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Block. Whistle. Buzzer. Cheers. 

Keiji feels a bead of sweat drip down his temple. His hair curls and sticks to his forehead, damp with the humidity of the court. His eyelids feel heavy, but his limbs are heavier. He had looked up just in time to see Bokuto's spike shut down, the ball hitting the floor almost as if it was falling in slow motion. Konoha's emergency set hadn't been high enough, or perhaps after five gruelling sets, Bokuto's stamina had finally given way, or maybe that serve had targeted Keiji so that he would be forced to make first touch--

"-Kaashi? Akaaaashiiii?"

Someone is calling his name. It sounds far away. 

Keiji blinks twice. His vision clears and suddenly he's pulled back onto centre court. Oh. Yes. They lost. 

"Akaashi?" Bokuto tries again. He kneels in front of Keiji and offers a hand. Keiji takes it and stands, his own hands shaking as the crowd roars for Ichibayashi High, the new Spring champions. His eyes are stinging, and he's not sure why. 

"Bokuto-san, I'm sorry, I should have let someone else get that serve," Keiji says, throat tight. He doesn't want to look at Bokuto, his ace who he’s surely let down, but when he meets Bokuto’s gaze there's not a trace of disappointment in them. 

"That was amazing !” Bokuto booms. His hundred-watt smile beams through the clouds of negativity that threaten to descend around Keiji. “We really are the protagonists of the whole world, huh?"

Protagonists. Keiji had said something like that during their quarter-finals match with Mujinazaka. It sounded flashy and romantic, the perfect title when they’d been on top of the world. Bokuto and the team had gone head-to-head with another top-ranked ace and won. At the time, Keiji felt unstoppable. Now he just feels overwhelmed, sort of like the time he’d ridden his bike down a hill and he’d flown over the handlebars. The ride had been exhilarating, the landing not so much.

"I guess it was pretty amazing," Keiji agrees softly, returning a gentle smile of his own. He hopes it seems sincere. He glances at Konoha, who's emergency set may have cost them the national title. His eyes are shining, and Keiji can't quite place the emotion. Konoha quickly wipes at his face and joins the rest of the Fukurodani team in a quick, bittersweet huddle. 

They squeeze together, each of their hands on someone else’s back, somewhere between congratulations and consolation. Keiji has to remind himself to stay in the moment. He refuses to be the killjoy who cries. This is the only time they’ll all be together as the National Runner Up team so he needs to bask in it as long as he can. A lump in his throat forms when he lingers on that thought too long. 

Second place, Keiji thinks. Second place in the entire nation. Their team had blasted through every--well--almost every opponent they came across to get here. In all honesty, it’s more than Keiji could have dreamed of. So why does he feel so responsible for this particular loss?

"Line up!" Bokuto calls, his voice clear and commanding. Keiji smiles. Leave it to Bokuto to finally get his act as captain together during his last official highschool match. 

Fukurodani lines up and bows to their tearful supporters before making their way over to the net to shake the other team’s hands. Bokuto grips their captain’s hand and grins, congratulating him with a grace Keiji hadn’t even realized Bokuto was capable of. Then again, Bokuto is a pretty capable guy, all things considered. Another smile tugs at Keiji’s mouth when he remembers how Bokuto had asked him if they had ever played a game that they could afford to lose. 

The awards ceremony is a blur. Keiji remembers posing for photos with their silver medals, the stadium’s air conditioning making his skin prickle in his still-damp uniform. He remembers the way his teammates smiled through their tears, adrenaline still coursing through each one of their veins. He remembers shuffling off to the changing rooms and donning his sweats and long jacket, adding a mask to stave off the January cold. He’d seen Hinata Shoyo quite literally fall ill with a fever not 48 hours before. He’s not keen on doing the same. 

Only when he is curled up in the back of the bus headed from the hotel to the school does he allow himself to succumb to the exhaustion that seeps into his entire body. The uncomfortable pleather seat is warm and inviting now, and Keiji is grateful that it's wide enough for him to draw his legs up and underneath his quilted jacket. He gazes out the window, half-conscious as the team piles into the bus for the short ride home. He registers someone plopping down beside him, and then another jacket tucks in around him like a blanket.

“Are you cold, Akaashi?” Bokuto asks, his voice hushed like he’s not sure if Keiji is sleeping. Keiji lifts his head, dislodging himself from his makeshift bus nest.

“Not anymore,” he replies. “Thank you, Bokuto-san.”

