Over time, Kunimi has realized he really likes having Kindaichi do things for him.
It starts off one and a half weeks into their junior high school career, at the point where even Kunimi has learned the names of all his supposed teammates but none of the first years are quite comfortable with one another yet. Kunimi doesn't really mind that. He almost never feels comfortable around other people, so at least for now he has company.
Soon, though, he knows they'll sort themselves into little groups based on answering questions like What kind of music do you like, Kunimi? and Which is your favorite subject, Kunimi? and Did you do anything fun over the weekend, Kunimi? and figuring out what answers they want will be exhausting, it's exhausting, and honestly Kunimi would be perfectly happy if they stayed like this forever, too awkward to talk outside of what's completely necessary.
He knows it's only a matter of time before the other kids start socializing, whatever he may want. Already he's noticed the tiniest of overtures being ventured, too warm congratulations over actually managing one of the plays the coaches are trying to teach them and smiles sliding out of necessary politeness into genuine sentiment.
It won't take them long to form true connections, so Kunimi knows he has to act now. Being a complete loner is unfortunately not an option. His mother had made it very clear that she worried about how unsocial he was in elementary school. They'd had a series of talks, completely with wide eyes and worried hand flutters and endless You'll enjoy hanging out with them if you give them a chance and Are you being bullied? and It's just not normal, Akira-chan, who knows what people might think? and he just can't go through that for another three years.
No, the best option for him, long term, is to suck it up and find someone who seems like it won't be too intolerable to spend time around. Picking someone from the volleyball team seems like an obvious choice. They already have something in common, after all. But, if he waits around before making his move, all of the normal, sociable types will gravitate toward each other and he'll be stuck with the dregs. And dregs, he's noticed, are often needy and uncertain and will constantly, constantly be wanting validation from him, and Kunimi can't put up with three years of that, either.
So during that day's practice, instead of tuning out the coach's yelling at him to think of nothing, he tunes out the coach's yelling at him to observe his teammates. He's not impressed with what he finds, but then, he wasn't expecting to find someone who'd actually appeal to him. If he was going to find that, he figures, he'd have made a friend ages ago. Instead, he's stuck sifting through various levels of undesirability trying to find someone who seems tolerable.
He rules out many of them instantly, like the kid with the gap between his teeth that makes him whistle annoyingly when he says certain words, and the boy with fluffy blonde hair who is constantly laughing at things that aren't funny at all, and the kid who stands out for having actually played volleyball in elementary, who is way too intense about the sport already and might try to make Kunimi practice during his free time or something equally heinous.
It's only after he's absolutely ruled everyone else out that he grudgingly decides Kindaichi Yuutarou is the best of the lot. He has several traits Kunimi dislikes - he's too tall, his hair looks weird, he's always the first to bow or respond to the coaches - but he supposes he'll just have to suffer through all that. On the positive side, he seems very straight forward and not overly bright, so Kunimi won't have to work very hard to figure him out and keep him content enough that he'll stick around.
Kunimi knows it won't be long before the other students bond organically, so if he's going to slip in and take Kindaichi Yuutarou for himself, he can't hesitate. Making sure he's next to Kindaichi, he guzzles his water during the break after a tough drill, ignoring the way drinking so fast makes him feel slightly queasy. Once the bottle is close to empty, he sighs loudly and tips it to the side, clearly demonstrating how light it's become.
"Ugh," he says, pitching his voice so it'll reach Kindaichi but not the others. "I'm already almost out of water and I just filled it…"
"Yeah, I'm close, too," Kindaichi says, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He shakes his bottle, producing a slosh that sounds like it's from a bit below the halfway point.
"Want to come with me to refill them?" he asks. "It's boring to walk all the way to the fountain, so maybe if we go together it won't be so bad…"
There, he thinks. Now Kindaichi will agree, and they'll walk out together, and Kunimi will ask him a question about Kindaichi's interests and pretend to agree with whatever he says he likes, and since no one else is brave enough to chat yet, that alone will basically make them best friends.
"I can get it for you, if you want," Kindaichi says and grabs Kunimi's bottle out of his hands. "I don't mind the walk!"
And before Kunimi can say anything, Kindaichi has slipped out the door, an actual bounce in his step, as if he's perfectly happy to go fill up another boy's water bottle for no reason other than that Kunimi said he found the walk boring. His own water bottle wasn't even empty yet.
This was not what Kunimi had been expecting at all and he wonders if he's wildly misjudged Kindaichi. Maybe he's actually one of the social rejects, so excited at having someone pay attention to him that he's trying to suck up to Kunimi? That seems like the most likely explanation, and Kunimi is starting to worry about how shake off a clingy type when Kindaichi gets back and tosses a full bottle at Kunimi.
He catches it, barely. "Thanks," he says with even less enthusiasm than normal.
"Don't mention it," Kindaichi says with a shrug, and that confuses Kunimi even more because he seems to be completely genuine. He really doesn't see it as a big deal, which goes against Kunimi's new theory, leaving him at a loss.
"Another boy from the volleyball club filled up my water bottle for me when it was empty," he says.
She brightens so considerably that Kunimi wilts just looking at her. "That was nice of him!" she says. "You should do something for him in return."
"He doesn't expect me to," he tells her. "It was just a water bottle."
She clicks her tongue. "Of course he doesn't expect you to do anything for him, Akira-chan," she says, lapsing into the patronizing intonations she used when he was much younger. It's incredibly annoying, but he listens anyway. "A nice kid like that doesn't do favors for people to make them owe him one, he does them because he wants to make them happy. And if you both do favors for each other, you can become friends! Doing favors for people makes you like each other more."
"I have to do homework," he says and makes his escape.
In first period, he turns to where Kindaichi is seated next him. "I forgot a pencil," he says.
"Oh, here," Kindaichi says immediately, holding out the pencil in his hand to Kunimi. "You can have this."
As third period is ending, Kunimi breaks the pencil tip. "My pencil broke."
"I can sharpen it for you," Kindaichi says and takes the pencil over to the pencil sharpener. He brings it back to Kunimi once it has reached a nice point again.
