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miserability

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Unfortunately, and yet unsurprisingly, Tadashi and Tsukishima are great at being friends. 

After all, they’ve accumulated years of practice for an occasion such as this. With a decade-long record that’s free from huge mistakes, Tadashi is timid yet oddly hopeful that this time it could actually work out. As long as they don’t accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) sleep together again… right?

Issue is, being friends with Tsukishima is like speaking a foreign language. 

The foundation is there, laid flat and solid with a set of rules they’d memorized early on. Regulations that initially helped to ease their relationship between the phases of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. 

A lot of the rules are common sense. 

Like Rule 44: Tadashi and Tsukishima should always laugh at each other’s jokes. 

Or, Rule 17: They always need to walk home together. 

And, of course, Rule 2: The rest of the world doesn’t matter as long as they have each other.

But as their common tongue fell into disuse, those rules have changed like languages so often do. It’s evolved for the new speakers, two men who are unsure how to even resume a friendship as shaky as their own. 

Instead of bellylaughs and full-out chortles, their jokes now receive ghosts of smiles and acknowledgements in nods. And there’s no need to walk home together anymore seeing as they live in opposite parts of the city. But if their schedules line up and Tadashi is feeling particularly susceptible, he’ll accept a ride home, the new addendum stating that Tsukishima is always the one to drive. 

As for the second rule… well that surprisingly held true. There were moments where the rest of the world did indeed fall away, leaving only Tadashi and Tsukishima behind. Usually, its occurrence made Tadashi slip back into old mindsets where he considered them closer than what they actually were. 

But like any complicated language: the real issue lies in the exceptions. The unsaid, but yet understood rules, that only the native speakers can comprehend. Those are the places where Tadashi flounders. He finds himself suddenly unsure who the man sitting across the table is and doesn’t know how to communicate at all.

And like a foreign language, their friendship is still somewhat lost. Tadashi was once familiar with all of the intricacies and delicate aspects that constituted their hidden language, but time had worn his knowledge thin and now he’s afraid that he can’t speak a single word at all. He’s too frightened to blabber words he doesn’t know the meaning of, lest he say something improper or wrong. Oftentimes, he’ll say absolutely nothing at all. Tsukishima won’t speak up either. They’ll simply sit in silence for as long as they need to.

Even so, they have a shibboleth. 

A tradition that sets apart the true native speakers from the foreigners attempting to peer inside. 

After all, they know each other. 

Tadashi knows that Tsukishima prefers going to bed early and waking up before the sun has even risen, so he always cuts off their night rendezvous early. And Tadashi knows that Tsukishima hates it when people mispronounce words, so he’s always conscious of what he says and how he says it. And Tadashi knows that Tsukishima actually likes walking around, despite how much he drives; he’s always found it calming, so he will subtly lead them on the long way back just to see Tsukishima relax in the additional steps. 

Tadashi had nearly forgotten how well he actually understood Tsukishima; despite the trials and tribulations, their language is slowly and steadily coming back to Tadashi. He’s beginning to remember why they stayed around each other in the first place. It wasn’t because they had good sex or that there was no one else around. No, they began this shaky little friendship because they genuinely enjoyed one another.

Then again, Tadashi is still lost sometimes as to who Tsukishima even is to begin with. 

The rise to a common tongue is a slow build. One that Tadashi is fortunately, and yet surprisingly, familiar with. 

It starts with lunches on the days where Tsukishima has practice and Tadashi needs to go into the Frogs office. A casual affair—something easy to blow off and forget they’d even agreed to in the first place. 

But it develops, and soon they’re meeting up after games for rides home and nothing more (with a fast food stop inevitably built in). And even then, it continues to grow until they’ve started to make plans. Real, secure, marked-out plans. Ones that make Tadashi shift.

“I actually have something that day.” He tells Yachi over the phone one day when she asks about the possibility of one of their usual coffeeshop meetups. 

