishes he could stop himself from perpetuating the argument even longer, but he’s burning hot and he can’t restrict himself when he says, “So then what happened with that one guy, huh? The one you were dating back in 2018. The one you thought—”

“We broke up,” Tsukishima interrupts. “Happy? We broke up after we’d dated for about six months. And before you say anything, you should also know I dated two more guys after that. One lasted about a month and one lasted over a year. I’ve been single since June, though.”

Tadashi doesn’t have anything he wants to say. But his body, the vindictive fool, betrays him and the words come out quick and dirty. 

“Why did you break up?”

Tsukishima doesn’t react. No, he simply lets his eyes flick over for a brief moment before they return to the road. He changes lanes. 

“I realized I wasn’t in love with him,” Tsukishima says flatly. “I didn’t really love any of them.”

“Oh.”

They pull to another red light and Tsukishima turns on his blinker. The clicking burrows into Tadashi, ramping up his anxiety as they both await for the other to speak. 

Should Tadashi apologize? He probably should. He should probably say sorry for even suggesting they should be friends in the first place. He should apologize for dragging Tsukishima into his life. If they’d just never met or interacted, then maybe Tadashi would be free from the chains of—

“Are you hungry?” Tsukishima asks. 

Tadashi shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he feigns, the ill-placed timing of a stomach growl exposing his lie. 

Tsukishima nods, flashing his eyes for what Tadashi mistakes as an eternity. They’re soft and enthralling, everything Tadashi has searched for. 

He breaks the gaze though as he makes a left turn. Tadashi sucks in a breath between his teeth and bunches his fingers into the fabric of his pants. 

They remain silent even as they pull into the parking lot of some chain fast-food joint. They walk inside, and Tsukishima instructs him to go find a table. Tadashi abides, not wanting to stretch the night out any longer with a pointless argument, and finds them a quiet table to sit at. 

Tadashi idly checks his phone for messages, catching a news story about how the ace of the Sendai Frogs suffered a major injury during the game. The article is absolutely brutal towards Kyoutani, calling the play reckless and brash. Even the snippet of a video interview shows the newscaster tearing apart Kyoutani’s legacy, piece by horrifying piece. 

Tadashi quickly pockets his phone. He can’t imagine what it’d be like to be on the receiving end of that sort of unabated criticism. So what if Kyoutani was a little bold in his attempt to get the ball? It didn’t make the injury his fault. Nobody should get punished for at least trying to make something work. 

A sort of numb feeling works its way through Tadashi as a devious thought inserts itself into his mind. 

What’s even the point of trying hard when it will simply hurt you in the end?

Across the restaurant, two girls sit beside each other in a booth and laugh about something Tadashi can’t hear. They must be teenagers or college students, but something about their youthfulness is reminiscent of childhood. They duck down and whisper before bursting into a cackling laughter once again. 

A tray of food drops in front of him, loud enough to startle Tadashi as Kei slides in across the table.

“Thank you,” Tadashi says idly as Kei hands him his order. He takes the burger and fries, noting how Tsukishima’s gotten himself a large serving. He doesn’t even hesitate as he begins to eat, completely skipping over the ritual of preparing himself to take a few meager bites. 

“What?” Tsukishima asks after he’s swallowed his first bite. 

“Nothing,” Tadashi shakes his head, unwrapping his own burger. He goes to remove the tomatoes to find that they hadn’t been put there in the first place. As much as Tadashi would like to blame it on coincidence, the small, pleased look in Tsukishima’s eyes is enough evidence to prove that he’s retained Tadashi’s order after all these years. 

Tadashi allows himself the smallest of smiles before he takes a bite, savoring in the greasy, familiar taste. 

In the summer of their third year, Tadashi and Tsukishima went on a quest to determine the best fast food chain out there. If his memory serves him correctly, this place wasn’t high up on the burger list, but their fries and milkshakes were excellent. Tadashi confirms the fact by tasting a few fries, but lets them sit a while longer so they can get nice and soggy.

