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salt in the wound

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“Hey, Yamaguchi!” Hinata started loudly, causing Tadashi to jump at his sudden approach. He looked up at Tadashi with his big, curious brown eyes, one of his hands tangled in the hair at the base of his neck. “Your hair is getting really long lately. Doesn’t your neck get hot?” He wiped sweat off of the back of his own neck, grimacing as he looked down at his hand.

“Eh,” Yamaguchi lifted a hand to scratch at his cheek. “It’s not that long. Not as long as Asahi-san’s.”

Hinata squinted his eyes at the ace across the gym for a moment, before redirecting his attention to Tadashi. “He puts his hair up, though. It’s off his neck, and he has that cool headband!” he stated, putting his hands on his hips and puffing out his chest as if the actions accentuated his statement.

Tadashi hummed in agreement before responding, “But mine’s not long enough to put up.” He demonstrated so to Hinata by lifting the hair off his neck and holding it as if his fist were a hair tie. Strands at the bottom fell out of his hand and draped back over his neck.

“Hmm,” Hinata pondered, tapping a finger to his cheek, but as he opened his mouth to reply, Ukai called the team over for receive drills.

There were a lot of times where Tadashi hated his body, and receive drills were one of them. He just couldn’t get his limbs to move right, he couldn’t control his stupid movements and then Coach would yell at him—and Ukai yelled at everyone, he knew, but sometimes it did feel like he was being targeted—and the team watched as he failed to control his dumb body… and anyway, Tadashi hated receive drills.

“Four more!” Ukai stated as a ball he’d spiked smacked into Tadashi’s forearms, launching to the front of the court.

Tadashi nodded at his coach and prepared for the next ball, bending his legs and holding his arms outstretched. Ukai hit the ball and Tadashi dived for it, but it hit his hands and flew off at an awkward angle. Ukai barked something at Tadashi but he didn’t listen as he watched the ball roll across the floor until it hit the wall. Gritting his teeth, Tadashi stood back up and looked to Ukai, prompting him to spike the next ball. Except Tadashi’s hair was in his eyes, and he couldn’t see the ball, and it slammed into his shoulder, sending him flailing backwards onto the floor at the force of it.

“Yamaguchi,” Ukai started, looking down at Tadashi from where he stood on the stepladder above the net. “I’m not one to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do with their looks, but you need to do something about your hair.”

Tadashi gulped. “Yes, sir!” he yelled out, standing back up and pushing his hair behind his ears. He could feel his ears and face flushing with embarrassment, but before long Nishinoya was behind him, smacking his back.

“Don’t worry!” he said, a big smile lighting up his face. “Asahi-san can lend you a headband.”

Tadashi’s mouth quirked up a bit on one side. “He can?”

“Yeah, sure!” Nishinoya looked back over at Asahi, “Isn’t that right, Asahi-san?”

Asahi nodded and gave Tadashi what seemed to be an unsure thumbs-up.

“Then your hair will be about of your face and you can be awesome at receives!” Nishinoya laughed his boisterous laugh, and Tadashi couldn’t help but smile back.

His smile melted after a moment, though, and he was about to say that he didn’t think his hair was what kept him from being terrible at receives when Ukai called him back to finish his drill. One glance back at Tsukishima told Tadashi that he was probably thinking the same thing.


 

After practice, Tadashi had just taken off his shirt in the clubroom when Hinata popped up beside him, causing him to yelp and cover his chest with his arms and his crumpled shirt. Hinata cocked his head in curiosity, but didn’t ask. He had a habit of scaring Tadashi like that, and Tadashi wasn’t sure he’d ever be used to it.

“My little sister Natsu loves to do hair,” Hinata said, rocking on his heels. “and I think she would love for you to come over!” He looked hopeful, and Tadashi wondered if he’d been thinking about this all throughout practice. “She’s got a lot of, like, clips and pretty bands that she could use! Since your hair is so long and all…”

The idea was appealing, but Tadashi didn’t want to seem too eager—didn’t want to come off as weird—so he scratched the back of his neck and trailed, “I don’t know…”

Hinata pouted, “I’ll let her do mine, too.”

“I—I guess,” Tadashi stuttered out, trying to stop the blush he could feel starting to crawl up his neck. He turned around and pulled his shirt over his head as a distraction, though Hinata probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway.

“Awesome! Is after Saturday practice good?” Hinata inquired, still rocking on his feet.

Tadashi noticed out of the corner of his eye that Tsukishima quite looked like he wanted to seize Hinata by the shoulders to get him to stop with the rocking. Though tempted to reach and set a hand on Hinata’s shoulder himself to subtly stop the shorter boy’s fidgeting, Tadashi decided he’d rather not.

“Uh, sure,” Tadashi agreed absentmindedly, slipping his arms into the sleeves of his jacket.

Hinata blinked at him a few times before smiling and chirping out a goodbye of sorts, leaving the clubroom with Kageyama.

Tadashi and Tsukishima were the last ones left in the room, and it seemed like the sound had been sucked out of the room as Hinata closed the door behind him. Tadashi cleared his throat to fill the space.

“Ready to go, Tsukki?” he asked, looking from the door over to his friend.

“Yeah, just let me…” Tsukishima paused, messing with something in his locker for a moment. “Yeah.” He shoved something into his jacket’s pocket before turning around and facing Tadashi, gesturing slightly at the door so Tadashi would head out first.

“What was that?” Tadashi inquired as Tsukishima locked the clubroom door behind them.

“Mm, nothing. I was looking something up on my phone,” Tsukishima said, starting to walk in the direction towards home.

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed, walking in step with Tsukishima. “Learn anything new?”

Tsukishima began to tell Tadashi something about ice caps that he’d never, ever need to know for the rest of his entire life, but Tadashi listened intently anyway. Tsukishima’s voice was nice, and Tadashi would go as far as to call it soothing (when he wasn’t using his sharp tongue, anyway). So, he listened.

Usually it was the other way around, Tadashi speaking mindlessly to Tsukishima, mostly just to get things off his chest, and Tsukishima nodding as though he were listening. Tadashi wouldn’t blame him if he weren’t really listening; sometimes Tadashi even forgot what he was talking about half through. Cathartic for him, maybe, but equal parts annoying for Tsukishima, probably.

“If the entire ice sheet in Greenland melted,” Tsukishima was reciting, and Tadashi nodding along, “the sea level would raise by about six meters.”

Tadashi blinked, doing a bit of mental math before blurting: “That’s like, more than three of you.”

Tsukishima nodded, “Yeah. Three of me and the length of your hair combined.”

“Hey!” Tadashi feigned that he was offended, “My hair isn’t thirty centimeters long.”

“It will be soon,” noted Tsukishima, with a with a glance at Tadashi’s hair. “Do you plan on getting it cut?”

Tadashi pursed his lips for a moment before speaking: “Not really, no.”

“It seems a little impractical to me.” Tsukishima lifted one of his hands to touch his own hair, which contrasted Tadashi’s in a lot of ways. Tsukishima’s hair was thin, short, blond, probably soft… “With it getting in your eyes and all.”

“‘Spose so,” Tadashi replied, “but I like it. Plus, Asahi-san is gonna give me a hairband.”

“And Hinata’s baby sister is going to mess with you,” Tsukishima raised an eyebrow at his friend, his voice teasing but also hinting at confusion. Of course Tsukishima wouldn’t understand why in the world anyone would go to Hinata’s house without being forced, Tadashi thought with a snort.

“Yeah,” replied Tadashi with a shrug, “Why don’t you come with, Tsukki?” he teased back.

Tsukishima cracked a little smile, just for a second, before deadpanning: “I’d rather be hit by seven trucks.”

Tadashi snorted again, “That’s a lot of trucks, Tsukki.”

Tsukishima just nodded, his faint smile lingering as they continued towards their homes.


 

Tadashi stood in his bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. He stuck out his tongue, puffed out his cheeks, placed his hands on his hips. He cocked his head to the side, inspecting his jawline, bringing up a hand to trace a finger down it. His finger moved down to his neck, stopping at his Adam’s apple. He swallowed, feeling how it moved under his finger. His hand went lower, fingers poking at the jutting ends of his collarbones and swooping into the dip between them. He then leaned closer to the mirror, perching his hands on the edge of the counter. With his nose a few mere centimeters away from touching the mirror, Tadashi observed his freckles and acne, scattered across his cheeks and nose.

He let out a long sigh, backing away from the mirror.

Yamaguchi Tadashi is not a boy, he thought, and it sent a jolt of excitement down his spine. I am not a boy.

He wasn’t. He wasn’t a boy; he’d never been a boy. He blinked at his reflection. This was not a revelation.

Tadashi ruffled his hands in his hair, smiling slightly at the wild mess left behind. After brushing through and smoothing his hair slightly with his fingers, he dragged his fingertips across the fragile skin under his eyes. Everyone was right when they pointed out how long his hair had grown; the piece in the middle that had prior hung over his forehead was now swept off to the side, because if it were left in the middle of his face, it would cover his entire nose. But it made him happy. He then looked at his hands, holding them outstretched, his palms facing upwards. His eyes followed the lines on his palms, and his fingers shook slightly. He clenched his hands into fists.

Yamaguchi Tadashi is not a girl, he told himself, and pursed his lips. I am not—

“Tadashi!” his father called from the other side of the bathroom door. “What are you doing in there?”

“Eh—! Uh, nothing!” He slammed his hands onto the counter in surprise, staring at his shocked reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t doing anything wrong; he had nothing to be embarrassed of, and yet.

“Just… a little faster, okay? I have to get ready for work.”

“Oh, right. Sorry, Dad,” Tadashi apologized, letting out a deep breath. He’d forgotten his dad was scheduled to work the night shift that night.

Tadashi turned on the sink for a moment so that it seemed like he was actually doing something, but then he turned it off and opened the bathroom door with a sheepish smile on his face.

“Sorry,” he said again to his dad, who waved him off.

After retreating to his room, Tadashi settled down on his bed, outstretching his limbs and staring up at the ceiling. Once, when Tsukishima was younger, his parents bought him a pack of glow in the dark stars, and he’d decided that apparently, too many stars came in the pack. So, he barged into Tadashi’s room and stuck the leftover ones on Tadashi’s ceiling, without even asking. Tadashi was too short at that time to reach high enough to take them down, but it wasn’t like he wanted to, anyway. And so they stayed.

As if Tsukishima could tell Tadashi was thinking about him, Tadashi’s phone vibrated from where it sat on his dresser, the screen lighting up with Tsukishima’s name. Tadashi got off his bed to grab his phone, answering the call and putting it on speakerphone before setting it on his desk and plopping down on the chair in front of the desk.

“Hey, Tsukki,” Tadashi greeted, dumping the contents of his school bag onto the desk before him.

“Hey,” Tsukishima responded, and Tadashi could practically see him sitting at his desk all slouched over his homework, his headphones plugged into his phone. “What did you get for number seven?”

Tadashi glanced at the papers laid out in front of him. “On what, Tsukki?”

“Oh,” Tsukishima cleared his throat. “Math.”

“Hmm,” hummed Tadashi as he flipped through his math notebook until he got to the right page. “I got… seventy-two.”

“Seventy… two?”

Tadashi pursed his lips. “What did you get?”

“Nothing, yet. That’s why I called.”

“Oh.” Tadashi bit the inside of his lip as he looked at number five. “Do you need me to explain it?”

“I think—I have it,” Tsukishima replied, and it kind of sounded like he had the end of his pencil in his mouth.

“Mm, okay, Tsukki.” Tadashi tapped his fingers on his desk. “Need help with anything else?”

“Number… number twelve. I got thirty-six. Not sure it’s right, though. What’d you get?”

Negative thirty-six.”

“Negative?” Tsukishima sounded frustrated.

“Mhm,” Tadashi hummed, “Because—”

“Got it. Thanks,” Tsukishima cut him off. “I just missed the sign earlier. That’s all I needed help on.”

“No problem,” Tadashi responded, before inquiring, “Tsukki, why did you do your homework so late tonight?” He moved his own homework back into his bag, and tossed the bag onto the floor while he waited for a response. Usually Tsukishima called him earlier to ask about homework, or vice versa, but either way they practically called each other every night that they weren’t at the other’s house—which Tadashi liked, not only because the calls helped his grade, but also because he didn’t like to be alone for long, and his first choice of company was always Tsukishima.

“Akiteru-nii is visiting,” Tsukishima explained as Tadashi picked up his phone and took it off speakerphone, moving from his desk to lie on his bed, the phone held between his shoulder and ear.

“Oh. Tell him I said hi,” Tadashi requested, though he knew Tsukishima wouldn’t bother to do that.

“Mm,” he grunted into the receiver (he knew that Tadashi knew that he wouldn’t bother to do that). “How’s your night going?”

That meant Tsukishima didn’t want to talk about his own, Tadashi was certain. So, he obliged to Tsukishima’s subtle request, and changed the subject.

“Dad’s working the night shift, so it’s pretty quiet. Just me and Mom—eh, Mom and I home,” Tadashi bit his lip after he’d spoken, trying to think of something else to say. “Nothing exciting really happened,” he admitted after a lengthy pause.

“I still can’t believe you agreed to go to Hinata’s house.” Tsukishima took matters into his own hands. “I’m just imagining his sister and parents as replications of himself.”

Four bright orange Hinatas,” Tadashi breathed, and then let out a laugh.

“Seriously,” Tsukishima’s voice was monotonous, “they’ll probably make you toss to them all day or something else weird. And I bet there’s orange hair everywhere.”

“Don’t be mean,” Tadashi spoke through laughter. “I like Hinata.”

“I know,” Tsukishima sighed into the phone, “but I don’t get it.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, Tsukki,” Tadashi said with a slight crooked grin. Tsukishima just huffed in response.

Tadashi didn’t admit it to himself a lot, but he was really happy that Tsukishima had decided to be friends with him all those years ago. And it wasn’t like Tsukishima necessarily chose Tadashi, because Tadashi kind of shoved himself into Tsukishima’s life by force, but Tsukishima never tried to shove him back out, not on purpose. For what it was worth, Tadashi supposed they made each other better, and he was just really glad. (Even if Tsukishima didn’t know about the things Tadashi was thinking in front of the mirror.)


 

The Hinata house was surprisingly clean. Tadashi knew he shouldn’t have allowed Tsukishima to persuade him in any way that the house would be full of orange hair, but he couldn’t help it. (Tsukishima could’ve probably said pigs were flying and Tadashi would find himself looking out the window.) And as he should have expected, there was not an inhumane amount of hair settled in the house. But, besides that, everything was organized; the family had lined their shoes up in a rack by the door, and a basket of hats sat next to a basket of gloves, set underneath a coat rack.

The rest of the house was at the same standard, things neatly sorted into boxes and baskets. The kitchen had many labelled containers, and Tadashi wondered momentarily if they needed to be labeled because Shouyou wouldn’t know what they were otherwise, but he wished the thought away. He was a guest; he had to be respectful—even to Shouyou.

