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The Ungrateful Dead

Chapter Text

He looks fucking ridiculous.

Tsukishima Kei, sixteen, still couldn't believe that the government was only willing to cover two kinds of coloured contacts for 'sufferers', neither of which were even close to matching what his eyes used to be. And here he was, one in, eclipsing most of his eye in a warm brown that just screamed artificial. His other eye, free of the stupid required eye wear for now was cloudy aside from the constricted pupil.

Everything was so bright these days.

With a sigh, Kei is quick about putting the other in. He looks over the skin of his face and neck that had more colour than it ever had, thanks to the foundation he was also required to wear, yet again provided by the government and their colour restricted tastes.

“Fuck this,” He mutters to himself before he exits the bathroom, not carrying about the mess that he's left behind on the counter.

It's not like anyone would notice anyway.

 

 

“Tsukki, how are you feeling?” Yamaguchi beams from his seat in the lobby. Why Yamaguchi insists on picking him up from the clinic after his appointments, Kei would never know.

His too pale hand, free of any make-up, moved up to rub at the spot at the back of his neck that still stung, a near burning sensation, that followed every injection.

It was a cure, they said. Twice a day and no one would be able to tell the difference.

They were full of bullshit.

Kei knew the eyes that followed him on his short trips from the house to the clinic and back. He knew that Akiteru pretended that everything was fine, and even Yamaguchi was putting on an act.

Everything was a flimsy charade.

Why was he still going along with it?

“I don't know why you insist on coming,”

“Because I want to spend time with you, Tsukki. I never knew that was such a crime.” Yamaguchi pouts, hands shoved deep into his pockets as he matches his pace with Kei's long strides.

It's only a few blocks, but Kei hates it.

Too bright, too loud, and too many people watching. Like they know everything.

Kei flips his hood up, the slight shade helping slightly, but it's the shield the fabric acts as that does the most help.

“Do you mind if we take a detour today? I need to pick some stuff up from the store for dinner.” Yamaguchi asks and explains in the same breath. If there was one thing Yamaguchi's been persistent about lately, it's always making sure that Kei isn't left in the dark. Always giving him the option to make his own decisions, or at the least the illusion of that.

It's not the worst charade Kei could be a part of.

“Yeah. That's fine,” Kei answers quietly, Yamaguchi leaning in to hear.

It was the correct answer judging by the way that the shorter boy's face seemed to glow, though that could be from the afternoon sun shining down.

“Cool. I'm thinking of making a Hot Pot or something. Easy as, not to mention it's nice to have something warm with these cold evenings that are coming in.”

“Oh, has it been cold?”

“Yeah. I think we'll have to go shopping for some winter clothes soon before the weather really sets in.” Yamaguchi keeps the conversation flowing.

“If you insist.” Kei answers simply, giving nothing.

“Well I'm not letting you live in hoodies year round. Never understood how you could stand all those layers in summer, yet you never wear enough in winter.” Yamaguchi voices.

“I'm weird, what else do you want me to say.” Kei supplies. He digs his hands further into the pockets of his jeans.

“Nah, you're not weird. You're just Tsukki.” Yamaguchi grins, his arms swinging loosely back and forth, back and forth. Occasionally his left skims across Kei's right elbow. The silence is comfortable.

Turning the corner onto the street where the small convenience store sat, Kei wonders if Ukai still worked there.

A heavy feeling settles in his stomach.

“Hey. If you don't want to, we don't have to.” Yamaguchi nudges his shoulder gently against Tsukishima's side.

“You said you needed groceries. You have dinner planned and everything.”

“But,”

“Yamaguchi,” Kei snaps, though it lacks any real bite.

“As long as you're sure you'll be fine.”

Tsukishima nods.

“Yamaguchi! Is that you?” A familiar voice calls out.

Shit.

“Who's that?” Another adds. Their tone is both friendly and hesitant.

Fuck.

“Is this the mysterious friend you keep ditching us for?” The loudest voice by far crows out.

Why were they here?

“Get on over here and introduce them,” Not the tallest member among the group, but he held power in the way he spoke and stood.

His eyes darting to Yamaguchi, Kei sees that he's just as shocked, shooting apologetic looks to Tsukishima. Guess it couldn't be helped.

“Any friend of Yamaguchi's is a friend of ours. I'm Nishinoya Yuu, but everyone calls me Noya.” Noya, his smile showing his full set of teeth holds out his hand as the rest of the group crowd around.

Kei looks at it, knowing that he's taking too long to react judging by the semi silence hanging over the group and their straining smiles.

“Go on. It'll be fine.” Yamaguchi whispers.

It's all the encouragement Kei needs.

He reaches up with too pale hands and pushes back his hood.

“What's wrong? You all look like you've seen a ghost?” Tsukishima pulls himself up, shoulders back, chin high, and tries to remember how the smirk that used to come so naturally fitted on his face.

“It, It can't be,” Asahi breaths out, voice trembling more than he was.

“Good to see you.” Noya tries to defuse the situation, stretching up to clap one of his hands against Tsukishima's shoulder, though he only manages the reach Kei's upper arm. The force behind it is half hearted at best.

It's fake. They're all so fake. Tsukishima's eyes dart from face to face, the afternoon glare making it hard to make out the exact details, but he knows it extremely forced politeness. Just like the volunteers at the clinic, and the government case worker.

“Hey, thanks for waiting guys,” A voice that somehow had an audible brightness to it called out.

Everyone flinches as Hinata runs out of the store to join them.

Oh.

“Who's-” Hinata starts before he comes to a complete halt, all colour leaving his face.

“No. No, no, no. You're not, no. Fuck you,” He spits venom, hands clenched painfully tight at his sides before turning and running off.

Kageyama nods to Kei before he runs after the red head.

“C'mon, Tsukki. I'm sure there's leftovers or something at home. Let's go,” Yamaguchi mumbles as he pulls at Tsukishima's arm turning and leading them away with no farewells from either party.

 

 

“Hinata was staying over at Kageyama's when it happened. His family lives on the other side of the mountain. It's isolated. Kageyama's family took him in.” Yamaguchi explains as they stand on the steps outside Kei's house.

The lights were on. Akiteru must be home.

“Oh, I,”

“You didn't know. It's no problem. I'm, just,” Yamaguchi fiddles with his sleeves, looking everywhere but Kei. “I'm sorry. I didn't think,” Yamaguchi bows down.

“I should've thought,”

Bow.

“I'm sorry,” Yamaguchi's voice catches.

Kei reaches out, hand resting on Yamaguchi's hair.

He doesn't miss how the other boy initially tensed at the touch.

“It's alright. It happened, nothing that can be done about it now.” Kei pats Yamaguchi's head a few times, thankful that there's no chance of any colour working it's way up and over his face.

Small perks.

“You sure?”

“You're forgiven, if that's what you want to hear. You want to come in? Or,”

“I should probably head home. Mum will worry.” Yamaguchi bows once more. A smile twitches at the corner of his mouth as he catches Kei's scoff at the further action.

“I'll see you tomorrow afternoon?”

“Same time and place. Like I have anywhere else to be.” Kei raises a hand in farewell, almost detached compared to Yamaguchi's waving arms until they're both out of sight from the other.

“Kei, is that you?” Akiteru calls out as soon as Kei turns his key in the interior lock, making sure that the front door was secure.

A lock, chain, and dead bolt on the inside seemed a little over excessive by Kei's standards, but whatever Akiteru insists on he just didn't have the heart to argue with.

“Yeah,”

“Is Yamaguchi joining us?”

Akiteru was in the kitchen, cooking. The sizzling guiding Kei straight to where Akiteru was wiggling around in front of the stove, small radio turned low at his side.

“He had to go home. Smells good.” Kei lied.

They both knew he couldn't smell. That he wasn't capable of most things any more. But familiar routines were easy to fall into.

“I may have made too much, I just assumed,” Akiteru trailed off.

“It's fine. Leftovers for tomorrow.”

“Or,”

“Or what?” Kei's tone is warning, knowing full well where his brother was trying to steer the conversation towards.

“Or you could give it to him tomorrow, at lunch.”

“No.”

“Kei,”

“Akiteru. No.” Kei's voice is tight and clipped.

“Why not? It'll do you some good. You've been cleared and,” Akiteru pleads.

“When I was out with Yamaguchi we ran into my old team,”

“Kei,” Akiteru switches the stove off. Kei hates to sad look in his brother's eyes.

“I can't, so can we drop it? Here, let me,” Tsukishima reaches over Akiteru, taking the two bowls, piled high with stir fried vegetables and sets them on the dining table.

“How did,” Akiteru starts to ask.

“When they realised it was me everyone got uncomfortable. Plus Hinata yelled at me before running off,”

“They just need time, Kei. It's a shock, but they'll come around,”

“It's good,” Tsukishima changes the topic, stirring the mix of vegetables with his chopsticks.

“Thanks, Kei.” Akiteru's shoulders drop as he pokes at his own meal in a similar manner.

“So, how was work?”

 

...

 

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi whines.

“No.”

“C'mon, Kei.” Akiteru joins in.

“Nope.”

“Please.”

“Pouting is not going to work, Yamaguchi.”

“Please. Give it a week at least.” Akiteru begs.

“You're both so pathetic, you know that?” Kei questions as the other two try to up their game.

“C'moooooooon,” Kei's older brother gets down on his knees. The perfect image of a mature and functional twenty three year old.

“Tsukkiiiiiiiii,” Yamaguchi clings to Kei's arm, pulling it down for emphasis.

“Will you both shut up and drop it if I say yes?”

“Yep.”

“Sure.”

“One day.” Kei states.

“A month.” Akiteru counter offers.

“One day.”

“Three weeks.” Akiteru pulls himself up, smiling as if he has the upper hand.

“One day.”

“Two weeks.”

Yamaguchi has been silent at Kei's side the whole battering. Kei doesn't know whether to be on guard or not.

“A half day.” Kei haggles further.

“One week, and that's final.” Akiteru rests his hands on his hips, looking to smug and pleased with himself for the guy who's gone down two and a half weeks

“Well if that's your final offer, I don't feel like taking it.” Kei pulls his captive arm out of Yamaguchi's now loose hold to cross it with his other in front of his chest.

Two could play at power poses.

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi pleads, pulling out his best kicked puppy expression.

Kei knew he should have prepared himself for whatever Yamaguchi would bring to the process.

“Fine. One week. That's five days.” Kei concedes in defeat.

“Six, actually,” Akiteru pipes in.

“Why six? Oh. No. no, no, noooo, Yamaguchi. Don't tell me,” Kei turns fully towards Yamaguchi. At least his 'friend' had the right to look sheepish.

“They want to make it up for the other day. Plus if you're re-enrolling then an extra curricular wouldn't hurt. At least they're familiar faces,”

“I hate you. I hate you both. Do what you must, I'm going to my room.” Kei narrows his eyes as he turns and storms towards and up the narrow staircase.

“That,” Akiteru starts.

“Honestly went better than expected.” Yamaguchi adds.

“You're right, Yamaguchi. Thanks for the hand.”

“It's not a problem. Not at all. It'll be good for him to get out.”

“I can hear you!” Kei yells out from where he'd been standing after he'd hesitated when passing the upper floor's bathroom door.

He thought he'd heard the tap running but couldn't bring himself to open the door.

“Well, stop being a snoop then. I've gotta get home, but I'll stop by the faculty office and speak to Takeda and stuff.” Yamaguchi calls back.

“You're too much, Yamaguchi. What did Kei ever do to deserve someone as great as you,” Akiteru questions. The teasing tone is audible even from where Kei is.

“It's nothing, really.”

“Could you two not?” Kei pleads as he steps past the bathroom door and towards his own, plastered with peeling and faded stickers that had accumulated over the years.

“Stop listening in then.” Yamaguchi responds with a laugh.

 

...

 

Before, the building, the bells, and the goal of submerging himself in the class and course work was something Kei admitted to liking, enjoying even.

Now,

Yamaguchi had swung around in time to see Kei sitting at the kitchen table, Akiteru holding a syringe with shaking hands and administering his morning injection.

“You ready to head off?”

“As ready as I'm going to be,” Kei responds as he feels at the open wound with his fingers.

Despite feeling like there should be something, Red, they always come back clean. Though the burn that lingers after, it's like a memory that he can't quite put his finger on.

“Tsukki?”

“Yeah?”

“You zoned out,”

“This is a bad idea.”

“No it's not,”

“It is. We both know it, Yamaguchi. Why am I doing this?” Kei asks. His fingers interlaced together in his lap.

“Because your education is important. And who knows, if you keep staying home sooner or later the idiot duo may surpass you grade wise. Do you really want that?” Yamaguchi crouches down in front of Kei, a soft smile on his face.

“You win this round, Yamaguchi.”

“Sure, Tsukki. C'mon, we're going to be late at this rate, and you still need to check in with the faculty office.” Yamaguchi pulls himself back before standing at his full height.

He still has a bit to go before he's as tall as Kei.

“Isn't that?”

“Why is he here?”

“Why is the school allowing this? What if he,”

“Doesn't belong-”

“It's not right.”

“Doesn't feel safe any more,”

The whispers, accusations, threats, and eyes followed the two as they walked through the familiar hallways.

It was going to be a long day, and the only comfort Kei had was the fact that it was only a few more days before he could put this behind him. Give the attempt that his brother and Yamaguchi wanted so they'd back off and just leave him. So much easier that way.

“Yamaguchi, and Tsukki, what's up?” Noya appears at Yamaguchi's side, Tanaka at Kei's. The now third year throws an arm across Kei's shoulders and gives a look to a passing group of students who were obviously talking about him, shutting them up.

“Not much, heading to class.” Yamaguchi supplies, looking more at ease with the two older boys at their sides.

“What a coincidence. So are we.” Noya grins.

“And since yours is on the way to ours, we'll escort you.” Tanaka joins in.

“Because we're great,” Noya links his arm with Yamaguchi, causing the taller boy to stumble as he tries to keep up with Noya's excited pace.

“And your beloved senpais,” Kei appreciates that Tanaka doesn't try to pull the same stunt as Noya.

“Who'll do anything for our cute, precious juniors.” Noya finishes with his chest puffed out and Yamaguchi hunched over.

The duo seem too pleased with themselves that Kei had the feeling that they'd practised that speech to get the timing down over the weekend.

“You're too kind, isn't that right, Tsukki?” Yamaguchi asks as he slowly begins to wriggle his arm out from Noya's.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Tanaka's arm squeeze tighter, and it's almost comforting, the firm hold the older boy has on him.

Maybe things wouldn't be so bad.

He could do this.

 

When class let out for lunch, Noya and Tanaka appear in the classroom's doorway, coincidentally heading the same way as Kei and Yamaguchi. First off, this was odd seeing as he and Yamaguchi had always ate lunch at their desks. Neither of the older boys would take no for an answer judging by their stances and the looks they were sending to the students milling about, all wanting a look at the freak show.

“Some fresh air would be nice, don't you think Tsukki?” Yamaguchi tries to reason.

