Or, at least, that’s what Tadashi tells himself as overlooks the family grave that now acts as the resting place of his mother.
His heart had already been in shambles from the woes of the wake and the cremation ceremony, but it hadn’t cemented yet. The private and intimate rites had been one thing; they were quiet affairs that felt like normal motions. But as the finality of it all settles, his heart’s carved away to reveal only an empty, black hole inside his ribcage. Ever growing and ever consuming, it’s threatening to swallow him whole.
It’s unreal the manner in which unfamiliar figures swarm around the grave and offer up prayers to the gods above. It’s unreal the way the sky won’t offer up any rain to cement the falling tears into the earth. It’s unreal how life still feels like it’s moving forward, moving on, but Tadashi hasn’t been allowed to cope. He’s been busy with arrangements and work and everything so it hasn’t settled in yet.
His mother is gone, but she could just as well be at home. Isn't she there, waiting for him to come home from school on her rare day off? Isn't she inside of the chemo room, bearing treatments with a smile? Isn’t she still here, just not here now?
Tadashi knows that’s not how it works. That he now remains as the sole member of the Yamaguchi family. His grandparents died in his mother’s youth, his singular aunt a few years ago. His family is down to him and him alone.
He’s used to being alone, though. In afternoons where his mother worked late to support them. In the evenings walking back from Shimada Mart, palms red and sore from one too many serves. He’s alone when he takes the train to work, when he eats lunch, when he goes to bed at night.
It’s just never been quite like this.
Daisuke is there. He’s a tall man with a long face. Tadashi idly wonders if his expression was the same two weeks ago. Did he smile when he gazed at his mother? Did he actually love her?
While Daisuke doesn’t cry, he does appear genuinely heartbroken. Tadashi takes some strange comfort in that. At least he wasn’t using her, unlike the other men she allowed into her life for brief periods of time. She never deserved to be treated so poorly.
The echoes of arguments in that small apartment of theirs still ring in Tadashi’s mind from time to time. It’s reflected when his own voice rises, the inherent fear that he’s the same as those awful men creeping up on him when he leasts expects it.
Tadashi looks down at his hands. They’re wide and thick and rough. They too could inflict pain if given the chance.
But who is Tadashi kidding, really? He’s caused enough damage without using hands that can kill. He’s hurt too many people to count at this point. He unwittingly hurt his own mother, and wasn’t even present for her death.
Sometimes, Tadashi thinks he’s Sisyphus, forever doomed to climb a mountain he will not see the peak of. He keeps trying though, grunting with every laborious step as he pushes the weight of all of his sins up and up and up.
And just when he thinks he’s reached the summit and thinks he can finally see the moon rising over the crest, it all falls apart. Tadashi is once again left scrambling, running in circles just trying to get his life together so he can make the trek again.
Why must he relinquish himself to this futile, worthless climb when he will inevitably fall and fall and fall again?
Why? Why? Why?
“So sorry for your loss,” a group of women murmur as they pass by. They give him deep bows and move forward, surely off to cause more damage at their next funeral. Who even invited all of these people?
Tadashi should probably say something. A eulogy of sorts, about how great of a person his mother was, but the words get caught in his throat and he stumbles to even offer a single sentence. He doesn’t really have anything to say.
Daisuke comes to stand beside Tadashi. He begins dealing with the mourners, all polite and kind. Like how a father should act, but Tadashi isn’t a child and he’d only met Daisuke a few days ago. He appreciates the sentiment though, seeing as he can’t even do the basic things on his own.
Figures swarm in and out of the graveyard, little flies that are drawn to the scent of the dead. It’s almost cruel, in a way. But Tadashi can’t exactly imagine this day going down any differently. He expected the flies, expected the drought. It still hurts nonetheless.
“Tadashi,” a voice calls. It buries itself deep in Tadashi’s mind, pulling him from the recess of his dissociation. Tadashi looks up, the unexpected before him.
Tsukishima stands, or rather he slouches, in the crowd of flies. Emerging forward, he meets Tadashi on his terms. There’s a soft look behind his glasses. He’s just a scared teenager.
“What are you doing here?” Tadashi whispers harshly. Although it doesn’t come out very harsh. It’s bitter, but it’s also muffled by the sound of Tadashi’s raw, unused voice.
