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Counting Stars

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Tsukki’s been up to something recently, Tadashi’s certain. He doesn’t know what.

Yet.

If asked, he’ll deny that he’s arguably just as nosy as the rest of his teammates, just as likely to prod and wheedle until he can get the information he wants. Because him? No way, he knows what his boundaries are and how to keep them, especially when it comes to a certain blond middle blocker.

…Okay, so he’s really nosy when it comes to Tsukki, but after so many years, it’s just second nature because Tsukki’s capricious at best and someone has to give a damn about him. If that someone is Tadashi, well, he’s not complaining at all.

And something is definitely up. Since the end of October the blond has been flighty and more protective of his phone than usual.

He’d changed the pass code, and he’s not done that since the beginning of their third year of junior high when he’d ‘accidentally’ dropped his phone into the bath to keep Akiteru from calling him. Not that he was upset or anything—it’s not like he enjoyed being able to key into Tsukki’s phone and set him dumb reminders about doing homework and practice and remembering to at least to try to smile at least once a day. Nope.

He’s spending a lot of time with his headphones on and a fierce, thoughtful look on his face as he does… well, whatever it is he’s doing on his phone. It’s not playing tile games because he’s not thrust the phone to Tadashi to finish a hard level like he normally does, and Tadashi hasn’t gotten any requests from Tsukki for lives or power-ups or anything at all. Heck, Tsukki’s not even responding to Tadashi’s game requests, so he’s pretty certain his friend hasn’t opened a game app in at least a week.

He watches idly as Tsukki’s face twists in distaste, thumb tapping against the screen of his phone. He stretches his back slightly so he can catch a glimpse of what exactly his friend is wrinkling his nose up at but the movement grabs Tsukki’s attention and the blond turns his head so fast that Tadashi blinks and stammers out a tentative ‘w-what!?’.  Crap, he didn’t think Tsukki could move that fast off of the volleyball court.

The blond purses his lips, “What?”

“Y-you’re the one who suddenly turned around here, Tsukki!”

“Because you were being a busybody,” Tsukki replies, tucking his phone into his pocket. He raises an eyebrow at his friend.

Tadashi rubs the back of his neck, feeling himself blush. “Well, maybe?”

Tsukki rolls his eyes and tucks his headphones around his neck. “‘Well, maybe?’” he repeats with a smirk, shaking his head. “You’re as bad as the idiot pair—and just as obvious too,” he laughs as he slides his hands in his pockets.

“It’s not my fault you’re being all secretive with your phone,” Tadashi sulks. He speeds up his walking pace so he can spend the rest of their walk home side-by-side, hopes of being able to peek at Tsukki’s phone dashed. “You didn’t use to have a problem with me using it or looking at it,” he mutters.

“Whatever,” Tsukki says noncommittally, “I don’t need you replying to Hinata’s stupid snapchats for me.”

“That was once.”

The blond snickers knowingly, and Tadashi sighs. You forget whose phone you’re using once! Tsukki’s going to be bringing that up for years. “But really, what are you doing on there?” he wheedles.

Tsukki remains quiet for a few moments before turning the corner that would lead them into town rather than to their neighborhoods. “C’mon, I’m hungry,” he says rather than answering Tadashi.

Tadashi sighs and wrinkles his nose. Tsukki’s not budging, and it’s driving him nuts. Normally he’s the first to know whatever’s going on with the blond. It’s not like he’s spoiled or anything, but it’s rare that Tsukki actively hides anything from anyone. If something doesn’t come up, it’s because Tsukki can’t be bothered to do it himself because no one’s asked. He chews on his lip, mind racing even as Tsukki orders their food at the McDonalds and hands him a large thing of fries to placate him.

Suspicious, that’s what it is. Tsukki only ever gets him fries when he’s feeling guilty about something; he’s lost count of how many times they’ve sat in the same fast food joint, with Tsukki pushing french-fries across the table with pink cheeks and a pinched frown. He starts sorting through them, one by one, building small piles on napkins of the crunchy fries (Tsukki can have those, Tadashi doesn’t like them much; they kind of hurt if he bites down on them wrong), the passable ones, and the squishy ones.

“…you know, you could have just told me if I was being annoying,” he says finally, bringing his thumb up to his mouth to bite down on the pad of it. It’s salty from sorting the fries; he presses his teeth down on it harder and sighs though his nose.

Tsukki looks up from his food, blinking a few times before scowling. “What?”

“With your phone,” Tadashi mutters. He reaches out and starts picking through his fry piles. “You could have told me.”

“Of course it’s annoying,” Tsukki replies, biting into his wrap.

Tadashi leans forward, slumping his shoulders as he drags a fry through his ketchup. He doesn’t much feel like eating anymore, even though he has a very large pile of passable and soggy fries; his throat’s too tight. But he really thought he’d had Tsukki’s permission to play with his phone, since the boy had pretty much started handing it over to him. First to reply to texts from their teammates he couldn’t be bothered to answer, then to finish game levels for him. Sometimes he just handed it over for Tadashi to play on, when he knew that the brunet’s phone was running low on battery. Maybe he’d overstepped his boundaries by just going for it, rather than waiting for Tsukki to hand it to him.

He wonders if there’s someone Tsukki’s texting that he doesn’t want Tadashi to see. A girl. Or Kuroo; he’d gotten fairly close to the Nekoma captain during the summer camp, he thinks. He bites down on the inside of his cheek. The thought of it fills him with a cold sort of dread and makes his hands and feet feel heavy. Tsukki doesn’t hide anything from anyone, not really, especially not him… so if there’s something Tsukki doesn’t want him to see, it has to be a big deal.

“You keep asking about it, of course it’s annoying,” Tsukki says after he’s chewed and swallowed. “Just be patient okay?”

Tadashi blinks, and looks up from the puddle of ketchup he’d been staring at as he tried not to cry. “…what do you mean?”

“I mean you’re acting like the idiot duo, just be patient,” Tsukki repeats as his cheeks flush.

Tadashi watches as the blond’s cheeks darken, pink spreading across the arc of his cheeks to the tips of his ears. He frowns in contemplation. “…Are you doing something suspicious?” he asks. “Like backalley drug deals or… I don’t know? Sexting?”  

Tsukki chokes on his drink, face turning even darker. Tadashi tries not to snicker as Tsukki wipes his mouth off with the back of his hand and positively glares at him. “You have no tact—” the blond manages; “S—stop hanging out with the idiots!”

“You sound like my mom,” Tadashi laughs. He wags his finger teasingly, spirits buoyed with Tsukki’s slip that this is a temporary set up. Also he’s pretty certain that if Tsukki was doing anything like sexting or something, his reaction would have been a lot calmer. So his heart is safe for now, at least. “Make good choices, Tsukki!”

Tch.”

It doesn’t really change that Tadashi’s really curious about what Tsukki’s doing, but he bites his lip and bides his time. It’s actually really hard to be patient when Tsukki’s very obviously planning something. As November rolls through, he starts getting this squirming hope in his chest that maybe, whatever secret is hidden on his friend’s phone has something to do with the fact that his birthday is close by.

It’s not like they ever go too far out of their way to celebrate each other’s birthdays, but they do go out and treat each other to things. This year, for Tsukki’s birthday, he’d taken the blond out and bought him an entire shortcake that he didn’t have to share (he did anyway, but only with Tadashi: Akiteru had sulked, and it was actually rather amusing). Last year, for his fifteenth birthday, Tsukki had gotten him a really nice book about bug collecting, and a few weeks ago, as a sort of joint birthday gift for them where they just bought each other’s tickets, they’d gone to the museum in Sendai.

(Actually, now that he thinks about it, Tsukki’s been acting kind of odd since that trip…)

Normally, though, Tsukki was pretty upfront about it; he pretty much only ever got people what he knew they wanted (whether it was because it was too much effort to actually think up presents or because he just wanted to make sure the people he bothered getting gifts for liked them, Tadashi isn’t certain). For the past few years, Tsukki would approach him a few weeks before his birthday and ask what it is that he wants. The first time it happened, he nearly passed out from embarrassment, and told Tsukki something innocuous like ‘socks?’. (He got socks. Tsukki still laughs at him.)

So he’s really starting to get suspicious when the week of his birthday starts and Tsukki hasn’t come up to him with his normal brusque ‘what do you want this year’, and the blond is even more protective of his phone than usual and has started flicking through it during every spare moment he gets.

It makes him feel jittery and hopeful, which is probably the worst thing he can be. He’s been trying recently to not expect more out of Tsukki than what’s at face-value in their relationship, so he won’t get crushed when the inevitable day comes when the blond finds someone he wants to date. He can tell himself to not get excited all he wants, but it still doesn’t change the fact that he is. He really should know better, but he can’t help it.

Which is why he feels kind of like a deflated balloon by the end of the day on the tenth. School was normal, practice was normal (or, well, as normal as it could be with everyone sitting and ruffling his hair and screaming about how they should have a party). He should feel touched that Yachi and Kiyoko brought out cupcakes at the end of evening practice; everyone sat in a circle and ate and gave him small presents (some were arguably… questionable, thank you Tanaka-senpai and Noya-senpai) while Takeda and Ukai turn a blind eye to food in the gym and the fact that they’re not actually doing club activities, like they have the past few impromptu birthday celebrations. Never keep a team as boisterous as they are from their celebrations, Tadashi supposes. 

The evening ends with Suga ruffling his hair and grinning at him and he can admit that some distant part of him is touched by all the effort. Sure, they do more or less the same thing for every team birthday that comes and goes, but it’s still that they’ve bothered. Other than Tsukki and his own family, no one’s ever put forth any real effort to do anything on his birthday before.

It bothers him, though, more than he really wants to admit, that the fact that Tsukki hasn’t done anything past murmuring a quiet ‘happy birthday’ at him when they met up on the way to morning practice. He’s sixteen, yet he still has the expectations of a child.

He doesn’t catch any of the furtive ways that his friend is glancing at him, or how occasionally, the blond will look at him and turn pink. But the upperclassmen notice, so when Suga tells Tadashi that he can leave early without helping with cleanup, Daichi gives Tsukki a push and tells him he can go too.

Tadashi blinks up at Tsukki who’s making a noise under his breath that sounds kind of like ‘meddling jerks’ or something. He’s not entirely sure. “Are you gonna walk home with me, Tsukki?” he asks.

“Actually,” Tsukki says slowly as they trudge up the stairs to the clubroom to change. He’s got his hands clasped in front of him like he does when he feels like he’s taking up too much space or is particularly nervous about something. Tadashi’s not really sure why he’s doing it.

“Actually?”

“…Do you want to come over for dinner?” Tsukki asks, “If you don’t have anything planned with your parents?”

“Well, we weren’t planning on going out until this weekend,” Tadashi says thoughtfully as he opens the clubroom door. He runs a hand absently through his hair; he kind of wants to go home and sleep off his disappointment, but he’s started to wonder if maybe this is what Tsukki’s doing for his birthday this year. “Because of practice and all that; which, by the way, mom says you’re welcome to come, as always.”

Tsukki nods and makes a seemingly noncommittal noise that Tadashi’s able to translate as a ‘sure’. He starts pulling off his practice clothes. Tadashi turns his back to his friend and does the same, continuing, “I think I can? I’ll have to call home and ask, though.”

“Do it then.”

Tadashi snorts, “What, now? With me in my underwear? I’m going to get dressed first, thanks.” He doesn’t have to turn around and look to know that Tsukki’s rolling his eyes at him. He pulls his uniform on and fishes through his bag for his own phone. He taps out a message to his mother rather than calling her and slings his bag over his shoulder. “We’ll see, I guess.”

Tsukki nods and pulls on his jacket, and picks up his bag. “Let’s go.”

They start walking in their usual silence. By this point, Tsukki normally puts his headphones on to decompress for the day if it’s just them, and Tadashi isn’t chattering; tonight, he’s just fiddling with the wires.

Tadashi doesn’t comment, but instead looks up at the evening sky. “I was kind of surprised that the cupcakes were the right flavor,” he says shyly. “People normally don’t think of ‘lemon’ as a cake flavor.”

Tsukki shrugs. “I told Yachi,” he says. “I mean, you told her about the strawberries.”

“Mm, yeah, she asked about that a few weeks before your birthday. But thanks for telling her,” he answers, feeling his phone buzz in his pocket. He fishes it out and skims the message from his mother. “She says it’s fine. And she says if it gets too late, that I can just stay over. Geesh, mom.”

Tsukki snorts but when Tadashi looks up from his phone, there’s a distinctly pleased curve to his lips and his hands fall from fussing with his headphone wires to rest in his pockets, and it’s all very suspicious. He’s going to kick himself if nothing happens, but really, his hope is starting to swell again.

They walk the rest of the way to Tsukki’s house with Tadashi peppering Tsukki with questions about what was for dinner (“hotpot, probably”), if Akiteru was home (“thank god, no”), and if Tsukki’s parents were expecting him (“maybe”). It’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, but Tadashi still finds himself slightly nervous, like he was in elementary school and going to Tsukki’s house for the first time all over again.

They get there, and after Tadashi greets Tsukki’s parents and they finish wishing him a happy birthday and ask them both how their day was and make them promise to do homework instead of playing video games, they head upstairs to Tsukki’s room.

Tadashi dumps his bag on the floor in its normal place and shrugs off his uniform jacket as Tsukki closes the door. “Do you wanna just start on the math homework and get it over with or should we do the reading for history first?” he asks.

“You should sit.”

“O-kaay,” he says slowly, raising an eyebrow as he goes to grab the arm-pillow he normally lounges against.  

“There,” Tsukki says, pointing to his bed. Tadashi looks at him, and the blond looks like he did that one time in junior high where he got motion sickness on a field-trip: pale and kind of fidgety looking, with pinched lips and jaw tightly clenched. 

Tadashi puts the pillow down. “Um. Tsukki, are you okay?”  He inches towards the bed and sits on it gingerly, eyeing his friend carefully. He has half a mind to just grab the nearest trashcan and shove it at the blond because, wow, Tsukki does not look good.

“Yeah, uh. Well,” Tsukki says awkwardly, bringing his hand up and rubbing the back of his neck as he rolls his shoulders. He steps towards his desk, “It’s your birthday.”

Tadashi laughs at this display of uncharacteristic shyness. He gives his friend an indulgent smile; “Yes, we’ve established that today. You’ve already said happy birthday.”

“That’s not…” Tsukki groans and snatches something off of his desk before shoving a small blue-paper wrapped box at Tadashi. “I… I couldn’t give this to you at school. So here.”

“Did you get me socks again?” Tadashi asks with a small laugh, eyeing the small box curiously. He shakes it a bit and there’s no noise except for Tsukki making a sort of strangled noise in his throat. He looks up at his friend again, “Really, Tsukki, are you okay? You look like you’re about to barf, please do not pull a Hinata on me, okay?”

“I’m not going to—just… open it okay?”

Tadashi blinks and watches as Tsukki’s pale cheeks bloom a bright, bright red; it suddenly occurs to him that his friend is nervous and it makes his heart stutter. What the heck could be in the box that could turn Tsukki into a fidgety, queasy-looking, nervous wreck? He slides a finger under the seam of the wrapping and pulls the paper off carefully. He folds it and puts it aside and opens the box.

It’s a small, but familiar iPod, the one that Tsukki used up until the end of junior high when his phone replaced it. Tadashi pulls it out of the box and cradles it in his hands; he didn’t even know that Tsukki still had this thing, honestly. It’s a bit beat up, but it’s something special he knows, since its original owner was Akiteru. He stares up at Tsukki, a bit dumbfounded. “Thanks, Tsukki,” he murmurs.

“Turn it on, the… the uh, real present is, well, here,” Tsukki mutters. He lifts his headphones off from around his neck and sets them over Tadashi’s ears gently. He plucks the iPod from the brunet’s fingers and powers up the player before selecting a song and plugging in the headphones.

“I saw a glimpse, a shimmer, a shadow
Or something I had once, but since lost and now I,
I've got a feeling that I'm not complete anymore…”

Music floats through his ears, in a much better quality than any of his earbuds could ever manage. He only dimly recognizes the song through his shock. Tsukki passes him the player again and his fingers linger against Tadashi’s and he’s sure they’re both red as tomatoes, because Tsukki’s face is bright and Tadashi’s sure his own face is probably its own light source by now, judging by how hot his cheeks feel.

Tsukki flicks his thumb over the screen and then taps Tadashi’s thumb softly. The meaning is clear as day: he’s supposed to look through the song selection on the iPod.

“Don't even tell me where we are going:
Hands over my eyes, hands over my eyes;
Don't even tell me where we are going:
Just walk, just walk by my side...

He scrolls through the songs, squirming under the dual weight of Tsukki’s gaze on him and the overwhelming intimacy of wearing the blond’s headphones.

He recognizes only some of the songs, but it solves the mystery of what Tsukki’s been doing with his phone these past few days: he’s been looking up songs, because some of these are pretty new, he thinks. He recognizes at least three new releases from bands that he knows Tsukki doesn’t listen to. They all have a theme, too.

“I get to you to ask you a question;
I get to you to find out for certain;
Are you fixin'...?”

He pauses the song that’s playing and looks up, blinking rapidly as he shyly reaches up to slide Tsukki’s headphones around his neck. “Um, Tsukki,” he whispers around his heart, which seems to have taken up residence behind his tonsils, “…These are all love songs.”

“...Is there a problem with that?”

“It’s just that… this is…this is more a gift that you would… you would give someone you’re dating—like… like a lover,” he murmurs, dropping his eyes to his knees. “And not your… your best friend.”

“I don’t want to be your best friend,” Tsukki says faintly. Now he sounds like that time in junior high, when he’d petulantly denied that he was going to be sick right before he’d gotten sick. Tadashi still remembers holding Tsukki’s glasses for him while the teacher frantically shoved the bus trash can into Tsukki’s lap. He wonders if Tsukki’s about to repeat the performance. He hopes not, because their conversation is a bit too serious to be interrupted by that.

Tadashi looks up and chews on his lip silently. “And what does that mean?” he asks. He’s pretty certain his heart is going to just make a break for it, probably along with his lunch. They’re both going to need that trashcan, it seems. His fingers grip the iPod shakily. He’s not gonna get his hopes up, no way, nope.

Tsukki shifts his weight slightly and leans forward, skimming his fingers softly against Tadashi’s cheeks. Tadashi tips his face up into the touch; Tsukki’s fingers are cool against his burning face and the action almost draws a shiver out of him. He wants to close his eyes and lean into the soft petting motion that the blond is sweeping his thumbs in against the apples of his cheeks, but at the same time, he can’t bring himself to tear his eyes off of his friend’s nervously pinched scowl and determined glare.

“You just said it yourself,” Tsukki murmurs, folding himself over Tadashi until their foreheads are touching and he could probably count every single golden-brown eyelash that frames Tsukki’s eyes. “It’s a gift for someone you’re dating. I want to date you.”

Oh,” Tadashi breathes. He can’t really form any coherent thoughts other than just that. “Yes, yes please.”

“You don’t have to say please when I’m the one asking you out,” Tsukki sneers before closing the last few centimeters of distance between their lips.

The kiss is soft and warm and sweeter than Tadashi could have ever hoped for. Tsukki pulls away and smirks in self-satisfaction and nearly leers at him as he murmurs a ‘happy birthday’ at Tadashi.

It takes Tadashi a few seconds for his brain to restart, and even then, he’s pretty sure a few circuits aren’t really connecting like they’re supposed to, because instead of anything that’s even remotely romantic, the first thing he says is: “Wow, Kei, you’re really cheesy, you know?”

He’s going to be paying for that one for a while. At least neither of them barfed and he’s got not only the new pass code to Tsukki’s phone, but also his heart. And an iPod full of... really embarrassing songs. 

Chapter Text

Kei hates stupid assignments like this. They’re wastes of time, really, and made to only satisfy the teacher’s own interests. He’s willing to put money that their teacher isn’t even going to go through these things. A diary of their summer break?As if their teacher had time to grade that. They were probably going to skim through the assignments and just grade based on how much content was there, not on the quality of the content.

Hell, he’s pretty sure the assignment only exists because their teachers have some sort of conspiracy to eat into their students’ free time, not like Kei even has any between volleyball and its various practice games and training camps and all the extra work that comes with being in college prep classes. (But that's not the point.) 

He kind of wishes he’d been as ingenious as Tadashi was; while everyone in class groaned about having to write to keep up with their breaks (as if they were doing anything other than sleeping and playing video games; that’s not novel material people), Tadashi had quietly raised his hand and asked if traditional media was mandatory.

Okay, so maybe he’s just a little proud that his boyfriend had managed to stump the teacher (okay a lot). Tadashi had single-handedly convinced their teacher to accept photo-albums and videos as long as they were accompanied by a small, written summary. He wanted to turn around and laugh in everyone’s face: my boyfriend just saved your stupid asses, losers.

“…Tsukki you have that look on your face again,” Tadashi sighs in resignation. He doesn’t have to say what sort of face, Kei knows what he means. He schools his face into a disinterested frown; Tadashi snickers. “Stop daydreaming and do your diary entry.”

“Shut up, Yamaguchi,” Kei mutters. He sighs and starts writing. In the end, Kei just decided that doing a video diary was more work than writing it traditionally, but he’s starting to wonder if maybe that wasn’t the smartest decision ever. 

Tadashi groans and plunks his laptop down on the folding desk, rubbing his thighs where his shorts had ridden up and the computer had burned bright pink marks on them. “It’s too hot for this,” he mutters, resting his chin on his keyboard as he absently moves his mouse to open up his webcam application. “Shoo, Tsukki you’re in the frame. Or well, your arm is.” He waves his hand briefly at the blond.

“Not moving.”

Tadashi sighs again and pushes at Kei’s knee half-heartedly before rolling his shoulders. “Well, whatever,” he murmurs. He straightens and pushes his back up against his bed. He reaches back and draws his hair off the back of his neck and snaps the rubber band he’s started keeping on his wrist over it. He clicks the record button and waits for a few seconds, until he’s sure it’s recording. “Today is Wednesday,” he says cheerfully, “And it’s hot. Which of course is banned word number one during volleyball practice, but this isn’t practice. So I'll say it! Loudly too!" He screws his face up and takes a deep breath before shouting a dramatic:  “ It. Is. Hot.

Kei snorts at this. He can’t help it. Banned word number two happens to be ‘really’, and is only banned when it’s used in conjunction with the word ‘hot’. Ennoshita was quite firm with this rule, just like Suga and Daichi had been their first year on the team. Which is kind of hilarious, because Tanaka is the number one violator, and he’s the vice captain.

“And like usual, Tsukki is here—” “Don’t say that on the videos, geesh—” “Complaining. Like usual. He’s such a grump.” Tadashi looks over at Kei pointedly and wiggles his eyebrows at him. 

Kei just rolls his eyes at this and reaches down to pinch the inside of Tadashi’s thigh playfully. He knows it’s not on frame, but the bright red flush that blooms across the brunet’s face is and it’s great. He listens idly as Tadashi stammers and tries to continue on about his day. He doesn’t remove his hand from his boyfriend’s thigh; his skin is warm and his muscles periodically spasm like he’s trying to low-key shift Kei’s hand off.

This is kind of really fun. He leans forward slightly, watching as Tadashi slowly relaxes and falls back into his cheerful rhythm of talking about their day. He starts relaying the story about how Hinata was so busy shouting at Kageyama that he tripped over a first year tying their shoe and ended up tangled up in the net. Half-way through the story, he starts giggling so hard he has to stop talking, shaking his head at the camera as he gasps.

His argument for his following actions is that Tadashi was just so cute that he couldn’t help it. He leans over and kisses Tadashi mid-hiccuping laugh, tongue darting out and into the brunet’s mouth. He slides his hand further up Tadashi’s shorts until he’s got the leg all the way rucked up and he’s grasping at the shorter male’s hip.

Tadashi gapes against him and stiffens out of surprise, but gives a quiet noise of contentment as Kei slides his tongue over his gums like the blond knows Tadashi likes and starts to kiss back. They kiss until Tadashi’s panting and his hair is completely free of its ponytail from Kei’s other hand tangling into it, and Kei’s back is tight and sore from their position.

Tadashi blinks hazily up at him, lips pink and slick. He grins softly and leans in for a chaste kiss before jolting so suddenly that his forehead knocks into Kei’s and sends the blond’s glasses clattering off onto the floor. Kei doesn’t bother reaching for them. 

Shit! Kei, the webcam’s still recording!” he mutters, lurching forward to turn the application off. “Crap crap crap—you’re awful!”

“You said that Ennoshita’s going to help you edit,” Kei murmurs smugly, watching the path of an errant bead of sweat down Tadashi’s neck. He wants to lick it off, so he does. Tadashi shudders against him and gives a quiet, choked off groan. Kei smirks and rubs his hand against the inside of Tadashi's thigh in response. “So let him edit it out, Tadashi.”

“I—no way,” Tadshi murmurs absently, blinking quickly. “I’ll just… I’ll do it again—”

He turns and glares at Kei, shaking off his star struck, smitten expression as the blond raises his hands into the air in mock-defeat. “And you keep your hands off! Do your own diary!”

“‘Today is Wednesday, and I got cockblocked by this assignment’,” Kei says flatly, miming writing in the air even as Tadashi chokes and reaches out to punch him. He grabs Tadashi’s wrist and lets himself fall back onto the floor, pulling Tadashi atop him. “Do the entry later. I’ll give you something really good to write about,” he says with a smirk, knowing he’s won as Tadashi adjusts himself so his knees are bracketing Kei’s hips. “Maybe you should record it anyway, for a different sort of diary.”

Tadashi just rolls his eyes at this and leans down to kiss Kei. Neither of them get their diary entry done that day.

Chapter Text

Yama:

I’m really sorry guys—I know none of you actually care but whatever—I can’t do this anymore. It’s really hard and I’m not sure if I can keep pretending to be cheerful when I’m not. Sorry.

bye-bye

He holds his thumb to the blog link on his phone, trying hard not to shake. He follows the link out and there it is, in all its mobile-crashing glory, the deactivated blog page and all he can think about is how he knows what that voice sounds like when he says ‘bye-bye’. He knows every quirk to Yama’s typing and how his voice sounds when he laughs so loud it makes his speaker crackle during their voice-chats and knows that Yama is lonely and quiet and he’s the only mutual of his that lasted through that horrible period where he was a self-destructive jerk. He can hear that soft voice whispering in his head:

I can’t do this anymoreSorry. Bye-bye.

Shit. Shit. Shit. This isn’t good, and he knows it and he wants to throttle every single person on the internet. It doesn’t matter whether or not that’s possible, but he really wants to. He wants to kill those jackass ‘fangirls’ of his who thought it was okay to torment his one and only friend because they think it’s Yama’s fault he doesn’t want to do the stupid vlogs anymore, and shit shit shit. This is his fault, he knows it, but there’s nothing he can really do.

They were supposed to meet up for the first time today—in an hour, actually. They were supposed to meet up. He’s already at the café they decided on in Yama’s hometown, wearing what they decided on, drinking coffee like he’s not a huge nervous, friendless loser waiting on the only friend he’s ever had.

Tsukki:

     Yama:

I’m really sorry guys—I know none of you actually care but whatever—I can’t do this anymore. It’s really hard and I’m not sure if I can keep pretending to be cheerful when I’m not. Sorry.
bye-bye

     It’s pathetic what people will make people do. I hope you idiots are happy with yourselves? @hitchan do you know anything?

He posts the message with without really looking; he hopes autocorrect has worked its wonders, and he’s tagged the right person in his message. Reason tells him that he probably shouldn’t be as worried as he is, and that maybe, Yama’s just deactivating his blog because he’s tired of being hounded by anons whose lives are so boring that they have to torment someone to have fun. The message doesn’t necessarily mean what he’s thinking it means. But even if it doesn’t mean what he’s afraid it does, it is still a very decidedly bad thing. 

This isn’t okay. It’s not okay, it’s not. He’s never had any friends growing up—he’s too insulated, too harsh to, and for a while that didn’t bother him. Yama’s the closest thing to a friend he has. He’s been chatting with the boy since the days where their blogs were new and shiny and full of naivety. Chatting, actually, is probably the wrong word.

The first conversation they’d ever had was a fight. It’s still buried somewhere on the archives of Yama’s friends tag—or… was, actually. That’s probably gone now that Yama’s deactivated his page. Kei’s never once bothered to tag anything that’s not reposts and reblogs, and it actually hurts to think that their first conversation is probably lost to years upon years of posts.

He winces to think about it, really, because it’s so damn embarrassing. Back then, he’d called it a ‘debate’; Yama had called it a ‘disagreement’, but it was really a tooth and nail back and forth bickering mess about the merits of the science behind… Jurassic Park, of all things. The retrograde embarrassment almost makes him want to go back in time and take the computer away from his junior-high self. Almost, because if he did that, he probably wouldn’t have met Yama, and he supposes the embarrassment is worth it.

He’d expected some asinine response to his sarcastic message about a graphic the boy had mistakenly tagged and reblogged to be the normal, juvenile sort that was rampant on the site or the very usual ‘I’m just going to ignore this’ non-response, so he was really surprised when he got an answer back. They’d quickly devolved into arguing back and forth about the decay factors of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, potential degradation factors, and things that Kei’d only ever been able to have conversations about with his brother in college. Yama wasn’t some kid playing on the internet—well, he was, but he was smart, and he was witty despite his overly polite language when posting and gratuitous use of emoticons. Kei was sold immediately—he didn’t follow people often, but he followed Yama without hesitation the moment he’d realized that Yama’d had followed him first.

Biology was the only point where their interests intersected on their blogs—if it wasn’t for that one mis-tagged graphic and Kei’s overwhelming urge to be a bratty know-it-all, they never would have met.

Yama blogged about bug collecting and astronomy and natural sciences; he took pictures of his collections and of gardens and the sky. He liked volleyball, but wasn’t very good at it. When Kei read his posts, the voice he assigned Yama’s words in his head was soft and quiet and just as polite as his typing; he’d been pleased to find out that Yama sounded just like Kei thought he would.

Kei blogged about music and books and video games, paleontology and anthropology; he had a following for his reviews and gameplay videos, even back when he was a brat from junior high. (He’d lost all but Yama when he’d thrown his month-long tantrum after he found out that his brother had dropped out of college and hadn’t told the family.)

His phone chirps, and he opens up the message application—it’s Hitchan. Hitchan is a recent friend of his, who he’d met through Yama; her name is Yachi and she’s an actual real-life friend of Yama’s.

Her blog is a mess of fashion posts and fanart, but she’s sweet in the same way that Yama is and really, Kei is horrendously indebted to Yachi because she’s the one that suggested that maybe after four years of internet friendship and a year of voice chats (also her idea!) that it would be okay, tentatively, for Yama and Kei to meet up in person.

The message is just her phone number and his hands shake so hard that his phone clatters to the table he’s sitting at. They’d never exchanged phone numbers before; it was kind of this weird unspoken rule between the three of them that phone numbers were, as of yet, a little too personal. It was the same sort of rule Kei and Yama had about their names—Kei doesn’t know Yama’s real name, and Yama doesn’t know his (this was more due to the fact that Kei, for some reason, has very a very fierce and feral following of fangirls, who—for obvious reasons—can go fuck themselves with a hoover, thanks).

Kei himself doesn’t much care if either of them have his number, but he knows that Yama is horribly shy and was bullied mercilessly up until the end of junior high and got loads of junk mail and spam messages on his phone because of it. He never pressed it, but if he had to be honest, it’d been one of his goals for the night, after meeting with Yama, to see if he could get his phone number so they could text and call instead of waiting for the chat app to load and being confined to spots with wifi to talk.

He scoops his phone back into his hands and dials the number. Yachi picks up immediately.

“Hello?” she answers nervously, “I-is this Tsukki-san?”

“Yeah,” Kei says and there’s a noise like a huge sigh of relief. “Look, what’s going on?”

“Well, I—I don’t know,” Yachi confesses quickly, voice rising in pitch. He hears keys clattering— real ones, not computer keys like he’s used to hearing in their voice chats—and he swallows hard. “His parents picked up the home phone and they said he’s not there—that he’d already left and he’s not picking up mobile and I am so sorry Tsukki-san I didn’t know it was bad I mean he’d shown me some of the messages he was getting and yeah, they were gross and mean and nasty, but he said it was okay, and he’s been so much more cheerful lately and he was really looking forward to meeting you, too, so I thought he was okay but I’m really scared what if he jumped off a bridge or put rocks in his pockets and went swimming or what if he got kidnapped and his kidnappers forced him to delete his blog so no one would notice that he’s gone or or or—”

“Yachi—Yachi, stop,” Kei mutters over the panicky rise of her voice. She’s the only one of them that can do any good—he only vaguely knows the sorts of things that Yama likes, but not where he’d go. He doesn’t need her to be panicking and thinking of increasingly morbid ideas. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Yachi repeats after taking a deep breath to calm herself. “I’m gonna go out and look for him—are you—are you still on your way to the meetup?”

“I’m at the café now,” Kei admits. He squirms in his seat, “Do you need me to help you?”

“No,” Yachi says immediately. “You stay. Tadashi doesn’t break promises, so he might just show up anyway, and I’m going to see if I can get him to answer his phone. If he seems upset you don’t let him leave the café ok?”

She hangs up before Kei can process that ‘Tadashi’ is Yama’s name. His real name. God, he didn’t want to learn it like this. He saves Yachi’s number on autopilot and opens up his blog again, staring at the message. There’s a lot more notes on it but he can’t bring himself to look at it; he doesn’t really care what other people have to say about the other boy.

He’s angry at himself, really. He knew that there was a subset of people who followed him that were just as nasty as he was, but that was just how the internet worked. He thought that since he’d made a couple of posts about laying off of his friends, they’d stop; he knew they didn’t though, but he’d hoped that they kept it to themselves.

Obviously not. He thinks he should have done something more to stop them. He starts typing out a message, angry and scared vitriol pouring off his fingers. His coffee’s gone cold by the time he finishes, and he feels drained. He hits the post button at the same time someone clears their throat behind him.

“Um… I-it’s Tsukki, right?”

…He knows that voice. He turns around and locks eyes with a very uncomfortable looking teen his own age. He’s tall and lanky and kind of rumpled-looking in his wrinkled cardigan and mussed-up hair, shoulders hunched as he clenches his fingers tightly around the strap of a messenger bag. But Kei knows that voice and he’s pretty sure he’s gaping so hard his glasses are sliding down his face.

“Um,” Kei says intelligently.

The boy turns pink and clenches the strap of his bag harder, “Um! It’s just that, I was supposed to meet a fr-friend of mine here and um, you match and um—my name is Yamaguchi Tadashi,” he stammers quickly and Kei blinks, momentarily distracted by the scattering of freckles across the boy’s face. It’s not until he squeaks out a ‘sorry!’ and turns to leave that Kei’s brain finally kicks into gear.

He jolts up and grabs Yamaguchi’s bag, “Tsukishima Kei—and why the hell did you delete your blog?!”

The boy—Yamaguchi, so that’s where Yama came from— kind of slumps forward before turning. “C-can I sit?” he asks.

Kei nods and drags Yamaguchi by the bag-strap to his own chair and gently pushes down on him. He settles into the seat adjacent, arms crossed tightly across his chest. “So spill it.”

“I couldn’t put up with the messages anymore,” Yamaguchi says helplessly. “It’s just… your fans are really scary, Tsukki,” he whispers. “It’s dumb but they scare me so… so I…”

“I thought you were going to kill yourself,” Kei says flatly. “So did Yachi.”

“What?! No!” Yamaguchi colors and he looks almost affronted by the statement. “No! I just couldn’t run that blog anymore,” he says. “I was going to start another one after I’ve cooled off. I mean, I can’t say I’m not really bothered by what they send me, because yeah, hearing people telling you that you’re not worth someone is pretty hard to hear, but no! No!”

Kei rubs his face with his hands and groans, “You should call Yachi and tell her you’re not dead by the way,” he mutters. He kind of feels like he’s going to throw up in relief. Which he’s totally not going to do, because no: he’s wanted to meet with Yamaguchi face-to-face for years now because the kid is literally his only friend, and to make matters worse, he’s cute. Like really cute. Not just ‘too cute to function’ cute, but ‘punch me in the face’ cute. “She’s been trying to get into contact with you, drama queen.”

He kind of wishes this whole thing hadn’t happened so he could be a bit more coherent for their meeting, but he’s stupid from relief and the fact that he hadn’t planned on Yamaguchi being just exactly his type of person (why didn’t he expect that? Oh, because he’s pathetic that’s why).

“Ooops, I bet she’s the one who got you worked up, isn’t she? She’s a worrywart,” Yamaguchi murmurs. He’s blushing so hard that his ears are red underneath his hair. He pulls his phone out from his pocket and fiddles with it for a moment, holding the home key for a second. He blinks and shakes his phone like that’s what’s going to turn it on. “Oh crap. Crap. Crap.”

“I can tell her,” Kei offers as he watches Yamaguchi hold his thumb to the home key with increasing frustrations. He slides his phone open and dials Yachi. “Yachi? Hey, it’s me. He’s here and fighting with his phone; it looks like it’s dead.”

Yamaguchi lets his phone fall to the table with a sigh and holds out his hand, “Can I? Please, Tsukki?”

He can’t say no to that, and the pitch with which Yachi is screeching in his ear hurts anyway, so he hands the phone over. He watches a shy grin curls across the boy’s face as their fingers brush.

Kei can feel the moment he falls helplessly in love with his only friend as he watches as Yamaguchi gives a habitual bow as he explains to Yachi how he’d dropped his phone into the bath (really?) a day earlier and how, maybe the rice trick isn’t magic after all (Kei could have told him that) and that, no no he's not going to go run in front of the bullet train, he's just upset, and yes of course he'd let her code his new blog's theme. He’s suddenly glad that he’s only a short bus ride away from Yamaguchi’s town, because now he doesn’t think that just talking on the internet’s going to be enough.

Maybe he’ll start a new blog too.

Chapter Text

Kei doesn’t make it a habit to stare at the nude models anymore than he has to. One, he feels like it’s really intrusive of him, even though he knows they’re getting paid to sit in awkward positions in the drafty, dusty art studio; two, he just… doesn’t like looking. Naked people just don’t appeal to him in any sexual way the way they seem to entrance some of his classmates, nor do they evoke any real artistic desire in him like it does in the others. 

Figure drawing is just that. Figure drawing. It’s a two-hour seminar class that ends with him covered in charcoal and with a stiff hand and pages upon pages of unaffected sketches. Maybe it’s because most of the models that waltz through are girls (because their professor, in Kei’s opinion, is an absolute skeeve; Kei thinks there’s a line between flat-out commercial porn and art that their professor doesn’t appreciate; it's his not-so-humble opinion that art is supposed to evoke emotion, and arousal without love does not). The days where the model is a bubbly co-ed with heavy makeup and high giggles are the days where Kei wants to trash his sketchbook the most. He doesn’t even bother to fill out anything past the basic gesture of the pose; there’s nothing hidden in the lines that could bloom into a full portrait or painting. He could do just as well with dolls or photographs with the amount of life these models hold for him.

There are days, though, where the model is someone older, someone with character, who’s wandered into the studio by seeming accident, need for extra money, or some weird desire to try something new. Those days, the sketches are looser, easier, and it doesn’t feel like the lines are being pulled from him like teeth. He still doesn’t stare, though.

Some of his classmates never peel their eyes away from the models, glancing only briefly at what their hands are lying down onto paper, hands moving in some instinctual pattern that Kei doesn't have; in fact, he’s the opposite. He looks, and then draws from memory. Maybe this, too, is his problem. His images are sterile.

But he doesn’t want to draw them. 

