Akaashi’s head was spinning as he stared at his computer. He was vaguely aware of the fact that he wasn’t registering any of the numbers on the screen, and still he fought against the tired haze in his brain.
This client would be the death of him, he knew it. How could anyone be so disorganized and still hold a job? None of the numbers seemed to make sense, no matter how many different ways he worked them. He’d tried to contact their CFO three times in the past week to ask about discrepancies in the account balances; every time, the harassed-sounding assistant told him they’d have to call him back. They were avoiding him, and with good reason. Incompetence when it came to an audit was bad news for a company. And these people were decidedly incompetent. There was no other explanation.
After reading through the same path of numbers four times, Akaashi accepted defeat. He threw himself back in his chair, sliding his glasses up and vigorously rubbing his eyes. Little stars sprang into his vision, and he couldn’t say he minded them.
A glance around the office told him that most of his other co-workers had gone home. There were only two other people with him in the cubicle, though somewhere in the distance, he heard the faint click of keys. This was a pretty common occurrence during busy season. No one had left the office before 20:00 in over a month, and there was a good chance Akaashi would be sleeping here next week if he didn’t get ahold of the client by tomorrow. But for now, his bed was a short train ride away, and the numbers on his computer were nothing more than a jumbled mess. So, with a heavy sigh, he shut down the desktop and started to organize his things.
“Wow, actually leaving before us? Where’s your usual vigor, Akaashi-san?”
The deadpan voice was scratchy from disuse, and Akaashi turned to see bored golden eyes looking up at him over the tops of black-rimmed glasses from a few desks away.
“Well, Tsukishima, you know you’re also free to leave at any time,” Akaashi replied, too tired to banter with the blonde.
“Some of us are actually getting work done.”
Okay, maybe Akaashi wasn’t too tired.
“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose,” he replied coolly.
The quirk of a smile on Tsukishima’s mouth betrayed his bored expression, and he returned to the stack of papers on his desk wordlessly. Akaashi was one of the only people on the floor willing to put up with Tsukishima’s… Eccentricities. Most people saw him as a cold, callous prick who didn’t have a nice word for anyone. And generally, that was pretty true. But he did his job well, respected his superiors, and was actually pretty funny in his dry, monotonous way. So Akaashi didn’t mind him.
The other man in the desk clump was sitting across from Tsukishima, eyeing the blonde warily. Did he realize there was a pen stuck behind his ear? Probably not, considering how exhausted he looked.
“Yamaguchi, you know you’re also free to leave anytime,” Akaashi said a little more gently.
Yamaguchi nearly leapt out of his seat, snapping his wide eyes toward Akaashi, almost like he’d forgotten the other was even there.
“Oh! No! Thank you, Akaashi-san, but… But I’m okay! I just have a few more things to… To get done,” he stammered. He shuffled a pile of documents together, ones Akaashi had seen him messing with about five times already, before scanning his deak for something. Probably his pen.
“Well, don’t burn the candle at both ends,” Akaashi sighed.
“Yes, sir,” the two desk mates replied in unison.
Akaashi packed his bag quietly, slipped it over his shoulder, and made a quick exit. He considered himself to be relatively observant. And as such, he never missed the way Yamaguchi looked across the desk at Tsukishima, the way his eyes lingered a little too long on his face. Tsukishima never looked up. Still, it would’ve been impossible not to feel that stare. It was hard not to be curious about the two of them. But as their senior, Akaashi never asked. It wasn’t appropriate work talk, and it probably wasn’t even appropriate talk at all.
Akaashi stabbed the down button next to the elevator and waited, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. He would’ve happily fallen asleep right here, and maybe he even did for a few seconds. But the ding of the elevator startled him back to reality. The flickering fluorescent light inside definitely woke him up, and actually made him feel a little sick. He’d have to let someone in maintenance know before he left.
He didn’t mean to let his mind wander back to Yamaguchi. But his exhaustion-addled brain seemed unable to think of anything else. How long had he been looking at Tsukishima that way? Akaashi couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t. Yamaguchi had joined their team last season when Kageyama had requested a transfer—he and Tsukishima butted heads constantly, and it was just easier this way. Yamaguchi fit in well. The other three members of the team took to him easily and Tsukishima remained relatively indifferent toward him—which actually meant quite a bit when it came to the blonde.