Shouyou eventually led Tadashi to his bedroom, where Tadashi saw various volleyball posters tacked up on the wall, the bed unmade, and clothes strewn across the floor.

“Ehh, sorry,” Shouyou smiled guiltily as he looked at his mess of a room. “I meant to clean up before you got here but I never… I never got around to it,” he admitted with a slight shrug.

Tadashi laughed, “I don’t mind.”

Shouyou began to collect the clothes off of the floor despite Tadashi’s statement, opening his closet and throwing the clothes in there. He looked back to Tadashi with a bright smile. “That should do the trick! Mom doesn’t like for me to have guests over with a messy room.”

“My dad’s like that, too,” Tadashi replied, watching as Hinata jumped onto his bed and pulled the blanket flat over it. “But usually Tsukki’s the only one I have over, and my dad doesn’t care too much about him coming over when the house is dirty.”

“Tsukishima-kun is kinda like family to you, right?” Shouyou cocked his head in curiousity.

Tadashi pursed his lips for a moment before he mumbled out, “Kind of… I mean, we’ve known each other for a long time and stuff, but…”

“Hmm,” Shouyou scratched at the back of his head. “So, not family.”

“He’s…” Tadashi paused, furrowing his eyebrows. “I dunno. He’s Tsukki.”

Shouyou blinked at Tadashi. “Do you like him?”

Tadashi blinked back, his jaw dropping. “…What?”

Like him,” Shouyou repeated, “Like…” He puckered up his lips and made kissy noises at Tadashi.

“Hinata, ew, stop! Stop—doing that,” Tadashi blurted, covering his eyes with his hands. He could feel the tips of his ears heating up.

Shouyou looked innocently up at Tadashi, waiting for him to uncover his eyes. As soon as Tadashi had, he spoke: “So, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Tadashi admitted, casting his gaze downwards. “What if I did?”

“Then, it would be really cute! Like,” Shouyou scratched at his temple for a moment, “Like, one of those shoujo mangas that Kageyama-kun reads.”

Tadashi snorted, “What?”

“Oh, you know, like—the fall in love stuff, the childhood best friends turned lovers stuff.” Shouyou flopped on his back onto his bed, gesticulating at the ceiling.

“No, no, I know what that is.” Tadashi shook his head. “The Kageyama-kun part.”

“Oh.” He dropped his arms back down onto the mattress. “Yeah, he texts me sometimes when he wants to tell me about the stuff he’s reading.”

Tadashi blinked a few times as the information sunk in. For some reason, Tadashi had thought of Kageyama as more of a Weekly Shounen Jump kind of guy. He decided to stop with the assumptions.

“But anyway,” Shouyou continued, “Tsukishima-kun probably likes you, too.”

“I never said—”

“I mean, he’s Tsukishima. I don’t really understand him. But you do, and that must mean something to him.” Shouyou shrugged after he sat up, looking at Tadashi who stood leaned against the door frame.

“Stop being…” Tadashi trailed, “I don’t know. Talk about volleyball or something. This is weird.”

“You’re weird,” Shouyou retorted, sticking out his tongue. “Anyway,” he said as he hopped off of his bed, “I’m gonna go get Natsu.”

He flung past Tadashi and out of his room, whipping around the corner to get his sister. Tadashi walked across the room and sat himself in Shouyou’s desk chair as he waited.

Before long, Shouyou came back into the room with—a replica of himself. Tadashi did a double take but Tsukishima was right, his sister was a replication of Shouyou himself, except smaller and with little pigtails. He resisted the urge to laugh and call Tsukishima to tell him of this revelation.

“Natsu-chan, this is Yamaguchi,” Shouyou introduced, and Tadashi gave a small wave at the little girl. She smiled back brightly, another shared trait with Shouyou.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you!” Natsu bowed, and Tadashi grinned at her. Shouyou looked on proudly, as if he’d taught his little sister her manners.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Tadashi replied, bowing slightly back to her.

“Oh!” Natsu exclaimed, “I need to get my stuff!” She promptly ran out of the room, leaving Shouyou and Tadashi. The pair looked at each other, slight grins pulling at their lips.

“I’m kind of excited,” admitted Shouyou, his grin growing. “I think Natsu will do a good job on you!”

Tadashi just nodded, ignoring the butterflies he could feel flying around his stomach. He’d looked up different hairstyles before to try on himself, but he never worked up the courage to actually try any of them. He figured he wouldn’t be able to get it right, anyway, and if one of his parents walked in on him he would have no good explanation. At least this way, he could blame it on the playfulness of a little girl if someone asked.

“Though I think she might just mess with me…” Shouyou grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You think so?”

“Yes! She’s just going to make me look silly. She’ll try on you, to be polite, but she doesn’t care about being polite to her brother.” He pouted as Natsu came back into the room, a blue box in her arms.

After setting it on Shouyou’s bed, Natsu took off the top and peered into the box. She picked up a brush from the very top, and then jumped up onto the bed, her feet dangling off the side. “I brought one of Mom’s makeup things, too. Who’s first?”

Shouyou and Tadashi both looked from Natsu, to each other, and then back to Natsu again. The makeup part was unplanned but also made Tadashi’s heart jump. While he’d never had the courage to attempt putting makeup on himself, he had an excuse to try it out, now—or at least to try whatever Natsu had gotten her hands on.

“I—I’ll go first,” Tadashi spoke after the moment of hesitation, volunteering himself with a meek smile at Shouyou.

Natsu grinned at him and looked pointedly down at the floor in front of her, prompting Tadashi to sit there. He did so, and Shouyou took his prior place of the desk chair to watch.

After brushing through Tadashi’s hair (“Uwah! So long!”), Natsu took a hair tie with little pink beads on it tied up a section of hair on one side.

“Natsu,” Shouyou interrupted her, “that looks too much like our friend Yachi-san.”

Tadashi smiled a little bit at the mention of Yachi; she was cute and it made his chest swell a little to be compared to her.

Natsu let out a little huff before pulling the tie out of Tadashi’s hair, now taking a different approach. She collected the hair from the front of his face and pulled it gently around to the back, tying the hair together and tugging on it a little bit so it would stay. After running her fingers through the hair at the bottom that was left alone, she spoke excitedly: “Time for makeup!”

Tadashi let out a chuckle, as though he were just humoring her as he turned around to face her.

“Natsu-chan, are you sure you know how to use that?” Shouyou spoke up, looking at the mascara wand in Natsu’s hand uneasily.

“Sure! I watched Mom do it plenty of times!” she insisted before telling Tadashi to look up so she could put on the mascara—succeeding in not poking him in the eye but coming very close at one point.

As it turned out, the mascara was all she’d grabbed from her mother’s supply without her noticing. Shouyou half-attempted to scold her for stealing, but after Tadashi breathed out a “Thank you, Natsu!”, Shouyou just grinned at them.

“So pretty!” Natsu exclaimed as she looked at Tadashi, and he felt almost as though he were about to burst with happiness. “You can go look in the mirror now. I’ll braid your hair or something more fancy if you want!”

Tadashi thanked her again and looked to Shouyou for directions to a mirror, and Shouyou decided to just lead him to the one in the bathroom across the hall.

“You look really good!” Shouyou said excitedly as they made their way to the mirror, “Plus, the tie keeps the front of your hair out of your face. That’s got to be really good for volleyball!”

“It does feel better,” Tadashi replied, bringing his hand up to feel the tie in the back. He imagined that the two beads on the tie looked a little silly, but he figured that this style was easy enough to do himself with a plain hair tie.

Once the pair got to the mirror, Tadashi inspected his reflection. He turned his head from side to side, batting his lashes and momentarily glancing at Shouyou’s hopeful expression in the mirror. He really liked it—actually, he quite loved it, but for fear of coming across as strange he masked his excitement. It wasn’t really a big deal, was it? All Natsu had done was tie his hair back and out of his face and put on some mascara, and yet some part of himself told him that this was an act of defiance. He wasn’t quite sure defiance of what, but it sent a rush through him regardless.

“Yeah, I like it,” Tadashi said, smiling lightly at himself and then at Shouyou. “I could probably do this myself, too,” he continued, tacking on, “The hair, I mean, for practice and stuff.”

“Oh, you could!” Shouyou agreed excitedly, “I’m sure Tsukishima-kun would like it, too.”

Hinata,” Tadashi groaned, burying his face in his hands. “Stop that.”

“Sorry!” Shouyou chirped, and he didn’t sound very sorry.

Tadashi scowled at him, causing him to yelp and run out of the bathroom, back to his room. Tadashi followed not too far behind, and entered Shouyou’s room to greet an excited Natsu.

“Do you like it?” she asked with a great big grin, one to which Tadashi couldn’t refuse, even if he wanted to.

“Of course!” he replied, and Natsu raised her hand for a high-five, which Tadashi completed.

“Want me to braid it?” she inquired afterwards, cocking her head.

“Actually, I think it’s his turn,” Tadashi replied, nodding his head towards Shouyou.

“Onii-chan!” Natsu called for her brother to come to her, “I have a perfect idea for your hair!”

After all, Natsu had put Shouyou’s hair into about twenty different ties, sticking out all over his head, and had used the mascara brush on his eyebrows. So, Shouyou was right, and she did just make him look silly, but the pair of boys still agreed to play jump rope with her afterwards. As the day continued, Tadashi noted that the Hinatas were, as their name denoted, sunshine. By the time he was to leave, his cheeks hurt from smiling so much.


 

When Tadashi returned home from Hinata’s house, no one else was around. His mom was at work, and as for his dad, he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t really important, though, besides the fact that it meant Tadashi was alone for dinner—which also wasn’t a big deal, because he just shoved a bowl of noodles into the microwave. Maybe if he hadn’t jumped so much rope with Natsu he’d have the energy to actually make a meal for himself, but.

After the noodles finished cooking, Tadashi set the bowl on the table and slinked into the chair in front of it. His socked feet glided back and forth on the hardwood flooring underneath him as he waited for the noodles to cool down enough for him to eat. His house seemed strangely bigger when he was alone, he noted, more airy.

He’d just taken his first bite when the front door opened, followed by the clacking of high-heels on the floor. Tadashi’s mother slipped off the shoes as she rounded the corner, and Tadashi swallowed his food quickly before clearing his throat.

“Tadashi,” she greeted with a nod, but then she stopped in place and quirked an eyebrow. Tadashi suddenly remembered his hair and the mascara. “What have you got going on, there?” she asked with a tilt of her head. The air in the room was sharp.

“Hi, Mom,” he responded sheepishly, tempted to reach back and pull the pink beaded tie out of his hair. He left it, though he wasn’t sure what would’ve been the least embarrassing course of action.

His mother blinked at him, bringing a hand up to rest on the back of her neck. “Your hair,” she stated flatly. She was too far away to notice the mascara, surely.

“Natsu—ah, Hinata’s sister did it when I was at their house earlier,” he stammered out, looking down at his food.

“And why didn’t you take it out?” she inquired, though she seemed somewhat relaxed at the fact Tadashi hadn’t done this to himself.

“It keeps my hair out of my eyes,” he responded with a shrug, swishing his noodles around in the bowl.

“If you want to get your hair out of your eyes, you should get it cut,” his mother noted, with a nod to herself.

Tadashi swallowed thickly. “It’s just a hair tie, okay, Mom? I’ll take it out.” He did as he said he would, pulling the tie out of his hair, the now freed pieces falling back in front of his ears. He set the pink tie on the table, the beads clanking against the wood.

When Tadashi looked back up at his mother, she took a step closer to her child, furrowing her eyebrows. “Is that…? Are you wearing makeup?”

Natsu, Mom. Natsu did it.” He looked away from her, so she couldn’t inspect him any further.

She made a slight noise of discontent before she continued out of the kitchen, Tadashi letting out a deep breath as she left. He made it his mission to finish the noodles before she came back out of her room to scold him more. He found it silly that a little pink tie and mascara could make her act like that, but she’d always kind of been that way. Growing up, any time Tadashi had expressed interest in anything inherently feminine, he’d been snuffed by her. He supposed that since he was her only child, her only son, she wanted him to be manly and strong and capable of taking care of not only himself but also her and his father as they aged. He thought that was a terribly outdated stereotype, but didn’t dare mention so to her.

Tadashi had just finished washing his bowl as his mother walked back into the room, jutting out her hip slightly and resting her hand on it. She’d changed out of her business suit and into something more casual and comfortable, which made her come across more personal, whether or not that had been her intention. Tadashi reminded himself that this was his mother, not a complete stranger with a sharp tongue and outdated views. Some of the tension in his shoulders released.

“I’m glad you’ve made some more friends,” she said as she moved to sit at the table, looking back over her shoulder at Tadashi, prompting him to come sit with her. He swallowed the lump in his throat and proceeded towards her, sitting across from her at the table. His eyelashes felt heavy under her scrutiny.

“Yeah,” Tadashi grunted in agreement, worrying his lip between his teeth. This conversation was bound to be leading towards some ultimate lesson coming from his mother, otherwise she wouldn’t have made him come sit down.

“Not to say Kei isn’t…” she trailed, and Tadashi furrowed his eyebrows. Not the direction he was expecting.

“Isn’t what?” he prompted, meeting eyes with his mother.

“Oh, he’s kind of, withdrawn, you know? It’s good that you’re making more outgoing friends.”

Tadashi blinked once, twice. He wasn’t sure what she was getting at.

“But,” she started, and Tadashi refrained from groaning; here came her ultimate point. “you can’t let these new friends do whatever they want to you.”

Mom,” he stressed, “It was a hair tie and a bit of mascara. It’s nothing. Seriously.”

She clicked her tongue, giving in. “Okay, but wash that off. Alright?”

“I will.” He nodded, and though he hoped she’d see how ridiculous she was acting, it was really wishful thinking. She was stuck in her ways as far as Tadashi was concerned.

“I’ll schedule you for a haircut whenever you want, you know.” Her tone was hopeful and kind of made Tadashi sick.

“Okay,” he replied, his gaze downturned.

The conversation was cut by the front door opening, presumably Tadashi’s father returning from wherever he’d been. Tadashi took the distraction as a chance to slip out of the kitchen and back to his room.

After he’d successfully retreated, Tadashi had an urge to call Tsukishima and tell him about how weird his mother had been acting. (But it wasn’t really weird, wasn’t really new. Tadashi still thought that didn’t warrant it.) He decided against the urge, however, because he’d never really confided anything like this to Tsukishima. Tadashi wasn’t sure how his friend would react, and though he was fairly certain Tsukishima would take his side, the smallest chance that he wouldn’t kept Tadashi from mentioning it to him.

