The bed is cold when Tadashi awakes.
Cold, with no dip in the mattress, but with ruffled pillows still bent from the weight of a head resting there over the night. There’s an absence of arms around Tadashi’s waist and a lack of laughter permeating through the room.
Though as his body wakes and he truly begins to process his need for someone beside him, he questions why his mind thought there would be someone present in the first place.
The events from the night prior unfold, the crinkled and pieced-together memories serving as little justification for his emotions.
Truth is, some part of Tadashi wanted to awake beside Tsukki.
Truth is, he didn’t.
Tadashi rifles the courage to sit up in bed. Cool sunlight streams in from the slats of the window while a winter storm brews outside. The first snowfall of the season has long passed, but Tadashi still stupidly believes it’s too early in the season to be this cold. Of course though, that’s a ridiculous thought. There are couples who will want to snuggle up together on the nearing Christmas Day, and there are children who would like to make snow angels when they soon break for the New Year.
There was once that Tadashi spent his entire winter break alongside Tsukki. Sometime in middle school, when his mother was off on a business trip and thought Tadashi was too young to take care of himself. She’d nearly sent him to his father’s for break, but the fear in her eyes proved that not to be an option.
So Tadashi ended up with the Tsukishima’s. Clad in snow-laden boots and coats that weighed five kilos, the two children braved the wintry mix and stomped around in the backyard until their noses turned red and runny. They watched Christmas specials indoors and drank hot chocolate and stayed up all night, too old for Santa Claus but too young to think of anything otherwise.
It was incredible. It was fleeting. It was a juvenile youth cut all too short.
The memory itself, and the longing for his mother then, pulls at him until there is nothing left to be grabbed.
A flock of birds flap by, black and quick but wholly noticeable as a bit of panic rises in Tadashi’s chest. Shouldn’t they be further south by now? Shouldn’t they be far, far gone? Winter will simply eat them alive.
Slowly, Tadashi runs a hand over his face. His appearance must be atrocious; he’s secretly glad for the lack of mirrors in his room. There’s no need to see such heavy bags and rough, stubbly skin.
A sharp want solidifies.
He ignores the urge and rises from his bed. Cool tatami bends under the newly added weight, and the distant fear he’s awaking someone strikes him. Of course, the notion is ridiculous. His home is empty. As always.
Still though, as he trudges through the rest of the apartment he finds it all to be too empty. It’s always been big and open, far too large for one person.
And yet… Tadashi wants Tsukki to be here.
He doesn’t want to wake up alone anymore. He doesn’t want empty apartments and unsaid words and rotten memories. He wants Tsukki. Plain and simple.
But the lack of shoes at the genkan and the cold bed sheets are clear proof that Tsukki doesn’t want the same.
Honestly though, who would want to be around Tadashi? He’s just some horrible person who’s no fun to be around and he doesn’t even have anything to offer. He should just spend the rest of his life alone. It’s what he’s good for. It’s what he deserves after he’s hurt so many people in his life.
It doesn’t matter who it is, they’ll always inevitably end up leaving. So, really, Tadashi shouldn’t have anyone.
There were times when he was young and stupid when jealousy burned, scorching Tadashi alive until he couldn’t feel anymore. The funny thing is, he didn’t feel this sort of jealousy before he met Tsukki.
It was little things at first. Tsukki’s new shoes. His position on their elementary school volleyball team. His height. His brother. His parents. His ability to stand up for people. His smile. His bravery. His stubbornness. His… well his everything, really.
Jealousy, a fickle sort of thing, aches and whines and occupies most of Tadashi’s time. It hasn’t faded since it sparked all those years ago. It adapts and changes and latches on to the worst of things.
Now, Tadashi’s jealous of Tsukki’s ability to move on.
He doesn’t need grief or forgiveness, he just needs to be happy once again.
The door begins to rustle. Tadashi goes to it, dragged along by his feet, until it opens to reveal Tsukki behind it, carrying a load of groceries.
He doesn’t see Tadashi at first. He closes the door, toes off his shoes, and startles when he finally does notice Tadashi’s presence. His expression contorts.
“Did something happen?” Tsukki asks, worry thick in his tone.
“It’s nothing,” Tadashi replies, wiping the back of his hand over his eyes. He hadn’t even realized they were starting to wet.
Tsukki frowns. “I should have told you I was leaving, but I figured you needed to rest more. I didn’t expect you to be awake yet.”
“... Ah… did you sleep well?”
Vaguely, Tadashi thinks back to a dream of looking out over an ocean. There was a hand in his and they faced the sea together. “Yes.”
Tsukki nods, making his way into the kitchen. He places the bags onto the counter.
