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In Living Numbers

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Over a splendid ground of conjured mist, Sugawara walked to the lanky boy lying on the nearest cloud and nudged his shoulder with his foot.

“Come help me out,” said Suga.

Kageyama started and looked up. He was kicking his legs up at the knees, stirring up cloud-dust with the motions.

“Is that allowed?” Kageyama’s expression had lost some of its wariness since he first came here, but the default was still guarded.

Suga laughed. “Of course collaboration is allowed.”

“But I can’t build it for you, it won’t work.”

“You have a brain, don’t you? I’m asking for your opinion, that’s all.”

“An opinion. And nothing else?”

Suga started walking away, looking over his shoulder. “Geez, get over here already.”

Kageyama picked himself off the ground, brushing off the cloud-dust. He looked neither reluctant nor excited.

Suga led him over a couple clouds to the place where he was working, and Kageyama tucked his hands behind his back and began to assess what Suga had done so far.

What he’d built was only half of a building, a pathway constructed of clouds and atmosphere and rain, a strong but light structure that was wavering with the wind. It began at a low incline and shifted upwards of 45 degrees at its current cut-off point. It was thousands of hand-lengths long and maybe two hips wide, and it had railings that a person of small stature could easily hold if he wanted to run its gamut.

As Kageyama observed the structure, Sugawara observed Kageyama, noticing his mouth had parted slightly while he looked, obviously calculating and cataloguing its high and low points with his talented brain.

“The road’s structure is solid, and it can easily withstand the pounding footsteps of a runner. The surface is slightly spongy, with perhaps a bit more give than standard texture. If you continue in this way, I don’t see why a normal runner couldn’t climb up to the higher level.”

“Yes, I thought so too,” said Suga. “But that’s exactly what I did the last two times. So why can’t he climb it?”

They looked down at the person this pathway was meant for. He was an entire atmospheric level below them, standing on his own grey cloud, against which his vibrant hair stood out starkly. Suga wasn’t the most creative with nicknames, so he called him Orange. Orange couldn’t see them at all, because runners couldn’t see their builders, but Suga had spent a lot of time watching him, trying to figure out how Orange worked from his body motions alone.

“Maybe he’s bad at running,” was Kageyama’s plainfaced explanation. “Or stupid.”

Suga whacked him lightly on the back, and Kageyama let out a surprised noise.

“He isn’t dumb,” said Suga. “He’s not the fastest, I mean you can see he’s rather small, but we’ve had small runners before. It’s something else.”

“I don’t know,” said Kageyama, being obvious as he turned away, looking up into a distant line of grey clouds. “I haven’t had to think about that for myself yet.”

“Ah, that’s right. Well, your thoughts are still valuable to me.”

Kageyama took a deep breath. “Maybe it’s the railways. I see you built to compensate for potential weakness in height, adding in security with multiple levels.” He went into some complicated equations Sugawara wasn’t sure he understood completely, kind of wondering if this was Kageyama-specific verbiage. “But you should count the reinforcements more sparingly.” Kageyama tilted his head to the right. “For example, if you increased the height on the top level of railings, giving the runner incentive to buoy himself higher with each step…”

Apparently realizing how much he was talking, Kageyama came to an abrupt stop. “You probably don’t wanna hear all of this.” He was looking away again, into a horizon that never broke and clouds that were bloated with the incipient rainstorm.

Suga offered his best smile. “No, no! Tell me more.”

 

 

The reason Suga asked for Kageyama’s help was that he thought he was lonely. Kageyama was their newest addition; he’d been sent to their place in the clouds to join them, bearing an immense talent, but he had yet to receive a single assignment.

They called themselves builders. If they ever had another name, then Suga forgot it a long time ago. This particular atmospheric level was their domain, and they existed on roughly only this one plane of various types of clouds. Their job, as the name suggested, was to build pathways for runners, roads made of clouds, which Suga thought of as buildings.

Runners like Orange showed up a staggered cloud level below them; Suga didn’t think about where they might come from. A builder’s objective was to get their runner up to the next level of clouds by building a structure, one that only runners could climb. Sometimes they built staircases, other times it was simple roads, but more often it ended up a highly customized—a work of architecture. It was difficult enough that builders received special training before they came to the clouds, though most of them had only a hazy memory of that time.

Without a runner, without any work of his own, Kageyama had been moping around ever since he came. It was true that it was unusual for someone to go without for as long as he had, as usually the new builders got their first runner very soon. They didn’t want to talk to him about it though, since it made him sulk.

Suga found the sulking a bit attractive, and he was in a rut with Orange as it was. There was nothing to lose by talking to Kageyama every now and then.

 

 

“Hey! Time for a send-off, Kageyama! Aren’t you excited? It’s your first time!” Suga clapped his hands.

Kageyama sat up, scattering away the cloud-dust that had settled on his torso. “I wasn’t asleep, you know.”

Sugawara did know. “Storm’s going to be here soon. Akaashi wants to finish before then.”

Kageyama pushed himself to his feet and brushed away the dampness and dirt that had settled into his uniform. He filled out his clothes appealingly, chest and shoulders stretching out the thin white material of his shirt, and Suga tried not to notice.

“Let’s go then. It’s not exactly close—a bunch of clouds away.” Suga saw that Kageyama waited for him to make a start before following him over with attentive eyes.

They made small talk as they padded from cloud to cloud, steps sinking into the cushion.

The group had already assembled when they got there, crowding around Akaashi, who stood at the very edge of the cloud facing his runner, who was sleeping on the cloud-level below. Akaashi’s building was off to the right. Suga waved hi to Kenma, and Kenma flapped his hand once, looking bored as ever. Oikawa made a face at Kageyama, who clenched his teeth but didn’t respond.

Akaashi’s runner was called Grey, named as such for his pointy, grey-streaked hair. Grey was a lively runner, always stretching or jogging in place or dancing to his own imagination. He didn’t sleep as much as other runners did, but when he did he would sprawl out on his back for ages.

He was awake now and bending over forward so his palms touched the ground, a small figure down in the depths of the clouds below.

“Everyone ready?” asked Akaashi.

Akaashi always remained calm at send-offs. He was experienced and professional, and though he might work at a slower pace than others, his buildings rarely failed. Today his creation was a gorgeous tunnel with a stripped down, open top. They had admired it as he built it, and up-close the simplicity and elegance were unmistakable.

Kageyama’s face morphed from barely concealed apprehension to pure admiration, his eyes widening. “How long did it take you to do this?”

“Eight rainshowers, I think? I had to build something worth his time.”

Sugawara hated to see the building go as Akaashi detached it and sent it floating slowly to the base of Grey’s cloud. It was long enough that the top reached into upper-level, where the runners found their destination.

As soon as the tunnel attached itself to Grey’s small cloud, Grey immediately went into a crouch and sprinted away, a bold smile on his face.

Suga’s pulse leaped and he instinctively began counting in his head, a steady internal drum of One… Two… Three… Four…. It was a habit he’d picked up over time, so that if the pathway failed, he would know how long it lasted.

Though it seemed like Grey was only on his way up. His body coiled around the motions of the run, and he blasted his way forward, leaving only mist remaining behind him. Suga thought he was more of an easy natural than most of the runners they saw come and go.

It helped that the tunnel was the optimal height for Grey, set so that the top of his hair barely brushed the striped top of the tunnel. As he continued, Sugawara could see why Akaashi used the tunnel model for Grey; he got the sense that Grey would be likely to go off-course and fall without the friendly reinforcements, ending back down at the cloud he started on. Some runners did fine without handrails at the sides to keep from losing their balance and falling, and others needed more suggestion.

Oikawa cheered as Grey reached the half-way point at roughly the same height as the builders on the middle-level; the runner obviously couldn’t hear or see him, but he puffed out a breath and fisted his hands as he continued to climb. Suga had to crane his head upwards to keep following Grey as he ran hectically.

The cloud-dust rose in tufts and tumbleweeds as Grey bounded upwards with inexorable force, a gritted smile flashing the entire way. Towards the end he struggled, and Sugawara held his breath and kept counting. There was something reassuring about the straight progression of numbers, and true to the count, Grey kept going relentlessly.

Suga’s neck hurt from bending backwards to follow Grey with his eyes, all the way up as he reached the very top and continued over, disappearing from sight.

High fives went to Akaashi all around.

“Hard one, wasn’t he?”

Akaashi just shrugged, looking up at the line of clouds Grey had disappeared into. “Not like Sugawara’s case.”

Kenma spoke for the first time. “Who is that?”

Sugawara sighed. “Orange, if you’ve passed by him.”

They made commiserating noises for him, but the group was already parting. It was time to get back to work.

Except for Kageyama, who lacked a job.

Kageyama was staring into the distance, watching the castle evaporate, the scattered mist invisibly rejoining the clouds on every level.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” said Sugawara. He was thinking about how they made things only to watch them crumble.

“Yeah. I wanted to get a better look at it before it was gone. I haven’t done a tunnel formation before.”