Tsukishima, on the other hand, is staring at his milkshake with a strange eye. He plucks the whole strawberry they’ve used as decoration from the rim of the glass and holds it gently between his fingertips. 

“I really like strawberries,” he states suddenly, letting his eyes flash between the fruit and Tadashi. 

He sets down his fry and meets Tsukishima’s gaze. “I know,” he replies simply. 

“Then you know that I’ve liked them for as long as I can remember.”

“Okay…?”

“Thing is, I started adding things to the strawberries. Crème, sugar, chocolate… they were such great additions to the point where I actually thought I couldn’t have strawberries without all the extra things added on.”

Tadashi’s brows drop. “What are you—”

“And then I stopped eating strawberries,” Tsukishima cuts in, taking on a serious tone despite the fact he’s still discussing something as mundane as fruit. “I foolishly cut them out of my diet, opting to only eat those extra toppings until I became burnt out and stopped eating sweets altogether. I thought it would be fine, but it wasn’t. I have an awful sweet tooth and I didn’t realize that until I saw someone else eating strawberries one day. I’d been so wrapped up in all of the extra things, the unnecessary things, that I’d forgotten how sweet strawberries can be on their own.”

Tsukishima takes a small bite of the strawberry and swallows it down before adding, “Sometimes it’s better to keep things simple and go back to what you know works. I don’t need any of the extras or the things that’ll cause cavities and pain later on. I just need the strawberries. Understand?”

Tadashi opens his mouth to retort, but promptly closes it. He understands. 

Their friendship is the strawberry. 

While Tadashi’s never had a sweet tooth, he agrees with the concept. Their friendship had been fine all along. They never needed to add sex or anything additional to make it work.  

Then again… could Tadashi himself be the strawberry?

Impossible, he thinks to himself. Of course Tsukishima didn’t want him. Or at least he never wanted Tadashi like that. The whole point of the analogy was that they should keep their relationship simple. 

Still…

Still… 

“I understand,” Tadashi says, voice trailing and soft. It barely rises over the happy noises provided by the young kids in nearby booths and the teens a few tables over that are playing some video.

“Look…” Tsukishima runs a hand through his hair, messing up one of the curls that usually rests against his forehead. Tadashi fights the irrepressible urge to fix it despite the fact Tsukishima’s hair is beginning to stick up in a few different directions. 

“I’m sorry,” Tsukishima says. 

For a moment, Tadashi really thinks he’s dreaming. He can’t remember a single instance in his entire life where Tsukishima has said those words to him. At least, not like this. Not with the full force of his guilt out on display for the entire world to see. Has there ever been a moment when Tsukishima appeared as genuine as this? 

Tadashi sucks in a breath between his teeth. Not a single word escapes from his mouth. Tsukishima takes this as his sign to continue on. 

“I know that I’ve fucked up… a lot…” he offers. “But I am willing to try again. I think somewhere along the way I realized that it’s harder to ignore everything that’s happened. And since you are working for the Frogs, and we’ll be seeing each other for a long time, now is probably the best time to try again.”

“Even if it doesn’t work?” Tadashi says, the words flurry out his mouth. “I… I don’t want to force you to put effort in for something that won’t succeed.” 

Tsukishima leans forward, crossing the imaginary line they’ve established across the table. He’s breaking the fourth wall, staring right into Tadashi and tearing him apart until he’s the same little child who became enamored with a boy with golden eyes and haloed blonde hair. 

“Even so, we should still try,” Tsukishima insists, his voice smooth and confident. 

“But what’s the point of trying if there’s no guarantee? We’ve done this same shit so many times before and it hasn’t worked. Forget that I even mentioned it in the first place, I don’t think we should—”

Tsukishima’s abrupt, happy laugh steals the words from Tadashi’s mouth. He’s immediately caught at this moment where the world ceases its axial spin all so that Tsukishima can laugh wholly and truly by something that Tadashi has said. 