So, instead, after he’d washed his face, Tadashi pulled out his DS and plugged some headphones into it, sitting in his desk chair and propping his feet up on his desk as he played on the console, cheery music emitting from his headphones. He was slightly surprised that neither of his parents attempted communication with him for the rest of the night, but he was mostly grateful. He loved his parents, really, but sometimes—this was mostly his mother—they were overbearing. The break was nice, and Tsukishima called later because he was curious about Tadashi’s trip to Hinata’s house. The tenseness in Tadashi’s stomach from the encounter earlier with his mother had dulled significantly, but it still remained, tugging at him, reminding him that he wasn’t what his mother wanted him to be. But, for now, she didn’t know that; she didn’t need to know that, and neither did Tsukishima. Tadashi let out a deep sigh. Some secrets were necessary, but equally exhausting.  

Chapter Text

Tadashi hadn’t worked up the courage to tie his hair back up in time for the next practice, so as he walked into the clubroom, Hinata pouted at him.

“Yamaguchi—i,” he dragged, “I thought you said—”

“I couldn’t get it right,” Tadashi lied immediately, not daring to meet Hinata’s curious but disappointed gaze. “I’ll just use Asahi-san’s headband. It’s fine.” He held up the object that Asahi had given him prior to accentuate his statement. (Tadashi wondered for a moment if Asahi’s parents ever thought he was weird for having long hair. He bet they didn’t.)

“I can put it up for you!” Hinata exclaimed, and as soon as Tadashi made eye-contact, he knew he was done for. “I watched my sister do it.”

“O-Okay,” he sighed in defeat, “But I don’t have a tie.”

“Oh,” Hinata frowned, “me either.”

Tadashi shrugged, pulling Asahi’s headband over his head and sliding it up into his hair. It would do the job of keeping his hair out of his face, but it didn’t look as cute as Natsu’s prior work. Tadashi suppressed a frown.

“I’ll ask Yachi-san to bring one for you tomorrow, ‘kay?” Hinata suggested, to which Tadashi gave him a weak nod. Hopefully Yachi would give them a plain tie and Tadashi’s mom wouldn’t get angry about it if she saw it—not that he wouldn’t be extra careful to take it out before he got home.

Hinata walked away towards Kageyama and started bothering him, as he always took to doing. Tadashi stared forward as he relived the events of the night prior in his head, holding the shirt he’d just taken off in front of him. He was too zoned out to hear Hinata’s yelp as Kageyama flicked him on the forehead or to hear Tsukishima speaking to him.

“Hey,” Tsukishima spoke, snapping his fingers once in Tadashi’s face. “Earth to Yamaguchi.”

Tadashi jumped, holding the shirt in front of his chest before easing when he noticed that it was just Tsukishima. “Oh, Tsukki,” he breathed, setting his shirt in his bag and changing into his practice one.

“You’re coming over tomorrow, right?” he spoke, though he turned away from Tadashi as he changed his own shirt.

“Always do, Tsukki,” Tadashi chirped back, shaken out of his reverie. They spent most Mondays after practice at Tsukishima’s, finishing up any homework from the school day before watching some stupid movie Tsukishima had found the prior week. (And even when Tsukishima insisted that he knew the movies were stupid, Tadashi still thought they might have been Tsukishima’s guilty pleasure. He’d never, ever admit to it though, so Tadashi kept the observation to himself and endured the shitty movies. Tsukishima’s enthralled expression usually was what got him through.) Although the Monday thing was usual, Tadashi couldn’t help but be a little more eager this time around, as it was a chance to get out of the house. The encounter with his mother was fresh in his mind and thinking about it made him squirm.

“Sleeping over?”

Tadashi cocked his head, though Tsukishima was still facing away from him and couldn’t see. That—was more unusual. Sure, he’d slept over some Mondays, but mostly on accident, like if the movie was so bad that he nodded off and didn’t manage to wake until morning. Usually he just headed off towards home as the credits began to roll—because Tadashi didn’t care for reading them like Tsukishima did.

“Want me to?” Tadashi prompted with a quirked eyebrow, placing a hand on one of his hips. Tadashi wanted to, that was for sure, but he couldn’t help but wonder what had brought this on. He hoped that he hadn’t been so obvious that he was having a bit of a hard time at home that Tsukishima had noticed it.

“Just wondering.”

“Ah,” Tadashi smiled a little, “I probably can; I’ll ask my dad.” (Parents, he meant to say parents. Tsukishima didn’t seem to notice.)

Tsukishima just nodded as he turned back towards his friend, and then headed out of the clubroom, towards the gym. Tadashi followed behind, a light smile gracing his lips. He was glad he’d taken the time to get to know Tsukishima and that he was able to decipher his friend’s vague affection. It kind of made his heart swell, just a bit.


 

Dinner was quiet that night, exceedingly so. Tadashi was practically fidgeting in his seat, glancing back and forth between his mother and father, who were both eating in silence. Tadashi wondered if his mother had mentioned anything about the night before to his father, though their behaviors hinted that she had.

“How were your days?” His father was the first to break the silence.

“Fine,” Tadashi replied as a force of habit, but quickly elaborated. “Practice went well. I think we’re really improving.”

His mother stirred around her food, looking up at Tadashi as she spoke: “That’s nice, Tadashi.” She redirected her gaze to her husband. “My day was the usual,” she answered with a shrug. “but Takahashi-san was late again, and we nearly missed that big meeting I was telling you about.”

“Really?” his father replied dubiously, looking at her with raised eyebrows.

Tadashi tuned the conversation out, because he couldn’t bring himself to really care about his parents’ work matters. He was glad, however, that the tense silence had lifted.

His parents continued their workplace chatter for the duration of the meal, leaving Tadashi to strategize over a way to ask them about sleeping over at the Tsukishima house the next night. He supposed he had to be tactful in order for them to allow it, considering the circumstances. After cycling through about ten different ways to say “Can I sleep at Tsukki’s tomorrow?”, Tadashi still hadn’t figured which would have the highest chance for success. Should he be straightforward, or dance around the subject? He wasn’t sure.

When Tadashi noticed his parents finishing their dinner, he cleared his throat, drawing their attention. He didn’t want to have to awkwardly approach them after dinner to ask, so he said whatever excuse first came to his mind.

“Um, Tsukki and I have a project for… for English, and we need to be together to work on it. It’s due on Wednesday but we wanted to get a head start,”—he cleared his throat again—“so he asked me to spend the night at his house tomorrow.”

Tadashi’s father raised a brow, “Don’t you usually spend Mondays with him?”

“Well, y-yeah, but, I… don’t usually sleep over.” He shrugged. He supposed his father wouldn’t know that because he usually worked night shift on Mondays and was gone for work by the time Tadashi returned home.

“Right,” his father replied, “Anyway, I think that would be fine.”

Tadashi looked expectantly at his mother, and she just nodded in agreement. Her pursed lips told Tadashi she thought otherwise, but he ignored that and thanked his parents.

When he’d finished the cleanup after dinner, Tadashi slinked back to his room to inform Tsukishima of the news.

To: tsukki!!
my parents said i could sleep over tomorrow so see you then!! well i’ll see you before then at practice and school but anyway i’ll be over lol

Tadashi almost wanted to smash his phone into his face after he hit send; sure, he might’ve actually talked like that in person, but texting gave him more time to think, or it was supposed to. He relaxed at the thought that Tsukishima wouldn’t care either way. He was used to this by now.

From: tsukki!!
okay, we’re watching a movie i found about zombie chickens

Blinking at the screen, Tadashi couldn’t suppress a fond smile.

To: tsukki!!
looking forward to it^^ !

He looked away from his phone and shook his head slightly in disbelief. Since when was he looking forward to a movie about chickens? And the truth was that he wasn’t, but he figured he didn’t have to spell that out for Tsukishima.


 

“Tsukishima-kun!” Hinata hollered as he held Tadashi by the wrist, dragging him into the gym.

Tsukishima blinked at the pair as they entered the gym, Tadashi sheepishly shrugging at Tsukishima as if to say this wasn’t his idea and he’d had no choice whether or not to participate. Several other team members looked to the distraction impulsively, watching the scene play out.

“Tsukishima! Look at his hair!” Hinata continued to pull Tadashi closer to Tsukishima while pointing up at Tadashi’s newly styled hair. Yachi had mimicked Natsu’s earlier work, but she also added a loose braid on one side, the braid crowning half of his head. (Her fingers were nimble and skilled; Tadashi thanked her profusely as he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself, at least not without practice.) He was suddenly hyper aware of the braid and tie Yachi had used to put up his hair, as a dozen sets of eyes had moved to them all at once.

Hinata,” Tadashi hissed through his teeth, wrenching his wrist from Hinata’s grip, “Tsukki doesn’t care about stuff like this.”

Hinata stopped a few meters away from Tsukishima, and looked back at Tadashi with a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean he doesn’t?” His voice was about as hushed as he could manage, but that was still kind of loud.

“He just… doesn’t?” Tadashi shrugged, and looked to Tsukishima over Hinata’s shoulder—he had neglected paying attention to them and instead took to practicing serves—before crouching down to Hinata’s level to whisper to him. “Plus, I don’t even think he… feels the—the way you think he does. About me.”

“But—”

“Even if he does,” Tadashi interrupted, “which is unlikely, but anyway, even if he does, he still wouldn’t care about my hair.”

“Why not?” Hinata pouted, “I like it.”

Tadashi couldn’t help but smile softly at Hinata’s genuine, blurted compliment, but he turned his mouth back to a thin line before he continued: “Tsukki doesn’t care about looks, I don’t think.”

Hinata’s eyes lit up, and Tadashi had figured long ago that he was doomed the second Hinata got an idea.

“I get it,” Hinata said, his lips continuously stretching into a wider grin.

“…Get what?”

“You think Tsukishima doesn’t care about looks because he’s never talked to you about that before, right?” Hinata asked with his head cocked in curiosity, his orange hair shifting at the subtle movement.

“I mean,” Tadashi hesitated, scratching his cheek, “yeah. I guess.”

Well,” Hinata pointed a finger up into the air in declaration. “Consider this… He doesn’t care about other people’s looks, but he can’t talk to you about your looks.”

Tadashi furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head, “No, no. He just doesn’t care. Honestly.”

Hinata paused a moment before he shrugged, caving in and letting Tadashi think in his own way. He then scurried off towards Kageyama, probably asking him for a toss. Tadashi made his way to Tsukishima, who nodded at him upon his arrival before smacking a ball over the net. It missed the plastic bottle set up by a moderate distance, and Tsukishima let out a ‘tch’. Tadashi offered him a few words of encouragement, to which he didn’t react. (His next ball hit the plastic bottle, though, and Tadashi grinned to himself.)

The rest of the team peppered Tadashi with subtle compliments throughout the practice, most of which he redirected towards Yachi, who’d actually done the work of styling his hair. Still, their approval flooded Tadashi with warmth and he felt that maybe today, his smiles were a bit brighter than usual.


 

Tadashi was right before not to be excited for the chicken movie. He thought it was reasonable that he spent about half of the duration of the movie staring at Tsukishima, even though after a few minutes of it Tsukishima would prod Tadashi’s cheek with his pointer finger until Tadashi looked back to the screen. (He just looked right back to Tsukishima anyway. It was an endless battle. And besides, he could kind of see a reflection of the screen in Tsukishima’s glasses. Win-win.)

“That was terrible,” Tadashi deadpanned as the credits began to roll, yawning to further prove his point.

“Maybe if you watched it,” Tsukishima replied flippantly. “you would have liked it.” He closed the laptop when the credits had finished rolling. After pushing the laptop off of the futon they were both lying on, Tsukishima reached up to switch on the lamp on his bedside table. A soft yellow light illuminated the room, and Tadashi liked the way it accentuated the gold in Tsukishima’s hair.

“Somehow I doubt that, Tsukki,” Tadashi chuckled in response, “Besides, it was more fun watching you react to zombie chickens savaging people than actually watching it myself,” he tacked on with a shrug.

“You’re not squeamish,” Tsukishima noted with an eyebrow raised.

“No,” Tadashi confirmed, “But you’re… better to look at than gore.”

“Compliment?”

“I suppose so,” Tadashi laughed, and Tsukishima let out a little puff of air through his nose. Tadashi claimed it as a victory.

“So, what did Hinata want during practice earlier?” Tsukishima inquired, sitting criss-cross on the futon next to Tadashi, who was still lying on his stomach from before.

Pulling himself up, Tadashi shifted himself so that he faced Tsukishima, their knees a few centimeters apart. “He, uh, wanted to know what you thought of my hair.” Tadashi realized he hadn’t yet taken out Yachi’s work. If the style had felt odd and new during practice, it felt natural now. He almost ached to think about taking it out.

“That’s what I thought,” Tsukishima commented, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

Tadashi looked inquisitively to his friend—that was a nervous tic. He couldn’t think of any reason for Tsukishima to be nervous. Maybe he actually just needed to adjust the glasses this time, Tadashi thought in finality.

Tsukishima returned Tadashi’s questioning gaze, prompting Tadashi to shrug.

“So what do you think, then?”

“About your hair?”

“Yeah.”

Tsukishima paused and tilted his head a smidge to look at Tadashi’s hair. “It’s practical.”

“Mm,” Tadashi hummed. “That it is.”

“That’s not what Hinata wanted me to say though, is it?” Tsukishima stated the question more so than he asked it. He pushed his glasses up again. Tadashi resisted the urge to raise one of his eyebrows in curiosity.

“Ehh,” Tadashi lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck. “I dunno. Hinata’s kind of… weird, you know.”

“Obviously.”

After letting out an awkward, deflated kind of laugh, Tadashi decided to change the subject. This conversation was only bound to get worse for him if he didn’t take the reins.

“I was gonna offer to do your hair, but it’s too short.” He pouted, almost reaching a hand up to touch Tsukishima’s golden hair. Almost. He imagined Tsukishima with little pigtails and swallowed the giggle he could feel bubbling in his chest. Cute.

“I wouldn’t let you, anyway,” Tsukishima responded, idly playing with a string that hung off the hemline of his shirt.

“You wouldn’t?” Tadashi questioned, his pout not leaving his face.

“Mm, no.”

“But I think you’d look really cute with—”

“Stop that,” Tsukishima interrupted, looking back up to Tadashi with a certain expectancy dripping from his gaze.

Tadashi snorted, “Sorry, Tsukki.”

Tsukishima rolled his eyes.

“But really,” Tadashi didn’t let the moment pass, and he cleared his throat. “Have you ever wanted to try… anything, you know, girly?” He held his breath as he awaited a response.

Tsukishima blinked at him. “I’m not sure what qualifies,” he said.

“As girly?”

“Yeah. What makes something girly?”

“I… I don’t know.” Tadashi bit the inside of his cheek.

“My brother put me in one of my cousin’s dresses one time when I was really little,” Tsukishima paused, before he continued, “but that’s not what you meant.”

Tadashi swallowed thickly, “No, that’s not what I meant.”

“Earrings,” Tsukishima said after a slight lull in the conversation. “Those are traditionally feminine, right?”

“Uh, yeah. I ‘spose so.” Moderately, he thought.

