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Monday

Akaashi knew the absurdity of the situation. Even while he beat the eggs into the cream, the towers of chocolate chip cookies loomed over him.

“I can explain,” Akaashi said.

“I’m not eating all this,” Kuroo said.

“You will,” Akaashi said, on the verge of a threat. He had called Kuroo over explicitly for him to either stuff the large quantity of cookies into his face or at least hide them down his pants.

He had succumbed to the bad habit of Stress Baking, which was all right when he studied for his exams and needed to whip up a set of macarons, and bad when Bokuto would take one look at the cookie batch and know, know, something was wrong. Kuroo, with his cookie sixth sense, had already seemed to understand the situation.

“I don’t think Bokuto minds that you’ve never said it,” Kuroo said, munching on a fresh cookie with a reluctantly impressed face.

“He hasn’t noticed. But the anniversary of our first date is on Saturday.” Akaashi shook down the bag of chocolate chips viciously. “He’ll notice then.”

Because Akaashi could remember, clear as his now empty refrigerator, the first time Bokuto had said it. After a match, hot and sweaty and sticky, in the unknown recess of an empty room. Bokuto’s hands, warm and rough, running up his sides and his mouth, greedy and desperate, kissing him against the wall. His kneepads brushing against the insides of his knees, the only light through the shuttered window, the glow and ecstasy of victory, and Bokuto had whispered in his ear, “I love you.”

And Akaashi had said, “Oh.”

Oh. Akaashi had said the same thing when he saw his favorite lunch was sold out and he had to resort to his second favorite like a peon. Oh, like when he saw the television drama with the catchy commercials was going to have its premiere soon. Oh, the same thing he said when he saw a particularly shiny rock out on a morning walk.

Akaashi furiously ladled out the batter onto the baking pan.

And it wasn’t even that incident in particular. It was the two years following the first time Bokuto had said those three words, and the fact that Akaashi had never said it back. Not in beautiful romantic moments with fluttering flower petals or beautiful pragmatic moments, like when Akaashi was trying to discuss joint finances with Bokuto and Bokuto had put his head on the table with his fists occasionally clenching against the agony and Akaashi had felt such exasperation and fondness but all he said was please draw your attention to line 4e.

“If it bothers you this much,” Kuroo said reasonably, “why don’t you pretend you’re moving to another country?”

“I’ll get the Tupperware boxes,” Akaashi said, enjoying the dawning look of horror on Kuroo’s face.

Or maybe you should tell him you physically can’t say it. He’d believe that,” Kuroo said, waving around a half-eaten perfectly soft and chewy cookie.

“I’m not going to lie to him.”

“Then,” Kuroo said gently, “tell him the truth?”

But Akaashi didn’t know the truth. Instead, he hunkered down in front of the oven, waiting for the cookies to start browning, and thought about all the friends who would soon be foisted upon by cookies.

Tuesday

“Did you bake today?” Bokuto sniffed the air.

“No,” Akaashi said. “A little.”

He could remember the first time they had sex. They had kissed on the bed, the lights turned off. Akaashi had tugged on the hem of Bokuto’s shirt and said something like please, though he wasn’t sure what he was pleading, but Bokuto had raised his shirt over his head, muscles stretched out and languid, hair disheveled. When Bokuto began to push up Akaashi’s shirt, hands skimming over his abs, fumbling to help tug it off and half-squinting, half-grinning nervously, Akaashi thought this was something that was theirs, the intimacy nearly knocking the breath out of him, but instead he stroked Bokuto’s bicep with a feather touch and relaxed on the pillows. And afterwards, his face still too warm and Bokuto kissing the back of his neck, he heard Bokuto murmur, “I love you,” slow and deliberate.

Akaashi had said, “Thanks.”

