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(Broken) Dreamer

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Tendou Satori likes to believe that he’s a dreamer.

 

He loved spontaneity, unpredictable surprises, and randomness.

 

(Because his parents would never change, he knew the typical pattern of his father’s drunkenness, and the same old chidings of his mother, always disappointed, never satisfied.)

 

So naturally, when he meets Ushijima Wakatoshi, Satori believes it is fate.

 

(He’s everything Tendou’s ever wanted, he has to be the one, but because Tendou’s dreams never come true, this probably never will, either.)

 

“Wa-katoshi-kun~!” He sang, skipping across the crowded cafeteria while half of the student body present stared at him. Of course, Tendou doesn’t mind. “Did you watch the show I told you about yesterday?” The vegetable soup nearly spilled out from the tray, and Ushijima gave him the usual deadpan stare, probably looking as grave as one could be while chewing on an eggplant.

 

“I watched two episodes.” Swallowing the contents in his mouth, Ushijima reached for another eggplant mushed with soy sauce.

 

Tendou popped in a piece of fried chicken into his as well, but obviously didn’t care about table manners as much as the other. “Isn’t Kashima pretty cute?”

 

“I don’t think I’m there yet.”

 

“She totally looks like a guy, though.”

 

“Does she?”

 

“Yeah, she’s a total hottie.”

 

“I see. I don’t see how masculine a female could appear to be, though.”

 

“Who’s your favorite character so far?” Smoothly done. Tendou had been trying for the past few months to identify Ushijima’s sexual identity, but so far, all his efforts were rendered futile. But that was fine – Tendou might not look like it, but he was passionate and patient when it came to topics of his interest.

 

His olive-brown hair tilting to one side, Ushijima frowned. “Nozaki, I suppose.”

 

“Wait, what?”

 

“He seems like he’d be suited for volleyball.”

 

The tension in Tendou’s shoulders departs almost immediately at the response. Of course – this was Ushijima “volleyball idiot” (all credits to Reon) Wakatoshi. But while possessing an entirely opposite persona from Tendou, Ushijima was a consistent guy with a twist. He could appear to be like the most serious person in the world, only to turn out that he was just hungry.

 

Tendou loved those qualities of Wakatoshi.

 

Their conversations, if a passerby were to eavesdrop, would sound absolutely one-sided and almost like two separate conversations, because they focused on varying points of their topic. Ushijima was the only person that didn’t mind Tendou babbling on about Shounen Jump magazines, and would continuously comment and interject when he didn’t quite understand something (which was pretty much all the time, but Tendou didn’t care).

 

“Tendou, are you babbling on about crap that Ushijima doesn’t get again?” Semi Eita, a fellow third year and teammate approached their table and took a seat. Reon followed right behind him, and slumped down next to Tendou. “I don’t apprehend how the hell you guys are so close.” His tray was piled with packets of Korean salted seaweed and rice, Semi’s favorite part about the school cafeteria.

 

“I’m far more intrigued by how you survive off so little vitamin consumption. Do you eat anything other than rice and seaweed, Semisemi?”

 

Semi scoffed. “You have no fucking right to tell me that when you don’t eat 95 percent of what you order.” Tendou simply shrugged, as he had nothing to retort back to that. It was a well-known fact that he had the smallest appetite than anyone else on the team, except when it came to chocolate ice cream.

 

“But really, Tendou. You have been losing weight, nowadays. I think you need to eat more.” Reon, the team mom, wore a stern face. If men could get pregnant, then Tendou does not doubt that Reon would be chosen as the one and only candidate for ‘The Best Mom of the Year’.

 

Fine, mother.” With a dramatic roll of his wide eyes, Tendou took a huge bite from the chicken on his tray.

 

(He feels like throwing up, but nobody needs to know that. Nobody except for himself.)

 

“By the way, Kawanishi and Shirabu invited us to play cards in their room today after practice.” Semi rubbed at his nose a little, “Anyone going?”

 

“Are you sure you’re only going to play cards, Eita?” Satori points his chopsticks teasingly at his friend, and Semi’s ears transform into a shade of red darker than Tendou’s hair. “Come on, are you really not going to confess to Shirabu before you graduate? You guys aren’t very secretive about your feelings, if you ask me.”

 

Ushijima looks a little bewildered, as Semi grunts, “Shut the fuck up, Satori. So, are you going or not?”

 

“I can go.” Reon affirmed, as Ushijima nodded curtly as well, his mouth stuffed with food. To everyone’s surprise, Ushijima was not only a phantom of volleyball, but cards as well – something they learned from Shirabu’s birthday party last year.

 

That only left Tendou. All eyes were glued on him, and the red head kind of knew why.

 

“Sounds marvelous, but I’ll pass.” Semi’s face twists into his usual frown, and Reon goes back to eating, as if he hadn’t expected another answer. Ushijima doesn’t react either. They were all aware that Tendou, albeit his flamboyant, partygoer appearance, actually didn’t attend such festivities, for reasons that the middle blocker never bothered to explain in detail. “I have to go run my mom’s errand today.” His excuses were always brief and unquestionable, and also very convenient. Nobody ever inquired further or bugged him about the issue – that had been the case for the past three years they befriended one another.

 

There were three rules that Tendou Satori maintained for his social life.

 

Rule number one: Never let a relationship run deep. Keep friends, but never close friends. Listen to others, and never talk about yourself more than necessary.

 

Rule number two: Everything about his home life was to remain at home.

 

Rule number three: Be inconsistent. Don’t let anyone assume anything about you. Don’t let a suspicious label to be stickered.

 

(Rule number four: Always wear your façade.)

 

They were simple, and efficiently enacted. He had no problem obeying the set of policies he had created for himself, and soon, he wouldn’t even need them anymore. He’d be independent, and old enough to live on his own and not rely on his parents financially. He’d be out of that house for good, and everything was going to be over.

 

Then maybe, he’d purchase an expensive car far too luxurious for him, like a hot pink Lamborghini, and dress himself with crazy clothing, and maybe even get a mansion with a waterpark, a cinema, and- holy shit, he could maybe even have a dairy farm and make his own chocolate ice cream.