“I’d like to get a piercing some time,” replied Tsukishima, and his nonchalant nature made Tadashi almost jealous. “One of those bar ones, across the top here.” He pointed to the cartilage at the top of his ear.

“Wouldn’t that hurt?” Tadashi cringed as he spoke.

“Maybe.” He shrugged.

“It would look good, though,” Tadashi assured with a slight smile. “It would suit you.”

“Thanks. What about you?” Tsukishima inquired, though he didn’t meet Tadashi’s gaze.

“I’m not sure I want any piercings,” Tadashi answered, shuddering slightly.

“No, I meant… feminine things that you want to try.”

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed. He hadn’t expected to be asked back. Since he couldn’t very well say “everything”, he blurted the first thing that came to mind: “Isn’t my hair kinda girly? Especially tied up like this.”

One of Tsukishima’s eyebrows shot up. “Not… really.”

“Oh. Hm,” Tadashi grunted, thinking back to his mother. She certainly wouldn’t agree with Tsukishima. Tadashi wasn’t sure what to think. He wasn’t sure if he was happy or disappointed that Tsukishima didn’t think his hair was feminine; he wasn’t sure if he wanted Tsukishima to think it was feminine or not. He wasn’t sure about anything! And he thought he might’ve started to go a little crazy.

“Anything else?” Tsukishima prompted, pulling Tadashi out of his thoughts. And though Tsukishima usually wasn’t one to keep nudging, he could probably sense that Tadashi was more eager to answer than he appeared.

“Nail polish… looks kind of cool. I guess.” He cleared his throat.

“Hm,” Tsukishima hummed, “I think my mom has some of that.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You said you want to try it?” Tsukishima tilted his head slightly to the side.

Tadashi let out a nervous laugh and looked down at his hands, his fingers fiddling together. “I—I wouldn’t want to just use your mom’s stuff like that…”

“She won’t care,” Tsukishima deadpanned, beginning to stand from the futon. Tadashi looked up at him with owlish eyes. “I’ll go get some.”

Tadashi opened his mouth to object, but closed it. Tsukishima slipped out of the room and down the dark corridor of his hallway, to wherever his mother kept her nail polish. Tadashi was beginning to hear his pulse in his ears. Tsukishima didn’t think this was… weird?

Trying to compose himself before Tsukishima reentered, Tadashi leveled his breathing and looked down at his bare nails. They looked naked. Tadashi thought back to the time he colored his nails with markers when he was little and his mother personally scrubbed them clean. Shaking away the thought, Tadashi wondered what color Tsukishima would bring back with him.

He wasn’t wondering for long, since Tsukishima returned soon thereafter and shook the little bottle in his hand. The small beads clicked against the glass of the bottle as he shook it, and as he sat back down in front of Tadashi, Tadashi caught a glimpse of the bottle behind Tsukishima’s pale fingers. It was dark, probably black or maybe even a deep blue; Tadashi couldn’t tell in the soft light.

“Purple,” Tsukishima said (sometimes Tadashi was worried Tsukishima could read his mind, but then he remembered that whatever this was went both ways) and Tadashi smiled.

“Your favorite color.”

“My favorite color,” he repeated, his golden eyes flashing up to meet Tadashi’s gaze before looking back down at the bottle in his hands. “It’s actually called…” He tilted the bottle up and squinted at the fine printed label stuck to the bottom of it. “Midnight Purple.”

“Hm, I like it,” Tadashi responded, clicking his tongue. He looked expectantly at Tsukishima, waiting for him to hand the bottle over.

“I think it suits you.” After Tsukishima blinked back up at Tadashi, he held the bottle out to him. Tadashi took it gingerly, holding the metallic cap between his pointer finger and thumb. He shook the bottle himself, a slight grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he listened to the clinking of the beads inside. He unscrewed the cap, then, and pulled out the applicator brush; a drop of paint fell back into the bottle. Tsukishima and he both stared at the brush dubiously.

“How much do I put on it?” Tadashi asked, and Tsukishima shrugged back at him. They were both new to this; it would be a learning experience for each of them, though the relevancy was inconsistent between them.

Furrowing his eyebrows in concentration, Tadashi balanced the polish bottle on his knee and took the brush out of it, his hands quivering slightly as he guided the brush to the thumbnail on his opposite hand. As he pressed the paint to his nail, he thought that maybe this would be a little easier with better lighting, but he really couldn’t get over Tsukishima’s halo of blond hair as the light shone from behind him, so he didn’t say anything about it. Paint leaked off of his nail and onto the skin on either side, so he let more paint fall off of the brush the next time he took it out of the bottle.

After he’d finished all the nails on his left hand—miraculously not knocking over the bottle that balanced precariously on his knee—he screwed the cap back onto the bottle.

Tsukishima blinked at him. He’d been watching silently, which Tadashi hadn’t really expected. He’d thought that Tsukishima would probably get out his phone or something as he waited, but rather he observed patiently.

“You got it on your skin,” he stated, and Tadashi rolled his eyes.

“It’s harder than it looks!” he defended himself, and then thrusted the bottle back towards Tsukishima. “You try it then. On my other hand.” (Mostly, Tadashi was just too nervous to try to paint with his left hand. He’d done bad enough with his dominant right hand.)

Tsukishima looked down at the bottle in Tadashi’s hand, up at Tadashi, and then back down again. He took the bottle with an almost uneasy look, and then he unscrewed the cap.

“How are we going to…” Tsukishima started, glancing down at Tadashi’s hand that he held out in front of him. He tightened the cap back onto the bottle.

“Hm?”

“How are we going to keep your hand steady? So that I can paint.”

Tsukishima was right to indirectly point out the shake in Tadashi’s hand. He wouldn’t very well be able to get the paint on Tadashi’s nails if he were to keep shaking like that.

“Oh,” Tadashi bit the inside of his bottom lip. “Uh…”

“Here,” Tsukishima said, offering his left hand—palm upwards and outstretched—to Tadashi. Tadashi stared at it in confusion.

“What?”

“Put your hand on it.”

“Like…?” Tadashi set his palm against Tsukishima’s, and his fingers rested on Tsukishima’s wrist. He could feel Tsukishima’s pulse, steady and not nearly as quickened as Tadashi’s own. Suddenly Tadashi was hyper aware of the sweat on his palms, but Tsukishima didn’t seem to notice—or he didn’t mind. He set down the bottle next to him for a moment as he gently gripped Tadashi’s wrist and moved his hand back a touch, so Tadashi’s fingertips pressed against the heel of Tsukishima’s hand.

“That should work,” Tsukishima said, and Tadashi swallowed thickly. Probably subconsciously, Tsukishima’s fingertips curled up slightly into Tadashi’s palm. Tadashi let out a deep breath.

They both figured that the easiest way to get this done was teamwork, so in his free hand Tadashi held the polish bottle for Tsukishima as he carefully painted Tadashi’s nails. Tsukishima’s lips were slightly parted as he concentrated, and his eyelashes brushed his cheeks as he looked down to work. Tadashi had a hard time willing himself to look away.

“You’re doing a good job,” Tadashi breathed out the compliment, mostly as a way to distract himself from the rampant beating of his heart. He hoped Tsukishima couldn’t feel his pulse. “Better than I did.”

“You’re helping me,” Tsukishima rationalized, “so it’s easier.”

“Maybe so.”

Tsukishima tilted his own hand and in turn tilted Tadashi’s, so he had a better angle to paint Tadashi’s last nail. After he’d finished, he set the brush back into the bottle and took the bottle back from Tadashi to fully tighten the cap. Tadashi blew lightly on his nails before waving his hands in the air, attempting to dry the paint faster.

After a few more moments of that, Tadashi looked down at his nails and then up at Tsukishima. He grinned widely before speaking: “Thanks for helping, Tsukki!”

Tsukishima nodded his response, and Tadashi saw his Adam’s apple bob.

“Want me to do yours?”

“I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth,” Tsukishima deadpanned, to which Tadashi shook his head, though his grin didn’t leave his face.

“To each their own?”

“Mm,” Tsukishima grunted, before his gaze snapped up to meet Tadashi’s. Tadashi was taken slightly aback by the suddenness, the urgency of it.

“What’s up?” Tadashi questioned.

“Yamaguchi, I—” Tsukishima cut himself off, shaking his head and averting his eyes. “Never mind.”

Tadashi moved to try and see Tsukishima’s face more clearly, and in moving he pressed their knees together. “What?”

Tsukishima shook his head again. “It’s… dumb. Never mind.” He pushed up his glasses.

“You keep doing that. Are you nervous?” Tadashi blinked.

“What?” Tsukishima looked back at Tadashi, his bottom lip just barely pulled between his teeth.

“You keep pushing up your glasses,” Tadashi clarified.

“Oh.”

“What are you nervous about?” He hoped he wasn’t pushing Tsukishima too much, because he knew that Tsukishima didn’t particularly enjoy that. But at the moment it kind of seem necessary, regardless of how Tsukishima felt about it.

“You want to know?” Tsukishima spoke after several beats of silence.

Tadashi nodded, watching as Tsukishima closed his eyes for a moment and let out a breath. He opened his golden eyes again, and Tadashi stared back at him, waiting, lips parted and eyes wide. Tadashi felt like the air had been effectively sucked out of the room.

It only took a fraction of a moment for Tsukishima to lean forward, lightly pressing one of his hands to the side of Tadashi’s face and lightly pressing his lips against Tadashi’s.

And it was slow, and soft, and maybe even a bit cautious. But soft, it was so soft. Tsukishima was soft, and his lips were soft, so soft and palpable, Tadashi leaned into him even more, setting one of his hands on Tsukishima’s chest. Tsukishima’s fingers were gentle as they caressed Tadashi’s jaw.

Then, Tadashi abruptly broke away and stared at Tsukishima with wide eyes. Tsukishima still thought he was a boy. Tadashi had never told him anything to hint otherwise, so Tsukishima still thought he was a boy. Tsukishima thought he was kissing a boy. He wasn’t. Tadashi felt traitorous.

Tsukishima cleared his throat and turned his head to the side in shame, while Tadashi continued to stare at him.

“Sorry,” Tsukishima said eventually, casting his gaze down at his lap. His cheeks were just barely tinted pink, but Tadashi felt too guilty to appreciate that.

“It’s—It’s okay. I’m sorry,” Tadashi replied, swallowing thickly. He took his bottom lip between his teeth, though some part of him yelled that Tsukishima could be doing that for him right this moment had he not pulled away. But he had to pull away; he couldn’t let Tsukishima kiss someone who wasn’t what he thought they were.

And Tadashi almost, almost told him as he looked hard at Tsukishima’s face, the taller boy’s jaw clenched and his bottom lip quivering, ever so slightly. And still, Tadashi couldn’t bring himself to say anything, in case this would make things worse (though he couldn’t imagine much worse than Tsukishima on the precipice of crying—which he wasn’t, not really, but this was the closest Tadashi had ever seen him to tears).

Tsukishima had made himself emotionally vulnerable—Tadashi could count the amount of times he’d done that on one hand—and Tadashi couldn’t reciprocate the gesture.

“Good night, Yamaguchi,” Tsukishima let out a deep breath, standing from where he’d been sitting on the futon with Tadashi and clambering onto his bed. He set his glasses on his nightstand before he clicked off the light and pulled his blanket up over his shoulders, turning away from Tadashi.

Tadashi tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but he couldn’t.

Chapter Text

As Tadashi showered the following morning in Tsukishima’s shower, he thought about all the places they had been touching that night prior. Knees to knees, hand to chest, hand to jaw, thumb to cheek, hand to hand, nose to nose, lips to lips, he listed. He touched his lips with his pointer and middle fingers, letting the water from the shower roll off his lips and down his fingers, running down his arm and dripping off at his elbow.

The water was hot, and the suds from Tadashi’s hair rinsed off of him and spiralled around the drain. He wanted to stay in the shower forever, but Tsukishima still needed to use it after him before they were to leave for school.

The morning had been tense. Tsukishima hardly spoke a word, and Tadashi felt extremely guilty just being in his home. He could’ve left, walked home, and showered at his own house before leaving for school, but the thought of that somehow made Tadashi feel even worse.

And so here he stood, in front of Tsukishima’s now fogged bathroom mirror, holding his shirt in front of him. The shirt was purple, and Tadashi cursed at his past self for picking it out. He slipped it over his head nonetheless, and exited the bathroom. His purple nails, his purple shirt… He was doused in Tsukishima’s favorite color but he couldn’t sense any sort of fondness in Tsukishima’s gaze as it was laid upon him.

Tsukishima slipped past Tadashi and into the bathroom, the door clicking shut behind him. Tadashi stared at the closed door with his mouth open, as if ready to speak. He had no clue what he would say.


 

The day progressed normally—though Tsukishima was a touch colder than usual, and Tadashi couldn’t bring himself to snicker at Tsukishima’s barrage of more or less clever insults—until lunch. Tsukishima approached Tadashi’s desk, but then walked past it. As if it were an afterthought, Tsukishima looked back over his shoulder at Tadashi and spoke: “I have to talk to someone.”

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed, “uh, okay.” As he replied, Tsukishima turned around and continued out of the class.

Tadashi stared down at his bento and bit his lip. He’d really fucked this up now, he thought bitterly. He wondered where Tsukishima actually went, and his heart twisted at the thought of him eating alone somewhere.

After swallowing harshly, Tadashi stood from his desk, his bento in hand. He made his way out into the hallway, planning to eat in his and Tsukishima’s usual spot, even if they wouldn’t be together.

On his way there, however, his path crossed with Yachi’s.

“Oh, Yamaguchi-kun!” she greeted, to which Tadashi mustered up a smile. “I like your nails!”

“Hey, Yachi-san,” Tadashi answered, before looking down at his nails. In his grief, he’d practically forgotten they were painted. “Thank you.”

“No problem! Where’s Tsukishima?” Yachi inquired innocently, but Tadashi felt a pang in his chest.

“He had to… talk to someone.” If Tsukishima could use the excuse, so could Tadashi.

“Oh…” Yachi was looking up at Tadashi, and suddenly her eyes widened. “Oh! You could come eat with us.”

“‘Us’?”

“Hinata and I,” she elaborated, starting down the hallway with Tadashi in tow.

“Oh, okay,” Tadashi agreed without much thought, because it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to be.

Hinata and Yachi ate outside, sat on some bricks surrounding a tree just outside the school’s front doors. Initially, Hinata brightened up when he saw Tadashi approaching along with Yachi, but after a moment he looked more confused than excited.

“Yamaguchi-kun says that Tsukishima had to talk to someone,” Yachi explained for Tadashi, and he was thankful. He shrugged as he took a seat on the bricks next to Hinata, Yachi also sitting on the other side of Hinata.

Suddenly, Tadashi’s throat felt tight. Hinata and Yachi chattered about something beside him, but he didn’t listen to them. He couldn’t listen to them; his mind was swimming through murky water. Tsukishima didn’t want to sit with him. Tsukishima kissed him. Tsukishima…

“Yamaguchi?”

