Yamaguchi Tadashi was, for lack of a better word, frustrating.
Tsukishima knew this, however. He’d known it almost the entire time he’d been friends with Yamaguchi, which was no small number of years.
But on nights like this, he was especially frustrating. Because on nights like this, it was easier to hide in plain sight. The room was dark, dark enough to mask Tsukishima’s lingering glances. On nights like this, he could pretend.
They’d both seen The Fox and the Hound a thousand times, but that was okay. It was one of Yamaguchi’s favorite movies, so Tsukishima didn’t mind. He loved to see the easy smile that worked its way onto Yamaguchi’s face. The light from the TV danced across their skin like tiny ballet dancers, and Tsukishima wanted to hold his hand.
That was the beauty of playing pretend, wasn’t it? You could do anything you wanted, be anyone you wanted to be. Tonight, they were a little more than best friends. ‘Hanging out’ had a little different title, and if he wanted to, Tsukishima could hold his hand. Because that’s how they were.
At least, that’s how he wished they could be.
Tsukishima hadn’t been paying attention to the movie for quite some time, but based on the frown Yamaguchi was wearing, he guessed it was at the part of the film where Tod and Copper fight, and Tod is sent off to live in the forest. A quick glance toward the screen assured him of such. That always had been Yamaguchi’s least favorite part.
I want to hold his hand.
It’d be justifiable now. He’d say he was trying to comfort him, and it’d be fine. Probably. Maybe. Even if it wasn’t fine to begin with, it’d become fine eventually, right? They could forget about it. Push it to the back of their minds, act like it didn’t exist. Tsukishima was already pretty good at that anyway.
Maybe… maybe he could get away with a little more. Maybe he could kiss him on the forehead. He’d let his lips linger there a little longer than he needed to, but that’d be okay. Yamaguchi would probably be too confused to say anything, and they’d never speak of it. It’d be like a dream that you remember so vividly when you first wake up, but just like all the other dreams you have, the details become fuzzy, and suddenly it’s as obsolete as the leaves that fall from the trees. Plain. Forgettable.
But Tsukishima knew he wouldn’t forget it. He wouldn’t be able to. For him, it’d be like a nightmare, the kind that left you lying awake at night, unable to push it from your mind.
No, he couldn’t kiss him. He couldn’t even hold his hand. Because that wouldn’t be him acting as a best friend. It would be him acting as the scared fourteen year old boy that he still saw when he looked in the mirror, desperate and hopeful and reckless.
Yamaguchi sighed, and Tsukishima focused in on him again. He was kneading his bottom lip with his teeth, a familiar cue that told Tsukishima something was wrong.
The logical part of him knew he should probably do something, so he did.
“What’re you thinking?” he asked, praying he wasn’t making a mistake.
Yamaguchi turned to face him, and Tsukishima hated how beautiful he looked. He hated that he wasn’t allowed to tell him, to kiss under his ear and whisper the things he’d never thought about anyone else. He hated how the walls were that separated them.
“Oh, it’s nothing, Tsukki. Don’t worry about it!” Yamaguchi said, the fake cheer in his voice effectively breaking Tsukishima’s pathetic little heart in two.
“It’s too late for that now,” he pointed out, trying to keep his voice flat. Yamaguchi didn’t need to know how weak he was.
The faux smile slid off of his face, and he turned away.
“Do you really wanna know?” he asked, sounding even more hesitant than usual, which was concerning.
Tsukishima nodded, and Yamaguchi must’ve seen it out of the corner of his eye, because he took a deep breath and said, “I’m thinking about how this movie ends.”
Tsukishima tilted his head to the side, perplexed. “What—”
Yamaguchi interrupted him, words falling from his lips like clockwork. “We both know what happens. It’s a happy ending, I guess. They look happy, even though they’ve drifted apart. What if… what if that’s what happens with us?”
Tsukishima didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. They didn’t do this. For them to talk about their feelings so earnestly with each other was incredibly rare, for a multitude of reasons, number one on Tsukishima’s part being that if he started talking, he didn’t think he’d be able to stop.
Yamaguchi took a deep breath. “You’re my best friend, Tsukki. You’ve always been my best friend. Before you came around, I didn’t have much for any friends, let alone one close enough to me that they could…” he trailed off, looking up towards the ceiling. “I know you don’t really like this kinda stuff. I’m sorry. But I just—I feel like I’m losing you.”
Tsukishima’s stomach twisted uncomfortably. He felt guilty, as if everything Yamaguchi was going through was somehow entirely his fault. Maybe it was his fault. It sounded like something selfish he’d do. Why? Well, because that’s just how Tsukishima was. Despite all of his redeeming qualities, he would always be selfish, and not even Yamaguchi was safe from it. Yamaguchi, whom he wanted nothing more than to admit his love to, even if the consequences would kill him from the inside out.
“I feel like it’ll pan out the same as one of these movies with the not-quite-happy ending. You’ll find a girl that somehow manages not to piss you off,” Yamaguchi laughed at that, but the voice crack at the end betrayed him, “and I’ll be okay. Maybe I’ll see you at our high school reunion, or at the grocery store every once in a while. I’d be okay.”
Yamaguchi smiled, tears beginning to silently make their way toward his jawbone. “I know I would be. I know I would, even if I could never fully let go,” he whispered, wiping at his eyes with the cuff of his sweater. “You’ve always been stronger than me, Tsukki. I used to watch you and think, ‘Man, what I would give to be like that.’”
Tsukishima felt even worse now. To think that someone so amazing was actually jealous of him was insane. Tsukishima wasn’t insecure, exactly, but he sure as hell wasn’t anything impressive when compared to Yamaguchi Tadashi.
“But I’m not. I’m not like you, no matter how hard I try to be. If I were, I’d be able to move on. I’d be able to forget you. But I can only be as strong as me, Tsukki. I can’t match your strength. And because of that, I’d wake up every day knowing that the love of my life had slipped right through my fingers,” he said, choking on a sob.
Tsukishima didn’t know what he expected, but it definitely wasn’t this.
Yamaguchi was playing with a loose thread on one of his socks, sniffling, and Tsukishima’s entire body was buzzing. With what, he wasn’t quite sure. Part of him was screaming with excitement, while the other part was staying skeptical, reminding him that Yamaguchi probably didn’t mean what he thought he’d meant.
But maybe the skeptical part of him was wrong. Maybe Yamaguchi really was saying what Tsukishima thought he was saying. Maybe he didn’t have to pretend anymore.
He looked up, meeting Tsukishima’s eyes. His cheeks were bright red, and his eyebrows were scrunched together in a way that might’ve been adorable if he hadn’t just been crying.
Here goes nothing.
Tsukishima grabbed his hand, and laced their fingers together.
It was a little different than he’d been expecting. Yamaguchi’s hands were soft, albeit a bit clammy. They didn’t fit together perfectly like in the movies, either. Tsukishima’s fingers were bony, while Yamaguchi’s were cute and pudgy. But the feel of their hands together made Tsukishima’s heart soar, and he knew that even if it wasn’t perfect, it made him happy, and that’s all be needed to know.
“Don’t say stupid things. You will never lose me. I haven’t let you annoy me since elementary school for nothing,” he said, holding his hand a little tighter.
Yamaguchi stared at him incredulously, eyes shining with hope. “You’re not… mad?”
Tsukishima blushed, looking away. “Of course not.”
Yamaguchi grinned, and kissed his hand. “Good,” he said, effectively shaving a year off of Tsukishima’s life. But strangely, he was okay with that. Because for now on if he wanted to hold Yamaguchi’s hand, he could.
And that made everything worth it.