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Heart Out

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Things you said that I wasn’t meant to hear:

Five years is a long time to be around someone; the things they say to each other pile up in drifts. Some of them get brushed aside—he’s certain a lot of what he says never really accumulates in Kei’s heart. Not like with him. Maybe it’s just the differences in their natures, but Tadashi holds onto everything.

Even the things he wasn’t supposed to know.

In fifth grade, from around a corner:

 

“Don’t you get annoyed by that kid in class two who comes by all the time?”

“I don’t know, I guess,” came Kei’s voice.

Later that year, from behind Akiteru’s door that he was too nervous to knock on to find Kei:

 

“Niichan, don’t offer to teach him volleyball, too—”

“Kei, that’s mean,” was the reproach.

“I don’t want you to, though.”

In sixth grade, from behind the lockers before club, during a discussion of player rotations for a scrimmage:

 

“He’s no good there, don’t.”

Second year of junior high, when he followed, despite his better judgment, after a girl who called Kei to the back of the school:

 

“You say you don’t like anyone,” the girl snapped, “But aren’t you always with Yamaguchi? Are you two together or something?”

“Like we would—why assume something so pathetic?”

Every time, he slunk away and pretended like he didn’t hear anything at all. It isn’t like he’s unused to people talking about him or saying anything about him behind his back. He just thought that Kei would say it to his face, so every time, it sticks to him and makes him feel tight and hot and stupid. He’s never stuck around for an entire conversation—he’s never wanted to hear it.

But now, now he’s braver. And he thinks that if he hears something he doesn’t like, he’ll call his friend out on it. He listens hard as Kei’s voice bounces in the (seemingly empty) stairwell, juice box clenched in hand.

“You should watch yourself around Yamaguchi,” the girl sniffs haughtily. Tadashi wants to roll his eyes—he recognizes the voice; he told this girl weeks ago that Kei wasn’t interested in dating and to please just leave them both alone. He’s of the quiet opinion that some of Kei’s fangirls are just a little creepy sometimes. “He said that you weren’t going to date anyone at all.”

“And I’m not,” is Kei’s flat reply.

“Don’t you think, though, it’s a little odd for him to be speaking for you like that?” she wheedles, voice dripping with layered sweetness. Tadashi actually does roll his eyes. “I think he likes you, isn’t that creepy?”

Tadashi freezes; his hands start shaking. He doesn’t particularly want to hear what happens next, he remembers the last time their relationship got construed as something it wasn’t, no matter how desperately he wanted it to be true.

“So what if he did?” Kei snaps. “He’s a far better person than you are. I’d rather someone like him like me than you; I might think about it if it were him.”

Tadashi drops his juice box. It bursts at his feet, and from the landing, Kei looks up and meets Tadashi’s eyes.

Tadashi just waves weakly, feeling his face, ears, then neck flush hot.


 Things you said when I was crying:

“Tsukki, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi murmurs quietly. “It’s okay.” His hand shakes and his lips tremble as he speaks.

 Kei isn’t sure why Yamaguchi’s the one telling him it’s okay, when he’s the one crying. It’s not even his brother; he’s not the one putting the pieces together in his head to form the shattered picture. He’s not the one feeling mortification creeping up his neck like vines around his throat.

Yamaguchi clutches his hand tighter. He’d slipped his fingers around Kei’s the second they’d left the court and their classmates behind. The tears had started sometime after. They’re crouched in a dirty alcove behind the gymnasium, the chatter of athletes and coaches and well-wishers loud against the concrete walls. No one pays attention to the pair of elementary schoolers tucked into a shadowy corner.

Yamaguchi hiccups and sniffles and runs his free hand across his face and it’s so disgusting, watching him cry because he doesn’t just sniffle and cry and be done with it, he sobs, full-body and it sounds so broken and Kei doesn’t get it.

“Why are you crying?” he finally asks.

“Because you’re not going to,” Yamaguchi finally says, voice trembling. “Because it’s sad. Because it hurts, and you won’t let yourself cry.”

Kei blinks and feels his throat go tight. He clutches Yamaguchi’s hand tighter and tugs his friend close, letting him sob into his shirt. He curls up against his friend and lets himself shake.

He never does cry about it, but he felt like he did.


Things you said when you thought I was asleep: 

He can’t sleep. He thinks he should be able to, considering he’s exhausted. Tiredness seeps into his bones and makes him ache with the desire to just sleep. He’s wanted to sleep since he woke up, but now that he’s stretched out in his futon for the night, he can’t.

Maybe it’s the stuffy night air, or how none of the songs that his sleeping playlist’s snuffled through  have set right with him, so now he’s just listening to the whine of the crickets underneath the usual sleeping snuffling and snores of his teammates around him. The dorm’s fan rattles and splutters and does nothing to cool the sticky air. He wants to kick off his blankets, but he wants their weight against him. He can’t get comfortable. Maybe he’s just too tired to sleep. Or maybe he’s still wound tight from his and Yamaguchi’s confrontation earlier that night.

It’s not really a fight—he doesn’t think it counts, not really. He wonders if Yamaguchi counts it as one; neither of them are fighting people, really. He never gets worked up enough to do more than snap at someone, and Yamaguchi wilts under the pressure of confrontation… for the most part.

But that seems to be changing—a lot seems to be changing. Just when he thought he was going to be left behind for real, Yamaguchi’d turned around and shook his world down to its foundations and hauled him up onto his feet again. He’d never noticed that his friend had the power to do that.

It’s no good, he can’t think of anything but what Yamaguchi said to him; he can’t sleep. He still keeps his eyes shut, hoping that it’ll come.

The fan turns itself off. Tanaka starts snoring, and beside him, Yamaguchi rolls over in his futon. Kei can hear him breathing—the way he sighs lets Kei know Yamaguchi can’t sleep either. He has half a mind to roll over so they can talk like they were kids at a sleep over again, but something keeps him in place. He opens his eyes a bit in the dark. He can’t make out much, but he can hear Yamaguchi start to sit up. There’s another sigh.

“I like you a lot, Tsukki, so I want you to do well, so everyone can see everything that’s good about you,” Yamaguchi mumbles to the quiet room, voice barely a whisper. “I really like you. I don’t want anyone to say anything bad about you. I don’t know if you understand that.”

Kei watches as Yamaguchi’s silhouette rises to its feet; he closes his eyes and listens as his friend pads out of the dorm.

He feels his face heat up and he rolls over to push it into his pillows. And how is he supposed to sleep now? He grabs his glasses and quietly rises to his feet, and follows after Yamaguchi.


Things you said after you kissed me:

Kei pulls away, cheeks pink and eyes a bit wide. He makes a face.

Tadashi clamps his hands over his mouth, tongue feeling over the inside of his mouth; he flushes even harder and whines high in the back of his throat as Kei’s face contorts from mildly surprised to consternation.

“Ugh, god, Yamaguchi,” he snaps, leaning forward to spit into his hand. “Warn me when you chew gum.”

“You didn’t warn me you were gonna kiss me like that!” Tadashi wails, covering his face with his hands.  He decides he can die, right now. This is worse than when he started nervously giggling the first time they’d (tried) to do more than just kiss. He’s just going to die. Right here. Right now. On the floor. He yanks the collar of his shirt over his head like he’s pretending to be a turtle.

Kei starts snickering, but once he starts, he can’t stop, and soon he’s laughing so hard he thinks he’s going to cry. Tadashi pulls his shirt over his head a bit more, but allows himself a small peek at Kei’s face. He’s glad Kei’s enjoying himself, at least, but he thinks he’ll switch to mints.


 Things you said when we were the happiest we ever were:

After everyone’s calmed down and settled themselves to a steady fizz of heated discussions about tactics, practices, and talk of proving themselves, Kei finally speaks. He’s been by his side since the game’s ended, face impassive as their teammates bubble over and do second rounds of back-thumping and hair ruffling congratulations and praise.

Truthfully, Tadashi’s already gotten all the affirmation he needed from his friend on the court—in word and in action. He’s happy; it’s a quieter sort of happy than the rest of his teammate’s. It settles into his bones like sunshine on a cold day—he’s useful, he’s worth something. He still wants more, because that’s the sort of person he is, but he helped them win. He proved to everyone, to himself, that he can stand on his own and fight.

He doesn’t need much more than that. Doesn’t expect it, really. So he’s surprised when, in the quiet calm around them, Kei reaches out and gently taps at the inside of his wrist. It’s something he hasn’t done since they were in elementary school. He looks over at his friend, who clasps his hands together and stares off at where the rest of their team is starting to gather for the post-game meeting.

“You did well,” he says quietly, almost too soft to hear over the noise of the other teams milling about. He fiddles with his thumbs, cheeks turning pink. “You were right, after all. So. Keep… keep working hard, Tadashi.”

Any reply Tadashi could have formed—not that he could—was cut off by Takeda and Ukai beckoning them over for the meeting. 


 Things you said too quietly:

“I didn’t mean it,” he whispers to his shoes as his friend sniffles and scrubs at his face.

He knows all Tadashi heard were the things he said in anger and grief. His apology is too quiet, and his actions were too loud. The things he’d said when his wounded pride had been prodded at, even in attempts to bandage it, were too sharp, too close to home for Tadashi to hear anything but those words.

Tadashi doesn’t cry, but he doesn’t hear Kei apologizing either, and they part ways in silence. Kei to go home to avoid his brother’s return, and Tadashi to ache over the hateful things Kei had just said to him. Kei thinks that maybe, tomorrow, he’ll be able to say it louder. He can’t. It comes out a tentative, quiet, “Hey, you… I didn’t—“ that Tadashi doesn’t hear or acknowledge.

Tadashi walks a few steps behind him now, isn’t as loud when they’re alone, and he takes to apologizing constantly. He doesn’t leave, but Kei’s not really sure what’s worse—the self conscious head-ducking and sheepishness and knowing that Tadashi’s hurting, or being alone.

He needs to say it louder, ‘I’m sorry’; he needs to say it to them both, Tadashi and Akiteru,but he’s scared now, and too young to know about the bravery it takes to step up after something like this.

He won’t learn that for another four years, but by that point, Tadashi’s already figured out what Kei’d never managed to say loud enough for him to hear.


 Things you said with no space between us:

Their knees are touching, foreheads pressed together. There’s barely an inch of floor between them, and they don’t really care that they’ll be found the next morning like this, futons pooling together in their corner of the dormitory.

Tadashi gives a sleepy huff of laughter, voice barely a breath; Kei still feels it stir his bangs and he squeezes the other boy’s calloused fingers underneath the sheets. He’s still laughing about something stupid and small and otherwise inconsequential that their teammates have done, but he’s so earnestly giggling about it that Kei smiles too and laughs just as quietly.

Tadashi wiggles his fingers around Kei’s and scoots a bit closer, wedging one knee between Kei’s underneath the sheets. They’re both sore and exhausted and giddy after finally nailing down the perfect serve and block attack; they’ve been working on it since they became second years, and now, going into their third, Kei barely even has to use their signals anymore; he can tell by the way Tadashi flicks his eyes over the court now, by the way he starts aiming his serves. Even Kageyama and Hinata were a bit creeped out about how effortlessly they were able to pull it off in their practice game today.

Tadashi fits their mouths together and they kiss softly, quietly. They read each other’s faces in the dim moonlight that filters through old windows as Tadashi knocks his forehead gently against Kei’s.

“Hi,” Kei murmurs, feeling soft and pliant and warm with sleep and Tadashi’s infectious affection.

Tadashi laughs again, more action and breath than actual noise. “Hi,” he whispers back.

“We’re good,” Kei says, meaning everything and nothing at the same time.

“We’re real good,” Tadashi agrees, nestling in for sleep.

Chapter Text

The TV remote is digging into the small of his back and Kei’s elbow digs into his ribs briefly as he shifts. Tadashi blinks sleepily, turning his eyes from the TV’s aggressive infomercial break to Kei.

The blond yawns and nestles down a bit deeper into the couch cushions, chin tucked against Tadashi’s shoulder. They’re half-laying, half-sitting in a pile of blankets on the couch. The apartment is dark around them and the winter air bites at their cheeks and fingers where the blankets can’t reach them; they hadn’t moved since their late lunch, early dinner, technically breakfast, hours ago. They’d forgotten to turn the heat on, and they haven’t changed the channel in hours, vegging out after their first experience with university-level finals week.

Tadashi counts Kei’s lashes in the TV’s flickering half-light as Kei focuses sleepily on whatever magical kitchen device the commercial is trying to sell them. Tadashi untucks his feet from under his thighs, toes tingling as he moves them for the first time in hours, and tugs Kei down so they’re spooning under the covers. “Change the channel,” Tadashi yawns as he wiggles back a bit.

“ ‘M watching this,” Kei mumbles against Tadashi’s ear, sliding a hand up the brunet’s shirt. He hooks one leg over Tadashi’s hip, pulling him tight against him.

“The commercial?”

“No,” Kei retorts, shifting again. “The show.”

Tadashi yawns again, eyes burning and fluttering with sleep. “I don’t think the show’s been on for a while, Tsukki,” he murmurs. Kei’s knees press up against the back of his legs, knobby and hard. There’s not enough room for them to stretch out on their little two-seater second-hand sofa. They’re too tall to, not that it stops them any. “It’s just a commercial for vacuums, I think.”

 “Mn, no, look, it’s starting up again,” Kei murmurs lazily. Tadashi squints, then sighs.

“We’ve seen this episode,” Tadashi sighs, “They proved that even though it can explode, it can’t  without several pounds of gunpowder.”

Kei shushes him and pinches his stomach. “It’s still fun to watch.”

Tadashi just rolls his eyes. He’s too comfortable with Kei firm against his back, to really move, to leave the sleepy nest of limbs and blankets to wander into bed.

They don’t fall asleep until regular programming comes back on; they don’t move to the bedroom until Tadashi rolls off the sofa in his sleep and falls into an unceremonious heap, taking most of the blankets with him. 

Chapter Text

“Honey, really?” his mother sighs, shaking her head at her son’s rumpled appearance.

Tadashi rubs at his nose self-consciously, feeling the sting of rubbing dirt into the cut on his face. “Sorry,” he mumbles, feeling himself flush. “I didn’t really, I mean, it wasn’t a… I mean, yes, it was a fight,” he stammers as his mother glares at him, “But it’s not bad! I’m not suspended, it happened off the school grounds this time!”

His mother rolls her eyes and whaps him with the spatula she was using to fold chocolate chips into cone dough. Flour rises into the air off of his uniform, a nice white imprint joining the dirt and leaves stuck to the black jacket. “Tadashi!”

“It’s not my fault,” he wheedles. It’s not, not really. It’s not his fault that he was tall and a bit shaggy looking and broad shouldered. It’s definitely not his fault that he was bullied mercilessly until his parents finally sent him to self-defense classes until he could fight back, and that when they moved to take over his grandfather’s tiny little ice-cream shop after he’d overworked himself last spring, he’d judo flipped the first bully who thought it’d be funny to pull on the shy kid’s ponytail (what was this, elementary school?), and ever since, he’s been approached by group after group of actual delinquents.

It’s really not his fault that he got suspended the first week of his third year in high school because he’d tried to back away from a kid who was trying to pick a fight with him, straight into the school’s vice-principal, knocking him over and nearly down the stairs. Or that he’s prone to looking a bit blank in the face when he’s concentrating, and that the teachers mistake it for belligerent daydreaming. It really doesn’t help that he has this nervous giggle and a sarcastic streak he tries so hard to bite back.

“And besides,” he adds, “Some other student came and broke up the fight.” He shrugs. “It was kind of cool. He didn’t even have to hit them. Lucky.”

“Tadashi, I don’t want to hear it,” his mother sighs. She shakes the spatula at him threateningly and he raises his hands in apology as he laughs. She points it to the door that leads to the flat above the small ice-cream parlor. “Go and change, wash up, too. Poor Yachi-chan has a cold and can’t come in, and everyone else is studying for exams, I need you to help out during the rush today,” she tells him, watching as her son’s face colors and contorts in a carefully controlled panic.

It’s not that Tadashi doesn’t like helping out at the little shop—he gets to eat as much ice-cream as he wants as long as he helps and he doesn’t mind weighing out people’s chosen toppings and scooping ice cream out for them. He likes helping clean up, even. It’s fun work, overall. But he tries not to be around when the after-school crowds of students come running through. 

One, he’s got a reputation as a hooligan, he doesn’t much want people to start avoiding the shop because he’s manning it; two, he’s not really all that good with people his age. He does okay with Yachi, the girl who works the evening shift when it gets really busy because she’s twitchy about everything, not just him. And the boy who works the weekend shifts when Tadashi helps out, Kageyama, is scary and stoic and kind of an awkward dork to everyone.

He likes working the mornings when they’re prepping everything for the day, weekends and slow Mondays, when the only people who come in are parents and small children and all the older members of the neighborhood.  He only has problems with people his own age, who misconstrue his awkwardness and height and perpetually rumpled appearance as something else: Children are enchanted by the boy who gives them spoonfuls of samples and sneaks extra toppings onto their bowls and asks the what their favorite spoon color was, and parents are grateful that he distracts them from any meltdowns over portion control. The old aunts and uncles and grandparents are enamored with his politeness and attention to the stories they tell him as he passes them their ice cream carefully.

When students come in on the days he’s working, he stammers through taking their orders, or passes it off to Kageyama who scowls the entire time.

He’s not looking forward to covering during the student rush hour, but that’s what comes with the territory, he thinks, trotting upstairs to their little flat. He brushes the leaves out of his hair and changes into jeans and a sweater, because it gets cold down in the shop. His father and grandfather are bickering over potential new flavors and new providers, accounts spread out on the kitchen table as Tadashi grabs a quick snack.

“I say we ride the birthday cake flavor’s popularity,” his grandfather says stubbornly.

“Dad, that won’t work,” Tadashi’s father sighs, “We already provide sponge cake and other toppings, for virtually any cake flavor, what’s stopping someone from just ordering vanilla and getting the toppings separately? We’d waste money.”

Tadashi listens as he gulps down his yogurt, sucking the spoon thoughtfully. “Dunno, you could try it, some people would like the convenience of just having a flavor already,” he says around the spoon, grabbing a granola bar to chase the yogurt with.

His father makes a face as Tadashi’s grandfather laughs. Tadashi shrugs, redoes his ponytail, and trots downstairs, chewing on his granola bar.

The full force of students has hit the shop in the ten minutes it took him to change and eat; Tadashi kind of wishes the clubs would stagger their release time, but he sighs and grabs his apron and pastes a smile on his face and suffers through the rush. Only a few students give him odd, reproachful looks.

The rush quiets down. Tadashi thinks it might not be so bad. He smiles reflexively as the bell chimes, turning towards the door, “Welcome, how may I hel…oh.”

The greeting dies in his throat, face faltering as he registers the tall blond boy who’s pushed his way into the shop—he’s from his school. Actually, as Tadashi looks at him, he realizes it’s the teen who broke up the fight he was in that afternoon. The blond tips his head in recognition, a smirk playing across his lips.

Tadashi looks around for his mother, ready to tap out right then, but she’s nowhere to be found. He has to serve the boy. He feels himself flush; he scrubs his hands onto his pants nervously. “How can I help you?” he asks.

“The usual,” the blond says lazily, eyeing him with the same knowing smirk, “Where’s Yacchan?”

“Ah, she’s sick. Do you visit often?”

The boy nods.

“Thanks for your patronage, but, I’m afraid I don’t know your regular order,” he stammers.

“No, you’re not normally here during the week,” the other boy says. “You’re a weekend worker. Too busy fighting to charm little kid out of temper tantrums during the week?”

Tadashi blushes and he ducks his head a bit. “T…thank you for ea…earlier, but, c-can I take your order?”

“A bowl of French Vanilla with strawberries, cake squares, whipped cream, and the strawberry syrup,” the other boy orders.

Tadashi nods and starts dutifully scraping out the order into the bowl. “Say, um,” he murmurs as he sprinkles a scoop of strawberry slices over the heaping piles of ice cream;  “As a customer survey, of sorts… would you mind me asking something?”

The boy shrugs and pushes money over the counter, exact change, down to the last cent; Tadashi’s surprised he’s never noticed a customer who’s so regular that they know the exact price of their order. Tadashi hands him his plastic bowl of ice-cream.

“Blue spoon,” the boy supplies.

Tadashi laughs softly, and hands an electric blue spoon over. “But, really, can I ask you something?”

“You technically just did.”

“Ah, well, something else, then?”

“Again, you just did.”

Tadashi makes a strangled noise of protest and reaches up to tug at his own ponytail nervously. “Look, that’s not what I meant,” he says as the blond just smirks smugly at him. He’s about to lay into the other boy when his mother reappears.

“Tadashi, is that a friend of yours? Don’t just loiter around the counter, go, sit and take a break,” she says, making shooing motions. “Go, go, I’ll take over.”

“You heard her,” the blond smirks. Tadashi feels very irate for a moment, scoops himself a serving of mint before stomping off to go sit in the corner table with the blond.

He sits across from the other boy awkwardly, nibbling at his own ice cream as he watches the blond’s hands idly.

The other boy pauses from tucking into his ice cream.

“What were you going to ask me, weekender? Or, rather, Yamaguchi?” he leers, “The owner’s son should be a bit more indulging of their customers. Or are you only nice to kids and grandmas?”  

Tadashi opens his mouth to protest, or to just blurt out the question he was going to ask about the stupid cake flavored ice cream. Instead he sighs. “Why’d you break up that fight for me?”

The boy shrugs. “You looked like you didn’t want to fight back.”

Tadashi contemplates the statement, and takes another bite of his own ice cream. The other boy sucks at a strawberry. “I didn’t,” he says finally, “Thank you. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Tsukishima Kei,” the blond answers. “I come every day.”

Tadashi nods and taps his foot thoughtfully. “Would you eat pre-flavored cake ice-cream?”

“…Not really,” Tsukishima answers after a moment. “I mean, I might get some just to come see you, but, it’s better like this, don’t you think?”

Tadashi’s not really sure if Tsukishima meant the ice cream or their current situation; he doesn’t ask. Instead, he just blushes his way through the rest of the evening. And the next evening, when Tsukishima comes again.

He blushes through the next few weeks of evening ice-cream breaks spent with Tsukishima, and right through Tsukishima asking him out for a café date rather than an ice cream one.

Chapter Text

“It wasn’t actually me,” Tadashi squeaks at the blond boy leering down at him.

“You were still there,” the boy laughs.

Tadashi groans and presses his palms back into the brick wall. The boy standing very much in his space is none other than one Tsukishima Kei, classmate and douchebag extraordinaire. He’s the kind of person Tadashi’s terrified of, even more so than the boys who had forced him into carrying all their stuff as they tagged the principal’s car the night before.

Because, see, not only is Tsukishima tall, terrifying, and sadistic, he’s also incredibly handsome, and he is devious. Tadashi’s seen him wreck people without even looking at them. All he does is open his mouth, and what follows is instant wreckage. He knows, somehow, just what to say to make people come undone without even trying. Tadashi’s more terrified of that than he is of the boys that push him around and steal his things and force him to do things he doesn’t want to do.

See, Tadashi’s harbored a rather helpless crush on his blond classmate. First, it was just a vague admiration—Tsukishima was quick and clever and confident; all the things Tadashi is not. He’d paid the other boy attention out of the corner of his eyes, to see if he could pick up how Tsukishima could so effortlessly be all these things. They’d never really interacted other than being classmates, and once, they were on monitor duty together.

But then Tsukishima had gone and stepped in one day during one of Tadashi’s daily sessions of torment and humiliation. The boys who picked on him had cornered him and were trying to force him into licking their shoes clean and… probably other things, had no one interceded. Tadashi doesn’t much want to think about it; all he knows is that one minute his face was being ground into the dirt, and the next, he was being hauled to his feet by his blond classmate, who looked at him like he was something foul before muttering under his breath and stomping off. He’s pretty sure the word was ‘pathetic’, but Tadashi marks that as the moment he fell absolutely and hopelessly in love with Tsukishima.

“You know people think you’re a troublemaker,” Tsukishima sneers, snickering into his hand. “They’d think you did it.”

“But it wasn’t me,” Tadashi protests.

“I’ve seen you flinch at your own shadow,” Tsukishima muses, like he hasn’t heard Tadashi at all. “It’s so surprising to think you’d help tag a car.”

Tadashi keeps his shoulders pressed into the bricks. A lot of what the boys who pick on him do is pinned on him. They even convinced the teachers one year that he was bullying other students. Everyone was too afraid to do anything—he thinks, actually, that’s probably why he fell in love with Tsukishima. He’d been the first and only person to intercede.

So much for that. He swallows hard, “Don’t tell,” he croaks. He thinks about the half-empty bottles of spray paint he’s yet to dispose of, of the paint flecking the bottom of his converse and the clothes they’d sprayed to ‘test’ the cans that he’s hiding from his mother. The things that make it look like it was him and him alone. “Please don’t tell,” he begs.  

He thinks about how many times he’s been suspended, of how angry his mother is, of what would happen if he were caught. No one would believe him, the quiet scruffy kid in the bottom of the class who was always bruised and cut up and dirty from all the ‘fights’ he was in (more like was on the receiving end of), who’s been suspended at least three times since the school year started. He’s given up even trying to protest—after all these years, he knows that just because he’s in high school now, it doesn’t mean the teacher’s attitudes won’t change.

They would believe Tsukishima, who, despite his talents at fucking people over with a glance, is an A-student and is nothing but polite to the teachers unless he has a reason to be angry (he doesn’t often).

Tsukishima leans back onto his heels, chin tipped up thoughtfully as he regards Tadashi. Something scary and lazy flickers behind his gaze, and Tadashi’s reminded of predatory animals. He hangs his head.

“I won’t tell,” Tsukishima says slowly. He grins when Tadashi perks up, “But… in return, you have to treat me to dinner.”

Tadashi slumps back down on the wall, his peeking hope crashing down into his stomach. He feels physically ill. He hunches his shoulder forward and hangs his head as he looks at his uniform shoes, “I… um, don’t… I don’t have any money,” he mumbles.

Even though his family isn’t exactly poor, his mother stopped giving him anything resembling allowance years ago. She’d put it into savings instead, and forwarded the school his lunch money, accepting that no matter how much she told her son to do something, or how much money she spent on self-defense lessons, her son would never fight back or be able to do it in any way that meant  the bullies would stop. She’d told him, probably at too young an age, that they couldn’t afford to have his money or lunch taken from him every day.

“I don’t want your money,” Tsukishima scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I want food.”

“…but, no, I don’t have any money,” Tadashi whispers, feeling his face color and tears start to prickle at his eyes. He can’t believe he has to admit this—Tsukishima is probably the only student who wasn’t aware that Tadashi stopped carrying money a long time ago. He can’t even take the bus or the train; all he carries on him is his school things, his student ID, his house keys, and a very old, beat-up brick of a cell phone that he can’t upgrade or exchange for a new one like he wants, because he can’t carry anything nice with him at all. All of his textbooks are tattered and dirty and he’s never turned in an assignment that wasn’t ripped.

Tsukishima is also the only student who could do something more terrible than mock him with that information. But he continues, hands shaking as he wrings them together. “At all. I… never have any.”

“Because it’ll get taken from you?”

There’s something odd in the way Tsukishima forms the question but Tadashi can’t parse it. Instead he nods and scrubs at his eyes roughly; he starts resigning himself to being expelled and sent to the police. He’s sixteen, so if the school doesn’t report him, he can get a job, at least, he thinks. That’s if his mother doesn’t kill him.

He’s surprised she’s not kicked him out, really. He’s useless.

“Pathetic,” Tsukishima murmurs. “… Can you cook?”                                  

“Kind of,” Tadashi replies. “But I don’t understand; why do you want to know?”

“If you cook, it’s still treating me to dinner. So that’s settled, I’ll go home with you this evening. That is,” the blond drawls, lips curling upwards. “Unless youwant the principal to know who spray painted the horrendously anatomicallyincorrect penis on his car?”

“It wasn’t me!” Tadashi shouts, sinking down into a crouch, tucking his head between his knees. “It wasn’t me,” he half-sobs, “Jesus, why won’t anyone believe me?”

He can hear Tsukishima shift and scuff his foot on the concrete. “I know it wasn’t you,” he says finally, voice tight with awkwardness.

“Then why are you doing this to me?”

There’s a long silence. “Because I want to,” comes the answer.

“Gee, thanks,” Tadashi snaps bitterly, tears starting to flow hot down his face. He doesn’t move even when the bell rings and Tsukishima walks off. He huddles against the wall and sobs; he doesn’t even pretend to think that someone in class will miss him.  

No one bothers to talk to him; he carries the stigma of being eternally in trouble and an instant target. If someone were to be observant enough to notice that he wasn’t who was causing the trouble, they weren’t brave enough to stand up for him for fear of being the new victim. He’d had a vague, but terrified, half hope that Tsukishima had taken him aside to just… talk to him.

He realizes that he’d been a bit too hasty in his assumptions, considering what he knew about Tsukishima. But after being saved for the first time in his entire life, he’d wondered.

He pulls himself to his feet and drags himself home, where no one will question him or bother him. His mother works late, and he’s in the habit of taking his things with him where-ever he goes. He keeps his shoes in his book-bag, and once he’s off school grounds, he kneels on the sidewalk and changes from his indoor slippers to his old, dirty converse with the mismatched laces and the hole in the bottom left sole.

They’re tight, but they’re good shoes; he’s run a lot in them and they’ve never slipped when he has to jump fences or climb back walls in efforts to get away from people. He thinks he’s pretty lucky he won’t have to do any of that today.

He makes his way to their tiny apartment and starts drafting out how he’s going to tell his mother what happened. He chews on his lip as he unlocks the door and closes it behind him. He locks it and leans up against it, sliding down the cold wood in the dark entry way.

He knows his mother loves him, god knew she was the only person who did, but he thinks this will be the last straw. He rubs his hands against his face and wishes he was a different person for a while, or was the sort of person who was brave enough to do something about the situation, like going to the principal of his own accord.

He makes himself stand and move into his room. He changes and flops into his bed, burying himself down into the covers, letting the darkness and their weight press heavily down on him, and lets himself just zone out.

He thinks he must of dozed off, because he suddenly becomes conscious of feeling like he’s suffocating under the hot weight of his bedsheets; he sticks his head out of the pile and is surprised to hear the doorbell ringing. He slides out of the bed, and pads to the front door. He peers through the peep hole and is surprised to see Tsukishima scowling at his door.

He opens it without really thinking about any consequences of his actions. “What are you doing here?”

“Bringing you your worksheets since you skipped the rest of the day,” the blond snaps, sliding past Tadashi. “How else was I supposed to get dinner? And no one else volunteered to take your work.”

“…no one ever does,” Tadashi says quietly. “Or rather, no one ever brings it.”

Tsukishima pauses in the middle of sliding his shoes off; he looks over his shoulder, index finger still hooked into the back of his shoe. “You’re not serious.”

Tadashi shrugs and closes the door.

“You never told anyone?”

“I used to,” Tadashi answers. He watches as Tsukishima resumes taking his shoes off. It’s surreal; he’s never seen anyone other than people he’s related to and the child services worker assigned to him in their apartment.

