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toast in my mouth, flowers in your hair

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“It’s a shame, isn’t it? That you weren’t born a girl or something, Yamaguchi?” Hinata’s chipper voice cuts through the lull in conversation like a scalpel- clean, cruel, effortless.

“Dumbass, you can’t just say things like that to people,” Kageyama hisses into the smaller boy’s face.

“Well, why not? I mean, Yamaguchi’s into smart blondes, right? And he already thinks Tsukishima’s the coolest guy on the planet. They’d have the whole childhood friend, red string of fate thing going on! It’s super shoujo manga worthy!” Hinata forgets he’s trying to keep his voice down about halfway through his explanation.

Vaguely, behind the duo, Yamaguchi can see Tsukishima close his book softly and reach up to rub the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses.

Yamaguchi can feel his face freezing into a vaguely pleasant expression. This will probably become his default face now. He can’t imagine a world in which he is able to go back to normal after a statement like that. Probably he’s broken. He’ll need to be swept into the bin and chucked out with the recycling. Tsukishima will just need to get a new childhood best friend. He can put a vacancy sign on Yamaguchi’s desk. Since Tsukishima is basically the coolest guy on the planet, Yamaguchi doesn’t think it will really take all that long.

The bell rings. Kageyama leans down to whisper something particularly venomous into Hinata’s ear as they move back to their classrooms on the other end of the school. Hinata, nonplussed, grins back. Yamaguchi sighs. There’s barely enough time to eat, much less practice tosses and bicker constantly.

“They make me tired just breathing their oxygen,” Tsukishima complains, picking up the discarded trash. He doesn’t seem bothered by what Hinata said- doesn't even acknowledge it. More background noise to him, probably. Yamaguchi takes a second to dust off his pants leg from the concrete, take a breath, clear his head. Tsukishima doesn’t seem to mind- he waits for Yamaguchi just inside the door, by the recycling bin. He might move ahead but he always lets Yamaguchi catch up. It’s only recently that Yamaguchi has been confident enough to move up at his own pace too- to wait for Tsukki when he can, to grab him by the shirt and pull him along when he has to.

Yamaguchi holds the door to the classrooms open for Tsukishima as they go in for English Literature. He wonders how things might be different, in a different life.

He can’t focus, the rest of the day. He asks Tsukishima if he can copy notes as they make their way to the club room. Tsukishima’s eyes, golden in the afternoon light, regard him thoughtfully.

“Why?” Tsukishima asks. Tadashi knows him well enough to know what he’s really asking is why couldn’t you get them down during class, that isn’t like you. And it’s not, really, Yamaguchi isn’t as quick witted and methodical as Tsukishima but he’s smart enough and he’s always been good at school.

“Sorry, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says with a smile. It’s not an answer but Tsukishima doesn’t press him.

“What did you mean, earlier, when you said that… shoujo manga thing?” Yamaguchi asks during break because he absolutely cannot fucking help himself.

Hinata rolls the mouthful of water around for a moment, thinking. He swallows and looks up with a smile.

“It’s just that in shoujo manga it’s always this super cool standoffish guy, right? And then there’s this super ordinary girl-”

Yamaguchi is not sure what his face is doing but Hinata seems to notice this time and waves his arms a little in denial, splashing a little water down the front of his own shirt as he gestures.

“No, okay, so she thinks she’s ordinary but really she’s like super cute and spunky! And magical or whatever. And she’s all I’ll be the one to win your heart! and she stands up to him and he’s all nobody’s ever spoken to me that before and sometimes they fight or they’re like engaged and she makes him a better person and then, I dunno. There’s kissing sometimes. And the power of friendship.”

“I’m gonna be totally honest,” Yamaguchi says slowly. “I maybe caught like…. 10% of that.”

Hinata hums a little, thoughtfully. “My Mom reads them. She says they’re for Natsu but she’s way too young for most of it.” Hinata stops suddenly. “Do you want to come over and read some? Maybe this weekend?”

“Yeah?” Yamaguchi asks.

“Yeah!” Hinata thrums with excitement. “I don’t have people over a lot because, whoa, like a mountain and stuff, so you should probably just stay over? We can practice receives or whatever too- my yard is pretty big. And my Mom’s a good cook.”

“That sounds like a lot of fun,” Yamaguchi admits, and as he says he it realizes that it’s true. He likes Hinata- he actually kind of likes the whole team. They’re fun and they’re lively and they seem to genuinely like him, even if he’s not first string, even if he messes up his float serve sometimes or if he laughs at most of Tsukishima’s sharp little barbs.

“Promise?” Hinata holds up his hand solemnly. Equally solemnly, Yamaguchi links their pinkies.

“Promise,” Yamaguchi says. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Tsukishima, toweling off his hair and looking very hard at the net.

“Did you want help with math on Saturday?” Tsukishima asks as they peel away from the group, heading back towards their neighborhood.

“Oh! Sorry, Tsukki. Can we do Sunday? I’m staying at Hinata’s Saturday, but I should be back early.” Yamaguchi explains, apologetic.

Tsukishima gives him an indecipherable look.

“What?” Yamaguchi stops nervously. Silence. “You don’t think I should?” Yamaguchi hazards a guess.

Tsukishima maintains eye contact for a few more long moments before sighing and reaching up to rub the bridge of his nose again. Twice in one day, Yamaguchi notices. Unusual. But of course, noticing that kind of thing is unusual. Creepy. Like he keeps a Tsukishima journal. Today Tsukki did X and said Y and hit Z blocks during practice….

Che. He doesn’t need to write anything like that down. He already knows off the top of his head.

Which is probably creepier.

“I want you to hang out with whoever you want to hang out with,” Tsukishima says finally, dropping his hand back at his side. “I just have a feeling that you’re thinking something unnecessary.”

Yamaguchi glances up at that but by then Tsukishima has already reached the sidewalk where their paths diverge; Tsukishima raises a hand in farewell and reaches to put his headphones back on for the last few streets. Yamaguchi goes into his house.

Saturday, the weather is nice. Hinata and Yamaguchi play with the volleyball in the yard until dinner time. The omurice Hinata’s Mom makes them is a little sweeter than what Yamaguchi’s Dad makes, and he actually kind of likes it better this way. When he tells her so she beams, delighted, and gives him another helping.

When Yamaguchi finishes helping to wash up, he feels a slight buzz and checks his pocket. It’s a message from Tsukishima- a picture of Akiteru passed out on the couch, drooling a little on a pillow he cuddles violently. The caption just says you. He gives a little snort.

“Whazzat?” Hinata asks, peering over his shoulder. Yamaguchi moves the phone so that Hinata can get a better view. Hinata snickers.

“Akiteru, Tsukishima’s older brother.” Yamaguchi explains.

“Oh! You want to send him a picture of Natsu?” Hinata asks brightly.

“Yeah, he’ll probably get a kick out of it.” Hinata glances up at Yamaguchi, a little surprise registering on his face.

“Tsukki’s actually scary good with kids. I think because he’s so tall? And he doesn’t lie? They find him refreshing. Natsu would actually probably like him. He’s great with my little cousins.”

Hinata picks up Natsu and cuddles her close. “Picture time!” He sings and she turns obediently to grin at Yamaguchi as he snaps a quick one before shooting it off to Tsukishima (t-tiny Hinata!).

His phone buzzes.

cute kid

When Yamaguchi shows Hinata he smiles wide again.

“Next time we’ll ask Tsukishima over too,” Hinata decides.

They end up sprawled on Hinata’s bed, surrounded by a pile of loose manga issues. They read seperately, but this is not the companionable silence that Yamaguchi is used to with Tsukishima. Hinata hums a little to himself as he reads and he taps his fingers against his the book cover when he’s not flipping pages. He’ll lean over and look at whatever Yamaguchi is reading over and make little comments about the art (“Hey, don’t you think they draw their legs crazy long in this one?”) or the artist (“I like everything she draws but she always makes the siblings fall in love and, like, ew”) or the story (“This one made me cry for a week, stay away!”) or the character (“Doesn’t this one look like Tsukishima? Eh? Blonde? Glasses?”).

“Yama, you read really fast.” Hinata says suddenly, sitting up..

“I- I do?” Yamaguchi closes the volume he’s just finished and looks up at Hinata.

“I mean, I know you and Yachi and Tsukishima are all in the advanced classes, but you read way faster than either of them.”

“Oh.” Yamaguchi pauses, at a loss for words.

“That’s really cool,” Hinata says encouragingly.

“Not really.” Yamaguchi murmurs. He looks up and Hinata is doing that thing- head cocked to the side, eyes a little bit intense. “Ah! What I meant was… Yachi is really creative and Tsukki’s a math whiz. Reading fast is just-” Yamaguchi makes a dismissive gesture.

“You’re bad about that, aren’t you? Seeing the good things about yourself, I mean. I bet that gets on Tsukishima’s nerves.” Hinata turns back to his manga and Yamaguchi tries to let it go, he really does. He keeps the next manga open to the same page for ten minutes before he can respond.

“W-what do you mean?” Yamaguchi asks.

“Hm?” Hinata continues to idly flip through the pages. “Ah, this is a good one, Yama. It’s about forgetting a secret magic engagement, so it’s got all the good stuff.”

Yamaguchi scoots in to read over Hinata’s shoulder. “About me getting on Tsukki’s nerves, I meant.” Yamaguchi explains.

