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Heat chases streaks of sweat down Kenji’s sides. He hates everything about this specific summer day: the beach is crowded, there is absolutely no shade – or wind for that matter – and his popsicle is slowly melting away in the sand. 

“Come on,” Pantalons waves a hand in front of Kenji’s face. 

Kenji looks up, staring blankly at his mullet-sporting, fashion-disaster of a friend, and sighs. Pantalons wears a kind expression, and he places a hand on Kenji’s shoulder empathetically. Kenji appreciates it. But it doesn't ease the loss of his popsicle, the one true cooling sensation on this entire beach.

“My last hope,” he murmurs under his breath.

“Sure, Princess,” Pantalons says. “We can get you a new one.”

“But then we have to stand in line for another thirty minutes. Plus, that was the last watermelon flavored one.”

“Want mine?” Pantalons asks then, holding out his own popsicle, one with a considerable bite mark in it.

Kenji considers his position as the team’s captain, his dignity, integrity, general likeability. He comes to the conclusion that accepting Pantalons’ icy treat would cost his image, and that it’s not worth it.

Even if it’s the very last watermelon flavored popsicle that doesn’t have ants walking all over it.

“Thanks,” he refuses politely, flashing an almost-convincing smile at his friend. “I’m good.”

“Good!” Pantalons replies, turning on his heels and leading Kenji back to where their team set up camp on the beach.

It’s easy to spot thanks to the giant green parasol Obara managed to borrow from the school, under which they’ve dropped most of their stuff: a plastic bag full of snacks Sakunami supplied, a cooler box with a watermelon brought by Nametsu, the single bottle of sunscreen provided by Aone for the whole team’s use after everyone else had forgotten to bring theirs, and towels, thrown haphazardly all over the place.

When they arrive, there are only two people sitting under the parasol; Nametsu, reading some magazine full of makeup tips (though she never seems to wear any, so for what reason?), and Aone, who seems to be guarding everyone’s bags and keeping Nametsu company. (Then again. She’s so immersed in whatever article she’s reading, she probably didn’t even notice that he’s there.) The rest are in the water, playing with a plastic mock volleyball. Practicing overhand tosses, they call it. 

Pantalons pushes his horrendous, 80’s disco-inspired sunglasses down his nose, eyeing the team in the water.

“Have they been there this entire time?” he asks, referring to the roughly half an hour he and Kenji spent waiting in line in front of the one shop at the beach that sells that very specific popsicle they both wanted.

Nametsu hums noncommittally, while Aone looks up and nods.

“They’ll get a heatstroke,” Pantalons shakes his head, then, swallowing the rest of his popsicle at once, starts running towards the water. “Yo! Don’t get a heatstroke!” he shouts at the rest of the team.

“The water is cool!” Koganegawa shouts back.

Obara splashes in Pantalons’ general direction, and the boy shrieks. As if that eased all his concerns, he joins the rest without any further complaint or nagging.

“You should go too,” Nametsu says, not even looking up from her magazine.

“Nah,” Futakuchi shakes his head, still mourning his popsicle and feeling a little antisocial about it. “I’ll stay here a bit.”

“As you wish,” their manager replies, turning the page.

Aone pats the empty space on the towel beside him, and Kenji accepts the invitation.

For a while, they sit there without saying a word, in the relative silence that a fully packed beach can provide. Kenji fiddles with the strings of the hood of his sleeveless vest, while Nametsu turns some pages in her magazine, obviously skipping the full-page advertisements. Aone sits with his gaze on the horizon, whether he’s thinking of something or just watching his teammates play is not entirely clear. He has a light dusting of sand over his toned arms and a decidedly ball-shaped wet patch over his bare back. 

A drop of sweat runs down Aone's temple, the side of his face, dropping from the edge of his jawline onto the towel beneath him. Kenji feels an intense urge to reach out and trace its path; his eyes fixate on Aone's side profile, his hand twitches in anticipation of the feel of skin under the pads of his fingers. Then Nametsu speaks, her head leaning into the picture, and the urge shies away as Kenji sinks his hands into the pockets of his shorts. 

Another time. 

“So?” Nametsu presses on.

Kenji realizes his brain didn’t register the question. “Hn?”

“I asked if you’d want to help cutting up the watermelon.”

“Yeah,” Kenji replies, gulping heavily as he pushes himself up on his feet. “Sure.”