Bokuto hums in satisfaction, leaning back in the seat next to Keiji. He puts his hands behind his head and stretches as the bus pulls out of the parking lot. 

“You should come over for dinner tonight,” Bokuto says after a beat. “My mom’s making a special post-Nationals meal. With barbecue .” He whispers the last part like he’s telling Keiji a scandalous secret. A small chuckle bubbles from Keiji’s chest.  

“I don't want to impose on your family’s celebration,” he admonishes, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Bokuto’s shoulders droop almost imperceptibly. However, Bokuto is undeterred and he rolls his eyes like Keiji is being ridiculous. 

“Yes I can, if I’m.. if we’re the ones being celebrated,” he argues. “Do you really think I could have made it to Nationals all by myself?” He waits, crossing his arms and tilting his head. 

“I suppose not,” Keiji ventures carefully. “It takes a whole team, of course.”

“Exactly my point,” Bokuto replies, satisfied. “Which means you are invited.”

Keiji studies Bokuto, who smirks and nods with a small hmph. 

“So by that standard…” Keiji knows he’s treading into deeper water, but he can’t help but prod just a little. “Will the entire team be coming?”

That makes Bokuto go still. His ears go red, the faintest blush staining the outer shell. He avoids catching Keiji’s eyes, and he fidgets in his seat. “Not exactly…”

Keiji opens his mouth to protest again, but Bokuto quickly cuts him off. 

“I mean, my family won’t mind, especially if it’s just you,” he says. “I didn’t ask them yet , but they won’t ever say no to you. They love you. They think you’re polite, and funny, and my sisters know you keep me in line at school--”

He speaks fast, like he’s trying to get the words out before Keiji can dismiss them.

“--and you’re Fukurodani’s setter. You’re.. You’re my setter. So you deserve barbecue just as much as I do. Maybe even more.”

He grins at Keiji, eyes shining hopefully. Keiji feels his chest squeeze and he sighs in defeat. He’s skeptical at best that Bokuto’s relatives would never turn him down, but he also can’t seem to tell Bokuto no either. Despite the team constantly poking fun at Keiji for always humouring Bokuto, it’s never been bothersome for him. If anything, Keiji relishes the extra time he gets to spend with him. Being a year apart has always meant that there would come a time that Bokuto would inevitably move on first, no matter how and if Keiji followed. Not that they’ve spoken much about it, but it’s not like Keiji could just let Bokuto go like that. 

“Alright,” he concedes. Bokuto pulls a victory fist and presses it to his chest. Keiji might be imagining it, but he thinks even Bokuto’s hair has perked up. The taller boy settles in, happily humming softly, pleased with himself. He looks like he's still full of energy--

“You should take a nap,” Bokuto says, interrupting Keiji’s train of thought. “You looked really tired when I got on the bus, so you should sleep now before we get home.”

Bokuto leans over and readjusts the jacket he’d placed over Keiji, pulling the fabric back up to his neck. Through half-lidded eyes, Keiji notes how gentle Bokuto is as he bundles him, his brows scrunching together when the arms of the quilted material fall unceremoniously to the side. 

Keiji lets himself drift. 

“Are you sure you don’t want more? There’s plenty left.” 

Keiji looks up. He's seated at the table between Bokuto and his elder sister Misaki. A weathered hand sneaking into his field of vision alerts him that Bokuto’s mother is attempting to add extra barbecue to his plate without him asking. He tries to steel his face into the best reassuring expression he can.

“Thank you, Bokuto- obaasan , but I am incredibly full,” he says, dipping his head politely. “It was delicious, though.”

Bokuto’s mother frowns slightly at Keiji, her gold-flecked eyes giving him a once-over. 

“You’re too skinny,” she mumbles, but she concedes, turning her attention to her son who is still working on his rice bowl. 

“Akaashi normally eats lots,” Bokuto chimes in, swallowing his enormous mouthful of rice. “His lunches are bigger than mine!”

“Bo--Koutaro, it’s okay, you don’t have to tell them that..” Keiji mutters, cheeks heating up. It’s not that the food is bad, he’s just not as hungry as usual. He’s used to his own relatives commenting on his appetite, but that’s not what embarrasses him most. What feels strange--unnatural almost--is having to call Bokuto by his given name at the dinner table. Keiji had been more than happy to address each member of the Bokuto household formally, but Bokuto himself had insisted that you should call me Koutaro, or at least Koutaro-san, c’mon, it’s weird when we’re at my house.  

