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The beer that was supposed to be lukewarm slides down Tadashi’s throat hot and weighty, far too bitter for his liking. But it’s not as if he’s a beer expert or even a regular drinker or anything; it’s just that anytime he comes out drinking with his coworkers, cheap beer always seems to be the liquor of choice as businessmen don’t have the time to craft individualized expensive tastes. They throw down beer and yakitori after work and Tadashi tags along because he has only so many excuses to give. 

With loose ties and red faces, his coworkers chat lively about conversations Tadashi isn’t particularly interested in. They switch fast from the economy to sports to the awful tasks they were given that day. Tadashi idly sits, squashed in the inner booth, and drinks his too-warm beer. 

It could be worse, he supposes. At least he can try to get home soon. 

Hayato, one of Tadashi’s superiors, slams down his glass onto the table. He stands, garnering the attention of all the workers. “How… the fuck am I… s’posed t’know any sports people,” he slurs, surveying over the tables. 

His coworkers nod in bitter agreement. Tadashi sips on his beer. 

The marketing team had been tasked with improving the reputation of the company. A local team, one that’d make them appear as a family friendly tech empire, Tadashi’s boss had told them (rather, he shouted at them during their last few minutes of overtime as Tadashi had tried to get out the door before his coworkers dragged him to the bar to gripe and complain). 

“I mean…” Hayato belches and runs a hand through his thinning hair, “I didn't even play sports in school! I was a… a… culture man.”

“Same!” One of his coworkers agrees. 

“I played baseball!” Another pipes in. 

Tadashi had suggested they support a baseball team. The Rakuten Eagles were a modest local team, not too good, not too bad. Perfect to improve the face of a faceless technology company. But they were endorsed by a pharmaceutical company and didn’t need more logos tacked onto their uniforms. 

Hayato takes a prolonged swig, stopping only to point at Tadashi with his beer. “Didn’t you ah…” he squints his eyes, trying to focus under the drunken haze, “didn’t you play some sorta sport?” 

“Volleyball,” Tadashi supplies against his own better judgement. He’s not too keen on offering up stories from his youth, so he attempts to cut the discussion there. “But I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t play often. My team didn’t go anywhere.” 

“Bullshit!” Hayato yells, slapping Tadashi’s back. He wants to curl away under his sweaty hand but instead gives a pressed-lip smile to not immediately retract. “I know yer ah… yer famous and all that.”

Tadashi’s eyes dart towards his coworkers. Luckily, they’re all too far gone to take Hayato’s words to heart. Damn those proud small shopkeepers and their insistence to keep Tadashi’s past alive. 

“Why not try a basketball team?” Tadashi suggests to deter the conversation as he subtly scoots away from Hayato. 

He makes a dismissive noise. “Nah, nah, you know more than anyone!” He points directly at Tadashi before turning to the rest of the group. “Certainly more than Morikatsu!”

“My basketball team went to nationals!” Morikatsu argues back, slamming his hands onto the table. 

Hayato bellows a laugh. “Sure ya did.” The workers follow his lead and fill up the bar with a cacophony of dry laughter. The waitress gives them all a wary eye as she sets down another round. 

Tadashi slips away as they indulge in their cheap beer and continue up some other idiotic conversation. His absence isn’t noticed even as Tadashi supplies the bartender with a few extra bills and heads to the door. 

He’s not nearly prepared for the blast of heat that nearly slaps him in the face. If the humidity inside the bar hadn’t been enough, the outside is little reprieve. Tadashi attempts to fan himself and loosens his tie even more, but ultimately the heat sticks with him like an unwanted parasite through his entire walk to the train station. 

It’s quiet, Tadashi notices. The families have long gone to bed and the businessmen haven’t quite flooded the streets, intoxicated enough to hide their looming depression. Tadashi only passes by the occasional young couple as they giggle and kiss under street lamps. 

Alone, he walks to the station and alone he rides on the train. And alone he steps into his apartment, greeted by only a handful of houseplants for company. 

It’s nothing new, per se. In some aspects, the solemnity is quite nice. He doesn’t need to worry about waking someone up with the sound of the coffee machine or pick up after anyone when things get left behind. All Tadashi needs to worry about is himself. He supposes he’s alright with that. 

Tadashi finally removes his tie and sets it on the kitchen counter. The apartment is quite large for one person, Tadashi absently thinks. The last time he had a roommate was back in university, but those days have long passed. Not that Tadashi needs anyone. 

No, Tadashi doesn’t need anyone at all. 

 

---

 

“Karasuno, huh?” Suzuki questions, not even bothering to look up from his stack of papers. He’s a small man but his large desk—cluttered with spare parts, loose pages, and a mountain of paperwork—surely must be accommodating for something. 

Tadashi rocks back on his heels, careful to keep his shoulders square and arms firm at his sides. The last thing he needs is to get on Suzuki’s bad side. Hayato was one thing, only a step up from Tadashi with a poor grip on his inferiors; Suzuki was a whole other beast. He’s head of the department with a quick tongue and enough power to ruin the rest of a man’s career if he chooses. Tadashi’s seen it happen before and really isn’t interested in carrying on the tradition. 

“Yes, sir,” Tadashi responds, hoping Suzuki can’t hear the slight stutter in his words. 

“I knew you went to Sendai, since I’m the one that gave you your job after all, but I never bother looking into high schools considering it’s a waste of time,” Suzuki explains. “But I’ve also never been this desperate for a fuckin’ endorsement after we lost the Raiders so we looked into high schools. I thought Hayato was bullshitting when he said you were a sports guy because, come on, look at you, but apparently it’s true.”

“Yes, sir,” Tadashi agrees, not sure what else to say. He supposes he doesn’t look very athletic nowadays, not that he wants his boss to point it out. 

“Volleyball team?” Suzuki finally peers up, meeting Tadashi’s eyes with a firm, ugly brow. “They’re the good one right?”

Tadashi bites the inside of his cheek. “Yes, sir. Karasuno currently has a very strong boy’s volleyball team.” And then, before Suzuki can retort, he adds, “But I did not play. I was simply a part of the team.”

Suzuki drops his paper and presses a hand to his forehead. “My daughter,” he groans, “plays for her middle school team. Won’t shut the fuck up about some setter or whatever that apparently went to Karasuno. Thought maybe we could sponsor his team but turns out the guy’s in fucking Italy. Won’t do shit for our rep.”

Tadashi nods. He wonders how Kageyama is doing.

“And then,” Suzuki throws his hands up in frustration, “some other kid from the team plays professionally, but the guy moved to Brazil of all places! Can you believe that?”

“No, sir,” Tadashi answers. It’s honest, considering he’s still in awe that Hinata decided to go back. 

“But then I found him,” Suzuki grins devilishly. He breaks contact to start typing on one of his monitors. “I fuckin’ found him. The perfect athlete we can endorse who’s on a team that doesn’t have any major sponsors. And my daughter knew ‘bout him, so it’s the best of both worlds. Know this guy?” 

Suzuki turns the screen around and Tadashi takes the sight in. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, but the slight alterations make his breath hitch in his throat. 

Tsukishima, in his Sendai Frogs uniform, stares at the camera with little interest or even life whatsoever behind those golden eyes. His glasses are new and stylish, something that Tadashi never expected to describe him as. His hair’s much longer than it was in high school, with waves and curls settling against his forehead in uneven patterns. He’s filled out, too. After years of a low appetite, it appears he’s finally managed to eat enough to utilize the large frame he was gifted. In whole, he looks rather grown up. No longer the boy Tadashi once knew. 

Tadashi looks away from the screen and back to Suzuki. He points at Tsukishima again. 

“I know of him,” Tadashi says. He swallows harshly. Did his voice tremble? He can’t tell. 

“Enough to get us in contact?” Suzuki asks, his inflection going high. “You’re our only guy with any sort of connection to anyone . Pull all the strings you got.”

“I don’t know… We’re not close.”

Suzuki waves it off. “Tell you what. Get this connection for me, and I’ll make you a senior manager.” Suzuki leans back in his chair, interlocking his hands over his chest. “Promotion, raise, an office of your own? Yeah?”

Tadashi considers it. Four years of college, a year of interning, and two years of gruesome work to move up a single position. But now he has the opportunity to rapidly climb the ranks if he can have a conversation. That’s it. An adult conversation that could lead to a better life. 

Tadashi locks his jaw. “I’ll try my best.” 

Suzuki grins. 

 

---

 

Tadashi doesn’t have Tsukishima’s phone number. He calls the Frogs’ promotional team instead. The nice lady he talks to seems very interested that a large technology company wants to sponsor the Frogs. She tells him she’ll call when she speaks with her boss. Tadashi thanks her for her time, and she insists they meet up to gauge the partnership. She says she’ll be his point of future reference on the Frogs and tells him to call her Aiko-chan. He obliges but fails to mention he already knows someone on the team. 

 

---

 

The girlish charms Yachi possessed in high school that made Tadashi initially have a crush on her have long faded. Not that she doesn’t still have charm; she’s more so grown into herself and ditched the excessive nervousness that Tadashi related to and thought was adorable. 

It’s probably for the best that nothing more came out of that crush. It was fleeting, after all. By the time they reached their second year, Tadashi couldn’t see her as anything more than a friend. He needed that kind of sturdy friendship in his youth. 

And now, as she talks about her newest project that utilizes more creativity than Tadashi is sure he’ll possess in his lifetime, he realizes how far Yachi has come. He feels a little proud even if it wasn’t any of his doing. Yachi was always bound to grow into herself, even if it took a few years more. 

They’ve been meeting at coffee shops every few weeks ever since they started college. They went to different schools, but the semi-frequent meetings have been good for Tadashi’s social life. His coworkers may joke about his ‘secret girlfriend’ but Tadashi really doesn’t mind. 

She gives Tadashi an easy smile and takes a sip of her chai latte. Tadashi drinks his apple cider. Neither of them are big coffee drinkers. Shaky hands and all that. 

“Are you sure there isn’t anything new going on?” Yachi asks, obviously insisting on information. 

“Nothing new at all,” Tadashi confirms. He takes another sip. 

Yachi sighs and leans back into her chair. “Yamaguchi-kun, are you happy?” 

Tadashi swallows his drink. “Define happy.” 

Yachi shrugs and stirs around the milk in her drink. “Oh I don’t know…” 

She keeps her eyes firm on the table, like she’s afraid to shatter this carefully constructed bridge of friendship they’ve created. Yachi knows where the pick and prod, never asking too much about what’s actually going on in Tadashi’s life. They both know. There’s no reason to intrude. 

But Yachi flicks her eyes up with a bit of confidence, shaking the bridge.

“Fulfilled, maybe?” She suggests, lilting her voice. 

Tadashi clenches his jaw. “I mean, I’m doing well at my job. I have friends. Is there much more I should need?”

Yes, Yachi’s dying to say, but she doesn’t. She shrugs, noncommittal and not willing to push further. 

There’s probably a lot more that a man could need in order to be ‘fulfilled’. Tadashi’s father always insisted he should be married with a stable job at 25. A kid by 27 and two more by 35. Like his father was one to talk.

A wife and kids? Tadashi wouldn’t mind that. Would that make him fulfilled? Would that bring him happiness?

Maybe they should stop doing these monthly coffee shop meetings. Yachi’s looking at him with those sad eyes Tadashi can’t say no to. He may no longer feel a romantic attraction to her, but those damn eyes still get him every single time. 

He doesn’t want to make Yachi sad anymore. He doesn’t know what to do. 

“I met someone,” Tadashi lies. There’s no reason to, but he does. 

The immediate guilt rises up in his chest and threatens to bubble out and Tadashi’s on his way to stop the thought and he’s rising out of his chair and extending his hand out but then he sees Yachi. Her face is lit up and her smile is brilliant and she’s so happy for him. It’s like they’ve won Nationals again or something. Does a relationship really warrant this sort of reaction? 

Yachi’s practically on the verge of excited tears. Tadashi sits back down in his seat. 

“Tell me all about them!” She cheers, extending her hands across the table to grab Tadashi’s. 

He looks at them for a moment before meeting Yachi’s gaze once more. 

What does he say? He knows nobody to even pretend to be in a relationship with. It’s a pitiful situation every way Tadashi manages to look at it. 

“You’ll meet them soon,” Tadashi decides to promise. It gives him more time to figure out everything. 

“Okay, okay!” Yachi squeals. “Oh, Yamaguchi-kun I hope it works out!”

“Me too.” 

Yachi steps back from the bridge and goes on about her own life. Tadashi listens and comments when appropriate. He wishes he could genuinely care about everything she’s saying and doing, but he can’t. 

He’s so wrapped up in his own bullshit he can’t be there for Yachi. 

They say their goodbyes not long after that, and Tadashi hugs Yachi tightly. She whispers in his ear how happy she is that he’s happy. Tadashi doesn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise. 

Long after she’s left and Tadashi’s on the train home, he realizes he should have told her about his potential promotion. She would’ve had the same reaction. Maybe even a better one. 

At least that one was true and didn’t gnaw at Tadashi’s internal organs like some horrible parasite. He’s being eaten alive, swallowed whole by a horrible monster of his own creation. 

 

---

 

Aiko is objectively pretty. 

Tadashi doesn’t expect it, frankly, from the skillful way her voice sounds over the phone. She may talk like she’s some experienced middle-aged business professional, but she’s far different from the perception of her voice. 

The first thing Tadashi notices about her is her hair. Long and blonde, thick to the point where it creates almost a halo as it hangs to her torso. He’s unsure whether it’s dyed or natural. Either way, it’s wholly breathtaking and a stark contrast to most other people in Japan.

She has a tendency to twirl her fingers in her hair. She practically does so throughout their entire meeting as they discuss what a partnership between the Sendai Frogs and Tadashi's workplace would entail. 

Tadashi carefully watches the soft touches of her fingers and it sort of makes him miss his own long hair. He always loved the feeling running his fingers in it from root to tip. He liked the ripple effect it sent through his body as he shivered under the touch. He particularly loved the way it felt when someone else would play with his hair and give him a soft grin and laugh with him until—

Tadashi clears his throat. Aiko stops mid-sentence and mid-twirl. 

“Is something wrong, Tadashi-kun?” She asks innocently. She insisted on a given name basis for them both. Tadashi said he didn’t mind. 

“It’s nothing,” he responds. “I’m just a little parched.” 

“Oh! Let’s go get you some water then. Come on,” she stands up from her chair and heads towards the door, waving Tadashi along. 

He follows after, taking in the last view of the large conference room. It was a bit odd she insisted they use the space, considering this initial meeting had just been between the two of them. It was even odder that she insisted Tadashi come to their headquarters in the first place considering it wasn’t neutral ground. 

He made the journey regardless, not wanting to disturb his chances. He wasn’t nearly as desperate as Suzuki was, but he knew the opportunity was too good to lose. Tadashi was a career man, after all. 

Aiko waits for Tadashi at the door and falls in step with him as she gives him a tour of the office facilities. He only saw a bit of the place coming in despite Aiko’s enthusiasm about her division. The long, winding hallway to the conference room is filled with old team photos. Tadashi takes only a half-second glance, not allowing himself to look much longer. 

“I hope this doesn’t sound rude,” Aiko begins as she wrings out her hands in front of her, “but why did they send you? I mean, not that I don’t appreciate you coming or anything! I’m just interested, that’s all.” 

Tadashi gives her a soft smile. He can’t tell if it’s genuine or not. 

“I played volleyball in high school,” he supplies. 

Aiko lights up. “Really? Me too! Oh, what position did you play? I bet you were a Middle Blocker. I mean, you seem tall and smart so it makes sense to me.” 

Tadashi laughs at her guess. “That’s right. But really I was just a pinch server.” 

Aiko nods. “I get that. I was a Middle Blocker too, but I didn’t get to play very much. I went to Niiyama and our team was super intense. I loved it, of course, but sometimes the actual playing got to be too much. But I guess I liked it enough to make it my life. I think the V. League is super different though, so it’s not much of a comparison.” 

They’ve made their way down the hall, stopping at a cross-section. The high ceilings make way for elaborate, modern staircases surely leading to more offices. On the right, there’s a reception area flooded with trophies and pictures like it’s an exhibit out of a hall of fame. On the left, there’s a hallway leading down to what could only be a practice gym. 

The sound of squeaking sneakers and the familiar smell of salon-pas calls to Tadashi. He can practically feel the sting of the ball’s memory in his palm as he stares through the sliver of a window on the doors. He can’t make out much, but it’s alluring all the same. Just a step forward… 

“Tadashi-kun?” Aiko calls. 

Tadashi quickly turns back to her, facing the memorabilia once again. “Sorry, I was getting distracted." 

She steps forward, passing him and nearing the doors. “Let me guess,” she grins, placing a hand onto one of the thick doors, “you’re actually a huge Frogs fan?”

“Not particularly…” Tadashi says unconvincingly despite the statement’s candor. 

Aiko laughs. She opens up the door and giddily ushers Tadashi inside.  

The practice gym is simultaneously nostalgic and overwhelming. The fast snap of the ball onto the floor and the incredible extension of muscles as the athletes jump into the air has Tadashi going warm. 

Maybe it’s some Pavlovian response. His heart rate quickening, his brow dotting with sweat, his fingers stretching out and hoping for a ball… surely this must all be some ingrained response triggered once more by being in the presence of a gym. 

Or maybe it’s nervousness. As Tadashi relishes the sentiment, his eyes also begin to unconsciously dart around to try and see the faces of the athletes in front of him. He catches a few of their glances, but not a single pair fills with recognition or dread. 

All the players are unrecognizable. 

“Sorry to disappoint,” Aiko says as she suddenly pops into Tadashi’s view. She looks out over the gym. “These are all the third-string players. The real guys won’t get here until later. But who knows? If this partnership works out you may get a chance to meet the real players.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tadashi assures, turning on his heel. He briskly walks back through the door as Aiko trails. “I’m seriously not that big of a fan.”

“Still though, isn’t it cool?” They stroll through the halls and head towards the reception area. Aiko tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “I mean, these guys are some of the best in the nation, and they’re only getting better! Didn’t hear it from me, but I think we have a pretty good chance of moving up to D1. We have to win the championship, of course, but our chances are looking amazing this year.”

They reach the end of the hall and Aiko steps back to give Tadashi a moment to take it all in.

It’s astounding; trophies, medals, and photos are arranged perfectly in glass display cases pushed along the walls. They reflect, golden and bright, with the rays of sunlight coming in from the skylight above. Tadashi feels like he’s stepped into a piece of history even if it’s not his own. 

The older photos show men in scant uniforms posed in old school gymnasiums. The newer ones show powerful spikes, incredible plays, and a whole host of MVP's throughout the years. Large flat screens show off highlight reels while moving picture frames shift to show the array of players they’ve had for the past half century. 

A logoed rug with the Froggy mascot points to a back wall where a giant banner of the current team hangs. The iconic green stands out against the white walls, making way for intense poses mid-action from the best volleyball players in the Miyagi prefecture. 

Tadashi knows a few of them. There’s Koganegawa, their giant setter, posed like he’s about to touch the ball. He has a ‘W’ smile to match the flyaway pieces of his bangs that always seem to stick up. 

There’s also Kyoutani with his intense eyes and furrowed brow. He’s posed post-spike, muscles taut from exertion and his face is contorted in a sort of aggressive pleasure. His hair is different from high school, but the blonde still makes him intimidating, even in the photo. 

The bodies are congressed together, overlapping and outstretching to form a pyramidal composition. Tadashi takes it all in bit by bit, but his eyes are naturally dragged towards the peak to the focal point. 

Tsukishima stands above the rest of the players, taped hands forming a solid block. He looks downward, evidently looking at the players below. In a way though, he feels like he’s staring down straight at Tadashi. He’s wearing that expression of intense focus seen only in the last moments of a long rally. Set jaw, clenched teeth, extreme grace. 

Tadashi’s hands feel clammy. 

“Beautiful, right?” 

Tadashi nearly forgot Aiko was there. She, too, looks up at the banner with a sort of fondness in her expression. Tadashi thinks it’s for the photograph more than the actual players.

“They’re super nice, you know,” she adds. “Especially Koganegawa. Right there.” She points at him, leaning towards the canvas on her toes. 

He figures it’s best to play dumb with her. “What does he play?” Tadashi asks. 

Aiko smiles. Tadashi absently notes how pretty it looks. 

“Setter,” she answers. “He just became the starter two seasons ago, and he’s been kicking ass ever since.” She takes another step forward before turning to face Tadashi. “Have you heard of the Monster Generation?”

Tadashi shakes his head. 

“Oh, okay, okay,” Aiko says giddily. “They’re this group of super talented volleyball players who are all young and are all about the same age. They’re pretty much the ones you saw at the Olympics last year. It’s mainly used to talk about the National Team guys, you know like Ushijima-san and Bokuto-san, but I like to think our guys are monsters too.”

“They are,” Tadashi says, unaware he’s even talking until the words have left his mouth. 

He keeps his gaze locked on Tsukishima. It’s still nothing new. And yet, every aspect is unfamiliar.

It’s a stranger, really. 

Tadashi lowers his head. 

“Sorry,” he tells Aiko. “I don’t think I’m feeling that well today.” 

“Did you still want that water?” Aiko asks, carefully looking over Tadashi. “You look a little hot.” Her eyes go wide. “I mean temperature wise! You look like you’re overheating, I mean. See?”

She presses the back of her hand to Tadashi’s forehead. He sort of jumps at the contact, almost stepping back but Aiko quickly retracts her hand. 

“Warm…” she says. 

“Umm…” Tadashi adjusts the hem of his suit jacket. “Sorry.” 

“No, don’t worry about it!” Aiko assures, waving her hands around. “We can meet again later. I have to discuss it with my boss anyway. I’m sure you have lots to talk about as well.” 

“Yeah…” 

Aiko gives him a full smile. “Let me walk you to the door.”

Tadashi thanks her and idly listens as she talks more about the Frogs. A sort of panic rises in his chest as they pass by the elaborate staircases once more. A tall man with light hair passes by. Tadashi’s breath hitches in his throat until the man gives him an odd look with his dark brown eyes. 

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Aiko asks, concern dripping in her voice. 

“Positive,” Tadashi nods. “I’ll call on Monday and confirm what my superiors say. They were initially excited for the partnership, so I can't imagine anything would go wrong.”

Aiko switches back into her professional voice, and they finish the last of the arrangements there in the hall. And while he tries his best to keep his eyes firm on Aiko, his gaze unexpectedly wanders towards that mural on the back wall. Tsukishima stares back. 

Even after all this time, it’s still him. 

 

---

 

Tadashi’s tolerance for drinking is low when it concerns his coworkers, but it’s even thinner when it comes to his college friends. 

‘Friends’ may have been an exaggeration. They were the people he went to college with. Most of them stayed local and asked to meet every few months. 

Tadashi’s unsure why they invited him in the first place. He always watches their conversations pass by with nothing to add. He’s simply another warm body occupying their high tables. 

He takes a swig of his beer and attempts to drown out the high-pitched laughter of his former classmates. Even the cigarette smoke billowing from his lips can’t seem to calm him down. His hands become steadily shakier as the night progresses, drink after unfortunate drink. 

“Excuse me,” Tadashi says but no one pays much attention as he slips through them and to a spot at the near empty bar top. 

He lets out a heavy breath, almost collapsing until he hears someone talking to him. He perks up to find a handsome man, dressed in business wear and nursing a cocktail, staring straight at Tadashi. His hair is dark but his gaze is even darker. 

“What?” Tadashi asks. 

The man chuckles and brings the glass to his lips. “I asked if you were having a good time with those friends of yours.”

Tadashi takes a moment to truly observe the man. He must be in his early 30’s and he’s evidently not new to the scene. How he was able to pick Tadashi out of the crowd was somewhat impressive. He likes to think he’s not too obvious with his dress or cadence to attract attention but certainly this man picked it up.

“They’re not exactly my friends,” Tadashi answers. 

The man raises an eyebrow. “So you wouldn’t be too upset leaving them behind, would you?” He muses, cognizant of the intent. 

Tadashi considers everything. Might be nice. A release, if anything. It’s been awhile since he’s done this after all.  Maybe could turn into something more if he needs someone to show to Yachi. 

Then again, Tadashi’s not nearly intoxicated enough to make a decision like this. 

The man seems to notice. He orders them a couple of drinks. They talk for a while, both fully aware of where the night will lead but adding time to keep the pretense. Turns out the man works for the marketing team of the baseball team Tadashi had suggested to Suzuki. Go figure. 

A few drinks later, they’ve exchanged enough sultry looks to leave the bar with good reason. Tadashi follows him after grabbing his coat, light on his feet with the trail of a smile on his lips. It’s freeing, he idly thinks. Maybe loose lips and unsteady limbs are a good thing after all. 

His college friends have long forgotten he was there in the first place. He slips by them, stumbling ever-so-slightly until the man grips his elbow to straighten him up. 

“Come on,” he insists, heading towards the exit. Tadashi trails along. 

As they’re about to reach the door, a group of men walk through. Tadashi doesn’t exactly see them until he’s running into a pair of pale collarbones behind a white button down. He’s sent flying backward, sobered only when his ass hits the ground. 

Tadashi’s about to mumble some apology but he looks up.

Photos are one thing. Real life is a whole other monstrosity. 

Tadashi, for a moment, feels like a child again. Staring up at haloed blonde hair, seeing his savior loom over him. The expression is far too similar despite the years. Is he really that pathetic? 

He should say something. He wants to say something, but the words don’t rise so he says nothing. 

A hand reaches out towards him. It’s the man. 

“Are you alright?” He asks. 

Tadashi looks at him and then back to where he was staring. Pain swells in his chest at the distinct face, the all-too-real expression. 

He’s completely and utterly frozen in fear. There’s no fight or flight; merely the definite inability to move or even react in the slightest as to indicate he’s even alive. 

Maybe he’s not alive. His heart has skipped more than a few beats and the panic coursing through his veins isn’t nearly enough to keep him conscious. 

He needs to do something. 

“I… ah…”

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” the man grabs Tadashi’s wrist and pulls him to his feet. He places a firm hand on his lower back and ushers him past the group, towards the exit.

As the door closes behind them, Tadashi manages to peer through the crack. 

Tsukishima, quite simply put, looks ashamed. 

Tadashi lets the door slam behind him and the man. 

He wants to break down. He wants to run inside. He wants to run away. He wants to never be visible in the light of day again. He wants to go back in time, to before any of this happened, and try it all again. 

But he doesn’t. Tadashi follows the man back to his apartment and drinks the last of his bottle of gin.

And he stares at the ceiling as the man thrusts and grunts and moans sweet nothings into Tadashi’s ear. He’s forceful and aggressive to the point where it hurts. He takes and gives little back. Tadashi doesn’t care. 

He simply continues staring at the ceiling and wonders where all the stars went. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tadashi takes a shower in the man’s apartment before he leaves. He watches the milky water swirl the drain and wants to vomit at the wretched sight. 

He’s disgusting.

He leaves with wet hair and in his same sweat-stained suit before the sun can begin to peak over the Sendai cityscape. 

 

---

 

The first true hookup Tadashi ever had been during his second semester of college. 

He’d been talking to a pretty, young woman all evening. Tadashi caught her eye the moment she walked into the party, with her long eyelashes and tiny waist. In the end, she was nice, a little drunk, but seriously not Tadashi’s type.

He hooked up with her anyway because his friends were elbowing him all night and saying Tadashi needed to relieve a little stress. 

It was nothing too monumental or amazing. Frankly, it was two bodies pressed against each other and not much else. A relief, perhaps, but it probably caused Tadashi more stress than it was worth. 

In the morning, Tadashi made her breakfast as she sat at his kitchen counter. His roommate came through for some coffee, gave him a raised brow, and promptly went back to his room. 

The night before, she’d been loud and wild. Her persona was stripped during the daylight. 

“Can I ask you something?” 

Tadashi turned back to face her as she palmed her cup of coffee. She had striking blue eyes that would have probably been perfect to some guys. Not Tadashi, for whatever reason. He thought they were pretty, but his tastes were different. 

“Sure,” Tadashi responded. 

Her lips set into a pout. “I mean… are you dating someone right now? Like, are you cheating on your girlfriend or something?”

Tadashi turned off the stove and crossed to the counter. “No… I’m single right now… Why?

She shrugged as he served her some eggs. “I don’t know how to explain it, really.” She looked up at him, trying to gauge his expression. “Did you just get out of a relationship?”

Again, Tadashi shook his head. He served himself some food. 

“And this isn’t your first time?” 

Tadashi should’ve been insulted but he simply said, “No,” once more. 

“Weird…” she said, taking a bite. She chewed slowly, not bothering to look at Tadashi as she added, “It’s like… well it’s like I’ve been the ‘Other Woman’ before, you know? And I’ve been used as a rebound. And as someone’s first… it was all uncomfortable and strange and each time I could feel the guy’s guilt. It’s a little different though that’s why I can’t place it… maybe you’re just sad.”

“What makes you think that?” He asked quietly. 

She shrugged again. “I don’t know…” 

She didn’t say much after that. She didn’t ask if Tadashi was actually sad or if something else was weighing heavy on his mind. She didn’t even say thank-you or goodbye as she padded out of the apartment as soon as she was done eating. 

Tadashi supposed he didn’t say much either. He genuinely couldn’t concoct a response as to why a stranger could feel his guilt of all things. A part of him wanted to ask what that even meant in the first place. 

Sure, he had lots to be guilty about, but did she really feel that? And if so, who else could see the way Tadashi carried around a jaded heart? Were his secrets out in the open for all or just those he delegated to sleeping with?

It took him a year, a whole bottle of wine, and ten times the courage he had that night in order to have another one-night stand. 

 

---

 

Tadashi flops onto his bed, letting himself bounce a couple of times as the mattress settles beneath him. It might be useless trying to get sleep now considering dawn is breaking in only a few hours, but he’ll grab any rest he can. It seems like Tadashi, despite his absence of an active social life, can never take a break. Blame it on work or maybe his mind never wanting to stop. 

How long has it been since Tadashi had a moment to rest? He can’t even remember the last time he felt close to peaceful. It’s just been constant movement. The faster he goes, the less he has to think about. 

It’s terrifying when Tadashi’s mind does slow down to consider the other . Everything he’s missed out on or neglected. He doesn’t want to dwell on anything too long, lest he get attached. 

Tadashi shakes his head, attempting to clear the creeping thoughts away. He doesn’t have the time. He needs a distraction. 

He pulls out his phone and opens up Instagram. Yachi convinced him to get it a few years ago despite his inactivity. His profile has a mere five photos, all of which Yachi helped him to pick out and post. Tadashi doesn’t exactly see the need for social media especially when he’s not too keen on the whole ‘social’ part. 

Regardless, he scrolls on his feed for a few minutes before the restlessness catches up. He tosses his phone aside, strips out of his suit, and puts on a comfy pair of sweatpants and an old college tee. 

It’s still there though. The image and the guilt and the—

Tadashi turns on his TV. He lazily cycles through the different channels, stopping on the evening news for a few moments before he flicks to some cheap kaiju movie he vaguely recognizes from childhood. All of the programming is old, made for night owls who have nothing better to do than catch the last few plot points of an old law show. It’s all white noise to Tadashi, enough to nearly lure him into slumber until a documentary pulls him back to consciousness. 