Now Akaashi stood at the sink and brushed his teeth after rimming Bokuto for the better part of their afternoon delight, lapping at his hole until it was nice and damp, and his own dick was rock hard, leaking and solid and well-formulated enough to drag a tiny volleyball jersey over the swollen head and put it on the court, so he then fucked Bokuto up his very nice ass and came on his face.

“Some got in my ear,” Bokuto said piteously, plunging the towel into said ear.

“Please stop that,” Akaashi said through his mouthful of toothpaste foam. “It didn’t go into your ear.”

“Your cum’s gonna be in my ear for the whole day!” Bokuto sulked while he dried his hair.

“Does that bother you?”

Bokuto considered this and shrugged. “I guess not.”

“Did you want to watch a movie before you go back to your place?”

“I’m choosing!” Bokuto scrambled out of the bathroom. Akaashi gargled in peaceful silence, if he ignored the sounds of Bokuto tripping over wires.

He was in love with Bokuto, if that made any difference. He kept a toothbrush for Bokuto in his cup, and prepared his TV with all the movies that Bokuto liked to watch. They were dating, official boyfriends, and he knew this because he overheard Bokuto talking about a boyfriend at a nightclub and then he realized Bokuto was talking about him, and that he liked it. But it wasn’t like they talked about it because Akaashi was afraid that if they discussed it, Bokuto would notice that Akaashi had never said that he loved him, and Akaashi would be forced to start a chain bakery to hold all his stress baking.

Akaashi stabbed his toothbrush back into the holder.

It really bothered him that he couldn’t say it.

“Akaashi, you made pudding?” Bokuto poked his head back into the bathroom.

“No,” Akaashi said defensively.

“But there’s pudding on the counter.”

“Yes,” Akaashi said, lowering his shoulders. “I made pudding.”

“That’s great,” Bokuto said, excited, and then his face grew suspicious. “Are you worried about something?”

“I was curious about a new recipe. That’s all.” Akaashi shrugged. “Try it out.”

“Okay!”

Akaashi was a liar. That pudding was actually worry pudding. He stirred in the milk while mouthing “I l…” over and over again, whipping it frenetically until his arm was sore. After it had boiled, he had stirred in the butter and vanilla and stress while saying things like “I like…” in his empty kitchen. While he pulled the plastic wrap taut over the mixture, he had dissolved into “I loft, I lore, I loom…” because maybe his mouth would get used to the shape and it would accidentally slip out and everything would be fine.

He lofted Bokuto.

He didn’t hate Bokuto. He liked him. He romantically liked him a lot and didn’t have romantic inclinations for anyone other than Bokuto. But every time he tried to say the words, something stopped him.

It worried him. It worried its way into sugar and saucepan, down to the thick mixture when he poured it into the bowls and watched it settle into a turbulent solid. He tasted it himself because he wouldn’t give Bokuto something that was bad, and it had been sweet in his mouth, and he worried all the more for it.

“Can I stay over tonight, Akaashi?” Bokuto swiveled his head around on the couch. Akaashi tucked himself on the other side, pulling the blanket over his lap.

“You have early class tomorrow and your apartment is closer to campus.”

“So that’s a maybe?”

Akaashi took his own bowl of pudding, spooning some into his mouth. Bokuto had already eaten half of his, and looped his arm easily around Akaashi’s shoulders.

“The things you make are really good,” Bokuto said.

That was a good thing, because every rung of Akaashi’s refrigerator was now filled with worry pudding.

Wednesday

After classes and practice, he stopped by the shopping district to purchase more baking supplies and pick up the anniversary gift. He rode the bus back in silence, though he stared stalwartly at his bag of flour and visualized.

He loved this flour. He loved it. He loved it so much. He loved flour. He loved it. He loved B—

By the time he arrived back to his apartment, he was knotted and frustrated. He grabbed the bowls off the shelf, scowling while he twisted the oven to preheat. He wanted to say it. He wanted their anniversary to be big and beautiful, and they would hold hands, and Bokuto would forget it was their anniversary, and Akaashi would suck his dick, and then magnificently announce that he loved him.