And so Keiji complies, even though Koutaro sits in his mouth funny, wraps its characters around Keiji’s throat and sinks down into his lungs. Koutaro makes Keiji’s heart beat just a little harder, his stomach knot, his ears burn. 

They finish quickly after that, and Keiji assists with clearing the table. He offers to help with the dishes, but Bokuto’s mother waves her hand, telling them to relax for the night. They retreat to Bokuto’s room, where Bokuto launches himself onto his half-made bed with a resounding oof

“What a day, huh, ’Kaashi?” he muses, sighing contentedly. “What a week . I can’t believe we made it to centre court. We almost won Nationals!”

Keiji chooses to sit on the edge of the bed much more carefully, wincing as the bed frame creaks under both their weights. Over the past year, Bokuto has built up a significant amount of muscle.  Even in the couple months between qualifiers and Nationals, he’d filled out faster than ever before. Neither of them are compact, in any capacity. Keiji fights the urge to get up and pace, but not because of the groaning box spring. 

“I’m really sorry, Bokuto-san,” Keiji blurts. He immediately looks at his hands and balls them into fists, overwhelmed by the sudden guilt that he’s been staving off for hours. Bokuto bolts upright, and Keiji can feel his eyes boring into the back of him. He doesn’t look at Bokuto. 

“You're… sorry?” 

“You had so much faith in our team even when I thought that winning Nationals would be impossible, and we were so close and I let it slip out of our hands,” Keiji says, unable to stop once he's started. The words tumble out of his mouth like a dam overflowing. Everything he’s been keeping bottled up since their game bubbles to the surface with a vengeance that makes Keiji feel helpless against his own mouth.

“I knew that middle blocker was targeting me,” Keiji chokes. “Their number six. I still fell for it, I took a knee and got that serve, but I should have been the one to put that ball up for you so you could get through.”

Bokuto watches him, eyes wide and frozen in place. Keiji burns with shame. He needs to apologize now or it will weigh on him forever. 

“We could have--we should have won. It’s your last year too, you could have been Japan’s champion, and I was just so tired and not thinking right and it cost us . What if there were.. no, there definitely were scouts watching. What if it's my fault that they don't make you an offer because they saw your spike get blocked at such a pivotal moment? Who would scout an ace that lets his team down right at match point?” 

Dread threatens to knock what little oxygen is left in Keiji’s lungs at the thought of even contributing to a hindrance to Bokuto’s career. As the words leave his mouth, Keiji realizes how absolutely awful they sound out loud. He’s all but blaming Bokuto for his own mistakes, for being given a C-grade pass right into the hands of the other team. He feels sick. 

“Keiji.” Bokuto’s voice is low but it snaps Keiji out of his spiral. 

He looks up to see Bokuto slowly moving towards him, like he's a feral animal that Bokuto doesn't want to spook. Keiji lets strong arms pull him into an awkward hug and he leans into the touch. 

“I'm sorry,” Keiji breathes, embarrassed now that he's come back down to earth. He waits for his heart to slow, for his nerves to soothe, but he can feel his blood still pulsing in his ears. His breath catches when Bokuto’s fingers comb through his hair, and he experimentally puts his head on Bokuto’s broad shoulder. 

“Anyone ever tell you you're a perfectionist?” Bokuto laughs quietly, still petting Keiji’s hair. “Cuz you are. And that's not a bad thing, but we still made it to centre court. We made it to the finals. We didn’t even crack the top eight last Spring, and that was before Sakusa Kiyoomi came along and knocked me out of the top three.”

Keiji makes no move to pull out of Bokuto’s arms, but he does fist the hem of the older boy’s shirt in his frustration. 

“How are you so… calm about it?” he asks. “I thought…” He trails off, not wanting to be ruder than he already has been tonight. 

“You thought what?” Bokuto says, humour colouring his voice. “That I'd mope about it all night? Even after I promised you I'd become a normal ace? Y’know, all level-headed and dependable and stuff?”

Keiji croaks out a small laugh despite himself. Even after two years of playing together, Bokuto found ways to surprise him. 

“Whichever team you play for next is going to have the best, most normal ace they ever saw,” Keiji murmurs. He finally relaxes his vice grip on Bokuto’s shirt and moves to sit up, pulling himself out of his grasp. Or rather, he tries, but Bokuto holds tight. 