“Used to,” Tsukishima repeats tonelessly. “Does that mean you gave up?”

Tadashi feels his face heat up, “Look, you can just… give me my stuff and leave, okay? I don’t know where anyone gets off on making my life shit, but go get your sick fun out of ratting me out to the principal, and just stop… drawing it out, okay? Go pick on someone else.”

He’s not sure where the sudden bravery is coming from, but it leaves him feeling shaky and nauseous as he watches Tsukishima’s jaw tighten and his face contort in something that looks like disgust. They stare at each other for a long moment, with Tadashi panting and feeling generally uncomfortable and Tsukishima looking like he’d just smelled something terrible. Finally, the blond’s face smoothes out.

“What’s for dinner?”

Tadashi could bang his head up against the ground, he’s so frustrated. Instead, he pushes past Tsukishima and goes to the kitchen. He hadn’t planned on eating or for Tsukishima to really be here. He hopes there’s something in the fridge.

“Look, it won’t be fancy,” Tadashi says finally, once he becomes aware of Tsukishima hovering behind him. “We have leftover fried pork. I’ll make curry out of it.”

“Sounds fine to me.”

Tsukishima settles at the kitchen table and starts pulling out homework. Tadashi can’t help but be envious of his pristine textbooks and binders. He tears his eyes away and starts chopping carrots. He moves on to peeling and dicing potatoes before he dares to peek again.

He’s a little in awe over having nice, clean paper to complete his worksheets on, because Tsukishima’s piled the worksheets he’s brought for Tadashi into little stacks with his own notebook paper. He’s even laying out a pen and a highlighter for him.

“Why are you doing that?” Tadashi says suddenly, as he realizes one of the things Tsukishima has put out for him is a copy of the day’s notes. They look like actual, legitimate classnotes, and not some gag version of them.

He must have startled Tsukishima, because the blond boy flinches visibly and colors. Tadashi fights the urge to apologize—it’s so rare for him to have any sort of upper hand. He just holds the kitchen knife and the potato in his hands loosely and waits for an answer.

“I like neat things,” Tsukishima answers finally.

“Not the arranging,” Tadashi sighs, returning to his food prep. He gets to the point that all that’s left is to start the rice and let the curry simmer before Tsukishima finally speaks up.

“You were nice to me when no one else was,” the other boy sighs. Tadashi turns around and blinks at Tsukishima. He feels like it’s something he should be saying to his classmate. But then again, that classmate was blackmailing him for curry, so he thinks maybe Tsukishima has some wires crossed. “When we were on monitor duty together,” he clarifies.

“Oh, that. I wasn’t technically on duty,” Tadashi mumbles, returning to pouring rice into the cooker.

“You got asked to fill in,” Tsukishima agrees. He pauses, “But, then… you weren’t, were you?”

“No,” Tadashi says, appreciating Tsukishima’s careful tone. He pours water in, then rinses his hands off. He settles at the table and slides a finger against the carefully arranged pens. He hasn’t seen nice school supplies since he was a first year in junior high. He doesn’t want to ruin them. “I wasn’t.”

“I didn’t notice. You didn’t say anything.”

“It doesn’t matter much.”

“You know, that’s why they do it,” Tsukishima points out angrily. “Because you’re weak and pathetic and you’ve got this attitude that you’re always going to be some poor wounded animal—no one’s going to bother helping you with that, my brother was the same damn way—”

Tadashi shoves the nice pile of paper and pens unceremoniously at Tsukishima, “Shut up, just shut up and take your pity somewhere else,” he snaps. “Don’t you think I know that, that I can’t do shit on my own? I’m always trying, somehow—the fact that I’m still here, fucking talking, walking, alive, means I’ve been trying, okay? I don’t care what the fuck you want out of this,” he continues, shaking in his seat. He’s a bit sad to give up the chance to do homework like a normal kid, to have good notes to consult when he doesn’t understand something, and it’s so ridiculous that he feels that way, that he’s mourning clean paper and  a chance to talk to someone normally.

He liked company, he liked it a lot, and he was kind of glad that Tsukishima was going to eat with him; he gets lonely a lot, the way his life is. His mother can never be home for dinner, so eating with someone, doing homework with someone… It’s a big thing for him to give up. But he’s also had enough.

He waits the five minutes it takes for the rice cooker to finish before standing and sloppily serving curry for the both of them. He eats in angry silence, and so does Tsukishima, who keeps looking at him over his glasses warily. They don’t talk again until Kei’s at the door to leave; he’s left the homework pile of paper and pens for Tadashi.

“…Look, Yamaguchi,” he says hesitantly, “… Earlier, I… Look, was it true that no one ever did anything when you told them?”

Tadashi scowls and chews on the inside of his lip. Tsukishima waits. “No,” he says finally, “Nothing ever happened when I said anything. I just… I guess I decided I would handle it on my own after that, but, it’s obvious it never worked.”

“Dinner was good,” Tsukishima says suddenly.

“Good, so you won’t tell, now, right?” Tadashi said, feeling torn. It sounds like Tsukishima meant the compliment, and he wants to feel pleased at the simple praise. He knows Tsukishima doesn’t praise people, and god knows he’s not been complimented—even by his mother—for ages. But, he knows that Tsukishima only got the meal because he was blackmailing Tadashi into it.

“No, I won’t tell the principal that it was you who tagged his car,” Tsukishima answers, before turning and walking out.

Tadashi’s left to puzzle out why the statement sounded so cryptic and ominous; he finds out the next morning, when he’s summoned to the office the very second he steps foot into his classroom. The principal sits in his office, cheeks red with anger. Tsukishima sits to the side, hands clasped in his lap and their homeroom teacher is beside him, looking anxious.

Tadashi feels his stomach drop; his face goes hot and he thinks he might vomit. “You said you wouldn’t tell,” are the first words out of his mouth, even though he knows they’re the most incriminating. He starts crying, and it’s so embarrassing because he’d gotten fucked over again. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised or even feeling a bit betrayed—he trusted someone who’d blackmailed him. It’s his fault, he knows, but it still hurts. “You said you wouldn’t tell,” he repeats, eyes trained on Tsukishima, who takes one look at him and colors.

“Tsukishima was in the right to tell us,” the principal says sternly. “What he’s told us goes beyond petty childishness.”

“Look, sir, I just… I can explain what happened, and I just… I should have said something.”

“You should have,” the principal agrees. “I don’t know what happened at your previous junior high, but we take bullying seriously here. Now, why don’t you two step outside while I have a word with your teacher?”

Tsukishima stands and moves to the door, gently patting Tadashi’s shoulder as he passes. Tadashi turns and follows him, dumbstruck. As soon as the door closes behind them, he speaks.

“Why did you—you—you told them that… you told the truth?”

“I never said I was going to tell them it was you,” Tsukishima mutters petulantly.

Why?”

“I told you,” Tsukishima replies, plopping down into a chair and crossing his arms tightly. “You treated me like I was a person. Not some douchebag ice prince.”

“You are a douchebag ice prince, though,” Tadashi says before he can really filter himself.

They look at each other for a long moment, then they both start to snicker, tension breaking between them. Tadashi flops down next to Tsukishima, still laughing.

“Hey, make me dinner again,” Tsukishima says after they calm themselves. “We can do homework, for real this time.”

“No blackmail?”

“I’m sure I can figure out how to make it blackmail, if that’s what you’re into.”

“No, no thank you.”

Chapter Text

Tadashi’s puppy-dog crush on their new manager is… cute, he supposes, but it’s also very irritating. He could probably fill an encyclopedia with all the reasons as to why it’s so irritating, if he was asked. No one ever asks him. So he has to face the fact that the sole reason why it’s pissing him off is because Tadashi is simultaneously so very sharp and oh so lamentably dense.

This, of course, is partially his fault. He’s known all along that when it comes to something that would involve something similar to self-esteem, Tadashi won’t pick up on it, like, oh, say… flirting. Being receptive to flirting means that the person has to believe that they’re attractive enough, have good enough of a personality, that other people are going to like them enough to flirt. Tadashi obviously doesn’t: Kei’s been dropping hints for ages, saying little things that give it away, buying him fries when they go to the McDonald’s and letting him fuss with his phone and his things and his life, letting him copy his homework when he’s forgotten it or doesn’t understand it.

Things that any normal person would pick up on, but Tadashi has this… thisblock where he doesn’t think that anyone could ever be remotely interested in him—at all, in any capacity: Kei wants to slam his face into the nearest tree when Tadashi frets about whether or not he’s actually friends with their teammates—so his solid year and a half’s worth of flirting has been obviously lost on the brunet.

Who has a butterfly-spawning, hands shaking, loud-voiced and sweaty-palm-inducing crush on their new manager.

Who just repeated back something Kei told him to said manager.

It’s cute, almost. It’s sweet to watch Tadashi, who, for the longest time could barely look into a mirror without crying, stumble over trying to cheer up Yachi, and succeed. It’s sweet because Tadashi isn’t saying those things to make Yachi like him, but because he honestly believes it.

It’s irritating because he believes it in regards to everyone but himself, Kei thinks. It’s irritating because Kei remembers how it felt to tell Tadashi that, how his mouth had gone dry and his heart had leapt up into his throat and his hands and stomach quivered as he stammered it out. How he hadn’t had any ulterior motives other than cheering up Tadashi, who had so many good points to him that he couldn’t see, that other people couldn’t see, because he’d let Kei eclipse him.

He’d said it on one of Tadashi’s bad days in junior high, where he was still horribly self-conscious about his messy hair and freckles and the way that puberty had hit him hard and stretched him up until he was all long, awkward limbs he was still unused to and slouching shoulders and cracking voice and acne flares next to Kei who’s been tall his entire life and carries himself with authority and never speaks long or loud enough for his voice to modulate while they’re at school, and has girls swooning over him in the background. They were in Kei’s room, idly playing hangman instead of doing homework, and he’d said something horribly self-depreciating—Kei can’t even remember what it was at this point, but he remembers the indignation he’d felt.

Tadashi had so much that Kei wanted; sincerity, kindness, graciousness. Kei could admit that maybe, just maybe, Tadashi was plain at first glance—maybe even a little gloomy-looking. But his crooked, full-faced, eye-scrunching grin could light up an entire room with its enthusiasm, and his round, freckle-filled cheeks were nothing short of endearing. And there was no sight better than watching the way sunlight filtered through his dark hair, turning strands gold in its light, or how the way his lashes cast subtle shadows over his eyes that flickered with a dark, honey-colored brown under certain lights. Or the way his anxious hands curved into his wrists.

He thinks about this, and looks at Tadashi’s drawn brows and downturned lips and his stomach flips. It hurts to see him think he’s unattractive, to hear him think he’s lacking.  He’d put all of himself behind it. “It takes all kinds of people to make the world,” he’d said after a long moment, “T…there are different kinds of beauty so—so don’t be quick to put yourself down. S-someone’s s…sure to… to find you attractive.”

Tadashi had looked at him through his lashes and blushed, lips curling up into a shy smile. “Thanks,” he murmured. “And by the way, I won. The word was ‘perspicacious’.”

And that was how Kei’s first and only confession had fallen so, so flat. At the time, he thought it was okay; it was still just them. In high school, he’d told himself, he’d try again.

It irritates him. He’d gotten spoiled, he thinks, by Tadashi’s wide-eyed innocent adoration and undivided attention. He thought it would last forever, and he’d treated it as if it would. It’s to be expected, he thinks, that once his friend’s horizons expanded, that he would find people who saw his good points and found people he liked.

It burns behind his chest, deep in the pit of his stomach and in the back of his throat to watch Tadashi’s pink faced determination. It slips out in a moment of petty bitterness, “…I’ve said something like that before.”

No one seems to catch what he’s just said, especially not Tadashi, who’s still enraptured with Yachi’s sudden bout of enthusiasm. He pretends like his previous slip-up didn’t happen, and continues through the rest of their after-practice meeting like nothing’s bothering him, even though the burning behind his sternum keeps smoldering and growing until the back of his neck is hot and prickling and he hates it. He hates to think about how their teammates are making jokes about how unexpectedly smooth Tadashi can be, watching Tadashi turn red and rub at his hair and look away.

He wonders that if he’d gotten off his ass earlier, had sucked it up and tried harder than his half-assed flirting and made it plain back when they were in junior high and he was still fumbling over his ungodly awkward crush on his best and only friend, back when Tadashi’s adoration and compliments and determination were solely for him, if Tadashi would have liked him. What would have happened if he’d clarified that afternoon when they were sitting and playing hangman. If they would have been together by now. 

Or if he would have had Tadashi for a while, only to lose him—if Tadashi would have still developed his crush on Yachi and her earnest anxiousness. They’re so alike, Tadashi and Yachi, he thinks; it makes him sick to his stomach to think about. He twists his fingers together as he and Tadashi walk home, side-by-side, as Tadashi chatters on and on and on.

“I mean, she’s so cute,” he laments. “Don’t you think, Tsukki?”

“Hah?” The question pulls him out of his thoughts so hard that it nearly gives him mental whiplash. He stops.

Tadashi rolls his eyes and starts talking like Kei’s a toddler. “Yacchan, don’t you think she’s cute too, Tsukki? Everyone does.”

Kei feels his face go hot. Dense. Tadashi was dense; that was the only explanation, because there’s no way Tadashi could be that cruel, even though he could occasionally send out verbal punches just as strong as some of Kei’s. “No, I don’t,” he says, probably a little more emphatically than he should have.

Tadashi’s face falls and his lips scrunch up. It’s stupidly cute and Kei’s furious about it. “Kiyoko-senpai, then?” he asks, “Because you might be killed if you say that.”

“No.”

Tadashi sighs, “Tsukki, surely there’s someone you think is cute!”

Kei isn’t an impulsive person. Everything he does is very carefully calculated so he can get the results he wants. But he can’t stand it anymore, so he just says it: “Yeah, it’s you.”

Silence. All there is is silence. They look at each other. Tadashi’s mouth falls open and Kei just stares at him impassively, wishing he’d not said it so bluntly. He thinks about just screaming for a solid five minutes; instead he just continues. “So don’t worry about me making any sort of moves on Yachi-san,” he says. “I’m not interested in anyone but you.”

After all, if he’s going to royally fuck everything up, why not go all the way?

Tadashi shakes his head emphatically; “Woah, woah, Tsukki,” he squeaks, voice shaking. “Where is this even coming from? If this is a joke, it’s not funny.”

“I’ve been flirting with you for ages,” Kei snaps, feeling his face grow hot. He turns his head away as Tadashi stammers and raises his hands to his mouth in shock. “I mean, come on, I basically told you this over a year ago.”

“E-excuse me?”

“You know?” he questions, voice sharp and brittle; “That thing you said to her this evening? ‘There are many different kinds of beauty’, was it? Didn’t I tell you that before?”

“I just thought that you—you were just… just being nice,” Tadashi breathes around his fingers. “B-because I was upset.”

“Since when am I someone who just—who just says stuff like that, just because?” Kei spits out, feeling horribly angry and very embarrassed because he’d meant it,really, that he thought that Tadashi was beautiful in his own, awkward and clumsy way, and it was one of the most vulnerable moments in his entire life, and it had been brushed away and forgotten as just some platitude. “I like you, okay? Get it?”

“I—I don’t,” Tadashi murmurs, face turning red. “Tsukki, you—I, I don’t—”

Kei doesn’t want to hear the rest of that statement so he holds a hand up and talks over the other boy. “Don’t, I know you don’t like me,” he says, feeling hot and cold and he’s surprised to see his hands aren’t shaking; “I’ve been flirting and you’ve never been the least bit receptive to it, so  I know you don’t, okay? And all of us know you have a huge crush on Yachi-san, and that’s fine,” he says, breath hissing out of him. It’s not fine, it’s not, but he’s got to pretend like it is. “I just, don’t… don’t use the things I’ve said to you to flirt with her. …See you tomorrow.”

He turns on his heel and walks as briskly away as he can without running or looking harried, snapping his headphones snugly over his ears. He doesn’t look back. This can’t be like the game in elementary school, where he couldn’t draw his eyes away from his brother—he has to move away from this.

Tadashi stands on the sidewalk, watching as his friend stomps off. He pulls his shaking fingers away from his mouth and twists them together, “But that’s not what I saidI didn’t mean that…”

Chapter Text

Kei thinks he’s backed himself into a pretty tight corner here. He’s not sure how he’s going to get out of it, either—and he’s not really entirely sure he wants to get out of it, but he would like some breathing room. His heartbeat’s a wreck and his hands are shaking and he feels like he’s two seconds away from throwing up.

He’s stiff and his legs are kind of falling sleep from where Tadashi’s sitting on them. But he’s too nervous to move them from the way they’ve been sitting for the last ten minutes, with Tadashi in his lap, legs crossed against the small of his back; if he moves, he wonders if it’s express permission for this to go any farther than what it is or if he keeps still, they’ll just stick to kissing.

Kissing is nice. It’s normal, and safe and very, very nice. It makes him feel light-headed and soft and filled with cotton. He loves the way that Tadashi tips his head against his lips, the way their noses brush together, the slide of their tongues, the taste of Tadashi, and the hot wet feeling of Tadashi licking inside of his mouth.

He focuses on the way they’re kissing, the forward rock of Tadashi against him as they part and surge back together only to part again, panting hard through their noses as their tongues meet between their parted lips. How Tadashi’s fingers twist into his hair and shake as they trace the arcs of his cheeks and lift his glasses away. The press of their bodies against each other; it takes his mind off of the nerves bubbling in the pit of his stomach.

He’s fuzzy feeling, overwhelmed with just kissing Tadashi and the gentle way Tadashi’s calloused fingers ghost against his neck and smooth across his shoulders. His head is spinning and his toes are tingling as Tadashi shifts his weight on his lap. He’s braced on his knees, and Kei has to tip his head up to keep up their kiss; Tadashi cups his cheeks for a second before his hands are moving again, undoing each button of his shirt.

It’s not until his shirt is off and Tadashi’s hands are on his bare chest that he realizes what’s happening. It’s really bad, he thinks, this is really bad. He’s back where he started, shaking fingers grasping at Tadashi’s shirt. Tadashi reads the action as something different than what it is, and leans back from their kiss, mouth pink and slick. He runs his tongue over his lips and pulls his shirt off deftly, and Kei’s mouth goes dry. It’s not like seeing Tadashi shirtless is anything new, on the contrary.

But it feels new. The aura is different, even from the few times before they’d fumbled with each other when they should have been studying. He’s not sure where Tadashi’s picked up this air of confidence and experience, but it’s overwhelming. He swallows hard and reaches up, tracing shy fingers over Tadashi’s stomach and around to his sides.

Tadashi leans forward and Kei lets his hand slide up Tadashi’s back to rest between his shoulder blades, muscles working underneath his fingers as Tadashi goes back to kissing him. His hands brace against Kei’s chest, thumbs rolling soft circles against his nipples.

Kei groans into Tadashi’s mouth—he can’t help it. Even though he’s mentally a total wreck, it doesn’t stop the action from feeling good; it definitely doesn’t stop it from feeling good when Tadashi echoes the noise with his own moan and starts working his hips against Kei’s in tight circles.

He presses his fingers harder into Tadashi’s back, desperate to try to ground himself. He thinks he’s going to float away. He really doesn’t think he can do this, even though he technically is, because he can’t stop himself from grinding back up into Tadashi, their kiss going urgent and messy.

If it’s just this, he thinks he can do it. Just as he thinks it, Tadashi’s pushing him down. God, when did Tadashi get so brave? He can’t think or breathe. His hands are shaking and useless as Tadashi covers his face with soft kisses, moaning a very quiet, “I want you bad,” against his ear. It makes shudders course through his body and he can admit that yes, yes he wants Tadashi too, but…

But not now. Not now—not when they’ve only been dating for a little over two months, only been out on an entirety of three whole dates. It’s too fast, too soon, he’s still too dazed and nervous about it, and he’s really scared it’s going to get fucked up if they do this. This is different from the two times they got each other off instead of doing homework and how they spend some afternoons in each other’s laps, making out and laughing; this is… big.

He’s been uncertain of it since Tadashi told him about the trip his parents were taking and invited him over, cheeks a livid red. Kei’d had half a mind to tell him no, because his face and embarrassed doe-eyed blinking gave every intention away, but Kei never could tell Tadashi no when he looked like that, and he was loathe to give up any time he could spend alone with Tadashi. He just sort of hoped it would be a passing thought from his boyfriend—in any case, he didn’t think Tadashi had the guts to buy what they would need in order to have sex, anyway.

He was wrong. He was really, really wrong and Tadashi’s stripping them both down and settling himself on his knees over Kei’s body. Everything about this situation is unnerving to Kei, from the condoms on the bed next to them, the way Tadashi is looking at him, all parted, panting lips and hooded eyes, to the way Tadashi’s grabbing his hand and pouring lube onto it, cold and slick.

He thinks he’s going to start crying, really. He sees Tadashi’s mouth move, but the words aren’t really connecting. He just blinks, wide-eyed and a little star-struck up at his boyfriend, who mistakes the look for adoration (it kind of is, Kei, reasons, because holy shit when did Tadashi grow up to be sexy—) and giggles shyly and grabs Kei’s hand and guides it between his legs and pushes at his fingers softly.

Kei’s breath leaves him just as Tadashi coaxes his fingers inside of him. “Hey—no, no I—Yamaguchi, I can’t—” he says suddenly, sitting up so quickly their foreheads collide.

He scrambles back a bit, wiping his hand on the sheets before grabbing his glasses. Tadashi’s kneeling and rubbing his head slightly.

Ow, Tsukki, what was that?” Tadashi complains.

Kei coughs awkwardly, clasping his hands tightly, trying to control their shaking. “I can’t do this—do… uh, you,” he mumbles. “I don’t want to.”

Tadashi tips his head to the side and frowns. “Did I… do something wrong?” he asks tentatively.

Kei looks up from his lap, shaking his head hard. He doesn’t much like the hint of doubt and hurt that’s shimmering in Tadashi’s voice. “No,” he says thickly. He reaches out and grabs one of Tadashi’s hands tightly. It’s still slick with lube; it makes him a bit queasy.

“Are you sure?” Tadashi asks quickly. His fingers shake against Kei’s. “I mean, if you don’t… if you don’t want me, it’s okay, I know I sort of… just… forced myself on you all this time, I just—”

Kei leans forward and presses his mouth gently against Tadashi’s. It’s the easiest and most effective way to cut the brunet off, he’d found. “No,” he murmurs. “I just…” He reaches up with his free hand and tucks a bit of Tadashi’s hair behind the boy’s ear. “I do want you,” he says, feeling himself turn red. This is such an embarrassing conversation to have, especially naked with the low shivers of fading arousal burning in his veins. “Just… after we’ve been together longer. After we’re not having weird hiccups in understanding,” he says a bit helplessly. “I don’t want to mess up, especially after adding sex in. You mean a lot, and… I don’t… I don’t want you to think differently.”

Tadashi looks at him for a long moment before giggling softly. He knocks their foreheads together, much more gently than before, laughing. “You’re so cute,” he chuckles. “Tsukki’s too cute.” He kisses Kei softly and squeezes the blond’s hand.

Kei blushes and scowls. “Who’s cute?” he grumbles as Tadashi drapes himself over him, nuzzling into his neck. He wraps his arms around Tadashi’s bare waist, staring up at the ceiling. “…and maybe put some clothes on?”

Tadashi only laughs in response.  

Chapter Text

I don’t understand, he thinks to himself, shuffling his feet against the concrete. It was here, just twelve hours before, that Kei had confessed to him and he’d failed to say those three words. Just, I don’t understand. Nothing more or less. It was something so simple, but he couldn’t do it.

Kei had told him ‘see you tomorrow’, like everything was going to be the same as it always was. But for that to happen, Tadashi thinks a bit bitterly, fingers tight around his bag’s straps as he scuffs his foot into the dirt, Kei has to actually show up.

He’s been loitering around their normal spot for about fifteen minutes now, and he’s starting to get antsy. Okay, so he’s been antsy all morning, but now he’s downright panicking. He fumbles with his phone and checks his messages for the twelfth time in the fifteen minutes he’s been waiting—there’s still nothing from Kei and he has to leave now if he wants to get to morning practice in enough time to do the extra laps tardiness means and be able to participate.

He taps Kei’s name in his messages and gingerly types out a text. He shifts from foot to foot, gnawing at his lip anxiously. There’s a lot he wants to ask Kei. ‘Are you avoiding me?’ is one, another is ‘Were you really serious last night’; ‘how long’ and ‘why’ and ‘why didn’t you say anything before’; ‘did you hear me’ and ‘will you listen to me’ or ‘can we talk about this’ are also what surfaces to his mind.

Instead he types out a quick, ‘At the park? Where are you??? We’re going to be late???’ and sends it. He wanders back and forth for another five minutes; the deadline for the latest arrivals that Ukai will take comes and goes and he’s still waiting. Eventually, he gives up and goes to school, jogging so that he can at least catch Takeda before homeroom starts. By the time he reaches the school, Kei still hasn’t sent him back an answer—the message hasn’t even been read, according to his phone.

He bites down hard on the inside of his cheek and wishes he’d been braver the night before. Gone after Kei. Grabbed him. Been able to string together a coherent sentence. He goes to the staff room, wringing his hands together all the way; he finds Takeda easily, and clears his throat nervously. “Ah, um, Takeda-sensei,” he murmurs.

“Ah! Yamaguchi! It’s good to see you! We were worried you’d call out sick, too,” Takeda greets warmly.

Tadashi blinks, feeling a bit stupid. “Too?” he asks. “Who else is sick?” He knows and it makes him unexpectedly angry.

“Oh, well, I thought you would know,” Takeda says slowly, giving a sheepish smile. “But Tsukishima’s mother called the school early to let us know he wouldn’t be in school today.”

Tadashi pauses, digesting the information slowly. “I see,” he murmurs “Thank you.”

He wants to doubt that it’s as straightforward as Kei being sick, but there’s no way that Kei managed to pull one over on his mother; Takeda knows Kei’s voice, and he doesn’t think Akiteru could be suckered into such a thing. In the remaining five minutes before class starts, he calls Kei’s house. He chews on his cheek and shuffles about in the dingy stairwell he’s making the call from. He pulls at his hair and waits.

She answers on the third ring. “Hello? Tadashi-kun? Hasn’t class started already?”

“Hi, oba-san; it’s right before homeroom. ...Is Tsukki alright?” He has a vague idea of what’s wrong, elementary school maladies and missed field trips forefront in his mind.

“Nothing some rest won’t fix,” she replies easily. “That said; you wouldn’t happen to know if there’s anything bothering him, would you, Tadashi-kun?”

“No,” he whispers. He thought Kei had grown out of worrying himself sick; he feels no pride in being the only other person other than Akiteru to have had the honor of shattering Kei’s composure until he’d been ill over it. “I… don’t.” He hates lying to her; he’s been friends with Kei for so long that she’s like a second mother to him now, but this is something she can’t know about.

Kei’s mother makes an indecipherable sound in the back of her throat; it’s so similar to the noise that Kei makes when he hears something he doesn’t quite believe or when Tadashi tries to convince him he’s not upset about something. It makes his shoulders shake and his face feel hot and he wants to cry. He thought he was done crying over Kei—he’d told himself he was done crying over him ages ago.

But he’d also told himself that there was no way that Kei could ever fall in love with someone like him, if Kei ever fell in love at all. Whether or not his friend was even the slightest bit romantically inclined was always a point of curiosity, pain, and contention for him. He’d spent a good deal of junior high obsessing over it, wrecking himself by going over every single thing his friend did and said, over-analyzing their every conversation until everything had suffered. Resolving to give up on Kei romantically was the best thing for himself that he ever did for himself, he thinks, other than going and seeking out extra volleyball lessons from Shimada.

He feels like their roles are reversed—he’s the one who’s emotionally unreachable, awkward and disconnected and Kei’s worked himself up so badly that he’s sick. He tugs at his bangs a little harder.

“Well, whatever it is, he can work through it,” Kei’s mother says.

“I’ll bring him his notes,” Tadashi offers quietly, “After practice, I can… I can come over.”

“That’s sweet of you,” she praises.

The bell rings, and Tadashi hastily bids his goodbyes before racing off to class; he doesn’t much feel like adding detention on top of everything. He tries extra hard to pay attention so the notes he takes for Kei will be good, but he can’t focus. He keeps stopping mid-sentence or mid-word and instead starts drafting what he’s going to say to Kei in the margins, scribbling out sentences and words and entire paragraphs.

He doesn’t understand. Maybe it’s better to start there. He doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand. He wants to, but he’d not been able to express it. He stares blankly down at his notes, wondering how you would go about expressing disbelief in this kind of situation.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to believe Kei, but… he kind of half wonders if Kei’d just said it because he was pissy. Or if he wasn’t really telling the whole truth about how long he’d been trying to get his attention. Because, if he wasn’t lying, that meant there was a weird half-year’s worth of overlap between their feelings during their last year of junior high, when Tadashi was still desperately trying to get Kei to notice him as more than just the tag-along side-kick type of character.

He remembers the afternoon that Kei’d told him that there were different kinds of beauty.  He remembers because it was the sort of things he’d been dying to hear, would claw his own heart out to hear; he remembers because it’s the night he decided he would give it up, give up chasing after his remote best friend who had promised him that someone would like him, rather than saying that he found him attractive. Because he’d realized that his bitterness was tainting something pure and easy and strong; they could last as friends forever, he’d thought, but if he tried to make them more than that, he’d lose it all. Because he can’t be jealous of every girl who tries to approach Kei. Because he can’t resent Kei, not one bit, for something he can’t control.

He thinks about Yachi. He thinks about Kei. He can’t figure out what he needs to do.

He packs up his lunch things when the bell rings again, and makes a beeline for class five. He hopes to catch Yachi before Hinata and Kageyama do, because he does not want their input on this, which would probably range from ‘why’ and ‘serve a ball at his head’. He’s lucky, and manages to snag the girl as she’s pulling out her bento.

“Yachi-san, can I eat with you today?” he mumbles, feeling the usual bubble of anxiousness he gets around her. A lot of it is still left over from elementary school and junior high—Yachi’s a cute girl, and she’s pretty well liked in her class, the other girls come and go to talk to her whenever he eats lunch with her, and she’s smart; he still has a gut reaction to be wary of anyone like that who talks to him, because they can’t honestly want his company. He likes people, and he loves being part of a crowd, but he’s still shy.

Yachi beams up at him and pats her desk excitedly, “Of course!” she pauses and squints at him, “Are you okay? You look a little worried—are you catching Tsukishima-san’s cold? Or did someone threaten you, because I’ll give ‘em a good punch, I promise!”

Tadashi seats himself at an empty chair and scoots up to her desk, sniggering all the way at the mental image of tiny little Yachi trying to beat someone up. “No, but I do need to talk to you about Tsukki,” he says hesitantly, once he’s done laughing.

“Oh no, is he really sick?”

“What? No,” he says hastily. “He’s not even really sick. He’s just… he’s upset. And… it’s kind of… maybe my fault?”

Yachi tips her head to the side and thinks for a  long moment. It’s the look she gets when she’s contemplating something Kiyoko’s just taught her about volleyball, where she’s piecing together information. “Ah, did you have a fight last night?”

