“Win,” Koutarou whispered in Keiji’s ear before a match. They stood in the hallway, a few feet aside from the rest of the team who were pretending they didn’t pick up a word they’re saying. They weren’t doing very well.
“Always,” He responded, smiling. He brushed his lips against Koutarou’s and stepped aside. They’d been dating for a while now, since Keiji’s second year. They were close before, but closer now.
Keiji walked towards the exit. The smell of sweat in the air, although bitter, was familiar. Keiji would never tire of it.
They played well. They don’t win the first set, but they won the next. During the third, Keiji held on by the skin of his teeth. His sets kept swerving and his serves never got on the court. They weren’t in the lead anymore.
The opponents were aggressive when serving. It was hardly fair when they did, Keiji tried to receive, but the ball slipped through his fingertips when he backed up the slightest amount. Instead, the ball slid past his arms and bounced toward an area where no players were. Keiji waved off Onaga’s concerned gaze and looked toward the leaderboard instead.
The game was over.
20 to 25. They lost.
They weren’t amazing, with how tired they were, but it hurt. The other school didn’t seem to be too winded. These days, they lose more often than not.
He stood frozen, in the middle of shouts and cheers.
Keiji’s teammates were crying, holding on to each other for dear life.
He supposed he shouldn’t have that surprised, but the loss didn’t seem real. This was his last game. They didn’t even go to nationals for his last game. How would he go to professionals with Koutarou when he didn’t even go to nationals in his last year of high school?
Keiji had finished getting changed when a voice reached his ears. “Keiji?” Koutarou.
“Hey, Hey, Hey! Keiji! I’m sure you’ll well at university,” Keiji can’t quite tell if it’s a statement or a promise. Both, perhaps.
“Yeah,” He replied, not an actual answer.
“You are playing at university, right?” Koutarou questioned, looking intent and curious.
“Yes,” Keiji repeated. He puts his bag on his shoulder. Keiji avoided Koutarou’s eyes and added: “I need time alone.”
“Oh,” Koutarou said. His face fell, but he left with everyone else. Keiji sat for a few minutes in silence, then he had wet tears rushing down his face. He whipped them aside with his sleeve, but they continued coming harder and quicker. His shoulders shook harder. Keiji sensed his strength and adrenaline leave and heaved a sigh.
Keiji received a sharp pain in his knee, and he sucked in a deep breath. He had deep purple and black bruises littered around the area. A slight sliver of red came out of the wound. In the areas with no bruises, the skin was pale. When did this happen? During the game?
Keiji had gotten an injury years ago when he had learned to ride a bike and had fallen. They didn’t look similar. They also didn’t look similar to the injuries Keiji got on the regular from receiving. The wound looked harsh, darker. Gripping his knee shot harsh spikes of pain up his leg.
His eyes glazed over in agony when he stood up, and his legs gave out under him. Keiji bit through his lip, trying to numb the pain. He looked through his pockets, searching for his phone. When he found and unlocked his phone, he groaned in pain again and his lip began bleeding under the pressure of his teeth. Keiji scrolled through his contacts and his finger hovered over Koutarou’s number. Keiji's mind throbbed.
His phone picked up on the third ring. He saw her in the crowd somewhere early in the game. Weird, she never attended his games before.
“Come to the dressing room,” He interrupted before his mother got a word in.
“What- Keiji? Are you okay? You sound-” She sounded panicked, but Keiji interrupted her before she got frantic.
“Hurry, bring help.” Keiji hung up on her. He dropped his phone on the floor and reached out to pick it up, but instead heard a loud snap.
He blacked out.
“Keiji,” He listened. The voice was distinctly female.
He was on the edge of consciousness.
Water surrounded him. But it was thicker, darker. It was- blood?
Why did it hurt so much?
Whoever it was, they sounded alarmed. Hands tried to slap him awake, out of the darkness. He groaned as he tried to wave them away, but his arms were heavy. “Son. Keiji!”
Strange. He hadn’t been a loyal son in years. It gave Keiji a weird feeling to hear that word after so long.
“Wake up, Keiji!” The voice was masculine and deep. Different from the other voice. Familiar, not unlike his mothers. Not unlike him- it’s now. He’d left them. Different, larger hands pulled him up into someone’s arms and Keiji lost consciousness.
Maybe destiny declared that they lost that game. Maybe it was destiny that Keiji couldn’t play volleyball anymore.
He remembered vague sounds. Voices. They were unfamiliar and anxious. Keiji heard the muffled noise of wheels and yelling. So much shouting. When he cracked open his eyes, he saw a room painted in colors, and people in white coats hovering about him and dancing around a table.
