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The beer that was supposed to be lukewarm slides down Tadashi’s throat hot and weighty, far too bitter for his liking. But it’s not as if he’s a beer expert or even a regular drinker or anything; it’s just that anytime he comes out drinking with his coworkers, cheap beer always seems to be the liquor of choice as businessmen don’t have the time to craft individualized expensive tastes. They throw down beer and yakitori after work and Tadashi tags along because he has only so many excuses to give. 

With loose ties and red faces, his coworkers chat lively about conversations Tadashi isn’t particularly interested in. They switch fast from the economy to sports to the awful tasks they were given that day. Tadashi idly sits, squashed in the inner booth, and drinks his too-warm beer. 

It could be worse, he supposes. At least he can try to get home soon. 

Hayato, one of Tadashi’s superiors, slams down his glass onto the table. He stands, garnering the attention of all the workers. “How… the fuck am I… s’posed t’know any sports people,” he slurs, surveying over the tables. 

His coworkers nod in bitter agreement. Tadashi sips on his beer. 

The marketing team had been tasked with improving the reputation of the company. A local team, one that’d make them appear as a family friendly tech empire, Tadashi’s boss had told them (rather, he shouted at them during their last few minutes of overtime as Tadashi had tried to get out the door before his coworkers dragged him to the bar to gripe and complain). 

“I mean…” Hayato belches and runs a hand through his thinning hair, “I didn't even play sports in school! I was a… a… culture man.”

“Same!” One of his coworkers agrees. 

“I played baseball!” Another pipes in. 

Tadashi had suggested they support a baseball team. The Rakuten Eagles were a modest local team, not too good, not too bad. Perfect to improve the face of a faceless technology company. But they were endorsed by a pharmaceutical company and didn’t need more logos tacked onto their uniforms. 

Hayato takes a prolonged swig, stopping only to point at Tadashi with his beer. “Didn’t you ah…” he squints his eyes, trying to focus under the drunken haze, “didn’t you play some sorta sport?” 

“Volleyball,” Tadashi supplies against his own better judgement. He’s not too keen on offering up stories from his youth, so he attempts to cut the discussion there. “But I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t play often. My team didn’t go anywhere.” 

“Bullshit!” Hayato yells, slapping Tadashi’s back. He wants to curl away under his sweaty hand but instead gives a pressed-lip smile to not immediately retract. “I know yer ah… yer famous and all that.”

Tadashi’s eyes dart towards his coworkers. Luckily, they’re all too far gone to take Hayato’s words to heart. Damn those proud small shopkeepers and their insistence to keep Tadashi’s past alive. 

“Why not try a basketball team?” Tadashi suggests to deter the conversation as he subtly scoots away from Hayato. 

He makes a dismissive noise. “Nah, nah, you know more than anyone!” He points directly at Tadashi before turning to the rest of the group. “Certainly more than Morikatsu!”

“My basketball team went to nationals!” Morikatsu argues back, slamming his hands onto the table. 

Hayato bellows a laugh. “Sure ya did.” The workers follow his lead and fill up the bar with a cacophony of dry laughter. The waitress gives them all a wary eye as she sets down another round. 

Tadashi slips away as they indulge in their cheap beer and continue up some other idiotic conversation. His absence isn’t noticed even as Tadashi supplies the bartender with a few extra bills and heads to the door. 

He’s not nearly prepared for the blast of heat that nearly slaps him in the face. If the humidity inside the bar hadn’t been enough, the outside is little reprieve. Tadashi attempts to fan himself and loosens his tie even more, but ultimately the heat sticks with him like an unwanted parasite through his entire walk to the train station. 

It’s quiet, Tadashi notices. The families have long gone to bed and the businessmen haven’t quite flooded the streets, intoxicated enough to hide their looming depression. Tadashi only passes by the occasional young couple as they giggle and kiss under street lamps. 

Alone, he walks to the station and alone he rides on the train. And alone he steps into his apartment, greeted by only a handful of houseplants for company. 