His mixer was whipping the eggs into froth almost equitable to his own.

He didn’t think Bokuto noticed, but the obliviousness could only continue for so long. Bokuto said “I love you” absently, but always sincerely, even sometimes at the end of his phone calls, and Akaashi’s hemming and hawing was noticeable. He muttered things like “good night” and “is that so” and “did you know owls can turn their heads 270 degrees.” Akaashi couldn’t dodge it forever.

He poured the honey over the milk in another bowl, the golden goopiness slow and steady. He couldn’t recall any event in his past that would stop him from saying that he loved Bokuto. On the contrary, when he read the books and watched the movies and listened to the songs, it seemed perfectly reasonable. But now faced with the cold reality, he tripped over the words. Perhaps his personality was the problem. He always felt the constraints more sensitively than Bokuto.

The bread flour was added and he mixed by hand, standing over his counter with a frown. The lulling motion was soothing, but his thoughts plagued him. If Bokuto did notice, then he would get the wrong idea. That Akaashi didn’t care for him. That Akaashi didn’t actually love him. That Akaashi hated him. And maybe Bokuto would let the thought breed inside him, insidious and corrupting.

Akaashi gripped the spatula righteously. He could not allow this to happen. Two more days until Saturday. He would say it, quite brilliantly, on their anniversary date.

He poured the mix into the pan and slid it into his oven. He was already pulling out his cell phone to call Kuroo while he adjusted the heat.

“Please come over in an hour,” he said in a carefully constrained tone. “There’s Castella cake.”

Thursday

“I love you,” the song trilled in his tiny earbud, “I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you.” Akaashi sat in the grass, hands crossed over his lap. He had downloaded the song specifically to help with his problem. The eloquent lyrics would continue for another three minutes or at least until Bokuto finally left the gym. Since it was the off season for volleyball, training had been divided to give each player’s individual focus, which meant Akaashi rarely saw Bokuto at practice nowadays. Akaashi focused on building core strength. Bokuto apparently focused on looking muscular and strong with his biceps and thighs.

Bokuto poked his head out of the gym and waved. He trotted over to the shade underneath the grass, sprawling forward with his hands entwining with the rough roots.

“Hot,” he moaned. “Hot, hot, hot! Take off my kneepads for me, Akaashi!”

“It would turn me on too much.”

“Ha ha, ha.” Bokuto rolled over, pitifully inching down his kneepads while trying not to move. Akaashi wasn’t joking. When Bokuto leapt around, Akaashi considered licking the thin stripe of skin between shorts and kneepads, fingers wrapping on his hard thighs. If Bokuto took him anywhere with anything relatively close to three walls and told him to bend over, Akaashi would be pulling down his pants faster than Bokuto could speak.

But in the meanwhile.

“I brought your lunch,” Akaashi said, holding up a box. “And tarts.”

“Tarts,” Bokuto said slowly, eyes narrowing. “Tarts, like stress tarts, tarts?”

“Happened to have the ingredients tarts,” Akaashi said smoothly. He was lying. They were stress tarts. Also fruit tarts.

“Hmm.” Bokuto didn’t seem convinced, but he propped himself up against the tree and let his legs spread out over the grass. “You listening to anything good?”

Akaashi smoothly clicked over to the next and more innocuous song and pushed an ear bud into Bokuto’s ear, letting the artful biwa music trickle onwards. Bokuto thoughtfully hummed, shoveling the chopped sausage into his mouth. Akaashi unboxed the stress fruit tarts, which actually had helped to relieve some stress. When making the crust, he had a good time beating his tension out with the roller pin. The whisking had been more violent than recommended. The fruit, carefully designed. Akaashi picked up a tart and bit into the side, the cream filling his mouth.

“It’s a nice day,” Bokuto murmured. The sun was still bright, though the passing clouds offered brief reprieves. A passing wind brought the scent of fresh flowers and newly shorn grass. The fruit tart was still sweet and tangy in his mouth, crust crumbling nicely. Now was the time. Akaashi steeled himself.