There’s a noticeable pause from the opposite line before Yachi lets out what Tadashi could only classify as a sigh of relief. “Let me guess,” she breathes, a giggle ready to spill over, “you’re hanging out with Tsukishima?”

Tadashi would have expected her to react violently, considering the mass amounts of warnings she’s provided up until now but instead there’s a sort of contentment there. Almost like she’d expected this sort of thing.

“Am I that obvious?” Tadashi asks back. 

“No, it’s not that,” Yachi assures, the smile practically visible through the phone, “it’s just I haven’t been blown off like this since high school. But, go! Please. You can tell me all about it the next time you’re free.”

Tadashi agrees, fully knowing that his free time has dwindled down to a mere Sunday afternoon. Working late, on top of seeing Aiko as much as he can considering both of their work schedules, not to mention the new addition of weekly Frogs games (in-stadium for home games, a bar excursion with Yahaba for away)... Tadashi is overbooked. And certain things fall in the cracks. 

Tsukishima, for whatever reason, doesn’t. 

No, he secures himself at the front of Tadashi’s mind, his priorities. A new, yet wholly familiar, facet that seems to slide in so easily into the gaps of where other assets falter.

When Tadashi had asked to be friends again, he didn’t expect this.

“Yo, Yama-kun!” Morikatsu calls, promptly pulling Tadashi out of his own self-destructing thoughts. “Congrats on the good work! I don’t think I’ve heard Suzuki give anyone a compliment… ever.”

Tadashi gives him a soft smile as he straightens out the papers at his desk. “Thanks.”

Suzuki had given Tadashi an inordinate amount of praise at their last meeting. It was wholly unexpected and completely unjustified considering Tadashi’s work hasn’t been exceptional or anything. Nevertheless, he’d been complimented in front of all of his coworkers, a feat that was, apparently, novel. 

Tadashi had suspected the circumstances were uncommon considering the way Hayato glared at him during the meeting, but he couldn’t have guessed it was Suzuki’s first time being happy with someone’s work.

He supposes there’s a bit of… guilt there. The idea that Tadashi is somehow better than his coworkers is frankly untrue, no matter how many compliments Suzuku threw his way. His coworkers had been here for years, some of them still desperate for a compliment like that. Some of them had given up trying a long time ago. Somehow, Tadashi had edged them all out. He didn’t plan on it, or expect anything from it. Maybe it would be best if Tadashi stopped trying so hard… 

“You gotta be more proud, man!” Morikatsu cheers. “Ya know, if I was the one getting complimented, I would definitely be rubbing it in everyone’s faces.”

“I know,” Tadashi comments as he reaches for his buzzing phone. 

 

To: Yamaguchi Tadashi

Practice got cancelled if you still wanted to meet up after work. Let me know. 

 

“Oooh, is that Aiko?” Morikatsu teases, trying to peer over Tadashi’s shoulder. 

Tadashi immediately pockets the phone and holds up his hands to push Morikatsu away. He backs off though, albeit chuckling like he knows something good.

“Man, I want a girlfriend like that,” he complains. “Look at you! You’re all smiley and blushy! It’s just rude at this point, Yana-kun. We’re supposed to be in the single game together.”

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tadashi holds up a hand to his cheek and, sure enough, they’re burning like no tomorrow. He blames it on being caught. 

Over what? A voice asks. Why were you smiling over Tsukishima’s text?

“You’ll find someone,” Tadashi assures, moving his hand to his heart. It’s still thrumming. “I’m getting back to work.”

Morikatsu sighs, pointing at him. “See, that’s why you’re the best in the department. Fine, though I guess you can get work done at your job or whatever. See ya.”

Tadashi turns to his monitor, allowing his fingers to fly over the big keycaps until the rhythm lulls him into thinking about absolutely nothing at all. 

Even so, his mind keeps wandering back to the image of golden eyes gazing upon him. 

 

---

 

“Alright, just like that!”