It’s nothing new, per se. In some aspects, the solemnity is quite nice. He doesn’t need to worry about waking someone up with the sound of the coffee machine or pick up after anyone when things get left behind. All Tadashi needs to worry about is himself. He supposes he’s alright with that. 

Tadashi finally removes his tie and sets it on the kitchen counter. The apartment is quite large for one person, Tadashi absently thinks. The last time he had a roommate was back in university, but those days have long passed. Not that Tadashi needs anyone. 

No, Tadashi doesn’t need anyone at all. 

 

---

 

“Karasuno, huh?” Suzuki questions, not even bothering to look up from his stack of papers. He’s a small man but his large desk—cluttered with spare parts, loose pages, and a mountain of paperwork—surely must be accommodating for something. 

Tadashi rocks back on his heels, careful to keep his shoulders square and arms firm at his sides. The last thing he needs is to get on Suzuki’s bad side. Hayato was one thing, only a step up from Tadashi with a poor grip on his inferiors; Suzuki was a whole other beast. He’s head of the department with a quick tongue and enough power to ruin the rest of a man’s career if he chooses. Tadashi’s seen it happen before and really isn’t interested in carrying on the tradition. 

“Yes, sir,” Tadashi responds, hoping Suzuki can’t hear the slight stutter in his words. 

“I knew you went to Sendai, since I’m the one that gave you your job after all, but I never bother looking into high schools considering it’s a waste of time,” Suzuki explains. “But I’ve also never been this desperate for a fuckin’ endorsement after we lost the Raiders so we looked into high schools. I thought Hayato was bullshitting when he said you were a sports guy because, come on, look at you, but apparently it’s true.”

“Yes, sir,” Tadashi agrees, not sure what else to say. He supposes he doesn’t look very athletic nowadays, not that he wants his boss to point it out. 

“Volleyball team?” Suzuki finally peers up, meeting Tadashi’s eyes with a firm, ugly brow. “They’re the good one right?”

Tadashi bites the inside of his cheek. “Yes, sir. Karasuno currently has a very strong boy’s volleyball team.” And then, before Suzuki can retort, he adds, “But I did not play. I was simply a part of the team.”

Suzuki drops his paper and presses a hand to his forehead. “My daughter,” he groans, “plays for her middle school team. Won’t shut the fuck up about some setter or whatever that apparently went to Karasuno. Thought maybe we could sponsor his team but turns out the guy’s in fucking Italy. Won’t do shit for our rep.”

Tadashi nods. He wonders how Kageyama is doing.

“And then,” Suzuki throws his hands up in frustration, “some other kid from the team plays professionally, but the guy moved to Brazil of all places! Can you believe that?”

“No, sir,” Tadashi answers. It’s honest, considering he’s still in awe that Hinata decided to go back. 

“But then I found him,” Suzuki grins devilishly. He breaks contact to start typing on one of his monitors. “I fuckin’ found him. The perfect athlete we can endorse who’s on a team that doesn’t have any major sponsors. And my daughter knew ‘bout him, so it’s the best of both worlds. Know this guy?” 

Suzuki turns the screen around and Tadashi takes the sight in. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, but the slight alterations make his breath hitch in his throat. 

Tsukishima, in his Sendai Frogs uniform, stares at the camera with little interest or even life whatsoever behind those golden eyes. His glasses are new and stylish, something that Tadashi never expected to describe him as. His hair’s much longer than it was in high school, with waves and curls settling against his forehead in uneven patterns. He’s filled out, too. After years of a low appetite, it appears he’s finally managed to eat enough to utilize the large frame he was gifted. In whole, he looks rather grown up. No longer the boy Tadashi once knew. 

Tadashi looks away from the screen and back to Suzuki. He points at Tsukishima again. 

“I know of him,” Tadashi says. He swallows harshly. Did his voice tremble? He can’t tell. 

“Enough to get us in contact?” Suzuki asks, his inflection going high. “You’re our only guy with any sort of connection to anyone . Pull all the strings you got.”

