I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
- How to Save a Life, The Fray
If he’d known, he would have told him not to go.
“It’s only for a few days, Tsukki. I’m sure you can manage without me,” Yamaguchi said cheerily, voice distorted by the phone.
“I’ll still miss you, though.” Tsukishima balanced his phone between his shoulder and his ear as he cleared the papers from his desk.
“I’ll be back soon, don’t be such a worrywart. Why don’t you hang out with Hinata or Yachi or someone else? I’m sure they’d say yes if you asked.”
“Tch.” Tsukishima raised his eyebrows at the thought, then remembered that Yamaguchi couldn’t see him.
“They’re really nice, you know that,” Yamaguchi chided, though his tone held no bite to it. “You could try to be polite to them, too.”
“I am polite,” Tsukishima defended. “Yachi is scared of me and Hinata’s only coherent thoughts are all volleyball related.”
“You should smile more, then. Maybe Yachi would warm up to you. Oh, I have to go now. See you when I get back!” The line clicked dead. Tsukishima noticed Yamaguchi hadn’t argued when he said Hinata’s thoughts were all volleyball related, and the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile. He set his phone down on the now-clean desk and pulled out his latest paleontology book from the library, pushing his glasses further up his nose as they tried to slip down again. His fingers found his bookmark, and he flipped it open to his page.
Tsukishima didn’t do much for the next few days. School was out for winter break, so he had quickly run through half of the assigned work, before growing tired of it. He finished his book and returned it to the library, and Atikeru brought him out to play volleyball with his team a few times. Yamaguchi sent him a flurry of texts, mostly photos of the food he got, sasa-dango, poppo-yaki, and tsubame-sanjo ramen. Sometimes, Tsukishima received pictures of the sunset, usually captioned with thought you’d like this. He always sent back a reply.
The four days passed by quickly, and soon enough, it was the day Yamaguchi was supposed to come home.
Yamaguchi’s train was expected to pull into the station in an hour. He’d made plans to meet him there, and he was looking forward to it, seeing his best friend again and listening to all the stories of Niigata that were too long to send over text. While he waited, time dragged on. He killed some time on his phone, then went downstairs and sat on the couch. Idly, Tsukishima clicked the power button on the remote to see if there was anything good to watch. His mom had left the news on. He moved to change the channel, but the headline on the screen stopped him in his tracks.
SHINKANSEN COLLISION, HUNDREDS INJURED
Bullet trains never collided, not even once in their fifty years of service. What had happened? The screen gave no answers to where it had taken place, and he didn’t recognize the scenery. It could have been anywhere in Japan. His heart skipped a beat. Yamaguchi was on a bullet train. But there were plenty of trains in service, it couldn’t be his train, could it?
Tsukishima dropped the remote, hands shaking as he pulled out his phone. He pressed call and let it ring, each one only furthering his heart palpitations as he paced back and forth in the living room.
“The number you dialed is not available. Please leave a message after the tone.”
He stood in silence until he realized the phone was recording. “Hey, Yamaguchi. It’s me. Just checking in on you. I heard there was a collision. If you get this before you arrive, could you text me or call? I’ll see you at the train station, right? …Alright, bye.” He ended the call. Yamaguchi didn’t reply.
The agony of sitting and waiting and doing nothing finally caught up to him, so he slipped on a jacket and headed outside. He arrived at the train station in record time, and the platform was devoid of life. His eyes spotted the information center, so he headed over, hands tucked in his pockets.
“Excuse me,” Tsukishima said. The attendant sitting there turned away from her computer to face him.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“When’s the 2:30 train arriving? Was it delayed by the crash?”
“The 2:30 train?” The attendant looked at him in something akin to alarm. “Haven’t you heard?” At those words, his stomach dropped. “That was one of the trains that collided.”
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there in shock. 2:30 came and went, with no train—no Yamaguchi. Finally, Yamaguchi’s mother called to inform him that Yamaguchi was in the Tohoku University Hospital. Tsukishima took the first bus he could find, nearly jumping through the doors when it pulled to a halt in front of the hospital. Yamaguchi-san sat in the waiting room, dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes. When she saw him, she burst into a fresh round of tears.
“What room is Yamaguchi in?”
She wordlessly stood and led him to the room. There were two beds, both occupied. Yamaguchi lay near the window, eyes closed and a white bandage surrounding his head. Machines were connected to his arms, taking vitals. A pulse monitor beeped faintly in the corner, a thin green line rising and falling with his chest. He looks peaceful sleeping there, Tsukishima thought. Far too peaceful. The Yamaguchi he knew was excited and full of life.
“Major head trauma, several bruises to his legs and torso,” Yamaguchi-san said through sniffles. “He’s in a coma right now.”
“I’m not leaving.”
Yamaguchi-san didn’t argue. She turned her head away, not wanting to take in the sight of her only child injured like this.
Tsukishima spent the rest of his winter break in a stiff plastic chair, too afraid to move or even fall asleep, lest Yamaguchi wake up with him not there. When school started up, he fought to have his afternoons clear so he could sit by Yamaguchi’s bedside. He didn’t miss the looks the rest of the volleyball team gave him when they thought he wasn’t looking. Tsukishima didn’t care about volleyball practice. His best friend was much more important than a club, and Yamaguchi was more than just his best friend.
He did his homework in that stiff plastic chair, usually accompanied by a cup of watered down coffee he’d gotten from the hospital lobby—bitter, with no milk or sugar. He watched as Yamaguchi’s roommate recovered, and was eventually discharged, leaving Yamaguchi as the sole occupant of that room. Tsukishima held conversations with Yamaguchi, though he never got a response in return. He sat in that chair long after sundown, when his eyelids fluttered shut of their own accord, his head jerking up when he nodded off, eyes snapping open. The view never changed each time. Same bed, same boy, same stiff position he’d been in for weeks. And then he’d stay for a bit longer, until the nurses who knew Tsukishima by name made their rounds and sent him home.