“There’s too much-”
“Worst anterior cruciate ligament injury-” the voice faded out again, “during the game?”
His leg ached. It hurt to breathe, to move. Then it was numb, and Keiji listened to different, familiar voices. They were loud. One was his mother and the other-. That voice again. Then there was the familiar arguing.
“Where’s... supposed to be here?”
“I thought it best no one-”
“They’re boyfriends. He should-”
“Boyfriends! How dare he-” There a loud sound that sounded similar to a slap.
“You don’t get a decision in his life. You haven’t been here since...”
Then he felt nothing at all.
At first, Keiji drifted in and out. He was oblivious to the bustle around his bed and the loud beeping of his heart monitor. After a few days, he was sometimes able to twitch his hand or move his eyelids.
A week later when he woke up to a burning sensation on his knee. He panicked for a bit when he discovered there was a large needle in his arm, but he calmed down.
He peeled open one eye to get a look around the room. Walls were sickly green, and there was a window, too. A hospital?
Keiji didn’t have the chance to notice much else before the doctor came in, followed by a bunch of nurses.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Keiji Akaashi,” The doctor spoke.
When the doctor left, hours later, Keiji put his head in his hands. Keiji had gotten injured during the game, an ACL injury, one that would take years to heal. At that time, he would be incapable of playing volleyball. There was a risk that the injury would become worse. It would be years until he could play volleyball.
Tears came freely this time. They rolled down his cheeks.
‘It’s over,’ He thinks. Like that, his entire career, gone. That’s it?
From a young age, Keiji had always played volleyball. He wasn’t good at it, but it was something he chose and something his dad hadn’t. When he met Koutarou, he had seen a spark of something in his eyes. It reminded him of before everything, back when Keiji was happy. Then he continued playing volleyball because it made him happy. So he dedicated himself to volleyball. Every minute not spent studying or doing homework, Keiji spend outside in his backyard with a volleyball.
Then Keiji graduated and had gone to Fukurodani, and the entire team became his family. Koutarou became his family. Who’s Keiji’s best friend. His life. His boyfriend.
It would devastate Koutarou when he learned Keiji wouldn’t be going professional with him. Something they had been planning for years. Years. It’s gone. Just like that. Faster than the snap of a finger.
‘He can’t find out,’ Keiji thought. He pretended he doesn’t feel the pounding in his heart the minute those words left his lips. ‘I won’t let him.’
Keiji will protect him. (If he had to leave to do it, he would.)
Keiji had to stay at the hospital for another week, both to find out how to walk without further injuring himself and at the doctor’s insistence. His mother told him she called the school and announced they were going on a brief trip.
His friends would have missed him, Keiji realized it shouldn’t have been surprising to him that the day they got ‘back’ his team barged right into his room, looking excited. Koutarou, who’s supposed to be at university, followed them in with Kuroo and Kenma at his back.
“Hey, Keiji!” Koutarou looked happy to see him. It was the weekend, so Koutarou didn’t have any classes. Keiji blinked awake, squinting at them, then put his face into his pillow and let out a loud groan. Koutarou laughed and pulled out the pillow underneath him. “Leave me alone,” Keiji slapped his hands over his eyes and rolled away.
When Keiji had his blanket being pulled off him, he told himself that enough was enough and sat up. Keiji looked at Koutarou. He saw concerned eyes looking at him. “I’m fine,” Keiji lied.
A total lie. Not that Koutarou had known. The hospital had taken Keiji off of his pain medication, claimed he would be fine now without it. Keiji had long since gotten familiar with lying to people. However, that didn’t prepare him from the guilt that rushed into him when he spoke.
To be honest, Keiji wanted to cry. It was awful. Keiji got narrowed eyes in response. He looked terrible and didn’t expect anyone to come that day, so he didn’t have time to hide the bags under his eyes from now sleeping and the paleness of his skin.
Keiji averted his eyes to the floor. “I doubt that, Keiji. You look bad,” Koutarou said. He knew Keiji. Like the back of his hand. Keiji knew Koutarou’s ins and outs too.
Keiji groaned again and faced his team. He was careful not to put too much pressure on his leg. “I’m fine,” he repeated, ignoring the hurt expression on Koutarou’s face. “I could,” he paused, “use water though.” In the corner of his eye, the door opened, and Kuroo left. It was silent until Kuroo came back in and set a glass of water on the nightstand to his right.
Keiji took the glass in his palms and smiled as he pulled the glass up to his face and took a sip. “What are you doing here?” Keiji questioned. They could take the question two ways. If they knew about the injury. Or if they didn’t. If they didn’t, Keiji would play it off, and if they did...