Akaashi wished he had some advice for the younger man. It was difficult to watch, especially considering Tsukishima’s general indifference. But it wasn’t appropriate coming from their senior. And really, Akaashi didn’t have room to give advice. He’d spent most of his life willfully avoiding relationships. They were more trouble than they were worth, and the few he’d had all ended quickly. He preferred a solitary life, preferred not answering to anyone. It was easier this way. It was comfortable.
The elevator doors opened up, and Akaashi took a step out into the lobby. But he froze mid-stride. Was that… Music? It didn’t sound like a radio. No, it sounded real, like it was coming from around the corner. He knew there was a piano there, and he knew that the building hired a pianist to play during the day sometimes. But it was 22:00 at night. And what was stranger, the security guard near the front door was at his post, seemingly unperturbed by the sounds.
It seemed that tonight, Akaashi’s curiosity couldn’t be quashed. He blamed it on the aggravating client and the exhaustion. Slowly, he made his way through the lobby, listening to the melody as it echoed through the high walls. He rounded the corner, and his mouth dropped open in surprise.
He had expected to find someone in a suit and tie, maybe hair smoothed down and a stern expression. The epitome of professionalism, of musicianship.
Instead, the man at the piano looked dressed for a day at home. His black t-shirt and khaki shorts contrasted starkly with the sophisticated air of the building, and… My god, was he wearing flip-flops? It was not warm enough for those. Not to mention his hair, spiked straight up, and… Was it bleached at the ends? Those white tips couldn’t be natural, could they?
But Akaashi only allowed himself a moment to ruminate on his appearance. Because the sounds issuing from the piano were distracting. Akaashi watched with rapt attention as the man’s fingers danced over the ivory keys at a quick tempo. There was no music in front of him, and Akaashi realized with a start that the man’s eyes were closed. His entire body moved with the music, torso rocking with the beat, head turning from side to side with varying degrees of intensity. The notes seemed to flow from his fingertips, some light and airy, others accentuated with a flick of his wrist. It was quiet, and yet somehow oh so loud. It was skillful. It was powerful. It was raw strength and unbridled emotion.
It was beautiful.
Akaashi sank into one of the empty chairs near him, his eyes never wavering from the man before him. The song reached its crescendo, growing louder, more intense, like the flapping of heavy wings. And then suddenly, it was light, quiet, almost nothing. Slow, deliberate, each tap of a key so precise, it made Akaashi lean forward in his seat. And then suddenly, it was intense once more, the man’s arms rolling with the notes, propelling him toward the end. Akaashi could feel the passion, like it was trying to find a home in his bones. And then suddenly, the song was over.
The man’s entire body relaxed, his hands dropping into his lap. He rolled his neck, his shoulders, his back. Had he been holding in that tension through the entire song? Akaashi heard him take a deep, shaky breath. And then he turned in his seat, halfway to a standing position, when his eyes fell on Akaashi.
It was impossible to tell what was going on behind those wide, golden eyes. They seemed unable to focus on Akaashi for more than a few seconds, slipping off to the left, to the right, above his head, to the ground. His mouth moved around silent words, like he couldn’t figure out how to speak.
“You play beautifully,” Akaashi finally murmured.
Akaashi’s voice seemed to snap the man into action. He finally unbent his knees, drawing up to his full height. Tall, Akaashi noted. Probably a little taller than himself. There was a small smile on his face now. But there was still something about him. He looked… Nervous? He was fidgeting with his fingers, and still he continued to glance away from Akaashi.
“Th-thanks, I… I didn’t realize anyone was listening, I… I would’ve… You know, I would’ve played a little better,” the man stammered.
“I’m not sure what would’ve been better than that, it was spectacular,” Akaashi replied honestly.
“I slowed down on the arpeggios, and my sforzandos could’ve been more dynamic, they didn’t contrast enough with the pianos, and it… It wasn’t really…” He trailed off, and Akaashi noticed that the man’s eyes were dragging a little slower, lingering a little longer on his face. Akaashi managed a small smile, only making the other man’s grin grow wider.
“Do you work in the building?” Akaashi asked, wondering if maybe this was a regular occurrence.
“Oh… No, I… I just… I was walking by, and I remembered that there was a piano in here. I came by once, and I just… I like to play,” the man replied.
“Do you play often?” What a stupid question. Of course he did. Akaashi blamed that on the nightmare client again.
“Yeah, I guess,” the man answered, evidently not catching Akaashi’s slip.
