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Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience - waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.
― Gary Paulsen

 

i.

 

I want you. I need you.

These are the words Shouyou leaves him with, what Shouyou took from him. Tobio can’t hear them the same from anyone for any reason.

He fills Shouyou’s absence with fleeting figures of men that are nothing like him, only once in a while when he's lucky, who strip Tobio of his skin far distant to the way they used to. Lingering touches. Scraping nails. Necks, barely healing. It's still nowhere close. Reasonless action. It's a useless endeavor, Tobio finds after the third time.

Shouyou used to know his corners, edges, tips of his fingers, hollow in his chest. The scar that runs down his left hip, a casualty of slight war, no more a nail out of place in the frame of a doorway. Shouyou used to know what he was like, who he was.

I’ll want you a thousand times over. I need you now.

Tobio wishes he could say he had forgotten, that the marks bitten scars inside his mouth had become a distant memory left to rot under low-hanging fruit, but Shouyou is as clear as day. Shouyou ripped him up. Shouyou touched him. Shouyou forced him to memorize the feeling, relive it over and over. Shouyou made him the low-hanging fruit, easy for the picking. Shouyou left him bare.

Shouyou wants him, Shouyou needs him

How long was it supposed to be?



ii.

 

Tobio thinks about Shouyou as many times as it takes for him to lose his mind. It is less than imagined, when his brain runs off without him, not even being so kind as to leave a note announcing the departure. It reminds him of the same boy he lives for, works for, of the cruel way the universe decides to teach him how to be patient all over again.

Tobio’s only knowledge of such exit is a Tuesday morning, waking up to tears that stain his face, four weeks after the plane he did not see trek a journey into the horizon. He is the jester in the royal court, and Shouyou has tied him to the ceiling to make him a puppet on strings. They tango, for a while. Tobio does not have the mouth to tell Shouyou he would not leave, would recreate this dance until it is second nature, no matter the existence of strings or worn-off stage makeup.

He wonders, for a moment, if it would’ve been different. If Shouyou had stayed. If Tobio had chosen something other than volleyball. If he could’ve, if he had ever been able to. 

See you soon, Kageyama!

There are more words Tobio is left with. There is a scratch down his wrist that has not gone away since the last time Shouyou was with him. Shouyou would’ve made Tobio a painting of browns and purples and reds and greens if he could. Not out of the desire to hurt, but to claim. 

Tobio watches a movie later after practice and skips to the part where they kiss for the first time. He would have no interest in this stuff if he wasn’t without it, if he hadn’t been cut off from connections with anyone willing to kiss the same way they do in any film he wishes starred him. 

It’s just different, they had said, texted, probably, with their heads hung low and overcast, cloudy, It’s like you’re waiting for something when we’re together. Like you want something that’s not with you.

Tobio apologizes and does not text them again. He can be patient, despite how the universe doesn’t seem to think so, can wait a few years and withstand on nights alone or with the company of a nameless face, kiss his reflection or the picture on his nightstand or his own wrist. He can wonder if Shouyou has partners too, if they text about what part of him is missing.

The male lead gives the female lead flowers. They kiss again.

Shouyou is a flower dried by the sun. Shouyou, couple thousand kilometers across the ocean, is no farther than a call away. Shouyou lacks distance even now. Shouyou left an imprint on Tobio, handprint and bite mark and scratch, scratch, scratch. Shouyou will come home. I want you, I need you. See you soon.

How many layers of new will Tobio have to rip open when Shouyou comes back? Kiss? Bruise? Tear? Will they be able to discuss the same people that told them they were lacking? Has Shouyou ever been without?

They did not discuss the aftermath of Brazil before they separated. They did not say reconciliation equates to running full speed from where they left off. 

Tobio turns off the TV and shoves his head into a pillow to muffle the noise that he makes, agony boiling under his skin. Later he will order flowers to Shouyou’s apartment and will not give a name. They’ll be fresh, but he wonders if they’ll dry on Shouyou’s windowsill, if Shouyou will keep them at all.

Where will they go? He wants to ask. Where do you place me in your home? On the shelf? In your left atrium?

Tobio misses the way Shouyou looks in new-day sun. He is not the star of age-old romances.

 

iii.

 

He overhears a secret, third year, a distant whisper that Shouyou leaves to lay wait in Yachi’s ear. They speak of love. They speak of war. They speak of idiocy. He b-lines up the road.

