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hoping for today, dreaming of tomorrow

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"Some days, you tried to smile
You had to hold in your tears.
To my friend, to my love, trust me.

Hoping for today, dreaming of tomorrow
The start and the wait are not over yet

Lala, I pray for your time
Lala, I pray for your faith
Nothing can replace you”

 

 

“A-Akashi-kun! Here, a piece of the cake.”

The other boy turns to him, taking his red eyes off the city lights. Slight surprise crosses his features.

Furihata can’t blame Akashi.

In a good part of the conversation between them that night, Furihata had stuttered and struggled with awkwardness; yet, Akashi patiently waited for his answers, with a smile.

Although Furihata had seen, for a brief moment at the final game between Rakuzan and Seirin, the change in Akashi, his first impression of the boy – intimidating, untouchable – still had remained in the back of his anxious mind, at least until those moments at Kuroko’s birthday party. However, that impression slowly dissolved with each nod, each word and each smile Akashi had given him.

Furihata doesn’t have a single idea of why Akashi had chosen to sit beside him and make conversation, but he’s glad that Akashi did it. They had talked a little about basketball, then the fact that he was in the Library Committee, along with Kuroko, and then books. The minutes had gone by, and his shoulders were relaxed, his voice, less strained with shyness. The former captain of the Generation of Miracles hadn’t said a word about his awkwardness or – Furihata flinched at the thought, in shame – the fact that he’d fainted at the mere sight of Akashi, back at Kagami’s front door. Actually, Furihata had realized, Akashi was a kind person.

After throwing confetti at the birthday boy and everyone giving their congratulations to Kuroko, the room had turned into a mess of bodies, colors and laughs, while Kuroko was trying to cut the cake and give a slice of it to all of his friends. Even among the confusion, Furihata’s eyes couldn’t help but follow Akashi walking off to the balcony, by himself. He then had proceeded to take two slices and had gone to where Akashi was. It was the least he could do, for all Akashi had to deal with that night, because of him.

“Oh,” Akashi says, accepting the cake. The surprise is soon replaced by an appreciative smile. “Thank you, Furihata-kun.”

“I-it’s nothing,” Furihata coughs, and tries to stop stammering in front of the Rakuzan captain. Then, he adds, in a conspiring voice, gesturing to the living room, “Any later, and you wouldn’t have even the slightest piece of it, you know? Kagami has an endless pit inside of his stomach.”

 That remark makes the corner of Akashi’s lips quirk even more. He observes the room he just had left.

“True. I never thought I would find someone who eats as much as Murasakibara,” he says, in a somewhat fond and exasperated tone, with a shake of his head. “But Kagami has proven himself up to the challenge.”

Furihata hums in agreement and takes a bite of his slice, as he chows what words he could say next. “Vanilla flavored,” he comments and at the same time, kicks himself mentally. Well, at least, he didn’t talk about the weather, right? He tries to manage, “Perfect for Kuroko, right?”

“Yes,” Akashi answers, a bit off. It sounds strangely enough to make Furihata look up from his plate. He finds red eyes still fixated on the sight beyond the glass door that separated the balcony and the living room.

There, Momoi sighs at Aomine having yet another round of who eats more with Kagami. Midorima scolds Murasakibara, trying to keep the taller one distant of the cake, so other people could eat it. Kise chats with Takao. And, with a plate of an unexpectedly intact piece of vanilla cake on his hands, there is Kuroko, observing, taking in everything, like he’s trying to engrave that memory deep in his heart, blue eyes shining with a strange and moist light – almost a mirror to Akashi’s expression at this moment. All of sudden, like noticing something amiss, Kuroko’s eyes begin to wander through the room, searching, until they rest upon Furihata and Akashi. Relieved, only then Kuroko smiles, heart full, whole – all the pieces finally together.

Akashi returns the smile to his old friend.

And Furihata holds his breath. By instinct, he knows this is a rare chance to get a glimpse of the vulnerability Akashi displayed in that look, in that smile. Furihata had thought he’d understood what the Generation of Miracles meant to each other, after hearing Kuroko’s story; but he clearly doesn’t. How they care for each other, how important they are to one another. How different is this moment from the reunion Furihata had witnessed at the beginning of the Winter Cup. How far all of them came since then. And now they are here, side by side. It’s kinda magical, he thinks, with a smile of his own. A bit miraculous, even. The title “Generation of Miracles” does fit them, for reasons beyond basketball.

A good book, with a happy ending.

It can be a cliché, but Furihata has always loved happy endings.

The moment is broken by Kise, who is coaxing Kuroko to eat his cake, soon followed by Momoi. Akashi’s gaze trails after them, amused.

“Kuroko seems happy,” Furihata says. Taken aback, Akashi jolts a little, and his eyes dart back to his company, apologetic. Furihata dismisses it with a crinkle of his eyes. He continues, “I think it’s because you’re here. All of you.”

Red eyes widen at his words.

“You look happy, too. I’m glad.”

Too late, Furihata registers his own words. He had sounded so patronizing, intruding into what was none of his business, oh god who he thought he was?! As if reflecting the color of Akashi’s eyes and hair, red erupts from Furihata’s ears, cheeks and nose. Throat tight, all of sudden, and the torrent of words comes out clumsy, fast, fallen in the ground, “A-I-I… K-Kuroko-told-us-Teikou-story-I’m-sorry-I-know-n-n-nothing-about-you-u—IdontwhyIsaiditI-“

A hand rests on his elbow, gently.

“Furihata-kun.”

He meets Akashi’s gaze, and his mouth stops. His throat is still tight, as his cheeks are still red – but for an entirely different reason, now.

“Thank you,” Akashi says. “I’m glad, too.”

Ah, Furihata thinks. How warm your eyes are.

-

At night, in his bed, Furihata plays that scene, again and again.

“I’m glad, too.”

He closes his eyes, and presses his cellphone against his chest.

A new number was added to his contact list.

I’m glad you sat down by my side, and talked with me.

And then, a message arrives, making his chest and phone vibrate.

