One night in December a couple of months before Rio, just after the NT team broke for the holidays after arriving back from Colorado and a few days after the team had thrown Tobio birthday party, Tobio receives a call from Tsukishima.
He groans into his pillow, slamming his hands haphazardly on the bedside table in the NT dorms until he managed to find the familiar shape of his phone and peers at the glare of his screen.
Approximately 8 hours later, he finds himself in Sendai City Station after taking the first fucking train from Tokyo, bundled in his shitty parka and cursing everything known to man in his head.
Tobio had planned to spend the entire holiday in the dorms but he’s suddenly in Tsukishima’s brother’s pick up truck, Tsukishima on the wheel, and they quietly stewed in silence as they made their way to the Tsukishima household, ready to take on the task of moving Tsukishima’s shit from the house he shared with his mother and brother, to Tsukishima’s shitty apartment located just across the Hirose river from Tohoku University.
“You know you don’t have to move, right?” Akiteru asks when Tobio and Tsukishima are on their second round of going back and forth from the pick up truck to Kei’s stupid room, carrying a couple of heavy boxes that were apparently Important Books.
The apartment, Tobio observes when they finally got there, is a third storey rundown one-bedroom shithole with clear signs of the previous renter’s lack of care but it was near to where Tsukishima had to be, and it was remote enough that Tsukishima could quietly exist when he needed to retire after a long day of work, practice, and classes.
They worked on getting Tsukishima’s stuff from the back of the pick up, working out a strategy where Tsukishima will wait from the second landing of the stairs so they could just walk half the stairs. Once that’s done, they set the boxes in Tsukishima’s room and Tobio had quietly taken a clearly new scrubber, a Jif cleaner that Tobio knows from experience as a tile cleaner, and started fucking around in the disgusting kitchen.
Tsukishima looked at him in askance, then handed him a pair of rubber gloves muttering “For your perfect hands, King.” then left him alone and disappeared into the bedroom with a broom, a mop, and a pale.
The scent of bleach stung and made his eyes watery, but Tobio had always been better with manual labour that didn’t require him to think too much, like why the hell was he the one Tsukishima asked to help him move, for one thing.
He shrugged it off and continued scrubbing the entirety of the countertop and the splash tiles, his hands growing sweaty inside the gloves. He’s gotten into the rhythm of it, the movement familiar from the times he’d had to clean his own home in Miyagi. Once the tiles were done, he scraped off the disgusting grease stains on the mint-green concrete above the splash tiles and around the stovetop.
By noon, the kitchen surfaces are as clean as they can get. Tsukishima, who looked like a 190cm tall drowned rat, stood next to him as they shared a bottle of water that Tsukishima had bought from Lawson just a corner away.
“I’m going to clean the kitchen cabinets,” Tobio says after taking a huge gulp.
Tsukishima nods, “I’ll take the living room slash dining area.”
Then they’re off again.
“We should probably scrape the linoleum off,” Tobio suggests midway through him working on wiping and sanitising the cabinets hanging above the counter. “It’s gross.”
The green and white tiled print covers the entirety of the floor from the kitchen all the way towards the end of the living room where the sliding door of the balcony was located next to the windows. The linoleum is already yellowing and frayed at the edges and the floor underneath seemed to be a smooth panelling of beech wood.
Tsukishima twists his body to look at him from where he’s perched on top of a chair, trying to reach the cobwebs at the corners of the living room ceiling. He seems to contemplate for a bit before nodding at Tobio then returning to his own task.
They stop to have lunch at around two in the afternoon when Tobio and Tsukishima were almost done with the place, except Tsukishima apparently wanted to get rid of the two-seater sofa that sank too much when Tobio tried to sit on it so they both had to maneuver it down a narrow hallway, three flights of stairs, and carry it across the street to where the dumpsters are.
“Ok, now what?” Tobio asks, brushing his hands together as he stood together trying to catch their breaths from the shittiest task they’d taken yet as of that day.
“Now I have no couch,” Tsukishima declares after a lungful of air. “Let’s get some food before you eat me, your highness, your stomach’s too loud.”
They end up boiling two eggs in a pot - Tobio insisting they set a timer on his phone for exactly seven minutes and wouldn’t budge no matter how much Tsukishima had rolled his eyes at him, then use the same pot to cook three packets of instant ramen.
Tobio’s about to mutter a taunt at the very obvious lack of essential items such as plates, pots, and pans, when he notices the glint of embarrassment on his friend’s face and wisely keeps his mouth shut.
“How was your birthday?” Tsukishima asks when they're sitting on the floor, the pot steaming between them with a rug placed underneath so it wouldn’t burn through the linoleum of the living room.
“It’s a birthday,” Tobio shrugs, biting into the egg before sucking the noodles into his mouth, one of the two bowls in the apartment cupped into one hand and a pair of one of those disposable wooden chopsticks in the other. “The team got me food and cake. What did you really want to ask?”
“I can’t ask about your birthday without ulterior motives?”
“You normally don't. So what is it?”
Tsukishima looks at him and places his chopsticks in his bowl. “Stay here for your break.”
Tobio raises an inquisitive brow.