Tsukishima turns his palms up, offering them to Tadashi. “I’ve come as a friend,” he says honestly and openly.
This is Tsukishima.
Not some idealized figure who doesn’t make mistakes and is smooth beyond recognition. Not some villain who lies and cheats because it’s all he knows.
No, this is Tsukishima. With curly hair, and a pair of glasses that show off the golden color of his eyes. With a suit that’s just a bit too short at the ankles and a little small on the shoulders. With big hands that are available to Tadashi, and an expression that simply radiates comfort.
Tsukishima… Tsukki… Kei…
The names and identities merge together as one and Tadashi collapses into his arms. Tsukishima’s quick to embrace him, squeezing him tight and shushing the whimpers that threaten to overtake Tadashi whole.
“I’m sorry,” Tsukishima whispers. “I’m so, so sorry. She raised me too and I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.”
Tadashi lets himself melt, lets himself feel the pain and anger and confusion that’s been trapped inside over the last few months. He can’t bear it all in this small body of his; he can’t bear it all alone.
They stay there for hours or days. Who knows? Tadashi simply takes in the comforting scent of Tsukishima and ignores the stares of others.
At least you’re here now, Tadashi thinks to himself. He may even say it. He can’t tell.
Because at the end of the day, after everything, after the fucking and the fighting and the tears and the pain, Tadashi is still glad to have Tsukishima back in his life.
He only pulls away to get a good look at Tsukishima’s face. He, too, is broken.
What a mess we’ve become.
“I meant to call you,” Tsukishima says. “I meant to come earlier and be there for you during everything but I didn’t know and I’m sorry.”
“Just…” Tadashi’s throat closes.
Tsukishima gets the message regardless. He comes to stand at Tadashi’s side and links their pinkies together.
There, they rest together and face the slow-moving crowds. Tadashi tries his best to offer up gratitude for the best wishes people offer, but it’s difficult. His mind keeps wandering to the possibility of the things that could have been. The things that will never be.
The fighting, the lying, the hiding… it doesn’t matter. It all doesn’t fucking matter. One of these days, Tadashi will no longer exist. He’ll join his mother and the bird and the Schrodinger boy wherever souls go to flourish after their time on earth has ended, and what he did here won’t matter. There won’t be people to pass his name on, there won’t be tears at his funeral, there won’t be anything to remember him by.
But there could be.
If Tadashi could just get his fucking life together, there could be a whole host of reasons people would remember him. He wouldn’t just be that sad, sick lonely man who lived in an apartment that was too big for him. And maybe, just maybe, he could live for something greater than himself.
It’s absolutely terrifying to consider the future. Tadashi could die today or tomorrow, he could die in eighty years, or he could die at the ripe age of 47 like his mother.
When he dies, what becomes of his body? When he rots away with the soil of the earth, what becomes of his soul?
When his ashes are scattered and there’s no one to call his name or weep over his grave or remember what he did during this life, why will it even matter that Tadashi existed in the first place? What’s the point?
On that fateful day when Tadashi perishes to dust, he will lose control. He’ll move on or fade away, without anything to keep him trapped. He doesn’t want to be held forever by some horrible regret; what kind of death would that be?
But as it stands, Tadashi is barely even living. Even death would be better.
Because Tadashi doesn’t want to spend another second on this earth writhing in pain or self-pity. It’s not something that can disappear overnight, but can’t Tadashi begin to try? He won’t be able to control what happens to him, but can’t he control how he reacts?
Tadashi inches a half-step closer towards Tsukishima. He notices and sends a small nod his way.
He… he can try.
There may not be a point. There may not be an answer or something greater.
But there’s pride, after all. Tadashi can still believe in that.
So he’ll try his best to make his life matter. He’ll try to react better and control his emotions. He’ll try and he’ll search and do everything he can to find if there is a point. He’ll find an answer, whatever it may be, and—
“What a tragedy.”
Tadashi’s stomach sinks six feet below.
Dropping his hand from Tsukishima’s, he turns, incrementally, like the delay will prevent the oncoming storm. He’s desperate for any sort of diversion, but nothing comes. He’s just faced with the onslaught of rain as his father steps forward.