“What do you mean?” Someone responded. Keiji nodded to himself. They didn’t. He would not tell them either.
“I’m sick,” Keiji let his eyes wander to Koutarou. “I won’t be at school tomorrow.” Or the next and the next.
At the end of the week, on Friday, Koutarou came to his house again. Keiji had missed a full week of school, not counting his ‘vacation’. It worried him when he came in, or at least, he looked worried.
“I went to Fukurodani the other day. To visit,” He spoke right as he came through Keiji’s front door. “I didn’t see you at practice.”
For a moment, when Keiji doesn't respond, he hears a soft sniffle. Keiji was terrified he made Koutarou cry. He can't- Keiji doesn't know how to deal with crying. He'd never been able to comfort, as there was no one for him to comfort.
He waved Koutarou off and closed the door behind him. Keiji didn’t see it, because he had his back facing Koutarou away, but Koutarou clenched his fists and his smile was faltering when he closed the door. Had he turned around he would have seen, but all he heard was footsteps as Koutarou walked further and further. Keiji told himself that walking away wasn’t the toughest thing he had to do.
The hardest part was convincing himself to give Koutarou- Bokuto up and let go.
That's worse, Keiji knew, than making him cry. Because now, he's going to cry a whole lot more.
“Sorry, Bokuto,” Keiji murmurs, “It’s for the best.”
Keiji had gotten left behind by someone who didn’t know his worth a long time ago. People leave behind those that they don’t think can make it. Who they think are no longer worthy. Keiji knows from experience.
Being that way, the way Keiji grew up, it's awful. He wanted no one to ever feel that way again.
Keiji almost felt bad enough, almost enough to open the door again. His hand doesn't even reach the doorknob before he pulled it back.
In another world, another life lived by the same people, Keiji stayed. A world where Keiji was right beside Koutarou as he went professional. Like always, they would hold on and laugh with each other and cry. Without hesitance, Keiji opened the door again- or maybe he never shut the door in the first place. Koutarou would wrap his shaky arms around Keiji and pull him close and there would be tears shed. Keiji would go on and become a manga editor anyway because he while can't play but he can do something. When they find out, together as always, that Keiji could play again, they would be ecstatic. Keiji doesn't go professional, but they can play together. That's all they need.
This, sadly, is not that world.
This is a world where Keiji didn't open that door and instead slid down with his back to the door and cried with his head in his hands. In this world, Bokuto didn't stay long enough to hear Keiji's tears and walked away. Keiji does not want to play anymore, and it's worse than anyone could have imagined.
There’s a certain silence to Keiji’s apartment these days. Hollow, almost chilling. Neutral curtains and walls with paint deteriorating. Keiji hasn’t bothered to repaint them for years. There were a few plants. Most are dead or dying.
It gave off a chilly atmosphere as if no one lived there at all. Keiji did, though. He’d lived there for three, almost four years now. He’s gotten all too used to the surrounding atmosphere. Too used to the empty “I’m home’s” and dark hallways. Keiji is standing there, in that apartment. Alone and unbothered by the world. It is peaceful but not happy. Not like Keiji once imagined.
Every time Keiji turns a corner, he hears loud whispers, and when looks, nothing's there. He hears them everywhere, they are loud and impossible to avoid.
It hasn’t always felt like this. Three years ago, when he was twenty and moved in with his fiance, Midori, it was happy. Full of life and love. The walls used to be full of color; they had once been bright. He came home to warm dinners and-
That... didn’t last for long.
They’d fallen in love when he was nineteen and her twenty-two, and then a year later they were engaged. It was quick and stupid, but they were young and dumb and didn’t know better. They fell out of love, and she moved out. Midori and Keiji stayed friends, for a while at least. They lost touch soon after.
And now, Keiji is alone.
Another piece of him broke and made him what he is today. Another person who left him behind. They all did.
Now it was like this. The only rooms in the apartment that weren’t lifeless are his room, full of pictures and plants, a hobby he came by, and his office. He was there all the time now. He can't count the days anymore, he doesn't even know how many it has been since.
After the injury, Keiji decided to never play volleyball again. It was hard, at first. The worst decision of his life. He couldn’t stay away. It ripped at every instinct he had.
It became easier over time because after he moved there was no one to ignore anymore. Keiji thinks they had become of waiting for him to come back. They looked. There is no doubt they looked. They almost found him once, too. Keiji had seen and ran. Though he’s sure someone- Kenma? found him.
Kenma, he missed him. Kenma and Keiji hung out more after Bokuto and Kuroo left high school. They had become close but fell apart after...
