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no time to be alone

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“Can I see it now?”

“For the ten thousandth time, no. You have to wait until the show just like everyone else.”

Kenji pouts, rolling over till he’s staring at Chikara upside down (he looks cute with his hair all askew—according to Chikara), head hanging off the side of the bed and long legs crossed against the wall.

“But I’m not most people. I’m me. You love me. You want me to be happy.”

“That’s all true.”

“Then show me your project.”

Chikara finally looks up from his laptop, a tired smile on his lips, eyes soft in the way Kenji knows is just for him, and Kenji grins. I win.

“No.”

Chikara dodges the pillow Kenji chucks at him easily, laughing.

 

===

 

“I’m going to go find a snack; you want anything?”

“Ennoshita said you shouldn’t eat so much candy.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not here.”

Aone shrugs, blunt fingers tapping awkwardly at a too-tiny phone screen. “Suit yourself, but don’t blame me when he tells you off for not eating right.”

Kenji wades through the crowd of people finding seats and out the doors to the glass-ceilinged foyer. There are tables set up with trays of pastries and coffee thermoses on one side, art pieces hung up on the walls behind them. He isn’t particularly interested in those, however. He ducks into an offshoot hallway and listens for the tell-tale humming of a vending machine—hopefully well-stocked with sour gummies (preferably cherry flavor).

 

He’s almost back in the foyer, a bag of gummies in one hand (green apple, but he wasn’t in a position to be picky) when his text tone rings out.

 

Fr: Chikaraaa ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
Ti: 6:42pm
[Did you manage to find seats? It’s getting pretty full apparently.]

 

Fr: Kenji
Ti: 6:43pm
[Yeah, Aone is scary enough that we’ll probably end up with half a row to ourselves. Speaking of which, I wish you were sitting with us, it wouldn’t be as boring with you~]

 

Fr: Chikaraaa ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
Ti: 6:44pm
[The professor wants us to answer questions between films so we all have to sit together…sorry.]
[I miss you, too.]

 

A small smile plays on Kenji’s lips as he reads, and then rereads the message. He kind of misses Chikara, even though they’d seen each other just yesterday. He kind of wants to kiss him, too, though that had also happened yesterday.

 

Fr: Kenji
Ti: 6:46pm
[Awww, Chika, your dere is showing ( ˊᵕˋ )♡]

 

Fr: Chikaraaa ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
Ti: 6:47pm
[Just for you.]

 Oh.

 

Kenji stops abruptly in the middle of the foyer, peach-pink sunrise-ing across his cheeks, not looking up from his phone until someone bumps into him and narrowly avoids sloshing coffee across his dress shoes.

(Black coffee, the way Chikara drinks it. Maybe he should buy him some for after the show. No, it would be cold by the time—)

“Futakuchi?”

A not-quite-familiar-enough-to-place voice makes Kenji actually look at who had almost knocked him over: a strong jawline, warm brown eyes topped with close-cropped brown hair, dressed in fitted jeans and a red cardigan rolled up to the elbows to display muscular forearms. Chikara’s old captain—Sawa-something.

“Sawamura Daichi,” is supplied, before Kenji could figure out how to greet him without being too rude. “I remember playing against your wall, though I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced.”

“Futakuchi Kenji,” Kenji shakes the proffered hand after hastily putting his phone away. “I remember. Your receives were formidable.”

“Ah, thank you, they had to be against a team like yours.” Sawamura rubs the back of his neck self-consciously. “Sorry about almost getting coffee on you. You’re here for Ennoshita, right? I think he mentioned you at some point…”

“Yeah, Chi—Ennoshita never mentioned he invited you as well.”

“Oh, no, I’m actually here for someone else—but I’m happy I can support Ennoshita, too. I’m sure his project is amazing.”

“Your guess is as good as mine—”

“Daaiiichiii~” Kenji’s half-bitter reply is cut off by another man seemingly materializing out of nowhere at Sawamura’s side. The guy is all long-limbs (though not quite as tall as Aone) in tight dark clothes, his hair looking like he’d just rolled out of bed in the absolute best possible way. He drapes himself across Sawamura’s broad shoulders and smiles against his ear. “Did you find the cheesecake yet?”