“I don’t know… We’re not close.”

Suzuki waves it off. “Tell you what. Get this connection for me, and I’ll make you a senior manager.” Suzuki leans back in his chair, interlocking his hands over his chest. “Promotion, raise, an office of your own? Yeah?”

Tadashi considers it. Four years of college, a year of interning, and two years of gruesome work to move up a single position. But now he has the opportunity to rapidly climb the ranks if he can have a conversation. That’s it. An adult conversation that could lead to a better life. 

Tadashi locks his jaw. “I’ll try my best.” 

Suzuki grins. 

 

---

 

Tadashi doesn’t have Tsukishima’s phone number. He calls the Frogs’ promotional team instead. The nice lady he talks to seems very interested that a large technology company wants to sponsor the Frogs. She tells him she’ll call when she speaks with her boss. Tadashi thanks her for her time, and she insists they meet up to gauge the partnership. She says she’ll be his point of future reference on the Frogs and tells him to call her Aiko-chan. He obliges but fails to mention he already knows someone on the team. 

 

---

 

The girlish charms Yachi possessed in high school that made Tadashi initially have a crush on her have long faded. Not that she doesn’t still have charm; she’s more so grown into herself and ditched the excessive nervousness that Tadashi related to and thought was adorable. 

It’s probably for the best that nothing more came out of that crush. It was fleeting, after all. By the time they reached their second year, Tadashi couldn’t see her as anything more than a friend. He needed that kind of sturdy friendship in his youth. 

And now, as she talks about her newest project that utilizes more creativity than Tadashi is sure he’ll possess in his lifetime, he realizes how far Yachi has come. He feels a little proud even if it wasn’t any of his doing. Yachi was always bound to grow into herself, even if it took a few years more. 

They’ve been meeting at coffee shops every few weeks ever since they started college. They went to different schools, but the semi-frequent meetings have been good for Tadashi’s social life. His coworkers may joke about his ‘secret girlfriend’ but Tadashi really doesn’t mind. 

She gives Tadashi an easy smile and takes a sip of her chai latte. Tadashi drinks his apple cider. Neither of them are big coffee drinkers. Shaky hands and all that. 

“Are you sure there isn’t anything new going on?” Yachi asks, obviously insisting on information. 

“Nothing new at all,” Tadashi confirms. He takes another sip. 

Yachi sighs and leans back into her chair. “Yamaguchi-kun, are you happy?” 

Tadashi swallows his drink. “Define happy.” 

Yachi shrugs and stirs around the milk in her drink. “Oh I don’t know…” 

She keeps her eyes firm on the table, like she’s afraid to shatter this carefully constructed bridge of friendship they’ve created. Yachi knows where the pick and prod, never asking too much about what’s actually going on in Tadashi’s life. They both know. There’s no reason to intrude. 

But Yachi flicks her eyes up with a bit of confidence, shaking the bridge.

“Fulfilled, maybe?” She suggests, lilting her voice. 

Tadashi clenches his jaw. “I mean, I’m doing well at my job. I have friends. Is there much more I should need?”

Yes, Yachi’s dying to say, but she doesn’t. She shrugs, noncommittal and not willing to push further. 

There’s probably a lot more that a man could need in order to be ‘fulfilled’. Tadashi’s father always insisted he should be married with a stable job at 25. A kid by 27 and two more by 35. Like his father was one to talk.

A wife and kids? Tadashi wouldn’t mind that. Would that make him fulfilled? Would that bring him happiness?

Maybe they should stop doing these monthly coffee shop meetings. Yachi’s looking at him with those sad eyes Tadashi can’t say no to. He may no longer feel a romantic attraction to her, but those damn eyes still get him every single time. 

He doesn’t want to make Yachi sad anymore. He doesn’t know what to do. 

“I met someone,” Tadashi lies. There’s no reason to, but he does. 