He recognizes the photographs, even a little startled as his own image pulls up. He quickly turns up the volume and positions himself on his elbows to get a better look at the screen. 

“Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu successfully brought their team to Nationals all three years of high school,” the narrator explains in a deep, calming voice. The screen fades between photos of them from Karasuno, most of which are focused on Kageyama and Hinata playing together.

He vaguely remembers Hinata talking about how he’d been featured in some made-for-TV movie, but Tadashi never could have calculated that he’d be part of it as well. Even if his presence is small and certainly nothing in comparison to the actual stars of the film, the whole thing still feels like an invasion of privacy. High school was so many years ago; the last thing he needs is someone seeing this and asking about his relation to some world-ranked volleyball players. 

That part of his life is long gone. 

“In their last year, Karasuno placed third in the nation,” the narrator continued. “Their fine teamwork and so-called ‘ultra quick’ proved to be the key to their shared success.”

The documentary flips to a picture taken right after they’d won their ranking game, thinly beating out Itachiyama in order to secure their placement as the third best volleyball team in the nation. It shows Hinata and Kageyama screaming at each other with intense elation after their successful back attack. The other players celebrate as well, while a wide-grinned Tadashi is shown rushing the court with the rest of the team flanking his sides. 

Tsukishima stands near the net, flashing an oh-so-rare smile, towards the back of the court. If the camera isn’t lying and if Tadashi’s eyes perceive correctly, it almost appears that his happiness is turned towards Tadashi of all people. 

How strange. 

How… honest. 

Most of Nationals still feels like a blur. Sure it happened years ago, but Tadashi’s pretty convinced he’s done his duty in terms of suppressing most of what happened. There’s still quite a bit of good memories too, he supposes. Apparently this photo captures one of them. 

“We asked Middle Blocker Tsukishima Kei-senshu from the Sendai Frogs his opinion on being teammates with Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu.”

The documentary switches to a video of Tsukishima post-game, still dripping with sweat while his green Frogs uniform clings to his body. He’s surrounded by reporters, one of which evidently poses the same question. Tsukishima looks right into the camera, gold eyes appearing nearly brown on the low-quality footage. 

“They’re idiots,” Tsukishima says quite frankly, voice warped by the bad recording. He looks around a little, using the towel around his neck to wipe off some of his sweat, before he finally relinquishes, “They’re talented idiots, but idiots nonetheless.”

“What sort of drama brewed on the Karasuno team?” The narrator questions as the video zooms into a still of Tsukishima’s face. “What happened after Kageyama-senshu and Hinata-senshu graduated? Please stay tuned through these commercial messages to hear the rest of the story of the Demon Duo.”

A woman promoting yogurt pops onto the screen, forcing Tadashi out of his almost intoxicated stupor. Maybe he’s still feeling the effects of all that gin from earlier. 

Brief memories from his dirty deeds in the hours prior force a gag to ripple through Tadashi’s frame. The unconformability sets in quickly and lasts even as Tadashi crawls under the covers and forces his mind to think of other things. Revulsion pulses, sound and secure, as the relentless image of those dark eyes peering into him morphs into golden eyes filled with disgust.  

Tadashi flips onto his other side and attempts to soothe his rapid-beating heart. He should really get some rest. 

But the golden eyes stay, as they so often do, a haunting memory Tadashi can’t ever seem to get rid of despite his constant efforts to forget. 

 

---

 

Suzuki is extremely pleased at Tadashi’s work. He even says so, during their overtime of course, much to the dismay of his coworkers. 

Hayato gives him a dirty look, seemingly forgetting he was the one to give out Tadashi’s name in the first place. The coworkers probably won’t invite him out for beers for a while. Tadashi couldn’t mind less, honestly. 

 

---

 

“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” Aiko says smoothly, holding out a hand to shake. 

Tadashi takes it and gives her a pressed-lip smile. She instantly loses her professional persona and returns to the bubbly, fun presence Tadashi’s mostly come to associate her with. 

“Oh, I’m so excited to keep working with you!” Aiko cheers with a toothy grin. She then stops herself and asks, “We are going to be working together… right?” 

“It looks that way,” Tadashi says. 

Aiko leads him through the long halls of the Frogs center once more, only this time Tadashi knows what to expect from the building. The large windows and the extensive staircases are somewhat welcoming now. It’s strange, he thinks. He’s only been here a handful of times before for various meetings over the last few weeks and yet now the whole place is oddly familiar. 

“Okay, good, good!” Aiko nods. She lets out a sigh of relief. “Moving forward our goal will be creating a synergistic relationship but there’s a lot that should be entailed. We have galas with our other sponsors, uniform changes, press releases, promotion directly from our athletes, and a whole lot more. Up for the challenge?”

Tadashi presses his lips together. Quite honestly, he didn’t think he’d make it this far. Under usual circumstances, his position would be transferred to a higher-up better equipped for managing a project this large. Tadashi wasn’t nearly qualified to undertake such an important role, and yet Suzuki had insisted he was the man for the job. Suzuki’s recommendation wasn’t taken lightly, though. Most of the other senior-level managers still saw Tadashi as a widely unqualified rookie. That was fine. 

“I’ll try my best,” Tadashi decides to respond. Aiko seems pleased by the answer. 

“Now the timeline is relatively pressed, given the nature of the sport, but my superiors would prefer if we worked quickly. They said they’d like to debut the partnership as a sort of publicity stunt before we enter the season. That would put us at about mid-September. Now, I know that’s only a couple months away, but I’m certain we can make it work. A press conference is due in order to—”

“Aiko-chan!” A voice calls from the end of the hallway. She quickly pauses her rambling and Tadashi barely has enough time to poke his head out when he hears it ask, “Yamaguchi?” 

He stiffens at the name. A wave of panic soundly courses through his body as a pop of blonde hair and bright eyes come into view. 

Koganegawa gives them a once-over as he nears, walking straight past Aiko to give Tadashi a bone-crushing hug. He looks back to her, catching her look of pure confusion as he lightly taps on Koganegawa’s back. 

“How are you!” The giant setter laughs as he steps back to observe Tadashi once more at arm’s length. The man himself has changed little from high school. The main difference is the appearance of hefty muscles on his arms and a shorter haircut than before. 

“I’m okay,” Tadashi replies, glancing over at Aiko once more. She stares back at them, assessing it all herself. 

“Man it’s been like what, seven, eight years?” Koganegawa questions, tightening his grip on Tadashi’s shoulder. “Seriously, what happened to you? It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth or something!”

Tadashi’s about to come up with an excuse but Koganegawa fills in the pause himself. 

“Ya know, I was actually thinking about you the other day. See, I was talking with Tsukki and he was all like,” Tadashi winces as Koganegawa preps his best Tsukishima impression, furrowed brow and all, “‘I have plans with a friend I can’t come to your party this evening’ and I was like ‘Oh! Are you talking ‘bout Yamaguchi?’ But then Tsukki was all distracted by that or something weird, man that guy is strange…  anyway, he sort of left after really quickly after that saying no and to be honest I don’t know where that came from because it’s not like he talks about you or anything, well he doesn’t really talk about anyone but still, but it’s like Wow I haven’t thought about you in years and suddenly when I bring you up you reappear again. Weird right?”

“Weird,” Yamaguchi agrees.

“Ah, remember that time you used to hate me?” Koganegawa laughs. “Oh my god, you were so angry when I came up to Tsukki at that one practice game but then the next one you got a lot nicer.”

“I never hated you,” Tadashi tries to say. 

“I know, I know, but I still think it’s funny. Anyway, it’s really good to see you!” Koganegawa assures with a slap to the back. “We’ll have to go out for drinks sometime! Aiko-chan, you can come too!” 

Aiko’s features remain stagnant. “I’d love to come and hear all about your friendship with Tadashi-kun.”

Koganegawa nods excitedly. “Oh yeah, totally. Ya know, this guy had the nastiest jump floater in the nation. Swear on it.” He suddenly whips his attention back to Tadashi. “Can you still do it?”

“I haven’t played volleyball in years…” Tadashi’s hoping that’s enough to convince him to back down and stop talking, but Koganegawa doesn’t take the hint. 

“Oh, I’m sure you’re still amazing at it!” Koganegawa bellows at his own thought. Tadashi sheepishly chuckles in response, but he can feel himself becoming more uncomfortable minute by unbearable minute. 

Koganegawa stops laughing as he suddenly lights up, an idea clearly popping into his mind. “We should have you do your serve! You can test it against Tsukki’s and see who has the better one!”

“He uses a jump floater?” Tadashi asks against his will. Curiosity creeps inside, threatening to kill Tadashi after it’s taken out the cat. 

Koganegawa nods confidently. “Yeah. Dude, when I was first on the team, so like a few years ago, I remember always trying to talk to Tsukki when he was trying to study jump floaters. We’d be on the bus or something, and he’d have his headphones on watching a video and no matter how hard I tried I could never get his attention.” He pouts at the memory, quick to embody his sad words. 

It doesn’t surprise Tadashi at all though. For most people, Tsukishima’s headphones were a clear indicator he was not in the mood to talk. Sure they’d been a warning to Tadashi as well, but he was usually able to break the negative curse by tugging twice on the edge of Tsukishima’s sleeve. His most common response was to hook his headphones around his neck and listen to whatever Tadashi had to say that day. Although, there were the rare occasions in which Tsukishima would ignore Tadashi’s attention. At those times, Tadashi was content to simply listen to whatever music Tsukishima was playing (although, his headphones were cheap and the quality was awful, especially at the volume Tsukishima always played it at).

Tadashi doesn’t even realize he’s been zoning out of the conversation until he notices Koganegawa is staring straight at him with a goofy-looking grin and wide eyes. 

“Sorry, what?” Tadashi asks. 

Koganegawa dramatically rolls his eyes. “I said, you should demonstrate your serve! I’m sure Aiko-chan would love to see it too!"

Again, Tadashi’s nearly forgotten she was there. She, too, is looking directly at him, though there’s no sense of giddy or glee, unlike Koganegawa. 

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tadashi says, panic rising in his tone. He seriously doubts he can still even do it. Then again, he’d probably done a million serves and something like that isn’t so easily erased from one’s habits. Tadashi’s pretty sure that volleyball is like riding a bike and that the moment he places his hands onto a ball the thrill of it all will come rushing back to him like it’d never left in the first place. Still… he doesn’t want to see whatever else Koganegawa has in store. 

“Nonsense!” Koganegawa insists, maneuvering himself around Tadashi in order to place his hands on his back. 

“What are you—”

“Come on! Show Tsukki your serve!” He begins to push Tadashi towards the practice gym while Tadashi scrambles to get out of his grip. Unfortunately, Koganegawa has a lot more centimeters than Tadashi, and a whole bout of enthusiasm, which renders him practically useless against the giant setter’s forces.

“Koganegawa, I really don’t think I—”

“You’ll be great!” They near the doors and Tadashi can begin to see inside the small window. There’s already a few players warming up, all long legs and powerful spikes as they fly across the court. There’s a flash of blonde and Tadashi feels himself beginning to panic even more. 

“Please, I—”

“Koganegawa.”

They all pause and Tadashi feels Koganegawa’s hands drop from his back. He turns to see another oddly familiar mop of blonde hair, only this one is paired with a dark set of judging eyes. 

“Kyouken-san!” Koganegawa cheers. He flocks over to Kyoutani’s side and points at Tadashi. “Remember Yamaguchi? He’s—”

“Pinch server,” Kyoutani finishes, brows forming a thick line. 

Tadashi feels himself clam up. He’s a little surprised Kyoutani even recognizes him. While the man himself had an undeniable presence that couldn’t be ignored once he stepped onto the court, Tadashi was more of a silent player. They’d only faced off a handful of times in their overlapping high school years. Tadashi, frankly, didn’t realize he had any sort of presence. 

“Yeah,” he squeaks, making sure to not look Kyoutani straight in the eyes. He’s vaguely afraid he’ll turn into stone. 

“Don’t you think Yamaguchi should show us his jump floater?” Koganegawa asks excitedly. 

Kyoutani, thankfully, doesn’t seem impressed by Tadashi’s old career. “No.”

“What? But—”

Kyoutani pushes past them with little regard. Koganegawa follows after him, already starting up some new insignificant commentary, and they enter the gym forgetting Tadashi was even there in the first place. He supposes that’s how things should be. 

It hits him though, as Tadashi turns back to see Aiko’s face scrunched-up in a newfound anger, that he’s seriously fucked up. That dreadful feeling of things going so terribly wrong is, unfortunately, one that Tadashi is well-versed in. 

“I thought you didn’t know who Koganegawa was,” Aiko says, not bothering to look at him. 

Tadashi flinches. “I’m sorry…”

There’s an excuse here, a lie to smooth everything over and make it seem like Tadashi wasn’t initially some lying freak who felt the need to hide away his past that wasn’t even truly traumatic. He was blowing the whole thing out of proportion, really. Who even cares if he knew a couple of the players? It’s not like it changed anything. 

He’s pathetic, really. Holding onto trauma from his youth like it’s the only thing he has left. People were out in the world dying and Tadashi’s been feeling sorry for himself for years because he has nothing better to do. What a pity. 

“Tadashi-kun, I don’t like liars,” Aiko says softly. She runs her fingers through her hair. Maybe it’s a nervous habit or maybe she really just likes her hair; Tadashi hasn’t decided yet. 

“I’m sorry,” Tadashi apologizes again. He drops his head. 

He’s really fucked it all up this time. Maybe this will be his downfall. Maybe Aiko will report to his superiors and get someone else on the job. Maybe Suzuki will fire him and put him on the blacklist, so Tadashi won’t be able to get another job. Maybe this is the last regrettable thing Tadashi will ever do. 

Aiko lets out a big sigh and places her hands onto her hips. “Why did you even lie? You could have told me that you knew a couple of the players.”

Tadashi could have done a lot of things but isn’t it easier to forget about fickle things like the past? Tadashi’s pretty sure there’s a saying about that… 

“I…” Tadashi swallows hard. He’s not nearly charismatic enough to make an excuse seem reasonable so he tells her some semblance of the truth. “You look really excited about telling me about the Frogs… I didn’t want to disappoint you…”

He purposefully avoids the fact that he didn’t want to be here in the first place but the thought of losing this all simply terrifies him to no end. 

Aiko drops her arms and takes a step forward. “I don’t like liars. I may come off happy all the time, but nothing bugs me more than lying for no reason. I appreciate that you wanted to protect my feelings, but I’m not some little kid, Tadashi-kun. So what if you know Kanji-kun and Kentaro-san?”

“It’s not just them,” Tadashi says quietly. 

“Who else?” She thinks it through, expression souring. “Wait, didn’t Kanji-kun mention something about Kei-kun?”

Tadashi shoves his hands into his pockets to prevent them from shaking anymore. “Yeah. We’re ah… we’re from the same high school.”

What isn’t said, but is rattling around in Tadashi’s mind, is just about everything else Tsukishima is… 

It’s a terrible fact that Tsukishima now exists with an asterisk. He’s Tadashi’s childhood best friend*, and perhaps the only person in the entire world that knows Tadashi inside and out*. 

The little asterisk added to the end of those statements places their entire relationship into the conditional. The truth that lies in that tiny little star is that they no longer associate with one another. That former should be inserted before childhood best friend. That they are practical strangers with one another, even if they once knew every detail about the other. Tadashi’s unsure if he even knows a single thing about Tsukishima anymore. It’s been so long… 

Where Tsukishima used to exist with semicolons to connect long, winding phrases of emotional thought, he now has an asterisk branded next to his name. Tsukishima prevails with conditions and limitations, things he put in place himself.

Where Tadashi always had a conjunction to keep his feelings alive, Tsukishima placed a period at the end of their names. And so it remains, stubbornly kept there by Tadashi who no longer needs something to keep his thoughts about Tsukishima going. If he placed the asterisk and the period, Tadashi would keep them. 

Tadashi and Kei. Childhood best friends. Kei is the only person in the entire world that knows Tadashi inside and out. And vice versa. 

Tadashi doesn’t tell this to Aiko though. He cannot bring himself to even consider how she’d might react if she discovered everything about them. Certainly, she would also give him a look of pure disgust if she knew. 

But she doesn’t know and Tadashi doesn’t elaborate, and it finally sinks in it that they were simply friends in high school. 

In fact, Aiko lights up. “You should have just said something! It’s not a bad thing you’re friends with them. It honestly makes things on my end easier. We’ve had issues in the past where associates didn’t know how to act properly around the players even though they’re regular people. I can’t even imagine what they’d be like around a Division 1 team…”

Tadashi’s not quite sure where she’s trying to go with her logic but maybe it isn’t quite the end of everything…

Aiko’s hands reflexively return to curling through her hair. “Promise me you’ll be upfront about things from now on,” she says sternly, steadily finding her voice. “As a business partner and as a um… friend.” She’s hesitant on the last word, eyes even flicking away from Tadashi as if to prove her uncertainty. 

“I will be,” Tadashi promises in a soft voice. “And I’m sorry.”

Aiko simply nods in response. “And you were doing so well…” she says under her breath, obviously not meant for Tadashi to hear. 

She leaves after that, with a simple goodbye and a plan for their next meeting. Tadashi sees her off before leaving through the reception area. Despite his disposition with the rest of the complex, this room he’ll never quite get used to. There’s far too many images for his brain to comprehend. 

He leaves the building, ready to face the blistering heat of early August. A part of him hopes it’ll get cooler soon. A part of him says the heat is simply retribution. 

As he walks towards the train station, he passes by vendors attempting to sell ice cream and other sweet treats as kids flock about during their summer vacation. They pass by Tadashi, fingers sticky and laughs abundant, like they don’t have a care in the world. 

Tadashi considers stopping by one of the vendors and getting something for old time’s sake, but he can’t convince himself to do so. That would require him to actually stop and talk with the vendor and potentially make a light conversation or try and fill the awkward silence that always inevitably comes. He can’t even handle the thought of what the other people around him might think. Some random businessman out in the day with a strawberry ice pop? An atrocious sight indeed. 

Still, Tadashi longs for that light feeling that used to come with summertime and adolescence. As a kid, he was dying to grow up. He hopped on the path towards adulthood in the hopes that it would bring something new and exciting. He childishly thought something good would come out of forcing himself to grow up. 

He was too young to see what lay beyond. 

He’s still too young to consider what the future may hold and how Tadashi, as insignificant as he is, has any part in it. 

 

---

 

As high-rise city buildings flatten out to become small houses lined with trees and lush green bushes, Tadashi can feel himself ease into the seat of the train. There’s something too busy for the constant movement of Sendai; while it’s certainly not as fast-paced as Tokyo or Osaka, Sendai still feels swarming with people at all times of the day. Tadashi would prefer to live in a place where he can catch his breath every once in a while, but it would be awhile until he settled down in the suburbs. Maybe when he had a wife and kids… 

The train’s relatively barren for a Saturday morning. Tadashi would expect more people to try and escape the masses for a relaxing weekend near Karasuno, but it appears only a few grandparents, another businessman, and a young couple attempting to wrangle a toddler are his only like-minded thinkers. 

An odd memory pops up. From one of those before-dawn drives into the city to catch a couple practice games with the Fukurodani group over the course of a volleyball-packed weekend. The chatter on the bus would always be nonexistent, sort of how it was on Tadashi’s train now, but Tadashi had never minded. He would fall asleep regardless, only to be woken up and discover he’d been drooling on Tsukishima’s shoulder the whole trip. A few times, Tsukishima had fallen asleep on him too. There was always something sort of sweet about finding Tsukishima like that; defenseless as the sun began to peek out over the mountains and catch on his blonde curls. Tadashi would laugh and take in the beautiful, rare sight, before an argument would break out in the seat over and the moment would be ruined before Tadashi even got the chance to admire it properly. He cherished those quiet moments, before Tsukki, and the rest of the world, would rise. He could stare at that—

Tadashi sucks in a breath. 

He rubs at his eyes, trying to convince himself to stay awake a little longer. He shouldn’t be thinking about that kind of thing anyway. 

His stop comes up and Tadashi gets off the train. The toddler reaches for Tadashi as he passes by. They have big eyes that watch curiously, even as Tadashi gives them a little wave. 

The walk from the station back to his mom’s apartment isn’t too awful. While the heat still bites with all the venom of a rattlesnake, Tadashi feels like it’s a bit more manageable than back in the city. The sound of cicadas and shade of the trees is actually somewhat comforting. 

He passes by a group of kids playing volleyball in the park. While their gameplay is rudimentary, their attitudes are incandescently bright. Tadashi sort of smiles to himself, but doesn’t let the feeling linger too long. He continues on the path back home. 

Tadashi doesn’t even get one foot in the door before his mother tackles him with an all-encompassing hug. She abruptly pulls back though, eyeing him from head to toe. If there’s one thing Yamaguchi Sayo is known for, it’s her extreme ability to pick up minute changes to someone’s behavior. Awful for teenage Tadashi and arguably even worse for him now. 

“You’re skinny,” she comments, squinting her eyes. “What happened?”

“Nothing?” Tadashi sort of questions as he toes off his shoes at the genkan. “Nothing happened.”

She thoroughly eyes him once more before deciding she won’t get a proper answer and heading back inside. Tadashi follows after her, taking his usual place at the kitchen counter. It’s been a few weeks since he visited. There’s a handful of new plants on the window sill. 

“Hungry?” Sayo asks, already poking through the fridge. “I can make you some stir-fry vegetables. I should have some from the other day…”

“I’m fine,” Tadashi assures. Sayo pops her head out of the fridge, brows forming a thick line. “Really,” Tadashi nods. 

“I don’t believe you for a minute,” Sayo says back as she pulls out some vegetables. “You’ve got that look on your face like you’ve seen a ghost. Who was it this time?”

“No one,” Tadashi answers. He cuts in before Sayo can dig any deeper. “How’s treatment?”

Sayo adjusts her headscarf, done simply today with a little knot towards the back instead of one of the fancier folds she’s learned over the past few years. “Halfway through now,” Sayo answers with a sort of devilish grin. She flexes her arm out as if to prove her strength. “Told ya’, this thing isn’t gonna get me.”

Tadashi smiles at that. Genuinely. The first round of chemo had been a nightmare. Tadashi’s first year as an intern was hard enough as is with having the constant worry of whether or not his mom was alive. He spent his weekends at home, often the only person to actually check up on her, before heading out to Sendai again on the earliest train Monday morning. He’d offered to quit and help to take care of her full time, but she’d assured him that the new freckle they’d found on her arm would be easily taken care of. Two surgeries, and three rounds of chemo later, ‘new freckle’ had turned into ‘Stage 3 Melanoma’ and years of constant worry. 

Sayo's been strong throughout the whole thing though. She never broke down, not even once. Tadashi genuinely has no idea how she does it. He could probably learn a thing or two. 

Sayo begins telling some story about how a woman in her support group was rude but the conversation easily deviates from there. The one thing that Tadashi shares with his mother, other than a somewhat annoying abundance of freckles, is the ability to ramble on for hours. Lately though, Tadashi’s been doing less of the talking and more of the listening. He doesn’t have much to add once he’s told her that yes, Yachi is doing well (Sayo’s under the horrible belief they’ll end up married) and yes, his superiors are happy with his work. 

Sayo suspects something’s wrong and lets the silence be filled with the sound of caramelizing onions. The sweet smell takes up the little kitchen, almost enough to take away the bitter taste on Tadashi’s tongue when he gets up to examine those embarrassing photos of himself still hung up in the living room. 

“Daisuke is coming by later,” she hums. “Did you still want to meet him?”

“Sure,” Tadashi replies coolly, observing a particularly atrocious photo of himself from his second year of high school. He’d gotten his hair cut way too short and spent practically his entire summer indoors because of volleyball; in whole, an actual pubescent monster. 

“He’s really nice,” Sayo adds, raising a brow. 

Tadashi nods. “I know. You’ve only told me good things about him.”

“It’s because he’s so much better than your father.”

Tadashi sighs, ready for her sprawling rant about how awful of a man he was and how he’d left them behind and blah blah blah… Tadashi wasn’t really in the mood right now to rehash that whole thing. 

Instead, a sort of different horror arises. 

“Have you talked with Kei-kun recently?” She asks innocently enough.

Tadashi whips his head to her. She’s focused on adding in some bell peppers and zucchini. “Why do you ask?”

Is his heart beating faster? Does he sound panicked? Is he panicked? Why is he so panicked?  It’s just Tsukishima. He can talk about Tsukishima without freaking out. Stop being so panicked.

“No reason…” Sayo presses her lips together before relinquishing, “I saw Fumiyo at the store, and she said Kei-kun was doing well and… I don’t know… you haven’t talked about him in so long and—”

“Not all childhood friends make it into adulthood,” Tadashi states curtly. 

“I know, but—”

“It’s fine,” Tadashi attempts to convince her. Maybe he’s just trying to convince himself. 

“I just don’t get it…” Sayo says, almost to herself, as she seasons the veggies. “You were so close…”

Sayo surprisingly doesn’t add on after that. Tadashi doesn’t have anything to say either. 

Yes we were close, Tadashi thinks to himself as he retakes his seat at the kitchen counter. He answers her hidden, peering questions to himself. 

No, I can’t tell you what happened. 

No, I don’t know how to fix it. 

No, I don’t even know if I want to fix it. 

No, I don’t know when I’ll talk to him next. 

No, I don’t hate him. 

No, I don’t like him. 

Yes, I’m fine. Completely, 100%, fine. 

 

Chapter Text

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I visited my mom,” Tadashi explains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

---

 

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

“Yeah…” Tadashi affirms.

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

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

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

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

Yachi nods. Tadashi takes a sip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yachi-san…”

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

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

The silence settles between them again.

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

 

---

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tadashi frowns. “I guess not…”

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

“It still seems unfair.”

“Unfortunately, life is just like that sometimes.”

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

Tadashi is 25.

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

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

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

“Not much and yes,” Tadashi responds easily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s Tsukishima.

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

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

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

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

“What a gorgeous play,” Yahaba whistles.

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

How strange.

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

 

To: Yama-kun!

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

[image attached]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was one time,” Kyoutani argues.

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

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

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

“Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi’s heart plummets.

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

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

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

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

Maybe Tadashi should leave before his body betrays him.

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

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

“What are you doing here?”

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

“Thank you,” Tsukishima responds.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine. And you?”

“I’m okay.”

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

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

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

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

“Hey… ah…”

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

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

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

“Do you want to sleep with me?”

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

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

Or… does he?

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

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

“Do you want to sleep with me?”

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Sober. 

Tadashi is stone-cold sober as he climbs inside Tsukishima’s new car so they can head off to his apartment. He’s sober as they make quiet talk during the drive, mostly allowing the noise of the road fill the gaps of where their conversations used to exist. He’s sober even as he walks inside Tsukishima’s apartment and politely declines something to drink. 

He’s made a lot of bad decisions when he was belligerently drunk. He’s had a lot of hookups. He’s had a lot of scares. Tadashi has let his inhibitions run wild at those times, and allowed the alcohol to ease him into even the most uncomfortable of situations. Sometimes, it’s simply easier to let life take its course. Erasing all the pent-up anxiety from his system can be so freeing. Honestly, Tadashi’s surprised that he’s not a full-blown alcoholic by now. 

Regardless, Tadashi is sober as he affirms his decision and steps further inside the apartment, padding around softly so he doesn’t disturb the novel climate. The place is huge for Sendai: an open seating area with an expansive kitchen and long dining table. Wide windows along the back wall show off the cityscape twinkling from glimpses of neon signs and flickering street lamps. The apartment is all modern and Western, a lot different from Tadashi’s more traditional place. Although, he supposes they both exist in spaces far too large for sole occupants. 

Tsukishima is sober too. He, like Tadashi, is fully aware of the effects that one too many drinks can have on their relationship. It’s a mutual understanding between them that the fogginess provided by alcohol isn’t needed to ease them into this situation. Really, it’s no surprise that they both silently walk into the night completely and utterly sober. 

Tadashi idly wonders if he should back down. Is there really a point in having meaningless sex when they both know it isn’t so meaningless? By proposing all of this, isn’t Tadashi opening himself up for pain once more? But, then again, how much worse can it get?

Tsukishima seems nervous. Not pre-game nervous, when he’s focused on thinking on what’s to come and how to logically assess their situation. Not even as nervous as he’d used to get when they would have to do public speaking in class. No, it’s a special type of nervosity that Tadashi doesn’t know how to deal with because it’s a little too close to his own anxious behaviors. 

Tsukishima points him down the hallway. “You can wash up beforehand, if you’d like,” he offers quietly. 

“Okay.”

Tadashi steps into the bathroom and hastily closes the door behind him. He stares at himself in the mirror for longer than necessary, taking in every centimeter of himself and determining whether he deemed it worthy enough to be seen. 

He’s changed a lot since high school, or so he’s been told. He can’t see the subtle differences considering the minute changes have been gradual over the last few years. Yachi has mentioned on multiple occasions how he’s grown up. Tadashi doesn’t know what that means exactly. 

Tadashi washes his face and scrounges around until he manages to find a new toothbrush. He takes his time getting ready, focusing less on presentation and more on mental preparation. 

This is a trap, he tells himself. You put yourself here once again. It’s all your fault. What are you even doing?

Tadashi doesn’t have answers or reasoning. He does, however, have a tug in his abdomen that leads him out the bathroom door to face whatever divine hell Tadashi has created for himself. 

Tsukishima’s at the bedside drawer. He pulls out a box of condoms and a bottle of lube. 

Tadashi knows what’s to come and yet the closer they get, the more he questions why he wants this so badly. He could easily call the whole thing off and forget the suggestion in the first place, but Tadashi’s mind is full of thoughts about how Tsukishima’s curls would appear sprawled out on the bed sheets.

Tadashi clears his throat to announce his presence. He shuffles closer as Tsukishima turns to face him. They share a prolonged stare and a silent acknowledgement of the events about to ensue. 

“Are you sure about this?” Tsukishima asks. 

Tadashi swallows hard, feeling the weight of Tsukishima’s gaze on him, like he’s something to be observed. 

“Sure… yeah, I mean, yes. Are you sure about this?”

Tsukishima nods. 

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Tadashi offers. It’s the last chance they truly have because once they begin, there’s no stopping the seismic collision.

“I want to,” Tsukishima affirms, shaking away the nervous energy from earlier. The words are soft, a cadence sung for confirmation. 

“Okay then.”

“Okay.”

Tsukishima makes the first move. He slowly edges around the bed and comes to meet Tadashi at the foot. They inch closer together. The pose, Tsukishima looking down with careful eyes, is all too familiar. Tadashi aches to get closer.

Tsukishima, reaching out with his shaky hand, grasps Tadashi’s arm right above the elbow. His grip is light, but strong enough to keep Tadashi in place. Not like he’d want to be anywhere but right here, right now. 

Carefully, Tsukishima leans forward, keeping their eyes locked until the very last moment. He lets his blonde eyelashes drop and presses a chaste kiss to Tadashi’s lips. 