“Quit it, Tetsu.” Sawamura half-heartedly tries to shove the other man off him, cheeks tinged pink, which only makes the arms linked around his neck tighten. “And no, I ran into someone.”

Calculating gold eyes turn on Kenji, and he feels inexplicably intimidated, despite himself.

“Who’s this?”

“This is Futakuchi Kenji, Ennoshita’s…” Sawamura looks at him quizzically. “Friend?”

“Ah, sure,” Kenji shoves his hands in his pockets and tries not to stare at where Sawamura has absentmindedly entwined his fingers with Bedhead’s—Tetsu’s.  

Tetsu gives him an appraising look, taking in the freshly-ironed dress shirt and dark, figure-hugging jeans, light-brown hair combed enough that it overshot 'nonchalant’ and landed on ‘I’m trying really hard to look good for someone.’

“Ennoshita?”

“My underclassman from Karasuno, remember? Became captain after me? Perpetually tired? He’s in Akaashi’s class—we’ve talked about him before.

“Futakuchi, this is Kuroo Tetsurou. He was the captain of the Nekoma volleyball club back in my third year—it’s a school here in Tokyo.”

Kuroo leans over Sawamura to offer a slim-fingered hand for Kenji to shake, and Kenji feels callouses similar to his own and Sawamura’s.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Daichi’s friend.”

“Pleasure.”

“Anyway, I was sent out here to get you,” Kuroo’s smile is soft when he turns back to Sawamura, still wrapped around him, their faces close enough for spiky black hair to brush against a tanned forehead. “Bo got us front row seats—I’m sure there’s room for Ennoshita’s friend to join us.”

“Actually, I’m here with someone—”

“Bring them, too! The more the merrier!”

Before Kenji can protest further Sawamura lets Kuroo drag him toward the door, shooting a half-apologetic, half-amused look over his shoulder at Kenji.

 

Ten minutes later as the lights dim to signal the beginning of the show, Kenji finds himself sandwiched between a severely-hunched-over Aone and the significantly shorter but somewhat comforting Sawamura. Kuroo is on Sawamura’s other side, talking animatedly with a guy who punctuated every exclamation with wide-spread gesticulations (narrowly avoiding knocking off the hat of the lady behind them on multiple occasions). The guy’s hair looks like he’d recently stuck his finger in an electrical outlet: bleached-out streaks and standing straight up in two distinct horns.

(“This is Bokuto Koutarou. Bo, this is a friend of one of Akaashi’s classmates.”

Friend, eh? Oho ho?”

“Oho ho, indeed.”)

 

The program director steps out in front of the screen, blinking under the spotlight and shuffling his cue cards.

“Ah, welcome friends and colleagues. We’re very pleased to have you here with us tonight. As you know, our program’s students are all very promising, but we hold this event each year to showcase some of our most talented up-and-coming filmmakers amongst the first and second year students. After the showing is complete, a winning piece will be selected to be shown amongst the graduating class’ end-of-year showcase.” The director swaps cards and takes a long breath, as if readying himself. 

“As always, I would like to take a moment to thank our sponsors…”

And that was the end of Kenji’s attention span when it came to speeches. He glances over to where Kuroo and Bokuto are currently engaged in a thumb war (more like a full-upper-body war at this point), Sawamura looking more and more murderous with each passing second and Kenji remembers acutely that the Karasuno team before Chikara became captain was one of the rowdiest he’d ever seen, and Sawamura had been the one to corral them. Better not get on his bad side.

On his other side Aone is leaning against the armrest, obviously trying to pay attention to the director and failing miserably. Kenji felt a pang of guilt—Aone really hadn’t needed to come with him tonight, but Kenji had whined about having to sit alone until Aone had relented. Buy him kuri kinton next time you see some.

 

Kenji is in the middle of trying to wiggle the crinkly plastic of his forgotten-until-now sour gummies out of his pocket when the spotlight is shut off and the room is plunged into eerie darkness only broken by the red glow of the exit signs. There’s a beat of silence, then the screen covering one wall flickers on and tinny piano music filters out of speakers mounted in the corners.  

They’re two minutes into a blond guy standing against a (decently well-done, to be fair) green-screened field, monologue-ing about his mother’s saffron chicken when Kenji leans over to Aone and whispers, “What are we supposed to be getting out of this?”