Tadashi was pulled from the murky water by Hinata’s voice, laced with concern.

“Yamaguchi,” he repeated, and Tadashi looked at him. “You’re… crying.”

Tadashi swallowed, and then let out a pathetic sort of laugh as he wiped under his eyes. “Sorry,” he said.

“Sorry?” Yachi questioned softly, “Yamaguchi, what’s wrong?”

“Sorry,” Tadashi said again, not taking his hands away from his face. “It’s—nothing. It’s… yeah. It’s nothing.”

Both Hinata and Yachi looked to Tadashi, the concern clear on their faces. Tadashi felt ugly and bad and, mostly, like a burden.

He brought his hands down, and when he met eyes with Hinata he let out a deep breath.

“Tsukishima kissed me,” he stated, ignoring the slight quiver in his voice.

Hinata blinked; Yachi’s jaw dropped.

He kissed you? You’re crying about that?” Hinata asked in disbelief, and Tadashi shook his head.

Yachi stared dumbfounded at the pair. “What?!”

Hinata gave Yachi a look that Tadashi assumed said something along the lines of: ‘I’ll explain later. We’re in crisis mode.’

“I’m—” Tadashi started, but his voice caught in his throat. “—not sad about that. I just… I screwed up.” He almost meant to say ‘I’m screwed up,’ but that sounded too dramatic. He was already crying, and that was dramatic enough. Tsukishima would probably think it was pathetic, Tadashi thought with a grimace. The sympathy in his company’s eyes was almost unbearable to look at.

“What happened—exactly?” Hinata pressed, causing Tadashi to exhale shakily.

“He helped me paint my nails,” Tadashi started, and Hinata’s eyes widened as he saw the polish that he hadn’t noticed before on Tadashi’s nails. Tadashi could tell he wanted to blurt out a compliment, but he refrained and allowed Tadashi to continue. “And then he was acting weirdly nervous… and I asked him about it. About being nervous. And he kissed me.”

“And?” Hinata prompted, making a rolling motion with his hand. Yachi stuffed a piece of meat into her mouth as she listened.

“I—I pushed him away,” Tadashi admitted, looking down at his lap.

“You did?” Hinata sounded like he didn’t quite believe it. “Why?”

Tadashi pursed his lips and shrugged. He couldn’t very well tell them the truth.

“There has to be a reason…” Yachi trailed, and Tadashi cleared his throat, shaking his head.

“You like him, don’t you?” Hinata inquired, an eyebrow raised.

Tadashi resisted the urge to start crying again. Once he’d already cried, crying came much easier to him. “I do.”

“I don’t get it,” Hinata stated, looking down at his food before taking a piece.

Tadashi hadn’t touched his own food.

“I felt like I… was lying to him.” Shit. He hadn’t meant to say that.

“Because you never told him you liked him?” Yachi tried to rationalize the information with the small portion of the story she’d been told.

“Nothing like that,” Tadashi grimaced. Stop talking! he yelled at himself. Let them think what they want!

“Hm,” Yachi hummed.

“Don’t worry about me,” Tadashi spoke after a slight lull in the conversation. “We’ll—I’ll figure it all out, okay? It won’t affect practice.”

The bell signifying the end of lunch rang before either of them could respond, but as they began to walk back to their classes, Hinata and Yachi exchanged a dubious glance.

Tadashi stared down at his still wrapped bento, shamefully standing from where he sat on the bricks before trailing behind Hinata and Yachi, back to the classrooms.

Tsukishima was in his desk with his headphones on when Tadashi returned, and he pulled the headphones off at the ring of the second bell. He didn’t spare a glance in Tadashi’s direction, even as he slumped into his seat.


 

Ukai kept all the players in constant motion throughout practice, and Tadashi was mostly grateful. He didn’t have to purposely avoid Tsukishima this way, and no one would ask why they weren’t talking. The obvious answer to someone who didn’t know about the events of the past twenty-four hours was that they were busy practicing. And so Tadashi was glad. He nearly shuddered at the thought of Sugawara and Tanaka scheduling an intervention or anything of the sorts.

He and Tsukishima would be… fine. Eventually. He hoped.

Though, their walk home did not help this mentality.

They walked in silence, but it wasn’t their usual, comfortable silence. Tadashi felt like there were words spiralling through the air, but neither of the two had the bravery to speak them. At least, Tadashi knew he certainly didn’t, as he didn’t even know what he would say, or where he would start. ‘Sorry’ was all encompassing, but too vague. ‘I do like you, but…’ sounded chintzy, plus he’d have to think of an excuse. ‘Are you only attracted to boys? Girls? Both? What about something that’s neither?’ was far too nosey and Tsukishima wouldn’t care to answer. Tadashi casted his gaze to the ground, watching his and Tsukishima’s feet as they walked. They were out of sync.

There was just a tiny bit of hope that Tadashi grasped and held close to his heart—Tsukishima hadn’t put on his headphones. He didn’t want to block Tadashi out.

“Bye, Tsukki,” Tadashi spoke as he branched off towards his house. He gave Tsukishima a slight wave. Tsukishima only nodded in response and slid on his headphones, continuing towards his home without another glance back.

They would be okay. They had to be.


 

Over all the years Tadashi spent with Tsukishima, he learned to read facial expressions well—though he wasn’t sure he needed years of experience to decipher the disgust that filled his mother’s face as she held his hand up towards the light, inspecting the small coat of purple paint on his nails.

“Did you wear this all day?” she asked, dropping his hand and meeting his wide gaze. Her mouth pulled into a thin line before she continued speaking, as Tadashi made no move to respond. “Tadashi, boys don’t wear that. And your hair… people are going to think you’re a girl.”

Tadashi swallowed thickly, averting his gaze.

“Take it off,” she commanded, and Tadashi’s jaw clenched. “I don’t want people thinking that my son is a girl.”

Taking a deep breath, Tadashi willed himself not to cry. He felt so small and weak under his mother’s gaze. And still, he didn’t move to take off the polish or to talk back. He stood before her, his arms hanging limp at his sides.

“Do you want people to think you’re a girl?” she asked after a moment, her tone awed, as if all the years of telling Tadashi ‘No, you can’t have that’ and‘No, you can’t wear that’ had just begun to make sense. “Is that what this is about?”

“N-No,” Tadashi choked out, biting his lip to keep himself held together. He felt that if he eased up, even for a second, he would splatter onto the floor.

“Then why?” she persisted, either not noticing the waver in her child’s voice or not caring.

“I’m not a girl,” Tadashi assured, though his tone of voice felt wrong. He wasn’t a girl, but this wasn’t how he’d wanted to say it, like it was shameful.

“Of course you aren’t.” Her laughter was sharp, cutting into Tadashi’s already diminished confidence.

Before his mother could continue any further, he forced himself to speak again, his voice small but sure: “I’m not a boy, either.” He shivered after he’d said it, and he didn’t dare look at his mother to see what expression painted her face.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she demanded, and Tadashi flinched as she set her hands on Tadashi’s shoulders, even though the action hadn’t been at all harsh. “Tadashi.”

“Mom,” he clenched his teeth together, though his eyes were brimming with tears. “I’m telling the truth.”

“You’re…” she trailed off into nothing, the end of her statement unknown to the both of them.

“I’m not a boy, Mom. I’m not,” he repeated, squeezing his hands into fists at his sides. His mother’s fingers gripped the material of his shirt.

“You are, Tadashi. You’re a boy,” she spoke, her voice suddenly filled with uncertainty. “I don’t know what you mean, saying you’re—you’re not.”

Tadashi looked at her for a second, and her eyebrows were furrowed, her eyes glossy. He forcefully looked away again, jerking his head to the side.

“Tadashi,” she repeated, but didn’t say anything else to follow it up.

Tadashi’s throat was closing, tears sliding down his cheeks and dripping off of his jaw. It seemed like nothing would ever go right again. First Tsukishima, and now this…

“Take off the nail polish, and then we can talk again. Okay?” she offered, taking her hands off of her child’s shoulders and lowering them back to her sides. One of her hands twitched as she forced a small smile at Tadashi, but he couldn’t even think to muster up one for her.

“Okay,” he replied, lifting his arms to wipe at the tears on his cheeks.

“There’s remover in the bathroom,” she instructed, “by the sink.”

Tadashi only nodded at her, numbly walking to the bathroom and grabbing the container of polish remover. He stared resentfully at the container, and as he started to remove the polish from his nails, he heard his father return home.

He let out a silent, shocked sob; he was almost certain his mother would talk to his father about all of this that had just happened. Clenching his eyes shut for a moment, Tadashi forced himself to take a deep breath, and another.

Standing in front of the mirror, Tadashi stared at his reflection. He ripped his eyes away after a moment, concentrating again on removing the paint from his nails. The remover burned a small cut he didn’t know he had on his pinky finger, and he grimaced. He’d finished one hand when there was a soft knock on the door.

“‘Dashi?” his father called from the other side of the door.

Tadashi swallowed thickly and placed his hand on the doorknob, opening the door to meet his father. He looked concerned, but Tadashi had had his fill of concern for the day.

“I’m fine, Dad,” Tadashi spoke, clearing his throat after his voice cracked. “Really.”

Tadashi’s father blinked at him, his eyes flitting to the open bottle of nail polish remover on the sink ledge.

“Your mother seems frantic,” he said, his eyes trained on Tadashi’s face, but not his eyes. “She’s cooking dinner, and she won’t tell me what’s going on.”

Tadashi stared. “It’s nothing,” he snapped, holding his hands behind his back.

“Did something happen?” His father didn’t buy it. Especially not, Tadashi figured, because of the red puffiness around his eyes and his occasional sniffling.

“I… got a bad grade,” Tadashi lied, averting his gaze, suddenly enthralled by the tile pattern of the bathroom wall.

“I don’t think…” Tadashi’s father trailed off, and Tadashi could almost feel the sympathy in his gaze without even looking at him. “Tadashi, look at me.” His command was soft, so Tadashi pried his gaze up to his father. “Are you sure?”

Are you sure you want to lie to me? Are you sure that’s what you want me to believe? Are you sure that I should pretend you’re not crying? Are you sure? Tadashi wasn’t sure. He was anything but sure.

He let out a deep breath. “Bad grade,” he confirmed, and his father’s frown deepened.

“Okay,” he replied. “but if anything else happens, you can… talk to me about it.”

Tadashi almost snorted. As if. As if he could talk to anyone about this.

“I will,” he said instead, forcing a small smile.

“Well… Dinner should be ready soon.” Tadashi’s father started to close the bathroom door behind him, but Tadashi grabbed the knob to stop him.

“Can I… eat in my room?” he asked, biting his lip anxiously afterwards. “To study,” he tacked on as an afterthought.

His father blinked once, twice. “I… guess, you can.”

Tadashi forced a smile. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll be sure to get my grade up.”

After pursing his lips almost in frustration, Tadashi’s father clicked the door shut. Tadashi let out a ragged breath, turning back to the sink. He contemplated, only for a moment, dumping the rest of the nail polish remover down the drain. Since he’d already taken off the polish on one hand, he decided against the impulse.

By the time he finished removing the polish from his other hand, he’d regained his composure. With a final deep breath, he emerged from the bathroom, wringing his fingers together in front of him. He stopped at the entryway between the hallway and the kitchen, where his parents were talking in hushed voices.

Tadashi didn’t have the mental strength to eavesdrop, so he cleared his throat to declare his presence. His mother flinched at the noise, but his father pushed a plate across the counter towards Tadashi.

“We’re all going to talk tomorrow,” he said, looking back and forth between his wife and his child pointedly. “For now, everyone needs to settle down. You can take your food and go to your room, Tadashi.”

Tadashi swallowed his thank you, not able to get a sound out in front of his mother. He could feel her eyes on him as he grabbed the plate and stepped out of the room. Leaned against the wall just where she couldn’t see him, Tadashi looked down at his food; he didn’t want it.

Still, he carried the food to his room and set the plate on his desk, where his schoolwork normally would’ve been splayed. He’d forgotten his bag downstairs, dropped at his side when his mother first confronted him. He had utterly no motivation to go back down and get it; he didn’t even think that his legs would be able to obey him if he’d wanted to.

And so he took out his phone and stared Tsukishima’s name in his contacts. In theory, he could’ve called Tsukishima and pretended he wanted to talk about homework or tell some upbeat story about stupid Hinata, but in practice Tadashi knew he wouldn’t be able to keep himself together. Yet he still found himself pressing the green call button.

Tadashi swallowed thickly as the dial tone beeped twice, but Tsukishima picked up before the third.

“Hey,” he answered, “You started homework already?”

Tadashi let out a sigh of relief at the sound of Tsukishima’s voice, despite their current situation.

“I—uh, yeah. I started,” he lied, grimacing as he did so. He stared at his desk, a plate of food and no homework set upon it.

“Do you need help? I haven’t started yet, so I can’t check answers,” Tsukishima explained, though Tadashi imagined him pulling his work out of his backpack as he spoke.

“Oh, no… it’s fine. Actually—I…” Tadashi trailed, not sure what he’d meant to say.

“You…?” Tsukishima prompted, and Tadashi felt his throat clenching again.

“I… don’t need help, actually. Sorry. Just called… out of habit, I guess.” His laugh was too high-pitched and tinny.

“Oh.”

“Sorry, Tsukki.” Tadashi grimaced again, wanting to slap himself in the face like Hinata did whenever he felt out of it.

“It’s… fine.” Tsukishima sounded skeptical, and Tadashi figured he’d have to hang up before Tsukishima started asking questions. (Not that he would ask anything—it was more like, before Tsukishima started to figure things out.)

“So,” Tadashi tried to force a laugh but it came out as some sort of pitiful squeak. “Bye, then, I guess.”

“Are you okay?” Tsukishima spoke again before Tadashi could hang up.

“Huh?”

“Do we need to talk about last night?”

Tsukishima had barely gotten his question out when Tadashi blurted: “No! No… We don’t have to.”

The line was quiet for a long moment.

“Okay.”

“I’m… really sorry, Tsukki.” Tadashi pursed his lips for a second. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hung up before he could hear Tsukishima say his farewell.

What a mess, Tadashi thought, throwing his phone onto his bed. It landed with a soft thump, and Tadashi followed suit, jumping back first onto his bed. He stared up at the ceiling, up at the glow in the dark stars.

Crying was exhausting. Hiding things from Tsukishima was exhausting. Disappointing his parents was exhausting. Everything was exhausting.

For a moment, Tadashi thought that maybe just pretending to be a boy would be easier. And he thought about it for another moment, and another, and he deduced that it might’ve been less exhausting, but he… couldn’t. He couldn’t completely give in just yet.


 

Tadashi’s mom wasn’t home when he woke up that morning. His dad was, but he was asleep in his room. Tadashi tried not to make too much noise as he got ready for school, both because he didn’t want to wake his father and because he didn’t want to talk to his father.