“That’s not what I said. I just mean, it must be really hard to see someone you care about be so down on themselves. Wasn’t that what happened back at training camp for you?” Hinata’s eyes are so dark.

“Shit, Hinata,” Yamaguchi exhales with a little laugh. “You’re really sharp sometimes, huh?”

“I dunno,” Hinata says. “I mean, it’s not like I’m a speed reader or anything. That would be really cool.” He grins slyly up at Yamaguchi, and he can’t help but grin back.

His phone, on the bedspread, gives a little chirrup. Yamaguchi pulls up his messages and there’s one from Tsukishima. It’s just a link.

“What’s that?” Hinata asks, curiously.

“Tsukki asks me to translate song lyrics for him, sometimes, if he finds a good one in English. He likes to know what they’re saying and he says I’m a lot faster at it.” Yamaguchi explains.

Hinata’s eyes light up. “See, he thinks you’re cool and smart too!”

Yamaguchi bites back a retort that Tsukishima’s probably just being lazy. Yamaguchi doesn’t want Hinata to drop any more truth bombs on him tonight. His heart can’t take it.

“I wanna hear,” Hinata announces, rolling onto his back. Obligingly, Yamaguchi turns his phone volume up before hitting play. As the song goes on, he scribbles the words idly on the back of an envelope that Hinata gives him. When the song ends, it only takes him a few minutes to type up a quick translation and send it off. Then he hands the phone to Hinata so he can read along.

Hinata makes an interested sound, sitting up. “Those other songs- can I see a couple?”

“Sure,” Yamaguchi agrees, tapping a few buttons on his phone before giving it back. “This tab has all the translations.”

Hinata makes another noise.

“What?” Yamaguchi asks finally.

“Yama, these are all love songs.” Hinata hands the phone back to Yamaguchi who is suddenly feeling a little faint, a little pale. “How long-”

“Months?” Yamaguchi can barely speak. He feels like the bed is shaking but, oh, no, wait, it’s just him.

“Tsukishima’s totally in love with someone. You should find out who it is. If you’re translating these for a love letter or something he uses in his confession, he’s totally gonna owe you forever.” Hinata flops back onto his stomach, picking up another manga. Yamaguchi takes a deep breath and does the same. Yamaguchi is normal. He is normal and he can do this.

When they finally hit the lights and Yamaguchi is sprawled on the futon spread across the floor, listening to the soft snores floating down from the bed above, he thinks he’ll have a hard time sleeping- that he will toss and turn and pine and maybe cry a few crystalline tears into his pillowcase. But Yamaguchi is Yamaguchi. He’s always been a good sleeper, and frankly- he is just not that lucky.

Yamaguchi dreams.

Chapter Text

“I really just don’t understand why the costumes are necessary, Kenma.” Yamaguchi tugs at the leather gloves with a frown.

“Expenses,” Kenma says flatly from behind his camera. “Capturing the Clow cards hasn’t been exactly cheap. Transportation to the magic sites? Property damage? The aquarium alone-”

“Okay, okay. I just- I can’t help thinking there’s got to be a better way than putting me in these costumes and throwing pictures up on the internet.” Yamaguchi fiddles with the three belts which, just, okay, impractical.

“Your actual magical fights are better than any after effects. Our Patreon is up by 32% since last week,” Kenma adjusts the lens.

“I have no idea what that even means.” Yamaguchi complains.

And then, of course, lightning slams into the ground at Yamaguchi’s feet. As he feels himself lifting into the air, hair standing on end, he hears the rapid fire of a camera shutter.

Yamaguchi lands in a tree with a curse.

“Probably not a good place to be when lightning strikes,” Kenma calls, conversationally.

He hears the crackle of energy, feels the tiny hairs on his arm raise. He tries to think through all the options- Fly? No, being in the air is too risky, Windy, Mist, Freeze-

“Shield!” Yamaguchi manages to wheeze, pulling his wand up as the The Thunder crackles around him a split second later.

“Nice shot,” Kenma calls. “I’ve got what I need,”

So glad one of us does,” Yamaguchi pants, falling out of the tree and landing heavily on one knee. Thunder crouches.

“Illusion!” Yamaguchi shouts, and three Yamaguchi look alikes run in different directions. Thunder rears back, its leonine features thoughtful. It takes a deep breath and it glows.

“Yamaguchi-” Kenma sounds mildly concerned which is, for him, as good as a dramatic monologue.

“Stay back, Kenma!” Yamaguchi screams.

The chain lightning bursts from Thunder’s throat. It slams through each illusion. They shatter at the touch of invasive magic. It zips from target to target and then darts on to Yamaguchi who braces himself for impact, hoping to god there’s some insulation in these ridiculous fucking boots.

Except instead of slamming back into the tree or down onto the ground, Yamaguchi registers that he is going up- his stomach jerks at the sudden movement and when he registers that he isn’t moving any longer and he looks up the feeling doesn’t exactly stop.

Tsukishima Kei, brooding new transfer student, is balanced on the branch, Yamaguchi tucked under his arm like a school book or a particularly squashy loaf of bread. Yamaguchi opens his mouth to speak but all that comes out is a squeak. Those gold eyes turn to Yamaguchi, a faintly curious light in them.

“...what are you even wearing?”

Motherfucker.

Yamaguchi scrambles down. Thunder is zipping around the park, gutting streetlamps. It seems to have lost Yamaguchi for the moment, giving him time to regroup.

“You have to get out of here, it’s dangerous-”

“It’s Final Fantasy, right? Where’s the gunblade? Man, who would have thought that the candidate for Clow Master would be a cosplaying nerd.” Tsukishima’s mouth turns up into a smirk. He is, of course, wearing a very sensible green hoodie paired with fitted jeans and converse sneakers. He looks very nice. Yamaguchi kind of wants to die.

“Wh- what-”

“Me?” Tsukishima flicks his wrist- a slip of what Yamaguchi can only assume is spellpaper between his index and middle finger. The light glints off his glasses. “I’m the other candidate.” And then he jumps out of the tree.

It is honestly unfair how cool that is, Yamaguchi thinks.

Tsukishima hits the ground just as the talisman slams into Thunder who lets out a horrible screech. Thunder drops to the ground, paws scrabbling against the asphalt in discomfort, scratching at its face, tail lashing.

Tsukishima lifts another talisman but before he can activate, Yamaguchi drops in front of him.

“You’re in my way,” Tsukishima says, eyes flat.

“You’re hurting it,” Yamaguchi bites over his shoulder. He takes a step toward the wounded creature.

“I saved your ass, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima reminds him, but he does not move.

“I didn’t need your help.” Yamaguchi reaches into his card pouch.

“You would have gotten fried.”

“Some things are worth a little pain, Tsukki.” Yamaguchi smiles, back lit by the blue static blink of Thunder and Tsukishima’s face relaxes for just a moment. Yamaguchi turns back to the beast.

“Dark!”

The darkness is gradual; it appears behind Yamaguchi and bathes him softly, lovingly. Everything else stills. There is nothing but calm and black. When he reaches out to brush the spellpaper away, it falls to the ground and is also swallowed up. Thunder snarls and snaps. Yamaguchi reaches out, resting two fingers lightly on Thunder’s snout. The cool darkness- the quiet preceding a storm.

When the magic lifts, Yamaguchi is holding Thunder’s head between his hands. They are looking deeply into each other’s eyes. Yamaguchi murmurs something and Thunder lowers its head and whines.

“Return to your power confines,” Yamaguchi says and his voice is certain. When he turns back, card in hand, he knows that he probably should say something- Tsukishima did try to help him, after all, and apparently they’re rivals now or whatever but Yamaguchi can’t help it. He’s so happy. He looks back at Tsukishima and he beams. Tsukishima can’t quite meet his eyes.

“That was-” he starts to say.

“Uh, fuckin’ awesome?” An unfamiliar voice comes from behind but the slight rustle of leaves and glow of a camera screen draws Yamaguchi’s attention first.

“Kenma!” Yamaguchi takes a few steps towards the smaller boy, seated at the base of another tree nearby. Kenma’s hands clutch his camera and his face is flushed. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I. He… helped… me.” Kenma’s eyes focus on the camera screen nervously.

Yamaguchi circles his friend until he is satisfied that Kenma really is unhurt. “I’m so glad you’re okay. Man! I told you these things were getting too dangerous. I don’t know that some pictures are really worth all this-”

“Pictures, huh? Is this a sex thing? Ne, Tsukishima, where’s your leather pants?”

Yamaguchi looks up abruptly, coloring. A tall, dark haired, wild eyed boy leans casually on Tsukishima’s shoulder. The self confidence oozes from him in a way that is honestly a little overpowering. Yamaguchi is acutely aware of how ridiculous he looks- how completely unbearably attractive a get up like this would be on either of the boys staring at him now.

“Cosplay is a very lucrative business, Kuroo. We can’t all rely on trust funds from magical bloodlines.” Kenma seems to have recovered nicely. Yamaguchi turns to help him to his feet.

“It really is dangerous for civilians to be around an unbound magical entity, kitten. What would you have done if I hadn’t been there to protect you, hm?” The dark haired boy, Kuroo, practically leers. Kenma looks away. Yamaguchi steps forward.

“Thank you for protecting my friend,” Yamaguchi bows deeply, back perfectly straight. “He is important to me. I will do better.”