They gave up on him…
Never once did they look back, when he was at Fukurodani. So easily, they excepted it. Then Kenma happened and- they hated him.
To be fair, Keiji gave up on them, too. He felt bad for that, but Keiji can't just- he can't forgive that.
(They would have gone through anything. If only he stayed.)
It’s difficult to get on a team. No one would recognize who he was. He hadn’t even practiced for years. Volleyball requires teamwork, so it would be difficult for him to adjust to a fresh team.
Keiji knew that he wouldn’t play anymore. Even if he could.
It doesn’t matter, now. It’s too late.
Sometimes he missed things though. He missed his team, Kuroo, Kenma, Bokuto... Bokuto. Keiji had fallen in love with him in his first year of high school. Bokuto realized in Keiji’s second year and they started dating. They were happy. Like most happiness in Keiji’s life, it went away. Keiji broke up with him. He’s afraid that without volleyball, Bokuto wouldn’t love him anymore. Afraid that they got together because of volleyball and they would break up because of volleyball, too.
There were lots of memories that Keiji would treasure, though. The first time they met, Keiji recalls the awe of seeing Bokuto Koutarou, and that leading to Keiji joining Fukurodani Academy. Keiji remembers tossing to Bokuto because no one else could keep up with him. He remembers helping Bokuto out of his dejected state. Being his vice-captain, Bokuto’s graduation. He would preserve those memories forever. They were important to him.
Keiji misses back when it was Keiji and Koutarou. When it was them and then Kenma and Kuroo, too.
He loves Bokuto. It’s hard not to. He pushed it to the back of his mind. It was all but forgotten by Keiji.
Keiji used to see silhouettes of Bokuto everywhere. Behind the TV, outside his door. In the kitchen, at the counter. Keiji used to imagine Bokuto was real, and they were together. They might be in love.
He used to wake up from nightmares, eyes flaming and puffy, in a cold sweat. Breathless and without hope. Keiji knows by now that he’s never going back.
On his black days, Keiji still has those visions.
Some there are dreams of the past too. When his teammates ruffled his hair after winning a game. They laugh together, eat together and everyone looks happy. Keiji dreams of warmth and color, not at all what he wakes up to. It’s impossible, yet all Keiji could hope for.
When he wakes up, Keiji wakes to cold and endless silence. A sea of black and gray and white. Colorless, hopeless. He doesn’t cry anymore. Keiji’s used to it by now.
An alternate universe far away. Where they were still together. Keiji would have gone to professionals with Bokuto, and everything would be fine. Kenma would be there with Kuroo by his side, happy.
That was just a dream Keiji had.
Some things are better off being forgotten. Bokuto looked happy. Keiji couldn’t impose on that. That’s what keeps Keiji going. Even if Keiji was lonely, Bokuto was happy. That’s all that matters.
For six years, since Keiji’s last year of high school, Keiji has seen no one from high school years. With two exceptions. Miya Osamu and Atsumu. He had gone to an onigiri shop and came across Osamu. He came back another day. Atsumu was there.
“Do I know you?” Atsumu asks. Keiji doesn’t want to respond. He knows Atsumu is on a team with Bokuto, who will have mentioned Keiji. He was lucky that Osamu didn’t recognize him, or at least if he did, Osamu didn’t say. So he shakes his head.
Keiji knows that he said- or did something wrong when Atsumu's face fills with realization, shock, and then apprehension. “Are you-”
(“He always seemed like he was missing something,” Atsumu states later, talking about Bokuto. “I was never sure what.”)
“Akaashi Keiji,” Osamu introduces him.
Later, Atsumu will ask why he didn’t contact anyone. Keiji says he did, and Atsumu asks who.
“Kenma,” Keiji responds. He hopes they don't see the shaking in his hands and the quiver in his voice.
They leave it at that.
There’s Udai Tenma, though Keiji doubted he counted. They hadn’t at high school at the same time.
Every year without fail the same letter arrived in his mother’s mailbox, where Keiji used to live. There’s never a single word distinction, aside from the year.
Fukurodani always invited the entire group. Nekoma, Shinzen, Ubugawa, and Karasuno. Karasuno, not part of the group initially. The only time he attended was back when he was a third-year and Bokuto was visiting. Except for Hinata and a few others, everyone he had met in high school and more went every year.
Keiji had always gotten an invitation. He’d never convinced himself to attend.
Two months ago, Keiji got another in the mail. He’d intended to ignore it like all the others. Burn it. Throw it in the trash. This year he couldn’t bring himself to. So instead, he placed in on his desk where it lay for a while. After that, he went through his life normally. He ignored the tiny voice in the back of his head that knew he missed the team.