After he’d showered and dressed himself, Tadashi made his way down to the kitchen. He scraped the untouched food that had sat overnight on his desk into the trash before eyeing the bento box that sat on the counter. Tadashi usually made his own; was this a peace offering from his mother? He couldn't imagine so.

He shoved the box into his bag which still lied where he’d dropped it the day prior, all his schoolwork inside untouched and unfinished. He couldn’t bring himself to care as he slung the bag over his shoulder and slipped his shoes on at the door.

The air was still brisk, cold lingering from the past night. The sun hung behind the row of houses across the street from Tadashi as he started his walk towards school, though by the time he got to the end of his street it had risen above. He met with Tsukishima as he always did, seven minutes after he’d left his house. Tsukishima slid off his headphones.

“Good morning,” Tsukishima greeted idly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Tadashi imagined his hands were cold—they always were, since he was so tall and his circulation was atrocious—but the bite to the morning air probably bothered him more so than it did Tadashi.

“Morning,” Tadashi replied, adjusting the straps of his bag on his shoulder. Tsukishima’s gaze flashed to Tadashi’s hand as he did so, and one of his eyebrows arched slightly.

“Did you take off your nail polish?” he inquired.

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed, lowering his hand back down. “Yeah. Don’t you think it was kind of weird?” His fingers fiddled together in front of him.

“No,” Tsukishima replied immediately, though he looked forward, away from Tadashi. “I thought it looked good.” He cleared his throat.

“Hm,” Tadashi hummed, trying to maintain a relaxed composure while frantically thinking of a way to lighten up the conversation. “You’re just saying that because you did it, Tsukki.” He attempted teasing, but Tsukishima just shrugged. “But anyway, I don’t think I should… wear that stuff.”

“You didn’t seem so against it when you stayed over,” Tsukishima noted, still not looking to Tadashi.

“You didn’t want to do it on yourself,” Tadashi retorted, even if it didn’t make much sense in context. He just didn’t want to admit his mother had forced him to take it off.

“Not because I don’t think I should wear it,” Tsukishima defended himself, casting his gaze to the ground. “Just because I didn’t want to.”

Tadashi blinked.

They were quiet for a long while.

Tsukishima was first to break the silence, “Yamaguchi, are you sure you’re—” He abruptly cut himself off, digging his hands deeper into his pockets. “Never mind.”

“Am I sure of what?” Tadashi questioned, his gaze lingering on Tsukishima’s side profile.

Tsukishima shook his head. “Nothing. Forget it.”

Tadashi wouldn’t forget it, but he pretended to.


 

Both Hinata and Yachi also voiced their disappointment in Tadashi’s lack of nail polish when they saw him at morning practice, but he shrugged them off. He didn’t want to explain the entire fiasco with his mother to them; he hardly wanted to think about it himself. He also shrugged off Yachi’s offer to braid his hair like she’d done on Monday, but he still allowed her to tie it up. She pulled all the hair into a bun near the top of his head, but some hair fell out in the front and at the bottom in the back. She clipped the hairs in the back up, but left the little strands in the front to frame his face. As he looked at himself in the mirror, he allowed a little grin to settle upon his lips. Though only a small act of retaliation, Tadashi grabbed hold of the feeling from it and pocketed it for later, when he’d need it. (He’d need it tonight, he was sure, when he was planned to have that “talk” with his parents.)

And after practice, Tadashi decided to leave his hair how it was. Though there were a few passing remarks about it in the hallways, Tadashi paid no mind to them. All he could focus on was psyching himself up for later; he couldn’t spend valuable energy thinking about what people he didn’t know thought about his hair.

Tadashi failed his assignments from the night prior, and it occurred to him that the lie he’d told to his father before might’ve ceased being a lie. The thought was slightly amusing in itself, though laughing about it felt inappropriate.

The day passed slowly, and Tadashi realized that the more he tried to push his fated conversation with his parents to the back of his mind, the more he thought about it.

“You look spacey,” Tsukishima commented as they ate lunch. (Tadashi was surprised Tsukishima didn’t lie again and say he had somewhere else to be.) Tsukishima pushed up his glasses and drummed his fingers on his knee.

“You’re nervous,” Tadashi commented back. Tsukishima stopped the movement of his fingers immediately.

“We’re…” Tsukishima trailed. “I don’t like this.”

“Hm?” Tadashi prompted, looking up from his lunch (it was nothing out of the ordinary, so Tadashi still hadn’t figured out why his mother had made it for him) and to Tsukishima.

“We need to talk about it,” he stated, averting his gaze.

Tadashi blinked at him, watching his golden eyes flit between Tadashi himself and the other people around them.

“We… can,” Tadashi swallowed harshly; the food he’d been chewing suddenly felt dry and stuck to his throat. “but not now.”

“Why not?” Tsukishima almost demanded, but not quite. “When can we?”

Tadashi didn’t respond. He simply wasn’t sure. At first, he supposed it depended on how the talk with his parents was to go that night, but the more he thought about it, that didn’t matter. Tadashi was what he was, and his parents’ opinions weren’t about to… change that.

But coming out to Tsukishima was an entirely different situation altogether. It didn’t matter what Tadashi’s parents thought, it didn’t matter what Hinata and Yachi thought, it didn’t matter what Tadashi thought… It mattered solely what Tsukishima thought. That in itself was terrifying to Tadashi. Even if Tsukishima thought Tadashi’s gender was a little weird, it would strain the relationship that they’d spent a decade creating. (The fact Tsukishima had kissed him and he’d pulled away already strained the relationship enough.)

“Soon,” Tadashi finally answered with a sigh, “We can talk about it soon, okay?”

He couldn’t hide it forever, he couldn’t. Whether or not Tsukishima would find it disgusting and weird, he’d have to know some day. Just… not today. Not now.

“Soon,” Tsukishima repeated, finally meeting eyes with Tadashi.

“Yeah,” Tadashi affirmed, not breaking the shared gaze.

Tadashi wanted to kiss him again. Soon, he thought.

Hopefully, soon.


 

Tadashi’s heart banged in his chest as he approached his house, nearly finishing his walk back from school. His hair was still up in a bun; somehow it made him feel more confident. His mother—and his father, even—could deny whatever they pleased about Tadashi, but that didn’t make it false. He thought his heart was going to leap out of his throat as he set his hand on the doorknob, twisting it and stepping a foot inside.

Quiet, uneasy, waiting waiting to pounce. The words stuck out in Tadashi’s head.

After he slipped off his shoes, Tadashi turned the corner to enter the living room, and no one was there. He let out a deep breath, and pressed his palm to his heart, it still beating wildly.

Tadashi had almost made it to his room when he heard his name called from down the hall. It was his mother; his father hadn’t yet returned home. He’d be here any minute, though. Tadashi resisted giving into his nerves and locking himself in the bathroom; he set his school bag in his bedroom and stepped back out, walking back down the hall to meet his mother.

Her eyes fixated on Tadashi’s hair, which he’d expected. He cleared his throat.

“You won’t be able to change my mind,” he spoke, his voice wavering. His pulse was pounding in his ears.

His mother stared at him, her mouth pulled into a thin line. “Let’s sit down.”

Tadashi followed her to the couch, where she patted the cushion next to her.

“Tadashi,” she started, “You know I love you and I care about you, right? I made your lunch this morning and I want to support you.”

“I know.” As if making a lunch could fix the things she'd said earlier; Tadashi wanted to scoff.

When Tadashi turned his head away from her, she gently took hold of his chin and angled his face back towards her.

“I mean the best for you when I say this,” she continued, and Tadashi pursed his lips. “but you are a boy. I gave birth to a baby boy.”

Tadashi clenched his eyes shut; he couldn’t cry now. Not so soon, not when he’d been working up to this all day.

“You’re wrong,” he replied softly.

“Sweetie…”

“Don’t,” Tadashi spoke, ripping his face away from her hold. “I’m not…”

Tadashi heard the front door open. His mother did, too, and her head turned to look towards the noise. Tadashi’s father rounded the corner and entered the living room, setting his things on the floor when he saw his wife and child on the couch. He approached them cautiously, but before he could say anything, Tadashi’s mother spoke instead.

“Tadashi says he’s not a boy,” she stated to her husband, her tone harsh and cold. “Isn’t that ridiculous? That’s—That’s what this is about.” She let out a barking laugh.

His father looked to Tadashi for elaboration, but he couldn’t think of what to say.

“He says he’s not a girl, either!” his mother continued, speaking for him. “He says he’s neither. Have you… ever heard of something like that?”

“Calm down,” Tadashi’s father said, sitting next to her on the couch and pressing a hand to her back. He looked to his child, “Tadashi, do you want to explain?”

“I…” he trailed to nothing, biting his lips and staring down at his hands. After a few ticks of silence, he spoke again: “It’s… just what she said.”

“He’s been… He’s been wearing makeup and nail polish and… look at his hair!” His mother was hysteric, gesturing to her child with wild movements.

Tadashi was shaking.

“This is what you’re so angry about, Eri?” Tadashi’s father cut in, his eyes flickering between his wife and child. “It’s not unheard of.”

She blinked, “What?”

Tadashi’s eyes widened at his father’s words.

“He’s… still growing up,” his father started to explain, “Kids his age always try new things.”

It wasn’t exactly what Tadashi wanted to hear, but it was better than what had come from his mother.

“I surely didn’t when I was his age.” Her words were sharp, and so was her gaze.

They continued to speak as if Tadashi weren’t in the room. He wondered for a moment if he could leave, but didn’t want to face the consequences for trying.

Tadashi’s father pursed his lips as he thought. “Times are changing,” he answered finally.

“Times are changing so our… our son can dress up like a girl?” At her words, Tadashi’s father furrowed his eyebrows and Tadashi let out a whimper.

“That’s not what it is,” he defended himself, but his voice was small.

“I don’t understand,” his mother spoke, shaking her head.

“I’m not sure I do, either,” his father responded, but continued, “but we’re his parents. We… need to support him.”

Tadashi bit his tongue as his mother stared at him, inspecting him. His father looked at him with sympathy in his eyes. Tadashi wished, only for a moment, that Tsukishima or Hinata were here. Someone he could use as support. But they didn’t know.

“I hope you get over this soon,” his mother frowned. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but… I love you and I hope you’re over it soon.”

Wringing his hands together in his lap, Tadashi just looked back at his mother. He didn’t have anything to say.

“You’re excused.” She waved him off with a flippant flick of her wrist. “But please take your hair out of that.”

Tadashi didn’t need to be told twice that he could leave; before another second passed he stood from the couch, retreating to his room. He shut the door behind him and slumped his back against it.

Pathetic, he thought with a laugh as he pulled the tie out of his hair. Worthless, unneeded, awkward, weak—

His phone started to ring.

He pondered letting it ring until the caller reached his voicemail, but he knew who was calling, so he grabbed the phone and answered the call.

“Hey,” Tadashi greeted, swallowing hard after he spoke as a distraction from the uneasiness in his stomach.

“Hey, have you started math?” Tsukishima’s voice sounded through the speaker and Tadashi clenched his teeth to keep from crying.

“No,” he managed out.

“Oh,” Tsukishima sighed. “Okay. Uh, did you start English?”

Tadashi couldn’t concentrate on what Tsukishima was saying; his parents’ prior words spun around in his head.

“Tsukki,” he blurted, ignoring Tsukishima’s question. “Can I come over?”

The line was quiet.

“You’re not okay, are you?”

Tsukishima had been thinking about this since Tadashi had called yesterday or possibly since earlier, Tadashi was sure. Tadashi was almost always an open book to Tsukishima, but the past few days had been exceedingly rough for both of them.

“I’m not,” Tadashi confirmed, clutching his phone in his hand and against his face. The buttons were surely going to leave imprints on his skin.

“You can come…” Tsukishima trailed, before he spoke again, “Do you want me to meet you on your way here?”

“Please,” Tadashi couldn’t help the crack in his voice.

“Okay. I’m leaving now.”

Seven minutes, Tadashi thought as the line cut. All he had to do was get out the door, and he’d see Tsukishima in seven minutes.

This proved to be much easier than Tadashi expected. His parents had moved to their bedroom, presumably to talk more about him where he couldn’t hear. This also meant they couldn’t hear as Tadashi’s sock clad feet padded down the hallways, nor could they hear as he slipped on his shoes and slowly opened the front door and shut it behind him.

Seven minutes of walking passed, and there Tsukishima stood.

Tadashi started to cry. He’d spent the past hour willing himself not to cry, to keep his composure so that everyone would take him seriously, and added to that, he knew that Tsukishima hated crying. And yet he couldn’t hold back any longer.

When Tadashi finally was only a few feet from Tsukishima, tears had streamed down his face and had begun to drip off of his jaw and chin, splattering on his shirt and the sidewalk underneath him. He tried to remove the tears with his wrists, but the wetness he wiped away was replaced by more within moments. His eyes burned.

“Yamaguchi…?”

“Tsukki, I—” Tadashi hiccupped, causing him to abruptly shut his mouth.

Tsukishima looked at him with pursed lips. “Let’s head back,” he said, surprising Tadashi by setting a hand on his shoulder and guiding him down the sidewalk. Tsukishima removed his hand after a few steps, letting his arm fall and hang at his side.

After letting out a shaky exhale, Tadashi took a leap of faith and linked their pinkies. Tsukishima didn’t pull away.

Soon quickly became now.  

Chapter Text

They walked quietly back to Tsukishima’s house, the only sounds around them the rustling of leaves as a slight breeze blew and the tapping of their feet against the sidewalk. Tsukishima’s hand that wasn’t linked with Tadashi’s was shoved into his jacket pocket.

Tsukishima’s hands were cold. Or his pinky was cold, as that was all that Tadashi could feel, but he assumed the rest of his hand was cold, too. They always were. They were cold when Tsukishima pressed his palm against Tadashi’s to paint Tadashi’s nails, they were cold when he reached up to cup Tadashi’s face when they had kissed, and they were cold now.

Tadashi wondered if Tsukishima could hear the rampant pounding of his heart. He hoped not, but it felt that every step Tadashi took it got louder. Closer, closer to spilling his biggest secret for the third time in two days. He almost shuddered at the thought of Tsukishima reacting like his mother had, but some part of him couldn’t even imagine so.

“We’ll go in through the back,” Tsukishima spoke finally as they approached his house, “No one will see us that way.”

Tadashi nodded; he didn’t need to say anything for Tsukishima to know he appreciated it.

Their pinkies unlinked as Tsukishima opened the door, gesturing for Tadashi to enter in front of him. Tsukishima closed the door softly after he’d entered, the click only loud enough to be heard by them.

Tadashi could hear Tsukishima’s mother speaking to someone a few rooms away, her voice light and chipper. As Tadashi continued his way to Tsukishima’s bedroom, her voice faded, and when Tsukishima shut his bedroom door the sound was muted completely. Instead, all Tadashi could hear was his pulse in his ears. He sat on the very edge of Tsukishima’s bed, lacing his fingers together and letting his hands drop into his lap. He let out a deep breath and Tsukishima sat next to him, their legs only a handful of centimeters apart.