The flashing of the camera is nearly enough to blind Tadashi, even though he’s not the one being photographed. Instead, Tsukishima poses in front of a white backdrop, holding a volleyball and giving the camera absolutely nothing. His expression matches what he looks like when he’s reading a textbook or watching Hinata and Kageyama undergo their normal chaos: completely deadpan with no life whatsoever. 

Watching from his position at the back of the room, Tadashi silently laughs at how ridiculous the whole thing is. Regardless, Tsukishima flexes the new logo on his bicep and shows off how he’s now officially connected to Tadashi’s company. The simple red text is enough to connect them despite the years of separation they’re slowly beginning to break through.  

“Hey. Pinch server.”

Tadashi nearly jumps out of his own skin at the low voice suddenly in his ear. He turns to see Kyoutani standing next to him, fists pushed into his uniform shorts and a scowl already on his face. There’s a large, unwieldy brace strapped to one of his ankles, forcing him to shift his weight onto his other foot. 

“It’s Yamaguchi,” Tadashi supplies, trying to calm down his panicked heart. 

“I know,” Kyoutani says. 

A steady silence settles between them. Tadashi looks around, but there’s no one to come to his rescue. He’s never spoken with Kyoutani—not really. The longest interaction they had was probably back in high school and only occurred across a net. But now as Kyoutani stands before him, Tadashi comes to understand he’s a lot less threatening than he initially believed. Sure, he still glowers towards Tadashi and has this strange sort of menacing aura; but overall he seems rather tame. 

“Did you need something from me?” Tadashi asks. 

Kyoutani scrunches his lips together. “I… I wanted to thank you. I guess.”

Tadashi blinks. “Oh. Wow. That’s… unexpected.”

“You think I can’t be grateful?” Kyoutani barks, only to get a deathly glare from the photographer for his raised voice. Kyoutani sighs and runs a hand over his buzzed hair. “Look, I don’t say it very often, but Shigeru told me about how you acted when I got injured. So thanks.”

“It’s not a problem, really,” Tadashi offers. 

Kyoutani takes a limping step forward. “Say ‘you’re welcome,’” he instructs. 

“Wha—”

“It’s not rude,” Kyoutani argues. “You went out of your way, so it was a problem. Don’t blow people off like that. So say ‘you’re welcome.’ It’s what you’re supposed to do.”

Out of all of the people in the entire world, Kyoutani is probably the last person Tadashi would have ever expected to give him lessons in etiquette. And yet here they are, and Kyoutani doesn’t look like he’s joking in the slightest. 

“You’re welcome,” Tadashi says. 

Kyoutani nods. “Come to games more often. Shigeru likes talking with you.”

Grinning a little, Tadashi responds, “I was already planning on it.”

One of the photographer’s assistants comes in and pulls Kyoutani away to get his hair and makeup touched up. Tadashi can’t help but laugh as he wrangles with the makeup artists, but they still manage to fix his otherwise present dark circles. 

Tadashi turns back as Tsukishima finishes off the last of his photos. The proofs appear on a huge monitor for everyone to see. Each photo that pops up is different from the last, but there’s a sort of airiness in all of Tsukishima’s motions. A breath otherwise not seen in his daily life but perfectly captured on film. And although he does not smile for the camera, there’s still the ghost of happiness trailing on his features. 

The photographer takes a few last shots, before moving on to the next player. Tsukishima comes off set, immediately heading towards Tadashi. 

“I’ve never been on a photoshoot before,” Tadashi admits, looking around at the gradioise production. It’s nothing too fancy, but the presence of expensive equipment and enough PA’s to help an army is certainly overwhelming. “I guess I didn’t realize there would be so much going on.”

“Yeah,” Tsukishima agrees, letting his hands rest on his hips. 

For whatever reason, Tadashi is highly aware of how Tsukishima moves in space. From the shifting of his weight to the flex of his arms to the way he lets his eyes linger on Tadashi. It’s all intentional. It’s all too much. 

“I think this is my least favorite part about playing for the Frogs,” Tsukishima relinquishes. He licks his lips for a moment, before adding, “Either that or the social media posts. It’s just stupid if you ask me.”