“I borrowed your keys for a bit,” he starts, holding the object between his fingertips. “I didn’t realize you’d kept this…”
From all those years ago when they’d gotten stuck together in the city. In all honesty, Tadashi had forgotten he’d attached it to his keychain in the first place. The new addition seemed so normal that he’d neglected the stegosaurus’ importance. He never thought Tsukki would see it.
“I’m not good at throwing things away,” Tadashi says. “It’s hard to let go sometimes. Even when it seems unimportant. I don’t know… I guess there was no reason to get rid of it.”
“It’s not a bad thing, you know,” Tsukki responds, letting his weight fall onto his arms pressed against the counters. He leans in, staring into Tadashi. “I think it’s good to keep some things around for a little while longer.”
Tadashi scoffs. “You always complained about all of the random little trinkets I had in my room or my backpack.
Sending him a look that reads as ‘ seriously?’, Tsukki continues. “There’s a difference between the random candy wrappers at the bottom of your bag and actual things worth keeping.” He stops himself. “But that’s just what I think. You find value in the smallest things, even when I couldn’t. It’s nice.”
You found value in me.
Tsukki doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t need to. Tadashi can still read his mind just a bit.
Clearing his throat, Tsukki begins to empty the bags. It’s mostly food, a variety of fresh produce and pantry staples that Tadashi ran out of long ago.
“You didn’t need to shop for me,” Tadashi says. “At least let me pay you back for everything.”
“It’s fine,” Tsukki insists. “What happened to all of your trinkets and things, anyway? Your apartment is nothing like you.”
Tadashi looks around. He supposes there isn’t much compared to his childhood bedroom or even how he’d decorated his dorm room. Over the years, he’s stripped away the insignificant things. Trivial items were tucked deep in storage, or reside still at his mother’s apartment, untouched and dusty.
One day, he’ll be forced to uncover his past lives. The Tadashi that played with the toys still somehow stuck underneath the couch, or the Tadashi that scribbled stars on the inside of his bookcase, or the Tadashi that pinned flowers to his wall and hoped a boy would like him back. Surely, though, there are other Tadashi’s to be discovered.
And when he does, he’ll likely discard them. They will fade with the toys he’ll donate and the furniture pieces he’ll repaint and the flowers he’ll throw away. He’ll discard all of his past selves, the ones who made him who he is today.
“Everything’s still at my mom’s place,” Tadashi admits.
“Do you want me to come?”
“To your mom’s place?” Tsukki repeats, focused still on putting away the groceries. “You’ll have to clean it out eventually and there’s a lot there. I don’t mind. It’ll be difficult on your own.”
Tadashi considers the thought. His heart answers the question. “Yeah. That’d be nice. Thanks.”
Tsukki nods, continuing his work. He leaves out a few items—eggs, some spices, a fresh-looking loaf of bread—and pulls out a pan. Silently, he gets to work while Tadashi watches in awe.
Maybe he won’t throw away his past selves. He’ll welcome them, absolve them once again. He’ll hang his trinkets proudly in this apartment of his, or any place he’ll go. Maybe he won’t have to walk into an empty place again.
From there, he’ll continue to grow. There could be a garden, full of life and flowers. He’ll take care of the seeds his mother planted so long ago. He’ll let the greenery consume him.
It’d be nice like that. And maybe Tsukki would be there too.
Tadashi shakes his head and steps into the kitchen, unable to let his idle hands wander any longer. He fills up the kettle to boil water, easily moving around Tsukki as he cooks. He makes Tsukki his black coffee and a cup of tea for himself. It’s easy, like this. He’s missed the easy parts of life.
“Yamaguchi?” Tsukki starts.
“Do you remember when we were… eight or so? And we’d been climbing the big tree in my backyard?” Tsukki stops for a moment, letting the memory sink in before he continues, “And I reached up to join you on the branch above but I ended up dragging us both down?”
Tadashi frowns as he takes a seat at the small side table on the edge of the kitchen. “That’s not right.”
“You were above me,” Tadashi corrects, attempting to recall the incident. It’s blurry though; all he can make out is Tsukishima’s small, pale palm extending towards him. Certainly it was from above though. “You were the one that had climbed higher.”
Tsukki raises an eyebrow. “It was the other way around,” he argues. “I remember it specifically because I thought you would’ve been scared to go up even higher, but I was completely wrong. I mean, you were scared of everything back then. I thought tree-climbing would be no different, but before I knew it, you were ahead of me.”
Tadashi shakes his head. Tsukki was below. No he’d been above. He… he was…
Tadashi’s losing his mind.