“I l…” He fixed his gaze on the far gym door. “I l… lo… lo… lost something.”

“Oh?” Bokuto sympathetically stopped pouring food down his throat. “What?”

His dignity.

“Just something in my apartment. I’ll head back soon.”

“Can I come over later?”

“If you’d like.” Akaashi considered his next best chance. “Will you be staying over on Saturday?”

“Why?”

“It’s our anniversary.” Akaashi finished his tart, licking his fingers imperceptibly while Bokuto’s eyes widened. Bokuto swiveled around, as if Akaashi was announcing his anniversary to the trees or the hilly grass or even the sky. Many happy returns, Akaashi was apparently celebrating his two year anniversary with the clouds.

“What! I mean, not... not what! I remember! I remembered!” Bokuto dropped the empty box into his lap.

“So I can expect a big present?”

“Y… Yeah! Really big! It’ll be super big and great! I just remembered, I had to do something, over there—”

“Come here.” Akaashi relaxed his shoulder. Bokuto deflated from his half-rising position. He leaned on Akaashi’s shoulder, heaving out a sigh. Akaashi gently raised a hand to pat down his hair, smoothing it along straight lines, calming and soothing. It was a good relaxation method for Bokuto before he slept, and sometimes Bokuto specifically requested the wiggles, in which Akaashi let his fingers touch down to the nape of his neck. Akaashi did not wiggle his fingers when he did that. He wasn’t sure why Bokuto called it the wiggles.

“I forgot about our anniversary,” Bokuto said.

“I know.” Akaashi patted down another strand of hair. “Come over tonight.”

He felt Bokuto nod into his shoulder. This filled him with something big and wide and vast and kind and affectionate. It would have been a good time to say something. But Akaashi let the wind rustle through the grass and tried not to jam another tart into his mouth in fruit-flavored punishment.

Friday

He had gotten up early to bake a cheesecake. It wasn’t his fault. It was the cheesecake’s fault, or Bokuto’s fault, for sleeping so serenely beside him, curled up and half-drooling on the pillow and snoring and just being generally endearing and Akaashi stared up at the ceiling and thought furiously about his dramatic entrance tomorrow, where he proclaimed his love loudly for all the world to hear, or at least maybe even people sitting slightly closer than usual at the restaurant.

He finished mixing the vanilla and sour cream. Cheesecakes weren’t particularly difficult, except for the part without the bubbling or cracking in the middle. Each step needed to be right, a pure focus. The more difficult the baking, the more he could clear his mind.

His mind was so clear that after he left the cheesecake to cool in the oven, he almost kicked Bokuto in the head.

“I thought you were asleep,” Akaashi said.

“I’m not,” Bokuto said.

“I can see that.”

Bokuto was sitting by the glass balcony doors, staring at the new rain. It fell in pitter-patter form from the gray clouds. The wind occasionally tilted the rain onto the balcony, leaving thin droplets to drip down the side door.

“Sixty-seven.” Bokuto nodded. “Sixty-seven raindrops have hit the door. Wait!” He frowned when another strong wind splashed the door.

“I’ll make breakfast.”

“I can do that today,” Bokuto said, relaxing backwards. Akaashi might have been tempted by the offer in his slightly sleepless state, but the incriminating cheesecake was in the oven. He might have been able to suggest it was someone’s congratulations for existing cake, but lying to Bokuto three days in a row seemed pathetic.

He had a small folding table, mostly unused, stuck in his closet. He brought it out to have breakfast on the floor in front of the balcony doors, eating while the gray clouds brightened even as the rain thickened into more than sixty-seven droplets. Bokuto still seemed transfixed by the rain, eating mechanically and not even looking away when Akaashi drooped a blanket over his shoulders.

Slow tidbits occasionally rose into the clean air.