It’s nothing special, Tadashi tells himself to calm the swarming fury of emotions threatening to take over. It’s nothing new. 

The rhythm, pre-rehearsed and established after years of practice sessions, is already common knowledge. It’s a slow, tender sort of night. While Tadashi wishes they could go faster to the point where he’s fucked so well his brain can’t compute, Kei has other plans. His kisses are delicate and effortlessly soft, reminiscent of their first more-than-friendly rendezvous. 

Tadashi goes a bit onto his toes to deepen their connection, swiping his tongue over the seam and pressing inside. Tsukishima makes a noise at the back of his throat, but ultimately allows it to happen. Looping his fingers through those glorious blonde curls, Tadashi drags Tsukishima in and tilts his head down even more. If it’s forceful, he doesn’t want to apologize. All Tadashi can do is think about the hot lips against his own and hope that logic doesn’t catch up with him anytime soon. 

Tsukishima’s fingers find their usual spot as they trail down Tadashi’s waist. He clutches at his hips, breaking their contact to force a little smile against Tadashi’s lips. Tadashi kisses the interlude away. 

If Tadashi was in his right mind, he could have still backed out. But Tadashi’s brain is possessed by desire alone, so he lets Tsukishima lead him backwards onto the bed. He’s forced all the way to the headboard, Tsukishima chasing his taste. 

It’s all fuzzy. 

The feelings locked away in his chest. The cold rush of air as Tsukishima helps to remove his shirt and pants. The way Tsukishima’s strong thighs press against his hip bones as he straddles him. The unbreakable, fervent gaze Tsukishima gives when he leans back to take Tadashi in.

It’s a fuzzy, fuzzy thing, like static on a television, when Tadashi thinks it through. But he doesn’t. And he keeps going. 

Tadashi gives Tsukishima another kiss, indulging in the moment. He aids in helping to strip his layers, deft fingers making lazy work. Tadashi also has the honor of removing Tsukishima’s glasses and sets them on the nightstand. It’s the last sort of step in their system, because everything changes when Tsukishima glares at him unobstructed. 

He’s the guide for the night, even though the proposal was Tadashi’s suggestion. He sort of enjoys seeing how Tsukishima undergoes his work; a man so unused to exerting effort now takes the time to invoke mutual satisfaction? Tadashi’s grateful to whoever was able to spark the motivation in Tsukishima, seeing as he’s now the one to reap the benefits. 

Tsukishima works slowly and methodically as he kisses Tadashi. Tadashi can already feel himself getting hard, but Tsukishima evidently doesn’t care and continues to ignore it as his pecks trail down his jawline and onto his neck. 

When he finally does pull back, he briefly pauses to whisper in Tadashi’s ear, his voice coarse and stimulating. 

“Fuck.”

Tadashi shivers as the words echo, and relishes as Tsukishima is stripped away.

Kei emerges, eager and familiar, as he goes down Tadashi again. 

They’re still strangers to one another, of course, but the planes and contours of each other’s skins are confidential information exposed only now in the guise of the moonlight. They’re still strangers, and yet they know the other inside and out.

Reason and all forms of logic break down, as Kei continues to suck on that tender spot at the base of Tadashi’s neck, declaring ownership over something he has no right over. Tadashi lets it happen, whimpering at the sensation because it feels so fucking good he really doesn’t mind. His mind’s clouded with euphoria, only able to properly perceive the body above him. 

It’s all Kei, Kei, Kei and more, more, more. 

It’s Kei, who makes Tadashi come undone, seam by agonizing seam like he’s a fragile doll to be played with. It’s nearly childish the manner in which Kei claims Tadashi as his own; pushing and prodding at all of his buttons, knowing exactly when it’s right to twist and turn. Tadashi’s limp in his arms, a marionette pulled by strings. 

Thing is, Tadashi enjoys it. 

He revels in the featherlight touches of Kei’s tongue swiping wherever it damn pleases. Tadashi moans, unable to take the blatant neglect anymore. Kei’s never been particularly caring for others, but his meticulous attention to detail here is absolutely infuriating. 

His slender, nimble fingers traverse every nook and cranny, making fine work as Kei schlicks them with lube and helps to open him up. Tadashi bites down on his hand to stop himself from making any more obscene noises, but Kei stops him by delicately taking his wrist and pressing a kiss into his palm. 

It’s far too intimate. The feeling of Kei’s fingers wrapping inside of him, the affectionate look in Kei’s eyes. Truly, Tadashi’s gotten himself spellbound.  

Tadashi takes matters into his own hands. 

He forces Kei underneath him and strokes his cock a few times for good measure. He’s already leaking with precum, and Tadashi takes a moment to put on a condom before they go any further. 

Kei looks up at him, eyes wide and devoted, as Tadashi sinks down centimeter by aching centimeter. It may be an excruciating pace for them both, but the fulfilling pressure of Kei hitting just right allows Tadashi to revel in every single press and prod.

“Fuck,” Kei hisses once more, needy and urgent. He picks up their rhythm, driving into Tadashi until his legs begin to shake. 

Tadashi’s too desperate. He knows he is because, fuck, why wouldn’t he be? But he asks for more and more, even if the words aren’t vocalized. 

Kei thumbs over Tadashi’s hip, grinding with all the ardor of a proper lover. Tadashi looks back at his hand for a moment, before meeting those golden eyes. A silent conversation ensues, enunciated in actuality with moans and exasperated breaths. 

You still have this? Kei asks, eyebrows turning upwards. 

He’s referring to an old scar Tadashi had gotten years ago. They’d both fallen from the big tree in Kei’s backyard and ended up with semi-matching scars. While Tadashi’s jagged mark was hidden away most days, it’s now uncovered by only the most private of companions. 

Tadashi nods before dipping his head back as Kei pushes in a bit further. Never went away.  

Kei takes that as his opportunity to switch positions, gently laying Tadashi on the bed while he looks on from above. He raises Tadashi’s leg, using the opportunity to press a light kiss against his ankle before rolling his hips forward and thrusting until Tadashi makes downright vile sounds he’s incapable of controlling. 

All Tadashi wants is more. Kei provides. 

He finally touches Tadashi, strokes in line with the undulations of his hips. It’s a lot happening all at once but Tadashi would be amiss if he claimed disdain.

Once again, they’ve found themselves in a dangerous arrangement. Once again, Tadashi has disregarded the mistakes of his past in order to seek something he knows he cannot claim. And, once again, Tadashi hopes for a different result but is fully aware that change is not always inevitable. 

Tadashi looks up to the ceiling, stars dancing before his eyes out of his own ecstasy of pleasure. A release, as he’s overtaken by a buzzing bliss. 

A name rolls off his tongue, short and sweet and relentlessly desperate.

“Kei.”

After all, the press of lips and the cascading touches across planes of skin is a tradition known too well by them both. A tradition that dates years and experiences, the last thing to connect them before it all went wrong. 

And, after all, the whole experience, despite the initial hesitation and awkwardness, is strangely comforting to Tadashi. Seeing Kei like this, stripped bare and utterly ruined as his own pleasure mounts, is a sight Tadashi’s frankly aware he can never get enough of. 

Fuck. 

Kei pulls out and collapses beside Tadashi. They lay there for more than a few moments, and Tadashi can feel the tendrils of sleep calling to him despite his active efforts to stay awake. 

Even as they’re panting side by side, chests rising in tandem, there’s a familiarity in it all. For a brief moment, a sense of belonging tugs at Tadashi. It pulls, taut and captivating, even if Tadashi’s completely out of his element. Despite the fact that he’s unsure if the man that lies beside him is still the same Kei he knew so many years ago. Despite the fact Tadashi doesn’t quite understand himself. 

Despite it all, Tadashi feels like he’s at home.

Kei slides out of bed and returns a few moments later with clean towels and some water. Tadashi pushes himself into a sitting position and takes the items. They both spare a moment to clean off, recharge, and contemplate what happened. 

He can feel Tsukishima’s eyes upon him, digging into his back. He meets the glare, surprised to find it’s rather… soft. 

There are words Tadashi supposes he must say in order to prevent this occurrence again. There isn’t necessarily a proper way to go about it though, considering he’s always been awful at ending their affair. 

“Are you alright?” Kei says, voice a little rough. Tadashi wishes he didn’t find that incredibly alluring.

“I’m good,” Tadashi assures, nodding his head. The faint trail of a smile rises onto Kei’s lips. 

“Want to go again?”

Tadashi sort of scoffs at the suggestion. “Not all of us have the stamina of a professional athlete.”

Kei laughs, exasperated but full. Tadashi can feel his heart sink at the euphony. 

“Didn’t you used to last longer?” Kei asks, raising a brow. 

“Didn’t you used to be nicer?” Tadashi retorts. 

Kei raises an eyebrow and moves to get closer to Tadashi. His half-lidded gaze is intoxicating, even as Tadashi is still sober. 

“Who knows…”

Kei kisses him again. Tadashi doesn’t pull away. 

No, he doesn’t stop Kei from traversing over his body once more. He doesn’t stop Kei as he strokes him once, twice, thrice, before bowing down and letting his mouth do the rest of the work until Tadashi’s cock is nice and firm again. He doesn’t stop Kei from blowing him until he’s almost sent tumbling over the edge, before he abruptly pulls back with a devious grin slapped over his spit-covered lips. He doesn’t stop Kei from fingering himself, noisy and erotic, as they keep careful eye contact. And he certainly doesn’t stop Kei from straddling over him and sinking down on his throbbing cock. 

Tadashi can’t take it anymore. He still has some energy and he’ll make it count. He thrusts, driving forward until Kei bottoms out and audibly whines. 

Kei, a celestial body, hovers above him all ivory and gold. Even the most talented sculptors wouldn’t be able to create a form like this. Kei is a masterpiece all his own, crescents formed with the arch of his back and the curve of his neck. Tadashi’s briefly thankful Kei never stopped playing or else these defined pecs and abdominals wouldn’t be the exquisite spectacle they are.

There’s something so inherently lewd about the sight. Kei, who is always precisely composed, has been beautifully laid bare all for Tadashi’s own amusement. A sacred, holy thing for only the most private of exhibitions. Would the world think of him differently if they knew renowned Tsukishima Kei was particularly excellent at sucking dick and even better at bottoming out?

Kei glances down at Tadashi, all feverish and hot. He smirks, smirks, and lets out an ungodly mewl that Tadashi wants to live in. He grabs Kei by the neck and forces him downward until their lips are able to meet once again. 

As Kei rides him like that, good and obscene, Tadashi might have finally lost his mind. 

All he can think is, I’m fucked.

 

---

 

Tadashi rubs at his eyes with the base of his palm; they pull back wet. He probably looks like a fucking wreck. 

He peeks over at Kei… at Tsukishima, who’s lying on his stomach with the back of his head turned to Tadashi. 

They both must have passed out. Everything from the last few hours is a bit of a blur; Tadashi doesn’t know if that’s his subconscious already attempting to repress it or if the satisfaction was enough to smooth over all of the painful patches. 

Tadashi realizes that he’s clean. The worst part about his recent development of low stamina is the awful feeling of waking up sticky and disgusting, but Tsukishima must have cleansed him before taking his rest. 

How strange. 

Careful not to disturb Tsukishima, Tadashi crawls out of bed and retrieves his discarded pants from the floor. He finds his jacket only to pick out his pack of Seven Stars and his lighter. 

He tip-toes through the apartment, scared he’ll accidentally knock something over despite the fact it's relatively barren. Honestly, the only thing Tadashi finds is a couple of medals courtesy of the Frogs’ success over the last few years. 

Tadashi lets himself out through the French doors in the living room and onto the connected balcony. The wind’s picked up a little bit, the last legs of the late summer heat having disappeared this late at night. Tadashi’s always liked autumn, but he’s usually better prepared for it. A mere pair of pants doesn’t do much to protect his goosebump-lined arms. 

He takes out a cigarette, lights it, and looks over the city. Tsukishima’s apartment is relatively high-up; it’s not quite a penthouse, but still far enough that he has a beautiful view of Sendai. Tadashi inhales, long and drawn out, before puffing the smoke out. 

Standing there, with the city lying in front of him, Tadashi’s heart begins to rattle against his rib cage. It’s his anxiety over… well everything… coming back. He can’t help but worry about what the morning will bring when all of Tadashi’s blunders are uncovered in the light. 

“When did you start smoking?”

Tadashi turns to see Tsukishima standing in the doorway in a mere pair of boxers and a thin shirt. He looks tiny despite the fact he’s… however tall he is…

Tsukishima’s height used to be a fact that Tadashi could spit out whenever needed to prove his worth, but the knowledge has been lost to time. He’s definitely bigger than he was in high school but Tadashi guesses he’s never stopped in the years since to measure his growth. 

“A couple of years ago,” Tadashi answers, trying not to be defensive. “I smoked a few times in college, but I didn’t really pick it up until after graduation.”

Tsukishima comes to rest against the railing, leaning on his elbows to diminish his own height. Tadashi sucks in another puff.

“Any other destructive behaviors you’ve picked up along the way?” Tsukishima asks. 

This, Tadashi says to himself. Though he guesses the habit isn’t particularly new. 

“Just working too much,” Tadashi explains, trying to make it sound like a joke. Tsukishima doesn’t take it well. 

“What are you even doing?” He barks. And before Tadashi can attempt to defend himself, Tsukishima corrects, “With the Frogs. Koganegawa told me you’re working with us now.”

Right. Tsukishima hasn’t seen him in a professional setting yet. Tadashi seriously had no idea how he was supposed to go about his normal day, see Tsukishima, and act like he didn’t know how the man looked when he’s getting fucked so hard he shakes beneath Tadashi.

“I’m originally on the marketing team, but now I’m co-liaison with someone from the Frogs to establish a working relationship with our programs,” Tadashi explains before taking another hit. “It’s not very interesting.”

“Why did you choose the Frogs?” Tsukishima eyes his reaction. 

“Out of my control,” Tadashi says truthfully. “I don’t know why they went with the Frogs though… It was a coincidence really.” That was the lie, woven in to not expose his embarrassing connection. 

Tsukishima doesn’t seem convinced. Tadashi doesn’t have it in him to change his opinion otherwise. 

“Let me have one of those,” Tsukishima instructs, motioning towards Tadashi’s cigarette. 

Tadashi presses brows together and warns, “They’re bad for you.”

Tsukishima rolls his eyes. “I know that,” he responds flippantly. 

Tadashi sucks in. “So you shouldn’t be picking up bad habits,” he says, letting the smoke trail out with every word. “You’re supposed to be a professional volleyball player, not some chain-smoking idiot.”

“How is it that you can be so concerned with my health but have so little regard for your own?” Tsukishima asks, raising an eyebrow. He knows he’s won. 

Tadashi rests the cigarette between his teeth and stuffs his hand into his pocket to retrieve his pack of Seven Stars. He offers up a stick and Tsukishima takes it like he’s done this before. He leans in, and Tadashi uses his stem to ignite Tsukishima’s fresh cigarette. 

While Tsukishima takes care and cups his hand around the light, Tadashi looks at him like this. Long, blonde eyelashes downcast and intense focus on his feeble attempt to cure the flame. There’s a bit of a blemish between his furrowed brows; one Tadashi managed to miss from their intimacy before. The slight redness matches the red in his cheeks and on the top of his ears. He should really put a jacket on, even if it’s still the summer. He has cold hands and the last thing Tsukishima needed to do was to get sick at a time like this. 

The cigarette sparks and Tsukishima promptly steps back to take in a long drag. Tadashi huffs out his own and watches as Tsukishima coughs a little on the exhale. Maybe he’s not an expert after all. 

“When did you start?” Tadashi asks, eyes locked on the stick as Tsukishima raises it to his lips once more. 

“I never really did.” He takes a puff. “I only do it when someone else has some.”

“Didn’t take you as someone who’d go out of his way to ask others to help endorse a habit. Especially one with no clear end goal.”

“Didn’t take you as someone who’d start something you’re fully aware is detrimental.”

They both take a drag. Tadashi grovels himself with the bitter taste of tobacco that sticks on his tongue. 

“I guess we don’t know much about each other anymore,” Tadashi says smally, eyes fixed on the burning cigarette resting between his fingers.

“Guess so.”

It’s a scary thing to be unknown. The fear pools in the base of Tadashi’s stomach, maybe an adverse reaction to the cigarettes or anything else he’s consumed. He’s long considered him and Tsukishima strangers, but the truth of that statement is a reality Tadashi’s unwilling to face despite how long he’s existed in it. 

Sendai splays beneath them, quiet and asleep. The witching hour was made for the supernatural; Tadashi and Tsukishima are mere participants in the unholy acts. Perhaps the thin veil between the mythical and the physical is what allowed them to come together like this. Perhaps a meeting of the same fervor will never happen again. 

That’s probably for the best, Tadashi tells himself as he takes another drag. His cigarette is almost down to the butt. 

“Why?” Tsukishima abruptly asks, disturbing their nighttime peace. 

“Why what?”

Tsukishima’s not looking at him. His eyes are fixated far beyond the horizon to where the sun will be rising in a few hours. For now, at least, the full moon keeps its vigil and oversees their dubious acts as it has done so many times before. Their relationship, or lack thereof really, flourishes like night-blooming cereus flowers; they prosper when the sky is dark and the world is asleep. It ends when dawn is set to break. 

Tsukishima’s voice is beautifully reticent when it asks, “Why did you want to sleep with me?”

Tadashi wishes he had an answer. He really does. Because Tsukishima deserves one if nothing else. 

Truth is, Tadashi shouldn’t have wanted to do this. He’s supposed to be a businessman, built for his career. He’s supposed to have a wife and kids. His destiny had been laid out for him and nowhere in the equation did Tsukishima fit in. At least, not like this. They could have remained friends, of course, but Tsukishima never wanted that, did he? 

Nonetheless, here they are, reverting to old addictions under some futile attempt for… 

For what? 

If Tadashi had just wanted pleasure, he could have found any other person in a bar and fucked them until the sun rose. If Tadashi had wanted trouble, he could have spilled some truths and attempted to reconcile everything when he became sober. If Tadashi had wanted a release, he could have just jerked himself off like any other lonely businessman until he’d come enough to forget why he was so horny in the first place. 

But Tadashi didn’t want any of those. Tadashi wanted… he wanted… he… 

Tadashi frowns. “I don’t know,” he says, hoping his sincerity can be heard. It’s cruel, but he adds, “Why did you agree?”

“I don’t know.”

What a pair of foolish children they are. 

“Do you regret it?” Tadashi questions. 

“No,” Tsukishima affirms, nodding his head and meeting Tadashi’s eyes. “I never have.”

A breath hitches in Tadashi’s throat. 

Oh. 

Not this again. 

“I think…” 

Tadashi’s overcome with a warm, familiar feeling. Something evocative that reminds him of childhoods spent looking for frogs and eating strawberry ice cream. He allows a smile to slip through, even if it’s small and slight. 

“I think I regret that time over winter break,” Tadashi reminisces. “When we almost got caught by Akiteru-san.”

Tsukishima lets out a noise crossed between a dismissal and a laugh. “Okay, other than that, I don’t regret it.”

Tadashi allows his eyes to wander very briefly to catch a glimpse of Kei standing beside him. 

And oh how Tadashi knows this face. How Tadashi’s kisses had once grazed every centimeter, from the top of the forehead to the edge of the jawline. How Tadashi knows what words those lips may form; callous and tender and suggestive and content. How Tadashi has studied it through stolen glances in the classroom and indulging examinations as those golden eyes stared back. 

And oh, oh, how Tadashi knows it is not his to keep. 

Tadashi takes a last drag before snuffing out the butt of his cigarette. “I should probably go…”

“You could stay,” Tsukishima offers, although there’s audible hesitancy in his voice. “I don’t mind…”

Tadashi recognizes the unwillingness, even if Tsukishima does his best to mask it. Maybe he still does know some things about Tsukishima… 

“It’s fine,” Tadashi assures. 

“The trains aren’t running.”

“I’ll walk.”

Tsukishima takes a step forward. Tadashi takes a step back. 

“You don’t even want a ride home?” Tsukishima questions. 

Tadashi shakes his head. “I’m fine. Really.”

Tadashi wishes he had a coherent reason to not want to stay. It’s not like he has work tomorrow or some other excuse to warrant sleeping in his own bed.

As much as Tadashi likes the idea of observing the sun peek over the high-rise city buildings, bathing Tsukishima’s wide-windowed apartment in shades of orange and pink, the thought is ultimately squashed by Tadashi’s own anxiety for what comes after. Do they eat breakfast together at Tsukishima’s kitchen counter? Does Tsukishima make him a cup of tea and pour himself a cup of coffee? Do they talk about everything that’s happened over the last nearly 26 years of their lives because they now have the time to explore one another? What happens then, if Tadashi regresses into the being he once was?

He can’t risk it anymore. 

“Okay,” Tsukishima says. 

He stuffs his cigarette on the ground and enters back into the apartment. Tadashi trails behind. 

He finds his remaining articles of clothing, slipping on a shirt and jacket still in the darkness. He leaves soon after, before Tsukishima can get a word in otherwise. 

Tadashi ends up taking a cab home. The driver is similarly silent as they wind through the streets, the sidewalks empty save for the occasional stranded passerby. 

When Tadashi arrives home, he realizes he’s grabbed the wrong shirt. It’s one of Tsukishima’s, obvious from the large Frogs logo stamped right on the front. He should have noticed sooner, considering the soft fabric and oversized fit were a big giveaway, but Tsukishima hadn’t said anything as he walked out the door. 

It smells like him. It’s sweet and comforting, the same scent Tsukishima’s had since childhood. Like the bedsheets Tadashi used to fall asleep in with Tsukishima at his side, even when they grew too old to be sharing a bed as friends. 

Tadashi doesn’t take the shirt off. 

 

Chapter Text

 

“I want a girlfriend!” Hinata shouted into the night, voice expanding over the neighborhood stores and suburban houses along the dead street. He let his pumped fists drop beside him in defeat as the universe did not immediately provide said request. 

Tadashi hushed him under a laugh as Yachi giggled alongside him. Somehow, the two of them had become the mediators for the group. Blame it on their roles as captain and manager, or maybe because they were the only ones with common sense. Tadashi didn’t mind being the voice of reason, but sometimes they were such a handful. He was seriously beginning to consider putting the team on toddler leashes so they wouldn’t wreak havoc on the general public. 

“Shut up, idiot!” Kageyama barked back, reaching to grab Hinata’s head, who ducked out of the setter’s grasp and repositioned himself to the center of the group. 

Tadashi stepped to the side to make room for Hinata, glancing up at Tsukki as they inched closer together. Tsukki smiled down, tiny and hidden, not letting the others see his reaction. 

“Don’t you want one too, Kageyama?” Hinata asked, genuinely curious. 

Kageyama huffed, “Why would I need a girlfriend? I have volleyball. And neither of us have time to date anyway, idiot!"

Tadashi and Tsukki couldn't help but snicker at that. Kageyama sent a weary glance their way, but he was quickly distracted by more of Hinata’s shenanigans. 

“It might be nice to date someone,” Yachi mused, tilting her head back and letting her eyes gaze up. “I mean, I don’t have time for it either, but I sort of want my first kiss before I graduate.”

“Right?!” Hinata exclaimed as Kageyama landed another attack. The two brawled for a moment but Hinata eluded Kageyama once more as he added, “Stingyshima and Yamaguchi are too lucky!”

Tadashi laughed brightly and resisted the urge to correct Hinata. Technically, he’d had his first kiss, but the whole experience was rather traumatizing and he’d like to forget it happened at all. 

A girl named Muzioka had confessed to Tadashi during the spring of their second year. Tadashi had accepted, surprised she was actually vying for him instead of Tsukki, and went on a few dates with her before the monumental occasion occurred. 

It wasn’t anything special. They’d been walking home together after school and Tadashi, ever the gentlemen, had asked he could kiss her. She’d tentatively said yes and allowed him to kiss her right then and there. 

There wasn’t… well… anything

Books and mangas always talked about how his heart was supposed to beat heavy against his chest and butterflies were supposed to prance around in his stomach and he was supposed to feel some sort of something during his first kiss. 

But he hadn’t. 

Tadashi had pulled away abruptly, only to see she was mirroring his own dissatisfaction. She swore it wasn’t his fault but he turned red anyways and profusely apologized for the whole situation. 

That was that. 

He’d walked her home and she said goodbye and texted later on to confirm that they’d broken up. 

Tsukki had been there when he’d received the message. He’d looked at Tadashi with careful eyes and didn’t say anything other than, “She wasn’t that pretty anyways.” 

Tadashi had told Tsukki that he shouldn’t speak badly of people like that and Tsukki had corrected himself by saying, “You deserve someone better.”

He let the conversation drop there and went back to studying, but the words had already cemented in Tadashi’s mind. It was a tiny, insignificant spark of hope. A dangerous one at that, as Tadashi realized for the first time that he liked the way Tsukki’s curls dangled over his forehead when he looked down to study. There was also the way he pressed his lips together when he didn’t get a problem right; he scrunched them up and his features became all small and cute. And then there was the way that Tsukki pretended to not listen when Tadashi was speaking, but always managed to perfectly recall their conversations. 

Yeah… that was going to be a problem. 

Tadashi’s first break-up had been anticlimactic to say the least. When that new, forceful wave of feelings that Tadashi had no idea how to deal with surfaced, his emotions towards Muzioka faded quickly. She merely remained the person with whom he had shared his first kiss. Tadashi was okay with that outcome. 

Tsukki, on the other hand, landed himself a girlfriend during the winter of their second year. She was nice and smart and tall. Tadashi didn’t know much else about her. Tsukki didn’t talk about her. Tadashi didn’t ask. 

They’d broken up only a couple of months beforehand in March. Tadashi wasn’t there for the moment, but he knew it’d happened by the way Tsukki silently slipped back into his life. His return to their usual walks home from school and hang-out sessions on the weekends was welcomed, even if Tadashi never told him so. 

Truthfully, he thought their friendship would’ve faltered at least slightly whenever Tsukki returned. But apparently it takes a lot more than a couple of girlfriends to ruin a solid, established relationship from childhood. They wouldn’t break that easy. 

“Why do so many girls like stupid Bakayama and mean Jerkyshima,” Hinata growled to himself. He turned to Tadashi, eyes desperate. “I don’t get it!”

“Hinata, you’ll find someone,” Tadashi assured while Tsukki responded, “Maybe women would like you if you grew ten more centimeters.”

“Tsukki!” Tadashi complained, but the deed was done. Hinata’s jaw was dropping and Kageyama was stifling his laugh and Yachi was beginning to mediate between them and Tsukki was wearing that shit-eating grin he only got when he messed with Hinata. 

Their light-hearted argument continued on as it always did until someone was able to shift away the topic to something less contentious. Tadashi smiled and laughed with his fellow third years, relishing in their happy moments. 

Adolescence was fleeting. Tadashi would simply have to soak up all of the moments he had left. And while the future was uncertain, with a million different things that could go wrong at any minute, Tadashi had the grit to simply enjoy what was happening in front of him. Yachi’s cute worries. Hinata’s bad jokes. Kageyama’s unintentionally funny comments. Tsukki’s sly, hidden grins. 

Even if there was less than a year left of high school, Tadashi was somehow okay with that fact. He’d simply enjoy the time they had together, knowing that they wouldn’t ever really separate. 

There was a part of Tadashi, after all, that had changed when he entered Karasuno his first year. The friendships he’d made and maintained were precious to him; he wouldn’t let a simple thing like graduation steal that away. 

“This is us,” Tadashi announced, pointing down the route him and Tsukki always took to get home. 

“Get home safe!” Yachi called back, while Hinata waved only to be attacked once more by Kageyama. 

Tadashi let out a sigh, knowing there was nothing he could really do to curtail their antics, and followed after Tsukki. He’d already put his headphones around his neck, but not on his ears yet. A perfect sign that he wanted to hear whatever Tadashi had to say that night. 

“It’s really warming up,” Tadashi commented, pulling on the collar of his shirt. “Hopefully the weather isn’t too hot during the Inter-High.”

“Mmm.”

Okay, maybe Tsukki didn’t want to talk that night. That was okay. Tadashi could always talk to him tomorrow. They had the rest of the year to cycle through Tadashi’s endless rambling thoughts. And… well… if Tadashi wasn’t getting ahead of himself…  and somehow got lucky… maybe even longer. 

He felt lucky as is. Not many childhood friendships lasted all the way through high school. Him and Tsukki were different though. They’d make it through high school and through the rest of their lives together. 

They continued walking along as the cicadas sang their early summer song. Tadashi wasn’t naive enough to over-romanticize the summer, but there was a certain serenity in the comfort of walking the same path everyday. They’d carved it themselves years and years ago, when they’d go searching for frogs during the day and fireflies at night. 

Almost like the universe could read his mind, out of the bushes from along the sidewalk jumped a little green frog. Tadashi immediately paused in his tracks, stopping to look back at Tsukki with big eyes. 

Tsukki let out a huffed laugh. He gazed over at Tadashi with lazy eyes. “I’m guessing—”

“Yes, please!” Tadashi cut in, grinning all big and happy. 

Tsukki snorted before shrugging off his bags and handing them to Tadashi. He stood by, bouncing on his toes, and watched as Tsukki snatched up the frog before it even knew what was coming.

“Here,” Tsukki said, exchanging the little creature for their bags. Tadashi clutched the frog close and provided little strokes on its forehead as it calmed down in his hands. 

Tadashi had always liked catching frogs and bugs and other little things but was notoriously infamous for his failed attempts to do so. Kei, on the other hand, acted like he hated the bugs but in actuality wouldn’t hurt a fly. He always caught them for Tadashi, despite his protests about how gross they were. Even as they’d grown older, he always managed to make time to be childish with Tadashi when a frog hopped its way down the road. 

Tadashi was well aware of the looming threat of growing up. A simple frog was only a momentary distraction for what truly lay ahead. Adulthood, although it was imminent, brought forth a new wave of anxieties that Tadashi wasn’t ready to face yet. 

He had been too young to realize how little adolescence he had left.

They veered off the road in order to drop by a creek bank and deposit the frog back into its natural habitat. Tadashi gave it a silly little salute. Tsukki attempted to stifle his laugh. 

“Can I stay over tonight?” Tsukki asked once they were back on the course home. 

“Yeah, my mom isn’t home though, so you’ll have to deal with my cooking,” Tadashi teased. 

Tsukki rolled his eyes. “I guess that’ll do.”

Tadashi laughed and told him a story about his meeting with the female volleyball captain from earlier in the day. And although Tsukki may have acted like he didn’t care, he still offered input where he could with chide remarks and witty quips. 

Once back at Tadashi’s apartment, they washed up and ended up preparing dinner together. It was a simple curry that Tsukki took over in preparing considering Tadashi’s cooking skills were practically nonexistent. He cleaned up after though, considering it was his apartment, and they got to work in Tadashi’s bedroom. 

Tsukki put on one of the playlists they’d created together specifically for studying and they both let the quiet beats fill up the place. Though they could speak like normal people, they’d come to realize that they studied best when they passed notes instead of voicing their concerns. The only occasional noise came from Tadashi’s breathy laugh and the sound of Tsukki unwrapping strawberry candies.