 

Tendou Satori is a dreamer.

 

(A broken one, too, which makes everything better.)

 


 

“Twenty more laps, and you guys are free to go.” Coach Washijou ordered emotionlessly, as he swiftly turned away from the court and headed to the group of managers to receive the records for the day. A holler of more than fifty high school boys echoed throughout the vicinity, as Ushijima counted the laps remaining as they ran.

 

“I’m pretty sure we ran at least two hundred laps today.” Shirabu muttered under his breath, although his pace never falls behind the others.

 

“Oho, is Shirabu-chan tired?” Tendou smirks, jogging with ease. “You can always ask Semi-kun to carry you on piggyback. I bet he won’t complain.”

 

The boy makes a funny expression that is somewhere in the middle of ‘that’s ridiculous’ and ‘that actually sounds very tempting’. “Please stop joking around, Tendou-san.” Settling with a disgruntled reply, Shirabu increases his pace and distances himself from his irritable senior. Goshiki shouted behind him, yelling illiterate elementary phrases such as ‘I cannot lose’ and something close in the range.

 

Tendou slows down, on the other hand, like always. He’s not exhausted – just that if he matches his pace with the others, that’d mean he wouldn’t have an excuse to enter the locker rooms late, or use the showers alone. And naturally, he had good reasons to do so.

 

“Tendou, hurry it up.” Yamagata slaps his back and sprints past, already on his seventeenth lap, while Tendou is only on his eleventh. Ushijima is done, already exiting the sweaty, damp gymnasium, and Reon walks by his side. After ten minutes, nearly the whole club vacates the area, and Tendou doesn’t jog at all. He lazily dragged his feet around the court – although it had never seemed so humongous with all the members running around, Satori felt like a tiny dot on a gigantic board, all alone. He had become accustomed to the feeling over the years, but he couldn’t help but notice it every single time.

 

Coach Saitou entered and gave a cursory scan of the gym, and locked his eyes on Tendou. “Satori, are you the last one to finish again?” With a shake of his head and a sigh of exasperation, the coach tapped his sturdy shoulder with the portfolio in his hand. “You graduate in less than a month, Satori – I understand club activities may not affect you at this point, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a regular and that definitely does not indicate that you may slack off during practice hours.”

 

“Roger that, sir.” Speeding up, Tendou completed his twenty laps in a breeze, and cleaned up the remaining volleyballs that were rolling around in a desultory manner, going back and forth along with the wind of the electric fan. When he was just about to skip to the locker rooms, he saw all his other teammates cleansed from their odorous sweat, hair dripping wet and bodies moist with vapor. None of them were shocked by the fact that Satori was the last to finish yet again – it had always been like that since their freshmen year.

 

“See you tomorrow, Tendou.”

 

“Tendou-senpai, come over to play sometime!”

 

“Kawanishi, don’t.”

 

“Shirabu, respect your elders.”

 

Tendou passed on a friendly, wild wave at them, and continued on to the showers. Then he caught sight of Ushijima with his bag, fiddling with his saturated hair.

 

“Wakatoshi-kun, going to Kawanishi and Shirabu’s room?” Twisting the doorknob, the red-haired male questioned with a high-pitched voice. The ace’s sole response was a firm nod, his expression as expressionless as ever. “Have fun, then!” A lethargic smile on his lips, Tendou swung the door open as hot, clammy air hit his face.

 

“Tendou,” He abruptly halted at the call of his name, and peeked curiously from the door. “See you tomorrow.” Wakatoshi’s gaze was sincere and staid as always, even with his farewells. The epitome of honesty, really.

 

“Yeah,” His heart filled with inexperienced warmth, at Ushijima’s words. “See you tomorrow, Wakatoshi-kun.” Closing the rattling metal door behind him, Tendou stared at his worn out sneakers with a grim face. Unrequited love. He repeated the phrase in his head, as just the slightest bit of bitterness tinted the end of his tongue.

 

Maybe, he’d be brave enough to confess to Ushijima one day, and just like magic, the latter would say yes, his expression unchanging and unfathomable but solid. They’d read Shounen Jump together, and Ushijima would hold an inexplicable fondness for the cute puppies in the corner of each page. Maybe they would binge-watch Tendou’s favorite anime series, and have a minor discussion about it all day, eventually giving in to one another’s arguments and finishing the day with sharing a bucket of chocolate ice cream.

 

Nah. He peeled his shirt off from his sweaty skin. That’s too good to be true. Even as a dreamer, he had his limits. Especially when that involved Wakatoshi – Tendou simply had too much lingering feelings about the boy.

 

(Rule number one: Never let a relationship run deep.)

 

Glancing at himself in the full-body mirror, 90 percent naked except the towel that hung around his waist, Tendou wanted to at least snort. His thin arms hung aimlessly next to his lanky frame that nearly showed the bones of his ribcage. His abdomen was covered in black and blue bruises, some yellowish around their edge. When one healed, another formed, and when that one healed, a new one blossomed at a healed region. The process was awfully boring, and not delightful in the slightest.

 

Don’t dream too much, Satori. He reprimanded himself mentally, rotating the tap to the left. The pouring water from the showerhead felt freezing to the bone, and then gradually got warmer. His bruises seemed to ache dully as the heavy streaks of water drizzled upon them, but Tendou didn’t mind. The amount of pain was just good – just good enough to feel real.

 

His normally spiky hair matted down to his forehead, the gel washed off. He liked his hair unnatural, crazy, and with the out-of-this-world look – it made him feel unique and independent – special, in a sense. Since everyone was weirded out by his odd appearance, they might as well be even more weirded out by his hair, right?

 

Slapping the tap down, Tendou changed into his school uniform, and didn’t bother to dry his hair. He almost seemed unrecognizable without his red locks shooting upward, the only sign of him remaining being his tall height and hunched back. His insane façade melted off, and he reverted to his true form – just a languid teenager that actually enjoyed blocking out the whole world from his secluded room.

 

Block. He mused at the word choice. He was a middle blocker, and not only did he block attacks, he blocked out interaction. What a lovely coincidence.