Tadashi can’t remember the last time they met in-person. He can’t even remember the last time they spoke on the phone. But he does remember the way his father’s voice sounds: gravelly, like there’s a frog lodged in the back of his throat, with a sort of deep cadence Tadashi was lucky to not inherit.
“Hello, Tadashi,” his father says, stepping forward just long enough to give him an awkward sort of half-hug. He pats him on the back once before pulling back. “You look skinny.”
Tadashi blinks. “What…?” The word barely comes out. There’s blood rushing in his ears.
His father doesn’t look much like him. Pale skin from constantly sitting indoors lines his large frame and leads up to a mop of wavy black hair. He has thick eyebrows and a lopsided grin, especially at a time like this.
They only share a few traits: the same awkward murky, not-quite hazel eyes and thick hands. His father used to say they had the hands of workers with ancestors who lived in the forest. Tadashi believed the story when he was young, and even now it seems like a possibility seeing how uncivilized their descendants became.
“The good ones always die young,” his father comments, making a sort of tsk noise as his eyes rest on the grave.
He looks back to Tadashi, then over to Tsukishima.
Even though Tadashi knows it’s not the greatest idea he’s ever had, he finds himself inching closer. It’s like he’s a little kid again, expecting Tsukishima to stand up to the big bullies. Only in this case, it’s his father of all people that Tadashi needs protection from.
“Who’s this?” his father asks, squaring Tsukishima up. There’s a noticeable height difference between them, and Tadashi silently thanks the world for the millionth time that Tsukishima grew so tall.
“Tsukishima Kei,” he says smoothly. He doesn’t offer a bow or a hand though, he simply stares down the man in front of him.
Tadashi’s father scoffs. “Yeah, yeah, it’s coming back to me. You’re the kid Tadashi never shut up about. I swear, I’d pick him up and all he would say is, ‘Tsukki did this! Tsukki did that!’” He shakes his head with a chuckle. “What a thing to constantly hear. Surprised you’re still friends.”
He should be embarrassed over his past actions, but all Tadashi can focus on is the incense burning at the grave. He watches the smoke billow and flow, able to escape the confines of this dismal situation, unlike him.
“I’m just here to give my condolences,” Tsukishima says, placing a firm hand on Tadashi’s shoulder.
“As am I,” Tadashi’s father steps towards the grave and gives it a slight bow. “The mother of my child died, of course I would wish her well in the next life.”
Tadashi watches as his father doesn’t give more than that, and rises from the grave. He looks back and waves a group over.
“Come on, pay your respects,” he instructs.
A young brunette woman with a wide-brimmed hat comes to squat in front of the grave. She’s trailed by two young boys, the oldest of which can only be about ten or so. Together, the three of them begin to pray.
Tadashi remembers something about how his father had married. His mother had mentioned, only in passing, that he had siblings.
But these small boys who peek with one eye as they are supposed to be praying… these aren't his brothers. They’re strangers that just happen to have the same odd color of hazel on their peeking eyes. They are simply kids who he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to get to know.
They rise in tandem, the woman not bothering to visit Tadashi but the boys can’t help their wandering gaze. They stare, surely confused, and see a man that looks a little bit like themselves.
“Come on,” their mother instructs, yanking both of them away. “Don’t stare.”
The boys don’t listen. They twist their necks and stare like Tadashi is some car accident on the side of the highway. Like he’s waving for help at the passing cars as they speed past. Like his own car is engulfed in flames, too far gone to save.
“I’ll catch up with you in a moment,” his father mentions to the group in passing. He turns back to Tadashi. “They’re good sons. I’ll let you meet them properly one day.”
He can see it. Tadashi can so clearly see it and feel it, like he’s at the cross-section of some interdimensional portal that allows him to view into this world where his life is objectively good.
He sees weekends spent with his father, not because of child custody, but because his father wants to share the world with Tadashi. He sees his parents smiling and laughing and celebrating their marriage, a feat they never even managed to accomplish in the real world. He sees himself learning baseball from his father, since that’s what he played in school, and growing up without the fear of what those big scary athletes may do. He grows up unafraid since there’s a community surrounding him and people to stop the bullies and the courage to not have bullies in the first place and someone to come home to after school and dinner on the table and baseball games on the weekends and laughter and smiles and a whole lifetime of good, good things and good, good people.
A scorching, horrible jealousy burns.
