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It's been a week since Keiji left, and Tobio is already uncomfortable in his own apartment. It's too clean, too quiet, and too empty. He doesn't realize how much he has grown dependent on Keiji's understanding presence in his life in just two weeks, but his former model's absence is sharp and far too noticeable.

And Tobio can't keep his eyes off the painting.

It sits there on an old easel to dry, vivid as the night that inspired it and taunting Tobio with its mere existence. Tobio has considered throwing it out the window at least once a day since he finished it. He wouldn't trade the night he spent exploring his body and his heart with Keiji for anything, but immortalizing it on canvas now seems like a terrible idea because he can't put the experience from his mind to save his life. Or his sanity, for that matter.

He should really throw it out the window.

Yet it stays, an explicit siren that won't let him be as he paces back and forth every morning for a week more, desperate to screw up the courage to take it to school and turn it in, if only to get it out of the house. And still it remains, and every day after is one less that Tobio can picture himself handing it to Fujita-sensei and still being able to look the man in the eye ever again.

The next morning, the decision refuses to be ignored any longer when Saeko-san taps him on the shoulder during independent work time. He nearly drops his Art History textbook, startled out of his concentrated haze.

"Tobio-chan, Fujita-sensei would like to see you."

The chilly clench of nerves he will always associate with the conversation he had with Fujita last year, telling him he did not pass the course, spreads in his stomach. Goosebumps sprouting on his skin, he follows Saeko into Fujita's office and vainly hopes that it's some small clerical issue and he can go back to suffering in silence.

He takes the seat clearly pulled out for him across the desk, bouncing the balls of his feet while he wrings his hands in his lap.

"Kageyama-kun, I feel like we've been here before," Fujita says without preamble. "You have less than two weeks to turn in your final piece, but you haven't worked on it in class since our model left."

Tobio opens his mouth to reply, but his jaw merely snaps shut when nothing comes out but a squeaking breath. Face burning, he lowers his gaze to his lap and waits for Fujita to tell him that it's all over. That he's failed again and he's not getting a second chance.

However, his head jerks up abruptly at Fujita's next words.

"For someone who got into art for all the wrong reasons, you are one of the most talented students I've ever had walk through those doors." Fujita sits up straighter when he realizes that he has Tobio's full attention. "Issues with coloring aside, I've rarely looked forward to seeing what one of my students has to offer more than I have for you the past two years."

"Sensei . . ." Tobio's voice is thin and quiet. "I'm sorry."

Fujita shakes his head. "Don't be sorry, Kageyama-kun. Be ready. How far are you on your final project?"

Tobio steadily stares at a point over Fujita's shoulder, unable to meet his eyes as he says, "It's been finished for almost two weeks."

"And?"

"And I don't think I can turn it in."

The room is achingly quiet for a full minute stretch, each passing second pressing Tobio further and further into his seat. At last, Fujita breaks the silence and puts both of them out of their misery. "Same reason as last year, or might it be something else?"

"Not the same," Tobio admits. "The coloring is fine, but I . . . I don't want anyone else to see it. It's more of me than I want others to see."

"I see." Fujita stares Tobio deep into the back of his seat before he says, "Then do something else. You still have over a week."

Tobio blinks. "I can do that?"

Fujita shrugs and quirks a brow. "I don't know. Can you? How long did it take to paint the portrait you're currently holding hostage?"

"A week and a half," Tobio supplies. Slowly, Fujita's implications set in. "I only worked on it at home."

Nodding, Fujita says, "Then you should be able to come up with something worthy of a passing mark in that amount of time by working on it both in class and at home, if necessary."

"But I don't know what to do." Tobio sits up straighter. "I don't have any other ideas."

"Hmm." Fujita flips through the sketchbook sitting on his desk before pushing it across to Tobio. "Might you have any ideas in here?"

