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the scariest part is letting go

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It hurts.

All over.

Everywhere.

The only thing Yaku knows is a hard ache radiating out from the place where he's pretty sure his heart used to be. It's in his bones, all the way down deep into the marrow and it beats in and out in time with the thing that used to be his heart.

He should call Kuroo, he thinks, but reaching out seems like such a monumentally huge task that he just stays on the couch, curled in on himself and aching with just how much he feels. He stays there for several hours, crying on and off intermittently, sobs wracking his body then dying down to quiet sniffling to him just struggling to breathe because this is (he thinks) the closest to dying he will ever get without actually expiring.

Eventually, when he thinks he can't hate himself any more, he picks himself up and drags himself to his bedroom.

He takes one look at the sheets, still mussed from when he and Lev had woken up that morning, and heads back for the couch.

——

He spends several days on the couch, with brief forays into the kitchen to grab handfuls of whatever he can carry in his arms to the couch, and that is how Kuroo finds him.

He thinks it might be Thursday, but time doesn't exist for Yaku anymore, hasn't for days. All he knows is that somewhere along the way he stopped crying because he ran out of tears (and feelings in general), and all that is left is a hollow husk devoid of everything he used to be.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he wonders how Kuroo got in, but he can't make himself care enough to bring it to the front of his mind and actually ask Kuroo about it.

Kuroo clears a spot on the couch next to Yaku, pushing days worth of food wrappers and bottles to the floor, and sits next him in silence.

Yaku is suddenly very aware of the fact that he hasn't showered in days and he is finally struck full-force with a new feeling: shame.

He sits up, then moves to stand but doesn't quite make it, and sits back down.

He picks up a wrapper, fussing with it and pulling at it in an attempt to straighten it out and make it look as if it wasn't the victim of his disgusting emotional eating binge.

He sets the wrapper aside.

"Lev broke up with me," he says finally.

"I know," Kuroo says quietly, and Yaku hates how gently he says it, as if he thinks Yaku's delicate or broken.

(He isn't wrong. He isn't wrong at all but Yaku hates the veracity of it, hates just how true it really is.)

"Lev broke up with me," he repeats, and then it all hits him again, emotion flooding back all at once, and he's crying even though he had been so sure he had run out of tears.

"Lev broke up with me," he says, over and over again as best as he can around his own sobs, and Kuroo finally moves to touch him, wrapping his arms around Yaku.

"I know, I know. I'm sorry."

——

It was the road trip.

At least, Yaku blames the road trip because it's easier than the truth.

It was supposed to be two weeks of him and Lev driving and going to all those dumb little tourist traps Lev always wanted to see. It had been going well, despite all of the disgusting cheap motels they'd had to stay in. Yaku had driven, one hand on the wheel and the other holding Lev's.

It had been perfect.

Until it wasn't.

They'd always been able to work past their fights before, but this time the fight had carried over from their trip and followed them home. It had clung to them like an angry, vicious beast, and it had poisoned Yaku's perfect world.

It was the road trip, he repeated to himself. It had to be the road trip, because if it wasn't the road trip then it was—

No, it was the road trip. Definitely the road trip. It had ruined everything.

——

Yaku lets Kuroo take him back to the apartment he shares with Kenma, and while it feels better to get away from all the reminders of Lev that had been in his own place, he still doesn't feel right.

Kuroo doesn't have an extra bed and Yaku needs space, so much space right now, so he crashes on the couch.

It's less comfortable than his own, but it's also comforting.

Probably because he doesn't have memories of curling up on it with Lev's head in his lap.

Probably.

Maybe.

(Definitely.)

He spends three days at Kuroo's. He knows this for a fact, because on the third day, Kuroo says to him:

"Okay, I know things are shit right now for you, but dude—Yaku. It's been three days. You haven't changed since I don't know when. Go home, shower, change your clothes. If you don't want to stay, you can come back. But for now, I'm kicking you out."

Yaku looks up at him, and feels like a lost child. He's not sure where home is, or how to get there, but he knows that his apartment is not home. Not anymore. Home walked out when Lev did. But it's too much effort to correct Kuroo, and Yaku doesn't have the energy for it, so he just gets up and says, "Yeah, okay. Yeah. I'll...go back."

Kuroo catches him by the arm as he passes, and looks at him with worry and probably pity. "I'm sorry," he says, and Yaku's starting to hate that word, it's been three days but he's already so sick of hearing it, of seeing the pity on everyone's faces because they know exactly how bad he fucked up, exactly what he lost.

He wants to punch Kuroo, for his pity. But more than Kuroo, he wants to punch himself.

He shrugs out of Kuroo's grip.

"Yeah, whatever."

When he gets back to his apartment, all of Lev's stuff is gone, and he wonders for a sick moment if the only reason Kuroo had let him stay was so Lev could take back every part of himself that he had left with Yaku.

And then he takes a shower.

He runs the water scalding hot, as if it could wash away the last few months from him, but it can't and it doesn't, but at least it eases the aching muscles he earned from spending so much time on furniture not meant for sleeping.

He climbs out of the shower feeling damp and useless, gets dressed, and then climbs into bed, burying his face in Lev's pillow

——

In movies there are long montages of characters post-break up. They cry, they eat, they scream, they do crazy things they never usually would. But life is not like the movies, and Yaku is not afforded the luxury of an extended montage.

He misses a week of classes and it kicks his ass.

Repeatedly.

When he gets back he tells everyone he was sick, and no one questions him. He isn't really surprised; he feels like a wreck and he's sure he looks even worse.

It's the end of the semester, and he's fairly certain the only reason he's able to pass his classes is because he was already doing exceptionally well in all of them. He finishes the semester out with the worst grades he's ever received, and he's pretty sure his lit teacher passed him solely out of sympathy, but at least he gets all his credits and won't have to repeat any classes.

It's the first good thing to happen in weeks.

——

For the longest, Yaku feels like he's dying. There's an aching void where his heart should be, everything and everyone reminds him of Lev, and his apartment (though stripped of all Lev's belongings) is filled with reminders of him as well.

And then he tells himself to move on.

Lev was the one good thing in his life, and now that he's screwed that up, Yaku feels strangely free and light. The best thing that could ever happen to him ended, so his only hope is that things stay as they are and don't go crashing downward.

He's pretty good at treading water, so he feels pretty sure that he can stay afloat in this new Lev-less status quo.

He starts by cleaning out his apartment, getting rid of anything he doesn't need, and then rearranges his furniture.

"The table needs to go over another centimeter to the right."

Kai glares at him.

"You just made me move it a centimeter to the left. It's fine where it is."

"No, it doesn't look right," Yaku insists.

"That's probably because you had me move it left."

They stare at each other until Yaku finally breaks, and then they both end up in a fit of laughter.

"I can't believe you just—"

"Yeah that was bad."

They leave the table where it is, and Yaku orders take out for the both of them. They sit out on his balcony, watching the sun set, passing food containers between the two of them, and drinking cheap beer that Yaku hates.

It feels good, and Yaku feels relaxed in a way he hasn't in months, as much as he's loathe to admit it. At first he'd been annoyed that Kuroo wasn't free to help him move his furniture around, but he's grateful to have Kai here now. Kuroo's his best friend, but his concern for Yaku could be smothering at times, even if he meant well by it. But Kai was good at keeping his distance when Yaku needed it, and could use silence in a way that was comforting.

"You just don't like quiet," Kai had told him once. "If it's quiet long enough you freak out and start blabbing just to fill it. And that's why I will always have blackmail material on you."

They'd spent most of the day in silence, mostly talking only when needing to communicate where and how they were moving things. Yaku had spent the afternoon wanting to speak, but not sure of how to start, so when Kai reaches over to knock his shoulder and ask how he's been doing, Yaku's grateful for the chance.

"I've been good," he says, staring out at the city. "Surprisingly good."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Yaku takes a drink. "I didn't think I'd be able to say that again. Definitely didn't think I'd be able to say it so soon. But, yeah. I'm gonna be okay."

"Just okay?"

"I might even start seeing people again soon."

"Really?"

"I might even start with you."

Kai snorts and then laughs. "I'm flattered, but I hate to break it to you—I'm still not into that romance thing."

Yaku stretches. "Sucks to be you, because my romance always ends in blow jobs, and I give the best blow jobs."

"After Kuroo."

"Fuck Kuroo. I taught him how to go down on someone."

"He says he taught you."

Yaku shrugs. "We taught each other." He finally turns his head to look at Kai. "How do you know which one of us gives the best head?"

"Just because I'm not interested in fucking either of you, doesn't mean I don't have to hear all about it. You forget I was the one who had to put up with you and Kuroo fucking around together. And then I had to put up with you two fucking around not together. You guys are like cats in heat."

"Sorry about that."

"Yeah well, some of us have standards and aren't interested in screwing either of you two losers."

They laugh at that, and then two of them lapse into silence again, and Yaku fidgets with the bottle in his hand, wanting to talk but unsure of how to get back on subject.

"Take it slow," Kai suggests.

"I'm only on my first beer," Yaku points out, waving his bottle in the direction of Kai's already discarded bottle.

"Not the beer—dating. Take it slow. Don't just jump in bed with someone because you're lonely. You're okay, but you're still hurting. Go easy on yourself."

Yaku hums noncommittally, thumbing at the label on his bottle. Leave it to Kai to answer the question he hadn't even been able to ask.