 

The journey back home is familiar and dreadful, and the miniscule puddle of the sensation only gurgles into a gushing waterfall, a ghastly crescendo of misery. His steps become smaller and his pace even slower. A pedestrian with short temper yells at him to get his shit going, and deliberately collides into his shoulder. Tendou doesn’t apologize, and instead, begins to hum a cheerful tune of some infamous K-pop song he heard on TV the other day.

 

Home was an annoying place to be – everything was predictable, and everything was the same. He could recite the actions to occur in his head, like an advert replayed too many times on screen.

 

When I open the front door –

 

“Satori, why are you so late?” Mom will ask, her hands on her hips, and- oh, see, she has that ‘I will call your dad’ face – “Akio, Satori is here!” Bingo. She doesn’t even give me a chance – but I make a flimsy excuse, anyway, because I think it’s better than absolutely nothing (or because he has this stupid hope that things will turn out differently today).

 

“I had volleyball practice. It ended late.” He pulled his shoes off and placed them on the rack. The increasing sound of the footsteps and incomprehensible cusses and complaints boom throughout their living room, and Tendou isn’t even scared. He’s just a little tired, from this endless routine, and dreams of a situation where this will pass painlessly – maybe just a concise scolding, a brief admonishing growl.

 

But Satori’s just a dreamer, nothing more than that.

 

(He can’t actually make those dreams come true.)

 

His mother trudges towards the front door and slams it shut, locking it, and Satori hears the definitive ‘click’. Tendou steals an empty glimpse at his father, Tendou Akio, whose face is a little reddish pink from alcohol, smelling like nicotine, beer, and the cheap brand perfume he wore to work. What does petrify Satori is the exact same shade of hair he shares with his father, once again confirming the fact that they are related by blood – that they hold an inseparable connection, whether they like it or not.

 

It makes Satori sick.

 

“C’mere.” Jutting his chin at his son, Akio walked sluggishly to the couch. Satori followed silently, knowing better than to contend. He just needed to endure this a few more years, he’d get a job, he’d be earning money, and everything would be fine. Just a few more years, and I’m done. He tells himself everyday, as he sits on the hard leather.

 

His father chugs down the remnants in the glass bottle. The sound of each gulp caused a queasy feeling in Tendou’s gut – the more his father drank, the more out of control he got. His mother was casually washing the dishes – of course, they ate dinner without me. Why am I even disappointed?

 

“So, why are you late again?” The sentence slurs a lot, and Tendou isn’t proud for being able to understand it, after his disparaging experience over the duration.

 

“I had practice.” Satori joins his hands together, his index finger scratching his knuckles. His excuse comes out as a worthless squeak, unlike his exuberant squeals during school hours. He despises it, because he actually wants to be the ebullient Tendou Satori, not the pipsqueak boy he was right now.

 

But when his father opens another bottle, he knows that today will be a long night. Longer than others. “Volleyball, volleyball, fucking volleyball…” The term is reiterated, like a mantra, like a curse. “You were always so fucking hung up about that sport. You were never even that good at it.” You’ve never seen me play, though, is what runs through Satori’s head, but he knows better than to actually voice his opinion. “You got that fucking sports… what, sports scholarship?” His father’s sticky laugh rang like a cacophonous grumble. “Must’ve been a mistake, no shit. There’s no way such a prestigious school accepted you, don’t you agree?”

 

“Um,” He’s not sure what to say. Either way, he’s going get beaten up in a few minutes. Fun. “Yes.” His head is lowered, and his bangs curtain his view.

 

“Good that you understand, at least. You’re a good for nothing, get that?” He pauses, and takes another sip from the bottle. “You probably fucked up the whole coordination of the team, anyway. I heard you got knocked out just before the finals?” His father sneered, and Tendou had the deepest urge for the first time in a while to punch the man square in the jaw. Insulting him was one thing, insulting the team was another.

 

“Your team must fucking suck, then.” You’re an idiot if you explode now, Tendou Satori. “I guess the great Shiratorizawa fell from its throne.”

 

“Leave the team alone.” Satori snapped, and it was too late when he internally slapped himself across the face.

 

Akio went eerily quiet, and Tendou bit down on his bottom lip until his skin turned dangerously white. “… What the fuck did you say?” The older man stood up on his wobbly feet, drunk and rage in his eyes. Satori froze, his bottom glued to leather cushions. The clanking noise of dishes and cutlery from the kitchen suddenly seemed too far away from his reach, although he was more than fully aware that his mother wouldn’t care –

 

CRASH!

 

Brown glass shards went flying across the atmosphere, one cutting through Satori’s right cheek. Shit. Red zone. He quickly dabbed at the blood with his uniform jacket in panic – the red zones were any visible regions on his skin that couldn’t be coveted with his jersey or normal clothing. It became a problem to explain the origin of his wounds. His father’s grip on the shattered remaining half of the bottle was trembling and tight with barely contained violence, ready to erupt at any moment. Fizzy drops of the beverage pooled beneath his feet.

 

It’s coming. I know it. Satori sucked in a shaky breath, bracing himself for the blow –

 

Mmph –“ He couldn’t suppress the initial grunt that escaped his lips, as his tall form crumbled to the ground, his father’s relentless kick hitting a healing bruise on his stomach. His bangs were still a little wet as they hung over his eyes, as tears stung the corners. Biting down on his lips, he coughed a choking moan as Akio knocked him down to the floor, his foot coming in vicious contact with Satori’s equally battered back.

 

His father’s hollers felt distant and foreign to his ears, as his vision blurred and paled, pain exploding through his body as he felt his cheek collide with the leg of the table. He dizzily tried to spur up an excuse to tell his friends tomorrow morning.

 

I’ll tell them I ran into an electric pole or something.

 

For now, he dreamed about himself in a world where he was alone, without his parents, without anyone, just him, and –

 

Fuck, stop thinking about Wakatoshi.

 

The world becomes black.

 


 

“What kind of girls do you like, Semi-senpai?”

 

“You know that I’m gay, Kawanishi.”

 

Booooring. Doesn’t mean you can’t get a boner from girls.

 

“You’re starting to sound like Tendou, stop that.”