“Why are you laughing?” Tadashi asks slowly. 

Tsukishima settles into a smile. “Nothing. I just distinctly remember nearly getting my ass beat when I said the same thing.”

Tadashi shakes his head, allowing his eyes to drop to his shaking hands on the table. “I’m sorry.” 

“For what?” 

“For yelling at you like that.” 

“Are you kidding?” Tsukishima’s voice nearly breaks. “Yamaguchi, look at me.” 

He does.

Tsukishima studies him. 

Tadashi studies him back. 

“Don’t apologize for that night,” Tsukishima instructs. “Sure, it was the first time someone had spoken to me like that, but without you, I would have continued on with my endless ruminating for god knows how long. You’re cool, Yamaguchi.”

Cool.  

“Excuse me,” Tadashi blurts, abruptly standing from the table. 

He curtails out as Tsukishima calls behind him, “Where are you going?” 

“For a smoke,” Tadashi yells back, ducking out the door. He sidesteps into the alley and lights up a cigarette without hesitation. 

The nicotine floods in, nearly instantly calming his shaking hands to a steady lull. 

“Fuck…” he curses under his breath, sinking along the wall until he’s settled into a squat. He takes another puff, letting the smoke roll off his tongue in a steady line. 

He’s the idiot that suggested they become friends again. He’s the idiot that thought they needed to sleep together. He’s the idiot that was strung along for years, a victim under Tsukishima’s cruel hand. 

And yet… 

And yet… 

Tadashi covers his mouth with his hand. Even if there’s no one else in the alleyway, he won’t be seen smiling over Tsukishima’s attention. He’s not some child in need of validation and yet there’s something so satisfying about the simple word that Tadashi feels frankly overwhelmed with the way his heart pounds against his ribcage. 

Cool. 

Perhaps the weed is a flower after all. Maybe it’s been the growing stem to a strawberry plant. In a few months, it’ll be ready to pick and the taste will be as sweet as ever. 

With a few more puffs, Tadashi puts out his cigarette and heads back inside the restaurant. Tsukishima’s made good progress on his food, significantly more than the pithy bites Tadashi’s taken. 

As soon as Tadashi sits down, Tsukishima begins to cough. 

“You should really stop smoking,” he comments, attempting to clear the air of the second-hand smoke. “Why did you even start?”

Tadashi shrugs, dragging a fry around in some ketchup. It’s gotten to the point of sogginess, but even something as comforting as that can’t seem to increase his hunger. “I don’t know. It’s calming, sometimes.”

Tsukishima sighs. 

They sit awhile, finishing their meals. Tadashi wants to ask when Tsukishima regained his appetite and began eating properly, but he saves the conversation for another day. Instead, they make idle small talk about work and life, pointedly avoiding topics like Aiko. 

When Tsukishima’s done and Tadashi insists he’s full despite the leftovers, they head outside. They climb back into Tsukishima’s car and are off to Tadashi’s place once again. 

So much for just a ride, he thinks to himself, but he lets the thought slip away and allows himself to somewhat even enjoy the detour. 

Traffic has increased, clogging the path home with cars and wandering pedestrians. The streetlamps cast arrays of light over the bumbling couples and teens out past their curfew. Further down the road, Tadashi swears he can see two small boys gripping hands and skipping down the pavement. 

As he blinks though, the figures disappear. Simply ghosts of his past.

“So…?” Tsukishima asks, pulling Tadashi’s attention back inside the car. 

“So… what?”

“Analysis?”

“Right.”

Throughout Tadashi’s later years at Karasuno, he became the surprising forefront of strategy when he began analyzing their opposing team’s methods. Initially, it was something Tadashi did so he wouldn’t waste any time while on the court. He’d figure out who was best to serve to so when he got subbed in, he could easily get the job done. His time on the bench became an asset, something to utilize as he’d use the libero and pass messages along to the starting players. The skill set to discern the opposing team’s flaws only increased with time. 