During lunch, Kunimi shakes some coins into his hand. "I don't have enough to buy candy from the vending machine. I need 50 more yen."
Kindaichi pulls out his own wallet. "Here," he says, passing Kunimi a coin.
When Kunimi sits back down, he turns the candy packet over in his hands thoughtfully. Kindaichi really doesn't seem to expect anything back from Kunimi, but if his mother is right, to become friends he'll need to do something for Kindaichi once in a while. He opens the packet and holds it out. "Here," he says. "You can have some."
Kindaichi grins at him. His smile is just like him, big and straight forward. "Thanks," he says and takes some of the candy. Which, technically, he helped pay for, but he doesn't seem to care, so Kunimi figures it doesn't matter.
They run next to each other in practice and exchange a few minor words here and there through the drills. Not a moment too soon, Kunimi thinks, as he watches the other boys start to divide themselves off into groups of two or three. But he has Kindaichi already locked away, before anyone else can approach him.
When Kindaichi grabs Kunimi's water bottle to refill with his own without Kunimi even mentioning it was getting low, Kunimi decides he's pretty happy with how his plan turned out.
Kunimi decides he likes this, likes this rather a lot.
For all that Kindaichi seems perfectly happy to do endless things for Kunimi, Kunimi knows from equally endless talks from his mother that friendship isn't supposed to be a one way street. He needs to do something in return for Kindaichi once in a while. Luckily, it isn't hard to hit upon the perfect thing, something Kindaichi desperately needs, that Kunimi can easily provide, and that will remain a probable constant.
Kindaichi, Kunimi has discovered, is terrible at studying. Just truly awful at it. Kunimi, meanwhile, gets very good grades. If he really applied himself, he suspects, he could make a good run at being at the top of the class, but he's uninterested in expending that much effort when he's getting by fine how he is. So it's the easiest thing in the world to offer to tutor Kindaichi after practice.
He expects the tutoring to be a painful experience but to his surprise, it's not that bad. Kindaichi isn't as stupid as Kunimi originally thought he was, but he is incredibly inefficient. He'll study the first quarter of the material to perfect understanding, only to miss out on learning any of the other three fourths and bomb the test. Kunimi is easily able to reroute his efforts into more useful study plans. Kunimi is very good at figuring out how much time should be spent on which parts of the readings, so helping Kindaichi is a piece of cake.
There are a lot of perks to this arrangement. An obvious one is that Kunimi's mother gets to meet Kindaichi, see with her own eyes that he isn't lying about having a friend to get her off his back. She's over exuberant and embarrassing about it, of course, but Kindaichi doesn't seem to be bothered by it.
Kunimi also finds he likes hanging out in Kindaichi's room. He has a very comfortable bed, large enough for them to both lie on at the same time. He also has a variety of video games, more than Kunimi has, and has no problem with Kunimi touching any of his things. His father is a much better cook than Kunimi's mother is, and Kunimi starts to stay over for dinner frequently.
When they are in one of their homes, Kindaichi is able to do even more things for Kunimi. He fetches water and pillows and textbooks and blankets, letting Kunimi curl up on a bed or in a nest of cushions on the floor undisturbed. And if Kunimi falls asleep in one of his catnaps, even in the middle of helping him, he always finds something to do until Kunimi wakes back up again in twenty minutes without complaining. Sometimes he'll wake up to realize Kindaichi gently moved him as he slept so that he's not in a position where his legs could go numb or a textbook could press into his face, and Kunimi likes that, too.
But Kindaichi doesn't see things that way.
"He's always by himself," Kindaichi says one day as they take a break from practice. He's watching Kageyama where he's standing alone, just staring at the volleyball in his hands as if it were the best thing to ever happen to him. Maybe it is.
"Creepy," Kunimi says in an agreeing tone before he realizes that's probably not how Kindaichi meant it. Kunimi is the mean one in their friendship, though Kindaichi has never called him out on it. "He doesn't look lonely," he adds.
"Maybe he just doesn't realize it," Kindaichi says and is walking over before Kunimi can stop him, leaving him to trail behind him awkwardly to avoid becoming the new loner. "Hey," he says.
Kageyama jumps, looks up, and then actually looks behind him to see who Kindaichi could be talking to. Kunimi didn't think anyone actually did that in real life. "Um," Kageyama says and then follows this up with resounding silence.
"You did really well in practice today," Kindaichi says.
"Th-thanks," Kageyama says and stares helplessly around. Kunimi wonders if he's actually an alien and truly hasn't experienced human conversation before. It would explain how freaked out he looks about the whole ordeal.
Kindaichi shifts awkwardly under the pressure of keeping the exchange going without any returning cues. "Uh, so you've been playing since you were really little, right?"
"Since my second year of elementary!" Kageyama says, his face lighting up. "I got to see a college match from the court side, and I saw how the players were running around all fwoosh!! and the setter would send the ball up like pa-pah! right to the strikers to get it past the blockers, and-" Kunimi tunes out roughly a full five minutes of this before the coaches call them back.
"I hope that made you happy," Kunimi says to Kindaichi as they wait for their turn in the receiving drill.
"He just really loves volleyball," Kindaichi says. "It's kind of sweet. He clearly wants someone to talk to."
"And that's supposed to be us?" Kunimi asks, tangling his hands in the fabric of his shirt, feeling entirely uneasy with where this is all going.
Kindaichi shrugs. "You don't have to if you don't want to," he says. "But I'm going to start talking to him some."
"Do whatever you want," Kunimi says, and cuts ahead of Kindaichi in line so he can run forward and do the drill, ending their conversation.
He tells Kindaichi he's too tired to tutor him that day and heads home by himself. His mother frowns when she sees him.
"Is something wrong?" she asks.
"Kindaichi is making another friend," Kunimi says.
"But that's wonderful!" his mother says. "It'd be great for you both to have another friend. Think how much more fun you could have with three of you!"
"But I don't want another friend," Kunimi says. "I only want Kindaichi. And I especially don't want this one. I don't like him." He can feel his face settling into a pout, to his horror.