 

Five males were gathered around the center of the dorm room, and Reon was fairly certain that he was the only straight individual with the exception of Ushijima. Kawanishi was bisexual, which counted partially, but not completely. And now, to his shallow desolation, he was now having to deal with his companions’ gay “girl talk” session.

 

“How about you, Ushijima-san?” Taichi concentrated on the olive-green player that was crouching in the corner of the room. They were all wearied from their marathon of card games – or more like, they were bored of seeing Ushijima win all the time. The stoic male blinked, and Kawanishi repeated, “What kind of girls do you like?”

 

“This sounds like a girl’s sleepover.” Semi rolled his eyes, albeit just as intrigued.

 

Ushijima pursed his lips thin, and then opened his mouth. “I don’t like girls.”

 

Silence washed over the room like an aggressive, sudden tsunami. It was an unexpected coming out session, that none of them was particularly preparing themselves for. Semi had almost spurted out the coke he was drinking, and began to sputter like an idiot, while Shirabu’s eyes widened in surprise. Ushijima was still stoic as ever.

 

“You- you what?

 

“I do believe the proper term is ‘gay’, when you’re referring to a primarily homosexual male.” Things they never believed Ushijima was capable of saying. “I don’t recall introducing myself as straight.”

 

“Well, you never introduced yourself to be openly gay, either.” Taichi pointed out, although looking amused by his new discovery. “Who would’ve known. I thought your family was super traditional about this, though?”

 

With obvious nonchalance, Ushijima shrugged, as if this was not a big deal. It technically wouldn’t be, only if it weren’t centered on Ushijima Wakatoshi. “I told my family a while ago. None of them were absolutely opposed to the confession – my uncle is pansexual in the first place, and my aunt is lesbian.”

 

Reon, dawning upon the revelation that he was really the only straight man in the room, asked, “Then is there anyone you’re specifically interested in?”

 

The room fell in tense silence, everyone focusing their undivided attention on their ace. Ushijima’s usually hard expression looked as if it was about to crack, as his eyebrows twitched and lips twisting inward. It was evident that at least this fact was yet to be revealed to anyone. “I suppose.”

 

“Holy shit.” Taichi whispered, and Shirabu nudged him with a glare that read ‘Shut the fuck up and let the guy talk’.

 

“Who?” Pressing on, Eita almost looked like he was about to burst into an anxiety attack. None of them saw such a dramatic turn of events ahead of them, when they initially entered this room.

 

Ushijima averted his gaze to the side, and he actually seemed queasier compared to an official match. Which said a ton, since Ushijima never got edgy or nervous about any game. On the contrary, he would get fired up and passionate, being the gigantic volleyball idiot he was. With a relenting sigh, he impassively mumbled,

 

“Tendou.”

 

HOLY SHIT.” Practically screaming at this point, Kawanishi leapt up into the air in pure astonishment.

 

“Are you fucking serious?”

 

“Ushijima-san, no offense, but you have mortifying taste.” Shirabu said crossly, although the curve on his lips told another story.

 

Reon massaged his temples – if he could click on an ‘unfriend’ button like social media in real life, he would’ve gladly done so long ago. “Guys, stop being immature. We’re not middle schoolers.”

 

“But we’re high schoolers, and that’s not a very huge difference.” Kawanishi protested, pulling out his notebook and scribbling ‘How to get Ushijima-san to Confess to Tendou-senpai: Be Fucking Cupid’ on the top. Shirabu ripped the page and tossed it in the bin.

 

“Are you going to… ask him out?” Semi ignored the bickering of his underclassmen. Both Ushijima and Tendou were his close friends, and as much as he possessed mixed feelings about the results, he only hoped for the best. He didn’t want to be biased about one party, and he could assume that Reon felt the same way.

 

“When it feels like the right time.” Ushijima replied effortlessly. Although his expression did not alter one bit, the determination in his green orbs was fierce and unbreakable, like iron.

 

Semi smiled a little – because he trusted Ushijima. Ushijima Wakatoshi was not a man that wore a mask on his face; but instead, he wore his feelings on his sleeve.

 

“But why Tendou-san?” Snatching the bottle of coke from Semi’s hands (in which Semi would usually yell at to ‘fuck off’, but this was Shirabu they were talking about), Shirabu took a tentative sip. “He’s… peculiar.” It was a much-neutralized adjective, as most of them noted.

 

However, Ushijima’s intense gaze only transcends into a softer one, at the mention of Tendou. “… Tendou is a man in riddles. It’s an arduous task to elucidate each reason.” His eyes traveled inertly around the atmosphere. “But perhaps, that’s exactly why I’m attracted to him.”

 

“The mysterious type? I never knew you were into those.” Leaning on the mattress of his single bed, Kawanishi smirked at his upperclassmen.

 

“Type?” Wearing a confuddled trace on his lips, Ushijima said, “I believe I don’t have a preferred type, so to say. It’s not because of those qualities – I find Tendou endearing because he is Tendou.” A phrase that would usually be too embarrassing to say with a sane mind flows like cascading silk from his mouth.

 

“That’s fucking awkward to listen to, stop.” The tip of his ears heating into an impressive shade of red, Semi buried his face in his arms. “We get that you love him, okay? We’re sorry for ever bringing this up, so let’s please stop this cheesy shit.”

 

“Semi-san, don’t be ashamed to say it to Kenji –“

 

“Kawanishi, I will slaughter you if you don’t shut the fuck up this second.”

 

 

Tendou’s purple, swollen cheek receives more attention than desired the following afternoon. The red head had been avoiding all his companions the entire school day, and inevitably encountered them during practice. His usually wild spiky head is matted down into his wavy, natural curls, because Tendou was too sore to apply the hair gel that morning.

 

Either way, the new look attracts numerous eyes, and Tendou, although adores attention, does not enjoy this one.

 

“… What happened?” Coach Washijou inquires, his voice calm and stringent as ever, his arms crossed over his chest.

 

“I crashed into an electric pole while mindlessly running home yesterday.” The lie is smooth and flowing, like a stream. “So, do I get to skip –“

 

“That doesn’t exempt you from practice.”

