It wasn’t like he would do this for just anybody. But this was Akaashi, you know, Akaashi. The boy had never once come to him for a favor of any kind, even when he had been a fresh-faced first-year on their old Fukurodani team and Bokuto, wanting to be a good upperclassman, had offered to show him the ropes around the school and around volleyball and around people of the female persuasion; it turned out Akaashi was wholly better at this general life thing than Bokuto ever had been, and it was usually the junior doing favors for the senior more often than the other way around.
So when Akaashi came to him, waiting outside his apartment in the frigid Tokyo winter until Bokuto’s muddled form appeared under a streetlight in the distance, and prefaced his habit of fiddling with his fingers with a hesitant, “I hate to ask this of you...”
Well, Bokuto already knew by then that he would do anything, anything, Akaashi asked of him.
“Don’t sweat it!” he laughed, trying to juggle three bags of groceries in one hand while simultaneously attempting to dig for his keys in his coat pocket with the other. He felt stray coins and lint and candy wrappers and his wallet, but his keys escaped him.
Akaashi seemed to hesitate, then snatched the groceries from his arms. “I haven’t even told you what the favor is yet,” he reminded him, biting his lip.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure I can get it done!” he declared, finally procuring his ring of keys. Dangling them by the end of his pointer finger, he boasted, “I’m pretty awesome, you know!”
Akaashi seemed unimpressed if his flat stare was any inclination, but said nothing, probably because he had come to ask for a favor and it just was not proper etiquette to roast the person you were asking the said favor from. He followed Bokuto into his apartment silently, careful not to trip over the dozen or so pairs of shoes littered in the doorway, and dumped the bags in his arms onto the nearest kitchen counter.
Bokuto flicked on a light, scratching his head. “Eh? Aki’s not here?”
How Konoha handled living with Bokuto and facing the full brunt of his personality day in and day out, no one on their team had been able to figure out. Guess you can put up with just about anything when you need a place to stay, Komi had mused. You know those freak stories about people being able to lift cars off their bodies after getting pinned under them? I think it’s kinda the same thing.
“Must be working late,” Bokuto eventually decided, not bothered. “Akaashi, you want some ramen?”
“No, Bokuto-san, I just ate—"
“Ehh? You gotta have some, Akaashi, you’re all skin and bones! I bought some of the shrimp-flavored kind, you like that stuff, right? I bought it for Aki but he’s not here so, oh well, losers weepers.”
“...All right, I will.”
Akaashi, predictably, was left with the task of cooking the ramen on the stovetop when Bokuto switched on the TV and was quickly distracted by a volleyball game. He didn’t mind too much since it gave him a chance to put thoughts together in his head, but he heard the occasional hoot of celebration and wondered with a sigh how his neighbors weren’t constantly making noise complaints, or, more importantly, why he had thought it would be a good idea to come to Bokuto-san for a favor of all people. He was sure Sarukui-san would have been just as good, with his smooth tongue and eloquent way with words, or Washio-san, who was silent and intimidating in a way that discouraged conversation in the first place.
“Akaashi, you done yet?” Bokuto asked cheerily, skipping into the kitchen, and did not hesitate to wrap an arm around his old setter’s waist. Chin tucked on his shoulder, he breathed in the scent of the ramen and beamed his approval. “Mm, smells good!”
Akaashi pursed his lips. Oh, right. That was why.
They carried the steaming pot to the living room, switching on the kotatsu and burrowing under it, each taking their preferred serving into their respective bowls and silently munching on noodles as they watched the game. It seemed to slip Bokuto’s mind altogether that Akaashi had not come for a mere social call, and it wasn’t until the boy set down his empty bowl and chopsticks and loudly cleared his throat that the TV was muted.
“Oh, yeah, what did you need from me?” Bokuto asked. He put the rim of his bowl to his mouth so he could noisily slurp up the last of what remained of his ramen, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and let out a loud noise of contentment that his stomach was now full.
Akaashi watched this take place and seemed to have realized he had made a huge mistake. But it was too late.
“Spit it out, Akaashi, don’t be shy!” Bokuto egged him. He put his chin on the back of his soup-stained hands and grinned his most charming and most plentiful smile, the kind that even opponents on the other side of a volleyball net were not immune to.
Akaashi cleared his throat once more. Here went nothing. “Well, as you know, Christmas is almost here—”
“And you need my help shopping for presents?” he guessed, immediately perking up at the thought. Christmas shopping was a blast; he loved taking his little brothers to the shopping center and trying on funny hats together, spending the day sipping cocoa and attempting to find the perfect wrapping paper with the optimal mix of cute elves and wonky reindeer. He usually had to return together with his mother on another day since no actual shopping got done when it was just him and his brothers, but that had just become a sort of family tradition now.
“No, no. I always get my shopping done early.”
“Ooh. What did you get me!”
Akaashi raised a brow. “I didn’t realize I was obligated to get you a gift?” Bokuto’s expression crumpled so fast at the realization that he would not be getting a gift from his old setter, that even Akaashi could only hold out for a few seconds before he snorted in mirth. He wasn’t normally the kind of boy who snorted at all, but somehow being around Bokuto made him this way. “I’m joking, Bokuto-san, of course I bought you a present. You’ll just have to wait for it like everyone else. But about Christmas...”
“Oh, right! What’s up?”
“Well. See.” He beat around the bush for a moment, almost genuinely afraid to say it because there would be no taking back the words once they were out into the open and within his old captain’s clutches. Eventually he had to shake his head at his own theatrics, and blurted it out before his brain could catch up to his mouth. “My family has a Christmas dinner every year, and I have to bring a date.”
Bokuto’s mouth parted, taken fully off-guard by the admittance. Akaashi? On a date? Somehow the thought had never occurred to him before, and it was—unsettling—in a way, imagining him walking down the boardwalk with a girl on his arm. Not that there was any reason for it to be unsettling, since he was sure Akaashi would make a very nice boyfriend to anyone; he was smart and athletic and always took care of people (Bokuto, specifically) even if he acted like it was the biggest chore. He was also objectively very pretty, and would probably make a very good physical match for just about anybody. But, still.
“Who are you taking?” he demanded, mouth deep set into a frown.
“That’s the thing—"
Bokuto’s eyes narrowed. “Who did you take last year?”
Akaashi finally glared at him, and this was a look he was definitely used to, instead of all this hemming and hawing he had been doing all evening. “Would you please just let me explain the entire story before you ask questions? Bokuto-san,” he tacked on at the end for good measure, for the sake of remaining polite.
Bokuto made a show of pretending to lock his lips shut and throw away the key.
Akaashi sighed, then was finally able to continue. “I didn’t take anyone last year, because it has never been an issue until now. See, my family wants to set me up for an arranged marriage meeting.”
He couldn’t help it. He just had to squawk his disbelief. “What?!”
Akaashi plowed on as if he hadn’t even interrupted. “My family, they’re... not like most. They’re very traditional. Most of us marry for business purposes or social reasons. I was always aware, just slightly, that it would be my turn someday soon. I’ll be graduating from college at the end of next term, and planning a wedding takes time too, so you have to decide these things early.”
“W-Wait—but—date?” Bokuto scratched his head, confused and not following and feeling more than just a little nauseous about all this sudden news of Akaashi getting married.
Something pretty and pink blossomed on Akaashi’s cheeks, then, and Bokuto almost leaned in a little, he was so taken aback and enthralled at this reaction he had never seen before on his setter. His old setter, he reminded himself. Well, not his. The old setter who had once belonged on the volleyball team at Fukurodani Academy at the same time that he had—there, that worked.
“That’s a little bit my fault, see,” Akaashi explained, playing with his fingers. “My parents brought up the marriage meeting last time we talked on the phone, and I—I’m not sure why I did it—but I told them I’m already seeing someone.”
“Ohh?” Bokuto rubbed his chin, finally beginning to see where the dilemma had formed. “So you need me for, what, to help you find a nice girl to take to your family?”
He didn’t know that many girls who’d be willing to put up this kind of facade at a family Christmas dinner for a boy they didn’t even know. There was Yukie or Kaori, of course, but he was sure Akaashi’s parents must already know they were managers from their old volleyball team, so that would be a difficult explanation to hedge their way around. There was a fairly cute girl from one of his old science classes, a petite and bespectacled sort of girl who didn’t talk much but was very smart, who would probably make a good match for Akaashi and leave a good impression on his fancy-sounding family. He was sure he could find her number somewhere. But he didn’t like it, kind of, the thought of setting Akaashi up with some girl; he was incredibly annoyed just by the thought even though he hadn’t even done anything yet.
“No, Bokuto-san, I—" Akaashi loudly sucked in air, eyes screwed shut in the way he often would before a volleyball match or a final exam, the moments when he really, really needed to build up his determination. Bokuto always admired his profile when he did that. “I wanted to ask if you would pretend to be my date?”
A beat of silence followed.
Then Bokuto’s jaw unhinged. The only intelligent thought that managed to leave his mouth was a dumbfounded “guuhh?” and that wasn’t even very intelligent.
Akaashi wanted him to be his date? His pretend date? Akaashi wanted him to meet his parents and tell his whole family “This is Bokuto-san and he’s my boyfriend” and hold his hand and stuff? Well, pretend to hold his hand. How did you pretend to hold someone’s hand, anyway? Or did you just have to go and do it for real, but have to continuously tell yourself you didn’t like it? He didn’t think he would hate holding Akaashi’s hand, though, so that probably meant he wouldn’t even make a very good pretend date in the first place.
All these thoughts forming in his mind, the only thing he blurted out was, “But I’m not a girl?”
Akaashi gave him a funny look. That was nothing new since Akaashi was always giving him funny looks, usually followed by a roll of his eyes or a fond smile or both (Bokuto really liked it when it was both), but he seemed to be treading very carefully now in this conversation. “Yes, Bokuto-san,” he said, in his most patient voice. “That’s why I asked you.”
“You asked me because I’m—?”
“Because I’m into men.”
For the first time in possibly his whole life, certainly since the first time he had picked up a volleyball, Bokuto had nothing to say. This was beyond even garbled, incoherent noises, apparently, because he simply continued to sit there for an immeasurable amount of time in pitch silence, so still that Akaashi might have almost believed someone if he was told that his senior had actually been replaced with a wax look-alike of himself in the second that he’d blinked. He shifted. Bokuto seemed to jilt at the first sign of movement, and then his hands had smacked onto the tabletop as he practically hoisted himself across it.
“Since when?!” he demanded, only inches from his face.
“Since... always?” Akaashi angled his head. “Did you not know? The rest of the team certainly knows.”
“You told everyone else on the team but not me?” Bokuto seemed to deflate. He sank back onto his cushion, and when his chin met the tabletop and the sparkle in his eyes dulled, Akaashi knew he was teetering towards peak dejection mode. It was best to combat the emotion before it could reach its optimal level of inconvenience.
“I didn’t exactly volunteer the information myself,” he assured him. “They asked, and I... I didn’t see any reason to lie or hide it from them, I suppose.”
Bokuto looked up, eyes narrowed. “So you weren’t specially keeping it from me?”
“Of course not, Bokuto-san. I wouldn’t have come to you today if I’d realized that you didn’t know.” He cleared his throat, fingers carefully interlocking as they came to rest on the table. “Well, if the news is a little too hard or too sudden to process, I’ll understand. I can easily go to Washio-san—”
“What! No way!” he squawked, and his chin lifted from the table as quickly as his self-pitying mood vanished into thin air. Jabbing a thumb into his chest, he declared, “You came to me for help, so I’m the one who’s gonna help you! I really wanna help!”
Akaashi still seemed unconvinced, and Bokuto had always thought it was really funny and also just a little bit really freaking adorable that his nostrils got all stretched out like that whenever he pursed his lips. “If you’re sure…”
“Sure I’m sure!” He smiled encouragingly, trying to communicate to the boy with his bedazzled eyes alone how much he really wanted to help, and how he definitely would not let him down, and that he was open to any and all favors that Akaashi needed fulfilled in the future as well. “I’m pretty free for New Year’s too, after the temple visit and all, if you need me then! Or Valentine’s day! Or your birthday! Or, uhh…”
As he scratched his scalp, trying to scrounge up another intimate event he felt he could be the perfect fake boyfriend for, Akaashi looked on with a twinkle in his eye that translated into a mixture of both fondness and amusement. “That’s all right, Bokuto-san,” he said, biting his lip to hide a smile. “I think this Christmas dinner will be enough, thank you.”
Bokuto’s answering smile could have outshined the sun. “Anything for you, Akaashi.”
And he really, truly meant it.
The snow that night was unrelenting, pelting down on windows until they rattled and blanketing everything in a colorless layer of white. Bokuto opened his door the next morning to an entirely new city, and basically catapulted himself into the nearest snow mound with a joyous whoop, emerging with a laugh and reddening ears. Konoha looked as if both the snow and Bokuto had personally wronged him somehow as he tossed him earmuffs, retreating behind the folds of his jacket and shivering under its padded lining.
“I’m gonna have to shovel out the walkway in front of the store,” he grumbled, kicking at a puddle that had iced over during the night. It didn’t so much as crack, solid even under his weight. “It’s gonna be an absolute nightmare. And it’s supposed to snow again in the afternoon.”
“I’ll do it!” Bokuto offered, snapping his muffs into place. He buttoned up his coat all the way up to his chin, since his scarf was out of commission for the coming winter; it had suffered so much abuse at his hands, so much wringing and tossing and acting as a makeshift sack for his volleyball, that it had become completely frayed and the yarn had started to come apart.
Konoha narrowed his eyes. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep just so you can look cool, you dunce.”
“I’m an awesome promise-keeper,” Bokuto insisted, following him down the street. “Ask anybody! Ask Akaashi!”
He snorted. “Akaashi’s the last person who’d vouch for you.”
“That’s not true, just yesterday he—”
“Fine, come by later, then,” Konoha relented, before smartly tapping his watch. “And aren’t you late for picking up your brothers? Didn’t you promise you’d be there by nine?” His smirk was practically wicked, and normally Bokuto might have wrestled him to the ground and instigated a snowball fight, except he was very late for picking up his brothers and practically flew down the block like his shoes had sprouted wings.
“I’ll be there by three!” he called over his shoulder, waving a hand. “I promise!”
Bokuto’s brothers were already waiting by the door when he reached his childhood home, panting down to his knees but still smiling unbidden at the first sight of them. They raced one another to see who could reach him first, and suddenly Bokuto had one little boy swinging from his arm and another little boy climbing up his leg, and he couldn’t have been more overjoyed to be climbed like a jungle gym unless his two brothers suddenly turned into three and he had another one wrapped around his torso.
He accepted a kiss and a piece of toast from his mother, who refused to move past the screen door and into the cold winter but was smiling nonetheless, and then the three boys were off to make the most of their family tradition. The shopping center was predictably packed this close to Christmas, though they didn’t really notice and might have spent at least an hour just marveling at the electronic, waving snowman out front before moving onwards. Bokuto was sporting a Santa hat before long, his little brothers trailing behind with matching elf ears, and they had themselves a great time window-shopping and drinking hot chocolate and giggling at funny wrapping paper. Eventually Bokuto scooped up his shrieking brothers under one arm each and skipped out of the center shouting “ho, ho, ho!” at passing families, inducing glee in every child within his immediate vicinity.
It was exactly three on the dot when he arrived at the store.
Konoha jerked at the sound of the bell, hurrying to stuff away the gift catalogue he had open on the counter with several items circled in red ink. He squinted at his watch, then clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Right on time, unbelievably.”
“I ran here!” Bokuto told him, full of glee. His cheeks were flushed red and he sucked in a trail of snot from one leaky nostril, but he looked undeniably happy as he held up a paper bag and proclaimed, “And I brought gifts!”
“Gifts?” It was Komi who repeated the word, suddenly appearing from the back room and around the counter. He had a clipboard in one hand and a nametag clipped to his vest. “I hope I was on the nice list this year.”
“Of course, of course!” Bokuto laughed, then tossed his coat on the counter while his Santa hat stayed firmly on his head. He dragged over a stool, screeching against the tiles the entire distance, then pried open the bag to pull out three sandwiches. “Lunch for my hardworking bros,” he presented, looking rather proud of himself.
“And here I was going to make you restock the shelves for me if you got here even one second past three.” Konoha had the sense to appear sheepish, accepting his portion of the food and settling in.
Bokuto took a bite of his sandwich, and exclaimed around it, “I can do that, too, if you want!”
Konoha wiped flecks of mayonnaise from his cheek, suddenly looking the farthest thing from sheepish. “Gee, thanks, Bokuto, you’re a real pal,” he deadpanned, in a very tight, controlled voice.
