“Hinata, can I ask you to mind the house for a week?”
Hinata blinks twice at Tsukishima’s query. “What, you going out or something?” His long ears start pointing downwards, reacting before him.
“Yeah.” Tsukishima pours coffee for himself, and carrot juice for Hinata. Despite many rabbit hybrids actually being deterred from carrots, processed or whole, Hinata seemed to enjoy the taste of it. “Going to Miyagi. My brother wants to see me.”
“Oh, okay. How long are you going to be away for?”
Tsukishima takes a sip of his coffee, the white tip of his tail twitching with satisfaction. “About a week. What, you going to be lonely?”
“Of course I’ll be lonely, idiot!” Hinata smacks Tsukishima on the back of his head. “But I’ll be fine! Enjoy your time with your family!”
Tsukishima isn’t sure if he can do that. His family are nice, but the concept of personal space is a myth to them. They’ll poke his ears and comment on how his height and tail grow each time he visits. Foxes were meant to be solitary creatures, but Tsukishima knows for a fact that’s not all true.
But he isn’t about to unpack all of that. He has a suitcase that needs packing, and souvenirs from Tokyo to bring with him. “I’ll try,” he says, and heads back to his room. He doesn’t notice that Hinata’s ears fold as he leaves.
“Don’t blow up anything when I’m gone.”
Tsukishima shoves his phone in his pocket, and places his headphones around his neck. He has a fresh batch of new songs downloaded into a playlist, and an unread novel in his suitcase, so the bullet train ride would be less boring.
“Alright, alright. Don’t forget to text me, okay?” Hinata pushes, his small tail bouncing. It resembles a cotton ball, and other things Tsukishima’s compared it to while teasing him.
Tsukishima isn’t keen on leaving Hinata on his own, for more than one reason. But it can’t be helped. The Tsukishima Family have a tighter bond than he prefers.
“I’ll see you in a week.”
Tsukishima makes an overdramatic gesture of bending down to kiss Hinata, on the forehead. Hinata’s ears snap upwards to smack his face, as revenge.
“Don’t tease me. Hurry up and go, Suckyshima. You’ll miss the bullet train.”
Tsukishima nods. “I’ll get going, then.” He hesitates before adding, “love you.”
He exits his house without looking back, making his way to the train station. He wonders what his family will pester him about this time. Will it be the fact that he’s going out with a rabbit hybrid, or the fact that he’s living in Tokyo, away from his family?
On the bullet train, Tsukishima pulls out his novel and starts reading. It’ll last him for more than the entire trip, he’s sure. He has a few more books packed, too. A murder mystery, a fantasy story anthology, and a bestseller by his favourite author. Sitting in a train with headphones on and his nose in a book is his version of heaven.
When he gets to his stop in Miyagi, his family are waiting for him at the station, waving enthusiastically. His brother greets him with a hug, whiskers poking at his cheek and too close for comfort. Tsukishima can feel his tail start blowing up.
“Welcome home! Have you been eating well?”
“My, you’ve gotten even taller. What have you been doing in Tokyo?”
Tsukishima’s suitcase is whisked away by one of his relatives, and thrown into the back ot the car. He sits beside his brother in the car, already having the desire to hop on the next bullet train back to Tokyo.
There’s a massive feast laid out on the kitchen table in his house. Tsukishima wishes he brought Hinata, too. He eats most of the food in their apartment, and yet he hasn’t grown since middle school.
Tsukishima snaps a photo of the plates of food, to send it to him. But his mother gives him a disapproving look, with a “We don’t allow phones at the table.” It can’t be helped, Tsukishima sighs, and shoves it back in his pocket.
“Eat up. I’ve bought some cakes for dessert, too!”
Tsukishima’s ears perk up at that. “Is there shortcake? I’m calling dibs on that.”
Suddenly, being whisked away for a family reunion isn’t so bad.
After they finish eating dinner, Tsukishima is bombarded with questions from his relatives. He pushes his fork into the fluffy strawberry cake, chewing on the spongy cake.
“Kei! How’s Tokyo? Did you bring us anything?” His ten-year-old cousin asks, clambering into his lap. He reminds him of a miniature Hinata with a bushy fox tail.
Tsukishima pulls the paper bags full of Tokyo Banana treats out, and lays out the boxes on the table. “Here. Share it with everyone!”
“Kei, you’re the best!”
His cousin envelops him into a bone-crushing hug, and sets about ripping open the yellow packaging of the boxes to take out the treats. His younger cousin climbs into his lap, poking at his tail.
“Kei, can I play on your phone?” She tugs on his sleeve, her tiny ears perking up. “Please?”
Tsukishima huffs. He supposes it’s better than being cast as “White horse” while playing Princes and Princesses with her. He’d rather keep his spine safe, thank you very much.
“All right. Don’t keep it too close to your eyes.” Tsukishima unlocks his phone and hands it to her, hiding all apps that aren’t kid-friendly. She usually just plays around with Google Earth, which keeps her occupied for a few hours.
He reaches for another slice of cake, and his aunt begins to talk to him. “So, how’s it going with your boyfriend? Is he doing well?”