He doesn’t want to put effort into their form. There’s nothing he’s learning from this that he doesn’t already know, other than that his art, while technically correct—his lines cannot be faulted, his anatomy is good, spatial layout clean, grasp on shadows competent, color choices pleasing—is emotionless. It fails as art because there is no feeling in it.

His professors lap up the technical aspect of his art, praising him on his crispness and clean executions, and he chews on their words like they’re nails. He doesn’t understand how an entire department can miss the point of their subject, but they do.

He sets up at his customary starting easel and places his sketchbook with a sigh. He’s not looking forward for another two-hour session of endless, detached sketching. While he had never looked forward to figure drawing as a class—he liked painting landscapes and vistas more than he did portraits—he had hoped he would garner something out of it other than exhaustion, frustration, and a distaste for the human figure.

He liked people, he did. Or rather, he liked watching them, he thinks as he pulls out his charcoal tin. They’re full of movement and life, and it glows off of people like cast light. Those are the sort of people that he wants to draw, if he were to draw them. Not mindless, characterless, faceless parades of coed girls because their professor thinks smooth, pale skin and the swell of breasts are the epitome of the human form. (When asked, the professor swears up and down that these are the only people applying; Kei’s of the opinion that they’re only applying because it’s the only way to get an assured A in Art History, which for some reason is offered as a campus-wide elective despite being arduous.) He likes character, movement, people who think and whose thoughts are broadcast clearly. 

He plucks his eraser out of his tin first, warms the gum of it between his fingers, and kneads it absently to calm himself. It stretches easily under his fingers and he wonders if maybe it needs replacing; it’s not as dark as some of his classmates, but it’s certainly dark with use. He contemplates the relative shelf life of his eraser for a few minutes as the rest of the class sets up around him before sighing and continuing to lay out his supplies.

He plucks out one of his charcoal pencils, and slowly unwinds the paper from the tip, being careful not to smudge any across his fingers. He’s resolute in ignoring his classmates and his professor as he leads the model in for the week. When he looks up for the introduction, he’s met with the sight of a very gangly, shy looking college student.

It’s hard for Kei to guess at his age, because his cheeks are round and freckled, and the sheepish smile he’s giving as he introduces himself makes him look much younger than he probably is, but he’s most definitely a college student. 

Kei is struck by how much movement he can see in him. He’s fidgeting and pink-cheeked and his hair swings about his ears where it’s untucked from a loose ponytail at the back of his neck. It's coiled in the slope of his shoulders and in the arcs of his wringing fingers; he looks like he could spring up at a moment's notice. 

His voice is wavering, but there’s a soft undercurrent to it that Kei would paint as dapples of sunlight on the grass underneath a tree in spring. Kei isn’t certain how this boy—who’s murmuring his name as he bows (Yamaguchi Tadashi)—found the ads for nude models, or even how someone who’s entire body language screams shy and private thought of doing something like this, but he wants to draw him.

His fingers tighten around his pencil and he wants, for the first time this long, long semester, to draw more than just the briefest hint of motion and posture. He can’t pull his eyes away as the rest of the class murmurs their customary ‘thank you for your time’, but he can hear, over it, the murmurings of some of the less… quality… students in their class: Used to the endless parades of tits and ass that their professor brings in for their ‘art’, the boys who only majored in art because they felt like it was ‘easy’ and a good way to see naked girls are dissatisfied in the prospect of a male model. Some of their words are distinctly unpleasant. It's always the same.

And judging by the new model’s face, he can hear it too; his fingers clench in the material of the light weight white robe he’s wearing, having not yet reached the point where he actually strips yet. Kei’s pretty sure Yamaguchi’s about to bolt because his eyes are very firmly fixed onto his feet and his face and ears and neck are red (he starts thinking in color numbers, undertones, mixing ratios) and his shoulders are slumped forward (if he stood straight, Kei thinks, judging by the length of his arms, bow of his back, he would be almost as tall as Kei is—he wants this man to stand straight, it would be a sight).

He actually wants to draw, produce something resembling what he thinks of as art—not just the figure drawings he’s supposed to produce: He wants to see the set of the man’s muscles under his skin, wants to see the way his form falls when relaxed. They’ve had models chicken out before; it’s not like it would even be surprising, but Kei wants to draw for the first time all semester.

Pathetic,” he says, and the word echoes in the studio like an explosion. Everyone stares at him blankly and he curls his lips up into a sneer. “It’s not a fashion show, it’s a figure drawing class; if it’s tits you Neanderthals are so thirsty to see, go torrent some porn. Or maybe if you grow personalities and some decency, you might get girlfriends. So let’s get on with it.”

He says it all with his eyes still firmly fixed on Yamaguchi; as he talks, the boy blinks rapidly, face going from absolutely panicked, to startled, to something resembling relief. He was so open, every inch of him screamed out life and vibrancy. Their professor clears his throat a few times and Yamaguchi seems to get the message because he walks to the center of the circle of easels and slides the robe off of his shoulders.

He settles down onto the pedestal and drapes the robe over his lap in a last-ditch attempt at modesty. For the first half of the class, they let the models pose themselves however they feel comfortable, so it’s no surprise when Yamaguchi shifts his knees up and braces his feet flat against the pedestal, looping his arms loosely around his legs. He puts his cheek against his knees and closes his eyes, whether it’s to shut out the surroundings so he can pretend that about twenty strangers aren’t staring at him or if it’s because he’s tired (they’ve had models fall fast asleep—how, Kei’s not sure) but the effect is almost angelic.

The freckles aren’t just contained to his cheeks; they’re scattered across the blades of his shoulders and down his arms and back and he thinks he can see a smattering of them in the shadows of the student’s thighs. His skin is smooth and tight against the pull of lithe muscles—Kei thinks he must either work out or play some sort of sport that makes use of the muscles of his back and shoulders.

His skin is warm and tan under the studio lighting and Kei thinks that if he were to paint him, he could finally use that bottle of interference gold he’s never found a good use for, especially if the piece were outdoors and in that dappled light…

The two hours comes and goes and Kei fills his pages with not just figure drawings but details; he keeps getting distracted by small things—the curve of Yamaguchi’s wrists and ankles, the way he’s lithe and lean even though he looked so unassuming standing in the thin white robe; how his hair falls across his face and curls out. There are things he can’t capture without better supplies, like the dark sheen of his hair, or the color of his flush against his cheeks.

They’re packing up and leaving, the class, but he’s not done—he hasn’t drawn what he wants to yet. He slings his bag over his shoulder, pencils clattering in their tin, and tucks his sketchbook under his arm and does the unthinkable for him: he approaches the nude model.

He kind of stands a bit awkwardly in front of Yamaguchi, brain not quite caught up with his body’s decision to walk towards the other student.

Yamaguchi looks up at him (not as far up as everyone else does, though—Kei was right, he is relatively tall) and blinks. “Ah! Um, thanks, by the way, for before,” he says shyly. “It was kind of cool of you to do that. I was about ready to flee for my life.”

“If you’re that shy, why did you come?” Kei blurts out without really thinking about it, and wow. Smooth move.

Yamaguchi doesn’t seem phased in the slightest. Instead he laughs and tugs on his ponytail a bit in what seems to be his nervous tick. “Art history,” he says with a shrug, like it explains everything.

Kei grimaces, “Wait, do you mean you’re gonna—?” He makes a rather lewd hand gesture.

Noooooo,” Yamaguchi says, a little loudly. The sound echoes across the mostly-empty studio and he gives a small apologetic laugh, as if he’d not meant to deny Kei’s question quite that loudly.

Kei finds himself chuckling; he nods, and raises an eyebrow. He waves his hand to indicate that he wants to hear more.

“Well, between you and me,” Yamaguchi murmurs, looking around the room before a smirk slides across his lips. “Your professor is kind of a perv, you know? So me and my roommate made a bet, that whoever got the lowest grade on our last art history exam had to sign up for his ‘extra credit’ and see if he would take us if we weren’t girls.”

“And you lost.”

“Yep; Hinata wouldn’t let it slide, either, so I had to. And apparently he can’t turn down guys if they explicitly ask,” Yamaguchi supplies, laughing as he flourishes his hand at himself. “So… here I am. Though, sorry if you guys didn’t get anything great out of me art-wise. I’m not much to look at.”

“That’s not true,” Kei blurts before he can even parse what he’s said himself. He backpedals smoothly; “It’s not about that; the goal is to catch lines and motion of the human form. We do some detail sketches but it’s mostly more about how the human body works spatially. So don’t worry.”

Yamaguchi grins at him, a full-faced thing that makes his eyes crinkle and his nose scrunch up and murmurs a soft ‘thanks’ that makes Kei do something even more unthinkable.

“Will you be my model?”

Chapter Text

“So do you want to go out and eat with us, Yamaguchi?” Hinata chirps happily. “I mean, I guess the both of you can come?”

Tadashi snorts under his breath at the way Hinata eyes Kei; if he were a cat or a bird, he’d be fluffed out to twice his size. Kei just eyes him lazily, like he’s considering saying something about the snub he just got, but he remains silent. Hinata bounces on his feet, waiting for the answer even as Kageyama rolls his eyes and tells him to stop. Yachi fidgets beside him.

Tadashi hums thoughtfully. They don’t often go out to eat with just Hinata, Kageyama, and Yachi without the rest of the team, mostly because the three of them live the in opposite direction and they have this weird pseudo-dating-type relationship where the conversations all devolve into screeching and sound effects and Kei only rarely has the patience for it (and… really, as fond as Tadashi was of his teammates, he didn’t often have the patience for it either, nor do either of them really want to think about what the three of them get up to alone). He looks over at Kei and their eyes meet.

Kei raises an eyebrow expectantly. He’s waiting on him, Tadashi realizes, to make the call. It surprises him sometimes that Kei waits on him now, instead of the other way around. He thinks that’s just how their relationship is, a continual loop of playing ‘wait-and-see’ with the other. Tadashi waited for Kei to come around, and Kei waits for Tadashi to make decisions like this. He grins.

“Nah,” he says as he shakes his head. “Thanks, but Saturdays are our days,” he continues as he reaches down to slip his hand around Kei’s. Tadashi would have never pegged Kei for someone who doesn’t mind overly affectionate displays—the blond is always standoffish at best, and has always been that way. But Kei doesn’t mind; in fact, he initiates just as much of it as Tadashi does:

They hook pinkies during practice and hold hands on the way home. Once, Tadashi’s gotten an absent-minded kiss on the cheek during lunch break, so this sudden display of couples’ affection doesn’t even phase Kei. He just squeezes Tadashi’s hand slightly as he tips his head back, smirking smugly down at Hinata. He leans himself so that he and Tadashi’s shoulders are brushing, and Tadashi’s convinced that if he wasn’t already holding Kei’s hand, the blond would have put an arm around his waist just to gloat.

Hinata blinks a few times before snickering. “Wow, you two are stupid gross,” he says. He laughs like he’s made a huge joke and starts turning his bike around; “We-ell, if you want to join us any other day, just let us know okay? We don’t mind going out another day, isn’t that right?” he asks, looking over at the two other second years.

Yachi squeaks out a yes as Kageyama shrugs awkwardly; Tadashi laughs and waves them goodbye with his free hand. He waits until they’re out of sight before stopping. “You thought I’d say yes?” he asks, squeezing Kei’s hand softly.

“I wouldn’t have minded if you did.”

“Yes, but,” Tadashi murmurs thoughtfully. He looks up at his boyfriend, studying his face. There’s a pensive scowl schooled on it. Tadashi’s pretty sure what it means. “I’d rather not today.”

“And if they ask next Saturday?” Kei queries as he reaches up to push his glasses up his nose.

Ah, there it is. It’s still such a foreign concept to him that sometimes, Kei gets insecure about their relationship, that he thinks that he can’t provide much for Tadashi, even though Tadashi’s assured him over and over that Kei’s already given him so much. Tadashi spent so much time being afraid that Kei would leave him for someone better, for a more competent friend, that it never occurred to him until they started dating that Kei felt the same way. 

He wants to throw his arms around the blond and shout at him that he would never, never leave him. Not even for lunch with friends; that, given the choice, he would always, always choose Kei. But he knows Kei doesn’t like promises about forever because they’re so easy to break.

“Well, if all three of them have that short of memories, there’s no hope for their college careers, and I really did think Yachi was better than that,” Tadashi answers with a snicker as they make their way to Kei’s house. “Because I think I made it obvious that, no, Saturdays are when I spend time with you, without the rest of the team in the way.” He pauses as Kei snorts. “But if they do ask, I probably won’t feel like it then, either. Or the Saturday after that.”

The quick flash of a smile on Kei’s lips makes Tadashi feel like he’s fizzing with happiness; Tadashi needs and likes being reminded that Kei likes his company just as much as Kei needs reminding.

Saturdays are truly their day, after all. It’s been their day since they were kids and couldn’t stay up late to save their lives; Saturday is the day that Kei felt like he had to fill after the incident with Akiteru, and he filled it with Tadashi. Not that Tadashi ever minded; he was the one who showed up stubbornly every day for a week at Kei’s door in the morning so the blond couldn’t avoid him, after all.

After so many years, they’ve fallen into a comfortable routine with it, even now that Saturday night is pretty much equivalent to ‘date night’: they go home, whose home depends on the week and what food is in the fridge in their respective homes, get their homework done as fast as they can without the quality suffering, and then they watch videos or play games until they fall asleep. Sometimes they watch movies on the TV but recently they’ve taken to watching them on Kei’s laptop.

It’s easier for them to have privacy that way.

Like every Saturday since they started officially dating, they curl up together once their homework is done, forgotten about, and shoved aside and they’ve dutifully eaten dinner. They’re fresh changed into pajamas and snuggled up into the corner of the bed between the headboard, pillows, and wall as the movie they’ve selected starts up on Kei’s laptop. As the title loads, they shift a bit to get comfortable.

Tadashi is comfortable in Kei’s lap, leaning back into the blond’s chest as he wiggles himself just so, so that his height is balanced perfectly to match the way that Tadashi’s against him. His legs tangle up with Tadashi’s, his arms loose around the brunet’s waist.

Tadashi wiggles his shoulders as Kei drops his head slightly; he leans back a bit more as the blond nuzzles his cheek, his hum of contentment buzzing against Tadashi’s ear. They stay like this until their legs cramp and Tadashi starts dozing off against Kei’s warmth.

They rearrange themselves so that the computer is on one side of the bed, while they sidle up, back to front, on the other side. Kei’s hands slide up Tadashi’s shirt and the brunet yawns. He scootches himself back so he’s pressed tight to Kei, and keeps at it until Kei is sandwiched firmly between Tadashi and the wall.

Tadashi barely stays awake through the first movie, and falls asleep somewhere a third into the second; when Sunday morning rolls around, Kei’s moved the laptop to the floor, escaped from the wall, and has his arms just as firmly around Tadashi as Tadashi’s clinging to him in their sleep.

Chapter Text

He hasn’t even started class yet and he’s pretty certain he can’t do this. He’s not even certain how he managed to get his certification, considering all of his review forms told him he needed to grow something resembling a spine before even thinking about stepping into a classroom. The nicer ones suggested dropping down from high school to maybe, oh, a kindergarten teacher.

Basically? He’s hopeless.

But somehow, he got his certification and he got a job. A job that seems, to be honest, a bit sketchy and they’re probably just as desperate as he is, because the school looks run down at best, and… well. Well, he wanted to teach, so here he was.

“Renovations after the storm damage seems to be taking longer than we’d expected,” the principal, a scary-looking man with a surprisingly kind manner named Daichi said with a sigh as he ran his hand through his hair. “So, for now, the science wing is a bit… cramped. You’ll be sharing office and lab space with another class, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ah, no, I don’t mind about the office… but about the lab space,” Tadashi murmurs, “How will that work out?”

“It’s only for the biology labs,” Daichi says, pausing to introduce Tadashi to a few teachers they pass in the hall. He continues once Tadashi straightens out from his bow; “We’ve rearranged our students’ schedules so that there’s only two biology labs being run for your grade; they’ll meet in larger than normal groups, and you and Tsukishima-kun—who you’ll be sharing your office with too, I’ll introduce you in a moment—will run the labs in tandem. I know this isn’t the best set up, throwing a new teacher into something so nonstandard before you’ve gotten a chance to discover your real teaching style, but it’s just for the semester.”

“And the earth systems classes?” Tadashi asks tentatively.

“Run on your own,” Daichi says with a nod. “It’s a specialty class, so there aren’t as many students enrolled to take it. Both your earth systems class and Tsukishima’s historical geology course are elective sciences.”

“I see,” Tadashi replies. He doesn’t, not really. But it is what it is, and he’ll do his best. He rather hopes the other teacher he’s going to be working with is nice.

He isn’t.

Tadashi’s introductions go about as smoothly as sandpaper, with the blond biology teacher barely looking up from his laptop. He hardly even speaks: it’s Daichi who introduces him and explains the situation again and before wishing them both well on his way out.

Tadashi looks around the office, a small room cluttered with specimens, papers, textbooks, and the spare bits and pieces to what looks like maybe fifty out-of-date microscopes. A lab table has been re-purposed as a desk for Tsukishima, and it’s piled high with geology samples and fossil casts, and what looks to be an actual, legitimate Tsunyidiscus (he can’t be certain until he puts his hands on it, but next to it, used as a paperweight atop a five-inch thick stack of what looks like student worksheets, is a very gorgeous chunk of opalized petrified wood that he knows by the sheen of it must be real).

He wonders just how long Tsukishima has been a teacher here, to gather up this amount of samples for his classes—some of them are on par with his university’s. He also wonders just where exactly he’s supposed to set up residence at, because Tsukishima has his things spread out across the lab bench. He clutches the strap of his bag and wrings his fingers around it and shifts his weight idly to one foot, trying to surreptitiously peek about the room for a space to settle into.

“There,” Tsukishima says shortly, glancing over the thick edges of his glasses at Tadashi. He nods his head with a jerk to what Tadashi presumes is supposed to be his place.

“Ah, thank you?” Tadashi murmurs, side-stepping around a large pile of textbooks, the stack offset with sticky-notes that read things like ‘class 1-A’ and ‘date collected’ followed by scribbles of nearly illegible student names and numbers. As he wades further into the clutter of the office, he sees the space that Tsukishima has indicated to.

It’s a meter by meter square spot on the other end of the lab bench, bracketed by very precarious piles of… stuff. He sighs through his nose. There’s at least an outlet for his laptop, even if there’s not room for much else.

He just figures he’ll… slowly move out as the term goes on. Garner a little more room for himself, a centimeter at a time. He’s mastered the art of taking up as little space as possible, despite being a few centimeters over a full one-eighty.

He’s not even sure he’s going to last a full term anyway. He sets his laptop up and opens up the rosters and files that Daichi gave to him in the introductory staff meeting that morning, and wishes he had another five thermoses of coffee and had started at the very beginning of the new school year, and not at the start of the third quarter.

But it was the only school hiring in the area—or rather, the only school desperate to call back after one of their senior teachers retired early after the school was hit hard by a typhoon and sent a good third of it crumbling. He’s pretty sure he was only hired because he had the geology and biology credentials and could take up the slack on the teacher’s abandoned earth system classes.

He carefully signs into the school wifi, into the intranet to clock in and access his class files and starts opening lesson plans. He spreads out his files as carefully as he can on the one meter he’s been allotted by Tsukishima.

An hour passes in silence. Two. Tadashi gets up and finds the staff room, hands shaking around his styrofoam cup of too-bitter and over brewed coffee. He goes back. Three hours. He finishes the coffee. Tsukishima says nothing.

It’s not until the workday is thirty minutes until ending that he finally braves speaking. “…S-so Tsuki-Tsukishima-san, about the labs…” he murmurs.

Tsukishima looks up at him and glares; Tadashi swallows hard but keeps his gaze, trying to desperately prepare for the prospect of thirty-plus eyes on him just like that come the morning.

“I’ll handle it,” Tsukishima says sharply. “Don’t bother. I’ll forward you the lesson plan.”

Tadashi feels himself color, but he can’t do anything but mutter his ascent.

His first day on the job is nothing short of a disaster. He can’t look his own students in the eye, mispronounces at least five names per class when reading the rosters, stumbles over even the simplest of scientific terms that he knows he can say, because he said them when he was presenting in his undergrad research seminar and realized that he liked talking about these things, and he liked explaining them and helping people access the information—so why can’t he do it now, after he’d went back to school for this? It's so frustrating that it's worse than discouraging; it wrecks the remains of his confidence. 

Word travels fast in the high school, and by fourth period, the shared lab period, the students have recognized him as new, shy, and soft-spoken. He’s talked over, ignored, and the classroom resembles a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies before his salvation comes in the form of a particularly pissy-looking, tall, taciturn blond.

Up until this point, Tsukishima had been lurking in the back of the classroom; Tadashi thinks he’s been surveying his skills at basic classroom management, and he feels like he’s back in school all over again. He recognizes the look of veiled distaste and disappointment in Tsukishima’s cold amber eyes and it’s brought home by his colleague’s click of his tongue and a muttered ‘pathetic’ as he plucks the roster from Tadashi’s hands. He passes it to a student with the instructions to sign by their names and put their seat number down so they can track who uses which microscope, since it’s such a large class.

He says this last bit with a flick of his eyes towards Tadashi, gaze harsh and scolding.

Well what else was he supposed to do but take the roll, he thinks a bit hysterically. Tsukishima’s lesson plan had been practically Greek to him, nothing like the well-scripted and detailed forms that the education college had promised would be standard fare in the actual front-lines of school. Tsukishima brings the class to order with a sharp command of ‘quiet’ and a look that could freeze the Sahara.

Tsukishima handles the class with a strict elegance that Tadashi always found terrifying as a student, but admirable as an education student. The confidence and poise it takes to walk the line between stern and needlessly severe is something that he never quite found within himself; his students always just walked all over him. The students listen to him as he calmly informs them of course goals, experimental procedure, and lab safety. Their attention is rapt and Tadashi is maybe the tiniest bit jealous. 

Tadashi is reduced to handing out papers and changing power point slides. He handles maybe about an additional five minutes of class before it ends, and he feels more discouraged than ever. He watches the students rush from the lab for lunch, despondently straightening up his own things before he even begins to think about addressing his coworker.

He looks over at Tsukishima as they round up the scattered lab materials and safety contracts that are neatly piled at the end of each bench, and make sure everything is put away properly. “Um. S… sorry about the lesson,” he mumbles.

Tsukishima regards him for a moment before moving to readjust the dust sleeve on a microscope; “Why did you even bother becoming a teacher?”

“E-excuse me?”

“You’re hopeless.”

Tadashi ducks his head as he feels his throat tighten and eyes prickle. He knows his cheeks are an uncomfortable shade of red, but he can’t even bring himself to refute the statement. He’s aware he’s helpless; he’s been walked all over by students for the past year and a half in his internships and told—in much softer words than these— that he won’t make it a week as a real teacher. He desperately wants to prove them wrong, but it looks like he’s going to live up to their expectations.

He thinks that it’s probably better if he just quits; for himself and for the students, but a text from the only professor who ever gave him any sort of encouragement makes him stick it out for a few more stumbling weeks. He can’t let down the only person who kept him going when he was doing poorly in his internship placements.

Be patient and take deep breaths! Don’t rush and be confident, you can do it.- Shimada

Tsukishima continues to ignore him and shut him out from lab lectures, the students barely listen to him when he lectures, but he chokes out his words in small pieces and shaky breaths and gets it done.

He reads the text after every period. He looks at it for the third time that day, and repeats the words quietly to himself.

He drops his phone to the meter-by-meter desk space he still hasn’t managed to expand. He rubs his temples with a sigh. If only it were that easy. He’s no good, he’s just no good. He wants to curl up and just not move or think or have to be; he wonders if he curls into the corner of the office and covers himself in enough school-life detritus, if he can become a fossil himself, pressed and preserved between the pages of textbooks.

He starts wondering just what the fossil record of him would mean when he becomes aware of the quiet rustling that generally heralds someone picking their way through the piles of stuff Tsukishima’s cataloged by leaving on the floor of their office.

“Um, excuse me?” a soft voice asks, and Tadashi looks up to meet the eyes of one of his and Tsukishima’s lab students. “Sensei? I have a question about class.”

He studies her and thinks back to the seating roster for a few seconds before it comes to him: her name’s Yachi Hitoka, and he remembers her frantic questions about whether or not any of the specimens they’d be working with could mutate and cause a zombie apocalypse.

Tsukishima had treated the question like she was trying to rile the students up but Tadashi could see she was actually worried—it was one of the few times he’d braved the courage to cut the blond off and take control of the class. But he’s pretty certain she’s only in the shared lab section, because he doesn’t remember her from anywhere else, and he has a fairly decent memory when it concerns the rosters (because he’s terrified of calling a student by the wrong name).

“Good afternoon,” he greets warmly. “Tsukishima-sensei isn’t in at the moment, if that’s who you’re looking for.”

The girl shakes her head and squirms a bit uncomfortably, “Um no, I actually, I’d rather you help me. Tsukishima-sensei is a bit… he scares me,” she whispers, cheeks pink as she tucks some of her hair behind her ear. She waves her hand a bit absently in the air, “It’s like… he looks like if you made him mad he’d tie you up and pour concrete on your feet and dump your body into Tokyo Bay! Or—or sell your organs on the black market and make the other students dissect your spleen and—and—”

“Woah, hey, Yachi-san, deep breaths,” Tadashi says quickly, noticing how her cheeks were turning pink and her voice was speeding up with a bit of a hysterical twinge. “Sit down and we can discuss what you want to, ok?” he soothes.

He rolls over to where the spare office chair is, unearths it from a few textbooks and files, and rolls it back to Yachi. He waits until she settles and pulls out her notebook from her bag before speaking again. “So what is it that you need help on?” he asks kindly.

She fiddles with her notebook. “Well, everything,” she laments.

Tadashi takes a deep breath and promptly begins to delve into the problem that ‘well, everything’ entails. As it turns out, the note-taking strategies that Tsukishima had insisted the class use were what was tripping her up.

“Don’t do it,” he advises her firmly. “Take the notes like you would for your other classes, they look well organized, and they obviously work for you. And here, for the taxonomic rankings, try laying them out like this,” he added, sketching out the umbrella sketches that had helped him out in high school. “For the specific ones, like Drosophila, try flash cards, if that sort of thing helps you. If you study with friends, you can make it like a sort of matching game. That part is sheer memorization; but if you need any more help with it, come back to me, and we’ll work on it, yeah?”

“A…are you sure it’s okay to change from the sheets that sensei handed out?” she asks nervously, taking the sketch from Tadashi. “…he won’t… fail me if I do that, right?”

“If that’s what helps you do better,” Tsukishima says from the doorway, the copies he’d previously left to go get in hand. “I only hand them out that way to make it easier on the students. If they cause you problems, then don’t use them.”

Yachi squeaks in surprise, the paper in her hand crumbling as her fingers tightened around it; she gives another panicked sound and smoothes it out against her lap frantically before bolting up out the chair and bowing to both of them before rushing out of the room, face red as she shouts a “thank you very much Yamaguchi-sensei!” as she leaves.

Tsukishima watches her scurry off, face impassive, before he turns his head to regard Tadashi thoughtfully.

Tadashi resists the urge to squirm under the gaze; he wants to run screaming just like Yachi, to be honest. He thinks that he’ll probably just leave and not come back if Tsukishima is overly critical of him again; it’ll just be the last straw, really. Especially if he’s managed to mess up when a student came to him specifically for help.

“If you can actually teach, why don’t you?” Tsukishima asks with a click of his tongue. He goes to settle at his space on the other side of the lab bench.

“…what?”

“Just now,” Tsukishima says idly, flicking through his copies and starting to separate out pages of his impending test. “You just went over two weeks’ worth of material with her in about, oh, ten minutes? And you did it fairly thoroughly and in easy-to-understand terms. If you can do that here, why don’t you do that in your actual classroom?”

Tadashi runs a hand through his hair and slumps against his meter of free space. He reaches out and runs a finger slowly against the curve of a fake ammonite. “Well, I get nervous,” he says finally. “I’m good with one on one counseling and tutoring, but when I’m in a large classroom, I can’t… I can’t focus, I guess. I don’t think I’m suited for teaching, not really,” he sighs. “So you don’t have to say it again.”

“If you’re just nervous,” Tsukishima interrupts, “It’s not a big deal. Just pretend like the class is one whole student. In its own way, it is, I suppose—think of it as a siphonophore colony. Every student has a different strength, but you need to address the base information as if they were a single organism so the students’ strengths can function together; it won’t work if you take it apart.” He taps his fingers absently on the desk as he purses his lips thoughtfully. He shifts his gaze from his copies to Tadashi’s, looking into the other teacher’s eyes for the first time that day. “Teach to the group like it’s a single person, and when someone asks a question, your focus shifts to just that person. If eye contact messes you up, just focus on places near students, like behind their shoulder or something. Don’t they teach this stuff in college anymore?”

Tadashi shakes his head, then pauses. “Well, I guess? I took my public speaking class online, so… I don’t know. But I’ll try that.”

Tsukishima sniffs like he’s distinctly better than acknowledging that he just gave out advice. But Tadashi notices that he steps back a bit more in their lab classes to let Tadashi handle more of it afterwards, eyes trained tentatively on Tadashi as he shuffles his lesson plan notes with shaking hands. 

Tadashi tries Tsukishima’s advice; he pretends like he’s explaining the material to a student one-on-one, giving the information in the most straight-forward and interesting way he can. Slowly, he stops stammering out genera names. His students perk up a bit more as he grows more confident and starts explaining the subject the way he loves it the most. 

The lab class becomes less of Tsukishima's endless lectures to something that resembles a discussion between two experts; they work well together, bouncing topics off of another, rounding the students into discussions. Tsukishima lets Tadashi handle the things that are his specialty, especially when it comes to the lectures on plants and system ecology, and Tadashi lets Tsukishima handle evolutionary theory day, snickering behind his hand in their shared office as the blond railed on about the stupid questions and stupid ideas that the media gave the students. 

It's pleasant, Tadashi realizes, being able to work with Tsukishima like this. 

He resolves to start trying to talk to Tsukishima more, because, really, they’re sharing an office and Tadashi would like a little more elbow room, and he doesn’t feel comfortable asking for it when all they talk about are lesson plans. He’s also kind of curious what sort of person the blond is underneath the stern teacher; he’s a cluttered, grade-A paleontology nerd, Tadashi knows. He’s also a huge tea drinker and he’s unexpectedly kind underneath his bluntness. He has a passion for correcting the misconstrued ideas that students often have about biology because of the disconnect between its technical language and every day language; he honestly likes teaching, even if he's a bit short with his students at times.  

He’s attractive, Tadashi thinks, once he stops being terrified of the other man and his sharp tongue. But that’s an off-limits subject, and he can’t talk about tea to save his life. He’s also pretty sure that mentioning how nice he thinks Tsukishima is isn’t probably the best conversation starter, and they talk about teaching all the time, so he starts with the fossils.

“Say, is that a real Tsunyidiscus or is it a casting?” Tadashi asks one day during their planning period.

“Ah, that? Yes, it’s real. I brought it in for a lesson on the Cambrian.” He pauses for a moment, and looks up; he tips his head curiously, studying Tadashi. “How did you know it was a Tsunyidiscus?”

Tadashi shrugs. “It’s really small. And it looked like the cephalon and pygidium are about the same size? I could have been wrong, but… It seems I wasn’t.”

“What’s your background?” Tsukishima asks, blinking quickly. A small smile quirks across his lips. “Paleontology?”

“Geobiology, actually,” he corrects, beaming. “I just happen to like arthropods.”  

“Marine?”

Tadashi scratches his cheek, “Not exactly. Mostly just hexapods, really. You know bugs.”

Tsukishima makes a noise in the back of his throat that Tadashi is overly familiar with—it’s that noise that’s the vocal equivalent of a visible shudder. He’s quite used to it, and it makes Tsukishima feel a tad more approachable and infinitely easier to tease.

“Bugs are great, come on, sensei,” Tadashi whines. “Let me show you my collection! I’ve been collecting since I was a kid, they’re great.”

“No thank you, do not bring them here,” Tsukishima says sternly in his 'teacher' voice. “I don’t want them.”

“Oh come on,” Tadashi laughs. The invitation slips out before he can stop it; he feels his face heat up. “Come over for dinner—I can show you my bugs; I have some great specimens in amber I finagled into my collection when my favorite professor retired—we can grade those lab practicals together. I have a pyritized trilobite from that same professor that’s still got its eyes pretty much intact.”

Tsukishima looks at him over the rim of his glasses. He sits and considers the offer while Tadashi blushes steadily harder; he smirks. “Can you even cook? All you eat is store bentos,” he scoffs.

“I can!” Tadashi laughs, waving his hand dismissively. “So come over.”

“Only for the trilobite,” Tsukishima says mildly.

Tadashi grins. He’s suddenly very glad he’s stuck it out this long.

Chapter Text

‘I think these are your socks’, the caption says. It doesn’t matter that they’re not Tadshi’s socks, he’s still wearing them. Long feet and knobbly ankles fill the screen, the hem of his uniform pants just barely in the frame, dinosaur patterned socks that were a gag gift from years ago the focus of the shot.

‘You stole them’, the reply goes, attached to the growing pile of things that Tadashi’s conveniently ‘left’ at Kei’s house. Some of them were left on accident, others were leftover from the time before Tadashi realized he didn’t need an excuse to return to Kei’s room, and some were kept by Kei on purpose. Another of the pile, ‘You don’t see me wearing yours’.

The next reply is a selfie, Tadashi’s smug, ‘whoops you caught me’ expression warm and sweet and without any caption but ‘:D’ and Kei screenshots it and adds it to his embarrassing camera roll full of pictures of his boyfriend.

The only person Kei snapchats with is Tadashi, and occasionally Akiteru (which was a recent development; previously, Kei ignored his brother’s messages just like he ignored the stupid ones from the rest of his teammates). Tadashi’s a serial snapchatter though, and he sends flurries of pictures to not just Kei, but to the other members of their team as well, along with friends he’s made at practice matches and their old senpai.

It’s weird to watch Tadashi flash up a peace sign at his phone or aim it at the ground or nearby surroundings in answer to Hinata’s blurry pictures or Yachi’s nearly masterful sceneries. It fills him with a warm sort of fluttering fondness that he realizes, with no little embarrassment, is pride. It mortifies him at first, because it’s a different sort of pride than the type he feels when Tadashi hits consecutive service aces or manages a particularly difficult receive on the court, an appreciation of effort well spent.

No, it’s the sort of feeling he imagines a parent would get, because the feeling is always accompanied by the memories of Tadashi from elementary school, who was shy around strangers and wary of anyone who tried to be more than passingly friendly with him (Kei was always the exception, but that was an exception that Tadashi had seemed to make himself). And it’s horrendously embarrassing because Tadashi’s his boyfriend, not his kid, but he eases into it because he knows Tadashi feels it too: 

He’s seen it on the other boy’s face during practice when he speaks up, during games when he tries a little harder than normal to make a block, when he’s visiting while Akiteru is home from college and they have conversations as a group again. He sees it when he knows Tadashi's watching him explain something in halting, awkward terms to a curious first-year who has managed to brave their fear of his sharp wit; he sees it when he holds his tongue. It's a soft and warm expression, a small smile that curls up just the edges of Tadashi's lips, more lowered lids and quirked eyebrows than any real expression. 

And he doesn't blame him; they have so much to be proud of now. 

The way they were then, there would never be snarky and teasing messages attached to selfies or shots of their room or homework, or a picture of the front of the other’s house with the caption of ‘let me in!’ or selfies of them cuddling in response to a plea to come hang out from Hinata or the first and second years who all adore Tadashi to bits because he’s their reliable and patient vice-captain, who never fails to give out good advice and translate the scary, awkward commands that Kageyama gives them. Replies to these pleas for Tadashi's time almost always bear a caption of: ‘sorry! can’t— taking care of tsukki so he won’t sulk!’ on them. 

They’ve watched each other bloom from their respective withered branches and buds. He takes a picture of the cherry blossoms outside his house, captioned:

‘I'll see you at graduation, Tadashi.’ 

Chapter Text

“I can’t come over after school today,” Tadashi mutters into his phone as he struggles to stick his foot through the leg of his uniform pants. He nearly falls over; he hears Tsukki sigh in frustration in his ear. “I have to come home right after class.”

His friend’s voice is tense and irritated as he asks: “What about practice?”

“Well, you guys don’t really need me, do you?” he asks, falling back onto his bed with a loud thud that disrupts his family’s cat with its impact. He wiggles into his uniform pants while trying to keep the phone nestled between his shoulder and ear.

He and Tsukki are part of their school’s volleyball team, which… despite their efforts, isn’t too good (the members insist they have potential; Tsukki says they’re a potential disaster). The team is also made of… some pretty unpopular people, which is weird, considering that athletes are supposed to be pretty popular in high school. Not that it matters much to him, but it's still a bit baffling. He doesn’t play, though: he mostly just stands around in the uniform and helps out because he gets so nervous when he goes up to serve (which he can do; he… just can’t do it when more than one or two people are looking at him) that he falls apart and is just generally hopeless, and he doesn’t think anyone ever forgot the time he threw up out of anxiousness.

Not that it matters to Tadashi—the only thing that actually matters to him is Tsukki. That's why he'd kept playing in junior high, even though he sucked at it: It was a chance to hang out with Tsukki more than he usually did. Of course he took it. 

“So why can’t you go then?”

Tadashi lies on his bed and looks at his ceiling that he and his mother painstakingly painted exactly to match the night sky during summer. It’s flecked with glitter and glow-in-the-dark paint that’s touched up every six months so that when he falls asleep at night, it’s like he’s falling asleep in his old childhood memories from before they moved into the city where he can’t see the stars. “Well,” he says slowly, tracing constellations with his eyes. “My grandmother is coming to visit.”

Tsukki snorts, “She lives like, two minutes away, big whoop.”

“No,” Tadashi corrects, “Not that grandmother. The other one.”

“…The bitchy European one?”

“That one.” Normally Tadashi tries to correct Tsukki when he’s overly rude or blunt because it makes him feel a little bad to laugh along with Tsukki’s sarcastic quips, because they are funny, even though they often cross lines that Tadashi wouldn’t: but he can’t even be bothered this time, because it’s true.

His grandmother is probably the biggest bitch that exists, Tadashi thinks. She doesn’t even use his Japanese name, and from what he’s gathered, strongly disapproved of his parents’ relationship. Not that it mattered much anymore, since his father caved and dumped his mother and went back to Europe. He died a few years ago, and while he was sad at the time, since he still got letters frequently from his father even though he knew that his grandmother wasn’t thrilled about it, the memory just sort of makes him mad. Mostly at his grandmother, because she’d asked for them to not go to the funeral; Tadashi had been remarkably stunned when his mother agreed without a protest.

“What does she want?” Tsukki asks.

“Dunno,” Tadashi answers. He can hear his mother calling him. He sighs and sits up, “Look, I’ll talk to you on the way to school, ok? I gotta go.”

“Alright.”

They hang up and Tadashi finishes getting dressed; he doesn’t even bother looking in the mirror, because he knows what he’s going to see. A gangly, messy looking first year whose hair can’t lay flat even if his life depended on it, which, in full sunlight is sort of a greenish-brown that, in his opinion, is very unattractive. He’s pretty certain his hair came from his father, because his mother’s is a standard black. He reaches up and unconsciously pushes his palms against his cheeks and rubs his face; he tries hard not to think about his face, either, because as if being too-tall for his personality and perpetually messy-looking wasn’t enough, his face and arms and everything was covered in freckles. He’s pretty sure he’s inherited those from his dad, too.

He grabs his book bag and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. His mother’s already set out cereal for him and he settles down in front of it. “Tsukki’s already on his way,” he says, trying not to talk with his mouth full.

