"Hi... I'm Tadashi..." A voice laced with shyness and accompanied by a soft hum of static spoke after a click. The younger looking boy in the screen looked anxious, scared, and unsure and his eyes found it hard to stay put. Despite this, he continued speaking. "Um.. My dad gave me this camera for my birthday... I don't really know what to do with it so..."
Tsukishima, on the other hand, watched patiently and let the other finish. Although admittedly, he was tempted to pause it and skip to the next video. It seemed more like an introduction anyway. But still, he watched on.
The Yamaguchi in the video continued to fidget, talked about school and whatnot, and ended the video with a small smile and a wave. Tsukishima pressed a button in the camera to the next video.
It was a little late in the afternoon; practice had ended short for Tsukishima and Yamaguchi today when one of the first years took a ball to the face (courtesy of Hinata and his spikes of fury) and had to be sent home. Yamaguchi had invited Tsukishima for dinner and a short study session they needed for the upcoming exam. Tsukishima didn't need to study, like always, but he was never one to decline Yamaguchi's invitations.
He supposed that it was pretty rude of him to prattle his sweaty hands all over Yamaguchi's stuff when the freckled boy left the room and the house to buy something from the nearest store but Tsukishima couldn't help it. His interest was piqued when he came across an old worn out video camera with Yamaguchi's name messily scribbled on the side with permanent marker, neatly tucked in a dusty old box of family albums and school yearbooks. It's like his hands moved on their own to turn the thing on, and he was surprised to find that it still even had power.
"So um... I guess I'll just use this camera to record stuff here in my room. My mom won't let me out the house with it," the young boy started as he scratched the back of his neck. "I think I'll keep this one short, I have math homework that I need to start on,"
"Today was a bit boring I suppose," the brunette pulled a notebook and a pencil. "Well, there was a couple of guys who keep pushing me in the cafeteria today. But that's nothing really. Although it's been a few weeks..."
Tsukishima's brows furrowed when the expression in Yamaguchi's face fell. It was only for a second, and the smile in young Yamaguchi's face was back to mask the heavy look too familiar for a child his age. Tsukishima knew exactly why.
The next videos were just Yamaguchi talking about trivial things that was happening in his daily routine; his progress in school, the contents of his report card, that kind of jazz. Tsukishima would catch an off-hand comment about the kids that bothered him, followed by a dismissive hand gesture by Yamaguchi, saying something like "but it's probably nothing". The young Yamaguchi, aged probably around 8-10, talked to the camera like it was a person trailing his every step.
It was around the sixth video that Tsukishima realized that these recordings were similar to diary entries. No, scratch that-- they ARE diary entries. Tsukishima was filled with a sense of guilt immediately; these were Yamaguchi's private thoughts after all. He decided that he should turn it off, put it back where he found it and forget that he saw anything. Tsukishima was anything but intrusive. Towards normal people it would be because he didn't care, because he didn't particularly know what use these information would have on him. Yamaguchi though, didn't deserve to have his privacy meddled with, especially not by his best friend. He was going to put it back after one more video.
He was greeted by Yamaguchi's sheepish smile on his bruised face, and Tsukishima's breath caught on his throat.
"Um... I probably don't look too good, huh?" Yamaguchi's gaze dropped and he absentmindedly scratched his arm. "Remember those guys I mentioned the last time? Well... You can see what they did," he spoke as he trailed his fingers over his left eye, dark and swollen.
"I don't really know how I'm going to get this past mom... Or anybody really..." He pauses for a second, and looks up to the camera, lips quivering and smile long gone, his dark brown eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
"What did I do..?"
The clip ended with a beep and Tsukishima was overcome with the feeling of wanting to punch something. He was reminded of this point in Yamaguchi's life that he spoke so little of, when he was pushed around and teased for the stars that littered on his skin and how weak he was. Tsukishima gave it no thought at the time when he was around that age, but looking at it now, it angered him. It angered him that someone would do this to this child. Checking the date, he realized that this was recorded before they even actually met. It angered him that this was only the seventh one and there were at least thirty more videos that followed and there was probably a hundred more after that, a hundred more clips of Yamaguchi talking about how he was tormented. Tsukishima's chest felt heavy with silent fury, but mostly he was worried.
Without much thought about putting the camera in hand back to where it was, Tsukishima pressed the next button.
"--I'm hoping to maybe start playing a sport or something next year. Not really sure how that would go--" The clip cut in almost immediately. Yamaguchi looked fine in this one, with little to no trace of physical abuse on his face. "How about it? Do you think I should join the basketball club? Or maybe volleyball? I don't really know how to play both of them to be honest..."