Aone wordlessly hands him the program for the night, white Copperplate Gothic against a printer-ink-black background displaying the university’s logo, and the theme each short film is meant to embody: ‘Home.’

“Huh.”

On the second-to-last page Kenji finds:

     Ennoshita Chikara
     1st yr Film Production
     'No Time to Be Alone’

 

 

Two hours (and three quarters of the bag of gummies) later and Kenji has seen more sepia-toned empty swing-sets than was ever necessary, and he’s half-asleep against Aone’s shoulder. There’s a round of polite applause signifying the end of a film, then there’s something sounding like organ music and Aone is elbowing him in the ribs—hard.

“Wha—”

“Watch.”

Blinking sleep out of his eyes, Kenji looks up and sees a black sky, until grainy fireworks start to erupt across the screen.

“Oh,” Kenji breathes. He remembers this day…

 

===

 

It’s summer, and they’re younger; Kenji’s hands are sweaty and balled into nervous fists at his sides. It’s their second date, if he counts their first as surreptitiously happening to be at the movies to see the exact same movie at the same time as Ennoshita (because he wasn’t Chikara just yet), ‘so why don’t we see it together?’

(He’d needled at Aone until his friend relented and texted Hinata to ask around about his upperclassman’s weekend habits.)

(They’d exchanged numbers, if only for the excuse of ‘well, if you say this was bad, you must have movie recommendations, right?’ and Ennoshita had given him that small smile that made his stomach flicker like a dying candle, and said, ‘I’ll give you recommendations, but you have to watch them all.’

Kenji had smirked, because how easy was that, except Ennoshita had texted him forty-seven movie titles and asked his thoughts on each and every one.)

(Kenji still couldn’t decide if that was cute or sadistic.)

It’s mid-afternoon and cloudless and Ennoshita is sandwiched between his friends (Kinoshita and Narita, but Kenji hadn’t really cared at the time because Ennoshita was wearing a dark blue V-neck and fitted shorts and clutching a cup of coffee even though it was three in the afternoon and Kenji definitely found that cute—if a little worrying) while Kenji and Aone trail behind them, Aone tapping at his phone and Kenji trying to figure out when their ‘date’ to the Sendai Tanabata Festival had turned into Kenji fifth-wheeling the attached-at-the-hip trio while Aone texted whoever was making him smile every two minutes like a preteen.

They’ve been wandering around for an hour and Kenji is debating turning his nose up at the whole thing and going home to eat his weight in candy and watch one of the movies Ennoshita recommended (thirty-four of which were romance movies, though he was trying not to read into that), when Bald-Third-of-the-Trio makes a show out of saying he’s going to go find some takoyaki and ‘wouldn’t you love to join me, Hisashi, Aone?

“Our friends have a lot of tact,” Ennoshita says, rummaging in his backpack before pulling out a well-loved (read: falling apart) wallet. “Hungry?”

“Not particularly, but shouldn’t you have just gone with your friends if you’re hungry?”

“It’s not much of a date if there’s five people there, is it?”

Oh.

 

They wander over to the food stalls and Ennoshita’s face lights up when he finds a sashimi shop. He gets two orders of vinegared sea pineapples and insists Kenji try at least one. Kenji decides he doesn’t like vinegared sea pineapples.

(“Oh my god, how can you eat this? You do have taste buds, right?”)

 

By the time the sun begins to set, Kenji has forgotten his nerves in lieu of attempting to kick Ennoshita’s ass at the game stalls. ¥2000 into the basketball mini-game and Ennoshita drags Kenji away by the arm because Kenji’s insisting that the game is rigged.

(It’s definitely rigged. They go back next year and Kenji spends another ¥3000 trying to prove this to a thoroughly amused Chikara, who then has to buy them both dinner because Kenji is broke.)

Ennoshita is surprisingly good at the toss-a-ring-on-a-bottle game, and ends up winning the only thing either of them do the entire day: he picks out a bag of candy from the ‘medium prize’ section and holds it out to Kenji.

“These are your favourite, right?”

“What are you, some kind of stalker?”