“You’re gonna have to, with us in town.” Kuroo says after a long pause. Tsukishima says nothing. By the time Yamaguchi straightens up, they are gone.

“What in the fuck,” Yamaguchi says in a very small voice.

On the walk home, Kenma explains that at the same time that tall blonde and snarky had transferred into Yamaguchi’s advanced class at Karasuno high, Kuroo had shown up in Kenma’s.

“He said a lot of things I thought probably weren’t true.”

“But now they probably are,” Yamaguchi guesses. Kenma makes an agreeable noise.

“The money thing?”

“He was bragging about that and... other things.”

“Other things?”

“Sex things, mostly.”

Yamaguchi sputters. “To you specifically?”

“For some reason.” Kenma shrugs, unperturbed. “Maybe because I don’t seem like the type of person to care about things like that. Or what he and his fiance do or don’t do.”

“Fiance?” Yamaguchi whistles. “How adult.”

“Tsukishima.”

“Hm?”

“....Tsukishima is the fiance.”

Yamaguchi walks into a street light.

“I don’t remember you getting hit in the face,” Tsukishima says casually the next day in class. Yamaguchi clasps a hand over his bruised nose and turns three different shades of red.

They trade phone numbers, barbs, and magical knowledge. For the most part, they’re pretty evenly matched.

Yamaguchi gets the Wave card on a trip to the beach. Tsukishima can’t swim. Yamaguchi pulls him to the shore, pumping water from his lungs and breathing down his airways. Tsukishima recovers nicely, though he refuses aloe for his sunburn, spread across his cheeks. Kuroo seems to find this very funny. On the drive back, Yamaguchi notices the sunburn seems to have cleared.

Tsukishima gets the Dream card when Yamaguchi won’t wake up. He is dreaming one last day spent with his mother before she died. They make cookies. He burns them. They buy cookies from the store and repackage them for the bake sale. It is a beautiful little lie. Tsukishima lets him finish the day before he seals the card. He pretends not to see when Yamaguchi cries.

It takes them six tries to seal the Time card. By day three they give up on involving Kuroo and Kenma. The explanation takes too long- and anyway, Kenma doesn’t seem to have any good ideas and Kuroo’s martial arts aren’t too helpful against, you know, the inescapable march of the clock towards death.

When he tells Tsukishima this, he is treated to an actual laugh.

“Morbid, Yamaguchi.”

They are in a tree. Being a magic user seems to involve a lot more tree climbing than Yamaguchi first realized. He is grateful for an understanding if less than attentive father and a strong enough constitution to fall out of the ones in his backyard regularly and still somehow make it past puberty.

They are in a tree scouting out the clock tower, right across from Kuroo and Kenma’s classroom. Kuroo leans into Kenma’s space, ostensibly to see Kenma's cellphone game over his shoulder. Kenma allows it. The look that Kuroo gives the smaller boy is so nakedly affectionate, so open and warm that Yamaguchi would honestly be more comfortable sneaking a peek in the locker room. It would be less invasive somehow. It is the second time he’s caught it this incarnation of day six and they’ve only been in the tree for half an hour.

“Does it bother you?” Yamaguchi asks without thinking.

“What?” Tsukishima is scanning the horizon, not focusing on whatever is happening inside the classroom.

“How they feel about each other.”

Tsukishima snorts.

“Oh. So you aren’t…” Yamaguchi finds himself scanning the horizon too.

Tsukishima seems to figure it out. He clears his throat.

“Kuroo makes a lot of decisions on his own,” he says finally, shifting a little. Tsukishima’s hand is warm on Yamaguchi’s. They sit in a tree, holding hands.

Tsukishima wins the Time card. Yamaguchi can’t even pretend to be upset.

“What is the difference between being childhood friends and lovers?” Yamaguchi rocks back on his heels on the walk home. Kenma plays his Switch as he walks, miraculously dodging obstacles as he moves. Yamaguchi is convinced it is a magic all of its own.

“We aren’t lovers,” Kenma says conversationally.

“No, I know that. But we’re comfortable. And you’re comfortable with Kuroo. And I’m comfortable with Tsukishima. So.” Yamaguchi falters. Kenma hums thoughtfully.

“Sometimes it’s one and the same. I think it can change. If you are so comfortable with someone that no other connection seems to come close... moreover, if you don’t want anything else to come close. A special connection. That is the closeness of lovers.” Kenma says.

“Is that how it is for you and Kuroo? Is that how it is for me?” Yamaguchi wonders out loud.

Kenma shrugs and turns back to his game. “I don’t know, Yamaguchi. This is your dream.”

~~

Yamaguchi wakes up.

"Pancakes?" Hinata asks. Yamaguchi accepts.

Chapter Text

Tsukishima opens the front door and Yamaguchi smiles and everything is exactly the same as it ever has been except that suddenly it’s not. Tsukishima’s fingers curl around the door frame for a fraction longer than necessary, and the tilt of his head is the same he gets on the court when his game sense kicks in. He knows, Yamaguchi thinks to himself, but dismisses the thought with a shake of his head. Yamaguchi refuses to think about what Tsukishima might know- isn’t quite ready to know himself just yet, and instead waits for Tsukishima to step back and let him inside. After a long, uncomfortable moment, he does.

They do their homework as Tsukishima plays music low in the background, the same as they do most weekends. Yamaguchi focuses on his equations and on showing the work in neat boxed sequential steps. Tsukishima works on English literary devices. They switch at the halfway point to check each other’s work- Tsukishima’s strength, Yamaguchi’s weakness. And, he supposes, the other way around also. How strange.

“Did you sleep well?” Tsukishima asks suddenly, not looking up from the page. Yamaguchi blinks.

“Don’t I always?” He wonders. His ability to sleep anywhere at any time for any length is nearly legendary. He once fell asleep during a live marching band and fireworks display as a child and had to be carried home piggyback by Akiteru.

“You do,” Tsukishima agrees. “You’re just quiet today.”

Yamaguchi forces his tense shoulders to relax. He’s being weird. He knows he’s being weird. Tsukishima knows he’s being weird. He needs to stop being weird. The music changes.

“Ah. Hinata liked this song,” Yamaguchi offers, using his pencil to lightly correct imagery into allusion.

“Oh? Did you play it for him?” Tsukishima asks conversationally.

“Yes. I told him that I translate songs for you sometimes and he wanted to see them.”

“What did he think?” Tsukishima asks offhandedly. Yamaguchi freezes. A minute passes.

Yamaguchi feels his ears burning and hopes his hair hides the worst of it. Tsukishima has stopped checking Yamaguchi’s work and is waiting, eyes focused, for Yamaguchi to continue.

“He said,” Yamaguchi swallows hard, “that they’re all love songs?”

A pause.

“Yamaguchi.” Their eyes meet. “What are you trying to ask me?” Tsukishima’s expression is wry.

Yamaguchi’s mouth is so dry that he cannot answer even if he had one ready. Which he does not. He isn’t ready. Time out!

Tsukishima’s gaze slides back down to the assignment.

“Most songs are love songs,” Tsukishima says, holding out the paper. “These all look good. I told you that you were improving.” They switch back. The song changes.

Yamaguchi stays away from the pink bound volumes for the full day. His sleep is dreamless and comfortable, like a heavy flannel blanket over your head in the winter time. He is completely normal on his walk to school. He serves marginally well at morning practice. He copies all the notes on the first try, in real time. Then, at lunch, Hinata greets them with an enormous grin- and an even more enormous cardboard box full of back issue Shoujo Beat. The library, apparently, was going to toss them out. Hinata has read most of them in the tankubon volumes his mother buys. They are, apparently, a gift.

“But you know, I think I like the ones without magic the most. They might really happen! It’s more about the characters that way.” Hinata says sagely, poking a straw into his juice box.

“If you were only this introspective about your assigned readings,” Yamaguchi chides weakly. He is still a bit overwhelmed and has been unable to bring himself to look up at Tsukishima for roughly the last ten minutes.

“Dumbass, what are you reading this kind of stuff for anyway? It’s for girls.” Kageyama glares at the stack of manga sitting between Yamaguchi and Hinata as though it were sentient and rearing for an attack.

You’re stupid, stupid! Girls read this stuff and we read this stuff so we’ll be total experts and you’ll still be a single loser without a girlfriend so nyah-

“You can learn a lot about an intended audience through target demographics,” Yamaguchi agrees absently, flipping through the next volume with one hand, onigiri in the other.

“Yamaguchi, you make everything sound like school.” Hinata deflates before perking up again.

“Yachi!” He waves.

Yamaguchi finishes his onigiri in two quick bites and closes the manga. Beside him, Tsukishima shifts a little. A shadow falls across Yamaguchi’s line of sight and he flinches backwards out of instinct, eyes screwing up tight.

Nothing.

Well of course nothing.

What in the fuck, Yamaguchi thinks, eyes still shut. What does he think is going to happen? He’d never been afraid of Tsukishima a day in his life and now he’s acting like this? Recoiling back like a kicked puppy because he’s afraid Tsukishima’s going to touch him and it’s going to come barrelling out of him- that Yamaguchi likes it, wants it. He’s going completely around the bend, he just knows it.

Yamaguchi cracks an eye open. Tsukishima remains frozen, hand outstretched and eyes huge behind his frames. There is a lopsided pull on one side of his mouth dragging his expression into something familiar- the kind of face Tsukishima only ever makes when he is disappointed with himself. Tsukishima drops his hand back into his lap.