Yamaguchi whipped his head to the direction of his bedroom's door, and Tsukishima can hear the faint sound of shouting. Yamaguchi sighs and returns his look on the camera in front of him. "They're fighting again... I should cut this short; I might get in trouble if I get caught still up past my curfew. But I don't know if I'll be able to sleep," the video ended at that.
Tsukishima moved on to the next and the next and a couple more where Yamaguchi talked about school again, but Tsukishima's mind was somewhere else. This was something Yamaguchi has never talked about much. Something about his parents.
The next recording started with Yamaguchi's face close to the camera, distress written all over his face. His knees were against his chest and had his chin prepped on it. The video was all jittery and Tsukishima realized that Yamaguchi was holding the camera with both of his hands this time.
"They're yelling... Can you hear it?" Yamaguchi paused. "Dad's angry again and--" the freckled boy flinched and almost dropped the camera. Tsukishima heard a muffled but loud crashing noise coming from somewhere off-screen. "Oh no..." The clip ended there.
Somehow, that not only worried Tsukishima, it also made him curious.
"Hey," Yamaguchi greeted the camera with a small smile. "I snuck the camera out. I'm on my way to school right now," he turned the camera forward and Tsukishima can see the asphalt road and the grassy sidewalks pass by. It cut short there.
The next one was recorded on the same day, Tsukishima noted. And it was Yamaguchi holding the camera in front of him. "So, I had a perfect score on our quiz today. And I didn't even have to study!" Yamaguchi grinned.
It was only a split second when he saw another person creep up behind the freckled boy and in a blink, another kid had grabbed the camera away.
"Who the hell are you talking to, pimply?" A harsh voice spoke and his face flashed briefly in the camera.
"Hey give that back--"
"Pffttt-- he's talking to himself! What a freak," another voice, different from the first one, laughed.
"See this is why nobody wants to be friends with you, Tadashi! You're talking to yourself like a weirdo!" A third one piped from somewhere off-screen. They pointed the camera back to Yamaguchi and there he stood in all of his powerless glory. Yamaguchi looked thin and weak yes, but there was something in those eyes of his that showed a hint of bravery, even at a distance.
Yamaguchi charged at the three boys in front of him and Tsukishima was on the edge of his seat watching those tearful angry eyes come closer and the camera dropped, preventing the blond from seeing whatever ensued next. He could hear mocking laughter though, and the sound of Yamaguchi grunting, fighting back. And then a choking yelp from said boy. Tsukishima set the camera down beside him, video still playing, because he couldn't bear to watch or hear what was happening in that clip. He couldn't even begin to imagine. Tsukishima breathed deeply. It was a bit too much for him.
He heard the camera pick up a noise and the picture was no longer blocked with grassy foliage but instead it showed the road in front of the lens, the one behind the camera panting and wheezing as they ran. After a few moments, the running slowed down and ceased. Yamaguchi turned the camera to him.
What Tsukishima saw broke his heart.
"Is.. Is it...?" Yamaguchi frantically turned the camera at every angle. He sighed a shaky sigh, sounding relieved, and his hands that were clutching the camera fell and rested in front of his thighs. "Thank god..." The camera looked up at Yamaguchi's crying frame, his shoulders shook and he violently hiccupped and the eyes he shut tight didn't stop the pained tears that slid past his reddening cheek and wounded lips. Yamaguchi sobbed, "It's not broken... Thank god..."
The date of the next video differed by a few days, around two weeks.
Yamaguchi looked so different at this next video, almost as if the events of the last ceased to exist. Although his clothes looked wrinkled, light brown dirt contrasted a bit from his black sweater. Nonetheless, Tsukishima was faced with a beaming smile, and a glint in those young eyes that he knew and loved.
"I met someone today," Yamaguchi started a little too eagerly. "Well actually, I already know him. We're classmates. But we never really talked..?" He cocked his head and directed his gaze elsewhere, and then looked back giddily at the camera. "He's so cool. You should've seen him. He drove those guys away. And he didn't even do anything! That's... So cool!"
Tsukishima stared at the small screen, his lips twitched upwards at the cute sight.
"What was his name again... Ah! Tsukishima... Yeah, Tsukishima," Yamaguchi sighed the blond's name blissfully and Tsukishima blushed at the sentiment. He'd forgotten just how much the boy had adored him back then. "I'm gonna talk to him tomorrow... I just wanna thank him, you know? Nobody really stood up for me like that before,"
The next clips were recorded day after day after day, each one of them talking about Tsukishima in some way. And every single one made Tsukishima, the one watching them right now, warm and fuzzy inside. Yamaguchi also seemed to stop talking about those bullies, or at least little than before, but it was always before Yamaguchi comments on how "Tsukki was really cool".