Tobio's eyes widen when he sees his own sketchbook. "I . . ." His face turns a deep, hot red. "Sensei, I —"

"There's no need to explain," Fujita says with a flip of a hand. "What you do on your own time is your business, just as what anyone I hire does privately is allowed to do what he likes. However." He leans forward, arms crossed on the table, and Tobio feels a chill rent down his spine. "However, when it interferes with your coursework, then it's my concern. And with your history, Kageyama-kun, I am very concerned."

"Yes, sensei." Tobio dutifully flips through his sketchbook, filled to the brim with rough sketches of Keiji in various positions, compiled from two weeks of in-class and out-of-class modeling. Fujita is correct; there has to be something in here he can use.

The answer falls about halfway through the book, where Tobio finally remembers the first idea he had for a painting before dismissing it as something that would be ruined by his coloring issues. Back when Keiji's gray-green eyes reminded him of the sea. Slowly, an image unfurls in his mind of something he remembers from history class a number of years ago.

"I know what I want to do," Tobio says quietly as he stares at a sketch of Keiji, arms spread wide and his head thrown back as he stares down the sky. "May I get started now, sensei?"

Fujita smiles. "Yes, Kageyama-kun, you're dismissed. I look forward to this epiphany of yours."

Tobio nods, even though he doesn't actually know what the word 'epiphany' means, and bows before exiting the office. He heads straight for the supply cabinet and takes out a fresh canvas, and for the rest of his afternoon, his pencil flies across its expanse until a picture starts to take shape.

It isn't until the sun no longer shines through the window that Tobio realizes he forgot to leave for his last class of the day. But it's there. He has the image he needs, and with a promise to lock up on his way out, Saeko lets him work into the night.

The rest of the school week and most of the next pass in a similar fashion, and with a few final strokes of the brush, Tobio steps back to examine the finished product.

It isn't exactly emotive, but it's done.

In the last few days before the deadline, Tobio glosses and varnishes the painting and leaves it at school, removing the temptation to hoard it or throw it out the window. However, that urge doesn't come, and Tobio can't help but feel relief.

After he turns in his final work, Tobio goes home and sits on his sofa to stare at the small television sitting on the floor, which is blaring something about a winter weather advisory that he doesn't care about. Instead, he toes the power button off and turns around the canvas leaned up against the wall for the first time in days.

It still takes his breath away.

Tobio sits on the floor in front of it and thinks back to that night. Skin on skin, the burn of pleasure so intense it actually hurt, and the calm, careful presence who guided him through all of it. The man who says he doesn't know what love is, but makes love like concert violinist makes music or a master chef makes delicacies.

However, even setting aside the most erotic experience of his entire life, Tobio can't shake the feeling he's had since that night. The soft concern, the patience, the praise, the desire — all of it directed at him. The most attractive human being Tobio can ever recall encountering had called him beautiful more than once and would not allow Tobio to refute it.

If Akaashi Keiji thinks himself incapable of love, then Kageyama Tobio doesn't know what that word means, either.

With his schedule freed up from the drastically reduced coursework, Tobio pulls out his phone and dials a number he has used more in the past few weeks than he has in the past few years. He's greeted with a cheery hello and nearly loses his nerve the moment he hears Shouyou's voice.

Tobio stares off into space until the loud squawk of 'Bakayama!' jars him from his stupor. "Don't yell, dumbass!" Tobio snaps, more out of habit than malice. "This is important."

Shouyou hums in interest. "Must be if you're calling me. You don't even like me."

"Don't be a moron. I only said I didn't love you." Tobio wants to slap himself for making this call, but there isn't anyone who knows him like Shouyou does. "But that's what I want to ask you. How do you know you love someone if you don't feel the same way about someone else you do love?"

If slack-jawed confusion could make a sound, Tobio swears he would hear it through the phone at this moment. Sometimes, Tobio forgets that Shouyou is even dumber than he looks, and the thought makes him snort in laughter. Also, Tobio has never had a talent for hypotheticals. "I had sex and I think I love him."

"So blunt!" Shouyou squeaks before falling silent. "Is that why you didn't want to get back together?"