——

Yaku considers Kai's advice. Really he does. He thinks about, and then decides to disregard it completely.

He knows he's not going to get married. Marriage was never high on his list of things to do to begin with, and with Lev gone it's possibly slipped even further down. And if he's not interested in marriage then there's no point in pursuing a serious, committed relationship. Which really only leaves casual hook ups.

But Kai had said to take it slow, and Yaku knows how stupid it is to ignore Kai's advice, which is why he finds himself knocking on Kuroo's apartment at two in the morning on a Friday night.

Kuroo answers wearing only his underwear and looking like he'd been about to go to bed or was already asleep.

Yaku figures a direct approach will be most effective, given Kuroo's state of half-awake.

"I want to have sex with you. Now. Let me in."

Kuroo scratches at his neck, looking tired and concerned. "Are you sure that's what you really want to do?"

"I want to have sex," Yaku repeats. "I'm either going to do it with you, or I'm going to go to a bar and pick up some random guy and who knows how that'll end. And you're my first choice anyway. You gonna let me in?"

Kuroo stares at him for a moment and then shrugs. "Yeah, okay. Let's fuck."

Yaku sucks Kuroo off, and then Kuroo eats him out.

Yaku only thinks about Lev once.

——

"What would you have done if I didn't say yes?" Kuroo asks the next morning.

They're both still in bed, although Yaku had gotten up long enough to make coffee and had returned with two steaming mugs. When Kuroo reaches out to take one Yaku insists they're both for him.

"I would have played the emotionally distressed card."

"How's that work? You start crying and that's supposed to turn me on enough to sleep with you?"

Kuroo tries to snag one of Yaku's mugs, and after a brief tug-of-war Yaku surrenders it, figuring it'd be worse to spill the cup than have Kuroo drink it.

"In my defense, I didn't put too much thought into plans B or C, because I figured that my first idea would work." Yaku takes a long drink from his mug. "And to be fair, it did."

"And what was plan C supposed to be?"

"I was going to get down on my knees and try to blow you in the doorway," Yaku admits.

Kuroo's barking laughter is too loud for how early it is, but Yaku joins him anyway, and it feels good to laugh again.

——

Lev is dating Inuoka. Or Shibayama. Or maybe both of them, Yaku isn't really sure. All he knows is that Lev is definitely dating again and has posted multiple pictures of himself with Inuoka and Shibayama, and there is more than one picture in which it is painfully obvious that all three of them are naked.

Together.

Together naked.

The three of them naked together.

And Lev looks happy in all of the pictures, so happy, and Yaku realizes that he had not looked that happy at all in the last few months they were together.

It stings a lot more than he thought it would.

He goes out and gets drunk and wakes up the next morning with the hangover from hell.

And then, once again, he tells himself he's moved on.

——

It might not have been the road trip, but Yaku still isn't quite ready to admit what the real cause was.

——

Yaku runs into Akaashi Keiji in June and the first thing out of his mouth is, "Fuck, it's hot."

Akaashi smiles at him wryly. "You think?"

Yaku remembers Akaashi from joint training camps and tournaments. It was hard not to since he'd been close with Bokuto who came like a packaged deal with Kuroo. They'd been friendly despite not really being friends, but there's a familiarity between them that makes Yaku's heart twist.

They exchange numbers and agree to meet up later, when Akaashi's not hauling his groceries home and when Yaku's not on his way to a study group. They catch up over coffee, and Yaku's surprised at how much sharper Akaashi's tongue has gotten over the years.

Soon coffee meets turn into drinks, and one night Yaku finds himself leaning in and putting a hand on Akaashi's thigh.

"Wanna go back to my place?"

Akaashi doesn't lean back, but he doesn't lean in either.

"I don't really do that kind of thing," he says steadily but apologetically.

"The one night thing?" Yaku asks.

"The sex thing."

"Oh." Yaku moves back into his own space and downs his drink. "Well I know an all-night diner with terrible food. You do pancakes?"

Akaashi smiles at him. "I can do pancakes."

——

"You're kind of a dick," Akaashi says one day while they're at his apartment watching movies.

At first, Yaku got angry when Akaashi would lay his sharp honestly on him, but eventually he resigns himself to the fact that Akaashi is going to pick out his every character flaw and lay them out where he can't ignore them. At least Akaashi usually only ever does it to prove a point.

It doesn't mean Yaku's willing to go down without a fight though, because even if Akaashi has a reason and a point, Yaku's never been as good at taking criticism as he has been at giving it.

"I'm honest," he counters.

"There's honest, and then there's being a dick. And there is a line between the two and you love crossing it."

"There's nothing wrong with tough love," Yaku says, still trying to figure what he could have done to prompt this conversation.

Akaashi continues, "You're heavy on the tough, light on the love. It comes from a good place, but you're kind of shit about actually being nice about it. You don't even realize how bad you are."

"I'm great at being nice," Yaku insists.

"You're great at being nice when it's your idea. You give gifts to people who don't need them, when they don't need them. You bought me a twenty thousand yen espresso machine last week "just because." But if someone needs something and you don't want to give it, you don't compromise." Akaashi points at him. "That's where the dick comes from. Relationships are about compromising, and you don't want to. You just want everyone to live up to your standards. And when they don't, you blame them."

Yaku realizes the reason for Akaashi's words now, remembering what they'd been talking about a few minutes ago.

"So who have you dated?" he'd asked, and it had seemed like such an innocent thing to ask a friend, but it meant sharing his own dating history.

"I'm sorry about you and Haiba," Akaashi had said when Yaku had told him. "But it's not really surprising considering."

"We were too different," Yaku had agreed.

"Maybe," Akaashi had said. "But not in the way you think. But I didn't really know Haiba well, so I can't really talk about him."

And then he'd called Yaku a dick.

Yaku regrets ever opening his mouth now.

——

Yaku and Akaashi aren't really anything, by Akaashi's own words, and he finds that he isn't really bothered by existing in such a nebulous, undefinable place.

It feels good to spend time with someone who didn't really know him when he was with Lev, even if he does have to put up with Akaashi knocking him down a peg or two at least once a week.

"You're emotionally unavailable," Akaashi tells him one day over lunch. "You should try being more honest about your feelings. It'll help you cultivate stronger relationships."

"I'm emotionally available," Yaku argues. "I have emotions. I have lots of emotions."

"You're like an emotional black hole. You suck out everything from everyone else and hoard it for yourself without giving anything back."

"I give back. I give back all the time." Yaku stabs his food aggressively. "Look—anger. I'm giving anger to my chicken. I'm very available."

"Oh yeah? When was the last time you thanked your best friend for being there for you?"

Akaashi slurps his soup, completely unperturbed by the daggers Yaku's glaring at him.

——

After Yaku's had time to recover from Akaashi's scathing honesty he admits that yeah, he might be right. He's never thanked Kuroo for anything, at least not verbally, and it might actually be a dick move to just assume that everyone knows what he means.

(Well, that's two things Akaashi's been right about now.)

He heads over to Kuroo's apartment and lets himself in, taking a mental note that he should remind Kuroo about the amazing invention called a door lock.

The shower's running so he lies on Kuroo's bed to wait for him as he tries to figure out exactly what to say because Thank you for being my friend is too weird.

Thanks for being there while I was falling apart might be better, especially since Yaku hasn't done anything spectacularly stupid lately.

You're a good mom friend is a little shorter, but that's digging too far back. They've been out of high school for years, and they aren't parenting a bunch of rowdy first years any more.

As his mind sorts through the possible permutations of what he could say, he catches sight of something in the corner of Kuroo's room.

Pastel pink.

More specifically, pastel pink panties.

Kuroo isn't the pastel pink kind of guy, so it sticks out like sore thumb. Yaku gets up to fetch them, intending on teasing Kuroo about it and whoever his latest partner is, when he realizes he's seen this particular pair of pastel pink panties before.

He knows before he bends down to pick them up that they'll be made out of soft lace and that they'll have a small bow on the front. He knows, because he knows this pair of underwear, because he's seen them before on Lev when he was dancing to music on his ipod. He's taken them off Lev when they were about to have sex. He's seen Lev step out of them on his way to the bath.

And he knows, as an undeniable fact, that he is holding Lev's favorite pair of underwear.

He tries to rationalize it, tries to explain away the reason for Lev's underwear being in Kuroo's bedroom other than the obvious, but he can't.

He doesn't feel like thanking Kuroo for anything right now, so he leaves.

He takes the underwear with him.

——

In retrospect, stealing his ex's underwear from his best friend's apartment ranks fairly high on the list of spectacularly stupid things Yaku has done.

When he gets back to his apartment he shoves them in the back of his drawer and tries to pretend like they don't exist.

That lasts for about a day and a half before Yaku pulls them out again.

He throws them in the wash once, twice, as if washing them will erase what he knows.

It doesn't.

He folds them and puts them back in his drawer and tries to go back to feeling okay.

——

"I did something fucked up," he admits to Akaashi, because Akaashi already thinks he's an emotionally unavailable dick so Yaku figures his opinion of him is already as low as it could get.

Akaashi hums, not bothering to look up from his studying. "What is it?"

"I can't tell you," Yaku says, because he doesn't want to risk that there actually is something lower than an emotionally unavailable dick on Akaashi's list of bad things a person can be.

"So what are you going to do about this fucked up thing you can't tell me about?"