This was the Yamaguchi he got to know. The one he saw every day, on the way to and during class, and volleyball practice. This was the Yamaguchi that was full of smiles, made the cutest jokes, the one who gave him his nickname Tsukki. This was the Yamaguchi who stood by him from elementary when everybody else was too intimidated to talk to him.
It was strange. Remembering these memories about Yamaguchi usually brings a smile on his face. But now, after watching these videos, it just filled him with a bittersweet feeling. It's not like Yamaguchi has never talked about the times he got bullied, he did but in a lesser extent that Yamaguchi made it sound so insignificant. What he saw, it wasn't insignificant at all. Whatever it was he went through, Tsukishima thought that it was too much for someone like him, someone so fragile at heart, someone who didn't deserve it at all. How come he knew the Yamaguchi who was the smile that tucked away the pain he has felt for years? If only he knew... If only he knew sooner...
Yamaguchi slowly started to look a bit taller and lean after the next few videos. This was recorded on their last year of middle school.
Yamaguchi started off by talking about the last of his exams from a week before, his results and whatnot and he said something about which high school he's planning to attend. He was then cut off by the sound of distant and familiar shouting.
"Mom and Dad are fighting again," he sighs. "I wish they would stop,"
"First week wasn't so bad," Yamaguchi spoke with a smile on the next clip. "Tsukki was with me, and we got to see what the volleyball club is like at Karasuno. The captain looked pretty dependable I guess. And the other senpai was pretty nice too! I suppose the only one who rubbed off wrong on me was the bald guy..." he laughs.
The next few videos were recorded between long periods, ranging from a couple of days apart up till weeks. Tsukishima knew. This was the time when they started getting serious in school, when Yamaguchi started getting serious about improving in volleyball. He expected a lot more entries of Yamaguchi just talking about his progress regarding his serves. And that was exactly what the content was in the next five videos that were recorded in a span of six months.
Tsukishima's heart sank at Yamaguchi's reports. Each one of them, Yamaguchi sounded even more crestfallen than the last.
"I'm the only first year to not be a regular... Kinda lame, huh?"
"Team B lost the practice match today... Again,"
"I've been working on my serves lately with Shimada. But um... It's no big deal,"
"We lost to Aoba Johsai... Probably because of me..."
Tsukishima didn't need to watch these. Because he expected to see them coming from Yamaguchi. Because he knew. He was there.
What he didn't expect to see next was the image of Yamaguchi with tears flowing nonstop from his eyes, but this expression remained blank. Almost dead. And he didn't talk about volleyball this time.
He didn't speak for the first few seconds he turned the camera on, and he didn't speak as well when he slowly dragged his feet towards his bed and sat heavily on the mattress. He blinked, wiped his tears with his sleeve in one motion and then sighed.
"He left today. Or last night more like it," Yamaguchi's tone was flat, something Tsukishima has never expected to hear from Yamaguchi. He paused again, and even though he sat quite a distance from the camera, Tsukishima can see his face clearly. Yamaguchi's lips quivered slightly and the facade of emptiness he tried to pull off quickly broke when his eyebrows wrinkled on his forehead. His voiced cracked.
After that, Yamaguchi immediately stood up and stomped towards the camera to shut it off.
The next clip was short but was recorded the next day. Tsukishima took note of how Yamaguchi looked the same, but appeared more restless. Although here, he spoke less but when he did, he asked "why" and spoke about how he has never seen his mother cry so hard before. There was another video recorded the day after, shorter in length but still showed the same pale-looking Yamaguchi with red puffy eyes and same unshed clothes from the first video he talked about his father leaving.
"...What did I do...?" were the first words that muttered from Yamaguchi's lips after a few seconds of silence that was the start of this next recording. "...Was it me? Mom won't talk to me about it... Did he leave because of me...?"
"I just want to know... What exactly were they fighting about... Was it me...?" Yamaguchi squeaked, his voice trembled with something else rather than sadness. And he raised from his seat on the bed.
"Did he... Even care about us? About me? Did he even care at all?!" Yamaguchi sobbed. "Does anybody care?! Does anybody even listen? Does anybody even look for me? I... Mom... Dad... Tsukki..." He trailed off to catch his breath.
"Why... Why does an inanimate object care more than anyone does?!"