Tadashi ducks his head shyly and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I wouldn’t call it a fight, but he… he’s not happy with me and I’m not sure how to fix it.”

“It’s about what you said, right?” Yachi murmurs, fidgeting with her chopsticks. “I kind of feel bad for ignoring it, since mostly everyone took what he said as sarcastic, but… he’s not happy about what you said to me, is he? Did he mean it the way it sounded?”

Tadashi sighs slowly and lets his shoulders slump forward. “Yeah.” It’s an answer to both questions and Yachi takes it as such. He looks at his feet, unable to look at the contemplation on her face. He tugs at his collar and starts playing with the hem of his jacket.

“Did you tell him we’re just friends?”

“I didn’t get the chance to, really,” Tadashi says softly. “Tsukki’s sort of dramatic when he wants to be. And, to be honest, he caught me off guard.”

“But isn’t that a good thing?” Yachi asks slowly, “That he’s upset?”

“No?” He frowns at his friend, teeth sinking into the inside of his lip; he idly thinks he needs to stop, there’s already sore, coppery-tasting patches where he’s chewed away the top layer of flesh, but he can’t settle himself down enough to actually stop. “I didn’t want to upset him.”

He’s past the phase he had where he would have probably gotten on his hands and knees to lick Kei’s shoes, had the blond boy asked him to do it, but he still very much values their friendship and dislikes the idea of being a source of discomfort for Kei. Or anyone, really. But especially Kei.

“No, really. Why was he upset?”

“…flirting with you,” Tadashi mumbles, picking at his knee. He won’t say that he wasn’t flirting, because he kind of was.

Because Kei’s right, and it’s true; he can’t deny it. He does have a crush on her, but he thinks that it’s okay. To have a crush on Yachi, but still being in love with Kei.

Having a crush on someone is different from being in love with them. Yachi is cute and sweet and soft, and he wouldn’t mind holding her hand and going out on a date with her. But nothing more than that. Thinking about more doesn’t feel right, like the mental equivalent of stepping on something slimy in the dead of night. Besides, he’s pretty certain she likes Kiyoko, by the way she talks about their senpai manager and how she turned him down. He’s never pried, because that’s private information, but he’s pretty certain.

Just because Yachi’s turned him down, and just because he doesn’t really want to date-date her like he wanted to date Kei doesn’t mean he still doesn’t like her; she knows that, and she’s fine with it. They both referred to it as ‘practice’ once; get used to flirting with someone you don’t have to worry about messing up with, you’ll be able to flirt with someone you want to impress. They treat it like their own private in-joke, sometimes they’ll award the other points based on how smooth they delivered a line; it’s all fun for them.

Strangely enough, Yachi turning him down didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would have—in fact, it didn’t hurt at all. It just made them better friends. She was able to guess, too, about his old feelings for Kei. And it was nice to talk to someone who was just as anxious and shy as he was.

Yachi chews on her lunch thoughtfully. “Don’t you think that means he likes you?”

Tadashi feels himself flush. He starts picking at a hangnail. “…he said he did. Does. Like me.”

Yachi drops her chopsticks with a loud clatter and a squeal. She throws herself at Tadashi, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. He gets a face-full of ribbon and he tips his head back to avoid getting a face-full of chest as well (because no matter what she says, she’s still a girl and she still has them and he’s still a boy with a very odd crush on her); she’s speaking at high speeds now, giggling and voice shrill with excitement. “That’s so great, that’s really great, Yamaguchi I’m so glad! Are you dating, you’re dating now, right? Of course you are, you’re gonna get married aren’t you and he seems like a cat person but you’re such a dog person, down to the core, so don’t break up over that—”

Tadashi reaches up awkwardly, unsure of where to put his hands. He finally settles on grabbing her arms to push her off of him (people are staring and someone’s giving a wolf-whistle, and it’s going to be around the entire school by the end of the day that he had his face in Yachi’s breasts—he didn’t, but he doubts that’s going to matter, Tanaka and Noya will corner him first and ask questions later, and he’s not in the mood). “Yachi, no, we’re not.”

“What?”

“We’re not. Dating. And it’s not great, it’s awful.” He feels his voice shake and he’s so embarrassed. He thinks he might start crying soon. “It’s awful Yachi, and I hate it.”

“Wait, wait, take a deep breath,” Yachi urges. She passes Tadashi a rice cracker from her bento, mimicking eating when he takes it.

He nibbles on it tentatively, focusing on it rather than the overwhelming feeling of tears pressing up against the back of his eyes and throat. As he does this, Yachi takes his lunchbox and opens it up for him, gesturing for him to eat a bit more before continuing. He takes a few bites before feeling queasy. He shakes his head.

“Okay now, tell me what’s awful.”

“That he confessed to me,” Tadashi mumbles, feeling very contrary and selfish. A year ago, he would have leapt on the confession the second it left Kei’s mouth; now, he’s very much wishing his friend had kept his mouth shut. “I hate it.”

Yachi’s face pinches into a look of concern and confusion. “Why? You love him a lot,” she says helplessly. “I don’t get it.”

Tadashi digs his nails into his hangnail absently, tugging at the loose flesh. His chest aches. He can’t find the words to tell Yachi why he wishes Kei’d never said what he had. “Tsukki… is a very possessive person,” he says finally. “He doesn’t share what’s ‘his’ well.”

“You don’t like that?”

Tadashi pulls at the hangnail until he feels it pop free, watching blood well up from his cuticle. It’s going to hurt like a bitch in volleyball practice, but he’s trying to piece together his fragments into a picture others could understand. “When we were little, and we were first starting to hang out, there was someone… someone Tsukki admired a lot. His role model, I guess. That person was Tsukki’s. But that person was very kind and very giving and he offered to help teach me to play volleyball,” he said slowly. “Since he helped Tsukki too, and we were friends. But that person was Tsukki’s. He… he didn’t much like me butting in. I stopped going ho… I stopped going to see that person because of how Tsukki reacted. He apologized later, and never said much about it, but I think it was because that person found out and scolded him.”

“I don’t understand,” Yachi confesses. Tadashi doesn’t blame her—he’s trying to keep it vague, but he remembers Kei’s young face contorted as he yelled, cheeks pink and eyes damp with the force of his jealousy. He thinks about how Kei just stopped growing emotionally after they found out about Akiteru; he just stopped trying to mature. He’s still a kid inside, he’s still the jealous ten-year-old who cried and shouted and pushed when he thought someone was stealing his brother’s attention away. A few months of being an active participant in life doesn’t mean that  Kei’s going to catch up with all the social maturation he could have gotten in the years he’d locked himself away.

Not that Tadashi thinks he’s any better, but…

I’m Tsukki’s person now,” he says softly. He takes no pride in it. “If you see him, and I’m not there, what’s the first thing you think?”

“’Where is Yamaguchi’,” Yachi says, cheeks reddening.

“Right. I’m his person… friend, thing. He had problems when I started surpassing him in effort,” Tadashi says softly, “He has problems with his pride, even though he pretends not to have it. He said what he said not because it was some… some surfeit of emotion, but because my attention was elsewhere,” he murmurs.

He feels awful, like he’s saying bad things about Kei, like he’s no better than the kids who bullied him in elementary school. But he has to explain this sinking feeling he has. It’s not that he doubts that Kei likes him… as a friend and as a person, but he… he’s afraid the confession was a little less than genuine.

“I’m scared that he’s rationalizing the idea of being afraid of losing my friendship as him having a crush on me,” he says softly. “And… we’re too good of friends to be doing that. He’s my best friend and I… I can’t do it, Yachi. I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“…in relationships like this, we’re… either going to be together forever, or… we’re going to end up hating each other. I can’t… I can’t do it. I decided that I wasn’t able to be able to survive it if we broke up or had a fight and never spoke again. I can’t do it, period,” he says slowly. He wraps his napkin around his bloody finger. “We’ve basically grown up together, you know? He was my first friend, and for a while, my only friend. We know all sorts of stuff about each other, stuff we could easily use to hurt each other, badly, if we lost our tempers and spoke without thinking. I’m not even afraid of that as much as I’m scared that… that he’s not… that the way we ‘like’ each other is too different, and it won’t be compatible.”

“The way we liked each other is different,” Yachi says gently, “And we’re still really good friends.”

“Yeah, but we… we didn’t know each other as well,” Tadashi mumbles, “So it made us closer. But… I don’t know if Tsukki really is aware of this, but we understand each other really well, even when we don’t speak or say it outright. I just… I don’t want to lose that. I don’t think… I think I got really lucky when we became friends. Really, really lucky. Not to say it’s not lucky that you and everyone on the team is so great, but, Tsukki… he came at just the right time. I can’t mess it up.”

“What if not wanting it will mess it up?” Yachi asks. “What you just described, you know… some people would call that being soulmates.”

Tadashi feels his face grow hot at the dreamy way that Yachi sighs out the last part—it’s far too cheesy, far too intimate and embarrassing. “That’s,” he splutters out. “That’s crazy.”

“No, you know what’s crazy,” Yachi says sternly, poking him with her chopsticks and making a very strange face. “Is you refusing to think about what would happen if you two were both honest, just because you’re scared!”

“But—”

“No buts, mister!” she says, shaking her head. “You were really scared when you had to go up to serve, but you did it anyway! Look how that turned out!”

“But I could practice that,” he pleads.

Yachi puffs her cheeks out and huffs angrily. “And you’ve been practicing with me, and everything takes work, every type of relationship, so if you don’t report back to me by tomorrow about how you handled this, I’ll… I’ll… do—something! Something mean, and bad and you won’t like it!” Her lips tremble as she pouts and tries to look intimidating and Tadashi raises his hands in surrender.

“I’ll go after practice,” he promises.

“You’d better. Or I won’t talk to you,” she decides.

Tadashi laughs and lets her bully him into eating the rest of his lunch and she fills him in on the parts of practice he missed. He spends the rest of the day steeling himself to be brave.

It’s not enough. By the time he gingerly knocks on the Tsukishima’s front door, his stomach is in knots and his hands are shaking and he thinks his heart is about to explode. He was a wreck during practice, and his fingers still hurt from where he’d fumbled a block  and hit the ball wrong, and his cheeks are still burning from the serves he’d messed up because he was too busy thinking about what he was going to say to Kei.

“Tadashi-kun! Good evening,” Kei’s mother greets.

Tadashi smiles weakly. “Good evening, oba-san; I brought Tsukki’s notes. Is he up to seeing anyone?”

“Ah, well, you, probably,” she answers. “Anyone else? Not really. I don’t remember the last time he was this bad.”

Tadashi shuffles his feet self-consciously. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promises. When Kei’s mother sends him upstairs, it’s with a cold compress and a few bottles of water. He peeks into Kei’s bedroom and finds it empty. He drops his bag off into the dark room and lays the water and compress on the bedside before going down the hall to the bathroom. He knocks gingerly. There’s a faint rustling and a groan.

Tadashi slips in, trying not to open the door farther than he has to. He nearly trips over the towel that’s been shoved under the door. “Tsukki, it’s me.”

“Great,” Kei mutters, voice rough. There’s a rustling and a click, and Kei’s phone gives a soft glow. Tadashi squints in its weak light and finds the blond on the floor, hands over his eyes. He kneels next to his friend, chewing on his lip.

“Tsukki,” he murmurs softly, “I’m sorry.” He feels so bad for spending the entire day being indecisive when Kei’s been working himself into this state all day. Where normal people just get stress or tension headaches, when Kei’s overly worried about something he gets migraines. He thinks the last one this bad was when Akiteru left for college and Kei had tried for days not to cry about how they’d parted until he was miserable in bed, with the ceiling shifting in colors that the blond could barely describe to Tadashi.

It rubs all of Tadashi’s tenderness raw; he reaches out with tentative fingers, still cool from the compress, and smoothes them against Kei’s clammy cheek. “Have you been throwing up?” he asks, concerned.

“What does it look like?” Kei snaps, without much venom.

Tadashi sighs. “Do you think it’s safe to move you?”

“I’d rather… not move.”

“The light?”

“The light.”

“I’ll lead you so you can cover your eyes,” Tadashi promises.

“Blind leading the blind,” Kei quips. He lacks his usual sharpness, and Tadashi thinks it’s because of the way his hands are shaking over his eyes.

Tadashi leans forward and gently gathers Kei in his arms, careful not to jostle his friend. “C’mon, let’s get you up to bed,” he murmurs, ignoring the way Kei flinches back at his touch. It’s foreign feeling; they haven’t really touched each other since they started their second year of junior high, barring their argument during the summer camp. When they were in elementary school, it wasn’t too uncommon for Tadashi to grab onto the back of Kei’s shirt or his hand, or for them to fall asleep against each other playing video games ‘late’ into the night. Tadashi can’t count the times he’d woken up with his face pressed up against Kei’s shoulder, or to Akiteru covering them up on the sofa with a finger pushed up to his lips when he caught Tadashi’s eye.

He guides Kei to his feet, bracing the blond as he staggers a bit. It’s awkward, but they manage to shuffle Kei to his room and into bed without incident. Tadashi closes the bedroom door and picks up the icepack and hands it to Kei, who settles it under his head.

“Why are you here?”

“I brought you notes,” Tadashi mumbles, feeling himself flush; “They’re not any good, though. I… wasn’t paying attention.”

“They’ll be fine,” Kei says dismissively. “Why weren’t you paying attention, though?”

“You know why,” Tadashi says softly. He sits on the edge of the bed.

“Oh… that… you don’t… You don’t need to think about it,” Kei says, and the way he says it breaks Tadashi’s heart.  “I meant it… when I said it was fine for you to like Yachi. Because it’s fine. It’s just fine.”

“…it’s obviously not,” Tadashi says, not unkindly. “You  worried yourself sick over it, that’s not what I would call fine.”

“It doesn’t concern you, okay? It doesn’t.”

“Of course it does, how do you think I feel hearing that?” Tadashi shoots back. He feels bad for raising his voice because the next breath Kei takes is so shuddering and sharp that it’s almost a sob. “I’m confused, okay? I just… Tsukki I can’t take it seriously when you only said it because you were angry with me. I… I don’t think you really meant it.”

Kei is quiet for a long moment before he inhales again. “I meant it,” he says finally, fingers curling into the hem of Tadashi’s jacket. “All of it. I may have been upset, but… I don’t say things I don’t mean.”

Tadashi shifts on the edge of the bed to turn himself towards Kei, even though he’s not able to make out more than the dark edges of the other teen’s silhouette in the dark of the room. Kei lets the hem of Tadashi’s jacket fall reluctantly from his grasp. Tadashi thinks the faint tug on his jacket he felt as he was moving as Kei tried to keep his grasp is the most heart achingly pitiful thing he’s ever seen his friend do, even comparing it to the way Kei had just watched Akiteru during that game in elementary school.

Kei is trying to hold himself back while trying to be earnest. It hurts. He thinks that if things had gone differently with Yachi, if they had ended up dating, then Kei would have just stepped back  and let himself fade out. Kei is trying because he wants a chance. More than his words, Kei’s actions speak more to his intentions; Tadashi knows that even though Kei’s changed after the summer camp, he still doesn’t put effort into things he doesn’t really want.

Kei wants Tadashi to stay close to him, regardless of whether or not Tadashi feels the same.

Tadashi lies down and nestles himself against Kei’s side; Kei flinches a bit, but Tadashi just settles himself in as neatly as he can. It’s surprising, actually, how nicely he feels like he fits. His cheek is comfortable against Kei’s collar, and his knees curve right under the space where Kei has his knees bent slightly. He puts his hand against the blond’s chest shyly.

It’s warm like this, and it’s simultaneously comforting and nerve-wracking. But it’s nothing like he thought it would be when he was in junior high, where he’d endlessly fretted about how awkward his elbows and knees were and where they would go and what Kei would think if their hands accidentally brushed. Anxiety had seeped into his love like oil; now, he feels affection and tenderness like sunlight. He wonders if this is enough to make things work out, if this is better than his restless love.

Beside him, Kei stiffens. The longer Tadashi stays, not moving or speaking, the more Kei relaxes. Tadashi isn’t sure how long it takes until Kei is completely limp next to him, breath evening out; his hand slides from his face to gingerly rest in Tadashi’s hair. Tadashi swallows hard and presses his face against Kei’s shoulder softly.

“Tsukki,” he says quietly, throat tight. “We’re really good friends, right?”

Kei makes a vague noise of ascent in the back of his throat.

“We know each other really well, and… Tsukki, you’re always just so cool. I always wondered why we were close; I don’t know what you get out of our relationship, and… what happens if we fight? Or I disappoint you?”

“You won’t,” Kei answers.

“Tsukki, that’s a dangerous way to think,” Tadashi says slowly. “People… break under those expectations.”

It’s a low thing of him to say, because he knows they’re both thinking about Akiteru, but it’s something he has to say. He’s nothing special, nothing exceptional—he knows he’ll disappoint Kei, just like Kei will disappoint him: that’s just how people are. He’ll be disappointed in himself at times, too. It’s inevitable, just like the times that will come where they’re proud of each other, or when they don’t agree and end up clashing.

They’ll fight and they won’t live up to everything expected of them.

“You won’t ever disappoint me because I never expect enough of you,” Kei says quietly, head turning slowly towards Tadashi. “You always surprise me, even though I know better than anyone that you do your absolute best at everything you try.”

Tadashi breathes in slowly, “Tsukki, you know, I had a talk with Yachi today.” He feels Kei go stiff at the admission, the hand that was lazily toying with his hair dropping away. He curls his fingers into Kei’s shirt. “She said that some people… would call us soul mates. …Soul mates don’t always have to be romantically involved,” he says slowly.

“Are you rejecting me?”

“…no,” Tadashi says quickly. “What I’m saying is that… I don’t want to lose what we have. I’m scared. I’ve always been scared, since the day I woke up and realized that the way I wanted to be with you wasn’t the way that you want to be with friends. I’ve been scared since the day I realized that feeling that way could ruin us.”

He sighs and flattens his hand back out against Kei’s chest, running his fingers slowly against the rumpled hem of the blond’s shirt. “I’m scared of answering you, Tsukki. I’m scared I’ll mess it up and you’ll start ignoring me the way you ignored Akiteru.”

“I’m scared I’ll do it too,” Kei finally admits after a few minutes of silence. “Even if I promised I wouldn’t, it wouldn’t change anything, would it?”

“No.”

“…and you’ll still have a crush on Yachi-san.”

“Well, yes, but Tsukki, I don’t think you realize this, but… I don’t like her past wanting to be in her company. And even if I did, I got shot down… And I loved you longer,” he said finally.

Kei jolts and gives a murmur of surprise; Tadashi can’t help but roll his eyes at the surprise. He knows the frustration that Kei felt at failed flirtations—he looks back on himself now, and thinks that he was very painfully obvious and awkward with his affections. But that’s okay, Kei was too.

“But you said that you didn’t—“

“That’s not what I meant, Tsukki,” Tadashi mumbles, snuggling in tighter to Kei’s side. “I like you too, okay? Now, go to sleep, we’ll talk when you feel better.”

Kei slides an arm around Tadashi, the unspoken ‘I’ll be here when you wake up,’ understood between them.

Chapter Text

“I am not changing with everyone,” Tadashi hisses, swatting at Kei’s hand in his jacket.

“Oh yes you are,” comes the retort. “If I’m going to, you are too.”

“All you have to do is turn your back away,” Tadashi mumbles, face steadily brightening. He looks up at the ceiling rather than at Kei’s smug smirk and pink cheeks. “They’re everywhere.”

“They are,” Kei says succinctly, sounding very pleased with himself. This earns him another smack on the hand. Kei fists the hem of Tadashi’s jacket even harder, cheeks red, “You change in here with me.”

“Look, look, if you’re that embarrassed about the—well, then—just change in the bathrooms with me, Tsukki,” he whines as he stomps his foot, which earns an odd look over from Asahi’s corner of the room, where the third year is wrestling with the staticky, inside-out arms of his sweater. “Or we change now before everyone else comes—”

“Too late for that,” Kei mutters as the sounds of Hinata and Kageyama stomping up the stairs and shouting pierces the air. Tadashi grabs Kei’s hand, ears pink. His eyes go wide and he shakes his head. Kei tugs on his jacket enough to slip the shoulder off without looking like he’s purposefully undressing the brunet.

The rest of the team spills in behind Hinata and Kageyama because of course they do, Tadashi thinks a bit hysterically. Kei raises an eyebrow as if to say, ‘well, get on with it’. Tadashi wants to punch him, but also kiss him at the same time because he never can separate those two frustrations. Punch and fuck, and well, that’s how they ended up like this, he thinks.

He pulls off his shirt, exposing his chest and stomach and arms full of purpling bruises. They’re all clustered together and the one on his left shoulder is dotted with teeth marks. It’s horribly obvious what it is; Tadashi wants to die when he hears Kei’s approving chuckle.

And then it comes:

“Oh my god, who did all that?!” Of course it was Noya who would point it out.

Tadashi clutches his shirt to his chest, face red. The blush bleeds down into his neck and across the back of his ears. “Ah—well, you see—”

“Who’s the girl!? She better be good enough for you, you know?” Tanaka pipes up leaning forward to scrutinize the groups of hickies on Tadashi’s shoulders and chest.

“Um, well, I—it’s not—”

“It was me,” Kei says mildly, taking off his glasses. He puts them into his bag as the rest of the room goes silent, staring between the both of them.

“Holy shit,” Noya murmurs, looking a little awe-struck. “I win ten bucks.”

Tadashi gives a nervous giggle and starts tugging his shirt on as quickly as he can. He emerges from his collar just in time to watch Kei pull his shirt off, revealing the long, red tracks on his shoulder blades and back that curve in at the base of his spine where his hands had finally settled, ending in eight perfect half-mooned score marks with faint hints of bruising around them.

All heads turn to Tadashi and he just covers his face with his hands. Someone wolf-whistles. He thinks it’s actually Sugawara.

He can die now.

Chapter Text

It started as just a movie night. Tadashi’s parents were out, which meant they could actually drape across each other and cuddle or spoon or just make out to their hearts’ content and not have to worry about being walked in on. It was Kei’s turn to choose the movie, which meant it was, predictably, some boring documentary on wildlife. It wasn’t even Planet Earth.

So Tadashi stopped paying attention. Instead of dozing off in Kei’s arms, he’d rolled atop the blond and occupied himself with tracing every line on the other boy’s plaid shirt; once he’d done that, he’d teased a single button open and busied himself with biting and sucking a field of hickies underneath Kei’s collar.

Kei had reached up and pushed at his head before he’d gotten bored with that, so now he’s pouting through the section on the rainforest. Well, as much as he can pout with Kei’s hand warm under his shirt, fingers tracing idle patterns against his spine. But his attention is still firmly planted on the ecosystem patterns of… some desert. Tadashi thinks it’s the Sahara. It might be something else, he’s not sure and he’s not really in the mood to care, and he can see it’s starting to irritate the blond just a little bit.

He stretches forward just a bit, wiggling himself on top of Kei.

“Yamaguchi. Stop that.”

Kei’s not even looking at him. Boring.

He scootches up so his chin is resting against Kei’s collarbone, forehead tucking underneath the blond’s upturned chin. He wiggles a little more. Kei sighs and shifts a bit, trying to keep himself from being crushed under Tadashi’s weight.

“Yamaguchi.” The tone is a bit sterner, a little more irritated and warning. It comes out a rumbled sigh. Kei’s hands stop tracing patterns against his skin and hold his hips still instead.

Tadashi reaches for the remote and switches the language to Spanish, just for the hell of it.

Yamaguchi,” is the immediate reply. Kei jabs a finger into the soft spot under Tadashi’s ribs. Tadashi shrieks and flails a bit, knee jamming into Kei’s thigh, the remote flying from his fingers. It clunks to the floor and the documentary chatters on in French as Tadashi retaliates by pinching Kei’s sides.

Kei chokes back a laugh and reaches for Tadashi’s hands, but he’s already hard at work tickling his fingers over where Kei’s most sensitive. The blond flinches hard and makes a disgruntled sound in the back of his throat; he curls his fingers around Tadashi’s wrists and struggles to pull his boyfriend’s hand away.

Tadashi pushes back, giggling as Kei’s face turns steadily redder. Kei leans up and knocks their foreheads together, making a face. “Tadashi, stop,” he breathes. He’s grinning, though, so Tadashi just laughs and struggles to push his hands to Kei’s side.

Kei wedges a knee between Tadashi’s legs and rolls them over. Tadashi feels one of his legs slip off the sofa; he’s half-hanging off the sofa, but he really doesn’t care. Kei’s got his mouth on the spot behind his ear that’s both ticklish and really responsive. He gives a gurgling noise that was supposed to be a protest but got lost in his laughter.

He slips one of his hands out of Kei’s grasp and shoves at the blond, “Off, Tsukki, off,” he laughs. Kei bites down on the spot on his neck and pins his other hand over his head; Tadashi struggles to break free, his free hand poking at the blond’s side. “Eeeh—don’t do that—!” he shrieks as Kei starts blowing air against the damp place and uses his free hand to tickle him mercilessly.

He starts wiggling in earnest against Kei, feeling close to the point where he’s laughing so hard he’s actually sobbing. “Tsukki, no no, I give, I give—!”

He has just enough time to see Kei’s grin before they both topple off of the sofa; he’s not sure whose fault it really is, but he knows the second he slips off that they’re absolutely doomed. His elbow comes down hard on the side of the coffee table, and Kei’s chin smacks hard into his lip; he instantly tastes blood and groans.

Kei comes off no better, chin pink where it hit Tadashi’s mouth and his temple’s bleeding from where he’s whacked it up against the table. His eyes are a bit too wide and it worries Tadashi. “Tsukki?” he asks softly, feeling something wet trickle down his chin.

Kei blinks a few times and grimaces, tentatively touching his temple. “Ouch,” he says flatly, sitting up onto his heels. Tadashi follows, head aching.

“Tsukki, are you okay?” he asks, waving his hand in front of Kei’s face.

Kei tracks the moment uninterestedly, rolling his eyes. “My head is killing me.”

Tadashi leans forward, peering at the cut right at Kei’s hairline. It’s long, but when he pushes his fingers against the tender, already reddening skin, he sees that it’s really shallow. Kei’s hissing and flinching is a bit worrisome, and he thinks back to the first aid lessons he had in junior high about concussions; he’ll keep a close eye on Kei. He absently brushes his lips against the cut, the salty tang of blood filtering against his sore lip. When he pulls away, there’s a smear of blood that’s shaped a bit like a woman’s lipstick mark.

Kei brushes his fingers against Tadashi’s lip, fingers coming away pink with blood. He makes a disconcerted noise before tipping his head back to catch Tadashi’s split lower lip between his own. Tadashi hisses as Kei sucks at the sore flesh, lip stinging.

“Ow, ow, Tsukki, ow,” he complains. “That’s so gross.”

“Says the guy who looks like a vampire.”                                 

Tadashi rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue. He gets to his feet shakily, holding his hand out for Kei. “Let’s get cleaned up. Can you stand?”

“Yeah, I’m not dizzy, just sore. Also, you’re an asshole,” Kei says, taking Tadashi’s hand. “Next time you don’t want to watch the movie, just say it.”

“Oh, but that’s not fun.”

Kei rolls his eyes; it’s his turn to sulk now.

Chapter Text

He glares at the other team leader from across the canteen.

Or rather, he does his equivalent of a glare, which is a smaller wave than normal and pursed lips when he makes eye contact with the blond counselor when he does a perfunctory scan of the cafeteria to see where the team leaders are gathering for dinner.

“Are… you trying to flirt with Tsukishima? Because that face is going to get you absolutely nowhere,” Hintata says. “Like, don’t listen to Yachi’s weird girl magazines, playing hard to get doesn’t work. It just makes you, you know, hard to get.”

“I’m not flirting,” Tadashi says, grinding his plastic fork into his meatloaf with a vengeance.

“Really?” Hinata asks mildly, swirling his peas around his plate thoughtlessly.

“I’m going to kick his butt. His really, really nice butt by the way, and I’m going to enjoy every bit of it.”

“Uh… huh. You might uh, need this.” Hinata pushes his carton of orange juice across the table to Tadashi. “Because you are thirsty.”

Tadashi chokes on his meatloaf as Hintata scrutinizes him with raised eyebrows. “I am not! You and Kageyama go at it every session, so what’s any different?!”

“Well, the fact that it looked like you were drooling over the fantasy of putting your shoes on his ass,” Hintata says with a shrug. “Also, we do not ‘go at it’, I beat his ass every year.”

“Five to four, my favor,” Kageyama pipes up from down the table where he’s chatting with two of the senior most counselors, Suga and Daichi.

Hinata makes a face and stuffs his fingers into his ears, continuing loudly, “And please keep the butt enjoying to a minimum this is a children’s camp—“

“Hinata, oh my god, I meant I’d enjoy beating his cabin!” Tadashi hisses, kicking Hinata in the shin and grabbing his wrists from across the table. “Not his butt—!”

“Really, ‘cause it totally sounded like you were—”

“No, shut up! He is coming over here—

“…is there a problem?”

Both Hinata and Tadashi crane their necks to look at the camp’s newest counselor (Tadashi is now practically laying on the table, hand clamped over Hinata’s mouth). “Uh, no?” Tadashi says, just as Hinata opens his mouth against his hand and licks it. Tadashi howls in disgust, “Save it for Kageyama— that’s disgusting, Hinata!”

Tadashi’s in the middle of wiping the spit off on Hinata’s shirt, foot pushing him a bit further across the table as Tsukishima sneers at them both. “Childish,” he snickers. “How on earth did you even get to be leaders?”

He turns and walks to the end of the table to join Suga and Daichi as Kageyama stomps over and starts shouting at Hinata for being loud (he’s being louder), an idiot (they both are), and various other insults.

The campers are used to it by now, so the show goes mostly unappreciated as Tadashi sinks to his spot on the bench, face burning.

He’s going to cream that smug sonofa— he clenches his fist in his lap. He doesn’t care how hot this guy is, tall and blond with that sharp look like he was distinctly better than everyone else and ruffled hair and dweeby thick-rimmed glasses. Ugh.

He can’t stand it; he’s worked hard to be a counselor—they all have. The camp is pretty exclusive and highly selective when it comes to leadership positions; everyone who’s leading now has been a camper growing up. The camp actually means a lot to Tadashi, since it was the highlight of his year from the ages of five to fifteen—and even past that, when he started to volunteer; no one here cared that he had messy hair and weird clothes and freckles. Everyone was dirty and messy and sunburnt anyway; it had been his solace from being bullied and he was very protective of the place and its traditions and its campers.

He doesn’t know this guy at all. He knows his name, certainly—his favorite counselor growing up had been Akiteru, Tsukishima’s older brother. He thinks that Tsukishima has been a camper only once; his memory is hazy, but he remembers a round-cheeked blond with teary eyes clinging to Akiteru the entire six weeks of his… he thinks it was his second year of camp, when he was six. He’s not sure.

But it’s not like Hinata, Kageyama, and the others; they’ve practically all grown up together. Sometimes they would get put into different sections, and their camp periods would overlap for only three weeks instead of the entire six, but they still all stayed close after a few years, through email and snail mail. They all continued to volunteer even after they aged out of the program, and now that they’re in college, they applied for leadership positions.