The immediate guilt rises up in his chest and threatens to bubble out and Tadashi’s on his way to stop the thought and he’s rising out of his chair and extending his hand out but then he sees Yachi. Her face is lit up and her smile is brilliant and she’s so happy for him. It’s like they’ve won Nationals again or something. Does a relationship really warrant this sort of reaction? 

Yachi’s practically on the verge of excited tears. Tadashi sits back down in his seat. 

“Tell me all about them!” She cheers, extending her hands across the table to grab Tadashi’s. 

He looks at them for a moment before meeting Yachi’s gaze once more. 

What does he say? He knows nobody to even pretend to be in a relationship with. It’s a pitiful situation every way Tadashi manages to look at it. 

“You’ll meet them soon,” Tadashi decides to promise. It gives him more time to figure out everything. 

“Okay, okay!” Yachi squeals. “Oh, Yamaguchi-kun I hope it works out!”

“Me too.” 

Yachi steps back from the bridge and goes on about her own life. Tadashi listens and comments when appropriate. He wishes he could genuinely care about everything she’s saying and doing, but he can’t. 

He’s so wrapped up in his own bullshit he can’t be there for Yachi. 

They say their goodbyes not long after that, and Tadashi hugs Yachi tightly. She whispers in his ear how happy she is that he’s happy. Tadashi doesn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise. 

Long after she’s left and Tadashi’s on the train home, he realizes he should have told her about his potential promotion. She would’ve had the same reaction. Maybe even a better one. 

At least that one was true and didn’t gnaw at Tadashi’s internal organs like some horrible parasite. He’s being eaten alive, swallowed whole by a horrible monster of his own creation. 

 

---

 

Aiko is objectively pretty. 

Tadashi doesn’t expect it, frankly, from the skillful way her voice sounds over the phone. She may talk like she’s some experienced middle-aged business professional, but she’s far different from the perception of her voice. 

The first thing Tadashi notices about her is her hair. Long and blonde, thick to the point where it creates almost a halo as it hangs to her torso. He’s unsure whether it’s dyed or natural. Either way, it’s wholly breathtaking and a stark contrast to most other people in Japan.

She has a tendency to twirl her fingers in her hair. She practically does so throughout their entire meeting as they discuss what a partnership between the Sendai Frogs and Tadashi's workplace would entail. 

Tadashi carefully watches the soft touches of her fingers and it sort of makes him miss his own long hair. He always loved the feeling running his fingers in it from root to tip. He liked the ripple effect it sent through his body as he shivered under the touch. He particularly loved the way it felt when someone else would play with his hair and give him a soft grin and laugh with him until—

Tadashi clears his throat. Aiko stops mid-sentence and mid-twirl. 

“Is something wrong, Tadashi-kun?” She asks innocently. She insisted on a given name basis for them both. Tadashi said he didn’t mind. 

“It’s nothing,” he responds. “I’m just a little parched.” 

“Oh! Let’s go get you some water then. Come on,” she stands up from her chair and heads towards the door, waving Tadashi along. 

He follows after, taking in the last view of the large conference room. It was a bit odd she insisted they use the space, considering this initial meeting had just been between the two of them. It was even odder that she insisted Tadashi come to their headquarters in the first place considering it wasn’t neutral ground. 

He made the journey regardless, not wanting to disturb his chances. He wasn’t nearly as desperate as Suzuki was, but he knew the opportunity was too good to lose. Tadashi was a career man, after all. 

Aiko waits for Tadashi at the door and falls in step with him as she gives him a tour of the office facilities. He only saw a bit of the place coming in despite Aiko’s enthusiasm about her division. The long, winding hallway to the conference room is filled with old team photos. Tadashi takes only a half-second glance, not allowing himself to look much longer. 

“I hope this doesn’t sound rude,” Aiko begins as she wrings out her hands in front of her, “but why did they send you? I mean, not that I don’t appreciate you coming or anything! I’m just interested, that’s all.” 

Tadashi gives her a soft smile. He can’t tell if it’s genuine or not. 