“Yamaguchi has a good point for once. Wouldn't want to stink the place up with corpse.” One of their classmates, a pig faced boy who used to be kept at bay by Kei's presence chimed in loudly, sniggers and laughs sounding out around the room in agreement.

“C'mon, Yamaguchi,” Kei mumbles, grabbing Yamaguchi's arm and pulling him through the room and to Tanaka and Noya, who looked on the verge of jumping in and causing more of a scene.

“I want to smash his face in.” Tanaka hisses

“No.” Kei swats Tanaka's forearm.

“But,” The skin head starts to whine.

“It'll give them more of a reason.” Kei responds, shoulders and steps stiff as he feels every eye in the hallway on them.

“No verbal beat down though?” Noya presses, watching Kei's face with those eyes that see everything.

“I'm already on every ones radar. Safer to minimise the target as much as possible.”

“But he threw out fighting words,” Noya continues.

“let me back, I'll smack him up good.” Tanaka goes to turn around, but both Kei and Yamaguchi move in synch to each grab onto an arm, pulling the older boy along with them.

“No, Tanaka. Don't” Yamaguchi warns, seeming to be as desperate to avoid causing a scene as Kei was.

“Noya. Are you, as my senior, suggesting that I should have called him a bloated, maggot riddled swine and that if anything was stinking up the class it wouldn't be my partially decomposed self but his fat ass?”

“That's him. That's our Tsukki.” Noya knocks into Tsukishima's side, hands dabbing at fake tears.

“Our boy is back, Noya. I'm so happy.” Tanaka joins in on the dramatics as best as he can with both of his arms being kept in check by his juniors.

With the crisis averted, Yamaguchi lets the older boy's arm go.

“So, where are were we going to sit?” Yamaguchi asks as they stand inside the entranceway. It seemed that Tanaka and Noya had been heading towards the rooftop staircase before Yamaguchi had spoken up.

Interesting.

“That's,” Noya starts.

“A good question, Yamaguchi. Courtyard should be nice.” Tanaka cuts in. His smile too bright and plastic.

“Only if we get a spot in the sun. The shade is too cold this time of year.” Noya shivers at the memory.

“But I heat up so quickly in the sun,” Tanaka whines.

“Too cold,”

“Too hot,”

“Hey, hey, how about we let Tsukki decide?” Yamaguchi interjects, hands hovering between Tanaka and Noya as the two older boys got closer and closer to trying to sort things out with fists.

Three sets of eyes turned to focus on Kei.

Yamaguchi was the devil.

“Would it be alright if we sit in the shade, Noya? It's just, my eyes,”

“They can't readjust. Bright lights are no good.” Yamaguchi dives in, directing Tanaka and Noya's attention to him, which Kei was thankful for.

“Is that why you're not wearing your glasses?” Noya asks, looking genuinely curious.

“Oh,” Kei raises his hand up to his face, fingertips brushing against skin that should have been shielded by black frames. “I, I guess I forgot.”

Why hadn't he realised he hadn't had them on?

Actually, when was the last time he'd even wore them?

Kei remembers wearing them. Remembers the weight of them on his face and how they always left indents on the sides of his nose at the end of the day which he only saw when he washed his face in the evening. He remembers placing them temporarily on the edge of the sink,

(There was something digging into his hands, they were dripping, red,)

while he does that, before slipping them back on as he moves from the bathroom,

(The tap was running)

to his room because even that short journey was a hazard with his vision, only taking them off again when he's well and truly ready to go to sleep.

He remembers, but it's on the over side of the fog that's hung over his mind, separating the then from the now.

When was the last time he'd worn them?

Why hadn't Akiteru or Yamaguchi said anything?

Why hadn't he notice?

“Tsukki? You okay?” Yamaguchi shook his arm, bringing him back.

“Yeah, just trying to remember where I left them. Is that such a crime?”

“Not at all. If you need help finding them I can-”

“You have practice. I'll just get Akiteru to help. Knowing him he's just hidden them for a laugh.”

“As a fellow younger sibling, I can confirm that he's probably done that. Sis still insists on hiding my stuff whenever she feels I've let my guard down.” Tanaka hangs his head in sympathy.

“Aren't we lucky, Yamaguchi. Only kids for the win.” Noya raises a hand, leaving Yamaguchi the only action of slapping it back.

When they finally all sit down, in the shade, the three other boys start talking animatedly, trying their best to bring Kei into the discussions about which girl from what class was the cutest, or what had happened on which show the night before. Kei never had eyes for any of the girls in their school, and television was something he couldn't find the joy in watching any more.

Too many news reports and people with opinions for either him or Akiteru to feel comfortable sitting through and listening.

So he answered when prompted, smiled and laughed when it seemed that the situation called for it.

There seemed to be unnatural lulls in the conversation, Tanaka and Noya catching themselves on occasion before saying something, and Kei wondered if those pauses, those topics were something usually filled in by the rest of the team that was conveniently absent.

The pausing in the school's foyer.

The rooftop.

Of course.

“I'm heading back. Don't want to be late, and I don't trust any of those idiots with my desk and bag.” Tsukishima announces as he stands, knees, ankles and hips stiff from being stationary.

“We should probably head back as well. We'll-” Yamaguchi stars as he begins to pull himself upright.

“Not necessary. There's still twenty minutes to class. Enjoy the break. Say hi to Hinata and the others when you see them.” Kei snaps. He doesn't give them a chance to say anything, turning and holding up his right hand as he walks away, his strides long and steady.

Yamaguchi's hurried shuffle as he tried to match Kei's face wasn't there this time.

He didn't know how to feel about it.

 

Kei was glad he had made the decision to head back to class early, seeing the state of the two desk by the window. Both bags were emptied, contents strewn about and stomped into disarray, while the desks were covered in fresh scrawl. Dragging a finger across one impressively creative slur left a smudge across the desk and black ink on Kei's finger.

With a sigh, he bends down, sorting what was salvageable between Yamaguchi's and his own bag.

Taking what was beyond saving in his arms and dropping them into the bin at the front of the room, Kei hears the sniggers and whispers.

“Nice to know that some people have the spine to take issue with defenceless possessions rather than their owner. What a brave, admirable soul.” Kei says loudly as he walks back to his desk, as if he was simply thinking aloud. He makes a point in looking to the pig faced boy, Nobotsu, as he passes, revelling in the beads of sweat that formed in his short cropped hairline as he was pinned under Kei's glare.

He continues past the desks and to the small cupboard at the back of the classroom, full of spare stationary and some basic cleaning supplies. With paper towels and some multi purpose spray in hand, Kei works on removing the words and scrawl left all over the surface of Yamaguchi's desk before starting on his own.

“Oh, Tsukki, what happened?” Yamaguchi sounds out of breath as he crosses the room in an instant. Tsukishima is glad that he'd gotten the more creative and cruder phrases off before hand, leaving only the generic behind.

“Trying to comprehend the lack of creativity that kids have these days. Like, look at this. Dead beat. I get the angle they're trying to come from, but still,”

“Whatever you say, Tsukki. Here, let me help,” Yamaguchi tears off more paper towels, scrubbing away at the few spaces left, his smile forced.

 

...

 

“Tsukki, you ready?” Yamaguchi calls from the other side of Kei's bedroom door.

Kei blinks slowly in confusion.

His room is cast in a cool, blue glow, meaning that it is still very early morning. Why would Yamaguchi,

“If you don't open this door now, Tsukki, I'm going to come in and drag you out myself. Don't think I won't.” Yamaguchi warns before the handle moves down and the door swings open.

Yamaguchi eyes Kei before giving a slight nod.

“At least you're dressed, but you'll definitely want to layer up. It's cold outside.” Yamaguchi says before throwing a scarf over to Kei. “And I guess you haven't even put your kit together. Where's that bag,” Yamaguchi mumbles as he throws the wardrobe open, dropping down to his knees to shift through the contents at the bottom, where Kei usually kept the duffle bag.

“Akiteru packed it last night. Didn't want me coming up with excuses.” Kei says as he points to the bulky look bag sitting ready on the pristine surface of the white desk centred against the far wall.

“Did he?,”

“Kit's in there. You sure you want to? I could just leave before hand.” Kei asks, feeling less sure that he should pull himself out from under the covers and out of the house the longer he looks at that bag, knowing what's inside.

“It's no problem, Tsukki. I wouldn't offer to do it if it was.” Yamaguchi says stubbornly, slinging the bag over his free shoulder and stumbling under the added weight.

“Idiot. Let me,” Kei pushes the rest of the covers off and slinging his legs over the side of the bed. He steps over on sock clad feet to snatch the bag away. The weight in his hands was somehow grounding.

They slid their shoes on at the door, Yamaguchi picking up his own bag that he'd left alongside them.

 

“Sorry we're late,” Yamaguchi yells out as he slid the gym door open, leading the way into the gym for Kei and himself.

“It's fine. Be quick about changing, then straight to warm ups.” Daichi orders before going back to stretching beside Suga and Asahi.

Kei has no idea why the former third years are in the gym at this hour, or the fact that there are no new, first year faces, but thinks better than to question it now.

Out of the corner of his eye Kei spots Hinata and Kageyama running around, collecting stray volleyballs. They must have been here for awhile already.

The locker room must have been cold, judging by the hitch in Yamaguchi's breath as he pulls off his sweater and shirt. This is further emphasised by the way goosebumps spring to attention across his freckled skin, as if he'd been shocked, and the speed he pulls on his ratty, old sweater that was only good for practice or lazing around with at either of their houses in.

“C'mon, Tsukki, or Daichi will make us run laps.”

“You go ahead,”

“You sure?”

Tsukishima fiddles with the scarf still wrapped around his neck.

“Alright. Just don't take forever. Okay?”

“Your wish is my command. Is that what you want to hear?” Kei answers, watching for the reaction that he knows Yamaguchi will supply.

There's a twinge of something warm in his chest, or is that just a memory of what Yamaguchi's reaction used to pull out of him. The way his face went from tanned to red in little more than a sudden inhale, stretching from the base of his neck to the tips of his ears.

“I- I'll see you out there then.” Yamaguchi stammers before he moves out of the room too fast to be casual.

Opening the prepared gym bag, Tsukishima sees the sport goggles Akiteru had given him what felt like years ago were set on top.

They'd never found his regular glasses, but Akiteru had promised to grab another pair when he got the chance, beating himself up for not thinking about it sooner.

The sleeves on the shirt, baggy so it must have been one of Akiteru's old ones, hung down to the middle of his palms. Kei swapped his scarf from earlier with a less bulky one, wrapping it tightly around his throat and tucking it under the neck of the shirt.

Kei looks at himself in the scratched up mirror fastened to one of the walls, standing in a room he no longer belongs in, dressed up with no real place to go.

He looks and feels ridiculous.

But since he was already here, Akiteru and Yamaguchi making sure of that, he may as well keep on playing the part he'd been given.

He was Tsukishima Kei, sixteen, and he had a practice to get to.

 

Kei places the small bag by the bench, where everyone else had rested their water bottles before looking around the gym. Yachi smiles nervously to him from the side, before looking down to her clipboard, pen still.

Kei walks over to the huddle, hovering behind Yamaguchi. Daichi splits the team up. Hinata, Suga, Yamaguchi, and Tanaka on one side, Asahi, Kageyama, Noya, and Tsukishima on the other. As they split up, standing on different sides of the net, Daichi walks over to join Yachi, standing on the sidelines.

He tosses a ball in, blows at the whistle

(A piercing siren.)

(“Kei, what are you- Oh, oh god. Kei!”)

that had been hanging around his neck, and the game was in motion.

It was only then that Kei noticed the lack of Ennoshita, Kinoshita, and Narita. He wonders if they still attended regularly, or if there is another reason they were not there.

And while it wasn't unusual for Ukai and Takeda to be absent form morning practices, he couldn't help but feel like it was his fault.

Yamaguchi would have told him if something had happened, wouldn't he?

 

From the other side of the net, Tsukishima could see how Yamaguchi's eyes kept on darting to the wall mounted clock.

“Suga,”

Kei could read Yamaguchi's lips enough to put two and two together.

Suga, not needing any more, turnings to Daichi, hands forming a T.

Daichi blows the whistle, long and hard, and the match comes to a halt.

“Alright, ten to fifteen break, then we'll get back in for another set.”

Yamaguchi runs over to pick up the bag Kei had left by the bench, rummaging through the contents before patting the seat.

Tsukishima takes the hint, waltzing between the crowd of his team mates before sitting.

He feels the eyes on his so he fixes his gaze on his hands, fingers intertwined. They were an ugly shade of purple now, but he couldn't remember the serves he'd blocked being that bad. It had felt just like the pressure that Yamaguchi was pressing to the back of his neck, pushing the hair on the nape of his neck up and lining the syringe with the injection site.

The smack of ball of flesh hadn't stung, hadn't made him wince, hadn't been anything. Yet here he was, tucking his hands in between his knees, pressing them close together to hide the damage from the prying eyes that were surrounding him.

“You done?” Kei asks, feeling uncomfortable with his role in the spotlight.

“Not yet, Tsukki. Sorry, I just,” Yamaguchi starts.

“It's fine. No big deal. Just stick it in and press.” Kei's voice is steady, trying to will Yamaguchi to calm down about it.

“You used to be terrified of needles. Remember that time in sixth grade when you needed stitches?” Yamaguchi says suddenly.

“I don't like seeing them go in. It's gross. But you were fascinated by it, do you remember that?” Kei asks, his own shoulders relaxing as he feels the tension from Yamaguchi dissipate.

“I can't help if I'm a little bit weird,”

“You're not weird. You're Yamaguchi.” Kei teases.

It was just the two of them.

No eyes, no

(The tap was running)

Just them.

Him and Yamaguchi.

Kei feels Yamaguchi's fingers on his nape press down harder. It feels nice, familiar, like something that had been done before.

But Yamaguchi's fingers were wrong. Not calloused enough. Not as sure of where they should be or what they were doing.

(Red)

(A flash of white)

(Hands grasping)

(Fingers tightening in his hair)

“Tsukki. Tsukkiiiiii, all done. Let's go.” Yamaguchi shakes his shoulder to get his attention.

(Red)

(Teeth)

They were in the haze.

His head ached.

“That was quick. Everything alright?” Suga asks from where he had been hovering at Yamaguchi's side.

“Yep, everything is fine. It was just a little weird.” Yamaguchi says as he goes about putting the syringe and empty bottle of solution back in the kit.

“Sorry.” Kei says as he raises his hand to the back of the neck, it comes back

(Red)

(His hands were dripping)

(“Kei!)

clean.

“You have nothing to be sorry about. Let's have a quick walk around the gym before practice starts up again. I can feel my legs stiffening up as we stand.” Yamaguchi offers.

“You're complaining about being stiff to a stiff, Yamaguchi? How insensitive.” Tsukishima sets off, hands tucked in his armpits, and a smile on his face as Yamaguchi tries his best to not laugh.