Tobio pretends he does not hear the giggles or see the light arm gripping and chokes the feeling of jealousy down so far all his stomach can do is regurgitate bile back up. He pretends he doesn’t feel this, because he knows it’s wrong. He knows they are just friends. Even if they weren’t, it doesn’t matter. Shouyou is not his, no matter how much he is Shouyou’s.

Tobio, third year, newly eighteen with blunt bangs and softer words, watches this little firestarter wander up to him after some time, tells Tobio that he likes someone. Wants someone, needs someone.

“Who?” Tobio is about to pass out onto the ground. He is going to grow three new arms not controlled by the same nervous system that has benumbed him to a block of newly-hardened cement, and bury himself six feet under. He needs to call an ambulance.

Shouyou is smiling, fresh and bright and warm. Oh, so warm. Sun in the sky and pennies hidden under couch cushions and the way a new volleyball inflates from a pump. “You, idiot.”

Tobio chokes the bile down the same as the envy, but all that regurgitates out this time around is a strained What? and the immediate need to hold onto something solid. The closest thing around is the boy that stands in front of him, who has not yet grown into his legs. Tobio grips Shouyou’s shoulder like it’s his only lifeline, and Shouyou responds in turn by running his hands down from the elbow, a touch so featherlight Tobio thinks he dreams it. This must be a dream. 

“I want you. I need you.” He says, and then he's gone.

 

iv.

 

“Kiss me.”

Tobio is frozen once more. Shouyou comes home, adds a tally to their counting, and Tobio is freed. In volleyball, Tobio has never been limited. In this, he has always been. He can un-root his feet from the soil again. He can meet Shouyou in the clouds.

“I did not wait for three years just for you to freeze like you did third year, Kageyama,” Shouyou is a tease. How many layers of skin have you gained, have you lost, have become a part of you? How many? “I want you. I need you. Remember? Idiot. Stupid.”

I want you, I need you.

What’s the difference between want and need, anyway? Tobio supposes it’s the imminence, just how dire the situation. Shouyou needs him, of course, just as he has always needed a setter. He has always needed a partner. He has always needed a team. 

But he chose Tobio. He chose him first year, third year, when he left. He chooses him now. Shouyou may have waited three years, but Tobio has waited forever and a day. 

He kisses Shouyou like the lead in a movie. He remembers how, did not lose this skill no matter how the nights dwindled down to nothing, until his evening partner was the couch and old, crackly songs. Kisses him soft, hard, harder. A tug of teeth at the bottom lip. Hand on the right side of his neck. Scar down the left hip. A noise from his throat that sounds like a choir, no matter that Tobio has not gone to church a single time.

Skin darkened by the same sun that surely dried Shouyou’s flowers. Hair, shaved down on the sides, increased urgency. The new fill of his calves. The way Tobio dreams of leaving rings down them.

They take off up the road. A giggle escapes the lips of him, this now-man Tobio speaks to, the man he is in love with. Shouyou smells even more like sun-dried bastard flowers that are only an extension of him. Tobio wants to relearn his skin, scentless, untouched, unscorched. Reconciliation equates to running full speed from where they left off.

It lasts forever.

 

v.

 

Tobio cannot begin to fathom how anyone could want anyone but Hinata Shouyou. To know him is to know the universe’s greatest decisions, the answers to their questions, what makes us human. To know Shouyou is to circle the sun until you are a sea on fire, salt flats that flood four months of the year.

There is a before and an after. There is pre-Shouyou, and post. Tobio waited forever, before, then two and a half years extra, then three, four more. He has waited untold movie-lengths, would wait again, and again, and again. Shouyou will chase after him, beat him once or twice or three times, gather new muscles in his calves, let the sun touch his skin. Wild blue yonder.

“How long do you think it’ll take for me to beat you for real?” 

Shouyou is sprawled out on a bed bigger than the both of them, leaves Tobio with more words then he is capable of remembering. Shouyou left him bare. Shouyou is bare, too, now.

“Hopefully forever.” 

Shouyou stares and Tobio is no longer aware of himself. I want you, I need you. “You realize I’m not going to just abandon you as soon as I win, right? You're not a moment, 'Yama.”

Tobio will spend every day of their eternity ripping back each layer of skin, counting them.

“Obviously.” He says and doesn't really mean it. He'll get there, though, and fits his teeth into the juncture of Shouyou's shoulder. Shouyou laughs.

One, two, three...