"Oh, honey," his mother says. "I understand. It's hard to share when you've had Kindaichi-kun all to yourself for so long. But I'm sure if you spend more time around this new boy, you'll grow to like him, too! And it will make Kindaichi-kun happy if the two people he likes get along."
"I don't like him," Kunimi repeats and goes to his room to sulk.
He sucks it up and does his best to give Kageyama a chance. He offers to tutor him as well as Kindaichi and responds to his incessant volleyball talk every few minutes. Kageyama is bad at studying in a whole different way than Kindaichi is, though, and Kunimi finds himself aggravated and bored the whole time he's helping them. And Kindaichi is so focused on trying to make Kageyama feel at ease, a goal Kunimi feels is probably impossible to meet, that he doesn't immediately do the things for Kunimi that he used to.
If Kunimi were to be honest, that's the part that bothers him the most about this new arrangement. Before, Kindaichi was so focused on him, in that quiet way of his, instantly responding if Kunimi got cold or thirsty or sleepy. Now his attention is split between two people and Kunimi doesn't like the change.
Gradually it gets better. Kageyama practices constantly in his free time, so he often turns their invitations down, giving Kunimi time alone with Kindaichi. And even when they do spend time together, thing become more bearable, bit by bit. Kageyama is too awkward to shove Kunimi off when he falls asleep on him even when Kunimi ends up with his head in Kageyama's lap, which is nice. And he's willing to spend hours in silence, which Kindaichi has trouble with sometimes. When Kindaichi isn't around, they often don't talk to each other, but will just sit on the gym floor or lay on the grassy hill out by the clubroom, staring up the sky. Of course, Kageyama is probably thinking about volleyball, but that's fine because he doesn't try to make Kunimi think about it, too.
So Kunimi makes his peace with the new status quo, decides he can live with it, and of course that's when Kageyama goes and screws it all up by going from zero to asshole faster than one of his new, impossible to hit tosses.
It's just after their first tournament in their second year, the first tournament Kageyama played in as the official setter, and they'd lost to a team their school had trounced the year before with Oikawa setting because of the number of spikes blocked. Kageyama retreats into himself after the loss, brusquely rejecting Kindaichi's awkward attempts to comfort him as they walk off the court. Kunimi, who is still on the bench, watches it all with narrowed eyes. Something about Kageyama's expression is different, something about the way he began to toss toward the end of the match is different, and Kunimi doesn't like it at all.
It gets worse and worse from there. His tosses get more and more difficult and as the number of combo misses goes up in practice, the angrier he becomes. He holds himself back from yelling at the third years, if only just, but Kindaichi, whose most recent growth spurt has secured him a starting spot, gets no such latitude. Kageyama shouts at him constantly, telling him to work harder, run faster, jump higher, an endless refrain of what he sees as Kindaichi's failings. He almost never spends time with them outside of practice any longer, and they aren't inclined to ask him to.
After a particularly bad practice, Kageyama yells at Kindaichi so much that Kindaichi runs away in tears. Kunimi follows him as quickly he can, not bothering to stick around to watch the coaches attempt to chastise Kageyama.
It's only once he finds Kindaichi in the bathroom that he realizes he has no idea how to comfort people. He's never seen Kindaichi cry before, doesn't know how to deal with it. He's relieved when he sees that Kindaichi is splashing his face with water, apparently over the worst of it.
"He's an asshole," Kunimi says. "It wasn't your fault it didn't go well today, it was his."
Kindaichi shakes his head but doesn't disagree. "He's really a genius, all right," he says.
"At being a jerk, maybe," Kunimi says, though he knows that Kageyama really is a volleyball prodigy, knows because none of the coaches will shut up about it and even an amateur could see how right Kageyama looks with the ball in his hands. Back when Kageyama was just a weirdo, it was almost cute. Now, it's like some kind of sick joke.
"Let's get changed," Kindaichi says, sounding more defeated than Kunimi has heard him sound before. "I just want to go home and sleep."
He's worried about the effect dealing with Kageyama is having on Kindaichi. He hasn't cried that Kunimi has seen, not after that one time, but he's changing. He's getting meaner, grumpier, at first just toward Kageyama and then to their opponents, their classmates. He's still nice to Kunimi, to the rest of their teammates, and it's not like Kunimi really has room to talk on the meanness front because he's never liked people, but the change bothers him.
They play a practice match, right before the tournament. It's a good team and the game is close, though they win. To hear Kageyama, though, it would be easy to assume they'd lost in a landslide. He screams at everyone on the team, even the captain. This spiker didn't swing fully enough, that one didn't receive properly.
Kunimi gets yelled at for giving up on balls and not moving fast enough, which is how it usually goes. What's the point in making a solid receive, Kunimi thinks, if it'll just go back to Kageyama, who will turn his toss into reason to yell at someone again? What's the point in any of them trying at all if all they'll get is a laundry list of ways that they aren't good enough?
As usual, Kageyama saves the worst of it for Kindaichi, their ace. Kindaichi takes it with a stony expression that morphs into a slight sneer as Kageyama turns away, pulled off by the captain. His expression is uncaring, but Kunimi notices his hands are shaking.
Kunimi also notices how the rest of the team, so subtly they might not even notice what they are doing, drift in so they are between Kageyama and Kindaichi, creating a sort of wall between them, closer to Kindaichi.
That's how it is, Kunimi realizes. The team on one side and Kageyama on the other. He's not a part of them, hasn't been for a long time. He's their common enemy, regardless of who is standing across the net. The captain can yell and the coaches can scold all they want, but it won't change. Kageyama won't change, as long as he stands on the court he'll see nothing but the perfect plays carried out by faceless teammates, that never translate to real life. And the coaches won't take him off the court, won't take their genius off the court as long as the plays he actually manages are good enough that keeping him in seems like the smartest option, no matter what the rest of the team feels. They've made that clear.
It's then that Kunimi begins to form a plan.