“Are we going to the restaurant I like tomorrow?”

“Which one do you like?”

“The meat one.”

“Yes. I made reservations for the meat restaurant.”

And:

“If I was a raindrop, I’d fall on you first, Akaashi.”

“That doesn’t make me happy.”

And:

“And, Akaashi, I was telling them, no takebacksies. So, you can’t take it back.”

“That seems needlessly dire.”

“Huh?”

“Being unable to take something back.”

“Really? I guess I never looked it that way.”

“How do you look at it?”

“I dunno. I mean, I clearly said, no takebacksies, so I licked the top of the sandwich.”

“That’s even more needlessly dire.”

And:

“I gotta dress nicely tomorrow! Because I’m the better-looking one in this relationship, right?”

“Yes.”

“Akaashi, you don’t have to make fun of me!”

“I wasn’t.”

And:

“I love you, Akaashi.”

“Did you know owls swallow their prey whole.”

Saturday

Akaashi pulled on his vest and fixed the collar of his suit. His book bag had pinched the shoulder. It was a fancy meat restaurant, after all, and a momentous occasion. He would definitely say it that night, even if he had to wheeze it out over his napkin. Even if he hadn’t been able to actually say it throughout the week, he would definitely be able to do it under immense amount of pressure and duress.

“Am I late?” Bokuto jogged over, grinning brightly. Akaashi critically began to tighten the tie, unroll the sleeves, pat down the wrinkles of his suit.

“Let’s go in,” Akaashi said. “Happy anniversary.”

“Happy anniversary!”

Bokuto’s tie and cuffs were loosened by the end of the entrée, but not Akaashi’s tongue. He willed himself to say anything through the main course, chewing while half-listening to Bokuto talk about deeply philosophical scraps about the right way to put toilet paper and the new amusement park that they needed, absolutely needed, to go, or at least look at the little brochure. Candlelight flickering over the clean tablecloth. The soft chatter of the restaurant. The decadent paintings on the walls, smoothing out into artistic magnificence. Glittering chandelier, gilded panels along the walls, red carpet beneath them, a good distance from the toilets.

Now was the time.

“Your gift,” Akaashi said, sliding over the flat box. Bokuto’s eyes grew wide, and he flipped open the case hastily.

“Akaashi, this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten, ever!”

“You said that the last two years, too.”

“Yeah, but I mean it!” Bokuto clipped the stainless silver volleyball keychain onto his keys, holding up the pleasant swirls in the light. He twisted it around to the smooth side, finger running over the back.

“It’s engraved with the month and day of our first date. It doesn’t matter to me if you forget this anniversary,” Akaashi added, “but if it bothers you, now you can refer to something.”

“You’re the best, Akaashi!” Bokuto played with the keys on his hands, leaning forward and occasionally glancing upwards with a grin. His keys fell neatly into the slots of his fingers, volleyball keychain rested in the center of his palm. By the light heat of the candle, Akaashi felt sweaty under his collar. He would say it. He would definitely say it. He felt it, at the moment, inexplicable and strong, a fondness for the way Bokuto looked at him with his reckless grin and the way his eyes glinted mischievously.

“I l—”

“Should I—oh, sorry, Akaashi. Were you saying something?” Bokuto bent his head forward, quizzical and still grinning. Akaashi swallowed his dry throat.

“I like this restaurant.”

“Oh, me too! Wait, I should pay.” Bokuto curled his hands around his keys protectively, busy patting his pockets for his wallet.

It wasn’t Bokuto’s fault. Akaashi could have said it several times before this and several times after, and he could still say it now. But instead, he leaned back on his chair and thought about all the different recipes he’d still bake, milk and sugar mixing in the bowls, molds to shape, ovens to preheat and heat after heat, fondant and buttercream. Baked Alaska. He should make that. Or a croquembouche.

“Are we going anywhere after this?” Bokuto asked.