That was, until the music on their playlist seemed to fade away and Tsukki stopped writing in his notebook. There was a lengthy pause in which the world remained how it always did, before it began anew. 

“I didn’t, you know,” Tsukki said quietly. 

Tadashi looked up from his homework. Tsukki’s eyes were still on his own book, but his lip was trembling to give away all the pent-up nervous energy that was building inside. 

“Didn’t what?” Tadashi asked. 

Tsukki didn’t react much to the question. Flipping a page, he simply continued, “I didn’t kiss her.”

“Oh.”

The stagnant air in the room became sweltering. Tadashi slowly closed his book, flinching as it made a solid thud against the table. 

Was his heart beating faster than usual? Were his hands getting sweatier? Oh god, why was he getting so anxious? 

Because you have feelings for your best friend, the rational part of Tadashi said, even if he would never admit to the fact; because he honestly didn’t know if that’s why he wanted to stare at Tsukki every possible moment he was given and bask in the beauty of his best friend. 

Because there laid the issue. 

Best friend. 

Childhood best friends, at that. 

Tsukki had been the one to establish their friendship in the first place, all those years ago when he’d invited Tadashi to keep playing volleyball with him. A part of Tadashi would forever feel indebted for that initial step; there was no way he could ever repay Tsukki for his initial kindness.

Still, Tadashi was frightened for whatever the future held. Because if he messed this up, this perfect little friendship that was so dear to his fragile heart, he didn’t know if he would be able to cope.

He had no idea how to deal with his own feelings, let alone the fear that Tsukki may never return them. 

Regardless, a bit of courage wrapped itself around Tadashi’s heart. He let out a breath, steady and firm, before he spoke up. 

“I mean…” Tadashi hadn’t really planned out his words, but he exposed the truthful part of himself as he went on. “You don’t really need to kiss someone in order to be in a relationship… if that’s what you’re worried about. Or, I guess a relationship isn’t defined by a kiss? Don’t feel bad about it! I mean… ah… I only kissed Muzioka once! Um…”

Tsukki looked up finally. Tadashi couldn’t quite distinguish that treacherous look in his eyes. 

“Did you want to have your first kiss before you graduated, too?” Tadashi decided to ask. He mentally slapped himself for sounding so naive. 

Tsukki pressed his lips together. “I’m not particularly interested in relationships. Physicality is merely a byproduct that shouldn’t be based in affection.”

“Right…” Tadashi swallowed. He wasn’t following. 

“But… I suppose it’s not an awful thing.”

“Right.”

They stared at each other, gazes burning into infinity. A question sat on the tip of Tadashi’s tongue and threatened to spill. He wondered if Tsukki felt the same way.  

It wasn’t a new question, but now it was more present than ever and Tadashi didn’t know what to do. How long had he truly dreamed of golden eyes and ivory skin? Of running his fingers through blonde curls and learning about every centimeter of Tsukki, in and out?

“Tsukki…” Tadashi’s voice was small. Tsukki stared at him anyways, leaning forward to nod him on even without actually moving. “Do you… do you want to kiss me?”

Tadashi began to retract his question, to blow it off as some stupid suggestion and something they really shouldn’t be doing as friends, but Tsukki was already crossing around the table and Tadashi’s words were swallowed by a part of soft lips and the distinct bump of a nose. 

It was just a peck, really. Tsukki pulled away almost immediately with red cheeks and a stuttered apology. 

Tadashi took one look at the blubbering mess in front of him and began to laugh. “I’m sorry, Tsukki,” he tried to say between short breaths but as Tsukki became more embarrassed by the minute, Tadashi’s laugh became fuller and fuller. 

It was sort of freeing to see Tsukki make such a novice mistake. His inexperience was adorable (not that Tadashi was much of an expert, but the attempt still made him feel all bubbly and warm). 

“It’s not funny,” Tsukki argued. Tadashi only laughed more. 

“It’s a little funny.”

“It’s not—”

Tadashi took his opportunity and scooted closer to finally wrap his hand around Tsukki’s cheek to kiss him once more. He tasted like strawberry candies and something else that was sweet that Tadashi couldn’t quite place. 

Although Tsukki’s lips were hesitant, they were ultimately softer than Tadashi could have ever anticipated and the feeling was effortlessly intimate.

Tsukki didn’t pull away. In fact, he ineptly worked his lips against Tadashi’s and pulled him in to thread his fingers through the strands of his long hair. Tadashi liked the ripples it sent through his body as he shivered under the touch. He relished in the feeling and felt Tsukki give him a little smile. 

It could have ended there. A single peck paired with a prolonged full kiss. They could have never even spoken of it again and gone about their daily routines, hoping to regain some semblance of their normal friendship back before it all fell apart. Tadashi could have pulled away, accepted the small awkward period that would have followed, and moved on. 

But they weren’t destined for that. They were destined for bigger and better things, Tadashi determined, because he’d never experienced anything like this before. The warm sensations that coursed through his stomach were pleasantly welcomed. He could practically soak in the bliss, content to spend the rest of his life with Tsukki’s hands running through his hair. 

And although Tadashi initially thought he was meant for other things, the truth was him and Tsukki were always destined to end up like this. A simple kiss was inevitable from the moment their two paths had collided. They were magnetic stars, tied together by forces unseen but ultimately unstoppable. There was no altering their initial connection, but what laid after could remain a mystery. 

For now, Tadashi leaned into the kiss and let himself enjoy the fleeting moments of his adolescence.

And thus began their history of wholly ruinous encounters. 

 

---

 

“And starting with the play-offs, we will unveil the uniforms with the additive sponsorship brandings. A promotional shoot is currently scheduled for October 26th, and the photos will debut the following week. We’ll be requiring a two-person team…”

Trying his best not to completely zone out, Tadashi readjusts his posture as the Frogs PR manager continued her presentation. It’s not her fault he can’t pay attention; she’s actually doing quite a good job at explaining the next steps in their plan, but Tadashi is too wrapped up in his own thoughts to focus on his work. 

While it’s easier sometimes for Tadashi to focus all of his attention towards the menial things in life that don’t end up mattering, the adverse effect is that his brain will sometimes remind him of everything he’s done wrong so that even his distractions are ineffective. 

Issue is, Tadashi’s done a lot of wrong things. Like sleeping with Tsukishima last weekend, for example. 

He curses internally, reminding himself of Tsukishima’s ashamed eyes from the bar in order to quiet the thoughts that lingered on Tsukishima’s silent but not unnoticed aftercare.

God, he’s an idiot. And while he may not regret what happened, he can still admonish himself for allowing it to occur in the first place. For allowing… well… really any of it to start. That day Tsukishima had kissed him in his bedroom should have been the end of whatever their relationship was. Friendship was a much easier thing to keep under control. 

But stolen kisses in the locker room? Making out when Tadashi’s apartment was empty? Quick pecks when no one was watching? Going further and further until they can no longer go back?

Yeah… they should have prevented that all from the beginning. Before it was even an inkling of a thought in Tadashi’s hormone-driven teenage brain. Truly, he should have never hoped for anything more with Tsukishima because that man was someone who gave nothing in return. No amount of aftercare or offering a place to spend the night would salvage the rotten personality he actually possessed. The personality Tadashi had created and encouraged by allowing Tsukishima to act as he pleased. No matter how many times Tadashi roped him into caring or exerting effort or doing more, he always returned to the same apathetic man who had never given a damn about Tadashi in the first place. It was all Tadashi’s fault. It always had been. And if Tsukishima were to ever change then—

“Tadashi-kun?”

Tadashi blinks a few times, zoning back in.

Meeting room. People are filing out. The speaker has concluded her presentation. Aiko is standing over him. She looks worried. 

“Are you alright?” Aiko asks, all sweet and innocent because she, at least, is a good-hearted person at her core. “I think I might have dozed off during that meeting too, no offense to Hana-chan.”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Tadashi says, standing up and brushing down his suit. He hopes his appearance isn’t too haphazard. 

“Mind if I walk you out?”

“Not at all.”

They follow the other members of the meeting out of the conference room and head toward those familiar doors once more. Tadashi’s numb to the whole process now, seeing as half of his weeks are spent trying to avoid another run-in with one of the players. Tadashi genuinely likes the work, he just wishes there wasn’t so much baggage to go along with it. 

Although, even that is his fault. An adult conversation, one where he actually talks to Tsukishima would probably clear up most of their issues. 

Aiko’s practically shaking beside him. She’s all twitchy and nervous, eyes flicking up to Tadashi every few moments. 

“Actually, Tadashi-kun, will you run up to office with me for just a moment?” Aiko blurts, her voice rough. 

He eyes her desperation. “Of course.”

The walk to her office is even quieter than before. The ascension up those grand entry staircases indeed leads them back to an open office area that’s much more freeing than Tadashi’s office. Rather than cubicles, the dedicated Frogs marketing team works at long, collaborative tables where coworkers chat lively about things they’re actually passionate about. 

Aiko, however, has her own office at the end of the space. She ushers Tadashi inside before closing the door, even though the walls to her office are just glass windows. 

Aiko shuffles to her desk before retrieving a green pass, nearly identical to the ones Tadashi was able to use the other night. The difference is there’s only one. 

“What’s this?” Tadashi asks as Aiko hands it over. 

“My extra badge,” Aiko explains. They both hover over the edge of her desk, half-sitting side by side. “I know your company has a few passes, but I figured since you liked volleyball and all you should have something a little bit more official. And it’s good for all Frogs games, not just the exhibitions like those passes… Kanji-kun told me about how you came to the game and that’s really cool and I would love to go to a game with you sometime! Or anywhere, really.”

Aiko loops her fingers through her hair. Tadashi knows what’s coming. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, Tadashi-kun, will you please go on a date with me?”

And there it is. 

An escape route. 

Tadashi is excruciatingly cognizant of how awful it is. Of how truly horrible of a person he is for even considering the idea because if Tadashi is anything, he is not someone who uses others for his personal gain. Or at least he didn’t use to be. 

Aiko is a beautiful, nice woman. She deserves to be in a relationship with someone who wants to date her because they have no ulterior motives. She should be with a man much better than Tadashi seeing how he’s subpar in more ways than one.

Thing is, Tadashi wants to. They get along great and there’s still so much more to learn. He thinks that maybe, possibly, he could be happy with her. 

Isn’t that what’ll make him happy? A wife and kids? A girlfriend he can show off to Yachi and his mother and see how they dote over their relationship?

Yes. This is right. This is what Tadashi wants. 

“I’d love to,” Tadashi answers, voice saccharine but tongue oddly bitter. He gives her a smile regardless, adding on, “Only if you want to… I mean…”

“I want to!” Aiko assures, nodding her head. “I really do!”

“I do too.”

Aiko grins at him, unmistakably genuine, and leads him out her office door with promises to talk more and plan some big date and Tadashi laughs at her whimsy. He gives her a wave off, and once the door closes he can clearly see Aiko jump up and down a little before reaching for her phone and excitedly calling someone. While her office mates give Tadashi a tiny smirk as he passes by, all of them apparently aware of the whole situation, the most Tadashi can manage to give back is a pressed-lip smile. 

He descends the staircase, maybe a little lighter on his feet despite the heavy thoughts weighing on his mind. Maybe saying yes was a good idea after all… 

Tadashi readjusts his tie, rounding the corner towards the exit. 

It’ll be fine, he convinces himself. It will all be fine. 

“Yamaguchi.”

It’s not fine. 

Tadashi doesn’t even need to turn to know Tsukishima’s staring him down like some silent hawk, ready to pick apart its prey. But Tadashi does anyways to find Tsukishima dressed for practice with a grim look upon his face. 

“Hi,” Tadashi says. 

Tsukishima looks around, checking to see if anyone’s nearby to capture their impending collision. Even though they stand a few feet apart, truly there could not be more distance between their hearts. 

“Don’t you think…” Tsukishima sighs and rubs a hand through his hair. “I don’t know…”

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

The real question is, what does Tadashi want from Kei? Surely it’s not meaningless sex or awkward conversations or avoiding one another out of convenience. 

Tsukishima’s about to say something when he pauses, looking back towards the gym. “We’ll talk later,” he promises, before shuffling off. 

Tadashi wants to scream. 

Why, why are they like this?

Why can’t they talk now and get everything out and move on? Isn’t that what’s best? Isn’t that what’s right?

Why can’t they communicate?

 

---

 

That weekend, Tadashi goes on a date with Aiko.  

They have a lovely time together. They go to a nice Italian restaurant, spending the evening talking about whatever they’d like. Their conversation flows easily, Tadashi finds, even if he’s often on the receiving end of their talks most of the time. He doesn’t mind listening. The dynamic is new, sure, but it is pleasant. Yes, very pleasant. 

Outside of the business sphere, Aiko is even prettier. She wears a flattering dress and has her hair done up. Tadashi compliments her appearance and she compliments his. It’s all civil. It’s all nice. 

At the end of the evening, Tadashi walks her back to her apartment. She smiles at him all prettily and Tadashi kisses her goodnight. 

He doesn’t feel anything.

 

---

 

Cubicle after cubicle after cubicle. 

Tadashi’s main workplace is horribly dull, unlike the fluid, even fun environment of the Frogs. His space is sparsely decorated so he doesn’t have much to distract himself with. Really, all he should be doing at work is focusing. He shouldn’t let his mind wander off and think about those unpleasant things. 

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my favorite little salaryman!”

“Hi, Morikatsu,” Tadashi says, and keeps his focus on his computer. 

Morikatsu doesn’t take the clear indicator and strolls inside his cubicle anyways, leaning against the desk until Tadashi’s forced to interact with him. 

“Have a good weekend?” He gives Tadashi a wink. “Heard ya landed a date with that Aiko girl. Nice going, Yama-kun! She’s super pretty.”

Tadashi rolls his eyes. Morikatsu rambles. 

“Ya know, when we went to that big meeting the other day, I ended up running into one of the players for the Frogs. And I mean like, literally ran into. We both fell, and I was freaking out because the guy was giant and I thought he was gonna be mean, but he was super nice and apologized to me! Anywho, we started talking and we got on the topic of work, and I was like, ‘Oh I work with Yamaguchi!’ And he was like, ‘That’s crazy! I used to play against him in high school!’ And I was like, ‘No way!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah totally! Yamaguchi’s the nicest guy ever. He’s super passionate about volleyball and was always a ton of fun to talk to.’ And I was like, ‘Are you talking about Yamaguchi Tadashi?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, who else would I be talking about.’”

Tadashi represses the urge to interrupt.

“I was just so confused,” Morikatsu continues, “because, no offense Yama-kun, but I’ve never seen you super passionate about…  anything. Like, nothing. Ever. And then Kogane kept going on about how you were so cool and you had this awesome… serve? Is that what they’re called? Doesn’t matter, because apparently you even went to high school with one of the players on the Frogs and some guys that went to the Olympics? Dude! That’s crazy and super cool! Why don’t you ever talk about that kind of stuff? It always seems like you’re so…” 

Morikatsu motions to Tadashi entirely, like that offers a justification. “I don’t you’re like closed off? If that makes sense? Definitely not passionate.”

Tadashi sucks in a breath between his teeth. “I’ve changed a lot since then,” he says as his measly explanation. 

Morikatsu snorts. “Well, duh, but I would love to see you all fired up and going! It’d be kinda cool.”

“I don’t know why Koganegawa would tell you all of that,” Tadashi sighs. “It’s not like any of it matters.”

“‘Course it does, man!” Morikatsu then pauses to raise his eyebrow suggestively. “Unless something even crazier happened in college? Oh my god, you’re probably friends with some prince or billionaire or someone. Billionaire prince maybe?”

Tadashi gives him a look. 

“Come on, what’s so bad about the Frogs, huh? I mean, you could have rejected Suzuki or said the plan didn’t work out. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. You’re the one that got us the deal in the first place so obviously you wanted to do it, right? I mean you’re friends with Koganegawa and all them so I don’t know why you’re so like meh about it.”

Morikatsu, for all he’s worth, is actually right. It would have been so easy to stop this all from starting once more. If he hadn’t reached out to the Frogs promotional team, Tadashi wouldn’t be back to feeling this… well… wrong. 

The issue isn’t the Frogs. It’s not Koganegawa for speaking up. It’s not even Tsukishima, who has drawn him in once more. 

No, the issue is Tadashi. He allowed himself to foolishly believe in fate. He allowed himself to pine, and pine, and pine, until he had nothing left to give. He allowed himself to trust Tsukishima would be there for him, from childhood and beyond.

Tadashi is done allowing himself the freedom of falling in love with Tsukishima Kei again. 

 

Chapter Text

 

There’s a certain sort of apprehension that comes anytime Tadashi’s worlds overlap. 

In a way, he’s learned to create this sort of fluctuating identity that best suits the group of people he’s with. Around his college friends, he’ll act a little shy, but he’ll have a funny quip ready to deploy if he’s needed for the conversation. Among his work colleagues, he’s a dedicated, loyal employee who works hard to get his job done efficiently. With Aiko, he’s someone who listens and cares. And with those from high school… well… Tadashi doesn’t really know how to act like that anymore. 

Regardless, that sort of odd sensation follows Tadashi even as he prepares for his worlds to collide. While Aiko squeezes his hand in reassurance, Tadashi’s too busy trying to craft a personality that will somehow please both Aiko and Yachi.

Yachi knows too much. Aiko knows too little. There won’t be any sort of good outcome. 

Tadashi opens the door to the café and holds it out for Aiko before stepping inside. It’s one of those nicer places that emphasizes being organic and healthy for ridiculous prices. Aiko swears by it though, and it’s near Yachi’s work so Tadashi didn’t have much of a reason to refuse. Sure, he might have preferred a burger and fries, but there wasn’t any effort in him left to care about something like food. 

Yachi had gone ahead and already grabbed them a table. She waves the couple over from the back of the room, her small figure barely noticeable amongst the delicate ivy and overgrown succulents that line the wall. Small groups and couples chatter at nearby tables while servers in loose-fitting uniforms shuffle back and forth. Tadashi and Aiko weave through as the apprehension steadily builds. 

“Hi, Yachi-san,” Tadashi says as she wrangles him into a little embrace. When she pulls back, she eyes him from head to toe before looking over. 

Tadashi clears his throat. “Aiko, this is Yachi,” he introduces. “Yachi, this is Aiko.”

Aiko immediately rushes towards Yachi with her arms wide and smothers her in a hug; although the shorter girl is taken aback at first, she eventually hugs Tadashi’s girlfriend with careful hands as she shoots Tadashi a sideways glance. 

Aiko pulls back and smiles big. “It’s so great to meet you, Yachi-san! Or, actually, can I call you Hitoka-chan? I’ve heard a lot of great things about you from Tadashi.”

“Yeah, call me whatever you’d like,” Yachi offers with a nervous laugh. “And I’m sure it wasn’t all great.”

Aiko shakes her head. “No, really! He said you were his favorite person from high school, and I’ve been dying to come and meet you ever since!”

“Did he?”

It's the overlap and subsequent gaps in personalities that makes Tadashi struggle so much with interactions like this. Of course he wants Aiko and Yachi to get along well, but he also would hate for Aiko to peer in deeper. Who knew what sort of things Yachi was going to say? Who knew how much Aiko already knew considering she did seem close with Koganegawa… 

“All nice things,” Aiko assures. “Should we sit?”

Yachi nods and leads them to the table. Tadashi slides in next to Aiko, taking the outer chair in case he needs a quick escape. 

“So how did you two meet?” Yachi opens, eyes switching back and forth between the couple. 

Aiko answers, “Oh! Well, whenever Tadashi’s company became interested in sponsoring the Frogs, I was the point of contact for all of our current endorsement deals. We set up a meeting, but I could tell right away that Tadashi was thinking about something other than our business proposition.” She laughs at her own version of the fond memory. 

“Yeah,” Tadashi adds unhelpfully.

Yachi bites down on her lip. “Wow that’s so great! He never mentioned you worked with the Frogs.”

“Tadashi’s the worst about opening up!” Aiko jokes. Tadashi gives her a chuckle. “I mean, it took forever to get him to talk about… well anything really! But don’t worry, he’s still only said nice things about you. I was floored when I figured out that Tadashi actually knew some of the Frogs players and—”

A buzzing cuts her sentence off. Aiko goes for her phone and stands up. “So sorry!” She apologizes. “I’ll just be a second.” She puts on her professional voice to answer as she ducks to the back of the café. 

Yachi stares at Tadashi with a growing sense of nervousness. 

“Do you like her?” Tadashi asks, leaning forward so Yachi could hear his soft voice. 

Yachi nods. “So far, yes. She’s really nice. I really do like her.” 

She’s not being genuine . It’s evident from the way her gaze refuses to meet Tadashi’s and from the terrible shake of her hands that Tadashi knows all too well. 

“You sound hesitant,” Tadashi admits. 

Yachi scrunches her lips into a pout. “I really do like her!” she claims, before adding, “It’s just… I don’t know, it’s like… do you remember back in high school when you had that crush on Kaori-chan?” 

The name catches Tadashi off-guard. Still, he answers, “Yeah…”

“Well it was like you were super eager to talk about her, and you always looked so… I don’t know… happy, maybe? When you talked about her? Maybe that’s just because high school was way different but…  I don’t know, now it definitely feels different, and I’m just rambling on aren’t I? You have to stop me when I do this, see now I don’t even remember where I was going with that, but I guess my point is that I think you should be doing what makes you happiest. If that’s being with Aiko, then be with her! My opinion isn’t relevant when it concerns your happiness. I want the best for you Yamaguchi-kun, but also I don’t get to decide what that is. You have to do whatever is best for you. Does that even make sense?” 

“Yeah?” Tadashi replies, still digesting everything. “Being with Aiko makes me happy,” he decides. 

Yachi relaxes the tension in her shoulders. “Then I’m happy for you.” 

“Yeah…”

Truth is, Kaori was the unfortunate girl that Tadashi decided to have a crush on during his third year of high school. He had no actual romantic feelings towards her, but rather she was the name Tadashi would give out whenever someone asked about his love life. She was something like a cover-up, her existence giving Tadashi the ability to freely talk about the people he actually had feelings for. 

Tadashi didn’t even remember talking about ‘Kaori’ that often though. Sure, Yachi would get a ramble every once in a while but he tried his best to keep the lie on wraps. He never thought that of all things it’d come back to bite him now… 

“How long have you actually been dating?” Yachi asks, making sure to keep her voice low. “It’s okay if you lied to me, but now I’m just curious.”

“A month,” Tadashi responds. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said I was in a relationship, but you looked so pleased when I mentioned it so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep it going.”

Yachi starts to open her mouth, but Tadashi cuts her off. “That’s not why I’m dating her though. I like her a lot. It’s been nice dating someone. It feels… normal. If that makes sense…”

Yachi nods. “I get it. But you should be honest with me, Yamaguchi-kun! I really do just want what’s best for you.”

What’s best for him… 

Aiko returns a few moments later, Yachi giving her a big smile to cover up their conversation, and they continue on with their cordial lunch. They eat their healthy greens and Tadashi gives out more smiles than he’s used to and, he does suppose, for a few moments here or there, he could potentially, possibly, slightly consider himself happy. 

 

---

 

The empty fridge stares back at Tadashi. 

Well, there’s a carton of eggs and some leftovers he’s not too sure are viable to eat anymore, and frankly should get thrown out, but Tadashi opts to close the door instead and sigh at the realization that he’ll be making instant ramen for dinner once again. 

Maybe he should start drinking with his coworkers again. At least in those instances he has a stable source of food for the night. 

Cooking had never been Tadashi’s forte, but at least he was semi-self sufficient in high school. His mother worked late most nights, leaving him often with a stocked fridge and imagination to figure out a meal. Luckily, Tsukishima came over often and he somehow picked up the ability to cook. Once they had the whole cooking and cleaning situation down, sometimes it felt like they really just lived together. Like their entire lives were spent in that tiny little apartment littered with traces of both of them. From the prepubescent photos in the living room to the items they’d co-collected in Tadashi’s childhood bedroom, they’d grown up together in a place they once called home. 

Tadashi’s phone buzzes on the counter. He answers the call and sets it on speaker before digging through his cupboards once more. “Hello?”

“Oh my god! You won’t believe what just happened!” Tadashi’s mother shouts from across the line. There’s background noise so she’s probably out right now, disturbing the other mothers shopping at the store or disrupting the retail workers simply trying to restock. 

“What?” Tadashi indulges. He pulls out a pack of instant ramen.  

“Of all the people in the world to call and wish for good health, I really didn’t expect for your father to actually care. Or even know for that matter! How did he even find out?”

“I don’t know,” Tadashi answers, considering the fact that he can’t even remember the last time he reached out to his father. 

Sayo groans over the line. “Well regardless, that asshole was acting all nice and pious like he’s a saint or something. And then—get this—he asked if I needed money? Like are you joking me? Where was that twenty years ago when we were living paycheck to paycheck? That man should just shrivel up and die at this point, honestly.”

“Mom.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that’s mean,” Sayo sighs. “Good news is, Daisuke said he would beat him up if he ever decided to show up to the house so at least that’s good. But, listen to me closely Tadashi, if you ever, ever, end up like that man I will come over and kick your ass. Even if I’m dead I’ll drop down to come kick your ass. I hope if I’ve done anything right in this world, it’s shield you away from his horrible influence. God, I’m just so—!”

Sayo suddenly breaks out into a fit of coughs, harsh and overwhelming as Tadashi picks up his phone. 

“Mom?” He calls, panic steadily rising in his voice and fingertips. “Hello?”

She continues to cough, but manages to croak out, “I’m fine.”

Tadashi doesn’t feel fine though. Sayo probably doesn’t either. He stays on the line until her fit has calmed into a few ahems. 

“Sorry,” Sayo says, voice still choking up. “The last treatment really threw me for a loop. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“Are you out right now?” Tadashi asks. “You should head home.” 

Does he have time to visit this weekend? No, he’s supposed to attend another Frogs game, but this time with Aiko. It’s the opening weekend, and they’re debuting some of their branded items so Tadashi needs to be present, but he should really go home, and he needs to turn in that one report to Hayato before Friday, and he’s supposed to work on that project with Morikatsu and there’s a conversation still awaiting him with Tsukishima and—

“Tadashi, I’m fine,” Sayo assures, regaining her composure bit by bit. “Don’t even worry about me I promise I’m okay.”

Tadashi presses his lips together. “Okay.”

“Anyway, that was pretty much everything I had to say,” Sayo says with relief. “Maybe I should bill your father for causing my coughs. And my high blood pressure. And my cancer. I can blame that on him, right?”

“I wouldn’t suggest it, but I guess there’s no harm.”

Sayo laughs a little, but restricts herself like she’s afraid she’ll start up again if she expels too much air. “Alright, I’ll let you go. Just promise me you won’t end up like him, alright?”

 

---

 

“To be honest, I don’t think I expected to see you at another game.”

Tadashi sits down beside Yahaba, ignoring his judging stare. 

“I’m allowed to support the team that my company is sponsoring,” Tadashi replies easily, albeit a bit pointedly.

“Never said you couldn’t,” Yahaba smirks. “I’m glad you’re here, but I definitely thought that you wouldn’t come back. I had this weird feeling that something was off.”

Tadashi shoots him a glare, but has nothing to offer in return. He doesn’t need to justify his presence, but he does so anyway. “My… my girlfriend invited me to the game.

Yahaba blinks a few times. “Girlfriend?” 

“Yeah, girlfriend,” Tadashi repeats. “She works for the Frogs, so she’s helping with some social media engagement right now, but she said she’d come find me before the end of the third set.”

“Right…”

Tadashi’s seriously unsure what Yahaba’s whole deal is, but he’d rather not deal with whatever he’s insinuating at the moment. Instead, he watches the flight of the ball as the Frogs endure their long rally against the Shizuoka Penect Jaguars. It’s a slow start, but through each touch of the ball, Tadashi sinks back into the feeling of comfort that volleyball used to provide. The loose-lipped smiles. The screams of joy and cheers of unbridling elation. The sturdy, unwavering connections that only grew game after game. 

There’s a sort of quietness to the sport; a type of idyllic love that Tadashi genuinely wishes he could feel again.

“Do you miss it?” Tadashi asks aloud, his own voice catching him off guard. 

He looks over to Yahaba, who simply gives him a warm smile. “Yeah,” he nods, before allowing himself to look over the game once more. “I still play on a recreational team and I’m a sports instructor so it’s one of the units that we go over. Still though… there’s nothing quite like it.”

For perhaps the first time in years, Tadashi has this overwhelming urge to talk. Maybe it’s the fact that Yahaba is a relatively easy-going person. Or maybe it’s the nostalgia he feels over the loss of his adolescence. Whatever it is, he acts on it. 

“I haven’t played volleyball in years,” Tadashi says, picking up speed with every word. “Back in college, I joined an intramural team and I had a lot of fun since there wasn’t any real competition. I just sort of played because I loved it.”

“Why did you stop?” Yahaba asks. 

Tadashi shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I sort of lost that spark. I started going to practice because I had to, not because I wanted to. And then one day I just stopped going. I haven’t really thought much of it since…”

“Would you ever go back?”

Tadashi sits on the question, letting his answer roll over his tongue before he finally responds, “I don’t think so. I… I don’t have a reason or anything to prove anymore. I don’t have anyone to play it with anyways so—”

“Not Tsukishima-kun?” Yahaba cuts in, raising a brow. He’s suspiciously invested for someone that seemingly knows nothing. Maybe that’s why Tadashi’s opening up. Maybe Yahaba already knows all of his mistakes, and now he’s forcing Tadashi to relay them all for his own evil enjoyment. 

“No,” Tadashi asserts. “Just… no.”

“Mmm…”

Silence settles between them as the Frogs drop the second set. Even from this distance, Tadashi can easily recognize the slumped shoulders and muttered curses that come from bitter disappointment. Tadashi was forced into working late so he missed the first set, but he can only assume it didn’t go well from the growing bitterness on the Frogs side, contrasted against the growing cheers from the Jaguars fans. 

Tsukishima talks with one of his teammates sitting on the bench, his scrunched eyebrows and set frown familiar and unknown. Tadashi watches as they interact and lets out a breath. 

“What’s he like now?” Tadashi asks, hoping his low tone is lost among the roaring of the stadium. 

Yahaba seems to hear him clearly. “Who? Tsukishima-kun?”

Tadashi simply nods. 

Yahaba turns his gaze towards Tsukishima and cocks his head. “I don’t have much of a comparison considering I only became semi-acquainted with him recently. I’m not the person you should be asking.”

Tadashi sends his glower over. 

“Now,” Yahaba leans forward, eyelids drooping low as he gazes at Tadashi, “why would you ask me about a man you’ve known all your life? It’s not like we’re close or anything. As far as I’m aware, you know more about Tsukishima than anyone else.”

“I used to know him,” Tadashi offers around a lump in his throat. “I don’t… I feel like I don’t know him anymore.”

Yahaba sits back and raises an eyebrow. “Really?” He briefly gazes over the court before letting out a huff. “Let’s see. The Tsukishima I know is relatively closed-off, minus the few people he trusts. He’s snarky and too smart for his own good. He has an abundant amount of potential, but wastes it because he fears getting attached. Sound familiar?”