Unfortunately for him, Tsukishima had made sure to say it loud enough for everyone in the gym to hear.

Noya, Suga, and Tanaka where howling with laughter. Asahi wasn't sure how to react, and Daichi and Kageyama watched Hinata for his reaction.

“Not like he was ever that flexible to begin with. Like a board,” Hinata declares, throwing his arms out in imitation of Tsukishima's blocking technique, scowl on his face. The shorter boy made sure it was apparent how locked his shoulders and knees were.

“I'll admit that you're right over my dead body.” Kei declares playfully.

“Oh? Well I'm waiting?” Suga joins in, smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.

“Sorry, what was that? I think I'm a little death today?” Kei raises a hand to cup his ear for emphasis.

“That explains a few things, you look like it.” Noya crows.

“Yamaguchi rushed me, no chance to put my face on.” Kei hides his face, dramatics in full.

“It's a shame, having to look at that.” Tanaka muses.

“You don't look that crash hot yourself, princess. Have you heard of face wash?” Kei calls back.

“You're both pretty, can we get back to practice now?” Daichi claps a hand on the both of them, face flushed and slightly out of breath.

“We good to go?” Kei turns to look at Hinata, who he'd worked his way over towards.

“We're good.” Hinata smiles as he nods, running over to his side of the net with the most enthusiasm and cheer he's had all morning.

Judging by the new atmosphere that's seemingly inflated everyone else in the gym, Hinata wasn't alone in that regard.

“Alright. We'll start the sets fresh. Losing team cleans up. Go.”

Tsukishima throws his hands up, halting the spike and causing the opposing side to fumble for the ball with their receives. He could remember the sting of such contact clearer than ever, the instant of warmth that spread out from the hit site, to the almost static feeling that hung about afterwards.

The memory almost elicited as much of a sensation as his injections occasionally would.

Tsukishima clung to this.

 

 

“So?” Kei asks as he and Yamaguchi walked home. The afternoon light gave Yamaguchi the illusion of glowing.

“What is it, Tsukki?”

“I wasn't aware that the third years were still third years.”

“Ah, yeah. Well after the,” Yamaguchi catches himself.

“Rising,” Kei fills in.

“After that, a lot of people stayed, or came back and just stuck around.”

“So they spend their free time playing volleyball with highschoolers?”

“Pretty much. It's a routine kind of. There aren't any tournaments planned at the moment, but practice is something to do.” Yamaguchi offers, face locked straight ahead.

“I guess. What about Ennoshita and the others? How are they?” Kei asks, trying to seem casual about it.

“Kinoshita and Narita have gone to stay with family in the bigger cities.” Yamaguchi supplies.

“And Ennoshita?”

“He got sick, in the panic. Everything was a mess. We couldn't get medicine, or him to a hospital,”

“And?”

“He held out until it calmed down and we got him to someone, but it was bad, his lungs. He's been in the wards since, but he's doing better.” Yamaguchi doesn't elaborate further, leaving Kei to wonder exactly what state Ennoshita is currently stuck in.

“Ukai?”

“He was drafted into the surveillance squad. It's why he wasn't at practice, he's on shift. Actually, between that, the store, and still helping out at his parent's farm he's been stretched pretty thin.”

“But he still coaches you guys?”

“Yeah, he coaches us when he can. It's the routine. There's-” Yamaguchi starts.

“Something soothing about the familiarity of going through the motions.” Kei adds in. All too familiar with that sentiment.

It's easier to pretend that everything is perfectly fine.

“And Takeda? I haven't seen him since I dropped my enrolment forms off at his desk. He seemed to be in a hurry then.” Kei has a feeling he knows this answer.

“It's not you, it's just,” Yamaguchi struggles to word.

“Things happen. Things change.” Kei states.

(Red)

(Teeth)

(A hand runs through his hair before sport calloused fingers kneaded at his scalp)

“So you said people have been going to the bigger cities. Are they safer?”

“Less land to spare so cremations were heavily favoured over burials. In the case that there is a second rising-” Yamaguchi begins.

“How's Kuroo?” Kei cuts in.

Yamaguchi stiffens, his steps faltering.

“If there were to be a second rising, people want to be were it's safer. That was the problem here. Countryside. Not to mention that forest, it's-” Yamaguchi continues. The only sign that he'd heard Kei's question being how stiff he seems to be holding himself.

“The best place to hide a tree. Do you want to come in?” Kei asks as they stop in-front of the driveway leading to the Tsukishima household.

“I'd love to, but I promised mum I'd help her with the gardening after practice. I'm sorry.” Yamaguchi fiddles with his sleeves.

“It's fine. Let me know if anything comes up, okay?”

“Will do.”

“And Yamaguchi?”

“Yeah?”

“Do we still have morning practice on Mondays before school?”

“Same old time,”

“If I don't see you tomorrow I'll see you then. Now, I have some readings to catch up on. Have a good day, Yamaguchi.”

“You to, Tsukki.”

 

 

“Why are we even having a training camp if there are no tournaments to even train for? Explain.” Kei stretches out across the carpeted floor of Yamaguchi's room. It had always been too itchy for him before. Causing little red welts to raise if he spent too long on it when they were younger, but that wasn't a problem any more. Yamaguchi was more than happy to finally sprawl out on his bed without having to fight for the right.

“Everyone is free, and it's a long weekend. Why not?”

“Try again.”

“Because it will be fun.” Yamaguchi offers.

“Bzzzzt, incorrect. Remember that it's three strikes and you're out.” Kei warns.

“Nostalgia.” Yamaguchi says, voice firm with resolve.

“Nostalgia?”

“It'll be just like old times.” He explains further.

“Ahhhhh, the good ol' days. The sweating, the shouting, the barely tolerating of certain parties. How I've missed them so.” Kei says, voice heavy with both whimsy and sarcasm.

“The bus trips, the fighting for the ideal futon spots, the group meals and the fights that ensued over them. What's not to love?” Yamaguchi plays along, though tries to be more uplifting about it than Kei had.

“What you've just listed.” Kei points out.

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi's tone is pleading.

“You've made me go back to school. You gave me no choice but to attend those practices that are for nothing. Why do I have to do this as well?” Kei asks, his body and everything feeling way too heavy in that moment.

“Because if you don't you're just going to spend the whole weekend staring at the wall, or your ceiling-” Yamaguchi starts.

“I'll be doing homework. I still need to catch up,” Kei offers up, trying as much as he could that it was the truth.

“That's bullshit, Tsukki, and you know it. You finished all that catch up work in the first week, I know you. And because I know you, because believe it or not I'm your friend and care about you, I know it will be good for you to come to this training camp.” Yamaguchi snaps, having pushed himself up on his elbows to send an angry look down to Kei, as if begging the taller boy to argue further.

“I don't want to.” Kei says softly.

“You're saying that now, but trust me, you'll have fun.” The harshness from before is gone.

“You can't make me go.” Kei reasons.

“You've already listed my recent track record of making you do things you didn't want to do. You don't have a choice in the matter.” Yamaguchi states, though there is some hesitance in his voice.

“So why even bother asking then?”

“Because it's polite.”

“So it's polite to then make me do something, after I say no to it?” The bite is back in Kei's voice as he snaps upright. He curls his legs into his chest, his hands back to being wedged between his knees.

“Tsukki,”

“Explain to me these manners? I didn't realise that they've changed in the time I was away. Anything else interesting I've missed out on? Any missing people I'm responsible for? Property damage? People I'm being left in the dark about?”

“Can you just shut up for a moment?” Yamaguchi snaps, shoulders hunched forward and forehead scrunched under his scowl.

“Whatever, I'm leaving,” Tsukishima pulls himself up quickly, no rug burn on his exposed skin, despite the effort made into dragging his palms hard over the carpets surface

“But it's-”

“I don't care that it's my curfew, Yamaguchi. I'm going. Don't follow.” Kei doesn't look back to the other boy as he storms down the creaking staircase.

Kei can't find it in himself to pause his exit in order to slide into his shoes, heading straight for the door.

Yamaguchi never really listens, Kei thinks as he picks up his pace, throwing up his hood and tucking his hands under his armpits.

It was supposed to be cold. He may as well act like it still bothered him.

The hurried steps at the edge of his hearing was almost enough to make Kei break into a sprint in order to lose his tail. Luckily for Yamaguchi, that would probably be classified as suspicious behaviour, and Kei did not need to be caught out after the curfew set for the likes of 'sufferers' like himself.

It wasn't until Kei is at the front door, fumbling with his keys that Yamaguchi officially makes himself know.

“He's, he's alive. He's been doing better, last time I spoke to him.” Yamaguchi wheezes as he tries to catch his breath.

“When was that?”

“A week or so before you-,”

“At least he didn't do anything stupid. I'll see you in class tomorrow.” Kei manages to open the door but makes no move to step inside or turn around to face Yamaguchi.

“What about practice?” Yamaguchi's asks, voice hesitant.

“I'll see you in class.” Kei restates before finally stepping inside, kicking the door shut behind him with his dirty, sock covered foot.

 

 

“I can't believe I'm doing this,” Kei grumbles as he sits at the kitchen table, watching as Akiteru busies himself in the kitchen.

Akiteru had insisted on wanting to make sure his little brother was being sent off with a proper meal. The three day trip would be the longest time the two would've gone without seeing the other in months.

There was something a little terrifying about that.

“You know you don't have to, right?” Kei tries to talk some sense into his brother, feeling guilty over the food that they both knew would be wasted.

“I want to. I'm doing it. You can't stop me.” Akiteru puts simply, digging around in the pan with a spatula that looked mauled by heat from it's years of service.

“The packing though? A little over excessive, don't you think? It's only a few days.”

“It never hurts to be prepared. Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Two full bags?”

“One for regular clothes, the other for gym clothes, and stuff.” Akiteru tries to defend himself.

“I'm going to look like a pack mule.” Kei grumbles, eyes following Akiteru's movements as he slides around the counter, a plate of pancakes in each hand. He slides one in front of Kei, and pauses in front of his own, knife and fork raised.

They were choc chip. No one could make chocolate chip pancakes like Akiteru. Not even the self proclaimed king of cooking all foods breakfast, with his mess of hair and his savage, eager grins.

(A flash of white)

(Teeth)

(Red)

(Fingers brushing through his hair)

(“Tsukki, I-”)

Kei picks up his own cutlery, cutting a small, near square out, skewering it on the prongs of his fork.

“It looks great. No one makes them like you.” Kei offers, hoping the smile sits right on his face.

“Thanks, Tsukki. Going to miss you, you know that, right?”

“I can call, make sure you haven't died of loneliness like some sort of rodent.” Kei tries to be casual as he makes the offer.

“Rabbits. It's rabbits.” Akiteru's whole demeanour picks up. His smile more genuine than Kei's seen in days. It makes the heavy feeling in his chest lessen, even if only slightly.

“Same thing. I'll call.”

“I'll have to give you your shot before we head out.”

“We?”

“I'm driving you to meet up with everyone at school.” Akiteru states as if it was obvious.
“It's a twenty minute walk. There's no point.”

“No arguing. It's happening.”

“You're as bad as Yamaguchi, you know that?” Kei grumbles.

“I do this out of love.”

“And isn't it wasted. Go get yourself a girlfriend or something if you have so much love to share.”

“Maybe I will. I bet she'll appreciate me for me.” Akiteru threatens, eyes twinkling.

“I'll be sure to warn her. And tell her about every embarrassing moment in your life.” Kei threatens with a smile.

“You don't know the half of them.” Akiteru tries to defend himself.

“I know enough.”

“So mean.”

“But you love me anyway.” Kei teases.

“Somehow. Anyway, let's get this over and done with so we can get going.” Akiteru pushes his picked at breakfast away as he stood up. He heads over to the other side of the counter to get Kei's morning injection ready.

“So eager to get me out now. Do you really have a girlfriend who's coming over to ravish you while I'm out of earshot?” Kei continues as he grabs both plates, emptying them both into the kitchen bin that seemed to have more food than rubbish in it these days.

“If only. Wouldn't want you to be late, you'll miss your bus.” Akiteru warns.

“How unfortunate if that was to happen.”

“And then I'll just have to drive you all the way there. Wouldn't that be fun?”

“No use dawdling, let's get moving.”

“That's what I thought.”

 

Kei wishes that he had his headphones with him.

The team, confined to the small space of the school bus, were too energetic and excited to deal with without something to drown them out with.

He thinks that maybe they were broken.

Had he broken them?

He'd dropped them, or did he throw them at the wall?

(There were shards of plastic casing in his hand)

(He was squeezing at them until red spilled out over them and onto the floor)

(Red)

(The tap was running)

(There were teeth, flashing in the light as lips pulled back)

(A smile)

(Fingers digging in just right at the back of his head)

(Warm)

(“I love you, Tsu-”)

The memory in the haze felt warm.

(Headphones)

(The box was fresh)

(Teeth flashed as the older boy smiled)

(Red)

(They were a pretty expensive brand)

(A gift?)

(He was picking up the plastic shards of the casing)

(They cut into his hand as he held onto them tightly)

(Red dripped and oozed)

(“Tsukki, I-”)

“Tsukki? You listening?”

“Yeah, Yamaguchi. I'm listening.”

No he wasn't, they both know it's a lie.

“Who do you think would win? Hinata vouches that a bear could beat a robot, no arguments. Your argument?” Yamaguchi explains, his eyes watching Kei's face.

He wasn't the only one.

Kei knows that they're all looking to him. All eyes except for Takeda's who were everywhere but Kei and for the better now since he was driving the bus.

“To make this decision I'll need to be presented with all the relevant information because I'm sure some details have been skimmed over.

“One, what type of bear are we dealing with? What continent and season? Environmental factors? What is the age of this bear? And the history? Is this a bear that was raised in the zoo, a circus, as an exotic pet. Details, Hinata. Details. “And this robot, is it humanoid? Is it a robot bear? How much does this robot weigh? What grade of technology is this robot comprised of? Was the programmer or mechanic a dumb shit like whoever asks these ridiculous hypotheticals?”

There was a moment of silence before the bus erupted in whoops, hollering, and laughter.

“Holy fuck, that was flawless, Tsukishima.” Tanaka fell back against the window he was sitting by, tears in the corners of his eyes.

Noya was completely incapacitated, shoulders shaking, arms around his stomach, Asahi's hands hovering nervously around him, a wobbly smile on his face.

Hinata's mouth was wide open, partly in shock, but there was something else to it. Kei couldn't put his finger on it in the time it took Hinata to snap around, sinking back into his seat and whispering to Kageyama.

“It is him. It really is him.”

Relief, wonder, and something a little sadder.

Why did Kei suddenly feel so guilty?

 

It was only to be expected that Yamaguchi and him to pair off when it came to baths that night.

Though it seemed odd to the rest of the team that one of them would stay outside, on guard, while the other was inside.

No one was going to say or do anything about it, and that Kei was thankful for, as he watched Suga walk past, his face questioning.

Kei looks away, focusing on the scuffed wooden panelling opposite the wash room door.

