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discomfort runs skin deep

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Kakeru doesn’t know what to expect when he finds out his stepbrother is coming over to stay with him for Christmas break. He hasn’t told the guys at Aotake about it, much less anything about his personal life outside of running. He leaves that at the back of his mind, shelved and shut off until he cares to remember later.


It’s about a week later when he gets a text message from his dad after the team’s evening run. The message is short and to the point. Kageyama would arrive tomorrow in the afternoon and Kakeru looks around his cramped room, toeing at the dusty floorboard beneath him. He curses to himself and runs a hasty hand through his hair in dismay, mucking up the already sweaty locks.


Saturday afternoon comes sooner than Kakeru wants it to. It’s not that he doesn’t like Kageyama, but they’ve only met once when Kakeru’s dad brought them all out for dinner. The memory was faint and unimpressionable, and it was all lost by the time Kakeru moved to university.


“Ah! Kurahara!”


The twins’ unison yell echoes down the hall and Kakeru isn’t sure if he should answer them or pretend he’s not in his room. The idea is abandoned when he hears footsteps thundering towards his room, followed by the sound of the door being shoved opened.


“Kura— “


Jotaro sticks his head out from the right of the door.




Jojiro follows, clutching the left of the doorway.


“Someone’s here to see you!”


The twins bellow, matching grins on their faces as they shove themselves into the room. Kakeru reels in the urge to sigh and settles for a quick nod. He ushers the blonds out before closing the door shut. He had learned his lesson the last time he left the twins unsupervised in his room. It took days to find the half-eaten rice ball that stunk up his room.

Kakeru sees the sullen face of his stepbrother and the back of Haiji’s head.


“Kageyama,” Kakeru says as a greeting. He gives a curt nod to Haiji, if not a little wary. When Kakeru is actually paying attention quarter of the time, he notices that the leader of their scrappy running club cuts off as a rather shady figure. Despite his lack of protest towards the Ekiden, Kakeru is still sour over getting tricked into it in the first place and he may not know his stepbrother very well, but he isn’t cruel to leave him to whatever nefarious, over the top scheme Haiji has cooked up for the day.


“Kurahara,” Kageyama says. He’s tall, taller than Kurahara by an inch and he tramples the souring thought, leaving it to rot.


“Glad you could make it,” Kakeru says, not really meaning a word of it.


“Glad to be here,” Kageyama echoes back. He’s gripping the straps of his duffel bag and Kakeru can see the black athletic wear the teen dons and faintly wonders if he’s in any clubs at his high school.


“Kageyama was just telling me he’s in the volleyball team at his high school,” Haiji chimes as if reading his mind. There’s an easy smile on his face and a hint of mirth in his eyes that Kakeru isn’t too sure if he likes, but keeps to himself. “He plays— what position was it again? Sitter?”


“Setter,” Kageyama replies stiffly.


“Ah yes, my bad. Setter! Seems to me like athleticism runs in the family,” Haiji says. There’s a hand underneath his chin and he looks at Kageyama as if appraising his worth. “Does your team make you run by any chance?”


Before Kageyama gets to respond and much to Kakeru’s relief, the twins make their introduction, barreling down the hall, and only stopping when they crowd around Kageyama.


“Wow! You’re pretty tall!”


“What’s your height?”


“You look so much like Kakeru!”


“Are there girls in your volleyball team?”


There’s a brief flash of horror that crosses the younger boy’s face and he’s bending backward as the twins loom over him excitedly.


“Okay, guys. Cut it out. I think you’re scaring Kakeru’s brother,” Haiji says, hands on his hips as he looks at them in grim amusement.


Jotaro, or Jojiro groans. Kakeru still can’t distinguish the twins apart much to their satisfaction.


“But we just want to get to know him!”


“Kakeru never tells us anything about himself.”


“You can ask him all the questions you want once he gets settled in and I’m sure Kakeru would like to catch up with him.”


Kakeru isn’t quite sure about that, but he makes no protest. The twins clamber back to their rooms, sulking as they climbed the stairs.


“Sorry about them. They don’t mean anything bad, but I know they can act like a bunch of golden retrievers whenever they see anything that piques their interest,” Haiji says with an exasperated huff.


“It’s not a problem,” Kageyama says. There’s a constipated look that crosses his face that makes Kakeru wonder if he, himself is that bad at communicating.


“I’ll take you to the room,” he offers, feeling pity for the younger boy. It’s a six-hour train ride from Sendai and he’s not cruel to leave Kageyama to fend for himself no matter how awkward this all is.

By the time it’s evening, Kakeru is hands deep in a basin, wrestling against a ball of cabbage submerged in water.  He was asked to help Haiji, and having nothing else to do, had complied. It makes him a bad host to Kageyama, but the boy didn’t seem to mind and had no room to complain when the twins saw the volleyball Kageyama had pulled out of his duffel bag. A chorus of “toss to us! Toss to us!” had won out before he was carted out the door. A look of horror flashes through Kageyama’s features before Kakeru’s view is blocked and he’s being guided to the kitchen by Haiji.


Winter vacation is two weeks long for high school students and Kageyama will be here for the full two weeks. Both their parents won’t be showing up until after the New Years and Kakeru can’t help, but feel miffed that he’s saddled to babysit his stranger of a stepbrother. It’s only been a couple of hours until Kageyama showed up and so far, Kakeru had been lucky with their very limited interaction. His dad may not have said it, but it was fairly obvious that he wanted Kakeru to get along with Kageyama.


