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i can't look at you straight on

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They’re at lunch, and Tsukishima can see a boy coming towards her, which is not something she wants to deal with right now. She doesn’t want to listen to some boy whose name she doesn’t even know stumble through some misguided confession. She wants to eat her food in peace and listen to Yamaguchi blather about the latest episode of whatever drama she’s watching now.

Unfortunately, Tsukishima almost never gets what she wants.

“Tsukishima,” the boy says as he approaches their table nervously, “I just wanted to say–I really li–”

“No,” she drawls, cutting him off mid-confession, “not interested.”

He blinks, taken aback and hurt. “Oh,” he says, “Uh…”

Yamaguchi turns a deep red and starts apologizing for her, which Tsukishima deems completely unnecessary. “She’s not usually like this,” she says, “I’m really sorry.”

“I am usually like this,” Tsukishima corrects, and stares up at him coldly.

“R-right,” the boy stutters, “I’m–going to go now–”

“Goodbye,” Tsukishima says with an icy smile, and Yamaguchi slams her forehead against the table in frustration as he walks away, looking devastated.

“Tsukki!” Yamaguchi says, scolding, “that was so rude!”

“I didn’t want to talk to him,” she says plainly, and underneath the table she hooks her ankles around Yukishima’s, drawing the other girl’s feet in their school shoes and knee socks closer to hers. “I want to talk to you.”

“He asked me before school today if you were single,” Yamaguchi says. “I told him yes! He really likes you!”

“So?” Tsukishima shrugs. “I don’t like him.”

“You’re always rude to all the boys who try and confess to you. You should be nicer to them,” Yamaguchi chides, and Tsukishima scowls.

“No, I shouldn't,” she says, “they’re being pathetic.”

Yamaguchi gasps, shocked, but Tsukishima ignores her and keeps talking. “Especially if he came to you before he came to me. It's childish for them to waste your time with this nonsense, in addition to wasting mine,” she says. “If they like me, that’s their problem, not mine and definitely not yours.  And besides, it's stupid of them to like me in the first place.”

“It's not stupid!” Yamaguchi defends heatedly. “There's nothing pathetic about liking someone,” she adds, softer, “you can’t always control your feelings, Tsukki.”

“They don't even know me,” Tsukishima says, “not really. All they know is I'm tall and blonde, and it’s not like that counts for anything. They don't know anything real about me. If they did, they would know they were wasting everyone’s time trying to ask me out. Come on, half of them don't even know I'm on the volleyball team!”

“So would it change things if they did know you?” Yamaguchi asks, curious. “What if someone you knew said they liked you? Like–Ennoshita-san. Or Kageyama!”

“I hate Kageyama,” Tsukishima says, horrified. “Does she… Like me? Please don't tell me she likes me, I would die.”

“No, no,” Yamaguchi says, “Ah, well, I don't think so? It was just an example, I’m not actually sure–No!” she finishes, decidedly, seeing the look of alarmed disgust passing across Tsukishima’s face, “I’m sure she hates you too, don’t worry, Tsukki!”

“If Kageyama liked me, that would be extra pathetic,” she says decidedly. “Because Kageyama knows perfectly well I would never like her back, not ever in a thousand years.”

“Okay, but what if it was someone you didn't hate,” Yamaguchi presses, still curious, “like Sugawara-san, or–or Kenma from Nekoma, or–or me, even! Would it be pathetic if I liked you?”

Tsukishima looks at her then, startled, an unexpected rush of heat flooding the pit of her stomach. “No,” she says, voice catching a little, thinking about it, about the prospect of Yamaguchi blushingly confessing to her, “I guess if it was you, that wouldn't be pathetic at all.”

“Yay!” Yamaguchi says, and giggles, “So you don't hate everyone! You'll just have to wait for the right boy to come along!”

“That's not what I said,” Tsukishima protests quietly, “not at all,” but the bell rings for the end of lunch period and drowns her out, and the pair of them walk back to their classes in silence, the topic dropped for now.