(The tap was running)

He could hear the tap running from the other side. And the slosh of water as Yamaguchi submerged himself into the bath.

Kei wouldn't have been surprised if the damage was due to either Hinata or Noya, by the height it sat and the speed those two tore around.

“Tsukki, it's all yours.” Yamaguchi places a hand on Kei's forearm, clad in yet another one of Akiteru's worn, baggy, and long sleeved sweatshirts.

“'Kay. Thanks.” Is all Kei says before he steps into the room, sliding the door shut behind him.

(The tap is running)

The mirrors are fogged, the air makes his skin and eyes feel odd, and the floor is slick beneath his sock clad feet. The feeling doesn't bother him as much as it should have, or had before.

Kei drops his fresh set of clothes and his toiletry bag on the small bench and tries to decide on his next move.

Yamaguchi has left the water in the tub for him, but Tsukishima makes no move to head towards it.

The surface of it is still.

Not yet.

There was a ritual.

Using the stretched hem of the sleeve, Tsukishima wipes away at the condensation obscuring the mirror.

One too dark coloured contact out.

Two.

Back in their case, ready to be worn again come the morning.

Wakeup remover wipes in hand, Kei begins to scrub at the foundation caked onto his face, neck, arms, and legs. He has unravel one of the lighter scarves he always wore, making sure he wipes off as much as possible because the heavy duty stuff was difficult to get out once it had set in. The necks of his and Akiteru's shirts, and Kei's scarves proof of the foundations tenacious nature.

Maybe he'd skip the legs tomorrow, even though he'd look ridiculous with overly peachy skin visible everywhere but his sickly grey looking legs.

Kei knew that his supplies would last the weekend if he didn't do them.

He'd need to check his bags to see if Akiteru thought to pack track pants.

With the wipe down complete Kei looks at the cross work of veins, prominent through the skin of his face, especially around his eyes and temples.

The dark, sunken look around his eyes makes his eyes even more glaringly obvious, a cloudy, dirty colour with two pinpricks of black at the centre.

(“You have the prettiest eyes, like honey”)

(Red)

(“And your skin, it's so soft and pale,”)

He raises his hands up to trace along his discoloured lips.

(“Tsukki, I-”)

Kei turns away from the mirror, slipping slightly on the tiles as he strips off briskly. Sweater, T-shirt, shorts, boxers, socks, all tossed into a pile, joining his scarf on the damp floor before he sinks into the most likely luke warm water, quick to fully submerge his head beneath the surface.

(The tap was running)

(Angry. He was angry, and hurt, and upset)

(A flash of white)

(Teeth)

(Red)

It was safe, the weightlessness of his limbs familiar, the bottom edge of the tub that his toes brushed against a point of stability.

As the water around him stilled, Kei adding no further movements to disturb it, he's surrounded with silence.

No creaking.

No whispers.

No big brother sobbing late at night when he thought Kei couldn't hear it.

No constant thudding.

He remembers when the ever present drumbeat that had haunted him for sixteen years began to slow. Began to quiet. Gradually at first, then all at once it was over.

(Red)

(The water was red)

(“Kei?”)

(“Kei! Oh god, Kei. Stay with me. Stay with me, Kei!”)

(“Tsukki? Akiteru? What's-”)

There was a knock at the door, muffled through the soapy, not red water but the sound was persistent.

Kei pulls himself up, head above the water's surface.

“Yeah?”

“You nearly done? Lights out will be soon.” Yamaguchi calls through the flimsy wooden door frame.

“I'll be a moment. Feel free to head back without me.” Kei feels tempted to sink back below the water that's still lapping at the tubs edges from his earlier movements.

“If I leave, who'll stand guard to protect your honour?”

“What honour? Make sure we get a good spot or I'll make sure you pay.”

“Whatever you say, Tsukki.”

 

“Hey,” Yamaguchi waves from the futons set out by the window. Kei wades through the rest of the bedding set out across the floor, all in various states of occupation.

“You clean up well.” Yamaguchi states as Kei settles down, packing his not really dirty clothes and supplies back into one of his two bags.

“And you can shut up, breather.”

“Is that how you're going to talk to the person who's going to be sticking a big fat needle into the back of your neck.” Yamaguchi fakes offence.

“Only stating the truth. It's disgusting how you breath in and out without a thought of how it may affect those around you.” Kei jabs Yamaguchi's chest as the other boy exhales for emphasis.

“But it feels so good, this fresh, country air, filling my lungs,” Yamaguchi makes a show of breathing in, holding it, his chest inflated slightly, and letting the air out with an overly drawn out sigh of relief.

“Suga, Yamaguchi is flaunting his privilege and I'm triggered.” Kei turns his head, voice a whine.

“Suga, Tsukki is calling me a slur.” Yamaguchi joins in.

“You're both as bad as each other, and it can't honestly be that bad, can it,” Suga calls back, not looking up from where he's playing, and winning, at Old Maid with Daichi, Asahi, and Kageyama.

“He called me a breather. How rude is that?” Yamaguchi says in hopes that Suga would humour them and come to his defence.

“I could have called you a filthy mouth breather, would you prefer that? Halitosis? Wheezy? Wind bag?” Kei begins to list off on his fingers.

“I don't think those count, Yamaguchi,” Asahi offers, muttering under his breath as Suga seems to match up another pair from the card he'd just pulled out of Asahi's hand.

“Yes they do. Can't you hear how hateful I'm saying them, lungs for brains?” Kei asks.

“Settle down, lights off in ten.” Daichi announces, as he's left with the final card. He throws warning looks to both Yamaguchi and Tsukishima, who he knows will exacerbate things if the mood struck them. A hard lesson he'd learnt from previous group outings.

“Will you stop calling me names so I can give you your shot?”

“I was never stopping you in the first place.”

“Fine. Unravel or push down that scarf. I really don't understand why you're all about the neck wear all of a sudden?”

“It's called fashion, have you heard of it? Plus turtle necks and popped collars aren't appropriate for a training camp, if that's what this really is.” Kei answers, throwing the last part out for the others to hear.

“Wait, this isn't a training camp?” Hinata asks, looking to Noya and Tanaka for assurance.

“It is, it is, Tsukki is just being an ass.” Noya flings himself over to Hinata, comforting the younger boy with rough pats to his head.

“Our beloved ass.” Tanaka adds, joining the growing pile.

“It's Tsukishima to you, disgusting pre-mortems.” Kei throws over.

“Careful with the words, Tsukki.” Yamaguchi threatens, holding the needle in his hand.

“Go on, I dare you.” Tsukishima goads.

The only warning he gets is Yamaguchi pushing down on the back of his head, exposing the small, open wound that was the injection site.

“It's like an off switch,” Suga muses, Tsukishima can see his pale feet standing to the side, most likely watching Yamaguchi as he works.

“Not for long. See, Tsukki, I told you. I warned you.” Yamaguchi's grip shifts, the sensation in his spine near tingling.

It felt different.

It felt a little staticky.

The sensation that follows the numbness before the pins and needles crash over like a tsunami.

“Yamaguchi?” He barley gets the words out, voice whisping past his lips that just don't want to move.

He was scared.

(Red)

(The tap was running)

(his hands were dripping)

(The plastic shards dug in deeper)

“I'm almost done, Tsukki. Here we go.” There's a slight press to his head.

Every nerve is on fire.

He bites down on his lip, hands and eyes clenching shut in reflex.

“Hey? You alright? Tsukki? Look at me,”

There's hands on his arms, his face, his shoulders.

The size, and grip are all wrong. Different from what he remembers.

(“Tsukki, I-”)

(The water was red)

(A flash of teeth)

(A smile)

(His legs resting over another pair, a plate of pancakes in his lap.

Chocolate chip, not as good as Akiteru's but he'd never told Kuroo that)

(“Such long, delicate fingers. Perfect to hold on to.”)

“Sorry. Thinking.” Kei tries not to grit out, seeing the stressed out look on Yamaguchi's face. Kei's aware that the casual chatter and comfortable air from before had dissipated.

“About?” Yamaguchi asks, as if he's trying to comfort a spooked animal.

“Did you know that Kuroo can cook nothing but breakfast foods?” Kei tells Yamaguchi. It was the first thing that came to mind, and it felt important somehow. He didn't miss how Yamaguchi's face fell momentarily before he plastered on a smile.

“No, I didn't. Did I give you the injection right? It felt a little different this time,” He sounded hesitant.

So it wasn't just Kei who felt that something went differently than usual.

“Bad angle. I think you struck a nerve.” Kei offers, seeing as it was the only possibility that made sense.

“Me? Strike a nerve on the great and all mighty Tsukishima Kei? Really?” Yamaguchi says, awed.

“Don't flatter yourself. It took you three inches of surgical steel, shaky hands, and the inability to hit an open target straight on to actually do it.” Kei tries to shoot the other boy down, but it's too late.

“I'll take my wins when I can, Tsukki. But,” Yamaguchi's face drops slightly again.

Kei wonders if Yamaguchi was always this much of a roller coaster mood wise.

“What is it, Yamaguchi?”

“I'm sorry. I'll try not to mess up next time.” Yamaguchi says quietly.

“What's the worst you could have done. Kill me?”

The room falls completely silent.

Yamaguchi's breath hitches, eyes beginning to mist over.

“Please, Tsukki. Can we not joke about that?” Yamaguchi begs, voice tight.

“Fine.”

“Lights out. First person I hear chattering gets laps before breakfast. Anyone who talks after that can join them as they double. You get the point.” Daichi announces as he stands up, flicking the light switch off.

Kei hears him move after a few minutes, as if making sure that everyone got the message.

 

Kei rises from the futon after he's well and truly sure that everyone else is out for the count. While he did trust Yamaguchi to pick out their spots for the night, he should've know that Yamaguchi would be hung up on what they used to always do and prefer, rather than think about what had happened since.

Maybe he had gone to far with what he said earlier. He should probably apologise to Yamaguchi in the morning.

But for now,

Kei shuffles from one side of the room to the other, slowly sliding the door open and closing it behind him.

He grasps at the small weight in the pocket of the over sized hoody he was wearing that just hung off him. He never had the bulk to fill it, but it had been the only one long enough for his gangly frame.

Sacrifices had to be made.

The floorboards creaked under his weight, as slight as it was, but as soon he was sure he'd put enough distance between himself and his sleeping team mates, he pulls out the phone and dialled.

“Hey, Kei,” Akiteru yawns from his end of the line.

“You didn't stay up, did you?” Kei wishes he'd been able to find the time earlier to call. Yamaguchi and the team seemed adamant about not leaving him alone, and forcibly including him in everything for Kei to have a moment to sneak away.

“You said you'd call, so I waited. No crime in that.” Akiteru doesn't sound annoyed, or sad, but relieved.

“You're clingy, and not in a cute way.”

“You're the one who called me.”

“Because I know you'd whine if I didn't.” Kei reasons.

“Sooooo, having fun?” Akiteru sounds well and truly awake now.

“Soooooo, have you gotten laid recently?” Two could play at this game.

“Not as of recent, but that's beside the point,”

“Is it?”

“Tell me about your day,”

“I left my room, did my hair and make-up, ate a breakfast that I know for sure went straight to my thighs, and then my ugly brother dragged me to school on a Saturday, and shipped me off for the foreseeable future.”

“So a good day.”

“It's-,” Kei cuts himself off, thinking back to breakfast, the bus ride,

“Kei? Everything alright?” Akiteru asks, obviously worried now.

“Headphones. I got headphones as a gift before, didn't I?” Kei asks, trying to piece together what he remembered.

“I remember those. They were a really nice pair as well.” Akiteru offers.

“I broke them. I remember that I broke them, but I don't know if it was an accident or not.” Kei stares off into the dark, empty corridor stretching out before him.

“Kei,” Definitely worried.

“Akiteru?” Kei hopes that Akiteru can't hear the shake in his voice.

“Yeah?”

“I'm sorry,”

Akiteru sniffles from the other end of the line. Tsukishima closes his eyes, seeing in his head the way his brother would wipe at his eyes and face with his sleeves until they were damp and snot covered, smile wobbly.

“What brings this on all of a sudden?” Akiteru's voice is wobbly.

“Because I never told you that your chocolate pancakes were the best. Better even than Kuroo's were.”

“Kei-”

“It's late. You should get some sleep. I'll call you tomorrow. Good night.” Kei ends the call, switching the phone to silent before tucking it back into the hoody’s front pocket.

He wedges himself into the corner of the corridor, shoulders pressed to both walls, and stares at the peeling patchwork of paint on the wall in front of him.

A clock chimed from somewhere within the old building.

Eleven.

Wake up was at seven.

Kei curses himself for not checking to see if Akiteru had thought to pack a book or free for the weekend.

 

 

“The things I do for you.” Kei grumbles, his hood up, scarf bunched up over the lower part of his face, and hands deep in his pockets.

Yamaguchi is nearly skipping at his side, arms swinging back and forth.

“Admit it, you want to see the movie as well.”

“You could have seen it with them and left me out of it, win win.”

“Nah. We've watched the rest of the series together, it wouldn't be right without there to commentate.”

“Will the effects have deteriorated since the fifth one? Who knows,” Kei wonders out loud.

“Which dumb, busty girl will get butchered first?” Yamaguchi questions.

“Will they ever put survival before sex?” Kei adds.

“It's a mystery,” They finish together, both sniggering behind their suddenly raised hands.

 

“You two sure took your time, what gives?” Tanaka whines, slinging an arm around Kei as he'd been prone to lately. Kei did his best to shake the older boy off him but to little avail.

“All the good seats are probably gone.” Hinata pouts.

“We didn't ask you to wait for us,” Yamaguchi looks down, eyes heavy with guilt. They had decided to take a detour to get here, and didn't exactly rush to make it on time. Neither thought that everyone else would wait around outside just for them.

“If it'll make you stop whining, I may be able to help. Who's ready to exploit some prejudice?” Kei declares as he pushes back his hood and lowers his scarf. He couldn't be bothered with the contacts and make-up today, one of the reasons for the excessive layering.

“You don't have to,” Suga tries to reason.

“Just let me have some fun for once.”

“Yeah, let him.” Noya crows, always eager to egg on mischief when he wasn't the direct cause of it.

“Who knows, Suga. People could be tolerant.” Daichi tries to be positive.

Kei laughs, accepting the ticket that Tanaka held out to him before entering the cinema, the rest of the team close on his heels.

Despite the crowded theatre, they managed to all sit together in the best seats in the house, that had been recently vacated as Kei had excused himself past seated patrons in order to get to a lone seat near the middle of the row.

“People are so kind and generous, Daichi. You were right, there is some good left.” Kei announces, and the smirk he wears feels like it fits right.

 

Kei didn't look at the hatchet being swung, over and over, at the decomposed corpse's neck.

The hatchet wielding actress' roots were beginning to show, but not to the severity that they had been a few scenes earlier. Her nail polish was a chipped, bright red, while twenty minutes previous, within the same night in the movie, they'd been fresh, deep blue.