"Ignore it until it goes away."

"Problems don't go away on their own. You can't just avoid something and hope that it'll fix itself."

Akaashi still hasn't looked up from his books, but Yaku feels as if he's leveling one of his infamous unimpressed, judgmental looks at him, and he doesn't like it.

——

Yaku is not proud of himself.

There was once, in what seems like a long time ago, when he would have considered himself a fairly together guy, but that sense seems to have left him along with Lev.

Which is how he finds himself Facebook stalking Lev at two in the morning.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Akaashi asks, looking up from his book.

"Nothing."

"Yeah, well nothing has you looking like you're about to murder someone, so stop doing it before I have to give a statement to the police."

Yaku turns his tablet towards Akaashi. "Do they look like anything to you?"

Akaashi glances over.

"They look like people," he says, turning back to his book.

"But do they look like they're a thing?"

"It looks like you're being weird and creepy."

Yaku gives up, and they spend the next hour in silence save for the sound of turning pages.

"You think he looks happy?" Yaku asks after a while.

Akaashi looks up at him, regarding him with a serious look.

"If you want to be with him, why don't you try to get back together? You obviously still have feelings for him."

Yaku stares down at the picture of Lev on his tablet. Whoever had taken it had caught him mid-laugh, but he's looking beyond the camera at something—or someone—else. He's never had to talk about this before, because everyone else was there throughout the entirety of their relationship. They had all been able to see for themselves why Yaku and Lev didn't work out.

"I couldn't—he...he broke up with me," Yaku admits, eyes still on the digital rendering of Lev. "He left because I couldn't give him what he wanted. It wouldn't be fair of me to try to get him back."

——

It wasn't the road trip at all—it was Yaku.

It was all Yaku.

——

Yaku has known for a while that their friends have been carefully engineering each hangout to ensure that Yaku and Lev are never at the same one.

He's known it, but he has to finally acknowledge it at his birthday party. He keeps expecting to glance over and catch sight of Lev, but he never does.

He knows he won't.

——

Two days after his birthday, Yaku asks Akaashi out.

"What—like a date?"

Yaku's grateful he decided to do this over the phone rather than in person, because he can just imagine what Akaashi's face looks like and he thinks if he had to see him he would lose his nerve. "Not like a date, an actual date. You, me...I'll pick you up and take you out and at the end of the night we can do the awkward goodbye thing at your door."

On the other side of the phone Akaashi is quiet. Yaku flops over onto his bed; he's beginning to regret ever saying anything.

"Okay," Akaashi finally says.

"What?"

"If I have to repeat myself I'm taking it back."

Yaku sits up. "No, no I heard you. That's...great. That's good. How's Thursday sound?"

"Thursday works for me."

"Pick you up at six?"

"Don't be late."

"I am many things, but late is not one of them," Yaku assures him.

——

At 5:55 pm Yaku knocks on Akaashi's door.

Akaashi answers, looking harried and with his shirt mostly unbuttoned.

"Sorry, my study group ran late," he apologizes, stepping aside so Yaku can enter.

"Don't worry about it," Yaku assures him. "As long as I'm not late."

"It's not going to screw up any of our plans?" Akaashi asks, disappearing around the corner to his bedroom.

"They're mostly flexible," Yaku assures him, settling himself on the couch. "Take your time."

Akaashi reappears fifteen minutes later, properly dressed and looking more like his usual self.

"Hey," Yaku says, standing.

"Hey," Akaashi says. "Sorry about that."

"I told you not to worry about it," Yaku repeats.

They stand there, staring at each other in silence for several moments.

"So..." Akaashi says, putting his hands in his pockets.

"Right—the...the date. Which we are going on."

It's been a long time since Yaku's felt nervous on a date, mostly because the last time he'd had a date was when he and Lev were still together, and even then it had been years since they'd started dating and Yaku had a reason for being nervous with him. It's a bittersweet memory, but it doesn't sting nearly as much as he thought it would.

He takes Akaashi to dinner at some new place neither of them has had a chance to try yet, and then to the movies to catch a showing of an old school horror film that had been recently remastered.

It's good. It's fun. The last few months have shown Yaku just how well he and Akaashi get along, and the night just cements it even further.

After the movie they get coffee, sitting at the shop until closing time kicks them out, and then Yaku walks Akaashi home.

"I had fun," Yaku says, and then immediately regrets the cliche-ness of it.

Akaashi snorts. "If you expect me to fiddle with my keys and look at you through fluttering eyelashes, you asked out the wrong guy."

"Yeah, I figured." Yaku laughs. "Is it okay if I kiss you?"

Akaashi smiles, already ducking down and Yaku reaches up to pull him to tug him down a little faster.

The kiss is...well, it's a kiss.

Lips on lips, pressing against each other. Yaku's holding onto the lapels of Akaashi's jacket and Yaku can just feel Akaashi's hands curling warmly around his sides.

It is a kiss. A pretty good kiss too, and Yaku would know because he's kissed a lot of people.

But it's just a kiss.

They pull apart and Akaashi straightens.

"Um," Yaku says, trying desperately to come up with some words to speak.

Akaashi seems to be in a similar predicament.

"That was..."

"Yeah."

Akaashi rubs the back of his neck. "Sorry, I'm just..."

"Not feeling it?" Yaku suggests.

"Yeah."

They stare at each other awkwardly.

"Agreement that we never do that again?" Akaashi finally asks.

Yaku sighs in relief. "Deal."

——

Awkward attempt at romance over, Yaku and Akaashi resume their usually mostly-friendly relationship.

"So are you just never going to date again?" Akaashi asks one day. "I mean, I know you tried with me, and we agreed to never do it again, but that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to see other people."

Yaku shoves his burger in his mouth so he doesn't have to answer.

——

One of Yaku's too-many cousins gets married at the end of August, and Yaku drags himself back home for the event. Four days of dealing with family members anxious to see him after so long away, and even worse—dealing with those who wish he hadn't shown up at all.

It's stifling, and Yaku finds himself sneaking away the day after the wedding for some much needed peace.

He gets lunch, and then wanders around window shopping, trying to delay going back to his parents' house. He wishes he had somewhere to go, and while he knows none of his friends would fault him for showing up unexpectedly, he's started getting sick of the way that everyone still dances around any mention of Lev. He'll probably always hurt when he thinks about how good he could have had it, if he hadn't fucked things up so spectacularly, but with them having the same group of friends he can't exactly avoid Lev forever. He knows he has to see Lev eventually, and he's ready to just rip the band-aid off at this point so he can get on with his life.

He walks by a flower shop, and debates visiting the Haiba's. Haiba-san had said he was always welcome, that he should think of their house as a second home, but he's pretty sure she had only meant that as long as he was dating Lev. He misses the entire Haiba clan though, and realizes for the first time that he'd lost more than just Lev when they broke up. He'd gotten used to the warmth of the Haiba house, of the easy, casual way that they had quickly incorporated him into their lives in such stark contrast of his own overly formal and distant parents.

He's resigned himself to the fact that he's run out of ways to stall going back to his parents' when a bit of aching familiarity flashes at the corner of his eye, and he turns to find himself staring right at Lev.

Well, there goes the band-aid.

Lev's staring right back at him, looking unsure as to whether he should stay or run.

Yaku thinks he might look the same way.

"Hi," he says finally.

"Hi," Lev says, sounding unsure in a way that Yaku's never heard him before.

There's so much Yaku wants to say. He wants to apologize, wants to ask how Lev is, wants to ask if he's happier now, but the words caught in his throat and he says instead, "My cousin got married."

"Oh."

And then, suddenly Yaku can't stop the words from flowing out, as if those four words had been all it took to break down the barrier keeping him from voicing his thoughts. "I just, you know, needed to get out of that house for a while. But I ran out of things to do so I'm probably heading back to hide in my room again," Yaku rambles, words pouring out of his mouth. But they're all the wrong words, and none of it is what he wants to say to Lev right now. "So I'm just...gonna go. Do that. Now."

Someone rushing by knocks into Yaku, and he stumbles forward, lessening the distance between himself and Lev.

The momentary distraction is enough to stop Yaku's rambling, and his words dry up as quickly as they had come out. He's about to say goodbye and beat a fast retreat when Lev speaks.

"Do you want to get coffee or something?"

"What?"

"Coffee. To kill time. So you don't have to go back so soon." Lev smiles at him, small and slight, a ghost of the sort of smiles Yaku used to see all the time.

"You don't have to—"

"I want to," Lev says, finally sounding more like his usually confident self. "I know you hate being there. Even if we're not—" Lev shrugs. "I don't mind helping you with this."

It's not much, just coffee, which is nothing compared to what they might have had once, with what Yaku realizes only now that he wanted to have, but he'll take what he can get. Yaku's filled with a rush of gratitude for Lev, and the fact that no matter how much Yaku may have hurt him, he hasn't managed to destroy Lev's unflinching kindness.

"Thank you."

There are coffee shops everywhere, practically one on each corner, so it isn't hard for them to find one nearby. They go in and order their drinks, and Yaku is proud that he only falters for a moment when Lev pulls out his wallet to pay for his own drink.

It was fine when they were weaving through the throngs of people out shopping, and when they were ordering their drinks, but once they sit down at a table Yaku realizes he has no idea what to say or do.

"How's your mom?" he finally asks.