They’ve all worked incredibly hard—he doesn’t even know why Tsukishima with his ‘better-than-you’ attitude is there. It’s not that he doesn’t trust that the camp directors had the camp’s interests in mind when hiring, he just… Tsukishima rubs him the wrong way: from the way his tall, cool demeanor and sharp features unsettle him to how just utterly dismissive of everything he was.

It doesn’t matter that, easily, Tsukishima is the most attractive person he’s seen grace their little backwater summer camp program, and how, if he had a better personality, he’d be just Tadashi’s type.

Unfortunately, Tsukishima doesn’t have all that great of a personality. Or attitude. He’s not bad with the kids, but he’s very obviously awkward with them. He doesn’t even really try to interact with the other counselors except to taunt them. Normally, Tadashi wouldn’t care, but after the relay incident, he’s determined to get Tsukishima and his smug, stupid attitude back.

Because really, who the hell tells a counselor that it’s not worth telling their kids to try their best, because they’ll never win that way? Who does that?

Tsukishima, that’s who.

No one else really understands his burning need to see Tsukishima lose the camp tournaments: Suga says that he should cut Tsukishima a break because he’s just awkward, Hinata and Yachi just think he’s trying to flirt because Tsukishima doesn’t much say anything to the rest of them—it’s only Tadashi that the worst of his cutting remarks are made to, Kageyama doesn’t much care, as long as his cabin doesn’t come in dead last and get stuck with the kitchen duties for the week (Kageyama is not good at kitchen duty or overseeing it; there’s an unspoken camp rule that if his cabin ends up with it, someone has to supervise). But Tsukishima reminds him of those boys who made his life miserable, and he wants to prove himself in ways he wasn’t brave enough to do when he was younger.

He doesn’t want to push his campers, because they’re still kids and he wants them to enjoy themselves, but he urges them a bit more than he usually does, cheering them on. He thinks that this is the most fired up about the cabin competitions he’s ever been. His campers respond eagerly to his enthusiasm and praise; he’s careful to not let any of them pick up on how he feels about beating Tsukishima, and he’s just as supportive to them when they lose as he is when they win.

But when it comes to the competitions between the counselors, things they do to decide who gets bathroom duty and who has to go clean up the infirmary—stupid games like foot races and arm wrestling and, once, a marshmallow-eating contest that ended with Hinata wining at the cost of getting sick everywhere (Daichi was not amused)—he cuts Tsukishima no slack.

Tsukishima never seems to care much. Or even really participate. He does enough to slide by without earning a penalty or outright losing. And it’s not fun at all. There’s no joy in beating him when he’s not even trying, Tadashi sulks as he digs his toes into the sand of the lakeshore.

He purses his lips and peers over at Tsukishima, who’s scowling out at the lake like it’s done him a personal displeasure, sunlight glaring off of his glasses. They’d both lost the pull for the first shift of lifeguard duty, which was during the hottest time of the day. Tsukishima’s shoulders had already started to turn pink.

“Ah, hey, you’re starting to burn,” Tadashi points out despite himself.

Tsukishima looks at his shoulders and sighs. “Thanks,” he mutters, grabbing his sunscreen. Tadashi idly watches him rub it into his arms and shoulders, but struggle to put it on the center of his back, where his skin isn’t just pink, but red and blotchy in places.

“Let me do it,” Tadashi sighs, crawling across their beach blanket to settle behind Tsukishima. He pours the sunscreen into his hands and starts rubbing it into the blond’s back, trying not to note the play of tense muscles underneath warm skin. He feels his mouth go dry as he looks down at the way the other man’s neck curves and how sweat has his hair curling at the nape of his neck. “Tsukki, you burn really easy,” he teases, laughing at the way Tsukishima grumbles and flinches at the nickname.

“Yeah, well,” Tsukishima mutters. “Say, what’s your problem with me, anyway?”

Tadashi blinks. He squeezes more sunscreen into his hands and finishes rubbing it into Tsukishima’s back before settling on his most diplomatic answer. “I don’t have a problem with you; you treat your campers well, and they like you well enough, so there’s no reason to have a problem.” He stands and rubs his slick hands off onto his swim trunks. “I’m going to go check up on everyone.”

“Wait,” Tsukishima says, grabbing Tadashi’s wrist. “I meant personally. Do you have a personal problem with me?”

Tadashi gapes at him. He stands silent for a long moment, staring down into Tsukishima’s hard gaze, trying to string together a coherent enough way to say ‘I want to punch you but I also really want to kiss you’. He keeps failing.

“Tada-chan! Tada-chan, we want to go swimming in the deep water,” a camper calls, “Can we, please?”

Tadashi breaks eye contact with Tsukishima, swallowing hard. “A-alright, let me get my board,” he replies, tugging his hand away.

Tsukishima holds fast, fingers firm against Tadashi’s wrist as he studies the other man’s face. He pulls Tadashi by his wrist at the same time he unfolds himself from the blanket, murmuring into Tadashi’s ear, “We’ll talk about this later.”

Tadashi stares after him, feeling his face flush. He swallows again and grabs the body board and makes his way to the small group of older campers who want to swim in the deeper part of the lake, life-vests strapped on already.

“Tada-chan, you should be better about sunscreen,” a camper scolds. “You’re all red!”

“Uh, okay,” Tadashi replies. He follows the kids out to the roped-off deeper swimming area, watching them closely from the floating dock stationed between the shallow wading area and the swimming portion of the lake.

He thinks it’s a fairly good swimming station; by the end of his shift on lifeguard duty, he’s only had to haul one kid out of the lake onto the dock to rest, and everyone else got rides on the body board for fun rather than necessity. They exit the lake tired, soggy, and starving.

“Okay, go shower off and we’ll go for snacks,” he promises his group, pointing towards the showers. “And Miyuki-chan, please go see Take-chan for some aloe for that sunburn,” he directs.

Hinata comes up behind him, smirking. Tadashi sighs. “What is it, Hinata?” he asks.

“Tsukishima’s been staring at you all afternoon.”

“That’s horrible, he should have been watching the kids,” Tadashi sighs wearily.

“I saw him grab you after you gave him a back rub,” Hinata continues, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Really? Sunscreen Hinata, sunscreen,” Tadashi mutters, rolling his eyes.

“Look, he’s coming over here, so I just want to say while you might not be flirting, he definitely is—Even Suga-senpai says so! So, okay, bye!” Hinata says, dashing off to the waterline to harass Kageyama who was attempting to teach a group of elementary schoolers to swim, leaving Tadashi to just gape.

Tsukishima taps him on the shoulder a few seconds later. “Do you have a minute?” he asks.

Tadashi nods mutely at him, rubbing his sore arms self-consciously. He kind of wishes he’d grabbed his shirt, and wasn’t just wandering around the camp in flip-flops and swim trunks, towel draped over his shoulders. Tsukishima doesn’t seem to notice or care as he leads Tadashi behind the mess hall.

“About earlier, I want you to answer me. What’s your damage?”

There’s a million things that Tadashi could say, but instead, he’s distracted by the wild curling of Tsukishima’s hair and the way his glasses have protected a pale strip of skin across his pink cheeks. So instead of saying something intelligent, he blurts out the first thing in his mind. “You’re stupid hot and it pisses me off because you’re a huge jerk and I really just want to kick your ass across the camp and back and take you down a few pegs because it’s not fair,” he says, much to his horror.

He clamps his hands over his mouth, feeling his face and neck go hot with embarrassment. “Uh!”

Tsukishima blinks slowly at him, a smirk curling across his face. There’s something distinctly smug about that look and it looks so wrong paired with the sheepish way his hands are clasped at his way and his head is tipped. He unthreads his fingers and gently pries away Tadashi’s hands from his mouth. He leans forward and presses their lips together before pulling away. “I’d wondered if you were hitting on me.”

“I want to hit you,” Tadashi replies. “Not hit on you.”

“Is that so?”

“Actually, no, I kind of want to kiss you again.”

Tsukishima shrugs nonchalantly, as if the two choices are interchangeable, and mean nothing to him. It irks Tadashi so much that he leans forward onto his toes and kisses Tsukishima again.

They’re found, much to their shared mortification, a bit later by a pack of wolf-whistling middle school campers, led by no one other than one very pleased looking Hinata.

Chapter Text

He’s six, seven, eight, nine years old and alone. No one speaks up for him when he can’t find his voice, and no one stands up for him when he can’t get back up on his feet. The people who are supposed to help him brush him off, one by one: first the boys he thought were his friends, then the teachers, counselors, his parents. But he’s too young to protect himself, so he spends his time alone and dirty and downtrodden.

He’s ten when he looks up from the dirt, teary-eyed and tired at the boy sneering down at him and the group of boys shoving at him. He doesn’t doubt that every ounce of contempt was aimed at him too, for being a part of the display, but it’s the first time anyone’s ever stepped in. He doesn’t care if the other boy sees him as pathetic—he has no illusions about why the other boy stopped the bullies; it wasn’t anything personal or particularly driven—but he can’t help but be a bit star struck. No one has ever stopped the bullies, for any reason at all. He’s thankful for the few days of breathing room he gets from the encounter, the other boys too embarrassed to come near him; it gives him the chance to decide to do something about his situation, to try to do something that could make him better able to stand up for himself.

He’s ten when they become teammates and friends with the boy who’d stepped in that day. Tsukishima is blunt and scary, but he’s surprisingly genuine and a bit awkward. He has problems talking to the other boys on the volleyball team, and his classmates dislike him, but Tadashi is enchanted by it and the confident, self-assured manner that Tsukishima talks with and displays on the court during practice, even when a receive goes wide or a serve goes wrong. Sometimes Tadashi wonders if he’s just imposing on Tsukishima, that he’s secretly just being pitied.

The idea weighs heavy on him and makes him reticent. It scares him; he remembers the boys he was ‘friends’ with early on, who listened to his chatter only to repeat it back in mocking tones and spread the secrets he told them with lies sprinkled on the top, who complained that he was clingy and too loud and too slow, but still gave him their homework to do. He decides that he should eat lunch alone again to give Tsukishima space, and sits in his seat, face burning as his classmates started to giggle at him and his lonely desk in the middle of the room.

“Yamaguchi, lunch.”

Tadashi looks up from where he’s staring down into his rice with watering eyes, Tsukishima’s familiar voice cutting through the chatter. He’s standing at the door with his arms crossed, waiting for him. Tadashi snatches up his bento and bounds to his feet, ignoring the snickers and comments that follow him out the door.

‘He gets called like a doggie!’ ‘Look at his face, he’s so happy; that poor kid!’ ‘He just needs a collar now.’  

Tadashi looks down and feels his neck burn, fingers shaking around his lunch box. It’s no secret that he’s bullied, considering how he and Tsukishima met (though, he’s not sure if Tsukishima really forgot saving him, or if he was playing dumb to save him the embarrassment), but he’d tried hard to make it so that Tsukishima never saw just how bad and how prevalent it actually was.

Even though he sees it as it happens, he still stumbles over the foot stuck out in front of him.

Tsukishima’s hands grab his arms and brace him before he falls over, they steady him and keep him on his feet. They don’t leave his arms.

Tadashi looks  up at Tsukishima questioningly, heart stuttering as he watches as Tsukishima’s face clouds over with anger, eyes sharp and lips drawn.

Pathetic,” he spits out. “Don’t you have anything better to do? Or are you too stupid to think of anything else other than this?” His hands push at Tadashi, ushering him out the door.

Tadashi stammers up at Tsukishima, “You—you didn’t have—you didn’t have to do that,” he whispers finally.

“Do what?” Tsukishima says sharply, face still drawn into a tight scowl. He clasps his hands at his front, thumbs rubbing over his knuckles.

“…protect me like that,” Tadashi answers softly.

“…I didn’t have to, you’re right,” Tsukishima answers. “But that’s not why I did it.”

Tadashi thinks for a long moment; he hugs Tsukishima’s arm tightly, letting go after a few seconds. They don’t talk about it again, but after a few months, the bullying stops entirely under Tsukishima’s protection.


He’s ten and his brother is a liar.

His beloved older brother, who taught him to walk and read and write and play volleyball, is a liar.

It’s not like the little lies Akiteru used to tell, like when he would sneak Kei extra sweets or tell their mother they weren’t playing games instead of doing homework or that Kei went to bed on time when he was babysitting. He can’t even comprehend the scale of it, of three straight years of lying to him.

Of him missing his big brother when he stayed late for practice and being sad that Akiteru had told him that he couldn’t come to the games anymore because it made him nervous. Of bragging about something that wasn’t even true.

He feels stupid and discounted and small. He was proud of Akiteru for being an ace, but… he loves Akiteru for more than just that. He loves him for all the times Akiteru’s put up with his stubbornness and his bluntness, for letting him hog the bathtub at night and for letting him hide with him during typhoons, for giving him the biggest pieces of shortcake and taking the blame when a volleyball breaks something it shouldn’t have been near. He would have still loved Akiteru even if he wasn’t a star player anymore.

He’s never much dwelled on his inability to connect with other people, but suddenly he feels like a failure for not being able to be the sort of younger brother that Akiteru didn’t feel like he had to lie to in order to be a good sibling. For being the sort of person to put that look on his brother’s face, for messing it up when Akiteru was so close to being able to get away with it, for having to be nosy and butt in where he’d been told he wasn’t wanted.

A small, warm hand slips into his own. It tugs him away, out of the stands and out of the gym and onto the bus. They’ve left the crowds behind, but there’s still a soundless roar in his ears that’s broken only by quiet sniffles that he’s not sure are his, or if they’re Yamaguchi’s.

Yamaguchi doesn’t let go of his hand. He doesn’t care enough to mind. Yamaguchi leads him home, pushing the phone into his hands.

“Call your mom, tell her you’re spending the night.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t have to go home,” Yamaguchi explains softly.

It dawns on Kei then that Yamaguchi is protecting him from what happened. From going home and dealing with Akiteru, from having to pretend to their mother—or having to tell her outright. He feels a hot rush of indignant embarrassment before it fades away into exhaustion. “You don’t have to protect me from this,” he mumbles.

“No, but I want to,” Yamaguchi answers mournfully.

Kei feels his lips quirk despite the cold, crushing shock still running through him. It’s the same reason, for both of them. What an odd pair they are.


He’s eleven and Tsukki is in his class. Tsukki lets him copy his homework when he forgets it and takes notes for him the week he’s out with the flu and when the group he’s in for a history project tries to make him do all the work despite him trying to divvy it out evenly, Tsukki steps in and makes sure everyone does what they need to.

“You don’t have to protect me,” he says after one such incident.

Tsukki smirks, “No, I don’t have to,” he agrees.


He’s eleven and Akiteru leaves for college without them fixing the rift between them. They avoid each other—Kei more so than Akiteru, but what happened sits heavily between them.

Akiteru still offers to teach him, and Yamaguchi too, what he does know about volleyball—and math and science and literature—to make up for it, but each time, Kei declines. He doesn’t want to work anymore.

So when he leaves, it’s still with a bad air between them. Kei misses him the moment the last suitcase closes. He has never been away from Akiteru; even now with them awkward, Akiteru’s presence is still in the house. Kei knows that all he has to do is call out, and his brother will be there.

But he’s leaving. And Kei can’t bring himself to do anything but wave briefly goodbye before locking himself up in his room. He doesn’t want to force his love and expectations and bitterness and anger onto his brother and trip him up.

An hour after Akiteru leaves, Yamaguchi shows up, a bakery bag in hand and a bag of books in the other.

“You don’t have to protect me from this,” he says as Yamaguchi slides inside.

“No, but I want to.”


He’s twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and Tadashi always has his back. He’s always there, he’s always listening, he’s always chiming in to smooth out his awkward places, point out the things he’s proud of without him having to admit it, reminding him of his good points.

Tadashi keeps him from completely hating himself—if someone as good and kind and sweet as Tadashi can care for him, he’s doing something right.

“You don’t have to,” he mumbles as Tadashi rubs his thumbs under his glasses, as if he was smoothing away tears.

“I want to,” is the answer as Tadashi leans into him.


He’s thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and Kei chases off the nastier rumors about them with clenched teeth and fists. He keeps him safe from bullies and saves his ass on the court and in class and while studying for entrance exams. 

They start high school together, and no one in their classes or on the team know them. He wants to become someone Kei doesn’t have to continuously protect.


He’s fifteen and Tadashi’s stopped protecting him. He’s got him by the collar and is yelling, and it’s so strange that it’s Tadashi ripping the wound open and letting it bleed. 

Tadashi’s always sheltered him from this, but it turns out, he didn’t need him to anymore. He starts to think that it’s just a bit lonely, but then Tadashi grins at him the next morning and taps his fingers against his thigh under the table at breakfast. 


He’s sixteen and people still murmur about him occasionally. It’s not as bad as it used to be, and now it doesn’t bother him.

“You don’t need to protect me anymore,” he tells Kei one day, after he’s had to very patently explain to someone what a pinch server actually did and Kei’s told them to ‘go extract their head out of their ass’. “I can handle it now.”

Kei looks at him strangely for a moment before shrugging, a very soft smile spreading across his face. “Doesn’t matter.”

Chapter Text

Tadashi is loud; Kei’s not sure if he’s always been that way, or if he’s making up for the years he spent in silence before they met. He’s just gotten used to it; it’s not as if it’s unpleasant, the way Tadashi chatters away when they’re alone.

It isn’t as if he’s not filled his fair share of silences with idle prattle when they were younger.

In any case, Kei’s used to Tadashi’s constant low-level of noise. His one-sided (seemingly) conversations on the way home, the way he thinks aloud and talks to himself and to his surroundings, how he murmurs low in his throat and hums to himself when he’s working.

The humming is one of Kei’s favorite things. Tadashi hums in snippets of songs he’s heard on the radio and through Kei’s headphones mixed with odd, nearly-tuneless melodies that Kei doesn’t recognize while he cooks and while he cleans and when he brushes his hair and when he showers. He hums when he ties his shoes and pulls his kneepads on.

His other favorite thing is when Tadashi sings. Though, to be fair to vocalists everywhere, it isn’t as much singing as it is loudly belting out whatever Tadashi thinks the words are. It’s tuneless and loud and very often just plain comical. Kei loves it because it’s absolutely terrible.  He sounds like a tone-deaf, dying cat when he sings, and it’s great.

In the seven, going on eight, years they’ve known each other, it never fails to put him in a good mood and laugh. It’s just so ridiculous and loud and bad that he just can’t help it; it doesn’t help that Tadashi only ever does it when they’re strung out and stressed and in bad moods. It’s hard to be surly when your best friend/boyfriend starts belting out the wrong lyrics to a top 40 hit while sounding like the death throes of a banshee with a bad case of laryngitis.

So it’s a bit of a surprise when he hears it:

It’s the first Saturday in their new apartment, after their first week of classes in university. The differences in their class schedules mean that neither of them are both in the apartment at the same time in the morning, and, though he won’t really admit it, Kei has been looking forward to sleeping in with Tadashi.

But when he wakes up, Tadashi—ever the early riser—is already out of bed. Judging by the smell, he’s up and cooking. Kei weighs between the perks of staying in bed and falling back asleep and getting up to eat and latch himself onto Tadashi’s back and recharge. His stomach growls and the emptiness in the bed next to him win out and he slides out of bed, jamming his glasses onto his face. He grumbles to himself, feeling irritable from the lack of Tadashi’s early morning snuggles. 

He hears the sink and the sound of something frying first, then Tadashi’s usual quiet humming. Kei yawns and stretches, noise fading out for a moment. He starts shuffling towards the kitchen, still yawning. It takes him a second to register words out of what he thought was humming:

In the morning when I wake
And the sun is coming through,
Oh, you fill my lungs with sweetness,
And you fill my head with you,”

He pauses in the doorway, ears straining. He doesn’t hear the radio, so even if it’s on, the singing isn’t coming from there.

“Shall I write it in a letter?
Shall I try to get it down?
Oh, you fill my head with pieces
Of a song I can’t get out…
Can I be close to you?

He fixes his eyes on Tadashi, who’s looking out the window as he washes his hands off, lips pursed as the singing tapers off into a hum. It takes until Tadashi starts humming and turns his head to look over his shoulder for Kei to really realize that it was Tadashi singing a few seconds previously. 

And it wasn’t god-awful. It was actually… pretty good. It was sweet and mellow and calming. He likes it more than the chatter, more than the murmuring, more than the humming. It’s a different sort of happiness than the lift he gets from Tadashi’s horrible, apparently mock, singing; it’s a warm feeling instead of a bubbly one, like he’s sat in the sun and soaked up its heat like a rock. He smiles despite his earlier grumpiness. 

“Tsukki! You’re awake!” Tadashi chirrups happily, drying his hands off on his jeans. “I’ve started making breakfast, sit, and I’ll make you your coffee!”

“You didn’t tell me you could sing,” Kei blurts out, scowling.

“Pardon?”

“That you could sing, not just… caterwaul,” the blond clarifies.

Tadashi’s face goes from pinched and confused to the mischievous grin he gets when he’s about to start making fun of someone. “Tsukki, really?” he teases, coming forward to pat Kei’s cheek with a damp hand. “I just do that to blow off steam. Besides, it’s kind of embarrassing to just… sing, even if it’s just you listening.”

“You should do it more,” Kei says. “It’s nice. I like it.”

Tadashi smiles shyly and pats Kei’s cheek again before turning back to the stove to check the bacon in the pan. “Maybe,” he answers slowly. “But it’s more fun to do it badly.”

“Jerk.”

“Stubborn.”

“Gullible,” Tadashi shoots back, laughing as he flips the bacon. “If you want me to sing for real, you have to give it a go, too.”

Kei sits at their kitchen table, watching Tadashi cook. “I actually can’t sing. For real. So, that’s a no.”

Tadashi shrugs and continues to cook breakfast. Kei gets to hear the rest of the song and then some, smiling into his hand at the sound as Tadashi busies himself with chores, cheeks pink.

Chapter Text

There’s a cat following him. He’s not really sure if the cat is shy or if it thinks it’s being sneaky, but every time he stops to look behind him, it hides itself—badly, at that, he can see its dappled tail hanging out of the bushes—until he starts walking again.

He thinks it’s a very stupid cat, considering it keeps chattering to itself as they walk. He knows it’s there. Especially since they’ve repeated this pattern all day. The cat followed him to school, keeping track of him from class to class. It followed him to work. It sat outside the bookstore on the windowsill—again, in plain sight; he can see its dark marled ears from the cashier’s desk—and waited for him to finish. It’s following him home right now.

It’s probably his fault that it’s following him—if you feed a cat once, he remembers his mother saying, they’ll never leave. Though he didn’t actually feedit, the little spotted tortoiseshell is obviously taken with him after he saved it from a group of elementary school boys who thought it was fun to torment stray animals. Its ear is all torn and its face is scratched up, and it keeps limping every now and then.  

He feels bad for the stupid thing, with its dark spotted fur and white belly and little stubby tail. It looks like it needs a bath and a few good meals and someone to clean that ear and scratched up face, and maybe check its paw for injury. He turns around.

The cat jumps behind a trashcan.

“Hey, I can see you, cat,” Kei drawls, kneeling down onto the concrete, stretching out his hand. “I know you’re there. C’mere.”

A little brown nose peeks out from around the trashcan, wriggling as the cat sniffs the air. It retreats after a few seconds.

“C’mere you stupid thing,” Kei mutters in exasperation. Nothing happens. He clicks his tongue a few times, like his brother does to call his fat tabby’s attention to him. Again, nothing.

He shrugs off his bag, and riffles through it for the jerky he keeps in his lunch bag for snacks. He tears off a small piece of it and puts it on the ground by his feet. “Food.”

The nose peeks out again. Followed by whiskers, and the cat’s head. It stares at him with amber eyes, whiskers twitching.

“Your hiding spot is crap,” Kei says, waiting. The cat blinks slowly and flicks its ears, sunlight turning its orange marled spots to turn gold. It’s a cute cat, Kei thinks, studying it as it shyly wanders up to him and the piece of jerky. It’s most definitely a Bobtail, he thinks, watching the little stubby tail twitch as the cat sniffs at the jerky. Not one of the show cats, because its body is not pure white, but it’s definitely a Bobtail.

It starts to eat it and Kei puts a hand out to pet its head. The cat flinches and looks up at him. Kei stares back and looks rather bored. It makes up its mind and rubs against his fingers, purring loudly. Kei scoops it up into his arms, and it only gives a single mew of protest before settling into Kei’s hold.

It’s definitely a stupid cat. No wonder those elementary boys had such an easy time of torturing it. He decides he’s going to take it home with him. He’ll figure out his apartment’s pet policy later—but he thinks that if he opens the window with the little balcony on it in his bedroom, the cat can come and go as it wants to, and as long as he has food for it, it’ll come back. He thinks.

“How troublesome,” he mumbles. He’s got to get into his apartment, fast. He’s lucky enough to catch the elevator empty and no one gets on between the ground lobby and the third floor; even luckier is the fact that there’s no one out in the hallway. He fumbles for his keys, though, and the cat digs its claws lightly into his shirt, clinging when he nearly drops it. “Ow ow ow, fucking—”

The cat makes a low whine, and Kei has to quickly jiggle his door open so he can grasp it tighter. “Let go now,” he complains at the cat. It mews at him and jumps from his arms. It quickly wanders around his loft, sniffing curiously at his plants and delicately pawing its way through the laundry on his bedroom floor.

Kei follows it and watches it suspiciously, knowing all too well how capricious cats are; he’s heard his brother complain far too many times about his tabby peeing or hacking up hairballs on his stuff. He tosses his bag and his coat onto his bed once he’s satisfied that the cat isn’t going to (immediately) tear anything up.

He moves to the bathroom and grabs a white rag and runs it under warm water for a few minutes. He gathers up some peroxide and Neosporin and sets it aside and wrings out the rag. “Hey, cat, where’d you go?” he calls.

He hears an answering meow by his feet, where the cat is glaring up at him. He settles himself on the floor next to it. “Cat you will not like this, but tough shit,” he says, scooping up the cat in his damp fingers. He always thought his brother was a bit off for talking to his cat like it could understand him, but he gets it now. The cat does look like he gets what Kei’s saying, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to who isn’t going to make faces or call him cold when he speaks his mind. He might could get used to keeping a cat.

He sets to work cleaning off the cat’s wounds, wincing as the dirt and grime comes away with a fresh flow of blood, the little cat yowling unhappily. He gets claws in his thighs as he pours peroxide carefully over the cat’s ear, then dabs it on the cut across its face. He wipes it gently away, one hand firmly grasping the ruff of the cat’s neck to keep it still. “Almost done with your face, okay, spotty?” he mumbles, smearing Neosporin on the cuts.

“Now, gimme your foot,” he mutters, flipping the cat over. He discovers two things: the cat’s foot is fine, because it pushes off of him as the cat shoots off the second his hands loosen around it, and that it’s a boy cat.

Kei cusses as he stands, stretches, and cracks his back. He moves to the window in his bedroom to open it a bit, addressing the cat who’s sulking under his desk.

“Oi, so you can come and go through here for now. I don’t have anything like litter so if you have to go, you better go outside,” he hisses, glaring down at the calico. It flicks its ears at him and meows plaintively, turning its back to Kei before trotting over to Kei’s bed, jumping with one graceful movement to make itself a home on Kei’s pillow. “Not there!”

The cat meows again and Kei swears to god, it’s laughing at him. He ignores it for the rest of the night, even when it starts trying to talk to him, circling his ankles as he idly eats leftover smoked salmon from his dinner the night before as he clicks through research article after research article for a paper he’s working on for his paleontology class.

The cat (who Kei has taken to calling it Freckles because he’s uncreative, and the bridge of the cat’s nose is dotted with dark spots) rubs himself insistently against Kei’s feet, meowing loudly. It stretches itself up onto its hind paws, placing its front ones on Kei’s knee, making an awful yowling noise that startles Kei out of his research-induced daze.

“Shhhhh, shh, shit do you want to get kicked out before your ear heals up, huh?” he scolds, idly rubbing the cat’s head, rolling the injured ear tentatively between his fingers. The cat’s licked off most of the Neosporin from its torn up ear, but it looks a bit less swollen and red looking now than it did before. He’s pleased with that.

Freckles makes another insistent noise, tipping his head back to lick at Kei’s fingers. “Oh. Huh. I guess I should feed you,” Kei murmurs, breaking off a chunk of salmon and putting it on the floor.

Freckles eats it and sits himself primly at Kei’s feet, ears twitching and eyes wide.

Fine,” Kei mutters. He feeds the cat more.

Somehow, it ends up with the cat in Kei’s lap, butting its head up against his chin, even after the salmon is long gone and eaten by the both of them. The cat meows and Kei manages to find just the right article for his paper, even though it was fairly recent and should have been behind a pay wall.

“Lucky,” he mumbles, scratching under Freckles’ chin absentmindedly. The cat purrs happily. The sound of it makes Kei sleepy and he decides it’s time for bed. The cat watches him unwaveringly as he changes, turns out the lights, and collapses into bed.

Freckles creeps into bed next to him, curling up to Kei’s side as he purrs. Kei falls asleep petting the cat’s soft, spotted and marled fur. He thinks that he might keep the cat even after it heals—he enjoys its (admittedly needy) attention and likes the warmth at his side.

When he wakes up, though, it’s distinctly not a cat by his side, or a cat’s fur his hand is curled into. He’s greeted with the blurry image of a sleeping young man, freckles spread generously across round cheeks, messy dark hair spread out around his face.

He’s wearing a traditional yukata decorated with hichirimen and is curled loosely at Kei’s side, each breath making the little bell around his neck jingle softly.

Kei scrambles back and grabs his glasses, shoving them on his face without much ceremony. He kicks the other boy out of the bed, grabbing his lamp as an impromptu weapon. “Why the fuck are you in my bed?!”

The boy yelps as he hits the floor, jolting awake. “Ow whassit wassamatter?” he slurs, bright brown eyes blinking open sleepily. His face is rather young and open looking, but his eyes are scrunched and angular and there’s an air of mischievousness around him, even when he’s yawning and rubbing at his bottom as he rises to his knees.

“Who the fuck are you and why are you in my bed?”

“You let me sleep there,” the boy yawns. “Don’t you remember?” He raises a hand and rubs the back of it across his cheek, which Kei vaguely notes is scratched up.

“The only other thing sleeping there was a cat,” Kei growls, brandishing the lamp threateningly.

“And here the cat is,” the boy says, pointing to the top of his messy hair.

Kei looks at the boy suspiciously, ready to knock him out with the lamp and call the police when he sees something moving atop the boy’s head.

It’s a set of ears. Cat ears. They’re dark and dappled with the same spotted marl pattern of orange and black that the calico he’d saved had, and one was torn up the same way as the little cat’s. Pieces click together in his head all at once and the lamp goes falling out of Kei’s fingers—by some weird twist of luck, it doesn’t shatter, but just rolls away. Kei sits heavily on the bed.

The boy crawls onto the bed with him, little bell ringing in the silence. There’s a faint noise that Kei registers as a very tentative purr as the boy settles himself next to him on the sheets. Kei looks over at him, “So, what,” he croaks, “You’re Freckles? The cat from yesterday?”