Kei knew that this was cheap horror. What was once an amazing film had become a cookie cutter, seasonal release franchise that grew wilder and crazier with each subsequent sequel, to the point that it was so bad it was good.

Continuity was a thing of the past.

“Look out behind you!” The roided mass of muscle that was the leading male yelled as perky breasted fake Blondie turned, her too tight tank top doing nothing to conceal that she was wearing nothing underneath it. Her scream was as fake as her blue coloured contacts.

'Couldn't they have just gotten some American actress rather then dressing up someone for the part?' Kei thinks to himself.

She didn't react quick enough to save herself, instead screaming as if her toe had been stubbed as another member of the undead began to tear away at her with it's bare, dirt crusted teeth and nails.

The heat from her entrails was visible in wisps as the monster dug in, despite it already being stated earlier in the movie that the summer heat was relentless, even throughout the nights.

Honestly, Kei should have learnt not to expect too much of this flavour of the month grade franchise. He was stupid to have expected vampires, or radioactive moths when zombies were all the range.

 

They walked out in silence, but Kei knew that they were waiting for his reaction.

The undead menaces had been thwarted, their bodies thrown into a massive bonfire with purifying salt being scattered on top.

No one had been aware of the chosen horror for the poor excuse of a film, and now they were waiting, all looking guilty.

Kei wondered how long he could let them stew.

Yamaguchi was pale, eyes darting from his own wringing hands to Kei's face over and over.

He could be merciful this time.

“You think she'd have the sense to at least wear a bra for some of it. She could have used that extra support.” Kei states, braking the silence that hung over the group.

“But then how would we be able to tell that it was cold?” Daichi argued, always one to come to the defence of the well endowed.

“By the fact that their breath was misting, despite it being the middle of a summer heatwave.” Suga chimed in.

“But caged puppies means no jiggle. It would have been criminal to take away that jiggle, man.” Tanaka holds his hands out, bouncing them for emphasis.

Daichi nods sagely.

“Tsukishima is right. It seemed, unnecessary,” Asahi, pale and sweaty from the cheap gore fest offers, arms wrapped around himself in a one man hug.

“And they didn't even try to be realistic. With all the Graaaaaah, and Wuuuuuuuur,” Hinata exclaims before raising his arms and shuffling, mouth hanging wide and groaning terribly for emphasis.

“You're absolutely right, Hinata. It's more like this,” Kei lets the smile slide off his face, shoulders melting and arms hanging loose at his sides.

He then begins to take step after step towards Hinata, posture and movements loose, but with a kind of single mindedness to the motions. A sway for momentum, that was building as Hinata walked backwards, eyes darting between Kei and the others.

Kei closed the distance between the two of them, his chest bumping against Hinata's face and sending the smaller boy falling backwards.

Kei whips his hand out in time to grab Hinata's wrist before the smaller boy hits the ground, pulling him back upright on his two feet.

“See, that's how it's done. No theatrics, no overly exaggerated moans or movements. You'd think they'd have done their research.” Kei turns to look back at the rest of the group.

“What are you doing out? Don't you have a hole you should be occupying?” A voice snarled and before Tsukishima knew it Hinata had been pulled away and hidden by a wall of sneers and over confidence.

“It's good to see you, Nobotsu, who're your friends here?” Kei greets as he pulls himself to his full height, chin raised and eyes looking down at the other boys.

“He talks a lot for a corpse.” One of the boys, with lifeless, over bleached hair offers.

“Isn't there a saying being as quiet at the dead?” Another with a greasy face chimes in.

“If you haven't noticed, we're quite a rowdy crew.” Kei drawls, crossing his arms in-front of his chest and doing his best to look bored.

“Tsukishima, shut it.” Daichi steps forward to Kei's side, the tilt of his chin showing he meant business. It seemed that the five boys in front of them were too stupid to notice the stance and warning.

“Sawamura, I didn't realise that you guys had him marked.” A tall rake of a boy with a splattering of zits across his forehead voices.

“Are you gonna smash him in to?” A small boy with a gut to rival Nobotsu's asks.

“It would be doing everyone a favour if you did.” Nobotsu grins.

“No such thing as a safe rotter.” The unremarkable fifth boy states.

Tsukishima looks over them, trying to spot the shock of orange hair.

Hinata wasn't there.

“Why would we do any of that? He's our team mate and friend?” Daichi supplies. Words and tone careful.

“Wait. You're telling us that you, captain of the Karasuno volley ball team, and the rest of you who took it upon yourselves to organise the town in order to put these things,” Nobotsu points a finger to Kei, “down, willingly choose to keep the stiff around? Is he like a pet?”

“Has to be it. A pet can always get put down if they bite.” Zits grins.

“Maybe you should chuck a muzzle on him, just to be safe.” Bleach Damaged Hair laughs.

“Would you-” Daichi takes a step forward but is halted from any further progression by Kei's outstretched arm.

“Leave the breathers to me, Captain. I'm the one they have issue with. Listen here, you all seem to think you're such big, tough guys, so what do you think you could do?” Kei steps forward, all five of the boys, even the tallest amongst them, have to crane their heads up to look at him.

“What we'd do to any old rotter, blow to the head.” Gut spits.

“So imaginative. How about a wager. There are five of you, and one of me. You think you can take down any old corpse, let's put that to the test. You all get one free shot each. You manage to land a head shot, you win, congratulations. You use up your five shots and I'm still in one piece, you can kindly fuck off. Deal?” Kei smiles.

The boys look to each other, silently debating amongst themselves.

“What the fuck do you think you're doing, Tsukishima?” Daichi hisses.

“Blowing off steam. Can I suggest that you keep the other attack dogs at bay so I can get this over and done with?”

“Why?” Daichi presses.

“This is honestly quicker. Like, you think they would let me walk away without some kind of scuffle? Just cutting out the middle man.” Kei supplies.

“Tsukki, why are-”

“It's fine, Yamaguchi, just you-”

A fist hits his shoulder, enough to send him stumbling a step forward. The assailant, the tall, skinny one didn't step back fast enough, or had misjudged Kei's reach, as Kei grasped tightly onto his wrist, pulling him around and using the momentum to toss him into a near by light pole.

“One,” Kei begins to count off.

Another, Gut, comes barrelling in low. Fast, but not fast enough.

Kei steps to the side out and put a foot out, tripping him and sending him down and skidding across the gravel.

Kei smelt something heavy and warm

(Red)

“Two.” Kei continues, turning to look at the other three boys still standing.

Nobotsu the unremarkable boy came next.

Kei catches the wooden bat that the unremarkable boy pulled out of nowhere as it was swung at him, throwing off the swinger's balance. It made it easy for Kei to shake his grip loose. The boy crumpled to the ground, looking up at Kei with terrified eyes.

“Three.”

He turned to look at Nobotsu, who had taken the opening and sunk a pocket knife into Kei's side. Nobotsu's beady eyes widened comically in horror at the lack of reaction from Kei.

(His hands were dripping)

(Red)

The small knife was up to the hilt in his side but it felt no more painful than a piece of gravel in his shoe.

Bat still in hand, Kei swung it at Nobotsu, catching him in the side and sending him toppling to the ground.

“Four.”

The lucky fifth, the boy with the bleach fried hair, stood there, eyes wide in realisation that they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

Kei stepped forward, dragging the bat against the wall, bumping against all the imperfections.

With a gulp, the boy ran forward, straight at Kei, using his weight and momentum to send Kei falling backwards.

At least, that was his plan, until he was yanked up by the collar. Kei only stepping back slightly to regain his momentarily distorted balance.

Kei swung his other hand at the wall, shattering the bat and letting go of it's handle, the splintered wood dropping to the ground.

“Five.” He said right in the trembling boy's face before dropping him to the ground.

“Now that that's over with lets-”

Nobotsu was right behind him, brick raised, swinging down.

When did it get so close?

“The deal was five shots. Can't you count?” Daichi growled, hand digging into Nobotsu's wrist until he let go of the brick.

It landed with a thud.

“You had a deal, remember?” Suga steps forward. He was smiling but the venom in his eyes seemed to burn Nobotsu, who was looking more and more panicked.

The other four boys were long gone. Some friends.

“I'd start running if I was you,” Asahi suggested, aura enough to make the caught boy whimper, especially considering Asahi's large hands where holding firmly onto both Tanaka and Noya.

“He's a rotter. Why are you-” Nobotsu starts, looking to the group for some form of comrade.

“He's our friend, and a member of the Karasuno Volley Ball club. He's off limits.” Daichi says as he let go.

That was going to bruise, Kei thought as Nobotsu held his wrist and ran.

“What the fuck?” Yamaguchi asks, voice uncharacteristically calm.

Kei ignores the question, instead bending down to pick up the brick that had been in motion just moments ago.

It had stopped mere inches from his head.

It felt heavy in his hand. While Nobotsu's swing wouldn't have been enough to do any serious damage, he doubted that the end results would have been pretty.

(“Don't pout, Tsukki. It's cute that you have a baby face. I'll be a hideous old man at thirty and you'll be a forever twink. Aren't I lucky?”)

He brings the brick up so it's eye level. Red clay, uneven in places, with peeling plaster on one side. He wonder which hole in the walls around them it had been pried loose from.

“Are you even listening?” Yamaguchi's voice is rising in pitch.

Kei brings the brick it marginally higher, and too the side. He taps it against his temple.

Is that where Nobotsu would have hit him? Kei couldn't remember the point that the other boy had been aiming for.

The temple logically seemed to be the best spot to incapacitate. Surely it would have been a killing blow on anyone else, with enough force behind it. Would it have worked on him?

“Tsukishima!” Yamaguchi's voice is shrill.

He taps it against his head harder, feeling the difference in pressure behind each time it connects.

Harder

(Red)

Harder.

(Teeth)

(“Harder, Tsukki. Right there. Oh go-”)

Slap.

The brick wasn't in his hand.

The sharp sound of skin striking skin sounded again, a light pressure blooming on his cheek before there was a hammering of fists against his chest.

“What are you doing? What were you fucking thinking, Tsukishima Kei?!” Yamaguchi's voice seethes, but both his eyes and nose were over flowing.

He had never been an attractive crier.

“You could have-. You could have been-” The pounding fists had lost all force, just going through the motions as Yamaguchi sinks further against Kei's chest.

“It's not my fault that they couldn't count the fingers on their hands.” Kei tries to reason, but his words are soft without any backbone.

“Don't you dare try and shift this on them,” Yamaguchi bites back.

“What do you want me to say? I knew the risk. What makes you think that I wasn't fine with either outcome?” Kei takes a step back but Yamaguchi clings to the front of his jumper, following his motions.

“Why would you say that?” Yamaguchi asks.

“Well, I know when I make a decision, I expect the consequences to stick. Do you blame me for feeling cheated?” Kei looks down to Yamaguchi and how he'll definitely need to change into a cleaner jumper or sweatshirt when he got home.

“Come on, Yamaguchi. Let's go. You're a mess.”

“Fuck you, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi sniffles, wiping at his eyes with one hand while the other still clings to Tsukishima.

Neither bother to excuse themselves from the others, who stand there trying to comprehend.

“You should ask yourselves where Hinata is? He's been gone for awhile.” Kei calls back before he turns a corner, good deed done for the day.

 

“You still blubbering?”

Kei is answered with a wet sounding sniffle and the hand in his own tightening it's grip.

“Do you want me to take you home, or go to mine?” Kei asks.

“Yours.” Yamaguchi snuffles.

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Because doesn't hold up in court.”

“This isn't court.”

“Yama-”

“You're so stupid sometimes, you know that?” Yamaguchi cuts in.

“Stupidity is something reserved for breathers,” Kei tries to joke.

“That's bullshit.” Yamaguchi wasn't playing.

Kei is pulled off balance as Yamaguchi picks up his pace, pulling Kei along behind him as the shorter boy storms down the road.

When did their fingers become interlaced?

It felt different than the last time his hand had been held like that.

No thumb rubbing gently against his own.

No tender, rose tinted moment.

(“Tsukki, I-”)

Had it really been like that?

(“It was nothing to me, Tsukki. They were nothing to-”)

(Red)

(“Trust me,”)
(The tap was running)

(“I lo-”)

(A flash of teeth)

(“Kei! Oh god, oh god, stay with me. Eyes on me, Kei. Please don't-”)

(Everything felt heavy)

(There was dirt under his fingernails)

(“It's him. It has to be. I'm gonna-”)

“Tsukki?” Yamaguchi asks, voice trembling.

“Yeah?”

“You were spacing out again. Everything alright?”

Yamaguchi's eyes were red and puffy, voice thick. There was snot smeared all over the sleeve that hung loosely at his side.

Their hands were still being held together.

Were they warm?

“You're doing it again,”

“Sorry,”

“It's alright, but it's cold. Can we go inside?”

Yamaguchi wasn't shivering.

“Here, hold this,” Kei unravels the scarf from his neck with his free hand, wrapping it sloppily around Yamaguchi's neck before reaching into his pocket and finding his keys.

The locks clicked open and he lead the way into the house, Yamaguchi's hand still holding tightly onto his own.

 

“Daichi is going to make you miserable for that stunt, you know that right?” Yamaguchi states.

“He can try, but my will can not be broken.” Kei declares as he takes the lead, pulling Yamaguchi up the narrow staircase, down the hallway, past the bathroom,

(The tap was running)

And to his sticker covered bedroom door.

“You say that now, but,”

“Why.”

“Yeah, why? Why did you do that, you could've,” Yamaguchi starts, the words getting caught in his throat as his shoulder began to shake again.

“They weren't going to leave without a fight, so I cut to the point. Don't need anyone fighting my battles for me anyway.” Kei tries to explain.

“You are so stupid,”

“Ouch.” Kei pulls the other boy into his room. The door clicks shut behind Yamaguchi.

“No. You are. You act like you're some big burden, like we should be embarrassed to be seen with you. You're happy to sit in here, away from the world, away from everyone and everything. Isn't there anything you want? That you really, really want? Because all you've been doing is going through motions, Tsukki. And I know it's partly for Akiteru, but what about you? You need to do something for yourself for once. Be selfish.”

(Red)

(Plastic shards digging into his hand)

(Red)

(The tap was running)

(“Tsukki, I-”)

(Selfish)

(“You're the one I love. They meant nothing to me.”)

(He wanted to be selfish for once)

“Yamaguchi,” Kei turns to the smaller boy and begin to move closer. Yamaguchi stands where he is, watching with wide, red rimmed eyes.

They were chest to chest.

“Yeah, Tsukki?” Yamaguchi asks breathlessly, leaning into the hand that Kei places on his cheek, tilting his head up.

“Shut up,”

Kei presses his lips against Yamaguchi's, trying to remember how to move them just right. He bit at Yamaguchi's lower lip, hoping that the pressure wasn't too much. Yamaguchi gasps, mouth opening.

They continued. Kei's hand still cradling Yamaguchi's face, while Yamaguchi's hands were fisted in the damp front of Kei's hoody.