“I played volleyball in high school,” he supplies. 

Aiko lights up. “Really? Me too! Oh, what position did you play? I bet you were a Middle Blocker. I mean, you seem tall and smart so it makes sense to me.” 

Tadashi laughs at her guess. “That’s right. But really I was just a pinch server.” 

Aiko nods. “I get that. I was a Middle Blocker too, but I didn’t get to play very much. I went to Niiyama and our team was super intense. I loved it, of course, but sometimes the actual playing got to be too much. But I guess I liked it enough to make it my life. I think the V. League is super different though, so it’s not much of a comparison.” 

They’ve made their way down the hall, stopping at a cross-section. The high ceilings make way for elaborate, modern staircases surely leading to more offices. On the right, there’s a reception area flooded with trophies and pictures like it’s an exhibit out of a hall of fame. On the left, there’s a hallway leading down to what could only be a practice gym. 

The sound of squeaking sneakers and the familiar smell of salon-pas calls to Tadashi. He can practically feel the sting of the ball’s memory in his palm as he stares through the sliver of a window on the doors. He can’t make out much, but it’s alluring all the same. Just a step forward… 

“Tadashi-kun?” Aiko calls. 

Tadashi quickly turns back to her, facing the memorabilia once again. “Sorry, I was getting distracted." 

She steps forward, passing him and nearing the doors. “Let me guess,” she grins, placing a hand onto one of the thick doors, “you’re actually a huge Frogs fan?”

“Not particularly…” Tadashi says unconvincingly despite the statement’s candor. 

Aiko laughs. She opens up the door and giddily ushers Tadashi inside.  

The practice gym is simultaneously nostalgic and overwhelming. The fast snap of the ball onto the floor and the incredible extension of muscles as the athletes jump into the air has Tadashi going warm. 

Maybe it’s some Pavlovian response. His heart rate quickening, his brow dotting with sweat, his fingers stretching out and hoping for a ball… surely this must all be some ingrained response triggered once more by being in the presence of a gym. 

Or maybe it’s nervousness. As Tadashi relishes the sentiment, his eyes also begin to unconsciously dart around to try and see the faces of the athletes in front of him. He catches a few of their glances, but not a single pair fills with recognition or dread. 

All the players are unrecognizable. 

“Sorry to disappoint,” Aiko says as she suddenly pops into Tadashi’s view. She looks out over the gym. “These are all the third-string players. The real guys won’t get here until later. But who knows? If this partnership works out you may get a chance to meet the real players.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tadashi assures, turning on his heel. He briskly walks back through the door as Aiko trails. “I’m seriously not that big of a fan.”

“Still though, isn’t it cool?” They stroll through the halls and head towards the reception area. Aiko tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “I mean, these guys are some of the best in the nation, and they’re only getting better! Didn’t hear it from me, but I think we have a pretty good chance of moving up to D1. We have to win the championship, of course, but our chances are looking amazing this year.”

They reach the end of the hall and Aiko steps back to give Tadashi a moment to take it all in.

It’s astounding; trophies, medals, and photos are arranged perfectly in glass display cases pushed along the walls. They reflect, golden and bright, with the rays of sunlight coming in from the skylight above. Tadashi feels like he’s stepped into a piece of history even if it’s not his own. 

The older photos show men in scant uniforms posed in old school gymnasiums. The newer ones show powerful spikes, incredible plays, and a whole host of MVP's throughout the years. Large flat screens show off highlight reels while moving picture frames shift to show the array of players they’ve had for the past half century. 

A logoed rug with the Froggy mascot points to a back wall where a giant banner of the current team hangs. The iconic green stands out against the white walls, making way for intense poses mid-action from the best volleyball players in the Miyagi prefecture. 

Tadashi knows a few of them. There’s Koganegawa, their giant setter, posed like he’s about to touch the ball. He has a ‘W’ smile to match the flyaway pieces of his bangs that always seem to stick up. 