“You said you wanted to take the linoleum off. You don’t have to be back until the 2nd, right?”
Tobio gives him a dubious look, then eyes the room with a speculative gaze. “I’m not sleeping next to you,” he says, tilting his head to point to the direction of Tsukishima’s room. “And I’m not sleeping on this shitty floor either.”
Which is how, after many arguments from Tsukishima and equally as many arguments from Tobio, Tobio finds himself standing in front of the gate of his big old empty house in Miyagi with Tsukishima next to him, Akiteru’s pick-up truck parked just behind them.
It’s the 30th of December, and they’re really about to go into the place that housed the majority of Tobio’s dismal childhood memories. Tobio briskly shoves the thought off of his mind with a frown.
“You sure about this, King?” Tsukishima asks as Tobio wrangles with the shitty lock of the gate that he probably needs to grease.
“Do you really think I’ll suggest this if I’m not?” Tobio mutters, pushing the gate open and motioning for Tsukishima to follow him as he wrangles with the main door this time.
“Tsukishima?” Tobio calls out as he makes his way downstairs from where he’d been looking for a futon and some bedspreads. He finds Tsukishima standing quietly in front of the mantle where the photos of his mom and grandparents are propped. The air around it still smells of sandalwood.
Tsukishima turns towards him with an expression on his face that Tobio can’t read and doesn’t bother reading.
“Come on, you’ve seen them before,” Tobio says quietly, throwing the folded bed sheets and the futon on top of the sofa he’d pointed at Tsukishima as The One before crouching. “The sooner we’re out of here, the better.”
“How is this gonna fit through my hallway?” Tsukishima asks, approaching him after a moment before kicking the foot of the sofa that Tobio’s trying to find purchase to.
“It’ll fit,” Tobio insists, grunting as they make their way out of the house carrying the sofa between them. They carefully heave it into the back of the pick up next to the toolbox Tobio had squandered from their attic.
Tsukishima makes his way to the driver’s side to start the engine.
After a moment of debating with himself, Tobio runs back into the house to grab two of every plate, utensil, and bowl he has in the kitchen, along with a pan and a smaller pot and puts them all into a box that was a left over from when he’d had to clear the condiments from the cabinets and some food in the fridge before leaving for the US.
“What—” Tsukishima starts when Tobio pushes the box into the seat on the front.
Tobio slams the door on him, and makes his way back to the house to grab the kettle and microwave, pushing them next to the sofa in the back, then checking the house one more time for anything they might have left switched on before making his way back outside and locking the front door and gate behind him.
Tsukishima sneers at him from the driver’s side when he finally manages to climb into the passenger side, the box of kitchen stuff between them.
“This isn’t charity,” Tobio says, rolling his eyes at the disdain wafting off from Tsukishima. “I’m just not gonna eat in the same bowl every night before the new year.”
“And the microwave? The kettle?”
“It’s winter, I want my food hot without needing to use your dumb stove.”
Early next morning, Tobio peeled himself off the sofa they’ve just squandered from his old place and neatly folded up the also-squandered sheets before using the also-squandered kettle to boil water for the thankfully non-squandered instant coffee-in-a-cup they bought the night before.
Tsukishima appears behind him when he’s tearing off the packaging, the two appliances from the Kageyama household now sitting innocently next to each other on the now-clean countertop.
They quietly sip their own respective drinks before setting off to carry the sofa to Tsukishima’s bedroom so they can start on the floor.
Their gloved hands carefully chiseled away the plastic linoleum that had been glued on it for what seemed like quite a long time. It takes them the entire day, and by evening, the beech floor had been stripped, sanded, and mopped, and the sofa’s now placed adjacent to the sliding door of the balcony.
Tobio reeks disgustingly of sweat and dust.
“Never took you for a handyman, king,” Tsukishima comments after they run to KFC before it closes on them to buy a Christmas bucket, which is what they’re now sharing on the floor using the plates Tobio forced them to take just yesterday.
Tobio wipes his brow with his sleeves and gratefully chugs on the orange juice that came with the meal. “I lived alone, remember?” he says, leaning against the wall and looking out the glass panes of the balcony where Tohoku University’s lights are shimmering across the river. “Had to learn on my own.”
“Shame you didn’t learn how to cook.”
Tobio snorts, reaching for another piece of chicken. “That’s what you think.”
“Boiling eggs don’t count as cooking,” Tsukishima says, deadpan. Then hands Tobio a napkin when gravy drips down Tobio’s chin.
Tobio grabs it while trying to swallow around the piece of chicken he just bit off. He wipes off the gravy then crumples it.
“I’m okay with curry,” he declares quietly then looks away.
“Why’d you call me anyway? Tadashi not available?” Tobio asks as he washes the plates and glasses by the sink, the tap water freezing because the heater isn’t fucking working and they will both have to greet the new year stinking of sweat because Tobio thinks they’ll die if shower.
Who would have thought that he’ll spend new year’s eve with Tsukishima voluntarily and just the two of them.
Tsukishima doesn’t look up from where he was pushing the cans of beer in the fridge after he’d collected the leftovers from the KFC Christmas Bucket.