Clumsy fingers push the buttons, fast. His lips curve upwards as soon as he sees the sender, even before reading the text.

Akashi-kun:

[Thank you for today, again. Hope we can meet soon.]

-

It’s the alarm that makes Furihata opens his eyes. But what truly awakens him is, in fact, a text. Furihata tries to dim his smile as he answers, but sometimes the effort is futile. Fukuda and Kawahara notice the happy curve of his mouth, and then they ask, “Who are you texting?”

“A friend,” he blurts and for now, and despite the not-convinced looks exchanged between his friends, they leave him at it.

(Kuroko only stares at him, blank expression. Furihata gulps and avoids his gaze.)

The texts are also what put him to sleep. They go through the night, and he doesn’t realize it until his eyes give in. Sometimes, the texts purposely put him to sleep. You’re tired. Better you go to sleep, we’ll talk more tomorrow. Good night, Furihata-kun. And he answers, So are you... I’m worried about you. Try to rest a little, at least. Good night, Akashi-kun.

The messages are about nothing, and also everything. Basketball, school, friends, books. And, little by little, other pieces of their lives. Furihata’s life is so utterly normal, he doesn’t know why Akashi seems interested in it or, at least, doesn’t appear bored by it. More than that, Furihata forgets his reservations and wants to share, even the more mundane, silly things. One night, he takes a picture of his dinner, to tease his friend: tofu soup with seaweed. His favorite and his disliked food, together. Akashi’s reply is almost immediate. What a waste of precious food. Furihata almost chokes through his laughter.

On the other hand, Akashi’s life is a puzzle harder to picture. Here, a piece: Yukimaru, his white horse, born on a snowy day. Here, another: some tutoring beyond school subjects (even though Akashi is super busy with the student council and basketball practice, Furihata thinks). Here, one more piece: he also hates pickled ginger. He has a dreamless sleep, or at least, he doesn’t remember his dreams (what does Furihata think, Akashi asks him – and how did they even end in that topic, Furihata wonders).

Furihata tries to put everything together; each piece is precious, treasured.

(Maybe you just forget, Furihata answers him. But you still dream.)

-

He looks at the ceiling of his bedroom.

Four hundred and fifty-six kilometers separate Tokyo from Kyoto. That’s the distance between them.

Taking the Nozomi train of the Tokaido Shinkansen line, it’s a trip of two hours and twenty minutes.

Akashi-kun is coming to Tokyo, tomorrow.

I should go a bit earlier, before his train arrives. And what should we do? Oh, wait, I should sleep. I want to enjoy the day with him. I…

“…I can’t sleep.”

Furihata groans against his pillow.

In the corner of his eyes, his cellphone lights up, breaking the darkness of his room. He takes his phone, and finds a text from Akashi:

[ Are you awake? ]

[ Yes.]

[ Can’t sleep either? ]

Furihata laughs softly.

[ Yes. ]

[ I can’t wait for tomorrow. ]

[ Me too. ]

-

Platform 14, Furihata remembers, as he rushes to climb the stairs. The train from Kyoto arrives at 11:00 AM. He looks at his cellphone. Crap. I got up late because I couldn’t sleep… but I arrived just in time.

He sets his feet on the platform, already filled with a crowd. Furihata looks around, searching. Even in a sea of people, it should be easy to spot Akashi. Because of the red hair, for instance. Or the commanding aura around the boy, that makes people clear the way for him, from what Furihata had observed in the Winter Cup. Or, if Furihata is honest, the fact Akashi is… very beautiful. Objectively speaking. Beautiful may be an odd choice to describe a boy, but that’s the word that suits Akashi the best, in his opinion.

For sure, it would be easier for Furihata to find Akashi than the opposite. Furihata is ordinary, unremarkable. Not invisible as Kuroko, but maybe a closer, down-to-earth version.

And yet…

“There you are.”

He turns, and is greeted by a smile.

You found me first.

“Furihata-kun.”

Akashi carries a light bag on his shoulder, and wears a smile on his lips and a brown cardigan, similar to the one he had worn at Kuroko’s birthday party.

“S-sorry, I’m late.”

“Not at all,” Akashi dismisses, with a shake of his head. “I just arrived as well.”

“Ah… o-okay.”

Red and brown eyes stare at each other for a while, as people pass by them; until a laugh bubbles up. Or, to be more accurate, Furihata laughs and Akashi chuckles – a gentle, soft sound.

“It’s... it’s s-strange, isn’t it?” Furihata says, cheeks flushed from his laugh and the warmth that settles inside of his chest. “We’ve been texting each other all this time… but now you’re finally here…”

“Yes,” Akashi agrees, eyes gleaming. “We’re finally meeting again.”

Behind Akashi, the boarding melody rings and the train’s doors close, capturing Furihata’s attention for a moment. It leaves the station and then, on its vacant place, now he can see a glimpse of the sky, clear and blue; the promise of a beautiful day.

 “Well,” Akashi says, as Furihata glances at him again, “Shall we?”

Inside of him, a promise’s already taking shape, too.

With a sparkle in his eyes, Furihata says, “Yes.”

And they go.

-

It’s hard for them to see each other. Furihata has yet to visit Kyoto, but the ticket’s a bit expensive. He refuses to let Akashi pay for it, because he thinks it wouldn’t be fair, and saves what he can from his allowance. On Akashi’s part, the problem is of another nature: time. When his busy schedule allows, he comes to Tokyo.

It’s hard for them to see each other, so that’s why, when they meet, Furihata tries to enjoy it to the furthest.

He bites the inside of his mouth, still unsure.

“A-Akashi-kun.”

“Yes?”

“A-are you s-sure?”

“Absolutely.”

Under an arm, Furihata carries his notebook. Inside of his pocket jeans, there’s a pen and, on his right hand, his cellphone.

“B-but to come here all the way from K-Kyoto, to do something like this…”

This being trainspotting. One day, Furihata had blurted out about his hobby, and Akashi’d suggested accompanying him on one of his errands. On a whim, excited by his friend’s interest, Furihata had agreed – only to regret it the following day. Most people would find it boring, and the last thing Furihata wanted was Akashi regretting the time spent with him. However, by then, Furihata no longer had the heart to cancel or change their plans, since Akashi’d seemed to look forward to it.