His mother looks up from her tea and sighs; “Did you tell him you’re not going to practice today?”

“About that,” he says. “Do I really have to meet with grandma? She’s… why is she visiting?”

He watches in interest as his mother makes a face, swirls her tea, and pokes at her own cereal with her spoon. “Well, you’re turning sixteen soon,” she says slowly. “And… it’s about your father’s side of the family. When you turn sixteen, you see… Well, your grandmother will cover it more thoroughly than I can, but I’d like you to have an idea before she comes... It’s just...” her voice trails off uncertainly.  

“What, is it like an inheritance from dad or something?”

“Something like that,” his mother agrees, looking uncomfortable.

“You can have it,” Tadashi says immediately, before scraping the last few crunchy pieces of cereal out of the bowl and standing just as the doorbell rings. “Gotta go, that’s Tsukki! I’ll see you later mom, and don’t forget to finish writing that review for the magazine, okay?” he reminds his mother, slinging his bag over his shoulder.

He hears her call after him, “Tadashi, honey, it’s not like that—!” as he opens the door and beams up at his very disgruntled looking best friend.

It’s really dumb, he knows, but he always goes all breathless and fuzzy feeling when he opens the door when Tsukki comes to pick him up for school. There’s just something about the way that the blond’s face goes from impatient to that little half-a-smile he gives when Tadashi throws the door open; he knows it’s just because Tsukki hates waiting on things, and that brief lip-twitch upwards doesn’t as much have to do with Tadashi’s presence as it does relief that he doesn’t have to stand still and wait anymore, but it still makes his stomach flutter happily.

He might have the most useless, dumbest crush on his friend. Maybe. He’s not really sure, because Tsukki’s always made him feel fluttery and important, even when he was ten and they’d just moved to the city and was getting mercilessly picked on. Tsukki had saved him then, and he’d continued to do so even to this day. He’s not sure if this means that he’s always been in love with his friend, but he certainly knows he is now. Not that it means anything. He’s never going to do anything about it—he decided that months ago.

He’s not brave enough to confess in the first place, and he’s definitely not confident enough to be able to navigate high school without his friend. And it’s not like anyone as cool as Tsukki would like Tadashi anyway, who’s plain on a good day and horribly shy. Tsukki might not be conventionally popular (because with that tongue, who would be), but he is infamous and there are definitely girls who like Tsukki (Tadashi’s had to play courier to enough love letters to know), and one day, Tsukki might like one of them back.

And just like a lot of realities about his life, Tadashi’s just going to have to deal. It’s not like it matters much anyway, when they’re walking to school together and Tsukki’s on a roll about the poor unfortunate souls they go to school with.

They talk about idle things on the way to school like always, from Tadashi lamenting that his  mother has the worst writing habits—she always waits until the last minute for a piece then writes without sleeping, eating, or doing anything else for days—to Tsukki verbally decimating a couple of kids from their class because they were stupid enough to ask the question that marks idiots everywhere during their biology lesson (‘if evolution’s real why do we still have monkeys’—Tadashi could literally hear Tsukki’s mental cackle of vindictive glee; the blond’s going to have ammo on them for months now).

Tsukki doesn’t ask about Tadashi’s grandmother until Tadashi’s packing up to go home: “Hey, let me know what she wanted,” he requests in the way that Tadashi knows isn’t actually a request, it’s an order.

“Will do,” Tadashi answers, giving a mock salute. This earns an eye-roll and Tsukki making a show out of pulling his headphones on. Tadashi chuckles and trots off.

When the time comes, though, he’s not actually sure he should tell Tsukki. He thinks he should just file this entire afternoon away with the whole ‘I’m in love with my childhood best friend’ in the portion of his brain that he stores things that he must never, ever speak of. Ever. 

He’s sitting at his normal spot on the chair in their dining room, but he feels like he’s on the set of some drama. He tips his head to the side as he blinks owlishly, a habit he’s picked up from Tsukki over the years; this is his house, yes.

These are the well-worn ‘nice’ china tea cups that only see the light of day when his mother’s editors visit, or when family—like his grandmother, just now—comes to visit. Steam is still wafting up from his untouched cup. He can see his reflection in the green liquid; a leaf bobs to the surface and breaks the image of his shell-shocked face.

He can hear his mother and his grandmother at the door, talking in low tones. “Just… wait for him to understand the gravity of the situation,” his mother is saying in her flawless English that he’s never picked up—his English reception and reading is good, but his enunciation is shit. It suddenly matters a lot more now than it did when he was just worrying about it for a grade.

His grandmother huffs and sighs but agrees and snaps that, “In all reality, you should have let him know when he was much younger. But I held my tongue because I was of the opinion you knew what was best.”

He looks around the room. It’s so interesting how this set has perfectly recreated his home, down to the papers from his mother’s newest composition piece scattered around and the chip in the table from where he had accidentally dropped an entire pot of soup on it.

Because his life cannot be real right now. No  one, not even his snobby, bitchy grandmother can convince him that he is royalty. That that snobby, bitchy grandmother who sniffs down her noise at his mother with her perfect English and slightly accented Japanese and wiped off their china with a handkerchief before using it is a queen.

Of an entire country.

That Tadashi is the sole heir to.

That’s… complete and utter bullshit. Sure, sure, it had sounded reasonable when they had laid it out to him—his parents had met while his mother was studying overseas. That he knew was true; that his grandmother had protested, yeah he knew that too.

But that his father was a prince, and that he’d intended to have more children, but didn’t and that, since Tadashi was the only male son of the direct line, although technically illegitimate, he was first in line for the throne? What a joke.

And that since he was turning sixteen in a few weeks, he had to formally announce his intentions to take the throne. That he didn’t know he was heir to. That he had no idea he was heir to. This had to be a joke; he’d never even heard of the country before. They were pulling some awful joke on him, like those kids in elementary school who’d pretended to be his friends in order to isolate and torture him.

He doesn’t know why his mother would do something like that—maybe she found out that he was in love with Tsukki, and this was her way of punishing him. He’s not sure, but he definitely doesn’t think it’s true. (The he’s-a-freaking-prince part, not the I’m-definitely-being-punished-for-liking-another-guy thing.)

He pushes away from the table and rises unsteadily to his feet. He grabs his phone and his wallet and sneaks out the back door.

He climbs the back fence and tumbles into his neighbor’s shrubs, and he crawls through them until he reaches the back alley that runs between his street and the line of townhouses that backed up onto their property. He thinks he’s got maybe five minutes before his mother realizes he didn’t go to his room.

He starts walking, not really planning anything past making his escape from his house. Did this count as running away?

He’s not a problem child; he doesn’t do anything bad. No drugs. No alcohol. No sex (he laughs internally at this). The worst he’s ever really done is gone along with Tsukki’s jeers; he figures some of those are pretty bad, but not bad enough to get punk’d by his family. ...Well, he thinks that maybe getting off thinking about your male best friend is kind of bad too, but he blames the fact that he's a horny teenager with an unrequited love and, honestly, if every teenager like that was going to be punished, there'd be a lot more kingdoms. 

He keeps walking, hugging his arms tightly to himself in the cold air. He should have thought to grab a jacket, honestly. Without knowing, he finds himself at Tsukki’s house.

So much for not telling his friend. His life is such a pathetic joke. He rings the bell tentatively, knowing that Tsukki’s probably not home yet; he’s not sure what he’ll do if his friend’s family isn’t home. Probably just sit, shell-shocked on the steps.

Luckily the door opens and Tadashi finds himself face-to-face with Tsukki’s older brother, Akiteru. “Tadashi-kun? Shouldn’t you be at practice with Kei?”

Tadashi shakes his head and wipes his palms nervously off on his pants. He’s always liked Akiteru, because he was sweet when Tsukki wasn’t, but he hasn’t actually talked to his friend’s brother since they were in middle school and Akiteru had dropped out of the volleyball program at school without telling anyone. “Um, no, I had to do some family errands,” he says softly, “But they’re done and I told Tsukki I’d be over when they were done.”

“…Are those… leaves in your hair, Tadashi-kun? And where’s your coat?” Akiteru ushers Tadashi into the Tsukishima house with the same sort of older-brother worry that Tadashi remembers from when he and Tsukki were young and would return home from school scraped up and dirty from encounters with bullies. He feels his throat tighten up and his lip trembles. A small noise escapes him, much to his embarrassment, and he starts to cry.

“Are you okay?”

Tadashi nods, then shakes his head, as he rubs his face with his forearm. “I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. He kicks off his shoes at the entryway and mumbles a very quiet, “Sorry for the intrusion”.

“Do you want something to eat? Tea? Dad’s still at work, mom’s at the store, and I was about to go to work myself, but I can stay if you want someone here until Kei gets home,” Akiteru offers, and Tadashi shakes his head at it. The attention is nice, but that’s not really what he wants. He kind of just wants to curl into a ball and try to parse what’s happening to him and he can’t do that with his friend’s brother hovering over him.

“Nah, I’ll just go up to Tsukki’s room and read or something until he comes home. I’ll text him and let him know I’m here, so he doesn’t think, I like… broke in or something. You go to work. I’ll be fine,” he reassures Akiteru with his best ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me’ voice, and he flashes the grin that makes adults immediately trust him with everything. He’s not fine, and someone should probably be worrying about him because he’s ten seconds from bursting into panicked tears again, but he’s fooled so many people with that voice and smile combination (a weapon he’d not known he’d had until Tsukki’d taught him to use it) that he doesn’t feel particularly bad when Akiteru lets him slink upstairs.

He goes up the familiar route to his friend’s room and lets the door close quietly behind him. He allows himself the luxury of falling face-first onto Tsukki’s bed, still unmade from the morning. He pulls his phone out and eyes his phone like its unread messages are a personal betrayal. They are, actually, because they’re all from his mother. He ignores them and sends out a message to Tsukki.

To: Tsukki

i’m at your house you won’t believe what happened > m < ;;
hope practice goes well don’t tell my mom i’m here please?
16:40

He opens up his internet browser and types in a tentative query, and there it is. In clean English, on the internet, on various sites that he knows can’t be forged, is his father’s face at the end of every official royal family tree on the internet. He groans.

He shuts his phone and pushes it to the edge of the bed and buries his face in Tsukki’s pillow and pretends he’s just some lovestruck teen burrowing into his crush’s bed out of repressed admiration, not because he’s freaking out about the fact that his mother and grandmother just dropped this huge thing on his shoulders.

He sulks and sighs and rolls over to stare at the ceiling for a good hour and a half until Tsukki trudges into the room, dumping his bags onto the floor without ceremony or word of greeting. He starts shucking off his clothes with similar stoicism, and it’s not until he fits an oversized sweater over his head that he starts talking, “So tell me why I had to lie to your mother when she called me, near in hysterics, trying to find you?”

“I snuck out the back and climbed the neighbor’s fence while she was seeing grandma off,” Tadashi says tonelessly as he rolls over onto his side to watch as Tsukki makes a noise that sounds like vague approval and astonishment as he changes out of his uniform slacks. Maybe he should have closed his eyes. “Basically, I ran away.”

“And that’s why niisan called me too, all panicked?” Tsukki pulls on a pair of jeans, not even looking at Tadashi. 

“Probably?”

“Why’d you run away from home?” Kei asks, settling into his desk chair. He starts up his computer, drumming his fingers against his desk.

“Because,” Tadashi says slowly. He rolls back over so he can stare up at the ceiling. “Apparently my dad was a prince. And I’m the only heir. Which, honestly, is the worst joke ever.”

“The worst joke ever, actually, is you pretending that you think I’m going to buy this.”

Tadashi sighs and points at his phone. Tsukki takes the hint and rolls over, scoops up Tadashi’s phone and unlocks it, the official webpage for the royal family opening up.

“Apparently, sixteen is the age of ascendance or something, and I have to officially accept or decline the throne,” Tadashi says tonelessly. Tsukki’s silence prompts him to continue—the lack of biting comments means the truth is slowly settling in on his friend just as it sank into him. “My mom—and my grandma—want me to accept, and my grandmother is forcing me into this… royal boot camp thing, basically. Where I learn about the country and politics and etiquette and how to dress and talk…”

“Yamaguchi,” Tsukki says quietly, “You’ll decline, right?”

Tadashi chews on his lip and stares up at the ceiling and tries not to cry. He fails. He’s scared that he won’t; that he’ll start these lessons and he won’t have the courage to say no and disappoint his mother and grandmother and all those nameless, faceless people he’s supposed to rule. He’s scared that he’ll start and end up wanting to, because he’s always desired a place where he belongs, where he can be helpful and useful and needed, and… being a prince is something that fills all those wants of his.

“If you accept, you’ll have to leave,” Tsukki continues. “You’ll have to go live there, won’t you?”

“Yes,” Tadashi answers, tears streaming silently down his face. “Yes. I’ll have to go.”

“Then say no. I’ll teach you how to stand up to people,” Tsukki offers, leaning forward until his forearms are braced on his bed and he’s glaring down at Tadashi. “I’ll teach you how to say no. I’ll come with you, and be nasty so your grandmother thinks you’re unsuited—hell, I’ll teach you how to be rude too…”

Tadashi looks up at Tsukki, who’s face is pink and his eyes are slightly wide and wild-looking. Tsukki is promising to polish the sarcastic bits of him, and it feels like he’s baring his heart and begging Tadashi to stay with him.

Who is he to say no? He leans up and presses his mouth to the blond’s, feeling rather brave. If it doesn't work out, well, he has an entire kingdom to flee to. It’s a quick, passing thing of a kiss, but it has its intended effect. Tsukki stops his diatribe on how he can get Tadashi to turn down an entire kingdom and gives him a sly, bemused smile.

Tadashi settles back down on the bed and lets his eyes slide closed. He already has his place to belong. 

Chapter Text

It’s dark in the alleyway and he’s cold and wet because the rain hasn’t let up once in hours, and he’s hungry. He curls up tighter against himself, drawing his wet cloak closer to his body in an attempt to warm himself. He could, theoretically, pick himself up from his mud puddle and wander out into the main street where the lamps are lit against the early twilight and the guards and constables could see his face, where the rain had washed off the soot and dirt he’d rubbed onto it and his hair when he’d snuck out earlier that afternoon to disguise himself, and he’d get easily swept up from the cold, damp streets and put into warm clothes and given a hot bath and a meal…

But then he’d be alone again and have to deal with the crushing realization and responsibilities that were dropped so suddenly on him that afternoon.

He hugs his knees tightly and, much to his own embarrassment, starts crying at the memory.

He’d grown up adoring his older brother, who was so composed and fair and kind. Akiteru was smart and just and always, always helped him when he had problems with his studies or with interacting with the other nobility who lived in the castle with them. Akiteru was warm and friendly and good at everything.

Until he wasn’t. Kei thinks back to the sight of his brother on his hands and knees in his chambers that morning, glasses and pottery in shards around him, tapestries torn from the walls, his bed wrecked, and coals and logs from his fireplace strewn across the room. In the middle of the wreckage, Akiteru knelt and sobbed, not knowing his brother was staring, stricken, at the door.

Hours later, Kei had been summoned from the library where he was hiding to his parent’s private chambers. His mother and father sat, side by side as always, in their normal chairs in the sitting area of the chambers. Before them, Akiteru knelt, head bowed and shoulders slumped.

Kei froze at the sight, his eyes wide. His mother explained in halting tones as his father’s face grew hard and the line of Akiteru’s back tightened, that Akiteru was officially abdicating his right to the throne. He was giving up his birthright, everything he’d worked for, everything that Kei had thought he would be.

He was throwing it away, leaving Kei with the weight of it all, all the expectations and admirations that had been piled up on him for years. They were heavy, and truthfully, Kei would have never blamed Akiteru at all for chafing under them, but he’d never once betrayed any sense of unease; he’d shouldered them all with a smile and Kei had never had any inkling that things were less than fine.

What Kei did next, he wasn’t proud of: he backed up to the door and ran, overwhelmed. And now he’s hunched and sobbing into a mud puddle in some back alley, hungry and cold and wet and miserable.

He shivers and clenches his jaw, knowing that if his teeth start chattering he’s done for. He’s never liked being cold, and the clattering sound of his teeth knocking together sets him on edge and gives him headaches. He’s been spoiled his entire life, he’s well aware of this; he’s never been cold or wet or hungry for any extended amount of time and he’s never once been anything but coddled.

Seven years younger than Akiteru and born as a relatively sick child, Kei was spoiled and babied as he grew up by everyone, despite his sour attitude and social ineptitudes and dislike for court manners. Everyone had just let Akiteru coax him out of his sullen fits and pull bright, sweet-faced smiles out of the kingdom’s youngest prince. It never occurred to Kei before today that someone needed to pull something other than smiles out of Akiteru himself.

He sniffles pitifully and hiccups against his knees, mud sinking into the soles of his boots and making his toes so cold that they hurt. He wonders if he cries hard enough, Akiteru would take back his decision and stay with them, but he’s too old for such thoughts and he squashes it down along with the loud, whimpering sob that tried to escape his throat.

“Hey, is someone there?”

Light floods into the alleyway, golden in the gray half-light; noise spills out from the open door along with light and warmth and the smell of food and drink that had been buffered by the heavy wooden door.

Kei huddles tighter into himself, biting down hard onto his lip to stifle any noise. He doesn’t feel like being found, especially not damp and muddy and face swollen from crying; he doesn’t want to be dragged into a tavern for the guards to pick up and for the entire kingdom’s—they’re his, now, his—subjects to see. He’s utterly pathetic.

There’s a brief silence, then a soft noise that sounds like a hum. “Are you hurt?” There’s a metallic scraping sound and a splattering of water. Kei peeks up from his knees. There’s a small figure hunched over a tub of dishwater, struggling to push it further out into the alleyway. The figure straightens and holds his hood over his face in the rain.

Kei squints and gets a good look at the child, dimly noting round cheeks and darkish skin and messy hair underneath the thick oilskin cloak wrapped around thin shoulders and rather dirty, but well-cared for clothes.  He’s too rumpled looking to be part of the higher mercantile guilds, but he doesn’t have the ragged, patchy look of the lower classes, servants, and peasants. His parents probably own the tavern and are training him to work there, Kei thinks.

“Hey, are you hurt?” the boy repeats again, stepping closer until he’s kneeling in front of Kei. “Are you lost?”

Kei drops his forehead against his knees and mutters out a petulant, “Maybe.” He’s never needed to know his way around before, so of course he’s lost; it doesn’t matter much, because he knows all he has to do is pull back his hood and let someone see his face and he’ll be on his way back to his home in the castle faster than he could learn the street’s name.

The boy in front of him laughs suddenly, a sound that reminds Kei of the small crystal bells he was given by a visiting royal family when he was little and would still play with the small trinkets he was given out of custom. “Well, sitting in the mud won’t help you much, you know?” he says conversationally. “I get lost all the time, so it’s okay. Come inside, it’s too cold and wet to let someone sit out here, and it gets dangerous after dark.”

“I don’t want to,” Kei says stubbornly. He wants to, badly; the boy in front of him is radiating warmth, and there’s heat breezing past from the open door, and he can smell bread baking and something savory like stew.

“But if you come in, we can dry you off and call in the constable and he can take you home,” the boy offers, stretching out his arm and shielding Kei a bit from the rain with his cloak.

“I don’t want to go home,” Kei answers.

“Okay,” the boy says slowly. “Well, then, I bet if you offer to help out, my parents will let you stay for a bit. One of the boys who helps serve isn’t here today because his little sister is sick, so we’re short staffed.”

“Tadashi!” a woman calls and the boy, who Kei guesses is the Tadashi in question, looks over his shoulder. A woman with a plump face and brown hair sticks her head out of the door, “What’s taking you so long to dump the water? It’s cold, so stop playing around, you’ll get sick!”

“Mom, there’s a boy out here,” Tadashi says, “He’s lost.”

The woman smiles and sighs, “Another stray? This is a step up from cats, you know? Well, bring him in,” she says in a way that’s only slightly scolding.

Tadashi beams and grabs at Kei’s hands, prying them off from around his knees and drags him up to his feet, chattering happily, “See! I told you. So don’t worry about it, we’ll help you ou…. Oh.

Kei swallows as Tadashi’s eyes meet his own, the words dying in the boy’s mouth. Kei notes that he’s got freckles scattered darkly across his face and his eyes are a very warm shade of brown. Tadashi scrambles down, and for a second Kei thinks the boy is going to kneel in front of him in the mud, but instead, the boy scoops up a handful of mud and smears it across Kei’s face.

Kei splutters as Tadashi continues to rub it into his hair and takes off his glasses and pushes them into his pocket. “Hey! Hey do you even know who I am?!” he demands as Tadashi smears another handful of mud into his hair.

“Yeah, and if you don’t want to go home, you gotta be less conspicuous okay? Blond hair isn’t all that common you know?” Tadashi murmurs. “And stay away from the customers.”

He grabs Kei’s hand and gently tugs him into the warmth of the tavern’s kitchen. He stands awkwardly, dripping, on the threshold as Tadashi finishes his task of dumping dishwater. The boy struggles for a minute with the tub as Kei stares blankly at him; Tadashi tips it over into the alley, unleashing a flood of water that Kei’s glad he didn’t stay crouched in the mud for, and then drags the tub back inside.

Tadashi pushes the heavy door closed, blocking out the dark and cold with the movement. He slips off his cloak and hangs it up by the door before crossing his arms and staring at Kei with pursed lips. “...let’s see,” he murmurs.

He grabs Kei’s hand again and drags him out of the kitchen to a small hallway. He pushes Kei towards a set of stairs. “Go up and the first room on the left is mine. Don’t drip too close to the bed and start up the brazier, ok? I’ll bring up food and towels and see if we have enough hot water for you to bathe.”

Kei blinks and squints against the fuzzy image of Tadashi’s pensive face. He turns and climbs the stairs up to a dark foyer, the hallway splitting into two wings of identical wooden walls and doors, carefully whitewashed and painted and kept clean. It’s an inn, too, Kei realizes. He turns to his left and goes to the door he was instructed to, idly wondering why the merchant boy is going out of his way to hide him.

Surely, if Tadashi’s family was to produce him, Kei’s parents would reward them. It could probably be good for their business as well. He shivers in the dark. Tadashi had told him to start the brazier, but he’s not really sure how to do that. He just stands and looks around the small room.

It’s clean and well worn-looking, with an oil lamp and a small bed tucked into a corner and a thick wooden desk with books stacked up on its surface. He blinks, squints, and shuffles closer. He wasn’t aware that the working class could read, not really. Maybe the family is of a higher social class than he thought. But he can’t imagine the upper merchant classes bothering with actually running the inns they own themselves; from what he’s gathered from his lessons and countless, boring, dinners that he’s not allowed to talk during, that the richer the person, the less work they actually did.

Tadashi steps into the room with a large tray laden with food and a bowl of steaming water. “Ah, it’s dark in here!” he remarks, setting the tray down onto his desk. He shuffles around the room, lights his lamps, filling the room with orange, flickering light.

Kei blinks and rubs at his cheek, where it’s itching underneath the drying mud. “Give me back my glasses,” he commands.

“One moment,” Tadashi says easily, striking a match and lighting a ball of kindling before dropping it into the brazier. The kindling catches easily and spreads to the coals in the wrought iron of the brazier. Slowly warmth begins to spread to the room with the familiar scent of slow-burning coals. He fishes Kei’s glasses from his pocket and hands them over.

Kei fixes them on his face. Tadashi then hands him a towel, then moves over to the trunk at the foot of his bed. “You’re a bit taller than me, but my clothes will do for now, don’t you think?”

“Excuse me?”

“You need to change, or otherwise you’ll catch a ridiculous cold,” Tadashi says. “And you can wash off the worst of the mud with the water I brought in; we’re warming more so you can bathe properly.”

“Oh.”

Tadashi piles clothes into his arms and deposits them onto his bed before turning to Kei. He blinks and sighs as he notices Kei’s inaction. “Raise your arms,” he instructs. “I’ll help you out.”

Kei feels himself turn pink underneath his coating of mud. “I can do it myself!”

“Wet clothes are hard to get out of,” Tadashi reasons, stepping forward and starting to strip Kei of his damp clothes. “I used to be a page, so you can trust me to not do anything weird.”

He pulls all of the wet and muddy clothes off of Kei without another word, humming tunelessly under his breath as he dips a cloth into the bowl of hot water. “…If I can ask,” he says slowly, starting to dab the mud off of Kei’s face. “Why were you in the alleyway?”

Kei closes his eyes as Tadashi lifts his glasses and wipes away the mud and dirt under his eyes. He shivers, suddenly chilled. He hears Tadashi click his tongue, and the warm touch of the damp cloth is removed from his face. Something heavy and woolen and dry is draped around his shoulders and Tadashi guides him down to sit in a low stool.

Kei opens his eyes and looks at his feet and pulls the blanket closer around him. “Why are you being so… nice? You could have just turned me in and I’m sure your family would get money or something for finding me. I don’t know what you want.”

“People aren’t just nice because they want things, you know?” Tadashi says lightly, setting the wash cloth aside. “It’s true,” he continues as Kei snorts at him. He passes a warm cup of what smells like mulled cider to the blond. Kei takes a tentative sip before gulping it down, waves of warmth spreading from his throat to the tips of his fingers and toes.

Tadashi picks up the rag again, wrings it out into a spare bucket before dipping it back into the warm water, and starts on rubbing the worst of the mess out of Kei’s hair. “It’s not often, I know, but sometimes it happens. But if you really want to know, I wanted to thank you,” he says softly.

He sighs and slides a towel over Kei’s hair. He sets these things aside and hands the blond the bowl of stew. He settles on the floor in front of the prince, watching him eat with a curious intensity.

“What do you mean?” Kei asks after he’s taken the worst edge off of his greedy hunger.

Tadashi leans back onto his hands and stares up at the wooden ceiling. “Well, a few years ago, there was a civil war—it ended up a revolution, to be honest—in the country I’m from. A lot of us fled here,” he says carefully, “Your family granted us asylum and gave us a new start.”

Kei blinks and wracks his mind; he dimly remembers it. It had caused an uproar with the nobility in the kingdom, who disliked any threat to their status quo, especially since a few of the families who had sought refuge in their country were high ranking aristocrats themselves. The families had stayed in the castle as their plight was heard and they sought court from his parents.

“When we stayed in the castle,” Tadashi continues, “… well. Well… it’s not really surprising,” he says carefully, “Since… pages often fight amongst themselves, even when I was one… and I suppose the boys in the castle felt threatened, and I was targeted. A group of older boys led me off and started to… well, it wasn’t very pretty. You saved me; chased them off of me and took me back to my quarters and sent your servants to clean me up. I never got to thank you.”

Kei blinks dumbly over his stew. He remembers this. He doesn’t really remember the boy, no, but he remembers the noise the boys made, the way their jeers and laughter and the sound of them hitting someone echoed off the walls, disturbing his study time; he remembers being angry and being told by one of the boys that they were doing it for the betterment of his kingdom, and being so hotly angry about that that he’d let the temper he normally kept back flow, raising such a ruckus that his guards came. He remembers Akiteru ruffling his hair afterwards and telling him he’d done well and exercised his authority as a prince in the right way, to help someone rather than himself. He’d felt rather small afterwards, because he’d only done it because the noise had been obnoxious.

He swallows around the lump in his throat. “I’m not worth thanking, I ran away.”

Tadashi blinks up at him and shrugs. “It still doesn’t change the fact that you showed kindness to me,” he says. “And that you don’t particularly deserve to be sitting in the mud and cold. I’ll keep you from being found out, if you want. You can stay until you decide what to do about whatever made you run away,” he tells Kei softly. He pulls his knees to his chin and peers up at the blond.

“My brother abdicated,” Kei blurts out before glaring down at his stew. He stabs his spoon into it a little more forcefully than he should have, and some splatters against his hand. His scowl deepens.  “He said he couldn’t live up to my expectations of him, or the expectations the kingdom has of a crown prince. He wants to work instead.”

“I’m sorry,” Tadashi murmurs. “It must be scary.”

“…not particularly,” Kei mutters. Tadashi laughs softly.

“You’ll figure it out,” Tadashi promises.

Secretly, Kei doesn’t think he will. He thinks about it for the next week as he hides out at Tadashi’s family’s inn. He doesn’t go outside or work in the front of the tavern area, but instead helps out Tadashi with his chores.

The other boy takes to calling him ‘Tsukki’ and is effortlessly patient with him. He wakes Kei up in the morning before the sun rises, brushing off every nasty thing that Kei growls at him in his foul, pampered early-morning temper as he carefully combs a disgusting mixture of coal dust and black oil into Kei’s hair to hide his bright blond curls. He gives him clothes to wear and tips on how to talk so he won’t seem out of place and guides him around the inn. Tadashi is a better teacher than his professors and governesses ever were, and his unfailing patience reminds Kei very strongly of Akiteru, even when Kei becomes sullen and snappish.

He half-wonders if Tadashi’s only being kind to him because Kei’s the prince, and he thinks that treating him with care is going to gain him something, not because he wants to repay a debt that Kei barely even remembers incurring. But then he’ll say something rude and mean and look at the way that Tadashi tips his head to the side, thinks about it, then laughs, and it lets Kei knows that the smaller boy is just inherently kind. Tadashi is far, far kinder than he thinks Kei is, Kei decides.

Kei’s not sure which is worse, honestly. Tadashi’s kindness leaves a sour taste in the back of Kei’s mouth that he just can’t identify. It’s not until he overhears a few members of the royal guard’s guild discussing Akiteru’s abdication and Kei’s subsequent disappearance that he realizes what it is:

“It’s the best move, honestly, for the former prince to step aside,” one of them says. “The younger one was bound to overtake him; this way, there are no fights for succession. It’s a smart move.”

“Yes, I’d heard that the new crown, Kei, is quite the clever one. Quick to think and act, but that when he does, it’s always a good tactical move, and the subjects it concerns always end up better off, especially when he sits for petty court. A bit rough around the edges, but who isn’t at that age?”

“Akiteru-sama probably thought it was best to step aside before Kei-sama realized what was going to happen. It’s hard to fight against your family, and harder to realize your younger sibling is going to overtake you; he more than likely wanted to spare his brother the pain of it,” a third guard said.

The other two nod in agreement and Kei wants to sink into the ground. Everyone believes in him so much to do what is right, and what is just: Akiteru believes that he’s going to be a good prince and a good king, the guards believe it too. And Tadashi… Tadashi does too, but he also believes that Kei is going to do the right thing, the kindest thing.

So he does; he turns himself in and returns home to the castle and throws himself into his studies and training to be a good prince. He hates it sometimes, because it’s tedious and boring and he chafes under responsibilities.

But it’s bearable when Tadashi joins him at his request; first as his page, then as his squire. Then his knight and champion, and when they’re old enough, the boy—who is no longer a boy, but a man with long limbs, scarred hands, and the same open smile, messy hair,  bell-like laugh, and ability to draw out the best of Kei’s effort—becomes his consort.

Kei takes great delight in the fact that despite Akiteru’s best efforts, he still ends up in line for succession to the throne.

Chapter Text

Kei blinks himself awake and sighs. The room is noisy, butit’s the distant sort of noise that lets him know that he’s slept probably alittle too long and that all the hot water for the dorms is gone, hogged byhordes of volleyball crazed idiots and the best portions of breakfast are already served, unless Tadashi saved some for him. But he doubts it, because Tadashi’s been just a little bit pissy with him since offhandedly mentioning to Kuroo and Bokuto that he and Tadashi are dating. (He’s not sure why they’re here, anyway, shouldn’t they have graduated? Well, it’s not like their own senpai don’t visit often.)

And since neither of them would know chill if it bit them in the ass, they proceeded to hem and haw and be obnoxious about it. Which is fine, if they had kept their general obnoxiousness to Kei. But no, they had to go bother Tadashi with their idiocy, which… isn’t fine, considering Tadashi’s still fairly terrified of Kuroo (“It’s not that he actually scares me,” Tadashi explained awkwardly on the first day of the camp, after Kuroo had startled him so badly that he’d actually shrieked and dropped the ball he was about to serve onto his face; “I’m just… not good with people like that? I don’t know, it’s weird.”), and no one can truly manage Bokuto.

What also isn’t fine is that they started bugging Tadashi—teasingly and entirely without any ill intent (well, Kei knows their intent: to bug the shit out of him)—about their sex life and Kei could swear in that moment that he was a dead man. A very, very dead man. Who will probably not see the inside of his boyfriend's bedroom for some weeks, if the look Tadashi shot him was anything to go by. 

He’d never been that great at keeping his mouth shut, so he’s not really sure why Tadashi’s surprised that he’d let it slip that they were dating, but he figures he’ll weather out Tadashi’s ire, buy him fries and milkshakes and coax him out of the last bits of irritation and everything will be fine in a few days a week, and he’ll keep his mouth shut from now on.

About that. Them dating. And… not hint at... anything else.

Not that he’d said anything, not really. But Kuroo had made a snide comment about Kei not just scoring on the court anymore, and, okay, so he’d slipped up and might have smirked a little more smugly than was appropriate for the situation... And of course, Kuroo had leapt on that faster than a  starving panther on a corpse.  

...He’s definitely a dead man.

It might take more than one carton of fries and a milkshake: he might have to explicitly apologize. Not that he’s above that, because he’s not, but he thinks that Tadashi’s being shyer than he should be about the entire ordeal. Possibly. 

Okay, so Kuroo could get lewd when he got going; so could Bokuto. But what had gotten Tadashi really mad was them shrieking something in scandalized horror about Kei ruining Tadashi's sweet-faced innocence (to which Kei had to snort at, because Tadashi was anything but in bed. This of course, made them worse... Okay he's starting to compute just exactly why Tadashi's being pissy. But it's not like it's anything to be ashamed of, he thinks.). 

He reaches for his glasses.

They’re not there.

He sits up and glares at the blurry surroundings. He doesn’t see anything that looks like them. He grabs his phone, where a reminder chirrups at him as he unlocks the screen so he can call Tadashi to ask if he’s seen his glasses. He frowns at the reminder and opens it carefully.

His calendar is cheekily marked with one of Tadashi’s hallmark phone ambushes.

Today is marked as ‘find your glasses day!’. Well shit. He does not deserve this. He definitely maybe probably does not deserve this. 

He opens up his messages and sends one to Tadashi:

                To: Yamaguchi Tadashi
                really??? for real right now???? no
                06:30

                To: Tsukki
                Here’s a hint!
                Attatchment: “glasses1.jpg”
                06:32

Kei groans and opens up the picture. It’s Tadashi, who’s grinning cheekily up at the camera, flashing a peace sign. Kei squints and wrinkles his nose. The little shit’s wearing his glasses and he shouldn’t think it’s cute instead of infuriating, but it is. He saves the picture onto his phone. There’s just enough of a background to see Hinata laughing and the sinks of the bathroom.

                To: Yamaguchi Tadashi
                give me my glasses you shit
                06:35

                To: Tsukki
                Only if you catch up! :P
                06:38

                To: Tsukki
                You juuuuust missed me! Too bad! Do you want a new hint~?
                06:42

                To: Yamaguchi Tadashi
                i'm not playing this game stay there
                06:43

Kei groans and hauls himself out of bed. He’s not dealing with this today. He starts gathering his clothes for the day and walks in careful, measured steps out of the dormitory. He nearly trips over every futon on the way out. He grinds his teeth and prays there’s no one out in the hallway to run into. He struggles to not squint; he has an image to preserve, dammit. Also, it’s not like his eyesight is so great that he can manage to see by squinting anyways, everything’s a blur no matter what he does.

He manages to get to the bathrooms without tripping or running into anything (or anyone). A few members of the other volleyball teams take note of him and snicker; someone from Nekoma—he can’t tell who, but he thinks it’s the obnoxious tall guy—shoots some comment about how cute Tadashi is with his glasses. He flips them off and snarls. They should have expected that much, but they make a really affronted sound that cements the fact that it was, in fact, Lev. Not that he gives a shit.

What he does not expect, however, is that Tadashi is not waiting for him in the bathroom, despite his direct request. His phone chirps at him.

It’s another message from Tadashi. This time the food is in sight and his glasses are folded neatly against the rice bowl. He really doesn’t think he deserves this. Mostly. 

                To: Yamaguchi Tadashi
                i said i'm not playing???? bring my glasses to the bathroom
                06:50

He starts showering, ignoring the way his phone goes off several times. When he’s done, he checks, clenching his teeth in irritation at the flood of new ‘hints’. There’s the locker rooms, the hallway, his glasses on the ground next to the sidewalk where the grass is growing through the concrete, the gym, balanced on a volleyball.

He does not have time for this, and he is not going on a wild goose chase to amuse Tadashi. Even as cute as he is. He’s not going to give Tadashi the pleasure of pulling one over on him in front of everyone. He makes his way back to the dorm and grabs his equipment bag, snickering to himself.

Tadashi’s going to kick himself when he realizes he forgot about the sports goggles.

He sends a nice little message to his boyfriend.
               

                To: Yamaguchi Tadashi
                kiss my ass tadashi
                Attachment: ‘sportsgogglesmoron.jpg’ 
                07:10

               To: Tsukki
               Cheater!!!! And, I’d even gladly do more as long as you find privacy and won’t TELL PEOPLE! P:               
               07:12

Okay, note taken. He wonders if he’ll get his glasses back now or if he’ll be stuck wearing these stupid goggles for the rest of the week.

 

Chapter Text

Okay, so being a paperboy wasn’t quite as idyllic as it seemed in the movies, Tadashi decides.

He decides this zero point five seconds after he tosses the paper just a little too hard onto someone’s porch and it goes crashing through the glass paneling of their door because he forgot about the additional material bundled with the paper that day. He may have panicked just a little bit because he pedals off as fast as he can.

He might have been screaming. Just a little bit.

But he can’t quit his job because he’d really like the extra spending money to pad the allowance his parents are sending him—the university’s food is horrible at best, and groceries are a little expensive these days. The paperboy job seemed like a great fit—he liked riding his bike, and he didn’t have to talk to anyone, and his aim was generally okay from playing volleyball in school (he’s not that great, but he can still, seven times out of ten, hit a ball in a general radius where he wants it to go). And the hours, dawn and dusk, don’t interfere with his class schedule at all, so really, it seemed like it was going to be the perfect job for him.

Except now he’s not sure how he’s going to be able to do his route anymore without dying of embarrassment. It’s not until he’s panting hard three blocks away that he realizes that he maybe should have gotten off his bike and apologized, and acted like a total idiot, riding off in a panic on his bike. He dithers about it for a bit, and decides that tomorrow morning, he’ll leave an apology note with the morning paper with his phone number if the residents of the house want to replace the glass.

Which is a good plan, he thinks. 

Except he didn’t consider the fact that apparently, he’s cursed with horrible luck: When he tosses the paper onto their porch (gently!!), wincing as he takes note of the garbage bag covering the broken window, it hits their cat dead-on as it slinks out from behind a bush. It howls in response and poofs up at least twice its size as it continues to hiss and spit and generally sounds like it’s being murdered (the paper wasn’t that heavy oh god he’s going to hell just he’s going to die right here, right now in front of a stranger’s house in his stupid uniform hat, laden down with papers, it’s all over) as a light flickers on in the predawn light.

Tadashi starts pedaling before he has to explain that he didn’t mean to… break their door and attempt assassination on their cat, who he hopes is okay and is just angry. He rounds the corner and catches a glimpse of a puzzled and grumpy looking blond man in a dark bathrobe.

He pedals harder and prays the blond doesn’t see him.

After a week on the route, Tadashi becomes emphatically convinced that it’s not him that’s cursed, it’s the damn house. After the door and the cat, he manages to toss the paper right into a potted plant that distinctly was not there the day before; after that, the paper lands in the hedges and knocks off a fair amount of foliage. The fifth day, it lands in a puddle. Saturday, weighed down with another set of extra promotional materials, it skids from where it had landed perfectly on the porch of the cursed house… through the plastic bag covering the window.