“I’m sorry, I’m being rude,” Akaashi said suddenly, lifting himself from his chair. “I’m Akaashi Keiji, I work upstairs.”
He took a few strides toward the man, but stopped when he saw him tense. Maybe Akaashi was coming on a little strong. They were strangers, and it was—Akaashi looked down at his watch—already 22:45. How long had he been listening to the man play?
Akaashi glanced up from his watch. “What was that?” he asked.
“Bokuto. That’s me, Bokuto Koutarou,” the man said.
“It’s nice to meet you, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi nodded. He would forego a handshake if it meant Bokuto would untense his shoulders.
“Yeah, you too,” Bokuto nodded.
Golden eyes flicked to meet Akaashi’s, holding their gaze for a record breaking five seconds this time—Akaashi counted—before glancing away. And his shoulders finally drooped back to normal once more, tension breathing out of him in a sigh. Akaashi was relieved.
“Bokuto-san, do you think you’d come by again some time?”
Akaashi surprised even himself with the question. Just another thing to blame on the client. Bokuto’s wide eyes met his once more.
“Why?” he asked curiously.
“Well, I’d love to hear you play more,” Akaashi replied. “But if you’d rather not, I under—“
“No! I will!”
Bokuto’s shout made Akaashi jump as it echoed off the walls. He’d caught Akaashi’s gaze once more, and his nervousness had abated completely.
“Well, I’ll be working quite late for the next few months, I don’t want to inconvenience you at all,” Akaashi noted.
“It’s not! I like coming out late, so… Do you think maybe tomorrow night? I can come by tomorrow night!”
It was as though he couldn’t contain his excitement, like it was spilling out of every pore. He was rocking lightly back and forth on the balls of his feet. And even though his gaze continued to slip from Akaashi’s, his smile was bigger than ever. He was probably a little too excited for someone agreeing to play piano for a stranger.
Still, Akaashi couldn’t help but find it endearing.
“I’d like that, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi nodded, rewarding him with another gentle smile.
Akaashi was quite certain he’d never seen anyone look as happy as Bokuto did right now. And honestly, it was a bit infectious. Akaashi felt his smile stretching a little wider, despite the fact that he was about to drop from exhaustion.
“Well, I should get going before I miss the last train,” Akaashi said, waving the arm sporting his watch for emphasis.
“Oh! Yeah! Sure! That makes sense!”Bokuto exclaimed, still just a hair louder than normal exuberance called for. “Well, I’ll come back tomorrow. I can come later if you want, or earlier, or whenever you want!”
“I should be done around 10:00 again tomorrow night… Hopefully,” Akaashi sighed.
“Is your job really hard?” Bokuto asked, suddenly curious.
“Ah… It’s more time consuming than difficult, I suppose,” Akaashi conceded. “One of my clients refuses to return my phone calls, so it makes things a lot harder. If they’d just tell me the truth… It wouldn’t… Be so hard…” Bokuto was hanging on Akaashi’s every word, seemingly enraptured by the bland talk of work. Akaashi couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious. It didn’t seem like Bokuto had noticed.
“Well then, I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, trying not to sound embarrassed.
“Right! Yeah! I’ll be here! And I’m gonna practice too! That way I’m even better!”
Akaashi opened his mouth to tell Bokuto that wouldn’t be necessary, but the loud man was already gone, peeling away from Akaashi at almost a run. He rounded the corner, heavy footsteps carrying him toward the front doors.
The lobby felt eerily quiet without Bokuto there.
Akaashi fell asleep twice on the fifteen-minute train ride home. Thank goodness for the obnoxious old woman next to him banging into him with her cane, or he would’ve missed his stop. He trudged through the chilly end-of-October air, thankful that he’d remembered his heavier jacket before walking out the door that morning.
He couldn’t help but wonder if Bokuto was cold. His outfit hadn’t been very conducive to the weather. And he’d mentioned that he had just been walking by the building. How far had he walked in the chilly air? Hopefully it wasn’t too far. Should Akaashi have offered him something? There might have been a spare jacket up in the office. Then again, Bokuto was gone before Akaashi could even say goodbye.
Akaashi stopped just outside his apartment, one foot on the bottom step. His eyebrows came together in consternation. Had he just been thinking about this stranger and his odd fashion choices for the entire ten-minute walk home? Was that normal? No, probably not. He blamed this on the client too.