“You have some rice,” he says, voice low.

Yamaguchi wipes his cheek with the back of his hand quickly. “Sorry, Tsukki! You just, uh. Startled me.”

“Oh, I love this one!” Yachi picks up the volume that Yamaguchi was reading, leaning over his shoulder. “I didn’t know you liked shoujo manga, Yamaguchi!”

Yamaguchi feels his face heat up. “It’s a… recent development.”

“I have a pretty big collection. You should come over and read them sometime.” Yachi says.

“That would be great,” Yamaguchi says. “I’m trying to find more slice of life series.”

As Yachi begins a quick fire list of must-reads, Hinata none-too-subtly gives Yamaguchi a thumbs up. Kageyama goes to buy a carton of milk. Tsukishima won’t meet Yamaguchi’s eyes until afternoon practice ends.

Yamaguchi has got to get this thing under control.

Yamaguchi does not have this thing under control.

“Tsukki, what do you think about kissing?”

Tsukishima stops in the middle of the sidewalk. He quirks an eyebrow at Yamaguchi. “I’m going to assume,” he drawls, “that is this a shoujo manga thing.”

“Well, yeah.” Yamaguchi laughs awkwardly. Of course it is. Whew. “They always make such a big deal out of it. Do you think that’s normal, or just a girl thing, or…?” Tsukishima shrugs.

“Could be. Maybe it is a big deal. I wouldn’t know.”

Now it is Yamaguchi’s turn to stop. Tsukishima’s expression is mildly puzzled.

“...seriously?” Yamaguchi manages. “But girls talk to you all the time.You could have kissed like… a hundred girls by now!”

“Shut up, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima rolls his eyes.

“Sorry, Tsukki, okay, but…. a dozen. Maybe more.” And wow Yamaguchi really does not like where this conversation is going, actually. Can he take it back? Rewind?

“I just mean! That’s cool of you, to hold back like that. I guess.” Yamaguchi shoves his hands into his pockets and falls back alongside Tsukishima.

“I just haven’t wanted to with anyone who’s offered.” Tsukishima says finally, a few minutes later.

“Tsukki! That’s cool! Most people aren’t like that,” Yamaguchi says authoritatively.

“Oh yeah?” Tsukishima smirks. “You’re not? You’d kiss anybody?”

“I too am very cool, Tsukki, probably from spending so much time around you. It’s trickling in through osmosis. I meant like Hinata or Kageyama.”

Tsukishima snorted. “Who the hell would want to kiss one of those idiots?”

“Right? Hinata’s the type to kiss tongue first, slobber everywhere.”

“The King would probably have perfect kiss technique but keep his eyes open like a dead fish the whole time.”

They stop outside Yamaguchi’s house, snickering.

“Hey,” Yamaguchi says impulsively. “Are you busy tomorrow? We only have a half practice because they’re redoing the gym floors overnight. Do you want to do something together?”

Tsukishima hesitates.

“Something not school or volleyball related. For a couple of hours.” Yamaguchi amends. It occurs to him that it used to be easier asking Tsukishima to hang out casually. Now everything Yamaguchi says seems loaded and meaningful and heavy in his mouth.

Tsukishima sighs. “I said I’d go see this art exhibit Nii-san’s new girlfriend is putting on.”

“Oh? That sounds fun. It’ll mean a lot to him, I’m sure.” Yamaguchi smiles.

“...You could come too.” Tsukishima says.

“No, no, it sounds like a brotherly bonding thing.” Yamaguchi shakes his head.

“Not really. Nii-san told me to invite you last week.” Tsukishima says casually.

“Oh. Why didn’t you?” Yamaguchi asks without thinking.

It is a mistake.

Yamaguchi is expecting Tsukishima to shrug or say he forgot or to say it seemed boring or would run past Yamaguchi’s bedtime or really any number of things. He is not expecting the long, measuring look that Tsukishima gives him instead. In that silence that stretches thin like a tangible thing between them, Yamaguchi realizes that Tsukishima didn’t ask him because for whatever reason Tsukishima didn’t want to. And it sort of…. hurts.

Tsukishima takes a breath it snaps the tension, breaks the moment. Yamaguchi grins and steps up onto his porch in one swift motion.

“Don’t worry about it, I asked you last minute. I probably should use the time to study anyway. Goodnight, Tsukki!” Yamaguchi practically sings, flinging open the door.

“Yamagu-”

Click.

“Fuck.” Yamaguchi says in a tiny voice.

“Fuck,” says Tsukishima outside the door in a not-so-tiny voice.

Yamaguchi is a good kid at heart, so after he changes into casual clothes, he greets his father and offers to help with dinner as always and he declines as always. He finishes proofreading the paper that is due at the end of the week and earmarks it for early submission. He checks the date off on his calendar. Then, satisfied, he lines up the manga in neat rows across his bed. He kneels beside the array, studying it carefully. After a moment, Yamaguchi reaches for his phone.

“Okay, Hinata.” He says. “Which one am I reading next?”

Chapter Text

Yamaguchi Tadashi just wants a quiet place to study.

“I get that they’re rich,” he mutters to himself, “but don’t they still have to study? Or do they just hire people like me to take the tests for them?”

The library fills with giggling girls and loud guys looking to impress. Yamaguchi, hair a mess in a sloppy sweater and wrinkled pants, impresses no one. Not to mention the freckles. He’s pretty sure rich people never have freckles. Probably they have them lasered off at birth or just politely pay them to go away. When he opens the door to the second library, the study hall, the antechamber, they rather look at Yamaguchi like they’d pay him to go away too. He keeps trying.

The third music room. Yamaguchi opens the door.

A swirl of flower petals, a spritz of perfume, a spill of rose colored light and soft, romantic music. Attractive male silhouettes.

“What in the fuck,” Yamaguchi whispers.

“A guy, huh? Well. Never let it be said we’re not an equal opportunity Host Club,” someone says. Yamaguchi spins around, books falling to the floor.

“Sugawara Koushi.” A beautiful boy with ash blonde hair and a beauty mark smiles gently as he helps Yamaguchi pick up the scattered items. Yamaguchi flushes despite himself.

“Well? Classic good looks with a kind and charming demeanor?” Suga teases, reaching out to caress the side of Yamaguchi’s face. Yamaguchi lets out an undignified squeak and takes a step backwards. His back meets something firm and warm and arms wrap around Yamaguchi’s waist and squeeze.

“Nah, Suga. I think he’s into the fun loving type, right?”

Yamaguchi glances over his shoulder and meets a pair of fierce eyes, paired with a sneer and short, shaved hairstyle. When he faces forward again, Yamaguchi is startled to see a pair of bright eyes framed by spiky hair staring up at him from some distance.

“Tanaka Ryu and Nishinoya Yuu, our delinquent duo.” Suga says sweetly.

“Tanaka… why aren’t you wearing a shirt?” Yamaguchi asks a little desperately. It seems to be the right thing to ask. Yamaguchi finds himself freed as Tanaka strikes a pose.

“With abs like this, it’s a crime to wear clothing!” Tanaka laughs wildly. Nishinoya voices his approval. Yamaguchi, scooping up his books and papers, inches his way back toward the door.

“This is insane,” Yamaguchi mutters. “Is this really a school?”

“Hey, hey, what about me?” A small orange haired boy bounces over, latching onto Yamaguchi’s arm. “I’m Hinata, the cute genki type.”

“Did your mother tell you that?” Yamaguchi manages, trying to wrench free.

“Dumbass, he probably likes the cool type.” A scowling boy slightly taller than Yamaguchi reaches out to smack Hinata on the head. Hinata releases Yamaguchi’s arm and makes a face.

“Jeez, Kageyama, that hurts! C’mon, this is the first customer of the day- and the first boy, like, ever, I’m not gonna lose-”

“Well?” Suga asks, stepping back into Yamaguchi’s personal space.

“You know, he’s probably just looking for a quiet place to study.” A calm voice drifts over from behind the crowd.

Yamaguchi turns.

Flower bursts and sparkling lights. Of course. He’s tall. And blonde. And wearing glasses. And sitting at a piano with his fingers poised, looking better than anyone has a right to just by existing.

Yamaguchi swallows hard, drops his armload to the floor, and falls flat on his face. As he falls, his arms windmill outward, scrabbling for purchase. A crash of broken glass.

“That sounded expensive,” Hinata says brightly.

Yamaguchi covers his head with both arms.

“This is the worst team fundraiser I have ever heard of,” says the boy at the piano with a sigh.

“A host club,” Yamaguchi says flatly, seated on the couch a few minutes later.

“It’s a pop up, for our trip to Tokyo.” Suga explains, pouring a cup of fragrant tea. “Culminating in an auction featuring donated items like that unusual hand crafted vase you broke.” Suga beams. Yamaguchi feels himself break into a cold sweat.

“It was an ac-accident.” Yamaguchi stutters.

“Of course it was!” Suga pats Yamaguchi’s hand gently. “But we are out a valuable piece of property, aren’t we, Tsukishima?”

The tall, cool blonde adjusts his glasses before opening a manilla folder and flipping through a few pages.

“It was only about a quarter of our projected earnings,” Tsukishima says casually, a sly expression crossing his face. “He’ll just have to pay it back.” Tsukishima hands Yamaguchi a slip of paper. It appears to be an estimate. Yamaguchi’s eyes fix on all those zeros and he fizzles and shuts down.