Tadashi groans and hunches over his handlebars, defeated. Maybe it’s because this is the first house on his morning route that he keeps messing up. He hears the door open and he jolts up, nearly falling flat on his ass.

“Hey, you!” It’s the blond man from the other day; he looks distinctly not pleased and he is no longer in a bath robe; he’s dressed like he’s been up for hours, and he looks absolutely murderous.

“IAMSOSORRYBYE,” Tadashi screeches, pedaling frantically away. Oh he is so dead, he is so dead, that man is going to kill him and he’s going to die before he gets fired.

He rounds the corner so fast he’s pretty sure his bike is going to wipe out, but he powers through the wobbling of his tires and somehow manages to finish the rest of his morning route without any other major incident. (He almost drove his bike into a bush, but that’s because he was too busy freaking out about the blond from the first house of the morning.)

As he finishes up his morning route, he decides he’s going to hand deliver the Sunday paper and actually give a nice, verbal, face-to-face apology (since his phone number and scribbled note to contact him about the window and the potted plant have gone either unnoticed or ignored). It seemed like such a good plan, too, at eight in the morning when he was sweaty, tired, and finished with his route.

It does not, however, seem like such a great idea at eight in the morning on a Sunday when he’s standing on the accursed porch, staring at where the glass panel he broke is not only bagged up, but there’s now a piece of cardboard taped over where he’d busted the bagging. He thinks he’s going to be sick in the hydrangeas.

He takes off his cap and wrings it in his fingers, then shifts from foot to foot for a second. He can’t do it, he really can’t; he’ll fess up to his boss and ask for him to call the house and apologize on his behalf. He lays the paper carefully down at his feet before turning to leave without ringing the bell.

The door opens behind him and someone grabs his arm. “You!”

Tadashi panics, fleeting thoughts of kidnapping and murder racing through his brain. His survival instincts from years of being bullied kick in at the sudden touch and he snaps his free hand back hard and hits something warm behind him. There’s a distinct plastic-sounding crunch against his knuckles and he winces.

The person lets go of his arm and swears loudly. Tadashi sheepishly turns around and meets the gaze of one very surprised, yet still pissed-looking blond. It’s the same guy and Tadashi half-wonders if he lives alone in that large house. He’s got his hand clamped to the bridge of his nose, and his glasses are hanging off his face at an awkward angle, obviously broken.

Tadashi doesn’t actually feel bad about breaking something this time, though he mentally adds it to his tally, seven in a row. “Uh,” he says, taking a step back from the blond.

“Fucking hell,” he says, checking his hand for blood. “You didn’t have to break my nose too, shit.” 

“You grabbed me,” Tadashi says flatly. He’s past being terrified now, there’s just the dim acceptance that if his life ends now, he at least got a swing in.  “I got scared.”

“Well, I’ve been afraid for my house for the past week, so we’re even—where do you get off, kid, breaking other people’s property and hitting animals?” the blond demanded.

“It was an accident!” Tadashi wails. “I didn’t mean to, okay! It just keeps happening and I don’t know why, normally my aim is pretty okay!”

“How can you be that awful, though?”

“I just said I didn’t know,” he shoots back at the blond, feeling his face start to color. “Look, I’m really sorry, okay? I’ll pay you back for the door; I meant it when I left the note with the paper the other day. A-and I guess I’ll pay you back for your glasses, too…”

The blond crosses his arms and glares at Tadashi. He gives a short huff and raises his gaze to the sky, like he’s praying for patience or something. Tadashi doesn’t have the heart to tell him about the slow trickle of blood down his face. He feels kind of guilty though, so he reaches up and dabs at it with the hem of his sleeve. “You… uh. Might need to ice that, sorry,” he muttered as the blonde jolts back like he’d been punched again.

“Name.”

“…Ah… I’m Yamaguchi Tadashi…”

“Well, Yamaguchi,” the blond says snidely. “I’ll be calling you later. You’ll also need to install the pane in the door, so maybe that’ll give you incentive to not aim for it again.”

He steps back into his house and slams the door in Tadashi’s face.

Tadashi gapes at the door in shock for a few moments before scowling. “You forgot your paper!” he calls at the door before turning and stomping back to his bike.

He gets a text later that day from an unknown number:

I want my paper hand delivered from now on, by the way. -Tsukishima Kei

Chapter Text

It’s December and the air’s chilly around his ears and nose as he slowly wakes up. He rolls over and groans, wiggling himself deeper into the warmth under the covers. He presses his face a bit more firmly against Kei, who grumbles a bit in response.

For the first time in weeks, they have a day off; a singular, blessed day off from school and practice and homework, and they’ll both be damned if they don’t waste it completely. He can already tell from the quality of light filtering through Kei’s curtains and the sheets pulled over their heads that it’s late in the morning—the chill in the air backs this theory up, since Kei’s parents always turn the central heating down when they leave for work (never mind that Kei and Tadashi are still there, and it isn’t wasting energy when there’s someone in the house, but some habits are hard to break; they’ll deal with it being cold when they wake up).

He gauges his drowsiness and concludes that if he doesn’t open his eyes and resists the urge to stretch, he can probably fall back asleep. He curls himself a little closer to Kei, soaking up the other boy’s warmth for a few blessed minutes before Kei goes and ruins it by rolling over and stretching.

“Ugh, Tsukki, no,” he mumbles, rolling onto his stomach to push his head under the pillows.

“Cold,” Kei complains sleepily. Tadashi groans, and in retaliation, Kei reaches over to drape a very, very cold hand against the back of Tadashi’s neck. Judging by its temperature, Kei’d been sleeping with his hands out of the covers. No wonder he was cold, jesus.

“No,” Tadashi repeats shrilly, flinching at the touch. “Ugh!” He wiggles away from Kei, who’s already started his winter-morning routine.

Tadashi sighs into the sheets, rolling over to watch Kei maneuver himself so he could pull on a sweatshirt without leaving the bed. He’s always found it incredibly endearing how easily the blond got cold, and how Kei always keeps a sweatshirt and a pair of socks by the bed so he could pull them on before he left the warmth of the sheets during the winter. But right now, all Tadashi wants to do is sleep until his head hurts and curl up into a nice, warm pile of limbs with the blond. Cuddle. Maybe have sleepy-morning sex while Kei was still drowsy and pliable and less likely to shove him off because he doesn’t like dealing with the fact that Tadashi makes him all soft and squashy around the edges with affection. It doesn’t matter what exactly he wanted to do; at the moment, it’s just hard to find Kei’s quirks cute when they meant letting the warmth out from the bed.

Kei puts on his glasses next, blinking sleepily as the world comes into focus for him. He yawns widely and grabs his socks. Tadashi shivers as cold air rushes in under the blankets; he reaches out and seizes the edges of the comforter, wrapping it around him until he was a cocoon of blankets.

Kei snorts at the stubborn display of childish sleepiness as he swings his legs over the edge of the bed, slipping out of the remaining tangled sheets, feet hitting the cool fabric of the guest futon where they’d laid it out in the continued game of feigned ignorance that they keep playing with their parents (who, by this point, probably know it never gets slept in, but it’s just easiest this way). He stretches and yawns loudly for Tadashi, who simply grumbles more underneath the sheets, hand darting out to grab Kei’s phone.

Tadashi hears Kei’s laugh as he slides his fingers over the lock screen, eyes skimming over the recent messages that flashed across the touch screen as Kei left the room. He rolls onto his side, glad that Kei put his phone on silent late last night (god only knew where his phone was, but it was on vibrate, so it didn’t matter); there was a group message to the entire team from Ennoshita, relaying the practice schedule for winter break.

Which of course meant that everyone else had to put in their two cents (or more), and it looked like there’s at least twenty messages in the string about the schedule alone, which Tadashi reads with mild interest; halfway through, the conversation devolved into Hinata and Kageyama bickering back and forth, despite Ennoshita’s warning ‘hey take it off the group message!’ text. He exits the message screen, deciding that it would be more amusing to let Kei handle the message than simply replying himself (it wasn’t like he’d never sent out messages on Kei’s phone before—the first time he’d done it, Kei’d laughed himself stupid at the confusion it caused).

He sighs under the covers, blearily wondering where the hell Kei wandered off to in the frozen tundra that was his house. He opens up a game to pass the time, amusing himself with a number-tile game for about five minutes before he hears the central heating click on.

So that was where Kei went. He pokes his head out from his blanket burrito as Kei comes padding back to the room, looking less sleepy than he had before.

“Your turn,” Kei yawns as he slides back into the bed, tugging Tadashi free of the blankets so he could pull some over himself.

Tadashi nods and climbs over Kei, smelling mint toothpaste as he clambers over the other teen. He slips out of bed, grabbing his own sweatshirt as he passes his bag, gooseflesh rising across his skin in the chilly air. He tugs it on, yawning as he tries not to shiver. He walks the short way to the bathroom quickly and blindly as he rubs the sleep out of his eyes, just at home in the Tsukishima house as he is his own. 

He knows for a fact that he has clothes buried somewhere in Kei’s drawers, because he’s prone to staying over longer than he brings clothes for, and sometimes he forgets things. Sometimes Kei keeps them on purpose. Tadashi has at least one of Kei’s sweaters hostage because they’re warm and cozy: the sleeves brush just over his knuckles, and are great for holding hot mugs with. He even has his own toothbrush here and everything. He’s relatively proud of that, actually.

He digs his toes into the rug at the sink as he washes his hands after using the restroom, regretting that he hadn’t put on socks before leaving the bed like Kei had. “Cold, cold,” he mumbles to himself, rushing through brushing his teeth and washing his face. He leaves his hair like it was, because it’s just Kei who’s going to be looking at him, and Kei hadn’t done anything with his own sleep-fluffed hair—also, it’s cold and all he wants was to burrow back into the covers and maybe stuff his hands up Kei’s sweatshirt. That would be fun and warm. Maybe he’d shove them up Kei’s shirt, too, for payback.

He walks quickly back to Kei’s room, kicking the door closed behind him before he dives back under the covers. He sprawls across Kei, knocking the wind out of the blond as his weight settles onto Kei suddenly.

“Oi, Yamaguchi,” Kei snaps half-heartedly. He reaches up to straighten his glasses, letting his phone fall to the side where he was finishing the tile-game Tadashi hadn’t.

“I’m cold,” Tadashi whines, wiggling his arms underneath Kei as he shivers against the taller teen. “Cold, cold, cold,” he repeats as he pushes his face against Kei’s neck and nuzzles into it. 

Kei gives a sigh that Tadashi’s pretty sure was supposed to sound long-suffering, but ends up sounding pleased to Tadashi. He wraps his arms around Tadashi’s waist, rolling them over so that the freckled teen could wiggle himself up against Kei’s body, his cold hands working their way up against Kei's warm skin and one leg hooking over the blond’s hip.

“I turned the heat on,” Kei murmurs against the crown of Tadashi’s scalp, warm fingers slipping past the hem of Tadashi’s layered shirts. “Be patient.”

Oh good, Tadashi thinks as Kei’s fingers slide against his skin in small circles: It’s going to be one of those days when, even after the hazy vulnerability of sleep has passed, Kei is still warm and clingy and soft. It’s not as if Kei is endlessly cold as some people would imagine, but sometimes he just isn’t interested in anything past holding hands or dropping his guard low enough to be intimate. Tadashi is fine with that— it’s just a delight when their moods match up in just the right ways. Since they wait for each other to be in the right moods these days, the sex is always worth it (not that it wasn’t before—Tadashi knows they both liked it well enough before, but he knows that Kei enjoys far more now that they’ve established their boundaries: they don't have to hold back as much now that they're not desperate with expectations).

“But I’m cold now,” Tadashi answers lazily as he tips his head back. He kisses Kei softly, giving the blond the same mischievous grin he gives when they both had particularly cutting comments about their teammates or when he’s about to serve a particularly difficult ball in a scrimmage match. “I’ll just find some way to keep warm,” he laughs.

“Ugh.”

Tadashi laughs at the absolutely love-struck look that passes over Kei’s face; he pulls his hands from the blond’s sweatshirt and plucks Kei’s glasses off of his face. He stretches a bit, reaching over Kei’s shoulder to put the frames on the side of the bed; they’ll only get in the way on Kei’s face, and it’s not like the blond really needs them in bed. They know each other too well for that. Besides, he doesn’t plan on moving far enough away that the blond can’t see him; his nearsightedness isn’t so bad that he won’t be able to see Tadashi with how close they’re planning on being.  

Kei spreads his fingers out against the small of Tadashi’s back as the slighter teen moves against him, dipping his head forward to kiss the crook of Tadashi’s neck, where the hem of the brunet’s ratty white shirt tickles his chin. He scrapes his teeth slightly against the flesh under his lips, a passing motion of unhurried desire—he’s too lazy to work at making a mark just yet, but he likes the way his boyfriend’s skin gives under his mouth.

Tadashi shivers against Kei and wiggles his way back down until their bodies are flush again. He cups his hands against the blond’s cheeks and brings their lips together in a kiss.

They kiss lazily at first because they’re both still sleepy and feeling indulgent with each other. But that never lasts very long, and soon they start shifting up against each other. Tadashi’s hands slide up from Kei’s cheeks to his hair, fingers tangled into blond curls. Warmth pools up in his stomach and he starts to pant into Kei’s mouth. His feet are still freezing; he shifts his leg against Kei’s hip so he can push up the hem of the blond’s pants with his heel, laying his foot flat against the warm curve of Kei’s calf.

Kei hisses against his lips at the press of cold flesh against his leg and drags his nails slightly against Tadashi’s back in retaliation. Tadashi feels like a struck match, heat bursting up from his stomach to race through his veins, quivering at the feel of it. He tips his head up just slightly, sliding his tongue over Kei’s to lick over the blond’s palate, knowing just how rile his boyfriend up.

It works; Kei gives a low noise in the back of his throat, hands sliding down past the small of Tadashi’s back and into his sweatpants, under the other boy’s boxers. He cups his hands over Tadashi’s ass, fingers pressing and kneading at the warm flesh, pulling him forwards until their hips are pressed tightly together.   

Tadashi moans into the blond’s mouth. He rolls his hips forwards, cold feet and cold hands forgotten as arousal burns through his body. He’s already half-hard—it’s difficult not to be with the way their tongues are sliding together between their mouths and with the way Kei is rubbing his thin fingers against him, all gentle petting motions tempered with light drags of his nails in all the places Tadashi’s most sensitive.

He pulls back from their kiss and stretches slightly upwards, brushing slick lips briefly against Kei’s cheek before tonguing over the shell of the blond’s ear. He opens his mouth slightly, pulling Kei’s earlobe between his teeth. Kei grips him harder and gives a rough grind of his hips as a breathy whine leaves his throat. He breaks away and rolls them until Tadashi’s on his back, flesh popping out of his mouth at the motion.

“No fair,” Tadashi complains, pouting. He brings his legs up to bracket Kei’s hips, feet flat against the sheets. He turns his head stubbornly as Kei leans in to kiss him, even though he knew he was only moved because playing with Kei’s ears turned the blond on more than he knew what to do with.

“I can show you no fair,” Kei growls against his ear, dipping his head down to finally bite in earnest against Tadashi’s neck. He moves his hands to the brunet’s front and tugs his pants down his hips, fingers wrapping around his boyfriend’s erection.

He strokes Tadashi until he’s thrusting up into Kei’s hand and squirming, moaning through his labored breathing. He reaches up with his other hand, balancing his weight on his knees and elbows, and yanks the covers up from around them just as he takes his other hand off of Tadashi’s cock.

Tadashi’s eyes fly open and he gives a shriek at the cold air. He reaches up where Kei’s holding the sheets over his head, squirming up as he starts to laugh. “No, hey, I didn’t mean it—! It’s cold, Tsukki, it’s cold!” he cries between gasping laughs.

“Is it, I can’t tell,” Kei says lightly, even though Tadashi knows he’s bullshitting.

“Mean!” Tadashi struggles upwards, barely managing to curl his fingers into the covers. He yanks them back down around them. He waits to make sure Kei’s done being a little shit before he wraps his legs around Kei’s waist and grasps a bit roughly at blond curls. He tugs the taller boy down onto him, rubbing his hips up firmly into Kei’s, biting at the blond’s lips before kissing him.

Kei melts into the rough treatment, obeying when Tadashi pulls away to whisper at him, “Take your pants off.” They both wiggle out of their pajama pants, and Kei pulls off his sweatshirt and teeshirt as well. Tadashi just lets his remain on, rucked up around his chest.

Tadashi reaches down and pulls Kei down to him, letting their erections rub together. Kei shudders and dips his head down to muffle himself against Tadashi’s neck. He slides one hand up the back of Tadashi’s thigh, hauling the brunet’s leg up to rest a bit higher on his hip. They grind and thrust against each other for a few moments until Kei throws his hand out from under the sheets, groping blindly for his bedside table.

There’s a crash and a loud snicker from Tadashi as Kei knocks his glasses and phone off of the bed in his haste. “Smooth, Tsukki,” Tadashi teases.

“I could just leave you like this,” Kei replies sourly, shifting himself a little closer to the edge of the bed so he can rummage about in this drawer.

Tadashi wraps his fingers around Kei and pumps, a lazy smirk pulling across his lips. “Doubt it,” he chuckles. Kei groans low in his throat, hips twitching into Tadashi’s touch. “See?” Tadashi murmurs, rolling his thumb in small circles against the head of the blond’s erection as he leans up to mouth at Kei’s ear. He lets his legs fall from Kei's hips and bites down softly, fingers working at the blond. 

Kei shudders, fingers finally bumping up against the stash of condoms and lube he keeps in the drawer. “Shit,” he groans as Tadashi hums smugly against his ear. He grabs the bottle and a condom and pulls his hand back under the covers. He drops them beside Tadashi’s head, running his chilled fingers over the brunet’s abdomen, the following hiss of breath against his skin almost as satisfying as his boyfriend’s hand on his dick is.

 Tadashi removes his hand, cupping Kei’s cheeks with his fingers instead, very satisfied with the way they leave small, shiny smears of precum on Kei's flushed skin. “C’mon, then,” he murmurs, anticipation shivering down his spine. He slides his fingers down Kei's cheeks and neck, leaving them to rest against the blond's shoulder blades. 

“How?” Kei murmurs against Tadashi’s neck, rolling his hips down to punctuate the question.

Tadashi shudders and grinds back, thinking idly as he drags his fingers down Kei’s back to grasp at his hips, pulling him harder to him. It’s too cold for their favorite; he doesn't much feel like leaving the relative warmth under the covers to sit up, and he wants Kei heavy against him, warmth and weight pushing at him until he thinks he’ll suffocate. “Like this,” he murmurs, wrapping his thighs back around Kei’s hips from where they’d slipped down. He blinks lazily and grins, “I want you to do me like this.”

Kei raises an eyebrow; like this isn’t bad, certainly. They just don’t change it up often—they found what makes great sex for them, and they stick to it. He likes watching Tadashi above him, his weight heavy against his hips and where Tadashi’s hands push his own into the sheets, likes watching the way the brunet’s muscles roll and strain under his skin as he controls their pace and pressure, enjoys the way Tadashi takes control and tells him just how to angle his hips and when to shift and grind. He likes it when Tadashi bows his body over him, regardless of whether or not he’s inside of Kei or Kei is inside of him.

It’s not as if he hates it this way, though. The sight of Tadashi spreading himself out for Kei is just as nice as watching him seat himself on him, Kei thinks as he slides the first lube-slicked finger into the slighter teen. He watches Tadashi’s face, looking for the familiar cues to press on: fluttering eyes and gasping breath with lips pulled in over his teeth, low, quiet moans and soft twitches of his hips. He gently pushes a second finger in when he sees them, rubbing slowly into Tadashi as he spreads his fingers apart within him.

Tadashi hiccups back a moan, tipping his head back against the sheets. Kei pushes a little deeper and crooks his fingers; he massages them as Tadashi’s thighs tighten and shake against him and his body arches upwards. “There?”

“Yes,” Tadashi gasps. He digs his nails into the sheets, hips jerking up into each rolling press of Kei’s fingers against his prostate. He whines insistently when Kei pulls his hand away, keeping up with the piteous noise even as the blond slides a third finger in with the previous two.

“Needy,” Kei scolds, leaning forward to kiss Tadashi. Tadashi opens his mouth greedily against Kei, moving one of his legs to hook over the taller boy’s elbow, causing Kei’s fingers to sink just a little deeper into him. He doesn’t hate it when Tadashi lets him know exactly what it is he wants (he relishes it, actually), and he knows Tadashi knows that, especially with the way he goes right back to thrusting his fingers against the boy’s prostate.

Tadashi’s muscles jump at the treatment, and he moans into Kei’s mouth. He reaches up with a shaking hand and fists his fingers through the blond’s hair. The roughness behind the motion makes Kei shudder and press his fingers into Tadashi a bit more insistently. In return, Tadashi raises his other hand and claws down Kei’s back.

Kei hisses and shudders. “I get it, I get it,” he mutters against the slighter teen’s mouth, pulling his hand back. Tadashi always gets rough when he wants something; Kei’s actually surprised they’ve never gotten caught with some of the marks his sweet-faced boyfriend has left on him (or from some of the one’s he’s slipped up and left).  He grabs the condom and leans back on his heels, opening the packet as smoothly as he can. He tries not to watch the way Tadashi leans back against the sheets and just pants, hands kneading at the sheets so he doesn’t start touching himself. He definitely tries not to listen to the needy whine that escapes from Tadashi’s throat as Kei rolls the condom on.

Tadashi sits up a bit, grabbing the bottle of lube as Kei reaches for it and pours some into his palms. He slicks Kei up, humming in satisfaction as the blond groans. He falls back once he’s done, grinning smugly up at Kei as he hitches his legs up to rest on Kei’s hips. 

Kei lines himself up and presses in slowly, bracing himself with his knees, hands against the undersides of Tadashi's thighs. Tadashi spasms and shudders around him and he bows forward, breath ragged as he sinks forward until his body is flush with Tadashi’s. He presses his forehead against the brunet’s, eyes closed as he waits.

It doesn’t take long until Tadashi’s shifting under him, hands petting over Kei’s arms and back as he starts his usual lilting chant of the blond’s name. He tries to quiet him with a kiss because he always finds it so embarrassingly overwhelming to hear, but Tadashi keeps at it, breaking away to litter Kei’s face and jaw with kisses, filling the air with his “Kei, Kei, please, Kei”s. 

He draws his hips back and starts thrusting shallowly into Tadashi, the brunet’s hands seizing against his biceps. Tadashi starts to move with him, meeting each thrust with a roll of his hips, grinding himself into each movement.  They pick up a languid rhythm; Kei moves slow, but presses in deep, because he knows it’ll drive Tadashi crazy.

He kisses Tadashi until all they’re doing is breathing each other’s air, distracted as they are by the pleasure they’re wringing out of each other.  Sure enough, the pace of his thrusts becomes too slow for Tadashi and the boy starts urging him on by pulling on his hair and pressing his heels into his thighs as he moans loudly. Kei obliges with a moan, moving faster; he angles his hips just so until his thrusts hit the brunet’s prostate.

Tadashi clenches around him each time it happens, hips rolling up into Kei. Shudders wrack down Kei’s spine and he doesn’t think he’s going to last much longer like this. He snakes a hand down between them and starts pumping Tadashi in time with his thrusts.

The brunet arches off the bed, stomach quivering; he grows silent and tips his head to the side, sure signs he’s getting close. Kei thrusts into him harder, rubs at the spot on the underside of his boyfriend’s cock that never fails to get him off, and feels Tadashi’s toes curl against his skin. For all his earlier noisiness, Tadashi is quiet as he comes—the only sound he makes is a gasping inhale as his muscles tense and his hips thrust roughly into Kei’s hand as he coats it with his seed.

Kei thrusts a few more times into Tadashi as the boy tenses around him before he finishes with a quiet groan that he muffles against Tadashi’s neck. He slumps forward against Tadashi and pants, shuddering with the aftershocks of his orgasm.

Tadashi shivers and rubs Kei’s back encouragingly, nuzzling against the blond’s temple. “ ‘s so good,” he slurs sleepily, “You felt so good.” Tadashi praises Kei for sex like he praises him on the volleyball court, and Kei would laugh if it weren’t so stupidly endearing. He presses his face against Tadashi’s hair, basking in the post-coital sweetness of Tadashi’s murmuring praise and gentle fingers smoothing over the lines he’d clawed onto the blond’s back until Kei works up the strength to move himself off of Tadashi.

He pulls out and slips off the condom, tying it up and sticking his head out of the sheets so he can aim correctly for the bedside trashcan. He drops it in and rolls onto his back, beside him, Tadashi wiggles himself out of his sweaty and sticky shirts, mopping them up with them. Once he’s through, Tadashi snuggles up to him, thigh slung casually over Kei’s. Kei reaches down and strokes it thoughtlessly.

“Shower?” he asks, turning his head to look at Tadashi.

“Sleep,” Tadashi says firmly. He’s got two goals down for the day: keeping warm and a good round of morning sex. All that’s left is to cuddle and sleep until his body’s sore and complaining. He wraps his arm around Kei and nuzzles against him. “I’m going to sleep more.”

Kei clicks his tongue and rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t complain much when Tadashi drifts off to sleep beside him. It’s very warm under the covers and with Tadashi at his side and his limbs are tired from exertion. They’ll deal with cleaning up more thoroughly later. He tips his head to the side to rest against Tadashi’s head, the slighter teen’s hair ticking his chin and lips, and closes his eyes and dozes off.

It’s not a bad way to spend their day off, not at all.

Chapter Text

He would have never noticed it if his phone hadn’t ran out of battery during school. Normally, he walks to and from school with his headphones on so he can ignore the loud bustle of traffic and the jeering catcalls and challenges thrown about by the groups of teenagers who loiter about in this part of town.

His mother wishes he would just ride the bus home rather than walk, but Kei hates public transportation; everyone takes the bus through this part of town, so it’s a crush of bodies and he hates being sardined in a bus for over an hour until they get to his stop. It’s just as quick to walk, and really, he’s tall and intimidating (relatively), so no one’s going to mess with him if he just strolls on by like he knows where he’s going and he’ll curb stomp the first person who gets in his way. That’s just how the world works, but it’s not like his mother really gets it: all she sees is her youngest son walking through the bad part of town because he’s too stubborn and dislikes other people in his space.

She pleaded with him to at least keep his headphones off. He doesn’t. Not until today and even then it’s not because he’s worried for his safety—it’s just that apparently his phone wasn’t plugged in right the night before.

He sighs and resolves to power walk his way home so he can plug his phone back in and listen to music so he can decompress from the day. He feels on edge and fidgety and he swears to god the first person who gets in his way is going to get punched.

He’s passing some of the more run-down looking alleyways, between dubious convenience stores with bright neon signs and bars over the windows and trash on the street left by crouching gatherings of students with various states of modified uniforms and multitudes of colored hoodies, bandanas, and scarves when he hears it.

“Punk, I’m pretty sure you’re in our space, you gotta pay for that now. Breathing our air costs ya, y’know?”

Kei stops, thinking for a split second that someone’s daring to talk to him, before he peers into the alleyway. A group of tall, ragged looking delinquents are looming over a mousy-haired student who has his hands pressed up against the brick of the alleyway as he sheepishly beams up at them.

“I said I was sorry,” the boy murmurs, laughing nervously. His eyes dart to the opening of the alley and lock with Kei’s. There’s panic in them.

Kei dimly notes that the boy’s wearing the uniform to their school; that's what makes the decision for him. The group of teens surrounding the mousy boy turn their heads in unison to gape at Kei. “You look like a flock of turkeys,” he sneers at them, jerking his chin up. He strides forward. “Don’t you have better things to do than harass people? Like, oh, say, finding brains?”

He’s got a few inches on the tallest one of them, and he can probably take them on. He loosens his fists and draws his arm back, ready to take a swing. The boy against the wall swears, and Kei realizes that maybe, just maybe, he’s fucked up. The mousy-haired boy in his uniform is wielding a short metal pipe in the hand Kei couldn’t see from the front of the alley and at least one of the delinquent boys has a knife in hand, hidden by dull lights and poor angles.

Oh yeah, he fucked up big time. He throws the punch anyway, fist connecting solidly with the face of the first delinquent who charges him. He feels his knuckles split as they make their impact across teeth but he doesn’t look at his hand. His eyes are trained solely in front of him, heart hammering hard in his chest.

The boy he thought was being harassed, but maybe could have fended for himself, laughs clearly as Kei’s fist connects with the first guy’s face, and whoops as he pushes off the wall and brings the pipe in his hand solidly across the stomach of another teen who was charging at him; a black scarf flashes through the air where it’s tied on his belt as he jumps up to dodge a punch. A teal one flutters to the ground where it gets ripped off from around its wearer’s neck, the boy slamming another teen to the brick wall of the alley before bringing his knee up hard into his opponent’s crotch.

Shit, Kei thinks, he’s gotten himself caught up in a gang fight. He backs up the best he can, eyes trained on the boy who had looked so small cowering against the wall bash the pipe up against his opponent’s face, blood flying across his face as he laughs. What Kei desperately hopes is a tooth goes flying with the blood spray, and the guy crumples to the ground. The mousy boy brings his foot down hard on the downed teen’s hand, filling the alleyway the tale-tale crack of shattering bones.  

Fuck,” Kei swears. The boy turns to look at him, eyes bright even in the shadows of the alleyway. Blood flecks round cheeks that are scattered with what Kei thinks are freckles, and he’s wearing a half-smirk that makes the side of his face where his lip is quirked scrunch up. He looks dangerous in that moment, even though he looked so unassuming minutes before.

The boy lunges forward and Kei thinks he’s next in line to taste the rusty iron of the boy’s pipe, but as the boy rushes forward, he shouts, “Duck!”

Kei doesn’t hesitate to obey, dropping to his knees in the damp, trash-covered alley. Behind him there’s a sickening crunch as the boy in his school’s uniform swings. Something heavy falls behind Kei, and he turns and looks at knocked-out, bloody mess of another gang-member’s face. Blood is pouring out of their mouth and nose and if it weren’t for their gurgling breaths, Kei would assume they were dead. He’s pretty sure there’s still a chance the guy can die, though. The mousy boy kicks at something, and Kei watches as a knife goes rattling away from the unconscious teen’s hand. Sirens start up in the distance.

The boy swears and drops his pipe, reaching down to haul Kei up by his collar. “C’mon blondie,” he says, grabbing Kei’s hand. And then he runs.

He drags Kei down the alleyway, and launches himself at the chain link fence that separates it from an empty lot. He climbs it and leans down to grab at Kei again. “Climb,” he orders with a mischievous laugh. “If the cops catch you, those morons’ll blame you even though you only got a punch in.”

Kei doesn’t doubt it. He jumps and scrambles over the fence after the mousy-haired boy. The boy launches himself from the top of the fence, and Kei swears he can see wings printed on the back of his undershirt. He lets himself fall heavy on his feet, thankful for all the years of volleyball practice he has that keeps his landings steady. The last thing he needs is a sprained ankle, he thinks as the boy grabs his hand again and starts hauling him off.

“What the hell is going on!?” Kei manages to pant out as they sprint in random patterns down back alleys, abandoned lots, deeper into the bad parts of town. Adult video shop lights flash at him and he can see their reflections flickering in shattered, boarded up windows. He’s never been to this area of town—his mother forbade him and his brother a long time ago, back when he was still interested in things like exploring.

“You tried to be a hero! Which was cool, by the way, I appreciate it,” the boy says, not even breaking stride. He holds tight to Kei’s hand as he drops to his knees and shimmies his way through a busted basement window, dragging Kei down onto his knees. Kei has no choice to follow him, he slides through it, stomach-up. His glasses almost catch on the edge of the broken windowsill. “But I could handle it myself.”

They drop into a cold, damp basement, weak sunlight revealing only shadows in the room. The boy lets go of his hand and tips his head back, giving a loud, exultant whoop. “Escape successful!”

It seems like they’re done running. Kei pushes his back against the concrete and lets himself fall on his ass, panting. Adrenaline is making him shaky and he drops his head between his knees and tries to focus on breathing, and not on the blood that’s drying on his knuckles or the memory of what jaws sound like when they fracture. He swallows past his nausea.

The boy walks away from him and flicks on a light. There’s a sound of a door opening, then closing. The boy walks back to Kei, the toes of his converse smeared with dirt and blood. Kei closes his eyes tightly.

Something cold is pressed to the back of his neck, and his split hand is gently pried away from where he’s covering his head with it. “I’m not saying you didn’t do a good thing,” he says, dabbing at Kei’s knuckles with an alcohol pad. “Because you did try to, and it’s cool you did it; you’re just as brave as the rest of the flock, you know? Most people just ignore stuff like that.”

“I obviously should have.”

“Yeah,” the boy laughs. He brings Kei’s hand up to his mouth and brushes a kiss against it. “All you tried to do was be a little knight in shining armor, eh? Poor blondie.”

“That’s not my name,” Kei says faintly. He tries to tug his hand away; the boy holds tight.

“Well what is it? I’m Yamaguchi, by the way.”

“Tsukishima Kei,” Kei replies out of habit. The boy, Yamaguchi grins at him; it’s still crooked, but it’s warm and not as terrifying as the one in the alleyway.

Yamaguchi hums thoughtfully. “Well, Tsukki, thank you for trying to be a good citizen.”

Kei splutters, “That’s not my name—” but Yamaguchi seems to ignore him and just continues to hum tunelessly as he wraps Kei’s split knuckles in gauze. He huffs. “So, what was that?”

“That? It was an ambush,” Yamaguchi says with a shrug. “They’re a new gang, trying to get in on our territory. They keep picking on our younger, weaker members. So we set up a nice little ambush for them to send a message out that we don’t like that.”

“…so… what, you’re in a gang?” Kei asks hesitantly.

Yamaguchi hums and ties off the gauze, patting Kei’s hand. “Yep. The black crows,” he says proudly.

“…Isn’t that a bit redundant? Anyone with a brain knows crows are black.”

Yamaguchi blinks, then pouts. “But all the other gangs have their colors in their names! And it’s cool! It’s intimidating, like, here comes the murder, ooohhh!” he says, wiggling his fingers. Kei has a hard time believing someone with that bad of a sense of humor and that sweet of a face could be in a gang.

If he hadn’t seen Yamaguchi cave someone’s face in with a single swing of a pipe while laughing, he would think he was being had. He dimly wonders if he’s in more trouble than it seems like; maybe his mother was right—maybe he didn’t have any sense of self preservation.

“So, Tsukki, it looks like we go to the same school,” Yamaguchi says, pointing back and forth between them. “What class are you in?”

“One-five,” Kei answers, quirking an eyebrow. A delinquent? Asking about school?

“Oooh, so you’re smart. I’m in one-one, myself,” Yamaguchi laughs, leaning back onto his heels. “So if you’re so smart, Tsukki, why didn’t you mind your own business? You know you’re gonna be a target now, right? They saw your face, and I definitely didn’t kill ‘em.”

Kei looks away from Yamaguchi, repressing the urge to shudder. He thought of himself as a relatively tough guy, honestly; kind of an asshole, really. But he’d never once ever thought so cavalierly about violence the way Yamaguchi was talking about it. “…Have you? You know… killed someone before?”

“Not our style,”  Yamaguchi says with a shrug. “We don’t go looking for fights unless one gets picked for us. We wouldn’t have bothered those idiots—the other gangs would have gotten to them eventually—but they messed up and started picking on the members who hadn’t gotten their feathers yet.”

“What.”

“Feathers. You know, since we’re crows?” Yamaguchi supplies. He huffs at the look on Kei’s face. “Look, it wasn’t my idea, I’m not the boss here, you gotta take that up with him. But after a new member initiates, they get feathers to go with the bandanas.” He shrugs off his uniform jacket and turns slightly so Kei can see his shoulders.

He was right; there were wings printed on the back of his shirt. “But everyone in the area knows not to mess with us since we’re generally just mediators. They also know we only fight back if people bug us.”

“And today was… you fighting back?”

“Yep,” Yamaguchi says cheerily, pulling his jacket back on. “So, Tsukki, where do you live?” he asks, standing up and dusting off his pants. “I’ll walk you home now that you're not bleeding and don't look like you're gonna hurl. Somebody's gotta keep you safe from your own heroics, y'know?”

And that’s how Kei ends up with a walking escort to and from school for the next month. It’s not too terrible, because Yamaguchi is chatty and he has an interesting outlook on things, and he enjoys the odd looks that their companionship garners—a college-prep student and an almost-drop out as friends seems to do that. After about a month of their odd arrangement, the thing that Yamaguchi fears comes to pass.

There’s a group of students in a different uniform loitering by the gate, teal scarves, bandanas and teeshirts bright against their dark blazers. Yamaguchi tenses beside Kei and Kei simply peers at them.

“Well, they’re stupid,” Kei comments. “I certainly hope they don't think they're being inconspicuous here.”

Yamaguchi clenches his fists. “Look, I can take them. You go grab a teacher and they’ll break it up. I can handle it until then; just don't let them see you, okay?”

“Won’t you get in trouble, though?”

Yamaguchi shrugs and scratches the back of his head as he thinks. “Not too bad, it’ll look like self defense.”

“You’ll get maimed,” Kei points out. 

“I can take care of myself,” Yamaguchi retorts, patting his pockets. The heavy chain on his wallet clinks and Kei knows there’s at least one knife hidden away in his uniform.

Kei looks at the group of boys at the gate, then at Yamaguchi. “No,” he says.

This time, it’s him who grabs Yamaguchi’s hand and runs. He thinks he’s a better knight this time than he was at first, because they make it to his house, out of breath and sweaty, without a single fight. The way Yamaguchi laughs when they finally catch their breath tells him he did a good job after all. He might not have wings and claws to fight with, but he can still protect the things he wants to. 

Chapter Text

He’s in the shower when he hears it, the high, ear-splitting, insistent beeping of the dorm’s fire alarm. He groans—it would go off while he’s in the middle of washing his hair. He rinses himself off as quickly as he can and wraps a towel around himself. He’s not sure where his clothes are. He starts swearing to himself under his breath as he drips on the cold linoleum. 

“Tsukki! Is that the fire alarm?” he calls, poking his head out of their bathroom. He doesn’t see Kei in their room proper, so he pads out to the kitchenette, leaving small puddles in his wake. “Tsukki!” he says, a bit louder, over the fire alarm.

He sees the blond, who’s hunched over their tiny two-eye stove waving his hand over it. He turns quickly, wooden spoon in hand. “What?” he says, cheeks pink.

“…That’s the fire alarm,” Tadashi says slowly, pointing up at their ceiling as the alarm beeps on. He knows Kei hates the noise because he always clamps his hands over his hears and bitches about it until they’ve left the building—and then some, if it happens to go off particularly late at night—so he’s surprised that the blond isn’t bothering to move towards their bedroom to grab his shoes and keys, bitching all the way.

“Yes. Yes it is,” Kei says, rolling his eyes. “Good to see the college experience has so enlightened you.” He looks down at the wooden spoon, then over his shoulder at the stove. Tadashi leans to the side, still dripping, to see what’s behind the blond.

“…Are we not going to evacuate?” Tadashi inquires, shuffling a bit closer. He can hear people complaining loudly in the halls, doors slamming behind their occupants. He pays no mind to the puddles and water-tracks he’s leaving; neither does Kei, who’s the one who complains the most when Tadashi forgets to take his clothes in the bathroom and ends up stepping in Tadashi’s wet footprints, ruining Kei’s socks for the day.