“Please, don’t say that. It’s your hobby, and it’s not an uncommon one. Besides, I have to admit, I’m curious about it.”

“Y-you’ll find it boring…” Furihata murmurs, as his last attempt at convincing Akashi.

“I promised you I won’t,” Akashi says, with a reassuring smile, which finally disarms all of Furihata’s objections. “Where should we go? And how can I assist you?”

Furihata lets out a fond sigh. “O-okay. If you insist…” He offers his phone to Akashi. “Can you help me collecting sounds, then?”

Akashi blinks, but takes it. “Collecting sounds?”

“Y-yeah,” Red colors Furihata’s face. “You know, the departure melodies, when trains are about to arrive or leave? Each station plays a different jingle, and some have exclusive tunes… Recently, I’ve grown interested in them too… A-ah, anyway, let’s go there!” He leads them to the set of stairs that lead to platform 7 of Ikebukuro station, which serves the Yamanote line.

“The Yamanote line’s melodies are based on piano, you know? Like the Chuo Main Line and Saikyo line,” Furihata explains, voice becoming steady and joyful, as they walk on the platform, all of his shyness forgotten. It makes Akashi chuckle, but Furihata doesn’t even register it. “The Sobu line’s melodies are based on a bell, and the Chuo line’s, on a harp… there’s a whole world of sounds surrounding trains…”

They stop near to the end of the platform, away from the stairs and far less crowded. The both of them sit on a bench, and Furihata watches the railroads, attentive. Akashi already has the recorder open on the phone.

“Of course, there’re CD anthologies of these melodies, sold by JR,” Furihata continues, “but it’s different to capture them yourself... Oh, here it comes,” he announces. Furihata nods to Akashi, who presses the recording button and, at the same time, a light and soft melody dances in the air, and finishes its performance with a slide of notes. The train arrives at the platform, and many people disembark and embark on it. Then, the jingle plays again, announcing the departure. A warning follows, “Doors are closing. Please pay attention.”

“This one is called Spring box,” Furihata says, with a grin. “It fits the season, doesn’t it?”

Akashi’s lips curve upwards, in agreement. “It does.”

“The train station is one of my favorite places,” Furihata confesses, as everything fills him: the steps against the ground. The wheels sliding on the rails. The soft tunes, filling the air. Doors opening and doors closing. People coming, people leaving. People saying, ‘Hello’, ‘See you tomorrow’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘I’ve missed you’. He breathes in, and smiles. “The trains go everywhere from here. Everyone has a destination. Sometimes, when I feel lost… I come here and think, ‘Aaah, somewhere, there must be a place for me too’.”

A light breeze blows on the platform. A moment passes, and only then Furihata realizes his rambling. The flush on his cheeks deepens. “A-ah! S-sorry A-Akashi-kun, I must be b-bothering you, I was too excited…”

“It’s okay, Furihata-kun,” Akashi dismisses his apology, expression soft. “…I was curious,” he admits, echoing his earlier words. His gaze is tender, as he looks at Furihata, and then at the station. “So that’s how this place is, in your eyes.”

These words enter his ears, spread through his veins, and find a place in his heart, making it beat faster. Furihata tries to collect, too, the sound of these words and that peaceful, relaxed voice. If these moments are, at least, a rest for Akashi, Furihata’s more than happy. They stay like that for a few minutes, quiet, but comfortable. The mellow melody returns, and another train arrives.

“Though I’ve been using the Tokaido Shinkansen for a while… I must confess, I’ve never paid much attention to these sounds before. But they’re quite soothing,” Akashi says, and turns to his friend. “Furihata-kun… If I’m not mistaken, the Osaka line also has different tunes for each station, correct?” Furihata nods, and Akashi’s lips quirk. “If you’d like, one day… we could collect Osaka line’s jingles together. And you can do some trainspotting, too.”

Together. Furihata’s eyes shine. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

After Furihata takes some notes and draws a few rail wheels, they walk through Ikebukuro, talking, arms brushing, steps matched. The day passes in a blink of an eye. Time always seems shorter, when he’s with Akashi.

On the way to the Tokyo station, Akashi’s phone rings. The redhead looks at the screen and stills, for an almost imperceptible moment.

“Excuse me, Furihata-kun,” Akashi says, and proceeds to answer the call. “Good evening, father.”

His gaze darts to his friend, surprised by the unforeseen call. Akashi’s never said much about his father, and Furihata hadn’t expected to witness them interact.

“Yes. No, I’m in Tokyo right now. Yes.” As Akashi talks with his father, Furihata’s stomach sinks, deeper and deeper. There’s something wrong with Akashi’ voice. It’s calm as always, but it lacks the usual warmth, that gentle fire. “Father, surely, it could… Yes, I’m aware of my duties,” Akashi presses his lips into a tight line, before releasing them to answer, once more. “I understand. I’ll see you tomorrow, father.”

The call ends, and Akashi grows quiet for a whole minute. Before Furihata can ask what is wrong, Akashi meets his eyes again.

“I apologize, Furihata-kun. I won’t be able to stay in Tokyo and meet you tomorrow… A partnership deal was struck at the last minute, and my father wants me to be present at the business lunch.”

“O-oh,” His shoulders fall, and his stomach drops a little more. But Furihata forcers his mouth to lift upwards. This isn’t Akashi’s fault, and he can see how bad his friend feels for canceling their plans. “It’s okay, Akashi-kun. I understand. We can go to Shinjuku the next time.”

“Thank you, Furihata-kun.”

Akashi gives him a smile, but it’s small and soon vanishes, when his gaze averts to the way ahead of them. The silence between them now is different, too. It’s oppressive, and Furihata can’t find the words. Like they all have disappeared, all of sudden.

This is wrong, Furihata thinks, glancing at Akashi, biting his lips. What did your father say to you? Why are you like this?

They are here again. Platform 14, Tokyo Station, Tokaido Shinkansen line. The train has already arrived and, in a few minutes, it’ll depart.