“Can.. Can I hug you just a little more?” he asks quietly. Keiji stiffens for a brief moment, but he hums his assent and nestles against Bokuto’s chest. His arms wind around Bokuto’s middle and he feels weirdly dwarfed by the other boy. Bokuto’s other hand slowly settles on the small of Keiji’s back, rubbing the tiniest of circles there. It's a foreign sensation, feeling small in someone else’s arms, but it's not unwelcome. 

“You called me Keiji,” he notes softly. It’s Bokuto’s turn to tense up, but Keiji pushes his face into Bokuto’s shoulder harder. 

“S-sorry, Akaashi, ” Bokuto mumbles into dark hair, and Keiji smiles to himself.

“I like it,” Keiji says, unable to help himself. “Better than when you call me Aw-ghaw-shi ”. 

“Stop it, you know I know that I pronounced it wrong back then,” Bokuto whines. 

Awghawshi, set for me, just one more, Awghawshiiii ,” Keiji teases, pitching his voice down to imitate Bokuto’s excited drawl. 

Bokuto makes a squawk of indignance and yanks Keiji from their hug and into more of a wrestle, making him let out an inhuman noise disguised as a laugh. They tussle for a minute on Bokuto’s bed until the older boy pulls Keiji into his lap, trapping him between his knees. Keiji’s laughter quickly dies in his throat as he suddenly takes in their positions. He immediately forgets how to breathe. 

As if on cue, Bokuto glances down and seemingly realizes he’s holding Keiji’s waist and also understands how compromising this looks. His hands retract like he’s touched something scalding and they hover awkwardly as if an invisible force field surrounds the setter, fingers splayed defensively. 

“Bokuto-san,” Keiji whispers. Maybe it was the small unplanned breakdown in front of his best friend and ace of their nationally-ranked team, but he feels uncharacteristically raw and daring. He slowly takes Bokuto’s hands in his own and guides them back to their original resting place on his sides. He can feel Bokuto’s hands shaking, and he gives him a reassuring smile. 

“No, that’s not fair,” Bokuto gripes, his voice cracking in a way that Keiji finds endearing. “If you get to be Keiji, I get to be Koutaro. And not just at the dinner table.”

“Okay.. Koutaro.” Keiji has to fight the instinct to add an honorific, but the feeling passes when he sees Bokuto’ s face light up when Keiji says his name. He’s instantly pulled back into a tight embrace, this time having no qualms about crushing the air out of his lungs. Bokuto’s nose brushes Keiji’s neck and he inhales sharply at the feeling. 

The air in the room feels heavy and neither boy moves for five… ten… fifteen seconds. The silence is only broken by their tandem shallow breaths, and Keiji is sure that Bokuto can feel his heart trying to hammer itself out of his ribcage. 

“Hey, hey, Keiji,” Bokuto mumbles into the smaller boy’s neck. “Can I try something weird? You can tell me if you don’t like it. But I wanna at least.. try it before graduation.”

Keiji’s mouth goes dry. 

“Yeah, of course,” he replies, and surprises himself at how unaffected it comes out. He feels Bokuto blow out a nervous breath that tickles the hairs on the back of his neck. 

“I didn’t wanna ask before Nationals,” Bokuto admits. His face is still glued to Keiji’s neck. “Didn’t wanna ruin anything, just in case, y’know.”

Before Keiji can ask what he’s talking about, he feels Bokuto’s head lift just enough so that chapped but gentle lips can press a shy kiss to his cheek. For a brief moment, Keiji’s brain short circuits, then Bokuto pulls away all too soon. He sits dumbfounded for a heartbeat more, trying to process the fact that Bokuto kissed him , he initiated , and at least for him, pretty damn smoothly. 

“B--Koutaro…” Keiji manages, and Bokuto gives him a sheepish grin. 

“It would’ve been bad if you didn’t like it and then we had to play the most important games of our lives right after,” he explains, but his eyes go wide and he looks at Keiji with a horrified expression. “Wait, you.. you liked it, right? You would have stopped me if you didn’t? Oh my god, you didn’t like it, I’m so sorry--”

Keiji comes to his senses and before he can overthink it, leans in to shut his ace up. He misses by a hair, catching the side of Bokuto’s mouth instead of kissing him squarely on the lips, but it works. Bokuto goes quiet and his eyes flutter shut, so Keiji lets himself do the same.  