 

“Tsukki?”

“Yeah, Yamaguchi?”

“Could I stay over?” Yamaguchi's eyes wouldn't meet Kei's own, his voice unsure.

“I don't know, be selfish” Kei smiles as he rolls over, pinning Yamaguchi underneath his own denim clad legs.

“Well if that's the case, I- I should, oh, I should call my mum. Let her know where I a-a-am,” Yamaguchi gasps out as Kei continues to nip at his bare collarbones, hands roaming up and down his sides, fingers digging in occasionally.

They knew that Yamaguchi's goosebumps and erect nipples had nothing to do with the cold.

“You sound flustered. Everything alright?” Kei asks, voice dripping with sugar.

“Tsukki, you ass,”

“Hmmmmm?” Kei hums in question as his hands slide lower, kneading at the top of Yamaguchi's bare thighs.

“Ah, st-st-st-, Ohhhhhh”

“Do you want me to stop?” One hand slides up higher, brushing against Yamaguchi's well erect length.

“Nnnnnn-”

“That's not an answer,” Kei teases.

“Ahh,”

“Come on, didn't you say you needed to call your mum, let her know where you are?” Kei begins to pull back, putting distance between himself and Yamaguchi's flushed and panting body.

“If you stop I'll fucking end you, Tsukki. Don't test me.” Yamaguchi hisses out, frustration cascading off of him.

“Magic word.” Kei begins to move down, watching as Yamaguchi's eyes widen, breaths becoming more and more laboured.

“Please, please don't leave me hang-”

Kei's mouth was dry, and he hoped it wasn't any cause for discomfort for Yamaguchi as he tongued and guided Yamaguchi's length into his mouth.

Judging by the way Yamaguchi tossed his head back, eyes scrunched shut and throat on proud display only adding to the arch of his body, Kei had nothing to worry about.

He continues to bob his head up and down, eyes watching the way Yamaguchi's breath hitched, body shuddering. Yamaguchi keeps on letting out gasps, whines, and pleas.

“Tsu-Tsukki,”

Kei's ghosted his hands up from Yamaguchi's thighs to hold onto his hips.

Yamaguchi let out a much louder groan.

Kei decides that if he was going to go this, it had to be soon. Yamaguchi was flushed, sweating. His eyes free of focus and lost in sensation.

Kei loosened his jaw, leaning down further to rest his nose in the coarse dark hairs at Yamaguchi's base.

He began to choke and gag.

“Tsukki! Oh god, are you okay? What happened? Are you alright?”

Kei sat back on his haunches, knowing that he would have been bright red by now under different circumstances.

“I guess some reflexes stick around. I'm sorry, do you want me to,” He looks down to Yamaguchi's crotch, noticing that the swollen length from before was a lot more flaccid.
“Oh, did you-”

“No. No, Tsukki. I'm fine. You just, you scared me. But it's fine. You're fine. Everything is fine.” Yamaguchi's voice was wobbling.

“Haven't you cried enough for one day?”

“It's all your fault, you know that?” Yamaguchi sniffles

“And what would happen if I said I was sorry?” Kei leans up, wiping at the corners of Yamaguchi's eyes with his thumbs.

“You don't have to say anything, just, just stay with me and promise me something.” Yamaguchi leans into the touch, eyes stuttering shut.

“I'll make that promise once you've called your mum, you don't want her to worry now, do you?” Kei tells Yamaguchi softly.

“Alright, boner is well and truly gone, let me put some clothes on. I'll get to you later.” Yamaguchi let's out a brief, breathless laugh before raising up his own hands to gently pull at Kei's wrists. He holds them there for a moment before he pushes them down and slides off of Kei's bed.

“House phone is down in the kitchen.” Kei calls from the bed as he watches Yamaguchi struggle to keep his balance while he pulls his jeans on and up.

“I know, Tsukki. Won't be long,” Yamaguchi calls after he finishes slipping the first shirt he grabbed off the floor.

It hung too low on him.

Muffled, one sided conversation drifting up the stairs, Kei finally has the time to give himself a once over, especially to the uncomfortable feeling in his lower half.

“Well, that's new.” Kei says to himself before readjusting himself, noting a lack of sparks and pleasure from the action. It was the same, numb feeling as everywhere else on him. Pressure, but no sensation.

Swapping his hoody for a fresh pull over, Kei heads down to the kitchen, head resting in his palm as he leans against the counter and watches as Yamaguchi paces around.

“Yeah, the movie was good. Yep. Yep. No. I'm all caught up with homework. No tests. Going, mum. Bye. I love you.” Yamaguchi hangs up, looking exasperated as he places the phone back on it's hub.

“You love her.” Kei teases.

“Shut up. It's my mum.”

“And you looooooove her.”

“Why do I even like you?”

“My sunny disposition.”

“Whatever helps ease your mind. Want to watch something?”

“You know where everything is. Want anything to drink?”

“Tea would be nice.”

“Alright. I'll get to that, you pick something out and set it up. Meet you in five.”

“In five.” Yamaguchi steps over,wrapping his arms tight around Kei's middle. Kei feels the other boy squeeze tighter, reaching his own arms around to return the gesture. Yamaguchi eventually releases him, looking up at Kei with a smile and misty eyes before turning and nearly skipping out of the room.

(“There is no one else for me but you, Tsukki.”)

He switches the kettle on.

(“You should have told me you were coming over,”)
Mug on the counter, tea bag in hand.

(“You're the one that I love, Tsukki.”)

The kettle whistles. Kei pours the steaming water into the mug, dunking the teabag up and down, up and-

(Kuroo's head was bobbing up and down, up and down. Kei standing in the doorway,)

The water turned darker and darker.

(The tap was running)

(Red)

No,

Brown.

The water was brown.

Tea

Yamaguchi's tea.

“Milk?” Kei calls out.

“Yes please, Tsukki.” Yamaguchi calls back.

Kei went to the fridge, pulling out the half empty carton.

The water went from dark to cloudy, Kei's shoulder relaxing.

Why did he ever think the drink was red?

 

 

The days were cold but Kei couldn't feel any of the bite. The bundle of layers that walked around the house that went by Tsukishima Akiteru was enough for Tsukishima to make his deduction.

“It can't honestly be that bad?” Kei looks up from the book he'd been flicking through at the kitchen table, dirty plate in-front of him forgotten, to watch as his brother shuffles about and complains.

“I can't feel my feet, Kei.” Akiteru's pout was not befitting of someone well into their twenties.

“Maybe that would be from lack of circulation because you have at least four pairs of socks on. Have you thought about that?” Kei offers, going back to not really paying attention to the words on the page as he flips them.

“It's the cold, Kei. The colddddddd.” Akiteru whines.

“You're insufferable.”

“I am freezing.”

“So you've told me. I'm leaving.” Kei says as he takes his empty plate and places in in the sink, watching as it sunk into the,

(Red)

Soapy dishwater.

(The tap was running)

The faucet dripped slowly, not enough to disturb the layer of suds.

“Why so early?” Akiteru asks, worming his hands out of his blanket cocoon in order to wrap them around the mug of coffee Kei had prepared for him.

“If it's as cold as you claim it to be then Yamaguchi is going to need to be dragged out of bed. He does winter less than you do.” Kei offers as explanation.

“Are you-?”

“I'm sure.”

“Well, wear a coat and a scarf at least. Honestly, I don't know how you can stand it?” Akiteru looks to Kei, a smile on his lips that carries up to his eyes for once.

Kei bites his tongue as he leaves the room, pulling on the coat by the door, along with his gym and school bag. He eyes the selection of scarves hanging from the coat rack by the door, and grabs two. One he wraps tightly around his own neck while the other he fists into his coat pocket.

 

“It's cold.” The lump of blankets whines, voice muffled from the bed.

“Get up.” Kei was not in the mood to deal with this twice in the same morning.

“It's colddddddd. Five more minutes.” Yamaguchi pokes his head out enough so he can complain louder, hoping that that would be enough for Kei to take pity on him.

“No. Now.” Kei puts simply, not willing to be swayed.

“Why are you so mean to me?” Yamaguchi pulls to blanket back over his head, curling into the warmth even tighter.

“Because I care. Now ,get up, get dressed so we can go to stupid morning practice, and stupid classes, and stupid afternoon practice, and so on and so forth.” Kei steps forward, tugging at the blankets in warning.

“Say stupid one more time?”

“You're stupid, Yamaguchi.”

“So mean, Kei.”

“It's what you signed up for, Tadashi. Now get a move on or I'll head off without you and tell the team all sorts of embarrassing things.” Kei steps back enough that Yamaguchi could feel the lack of the taller boy's immediate presence.

He pops his head out of the blanket lump again.

“You wouldn't,”

“Do you really want to risk it?” Kei plays with the end of his scarf, his threat clear.

“Get out so I can change.”

“Nothing I haven't seen before. You realise that, right?”

“Keiiiiiii,” And Yamaguchi was back to whining.

“Nope, staying right here. Not risking you going back to sleep because of your fake modesty.”

Yamaguchi pouts before he flings his blankets off. He shuffles quickly across the shaggy carpet, stumbling slightly as he passes in front of Kei.

“Need a hand?”

“No time for that, Kei.” Yamaguchi grumbles as he flips through the clothes on his hangers, pulling out a uniform set and tossing it at his bed.

“Pervert.”

“Just let me get dressed so we can go.” Yamaguchi crouches down to gather some slightly used clothes that would be fine for morning practice, or at least the journey to the school gym.

“I'm not stopping you. Just watching.” Kei settles down on the bed, next to the now slightly crumpled uniform. He leans back leisurely and watches as Yamaguchi becomes increasingly flustered.

“It's distracting.”

“And who's fault is that? Continue.”

Yamaguchi huffs.

 

No one at practice says anything about Yamaguchi clinging to Kei's arm when they enter the gym. Or comments on the fact that he's obviously wearing the scarf Tsukishima had been wearing the past few days.

“You two were cutting it fine. Change quick. Yamaguchi you'll be in group B with Tanaka. Tsukishima, you keep on doing laps until I say so.” Daichi calls out as soon as he spots the two.

“Yes, Captain.”

 

Class was another matter.

While Nobotsu and his friends had backed down from direct confrontation with Kei, it still hadn't stopped them, and whoever else felt like it, from letting their displeasure being known.

Kei wasn't always quick enough to hide the damage from Yamaguchi.

“Well, at least they get points for creativity.” Yamaguchi tries to reason with a smile as he brings over the cleaning supplies to their desks while Kei guards their bags. They never left them unattended these days.

“But the repetition, I'm not a fan of.” Kei adds.

“Poetry is wasted on you.”

“I didn't realise this was poetry?”

“It's experimental.”

“It's drivel. Are you really trying to defend this drivel?”

“I see where you're coming from. Though the 'Go die if you love stiffs so much' is new.” Yamaguchi concedes.

“Don't you think 'Kill yourself, Rotter' hadn't been thought through? I question the intellect of our classmates at times.”

“Have you told any of the others about this?” Yamaguchi asks as he sprays, wipes, and scrubs at the surface.

“Have you?” Kei shoots back.

“No.”

“Same.”

“This is our battle.” Yamaguchi says, only loud enough for Kei to hear.

“And who's to say that they're not going through anything similar. People know,” Kei voices, unable to stop to heavy feeling settling in his chest that seemed to happen more and more these days. It was all his fault after all.

“And you have no right to feel guilty. Who cares what they think. I'm,- we're so lucky to have you back, so fuck what everyone says. You're our friend.”

“Oh, I'm just your friend, am I?” Kei teases, flicking a purple finger against Yamaguchi's forehead.

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi's tone warns as he rubs at the spot of contact.

“Hmmmm?”

“Shut up.”

 

Daichi had finally deemed that Kei had done enough to atone, allowing him to return to practice proper rather than spending the time running around, and around, and around the gym.

When changing into his gym wear, scarf wrapped up high and tight around his neck, ends tucked in for stability, Kei takes out his contacts, hating the slight sting they've been causing lately over the course of exercise.

No one in the gym cared if he had them in or not anyway.

Last to get changed, waiting until the room was empty, Kei walks out while everyone else is stretching and chatting amongst themselves.

“Can't stay late today to practice, Kageyama. Meeting someone.” Hinata calls over. His volume too loud seeing as Kageyama was, as ever, standing right next to him.

“Who is it Hinata?” Suga asks, perking up with curiosity.

“Is she cute?” Noya jumps on over.

“Do we know them?” Tanaka joins in.

“You know them, and it's not like that. It's-” Hinata looks to Kei catching his eye briefly before looking away. “It's a friend.”

Noya and Tanaka deflate slightly, having gotten excited over nothing.

“If you ever do get yourself a girlfriend, you promise to tell us?” Noya moves to stand in-front of Hinata, pushing down on the younger boy's shoulders so he was at Noya's eye level.

“Pleaseeeee,” Tanaka pushes Noya away, bending down low and grasping Hinata's smaller hands in his own, larger, calloused ones.

“I'll tell you, I'll tell you. Don't worry.” Hinata tries to placate them.

“Because it's the closest they'll ever get to having girlfriends themselves.” Suga adds, all smiles.

Kei can't help but bark out a laugh at that.

“Everyone good to go?”

A chorus of affirmation is all Daichi needs before ordering Suga and Kageyama to get into position and for the rest to form two lines. Noya had dragged Hinata to the other side of the net to help with the receives.

“Alright, let's get spiking” Daichi announces before he blows his whistle, the shrill sound reverberating around the gymnasium.

(Ringing)

(Red)

(Sirens)

(Wailing)

(The sound was piercing)

His head hurt.

(The tap was running)

He felt sick.

“Dude?”

Light headed.

(“Kei. Please, please. It's going to be fine. You're going to be fine. Stay with me, Kei,”)

His stomach clenched.

“Tsukishima?”

It hurt.

(Sharp)

“You alright?”

(There were plastic shards in his hand, dripping)

(Red)

(A stabbing pain)

“Tsukki,”

His knees hit the court mid run, nothing stopping him as his stomach clenches over and over, retching on air, his throat and core on fire.

And then he vomits.

Kei stares, unblinking as the chunk filled mess slowly spread across the court, arms tight around his stomach.

Why?

How?

(No one makes choc chip pancakes like Akiteru. Not even,)

He feels hands on his shoulders, shaking.

It wasn't even digested, chewed up wads of food splattered across the ground.

(“Smells good. What's the occasion?”)

(“Do I need an occasion to make my baby brother his favourite?”)

He placed an empty dish in the sink full of,

(Red)

Soapy water

“Someone help me get him up?”

There had been food in his stomach.

It had hurt.

Stung.

(His hands stung)

(There was plastic shards in them, dripping)

Kei heaves again, with only a small amount of liquid coming out, dripping down his chin,

(Red)

Onto the floor.

Hadn't he been down there?

His chest hurt.

Why wasn't he breathing?

Kei couldn't get his chest to rise and fall.

He couldn't breathe

“Do we need to get someone?”