The boy beams. “Yep. Thank you for saving me,” he purrs. He butts his head up against Kei’s shoulder fondly. “I was so scared; they said they were going to pull all my whiskers out.”

Kei looks down at him, noticing the way the boy’s freckles are patterned like the way whiskers would spread out on a cat’s face. This is too much. He pinches the inside of his wrist, hard.

It hurts. It’s not a dream. What the hell.  Kei tries to put the pieces together. “So you’re like…a nekomata,” he says slowly. It’s the only conclusion he could come to, not even like he believes in old folk legends like that. “Or a bakeneko?”

The boy pouts and his ears twitch, “Excuse you, I’m a maneki-neko!” He raises his hand up in the air, fingers curled loosely and his nose scrunches up. “You know, good luck?”

“…Aren’t those cats supposed to be white?”

“Excuse you, we can be any sort of calico we please!”

“And fat?”

“Hey, hey, do you want good luck or not?” the boy cries, his eyes going all scrunchy. Kei reaches out and tugs a bit at the boy’s ears, unruly hair ticking his fingers. “Owwww that’s not nice, that’s not nice, Tsukki noo—!”

“Excuse me?”

“Those are my real ears, that hurts,” the boy whines, rubbing at his ears in a very catlike manner. He pouts and tucks his knees under himself, little tail twitching from where it’s poking out from his robes. As he moves, Kei catches a glimpse of his jaw from underneath his fringe: it curves up into his neck, but where he should have had ears, there was just smooth, freckled skin and his hairline.

Kei gulps. “I… I meant, what did you call me?”

“Your name is Tsukishima, but it’s a bother to say that, so it’s Tsukki! I’m Tadashi,” the cat-boy says cheerfully. “Anyway,” he says happily; “Since you saved me, I’m going to be your cat,” he declares. “You’re going to be lucky, since it was lucky you came when you did!”

“…Is that how it really works?”

Tadashi rubs at his nose and blushes, ears quivering. “Well, I can’t do big luck,” he mumbles. “So you can’t go out and gamble or anything. But, small things, I can do those, kind of. Well. Sometimes I can do them. I’m not actually that great.”

Kei thinks about it; he remembers the lobby and elevator being empty when he needed it to be to sneak Tadashi’s cat form in, the article he needed for his paper, the lamp not breaking. He thinks about how all of his customers all had just the right exact change so he didn’t have to fool with breaking large bills, or how unexpected books kept popping up in the shop.

“Well, damn,” he murmurs to himself, reaching out to tentatively rub his fingers underneath Tadashi’s chin.

The boy’s eyes go fluttery and he sighs, his purring growing louder as he flops against Kei, stretching his neck out. Kei slides his hand through wild hair and up to shyly trace his fingers over soft ears. “S-sorry I can’t do big things,” Tadashi stammers, limp-boned in Kei’s lap by this point, fingers twitching as Kei rubs the velvet-soft fur of the maneki neko’s ears.

“Small things are fine,” Kei says. He doesn’t mind it being small things, because the small things were already amazing. And Tadashi’s really cute, flopped out like this, eyes shut in pure bliss as Kei scratches behind his ears. “But does this mean I don’t have to buy a litter box?”

“Um. No, I can just turn human if I need to.”

“That’s good, I don’t really care about the luck anyway,” Kei says dismissively. “You can stay as long as you don’t bug me.”

“Ohhh, can I get more of that fish?” Tadashi asks excitedly, “And french fries. Also more petting,” he  asks, eyes wide.

“Sure thing. Just make it so my cakes never burn and I can always find the articles I need, and you can get that,” Kei says serenely as he smoothes his hands through Tadashi’s hair.

“Lucky,” Tadashi says happily, rolling so he can nuzzle his face into Kei’s lap. “I’m so lucky,” he cheers. There’s a weird shift of the light, and when Kei blinks, Tadashi’s back to being a little spotted calico, rubbing himself happily against Kei’s hands, meowing loudly all the while.

Kei can deal with this, he thinks. Weird, but he can deal, especially if it means the little things go a bit smoothly, and he has someone to talk to.

Chapter Text

If they were to tell their story, it would seem a fairy tale—indeed, they’ve whispered it to the ears of their children, over and over again. They don’t know if everyone is the same as they are, drawn to one soul every life, but they know. Over and over and over, they know.

“Once upon a time,” they murmur to their daughter, once upon a time ago.“There were three friends. A courtesan, a noble, and a knight.”

The prince is dead.

They, however, are not. Not anymore.

Two strangers pass on the street; they nudge shoulders as they pass. One looks over their shoulder at the other, and they stop.

He knows them. They know him.

They don’t know when, where, or how they’ll meet; they don’t know how they’ll look when they find each other. This time, they’re both men, but they’ve been women before, and they’ve been neither. But they always, always know each other.

One is always just a bit taller than average with bright amber eyes that gleam with the knowledge they’ve gained. The other always has a sprinkling of freckles and a mischievous crooked grin and chatoyant eyes.

Those eyes light up as people rush around them on the busy sidewalk.

“The three loved each other very much, but they way they loved each other was uneven, as often happens in stories about friends.”

They don’t always find each other. Sometimes, they’re not even born at the same time, or even as the same species. Once, his love had told him the story about how they’d been born as the dog he’d saved off the street. Once, he’d worked in a hospice and found his love too far gone with old age to even recognize him. He sat by their side and held their hand, at age 25 and wept as they died only a few months later. In one life, his love bore him sons; in another, he bore his love daughters. All of their children were beautiful things, and they love them even as they lose them, souls awash in the ether of the world once they pass away to their new lives.

“The nobleman was driven mad with jealousy, for the knight and the courtesan had fallen in love—he, as is often the case in these sorts of stories, for we must learn from them—felt as if the kindness and the love he had offered to the courtesan had been cruelly dismissed.”

Hands find hands. They hold onto each other. Their hearts race and their blood sings at them: again again again.

“There was a war. There is always a war, somewhere. And duty called for the nobleman and the knight. The courtesan wished for their safe return; the knight promised freedom and a life together upon his return. And so, the courtesan made their way, dutifully, to the temple each day. They prayed, not really believing, but hoping for their love’s and their friend’s safe return. In the end, it didn’t matter: The nobleman returned with the body of the knight and spun a tale of a gallant sacrifice. And with the blood still damp on his hands from where he had killed his own champion, he attempted to force his love on the mourning courtesan.”

They can no longer count how many times they’ve repeated the same scene, but it’s just like the first time, their first promised reunion. It’s giddy, effervescent, sparkling with happiness and joy. 

There are times where it is hard, where they cannot love each other because of the lives they were born into, and certainly there are times where they fight and clash, but they are always overjoyed to find one another. 

“When the courtesan refused, the nobleman turned his knife upon them, too. As the courtesan lay dying and violated, they prayed, that they could see their love again.”

In this new life, they are both young. He is blond and tall, glasses perched cleanly on his nose; his love is just a few inches shorter with messy brown hair and light brown skin.

“And just when they were about to breathe their last, a god appeared. The god touched their lips and brought together the courtesan’s and the knight’s cold fingers and promised them forever: that they would be born anew until their love faded, blessed with the memories of every life they lived.”

The god who blessed them this joy has long lost their followers. They are the only two left who believe; their god is still taught in school, the temple still standing, but left to the whims of people who did not know the power in the words, in the stones.

But still, they love.

“He touched their eyes, and gave them the ability to see each other for who they were, and bid them a fast race to see their love again. And the courtesan died, at peace with the promise.”

They could be anyone, two strangers, two young men struggling in college with families and dreams and friends. They are anyone. Anyone can be tall, anyone could have a grin that scrunches up their eyes, but they know. They always know.

“How long has it been?” Tadashi murmurs, eyes sparkling. Tadashi always asks the same question, every time they reunite—will this be the last life, are they ready to fall away from each other?

Kei cups his love’s face between his hands, smoothing his thumbs over their cheeks. “Not long enough.”

He tells the story to their children, to their children’s children. They never believe it, but his knight looks at him and grins, and it’s real.

Chapter Text

Silly Dragon

He’s always liked fairy tales and adventure stories. His favorites growing up were the stories about underdogs who became great knights; he read those until they fell apart at the bindings. He always knew that the stories weren’t true, and that those kinds of things would never happen to someone like him. But it was still nice to think about; to dream about.

He’s had this dream since he was a kid. He’s a peasant’s son, and he’s chosen—the manner changes from time to time, at the moment, he’s proven himself through battle—to save the kingdom’s princess, who has been kidnapped by a dragon who’s mistaken her hair for gold. (It’s an old, nearsighted, dragon, apparently.) The dragon is angry that the princess’ hair is not actually gold, and has cursed her. In some dreams, she sleeps; in others, she is doomed to serve the dragon and marry him. In this one, she is cursed to believe that nothing she’ll ever do will succeed, sending her into a fugue of apathy.

He’s had the dream so many times that he’s aware it’s a dream. He changes things as he sees fit and acknowledges the things that aren’t quite right in that vague way that people do when they know they’re dreaming. He knows that a battle to win the right to save a princess doesn’t generally involve float serving, and that his club jersey underneath a breastplate isn’t conventional knight attire. But oh well.

He charges onwards.


He’s known Tadashi for nearly six years now. He’s gotten used to his friend’s awful sleeping habits. The rolling about, the drooling, the incessant sloth-like grip Tadashi inflicts on the nearest object. He’s even used to the sleep talking.

It’s weird, because he sometimes hears snippets of things like ‘cheese grater soup’ or ‘no, your underwear is on fire’ in the short lulls between songs. But he’s used to it. Tadashi used to be shy about it when they were younger; now he just falls asleep whenever he pleases and mumbles on and on.

It’s… sort of cute. He wonders if he’s obligated to feel that way now that he and Tadashi are dating.

At the moment, Tadashi has his face pushed up against his ribs, arms loose around his waist. He’s wiggled himself so his hip is on top of Kei’s thigh, and every time Kei jiggles it so it won’t fall asleep, Tadashi just rolls with it, mumbling all the while.

Kei sighs and closes his book. He folds his glasses up and sets the book and his glasses on the bedside stand. He removes his headphones next, checking that his phone is still charging as he sets his music to speaker mode. He turns out the light and settles into the sheets.

And then he hears it.

“…silly dragon… hair… not gold,” Tadashi mumbles, giggling once before settling back into quiet, fingers tightening around Kei’s shirt.

It’s the damn dragon dream.

Again.

He doesn’t even get that stupid dream. Tadashi has it at least once a month, and every time he says the same stupid line about dragons and hair and ‘I’ll save you, princess!’. He doesn’t understand what the dream even means.

He sighs and tries to go to sleep.


Tadashi charges forward into the tower; he’s just slain the dragon using nothing but volleyballs and crunchy  french-fries. He kind of feels bad for the poor dragon; he knows how badly it hurts to bite down wrong onto a pointy french fry.

But that doesn’t matter. He’s got a princess to save. He rushes up the stairs, and bursts into the room where the princess was held captive. Except… it’s not a princess at all.

It’s Kei. Sitting in the window, pristine in his school uniform with a smirk on his face as he tips his head to the side. He opens his mouth to say something.

“…guchi…”

“Yamaguchi.”

Tadashi groans and scowls in his sleep. Kei prods him in the side, “Tadashi!”

This does the trick; Tadashi jolts, eyes fluttering open. He blinks rapidly, mouth parted as he makes a sleepy noise that sounds a lot like ‘buuh-huh?’ . Kei scowls down at him.

“What the hell.”

“Wha?”

“Why am I the damn princess in your stupid dragon dream?” Kei demands.

Tadashi blinks again before giving a giggle that turns into a yawn. “Well, I mean,” he says sleepily, words slightly slurred, “If you think about it, Tsukki’s a lot like a princess. I mean, like, you were cursed kind of, and it took true love’s first motivational speech to break you out of it,” he teases.

Kei pushes Tadashi out of the bed and rolls himself up into the covers, back to Tadashi.

From the floor, Tadashi laughs hysterically.

Chapter Text

There’s only ever a few other people in the gym at this time in the morning; honestly, Kei prefers it that way. He doesn’t like the vain peacocking that goes on when the gym is fully occupied. Sure it’s fun to laugh the first few times someone drops weights on their feet because they’re too busy watching the treadmill girls to listen to their spotter or watch someone trip on their shoelaces because they forgot to tie them while flirting, but it gets tiring after a while. It kind of puts a drain on his already limited and apathetic faith in humanity.

The people who tend to come this early are either too serious to bother with casual athletics, shy, or the type who had early morning classes anyway, so why not go to the gym. It’s an odd assortment of people, and they all have a pretty well defined system of respect going on. They don’t talk a lot, pry, flirt, or do anything other than ask for a spot.

It’s comfortable. He knows all of them, except for one. There’s a new guy on the circuits.  He’s been showing up every day for a week and a half now. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he runs laps and does stretches before disappearing into the back group exercise wing with the eight-thirty AM yoga class. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, he does the weights and more laps. He’s chatty and friendly, with eyes that start off droopy with sleep and end up bright and lively the more he wakes up.

He reminds Kei of a puppy. And, he doesn’t actually mind it as much as he thinks it will. The guy, whose name is Yamaguchi he finds out a few days later, is actually a good spotter and he makes for an interesting challenge when running. He has this attitude that makes him want to press on for another mile or so on the track. He’s not sure why he’s never seen Yamaguchi in the gym before, because he has the air of someone who’s quiet at home in it; he’s broad-shouldered and has well-toned muscles and endurance.

So he asks. He slides into leg stretches beside Yamaguchi, who’s tying his hair back at the base of his neck before starting his laps. “People don’t just come to the gym in the morning,” he says without preamble, stretching his Achilles.

Yamaguchi laughs and shrugs, bending at the waist to touch his toes. He goes all the way forward, palms flat on the ground. Kei tries not to stare at the way his back arches as he does it, or the way his tee-shirt gapes, revealing a well-defined, very freckled clavicle. “I got bumped to closing shift at my job,” he answers. “Normally, I would come at night for the eight PM classes, work out, go home. But closing’s not done until 11:30, so I figured I’d just come in the mornings. Yacchan teaches both the morning and the evening classes so, it works.”

“Pretty flexible,” Kei says. He wants to kick himself.

“Yeah I’m lucky I’m not too schedule-bound,” Yamaguchi laughs. His eyes scrunch up in amusement. He stands, and twists his waist side-to-side as Kei comes up from his ankle stretches. “How many are you running today?”

“Whatever you are, I guess,” Kei answers.

“Five kilometers then, that’s….” Yamaguchi’s voice trails off thoughtfully as he eyes the marker for the track. “Oh well, we’ll make it an even ten laps. I wish the track was just a half instead of that weird percentage,” he sighs.

“Alright,” Kei agrees. It isn’t like he can’t run five, he just doesn’t want to. But he likes the pace Yamaguchi sets when they run  and he likes chatting with him while they do it; it’s pretty companionable and he wishes he’d thought to get a running partner earlier. Then again, knowing all his friends, they’d probably make a death  marathon out of it—Hinata and Kageyama, those morons, did five kilometers in dead sprints for breakfast. He’d die.

They set off. They never really run, it’s more like a brisk jog. He finds himself making small talk, something he hates. But it’s interesting to hear about Yamaguchi’s job and classes. He tries to talk Kei into coming to yoga: he refuses.

Yamaguchi just laughs and grins; it’s unapologetic and it scrunches his nose and eyes, bringing attention to the spread of freckles across his face. He takes a swig from his water bottle, “It’s not bad at all. It’s really useful. Stretches things out.”

Kei shakes his head again, rubbing a towel across his face. “I don’t think so.”

Yamaguchi brings his shirt up to wipe at his face; Kei nearly glares at the movement, mouth going dry at the sight of the other’s tanned, toned stomach, freckles, sweat, and dark hair trailing down into the band of Yamaguchi’s running shorts. “You don’t seem the flexible type,” he teases, dropping the shirt. “Maybe you should work on it a bit?”

“Mn, no, I’m fine with my routine.”

Yamaguchi shrugs. “Maybe one day you’ll change your mind. Anyway, gonna hit the showers. I’ll see you later.”

“Later,” Kei agrees, stretching his leg out behind him. He runs through his stretches alone. A shower doesn’t sound so bad, really. Normally he goes home and bathes, but he feels sticky today. He grabs his stuff and heads into the locker room showers.

It’s pretty much unoccupied; he sees the pile of Yamaguchi’s things and that’s about it. He dumps his towel and water bottle nearby, and stuffs his bag into a locker, popping his lock onto it. He can hear Yamaguchi humming distantly; it suits him, he thinks.

He vaguely wonders if it would be creepy to ask Yamaguchi out to dinner the next time they run together. He’s easy to talk to, athletic, and very attractive. (Also very flexible.) He has no idea if he’s gay, though, he thinks absently. That might be a deal breaker.

The humming breaks out into song. Kei pauses. He listens.

He can’t help it; he bursts out laughing.

There’s a startled yelp, and Yamaguchi sticks his head out of the shower stall, suds still clinging to dark hair. “Holy shit!” he declares, face bright red.

“I cannot believe you were just singing the freaking theme song to Hannah Montana in the public showers in the gym,” Kei snickers.

“I—well, you—I—you can’t say shit because you knew what I was singing!” Yamaguchi accuses, pointing a finger.

“My brother has kids that watch it, what’s your excuse?” Kei replies, leaning back with his arms crossed.

“…baby sister,” Yamaguchi admits, looking a little less horrified. “But look, tell no one.”

“…I won’t, if you go out for dinner with me,” Kei replies.

“…Are you blackmailing me into a date?” Yamaguchi asks, looking a little skeptical, still bright red under freckles and soapy water trails.

“It doesn’t sound all that great when you put it that way,” Kei answers. He rubs the back of his neck and then laces his fingers together at his waist. “I mean, I wouldn’t tell anyone anyway, but… Uh. It’d be nice? If you went to dinner with me?”

Yamaguchi thinks for a second. “Come to yoga with me,” he answers. “I won’t accept your date request until you accept mine.”

“Wait, that was you asking me out?” Kei laughs. “Wow.”

“I mean, I thought it was obvious, considering you were staring at my ass while I stretched,” Yamaguchi says, shrugging before sliding back into the shower. “But we’ll do both. Best of both worlds and all.”

Kei groans in response. Yamaguchi continues to hum. 

Chapter Text

“Hot,” Tadashi complains. “Hot. Hot. It’s hot.”

“Shut up,” Kei groans. He barely flicks his eyes up from his phone. Sweat trickles down the back of his neck. He doesn’t disagree with Tadashi; it is really hot. But complaining about it only makes it seem hotter.

Tadashi blinks up at him, hair sticking to his face and cheeks in unruly curls. “But, Tsukki.”

Kei drops his phone and leans back onto his hands. Tadashi’s hair tickles his stomach as his tank rides up, his head heavy against his lap. He unsticks his sweaty thighs from Tadashi’s arms. “We have iced barley tea in the fridge,” he says lazily.

“Please,” Tadashi whines.

“Go take a cold shower,” Kei adds. He leans forwards and smoothes Tadashi’s hair from his face, smirking to himself as it stays pushed back.

“No,” Tadashi pouts. “Effort.”

Kei snickers and drops kisses over Tadashi’s face. “Is that so,” he teases. He slides away from Tadashi, who rolls onto his stomach and drops his face into the sheets. “Be back.”

Tadashi only groans and wiggles his butt in response. Kei rolls his eyes. He pads downstairs, pushing his glasses up his sweaty nose. Practice had been grueling in the summer heat, and even though it was long over, neither of them had really felt like they cooled down at all, especially since the AC at Kei’s house was frozen over from being continually run and they were both too tired to make their way to Tadashi’s house.

He piles their largest glasses full of ice before pouring tea into them. He grabs the bags of grapes and bananas that his mother had put in the freezer for them, and piles them onto a tray with their drinks and carries it carefully back  upstairs.

Tadashi hasn’t moved an inch. From the sound of it, it seems like he’s dozed off as well. Kei smirks to himself. He sets the tray down on his desk as quietly as he can, and scoops a handful of ice cubes out of one of the glasses, rolling them in his fingers until they stick together.

He pads over to the bed, hooks one finger carefully against the hem of Tadashi’s tee-shirt, and drops the ice  squarely at the base of Tadashi’s neck. It slides quickly to rest between the blades of his shoulders, and Tadashi sits up with a loud squeal.

“Kei! Kei, shit shit—that’s cold!” He shouts, hands trying to find the cube as it slides down his back. He shrieks again, “It went in my shorts, you are dead to me!”

Kei leans back onto his heels and bursts out laughing as Tadashi wiggles his hips, rolling around on the bed until the ice hunk slides out of his shorts. He continues laughing even as Tadashi grabs it and stuffs it down the front of his shorts.

At least Tadashi isn’t complaining it’s hot anymore.

Chapter Text

Kei groans as Tadashi slaps down a ‘draw-four’ card with a loud, rather manic laugh. “Tadashi, really?” he sighs, pulling four more cards out of the already pretty-drawn thin deck. He thinks he’s got at least fifteen cards in his hand.

“What? I had it,” Tadashi says with an impish grin. He has a paltry four cards in his hand. He changes the color. Kei puts down a four in a different color just to fuck with his boyfriend.

He thinks he sees steam pouring from Tadashi’s ears. He pulls about five cards before he manages to get the color.

Kei lazily puts down a ‘draw two’ card. Tadashi is very competitive when it comes to card and board games, surprisingly, but Kei can never back down from being goaded.  He can also never step away from the chance to rile up someone, even his own boyfriend, and it’s fiercely satisfying to watch Tadashi grind his teeth and fuss with his cards.

Because, really, Tadashi should know better than to give Kei nearly all the cards in the deck. He’s got a nice assortment of wild cards, a few of every color, and several skip cards, reverse cards, and at least three more draw cards. He plays all of those first, until they have to reshuffle the played card pile to draw from and Tadashi’s face is splotched and Kei’s on the borderline of laughing his ass off.

He knows what’s about to come. It came the last time he and Tadashi had a game night. It came when Kei holds back only to walk all over Tadashi in video games, during Monopoly, during chess and go-fish. And he loves it. He loves it when Tadashi loses his cool, adores every ounce of frustration and competiveness that oozes out of his normally even-tempered, timid boyfriend. He loves the anger and the desperate drive to dominate him that comes after.

Tadashi has more cards now; Kei’s are dwindling. They keep playing until they have three cards in hand. Tadashi fidgets, and his eyes are daring Kei to do what he’s going to do.

He puts down a skip card. He puts down his second card and whispers, grin spreading across his lips, “Uno.”

Tadashi throws down his cards in disgust and sweeps the cards off the table. “You fuck,” he growls.

Kei leans back onto the sofa; “Wow, sore loser much,” he teases. Tadashi pushes back from his ottoman and seats himself roughly in Kei’s lap, grabbing his collar.

“You did that on purpose,” Tadashi hisses.

“Probably,” Kei laughs, grabbing Tadashi’s hips. “Mostly because I like it when you get all fired up.”

“Asshole.”

“Your asshole. I mean, it’s not like you don’t know that it’s gonna end up like this,” Kei murmurs, dragging Tadashi’s earlobe between his teeth. “It always does. Every time. You know it.”

“Asshole,” Tadashi repeats, nails digging into Kei’s shoulders. “Next time, I’ll win.”

“Sure thing, babe,” Kei laughs. “Sure thing.”

Chapter Text

“Just do it already.”

Tadashi fidgets at the table, trying to ignore the way Yachi was boring holes into his skull with her eyes. For someone so tiny and nervous, she had one hell of a ‘I am so disappointed in you right now’ gaze. Tadashi finds himself on the end of it far too often for his liking sometimes. Like now.

Really right now. He peeks up at her and finds her lips pursed and her brows drawn. “Tadashi, seriously, you should go talk to him.”

Tadashi plays with his straw wrapper. He takes a long sip of his peppermint mocha iced coffee. It’s sweet and has just the right amount of peppermint and he knows that the café’s stopped putting chocolate shavings in it a long time ago, but there they are because the barista, the lovely, criminally hot, kind of cranky barista knew he liked it that way.

He lets his eyes dart over to the front counter of the café. His eyes linger on the profile of one Tsukishima Kei. He watches Tsukishima’s glasses slide down his thin nose as he pours milk into a cup. He pushes them up after turning on the blender. Tadashi watches the tight black material of his uniform shirt strain on wiry muscles, apron pulling tight with the movement.

“You have it bad.”

“Mmn,” Tadashi says, watching as Tsukishima turns and busies himself with measuring out syrup shots. He leans up just slightly, not too much, to pump one into the cup; Tadashi tears his eyes away before it becomes apparent he’s admiring the view of the blond’s ass.

“Go do it. Just go up and start flirting with him. Ask for a refill. Talk about the chocolate flakes,” Yachi urges.

“I like the coffee here,” Tadashi says evasively. He traces his finger through the condensation on his cup.

“You also like the barista here,” Yachi points out. “Look, the worst thing that can happen is that he turns you down.”

“You already turned me down,” Tadashi points out succinctly.

“Exactly. It’s not that bad, see?” Yachi chirps cheerfully, digging her spoon into her parfait.

“I won’t be able to show my face here ever again if I fuck it up,” Tadashi moans, covering his face with his hands.

“Whatever, you like, turned blue and fell into a trash can when you confessed to me and we’re still friends aren’t we?” Yachi reasons. She scoops up some granola from the bottom of her parfait and munches on it happily.

“Because you showed up the next day and dragged me out and ruined my pity party,” Tadashi sighs.

“And I’ll do the same if this guy shoots you down. Like, I don’t even like guys and I can admit he’s gorgeous. Like, his butt is great.”

“Isn’t it?” Tadashi sighs.

“Go tell him you want to have his butt for dinner.”

Tadashi feels his face grow hot and Yachi giggles. He makes a mental note to tell Noya and Tanaka to stop corrupting their cute club manager.

“Go do it. Look, I have text messages from like, everyone, they want you to do it too,” she urges, producing her phone. Indeed, there are texts from every member of the college volleyball club urging him—with varying levels of obscenity—to go flirt with the pretty blond barista.

He drains the last of his drink and stands. Yachi grins. He wants to die. “Look, this can only end in tears. He’s tall, handsome, has great taste in music, and can work the flannel and thick glasses look without looking like a stoner hobo,” he hisses, “I am going to go up in flames.”

“You turned blue and fell into a trashcan,” she hisses back, “Anything is better.”

He sighs and shifts from foot to foot before making his way up to the counter again. He fumbles with his wallet.

Tsukishima turns from where he’s wiping down counters. “Problem?”

“Um,” Tadashi says, mouth dry. “Can I get another coffee?”

“Sure,” Tsukishima answers, keying it into the register. “Usual?”

“Yeah.”

Tsukishima pulls out a cup and starts writing Tadashi’s name onto the cup. His mind reels for something to say, “My parents named me after a dog.”

“Pardon?”  Tsukishima looks up from writing the last characters on Tadashi’s name, thin brows pinched into a frown.

“Ah—well, Hachiko,” Tadashi confesses, “You know, the ‘loyal’ part.”

A slight upward twitch of Tsukishima’s lips is all that confers his amusement. “Most people call me ‘Hotaru’,” he says, tearing off the receipt from the register.

“It’s a nice name,” Tadashi says eagerly, feeling his face grow warm. Tsukishima regards him carefully for a moment before smiling slightly at him. Tadashi swallows and wipes one sweaty palm off on his jeans. “H-how much?” he stammers.

“Oh,” Tsukishima says slowly, passing him the receipt. “On the house.” His fingers pass against Tadashi’s knuckles and linger slightly longer than they should.

Tadashi thinks his face must be as red as a tomato—he knows it has to be, because the smile on Tsukishima’s face twitches into a smirk. He picks up the cup and taps his fingers against the plastic. “One moment, Tadashi.”

Tadashi thinks he’s going to faint. Right there. He’s pretty sure that Tsukishima’s flirting with him. He’s being flirted with. Tsukishima is returning his horribly clumsy attempts at flirtation so much more smoothly than Tadashi would have ever imagined.

He turns and looks over his shoulder at Yachi, who gives him a grin and a thumbs up. He shakily returns it. He turns around quickly when he hears the snap of Tsukishima uncapping whipped cream.

He watches as the blond piles it up on his drink, admiring the angle of Tsukishima’s elbows and the curve of his wrists. He tries to think of more flirtations. All he has is crappy pick up lines he refuses to use.

Tsukishima looks up from the drink and grins. “I did something a little different with this one, I hope you won’t mind,” he says as he pushes the cup across the counter, turning it to display a phone number beneath Tadashi’s name.

Tadashi gapes up at him. “O-of course I don’t!” he shouts. Everyone in the café turns to look at him and Tsukishima snickers a little bit. Tadashi slinks away with his drink and his sweaty palms, and immediately keys the number into his phone as Yachi coos over him excitedly.

This is Tadashi? He sends.

He looks over at the counter as Tsukishima draws out his phone, lazily keying something back.

That was cute. Comes the reply.  Let’s go on anything but a coffee date.

Yachi looks too smug to be alive, but Tadashi can’t even be mad. He has an anything-but-a-coffee-date date to plan.

Chapter Text

To be truthful, neither of them followed sports outside of volleyball, but Tadashi was too polite to decline and there was no way Kei was going to either, not when the tickets came from Akiteru himself. The elder Tsukishima had pushed the tickets for the baseball game off on them with an apology and a knowing arch of his eyebrow.

Apparently the story was that he’d gotten the tickets in some in-store raffle that promoted the store’s new advertising campaign with the local baseball team, and he hadn’t noticed that the date on them was smack-dab in the middle of a business trip. Tadashi is far more suspicious of this story than Kei is, because that single raised eyebrow was the exact same expression Kei gets when he knows something that Tadashi’s holding back on and is trying to goad him into spilling it.

It’s not like he thinks that Akiteru would deliberately go out and buy relatively expensive baseball tickets to coax them into actually going out on an actual date-date, but… Look, he knows Kei gets some of his personality from Akiteru—the elder Tsukishima might be softhearted, he also has a conniving streak.

Kei takes the tickets with a subdued thanks, pursing his lips as he looks over at Tadashi. Tadashi shrugs.

So they go. The weather is nice and they know enough about the sport to keep up. It’s nice. They haven’t really been on a date-date since they got together on Valentine’s Day; they do a lot of the same things they usually do, just with hand-holding and a light smattering of cuddles. Their knees knock together in the cramped stadium seats, and their elbows tangle. They have a few awkward moments where their hands brush as they reach for popcorn at the same time before Kei sets the bag aside and lays his palm face up between the seats.

Tadashi hums softly and grins, lacing their fingers together. He watches as Kei’s ears turn a delicate shade of pink. They continue watching the game, cheering when appropriate. He leans over to whisper something about one of the fans in front of them (who had just whipped off their shirt in a manner very reminiscent of Tanaka) when people start to turn and look at them.

Tadashi pauses, blinking back at the people gawking at them. He feels the need to make faces at them so they’ll turn back around—but it seems like everyone in front of them is now craning around to look.

Kei nudges him with his elbow. “Yamaguchi, look this way,” he whispers.