“Since your roommate is gone for the weekend, we could go to your apartment. If you felt like it,” Akaashi said politely, “I thought you could fuck me in the ass for the rest of the night.”

“Can we drop by somewhere first?”

“Sure.”

“And can we still do that—you know—afterwards?”

“Yes.”

The city at night was much like the city in the day, except more lights. Bokuto ambled by the sidewalk, humming strange happy tunes, while Akaashi wallowed in the pits of his despair. He loved—He loved—He love—He— It all dissolved into a big lumpy mess, and he was certainly going to need to bake something with a rolling pin to smooth it out. At least the joint volleyball practice was tomorrow. Maybe he could set his frustrations, too.

Bokuto stopped in front of an apartment building, punching some numbers into the pad. The door easily opened to a wave of air conditioning. A short elevator ride and a short flight of stairs lead to another door.

“I used to live around here,” Bokuto said, “and sometimes I’d come here after practice, too.”

“They need tighter security.”

“If they did, then we wouldn’t get to see this!” Bokuto swung open the door to the roof access. Akaashi gingerly climbed through the door. The roof wasn’t completely clear, the turbine roof vents protruding from blocks and a high-wire fence wrapping around the perimeter. But there was a serene soundlessness to the roof, like everything was warmly muffled.

Bokuto sat on a stray cement block. Akaashi sat beside him, staring out at the city night. Thousands of lights, the shape of the buildings formed by the dots of the windows, the advertisements a glow of slick neons, the peace from the quiet darkness.

“This place has a lot of good memories for me,” Bokuto said, “and I wanted to share it with you. Because, you know, now when I think about it, I’ll think about it with you there, too.”

“That’s surprisingly thoughtful.” Akaashi enjoyed the small snuffle-chortle from Bokuto.

“Well, I never told anyone else about this. But I thought this would make an okay present.” Bokuto laughed. “Happy anniversary, Akaashi. I love you.”

“Yeah,” Akaashi said, “That. I brought some dessert.” He pulled out the box where he had placed the crème caramel, which he had made yesterday after he had gotten home from practice with the touch of the ball still hovering on his fingers and worked himself up over the perfect response to Bokuto’s words, which definitely hadn’t been anything ambiguous like what he actually said, he had practiced, honestly practiced, while he whisked so slow and smooth and poured through the sieve and there was the boiling water at the right temperature and he had done everything right for the dessert and not for what he actually said.

“Is something wrong, Akaashi?” Bokuto leaned his elbows on his knees, bending forward. Even Akaashi could see the twisted frown on his face.

“No,” Akaashi said. “Yes.”

“Is it something you can’t tell me? Like you’re a super secret shopper or something like that?”

“No. I can tell you.” Akaashi fiddled with the flaps of the box. “It’s just… I can’t say it.”

“Can you play out the words? Charades? How many words is it? Ten? Twenty?” Bokuto was getting worked up. Akaashi patted his hand comfortingly.

“No, it’s…” Deep breath. One. Two. Think about cookies and cupcakes and cake.

“When you tell me that you love me. I can’t say it back.” Akaashi clenched his fingers over Bokuto’s thumb. “But it’s not that I don’t—feel it, I just can’t say it. But I do—feel that way, towards you, please don’t think that I don’t.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. I kinda noticed the not saying thing, too! Because when I used to say it, you’d say thanks and I’d feel really good about it, but now you just look weird sometimes. Like—” Bokuto made a face distinctly unlike any human face Akaashi had ever seen. Akaashi calmly shoved his hand into Bokuto’s face.

“I don’t,” he said, “and I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t really bother me, Akaashi,” Bokuto said while rubbing his nose, “but if it bothers you, let’s think about it. Hey, maybe you can’t physically say it! Like, there’s a part of your mouth that can’t say it. It’s an anomaly.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Akaashi said. “What prompts you to say it?”

