Meeting Tsukishima the way he did had set the tone for their relationship. Wherever Tsukki would be, Yamaguchi could be found following. It made people suspicious, especially their fellow students.
Finally, after a week, after their community volleyball practice, as Tadashi was waiting for his mom to pick him up after work, he was accosted. Well, as much as one thirteen-year-old could be at another.
“You’ve been clinging to Tsukishima-kun lately,” Reo-kun pointed out, as he rocked back and forth on his heels.
“Tsukki is cool!” Tadashi boasted, more than happy to compliment his friend. “Apparently, his brother is a super ace for his senior high volleyball team!”
Reo-kun didn’t look as impressed as Tadashi thought he should. “Sure, he’s good. But it’s suspicious.”
Tadashi cocked his head and furrowed his eyebrows. “Suspicious?”
“How close you are! We’ve only had three practices. How did you get so close?”
If Tadashi had been thinking more, he would have heard the jealous notes in the other boy’s voice. As it was, he was just confused. “I…don’t know. I think he’s cool. He’s nice.”
Reo-kun scoffed, and Tadashi flinched at the noise. He knew Reo-kun from school, had been in the same class with him for two years. He wasn’t someone who bullied him, but they weren’t what Tadashi considered friends. At least not yet.
“Are you sure you’re not soulmates?” Reo-kun accused, getting a bit too close for Tadashi’s comfort, looking deep into his eyes.
Tadashi looked away quickly, feeling insanely uncomfortable. “Reo-kun, too close.”
“You’re not saying no!” Reo-kun sang as he jumped back. “You’re soulmates!”
“We aren’t!” Tadashi shouted back, hands tightening into fists at his sides.
Tadashi stammered. How was he supposed to prove that he couldn’t see color?
“A friend of yours, Tadashi?”
The two boys jumped, whirling around to face Tadashi’s mother, an intimidating woman in high heels. Reo-kun looked chagrined at being caught.
“Okasan, Reo-kun is a teammate of mine,” Tadashi choked out, inching towards his mother.
“Nice to meet you,” his mother greeted, dipping her head in a bow.
“You too,” Reo-kun replied, bowing shortly, and then jogging off, clearly intimidated by the arrival of an adult.
Tadashi jumped and squeaked out a, “Yes?”
“Let’s head home.”
Tadashi nodded and followed his mother as she immediately turned and started to head for home. Their walk was quiet, and eventually Tadashi was able to keep pace with her.
Their home was not a far walk from the community gymnasium, but after the confrontation where he actually met Tsukishima, he’d gone home and bragged about it to his mother. Thus, revealing the fact that he was being pushed around. She had decided he was to wait for her to pick him up from that day forward if he was coming home alone. He felt a bit embarrassed, but knew it was just because his mother cared.
“Tsukki said he lives just a few streets away from out house,” Tadashi shared, breaking the silence as they neared their neighborhood. “So I can probably walk home with him next practice. So you don’t have to come get me.”
She hummed in response, and Tadashi knew that meant she was okay with it.
“Be smart,” she said shortly, but then quickly followed it up with, “So Tsukishima-kun is a good friend to you?”
Tadashi grinned, big and brightly, at his mother. “He’s the best.”
She smiled shortly at him. “Is he…special to you?”
Tadashi thought about that. “Hmm. Maybe.”
“So you haven’t—”
Tadashi was surprised. His mother was flustered. He had never seen that look on her before.
She cleared her throat, and her expression reverted back to normal, composed. “He’s not your soulmate,” she clarified.
Tadashi blushed. Somehow, it was way worse being asked that by his mother than someone his age. “I’m not seeing colors yet,” Tadashi assured her.
Reo-kun and his mother were only the first two to ask if he and Tsukki were soulmates. Suddenly, it seemed like once a week, Tadashi was on the receiving end of such questions and prodding.
Tsukishima got asked as well, but his personality being as it was, they were few and far between.
“It’s just annoying,” Tsukki snapped one day as they walked home from school together. Tadashi walked at his side, just a step behind him, and stared at the darker dusting on his friend’s nose. “Why can’t they just mind their own business?”