“A-Akashi-kun,” he manages to say, through the lump in his throat. “Are you okay?”

You’ve always been far away from me.

“I’m fine. Why do you ask, Furihata-kun?”

The curve of Akashi’s lips is polite and polished at its edges, empty. A wall.

Furihata finds himself blurting, “N-nothing. Just want to be s-sure.”

But you’ve never seemed so distant before.

The Nozomi chime hangs in the air. Furihata remembers the two of them sat on a bench, hours earlier, in another station, listening to a different melody. Furihata had shared with Akashi something he’d never shared with anyone before.

“Sometimes, when I feel lost… I come here and think, ‘Aaah, somewhere, there must be a place for me too’.”

Akashi’s faint voice brings him back to the present.

“I’ve always known where my place was,” Akashi whispers, and his words and the tune mix. “But it never gave me any comfort.”

“Akashi-kun? What did you–”

Akashi enters the train car and turns to Furihata, to say goodbye. He wears a weak smile on his mouth.

“Thank you for today, Furihata-kun. I’ll text you later.”

“Y-yeah. Thanks for today, too –“ The doors close, before he can even finish the phrase, before he can even find the right words to give to Akashi.

His throat chokes with everything he can’t say.

Wordlessly, then, Furihata puts his hand on the glass of the train door. Is there nothing he could do? Akashi is hurt, and he… is hopeless. His chest tightens, in pain. The corners of his eyes sting.

The world’s blurring.

Sometimes, it’s like I can’t reach you. And every time I think I’m closer to you…

When Akashi looks at him, surprise hits his features. His forehead furrows in concern, and his red eyes recover a little of that warmth Furihata has missed, ever since that call. Akashi presses his hand against the glass, in the same spot where Furihata’s hand rests on the other side of the door, and it’s almost like they’re touching each other. Furihata can read his own name on Akashi’s lips.

But the train announcement ends, and he hears the railway worker’s steps in his direction. Furihata gives a step back, his eyes never letting go of Akashi’s.

The train departs.

The tears run freely across his cheeks.

…You slip through my fingers.

-

That night, Akashi doesn’t text him.

The days go by, and neither of them exchanges messages. Fukuda and Kawahara ask him what is wrong, his teammates give concerned glances to him. His parents worry about him, his brother worries. Furihata stays quiet, for the most part.

Ever since that night, Furihata can’t find the words anymore.

However, on the sixth night, he’s tired of it. Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he can’t help his friend. But even if he doesn’t know what to say, even if there aren’t right words –

He just needs to talk with Akashi.

He calls him.

“Furihata-kun-“

His heart jumps to his throat.

“A-Akashi-kun! Can… can we talk now?”

“I was about to call you, as well.”

He releases his breath, then, and at the same time, his chest trembles with pain. It’s silly, to be like this. It hasn’t been so long since he’d heard Akashi’s voice, even if it feels like that.

But then, the other sounds across the line rise. Wheels moving, announcements…

“Akashi-kun,” he asks, as his heart flips, “Where are you?”

…and the Nozomi chime.

“Tokyo station,” Akashi answers. “I… I wanted to see you. So I came here. But then I realized I didn’t know your address.”

“Which platform?” Furihata asks, as he slides his jacket on and puts his wallet inside of his pocket jeans.

“Seventeen.”

He checks. Money, cellphone. He’s got everything he needs.

“Okay. I’m going there.”

“Furihata-kun, wait, I can go –“

“It’s okay. I’m going to where you are,” Furihata says, gentle, but firm. He doesn’t know where all of this is coming from. “Can you wait for me?”

Akashi breathes. “Okay. I will.”

“See you soon.”

Furihata goes down the stairs quickly. He screams to his mother that he’ll go to the convenience store nearby, as he puts on his sneakers and, before she can ask him anything, he rushes through the door, and then through the street, the night, the trains.

All kinds of sounds shroud him, but, for once, he doesn’t hear them. Not his beloved train jingles, or people talking, or the train engines.

But he hears his heart pounding on his ears, when he arrives at Tokyo station. His steps seem to echo, as he goes up the stairs. His own breath seems loud, when he’s finally on the platform 17.

And the whole world goes quiet when he spots the person he’s been looking for.

He doesn’t realize he’s running. This time, he hears the sound of his name leaving the other’s lips, no longer separated by a window glass. He wraps his arms around his friend. Hides his face between that pale neck and that shoulder that always tries to carry everything alone.

“Furihata-kun,” Akashi utters, surprised. His body stills for a second, before his arms sneak their way around Furihata’s waist and back, hands closing on the other’s jacket, with strength, his head resting on Furihata’s shoulder.

They stand there, sheltered in a hug, unaware of the other people passing by them.

“Furihata-kun,” Akashi repeats, after a while, voice muffled by Furihata’s jacket. “I… I’m sorry. I pushed you away,” and his fingers tighten the hold on Furihata’s back. “And because of that, I hurt you. I…”

Red strands caress Furihata’s cheek. The words pour over his shoulder, dropping to his heart. Their chests are pressed against each other, so close…

…that it’s like he can almost feel Akashi’s heart beating.

For the first time in days, Furihata breathes in, in relief.

“It’s okay,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, too, Akashi-kun. You don’t have to say anything.” His hands slide from his friend’s back to his elbows. He pulls away, just a little. Just enough, so he can look at Akashi’s eyes. “You don’t have to tell me everything.”

Furihata smiles. It’s small, but sincere.

“But you’re not alone. So, even if you can’t tell me… even if you don’t want to say it. I’m here. I’m by your side.”

Furihata scratches the back of his head, smile turning sheepish, his cheeks painted red. “Though it’s not much…”

Akashi’s eyes are liquid. Like the sun reflected on the water’s surface.

He opens his mouth. Then, he closes it, and closes the gap between them. His arms enfold Furihata’s shoulders, pull him close.

“It is,” Akashi murmurs. His arms clench Furihata tighter. “You’re more than enough.”