“Yeah, I never realized how much you have to do outside of playing,” Tadashi says. 

Tsukishima snorts. “It’s a full-time job, even if I already have another career.”

“Why the Frogs though?” Tadashi asks, pressing in a little closer. “I mean, wouldn’t you have been happy playing for some neighborhood team or something?”

Tsukishima considers it as he readjusts his sports goggles. “I mean, I didn’t exactly want to leave Sendai, and the Frogs offered me a spot, so I figured why not?” He lowers his head a bit, a sort of darkness overlaying his eyes. “And there’s no way I would’ve been satisfied simply playing against people who weren’t serious. Maybe a part of me has started to look for something greater.”

Tadashi nods a little bit. “I think that’s just your excuse for saying that you like volleyball.” He grins. 

Rolling his eyes, Tsukishima sighs, “Oh my god.” 

“Who would have ever thought you liked volleyball enough to go pro?” Tadashi teases, gaining momentum. “I thought it was just a club?” 

“Yeah, yeah, it’s just a club.” Tsukishima says back with an incrementally growing smile. 

“Tsukishima Kei-senshu, what is it like devoting your life to volleyball?” Tadashi holds out his hand, acting like it’s a mic. 

Playing along, Tsukishima leans forward to say, “You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m just telling the truth,” Tadashi shrugs. “You’re an elite volleyball player and should be treated as such.” 

“Shut up, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima says, rolling his eyes with no real bite to his words. 

Tadashi lets out a humbling, soft laugh. “Sorry, Tsukki!” He says reflexively, not noticing how light his tone actually is. He doesn’t even recognize the name until it’s left his lips but somehow it feels… sweet.

Tsukishima gives him a careful smile. It’s warm and soothing and everything good that Tadashi remembers from his youth. 

Oh.

Oh.  

Tadashi’s too happy to consider what these feelings may bring or how they’ve hurt him before. The realization is a warm sensation, spreading from the center of his chest outwards until his entire body is numb with the feeling. He should want to reject it, since the phantom pains still echo through his limbs, but Tadashi doesn’t have it in him. 

Because, once again, Tadashi is falling, falling, falling for the boy with golden eyes. 

He’s stumbling and grasping for a hold on his mind and his fatal feelings, and yet there’s nothing there to grip on to. Once again, he’s subjecting himself to pain and tortue because he thinks there’s something like feelings when it concerns Tsukishima. 

They’re friends. 

They always have been and they always will be. 

Tsukishima is too cruel to allow it any other way. 

But, then again, why would someone so horrible be smiling at Tadashi like this? Why would he invite him to lunch and offer him rides and agree to go along with Tadashi’s failing attempts to protect the semblance of a relationship they have left? 

What could Tsukishima possibly gain from being around Tadashi? 

Nothing, Tadashi answers for himself, watching as Tsukishima averts his eyes but keeps his grin. He doesn’t even try to hide it. Not anymore. Tsukishima used to never smile. When did he begin? Who made him smile? Why couldn’t it have been Tadashi? 

Because you have nothing to offer, Tadashi’s brain tells him once more. You’ll never be enough. 

A warping, twisting feeling rages in Tadashi’s stomach. He wants to enjoy this moment but he’s too caught up in his own mind and so confused as to what it all means. There’s a billion questions rearing through him all at once and it doesn’t help that Tsukishima is still smiling. He’s still fucking smiling. 

Stop. Stop. Stop. 

“You know I think you should get some photos too,” Tsukishima suggests. “Your ID doesn’t look like you at all anymore.”

Tsukishima reaches forward, pulling Tadashi a half-step closer so he can examine his ID badge. It’s a new one, evident from the fact the Frogs logo is slapped right in the corner. It seems funny, in a way. Tadashi has once again been quite literally stamped with ownership from Tsukishima. 

It’s nothing new though, considering Tadashi’s already been marked by him thrice before. 

First, Tsukishima had marked his body. 

