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close your mouth and open up your heart

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Daichi says, “think of it as an adventure, like a school field trip,” and Tsukishima almost feels sorry for him. Daichi is not a good liar except for when he doesn’t realise he is doing it. He’s even managed to convince himself. Tsukishima hopes to never become captain.

“There’s nothing useful in this experience,” Tsukishima complains. “I’ve swam here before.” The wet tile and thick glass window of the Miyagi swim centre are not a foreign country, and you do not need to be a mermaid to take a dip in a swimming pool.

Daichi’s plastic sandals squeak against the floor. “You have to keep an open mind,” he persists. “You never know.”

---

There isn’t much question as to where Tsukishima will stay; there is only one body of water large enough to house a mermaid in Miyagi, and it’s the indoor swim centre. It’s closed in the summertime, but Daichi and Tanaka had managed to fill it up with a garden hose. He remembers being propped up against the pool wall while the water rose around him, in slow but steady increments. When it touched his scales he felt like he was re-learning how to breathe. Yachi and Hinata scooped water in plastic cups and poured it over him: his face, his chest, his tail, as if he was being continually baptised. Water sloshed around their ankles as they pattered around him, alarmed on his behalf, but he was brimming with apathy.

Sugawara had carried him to the pool, bridal style. Tanaka shows him a picture later, a blurry cellphone shot: Sugawara looking determined and ethereal, Tsukishima draped awkwardly in his arms. His tail had flopped gracelessly to one side. The photo is so grainy that he can barely recognize Sugawara. Tsukishima’s pixelated, fuzzy face does not show a sliver of the emotion he felt at the time. You cannot hear how loud his heart was beating.

(Euphoria, resentment, shame, indifference. The urge to sink into the ground and disappear. He had been starstruck.)

In the corner of the picture, incongruous with the two of them, Kageyama stares up at Tsukishima from the screen.

---

Yamaguchi visits often, and Tsukishima is not surprised. He is not bothered, either: he likes Yamaguchi’s company.

“Refraction is the bending of a wave when it enters a medium where its speed is different,” says Yamaguchi. He reads his notes out for Tsukishima daily, and leaves a transcribed copy of each lesson inside a file protector on the pool bench. Tsukishima is thankful for the effort, but he doesn't review the notes.

Yamaguchi likes to take off his shoes and dip his toes in the pool while he reads. “Total internal reflection occurs when the refracted ray is greater than the critical angle,” he tells Tsukishima, as clearly as possible. His feet makes lazy circles in the water.

“Thank you,” Tsukishima mumbles, so that Yamaguchi can’t hear him.

---

“Pizza’s here,” says Kuroo, and Tsukishima considers feigning sleep. “Wow, you really are a mermaid, huh? I thought Sawamura was joking.”

It’s a pointless battle. “Why are you here?” Tsukishima asks, because he is sort of curious. It’s evening, though, so Daichi’s probably on his way with dinner.

“Sorry,” says Daichi - speak of the devil - and pokes his head into the doorway. “He followed me here.” There is the telltale shuffling of Daichi putting his slippers on, then he enters and places a straining plastic bag onto the deck.

Kuroo digs through it eagerly. “Tonight’s menu is - let’s see - pork buns, juice, strawberries -”

“It’s not for you,” grumbles Tsukishima.

“Put that down,” says Daichi in his captain voice.

Kuroo wrinkles his nose, but complies.

“Care to explain while you’re here?” asks Tsukishima again. He hefts himself onto the uppermost rung of the ladder.

Kuroo shrugs. “I was visiting Sawamura, but then he excused himself to go on an errand.”

“So naturally, you followed him.”

“Naturally.” Kuroo grins and passes the dinner to Tsukishima, who accepts it in a way that hopefully does not betray how hungry he is. Turns out, swimming burns calories like fusepaper.

“Man,” says Kuroo, turning to Daichi. “You’ve been bringing him meals and everything. Everyone says that Sugawara is the mother, but I think it’s really you.”

---

Kageyama brings Hinata to the aquatic centre early one morning.

“You woke me up,” Tsukishima complains, but it’s only a half-truth: he wasn’t sleeping, just staring at his eyelids.

“Sorry,” says Hinata absently. “Hey, Tsukishima, can you swim for us? I bet your tail is like wham! Swoosh! You’re a fast swimmer, right?”

“Shut up,” Kageyama mumbles.

“What’s your time?” asks Hinata doggedly.

Tsukishima doesn’t answer. He remembers swimming in the night, watching his times on the moonlit analog clock. When he dove through the water it almost felt like art. Like he was making something new.

“Don’t be a dumbass,” says Kageyama, but his eyes turn toward the clock as well.

---

“I don’t hate you,” Kageyama says, later, once Hinata’s gone. He’s worrying a loose seam of his tee shirt, wrapping the thread around his fingertip. Unnecessary movement is a sign of nervousness, Tsukishima thinks. Stop giving yourself away.

“How generous,” he says out loud. “When should I schedule the wedding?”

“That’s not what I meant.” There’s no anger in it, which is interesting. Kageyama must be truly exhausted - maybe he’s been racing with Hinata. Maybe Daichi has been holding extra practice again.