“I’m doing all kinds of favors these days,” Bokuto boasted, sitting up a bit straighter in a self-important way. “I guess word’s going around that I’m a trustworthy guy. Just yesterday, Akaashi—”
“Then, if you could restock some of the shelves for me, it really would be a big help,” Komi piped up, unwrapping his food after he had planted himself on the countertop. He flashed him a small, grateful smile, one which Bokuto readily returned as he bobbed his head and puffed out his chest and proclaimed leave it to me! “I can pay you a little extra for it this time, too. We’ve been getting a lot more customers because of this Christmas rush and all.”
If Bokuto looked closely, the store did look a little emptier than usual—in a good way. He was suddenly overcome with a rush of immeasurable pride for his old friend and teammate, who had taken over his father’s business after graduating college and made it flourish. Now he earned enough to even employ Konoha as a part-timer, who was slowly working his way through his graduate education, as well as occasionally hire Bokuto to complete odd jobs for him that no one else really wanted to do.
The afternoon passed like this: finishing their lunch in between arguing over last night’s episode of their favorite cop drama, Bokuto unpacking boxes and nearly toppling over a shelf before catching it just in time, Komi stressing out over numbers with a calculator in the back room, and Konoha occasionally yawning as he flipped through his catalogue that he was not even trying to hide anymore.
Bokuto had just finished his first task, and grabbed his coat along with a shovel to head out into the brewing snowstorm for his second, when the bell above the shop door jingled.
Akaashi was as visibly taken aback to see Bokuto as Bokuto was to see him.
Well, Bokuto wasn’t so much taken aback as he was overjoyed, delighted, filled up on glee that ballooned up inside of him until he felt like he could just float away right this second. A grin almost cracked his face in two.
“Ehh, Akaashi, what are you doing—!”
The words quickly retreated back into his throat when a second body appeared from behind Akaashi, tinier in stature and just as pretty in appearance. Really, really pretty. Like, she could have walked right out of a magazine photoshoot or something. And, actually, that’s what they both looked like. She had a hand resting in the crook of Akaashi’s elbow, and they looked like they had been shooting for some fancy magazine, maybe the catalogue Konoha had open on the counter right now with all those pretty people dolled up in winter gear, and they had decided to take a break to walk down the boardwalk together. Or something.
“Bokuto-san.” Akaashi’s voice brought him back to reality. He eyed the shovel slung over Bokuto’s shoulder. “I’d ask what you’re doing here, but it’s fairly obvious.”
“I’m doing errands for Komi,” Bokuto told him anyway, because sometimes his mouth needed to be moving so his mind wouldn’t. He was fighting very hard to keep his bottom lip from protruding, though he didn’t quite manage it completely.
“I’ll go look around a bit,” Akaashi’s friend told him, detaching herself from his arm. His friend who just also happened to be a girl. She didn’t acknowledge the other boys in the store much aside from bobbing her head into a quick bow, even if they were staring at her in a rather intense, unblinking manner—Bokuto especially. Akaashi just nodded once, and easily let her go.
Bokuto’s patience barely allowed him enough grace to wait until her back disappeared behind a tall display of skiing equipment before he sprang up to Akaashi and hissed, hand cupped shiftily around his mouth, “Hey, hey, who’s she? Did you decide you’re into girls now?”
His stomach did a funny, squeezing thing when he said that. First his throat got all snug, and then it felt like his stomach was churning in some ice machine or flopping around like a pancake or something. He couldn’t really pinpoint the feeling, but it felt a lot like the crippling sensation of losing a practice match, or dying during the final boss battle, or dropping his ice-cream cone before he’d even gotten to take the first lick. He could sense that feeling of immense disappointment swooping into his body. And, great, now he’d made himself all sad just thinking about Akaashi being attracted to girls, even though up until yesterday that had been the exact reality of his world and he had thought absolutely nothing of it.
Akaashi’s answering stare was bland and altogether not nearly responsive enough to satisfy him. But he perked up at his words (even if they did sound a bit exasperated and so Akaashi-like). “No, Bokuto-san. I’m still very much into men, as I’ve always been.”
Bokuto gripped the handle of his shovel so hard his whole arm was practically shaking from the force of it straining his muscles.
“She’s captain of the girls’ basketball team at my university,” Akaashi explained, slowly unwinding the scarf around his neck. He beat his shoes against the welcome mat once, to dust off any snow, and then tread inside. “She needed to buy supplies, and I told her I knew a good sporting goods store in the area.”
“Akaashi is always bringing me business,” Komi told them, clapping him hard enough to shake him a little. “Like a good underclassman.”
“It’s not a big deal,” he mumbled, fiddling with the top button of his coat, and Bokuto unconsciously leaned in a little when he realized Akaashi almost appeared shy. He never did do very good as the center of attention; he had once told Bokuto—at a very early time in their relationship, when they were both still considered underclassmen and were bursting with the will to prove themselves to the team—that maybe they were destined to meet at Fukurodani and become a deadly setter-ace combo, because Bokuto flourished under the limelight while Akaashi preferred to linger back in the darkness, and somehow they complemented one another perfectly. Bokuto had thought about that moment every night for two straight weeks after, feeling like he was dying because his chest just kept aching and aching even when he upped his cardio workout for the week.
“Hey, hey, Akaashi.” Bokuto eagerly shuffled forwards, unblinking once more. “I’m gonna go out and shovel snow off the walkway. Do you wanna come and watch?”
“I really can’t just leave my friend here by herself,” Akaashi reminded him, settling himself down on the stool that had been Bokuto’s just an hour ago.
“Aww, all right…”
He took one step towards the door, then hesitated and looked back quickly, as if to make sure Akaashi hadn’t changed his mind in the last millisecond or anything. No one had moved at all. He took another step, then quickly looked back again. No one had still moved, though Konoha appeared endlessly amused, Komi had tinged crimson from the force of holding in a billowing laugh, and he’d definitely caught Akaashi mid-eye-roll. Sulking, but forced to realize that no one would be following him out, Bokuto finally exited the store and threw himself into his job.
As Konoha had predicted, it had begun to snow again in the past couple hours since he had dropped his brothers back home. Bokuto had never been fond of this dreary weather, the clouds colorless and murky, the atmosphere silent and still in a way that foreboded misfortune. But watching snowflakes drift like glitter under streetlights and people leaving traces of themselves as footprints in the snow—those moments held a certain kind of magic that had always thrilled him. His last year at Fukurodani, Akaashi had stopped on their way home to tip his head to the sky, enraptured by the snowfall, and Bokuto had thought that perhaps nothing could ever be more magical than Akaashi’s eyelashes catching snowflakes under the night sky.
Bokuto whipped his head around and almost ended up on his rear when his foot caught the bad angle of a puddle of ice, though he managed to save himself with an unattractive dance that was more flailing limbs than it was graceful movements. Akaashi was there, at the front of the store with a purchase in one hand and his friend attached to the other, and he seemed to be holding back an amused smile.
Bokuto grinned, sheepish, and realized more time had passed than he’d noticed. “Finished already?”
“We found everything.” He nodded towards his friend. “I was just about to walk her home.”
She had a tight grip around his elbow again as he led her down the walkway, and Bokuto realized belatedly he was only helping her keep her balance on the frozen asphalt. That was… good. For some reason. Though he had never seen Akaashi take such considerate care of anyone besides himself before, and a part of him had thought that maybe he was special in that way. That thought was not as good.
“Bokuto-san, where is your scarf?” Akaashi was staring him down, lips pursed and nostrils stretched in his usual way when he was disapproving of anything concerning his old captain.
“Oh.” Bokuto looked down at himself, and found that his coat was lazily adorned since he hadn’t had the patience to button it all the way up to his chin again. Scratching his scalp, he admitted, “It’s completely totaled.”
Akaashi sighed, then unwound his own, the bag slung around his wrist crinkling along with the movement. Bokuto accepted it in a bit of a daze, blinking rapidly and feeling all the air inside his lungs just whoosh out of him at breakneck speed. He used to steal Akaashi’s things on the regular during their Fukurodani days, but it had been quite some time since the last. The scarf was still warm from wherever it had touched Akaashi’s skin.
“Please take better care of yourself. You’ll be out here shoveling snow for a while.” Akaashi held up a hand. “Then, if you’ll excuse us.”
“Thanks, Akaashi! You’re the best!”
There was a vague, fond smile tugging at his lips in reply, and Bokuto beamed as he quickly wrapped himself up to show him that he would definitely put the scarf to good use. Waving his shovel over his head, he called after them, “Come around again soon!”
“Bokuto-san, please don’t poke out someone’s eye with that thing.”
“Oops! Sorry, Akaashi!” His laughter echoed after the retreating couple.
Akaashi’s friend glanced back at him over their shoulders, appearing bemused when Bokuto waved a cheery hand in farewell. Not seeming to realize that they were still within close enough distance for her voice to carry, she blatantly asked, “Why are you so formal with him, Keiji-kun?”
Akaashi seemed surprised. “He was my senior on our high school volleyball team.”
“Eh? He’s your senior? I thought…”
His answering tone was clipped, but with an undertone of hidden amusement. “You wouldn’t be the first.”
There was a long, thoughtful pause, and then she leaned into his ear and told him, “He’s kind of cute.”
Bokuto licked his lips, his heart hammering in his chest, and waited to hear what Akaashi had to say on that matter. But either they had traveled far enough for their voices to become muted, or he gave no response at all, because his answer was lost in the whistling winter wind. Bokuto was left just swaying in place as he stared after them. For some reason his heart just wouldn’t stop beating really, really fast and he felt all hot inside like there was a coil pressed to his arteries. He couldn’t stop thinking of what a nice picture Akaashi made, having someone tucked into the crook of his arm. He’d probably look even nicer tucked up against someone else’s arm himself, or maybe with an arm wrapped around his waist. A man’s arm. Akaashi liked men so he’d have a man’s arm around his waist, probably.
The thought filled him up with a kind of restless energy that he usually only experienced during push-up contests at practice, the kind that gave him the energy to do fifty all at once and probably fifty more if he hadn’t already won. He felt like he could run around the entire city three times right this very second, just thinking about Akaashi all snuggled up in the firm, sculpted arms of a man. He settled for digging his shovel into a mound of snow and clearing the walkway up to Komi’s store in minutes flat.
“Is this real life?”
“I can’t believe years of hanging around Bokuto has finally melted Akaashi’s brain to the point that he thinks this is a good idea.”
“Bokuto, for the sake of my own brain, I am effectively ending our friendship starting right now. It’s been nice knowing ya.”
Bokuto pulled his face out from inside his ransacked closet and made a horrid face at his so-called friends for their teasing. Konoha was the sole person present in his war zone of a bedroom, leaning back against a desk that had seen better days. But he’d pulled up Sarukui on speaker phone, Komi on a video call over Skype on his laptop, and at least one of them was feverishly keeping Washio updated on all developments via text message. None of them were offering any sort of help for his current dilemma, or even seemed to believe him at all.
“Washio is asking if you’re sure you didn’t just dream the whole thing?”
“Uhh.” He scratched his head. “I’m pretty sure, yeah.”
“I think there’s a pretty good chance it was a dream,” Konoha insisted, tapping his chin. “Akaashi’s not stupid. He knows what happens when you throw Bokuto into the mix of anything, let alone a delicate situation like this.”
“It was real!” Bokuto sprang to his feet, shoulders squared. “He even left me a message earlier saying he’d be coming over to talk.”
“What, he can’t come over just to hang out? Did he say what he wanted to talk about?”
“Well… No, but…”
“Probably wants to cut all ties before his brain turns to complete mush from overexposure.” Komi nodded. “Smart guy.”
Bokuto squawked his disapproval at the dig, lunging at Konoha when he laughed since he was the only other tangible person in the room, and a bout of wrestling ensued among stacks of his dirty clothes that was further provoked by their old teammates calling out bets from the safety of the other end of their lines—and this was the scene Akaashi walked into.
Bokuto and Konoha both froze with their hands still fisted around each other’s collars and their noses pressed together, eyes trailing to the bedroom door. Akaashi lingered there with a single eyebrow raised to his hairline, a feat only he was capable of, what looked to be his dry cleaning slung over his shoulder. Komi had his eyes glued on the boy but his thumbs were still moving in rapid succession over his phone as he typed out an update on the sudden situation for Washio.
“A-Akaashi!” Bokuto stumbled over the name, remembering belatedly that he had left the front door unlocked for the boy, and all but flung Konoha off himself. “Don’t misunderstand! Nothing’s happening between me and Aki!”
“As if you’d be so lucky…” Konoha muttered off to the side, straightening his shirt.
“Is Akaashi there?” Sarukui’s static-like voice cracked over speaker phone. “Hey, man, how are ya?”
There was a giant, pregnant pause in the room as everyone stood utterly still and waited for the setter himself to say something.
“…I didn’t misunderstand anything,” Akaashi finally spoke, slowly. “I’m the one who likes men, Bokuto-san, not you.”
Bokuto opened his mouth, then shut it again, unsure what he even wanted to say. Akaashi was otherwise too preoccupied to notice his facial features twitching in some kind of dance. He had his lips pursed, surveying the disastrous if not completely confusing scene before him with deliberation. There were clothes littering every surface of the floor, various faces of his old teammates looking back at him from every corner of the room, and an anxious Bokuto wringing his hands as he awaited his next words. Akaashi carefully laid down his possessions onto the bed, side-stepped around his old captain, and picked up the phone resting on the study desk. “Sarukui-san,” he spoke into it. “I’m doing all right. How are you?”
“Confused, honestly. Been hearing some things about you and Bokuto that’re a little hard to believe.”
He stared at Bokuto, who was still fidgeting where he stood and was not taking kindly to being overlooked, and turned away to hide the ghost of his smile. “You should believe them. Unfortunately.”
Several voices rang out at once.
“This has to be a joke—”
“Why him when I’m clearly the most handsome out of all of us?”
“Washio just texted back three exclamation points.”
“I told you guys it was real!”
Bokuto got in the last word, holding his nose up high and practically emitting hot air to be at the center of attention once again, his teammates looking on in shock and awe and every other emotion in between that he particularly loved having directed towards him.
“Technically it’s fake,” Konoha pointed out.
It was, all in all, not a particularly unfamiliar scene for the group of boys.
Akaashi was eventually able to pull Bokuto from his funk by thanking him for all his help and asserting that there was no one else he would have thought to turn to over the matter, even if this was not entirely true, and soon Bokuto was chirping out a very long and very embellished story of his quest to find the perfect outfit to wear in front of Akaashi’s family. Somehow all of his fanciest clothes were defiled in some way by mysterious holes or unidentifiable stains, and he’d upturned his entire closet to still end up with nothing to show for it. It was a dilemma if he’d ever had one.
Akaashi was expectedly prepared. He prodded his garment bag and told him, “I figured as much. This is one of my brother’s old suits. I think it should fit.”
“Nothing’s gonna fit Bokuto when he’s got tractors for arms,” Komi said, rubbing his chin.
“It’s all right, my older brother is also…” The end of his sentence trailed off into an edge of uncertainty, as if he was unsure of how best to proceed. He simply waved in Bokuto’s general direction to insinuate what he wanted to say and what was plain before all of them.
Sarukui’s voice crackled on the line but the word was unmistakable when he offered, “Thick?”
Akaashi’s mouth clamped shut.
“Stacked like a pancake?” was Konoha’s contribution.
Bokuto, oblivious to Akaashi’s growing discomfort or even the general atmosphere of the room but sensing a ripe opportunity to boast, announced to the room, “I just went up a weight class at the gym!”
“…Just go try this on, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi huffed, pressing the suit into his hand, and Bokuto was a little awed and a little dumbstruck all at once to notice, from this close, that Akaashi’s cheeks had flecks of pink dusting across them and his eyes were really, really bright. Even brighter than when his impromptu strategies worked against match opponents, which was what Bokuto called peak-Akaashi-sparkle-time. It made him really excited for some reason, and his breathing was all quick and shallow and his hands kept slipping over buttons as he changed clothes, wondering what other kinds of things could elicit Akaashi looking such a way.
The suit fit him well enough. The sleeves of the dress shirt were a bit strained by his muscle mass, but hidden underneath the blazer. The proportions weren’t perfect and the hem of the trousers dragged on the floor, but it was nothing his mother couldn’t fix with her sewing machine. He emerged to stunned reactions all around, which was satisfying enough on its own, but there was one person in particular he sought praise from.
Akaashi’s only response was a clipped, “It’ll do.”
Bokuto grinned anyway. “I’m totally handsome, aren’t I? Aren’t I?”
“Stop fishing for compliments,” Konoha groused. He seemed a bit offended by Bokuto looking so much sharper and more elegant than any of them could have expected.