“You ate three bags in the span of a two hour movie.” Ennoshita’s eyes are sparkling and Kenji blames the flush rising on his cheeks on sun exposure; it had nothing to do with Ennoshita remembering the particular flavor of sour gummies Kenji had eaten with him in the back row of a dark movie theatre three weeks ago.

 

The sky is purple-grey dusk and lights are flickering on in the street when Narita, Kinoshita and Aone find them again. Ennoshita is perched on a short wall, legs crossed, fiddling with settings on his camera, and Kenji is leaning beside him, just close enough that Ennoshita’s elbow brushes his as he moves, half-watching him work, half-falling-asleep because Ennoshita has been at this for at least ten minutes.

A polite cough and knowing smile and Kenji jumps slightly, then glares.

“We should get going if we want to get good seats.”

“Good seats?”

“Fireworks,” Ennoshita hums, tucking the camera into his bag and jumping down. “Let’s go to the park two blocks over.” He tugs on Kenji’s forearm, palm cool against his skin.

 

The park is already decently full, but they find space underneath a tree near the top of the hill, semi-dark, the festival spread out below them like a sea of yukata-clad patrons and origami prosperity wishes. Ennoshita pulls a travel tripod out of his bag and starts fiddling again, trying to find a flat patch of grass on what has to be at least a thirty-degree sloping hill.

“Don’t fireworks displays always end up looking awful on film?”

“Are you doubting my editing skills, Kenji?”

Kenji’s name is peppermint-sweet on Ennoshita’s quirked lips.

“Nah, Chikara, just wondering why you need to have a recording of the same boring fireworks display they have every year.” 

“Maybe I want to remember this year. Plus, Tanabata fireworks are awesome, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

The tripod ends up precariously balanced upright on a stuffed polar bear Aone had won at mini-golf, and Kenji is lying back on Chikara’s jacket, Chikara’s knee poking his thigh while he sits cross-legged browsing through his phone. Chikara, Chikara, Chikara.

Kenji takes a sip of water to hide his smile.

 

There’s a bang and the sky is lit up with peach-yellow explosions and Kenji sucks in a breath.

“Not so boring, right?” Chikara’s breath is warm on his ear, and Kenji swivels his head so that their noses are maybe a centimeter apart, flush against the soft material of Chikara’s jacket. Chikara’s eyes flicker down and Kenji nods, almost imperceptible.

Chikara kisses him while the sky burns above them, soft and quick, and it tastes like vinegar and cherry-sugar and red-gold fire.

 

===

 

The fireworks fade into more fire, but it’s a campfire and the camera is shaking and there’s Kenji, with his face being cupped by Chikara, being kissed by Chikara, hazy through the smoke, and Kenji swears he made Chikara delete this…

 

===

 

Nightfall comes quickly in the middle of October, and with it the chilliness of frost-crusted maple leaves underfoot and scarves triple-wrapped and tucked into coat collars. Kenji would prefer to be under a blanket (or five), maybe doing homework, probably watching a movie, definitely somewhere indoors with central heating.

Instead he’s hunched into a too-thin practice jacket, sitting on a rock in front of a campfire, listening to Karasuno’s libero (“call me Noya!”) tell a riveting tale of how their beautiful manager had slapped him at some point—which was apparently worthy of great praise and admiration.

(“You’re one of only two people between both our teams who has a car, so you kind of need to come. It’ll be fun, I promise. I know you hate the cold, but there’ll be a fire, and maybe s’mores, and definitely someone getting shoved into the lake…probably.”)

Chikara, sitting next to him, sipping a travel mug full of coffee, sleepy eyes blinking in the smoke, is the only reason Kenji is here and not at home.

“Want some?”

Kenji grimaces at the bitterness—he’s surmised over the past few months of...whatever it is that they’re doing, that Chikara in fact does not have any taste buds, and someone in the circle mutters something about ‘indirect kisses.’ Before Kenji can figure out who it is and chew them out, Koganegawa jumps to his feet.

“Truth or dare!”

“Hah?”

“Let’s play truth or dare!”

“Are you serious?”

"Yeah! What are you, scared?”

Kenji takes another sip of Chikara’s coffee and tries not to gag; it’s going to be a long night.

 

 

That’s disgusting, Ryuu.”