It wasn’t unusual to hear excited shouting when Akaashi finally made it to his floor. It wasn’t even unusual for that shouting to be out in the hall. What was unusual was that the shouting sounded decidedly unhappy, more irate. And he couldn’t recognize the voice either. When he rounded the corner, two men were standing between himself and his apartment. One had a blonde undercut and more piercings than Akaashi could count in the two seconds’ glance he’d managed to get. The other man was leaning in the open doorway, sporting spiky black hair that looked as though he’d just rolled out of bed. When his cat-like eyes narrowed in on Akaashi, a lazy grin spread across his face.
“Ah, babe! You’re home!” he called.
The blonde snapped his head toward Akaashi. Appraising almond eyes looked him up and down. Akaashi felt like prey, being sized up for the hunt. He also noticed a distinct tuft of orange and a single brown eye peering from around a doorway further down the hall. Now he really felt on display.
“I can’t believe you’re so late, I missed you sooooooo much,” the black-haired man cooed.
Akaashi fought against an eye roll. Luckily, the blonde didn’t seem to need much more convincing than that.
“Your boyfriend’s a fucking asshole,” he spat venomously as he stalked past Akaashi.
“Bye, Yuuji-kun!” the black haired man called after him.
“What did you do now, Kuroo-san?” Akaashi asked, completely deadpan.
“What? Why do you always assume it was me?” Kuroo asked, pressing a hand to his chest dramatically.
Akaashi didn’t deign that with a response, merely blinked unamusedly at him.
“He broke up with him over a text!”
The voice down the hall made Kuroo grimace. The tuft of orange hair had emerged, small body and all.
“At least someone’s honest. Thank you, Hinata-kun,” Akaashi called.
Hinata beamed at Akaashi. A muffled voice from within the apartment stole his attention for a minute.
“Well, come say hi then!” Hinata laughed, reaching through the door and pulling on the person inside. Another head appeared, almost looking disembodied, with lanky blonde hair hanging about its face. Sharp golden eyes took Akaashi in speculatively.
“Good to see you, Kenma,” Akaashi nodded.
“Why are you so late?” Kenma asked quietly.
“It’s busy season, so I’ll be at the office late until the end of February,” Akaashi explained.
Kenma nodded, then disappeared back into the apartment. Akaashi had known the younger man long enough to know he was concerned. That was how he showed it. There would probably be food waiting for him in his apartment tomorrow night. Kenma and Hinata had demanded a key last year when Akaashi had nearly passed out from not eating. It was sweet. They were sweet.
A heavy arm slung over Akaashi’s shoulder, and Kuroo’s body hunched around him.
“You know I really did miss you,” he laughed. “The shrimp is boring when Kenma’s around.”
“If only you had a job to go to, perhaps that would wile away some of the day,” Akaashi suggested without inflection.
“I have a job,” Kuroo countered.
“I’m not sure many would consider gigolo to be a resume-worthy profession.”
“We prefer the term ‘professional escort.’ And don’t be jealous because I don’t have to wear a suit and tie every day,” Kuroo replied.
“I’ll try to contain myself.”
Kenma walked back out into the hall, holding a plate in his hands. He drew up to Akaashi and Kuroo silently, pressing the plate into Akaashi’s waiting hands. It smelled like heaven, and Akaashi’s stomach growled in response.
“Thank you, Kenma,” he said sincerely.
“Hey! Where’s mine?” Kuroo cried.
“In Shouyou’s stomach,” Kenma replied.
He ignored Kuroo’s indignant shout, turning back toward his apartment and disappearing once more. Hinata waved farewell to them and disappeared as well, closing the door with a snap. Akaashi slipped out from under Kuroo’s arm and made his way to his own door, sandwiched between the two apartments.
“Hey, you’re okay, right?”
Akaashi looked up sharply at Kuroo’s question. The messy-haired man was leaning in his doorway, watching Akaashi closely. He’d asked so sincerely, without any hint of a joke. It reminded Akaashi why he still hung around the man.
“Yes, Kuroo-san,” he replied. “I’m good. Very good.”
“Well, good. You’re not as pretty when you’re pouting.”
There he was.
“Good night, Kuroo-san.”
Akaashi shook his head at the nickname, retreating to the solitude of his apartment. He was about halfway through the dinner Kenma made him when he realized something. He’d forgotten to let maintenance know about the flickering light in the elevator.
Maybe he could blame that on the nightmare client, too.