“Why are you even bringing this up?” he asks, softly.
Tsukki presses his lips together. “You were always ahead of me.”
Tsukki raises his head. “I mean, it always felt like I was trying to catch up to you.”
Cue the laughter.
At least, that’s what Tadashi’s mind tells him. Apparently, it informs him of a few things that turn out to be wrong. He could’ve sworn Tsukki wsa above him though.
“I guess…” Tsukki shrugs. “I don’t know… I’ve always admired your ability to move forward… just thought you should know. ”
Tadashi takes a moment to observe Tsukki’s face. He knows it so well already, though. He can close his eyes and still clearly see how it curves and contours. Even as he’s aged, the image hasn’t faded. And when smile lines form, and when that wrinkle in his forehead truly doesn’t fade away, Tadashi will know him then, too. It’s always been him, no matter whether there’s baby fat on his cheeks or crows feet around his eyes.
So how could Tsukki, of all the people on this wretched earth, believe that Tadashi was ahead?
The jealousy, thick and heavy on his limbs, wants to lash out. Because how dare he think that? The rationality, in control of his actions, refuses to even accept that sort of logic because there is none. It’s absolutely absurd.
Why would Tadashi ever, ever be ahead? How could he move on so quickly?
Maybe he should respond.
Tsukki doesn’t allow him though. Instead, the waft of fresh food overwhelms him as Tsukki sets down plates for them.
“Over easy…” Tadashi says distantly, staring down at the perfectly cooked eggs before him. He takes his fork and presses into the yolk until yellow bursts out in a perfect rippling motion. Just how he likes it.
“I told you that I knew you,” Tsukki comments as he takes his place across the table. He takes a sip from his bug before using it to point towards the eggs. “You’re still the only person I know who prefers it so specifically.”
“And how many people have you cooked eggs for in the morning?”
Tadashi blinks. Tsukki stares.
They say thanks in tandem and Tadashi uses the edge of his fork to cut off a piece of the white so he can stir it around in the yolk.
“A captain once told me that good food not only nourishes the body, but it also helps to heal the soul, even after the worst defeats,” Tsukki comments. He raises an eyebrow at Tadashi.
Tadashi swallows a bite. “I stick by that statement.”
“Yeah? Then why haven’t you been eating?”
The clanking of his fork against the plate serves as Tadashi’s answer.
“Don’t blame it on the grief,” Tsukki insists, reading his mind perfectly. “You’ve been acting like this for months now.”
“I have a low appetite,” Tadashi tries, unable to think of any other excuse.
“And don’t steal my lines from high school,” he grates back, sipping a bit of his coffee. Tadashi doesn’t have the time to contort a response, so Tsukki goes on. “When I first started on the Frogs, they assigned me a nutritionist. She gave me a set of rules about how I could eat and, of course, I thought it was bullshit and ignored all of them.
“Soon though, practices were getting difficult because I didn’t have any nutrients in my body. Strawberry shortcake only takes you so far I suppose. Anyway, they readjusted my eating plan, offered up some recipes, and I slowly began to eat better. Not always, but… it’s enough, I guess.”
Tadashi stares down at his own meal. It’s nauseating.
Not the food itself, it's just… it’s everything. It’s all too much.
“Why are you being so open right now?” Tadashi asks slowly, his mind resolved on keeping the bile down.
Tsukki frowns into his mug. “What?”
“Talking about when we were younger, about your time on the Frogs… it’s not like you. Where was this all a few years ago?”
Tsukki scoffs. “I don’t see the issue. Didn’t you want to discuss these things?”
“Then what?” Tsukki sets down his mug and leans in. “I’m trying… I’m trying to not repeat what happened. I don’t want to go back to miscommunication and false intentions and not…” He stops himself. “I don’t want to go back to not seeing you.”
Again, Tadashi expects the camera crew to come out and tell him it’s all a prank. He expects Tsukki to laugh and laugh and laugh.
Instead, he keeps his eyes low and eats his own meal. Tadashi’s stomach churns.
“I don’t want that either,” Tadashi hears himself saying.
Tsukki’s head rises. He smiles. Tadashi melts.
Is it… is it really this easy? Shouldn’t there be something worse? Won’t reality strike them both?
But as it stands, Tsukki begins to talk about the lady he interacted with at the grocery store and Tadashi lightens up a little and they talk, like they’ve both missed, pushing their past beneath the table and waiting for it to arise on some later day.
After they’re finished eating (or rather, after Tsukki finishes and Tadashi’s eaten enough to deem what they had a meal), they clean the dishes together. It’s the least Tadashi can do; Tsukki’s cooking has always been a comfort. He’d forgotten about something so simple.