 


 

“Another boy asked me about you today,” Yamaguchi says off-handedly, as they’re changing into their practice clothes in the club room later that afternoon.

Tsukishima sighs, and takes her glasses off and sets them down carefully on the bench next to her in order to braid her hair without them in the way. “I don’t care, Yamaguchi,” she says, tone carefully blank. “I have never cared, and I never will.”

“Don’t you at least want to know who it was?” Yamaguchi asks, voice muffled through the cotton of her t-shirt, currently stuck over her head.

“Not even a little,” Tsukishima says. “I don’t like any of the boys at this school, so it doesn’t matter.” She finishes braiding the last strands of her hair and fastens it securely with one of the several elastic bands around her wrist, and then shoves her glasses back on her nose. As the world around her resolves from a distant blur, she can’t help but see the soft freckled curve of Yamaguchi’s waist below the bottom of her still-stuck t-shirt, one perfect hipbone sticking up over the crooked elastic waistband of her practice shorts.

Tsukishima swallows and reaches over to help, out of self-preservation if nothing else, gently tugging on the hem of Yamaguchi’s shirt until it sits smoothly in position, forcing herself not to notice the shocking warmth of her best friend’s skin beneath the worn white fabric.

“C’mon, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi giggles, cheeks pink and hair even messier than usual from the battle with her practice shirt, “you really don't like any of the boys here? Not even one? Not even a little?”

They’re standing slightly too close, the toes of their sneakers bumping, and Tsukishima looks down at Yamaguchi, at her wide eyes and open smile and freckles scattered across her cheekbones, and thinks that she has never cared about boys less in her entire life. “No,” she says, softly, trying to keep the softness she feels inside out of her voice, because that would be so embarrassing. “No, I don’t.”

She feels her stomach clench in that familiar, heartbreaking way it always does when she looks at Yamaguchi for too long, and then her unquashable curious streak gets the better of her and she can’t bear to keep her mouth shut for a second longer. “Why?” she asks Yamaguchi, dreading the answer, “do you?”

There’s a pause of a second, and as the corners of Yamaguchi’s mouth start to curl upwards into a shy smile Tsukishima feels the pit of her stomach drop somewhere into the bedrock below and she realizes she doesn’t really want the answer to her question after all, which is when she’s saved from a truly unlikely corner.

“Come on, guys,” Daichi says, ponytail swinging sternly as she sticks her head in the club room, “practice is starting, get it together.”

“Sorry!” Yamaguchi says, and dashes out the door, Tsukishima following behind her at a more sedate pace, wondering.

 


 

It's after practice, and they're sprawled across the floor of Tsukishima’s bedroom, working on homework together. Well, Tsukishima is working. Yamaguchi is trying to talk about boys again.

“Seriously, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, “I don’t understand why you won’t just give him a chance! He seemed really sweet!”

“So you date him then, if someone has to,” Tsukishima says acidly, and drops her pencil, abandoning vocabulary exercises for the time being. “Because I can tell you right now, I’m certainly not going to do it.”

“I would,” Yamaguchi says, voice quavering a little, “if it was me he wanted. If anyone wanted to date me, I would say yes. In a heartbeat! I’m–I’m jealous of you, Tsukki!”

Tsukishima blinks, startled, the words sending a sharp shock of nausea to her stomach. “Oh,” she says, “so you do like him?”

Yamaguchi turns bright red. “Well–I didn’t say that, I just–”

“Because if you want me to, I can go talk to him for you,” Tsukishima says, forcing her face blank, “if it would make you happy.”

“No,” Yamaguchi huffs, and blows her bangs off her forehead in exasperation. “Don’t talk to him. I don’t… I don’t like him,” she explains, “or anyone, specifically, I just think it would be nice if… if someone else liked me. Someone. Anyone.”

Tsukishima hadn’t been expecting that, at all. “I’m sure someone does,” she says, “I–I’m sure someone likes you,” and bites her bottom lip, because she’s already said too much.