Kei  looks towards the ceiling and shifts from foot to foot, hands coming together in front of him, spoon still in hand. “No, no I don’t think we need to.”

“Um, what if there’s… you know, actually a fire?”

“There’s not,” Kei  says with some confidence as the alarm finally shuts off on its own. Tadashi sniffs the air tentatively. He smells something sort of acrid, but also sweet. He raises an eyebrow.

“Tsukki, did you just…?”

“No.” Kei waves the spoon dismissively. 

Tadashi creeps forward until he’s nose-to-nose with his boyfriend, dripping on Kei’s socks. Kei leans back onto the stove until he’s nearly sitting on it and that’s when Tadashi grins, slow and childish. “You set the fire alarm off,” he accuses with a laugh, hands settling on Kei’s hips.

“I did no such thing,” Kei sniffs, turning his chin up as he pointedly looks away from Tadashi.

Tadashi notes the way Kei’s ears start turning red and his lips are pressed tight together. He leans onto his toes and peers around Kei, scanning the stove and small countertop space. On their tiny stove, there’s a blackened, sticky, crystallized mess. He eyes it for a moment before looking at the carton of cream on the cabinet, wax paper, and butter. There’s a small box of cocoa peeking out from under a mess of paper towels.

The pieces fit together in his mind nearly instantly, and his heart swells and aches with affection. He presses himself closer to his boyfriend, hands tight on Kei’s hips even as the blond starts to try to wiggle himself to block Tadashi’s view of the mess in their tiny kitchenette.

“Say, Tsukki, what were you trying to make?” Tadashi asks lightly, a grin slowly breaking across his face. He presses quick kisses to the corners of Kei’s determined frown, then on his nose, then his chin. “Tsukkiiii, tell me, what’d you evacuate the building over?” he teases.

Kei groans and knocks their foreheads together gently. “Caramels,” he muttered. He adjusts himself so he's sitting on the very edge of the stove. “I was trying to make caramel for chocolates.”

“I think you had the heat too high,” Tadashi comments, watching the way Kei’s eyes dart underneath his lowered lids, lashes fluttering lightly. He’s so glad he hit a second growth spurt late in their second year, so he can be a bit closer to eye-to-eye with his boyfriend. He smiles and rubs his nose lightly against Kei’s cheek. “For Valentines?” he asks.

“No, for President’s Day.”

“Tsukki, this isn’t America,” Tadashi laughs. Kei finally drops the spoon onto the counter and clasps his hands together against the small of Tadashi’s back.

“Duh,” Kei huffs.  He rolls his eyes and turns a darker shade of pink. “Of course it was for Valentine’s Day.”

“Are you gonna confess to me?” Tadashi asks, leaning so close that his lips brush over Kei’s as he speaks. “I’ve never been confessed to, you know, Tsukki. Are you going to do it?” He laughs as Kei makes a loud noise in the back of his throat, obviously not pleased with being teased. Kei’s hands unclasp against his back and pull him forward as Kei kisses him hard to shut him up.

Tadashi’s not complaining, though. The room smells like burnt sugar and he’s still dripping a bit, but Kei’s jean-clad thighs are warm against his waist and his tongue hot, and there’s a box of dinosaur-shaped chocolates Tadashi’d made in Yachi’s apartment the day before so it’s okay that Kei burnt his attempt at chocolates. It’s the effort that counts here, and Tadashi doesn’t mind that for a second year in a row, it’ll be Kei getting chocolates from him.

Kei gives him so much more. Also, he doesn’t get too many chances to tease Kei like this.

They eventually break away from each other because their suitemates will probably return from class soon, and Tadashi wants to finish his shower sometime that day. He laughs as Kei splutters when he invites him to join his second attempt at a shower; he laughs even harder when Kei doesn't decline the invitation despite his embarrassment. 

The next day, Valentine’s Day, Tadashi sits on the counter while Kei very stubbornly attempts to make chocolates again. The caramel bits still taste a little scorched and the chocolate itself is kind of lumpy and grainy but it’s probably the most delicious thing Tadashi’s ever eaten, relishing the way Kei steadily turns the shade of a very ripe tomato as he eats each piece.

It’s worth the first interrupted shower and a mostly evacuated building, he thinks.

Chapter Text

He taps his fingers nervously against the shiny wood of the booth. He feels like a stalker, to be honest.

But he’s not. He’s been coming to this hole-in-the-wall diner since he and his parents moved to the town a few months ago. The waitresses don’t care that he’s new to town and that his grandmother’s genes are strong in him, as long as he orders. He sits and does his homework in relative silence, music from the jukebox playing to be replaced by the clunky wireless set the owner sets out when he deems the music the rest of the teens that come in and out all afternoon are playing ‘too loud and obnoxious’. News weaves in and out with strains of rock and roll.

It’s not his fault that he has the same haunt as the blond kid who’s dropped into his booth and glaring at him. It’s not his fault that there’s only one high school in the area and that they happen to both go to it. He’s not stalking this boy.

He says as much.

The blonde sneers at him. Tadashi flinches into the collar of his shirt. He doesn’t much care for the whole James Dean thing that so many students at school had adopted—it rather intimidates him and makes him think of the real city gangs back in the town he lived in before, where it wasn’t the sleepy suburban mimicry, but the real thing. Where his parents had to fight tooth and nail to prove he was white, really, just to get him into a school where the desks weren’t falling apart and the ceiling caving in, and he was hit coming to and from school every day because of his tan skin and dark coloring and upturned eyes, the sons of soldiers pulling at him and hissing insults until his parents couldn’t take it anymore and packed up and moved.

People like that make him nervous. The blond makes him even more nervous because Tadashi finds that sneer on his face attractive and mysterious and oh-so-wrong. It suits the leather jacket and jeans combination—even those thick-rimmed glasses that no real ‘rebel’ wannabe would wear suit him. “I never said you were stalking me,” he laughs haughtily.

“O…oh, well. Sorry then,” Tadashi apologizes quietly. He stirs the straw in his coke self-consciously, ice clinking in the glass with the motion. He leans forward and takes a sip. He watches the way condensation bleeds into his algebra homework.

“What I said is that you’re always here.”

“I… I am, I guess,” Tadashi admits. He prods at his plate of french-fries.

“Well, you have shit taste in music,” the blond says. “Perry Como, really?”

Tadashi splutters. Was he really being approached and castigated for the song he chose for the jukebox the night before? For real? He supposes he’d rather be berated for not really liking rock and roll like the other kids—he liked folk music and softer things, the music his parents liked, really—than being targeted because of his appearance. “I just—If I had to hear Heartbreak Hotel one more time, I think I’d die,” he says with a shrug.

The blond raises an eyebrow. Tadashi shrugs again and starts to nibble on a French-fry. It's soggy with grease and salty, just like he likes them. It’s another perk of this particular diner.

“There’s other stuff you could have chosen,” the blond says.

“Look, if you have a problem with my song choice, sorry. Drop a nickel in yourself,” Tadashi sighs, picking up his pencil to return to his homework.

“It’s the principle of the thing, really,” the other boy drawls. Tadashi wants to kick him.

The waitress comes by and asks Tadashi if everything’s fine and if he would like anything else. He shakes his head. The boy leans forward and waves at the girl, “Can I get a shortcake?”

“Sure thing,” the girl says with a smile. She turns and wanders off to the counter.

“I’m not paying for that,” Tadashi says idly. “Especially after you insulted my music choices.”

“I’ll show you real music,” the boy huffs. He stands and heads towards the jukebox. He has to bicker with the diner’s owner, a young man Tadashi thinks is in his early thirties who acts like Tadashi’s grandfather when it comes to loud teenagers. Maybe he won’t come back.

The blond boy wins his argument for the jukebox, and the waitress slides a large piece of strawberry shortcake onto Tadashi’s table. “Are you two friends?” she asks, nodding towards the blond.

“Not really,” Tadashi answers.

The waitress sighs, “Too bad. He’s handsome.”

Tadashi huffs and slides down into the booth to put his feet into the other bench so maybe he’ll get left alone. He doesn’t.

The blond basically sits on his feet and Tadashi has to move so he doesn’t get crushed. Buddy Holly starts playing as the other teen picks the largest slice of strawberry off of the cake and eats it with his fingers. Tadashi tries not to watch the way the boy’s tongue darts out to lick the cream off of the tips of his fingers. He raises his eyebrows and looks over his shoulder towards the jukebox. It’s a silent question.

Tadashi rolls his eyes. “Typical,” he retorts. He tries not to laugh at the affronted look on the blond’s face.

And that’s how it becomes routine. The boy, whose name is Tsukishima Kei, takes to plopping himself into the empty bench across from Tadashi, staring him down through those thick-rimmed glasses as whatever song of the day plays from the jukebox.

Tadashi pretends to not like a single one of them. They talk about music (and Tadashi’s ‘abysmal’ taste) over their food and homework; Tsukishima surprises Tadashi by being not only smart despite his rebellious attitude and attire, but by being from mixed heritage just like himself.

“You don’t look it,” Tadashi murmurs into his hamburger. “Not like me.”

“It’s further back, but my dad was really close to my great-grandmother,” Tsukishima says with a shrug. “Since that’s who raised him. It caused some problems during elementary school when everything was still stirred up from the war but it settled out because I fought back.”

“I see,” Tadashi murmurs. He tried fighting back, once. It didn’t do much good. He thinks the blond hair and height was what helped out Tsukishima.

“Anyway,” the blond says after a bite of cake. “Why are you holed up in the diner every night?”

“I could ask the same.”

“I’m tutoring you,” Tsukishima snorts. “It’s more entertaining than anything else I have going on. Besides, you need to be saved from yourself. So why don't you ever go home?”

Tadashi rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to go home. Mom’s miserable because she had to quit her job in the factory when we moved. All she does is watch reruns and listen to Billy Graham and take her pills. Dad comes home tired and mad when dinner’s not done or if it’s burnt, and he takes it out on me. It’s easier to just say I was out doing homework. I don’t need reminding how messed up I am, you know?”

“Messed up how?” Tsukishima sneers, tapping his fork on the edge of his plate. “You’re the one sounding like an alienated delinquent now.”

Tadashi sniggers. “You know what I mean,” he says, raising an eyebrow pointedly.

Tsukishima’s grin widens. “I suppose I do,” he agrees, nudging one of Tadashi’s feet with his own.

Chapter Text

All I want is a place I can belong to, I’ll do anything—he thinks furiously to the voice whispering in his ear. He can’t believe he’s pleading to a talking hat; it’s ridiculous. He  half expects someone to whip it off his head and tell him this has all been some elaborate practical joke, or he’ll wake up on the floor of his room back home, haven fallen off the bed mid-dream again. Anything, I’ll do it.

He’s never once had somewhere he belongs—he was too poor, too quiet, too shy to. He grew up picked on and bullied, without a single friend, surrounded by strange circumstances that made his weary mother sigh and rub her eyes in frustration every time he went home with a letter from his teachers explaining that Tadashi had, once again, managed to pour paint over the other students during art (“I didn’t,” he cried as his mother shook her head, “They exploded while they were teasing me.”). He’d been sighing to himself that yet another birthday had come and past with no new friends, only new bruises from the bullies—nothing changes just because he’d wished for it on his birthday cake, he should know that, really, at eleven— when the letter came.  

At first, it seemed like a joke. It was thick and handwritten, and both Tadashi and his mother had brushed it off as some sort of junk mail promotional material for a new TV show or something. She’d let Tadashi keep it because it interested him, despite the fact they didn’t have a television in their small, beat-up flat. He’d always been a dreamer, and the neat, tight calligraphy that spelled out ‘Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry’ set his imagination into overdrive.

Attached to the letter, which included a supplies list, and was addressed to him by name (his mother shook her head and tutted about this, wondering aloud what the world had come to if even minor’s information was available to advertising companies), was a scrawled note that said, “Representative to come no later than December first; we apologize for the delay”. Overall, it was highly realistic; he was relatively impressed with the effort put into it.  

He lay in bed that night, staring at the thick parchment with its shiny ink and wondering what if: what it would be like if magic really was real. For the next few weeks, the letter went largely unmentioned; Tadashi pretended that the odd things that happened when he was upset and angry was the work of his magical powers. To his surprise, every time he sat and thought, ‘I wish this would happen’ when the other kids would pick on him, it happened.

Roots would slither out from bushes and trip up the bullies as they chased him; their shoes would come untied even though they’d been safely double knotted; their backpacks would split open. He had time to escape.

He’d just managed to make all the car alarms in the neighborhood go off to scare off the group of bullies who’d cornered him in a tree when he noticed the amused looking man staring up at him. He could have sworn there wasn’t anyone around.

“You shouldn’t do that, you know,” the man said kindly, eyes bright behind large, round-rimmed glasses. He was rather ordinary looking, Tadashi thought, but there was an air about him that screamed ‘other’. “You haven’t been trained yet—It could have backfired badly.”

“…excuse me?” Tadashi murmurs, turning pink as he shimmies down the tree.

“Your magic. Sorry about the delay, there’s a lot of Muggle-borns this year, ” the man said, like it’s supposed to make sense to Tadashi. Tadashi peers behind the man, where his mother’s standing, hand over her mouth and tears streaming down her face. “So, now, Tadashi. What do you say about being a wizard?”  

And that’s how he was thrown into the world of magic. His mother had cried, and she had cried more when he’d gotten on the red train to his new school with his secondhand materials and new wand. He’s pretty sure she’s still crying, while he’s sitting and arguing with a talking hat. He feels bad for feeling hopeful, like this is his second chance while he knows his mother is so upset. He scrunches his face up, feeling cold in his school robes.

You certainly have the ambition, yes… the hat murmurs in his ear. And you can be shrewd, yes… So anything, you say?

Tadashi nods minutely. He’s hungry to prove himself after eleven years of being picked on and ignored; he needs this second chance. He doesn’t want to grow up friendless and alone. It doesn’t even matter if it’s just one person, he wants someone to share this experience with.

Well then, it won’t be easy. “Slytherin!”

He swallows hard and takes off the hat. He nearly trips over his robes as he scrambles towards the table on the far edge of the Great Hall; he’s nearly shaking. There are no other first years at the table yet, no one had been sorted there so far. He thinks there’s something distinctly wrong, because only the students at the Slytherin table are clapping. He thinks he hears someone whisper, ‘and he has such a sweet face too, I guess looks don’t account for much’, as he passes. Then another, ‘Didn’t he say he was Muggle born on the train?’ he blinks, it’s the boy with the blond streak he’d mistaken for someone his age earlier that day. He’s dressed in crimson and gold now, whispering to another student in a voice that was far louder than Tadashi would have liked.

It’s not malicious, but the effect of his words ripples through the students around him. He shakes and stumbles his way to the Slytherin table. He slides into the empty space at the end reserved for the new first years, next to an older boy with silver-blond hair and a friendly smile, a badge emblazoned with a ‘P’ shining on his chest. He’s clapped on the shoulder warmly. “Welcome aboard,” the boy says with a grin.

Tadashi gives a wavering one back. The rest of the first years are sorted. He’s joined by a handful of other students of varying levels of approachability.

Some are friendly enough, like the loud boy with the cat eyes and robes that are a bit too short for him (“I grew like, an inch between buying them,” he laments in a way that’s more bragging than anything. He’s smacked on the back by a boy with messy hair and a lazy grin. They know each other. Everyone at the table seems to know each other already.). Others… are not. He peeks beside him at the haughty, bored-looking boy next to him. His name is Tsukishima, if he recalls the roll call correctly. He was the second first-year of the night to be sorted into Slytherin. He’s extruding an aura that screams that he thinks the entire ordeal is completely beneath him.

No one had whispered at him. Tadashi fidgets through the welcome speech and tries not to gasp as food appears suddenly in front of him. No one else seems impressed, and he has the distinct feeling that he’s the only person at the table who didn’t know that magic was real before he got his letter. He can hear gasps and exultations from the tables behind him; he feels very much alone.

The older boy next to him smiles gently at him. “It’s okay to be impressed, you know,” he says. “Sometimes stories don’t do it justice. What do you say, Tsukishima? Did Akiteru do the place justice?”

Tadashi looks between the older boy and the surly-looking first year who’s putting a roll onto his plate. The blond boy shrugs in disinterest, “There are a lot of things he didn’t tell me,” he says. Tadashi gets the feeling that whoever Akiteru is, Tsukishima doesn’t like talking about him.

“Um, well,” Tadashi stammers, trying hard to keep the edges of his sleeves from dragging in a tureen of gravy as he reaches for a plate of chicken another student passes him. “I… haven’t heard much… about Hogwarts, really,” he admits. Everyone in the general vicinity raises their eyebrows curiously. They lean in close—he knows the posture, it’s the forward lean of interested parties. He feels himself flush, having never been at the center of any sort of positive attention. “Other than… than what the professor, h-his name was Takeda: he came to talk to my mum and me had to say when I got the letter. I… I mean, I bought a copy of Hogwarts, A History but… I never got to reading it, to be honest.”

“Professor Takeda?” the cat-eyed boy asked loudly, “You got a meeting with a professor? Why? You just get the letter by owl and you send it back saying whether you’re coming or not. Is your family a problem family or something? Did they think you were a Squib?”

“Idiot, he’s obviously Muggle-born,” Tsukishima says tartly. He reaches over and puts a scoop of mashed potatoes onto Tadashi’s plate. Tadashi’s confused by the gesture.

The students around him go silent and stare at him critically, like he’s some sort of circus attraction. “Really?!” the cat-eyed boy exclaims. He looks at the silver-haired boy, “Is that possible?”   

“It obviously is,” Tsukishima drawls at him, “Since he’s sitting here.”

“Yeah, but,” the boy protests, pinks turning dark. “It’s Slytherin.”

The messy haired boy claps him on his shoulder. “You know it’s not like that anymore, Lev,” he admonishes. “I mean, look at Suga!”

Tadashi blinks in confusion. The silver haired boy clears his throat. “That’s me. Sugawara Koushi,” he introduces, holding out his hand. Tadashi shakes it shyly. “My dad’s a Muggle. I’m one of the house prefects; if you have any problems, I’ll be happy to help.”

“Yamaguchi Tadashi. …Is it really that big of a deal? Being Muggle-born?”

“Not really,” Sugawara answers. “The other houses’ students will make a bigger deal of it than we do.”

“It used to be, though,” the messy haired boy said, hand clamped over Lev’s mouth, “Slytherin was founded on some old blood ideals. We got a pretty bad rep for a long time, because of that; we also had a lot of people… well, go bad. We still do have kind of a bad rep, but now it’s mostly because we do what we have to to get our way—even if it means saving our own tails and bailing out. There’s still a lot of pureblood families in the house though. But everyone’s nice enough. There’s still a couple of people who walk around sweeping the floor with the broomsticks shoved up their asses—” “Kuroo! You’re talking to a first year!” “Whoops, sorry, Suga. Ahem some people are still old-fashioned and’ll give you hell but, for the most part we protect our own. No one else will. You heard some of the tables when you were sorted.”

“… so people don’t like us?” Tadashi murmurs, blinking quickly. This is too much. He’d asked for a place to belong, but it seemed like he’d just ended up an outcast in a group of outcasts. “…Both Muggle-borns… and Slytherins?”

“It’s pathetic,” Tsukishima replied beside him. “Don’t get your robes twisted over it. You have enough to worry about.”

Tsukishima is right, Tadashi quickly realizes. There are a lot more things to worry about at Hogwarts than house placement and blood status. The castle is huge, the staircases move, and there is no map. He constantly forgets to skip the one disappearing stair on his way to class and has to be hauled out daily. He gets lost and is terrified of the helpful teenaged ghosts that drift in and out of the walls, pearlescent versions of his own classmates; he tries to run from them, but it only makes him more lost and late for class.

The classes are nice—he has to work hard, but he isn’t terrible at magic. What he’s terrible at is interaction with the other students. He has the composure of an anxious rabbit, and would rather be left alone than bothered. Students mistake it for haughtiness, and while he’s plenty friendly with his fellow Slytherins because they don’t scare him too terribly much, he’s picked on by the other first years from other houses.

It’s for small things, like the conditions of his books, and how he always forgets to do up his tie in the morning, the way his eyes slant, the freckles that scatter across his face, the one piece of hair on his head that never stays down, how he doesn’t even know mundane wizarding trivia. He takes it with trembling lips and stubborn quietness. He tries to ignore them, because the first time he lost his temper, pots of ink and quills tipping over and jumping on desks, he lost house points and was threatened with detention. But it’s hard to.

In the end, it’s Tsukishima who eventually saves him. He’d been right that first night—everyone did know each other, more or less. They paired off in classes and in the common rooms. He and Tsukishima were the only two who didn’t immediately have a group—Tadashi because he was Muggle-born, and Tsukishima because he declined every invitation to sit and study. It’s right before double Charms, and he slams his book down on his desk, “Pathetic,” he snarls down at the Ravenclaws who are teasing Tadashi for asking why there were so many teenaged ghosts in the castle.

Ever since, Tsukishima has been his partner in every class. At first, Tadashi thinks it’s just because Tsukishima feels bad for him, but he quickly realizes that for whatever reason, the blond enjoys his company, and it’s not just Tsukishima helping Tadashi—Tadashi has an adept hand at Herbology while Tsukishima struggles to keep even the hardiest plant alive. Tsukishima is good at Transfiguration and gives Tadashi tips on how to turn his match into needles. They’re both good at Charms and Potions and snigger their way through History of Magic.

Tadashi’s surprised at how well they get along. He’d thought that Tsukishima was haughty and prone to bullying. While the blond certainly isn’t the nicest person, he only takes shots at students who will defend themselves, and honestly probably deserve to have their intelligence questioned. He doesn’t pick on students with genuine questions or insecurities. He’s passed Tadashi notes with background information so many times that Tadashi thinks he could kiss the blond for saving his ass over and over.

By their fifth flying lesson, when the professor offers registration sheets for the intramural Quidditch club (“Non competitive,” they explain, “It encompasses all the Houses, and is more for enthusiasts who don’t want to play on the house teams.”), Tadashi and Tsukishima are inseparable.

“I want to join, don’t you Tsukki? It seems like it’d be fun and I kind of enjoy flying even though I’m no good at it,” Tadashi chatters as they head in from the lesson. “I also think it’d be good to make friends in other houses. What do you think Tsukki?”

“…mnh,” the blond comments.

Tadashi watches in concern as Tsukishima’s face scrunches up as he regards the paper. “T…Tsukki, is there a problem?” he asks softly. “If you don’t want to join, it’s okay?”

“No, there’s not a problem,” Tsukishima says, shoving the paper into his bag. “I have to go to the library, I’ll meet you in the Hall for lunch.”

Tadashi blinks and is left clutching at his paper, feeling very much alone. He bites down on his lip and trudges to the Great Hall alone, where he picks at his food for the better part of an hour, waiting for Tsukishima.

“What’s got you down in the dumps, Yamyam?” A voice asks. Yamaguchi flinches. Oikawa, joined by Kuroo and a rather amused looking Sugawara, plops down on the bench beside him.

“Oiii, you’re not in our house, Head Boy,” Kuroo laughs at his friend, settling next to Oikawa. “Go back to your nerds.”

“Rude! I am extending my oh-so-gracious presence to this very sad looking baby Slytherin,” Oikawa sulks even as Yamaguchi inches closer to Sugawara on the bench. It’s not like he dislikes Oikawa— the seventh year Ravenclaw was actually really nice and really helpful, but he was hard to deal with, and he tended to be followed by… Oh. There it is.

 He ducks as a wad of parchment goes flying at precision speeds towards Oikawa’s head. It hits the seventh year with a sound far louder than parchment should make. Yamaguchi peeks over where Iwazumi is aiming his wand.

“Ow ow! Iwa-chan I’m doing my duties as Head Boy, don’t interfere! This poor child looked like he needed my attentions!” Oikawa cries as an invisible hand grabs the back of his robes and drags him off the bench.

“It looks more like you’re harassing the first years again!” Iwazumi snaps. Kuroo snickers into his pumpkin juice.

Everyone goes back to eating as Iwazumi hauls Oikawa out of the Great Hall, the two boys bitching at each other all the way. Sugawara clears his throat.

“He did have a point,” Suga says delicately, nudging a plate of fries towards Yamaguchi. “You look a little down.”

Yamaguchi picks at them sadly. “It’s fine,” he mumbles.

“Really? Because we saw Tsukki sulking in the common room,” Kuroo says nonchalantly. He starts eating his lunch with relish. “He was outright moping. If he’d been any more miserable looking, I’d chuck him to the giant squid.”

“Kuroo,” Suga warns. “…Now, Yamaguchi, did you and Tsukishima have a fight?”

“No… not really,” Tadashi mumbles. He feels even worse knowing that for some unknown reason, Tsukishima was upset and alone. He chews on his lip for a moment, then purses his lip. It might be nosy, but he decided it’s what he needs to do. “Say, is there any reason Tsukki would be upset by Quidditch?”

Suga and Kuroo exchange looks. “It is that time of year,” Kuroo says with a shrug.

“I suppose. Yamaguchi, has Tsukishima mentioned his brother?” Suga asks carefully.

Yamaguchi shakes his head.

“Ah, well, then… It’s not our place,” Suga says carefully, reaching out to ruffle Tadashi’s eternally messy hair. Tadashi reaches up and smoothes it out.

Tadashi is not pleased by this answer. “Well! I’ll just go apologize to Tsukki!” he lies, standing up from the bench with a clatter. He runs off to the library instead.

What he’s about to do isn’t very nice or polite. In fact, he thinks it’s probably very underhanded, considering that his friend obviously doesn’t want to talk about his family—it’s never come up in any depth before, all Tadashi knows is that Tsukishima is a pure blood even though Tsukishima knows a lot about Tadashi.

But then again, Tadashi thinks as he pulls out the past decade’s worth of student records, he got sorted into Slytherin for a reason.

He’s going to do what he can to cheer his friend back up. Like he told the hat, he’d do anything to keep the place he wanted to belong to. It doesn’t matter if it’s sneaky or underhanded, as long as the end product is what he wants—a way to cheer up Tsukishima after all he’s done for him—he’ll do it.

It’s the first time since September that Tadashi doesn’t think his house was a mistake. 

Chapter Text

When Tadashi was born, the mark on his neck was a simple circle. A blank, empty circle, the line of it curving against the side of his neck, brushing just over his clavicle; it got added to the list of things he disliked about himself as soon as he was old enough to start hating the bits of his body he knew weren’t like the other children’s: freckles, messy hair, eyes, crooked smile, shyness, the blank, empty circle that was his soulmate’s mark.

It was empty like his brain. It was a zero like he was. Bland, boring, insignificant. He heard all of it, every nasty word spat out by his peers. It didn’t matter that as he got older, it slowly started to fill in. By his fifth year in elementary school, a midnight blue so dark that it was almost black crescent moon graced the side of his neck.

Had he been younger, he would have thought it was beautiful. It was the color of the darkest part of the sky during the new moon, when he went out with his telescope to peer up at the stars. There was something delicate about the edges of the mark, the shape tapering off  into edges so sharp that Tadashi thought he’d cut himself on them when he runs self-conscious fingers over the mark every morning as he gets dressed.

Once, he tried to claw the mark off of his neck the same way he tried to scrape the freckles off of his arms and legs with steel wool when he’d first started getting teased about them. He’d dug his nails in as deep as they would go, teeth clenched against the pain of it, and he’d pulled his hand down, blood welling up from  the grooves in his flesh, skin and blood caked under his nails. He brought it up again and caught at himself, jaw loosening and a wail escaping from the back of his throat, summoning his mother who’d nearly fainted at the sight of her nine year old trying to peel away the skin of his neck.

When he’d stopped bleeding and his mother stopped shouting at him and the gouged out marks healed, the mark was patterned like the real moon, dappled colors over the places he’d tried to rip from himself mimicking the craters he’d memorized the names of in his endless days of free time.

He covers it up, along with what he can of his freckles, in layered shirts and hoodies. He tries not to think about the sort of soulmate he’ll have; he always fails, though. He gets ready for every new school day with fervent prayers for a patient soulmate, who doesn’t mind that he’s not good for anything at all. Someone who doesn’t mind that he’s weak and slow, not good at anything, and cries at the slightest provocation. He stares at it in the mirror and feels bad for the person it represents. He feels bad for inflicting himself on another person; that somewhere, there’s someone with a mark that represents his soul on their bodies. Other children are curious, Tadashi just feels sick.

At first, he did wonder. At first, he tried to make friends. He tried to fight back, too. He tried to tell the teachers, he tried to tell his mother, he tried everything. It made it worse. It made him feel worthless. His mother’s stopped listening to him pleading to stay home, and even when he feels sick enough that he thinks he’ll die, she pushes him out the door insisting it’s not that bad. She tries to coax him into going to school by telling him that he should grow up brave and big and strong for his soulmate.

But it’s just like the other boys say; he’s weak and useless and he cries too much. He’s just…

“Pathetic.”

What strikes him first is the blond boy’s height. Then his bravery and the air of absolute coolness he exuded. He was so jealous—this was the sort of person he wished he could be, the sort of person he’d tried to be at first. He stares wide-eyed at the blond for a few seconds before something caught his eye.

On the other boy’s chest, embroidered onto his hoodie, was a crescent moon of the same shape and phase as the one on Tadashi’s neck. He raises his hand and touches it as he watches the boy walk off; it’s warm to the touch and fresh tears fall from his eyes.

He pulls himself to his feet, dusts off his pants, and goes home with the resolve to be someone who could match the boy with the moon on his shirt.


Kei is born with no immediately obvious soulmate mark. What he has instead is a scattering of dark green dots that spread from shoulder to shoulder against his clavicle. From afar, they almost resemble freckles; he doesn’t let anyone other than family get close enough to him to see differently, and he lets his clothes cover them, for the most part.

As soon as he’s sentient of them, he ignores them. He has what he needs—a soulmate does not figure into this. Besides, how was he supposed to make sense of something as nonsensical as dots? As if.

He grows older and becomes more firm in the belief that all he needs from life is his brother’s endless attention. Akiteru is always there, always cheerful and patient, even when Kei’s parents become exasperated with his precociousness; he helps Kei with his homework and teaches him the things he’s learning in school. Kei goes to kindergarten already knowing how to read, add, subtract, and multiply, baffled why the other students seem so slow and dimwitted, with a tongue sharpened by hanging out with boys older than he is and his own cleverness.

It doesn’t particularly bother him when he looks up one day and realizes he’s utterly alone. He thinks it should, since every other student has at least one other friend and they’re all obsessed over keeping those friends and being surrounded by other people. Other people make him tired. Besides, he has all he needs. He gets to go home and practice volleyball with his brother, get to listen about his brother’s day, do homework with him.

That’s all he needs.

It’s around that time that he notices small, shaky lines trace between the spots on his neck. They interlace to form the sort of five-pointed stars the other students draw when they try to draw the night sky, like his collar is one large connect-the-dot puzzle. He is distinctly not amused.

Akiteru is, though, so he doesn’t say much about it. His brother thinks it’s cute, that whoever his soulmate is, they seem to be interested in astronomy, especially since their name has the characters for ‘moon’ in it. Kei just wishes his neck didn’t look like a kindergartener took a permanent marker to it. He says as much, but Akiteru just ruffles his hair a bit roughly and says he’s ‘not cute at all’. Kei pouts for the next week.

He doesn’t get his wish until late in the fifth year of elementary school. He hasn’t really paid attention to his soulmates’ mark since the stars had formed. A soulmate is still not on the list of things he needs. His needs are still, as follows: Akiteru, volleyball, strawberry shortcake…

And Yamaguchi. After six years in school, he finally made a friend. Or rather, a someone made friends with him—he didn’t have much choice in the matter, because before he knew it, the mousy-haired boy had attached himself firmly to Kei’s side. Time moved weirdly when he hung out with his teammate—even the first day they met, Kei could have sworn they only spent a few minutes talking, but the coach and the clock swore up and down they’d wasted nearly half an hour just chatting about things. And this was before Kei even knew Yamaguchi’s name.

There was something open and raw about the boy and his nervousness that made Kei feel like Yamaguchi needed protecting. In many ways, Kei treated Yamaguchi just like Akiteru treated him; he helped the boy with his receives, answered every question shot his way, and chased off anyone who tried to pick on his new friend.

He only notices that the shakily drawn stars on his neck are dissolving and reforming because Yamaguchi points it out one day while they’re doing homework.

“That’s your mark, right?” Yamaguchi asks shyly, fingers pressing up against his own neck. Kei’s taken idle note of Yamaguchi’s mark; it’s hard not to miss it when it’s so dark and stark against his skin. His friend’s is large too—it starts at his neck and winds down his arm. He thinks it’s going to be the lunar cycle even though not all the circles that coil down his arm are filled in yet.

Kei likes looking at it, because he’s never seen a mark so large and defined on anyone his age. He wants to ask Yamaguchi about it, but he thinks it’s rather personal.

“What, this?” Kei asks, tugging his collar down slightly.

Yamaguchi nods and turns red. “It looks like a constellation chart,” he mumbles quietly, turning his eyes away from Kei’s neck to fix on his homework. He starts drawing out lines on his paper in patterns that Kei doesn’t recognize, but obviously make sense to Yamaguchi.

Kei shrugs. He hasn’t paid it any attention. He looks at himself in the mirror later that night, noting the way the stars themselves have started to dissolve: the lines that made up their shaky points are tracing between the dots on his neck in different patterns. There’s one that is darker than the rest, the shape of it looking vaguely familiar to Kei. He can’t place it, but he thinks it might have been on Yamaguchi’s paper.

He dismisses it as déjà-vu and doesn’t think of it again. A soulmate isn’t something he needs. He has what he needs.

Until he doesn’t.

He stands there. He can’t move. He can’t even hear himself speak—everything’s frozen. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do or say in this sort of situation. He can’t even look away from Akiteru on the other side of the court. Something presses up against his back.

It’s small and shaking and warm; someone’s grabbing onto his vest. He can’t stop staring; whoever it is, they can wait. Don’t they know the world has ended? His world has ended.

The person is insistent; there’s pressure against his shoulder blades and he hears his name. Over and over and over.

“Tsukki, let’s go Tsukki, I want to go, Tsukki, let’s go Tsukki, Tsukki, don’t you want to go, Tsukki, please—”

He tears his eyes off of the court. The words are automatic, like he’s some clockwork child, “Shut up, Yamaguchi.”

The boy grabs onto his hand and starts tugging. Kei lets himself get pulled out of the stands, out of the arena, out of the sports center into the evening air. Yamaguchi’s cheeks shine bright as the streetlights start to flicker on, one by one. Yamaguchi is crying. He studies the boy’s face with a detached interest. He doesn’t understand.

He doesn’t understand anything.

Yamaguchi keeps pulling him until they reach the park between the two of their houses. He says nothing as they stop; all Yamaguchi does is bring his other hand up to wipe at his face, the fingers that are entwined tightly with Kei’s shaking. He sniffles loudly.

Kei just looks away. He doesn’t pay attention to Yamaguchi as they boy looks up the sky and starts rambling.

“The sky is so clear tonight, Tsukki. You can see the stars really well. We’d see them better if there weren’t any lights out, but look, you can see the Polaris really well.”

He starts pointing up, fingers tracing arcs in the sky; Kei only half-pays attention.

“And there’s the Big Dipper. I don’t know if you know this—you probably do, Tsukki, since you’re really smart—but it’s not actually a constellation! It’s an asterism, actually—which is where people associate star patterns together that aren’t actually recognized constellations. Really, it’s part of Ursa Major, but it’s hard to see all of it. It’s there, though,” Tadashi babbles, tracing his fingers in the air. “There’s Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez,” he lists. He keeps going.

It looks like a constellation chart, Tadashi had said. Kei looks up suddenly, staring up at the sky. He knows this shape, not just from where Tadashi’s traced it in the sky. His neck and collar feel warm. He looks at over at Tadashi, where his friend is still naming off stars with a look of contented concentration on his face; it feels like he’s never seen the boy before in his life, like he’s never really looked at his friend.

It’s been staring him in the face the entire time—the moon in plain sight on his jacket was also emblazoned on Tadashi’s neck, and the stars that Tadashi’s so painstakingly memorized and traced out for him are scored onto his own skin.

He doesn’t much mind needing a soulmate if it’s Tadashi.

Chapter Text

He has this bad habit, of thinking that when good things happen, it has to be too good to be true. By this point in his life, it’s not even a habit, but an instinct carved into him by seventeen—nearly eighteen now—years of life.

It doesn’t matter what it is, it gets twisted in the very back of his mind. If the weather is good, it’s only a matter of time before it rains on him; if his serves do well, well, it won’t be long before he fucks up. It doesn’t matter that after three years, he could probably serve in his sleep—that’s how hard he’s worked, he’s worked until he earned his regular’s position, number four jersey, and whispers in the same conversations that would bring up Oikawa from his first year on the court—it doesn’t matter that it’s raining on everyone, and that the weather didn’t even  mention  the slightest chance of rain. None of it really matters, only that the clear skies and service aces and good grades before were far too good to be true.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism; maybe there’s something truly wrong with him, he’s not sure anymore. He doesn’t really remember when it started—probably when he started looking over his shoulder every five seconds in grade school, only to get ambushed from the front. He doesn’t know—he doesn’t actually care, because knowing when it started won’t help it stop.

It’s just… everything is going well, so he’s certain it won’t for long. They’re third years, with a good season over with, and now he and Kei are retired from the team—the team’s going to Spring High without them, which is kind of lonely, but that’s how it goes. He’s done well on all of his practice exams for college, and he and Kei have been dating for almost a year. Life’s great. It’s good. He should be happy.

But he feels like something’s behind him, tapping his shoulder and whispering that something’s wrong, that something’s horribly wrong, and how silly of him to not notice.

Which is why, to be honest, it doesn’t surprise him as much as it should when he peers over at Kei’s exit counseling survey to find that the blond has filled out a very different first-choice college than what he’d expected to find. In fact, the one that he’d thought Kei would put isn’t even on there; not as a backup at all. All of the schools are relatively prestigious and in Tokyo.

“Hey, Tsukki, are you serious about this?” Tadashi asks quietly as the rest of the class continues to pack their things to leave for the day.

Kei looks up from sliding his binder into his book bag. “About what?”

“Tokodai,” Tadashi answers, making a small gesture towards the piece of paper on Kei’s desk.

Kei shrugs and stands, picking up the survey. “Obviously, since I’m about to turn it in,” he says dryly, leaving Tadashi standing at his desk while he hands in the piece of paper. He returns and scowls at the way Tadashi’s half-gaping at him. “What’s that look for?”

“I just… I didn’t know you were trying for there, I guess,” Tadashi says helplessly. The faceless, nameless person behind him almost purrs into his ear, see? “I mean, I knew you’ve already taken some exams.”

“It’s not trying,” Kei says as he picks up his bag. “I already got accepted on early admissions.”

“What?” Tadashi asks, mouth dry. How did he not know this? He spent a majority of his time with Kei—how did he not know this? To be fair, really, they didn’t talk a lot about that stuff… or much of anything, really. There’s too much kissing and touching between them for talk, actually; Tadashi didn’t think he minded until now. “Really?”

Kei clicks his tongue, looking highly affronted by Tadashi’s incredulous tone. “Really. I can show you the letter if you don’t believe me,” he sneers.

Tadashi backpedals, shaking his head vehemently. “I believe you, Tsukki! It’s really good,” he says as the move through the halls. “I just… well, I kind of thought we’d both go to college in Sendai or something,” he mumbles. “Stay together,” he whispers after a moment of awkward silence.  