Tadashi looks over at Kei, finding his boyfriend cherry-red. Amber eyes dart up to the left, then back to Tadashi. Tadashi follows the track of Kei’s gaze, and finds himself staring at a wide-screen LED version of himself. “Oh,” he murmurs. They’re on the mid-game kiss cam; whoever’s running it seems to be very interested in whether or not they’ll kiss. Kei’s face is very, very red on the screen. He thinks his hair looks even messier than usual, and he kind of looks like a startled deer.

“Do… you?”

Tadashi leans forward and brushes his lips against Kei’s, feeling the back of his neck burn as people coo and cheer. He’s not able to note anything except  how his stomach twists and the heat radiating from his face. When he pulls away, he looks very resolutely at his knees, too embarrassed to look and see if anyone is still looking at him. Their first kiss, and an entire stadium’s worth of people (and people at home, probably!) are watching them do it. His heart clatters in his chest.

Kei’s hand cups his cheek, and the plastic stadium chair creaks as he guides Tadashi back into another kiss. He’s able to pay more attention to the warm press of Kei’s lips to his own; Kei’s lips are chapped, but soft and salty from popcorn. The pressure of it makes his lips tingle and his heart flutter. Kei’s hand strokes across his face and slides to rest at his neck. Tadashi tips his head back slightly and parts his lips against Kei’s. The kiss lingers for a few seconds more before Kei pulls back.

Tadashi sighs softly, smiling softly at Kei. He squeezes his fingers around Kei’s; Kei smiles oh-so-slightly against him. They don’t pay attention to the rest of the game.

Later that evening, Kei helps him compose a nice thank-you email to Akiteru. 

Chapter Text

For all intents and purposes, Kei thinks he could have done worse in the roommate department. Yamaguchi Tadashi was polite and relatively quiet when Kei asked him to be. Sure, he was a chatterbox and a bundle of anxious nerves, but he didn’t steal Kei’s belongings and always locked the door behind himself. They had a few classes together, so they both studied at the same times, and Yamaguchi wasn’t hell bent on staying up and partying or pulling all-night study sessions. They both used to play volleyball in high school, and go jogging at night together when they get the chance. By-and-far, he thinks he got pretty lucky.

The only issue he has ever had with Yamaguchi was the cat. Yamaguchi had brought it back the last time it rained. He’d slid into the dorm room, drenched through and hoodie squirming as he’d started stammering out an explanation to a very bemused Kei. Midway through, a cat’s little triangular head popped out from the neck of his sweatshirt, nestling itself under Yamaguchi’s chin.

Apparently, Yamaguchi had found it in a box, in the rain. “I couldn’t leave it there,” he pleaded as he cleaned the thing’s muddy and matted fur. He fed it jerky from the vending machines and talked Kei into driving him to the store for food and a litter box.

Tadashi didn’t seem to be phased by the fact that pets were not allowed in the dorms. During inspection week, he’d simply passed the cat to a friend who’s dormitory had already had their inspections. He cleaned up after it and was careful to not let it escape when they went to classes.

Kei and the cat were… not enemies, per say, but it had a habit of sleeping on his black shirts and pulling his pillows off of his bed to nest on. Tadashi was very apologetic about the whole affair, and as things went, it was a pretty minor offense.

They just had to make it through the year. They’d already agreed to live in an apartment—neither of them could stomach the thought of another three year’s worth of cafeteria food and public restrooms—and the one nearest to the campus allowed pets.

Kei slinks back into the dorm to find the little tabby monster waiting for him, sitting next to its food bowls, crying pitifully.

“Shush, you little snot,” Kei complains, pouring a bit more dry food into the bowl. The cat nibbles at it for a second before wandering off to go to sleep underneath Kei’s bed. He rolls his eyes and settles in at his desk.

Someone knocks on his door. “RA,” a voice calls.

Kei swears. The kitten is pretty much hidden under his bed, but he shoves his backpack in front of it just in case. On his way to the door, he pushes the foodbowls into Tadashi’s closet with the litterbox.

He pulls the door open and faces Oikawa, who grins down at him.

“Yeah?” Kei asks.

“We’ve had a few noise complaints today,” Oikawa hums, peering over Kei’s shoulder. “Someone says they heard a cat?”

“They… didn’t.”

“Really? Because I checked earlier, and I heard one!” Oikawa says, grinning. God, Kei hates this guy. He’s good at his job, but he’s always so… he’s just… Smarmy sometimes.

“Yeah, that wasn’t a real cat, though,” Kei lies. “Youtube videos. You know. Cat tricks.”

Oikawa arches an eyebrow. “Good stereo system, then. It sounded live. At the door, even.”

Kei shifts. Oikawa obviously doesn’t buy it. “I also was, uh. Me.”

“You.”

“Me,” Kei agrees. “I meow. In private. Uh. It’s sort of? You know. That sort of thing.”

“Kinky,” Oikawa whistles.

Kei feels himself turn red. Oikawa’s grin widens.

“Let me hear, so I can put my dear resident’s worries at rest,” he urges.

Kei swallows hard. He clears his throat and makes a very unconvincing, pitiful attempt at a cat’s meow.

“So do you have to be in the mood for it to sound right?” Oikawa teases.

Kei clenches his teeth. Oikawa is not going to let this rest. He wonders why this has fallen to him to do. He sighs and actually tries this time, and gives a fair impersonation of their cat just in time for Tadashi to walk up behind Oikawa.

“Um, Oikawa-senpai, is there a problem?” Tadashi asks.

“No, I was just hearing your roommate’s wonderful cat impersonation.”

Tadashi frowns and then scratches the back of his head sheepishly. “He does that sometimes, it’s kind of hard to get used to,” he says with a laugh. “But I mean everyone warned me college was weird. It could be worse, you know? So, uh… can I go in my room now, or do you need Tsukki to meow again?”

Oikawa raises an eyebrow like he’s thinking about saying yes, but Kei’s murderous scowl seems to deter him a bit. “Well, no—I’ll see you later!” he calls, waving as he trots off.

Tadashi looks at Kei oddly, before sliding past him into their dorm room. As soon as the door’s closed, he starts laughing.

Kei makes a noise in the back of his throat. Tadashi laughs even harder, leaning against the bed for support. “That was such a shitty meow, oh my god, I don’t think he even believes you.”

“Well I was covering your ass!” Kei snaps back.

The kitten sticks it’s head out from under the bed and meows again.

They only have to keep this up for the rest of the year, Kei tells himself. But it’s hard to be patient when Oikawa starts meowing at him when they pass in the hallways.

Chapter Text

Kei stumbles through the apartment door, loosening his tie as he kicks off his loafers. “I’m home,” he calls, bumping the backdoor shut with his butt. There’s no answer, but Tadashi’s shoes are in the entry way. He drops his briefcase and checks the time. Well, theoretically, Tadashi could be asleep. But it’s unlikely. He rolls his neck and starts unbuttoning his shirt slowly as he plods through the house. He grabs a granola bar from the kitchen counter and drifts through the tiny living space to their bedroom door, which is closed. The lights are off.

He chews his granola bar and untucks his shirt from his slacks and sighs. He supposes Tadashi is asleep after all. Shame, really. It’s Friday, which normally meant they vegged out on the sofa and watched dumb movies until they fall asleep. He was kind of looking forward to lambasting Sharknado this week: Tadashi does this really cute thing when Kei’s snarky about the movie they’re watching where he shushes him, even though Tadashi is so laughing, and jabs his fingers into his sides and tickles him. It always ends with Tadashi kissing Kei until they forgot about the movie for a few minutes.

He pushes the door open gingerly, light spilling over his shoulder, illuminating their bed. He stops dead in his tracks.

Tadashi is most definitely not asleep. He swallows hard, mouth dry. He watches the rise and fall of Tadashi’s chest in the half light, muscles cording and casting shadows on taut skin. The arch and bow of Tadashi’s back. Long, lean, freckled limbs. All that skin.

He swallows again, hands hovering on the doorframe to keep himself upright as the sounds hit him in waves. Sharp gasps and little quiet moans like hiccups.

“Why are you naked in the bed?” Kei asks. He doesn’t think this is the correct question to ask; a better one would have probably been ‘can I join’ or something similar. He’s not really sure.

Tadashi turns his head and stares at Kei, mouth open as he pants. His hips arch up and there’s a wet noise that Kei recognizes very well. Tadashi shudders and groans softly. He changes his posture, spreading his legs wider and moving his hand a little faster; Kei can see and hear the way Tadashi keeps pushing his fingers into himself, toes curling into the sheets with the change of angle. “Waiting for you,” he finally moans.

Kei gapes at Tadashi. “What?” He thinks he can hear the whirr-click of his brain shutting down like an old disk drive. It’s not like it isn’t obvious, but he’s still trying to piece together what’s happening, and it’s pretty hard when all of his blood has rushed from his brain.

“Come here,” Tadashi orders. Kei steps forward without a thought, body bowing down over Tadashi’s the second his knees hit the sheets.

He runs his hands over Tadashi’s body, already slick with a slight sheen of sweat and flushed with arousal. He kisses the brunet hungrily, smoothing one hand down Tadashi’s arm, covering the back of Tadashi’s hand with his fingers. His lover’s hand is coated with lube and his tendons are tight against the pads of his fingers, straining as Tadashi rocks himself against his hand. Kei pushes at Tadashi’s hand once before pushing his finger between the knuckles of Tadashi’s middle and ring finger, wedging his own just inside of Tadashi’s entrance.

Tadashi quivers and whimpers. He’s been at it a while, Kei notes as he pulls away from their kiss to take stock of the situation, twisting his finger a little deeper. There’s a generous smear of precum on the brunet’s stomach where his tip brushes against his skin every time his hips twitch upwards, damp and shiny against flush skin and dark hair. He kind of wants to slide down and lap it up, finish Tadashi off with his mouth; Tadashi moves his hand, grabbing Kei’s wrist with sticky fingers.

“Don’t you dare,” he hisses, noting the way Kei’s eyes linger on his lower stomach.

Kei shrugs and pushes his finger in deeper, knuckles brushing against the lube-slicked curve of the brunet’s ass, Tadashi’s hand shaking against his wrist. He kisses the line of Tadashi’s jaw, tongue darting between his lips to lap up salty sweat.

Tadashi presses his knees against Kei’s hips, thighs quivering. Kei crooks his finger inside of the other man, just slightly enough to brush Tadashi’s prostate. He can tell from the ragged, frantic quality of Tadashi’s gasping moan that his lover is close. He presses a bit harder and Tadashi roughly pushes at his wrist, ruining the angle. Tadashi continues to push at Kei until the blond pulls out, scowling.

“Off,” Tadashi pants, “Take your clothes off.”

“What?” Kei asks. He’s fine with Tadashi coming all over his slacks and shirt; it’s not like he hasn’t already gotten some of the generous slick of lube on Tadashi’s inner thighs on them, and his erection is sure to make a wet patch on them too, eventually. He doesn’t get why Tadashi’s stopping him now.

“You heard me,” Tadashi replies. He tips his head back onto the pillows, hand coming up to grip himself around the base of his erection, eyelids fluttering as he tries to bring himself back from orgasm. “Take them off.”

“Oh,” Kei breathes, a shiver wracking down his spine. “Oh. Okay.” He leans back onto his heels and pulls his shirt off, dropping it to the edge of the bed. He runs his tie through his fingers, thinking; he sets it aside a little more carefully before leaning back to undo his belt. Tadashi watches him intently through it all, chest quivering with his sharp breaths.

He can’t think or process what’s going on—he’s curious, yes, but he’s more concerned with spreading Tadashi open and pushing himself in. He pushes his pants and underwear down just enough to free himself; he leans forward, fingers curling around his carefully set aside tie.

“I said take them off,” Tadashi complains.

Kei smirks and covers Tadashi’s mouth with his hand, pressing the fabric of his tie over his lover’s mouth. “I get the point already,” he murmurs, balancing on his knees. He presses his fingers into Tadashi’s mouth around the fabric. “I can fuck you just as well with them still on.” He rubs the pads of his fingers against Tadashi’s tongue, skin prickling with arousal as Tadashi tips his head back and opens his mouth a little wider.

Kei pulls his fingers away, tie still gathered between his saliva-slick fingers. “I think you’ve used your hands a little too much tonight,” he murmurs. He smirks and runs his hands down Tadashi’s arms, clasping his fingers around the slighter man’s, wordlessly plucking Tadashi’s fingers away from where the freckled man still has them wrapped around his base. “What do you think, babe?” He pushes Tadashi’s hands up over his head, resting his weight onto the brunet’s palms.

Tadashi’s eyes go wide and he whines deep in his throat, body trembling.

“Yes? No? C’mon, let me know,” Kei urges softly, resting more of his weight onto his hands as he brushed open mouthed kisses to Tadashi’s parted lips, breathing in every small noise Tadashi made.

“Fuck—Kei,” Tadashi moans, rolling his weight back onto his shoulders so he can lift his hips up and wrap his legs tightly around Kei’s waist. “Whatever you want, whatever you want, just—please—”

“I’ll think about it,” Kei murmurs against Tadashi’s mouth. He fumbles with the tie for a few seconds before looping the material around Tadashi’s wrists. He doesn’t knot it tightly, just enough that it makes it hard for Tadashi to use his hands; he doesn’t want them wandering anywhere that Kei could be touching himself. Tadashi’s body shakes against him, muscles drawn tight.

Kei pulls back, watching Tadashi squirm on the sheets. He watches as Tadashi flexes his fingers, then his arms and chest as he tries to pull himself up to follow Kei’s movements. Kei puts the flat of his hand against Tadashi’s chest, pushing him easily against the bed. “Just look at you,” he murmurs, drinking in the sight. He lazily traces patterns around dusky, pert nipples, listening to the noises it draws out from his lover. “Just look.”

Kei.” Tadashi warns, voice breaking on the moan that rises out of him as Kei drags his fingers down to brush against his shaft.

“If only the parents knew that their children’s beloved teacher is like this at home,” Kei murmurs haughtily, clicking his tongue disapprovingly as he rubs his fingers back inside of the brunet. Once in, he thrusts his fingers in deep and hard, testing the limits of Tadashi’s self-preparation. He watches Tadashi’s eyelids flutter as his eyes roll up slightly, mouth falling open into a soundless, breathless, pant. He does it again and watches as precum leaks shiny and profuse at the head of Tadashi’s erection.

Satisfied, he draws his hands away and grabs a pillow. He pushes it under Tadashi’s raised hips and smoothes his hands up the slighter man’s thighs, parting him and arranging him on the pillow. “Condom?” he murmurs, grabbing the bottle of lube, pouring more over Tadashi’s already slick entrance.

“Don’t bother,” Tadashi mumbles, words hitching through his panting. “Just do it.”

Kei tips his head to the side thoughtfully. “The mess?”

“I want it. Just go on.”

Kei shrugs and coats himself in lube, shuddering as he finally touches his own erection. He uses more than he usually would, knowing this was going to be fast and hard; he wants to make it a little easier on Tadashi to take. He keeps a hand on himself as he positions himself and presses up against Tadashi.

Tadashi groans, body parting slowly at first, muscles tense with anticipation. Kei rubs at Tadashi’s stomach idly, giving a soft grunt as the resistance finally lessens as his head slides through.

Tadashi makes a quiet noise in the back of his throat, raising his arms to loop his bound wrists over Kei’s head. He tangles his fingers into Kei’s hair, breath rushing out of him as Kei gives a sharp thrust of his hips and pushes deep inside. He can feel Kei’s hips press flush to the backs of his thighs. Kei’s fingers grasp at his legs and push them up. Tadashi moans and rocks up, nails scraping at Kei’s scalp.

Kei digs his own nails into the soft parts of Tadashi’s thighs, pulling his hips back before thrusting forward, setting into a rough and fast pace. He bows his body over Tadashi’s occasionally forgoing thrusting in order to push deep inside of his lover and grind into him. He hisses and groans and spits out expletives as Tadashi rolls up against him, clenching around him.

“C’mon,” Kei groans, grabbing Tadashi’s hips and pulling him  up into his thrusts. Tadashi moans and starts to give full-body shudders, toes curling against Kei’s slacks as the heat in his stomach starts to tighten. “C’mon.”

Kei buries his face against Tadashi’s neck, feeling the muscles and tendons cord with exertion under his mouth. Heat drips down his spine in time with Tadashi’s quivering and loud gasps and tightening muscles. He can’t do anything more than roughly roll his hips against Tadashi, too near the edge of orgasm for his legs to hold him to thrust; he feels Tadashi arch his back under him, chest heaving.

Tadashi makes a helpless wanton noise that Kei recognizes as meaning that he’s grinding into the brunet’s prostate. He digs his knees into the sheets and grasps Tadashi’s hips harder, putting the last bit of force he has into giving a series of quick, shallow thrusts against the spot.

They both groan as Tadashi seizes up and comes between them. He clenches tightly around Kei as come coats both of their stomachs, fingers tugging on short locks. Tadashi keeps shuddering and he closes tighter around Kei as he brings his legs in against Kei’s sides, calves and heels pressing into the back of Kei’s legs to push him forward.

Kei thrusts forward into the tightness before he comes as well. Tadashi moans as he feels it fill him, hot and messy; Kei hasn’t even pulled out and he can feel it leaking from him and he shudders, head falling back against the sheets, eyes fluttering.

Kei’s weight is heavy against him and he’s still rutting up against him in aftershocks and Tadashi pets Kei’s hair the best he can, murmuring at the blond.

With thighs shaking and stomach weak, Kei pulls himself from Tadashi, licking his lips absently as he admires the mess of come that streaks his lover’s stomach and thighs. They’re going to have to change the sheets and bathe and Tadashi’s probably going to complain later about all the cleanup they’ll have to deal with, but Tadashi just shoos Kei’s hand away  by closing his thighs tightly when he reaches down to start the process.

Tadashi leans up, feeling sleepy and shakey and completely blissed out; he nuzzles Kei’s sweaty face, kissing him softly. “Untie me?” he whispers sweetly.

Kei nods and Tadashi brings his hands up from over the blond’s head. Kei undoes his tie slowly, tossing it aside. He kisses the red places on Tadashi’s wrists and rolls off of his lover to scoop him up against him. “Jesus, Tadashi,” he murmurs hoarsely; “What were you even doing?”

“I told you,” Tadashi yawns, melting into Kei’s arms, content to be spooned even though he was sticky and covered with semen, sweat, and lube. “I was waiting on you. Been waiting all week.”

“Really?” Kei murmurs, kissing Tadashi’s ear. “Well, certainly, wait more often; give me another show.”

“Perv,” Tadashi laughs, pinching Kei’s side.

“I’m not the one who had their hand up their ass, waiting, babe,” Kei sighs, smirking as he buries his nose into Tadashi’s sweaty hair.

Tadashi huffs and pinches Kei’s side again. Kei laughs, “Yeah, love you too.”

Chapter Text

“Tsukki!” Tadashi cries. He sounds legitimately distraught. “That arrow went right through your armor!”

Kei grits his teeth. “I know,” he mutters.

Tadashi moves to pull it out. Kei tries to stop him, but it’s too late. The arrow pops free with a wet sound and blood starts pouring out of the wound.

“Tsukki!” Tadashi repeats, sounding horrified. “Tsukki, that’s really serious!”

“I know,” Kei hisses. “I think I would be aware of my own wounds, don’t you think?”

“If you die, I’m going to kill you,” Tadashi hisses, jamming his elbow into Kei’s side.

Kei groans; Tadashi’s elbows are sharp. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an overreaction?”

Tadashi pours a health potion over Kei’s wound, “No, it’s not!” he groans. He jams his thumbs harder against the buttons, trying to speed up the healing process before the boss recovered from his area stun attack. “We’re so close to beating this, don’t you dare die on me or we are so through,” he complains.

Tsukki jabs his own healing combo in and his character slowly stands up, just as the enemy boss starts to shake off the stun magic. “This is your fault for setting the difficulty too high,” he complains.

“It’s just medium!”

“This is the first time we’re playing!” Kei snaps back. He swears; the boss just sliced his character’s head off.

Tadashi groans and punches him on the arm. “Fuck, Tsukki, I told you not to die!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know he had a sword!”

“Fuckity fuck fuck fuck, oh my god, I’m gonna—I’m dying—no no no, heal heal you mother—son of a—heal! Oh dammit, I’m dead!”

Tadashi slumps over as ‘game over’ flashes on the TV, burying his face in Kei’s lap. “Uhhhhghh,” he groans, face pressed into the blond’s jeans.

Kei pats him on the head, “We used a save point,” he consoles.

“An hour ago!” Tadashi laments. “An hour!”

“Oh. Well.”

“I swear to god, if you die again, I’ll kick your ass.”

Chapter Text

He taps his foot against the asphalt, sighing through his nose as he waits for the light to change. He really, really wants the traffic light to change; he’s not comfortable on a good night driving his bike through Greek Row—tonight he’s really not comfortable. It’s Halloween and every single person in the town, it seems, is drunk and gathered in between the houses. Someone’s leering at him, and he does his best to ignore them and their drunken slurring. He feels sweat creep down his neck at the base of his ponytail.

He’s been sitting here for way too long, but the stream of traffic is slow and steady, and by the time the light changes, the intersection is blocked. He groans. They just would close the main roads around campus to have some festival. Curse late night classes and late night labs and just curse everything.

He shifts his weight on his bike, contemplating just… rolling through anyway. Dangerous and pretty illegal to go white line dancing, but he wants to go home.

He contemplates it, but doesn’t do it. His roommate teases him all the time about looking like a punk but having the heart of a baby rabbit.

Meaning, he’s jumpy and prone to anxiousness. He’s still daydreaming about shooting through the nice, bike sized gaps when he hears someone—severalsomeones—shouting. He tries to ignore it. It’s probably a fight that’s broken out—he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.

“Hey, you!”

He shuffles his keds against the asphalt. The other light was sure to turn red soon, right? Right.

He hears the shouting grow closer and people start moving to the side. Some of them get pushed. A blond in jeans and a flannel shirt barrels through the sidewalk crowd and rushes into the street. Tadashi thinks he’s pretty lucky that there’s no traffic on this road (other than himself) and notes that the light hasfinally turned yellow for the other lanes. He picks up one foot and readies himself to be free of Greek Row for the evening when a pair of arms sling themselves around his neck and the person they’re attached to practically vaults onto his bike, knees jamming into his ribs.

“Fucking go—!” a voice shouts into his ear.

Tadashi winces and tries to turn around, but hands fasten themselves on either side of his helmet and turns his head forward, “Green, go!” they shout again.

“Uh.”

Arms sling around his waist and a finger jabs him in the side just as a group of large frat boys dressed like policemen storm through the crowd. They’re soaked through with something and they all look very very angry. They’re pointing at Tadashi. Or actually, his brain supplies, they’re probably pointing at his hitchhiker.

“Drive, fucking  drive, you slow asshole!”

He picks his foot off  the ground and peels off around the corner. The person behind him laughs exultantly.

“What the heck, what the actual heck!” Tadashi screams as he drives. “Why me,why me?!”

This is so unsafe. It is so unsafe. This is not a two-seater. That person does not have a helmet. That person could be a serial killer. This is so unsafe. Tadashi drives until they’re off campus, and pulls into the nearest, brightest parking lot.

He turns off the bike and yanks his helmet off, accidentally catching his hair with the action. “Ow ow ow, fuck,” he swears.

The person behind him slides off the bike and continues laughing like a goddamned maniac. Tadashi is tempted to call the police. He takes a good look at the guy.

It’s the blond guy in the flannel. He’s tall as hell and really mussed-up looking, and incredibly handsome. If he wasn’t already nervous as hell, Tadashi would swear his heart would race.

“What the heck was that all about?” Tadashi demands.

“I set the sprinklers off in their frat house, set their sound system to only play Friday, and then stole the keys to the house,” the blond says with a nasty smirk.

Tadashi blinks. “W…why?”

“Because,” the blond answers with a shrug. “I could. And I was bored. They were kind of asking for it—they had shit taste in music.”

“O…okay.” He can’t really argue with that logic, even though he doesn’t much see the point in it. Or really any logic. He’s also pretty sure this guy is drunk as hell. Or high. Or both.

“I’ll treat you to a waffle for your trouble,” the blond offers. “Also so you won’t  leave me at the Waffle  House, mister gauges.”

“Uh. Well, okay,” Tadashi agrees slowly. No one gets murdered in the Waffle House; it’s always out back in the parking lots of Waffle Houses. So, he supposes he’s safe. “And it’s Yamaguchi Tadashi.”

“Tsukishima Kei. Waffles, c’mon,” the blond answers.

A year later they go back to the same Waffle House. Even once they’re dating, Tadashi doesn’t much understand Tsukishima’s burning desire to wage prank wars on the Greeks, but he’s always willing to play the escape driver now.

He’s gotten Tsukishima his own helmet and everything.

Chapter Text

Confessing a Fetish 

He watches as Kei laces his fingers together, one over the other over the other. The knuckles on his thumbs are white where they press down, and he’s almost certain he saw them tremble slightly the moment Kei’s fingers came together.

“Ah?” is his intelligent response. Tadashi tips his head to the side, “C…could you repeat that one?”

Kei clicks his tongue and gives a rough exhale. He deliberately keeps his eyes trained away from Tadashi. His mouth opens, then closes. His thumbs slide over each other in a rough, nervous movement. “I… you…”

Tadashi watches as Kei’s cheeks turn darker, the pink flush from kissing turning a rosy red that spreads across his cheeks, over the bridge of his nose, to his ears and neck. It looks like a boiling lobster, truth be told.

Tadashi settles back onto the sheets from where he was kneeling and very carefully picks up the collar Kei had produced from his nightstand just moments ago, spitting out a rushed, brusque set of words that Tadashi wasn’t even sure he’d heard right. “You want me to… uh? Put this on… you? Not me?”

“Yes.”

“And…boss you around?”

“Humiliate,” Kei corrects. He finally focuses his gaze on his lover. “I want you to make me your bitch.”  

“Oh,” Tadashi says faintly, stomach swooping like it does when he misses a step on the stairs.  Maybe he shouldn’t find the mental image those words elicited so enticing, but he does; he wonders why he’s never thought of it before. “Oh,” he repeats, finding his mouth suddenly dry and breath uneven. He nods. 


Moaning the other’s name / Giving the other a strip tease

“Yamaguchi,” Kei complains, “Stop that.”

Tadashi continues to wiggle on Kei’s lap, one leg pulled up awkwardly behind him. “Shhh, I’m stripping.”

“You look like a dying fish,” Kei snaps, though it’s half hearted. He leans back against the dorm room wall, painted cement cold against his back.

“Rude,” Tadashi pouts, pausing his wriggling just long enough to throw a sock into Kei’s face.

“Yamaguchi!”

Tadashi leans back against Kei’s knees, watching his boyfriend remove the sock from his hair, lip drawn in against his teeth as he tries hard not to laugh. Kei looks ridiculous with his pink cheeks and askew glasses and a sock draped over half of his head. He giggles.

Kei snorts once, then breaks into a peal of laughter himself. He reaches out and pulls Tadashi to him by his hips, leaning up to seal their lips together. “Decidedly unsexy, minus five hundred points,” he murmurs.

Tadashi parts his lips and pulls Kei’s lip into his mouth, sucking on the flesh before dragging his teeth across it as he pulls away. He rocks their hips together, cupping Kei’s face between his palms. “I’ll just have to make it up for you then,” he murmurs, smirk slyly as Kei’s breath starts coming out ragged and uneven.

He draws back slowly, biting down on his lip again. He lets his weight rest against Kei’s thighs where they’re pulled up behind him, their growing erections brushing together as he moves. He reaches down and curls his fingers around the bottom hem of his shirt and pulls it up slowly. He stretches his body  and arches as he raises his arms, rolling his hips as his shirt comes up and off.

Kei makes a strained, helpless sort of noise in the back of his throat, fingers clenching at Tadashi’s hips. Tadashi brushes his hair out of his face, raking his fingers through it as he pulls it back, other hand firm against Kei’s chest as he grinds out a slow rhythm against the blond.

He drops the hand from his hair and trails it along his chest, down to his pants. He pops the button on his jeans and unzips them slowly. He hooks his thumbs into his belt loops and pushes them down, knuckles nudging Kei’s hands down as well.

“Tadashi,”  Kei moans, arching his hips up. “C’mon.”

Tadashi gives a soft noise that’s more an exhale than a laugh; “Did I make up those points now?” he asks.  


Sexting

Going to different universities meant they couldn’t meet everyday like they used to; while necessary, it was still a little lonely. And frustrating.

Very. Very frustrating. Tadashi bit his lip hard, trying not to groan aloud. Of course Kei would send that as a snapchat. God, he wanted to save that picture.

What were you thinking about? He sends back in the text app, still salivating over the picture Kei had sent him, all flushed and rosy and dripping from a shower, shorts slung low on his hips and hand on his dick, face fuzzy from a steamed mirror.

Your visit next week.

Just that?

Tadashi waits about five seconds before sending another. I want to lick where you’re dripping.

Water or my cock?

Both—I’d suck you off if I were there. You’re not fully hard yet, I’d want to feel you swell in my mouth.

Tadashi chews on the inside of his mouth, curling up in his sheets, phone in hand. His face burns with arousal and dim embarrassment—the things he says in bed don’t bother him anymore, but he’s yet to get used to seeing them written out. But it’s thrilling in the oddest way.

Tell me.

Tadashi’s breath shutters out, fingers shaking as he starts to type; mid-sentence another message pops onto his screen. A closer shot of his boyfriend’s erection, golden hair still damp and dark and cock rosy.

I’d lick you and suck on your tip and swallow until you started fucking my mouth and you pull on my hair like you do when it’s too much and then I’d keep going. I hope you’d choke me.

I’d push you off.

I’d spread you open then. Lick at your hole until you open up for me.

Send me a picture

Tadashi paused his fingers, half-way through typing about how he’d flip them over so Kei could ride his face until he came, arousal burning low and hot in his belly. He shimmies his sweats down his pants and aims the camera, sending Kei a picture of his leaking erection. He waits, reaching down to smear precum over his flesh. Tsukki are you touching yourself I’m touching myself

Yeah would you fuck me or could I fuck you

Too much effort, Tadashi sends back, rolling onto his stomach so he could grind into the sheets, hands too busy typing. His breath comes out unevenly and he pushes his forehead to his sheets. I’d roll you over and slip between your thighs and fuck you that way

ur desprate i’d let u i’d sqeezeshut for u

Tadashi groaned and pushed a hand down to his erection, fingers firm around himself. Kei’s texting had deteriorated, a sure sign that Kei was using his fingers elsewhere.

He can’t stand it anymore; he hits the call button, needing to hear Kei’s breathing and moans.


Giving a lap dance

They’re both drunk and they know it, but it doesn’t stop Kei from dragging out the chair into the center of the kitchen, music still just as loud as it was when their apartment had been full. Tadashi giggles and hiccups softly, face flushed from alcohol and arousal.

“Twenty,” Tanaka had said earlier, during the height of the party; “Is a special age.”

“An adult!” Noya chimed two seconds later, offering another beer to Tadashi. “But then, Tsukki over there made you an adult a long time ago, eh? Took away all your special moments!”