Because why couldn’t that be him? Why couldn’t he have a father that cared? Why couldn’t he have a mother that was there? Why couldn’t he have a childhood that he loved? Why couldn’t he just have a fucking childhood?
Tadashi’s adolescence was the half-packed duffle bag he brought along on weekends. The microwavable cup noodles he had to learn to cook for himself in elementary school. Staring up at unfamiliar ceilings while his parents argued when he was too young to know what they were talking about. Looking out over the hills of Miyagi and wondering when he’d feel at home.
His eyes steadily rise to meet his father’s incessant gaze; murky hazel on murky hazel and Tadashi finds himself disgusted.
“Fuck you,” Tadashi says.
His father stops. “Excuse me?”
Tadashi falters. The words fled, he didn’t mean them, he shouldn’t have, he—
“You heard him,” Tsukishima cuts in. “Fuck you.”
His father sputters, pointing a crooked finger into Tadashi’s face. “You have no right to speak to me like this.”
Tadashi, somehow, scoops up the trailing courage with his hands and shoves it into his chest. And while it falls through his fingertips like grains of sand, there’s enough there to press it into glass and form a fragile, tiny heart.
“You have no right to be here!” Tadashi counters, causing his father to whip towards him with a growing discontent. “You can’t ignore us for years and then just come back into our lives when it makes you look good! You called Mom once when she was sick , and then, then just expected me to forgive you? W-who does that? Seriously, what kind of fucked-up person does that?”
His father steps forward, but Tadashi isn’t nearly done. “You didn’t even have the courage to marry her, let alone send consistent child support checks! Fuck, you never even tried. I’m a fucking adult and yet you’re here treating me like some sort of child when you couldn’t bother to do that when I was actually a kid!”
“Well you are the one throwing a temper tantrum, aren’t you?” His father snarls.
Tadashi can feel the judgemental glares from the other guests but he doesn’t care.
“You came into our house every weekend and caused a scene,” Tadashi says, voice steadily rising. He’s just like those awful men, he’s just like his father, but there’s nothing else he can do. He must sink to their level. “You lied to me my entire life, made me think that Mom was the issue when it was you all along. I was fucking torn between two lives and now I don’t know who I am.”
“What do you want from me, Tadashi?” His father shouts back. “If this is about the checks, I’ll just give you money. How much do you need?” He brings out his wallet, flipping through the bills until he holds out a scant amount of cash.
Tadashi stares as he smoothes out the bills. His father’s rough hands fist it into a bunch and present it outwards, the dirty money offered like it’s some sort of reward for playing along. A pitiful, horrible reward for not reacting until now.
Calmly, in the eye of the storm, Tadashi responds, “I hope to fucking god you give your kids the best life they could ever have.”
His father wavers, not understanding.
“I hope you’re kind and you stick around them, and you do everything in your fucking power to be the best father you can be. Because you sure didn’t do that for me. And I don’t want to ever see you again. It’s the least you could do.”
Without another word, his father leaves. And Tadashi truly does believe this image will be the last he sees of his father. He’s lost both his parents in the span of only a couple weeks.
“You can go, if you would like to,” Daisuke offers, gaze locked on Tadashi’s father’s retreating figure. “I can handle the rest.”
Tadashi blinks up at him. He’d forgotten Daisuke was even there. “Are you sure?”
He nods. “I know this has been a lot. You’re hurting more than anyone right now. You should get some rest.”
Looking up at Tsukishima, he gets a nod in agreement.
“Okay,” Tadashi agrees. “Thank you, Daisuke-san. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to cause a scene. I apologize.” He offers a deep bow. It's all he has left.
The other attendees have returned to their own bidding, the fake crying and the mourning. Tadashi sulks at their insincerity.
Daisuke waves it off with his hand. “You’ve done nothing wrong. I… I didn’t realize that was your father; I wouldn’t have invited him if I’d known. I should have recognized the name beforehand.”
“It’s okay,” Tadashi assures, once again grateful his mother insisted he should be a Yamaguchi. He can’t imagine bearing the Sato name or looking any more like his father. “He probably would have shown up regardless.”
Daisuke nods, pressing his lips into a thin line. “Get some rest, Tadashi. The worst is only starting."