Another time?

Does he want to touch Aone another time? Like, when nobody’s around?

Panic seeps into his veins, mixing with his blood. His heart rushes, and so does he, practically tearing the cooler open to pick the watermelon up at once. The weight of the fruit surprises him, causing him to stumble, but he thankfully doesn’t fall. Nametsu notices, though, raising a brow.

“This thing’s heavy,” Kenji complains, regaining just enough composure not to yelp at the realization. That. Aone. Is hot.

He’s incredibly hot.

“Of course it’s heavy,” Nametsu replies, summoning up a tray and a knife from one of the bags by her side. “It has to feed you bunch.”

“Understandable,” Kenji replies, placing the watermelon down onto the tray. “I’m just surprised you carried this all the way here.”

“I didn’t,” Nametsu shakes her head. “Aone did.”

“Ah.”

Aone hums as to confirm.

“I see,” Kenji nods.

“Now, stop spacing out and help,” Nametsu bumps his side, motioning across the watermelon. “I want you to cut it in half lengthwise. The rest I can do.”

Kenji does as he is told, halving the watermelon. Nametsu pulls the tray in front of her at that point, leaving Kenji empty-handed. Without a task at hand, he decides to watch intently as Nametsu slices up the giant watermelon into neat triangles. The whole cutting process is probably not so exciting, but he fears that one glance in Aone’s direction could break him.

He has always found comfort in Aone’s company. Aone’s a good listener. He’s patient. He tolerates all of Kenji’s whining and theatrics. He always knows the right words when Kenji feels lost or insecure. He’s a friend Kenji can count on, a friend whose shoulders are wide and comfortable, Kenji would know as he had fallen asleep on them countless times on the train on the way home. 

Aone is… way more than just a hot body.

But he definitely has a hot body, and Kenji wonders how he had not noticed this before.

Or maybe he did.

He didn’t have to lean onto Aone’s shoulders whenever he felt sleepy on the train, after all. He didn’t really have a reason to visit Aone’s house almost every day, either. And yet, he did.

Nametsu finishes slicing the watermelon and jumps up to call the team to eat. Kenji takes a piece for himself, and another for Aone, scooting back to his place beside Aone on the towel.

“It’s sweet,” he murmurs.

“Delicious,” Aone agrees.

Pantalons drops down by their side, shaking his mullet like a wet dog, covering them in droplets of saltwater.

Kenji pulls his hood in his face to protect himself from the attack – and soon he finds it to be the perfect cover to hide his glances at Aone.

Damn.

He really wants to touch him all over.

 

*

 

The setting sun finds the Dateko team back in their lodge house, busy and hectic as usual, preparing their dinner. Nametsu is the absolute leader of the process. She orders Koganegawa around, who carries chairs and cleans the long table in the dining room. Kenji, along with Obara and Fukiage, are tasked with the peeling of vegetables. Sakunami, to everyone’s surprise, proves to be extremely skilled at chopping everything up into even cubes, and fast. Pantalons, who mopes a little because his idea to eat cup noodles had been voted down in favour of curry, is washing the dishes and setting the table. Aone is standing by the giant pot on the fire, adding in vegetables and roux, stirring the pot with a quiet, observant gaze.

They work together like fine machinery – if machinery had the tendency to constantly banter.

“Stop it, boys,” Nametsu interjects when Pantalons’ teasing finally breaks Koganegawa, who drops a chair on his own foot. “I don’t want to see any injuries because you were dumb.”

“Ossu,” Pantalons nods, placing a plate down slowly on the table.

Kenji snickers at Nametsu’s power to boss them all around.

“But what should we talk about, if we can’t tease each other?” Pantalons asks then, as quiet is about to settle between them.

“What about rapid-fire questions?” Obara suggests.

“Rapid-what?” Koganegawa asks back.

“It’s actually really simple: you ask someone questions and the person has to answer as fast as possible with the first thing that comes to their mind. Then they can ask you the same or different questions. Let me show you through an example,” Obara replies, turning to Kenji. “What’s your favorite time of the day?” Kenji plays along.

“Mornings!”

“God, you’re so weird.”

“What’s your favorite food?” Obara asks again.

“... sour gummies?” Kenji blurts out after a second of hesitation.

Pantalons snorts in response.