There’s also Kyoutani with his intense eyes and furrowed brow. He’s posed post-spike, muscles taut from exertion and his face is contorted in a sort of aggressive pleasure. His hair is different from high school, but the blonde still makes him intimidating, even in the photo. 

The bodies are congressed together, overlapping and outstretching to form a pyramidal composition. Tadashi takes it all in bit by bit, but his eyes are naturally dragged towards the peak to the focal point. 

Tsukishima stands above the rest of the players, taped hands forming a solid block. He looks downward, evidently looking at the players below. In a way though, he feels like he’s staring down straight at Tadashi. He’s wearing that expression of intense focus seen only in the last moments of a long rally. Set jaw, clenched teeth, extreme grace. 

Tadashi’s hands feel clammy. 

“Beautiful, right?” 

Tadashi nearly forgot Aiko was there. She, too, looks up at the banner with a sort of fondness in her expression. Tadashi thinks it’s for the photograph more than the actual players.

“They’re super nice, you know,” she adds. “Especially Koganegawa. Right there.” She points at him, leaning towards the canvas on her toes. 

He figures it’s best to play dumb with her. “What does he play?” Tadashi asks. 

Aiko smiles. Tadashi absently notes how pretty it looks. 

“Setter,” she answers. “He just became the starter two seasons ago, and he’s been kicking ass ever since.” She takes another step forward before turning to face Tadashi. “Have you heard of the Monster Generation?”

Tadashi shakes his head. 

“Oh, okay, okay,” Aiko says giddily. “They’re this group of super talented volleyball players who are all young and are all about the same age. They’re pretty much the ones you saw at the Olympics last year. It’s mainly used to talk about the National Team guys, you know like Ushijima-san and Bokuto-san, but I like to think our guys are monsters too.”

“They are,” Tadashi says, unaware he’s even talking until the words have left his mouth. 

He keeps his gaze locked on Tsukishima. It’s still nothing new. And yet, every aspect is unfamiliar.

It’s a stranger, really. 

Tadashi lowers his head. 

“Sorry,” he tells Aiko. “I don’t think I’m feeling that well today.” 

“Did you still want that water?” Aiko asks, carefully looking over Tadashi. “You look a little hot.” Her eyes go wide. “I mean temperature wise! You look like you’re overheating, I mean. See?”

She presses the back of her hand to Tadashi’s forehead. He sort of jumps at the contact, almost stepping back but Aiko quickly retracts her hand. 

“Warm…” she says. 

“Umm…” Tadashi adjusts the hem of his suit jacket. “Sorry.” 

“No, don’t worry about it!” Aiko assures, waving her hands around. “We can meet again later. I have to discuss it with my boss anyway. I’m sure you have lots to talk about as well.” 

“Yeah…” 

Aiko gives him a full smile. “Let me walk you to the door.”

Tadashi thanks her and idly listens as she talks more about the Frogs. A sort of panic rises in his chest as they pass by the elaborate staircases once more. A tall man with light hair passes by. Tadashi’s breath hitches in his throat until the man gives him an odd look with his dark brown eyes. 

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Aiko asks, concern dripping in her voice. 

“Positive,” Tadashi nods. “I’ll call on Monday and confirm what my superiors say. They were initially excited for the partnership, so I can't imagine anything would go wrong.”

Aiko switches back into her professional voice, and they finish the last of the arrangements there in the hall. And while he tries his best to keep his eyes firm on Aiko, his gaze unexpectedly wanders towards that mural on the back wall. Tsukishima stares back. 

Even after all this time, it’s still him. 

 

---

 

Tadashi’s tolerance for drinking is low when it concerns his coworkers, but it’s even thinner when it comes to his college friends. 

‘Friends’ may have been an exaggeration. They were the people he went to college with. Most of them stayed local and asked to meet every few months. 

Tadashi’s unsure why they invited him in the first place. He always watches their conversations pass by with nothing to add. He’s simply another warm body occupying their high tables. 