“He’s in Osaka with Hitoka for the holidays.”
Tobio’s hand involuntarily squeezes the sponge he’s holding, the suds dripping down the sink before disappearing into the drain.
He recognises the tone—the nonchalant way with which Tsukishima had just thrown the words out. It’s something Tobio’s heard from himself when Shouyou would mention anything about Brazil and The Grand King
“Are you—” Tobio starts, clearing his throat and looking down blankly at the stainless steel. “Tsukishima, are you in love with Tada—”
“Let it go, King.” Tsukishima says, shutting the door of the fridge lightly and turning away to gather the junk food they’ll be eating for the rest of the night before putting them on the corner a few feet away from where Tobio’s standing. “It’s too late now anyway.”
“What about you?” Tsukishima asks after a few minutes of them just existing around each other. “What’s the story?”
“Half our juniors in Karasuno thought you were with the shrimp,” Tsukishima says blithely, grabbing the kitchen towel hanging from the door of his shitty fridge to help with drying the things Tobio’s washing.
Tobio licks his lips as he rinses the soap off of a plate before handing said plate to Tsukishima.
“Yeah, well they were wrong.”
“Clearly” Tsukishima drawls, eyes on the plate that used to live in Tobio’s old house. “Who was it?”
“Who was what?” Tobio asks, also doing his best to avoid Tsukishima’s eyes.
“King, you’re stupid but you’re not that stupid.” Tsukishima snorts. “Who was it? Summer before second year you spent two whole months looking like a lost puppy. Who was it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answers, giving the last plate to Tsukishima and watches him as he starts wiping it. “And quit with the King, asshole. Just call me Kageyama or Tobio, I don’t care.”
Tsukishima flicks his eyes at him, his glasses perched on his nose right above the wonky bump where one of their juniors from Karasuno had accidentally spiked the ball to his nose and the nurse had to set it.
A couple of hours later, approximately fifteen minutes before the clock strikes twelve, Tobio’s merrily indulging himself on junk food in the living room when Tsukishima appears from his bedroom and makes his way to the balcony. The blast of cold air makes Tobio shiver.
Tsukishima doesn’t close the fucking door after him and just stands there leaning on the railing.
Tobio stands, takes the blanket and the sheet draped over the sofa, and grabs two cans of beer from the fridge before following Tsukishima out. The thing can only fit two people in it, and barely even that because the wooden flooring keeps creaking underneath their weight.
Tsukishima moves further so Tobio can have room, taking the sheet and the can of beer that Tobio offers him. It’s fucking cold out, especially since the balcony is perched just a couple of feet away from Hirose but it’s quiet except for the occasional punches of sounds from people who’re celebrating in the other floors of Tsukishima’s building and the houses in the surrounding area.
There’s a snick and a flicker of light before the scent of cigarette fills the air.
“Since when did you smoke?” Tobio asks quietly, blinking at Tsukishima who’s sucking the end of the stick, the cherry on the other end bright against the darkness of the city.
“Two weeks after college started,” Tsukishima answers after an exhale. Tobio watches the fume of smoke mixing with the fog from Tobio’s breaths. "I only smoke occasionally."
“You shouldn’t smoke at all, asshole,” Tobio mutters sulkily, taking a sip of beer and shivering when the cold hits him. They shouldn’t have put the beers in the fridge.
“Anyone ever tell you you have a foul mouth? Especially when there’s alcohol around.”
Tsukishima hums, the cigarette resting between his fingers as he leaned forward and pressed his weight on the railing, the iron creaking with the shift. “Was it the Grand King?”
The rows of spindly trees lining the edge of Hirose are enveloped by fog, hiding the street below. It makes him heartsick. He wishes he was still a kid with his grandfather singing western christmas songs under the twinkling fairy lights that Miwa and Tobio helped him drape around the plastic Christmas tree his grandfather had insisted on putting up.
Five years ago, he still had family to celebrate with. Now he’s standing on the shitty narrow balcony of his High School classmate who, after three whole years of being teammates, just started calling him by his first name.
The same High School classmate and previous teammate who sought out his help on moving into a shitty apartment, knowing he’d be alone in a different city because he’d rather fucking die than spend another celebration alone in that mausoleum of house.
“Yeah,” Tobio says with a sigh then quickly snatches the shortening stick of cigarette from Ts– Kei ’s fingers and tries to take a drag. He starts coughing immediately, pushing the stick back to his right where Kei’s watching him with an amused look.
“Wimp,” Kei taunts, patting him on the back with more force than necessary and stubbing the cigarette on the steel railing. Tobio resolves to steal the box of cigarettes tomorrow morning so he can tear them all up.
A couple of seconds later, a loud booming sound comes from across the river then the night is lit up by fireworks.
Tobio thinks about Rio, about going pro afterwards. His dreams all in front of him, just waiting for him to grab at them.
“Happy new year, Kei,” he greets quietly, his phone lighting up with texts inside the living room where he’s left it on the sofa.
The apartment still needs work, but at least it's habitable now.
Kei looks at him with a slight upward quirk on his lips. “Happy new year, Tobio.”