“Don’t you laugh, we all know yours is cup ramen, you're not any better,” Kenji says, turning to his loud-mouthed friend. “Most feared volleyball player to play against in the preliminaries?”

“None!” Pantalons claims. “I’m not afraid of anyone.”

“Come on.”

“Yours then?”

“Since Oikawa graduated… Hinata Shouyou,” Kenji replies. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Aone jolt at the sound of his rival. He can’t help himself but turn in his direction and repeat the question. “Who are you afraid to face, Aone?”

Aone places down the ladle by the pot gently, raising his eye to meet Kenji’s. (Kenji hopes that no one can see how his heart rate jumps at this.)

“Not afraid… but I look forward to facing Hinata,” Aone says in that earnest, deep tone that tends to melt Kenji’s doubts away. “Which team are you looking forward to playing against the most?” he asks then, pointing at Koganegawa.

The first-year’s eyes widen with mirth at the question, and he excitedly opens his mouth. “Everyone’s team whom I’ve met at the Miyagi camp! Karasuno and Shiratorizawa and Aoba Johsai! It’s time for me to ask now, right?” he asks, looking at Obara.

“Technically, you just did that,” Obara laughs. “But yeah, sure, go ahead, pose another question!”

“Um… Futakuchi-senpai,” Koganegawa turns to Kenji, eyes big as saucepans. “How do you time your blocks so well?”

“It’s read-blocking,” Kenji sighs. “I told you a thousand times. Will you pay attention next time when I explain?”

“Yessir!” Koganegawa salutes, earning a round of chuckles.

Surely, he gives them all a headache, but the whole team adores their giant setter.

“What position would you play if not middle blocker?” Koganegawa asks then.

“I don’t play middle blocker,” comes the exasperated sigh from Kenji. “I’m an outside hitter. But, if I had to choose another position, it would probably be a blocker.”

“Who’s the player you look up to the most?”

“I don’t know… maybe Oikawa. His serves are no joke. But if we’re talking about the same position as mine, then Ushiwaka? What about you?”

“Hinata Shouyou!” Koganegawa pipes up happily.

“Lots of mentions of Hinata Shouyou today,” Pantalons laughs, earning the attention – and the next question – of Koganegawa.

Kenji’s attention slips away, stealing a glance at Aone.

Indeed, lots of mentions of Hinata Shouyou.

Kenji can’t help but feel a little jealous. Hinata Shouyou hasn’t simply grabbed Aone’s attention – he’s demanded it. Aone thinks highly of him as a player… so much that he even scolded Kenji when he once said something negative about him.

“Futakuchi-senpai, who do you think is the most handsome volleyball player in Miyagi?” Koganegawa asks, and Kenji replies without thinking.

“Aone,” he says, not even tearing his eyes away from the subject of his affections.

“Aone?” It’s Pantalons’ guffaw of disbelief that brings Kenji back into the room from his thoughts.

And that’s when it dawns on him.

They’re still in the middle of cooking. They’re still playing a stupid game. The whole team.

And he just slipped.

“Uh,” he mutters, and he cuts himself with the knife he holds, chopping a barely-peeled potato in half in surprise. “Shit,” he hisses, dropping the knife and the potato into his lap.

He fucking slipped.

Blood bubbles up from under his skin, and he stares at his hand, the tiny spot of red on his otherwise pale finger, so he doesn’t have to face his team. Aone.

“Come,” he hears, and a hand, wide and strong, grabs his arm and drags him up from his seat. “Let’s treat that cut,” Aone says, pulling Kenji after him, not once looking back.

Kenji lets him lead him upstairs, to their room, their shared room , Kenji’s brain supplies, and his face turns almost as red as the blood trickling from his shallow cut.

Aone pushes Kenji to sit on the lone chair in the room, turning away immediately to rummage through his bag.

Kenji feels and thinks all kinds of things and doesn’t know what to say all of a sudden. “Aone, I…” he starts, voice barely above a whisper.

“Stay still,” Aone replies, opening a small pouch. He rips open a band-aid, turning back to Kenji. He looks pointedly at Kenji’s cut finger, eyes squinting in concentration as he wraps the band-aid around the injury. “There,” he says. His hands curl up around Kenji’s injured finger gingerly, and finally, he looks up. His eyes meet Kenji’s. 

They’re like the earth after summer rain. 