Kei is quiet for a long moment, then gives a sigh. It’s the type that makes Tadashi go cold and retreat as fast as he can from whatever territory brokered that sort of reaction from the blond. It’s the long-suffering, woe-is-me, I’m-surrounded-by-idiots sigh. He wants to take it back immediately, but he can’t because the words have left his mouth and, really… he did think they would stay together in Miyagi for college. There are universities in Sendai that house both of their fields. He’s starting to wonder if he had messed up and gotten too eager about their relationship.

He swallows hard and waits for Kei to say something. And boy, does he ever.

“Don’t tell me you’ve bought into some asinine idea that just because we’re together, one of us is going to follow the other to university,” Kei says, rolling his eyes. “Making decisions about school or work based on what the person you’re dating is doing is one of the most stupid things you could ever do. The best thing either of us can do for our futures is to go to the college we want to go to.”

“I didn’t expect you to follow me to university,” Tadashi says quietly as they reach the shoe lockers. They trade out their indoor shoes for their sneakers. “I don’t plan on going to Tokyo either.” He doesn’t say that he expected Kei to stay, or to only go so far that he could still follow him. But he can’t follow Kei to Tokyo—he knows his limits, academically and financially. It’s always been a university in Sendai for him; there’s never been any other option.

Kei looks over at him as Tadashi struggles to slip on his sneakers. He puts out a hand to steady the brunet, but Tadashi flinches away. He sighs again. “Look,” he says irritably. “It’s bothering you, I can tell. Why?”

Tadashi clenches his fists and straightens slowly. He shrugs and focuses on not getting to upset about the situation, because that’s just a surefire way to make Kei even angrier at him, and he’s always running a tightrope act between being so desperately in love with Kei that he’ll do anything, even scream and be obnoxious, as long as Kei notices him and being so desperate to keep Kei that he doesn’t dare do a thing. The swing between the two extremes makes him exhausted, no matter how he tries to temper himself. “I just… I thought it would be fun to do university together,” he says softly. “People go to university together as friends, not just because they’re dating. Hinata and Kageyama are both going to Sendai University together.”

Kei rolls his eyes, “Isn’t that just because that’s the only sports college in Northern Japan?”

Tadashi shrugs. Even if that was the case, they’re still going to be rooming together, he thinks. They’re best friends in ways that not even he and Kei are. He watches Kageyama and Hinata with jealousy, envying the seemingly effortless way they interact. They stand as equals when they’re together; he doesn’t think he and Kei are equals anymore. He doesn’t think they ever were, no matter what Kei used to say. They’ve always had an uneven relationship, where Kei doesn’t stand to lose anything at all while Tadashi banks his entire life on Kei. It’s always been that way—Kei’s decision is just the final flourish of icing on the cake. His mouth is so dry he can taste bile in the back of his throat and his skin feels tight and chilled, like the onset of a fever.

“And anyway,” Kei continues as they start walking home. “Those two are still idiots, even if they’re idiots with college acceptance letters. They’re joined at the hip.”

“…but don’t you think it would be fun at all, Tsukki? For both of us to be together during university?”

“We’ll be together regardless of if we’re both in Miyagi or not,” Kei says with a shrug. “…You know this isn’t me breaking up with you, right? I just want to go to Tokodai.”

Kei asks him like he thinks Tadashi’s stupid. And Tadashi does feel stupid, because he can’t find the words to tell Kei that it might not be them breaking up, but it feels that way. They have never once been without each other in the seven long years they’ve known each other. Maybe he should feel relieved that Kei thinks they can weather four years of a long distance relationship; but he already feels their separation like it’s a limb that’s been cut off.

He thinks that maybe, without their bodies, they won’t last. Because that’s the only thing he has to give, really, and if he’s in Sendai and Kei’s in Tokyo, Kei won’t receive any benefits of their relationship. Neither of them are great at phone calls or texts, and they can never get skype to work when one of them has to go out of town with family. He wonders, exactly, how much train fare is for a weekend round trip from Sendai to Tokyo. He also has a sinking feeling in his gut about Kei’s future living situation.

“…Tsukki, if you go to Tokodai, are you going to live in the dorms?” he asks quietly. He prays the answer is yes, but he knows it’s not going to be, because really? Tsukishima Kei? Living in a dormitory? As if.

“No,” Kei answers, “I’m probably going to move in with Kuroo, actually. His roommate’s graduating this year and he needs someone to split the lease with, and apparently Kenma refuses. I’m sure you saw his posts about it on facebook. It’ll just be until the lease ends, but it’s still something.”  

“Ah, well, that’s nice, to know what you’re going to do,” Tadashi says blandly. He doesn’t dislike Kuroo, not really. Kenma’s pleasant; they get along fairly well (but not as well as Kenma gets along with Hinata) because he and Kenma are rather similar, and to like Kenma, Tadashi kind of thinks that you have to like Kuroo, too, since they’re a package deal. Kuroo had laughed at one point and said that Tadashi and Kei were a package deal too, and Tadashi’s been forever wondering if Kuroo meant it in the same way that Tadashi thought it; that to be friends with Kei, one had to be friends with Tadashi too, even if you didn’t want to.

Kuroo just… rubs him the wrong way. And not in the way that Kageyama or Kei rub people the wrong way. Kuroo is both Kageyama’s unwitting obnoxiousness and Kei’s purposeful unpleasantness.  He’s nice, he really is, Tadashi knows, but Kuroo sets him on edge.

He knows he’s lying to himself, though, that he just feels inadequate when he compares himself to Kuroo, who’s older and more experienced and good at volleyball, and can help Kei when Kei swallows enough of his pride to ask for it. He’s tolerated and squeamishly encouraged Kuroo and Kei’s friendship since the summer camp, where he didn’t know just how much it would bother him to share Kei, but had only wanted Kei to do better, to try and break himself out of his apathy.

Well, he got Kei to do better, he supposes. He’s just… afraid that one day Kei’s going to realize how pitiful he is, for feeling threatened by an older boy with a sometimes-maybe boyfriend. The idea that it’s Kuroo Kei’s going to share his college life with makes Tadashi feel like giving up, crawl in bed and sleep through his upcoming entrance exams. There’s no point—he’s going to be taking ones that are higher than what he can achieve anyway. He’d signed up thinking that’s where Kei was going to go. He’ll just settle for what his hard work can get him, he thinks. He’ll go wherever he wants, wherever he gets accepted. He doesn’t have to worry about Kei.

He thinks the thought should be freeing, that maybe that’s why Kei went on and applied elsewhere, to free options up for Tadashi, that instead of an act of selfishness, it was Kei pushing him to just do what he wanted to. That that’s what Kei means.

Of course not, the voice tells him, sneering. Look at that face, he was disgusted at the thought of being with you for another four years.

They keep walking in silence and Tadashi starts planning; how long can he make this last, what can he do to make it last? In the end, he drops the subject entirely, and when they reach Kei’s house, he lets the blond smother him with his body and tries not to cling too hard afterwards when he feels empty and desperate. He doesn’t want to put Kei off with his own sudden tidal wave of anxiousness.

He wonders if somehow, that person behind him who laughs when things go wrong is what’s tainted this.

When they first started dating, it didn’t make Tadashi feel cold. He wasn’t afraid it was going to end—he only ever thought about how it would continue, and not in the desperate, last-chance way he thinks about their relationship now, but in terms of dates and how many hours they could spend kissing in each other’s laps and how many smiles he could pull out of Kei’s composure in an afternoon. How many times they could make each other laugh instead of silent afternoons studying and sex that leaves him feeling cold no matter how many times he draws  Kei back up against him, whispering ‘just one more time, one more, okay’ until exhaustion swallows him whole.

He thinks that maybe, quitting volleyball in order to study was bad for the both of them. Tadashi needs something other than their relationship to fixate his anxiety on; Kei needs a physical outlet. He’s always been a bit nervous about dating Kei, but he’d been still riding the high of being the team’s go-to server, of winning volleyball games and getting commended by Kei when he’d asked the blond out, and he’d been so over the moon when Kei agreed that he’d never once thought about how uneven they were; he was nervous about things like getting found out or being able to balance everything. That voice was whispering about other things, other worries, and once those were gone, it turned its attention to Kei.

It’s going to go wrong, it whispered, Don’t you think this is more than you deserve?

Well, it’s gone wrong, and Tadashi hopes very much that voice is happy with itself, because he’s miserable. It purrs smugly in his ear.

He spends the next few months tiptoeing around the gaping chasm in his chest and how absolutely awful his relationship—or lack of one, he’s not sure if ‘we have sex every time we’re alone now, but we don’t talk’ is still a relationship— makes him feel. He gets into the college he wanted to go to and applies for a dorm. He prays his roommate is nice.

None of it is quite as fun as he thought it would be; it’s scary, actually. He’s not going to know anyone at all on campus—he’s not sure where any of his classmates other than the people from the volleyball team are going. He’s going to start over again, with no friends and no Tsukki by his side. It’s not even like it was the years he and Tsukki ended up in different classes: at the end of the day, he still got to walk home with the blond, play volleyball with him, have the promise of weekends spent doing homework and playing video games.

With Kei in Tokyo, they’ll be lucky if they even get a weekend together before break. He gets a part time job, which starts the day after graduation, and it makes him late to see Kei off to Tokyo.

He barely even gets to say goodbye to the blond, and he definitely doesn’t get to do it in any sort of romantic way because Kei’s entire family is there—even Akiteru. It isn’t like he wanted any sort of romantic parting, because they haven’t done anything like that in months now; for them to kiss sweetly without the intentions of fucking, or holding hands without nails biting in and fingers grasping, or hug and whisper into each other’s ears about how they’d miss each other… that would not only be out of character, but it would feel like a lie.

Kei can do just fine in Tokyo without him. Kei has friends there; he’s even living with one of them. Kei could probably flourish anywhere, because he’s clever and cool and he doesn’t need anyone at all.

Tadashi is a plant that can’t live alone. He recalls the Acacia tree from his biology class, that can’t live without a certain species of ant that protects it from animals who eat the tree’s leaves, and even prevent other plants from growing around it. But those ants? They can go anywhere they want to. They don’t have to live with the tree. They just do, because that’s where it’s easiest to be.

He doesn’t know what he wants, but he thinks that maybe he wants this horrible crushing feeling to stop. He feels constantly sick and hazy, and even though he hasn’t gotten anything good from Kei in months, he still wants the blond like a drowning person wants air.

He moves into his dorm and continues to go to work. His roommate is nice; they’re quiet like he is, so the room is always silent. He wishes he could be like Kei and put on headphones, but he feels like it would be rude, almost. He wants to seem open, but they never really talk or hit it off.

His classes are fine; they’re a bit harder than what he’s used to, but he’s glad that he can focus his restless energy on something. He studies. He goes to class. He goes to work. He struggles to remember to eat. He sleeps fitfully, dreaming of the kind of college life he wanted and Kei’s hand against the small of his back, the way he held him on their first date. They’d gone to Sendai, to visit the Miyagi Museum of Art, which, despite a frequent place for childhood fieldtrips, was still interesting to them both; Kei stood behind him, hand against his back as they wandered through the museum, murmuring interesting facts he’d filed away about pieces and artists into Tadashi’s ear. The touch was gentle and protective, the barest brush of fingers against his spine, a warm palm right in the center of his back above his jeans; it was like a kiss each time Kei had shifted his hand. It had nearly wrecked him, that gentle hand against the small of his back; he was a mess the entire time, overwrought with love and affection for Kei. Kisses and touches had remained after that first date, but that touch had never returned. Tadashi was never quite sure what he’d done wrong to lose it; over a year later, he still wonders.

He wakes up from these dreams anxious and filled with wistfulness; some mornings he curls under his blankets and resists the urge to cry until his throat is tight and his eyes are damp anyway. Others, he rolls over and picks up his phone and calls Kei, voice rough and sleepy as they talk about nothing important until one of them has to go to class. He searches for the things that are still good about them, the things he still loves with desperate fervor; he tries to seek out the verbal equivalent to the affectionate hand on his back. He gets instead their rough, dispassionate sex and a hand tugging at his hair, tempered with a soft, thoughtless kiss to his forehead and the way Kei would idly nuzzle against his shoulder when they sat together.

The way that sharp voices drops and quiets and murmurs ‘I’ll talk to you later, okay? Yeah?’ when they have to hang up keeps Tadashi going, keeps him coming back. They’ll talk later. They’ll see each other. Later, maybe, Kei will fill him up with warmth and love again. He’ll figure out where it went wrong, where he left his life-vest, and he’ll fix it and be able to tread water again.

He’s desperate, the voice whispers.

He meets Kageyama, Hinata, and Yachi one day after class. Their restless chatter fills him with warmth, and he smiles and laughs for the first time since college started. He hesitates to make plans with them for Golden Week, because he half hopes that Kei will come and visit.

He doesn’t. He had no plans to; he sounded offended when Tadashi had murmured that he had hoped they would be able to see each other over the break. Tadashi gently explains to him that he doesn’t have the money to go to Tokyo yet, and Kei is petulant, and Tadashi tries not to cry.

Tadashi calls Yachi instead of sulking, and tags along with them, last minute, to a trip back home and spends the week hopping from house to house with them, playing volleyball and laughing and feeling like a normal human being. The week ends with them back in Sendai. He aches with the idea of going back to his lonely dorm room and his lonely phone calls with Kei. He misses high school, where every day was a whirlwind of warmth and people.

Hinata thumps Tadashi genially on the back, “Maybe for summer break we can all go to Tokyo! It’s been a while since I’ve seen Kenma! We’ll do this with them, and it’ll be a blast, so don’t be upset because Tsukishima’s just as much as a jerk as he’s ever been, okay?”

Tadashi can’t help but laugh at Hinata’s warm enthusiasm. It’s contagious and it makes his throat feel tight. Kei’s his boyfriend—he feels like he should be defending him, rather than agreeing with Hinata. But Kei is cold, and it hurts to think that he has to go back to the coldness so soon after he’s thawed out of his own isolation.

As Hinata and Kageyama turn to leave, Kageyama looks over his shoulder, looking rather awkward. “You… you should see if there’s intramural volleyball at your school,” he mumbles; “You’d have more fun that way.”

Once they’re gone, he turns to Yachi. “…Am I that obviously unhappy?” he asks her.

She shrugs, “You changed the last quarter of our third year,” she said softly. “I think they worried. A lot. I did too—I still do. Um, not that I’m like doing it in a creepy way or anything! If you don’t want me to, I can stop!”

He shakes his head and looks away. The voice in his ear is laughing again. Yachi takes his hand and squeezes it tightly. The voice halts. It’s just as surprised as Tadashi is. They both thought she would leave him like this.

“Let’s go get dinner!” she says, turning bright red, “I can explain okay so don’t think I’m a weird stalker or anything!”

“I don’t think you’re a stalker, Yachi-san,” he laughs softly. “You’d be bad at it, anyway.”

“Wouldn’t I though?” she laughs and tugs him out of the subway station. They end up in a small café, where they both order hot chocolate and sandwiches.  Tadashi purposefully keeps his eyes away from the cake selection and tells himself that there’s no point in trying any of them. Kei won’t come to Sendai; there will be no dates. This is not a place he can take the blond—Kei is not going to visit, ever.

Tadashi’s heart breaks a little bit as he thinks this, because he has nothing more he can give this boy, he’s a sponge that’s been wrung out too much. Kei needs to give him something, anything, it doesn’t matter what. He doesn’t think he can do this much longer. Just one visit. Just one more thing. Just one more and then it’ll be okay, it will be. He’ll have something to give back again.

“…Tadashi-kun, don’t you think that if you miss him this much, you should visit him? Or tell him that you miss him?” Yachi asks softly. She doesn’t miss the way he keeps looking over at the cakes and clenches his hands.

He shakes his head, “It’d bother him.”

“Then why do you do this to yourself?” Yachi takes a deep breath and straightens her back, trying to make herself as large as she can. Tadashi’s distinctly reminded of the way small birds fluff out when they’re threatened; it’s cute. Yachi has always been cute, he thinks. The way she tries so hard. He wishes he could have fallen in love with someone like Yachi. He could have made it work better if it were her, he thinks idly. “You’ve not been happy for a long time, Tadashi-kun! You two started dating and you fell apart! Neither of you tried after that, you just thought you could leave things the way they were, but you can’t! You gave up! You wanted to keep playing, didn’t you? In your third year! When you two retired after Inter High, Hinata thought you, at least, would stay too—!”

“I needed to study, I thought that if I studied a bit more, Tsukki and I…” he says quietly, hanging his head. “It’s dumb; it wouldn’t have mattered. I just… was it so bad I wanted to stay with him? He treated it like it was some stupid thing. I worked my ass off, I gave up so much—I wanted to, you know. I wanted to keep playing. Like Suga-senpai and the others did our first year. But I thought… I thought if I worked hard enough, we could go to college together. I just… I wanted to stay with him, always. I didn’t know it was a bad thing.”

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Yachi replies. “Not necessarily. But it’s bad for you. I don’t think that you’re the same person that people were afraid of when you walked onto the court. That Tadashi-kun could handle this. What happened? I don’t want you to be so unhappy. Neither does Hinata or Kageyama-kun.”

“I think he stopped loving me,” Tadashi said softly. “Or… maybe I just got so scared that would happen that we fell apart. I don’t know.”

“What’s stopping you from telling him—other than yourself? Has he ever told you it was bothersome?”

He reaches up and tangles his fingers into his hair. “He has,” he whispers. “The things I do… to try to keep us together… he asks me why sometimes.”

“I don’t think that’s the same thing as thinking they’re bothersome,” Yachi says softly.

The voice purrs in his ear, Of course it doesYou bother him. That’s why he left, went to Tokyo, doesn’t visit. That’s the message he’s trying to send. You’ve had your time. You’re nasty and desperate and thirsty for attention.

He thinks that voice sounds a lot like Kei does, when he loses control of his tongue and says nasty, vile things. Once, Kei had lost himself in anger as they talked on the phone one night after a long, tiring, trying day in school, fresh after their final loss as seniors, and Kei’d whispered in his ear the same way that nameless, faceless person did. Tadashi didn’t like it, he didn’t like the things Kei had said in anger and frustration; he bowed his face into the pillows with Kei’s voice rough in his ear the same way it’s rough when he calls him in the morning, and kept silent. Kei had never done it again, had never lost his temper again that way, so Tadashi never spoke up and sought an apology.

But he thinks that’s when the voice really started in earnest. He thinks that maybe, that’s why he’s believed it for so long, because it’s his beloved Tsukki’s voice telling him these things.

“I… I’m glad you’re trying to cheer me up,” he mumbles to the table. “But… Tsukki doesn’t love me. I think maybe he did, or maybe he thought he did,” he elaborates in the silence. He remembers that hand on his back, the soft kisses and the way they laughed through them and one by one the tears leak from his eyes, splattering against the laminated table. “I don’t know what I did, I keep trying to fix it, but I don’t have anything else to give to him, Hitoka-chan, I don’t have anything else to give, I gave him everything I had and it—it wasn’t enough. I wish I never fell in love with him at all,” he finally sobs.

Yachi makes a small helpless noise. She stands from her chair, and drags it to the other side of the table, pushing it close to Tadashi so she can sit beside him. Her arms go around his middle and she pushes her head against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers. He notices she’s shaking, too, damp spots forming on his sleeve where her face is smooshed to his arm. “I’m sorry.” 

In their little secluded café table, no one bothers them as Tadashi buries his face in his arms and cries. He cries until there’s nothing left in him and the owner of the café sets a small plate of cake onto their table with a sympathetic look. Yachi and Tadashi trade looks and start giggling until they’re both laughing hysterically.

Tadashi wipes his face off on a wad of napkins Yachi passes to him. “Thanks,” he murmurs. “So do you want the icing or the cake?” he asks, pulling the plate between them.

“How about we just eat it as we please?” Yachi giggles, still laughing at their piece of pity cake. She rubs at her eyes and smears a bit of her wet mascara around her eyes. Tadashi points it out but she laughs like she doesn’t care.

They split their cake as evenly as they can and pay for their food. Tadashi leaves a large tip in the jar at the counter. He feels light and giddy and human. Tadashi walks her back to the bus stop that would take her back to campus. She grabs his hands and squeezes tightly.

“Tadashi-kun, Kageyama, Hinata, and I go do dinner and karaoke at least once a week,” she says seriously. “Sometimes the senpais join us. Come with us. You have to get out, okay? Don’t waste away pining for him, Tadashi-kun,” she begs him. “Break up with him. Take some time off. Something. Get out and do something. Please. ”

He thinks about how tired he is, waiting up for Kei. He thinks about that voice in his ear, he thinks about the hand on the small of his back and the hands that held his hips down so many times. “Yeah,” he says finally. “Yeah, okay. Just… just call me with the details so I can see if my work schedule will let me.”

“We’ll make it work, okay? We like hanging out with you, Tadashi-kun, we really do,” Yachi says with that bright, misty-eyed brand of excitement that makes her impossible to dissuade. They stay and chat until Yachi gets on her bus, waving all the while.

Tadashi makes his way back to his dorm, thinking all the while. He loves Kei to bits and pieces. He loves him, and he thinks that’s the problem. Tadashi has tied too much of his identity into loving Kei.

If they had been a little more mature, Tadashi thinks, a little less proud, maybe it would have worked. He weans himself off of Kei.

He stops calling in the mornings and makes himself go running instead; every minute he spends wishing Kei would call him, he forces himself another mile. He finds the volleyball club and joins it—they aren’t playing games yet, but they still practice once the university’s competitive team’s practices are over.

He talks to his roommate. He goes out with Hinata and Kageyama and Yachi. He lets himself go out and make friends, joins his classmates in the library. He learns the meaning of codependency and thinks about how he works as a person, separate of anyone else. He tells himself that enjoying his college life is not betraying Kei in any way—Kei gets nothing if Tadashi is miserable. Tadashi makes himself learn to be independent. Midterms come and go and Tadashi thinks he’ll pass all his classes with flying colors.

He meets with his councilor and registers for his classes for the next term and for the first time in months, he feels like he did before he and Kei went sour. He has not heard from the voice in his ear in a few weeks.

He has the weekly dinner meet up with his friends and a week before he has to think about studying again, coasting in the mind-numbing confidence that comes from passing every midterm he had. He thinks that’s what gives him the courage to blurt out “I need to talk to you,” when Kei calls that night.

Kei sounds a bit thrown out of balance by the statement, “Really?” he asks. “I do too. But you go first. I haven’t heard from you in a while,” he says slowly. Tadashi can hear Kei tapping away at his laptop in the distance.

He swallows past the lump in his throat and shifts on his bed. “Tsukki… you know I love you a lot, right?” he says softly, staring at the dent in his dorm room door that Hinata had accidentally put there with a volleyball a few days previously, hyper off of some ungodly mixture of coffee and energy drinks.

There’s an intake of breath, and the click of computer keys stop. “…why are you bringing this up?”

“Because I think it’s important you know that,” Tadashi says, falling back onto his bed to stare at the ceiling. “I’m not sure, sometimes, if you get it, how much I love you.”

“What are you getting at, Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi can hear the unspoken, ‘Spit it out’ in Kei’s impatient question. But he can also hear the uncertainty there—he tries not to read into it. If he does that now, he won’t get the words out. He can’t set the both of them free.

“Tsukki, we need to stop,” Tadashi says softly. “We need to stop this thing we have going on. We’re not even dating anymore. We’re just… I’m just hanging onto you, even though we both have our own lives now. You’re in Tokyo, and I’m here, and I can’t do it.”

Kei is silent for a long moment; Tadashi tries not to listen to his breathing, tries to stop the way his hands shake. “We don’t have to break up just because we’re apart,” Kei says slowly. His voice is rough.

Tadashi doesn’t know if he’s angry or if he’s upset. He makes himself not think about it. “It feels like we broke up a long time ago,” he says gently. “It’s my fault, I should have… I think I should have said something before it came to this, but I wasn’t… I’m not happy. I’m so sorry,” he whispers.  “I don’t really know what else to tell you, but… I’m sorry it didn’t work.”

“What, so you’re just going to give up because you’re a little bit unhappy?” Kei snaps suddenly. “Without giving me a chance to fix it or anything? Weren’t you the one who went on and on about effort and pride—you’re just—you…I—”

“Tsukki.” Tadashi cuts him off, “I was miserable. For a long time. Before we went to college.”

“What?”

“…do you know what codependency is? It’s when someone’s entire being is so focused on something—or someone else, that they can’t act on their own, and that other person lets it happen. I think… I think I need to learn to function without you,” Tadashi murmurs. “Everything I was got tied up with whether or not you loved me. I obsessed over it. It’s not healthy and… I felt so tired, so empty. I can’t do it anymore, Kei, I can’t.”

Tadashi waits and he waits. He knows what comes next; when Kei finally breathes it out, the ‘pathetic’ he’s been waiting for since the day he first confessed, it’s like a cord snaps in his chest. They’re done, they’re over. It hurts, it hurts a lot, but it’s such a relief to hear it for real, to know it’s done. He breathes out slow and shaky, eyes closed tight against the tears as he holds his phone to his ear, listening to Kei’s ragged breathing.

“…Kei, what did you need to say to me?” he finally asks, softly. “You can still tell me. It’s okay.”

“It…” Tadashi hears the snap of Kei’s laptop being slammed shut and he wonders just who Kei’s so angry at. He waits for the voice to whisper that it’s him that Kei’s angry at, but it doesn’t come. “It doesn’t matter anymore.” And he hangs up.

Tadashi lets the call disconnect and he lies on his bed and lets the tears come, feeling like his insides have all been scooped away. He makes himself get up and wash his face off when his alarm goes off so he can remember to meet with Yachi. His roommate comes in, drenched head-to-toe.

“Yo, Yamaguchi, the sky just opened up,” they grumble, wringing out their jacket over the sink. “Really, if you’re still going out take an umbrella or five.”

Tadashi chuckles. “It’s that sort of season, though, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

He meets with his friends. He plays volleyball. He runs. He does his homework and he goes to his job. He thinks of Kei often. But not in the same desperate way he did before—he still hurts over it, of course he does. He finds himself still saving money for a trip he’ll never take, picking up strawberry candy he won’t eat, listening to songs that Kei had sung under his breath to him in those first few months where everything looked like it would turn out well, dreaming of that first date and the first time they kissed and the first time they’d slept together. Those were all parts of him, things that he used to define himself—it’ll take a long time for those things to stop being routine. But he stops defining himself in shades of Kei’s love.

Maybe the next time he sees Kei, he’ll be better. He’ll be more mature, more able to face the blond on his own terms. Maybe he’ll be able to explain better, salvage their friendship. He doesn’t brood on it.

He finishes up the term. He passes his first term of college with all A’s; the night finals end, Hinata talks Noya and Tanaka into sneaking them beer to celebrate. Yachi gets tipsy and cries all over Tadashi’s shoulder, sobbing about how proud she was her son grew up and got all A’s and got a life. Kageyama had nodded solemnly at this display, pink cheeks the only indicator of how drunk he actually was. Tadashi laughs until he cries and slops beer, warm and sticky, down his front while Noya and Tanaka pound him on the back and he doesn’t think about Kei at all. Not even in the passing way he thinks, sometimes, of the experiences he wanted to have.

He doesn’t regret a single thing, even when he wakes up dry-mouthed and head pounding the next morning to pack up for the break between terms. As he packs up his clothes and books, he unearths the calendar he only used for the first few weeks of the semester. He eyes it idly, flipping through the months.

Back in April, he’d put in both of their school’s holidays. He traces the circled date with his finger, smiling softly at the way he’d so hopefully written that, starting today, both his and Kei’s universities were on break. He’d gotten Kei to pencil in his exam dates, too, since his professors had sent all their first year students their syllabi early, so he’d know when not to call Kei. He closes the calendar and slides it back into his desk drawer, picks up his things, and goes to catch his ride home.

He’s made plans with the Neighborhood Association and the other alumni to play a practice game with the new team. He and his friends were going to help train the new bunch up during their break, and he’s looking forward to it. He doesn’t know if Kei’s coming, but he knows the invitation was extended to him too. He looks forward to that, too, the prospect of seeing Kei. He wants to hear about his semester, his classes, how Kenma and Kuroo are doing. He wants to catch up on the things he missed.

He does not, however, expect Kuroo to call him. He’s back home by this point and he eyes the phone with a bit of trepidation. “Hello?” he answers tentatively. “This is Yamaguchi. Kuroo?”

“Wow, I didn’t think you’d answer,” Kuroo leers, laughing. There’s a video game going in the background. Tadashi sighs. “How’s the honeymoon?”

“Excuse me?”

“The honeymoon?” Kuroo repeats slowly. “Did he already kiss your brains out or what?”

“…Are you talking about Tsukki?”

“Obviously,” Kuroo snorts. “Unless there’s something you need to confess?”

“…Kuroo-san, we broke up over a month ago,” Tadashi says softly. “Sorry he didn’t tell you.” He settles into his desk chair, fiddling with an old, dusty eraser as Kuroo falls silent.

“What do you mean?”

“We broke up,” Tadashi says, enunciating clearly. “We’re not dating anymore.”

“Woah, woah, hey no, you broke up with him even after he went through all that work to transfer out?”

“What?”

“…He… didn’t tell you,” Kuroo mutters. He swears angrily and there’s a thump and a quiet voice muttering ‘shut up’. Tadashi normally would have cracked a joke about Kuroo saying hi to Kenma for him, but he’s frozen solid. “He transferred out of Tokodai. Like, two months ago. He was fucking miserable. He sat and moped and played with his phone for ages and just waited around doing nothing. I told him he needed to go,” Kuroo says over Tadashi’s silence. “We’re good friends and all, and I’m glad he did me the favor he did, but Tokodai wasn’t what he thought it would be, and I told him he needed to pull his shit together. He needed to be up there in Sendai with you and your friends.”

“…oh god,” Tadashi murmurs. “I… I didn’t know. I’m sorry, Kuroo-san, I gotta go.” He hangs up without a word and sends Kei the first text in months.

Kuroo says you’re home? Meet me in our old spot??

He runs out the door before there’s even a read receipt; he rushes to the park between their houses, where they always met up. It’s memorable for them for so many reasons—and it’s convenient. He sits on the swings and waits.

It doesn’t take his phone long to go off, Kei’s singular, tried and true weighing his phone down in his hands. He braces himself. It’s still not enough when Kei walks up, hands deep in his pockets.

Tadashi feels like his breath has been knocked from him. Kei is more handsome than he remembers, with shaggy hair that needs a trim and the same thick-rimmed glasses balanced just so on his nose. His clothes are rumpled in just the right ways, and they hang off of him in ways that Tadashi knows means that Kei’s not been eating like he should and working out more than he needs to. His love sucker punches him in the gut and he’s babbling before Kei can even settle into the swing next to him.

“Are you really transferring?” He pauses. “Is that what you had to tell me the day we broke up?”

“…hello to you too,” Kei says faintly. He shrugs. “Yeah. I… I didn’t like Tokyo. It was… I was wrong,” he murmurs. “About it. About us. I thought it would be okay if we did our own thing.”

“It’s… well, it’s what it is,” Tadashi murmurs, pushing his feet into the dirt. He leans forward and starts to swing in place. He has to keep himself moving.

“I thought about it,” Kei says, voice oddly loud as Tadashi swings past him. “Were you really so unhappy?”

“I was,” Tadashi answers, pushing himself higher into the air. “You stopped loving me.”

Kei reaches out and grabs the chain of Tadashi’s swing mid-arc. Tadashi nearly tumbles out, but Kei’s other hand darts out to grab the other chain and turns the swing so Tadashi’s facing him. His face is red and his eyes are dark and darting everywhere but to Tadashi’s face. “I loved you far too much,” he whispers. “I was scared I’d… I’d break you with it. I didn’t know what to do, and I… You were so shy,” he says haltingly, face twisting. “You flinched when I touched you in public. I… I thought… I thought it’s what you wanted.”

Tadashi laughs at this. He throws his head back and laughs the way he laughed when that café owner had taken such pity on him and Yachi. “…So you mean, if I’d talked to you, we’d be fine?” he laughs. He looks at Kei’s face and laughs harder until he’s doubled over, head between his knees, forehead against Kei’s jeans, wheezing. “We’re so pathetic, we’re so bad, Tsukki, it’s awful!”

“I don’t get why it’s so funny,” Kei mutters.

Tadashi shakes  his head, tears streaming down his face. He hiccups as he laughs. “Because I was so scared to talk to you, god, I was pitiful. We weren’t ready at all,” he whispers. He leans forward and rises out of the swing. He reaches up and cups Kei’s face between his palms, still crying. “I still don’t know if I’m ready,” he confesses, settling his weight against Kei.

Kei reaches up and cups the small of Tadashi’s back and presses him softly forward. The swing jiggles dangerously under their weight but neither of them really care. “When will you be?” Kei murmurs.

“I don’t know; I’ll figure it out as we go,” Tadashi answers. He leans forward and starts to brush his lips softly against Kei’s, shaking with the effort to contain himself. Kei parts his lips against Tadashi’s and tips his head back as the brunet gently takes his lower lip in between his teeth and sucks softly.

Tadashi lets it go and moves in to kiss Kei properly when the swing finally has enough and snaps underneath them. They fall to the ground in a hard, painful pile of limbs. Tadashi thinks his lip might be bleeding, and Kei’s elbow definitely is. They blink at each other, shell-shocked, before Kei laughs.

“We really are pathetic, aren’t we?” he says.

They pick themselves up, dust each other off, and wind their fingers together.

Chapter Text

Tadashi leans back and fans himself with his homework. It’s the middle of their first semester of college, and of course, the dorm’s AC would go and break during the hottest week of the summer. His skin is sticky against the wall and sheets, and his laptop is not helping the situation.

He has one more test to slog through, then there’s a weeks’ break. Study, he tells himself, study. He wants nothing more than to stop studying and just lie down and melt into a puddle, but he has his scholarship, albeit a small one, to think of. Instead he knocks his head against the drywall and lets his papers slide to the mattress. He can’t take off any more clothes without being indecent, which normally isn’t really a problem, since he’s rooming with Kei, who has definitely seen him in states of undress that steps over the line from ‘indecent’ to ‘downright obscene’; if it were just them, he’d gladly strip down to his underwear, but… They have their door propped wide open, as well as their window, to catch any spare breeze and to let the hurricane fan the university’s set up in every hall work it’s tiny, mechanical magic.

What also isn’t helping the situation is that Kei refuses to move off of his bed. He’s sprawled out on his stomach over Tadashi’s legs as he silently reads half a semester’s worth of geology notes. “Tsukki, move,” Tadashi complains.

Kei makes a noise in the back of his throat as Tadashi wiggles his legs for maybe the fourth time that hour to try to move his boyfriend’s weight off of his sticky thighs. He rolls over and readjusts himself so his head is in Tadashi’s lap. He blinks up at the brunet, eyes clear behind slightly-foggy glasses, hair curling against his temples with sweat. “Hey,” he mutters, letting his notebook fall to the wayside. “Let’s go somewhere.”

“What, like somewhere with AC? Like the cafeteria? The library’s packed, probably.”

“Let’s go to Tottori,” Kei clarifies. He reaches up and tugs gently at Tadashi’s hair. “After our last exams, let’s go to Tottori.”

“Tsukki, what the hell?” Tadashi leans forward and smoothes a hand over Kei’s sweaty face. He doesn’t feel particularly dry or clammy, and they’ve been keeping hydrated, so it’s not heat exhaustion or a fever.

Kei drops his hand to cover Tadashi’s. “You heard me,” he says. He squeezes Tadashi’s hand and brings it to his mouth, kissing at the other boy’s knuckles. “I said, let’s go to Tottori,” he says for the third time.

“Uh…” Tadashi feels himself go stupid as Kei scrapes his teeth gently over each knuckle, sucking and sliding his tongue between the junctions of his fingers.

“Take the train there,” he murmurs, biting at the soft flesh between Tadashi’s thumb and index finger. “Rent a car and sleep in it. Go walk the sand dunes,” he continues.

There’s a feeling that’s very much like freefalling; Kei doesn’t break eye contact with Tadashi as he twists his boyfriend’s wrist just slightly so he can suck at Tadashi’s pulse point. “Go to Idegahama. Then go to the geopark.”

“Um… I don’t think,” Tadashi starts, but stops as Kei opens his mouth and licks up his palm. “Tsukki, um—that’s…” His brain shuts off, and he swears he can hear static in his ears as Kei tips his head up and slides his lips over Tadashi’s first two fingers, takes them into his mouth, and starts sucking. “…mhn—I...”

Kei holds his wrist tightly and runs his tongue against the pads of Tadashi’s fingers and then down them, until the brunet’s fingers are deep in his mouth. He hums softly, eyes sharp and bright as Tadashi stares stupidly down at him, sweat dripping down his bright red face.  He pushes his tongue against Tadashi’s fingers, pressing them up against his palate.

“Okay, okay,” Tadashi whimpers, shivering despite the heat in their dorm room. Sometimes Kei was too devious for Tadashi’s poor nervous heart to handle. “But I want to take the sleeper train rather than the shinkansen.”

Kei smirks up at him and releases his fingers. Tadashi promptly pops them in his own mouth and laps up the excess saliva dripping down them, taking pride in Kei’s furious blush at the action.

They find themselves a few days later, standing barefoot on the hot asphalt of the parking lot, beach in plain view, ocean breeze ruffling their hair.  

They’re tired and hot and Tadashi’s pretty certain that taking the sleeper train was probably his worst idea ever because his back is tied up in knots, but they’re in Tottori with a beat-up old van from a rental agency and vastly depleted bank accounts. They’ve pushed the back seats down and put an air mattress down, piling sheets and pillows and their sleeping blankets on it to make a nest for themselves, and resolved only to shower at the cycling terminal next to the Yanagijaya campgrounds. What’s left of their money is reserved only for food, fare, and the return trip home.

Tadashi rolls his shoulders and Kei pushes his thumbs firmly on each side of his spine, dragging them slowly down. Tadashi feels his back pop at each vertebra and sighs contentedly.

“Geesh, you sound like some old man,” Kei comments. His hands are slick with sunscreen and smooth down Tadashi’s tan back easily. He thinks that by the end of the week, Tadashi’s going to be nut-brown, and his freckles are going to multiply; he just prays he doesn’t end up horribly burnt.

“I don’t want to hear it from you, mister straw sunhat,” Tadashi snickers as he stretches. Kei’s hands slip around Tadashi’s front to grip at his hips, pulling him back to his chest.

“Excuse me? What did you just say?” he mock growls.

Tadashi leans back and cranes his head slightly, reaching up to grab at the rim of Kei’s straw hat and pulled it off to shield their faces from passerby’s as he steals a quick kiss. He shimmies away from Kei and impishly sets the offending straw hat back onto the blond’s head. “C’mon, c’mon, it’s hot, let’s go play in the water,” he begs, tugging at Kei’s hands. He walks backwards as he pulls the blond along towards the beach.

They step into the sand, and it squeaks beneath their feet. They look at each other and grin stupidly; Tadashi’s face is scrunched up and Kei’s cheeks are pink as they wiggle their toes into the hot sand, listening to it whistle. Tadashi jumps up and down on it, enjoying the sound it makes.

Kei laughs at him until his sides hurt and he’s clutching at Tadashi’s hands like they’re a lifeline and the only thing keeping him from collapsing right onto the sand. Tadashi can’t even bring himself to pout over being laughed at, because he’s always knocked breathless by Kei’s open, childish laugh.

“C’mooooon, Tsukki,” he pleads instead, pulling Kei forward. “Let’s go sit in the water.”

Kei follows along as he chuckles to himself, sand squeaking as they plod out to the surf line. The water is blessedly warm as it breaks around their ankles. They wade in about a meter, and settle side-by-side, waves breaking over their waists. Tadashi keeps their hands linked underneath the water.  

“It really does sing at you,” Tadashi laughs, listening to the background noises of awed tourists stomping around on the sand behind him. “I almost didn’t believe it, you know?”