“Oh.” That wasn’t what Suga had meant at all.

“How do you compensate for a problem like that? The torque, the lift… The suspension inside the tunnel would be difficult, keeping the top lifted.” He continued for a while, speaking about things that Suga wasn’t remotely familiar with.

Kageyama didn’t know when to stop talking, and Sugawara didn’t know if he felt like stopping him.

“I see,” said Sugawara finally.

Kageyama sighed. “I just want a project already.”

“A project? Oh, you mean a runner.”

“I just want to work,” said Kageyama, turning his face to look right at Sugawara. His jaw was set, and his eyelashes curled upwards, setting off his stare attractively.

Sugawara feared this devotion, the weight of Kageyama’s belief, as much as it piqued his jealousy. He didn’t feel it like that. “You’ll get the assignment,” was all he could say.

No one knew where the runners came from, only that when they appeared, you knew if they were meant for you. No one knew how often they would appear, sometimes passing many storms before one came to the lower strata, small people below their feet.

Kageyama looked away, sat down and crossed his legs. His pants went up at the ankles, revealing smooth skin and bones. He put his hands on his knees. Sugawara waited. He was about to walk away when Kageyama spoke.

“How is yours?” asked Kageyama, out of obligation, probably.

“Orange is fine. Well, if you count my work breaking in the air for the umpteenth time when I tried to attach it for him recently.” Suga decided to be very honest. “I’m not sure I can do it.”

“You can probably,” said Kageyama, paying attention.

Suga beamed. “I tried what you said about the modifications to the railings.”

“Oh?” That got his attention. “How did that work?”

“He didn’t like them,” sighed Suga.

Kageyama didn’t look disappointed; in fact, his face lit up and he swung his body around to face Suga. “Why do you think so? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say.”

“I should’ve invited you.”

Kageyama shook his head. “It’s fine. So which part didn’t take? Was it too heavy? Not ergonomic enough even with the shavings?”

“I don’t know,” said Suga. He hadn’t paid close attention to any of that. “He didn’t like them for some reason.”

“Okay.” He could tell Kageyama was irritated with that answer and its imprecision.

Suga found it amusing, how transparent his reactions were. He knew some of the other builders found it difficult to read him, but Kageyama didn’t really bother hiding anything, at least not around Suga. It was just that Kageyama’s reactions weren’t as commonplace in their signifiers compared to others.

Kageyama smiled when he was angry, and he bit his lip when he was interested in something.

“So,” said Suga, smiling absently. “I have to get to work. Are you going to help me again?”

Kageyama’s mouth fell open. “I don’t have any other advice for you.”

“That’s fine.”

“I’d just tell you the same thing I did last time, and then it wouldn’t work again.”

“Yes,” said Suga. “That’s what I want. Come tell me the same thing you did before, and I’ll probably fail again, but maybe I’ll fail in a different way this time. And we’ll learn something about it.”

Kageyama couldn’t find a way to argue with that, so he headed after Suga, biting his lip.

 

 

Sugawara remembered the moment they’d discovered their newest builder in the cumulus. Kageyama had arrived spread-eagled on his back and coated in the cloud-chaff, fresh out of builders’ training. His eyes had snapped open and he’d jolted to his feet, knees straightening like pillars and fingertips curling at his sides, and Suga had noticed that he was very tall, hovering a little bit above all of them, with dark hair close-cropped to his face. He’d come in the uniform of the builders, just like the rest of them had, a white shirt, black over-jacket and black pants.

Back then, in the typical demonstrations of a new builder, Kageyama showed them how he could carve a cloud, firm enough for all of them to stand on at once, soft enough to cushion a runner’s steps, artful and full of all the grace lacking in his blunt way of speaking. He owned precision in the tiniest architectural movements, skimming a poking-out fingernail over a potential framework to slim off the excess.

Suga hadn’t known then if Kageyama was better than all the rest of them, but it was clear that someday he would be. He already outstripped Suga on a technical level, which was somewhat frustrating, but didn’t affect his attitude towards him.

So the second reason Suga asked for Kageyama’s help was that he honestly needed it.

Suga hadn’t progressed with Orange in ages, with each of his creations proving more futile than the last. If anything, Orange seemed to be getting less far with every attempt, by Suga’s count. It was so frustrating, watching his hard work disappear each time he tried, feeling futile and determined all at once.

He kept asking Kageyama along, wondering if together they could produce a breakthrough. It wasn’t like Kageyama had anything else going on, and he was fine with helping out. Kageyama did a lot of demonstrations, eventually preferring to show his ideas with miniature models rather than floating his words into the air.

Kageyama was fast at his work, faster than Sugawara. Everything was done to rigorous perfection.

He started looking at Suga less out of the corners of his eyes and more straight-on when he gave his lectures, which still didn’t make that much sense to Suga, but the droning of his voice eventually became soothing even if it never made a concrete result.

Kageyama and Sugawara were watching Orange try to climb, but it was clear he wouldn’t make it all the way to the top, not even halfway up. The count was stuck.

“Well,” said Suga. “That’s disappointing.”

Orange fell back down to his cloud in a heap of limbs and bright-moving hair.

Suga glanced at Kageyama, who was biting his lip and splitting his attention between Orange on the lower cloud-level and the building disappearing before them. Kageyama wasn’t lonely, exactly; Suga had been a little wrong about that, because his loneliness was mostly due to his lack of work, if he was to be believed.

He thought about Kageyama’s hands absentmindedly tracing models of buildings, when all he wanted to build his own fiction, and Suga set his mind on a decision before he was even sure of the idea.

“Kageyama. Listen, I was just thinking. I’m going to pass Orange onto you.”

Kageyama whipped his head around. “What do you mean? But he’s your project.”

“Yes, but I’ve been working on him for too long before you got here. It happens sometimes.”

“That’s allowed?”

“I’ve never done it before, but I don’t see why not. I think Oikawa might have, once.”

“Never passed off a case…”

“But I’ve gotten stuck a lot. Well, and you weren’t around to take it off my hands until now, were you?”

Kageyama looked away transparently. The wind was catching at his cheeks, so Suga couldn’t tell if it was a blush or not.

Suga reassured him, “There’s always a new runner. They will show up for me eventually.”

“How do you know? When someone’s meant for you?”

Suga shrugged, freeing his foot from a dip in the cloud surface. “One day they’re there, and you’re stuck with them. It works out for a while, until the peak is reached, and then you lose ‘em and have to start all over again.”

“I thought we were talking about runners.”

Suga looked up. “I am.”

“Right.”

“Anyways, you’ll know soon enough,” said Suga, putting intention behind the words as he took Kageyama by the elbow and led him to the cloud’s edge. “Because I’m giving my runner to you.”

They looked down.

On the lower-level, Orange stirred from his slumber.

Suga didn’t feel anything as he regarded the runner, not frustration or ambition as he had every time before, only detachment.

The connection that had been there was broken.

But Kageyama gasped and fisted a hand in the front of his shirt. His eyes grew wide as he looked down, and his breathing sped.

“That means he’s yours,” said Suga, smiling. Though he’d lost the connection with Orange, he could still be happy for Kageyama, who seemed on the edge of a breakdown.

“I’ve got a runner?” said Kageyama, clenching his fists, finally breaking the seal on his emotions, allowing himself to react. “I can build for real now!” The cloud caught him as he did a dead man’s fall backwards, landing gracefully on his back. He rolled around in a bumbling lump, covering himself in wetness and dust.

Sugawara laughed, though his body registered shock at Kageyama’s reaction. He’d never seen him that happy. Suga let his body down carefully and rolled himself over to join him, finding the mood infectious. “That excited?”

He rolled until they were side by side, Suga on his stomach and Kageyama still on his back. Warmth spread into his body from their two points of contact, shoulders and hips.

“You don’t even know. Building’s all I ever wanted to do. It’s what I’m good at, and.. uh…” Kageyama lost track of his sentence and fell silent.

“You have cloud-chaff all over your clothes,” Suga took the opportunity to say.

Kageyama made a noise in his throat. He was looking distinctly at Suga’s mouth.

Leaning in, Sugawara began to brush the chaff from Kageyama’s shoulders. Kageyama stopped fidgeting and laid his hands at his sides, palms up, tensing his entire body.

Sugawara paused, noticing the sudden tension, before he resumed the careful petting motion. Stray wisps of cotton stuck to his shirt collar and his skin. Suga shifted to lean further over him.

While wiping, without even thinking, he pursed his lips and blew away the fluff from the side of Kageyama’s neck.

Suga was close enough to see his Adam’s apple viscerally bob up and down, though his eyes faced upwards to the higher level of opaque atmosphere. He blew again, air coasting over the base of Kageyama’s throat, and he realized he’d been wrong to see any strain in Kageyama’s body. When he’d dropped his arms away, Kageyama hadn’t been tensing up, he’d relaxed. Now his cheeks had gone soft, and his breathing was measured.

