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Chasing Pavements

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Tobio hates day care.

He doesn’t understand why he has to go be around a bunch of kids he doesn’t know, doesn’t want to know, when he could just stay at home with Daddy or Papa all day. He would still be stuck with his brothers, Yuutarou and Akira, but at least they know how to play better games.

But one kid in particular at day care is the worst. All he does is draw orange suns on the pavement with chalk in the play area, and Tobio would much rather use that space to play with a ball with the other kids. Yaku-san just tells him that he has to share the space, but Shouyou-kun isn’t sharing by taking up the entire space while a bunch of other kids want to play there.

But Akira, being the smart brother, gives Tobio an idea.

“You should draw with him. When there is no more space to draw, then he’ll stop.”

Now Tobio remembers why he only beats up Yuutarou.

The chalk feels weird in Tobio’s hands, but he grabs three fat sticks — green, white, and blue, respectively — and heads for the pavement. Shouyou is humming a stupid song while he carves out a circle the size of a basketball. He draws the lines and then the rays; it’s the same thing as every other day.

Knowing he can do better than that, Tobio plunks down and begins to draw a circle of his own. In this circle, he does his best to approximate the seams of a volleyball because he likes volleyball. Daddy and Papa love volleyball; they play sometimes with some other old guys like them, and Tobio and his brothers get to watch sometimes. Yuutarou likes it almost as much as Tobio, and Akira pretends not to but he does.

After his volleyball is done, Tobio draws a net before he begins adding players. There is a setter, because Papa says setters are the best, and a spiker because Daddy says he was a spiker. Tobio doesn’t understand what these words mean, but he knows what they do during the game and that they are definitely cool.

For effect, he adds some flames on the ball from where the spiker hits the ball like gwah. That’s when the shadow falls over his work. Angry at the loss of lighting, Tobio growls, “Go away, Yuutarou. I don’t want to play with you.”

“You draw good, Tobio-chan,” a voice that is not Yuutarou’s says.

Tobio’s gaze bolts to this newcomer, only to see that it is his concrete nemesis, Shouyou. “What do you want, Shou-baka?”

Shouyou’s head tilts to the side before he bursts into laughter. “You’re bad at insults, though. You’re kind of dumb, aren’t you?”

Scowling, Tobio throws the white stick of chalk at Shouyou, which lands with a satisfying plunk on his forehead, and shouts, “You’re dumb, you dummy!”

At this, however, Shouyou only laughs harder. He tries to speak, but he just doubles over and points at Tobio. By now, several other kids have stopped playing to watch them, and Tobio feels his cheeks burn with embarrassment. “Shut up!”

With a growl, Tobio grabs Shouyou’s hair and pulls. Shouyou’s arms flail at Tobio, but even though they’re the same age, Tobio is stronger and taller. There is no contest, and soon Shouyou slumps in defeat while Tobio stands over him triumphant. A few minutes later, they all go back inside for snack time, and even then, Tobio sips his juice box victoriously, glad that Shouyou will finally recognize his dominance and superiority.

Or Shouyou just goes back to drawing on the pavement like it never happened.

Tobio stomps over to Shouyou and points at him. “You! Why do you draw all day? We want to play games on the pavement, but we can’t because you’re in the way!”

Shouyou blinks at Tobio. “I like games, too. That’s why I really liked your volleyball.” He points at his own drawings. “I try drawing them, but they aren’t very good. I like volleyball. Do you like volleyball?”

“Of course I like volleyball!” Tobio rolls his eyes. “It’s the coolest thing ever. My dads play, and they’re so cool!”

Wide eyed, Shouyou waves his arms. “You have two dads? I have two moms! You wanna trade so we can both have one of each?”

“No!” Tobio hisses before his brow wrinkles. “Well, maybe I could trade Papa. He makes stupid faces at us. But you can’t have daddy. Yuutarou would never stop crying.”

Shouyou giggles. “Your family is huge. I wish I had brothers.”

Tobio snorts. “Just because you said that, you’ll get sisters.”

“Will not!”

Ignoring Shouyou’s pout, Tobio points to the chalk and the small section of concrete that is still bare. “I’ll race you. If you draw the most volleyballs before it’s time to go home, I won’t ask you to go away all day tomorrow. If I win, we get the concrete tomorrow.”

Challenge sparkles in Shouyou’s eyes. “I’ll beat you, Tobio-chan.”

“Not if I beat you first, Shou-baka.”

With that, they set off on their great challenge, drawing wonky little volleyballs all over the pavement until their art begins to overlap and neither can tell whose is whose. But they keep drawing them anyway, and here and there, one will laugh at the other’s misshapen circles or awkward seams.

From the window, two sets of interested eyes watch the boys playing on the concrete.

“Iwa-chan?” Papa Tooru asks.

Daddy Hajime doesn’t look away but acknowledges with a hum. “Hmm?”

“Ever since we started taking the boys to Cats and Crows, don’t you think Tobio-chan is a little, um, different?”

Hajime smiles but doesn’t let on that he has noticed the very same thing. “How so?”

Tooru gestures towards the kids splayed out on the chalk-covered concrete. “Oh, I don’t know how to describe it. You’ll know it when you see it.”

Hajime deeply enjoys watching his husband try to explain something so terribly obvious, and he decides to string him along just a little further. “You mean that redhead kid, don’t you?”

Grinning, Tooru coos, “Iwa-chan only looks dumb, th — ow!”

The slap on the back of Tooru’s head lacks power, but it shuts him up sufficiently. Hajime just shakes his head. “Of course I noticed, moron. He’s my kid.”

“Yeah, he is,” Tooru snorts. “‘Shou-baka’? Really? I thought only you had such a limited vocabulary.”

“If the shoe fits.” Hajime shrugs. “Should we go get the boys now?”

Tooru laughs. “Not until Tobio-chan comes up with a better nickname for Chibi-chan.”

Hajime shakes his head. “I don’t want to die here, Tooru. Let’s just go, and it’s your turn to wrestle Yuutarou into the car seat.”

“But he hates meeeeeeee,” Tooru whines. “He goes right in for you!”

“Everyone hates you, Tooru,” Hajime teases. “It’s just a matter of degrees.”

 

From behind Tooru and Hajime, Nishinoya Yuu — Cats and Crows’ newest employee — watches this exchange with his boss, Yaku Morisuke, while scratching his head.

“It all makes so much sense now,” Nishinoya mumbles as he watches Tobio-chan’s parents. “Those boys are doomed.”

Yaku chuckles. “Yeah, they are.”