Tadashi focuses on his shaking hands. Is that a new freckle on his thumb? He can’t tell. His hands are a little dry. Yahaba is still talking. 

“The thing I notice most about Tsukishima is that he’s always searching. He wants to make a chide comment or relay some hidden joke, but he saves that. And I suspect that it’s saved for someone in particular, even if Tsukishima himself doesn’t recognize that.”

Tadashi takes in a steady breath. Why can’t he breathe right now? The air is passing through his lungs and is depleting but somehow he can’t manage to get a breath in. 

“Are you that person, Yamaguchi-kun?” Yahaba asks, but he already has his answer. 

I am, Tadashi thinks, before internally correcting himself. I was. 

And then, for a brief moment, the smallest voice in Tadashi’s mind says, I want to become that person again. 

He kills the thought before it can bloom. He cuts the budding stem digs for the seed, but the roots have grounded and will likely pop up again in the near future. For now, at least, he’ll keep those weeds at bay. 

The Frogs reenter the court. They resume the game. 

They go through a few plays and it even seems like the Frogs are beginning to catch up. Kyoutani, up for his serve, undergoes his whole routine with Yahaba mimicking the motions in the stands once again. The intimacy of the actions are lost by the masses, but Tadashi bears a first-hand witness to their hidden relationship. 

Before he can consider the intentions, a flurry of words spills out of Tadashi’s mouth. “How did you do it?”

Yahaba finishes their tradition as Kyoutani serves the ball before setting his hands in his lap and turning towards Tadashi. “What? Marry Kentaro?”

Tadashi nods. 

Yahaba shrugs. “I’m not sure what sort of answer you’re looking for,” he says, voice lowered. “It wasn’t easy though, if that’s what you’re asking about. Our entire relationship has been a series of trials. Sometimes, we get it right. Most of the time we don’t. We make it work though, because we both realized pretty early on that we’re miserable without each other. We made each other happy and that’s all that mattered.”

Tadashi swipes his tongue over his teeth. “But how did you know? What makes you happy, I mean… ”

Yahaba tilts his head a little. “I didn’t,” he relinquishes. “Kentaro didn’t either, at least not at first. It’s not like there was one singular moment that made it clear. I just remember walking home with him one day and thinking, ‘I’ve never been happier than I am right now.’ I guess I knew then, but I wasn’t ready yet to accept what that meant. We started dating back in high school so at first I was scared we were too young for anything too serious. We broke up after graduation for a few months and both of us dated around. It was awful. He fell back first but I fell harder. At that point, both of us knew we couldn’t avoid it any longer. We were practically engaged before we were 20.”

Yahaba leans back, eyes tracing the path of Kentaro as he jogs around the court. There’s a certain fondness Tadashi wishes he could describe but had no words that could accurately capture the feeling. 

“It still wasn’t easy though,” Yahaba warned, returning his gaze back to Tadashi. “We fought. A lot. We still do, sometimes, but it was worse in the early days, especially when we began to tell people we were together. When I introduced Kentaro to my parents, they basically cut me off. Mind you, I had a stable job, I was happy, and I was on my way to getting married. After that, I seriously reconsidered whether it was worth being together… but I’d rather be happy now with Kentaro than spend my entire life seeking approval from people who will never truly give it to me.”

Tadashi nods, wholeheartedly agreeing. 

“Our high school friends were… weary at first,” Yahaba continues, pressing his lips together. “It wasn’t ideal, but they all came around so at least that was nice. I think for a lot of them the concept was just foreign enough to cause discomfort. Now though, they invite us out with their wives and act like any other couple. Even that took time, though.”

Yahaba runs a hand through his hair. “I still haven’t told my coworkers. The Frogs only know because we weren’t careful enough but they made sure to keep our visibility to a minimum. Do you know how many times I’ve been chewed out by the Frog’s PR team? We had a three hour lecture when I held his hand under a table at a sponsor gala. They’ll never let me rush the court when they win. I can never kiss him in public or, frankly, do anything that makes it look like we’re anything more than a pair of buddies.”

“I’m sorry,” Tadashi offers. 

Yahaba shakes his head. “Don’t be. Seriously. There’s no point in festering miserability and everything that comes as a result. You have to move forward, find happiness where you can, and forget about all the bullshit that made you upset in the first place.”

“You’re surprisingly optimistic,” Tadashi comments without warning. 

Yahaba smiles. “It’s because I know first hand how awful it can be to endorse negativity. It doesn’t make things better.”

Tadashi lets the words roll over and sink in like nutrients for soil. Maybe… maybe Yahaba is right. Maybe he should hope for optimism.

They easily sync their attention back to the game as Tsukishima steps up to serve. Sure enough, his serve goes through the same exact method that Tadashi had once done. The whistle sounds off and Tsukishima visibly exhales, the tension releasing from his body. 

The jump float serve soars across the court before being picked up by the Jaguar’s libero, albeit with some difficulty. They set the ball, the ace managing to come in for a powerful cut shot that slams itself back into Tsukishima’s arms. The receive goes awry, hurling towards the back of the court when Kyoutani appears seemingly out of nowhere to send it back. 

Tadashi’s eyes follow the ball, but he’s pulled away from the game as the sound of an emphatic crash echoes throughout the stadium. 

There, at the back of the court, Kyoutani lies amongst the fallen barriers. A distant whistle blows as Kyoutani attempts to push himself up, before collapsing underneath his own feet. 

“Fuck!” He cries out, his voice silencing most of the cheers of the stadium. Even from afar, Tadashi can tell his ankle is swelling unnaturally. 

From beside Tadashi, Yahaba tenses before rising to his feet. “Fuck, ” he seconds, before swiftly moving towards the aisle. 

For a brief moment, Tadashi doesn’t know what to do. The hushed whispers of the stadium are drowned out by a ringing in his ears as he witnesses the Frogs scramble towards Kyoutani. Other people rush the court too, as the distant voice of an announcer goes off somewhere. 

Tadashi’s heart thumps and thumps and thumps against his chest as the phantom pain of past injuries courses through his body.

The world returns and suddenly Tadashi is standing and climbing out of the stands, calling out, “Yahaba-san, wait!” 

He manages to catch up, even as Yahaba takes panicked steps through the winding tunnels and hallways. They breeze past the wondering crowd and flash ID badges before heading into a private area. Even if they didn’t have the proper identification, Tadashi doubts any security guard would be able to stop Yahaba. There was a murderous gleam in his eye that was certain to break through any barriers in their path. 

Yahaba picks up his pace and Tadashi struggles to keep the quick pace. It’s been months since the last time he exercised; he seriously can’t keep up with something even this simple. Nevertheless, he trails behind until they come up to a long hall of doorways. 

Yahaba yanks open the first door, searches for just a moment before he slams it and moves on. Tadashi tries to regain his breath as Yahaba goes for another door. This time, he moves inside. 

Tadashi follows after him to be bombarded by a rush of people and noises. In the corner, a bed of sorts has been set up and is currently where Kyoutani resides. Beside him, trainers talking him through the process while others gather medical supplies. PR agents, a few of whom Tadashi’s briefly worked with, talk on phones in the opposite corner while a TV screen livestreams the game that’s going up above them. The announcer discusses Kyoutani’s replacement as the set starts up again. 

“What the fuck were you thinking?!” Yahaba shouts, voice strained and raspy as he stomps across the room. 

“I was thinking I could get the fucking ball!” Kyoutani argues back, sitting up from the bed before wincing as the athletic trainer continues their work. 

“Oh, and that required leaping out and putting all of your weight on your bad ankle?”

“I thought I could get it!”

The trainers around them seem unfazed. Meanwhile, Tadashi carefully watches their interactions, utterly fascinated by the dynamic. He feels… well, he doesn’t know what he feels. It’s certainly not comfortable as the couple exchanges a few more harsh words. 

Then, without hesitating, Yahaba pushes Kyoutani to one side of the tiny bed despite the protests that follow. Regardless, Yahaba curls up to his side and Kyoutani presses a chaste kiss to his forehead. They drop into low voices at that point and Tadashi loses their conversation. 

Again, Tadashi fears he’s disturbed something private. The way they gaze at one another so intimately, like the rest of the world isn’t watching. There are trainers fluttering about and PR people furiously texting away and yet Kyoutani and Yahaba act like they’re the only people left on the Earth. 

Ah, Tadashi realizes, swallowing the lump in his throat. I’m jealous. 

It’s a simple thing, really. Uncommon, perhaps, considering Tadashi doesn’t feel it often but the envy burns all the same in the deep pit of his stomach. Ultimately, Tadashi wishes he could share that sort of infinite love with someone that actually returned his feelings.

There might have been once he could have been a part of a love story like that, but the time and opportunity have long passed. Tadashi inevitably became greedy as he desperately grasped for things that were never his to claim. 

He knew better. He knows better. 

How many more cardinal sins must Tadashi commit before he truly learns his lesson though?

He’s already allowed lust to drive him towards Tsukishima time and time again. Surely, he could find anyone else in the world to fulfill those urges, but there was something about Tsukishima specifically that Tadashi could never quite place that always forced him down that wanton path. 

And pride, Tadashi’s come to understand, is simply not even worth the effort. 

One day, he’ll be killed by his vices. If not by his own hands, then certainly by the hands belonging to that boy with golden eyes. Then again, Tadashi is certain that a part of him was killed the first time he eagerly agreed to Tsukishima’s lecherous desires.

That night, that first night when they lied together with nervous hands and breathy laughs, was the night Tadashi lost a part of himself. Not only some faux social construct, but also a little piece of his heart. One that can’t be so easily replaced. 

Even so, in the years since their first transgression Tadashi has attempted to reclaim that missing fragment. He may not regret that night or the multitude of nights to follow, but he can still attempt to atone. 

Virtue, Tadashi’s father used to tell him, is what makes a good man. A proud man. A successful working man with a wife and kids. 

And yet, as Tadashi continues to watch Yahaba and Kyoutani and the irrefutable love they share, Tadashi can’t help but wonder if perhaps virtue isn’t always the best route. Because, truly, how could anyone look at them and deny them of their happiness?

Tadashi’s phone buzzes. It’s Aiko. 

 

To: tadashi <3

sorry to leave u alone but we’re in emergency mode rn w the whole kentaro situation T.T apparently everyone’s making a big deal about it so we have to draft up some statements buttt we can def meet up tmrw tho if ur free!!

 

Tadashi looks up to see Kyoutani flinching away, tucking his head into the crook of Yahaba’s neck as the trainers continue to examine his leg. 

 

To: Aiko 

Yeah, no worries text me when you’re free 

 

Tadashi pockets his phone after that and lets his eyes wander back towards the television screen. The game is over. The Jaguars won. 

The door flies open and more people flood in, surrounding Kyoutani’s bed. They push Yahaba out of the way as they begin to transfer Kyoutani onto a portable stretcher. It’s not an easy process by any means, considering the way Kyoutani argues at every step and flails around his good limbs when they come too close to his injury. 

Yahaba, meanwhile, latches himself onto Tadashi’s arm. Together they anxiously watch as the paramedics strap Kyoutani down and begin their departure. Yahaba and Tadashi silently follow along, a few feet behind as to not disturb the healthcare professionals, but they catch up a little when Kyoutani calls out for his husband. Yahaba’s grip instantly tightens in its position on Tadashi’s bicep as they both watch Kyoutani be paraded down the hall. 

They enter back into that open-air tunnel, now filled with moving bodies of workers and professionals attempting to manage the situation. Tadashi finds himself being pushed back by the crowds as they watch Kyoutani being loaded into an ambulance. 

“Thank you,” Yahaba whispers harshly. He doesn’t bother to even look at Tadashi, but the words are sincere. 

The ambulance wails as the paramedics close the doors. Tadashi can only barely see Kyoutani through the windows as he struggles against the stretcher. The crowd disperses little by little and Yahaba releases Tadashi from his iron-clad grip. He wipes at his face, but it doesn't do much to get rid of his red eyes. 

“You’re a good person, Yamaguchi-kun,” he comments, patting down his pockets. “Thank you for sticking with me.”

“Of course, Yahaba-san,” Tadashi replies. 

“Seriously where—oh shit,” Yahaba comes out empty-handed. “I think my keys are in the trainer’s room. Fuck, I—”

“I’ll go grab them,” Tadashi offers. “You figure out what hospital they’re taking him to and get directions. I’ll be right back.”

Yahaba nods, a little shakily but Tadashi can tell he’s grateful. 

He retraces his steps through the winding facility, passing by players and other Frogs employees until he finds himself back in the trainer’s room. Sure enough, Yahaba’s keys are on the floor. Tadashi bends down to pick them up when he hears the door opening from behind him. 

“Sorry!” he apologizes without looking. “I was just…”

Tadashi’s words fail as he stares back at Tsukishima. The door closes behind them. 

“What are you doing?” Tsukishima asks, although it’s not very interrogative or pressed. He’s still dressed in his uniform, but there’s a towel slung around his shoulder and he’s dropped his knee pads around his ankles. 

Tadashi holds out the keys. “I was helping out Yahaba-san.”

“Oh.”

Tsukishima looks around the room before brushing past Tadashi and heading for the small cabinet of medical supplies. Tadashi watches carefully as he retrieves a roll of white tape and sits down on the bed. 

“Did you get injured too?” Tadashi asks quietly. He’s a bit afraid that if he speaks too loud it’ll disturb this strange little atmosphere. 

Tsukishima holds up the injury in question. On his right hand, the knuckle on his ring finger is a bit swollen. From the grim expression wrapped tightly around his lips, Tadashi can tell he’s probably in quite a bit of pain. Not that Tsukishima would ever tell anyone about it though. After his multitude of injuries in their first year, Tsukishima became oddly resistant to sitting out as needed, even if Kageyama was pushing him too hard. Regardless, something as little as a jammed finger was nothing to take Tsukishima out of a game. 

Tadashi doesn’t hesitate; rather, his body doesn’t hesitate as he crosses the room and stops in front of Tsukishima, wordlessly taking the athletic tape from him. His mind may scream at him, but he fails to vocalize any of those uncertainties. Tsukishima says nothing either as he offers up his hand, presenting himself to Tadashi open and free. 

Tadashi supposes he holds the power right now, seeing as how vulnerable Tsukishima is as he allows Tadashi to go about his deft work. Not that Tadashi would cause any type of harm. 

Even if they are strangers, they are strangers with memories. They are strangers with unbroken trust, despite the agony. 

Like the millions of times he’s done this before, Tadashi easily takes Tsukishima’s hands into his own, almost retracting at the frigidity. He wants to comment something smart like, You should really invest in some mittens, Tsukki. Maybe I’ll get you dinosaur ones for Christmas. But he doesn’t. Although, he can imagine Tsukishima’s reaction would probably tell him to shut up and Tadashi would probably laugh because he always laughs when he’s around Tsukishima. 

They don’t do any of that though. Instead, Tadashi silently and carefully takes the injured fingers between his own and slightly rubs over the knuckle. Tsukishima winces back. It’s definitely jammed. 

Tadashi removes his hands for a moment. He pulls out the tape, using his teeth to rip off two long pieces before setting one off to the side for later. He then gently takes Tsukishima’s fingers and wraps them with the tape, careful to keep his lines clean and precise. Tsukishima’s always had such bony hands, it’s no wonder he jams his fingers every other day. 

Tadashi shakes his head. It’s not the time, he tells himself. 

He carefully retrieves the other piece of tape, fully aware that Tsukishima’s eyes are locked onto him. He doesn’t dare meet his gaze though. He can’t risk it. Tadashi smooths over the wrinkles with his thumb, trying his best to keep the pressure light to not hurt him any further. He seals it up and lets the smallest of smiles, so small it's more of a reflex than anything else, spread on his lips. He’s still got it. 

Sometimes back in high school, Tadashi would kiss Tsukishima’s fingers once he was done taping them. Tsukishima would jerk away, and Tadashi would laugh because the simple motion always helped to get Tsukishima out of his own destructive thoughts. Eventually, Tadashi got some of their other classmates in on the joke and they would all kiss the boo-boo better. Tsukishima would roll his eyes and be sure to tell them how idiotic they were before letting the ghost of a grin slip every now and again. 

Old habits die hard. Tadashi doesn’t even realize he’s raising Tsukishima’s hand up until after he’s pressed a featherlight kiss upon the white tape. He catches his eyes then, wide and curious, but they both stay silent as Tadashi releases the hand. 

Tadashi clears his throat and takes a step away from the bed. “Sorry…”

Sorry doesn’t even begin to cover it. Tadashi wants to run out of the room and scream, but instead he shoves his hands into his pockets in the feeble attempt that Tsukishima won’t see how badly they’re beginning to shake. 

“It’s fine,” Tsukishima says. And, then, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Tsukishima rises from the bed and takes a singular step towards Tadashi. He still keeps the distance, but it’s enough for Tadashi to crane his neck slightly in order to really meet him in the eyes. 

“Let me give you a ride home,” Tsukishima offers, the words nearly blurted. “I… I think we should talk.”

Tadashi doesn’t have an excuse nor does he want to come up with one. After all, this sort of conversation was inevitable. It’s what they need to clear up all the bullshit they’ve suffered at each other’s hands. But still… 

“Just a ride?” Tadashi asks. 

“Just a ride,” Tsukishima confirms, setting his jaw. “I’ll drop you off wherever. Nothing more.”

Good. Tadashi doesn’t need to dive into that again. 

“Okay,” Tadashi agrees. “I have to give Yahaba-san his keys though.”

Tsukishima nods. “I need to change anyway. I’ll come find you.”

With that, Tsukishima leaves.

Tadashi takes only a moment to suck in a deep breath and recalibrate himself. He’ll be fine. He will be fine. 

He returns to Yahaba, who immediately rushes to him once he’s back in the tunnel. 

“You’re a lifesaver,” Yahaba insists as Tadashi hands over the keys. “Seriously, thank you.”

“Are you going to be alright to drive?” Tadashi asks. Yahaba’s still shaking a little bit, but he nods his head firmly. 

“I’ll be good,” he assures, running a hand through his hair. “Thank you, though. I just got off the phone with him, and it looks like he won’t need surgery so that’s great, but he’s still in a lot of pain.”

“I hope he recovers quickly.”

“Me too,” Yahaba nods. He lets out a stuttered breath before shaking his head once more. “Thank you. Seriously. I owe you.”

“It’s really nothing, Yahaba-san,” Tadashi reiterates.

“It still means a lot.” Yahaba begins to walk away after that, calling over his shoulder as he reaches the end, “Oh, and good luck!”

Tadashi presses his lips together. Good luck. 

It’s not luck that will get him through the impending awkwardness of their conversation. He needs a plan to figure out what to say. The last time they talked, really talked, it ended in disaster. Tadashi bitterly remembers how his voice went dry from screaming and how much he cried after Tsukishima had dropped his nuclear bomb disguised as innocent news. 

Tadashi clenches his fist tightly, crescents from his fingernails digging into his thumb. 

He remembers the way Tsukishima had raised his voice, something he so rarely did that the horrifying words he shouted were forever imprinted into Tadashi’s mind. He remembers his own pathetic little laugh as the horrifying realization of their fucked-up situation finally struck him; it only took a few years, a host of bad decisions, and the understanding that they’d never again be those kids who laughed together on the playground. 

Tadashi’s own sad, small understanding played on repeat like a warped record. 

I’m never going to be enough for you… am I? I’m never going to be enough for you… am I? I’m never going to be enough for you… am I? I’m—

Tadashi shakes his head. He can’t go spiraling, not now. He needs to move forward. He needs to think positively.

“Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi turns quickly. 

Tsukishima strides towards him, changed into his post-workout gear with his duffle strapped around his shoulder. He eyes Tadashi for a moment before asking, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Tadashi says. 

“Are you ready to go?”

Once again, Tadashi’s placing himself back in Tsukishima’s control. He can recognize it, but he can’t ever stop it. 

“Yeah. Let’s go.”



Chapter Text

 

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. 

 

Chapter Text

 

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?”

 

Chapter Text

 

“Here?” Tadashi sort of laughed. The locker room was barren, save for a few extra bags strewn about, left over from kids who couldn’t keep track of their belongings. Tadashi made sure to check if there were any extra figures milling about but it was just him and Kei, their voices echoing slightly in the empty room. 

Tsukki looked around the space as well before raising an eyebrow. “It’ll be quick.”

“Mmm,” Tadashi noised, before letting out a little chuckle. “I don’t want to be late to the award ceremony though.”

Tsukki shook his head. “We won’t be.”

“Really?”

“Positive,” Tsukki affirmed. “The captain of the third best school in all of Japan can’t possibly be late to the ceremony. After all, you’re the whole reason we got this far in the first place.”

It was the final straw. Tadashi really should have tried harder to usher them into a more secluded space but he saw the genuine, irresistible gleam in Tsukki’s eye and all reason went out the window. 

They stumbled into the kiss really, two forces drawn together like gravitational orbits between planets. They were always destined to end up like this; hands travelling all over and exploring the crevices otherwise not seen by the sun. It was fast and fun, filled with laughs and giggles as Tadashi pulled Tsukki downwards and took a seat on the center bench. Tsukki dropped to his knees, still managing to keep his lips connected to Tadashi’s. 

Tadashi kind of laughed at seeing Tsukki like this. He was so tall that he didn’t even have to stretch to comfortably kiss Tadashi from this position. That was perhaps one of Tadashi’s favorite things about his boyfriend, that—

Not your boyfriend, Tadashi bitterly reminded himself.

Right. Tsukki had never been his to keep in the first place.

This whole… arrangement of theirs was simply that: an agreement on both parts to find pleasure whenever they could. It wasn’t like they’d actually discussed the terms though; no, they just staggered into each other’s arms, taking over each other’s bodies without defining what this actually meant. 

Tadashi had been meaning to ask since their first endeavor, but then again he was terrified for the moment when it could all fall apart. 

Pulling away for a moment, Tsukki looked up at Tadashi. “What?” He nearly hissed, breaths uneven and quick. 

Tadashi shook his head firmly. “It’s nothing. Let’s keep going.”

Tsukki agreed by resuming their previous position and securing his lips to Tadashi’s. His breath was hot and weighty against Tadashi, their closeness making the rest of the space disappear. He couldn’t think about the rest of the large room, his mind too engaged with the intimacy of Tsukki’s lips travelling off his mouth and trailing along his jawline until they reached Tadashi’s neck. Tsukki found a rhythm there, evidently already aware of how desperately Tadashi loved being kissed there. 

Really though, Tadashi just loved being kissed by Tsukki. It was addicting. Tadashi was beginning to need the connection on a daily basis. At first, he’d assumed that Tsukki would have pushed him away, but instead he accepted all of Tadashi’s needs with open arms. More often than not, it was Tsukki who suggested they hook up. Tadashi wasn’t really complaining though.

Like now, as Tsukki’s hands dragged along Tadashi’s side underneath his shirt. Tsukki’s perpetually cold hands sent shivers down his spine, but Tadashi couldn’t care less. Tsukki was giving him a hickey and nothing else mattered. 

Tadashi relished in the feeling, moaning into the silence before a slamming sound drew him out of his own ecstasy. 

A scared Karasuno first year stood in the doorway, eyes locked onto the obscenity of his senpais before him. 

“Sorry I didn’t mean to disturb,” he hastily said as he exited, not bothering to finish whatever he needed to do in the locker rooms, 

Tadashi tore his eyes away from the closed door to look back at Tsukki. He was still frozen in shock, expression completely… contorted. 

Tsukki looked ashamed. 

Carefully removing his hands from their entanglement in Tsukki’s hair, Tadashi helped them both into a standing position. Tsukki was difficult to move though, limbs unresponsive even as Tadashi pulled away to fix his rumpled clothes. 

“We should go…” Tadashi whispered, not really wanting to face whatever the outside world had in store for him. He needed to go talk to that first year and make sure he wouldn’t make the situation any larger than it needed to be. He needed to talk to Ukai and Takeda to make sure the rumor of Karasuno’s captain doing certain acts wasn’t spreading around. He needed to focus on what lay ahead and face the world with a smile on his face as he received a trophy for all of Karasuno to be proud of. 

But what pride could Tadashi take in himself? Here he was, attempting to hook up with his best friend in a public locker room… and for what? Why did Tadashi subject himself to this?

“We shouldn’t do this anymore,” Tsukki said loud and clear, voice projecting over the empty lockers. 

Tadashi had something to retort, but it didn’t come out and Tsukki was already beginning to speak again. 

“Friends shouldn’t do this,” he said, but Tadashi could clearly hear the pain interlaced at the back of the simple statement. 

Tadashi swallowed hard. Tsukki wasn’t looking at him. 

“So what are you suggesting that we do?” Tadashi asked. He hated the way his voice cracked mid-sentence, but he remained and attempted to bolster his trailing confidence. 

Tsukki blinked a few times before meeting Tadashi’s eyes. “I don’t think we should be friends anymore.”

There wasn’t anything more that Tsukki said. Tadashi was waiting for a but or a yet or any other sort of conjunction to keep the sentence going, to add on and say that they should be more than friends or they shouldn’t talk at all or everything they’d been through together over the past near decade actually meant something. 

And yet there was nothing more Tsukki had to say. He left it at that, placing the period in their relationship. If he wanted to add on, Tadashi didn’t give him the chance.

“Okay,” Tadashi said curtly as he pushed past Tsukki and walked towards the door, not bothering to wait any longer for the end of a thought that may never come. Tsukki had waited too long this time. Tadashi was done sticking around.

It didn’t really hit him what had just happened. He couldn’t comprehend it yet. No, he had other matters to take care of. 

He wiped his face as the locker room door slammed behind him. Tadashi wasn’t crying, but he could feel the discomfort and dishevelment creeping up to meet him. Could people tell what had just occurred? Did they know all of Tadashi’s dirty, horrible secrets? What other parts of his personal life were threatening to be exposed any minute now?

Tadashi readjusted his clothes, smoothing down his jersey and shorts. He felt completely exposed. 

The number one on his chest felt sort of like a joke. If anything, Tadashi didn’t deserve to be seen by the masses as the face of Karasuno. How could he lead a team to victory if he couldn’t even control his own gross impulses?

A wave of nervous energy poked and prodded at every inch of Tadashi’s body. It wasn’t nearly the same as the soft, cascading touches of nimble fingers paired with glorious laughs when the moon was high in the sky and there was no one on the earth except—

Tadashi stopped himself.

Tsukki wasn’t interested in relationships. He didn't even want to be friends. 

Really, Tsukki didn’t want anything to do with him at all. 

Finding his way back to the team, Tadashi ducked to avoid the few wayward glances sent in his direction. Yachi greetly him warmly, like she always did, but seemed to notice that something was off kilter. 

“What happened?” she asked in a low voice, crouching beside him. 

Feigning a smile, Tadashi replied, “Nothing at all.”

She seemed uncertain. He didn’t have the energy right now to convince her otherwise. Thus began their carefully constructed friendship of silent acknowledgement. 

A bit later, the first year returned and apologized to Tadashi in a whispered huff when the rest of the team began to line up for the award ceremony. 

“Sorry,” the first year apologized again. 

Tadashi sucked in a breath. “It’s okay,” he replied again. “Seriously. It’s not your fault. Please don’t feel bad or blame yourself.”

“I just didn’t realize that you and Tsukishima-senpai were dating,” he said back before promptly shutting his mouth. 

“We’re not.”

The first year made a small, “Oh,” sound. 

“Why don’t you get in line?” Tadashi suggested. “It’s almost time to go. We should be celebrating our successes right now and looking up.”

The first year nodded and ducked to his spot before Tadashi had the chance to add anything more. 

Slowly, painstakingly, Tadashi could feel his heart drop.

You’re such an idiot. 

“Where’s Stingy-shima?” Hinata whined much louder than necessary. 

Coming to take his own place at the front of their line, Tadashi shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“That’s surprising,” Kageyama chided. 

“Why?” Tadashi demanded, whipping around.

Kageyama simply raised an eyebrow before crossing his arms. “You’re the one that’s always around him. Don’t blame me for pointing it out.”

Tadashi pressed his lips together. “He’ll come.” It was maybe the only solid thing Tadashi knew about Tsukki any more. 

Sure enough, Tsukki appeared a few moments later with a sour expression already locked into place. No one bothered to comment or speak out, lest they feel the wrath of whatever Tsukki had planned for them. 

Usually Tadashi would be the one to get the team in line seeing as he was the only one who could comment on Tsukki’s condition and come out unscathed. But he too feared what Tsukki had in store so he decided against saying anything at all. 

Karasuno walked out together, facing the crowd of thousands as victors in their own right. Tadashi wished he could feel more accomplished about the whole feat, but the weight of everything that came after was jading his happiness. 

When he was handed the large trophy and had the medal looped around his neck, he began to cry. Luckily most of the team was crying too, but they had valid reasons to be shedding tears. Tadashi just hoped that the rest of the world couldn’t actually tell how everything was shattering around him. 

 

---

 

The moment Tadashi steps through the door, he begins unravelling his tie. It’s been choking him all afternoon—all day really—like a snake had slithered its way around his neck and forced all the air out of his system. 

This feeling, like he can never quite catch his breath, is becoming a real issue. There’s always something preventing him from getting the air he needs and Tadashi doesn’t exactly know how much longer he can handle this sort of thing.

Maybe it’s his own fault, though. Perhaps he’d bitten the apple and sanctioned his own retribution. How was he supposed to know that his first indulgence in Tsukishima would lead to his downfall? 

A sin like that, an irreparable, incorrigible sin, wasn’t his fault. 

Or at least that’s what Tadashi keeps telling himself so he can sleep at night. 

Collapsing onto his bed, Tadashi’s encroaching mind begins to think about that boy he’s tried so fruitlessly to ignore. Because even though they’re technically on good terms now, there’s still a certain level of pain associated with the name. 

Tsukishima.

He used to be Tsukki, an awful voice reminds him. He used to be a lot of things, most of which Tadashi fears he’ll become once again. 

That boy, who was the one Tadashi used to yearn for in the night until he knew nothing other than ache. That boy, who Tadashi, even though he’ll never say the words aloud lest they actually become true, wants to become close with again. That boy, who isn’t really a boy any longer; no, he’s a grown man with the capability to undo his past mistakes but no drive to do so.

What Tadashi often forgets though is that Tsukishima is trying. In his own sort of way, of course. He offers rides home and check-ins and lunch. He gives away smiles like they’re free, visible to Tadashi and Tadashi alone. 

What sort of thoughts exist inside Tsukishima’s brain? Do any of them concern Tadashi? Has Tadashi ever lived inside that mind? 

For Tadashi, at least, he spends most of his free thoughts trying to drown out the ones that are of Tsukishima. He tried, desperately tried, to hate Tsukishima. It was mostly during that interim period between Nationals and graduation. Those months had been a certain type of hell where they spoke with no emotion whatsoever. 

It’s a lot easier to hate Tsukishima. At least there, he can tie down an emotion and have a reason to dislike him. The worst times though were the periods where Tadashi didn’t think of him at all. 