“Do you have practice today?” Tadashi asks, handing over a dish for Tsukki to dry.
He shakes his head. “We don’t have practices after game days.”
“So there was a game yesterday.”
“Yes, but we’re allowed to miss one without any repercussions.” Tsukki places the dish into the cabinet, reaching the top much easier than Tadashi can. “Supporting you was much more important than one singular game. There will always be more.”
“There will always be more.”
Tadashi frowns. The sentiment is nice, sure, but it’s still stupid of him to ruin his career for him.
He turns off the faucet and turns to Tsukki.
Idly, Tadashi takes a mental image of the man in front of him. He doesn’t want the sight to leave quite yet. He thinks of the night before, when Tsukki gently wrapped his arms around him and they existed, at least for a few hours, in their own sort of world.
His question somehow surfaces again.
“Will you please stay?” Tadashi repeats.
Without hesitation or uncertainty, Tsukki replies, “Of course.”
The simple two word phrase sends a rush straight to Tadashi’s heart. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. How could he? He never got any sort of instructions on how to live life or do what’s right. In fact, it feels like everything he’s done thus far is horribly, unequivocally wrong.
But there are moments, sure, when a certain sort of soundness flutters in Tadashi’s chest. It secures him to the moment he’s living in and it tells him he is right. Oftentimes, this sort of feeling points out the ways he went wrong or the things he should have done better.
At least for now though, it’s telling him that this is right.
“For how long?” Tadashi asks, pushing them both forward into this new territory once again. Won’t they succeed this time?
Tsukki’s hesitation still does not arrive. “As long as you’ll have me.”
“What do you mean?”
What did I do to deserve you to stick by me? Why do you think I’m ahead? Why are you even here?
“Tadashi?” Tsukki presses.
He doesn’t have an answer. Only a million more questions, none of which make any sort of sense. He doesn’t even know why he asked Tsukki to stay in the first place. Tadashi’s better off on his own anyway. He doesn’t need anyone. He doesn’t need to fall asleep with warm arms wrapped around his waist and the tickle of a breath on his neck. He doesn’t need someone to help him buy groceries and make him breakfast and make him laugh. Tadashi doesn’t deserve these nice things. He’s the worst thing known to man. He’s… he’s…
Even with Tsukki standing beside him, he’s still lonely.
A war wages inside Tadashi’s mind. An unexpected one, with a battalion that attacks out of nowhere and two chief officers fighting over something as stupid as Tadashi’s attention.
On one side, there’s reality. The fact that Tadashi’s lonely, that no one wants to be around him, that he should really just off himself before the war is dragged on too long.
The other consists of his manifested wants. A hand in his own. A lifetime with laughter. Tsukki.
Their endless battle never ceases. It rages on, constantly at the back of his mind while Tadashi undergoes his normal life. The endless strife had never been that awful, but now it occupies all of his thoughts. Who will emerge victorious?
With the smallest of battles won, Tadashi involuntarily reaches out a hand.
For what? Or whom? Or—
Tsukki laces his fingers through Tadashi’s. His fingers are nimble, long, the hands of a poet. What sort of things would he write about them?
Tadashi’s never been a poet. He hasn’t so much as read anything, but somehow an urge springs forth to write down everything and secure all of Tsukki’s features onto paper, lest the war in his mind ends in defeat.
“What do you want to do?” Tsukki asks unassumingly.
Tadashi doesn’t know where the answer comes from, but he finds himself responding, “Do you want to watch some movies with me?”
Tsukki nods and that’s that.
They head to the living room, still hand in hand as they pick out a documentary they used to watch when they were younger. Still hand in hand as it plays, the narration known somewhere at the back of Tadashi’s mind as it rushes forward for the first time in years. Still hand in hand as Tadashi drifts off somewhere along the way, still hand in hand when he awakes long after the film is over. Still hand in hand, though Tsukki’s long fallen asleep too, but Tadashi doesn’t mind. He allows himself to drift off with a fluttery feeling he never thought he could recapture.
Tadashi awakes sometime later in the day, silently pleased to find Tsukki is still on the couch. Although, he’s turned on a different film—an American one he doesn’t recognize but can easily tell is far too old for a twenty-six year old man to be watching. It seems like a romance, but Tadashi’s too tired to attempt and read the subtitles.
Instead he gives Tsukki a small indication he’s awake, but continues to drift off into daydreams that Tadashi has prevented himself from thinking of in the past. The small indicators of a life he struggles to remember.
He finds himself asking over the smooth jazz score of the film, “You said you were okay with talking, right?” His voice is small.