"Good," Lev answers, staring down at his drink. "She misses—she's good."

"Good." Yaku turns his cup slowly in his hands. "And your dad?"

"He's good too."

Yaku wants to ask about the rest of Lev's family, his sisters and brothers, his nieces and nephews, his grandparents, but he doesn't think he can stand a chorus of "They're good."

He's not sure what else to talk about though.

"How have you been?" he finally asks, for lack of anything else to say.

"I've been good," Lev says, and Yaku has to resist the urge to roll his eyes at that the sound of that word again.

Good.

As opposed to Yaku, who was anything but good at first, and even now thinks he's only just barely managing to get by on some days, feeling as if a piece of himself has been forcibly carved out.

But then Lev continues, slowly at first, but then picking up until he's more like his usual talkative self. He tells Yaku about school and volleyball, his classmates and friends, and Yaku realizes just how much he's missed the sound of Lev's voice.

Lev slips out of his shell, and Yaku finds himself opening up in response. Soon, the conversation is flowing easily between them, as Yaku tells Lev about his new-found friendship with Akaashi, rearranging his furniture, the practice match his university team played two weeks ago.

There is, however, one very obvious gaping hole in their conversation, and they both skirt widely around it, neither willing to be the first to venture near it at first.

Fuck it, Yaku finally decides, and pushes forward.

"Are you seeing anyone?"

The question doesn't fit properly into their conversation, both of them having been discussing midterms, but Yaku can't hold it back any longer.

"I'm not...trying to get back with you," Yaku tells him. "I just...want to know. In a friendly way," he clarifies.

Lev gives him a hard look, hands tightening around his long-empty cup.

"I was," he admits. "But not anymore."

"I'm sorry," Yaku says, meaning it. He wants Lev to be happy, he's always wanted Lev to be happy. Even when their relationship started falling apart, Yaku had been motivated by the singular idea that Lev deserved to be happy, although his idea of happiness had greatly differed from Lev's.

Lev shrugs, smiling wryly. "We're still friends. We were friends before, and it was just awkward trying to date."

"You're talking about Inuoka and Shibayama, right?" Yaku asks. It honestly wouldn't surprise Yaku at all, given how close the three of them have always been.

Lev looks at him, unsurprised but without judgment. "Yeah. They're still together. They're...really perfect together," he says.

"You'll find someone," Yaku assures him. "To be perfect with."

"I thought..." Lev frowns, looking down. "I'd hoped it was you," he says softly.

Yaku feels a sharp stab of guilt. He'd known, of course he'd known, what Lev had wanted for them—what Lev had wanted for himself. Yaku just hadn't been enough of a person to give it to him. But knowing it, and hearing Lev say it out loud, are two different things. It's hard for him to hear the hurt and sadness in Lev's voice. And he thinks that's been the hardest part of the last six months, knowing that despite all his best efforts, he had hurt Lev.

"I know. I'm sorry. I wanted to..." Yaku struggles to put it into words everything he wanted to be able to give to Lev. "I wanted to be that for you. But I just couldn't do that. You deserve someone who can."

"Thank you," Lev says. "You deserve that too, you know. I know we...want different things. But you deserve someone who can make you happy, too."

They talk for another hour or so, and then Lev gets a text from his sister and has to leave.

"Ivanya and I are supposed to see a movie at 5:30," he says apologetically.

Yaku glances down at his phone and starts at the time. It's already just past five, and Lev will probably have to run to make it in time.

"That's fine, I should head back now before my parents get too happy about me not being around. Tell her I say hi."

"I will," Lev promises.

They say their goodbyes and Yaku heads back to his house feeling lighter than he has in months.

——

Lev texts Yaku a week later, and Yaku stares at the screen of his phone for a long time, trying to convince himself that he isn't dreaming.

How are you?

It's three words, three small words, but for Yaku they're the world. It takes him almost fifteen minutes to type out a response.

I'm good. How are you?

Lev answers quickly saying, Good. Just got out of class. And then, It was good to see you last week.

It's the start of them tentatively stepping into tenuous friendship. It's different from the sempai-kohai mentoring they'd had at Nekoma, different from the camaraderie of teammates, different from the wild energy of their relationship. It is a delicate, gossamer thing, new in every way, and Yaku is so grateful to have it. He had missed Lev, and even if they'll never be together the way they were, the way Yaku wishes they could be, it's enough.

Lev is in his life again, and if this is all they'll ever be, then Yaku can accept that.

——

"He wanted to get married," Yaku says one night, laying on the floor of Akaashi's bedroom and just drunk enough that he doesn't care how Akaashi will respond. "He wanted to get married and he kept asking me over and over again and I...I couldn't even tell him no. I just said nothing."

Akaashi watches him silently from where he's laying on his bed, can of beer hanging from his fingers, and Yaku focuses on those fingers because he may be drunk, but he's not nearly drunk enough to be able to handle the quiet seriousness in Akaashi's gaze.

"You know what's fucked up about it? I want to marry him. I want to marry him so bad. I want the whole thing, the dumb big ceremony and the stupid cake tasting and the fucking wedding planning. He'd make me write my own vows—I would write my fucking vows for him. I want to marry the fuck out of him, and I didn't even realize it until he'd already walked out the fucking door."

Yaku looks away from Akaashi's hand, stares up at the ceiling.

"He wanted to marry me, and I just stood there and let him leave."

——

"So," Akaashi says the next morning, after Yaku's stopped puking in the toilet, "what are you going to do? Just wallow around in lonely self-pity for the rest of your life?"

Yaku would glare at him, but he's too hungover to move. He can't even lift his head from the toilet seat, and he thinks he might be dying and he can't believe that Akaashi is choosing now to talk to him about his terrible life choices. He doesn't even bother answering Akaashi, mostly because the sound of his own voice is too loud for him, partly because the answer to Akaashi's question is yes, and he shouldn't have to deal with Akaashi's critical judgment when he's already feeling like death.

Eventually, Akaashi takes pity on him and hauls him away from his porcelain death bed and flushes Yaku's vomit for him.

Yaku lays on the cold floor of Akaashi's bathroom and debates the disgusting unfairness of the world. Akaashi had clearly drunk so much more than Yaku had and yet he seems perfectly fine.

"I don't get hangovers," Akaashi says, and Yaku realizes he's been talking out loud. "Seriously, how are you such a lightweight?"

"Everything in my life is terrible," Yaku says, trying to become one with the floor in the singular hope that floors don't get hangovers.

Akaashi steps over him and leaves him alone to die on the cold and probably dirty tile in his misery.

"I'm just getting you water and I cleaned the floor two days ago."

——

Yaku shows up to his lunch not-date with Lev wearing sunglasses and still feeling like he's dying.

Lev only has to glance at him to know why.

"So who were you out with?"

Yaku drops unceremoniously into the seat across from Lev. "In. I was in. And Akaashi is the devil."

They've started hanging out more often, and are slowly starting to find more solid footing in their new relationship as friends. Today they had agreed to meet for lunch and then go shopping for birthday presents for Kai, because Lev had admitted to always struggling with finding the right gift for him. His party the next week would mark the first official social outing that their friends had dared to invite the both of them to.

Yaku can tell by the twist of Lev's mouth that I was up all night drinking with Akaashi is probably not the best way to start out their meeting so he moves on to something guaranteed to delight him: new love.

"Akaashi's got this disgustingly adorable crush on Kenma," he says, proud of the fact that he actually managed to not mangle all of the syllables of that sentence.

Lev lights up immediately. "He told you?"

"In a way, he pretty much spent an hour talking about him and how nice his hands are and how cute he is when pouts. I think he thought I was too drunk to remember him saying it."

Yaku's debating whether or not it's safe for him to take his sunglasses off when Lev reaches over and plucks them off his face.

Yaku groans and drops his head onto his arms. He feels Lev pat him gently on his shoulder.

"You'll feel better once you eat. Tell me more about Akaashi. Do you know if Kenma likes him back?"

Yaku sighs and lifts his head. "I don't know, I never see Kenma anymore. Kuroo's always complaining that he's with Akaashi though, so I think he does? Probably. You know how Kenma is with people. If he's willing to spend so much time with Akaashi, he has to like him."

"Yes, but he likes Kuroo. He likes you. He likes me. There's different kinds of likes. Does he like him like he likes us, or does he like like him?"

Lev's excited babble washes over him, and Yaku smiles, grateful that he has that babble in his life again.

——

From the beginning, Lev had pursued Yaku.

It was the shape of their relationship: Lev would want and Yaku would deny him until he couldn't any longer and then he only gave in centimeters, when Lev deserved so much more. Looking back on it, Yaku's honestly surprised Lev put up with him for as long as he did. Four years of Yaku turning Lev down, turning his back, turning away, giving only when he couldn't figure out how to refuse anymore. Lev had joined the volleyball club, and almost instantly fallen for Yaku. Yaku had ignored his crush as long as he could, but eventually Lev had charmed his way into Yaku's heart. Lev had been the first one of them to say I love you and it had taken Yaku almost a year afterwards to be able to reciprocate. When Yaku got an apartment, Lev asked to move in without any hesitation or doubt; when Yaku had tried to refuse, Lev had just started slowly and quietly moved his things in until Yaku gave up and handed him a key.

It had always been like that. Lev would ask for something and Yaku would dig in his heels.