“Yamaguchi, has this happened before? What do we do?”

His chest hurt.

His back hurt.

His neck hurt.

His stomach hurt.

His ears,

(The tap was running)

(“Tsukki, I-”)

(“Kei! Kei, please, oh god,”)

“Tsu-,K-Kei. Kei? Come on. Look at me,”

(“Stay with me, Kei,”)

(“Tsukki? Akiteru, what's-. Oh god,oh-”)

“Come on, it's me, I'm right here.” Hands held his face.

It hurt

“Look at me. Focus.” The voice, familiar but so far off sounded panicked.

“Yamaguchi, we should probably call some-”

“No. No. Call his brother. He'd know something. Isn't that right, Kei? Come on, give me something,”

(The floor was wet)

(He could hear the bathroom door swing open, even muffled through the water)

(He was probably pruney by now)

He'd thrown up.

“You're scaring me,”

Kei blinked.

Breakfast was chewed up and undigested on the gym floor.

His mouth and front felt weird.

He let his arms go from their hold on his stomach, bringing one up to his mouth.

Damp.

(Red)

Wet, but not red.

“Say something, please?” Yamaguchi's in-front of him, looking pale, eyes tearing up.

“Akiteru makes the best choc chip pancakes. He makes them the best. The best choc chip pancakes. Even better than Kur-” Kei starts, a fond smile on his face.

“Tsukishima. Focus. Tell us were you are?” Daichi's deep voice cuts through.

“Where are my headphones? They were a gift, weren't they? I think they broke, but I can't remember.” Kei pulls back slightly, head turning this way and that as he searches.

“What's going on?” Suga's voice floats in.

“I-I don't know,” Yamaguchi's breath hitches.

“Suga, I'm going to get the cleaning supplies. Yamaguchi, you're with me.” Noya's voice pierces through. He was always so loud.

“Oh-okay,”

Kei's head hurt. Like he was being stabbed. Over and over.

Temples.

Behind his eyes.

Back of the head.

(Back of the head)

It hurt.

(It stopped hurting)

“I'm not going to be at practice on Friday. Going out of town,” Kei calls out.

“Tsukishima Kei, where are you?” There a big hands on Kei's shoulders. They're too big to be Kuroo's.

“It's going to be a surprise. He's always doing stuff like that.” Kei tilts his head as he goes through his side of the conversation.

“Kageyama, we're not calling anyone unless we really have to. It's going to be fine. Hinata. It's going to be fine. Tsukishima is going to be fine.” Kei thought whoever that was sounded like Asahi.

What was Asahi doing in the gym? Hadn't he graduated?

“But he's gone crazy. What if he-” Hinata's breath hitches before he breaks off into a whimper, doing his best to hide behind Kageyama.

“Tsukki's not crazy! He's- he's just,” Yamaguchi yells before trailing off.

Why was Yamaguchi yelling.

(“Why!? Aren't I enough? I- I thought,”)

(The tap was running)

(It hurt)

(The floor was wet)

(“Tsukki, I-”)

(Shattered. Something shattered)

(Red)

“I don't want to do this any more. I-I can't. It hurts. It hurts.” Kei's voice catches as he struggles to breath, his chest not rising or falling as it should.

“Where does it hurt, Tsukishima?” It feels like he's being lifted.

“I left my glasses back there. I need my glasses.” Kei tries to pull back away from the hands that weren't right, turning to go back.

“You're wearing them, Tsukishima. Where are you hurt? We just want to help.” The hands were back as the deep voice spoke, holding Kei in place by his wrists.

“They're in the dirt. Everything is a mess. Under my nails. I hate it. I want to be clean. I want a bath. A nice, hot-” Kei knew he had to be hyperventilating, that explains why he wasn't breathing right. Why his chest hurt. Why he felt light headed and so very wrong.

“He's remembering,” Asahi breaths out, arms shakily supporting Kei's upright weight while Daichi stands in front. His large hands gripping hard on Kei's shoulders, grounding him in place.

“The tap is running. I forgot to turn it off. The floors probably wet. Akiteru's going to be annoyed,” Kei continues, voice holding a dream like quality of detachment to it. As if he were simply recounting the weather.

“Stop it. Stop. Kei, don't-” Yamaguchi pushes his way through, hands back on Kei's cheeks, tears spilling down his own and his breath raggard.

“I'm pathetic,”

(“You're pathetic”)

(“I love you, Tsukki”)

(Pathetic)

His neck was still throbbing but the sharp pains in his head had dissipated.

Kei was in the gym, Asahi holding him up with Yamaguchi bawling into the front of his long sleeved gym shirt.

The floor was clean.

Hadn't he thrown up?

“Yamaguchi, that's disgusting.” Kei's voice is a little shaky as he raises his arms to wipe at Yamaguchi's face with his sleeves.

“Kei?”

“I'm going to go get changed. This is gross.” Kei announces as he side steps out of Asahi's now barely there hold.

“Tsukishima. Where are you?” Daichi asks, standing just behind Yamaguchi. His jaw and tone tight as he steadies his gaze on Kei.

“School gym, after school. This is practice. Don't know what for, but we're still doing it.” Kei answers back, still trying to make his way back to the locker room where he had some fresher clothes waiting.

“What happened just then?” Daichi's voice leaves no room for evasion.

“My brother made breakfast today. Must have been out of it seeing as I ate it. Obviously didn't sit well. Can I change now?” Kei's torn between making sure his scarf is still in place or locking his fingers together.

“Anything else?” Daichi presses.

“I zoned out, I guess. What's up with everyone?” Kei settles on tangling his purple fingers together, shoulders hunching as he looks at everyone else in the gym. Now he notices how they're staring at him with wide eyed caution.

“Nothing. You just gave us a scare.” Daichi's voice lowers, comforting. His face and posture relaxes.

“We may have called your brother,” Tanaka adds. Kageyama nods once before turning his head to the side.

“Can I get changed?”

“Sure. Yamaguchi, you to. I think we'll leave practice there today. Don't bother packing up, we have morning practice tomorrow anyway.”

 

“Alright. I'll see you all nice and early tomorrow,” Daichi starts as he locks the gym door shut behind him.
“Shouyou,” A voice calls out.

Hinata's head snaps in the voice's direction, eyes widening.

“Kenma!” Hinata beams, pushing away from Kageyama and the rest of the group as he runs over to greet the other boy, his roots more prominent than ever.

“He's not the only one visiting, shrimp,”

Messy black hair that his fingers had tangled so perfectly in.

Teeth flashing as he smiled.

Kei had always loved his smile, as much as he'd denied it to everyone.

(Red)

He's still wearing his red, Nekoma jersey.

“What's-” Asahi starts.

“Oh,” Suga.

“Shit.” Noya.

“God damn,”

“Kei-” Yamaguchi's hand is light on Kei's arm.

“Tsukki? Oh god, it's you. It's really you. Oh my god. I- I thought, I,” Kuroo's eyes keep on shedding tears as he steps forwards. His arms are outstretched, smile no longer flashing but wobbling.

He sounds relieved.

“You haven't forgotten me, have you Tsukki?” Kuroo asks, voice hesitant as he gets closer.

“No,”

“I-I can't believe,”

“No.” Kei repeats, his voice growing firmer.

“Tsukki, I-” Kuroo's hands reach out, almost touching.

“No!” Kei yells pushing Kuroo back and onto the ground.

Kuroo just laughs, looking at Kei with an almost reverence.

“I love you, Tsukki. So, so much, and-”

Kei runs, hands clutched to his ears, where headphones

(Broken)

(Shattered)

Should have been resting.

He had to get away

He had to go

(Bobbing up and down, up and down. Kuroo's head. Kei was standing in the door way)

(“They meant nothing. I love you, Tsukki. Only you.”)

Kei ran.

 

 

“Tsukki?”

Kei doesn't look up.

The grass looks wet and cold and the loose dirt piled up around isn't doing his clothes any favours.

“Hey,”

(Red)

Kuroo is still wearing that jersey, the one Kei himself had borrowed over and over again.

He wondered if it was still as warm as it used to be.

“You look good,”

Kei raises an eyebrow, eyes still looking straight ahead, tracing over the words over and over.

“Well, not, like. Um, you look better than the last time I saw you. You're just about as talkative as you were then,” Kuroo tries to joke as he takes a seat next to Kei.

Eyes darting to the side briefly, Kei notices how there is still some space between them, something that Kuroo didn't usually consider when it came to him.

They were-

They had been close.

No one had understood how, but Tsukishima and Kuroo had managed it.

For awhile anyway.

“You cold?” Kuroo asks.

“What do you think?” Kei knew enough about Kuroo to know that his silence wouldn't discourage the older boy in the slightest.

“It speaks!” Kuroo exclaims, and Kei didn't have to look over to know that he was grinning.

“It would love it if you shut up.”

“That'll be hard for me to do. Can we talk?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You always have a choice, Tsukki,” Kuroo's voice no longer drips with confidence. It had been a tone reserved only for when it was just the two of them, as far as Kei knew.

“So do you, Tetsurou.” Kei tries to keep his voice steady with minimal fluctuation.

“Tsukki,”

“Come on. You wanted to talk, so talk.”

“How've you been?”

“What do you think?” Kei curls his knees further into his middle, just wanting to disappear.

“I guess that was a kind of stupid question,” Kuroo tries to chuckle, his voice sheepish.

“You guess?”

“Tsukki,”

“Tetsurou.”

“I can't believe it's actually you. You're actually here.” He sounds sad, upset, and relieved. So relieved and hopeful.

“Seems to be what everyone thinks,”

“You sound bitter?”

“Do you blame me?”

“Not really,”

“Well, I blame you.” Kei spits.

“Me? Why?” Kuroo sounds hurt, but Kei doesn't care. He's had enough.

“It hurt, Kuroo. It really, really hurt knowing that when I wasn't with you, you were with someone else,”

“That's-” Kuroo tries to cut in.

“Stupid. Yeah. Because you always told me, over and over after I'd catch you time and time again that they didn't matter to you. How do you think that made me feel?” Kei turns to face Kuroo. The older boy flinching under his glare.

“It was you I loved though,” Kuroo says, eyes brimming with more than tears.

“So you told me, but how was I to know that you weren't telling any of them the same thing.”

“You weren't there, Tsukki. You were never there and I got-” Kuroo couldn't keep on looking at him, his hands coming up to bury his face in.

“If you say you were lonely, then this conversation is over. How do you think I felt? Did you honestly expect me to go sleep around because I missed you? It doesn't work like that.” Kei knows he's yelling. He wonders f his voice sounds as broken to anyone listening as it does to him.

“I thought with long distance,” Kuroo's shoulders begin to shake.

“You didn't think, or maybe we should have actually talked more about it, but that doesn't excuse what you did, Kuroo.” Kei brings up one hand to hold onto the back of his neck.

“What did I do, Tsukki?” Kuroo lowers his hands, his face blotchy and suddenly so tired looking.

“You tell me.”

“I sought comfort in people who were there with me. They didn't blow me off. They didn't ignore my calls or messages. They were there, and within arms reach. But they weren't you, Tsukki. They could never be you. And,” Kuroo stops himself, eyes looking down at his hands just hovering there, ready to hide behind again.

“And?”

“And, I-I,” Kuroo's breaths become more frantic, fear and panic and sorrow all crashing across his face.

“It's them! Tsukishima!” Tanaka yells out, signalling that Kei and Kuroo now have an audience.

“Tsukki!” Yamaguchi sounds breathless, as if he's been running non-stop.

“Kuroo!” Kei had never thought Kenma was capable of raising his voice, but twice in the same day had proven him wrong.

“I couldn't continue. Everything stopped, Tsukki. I-I,when I heard, I had to,” Kuroo was a wreck.

“What did you do Kuroo?” Kei feels on odd sense of calm flowing through him.

“You were gone. You were gone, Tsukki. And then there was the rising, and you weren't there with me, it wasn't right,” Kuroo's breaths stutter. One hand goes to clutch at his chest, the other tangling in his mess of hair. He scrunches his eyes shut.

“Tetsurou. What the fuck did you do!” The calm evaporates, and it burns. His chest, his core, his head, it all burns.

“I stole a car, drove to Miyagi. I kept you safe, Tsukki. I couldn't lose you again,” Kuroo spills, voice cracking.

Kei's fist snaps forward, viper quick, sending Kuroo backwards, clutching his spluttering nose.

Kei stood, his fist clenched, knuckles wet and

(Red)

dripping.

Kuroo looks up at him, one hand covering his bleeding and possibly broken nose. His watering eyes were only partly due to the injury.

“Tsukishima! What are you doing?” Suga calls out, trying to pull Kei away from Kuroo.

“Trying to knock some sense into this idiot because he does not get it.” Kei seethes.

“Tsukishima, calm down” Daichi orders.

“No! No I can't because he does not get it. He doesn't get that things can't go back to how they used to be. He doesn't get it-” Kei runs his hands through his hair in exasperation, wanting nothing more than to pace, and pull at his roots, and scream. Scream until he couldn't.

“Tsukishima, you need to lower your volume.” Asahi's voice, usually calming, urges.

“Why? Because I'll disturb the peace? We're standing in front of my own fucking grave. I can cause a scene if I feel like it. Want to know why? Because I'm dead. I fucking died, and no one seems to be able to understand that.” He throws his hands to his sides, fist clenched tightly.

“We do understand that. We do, Tsukishima. But you-” Kei sees Asahi's outstretched hand coming towards him. He strikes out, but Asahi is quick, pulling back just in time.

“I do not need to calm down. Did you know? Did you know what this fucking idiot was doing?” Kei points a shaking finger at Kuroo. Kenma had joined the other boy on the ground, using the lower part of his own shirt to wipe away at Kuroo's tear, dirt, and blood covered face.

“What,” Yamaguchi looks to Kuroo with wide, wide eyes, impossible for even Kei to read.

“Go on. Go, tell them. Tell them you selfish bastard!”

All eyes were on Kuroo.

His nose was still bleeding.

“He searched for Tsukishima and kept him locked away during the rising.” Kenma fills in.

“If there was a chance, any chance, I couldn't lose him again,” Kuroo's voice breaks.

“I was gone, Tetsurou, but you couldn't let go. Look, look at this,” Kei pushes his sleeves back, showing the sections on his wrist where the skin had been rubbed raw and away from some sort of binding, leaving dried, open wounds that wrapped right around.

“You never mean to, but it hurt, Kuroo. It always fucking hurt and you never seemed to be able to stop.” Kei pushes his sleeves back down.

“They brought you back, they can fix-” Kuroo pushes himself up. Kenma helping him keep steady as he sways on the spot.

“I don't want to be fixed. I never asked for any of this, Kuroo. But you made me. You made it so I had no choice in the matter. I had no choice,” Kei spits.

“But you were dead,”

“And what good did you think me being back would do? Did you think everything was going to fix itself? That things would go back to how they used to be?” Kei takes a step back.