Well. They hadn’t been wrong.  But he still wanted to make the birthday special for his boyfriend, even though he’d been supplying them alcohol since hisbirthday, and their older friends had been supplying them long before that. Neither of them smoked. Why vote, when there was no reason yet? And they’d been having sex for a long time now.

But this, they’d never done something like this—or rather, Kei never had. Tadashi was always the more shameless one, ready to dance and grind and tease. So this was special.

He pulls off his shirt, tossing it onto their counter, closing his eyes and swaying in time with the music. He wills his mind to go blank, because, honestly—they’re both drunk, Tadashi is happy with anything he does, and there’s no way his lover won’t know that he’s doing this as something special, even if he fucks it up.

He focuses his movement to his hips, recalling the videos he’s seen and what he thinks Tadashi will like best. He runs his hands through his hair and pulls his glasses off, setting them aside. He hears Tadashi give a small murmur, and he peeks out through his lashes. A hot rush of pride and desire runs through him at the spell-bound look on Tadashi’s flushed face.

He steps closer, smacking Tadashi’s hands away when they reach for his hips. “No,” he says softly. He reaches out and runs a finger underneath his lover’s jaw, tipping it up as he leans forward so they’re face-to-face, “You’re not allowed to touch until the song is over.”

“Tsukki,” Tadashi mumbles.

Kei leans back and lets his finger trail away. He pushes his pants down his hips, then unzips them in time with the way he sways and rolls them. He recognizes the hook of the song, which signals that there’s only about a minute and a half left. He runs his hands against Tadashi’s shoulders, over his chest, then down, dropping into a squat as he runs his hands between the brunet’s legs, parting them.

He comes back up, moving seamlessly between Tadashi’s legs. He braces his hands against his boyfriend’s shoulders and slides into his lap, mimicking grinding into him, only brushing against the outline of his partner’s erection.

Tadashi groans and twitches, hips stuttering up as Kei sways and undulates against him, arching his back so his ass drags against Tadashi’s dick. Kei listens hard for the end of the song, and when it comes, he settles himself finally against his lover and draws Tadashi into a deep kiss.

“Happy birthday to me,” Tadashi murmurs, voice dripping with satisfaction and lust.

Despite all he just did, Kei feels himself blush.


Being drenched whilst wearing white

Everything in his mind screams danger. Dangerous situation. He was going to do something he wasn’t supposed to. He was going to cross a line.

He swallows dryly, and tries to tear his gaze away from Tadashi, who’s laughing and has his shirt pulled up to his face, exposing his stomach and his low-slung shorts. Noya and Tanaka had thought it would be funny to run around dumping water on everyone, which, Kei supposed, would be fun for pea-brains like them and Hinata. Even the new first years were zipping around, splashing people.

“Are you going to do something?” Kei asks, looking over his shoulder at Ennoshita.

Ennoshita shrugs. “Practice for the day is over,” he says, watching the rest of the team as he takes a long drink from his own water. “It’s a camp, they’ll have fun and be quiet when it’s curfew if they keep on.”

Kei makes a disgusted noise and looks back over at Tadashi, who’s slicking back his hair and absolutely dripping. He grits his teeth and tries to ignore the warning sirens in his head; it fails utterly when Tadashi turns and trots towards him. The first thing he notices is that he can see straight through Tadashi’s thin practice shirt, and it’s so innocuously erotic that it hits him like a punch to the gut.

“Tsukki! Tsukki, it’s so much cooler like this,” Tadashi calls. He grins like he does when he’s about to tease someone, and holds out his arms. “You look like you might be hot, Tsukki,” he leers.

Before he knows it, Tadashi wraps him into a soaking bear hug.

“Get a room you two!” Tanaka jeers, hands over his mouth.

Tadashi turns pink and lets go of Kei. He gives a small shiver and Kei feels the small thread of dignity he had left snap. He reaches out and grabs Tadashi’s hand and yanks him inside.

“Tsukki? What’s wrong?”

“You need to put on dry clothes,” Kei grumbles.

“Ah? I’m not cold, if you’re worried,” Tadashi replies.

Kei stops once they’re in the camp dormitory. He crowds up into Tadashi’s space, pressing him against the wall. “You’re cold,” he replies. “It’s really obvious.”

“From what? A sneeze? Tsukki, I think it’s sweet you’re being protective, but really,” Tadashi sighs.

“Really what? If you’re not cold, why are you like this?” Kei asks, reaching up to circle a finger against a pert nipple, flesh hard through the wet fabric.

Tadashi gives a strained sounding noise, face going red as he knocks his head back against the wall. “Ah—we—well, I—” he murmurs, voice catching as Kei continues to rub at him gently. He trembles and moans softly as Kei slips a hand against the small of his back and wedges a thigh between his legs. “Y…you could warm me up, if you wanted,” Tadashi whispered shyly, suddenly very aware that this was the furthest to being seriously intimate they’ve ever been and that he can still hear their teammates shouting in the background.

“I might,” Kei murmurs, embracing the soundless rush in his ears that warned him of his breaking composure.


Pinning the other

“Mmhgh—”

He’s on Tadashi as soon as the door closes behind them, parents safely dispatched from their apartment. He’s been wanting to hold onto him all night; he’s not sure if it was Tadashi’s toothy grin as Kei’s father teased him, or just the fact that they usually kept their normal skinship to a minimum around their parents, he’s been wanting to hold Tadashi as close as he can against him all night.

Kei steps them backwards, tongue sliding slowly over Tadashi’s; he still tastes like the soft mint he’d chewed not seconds before Kei’d kissed him. He didn’t even give his lover a chance to swallow it. He doesn’t care much. He reaches up and untangles Tadashi’s hands from his hair, nudging the brunet back up against the entrance way wall.

Tadashi’s shoulders hit the wall and he gives a soft murmur against Kei’s mouth, neck tilted back. Kei slips his fingers through Tadashi’s, pushing them back and up. His knuckles press against the plaster, palms pushing the back of Tadashi’s hands against the wall.

Tadashi arches his back, stretching as Kei pushes his entire body against him, pressing him tight against the wall. “Ah, Tsukki,” he murmurs as Kei drops his lips down his neck. “Too high—” he strains on his toes.

All Kei does is brace his feet farther apart. He brings his hands together and unlaces their fingers; he cups Tadashi’s wrists in one hand and drops the other to the back of Tadashi’s thigh. “Up, then, up.”  

“Really?” Tadashi asks, giving a breathless giggle. His stomach tenses against Kei’s as he readies himself; Kei angles himself just enough away that Tadashi can lift one leg up around his hip, hand tight on his thigh as an anchor. “Don’t drop me,” he warns, shaking.

“I won’t,” Kei replies, hand tight against Tadashi’s wrist. He pushes their hips tightly together so Tadashi is plastered between the wall and his body.

Tadashi visibly swallows, cheeks pink and eyes wide with trepidation as he brings up his other leg, crossing them against Kei’s butt. “This is really—please don’t drop me,”  he mumbles.

Kei huffs against Tadashi’s ear, dragging his teeth against the lobe. He lets go of Tadashi’s wrists, and drops his other hand to brace against the brunet’s ass, rolling their hips together. “I’ve got you,” he murmurs as Tadashi trembles and gives a muffled whine. “I’ve got you, don’t worry.”

Tadashi nods and tightens his legs around Kei’s hips as Kei pushes him tighter against the wall, lips sliding back together.

His arms are going to be really sore in the morning, but he thinks it’s worth it as he watches Tadashi throw his head back and clamp his thighs tight around his hips as he comes.

Chapter Text

Kei is in love with Tadashi. 

Tadashi’s known it from the start, from the day that Kei stopped their usual walk home and made them detour to the park and sit. He’s known that Kei has been quietly, awkwardly, heartbreakingly in love with him since the moment he watched his friend’s ears turn pink in the streetlights, neck bent forward and hands shaking in his lap as the words left his mouth so softly that they were barely a whisper, heels grinding into the sand underneath the swings in quiet, anxious half-circles.

And in return, he said yes. He said yes like it was the air rushing out of his lungs after a punch to the stomach. He said yes when Kei’s fingers trembled and when his face turned pink and when his lips were chapped and his glasses got in the way.

He’s said yes. But Tadashi has never once said he felt the same way.

Not when their fingers slip together, not when they kiss, not when Kei’s head lolls against his shoulder during bus rides, or when Kei knocks knees or does any of the number of things that Tadashi finds endearing, but not endearing enough.

He doesn’t think he loves Kei. Not in the way Kei loves him. It’s never bothered him, really. He used to think that it didn’t matter, that he would come to love Kei, and that he should be thankful that someone, especially someone who knew the bad parts of him, even liked him at all. That he was given a chance at all to fix those broken bits inside of him.

Kei had always been enough to fix the broken things before—he’d picked him up out of his loneliness and taught him how to play volleyball and taught him how to have pride and worth. He didn’t realize though, that this couldn’t be fixed.

Lately, though, he’s been thinking about it in terms of things that can’t be fixed. He thinks about how Kei deserves someone whose heart flutters at Kei’s shaking fingers, who will say more than just yes.

He thinks about it because of sex:  It’s only natural progression that they’ve started having it, he thinks. It’s been a year, almost, since that night in the park; Kei’s seventeen now, and he’s weeks from it as well. Kei loves him, and Tadashi… well, he’s attracted to Kei’s attraction to him.

He’s flattered, and Kei feels warm and safe to him, especially when Kei tugs their bodies together and holds him so tight that Tadashi’s surprised he can still breathe.

It feels nice when they’re holding hands and kissing; sex with Kei is good. It was a bit awkward at first, yes, with trembling fingers and thighs and too much haste and not enough lube, but now they can go from kissing to touching to Kei lowering himself onto Tadashi’s lap fairly seamlessly. It’s hot and sensual and immensely satisfying to watch Kei come undone, feel the way his hips roll over him, to have someone so close to him that he’s breathing their air. He likes sex.

It’s just… not as emotional for him as it is for Kei, who flushes and trembles and moans and clutches onto Tadashi like he’s a lifeline. Who murmurs things and kisses and is content in simply taking Tadashi inside and sitting, just breathing and kissing when Tadashi itches to move and touch. Who… grasped his face and said…

It bothers him Tadashi that he’s more attracted to the sex they have than the idea of just… dating Kei. He thinks that, by now, he should have learned. He doesn’t understand.

“Hey, Tsukki,” Tadashi says softly, tapping the back of Kei’s hand to get his attention. “I’m going to go eat lunch with Yacchan today; I need her help with something. Is that all right?”

Kei fidgets with his headphones for a second before shrugging. “It’s fine,” he says. “Is it about the switchover?”

Tadashi gives a nervous smile, “Yeah,” he lies. “I’m a bit nervous about being captain for a practice game! Even if Ennoshita-san will still be there to help, it’s a big deal! I wanted to check to see if all the preparations are in place!”

Kei blinks up at him for a second before pushing his headphones up, “It’s not gonna be a big deal,” he mumbles. “You’ll be okay. But go on.”

Tadashi reaches out and ruffles Kei’s hair, “Thanks, Tsukki!” he chirps. Once he’s left the classroom, he lets the smile fade off of his face, clenching the hand he’d carded through his friend’s hair. He thinks it’s definitely terrible to enjoy being able to touch Kei, to see a softer side of him, and want it for himself, but not love him for it.

He needs help figuring this out. Hitoka is generally free during lunch periods, and she gives good advice and is a ready listener. He hopes he can sort this out by talking; all thinking about it is doing is running him in endless circles.

He makes his way across the hall to the other college prep class, poking his head through the door to see if Hitoka’s in the classroom before barging in. He gives a tentative wave and then beckons her on as they make eye-contact; she grins and hops up from her desk.

“Tadashi-kun!” she chirps, “What’s up?”

“Ah, I wondered if you wanted to eat lunch with me? Um. Somewhere we can talk?” Tadashi asks softly.

Hitoka studies him before nodding. “Come on, we’ll go sit in the corridor,” she says. “Let me go grab my things, okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll wait outside.”

Tadashi goes out and leans up against the wall, chewing on his lip anxiously. Hitoka joins him shortly, and he beckons her on to the stairwell, settling on the top step wordlessly.

“What’s wrong?” Hitoka asks, “Are you okay?”

“I’m… well. I don’t know. I wanted to talk to you,” Tadashi says hesitantly. He picks at a stray thread on his pants. “See what you thought about something.”

“Okay, I’m all ears,” Hitoka says, nodding seriously.

“It’s about Tsukki,” Tadashi mumbles. The words are hard to get out. “About our relationship. I wanted… advice.”

“Did you two fight? That’s awful! If he hurt your feelings, I can go beat him up!” Hitoka offers seriously, holding up her fists. “Tanaka-senpai says that I’m almost scary when I scowl now!”  

“Oh, no, no we didn’t fight. Everything’s going just fine,” Tadashi says quickly, waving a hand before tugging at his hair absently. “That’s… that’s the problem. Everything’s going well. We get along well, and we go on dates and kiss… and… stuff… but. Kei… Tsukishima…Ah, I mean, Tsukki…”

He stares straight ahead for a long moment before ducking his head down and covering his neck with his hands. “We…we were intimate,” he stammers, “And he said he loved me.”

“I don’t love him,” Tadashi says over Hitoka’s starting cry of ‘that’s wonderful’. She falls silent just as quickly as she had spoken. “I… what do I do?” He digs his nails into his hair and pulls.

“You need to tell him,” Hitoka says urgently, fiddling with the edge of her bento wrapper. “Right away. Sometimes it’s ok if you just like him, but you should be honest—”

“Yacchan, I don’t like him at all,” Tadashi murmurs. “Not like that.”

“At all? Ever?”

“No. Not ever.”

“But you… and he—since… our first year,” Hitoka whispers. She waves her hand absently, “You two are so close? He—loves you a lot—Everyone… Why are you doing that to him?”

“I wanted… I wanted to…No one had ever liked me before, and I… I wanted,” Tadashi starts. He looks up from his knees at the wall; he can tell by the play of light that someone’s coming down the stairs and he trails off, thinking.

It’s so hard to verbalize what he actually wanted. He hadn’t set out to do anything to Kei, he’d just wanted to feel normal for once. He wanted to be loved and wanted; he wanted a chance to just… see. See if he could be.

“What did you want from me, Yamaguchi?” comes a tight voice from behind them. Hitoka gives a shriek, but Tadashi keeps his eyes trained on the shadow in front of him before turning around to face Kei.

He’d known, of course, that what he’d realized about himself would hurt Kei, but he hadn’t realized just how much. Not until he turns around and sees the look on Kei’s face; he feels like he’s ten again, looking over at his friend in a volleyball match that Akiteru wasn’t playing in—was never going to play in.

Kei keeps staring at him, face slack and eyes cold. It lasts for only a few seconds before he looks away, lips twisting in a sudden show of emotion that feels like a punch in the stomach to Tadashi. Kei hates, more than anything, being upset in front of people, but his hands are shaking and his lips are tight in the way that Tadashi knows they go when Kei’s trying not to cry—like they did after the volleyball game, after Akiteru went to college, after his favorite aunt died suddenly in junior high.

“You know what, it doesn’t matter after all,” Kei says as he turns on his heel and walks off.

Tadashi doesn’t register leaping to his feet, doesn’t hear Hitoka tell him that he might want to give Kei space as he brushes her hand away from his sleeve. He just has to go after Kei—he’s always followed after him, after all. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t love Kei the way Kei loves him, he still loves his friend and can’t leave him alone when he’s upset.

His hand fastens around Kei’s sleeve and holds him in place, “Tsukki, please—I—”

Kei shakes him off, “Don’t touch me.”

Tadashi grabs him again, despite the warning. He thinks, that maybe, if he takes a hold of him, he won’t lose his best friend. “Kei,” he begs.

Kei whirls around and pushes at Tadashi with all his strength, sending the other boy stumbling back. “I said, don’t fucking touch me!”

Tadashi regains his balance, looking up at Kei with wide eyes. Kei looks just as surprised as Tadashi feels, but he recovers quickly. “Leave me alone.”

“Kei, let me talk to you about this,” Tadashi pleads quietly.

“I’m not sure what there is to talk about,” Kei says flatly, keeping his eyes away from Tadashi. His hands clench together at his stomach. They’re still shaking, Tadashi notices. “For some reason, you dated someone you don’t care for. You lied, let me think you did. …It’s… nothing I’m not used to,” he says quietly. His lips go thin and his jaw trembles. One hand goes up to his mouth, covering his mouth and the quiet sound that escapes it. “I’m used to it,” he repeats, muffled. “It’s fine. Just—it’s fine.”

Tadashi feels like he’s rooted to the spot as Kei turns around and walks down the hallway, past their classroom. He watches as Kei turns the corner, shoulders still straight and stiff and neck blotchy underneath the collar of his uniform. It feels like his world is collapsing into a pinprick of weight in the center of his stomach.

Unknowingly, he’s become someone who hurts people, and he doesn’t understand how it happened. Or why. He wishes he knew how to tell Kei in a way that didn’t hurt him so badly, to let him know that he’s not cold, that like Akiteru, he’s only withheld the words because he’d been searching for a way to tell him in the gentlest possible way. He didn’t even know, really, himself until a week before, when his nervous research had presented him a word, a definition, and an assurance he wasn’t demented or broken.

There’s a gentle tap against his elbow, and Tadashi tears his eyes from the spot he’d last seen Kei in, looking down at Hitoka.

“Let him be,” she says softly. “Let him be upset. It’s only natural that he doesn’t want to be around you.”

“I don’t want him to be alone,” Tadashi whispers. He leaves the plea of, don’t want to be alone, unspoken. “Will you? Please?”

She nods.

“I didn’t want to hurt him,” he says softly, catching her arm before she leaves. “I wanted to love him like that, you know. I really wanted to.”

Hitoka looks at him and bites her lip. Tadashi understands the quivering look she gives him and feels his face flush in shame. He knows it’s not enough to just want something.

Tadashi watches her go like he watched Kei.

Chapter Text

It’s late, but Kei is still awake, reading through an assignment. He’s grateful that his professors were at least hip enough to assign texts that were available on e-reader, otherwise he would have had to retreat to the cramped and messy sitting area they shared with their flatmates to read. He looks over in the dim light at Tadashi, who shifts restlessly under the covers.

He reaches out and lets his hand hover over the other’s hair for a second before withdrawing his fingers. Tadashi had been unusually quiet and sullen that evening, retreating into the bathroom to change and shower without a word. He’d returned in Kei’s own sweatshirt and a pair of his own shorts, swathed in too-large sleeves and long hemlines.

It had been a bad day for his boyfriend, apparently. He knew Tadashi was stressed from balancing practices and his job with his classes—they both were.

With a sigh, he locks the screen on his tablet and puts it on the small shelf above their bed with his glasses. He rolls onto his side and nudges his forehead lightly against Tadashi’s neck, wishing his boyfriend was awake so he could ask if it was alright to snuggle up with him. Sometimes, Tadashi just didn’t want to be touched, and that was alright; Kei understood.

Kei thinks he’s only just drifted up when he starts hearing Tadashi give a startled little mumble and jerk.

“Yamaguchi?” he asks softly.

Tadashi doesn’t answer; Kei can feel his shoulders start to heave against his cheek and Kei rolls over to sit up.

“Tadashi?” he repeats, a bit louder, reaching behind him to turn the light on. In his haste, he knocks his glasses to the bed. He squints against the sudden brightness, hands fumbling for them.

Tadashi comes into focus, face screwed up and blotchy. His hands clutch at his chest as he nods, and answer to Kei’s earlier question. He sits up suddenly, fingers shaking as his mouth falls open and he inhales, breaths quick and sharp.

“Tadashi can you tell me what’s wrong?” Kei asks, suddenly fearful.

“I—can’t,” Tadashi mumbles, “I can’t breathe.”

“You’re talking, you can,” Kei assures him, hands shaking as he lays a hand on Tadashi’s back.

Tadashi gives a huff that may have been a laugh or a cough—Kei can’t really tell. Kei cups Tadashi’s elbow, hand rubbing his back softy. “Keep talking to me, and calm down.”

“I can’t breathe,” Tadashi repeats. “Hurts.”

Kei runs his fingers over Tadashi’s shoulders and pauses, feeling something under the material of the borrowed sweatshirt that he’s familiar with from undressing Tadashi after class and nuzzling against his shoulders when they cuddle.

“Tadashi,” Kei says sternly. “I’m going to help you take it off.”

“No,” Tadashi says through his labored gasps. “I can.” He leans away, and Kei removes his hands. Tadashi wiggles out of the sweatshirt, tears pooling in his eyes. Kei takes it and pointedly looks away.

“I can take my glasses off, if you want.”

“Just turn off the light,” Tadashi says, voice shaking.

Kei turns around and turns the light back off, holding his sweatshirt in his hands as he waits. The bed wiggles and creaks as Tadashi struggles in the dark; it falls still and there’s the soft sound of cloth hitting the floor, and Tadashi gives three deep coughs. His fingers brush Kei’s as he takes the sweatshirt back.

Kei tentatively reaches out and touches Tadashi’s back with his fingertips; Tadashi doesn’t flinch or move away, so he settles his palm against his back. “Breathe for me,” he instructs. He waits in silence as Tadashi moves into the calming pattern of in, wait, out breaths they’d both learned to help manage anxiety. When Kei is sufficiently pleased that Tadashi’s breath has settled and that he’s all right, he starts rubbing between Tadashi’s shoulders. “Does anything hurt?”

“No,” Tadashi replies quietly.

“Are you sure?” Kei asks, gingerly pressing his fingers at Tadashi’s side. It only awards him with a flinch and a quiet snuffle of laughter as he brushes against one of Tadashi’s more ticklish places. It’s a satisfactory enough result for Kei. He settles back into the sheets, lying on his side.

He gently tugs on Tadashi’s shirt for him to join him. “Come here,” he murmurs. Tadashi lies down, back to Kei, hands covering Kei’s after Kei wraps his arms around Tadashi’s middle.

Kei nuzzles into Tadashi’s hairline, shifting his body close to the other boy’s, thumbs rubbing against Tadashi’s stomach through the sweatshirt.

“I know you’re going to say I was stupid,” Tadashi huffs after a long silence.

“No,” Kei murmurs. “You’re grown up, and can take care of yourself. I just… do, okay?” he urges.  

“Mm’kay.” Tadashi wiggles back into Kei a bit more and sighs softly, fingers threading through Kei’s. “I’m sorry,” he whispers after a moment.

“I’m sorry you had a bad day,” Kei replies, kissing behind Tadashi’s ear. “Tomorrow will be better. We’ll have pancakes and we can go to the park and pet dogs and take pictures.” It’s Tadashi’s favorite date activity, and he hopes it’s enough to cheer his boyfriend up. 

“Okay,” Tadashi sighs.

Kei stays awake until Tadashi is sleeping soundly beside him, breath soft and even, before he lets himself drift to sleep.

Chapter Text

Tadashi sits awkwardly beside his friend, tugging up grass from the cracks in the concrete.

His tongue feels heavy in his mouth, and his emotions are too muddled to say something. They’ve been sitting in silence for what feels like ages now, ever since he went to go get Kei for lunch and heard what the other kids were saying to his once-unflappable friend.

Kei has been silent as well, and it’s not helping Tadashi get his thoughts into order. He’s having a hard time processing that Kei, his untouchable, nonchalant best friend, was getting picked on. The boy who saved him from bullies… also needed saving.

It’s such a foreign idea to him. But what he heard couldn’t be mistaken. They were laughing at Kei about what happened with Akiteru, saying that even his own brother couldn’t stand him and had to lie to keep Kei away. That the only reason Tadashi was even friends with Kei was because he was desperate. Calling him a freak, and a know-it-all. Godzilla and bigfoot and a fag, citing Kei’s fondness for strawberry flavored candies and cakes as a signal to his inevitable gayness.

Tadashi hadn’t known what to do when he heard it. At first, he’d almost done nothing. But there was something in the way that Kei had slumped his shoulders and pulled up his headphones that made his gut burn hot. He’d marched into the classroom, pushed the boys around Kei’s desk aside, and tugged on his friend’s sleeve.

Tadashi thinks he’d said something about eating lunch outside. He can’t remember. He’d be surprised if his mouth, dry as paper with shaking lips, had even formed intelligible words. All he knows is that Kei had followed him rather docilely, hand limp as Tadashi wrapped his warm and sweaty fingers around it outside of the classroom.

He’d led Kei outside, to his favorite hiding spot from before they’d met. And it had been silent ever since.

He turns and peeks over at Kei.

Kei has his head tucked between his knees, arms folded against his legs. His shoulders are shaking, and it takes Tadashi a moment to register that Kei is crying.

The feeling in his stomach burns hot again. Kei is amazing, Tadashi knows it one hundred percent: Kei is nothing like Tadashi himself, quiet and shy and weak.

“Tsukki,” he says quietly, keeping his voice firm. He scoots closer to his friend and wraps his arms around Kei, laying his cheek against the blond’s back. “Tsukki, Aki-nii loves you. What he did wasn’t good or right, but he loves you, you know? And Tsukki, I’m so happy I’m friends with you. I never had any friends before,” he admits, “And you know it. But I wouldn’t trade being friends with you for… for a million friends.”

Kei’s back trembles against his cheek, spurring Tadashi to continue. “And you like dinosaurs and stuff, Tsukki, so let them call you those names. Use them to destroy them. Step on ‘em.”

Kei hiccups a quiet laugh. “It doesn’t work like that, Yamaguchi,” he says softly.

Tadashi feels himself break into a grin and he hugs Kei even tighter. “And I saw one of those kids buy like, five puddings yesterday. So… what I’m saying, Tsukki… is… Don’t listen to them. Don’t you ever, okay? You helped me stop listening to the bigger boys who picked on me, Tsukki. I’d… I’d like to help you not listen to them.”

Kei nods quietly, straightening slowly. Tadashi pulls away and resumes pulling at the grass, giving his friend time to wipe his face off. He’s surprised, however, when Kei slides a cool hand into his own.

“I won’t,” Kei says softly. “Thanks.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t see why I have to help out,” Kei mutters, shaking out yet another page of newspaper and setting it on the plastic fold out tables in the backyard of his and his brother’s small home. 

“Because!” Akiteru chimes. He beams at Kei from where he’s hanging rice-lights from the trees. “You said you didn’t have any plans, and all of the coaches have wanted to meet you for a while, but you don’t come to games,” he whines. 

Kei sighs and plunks another mini pumpkin down in the center of the newspaper-covered plastic table. They’re decorated with little painted bats and there’s a bag of glass jars that have been painted and decorated as well. “Whatever. They’re loud. Did you buy all this stuff just for one party?” he asks skeptically, setting out some of the candle holders. 

“Oh, no, everyone brought stuff. Some of it’s homemade,” Akiteru replies, climbing down from the stepladder. He looks up at the tree, now bedecked with fake spiderwebs and the LED rice-lights and strange white stocking things that have something glowing in them (Kei supposes it will look a bit more impressive after dark). “One of the volunteers is a school teacher, and she was able to borrow a lot of stuff from her school’s stockpile.” 

“I see,” Kei drones. He lays the last of the paper out and starts setting out chairs. “I don’t see how this all adds up to me having to participate.” 

“You haven’t carved pumpkins or done anything fun in years,” Akiteru chides. 

“All the more reason to not participate,” Kei mutters. He can feel the back of his neck warm with something resembling shame; he’s had fun recently. He even went to a party. 

Though, he spent most of said party against a wall sipping warm, flat soda and making peace with the fact he was only there not because people wanted him, but because his classmates had wanted a ride. He’d made pretty good friends with the hosts’ cat, though. 

Cats don’t care if you don’t know how to talk to people, they only want food and attention– or to be left alone, depending. Kei’d spent the party quietly shredding up ham from the food table to feed to the fat tabby. None of this was explicitly new, but. 

“Anyway, I don’t know any of these people,” Kei continues, shaking away thoughts of dark corners and fat cats and his drunk classmates jeering in the back of his car. 

“All the more reason to participate,” Akiteru replies. 

“You keep saying ‘all the more reason’, Niisan,” Kei drawls. He pushes each chair under the table precisely. Their back lawn is going to be a wreck after this. 

“I’m trying to present an argument full of reasons. Kei, just. Come and carve a pumpkin, it’s not going to kill you, okay? You’re twenty and you… I haven’t seen you with friends since… God knows when,” Akiteru says, voice quiet. 

Kei can hear their neighbor’s dogs bark, and the wind ruffling what was left of the leaves on the trees and bushes. He swallows hard, knowing for sure the burn against his skin had spread to his face. “Maybe I don’t want friends, okay? And if I cut my fingers off trying to carve some stupid pumpkin, I swear, Nissan,” he mutters, slamming a chair against the table with a bit more force than he wanted; a patch of grass churns over into dirt in straight, scored lines. 

Akiteru hums in response, knowing the argument was won, at least for the time being. He moves from the chair to Kei and claps his brother on the shoulder before reaching up to ruffle his hair roughly. “Maybe you’ll decide to volunteer with us, huh?” 

“Fat chance,” Kei mutters. A car door slams, and the dogs next door go crazy. A few seconds later, their doorbell rings, faint after filtering through the house to the backyard. 

Guests start trickling, then flooding, to the yard after that. A wide range of people come to chat Kei up, laughingly introduced by Akiteru.

Akiteru, eager to pay back the neighborhood volleyball club both he and Kei had attended when they were little, volunteers as a coach. Secretly, Kei sort of wishes he could as well, but he’s no good at talking. He doesn’t really know when to rein himself in– he’s too blunt and honest, and his patience is too short. Akiteru blames himself, Kei knows. 

But he likes these people, the people that visit their house and the ones he hears Akiteru talk about. They’re all ages; some are parents who put in a little more time by bringing drinks and snacks for the kids, others are coaches in earnest who are paid by the city, but most are volunteers like his brother. The yard fills up quickly, even though there can’t be more than twenty people. 

They all bring food, and their own pumpkins; on the table that’s been filled with the potluck food and candy, sits the prizes for the carving contest that Akiteru and the head coach will judge at the end of the night. Some people are in costume. 

The doorbell rings again. Akiteru jerks his head towards the house, arms preoccupied with a bow of punch he’s helped stir up. “Kei, can you get that? It’s the last set of people,” he says. 

“Okay,” Kei mumbles, feeling suddenly out of depth. He steps back inside, the music from the yard becoming muffled as he strides to the front door. He hears people arguing good naturedly before he even opens it. 

“I told you we’d be late–” “Well, it wasn’t me who had to stop half way here to pee!” “Ah, but I had to go–” “You always do, dumbass.” “Now, now–”

Kei opens the door, scowling despite himself. He’s met with the sight of a group of people about his age– he vaguely remembers Akiteru talking about a group of college students recently becoming volunteers, but he’d ignored it, because he thought (rightly so) it was another sales pitch to get him up and about. Two of the four are grappling with each other on the steps, a redhead and a tall, angry looking man, and they’re being placated by a blonde girl and…. 

And, well, probably the cutest boy he’d seen in a long time. Possibly in his entire life. He’s not one for rash decisions. Though, dubbing the brunet boy trying to balance holding a bag full of pumpkins and restraining the redhead by the back of his collar the cutest person in the history of a long fucking time doesn’t feel that rash. “Hello,” he says flatly. “Are you here for the party?” 