“Ah, I think maybe you broke him!” Noya pokes Yamaguchi in the side. No response.

“He’s a scholarship student, isn’t he? He can’t even afford a uniform! No way he can pay,” Hinata chirrups.

“Dumbass! That’s classist!” Kageyama hisses.

“I don’t, uh, think he’s breathing.” Tanaka sounds a little concerned.

“Well,” Suga says, lifting his cup. “What do you suggest, treasurer?”

“He’ll just have to pay it back with his body,” Tsukishima says cruelly.

Yamaguchi passes out.

When he wakes up, a plan has been decided. He will act as the volleyball club dog, running errands and helping with set up for the rest of the fundraiser. This will pay off his debt to the club and ensure there’s enough funds for the Tokyo trip. Yamaguchi does his best to comply but he is a Complete Disaster.

“Is this- instant coffee?” The crowd gasps.

Noya holds up a plate of chocolate dipped cookies. “What exotic bakery is responsible for these treats?”

“Keebler,” Hinata reads off the package solemnly.

“Oh!” Suga takes a sip. “This is presweetened! And the milk is included!”

“It’s to save time since the poor don’t have servants to prepare hot beverages,” Kageyama says sagely.

Yamaguchi, smile becoming suspiciously twitchy, excuses himself to carry a few discarded dishes back into the kitchenette area. As soon as the swinging door closes, he buries his face in his hands and lets out a muffled shout.

“These damn rich kids!” Yamaguchi kicks viciously at the wall. “I’d like to drop them at a bus station and see if they die.”


A low chuckle greets Yamaguchi. He whirls around to see Tsukishima, leaning against the opposite wall with a cup of plain green tea.

“You don’t think much of us, do you?” Tsukishima’s mouth curls into a smirk. “Despite the fact that we have more power, influence and money than you can hope to wield in your entire lifetime. Jealousy’s an ugly thing, Yamaguchi.” His eyes glint behind his frames as he sets his cup down on the counter. The suit, his impeccable posture, even the color of the Majolica china cup between his long fingers all adjusted just so to give off the optimal effect, alluring and expensive and devastatingly attractive. Yamaguchi snaps.

“You’re a bunch of bored, spoiled jerks who wouldn’t know empathy if it kicked you in the teeth! I don’t want to play your stupid love games- like it’s a commodity you can buy and sell.” Yamaguchi breathes heavily. “You might think you’re being cool and detached, but something like that’s really pathetic!”

“Pathetic?” For a moment Yamaguchi cannot see his expression- the light catches his frames just so, hiding Tsukishima’s eyes.

“Oh Tsukishima!” Suga’s voice floats sweetly across the music room floor.

“You’d better go, number one seller.” Yamaguchi says mockingly, turning to the dishes in the sink. “A commoner like me can’t afford any more of your time.”

Tsukishima hesitates. After a minute, he turns and leaves through the swinging door. Yamaguchi washes his cup.

“Come along little Yama,” Suga pops his head into the kitchen a few minutes later. “We’re going down to the lawn to show the girls how to serve. We need someone to fetch the ball.”

Yamaguchi grits his teeth and turns off the faucet.

Thing is, Yamaguchi even kind of likes volleyball. He played all through middle school and over the summer sometimes with his older cousin. If it wasn’t for classes and worries about the cost of the uniform at a ritzy school like Karasuno and the fact that he’d know exactly no one on the team, he’d even thought briefly about going to tryouts. As it is, he is glad beyond words that he hadn’t bothered. They are absolutely unbearable. Obnoxious. Over the top. Showing off for a gaggle of silly girls who don’t seem to have an iota of genuine interest in any of the boys- who are here for status and attention and to waste their parent’s money. About the fifth time that Yamaguchi skitters after the ball, his face burning in embarrassment- whispers about his clothes and his messy hair and the sweat trickling down his collar, Yamaguchi stops, takes a deep breath, and serves. The ball arcs, floating just out of reach of the straining volleyball club members, striking the ground satisfyingly- right before it rolls into the portable tea set with a clatter of breaking porcelain.

“Fuck my entire life,” Yamaguchi breathes.

“Whoa!” Hinata bounces into the air. “That was so freaking cool, Yamaguchi!”

Suga sits up, interest perking. Kageyama’s sudden change of expression causes the girl he is sitting with to blush and fan herself lightly. Noya and Tanaka hit him rather too enthusiastically on the back. Tsukishima hands Yamaguchi another invoice, materializing almost out of nowhere. Yamaguchi nearly swallows his tongue.

“We’re changing the parameters!” Suga announces. “You will join us as a member of our volleyball team. We could really use a solid pinch server. That includes participating as a host until the fundraiser is concluded. In exchange, we will forgive your debt and you will receive certain volleyball club related perks.”

“Wait!” Yamaguchi tries. No one is waiting. He flails a little, catching someone’s sleeve.

Tsukishima’s sleeve. Of course.

“You guys really don’t want me to be a host,” Yamaguchi nearly begs.

“You’re above it, of course.” Tsukishima says, voice dry.

“Are you stupid or something?” Yamaguchi hisses. “Look at me, okay?”

Suga plucks Yamaguchi’s fingers away from Tsukishima before he can reply, his eyes sweeping over Yamaguchi from his scuffed, off brand sneakers to the wild wisps of hair that refuse to be tamed.

“Do you know how my family made their fortune? We run one of the premier fashion houses in France! My mother was a model. That’s where I get my hair color and my beauty mark.” Suga chats airly, leading Yamaguchi toward the newly curtained off section of the music room.

“You’re all really good looking and talented and… rich. What the hell do you want with me?” Yamaguchi asks, bewildered.

“To have fun, Yamaguchi.” Suga looks puzzled. “Haven’t you been having fun?”

After a half an hour of fittings and last minute adjustments and Suga doing something to his hair that involved tying back the longer pieces rather attractively away from his face and Tanaka applying a number of unguents and paper masks and toner (The Tanaka group specializes in beauty products, apparently) Yamaguchi steps out from behind the curtain.

“Well!” Suga says, smile bright. Noya and Tanaka wordlessly high five. Hinata gives a happy little squeal. Kageyama nods in approval. Tsukishima turns his back and adjusts his glasses.

It actually isn’t all that hard, once Yamaguchi gets used to it. The girls are fascinated with his middle class background. When he explains how to get stains out of a dress shirt or how to make perfect, fluffy scrambled eggs they are enthralled.

“What made you come to Karasuno?” One girl asks breathlessly.

“My Mom was an attorney. She took a lot of high profile cases defending those who weren’t able to protect themselves. I really admired how hard she worked to do the right thing. When she died, things were a little hard at home. I knew I needed a scholarship to a really good school like Karasuno..” When Yamaguchi looks up, the girls are staring at him, sparkles in their eyes.

“He’s a natural,” Suga whispers none-too-quietly to Tsukishima, who doesn’t respond.

Yamaguchi isn’t sure why it had never occurred to him that there might be bullies at Karasuno. Maybe because the school is so rich and the students so refined- the school lunches come with a dizzyingly complicated set of silverware, for chrissake. Pushing people into lockers and dumping their school bags in the trash just seems a little… juvenile.

And yet, here he is.

“You just weasel your way into a club and suddenly you’ve got a nice suit and attention from a bunch of first class girls? You’re not fit to lick their shoes, you poor piece of trash.”

Yamaguchi’s face burns. He eyes his attackers- he’s taller than they are, but there’s three of them and he can’t afford to get suspended, not with his scholarship. Besides, this is the nicest suit he’s ever owned and he refuses to let anything happen to it. That means no rips, no bloodstains.

“What do you think this is going to accomplish?” Yamaguchi asks, voice steady.

“We’re going to ruin you. No one will ever believe someone like you over people like us.”

And one of his attackers pulls out a knife.

“Pathetic.”

Al four of them whip in the direction of the voice. Tsukishima, arms crossed casually, leans against the doorway.

“Three against one? And a weapon. I’m disappointed in you.” Tsukishima clicks his tongue.

“Sh-shut up! Get out of here! Do you know who my father is?” The boy with the knife brandishes it wildly.

“Do you know who my father is?” Tsukishima asks slowly, smirk slowly spreading across his face.

“Holy shit, it’s Tsukishima Kei.

The attackers run, dropping the knife on the ground in their haste. Yamaguchi fishes a tissue out of his pocket and picks up the weapon before dropping it into a nearby trash can. Tsukishima watches him.

“I guess you’re kind of a big deal, huh?” Yamaguchi asks finally.

“You really don’t pay attention to those kinds of things, do you?” Tsukishima asks.

“Why should I?” Yamaguchi is surprised.

“Because you’re not rich, Yamaguchi. You would benefit the most from making friendships and connections with powerful people at this school. You could marry into almost any family here and drastically improve your social standings and prospects in life.”

Yamaguchi recoils from the bloodless words, back pressing into the lockers behind him and Tsukishima laughs a little, stepping forward until they are nearly touching.

“That never even occurred to you, did it?”

“Karasuno is a sister school to the best pre-law program in the country,” Yamaguchi says helplessly. Tsukishima reaches up, tucking a strand of loose hair behind Yamaguchi’s ear.

“Your lack of self preservation is… cute.”