“I,-”

“Some decisions you can't make for someone else. You just can't! I can't sleep, I can't eat, I don't know if it's hot or cold. I don't feel exhausted, or energised. I won't age, I'll just stay as I am, right now, for as long as I take those shots. I hate it, Tetsurou. I hate it so much, but I can't do anything about it because everything is fine, everything is fucking peachy because it has to be like I never left. I'm not Tsukishima Kei, because Tsukishima Kei is dead. He's dead and supposed to be gone but people couldn't have that, so I'm stuck here playing a part that I never asked for.” Kei wipes at his eyes even knowing that it would have no effect.

“Kei-” Kuroo tries to move forward, Kenma going from supporting to holding his friend back.

“I never asked for this.” Kei takes another step back, something crunching in the dirt underfoot before he turns and runs off again.

“We should split up, it's close to curfew and if anyone else catches him,” Daichi tries to organise the rest, knowing that some form of plan would be needed.

Yamaguchi darts forward, pulling something out of the dirt that had been pushed aside at the grave site before turning and running after, ignoring everyone's cries and shouts.

 

“I knew I’d find you here.” Yamaguchi says as he bends down, and slides into the small plastic tunnel near the slide. While it may have been cramped for him, it was an extremely tight fit for Kei, who was curled up tight.

“What are you doing here?”

“Can’t a friend join another friend as they hide out in their childhood secret hiding spot?” Yamaguchi asks.

“We’re in a public park, in a playground. I don’t think this is very secret.”

“Yet here we are, just the two of us.”

“Why are you here?” Kei mumbles.

“Are you alright?”

“I, I don’t really know,”

“It’s been a hard day for you, one thing after another. I’d be exhausted.” Yamaguchi says, shuffling closer so his side is pressed right against Kei's own.

“To bad I can’t sleep.”

“But you’re not a robot. I meant emotionally, idiot.”

“I don’t know what I feel right now,”

“In the gym earlier, you scared me. Like, a lot,”

“Did I-“

“No. You didn’t attack anyone. No one was hurt. But, you weren’t there, Tsukki. You weren’t there with us and you were sick and saying you were in pain, and it looked like you were in pain, and none of us knew what was happening and what to do,” Yamaguchi wraps his arms around his legs, bringing his knees flush to his chest.

“My head hurt,”

“Hurt?” Yamaguchi looks up to Kei.

“Sharp, stabbing pains. All over the place. Over and over, and,” Kei's fingers dig into his sides.

“Yeah?” Yamaguchi presses lightly, waiting for Kei to continue.

“There was always a haze. Like I knew some things, but there was this great big blank period, and I knew enough to infer certain things, but it was nothing concrete. I remembered enough to know how I was supposed to act and react, what things were supposed to feel like, or smell, or taste, but,

“I actually remembered stuff. Stuff that had been at the edge. The haze lifted for a bit, and I remembered stuff. But it hurt. It really, really hurt.”

“Tsuki,”

“And I’m scared to, Yamaguchi. There are still some blanks I can’t fill, that I don’t want to fill because what if I did something. What if I remember something that I’m not supposed to, that I’m better off not knowing? What can I do if I remember something like that?” Kei feels a light pressure building behind his eyes.

“I’ll be there for you, whatever happens,” Yamaguchi unwraps one arm, reaching over and wedging his fingers in-between Kei's own.

“But what if you’re not, Yamaguchi. What if something happens, and you’re not there? I’m stuck, and you’re not, and I don’t want to be an anchor, stopping you from doing and going and living, because I’m not.” Kei tries to pull his hand away, but the limited space make sit difficult.

“Tsukishima Kei. You’re even more stupid than I could have ever predicted if you think that that is enough to stop me. Kuroo was right about one thing, I can’t loose you again,” Yamaguchi pulls their hands back towards him, causing Kei to fall onto his side.

Tadashi,”

“Kei, I-“

Kei raises his free hand, holding it over Yamaguchi’s mouth. Yamaguchi’s ears are red, nose and cheeks are pink.

“It’s cold, and getting late. We should get you home.” Kei doesn't break eye contact with Yamaguchi as he slowly lowers his hand.

“Let me text the others, let them know they can stop looking.” Yamaguchi replies, breathlessly as he uses his own free hand to fumble through his pockets.

“They’re actually out looking for me? After me flipping out?”

“Why wouldn’t they? You’re their friend and who knows what could have happened. It’s dangerous to go alone.” Yamaguchi supplies as he pulls out his phone, clumsily sending off a text single handedly.

“Thank you,”

“For what?”

“Everything.”

“You’re a sap.”

“Not as sappy as whoever picked out the text for my grave 'His light flickered out too early', like, really? I thought we’d talked about what was going to go on our graves.” Kei shifts his body so he's back pedalling out of the tunnel, tugging Yamaguchi along with him.

“It was either 'Clever Girl' or 'Archaeologists, excavate here'.” Yamaguchi continues, crawling through the rest of the tunnel awkwardly only having three free limbs to work with.

“And what was yours again?” Kei pulls Yamaguchi up as he exits the tunnel.

“Something stupid,”

“'In case of zombies, leave the head'.”

 

“You idiot!” Akiteru yells as Kei and Yamaguchi enter the house, the door clinking shut behind them. He flew towards them, pulling Kei suddenly and tightly to his chest. This was short lived, as Akiteru took a step back to place his hands on Kei's arms, shoulders, cheeks, neck, his touch barely there like he was afraid Kei would break.

“Idiot brother,” Akiteru says, slightly calmer, before going back to a hug.

Kei stands there momentarily before he slowly raises his own arms as much as he could from where Akiteru had him sort of pinned. He pats him on the back awkwardly before just letting his hands just sit in place.

“Sorry,”

“It’s okay. I was just scared, and worried, and it’s all alright, Kei.” One of Akiteru's hands moves up to curl in Kei's hair.

“I’m sorry,” Kei repeats, his chest tightening.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. You’re fine. You’re home. You’re here. It’s fine,” Akiteru is shaking against Kei's front.

“Aki-”

“When I got the call from your team-mates, I was so worried, Kei. And then they said you’d ran off. What if something happened? I-I-I,

“It doesn’t matter. You’re here and you’re fine. You’re here and you’re fine. Now come on, you both must be freezing.” Akiteru pulls back. His eyes are red rimmed.

“I’m-“

“It’s cold, Kei. Don’t argue. Come on, into the lounge, I have the heater on, and everyone else. We were all so worried.”

“Akite-“

“I’ll go grab you both some jumpers. Go in and warm up.” Akiteru left no room for argument as he pushes them both towards the lounge room.

The eyes of the team, Kenma and Kuroo were all on him.

“Hey,” Noya starts.

“Give me a moment, please. I, I just need to warm up.” Kei responds as he quickly crosses the room to sit in front of the heater, knees curled up into his chest with his chin resting on top.

He looks down at his hands, permanently bruised thanks to practice, noting how none of the little colour that was gone was coming back.

Yamaguchi sits down to his left, his side pressing against Kei's own.

“Tsukishi-“

“Here we go. You’re fine with borrowing one of Kei’s, aren’t you, Yamaguchi?” Akiteru is back, two large sweaters in hand.

“That’s fine, Akiteru. No problem at all.” Yamaguchi's smile is audible as he takes to offered sweater, sticking his arms and head into.

“Stupid,” Kei mutters as he helps guide Yamaguchi through the fabric.

“Sorry, Tsukki.” Yamaguchi responds, looking over his shoulder to everyone else in the room.

“See? Isn’t that better, Kei.” Akiteru says as he stands back, watching as Kei finishes pulling on his own sweater.

“Yeah. Feels better, Akiteru,” Kei supplies.

“No chance of you getting sick now. Drinks. I’ll make drinks. Everyone’s good with that? How about some food as well, it is getting late and you all must be starving.” Akiteru rambles as he paces briefly before walking out of the room.

“Is it just you two?” Suga asks.

“Yeah.”

“What about your parents?” Kei knows that everyone had probably noticed the lack of family photos and adult vibe to the place. At least Akiteru had been trying to make it seem more like a home since Kei had come back.

“Mum’s in Europe for business. She travels a lot.” And refused to see or even talk to him.

“And your Dad?”

Kei shrugs. Having no clear memory of the man.

“Akiteru shouldn’t even be here. He has work in Tokyo he’s been putting off to stay here. He does a lot of it from home, or goes down on quick day trips. He shouldn't be here,” Kei grumbles.

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi’s tone is warning.

“What? It’s true. He shouldn’t be here. No one should be here. This house is supposed to be empty.” Kei turns back to glare at the heater.

“Tsukishima,”

“Because I died in a stupid accident. Do you think I like being in this place? Being reminded? I hate it.” Kei snaps.

“Wait,”

“Accident?”

“It was an accident?”

“What did you think it was?” Kei turns around, confused.

“Well, we all kind of thought you killed yourself.” Noya states.

“Yeah. Everyone was pretty hush hush about it, it seemed like a sensitive topic that we shouldn’t have poked into.” Suga supplied sheepishly. Everyone else nodded in various states of agreement except for Kuroo, who sat there looking as though he'd seen a ghost, again.

“Yamaguchi?” Kei turns to the other boy, looking for some explanation.

“Akiteru and I didn’t know. We, we just found you in the tub, and there was blood, and,” Yamaguchi stammers as he reaches out to clutch at Kei's arm.

“Fucking hell. Is this why you’ve all been ‘delicate’ and not prying about the whole death thing? I slipped, hit my head on the way down, and drowned in the tub. Couldn’t do anything, neck was gone. I, just, laid there,” Kei trails off.

“Drinks and food are in the kitchen. Help yourselves, you must be hungry” Akiteru announces loudly from the doorway. His face pale.

“Kei?”

“Yeah?” Tsukishima stops beside his brother as everyone else heads towards the offered refreshments. Yamaguchi lingers briefly, as if tossing up whether to stay or not, but decides against it.

“You know I love you right? And that I always have, and I know I wasn’t really around there for you growing up and I’m so, so sorry for that, but you’re my baby brother and I love you. I love you so much,”

“It’s fine. It’s fine. And it’s not your fault. I wouldn’t let you close. I kept on pushing away. But you realise that you don’t need to stay here to make up for those years where I didn’t want you-”

“But I didn’t fight. I didn’t push-”

“You respected my selfish ass decision. And that’s what really counts. You gave me the time and space I needed then to come to terms with things. And if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have met the people I know now.”

“They’re great friends.”

“They do the job. And I have them to help, and lean on, and,”

“No,”

“I don’t want you to put your whole life on pause just to be here for me now. It’s no use making up for lost time, Akiteru. It’s gone. But we’re good. Don’t let me hold you back from what you need to be doing. Please.” Kei pleads.

Akiteru steps forwards, wrapping both arms tight around Tsukishima and buries his head into Kei’s neck. Kei can feel the fabric and skin becoming damp.

“Come on. That’s gross. And we have guests. What would they think?” Kei tries to pry Akiteru away.

“I don’t care. You’re not getting rid of me, Kei. I'm sticking with you, whether you hate me or not.”

“You’re really pathetic, you know that.” Kei gives up, allowing his brother to cling to him.

“I’m your big brother and you will show me respect, mister.”

“Says the guy snivelling like a baby. How am I supposed to respect that?”

“Brat.”

“Cry baby.”

“I love you.”

“I love you to. There, I said it, can we move on now?”

Kei walks into the kitchen slowly, having had to drag Akiteru along with him as the shorter man had latched on and wasn’t inclined to let go any time soon.

“I have nothing to say other than this guy is such a girl. I can see why he can’t get himself a girlfriend.”

“You’re so mean to me, Kei.”

“Yeah, Tsukki. So mean to your precious big brother.” Yamaguchi joins in, settling once more at Kei's side.

“I hate how you two get along. Seriously”

Yamaguchi and Akiteru share a smile.

“It’s a little past time but your shot, Tsukki. I’ll go get the stuff,” Yamaguchi takes a few steps towards where the kit is resting on the kitchen counter.

“No me. I'll do it.” Akiteru pulls back off of Kei.

“I’m perfectly fine to do it, Akiteru.”

“You’re a guest, Yamaguchi, so I shouldn’t trouble you with it.”

“It’s no trouble at all. I insist.”

“Well I insist that I do it.”

“If you two are going to squabble and argue like children, then he can do it.” Kei points to Kuroo, who freezes in place.

“C’mon. It’s easy. You stick the needle in the big hole and push down. An idiot could do it.” Kei instructs, stepping into the kitchen himself to grab the kit.

“Oh. Okay. I’ll,” Kuroo looks at the syringe Kei had placed in his hand, after he'd loaded it up.

“Hands steady, or you’ll strike a nerve.”

“It’s deep.” Kuroo observes.

“Straight to the spine.”

“All the way?”

“They drilled through the bone and everything. Apparently the procedure is fifty fifty, what with a moving, struggling corpse being applied to.” Kei informs as he sits there and waits, well aware that the room is watching them with bated breath.

“You’re lucky.” Kei can hear the grin returning to Kuroo's voice, as slight as it was.

“Sooooooo lucky. Now, just get to it before B1 and B2 try to swoop in and take over.” Kei drawls, eyes looking to Akiteru and Yamaguchi and fixing them in place.

“Hey.” Yamaguchi pouts.

“Rude” Akiteru crosses his arms.

“You sure?” Kuroo asks.

“Just do it, Tetsurou.”

Kuroo pauses once more, takes a deep breath to steady his nerves.

“Okay. I’ve got this. One. Two. There we go,”

 

 

“So,” Kei stands there, one hand fiddling with his scarf while the other is shoved deep into his jumper pocket.

“Yeah,” Kuroo stands there in-front of him, pulling at the bottom of his fading and well worn

(Red)

Jersey.

“You're really going?”

“Kenma has classes and he's not as fine missing them as I am. I'll visit.”

“When you're able. You can always just call, or text, or chat online like we used to.” Kei doesn’t look at Kuroo as he says this.

“Really?”

“It's fine. My number and everything is still the same.”

“What time is best for you?”

“Nights really. They're long and boring and you can only read and watch stuff so many times. It gets a little lonely.”

“Lucky I'm a night owl then.” Kuroo beams.

“Lucky me,” Kei smiles. He turns as Yamaguchi pulls on his sleeve.

“We're going to be late for class, Tsukki,”

“Yeah. Get going, squirt. Kenma and I will be fine. We're big boys. How hard can it be to find a train station anyway?”

“Kenma. Please promise to let him lead.” Kei asks. The shorter boy nods in answer before going back to tapping away on his phone.

“Going to miss you.” Kuroo steps forward, pulling Kei into a one armed hug.

“I'm a text away. Stop being such a sap.” Kei gives Kuroo a few pats before pulling back.

“Never.”

“I'm going now.” Kei moves to stand back by Yamaguchi.

“And you better answers your phone. Don't be a stranger!” Kuroo yells to the retreating Kei and Yamaguchi.

They join hands, swinging them lightly between them.

“I wouldn't give you the satisfaction!” Kei yells back, his smile genuine.