Maybe that was why everyone had accepted their break up so easily. Maybe they had always known what Yaku and Lev hadn't. Maybe they had all just been waiting for it to fall apart.

——

Kenma calls him on a Thursday, which is in itself unusual because Kenma never calls if he can text, but then he goes on to ask to meet with Yaku in person at a public place and all of the alarms in Yaku's head go off.

"What's wrong? What happened? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Kenma said, sounding distracted. In the background Yaku can just make out what sounds like the blips and boops of a video game's sound effects. "I just want to talk to you."

Everything about the conversation is strange, and Yaku can't shake his feeling of suspicion even after Kenma assures him several times that everything is fine. They make plans to meet a few hours later at a place Kenma describes only as having good pie.

When Yaku gets to the diner, a small hard-to-find place with a flashing sign letting everyone know that it's open twenty-four hours hanging in its window, he spots Kenma easily and slides into the booth across from him. There are two plates of pie sitting on the table already, and Kenma says, "Milkshakes are on their way," without looking up from his phone.

Kenma's not wrong. The pie is fantastic. Or at least it would be, if it weren't flavored with the bitter taste of suspicion that this is some kind of set up.

It seems normal, as far as hang outs with Kenma go, except that Yaku can't shake the feeling that something terrible is about to rear up and attack him as their milkshakes are delivered by a man who looks old enough to be Yaku's grandfather.

They eat in silence, Kenma somehow managing to maneuver forkfuls of his pie into his mouth while keeping his eyes on his phone.

Yaku has a mouthful of milkshake, harsh bite of brain freeze already hitting him, when Kenma sets his phone down and speaks.

"So about Lev," he says, as if they had been in the middle of a conversation, and Yaku chokes on his milkshake.

Kenma politely waits for him to stop hacking before continuing.

"We were talking the other day and you came up."

Yaku slurps miserably at his milkshake, hoping the sound will drown out Kenma's quiet voice.

"He said you've been hanging out."

Kenma looks at him, as if waiting for a response, and Yaku nods around a mouthful of strawberries and cream.

"Okay," Kenma says, and picks his phone back up.

"Um," Yaku says after swallowing, "Is that all?"

"Yeah."

Yaku stares at Kenma, moving his finger over his screen, tapping out patterns.

"That's it? That's all you wanted to talk about?" he presses.

"Yeah," Kenma repeats.

Yaku looks around the diner, convinced this is part of some kind of elaborate prank and someone—maybe Kuroo—is going to jump out, but the only other person he sees is the same old man who served them their milkshakes. "That can't be all," he insists.

Kenma's mouth twists and his brow furrows, but whether or not it's from Yaku's insistence or simply in reaction to his game, Yaku isn't sure.

"Everyone else usually says more," he says. "They tell me to stop wallowing, that I need to move on, that I'm sad and pathetic and that I'm probably going to die alone because I can't stop pining over that stupid, perfect, disgustingly tall giant baby," Yaku stabbed his straw into his milkshake in time with his words, "who is apparently a lot more mature than I am, because he could tell that I couldn't give him what he needed and was able to do what was right and walk away while I just stood there like an asshole."

When he looks up from his milkshake, Kenma's watching him with sharp eyes.

"I asked him not to leave," Yaku admits. "I asked him not to leave, to give me more time. But I never told him I was sorry for hurting him."

He pushes his milkshake away.

"I still haven't told him I'm sorry. I keep trying to, but I can never figure out the right words."

"I'm sorry," Kenma says.

"Thanks."

"No, I'm sorry, that's how you say it."

"You make it sound easy."

"It is easy. You don't need a lot of words as long as you mean it." Kenma looks at him steadily. "Lev knows you. He'll know what you mean."

——

There are several shoe boxes under Yaku's bed that he has not opened in months. They hold ticket stubs, receipts, flyers, and pictures; a veritable time line of his relationship with Lev.

When Yaku gets home from his meeting with Kenma, he pulls all of them out. Carefully, he removes the contents of each box, remembering each movie, every dinner, all the train rides, that he and Lev had experienced together. He sets each item on the floor, until his bedroom is filled with the scraps of their relationship.

He sits on the floor, surveying all the pieces surrounding him until the sun slips down below the horizon. And then he stands, turns on a light, and puts all of it away.

——

There's no easy way to bring it up, no delicate way to swing the conversation around to how Yaku broke Lev's heart, so the next time Yaku sees Lev, he plunges right in without pause.

"I'm sorry," he says.

It's the hardest thing he's ever had to say, but at the same time, Kenma was right—it's also so very easy.

Lev looks at him in surprise. "For...what?"

"For everything—for not being able to give you what you needed, for trying to make you stay even though I couldn't. That wasn't fair of me. You didn't deserve that."

"No, I didn't," Lev agrees. "But..."

He takes a breath, carefully composing his next words.

"But you didn't make me stay. I stayed because I wanted to. I thought I could change you; I thought I could make you want what I wanted. Instead of loving you, I loved...I loved what I wanted you to be. And that wasn't fair of me, either."

He smiles wistfully at Yaku. "I guess you were right, we were too young for...for all of it. But I love you and I don't regret it."

"I have a lot of regrets," Yaku admits, "but you aren't any of them."

There's so much he wants to say, but he doesn't deserve to; it's not his place. So instead Yaku just says, "I love you, too," and tries not to think too hard about the tears glistening in Lev's eyes and how much he wants to kiss them away.

They end up calling their plans to see a movie off, both of them feeling too raw and awkward to be able to enjoy their time together after their talk. But this time when Yaku watches Lev walk away, he knows it isn't forever.

——

Yaku goes over to Kenma's to thank him in person a few days later.

"Kuroo wanted me to let you know that if you're moving back onto the couch, you're going to have to pay rent," he says, not looking up from the console in his hands.

"I'm definitely not living on that couch ever again," Yaku says, toeing off his shoes. He notices an extra pair. "Is someone here?"

"Bokuto," Kenma calls over his shoulder as he makes his way to the couch. "But they're fucking around so you probably want to avoid saying hi."

"Whatever they're doing can't be that bad," Yaku insists, heading towards Kuroo's room.

"They're literally fucking."

Yaku freezes. "What?"

"Sex. They're doing it. Dicks out and everything."

Yaku turns to stare at Kenma. "Are you sure?"

"I was the one that closed the door," he says sourly.

Yaku grimaces and moves to join Kenma on the couch. "I thought they had that whole 'best bros' thing going on?" he asks, sinking down next to Kenma.

Kenma shrugs. "There was a big confession in the kitchen yesterday. They've been in there ever since."

"Wait—all day?"

Kenma hums an affirmative.

They sit there quietly, Yaku listening to Kenma clicking the buttons on his game console until something occurs to him.

"Does this mean that now they're—"

"Stop."

"Brofriends?"

Kenma pauses his game and then looks at Yaku in disgust. "Say what you came to say and leave."

"I just wanted to thank you."

Kenma turns away from him and un-pauses his game. "For what?"

"For the talk. It really helped."

They sit together quietly for a while, Kenma focused on his game and Yaku watching him idly out of the corner of his eye. The silence between them is easy, both of them having established long ago that neither of them needed to be actively doing something in order to enjoy the other's company. (Unlike Kuroo who always seemed to have to have a hand in some kind of action.)

There's a particularly loud sound from the direction of Kuroo's room, a thump and then a shout, and their eyes meet for a moment, Kenma looking alarmed and Yaku amused. Kenma aggressively turns the volume on his game up as Yaku reaches for the remote to flip through channels on the tv.

"Lev says you're different," Kenma says over the contrasting sounds of the trashy reality show Yaku's watching and the dinky clinky music of his own game.

"I'm not sure how to take that," Yaku admits, eyes trained on the tv screen, scared to turn and see exactly what expression Kenma has on his face.

"He meant it in a good way," Kenma clarifies.

"Oh," Yaku says, wondering just when exactly Kenma and Lev have found so much time to discuss him. "Okay. That's good—right?"

Kenma doesn't answer him.

——

Something changes after Yaku's talk with Kenma. He's not sure what it is, but it feels as if some sort of tension in his life, that he hadn't even previously been aware of, has finally been relieved. He realizes what it is, one night when he gets together with his high school teammates for what is sure to be greatly regretted night of karaoke and drinking.

It's after Lev, Shibayama, and Inuoka finish what was obviously a highly rehearsed choreographed routine to some English pop song, when Lev drops into the seat next to Yaku and leans over him to say something to Kenma, that Yaku realizes he's stopped waiting.

Stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop, for things to go even further downhill, for the worst to come.

Yaku's stopped waiting for something terrible to happen.

Maybe it's because it's already happened, because what can be worse than having exactly what you want and not realizing it until it's gone, or maybe it just means that the worst thing Yaku could ever imagine isn't actually something he needs to be scared of.

Whatever it is, Yaku's finally able to let go of it. It's gone, and Yaku has finally, actually, moved on.

And it feels good.

——

Being friends with Lev doesn't change much about Yaku's life. Mostly because Yaku's hours away from Tokyo, juggling classes and volleyball and a pretty awful job at the twenty-four hour superstore by his school. It makes it hard for them to hang out the way friends usually do, but there are phone calls and texts and the odd video chat. They don't happen as often as they did when Yaku and Lev were dating, but they happen and that's what counts.