But now, he’s slowly, incrementally beginning to like Tsukishima again. They’re friends, at the very least. Most people like their friends. Tadashi can try his best to copy that and exist purely within the platonic. 

Yet the platonic, it seems, isn’t made for them. No, they’ve never really been only platonic at all have they? There are far better words to describe their temperamental relationship and Tadashi fears ‘platonic’ doesn’t begin to describe the chasm left behind in the stead that once contained Tsukishima. 

“Tsukki,” Tadashi whispers, like the word doesn’t hold some terrestrial weight that makes Tadashi’s stomach sink into the floor. 

Even so, the name does succeed in sending little prickling bits of electricity through his entire frame. Tadashi says it again.

“Tsuk-ki.”

It should hurt more to say. Instead, it’s a chant Tadashi’s urging to repeat. 

“Tsukki.”

How many times has Tadashi called him by that name? How many times had Tadash wanted to call him, only to be lost in his own fumbling desires? 

“Tsukki.”

That last one’s a bit breathier. Needier. Nearly a plea. 

Desperation begins to settle in, thick and lustful as Tadashi begins to palm himself over the thick fabric of his work pants. He can’t figure out why he’s craving some sort of relief, especially now at all times. Nevertheless, his hand continues to press against the growing erection and Tadashi finds himself needing more. 

Somewhere deep down in the recess of his mind, Tadashi recognizes this is a horrible idea. And yet he ignores that in favor of satisfying himself now and worrying about the outcome later. Often, this mindset puts him in these sorts of horrible situations in the first place. But this moment isn’t the time to think about the after. The now, the right here as Tadashi can’t take the swelling neglect any longer, is what matters. 

“Tsukki.”

Tadashi hastily releases his belt buckle, sliding down his slacks and briefs all in one slick motion to let his erection come undone in the low light of the bedroom. He begins a lazy pace, not wanting to rush his own pleasures, when the perfect image surfaces in his mind. 

He can nearly see it, but he can definitely feel it: Tsukishima looming over him, glasses off but eyes steady as he leans forward and presses a soft kiss to Tadashi’s forehead. It’s so real. The featherlight kisses on Tadashi’s shoulders, the large hand wrapping around him, the finger swiping over his slit to let the beading precum act as lube. 

“Is this okay?” Tsukishima asks, voice low and rough just like how Tadashi remembers. 

“Yes,” he begs, “Tsukki, yes, please.”

Tsukishima nods before upping the pace, making long gliding motions that Tadashi had taught him how to do long ago. Tadashi lets out an irrepressible moan before he gets the common sense to not bother his neighbors by biting down on his hand. 

The strokes speed up, Tsukishima’s nimble fingers proving to work well for things other than volleyball. Tadashi idly remembers kissing those same fingers not too long ago; oh what he’d give to press his lips against them once more. Really, he’d kiss every surface of Tsukishima’s body once again. It’d been too long since he’d gotten the chance to explore— really explore, taking his time to discover all of the little hidden things about his former best friend that otherwise wouldn’t surface to the light. 

Tsukishima continues to stroke, his own breathing becoming more rapid as the tempo increases. 

“This is still alright?” Tsukishima asks, eyes burrowing into Tadashi. 

He can’t enunciate anything, but Tsukishima still gets the message. He knows Tadashi well, after all. Knows what he likes. Knows that he’ll come with even the simple strokes of a quick hand. So Tsukishima continues to pump and Tadashi continues to edge closer to completion. 

Tsukki, Tsukki, Tsukki. 

As Tadashi nears, he throws his head back into the pillows and bites down even further on his hand as a moan rips from his chest. He swallows it down though as the bliss from satisfaction takes over all of his senses. 

“Tsukki!” Tadashi whimpers between his teeth, and the high finally overcomes him. He barely has enough sense to catch his release into his cupped palm as the vision of Tsukishima fizzles out like the dying embers of a fire. Suddenly he’s gone, leaving Tadashi alone to robotically clean his hands with a tissue. 

When the high from the orgasm finally begins to wind down, the shame settles in like a pair of shackles, binding Tadashi with gripping, intrusive thoughts.

He’s disgusting. 

He’s a filthy, disgusting creature that got off to his friend of all people. The one person he’s not supposed to be thinking about in any sort of romantic or sexual way. Not to mention, Tadashi had a full on fantasy about him. And it felt so real…

Tadashi is a revolting, horrible, loathsome pervert. 

Getting out of bed, he strips out of his work clothes and heads straight for the bathroom. Even the scalding hot water of the shower doesn’t aid in stripping the feeling of grime that’s slowly building all over him. 

Once again, Tadashi has completely and utterly fucked everything up. 

And just when their friendship’s success was on the horizon, Tadashi has plunged himself into the night. Not only has he bitten the apple, he’s burned down the entire garden. The blooming relationship they were growing together was completely destroyed. 

Tadashi scrubs harder, but the thoughts won’t go away. 

He steps out of the shower, even the cold rush of air doing little to shock his system back into processing. Instead, his stomach is churning with unfavorable desires. 

After all, Tadashi is done reverting back to that same teenage horny brain that got him here in the first place. Because even though this isn’t the first time Tadashi has pleased himself with the thought of Tsukishima alone, at least now Tadashi is certain it’ll be the last. 

He wants… he wants… well… he wants more. 

In a futile search to find some comforting clothes, instead Tadashi pulls out Tsukishima’s Frogs shirt from the bottom of his drawer. He’d tucked it deep under his other tees, hoping to never have it see the light of day again. Only now Tadashi’s holding it gingerly in his hands like it’s some sacred object instead of something that should be donated. 

Against his better judgement, Tadashi raises the shirt and presses it against his nose. Tsukishima’s scent is gone though, replaced by Tadashi’s cheap detergent and the smell of his drawers. 

Tadashi shoves the shirt back into the drawer and takes out a pair of sweats. 

He climbs into bed, heart still racing like he’d been running from his own mind. There, he finally breaks down. Shuddering with the full force of his aching chest, he slips into a deep sleep with tears staining his pillowcase and a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

In his dreams, he’s visited by fleeting laughs and easy smiles. Even in his semi-lucid state, Tadashi can’t help but wish for that sort of feeling once again. 

 

---

 

Mid-morning light finally manages to draw Tadashi out of slumber. 

Not the horde of phone calls from Aiko and the office. Not the flurry of text messages questioning where he is and what he’s doing and why he isn’t where he needs to be. 

If Tadashi couldn’t breathe before, now he was truly completely and utterly breathless. 

The awful guilt that had built up the night before itches and claws at him as Tadashi hastily leaps out of bed. He barely has time to regard himself in the mirror, but it’s not like he appreciates what stares back at him. 

Heavy, purple half-moons hang under his eyes, darkening his whole face with a grim expression. Tadashi can barely even recognize the strange man that parallels him. A man that is simply a shell of his former self, someone a young Tadashi would’ve hated with his full heart.

Splashing his face with some water, he attempts to silence the beasts inside his mind in favor of dressing quickly and leaving without any more delays. 

It’s been years since Tadashi exercised, but he’ll be damned if he’s any later than he needs to be, so the moment he’s on the street he breaks out into a run towards the train station. He flies past the other businessmen running late and past the kids attempting to make it to their classes on time. The pedestrians don’t pay him much mind though, even as Tadashi bounds down the steps to the train. 

It’s… freeing. 

Even though the pressure of his tardiness still worries him beyond reason, there’s still some sort of freedom that comes with running. It was never the actual act of exercising that kept Tadashi from being active, rather it’s everything else. He doesn’t particularly like going to the gym, especially knowing that muscled men might be staring him down if he were to use a piece of equipment incorrectly, but working out and getting better with his friends had always been his favorite part of volleyball. Even his individual practices were simply there to allow him to play more with his friends. 

Tadashi had long forgotten how nice it was to just run on his own though. He’s never been the best nor the fastest, but even now as he dashes through the streets of Sendai, he’s slowly being reminded of a time when he felt free about everything in his life. When there wasn’t stress from his job or his relationships. When he could just run and look forward to catching up to a familiar tall figure in front of him. 

At the last moment, Tadashi’s able to squeeze himself into a train. His hard breathing and sweaty forehead is definitely a distraction to the others around him, but Tadashi tries his best to act like they’re not here. 

A strange sort of realization comes back to him though when he thinks about all of those early morning jogs before practice or sprints in the summer heat. 

Tsukishima had never outrun him. He was always a few steps behind. 

Tadashi shakes his head. He must be misremembering. Of course Tsukishima had been ahead. He always was. 

It doesn’t take long for the train to arrive at Tadashi’s stop and once again he’s off running through the streets and towards the Frogs headquarters. 

Inside, the complex is nearly devoid of any life. Tadashi already knows they’re all crammed into that big conference room in the back. Even so, it’s still shocking the way they all turn to him when he enters, out of breath and suit disheveled. 

“Ah, Yamaguchi-kun,” one of his colleagues from the Frogs side acknowledges from the front of the room. “We were just waiting for your arrival.”

“I apologize sincerely for the delay,” Tadashi huffs, throwing himself into a deep bow. “I can take it from here though.”

As he rises, he catches the eyes of Aiko from across the table. Her jaw is set into a deep frown, mimicking her coworkers only to a heightened extent. The entire room seems displeased with Tadashi as he stumbles to get his presentation up on the screen. All of the Frogs sponsors and their marketing teams are here precisely for Tadashi and he’s fucked the whole thing up. Not to mention, even some of the Frogs players are at the end of the room. Among them, Tsukishima is all kinds of ashamed.  

Tadashi flails through the entire presentation, his words jumbled and his eye contact nonexistent. He was supposed to practice last night, but other things made him too panicked to even consider getting his speech together. 

It’s a painful process and Tadashi hurries off to take his seat the moment he’s allowed to as a different presenter takes over. In one fell swoop, he’s completely tarnished his entire career. 

The rest of the meeting is practically unbearable. At the end, he skips the niceties of networking and opts to duck into the hallway to catch his breath. 

“Tadashi!” Aiko calls after him, heels clacking to announce her looming arrival. 

Tadashi stops in his tracks before facing her without a single drop of confidence to back him up. 

“Where were you?” Aiko demands, her voice straining high and pitchy. 

Tadashi begins to pick at the hangnail coming off of his thumb. He’s always been awful about keeping his nails tidy, even when it mattered most like during his third year. He’d watch Kageyama with envy seeing how neat his nails always were. Even Hinata started getting into the habit by the end of their time together. Tsukishima, on the other hand, claimed it didn’t matter each time Tadashi wrapped his jammed fingers. 

Aiko is still glaring at him expectantly. 

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tadashi musters up an answer. “I overslept.”

“Why though?” Aiko questions. 

Because I was too busy getting off to the thought of a friend and panicked when I realized what I was doing.

“I don’t know.”

Aiko sighs. “Tadashi-kun, I’m worried about you,” she admits, running her fingers through her hair. She’s always twirling her fingers. She’s always moving—rocking on her heels, shifting her weight, twisting her lips. She’s a constant force, while Tadashi is ten steps behind still stuck in a useless past with feelings he doesn’t know how to handle. 

“You shouldn’t worry,” Tadashi says unconvincingly. 

“It’s like you’re not even here. You’re off in some other world and I don’t know the best way to reach you. I’m trying to, though. You can see that I’m trying, right?”

“I’m sorry,” is all Tadashi can offer. 

Aiko drops her arms in order to loop herself into an embrace with Tadashi. She’s warm. And she smells nice. And she’s a genuinely kind person.

He sees it all the time. The way Aiko brightens a room and makes friends so easily and acts bubbly and free. He admires it, really… 

Maybe he’s a little jealous, too. 

Although he’d never admit it aloud, there might have been a time when Tadashi had the same effect. He tried not to dwell on it since he was usually just genuinely happy to be around other people, but every once in a while he could catch the glimpse in people’s eyes when he came to greet them. Over time, he’d lost that charm. Now people saw him with pinched expressions and dark circles hanging under his eyes.

He wants to smile and laugh and be kind like Aiko. He wants to have the emotional capacity to worry about others and ask about their days. He wants that sort of kindness that has seemed to elude him in the past few years. 

Aiko pulls away from him, eyes wide and observing. “Please, Tadashi,” she asks, voice low and soft, “let me help.”

“I don’t think you can,” Tadashi admits. 

“What do you need? I can stay here, I can go, I can get whatever you need. Let me inside of that mind of yours.”

Aiko reaches out, gently cupping Tadashi’s chin with her hand. And while the gesture should be warm and sweet, all Tadashi’s mind can scream is don’t touch me. 

“I think I just need some more rest,” Tadashi says. 

Nodding, Aiko removes her hand and pockets it inside her suit jacket. “If you do need anything, you know that I am here for you… right?”

“I know.”

“So you can rely on me,” Aiko urges. “I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone.”

Tadashi is truly a despicable man. 

Because he knows, he knows that Aiko is here for him. That she genuinely wants the best for him. 

But all Tadashi can offer her is a weak smile, a nod, and a latent promise that he doesn’t feel alone when he’s around her. She seems pleased by his lies, so she gives him a quick kiss and heads off to her next meeting. 

Tadashi wants to scream. 

But he doesn’t. No, he winds back through the Frogs complex, hoping to get out before he’s forced to go through any more interventions. Unfortunately though, he’s faced with Tsukishima standing by the doors. He searches around, tapping his foot impatiently until Tadashi comes into his view. 

“What’s going on?” Tsukishima asks, taking long steps to meet Tadashi in the middle. “Are you sick or something?”

Tadashi shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

“Bullshit,” Tsukishima claims. “You’re a terrible liar, you know that right?”

“What do you want me to say?” Tadashi says, exasperated. 

“I want you to tell me what’s wrong. Obviously something happened.” Tsukishima lays a hand on Tadashi’s shoulder. He immediately flinches away from the touch, recoiling his arms near his chest. 

“Don’t touch me,” Tadashi instructs, fearing if the hand lingers too long he’ll become dependent on it. “Please just… don’t.”

Tsukishima presses his lips together. “Tadashi—”

“And don’t call me that,” Tadashi finishes, panic settling in thick. He fucking despises the way Tsukishima can say it so easily. Who gave him the right?

“What the hell happened?” Tsukishima demands.

Shaking his head, Tadashi responds, “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing, huh?” Tsukishima’s exasperated. He lets his arms drop to his sides. “When did you become so temperamental? One moment you’re okay, and the next you’re completely freaking out. It’s not going to get any better if you just keep it all inside.”

Tadashi pauses. “Oh don’t act like you care about me now,” he says, voice low and anguishing the words as they fall out of his mouth. 

Tsukishima should get angry. He should blow up and storm away and never speak to Tadashi again, but he doesn’t. He stays put, stubborn and forthright, as he crosses his arms and stares Tadashi down. 

“I’ve always cared about you,” Tsukishima says, the candor in his voice seeping like a melody. 

To Tadashi though, it’s cacophony. A petty lie that rings through his ears. He doesn’t believe it even though he knows when Tsukishima’s lying. He’ll scrunch his nose and avoid eye contact, but Tsukishima’s eyes hold their firm glare on Tadashi. The rest of his face is relaxed with no indication whatsoever of a lie. 

And yet, Tadashi is certain Tsukishima isn’t telling the truth. There must be a mistake. Why would Tsukishima care about Tadashi? 

So he tells him so. 

“You don’t,” Tadashi insists. 

Tsukishima shakes his head. “I’m not going to fight you on this.”

“What, because you’re still afraid to show effort?” Tadashi bites back, the words leaving his mouth before he can comprehend them. “You don’t care about me. Frankly, you don’t care about anything. And I would really appreciate it if you stopped acting like you did.”

Tsukishima’s fists clench at his side.

Tadashi doesn’t regret things often. But even in just these few passing moments, a whole wave of remorse washes over him. 

Tadashi is rough. 

From the acne scars that line his cheeks and forehead, to the dryness of his lips, to the bumps that never seem to leave the upper parts of his arms. He’s rough in the way he speaks, voice hoarse when he doesn’t want it to be and words often unedited and untrue. His hair is coarse, uneven from the years he’s cut it himself. His hands are strong, with the remnants of calluses that used to show his hard work. 

As he’s aged, he’s only become rougher. It’s the way his shoulders and back expand, a broad sight he’s unfamiliar with but once could proudly show off the number of a captain. It’s the way he stares genuinely and attentively when someone is talking, giving too much of himself and destroying his own life in the process. It’s the way he walks with an unusual step that leads to him tripping over his own feet, more cuts and bruises to add to the raggedness. 

Tadashi is rough. Uncut. Unpolished and jagged. 

But Tsukishima… Tsukishima is smooth. 

From the soft feeling of his skin, to the plumpness of his lips, to the curve of sinew that runs along his neck. He’s soft in the way he addresses Tadashi: with precise words and a sense of restraint, like he too is holding himself back from the world. Tsukishima is smooth in the way he lies; he offers up pretty deceptions to make Tadashi believe that he’s pretty too. 

In the years since they’ve spoken, Tsukishima’s jagged edges and coarse personality have only smoothed out. Perhaps he is also a shell of his former self. Perhaps they’re both too different to even compare to those past versions that used to interact so well. 

Tsukishima is smooth in how he acts and lives and breathes. He’s put together and polished; he has a future waiting for him, an equation that doesn’t include Tadashi. He’ll go off to France and become a big-time volleyball star. He’ll meet some foreign man that will utter sweet nothings into his ears and make love to him just like Tsukishima likes, how Tsukishima learned with Tadashi. He’ll forget about Tadashi though, just like he has over the last few years. And throughout it all, Tsukishima will remain calm and steady.

All of his life, Tadashi has sought after this smoothness. He’s pleaded and cried to the gods above for a life free from the rough hands and rough skin. Oh what he would give to capture even a moment of that sort of beauty. 

But isn’t that ridiculous? Tadashi’s heart and mind are at odds because even though he knows better than to pursue Tsukishima, some sick twisted part of him still yearns for his touch. It’s almost as if the man he remembers, the man that lied to him and wanted him only for a good fuck, didn’t even exist in the first place. 

The man that stands before him, all smooth and sleek, is certainly not the same teenager who said they shouldn’t be friends. How could he be?

Or has Tadashi simply lied to himself all this time? Has he simply battered and torn apart this perfect image of Tsukishima in order to not fall hard and fall fast once again?

Because even though the Tsukki that Tadashi recalls is mean and harsh and spiteful and callous, the truth is that his edges have never been that sharp. But somehow he exists in Tadashi’s mind as some villain. It’s easy to blame him for all of Tadashi’s own wrongdoings. It’s easy to pin him as the issue. 

But… Tsukki isn’t all that bad, is he? 

Apparently… somehow… he even cares about Tadashi. 

It’s not enough though. There’s still so much that Tsukishima must make up for; a whole lifetime of memories to correct. 

Even so, Tadashi can feel his hand reaching out as this yearning pulls his chest taut. He can’t hold on though, he can only grasp for thin air. 

Run after me, Tadashi’s mind begs. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you care. 

But Tsukishima doesn’t. No, he simply pushes past Tadashi and goes on with his day.

Tadashi leaves without anything to keep him there longer. 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Karasuno gym is a graveyard of memories. Dead and lifeless, only the tombstones are volleyball nets and the epigraphs are jersey numbers. 

It hasn’t changed in the slightest over the years. The stage still has those dusty red curtains and the railings on the second floor are still covered in rust. Outside, dusk breaks as the sky begins to turn an inky black. Casting everything in a sickly shade of green, the fluorescent lights inside make up for the fleeting sunlight. Even in the harsh light, the trinkets of Tadashi’s youth remain untouched across the court. 

And there, standing in the mausoleum that houses their former selves, stands Tsukishima. 

Except he’s young. Foolish. Seventeen, with a smile that goes on for days and a pair of glasses he broke long ago. He’s dressed in a tuxedo, sharp and ready with his golden curls tucked neatly behind his ears. These remnants, the details Tadashi had long forgotten, become resurrected in the cemetery of their past selves. 

“You look good,” Tsukishima… Tsukki… compliments. 

Tadashi looks down at his own clothes—a dark, formal montsuki that drapes over his arms and legs with thick, heavy fabric. At the center waistband of the kimono lies the Yamaguchi family’s crest; a sort of laughable reminder about the duty of his name, even at a time such as this. 

Loyalty. What a joke.

He doesn’t need to look at his reflection to know he’s younger too. He can feel it in the way he moves; the control he has over his limbs is effortless. There’s callouses worked into his fingertips and bruises on his forearms. His mind, like how it was during his teen years, is only concerned with two things: volleyball and Tsukki. 

“Thanks…” Tadashi’s voice trails off as he continues to look around the gym that used to serve as the place he spent the majority of his youth. 

They’re alone. All activities were paused mid-practice, almost like the players had fled at a moment’s notice. Volleyballs are strewn across the floor while water bottles litter the sidelines. Even the team’s banner is there; it rests on the floor with cleaning utensils scattered around. The kanji has soap suds on it, the little bubbles barely visible over the white brushstrokes. 

Ages ago, when Tadashi’s world extended as far as the gym and his mother’s apartment, he believed in the team’s mantra. 

To fly, after all, is to be free. 

But Tadashi fears someone clipped his wings long ago.

Outside, perched on the windows, rests an audience of crows. While Tadashi cannot see their beady eyes, he knows they stare down at him with a judging glare. They open their beaks to squawk, but no noise emerges. Maybe they’re calling to Tadashi, asking him to join them once again. Maybe they’re telling him to stay far away, for good this time. 

Tadashi turns his gaze back to Tsukki. 

He holds out a hand. “Would you care to dance?” 

Tadashi’s about to comment that there’s no music, but a low melody of violins behinds to hum through the open gym. 

Without an excuse, Tadashi accepts. 

He slides his hand into Tsukki’s, and places the other hand onto his shoulder. Tsukki’s hand finds home in Tadashi’s waist, his fingers cool against the wrapped thick fabric. 

They begin a slow waltz, even though neither of them ever learned how to dance in the first place. The few times they partied together consisted purely of Tadashi allowing his limbs to hang however they pleased and Tsukki refusing to indulge in the practice at all. 

Still, they manage to glide across the floor like they were meant to dance here all along. Tadashi’s usual clumsiness has disappeared in favor of confident steps and easy motions. Tsukki leads him through it all, eyes wide and soft. 

“I missed you,” Tsukki whispers, the confession bouncing off the walls and securing itself in Tadashi’s chest. 

His response comes forward without any hesitation. “I’ve missed you too.”

At least, he’s missed this. A dreamscape where they don’t need to worry what the outside world considers them. A place where they don’t need to hide the way they twirl around each other. Their audience of crows simply encourages them on. 

“I don’t get it,” Tsukki sighs. “Why did you leave me?”

For once, Tadashi wants to tell the truth. He wants to spill every secret like he used to when he and Tsukki would push their futons together for their semi-frequent sleepovers. They would speak about whatever came to mind and never discuss the topics again. 

Even as they aged, they continued to fling those hushed truths into the empty space of the night. As they would lie in a hotel bed instead of futons, Tadashi would often find himself speaking when he knew Tsukishima wasn’t awake. 

But Tadashi doesn’t receive the luxury of darkness anymore. Fluorescent lights illuminate his every move and word, and so he’s forced to come forward while the sun still trails outside. 

“I didn’t mean to leave you,” Tadashi admits, dropping his head onto Tsukki’s shoulder. Immediately, he wraps his arm tighter to eliminate the space between them. 

“You still left me though,” Tsukki whispers. “I didn't know what to do without you.” 

A part of Tadashi recognizes Tsukki’s voice as his own. Tsukki would never say something like that, let alone say it to Tadashi. Especially now, what with their strange admittance and awkward pauses. Tsukki here though, he waxes words like poetry. They’re the phrases Tadashi’s dreamed of him saying so of course they’re not real. 

“Did you ever love me?” Tsukki’s voice is so low, Tadashi doesn’t even believe he heard it in the first place. 

The words hang and inflate, pressing into Tadashi with each passing second of silence. He takes a hand and raises it to Tsukki’s head, threading it through the curls. It’s soft and gentle on his fingertips. Tsukki has always been so soft. 

“I think…” Tadashi trails off, mind slowly wrapping around itself to form even one coherent thought. “I think I did at one point.” 

Tsukki sucks in a breath. “And now? Do you love me now?” 

Love is such a finicky, tricky word. 

It’s something he said in passing to his mother when she went off to work early in the morning. It’s a command he barked out at his father, the feeling afterward sticky and distasteful. A fleeting sort of thing he’s felt throughout many of his relationships in his life, even if he wasn’t always the best at verbalizing it.

Throughout every argument and kiss, every period of time they were separated or the moments where the world only existed between them… Tadashi has always loved Tsukki. Try as he might—and he’s tried so, so hard—but Tadashi can’t stop loving him.

But to love someone for the way they laugh and smile is not the same as being in love with someone for the way they’ve broken your heart time and time again. 

To love someone is to become your most vulnerable self around them. Tadashi has exposed himself in more ways than he can count and has allowed Tsukki to see him bare. 

Rather, Tsukishima has stripped him of the armor he’d put up after years of feeling so alone. He removed his helmet and knee pads, not caring what Tadashi looked like underneath. Tsukki simply accepted him nude and smiled at what he saw. 

To love someone is to hand them a sword and expect them to never draw it. But Tsukki did, time and time again, slashing until nothing remained.

So while Tadashi may admit his love for Tsukki, he will never allow himself to fall in love again. 

“I love you,” Tadashi says, since saying it out loud is harder than saying nothing at all. It’s heavy on his tongue and hangs even heavier in the air. 

Tsukki suddenly stops swaying underneath him. 

“Tsukki?” Tadashi asks. It’s quiet. Small. 

“Why are you lying?” Tsukki whispers. 

“What?” 

“Why are you lying?” he repeats. “You've been lying to me ever since we hooked up and you’ve been lying to yourself all these years. Will it ever stop?” 

“I’m telling the truth,” Tadashi asserts even if there’s not much power in his voice. 

Tsukki barks out a laugh. “You want the truth? I’ll give you some truth.” 

He moves forward and Tadashi flinches at the sudden additional contact. He doesn’t stop him though, even as he leaves a line of kisses along Tadashi’s jawline. Lips traverse over the comfortable space with incredible tenderness until they hover above his ear. 

“I want to fuck you,” Tsukki whispers, voice a growl. 

Tadashi jerks backwards, still trapped by Tsukki’s grasp. 

He’s aged. There's darkness underneath his new glasses and a bored look on the rest of his face. He’s nineteen or twenty-two, but in reality it doesn’t matter. He’s not Tsukki anymore. He never had been. Tsukki doesn’t even exist. 

“You think I wanted to be your friend?” Tsukishima laughs. “What kind of fucking idiot are you?”

The crows outside squawk and scream. The music has fled, leaving behind only the sound of Tsukishimai’s rough voice and the shrieking of the birds. 

Tadashi should fight back. He should retaliate and shout and thrash against his abuser, but instead he takes it. He succumbs to the words, falling deeper into Tsukishima’s arms. 

Tsukishima simply holds him aloft as if Tadashi was nothing more than a mere ragdoll. “You’re pathetic to think I wanted anything more than to fuck you. You’re not even good at that though. You’re worthless.”

Glass shattering distracts Tadashi for only the briefest moment. A crow has crashed through the window and now lies dead on the edge of the court.

Looking back to Tsukishima, a rippling fear consumes his entire body. From the devilish gleam behind his broken glasses to the repetition of his most intrusive thoughts, Tadashi is truly genuinely terrified of the man…  no, the thing that holds him. 

Tadashi awakes with his heart threatening to rip out of his chest altogether. 

He doesn’t scream though—luckily. The last thing he needs is complaints from his neighbors about his nightmares of all things. 

Still… he can’t even begin to comprehend everything that happened as the details of the dream become fuzzier and fuzzier with each passing moment. 

The one image that remains, seared into the back of his eyelids, is the picture of Tsukki smiling at him and asking if Tadashi loved him. 

Subconscious, dream-world Tadashi might say stupid words out loud but the real Tadashi would never admit to something as feeble as loving Tsukishima. It’s not nearly that simple; the word simultaneously over-simplifies and under-encompasses what they are. 

If only it were so easy to call it love and move forward. 

Tadashi pushes himself out of bed and heads straight for the shower to wash away the images from the night before. He doesn’t know what’s worse: nightmares or wet dreams. Ideally, Tadashi wouldn’t be thinking of Tsukishima at all during his periods of rest but it appears his mind has other plans for him. Maybe his heart does too, but Tadashi can’t listen to his own reasoning. It’s wrong, whatever feelings may arise.

What’s right and what’s always been right is moving on from a silly childhood love story. 

 

---

 

“YAMAGUCHI!” A curt voice rings over the cubicles, startling Tadashi out of his own work. 

He knew this day would come. After his atrocious performance at the last meeting with the Frogs representatives, Tadashi’s been anxiously awaiting for when Hayato discovered his missteps. It’s been eating him alive, the mere thought that he’ll be punished or even fired for flubbing his presentation. Blame Tsukishima or blame himself, Tadashi’s career is still on the line. 

On cue, Hayato rounds the corner with a curled lip and a furrowed brow. “You really fucked it up this time huh? See, I knew we couldn’t trust you with the fucking Sendai project. Even if you are sleeping with one of the execs, it doesn’t do shit to—”

“I’m not sleeping with the execs!” Tadashi argues, immediately regretting the outburst as the rebuttal surfaces. “I mean it’s not like that, I’m—”

“Screwing the blonde chick,” Hayato finishes for him. He steps further inside the cubicle, reeking of cheap cologne and last night’s beers. His five o’clock shadow should’ve been taken care of hours ago, but instead Hayato presses in further with a rank smile and sweaty browline. “And some little birdie told me that wasn’t all.”

Tadashi swallows harshly, his throat a desert. 

“See, I heard you’ve also been fucking one of the players.” Hayato curdles a laugh, dropping his voice low. “Tell me, how do you take it? You’re probably one of those fuckers that likes it up the ass, huh? God, when Suzuki hears about this you’ll—”

“H-hey fellas.”

Hayato halts his spitting, whipping around to see the angel Morikatsu hovering over Tadashi’s cubicle. 

“Looks cozy in here,” Morikatsu comments. He rubs at his neck and whistles out a little tune as Hayato pats himself off. 

“You’re done, Yamaguchi,” he threatens. “Even if you’re one of Suzuki’s little pawns, another fuck-up won’t save you.”

Hayato pushes through, catching Morikatsu’s shoulder before stomping away to his own desk. 

Tadashi places a hand on his chest. His heart beats and beats and beats, unrelenting and anxious. 

“What was that all about?” Morikatsu whispers harshly. “It’s like one moment I’m just chilling and the next—BAM! He’s all up in your face.” He rocks back on his heels and raises an eyebrow at Tadashi. “You good?”

“Fine,” Tadashi replies. His entire body is numb.

Morikatsu twists his lips. “I… I didn’t mean to… ah… overhear so…”

“I don’t care,” Tadashi sighs. He drapes an arm over his eyes and leans back in his chair. “Seriously, I don’t care anymore.”

“Yama-kun?”

“Sorry, I’m just… I’m exhausted.”