Admittedly, Keiji has very little experience kissing. His only other encounter for comparison was his first kiss ever, with a girl who had confessed to him in middle school. She had misread Keiji’s politeness for interest, and before he knew what was happening his first kiss was over. It hadn’t been unpleasant by any means, but it had been quick and the girl had left not long afterward, giggling with her friends that had been waiting down the hall for her. This--kissing Bokuto--feels way different. And to his credit, Bokuto is not a thirteen-year-old middle schooler who wears his hair in twin tails and slathers on strawberry flavoured lip gloss. 

Keiji’s not sure if he likes the idea of Bokuto being more experienced than he is, not because he feels like he can’t keep up, but imagining Bokuto doing this with someone else creates an uncomfortable, twisting feeling in Keiji’s chest. Thankfully, those thoughts dispel when Bokuto deepens their kiss. Keiji’s mind goes blank, and it’s all he can do to let the older boy lead. He parts his lips, trying to mimic the way Bokuto moves his, but it’s difficult when Bokuto fills his senses to the brim with his taste, his scent, his touch. 

Ahh--” An involuntary groan slips out of Keiji, and he feels his face heat in embarrassment. Bokuto’s hands are roaming down Keiji’s back, pulling him close against his chest. Bokuto echoes Keiji with a sigh of his own, nipping gently at Keiji’s bottom lip with his teeth. Keiji wishes he could stop making the most humiliating noises he’s made in his life when Bokuto slips his tongue inside his mouth, exploring at a languid pace that makes Keiji keen. He goes pliant underneath Bokuto, who takes advantage of Keiji’s bonelessness to push him down on his back into the mattress. 

Bokuto boxes him in with his elbows, holding himself up with the utmost care so as to not rest his full bodyweight on top of his lanky setter. Keiji manages to wrap his arms around Bokuto’s neck, keeping him close. His legs spread slightly and Bokuto settles between them, making Keiji squirm as he feels heat lick down his abdomen. He lets Bokuto knead at the fabric of his sweater, gasping quietly when he feels calloused fingers meet the sensitive skin of his stomach. 

“Wait, nnggh --” he chokes out against Bokuto’s lips. Bokuto breaks the kiss first but doesn't draw back, turning his attention elsewhere. He plants kisses down Keiji’s jaw before running his tongue over a particularly sensitive spot at the base of Keiji’s neck. 

“You wanna stop?” he asks, lips brushing over the younger’s earlobe. A shiver runs through Keiji’s entire body. 

“No,” Keiji replies shakily. “Just.. Just give me a moment to catch my breath.” 

He throws his head back against the duvet when Bokuto absolutely does not give him a moment, kissing and nuzzling and licking at the spot on his neck that drives Keiji up the wall. Teeth sink into Keiji’s neck, followed by the swipe of Bokuto’s tongue and Keiji has to bite his own lip to keep his voice down. The fingers that initially were only grazing his stomach have turned into an entire hand up his shirt and it takes a tremendous amount of willpower not to cant his hips upwards, lest this turn into a different first time for Keiji. 

“Boku- Koutaro, stop, ” Keiji finally wheezes, lightly shoving against Bokuto’s chest. It’s enough to make Bokuto immediately reel back, and Keiji almost changes his mind when he gets a good look at Bokuto. 

Bokuto sits back on his heels, hair disheveled and pupils blown wide, a faint blush dusted across his cheeks and ears. His gaze rakes over Keiji, watching carefully with the same expression he wears when he serves too hard and the ball flies out of bounds. Keiji lets out a breathless laugh, head still spinning slightly. 

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he assures Bokuto, who sags with relief. “I promise I’m good. I’m just.. It’s.. um.” 

He gestures slightly to himself, unable to cross his legs with Bokuto still hovering over him. Realization dawns on Bokuto’s face when he follows Keiji’s gaze, and he quickly looks away after staring a second too long. He allows Keiji to reposition himself so they’re both sitting up and facing each other, giving them both some space to collect themselves. 

“I don’t mind,” Bokuto ventures hopefully. Keiji glances at the closed but unlocked door. 

“Your parents are home,” Keiji chides, but god does he wish they weren’t. “What if someone walks in on us?”

“I don’t want it to end,” Bokuto admits, and he sounds the most disappointed he has all day. And they’d lost the Spring Tournament barely six hours ago. Keiji reaches out and strokes Bokuto’s knuckles with the back of his hand comfortingly. 

“It doesn’t have to,” Keiji promises. “You know that our friendship won’t end even after you graduate and become Japan’s star volleyball player. If you don’t want it to end, then neither do I.” 