Tobio nods before he remembers he's talking on the phone. "That's what I'm asking. No one has ever made me feel like he does."

"And how is that?" Shouyou asks quietly.

Tobio doesn't hesitate to answer, "Like I can do anything. Like I deserve pleasure. And confidence in something besides volleyball. I've never had that before."

Shouyou is silent for a long, tense minute that makes Tobio's skin itch. Something catches in his voice as he finally says, "So, we were together for five years, and I never made you feel that way? Not even once?"

Tobio had desperately prayed he could avoid answering this question, but all hopes of that are dashed as he attempts to cobble together an answer. "You blind me. Everyone is always looking at you, and I've . . ." Tobio chokes back the lump in his throat as he admits something he has hidden from everyone, including Keiji and himself. "You scare me, Hinata. You make me afraid to ask for what I want because you're the special one, not me. You always were."

"I'm sorry," comes Shouyou's lame reply, but Tobio doesn't expect a better one.

Instead, he listens to Shouyou's quiet tears as he ignores his own, finally mourning their expired relationship. As they do, something leaden and cold climbs out of Tobio's chest, and he feels freer than he has for as long as he can recall.

The phone call ends a few minutes later with promises to keep in touch, and this time, Tobio thinks he can actually do that. He won't ever go back, but he can go forward, and he knows which way that compass is pointing at last.

 

 

The night of the final project display has finally arrived, and Tobio's hands will not stop sweating as he rides a much later train to the school than usual. In his fit of last minute panic, he had changed his mind a half-dozen times on what to weas, how to style his hair, until he had arrived ten minutes late to the station and had to wait a half hour for the next one to arrive.

He runs as quickly as his slippery dress shoes allow once the train stops near the college, and by his estimation, the presentation had started fifteen minutes ago. Fujita-sensei's speech would take up most of that, and then the revealed works would be available for viewing. Keiji would undoubtedly make a point out of looking at all of them out of morbid curiosity if nothing else, so Tobio supposes he still had about ten minutes before he is too late as he bolts into the building.

Tobio knows Keiji will be there, but seeing him across the gallery knocks the air right out of his chest.

He is wearing clothes, which is an oddity in itself for Tobio, but as he gazes up at Tobio's painting, there is one thing that startles him the most: a serene smile. Keiji looks . . . happy. From behind him, Tobio's heart nearly jumps out of his chest when a hand loudly claps his shoulder.

"Kageyama!" barks Tanaka Ryuu, one of his old senpai from high school. "Why so shy, dude?"

"Tanaka-san," Tobio yelps. "Are you here with Saeko-neesan?"

Tanaka scowls. "I'm here with Chikara, but he's here with Pretty Boy."

At Tobio's raised brow, Tanaka jabs an angry finger at Keiji. When Tobio's eyes widen in realization, he thinks his expression might be as thunderous as Tanaka's. "Why?" he growls.

"They're just friends," Tanaka explains, "but I don't wanna wait for Chikara to figure out that I'm batting way out of my league and leave me for that dude."

"Ennoshita-san and Akaashi-san?" Tobio twists his face in concentration. "They don't look like they're together."

Nodding, Tanaka says, "Yeah, and I wanna keep it that way." He puts his hands on Tobio's shoulders and gave them a squeeze. "I know you're about as smooth as a dragon's ass, dude, but I need you to go over there sweep Pretty Boy off his feet so he doesn't even remember Chikara's name. You got it?"

Over his shoulder, Tobio sees Tanaka's pleading eyes and nods vigorously. "Yes, Tanaka-san."

Screwing up his courage from this odd encounter, Tobio takes a deep breath and walks towards Keiji, winding his hands around Keiji's waist. He doesn't see the jolt of shock until the crown of Keiji's head thwacks Tobio right in the nose.

The rest, however, is history.