“Good question! I’ve never thought about it. Uh, it’s like, I feel something really big for you. I really, really, really love you. This much”—he stretched out his arms, then frowned—“no, I mean, like that much.” He pointed to the faraway landscape of the city, arching his arm to the trajectory of his love.

“Do you have a precise latitude and longitude?” Akaashi smiled slightly at Bokuto’s horrified expression. “No, never mind.”

“And, and, I want you to feel good and happy about it. And I want to share it with you. Everything. Like this”—he pointed to the roof—“that nobody knows about me, I want you to know about it. Does that make sense?”

“Yes.” And it did. “But if I can’t say it, does that mean I’m not committed? That I don’t—” He looked away. But Bokuto grabbed his hand, flattening out his fingers beneath his own.

“I don’t know,” he said brightly. “What do you think?”

Akaashi pressed the pads of his fingers against Bokuto’s, playing a silent tune. The night air was chilly and something smelled faintly of oil. The wind gust shifted the gravel into a cascading rumble. Bokuto’s hands were warm.

“To me, saying it means all that and more,” he said quietly. “It’s a commitment, a part of myself, that I’m not ready to share yet.”

“Yeah,” Bokuto said seriously. “It’s very no takebacksies.”

“What?”

“But I think it’ll be okay, Akaashi. It doesn’t bother me. I know what you do for me. I know you think that I’m the coolest guy you know!”

“That’s not true.”

“And I know you think super fast, and you’re competitive, and you’re smart. Things will work out. You can trust your boyfriend on this!” Bokuto grinned, smug. “Your very cool boyfriend.”

“It’s still not true.” But Akaashi smiled, relaxing his shoulders, the feeling of frantic baking at late nights finally easing over him. “Thank you.”

Bokuto chuckled, a low rumbling noise. Akaashi fiddled with the box in his lap.

“It’s still our anniversary,” he finally said. “Please have some dessert.”

“Wait, I’ve been meaning to ask you, Akaashi, but should I really be eating this? Because you bake when you’re worried about something, and I’m basically enjoying your worry, right? Isn’t this bad? Morally bad? It’s like that thing, with the train, and you pull the switch, and you hit five cakes instead of one. Wait.” Bokuto buried his head into his hands.

“It’s fine,” Akaashi said, pulling out the assorted plastic cutlery. “Besides, it’s part of why I bake. It relaxes me to think this could be something you’d enjoy.”

“Oh?” Bokuto looked up, grin crooked and confident. “Thanks, Akaashi. I like you a lot.”

“I like you, too.”

Sunday

It was a good night. Akaashi didn’t wake up at midnight obsessed over the perfect éclair, haunted by the drizzle of chocolate. Though he was woken up by Bokuto a little into the early morning, when Bokuto frantically needed to know if loving volleyball too meant he was cheating on Akaashi, and the answer was a sleepy no, of course not, he loved volleyball as well, but since they were both awake, they might as well continue from last night. In short, Akaashi’s hips had reached a good sore feeling, not the sore that would stop him from practice, but a little bit enough to make him satisfied.

They met with Komi and Konoha for a late lunch and early dinner, which dissolved into going back to Bokuto’s apartment and taking advantage of his roommate’s absence to drink half-open beer around the table while half-playing cards with the television half-on in the background. Akaashi got up to close the blinds.

The apartment was nice and big, but he would still ask Bokuto if he wanted to move into his apartment later. It was farther away from the gym, but not illogical. And he kept plants on his balcony, which Bokuto had fondly named after volleyball brands.

Akaashi, in general, was in a good mood. Well-fucked, for one thing, but also far more relaxed without needing to utter the three potent words. If he was honest, it still bothered him. Bokuto was right. Akaashi was competitive. But since he wasn’t reaching for the mixer and recipe book, he thought it would be fine. He enjoyed lazy evenings like this, too, when Komi and Konoha were laughing and chatting about their lack of dates. He was surprised not to hear Bokuto’s voice chiming in to brag about his fulfilled dating life or even modestly mentioning their many and varied sexual exploits the night before. Akaashi always thought Bokuto was quite forward about those types of things, not that he minded. On the other hand, he considered himself quite bashful and timid when speaking about it.