It occurred when they were no older than ten, playing in the big tree in Tsukishima's lawn. The scar Tadashi bears from that day is a constant physical reminder of all they’ve lived through together. A shared experience embodied by a simple line across Tadashi’s skin claimed by one Tsukishima Kei and healed by the same hands as well. And although they were children at the time, the mark remains all the same for it continues to show Tsukishima’s eternal grasp on Tadashi. 

Second, Tsukki had marked his heart. 

He’d broken off pieces and pocketed them as his own, leaving behind Tadashi a shell of his former self. Who is that boy who could so confidently yell and scream and banter with Tsukki? Tadashi has lost the ability to even try, his heart shattered and shattered time and time again, sewn only back together with the thread of time. How much longer until Tsukki pulls on his strings once more and makes Tadashi fall apart?

And third, Kei had marked his soul. 

A feeble, fleeting thing like flesh will one day wither and die. And a heart can be broken, but it too will one day cease to exist. But to alter one’s soul, as Kei unwittingly did the day he met Tadashi, is an act that cannot be simply undone. They remain attached, because even when the scars they share fade into dust and when Tadashi’s heart fails to beat, his soul will remain, forever emblazoned with Tsukishima Kei’s name upon it. 

For when they escape these mortal chains, their souls will continue on as stardust, eternally connected and united evermore. 

Suppressing the overwhelming urge to run away, Tadashi instead allows himself to bask in the presence that is in fact one Tsukishima Kei. He’s fiddling with Tadashi’s ID and they’re standing oh so close and Tadashi can’t comprehend the fact that this man, this friend, this lover, this Tsukishima, is choosing to stand before him. Not off with the other Frogs players or with any of the other members of the Frogs managerial team. 

No, he sticks with Tadashi.  

Why?

A phone goes off. 

The photographer whips back, sending daggers their way, as Tsukishima drops Tadashi’s ID and ducks to grab his phone. He answers, promptly sighing when he realizes who was on the line. 

“No, I’m still at work,” Tsukishima growls into the phone, trying to keep his voice low so as to not disturb the rest of the photo session. 

Tadashi can’t hear the other person’s voice, but he can only assume it’s not ideal considering the frown and furrowed brows Tsukishima wears easily. 

He turns towards Tadashi, his expression suddenly changing as an idea visibly passes over his eyes. “Hold on,” he instructs the person on the line, only to promptly hold out the phone for Tadashi. “It’s for you,” he tells him, motioning for him to pick up. 

“Who is it?” Tadashi asks, carefully retrieving the phone. 

“You’ll see,” is all Tsukishima says as Tadashi holds the phone up to his ear. 

“Hello?” he asks hesitantly.

A gasp sounds through the other end. “Tadashi? Is that you?” Their tone is light and familiar, but distant enough that Tadashi can’t quite place it. 

“Yeah… uh hi?”

“It’s so good to hear from you!” the voice says with a laugh. It clicks for Tadashi as a smile rises to his lips. 

“It’s good to hear from you too, Akiteru-san,” Tadashi beams. He can’t even remember the last time he’d thought about Akiteru, let alone had a conversation with him. 

“Kei was telling me the other day about how you two were hanging out again and I was like, ‘There’s no way you’re actually hanging out with Tadashi’ but here you are! How have you been?”

“I’m good,” Tadashi responds, his gaze travelling to meet Tsukishima’s. He tries not to stare at Tadashi, but it’s pretty obvious he’s paying attention. 

Tsukishima had talked about him. To Akiteru, of all people. 

It’s funny. After what Tadashi had dubbed as the ‘Akiteru Incident’ (and what Tsukishima refused to even admit occurred at all), Tsukishima had once stated that he would never speak to his brother again. Of course Tadashi had known that Tsukishima was bluffing, but there was certainly a period of time where that promise held true. 

Although now it seemed like they were on good terms. At least, good enough terms for Akiteru to call and for Tsukishima to want to answer. Good enough that Tsukishima was willing to talk to him about Tadashi of all people. 