It was for the best.
(He didn’t know that every year, they were silently hoping they’d see him again. They never lost that hope, but it dimmed each year.)
His mother eventually found the letter on his desk. She’d never seen the ones Keiji had gotten before. Keiji had hidden those too quickly. She roped Udai into convincing him to go to the reunion, or at least the match before it. They were persistent, taping copies of the letter all around his house. She even put one in the shower. They didn’t care if he interacted with them at all; they knew that if he saw them, if he saw what he was missing…
Maybe they thought by seeing his friends, by seeing Bokuto, he would go to the reunion. Being at a volleyball game, seeing all the players in their natural habitat, maybe it would make it go back to volleyball. The game he used to love.
Keiji has ignored every inch of his past. When he sees the billboards, he looks away. Keiji even found someone to make sure no ads related to his past will pop up on his phone. Even seeing them in properly won’t change his mind. Nothing will.
He goes anyway.
There is a sharp pang in Keiji’s heart when he steps into The Old Sendai City Gymnasium. Keiji knows what it is. Longing. Like he was missing something- someone and returning home. With Udai on his tail, Keiji walks in. He could see everyone on both teams being introduced, and the game was just starting. After going to Onigiri Miya, with brief talk as he’s in a bit of a mood, Udai and Keiji settle down to watch. Keiji glimpses black, messy hair before sitting down.
On the court, Nicolas Romero- a volleyball player, Keiji admires or rather, admired- serves. Sakusa Kiyoomi receives the ball and sends in to Atsumu. Hinata was already in the spiking position and the MSBY Black Jackals won the point.
Bokuto was up to serve next, and he claps to encourage the crowd. Keiji laughs slightly, relaxing a bit.
It’s good to see that some things never change. Bokuto’s different now. Older and wiser. He still has that excitement and child-like wonder that made Keiji fall in love with him.
“Okay world. Cheer me on!”
Bokuto serves, running up and slamming the ball to the floor. It’s a good serve, but not enough. Hoshiumi Korai receives the ball cleanly and neatly. Ushijima Wakatoshi spiked it across the net. Cheers erupted.
Keiji frowns slightly. (Although he has friends on both sides, Keiji cannot help but become biased. Bokuto is on the opposite team.)
Next up, Hirugami Fukuro serves, and Hinata Shouyou receives the ball. Atsumu sets and Sakusa swoops in from the left. Kageyama tries and cannot receive it. The ball swerves towards the crowd. (Towards Keiji.)
Before the ball collided, Keiji could see Bokuto’s expression. He saw golden eyes widen and shock reflecting his own on Bokuto’s face. Those lips mouth Keiji’s name over and over. There was a sharp pain in Keiji’s chest.
There was a long beat of silence, echoing throughout his whole being. For a moment, everything was numb.
Everything was black.
Keiji wakes up to familiar smells. Devoid of sound, save for the sound of beeping. A hospital, Keiji concludes. He cracks open his eyes and blinks blearily around the room. His eyes land on the figure dozing in the chair to his right. Keiji sucks in a breath when he sees black-and-white sticking up sharply.
He was here. He shouldn’t be here.
How long had been ‘here’ anyway?
Keiji closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath. His mind is filling with Bokuto’s voice.
“Your tosses are the best!” Bokuto grinned.
“I’ll love you, Keiji. No matter what.”
“Oh! That must be your dad. He looks exactly like you!” He said enthusiastically.
“Keiji, no. Please.”
Those times were so far away. Even if Bokuto was here, to Keiji, it feels as if they are mountains away. Maybe they are, and this is all another illusion Keiji has conjured up. Keiji wants to call out to him, to say something, so Bokuto wakes. His voice stuck in his throat, and nothing comes out when he tries.
Keiji opens his mouth again but stays silent when someone comes into the room. “Bokuto’s been there all day,” Kuroo states, walking into the room. He is strangely solemn like Keiji had only seen once or twice before. Kuroo has large, black circles branching out from his eyes, and he holds himself poorly.
He was at the match, wasn’t he? Keiji had seen him.
“Why were you there?” Kuroo questions, frowning. He does not understand how to answer that. Keiji could lie- but Kuroo would know and not appreciate that.
Keiji winces and hides his face behind his hands. Kuroo walks around the room, pausing at the window. “If it wasn’t for Hinata, they wouldn’t have won.” Keiji can see out of the window. Hinata, Atsumu, and Sakusa are standing outside. Sakusa leaned against the wall while Hinata and Atsumu are messing around and making snipes at each other. Keiji looks longingly outside, wanting to be out of this- situation. Away from it all.