Kageyama looks him in the eye, then looks down. Bites his lip. Stop giving yourself away.

“What happened at practice today?” Tsukishima asks, in a lapse of judgement. He wonders who they’ve chosen to replace him. He hopes it's Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is the only person who Tsukishima would not detest for taking his place.

“Since when do you care?”

“I don’t.” The lie is just large enough that even Kageyama can see through its shape. Tsukishima does not care for practice, but he is interested in people. A person, specifically. He has the disgusting and overwhelming urge to ask Kageyama for details about his teenage crush like a girl from the movies.

Light from the fluorescent bar on the ceiling wobbles across the pool like a stunted halo, and on the surface, his reflection closes its eyes.

“Practice was okay,” says Kageyama. “Nothing new.”

---

The co-captain shows up ten minutes after Kageyama’s departure. Tsukishima is silently thankful for all six hundred seconds between them. Sugawara pads out onto the pool deck in red swim trunks, and Tsukishima does not let himself stare. Sugawara drops a towel on the bench, next to the glossy stack of Yamaguchi’s notes. Even this movement is elegant. Tsukishima does not know what to do with his hands - he usually adjusts his glasses when he’s nervous, but he can’t wear them in the pool.

“Hey,” says Sugawara. He climbs down the ladder. The back of his legs are so pale that Tsukishima can see them reflected on the dark water.

“Hey,” he replies dumbly. His heart speeds up.

Sugawara swims over in neat, graceful strokes. Tsukishima does not let himself stare in real life, so he cheats and does it secondhand. He’s spent long stretches of time admiring the photo Tanaka sent him. When Sugawara smiles and says, “We’ve missed you,” Tsukishima wishes he were a photographer.

“Thanks,” Tsukishima tells him. Sugawara truly does make him stupid.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” begins Sugawara, “but can I see you swim?”

Tsukishima burns.

---

“They’ve made me a regular,” says Yamaguchi, and something in Tsukishima breathes a sigh of relief. Yamaguchi has avoided saying that he’s been replaced, instead he phrases it in detached ways, as if his new position wasn’t given to him because Tsukishima is currently about as useful as a goldfish. Maybe he should take up water polo.

“Good work,” says Tsukishima, flicking the edges of his tail. At the pool’s edge, Yamaguchi’s legs dangle in the water, jeans rolled up to his knees and feet kicking idly. The ripples he makes dissipate before they reach Tsukishima.

“Tsukki,” he asks, “are you happy?”

“Yes,” says Tsukishima, because he feels that the situation merits a lie. “It’s been a good experience for me. Like going on a school field trip.”

---

When Kageyama walks onto the pool deck at midnight, Tsukishima could almost call it romantic. Half of Kageyama’s face is illuminated by the ceiling light and the rest of him is a shadow. In the dark, you almost can’t tell that he’s Kageyama. In the dark, he could be anybody. He doesn’t say hello.

Bare-footed but still in his school uniform, Kageyama sprints. When his toes hit the edge of the tile he lunges at the water in what looks like a cross between a cannonball, a dive, and aquiline flight. His body crashes into the water with all the finesse of a toppled staircase.

After a few seconds, Kageyama resurfaces, spitting out pool water through his teeth. His sopping tee shirt sticks to him like a second skin. Kageyama makes his way towards Tsukishima in a sloppy front crawl, and Tsukishima does not stop him.

Kageyama observes Tsukishima’s position - arms spread-eagle, belly-up like a dead fish - and decides to copy him. They float like that for a long time. There is nothing but the sound of their breathing and the water filter swiveling open and shut.

Kageyama cracks first. “I don’t hate you. Really.” He sounds wistful.

“Let’s try for some new material tonight.”

“Piss off,” says Kageyama. Kageyama’s verbal and social inadequacies are made up for somewhat in that he is so transparent. He is a book without a cover.

“I wish that I liked you more,” says Tsukishima, because he is tired.

There is a long, long pause.

“What does that mean?” Kageyama stands up, and he almost looks angry.

Tsukishima regrets opening his mouth. He vows to never share his feelings again. “It means, I wish that I liked you more.”

“That means you like me a little.”

“It means I like someone else better.” Tsukishima swings himself upright, so that they are face to face.

Someone Else is a proper noun. Someone Else is unattainable. Someone Else is so far out of his league that it’s funny, but in the dark, Kageyama’s wet hair could almost be silver.

Tsukishima leans down. Kageyama stands on his toes.

When they kiss, Tsukishima pretends as hard as he can. It works well if he ignores absolutely everything about Kageyama: the roughness of his hands, his height, the taste in his mouth. He has imagined kissing Sugawara Koushi a hundred times, but tonight he’s as close as he’ll ever get.

He breaks off.

He feels some semblance of regret, but he is more tired than anything.

He says, “This is not what either of us wanted, but I’m alright with a compromise.” He supposes that Kageyama will keep kissing him in the hope that they will eventually get it right, as if romantic attachment is something you can attain through practice, like volleyball. He wonders when Kageyama will give up.

Kageyama leans in again. Tsukishima closes his eyes.