When Yaku gets a rare day off from everything, school and practice and work, he makes the trip down to Tokyo to see his friends, Lev included. There is no more hard ache in the hole where his heart used to be, but every conversation with Lev tastes bittersweet with the knowledge that if he had just realized a little bit sooner what he wanted they might still be together. He's careful about pushing the boundaries of their new friendship, still mindful of the fact that it was largely his doing (or rather, lack of doing) that ended their relationship. Even though it's hard to discern what those boundaries are, especially as the year ticks down into the colder end of months and their relationship seemingly changes once again.

Yaku tries to tell himself that it's all in his head, when Lev starts leaning in towards him more than usual. He tells himself that he's thinking too much of it, as Lev starts touching him more—and those touches seem to linger. Yaku does his best to convince himself that this is just how Lev is, and he does a fairly good job of it too. Lev has always been much freer with his emotions and about initiating physical contact than Yaku.

But it's reminiscent of days past, when Lev was just a first year starstruck and heartsick for the senior tasked with helping him with his receives, and it leaves Yaku wondering if maybe there's more to it.

——

On one of his visits back to Tokyo, Lev drags him out shopping. His favorite store is going out of business and everything is marked down. Yaku hates shopping, knows it's going to be a madhouse, but he can't bring himself to say no. He spends the day getting jostled by desperate shoppers and almost gets into an actual physical fight over a skirt that Lev insists he has to have.

It's exactly as terrible an experience as Yaku expects, but walking out of the store with Lev, smiling and swinging the bags full of his purchases, he can't seem to bring himself to be annoyed.

In fact, he's actually quite...buoyant—strangely satisfied and pleased in a way that curls around his chest and sits languidly in his ribcage.

Lev insists on seeing him to the train station, despite the fact that he's loaded down with bags, and they walk along in a comfortable silence. They say their goodbyes, Yaku insisting that he can wait for the train on his own and that Lev should head home since it's already getting dark.

"Um," Lev says and Yaku, already turning away, turns back to face him. "Are you free next week? For dinner?"

There's something in the way that he says it that has Yaku pausing before answering.

"Yeah," he says slowly. "I'm free. I have practice in the morning on Friday, but I'm free after that."

"So do you want to?" Lev asks. "Go to dinner, I mean."

"I'd like that," Yaku admits, watching as Lev's face lights up in a way that's all too familiar. He tries to clamp down the thrill of hope that runs through him at the sight but finds he can't.

"Great, I'll pick you." Lev says. "It's a date."

——

It's a date.

Three words that haunt Yaku for the next six days.

It's a date.

They keep running through his head.

It's a date.

It's just a saying, a turn of phrase. Yaku tries convincing himself it means nothing, but...

It's a date.

He's wrong, he knows he's wrong, but that doesn't stop him wondering.

It's a date.

Yaku wonders but he doesn't dare to hope.

It's a date.

——

Yaku can't remember the last time he saw Lev in Kyoto.

No, that isn't right.

Yaku absolutely can remember the last time he saw Lev in Kyoto, and this is despite all his attempts at forgetting it. He can remember it, but he wishes he didn't, because the last time he saw Lev in Kyoto was when he was walking out the door.

He'd been grateful for the distance at first, because it guaranteed that he wouldn't have to cross paths with Lev until he chose to. But even after they'd started talking again, Yaku was the one who always went back to Tokyo. Mostly because, since he had been the one to go away for university, almost everyone else was still there. But he also hadn't wanted to ask Lev to make the three hour plus journey to see him. It hadn't seemed fair, after all of the fighting, to make Lev come to him. But now, it just cements how different this is from any of their other meetings.

Yaku's ready early, because the alternative would be changing his shirt at least ten more times and risk running late, so he stamps down his sartorial panic and forces himself out of his bedroom and away from his closet. The very fact that Lev has asked him on a date is miracle enough, and Yaku definitely does not want to ruin it by not being ready when Lev arrives. So he sits on the couch, staring at the numbers ticking by on his clock. Every few seconds he checks his phone, hoping that a message hasn't arrived from Lev canceling the whole thing.

At ten to seven there's a knock and Yaku turns to stare at his door, unbelieving. It's most likely Lev, but Yaku can't bring himself to move for fear that it's not. He's stuck with the irrational idea that, once again, perhaps the universe is playing some kind of elaborate joke on him and that he'll open the door to find no one there.

There's another knock, and Yaku decides to finally disregard his usual doubts because this is Lev, and if there was ever a person to do what they said they would and not let Yaku down, it's Lev.

Yaku stands, takes a deep breath, and makes his way to the door. He opens it and there's Lev, smiling at him in an absolutely garish jacket. It's so perfect that Yaku can't help but to smile back. He missed this, and while the last few months of friendship had been great, none of it could compare to this. Regardless of how the night might end, Yaku is grateful for this chance.

Lev takes him to one of their favorite restaurants, a small family-owned place with the sort of kitshy shabby chic decor that Lev loves and the kind of greasy food Yaku loves. It was the first place they visited after Yaku moved to Kyoto.

Yaku hasn't been back since they broke up.

They talk as they look over the menus. At first the conversation flows freely as they discuss the changes to the menu and what they've each been up to since they last spoke. But then they both grow self-conscious and their worlds become stilted and the conversation lags.

"I love you," Lev says suddenly. "I love you and I want to be with you. But not if things are going to be exactly like they were. I deserve better than that."

Yaku wants to make promises, to swear up and down that he's changed and that things will be different this time. But his words don't mean anything, not really. And nothing he says will be able to prove that.

"Okay," he says, because he needs Lev to know that he's heard him and understands. "Okay. I love you too. And I want to be with you too."

——

They date—casually at first, and Lev says it's so that they can get used to each other again, but Yaku knows what it really is: a trial period. He's being tested and measured because as much as Lev believes in love, he's also smart enough to learn from his mistakes.

It comes with the understanding that they're both free to date other people, although Yaku doesn't and he's pretty sure that Lev doesn't either.

Yaku tries not to think too hard about that.

They do still get all the usual perks of dating though, which is how Yaku finds himself pushing Lev down onto his couch one night after dinner. He's mouthing his way down the long line of Lev's throat, determined to leave a long line of marks. Lev's hands are on his waist, then inching up his shirt, and then pressing, large and warm, at the edge of his binder.

And then Lev says, "Wait," and pulls away, hands slipping out from under Yaku's shirt.

Yaku can't stop the whine that escapes his throat, even though he hates himself for putting even that much pressure on Lev. "What's wrong?"

"I don't want to do this."

Yaku's heart sinks.

"Okay," he says, trying to keep his voice even.

"I don't mean ever," Lev clarifies. "Just not...now. You're kind of a sex god. At least to me, you've always been..." He smiles up at Yaku, shy in a way he rarely is. "It's always been better with you. And if we have sex now then I know I'm not going to be able to think anymore and I don't want to make any mistakes. Not with you. I want things to be right this time."

Yaku's reeling a bit after being called a sex god, so he feels vaguely proud of himself that he was able to keep up with everything Lev said after that.

"So what's okay?" he asks, wanting to be sure he doesn't mess anything up by pushing at boundaries he doesn't know are there.

"Kissing is okay. Making out's okay, too. But I don't want any clothes to come off." He's quiet for a moment, clearly thinking. "Some touching is okay, but only over clothes and not too much."

Yaku reaches for one of Lev's hands, pulling it up so he can kiss his knuckles. "I can do that." He slides back, giving Lev room to sit up. He glances at the clock, watching the second hand tick as Lev straightens out his clothes. "It's still early. Want to watch a movie and cuddle?"

Lev visibly brightens, clearly thrilled that it's Yaku initiating the cuddling, when before it would be hard to convince him to accept any physical contact outside of sex.

"Yes!"

They settle on the couch, Lev managing to curl himself up against Yaku's side in a way that almost has Yaku forgetting that he's a two meter giant. But Yaku's skin still feels too tight, and his blood is still thrumming through his veins.

"Be right back," he promises, kissing Lev on the cheek before slipping out of his arms.

He goes to the bathroom, locking the door behind him before sinking to the floor, one hand already working into his pants. He bites down on his fist in the hopes that the sound of his moans won't carry, and finishes himself off as quickly as he can, the memory of Lev's skin under his lips sending him over the edge.

He sits there on the floor, coming down from his orgasm, and suddenly it's all too much. Too much like high school, reminiscent of the days when Yaku would sneak off to masturbate when things got too hot and heavy with Lev, not wanting to pressure him into doing anything he wasn't ready for. And this scene, him locked away in the bathroom with his pants around ankles, and Lev in the other room with no idea that he's the reason why, is all too familiar.

And then, suddenly, he's laughing.

Laughing and crying, because everything is so, so perfect, and while it should feel like they're moving backwards, it doesn't. Instead of feeling frustrated, Yaku is filled with relief—relief that Lev is back, really back, and that he still, somehow, sees a future for them.

After washing his hands and face, he makes a detour by his bedroom to strip off his binder before going back to the living room.

Lev smiles at him as he approaches. "Everything okay?" he asks.

"Perfect," Yaku says.

And it is.

——

There's something that's been bugging Yaku, but it's not the right time to talk to Lev about it. It's still too early in their relationship, everything is still new and fresh, and Yaku isn't looking forward to ruining it with this conversation.

Luckily, he doesn't have to talk with Lev to work it out.