Once again, it strikes him that this isn’t some temporary affair. The next time he returns home, the apartment will be empty. He’ll need to gather the belongings and throw out the things he has no use for. He’ll have to say goodbye to things he didn’t even realize mattered.
He doesn’t want to return to a vacant home ever again.
Tadashi looks back at Tsukishima.
“Come on,” he encourages. “I’ll give you a ride home.”
They say their final goodbyes, and Tadashi numbly follows behind with a growing weight in his stomach.
The harsh words Tadashi threw at his father incessantly echo in his mind. He’s never yelled at someone like that before. He’s never even raised his voice at his father. No, he’d been too trapped by his own circumstance to even consider such an action. As a child, he would quaver and tremble any time his father was near so perhaps an occasion like this was decades in the making. Perhaps Tadashi was already aware of the inevitability of all. Perhaps he just didn’t expect for the moment to come now.
Tadashi falls into the passenger seat as soon as they reach the car. Tsukishima slides into the driver’s side, frowning at his phone. He silences it before tossing it into the back seat.
They pull out of the graveyard, silent, and continue on the familiar path home. Tadashi just watches in his same sort of awe as mountains and hills lead way into flat land and cityscapes.
There was always something freeing about growing up in the countryside. He liked the way the sun would dip below the natural landscape; he appreciated the kindness of the people who were grateful for all they had. It wasn’t much, of course, but they still loved the little they’d been given. Tadashi could use that hominess every now and again.
He likes to think he’ll return to his hometown one day. Cliché, perhaps, but he craves a sort of idyll. He could grow a garden in his backyard and overlook the land with a sense of belonging. He’ll tend to the bushes and drink tea on the porch, with maybe a couple of kids running around in the lawn. And a spouse to smile at and soothe into coming indoors when the sun hung too low in the sky. What a thing to wish for.
The roads are oddly busy for a Saturday evening. Cars crowd around them, too fast and harsh for Tadashi’s liking. It’s not like he can drive anyways, but he thinks he’d be a kind driver. Besides, don’t people have better things to do? There are bars to get drunk at and games to watch and—
Tadashi lifts his head. The Frogs were supposed to play today.
Tsukishima sits beside him though, merging into traffic with ease. He’s here, shuttling Tadashi around, instead of out there playing. He’s here.
He’s always been here.
Sinking into the seat, Tadashi wipes a hand over his face. How embarrassing.
“You know,” Tadashi begins, voice low and eyes even lower, “my father used to tell me that I need to be married with a stable job at 25. That I should have a family, three kids, by 35. I believed in it for a long time. I tried so, so hard to make it happen but I failed…”
“Well that’s just fucking stupid,” Tsukishima curses. “Why would you listen to a deadbeat hypocrite?”
“That’s my father,” Tadashi argues.
“That’s an asshole who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about,” Tsukishima counters, his voice splaying over the space of the car and taking home in all of the crevices. “You never liked him as a kid, and you literally just cursed him out, so why are you pretending otherwise?”
Tadashi begins to rise up, but the seatbelt constricts him against his seat. “I liked him just fine. You don’t get to comment on my family.”
“Stop lying to me, and stop lying to yourself.” Tsukishima’s words pierce directly into the hollow space underneath Tadashi’s rib cage. It’s the same as his dream, only now Tadashi is conscious to hear every single horrible word. “You never liked him, you were just trying to make your mom feel less guilty about having a kid with the guy.”
Tadashi shakes his head. “No, I—”
“Tadashi, I know you,” Tsukishima says desperately as the car pulls to a stop at the red light. He turns to Tadashi in the brief moment. “I’ve known you all my life. I know you like your eggs over easy, but only if it’s done right; otherwise, you just want them scrambled. I know you think socks are stupid, but if you’re going to wear them they should have some dumb little character on them. I know you love your mom to death and you never wanted to hurt her, so you make up lies about how your father isn’t as bad as he says he is, when in reality he’s worth less than the scum of the earth. I know all of these tiny, insignificant details because sometimes it’s all I know. Some days I can hardly remember a time before you. So yes, I know you, and I know you actually despise your father for everything he’s done.”
The light has long turned green. A car’s horn blares behind them and Tsukishima takes this as his sign to continue on to the road.