And feels like an idiot. Of course they are. They have pumpkins and the tiny blonde girl has bags of chips and drinks. 

“Yes! We are– Hinata, calm down–” the brunet says, then lurches forward as the redhead, Hinata, Kei guesses, breaks free and sends him stumbling forward. 

Kei reaches out and catches the boy without thinking– if he’d fallen, it would have just had him land on him, in any case. “Here, I’ll take these,” he says, grabbing the bag full of pumpkins from him. 

“Ah, thank you,” the other man says slowly. His friends trickle in past Kei, who directs them towards the back room. Kei follows them, not wanting to linger. 

“Show me where you want to put your pumpkins, then,” Kei instructs. 

The brunet follows him, a slow smile creeping across his face. “You’re Kei, right?” 

“Ah, yes,” Kei mumbles, feeling his neck flush again. He can’t quite look that smile in the eye; it’s equal parts sly and guileless– if that was even possible. 

“I figured! You and Aki look a lot alike! Anyway, I’m Yamaguchi Tadashi,” he introduces. “Aki’s my mentor in the program, next season, I’ll have my own team,” Yamaguchi says proudly. “I’m very grateful to him.” 

“Ah,” Kei murmurs. The more Yamaguchi says, the more Kei feels his initial assessment is correct. Yamaguchi is tall– though not quite as tall as Kei is himself– and his shoulders are broad. His face is round and his hair is dark and pulled into a messy ponytail, and freckles scatter and fall into the shadows of his cheeks and neck. 

Kei thinks that maybe coming to a game could be worth it. “Position? Ah, I mean, do you play?” Kei asks after a lull of uncomfortable silence. 

“Oh, yes,” Yamaguchi says. “Middle blocker. Though, really, I’m best at serves; I nearly broke my ankles five million times trying to perfect them in high school. Do you play?” 

“Used to,” Kei answers. “Pumpkins?” he asks, holding the bag up. It’s getting heavy. 

“Oh! Um, wherever is free on the tables,” Yamaguchi says, smiling. 

“I’ll set you with me and Niisan, then,” Kei says with a nod. He didn’t have a place until now. He doesn’t even have a pumpkin. He chews the inside of his lip and puts the bag down at a table that hasn’t already filled with pumpkins and plates. 

“Ah! Kei! I see you’ve met Tadashi already!” Akiteru calls, trotting forward, two pumpkins under his arms. “Good! I wanted to introduce you two tonight anyway. Both middle blockers in high school; thought you would get along well.” 

“Oooh, yes, we were just talking about that! So were you a middle blocker too?” Yamaguchi asks, eyes sparking excitedly. 

Kei nods, “Yeah. I mean, tall. It makes the most sense. Is that my pumpkin?” he says abruptly, turning to Akiteru. He makes what he hopes is meaningful eye contact. 

“Oh did you cha–”

“I didn’t change where I’m sitting, no. Still at your table. I can set up your station, too, if you need me to,” Kei cuts over his brother, eyes flicking over to Yamaguchi quickly. 

Akiteru pauses, blinking in confusion before he looks over at Yamaguchi, who’s been distracted by the small blonde girl he came in with. A look of realization creeps onto his face, which is soon replaced by a knowing smirk. “Good choice,” he laughs, handing Kei both pumpkins. 

He’s not talking about where he’s going to be sitting, that’s for sure. Kei takes the pumpkins with blazing cheeks that only grow warmer as Akiteru ruffles his hair. 

It makes Yamaguchi and the girl laugh– Kei doesn’t really care about the girl, but hearing Yamaguchi chuckle makes it worth it. “You two really are close, aren’t you?” Yamaguchi asks. 

“Well, now,” Kei admits. “There was a while we weren’t; you know. Growing up is hard, sometimes.” 

Yamaguchi and the girl nod solemnly. She sets her plate down next to where Kei’s set their group’s pumpkins. “I’ll be right back, ok Yama?” she says. “And I know! No candy corn.” 

“Ah, thanks Yacchan,” Yamaguchi says, waving as she leaves. 

Kei swallows and grips the back of his chair. He watches the girl head up to the food, then back to Yamaguchi, who’s already settled into the chair opposite of Kei. “G…girlfriend?” Kei asks conversationally. 

“Who? Yacchan?” Yamaguchi asks, bewildered. “No. No, no she’s involved with a coworker of mine,” he says with a knowing laugh. 

“I see,” Kei says, nodding. “And the other two you came with?” he asks, trying to seem conversational. He slides into his chair and picks the strawberry flavored candies from a bowl on the table. 

“I go to school with them,” Yamaguchi says, nodding. “We went to high school together, too. They were on the volleyball team with me, and wow. Though, they sort of scare the kids.” 

Kei looks over his shoulder; he can still hear the two bickering, somewhere. He finds them at the volleyball net in the back corner of the yard with a group of other coaches– they seem to be fussing about who got to be team captain. 

“They’re always like that.” 

The rest of the evening is spent like that, chatting with Yamaguchi and the girl, who’s name is Yachi. They’re both pleasant and sweet and bubbly. The more Kei hears Yamaguchi talk about his studies (pediatrics) and his hobbies (gardening, cooking, and volleyball), the more he wants to impress this man so they’ll be able to talk after the party is over. 

Sometime after the food has been demolished, he gets it in his head that he’ll impress Tadashi by winning the carving contest. It’s a terrible idea. He hasn’t carved a pumpkin since he was maybe…. ten. 

And pumpkins are a lot harder to cut into, and a lot more slippery than he remembers. His hand slips as he’s trying to cut out an eye and at first, he thinks he’s not done anything terrible. 

He just feels the knife graze over the flat of his palm. It doesn’t hurt. It just feels like he’s run a wire over his skin. He looks briefly, and at first, doesn’t see blood. 

“Um, are you alright?” Yamaguchi asks from across the table, biting his lip in worry. “I saw what just happened.” 

“It’s okay,” Kei reassures. “It just grazed. This is a bit harder than it looks, isn’t it?” he asks, trying to keep the conversation light. 

Worry twists Yamaguchi’s lips into a thin line, teeth coming out to press into the flesh of his lower lip. “Um. I… I don’t think it grazed.” 

“Nah, it’s fine,” Kei says again. He feels something wet on his palm and he brushes his fingers against it without looking, thinking it’s pumpkin goo. It’s warm and distinctly not slimy. 

He looks down to find his hands covered with blood. He prods at his hand, and that’s when it starts to hurt. 

“Yeah, that’s not fine,” Yamaguchi says firmly. He pushes back from his chair and strides around the table, shooing away Yachi as she leans forward with paper towels and a pale face. 

“Um. It’s just a cut,” Kei says stupidly, something churning in the pit of his stomach. 

Yamaguchi kneels beside Kei’s chair and takes the paper towels from Yachi. He grabs Kei’s wrist with firm hands– they’re warm and calloused. He presses the towels to Kei’s hand, blotting the blood away. Kei looks at the cut with a sick sort of intrigue as Yamaguchi carefully nudges the skin apart to asses it. 

“Too dark,” Yamaguchi murmurs. “Up. Inside.” 

He tugs Kei up without a word and Kei follows behind him, feeling like an idiot. Once inside, Kei takes the lead, guiding them to a bathroom. 

His hand hurts quite a bit now. Yamaguchi removes the paper towels– which are already soaked with blood– and blanches. Kei looks away. He feels like the white, ropy looking thing he can see is probably not supposed to be seen. 

“You need to go to the ER,” Yamaguchi says. “I’ll take you.” 

“Ah. Okay.” 

“Keep your hand up at chest level– I’m going to go tell Aki, okay, Tsukki?” 

Kei blinks, and Yamaguchi is gone. “Tsukki?” he mutters to himself, “What the hell?” 

The rest passes in a very embarrassing blur of local anesthesia and stitches and telling Yamaguchi very intimate details about his life so Yamaguchi can fill the paperwork out for him. They sit in the triage room and Kei rubs his face. 

“Shit,” he mumbles to himself. “Well this sucks.” 

“I’d say,” Yamaguchi says lightly. “Tsukki, how long has it been since you carved a pumpkin?” 

“Who is this Tsukki you speak of,” Kei grumbles, ears heating. 

“You. Tsukishima. Aki has a nickname alread– Tsukki’s yours,” Yamaguchi says dismisively. “It’s a side-effect of working with kids. Anyway. How long?” 

“…probably ten years,” Kei mutters. 

“I thought so, from how you were holding the knife,” Yamaguchi admits. 

“I wanted to impress you,” Kei says darkly. “So you’d want to talk to me after the party.” 

Yamaguchi laughs. “You didn’t have to wind up in the ER for that,” he says, “I work with your brother three days a week! Just show up there!” 

“You don’t get it,” Kei snaps. He feels his face flush in earnest now. “I don’t… if I did that, I wouldn’t… You wouldn’t want to talk to me. Normally.” 

“But we talked normally this evening,” Yamaguchi says softly. 

“People don’t think what I have to say is important,” Kei mutters. 

Yamaguchi tips his head to the side, “Really? I thought you were very well-spoken.” He laughs, “I’ve never heard someone talk down to Kageyama like that before; normally they’re too scared to call him out.” 

Kei looks over at Yamaguchi, scowling. “I called him an idiot and elaborated why.” 

Yamaguchi’s face softens. “Well, he is a bit of a… Anyway, I enjoyed talking with you. You didn’t have to cut your hand open to give me your phone number, I would have taken it on a napkin like a normal person,” he teases, giving a grin that makes his eyes crinkle and his nose scrunch up. 

Kei’s hand throbs as his heart flips in his chest. “Well then,” he drones, “Why didn’t you say so earlier, we could have just gone on a date to the movies instead of to the hospital. How morbid of you.” 

Yamaguchi laughs even harder, “Well, sorry then, Tsukki!” 

Kei grins. Maybe it’s not so bad to listen to his brother after all. 

Chapter Text

Kei hates parties. He hates them, which is why it’s actually pretty hilarious he lives with some of the biggest party animals of the century. Where hilarious means tragic and obnoxious. 

But where else was he supposed to live? He doesn’t know anyone else in the university, and his senpais from high school invited him to live with them; also. Rent was cheap. Very cheap. Very. Very. Cheap. 

Though, he supposes, as he combs his fingers through his hair to ruffle the gel Akaashi had put in for him, he pays for the differences in rents in parties and dirty dishes and over-exuberance. 

He sighs. He figures it’s about time to head downstairs and make an appearance before disappearing back into his room so that Kuroo and Bokuto won’t make a big scene over his lack of social skills again

Kei slips from his room and winces; the music is already loud and he knows that as soon as he goes downstairs, he’ll be crushed in a slew of drunk and costumed people. Joy. 

He grits his teeth and rights his cape. He’s really not looking forward to this. He pads down the hall to the set of rickety old stairs, hand pressed against the wall for guidance. Those idiots had already turned off all the lights– he can see the glow of blacklights from the stairwell, but he would have thought Akaashi would have made them keep a light on up here for safety. 

Or maybe they just hadn’t listened. 

Kei starts down the stairs, half-way down, his foot catches on something, and he goes tumbling down to the landing. He lies there for a moment, world spinning around him as something comes thumping down after him. A fake jack-o-lantern adds insult to injury by landing on the back of his head. 

He thinks, if he lives to get up after this, he’s going to kill Kuroo. He distinctly remembers Kenma fussing at him earlier that day about the lantern placement after he’d fallen up the stairs. 

“Idiots,” he growls. He sits up gingerly, nausea churning in his stomach. His head aches and he can’t feel his lips. He hopes he still has his teeth– he’s also very glad to be wearing contacts. 

He sits on the landing, blinking slowly as he waits for the darkened hallway to focus. People pass by him, laughing with cups in their hands. A couple of people point and congratulate him on such nice looking fake blood. 

Kei raises a hand to his face and it comes away wet. He’s not sure where he’s bleeding from, if it’s just his nose or if he’s busted his lip. Or maybe his forehead? It all melds together sensory-wise. It all feels bloody once he smears his hand messily against his face. 

He leans back against the wall, swallowing hard against the urge to vomit. He closes his eyes, but it doesn’t stop the feeling of being on a boat. 

“Look, someone staked a vampire! It’s like a haunted house, nice!” Someone calls. 

Kei can’t muster up the energy to snarl at them. 

“I don’t… I don’t think it’s a decoration,” someone corrects. 

“What?” 

“I think that’s real,” the second voice says. It grows firmer, and louder. 

Someone taps Kei on the shoulder. “Excuse me?” they whisper. 

Kei opens his eyes and sees an actual angel. 

Or rather, a boy dressed up as an angel. They’re in all white with stupid, feathery wings strapped onto their back and a tinsel halo sliding dangerously down messy hair. Someone’s dusted glitter all over their cheeks and hands and it falls onto Kei’s black clothes in a shimmering storm. 

“I’m dying,” Kei says, matter-of-factly. 

The angel-boy blinks, lashes sparkling with glitter in the shitty party lighting, and Kei has just enough lucidity in him to think it’s gorgeous. 

“Did you fall?” the angel boy asks quietly, pointing to where the power-cord to the fake lantern is still hooked around Kei’s foot. “All the way or just a little?” 

“Almost all,” Kei answers. 

A second party goer runs up to the angel boy, clad in a skeleton bodysuit and face-paint, effect ruined by his shock of orange hair and stuffs handfuls of toilet paper in his hand. “I can’t find Kuroo-san, but I found Kenma!” he supplies. 

The angel boy takes the tissues and starts pressing them to Kei’s face. Kei groans, pain blooming in his nose. He thinks it might be broken. “Ah, well. Close enough,” he murmurs. 

Kenma kneels in front of Kei and waves his hand. “Tsukishima?” he says, voice nearly inaudible over the music. “Are you alright?” 

“He said he was dying,” the angel says, frowning deeply. Kei closes his eyes tightly trying hard not to throw up. 

“I’d probably take him to the doctor, Yamaguchi,” Kenma supplies. “I’ll tell Kuroo that he’s murdered his own roommate.” 

“Ah, Kenma-san, wait–” the angel calls out. Kei thinks he must be Yamaguchi, because he murmurs an, “Oh well… to the doctor it is.” 

Yamaguchi shakes Kei’s shoulder, “Tsukishima-san,  was it? C’mon, up we go.” 

Kei weakly stands as Yamaguchi slings an arm around his waist and helps him out of the house. Cold air wakes him up a little, but the movement churns his stomach. His mouth tastes like iron and he’s pretty sure he’s swallowed blood. 

They slowly make their way down the sidewalk, with people streaming past them, often commenting on how nice the fake blood on both of their costumes looks. A couple of times they have to stop and lean against a car or a tree so Kei can keep from throwing up on Yamaguchi. 

They get him to the ER, where they give him pain medication and deem that his nose is not broken, just badly bruised, and stitch up his busted forehead. They tell a very flustered Yamaguchi to keep an eye out for any complications of his concussion and to be sure Kei eats something before he takes his medication. 

Kei doesn’t have the energy to correct the nurse, whom he realizes half-way through the lecture thinks he and Yamaguchi are a couple. Yamaguchi is obviously too nice to. 

He does, however, thank Yamaguchi once they’re back to the boy’s car. All the glitter has smeared across his face, and his white jeans have splatters of blood on them. His halo is dented and his hair is messy. The wings are bent from being sat on. Kei feels sort of bad for thinking it’s attractive. 

“Thank you for waiting, you could have just dumped me there,” Kei says. His voice sounds weird and stuffy, like he has a cold. 

Yamaguchi blinks and shakes his head, “No, it’s no problem! And if I just dropped you off, how would you have gotten home?” he asks. 

“Taxi. I guess? I dunno.” 

“See?” Yamaguchi laughs. “You’re not thinking straight, Tsukishima.” 

“No, I’m not,” Kei says frankly. “But that’s more your fault than anything.” 

He watches as Yamaguchi blushes crimson underneath the glitter. “That’s forward,” Yamaguchi says softly. 

“I already fell down a flight of stairs, I don’t think my night can get worse,” Kei laughs. It makes his head ache. “You were a sight for sore eyes. I thought I’d died for real.” 

“It’s the costume,” Yamaguchi chuckles. His ears are pink now. “We’ll see if you keep saying that after you take me to dinner to repay me.” 

Kei closes his eyes and smirks to himself. “I will.” 

Chapter Text

Tadashi shifts from foot to foot, trying to peer around the crowd in front of him. Behind him, his friends chatter. 

He starts to notice a trend as they shuffle forward in the twilight towards the entrance of the haunted house. The groups they were letting in were groups of six exactly. He doesn’t have to be a mathematician to deduce that someone in their group is going to get left behind– and put with another group of people. 

He swallows hard. He can’t bring himself to bring it up, really. He’s felt like a huge third wheel all night, and this is just the universe’s way of acknowledging it. His ticket feels soft in his hands as they start to sweat with nerves. He starts to rehearse his volunteer speech in his head. 

Maybe the ushers will be understanding. Maybe he’ll be able to go in with his friends after all. Even though Yachi’s with Kiyoko, she always lets Tadashi hold her hand when they watch scary movies in a group. Suga too, definitely, if he got scared, Tadashi is sure Suga would take pity on him too. He really wants to go in with his friends. 

They keep inching forward. It’s nearly dark by the time they get up front, but Tadashi still isn’t ready when the usher goes, “One more in this group please,” as they come to the front. 

“Ehhhh?” Yachi squeaks. “We’re a group.” 

“Six per entrance, sorry ma’am,” the man says gently, despite his getup as a… dead something, Tadashi can’t tell. It creeps him out. “We run the numbers pretty tight so we know if someone’s gotten lost or is hiding. We need one more for this run.” 

Everyone looks at each other; the usher looks at them expectantly. People behind them grumble. The group of five waiting for their sixth looks a bit impatient– one of the boys is bouncing on his feet. His hair is white and gray– Tadashi wonders if it’s dyed that way permanently or if it’s just for Halloween. There’s an tall blond boy who looks like he’s swallowed a lemon. 

“I’ll go,” Tadashi blurts out, shoving his sweaty ticket at the usher. “I’ll be fine alone, and besides, you’re all on dates and I’m not,” he squeaks. “I’ll wait for you to come out.” 

“Ah, Yamaguchi–” Suga calls, “Are you sure?” 

“I’m fine,” Tadashi says. He’s going to be fine. It’s just decoration. He stumbles forward. 

A woman in a tattered dress and bloody makeup grins at him as he joins the new group. “Welcome,” she says, opening the door. 

Tadashi swallows hard, drifting in behind the group of strangers. 

It’s dark inside. Tadashi is unsettled and can’t see. Someone in the group laughs, and another sneezes as fog creeps around their ankles and fake candles flicker on one by one. Tadashi glups hard. 

It’s fine, he tells himself. It’s just… a house. With creepy pictures. That just moved. The picture just moved. He regrets everything. 

“This so fake,” the boy with the white hair laughs, “It’s great!” Another boy smacks him on the arm. 

They trek forward into a landing. Tadashi looks around and sees someone dart across the darkened hallway in front of them. He squeaks. 

The lemon-sucking looking boy looks at him strangely. Tadashi grits his teeth. 

“Ah,” the boy says. 

Something taps Tadashi on the shoulder. 

Tadashi screams and bolts forward. He collides full force with the boy with the sour expression. 

Someone else shouts too, and he hears a ‘What the ever living fuck is that’before whatever it is starts laughing. 

“I’ve played this game before,” another boy in the group says, sounding bored, even as they all take off running down the hallway. Tadashi clings to his sour-faced new best friend as they run; the blond had very expertly extracted himself from Tadashi’s death grip of his waist and just grabbed his hand as they took off. 

They’re funneled down the hallway to a large, pitch black room. Tadashi turns behind him and sees something mottled and bloody and covered in chains chasing them, holding a wicked looking scythe. A part of his brain goes, logically, ‘what a good makeup job’. The part that’s screaming is louder. 

The door slams behind them and they’re trapped in the dark. 

Tadashi’s arms find the boy’s waist again and he presses his face into his side. “We’re going to die we’re going to die oh my god,” he mumbles under his breath. 

“Oi. Calm down,” the other boy mutters. “It’s just an actor.” 

The lights slowly come on, illuminating the room. The walls have been stripped down to the concrete, and the edges of the room are piled high with covered furniture. 

Tadashi breathes a sigh of relief for the moment of respite. 

“Ah! You’ve made a friend Tsukki!” another member of the group calls. 

“Shut up, Kuroo,” the boy– Tsukki, Tadashi supposes– mutters. “You can let go now,” he tells Tadashi. 

“Nope,” Tadashi says, voice high and shaking. “I’m Tadashi and you’re my new best friend, okay, Tsukki? I hope it is, because that furniture is fucking moving oh my fucking god that’s not a–!!”

He ends up clinging to Tsukki, whose name he later realizes is actually Tsukishima, for the rest of the trip through the haunted house. Midway through the basement section, the blond boy starts gripping onto him as well. By the time the tour is done, they’re both gripping each other’s hand so tightly that Tadashi’s fingers tingle when they let go. Even Tsukishima’s friends stop ragging on them after a while. 

He watches Tsukki–Tsukishima, he corrects himself– shake out his hand as they chat idly about being in abject terror; he thinks it wasn’t too terrible that he got separated from his friends, after all. 

Chapter Text

All of the senior members gather in the gym. They sit in a loose circle– current third years in a semi-circle with Ennoshita facing the less-rounded line of second years.

For all the gravity that the meeting should have, everyone sits loose-boned and relaxed. But that’s the way they did things.

“So we all should talk about this before Spring High starts,” Ennoshita says over the racket. “Next year’s captain. You decide amongst yourselves, really.”

“Should we have someone in mind already?” Hinata pipes up.

“Ideally,” comes the answer.

“Do you have someone in mind?” Yamaguchi asks.

Ennoshita shrugs. “It won’t be our club anymore,” he replies. Beside him Tanaka and Noya give loud boos at the severe answer.

The five  second years look at each other. Yachi makes a face and raises her hand like she was in class; “Is it by ballot or…? What if someone doesn’t agree?”

Noya laughs. “How about all of you say it at once, just a gut reaction as to who you think should do it!”

They pause. Noya holds out his fingers and counts down loudly. “Three… Two! Aaaaaaand, one!”

“Kageyama!” “Tsukishima!”

Everyone turns to look at Yamaguchi, the only dissenting voice. Even Tsukishima himself had made a very disinterested grunt that sounded like their setter’s name.

Yamaguchi blushes to the tips of his ears. Tsukishima blinks over at the other boy, eyebrow quirked as a sly smirk passes over his face.

“Tsukishima, why?!” Hinata demands.

“W…Well, Tsukki’s worked really hard,” Yamaguchi says defensively. “And he’s improved lots game wise and…” His voice falters; “And…attitude… um! Also! His game sense is good.”

Hinata makes a face that clearly says he can’t argue those points, but wants to. “Well!” He says finally. “He’ll scare off the first years! With that face!”

“And the king won’t?” Tsukishima sneers.

Hinata fumbles with a counter argument. Kageyama looks constipated. Tsukishima laughs and settles back onto his hands, gazing up at the ceiling, looking very pleased with himself.  

“Because he’s an ass, that’s why!” Hinata finally says.

Yamaguchi makes a noise like a cat that’s been stepped on.

“Excuse you,” Tsukishima drawls, lifting one hand in the air and spinning a lazy circle with his index finger, “I am a fucking delight.”

Silence.

Then Yamaguchi bursts into helpless giggles. The meeting dissolves from there, with Tsukishima snickering and Yamaguchi’s growing hysterical laughter and Hinata and Kageyama’s confused and rather insulted questions.

Ennoshita sighs to the ceiling.

Chapter Text

When he was small, he saw  a documentary about deserts. 

How the earth would bake and crack and become barren and hostile. The over saturated colors on the old television made his eyes burn and his heart twinge. He can’t explain it– even at just barely ten, he knows it’s a childish abstraction, to empathize with the idea of something so… desolate looking. 

It’s not until he’s standing in the stands, making empty eye contact across the court with what he thought was his sun, that he understands why exactly that image made him ache with loneliness. 

He grows and hardens and cracks. The potential in his bones dries up and lies dormant. There is nothing inside of him that basks in sunlight; it’s scorched him to the barest semblances of life. He is bright and hard and cruel. Nothing good survives. 

And yet. 

It’s the and yet that keeps him moving. There is life in the desert. Things that have turned their soft leaves inwards and made them hard to withstand the heat. Animals that learn to traverse the dry earth. 

Yamaguchi’s hand slid into his own on the same day his sun turned over-hot. Yamaguchi’s hand remains. 

Rain still falls. Flowers still bloom. The storm comes and floods the earth that struggles to accept the torrent, and the dormant seeds stir and break through. Color smudges the overly bright horizons and soften the deserts edges. 

He’d let Yamaguchi cry for him, then. His own private storm. Yamaguchi cries again, when he reaches out for his hand on his own. Flowers bloom in their wake. 

Chapter Text

Tsukishima Kei currently has a problem. Okay, make it two problems: 

One is the volleyball that just made full impact with his face, knocking him off balance. He lets himself fall back onto the court– because why not, he’d already fallen over– and stares up at the fuzzy ceiling lights, goggles askew. 

The volleyball to the face, truthfully, is a secondary issue. His real problem is more why he got smacked in the face with a spike rather than receiving it. 

Why he wasn’t paying attention in the middle of practice, in the middle of a game. Why he was more focused on the… 

He closes his eyes and rubs a hand over his face. It comes away wet and he sighs, pinching his fingers over his nose as he sits up. 

Tsukki!” 

Tadashi’s voice is loud and sharp, and within seconds of hearing Tadashi’s voice, Kei feels him press against his side. A solid hand on his back and the other one is at the base of his neck, bowing his head forward. Kei hears Yachi make shrill noises about towels in the background. 

It does things. 

Things that are ultimately, the root of Kei’s getting-smacked-in-the-face problem. 

He really doesn’t want to admit that even though his mouth tastes like blood and his head is throbbing that the pressure of Tadashi’s fingers against the nape of his neck make him think about bending forward and taking Tadashi into his mouth, like he’d dreamt of after Noya had treated them all to ice pops and Tadashi had stuck his entire goddamn popsicle in his mouth to keep it away from Hinata, because it was the last of Hinata’s favorite flavor. 

Or that he’s been watching the way that Tadashi’s shirts ride and strain when he plays now that he’s grown into his shoulders and height and all the practice he does has paid him off in sets of tight, wiry muscles. That those muscles have shown up when he sleeps, with dreams of Tadashi shimming out of those shirts and grinning that shit-eating, eye-crinkling smile of his as he whispers, ‘just for you, Tsukki’. 

Or how even the smallest, most mundane things about his friend have been transformed into something obscene in his dreams. The way he ties his shoes, chews his pencils, eats grains of rice from his bento with his fingers. All of them. 

They’ve added to an ever-growing pressure behind his sternum, in his stomach– the realization that came with the feeling of sneaking his hand down his stomach and across his hips, eyes screwed tight as he tried not to think at night. 

It’s all so new, all so foreign to him. He can’t look Tadashi in the eye anymore. Not since the realization that it’s not just an innocent crush he has. He can’t look at his friend without wanting– not just wanting to sit in silence and slip his fingers into Tadashi’s, but the want to crush those fingers with his own weight, bowed over his friend’s body in lustful worship. 

He can’t focus on anything because of it. 

Thus, volleyball to the face. 

“Ok, let me see,” Tadashi murmurs, taking the towel gratefully from Yachi and nudging Kei’s fingers aside. “Look at me.” 

The grace and assurance Tadashi has now that they’re second years overwhelms him and fills him with something that both flutters and prickles. Kei raises his head dutifully, feeling his ears warming as Tadashi nudges his fingers from his nose and starts to wipe away the still damp blood. 

Kei doesn’t fail to notice that Tadashi does not let go of his fingers, even though they’re sticky with blood. Tadashi just continues to wipe his face with one hand. 

“Ah, you should get some ice for that,” Ukai advises. “Do you mind taking him to make sure he hasn’t rattled his brains up, Yamaguchi?” 

“It’s fine!” Tadashi chirps, throwing a smile over his shoulder to their coach, who nods pensively and studies Kei. 

Kei feels small under all the eyes on him. He doesn’t want to explain that he’d gotten whacked in the face because he’d been too busy contemplating the curve of Tadashi’s spine in front of him in the vanguard. 

He lets Tadashi guide him to his feet; if his friend notices that he’s uncharacteristically meek, Tadashi doesn’t say anything. Tadashi, does, however, keep a hand to Kei’s back. 

Have they always been this touchy-feely, and Kei had never noticed until his brain started taking innocent skinship places it shouldn’t go, or was Tadashi just concerned. 

“Tsukki,” Tadashi says, once they’re inside the school proper. Athletes and clubs loiter about, still chatting. “Are you feeling alright? You’ve been off all week.” 

“’M fine,” Kei mumbles. 

“Hm.” It doesn’t sound like Tadashi really buys the answer, but he falls silent. His thumb rubs against the knob of Kei’s spine. 

Kei’s stomach grows hot and his nose throbs as his heart flutters. He wonders if Tadashi’s doing it on purpose. But he couldn’t be… could he? Kei refuses to hope. 

The nurses’ office is empty, but it doesn’t stop Tadashi from shuffling around to grab a rag and a cold pack from the small refrigerator. He holds them before Kei, studying his friend with pursed lips. “Tsukki,” he says again. His tone is sterner. “I know you’ve been oggling me, recently. Don’t tell me you got a ball to the face because you were too busy mooning.” 

“I don’t moon,” Kei mutters, feeling his face grow warm. He scowls, shame sinking deep into his stomach. He looks away from Tadashi, throat growing tight. Before he realizes it, he notices his eyes are burning and his scowl has thinned to something more akin to a wobbly grimace. 

“No, it’s more like pining,” Tadashi says softly. His fingers find Kei’s chin and he starts dabbing with the rag at Kei’s swollen nose. His breath is warm on Kei’s face, and his hair fills the edges of Kei’s vision. 

Kei doesn’t want to look. Doesn’t want to cry or be upset. 

“I’d wondered if you would ever…” Tadashi murmurs, gently pressing the cold compress to Kei’s nose, tutting softly as the blond flinches. “I’d wondered if it was going to be me, alone.” 

Kei looks at Tadashi then. His friend’s face is set into something warm and tender, a cross between a smile and the face of someone who’s about to cry themselves. 

“I was staring,” Kei confesses. “I just… all of a sudden, I noticed. A lot. All the time.” 

“Took you forever,” Tadashi teases, pressing the pack harder against Kei’s nose. “Hold that.” 

Kei blinks, and holds the ice to his nose. He’d been so certain he was about to get a kiss. 

Tadashi sits beside him and kicks his feet in the air like they’re ten again. “So. What did you notice?” 

“Your shoulders. Your face. Hands. Your mouth. All of it.” 

Tadashi laughs, “About your face, stuuu-pid.” 

“That I like you, a lot,” Kei confesses. 

Tadashi sneaks his chilled fingers into Kei’s free hand. “I do too. And I’ve always noticed you, you know.” 

“You never got hit in the face with a ball.” 

“I’m better at coping with things than you are,” Tadashi laughs. “Get it together, Tsukki.”