“I’m not!” Not completely, at least. “It’s just that no one’s gonna believe I’m Akaashi’s boyfriend if I’m not one-hundred percent totally and completely looking super handsome! He could only date the very best, you know.”
“Aww.” Sarukui, who had switched to FaceTime now that he no longer appeared to be on the train, smiled in this way that was probably meant to be genuine if his eyes weren’t so squinted by the passing winter wind. He looked more devious than anything when he said, “Bokuto can actually say some cute things sometimes, can’t he, Akaashi?”
“…I’m hanging up now, Sarukui-san, goodbye,” Akaashi said, rather loud, and his senior’s panicked protests were ignored when he firmly ended the call.
“The first casualty in the war,” Komi narrated, darkly. “I, for one, think Bokuto is looking like a total snack—”
He was the next one to go. Akaashi shut the lid of the laptop with a sharp snap, and when he faced the two remaining in the room, there was a brittle sort of edge to the corners of his mouth that showed just how firmly he disapproved of his seniors’ teasing. He then shot a long, pointed look at Konoha, who held up both hands and grumbled something along the lines of I didn’t even say anything as he shuffled out of the room and made himself scarce, and then it was just Akaashi and Bokuto alone.
“Am I a tasty snack, or one of those cheap candies you win from crane machines?” Bokuto asked, completely serious.
“Bokuto-san, please.” Akaashi rubbed his eyes, looking suddenly like he hadn’t slept in three days. “Could you, please, just go change back? In case you’ve forgotten, we do have things to talk about.”
“Oh, yeah!” He tried to yank off his blazer and unbutton his pants in simultaneous motions, which left him to awkwardly hop one-legged towards the bathroom with everything hanging halfway off his body, and still was talking a mile a minute as he did so. “You know, you should relax a little bit more, Akaashi. You have me on your side now! And I’m gonna make all this go perfectly for you, you can totally bank on it. We make a really good team!”
“It’s… not about how good of a team we make, Bokuto-san.” Akaashi’s voice sounded hesitant and far away through the bathroom door. Bokuto could imagine him rolling his bottom lip under his teeth, could picture his eyes going murky as he did calculations in his head. “It’s about how good of a team my parents make.”
Bokuto opened the door so he could frown at him directly. “What do you mean? Do your parents play volleyball, too?”
He seemed to struggle for a moment with his words, silence lingering in the otherwise empty hallway before he sighed. “Never mind.”
Bokuto had long since gotten used to Akaashi’s cryptic words and wasn’t ever really bothered by them anymore; he’d learned that Akaashi was usually thinking more things at any one time than a normal person ever could, and it was really cool but it was also hopeless trying to keep up. He simply punctuated his shrug with an mm, okay! and then whisked his old setter into the living room, ushering him onto the couch and boasting about how he made a mean cup of tea and Akaashi just had to taste it, right now, and tell him how good it was. They both eventually settled down together with steaming mugs in their hands and blankets over their shoulders, and then he smiled encouragingly so Akaashi would know it was okay to say whatever it was he needed to say.
“I wanted to go over the game plan,” Akaashi told him, tucking a curl behind his ear. “For Christmas.”
“Game plan?” Bokuto repeated. “Do I have to memorize hand signals and stuff?”
“No hand signals. But there are a few rules.”
“Ehh?” Bokuto sagged back on the couch, frowning. No one told him doing this favor would mean he’d have to follow rules and memorize game plans and basically be put on a leash. He’d kind of hoped he could just show up looking gorgeous in a suit, eat some fancy rich-people food, and maybe hold Akaashi’s hand a little to see how he liked it. “Sounds bo-r-ing. You’re taking all the fun out of it, Akaashi!”
The boy stared at him for a good, long while, his expression inscrutable, before he nodded. “My apologies. You’re right. What was I thinking?” He then sprang off the couch in one motion, pulling the blanket tight around his shoulders, and said, “I’ll just ask Konoha-san if he’d be willing to—”
“What? Nooo!” Bokuto grabbed him by the hem of his shirt to pull him back, grumbling, “All right, all right. I can follow some dumb rules. I guess. ”
Akaashi worked hard to keep his expression perfectly neutral as he reclaimed his spot on the couch, one leg now tucked underneath himself. “I do appreciate you doing all this for me very much, Bokuto-san. I’ll take you out for yakiniku if we’re successful. Deal?”
Bokuto’s mood skyrocketed back into the clouds. “Awesome!”
Akaashi smiled vaguely, hidden behind his mug as he took a sip and watched Bokuto pump his fists into the air and promise to do his very, very best, I swear it, I’m all in, scout’s honor! Eventually he cradled it back into his lap, fingers fiddling against the warm porcelain, and still struggled with an edge of uncertainty when he told him, “You’ll have to call me Keiji.”
Bokuto’s ears twitched, intrigued at once by this sudden and new permission. No one else on the team called him Keiji, and he was absolutely delighted that he would be the first and only one to do so. He was special.
His hand shot up, as if he were some student in a classroom asking for his turn to speak. “Wait, so, does this, does it mean that you’ll call me” —he leaned in, eyes alight with something intense and hopeful— “that you’ll call me Koutarou?”
Hearing Koutarou from Akaashi’s lips was, well, it was not an unpleasant thought.
Akaashi stared at him for a good while, lips pulled so taut and thin that they were no longer even visible, and all sorts of thoughts and calculations seemed to be flickering through his hard eyes. “…No,” he eventually decided. Bokuto’s face phased through several expressions of grief in varying amounts, clearly disappointed, but he simply tucked his hair behind his ear and said, “No, you’re older than me, and a past upperclassman as well, so I—I think Bokuto-san will work just fine. My family, they care more for politeness than intimacy anyway. But it would be suspicious if you don’t call me Keiji.”
Bokuto grumbled something intangible and huffy under his breath that Akaashi clearly took to mean an agreement.
They proceeded this way to map out what a dinner with Akaashi’s family would entail. Bokuto wasn’t the kind of boy who particularly liked or did well having everything planned out in extensive detail beforehand, preferring to run on instinct after it had served him so well on the courts, so they settled instead on basic guidelines: shower, dress nice, be ready to be picked up by Akaashi at exactly six p.m. on the dot, don’t spike your hair, don’t slurp your food either, you can talk about volleyball but please don’t try to start an impromptu match with anyone in my family right there in the dinner hall—no, outside the dinner hall is not allowed either.
“I’ll bring you a bouquet you can give to my mother,” Akaashi told him. “Please don’t call her beautiful. She’ll think you’re objectifying her with your male gaze.”
Bokuto scratched his head. “Sounds complicated.”
“That is a very accurate word to describe her, yes.”
“Not just her, but, like, all of it.” Bokuto frowned. “I thought you asked me to do this because I’m really great and you thought your family would love me, and I could just go and have fun with you for Christmas. There aren’t ever any rules for how to have dinner at my house. And my mom doesn’t even mind so much if we start playing volleyball as long as we put her expensive vase in the closet first.”
“…Well.” Akaashi glared at his tea. “Our families are just very different.”
“I’ll say.” Something occurred to him like a sudden flash, and he rubbed his chin. “Your family doesn’t mind that you like boys, do they, Akaashi?”
He was met with a startled expression.
But there was one of those rare gleams in Bokuto’s eyes, the kind that made itself known during unexpected feints against a wall of blockers, or the instant when he found the path of minimal interference as a ball connected with his palm, or when Akaashi picked at his food and he somehow knew it meant the boy had an exam looming around the corner—an intensity that suggested intuition far above his whimsy nature. It was even more stark reflected in the growing moonlight.
At the receiving end of such ferocity, Akaashi molded a hand around his neck and admitted, rather cautious, “They… didn’t take too kindly to it at first. My parents are the type who’ve always had their lives planned out from the start, and I was a glitch in their system, I suppose. But it’s a fact they can’t really change, so they’ve learned to work with it.” He sighed. “And it opens up a lot of marriage prospects for me that are closed for sons of other families.”
Akaashi’s marriage meeting. Somehow the looming danger of it had been forgotten during the day’s excitement. It returned to them now, in the heavy silence.
Bokuto frowned. “Wait, but, how can you get married if…?”
“He’s not Japanese,” Akaashi supplied. Then his eyes flitted to an empty spot in the room, vacant and somewhere far away, when he added, “He would take me with him to his country, probably.”
“Wait—what?!” Bokuto leaped from the couch, the empty mug in his lap toppling to the floor, and attempted to tear his own hair out as he squawked, “You’re leaving?! Or, you will, if this creep gets his hands on you? You didn’t tell me! We can’t let that happen, we won’t!”
Akaashi remained calm in the face of his outburst, the set of his jaw resolute when he looked into his eyes and told him, “Of course we won’t, Bokuto-san. Not when I have you on my side. Right?”
Bokuto balked. Akaashi was not usually this candid outside of delivering a lecture, and certainly not with sentiment. Bokuto had to wheedle compliments out of him on most occasions, and even then, his success rate was only close to half. That unpleasant, nauseated feeling that had begun bubbling in his stomach fizzled somewhat. Akaashi definitely didn’t seem to want to go; that made everything a little bit better.
Quietly taking his spot, maybe a little bit closer than he had been before, Bokuto promised, “I’m gonna be the best boyfriend, Akaashi. I am. I’m gonna keep you here with me.”
“That’s…” Akaashi wouldn’t look at him, after that, just tapping out a beat on his mug or shifting around his blanket. But he didn’t seem wholly displeased by the declaration. “Okay,” he finally said, and nothing more, but Bokuto still smiled like he had been given a precious heart to hold—and he had been, in a way.
Eventually Akaashi stretched on his feet, unwinding his muscles before neatly folding their blankets and carrying their mugs to the kitchen sink, followed every step of the way by his old captain. It wasn’t until he was in his shoes, fiddling with the buttons of his coat, that he stunned Bokuto completely with his sudden smile and told him, “The tea was very good, thank you. And, Bokuto-san—”
A floorboard creaked when Konoha’s foot appeared in the hall, followed by his head protruding from his bedroom. “Can I wander the halls yet?” he asked.
“Go away, dude, Akaashi was just about to tell me something!”
“I live here, too, you know.”
“Forget it,” Akaashi sighed, already turning to go despite Bokuto’s spluttering protests, and looked over his shoulder to add, “Please remember everything we talked about.”
The door softly clicked shut behind him.
“Way to go,” Bokuto groused to his roommate, once they were alone. He sulked beside the refrigerator as Konoha rummaged through it, frowning at the ceiling. “He was about to tell me something I really, really wanted to hear.”
“How do you know when he didn’t even say it?” Konoha asked, around a mouthful of leftover kimuchi.
“I don’t know, I could just feel it. The mood was good.”
“Well, what is it that you really, really wanted to hear, exactly?”
“…I don’t know.” Bokuto huffed. He couldn’t explain it. There had just been this swell of anticipation inside of him when Akaashi said his name while smiling at him in that way, all warm and bursting with gratitude, and it was a feeling reminiscent of being at match point at a National-level game and knowing they were about to achieve greatness.
“Sometimes,” Konoha drawled, rolling his eyes, “I literally think you talk just because you like hearing the sound of your own voice.”
Bokuto pounced, almost wrestling him to the kitchen floor, and together they toppled over an entire carton of juice onto the counter before finally calling a truce. Leaving towels to soak up the spill, they took whatever leftover food they could find with them to the living room, where they switched on some sappy romantic comedy at Bokuto’s insistence, so he could research on how best to conduct himself as a proper boyfriend for Akaashi. Predictably, he dozed off within the hour, and Konoha gingerly stepped over him to retire into his room. But this became a ritual for every night that followed, and while Konoha complained, Bokuto swore up and down that he soaked up enough information pre-slumber to actually be helpful.
“Akaashi deserves the best, you know!”
“Yes, yes, you’ve only said that about a thousand times.”
Bokuto simply turned back to the couple holding hands on the TV screen, his fingers forcing his eyes to remain open as he attempted to absorb the romantic culture. Konoha continued to make dry remarks about his approach throughout the night, but Bokuto ignored him. This was about Akaashi, you know. Akaashi, who always gave them everything but never, ever asked for anything in return, had come to him asking for a favor. If it took sappy walks on a deserted beach or chocolate candy hearts, Bokuto was determined to be the best and most romantic boyfriend he could ever hope to have.
Uhh. Fake boyfriend.
Akaashi looked really nice. Well, he always looked nice. He liked to wear these pretty sweater vests in cream colors since starting university and usually had his buttons clasped up to the collar, and even in his workout gear, he was usually a vision in his spectrum of blue and grey shades, sometimes with funny phrases written on the back of his T-shirts that could have rivaled Bokuto’s own.
But cloaked head to toe in black, in a crisp charcoal suit, he was something else entirely.
“I can’t believe this level of first-grade finery is about to be wasted on this blockhead,” Konoha tutted from behind, looking Akaashi up and down, and then shooting a very pointed, very bland look at his roommate.
“I look really nice, too,” Bokuto insisted. His mother had fixed his suit and his hair was styled down for once, though he had spent two hours debating whether to add fake glasses to his ensemble before deciding against it. “Right, Akaashi?”
The boy barely glanced up from fiddling with the roses in his hand, and mumbled, “Let’s just go, Bokuto-san.”
“Why aren’t you ever on my side, Akaaaashi?” Bokuto whined, grabbing his coat and sticking his tongue out over his shoulder at Konoha when he snorted in mirth.
It had stopped snowing a week prior, but the city was still frigid and iced over and likely would be for the remaining winter. Bokuto was rightly bundled for a long wait at the train station, but Akaashi had already called them a taxi that awaited them at the apartment’s entrance, and he was overjoyed to find himself in the backseat as they zipped through the decorated Tokyo streets. Bokuto never took taxis, had never lived anywhere where a bus or a train was not available to him, so it was a liminal moment, his knees pressed up against Akaashi’s in this cramped, unfamiliar space and thinking he could hear his heartbeat.
Pressing the roses into his hand, Akaashi murmured, “These are for my mother.”
Bokuto thought briefly that they smelled really nice, until he realized the scent was really from the cologne spritzed onto Akaashi’s wrist.
The taxi dropped them off some odd ten minutes later, and Bokuto did a double take, looking unsurely at Akaashi as if asking whether this really would be their venue for the night; one tortured look from the boy was enough to tell him it was.
“Wow,” he breathed, taking in all the glory once he had clambered out, taken in by all the lights and the general magnitude of the size of the building. Akaashi hadn’t expressly told him what to expect, so Bokuto had just imagined all on his own that they would pull up to some quaint Japanese-style home (being a young master just fit Akaashi somehow), where his parents would greet them kindly in their seasonal yukata and treat them to a nice meal around a round table.
This was the farthest thing from his imagination. His neck had to be craned all the way back before he could even make out the rooftop of the building, and even then, it was nearly impossible without squinting to see past the lavish display of fairy lights and holly that were bright enough to drown out the starlight. Surrounding him were all these uppity-looking people in nice suits and pretty dresses getting out of taxis and rushing into the hall to escape the biting wind.
Akaashi put a hand on his shoulder. “We’re in hall four,” he told him, checking his watch. He had the roses in his hand that Bokuto had accidentally forgotten in the backseat. “It’s still a bit early, but that’s better than being late.”
“Will I get to meet the Queen of England tonight?” Bokuto asked, full of wonder. It certainly felt like it, in this moment.
Akaashi grimaced as he led him inside, his hand wrapped around one of Bokuto’s elbows as he all but dragged him in. He knew Bokuto could stand here all night, just entranced by the display of lights, if he was allowed to. “Worse,” he said, around a stiff mouth. “You’ll have to meet my parents.”
“Aww, they can’t be that bad,” Bokuto laughed, just as taken in by the embellished entryway as he had been by the outside of the building. There was a cute snowman display in one corner, though it was small and didn’t wave and didn’t even blare Christmas music like the one at the mall, so that was a bit of a bummer.
“They can be and they will be,” Akaashi affirmed, not even sparing a second glance at the decorations they passed. He was dead set on reaching their targeted hall. “Please stay close to me. I can’t do the talking for you, that won’t work on them, but I can help.”
“I’ll stick really close,” Bokuto promised, grinning, and felt a tug of excitement in his abdomen. Mouth unfiltered, he blurted out, “Will I have to kiss you?”
That finally succeeded in halting Akaashi right in his tracks. They stopped just outside hall four, light classical music drifting from inside, and then the boy was rounding on him with these bright, bright eyes, cheeks flushed with color.
“What,” he hissed, “would possibly make you think that?”