Suga placed his lips at the base of the nape of his neck and applied a gentle pressure. Kageyama relaxed even further, his eyelids sliding closed, and he breathed out with a soundless sigh. Fascinated, Suga forged ahead and slid his mouth over the expanse of skin, feeling his body heating up as his hands settled on Kageyama’s waist, trailing down to fix on his hips. Kageyama leaned into him, grinding his hips in forward in a tease, and tilted his neck to one side.

They fell together like they prepared the dance in advance. Kageyama’s hand gripped at his waist, and Suga swung up and over, straddling him. Kageyama let out a huge breath and slung his arms around Suga’s back, and the cloud bent beneath them accommodatingly.

Kageyama’s lips were wet and didn’t taste like much, and Suga wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but there was some part of him that moved on instinct, opening his mouth to Kageyama, feeling how hot it made him when their tongues touched, and Kageyama must have felt the same as he tightened the grip on Suga’s lower back, almost groping his ass. Suga ground their hips together, overwhelmed and moving his mouth a little too dangerously to one side, so his clumsy teeth scraped at Kageyama’s upper lip, but Kageyama only held his breath and closed his eyes and then his bottom lip came between Suga’s teeth again, purposefully this time. Suga teased with only the first edge of a bite, running his hands up and down Kageyama’s sides over his shirt.

Suga shifted his weight to his hands for a better angle on what he wanted to do, and then he pulled back, licked his lips and went in for Kageyama’s neck; he ran his teeth along the exposed curve, over tendon and blue vein, and he could feel Kageyama stifle a noise in his throat.

Suga wanted to cry out at each new discovery, but there wasn’t time for that as they rolled in the scattering cloud, alternating who pressed whom into the piles of chaff, both ending up covered in the dust.

 

 

Kageyama started into the building with a hunger even Suga hadn’t anticipated.

He had drawn around thirty schematics on blocks, making miniature models of everything he was considering building. There was a load of discarded chaff sitting around that could have made its own fluffy cloud with its volume.

When Suga looked at him now, he thought about how he’d actually kissed Kageyama’s worried mouth, how they’d felt each other up a couple times now. He caught himself wondering what Kageyama looked like out of his clothes and felt a bit perverted.

Kageyama wanted to know, “What will you do until you get another project?” He stared at a projection of a tunnel as he asked.

Suga laid himself out on his back and crooked his arms, flexing his arms behind his head.

“I’ll watch you.” He winked.

Kageyama swallowed, noticing Suga’s proximity. “Uh, uh… Yeah. That’s fine.”

It was impossible to get bored watching Kageyama. He didn’t work like he was self-conscious about being looked at, taking on the same measured yet intense approach that Suga had seen him use in the past. Suga had thought he might learn something about building by observation, but the more he watched, the less he understood what Kageyama was actually doing. Since Kageyama liked to work in miniature scale before he worked large, it was difficult to tell exactly how he went about construction from further away.

It wasn’t like Kageyama kept anything around for too long, either. He built his creations up and demolished them in the same breath, nothing too good for himself. He yelled at himself when something wasn’t going well and rubbed the back of his neck until it was flushed and raw, and whenever a strong gust of wind came, he just stood there and if he hadn’t built something robust enough to withstand it, he crossed his arms and waited for it be destroyed.

All their clothes had soaked through from the accumulated atmosphere before Suga thought about moving, maybe to go see how the other builders were doing. Lazing around, in the time spent watching he’d already drawn an entire maze in the pattern of the cloud and looked on while the layers of wind eventually blew it all away.

The thing was, Suga would have watched Kageyama for another two storms, but he could tell Kageyama wouldn’t last that long. Instead Suga waited until Kageyama was clearly more frustrated than productive, and then he pulled himself to his feet, walked over and offered his hand.

“Take a break,” said Suga. Kageyama blinked widely, apparently having forgotten Suga was still there.

“So do you think he can do it? What if he’s a dud?” Kageyama chewed the side of his cheek. “You tried for a while, and you’re good.”

Suga passed over the compliment. “I think he can,” he said, but inwardly he sighed too. His frameworks had always collapsed and he wasn’t sure he could stand it, watching Orange slide down again, defeated but not dejected.

Kageyama’s foot nudged the puff of cloud to his left. “Yeah. I guess I can take a break.”

Kageyama’s idea of taking a break was to talk about his work instead of actively doing his work. He expounded on the need for railings, and Suga listened aimlessly, letting the sound of the words wash over him, passing over their meaning.

“Wow,” said Suga. “So building is pretty much it for you. You don’t want to do anything else?”

“I don’t think we have other options,” said Kageyama, eyes fixed on his work.

Suga found his answer funny. “Well yes, that’s true, but I’m asking something else.”

“No. I don’t want anything else. I only want to build.” said Kageyama. A strange look crossed his face, his lips pouting forward. “Are you… surprised?”

“No no! That’s what I expected you to say. It’s still fascinating though, isn’t it?”

Kageyama grunted.

“I don’t think… I really feel that way about it.” Sugawara was aware he was mostly speaking to himself.

He was surprised when Kageyama responded. “Really? You’re not interested in building?”

“Oh no, that’s not right either. I do like building, but mostly I like the different runners we work with, and talking to the others about problems.”

“The runners…” Kageyama’s brow furrowed. “They’re not as interesting as the work.”

“But they are. They’re my favorite part.”

“How?” said Kageyama. He never asked anything unless he really wanted to know the answer, and Suga’s face went warm at being asked.

“Well,” said Suga. “For one, each of them is different. I’m not the greatest builder, but usually I do okay by my runners. It’s relaxing to watch them, even if they’re just a speck in the distance when they leave. They depend on me to go up to the next strata, and they occupy my time. But at the moment of triumph, I have to let them go, and I eventually forget about them. It’s like this one-sided relationship, and breaking it up is the ultimate goal.”

“I see. You like them because they make you sad.”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Then I misunderstood.”

“Right.”

“Right.” Kageyama came closer.

“You don’t build with emotions? Feeling things all the way through, sorting your feelings while you sculpt?” Sugawara asked in an attempt to stave off whatever Kageyama was thinking about saying.

“No. I think about building. All the time. Not feeling much besides that.”

“That’s fascinating,” Suga repeated in a plain voice, and Kageyama came even closer, and before he knew it they were kissing, eventually pressing their bodies into each other to be closer still.

They shed their clothes this time, and it went faster than Suga could react to. All of Kageyama’s bare skin exposed in the light was overwhelming, prettier than any piece of cloud-architecture Suga had ever seen, but there wasn’t time to appreciate it with the urgency of their bodies. Kageyama was hungrier, leaning more into the kissing than the first few times, and Suga craned his neck upwards to press back with equal force, noticing that Kageyama could hold his breath for much longer than he could. Suga thrust his hips forward when he felt Kageyama’s mouth move to his neck, mouthing at the skin under his left ear, and his breath sped up when Kageyama switched sides and began to suck.

Soon, Kageyama was splayed out over Suga’s lap, long legs over his thighs. They were each touching themselves, slipping wetly against each other, and when Kageyama came he lunged for Suga’s mouth in a rough kiss, noises breaking from his throat.

When Suga came, he hung his head over Kageyama’s neck and tried to cling onto the last edges of his orgasm, feeling it diminish before he wanted to let go.

It wasn’t like Suga didn’t get himself off sometimes, when the urge hit him on an abandoned cloud, but here with Kageyama, it had felt different somehow. Kageyama awkwardly folded his legs back, re-taking possession of them, and Suga did his best to clean them both off, offering a lopsided smile.

After a pause, during which neither of them said anything, Kageyama got up, putting his clothes back on, and mechanically started working again.

 

 

The next time they took off their clothes in front of each other, it ended with Kageyama coming all over Suga’s hand and going boneless in his arms. When he straightened up, Sugawara kissed him, and Kageyama kissed back more enthusiastically than he’d expected, slipping his tongue in Suga’s mouth, and he felt the click of Kageyama holding his breath in his throat. Suga did his best to breathe through his nose, but after a little while he had to break away for a deeper inhale, feeling himself getting aroused all over again.

“Do you want to do it again, then?” asked Suga. Kageyama’s face was bright and flushed, and Suga thought he’d definitely say yes, but Kageyama closed his mouth and swallowed before saying that he should probably get back to building.

Suga was a little disappointed, but maybe after Kageyama had worked for a while, he would be up for it again.

Kageyama rolled up his sleeves, revealing fragile wrists and strong hands, and Suga bathed in the cloud, feeling cold air seeping through his clothes until the breeze became whispers on his skin, every small motion of a gust buoying him up like dust on the horizon. He didn’t get tired; none of them did, and they had no need for sleep, but neither did they relax overly much. Relaxing was too close to ennui here.

A voice sounded out, smooth and confident. “Oi, Suga, sleeping on the job?”

Suga looked up and saw Oikawa standing over him.

“Someone already made that joke,” said Suga, waving his arm at Kageyama, who was staring resolutely off to the side.