“You should have served towards their ace,” Tadashi decides as he recalls the small bits of the game he’d actually watched. “It looked like he was reliant on his left knee more so than his right, so by forcing him to receive you’d knock him out for the counterattack since he doesn’t have the lower body support to keep him for the next play.”

Tsukishima nods, eyebrows rising in what Tadashi can only suspect is appreciation for his analysis. “I thought so too,” he agrees. “You missed out on the fact that their libero had a bad tendency to cover for their ace, though. But, it’s the right idea.”

“Right.”

In some other life, one where Tadashi and Tsukishima made good decisions and didn’t drag each other into unfortunate situations, they acted exactly like this. Tadashi probably still played volleyball for a local team and Tsukishima probably made a Division 1 team. 

And in that other universe, the one where they could laugh and freely be friends, Tadashi was probably really, really happy. He probably smiled and gave out compliments and knew he had a brighter future awaiting him. 

The Tadashi of this world though, all he could do was hope to emulate that other self of his. 

But maybe, just maybe, he was starting to get there. 

“Did you know that we’re in a movie?” Tadashi blurts out, surprised that that’s what his subconscious deemed worthy enough to talk about. 

Tsukishima raises a brow. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s some documentary on Kageyama and Hinata, and they talked about Karasuno. They even included some interview you’d done a while back.”

Tsukishima clicks his tongue. “I remember that. This random camera crew practically bombarded me after a game and I tried to get away, but they were relentless. I can’t even remember what I said.”

“You called Hinata and Kageyama idiots,” Tadashi reminds him.

Tsukishima snorts. “Because they are.”

“You can’t say that on film though. It might come back to haunt you later.”

Tsukishima shrugs before flicking a sideways glance back at Tadashi. There’s the smallest trace of an amused smile that disappears as Tsukishima talks. “They already know how I feel about them. Shouldn’t matter if everyone else knows too.”

“Still bad for PR,” Tadashi shrugs, hoping the joking edge to his voice is noticeable. It’s a little worn considering he hasn’t felt the need to catch up with Tsukishima’s wit in years, but he figures a little banter may even do them well. 

“Oh? What are you going to do about it?”

Tadashi’s heart skips a beat or seven. Fuck. 

“I guess I’ll just have to tell Hinata and Kageyama,” Tadashi says. “They’ll definitely be on my side.”

Tsukishima snorts. “I’d like to see you try.”

“I mean it would be nice to see them again. I haven’t seen them since…” Tadashi’s casual tone falls flat as the memory resurfaces. He swallows. “Since 2018.”

Tsukishima clears his throat. “Muzioka is pregnant,” he states flatly, quickly changing the subject. 

“Oh… wow…” 

Tadashi’s first girlfriend is already pregnant. She’s already one step closer to an idyllic life. She probably has a loving husband and a nice home. She’s probably very happy. 

Could that have been Tadashi? Not in actuality, considering their measly relationship was a blip in Tadashi’s life, but hypothetically, could that have been him? 

He’d like to think so, considering the expectations that have been placed upon him. Tadashi could almost see himself as a man like that, but the image is fuzzy like an old, low-quality photograph. The more Tadashi attempts to recreate that life in his head, the life he’s never known but maybe have wanted, the further it strays. Instead, Tadashi finds himself blinking away the uncapturable image as Tsukishima comes into view. 

“How did you find out?” Tadashi decides to ask.

“She posted it all over Instagram,” Tsukishima supplies. “She’s married to some big scientist or something like that. All seems very contrived.”

“Huh.”

Tsukishima turns a corner. They’re nearly to Tadashi’s complex. 

“How’s your mom?” Tsukishima questions, careful to keep his eyes on the road. 

Tadashi swallows. “She’s alright.”