 

“Alrighty, Coach.” Tendou grins, and his muscles screech agonizingly at the movement. The nasty bruise combined with the long bloody slash beneath his cheekbone does not make anything better, but Tendou had worse before. It was his first time having an injury in the red zone in high school, but it occurred every now and then in junior high. It wasn’t a big deal, or anything to fret over.

 

(At least, no one cared even when he broke both of his arms then – so why would anyone now?)

 

He can hear his underclassmen whispering in hushed tones, and Tendou runs his long fingers through his hair. He’s not used to having the locks down, and his bangs are untrimmed, getting in the way of his field of vision.

 

“I didn’t think Tendou-san was the type to get in fights…”

 

“That’s a really ugly bruise…”

 

“What if he’s actually entangled with some dark business…”

 

“Do you think he’s depressed?”

 

His heart tightens at the assumption. Was he depressed? It wasn’t like he didn’t have suicidal thoughts in junior high – ‘If I just fall down this building, everything will be done with’, ‘If I jump into the road on purpose and get into a car accident, I’ll be gone for good’, ‘If I just slice deep enough and cut the wrong artery’, he’d think, with a hovering blade above his wrist, never actually taking any plan to action – was that wrong? I’m sounding depressed, this can’t be good. He snorted a little, and reached for a new volleyball from the stack.

 

From the corner of his eye, he spotted his friends – the Shiratorizawa seniors – approaching them gym, returning from whatever affair they had with Coach Saitou. Kawanishi had rushed over, and was frantically relating something to the three older members, pointing a quaking finger at Tendou. The lanky boy picked up detached phrases, like ‘Tendou-senpai’, ‘shitty bruise’, ‘not good’, etc.

 

I love you Taichi, but I really wish you’d keep quiet for once. Tendou mused, and tried his best to ignore the augmenting skepticism in his friends’ orbs. They snap their heads to him, and Tendou realizes his luck had run out long ago.

 

“Tendou.” Semi is the first one to march in his direction, as he yanks the collar of Tendou’s uniform. “Who the fuck did this?” He seethed of venomous rage, his gray eyes quivering crimson.

 

“It’s rude to assume that I was so fragile to be punched by someone else, Semisemi.” Although it’s true. “I just crashed myself into an electric pole.” The lie doesn’t come out as fluidly as before, and Tendou has a challenging time trying to maintain his composure. Semi was always so considerate, so compassionate – it made Tendou want to shatter his façade and just break down.

 

“Don’t fuck with me, Satori, you’re not a clumsy ass just because you look like one.” The former setter releases his shirt, but his anger levels have increased significantly. “Give me a name, and I’ll fuck them up tenfold.” Reon is standing next to Semi, and albeit not expressing his malice verbally, Tendou could see it in his pursed lips, and his hardened eyes. He is positive that he had never witnessed such a fuming side of the kind, motherly Reon before.

 

“You’re being way too serious about this, Eita.” Tendou mentally cursed himself as his voice cracked at the very last syllable. His throat was sore from the beating yesterday night, and he woke up unconscious on the living room floor, droplets of maroon-colored blood dotting the marble surface. It was nine in the morning, and he was two hours late to first period. He sloppily bandaged what he could, and applied some ointment to a few bruises and flew out of his house. “I’m in perfectly good condition –“

 

“Tendou.” Satori froze as he saw Ushijima briskly trudging towards him. His muscular stature made him look a little more intimidating than his normal, simply grave aura. His olive green eyes were opened wide; possessing a familiar sensation – it was just like when they were against Karasuno – but this wasn’t rivalry. This wasn’t about competing, it was about –

 

Resentment.

 

Their height was only two centimeters apart the last time they checked, but Ushijima suddenly felt so much taller. Tendou’s chin was grabbed at gently, contrasting to the furious, dominating gaze of the male. His jaw was clenched tight, and he exhaled a steamy, almost poisonous breath of contempt as he examined the red head’s wound.

 

“Tendou,” The way his name rolled off Ushijima’s tongue made a shiver run down his spine. “Explain.”

 

Don’t make me do this. Satori bit down on his bottom lip, his cheerful mask torn apart into shreds. Don’t make me lie to you, Wakatoshi-kun. “… I, um.” His faux excuse drained from his throat, and he forgot everything as his eyes met Ushijima’s intense ones. “Crashed into…” Semi threw his head back and mumbled a cuss next to them, shouting ‘He’s fucking lying, Ushijima’. “… A pole.” That’s all he could manage to say – the remainder of the excuse had been drowned elsewhere. God, I sound stupid.

 

Ushijima had let go of his chin, but his face twisted into a scowl. “That’s not the truth.” Testified by an angry Semi, Tendou added. I knew I should’ve thought of a more creative excuse. The bruise would be one thing – the cut couldn’t be explained by merely ‘crashing into a pole’. Which left anyone to assume that a person inflicted it.

 

But before the conversation could continue any further, Washijou decided that he had enough of this bullshit and commanded them to go on with their usual routine. Everyone reluctantly obeyed, and nobody uttered another word to Tendou for the next two hours.

 

And as usual, Tendou slowed the pace of his running during the cool down laps at the end, and waited until everyone had gone and came back out from the shower. Semi and Reon glanced in his direction, but Tendou pretended to not notice. He avoided eye contact with Ushijima as well, for his personal mental safety.

 

I kind of feel funny saying this myself, but I look like shit. His bruise had worsened over the course of the day – it wasn’t even purple anymore, it was purple-ish black, and the cut enhanced the grotesque effect to the whole marvelous scenery. He took a peek at his chest and abdomen, and scrunched up his face. It was his own body, but disgusting and ugly to look at all the same. The ointment isn’t working as well as before. I should buy a new one. He writes a mental note to himself, hoping the drug store would still be open after their usual working hours.