Luckily or maybe tragically, Yamaguchi doesn’t notice a thing. “I wish I could be pretty like you,” Yamaguchi whines and flops over onto her back, uniform skirt riding up on her thighs, and it takes more willpower than Tsukishima had previously thought she possessed to wrench her eyes away from all that exposed warm skin and stare respectfully up at the ceiling.

“I wish I could be smart,” Yamaguchi continues, “and good at volleyball, and I wish boys liked me, and–”

“Don’t be stupid,” Tsukishima cuts her off. “You have great marks and your jump float is better every day and–and who cares if boys like you. They’re even stupider than Kageyama. They don’t matter, at all.”

Yamaguchi sighs, and reaches a hand out to rest gently on Tsukishima’s forearm. Her fingernails, Tsukishima takes half a moment to notice, are trimmed short and painted a delicate baby blue. “You’re right,” she says softly, “you’re always right. It is stupid. I just–I wish–” she trails off then. “You wouldn’t get it,” she concludes finally, and Tsukishima almost laughs at that. She understands perfectly what it feels like to wish for things that will never come true.

She allows herself a tiny private moment to think about what it would feel like to lean over and kiss her best friend, what it would feel like to have the soft curves of Yamaguchi’s body under her own, to feel the warmth of her lips and the silkiness of her hair and to press the sharp angles of their hips together as they kissed. She stares at a constellation of freckles scattered across Yamaguchi’s thigh and imagines what it would feel like to trace their shape with her fingertips, with her lips, with her tongue. And then she takes that tiny fantasy and wraps it up, packs it away, forces herself to come back to reality, where Yamaguchi only wants to talk about boys and things like this will never, ever happen.

“We all want what we can’t have,” Tsukishima says at last, pushing her glasses further up her nose, and turns back to her English homework.

 


 

“Walk home with me?” Yamaguchi asks after practice the next day, and Tsukishima just stares at her, confused, because the answer if of course, as it always is.

She doesn’t understand why until they get outside the gym and she sees the boy from yesterday standing there waiting for her, huddled over like a turtle with his hood pulled over his ears and his hands shoved deep in his pockets. Then she understands perfectly.

“No,” she says loudly, to both the boy and to Yamaguchi, next to her. “Absolutely not.”

Behind her, still in the gym, she can hear the pounding of Kageyama and Hinata still practicing stop, and that’s how she knows she has to leave. It’s bad enough this is happening at all, but to have her least favorite teammates as witnesses? Unacceptable.

“I told you,” she says, and enough emotion actually manages to sneak through into her voice that she’s jumping up a full octave higher and several decibels louder than usual, “I told you no, Yamaguchi!”

“I just wanted to–” the boy squeaks, and Tsukishima can’t deal with this, she really can’t.

“Leave me alone,” she practically shrieks at him, horrified at herself for letting this actually get to her, and hurries off towards home, fumbling for her headphones.

“What was that?” she can hear Kageyama ask behind her.

“Not now,” she hears Yamaguchi snap, and there’s pounding footsteps behind her until the other girl catches up.

“Sorry, Tsukki–” she pants, and Tsukishima just shakes her head, not ready to listen yet.

They walk halfway back to her house in complete silence before Yamaguchi tries again. “I am really sorry,” she says, “I didn’t realize he would make you so upset.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Tsukishima says coldly.

“I just–I thought maybe he could make you happy,” Yamaguchi says, voice tiny. “I was wrong.”

“Can’t we just drop this?”

“No,” Yamaguchi says, “No, Tsukki, we can’t. I want to understand why you’re upset so I won’t do it again.”

“I’m not upset,” Tsukishima lies through her teeth. “There. Can we stop talking about him now?”

“Don’t lie,” Yamaguchi says, “I know you better than that.”

“Do you?” Tsukishima snaps. “Because if you did know me better than that, you wouldn’t have set me up with that–that–”

“I just don’t–”

“I told you,” Tsukishima says, “I told again and again and again, I don’t want to see him, I don’t want to hear from him, I don’t want to hear from any boys. I don’t care. I don’t want to be nice, I don’t want to be polite, I just want to be left alone.”