“Right,” said Oikawa, turning to Kageyama, “So, how is your runner? Oh that’s right, you don’t have one yet.”

Kageyama turned around swiftly, almost losing his balance. “I do,” he said, trying and failing to be casual.

“Ah,” said Oikawa, narrowing his eyes. He looked at Suga sitting on the ground and Kageyama standing up. He put it together, glancing at Orange out of the corner of his eye. “I see. In that case… I can tell you now that what you’re doing won’t work. The little runner can’t climb what you’re doing. It’s beautiful, but impractical.”

“I’m doing test runs,” said Kageyama. “He took to the beginning trials pretty well, but after that it hasn’t been as effective. I’ll probably revert back to my original plans.”

Oikawa put a hand over his heart. “You’re so good.”

Kageyama was searching for the trap, his brow low, eyes looking up through the fringe of his hair, even though he was a bit taller than Oikawa. “...Thanks?”

“Too good,” said Oikawa, making a fist over his heart and smiling at Suga. “This runner can’t handle his talents yet.”

“He’ll get better,” said Kageyama, interrupting.

Oikawa turned his attention back and sprung the trap. “Maybe you need to get worse.”

“What’s that supposed to mean!”

“Hey! What did you learn in school, dummy.”

“I learned… I learned… things.”

Oikawa stuck out his tongue.

Suga was starting to think they did this kind of thing for fun. He was pretty sure they did talk sometimes when Suga wasn’t around, but it seemed like he mostly saw them engaging in ongoing, silly squabbles.

He took the second of silence and ran with it, allowing himself to tune out of their petty argument and into the problem at hand.

Suga stared at Orange. The runner was pacing around the small domain of his individual cloud, only a far silhouette in the distance. By his shape they knew he was small, but it was impossible to know how low or high his voice was, or if he even had a voice. Suga wanted to know more about all the runners, but that was an impossibility he’d learned to live with.

He tuned back into the conversation to hear Oikawa giving a speech, sounding actually serious now.

“I think,” said Oikawa. “Maybe he doesn’t want you to make it easy for him. Maybe he wants a challenge, and it’s your job to give it to him.”

“A runner just needs to run. That’s his job.”

“You’ve only seen one runner in person. How do you know that?” Oikawa folded his arms.

Suga hung his head over the cloud’s edge and stared at Orange.

“I mean, what do you think they want?” said Oikawa.

“That’s a question for Suga,” said Kageyama, effectively conceding. “He thinks about those things.”

Suga wasn’t listening. Still looking at Orange, Suga said, “What about building a bridge that develops in difficulty as he climbs, the summit remaking itself endlessly until he’s gained in ability along the route enough to get up?”

Kageyama whipped his head around and tilted his chin up, looking feverish. “Can you repeat that?”

Suga did his best, and Kageyama started bouncing on his toes, burning to build.

“So it’s like the road has several peaks, each higher than the last, and it should assume his ability can grow in a matter of moments—”

“I think that’s my cue,” said Oikawa, waving his fingers at them. “Promised I’d check out what everyone else’s got going.”

Kageyama begrudgingly thanked Oikawa, and Suga waved.

Kageyama also thanked Suga, stretching his arms immediately upwards, calling balls of mist into his hands. In his hands it was clay for the molding. Kageyama moved so fast when he’d made a decision, or rather: Action decided his thoughts, as naturally as Suga liked to take in all his thoughts beforehand.

Suga peered at Orange through a finger-sized hole in the cloud into the lowest layer below, impenetrable and opaque.

He felt somber, and somehow that manifested in itching to take a walk, so he bid Kageyama goodbye. He wasn’t sure Kageyama noticed he was leaving, but that was expected.

Suga walked for a while, once catching sight of Kenma in the distance, but Kenma looked uncommonly busy, so he changed directions. He kept going until his thighs hurt, feeling purposeful in his stride, though his direction was unfocused and random. The air became grey around him, colder, and Suga siphoned off the excess wetness from his jacket and hair.

He came to the edge of a large cumulus, feeling damp inside his clothes and a little downtrodden. Then he got the urge to look down at the clouds-below, and he had to let out a sigh of relief when he saw what was there.

On the lower level, ages away but waiting all the same, stood Suga’s runner.

 

 

The runner had blond hair and sharp glasses. He looked quite tall, especially since Suga was used to observing Orange.

Suga lay on his stomach, where he’d been staring at Blondie for some time. The runner preferred to sit cross-legged and did a lot of staring himself, but his gaze wasn’t directed anywhere in particular. Not that the landscape gave him many options.

Eventually Suga stood and set himself to work, an idea brewing in his head. A rainstorm blew past, and the clouds darkened overhead, but he kept going until they cleared out again, set on accomplishing the rare skeleton of what he meant to build for his runner. Suga wasn’t like Kageyama, so he didn’t build to-scale models or anything, instead starting on the full-sized apparatus from the very start.

Kageyama showed up when Suga was about to go on break. Suga wiped dust from his brow and went to greet him.

Their bodies were still shy around each other, and Suga didn’t know how to greet someone when two out of the last three times they’d met, they’d also rubbed against each other until they spilled messily all over the cloud-surface.

Kageyama had heard from Akaashi about Suga’s runner showing up, so he’d come to check on him.

“He looks like he’d be difficult to build for,” said Kageyama, looking down to the lower-layer of clouds, where Blondie was staring at the ground.

“Really?” Suga cocked his head. “I was thinking it didn’t look that hard, compared to Orange.”

Kageyama shrugged one shoulder.

Blondie shifted from sitting to lying down, rocking a hand behind his head and laying the other across his chest.

Suga couldn’t resist asking, “Where do they think their pathways come from? Do they wonder things like that, or do they simply advance and ascend without questioning who lifted them up?”

“I never thought about it.”

“You only want to build,” Suga mimicked, not without gentleness.

“That’s right.”

Suga almost let it drop. It was enough, but it wasn’t.

“Where do you think they go?” said Suga.

“Hm?” Kageyama had turned back to the edge, and he was molding three-dimensional shapes from the passing clouds, just playing around.

“Our runners. Where do they go, when they disappear into the high level?”

“I don’t know that either.”

“You don’t think about any of it?”

“Do you want me to say that I do?” A wind came and blew the hemline of Kageyama’s pants above his ankles.

“No.” Suga wanted him to be himself, mostly.

“Some people think they’re passing onto somewhere,” said Kageyama.

“Some people do,” said Suga, remembering his conversations with the others. “But what if it’s the same thing it is here? They just start running again, and have their path built by another builder.”

“That’s possible. I guess.” Kageyama stopped moving his hands over the gigantic block of cloud he was absentmindedly carving. “This is important to you, isn’t it?”

“A little,” said Suga. “A bit.”

Kageyama went back to sculpting, and when his jacket-sleeves blew back over his forearms, Suga noticed his smooth wrists looked as interesting as his ankles.

“So what brings you here?” said Suga, not knowing which way he meant the question.

Kageyama directed his attention to his feet. “I thought we could… you know.”

Suga smiled, knowing what he meant before he said it. So in turn, he reminded him, “So what you need to do is ask.”

Kageyama lifted his eyes a little too high; they fixed somewhere around Suga’s hairline. He said, “Can you… Would you… Kiss me.”

The few steps Suga had to take to reach him were nothing; once he was there, it was easier still to slide a hand over the back of Kageyama’s neck, and to thrust the other hand under his jacket and shirt, tracing up his spine. Kageyama ran cold everywhere except his face, which heated quickly as he leaned in, meeting Suga halfway to the kiss. Suga made a noise into his mouth as Kageyama reciprocated and stroked around Suga’s sides, pulling upwards at his shirt, his intention clear. They broke apart to remove jackets and shirts, and they collided again, aching to be closer.

Soon, Kageyama was lying in front of him utterly naked, and Suga was on his knees leaning over, slowly pressing only one finger inside him.

“Like that,” said Kageyama. “Please…” He was getting noticeably more talkative when they did things like this.

Suga curled his finger and was gratified with a small moan and Kageyama trying to thrust himself down further, writhing on his back. Suga withdrew and licked his fingers, adding some more clear moisture from the air to allow an easier slide, and he slipped in two this time.

“Come on,” said Suga, smiling into the side of Kageyama’s neck. “Be patient.”

“I don’t know how,” moaned Kageyama, spread open and honest.

Suga curled his fingers again more slowly. “Try?”

“I can’t be patient around you.” Kageyama brushed his bangs out of his eyes; his eyebrows were drawn together tightly.

“If you really can’t, then I’ll make you come fast instead.”

Kageyama vibrated with tension when Suga’s fingers stilled inside him, waiting for an answer to the question.

“You decide,” said Kageyama, finally.