Tsukishima sat in silence after the beep signaling that the video has ended. It's not like he didn't knew. He just figured it out, because after all these years of knowing Yamaguchi, he never once met Yamaguchi's dad. It was always his mother who was home, always the one who greeted Tsukishima warmly when he visits their house. Yamaguchi never talked about him, never mentioned him and Tsukishima didn't bother to ask. But yes, he knew. What he didn't know was how deeply Yamaguchi was affected by it, how Yamaguchi managed to hide these feelings of his from him all these years. He surely had underestimated Yamaguchi and his ability to close himself off.
"Why? What did I do wrong...?"
He wondered if he still harbored ill feelings towards that man till today.
He wondered if Yamaguchi hated him.
"I'm so useless,"
He wondered if Yamaguchi hated him.
"I don't even know what I'm doing anymore,"
He wondered if Yamaguchi hated himself.
"I just want to die,"
He froze. Now that was something Yamaguchi has never told him before.
Tsukishima’s hands trembled, staring wide-eyed at the camera in front of him as a sudden rush of self-consciousness hit him like a sack of bricks. He knew Yamaguchi felt bad about himself; he knew how much Yamaguchi loathed himself back then. He was convinced that that was his drive to become better, he wanted to not hate himself as much anymore. But setting that aside, he didn’t think he’d hate himself this much. Never till this point.
Tsukishima felt a stinging pang of guilt. And it hurt him so bad. How much of Yamaguchi had he ignored these past few years?
Where the fuck was he when this happened to Yamaguchi?
There were only a few videos left, and the next one after what he just watched was at least three months after. He almost didn’t want to watch it, in fact. But he needed to know what happened to Yamaguchi next, if he was alright, if he managed to get over it.
If he ever cried or smiled for another reason.
“…Been a while, huh?” Yamaguchi greeted the camera like an old friend. He scratched the back of his head as he talked. “It’s okay. I’m fine now,”
Tsukishima wasn’t entirely convinced by the soft smile faintly present on his lips.
“He didn’t… Come back. Just so you know,” Yamaguchi looked queasy and the sadness was back in his eyes. But he sighs, sounding content. “At least mom’s feeling better. She started going to work again. About a month ago in fact. I’m glad,”
Yamaguchi’s tone shifted a bit, and he groaned. “God, that reminds me… I can’t believe I did that,” he says. “We had one of our training camps last week. I actually just got home. Well anyway…” he trailed off and actually looked hesitant to say more. “…I can’t believe I yelled at Tsukki. I just couldn’t stand him not caring about volleyball, you know?”
“Man,” Yamaguchi exclaims. “I really thought he would hate me after that! But then… He called me cool,”
“…Can you believe that? He called me cool! I had to pinch myself,” Tsukishima finally hears a laugh. The first one he’s heard while watching these. “He treated me out earlier after we got off at Karasuno and before I went home,”
He remembered that time well. Yamaguchi was all up in his face, and yelled at him about what else kind of motivation he needed other than pride. It was the first time Tsukishima had seen the spark of determination in Yamaguchi’s hickory orbs. That alone made him think for the longest time, longer than anything. And above all, it was at that moment Yamaguchi truly captivated him with his words, finally seeing his worth buried deep by years of doubt.
Another few weeks passed after the next video was recorded.
“I haven’t been able to record a lot of these lately. Sorry about that… It’s like I’m neglecting you or something,” Yamaguchi laughed half-heartedly. He still talked to the camera as if it was a living being who witnessed the ups and downs of his life. “But things have been pretty hectic with school. Prep classes have been taking up most of my time, also there’s volleyball practice. It’s been intense because Spring Tournament’s right around the corner,”
“There’s actually something I need to share right now… Uh… Hmm…” Yamaguchi’s face bloomed pink suddenly, and he glanced away and looked at every single thing in his room as he fidgeted. “It’s about Tsukki…”
Tsukishima smiled. He knew exactly where this was heading.
“Darn… I… Okay… Umm…” Yamaguchi stuttered and it was unbearably cute. “…I think I may or may not kinda like Tsukki a bit…? Maybe? Yes…? Okay, fine yes,” the brunette sighed.
“I don’t know, I just… I don’t know when I started liking him like this. I just did? This is embarrassing,” He gives off another exasperated sigh as he covered his face with his hands. It didn’t cover the red in his ears though. “I suppose I liked him way before this… I’m not sure. What I’m sure is that… I do like him. I really do,”
The next few recordings, about three of them in fact, were Yamaguchi talking about volleyball and about how he had worked extra hard to perfect his jump float serve. In between these, he was gushing about Tsukishima and the time they spent together. Tsukki treating him out for fries one time, about that one impromptu sleepover they had, about Tsukki letting him borrow one of his dinosaur sweatshirts.