“Cute?” Yamaguchi quirks an eyebrow, fighting a flush even as he turns his face away. It’s getting hard to breathe with Tsukishima so close. “I’m not cute, Tsukki.

Tsukishima huffs a little in response.

“I like you, Yamaguchi. Don’t you like me?”

Yamaguchi slips out of Tsukishima’s grip, ducking around until he is backing up towards the doorway, heart thumping.

“Even if I did like you,” Yamaguchi says, voice firm, “I won’t be able to do anything about it until we’re on equal ground.”

“How are you going to do that?” Tsukishima asks.

“Wake up, for starters.” Yamaguchi says.

~~~

Yamaguchi opens his eyes five minutes before his alarm goes off.

Before he gets into the shower, he sends off a quick text.

can I still come to the art show?

Chapter Text

Yamaguchi is on fire at morning practice.

Noya, rising from where he splays on the floor after missing a particularly vicious serve, lets out a low, impressed whistle.

“What the hell’s gotten into you?” He asks, grinning.

Yamaguchi just shrugs.

Noya’s not the only only one to notice. Ennoshita gives a proud grin. Tanaka shoots a thumbs up on the way to the club room.

The four of them head back to the main building after changing.

“You’re different today, aren’t you?” Hinata asks, smiling brightly.

“Good job today,” Kageyama agrees.

“Thanks,” Yamaguchi says, mouth tugging up against his will. He doesn’t want to laugh at Kageyama, whose compliments seem to physically pain him, but it does feel a little like the impersonal congratulations they receive from their Vice Principal at the end of each semester at assembly- awkward in a way that doesn’t translate well across a generation gap. Kageyama is seventeen going on forty eight. Yamaguchi catches Tsukishima’s eye and the two of them smile before looking away.

“You’re turning into a fine young man,” Tsukishima says quietly into Yamaguchi’s ear as they turn into their classroom, and Yamaguchi has to clap his hands over his mouth. It is a little disconcerting how in-sync they are.

Then Tsukishima reaches across, blocking Yamaguchi from sitting down for a moment. He looks at Yamaguchi searchingly.

“You are a little different today,” Tsukishima says finally, moving out of the way.

“Good different?” Yamaguchi asks, sitting down and opening his notes.

Tsukishima snorts, as though it is a stupid question. “You’re standing up a little taller,” he notes. Before Yamaguchi can respond, class begins.

“So we’ll pick you up around six? There’s supposed to be food, but if it’s lousy Aki-Nii said he’ll spring for dinner after.” Tsukishima stops outside Yamaguchi’s door.

“I haven’t heard you call him that for a while,” Yamaguchi smiles.

“Yeah, well. I’m trying.” Tsukishima fiddles with his headphones like he does whenever he’s feeling awkward.

“What are you wearing?” Yamaguchi blurts out before Tsukishima turns away. Tsukishima’s hands drop to his sides.

“I don’t know. Whatever. He’ll tell me if I’m not dressy enough, I guess.”

Yamaguchi nods, flipping through his wardrobe in his mind.

“I don’t think it matters,” Tsukishima adds. “Wear whatever. I just want you to go.”

“Do you?” Yamaguchi asks deliberately. Their eyes meet.

“I do. I did…. I do.” Tsukishima falls silent. The moment feels heavy.

“Six,” Yamaguchi says finally, turning to go inside.

“Six,” Tsukishima repeats, but he sounds like he means to say something else.

When Yamaguchi’s father gets home, he finds his son frowning in front of the mirror, holding up two different button down dress shirts. On the bed, half of Yamaguchi’s wardrobe has been considered and discarded.

“Got a hot date, Tadashi?” His father teases gently. Yamaguchi startles.

“Hey, Dad.” Yamaguchi greets weakly.

“Seriously, though. What is all this?”

“What…” Yamaguchi chews thoughtfully on his lower lip. “What do you even wear to a museum? There’s this art exhibit. I feel a little overwhelmed.”

“Wear whatever you want.” Yamaguchi’s father says dismissively, though he steps further into the room. “Artsy types don’t really care about things like that. The question is- do you want to look nice? For reasons of your own?”

Yamaguchi considers his words thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” he says finally. “I kinda do.”

Yamaguchi’s father reaches out and considers both shirts before turning back to the bed. He lifts out a different dress shirt- dark blue with a subtle silver striped pattern.

“Black jeans.” He advises, stepping out of the room. Yamaguchi dresses and turns back to the mirror. His father returns. Without saying a word, he fastens a silver watch on Yamaguchi’s left wrist.

“Dad, no. That’s the watch Mom gave you. What if it gets scratched or the clasp breaks?” Yamaguchi protests.

“I always meant to give it to you,” Yamaguchi’s father explains. “It just wasn’t ever a good time. I know you’re very responsible, but even if something did happen, it would be okay. Things won’t change our memories of her.”

Yamaguchi swallows around the lump in his throat, blinking rapidly.

“You know,” Yamaguchi’s father says slowly. “Your hair is getting long. It reminds me a little of how I used to wear mine, when I first met your Mom.”

Yamaguchi’s hands come up to his bangs. He tugs at them lightly.

“You used to wear your hair back, right?” Yamaguchi pulls the longer strands back from his face experimentally, turning to the mirror.

“Looks good,” Yamaguchi’s father says decidedly. “I think there’s still some hair ties in our bathroom.”

Yamaguchi’s father works gentle fingers through his hair, standing over the bathroom sink. When he finishes, he takes a step back, examining his son critically.

“Your Mom would be proud,” he says finally, slinging an arm around Yamaguchi’s shoulder. “I know I am.”

Yamaguchi’s face heats up.

“Would you… would you always be proud of me?” Yamaguchi asks, eyes focused on his reflection.

“Tadashi. I can’t imagine anything that would change that.” Yamaguchi’s father withdraws his arm reluctantly. “But is there something you want to tell me anyway?”

Yamaguchi leans against the sink.

“Is it about a girl?” His father hazards a guess.

“...”

“...A boy?” Yamaguchi’s father tries again.

Yamaguchi, eyes closed, gives a single, sharp nod.

Yamaguchi’s father makes a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat. Then he snaps his fingers, echoing against the tiles. Yamaguchi opens his eyes.

“Nope,” Yamaguchi’s father says, familiar grin stretching across his face. “Still proud.”

Akiteru pulls up at five to six. Yamaguchi jogs out to the car, hopping in the backseat.

“Tadashi! You look fantastic. Doesn’t he, Kei?” Akiteru says, nudging his brother in the front seat. Tsukishima doesn’t respond, but he does adjust his glasses as he looks out the window. Yamaguchi grins. He feels kind of fantastic.

“So. What kind of art exhibit is this, anyway?” Yamaguchi wonders. Akiteru waggles his eyebrows as he puts the car into reverse.

“Performance art!” he announces cheerfully.

“Tsukki.” Yamaguchi whisper-shouts, tugging on Tsukishima’s sleeve an hour later. “Performance art is weird.” Wordlessly, Tsukishima nods agreement.

Attractive figures in colorful, skintight bodysuits prance around the room. Lights flash. Someone is reciting a poem in English. And Saeko Tanaka is going absolutely batshit on the taiko set up, her grin manic. The crowd is a mix of haughty, too-thin art types in various states of dress and on-the-street, everyday people. Across the room, Yamaguchi can see the familiar figures of their upperclassmen, Tanaka and Noya, cheering Saeko on. Tsukishima looks nice- he always looks nice, sweater over his button up, dark wash jeans, his face- but Akiteru is the only one in a stuffy, formal three piece suit that clearly came from an office job. He looks tremendously out of place, but he is grinning and shouting encouragement, hands cupped around his mouth, face a little pink when Saeko shoots a happy expression his way. Everything is so loud. Yamaguchi can’t help it- he laughs freely, thought the sound is mostly lost in the noise of the room. When he looks up, Tsukishima is laughing too, looking at Yamaguchi out of the corner of his eye. Yamaguchi doesn’t let go of his sleeve.

After the performance, there are tiny sandwiches and glasses of bubbly wine. People mill about. Yamaguchi snags a couple of sandwiches and, after a thought, two glasses of the wine. The waiter raises an eyebrow but makes no comment. Yamaguchi is rather proud of himself. He meets Tsukishima over by a painting that seems to be completely blank. Yamaguchi sips his wine and looks at the painting like it means something. Tsukishima looks at the glass and the tiny sandwich triangle that Yamaguchi hands him with a raised eyebrow- but he accepts.

“You didn’t tell me that Akiteru’s new girlfriend was Tanaka’s sister,” Yamaguchi says around a mouthful of gruyere and pickle.

“Saeko can’t help who she is related to,” Tsukishima sniffs. He tries the wine and makes a tiny face. Yamaguchi hides a smile by taking a drink and surprisingly not hating it.

“You two are trading blackmail material, huh?”

Tsukishima smirks. “I asked her what all this means. Akiteru said something about representation of the chaos of the elements personifying humanity’s downfall. Saeko said the hell if she knows, it just gives her a chance to perform between festivals.”

Yamaguchi laughs again. When he catches Tsukishima’s eye, his expression is warm.

“What?” Yamaguchi asks, fighting to keep his voice steady.

“Nothing,” Tsukishima says automatically, but hesitates. When Yamaguchi doesn’t look away, he relents. “You look like you’re having a good time.”

“I am. Thanks for bringing me after all,” Yamaguchi says lightly. Tsukishima takes another drink- a deep one.

“I didn’t… not ask you because I didn’t want you to come.” Tsukishima says finally.