He heads to Tokyo on a day he knows Lev is busy, and buys a pack of Kuroo's favorite beer and an apple pie before heading over to Kuroo's.

"Hide in your room," he suggests to Kenma, handing the pie over as soon as he opens the door. "And don't share this with Kuroo. He doesn't deserve it."

Kenma's eyes widen in excitement and he disappears silently, returning a moment later without the pie. He saves whatever game he's playing on the tv and shuts everything off, before going to the kitchen where he grabs a fork from a drawer and a carton of milk from the fridge.

Yaku frowns at the distinct lack of knife or plate.

"That's a thirty centimeter pie," he chides Kenma as he passes. "Don't eat it all at once."

"You told me not to let Kuroo have any," Kenma points out. "I'll let him know you're here."

Kenma walks off, and Yaku makes himself comfortable, setting the beer on the coffee table like an offering, before settling on the couch to wait.

It doesn't take long for Kuroo to come out of his room, rounding the corner with enthusiasm.

"Yaku, man—hey."

Kuroo's enthusiasm ebbs as he looks Yaku over.

"What's...up?"

Yaku grins at him, relaxing back into the couch. "You tell me."

Kuroo regards him suspiciously before shrugging and reaching for a beer. He drops onto the couch next to Yaku.

"It's been a while." He takes a long drink. "Bokuto and I are dating now."

"Yeah, I heard. Kenma told me."

"And you and Lev are back together."

"Yep."

Heavy silence falls over them until it's broken by them both speaking at the same time this sentence needs work.

"So do you want a beer or..."

"You slept with Lev."

Kuroo turns to him in surprise I don't even know. "So he told you?"

"I saw the underwear. On your floor. I came by."

"Oh." Kuroo runs a hand through his hair. "So you're cool with it?"

"Hell no," Yaku snaps, finally giving in to the anger he's felt since first seeing that damned pair of underwear on the floor. "Why the hell would you think that I'd be okay with that? How could you do that without at least tell me? How the hell did you think that would make me feel?"

Yaku stands and starts pacing around the room, unable to sit still any longer.

"You know how I feel about Lev. You know how much it killed me when he left. How the hell could you do that to me?"

"Do you really think that either of us did that to hurt you?" Kuroo runs his hands through his hair. "Don't you think that we knew there was a chance that we would hurt you if we slept together? Did you really want us to live our lives making choices based on what might hurt you? That's not fair to either of us."

Yaku swallows hard, because as much as it hurts, Kuroo's right.

"I didn't go after him, if that helps," Kuroo says, softly. "He came to me. I told him—"

"Stop." Yaku holds up a hand.

He takes a breath, letting it out slowly as he thinks about what he wants to say. It would be a lie to say he isn't still upset, but Kuroo has a point and his rationality makes Yaku's jealousy seem trivial.

"We were broken up," he finally says. "And you're right. I don't want you two to live your lives around what I want. At least I know with you...I know you treated him well."

Kuroo shrugs. "I do what I can."

Yaku rolls his eyes. "If you're going to brag, then get it over with now."

Kuroo leans back and grins, easy and relaxed. "You know it's always good with me," he says, tucking his arms behind his head.

"Whatever," Yaku says, sitting next to him. "It's better with me."

"Did you really just come over here to yell at me and insult my sex?"

"I brought beer." Yaku waves a hand at the table.

"Thanks for that."

The tension finally leaves the room, and even if it might always be a nagging bother in the back of his mind, Yaku's ready to lay the issue to rest.

And then Kuroo opens his mouth.

"Look—I don't want you to take this the wrong way—but I have to ask. Did you take his underwear?"

Yaku turns to give him a withering look, but the effect is ruined by the fact that his face is hot with shame.

"Dude seriously?" Kuroo shakes his head in disbelief. "You are never allowed to judge me about anything ever again."

Yaku can tell by his face that he's never going to let him live this down.

——

It really should feel like they're moving backwards. Yaku had thought they were long past the days when just holding hands would cause his heart to race, long done with the nights of Lev pulling away reluctantly because it's getting late and he has to head home. But instead of feeling discouraged, Yaku feels jubilant. It's a fresh start for both of them—and Yaku's fucked up enough things in his life to know how rare that is and he's determined to ride this feeling as long as he can.

He had known, of course, that he had missed Lev. But the reality of it is that Yaku hadn't quite realized just how much he missed him. There had been an aching, gaping hole in his life, and Yaku had somehow managed to convince himself that it was nothing more than a minor pothole when it was actually a screaming chasm. Now, he fills it up with all the small touches and quick kisses he'd once taken for granted.

Yaku honestly thinks he could live like this forever. He's happy to just be with Lev again. He's willing to do that on whatever terms Lev sets.

The two of them are curled up on the couch again, almost a month after Lev had called Yaku a sex god (and he still can't quite believe that). Yaku's laying on the couch, running his fingers through Lev's hair, who is lying on top of him. He's tired, limbs heavy and each time he blinks it seems harder and harder to open his eyes. He can't really focus on the TV anymore, the only things he's really aware of are the warmth and weight of Lev's body draped over him and of his own fingers tangled in Lev's hair.

It's not late, but if Lev's going to get home, he has to leave soon or he'll miss the train.

"Lev," he says softly, wondering if he's fallen asleep. "You have to go soon or you'll miss the train."

It takes a while for Lev to respond, and Yaku thinks that he really has fallen asleep when he finally speaks.

"Could I stay here?"

Yaku must be more tired than he thought because he's clearly hearing things.

"What?"

Lev moves to prop his head up on a hand

"Could I just stay here, instead of going home? We can get breakfast in the morning."

He smiles and it takes all the self control in Yaku's body not to throw him off so that he can jump up and cheer.

"Yeah, sure," he says, trying to keep his voice casual even though he's sure Lev can see right through him.

Lev smiles a little more widely, body arching and pressing so tantalizingly against Yaku's as he stretches. It would be so easy to push him to the ground and straddle him, to grind down against him until they're both on the edge. But instead, Yaku kisses him on the temple and runs his fingers through his hair one more time.

"I'll get some blankets and take the couch. You can have the bed."

Lev starts to rise, then pauses, dipping his head down for a long moment before looking back up at Yaku.

"We could share the bed," he says, tone casual despite the significance of the statement.

Yaku thinks about lying in bed next to Lev, feeling his warmth beside him, being able to reach out and touch him, falling asleep with Lev in his arms, having him be the last thing he sees at night and the first thing he sees in the morning, and kissing him before doing anything else.

It's going to be the death of him and he will go to it gladly.

"Okay."

——

Lev is a clingy sleeper. He's a clingy person in general, very tactile and always latching on to one person or another when he's awake and it's not different when he's asleep.

Yaku lies awake, Lev's long limbs curled around him like an octopus clinging to prey. All of Yaku's limbs are tingling, save for the single arm that's managed to escape Lev's grasp and that is draped over Lev's shoulders. His hair is tickling Yaku's face. His drool is soaking through Yaku's shirt.

Yaku has never been happier.

——

The bed is cold.

Yaku gropes for Lev (always warm, and Kuroo used to joke that Yaku should be embarrassed about using his boyfriend as his own personal heater, but in that one thing Yaku had no shame), reaches his arm out as he turns his body towards Lev's side of the bed, only to grab at nothingness as his arm lands firmly on the mattress.

He opens his eyes.

Lev isn't there. The bed is cold. Lev isn't there and the bed is cold.

Yaku strains his ears for the sound of the shower, or for any sign of activity in other rooms of his apartment.

It's quiet.

He doesn't want to get up, because he knows what he'll find, but he can't stay in bed. Not anymore. Not with the memory of Lev in his arms so fresh in his mind.

He gets up slowly, as if given time Lev will materialize out of thin air and return.

He pads to the living room, hoping that maybe Lev had gotten up only to fall asleep on the couch, but it's empty.

He looks in the kitchen and it's just as empty as the rest of his apartment.

Lev is gone.

Yaku had him for one night, one perfect night, and then Lev came to his senses and left.

He probably regrets ever coming back.

Yaku sits down heavily on the couch, remembering how happy he'd been the night before.

Lev is gone.

There is an ache in his chest and it throbs in time with three words: Lev is gone.

Yaku had thought there could be nothing worse than losing Lev, but he had clearly made a grave mistake in thinking so, because he had never factored in the possibility that Lev would come back, would give him a second chance, and then leave all over again.

The only difference is, this time, Yaku honestly doesn't have any idea of why. All he knows is that Lev is gone, and this time he didn't even say goodbye.

He can hear keys rattling in the door, but he ignores the sound because, honestly, why can't the world just leave him alone?

The door swings open.

"Oh, you're up!"

Yaku turns at the sound of Lev's voice.

He's standing in the doorway, arms full of grocery bags, and smiling. He steps fully into the apartment, kicking the door shut with a foot. He talks as he makes his way to the kitchen.

"I thought you'd still be sleeping so I didn't bother leaving a note. I had to borrow your key because I gave mine back to Kuroo—oh, did he give that back to you? I told him not to keep it because you wouldn't like him barging in unannounced all the time, but I never actually asked him if he did or not. I wanted to make us breakfast, but all you had in your kitchen was protein bars, coffee, and beer. What have I told you about eating proper meals? You can't just eat out all the time. I know you know how to cook, Mama and I gave you all those cooking lessons, surely you remember how to make something."