“Well, some of the singing beaches don’t make noise anymore,” Kei replies. He drops his head against Tadashi’s shoulder and watches the horizon idly, a contented half-smile playing against his lips.

“Really?” Tadashi asks. Kei’s sunhat is scratchy against his neck, and sand is slowly filling up his shorts with each rolling wave. But he’s comfortable with the sun on his back and Kei against him and the water warm around them. “I wonder why,” he murmurs.

“Pollution,” Kei answers after a minute. “The sand makes noise because of friction. The grains all have to be uniform and spherical—they have to contain silica. Quartz,” he explains. “Singing beaches are all well sorted sands, and they have to be free of any coatings so the grains can move against each other in such a way that causes shear stress, which makes the noise. Pollution disturbs the way the stress is distributed across the grains. Or rather, that’s one theory.”

Tadashi blinks and thinks about it. He shakes his head. “Tsukki, you lost me,” he says a bit helplessly. “You lost me around the time you started talking physics.”

“It’s just—” Kei says, gesturing with his free hand. He mouths wordlessly for a moment, “—you know?”

“No, I don’t,” Tadashi says seriously, before giggling. “Tsukki you’re such a nerd,” he murmurs fondly.  

Kei clicks his tongue in response. They sit in the surf for a while longer before standing, sand falling out of their shorts and off their legs before wading out a bit further to swim. They leave the beach tired, hungry, and in Kei’s case, sunburnt.

“I can’t believe you burnt,” Tadashi says, rinsing the sand off of him with a pail of water outside of their rented van. “You put on sunscreen.”

“This always happens,” Kei complains, wincing as Tadashi pours water over his shoulders. “Waterproof obviously doesn’t mean shit.”

“At least it’s not your face this time?” Tadashi murmurs, tentatively pressing a thumb to the center of Kei’s back. It’s hot to the touch and turns white at the slightest hint of pressure; Kei hisses uncomfortably. Tadashi pulls his finger back and watches as the skin flushes an angry red. “I told you to tell me if you felt like you were burning,” he scolds, pouring a bit more water over Kei’s skin. Sand flakes off of him.

Kei grumbles a bit and starts to dry off. Tadashi huffs at him and starts layering towels down in the front seat. They climb in, drive to the campsite to shower for real before stopping by a convenience store to buy painkillers and aloe lotion for Kei, and dinner.

They drive back to the beach and find a nice place to park the van, and settle in the back to eat their odds and ends dinner, swigging water. They let their feet dangle out the back of the car and watch the ocean as the sun sets, Kei’s ipod playing through the van’s speakers. Once it’s fully dark, they climb into the van and close the back.

Tadashi strips Kei down to his underwear and makes him roll onto his stomach. He seats himself against the blond and starts rubbing aloe into Kei’s back, making disapproving sounds the entire time despite his gentle hands and careful application.

They discover that it’s relatively hard to have sex on an air-mattress when one party is sunburnt and probably a little too tall to be sleeping in the back of a van, and they’re both trying to not be obvious about it so they won’t get arrested.

They also find out that no matter what you do, sand always gets everywhere; that camels are gross (they didn’t ride them, but they thought about it for about five minutes before deciding that no); that early morning is the best time to see the dunes; Tadashi is still a sucker for planetariums and practically begs to go Saji Astro Park; the Uradome really does resemble Matsushima, and that Kei knows far too much random trivia for this trip to be spur of the moment.

By the time their week runs out, they’re dirty despite their free showers, a bit hungry for food that’s not precooked or ordered out, exhausted, and completely broke. Kei’s still the color of a ripe tomato and starting to peel a bit despite Tadashi’s diligent application of lotion, and Tadashi’s skin has darkened at least three shades from their frequent beach trips; new freckles are starting to bloom over his shoulders and arms and the back of his neck. Their parents are pissed that they up and left without telling anyone and only reply to texts for about an hour each day, when they upload their pictures.

But they’re happy and relaxed, and it’s been the best week they’ve had in ages with nothing but each other’s company and no need for restraints. No one in Tottori is going to remember the two young men holding hands and flirting amongst hundreds of other tourists. They promise each other that once they have enough money, they’ll do it again.

They fall asleep on the train home with sand still in their duffle bags and in their shoes, fingers wound together as they head back to their dorm room and the rest of a semester filled with tests and stress and the prospect of endless cafeteria meals and probably still-broken AC.

They gather the sand they’ve taken with them once they’re back in their dorm room and put it in a jar and let it rest in their windowsill.

Chapter Text

He knows something’s amiss when he rolls over and Tadashi’s not in bed. Tadashi is a pain to wake up in the morning at best, and it takes at least three rounds of snooze alarms to get the man even close to considering waking up; they’re only half way through their first year of college, and they’ve been late to class more times than Kei’s comfortable with counting because of Tadashi’s sleeping habits. He blinks in the half-light of their bedroom, dirty pre-dawn light filtering in through their curtains, all fuzzy edges and empty desks. He pushes his glasses onto his face and rolls out of bed; he squints to the closed bedroom door, kitchen light filtering under it. He slides out of bed and pads out into their living area.

Tadashi’s sitting at their tiny, dingy kitchen table, knees drawn to his chest and their old quit from the sofa thrown over his shoulders. He can see the tremors wracking the brunet’s body even under the blanket.

Fuck. He thought they were safe by now. He’s going to kill Kuroo for coming over to socialize when he was coming down with something—he knew he was going to catch the flu from Kenma and he still came over anyway. He’s going to kill him. Kuroo should know those masks don’t do jack shit if you take them off to socialize, dammit. “Tadashi,” he says softly.

The other man doesn’t turn to look at him, but instead gives another shudder, teeth chattering loudly as he gives a noise that Kei can only describe as a zombie-groan. He wonders how long Tadashi’s been feeling run down and keeping it from him; he thought they were past that, especially after he’d gotten so sick a few months ago that Tadashi had to manhandle him to the hospital because he was actually delirious. 

“Tadashi,” he says again, stepping forward until he can bodily turn his boyfriend towards him. He clicks his tongue in distaste; if Tadashi feels half as bad as he looks, Kei’s surprised he’s even upright. His face is pale and drawn despite the angry red flush of fever across his face, his hair is more of a wreck than usual, knotted messily at the base of his neck with an elastic band that Kei’s going to have hell getting out, bangs matted with sweat against his forehead, eyes heavily shadowed. There’s a pile of tissues next to a cup of what looks like hot water—Tadashi didn’t even get the teabag in, god.

His heart aches with both affection and pity; he almost wants to sound like the older women in their complex and murmur a ‘bless his heart’. But he’s not that sappy and he’s more concerned with whether or not he’s equipped to take care of Tadashi himself or if he needs to take him to the hospital. He reaches out and smoothes the brunet’s bangs away and presses the back of his hand to Tadashi’s forehead. “Shit,” he mutters.

“Mm, it’s Tsukki,” Tadashi murmurs absently, “Good morning, Tsukki. Do I need to get ready for class now?”

He cups Tadashi’s burning face with his palms, “No. No class today,” he says sternly.

“Oooh, don’t touch me, Tsukki—I think I’m sick,” Tadashi murmurs belatedly, teeth chattering. He tries to tug himself away from Kei, but Kei keeps his hold.

“There’s no ‘think’ about it, you are,” Kei sighs. He thinks about his options for a moment, and then he decides he can regret this later if he hurts himself. He leans forward and nudges an arm underneath Tadashi’s knees and the other braces his shoulders. He knows exactly how much Tadashi weighs, because he’s gotten so used to waking up with that weight distributed across his body, of having it heavy against his hips when they’re having sex, from worrying and fussing about how his boyfriend’s been losing weight ever since they came to Tokyo and Tadashi’s parents have cut off communication, from having to carry him home that time he sprained his ankle coming down from a serve wrong during their last few weeks in high school; he’s never carried him any length since that time, but the distance between their table and their bed is pretty small. He hopes he doesn’t drop Tadashi.

He lifts Tadashi, who giggles sleepily and flails only slightly. He hauls the brunet the few strides across the living area to their room and puts him firmly back into the bed. “You. Stay.”

“Class, Tsukki, class,” Tadashi murmurs petulantly. Kei sits on the edge of the bed to sift through their medicine box in their bedside drawers. He pushes easily past the fun things, past the first aid supplies, to the pack of fever reducers the hospital had sent him home with when he’d had strep earlier that year. He pops a few out and sets them on the top of the drawers.

He looks over at Tadashi, who’s blinking at him. “Can you breathe?” he asks. Tadashi scowls thoughtfully, then sniffs loudly.

“No.”

“Alright then,” Kei says, fishing out the antihistamine and decongestant combination from the same round of prescriptions. “Be right back.”

He stands and moves back into the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water and a banana for Tadashi. He’s going to have to go to the store; there are only leftovers and a few cans of beer in their fridge that were all that was left of Kuroo’s last visit (those, and Tadashi’s flu, actually), and none of those things are suitable for sick people. He’s going to have to call his mother for instructions. He rubs his eyes, remembering her stern cooking lessons when he’d made it clear that nothing could stop him from moving to Tokyo with Tadashi.

Even though he’d let her bully him into learning to cook and clean for himself, he’s still mostly reliant on Tadashi’s skills as a homemaker to back him up when they’re cooking. Tadashi’s had much more practice than he does, because of how often his mother and father would work late when he was young.

Kei knows he won’t be able to make anything without calling her anyway, because his idea of acceptable food when he’s sick is nothing at all or endless trays of Chinese dumplings, but he knows that Tadashi is a firm believer in eating well when sick if the food he’d made while Kei was sick was any clue. 

By the time he finishes surveying their cabinets and rounding up breakfast for Tadashi to take his pills with and returned to the bedroom, Tadashi’s crawled back out of bed and is stubbornly trying to put on a pair of pants.

“And what are you doing?”

“We have class,” Tadashi repeats. “Micro and ecology and that weird poli-sci class, Tsukki. We have to go to class.”

“No,” Kei says firmly. He puts the banana and water with the pills on the bedside drawer set and grabs Tadashi by the wrists. As soon as he stops moving, he starts shivering again and Kei draws him close, arms tight around his boyfriend, his body hot as a furnace against Kei’s skin. “You’re staying home,” he says softly. “You are sick. You’re burning up and shivering, and I bet you hurt.”

“How’d you know, Tsukki?”

Kei sighs and guides Tadashi back to bed, scooping up the man’s pajama pants on the way there. He helps the brunet slide back into them before tucking him tightly into the sheets. He sits down beside Tadashi and hands him the banana; “Eat.”

“My throat hurts, though.”

“That’s why it’s a banana and not chips,” Kei retorts, shaking it at Tadashi. “And I know you have to be hurting because I know you.”

Tadashi looks at the banana warily, like it’s going to hurt him. “My throat hurts,” he repeats. Kei sighs and starts peeling the fruit.

“I know,” Kei says, “But you have to eat this, okay?” He thrusts it out at Tadashi, who takes it rather skeptically. Any other time, he’d think the stubbornness was cute—it’s one of his favorite and least favorite traits about his boyfriend—but he’s worried and he wants Tadashi to get medicine into him so there’s time for it to work before he leaves for class. He doesn’t want to leave Tadashi alone in the apartment, sick, if the medicine isn’t going to help him. And he knows that Tadashi isn’t going to let him stay home as much as he wants to.

And god, does he want to. Class isn’t fun without Tadashi there; his heart isn’t in the biology degree he’s getting with his boyfriend, but can’t bring himself to admit it. He knows that Tadashi suspects it, but he doesn’t know what he wants out of college—he’d pretended like he didn’t, but he really had just followed Tadashi. He also really hates the idea of leaving Tadashi here, unable to really help if he needs it.

Tadashi eats it slowly, face screwed up as he swallows; Kei recognizes that face—it’s the one Tadashi has when he’s desperately trying to hold back the urge to cry. Kei reaches out and smoothes back the other man’s bangs, idly petting his boyfriend to keep him calm. Once Tadashi finishes the banana, Kei takes the peel from him, drops it in the trashcan by the bed, and starts handing the brunet each pill one by one. “Now these.”

“My throat really hurts, Tsukki,” Tadashi pleads pitifully. He makes the face he does when he’s about to beg for something and Kei thrusts the water glass at him.

“You can’t puppy-dog your way out of this, Tadashi.”

Tadashi makes a distinctly displeased noise in the back of his throat that Kei is absolutely certain Tadashi’s picked up from him. He’s almost amused.

“Take them,” Kei repeats firmly. He almost threatens to call Tadashi’s mother, like Tadashi had called his earlier that year, but he stops and turns his head away as the brunet struggles to down the pills with his sore throat. Mentioning his parents like that, it’s a big no-no; he’d had to stop calling Tadashi by his family name some months previously because he’d realized it only upset the other boy to hear it. He reaches out and rubs Tadashi’s back as he starts coughing. “Take it easy, you could have taken them one by one,” he scolds, taking the water from his boyfriend before it spills.

“Hurt too much to,” Tadashi wheezes after a moment. He sags back into the pillows and starts shivering pitifully.

Kei tucks the blankets back around him and pulls up the extra blanket they keep folded on the foot of their bed. “I’m going to get ready for class, okay? Go back to sleep,” he says, sliding his fingers through shaggy hair. “I’ll check on you before I leave, and if the medicine hasn’t started working, I’m taking you to the hospital.”

Tadashi closes his eyes obediently, turning his head to nuzzle against Kei’s palm. “Yes, go to class, Tsukki,” he says faintly.

“I’ll stop by the store on my way home,” Kei supplies, keeping his hand tucked against Tadashi’s cheek even after the boy’s stopped rubbing it against his palm. “Tell me what you want to eat.”

“Not congee,” Tadashi mutters. “Anything but.”

Kei laughs and pats Tadashi’s cheek. “Sure thing, picky.” He raises himself from the edge of the bed and starts in on his morning routine. He showers and shaves, chokes down a granola bar and gets dressed before he brushes his teeth and hair. He checks his email to make sure that class isn’t canceled (it isn’t), that the powerpoints for the lectures are downloaded (they are), and to make sure he doesn’t have his part-time today (thank god no). “Tadashi, did you call out from work?” he asks suddenly.

“Mmhn?”

Kei turns in his chair, feeling bad that he’s roused his boyfriend from his dozing. “Work, did you let them know you’re sick?”

Tadashi blinks sleepily from the bed, “No,” he said slowly, like his answer was a question.

Kei sighs and goes to grab Tadashi’s phone from the bedside table. “Do you want me to do it?”

“No,” Tadashi answers, wiggling himself up into sitting position. Kei passes him the phone, and sits on the side of the bed, listening idly as Tadashi makes the call and explains the situation sheepishly to his boss.

He assumes that Tadashi gets the time off he needs, because he thanks his boss and hangs up before leaning up into Kei’s side. “Tsukki,” he murmurs unhappily. “Tsuuukki,” he repeats.

Kei swings his legs into the bed and lets Tadashi cuddle up to him. He wraps one of the blankets firmly around Tadashi’s shoulders and rubs the brunet’s back softly. “Are you sure you still want me to go to class?” he asks.

Tadashi nods against him. “I need the notes you take.”

Kei sighs and reaches out to feel at Tadashi’s forehead again. It’s been about an hour, he thinks, and he keeps his hand steady for a few seconds. It feels like Tadashi’s fever’s stayed a bit steady, and he’s at least stopped shivering. “Still bad?” he asks, knowing the answer before Tadashi really replies. The pain medicine that was with the fever reducer wasn’t very strong, and he remembers Kuroo and Kenma complaining relentlessly about how much they hurt. He knows Tadashi won’t mention it, though.

“I’ll be okay,” Tadashi murmurs.

Kei sighs and gently guides Tadashi back down into the bed. He packs up his bookbag and carts it into their living area to drop it on the couch. He grabs the pitcher they usually use to water their small window garden and fills it with ice and water, and grabs one of the bottles they use at the gym and fills it too. He takes it back to the bedroom. “I’m about to go,” he says, “Here’s water. Drink all of it before I come back.”

Tadashi opens one eye and eyes the pitcher before closing it. “I’ll pee everywhere,” he says stubbornly. “No.”

Kei sighs and wonders if he’s even going to grace that with a retort. He finally settles on, “You know you need to stay hydrated.” He puts the bottle and the pitcher onto the bedside table.

He leans forward, knees hitting the side of the bed as he presses a soft kiss to the center of Tadashi’s forehead. “I’m going now,” he murmurs. “Text me if you can, ok? I’ll text you when I get to class, okay?”

Tadashi hums softly, tipping his head against the relative coolness of Kei’s lips. “Mmhmm, I love you too, Tsukki,” he says, voice quiet and weary.

This is almost enough to make Kei’s resolve crumble and crawl back into bed with Tadashi. He’s always hit with fondness at the strangest times—when Tadashi’s swearing angrily at the printer in the morning a major paper is due, or how he pouts when he burns the edges of their fried eggs in the mornings and sighs wearily as they look at their excel sheet when it’s time to pay their bills, when he’s all puffy-eyed from crying and defensive, and even now. It doesn’t matter that Tadashi looks like hell, sweaty and tired and really in need of a box of tissues, that tired voice and shift of his body closer to Kei makes Kei’s heart twist and swell and flip with white-hot affection. It makes him want to slide into the bed and pull Tadashi against him and tuck him into his arms and keep him there.

He knows that doing that, though, would earn him a kick in the shins and a rough push out of the bed, because Tadashi’s dead set on sending Kei off to class. He settles for dropping a quick, chaste kiss to Tadashi’s lips—he’s already resigned himself to getting it too, because they’ve been breathing each other’s air and sharing food and kissing anyway. “I’ll be back,” he promises as he straightens and grabs his phone.

He grabs his bag from the couch and heads off to four and a half excruciating hours of class. It’s boring and long and not fun without Tadashi there to trade exasperated looks with and pass notes back and forth under the benches in the lecture halls, knocking elbows and knees and doodling on the corners of their notes. He finds biology interesting, he does; he likes knowing how things work and how they fit together to form life. But he doesn’t see any future in it for him, not the way Tadashi does. He doesn’t want a job in a lab, and he definitely doesn’t want to go into any sort of medicine. The only class he really likes is their political science core class, where the professor makes them memorize important court cases and the laws behind them; it’s the same sort of interest biology has for him—to learn how things fit together in order to run smoothly, and why. But he can sort of see himself using that information in the future for things other than random trivia.

He just doesn’t know how to tell Tadashi this. But that’s another worry for another day, he tells himself silently, tapping his foot against the floor idly. He fidgets with his headphones and his phone, checking every five minutes to see if Tadashi’s sent him any texts.

There aren’t any. He’s sure this means Tadashi’s gone to sleep, but he still worries. He thinks that Tadashi’s anxious tendencies are contagious, just like his sarcasm has rubbed off on Tadashi in all the years they’ve known each other. He packs up his things five minutes before their last lecture ends and slips out early.

He steps outside and dials his mother. He settles down on a bench and taps his foot.

“Hello? Kei? How are you?”

“Hi mom,” Kei answers, “I’m okay, but…” He clears his throat and looks up at the sky. “So, Tadashi has the flu and I… well…”

“You have no idea how to take care of him, do you?” his mother asks dryly.

Kei makes a noise in the back of his throat. “I mean, I got him to eat some this morning and drink a little bit of water with some medicine,” he mutters. He feels himself flush when his mother chuckles at his defensive answer. “But, uh. Other than that, I don’t know what to get in the supermarket. I was thinking electrolyte replacers and medicine, but… mostly food. We don’t have anything he can eat.”

“What sort of flu does he have, dear?” his mother asks carefully. “Is he throwing up or is it just a general flu?”

“He says his throat hurts. He’s running a fever and he’s all snotty,” Kei murmurs. He doesn’t think he’d leave the house if Tadashi was throwing up. He’d want to stay and keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t get dehydrated. “Judging by what our friends had, he probably aches all over too. The usual. He’s trying to downplay it, but he looks miserable. I woke up to him shivering in the kitchen and staring at a cup of hot water he was trying to make tea out of.”

His mother makes a sympathetic sound and he knows that if they lived in Sendai, she’d probably be on the way to take care of Tadashi herself. He remembers Tadashi vaguely talking her down from coming to Tokyo when he’d been so sick that summer. He feels horribly indebted to his parents—not because they’d raised him (well, he’s thankful for that)—but because they’d very fiercely taken in Tadashi as a third child the very second it seemed like Tadashi’s own parents were going to disown him. Kei’s mother babied him more than she’d ever babied Kei or Akiteru.

“Go to the kid’s section of the drugstore,” he mother says, “And they should have electrolyte popsicles. You and Aki were more willing to eat those when you were sick than drink anything. And I swore I taught you how to make congee,” she accuses.

“You did, but he doesn’t want that,” Kei laughs. “I asked and he said ‘anything but’.” He pauses. “Hey, you used to make some soup for me and niisan when we were sick. Do you think I can make that?”

“Oh? That? Yes,” his mother chuckles. “It’s just a chicken soup.”

“Can you text me the instructions?”

He gets his mother to agree to sending him the ingredients and instructions, as well as a list of supplies he should pick up for Tadashi. Some of them are obvious, like tissues, but there are other things he wouldn’t have thought of, like cough drops—especially since Tadashi isn’t actively coughing yet.

He takes the train to their stop, and walks to the drug store they’ve been to maybe about two or three times since moving in. He picks up the more medicinal things his mother has instructed him to get, then heads to the grocery store. He goes ahead and does their usual shopping atop the special ones, making a face when he goes to pay for it.

Things are expensive in Tokyo. It’s not as bad for him as it is for Tadashi, because his parents are sending him money atop what he makes at work and helping out considerably with the payments on their apartment, but it makes him start thinking about picking up a few more hours here and there. He doesn’t want to depend on them forever, and he likes living with Tadashi like this.

He walks back to their apartment, laden down with bags. It’s a struggle to get in the door, but he manages it without jostling the eggs or dropping the bag with soy sauce. “I’m home,” he calls softly, kicking off his shoes. He listens and walks the two steps out of their entryway, regarding the living area in front of him.

Tadashi’s moved himself out onto the ratty sofa sometime during Kei’s absence and made a nest of blankets there. He’s wrapped up in nearly every blanket they own, face turned towards the TV even as he sleeps. The remote rests near his head, and the menu screen of a DVD is playing on repeat.

Kei hopes he fell asleep during the movie and not while waiting for it to start. He moves to put the grocery bags onto their table. He starts putting things up as quietly as he can. He turns the rice cooker on and pours some into it and starts up their kettle. He sorts through the medicines and pulls out the Kleenex box.

He moves to the sofa, kneeling in front of Tadashi. He opens the tissue box and gently wipes up the boy’s face where he’s drooling and snot is streaming down his face. It’s absolutely disgusting. He sighs and feels Tadashi’s forehead. It’s hotter than it was that morning, but most worryingly, it’s dry.

Kei shakes the bottle of water Tadashi’d carted into the living area with him. It sloshes fully at him. Oh, he’s going to kill this kid. You would think that after so many years of being an athlete, Tadashi would know to stay hydrated. But no.

He gently shakes Tadashi awake. “Tadashi, hey, Tadashi, wake up,” he murmurs.

Tadashi blinks and groans. “Tsukki,” he croaks softly, “Hi.”

“Hi, idiot,” Kei mutters, shaking the water bottle at his boyfriend.

“Uh-oh.”

“Yeah, that’s right, uh-oh.” He reaches forward and gently pinches Tadashi’s hot cheek. “You wanna make yourself sicker, huh? Is that it?”

“Chuukii hursshh,” Tadashi complains, “M’throasth…Chuukki sthahp—”

“You’re gonna drink all of the electrolyte drink I brought,” Kei tells Tadashi sternly, giving Tadashi’s cheek another pinch, “And you’re gonna eat, even if your throat hurts, and take a shower, and then you’re going to go back to sleep in the bed.”

Tadashi pouts and Kei is having absolutely none of it. He leans forward and scoops Tadashi up in his arms for the second time that day, back distinctly unhappy with this predicament. He rises as Tadashi yelps and clings to him as his blanket burrito slides off him.

“Tsukki! Put me down!”

“I don’t think so,” Kei replies as he carries Tadashi through to the bedroom, then into their tiny bathroom. He sets Tadashi down onto the sink counter and goes to turn on their shower. He has to wrestle a bit with the hot water tap because it gets stuck sometimes, but he gets it going and lets it warm up to the temperature he knows Tadashi likes. He steps forward and starts stripping Tadashi from his clothes.

Tadashi whines and starts shivering as he’s stripped down, limbs weak as Kei removes every stitch of clothing he has on. “Shower,” Kei instructs, helping Tadashi off the counter and into the shower. “I’ll lay out towels and clean clothes for you. Do not forget to dry your hair. Get in bed as soon as you’re done.”

Tadashi’s lip trembles and Kei sighs. “Look here, I’m not being mean to you,” he says softly, hands around the shower curtain. “Okay, I am,” he admits when Tadashi shoots him a distinctly wounded look out of his hooded eyes. “But only because I don’t like it that you’re not taking care of yourself. And look, okay, I won’t say it again, but you were right when you chewed me out when I was sick. Now bathe. You kind of stink.”

There’s a quiet choking huff that Kei thinks is Tadashi trying to laugh and he lets himself smile at the brunet. He closes the shower curtain and goes into the kitchen to start the soup.

He’s read the instructions from his mother about five times since he’s gotten them, and he can’t believe it’s that easy. He remembers it as some sort of magic. But he guesses that’s just how the world works.

He makes up the chicken stock and adds the ginger, scallions, and vinegar as his mother directs. Once it’s boiling, he stirs in a beaten egg. Literally, they could have ordered this out. He tries a spoonful of it and is shocked that it’s better than what they could have ordered out for. He hopes Tadashi likes it. He’s got to get food into that boy.

He waits until he hears the shower shut off before spooning some out into a small bowl. He sets it and the electrolyte drink and medicine on a tray they’d been using for their plants that he’s repurposed and washed. He puts an even smaller portion of rice on the tray too, just in case the shower stirs an appetite in the brunet.

He carries the tray into the bedroom, where Tadashi’s climbed into bed, dry-haired, in a surprising fit of obedience. “Food,” Kei says, a bit redundantly. But it makes Tadashi smile and murmur a ‘sorry for being pathetic,’ at him.

Kei sits next to Tadashi as he eats, warmth spreading up his tight throat as the other man sips contentedly at his soup. To Kei’s surprise, he finishes it and the drink, and takes his meds without complaint. Kei sets the tray aside and lets Tadashi nestle into his side.

He rubs a hand softly between Tadaashi’s shoulder blades, and Tadashi leans into the motion, eyes drifting shut.

“Thank you,” Tadashi murmurs, smiling sleepily. “For taking care of me.”

Kei hums softly, holding Tadashi tight as he shivers suddenly. Kei reaches down and pulls up another layer of covers. “I was worried,” he mumbles. “Get better so I can kill Kuroo, okay?”

Tadashi laughs. “Mmkay.”

Kei slips away as Tadashi settles back into the bed, struggling to keep himself awake until Kei joins him for good. Kei rushes through putting the food away and cleaning up, shutting the lights off as he goes.

It’s only late afternoon, but he’s exhausted himself out of worry, and there’s always his phone to keep him entertained. He shucks off his clothes and pulls on  his pajamas before sliding under the covers with Tadashi.

Under Kei’s care, Tadashi gets better just in time for Kei to wake up with the flu a few days later.

Kei really is going to murder Kuroo.

Chapter Text

He decides at age ten that he’s going to marry Yamaguchi. Never mind that, by age ten, he knows that boys can’t technically get married and that Yamaguchi probably wouldn’t be comfortable getting married since he’s only known his friend for roughly six months and it’s probably a little forward to give a marriage proposal right now.

He’ll wait, though. Yamaguchi is going to marry him. He tries not to be too enthusiastic as he shoves another mouthful of the bento Yamaguchi’s sharing with him into his mouth.

“Is it okay, Tsukki? I had to make it myself, so… it might not be.”

It’s not like his mom’s cooking is bad; he likes it well enough, but he’s a picky eater and she has this way of trying to sneak in vegetables into his food that makes him turn his nose up at everything. He doesn’t even like carrots and he knows the orange things in the rice are most definitely carrots and peas too, and he thinks the brown stuff is mushrooms. There’s nori crumbled over it too and, he’ll be frank, the only thing he’s ever, ever, picked a fight with Akiteru over is the fact that his brother eats everything and has set this ‘good son’ precedent for what’s acceptable to not eat.

Because, thank you, he’s already grown plenty tall without eating lots of vegetables, he does not want them blended into his food and snuck into his chicken nuggets.

He chews and swallows with a nonchalant shrug. He starts eating the bits of fried pork that Yamaguchi’s divvied out for him on the lid of the bento. “It’s fine,” he says after another mouthful.

It’s great, he wants to enthuse. He’s so glad he’s forgotten his lunch at home. He’s so glad Yamaguchi can’t seem to stomach the idea of Kei subsiding on a juice box and the odds and ends of snacks he can gather up from the depths of his backpack.  

“Oh good,” Yamaguchi says, small shoulders slumping forward in relief. He squints at his friend after a moment. “Wait, you’re not just saying that just because I gave you some, right? Tsukki?”

“No, it’s good,” Kei says. He pokes at something green and shredded that Yamaguchi’s put with his food. “What’s this?”

“Fried cabbage,” Yamaguchi answers, digging into his portion of lunch finally. “It’s got some vinegar, so if you’re bad with sour things, you don’t have to eat it.”

Kei shrugs and eats it anyway. He wants to eat Yamaguchi’s cooking forever.

He kind of feels bad, in the coming weeks, for enjoying something that bothers his friend so much. Yamaguchi doesn’t like the fact that his bento, while home-made, isn’t made by his mother like Kei’s is. Kei knows that Yamaguchi is lonely and doesn’t much like being a latchkey kid.  So he works out a deal—they start splitting their lunches with each other. That way, Yamaguchi can enjoy food that he didn’t have to make himself, and Kei gets to eat Yamaguchi’s cooking.

Win-win.

They keep up this arrangement all the way through high school.

On Kei’s eighteenth birthday, he’s greeted with probably the single greatest sight he’s ever seen. Tadashi, at his front door, holding a clear Tupperware cake container with the most layered, best looking shortcake he’s ever witnessed (and he has eaten his fair share of shortcake). He’s surprised he doesn’t start drooling, since the sight of Tadashi with home-cooked food has long stirred up a Pavlovian hunger response for him. It’s also mixed up in the new, giddy fizzy feeling of a new relationship; now when he sees Tadashi, he’s always very insistently reminded that the teen in front of him is not only his best friend, but also the guy who kissed him hard in the storage room in the gym and proceeded to stammer out a confession after the kiss. It makes him want to get the jump on Tadashi, and kiss him first for once.

“I think I might love you,” Kei says flatly, eyeing the cake.

“I would hope so, Tsukki,” Tadashi snickers, wiggling his eyebrows even though his face is turning red. “So happy birthday!”

Kei steps aside and Tadashi slides past him. He struggles out of his shoes, “Sorry for the intrusion!” he says cheerily.

“Ah, they’re in town,” Kei supplies. “There was some emergency with extended family last night and they’ve gone to help out.”

Tadashi purses his lips, “They left you on your birthday?”

“I told them you were coming,” Kei says with a shrug. He turns his gaze to the cake tray. “Don’t worry, I don’t mind.”

Tadashi follows Kei’s gaze, then laughs. “Okay then, Tsukki.”

“…That’s for me, right?” Kei starts walking to the kitchen.

“I’m not sure who else it would be for,” Tadashi chuckles. “Yes, it’s for you, Tsukki.”

“Good.”

They settle themselves at the dining table after gathering plates, forks, and a cake knife. Kei pours tea from the kettle for them both. “So, do I get to eat it?”

“Yes,” Tadashi sighs. He opens up the cake tray. “I’ve never made it before, and the cake came out a little uneven,” he worries.

“Yamaguchi, shut up,” Kei murmurs, reaching out to take a strawberry off the top. Tadashi smacks his hand playfully.

Kei scrunches up his nose and pops the fruit into his mouth anyway. He shoots a look at Tadashi that clearly says ‘hurry it up now’. Tadashi chuckles and starts cutting into the four-layered cake.

“I wasn’t really sure what your preferred cream-to-berry ratio is, so I just made it as equal as I could,” Tadashi continues, grinning impishly at the blond. Kei clicks his tongue behind his teeth and rolls his eyes, knowing that he’s very obviously being teased. He nudges Tadashi’s ankle with his foot under the table.

Tadashi chuckles and serves the hefty slice to Kei. “There you go, Tsukki.”

“Thank you for the meal,” Kei murmurs as he picks up his fork. He eyes the slice for a few seconds, taking in its aesthetic appeal before cutting into the tip of it with his fork. He takes a bite, and nearly groans. It’s absolutely delicious; he suspects Tadashi is lying about never making it before. He thinks Tadashi secretly has a restaurant somewhere that no one knows about and isn’t actually seventeen, but some angel of food who has descended upon his life to save him from his picky palate.

God, Tadashi, marry me, okay?” he blurts out around the fork. He chews and swallows, and scoops out a larger bite, torn between eating slow and savoring it, and just shoving as much as he can in his mouth. He settles for something in between.

Tadashi chokes on his tea and turns just as red as the strawberries on Kei’s cake. “Excuse me, Tsukki?”

Kei licks some of the cream off of his fork. “Cook for me forever,” he says. “Seriously. Just me. Forever. I want cake on all my birthdays.”

Tadashi ducks his head and covers his face with his hands. “Tsukki, that’s so embarrassing! I’m not going to marry you just for cake!”

“Then marry me because I like you, Ta-da-shi,” Kei drawls out as he reaches out to cut himself a second slice of cake.

Tadashi wails and bangs his forehead against the table, neck and ears red.

Kei starts eating his second piece. Eight years is a pretty decent amount of time to sit on a proposal, he thinks.

And it’s not like Tadashi’s embarrassed screeching is a no. In fact, he’s pretty sure Tadashi’s nodding his head over there. He licks his fork happily.

Chapter Text

On the list of things of stupid things his father’s done,Tadashi is convinced that whatever his father’s done to get wrapped up with the local yakuza is probably the top competitor for “the most stupid thing, ever”.

Tadashi loved his father, he really did. But he was flaky to the point that he would even flake out on flaking out. If he were to list the things that were wrong with his father, other than being completely unreliable to the point that Tadashi had to be a parent to his own parent growing up, the list would includes the words: immature, impulsive, alcoholic, accident-prone, obsessive-gambler, and a compulsive liar.

It really shouldn’t surprise Tadashi, after twenty-two years of living with his father and taking care of him, when the men in high-collared, freshly pressed suits and ties file into their small general store. There’s only three of them, and their air is the same sort of relaxed menace that Tadashi associates with trouble coming because of his father’s lackadaisical life. One of them flips the ‘open’ sign over so it reads ‘closed’. His hand starts to shake around the date gun he was using to mark new inventory.

“…May I help you?” Tadashi says, tucking the dater into his apron. He rises to his feet and nervously starts wringing his hands.

“Yamaguchi Takeshi?” one of the men asked, a stern looking man with short black hair. He crosses his arms against his chest, raising an eyebrow. The other two flank him; one looks rather bored and sleepy looking. The second looks like he’s having the time of his life, watching Tadashi tremble.

“N…no, sorry… I’m Tadashi, you’re looking for my father,” he murmurs as politely as he can.

“And he is… where?”

One of the men, the one with the manic look  and close-shaven skull stretches, back cracking. Tadashi sees a flash of color underneath the hem of his suit, red, detailed scales that twist around his wrist. He catches Tadashi staring and grins.

“My father’s not… he’s in the back of the shop,” he whispers. His palms start to sweat.

“I’ll get him,” the sleepy-looking man says.

Tadashi starts fidgeting, and tries not to listen to the scuffle that’s ensuing in the stock room. He’s so glad there aren’t any customers in. He looks up at the ceiling as his father’s pushed into the room.

“So good to see you at last, Takeshi-san,” the man with short black hair and the sharp eyes says genially. Tadashi thinks the smile he flashes can freeze even boiling water. “It’s such a shame you haven’t been around to see my runners.”

“Look, I just… I had something worked out with them and—they said the boss was okay with me not being able to pay—”

“Dad!” Tadashi admonishes, feeling his heart stop. “You—you borrowed money?”

“Not only that, kid, but he failed to pay his protection fees, too,” the shaven guy leers, getting up into Takeshi’s face. “And too bad for him too, there’s a new oyabun, and he ain’t too pleased that he’s losin’ money.”

“I didn’t kn-know that Akiteru-sama had—w-well, please send the new boss my regards,” Takeshi stammers, taking a step back. The sleepy looking guy grabs his shoulders.

“There’s no need for us to go to such troubles. You’re going to see the oyabun yourself. He has quite an interest in seeing who’s making him lose face.”

The sleepy-eyed man starts pushing Takeshi forward. Tadashi gulps. “I’m sorry my father’s such a trouble,” he says quietly. “…when should I… expect him back?”

The man whose tattoo Tadashi had seen tipped his head back and laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t,” he chuckles, “Because you’re going with him! He’s signed you as the guarantor on the original loan our guys were trying to get him to pay back.”

Tadashi swallows hard and whimpers.

The first guy purses his lips. “Tanaka, go help Ennoshita get Yamaguchi in the car,” he says sternly.

“Whatever you say.” Tanaka shrugs and turns to exit the shop, shouting, “Yo! Chika, you need any help!”

“Quietly!” the first man shouts. Tadashi feels himself start to tremble. He can’t believe his father’s done something this stupid; he’s gone and gotten two extra part time jobs on top of the hours he has to put into the shop to make it even worth keeping open just so they don’t have to borrow money. He dropped out of high school to make their lives easier, so they wouldn’t get caught up in stuff like this.

He starts untying his apron with shivering hands under the gaze of the first man. He scoops up the shop keys and his wallet, tucking them into his back pocket with his phone, all under the scrutinty of the remaining yakuza member. 

“Alright,” Tadashi murmurs, flipping the shop’s lights off. “Just… let me lock up.”

The man shrugs and heads to the door; he holds it open for Tadashi. Tadashi exits, and locks up behind himself. He’s ushered into the backseat of a black van with his father and the first man. The other two are in the front, behind a glass partition. The man knocks on the glass, and the sleepy guy—Ennoshita, Tadashi thinks Tanaka called him—peels off.

“Look,” the man says, kneeling on the van in front of Tadashi and his father. “Let’s lay down some ground rules here. Do not speak to the oyabun unless he directly speaks with you.”

“How am I supposed to explain myself?” Takeshi mutters petulantly. Tadashi covers his face with his hands and groans.

“He’ll ask,” the man says sternly. “Secondly, do not lie to him. He hates liars, and he will know. Lastly, under no circumstances mention the previous oyabun.”

Takeshi grumbles a bit and Tadashi sighs to himself. There’s no way his father can keep to all those tenets. He gets that the man is just debriefing them, trying to help them out, but Tadashi thinks he’s just sealed their fate by telling his father what to do.

He’s not sure what happens to people who don’t pay the yakuza what they want. He thinks they go around sometimes, spreading rumors and very undesirable truths about business owners, but everyone in town knows his father is kind of a bum. There’s nothing they can really do to hurt their business—people already avoid their tiny shop with its stale merchandise and boozy air like the plague. He knows the loan sharks tend to rough people up. He wonders if that’s what’s going to happen.

He kind of hopes that there’s a misunderstanding, some sort of miscommunication between whomever okayed his father’s missed payments (god he hopes his father isn’t lying again) and who’s put out the order to bring them in.

He fidgets in his seat for the entire car ride, stomach churning. The clock on the dashboard says it’s nearly four. He’s supposed to be at his first shift of the night in thirty minutes.