“Hey! It was kind of crunchy—not too bad.” Karasuno’s other bald wingspiker spits out the remnants of the leaf he’d been dared to eat and sits back down on his log with a grin. “Okay, who’s next?” 

“Chikara! Truth or dare?”

Call-me-Noya bounces expectantly, and Chikara takes a slow sip of coffee.

“Truth, I guess.”

“Boring!”

“Why bother asking if you’re just going to make people choose dare every time, Noya?”

“Political correctness?”

“That’s not…fine, dare, then.”

“Do the thing you most want to do right now, in this very moment.”

“Not play this game? Go home and defrost?” Kenji mutters under his breath.

“Not exactly.” Chikara puts down his travel mug, turns and uses both palms to cup Kenji’s cheeks, and pulls him close.

Chikara’s lips taste like marshmallows and wood-smoke and satisfaction.

Someone whoops and someone else calls ‘get a room!’ and Kenji flips them off and Chikara laughs against his mouth.

Kenji thaws a little.

 

===

 

The campfire scene cuts out with Kenji chasing whoever was filming (Noya) away from the fire-site, while Chikara calls out for a copy of the video.

Then there’s just the curve of a smile on the screen, zoomed in, and Kenji recognizes his own lips, the dimple only on the left side that Chikara likes to poke when they’re watching some old guilty-pleasure romantic comedy. The smile breaks into a toothy grin and Kenji hopes no one in the audience knows how to read lips.

“Yeah, of course I meant it. I love you.”

 

The lips fade into ocean waves against a pebbled beach, sunset blood-orange against blue-turning-black ocean, and the silhouette of a person standing ankle-deep in the water. The camera moves up and the person turns and laughs, brushing hair out of their eyes to look at the camera-holder with embarrassing fondness.

“Oh, no…”

 

===

 

It’s summer again, but they’re older, and even the early evening is warm enough that Kenji doesn’t want to step outside the cool bubble of his air-conditioned house, but he does: he climbs into the oven-on-wheels his parents call his ‘until-you-get-into-a-good-college car’ and drives halfway across the prefecture, halting outside a squat green house with an overflowing garden. It’s just his mom, stop freaking out.

It takes a solid five minutes of psyching himself up but eventually he’s standing in the doorway, looking a frog-shaped door-knocker in the eye.

Three short raps later and the door swings open to reveal a short, plump woman—face the image of Chikara’s, except her eyes are about ten-times less tired-looking.

“H-hello, Ennoshita-san. I’m Futakuchi, a friend of Ennoshita-kun. I’m here to pick him up.”

Ennoshita-san smiles warmly, eyes crinkling at the corners in an all-too-familiar way. “Hello, come in, make yourself at home.” She steps aside and Kenji ducks inside, mumbling a ‘sorry for the intrusion.’

“Chikara! Kenji’s here!” Kenji blinks in surprise.

There’s soft footsteps from a mint-painted hallway and then Chikara’s smiling at him sleepily. “Hey, Kenji,” and he’s tiptoeing slightly to press a kiss to Kenji’s cheek and Kenji freezes.

“What—what are you—your mom—”

“She knows.” Chikara’s barely containing a laugh, the edges of his lips twitching.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Kenji hisses.

“Honestly, I forgot, but I’m kind of glad I did, I’ve never heard you stutter before. Real smooth.” The laugh bubbles up like carbonation in a soda can—heady and sweet.

“You’re an ass, Chikara.”

“Yeah, but so are you,” and it comes out fizzy and grossly fond.

 

Ennoshita-san reappears and hands Chikara a paper bag full of cookies, pats Kenji on the cheek and tells him to have her son home by midnight. Kenji manages not to stammer over his goodbyes, but he’s still grumpy as they start to drive.

 

The horizon is just turning grapefruit-pink when Chikara reaches across to tangle his fingers with Kenji’s where they rest on the gearshift, smiling contentedly in that way that makes Kenji’s heart beat easy and slow, makes his world narrow down to the cab of a hand-me-down car where warm brown eyes are lit up gold.   

 

The ocean laps quietly at grey pebbles strewn across pale white sand, and Kenji’s breathing comes easier in salt air. He had waited for Chikara to finish captain-ing his summer training camp so that they could come here together. He toes off his sneakers, rolls up his jeans to the knee, and steps into frothy bronze-tipped waves.