Tsukki nods, turning down the audio of the film. “We can talk about whatever.”
Tadashi presses his lips together, still weary of why Tsukki suddenly became so open about discussing intimate matters. Nevertheless, he continues, “I just keep thinking about all of the things from our childhood that were so fucked up.”
Tsukki raises an eyebrow. They’re entering uncharted waters. “Like what?”
The carcass of a bird comes to mind. The horrifying image of a young boy who slain himself because they couldn’t respond. The bruise on Tadashi’s cheek and his bloodshot eye. The knicks and scrapes he received from being kicked to the ground one too many times. The scar on his hip. Crying in a candy store. Hidden kisses behind closed doors. Holding back his tears as he emerged from the locker room.
Tadashi wonders how he’s retained it all.
“That boy… the one who committed suicide,” Tadashi offers quietly. “And, again, I’m sorry for breaking your laptop.”
Tsukki frowns. “You’re apologizing for something that happened over a decade ago. I don’t care.”
“Are you talking about the boy from that dino forum?”
Tadashi nods. He can feel himself sinking down, down, down. He’s looking at the bird carcass. It’s dead. He knows it’s dead. He knows the boy is dead too, but—
“He didn’t kill himself,” Tsukki states flatly.
Tadashi raises his head. “But—”
“He didn’t kill himself,” he repeats, surely and firmly. There’s no room for margin or breath. It’s a cold, hard fact. The boy is alive.
Tadashi’s shaking. Is he still cold? Maybe he left the window open. That must be why he’s shivering. He’s just cold.
He whispers, “How?”
Tsukki readjusts his glasses. “It’s… well after you went home and everything settled down, I asked Akiteru if I could borrow his laptop. He agreed and I logged onto the forum and messaged him, but I never received a response. I thought he was dead too, if I’m being honest.”
A certain chill runs up Tadashi’s spine, spreading throughout his entire body until he’s littered with tiny goosebumps. He rubs at his arms, trying to entrap any amount of heat.
“And then I got an email a couple years ago,” Tsukki continues, voice low. “It was from the forum. I hadn’t even realized my account was still attached or that the forum was active but I logged on to see that he’d messaged me. He apologized for what he did.”
Tsukki swallows around something, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Tadashi lowers his gaze.
“I asked if we could meet.”
Tadashi doesn’t say anything, but he’s leaning forward. And? And what happened? And is he really alive?
“His name is Hamada Satoshi,” Tsukki announces. “He’s a construction worker out in Toyama now. Travelled all the way to Miyagi to meet with me...”
Tsukki runs a hand through his hair. Tadashi nods for him to continue.
“He’s just this… average guy for a lack of better words. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly but, yeah. We met. He told me his therapist recommended he apologize to the people he’d hurt before. I have no idea why I was included in that list of people, but I was. I guess it was nice to hear. I didn’t even realize—shit, are you okay?”
Tadashi startles. He reaches up, finding his eyes dotting with tears. When did that happen? Why is he even crying?
“I’m fine,” Tadashi assures, using the edge of his sleeve to wipe his eyes. “I thought all these years that I had…”
“It’s not your fault,” Tsukki insists. “It’s no one’s fault. His brain wasn’t working correctly, we’re not to blame for that.”
Tadashi nods. “Yeah…”
Tsukki nods, like he’s done speaking. Tadashi doesn’t want to press any further.
Jarring and loud, the movie comes to a sudden end. An ending card flashes on screen as the overture starts up again. Tadashi wipes his face once again until all of his emotions are gone.
But as he turns to face Tsukki once again, he’s met with a face closer than what he expected. He’s met with lips, and an effervescent kiss that doesn’t even seem real.
Tadashi pulls himself away.
Tsukki blinks, like he’s registering his own actions. Fear and frustration warps him all at once.
“Sorry,” he apologizes hastily, removing himself from the couch. “That’s not what I wanted to do. Not that I… ah…” He stops himself, eyes darting across the room as he gathers his things. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he says under his breath, like the admission wasn’t even for Tadashi to hear.
Tadashi follows after him, silently watching as he shoves shoes onto his feet and shrugs on his winter coat.
“I’m sorry, Yamaguchi,” he says again. “I should go.”
Tadashi doesn’t react. He doesn’t have any thoughts going through his head, not really. It’s all just… numb.
Tsukki gives a last once-over and heads out the door, careful to shut it quietly behind him.
He doesn’t know how long he stands there, staring at the four little panels on the back of his front door. The smooth indentions in the wood that someone spent time carving. It’s been chipped over time, maybe by Tadashi or maybe by someone else, but it can be fixed right?
Can’t it be fixed?