“Tsukki, I…” Tadashi started, but clamped his bottom lip between his teeth when it started to quiver. He breathed in deeply, before regrouping and starting again. “I didn’t… pull away from you because I don’t like you.” Start vague, simple, easy.

Tsukishima didn’t respond, just looked down at his hands.

“I felt like I was… lying to you. I didn’t feel like it was fair.” Tadashi’s knuckles were turning white as he squeezed his hands together in an attempt to release some of the tension in his stomach.

Tadashi continued when Tsukishima still made no move to speak.

“It’s just… I don’t really know how—how to say it,” he stopped, looking over to Tsukishima. Tsukishima looked back at him with his owlish golden eyes, prompting him to keep going, keep trying, keep piecing it together. Tsukishima was patient; he would wait and he would listen.

Tadashi mustered up all of his courage, breaking eye contact with Tsukishima and declaring: “I’m not what… who you think I am.”

“What?” Tsukishima blurted, the confusion obvious in his voice.

“I don’t mean—Not like—” Tadashi stopped himself, taking a moment to breathe. “I’m not a boy,” he stated, but before Tsukishima even had a second to process the words, Tadashi began to ramble, trying to justify himself, “I know that sounds really strange and I know I’m… supposed to be a boy but I’m not a boy and I have never been a boy. I’ve thought about it a lot and I hope you don’t think—”

“Yamaguchi.”

Tadashi gulped. “Yes?”

“It’s okay. Calm down,” Tsukishima’s voice was soft, softer than Tadashi had ever heard it before.

Tadashi let out a breath—a sigh of relief, probably—before he spoke again, more slowly and quietly, less panicked. “I’m not really… a girl, either. Somewhere in between? It’s even confusing for me,”—he let out a nervous chuckle—“but I felt like I was lying because… because you thought I was a boy, so you liked me as a boy and kissed me as a boy and it felt… wrong to do that to you.”

Tsukishima opened his mouth to reply, but shut it again before he started. He pursed his lips for a moment, before actually speaking: “I didn’t kiss you… as a boy,” he said, pulling his lips into a line after.

After staring at Tsukishima for a moment, Tadashi responded, “But you didn’t know…”

“No, I didn’t.” Tsukishima scratched at the back of his neck. “But I didn’t kiss you as a boy. I kissed you as you.”

Tadashi blinked. His insides were a mess; it felt like his heart had climbed into his throat and his stomach had fallen to his toes; it felt like his lungs suddenly forgot what they were made to do. “What?” he croaked.

“I mean, when I look at you I don’t see you solely as a… boy or a girl. I see you as you.” Tsukishima paused, biting the inside of his cheek. “That’s not to say that I don’t… care what you are, because I do care if it’s important to you.” He let out a puff of air through his nose. “God, this is emba—”

“Don’t say that,” Tadashi interrupted, smiling brightly as his eyes began to well with tears. “You don’t get to say that.”

Tsukishima promptly shut his mouth and nodded, a slight smile finding his lips. “The point is,” he continued, though a blush was slowly seeping onto his cheeks. “I like you for all of you.”

“It feels like such a big deal,” Tadashi began after a slight, blushing pause, lifting an arm to wipe away the tears that had spilled. (This was a nice change, he thought for a moment, crying out of happiness.) “My gender, that is. It feels like it’s… taking over my life. I just… think about it all the time. But I’m not… just that.” He let out a sigh, a grin not leaving his face. “I didn’t—didn’t realize just how much…”

Tsukishima was still blushing when Tadashi looked up at him, and he felt his heart swell times ten. He was ready to burst.

“For the record,” Tadashi spoke as an afterthought, but a necessary one, “I like you for you, too.”

Tsukishima’s lips parted to a smile showing his teeth, and Tadashi felt like finally, luck was on his side. He’d gone long enough without it, surely.

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed after a couple ticks of silence. “Hinata was right.”

Tsukishima cocked his head, his smile fading, though traces of it were left in his eyes.

“He said we were like, to quote, ‘one of those shoujo mangas Kageyama-kun reads.’”

Tsukishima snorted. “Why can I see him reading those?”

“I can too. Somehow, it makes sense!” Tadashi let a laugh bubble out from his chest; he couldn’t possibly put how good he felt into words. After building up for rejection, it felt unbelievably nice to be accepted, and without question.

After he’d stopped giggling, Tadashi scooted backwards on Tsukishima’s bed, crossing his legs under him and turning towards Tsukishima. “Tsukki, I really… appreciate you.”

At Tadashi’s movement and change of tone, Tsukishima turned to face him and asked: “Did something happen at home?”

“I—uh, yeah.” Tadashi scratched at the back of his neck.

“Hm,” Tsukishima grunted. “I’m… sorry.”

“No, don’t be. It’s my mom; she… doesn’t get it. Doesn’t like it. I dunno.” Tadashi shrugged, as if what his mother had said hadn’t made him question what he knew he was. “She keeps calling me a boy, like, repeatedly… calling me her son and stuff.”

Tsukishima’s face pulled into a grimace, “That’s awful.”

“Thanks, I just,” Tadashi paused, trying to put the words together. “I just don’t think she… wants me to be weird or different.”

“Have you told your dad?” Tsukishima inquired.

“Yes,” Tadashi replied, shrugging again. “He said I was experimenting and something about times changing.”

Tsukishima slightly cocked his head. “Better than your mom’s reaction, I guess.”

Tadashi nodded. “You’re the first person I told, besides them,” he said, looking up at Tsukishima.

“I’m glad you could tell me,” Tsukishima responded, looking down at his hands that sat in his lap. “I hope your parents come around, but even if they don’t… you know.”

“You’re here for me.” Tadashi finished the statement Tsukishima had been too embarrassed to say. Tsukishima just nodded slightly as his blush slowly crawled back upon his cheeks. Tadashi thought it was immeasurably cute, but couldn’t bring himself to say so. “Really, thank you, Tsukki.”

“You shouldn’t have to thank me for being decent,” Tsukishima stated, to which Tadashi sighed.

“Decent’s the best I’ve got.”

Both fell quiet for a few moments, but the air didn’t feel tense like it had for the past few days. Tadashi let out a breath of relief; their comfortable silence had returned. He’d missed it.

“Are you staying over?” Tsukishima inquired after the brief silence, looking back over his shoulder to make eye contact with Tadashi.

Tadashi hesitated before he spoke: “I don’t think I should,” he paused, but elaborated before Tsukishima got the wrong idea. “I didn’t tell my parents that I was leaving, so…”

“Oh. Yeah.” Tsukishima nodded. “Want me to walk you?”

Tadashi smiled, “Please?”

The walk back was immensely more comfortable than the walk to Tsukishima’s house had been, but as Tadashi’s own house was in view, something twinged in Tadashi’s chest. He’d have to face his mother again, whether or not he wanted to. He just hoped she hadn’t realized he’d left.

At the corner of Tadashi’s street, Tadashi stopped and turned to face Tsukishima.

“Thanks for walking with me,” he started, his fingers lacing together in front of him. “and thanks for coming to meet me, and for listening.”

“You really don’t need to thank me.”

“I do,” Tadashi insisted. “I do need to thank you, Tsukki.”

Just as Tsukishima opened his mouth to protest again, Tadashi set his hands on Tsukishima’s shoulders, stood on the tips of his toes, and pressed his lips against Tsukishima’s cheek.

When he pulled away, he could just barely see a dusting of pink on Tsukishima’s face, illuminated only by the streetlights and the moon itself.

“I thought you might appreciate a thank you without words more,” Tadashi said, as Tsukishima stared at him. “Well, bye, Tsukki!”

Tadashi turned on his heel and beelined for his house, a smile tugging so hard at his lips that his cheeks began to hurt.


 

Sometimes, Tadashi wondered if Hinata even had an ounce of sense in his (admittedly rather small) body. Though Tadashi was often reminded of Hinata’s unique sense of awareness when Hinata made a great play or spoke a keen observation off the top of his head, he knew that Hinata ran primarily on sole instinct.

This much was glaringly obvious as he and Tadashi flew down the hill on Hinata’s bike, Tadashi balanced precariously on the back pegs.

Hinata let out some sort of whoop of glee as they swooped down the incline, but Tadashi gritted his teeth and grasped the clothing on Hinata’s shoulders in his fists so hard that his knuckles were beginning to turn white.

Tadashi suddenly wondered where all the sense in his own body had gone when he clambered onto the back pegs of Hinata’s bike. Surely, he’d not been in his right mind.

Torn from his thoughts when Hinata lifted one of his hands off the bike handles, Tadashi let out a yelp and clenched his eyes shut, somehow squeezing Hinata’s shoulders even harder.

“Yamaguchi—i!” Hinata shouted, his ecstatic grin clear in his tone, “Don’t worry! I do this every day!”

Tadashi marveled at how Hinata had managed to survive sixteen years of life.

“Hi-nata,” Tadashi croaked, though the bike hit a rock, thus breaking his speech, “I think I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

The bike coasted as the hill gradually flattened, and Hinata scuffed one of his feet on the ground to completely kill the momentum.

“You’re no fun.” Hinata pouted, looking back over his shoulder at Tadashi as he pried his fists from Hinata’s shirt and dismounted the bike.

Setting his hands on his knees, Tadashi let out a deep breath. “Where’s—Where are Yachi-san and her AED when I need them?” he huffed, before glancing back up the hill.

“I think that might’ve been a new record,” Hinata said, tapping his index finger on his cheek and holding his bike upright with the other hand.

“What?” Tadashi breathed, standing back up straight.

“With your added weight, I think I went faster,” Hinata reasoned, to which Tadashi scoffed.

“We almost just died, Hinata. Died!” Tadashi insisted, before continuing, “And you care about a record.”

“We didn’t die, though.”

Tadashi let out an exasperated sigh. “Key word was almost.”

Hinata hummed pensively, but shrugged soon thereafter and began to push his bike along. Tadashi followed closely behind.

The bike chain clicked softly as they walked, though that sound was mostly drowned by Hinata’s constant chatter. Tadashi didn’t mind it, and by the time they reached Hinata’s house, Tadashi’s heart rate had returned to normal.

Since Tadashi had been caught sneaking back into the house after going to Tsukishima’s, his mother had grounded him. His father, however, hadn’t agreed with the ruling. So, whenever Tadashi wanted to do something or go somewhere, he asked his father. It’d worked out well so far; it was how he’d been allowed to spend that Friday night at Hinata’s, anyway.

“My family will be happy to see you again,” Hinata chirped, rolling his bike into the garage and flicking the kickstand with his foot.

“Will they?”

“Mhm,” Hinata affirmed, leading Tadashi into his house.

Tadashi was greeted with the same sunny smiles he’d remembered from the last time he’d been over, and when he ate with the Hinatas it was certainly a nice change from the icy silence at his dinner table at home. Tadashi had a sudden thought that his family could be like this, like the Hinatas, warm and happy and friendly, if Tadashi himself weren’t… odd. His mother would be far warmer and happier and friendlier if he weren’t, at least. He pushed the thought away.

After they’d eaten, Hinata led Tadashi back to his room and flopped onto his bed. Tadashi stood for a moment before he followed, sitting down on the edge of Hinata’s bed.

“So,” Hinata started, sitting up and leaning on the back frame of his bed. “How are things going with Tsukishima? You guys seemed normal again yesterday.”

Tadashi was again reminded of how observant Hinata could be. “Oh,” he breathed. “Yeah. We talked about… what happened.”

Hinata just kept looking at him, prompting him to continue, to elaborate.

“That’s pretty much all there is to it,” Tadashi shrugged, looking away from Hinata and down at his hands. “He was really… understanding and stuff. I guess.”

Hinata blinked. “Are you going to kiss again?”

“Hinata,” Tadashi groaned, lifting his hands to cover his face. “Why do you care?” And why are you so blunt?

“I dunno,” Hinata shrugged, taking the hint to change the subject: “Anyway, then, Kenma texted me and—wait, you know Kenma, right?”

Tadashi thought for a moment. “Setter from Nekoma? With the pudding hair?”

“Yep! So, Kenma texted me and told me to play this game,” Hinata paused, leaning over to grab his PSP from the table beside his bed and turn it on. “but it’s really hard.”

Hinata handed the console to Tadashi after the game had started up. Tadashi stared at the screen. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Oh!” Hinata laughed, “Right. You have to collect all the coins and avoid… those things,” Hinata pointed to a figure on the screen. “to get to the end of the level. Maybe I should show you first.”

Tadashi handed the device back to Hinata, watching him play through the level. (Level three, by the way.) A little bar on the top showed the level progress, and Hinata got about half through before he was surrounded by the aforementioned figures and failed the level.

“Do you think you can beat it?” Hinata inquired as he passed Tadashi the PSP once again.

“I can try,” Tadashi answered, though he was mostly just being nice by saying that. Really, he thought, the level looked extremely easy, but he didn’t want to tell that to Hinata.

Tadashi crossed his legs under him and held the console in his lap, Hinata watching over his shoulder. He beat the level after just two tries.

“Jeez!” Hinata pouted, “I’ve been trying to beat that for, like, three days.”

Tadashi let out a laugh. “I play a lot of games,” he justified, “so I suppose I have some experience.”

Hinata squinted his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, “That’s what Kenma says, too. They’re on level thirty, and they wouldn’t say so but I think they were laughing at me because I was stuck on three.”

Tadashi snorted (he could relate) but then he tilted his head and quirked an eyebrow. “‘They’?” he asked.

“Huh?”

“You referred to Kozume with ‘they’,” Tadashi elaborated.

“Oh.” Hinata smiled, “That’s because Kenma isn’t a boy or a girl. So they go with ‘they’.”

Tadashi blinked. His eyes widened, then, and his throat was closing in on itself. “What?” he croaked, though it was more out of disbelief than misunderstanding.

“They told me that they…”

Tadashi stopped listening. His mind was spinning; someone else felt like he did? Someone he knew, even? He swallowed thickly, still staring at Hinata, watching his mouth move but not registering the words.

“Me too,” he interrupted eventually, his heart catching in his throat.

Hinata abruptly stopped speaking, “What?”

“I’m not… a boy or a girl, either.”

Hinata broke into a blinding grin. “Really? That’s cool! I thought it was cool when Kenma told me, too. Now that I think about it, you guys have a lot in common.”

Tadashi just grinned back. Hinata kept talking, but Tadashi was still basking in the fact that he wasn’t… alone. His father had mentioned before that this “wasn’t unheard of,” but this made that statement real.

Eventually, Hinata took his PSP back and started level four, but he only got a quarter of the way through before he failed. He groaned and started again, while Tadashi marveled at how easily he had just… accepted what Tadashi had said and moved on. This wasn’t new, for Hinata. It wasn’t weird or unusual. It just… was.