“But why?” Yamaguchi asks, and that’s the last straw for Tsukishima.

“Because I don't like the boys, Yamaguchi,” she bursts out finally, frustrated, “I like you!”

There’s a long pause.

“Oh!” Yamaguchi says, and her eyes are as wide and stunned as Tsukishima has ever seen them. “Oh.”

Tsukishima stops walking, closes her eyes, sighs. “That was stupid,”  she says quietly, more to herself than to Yamaguchi, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No,” Yamaguchi says, and Tsukishima takes that as agreement and turns on her heel to leave.

“No!” Yamaguchi says again, louder now, surer, and grabs Tsukishima by the wrist, halting her in her tracks.

“What are you doing?” Tsukishima asks.

“I’m not sure yet,” Yamaguchi says, “give me a second to figure it out.”

“It’s not that hard,” Tsukishima says bitterly. “You don’t like me.”

Yamaguchi doesn’t say anything, but she moves her hand so that she’s no longer grabbing Tsukishima by the wrist, but holding her hand, their fingers laced together.

She takes a step closer.

This isn’t what Tsukishima expected, at all.

“I thought you liked boys,” Tsukishima says.

“I do,” Yamaguchi agrees. “Well–I did–anyway, that doesn’t mean I can’t like you, too!”

“Don’t lie to me,” Tsukishima says, and feels her face go hot, “not about this. Please.”

“I’m not,” Yamaguchi says, and she never has been able to lie to anyone, especially not Tsukishima, and she’s not lying now. “I don’t know what I want, not like you; I’m never sure about anything. But I think maybe … I think maybe I could be sure about this. One day.”

Tsukishima stares at her, at the messy strands of her dark hair brushing her collarbones and the sweet, confused smile on her face. “I don’t want you to just like me because I like you,” Tsukishima says finally, after a long moment. “You said before that you just want someone, anyone, to like you. I don’t want to be anyone. I want to matter.”

“Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says softly, “you’re my best friend. You’re always going to matter.”

This is, startlingly, everything Tsukishima asked for and more, and it’s happening in the middle of the street on a cool fall afternoon, the sky steel-gray above them and the wind picking up and blowing her hair in her face. She doesn’t know how to feel, really; happy, maybe, but mostly just stunned. She’s got emotional whiplash, really, and the butterflies are gone from her stomach but they’ve migrated into her chest cavity and they’re making her heart beat twice as fast as usual.

She doesn’t know how to feel, but she’s not sure she needs to right now.

“Kiss me, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says, as bold as she’s ever been before, and then blushes.

“I’ve never kissed anyone before,” Tsukishima admits, embarrassed and nervous.

“Me neither,” Yamaguchi says, with the tiniest half-shrug, “but I want to kiss you now.”

The butterflies are still in her chest and her palms are sweating and Tsukishima takes a hesitant half-step closer, and then another, and then leans down and kisses her best friend shyly, for the first time and hopefully not the only time. It’s less a kiss and more just a gentle brush of dry lips, and Tsukishima pulls back after a few seconds, her heart pounding so hard she’s sure Kageyama is laughing at her from back at the Karasuno gymnasium.

Yamaguchi just squeezes her hand. “That was nice,” she says.

Tsukishima feels like her brains might melt out of her ears. “Yes,” she agrees.

“Will you help me with my math homework?” Yamaguchi asks.

Tsukishima smiles. “Yes,” she agrees again.

“I really like you,” Yamaguchi says, barely more than a whisper. “Tsukki, will you–will you be my girlfriend?”

Tsukishima smiles again, so wide she would swear she can feel her face splitting apart, and it’s embarrassing but it’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to her. “Yes,” she confirms, “yes, of course,” and hand-in-hand they walk home. The air is still growing colder around her, but Tsukishima has never felt warmer in her entire life.