Bokuto shrugged. There had been a lot of grand, romantic kisses in the movies he had watched over the past week, every one of them causing his blood to thrum a vicious beat in his ear. He used to think romantic movies were boring and kiss scenes were lame, but recently there was something so real about them. Konoha would kick the back of his head and tease him about having a dirty mind, whenever he sat up a bit straighter or leaned into the TV, but Bokuto was usually too taken in by the scene and the sense of anticipation that accompanied it.
“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said.
He wouldn’t mind doing it. You know. For Akaashi.
He was met with a long, inscrutable silence before Akaashi eventually sighed and, rubbing his eyes, told him, “…No. No, Bokuto-san, we won’t have to do that.”
“Oh.” He shrugged again, because it seemed like the right thing to do. “Okay.”
Akaashi didn’t even need a moment to compose himself, he was so used to being taken off guard by Bokuto. Inhaling sharply, he grabbed his pretend date by the elbow once more and led him inside their hall, shushing him when he made a loud noise of excitement. The room was so big and beautiful, and there was pretty music playing, and something smelled delicious, and everyone was dressed in their very best. Bokuto had only seen parties like these in spy movies, when the main character was undercover to tail after the head boss and usually ended the night in a hotel room with a pretty lady.
“Is everyone here your family, Akaashi?” he eagerly asked.
“A few of them are close friends of the family,” he replied, though he seemed distracted and was shooting furtive glances about the room. “Christmas in my family’s circle means a chance to show off our lifestyle, maybe make a few new connections—okay, chin up, Bokuto-san, here comes my mother,” he suddenly hissed, standing a bit straighter.
Bokuto snapped to attention, and was reflexively about to salute if Akaashi didn’t have a hand clamped down hard around his arm. The woman who approached them, the woman whom Akaashi politely called mother and allowed to pat his cheek, was such an exact duplicate of her son that Bokuto almost would have gawked if he hadn’t caught himself. Everything, from her sharp face, to her short hair, to her calculative eyes; all of it had unmistakably transferred over to Akaashi.
But the nuances of their demeanors were noticeable if he only took a second look.
Bokuto had always thought of Akaashi as having a sharp face, from his generally astute gaze to his pointed chin, but the boy underneath it all was undeniably soft. He smiled fondly at his team’s antics and cried out in the heat of victory and wrapped Bokuto in his scarf while he was out shoveling snow. He brought baked snickerdoodles to practice and pressed flowers into his textbooks and always, always helped Bokuto study for his math exams.
His mother held none of this warmth. Every line of her face was hard, and there were no wrinkles around her eyes or her mouth to suggest she had smiled more than a handful of times in her life. Her mouth was so tight and pinched, in fact, that Bokuto was reminded of having to sit for supplementary classes in the sizzling summer heat and being impatiently shushed by the jerk vice-principal whenever he fidgeted. And her eyes were so shrewd and invasive that he was reminded of how it felt to play a practice match against Nekoma High, every move he made dissected and analyzed from the other side of the net.
He only knew this because she had turned that inquisitive gaze upon him, which Bokuto realized a second too late.
An unattractive squawk instinctively left his mouth. “Yikes!”
And if it wasn’t bad enough that now, forever solidified in history, the first thing he’d ever said to Akaashi’s mother would be remembered as yikes—Akaashi was definitely groaning into his hand and he was so glad the rest of the team wasn’t here to see this because they’d never let him live it down—he also fumbled so badly with the roses that he promptly dropped them at his feet. A few petals detached when he bent to scoop them up, but he still thought they looked really nice and pretty and would make his own mother cry from happiness if he gave them to her.
Akaashi’s mother simply stared at them, but made no move to accept.
Bokuto offered her a toothy smile anyway, and told her all in one breath, “These are for you, ma’am, and it’s very nice to meet you, I’m Bokuto Koutarou and I’m dating your son, which you probably already know but Keiji is my boyfriend and we definitely hold hands and take nice walks on the beach and—oh! But don’t worry! Because we haven’t kissed—!”
“Bokuto-san,” Akaashi interrupted, firm with his name. His stony expression was dulled somewhat by an underlying look of embarrassment.
“…Koutarou,” his mother repeated, and Bokuto blinked very quickly to hear her voice for the first time. It was slightly kinder than her face, but the effect of that was lost when her mouth remained pinched and disapproving, like a prison warden or something. She still hadn’t accepted the roses. “What is it that you do, exactly?” she asked. “Keiji tells me you’re unemployed?”
“Mother.” Akaashi’s eyes flashed. He looked astounded by her gall. “I’ve told you. Bokuto-san plays volleyball professionally.”
“Practically unemployed, then, with such little job security.” She looked at him closely. “And he’s not on the starting line.”
Some rational part of Bokuto told him not to give in to his growing dejection or the hint of annoyance clawing at him, that this was Akaashi’s mother and he had to make a good first impression because this was for Akaashi, you know, Akaashi, the boy meant so much to him. But still his stomach curdled. He bit down on his lip to keep it from protruding.
“No one begins on the starting line,” Akaashi spoke for him, in that tired voice he normally used after he had already explained to Bokuto three times why he had tossed to another teammate instead of him and he was still surly. “There’s a hierarchy system. But Bokuto-san was the first of all the recruits to be scouted this year. They followed his career since high school and offered him a spot long before he would even graduate, and he had to turn down offers from two other—”
“All right, Keiji, I hardly asked for another history lesson.” Her lips were pulled in the same taut and thin way that Akaashi’s usually were, though it wasn’t nearly as charming. “Can’t I even question the boy without you getting needlessly overprotective?”
“You didn’t give him a fair chance,” he insisted.
Her nostrils flared. “Well, forgive a mother for worrying when she hears professional athlete—”
“Mother. Please. Not in front of Bokuto-san.”
Bokuto, who was already shuffling between his feet at the dismay of being completely ignored during the conversation, perked up when all eyes were suddenly on him. Akaashi’s mother stared at him long and hard, pinching her mouth again like she had just sucked on a lemon, before finally turning away.
“Fine.” She exhaled loudly. “We’ll see what your father has to say about this.”
And then she was gone, retreating in a dramatic fashion as her black dress billowed behind her.
Bokuto watched after her until she was muddled in with other family members and no longer visible on the other side of the hall, then faced Akaashi, whose eyes still seemed murky and distant after the exchange. “What should I do with the roses?” he asked, frowning down at the bouquet that was still in his clutch.
Akaashi looked at them for a beat, his expression completely neutral, then snatched them without a word and stuffed them into a nearby trash bin.
“I tried to give her the roses.”
“Yes, you did.”
Bokuto waved his fork aimlessly in the air, a piece of his steak attached to the end. “And I didn’t call her beautiful.”
Akaashi sighed from across their small table, chin planted firmly in his palm. “Yes, Bokuto-san, you did very good. You didn’t even talk back to my mother, even though she deserved it. You were very dignified.”
Bokuto’s eyes sparkled, to have such praises heaped upon him all at once. And Akaashi was usually stingy with his compliments, too. “She’s just worrying like mothers do,” he said wisely, before cramming as large a piece of steak as he could fit into his mouth.
“I know.” He still seemed annoyed. “She loves me, just… in her own way. She won’t even try to see things how I want.”
Bokuto snickered. “You sound like a bratty little kid.”
“…I don’t want to hear that from you, Bokuto-san,” he told him, flatly, then stared disapprovingly at the mess he had managed to make of himself while stuffing his face. “Here, hold still,” he ordered, and, dabbing the end of a napkin with his tongue, he leaned over the table to run it across Bokuto’s mouth, wiping away the crumb smeared against the side of his lip.
Bokuto leaned in as well, beaming, and fluttered his lashes very quickly to try and get Akaashi to smile a little. It worked somewhat, he noted with pride. Akaashi definitely paused for a second, then seemed to fight a twitch of his mouth, though Bokuto was too tuned now to the minute changes of his face to miss it. His own smile widened accordingly, and the moment lingered for a curiously long stretch of time.
Then two children passed them by, laughing, breaking the spell, and only giggled harder when they noticed the intimate position of the two men joined at the table.
Akaashi quickly released the napkin, startled, and made a move to pull away.
But Bokuto lurched forward and grabbed hold of his wrist, keeping him there, peering at him with fierce, unblinking eyes that gleamed extra bright in the light of the chandelier. “Why are you getting embarrassed, Keiji?” he asked, perfectly unfazed. “We’re a couple.”
Akaashi’s mouth parted, though he seemed not to know how to respond.
Bokuto laughed, letting go of his wrist. “And I just remembered, I didn’t slurp my soup either!” The edge of pride in his tone suggested he was waiting for another string of compliments.
Akaashi cleared his throat, bouncing back from the electric moment fairly quickly. A bland look returned to his features when he retorted, “Most people don’t, after the age of six.”
Akaashi rolled his eyes.
It was not an unfamiliar scene for the two.
Bokuto proceeded to gorge himself on the remainder of his steak, his eyes narrowed into slits and trained on his amused date. It was when he’d stuffed the last of his dinner into his mouth, cheeks threatening to burst from the strain, that a figure approached their table as quietly as if they had materialized next to them that very second. Bokuto looked up, blinking once, and was suddenly met with an appeasing smile and blue eyes that were slightly familiar somehow.
Akaashi quickly stood up, panic skirting across his features. “Bokuto-san,” he said very quickly, “this is my father.”
Bokuto startled, also springing to his feet, and realized his face was still unattractively ballooned up from the sheer amount of food he had stuffed into it. He tried to quickly swallow, promptly choked, pounded down on his own chest, then graciously accepted the glass of water Akaashi quickly handed him.
“It’s… very nice to… meet you, sir!” he eventually panted, struggling to draw himself to his full height.
Akaashi’s father was still smiling, still wearing that relaxed and easy face with which he had approached them. He held up a hand and chuckled when Bokuto tried to offer sheepish apologies, joking, “I’m just glad to see you enjoyed your food. We paid a lot for it, after all.”
Bokuto laughed too, when he did, though he was a bit unsure whether he should be when Akaashi wasn’t smiling at all. He had his lips pursed again and was standing at rapt attention, hands locked behind his back like preparing to bow towards a volleyball opponent. Bokuto couldn’t see what about the man prompted such a rigid posture. In fact, his mother’s parting words had instilled this anxiety in him about her husband possibly being some demon disguised in human skin or something equally frightening. But the man seemed downright pleasant.
“It was really good!” he told him, brightening up significantly under that pleasant smile. “I’m Bokuto Koutarou.”
“I figured as much.” He laughed again. “I didn’t come here to disturb you two, just to say my greetings.”
“You’re not disturbing us!” Bokuto insisted, and nudged Akaashi very hard with his elbow. “Right, Keiji?”
Bokuto liked his smile a lot. He wished just slightly that the man looked more like his son, so he could picture what Akaashi would look like if he ever smiled like that himself. But their deep blue eyes, clear and almost tinted green in the light, seemed to be all they shared in appearance. Akaashi had evidently inherited his eyes from his father, and everything else from his mother.
“Keiji,” his father said, nodding to him. “Shizune-chan just arrived with her family. Why don’t you go say hello?”
Akaashi shifted, shooting a quick glance towards Bokuto. “I can say my greetings when I run into them.”
“Nonsense. They’re such old friends of our family. We can’t be rude.”
“Who’s Shizune-chan?” Bokuto asked, openly curious.
“She’s an old playmate of Keiji’s,” Akaashi’s father explained. “They’ve grown up together since they were toddlers. Her family and ours have been good friends since they moved into our neighborhood. She’s been privately tutored since grade school, so you might not know her.” A note of suggestion entered his voice. “Unless Keiji has mentioned her, maybe, hm?”
“I haven’t,” Akaashi responded, curt and to the point. He shot a glance over his shoulder, frowning. “All right, I’ll go say my greetings. But that is all I’m going to do, father, all right?”
He departed after taking Bokuto’s elbow and quickly murmuring I’m sorry, I’ll be right back into his ear, and his father only smiled that much wider to see his back get farther away.
“Shizune-chan is very dignified, you know,” he told Bokuto. “She’s trained in everything a mistress should be: tea ceremony, flower arranging, etiquette. Her education was very high class as well. I’d always hoped, since they were children, that she and Keiji might get married one day. She seemed excited about the prospect also.”
Bokuto shifted, feeling unsettled.
“Ah, well. A man can always have hope, right?” He laughed again, soft and appeasing, eyes twinkling at some thought of a future only he could see. “Shizune-chan is charming enough to maybe sway him someday. If not her, there are plenty of other wonderful ladies in our social circle.”
Something squirmed in Bokuto’s stomach, then, something cold and unpleasant. He shifted again, from one foot back to the other, unable to find a position that was totally comfortable or could settle his stomach.
“You know, Keiji is…” The sentence trailed off awkwardly, for he was unsure how much Akaashi’s father did know. Akaashi had said his family was okay with it now, that they had come to terms with what they could not change about their son. But.
“Hm?” Akaashi’s father peered at him, then laughed. Again. “Oh, I’m aware. But, well, can you really blame a father for dreaming of the day he’ll see his son take a nice girl’s hand, walk her down the aisle, and live a happy life with her?”
“But Keiji doesn’t like girls,” Bokuto said, plainly. “He likes me.”
There was no immediate response to that. The man looked at him, expression impossible to dissect, and then he was smiling again. Always smiling. Always wearing this soft and appeasing expression as he smiled and laughed at everyone around him, Bokuto realized. It wasn’t really all that pleasant; the longer he looked, the less pleasant and the more twisted it looked to him. His stomach squirmed again, more violently this time.
Akaashi returned within seconds after their exchange, which Bokuto was thankful for. He could feel his own face being tugged into a petulant frown, and was afraid of what his unfiltered mouth might say to the man who was Akaashi’s father if he kept smiling like that.
“Is everything okay here?” Akaashi asked. He appeared a bit out of breath, as if he had raced back to them. He probably had.
“Everything is fine,” his father assured him, as pleasant as if he and Bokuto had been remarking about the weather. “I wasn’t planning on eating your date, if that’s what you were thinking, Keiji. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see your mother trying to flag me down.”
With a nod to both boys, he joined the larger crowd of people in the hall, greeting and socializing with everyone he came across as he went. He was well-received and appeared to be very well-liked, inciting laughter and general merriment in whomever he spoke to, but that only made Bokuto frown that much harder as he watched him slink about the room.
“Your dad’s kinda weird,” he huffed, falling back down into his seat. He was now starting to feel extremely disappointed that he hadn’t been able to savor the last bite of his steak.
Akaashi joined him, and studied his face very closely with those clever blue eyes he shared with his father. Bokuto was suddenly quite happy that the two men shared nothing more than the color of their irises. “Did he say something to you, Bokuto-san?”
He left it at that, no matter how much Akaashi seemed to prod at him with his gaze, attempting to pull more words or stitch them together himself. It was the truth that Akaashi’s father had really said next to nothing to him—but that was worse, somehow. It seemed like he had said so much by saying nothing at all.
I want another steak, Bokuto thought to himself, and pressed his cheek to the tabletop with an everlasting sigh.
This was peak dejection mode.
Akaashi managed eventually to cure his sudden mood by bringing him a scoop of the fancy pudding at the dessert table, though it also took a lot of gentle coaxing and a lot of please, Bokuto-san, don’t do this here, my family is watching. Bokuto picked his head back up eventually, brightening at the first taste of dessert, and even attempted to feed Akaashi off his own spoon (though he was swatted away and that was a bit disappointing).
“Couples do this kind of stuff,” Bokuto pointed out.
Then Akaashi kept repeating, in a hushed tone, “But it’s fake, Bokuto-san, it’s fake.”
Bokuto couldn’t help but sulk, tapping his spoon against his bowl. Yeah. It was fake. He knew that. No need to repeat it a thousand times when he knew that.
They didn’t share a pudding bowl and they didn’t dance with the other couples and they didn’t even hold hands, and Bokuto wondered for the first time whether he had really been asked of this favor to simply stand around looking pretty with a boyfriend label stuck to his forehead. It was a significant letdown.
“Akaa—Keiji, I want—”
Akaashi suddenly stood, looking over his shoulder with a frown pulling his face. He seemed deeply disturbed, though Bokuto was probably the only one close enough to tell, and he followed his line of sight to where a family seemed to have entered the hall and caused a giant ruckus as everyone rushed forward to greet them. Bokuto spied a hint of something golden and fluttery, but nothing else.
Akaashi bit his lip. “She didn’t…”
“She did.” Akaashi’s mother appeared suddenly, smiling a smile that spoke of her satisfaction, arms folded in this self-important way as she was met with her son’s disapproval. Akaashi appeared almost angered, though his voice was very controlled nonetheless.
“Mother, how could you, when you knew I would be bringing my partner?”