His fingers curl around the steering wheel until his grip is undeniably tight. “I would have killed him if you hadn’t stepped in,” he confesses through a clenched jaw.
Tadashi whips his head back to the driver’s side. Tsukishima keeps his eyes steady on the road but the brake lights from the car ahead flash, basking him in hues of red.
Who is this man sitting beside him? The Tsukishima that Tadashi knew would never incite physical violence, even in the most desperate of times. He was a master of getting under your skin with words and clever remarks; he didn’t need to resort to fighting others with his fists.
While Tadashi appreciates the sentiment, it strikes him nonetheless that the man sitting beside him is still a stranger. This isn’t the same Tsukki, nor is this the same Tadashi.
“You shouldn’t attack people,” Tadashi responds, turning his head back towards the road.
“I don’t,” Tsukishima relinquishes. “I don’t have any reason to fight anyone usually, but I know how much you despise him. I wanted to hit him before he even had the chance to get violent. I didn’t want… no, I couldn’t see him hurt you any more. Not without doing something about it.”
Tsukishima’s eyes briefly leave the road to meet Tadashi’s, but return back like they hadn’t even been there in the first place.
There was once, when Tadashi was too young to comprehend what happened, when his father struck him. He’d taken Tadashi to a park and watched as he made a new friend with a nice boy who lived in the area. Tadashi was none the wiser and spent his afternoon looking for frogs and holding hands with the new boy. Apparently that was wrong.
He’d hit Tadashi, leaving behind an unseemly, sweltering bruise in the spot where that boy had kissed him on the cheek.
His mother didn’t let Tadashi visit his father for weeks after that. She’d cried and apologized and cursed his father’s name. Tadashi simply blinked as his mother hugged him and stroked his hair until her own tears faded away. He hadn’t known how to comfort her. He hadn’t known how to comfort himself.
It wasn’t until later that night when he’d truly seen the ugly welt swelling on his cheek that Tadashi’d begun to cry. He didn’t understand it. Why had his father acted like that? What had Tadashi done wrong?
Tadashi went to school the next day with a medical mask but it was hard to ignore his singular bloodshot eye. While the other kids made fun of him for being weak and fragile, Tadashi took their insults as a justification for why he was hit in the first place.
Of course, that was until Tsukki towered over the kids surrounding Tadashi’s desk and they scurried off in fear of the big kid from Class 3.
“Let me see,” Tsukki instructed as he pulled up a chair.
Tadashi shook his head defiantly. “You don’t wanna see it, Tsukki.”
Tsukki gave him a look and took matters into his own hands. He carefully looped his finger through the edge of the mask and revealed half of Tadashi’s face.
He tried to give Tsukki a smile to release some of the tension, but it hurt too much to contract the muscles. He probably ended up looking like a stupid clown and it wouldn’t be long before Tsukki laughed at him for even trying in the first place.
Except Tsukki didn’t laugh. Instead, Tsukki observed the bruise with his golden eyes before his gaze rested on Tadashi’s. “That bastard,” he cursed under his breath.
“What does that mean?” Tadashi whispered back.
“I don’t know. Nii-san has said it a few times though. It sounds mean.”
“I don’t like your father.”
Tsukki gently helped to put the mask back on. “I’ll beat him up when I meet him.”
It was a threat Tadashi had never taken to heart because he knew Tsukki and he knew the likelihood of them meeting was miniscule. He’d never expected that years and years later they would end up meeting like this.
Still, the fact that Tsukishima has remembered all these years completely astounds Tadashi.
“It’s bullshit, by the way,” Tsukishima comments. “The thing about getting married and having a bunch of kids. Who cares? It’s not like your father managed to do that sort of thing. At least, not when it mattered.”
One day, Tadashi thinks he does want that though. Is that so awful? Is that such a thing to lament over? The timeline is bullshit, sure—Tadashi thinks he’s way too young right now to be starting any sort of family—but even without his father’s influence he still wants it.
“So what should I do then?” Tadashi asks quietly.
Tsukishima sighs. “I’m not the right person to ask.”
The silence holds firm, but Tadashi isn’t about to break it. He’ll let Tsukishima make a decision for once.
“But…” Tsukishima cocks his head, almost like he’s deciding what he needs to say. “But I think you should do whatever makes you happy.”
He doesn’t know.