Furihata blinks. Heat rises from his chest to his throat, to his eyes. His hands press on Akashi’s back.

“Are we… are we okay, then?”

Akashi’s body quiver with a soft laugh, and Furihata’s heart shakes along with that sound. “I think we are.”

Akashi leans his head on the shoulder of his friend.

 “Thank you, Furihata-kun.”

”Somewhere, there must be a place for me, too” is what I thought, when I looked at the train stations. This place probably exists, in this vast world.

But I also realized that, for a while… I’ve been longing for a place somewhere in your heart, too.

Even though it’s a selfish wish.

Even so, right now, in this moment…

 “Akashi-kun…”

Between these arms…

“I’ve missed you.”

…is where I want to be.

-

“Furihata-kun, are you talking with Akashi-kun?”

Furihata shrieks as Kuroko appears out of nowhere, in the middle of a school corridor. Hand against his maddening heart, Furihata tries to catch his breath.

Kuroko waits. Once his friend’s calmer, he repeats:

“Furihata-kun, are you talking with Akashi-kun?”

It’s a rhetorical question.

Furihata knows better than lie or bolt, though the temptation to do so is great. Kuroko’s very observant and, with his Misdirection, it’s nearly impossible to avoid him, when the phantom sixth man is determined.

“Y-yes.”

“Ever since my birthday party, yes?” To which Furihata nods. For a few seconds, Kuroko doesn’t say anything more, and Furihata’s about to run away when Kuroko questions him, “Why are you hiding it?”

Furihata finds himself blushing.

“Err… i-it never c-came up, so I’ve never thought of mentioning it,” he tries.

Kuroko narrows his eyes. Furihata swallows through his futile lie. “But it did come up, Furihata-kun. Kawahara-kun and Fukuda-kun sometimes ask about whom you’re texting.”

“A-ah…”

The phantom player takes pity on him. “Furihata-kun, I just found it odd, how you hide it. It worried me a little bit. You do know our team won’t react badly to it, don’t you? If that’s what you’re concerned about.”

“N-no, that’s not it at all!”

Seconds of silence stretches between them.

“Do you have any problem with Akashi-kun, then?”

“N-no!” Furihata exclaims. He looks down, as his face reddens even more. “Akashi-kun is… very kind.”

“He is,” Kuroko agrees, with a discreet and small smile on his lips. Relief makes Kuroko’s shoulder relax. “I see. Though I don’t understand it… if there isn’t any problem, I’m relieved, then. Sorry for bothering you, Furihata-kun.”

Furihata blurts out, “I… I don’t know why I’m acting like this either.” He bites his lower lip. Debates with himself. Then, “Kuroko, can I ask something?”

“Of course.”

“Akashi-kun… sometimes, he struggles with some things, and tries to do it all by himself. He doesn’t tell me what it is, on many times. I told him he doesn’t need to tell me everything. I don’t want to force him. But… I want to help him. I want to do more for him. I told him that he’s not alone. But just being by his side… is this really enough?”

Kuroko weighs Furihata’s words, for some moments. “Akashi-kun has always been a very private person. He’s never talked much about himself… and he shoulders many things by himself, like you said, Furihata-kun. I guess it’s, in part, due to his education.” A hint of sadness tugs at Kuroko’s lips. “Akashi-kun is a friend very dear to me, but I’ve always felt there’s a barrier he puts between himself and other people.”

He looks through the window of the corridor, and the light that hits his blue eyes is gentler. Furihata looks out, too, and sees: Fukuda and Kawahara talking under a tree, and Kagami eating his sandwich, next to them.

“I can’t talk for Akashi-kun, but… sometimes, there’re things you can’t say, even when you try. Sometimes, you don’t understand yourself, and you don’t know what to say. Or you’re simply afraid to open up to someone else. In this situation, to the person who is by your side…. it’s hard to understand and help. But if, even so, this person still stays by your side… it becomes a great source of strength.”

Kuroko smiles, softly.

“At least… that’s how it was for me.”

Relief and warmth pour over Furihata. He remembers Akashi’s voice, telling him that he is enough.

Furihata smiles back at Kuroko. Not only because of his advice, but also because he knows about whom Kuroko is talking about.

“Okay,” Furihata says. “Thanks, Kuroko. It helped a lot.”

But the light blue eyes keep staring at him, unblinking.

“Kuroko? What’s wrong?”

It’s that look. The one Kuroko has when he figures out a habit of his opponent, or a breach in the team rival’s strategy.

Furihata shudders.

Kuroko tilts his head.

“No, it’s just…” The corners of Kuroko’s lips lift, in a small arc. “You really care for him, Furihata-kun.”

“Huh?”

Furihata’s taken aback. “Of course I…” he begins. But in the back of his mind, the memories emerge:

“I’m glad, too.”

“So that’s how this place is, in your eyes.”

“It is. You’re more than enough.”

Among them all, there’s always a young man with cherry hair, calling his name.

“Furihata-kun.”

“I…”

I’m greedy, Kuroko.

He keeps giving pieces of himself to me, but I’m never satisfied. It’s never enough.

Even though I had told him that he doesn’t need to tell me everything.

I’ve never thought I was so selfish. And I always want more and more.

I want everything.

I want all of him.

Those red eyes, those red strands.

That warm smile.

The blush spreads from his neck to the tip of his ears.

I…

“Holy shit,” Furihata says eloquently, and at the same time, Kuroko nods, “Oh. I see now.”

-

I’m afraid of you.

The first time, he can’t see his face, not exactly. The sunlight hits Akashi from behind, casting his expression in the shadows, but Furihata can make out a pair of unrelenting mismatched eyes, a few strands of red hair. Under that gaze, Furihata trembles. Sorry, but can you leave? I’d like to talk only with my old teammates.

I’m afraid of you.

Furihata’s seen what Akashi can do; the redhead had made even Kagami fall to his knees. Inhale. Exhale. Deep breathes. It’s worse than his first time in an official game. His feet barely stand on their own. The sweat is cold on his skin. His hands are shaking.

He doesn’t have a chance against Akashi; and Furihata’ll face him anyway.