“Nothing against your partner, Keiji” —her eyes lingered on Bokuto for a moment, smile turning brittle and upper lip almost baring back into a sneer— “but Allen-kun has a real chance of one day becoming a part of our family. I could hardly not invite them to our family dinner.”
“Who’s Allen-kun?” Bokuto blurted out, determined not to once again be sidelined in their conversation.
Akaashi visibly hesitated, fingers coming together to fiddle in his usual habit, and seemed not to be able to tell him.
His mother took care of the matter. “He’s Keiji’s fiancé.”
“Prospective fiancé…” Akaashi mumbled his correction, staring at the floor.
Bokuto’s eyes popped. Akaashi’s marriage meeting partner, the one who wanted to take him abroad and away from Bokuto forever—he was here?
He scrambled to his feet, not one to waste a moment, and declared, “I need to meet him.”
Panic skirted across Akaashi’s face. “That’s the last thing you need to do—"
“I need to duke it out with him,” Bokuto insisted, completely serious. He pushed up his sleeves as if readying for battle, making for the tittering crowd. Akaashi grabbed his arm, but the only way to win a physical match against Bokuto was if he let you; Akaashi ended up being unceremoniously pulled along, saying Bokuto-san, please, over and over again, while Bokuto kept repeating, “I’m your boyfriend, Keiji! Me!”
“It’s okay, Keiji,” he assured him, taking the hand off his arm so he could properly hold it in his own instead, right before they joined the crowd. It was just a little bit disappointing that he couldn’t enjoy it more, given how much he had thought about it. “Every romantic movie has a plot like this, when the second lead comes in and tries to steal you away. And I, the dashing hero, win your heart in front of everyone and totally wow your parents and then we get in a car that flies off into the air and into the sunset. Uh, or something like that.”
Akaashi had only a split second to register horror before they were pushing their way through, though there was not even really a need to push when most everyone saw a man of Bokuto’s height and girth wading by, and nervously shuffled over to give him room. They fell into the middle of the crowd with ease, and Bokuto made sure to stand at his full and most impressive height before squinting around for this foreigner who dared to make the moves on Akaashi.
The golden hair gave him away instantly. Bokuto realized it was what he had spied earlier, when the boy had made his flashy entrance. It wasn’t just his hair that stood him out from the crowd, however. It was that all of him seemed to sparkle.
Oh, shit, Bokuto thought, frowning. A pretty boy, huh?
He was almost as pretty as Akaashi. Almost.
The boy—Allen-kun, wasn’t it?—definitely noticed when they suddenly fell in through the crowd. Mid-conversation with a woman Bokuto was fairly sure was one of Akaashi’s aunts (he had been introduced to her earlier at the table, but honestly, all aunties kind of looked the same to him), he looked over at their entrance and broke off in the middle of his sentence. His eyes lit up when he noticed Akaashi, Bokuto observed, even though Akaashi was doing his best not to meet his gaze. Then, they dulled somewhat when he registered Bokuto’s presence. And it wasn’t until his gaze trailed towards their joined hands (Akaashi was still trying to escape, but discreetly) that his face became quickly devoid of emotion, save for an eyebrow raising in question.
He said something to Akaashi’s aunt that they didn’t quite catch, then quickly made his way over, smiling.
“Akaashi,” he greeted, waving a cheery hand, and that was all Bokuto understood before he began rapidly speaking in some language that he didn’t understand.
Akaashi loudly cleared his throat, seemed to make a move to fiddle with his fingers until he remembered that one of his hands was currently occupied, and then replied to the boy in the same language he had been speaking. Bokuto was completely taken aback; he hadn’t known Akaashi could speak yet another tongue in addition to his fluent Japanese and near-perfect English.
And then, the boy turned towards Bokuto, smiled politely, and asked him a question, or maybe introduced himself, or maybe told him to go to hell. Bokuto wouldn’t know, since he couldn’t understand a thing.
“Uhh.” He blankly turned towards Akaashi. “Can he not speak Japanese?”
“Then why isn’t he speaking it?”
Bokuto was beyond annoyed. He didn’t like being sidelined in conversations and being spoken around in languages he didn’t understand when people were perfectly capable of making themselves understood.
“Ah, my apologies,” Allen said, then, and laughed. “I presumed too much. I just thought that, well, any man who is here as Akaashi’s date must be at least half as… Well.”
He trailed away rather than complete the thought, but the implication was clear. Intelligent. Accomplished. Impressive. You don’t deserve Akaashi, you pea-for-brains.
Now Bokuto was downright pissed. What the hell. This guy made a worse first impression and riled up people faster during the first meeting than Kuroo did, and that was saying something.
He made it a point to hold on to Akaashi’s hand even harder.
“Bokuto Koutarou,” he introduced himself, stiffly.
“Ahh. Well, pleasure to meet you, Bokuto-kun.” Smiling amiably like he hadn’t just said something completely offensive, he held out a hand, presumably for a shake.
Bokuto stared at it with a dark look, making no move to accept, and asked him plainly, “What do you like about Keiji?”
“Bokuto-san.” Akaashi was clearly embarrassed as he admonished him; he had half of his face hidden behind his hand and was groaning into it, though it wasn’t enough to completely hide his pinkening cheek.
“What? He’s trynna marry you, isn’t he? Does he even know your best points?”
“Do you?” Allen asked, innocently.
Bokuto opened his mouth to snap something back at him. He knew Akaashi perfectly well, thank you, they had spent almost every day of two years together, shared a locker room, shared an onsen, slept next to each other amidst their snoring teammates, spent hours holed up alone for tutoring in library cubicles, and walked home together more days than Bokuto could count. Even after high school, Akaashi remained someone close. Bokuto had cheered him on in his last Spring High, and Akaashi had been there, outside his university gym helping him carry out his things after practice, when an agent had approached Bokuto with the offer to go pro.
He knew Akaashi preferred strawberries on cakes over sprinkles, liked shrimp-flavored ramen but would never eat it for himself unless Bokuto forced it upon him, was bothered by his skinniness but kept it a guarded secret, had re-read more books in his life than Bokuto had even opened for the first time, and always, always arrived ten minutes earlier than any meeting time. Bokuto liked those things about Akaashi a lot, considered them some of his best points.
He meant to say all those things right into Allen’s stupid, smug face. Except Akaashi’s mother finally made her way over past the dwindling crowd and completely grasped the flow of the conversation.
“Well,” she said, actually smiling, “I think this is an excellent transition into the main event for tonight.”
Akaashi was instantly wary. “Which is?”
“I think you know what it is, Keiji.”
“I would love to hear it, too,” Allen quickly added.
“What are you guys talking about?” Bokuto asked, impatiently. What was with Akaashi’s family and all the cryptic conversations? Didn’t they know a proper sentence needed both a noun and a verb, or did his teachers only beat that into his brain because they wanted him to suffer?
“We’re talking about Akaashi playing piano, of course,” Allen supplied, and then, to rub salt in the wound, “I think it’s one of his very best points.”
He was definitely smug, knowing something that he didn’t. He reminded Bokuto of someone, a setter from a team they had once played who acted just as superior and smiled just as much; he hadn’t liked him either, no matter how incredible his serves might have been.
Well, it wasn’t as if Bokuto didn’t know Akaashi was practiced in playing the piano. He had mentioned once, off-handedly during his beginnings at Fukurodani when they had all been starting to know each other, that he had been taught since he was young. It was just that, between sweaty gymnasiums, street-side food stalls, and Komi’s sporting goods store, they were never in any place where there was a piano just available to them.
He turned towards Akaashi, hand falling away. “I didn’t know you still played.”
“Because I didn’t mention it.” Akaashi was rubbing his hand now that it was free, trying to return circulation to his fingers. His long and slim fingers, so very pretty and so perfect for playing as setter. Perfect for playing piano, too, it seemed. “It’s not something I do regularly anymore.”
“How come he’s heard it, then?” He pointed straight at Akaashi’s wanna-be fiancé, frowning petulantly. He was whining and Akaashi had asked him not to whine in front of his family, but he didn’t care.
“Because my mother likes to use me as a party trick.”
“I didn’t pay for all those lessons so you could just talk about how you’ve had them,” his mother replied, crisply. “And I didn’t ask to have a pianoforte placed in this hall just for decoration.”
“I’ve come all this way,” Allen added, with what he probably thought was his most charming smile. Which was, Bokuto was forced to concede, however much he didn’t want to, pretty damn charming. “Won’t you play us something?”
Akaashi still hesitated, glancing once at the glistening piano on stage, to his mother, to his prospective partner. Eventually his gaze settled on Bokuto, held there on his person, and seemed to be brimming with questions. Bokuto realized he was silently asking for advice, or assurance, or something which helped him make his choice, because it mattered to him what Bokuto thought.
“I want to hear you play, Keiji,” he said, because he did.
Akaashi searched his face a moment longer, then nodded. “All right.”
Normally he might have felt a sense of smugness, taken great pride in that feeling of superiority that normally washed over him in moments like these, to see Akaashi’s mother raise a brow and to see Allen frown thoughtfully at this exchange. But none of that mattered right now. None of that mattered when Akaashi only thought of him, only saw him, only took his words so close to his heart. Even his earlier petulance felt so utterly foolish now, because he had forgotten that Akaashi was his tonight and nobody could take that away from him.
Akaashi’s mother gave him a long, searching look. She was frowning, and she had the same habit as her son where she tended to interlock her fingers when she was deep in concentration over something. What she could be thinking in such an intense manner about Bokuto, however, remained a mystery, as he was privy to none of this; his eyes were currently glued onto her son and nothing less than a full-blown tornado was likely to tear them away at this point, they were so bedazzled. She only frowned that much deeper.
The two boys had shuffled closer and were speaking quietly amongst themselves.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright by yourself for a little while?” Akaashi was worrying, seeming guilty. He had brought him here to this place where he did not know anyone else, and probably worried that it was not proper to leave him on his own.
“I’ll be fine!” Bokuto assured him, laughing. “I’ll just sit right here and admire you!”
“That’s…” He turned away so Bokuto could not see what face he made in response, but he kept fiddling with the buttons of his blazer and it was very telling. Bokuto was often forthright like this and he had learned long ago to expect it, but even he was not immune. Eventually all he said was a muted, “Okay.”
Then his so-called fiancé sidled himself up next to them, broke in right through the atmosphere they had created for themselves, and grinned. He said, voice dripping like saccharine honey, “Don’t be nervous just because I’ll be watching you, okay, Akaashi?”
Bokuto glared at him for the intrusion into their nice moment. “That’s my line.”
“Then why did I say it?” he said back, breezily.
Bokuto growled since no words clever enough came to mind for a retort, and Akaashi sighed very loudly and very deeply as he left them to sort out their squabble on their own. A beautifully polished piano had been prepared on the modest stage, and it sparkled under the dim lights of the chandelier as he approached. It was nothing like the one they had at home, his mother would say, but Akaashi had always liked pianos best when they were not so grand; it felt less as if they could swallow him whole. He settled himself onto the bench, then ran his fingers along the keys, feeling them out.
Bokuto finally nudged Allen and shushed him very loudly. “Akaashi’s starting and I wanna hear!”
“Oh, that’s right.” He smirked. “You’ve never had the pleasure of hearing him play, have you?”
Bokuto flushed. “That’s because—”
Someone loudly cleared their throat towards their general vicinity, and when they realized it was Akaashi’s mother, both boys promptly zipped their lips. Which was fine with Bokuto, he didn’t want to talk to the boy anyway; he just wanted to stare at Akaashi and what an elegant picture he made, poised in front of a piano on a stage which elevated him above anyone else in the room. Like an angel, really, if Bokuto were asked to put a label on it. Every person in the hall, he noticed, slowly came to a standstill as they realized he was about to begin a performance. It was as if they knew this was something that required pristine silence and would accept nothing less than their full attention. Even Bokuto stood a little straighter, wondering if he was even allowed to swallow the lump that suddenly lodged itself into his throat.
Akaashi pressed down on his first key. It faded into the room with a gentle lilt, and Bokuto inhaled sharply when it struck him, then held it.
Then several fingers descended at once, forming a powerful melody that overtook the room like a blanket of snow, and Akaashi was dancing his fingers upon the keys, pumping his foot to the music, staring so intensely at his instrument that he seemed to have forgotten he was in a room with other people at all. He didn’t do this regularly anymore, he had said, but time had clearly not dulled his talent at all.
Bokuto didn’t know anything about music or the piano or whatever piece Akaashi had chosen to play. But he trusted his senses above all else, and this was what he sensed in this moment: that this was his partner, and he was an ethereal being when compared to the rest of this ordinary existence, beautiful and otherworldly and so very impressive, and he felt so far away and unattainable on that big, big stage surrounded by lights and admirers and the keys of a pretty piano, and Bokuto’s stomach was squirming and squirming with the urge to reach out, to stroke, to touch Akaashi and hold him and be near to him. That’s what he wanted, to be next to him.
But the music which Akaashi played was so clear and so bell-like, it washed over the room like a soft blanket on a dreary day, like the first sip of cocoa under the snowfall, like a drop of sunlight peeking through a harsh winter. Bokuto stayed rooted where he was, listening, not breathing and not realizing that he wasn’t breathing, not realizing that he’d breathed in that first note and hadn’t breathed out since.
Then the last note sucked all the air out of him at once.
It was like hands had been covering his ears, muting sound, and Bokuto suddenly came back to reality when they moved away and the sound of applause swept all over him, bottled noises turning suddenly into roaring sound. He looked about, honestly a little dazed, and realized everyone had surged towards the stage to welcome Akaashi as he slowly descended the steps.
“That was really beautiful, Akaashi.” Of course Allen was leading the charge.
Bokuto realized he had been so caught up under a spell that he had let the boy get a head start on him, and now he was the one next to Akaashi, smiling at him and showering him with compliments, while Bokuto was left behind feeling muddled and hazy behind the throngs of people surrounding his partner.
His bottom lip protruded. He’d never liked it, this feeling of being inferior and irrelevant. He especially did not like it when it concerned two of his most favorite things in the world: Akaashi’s tosses and Akaashi’s attention. He was definitely sulking—for all of ten seconds, that is, until the crowd suddenly parted, and Akaashi emerged from within as if he were some godly being controlling the tides. Bokuto blinked rather quickly; was a spotlight shining down on the boy, making him appear so soft and golden-lit, or was that just his imagination?
People were still buzzing and talking and trying to pay him compliments, but Akaashi ignored the throngs of people until they had been left completely in the dust and all that stood in front of him was one person, and one person only. The smile on his face as he stood before Bokuto almost appeared nervous.
“What did you think, Bokuto-san?” he asked, tucking a curl behind his ear.
Bokuto’s mouth almost fell open before he caught himself. But his throat was burning and there was something caught in it, it was so hard to speak. Akaashi cared for what he thought more than anyone else in this room—maybe the whole world. Akaashi, this golden and otherworldly boy, was nervous because of Bokuto. The thought swept him up until he was almost up in the clouds, he was so moved. Not smug, not simply overjoyed, but wholly and completely touched that this was the extent of how much of him existed within Akaashi.
A grin split across his face.
“You were amazing, Keiji,” he breathed, and molded a hand around his partner to bring him forward, against his chest where he could wrap him up in his arms and hold him near, squeezing him and laughing cheerily into his ear and telling him he was amazing, really amazing over and over until he was a broken tape.
Someone squeaked and several others laughed timidly, watching them. Bokuto was fully expecting Akaashi to pull away and perhaps berate him a little, for being so brazen, for giving no thought to propriety. But instead he sensed fingers drag up the curve of his back, then hands rest upon his shoulder blades, and then Akaashi was holding him, too. His heartbeat stuttered, god, his whole heart almost burst. Akaashi’s whole family was watching but he really, really didn’t care when this moment felt as unreal and as magical as glitter falling from the sky or footprints in the snow.
He had a funny feeling that Akaashi didn’t really care either.
The rest of the night was as eventless as it was pleasant. Some of Akaashi’s relatives still tittered when they looked at them, thinking of the intimate moment they had all been witness to, but Akaashi chose to determinedly ignore this (though his ears silently burned) and Bokuto didn’t really notice at all; he had three of Akaashi’s baby cousins sprawled out in his lap, and the four were attempting to create swans out of napkins as he regaled them with tales of his volleyball career. They seemed to think it was so cool that his title had been something that sounded as magnificent as ace, and Bokuto preened under the compliments.
“Keiji said I’m not allowed to play volleyball here in the hall, otherwise I’d show you some cool moves!” he said, then threw his head back and laughed. “Though it wasn’t just me, you know. Your cousin was the coolest on the court, like he had a sixth sense for everything. Shame he doesn’t play anymore, though I can still get him to send me a few tosses now and then!”