Wordlessly, Yaku stands and follows the sound of Lev's chiding to the kitchen. He stands in the doorway, watching Lev bustle about putting groceries away.

Lev catches sight of him, and the expression on his face, and freezes.

"Did...I do something wrong?" he asks, suddenly tentative. "I just...I wanted to surprise you but—"

"Shut up."

"What—"

"Shut up and come here," Yaku says, even though he's already moving forward.

He wraps his arms around Lev, burying his face in Lev's shirt, still cold from his walk from the grocery store. He feels Lev's arm wind around him, and he pulls back to tug Lev down for a kiss.

"Breakfast would be nice," he says. "But coffee would be better."

Lev laughs. "Okay, I'll make you coffee."

He kisses Yaku once more before disentangling himself to make his way to the coffee maker.

Yaku settles himself at the table, head propped up on one hand, and smiles at the familiar sight. His eyes roam over Lev's body, studying the way his hands move as he measures out rice and cuts bread and sausage for the weird amalgam of Japanese and Russian breakfast foods that Yaku's missed in the last few months.

"I'm glad you're back," he says, after a while of watching Lev prepare their food.

"I just went to the store," Lev says, missing his meaning. "I was only gone for a few minutes."

"Yeah, well. Still. I'm glad your back," Yaku repeats, his caffeine-deprived brain being unable to come up with anything that could clarify what he's trying to say, that he's talking about a much lengthier absence than just the quick run to the market.

Lev turns and gives him an odd look, and then seems catches on to what he's trying to say, realization flooding his face.

"I'm glad I'm back, too," he says with a soft smile.

They stare at each other for a while, each of them quietly basking in the familiarity of the scene—Lev at the stove cooking, and Yaku at the table looking on—until, finally, Lev has to turn back to their food.

When it's done, Yaku is presented with a strange combination of rice, soup, sausage, bread, and fruit, before Lev pours the coffee and brings the steaming mug to the table along with a cup of tea for himself.

He kisses Yaku as he hands him the mug. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

——

It becomes routine, dates as often as their schedules allow (which isn't nearly as often as Yaku would like), and lots of video chatting. It's hard to not be able to see Lev everyday, but it's what their relationship was before they broke up, long train rides and even longer phone calls. The only difference is that before it had been Yaku's phone ringing with calls from Lev, while now he finds himself calling Lev as much as Lev calls him.

He gets his spare key back from Kuroo (and it really does explain the way Kuroo's been showing up like a stray cat over the last few months), and tucks it carefully away to save for the day when he can give it back to Lev.

They have one, very awkward, very short, conversation about who they dated while they were apart. Lev apparently dated around a lot more than Yaku had thought, a string of short-lived relationships that Lev had apparently entered into hoping to find someone to sweep him off his feet. There's Kuroo, which Yaku had already known, but it feels good to have Lev confirm it nonetheless. There were also a few people from his school, and when Lev offers details Yaku waves him off because he doesn't know most of them.

(Yaku's half of it goes like this: "Kuroo." "And?" "Kuroo." "Who else?" "Kuroo again." "So just Kuroo-san?" "I kissed Akaashi once. We agreed to never speak of it again.")

It feels better than Yaku thought it would, to talk about it and have the last few months out in the open. It feels like the two of them can finally start to move forward—together.

——

"We should talk about some things," Lev says.

He's sitting on Yaku's bed—legs crossed, face serious, and fingers toying with the sheets—and Yaku knows nervousness when he sees it even though it's rare enough on Lev.

Yaku turns from where he was contemplating his closet, but stays hovering just at its door. He braces himself for bad news, because as good as the last few weeks have been, he figures he's overdue for something awful.

"Okay," he says. He wants to change the subject, wants to avoid the inevitable terrible news that's coming his way, but he knows that's not fair to Lev.

"I think we should stop seeing other people," Lev says slowly. "If you are, I mean."

Yaku's heart tentatively leaps.

"I'm not—I mean, I haven't. There hasn't been anyone else," he says. "It's just been you."

Lev smiles, hands stilling. "It's just been you, too."

Yaku returns his smile before turning back to his closet. "Okay then."

"Yaku," Lev sings, and Yaku hums in acknowledgment without bothering to turn around. "Do you know what that means?"

"That Kuroo is never going to see either of us naked ever again?"

"Morisuke," Lev says, drawing out the syllables of Yaku's name in a way that Yaku hasn't heard in a long time.

When he turns he sees that Lev has stretched out from where he was sitting, and his mouth goes dry at the sight of Lev and his long limbs splayed so casually on his bed.

"It means," Lev says, smile growing wider, "that we can have sex."

He starts crawling towards the foot of the bed, but Yaku beats him there and pushes him onto his back.

He bypasses Lev's chest entirely and reaches immediately for Lev's pants, undoing them and dragging them down.

"Actually, there was something else—"

Yaku freezes.

"Yeah, that, " Lev says.

Yaku doesn't say anything because he's too busy staring at delicate pink lace that he could swear he last saw when he was shoving it in a drawer.

"I found these in your drawer last week, which is funny because I thought I had left them at Kuroo's."

Lev props himself up on his elbows and looks at Yaku solemnly. "Do you have any idea how they could have ended up here?"

Yaku swallows hard. He knows there's no way he's going to get out of this.

"I took them," he admits, shame climbing up neck.

"I know," Lev says seriously. "This is my favorite pair, you know. I was really upset when I went back and couldn't find them." Two hands grab Yaku's face, one on each cheek, and pulls it up so that he has no choice but to look Lev in the eye. "Please don't steal my underwear again."

"Okay."

Lev smiles and then he's dragging Yaku up for a quick, sweet kiss that melts into something hotter.

"Can I please suck your dick now?" Yaku asks, still close enough that his lips brush Lev's with every word.

Lev whines, and then Yaku's being pushed down. He laughs as he goes back to what he'd been doing prior to being accused (and rightly so) of being a panty stealer.

He presses an open-mouthed kiss to Lev's lace-covered erection, before tapping Lev and saying, "Up."

Lev dutifully raises his hips so that Yaku can properly pull off his pants, dragging his underwear with them.

He takes a moment to admire the sight of Lev's erection before wrapping a hand around the base of Lev's cock.

"I missed you," he says, mouth close enough that he's sure Lev can feel his breath on the head of his cock.

"I missed you too."

"Shhh, Lev," he says, without looking up. "I'm in the middle of a conversation."

Lev's giggle cuts into a moan as Yaku wraps his lips around his cock, intent on continuing his conversation.

——

It hurts. All over. Everywhere. It hurts, with how badly Yaku loves Lev, with how much he wants to spend the rest of his life with him. He looks at Lev sometimes and thinks, I can't wait until we're married.

It's a warm ache, sitting comfortably in the spot behind his heart. It beats in time with every smile that Lev sends his way.

He's been conscious of the fact that he was the one to do the hurt. That it was his own inaction that ultimately lead to Lev ending their relationship. He's done what he can to make himself clear, to be more forthcoming about what he wants, to make sure Lev's needs are met—all while waiting for Lev to decide what he wants. But he can't wait anymore, because now that they're both on the same page, Yaku can't wait to start their lives together. He has to wait though—he doesn't want for either of them to be distracted from school with the stress of planning a large wedding (and it's going to be a huge affair, simply by virtue of Lev having such a big family). So Yaku resigns himself to waiting a few more years for that step.

But there is something else he can do, to show that he's changed and is thinking about Lev now.

When he'd first given Lev a key to his apartment, it had been mostly out of pressure from Lev, who kept begging for Yaku to make space for him in his life.

Now, all he wants is to share his life with Lev.

The next time he sees Lev, he slips the key into his hand.

"I'm probably moving back to Tokyo after I graduate, so it's only for a few months, but I still wanted you to have it," he says, watching as Lev's face lights up in delight.

"If you want, after I move back, you're welcome to move in with me. Save your parents some money on dorm fees and all that."

He'd spent a few hours in front of the mirror, practicing that. Trying to find the right way to say it so that it came out easily. Wanting something is easy, but changing years of skirting away from commitment isn't something that Yaku's going to be able to leave behind so easily.

That doesn't mean he can't try though.

His efforts are rewarded with Lev's facing lighting up, bright and hopeful.

"Can we wait and tell everyone at New Years?"

Yaku's heart stutters. New Years at the Haibas is a big production, with the blending of Japanese and Russian traditions they observe. The entire family crowds into the Haiba home for two days of food, gifts from Ded Moroz for the kids, games, and more food, stopping only for the trek down to the local shrine. Yaku had loved his last few New Years spent with the Haibas, and their much more casual and warm celebrations in comparison to the ones his biological family had.

He'd thought it would be a long time before he had a chance to be a part of that again.

"New Years?"

Lev's face falls. "If you don't want to—"

"I want to," Yaku says quickly, wanting to cut off any doubts Lev may have before they're fully formed. "I just...I didn't think I'd be—that I could go."

Lev stares at him, eyes wide with confusion. "Why couldn't you go?"

"I didn't think I'd be invited again," he admits. "I thought I wasn't welcome. Because we...because we broke up."

"Morisuke..." Lev takes Yaku's hands in his own. "My family is your family. Mama—and everyone—has missed you. Even if we weren't together you'd still be welcome to come as long as you wanted to."

Yaku half sighs, half laughs in relief.

"I want to." He drags Lev in for a kiss. "As long as you want me to, I want to."