Kuroo continues to walk around the room, finally stopping at the end of Keiji’s bed, next to Bokuto’s chair.
“No one saw you if you were wondering,” Kuroo continues. He glances briefly at Bokuto. “He misses you. We all know that every second away from you hurts. It’s easy to see.” Now that Keiji can see Bokuto up close, he can see what Kuroo is talking about. He can see the bags under his eyes and the unhappy lines around Bokuto’s face. The small, telling signs that hint at facts Keiji already knows. He already knows Bokuto misses him.
(Keiji knows, secretly, that he misses Bokuto, too.)
There is rustling in the seat next to Keiji’s bed. He doesn’t dare look over. A few tense seconds pass by and Keiji wishes to be anywhere but here. However, his eyes move there anyway. Bokuto stirs and his eyes flutter open and lock on Keiji. He sits up sharply and his eyes widen impossibly. He’s clearly at a loss for words, his mouth gaping open.
He has no words, not for Keiji, at least. It’s not surprising to Keiji when Bokuto turns away and addresses Kuroo. “How long was I asleep?” He asks.
“Not long.” Kuroo doesn’t elaborate. Keiji closes his eyes and breaths in through his nose. He hears footsteps echoing through the room when Kuroo leaves. Now he’s alone with Bokuto. So much for distracting him. He burrows his head into the thin blanket the hospital provided him with and groans.
“Keiji,” Bokuto says lightly, it’s not a question so Keiji doesn’t answer. He knows that Bokuto wants a response or a reaction.
It’s almost like Bokuto doesn’t feel the tension hovering in the room. It’s unmistakable and undeniable. How does he not feel that pressure?
“Have you played any volleyball since high school?” Bokuto tries again.
Keiji rolls his eyes and absently wrangles his hands. “No.” Keiji is being petty, he knows. It’s stupid and unnecessary, but he can’t help himself. “A ball injured me during high school. I failed to receive the ball, bounced right off my knee. I’ve yet to play since then.” He elaborates.
It’s silent for a while after that. Keiji can feel eyes on him, waiting, but Bokuto says nothing either. He was assessing Keiji. Keiji says nothing, afraid he would break the already fragile mood. He wonders if Bokuto knows, just like Keiji does, how he's feeling.
To be honest, Keiji didn’t think he would reveal it. Or even come here at all. He didn’t even want to come here in the first place, and now this happened. This is all insane, it is nauseating for Keiji to even think about it.
Keiji got what he wanted, though. A happier ending, that is. One without loneliness and hopelessness.
After a while, Keiji feels a light kiss pressing above his brow. He closes his eyes to savor the feeling.
“See you soon,” Bokuto says. He seems happier and like he had seen something in those moments of silence and had known that everything would happen as it would. It's like- he knows. That Keiji will be there, waiting for him, at the reunion. He will.
Keiji doesn’t look up, he doesn’t need to. He knows, just by pounding in heart and the echoing of footsteps; by the finality of Bokuto’s last words, he knows that Bokuto left. So similar, familiar. Identical to the sounds that Keiji’s footsteps made when he walked away those years ago. This time, however, is different. This time, Bokuto is walking away. They won’t leave forever. They will meet again, soon.
Keiji knows that he is only human, and humans make mistakes. Many, many mistakes. Some that hurt way worse than others. Some of that are better, too. They are what drive people forwards, what helps them improve. It is a simple fact. That’s why he knows that tomorrow will be better.
Akaashi Keiji was ten when he first learned the word ‘abuse’. When he discovered what it meant. He had known the word but hadn’t correctly understood the severity of it.
At first, there were just shouting matches and days when Keiji had to cry himself to sleep. Sometimes his father came home drunk and threw half-full bottles of beer at the wall. Sometimes it was just words, because not all abuse is physical. Everything was fine, Keiji dealt with harsh words and insults. It wasn't too bad.
One day his mother didn’t come home for their daily argument and his father went to the first person he thought of, Keiji. It was difficult at first when the abuse was just starting., It happened every other day, and he had to get used to it. He even learned how to numb his body and hide his mind.
If anyone noticed the enormous bruises at his collar, they didn’t say a word. Keiji had hidden the bruises well, too well. They never said anything, but Keiji felt eyes on his neck constantly.
That was also about the time Keiji started having nightmares. They were unending torture and pain. They all started the same, right after school ended. Some ended when he got home and a wicked gaze trapped and closed in on him. Other dreams continued and the man- his father came closer and closer. It was Keiji’s own personalized hell, and he had no way of getting out of it.