“I just don’t have time for it,” Akaashi told them. He’d been hovering for the past twenty minutes but finally joined them at last, sitting down cross-legged next to Bokuto with his own napkin. “It’s not as if I don’t want to play.”
“Hmm, there’s a lot of stuff you want but can’t have, isn’t there?” Bokuto noted. He had his face scrunched in intense concentration as he attempted to fix the mutilated tail of his swan, which looked beyond anything he could save at this point.
Akaashi raised a brow, intending to ask him what exactly he meant, except a small herd of children suddenly came running to join them since their play was clearly more attractive than listening to dull conversations by the adults. The boys shuffled over to make room, and their circle was expanded. Time passed quickly and pleasurably following this, the evening spent laughing with the children and sneaking extra pudding cups from the dessert table. Bokuto completed three swans by the end of the night, each one equally horrible and distributed out to three of the children. Akaashi completed one, perfectly constructed, and debated with himself for a moment before cautiously holding it out towards Bokuto; he had only just begun to speak, however, when one of his cousins asked to keep it and he, somewhat reluctantly, handed it over without contest.
When it was time to leave, at least five children were hanging from Bokuto’s legs. “I have to go!” he was saying, laughing and ruffling their hair one by one.
Akaashi watched them, smiling.
The people in the hall had begun to dwindle when Bokuto eventually broke free. Some of the children were called away by their parents, and some of Akaashi’s nicer aunties came forward to bid the two boys goodnight, patting Bokuto’s cheeks and cooing at him for his earlier display of affection. He molded a hand to the back of his neck, embarrassed, but otherwise seemed thrilled by all the positive attention. Akaashi smiled at this, too.
“Bokuto-san, I’ve called our taxi,” he informed him once they were left alone, tapping his watch. “Should we go wait by the front entrance?”
“Wait, but…” Bokuto suddenly looked about the room, frowning. “What about your parents?”
“What about them?”
“Shouldn’t I say goodbye?”
He could see Akaashi’s father in the distance, chatting with Allen, and the two were decidedly getting along better than he had with Bokuto. He tried not to let it bother him, since Akaashi’s father was not someone he had particularly enjoyed speaking to in the first place. But Akaashi’s mother was nowhere to be seen, even though moments ago she had been bustling about the hall, speaking with guests, running errands, and shooting the two boys with their herd of children furtive glances.
Neither of his parents had spoken a word to Bokuto since their very public embrace.
“No, that…” Akaashi sucked in his lower lip, frowning also. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
To his surprise, Bokuto was very compliant about the matter. Although still clearly agitated, he nodded and mumbled a low mm, all right before quietly making for the door. No fussing or insistence or anything. Sometimes, Akaashi mused, he was intuitive in ways most people did not give him credit for.
The decorations and the snowman display in the entryway seemed to cheer him up again just a tad. His face fell somewhat, when Akaashi said a bit awkwardly that he needed to greet his parents himself and Bokuto would need to wait here for him, but then he simply smiled and shooed him away. I’ll wait right here, he promised, grinning so that Akaashi would not look so guilt-ridden when he turned away. He gave one last lingering look over his shoulder, then disappeared back into the hall.
Bokuto immediately balanced himself on the tips of his toes, craning his neck to attempt to peer around the wall and maybe catch a glimpse of Akaashi inside. His stomach was squirming with disappointment but he was trying not to let it bother him, knowing Akaashi would feel ashamed and responsible and that was the last thing he wanted.
So preoccupied with trying to see Akaashi, Bokuto did not sense a presence approach him from behind until he was being directly spoken to.
“Now that suit sure does look familiar.”
He jumped, then whipped around to find that some man he did not know was smiling at him. Though dressed in a crisp suit, his hair was still swept enough by the wind to suggest that he had only just arrived. Bokuto squinted, trying to place a name to the face but coming up empty; quite honestly, he couldn’t even place the face at all, as cool and as pierced as it was. Deciding the man clearly could not have been speaking to him, Bokuto turned right back around to keep searching for Akaashi’s approaching figure.
“Oiii, don’t ignore me.” He laughed despite himself, bringing himself back around into Bokuto’s line of sight. “You must be Koutarou, right? I’m Keiji’s brother.”
Bokuto drew himself to his full height at this startling introduction, though he was suspicious. His eyes narrowed. “Are you really?”
“You question my identity while you’re wearing my suit?”
He laughed again, and Bokuto was reminded of Akaashi’s father and the twisted way in which he smiled while the words he spoke suggested something far more heinous about his character. He almost blanched, except this laugh was much different somehow—genuine and free, full of kindness. He didn’t seem to be laughing just for show.
Only himself, Akaashi, their old teammates, and Akaashi’s brother knew of the origins of his suit. He decided to believe him.
“Why’re you late to your own family’s dinner?”
“Ah, well, that’s because, hmmm, I didn’t want to come?” He had the sense to appear sheepish as he admitted this, molding a hand around his nape, though his general atmosphere did not seem very apologetic. “They don’t really like me in there.”
Bokuto was beyond intrigued. He leaned in and blinked owlishly. “Why not?”
“Because I’m the rebel son, or something like that? Ahh, it’s so stupid, isn’t it? Saying those words at my age.” He ran a hand down his face, embarrassed. Bokuto noticed a faint scar running from just the edge of his jaw to his neck; it was small enough that it could have been a nick from shaving, though he imagined something much more dangerous.
“Wow. What did you rebel against!”
Bokuto’s eyes were shining and he grinned when he saw it. “It’s not anything cool like you’re probably thinking. I just didn’t want to go into the family business. But that’s a heinous crime in our family, trust me.” Smiling gently towards the distant hall, at some person he could not see, he told Bokuto, “Keiji’s the good son. Always does what he’s told. Follows our parents’ ridiculous life plan down to the number. Well, except for the whole ‘liking men’ thing. That sure screwed them over.”
He laughed again, but Bokuto was now a little bit irritated by the blasé way he addressed the topic.
“There’s nothing wrong with liking men,” he said plainly, not caring if he was being rude.
“Hey, I didn’t say there was.” He quickly held up both hands in a move that was meant to appease him. “It’s our old man who’s got a problem with it. Though I’m sure you’ve figured that out yourself, since you were brave enough to go in there and put on this whole show.” He looked Bokuto up and down, seeming impressed that he had walked straight into Hell’s fire and managed to leave unscathed.
“He’s weird, I don’t like him,” Bokuto admitted, fidgeting uncomfortably on his feet.
“He’s the goddamn worst. Now, our mom, she seems awful at first glance. She’s got that whole prison warden look going for her, and there are probably sharks out there with better personalities.” He shrugged. “But she loves us, in her own way. Always wants the best for us, even if that means going forward with what she thinks is the best. She had no trouble accepting Akaashi’s whole deal, just switched from trying to find him a rich wife to a rich husband. But our old man...”
His expression darkened at the mention of his father. Though his bangs fell forward to shroud his eyes, Bokuto saw the steel in them. He saw intense and wholehearted dislike, so strong that it was probably never possible to conceal. It matched how he was feeling on the inside.
Light footsteps approached them, though neither of them realized until a bemused voice cut through the silence. “What are you two doing just standing here and having a glaring contest?”
Bokuto looked away first, then brightened almost instantly. “Akaashi.”
“I see you’ve met my brother...” He looked between the two of them, seeming more confused by the second and probably wondering when they had even met or become close enough for him to have walked in on such a scene. Eventually he dismissed the train of thought and turned instead to his brother, gnawing on his lip in apology. “I just got a call that our taxi is outside, so I can’t stay.”
He shook his head. “Don’t sweat it. I’ll see you at New Year’s anyway.”
Akaashi nodded once, then took Bokuto by the elbow to guide him outside of the building, where a taxi could be seen waiting just beyond the glass, revolving door. They turned back when someone called Bokuto’s name, to find that Akaashi’s brother was watching him closely, smirking.
“You could probably convince our mother at least, if it came down to it,” he said.
Bokuto blinked once, confused. “Uh, what are you talking about?”
He just waved them goodbye, still smiling, and Akaashi muttered something under his breath about not having time for his brother’s nonsense when the meter was running as he tugged him outside. He and Bokuto braced the winter wind together, sliding into the backseat so close that their sides bumped against one another, and Bokuto took one last look at the lavish light display before they rounded a corner and the hall disappeared from his sight.
He eased back, releasing a long and draining sigh that expelled all of his breath and his energy.
“I can’t believe we actually pulled it off.”
Akaashi was playing with his fingers in his lap, staring at his knees. “My brother…” he began, hesitant. “He didn’t say anything weird to you, did he?”
“Hm? Like what?”
“Like, about me, and…”
He trailed away, and when Bokuto turned to peer at him with worry, he was struck by how elegant Akaashi looked again then, his face shadowed in the darkness and illuminated only when they passed under dim streetlights. How elegant he looked with a flush of color on his cheeks, eyes bright and glassy from a hint of underlying embarrassment. Bokuto’s mouth parted.
“About you, and, what?” he prompted, whispering for some reason because it just felt right.
“Mm. No. Never mind.”
He looked away to stare out the window instead, elbow balanced on the door so he could perch his chin against his palm. It hid most of his face and made it impossible to tell what he had been thinking.
Bokuto frowned, not wanting to let the conversation simply dwindle, and told him, “He said you’re a good son. He said you follow your parents’ life plan and you’re going into the family business and your mom wants the best for you.”
Akaashi gave this some thought, then asked him, “What do you think about that, Bokuto-san?”
“Ehh? I guess it’s a good thing. You’re supposed to respect your elders and all that, right?” He scratched his head, nose scrunched. “Though you’ve got your own life to live and it’s not really up to them to be deciding what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Least that’s what I think. I mean, aren’t there ever things that you want just for yourself, Akaashi? Aren’t there things that your parents wouldn’t like, but you really, really want to reach out and grab them anyway?”
Akaashi stared at him long and hard when he said this, so silent that Bokuto began to sweat a little thinking that he’d said something stupid or maybe completely out of line. But then a streetlight passed overhead, throwing dingy light over their faces for a passing moment, and his stomach swooped down all the way to his feet when he saw that Akaashi’s eyes were muddled with an age-old sadness, a misery that looked too familiar with his face. And he was staring so closely and so hard at Bokuto, that Bokuto thought of how it had felt having him fitted inside his arms, and how that was all he wanted to do right now, just pull Akaashi into his chest and hold on really, really tight and nuzzle his cheek and flutter his lashes and just do anything, anything, that he thought might make Akaashi laugh.
His tongue traced his bottom lip, breath easing out slow.
“I already fought them over volleyball.”
He blinked, confused by the sudden segue.
“My parents,” Akaashi explained, mumbling it into the heel of his palm. “They wanted me to quit volleyball when I started high school. I think they were afraid I would hurt my fingers, not be able to play piano again. They wanted me to try for the soccer team, if I really wanted to play a sport.” Then he pulled his hand back, just a little bit away from his mouth, enough so Bokuto could see he was smiling. “But our team was strong. We had you, and we made it to Nationals three times. It impressed them a lot, enough that they eventually let me win that fight and stopped telling me to quit. I have you to thank for that, Bokuto-san.”
God, his heartbeat was so loud right now. It was really annoying, when he just wanted to hear Akaashi’s voice and nothing else. Shut up, stupid heart! he kept telling himself, but it just kept on beating really hard and really fast.
“That was the first and only time I ever fought my parents on anything. I think it was a shock for them, especially when I kept pushing and standing my ground. I’m thankful to them, for giving in, for letting me keep playing. I guess… I guess it feels like I can’t ask them for anything more after they’ve already let me have volleyball.” His eyes flickered to Bokuto’s face, very quickly, then away again. “Even if something else comes along that I really, really want to reach out and grab on to.”
Bokuto was uncharacteristically quiet in response, simply absorbing the words.
They turned into his neighborhood, surrounded by dingy apartment buildings and muddled darkness when the number of streetlights thinned, when he eventually spoke. “It’s kinda sad, Akaashi, that you think you’re only allowed to have one good thing in your life.”
Their eyes locked, surprise meeting consideration.
Bokuto was frowning thoughtfully as he said, “Like, me. I like barbecue, and I like volleyball, and living with Aki, and beef-flavored ramen, and eating so much junk food I feel sick, and spy movies and going out late at night and laughing really loud when something’s funny and telling my mom secrets and sneaking my brothers cookies and I like you, too.” He bit the inside of his cheek. “And I get to have all those things whenever I want.”
“And your point is, Bokuto-san?”
His eyebrows came together, lines running across his forehead. “My point is, you like ramen, Akaashi. You like it, but you won’t ever eat it because it’s not good for you. You look at manga when we go to bookstores, but then you always end up buying some thick textbook that looks really dull. You like volleyball so much, but you stopped playing it because you’re too busy studying something that wasn’t even your choice. You always got good grades, but they never even made you all that happy.” He tightened a fist. “And you don’t like that boy your parents want you to marry, but instead of just telling them, you came up with this plan where I pretend to be your boyfriend for the night.”
Akaashi opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked at Bokuto, then couldn’t bear it anymore and looked away. He fiddled with his fingers, then rubbed his palms, then held his hands still completely. Squirming.
Eventually, voice muted, he asked, “What are you trying to say, Bokuto-san?”
And Bokuto’s irises were alight with something golden and intense as he peered into him, arms pressed together in the backseat of a tiny, tiny taxicab, the smell of faded cologne and rose petals clinging to their bodies.
“Your parents didn’t like me, Akaashi,” he said. “Your dad didn’t like that I’m a guy, and your mom didn’t like that I’m me.” His breathing came out shallow, bottled and slow. “So, does that mean… Are you just going to cut me out of your life, too?”
Akaashi said nothing to this, finding no words adequate enough as a response. Eventually the taxi shuddered to a stop outside of Bokuto’s apartment building, windows dark and curtained to suggest the late hour. Bokuto clambered out into the frosty night, looking inside just once to wave goodnight to his date, who didn’t so much as twitch his finger in return.
Rolling over browning and trampled slush, the taxi drove off, taking Akaashi with it.
New Year’s passed in a barrage of lights and fireworks and good luck charms, as it did every year. Bokuto spent the time cleaning out his family home with his mother, lugging boxes and changing bulbs and retiling the roof, then took his brothers out sledding by the temple grounds with their school friends. Konoha called and complained for an hour about his sisters turning him into their errand mule for the break, and Onaga posted a picture of himself vacationing at his grandparents’ hot springs inn.
Bokuto braced himself, then sent a lengthy and heartfelt message to Akaashi filled to the brim with emojis and cute animal stickers, wishing him well for the coming year.
Happy new year to you too, Bokuto-san, he received in return, and his heart swelled.
He and Konoha returned to their musty apartment after a week away, attempting to clean it out but mostly dissolving into fights with whatever they had within reach, whether it be laundry detergent or dish soap or pillows. The apartment still somehow managed to appear spotless by the end.
Konoha was expected back to work at the shop the next morning, and Bokuto followed. He wasn’t needed at practice for a few more days, and on his off-days he normally frequented the gym in the evenings, which meant he was free to tag along with a sleep-deprived Konoha who was not in the mood for all his energy and just kept grumbling about getting dish soap in his ear.
Komi was expectedly in the shop, but Bokuto did a double take to find two more familiar faces smiling at them when they entered, leaning against the shop counter. He joyously ran forward, shouting, “Saru! Yukie!”
Without missing a single beat, Yukie asked, “Ah, Bokuto, do you have the money you owe me?”
He froze pre-leap at that, just came to a screeching halt while his body was still prepared to jump, and a sense of cold dread filled him. He almost turned right around and bolted out the door.
Yukie, seeming to sense his intentions, puffed out a laugh. “Just kidding~”
“I just saw Bokuto ascend into a whole new plane of fear,” Komi teased.
“Yukie’s scary when she’s been ripped off, man,” Konoha replied, still blowing warm air on his red, frigid fingers. He couldn’t seem to warm himself up while Bokuto was already ripping off his coat and complaining about being too hot. “You know I actively try to side against Bokuto on things, but I’m with him on this one.”
Bokuto huffily plopped himself down on a stool, struggling to decide whether he should be offended or pick a fight, but ultimately chose to turn to his old teammates and ask them instead, “What are you two doing here?”
“We were hoping to get the scoop,” Yukie told him, eyes twinkling.
“The scoop about what?”
Komi scoffed. “Your date, of course! We would have settled for second-hand information from Konoha, but having you here’s the best thing. You can’t just go on a date with Akaashi and then expect all of us not to be dying to hear about it.”
“…Oh.” Bokuto simply slinked down on his stool, frowning.