It’s not that he doesn’t fear Akashi, or is confident on his own abilities. But his team needs him, and there are things you must do, even if you’re scared.

I’m afraid of you.

One late afternoon, they’re walking side by side, heading to the train station. Furihata’s going back home by train, and the driver of the Akashi family will pick his friend at the station and take him to Akashis’ state in Tokyo. But there’s a promise of a tomorrow – maybe coffee, a walk in the park, a bit of shopping (shogi pieces and train models are included, obviously) –, so they’re at ease. Walking close to each other, hands almost touching. No hurry in their steps, no words between them; but a comfortable silence keeps them together.

A silence that is broken by Akashi’ ringtone.

The redhead excuses himself to Furihata, before answering his call.

“Hello, Hayama.”

Oh, one of the Uncrowned Kings, Furihata recognizes.

He keeps glancing at Akashi, matching his steps with him. They’re walking even slower now.

“Thank you, Hayama, but I can’t. I’m visiting a friend in Tokyo now,” Akashi declines, as he smiles at Furihata, who mirrors his expression.

They pass by the stores, cross the street. There isn’t much left. The way could be longer, the station could be further away…

“No. It’s Furihata-kun.”

Furihata jolts at the mention of his name.

“The Seirin point guard,” he hears Akashi explain. Furihata scratches his red cheek. Ah well, he’s one of the bench players, Hayama probably wouldn’t remember him. “The other point guard,” Akashi clarifies to his teammate.

He doesn’t hear Akashi saying anything else, for a whole minute. Presuming the call ended, Furihata averts his face to his friend, opening his mouth, about to suggest a quick look at the bookstore around the corner –

“THE CHIHUAHUA?!”

The scream across the line startles Furihata. Akashi pulls away his cellphone, for a second, and when he presses it again on his ear, he says, “Hayama –”, but stops, abruptly. It seems there’s a commotion happening on the other side of the line, if the wrinkles in Akashi’s forehead are any indication.

Akashi blinks and sighs, as he puts his cellphone inside of his pocket. He turns to his friend, with a troubled face.

“I apologize,” Akashi says.

Furihata tilts his head, confused. “Huh? What for?”

“You heard that, didn’t you, Furihata-kun?” Furihata keeps looking at him with confusion in his eyes, so Akashi adds, “Hayama calling you a ‘chihuahua’.”

“Oh. That.” The thought of Akashi worrying about him makes his chest warm. “You don’t have to worry, Akashi-kun. And after all… I’m really a coward,” Furihata says, as he looks down, with a bashful smile. “I’m afraid of many things. It’s… kinda lame, actually.”

Akashi stops walking. Furihata does, too, and notices the determined gleam in the red eyes.

“You’re far from a coward, Furihata-kun.”

His tone is gentle, but also firm and serious.

“Do you remember when we faced each other, at the Winter Cup final? It was clear that you were afraid. To be honest, and I apologize for that… we underestimated you. But you played. You followed the strategy of your team, and did your best. And then… You scored one point. In a game in which each point made the difference between victory and defeat.”

Furihata keeps looking at him, hanging on every word.

“Being afraid is one thing. But being a coward is a different matter altogether. To face the object of your fear, even if you’re still afraid… this is not cowardice; rather, it’s the opposite. It’s courage.”

That’s not true, Akashi-kun, he doesn’t say it. I’m not brave.

Even though he thinks it, Furihata can’t help but feel the heat in his cheeks.

At first, he was blushing because of the shame he’d felt at that game; when he tripped on his own legs, or when he was benched, not strong enough to keep playing, facing his own weakness.

Now, he’s blushing because of Akashi’s words. Akashi, who was his opponent at that game. Akashi, who is incredibly talented, but also hard-working. Who is one of the kindest people he knows.

And hearing these words from him…

“It’s one of the things I admire in you.”

A beat. And another. And another. And another.

Furihata doesn’t even try to hide the redness of his face anymore; he knows it’s futile.

“Geez, Akashi-kun… don’t say embarrassing stuff.”

 “But it’s the truth.”

Akashi smiles at him.

 “I know how much it takes, Furihata-kun. That’s why I’m saying this… you’re different from me.”

Red eyes trail elsewhere, staring into the distance.

“Once, I ran away. From everything,” He says, in a low voice. “It was my worst sin. And because of that… I ended up hurting people who were precious to me.”

A beat.

“Akashi-kun… are you talking about Teiko?”

The other boy just smiles sadly at him.

And Furihata hears it again. Kuroko’s voice, telling Teikou’s story. Of five prodigies, and the one who had become two, and how you could hate something you had once loved dearly.

From what he’d understood, everyone had their share of the blame at Teikou. Not only the Generation of Miracles, but also the director, the coach. But he could see, in the way Akashi carried himself, the guilt Akashi had held on tightly.

But Furihata also had seen: on the balcony, at the party. The way Akashi had watched each one of his friends, from far away. How much pain, but also happiness, had crossed his eyes. And, after all these months, how not only Akashi, but also the other members of the Generation of Miracles, were trying to be a better version of themselves.

Furihata tries to speak through the tightness in his throat, and the pang in his chest.

“B-but… You came back. You say that about me, but… facing your mistakes, it takes much more courage, Akashi-kun. A-and you try so hard, and you’re kinder than anyone else…”

Aaaah, is he rambling, isn’t he? How he could get the meaning across? How he could make Akashi understand –

Akashi stares at him. Then, the line of his mouth grows, little by little, and turns into a soft laugh. The sound is light, weightless.

Even when the laughter stops, the smile remains on his lips, reaching his eyes.

“I wonder why… you always say that.”

Before Furihata can ask, Akashi takes his hand, and gives it a squeeze. His eyes are gentle and shining when he says:

“You always say the words I need the most.”

I’m… a coward.

I like you. So, so much.

But I won’t say anything. Because I…

“I…” Furihata tries, very pink. “…Asked you to not say embarrassing things, A-Akashi-kun.” He says, glancing away.

But he squeezes Akashi’s hand back. Akashi chuckles, in answer.