His relationship with his father used to be good. It wasn’t like he had been this way Keiji’s entire life. Slowly, his father descended into madness. There was evidence. Long hidden photos of bright smiles and hopeful things packed into boxes that lay in his father’s office. Untouched by the world around them.
Keiji knew his father’s… personality came from his own ruthless childhood of neglect and violence. These things don’t come out of nowhere. His mother told Keiji about that early on, in the carefree days. She had brought Keiji into a room and whispered secrets Keiji won’t ever repeat. But still, at first, Keiji viewed him as the man who watched scary movies with Keiji even when his mother refused. As the man who married his mother and raised him.
He was Keiji’s hero. He was Keiji’s monster and his best friend and that all mattered until Keiji’s father walked into a room one day and brought him to the shed for some ‘quality time together’.
Who would believe an elementary schooler? Keiji wouldn’t. That didn’t mean Keiji didn’t do everything in his power to avoid his father when he came home early. That didn’t mean Keiji didn’t purposefully stay late in practice if not to get better than to avoid his father.
Nothing changed until his second year in middle school. One day Keiji came home late after practice and the house was spotless. Everything, gone. His clothes, his car, the little lamp by the fireplace. Everything. It was like he had never been there. That would have been true, if not for the photos and memories Keiji would have gone insane wondering what happened.
Nobody knew about his father until his third year in high school. He had always been a private person, so nobody asked twice when they learned his father wasn’t in his life anymore. His mother stayed, but they weren’t close anymore.
They were looking through Keiji’s old stuff and had found a photo in the office. Keiji was curious about what they’d find. He hadn’t been in that room for years.
Bokuto was his light. His partner. When Keiji learned he had a crush on Bokuto, it didn’t change much. Nothing, really. It just meant Keiji noticed when Bokuto’s touch lingered for too long. Slight details he hadn’t noticed before. That wasn’t much, he’d always known Bokuto’s quirks, his weaknesses, and habits. That didn’t change. Keiji would trust Bokuto with anything. Even this.
Keiji hadn’t known there were so many memories in that room, despite seeing the pictures multiple times. He hadn’t felt the impact they had now.
“Hey, Akaashi! Who’s this?” Bokuto hollered from the other end of the room. He was riffling through a box they hadn’t been through yet. He pulled out three photos from the box, all the while shaking off the dust that had been collecting in the box. Keiji walked over, keeping his face passive. Keiji took the photos, and his heart beating furiously, glanced at the one in the front.
It was a picture of his parents.
Kazumi Akaashi was leaning over a female Keiji recognized as a younger Atsuki Akaashi. His mother was sporting a round belly, heavily pregnant. Her brown hair trailed down her back and stopped near her waist. She was smiling brightly at his father. Keiji’s eyes trailed down the picture onto his father’s arm, resting on his mother’s stomach. They both had slight creases around the edges of their eyes and grinned at the camera. They looked happy.
His mother took the other photo. She had told him about it since he was too young to remember. Keiji was cuddled into his father’s side. Keiji looked far younger than he does now. His father was, to his amusement, caught in the middle of a yawn, his mouth open. Keiji had asked about this picture once, and his father told him. Keiji suspected he was covering up that he slept with his mouth open. He turned over the photo and looked at the last picture.
This one, Keiji had taken. He remembered that day. They were on a vacation, some small island. They had, with much struggle, trudged to the top of a mountain, only to see a waterfall and a lake that spread as far as the eyes could see.
The picture was shaky and blurry. Keiji was nervous, not afraid of heights, but being on the edge had unnerved him. He aimed the photo to a distant part of the cliff, towards two figures. His mother and his father. They had their arms wrapped around each other in a deep and passionate embrace. His mother had an arm snaked around his father's neck and the other resting in his hair. She was leaning up against his chest, on the tips of her toes. His father had both arms around her waist, locking her in place. They were kissing, without worry.
It broke Keiji’s heart to know that soon after that picture was taken, everything changed.
Bokuto stared at the photos, then took one in his hand and scrutinized them. “Oh! That must be your dad. He looks so much like you!” He said with enthusiasm. Keiji didn’t answer, lost in his memories. Keiji shrugged and plucked the picture from Bokuto, who frowned but continued to search through the boxes.
That never occurred to Keiji. How similar they were. Keiji had his mother’s eyes and everyone seemed to have seen and complimented them. No one complimented Keiji’s hair, or his nose and his eyebrows. They had always been overlooked. And his smile. That was the same too.
“Yeah,” Keiji murmured, low but enough for Bokuto to hear. The happiness distracted him, the happiness in his father’s eyes, his mother’s too. “We do, don’t we?”