 

---

 

There, in the late evening of summer break, Tadashi and Kei stared at the screen to some chatboard Tadashi had never seen before. While they could be outside and enjoying the nice weather, instead they were huddled under a big blanket on Kei’s bed. He’d only recently received a hand-me-down laptop from Akiteru, the offending hardware heavy and unwieldy despite the new-found freedom it provided. 

Over the last few weeks, they’d explored all kinds of far-reaching websites, but now they were drawn into a random dinosaur-themed chatboard that Kei seemed to navigate easily. He pulled up the main page, where they scrolled through lots of photos and posts that made their laughter spill out of the comfort of their blanketed fortress. 

A notification popped up in the corner of the screen, and Kei dismissed the message.

“Who is that?” Tadashi asked, clicking on the profile. All it spoke of was dinosaurs and spaceships and other things kids dream so often about. 

“No one,” Kei said, reaching out for the controls. He maneuvered off of the page and onto the main chatboard.

“Tsukki! I want to see what you were talking about!”

Kei sent him a glare, but relinquished the laptop anyways. Tadashi happily accepted it and began to skim through their messages. Most of it was what Tadashi expected out of a dinosaur chat forum, but as he dove deeper he saw the underlying conversations between the two. 

This boy went from discussing paleolithic diets to talking about his family and friends (or lack thereof, really). Tadashi supposed that wasn’t all that strange either, until the messages flooded in about how awful his family was and how the boy was scared to be in his own house and how tired he was of dealing with everything. 

Tadashi looked over to gauge Kei’s expression, but he wasn’t responding. No, he cleaned his glasses and sat there like nothing had happened at all. 

“Do you know him?” Tadashi asked quietly.

Kei kept cleaning his glasses. “He’s just some kid I met online. I’ve never met him in person or anything.”

Tadashi turned back to the screen. He typed a quick message, aware of Kei’s eyes upon him. He didn’t speak up though, even as the text went through. 

 

From: dinoman11, 09:13

Are you alright?

 

Tadashi stared down at his own message as his stomach sank downstairs and out the door. It dropped off in the ocean and floated away as the boy immediately began to type; messages inundated the server and Tadashi found himself lost as he attempted to go through the rather incoherent ramblings. 

“What…?”

Kei grabbed the laptop away and began to read for himself. “He always does this,” he supplied. “I don’t know why.”

Peeking over, Tadashi only caught a glimpse of the last message. 

 

To: dinoman11, 9:19

I think I’m going to kill myself

 

Tadashi blinked at the foreign words.

He… he was joking, right? It had to be some sort of joke. A horrible, terrible joke. 

“Tsukki…” Tadashi began, but he didn’t have much else to say. 

Kei typed something back, flowery words about how the boy shouldn’t be doing this and how it was a bad idea and all of these wonderful things about care and love, except Kei said it all with a straight face. There wasn’t even a reaction, even as the boy insisted these were his final days.

Tadashi could only watch, numb and dull, as Kei continued to type. He looked tired. 

Eventually, Kei handed off the laptop to Tadashi and he copied Kei’s language to spit out the same messages. It felt cheap, but what could they do? They didn’t know this boy or what he looked like or where he lived; for all they knew, it was some adult playing a bad prank on them. 

Even so, they swapped the laptop back and forth to pull the boy back from the ledge. Tadashi’s stomach sank further and further with each message, and guilt wrapped around him until he was a mummified doll only able to deal out dirty therapeutic messages. 

Their eyes grew heavy with sleep though, and Tadashi found himself drifting away into a place where he and Kei laughed as they splashed around in some big pool. 

They were awoken by the awful squawking of a bird that had unwittingly flung itself into Kei’s bedroom window. They scrambled up, only to see its corpse down in the lawn below, wing thrust towards the sky as if it had really believed it could fly away from its own peril. 

“Oh god…” Kei muttered, shoving his glasses on to get a better picture of the carnage. “Did you see—?”

“THE BOY!” Tadashi remembered, crawling away from the window to grab Kei’s laptop off the floor. It must have fallen at some point during the night, but Tadashi flung it open with a growing sense of desperation and dread. “We shouldn’t have fallen asleep. Oh my god, what if he’s dead? What if he actually died?”

Tadashi threw his head back to find Kei still preoccupied with the bird. 

“Tsukki?”

Kei turned to face him. “Hm?”

“Are you okay?”

Kei looked down at the bird once more. There was a small impact mark on the window, right above Kei’s head. 

“I’m fine,” Kei assured, tearing himself away from the window. “Let’s just check in on the kid.”

Tadashi nodded and returned to the screen. He pulled up the chatbox and skimmed through the messages. 

 

To: dinoman11, 02:51

I just don’t want to be here any more. 

 

To: dinoman11, 02:57

Hello?

Are you there??

 

To: dinoman11, 03:04

This isn’t funny and I’m not joking. Do you even care about me?

 

To: dinoman11, 03:07

I’m really going to do it. 

 

To: dinoman11, 03:09

Seriously I’m going to do it. 

 

To: dinoman11, 03:12

This is all your fault. I’m doing this because of you.

 

To: dinoman11, 03:14

Goodbye. 

 

Tadashi scanned over the messages again and again, but there was nothing more. That last goodbye at 3:14 was really everything that he’d left.

Panic bubbled nice and easy, filling Tadashi up until he couldn’t feel anything anymore. He was numb even as Kei ripped the laptop from him and began to look over the conversation himself. 

“He… There’s no way…” Kei continued to mutter disbeliefs but Tadashi couldn’t even bother to look at him. 

No, his gaze was fixated on the spot where the bird had crashed. At least there they could clearly see what went wrong. They knew exactly how life flitted away and had the carcass as clear evidence. And although it was terrifying to see, at least they knew . They could see it. They didn’t have to wonder any more. 

But this boy—a boy who Tadashi couldn’t even name or picture or begin to describe—was dead. Or maybe he wasn’t. Tadashi would never know unless he asked.

Yet he was paralyzed with the fear, with the knowledge, that Tadashi had killed him. That Kei was his accomplice and together they’d caused the death of a perfectly innocent boy. Because it was a very real and very horrifying possibility that they were the cause of another’s demise. 

Or maybe they weren’t. Maybe the boy was off living life, forgetting he’d even sent those messages in the first place. Tadashi was too scared to find out. 

This boy existed as one of Schrodinger’s creatures, somewhere between the dead and the alive. While Tadashi didn’t know much about quantum physics, he knew plenty about what it was like to exist in the liminal space between life and death. If Tadashi and Kei reached out, they were opening the box; they would have to face the inevitable ways of their cruelty when the boy didn’t message back. 

Tadashi looked back to see Kei’s fingers flying over the keys. The slight tapping noise bore into Tadashi so before it became too much he grabbed the laptop away and slammed it closed. 

“What are you doing?” Kei demanded, holding his hand out. “Don’t you think we should check up on him?” 

“But what if he really doesn’t message back?” Tadashi argued. 

“He will.” 

“But what if he doesn’t?”

Kei sucked in a breath. “He will. Now give me the laptop.”

“No!”

“Yamaguchi—”

Tadashi wrestled away, but apparently Kei wasn’t messing around today. He lunged for the laptop, flattening himself onto Tadashi’s chest. The extra weight forced the air from his lungs, but Tadashi refused to let Kei peer inside. They didn’t need to know that they’d ruined their own lives on top of ending another person’s. 

“Yamaguchi!” Kei screamed, pushing himself up on the other boy’s rib cage. He managed to take hold, but Tadashi continued thrashing.

“No, stop! Stop!” Tadashi demanded. 

In one moment, the laptop is there between their hands. The next, it’s being flung out the window at the very spot where the bird had collided. Shattering glass and the calls of birds suddenly enter the room before a crash flattens out all of the sound together.

Tadashi can feel the concerned shouts of Kei’s mother somewhere within the house. He can feel the click of the door and the worried voice Akiteru supplies when he enters the room. He can feel Kei’s pleas about how it wasn’t their fault and that they didn’t mean any harm and that they’re fine, really they’re fine. 

Kei pulls on Tadashi’s arm as he stands up from the bed but Tadashi still doesn’t budge. He simply leans towards the window, a small and slight breeze prickling at his cheeks. He thinks the laptop might have landed somewhere in the bushes so the bird is really the only thing he can look at. 

It still lies on the ground dead. There’s nothing Tadashi can do to reverse it. 

 

---

 

Sometimes Tadashi wonders what his life would be like if he could just talk things through. 

If he could sit down and have a conversation, a real, honest conversation, with anyone he chose. 

Who would be his first victim? 

His heart leaps to say Tsukishima, but that’s obvious. Of course Tadashi wants to talk to him, but there’s too much to say for one measly dinner. A five course meal couldn’t begin to dive into the complexities of their dialogue. 

Maybe it should be his mother. There’s a lot Tadashi would like to thank her for, a lot of questions he has. A lot of anger he’d never show, but knows lies deep somewhere inside of him. 

Maybe his father would be there too. But, really, Tadashi has nothing to say to him. Even a mere phone call would be awkward and slight because how does someone make up for decades of absence? 

There’s a lot Tadashi wants to say to Aiko. A nice brunch would help to settle their discourse; over mimosas they could examine why and how Tadashi still liked her. 

He could possibly talk to people he hasn’t seen in a long time. The laughter and pure joy that could come from an evening spent with Yachi, Hinata, and Kageyama would give Tadashi the energy he needed to do… well anything really. But there are others from his youth—Shimada, Daichi, and Ennoshita to name a few—that he’d like to thank for their contribution. They helped him flourish and grow, after all.

Or… if Tadashi was lucky… he would talk with the Schrodinger boy. 

He wonders about him occasionally in the times when his mind doesn’t have much else to think about. Like in the moment Tadashi steps off the train and passes over the small gap of the platform. Or when he exits an uneventful meeting with scattered papers in his hands. The passing, lingering moments where Tadashi indulges a weary thought such as his propensity to kill. 

Did the boy really die that night because Tadashi and Tsukishima grew too tired to encourage him otherwise? Or does the boy live on, weaving through life unaffected by the trauma he left on a digital grid?

Maybe Tadashi has met him. Maybe they sat next to each other in a college class or exchanged volleys over a net. Maybe they’ll never interact again. 

Who misses the Schrodinger boy? Tadashi doesn’t, or rather he can’t, considering he never really knew him in the first place. Did his mother weep at his funeral? Did his father attempt to hide his tears? 

If… if Tadashi were to disappear one day… who… who would miss him? 

Realistically, he knows a question like that is mere speculation because he has people that care about him in his life. Of course there are always people there to mourn the dead but he too would never know. Once he’s gone, there’s no telling who will arrive at his funeral dressed sharply in black. 

Tadashi will never know; the dead aren’t informed of the details of the living. He’ll never know what happened to the Schrodinger boy either though, he supposes. 

Tadashi thinks he would be okay with that just as long as he knew he was alive. But he’ll never know. 

The Schrodinger boy just remains the strangest blip in Tadashi’s life. 

 

---

 

Autumn bites with its cold, like it’s forgotten it exists as a transition between the summer and winter. The wind stings Tadashi’s eyes as he hurriedly makes his way past the random passersby on their phones, lost completely to the brewing storm of anxiety that’s lodged itself in Tadashi’s chest. 

He knew, he knew, that he was meeting Aiko tonight. He knew that she’d like to be greeted with a kiss when he arrived on time and that they would spend the evening blissed out in a sort of happiness seen only on the silver screen. He knew she’d lead Tadashi back to her apartment and ask for more than a simple kiss and Tadashi would be happy to oblige because he loves her and sleeping with her is just part of what he’d like to do.

He knew all of this, and yet he waited until the very last moment to get ready and prepare himself for what lay ahead. His mind wouldn’t let him function otherwise; waiting until the last minute to leave was the only way he could cope with actually seeing her.

And Tadashi knew, he really did know, that a healthy relationship shouldn’t function like this. 

Regardless, the whipping wind that shakes the golden leaves from the ginkgo surrounds Tadashi as he attempts to at least make up for his tardiness. He can’t take his eyes off of the fanned leaves though, going so far as to slow down and catch one. 

The color is absolutely beautiful. Golden and warm, like honey has formed into something you can hold. It’s familiar and nostalgic somehow, like even the sight of a leaf pulls Tadashi back into a time unknown. 

Dumbly, he remembers that Tsukishima had a gingko tree in his backyard. 

“Tadashi!” 

He drops the leaf and lets the wind carry it away before he turns to see Aiko walking towards him. She’s done up all pretty, with a long coat that should be saved until the official start of winter but is necessary now with the bad weather. 

“Where were you?” she asks, panic surfacing more than anger. “I was waiting for you at the station. Why didn’t you pick up?”

Tadashi immediately reaches for his phone to see the missed calls. “Sorry,” he apologizes. He doesn’t offer an excuse. 

Aiko sighs. “It’s fine. Let’s just get going, I’m not sure they’ll hold our reservation much longer.” 

She steps forward, staying on the edge of the sidewalk near the line of shops Tadashi hadn’t noticed in the first place. Most of them are dilapidated fronts from the past, but the one they’re standing at catches his eye. 

It’s that candy shop from all those years ago, the one Tadashi and Tsukishima took refuge in when they’d been lost in the city as a pair of children. Except the place is closed. The letters from the old shop remain, the ghosts of candied promises remaining with indelible prints. Otherwise, the shop is unrecognizable from the haven it once was. 

“Tadashi?” Aiko calls, turning a little further down the road.

He hasn’t moved. Sucking a breath between his teeth, he remains still as Aiko comes to fully face him. 

“What are you looking at?” Aiko follows his gaze, wide eyes not following his trail of thought. 

“It’s nothing,” Tadashi assures. “I just… I came here once. As a kid.”

Aiko tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “Do you want to tell me about it?” 

Shaking his head, Tadashi hastily replies, “Oh it’s not that interesting, I promise.”

The world stills for a moment or two, almost like it’s rearing its engine. Electricity sparks between them, courtesy of the streetlamps and the electrical grid that runs underneath Sendai. Tadashi has no time to prepare before he’s shocked by the words leaving Aiko’s mouth. 

“Tadashi sometimes…” She, too, starts slow, before the river rises and she begins to sail. “Sometimes it’s like you expect me to know all of these small, insignificant details about you. Ones that I’ve never had the chance to learn or something that you mentioned once in passing.”

“I don’t—”

“Even something like this,” she cuts him off, waving her arm towards the candy shop, “you won’t talk to me about it, and I don’t know why. I’m your girlfriend. You should want to talk to me.”

“I do,” Tadashi attempts. “I—I try my best to—”

“There’s so much in your mind that I can’t see. I’m not some psychic who can read your every thought and desire but I really wish I could! Maybe then we wouldn’t be so off…”

Tadashi startles. “Off?”

“Off,” she confirms, tucking another piece of hair behind her ear. “You have so much going on it’s like we’re never able to connect. You’re here, but you’re not really here.

Aiko doesn’t look at him. She doesn’t even play with her hair. No, she focuses all of her waning attention towards the patch of concrete beneath their feet. 

Between them, there’s a crack in the pavement. Weeds sprout and curl upwards, hoping to get the trailing amounts of autumn sun. They’ll wither and die soon with the winter without much else to keep them here. 

“I think we should break up,” Aiko says. 

Tadashi sucks in a breath between his teeth. He lets the air flee slowly, afraid to truly let it go seeing as his lungs can’t seem to function properly. 

“Okay.”

Aiko jerks her head up, meeting Tadashi for a moment before she starts to look around. Her face scrunches in confusion before she throws her arms to the side. “Okay?"

“If that’s what you think is best…” Tadashi’s words trail off. He’s not speaking them. Or at least, that’s what it feels like. Some ghost must have possessed him and occupies his body while Tadashi watches from the side, unable to control himself. 

Running a hand through her hair again, Aiko sighs. “What I think is best is that we’re both happy. What’s the point of perpetuating a relationship that you don’t want to be in?”

“I want to be in this relationship.”

“But you don’t want me.”

How… how is Tadashi supposed to respond to that? 

“Aiko…” he finds himself saying, but the sentence doesn’t go anywhere. 

Aiko simply sighs and rubs at her eyes with the bases of her palms. “God, I’m such an idiot…”

“No, you’re not.”

“You’re not exactly subtle, Tadashi,” Aiko sputters, a cruel and sad laugh bubbling from the back of her throat. “I know you’re still hung up on your ex, and I really thought you’d get over her by now but I guess I wasn’t good enough of a rebound for you. And I have no idea what the hell is going on with you and Tsukishima, but I’m certain something is there.”

Curling his hands into fists, Tadashi has to force himself to listen to every dagger as it plunges itself into his chest. The comment about Tsukishima though is a whole greatsword. 

“Aiko, I’m so, so sorry,” Tadashi says genuinely. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

Aiko readjusts the shoulder of her coat. “Goodbye, Tadashi.”

She doesn’t say anything more. She pushes past him and stomps away from the candy shop like their entire relationship had never occurred in the first place. Tadashi turns to watch her leave, a sickening feeling rising that he’ll never see her again. 

Tadashi burns. 

Hot and scorching, like the sun itself is pressing into his tawny skin, seeping in to liquify his insides and allow them to spill onto the concrete. Tadashi doesn’t sunburn though; he freckles. Each spot serves as a reminder of a day spent too long soaking in the blistering heat because sometimes it feels better to burn than to not feel anything at all. Cool hands press aloe into his back, massaging it onto his shoulders. Tadashi burns fine on his own, but he blazes under the heat of another. 

Except it’s nearly winter, and Tadashi’s nose is pink from the bitter cold and his fingertips cannot function properly. His hand cannot reach out and beckon Aiko back to his side. Frozen in place, with icicles over his shoes and his mind and his heart. His heavy tongue cannot even fathom something to say to get Aiko to return. 

A part of Tadashi wishes for a sunburn. Another part of him is grateful his freckles aren’t as prominent as they used to be. 

Most of all, Tadashi longs to burn. To feel. To have something there. 

Why isn’t he angrier? Why doesn’t frustration bubble in his chest and rip words from his throat? Why doesn’t Aiko’s departure mean anything to him? 

You love her, he convinces himself. He’s used to lying to himself, so this thin white lie should be no different. 

You love her. You love her. You love her. 

Except it’s a fruitless search to discover what exactly he loves about her.

There’s more than plenty to admire. Her kindness, at least, is what initially drew Tadashi to her. Her smile, her hair, her voice. Beneath that though, Tadashi flounders attempting to come up with a story. 

There is… nothing. 

Others would love her so easily. They will kiss her without regret and stand closer because they cannot bear being away. They will give her the love she deserves, the love that gushes forward like a roaring river instead of the small trickles that Tadashi musters through the leaky faucet of his own affections. 

There must be something very, very wrong with Tadashi. 

That’s the only explanation. Why else would he let such a good woman like Aiko stray away? He’s loved women before, so why can’t he love her?

Perhaps the vat that once contained his heart is truly too empty to love anymore. The hole in his chest cannot afford to waste care, lest Tadashi’s heart stop beating altogether.

Tadashi’s father’s instructions from all those years ago still thrum inside his head, an off-kilter beat that causes more dissonance and than what it’s worth. Tadashi turned 26 last week, too many variables and issues in the way to celebrate the day properly. 

It’s not like Tadashi wanted to celebrate though. The age is simply a reminder of how he’s failed to build a life like he’s supposed to. He can’t even hold a girlfriend for a few months, let alone arrange a marriage. 

He should have tried harder. He should have held Aiko closer and not let her leave. 

Maybe then his rough hands would have been good for something. 

But as it remains, Tadashi is simply a jagged man who must push away all of the good things in his life. He doesn’t deserve them anyways. No, he could have never earned the right to be with a woman like Aiko. If she stayed in his life any longer, she too would be infected with the looming guilt and destitute that’s consuming Tadashi whole. 

So he’ll reject all of the good things that pass by. He’ll never deserve Aiko’s smile or Morikatsu’s companionship or a promotion at work or Yachi’s worry or… 

Tadashi laughs. 

Well isn’t that the root of it all?

Tadashi will never deserve Tsukishima. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Once again, Tadashi finds himself squashed into the dirty vinyl booth of some bar.

They’re all the same. Old patrons with beer bellies chortle like they’ve got their whole lives in front of them, while young businessmen down all of the alcohol they can physically consume out of some sort of primal fear they’re missing out on their youth. Women flirt and touch elbows, men catcall and grab asses. It’s all disgusting. 

But seeing as these people ended up at the same place as Tadashi tonight, maybe he can’t judge them too much. 

He takes a swig of his cheap beer, hoping there’s secretly something spiked in his drink to make the night pass by faster. 

On his left, Koganegawa cackles at some joke one of the other Frogs players made. Tadashi doesn’t know how he got dragged out with them, but he’s not particularly enjoying the experience. It won’t be long until he can make excuses and head home, forgetting about all of the little things that made the experience even slightly bearable. He’ll just gloss over the fact it occurred in the first place and pray it doesn’t happen again. 

“Yo!” Koganegawa shouts, turning around in the booth towards the front door. “Over here!”

Tadashi peeks his gaze up to see Yahaba and Kyoutani walking in. He ducks back into the booth and takes another sip. The players across from him get up, the newcomers filling the empty spaces like they were made for them. 

Yahaba raises an eyebrow upon seeing Tadashi. “I didn’t think you’d actually come,” he admits, taking his seat in the booth across. “I’m glad you’re here but… still.” 

Tadashi shrugs and sips on his drink. “I didn’t expect it either, to be honest.” 

Ever-observant, a frown easily puckers Yahaba’s lips. “What happened?”

“Nothing much.”

Yahaba doesn’t seem convinced. Tadashi won’t persuade him otherwise. 

“Say, Yamaguchi, I had the weirdest conversation with Aiko the other day!” Koganegawa chirps in, and Tadashi can feel himself sinking down, down, down. “Is it true you guys broke up?”

Tadashi doesn’t know why he looks at Yahaba before speaking. Regardless, he says his answer into his drink. “Yeah.”

Koganegawa slaps him on the back, forcing Tadashi to spit up a bit. “That sucks to hear, man. Seriously, you guys seemed so good together! But don’t worry too much, you’ll get over her! We should find you a different girl! What’s your type? Blonde? Pretty? Nice?”

Almost right, Tadashi laughs to himself. He takes another drink. 

“Can’t you just leave it alone?” Yahaba sighs. A waiter comes by and delivers another round of beers. 

“But that’s no fun!” Koganegawa whines. “And besides, not all of us have your beautiful, perfect married relationship. It’s really unfair to bachelors like me and Yamaguchi!” He links an arm around Tadashi’s shoulder and gives him a good shake. 

Tadashi wants to laugh and participate and get along with these guys. They actually are a good group of people and maybe at a different time he’d be able to indulge in their happy chatter and natural aptitude for teasing. They’re kind; they welcomed Tadashi in and let him stick around, asking for nothing in return. 

It’s not like Tadashi has much to offer anyways. But even as they begin to laugh and tell stories and smile like it’s the easiest thing to do, Tadashi can’t help but feel like he’s dragging everyone down. 

He wants to be here. In a past life, he’d convince himself to stay and prove he belongs. But now all he can think about is an excuse that’ll get him home so he isn’t concerned about everything he’s missing out on. 

Tadashi takes another swig. 

“No!” Koganegawa laughs, the conversation moving to something Tadashi can actually participate in. “Oh my god that tournament was so embarrassing!”

“That’s just because you thought receiving a ball with your face was a good idea,” Kyoutani chides, rolling his eyes. 

Koganegawa laughs all too loudly, and Tadashi finds himself chuckling a little at the memory too. He’d watched the match they’re referring to, the Miyagi quarter finals for Spring Nationals of Tadashi’s second year. The matchup of Seijoh versus Dateko was an intense game, but Tadashi remembers how much he’d liked the opposing players even back then. Seijoh had Dateko beat out though, and they ended up facing Karasuno in the final round for another insane conflict. 

“Didn’t you get hit at the Elephants game, too?” Yahaba asks, raising an eyebrow. 

“Don’t remind me!” Koganegawa groans, laughing more than actually upset. 

Yahaba and Kyoutani chuckle at the thought. They’re sitting close together, intimate even despite the big crowd of people around them. Tadashi supposes this is one of the few places where they can act like themselves; there’s enough Frog players to cover them while the rest of the joint is filled with stumbling drunkards who won’t care if they see a pair of linked hands. 

The bell of the door sounds, and Koganegawa turns back to call, “Tsukki!”

Right. 

Tadashi knew it was coming, but he still finishes the last of his drink before Tsukishima can manage his way over. 

He comes to the foot of the table, dressed far too nice for a night of drinking, and surveys the table with a raised brow. Koganegawa stands to greet him, pushing him inside the booth while he pulls up a chair for himself. 

Tsukishima’s leg brushes up against Tadashi’s. These stupid booths are going to be the death of him. 

“Tsukki, you really need to learn to show up on time,” Koganegawa chides with a loose grin.

“I would show up earlier if something interesting was happening,” Tsukishima sighs. He side-eyes Tadashi. “You should slow down. How long have you all been here?”

Tadashi shrugs and opens up another beer. Koganegawa cheers as the lid pops off and clatters onto the table. 

“Maybe you should catch up,” Tadashi suggests. 

They haven’t talked since that day at the Frogs complex a few weeks ago. Admittedly, Tadashi missed the texts they’d exchanged and the casual meet-ups when they both had free time. 

It seems like a blur though. Really, everything about their lives is a blur. It’s a bad photograph, taken with shaky hands and a slow shutter speed. There’s thumbprints on the film and the exposure is all kinds of wrong. 

Yet Tadashi can hold the photograph of their lives with a sort of infrequent tenderness. His rough hands may cherish it, the moments they had together, because even though it might be painful to remember at times at least it’s theirs. At least they experienced it together. A ridiculous notion, sure, but Tadashi can’t help but hold onto it for as long as he can.

The waitress comes around again with a pitcher of water in her hand. 

“Oh!” Koganegawa exclaims, waving her down. “Can we get five shots of—what do you guys like? Tequila?”

“I only drink kahlua and milk,” Tsukishima states. 

The waitress shakes her head. “Sorry, we don’t serve that.” 

“You’re no fun,” Koganegawa complains. “Then I guess four shots of tequila is good!” 

“Who said we would take shots with you?” Kyoutani deadpans. 

“Ugh, fine, fine. Two shots then.” Koganegawa pouts, and takes a swig of his beer. “Man, you’d think a bunch of professional volleyball players would want to drink after we’ve won, like, how many games is it now? Five games in a row? Whatever, we should still all be celebrating! Yamaguchi knows what I’m talking about!” 

All eyes land on him as Tadashi takes a drink. “Sure,” he responds, feeling for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. Hopefully they won’t mind too much if he lights one. Well, Tsukishima probably wouldn’t like it too much. He’ll just light one on his way out.

“Oh! We should just play a drinking game!” Koganegawa suddenly declares. “Osama?” 

“Absolutely not,” Yahaba insists. 

“Beer pong?” 

“Do you think we’re in some kind of American fraternity?” Kyoutani questions. 

“Okay, well then how about Defend the Castle?” Koganegawa looks around expectantly. “Ever played it?” 

Tadashi bites. “What is it?”

Koganegawa sparkles. “See, this is why you’re my favorite. Tsukki, you’ve moved down to number 2.”

“Why was I your number 1 in the first place?” 

“Because!” 

Koganegawa flags down the waitress, asks for another round of beers to hand off (with a measly water bottle for Tsukishima) and for a stack of plastic cups. For a moment, it really does feel like Tadashi’s back in college as he watches Koganegawa push together some tables and get a few more Frogs players in on the game.

They set up what initially looks to be a game of beer pong, two pyramids of red cups at either end of the table, but they also begin lining cups on the long edges. Tadashi’s pushed to the center, Tsukishima placed across from him on the other team apparently. 

Koganegawa hastily explains the rules but Tadashi doesn’t get most of it until he’s suddenly being tapped on the elbow and chugging down a gulp of beer. He flips his cup a few times until it sticks, the game progressing onward with Tadashi lost in how everything is working until the opposite team cheers out in sudden victory. 

“Yamaguchi! You need to flip faster!” Koganegawa complains, pouring another drink into Tadashi’s cup. 

“I honestly have no idea what’s going on,” Tadashi admits. 

Koganegawa laughs and ignores the plea for help in favor of counting down the next round. Tadashi plays, watching as Yahaba goes up against their libero, managing to sink the ping pong ball on the first try. They continue on, drinking and flipping cups, until Tadashi’s pushed to the end of the table and given the ball for himself. 

Across from him, Tsukishima stands utterly disinterested like there are a million better things for him to be doing right now. There are probably a million things to do, but Tadashi will accept the small interaction seeing as this can’t possibly hurt him. 

It’s the oddest thing to miss someone to the point of heartbreak while simultaneously hoping to never see them again. 

The teams count them down, but Tadashi doesn’t move. Tsukishima doesn’t either. They stare, waiting for each other to take the first move.

“Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima calls, breaking the silence. “Remember the purple hats?” 

And Tadashi, for a lack of better words, completely breaks. 

Laughter ruptures out from the crevices it’s been hidden in between his rib cage and shakes his bones as he doubles over with an uncontrollable force. It’s so easy. Like he hasn’t laughed in months because, actually, he can’t remember the last time he thought about the stupid memory. 

“You can’t,” he sputters between giggles, “you can’t bring that up now.” 

Tsukishima quips a smile and shoots his ball across the table. “Why not?” he asks as it lands inside the middle cup. 

On other sides, the teams take their shots and begin to go down the lines. 

“That’s why!” Tadashi complains without any real bite as Koganegawa fails to flip his cup again. “You can’t play dirty like that.”

“I’m just bringing up a memory,” Tsukishima smirks. 

His team finishes first, with a round of cheers and a handful of high fives. Tadashi doesn’t care much about winning though; he’s still thinking about how good it felt to laugh like that. 

“What’s the purple hat?” Koganegawa questions.

Tadashi shakes his head. “It’s a stupid inside joke.”

“You had to be there,” Tsukishima says, rounding the table to come stand closer to Tadashi. “The story doesn’t make any sense.”

“I want to hear it,” Yahaba insists. Kyoutani raises an eyebrow beside him but Yahaba shrugs. “What? Could be interesting.”

Tsukishima and Tadashi share a look. 

“I mean…” Tadashi lets the stupid moment play out in his head. “I think we were, what, ten? Eleven?”

“Eleven,” Tsukishima confirms. 

“And there was this festival in the summer—”

“—Don’t forget about the snow.”

“The snow! Oh my god I completely forgot. And that one kid? Ichika?”

“Worst cab driver ever.”

“Yes!”

“Plus, that’s where we got the posters.”

“You’re right! Oh my god I’d forgotten about all of this!”

A small, slight smile breaks through Tsukishima’s lips. Tadashi burns, heart pumping and feeling… well… like he’s alive for once

Tadashi had forgotten how easy it could be to smile. He’d forgotten that they shared good memories too. That despite the dark blotches of pigment on their photograph, there’s bright places too. 