As he says it, Keiji realizes that everything coming out of his mouth is true. For a while now both of them have been dancing around the fact that Bokuto’s imminent graduation is barrelling towards them. Keiji often finds himself wondering what the team will be like without the third years, if they’ll hold onto their powerhouse title, if he’ll get another shot at Nationals. Sometimes he wonders if Bokuto gets signed to a team, will he still send Keiji messages at 2 a.m. asking if he should work on his jump serves or line shots next time, or if the universe is infinite, does Keiji maybe think there could be aliens on other planets who also play volleyball? It’s kept him up more times than he would like to admit.

Bokuto still sighs, gazing at Keiji imploringly. 

“I meant.. this.” He shrugs vaguely, glancing between Keiji’s eyes and mouth. “I don’t want you to think that I’m just excited from the tournament, or that I’m just being sleazy and trying to cross something off my highschool bucket list before graduation.”

Keiji’s chest feels tight again, but this time it feels like his heart is swelling, full of hope and desire and maybe something else. 

“Then this …” Keiji takes Bokuto’s face between his hands and makes deliberate eye contact. “Doesn’t have to end.”

He kisses Bokuto again, ensuring he doesn't miss this time. Keiji doesn't let his lips linger too long, instead choosing to push their foreheads together while he strokes Bokuto’s cheek with a delicate thumb. 

“Does this mean I can ask you on a date with me now?” Bokuto tries to bat his lashes and it tickles Keiji’s skin, and they both laugh.

“Yes, I suppose you can,” Keiji replies, unable to hide his smile. 

They spend the rest of the night talking about everything they can think of. Bokuto’s plans after graduation (he’s already had some scouts reach out to their coach, and Keiji’s relief is palpable), Keiji’s inevitable responsibility as the next-in-line for team captain (he’s pretty sure everyone else already thinks he’d automatically assume captainship in a post-Bokuto team), and how Bokuto will definitely come watch them at Nationals next year (Keiji tells him not to promise anything, what if he’s on a team outside of Tokyo?). Bokuto swears he’ll come back, peppering Keiji’s face with kisses with each declaration that he’ll harrow the shinkansen journey no matter where he ends up. It’s comforting for Keiji to finally talk about their plans out loud, to voice all their fears and concerns that apparently both of them had been holding on to all year. 

It’s long past dark when Keiji finally stands and stretches, sighing wearily as he glances toward the door. 

“I should probably go home,” he says, covering his mouth as he unsuccessfully tries to suppress a yawn. “We have our team meeting in the morning, and you should probably get some sleep.”

While they might not have a real practice scheduled, Keiji wishes he could get just a little more sleep as his reward for making it to the finals . It’s also the last mandatory “practice” for the third years, and he knows he should also let Bokuto get some sleep too. Keiji wonders if Bokuto prepared any sort of speech. Probably not, he thinks.

“Do you want to stay over?” Bokuto blurts, and his eyes widen like he hadn’t meant to ask so bluntly. 

“Oh, ah--are you sure?” Keiji stammers, unsure what the implications of this are. 

“Y-yeah,” Bokuto replies, suddenly wringing his hands and looking everywhere except at Keiji. “I mean, I’ll pull out the futon, we don’t have to do anything, that’s.. that’s not what I meant.” He chews on his lip. It’s cute, seeing Bokuto sound so shy and so unlike his usual brazen on-the-court self. 

“I can call my parents and tell them I’m staying, if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble,” Keiji says slowly, allowing himself just a little more indulgence for the night.

Bokuto gives Keiji a smile that rivals the brilliancy of the one he wore at Nationals. The fleeting thought crosses Keiji’s mind that perhaps Bokuto cares for him much more than he initially guessed; perhaps almost as much as volleyball. However, he does not explore that avenue further, instead calling his mom to let her know the change in plans. 

Bokuto enlists his sister to drag the spare futon from the closet into his room, cramming it onto the small stretch of available floor space between the bed and the door. He knows he shouldn’t be, but Keiji is always surprised at the Bokuto family’s hospitality. They treat him like one of their own, with Bokuto’s mother even going as far as always putting together a bento for Keiji on the occasion that he stays over on a school night. 