It took a long while for the blooming feeling in Tadashi chest to fade.


 

Learning about Kenma granted Tadashi with some extra confidence—enough confidence, in fact, for Tadashi to sneak into his mother’s bedroom and steal a bottle of her scarlet red nail polish.

He stuffed the little red bottle into his pants pocket after he’d swiped it from where it had sat atop his mother’s dresser, and even though he was home alone, Tadashi felt like he was on some sort of secret mission. His heart pounded in his chest even though there was no way he could be caught, at least not until later.

After Tadashi had slipped back into his own room, he sat in his desk chair and set the bottle on the desk directly in front of him. This bottle was different from the one Tsukishima had had, as the cap was black and the glass was spherical, though flat on the bottom. Tadashi didn’t like the red color as much as he had liked the purple from earlier, but he decided he didn’t have the luxury of pickiness. The red was nice, too.

Tadashi splayed his hands out on the top of the desk, one hand on either side of the bottle. He took a deep breath; he had to calm down before he could even attempt to paint his own nails. He slightly grimaced at the thought of painting with his left hand this time around, since no one was here to help him.

When his hands had stopped shaking—or at least had lessened in the shaking; Tadashi wasn’t sure his hands had ever been steady in his life—he twisted the cap off of the bottle.

As it turned out, the entire process of painting his nails was much easier when he had proper lighting. Even as he used his left hand, the result wasn’t half as bad as he thought it would be.

Tadashi heard the front door open just as he was waving his hands around to get the paint to dry, but he knew his mother wouldn’t go out of her way to speak to her child, so he wasn’t really worried. Lately, the only words she said to him were through notes that she shoved into his lunches that she still persisted to make, and the notes were insincere and petty. I’m always proud of my son!, Good luck at school today, baby boy!, they’d say. Tadashi ripped them up into little pieces every day.

After the paint had dried, Tadashi made his way to the bathroom, observing himself in the mirror. He fanned his fingers in front of his face, smiling slightly at the coat of red on the nails. And suddenly, Tadashi got an idea. He took his phone out of his pocket and opened the camera, pointing it at the mirror. He made a peace sign with one hand and stuck out his tongue, snapping the picture. He looked at it thereafter, pursing his lips and deleting it. He lifted the phone to take another, making another peace sign but this time smiling brightly. He was more pleased as he looked at the resulting picture this time around.

Tadashi retreated to his bedroom and flopped back first onto his bed, holding his phone over his face. He typed out a message to send to Tsukishima.

To: tsukki!!
[1 file attached]
what do u think tsukki???

Tadashi set his phone on his chest and looked at the little plastic stars on his ceiling as he waited for a reply. It was barely a minute before the phone buzzed against his chest.

From: tsukki!!
red looks good on you

Tadashi bit his bottom lip as he felt a blush rise to his cheeks, and he hurried to type a response.

To: tsukki!!
thanks!!! mom made me take it off last time but i’m not going to listen to her if she tells me to this time

He pursed his lips as he hit send, pondering what his mother’s reaction would be this time around. He father momentarily crossed his mind, too, because he’d never actually seen Tadashi with nail polish on.

Before he could think about it too much, his phone buzzed twice in succession.

From: tsukki!!
i thought she might have made you take it off before.

From: tsukki!!
do you want the purple? my mom wouldn’t mind

Tadashi blinked at the screen. He really did like the purple polish, and he knew Tsukishima liked it as well, but it still felt strange to just take it.

To: tsukki!!
if you’re really sure she won’t mind ..

A couple minutes passed before Tadashi received a reply.

From: tsukki!!
i just asked. she want you to have it now

Tadashi snorted, pressing his phone to his chest as he smiled. Tsukishima's mom was so nice. 

To: tsukki!!
ok, if you insist..!

Before Tsukishima replied, Tadashi heard his mother call him for dinner. He set his phone off to the side and sat upright on his bed, taking a deep breath as some sort of preparation to face his mother. His father hadn’t yet returned home, so there was no mediator. Tadashi told himself that he’d been fine. He stood from his bed and padded across the floor and down the hallway, entering the kitchen to see his mother with her back to him. She turned around at the sound of his footsteps, and she nodded at him.

“You can serve yourself,” she said, gesturing at the pot that sat on the stove.

Tadashi approached her, holding his breath as he walked past her to get a bowl. As he reached up to open the cabinet, he heard the click of a tongue.

“Tadashi…” his mother started, and he pursed his lips. “You know how I feel about… that.” She looked pointedly at his hand that rested on the cabinet handle.

Tadashi blinked at her.

“Go take it off, okay? Before you eat. You know where the remover is.”

Tadashi let out a deep, frustrated sigh, not bothering to protest. He took his hand off of the cabinet handle and dropped it to his side before he trudged through the house and to the bathroom, where the nail polish remover sat perched by the sink. Tadashi didn’t bother to think for a moment as he acted on impulse and adrenaline, unscrewing the cap of the bottle and pouring it down the sink, the pungent acetone odor causing his nose to scrunch up.

After the bottle was empty, Tadashi tossed it into the trash can.

He returned to the kitchen and went back to the cabinet, grabbing himself a bowl before heading to the pot on the stove and serving himself. His mother sat silently at the table, though he could feel her eyes on him. As he moved to the table and sat down across from her, her gaze flickered down to Tadashi’s hands. She bit the inside of her lip, but didn’t say a word.

“Thanks for the food,” Tadashi spoke, and he was proud of the fact that his voice didn’t waver the way he expected it to.

The meal was quiet. Tadashi found himself counting the number of times his mother’s spoon hit against her bowl, and he’d gotten to eighteen before he himself finished eating. He excused himself from the table and as he washed his dish, his father returned home. Tadashi stepped out of the room before his father had seen him, but he didn’t head back to his own room, not yet. He wanted to hear what his mother had to say, since she’d said none of it to him.

“Did Tadashi already finish eating?” his father asked first.

“You just missed him.” Tadashi heard his mother’s nails clack against the tabletop. Her spoon hit the bowl again.

“Ah.” His father paused for a moment. “We don’t really see much of him now, do we.”

A few ticks of silence passed.

“He’s wearing nail polish,” his mother finally spoke.

“Is he?”

“I told him to take it off, but he didn’t.”

“Good for him.”

They were quiet again. Tadashi could feel the tension in the air, even with a wall between them.

“Yasu, I just… I want him to be happy.” Her voice cracked and Tadashi felt something in his chest crack, as well.

Tadashi’s father spoke after an extensive pause: “Do you want him to be happy or do you want him to be normal?”

Neither of them spoke again, so Tadashi made his way back to his room. Even if they did eventually continue to talk, Tadashi had heard enough. His chest felt heavy.

For once, he couldn’t bring himself to be angry at his mother, he just felt bad for her. He didn’t really feel guilty, though, either. He couldn’t quite understand what he felt, but that in itself wasn’t a new thing for him.

He thought hopefully that maybe—and it was about time—they were starting to reach an understanding.


 

There was no note in his bento the following Monday.

Tadashi didn’t know how to feel about that. On one hand, he was glad that his mother wasn’t forcing masculinity on him as she usually did, but on the other it felt like something was missing. Maybe she’d just forgotten to put one in there.

“I found a movie for tonight.” Tadashi lifted his gaze from his lunch at the sound of Tsukishima’s voice.

“Did you?”

“Yeah. It’s about a sentient tire that makes things explode.”

Tadashi snorted. “Of course it is.”

“Of course it is,” Tsukishima echoed, a slight smile gracing his lips.

Tadashi loved Tsukishima’s smiles, no matter how small or how maliciously intended. (Not that he was ever outrightly malicious; Tadashi preferred the word mischievous for Tsukishima.)

“Do you really want to watch this movie, Tsukki?” Tadashi inquired innocently, lightly pressing the pad of his pointer finger against his cheek.

Tsukishima shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. It sounds even more stupid than the chickens.”

“Then you might want to save it for next week.”

Tsukishima blinked. Tadashi blinked back at him.

Tadashi began to grin as Tsukishima’s ears and cheeks turned pink upon his realization of what Tadashi was insinuating. Tsukishima cleared his throat, bring a hand up to his face to adjust his glasses. Quite frankly, Tadashi thought, it was a terrible attempt to hide his blushing.

“Maybe we can watch it next week, then,” Tsukishima finally responded, his tone deadpan and serious.

Tadashi burst into laughter.


 

Tsukishima’s laptop sat on his bed, but it sat unused. In fact, it wasn’t even opened. And Tadashi wasn’t sure if he were meant to notice it, but Tsukishima had clicked the lock when he’d closed his bedroom door.

Tadashi felt butterflies in his stomach, and the silence between the boys was a tad different from usual. Instead of just being comfortable, there was a hint of anticipation, of suspense. (More suspense than they’d ever felt watching one of those stupid horror movies, anyway.)

Lying on his stomach across Tsukishima’s bed with his feet kicking up lazily behind him, Tadashi pressed away at buttons on his DS. Tsukishima sat nearby, scrolling through some article on his phone. Tadashi imagined it was about Ancient Rome.

“I was just wondering,” Tsukishima eventually spoke, “Do you plan on telling the team?”

“Hmm?” Tadashi hummed, not looking away from his console.

“About your gender,” Tsukishima specified.

“Oh,” Tadashi breathed, pausing his game and sitting up to look at Tsukishima. He crossed his legs underneath him. “I’m not sure yet… Maybe in the future? As for right now, I’m…” Tadashi shrugged, “I’m just happy as long as you know, Tsukki.”

Tsukishima nodded.

“Hinata knows, too,” Tadashi said, and Tsukishima raised an eyebrow, prompting Tadashi to continue. “He was talking about Kozume, the setter—”

“From Nekoma, I know.”

“Yeah. He was talking about Kozume and he referred to them as, well, ‘them’, and I asked him why… He said because Kozume isn’t a boy or a girl, so I just told him about me, too.”

“Oh,” Tsukishima responded. “Do you want to use ‘they’, too?”

Tadashi hesitated. “I’m… not sure. I haven’t really thought about it.”

“We can try it out,” Tsukishima suggested, to which Tadashi smiled.

“Sure.”

“Okay,” Tsukishima started, “Picture that I’m in the crowd at one of our matches.”

“Got it. Setting the scene,” Tadashi chuckled.

“You just did your float serve, and it looked like it was going out, but it landed in and we got a point.”

“Mhm. Right.” Tadashi nodded.

“Okay. Scene’s set.” Tsukishima paused before continuing, “‘That number twelve is really talented. I wonder how long it took them to perfect that serve’ versus ‘I wonder how long it took him to perfect that serve’ or ‘I wonder how long it took her to perfect that serve.’”

Tadashi shrugged. “It doesn’t really make a difference to me,” he said. “Except that I didn’t really like ‘her’.”

Tsukishima nodded.

“For now, I think ‘he’ is fine, ‘cause I’m used to it and it’s what everyone calls me by anyway,” Tadashi continued, “and I don’t really have a preference.”

“Just tell me if that changes in the future,” Tsukishima responded.

“I will,” Tadashi said, “And thanks, Tsukki.”

“No need,” Tsukishima said, and Tadashi had a sense of deja vu. Last time they were in this situation, Tadashi had kissed Tsukishima on the cheek. The idea to repeat so was appealing.

Tsukishima started to speak again after the lull in conversation: “So, I could put on that movie—”

“No,” Tadashi interrupted abruptly, but blushed fiercely after Tsukishima’s gaze snapped to him. “I mean…”

Tsukishima pushed up his glasses. Tadashi’s Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat before he lunged forward, cupping Tsukishima’s face in his hands.

Tsukishima’s lips were just as soft as Tadashi had remembered. He wondered for a moment how he’d ever had the mental strength to pull away from this, because all Tadashi could think to do was pull closer, closer, closer.

For Tsukishima, who was all clean edges and protruding bones and sharp words, to be so soft and so gentle made Tadashi melt further into his hands.

They both pulled away after a few heated moments, locking eyes before coming to the unspoken but still mutual agreement that this time, they had no reason to push away, to hold back, to regret this tomorrow. Tadashi smiled brightly before he leaned back towards Tsukishima, his hands moving from Tsukishima’s face to the back of his neck. Tsukishima had rested his hands on Tadashi’s hip bones, but Tadashi realized that he couldn’t stay sitting criss-cross for long. He needed to be closer.

Tadashi broke their kiss again to readjust his legs, sitting on his knees before looking down at Tsukishima’s legs. Tsukishima took the hint and wrapped his arms around Tadashi’s torso, pulling him into his lap. One of Tadashi’s knees pressed into the bed on either side of Tsukishima’s hips.

“Tsukki,” Tadashi mumbled as he gently pressed Tsukishima back onto the bed, kissing his nose, and and then his cheek before sliding off his glasses and setting them off to the side. “You’re so soft.”

“Warm,” Tsukishima replied, while under a barrage of kisses to his forehead, chin, and temples. “You’re warm.”

Tsukishima’s hands were cold as he lifted one to hold Tadashi’s face, guiding their lips back together.

They kissed lazily, Tsukishima running his thumb back and forth across Tadashi’s cheek as their lips continuously parted and connected again.

Eventually, Tadashi pressed his forehead against Tsukishima’s and let out a breath.

“You’re good at that, Tsukki,” he said, smiling at Tsukishima’s flushed face. “Have you kissed anyone before me?”

“You would’ve known if I had,” Tsukishima replied, swallowing thickly and averting his eyes down to Tadashi’s cheeks—to his freckles, presumably.

“Hm,” Tadashi hummed, a devious smirk spreading across his lips. “Have you ever practiced by yourself?”

Tsukishima’s flush turned a shade darker.

“Shut up, Yamaguchi.”

Tadashi chuckled and leaned down to kiss him again.

“Sorry, Tsukki.”


 

I’m proud of you, Tadashi.

The note was written in blue pen, placed with care at the top of Tadashi’s bento. For the first time, he didn’t want to rip the words to shreds.

Nail polish chipped faster than Tadashi thought it would, and his hair still got in his eyes, even when he had it up. But he didn’t mind. He felt better, more confident, more himself with his hair up in a bun and chipped nail polish on his nails. He tried on skirts when he went shopping with his mom, even if he’d not yet dared to come out of the dressing room with one on. He held hands with Tsukishima when they walked home together, and he helped Hinata with his PSP game whenever he needed it—which was practically every level. He laughed louder and practiced harder. The energy he had spent hiding certain parts of himself away was now rushing through his veins, and Tadashi wasn’t sure he’d ever felt like this before.

Tadashi wasn’t his gender, and his gender wasn’t him. It was simply a puzzle piece, a facet, a gear that had been damaged up until now.

And as Tadashi stood in front of the mirror, tracing the curvature of his jaw and neck, tugging on the skin of his cheeks, sticking out his tongue and prodding at his hair, he was comfortable with his own features, with his own skin. He thought confidence looked good on him. It surely felt nice.