"We'll give him a few games," Kindaichi says. "But if he acts like he normally does…"
"It's better to lose without him than to win with him," Kunimi says.
"Yeah," Kindaichi says. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall behind his bed where they are sitting, Kunimi's feet tucked between Kindaichi's calfs and thighs so his toes don't get cold. He can feel Kindaichi's muscles shifting in a wave of tension. "Fuck," Kindaichi says tiredly. "I hate everything about this."
"It's almost over," Kunimi says.
When he sees Kageyama's face after the match, how empty his eyes look, Kunimi feels a prickle along his spine. He forces himself to turn away, to focus on Kindaichi.
I did it for him, he tells himself. Not for me.
But there's a part of him that worries that it isn't true. That maybe, as bad as Kageyama was acting, he'd never take such a big step if it weren't for how jealous he'd been, he'd always been, of how much time and energy Kindaichi poured into Kageyama, both when he tried to be his friend and when he was busy hating him, time and energy that he wasn't then giving to Kunimi.
Kunimi worries that he might be the most selfish friend in the world, but he's not sure he knows how to stop, so he tries to focus on other things. On the future, on high school.
The decision to go to Aobajousai is easy. Kindaichi and Kunimi both get invited and they know several of their former upperclassmen go there. They'll be able to take the train together each morning like they're used to, be able to play volleyball together like they're used to. There's only one thing that could sour it for them, so Kunimi decides to be proactive.
He corners Kageyama in the hallway by the vending machines. Kageyama is buying the same milk drink he's always gotten, that Kunimi had shared with him sometimes during that six month period where they were almost but not quite friends, and Kunimi feels strange for a second, like his throat is too tight to breathe through properly, so he coughs to clear it and steps forward.
Kageyama watches him, frown as deep as ever but more guarded, wary.
Good, Kunimi thinks viciously. Now you have a taste of how Kindaichi felt.
"Kindaichi and I are going to Aobajousai for high school," Kunimi says, his tone betraying nothing of the chaotic mix of emotions inside him. So don't go there, is the silent addition to his statement, one so clear even Kageyama has to pick up on it.
"Okay," Kageyama says, and that's the last thing they say to each other for the rest of the year.
Kindaichi's height is remarked upon almost immediately. He's taller than even the third years and that combined with how much he's improved in the last few years earns himself a starting spot. Kunimi sighs, wondering why his friend couldn't be slightly more average, and applies himself enough that he gets the second open spot on the team.
Playing against Kageyama's new team is like a cold front on Kunimi's contentment. He knew they'd probably run into him again at a tournament. Even after the way his last match had ended, his sheer talent would ensure he'd return to the court eventually. But he wasn't prepared to see him again so soon. He can only cross his fingers and hope that seeing Kageyama abusing some poor new team would show Kindaichi that it wasn't his fault, that it wasn't personal.
But it doesn't turn out that way at all. Kageyama works with his new team, with the tiny middle blocker in particular, works to accommodate them and his tosses actually are hittable.
After the match, Kindaichi changes quickly and leaves without a word. Kunimi hesitates to follow him, worried that he might be crying again and if that's the case, Kunimi has no idea how to respond. He just wants to shake Kindaichi, to tell him to stop caring about Kageyama already, but if it were that easy, he would have done it ages ago.
When he finally finds Kindaichi, he sees Kageyama walking away. He didn't hear any shouting, which he assumes is a good thing, though he can't get anything from just Kindaichi's back.
"What," he says. "You were talking with him?"
"…That guy said 'we'," Kindaichi says, voice quiet.
"Huh?" Kunimi wishes Kindaichi would turn around, unsure how he's feeling.
"And yet he'd always talk as if he were fighting on his own, saying 'me' and 'I'… Dammit." Kindaichi tips his head back as he lets out a deep, deep breath, as if it were one he'd been holding for years. "It's kinda frustrating."
Kunimi smacks him on the shoulder, ignores his confused protests. Kindaichi could be such an idiot sometimes. Kunimi had known he was still carrying around regrets about everything that happened with Kageyama, as if he could have made it go differently somehow, end with all of them happy, but to see Kindaichi admit it still annoyed him. If Kunimi was too selfish, Kindaichi more than balanced him out by being too selfless by far. He ought to think of himself for a change.
For all that, Kindaichi cheers up immensely following the practice match. He doesn't go completely back to the way he was before, which is alright. He was just a kid, then, and Kunimi doesn't mind if he's grown a little harder with maturity. But he's more open, more straightforward again, and Kunimi soaks it up.
The new team helps a lot. Although the upperclassmen can be incredibly ridiculous at times, they are also very reliable. Iwaizumi takes Kindaichi under his wing particularly and Kunimi is soon treated to a constant refrain of 'Iwaizumi-san said…' and 'Iwaizumi-san did…' no matter the topic. Hanamaki and Matsuwaka are more Kunimi's style, generally quiet but always ready with a sarcastic comment. Watari and Yahaba are okay, too, patient in teaching their new underclassmen all the signals and patterns Seijou uses.
Oikawa is the only one Kunimi is initially unsure about. He acts very loud, for one, drawing everyone's eyes to him no matter what he's doing. But Kunimi is the most unnerved not by the attention Oikawa gets from others but by the attention he's paying. As someone who is used to observing others, Kunimi gets the distinct feeling of being observed whenever he's around Oikawa.
It's not really a surprise then, when Oikawa calls him out on skimping on playing decoy in practices. It's what he says afterward that takes Kunimi off guard, that makes him see Oikawa differently. It's then he realizes Oikawa might actually be someone he can really admire, someone he wants to play for.
"What's up with you?" Kindaichi says as they get off the train. "You didn't even come close to falling asleep on me today."
Kunimi blinks. "I guess I was just thinking," he says. "You know, I'm starting to get the feeling that I'll really enjoy playing volleyball this year."
Kindaichi grins. "Me too," he says. Then he thumps Kunimi on the back. "But don't go getting too energetic on me, okay? My shoulder would get lonely without you falling asleep on it all the time." He reaches out and pokes Kunimi's cheek gently.
