“You make Tsukishima-kun look so bad!”
A narrow-eyed, stout girl was trailing after Yamaguchi. She had shown up without warning, long after Tsukishima had walked into the gym. Her entrance was like an explosion, and given her attitude, so would her words.
“I can’t fathom why such a cool guy would want to hang out with you.” A single finger was pointed towards Yamaguchi, reeking of disdain and disapproval. A small sigh greeted the girl as Yamaguchi turned to scurry into the gym. At this point, Yamaguchi was used to people saying he didn’t deserve Tsukishima as a friend. Those words had followed him around since they’ve met, and at this rate, they won’t leave.
Yamaguchi hadn’t even moved a foot when the girl slammed her’s down in front of him. Genuine anger swirled through her eyes, the finger never leaving.
“I don’t think I’m finished.” Eyes locked as the girl started to ramble.
“You’re only hanging out with him so that you look cool, right? I can see it. You know you ruin his image every time you open your mouth!” Her hands were thrown up in a hearty laugh, taunting laced between her words. The girl began to shoot out more insults, her arms stretched out in mock sympathy. Yamaguchi heard none of this, his mind filled with her last sentence.
I ruin his image?
Yamaguchi knew that he was Tsukishima’s polar opposite in terms of popularity. Everyone seemed to be infatuated with every aspect of him, whether it be his athleticism or his academics. Yamaguchi was more of his ghost, always one step behind him. They never talked much about it, always letting it rest in the air between them.
But to think that he ruins his image, disservices every aspect of his friend...
A quiet, dull voice scrambled Yamaguchi’s thoughts. Tsukishima was standing at the entrance of the gym, already changed and warmed up. His eyes were expectant, glazed with a look of impatience.
Without another thought, Yamaguchi shoved everything aside and rushed to the gym. His eyes just manage to catch the girl staring at Tsukishima, finally showing more than anger.
Yamaguchi would give up anything at that moment to run away, far away, from where he was. Morning practice was long over, but the effects of the words were still spinning inside him.
You’re only hanging out with him so you can look cool, right?
Was he? Yamaguchi never thought that he was feeding off of Tsukishima like that. It made him sound like such a bad person, like he didn’t need to... he didn’t need to...
You know you ruin his image every time you open your mouth!
Yamaguchi’s shoes erupted with sound, clicks suddenly loud against the floor. Giggles and laughter were drawing nearer towards him, scouting for the weak links inside. Of course he would run into her, of course now, of all times.
Keep your head down.
Yamaguchi’s head swept the floor as he shuffled towards the classroom. His hands were long missing in his pockets, hiding with his bravery. As he passed by the girls, he could swear he heard a small voice, explosive and accusing.
“Look, it’s the wannabe prince!”
Against all odds, their eyes met again. The first had confidence shattered like glass in his eyes, the second still aflame with mockery.
“Ohoho, be careful. I hear he’s got some powerful friends - OH WAIT!”
More laughter now. Yamaguchi has fled into the classroom, head down and courage gone.
Even as class started, even as school passed, Yamaguchi could hear the laughter and whispers pulling at him like chains on his feet. He was a prisoner to his thoughts, and there would be nothing to help him.
You ruin his image, idiot.
Stop hanging out with him!
This is all your fault!
It was loud, so loud. The weights hit the floor like boulders. There was no escape, the bars were so far away. And where was the key? It felt like it was locked up with him, only inches away yet miles afar. It was so obvious where it was, but he couldn’t see it. It was a paradox that couldn’t exist, but was his reality.
If only they had never met!
Yamaguchi had hit a corner. He had run straight into the prison keeper. He would have to pick his words carefully, or else he would be tossed into the death row.
“I thought I said you could call me Tsukki. It’s alright, you know.” Tsukishima’s eyes peered over his glasses. They were like moons, bright from the mind behind them. If Yamaguchi wasn’t trapped inside himself, he may have called them beautiful.
“Ahhh... right! Sorry, Tsukishi - Er... Tsukki!”
Yamaguchi’s hands were drowning in a cold sweat. All he had to do was pretend that nothing was wrong,and he had already failed with his first word. If he made Tsukki worry about someone like him, then who knew what it would do to his image?
It was already ruined from him, after all.
Tsukishima was one step too close to Yamaguchi, breath hot with his. Yamaguchi’s back pressed against the wall, hands intertwined with Tsukishima’s. Their eyes were locked, the moon and the stars. The former looked like he was choking on his words, the latter’s stars dulling with each second.
They were wrapped up within each other, and yet they were so far apart.
“Yamaguchi... what’s wrong?” Tsukishima’s eyes fell first, searching the ground for phantom answers. All Yamaguchi could do was swallow, afraid to give up what he was feeling.
“You’ve been... strange lately.”
Me? What about you?
“Ah, ah, it’s nothing...” And suddenly, his eyes met Tsukishima’s, the latter searching and searching through him. Yamaguchi’s breath was suspended with string, waiting...
“Alright then.” Hands parted ways, Tsukishima’s gaze never wavering. “If you’re fine then I shouldn’t be worrying. Come on.”
“Sorry, Tsukki...” The empty words clattered against the ground, lifeless and hollow. He had acted like nothing had happened, like Yamaguchi wasn’t about to collapse earlier, like he wasn’t about to... about to...
A stray finger floated absently to Yamaguchi’s lips.
What had happened?
Tsukishima had been looking out for Yamaguchi and tried to make him feel better. He left only when he knew his friend was alright.