Twenty minutes later finds Keiji sitting upright on the futon, dressed for bed in one of Bokuto’s old t-shirts (two sizes too large for Keiji), waiting for Bokuto to finish brushing his teeth. He looks around the familiar room, eyes drifting from the small wooden desk that looks nearly untouched save for a textbook, notepad, and framed photo of the Fukurodani team at the past year’s Interhigh. Bokuto is in the centre, beaming with his arm slung around a sweaty Keiji. It had been Keiji’s first tournament as the starting setter, and he smiles to himself. 

“Keiji!” Bokuto announces as he walks back into the room, stretching. “Sorry I took so long. Almost fell asleep in the bathroom! Guess I was even more tired than I thought!”

“That’s okay,” Keiji replies, unfolding the blanket that had been placed near his feet. Bokuto flicks off the overhead light, plunging the room into darkness before flipping open his phone as a flashlight to navigate around the obstacle on the floor. Keiji squints and watches as Bokuto climbs into bed, hiking his blankets up as well. The phone snaps shut, and they sit in silence for a few minutes, the only sounds being the muffled footsteps of Misaki making her way down the hall, probably going to the kitchen for a midnight snack. Keiji wonders if she always studies this late, and if this is how university life will be for him in two years time. 

Wordlessly he lies down, settling onto his back and staring at the ceiling. Despite the exhaustion of an eventful day and an even more exhilarating evening, Keiji can’t seem to feel the pull of sleep that had crept up on him so easily on the bus. It seems that Bokuto is also struggling to get comfortable, and Keiji can hear him shifting and adjusting every minute or so. Three rollovers, two blanket shuffles, and about a dozen frustrated sighs later, Keiji hears Bokuto sit up again. 

“Can I join you?” 

Keiji opens his eyes, his attempt at keeping them closed evidently futile. Bokuto is on the edge of his bed, legs crossed, the blanket pulled over his shoulders like a cape.

“You want to come down here?” Keiji asks. He sees Bokuto nod. “What’s wrong with your own bed? Didn’t you miss it this week?” Keiji always found he slept like a rock in his own bed after a week of cramped sleeping quarters during training camps. 

“I can’t get comfortable,” Bokuto explains, voice hushed. “And.. and every time I close my eyes I keep thinking about you.” Keiji’s suddenly grateful for the darkness, so that Bokuto can’t see the blood rise to his face again. 

“It’s not going to be much more space down here,” Keiji warns. Actually, it might be even less space than Bokuto’s actual bed, now that he thinks about it. 

“Then come here.”

Bokuto reaches out and tugs on Keiji’s sleeve, scooting over as an invitation. Keiji debates the consequences of sharing a bed with his.. well, they’re not boyfriends yet , but… 

“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” he says when Bokuto begins to pull harder, clumsily clambering up to the bed. 

Straightaway, strong arms find Keiji’s waist, and Bokuto puts his face back into his neck. Keiji’s heart speeds up involuntarily. Counterproductive , he notes silently. He’s already mentally preparing to be drained come the morning. 

“Sleep up here with me,” Bokuto murmurs, gently guiding them down so that they lie facing each other. Bokuto brushes a stray hair out of Keiji’s face, looking so happy to be lying next to him. Keiji feels a foot stroking his ankle underneath the duvet, and he shivers at the touch. 

“There’s not a lot of room,” Keiji says, but the words hold no weight to them. Bokuto also seems to understand this, as he makes no effort to move over and make space.  

“Don’t care,” Bokuto hums. Keiji can see his lashes up close like this. He never noticed how long they were before. “Wanna kiss you one more time.”

“Okay,” Keiji breathes as Bokuto’s lips ghost his own. They kiss again, this time brief and chaste, true to Bokuto’s earlier words. Bokuto sighs contentedly and he drapes his arm over Keiji, going still for the first time since turning out the lights. 

“I really like you, Keiji,” he whispers. Keiji watches Bokuto snuggle into the pillows, so he does the same. 

“I really like you too, Koutaro,” Keiji replies, relaxing as Bokuto sleepily draws those same little circles on Keiji’s back with his fingertips. 

As he finally allows sleep to wash over him, Keiji replays the events of the day in his mind. Whistle. Buzzer. Cheers. So what if they hadn’t won? They still made it to centre court. “Keiji.” “Koutaro.” So what if Keiji was inexperienced, and his palms sweat each time Bokuto touched him? He still kissed him.  

No matter where they are, Keiji is certain of one thing: they are still the protagonists of the world. Even if it’s just their own small one, tucked away in a too-small bed while Bokuto’s even breaths lull them both into slumber.