Tadashi couldn’t agree more. Every time someone asked, it hurt him a little bit more. It made him think what made them think that they could be soulmates? Was it the way he acted? Was he too clingy?
He knew a few of his classmates that had met their soulmates and knew the beauty of seeing colors. They all seemed to have an extra pep in their step. And when they interacted with their soulmates, there was an ease in their actions that wasn’t found in most relationships.
Tadashi felt really comfortable with Tsukki. He felt like he could tell him anything. He couldn’t imagine getting along with someone else better than he did with Tsukki.
The doubt started sinking in the more he thought about it. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was doing something wrong, or feeling too much, or being too attached to Tsukki. Was he stopping Tsukki from finding his soulmate by being with him all the time?
Besides that one time, he never heard Tsukki complain about the questions that did eventually stop, but mostly because everyone who could ask the question already had. He acted the same as he always did. He invited Tadashi over to his house at least once a week, to study together, or to see a movie, or play a new game. Following his lead, Tadashi invited him over too. He became more conscious of it, though, cutting back on how many questions he asked Tsukki (but he knew so many answers or helped him find the answer if he didn’t know!), not using a begging tone or being too excitable about anything they talked about.
If Tsukki noticed how he pulled back, he didn’t say anything, which made Tadashi relax. Maybe he could still be just as close with Tsukki without taking away his time to find his soulmate.
Tadashi never really thought about how they had decades ahead of them for those types of things, he was too concerned with right now.
Months passed. Tadashi could tell how Tsukki was warming up to him more, sharing more with him, seeking him out during class breaks, and in general spending more time with him. It made Tadashi really happy, and felt more confident in calling not only Tsukki his best friend but calling himself a good friend of Tsukki’s.
As April came and went, so did their middle school life as the pair graduated up to junior high first years. The new uniform was uncomfortable for Tadashi to get used to, but the worst thing was that the questions came back.
“You’re soulmates, right?”
“Really? But you’re so close!”
“Its obvious you like him!”
“I don’t!” Tadashi yelled back at that one, shocking his classmate. The room around them went silent. “I. I mean… he’s my friend. He’s…”
Tadashi ran out of the classroom, suddenly hit with all of his old insecurities that he’d though had faded away.
Why wasn’t he Tsukki’s soulmate?
Was he not good enough? Was he not nice enough? Was he too needy? Was he only being tolerated? Was he not strong enough? Was he not loved enough?
Tadashi hid in the infirmary for the rest of the day, refusing to leave the cot he’d staked his claim on, and he must have looked ill enough, because the nurse let him be.
“I heard you were here.”
Tadashi blinked awake and yawned, eyes squinting open. Through his narrowed eyes, he could see Tsukki standing next to the bed, arms crossed. His heart jumped into his throat and he immediately flipped onto his stomach, covering himself with the sheet. He wanted to disappear.
“Go away,” he mumbled into the flat pillow.
Tsukki never did something he didn’t want to do.
“I heard what happened.”
Tadashi’s body tensed up, and he curled further into a ball.
Tadashi froze. Slowly, he pulled the blanket down from his face and turned to look. Tsukki was staring down at his shoes, head bowed respectfully. Tadashi’s jaw dropped.
“Why are you sorry?” Tadashi choked out, sitting up and crossing his legs underneath him. “I should be apologizing.” He looked down at his fingers and picked at the dirt under his nails, unable to look at this bowing Tsukki.
“I didn’t know you were so bothered about us being soulmates, and that people were still teasing you about it.” Something about the way he said that stuck a nerve with Tadashi, and it confused him. “That’s not… I should have said something to them. I never gave anyone an answer, so they all turned to you. So that’s why I’m sorry.”
Tadashi glanced out of the corner of his eyes at Tsukki, and though he wasn’t bowing anymore, he still looked kowtowed. His shoulders were slumped, and his hands were latched together and fingers fidgeting.
“They shouldn’t be bothering either of us. It’s none of their business,” Tadashi said, repeating what Tsukki had said to him all those months ago.
Tsukki nodded in agreement and took a deep sigh.