Suga’s eyes lit up, and his fingers moved like clockwork, counting out the strokes it took until Kageyama was unraveling. It was almost unbelievable, being able to watch Kageyama clenching his abs and thighs, breathing hard, trying to get himself to orgasm without any stimulation to his cock. Suga made him come fast and hard, and it was easy to reach the edge after that, looking at the messy fluid spilled on his thighs, and how Kageyama’s bangs were tossed up at the fringe so Suga could clearly see his satisfied eyes. Kageyama urged him on, and the pleasure crested and fell, and Suga let his mouth fall into a smile while his hand came to rest. They breathed collectively for a while until Kageyama said something about work, but he said it quieter this time and he didn’t stand up.

Suga shrugged the wetness off his hand.

“Where do you think it’s made from?” said Kageyama, sprawled out and reaching for his clothes.

“What do you mean.”

“I mean,” Kageyama gestured to the fluid lying on Suga’s clothes. “I can move it off you, just like I can move clouds.” And he did, moving his hand over Suga’s shirt. The stain was removed, and a thin transparency floated into the air and disappeared.

Suga answered quickly and without thinking. “I guess we’re part clouds too, then.”

“Or clouds are partially pieces of us.”

Suga laughed and said, “Maybe.”

“I see. So that’s what makes the clouds, our sweat and our semen.” Kageyama’s serious face made it hard to tell when he was playing around, but Suga knew him well enough by now to guess.

“I don’t think we sweat,” said Suga.

“Maybe you don’t,” said Kageyama. Suga recognized it as another joke and chuckled.

Flirting, that was what they were doing now. Lately, when Kageyama would come around to see him, Suga felt his proximity almost-tingle in anticipation of what he’d say.

The time after that, finding themselves together, they checked that no one was around before tackling each other down. They discovered that Kageyama could flush all the way down to his navel when Suga played with his foreskin, and Suga’s ears were more sensitive than he thought. In the end, Kageyama put his hand around Suga until he came all over their clothes, and Suga sucked him until he came in his mouth, a strange and unique taste.

And yet they had to purposefully avoid each other after that. They both knew that when they were together, there was no way they could get work done. They’d end up kissing until they were bone tired, pushing each other into the clouds, or conversing animately, which was usually more like Suga asking questions and Kageyama doing his best to answer.

Maybe a rainstorm or two later, the interim of which Suga had spent socializing and working on the path for Blondie, they met up again. Kageyama’s face looked longer, more serious, and his hands twitched more where they lay at his sides.

But he had finished the small model of the attraction for Orange.

It was a twisted stairway. Though at its start it was very routine, the pathway it took to the higher level would be winding and strange, if Kageyama could pull it off. In the plans, Kageyama had decided it possessed a small breadth where it began at the bottom, and it widened out to a giant stage at the top, an expansive area of play for the runner to operate.

After giving sufficient and deserved compliments to the intricate work, Suga had one criticism. “Just a thing—the railways aren’t stable. He’ll fall of the edge and be right at the beginning.”

“He doesn’t need railways. I didn’t notice when he was running before, but he has perfect balance.”

Sugawara stopped drawing in the cloud with his index finger. “So you were looking.”

“I didn’t look that much. Mostly I thought.”

“Even I didn’t see that.”

“Maybe you were too close to the problem.”

“Yes… Well, it looks stable now that you say that, at least to me.”

“It should be,” said Kageyama, clearly believing in himself.

“Mm. I think that the send-off for Blondie isn’t too far away, either.”

“Well, it’s thanks to you anyways that I’m this far,” mumbled Kageyama.

“I’d like to take credit, but.” Suga poked at the middle portion of the stairway, looking at its shelled glaze and the precise irregularities in its surface, no doubt calculated to bring out the runner’s potential. “Maybe I just planted the idea.”

“Ideas are important though.”

Suga smiled. “Are they?”

“Well. Not as important as the roads.” One corner of his mouth quirked up at the side.

Suga laughed at Kageyama’s transparency. “You say roads. I mostly say they’re buildings. I wonder what the difference is.”

“It’s a road because… I didn’t think about that.” Kageyama bit his lip, taking time to form his thoughts, and Suga waited for him. “Because it goes somewhere. Building sounds like something that doesn’t move. It doesn’t move people to anywhere.”

“I suppose… I say it that way because it’s static. I make the building, it’s there, and then it’s not. It’s a stand-alone.”

Kageyama looked up. “So like a castle?”

It was a word Suga thought he hadn’t heard before, but he knew vaguely what Kageyama meant. “Castle is… a little extravagant, for the things we make. But if you call it that, then the castle is the path, and the king runs its gamut.”

“So he’s the king, then.” Kageyama pointed at Orange, who was stamping his foot on a mist-mound.

“King of the castle, I suppose.” Suga wondered if he could recognize a castle, even if it were standing right in front of him.

“Their rule’s brief. Our castles—no, their castles, they—uh, they crumble after they use them.”

“That’s right.” Suga’s mouth twisted. “Where do you think they’re going?”

“You asked that before.”

“It’s interesting to me. I’m still trying to find the point.”

“I thought you just said the point was to build these—these things. Structures. Buildings. Castle, I dunno.”

“That is the point. But what about the after-point?”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Or the before-point.” Suga laughed how confused Kageyama was getting, relishing the two or so conversations they were having at once. “What I’m saying is, where do you think they go?”

“I don’t know. It’s an ascension, maybe?”

Suga stopped laughing. “Where did you hear that word?” It also rang familiar enough somehow that he knew what it meant, but it was an unusual term, and he wasn’t sure he’d heard anyone say it to him before.

“It’s a concept. Or an idea. I had it explained to me once, but it was hard to understand.” Kageyama scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t remember much other than the word.”

“I have words like that,” said Suga. “Like tree, or fruit… Things I didn’t learn when I was learning to be a builder.” He looked at the line of Kageyama’s back through his white shirt. “Like the word ‘fuck.’” Kageyama reacted a little to that, straightening up stiffly. “See, you know that one, too.”

“Hmm?”

“Hey, are you listening?” Sugawara waved a hand in front of his face.

“Yeah, it’s just.”

“Yes?”

“What about us? Who are we?”

“Builders!” Suga stuck out his tongue.

Kageyama did his half-smile, his eyes winking up at the corners. “That sounds right enough to me.” He sat down in an abrupt heap, getting traction on his knees, where his pants soaked through with latent rain from the cloud. He moved his hands in a quick, elegant motion, and showed Suga what lay within his palms.

It was a balled up cluster of mist, packed tightly together in a sphere. Suga didn’t know how to play too many games with it, but Kageyama just looked down at his hands and smiled as he threw it over, calling for a catch. Suga threw it back. It disintegrated as they passed it back and forth, raining mist over their heads.

“You got us all wet,” Suga laughed, shaking droplets from his hands. They sat down side-by-side but not touching and let the moisture sit in their clothes a bit longer before removing it.

Suga set his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hand, and he went on musing out loud. “I wonder if one day, I’ll just sink into the clouds the same way we all came in.”

“Why would that happen?”

“Why not?”

“Because we have a purpose. You told me that.”

“So I did,” said Suga.

“What do you think?” said Kageyama, crossing his legs in front of him and leaning back. “All the questions you ask.”

“I thought I’d mentioned already.” Though he hadn’t said anything directly, Suga wondered if Kageyama had figured it out.

“Did you?”

Suga caught himself wanting to look away from Kageyama, but he forced his gaze to settle. “I think the runners are what matters, more than the buildings.”

Kageyama swallowed, and a noise like a gasp clicked in his throat. “Suga… really?” His shoulders tensed. “You really don’t believe we’re building to anywhere.”

Sugawara smiled, proud that Kageyama had caught on so quickly and a little dismayed at what he’d learned. “We pave the way, they move on. We’re here, and they go up there. We spend all this time getting to know one person, but it’s deemed that they leave us, and we’re never knowing each other the whole time.”

“You’ve said that before. Why does that have anything to do with what’s in the upper-clouds?”

Suga was surprised that Kageyama had called him on that. “Um…” He chewed the inside of his cheek, knowing he was about to sound selfish, but he wanted to say it anyways. “If there was something worth seeing up there… Why couldn’t I see it, too?”

Kageyama said immediately, “If you want to go, then I’m sure you can get there.” He looked at Suga like he trusted him too much, almost like he believed in him.

“Ah, but when?”

Kageyama’s gaze hit his feet. He muttered something.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” said Suga, patting his shoulder. “There’s nothing to be done. This is simply the way it is—we build, but climbing is for our dreamers.”

Kageyama’s shoulders drooped. “I never thought it like that. I don’t think about it, more like, I only want to build, and I want to do whatever I can do get better at my work.”

Suga wanted to hold him, but he didn’t reach out. “You might be right in how you think. But I still—I still want to wonder what it looks like… at very the top. Like what goes on up there? Is there a celebration? Are there more builders, like us? Or do they really climb again, waiting for another higher-up group of builders to do their job?”

“I guess I’d like knowing something like that,” said Kageyama, looking up at him through dark eyelashes, though his shoulders stayed slumped forward.