As Kunimi bats his hand away, he feels his heart beating faster in his chest and is grateful he's never been the type to blush. "D-don't be an idiot," he says, trying to figure out where this sudden case of awkwardness has come from. "As if I'd ever become like that."
He knocks his shoulder into Kindaichi lightly. "I forgot my bag in the changing room," he says. It has his jersey, now dirty with sweat, as well as the magazine he'd read on the ride over to avoid falling asleep and getting in trouble with Mizoguchi.
"Okay, I'll be right back!" Kindaichi says and half jogs back in to the school building.
"Hmm, what's this?" Oikawa says. "Kunimi-chan, you sent Kindaichi to get your bag for you?"
"I didn't send him," Kunimi asks, turning away so he doesn't have to look Oikawa in the eye. "And it's not like he minds."
"Now that I think of it, he does all kinds of things for you, doesn't he?" Oikawa says. "I've seen him fetch you water when you're hot, and carry your bags for you."
"And he does most of Kunimi's share setting up and cleaning the gym," Hanamaki says.
"He wakes him up when they reach their stop on the train," Iwaizumi says. "I've heard them talking about it."
"Oh, and it's sweet how he makes sure Kunimi's comfortable when he falls asleep, no matter where they are," Watari says.
"When you put it all together like that, doesn't it seem like Kunimi's found himself a very loyal servant?" Oikawa says brightly.
"Cut it out," Kunimi says thickly. "It's not like that."
"Ah, I guess not," Oikawa says, not sounding fazed at all. "After all, Kindaichi always looks so happy doing those things… so I guess instead of a servant, maybe it's more like Kunimi has found himself a spouse?"
Kunimi is saved by having to come up with a response to that by Kindaichi's return. He bounds up and holds out the bag to Kunimi before pausing.
"Actually, why don't I just keep this for now?" he says. "I have to wash my jersey anyway, so I can wash yours too and give it back to you tomorrow."
Kunimi can hear his teammates giggling and digs his nails into his palm, wondering how long his unlikeliness to blush can hold out against this onslaught of embarrassment. "It's fine," he mutters. "I can do it myself."
Kindaichi looks confused and, weirdly, a little hurt. "It's really no trouble," he says. "I'll be running the laundry anyway, so…"
"It's fine!" Kunimi says and snatches his bag from Kindaichi. He scrambles on to the bus ahead of his friend, slipping into the window seat.
Kindaichi still follows him, looking worried. "Is everything okay?" he asks, bumping his thigh up against Kunimi's as he sinks into the aisle seat.
"I'm just tired," Kunimi says and follows this up by resting his head against the window and closing his eyes. He mimics the slowly deepening breathing pattern of sleep as the team finishes boarding and checking off to make sure everyone is there. By the time the engine shudders into life, he's sure he looks completely asleep and is safe from any commentary from his upperclassmen and worried questions from Kindaichi.
His supposedly foolproof plan shows off its glaring flaw almost as soon as their journey starts. Pretending to be asleep might mean that no one talks to him, but pretending to be asleep means that Kindaichi thinks he's asleep, which means he'll do what he always does when Kunimi falls asleep somewhere and rearrange him into a better position. Kunimi knew he did this, appreciated that he did this, but he'd forgotten what that actually had to mean, since he'd never been conscious for it.
He barely contains his jump when gentle fingers brush against his cheek, easing into the contact until a palm is cupping his head and gently lifting it from the jarring window. Kindaichi's hand feels warm against him as he carefully supports Kunimi's neck as he slowly, slowly maneuvers Kunimi until his weight is shifted the other direction and he can rest his head against Kindaichi's shoulder.
He pulls Kunimi in close, giving him the maximum angle so he can stretch out as many of his 182cm as is possible in the cramped seats. This also has the effect of practically nestling Kunimi's head into the crook of Kindaichi's neck, where he can feel the steady beat of Kindaichi's pulse. Then he refolds Kunimi's hands in his lap, the callouses of his thumb brushing once, twice against the back of Kunimi's fingers, light enough to almost tickle, before pulling away.
It's all so horribly intimate and he hopes none of their teammates are watching, but at the same time, he doesn't want to pull away. He likes this, is suddenly aware of how very much he likes this, likes the way Kindaichi breathing just slightly rocks him, how warm Kindaichi's body is against his, how softly Kindaichi touches him.
It's not like he hasn't done this a thousand times before. He's constantly falling asleep on Kindaichi, using him as a pillow on the train or during lunch. In fact, it's weirder, by their standards, that Kunimi would have fallen asleep leaning on the window in the first place rather than using Kindaichi from the get go. Usually Kindaichi only has to rearrange Kunimi when he falls asleep unexpectedly, because if Kindaichi is available Kunimi would always choose to sleep on him.
It's totally normal for them and shouldn't feel strange at all, but Kunimi can't stop this mix of embarrassed excitement that's curling in his chest and flares hot everywhere his body is in contact with Kindaichi.
Try as he might, he can't bring himself to actually fall asleep through the whole ride back.
He orders himself not to waste time fantasizing about Kindaichi returning his feelings, yet he does so anyway. After all, Kindaichi does so much for him, looks after him in so many different little ways through each day, that it doesn't take such a huge leap to imagine that Kindaichi might like him, too. But Kunimi knows that Kindaichi is incapable of being subtle, incapable of hiding his feelings about anything from someone even half as observant as Kunimi is, so there's just no way that Kindaichi could have any sort of crush on Kunimi without it being obvious.
He can accept that. It hurts, a bit, to know that he likes Kindaichi in a way that Kindaichi doesn't like him, but Kunimi thinks, ultimately, he'll be okay with it. He can still have what they are now, still enjoy Kindaichi fussing over him and looking at him like he's a genius for explaining a simple math problem and letting him fall asleep in Kindaichi's bed when he's too lazy to bother walking the mile to get to his own home.
Kunimi resolves to act normally, as if nothing had changed, but he can't help but to push a little bit. Just small things at first, testing how much Kindaichi is okay with.