There were times, Tadashi supposes, that Tsukishima was his whole world. Where they were in sync so much their minds were one. It wasn’t often it occurred, but Tadashi distinctly recalls those moments where he would look at Tsukishima and think, can it get any better? 

The issue, it seems, is that those memories are old. Decrepit shambles from the past; nostalgic scraps that came before they knew what love could even become. He hasn’t experienced one of those moments recently. 

But as Tadashi considers it again, he thinks back to those small gatherings they had only a few weeks ago. Those lunch outings where normal seemed achievable. The waves after meetings. The meet-ups after games. The moment at the photoshoot where Tsukishima’s smile was all there was in the universe. 

Tadashi shakes his head, the warm feeling still locked in his chest. It’s the alcohol, his brain says, but his thoughts are getting fuzzy. He’s wrapped up in the happy memories they share. How could Tadashi forget something so simple existed?

He looks back to the rest of the group, but their expressions still mirror a certain level of confusion and disinterest. 

“Sorry,” Tadashi offers sheepishly. “It really was something you had to be there for.”

Tsukishima gives a small nod to him, pleased. 

“Alright lovebirds, wrap it up,” Koganegawa instructs, the players returning back to their spots. “We got a game to win!”

Tadashi bites down on the inside of his cheek, restricting himself from saying anything about the comment. Tsukishima seems unfazed returning to his side of the table. 

Right. 

Right. 

Tadashi takes a swig of his drink. 

Koganegawa bumps him on the shoulder “You’re only supposed to drink when it’s your turn!” He complains. Tadashi ignores him. 

The game continues on. Tadashi drinks. The other team wins. 

It’s relatively uneventful. After the game, they settle back into the booth and the conversation divulges from there. Tadashi goes ahead and lights a cigarette, aware of the way Tsukishima’s eyes lie upon him.  He doesn’t say anything though. Tadashi almost has the guts to offer him one. 

More drinks are ordered and Tadashi finds himself engaging in the ritual of it all. He’s laughing and telling stories and having drinks and acting like a normal fucking person for once because he can. He can just enjoy himself. 

Those awful intrusive thoughts that litter the floor of his brain are swept away and Tadashi emerges, freed from his own self-imposed restraints, able to act however he wants. He laughs when Koganegawa tells a joke. He converses with Yahaba and joins in on poking fun at Kyoutani. He engages with Tsukishima because he can’t remember why he didn’t just do this in the first place. 

Does it really matter what happened yesterday or the day before? There’s no changing the past. All Tadashi can worry about is finishing his drink, laughing with his friends, and being with Tsukishima for the moments that matter.

As the high of the night wears off, people begin filtering out of the bar. Their table is among the last that leave, and Tadashi finds himself nearly falling when he attempts to stand upright. It earns him a good cackle from Koganegawa and a firm hand on his shoulder from Tsukishima. 

“Can you walk?” Tsukishima asks in a low voice, enough so the others probably can’t hear him. 

Tadashi nearly blushes at the thought of having Tsukishima carry him princess-style through the streets so he just nods and says, “I’m good.” Quickly, he adds on, “You don’t need to worry about me.”

But Tadashi takes a step forward and once again the ground slips away from his feet. Tsukishima catches him before he completely wipes out, looping their arms together.

“I’m going to walk him home,” Tsukishima announces to the others as they gather their coats. 

Koganegawa giggles. “Ooh! Are you gonna—”

Kyoutani smacks his hand. “Walk safe.”

“Let us know when you’re back,” Yahaba adds with a smile, his own hand ready to smack Koganegawa as needed.

Tadashi’s not paying attention though. He’s staring at the ground, attempting to compare the sizes of his and Tsukishima’s shoes. But he feels an arm pulling him forward and he offers a last wave to the others still at the table. 

“Here,” Tsukishima instructs, holding out Tadashi’s coat. 

He shakes his head. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s freezing outside.”

“No, it’s fine.”

Tsukishima rolls his eyes and folds the coat over one arm, securing the other at Tadashi’s side. 

They leave the bar, the warm smoky atmosphere dropping falling away within seconds. Tsukishima’s right, the air outside is biting, but Tadashi won’t back down now. 

He doesn’t have to. Tsukishima drapes his jacket over his shoulders before grabbing his wrist and dragging him along. Luckily, they chose a place within walking distance of Tadashi’s apartment so it isn’t all bad. 

Tadashi idly remembers nights walking home after practices. Catching frogs and returning them to the banks. Humming tunes he didn’t know the lyrics to since he’d only heard the music leak from Tsukishima’s headphones. There were days they didn’t talk at all, but Tadashi wouldn’t mind. He wants to talk now though, he wants to know everything. 

Tsukishima doesn’t speak. He leads Tadashi around, keeping their pace quick. Tadashi stumbles after him, forever a few steps behind, trying his best to keep himself standing. 

It’s nice to see Sendai after the city has fallen asleep. The moon isn’t out tonight, but Tadashi likes to imagine it is. He likes to imagine climbing up the tallest buildings and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. He’d swing along the electrical lines and do somersaults off the edges. He could enjoy the greatest sights, and maybe Tsukishima would be there too. 

They reach Tadashi’s apartment without any time to waste. Tadashi’s still somehow standing as he digs his keys out of his coat pocket and lazily sticks it in the door. It’s always been a fickle lock, so he lets Tsukishima play around with it. 

The wind whips through and Tadashi scoots incrementally closer. Leaning into Tsukishima’s frame, it feels so good and warm that Tadashi can’t even remember a time he wasn’t pressed against him. Why didn’t he do this sooner? 

He laces his fingers through Tsukishima’s, the grip familiar and inviting. 

Tsukishima doesn’t react, even as he finally manages to get the door open. “Come on,” he mutters, practically dragging Tadashi along. 

They stop only briefly to remove their shoes, but Tadashi finds his eyes drawn towards the plump pink lips he knows so well. Tsukishima’s speaking, forming words that are lost in the tatami floors and the loft light of the lamp he’d left on. 

“Tsukki…” Tadashi finds himself drawling, focused entirely on the way Tsukishima’s glasses need to be pushed up the bridge of his nose. 

“What?”

Cupping a hand around Tsukishima’s jaw, Tadashi kisses him. 

He stumbles back at first, like it’s the first time they’ve kissed but the reality is they’ve been here more times than Tadashi can count. That’s how he knows to pull Tsukishima down to his level and lap into the feeling of soft, smooth lips. 

Tsukishima allows the moment to swell, before he takes a breath and pulls back. “Yamaguchi—”

He kisses into the respite, not wanting to think any more about anything. No, he just wants to count the seconds before their next moments apart and he wants to relish in the way that Tsukishima kisses him back. 

It’s coming back to them. How to move, how to act. It’s easy embracing like this. It’s all Tadashi knows. 

Tadashi pulls him along by the collar of his coat, further inside the house until there isn’t an easy escape. It’s not like Tadashi would want to be anywhere but here right now. The movements are listless though, almost as if he wants to stretch this moment towards infinity. 

Perhaps he does. At least here, as they stumble into the bedroom without much else on their minds, they know what they’re doing. They know their roles. They know what to say, what to do. They know how to undress each other and what the other likes. Tadashi knows Tsukishima. 

Tadashi’s coat has long fallen from its precarious perch on his shoulders, so he aids Tsukishima in stripping his outer layers. They manage to not break contact, even as Tadashi pulls off Tsukishima’s sweater and unbuckles his pants. He helps Tadashi remove his suit jacket in return, working listlessly on the buttons of his shirt. 

They fall onto the bed, but Tsukishima takes a moment as he hovers over Tadashi. He looks good like that. Plump, kissed lips and messy hair. He really is a beauty. 

Tadashi reaches up to kiss him once again, but Tsukishima stops him.  

“We can’t do this,” Tsukishima declares, voice low. 

Tadashi doesn’t care. He pulls Tsukishima down and asks simply, “Why not?” before he begins to suck at the tender spot of sinew at the base of Tsukishima’s neck. 

Tsukishima sighs, but doesn’t stop Tadashi. “You’re dating someone.”

“We broke up.”

He can feel Tsukishima shake his head, almost like he’s in disbelief this whole thing is even happening. “I thought you wanted to just be friends.”

Tadashi does pull back at that, letting himself fall into the mattress. Tsukishima is holding back, not really allowing himself to touch Tadashi at all. 

“You don’t want to be friends with me,” Tadashi says, oddly sweet. “I’m not worth the trouble. And besides, look at where it’s gotten us. We’re right back where we started.”

“Tadashi—”

“I don’t know what I want.”

Tsukishima drops his head. He climbs off of Tadashi, opting to come rest at his side. They both stare at the ceiling and, for a brief moment, Tadashi allows himself to imagine a whole galaxy of stars lying above them. An entire universe filled with solar systems and planets and suns built just for them. 

It’s childish. Tadashi sighs. 

“You should just fuck me.”

Tsukishima sharply intakes his breath, before swallowing something down. Every single little sound drills into Tadashi’s mind. The clock on his wall. The buzz of the heating. The water that runs through pipes above their heads. 

A hand loops through Tadashi’s.

“No.” 

Tsukishima runs this thumb over the back of Tadashi’s palm. 

He lets out a sad laugh. Weakly, Tadashi asks, “Why not? You’ve never had a problem with treating me like some sex doll before…”

He really is weak. What sort of man falls back into old habits just because they’re comfortable? Why can’t Tadashi just accept the change and move on? Will he ever really move on?

Tsukishima squeezes his hand tighter. “You deserve better.”

An unexpected whimper tears from the back of Tadashi’s throat. It feels raw. He’s too dehydrated for tears. 

“I don’t,” Tadashi whispers.

“You do.”

“Stop fighting, Tsukki. I know all you want from me is sex.”

It’s the saddest admission Tadashi has known. The truth as to why they’ve been so truly and so horribly messed up all of these years. Tadashi’s worst fear, proven correct time and time again. 

The plain and simple fact is all Tsukishima wants from Tadashi is sex. 

It wasn’t always that way. They became friends as kids, after all. Back then it really was just about being friends for the sake of enjoying each other’s company. There weren’t ulterior motives or prizes to be won. They could simply be friends. 

Now though… 

“What I want is to make sure you don’t vomit everywhere,” Tsukishima groans as he sits up. “You’re drunk.” 

“Maybe.”

Tsukishima turns to him, eyes still and steady. He doesn’t ask any questions, but Tadashi knows there’s something on his tongue. Something he’s unwilling to say since he believes Tadashi’s too inebriated to be making good decisions right now. 

Truthfully, Tadashi is only a few steps away from sobriety. The bulk of his drunkenness wore off on the walk home. His movements may be languid, but the pliability is more so for Tsukishima’s sake. He’ll allow Tsukishima to do as he pleases. He won’t reject any proposal.  

“What I wanted…” Tsukishima begins, with a sort of hesitancy like someone is forcing him to speak, “what I’ve always wanted was for you to be happy.”

Tadashi blinks. “Do I look happy to you?”

There’s no hesitation in the answer. “No.”

Tsukishima pushes up his glasses and turns away. Tadashi swallows back another sob. 

Silently, Tsukishima rises from the bed. His steps are quiet and lead him out of the room. Tadashi can’t seem to rip away his eyes though and the sight of Tsukishima’s broad shoulders. It’s a familiar, reassuring view on most days. It’s the last thing Tadashi sees before he's victimized by sleep, the emotions pressing him down into the mattress. 

 

---

 

University was… difficult at best. 

It wasn’t like Tadashi had particularly high expectations but he’d liked to think there was something exciting about starting over. He wouldn’t know anyone at his new school and they wouldn’t know him. There was no baggage to carry, nothing yet to define or mark him. 

Part of the problem about that though was Tadashi lost the traits that made him unique. He didn’t know how to act around his new classmates, or what sides to show them. Should he be quiet yet funny? Should he be loud and smiley? Should he be himself, whoever that was?

In the end, he became no one. A mere bystander who could sometimes give out answers to homework questions or who might make a comment that could be amusing. He found a friend group, but lurked in their shadows. He didn’t feel home with them or anyone really. 

The unfortunate highlight of his weeks were the weekends when his friends went out to the bars and got shitfaced while Tadashi could feign sickness and stay inside instead. Even his roommate went out for the night, so he was lucky to get the 18 square meters to himself. 

He’d lose himself in movies, rewatching the same documentaries or cartoons from his childhood in the feeble hopes it’d bring him some sort of joy. On the lucky days it did; he’d call out the lines he’d heard a million times and relish in the small amount of satisfaction it’d bring. He knew most of the scripts anyway. 

“Once you’ve met someone, you never really forget them,” Tadashi quoted as Spirited Away played off of his laptop, “it just takes awhile for the memories to return.” He smiles at the scene. 

The movie paused though as a Skype notification popped up in the corner. Tadashi squinted at the name before his entire body went numb. 

Tsukishima Kei. 

The last time they’d spoken was the day of graduation. It was a quiet affair, really just to say goodbye to their underclassmen. Tadashi remembered trying to pull Tsukki aside but he’d wanted none of it. The pain of Nationals and getting caught was still fresh in both of their minds, but Tadashi was willing to let that pass. They were about to go off to college for god’s sake, who cared if someone saw them in the locker room? 

Tsukki did, apparently. He’d cared enough to end their contact altogether. 

Maybe that was why university had been so difficult. Even after Nationals, Tadashi still saw Tsukki. They still passed each other in the halls and went to practice together. They still walked home, searching for frogs, even if they didn’t say anything. 

In the months since graduation though, there was nothing. 

Tadashi answered the call without another second to lose. 

Tsukki appeared on screen, glasses askew and cheeks rosy. He was in an unfamiliar background, certainly not looking like a dorm or his room at home. Tadashi could barely make out some figures in the background; they were laughing up a storm. 

“Yamaguchi!” Tsukki cheered, eyes wide at the screen. A loose smile broke through as well as a little hiccup. He was wasted.

“Tsukki?” Tadashi asked, still trying to glean information from the background. “What’s going on? Why did you call?”

Tsukki simply laughed at him. 

“Did you get him?” A semi-familiar voice called from the back. Two of the figures stepped forward and despite the bad video quality he could tell it was Bokuto from Fukurodani and Kuroo from Nekoma. Tadashi had known Tsukki talked to them but he didn’t think they were actually close enough to hang out together or get drunk…

“Hi freckles!” Kuroo cooed to the screen. “Tsukki here was begging to talk to you.”

Tadashi blinked. “Was he?”

Bokuto nodded emphatically. “He was all, ‘I miss Yamaguchi! I wanna see Yamaguchi!’ Ha, it’s so cute, look at him!” He pinched Tsukki's cheek, but he pushed both of them away. 

“Stop, I’m talking to Yamaguchi!” Tsukki demanded and Tadashi’s heartbeat began to quicken. 

This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t—

“I miss you,” Tsukki admitted. The boys in the back hollered, but returned to their own shenanigans. 

“Oh.” 

“Why do you have to be so far away?” Tsukki whined. “Just come to Tokyo.”

Tadashi swallowed the rising lump in his throat. “Tsukki?”

Blinking lazily, a stupid grin rose over his lips. “God, I just wanna fuck you right now.”

A physical punch would have hurt less. At least there Tadashi could flinch and prepare himself. He’d feel the knuckles connect with his abdomen, the impact forceful yet compact, and he’d double over as the pain settled in. The receptors would fire off warnings to his brain and in return his brain would tell his body that something was wrong. Tsukki once told him that pain doesn’t actually travel that fast in your body. That your natural reaction is usually quite slow in comparison. 

But how does the pain of cognizance settle? It’s not instantaneous nor is it slow. It’s fucking awful. It’s a burn, beginning where that physical punch should have landed, and it spreads through every vessel and neuron until Tadashi’s entire body is alarmed with pain. 

Tsukki didn’t want to date Tadashi. He didn’t want to be friends, either. He just wanted to fuck him. 

Really, Tadashi should have known. He wasn’t good for anything else. 

Tsukki kept whining. The words were slurred and incoherent, but Tadashi listened to them all. About how Tsukki wanted to bend him over and make Tadashi come. About how he missed Tadashi’s lips around his dick. About how Tadashi’s the best he’d ever had and he was so lonely without him. 

Bokuto, Kuroo, and someone else began cackling in the background. They heard it all. 

Tsukki slumped forward, movements still too uncoordinated for sobriety. 

“I’ve got to go, Tsukki,” Tadashi said, hand hovering over the exit key. 

He perked up at that. “Tadashi, wait—!”

Tadashi closed out of the tab. He shut his laptop and set it beside him. He slumped down in bed. 

He began to cry. 

Uncontrollable and inconsolable sobs sprung out of nowhere, overcoming Tadashi’s entire frame until he was shaking and shaking and shaking. Because what the fuck. 

Was Tadashi really worth so little that Tsukki only called him when he was drunk and horny? That was the only time Tsukki thought of him? Did Tadashi really only occupy his mind at the worst possible times?

And the worst thing was that Tadashi was somehow still glad Tsukki thought of him at all. 

That horrifying idea only caused another sob to rip forward. 

He cried until he fell asleep, waking up with wet eyes and a dry throat. His phone showed a missed call from Tsukki. He called him back though, voice hoarse and weepy.

They set up a time to hang out later that week once Tsukki returned from Tokyo. Tsukki didn’t mention the night prior. Tadashi didn’t either. It wasn’t worth it, really.

Their hang out turned into a hookup, the first of many to come. Unfortunately, it proved to be everything that Tadashi had missed. At least before he degraded himself they would talk or get food or act like how they used to. At least after Tsukki would hold him close and Tadashi could pretend like they were something real. 

At least Tadashi got to see Tsukki. And, on the rarest of occasions, at least he got to make Tsukki happy.

 

---

 

When Tadashi awakes, reality is a cruel and terrifying monster. 

His sad pleas from the night before rise with the remaining bit of alcohol as everything comes up at once. Tadashi can barely make it to the restroom before he’s doubling over the toilet, the acidic taste of vomit on his tongue. His stomach spills out until only dry heaves remain, mind still preoccupied with the idiotic things Tadashi did last night. 

Tsukishima probably hates him again. 

Wiping off the last trails of vomit from his mouth, Tadashi stands up still a bit woozy. He strips out of his clothes and showers in the feeble hope some warm water may make him feel better. Instead, his insides just keep swirling even though there’s nothing left to throw up. 

He brushes his teeth and changes into some comfortable clothes before stepping out of his bedroom. A rumbling greets him, a low sort of hum that startles him and rises from the living room. On the couch, Tsukishima rests with his clothes from the night prior a crumpled mess and his glasses perched on the coffee table. 

Tadashi swallows down the remaining bile before he steps closer. Laying a gentle hand on Tsukishima’s arm, he shakes him awake. A snore gets trapped in his throat as Tsukishima rises, blurry eyes certainly seeking out the person that stole him from rest. 

“I didn’t realize you stayed over,” Tadashi admits. 

Tsukishima sits up and puts on his glasses. He runs a hand through his hair. “I wasn’t planning to but I was too tired to walk back. Sorry for overstaying the welcome.”

“It’s fine. You can shower, if you want. I’ll get some clothes for you.”

Tsukishima nods, yawning as he stands. Tadashi’s a little mesmerized by the way his vertebrates stack one by one and how his muscles pull and stretch under the fabric of his shirt as he stretches. Though he averts his eyes as Tsukishima heads off towards the bathroom.

He returns to his room, digging through drawers to find something that may fit him. He’s forgotten how much Tsukishima has grown in the years. They’ve both grown, he supposes. 

At the bottom of his dresser is the Frogs shirt. He doesn’t linger on it long; no, he grabs that and a pair of sweats that he stole from Tsukishima back in high school. They probably won’t fit, but it’s his best option. 

Not bothering to knock, Tadashi goes into the bathroom and sets down the fresh clothes on the counter. The mirror is foggy with steam and Tadashi can hear the splashing of water from behind the shower curtain. A few wet curls stick up over the curtain. 

“How tall are you now?” Tadashi calls over the water. 

“195.3 centimeters.”

Tadashi nods and promptly leaves. 

He goes to the kitchen and begins scrounging for breakfast, but he hasn’t gone grocery shopping in weeks. The last thing he should be feeding a professional athlete is a bunch of stale protein bars and cup noodles. 

He opts for making some coffee instead and boils hot water for himself. Tsukishima emerges from the bathroom with his hair clinging to his forehead just as the kettle rings. Tadashi pours himself tea and offers up the coffee for Tsukishima. 

“I’d forgotten you had this shirt,” Tsukishima says as they settle back down on the couch. “And these pants. I thought I’d just thrown them out.” The sweatpants are small on him, riding up a bit around his ankles. 

Tadashi shrugs. “I always seemed to end up with the things you didn’t want anymore.”

Tsukishima nods idly and takes a sip of his coffee. For having the worst sweet tooth of anyone Tadashi knows, it's surprising he takes his coffee black. Maybe Tsukishima would actually prefer a load of cream and sugar but restricts himself unnecessarily. 

Letting his eyes take in everything in the daylight, Tsukishima speaks up. “I like this place.”

“It’s too big for one,” Tadashi counters. He doesn’t know why he says it. It’s not like it matters. 

Tsukishima nods. His leg bounces up and down, shaking the couch ever so slightly. “You should eat.” He stands and makes his way into the kitchen. 

Tadashi doesn't have enough time to stop him before Tsukishima opens the refrigerator. He closes the door silently before turning back to Tadashi. “When was the last time you went grocery shopping?” 

“Tsukki, I don’t need you commenting on my living style right now,” Tadashi sighs, taking a sip of his tea. 

Tsukishima sucks in a breath and lets it out slowly. He comes back to the couch. 

They sit there, idle. Content. The awkwardness of the moment before dissipates. Tadashi had feared this whole interaction would go down a lot worse; the slight edge doesn't even bother him. He misses the comfortability though. The ability to cling onto each other’s skin and say whatever’s on their mind. Tadashi likes talking about nothing. He likes hearing about nothing, too. 

He breaks the spell.

“We should talk about last night,” Tadashi declares, though his voice, and whole body really, is shaking as he says it. 

Tsukishima quirks a brow. “I didn’t think you wanted to.”

Tadashi tilts his head “I don’t want to, but I know we should because I fucked up and you deserve an explanation.”

“I don’t particularly care for an explanation and you don’t need to apologize. I just want to know why you assumed the only thing I wanted out of our relationship was sex.”

“I wasn’t assuming, I was speaking the truth,” Tadashi insists. 

“That’s not what I want though,” Tsukishima claims. 

“Yes it is. Don’t you remember?”

It dawns on him, as Tsukishima stares with incredible confusion wrapped in his expression that he’s completely unaware of what Tadashi is talking about. “Our first year of university.”

Tsukishima frowns. “What about it?”

A sad laugh erupts from Tadashi’s chest. “You went to Tokyo. Spent the weekend with Bokuto-san and Kuroo-san.”

Tsukishima squints, like he’s trying to remember. 

“You seriously don’t remember?”

“Yamaguchi, I—”

Tadashi nods and continues, the next words dripping with an awful sort of poison he never wanted to use. “You called me, drunk off your ass, whining about how badly you wanted to fuck me. I was in a whole different prefecture, and yet the only thing on your mind was—was fucking me or whatever.”

Tsukishima’s exterior hardens. Ah, Tadashi remembers this well: a pointed frown and twisting lips. “Listen—”

“I did listen!” Tadashi interrupts. “I listened as you embarrassed me in front of your friends and boasted about the twenty different ways you wanted me. I sat there, and I took it, because it was the first time we’d talked in months and I missed you so much it physically pained me. All I wanted was to spend time with you again, but you made it very, very clear you didn’t want to be friends with me. All you wanted was to fuck me.”

“That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?” Tadashi stands, and begins to pace the length of the living room with Tsukishima’s gaze trailing his every step. “If that’s not what you wanted, then why did you immediately call me to hang out once you got back home? You couldn’t have waited any longer? You couldn’t have pretended that you wanted something different?”

“Are you seriously still holding this over me?” Tsukishima demands. “I was 19 and drunk. Cut me some fucking slack.”

“No, because you fucking used me for sex . I can’t just get over that easily.”

Tsukishima scoffs in disbelief, rising off the couch. “I made a mistake. An idiotic, dumb mistake. The same fucking mistake you made last night, by the way. You can’t act all high and mighty when you did the same thing to me less than 12 hours ago.”

“It’s not the same!”

“No, it is,” Tsukishima insists. “The only difference was I was a kid in college getting drunk for the first time who missed my best friend so much that I called him and said some stupid things. I wasn’t an adult vying for a rebound hookup, fully knowing that shit wouldn’t go down well.”

Tadashi crosses his arms, his anger slowly dissipating as guilt settles in. “I didn’t—”

“Didn’t what? Didn’t do the same thing? Let me make it very clear, I forgive you because I’m an adult and I can get over mistakes like that. Because that’s what it was: a mistake. I fucked up back then, you fucked up last night. Let’s just both move on for fuck’s sake.”

“How?” The word rips itself from Tadashi’s throat, raw and desperate. “How can you just move on like that?”

“Because we’re not perfect people, Tadashi,” Tsukishima shouts. “No one is. We don’t come into this fucking world as flawless entities. No, we’re human. We make idiotic mistakes when we’re drunk or even when we’re sober. I made a mistake. So did you. You need to learn to forgive me and forgive yourself. If you don’t, then what’s the point? Are you really just going to sit here forever and go over all of the little things you did wrong?”

Tsukishima runs a hand through his hair and lets out a deep breath. “You yelled at me once for lamenting over what I’d done during a game. What happened to that Tadashi? When did you lose your edge?”

“Maybe it was when I got trapped in a stupid fuckbuddies realtionship with my former best friend,” Tadashi offers. 

Tsukishima presses his lips together. “You said you didn’t regret it.”

“I don’t.”

Tsukishima steps forward. “Then stop acting like it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. It could have gone better, I admit that, but at the end of the day we can’t change that it happened.”

Tadashi stares at him, unsure of how to move forward. And the ever-quiet Tsukishima, who waits for the right moment to say what’s on his mind, just keeps on talking. 

“I never wanted you only for sex,” Tsukishima states. “I’m not going to act like it wasn’t part of it, but I’m sorry because I wanted a lot more. You really, really thought the only thing I wanted was sex?”

“If you wanted more, why didn’t you say anything?”

Tsukishima blinks. “Because I thought that was all you wanted from me.”

Tadashi sighs. “You never thought I wanted more either?”

“Guess not.”

There’s energy in the room. Little electrons that bounce around, off of them, off of the furniture, off of everything. They bounce and electrify everything to the point where if either one of them moves, they’ll be shocked. Tadashi doesn’t want that kind of pain anymore, but he also wants to escape. 

What else could Tsukishima want from him?

“I’m sorry,” Tadashi apologizes. “I shouldn’t have expected anything from you last night.”

“And I’m sorry for what I said back then,” Tsukishima replies. He pushes up his glasses. 

Tadashi… he’s beginning to forgive Tsukishima. He supposes it is dumb that he’s held something like this over his head for so long, especially since they’ve both done this now. 

He won’t forgive himself, though. It’ll take a lot longer before he’ll even consider it. 

“I should head out,” Tsukishima says, gathering his phone and keys from the coffee table. “I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

Tadashi follows him to the door, heart heavy and still a little broken. He truly doesn’t know how to feel about everything. He doesn’t even know what he’s going to do next. 

Tsukishima bends down to put his sneakers back on. Tadashi watches, seeing how he still does the method of two bunny ears instead of one. He should really do it the correct way.  

“I’m not the same person as I was in college,” Tsukishima speaks up as he begins on his other shoe. “And you shouldn’t be either.”

“I’m not,” Tadashi argues weakly. 

Tsukishima stands, facing him again. The genkan is slightly sunken in, to the point where he and Tadashi are nearly eye-to-eye. Tsukishima edges him out just a little though, always above him. 

“You are,” Tsukishima states. “You’re the same kid as you were back then. Hell, you’re even the same kid from when we were eight. When are you going to grow up?”

Tadashi’s expression sinks.

He leaves after that, shutting the door quietly and succinctly. 

 

---

 

“You’re dead,” Hayato laughs, jacking a thumb across his neck in a straight line. 

Tadashi raises an eyebrow, trying to gauge what’s going on when Suzuki steps outside of his office. 

“Yamaguchi,” he demands. “Now.”

Hayato cackles again, ducking out of the way as Tadashi begins to shake. Each step towards the dreaded office sends a new and horrifying wave of anxiety rippling through him. Suzuki’s pissed. He doesn’t even need to see his full expression to know it and fear it. 

Tadashi steps inside, Suzuki slamming the door behind them. He takes a seat behind his too-big desk, Tadashi remaining standing since he can’t seem to move his legs anymore. 

“I knew you fucked up that one presentation, but now this?” Suzuki slams a manila folder onto the desk, papers spilling out and down to the floor in a cascade. “Why the fuck haven’t you done anything that Hayato has asked?”

Tadashi’s throat dries up. “H-Hayato? He didn’t—”

“You’ve completely gone against the board’s wishes!” Suzuki cuts him off. “Your incompetence isn’t going to be tolerated any more. Hayato’s taking over for the Frogs project. You’re back on the C Unit.”

A pin could have dropped and it still would have been too loud. “Suzuki-san—”

“Get out of my office before I actually fire you.”

Tadashi can’t cry. He would lose his job. Instead, he pushes back the tears, gives a stout bow, and leaves. 

Hayato’s waiting for him on the other side, ready to gloat and rub his meddling in Tadashi’s face. Of course he wouldn’t tell Tadashi everything he needed to do. No, he’ll just let him take the fall and ruin his career to make himself appear better. 

Tadashi ignores Hayato altogether and heads down the line of cubicles. It takes everything to push away the intrusive stares of his coworkers and simply just leave, out the door and down the flights of stairs. He doesn’t stop until he’s outside, still surrounded by people but at least they don’t know who he is. They don’t know he nearly just lost his job. They won’t care if he breaks down. 

He’s pulled away from the emotion though as his phone goes off. An unfamiliar number pops up. It’s probably Hayato calling to demand him back. Tadashi answers.

“Hello… ah… Tadashi? Right?”

Tadashi checks the number again, but still doesn’t recognize it. “Yes?”

“This is Daisuke. Sorry to be bothering you at a time like this.”

Daisuke. Mother’s boyfriend. While Tadashi’s never met the man, he’s heard plenty about him. He didn’t expect for him to act so nervous though. 

“It’s not a bother,” Tadashi assures. “What can I do for you?” 

Daisuke clears his throat. In the background, Tadashi can hear the distant whirr of a life machine and the usual clamor of a hospital. 

“Well you see… it’s your mother… she’s ah…”

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s unreal. 

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?

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 terrifying. 

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. 

Tadashi crumbles. 

He’s exhausted. 

“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.” 

“Yeah.”

“I don’t like your father.” 

“Yeah…”

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. 

 

Chapter Text

 

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.

Emptiness permeates. 

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.”

“Yeah…”

“... 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…”

The dinosaur. 

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?”

“What?”

“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. 

“Hm?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“What?”

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?”

“Just you.”

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?”

“Yeah but—”

“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.”

“Tsukki—”

“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.” 

“Why?”

“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… 

He’s lonely. 

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?”

“Like…”

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.”

“Still…”

“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?