“I’m going on a group date,” Komi was saying, “but I don’t know how to slip the word libero in there smoothly.”

“It’s easier for wing spiker,” Konoha said.

Akaashi sat down on the table. An open box of cookies was tantalizingly close to the cans of beer. He recognized the logo from the new bakery.

“There are more couples than ever! I see them all over each other outside the store.” Komi heaved out a beleaguered sigh, a man beyond his years. It seemed like a perfect invitation for Akaashi’s favorite annoying boyfriend to leap into the conversation and begin bragging.

“Yeah,” Konoha said. “Yeah.”

Bokuto was unusually quiet. Akaashi looked over to him. Bokuto had a half-eaten cookie in his hand, but his brow was furrowed, arched eyebrows nearly touching one another, nose scrunched up. He didn’t look disgusted, but simply confused. He munched once, twice. After another long pause, he squinted at the cookie crumbs and turned over the cookie in his palm.

Akaashi realized, with a start, that Bokuto was confused because the cookie didn’t taste like the cookies he usually ate. Namely, the ones Akaashi had baked. The recipe was different, of course, but Akaashi had refined his own recipe over the years of trial and error, seeing what Bokuto liked, what he would barely eat, what was better for a healthy diet. Bokuto seemed deeply dissatisfied with the bakery cookie, and this filled Akaashi with something overwhelming.

This was the rest of his life. He had been baking with Bokuto in mind, and he would continue to do so, spatula in hand and simmering pots and apron dusted with sugar and Bokuto sitting on the counter, nibbling on the cookies, arms hanging over the edge and asking quite simply and sincerely about his worries and then laughing loudly and grinning at him and it was humbling, the immensity of the thought, the evidence dotted behind him and future sprawled in front of him, and he wanted Bokuto to know this, he wanted to share this feeling.

“I love you,” he said to his lap. He could feel a slight heat rise to his cheeks, and he gripped his wrist nervously. The conversation across the table fell silent.

“What?” Bokuto. Akaashi heard the chair creak.

“I love you,” he said, but his voice cracked halfway and dissolved into a soft whisper, not because he didn’t mean it, but he somehow meant it more. When he looked up, Bokuto stared at him like he had never seen anything better, mouth gaping open with the hint of a grin already starting.

“What?” Bokuto asked, sounding all too loud.

“I love you,” Akaashi said in a whisper, because he couldn’t raise his voice any louder, the vastness of the statement shaking him, because he didn’t think he’d say something like that, and Bokuto grabbed his face and kissed him so solidly that he was knocked backwards and grabbing at his shirt, too, trying to pull him forward and kiss him desperately. They tumbled to the couch, Bokuto still half-straddling the chair, and Akaashi’s arm catching under the pillow, but he didn’t care. He kissed him, and Bokuto was laughing into the kiss, and Akaashi was smiling, too.

“Should we already be gone?” Komi jerked a thumb to the door.

Bokuto peered up, apparently confused why these two strangers were lounging around his apartment. Akaashi sat up, tugging on his shirt for some semblance of normalcy.

“No,” he said breathlessly. “Please stay.”

“Yeah, stay,” Bokuto echoed. He still clutched onto Akaashi’s shoulders and only released his hold when Akaashi ran his fingers over his hair, lightly stroking with the wiggles. Bokuto blinked, and then grinned up at him.

“Are you sure?” Konoha asked. “Because we could go. I have a lot of paint to dry tonight, stuff like that.”

“It’s fine. Stay if you’d like.” Akaashi stood up, trying to hide his smile, the three words threatening to spill from his mouth in a dizzying affectionate array, only stopped by his hand over Bokuto’s hair. “If you’re hungry, please let me know. I’ll make something for you.”