“Hey, Akaashi?” Bokuto began after they went through all the pictures. They were laying on the couch, Keiji’s back to Bokuto’s chest. Akaashi had a book in his hands and was reading quietly, and Bokuto was playing with Keiji’s hair. Keiji hummed a bit in response, cuddling deeper into Bokuto’s torso. He felt relaxed. Keiji set down the book on his coffee table and turned towards Bokuto. Bokuto smiled a bit.
“Can I call you Keiji, Akaashi?” Bokuto asked politely.
Keiji’s mouth dropped open and his eyelids blinked furiously.
That name. Aside from his mother, no one had called Keiji that for a while. He was sure Bokuto understood why Keiji abruptly tensed up and turned away. His parents were the last ones to call him that, no one else dared. Look at his parents now.
“I mean if you don’t want me to-” Bokuto added, looking anxious and worried that he’d offended Keiji. For a moment, Keiji contemplates telling him the truth- about his name. His parents. Bokuto had only heard parts. His father's not around, they don't talk about him. Keiji once mentioned that he'd only gone into volleyball because it was the only thing his father couldn't control.
Maybe, if things were different, Keiji would have told him. Bokuto might have understood, he was like that.
Keiji softened his gaze and relaxed back onto Bokuto, turning around and facing him. He pressed a sweet kiss onto Bokuto‘s forehead. “I suppose I’ll call you Koutarou from now on?” Bokuto’s-Koutarou’s face lit up happily and he pulled Keiji closer.
Before everything that had happened, Akaashi Keiji had lived a semi-normal life. As normal as a child who had been abused for three years, anyway. He lived with it, though. Keiji finally put himself together when his dad left his life in his second year of middle school. His third year was better, almost a fresh start for Keiji. Volleyball helped distract him. No one understood his obsession. Keiji couldn’t tell them that volleyball was the only thing that his abusive father didn’t force on him.
The only problem Keiji had now was figuring out which high school to attend next year. There were a lot of wonderful choices, and Keiji was certain almost any school would take him, both for his volleyball abilities and his academic ones. But he wanted to be sure about his choice Keiji wanted to go there and have no regrets.
Keiji had been planning to go to either Fukurodani or Suzumeoka for high school. He had gotten a recommendation from Fukurodani, a powerhouse school that had gone to nationals last year. They wanted him because of his volleyball skills, they said. Keiji wasn’t sure he wanted to continue playing volleyball. He enjoyed playing it, though. Keiji might not even have time for volleyball in high school, with him having more homework and exams. His grades had to come first. Keiji mentally put down Suzumeoka as his first choice. But Fukurodani was a more known school.
It was hard to choose.
That was what Keiji had been thinking before his last game as a middle schooler. After their game, with they sadly lost, Keiji walked around with two of his teammates. They were chatting happily when someone brought up the subject.
“Akaashi, where are you going to go to high school?” One asked as he eyed Keiji curiously.
“I’m thinking maybe Fukurodani or Suzumeoka…” Keiji knew they were both influential schools, and both offered wonderful opportunities. It would honor him to go to either school. He just couldn’t choose between either.
“Why not Fukurodani? You earned a recommendation from them, right?” The other asked.
“Um well… yeah, I guess.” Keiji responded. He doesn’t know why they asked. It’s not like they are very close, or anything.
“Apparently, there are high school volleyball matches happening right now in the city gymnasium. Wanna check it out?”
“Yeah… sure.” They walked through the door and immediately saw two people to the right of them standing next to the wall. Keiji winced at the brightness in the room. He blinked rapidly to clear his eyes, and when he opened them, he stared in awe.
He was a high schooler who had strange hair that made him look like an owl. His uniform had the number 12 on the back, displayed so everyone could see. He looked strange, but also proud. Number 12, who attended Fukurodani was jumping high. It was like he was flying. Number 12 grinned as he hit the ball toward the other end of the court.
“To think he’s still just a first-year… He doesn’t seem like one at all.” One man standing by the wall said. Keiji shook his head in amazement. To think just a first-year played like that. He’d seen no one play that way, aside from the volleyball videos he had taken to watching on occasion.
That was when Keiji decided. He would attend Fukurodani instead of Suzumeoka. It was because of Bokuto Koutarou. Keiji admired him for his ability to play volleyball and get along with his teammates. But also for his smile. Bokuto could smile like nothing in the world could stop him.
That’s the thing about Bokuto, he learns later. The worst thing about Bokuto Koutarou is also the best. His never-ending energy, excitement, and determination.