“You know, I admire your determination in making the cabbage clean as possible, but if you’re going to wash it leaf by leaf then we’re going to be here till tomorrow.”


He feels Haiji’s breath flutter against his ears and stiffens as the older man moves closer to eye the lettuce in the basin. There’s warmth pressed against his shoulder and Kakeru wrenches his hands deep into his very core, reprimanding himself to get over it. He reels himself in and huffs, the will to yelp in surprise dies with his exhale.  


“I’m almost done,” he says shortly. His gaze refusing to meet Haiji’s, but relaxes when he hears the older man hum in approval before moving away.


He spends a few more minutes washing the cabbage until he takes it out of the water. Kakeru hears rustling before a door is slammed opened, followed by laughter and stomping coming from the twins. There’s a much quieter pair of footsteps that trail not too far from them and Kakeru waits until it stops at the entrance of the kitchen. He whips around, expecting to see Kageyama standing awkwardly by the door, but is surprised to see nobody.


“Be careful where you aim that thing,” Haiji says, giving a pointed look at the knife clutched in Kakeru’s hands while he ties the apron around his body. There’s an amused smile stretched wide on his lips that make Kakeru slightly flustered. He glares off to the side and mumbles a quick apology before grabbing the cutting board from the shelf.


His hand is poised, ready to cut the cabbage in half when he freezes and feels fingers carding through his bangs, the tips sliding against his forehead gently.


“Can you see with this in your way? I don’t want you cutting your fingers off since that’s a perfectly good piece of cabbage that I got on sale at the market.”


Kakeru hears the mirth from Haiji’s mouth, but he doesn’t register the joke that slips from the man’s mouth, nor the soft chuckle that escapes Haiji’s lips. He only feels the brief sensation of fingers on his hair before they’re pulled away.


“Here, I picked up a hair clip from Prince that he left behind on the counter. Don’t think he minds you using it for a bit,” Haiji says. And before Kakeru can shake himself out of his stupor and protest, proceeds to part his bangs to the side and pin it down with the hair clip. Kakeru keeps his gaze to the ground, hands clenched into fists as he grits his teeth and wills the blush that creeps onto his heating face to go away. He makes no move and lets Haiji inspect him before the man gives a soft laugh and pats him on the shoulder.


“There! All better. We better get back to work now. King and Yuki start grumbling when they get hungry.”

Any reservations that Kakeru had for dinner was kicked out the door. Tonight’s dinner was like any other affair at the Aotake and he’s secretly grateful the guys are loud and boisterous as usual. They welcomed Kageyama with open arms and free booze, which Kakeru had shut down immediately.


After dinner, he finds Kageyama sitting out on the back porch with the lone volleyball sitting next to him.


“Sorry if they’re too loud,” Kakeru says, finding familiarity in seeing the brunette’s shoulders stiffen. He’s observant enough to know that Kageyama has the same issues he has with people. Perhaps it’s the only thing they have in common aside from their frowns and interests in certain sports. He joins the younger on the porch, sitting away from Kageyama at a respectable distance.


“It’s okay,” Kageyama says curtly. His eyes are trained at Nira, head bowed in concentration over her food bowl.


“Do you like dogs?” Kakeru blurts out. He blinks and scowls at his lame attempt at making conversation, grateful that the twins or Nico-Senpai aren’t there to tease him. The sociology major wasn’t helping him get any better at talking, he thinks wryly.


“I don’t think animals like me very much. They always run away or growl at me,” Kageyama says. His tone is gruff, but Kakeru takes no offense to it. He sees the boy look away, ears reddening from his confession. It brings a pang to his chest and he’s once more reminded how alike they are. He blinks, digesting the brief information into the back of his mind.


“Nira is Haiji’s dog. Or I think she’s Haiji’s dog. I don’t know. He’s the one that walks her and feeds her…” Kakeru trails off and shrugs. “Maybe you can practice with her if he allows it.” The last part was said softly, but it doesn’t escape from Kageyama’s ears, and Kakeru can see the boy perk up a little. He doesn’t know Haiji that well; yet, a suspicious voice supplies helpfully, but he’s certain that the older student wouldn’t mind if Kageyama spent some time getting acquainted with his dog. If it meant the brunette would join them on their run for a temporary amount of time.


Kageyama doesn't reply and the silence bleeds into the air, but for once Kakeru doesn’t find it stifling or awkward. It’s probably because he can hear the rambunctious laughter coming from the kitchen, the clinking of beer bottles against another, and the chairs scraping against hardwood floor when one of them gets up, calling out for seconds. The air smells like grilled fish and pickled vegetables that leaves Kakeru with a feeling of comfort and familiarity.


“How come you're wearing a pink hair clip?”


He hears the rushed, jumbled words spill from Kageyama’s lips before the brunette mutters a curse that sends Kakeru’s shoulders shaking silently as he holds in a laugh.


“Annoying senpais,” he says shortly, watching the Kageyama’s gaze fade into grim sympathy.


There is a crash and Prince is screeching at the top of his lungs and Kakeru can make out the wails from the twins. He looks over to Kageyama and finds themselves sharing a small smile.