What would he give to have Yamaguchi returned to him? Anything. He didn’t know how to bring his best friend back. But if he could show his support by staying by his bedside for as long as he could, then he would do it. He’d stay there all night if he could.
He eased himself into the familiar plastic chair at the edge of Yamaguchi’s hospital bed, putting the brown paper bag on his nightstand, next to a vase of wilting flowers and a stack of colorful get well soon cards.
“I brought you fries from McDonald's,” he told the sleeping boy. “If you wake up, we can share.”
Tsukishima put one in his mouth, chewed, then swallowed. He could almost hear Yamaguchi in his head, saying, You have to wait, Tsukki! They taste better then they’re soggy .
He smiled ruefully. He knew the next lines to the conversation by heart. Shut up, Yamaguchi. You’re wrong, they’re much better fresh, because then you can put them in your milkshake. They have to be crispy. They’d repeated the words so many times, after all.
He much preferred having the Yamaguchi in his head than the one in front of him, because at least the one in his mind sounded like the real Yamaguchi, but neither were adequate substitutes for the real thing. He missed his best friend. He waited until the fries went cold, and took another one, limp and greasy in his hands. Tsukishima put it in his mouth.
“I don’t understand why you like these. They taste terrible, just so you know. The texture of them is more like eating mashed potatoes.” He knew he was rambling, but the silence was far too foreboding for his liking, eerie and ominous. The monitors beeped steadily in the background, doing nothing to ease his nerves. “Wake up so you can spare me the pain of eating these, okay?”
“That was your cue to wake up.” Tsukishima’s voice broke, and he gripped the sides of the chair to steady himself. “You were supposed to wake up weeks ago, not still stuck here, in this hospital bed. This place should have only been a temporary stop, a couple days or so, not weeks . We’d be going to McDonald’s for fun after practice, even though Ukai-san would scold us for eating junk food. You were supposed to tell me that soggy fries were better, and then steal them from me when I wasn’t looking, like you always did. You were supposed to celebrate New Year’s anywhere but here. You were supposed to teach me how to jump float, remember?”
His voice was barely a whisper when he spoke the next sentence. “You were supposed to say yes when I got enough courage to ask you out. I’d let you call me Kei. Or Tsukki, whichever you prefer. But I’m a coward.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to compose himself. There was a knock on the door, and one of the nurses peeked her head in.
“Tsukishima-kun, visitor hours are over.”
He nodded back. “I’ll be right out.”
He blinked back the tears as he stood and retrieved the fast food bag from the nightstand, sliding the red cardboard sleeve of cold fries back inside. His footsteps echoed sharply in the hallway.
The doors slid shut behind him, and with it, he let the facade he held for the nurses drop. Tears threatened to spill out of his eyes, and he let them, forming ever-so-tiny puddles on the ground. Tsukishima clenched his fists tighter. It wasn’t fair . Yamaguchi, who he was pretty sure had never done anything wrong in his life, was unconscious in the hospital from an accident far from his fault. It wasn’t fair .
Tsukishima stepped through the doors, nodding to the receptionist and signing his name on the clipboard. Then, he methodically made his way to Yamaguchi’s room, having known the route by heart for weeks. He turned the knob, trying not to let what happened yesterday dwell in his mind. At least it was Saturday, and he could spend all day here.
“Hey, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima said. “Sorry I’m late. Yachi wanted me to bring you some flowers. I’m not quite sure where she got them, considering it’s late winter, though I suppose it’s almost spring.”
He exchanged the old flowers for the new, dropping them into the trash can before sitting down and resting his backpack on the legs of his chair.
“Today was a typical day. Nothing happened, though I guess I haven’t really done anything at all.” He reached out and put his hand on the sheets, next to Yamaguchi’s. “I woke up late. Yachi came over to bring the flowers, but she was also late. She must have apologized about thirty times before I stopped her, though. That’s it, really. Suga-san texted me about stopping by later today, so you can have more company. He said he was going to bring Daichi-san, too.”
They sat in an unsettling emptiness. The machines in the background didn’t bother Tsukishima anymore, though that was due to the fact he’d been there for so long. “Yeah, I—”
He stilled as he registered physical contact. A hand, weakly brushing his. Then, in a voice hoarse from disuse, barely a whisper, “Tsukki?”
“Yamaguchi,” he breathed. Tsukishima’s eyes watered, and he couldn’t stop the grin from spreading on his face. “You’re awake.”
“You stayed,” Yamaguchi said, his voice stronger after Tsukishima forced three cups of water onto him. “You were here the entire time.”
“You knew?” The grin remained. Yamaguchi is awake.
“I heard you, sometimes. You talked a lot, more than I’ve ever heard you before.”
“You weren’t around to fill the silence.”
“Yeah, I suppose I wasn’t.” Yamaguchi took another sip from his cup. “Did you mean it?”
“Asking me out. You would’ve done it?”
Tsukishima paused, then nodded. “Yeah. If I was strong enough to.”
He prepared himself for the inevitable backlash. He could handle it.
“I would say yes.”
He froze, eyes wide, staring at Yamaguchi. “What?” He felt like a broken record, repeating the same things over and over.
“Don’t be stupid, Tsukki. I would say yes, if you asked me out.” Yamaguchi smiled weakly, then coughed. “My throat is so dry.”
“Drink more water,” Tsukishima urged. After Yamaguchi complied, he spoke. “Then, Yamaguchi, do you wanna go on a date?”
“I’d love to go on a date, Tsukki.” Yamaguchi smiled, brighter this time. “Can we go to McDonald’s? I want fries.”