“Hey, mermaid.”

He turns and Chikara’s filming him, or at least his general direction. Chikara is looking at him and not the viewfinder, and Kenji smiles easy.

“Come in, Chikara.”

The camera is waved at him. “I can’t, I have this.”

“Put it away for five minutes and live a little.”

“Living is freezing to death in the ocean?”

Kenji kicks water at him and Chikara jumps backward further onto the shore, laughing.

 

The moon reflects off black water and silver shores and Chikara finally tucks his camera safely away. They sit and eat homemade cookies and make up constellations and Kenji complains about sand getting in his socks until Chikara kisses him quiet, and it tastes like chocolate and salt and star-shine.

 

===

 

There’s Kenji, driving, the windows down, wind blowing through his hair, gesturing animatedly with the hand not on the wheel. (“…so the coach said they’re looking to improve their defenses next year, and that means Aone and I could both be starters. Can you believe it? Starter on a college team! As a freshman, too—why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re cute when you get excited.”

“Shut up.”)

 

There’s Kenji, bent over a book lit by a tiny desk lamp, night sky dark outside the window, looking like he’s about to fall asleep. The camera is placed down and Chikara steps in front, pulling a blanket off the tiny dorm bed and wrapping it around Kenji’s shoulders. Kenji smiles up at him, tugs him down so Chikara is sitting on his lap, and buries his head in Chikara’s neck. (“Remind me again why I decided to study engineering.”

“Because you’re interested in it, and you’re good at math.”

“Stop making sense. Can I take a break?”

“You have a test tomorrow.”

“Yes, but you’re here now, and that’s much more interesting.”)

 

There’s Kenji, standing in the rain, hunched into his coat, looking bemused, the bright teal umbrella over his head stark against the grey clouds. (“Will you stop filming and get under the umbrella, stupid? You’re going to get sick.”)

 

There’s Kenji, with birthday cake smeared across his face, advancing on the camera, grinning menacingly. (“Come on, Chikara, this cake is just divine. You simply must try some.”)

 

There’s Kenji, leaning back in his desk chair to catch a gummy that Chikara throws for him to catch, wobbling for a second, then righting himself—beaming triumphantly. (“Your aim is getting better, Chika.”)

 

There’s Kenji, smiling, holding up a prize-winning carrot. (“Your mom is amazing. I didn’t even know vegetable growing competitions existed.”)

 

There’s Kenji, smiling, the view from the top of the Tokyo Skytree spread out behind him.

 

There’s Kenji, smiling, face flushed after a run.

 

There’s Kenji, smiling. Always smiling.

 

The music fades out and the camera pans down to a pair of clasped hands.

 

===

 

“I sure wish my friends made me homages like that.”

“Leave him be, Tetsu, I think he’s in shock.”

 

There’s another two films and then the director shuffles back on stage, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“What a wonderful show of talent, thank you everyone. I am pleased to announce that Akaashi Keiji’s piece, entitled ‘Light,’ will be shown at our end-of-year showcase—I do hope all of you will come out to support our graduating class at that time. I would like to take just another moment of your time to talk about our sponsors…”

Kenji couldn’t really remember much of Akaashi’s film: only that it contained gratuitous amounts of owl imagery, and Bokuto had bawled loudly into Kuroo’s shoulder throughout (and halfway through the next film, until an usher had come and told them if he couldn’t be quiet they’d all have to leave).

“So you’re treating us to ramen to celebrate, right Bo?”

“Buy your own damn food, Kuroo.”

“You’re welcome to join us, by the way.” Daichi shrugs into his jacket and smiles at Kenji and Aone. “All of you.”

“Thanks, but I have to go find—”

Someone taps Kenji on the shoulder and he spins around to find a sheepish Chikara.

“Hey, you,” he says, rocking back on his feet. “What did you think? Worth the wait?”

“We’ve done a lot of things in the past couple years, huh?”

“Yeah, but there’s also a lot we haven’t done yet.”

“We’ve got time.”

Kenji smiles, cups Chikara’s face in his hands and kisses him, and it tastes like sour gummies and black coffee and forever.