“Is her treatment okay?” Tsukishima goes on, before Tadashi can ask how he knows about it. “My mom told me about everything… I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it alone.”

Tadashi shakes his head. “It’s fine.”

“Still…”

Tsukishima doesn’t finish his sentence. Instead, he pulls up in front of Tadashi’s building as a bit of drizzle has begun outside. Tadashi unbuckles himself, not quite ready to face whatever lies beyond this little car. 

“Thank you for the ride,” Tadashi does say, seeing as he has little else to offer. 

He wants to leave. He wants to stay. He wants… 

“Anytime,” Tsukishima offers. 

Tadashi nods, opens the door, and steps out of the car. He makes it a few feet before the better (or perhaps worse) part of him overtakes his decision-making skills, and he promptly turns back towards the car. He knocks twice on the window before Tsukishima rolls it down. 

“I’m usually in the Frogs buildings on Mondays and Wednesdays,” Tadashi says. “So… if you’d like… maybe we could get lunch on Monday?”

Tsukishima’s eyebrows raise. He readjusts his glasses, his hand doing a poor job at hiding a slight, insignificant smile. “I’d like that.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Well then… I guess I’ll see you Monday.”

“Yeah. Goodnight, Yamaguchi.”

“Goodnight.”

Tadashi steps away and heads inside, not stopping until he’s inside his apartment and he’s reached the small box of novelties he keeps underneath his bed. He digs around until he finds a small, familiar figurine. 

Tadashi heads back into the kitchen and clips the dinosaur keychain to his keys. It’s old and worn from the years of use but something about it seems strangely… okay.

 

---

 

One moment, Tadashi had been climbing higher and higher. 

His chubby little fingers, not elegant yet with the onslaught of age, grasped for the branches filled with verdant leaves fresh for the early summer. A laugh bloomed out of his chest as his fist curled around the timber, and Tadashi pulled himself up to the next level. 

The midday August sun filtered through the lush tree; it probably should have beat down on them more, but Tadashi and Kei were lucky in their ability to find shade. They’d spent the whole summer attempting to secure a reprieve from the sun and Kei’s suggestion to ascend into the treetops had been the best idea yet. 

Kei was a branch above him. He’d always been above Tadashi. 

“Come on!” Kei cheered, holding out a hand for the boy below. 

Tadashi readjusted the placement of his bottom foot, securing himself along the trunk before reaching outwards to grasp Kei’s hand. They connected, only for a brief moment, before the inevitable loss of balance pulled them both towards the earth. 

One moment, he’d been climbing higher and higher. The next, he laid in a pool of limbs in the soft grass of Kei’s backyard. 

Tadashi yelped out. He screamed as the pain struck him in his hip, and a hand, not his own, grabbed at the injury. 

“You’ll be okay,” Kei instructed with a voice that wasn’t confident enough to tear away Tadashi’s attention from the welt sprouting at his side. He watched, horrified, as Kei pulled back his hand and it was covered in a deep, dark red. 

There was something growing at Kei’s side as well. An injury Tadashi couldn’t see yet but knew was there since they’d both succumbed to the withering branch of the tree. 

That day, when Tadashi received his first of many scars, he realized that he was, in fact, not invincible. His flesh could be easily broken. His heart could break too, although he never considered that sort of possibility at the time. 

No, in those few moments he was struggling to grasp the concept that he was susceptible to physical pain. He didn’t know, not really, how much emotional torture he would be able to endure. He also didn’t know that quite often he was the one to put himself through that unbearable anguish in the first place. 

Tadashi may have wondered at age 8 why one would ever willingly put themselves through pain like this. Then again, Tadashi at age 8 easily accepted Kei’s hand in standing up despite how the other boy was going through his own torment. 

Immortality, it seemed, wasn’t for them. 

They were human, destined to receive cuts and scratches and broken hearts. They were resilient and yet ephemeral. 

Ultimately, they were fatal.