Who knew Tsukishima even thought about him at all. 

“OH!” Akiteru nearly screeches. “Give me a sec,” he instructed, before promptly hanging up. 

Tadashi lowers the phone and offers it to Tsukishima. “I’m glad you’re close with Akiteru-san again,” Tadashi tells him honestly. Tsukishima retrieves his phone, letting his fingers trail over Tadashi’s for a few brief moments.

“I am too,” Tsukishima admits. 

The phone begins to ring again, only now it’s Akiteru requesting a FaceTime. Kei answers, and holds out the phone for both of them to see. He moves incrementally closer to Tadashi, to the point where their shoulders brush every few seconds. 

And while they’ve certainly been closer than this, they’ve practically spent their entire lives beside each other after all, there’s still something electrifying by the occasional touch that Tadashi’s able to get. A part of him maybe even wants to get closer. A part of him knows to run away. 

Akiteru appears on the screen, criss-crossed on the floor with a baby sitting in his lap. It must be only a few months old, evident from the chubby cheeks and fingers, paired with a crown of soft, blonde hair. 

Tadashi sucks in a breath. “Oh my god,” he exclaims, stepping in closer to look at the small child. “You have a kid!”

“Her name is Mikazuki, or Mika for short,” Akiteru says, as he idly plays with her fingers. She grasps at his hands with the eloquence of a giraffe. 

“She’s beautiful,” Tadashi insists truthfully. He gives her a little wave.

“Mika,” Akiteru addresses, pointing towards the phone. “Say hi to your uncles Kei and Tadashi!” 

The baby giggles some incomprehensible noise as Tadashi clutches his chest. 

Uncle. 

A title he’s never held before nor thought he would ever hold, really. Growing up without siblings limited his possibilities to only his spouse, but even then it always seemed like an unachievable possibility. 

You’re looking too far into it, Tadashi chides himself. And yet there’s something strangely satisfying about being welcomed into the Tsukishima family. It was something he wanted so desperately as a child and now he’s been accepted when he least expected it. 

“She’s precious, Akiteru-san,” Tadashi comments, wishing he could break through the phone to meet his newly-minted niece in person. 

“Oh, she might look like an angel here, but she’s a troublemaker for sure,” Akiteru grins, bouncing her a little bit. 

“I can confirm, she threw up all over my shoulder,” Tsukishima shudders. 

“I told you her stomach is sensitive!”

Tadashi can only laugh at the image of Tsukishima taking care of Mika. But there is the creeping suspicion that Tsukishima is secretly amazing with kids—babies in particular. The image of him cooing at Mika, bouncing her softly on his knee and gently rocking her to sleep in his arms… the image is nearly enough for Tadashi to want—

A piercing wail disturbs Tadashi’s drawling dreams as Mika begins bawling over the phone. 

“Oh, shh, shh,” Akiteru hushes, beginning to rock her a bit. “Sorry, I should—”

“Go take care of my niece,” Tsukishima instructs slyly.

“She’s my daughter before she’s your niece!” Akiteru argues, although there’s not much of an argument considering his attention is mostly turned to Mika. “Alright, I’ll talk to you two later.”

“Bye,” Tsukishima says in tandem with Tadashi’s own stuttered goodbye. 

Tadashi wants to hit Tsukishima for not telling him sooner, but he restrains himself from any unnecessary touch. “How come I didn’t know Akiteru-san had a daughter?” he complains, still managing to get across his playful anger. 

“You didn’t ask,” Tsukishima shrugs, before adding, “We can find a time to go meet her though.”

“Really?” Tadashi exclaims a little too loud for his own liking, and certainly of the liking of the photographer who proceeds to send them yet another disgruntled look. 

Tsukishima nods. “She’s a sweetie. You’ll love her.”

Not for the first time since their drive home together, Tadashi notes how easy this is. Talking like they always have, skipping over the years of radio silence in favor of acting like they’re still living in the golden age.