"My head hurts," he tells Kindaichi while they are in the middle of doing one of their assigned readings at Kindaichi's house and lets himself fall so he's lying down on the bed, his head just next to Kindaichi's crossed legs. "Can you read it to me instead?"
"Huh? Oh, sure," Kindaichi says and clears his throat. As he begins to read aloud, he shifts the book into his left hand and drops his right to gently stroke through Kunimi's hair as Kunimi hums appreciatively.
He touches Kindaichi more, whenever he gets a chance. Presses close during train rides, bus trips, presses their knees together while they eat lunch, drapes himself over Kindaichi's shoulder to watch him play video games. Kindaichi never seems to mind, never pulls away even minutely. Sometimes, like when he read to him, he'll pet Kunimi as if he's an extremely large cat. Those are the times Kunimi likes the most.
As the seasons change and autumn arrives, it starts to get cooler. Kunimi hates the cold, truly despises it, but he appreciates the chances it gives him to snuggle even closer to Kindaichi. Now when they wait outside, Kindaichi's breath coming in visible puffs against the cold air as Kunimi's disappears into the scarf he has coiled as tightly as he can around his neck, Kindaichi will often pull him up against him, letting some of his furnace-like body heat warm Kunimi without him even having to ask.
Kunimi doesn't have the energy to push for much more than that, not while it is cold out and he'd rather spend all his time sleeping, but Kindaichi always dotes on him more as autumn turns to winter, so it's okay. He's constantly bringing Kunimi more sweaters and warm drinks and generally fussing as if Kunimi might actually fall into hibernation and disappear if Kindaichi doesn't look out for him. It's almost enough to make Kunimi rethink hating the cold. Almost.
"Sorry, let me check them," Kindaichi says, stopping in his stroking of Kunimi's hair, earning another sad sound, so he can reach over to the table and snag their phones. There's a moment of silence and then he makes a surprised noise. "It's from the upperclassmen."
"What do they want?" Kunimi asks, hoping they'll cancel morning practice the next day. There's been poor weather reports for that night, so it's not an impossible dream…
"They're saying we need to pack an overnight bag and head to the gym right away." Kunimi opens his eyes to see Kindaichi is frowning at the phone.
"Practice is over," Kunimi says muzzily. "They can't make us do anything else."
"Oikawa-san says it's an order that has to be followed right away," Kindaichi says. "What if it's some kind of emergency and they need us?"
Kunimi groans, knowing he'll never be able to talk Kindaichi out of going if he thinks there's a chance the team needs their help. He sits up, pulling one of the many blankets Kindaichi had spread over him around so he can tug it over his head. "Fine," he says and gives Kindaichi his most pathetic expression, the one Kindaichi can never refuse. "Pack for me?"
They make it to the gym in under an hour, which Kunimi thinks is fairly impressive. Kindaichi is carrying their heavier bags and Kunimi is holding a mound of blankets and pillows. It's Yahaba who opens the gym door and ushers them in when they knock.
The rest of the team is already there. Hanamaki, Watari and Iwaizumi are playing cards while Matsukawa spreads out futons on the gym floor and Oikawa is plugging in a microwave oven to one of the gym's outlets. They look relaxed, not in any kind of emergency state at all.
Kunimi turns around. "See, they're fine. Let's go home," he says to Kindaichi.
"Kunimi-chan!" Oikawa says, bounding over to place himself between them and the door as Yahaba hurriedly closes it. "You can't leave!"
"What's going on?" Kindaichi asks, looking around.
"A long held Seijou tradition," Yahaba says. "The annual VBC Snow-In!"
"The first large snowfall of winter is going to happen tonight," Oikawa says. "So, just as the players who came before us did years ago, we camp out in the gym for the night!"
"Why?" Kunimi asks, not bothering to hide the horror in his voice. There was no way the gym would be as warm as his bedroom at home.
"Well, apparently it started because a really strict captain didn't want to chance people being late for the next day's practice," Iwaizumi says. "But nowadays, we just use it for team bonding."
"And you can't opt out of team bonding, so you're out of luck, Kunimi-chan!" Oikawa says and pushes his two underclassmen further into the gym. "Don't worry, I promise that you'll have lots of fun!"
"It actually is pretty neat," Watari says in an apologetic tone and holds up a bag. "And we have salted caramel."
"Okay, we'll stay," Kunimi says and holds out his hands for the caramel.
"No, no, you only get a bit at a time," Hanamaki says. "That's how they made me stay in my first year with profiteroles, so now you have to be patient, too."
The night does turn out surprisingly fun. They make popcorn and play a bunch of different games, from the king's game to mafia. There's an arm wrestling competition, which quickly turns into an extended battle between Iwaizumi and Hanamaki as the rest get bored and start playing daihinmin with the cards from earlier.
"The snow should have started by now!" Oikawa eventually chirps, when they've all settled into mostly just talking, the games abandoned. He hops up and opens the gym door, revealing a fluffy layer of snow coating the ground.
"It's so pretty," Yahaba says happily, holding up his phone to take a picture.
"A free dessert from the new sweets shop to whoever can stand outside the longest without shoes or a jacket!" Hanamaki declares, staring straight at Iwaizumi,
"You're on," Iwaizumi says.
"Ugh," Kunimi says. "Not even for that."
In the end, Yahaba and Kunimi are the only ones who stay inside. Oikawa gives up after less than a minute, shrieking that his toes are dying. Kindaichi comes back inside next a few minutes later, hopping from foot to foot unhappily. Matsukawa and Watari strike a deal to give up at the same time on the basis that neither of them are that competitive and so fourth place is fine between them.
"I could do this all night," Iwaizumi says, teeth chattering.
"Same here," Hanamaki grits out, trying to hide his shaking hands. "In fact, I find the chill refreshing."
"We should probably do something before they get frostbite," Watari says.
"Are your feet okay?" Kunimi asks Kindaichi, sitting down nearby him where he's rubbing at his toes to try to warm them back up.