 

He stood next to the benches, all naked except for the white towel tied around his waist as always. And just when he was about to step into the shower booth, he heard a low ‘creak’ from the left and saw the crack of the door –

 

“Tendou, you left your water bottle in the gym –“

 

Satori’s disbelieving, glowing crimson pupils met Ushijima’s bewildered olive shades. His mind went blank as a sheet, and both of them just stood there in pregnant silence, a train of panic and deprecation chilling Tendou’s veins, as he refused to look back down on his bruise-clothed skin, where there was more black and blue than his pale skin color. He wished and had the urge to kneel and implore to whomever he could to stop time, just for now and forever.

 

But to his greatest fears, Ushijima took a few steps closer to him, still wearing that blank face, until he was standing right in front of Tendou. Satori felt like a lost child from more than ten years ago, when for the first time, he came to notice that his parents weren’t normal, that moms weren’t people that called their children a monster and that dads weren’t people that kicked around their sons and daughters like trash.

 

“Tendou.” Wakatoshi’s voice was low rumble. It was usually monotonous and sturdy, but it was lower than that. It rang deep in the steamy shower room, next to Tendou’s ear that was covered with his sweaty red hair. With a trembling whisper, Ushijima spoke through gritted teeth.

 

“… Name, Tendou.”

 

The middle blocker was able to tell when someone was highly irate. Ushijima was way beyond that level – he was too furious to form a proper sentence, to ask a polite question. His rough, calloused hands wrapped around Tendou’s bony arms, and Satori almost flinched away as a form of defense, although he knew Wakatoshi would never hurt him so.

 

“Wa…” Tendou’s volume died out into a repressed sob. He couldn’t. He risked and endured for so long just to get here, and he was so close – he just couldn’t. “Wakatoshi-kun.” Croaking, he touched the other male’s uniform jersey with a shuddering naked hand. “Look, it’s not as bad as it –“

 

Give me a name, Tendou.” Ushijima almost shouted in frustration, his raised voice resounding throughout the area. His grip on Tendou’s arms were quavering, barely a nanometer away from detonation. He looked murderous. “Answer me.” His beseeching tone made the other male want to crumble into a thousand pieces. Tendou unclenched and clenched his fists, trying to hold back the prickling sensation on the back of his eyes, as he bit on his tongue until he felt the trickling blood, the metallic taste –

 

“Ushijima, what the fuck is wrong…” Semi’s irritated inquiry trailed away at the sight of Tendou’s unveiled abdomen and an enraged Wakatoshi. His emotions seemed to flare exponentially, like a blast of flames, as his forehead wrinkled with deadly desire. “Satori, what the hell.” He stomped and pushed Ushijima out of the way, quite unintentionally. Tendou spotted Reon at the doorway, his face holding something the red head had previously never encountered beforehand. Semi was precautious enough not to be too rough with anything, as he briefly scanned the condition of the bruises.

 

“That’s it.” Semi muttered, his eyes seeing white from anger, “I’m going to fucking commit murder. They will pay.” His fist was balled, his nails digging into his palm as he caressed Tendou’s injuries with his free hand, both old and new. “None of you are allowed to stop me, you hear?!” The pinch server scrunched up his nose as if he was about to burst into tears, upon seeing Tendou’s body once again. “What the fuck, Satori.” Whispering his name, Semi shook uncontrollably. “You don’t… god, how did I never –“

 

“As much as I am not opposed at all personally, whether Semi commits murder for this occasion,” Even Reon was uncharacteristically malevolent with his tone, “I want to hear it from you, Tendou. What happened… no, what’s going on?” It must’ve been clear to the analytical Reon, that this could not be a temporal issue. The fading bruises on his chest were the solid proof.

 

It felt as if he was undergoing another panic attack, in a very long time. His breath hitched, and he couldn’t find the right words to say. He was suddenly sharply aware of the tiniest scratches on his skin, and he felt insecure about his appearance, and he hadn’t the faintest idea how to explain this to his friends, and he just broke all those set of rules he had created for himself in an instant, all his effort was gone, there was no dreams because his dreams never came true, and

 

“Satori.”

 

Tendou almost gasped as a strong pair of arms enclosed around his thin figure. Wakatoshi had pulled him into a firm, definite embrace. “It’s fine.” Your voice is far too soothing to be human, Wakatoshi-kun. Curling his fingers into Ushijima’s jacket, Tendou pulled his source of warmth close. “You’re safe.”

 

Satori didn’t say anything back in response. Semi and Reon must have exited at some point, because Tendou didn’t see them around.

 

“Should I take you home?” Ushijima tried gently, but Tendou’s body tensed significantly at the mention of ‘home’. The other boy seemed to have noticed, because he said, “You’re always welcome to come to mine.”

 

His parents were going to kill him, if he really just set out like that – but this entire disclosure had long shattered Tendou’s once strong barricade. His ability to make protective decisions was rendered useless in front of Ushijima’s hold.

 

“… You sure, Wakatoshi-kun?” He asked softly, scared. It was scarier than any beating, any torturous day – if Ushijima hated him, then he might as well resort to what he had avoided so long for all these years, might as well allow that hovering blade to rip through his vessel –

 

But the strongest ace perhaps, never wavered. “I’m always sure, Tendou.”

 

A drop of comfortable heat rippled through his bruised chest. “Right – you’re the Miracle Boy, after all. I forget that sometimes.” He managed weakly, removing his pale body from Ushijima. “I need to shower, so wait for me, alright?” Ushijima gave him an assuring nod, and Tendou finally stepped into the stall.

 

He was finished in a few short minutes, and the other boy tossed his towel at him. Tendou caught it with a facile swing of his arm, and dried himself. Ushijima waited patiently on the bench, and Satori finally reckoned how absolutely reddening this situation was – he was stripped down naked in front of the love of his dreams, nothing to conceal with his innocent white towel, and holy fuck, he was not having dirty thoughts about Ushijima thrusting him into the lockers, banging –

 

“Satori.” And since when were we on a first-name basis? I mean, I do call him Wakatoshi-kun, so I suppose it’s fair, but – “I’ll treat your injuries for you at my house. We have ointment and bandages.” He picked up Tendou’s sports bag for him, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world to do. It was a nice, courteous gesture, but Tendou wasn’t sure how to take that: a friendly act, or an affectionate behavior?