“Yeah.” Tsukishima nods, reminding himself to text Hinata later. “He’s doing good. It was his birthday, a month ago.”
“Did he like the vegetables that we sent to you guys?” His grandmother asks. “We’re growing cucumbers and tomatoes now. We’ll send them to you when they’re ripe.”
As members of his family engaged in small talk, Tsukishima waited for his phone to come back. And it did, all right.
“Kei, phone dead.”
Tsukishima’s cousin hands the phone to him with a sullen look. He rolls his eyes, not sure whether to laugh wryly or groan. “We’ll have to charge it overnight, then.”
But his phone doesn’t charge overnight. Tsukishima forgets to plug the charger into the wall, and the next morning, he’s met with a black screen and zero battery. And he has plans to go out, too.
“Kei, come on! We’re heading out!”
Without his phone, Tsukishima couldn’t listen to any music or text Hinata, but it couldn’t be helped, at this stage. “All right, give me a minute,” he muttered, shoving a novel into his backpack.
In the car, Tsukishima is sandwiched between two of his young cousins, who simply refuse to keep their mouths shut for the entire duration of the ride. He regrets not taking his headphones with him; they did have a good noise cancelling feature.
“We’re playing word chain! ‘Lamb’! Kei, you have to pick a word that starts with a B!”
He might as well have fun while he’s at it.
“What! I don’t know any words with X! That’s cheating!”
“Come back to me when you have a word beginning with X.”
Tsukishima’s cousin smacks him with his tail, but due to its size, it doesn’t do much. The game of word chain moves very slowly, with everyone attempting to one-up the person after them.
Their destination is the beach. Tsukishima hasn’t brought any swimming clothes, but he doesn’t mind. Getting drenched in saltwater and parading around wasn’t part of his agenda.
Instead, he stays on the shore, sitting on a stone wall and reading. The kids are splashing about in the water, and the adults are all talking amongst themselves. Akiteru sits beside him, tails almost touching.
“Kei, I’m glad you could make it this week.” Akiteru says, “I’ve wanted to catch up with you. If there’s anything you want us to help you with, ask us.”
“We’re doing okay.” Tsukishima isn’t exactly lying. Apart from the sleep deprivation and hand cramps that come from being a college student, he’s getting on reasonably well.
“We should watch volleyball matches together, Kei. Like we used to.”
Before Tsukishima can respond, a drop of rain lands on his cheek.
“Weird, it was sunny five minutes ago.”
Tsukishima looks up, and masses of gray paint the sky, showering onto the beach. “We should head in the car if it gets too much.”
The kids don’t seem to care much. They squeal and splash about, ignoring the rain steadily falling onto their heads and into the sea. But the shower turns heavy, and they’re ordered out of the water.
“Come on, now. Dry off.”
Tsukishima’s aunt hands out towels for the kids to wrap themselves up in, and Tsukishima places his novel back into his backpack. He squints, staring at the kids as they shake the water droplets off their tails and dry off their ears.
“Uh.” Tsukishima can’t help noticing something very off. “Weren’t there five kids here with us earlier?"
His question sets everyone off into a mild panic. "Where's Yosuke?" One of his uncles calls for his son, and Tsukishima finally realises that one of his cousins are missing.
The entire family is quick to assemble a search party for the cousin. Tsukishima joins too, calling the boy’s name and looking for him around the shore.
“Where is he? Is he all right?”
The other children call for their cousin, who has gone missing. The rain beats down on everyone’s skin, dripping down. Tsukishima knows they can’t stay out for much longer.
Tsukishima’s cousin finds his mother at last, and latches onto her tightly. An immense wave of relief washes over them. They can leave with everyone there, at last. They’re safe.
“Where were you? Are you all right?”
“I was lost.”
“Well, thank goodness you’re back. We’ll have to go home now, it’s pouring…”
But it isn’t as easy as that. The rain quickly forms puddles, and the puddles join into bigger ones. The ground is murky and wet, hardly an ideal driving condition.
“There’s a flood warning being sent out. We’re going to have to stay somewhere for the time being.”
The nearest shelter isn’t too far by foot, and there’s enough space for Tsukishima’s family to stay there. His brother looks up the weather conditions on his phone, and sighs.
“I don’t think we can go home for the time being. Might as well get comfortable here.”
Unfortunately, there isn’t much Tsukishima can do to make himself comfortable. He can’t even contact Hinata, after he’d promised to text him. He can’t even remember his number, so using the public phone would be out of the question.
His only option is to wait it out.
So it’s what he does, for the next eight hours. Thunder and lightning crash and roar in the sky, and the wind whistles outside. It’s still raining too, and Tsukishima can hear the pitter-patter on the roof.
“We’ll sleep here for the night and head out tomorrow,” Tsukishima’s mother says. “It should let up by then.”
Reluctantly, Tsukishima nods and huddles in his own corner to sleep. The rain has died down a hum, and it’s pleasant to his ears as he closes his eyes and focuses on resting.
Once he falls asleep, Tsukishima doesn’t wake up again until his cousin hurls himself into his futon.