"Of course," he says. "They'll be back to normal when they heat up again." He sneezes and sniffles, not looking attractive at all, which is why Kunimi hates how completely adorable he finds him anyway.
"Here," he says, despising himself. He rolls up his shirt and sweaters slightly. "You can put them on my stomach for a bit."
Kindaichi stares at him with wide eyes. "But you hate the cold!"
Kunimi rolls his eyes. "Shut up. You'd let me do it, so it's whatever. Hurry up."
Kindaichi blinks and obeys, stretching out his feet so they are just barely touching Kunimi's skin, though even that minor contact is enough to make Kunimi hiss quietly. He pulls down his layers over Kindaichi's feet and leans forward into where they are touching, ignoring the way the cold seems to lance through him.
Kindaichi is still staring at him with wide eyes, a blush chasing its way down his cheeks to his neck where it disappears into the neck of his shirt.
"Stop that," Kunimi says, embarrassed. "It'd just be a big bother for me if you lost a toe or something, Shallot-head."
By the time that Matsukawa and Oikawa have forced the other third years back inside by sneaking up on them and sticking snow down the back of their pants, Kindaichi's feet are warm enough that Kunimi lets him pull away, glad no one noticed. They make enough fun of him about this kind of thing already and he doesn't want Kindaichi to pick up on it. He might start rethinking what he lets Kunimi get away with.
They go to bed soon after, since they'll still have classes in the morning. Much as he had feared, Kunimi is shivering in his futon, unable to get warm enough even with the layers he has on.
"Hey," Kindaichi whispers. "You okay?"
"It's cold," Kunimi whispers back, knowing he's whining.
Kindaichi shifts, sits up and holds his blanket up. "Here," he says. "You can share with me. My house is always cold but you seem fine when we share my bed, so it should be okay."
"You don't have to do that," Kunimi mumbles back even as he starts to slide over. Kindaichi is warm at night, is warm almost all the time. Even if Kunimi didn't have any other feelings about him, he'd value his body for that alone. As it was… well, the offer was way too tempting to refuse.
Kunimi assumed that they'd sleep the way they usually do at Kindaichi's, in his large bed, just their backs pressed together or sometimes their legs brushing, nothing more. But the futon is much smaller and Kindaichi doesn't hesitate to pull Kunimi in close so he's resting against Kindaichi's broad chest, Kindaichi's arms circling around him and legs tangling with his.
"See, I'll warm you up in no time," Kindaichi breathes against the top of his head.
Kunimi makes some incomprehensible noise in response, hoping Kindaichi doesn't notice how his pulse has started racing. Kindaichi can be so embarrassing, with how he can say things like that with absolutely no idea of how they effect Kunimi, of how they might sound to people. It's not good for Kunimi's heart.
Thankfully, Kindaichi doesn't say anything else beyond that and just pets Kunimi for a while before drifting into sleep himself, apparently completely at ease. As his body heat warms Kunimi and the steady sound of his heart thumps solidly below Kunimi's ear, he slowly lets himself relax and slide into sleep.
The sounds cut into Kunimi's happy bubble of sleep and warmth. He frowns and nuzzle into the source of that warmth, trying to chase his good dreams instead of being yanked into wakefulness.
"Don't tease them," someone says, a voice he knows. Kunimi still can't bring himself to care.
"Please, he'll wake up if you- oh, no." That voice rumbles from below him, making him shift and pulling him further from the land of dreams.
Kunimi's eyes flutter open and he sees many of his teammates are standing over him, grinning.
"Sleeping Beauty awakens," Matsukawa says.
"I guess we don't have to ask if you slept well," Oikawa says, his smile widening by the moment. "Boy, I wish Iwa-chan would let me use him as a pillow… I'd even settle for Mattsun or Makki!"
"Don't say you'd settle for us," Hanamaki says, offended. "We'd both be excellent pillows. Too good for you."
Kunimi isn't nearly awake enough yet to be verbal, but he forces himself to sit up, pulling away from Kindaichi as sad as doing so makes him. He rubs at his eyes for a moment and when he stops, he can see much more clearly. Kindaichi has sat up, too, and is looking down with a mournful expression as the upperclassmen continue their conversation, moving away.
"Sorry," he says. "You could have slept for five more minutes."
"Mmgnh," Kunimi replies croakily. Kindaichi hurriedly passes him a water bottle, which he drinks from gratefully. He's sure later he'll be embarrassed about all this, but currently he's too busy trying to wake up to care. It strikes him that Kindaichi might be embarrassed, though. He's blushing, which isn't all that unusual, but he's also avoiding Kunimi's gaze, which definitely is.
He reaches out and grabs at Kindaichi's sleeve, leans forward to rest his head against his shoulder. He rolls the word around in his head a few times before he says it, because he's really not a morning person, so it'll take him a few tries. "Thanks," he mumbles out finally.
"N-no problem," Kindaichi says and seems to blush even harder. He jumps up, leaving Kunimi to flail before regaining his balance. "Um, I'm going to go get dressed now!"
Kunimi watches him go, frowning.
"You've been acting weird. Did the upperclassmen say something to you?" Kunimi asks during a practice, while they're stretching.
"N-no," Kindaichi says.
So yes, Kunimi thinks and sighs. But if Kindaichi won't admit it, there's not much he can do except hit him, which might not have the desired effect of making him less jumpy.
He thinks about it through practice, even though letting his mind wander so obviously gets him yelled at by Mizoguchi. He waits until they've showered, changed into clean clothes and are walking to the train, shoes crunching against the light layer of snow. Then he abruptly grabs Kindaichi's arm, ignoring his startled yelp, and drags at him until he follows off their usual course.
"Kunimi?" Kindaichi asks.
"We're going to the new sweets place Hanamaki-san mentioned," Kunimi says. "I want to try it."
"Oh, okay," Kindaichi says falteringly, resuming his usual stride so he's no longer getting pulled along. Kunimi doesn't let go of his arm, instead shifting so he's tucked up against Kindaichi's side. "Um," Kindaichi says, turning red. "If you're cold, you can have my scarf."
"This is fine," Kunimi says.