 

They walked side by side in silence through the dimly lit night. It was Tendou’s first time visiting Ushijima’s house – Semi and Reon had their respective opportunities after practice, but as Tendou always refused to go, he never had the proper chance. Of course, he never imagined he’d ever be doing so right now, under such circumstances.

 

The red head glanced nervously at Ushijima. “Hey, Wakatoshi-kun?”

 

“Hm.”

 

“Aren’t you…” Tendou grimaced – he really shouldn’t be mentioning this, but he couldn’t help it. “Aren’t you going to ask me anything?”

 

Now, Ushijima could be quite dense and obstinate at times, but he wasn’t dumb enough to understand what Tendou was hinting at. Instead, his lips thinned into a narrow line, as he seemed to be choosing his selection of words very carefully. “I don’t desire to make you feel further discomfort.” How considerate of you, Tendou internally rolled his eyes. “Of course, I am… concerned.” Satori didn’t miss how Ushijima’s squeezed around the bag strap until his knuckles turned white. “But at the same time, I believe you’d explain when you judge is the adequate moment.”

 

I can’t tell if you’re hardcore friend-zoning me, but that works. Tendou thought, as he stuffed his hands into his uniform pockets. “Right. Thanks.” For not asking anything, for waiting, for being here, I guess.

 

When they arrived at the Ushijima manor, Tendou was quite awe-struck at how different it was from his rugged house. It was a very traditional Japanese home, all prim and proper. Fumbling for his keys over the bags he was carrying, the muscular boy unlocked his front door and gestured at Tendou to enter. The thinner male took a few more seconds to admire the view, and stepped inside.

 

Mrs. Ushijima was standing on the rock path, with a complacent smile on her beautiful lips. “Welcome home, Wakatoshi.” Then she blinked at the sight of Tendou, and her puckered face crinkled into a worried frown. Oh right, I still have that pretty bruise. The image of his face flashing by, Tendou reminded himself with slight dread. “I see that you have brought a friend. I’ve met Semi-kun and Ohira-kun, but this is…”

 

“Tendou Satori at your gracious mercy, Mrs. Ushijima.” He grinned, quick to place his bright mask on. “Sorry for the uninformed intrusion.”

 

“Oh, no. The fault is on Wakatoshi for not telling me beforehand. Please call me Sachiko, Tendou-kun. But more importantly,” She took a graceful step forward, the space between her shaped brows forming a crease. “Can I take a look at that bruise? It’s not healing very well, I think…”

 

“Mother, I was wondering if I could examine them myself, if you don’t mind.” Ushijima interjected politely, and Sachiko lowered her arm. “I believe the first aid kit was in the restroom.”

 

The woman retracted herself from Tendou, and smiled. “Yes, that’s fine.” Her gentle features compared immensely with his mother’s – her blonde dyed hair in a messy ponytail, her eyeliner too thick and her floral perfume too strong, as her breath smelled like a mixture of cigarettes and some cheap alcoholic beverage. Sachiko’s rich black hair was tied up into a neat bun, and her kimono didn’t look too pricey, but created an exquisite balance – and furthermore, she just seemed so… nice.

 

It’s my first time ever to think that a ‘mom’ was nice. “Thanks, Sachiko-san.”

 

“No, you’re perfectly welcome. Oh, but did you inform your parents?”

 

An alarming siren went off in Tendou’s head, like an emergency warning. He hurriedly opened his mouth to say an anxious ‘yes’ or anything near, but –

 

“He called them just minutes before our arrival.” With ease, Ushijima covered it for him. Tendou blinked, and his bewildered gaze met Wakatoshi’s brief tenderness. Sachiko nodded, and released them to her son’s room.

 

Did he… notice? Biting the inside of his cheek, Tendou felt a pit of apprehension rising in his gut as they climbed the stairs to Ushijima’s room on the second floor. The wooden floorboard made a creaking noise with every footstep, and Satori wondered if he’d have to actually explain the whole story to Ushijima just like that, although he knew the ace would never force him to do anything.

 

“Take your shirt off.” Ushijima ordered, as he took out a bottle of ointment from the first aid kit. Tendou did as he was told, and just sat there, with his crush applying the substance to his bruises. Romantic.

 

“Does it hurt?” Yes, because your touches literally feel like feathers on my skin right now. Ushijima’s moves were so subdued on his skin, that it felt like they were hardly there. It was so soothing, how the mild coldness of the oil felt on his aching scars.

 

“No, it feels great.”

 

“Turn around.” And Tendou rotated the opposite direction on his butt, twirling. Now he was face-to-face with the other, Ushijima as expressionless as he first met him. “Are you alright?” He inquired, his fingers tracing over the borders of each bruise.

 

“Yeah, it doesn’t hurt, Wakatoshi-kun.”

 

“That’s not what I meant, Satori.” His words sound just the same as if he was talking about volleyball, anime, just about anything – just that this time this was about Tendou. “I want to know if you’re…” He doesn’t really continue the elaboration – he doesn’t need to.

 

I’m alright. I have a great day at school with you guys, and when I return to that doting home of mine, my mother has a scrumptious meal waiting for me, my father is reading the newspaper and he asks how school went, and I reiterate my day, saying that everything’s going wonderfully, like a charm. And maybe I’ll talk about you every now and then, and my mom will tease me, thinking I’m in love with you, and she’ll actually have no idea how correct she is. And you know, just like any other family, we’re happy, I’m happy, and I’m alright. He prepares to recite those exact lines to Ushijima. He prepares it, repeats them in his head numerous times, and the question is left unanswered for a few minutes. The green-haired boy never presses him for a response.

 

“I’m…” Say it. Just say it. Like you’ve told all your teachers, your counselors, your peers. Tell them you’re fine. Tell him you’re fine. “You know, I’m just…” His voice breaks, and his fingers curl into the tatami beneath them.

 

“I’m not alright.”

 

Wakatoshi’s cautious touch pauses, and the oil on his fingertips trail down Tendou’s skin. He stops applying the ointment, and straightens his back, facing the red head. Although they were around the same height, when they were sitting down, Ushijima just seemed so much taller. With a soft edge in his eyes, Ushijima raised his hand to caress Tendou’s bruised cheek – the fingers covered in oil felt cool, calming to the hotness of the swollen surface.