“Kei! Get up! We’re going home!”
Tsukishima sits up with a groan, rubbing the side of his head. “All right. All right. You can get off me.”
There’s a twinge of disappointment in him, when he realises it’s not Hinata who woke him up. He already misses him, although he’d be caught dead before he admits it.
When they arrive home, Tsukishima checks his phone left on the table. There’s the flooding alert released a day ago, and the rest of his notifications are all from Hinata. The number isn’t exactly what he’d call normal, even by Hinata standards.
Hinata 5:23pm Sunday
Have you arrived?
Hinata 5:43pm Sunday
Oi, Tsukishima, stop ignoring me!
Hinata 8:30pm Sunday
You asleep or something?
Hinata 10:52am Monday
Morning! I just woke up. It’s boring without you.
Missed call from Hinata, 12:43pm
Hinata 4:30pm Monday
I heard there’s a flood warning in Miyagi right now, are you okay?
Hinata 5:21pm Monday
Tsukishima, you have to text me.
Hinata 8:16pm Monday
Please, tell me you’re okay.
5 missed calls from Hinata.
Tsukishima’s heart sinks. He’d promised Hinata that he would message him, and he’d left him for two whole days, without any explanation. He has to give him one. He hurries and opens his phone, pressing the call button.
“Hinata? I’m sorry I couldn’t contact you for so long. I’m-”
“Tsukishima? Are you okay?”
Tsukishima freezes. The voice coming from the opposite end of the phone can’t be Hinata’s. He isn’t meant to sound weak. The voice he hears is shaky and afraid, unlike his boyfriend.
“I thought I’d never talk to you again,” Hinata lets out a sob, and Tsukishima is hit with an overwhelming sense of guilt. “You’re still here.”
“Of course I’m here. Hinata, what’s wrong? You sound… not good.”
Tsukishima curses his lack of vocabulary, but that’s beside the point. He needs to get back to Hinata, because something’s wrong, and he doesn’t know how to fix it, he’s a bad boyfriend-
Akiteru calls his name from behind, and Tsukishima’s tail expands almost double its size. “I have to go home. Hinata’s in trouble, and I don’t know what’s happened, but I need to be there.”
“Slow down, Kei. Do you know what caused it?”
“I couldn’t contact him for a few days, but we’ve spent days apart before, he should be fine.” Tsukishima explains hastily. “I need to go to him.”
Akiteru nods thoughtfully. “It could be that he’s worried, or lonely. You know, what sometimes happens with rabbit hybrids.”
Akiteru raises his brows. “Haven’t you heard? Rabbits get sick from loneliness or emotional distress.”
Tsukishima’s eyes widen. “No, I haven’t heard. Is that what’s happening?”
“I think so. You should go home to him.” Akiteru advises him, and Tsukishima nods. He grabs his belongings and heads out quietly, not wanting to cause a fuss amongst his family members.
Tsukishima wishes he hadn’t chosen to live so far from Miyagi in the bullet train. He wonders how long Hinata’s been suffering for, which only makes his chest feel like it’s caving in on itself.
Tsukishima unlocks the front door in a hurry, throwing off his shoes and running up to their bedroom. He doesn’t hear Hinata’s enthusiastic voice like he usually does, and it scares him.
“Tsukishima? You’re back?”
When Tsukishima looks inside the room, he doesn’t see Hinata. What he sees instead is a mass of blankets, with orange hair and folded ears poking out of it. “Are you okay?”
Hinata whimpers, eyes red and swollen. “I thought you were hurt, or just didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.” He crawls over to Tsukishima and collapses into his embrace, sobbing.
“I wasn’t ignoring you on purpose, I promise.” Tsukishima pats him gently on the back, his conscience gripping at his insides. “I’m sorry I made you worry.”
“You don’t hate me or anything?”
Tsukishima shakes his head. “Of course not. I wouldn’t hop on bullet trains for just anyone.” He rubs at Hinata’s ears, something he knows comforts him.
“Sorry. I didn’t want to be a burden.” Hinata’s sobs die down into sniffles, and Tsukishima feels a pang of sympathy for him. “I didn’t know this would happen.”
“I didn’t, either, and I should have educated myself. It’s not your fault.”
“Shut up,” Tsukishima says gently, pressing his lips against Hinata’s. It tastes slightly salty and chapped, but it’s he Hinata he knows.
Hinata grabs Tsukishima’s ears, eliciting a yell out of him. “I love you too, Tsukishima!”
“I didn’t even say anything yet.” Tsukishima shrugs, but he knows he was about to say it. “Come on. Let’s watch a movie or something. Will that make it better?”
“ You make it better, more than anything else.” Hinata grows red as soon as the words leave his lips, and Tsukishima feels his ears become hot too.
Tsukishima chokes on his spit, tail beating down onto the ground aggressively. “What are you blushing at your own words for! You dingus!”
“Who are you calling a dingus?!”
Tsukishima shoots daggers at Hinata, but he can’t do it for long. “We’ll watch one of those crappy romance comedies we have recorded.” Hinata nods energetically, his ears standing as high as they can.