Yet the gripping fear of inevitable change still chokes Tadashi. This new normal they’ve established is bound to change. It’s only a matter of time.

“Tadashi!” A voice calls from the opposite side of the room. 

Tearing his eyes away, Tadashi sees Aiko bounding over, clipboard in hand and a smile resting on her lips. She presses a quick kiss to Tadashi’s cheek, making sure to stand beside him as she addresses Tsukishima. 

“How are you today, Kei-kun?” she asks innocently. 

“Fine,” Tsukishima curtly responds, his grin from before fading without a trace that it’d even existed in the first place. He looks back to Tadashi, saying, “I should go change out.”

“Yeah,” Tadashi says, acutely aware of Aiko’s hand securing itself in his. “I’ll see you later.”

Tsukishima steps away, pace quick and dirty to put as much distance between the couple and himself as possible. 

“He always seems to be in a mood,” Aiko whines, squeezing Tadashi’s hand before repositioning it back to holding the clipboard out. 

Tadashi shrugs a little. “I think that’s just who he is…” The image of a late-night conversation surfaces, so Tadsahi starts to tell her, “Though I think he doesn’t like being called by his given name.”

Cupping a hand to her mouth, Aiko exclaims, “Oh my god, I had no idea! I can definitely call him something else though! Does he prefer nicknames or should I use the full family name? Maybe I could call him something like Tsukki!”

Tadashi’s heart leapt forward. “Tsukishima is fine,” he insists, a burning sensation prodding at his abdomen.

“Tsukishima it is then!” Aiko says, apparently not privy enough to ask more. 

Slowly, the burn subsides and Tadashi’s heartbeat steadies to its normal pace. A stupid thing like a nickname is nothing to get worked up about. Tadashi bitterly recalls his foolish disdain towards Koganegawa when he made the same mistake in calling him Tsukki. Isn’t it strange how so little has actually changed since then?

“You didn’t hear it from me,” Aiko says, eyes flitting around the room as she lowers her voice. She cups a hand over her mouth and leans in to whisper into Tadashi’s ear, “But Tsukishima’s being scouted by a really good French team. They think he has the best blocks in the division!”

Tadashi pulls back abruptly, a freezing chill settling in his veins. “What?” he asks, the question more of a demand than a query. 

Aiko nods excitedly. “Yeah it’s super exciting! To think this time next year he could be off in Europe. Isn’t that so cool?”

“Yeah… cool…” 

Tadashi places his hand against his chest. Air still manages to rise and fall through his lungs, and oxygen is still dissipating throughout his body. There’s really nothing wrong with his respiratory system, and yet Tadashi could faint with how little he’s actually breathing. It’s like a gust of wind has been stolen from his chest, leaving him behind with a dry, depleted soul that no longer has a reason to function.

I just got him back, a part of Tadashi realizes with an awful amount of disbelief. I’m going to lose him again. 

And then, the smarter part of Tadashi speaks up. It’s probably for the best. He’ll be happier this way. He’ll be able to find something greater.

“It’s sort of surprising he didn’t tell you,” Aiko comments, as she looks over at Tsukishima across the room. “I mean, you guys get along so well. Better than I initially expected, honestly. It’s sweet! Weird that he didn’t say anything though…”

“Well, we’re not that close,” Tadashi attempts to dispute. 

Aiko turns back to him, cocking her head. “You’re high school friends though, right?”

Tadashi gulps. “I mean… yeah. We were close in high school but we're not anymore. At least, not really.”

“I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit though,” Aiko giggles. “You totally zone out when you’re talking with each other. I tried calling you earlier, but you were talking to him and didn’t hear me at all! It’s kind of cute, actually. I love seeing close friendships like that.”

“Yeah…”

“The whole reconciliation thing,” Aiko sighs dreamily, looping her fingers through her hair. “It’s adorable. Although… sometimes you seem really, really, close…” Her eyes darken for a moment, like a disturbing thought has crossed her mind. “Tadashi, how well do you actually know Tsukishima?”