Which reminds him, Tsukishima never got those back.
Tsukishima saw Yamaguchi’s eyes filled with tears once again when he played the next video. But there was something different about this one. Yamaguchi was smiling, biting his lips to suppress the grin in fact. The freckled boy let out a breath, shaky but otherwise blissful.
“I finally got to stand on the court with the team today,” Yamaguchi choked on his sobs but continued without letting his smile falter with overwhelming emotion. “And I scored,”
“I scored for the team. I finally did it…” Hot tears didn’t hesitate to fall at that, and Yamaguchi didn’t seem to care.
After a while, Yamaguchi wiped his face with his sleeves and he inhales before talking again. “I’m going to do it. I’ll confess to him. After this is over. Even if we lose, or win and go to regionals… I’m telling him how I feel,”
Tsukishima pushed the button placed on top of the device to shut it off, and gently he placed it back in the box where he found it.
There were still a few videos in it that was left unwatched by him, but he finally didn’t feel the need to touch them. Tsukishima slid the box back under Yamaguchi’s bed, and he sat there on the floor with his head rested by the edge of the mattress. He might need a moment to take everything in. What he saw was basically a compilation of Yamaguchi’s innermost feelings, his thoughts, the emotions he didn’t want anybody else to see. What he didn’t know in years, he suddenly took in in a span of minutes. It was like getting to know Yamaguchi all over again.
The Yamaguchi who was broken ever since he was a child. The Yamaguchi who approached him one day to thank him for saving him from his tormentors. The one who had nothing but a camera by his side. Yamaguchi who was abandoned and mistreated but eventually picked himself up and found light on his own. The one who knocked sense into him when his apathy was getting too much into the way of his success. Sweet, determined Yamaguchi who made Tsukishima’s life a bit better, better than he made Yamaguchi’s. The one who kept him company for years and years to come.
Tsukishima’s heart felt full at the moment. The way Yamaguchi talked about him in his videos sounded so sweet, and even though Tsukishima already knows all of these, knows what his answer will be in that confession, what his answer was in that confession, it still didn’t fail to bring out a smile from him when he thought about it.
He supposed he should feel guilty right about now. He did just skim through Yamaguchi’s diary without his consent.
As if on cue, the door creaked opened and the said freckled boy peeked inside.
“Hey, Kei. Dinner’s ready,” Yamaguchi entered the room and walked towards Tsukishima, his bare feet tapping lightly on the wooden floor of his room. “Sorry I took a while. The line at the convenience store was so long,”
Yamaguchi raised a brow at him as he sat down besides Tsukishima. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Tsukishima silently looked at him, didn’t say anything. The sight of Yamaguchi in front of him was one of the many things he decided to take note of and compare to certain things. He was certainly a leaner now, jaw more pronounced and accented the freckles on his face and his hair longer and tied back in a ponytail. The very presence of Yamaguchi, this Yamaguchi, oozed a strong air of confidence that slowly settled itself in the short two years they’ve been dating. He was certainly different now, and so was Tsukishima honestly speaking, and being the current vice-captain of the volleyball club had nothing to do with that.
Yamaguchi grew. He grew damn fine.
The blond pulls the other close to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. He presses a soft kiss on Yamaguchi’s cheek and he looked at him with wide eyes as his cheeks reddened. Yamaguchi had changed, but at the same time, he was still the same old Yamaguchi who Tsukishima fell in love with.
“You did good,” was the only thing Tsukishima whispered to the flustering brunette who laid still in his arms. “You did good. I love you,”
It took a few seconds for Yamaguchi to respond, and he returned Tsukishima’s embrace as he muttered back. “…I love you too, Kei,”
When they pulled away from each other, Yamaguchi giggled at him. “Did you eat something weird while I was gone? Or maybe you’re just hungry. Come on, food’s getting cold,” the brunette stood up with a soft grunt and pulled Tsukishima with him.
Yamaguchi talked and talked about random things over their meal and Tsukishima listened without an utter from himself, watching the glint in his boyfriend’s bright brown eyes. And it was times like these when he was reminded by just how much he admired this boy in front of him, adored his energetic voice educating him about the current training regimen he had in set for the first and second years. He just still couldn’t believe that this was the same Yamaguchi who went through all that pain at a young age. Tsukishima can only hope he was as cool as him.
Yamaguchi had once asked him what motivation he needed other than pride. He thought about it long and hard. And it was him.
Yamaguchi was the motivation he needed.