“Why didn’t you ask me, then?” Yamaguchi asks, turning to face his friend fully.

“I thought it might look like a date.” Tsukishima admits, voice soft and a little shameful.

“That’s dumb.” Yamaguchi responds boldly, ignoring the the lurch in his chest. He gestures across the room. “Noya and Tanaka are here, and they don’t look like they’re on a date at all.”

“I didn’t know they were coming.”

“Either way. Since when do you care about what other people think, Tsukki?” Yamaguchi asks. It feels exactly the same as ever, but different somehow. Tsukishima feels a little smaller- a little more turned into himself. Yamaguchi is pulling, prodding, coaxing him out- but maybe that’s how it’s always been. Maybe he’s the only one who hadn’t figured out that if he wants something from Tsukishima, he has to go and get it sometimes.

“...maybe I thought it would feel like a date, then?” Tsukishima offers, looking back at the painting.

“Tsukki. What are you trying to ask me?” Yamaguchi echoes, voice heavy with irony.

“Don’t.” Tsukishima’s voice has a strange note. Yamaguchi looks over in surprise. Tsukishima’s hands curl around the wine glass protectively, his face coloring. Slowly, so slowly, Tsukishima turns to look at him.

“I’m trying.” Tsukishima says with effort. Yamaguchi can hardly hear him over his own heartbeat.

“Our kohai! Sneaking booze! I’m so proud, Yuu!” Tanaka’s meaty hands come down to clasp the two on their shoulders, effectively splitting them apart, shattering the mood.

“They grow up so fast.” Nishinoya wipes away a fake tear.

“Kei! Tadashi! Glad you could make it!” Saeko’s back slap is, if anything, twice as hard as Tanaka’s.

“Jesus,” Yamaguchi wheezes a little.

“Who wants sake?!” Saeko announces happily. Noya and Tanaka perk up at the mention of alcohol.

“They’re a little young-” Akiteru begins before zeroing in on the wine glasses, half full, Yamaguchi and Tsukishima’s hands. He holds a hand to his heart. Yamaguchi feels a small twinge of guilt until he sees Saeko wink over Akiteru’s shoulder. He can see why Tsukishima likes her.

“Kei! Tadashi! I’m so disappointed in you.” Akiteru looks like he might cry.

Tsukishima, maintaining eye contact, finishes his drink. Yamaguchi follows suit. Saeko, Tanaka and Noya cheer.

After some brief discussion, they part ways for the night- Akiteru and Saeko heading out with some of the other performers for some late night drinking and celebration. Before he leaves, though, Akiteru shells out enough money that the four of them can get ramen and take the train home. Tsukishima gripes a little under his breath about the company, but Nishinoya and Tanaka don’t listen, are busy fawning over Yamaguchi’s hair and his clothes and his watch.

“It was a present from my Mom to my Dad on the last Christmas before she died,” Yamaguchi explains, a little shy.

“That’s…” Noya and Tanaka exchange a look.

“It suits him.” Tsukishima says. “This place looks okay.” He leads the way into the small corner shop. Yamaguchi, smiling to himself, follows.

“You know,” Tanaka says, once they begin eating. “I was a little worried when Nee-san said she was dating your brother. You’re kind of cold, you know? And Saeko’s really open. I thought if your brother was like you she might end up getting hurt. She comes off really tough, but it’s just to cover up her soft side. She is a girl, after all.”

“Aki-Nii is nothing like me." Tsukishima snorts.

"You think? You sort of look alike," Noya says conversationally, slurping.

"He tries too hard and can be stupidly softhearted." Tsuishima's voice is flat. He almost sounds insulting.

Yamaguchi makes a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat as he breaks the yolk into the broth.

"...he’s a better person than me.”

Tsukishima doesn’t look up from his bowl, steam fogging his glasses as he eats.

“I don’t know,” Yamaguchi says lightly, picking up his spoon. “I think you two are a lot alike.”

Nishinoya and Tanaka exchange another look, but this time they are smiling.

“Well, I don’t mind inducting you into the Tanaka family tree, brother!” Tanaka announces with a laugh.

“As if. We’ll just adopt Saeko. There’s hope for her still.” Tsukishima smirks. Noya howls.

They split up on the train ride home. Noya and Tanaka heading in the opposite direction. There are four blissfully quiet stops before they have to get off, and Yamaguchi spends them all watching Tsukishima’s reflection in the train car window. Tsukishima is maybe watching him, too.

Something is happening. It isn’t Hinata and it isn’t the shoujo manga and it isn’t the dreams. It’s something inside of Yamaguchi, something twisting and demanding to be seen. Who I really am, Yamaguchi thinks. Getting there, slowly. Almost-

“You do look. Fantastic.” Tsukishima says outside Yamaguchi’s house.

Yamaguchi turns to look up at Tsukishima. He studies his face in the near darkness. Anyone else would see impassive, disaffected cool. Anyone else would miss that sudden, darting look to the side, the too-straight line of Tsukishima’s neutral expression. Yamaguchi opens his mouth to speak.

The porch light flickers on.

“I thought I heard you talking, Kei! Were you staying over tonight?” Yamaguchi’s father opens the door with a smile.

“Ah, no. Not tonight.” Tsukishima takes a step backwards. “I have to go.”

Yamaguchi nods a little too quickly, watches a little too long for Tsukishima to disappear down the street. When he steps inside, his father is sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and a sheepish expression.

“Kei, huh? I guess I put my foot in it. Do you want to talk about it?”

Yamaguchi leans against the door thoughtfully for a moment.

“Soon,” he answers.

Yamaguchi goes to bed without reading any more manga.

That apparently doesn't matter.

Chapter Text

~~

“Stand up straight, Yamaguchi. Shoulders out. Your character needs to exude confidence. You got the part, now act like it.” Tsukishima’s mouth scrunches to one side, like it does when he’s doing something patently unnecessary. He’s standing, hand on his hip just so, and Yamaguchi wonders how someone can look like they’ve got a spotlight on them at all times, even at nearly one in the morning on a Tuesday before a big shoot.

“I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it right,” Yamaguchi’s frown deepens, his brow narrowing in concentration. He feels a little less like the confident Prince character, and a little more like a scared kid heading off to a war, but the light in his eyes just feels right for once. He turns to Tsukishima Kei, headliner at L.M.E. Studios. How he’s managed this strange, antagonistic friendship is beyond him- as part of the Love ME Division, he’s barely hanging on to the fringes of entertainment. But Yamaguchi is determined to make it, and something in how hard he is willing to work has begrudgingly caught Tsukishima’s attention and held it- to the point that he’s willing to coach Yamaguchi on posture and carriage, even if his mouth is a tight line of exhaustion and annoyance. Yamaguchi tries again. He’s going to do this if it kills him.

“All of this to show off your talents to a bunch of old bullies that no one even cares about.” Tsukishima sneers, reading his thoughts on his face. “Your motivation is pathetic.”

Yamaguchi just grins. “Maybe at first, but not anymore. My only motivation is my own pride.”

Tsukishima’s mouth curves into a genuine smile. “…pretty cool. Maybe you’re suited for the part after all.” There are some times, when the light is just right and Tsukishima forgets to be a miserable bastard that Yamaguchi is reminded of someone- someone from long ago, who had a shock of blonde hair and a beatific smile… his childhood friend, Tsukki. But no, that was long ago and this is the present. Still, something soft in his expression makes Yamaguchi act.

Yamaguchi reaches out impulsively, fingers resting lightly on Tsukishima’s elbow. “You can’t really be this confident all the time? You always know exactly what to say.”

Tsukishima blinks.

“I really don’t, Yamaguchi. Haven’t you figured that out by now?”

~~

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Yamaguchi whispers.

“Oh Yamaguchi!” Yachi leans forward, long skirt swirling around her ankles.. “Did Kei hurt you? Because I’ll beat him up! I mean it!” Yachi produces a metal pipe in shaking hands.

Yamaguchi tries to smother a laugh.

“How you ever made it as yankee, I’ll never know, Hitoka-chan.” Shimizu smiles warmly, placing a calming hand over Yachi’s. “You have got to be about the worst gangster girl I’ve ever seen. I don’t even need my electric waves to see that.” Her voice is full of affection.

“Kiyoko…” Yachi turns dazzled eyes up to the taller girl.

“Yamaguchi, do you hate him?” Shimizu asks.

“Of course not.” Yamaguchi says automatically.

“Are you sure? Tsukishima is cold and cutting. He lashes out at those who try to get close to him. He always knows the most hurtful thing to say, and even when he isn’t saying it, you can tell what he’s thinking because he wants you to know. He uses all that talent and all that wit just to keep people away. He’s never had a healthy relationship with other people, and he probably never-”

“It’s not true!” Yamaguchi sits up, hands clenched by his sides. “I mean it is, in a way, but that’s not him. That’s not really him.”

Shimizu looks at Yamaguchi coolly.

“He’s trying,” Yamaguchi says.

Shimizu smiles. “Well, you know now, don’t you? Why it has to be you?”

Yamaguchi rises to his feet. How much does Shimizu know, anyway? She’d never tell, but he trusts her implicitly.

“I don’t really understand,” Yachi says haltingly. “But we’re your friends, Yamaguchi. And we’re his too, if he lets us. So you don’t have to worry, whichever way this goes.”