And they don’t let go of each other’s hand.

…I’m afraid of losing you.

-

“Did you confess to him, Furihata-kun?” Kuroko asks.

Furihata almost chokes and spills a little of the juice on his desk. Kuroko gives him a few pats on the back.

 It’s not the first time Kuroko scares him, nor is it the first time the boy asks him that question.

“I suppose the answer is still no,” Kuroko observes.

“It’s just….” Furihata says, after recovering his breath, as he cleans his desk with a handkerchief. When he finishes, he puts it back in his pocket, and proceeds to bury his face in his arms, crossed on the desk. “I’m too s-scared. Not only of Akashi-kun not feeling the same way. What scares me the most is that, if Akashi-kun wants to be just friends… I still will end up ruining everything anyway, because of my confession…”

None of these objections are news to Kuroko, but the next question, spoken in a small voice, is:

“How did you do it, Kuroko?”

The other boy stays quiet, for a better part of a minute.

“It was simple,” Kuroko finally answers, and Furihata looks up at him. “But it wasn’t easy.”

He closes his eyes, as a soft curve appears on his mouth.

“One day, I just… couldn’t help it.”

His tone is deadpan, monotone as ever. But there’s something different about it; Kuroko had said that in the same way he says he loves basketball.

“Right,” Furihata says, with a smile, happy for his friend. For both of his friends. Then, he rubs his neck, and sighs. “Thanks, Kuroko. But I’ve thought about it. I… I won’t say anything. It’s better this way.”

“If you think so, Furihata-kun,” Kuroko says, after a few seconds, in a way that makes clear he thinks otherwise.

-

“What made me begin basketball?” Furihata repeats, as he looks at the orange and pink sky. It was getting this late? He tries to even his breath. The streetball basketball round left him exhausted. It’s for his point-guard training, and also for fun. Furihata’s learning from one of the best point guards of his generation.

Or to be more exact, the point guard of the Generation of Miracles, who is sitting beside him, on the bench.

“Yes. I’m curious. You said you only began at high school,” Akashi explains. “And I’m impressed to see how far you progressed in so little time.” Furihata’s eyes follow the drops of sweat that wander down the other’s cheek and neck; the only sign of tiredness at Akashi. The tips of Furihata’s ears get red, and he glances somewhere else, trying to hide his embarrassment. “Thanks,” he utters. “Hum.”

And then laughs.

Catlike-eyes are focused on him, with even more curiosity.

“Ah, well…” Furihata begins and scratches the back of his head. “It’s a silly story, to tell you the truth.” Akashi lifts his eyebrow. “I’m serious! I liked a girl, at the beginning of the first year… but I didn’t know her at all. Kinda like a love at first sight? So I confessed to her, but she told me that she would only date me if I was the best at something. And I thought… ‘hey, basketball, it seems interesting!’ I totally didn’t know what I was signing for.” He shakes his head. “Silly, right?”

“Not at all,” Akashi regards him with a fond smile. “If I may ask, what happened? Because you did become the best, after all.”

Furihata flushes at the comment.

“Yeah. That. It’s the part that gets even sillier.” Furihata can feel Akashi’s stare on him. “A couple of weeks after the Winter Cup, Fukuda and Kawahara turned to me and asked, ‘Hey Furi, and how did it go? Did you confess to her?’ And I… I had completely forgotten about it. Can you believe it? Without realizing it, I had become so engrossed with the basketball, so connected with our team… that I’d forgotten why I joined the club in the first place.” He chuckles, remembering his friends’ expressions of disbelief, at that time. “Guess I hadn’t liked her… Not for real. But anyway, I talked with her.”

Akashi’s eyebrows twist in confusion.

“I don’t understand. Why?”                                                                                       

Furihata beams at him. Sunlight is reflected at chestnut eyes, remains of the sunset.

 “Because basketball is amazing. Because, if it was not for her, telling me to be the best at something, I wouldn’t have played, or met my team. I can’t imagine not being part of Seirin now. So I thanked her. I needed to.”

Akashi stares at him, speechless, for a moment. There’s a glint in those red eyes, like he’s seeing a brilliant shogi movement, or an unexpected basketball play. But Akashi’s gaze is also tender, and Furihata feels his cheeks even warmer.

The other boy takes a deep breath and, along with it, a smile surfaces on his mouth.  He nods, like he understands exactly what Furihata had meant. In that matter, Furihata knows they are the same. “…You were always a romantic, after all,” Akashi says.

With fake irritation, Furihata narrows his eyes and nudges Akashi with his elbow, playfully, in an attempt to disguise the redness of his face.

“Is this what I’m hearing sarcasm, Akashi-kun?”

“No,” the other chuckles. “Not at all. You said it was a silly story, but it’s a good one, in fact. No wonder you’ve improved so much, Furihata-kun, since you love bask-“

“Aaahhh A-Akashi-kun! Stop! Please!” Furihata raises his hands, in surrender, face flushed. He hears Akashi saying But I’m serious, so Furihata reinforces. “Enough of e-embarrassing me!” That earns a couple of chuckles from Akashi. Once they both calm down, Furihata coughs, and tries to change the subject. “Well. Uh. Your turn, now, Akashi-kun. Why did you start playing basketball?”

Akashi pauses.

The shift in his posture is subtle, but Furihata notices it right away. The red eyes aren’t staring at the sunset anymore, but at something far away from here. It takes some time before Akashi says anything.

“I started playing at elementary school,” he begins. “Basketball was a gift from my mother.”

The mention of Akashi’s mother makes Furihata inhale deeply. Ah, he thinks. Here. A hidden piece of you. Something in his chest seizes up.

“I think you have a general picture of my upbringing. Because of my heritage, there’re many expectations placed upon me. As a consequence, there were many requirements I had to fulfill, even as a child.”

His tone is calm, but Furihata can sense the longing in his voice. He keeps quiet. Akashi’s far away, all those years ago, but somehow, he still is close, too.