 

And just at that exact second, Tendou finally saw it.

 

The sheer care, concern in Ushijima’s eyes – ones telling Tendou that he was worried for his wellbeing, that he wished Tendou wouldn’t be so hurt, so damaged – that he wasn’t expressionless, he just didn’t know how to display his true feelings towards Satori – his quivering fingers, tentative touches all seemed to tell him just how much Wakatoshi cared.

 

Why do you care so much, Wakatoshi-kun? The back of his eyes stung. Or am I just dreaming again? His vision blurred, and his heart felt like it was being torn apart violently, the surging sensation in his chest just burning with pain, and –

 

“Satori.” Whispering his name, Ushijima leaned in closer, although with evident hesitation. He cupped Satori’s cheek, and placed a gentle kiss in the corner of Satori’s eye, his lips brushing against Tendou’s eyelashes. “It’s fine to cry.”

 

That’s when Tendou finally came to realize that he was crying, that he was holding back the sobs, and that he couldn’t do it anymore.

 

Not anymore.

 

He broke down to the floor, to Wakatoshi’s arms, the ointment still slightly sticky – but Wakatoshi didn’t seem to care at all. He wrapped himself around Tendou like there was nothing more precious in the world, and mumbled words of comfort in the latter’s ears, as Satori just cried, bawled, the tears flowing freely and his normally stifled sobs unsuppressed for the first time in his life.

 

“I’m here, Satori.” Ushijima whispered, “You’re safe.”

 

He had no idea how many minutes, perhaps hours – had passed. The spiker just allowed Tendou to calm down, until his cries became sniffles, and until his sniffles became quiet chokes.

 

“I thought about ending my life once.” His voice groggy, Tendou spoke. “Nothing was worth it, Wakatoshi-kun, I… I don’t know. I always dreamt that one day, everything would be magical and fantastical, and…” He was a dreamer. A broken dreamer. Ushijima’s arms were still wrapped around his body, his bruises still ached and burned – this was reality.

 

“Hey, Wakatoshi-kun?” He could hear Ushijima’s heartbeat against his left ear, as he pressed his face to the other’s chest. “Do you think I’m ugly?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you think I’m worthless?”

 

“No.”

 

“Do you hate me?”

 

“… That would be impossible.”

 

“Why?” And one day, I’ll wake up from this dream, and your arms won’t be there, and I’ll be alone on that marble floor again, dried blood in my mouth.

 

“Because I love you, Satori.”

 

He didn’t believe it. Tendou believed he never would.

 

“You’re not ugly. You’re not worthless. And I’ll never hate you.” Ushijima mumbled, his lips buried in Tendou’s messy hair. “I’ll never think otherwise, ever.”

 

“You mean that?”

 

“More than my passion for volleyball, if that explains anything.”

 

Tendou couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You’re hilarious, Wakatoshi.” Then he settled down, and asked his final question.

 

“Why do you think I’m alive?”

 

Ushijima hummed, and it sent a funny sensation down Tendou’s back, as he felt the vibration on his scalp. But it was a pleasing sensation – not unlikable at all. “I don’t know.”

 

His tousled red hair swept to the side, Tendou frowned. “You don’t?”

 

“I don’t.” Ushijima said firmly. “But we can look for the reasons why together.”

 

His pulse rate increased steadily, and Tendou found himself grinning wide as usual – and this time he wasn’t wearing a mask, this time it wasn’t a stupid façade. “Are you asking me out, Wakatoshi-kun?”

 

And the tiniest of a smile formed on the curve of the other’s mouth, as he enclosed the space between them, their lips pressed together, and through the short second they drew apart, Tendou heard the most beautiful word he had probably ever heeded in his entire life.

 

“Yes.”

 


 

“Tendou-san, going so soon?”

 

“Sorry, my boyfriend’s waiting for me, you see.”

 

“The one that drives the hot pink Toyota?”

 

“Yes, that beautiful human being. Too pure for this world.”

 

“Have fun.” His female coworker chuckles, and reverts her focus to her work. Tendou exits the office, and runs down to the entrance to greet his one and only, best of the bestest boyfriend, Ushijima Wakatoshi.

 

“Did you wait for a long time?” As he practically jumps onto the car seat, Tendou flashes a lazy grin at him.

 

Ushijima gets the car started, as the engine heats. “Not really.”

 

“How was the game?”

 

“We won.”

 

“That’s how it should be, Miracle Boy, Wakatoshi!” Throwing his arms dramatically towards the low car ceiling, Tendou squeals. “So, where are you taking me? Prison?”

 

“Not quite.” Ushijima grunted, as he steered the wheel to the right. “My uncle said he had a Dalmatian pup, and he didn’t know who to give the last one to –“

 

“Oh my holy god, are we getting a puppy?” Tendou lit up like a million light bulbs. Once again, he did not miss the miniscule smile on his boyfriend’s face. That smile alone was sufficient for an answer. “You make me remember how much I love you, ‘toshi.”

 

“You make it sound like you forget your love for me the rest of the time.”

 

“Of course that’s not what I meant.” Tendou giggles like a girl. “By the way, we’re totally naming the pup Moo Moo.”

 

“Moo Moo?” Wakatoshi repeats, and then shrugs. “If that’s what you want, I have no objections.”

 

“I love you so much.”

 

Ten years later from that night, Ushijima Wakatoshi and Tendou Satori had become more than close friends. Wakatoshi had assisted him with the issue of his parents, and everything solved out in the end, and here they were, discussing about pet names in their car.

 

Tendou Satori likes to believe that he’s a dreamer.

 

Of course, his hot pink Lamborghini turned out to be hot pink Toyota,

 

Instead of a waterpark in a mansion he got a fishpond at the back of their apartment,

 

And now, instead of a dairy farm, they have a Dalmatian puppy named Moo Moo.

 

But really, Tendou doesn’t care about any of that.

 

“Wakatoshi-kun, have I ever told you that you were literally my ‘dream come true’?”

 

“No.”

 

“Well, you are.”

 

The little details never mattered.