Why was Yamaguchi still chained with his thoughts?
And why was Yamaguchi so... unsatisfied?
“Oi Yamaguchi, where’s Tsukishima?”
The next day’s morning practice had come to a close as Hinata bounced up and down next to Yamaguchi. The trail of a lost kiss was long buried under Yamaguchi’s exhaustion. Tsukishima was a ghost at practice, a mirage appearing for as long as he needed. After that, he was gone, a memory in their heads.
Was it rude to be grateful? Yamaguchi didn’t want to disappoint him, let alone spill out...
I can’t fathom why such a cool guy would want to hang out with you!
It’s the wannabe prince!
You’ve been... strange lately...
If you’re fine...
“Oh, he told me that he felt a little unwell.” Despite being fine just a few seconds ago.
“Really? The towering wall TIRED? Maybe I’ll become the best middle blocker, after all!” Hinata’s maniacal laughter was met with a short-lived “Yeah...” from Yamaguchi. Of course he wasn’t unwell. He probably just wanted to get away from the dead weight, the stain in his image.
Hinata’s trot stopped dead midair. Planting his feet in the concrete, he turned to peer up into Yamaguchi’s eyes.
“I mean, between you and Tsukishima. You’re like, avoiding each other or something. What’s up with that? It’s spooky!”
Reflecting on it now, Yamaguchi was definitely obsessing over his self-worth. It probably murdered Tsukki inside...
You ruin his image!
It would be better to leave him alone, right?
“Eh? Hinata! Hurry up!”
Kageyama burst onto the sidewalk, a mixture of annoyance and impatience. A short laugh from Hinata met him.
“Jeez, Bakeyama! I’m just talking!”
They were gone as soon as he appeared, echoes of “idiot” rebounding throughout the school. Two extremes, yet surprisingly...
Tsukishima didn’t care about how Yamaguchi looked in comparison to everyone else. He was that kind of person who liked people for who they were!
Who they were...
Yamaguchi knew that he wasn’t the smartest or the most confident. He had been greedily feeding himself with thoughts of not being good enough. He would never be at the same plate as the other first years. But he knew, finally knew, that the key was in his hand.
He was himself, and Tsukishima was his friend for that.
Picking up his step, Yamaguchi strode straight to the classroom. The weights were gone, and the bars were in reach. He finally knew how to leave the forsaken prison. Key in one hand,
his heart in another.
“Tsukishima-kun, I have something to tell you.”
Yamaguchi’s head turned like clockworks, slowly and methodically. He hadn’t realized who he passed. He should have known, from the second the girl opened her mouth. From the second the explosive words left her mouth.
The girl was there.
In front of her was Yamaguchi’s childhood friend.
All Yamaguchi could do was stand, deer in headlights. He felt like an outsider, stuck in the wrong place.
Where were the bars?
“I’ve... I’ve always liked you. From your princely looks to your amazing ability. Something I’d love more than you - to go out with you. Please...” A hand was extended, a flush covering every inch of her pale skin. She was blinking as fast as ever, eyes friends with the floor. Yamaguchi wanted to feel, but.
It was her, the whisper behind the weights.
And she was going to take Tsukishima with her.
Yamaguchi didn’t want to hear anymore. See, feel, breathe. He turned away and clicked his shoes against the floor, slowly, slowly...
“I’m so sorry, but I must reject.”
A dull voice offered heaven to Yamaguchi. Tsukishima pressed her hand down and gave out a sigh.
“I know who you are. Yamaguchi’s witch, huh?” Tsukishima was sprouting words now, emotion filled with each. “I don’t think I’ll ever fall for someone who bullies to get her prince.”
“And besides.” His eyes were on Yamaguchi, a smile dancing on his face. “I already love someone else.”
“Some prince you are! Why did I ever fall for you? J-Just forget it!”
The girl ran, fleeing with her tears.
Yamaguchi stood. Tsukki had... rejected a girl? Who... who was as cool as he was, a girl of popularity and appearance?
When Tsukishima started walking towards Yamaguchi, Yamaguchi pushed himself instinctively back. He must be mad, from then, from this morning. Why did he leave early?
Two arms wrapped themselves around Yamaguchi, hoping and desperate and everything. Tsukishima’s face was buried in Yamaguchi, muffling his words.
“Oh my god, my god my god. I’m sorry for running this morning, Yamaguchi.” He threw himself away, eyes glistening with his sharp breath. “I was trying to figure out why you were, I guess... yourself yesterday. It killed me inside you know?” The words were heavy, filled. Sagged with the weight of his emotions.
Yamaguchi was sewn. A mess of strings tossed together and sewn. A fixed mess.
Courage pushed Yamaguchi to the tips of his feet. His hand traced Tsukishima’s, falling and running to its place.
Then Yamaguchi’s lips met his, a tangle of love and sorrys. He could feel everything about Tsukishima, breathing him in and warping. And he let him, a mess that he drowned in, a love he could confide in.
When they broke apart, the moon and the stars were as bright as the sky.
“How did you know, Tsukki?”
“Mm, that girl was practically in you. I got jealous, I’ll admit.” Short, sweet laughter. “But when I talked to you the other day, and you were trapped in yourself... ah, I should have told you then. You know I love you.”
“Tsukishima... I love you, too!” Were the words too hollow? Did they sound fake? They weren’t, they never would be. All their doubts evaporated into a flurry of laughter as they walked into the classroom.
“You know you can call me Tsukki, idiot.”