He takes a swig of his beer and attempts to drown out the high-pitched laughter of his former classmates. Even the cigarette smoke billowing from his lips can’t seem to calm him down. His hands become steadily shakier as the night progresses, drink after unfortunate drink. 

“Excuse me,” Tadashi says but no one pays much attention as he slips through them and to a spot at the near empty bar top. 

He lets out a heavy breath, almost collapsing until he hears someone talking to him. He perks up to find a handsome man, dressed in business wear and nursing a cocktail, staring straight at Tadashi. His hair is dark but his gaze is even darker. 

“What?” Tadashi asks. 

The man chuckles and brings the glass to his lips. “I asked if you were having a good time with those friends of yours.”

Tadashi takes a moment to truly observe the man. He must be in his early 30’s and he’s evidently not new to the scene. How he was able to pick Tadashi out of the crowd was somewhat impressive. He likes to think he’s not too obvious with his dress or cadence to attract attention but certainly this man picked it up.

“They’re not exactly my friends,” Tadashi answers. 

The man raises an eyebrow. “So you wouldn’t be too upset leaving them behind, would you?” He muses, cognizant of the intent. 

Tadashi considers everything. Might be nice. A release, if anything. It’s been awhile since he’s done this after all.  Maybe could turn into something more if he needs someone to show to Yachi. 

Then again, Tadashi’s not nearly intoxicated enough to make a decision like this. 

The man seems to notice. He orders them a couple of drinks. They talk for a while, both fully aware of where the night will lead but adding time to keep the pretense. Turns out the man works for the marketing team of the baseball team Tadashi had suggested to Suzuki. Go figure. 

A few drinks later, they’ve exchanged enough sultry looks to leave the bar with good reason. Tadashi follows him after grabbing his coat, light on his feet with the trail of a smile on his lips. It’s freeing, he idly thinks. Maybe loose lips and unsteady limbs are a good thing after all. 

His college friends have long forgotten he was there in the first place. He slips by them, stumbling ever-so-slightly until the man grips his elbow to straighten him up. 

“Come on,” he insists, heading towards the exit. Tadashi trails along. 

As they’re about to reach the door, a group of men walk through. Tadashi doesn’t exactly see them until he’s running into a pair of pale collarbones behind a white button down. He’s sent flying backward, sobered only when his ass hits the ground. 

Tadashi’s about to mumble some apology but he looks up.

Photos are one thing. Real life is a whole other monstrosity. 

Tadashi, for a moment, feels like a child again. Staring up at haloed blonde hair, seeing his savior loom over him. The expression is far too similar despite the years. Is he really that pathetic? 

He should say something. He wants to say something, but the words don’t rise so he says nothing. 

A hand reaches out towards him. It’s the man. 

“Are you alright?” He asks. 

Tadashi looks at him and then back to where he was staring. Pain swells in his chest at the distinct face, the all-too-real expression. 

He’s completely and utterly frozen in fear. There’s no fight or flight; merely the definite inability to move or even react in the slightest as to indicate he’s even alive. 

Maybe he’s not alive. His heart has skipped more than a few beats and the panic coursing through his veins isn’t nearly enough to keep him conscious. 

He needs to do something. 

“I… ah…”

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” the man grabs Tadashi’s wrist and pulls him to his feet. He places a firm hand on his lower back and ushers him past the group, towards the exit.

As the door closes behind them, Tadashi manages to peer through the crack. 

Tsukishima, quite simply put, looks ashamed. 

Tadashi lets the door slam behind him and the man. 

He wants to break down. He wants to run inside. He wants to run away. He wants to never be visible in the light of day again. He wants to go back in time, to before any of this happened, and try it all again. 

But he doesn’t. Tadashi follows the man back to his apartment and drinks the last of his bottle of gin.

And he stares at the ceiling as the man thrusts and grunts and moans sweet nothings into Tadashi’s ear. He’s forceful and aggressive to the point where it hurts. He takes and gives little back. Tadashi doesn’t care. 

He simply continues staring at the ceiling and wonders where all the stars went.