The three exchanged quick, surprised looks. This was the farthest reaction they had been expecting. Maybe some hooting and definitely a winding tale that covered every second from when they had stepped into the hall to when they had stepped out, but not dejection.
Konoha frowned as well, and told them, “It’s no use tapping me for information. He hasn’t told me anything either.”
“Bokuto not utilizing a captive audience?” Sarukui rubbed his chin. “Maybe something terrible happened. Maybe he accidentally maimed Akaashi’s mother with a butter knife.”
“Yeah, or maybe they had one conversation with him and then put him at the kids’ table.”
“Maybe Akaashi realized what a terrible mistake he was making and ditched him on the side of the road before they even got there.”
The four cracked themselves up, though with each tale that they spun, Bokuto seemed to shrink farther down in his seat until he was practically hanging his head all the way to the floor. The expression on his face only grew more dour.
“Hey, chin up.” Sarukui clapped his shoulder, smiling vaguely. “We’re just joking, of course. I’m sure it went great.”
“That’s the thing, though!” Bokuto whined, staring down moodily at his fingers. “It didn’t go great. It went terrible, just terrible.”
Four pairs of eyes made contact, holding a conversation without words, while Bokuto continued to mope.
“Did they… figure out it was fake?” Komi asked, very carefully.
“God, you didn’t really maim Akaashi’s mother, did you?”
“Then what is it?” Konoha was frowning, the impatient look on his face seeming to suggest that he had realized this might be yet another one of Bokuto’s many whimsical moods and not an actual serious matter.
Sure enough, Bokuto seemed absolutely stricken when he blurted out, “Akaashi’s parents didn’t like me!”
He was met with a collective groan, and four people in the room moved all at once; Komi picked up his clipboard and made for the back room; Konoha donned his nametag and assumed his position behind the counter; Yukie reached into her purse and pulled out a snack; and Sarukui looked closely at the display of volleyball shoes with interest. No one was paying attention to Bokuto any longer.
“Guys, this is serious!” he insisted. “I really wanted them to like me.”
“It’s not the end of the world if they don’t, though,” Sarukui appeased him. “It’s not like you’ll have to see them again.” Bokuto opened his mouth but he quickly spoke over him. “Your job was to fake a relationship, and you accomplished that. You really saved Akaashi this time. Just pat yourself on the back and let it go, I say.”
Despite his agreement, a dark cloud still seemed to hang over Bokuto’s head for the majority of the morning. Even Komi unveiling the newest volleyball equipment they had received just yesterday did not pull him out of his funk, even though the smell of a new ball was usually enough to perk him right up. Yukie offered to share her snack but he was not hungry, Sarukui tried to show him a new game on his phone but he was not in the mood, and Konoha attempted to engage him about their favorite cop drama but he’d been so busy thinking about Akaashi that he hadn’t watched the newest episode.
“It can’t have gone too horribly,” Konoha eventually snapped, losing patience. “Akaashi hasn’t been acting any differently.”
“…Well, that’s not entirely true,” Komi argued, rubbing his chin. “You know, I texted him a New Year’s greeting and he texted me one back, but when I asked how he was spending his time, he just never responded. Bit weird for a polite guy like Akaashi, don’t you think?”
“So he got busy, big deal.”
“I tried inviting Akaashi out for lunch yesterday,” Sarukui told them, “but he said he already had plans. I found that odd. Quiet guy like Akaashi, who doesn’t like going out? When has he ever had plans that weren’t with one of us?”
“Maybe he had a study group?”
“I asked him what kind of plans and he never replied. If it was a study group, why couldn’t he just tell me?”
“Maybe his parents have him held captive in some tower.” Bokuto sprang to his feet, his stool toppling over from the force of him kicking off, and the steely resolve on his face probably meant he was ready to lead a rescue mission right into Akaashi’s home if it came to it.
“Settle down. Akaashi’s just private. Never shares any details, that one.”
“Well, that’s definitely true.”
“That’s probably it,” Yukie conceded, bobbing her head, and turned back to her phone.
One by one, the boys followed suit, murmuring agreements as they turned back to their work or to their phones, no longer interested in pursuing the topic. The spark from the conversation dwindled and then died completely, until soon there was only Bokuto left still all fired up alone, glancing left and right and wondering what had happened to his fellow conspiracy theorists. He could hardly lead a rescue mission without a team.
“I’m telling you guys, Akaashi’s in danger,” he tried to persist, but no one would rise to the bait.
“I’m sure Akaashi would love knowing you’re trying to turn his parents into Disney villains,” Konoha drawled. “I’m telling you, he’s just a generally closed off guy. Getting him to spill about his personal life is like pulling teeth.”
“That’s not true! He told you all he liked guys way before he told me!”
Yukie glanced up from her phone screen at that, and Komi poked his head out of the back room.
“Well…” Konoha hesitated, easing back from the conversation. He looked backwards for help but none of the others seemed to want to jump in, so he sighed, “He did, yes. It didn’t go how you’re thinking it went, though. I’m honestly surprised he even told you about that.”
Sarukui came forward, brow raised. “Did he… tell you anything else about that conversation?”
“Just that you guys kept bothering him until he finally spilled.” He huffed, loud and petulant, and seemed to take issue with being the only one left in the dark when he added, “That’s just not fair. He never gets bothered enough by me to tell me secrets. I bother him the most!”
“Wow, he’s self-aware,” Komi noted.
“And I can’t believe none of you ever told me!”
All those years spent thinking Akaashi liked girls. It felt like so much time wasted. He didn’t know what he would have done if he’d known earlier, but he definitely would have done something. Maybe baked Akaashi a cake and written him a message with icing somewhere along the lines of I like you just the way you are. Or something.
“It wasn’t our secret to tell,” Sarukui explained to him, very patiently. “It was practically an accident on our part, finding out. Sometimes during practice we would notice that he… well, we noticed certain, things, about Akaashi. And we were just teasing him a little, trying to rile up the first-year—you know how it goes. I don’t think any of us expected him to actually confirm anything.”
“I spent the most time with Akaashi and I never noticed anything like that about him, though?”
“Yeah, well.” Konoha rolled his eyes. “When have you ever noticed anything going on in the world around you when there’s a volleyball in your hands, you simpleton?”
“Not true!” He flapped his hands, as if that would prove his point. “I notice Akaashi all the time!”
He noticed the way Akaashi looked, when he was hours into practice and his limp bangs fell over his eyebrows, and the effect of it softened all the angles of his face until he was almost someone entirely new. He noticed that Akaashi always preferred to dab his sweat with a towel rather than drag the edge of his shirt across his face like Bokuto did, too polite to expose his torso to the world, and more than once Bokuto had wondered what the skin above his waistband might look like peeking out from underneath fabric. He noticed that Akaashi sighed a lot, but sometimes he sighed when he really actually wanted to laugh but didn’t want to vindicate whatever nonsense Bokuto was up to; this type of sigh was almost always accompanied with a secret smile playing at the ends of his mouth, and it was one of Bokuto’s absolute favorites.
Akaashi rolled his lip under his teeth when he was stuck on a homework problem. He held his pencil between his ring finger and his middle, and when he began to spin it aimlessly, it meant he was growing weary from his work and secretly hoping for a distraction. He cleaned compulsively when any other aspect of his life was out of balance. He was proud, to have been on a team like Fukurodani, to have stood on a court together with Bokuto. He wished, so dearly and so sincerely, for Bokuto to achieve greatness in his volleyball career.
And he felt incredible, fitted against Bokuto’s arms, his chin tucked into the crook of Bokuto’s shoulder so perfectly it was if they were two jigsaw puzzles coming together the way they were meant to be.
“And he likes to put pistachios on top of his pistachio ice-cream,” Bokuto added as an afterthought, “because he’s cute like that.”
He beamed into the room.
His four friends shared long, thoughtful looks with each other when he finished. Again. They were always doing that, and Bokuto felt a little bit left out. He wondered if everyone had attended some sort of seminar on how to hold entire conversations with just their eyes and he had been the only one to miss it, because he didn’t understand those looks at all but all four suddenly seemed to have arrived at some sort of similar conclusion.
“Tell me again,” Yukie hummed, “why you two aren’t together?”
“Ahh, Yukie, don’t you know that’s taboo?” Sarukui laughed. “Akaashi’ll flay you if he hears you brought it up.”
Bokuto was confused. Whatever those strange, lingering looks had meant, this was not what he had imagined. “What are you guys talking about?”
A frown arched Yukie’s lips, matching the dip between her eyebrows. While the boys seemed intent on warily keeping their lips sealed, she seemed no longer to have the patience to keep quiet. “I’m obviously talking about you and Akaashi,” she said, tapping her chin. “There’s no way you think he’s not good enough for you. Do you think you’re not good enough for him?”
“I don’t think he’s not good enough for me, or that I’m not good enough for him.” The answer left Bokuto’s mouth automatically, even if he still had no idea what the hell Yukie was talking about. Bokuto knew he was a catch, but Akaashi was one too; they were both equally good enough for each other.
“Then what’s stopping you?” she demanded. “I know Akaashi’s the reserved type, plus he’s got his whole family deal. But I thought you at least would have made a move by now.”
Bokuto angled his head and wondered if a giant question mark had materialized above his head for how confused he felt.
Yukie’s eyes gleamed bright when she asked him, sullen and serious, “Don’t you want to be with him?”
Of course he wanted to be with Akaashi. He wanted to play volleyball together on their free days, and try every new bakery that they found, and watch action movies while fighting over the remote and the volume adjustment. He wanted to fall asleep on Akaashi’s shoulder as they sat through one of his unbelievably boring documentaries, and fill up the memory on Akaashi’s phone taking ugly selfies up his nose, and FaceTime him whenever his brothers were doing something particularly cute so Akaashi could see it too. He wanted to look up into the stands during practice and see Akaashi there, leaning against the railing, looking down at his old partner with immeasurable pride reflected in his eyes.
The thing was, they already did all those things. He just wanted to keep doing them, keep being together like this, probably for the rest of his days.
“I’m already with Akaashi,” he said.
Komi whipped his head around at that. “Wait, seriously? When did that happen?”
“Uhh, it’s always been like that?”
Sarukui seemed confused. “Well, why would Akaashi ask his real boyfriend to be his fake boyfriend?”
At the exact moment that Bokuto’s gut twisted something awful, the news hitting him cold that Akaashi had a real boyfriend out there somewhere, Konoha groaned. “Hold on, guys,” he said. “I think this is one of those classic moments when Bokuto is on one page, and literally everyone else in the entire world is on another.”
Yukie marched up to Bokuto and took him by the shoulders, asking him frankly, “Are you and Akaashi dating?”
“Fake dating,” he corrected her.
“No, you bozo! I mean real dating!”
Bokuto balked at that. Dating? Him? With Akaashi? For real?
His stomach did a funny swooping kind of motion at the thought; it reminded him of the one summer he had spent at Tokyo Disney with his family, becoming a permanent fixture on the rollercoasters and gathering himself a small collection of photographs, mid-ride, with his hands in the air as he shrieked in delight—the thrill of teetering right on the edge of a cliff. He thought about holding Akaashi’s hand and jumping off together.
Yukie was still staring at him with purpose. They all were.
Don’t be stupid, he wanted to laugh, except that every time he tried to open his mouth to say it, his mouth didn’t seem to want to cooperate. In fact, his whole body wasn’t cooperating with him right now; it had begun to sweat, completely against his will, heat panning across it and in all his crevices and especially up the nape of his neck as he imagined himself walking down the boardwalk, Akaashi’s hand tucked into the crook of his elbow, or maybe his arm wrapped around Akaashi’s waist, or maybe both their arms wrapped up all around each other as they leaned in close and he fluttered his eyelashes and Akaashi smiled up at him all full of adoration and they just kept getting closer and—
“What the hell!” Bokuto yelped, stumbling backwards until the edge of the counter dug into his back. The sharp pain of it still did not make the fantasy completely dissipate.
Yukie also pulled back, looking down at her hands as if afraid she had hurt him somehow. “What, what is it?”
He blurted out, “I want to kiss Akaashi.”
God, his face was probably melting off right now. It certainly felt like it. And all his friends were looking at him weirdly enough.
“I don’t just want to kiss him,” he moaned, burying his face into his hands. “I want to make out with him so freaking hard.”
Konoha wrinkled his nose. “Okay, gross. I didn’t want to hear that, thank you.”
Bokuto just made a loud, warbling noise as things finally started making sense for him all at once. Why he cared so much for how an old teammate’s parents perceived him, why he wanted to be liked as much as they might like a prospective marriage partner. A cold fear gripping him when he thought of Akaashi leaving, moving away somewhere unreachable, not being beside him as he’s always been since the very first time they had stood in a gymnasium together. Annoyed and disappointed at the thought of Akaashi with a woman, and thinking of Akaashi with a man—picturing it, liking it, wanting it.
He was burning right now, god, something was searing his stomach to the point that it hurt, it hurt so much to not have Akaashi here in this moment to hold on to and share all of this with. He liked Akaashi so much that he wondered how he had ever been satisfied calling anything between them as just pretend.
“Uhh, Bokuto? You all right, buddy?”
“He hasn’t moved or blinked in two minutes. I think we broke him.”
“I kinda like this broken version. Least he’s quiet.”
Bokuto came back to reality as broken words and phrases drifted to his ears, blinking owlishly about the room. His friends were all staring back at him with varying amounts of concern, and he briefly registered that his mouth was still agape from the shock of his epiphany. He snapped it shut.
“Ah! He moved!”
“I like Akaashi,” he said. “Like, like like. Not just pretend.”
Konoha looked back at him flatly. “Welcome to the program.”
“Wait, so, he really didn’t know?” Yukie asked incredulously, meeting the grim faces of her old teammates. “This was a ‘I never realized my own feelings’ type of thing? I thought he was just scared about making a move because he doesn’t know that Akaashi also—”
“Taboo,” Sarukui reminded her, and she clamped her mouth shut.
Bokuto was too busy willing himself out of his meltdown to notice any of this. Someone thrust a stool under him just as he collapsed, so he would not end up on the floor. Someone else was shaking his shoulder and calling his name, but it sounded so hazy and far away. He liked Akaashi. Boy, did he sure like him. Not pretend.
Komi switched the sign of his shop to closed, and his old teammates crowded him in a tight-knit support circle of general love and solidarity for the remainder of the afternoon.
Bokuto was glum on the phone with his mother the following day. She noticed and asked after him, but he simply grumbled I’m fine until she decided he must have been in one of his moods again and would eventually snap out of it. The truth was that he was not fine; he had tried messaging Akaashi twice and had received no reply, and his mood was sinking further into the gutter the longer he went without a response. And there was, of course, the daunting reality that he was madly in love with the boy.
“Stop by sometime this week, and we’ll all eat out somewhere, okay?” his mother was saying. There were echoes in the background of his brothers probably making a mess of the living room, though she was ignoring it completely. They weren’t forces to be reckoned with, having learned from Bokuto himself.
“…Sure,” he huffed, picking at a loose thread on his cushion.
“Don’t cause Konoha-kun any trouble, all right?”
“I’m not.” He released a long and dragged out sigh, then asked her, “You’ll love me no matter what, right?”
“Of course… Is everything okay?”
“Even if I liked boys?”
There was a pause, a beat of hesitation, before she asked, “Is this a what-if scenario, or are you trying to tell me something?” Then she hurried to add, “I’ll still love you no matter what, of course.”
Bokuto brightened a bit at that, straightening on the sofa. “I’m telling you.”
“I see. How did you—”
A door softly clicked shut somewhere in the apartment, and Bokuto sprang to his feet to check the front door. Konoha had just come through it, unwinding his scarf as snowflakes drifted from his hair.
“I gotta go, Aki’s here, bye!” Bokuto said into the phone. His mother had barely enough time to say her own goodbye and remind him to visit soon before he ended the call, bounding over to his roommate. “Did you get the shrimp chips I wanted?”
Konoha held out the bag of purchases from the convenience store; he’d been made to go after losing at rock-paper-scissors. Bokuto ripped through it, found his desired chips, and ran back to collapse on the couch. This was what he needed right now, he thought, as he switched on a volleyball match.
Konoha entered his line of vision, then, cutting off his view of the TV. Bokuto almost complained, until he finally noticed the boy’s pinched face and the words died away. He seemed deeply disturbed, fidgeting as if he was nervous about something that he couldn’t seem to decide whether he should share.
“What happened?” Bokuto asked, sitting up.
His eyes flitted about the apartment before landing back on him. “Well… our convenience store didn’t have your chips, so I had to go a couple blocks down.” With a long, hard look, Konoha told him, “I saw Akaashi.”
Bokuto’s stomach squirmed. “Oh.”