I missed you. Keiji missed him. Akaashi Keiji, the most beautiful man Tobio has ever seen, missed boring, grouchy, awkward Kageyama Tobio. And when his hands smooth down Tobio's cheeks and his mouth lowers for a searing kiss, Tobio thinks he hasn't done nearly enough to deserve this light, airy feeling in his belly.

No, Tobio corrects himself. He deserves to feel this way. And Keiji wants to give it to him.

They make their rounds, arms hooked together as they take in the broad range of projects. However, neither of them are sad to see the end of the gathering as they slowly amble to a quiet Chinese place nearby. Throughout the meal, Tobio wonders over and over if he should show Keiji the painting. Not the sea god one he had thrown together to appease Fujita-sensei, but the one that had kept him up at night, reliving intense memories and feelings he can't and won't forget.

But as they stand outside the restaurant, about to part ways, Tobio realizes that this us his chance to change his life, to change himself. So he reaches out and takes a handful of courage as he says, "I have something I want to show you."

The walk to Tobio's apartment is a charged one, but their hands never disconnect until they're standing in front of the painting leaning against the wall, waiting to turn it over. 

This is it. Keiji will finally know how he makes Tobio feel. The dormant wells of pleasure that burn hot beneath the surface, waiting to be coaxed out by the right hand. But the only hand Tobio wants is the one gripping his arm hard enough to bruise as his gaze is locked on the portrait. On them

Words spill from Tobio's mouth, telling Keiji about turning down Hinata, about how his own feelings had changed. However, he hesitates before he admits, "I know you don't think if me like that, but I think it's because I'm in love with you, Akaashi-san."

They're on each other in an instant, fingers grasping for purchase as clothing flies to the floor. But even as Tobio's whole body throbs for more, he stops and asks for what he wants the most. Not sex or freedom or to be a better artist. "Akaashi-san, do you love me?"

He sees the play of Keiji's features, but surprise never comes. Instead, his lips spread into a soft smile as he strokes Tobio's cheek. "I have a lot to learn about what that means, but I think I do. Can you accept that from me for now?"

It isn't a yes, it isn't a no. But nothing between them has been clear cut since the moment they met. Keiji wants to give it a try, and that is all Tobio needs to hear as they slide into a rhythm that is new and bold to him. It's been years since he has felt this high on being close to someone. And that had just been volleyball.

Yet when he hears the soft sigh of his name - not Kageyama, but Tobio - he stops his exploration of the inside of Keiji's thigh and looks up. Keiji is panting, undone, and Tobio has brought him there. He doesn't peel his gaze away as he resumes his trek up Keiji's thigh and to the already dripping cock waiting for him. 

With nothing to guide him but the peals of approval from Keiji's active mouth, Tobio works them both into a frenzy until they ride it out together.

Much later, Keiji's cheek rests over the steady beat of Tobio's heart, a finger lazily tracing patterns on his naked chest. "It was so much different this time," Keiji murmurs into Tobio's skin. "You're different."

"I know what I want now," Tobio says. "I want you."

Keiji raises his head, and Tobio immediately misses the contact. "Me?"

Tobio nods. "Saeko nee-san said you were staying with her until you found a place here. I, um -" He takes a deep breath. "It would make me very happy if you considered coming to stay with me. And I would spend every day trying to make you just as happy to be with me."

He watches a variety of expressions come and go on Keiji's usually passive face, but Tobio's heart thrums wildly when Keiji's lips spread into an easy smile. "I would love to." Keiji leans over and brushes a featherweight kiss on Tobio's lips. "But we have to do some grocery shopping, or I'm going to get so fat from all the takeout."

Tobio chortles as he clutches Keiji closer to him, fingers stroking the downy waves draping over Keiji's forehead. "I love you, Keiji," he whispers, more to himself than anything, but he feels Keiji smile at the sound of his own name. 

"You're cute when you're all sappy, Tobio," Keiji teases, with no malice in his tone. 

They fall asleep curled into each other, and when Tobio awakens at dawn, he looks down at the ethereal creature softly snoring next to him, his chest almost aching with the swell of bliss.