They spend the rest of the walk in silence, although Kunimi can practically hear Kindaichi's internal monologue freaking out. The shop isn't far away at all. There's a counter where they can order things from the display to go, but Kunimi leads Kindaichi to one of the corner booths where they can sit next to each other near one of the heaters.
"Mmm," Kunimi says, shedding a few layers and opening one of the menus. "Ah, they have salted caramel ice cream… we'll have to come back when it's warmer."
Eventually Kunimi settles on ordering a slice of the caramel cupcake and Kindaichi gets a roll cake with matcha flavoring and sweet cream. Kunimi makes sure to knock his ankle into Kindaichi's several times as they wait for their food. He waits for Kindaichi to say something but he stays quiet, only twitching slightly whenever Kunimi brushes against him. He's still bright red.
How aggravating, Kunimi thinks as their food arrives. The caramel is delicious, which is no surprise. Kindaichi's looks yummy as well, though it's so delicate he quickly makes a mess of it as it falls apart, getting cream all over his hands.
Kunimi laughs at him. "Is it at least tasty?"
"It is," Kindaichi says brightly, as he holds up his hand to try to find all the cream on it. "You should try some."
Kunimi smirks. "Okay," he says and before he can think better of it, he leans in and grabs Kindaichi's hand, pulling it close to his mouth so he can lick the sweet cream off of Kindaichi's fingers, his tongue brushing against the soft folds of Kindaichi's knuckles. He closes his eyes because it's too embarrassing otherwise, but he can hear Kindaichi squeak and feel him freeze. Kunimi gives his fingers another lick to be sure and then drops his hand and leans back, making sure his expression is as calm as ever by the time he opens his eyes, regardless of how he's actually feeling all hot and pinched inside. "You're right," he says, trying to keep the breathiness out of his voice. "It's good."
If Kindaichi had been red before, it was nothing on how he is now. He's practically shaking, mouth open as he stares. "K-kunimi," he says. "What, what are you doing?"
"You started it," Kunimi says.
"How did I-"
"You've been acting weird ever since the sleepover in the gym," Kunimi says. "Don't try to deny it."
Kindaichi looks down. Kunimi waits and is rewarded when Kindaichi finally starts to talk, haltingly. "It's just… some of the things we do together, they aren't really… they aren't normal, are they?"
"Do you want to stop?" Kunimi asks as if the words don't taste like ashes in his mouth.
"No!" Kindaichi answers, too quickly. He bites his lip. "I just… I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea about you because of me."
Kunimi takes a deep breath, summons every ounce of courage he has. "And what if it wasn't the wrong idea?" he says. "About me, I mean."
Kindaichi's head jerks up and his eyes are wide as he stares at Kunimi. "You mean you…?"
"I like you," Kunimi says, and though he's pretty good at staying unruffled, he can't help but address his words more toward the table than Kindaichi. Meeting his eyes right now seems impossible. "Since junior high, probably, but definitely now."
"Oh," Kindaichi says. Kunimi can hear his slightly choked breathing, waits for him to say something more, anything more, but he doesn't.
Finally, Kunimi can't take it anymore. "It's late," he says, placing money on the table, enough for both him and Kindaichi's food, and pulls on his jackets as he slips out of the booth. He's out the door by the time Kindaichi catches up to him and grabs at his hand.
"Wait!" Kindaichi says, gripping Kunimi's hand tight enough to hurt. Kunimi steels himself and looks back, meeting Kindaichi's eyes. He looks about as vulnerable as Kunimi is feeling, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he searches for his next words. "M-me too," he finally says and Kunimi almost forgets how to breathe. "I feel the same way about you, I think."
"You think?" Kunimi echoes. "You aren't sure?" He has to be sure. Not sure might be even worse than not at all.
Kindaichi rubs the back of his neck. "No, I- I'm sure. I only started thinking about it the other day but, y-yeah. I do. Like you. For sure."
"Oh," Kunimi breathes out, and okay, now he gets why Kindaichi had said the same thing earlier and then fallen silent, because now he's not sure what to say, he's too busy watching the world shift on its axis around him, suddenly unfamiliar.
"That's good, right?" Kindaichi says. His grip on Kunimi's hand slackens, would drop entirely if Kunimi didn't move to tangle their fingers together. Kindaichi blinks down at their clasped hands for a moment, then looks back up to Kunimi's face. "Should we, like, kiss and stuff?" he asks, sounding hopeful.
Kunimi makes a show of looking around the street where they're surrounded by other people, all bundled against the cold. "I never took you for an exhibitionist, Kindaichi," he says in his blandest voice and is rewarded when Kindaichi squeaks and blushes even harder somehow.
"I'm not! I mean, that's not what I-" Kindaichi uses his free hand to cover his eyes as Kunimi starts to walk in the direction of the train station, gently pulling him along by their linked fingers.
Kunimi smirks. "Later," he says. He promises.
That won't do, Kunimi thinks and pulls back slightly, smoothing the material of Kindaichi's shirt that he'd bunched up when pushing him into position. "Touch me," he orders, letting his breath gust against Kindaichi's jaw. "Please."
That does the trick. As their lips meet again, Kindaichi's hands press against Kunimi's back, one traveling up to curl into his his hair and the other tracing light patterns against his spine. Kunimi hums, slides his own hands into Kindaichi's own hair so he can manipulate their heads into a better angle, pressing even deeper into Kindaichi's mouth, exploring exactly what movements of his tongue, of his hips, produce the best sounds from deep in Kindaichi's throat.
"We should do this a lot more," he says when he's forced to pull back to breathe. His chest is heaving and face is warm, lips tingling, and he's aware that his usual composure is gone, but he really doesn't care. "Like, a lot more."
Kindaichi makes an agreeable noise and pulls Kunimi back down.
Kunimi doesn't worry too much about being selfish anymore. Now he knows, really knows, how much Kindaichi likes how their relationship works, and besides, he's unlocked a host of things he can do for Kindaichi.
And if, they all have the benefit of being really fun for him too, well, that's just a bonus.