Suga’s chest tightened, and he felt worried. “Am I upsetting you?”

“What? No.” Kageyama looked surprised at the mere suggestion of that, and up this close, his face was too honest to hide anything. “I was just thinking.”

“About what?” Suga switched over to a little teasing, thinking they’d exhausted their previous topic.

Kageyama’s mouth went up at one side and his brow softened as he said, “Nothing.”

A little while later when they touched each other, it wasn’t careful at all. There were no nails or teeth involved, and no blood, but they didn’t need those to be rough. Kageyama put his wet fingers inside himself one by one, and then he asked Suga to replace them with his fingers, his lips, his tongue, his cock, the requests coming too fast to accommodate all at once, so Suga took them one at a time, though he didn’t take them leisurely.

Suga pinned Kageyama’s wrists down while he fucked him, and Kageyama moaned guttural and loud, squeezing down, dripping wet and slick around Suga’s cock.

Neither of them lasted long. When they were done, they sat on their heels and watched the cloud to their left dimming grey, preparing for a rainshower.

“But where else does it come from?” said Kageyama, rubbing the pads of his slick fingers together before letting the moisture re-join the air. “We don’t eat anything.”

“Clouds, us, maybe you were right, and it’s all the same.” Suga moved his hand through Kageyama’s hair.

Kageyama’s rare smile flashed, and he said, “Then you just came clouds in my ass.”

Suga doubled over and laughed some more.

 

 

“It’s done,” said Kageyama. His eyelashes drooped lower than usual from overwork, but he was shaking with excitement.

“What’s done?” As he asked, Suga realized what he meant. “Oh! Is it time for your send-off?”

“It can wait,” said Kageyama, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other. “If you’re busy.”

“I am, but I also have time.” Suga was excited. It was a little like a triumph for him too, at least if it worked. He’d waited so long to see Orange ascend, and even if he hadn’t built the pathway with his hands, he’d shared in its making.

Suga rounded up the others before he went over, and they caught up with each other. Kenma finally had a new runner, and Oikawa was close to a send-off himself. Akaashi was typically quiet, but even he seemed more enthused than normal to see what Kageyama had done.

In the end, Kageyama had faithfully brought the miniature model of the road up to scale. It wasn’t that showy, surprisingly; it was only when they stood close to the different parts that they could see how difficult it was. Kageyama moved the pathway around so they could see it from more angles.

Suga admired him as he explained his rationale, how he’d incorporated Suga’s idea to change the pathway’s purpose as it grew higher. The surface was a smooth gradient of difficulty, one that would allow for sudden growth in the runner’s ability.

“It isn't bad, for a newcomer,” said Oikawa, patting Kageyama on the shoulder, and Kageyama straightened up as though he’d received a much higher praise.

Kageyama didn’t like to draw things out, so soon enough he was attaching the pathway to the lower-level, at Orange’s cloud, and Orange geared up and dashed forward, faster than expected.

Suga counted as he usually did, but Orange ran like a blur, racing with arms held high, legs pumping rhythmically. Kageyama had reversed his thoughts on the width, so the pathway gradually became more narrow as it went on.

Even without the railways there was absolutely no chance Orange would fall. He was rising higher than the builder’s level, always looking up, focus narrowed in on the higher level of clouds. He had a darting sense of movement, very sharp, and he leaned forward into the momentum, close to the end.

At the very top, the pathway was so thin and precarious that it barely fit the width of one foot, and yet Orange stepped on it resolutely, like it was the widest road to ever exist, and then he was gone, too.

It was possibly the fastest time Suga had ever seen. They all stood there in silence, until finally Akaashi said, “Nice,” and Oikawa said something almost nice, and even Kenma nodded at him.

As the pathway evaporated, the three of them wandered away to go back to work, Oikawa slinging an arm over each of their shoulders.

“It was brilliant,” said Suga.

“Next one will be better.” Kageyama shrugged, but even he couldn’t control his grin, and he clutched his fists happily.

Suga’s smile burst over his face, and he felt light, like part of his burden had been taken off.

“But you were right,” said Kageyama. “A little bit. About the letting go.”

Sugawara said, “What, are you going to miss him even more than I would?”

Kageyema laughed, but there was a strange quality.

“Come here,” said Suga, lit up with residual adrenaline. The others had faded into the distance, and he wanted to touch.

Kageyama must have been holding back a lot since the send-off finished as well, because he lunged forward and kissed Suga with unexpected initiative. The moment seared through him, Kageyama’s wet mouth pushing insistently against his own before his lips, slick and moving, attached to Suga’s neck, and Suga groaned and linked his arms behind Kageyama’s back, tipping them both over into the cloud.

They frantically removed their clothes, and Suga found himself hovering above Kageyama, mouth secured at the base of his throat. In this position, he could grind his stomach over Kageyama’s cock, and Kageyama seemed gone already, writhing for more contact and tugging on Suga’s hair. Suga’s cock touched between Kageyama’s legs, and he felt hot everywhere, despite the slight breeze.

Suga kissed at the hollow between Kageyama’s collarbones, absorbing the clicks of his breath and the noises of his throat. He found himself looking for a rhythm, a pulse to Kageyama’s breathing, but strangely, there wasn’t one. Instead there was a gap, or a stop, whenever Suga began to suck at the skin joining neck and shoulder, and the hushed sound of breath would begin again when Suga paused to pick a new place, letting one hand trail down to stroke Kageyama’s cock.

He searched for it and felt the click happen in Kageyama’s throat again when Suga moved to the other side of his neck. He really was stopping his breath, and Suga wondered if he also did that when they kissed.

“Does that make it better for you?” said Suga into Kageyama’s throat, feeling curious. “When you hold your breath.”

Kageyama’s eyelashes were half-dropped over his eyes, and he thrust upwards, letting out a groan when he rubbed against Suga. “Huh? I don’t hold my breath.”

“You literally just were.”

“No I don’t.”

“You are!” said Suga. “You’re stopping it right around…” His index finger slid light as a breeze over Kageyama’s throat, bisecting his neck. “Go back to what you were doing, but pay attention this time.”

Suga squeezed his hand around Kageyama’s dick again, and keeping his other hand on Kageyama’s neck, Suga could feel him swallow, a series of pushbacks on his index finger as his throat contracted and expanded.

He could almost see the moment Kageyama realized he was right. And because Kageyama was the person he was, the first thing out of his mouth was “I hold my breath!” And he groaned when Suga’s hand squeezed around his cock once again.

Suga said, “Try it without me. Touch yourself, but try not to stop your breath.” He sat back on his heels, palming himself as he watched Kageyama stroke himself experimentally, breathing remaining consciously even as his hand moved up and down.

Kageyama shook his head. “Okay. So I can do it, but…”

Suga told him to just say it.

“But it’s not as good.” Kageyama was breathing a little less rhythmically now as his hand moved faster, and Suga watched his throat freeze as Kageyama went back to holding it in, his face going slack with a little more pleasure. His eyes kept flicking up to see how Suga was judging his response.

Mostly, Suga found him incredibly interesting, and his body certainly reacted to the idea that such a simple sensation could heighten the experience for Kageyama. He got an image of Kageyama as one of their runners, striving for a goal. Instinctively he began the countdown, and a new idea burst into his mind.

“Hey, how about this? I want you to count for me,” said Suga, before he’d thought it all the way through.

Immediately, Kageyama expelled a held breath and gulped down air before obediently saying, fast and flushed, “One… Two… Three…” in a patient, slow voice, obviously not clued into Suga’s reasoning.

“Kageyama,” said Suga, holding back a sudden fit of laughter. “Do you need to release your breath to count?”

Eyelashes lifting from his cheeks, Kageyama turned his head, surprised. “You’re right.”

Suga hadn’t expected him to understand so quickly, but Kageyama’s mind did always work faster than anticipated. Kageyama said he needed to prepare for a moment, and he looked at Suga’s chest when he swallowed, then up to his face while he breathed in.

“That’s fine. Just tell me when you’re ready.”

Kageyama closed his eyes and let his lips part naturally, breathing in. “I am.”

His chest tightened. “On my signal… and don’t forget to keep your eyes open… Set... Go!”

This time, Suga watched Kageyama’s breath catch in his throat, and his eyes opened while his lips began to form soft, sweet shapes.

One… Two… Three…

He mouthed the numbers without letting any air pass from his lungs. His mouth captivated Suga; it looked softer than it was, pillowy but uneven because he bit his lips too much lately. The count ascended quickly.

Eight… Nine… Ten…

Suga felt hot and tight across his chest. He touched himself, already slick from his own hand, then reached over to mess with Kageyama’s cock, tapping the flushed pink head.

Kageyama spluttered and sat up halfway, abs clenching, getting precum on his stomach. He breathed heavily. “Sorry, I didn’t expect… that.”

“Nothing to apologize for,” said Suga. His tongue ran along the roof of his mouth, and he swallowed anticipation. “Let’s start again?”