He hopes he’s still alive to be chastised for not going.

The compound they drive to is nearly indistinguishable from any wealthy person’s home. As a guard peers into the backseat through a rolled down window to check the man back there with them’s ID (Sawamura, Tadashi hears the guard call him), Tadashi peeks at the nameplate and balks.

Tsukishima.

They were so screwed. There were rumors throughout the prefecture that the family was involved with the local yakuza, like most wealthy companies tended to be. Some people said they were part of the top tiers of the organization.

Neither rumor was right, after all. The company’s founding family obviously controlled it. He wonders which came first: the group or the company. He thinks that maybe it was the group—he can’t much see anyone who runs such a lucrative soft and hardware corporation getting involved with the yakuza. But then again, he could be wrong; he was often wrong.

“Obviously,” Sawamura drawls, “You won’t say anything about this to the general public. Let them have their fun and rumors.”

Tadashi nods. His father grunts. Tadashi doesn’t particularly think he’s going to be leaving the Tsukishima property that night. In many ways, he’s right: he doesn’t get to go home after their meeting with the oyabun. His father does, though. And that’s what, Tadashi supposes much later that evening, matters.

Sawamura leads them through a maze of rooms, hallways, and courtyards before stopping and turning. “Remember what I told you,” he warns before pulling open the shoji screen doors.

The room is traditional, like a dojo Tadashi thinks, with tatami mats and old electric lights that are turned down low. Groups of men, probably over fifty, kneel on the floor, watching a man curl into himself and cry out in pain.

“Pathetic,” a voice says, cutting over the sound. “Crying after you were so willing to make amends to me? Shut up before it’s your entire pinky. Leave.”

Two men step forward and haul the crying man up by his elbows. Tadashi steps back into Sawamura’s chest in shock. There’s a table in front of where the man had been kneeling, where a knife glistened in a pool of blood. He turns his eyes up to the ceiling at the sight of it, and the white and pink chunk of flesh next to it. He starts breathing quickly through his nose so he doesn’t throw up.

Sawamura’s hands are warm against his shoulders as he holds him in place. “Don’t look, kid,” he murmurs as the guards guide the bleeding man past them. Someone steps forward and takes the table and knife. They don’t bother to clean up the pool of blood.

Sawamura pushes Tadashi and his father forward until the tips of Tadashi’s old converse are almost in the puddle. He guides them to their knees. Some of it seeps into Tadashi’s jeans and he starts shaking.

“And who are they?”

“The Yamaguchis, like you asked for sir,” Sawamura says solidly.

Tadashi peeks up through his bangs and the half-light to where the oyabun sat. He freezes.

It’s a young man. He’s probably the same age as he is, Tadashi thinks, maybe a year or two older, no more. He’s young and sharp-featured, all long elegant limbs and sharp eyes and cheeks. He’s lounging in a raised chair, one leg crossed over his knee, elbow resting on the arm of the chair, his head idly propped in his palm, fingers curled just so over his cheek. His glasses catch the flickering light every so often, making it hard to make out his eyes. But his lazy smirk is cold and cruel; it only widens as he studies them.

He shifts, uncrossing his legs so he can lean forward, dress-slacks rustling with the movement. He folds his hands over his knees, leering down at them. “Is that so?”

“Yes sir.”

“And is there a reason, Sawamura, why neither of these gentlemen—who work oh so hard, judging by the bags under the younger one’s eyes—couldn’t pay back the money our industrious little siblings loaned them?”

“Not that I can tell, sir,” Sawamura starts, “The older one says that… an agreement had been reached.”

“They told me it was fine that I couldn’t pay them back!” Takeshi snaps just as the oyabun opens his mouth to speak. “Akiteru said it was like paying it forward, and that it was fine!”

There’s a collective hiss in the room, an intake of breath and Tadashi knows they’re fucked.

The oyabun goes cold. Tadashi can tell by the lines of his shoulders, how his hands clench together. The sudden thinning of his lips. He stands.

Tadashi stops breathing. The oyabun strides forward and grabs Takeshi’s head and pushes it down. “Sawamura, did you tell him the rules?” he asks, pushing his foot down onto Takeshi’s head. Tadashi watches in horror. “About how to respect people?”

“…yes sir, I did.”

“Shame,” the oyabun sneers, pushing Takeshi’s face harder into the tatami floors, even as he starts to wail out an apology. “Kowtowing will just have to do it.”

He grinds his heel one last time against the back of Takeshi’s head. “Now then, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed,” he hisses, squatting down. “But I’m not Akiteru.”

“Yes—yes, I’m sorry,” Takeshi snivels into the floor. Tadashi has never been so disgusted by his father. “I’ll pay— the protection fees, the loan…”

The oyabun smiles, slow and serene. Tadashi is terrified. Those amber eyes have no joy, no emotion in them. They’re completely blank. “Oh, well, it’s too late for that,” he says, waving a hand dismissively with a short laugh. “Sorry. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Tsukishima group isn’t exactly hurting for your money. No, I think we’ll get our payment… a bit differently.”

Tadashi feels his mouth go dry as those eyes are turned on him. There’s something so beautiful about that dangerous face. Is that how someone so young ended up the head of a yakuza group? “Is this your son?” he asks. “He’s the guarantor, yes?”

The young man doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he reaches out and grabs Tadashi’s chin, tipping it up. The fingers on his jaw are light, but firm; they’re also frigid. He locks eyes with the blond and he feels something akin to numbness. He’s reached his terror limit for the day—he can feel no more fear. Without the fear, he can appreciate every line of the cruel face that’s appraising him like meat. He wonders if it’s possible to count every pale lash that frames those eyes. He’s attractive, Tadashi decides in a detached way; he’s beautiful in the same way blizzards, the peak of a tsunami wave, and the edge of a razor are beautiful.

“He’ll do,” the oyabun decides. He stands. “Sawamura, take him to Sugawara for training. And strike this man’s debt from the records.”

For all Tadashi holds against his father, he can never say that his father didn’t try this once, to protect him: he just wishes it came much earlier than this. Maybe then, they wouldn’t be in this position. “You can’t do that!” he shouts as Tadashi is gently pulled to his feet.

Tadashi sways dangerously; Sawamura’s hand is firm between his shoulders as he ushers him out. He hears his father like he’s an actor in a drama. “That was never a condition! This is human trafficking—I thought the Tsukishima group was above that! If you have to have someone, you should take me!”

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you to read the fine print? That loan you signed gave the agency, who operates under one of our shateigashira, said payment can be taken in any form, in the event that money is no longer a desirable option. And I no longer desire your money. Isn’t that advantageous for you?”

“Normally that means things like houses, property, goods—not people’s sons—! Don’t you have any sort of feelings at all?! What did you do with the old boss; he would have never stood for this—”

“Shut him up.”

There’s the sound of flesh against flesh and Tadashi winces hard.

“Don’t listen,” Sawamura advises. Tadashi isn’t sure how he’s supposed to manage that when his father is still shouting in the background; he was always too stubborn for his own good.

“…will he be okay?”

Sawamura looks at Tadashi oddly. “You’re worried about him?”

Tadashi shrugs at the unspoken you should be worrying about yourself in the question. He concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other.

“Yeah, he’ll be okay,” Sawamura says finally. “He’s not as kind-hearted as the old boss was, but he has to make his point. Your father might have some bruises but he’s better off like this than he would be if we let the splinter group in charge of your father’s loans handle it.”

“…Am I really… going to have to stay here? Isn’t this illegal?”

Sawamura chuckles, “Kid, this is the yakuza. We work under different laws.”

Tadashi swallows hard and clenches his fists to keep them from shaking. Sawamura leads him back through the hallways, out through the gardens, to a separate house; like the main mansion, it’s a strange mixture of traditional architecture and modern, western buildings. Lights glow warm through the windows, and he can hear the sounds of laughter from the wrap-around open hallway on the side of the building. Sawamura steps up from the garden and pulls open another set of screen doors.

“Suga! Hey, is Suga here?” he calls. He starts loosening his tie, like he’s some salary man come home.

Tadashi squirms, still in the garden.

“Cooking!” a voice calls back.

Sawamura turns to Tadashi and beckons him forward. “C’mon.”

Tadashi steps up onto the floor, and follows Sawamura into the house, pulling his blood-flecked converse off as Sawamura steps out of his loafers. Tadashi clutches onto his shoes tightly. He feels faint, like if he lets go of his bloody shoes, he’ll just be done for. It’s stupid, he can leave his shoes at the door here, there’s no one to fall over and puke in them (he thinks), but it’s an old habit to carry his shoes up to his room with him, and he refuses to let go of it now. He ignores the strange look Sawamura gives him.

Sawamura shrugs and leads Tadashi through the sitting and dining area, where there are a couple of shirtless people (including a woman with short blonde hair and a voice so loud it makes Tadashi wince) are playing cards and showing off tattoos. Tadashi’s convinced he’s just in a bad yakuza movie. That’s it.

He’s an actor. Just pretend he’s an actor. They step into the kitchen. There’s a man humming to himself as he stirs an industrial-sized pot of what Tadashi thinks is miso.  

“Suga, hey, is there still an open room back here?” Sawamura asks.

The man turns around and sets his ladle down. Tadashi notes the ash-colored hair and beauty mark and sweet face. His arms are bare, much to Tadashi’s surprise. “Yes,” he answers. “A new recruit? I thought the oyabun said we weren’t going to take any until the unrest settles out.”

Sawamura leans forward and murmurs something into Suga’s ear. Tadashi looks down at his socked feet so he doesn’t have to watch. As it is, the surprised noise that Suga makes is enough to make him start shaking again.

Suga sighs and there’s a click as he turns off the stove. “Alright then, let’s get him settled. We’ll start physical training tomorrow and wait for instructions.”

It’s too much. Tadashi thinks he must have finally, finally, fainted, because the next thing he knows is that he’s staring up at white plastered ceiling. He’s laid out on a futon by the feel of it. He turns his head and sees his shoes and a folded pile of clothes. He looks back up at the ceiling, feeling his head ache.

“Are you awake?”

Tadashi forces himself to sit up. The blond man from earlier, Suga, is sitting at a small table in the corner of the sparsely furnished room. The only light is coming through the crack in the shoji doors, but it’s more than enough to make out that Suga is playing with his cell phone. The man notices his frown and pointed gaze.

“We’ve already contacted your workplace and fed them a story about how your father fell at work, and you’ll need time to take care of him. Is there anyone else who would miss you?”

Tadashi shakes his head mutely. “Is he okay?”

“Your father? Yes. Sawamura escorted him home. You’ll be able to go out and see him, and work again—not that you’ll need to—in a few months. Once the salary you would have earned is equal to the money your father owed, you should be able to go home for good. In theory.”

Tadashi nods quietly and lays back onto the futon. “What’s going to happen to me?”

“The oyabun wants to train you to be his bodyguard. …you and your father angered him quite a bit.”

The way Suga says it, it sounds like a death sentence. He resolves to live through it.

It’s hard though. Tadashi’s never been particularly fast or clever—he has some experience fighting because of the people who used to bully him in elementary school, but it’s nothing like how they’re training him to fight. He was used to reactionary movements, to only hit when he was punched first—he’s now being taught to watch people’s movements, how their eyes focus, how they hold themselves to see if danger is imminent. He’s not very good at it. He gets punched first no matter how many times they try to teach him. The poor guy teaching him, Kageyama, isn’t good at words either, so Tadashi’s not very sure what he’s supposed to be looking for.

Suga, who ends up teaching him how to work a gun, is a much more patient teacher. He doesn’t flinch when Tadashi fumbles with the gun the first time it’s handed to him, or put off with the way that Tadashi shakes every time he puts his finger on the trigger.

Everyone says it’ll come with time, that it has to, but Tadashi doesn’t think it will. He’s not strong willed. He’s not brave. But he doesn’t have a choice.

After a month of suffering through training, he can stop Kageyama from hitting him, or the person he’s supposed to be protecting (often times, it’s a guy named Kenma who sneaks in ‘as help’ so he can sit and play with his phone—Kageyama’s never hit him, to be fair, but Kenma’s had to stick his hand up to catch a punch more times than he should have to) a little over half the time, and he can at least hit the target on the firing range now.

Still, none of them are pleased when the oyabun calls for him. Suga complained to Sawamura, the oyabun’s right-hand, that Tadashi wasn’t ready. Sawamura shrugged and told Tadashi to get ready anyway.

He changes out of his clothes, which had been brought to him a few days after he arrived a loud, red-headed man, and into the suit that Sawamura had gotten tailored for him once it became clear that the oyabun’s decision was final. He trembles the entire meeting, from the second sake burns at his lips and throat while looking into those cleverly blank amber eyes to the moment he takes his place right beside the oyabun’s chair as he speaks with that dangerous silver tongue to his underlings. 

No one dares to make a move, but some of the rougher members, who are no better than street hooligans, look like they want to. Tadashi steels his face and steps forward like he’s been taught too, shielding the oyabun from their nasty words and tight-coiled bodies. He might be frightened, but he won’t be half-hearted, not when there’s still nightmares about them going after his father, his stupid irresponsible father, because he’s failed his job chasing around his skull at night. There’s a chuckle behind him and thin fingers against his back.

“Heel,” the oyabun purrs into his ear. “These things aren’t worth your time, dog.”

Tadashi ignores the way those fingers dance up his spine, and across his shoulder to follow the bow of his arm where it’s bent to rest at the holster of his gun. Cold finger cover his own. “I said, heel,” the blonde growls. Nails dig into Tadashi’s knuckles.

Tadashi relaxes. He’s rewarded with another hand on his hip. “See, look what you’ve done, you’ve riled up my new guard dog,” Tsukishima sneers to his underlings. “Next time, I won’t be so gracious as to leash him. You shared sake with my man, you obey him and he obeys me, got it?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. He turns on his heel, and leaves the room. Tadashi has no choice but to follow. He is now no longer allowed to leave the oyabun’s side.

So he doesn’t. For the next six months, he doesn’t leave Tsukishima’s side save for the eight hours a day he gets for sleep, where either Kageyama or Sawamura guard the oyabun instead, and the day he went to visit his father and formally resign from his jobs. He doesn’t visit his father again; his shiny shoes and well-tailored suit and ponytail are dead giveaways to the life he leads now, and he doesn’t want to cause his father anymore hardship.

He’s also selfish, he tells Tsukishima much later, when the blond asks about it; it’s his chance to finally be free of taking care of his father, and doesn’t have to worry about the consequences of his father’s actions now.

“Ironic, don’t you think?” Tsukishima says wryly as he undoes the buttons on his shirt, slowly revealing the intricate lines of tattoos that swirl their way across his back. “That your father’s consequences are what you view as freedom.”

Tadashi shrugs; “You let me do what I like as long as I do my job when we’re in public,” he answers, taking Tsukishima’s tie from him as it’s offered. His swift and honest reply is rewarded with a sly smirk and fingers lingering against the back of his hand.

Tadashi pretends like it doesn’t bother him. After six months in Tsukishima Kei’s constant company, he’s learned several key things about the young, handsome oyabun. Tsukishima is dangerously clever, but he’s also capricious.

It’s a scary combination. Tsukishima can size up anyone nearly instantly and he enjoys people’s discomfort. He uses it against them to rile people up. It makes Tadashi nervous, not only because he’s Tsukishima’s acting bodyguard and has to deal with the fallout himself, but because Tsukishima’s made it into a game to discomfit Tadashi.

Tadashi isn’t certain when exactly Tsukishima realized that Tadashi’s weakness was authority figures, and would do anything commanded of him, just to relinquish control, but Tsukishima takes advantage of it. He does it splendidly. He also seems to recognize that Tadashi is very much attracted to him.

He takes advantage of that splendidly too.

Tadashi isn’t certain whether or not Tsukishima has any real feelings for him, but he doesn’t think there’s necessarily anything to complain about. The sex is wonderful, and without any ounce of control on Tadashi’s part—he always knows what to do, because Tsukishima tells him to do it. He knows that Tsukishima enjoys his company, at least, because when they’re alone, they talk and laugh at stupid jokes like they’re equals.

He would wager that they’re friends; sometimes, he even thinks that Tsukishima does care for him. He remembers the murderous look on Tsukishima’s face when Tadashi had been ambushed from behind during a collection visit. He’d actually had to physically stop the blond from murdering their assailants; that night, Tsukishima had ran those cold fingers over every inch of his body to make sure Tadashi was completely alright. Other times, he’s not sure if the feelings Tsukishima has for him are romantic, platonic, or if Tsukishima just views him as property.

Tadashi doesn’t much mind. He’s settled into his role as protector far more easily than he could have even imagined—he thinks it’s easy because, really, Tsukishima could protect himself. He just wanted companionship and took the only chance for it he could see.

Taking in someone like that gave him a member that could see him as someone other than the replacement head, a cold, callous replacement for the brother of his who had fled because his heart was too soft for their world. Tsukishima had taken a chance that could have backfired horribly.

In many ways, Tadashi thinks he’s the same. He didn’t try to flee, didn’t try to call for rescue—he took what was handed to him because he wanted a reason, an acceptable reason that didn’t paint him as a bad son, to stop returning to that house with his father. He’d been waiting for a reason for a long time, he’d been waiting to peel away that layer of ‘good’ around him and find a place where he could voice those nasty, dark things that squirmed in him, relish in the desire to belong to someone as an object, and be fulfilled in all the twisted ways he’d been too shy to acknowledge before.

He doesn’t leave Tsukishima’s side even after his father’s debt is paid. His first tattoo as wakagashira is the twin of the crescent moon Tsukishima wears between his shoulder blades.

Chapter Text

His personal phone is ringing; it shouldn’t be. The sound makes his heart twist in ways he’s entirely not comfortable with. It’s the ringtone he’s set for Tadashi’s parents, who know not to call him during work hours unless it’s an emergency. He starts preparing himself to hear the worst news possible—that something’s either happened to Tadashi or to their daughter.

“Sayaka-san?” he greets.

“Kei-kun, sorry for calling during work,” Tadashi’s mother says, “But… Himawari’s kindergarten just called here.”

“Excuse me?” Sayaka and Hiro are tertiary contacts—her file clearly says that Tadashi and Kei are to be contacted first in any emergency situation, no matter what. No one’s called him, but the fact that the kindergarten is calling Tadashi’s parents means that there’s something wrong with Himawari, and that Tadashi is unreachable by phone.

“They told me that they couldn’t reach Tadashi,” Sayaka replies. “Is he okay?”

“…To my knowledge,” Kei replies, checking his watch. “He has a surgery scheduled for today, but the kindergarten has instructions to call a secretary for instructions from him in that case. Did they say anything else?”

Sayaka chuckles dryly, “They said they were going through the familial contacts. I told them to try calling you, since we’re grandparents and not in the city.”

Anger fizzles up in Kei’s chest. They were just looking at family names and calling at random. He grits his teeth. “Is that so? Well, thank you for letting me know,” he murmurs. “I’ll let you know what the problem is.”

They say their goodbyes and Kei hangs up. He wonders why they couldn’t get into contact with Tadashi. He checks the clock again; he remembers Tadashi telling him that morning that there’s a surgery he’s assisting, so he wouldn’t be able to be reached by cell until two. It’s one now, so that’s probably why, he tells himself; there’s nothing wrong with Tadashi, he reasons. The kindergarten is just racking up mistakes in not calling the clinic’s secretary. He knows this, he knows it and he told Sayaka as much.

But it’s one of his biggest fears, that something happens to the both of them, and he doesn’t know until it’s too late to do anything about. His phone starts chirping the unknown-number ringtone at him and his stomach flips.

He looks at the screen— it’s a Sendai area code.  “Hello? This is Tsukishima,” he answers. “Who is this?”

“Ah, yes, hello, Tsukishima-san this is Izumii Kaori from the kindergarten,” a woman says and Kei swears to god his heart stops for a whole five seconds. “I’m calling because you’re listed as an emergency contact for Yamaguchi Himawari, and we couldn’t get into contact with her father or her other family.”

I’m her father,” Kei says robotically, rolling away from his desk. His mouth is dry and it’s a miracle his hands aren’t shaking from the earlier adrenaline dump. Though, it might be anger that’s sending tremors down his arms. “Too. I’m her father too. I’m not a secondary or tertiary contact, I’m a primary. If you’d read her file correctly, you’d know that. It’s flagged. You’re supposed to read it,” he says, unable to hold his anger in check.

“O…oh…okay,” the woman says uncertainly. “I’m sorry for that mistake, then, Tsukishima-san. Forgive me, I’m new here.”

Kei grits his teeth hard enough that his head hurts. It’s not just a mistake, he wants to shout at this woman; there are reasons why they set up the system they have. He wants this woman’s job and head on a silver platter.

Instead of railing on the woman, he turns his attentions to why he’s getting a call from his daughter’s kindergarten. “Are you going to tell me why you’re calling?” he snaps.

 “W-well, I… I’m calling to see if you can come pick Himawari-chan up early today.”

“What’s the problem?” he asks. He’s already stuffing files into his bag. Himawari hadn’t seemed feverish or off that morning when he’d kissed her and Tadashi goodbye over breakfast. But children get sick quickly. Or she could have hurt herself. She played a bit rougher than the other kids because she’d been trained into it by the idiot duo. “Is she okay?”

“Oh? Yes! Sorry, she’s fine!”

Kei sags into his chair, barely resisting the urge to tear into the woman for being so roundabout that he thought something was seriously wrong with his daughter. He’ll bring it up with the kindergarten director—there was a reason they’d enrolled Himawari in a private school program, after all. First and foremost was to put her in an environment where people read the damn flags on her files and contacts the right people, which this woman obviously hadn’t. “Well, then. Why do I need to come pick her up early?” he asks testily.

“There was an incident, and… well, she won’t say why, but she pushed another student over during outside play time and stepped on him.”

He can’t help it. He really can’t: he starts laughing. He can see it in his head—Himawari in her new rain boots hopping on top of another student like she tends to jump up and down when she’s frustrated (he blames this habit on the fact that Tadashi’s go-to babysitters during her formative years was a certain red-headed volleyball freak and his wife). He snickers into the phone. “I can come get her,” he says finally to the dumbstruck silence on the other line. “I’ll be there soon.”

He hangs up before the woman can step on anymore nerves of his. He dials Tadashi’s phone; he’s pretty certain that there’s at least one message from the kindergarten, and he doesn’t trust them to let Tadashi know that Himawari isn’t sick or dead or hurt. Sayaka’s probably left messages too. Knowing Tadashi, he’d probably even start some grandiose nightmare involving kidnapping and revoked parental rights, even though Kei assures him at least once every six months that that isn’t possible, she’s on the records now as theirs. They’ve taken pains to make it hard for someone to just come and take her. It’s hard to reassure Tadashi, though. Even if the kindergarten did explain, he knows that Tadashi won’t stop worrying until there’s confirmation from Kei himself that everything’s fine.

“Hey, it’s me. The kindergarten just called. She’s fine, I’m going to go get her, don’t worry,” he says to Tadashi’s voicemail. “I’ll call when I pick her up and let her leave you a message, okay? I’ve already talked to your mother—we’ll talk about it later. I’ll see you when you get home.” He hangs up and pockets his phone and finishes packing his work up into his briefcase.

He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Luckily, he doesn’t have to meet with any clients, but he’d hoped to get the kinks out of one of the merger files he’s working with by the end of the day—something about supposedly illegal terminations of contracts. He might be able to finagle it if he took it home, but he’s not particularly willing to forgo time with Tadashi or Himawari to do it. He packs it up anyway and puts his company phone into his bag. He shuts off his computer and leaves his office.

He sticks his head into his superior’s office. “Hey, Kurosaki-san, I have to leave,” he says. “I just got a call from the kindergarten.”

Kurosaki looks up from where he’s buried in a pile of books. “Everything okay?” he asks. He has kids of his own and is far more of a flexible and open-minded boss than Kei could have ever asked for.

Kei shrugs and gives a sigh. “She got into a fight, I guess,” he says. “The kindergarten wants me to come get her.”

Kurosaki laughs, “Funny how they inherit tempers even if they’re not yours, huh? My stepson’s like that. Well, go on then, idiot-father,” he laughs, raising an eyebrow pointedly at Kei’s very, very lurid tie.

 It was an office joke, Kei’s ties—they all knew that there was no way in hell the blond would pick them out on his own. His peers found it ridiculously hilarious that Kei let his daughter pick out his ties ever since she was small enough to point her pudgy fingers and go ‘that’ when she was out in the department stores with Tadashi.  Kei doesn’t mind them teasing him about it; he likes his horribly ugly ties, thank you. Especially since he knows that one day Himawari’ll grow up and be embarrassed about it and start picking out the nice, tasteful ones like Tadashi gets him. (Not that he’ll stop wearing the ugly ones.)

Kei gives a wry grin and waves as he turns and heads out of the office. The law firm is small, and affiliated with several of the larger corporations in Sendai; it’s located in one of them, so he wades through the office workers and business men in the lobby to the parking deck where his car is. He has to stop more times than he would like to greet people—he’s never quite gotten used to the respectful deference his position has garnered him. In his pocket, his phone starts to ring again. This time, it’s a familiar song. He answers without looking, “I thought you wouldn’t be done until two,” he says without preamble.

Tadashi sighs, “We finished early. Sometimes it happens. It wasn’t as bad as the X-rays made it look. It was only one sock instead of the five the owner swore up and down the poor thing ate.”

Kei snickers and fishes his keys out of his pocket, very glad that he’d chosen to drive to work rather than take the bus and train. “Did you get my message, though?”

“Yes,” Tadashi says slowly. “But you’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Kei answers. He unlocks the car and slides in. He puts Tadashi on speakerphone and hooks the phone up to the car’s sound system. “I don’t have a single problem believing it.”

“What happened?”

“She walked all over someone, apparently,” Kei replies, laughing again at it as he starts the car. “The aide wouldn’t tell me why—said they couldn’t get it out of her, but apparently we got her walking boots rather than rain boots.”

Tadashi sighs loudly. The speakers crackle with it. “Do try to find out why,” he tells Kei. “And don’t let her off easy, Tsukki.”

“Wait, what? Me? I can discipline,” Kei scoffs as he pulls out of the parking garage and into traffic.

“…Tsukki, you laughed when she repeated you to her real grandmother,” Tadashi reproaches.

Kei makes a strangled sort of noise behind his teeth. He doesn’t have to imagine the look on Tadashi’s face—he knows that Tadashi’s pulling his stern parent look, where his face is pinched into a disapproving scowl. He’s been on the end of that scowl just as much as Himawari has. “…it’s not like it’s not true,” he says eventually.

“Kei, I do not want our daughter thinking it’s okay to go around calling people incompetent morons,” Tadashi says. “And I told you to watch it when she’s in the room.”

“I watched it,” Kei says defensively, even though he knows he’s in trouble since Tadashi’s dropped his pet name. “I totally watched it. What I was going to say was that they were fucking assholes who needed to pull their heads out of their—”

“Kei!”

“Look, they can’t just start sending her cards on her birthday like they suddenly want to be there when not a single damn one of them helped you—and by extention, her—out,” Kei says hotly, fists tightening around the steering wheel. “I was right and you know it, and the looks on their faces were priceless.”

Kei!” Tadashi says again, and this time, Kei quiets. He doesn’t want to imagine what Tadashi looks like now, because that tone is no longer parental and far angrier. He’s definitely overstepped a boundary; he knows how careful he has to be around Tadashi’s family, especially the extended members. Some of them never quite forgave Tadashi for winning the court battle to adopt Himawari after her parents’ deaths, and most of them definitely will never forgive Tadashi for the twin sins of being gay in a happy, committed relationship and successful.

Not only does he have to be careful around them, he has to be careful about them too. Tadashi wants to keep up cordial relationships with them for Himawari’s sake. Kei thinks they can shove cordial up the rest of the family’s ass, since there’s obviously plenty of room in there with the stick, but that’s an opinion that’s earned him some very frosty responses.

“Okay, fine,” Kei mutters. “What punishment should I dole out?”

“…we should probably ground her, don’t you think?”

“What? It’s the first time she’s done something like this!”

“And we want it to be the last,” Tadashi shoots back.

Kei sighs and drums his fingers against the steering wheel. “…Not too long, not until we know why she did it,” he mutters sulkily.

Tadashi sighs; Kei knows that sigh. It’s his long-suffering, melting sigh. He knows that if they were having this discussion face-to-face, he could watch Tadashi’s face soften into the fond, half smirk he gets when Kei’s habit of spoiling Himawari rotten comes up. “I trust you to handle it,” he says.

“Thank you,” Kei says snottily. Tadashi laughs at him. He finds himself smirking. “…Do you still need me to run by the grocery store?” he asks. “While I’ve got you.”

“Oh. Well, I can manage it since the surgery went faster than we’d expected it to,” Tadashi answered. There’s the sound of him typing at a keyboard. “I have one more appointment to assist, and then Fujiwara-sensei says I’m free to go, so I can run by and do it.”

“You sure?” He turns into the kindergarten’s small parking lot. He parks in the spaces designated for visitors and digs around the front seat for the parents pass he never remembers to hang on his visor. “I don’t mind going, and you know how much Himawari likes to help shopping.”

“No, I can do it,” Tadashi says. “You’ve been working hard recently—go and take her to the park or just go have a nap,” he urges. “I know you push yourself hard to make sure you don’t ever have to work more overtime than you have to.”

Kei shuts off the car and takes the phone off of the speaker system, cradling it carefully in his hand. He thinks that tonight, once Himawari’s gone to sleep, he’ll spoil Tadashi more than he usually does to make up for any stress he’s caused his lover. “Hey,” he mumbles, feeling sheepish with affection; “I’m at the kindergarten. I’ll let you know once we get home, okay?”

“Alright,” Tadashi agrees. “I’ll talk to you then. Love you.”

“You too,” Kei replies, before hanging up. He puts the phone into his lap and plucks his wallet out of his bag. He scoops his ring out of the change pocket in it, and slips it onto his finger. He slides out of the car, pocketing his keys and phone as he hits the lock button on his keys.

He keeps his wallet in hand and strides into the kindergarten. He shows the secretary his ID—it’s really a moot point by now, because she knows both him and Tadashi fairly well, since Tadashi’s clinic is where she goes to get her cats treated, but Kei is relieved to see that at least someone’s doing their job.

The secretary calls the classroom to let the teacher know Kei’s arrived and waves him past her desk. “It seems they’ve got her in one of the smaller playrooms while the rest of the class is in naptime,” she says with a sympathetic smile, passing the visiting tag to the blond. “It’s room two. Just down the main hall and to the left by the nursery area.”

Kei scowled, “I hope they didn’t leave her there alone. By the way, can you schedule a meeting with the director? Just call me and let me know the date and time—Tadashi and I need to speak with her.” He fixes the sticker to his lapel, just underneath his pin.

“Do you have a preferred date?”

“As soon as she’s available—we’ll make the time when the director can see us,” Kei said, sliding his wallet into his pocket.

“Will do,” the secretary says cheerily. “See you again in a few, Tsukishima-sensei.”

Kei raises his hand and strides off down the hallway, following the directions the secretary had given him. He gets to the room and peers in the ajar door. There’s a woman he doesn’t recognize kneeling at a play table set with a tiny bottle of water and the lunchbox they pack every day for Himawari. He pushes the door a bit, watching how the woman and his daughter interact.

Himawari is completely ignoring the lunch set out in front of her, and it looks like one of her pigtails is missing its clip. Her tights are muddy and she has her arms crossed tightly over her chest and her eyes are closed as she refuses to look at the woman, lips trembling. He instantly recognizes the behavior as an impending meltdown; he knocks on the door and pushes it open. “Good afternoon,” he greets. The woman blinks up at him and squints at his tag.

Himawari’s reaction is much more marked. She stands straight up from her chair and runs right at him, wrapping herself around his leg. “Daddy!”  She pushes her face against his slacks.

Kei scowls at the teacher before kneeling down and gently prying his daughter off of his leg. “Hey there,” he murmurs, cupping his hands against Himawari’s arms. She reaches out and grabs onto his sleeves. “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

The woman steps up behind Himawari. “Tsukishima-san, hello,” she says. Kei is immediately irritated with her for interrupting. “We spoke on the phone.”

“Izumii-san, was it?” Kei asks icily, “Well, as you can see, I’m trying to have a conversation with my daughter.  I would like to hear what she has to say.” He ignores the aide’s rather scandalized gasp and turns his entire attention to Himawari.

She’s biting down on her lip, face screwed up in concentration. She looks near in tears, cheeks pink underneath her freckles. Kei notices that the ponytail that’s missing its clips is looser and much lower than the other. It kind of looks like someone’s tugged at it. Kei reaches up and gently fixes it. It’s still lopsided, but it makes him feel a bit better.

“Himawari, I heard you pushed a boy over and stepped on him,” Kei says carefully. “Was there a reason you did it?”

Himawari shakes her head and clenches at Kei’s sleeves harder.

“She said that her boots did it themselves,” Izumii supplies, in a way that Kei thinks is supposed to be helpful in ways that just piss him the hell off. “It could be that she just wants the attention, from her parents at home, especially since she comes from a nontraditional household. Lying and picking fights are very classic cries for attention.”

Himawari sniffles loudly and lowers her head, ears red. Kei looks up at the woman again, jaw clenched tightly. “Himawari, sweetheart, why did you tell the teacher that?”

“Because she didn’t believe me,” Himawari whispers softly, tears starting to stream down her face. “I told the truth and she didn’t listen.”

“I see,” Kei says quietly. He brings his hands up and wipes off Himawari’s face. “Okay, Rii-chan,” he murmurs, using Tadashi’s favorite petname for their daughter. “Let’s play our game.”

“Secret code, please,” Himawari tells him, leaning forward and cupping a hand over her ear. Kei leans forward and whispers ‘one four three’ into her ear. She beams and nods. “Good job, daddy!”

 “Are those your things at the table?” Himawari nods. “Okay, go get them, and I’ll talk to your teacher for a moment before we go home,” Kei says, rising to his feet.

Himawari dodges the teacher, looking at her feet as she starts to gather up her things. Kei looks at the teacher icily. “You are so painfully green that I’ll give you some advice: One, do not interrupt me when I am talking to my child,” he says, stepping forward until he’s nearly in the young woman’s space. “Especially when I have already dropped a polite hint to not do that. Two, do not presume to know about my child’s home life. Especially when I know for a fact that you were not aware of her ‘nontraditional’ upbringing until I brought it to your attention, because apparently the kindergarten’s hiring process does not screen for illiteracy. I’ll let you know that my partner and I work as hard as we can—and more—to make sure she is very well cared for. Three, whatever you have done to cause my daughter to think that lying is a better alternative to telling the truth, I will make sure the director knows about it in our upcoming meeting,” he hisses.

Izumii gapes up at him and looks indignant for about ten seconds before the pin on Kei’s lapel catches her eye. She bows slightly, “Yes, sorry, Tsukishima-sensei,” she murmurs.

Himawari shifts from foot to foot, a habit she’s definitely picked up from Tadashi behind Izumii. Kei leans back onto his heels and lets his face soften. He holds out his hand and Himawari toddles forward to take it. “Are you ready to go?”

“Boots,” Himawari says softly. “I have to change shoes.”

“Alright. Lead the way.”

Himawari glances at the teacher before staring down at her shoes. “Bye-bye,” she mumbles before tugging gently at Kei’s hand.

“Good evening, Izumii-san,” Kei says frostily, following his daughter out of the room. She quietly changes out of her indoor slippers into her rain boots, carefully making sure her socks didn’t roll down into them. Kei’s a bit worried at her reticence; she’s picked up on Tadashi’s chattiness, and normally, is going on a mile a minute about her day.

Like Tadashi, when she’s silent, it usually means she’s upset. Kei has a vague clue. Once she’s done wiggling into her boots, Kei scoops her up and lets her loop her arms around his neck. “Okay, let’s go,” he tells her. He carries her out past the secretary, who checks him out of the visitor’s system and takes his pass without comment. He sets her down in front of the car and kneels down onto the damp asphalt.

“Do you want to talk about what’s the matter yet, or would you rather tell your papa?” he inquires.

Himawari wrings her bag’s straps in between her fingers. “…are you mad at me?” she asks softly. “Because I was bad?”

Kei shakes his head. “I was angry at the teacher for saying you lied. Did you lie?”

“Only because she said I was anyway,” Himawari says.

“What did she say you were lying about?”

Himawari bites down on her lip again. “I said I didn’t want to play with the boys in my group because they weren’t being nice. Izumii-sensei said they didn’t mean it and maybe I was wrong, that I should try better to play nice with them.”

Kei purses his lips. He’s not quite sure he likes the sound of this. “And why did you push that boy? What were the rules that Ryuu-ojisan and Yuu-ojisan told you for pushing and hitting?”

“Only if someone touched me and I didn’t want to be touched.”

“And?”

“If I asked them to stop and they didn’t,” Himawari recites.

“Did that happen?”

“He tugged on my hair. He also made fun of you and papa,” she mutters, puffing her cheeks out. “And said my face was dirty ‘cause it’s spotty. …am I in trouble?”

Kei makes a small sound in the back of his throat, much like the noise he made the time Tadashi accidentally kneed him in the stomach. He thinks about Tadashi, and what Tadashi had to go through when he was younger, and how Kei barely even witnessed half of what he’d gone through in school. “Well,” he says slowly. “No. You’re not in trouble.”

“Even though I have to leave school early?”

“Even though you’re leaving early,” Kei promises. “I’ll fix things up with the teachers. Promise, okay?”

Himawari nods. Kei reaches forward and draws her against his chest, kissing the top of her head softly. “And you’re not spotty or dirty.”

“I’m like papa,” Himawari agrees happily. Kei nods and stands.

He helps Himawari into the backseat, making sure she’s buckled into her booster seat before driving home. He gives her a popsicle and helps her do her homework, and gets her washed up and into clean clothes before Tadashi comes home.

Tadashi’s arrival is heralded by the normal happy screech and beeline for the door. Kei follows after her, watching as she attaches herself to Tadashi before he can even get out ‘I’m home’.

“Welcome back,” Kei chuckles, taking a few of the grocery bags from Tadashi. “All that’s left is for dinner. Then the monster gets to go to bed.”

“But it’s early,” Himawari whines.

“Remember what we talked about?” Kei asks. Himawari purses her lips but nods solemnly. She detaches herself from Tadashi’s leg and holds out her hands.

Tadashi laughs and hands her one of the lighter bags of groceries. She carries it to the kitchen with an air of importance. “Well, she’s spirited. And I thought I said to ground her, not send her to bed early,” Tadashi scolds, leaning forward to brush his lips against Kei’s cheek before kicking his shoes off.  

“…she didn’t deserve to be grounded,” Kei mutters, “I’ll tell you later. We have a meeting with the director of the kindergarten tomorrow morning. I’d like it if you could make it,” he tells Tadashi softly. “They’re not following protocol—they had her with an aide that didn’t know shit. They called your parents before me.”

Tadashi blanches. “…I’ll be there,” he murmurs. “Later, tell me later. No sense scaring Himawari.”

“No,” Kei agrees. He cups his free hand against the small of Tadashi's back, thumb rolling circles against the brunet's spine. "No sense in you worrying about it until then, either." He nudges Tadashi towards the kitchen.

Kei sits in the kitchen and pretends like he’s working on his case files as he watches Tadashi and Himawari bustle around the kitchen. It’s soothing to watch them cook, with Tadashi instructing Himawari to do the little things, like measure out the rice and turn the cooker on, and hand him vegetables from her tip-toe perch on a step-stool.

The kitchen is warm and bright, and this is home. They’ll figure out the problems with the school and Himawari’s classmates and the ongoing conflict within Tadashi’s family.

They always do.