Sexy, mud-colored eyes. 

Kenji momentarily loses himself in them.

All his thoughts leave his mind to be replaced with a quiet calm. Aone watches him intently, searching for signs of pain, his hands running over the back of Kenji’s hand soothingly.

“Thanks,” Kenji says.

“Hn,” Aone nods.

They stay like that for a while – plenty of time for the noise downstairs to restart. Kenji watches Aone’s face, and Aone holds his gaze without any questions. When Kenji lifts his free hand, finally tracing the edges of Aone’s jawline, Aone’s gaze doesn’t falter. A smile tugs at the corners of Kenji’s lips, hand brushing past Aone’s ear, palm cradling the back of Aone’s head. He leans in.

Aone doesn’t protest the chaste kiss; rather, seeks after it when Kenji breaks away. Kenji kisses him again, this time more sure, until a giddy smile overtakes him, making it absolutely impossible to be properly kissing anyone.

He leans back, finding Aone’s eyes once again. He has no way to express his feelings with words – they are so much more than affection, more than friendship, more than love as it is portrayed in the movies.

“So,” he starts, still, some part of him wanting to properly voice it. “I guess I wanted to do that for a while.”

“Hn,” Aone says, prompting him to take his time.

“And…” Kenji continues, hand cupping Aone’s face again, “I really, really want to do it again.”

It’s not exactly what he wants to say – not even close. He’s not even sure if his message goes through. He trusts in Aone though – Aone has a tendency to hear the words Kenji doesn’t say out loud, after all, reading his mind as if he was an open book.

And Aone smiles. “Me too,” he says, and he moves one of his hands up to Kenji’s face. He pinches Kenji’s chin gently, brushing a thumb over his lower lip.

Their next kiss comes as easy as breathing. Aone’s lips are soft and warm. They move gently as if Kenji was something fragile, and it actually helps, because it stops Kenji from trying to devour Aone all at once. 

He has no experience with kissing – and suspects Aone has none either – yet where he would no doubt jump into the depths of French kissing, inevitably committing atrocities against both their teeth in the process, Aone holds him in place with a steady hand on his chin, planting soft kisses his lips from one corner to the other.

It’s cute , Kenji thinks, and once again, he can’t help but smile.

“What are you smiling about?” Aone asks, mouth bare millimeters away from his face.

“I thought about how disastrous it would be if we tried French kissing,” Kenji says.

“Hn?” Aone moves back, raising a barely-there brow.

“There would be teeth,” Kenji explains. “It wouldn’t be sexy.”

“We could practice,” Aone offers, then, hearing the rest of Kenji’s explanation, he stutters, ears turning pink. “I can’t promise sexy, though.”

“Sure you can,” Kenji says, hand traveling down from the side of Aone’s face to the back of his neck.

Aone darkens even further, deep red spreading across his cheeks. “About what you said,” he mumbles, voice hardly audible, “I’m not the most handsome volleyball player in Miyagi.”

“Yes you are,” Kenji says, then, meeting Aone’s stern expression, he adds: “to me you are.” He blushes too, just as badly as Aone does, he knows from the way his face burns, but he doesn’t turn away. “I think you’re extremely handsome.”

And sexy. This last part he doesn’t add, but he certainly feels it, and he wants Aone to feel it too, so he gives him another kiss.

“Ask,” Aone says then.

“Ask what?”

“The rapid-fire question.”

“Which… no. Aone, no. Please, don’t make me ask that, no.”

“I want to tell you, too,” Aone replies, squeezing Kenji’s hand gently in his.

“I know I’m somewhat handsome, too,” Kenji turns away, not able to keep staring at Aone’s honest eyes anymore.

“Hn,” Aone hums approvingly.

It takes Kenji a moment, a long one at that, to collect himself enough to continue. “I have another question… can I ask that instead? It’s not something that you have to answer right away. It’s not a problem if you want to think it over.”

“Hn.”

“I’m thinking… that I want everything to stay the same,” Kenji starts. “I want to continue playing volleyball with you, for as long as possible. I want to hang out together, and go home together, and fall asleep on your shoulder on the way. But I also want… to kiss you sometimes.”

“Okay,” Aone says.

“I didn’t even ask yet!” Kenji complains.

“I know the question,” Aone answers simply.

“Do you?”

“Hn.”

“And?”

“I want that.”