Kageyama nodded, his chin and jaw loose of tension, and he laid himself back down and started again.

His thin mouth shaped the numbers, and his eyes looked far up into the upper-level of clouds.

One… Two… Three… Four…

The count was five, and Suga already could not bear to not be inside him. Kageyama’s eyes found him, and his soft mouth moved silently in reverence.

The count was ten. Fifteen and twenty came and went, and Kageyama’s dick twitched as he passed his previous record, a drop of precum sliding from the heavy crown to the base. Suga wanted to lick it up, and as the count hit thirty he indulged and did so, mouth opening to catch the drop before it fell into the dark curled hairs at the base and Kageyama flinched but kept counting, he was so brilliant, and Suga told him as much as the count became thirty-five, confiding the words into his skin. On his tongue was the taste of salt, and in his nose was the scent of pure musk and sex.

Kageyama’s lips parted like peeled fruits on a silent tree, open and juicy and ready for the tasting, a temptation more than Suga could bear as the count hit forty-five, and it was only forty-six when he snapped and couldn’t wait any longer, calling for Kageyama to breathe so he could kiss the breath out of him again. Kageyama’s eyes jolted open and he came at Suga like a rainstorm, throwing himself at him with the force of a thousand clouds and the will of a runner, but Suga made him take in air, monitored his breathing, ensuring that he was back without fracture, complete and whole.

“You did so well,” Suga murmured in-between the hushed, uncontrollable kisses he littered over the sides of his neck, the base of his throat, the dips of his poking-out collarbones.

Kageyama begged so pretty and desperate, saying he wanted Suga inside him, touching him, bruising him, a litany of words unleashed as he gained his breath back, his voice roughened. Suga melded his lips with his skin and mashed their bodies together in a way that was almost painful.

On his back, Kageyama was warm and tight and he accordioned his legs, lifting his knees, and Suga held his ankles in one hand like they was going to break while his other hand worked between his legs, but when he realized that nothing could break Kageyama he gripped the ankles tightly, the poking-out bones like the skeleton of a castle, the blueprints of a carefully thought-out plan.

Except Kageyama was real, he smelled like freshness in the air, he was more than the sum of his beautiful craft, his side-swept hair, his fragile-but-strong ankles. Suga opened him up with slick, dripping fingers until he yelled for more, but just to check, Suga had to ask.

“Ready?”

The control had left Kageyama’s face and he nodded and rolled his eyes up to a spot above Suga’s head. His eyelashes curled upwards at an impossible curve.

“You can go,” said Kageyama.

Suga went. He held onto Kageyama like a runner reaching for the railway like a lifeline, grounding himself inside him, feeling Kageyama breathing deeply from his stomach as he adjusted to Suga’s cock, welcoming the stretch. Suga fucked him gently for a while, not putting his full weight behind his movements, stroking his hands up and down Kageyama’s heated sides. Kageyama had one arm thrown backwards over his head, and his eyes were closed. It was windy, and it was cold, and the cloud shifted beneath them, but they were rooted and calm.

Suga moved his weight back slightly, and Kageyama launched himself upwards, his stomach clenching as he sat on Suga’s lap, hips shaking from side to side as he re-settled on his cock. The pace turned dirty, almost raunchy, Kageyama all fucked-out and desperate, bouncing in his lap like he needed it, and badly. Kageyama fucked himself hard on his cock, jerking himself off. Suga thumbed at his balls, kneading them the way Kageyama liked it best.

Kageyama moaned, “More.” He repeated it liberally, adding in “please,” and “harder.”

Suga scaled his nails into Kageyama’s shoulderblades and fucked into him savagely.

Burning, that was the sensation he was feeling. Wild and inside of himself stretched tight there was his heart, and he could feel its beating acutely like never before. Kageyama pleaded and moaned and tried to say how much his want enveloped him in groans and clipped phrases, and Suga mostly understood; he nosed into Kageyama’s hair and really breathed him in.

Kageyama held his breath and came silently, mouth gaping and eyes closed, shooting hot white all over his stomach. His hair was swept off his forehead and he tightened and released around Suga, who gasped at how amazing it felt, the clenching coming at an unpredictable rhythm.

Suga concentrated on Kageyama’s fucked-out face, loose and dopey but unbelievably hot, and he began to come inside him, feeling the sudden jolt of pleasure extend and extend, from his cock to the base of his spine to the tip of his head, reaching always upwards—

The suspension stretched for several beats, until at last Suga breathed out heavily and his pulse began to slow.

The comedown began, and Kageyama moved his hips languidly until they were no longer joined. Suga adjusted the way he’d fallen on top of Kageyama so his full weight no longer pressed him down, more half-lying on him now; he slung an arm over Kageyama’s chest, and Kageyama bent one of his knees so that Suga’s leg could lie over it.

Kageyama’s arm reached out for Suga and faltered, drawing back in before it touched. Relaxed and careless, Suga touched Kageyama’s wrist and lifted, marveling at the solid weight of his arm, and he tucked it over his back in the embrace he’d wanted.

Neither of them said a word.

 

 

This time, it was Suga who had to get back to work. Unlike Kageyama, he didn’t do well when he was being watched, so they used the intensity they’d felt together after Kageyama’s send-off to carry themselves alone for the time being.

The fever to build hit him, just not as hard as it hit Kageyama. He threw himself into finishing the last third of the building, sure of his plan. All it needed was more time. He felt his arms tremble from exhaustion more than once, and he pushed himself into the burn, wanting to make something good for his runner. The rain came and went, drenching him and his building more than once, but when the sky around him darkened for the third or fourth time, he was finally confident that it was done, that it was good, and that it would work.

He went to grab the others, sending Oikawa and Akaashi back to the send-off site for Blondie while Suga went to get the other two. He found Kenma before he found Kageyama, and they decided to walk along together while they searched for Kageyama.

Kenma was his usual quiet self, and Suga did his best to coax some information out of him.

“Kenmaaa,” said Suga. “I want to meet your runner. Is he tall? Is he cute? Is he good?” He did his best imitation of Kageyama. He knew it didn’t work very well, but he liked to amuse himself.

“Yes. No. No.”

“One out of three isn’t bad.”

“No. It’s not.” Which, for Kenma, was saying a lot.

“What’s his name?” asked Suga.

“I don’t give them names like you…”

“But you said he was tall, right?”

Kenma nodded.

“That can be his name then. Tall.”

Kenma’s large eyes went up at the corners, like he might smile. “A little obvious.”

In the distance, Sugawara could see Kageyama’s figure approaching, apparently having spotted them before they saw him. They exchanged waves, and when Kageyama caught them they picked up the pace to get back, where Akaashi and Oikawa were already waiting.

“He seems like he doesn’t want to run,” said Oikawa, observing the building and the runner with equal attention.

Suga grinned. “He will, though.”

Kageyama seemed distracted and didn’t ask half as many questions as he usually did, and Suga made a note to ask him about it afterwards. Maybe he was already onto his next runner.

On the lower-level, Blondie barely looked ready, his head looking down instead of up.

As he attached the building, Suga wondered lightly if any runner had ever refused the call. But when the structure was secured to his cloud, all at once Blondie stood all the way up for the first time, clenched his fists, and began to run.

Suga counted in his head. All his attention focused on the runner, he watched him go up, steady and slow. Suga barely paid attention to the building itself, his eyes set only on the runner’s long motions.

As he ran, his hair lifted up like a cloud around his head, and Suga thought about holding his breath for good luck.

But Blondie made it over the top without any problems, though he second-guessed himself as he got to the summit, looking backwards as was his habit. Suga could almost pretend they were looking at each other for a moment, at the very top.

He said his goodbyes equally as silently, through the noise of everyone cheering for him.

“That was difficult,” said Akaashi, and it was an observation as much as a compliment.

“I didn’t think so,” said Sugawara at the same time as Kageyama said, “See, I told you.”

Suga shrugged, lifting his palms up.

Kenma left the fastest, but the rest of them lingered behind. Suga engaged Akaashi in conversation about what he’d built for Blondie, and Oikawa and Kageyama found something newly trivial to argue over. Eventually Akaashi left to go work on his own building, thanking Suga for the advice.

“Suga,” called Kageyama. “Hey. I want your opinion on something.” He brought a hand up like he was going to wave or scratch his nose, but instead it dropped back down, pressing his lips together.

Suga thought that he was going to ask for his input into whatever he and Oikawa needed resolved, but instead Oikawa was smiling, waving and leaving, probably going after Kenma or to work by himself.

“What is it? Do you have a new runner already?” said Suga.

“No, it’s something else.” Kageyama always sounded serious, but especially so right now.

“Okay,” said Suga, pinching his unrepentant cheek until he cracked a forced smile. “Let’s go.”

Kageyama held his hand with a firm grip as he led them over a large patch of clouds. They hadn’t seen each other in a while, and Suga had missed him a little. He’d missed the warm feeling of physical touch, and how Kageyama listened attentively to everything he said. As long as he wasn’t building something, that was.