Yamaguchi gives a short, sharp nod. Then he sprints out of Yachi’s bedroom and into the snow.

“It’s hard to be in love,” Yachi sighs out behind him.

“Is it?” Shimizu asks, bemused. “I think that’s the easiest part.” Shimizu takes her hand. Yachi squeaks.

Yamaguchi finds Tsukishima behind Akiteru’s house. He sits facing the yard, back tense, cross legged. There are lights in the windows upstairs, and shadows, too, in the falling dark, but when he glances up, the curtains fall. They’re all there, the whole clan, but they’re letting him take lead. The snow falls down around them, but Yamaguchi can hardly feel the cold. He knows that when it all melts, there will be Spring.

“So what?” Yamaguchi says finally to Tsukishima’s back. “So what if you’re c-cursed?”

“Try saying that like you actually mean it,” Tsukishima’s voice is dry and brittle.

“I do mean it. I always mean what I say to you,” Yamaguchi snaps.

Tsukishima rises to his feet but does not turn around.

“Why are you doing this? Why are you shutting me out?” Yamaguchi reaches out, his hand faltering and falling just short of touching the black t-shirt. “It isn’t the curse, is it? You know I love cats. I’m a huge fan of cats. Dogs are great but cats are-”

“Shut up, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima’s voice is without heat. He still doesn’t turn around. Yamaguchi, stupidly, misses his face- misses his sharp golden eyes.

“Tsukki?” Yamaguchi tries.

“It isn’t the curse. Not... any more than just being myself is a curse. I guess.”

“I don’t understand,” Yamaguchi says numbly.

“I’m not a good person, Yamaguchi. I’m not open or trusting or kind. I’m hiding it all the time now. It’s probably starting to show.” Tsukishima touches the black and white beaded bracelet on his wrist. “Do you want to see? What I’m really like?”

“Tsukki.” Yamaguchi’s voice is full of reproach. “I already know what you’re really like.”

Tsukishima looks at him then, eyes wide. “You do, don’t you?” his voice is full of wonder.

Yamaguchi slips the bracelet off.

~~

“Maybe it was your looks and how cool you carry yourself at first,” Yamaguchi confesses. “But then I started helping you with your manga and spending so much time with you- you are such a dork, did you know that? I mean drawing a cute little dinosaur themed shoujo manga under an assumed name, roping in your upperclassman Oikawa and Iwaizumi to help you out using blackmail-”

“They shouldn’t have been doing that in a public, easily photographed place,” Tsukki mutters, fiddling with his glasses.

“Don’t interrupt, Tsukki! You grumble and you whine but really, you’re having fun, aren’t you? Oikawa being over the top and still drawing, like, the most ridiculously gorgeous shoujo accents and bubbles and flowers I’ve ever seen? Iwaizumi on backgrounds and drinking all your tea? All nighters? Making manga with your friends? With- with me?” Yamaguchi steps forward.

“It takes a long time for me to trust someone,” Tsukishima says finally. “I don’t think even after meeting someone and having fun that I would be able to have those kinds of feelings right away. For me it would take… years, probably, to let someone in.”

“I’d wait. I have been waiting, I think.” Yamaguchi realizes.

“You really want to stay by my side? After years of this?” Tsukishima asks, looking out toward the window.

“More than anything.”

~~

“France.” Tsukishima’s voice sounds far away even though they are standing side by side.

Yamaguchi smiles, though it hurts him. “It’s been my dream my whole life, Tsukki. Designing in France, making my way in the fashion world.” His eyes are stinging. He looks out across the harbor. The sun is setting. It is beautiful. Tsukishima is beautiful. This moment is beautiful, though it cuts like broken glass.

“My life is here.” Tsukishima says reluctantly. “Part of me wants to go- be your model, try to climb to the top beside you. But I can’t.”

“I know that!” Yamaguchi whirls to face him. “You don’t think I know that? But I still have to go.” Yamaguchi squares his shoulders.

“The Yamaguchi I like,” Tsukishima says softly, “is the one who goes after what he wants.”

Yamaguchi looks at Tsukishima, at his tall frame, smooth jawline, arresting eyes. He hadn’t known where this would go, when he first begged Tsukishima to be his model- had sent Bokuto and Akaashi to wheedle him into helping with Yamaguchi’s fashion debut. It had been just another step towards life in France, but now it is a silk thread, stronger than any rope, leading from heart to heart.

“Do you really think we would stop being close over something like a little distance?” Tsukishima asks.

“Sometimes I get scared.” Yamaguchi admits, stepping closer.

“That’s okay.” Tsukishima’s hand brushes across Yamaguchi’s face. “I like that Yamaguchi, too.”

~~

Yamaguchi rolls over, gives up on sleeping. He goes downstairs to make some tea and watch the sunrise.

When it’s a decent hour, Hinata comes over.

“You don’t look like you’re sleeping so good,” the smaller boy says critically, sprawled on the floor.

“I had a lot of dreams,” Yamaguchi admits, lying down flat across his bed. “I kept waking up.”

“Like… dirty dreams, or what?”

Yamaguchi rolls his eyes. “No, Hinata, not like that. Like… I don’t know. Shoujo manga stuff, I guess.”

“Is this because of what I said about you and Tsukishima?” Hinata sits up, head tilted to the side, hands still around the volleyball he’d been tossing lightly since he came in.

“Probably,” Yamaguchi says.

“Did it bother you? It wasn’t supposed to.”

“I know that,” Yamaguchi reassures him. “I’m not mad. I’ve just been thinking too much.”

“Sounds like you,” Hinata agrees. “You like Tsukishima, don’t you?”

“More than like. Probably.” Yamaguchi fixes his eyes on the ceiling.

“I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that to themselves. But it makes sense, I guess, if it’s you.” Hinata is quiet for a moment. Yamaguchi’s face burns.

“I’ve got different comics for that kind of thing.” Hinata offers helpfully after a moment.

“You do?” Yamaguchi rolls over until he can see his friend’s expression.

“Sure.” Now Hinata’s face is slightly flushed, betraying his casual tone. “Cause, you know.”

Yamaguchi props himself up on one elbow, looking down. Hinata’s face is pressed into the volleyball, hiding his expression.

“...Kageyama.” Hinata says finally.

“Ah.” Yamaguchi flops back onto the bed, smiling.

~~

Yamaguchi walks with Tsukishima after practice, down the long hill towards home. They pass the split in the sidewalk that marks the place their paths diverge, but Tsukishima stays beside him and Yamaguchi realizes that this is a new change, too, that Tsukishima seeing him all the way to the door is a thing that happened even without him noticing. What other things might have happened without his noticing?

Yamaguchi doesn’t stop at his house. He keeps walking until they reach the park. It’s dark outside so the park is empty, and that too is a kind of luck, probably. Buoyed, Yamaguchi sits on the bench, overlooking the area. He can see the spot over by the slide where he had cowered as a child, can trace the path Tsukishima would have taken on his way home from the school and where he stopped, for a moment, to say something rude that caught at Yamaguchi and never really let him go.

“Do you have something to say?” Tsukishima asks finally. “I’ll listen.” If it’s you.

Yamaguchi exhales. “It’s hard,” he admits. Tsukishima nods.

“… I have something to say,” Tsukishima says after a moment.

The stars are out and they’re so pretty. Yamaguchi tilts his head back towards them.

“I hate shoujo manga.”

Yamaguchi lets out a snort of laughter before he can stop himself.

“I’m being serious. It’s cliché and boring and predictable. There’s nothing real about it. I don’t mind if you like it, but most of the time when you’re reading it, you look so sad. I hate that, too.”

“It’s not the stories that make me sad,” Yamaguchi admits. “It’s so neat and it fits so well, is all. Nothing in my life goes like that.” He is thinking about his mother. He is thinking about Tsukishima.

“Yamaguchi… I feel the same way about you that I would no matter what you looked like or how we met.”

Yamaguchi swallows. There’s a warm pressure on his hand, resting on the bench.

“We can pretend like I don’t. I kind of thought we were, before. I thought the music was... obvious. But we don't have to let it change things. You can date a cute little blonde and I can find a girl with freckles. We can dance around what we really feel for the rest of our lives- we can make each other the honorary uncles of our huge hoard of brats, but Tadashi… is that what you want? Is that really what you want? For this to be the most important connection of our lives and for you to throw it away because of some fucking manga?”

Yamaguchi looks at him then, at Tsukishima’s hard expression, neutral and daunting to anyone who doesn’t know him well enough. But Yamaguchi knows him well enough, can feel the sweat on Tsukishima’s palm resting gently on his hand, can see what it’s costing Tsukishima to take a risk, to bother caring, to show it.

“I’m in love with you,” Yamaguchi says honestly. “Please don’t marry a girl with freckles.”

Tsukishima brings Yamaguchi’s hand up, presses a kiss to his fingers.

In the end, it doesn’t take a magic spell or a secret engagement. There’s no love potion or mistaken confession. Yamaguchi never gains power or glimpses the future and Tsukishima never saves him from a kidnapping. They finish high school and go to University. They find steady work and an apartment close to the train station. They get a cat because their landlord doesn’t allow for dogs.

Once, at a work function, Yamaguchi overhears someone asking Tsukishima how they got together. Tsukishima’s voice is cool when he replies.

“Fate, probably.”