“He was with a guy. Some blonde foreigner.” Now he seemed downright uncomfortable. “I thought the whole pretend relationship thing went well?”
“It did! We totally pulled it off!”
“Then why did Akaashi tell me he went to that marriage meeting?”
A pin could have dropped and made sound, it was so silent.
Then Bokuto dropped his chips. They went down just as he went up, scrambling to his feet so he could grab Konoha by the collar and yank him close, shake him a little and cry, “He did what?!”
Panic began to settle in very quickly. The apartment suddenly felt so small and snug, felt like it was closing in on him, and all he could think of was Akaashi sitting on his couch all of two weeks ago and swearing that he wouldn’t let himself get taken away, not with Bokuto on his side.
Konoha pulled himself free, rubbing his neck. “Strangling me is not gonna change anything, man. Have you talked to Akaashi lately?”
“He won’t answer my texts!” he replied, still in that hectic fashion.
“Is that any excuse?” Konoha asked, shrewdly.
There was another beat of silence in the living room, when they simply stood there staring at one another, and then Bokuto quickly side-stepped around him. He was right, of course he was right. Bokuto was soon out the door, just barely taking time to adorn his boots and his coat, and took the apartment steps three at a time before bursting out into the cool evening. Akaashi lived so close that sometimes Bokuto even passed his building on one of his morning runs, though he had usually already left for the library by then, and it was always a bit disappointing that Bokuto couldn’t call him to stick his head out the window and wave and maybe flex a little before he went on his way. If Akaashi left with some foreign husband for a strange and faraway place, then he’d never get that chance again.
He barreled past shops and people and almost upended some poor grandmother as he rounded a corner, but eventually he made it to Akaashi’s apartment and almost threw himself on the buzzer. The poor thing suffered plenty of abuse at his hand until, after the thirtieth consecutive ring and the smallest of cramps on his finger, Bokuto was forced to concede that he was not home. Maybe he was out on a date, he thought, planting himself on the front steps to mope. Maybe he and his husband were trying a new bakery or watching an action movie or falling asleep to boring documentaries. Maybe Akaashi wouldn’t come home at all and Bokuto would sit here all night waiting and freeze to death.
So this was his choice: to follow his parents’ plan, to cut Bokuto out of his life, to find some rich husband like his family wanted. God, it hurt so much. He didn’t even know until yesterday that he liked Akaashi, and now he liked him so much that it hurt everywhere, it hurt all over, but especially in his heart and his legs and his cramping finger (but mostly his heart). He wanted it to be him, he wanted it to be him so bad.
Throwing himself onto the apartment steps, he all but melted into a puddle of dramatic misery and wailed into his arms, “Akaashi, choose me!”
After a minute of lamentation and some loud sniffling, a pair of feet appeared suddenly in his peripheral. From what he could make out past his shoulder and general heart-wrenching sorrow, the person hesitated from climbing the first step and was definitely staring at him. Well, he wasn’t moving. If this person wanted to get inside, they would have to kick him off to the side or climb over him, mark his words.
That is, until he heard, “Bokuto-san?”
He practically rolled right off the steps in his haste to scramble back up.
It was him, it was Akaashi, he looked wind-swept and frigid and was staring him down with his familiar flat look and lecturing him, please don’t block the path, Bokuto-san, I’m not the only one who lives here, but it was him and Bokuto felt like his heart was bursting, bursting, bursting. Whatever words were being said to him were ignored or barely even perceived in the first place, not when his heartbeat was drumming a beat in his ears like this because Akaashi was here.
He catapulted himself off the steps and flew right into the boy, taking him by the shoulders to give him a very vigorous shake and wail at him, desperate, “Akaashi, don’t get married!”
Akaashi, who was looking thoroughly rumpled and just a tiny bit completely put out by the sudden attack, now stared up at him in confusion. “…Um?”
“No, no, listen to me first, I gotta make my case!” Bokuto carried on, words gushing out of him all in one breath. “I’m gonna tell you something that’s gonna completely change your mind, okay, and don’t be too shocked when I tell you because it was a big, big shock for me too but now I’m okay with it. And I know it took me a long time to realize it, Akaashi, I know, that’s what everyone’s saying—but! I figured it out! And I get points for that, right?! Say something, Akaashi, no, don’t say anything because I need to say this first, but I like men, Akaashi, I like boys, I like them in romantic ways and in ‘I wanna get laid’ ways but, don’t be surprised, Akaashi, but I don’t like just any boy—the one I like is you, okay, so much, I think I’ve liked you forever!”
Akaashi looked up at him, unmoving. Bokuto looked back, loudly taking in air after he had expelled it all from that one big giant rush of words.
When several seconds ticked by and he received no response, he shifted. The words had rushed out of him with utter confidence, but now his stomach squirmed, feeling sick and cold as he thought for the first time of the possibility of hearing no.
“That…” He licked his lips, reluctant hope shining in his eyes. “That did completely change your mind, right, Akaashi?”
He frowned. Then, all he said was, “Where did you hear that I was getting married, Bokuto-san?”
“Uh…” Disappointment and just the smallest hint of insecurity began to prick at him, but he tampered them down. Maybe this wasn’t the answer he sought, but it wasn’t a no just yet either. Right? “Aki told me. He said you told him when he saw you outside the convenience store with some blondie. Allen-kun, right?”
“Konoha-san…?” Akaashi bit down on his lip, seeming further confused. “I did see Konoha-san today, but we didn’t speak. We just waved from across the street.”
Bokuto blinked. “What? No way! He told me that you told him!”
He finally released his vice grip on Akaashi’s shoulders so he could dig for his phone, pushing aside copious amounts of lint and some moth balls he had never bothered to take out of his pockets before he eventually pulled it out. Before he could type out a question for his roommate, however, he was greeted with a message already waiting for him.
It was from Konoha. Preceded by at least three of those smirking emojis that Bokuto really hated (they were just so smug, it always got him all riled up), he had written, I really should get an award for my first-class acting, don’t you think? Do you think that Karasuno kid is looking for any stars for his new movie?
It made little to no sense to him at all.
He looked quizzically at Akaashi, as if the boy could somehow explain any of this to him when he was just as caught unprepared in the moment. But Akaashi was crazy smart and always had a knack for figuring things out even when he was devoid of any context clues. And, ahh, there he went; slight understanding had already begun to dawn in his eyes.
“I asked them not to meddle…” Bokuto heard him grumble to himself, and demanded, anxious, “What’s going on, Akaashi? Are you leaving or not?”
Akaashi’s face seemed to admit defeat when he finally told him, “No, Bokuto-san, I’m not getting married.”
He was still confused and just a little annoyed at his scheming friend and also disappointed that this conversation was not turning out as grand as he had pictured in his head, but all of that was instantly washed out by the overwhelming sense of relief that swooped into him. Akaashi was staying. He was staying with Bokuto.
Well, not with him. Near him? A few blocks down from him? (Bokuto wanted it to be with, though, so he decided not to change it in his mind).
“I did see Allen-kun today,” Akaashi admitted. He had begun playing with his fingers in his usual habit, staring down at them instead of the boy who was earnestly taking in his words and every single aspect of his face. “I saw him a lot this break, actually. But it’s not what you’re thinking, Bokuto-san, I… I told him everything.”
“Everything about what? That you won’t marry him?”
“That, and, about us. About how everything that night was pretend.” Their gazes finally locked, both burning fiercely for two different reasons. “I told him who you really are, and about my parents, and how we staged everything because I didn’t want to marry him, and how I… there’s someone I already like. And he was, I think, very shocked, but also very understanding. I’m surprised how well he handled it, actually, I don’t know if I would have been so graceful in the same situation.” He paused here, to let the regret stew a bit, then explained, “I spent my break showing him around Tokyo when he asked. He really wanted to see as much of it as he could before he left, because there wouldn’t be a reason for him to come back again. I ended up neglecting my phone a lot this past week because of it, and I do feel bad ignoring everyone’s messages. But I really wanted to make amends with him before he returned to his country.”
Oh. Ohh. Things were clicking into place all at once, and the disappointment and fear were quickly being trampled out of his system. Akaashi was staying, he wasn’t getting married, he didn’t like that boy and he didn’t care what his parents thought. He’d chosen his own path after all.
“He really liked you,” Bokuto said. It annoyed him immensely to admit it, but it was the truth. “Not as much as me, though, of course.”
Akaashi’s gaze slid from his face to some point over his shoulder, burning into the wall of his apartment building. But it was impossible to conceal how bright they were, how they glassed over as the intimate words rang into the night and washed over them, how his irises were almost tinted green just from the light within. It was hard to make out in this settling darkness, since Akaashi had always been a tempered boy and his flushes were always subtle and pale to match him in this sense, but his cheeks were practically aglow from pleasure.
Bokuto grinned. “You like me too, don’t you, Akaashi?”
There was no answer.
“You said you have someone you already like,” he pushed, wanting to hear it. “That has to be me, right? There isn’t anyone else, right?”
“…No, Bokuto-san,” he finally admitted. “There’s no one else.”
“It’s me.” His cheeks hurt, he was smiling so hard.
But Akaashi was smiling now too, light, yet unbelievably soft. The porch light had switched on automatically when the world darkened around them, and the beam reflected in his eyes made them appear almost golden. “Yes,” he said. “It’s you.”
His heart went pitter-patter and so did his feet when he sprang forward to take him in his arms, pull him in and hold him to his chest and nuzzle into his hair. He almost started purring right then, and his chest was certainly vibrating enough from the thrill of all this, the thrill of Akaashi’s hands sliding round his middle and reluctantly returning the embrace. And when he sighed it wasn’t pensive or dark or like he hadn’t yet had his coffee in the morning—it was content.
“The last thing left to do is to talk to my parents about all of this,” he mumbled into Bokuto’s coat. “I was thinking that… maybe we could do that together?”
“Sure!” Bokuto laughed, and then he angled back enough that he could see Akaashi’s face, see him when he was smiling and half-lidded from affection, and it struck him that he really, really liked this boy. Wanted him in his arms like this forever and ever. Wanted so many things that he felt like he should start right now, before the rest of his life caught up with him.
“Hey, hey, Akaashi?” he breathed, the wonder of the moment translating into his voice. “Can I not-fake kiss you for real?”
“Not… fake…?” Akaashi rolled his lip under his teeth, that endearing line forming on his forehead as he tried to make sense of Bokuto’s very tangled, very perplexing words.
Bokuto kissed him anyway, leaned in and took his mouth with his own and kissed him as hard as he could. He was laughing through it, because his toes were tingling and so was his spine and it was a funny feeling, funny but so wonderfully new and so wonderfully wonderful. Akaashi kissed him back and the world felt like it was spinning, or, no, that was just Bokuto who had picked him up in his enthusiasm and spun him right there on the street. Akaashi made a noise when his ribs were crushed, but mostly he was just very focused on Bokuto’s mouth and on kissing it.
Eventually he pulled away, flushed but so very bright. He put the back of his hand to his mouth, and mumbled around it, “The neighbors might see.”
“I hope they’re happy for us,” Bokuto laughed. “I know I am!”
Akaashi’s face softened at that. “Would you like to come in? I bought some ramen this afternoon that I thought we could share.”
That sounded so perfect, sharing a pot of ramen under blankets with Akaashi, that he almost agreed in a snap. But, “I have early morning practice,” he blanched, and it was probably the first time in his life he had ever been disappointed by volleyball. “I should go and rest up so I can wow everyone tomorrow, finally steal myself a spot on the starting line.”
The corner of Akaashi’s mouth twitched. Bokuto couldn’t tell if he was impressed or disappointed; maybe a little bit of both.
“I’ll make it up to you, though!” he promised, pounding a fist to his chest. “I’ll make it up in the best way, okay, because I’m gonna become a really great and famous athlete one day, I swear it, and then your parents will have to approve of me! Wait for me, okay, Akaashi?”
And Akaashi promised that he would, that he would always be in the stands supporting him and their inevitable future, and Bokuto would have almost kissed him again right then if he wasn’t trying to be a good and responsible adult (just for today, because Akaashi seemed so impressed with him and there was no feeling greater, but there would be lots of kisses tomorrow).
Once Akaashi had ascended to his apartment, Bokuto pulled out his phone and tapped out a message beckoning him to look out. It took an excruciating stretch of time, but a third story window suddenly popped open, and Akaashi’s face appeared from within. Bokuto waved up at him cheerily, putting his jumping prowess to good use, before he quickly pulled back his coat and flexed over his chest, showing off his biceps. Akaashi rolled his eyes but he was so clearly fighting a fond smile, and god, Bokuto really liked that look on his face.
They simply kept waving at each other for an immeasurable length of time.
When he returned home soon after, Konoha was waiting for him on the couch. He took one look at his dopey smile and asked, “Finally together?”
“More like we finally realized we were always together.”
He was surprised, then nodded. “Smartest thing you’ve ever said. Though that’s not exactly a challenge.”
Bokuto slugged him.
He dreamt that night of Akaashi up on a grandiose stage, fingers tapping over a piano, and Bokuto admiring him on the bench at his side. (He also dreamt of kisses, lots of them, and they woke him up in the middle of the night so he could bury his burning face under his pillow). In the morning he would wake to an explosion of messages from his old teammates, demanding details and offering congratulations, but the one that mattered most was the curt good-morning greeting from Akaashi. This was his proof, that Akaashi was still here, and he was near, and he was his.
If it took sappy walks on a deserted beach or chocolate candy hearts, staying awake during boring documentaries or surrendering the remote on occasion, battling with prospective fiancés or braving Akaashi’s parents, Bokuto was determined to be the best and most romantic boyfriend he could ever hope to have.
[[ extra ]]
Maybe he should have cleaned up the place a little. Well, it wasn’t as if mountains of garbage decorated his apartment; sometimes he just forgot to put away his jacket instead of leaving it hanging over an armrest, or didn’t want to walk all the way to the kitchen to put away an empty mug, or didn’t realize the TV needed dusting because it was so often on that it was impossible to tell it was dusty in the first place. And, in his defense, Akaashi never seemed to mind if he was a little bit messy.
Then again, despite the similarities they shared in their features, Akaashi was definitely not the same person as his mother.
She was looking about the apartment in strict distaste and, despite her son’s firm and disapproving look, asked, “Don’t you ever clean your home?”
Bokuto’s voice carried from the kitchen, chirpy and not at all offended. “Sometimes, yeah! My roommate takes care of it most of the time, but I help when we do a huge overhaul of everything. Oh! And Akaashi comes over sometimes to help me with my laundry!”
Akaashi avoided his mother’s shrewd stare, ears burning.
Bokuto eventually emerged behind a loud chorus of humming, sporting giant oven mitts that looked like pandas and cradling a steaming pot on top of them. He placed it on the table, then offered a cushion each to Akaashi and his mother before taking one for himself. Akaashi’s mother stared down at her own for a good, long while before she was clouded in a general aura of defeat and joined the two boys at the table.
Bokuto unveiled the pot to reveal a generous serving of ramen, then laughed, “I made a lot so you have to eat heaps of it, okay?”
Staring into the pot with her mouth pinched, Akaashi’s mother said, “There is no nutritional value in this at all.”
Bokuto nodded, wisely. “That’s probably what makes it taste so good.”
Then he was laughing, and she was astounded at his impudence that she didn’t realize wasn’t impudence at all, it was simply his personality. She watched him slurp up his noodles in sizable portions and almost blanched, except Akaashi picked up her chopsticks and pointedly forced them into her hand. His eyes seemed to say, Please behave yourself, mother. He’s trying very hard and you should, too.
All right, fine. Fine. She picked at the ramen for a moment before eventually bringing some into her mouth, delicate and slow, as if to show it was possible to eat it without scarfing it down like some rabid animal. She chewed thoughtfully, and a look of amazement very slowly replaced her previous conceit.
“How is it?” Bokuto asked eagerly.
“It’s…” She didn’t seem to want to admit it, especially when Bokuto’s smile was so bright and blinding in this dingy room that it was almost unnerving. Eventually, she just sniffed. “It’s not bad.”
“Shrimp flavor is Akaashi’s favorite, too!” he told her.
She opened her mouth, then closed it, then harrumphed very loudly as she leaned into her second portion. Behind the general snootiness, however, she actually seemed quite pleased to hear it. If Bokuto didn’t know any better, he could have sworn she was trying hard to smother a smile.
He beamed. “If you’re impressed by that, you should see me when I play volleyball!”
And Akaashi’s mother didn’t do more than mumble something incoherent before glaring fixedly into her bowl, but what she had said sounded decidedly like, I look forward to it.
Bokuto and Akaashi glanced at one another so they could share secret smiles.