His feet slipped on the cloud when he saw what Kageyama wanted to show him, still a distance away. Kageyama grabbed his waist so he wouldn’t fall.

Ahead of them, impossible to miss, there loomed a castle. Suga couldn’t think of any other word to describe it.

It was an astonishing building, strange in its sophistication, but also in its simplicity. Its sheer mass and breadth were unlike anything Suga had seen before. Usually, such a large accumulation would begin to disperse due to its size; in the hands of a less talented builder, it probably would have.

This one stayed put, stuck there like an elegant monstrosity, one that was only more shocking the closer he got. Coming to stand right in front, Suga felt small looking up, and though building mostly made him feel a little more powerful, he kind of felt it like a beat in his chest, his relative size when compared to this—this castle. It made him start to feel things that he didn’t know how to voice, some thing that stuck deep in his gut, and another coming up his throat, and it made him wonder.

He wondered how Kageyama could have built something like this if he didn’t really care about the runner; he wondered how it would have been possible, or if something had changed since that time.

The elegant curlicues on the railways weren’t just for prettiness, but for texture, Suga had no doubt. He looked up and saw the patterning of the road changing on its way up, a unique tapestry intentionally missing its frills.

“It’s beautiful,” Suga breathed. “I’ve never seen something like it. It’s simply… magnificent.” Yet something was missing; something felt off. “But… and don’t get mad, but… where is the runner?” It was also too short to reach from the level below theirs all the way up to the level above theirs, but Suga wasn’t going to mention that. He figured Kageyama had his reasons.

Kageyama looked at him, head tilting only slightly, eyebrows raising infestimally.

Suga blinked, and he remembered.

His hand came up to cover his mouth, and his face started to burn. He swallowed his words and his mouth opened slowly, hand falling heavily to his side. “Kageyama—”

“I made this for you,” said Kageyama, not understanding that Suga had already understood. “Now you can see it for yourself. I want you to be able to climb.”

“Kageyama—”

“I’ve built it for you. Your kingdom.”

“I see that,” said Suga, or he tried to. There was a burning pressure behind his eye sockets. “Yeah, I can see that. Kageyama.”

“Are you—okay?”

“I’m going to cry.”

“Yes?”

“Yes. Just—?”

“Because it’s important to you. Because I can do it, and I’m the only one who can do it—make it to sustain a builder.” Kageyama stepped closer, moving with learned knowledge of how to act rather than physical intuition. But he didn’t try to touch. “Because I—”

Suga cut in, saying, “I know.”

Kageyama’s posture was open, his sharp shoulders squared off. He left his mouth hanging open, probably not sure of where to go from there.

“I can’t believe you,” said Sugawara. “You planned to tell me right after my send-off.”

“I thought you’d want to go out on a high point. No unfinished work.”

Sugawara laughed. “This is the high point.”

Kageyama didn’t respond to that, exactly. “I remembered what you said. Not exactly, but I got the main idea. Something about winning and losing things.”

Suga did his best to remember his own words, wiping his eyes.

“You don’t have to try if you don’t want to,” said Kageyama, his face almost unreadable.

It was supposed to be impossible to imagine this, and yet here it was in front of him.

“I’ll try,” said Suga, too quickly, before he’d thought it through. “I want to.”

Kageyama nodded, and he did reach this time. Using the full length of his arms, he held Suga tight in the embrace. His wrists locked behind Suga’s back, and then they unlocked, and they stepped apart.

Suga paced slowly to the start of the pathway, right where Kageyama was attaching it to the cloud. He had to keep breathing. He had to steady himself, but he halfway thought the staircase was going to collapse in front of him. It stared him down, tall and intimidating.

He looked up to the summit.

“When you’re ready.”

The summit looked back at him.

Suga had never tried to run before. He scuffed his feet on the cloud-surface, and a mist rose up around him. He clutched his hands into fists.

The instant he started to go, his feet moving before his mind could catch up, he heard a voice at his back.

“One,” said Kageyama hoarsely, low and rough. “Two, three, four!”

Suga ran. He didn’t look back because he didn’t need to; he already knew what Kageyama looked like flushed in fervor and in dreams. Air whistled in his ears and pushed his hair clean off his face, and the steps beneath his feet were stable and solid and reassuring as Kageyama’s counting. He considered this as he went; stable, yes, but also velvet-soft and firm, or maybe Kageyama had varied the composition throughout the ascension because of how he thought Suga would like that. And even with the softness at his feet, with the shocks traveling through his ankles and knees and hips, Suga was still running with a long way left to go, and Kageyama was still counting.

This was a path built especially for him to tread. The pretty curls on the railways weren’t just for prettiness; they melted beneath his hands, feeling porcelain in the first instant and dust in the next, and it was a reminder that the road was likely disintegrating behind him. He heard the numbers counted off in his head by Kageyama’s voice, which was fading out of his ears and blending with the gears of his mind, but he knew the voice almost as well as his own by now, and so all he needed was his imagination.

His breath came up short while he tried to run the centerway, not knowing how far he’d come or how far he had left to go. Up here the pattern of the castle was spiraling and loose, but it was so solid beneath his feet, firmer than any cloud.

The top loomed ahead, and Suga looked at it—he looked up—he looked—

Kageyama’s voice was like wind at his back, and these stairs were crafted just for him.

The count was lost.

Suga tripped and fell, not able to tell fast enough whether he was catching his foot on some nothing in the air or whether the staircase was simply evaporating before him, losing materiality for good. The top receded at a sharp pace, and Suga shouted, feeling his stomach somewhere around his ears as he fell and fell, panicking over the imminent crash. He didn’t know if it would hurt; he didn’t know where he was going to fall, back on their middle-ground or further down on the lower-level—was this how runners came into existence—or if he’d ever come down at all, whirling in—

But he was caught by the mere embrace of a cloud, and he went hot and then cold all over at the wetness seeping through his clothes. He lost touch with where he’d gone to, trying to focus on the white clouds he could see parting above him. Then he blinked ten times fast, his vision spotty but enough to see Kageyama dashing to his side, and his body flooded with warm relief.

“Are you okay?” Kageyama knelt and brought his face very close to Suga’s heart.

Suga lay there on his back, limbs spread out. He was thinking, but his mind wasn’t settling anywhere. At least for now, he estimated that he hadn’t fallen down that far from where he’d initially started. Kageyama’s face was very warm, radiating heat through the material of his shirt to his chest, and Suga felt his body shedding its numbness.

The sky was lifted high and pale above Suga, and he threaded his fingers in Kageyama’s hair, appreciating the bristly texture.

“So much for only building for the sake of building, right?” That was all Suga could say.

Kageyama blinked. His eyes were wet. “Right.” His cheeks were also wet, but not for long as he wiped his face with the back of his hand, removing his face from Suga’s chest.

Suga had been wrong about the breaking, then.

Kageyama offered a hand to help him stand up. Legs shaking, Suga was a bit dizzy on his feet, but unharmed.

Suga held onto Kageyama’s hand a beat too long before relinquishing it. He glanced around the atmosphere, feeling for a long moment like the clouds held everything except answers.

He took Kageyama’s hand again and felt him squeeze his fingers. Suga flicked his eyes up, and as he’d thought, Kageyama was biting his lip, searching for what he wanted to say.

Really looking at him, Kageyama said, a little shaky, “I can build it.” His voice came back stronger. “I’ll build it for you, and you’ll come back, and you can tell me all about it.”

“I dont know about that,” said Suga, strangely short of breath himself. He couldn’t explain what he meant, because it was something more than simple unknowing. It was wondering what he wanted, for himself and for Kageyama. He’d run aggressively on a chance and a whim, but it had probably been easier, this first time, to be spontaneous. He knew that having the knowledge of what it was like to run and to fall would make him cautious—especially remembering what it was like to want to fall, briefly, in the middle part of the descent.

“I do know.” Kageyama sewed his lips shut before allowing them to part, with difficulty. “I promise. If anyone can do it, I can.”

"I mean.” Suga bit his tongue. “It’s not that I don’t believe in you. I mean I don’t think you get to come back down. Once you’re up.”

He watched the change in Kageyama, who drew back his shoulders and stood up straight and unclenched his jaw, who came up as a young man and had grown and aged lengths beyond whatever imprecise time had passed.

“It’s understood.”

Yes, Suga thought. They would have problems for other days, that for now were floating as far as the impenetrable side of the horizon. There would be more challengers before their eyes, of all statures and determination, demanding greater heights and more extravagant castles. There would be all of that—there would be doubt fading in and out, contesting the lack of belief he ascribed as an innate quality of existence.

“I’ll get you there.” Kageyama’s voice was resolute. “I know I can.” He held his chin high like royalty and dropped his eyelashes to his cheeks, holding them there for a count of two before he opened his eyes as wide as he could.

Sugawara didn’t believe in ideas or concepts or castles in the upper sky, but he could believe in the person standing before him.