“I believe my mother intended that I had at least one activity that wasn’t related to my duties. Something I could enjoy. And as a way to interact with other children of my age, too. She persuaded my father... she was one of the few people who could do it. So even after she’d passed away, I was allowed to keep playing, though under one condition: as long as I kept winning. After that…”

Akashi stops. In his mind, Furihata fills the silence, completes that story. A rainbow, a ghost boy. An abyss, a golden eye. Empty victories. Broken bridges, and rebuilt ones – the most miraculous of the miracles.

It’s a book so familiar and quite dear to him by now. Furihata doesn’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s because he’d witnessed a part of that story.

Or maybe, he thinks, as he looks at Akashi, it’s because one of these miracles is right here. By my side.

Akashi lowers his gaze, for an instant, and then rests his eyes again on Furihata.

“I apologize. I’m afraid it wasn’t a pleasing story like yours.”

His smile is small, almost transparent. Like something that would disappear at a blink of eyes.

But Furihata wants that smile to stay, and to turn it into something true.

“Don’t be sorry, Akashi-kun,” Furihata says, putting his hand above Akashi’s. “Please. I… I’m glad that you shared it with me.”

I’m glad.

The same words that truly gave their friendship a beginning; words that had become precious to them.

Akashi smiles, with warmth, and a hint of another emotion Furihata can’t exactly pinpoint.

“Basketball is the treasure she’d left me,” Akashi confesses. “And through it, I was able to meet… irreplaceable friends.”

Furihata smiles back, and in anticipation. “The Generation of Miracles?” He asks, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” Akashi’s eyes twinkled. “But not only them. There are also my teammates in Rakuzan…”

He squeezes Furihata’s fingers between his.

“…And there’s you.”

...Ah.

Furihata can’t breathe. The words fill his throat, his lungs, the veins in his wrist. He tries to inhale deeper, but instead of air, he catches Akashi’s scent.

Even though he’d decided he wouldn’t say anything.

But it hurts. The words he’d kept locked for so long, they’re overflowing now, writhing in his chest, tightening it.

“Furihata-kun?”

Lines of concern appear on Akashi’s brow. He leans into his space, and that movement finally makes Furihata snaps out of his thoughts.

“A-Akashi-kun.”

His friend’s name leaves his tongue, strangled. Patience and worry mix in Akashi’s features. “Yes? Are you okay, Furihata-kun?” Furihata nods. The gesture does nothing to cease the concern of his friend.

“A-Akashi-kun, I… I need to tell you something.”

“Alright,” Akashi nods, encouragingly. Waiting.

His heart is thundering in his ears.

“I…”

He hesitates. Furihata pulls his hand a little away from the other’s grasp, just enough so he can fill the space between Akashi’s fingers with his, palms pressed together. The touch is delicate, and Akashi finds his fingers pressing the back of Furihata’s hand, in return.

“…I’m in love with you.”

Everything stills, for an instant.

“What?”

Akashi’s voice is gossamer, barely above a whisper.

Furihata panics. The flood of words goes through his mouth, as he stares intently at their intertwined fingers, not daring to meet the eyes of his friend. “Y-you don’t h-have to give m-me an answer right now A-Akashi-kun it’s okay if you want to be just friends becauseyouremybestfriendandIdontwanttoloseyou-“ He closes his eyes, with force, and takes a deep breath. “W-what I mean is…” At last, Furihata gathers the courage to look up at Akashi.

And he’s rendered silent.

The faint breeze strokes Akashi’s hair. His eyes are staring directly at Furihata, wide open with surprise. His mouth is slightly agape, no sound leaving between his lips. Color spreads through his cheeks.

Red, in full bloom.

Furihata has always been measuring the distance between them:

From Kyoto to Tokyo,

The Rakuzan captain and a Seirin bench player,

Akashi-kun’s background and his own,

The simple fact of being two different people,

And now…

Now,

The distance of a breath.

Can I get closer to you?

“Can I kiss you?”

On his part, Furihata’s scarcely in control of his tongue anymore. The words had been kept and fought inside of him, for far too long, and they’ve finally won.

He understands, now, Kuroko’s words from the other day.

“One day… I just couldn’t help it.”

Red eyes are still wide. But, not even for a moment, Akashi pushes him away. He looks at Furihata’s eyes, then at his mouth, and again into his eyes.

Akashi’s lips part a little, and Furihata’s free and trembling hand caresses his cheek. The other boy leans into his touch, as Furihata closes the gap between them. He’s here. Here. Their eyes flutter shut, noses stroking each other’s cheek. Furihata captures Akashi’s upper lip between his, a feather-like touch. The feel is sweet, but somehow, almost painful too. This could be the end, he thinks. But this also could be the beginning, a foolish, stupid part of him hopes. His mouth searches then for Akashi’s lower lip, biting it softly, before pulling away.

But not so far. A hand is tugging at his T-shirt, not letting him go any further than that; the other hand still has its fingers laced through his.

Akashi opens his eyes, slowly. He has long eyelashes; something Furihata has never noticed before, until now.

“Furihata-kun,” Akashi whispers against his mouth. And that’s all that it takes.

Furihata leans in.

This time, Akashi kisses him back.

-

Why I went after you, on the balcony, at the birthday party?

From behind, for an instant… your back looked lonely.

But this wasn’t the reason. This wasn’t about pity or sympathy.

I rationalized that it was to give you a piece of the cake, as a way of paying back what you did for me at the party.

But this wasn’t the reason, too. This wasn’t about gratitude either.

Actually, it was simple:

You were far away.

And I just wanted to be where you were.

Furihata pulls the curtains aside.

“Furihata-kun?” comes the voice, through his cellphone.

But even when we’re distant…

“Yes?”

“You were quiet, suddenly.”

 “Oh. S-sorry, I was… looking at the sky.”

A soft chuckle. Few steps. A faint opening of shutters.

“Here in Kyoto, we can’t see any stars tonight.”

Furihata laughs.

“There aren’t any stars here in Tokyo, either.”

It’s strange. Even if he can’t see, Furihata knows that Akashi is smiling.

No matter how different are our lives…

“Furihata-kun?”

“Yes?”

…we are under the same sky.

“I’m in love with you too.”