“I just don’t understand why they don’t believe when I say that we aren’t,” Tadashi commented, running a hand through his hair to fluff it back up. It probably looked silly from his impromptu nap.
Tsukki gasped, and Tadashi looked at him in surprise. Did he hurt himself? His eyes roamed all over Tsukki’s body, but he didn’t see anything wrong. “What is it?” he asked, wondering if maybe it was his leg?
“Why…why are you lying?”
Tadashi furrowed his eyebrows together and he flinched back in surprise. “Lying?” he asked. “I’m not—”
Tadashi looked up at Tsukki and the breath whooshed out of his chest.
Tsukki’s eyes were a stunning, bright color. He’d never seen anything so beautiful.
“Yamaguchi, we are soulmates,” Tsukki said.
“I didn’t…” Tadashi stuttered, his mind blown. “How did I never… when did you…?”
Tsukki looked a little bit mad as he adjusted his glasses with pinched fingers. “The day we met. Or, the second day.”
“How come I didn’t know until just now, though?” Tadashi asked, voice getting louder. He felt excitement and anxiety bubbling up inside him.
“What color are your eyes?” Tadashi interrupted to ask. “They’re beautiful.”
Tsukki’s cheeks lit up into a brilliant blush, and it was stunning to watch a darker color stain the skin. “My mom says gold.”
“Gold,” Tadashi tasted the word as he said it. “Beautiful. And your cheeks? What color is that?”
The color darkened.
“Neverminded that,” Tsukki brushed the question away, sitting on the edge of the cot next to him. “Did you seriously just find out?”
Tadashi held his hands up. “I swear, I didn’t see color until just now.”
Tsukki laughed. He threw his head back and laughed, loudly and boisterously, and it was the best sound Tadashi had ever heard. “What? Did you just never look me in the eye until now?”
“No! That’s ridiculous! Of course I’ve—!” Tadashi cut himself off, because maybe it wasn’t so ridiculous.
He buried his face in his hands. He felt his face heat up, and it probably looked a lot like Tsukki’s did. He felt so stupid, so silly. How had he never made eye contact with his best friend of nearly a year?
Tadashi shook his head.
“Yamaguchi, it’s okay,” Tsukki said, and Tadashi felt a hand fall on his back and rub back and forth. “I’m not mad or anything. It’s just funny.”
“You’re going to laugh at me!’ Tadashi complained, feeling a little like he wanted to cry out of frustration.
Months. He’d gone months agonizing over how inadequate he felt, trying to be a better friend, not get in the way, hide himself. And all the while, he was ruining his own chance to see what was literally right beside him the whole time.
“I’m so stupid,” he muttered to himself.
“You are not stupid. But I can’t promise I won’t laugh. I already have,” he pointed out. “I’m happier than anything else.”
“Me too,” Tadashi spoke into his hands. His entire body felt warm. Spots of color exploded from behind his eyelids as he squeezed them closed tightly, and it stole his breath away again.
“So can we go to volleyball practice? We’re going to be late.”
Tadashi huffed and dropped his hands. He made a point to look Tsukki directly in the eyes for a long moment until it was the taller boy who averted his gaze first. He felt victorious over that. “Can’t you be more romantic?”
“We’re thirteen, Yamaguchi. We have plenty of time for romantic moments.”
Tadashi tried to pout, but he couldn’t hold back his smile and ended up laughing instead. “I’m so happy,” he said, and then realized he was crying.
“Shut up, crybaby Yamaguchi.”
Tadashi sniffled. “You’re so mean,” he whined.
“And we are going to be late,” Tsukki replied in the same tone. “We can be stupid about soulmates later.”
“Oh god!” Tadashi shouted suddenly, a thought occurring to him. “I accidentally lied to my mom!”
That made the smile slip off of Tsukki’s face and he looked nervous. He’d met Tadashi’s mother, he knew what she was like. He swallowed thickly.
“Maybe we should skip practice today and apologize?” Tsukki suggested.
“Good plan,” Tadashi readily agreed, jumping off of the cot and putting his slippers back on. He grinned at Tsukki. “She likes you, though. It’ll be fine. Hey, what color are our ties?”