Tadashi simply does not know what that is, the thing that will make him happy.
It’s a trivial sort of feeling, one he can seek and hope for but ultimately knows won’t last. Like anyone else, he’s felt happiness more times he can count, but lately it seems like there’s been a sudden loss of such a feeling. What sort of thing even brings him joy?
“Soggy fries,” Tadashi says suddenly.
Tsukishima raises an eyebrow. “What about them?”
“I like soggy fries,” Tadashi admits. “They make me happy.”
“I know they do. What else?”
Closing his eyes, memories come to mind. Frogs jumping into the river bank. The recoil of pleasurable pain that comes from a well-placed serve the opposing team can’t pick up. Perfectly splitting a popsicle into two. Laughing at something stupid only a few people can understand.
Happiness, it seems, is this sort of precious little gem. A diamond that must be pressed from coal and formed over time. It may come easy to some, but for Tadashi it’s worth more than the stars in the sky.
There are the tangible items, of course. Tadashi can eat as many french fries as he likes, but there is only so much that can bring him. No, real happiness comes from people. It comes from experiences and memories.
Tadashi glances over at Tsukishima. They’ve hurt each other. They’ve forgiven each other.
Where do they stand, really?
To Tadashi, at least, it seems that happiness derives from Tsukishima.
He doesn’t say that though. He shrugs, offers up a mere, “I don’t know,” and their talking dwindles from there.
It’s alright, though. Tadashi’s too tired to carry much more of a conversation.
The rest of the drive back leans on silence and they reach Tadashi’s apartment long after the sun has dropped beneath them. The heating of the cabin doesn’t linger long as Tadashi emerges from the car, a solid shiver going down his back. Tsukishima closes the driver’s side door.
“I’ll walk you up,” he states, and follows Tadashi out of the parking garage and to his building.
Tadashi just wants to fall asleep. He nearly does so as they enter the unit, but his tired body is awake just long enough to drag him into his bedroom. Tsukishima stands nearby, likely unsure of what to say.
There are no phrases in any language that could help right now. Tadashi doesn’t mind though. He simply accepts Tsukishima’s presence as his offering.
Tadashi changes into nightclothes and climbs into bed, his worn soul battered and beaten. Tsukishima gives him a polite bow before beginning to exit.
“Tsukki?” Tadashi calls, the word a life-long mantra he’s been desperate to say and knows so well. It’s a plea if he’s ever heard one, voice nearly cracking and outreached hand with an undeniable tremble. He’s always been a shaky person. Shaky hands, shaky voice, shaky intentions. The only time he’s been truly grounded is when a pair of golden eyes has lured him back to Earth. Although Tadashi is supposed to be the mountain, steady and secure, he often finds himself wandering around in space like the moon; it takes a pale hand and a steady voice to bring him back down.
Tsukishima turns to Tadashi, those same golden eyes brimming with timid fear. They ground him here, in this moment, with tendrils of soil that secure Tadashi to his spot. He fears if he moves the branches between them will snap. Even if they’re twigs, and even if the tree is old, age shown in the circles and rings of the small bit that was axed away, the tree still exists. The offending cut, the one that was carved away with years and lies, isn’t actually that deep. It’s no match for Tadashi and Kei now.
“Will you please stay?”
Tsukishima nods, firm and honest, before padding over to the side of the bed. He removes his outershirt, tie, and belt before sitting on the edge. He climbs under the covers, his long limbs embracing Tadashi and perfectly sliding into the nooks and crannies carved by the gods. Surely, when the universe created their temporal forms they were made in tandem; how else would their bodies fit together so well like pieces of a long-lost puzzle?
And Tsukishima… Tsukki… holds Tadashi so gingerly and carefully, almost like he’s afraid that the sad, sick little boy who no longer has a smile for the world to see will actually shatter into a million itsy, bitsy pieces if Tsukki lets go for even a moment.
For whatever reason, it’s the most comforting thing Tadashi has experienced in years. He can nearly imagine that they’re children once more, pushing their futons together on the floor so it’s not suspicious when they wake up in each other’s arms. Or maybe they’re still the stupid young adults who truly, genuinely believed they must connect under the sheets in order to get closer to one another.
They were too young. They’re still too young.
Tadashi only wants Tsukki to hold him a little bit longer.