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miserability

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“Here?” Tadashi sort of laughed. The locker room was barren, save for a few extra bags strewn about, left over from kids who couldn’t keep track of their belongings. Tadashi made sure to check if there were any extra figures milling about but it was just him and Kei, their voices echoing slightly in the empty room. 

Tsukki looked around the space as well before raising an eyebrow. “It’ll be quick.”

“Mmm,” Tadashi noised, before letting out a little chuckle. “I don’t want to be late to the award ceremony though.”

Tsukki shook his head. “We won’t be.”

“Really?”

“Positive,” Tsukki affirmed. “The captain of the third best school in all of Japan can’t possibly be late to the ceremony. After all, you’re the whole reason we got this far in the first place.”

It was the final straw. Tadashi really should have tried harder to usher them into a more secluded space but he saw the genuine, irresistible gleam in Tsukki’s eye and all reason went out the window. 

They stumbled into the kiss really, two forces drawn together like gravitational orbits between planets. They were always destined to end up like this; hands travelling all over and exploring the crevices otherwise not seen by the sun. It was fast and fun, filled with laughs and giggles as Tadashi pulled Tsukki downwards and took a seat on the center bench. Tsukki dropped to his knees, still managing to keep his lips connected to Tadashi’s. 

Tadashi kind of laughed at seeing Tsukki like this. He was so tall that he didn’t even have to stretch to comfortably kiss Tadashi from this position. That was perhaps one of Tadashi’s favorite things about his boyfriend, that—

Not your boyfriend, Tadashi bitterly reminded himself.

Right. Tsukki had never been his to keep in the first place.

This whole… arrangement of theirs was simply that: an agreement on both parts to find pleasure whenever they could. It wasn’t like they’d actually discussed the terms though; no, they just staggered into each other’s arms, taking over each other’s bodies without defining what this actually meant. 

Tadashi had been meaning to ask since their first endeavor, but then again he was terrified for the moment when it could all fall apart. 

Pulling away for a moment, Tsukki looked up at Tadashi. “What?” He nearly hissed, breaths uneven and quick. 

Tadashi shook his head firmly. “It’s nothing. Let’s keep going.”

Tsukki agreed by resuming their previous position and securing his lips to Tadashi’s. His breath was hot and weighty against Tadashi, their closeness making the rest of the space disappear. He couldn’t think about the rest of the large room, his mind too engaged with the intimacy of Tsukki’s lips travelling off his mouth and trailing along his jawline until they reached Tadashi’s neck. Tsukki found a rhythm there, evidently already aware of how desperately Tadashi loved being kissed there. 

Really though, Tadashi just loved being kissed by Tsukki. It was addicting. Tadashi was beginning to need the connection on a daily basis. At first, he’d assumed that Tsukki would have pushed him away, but instead he accepted all of Tadashi’s needs with open arms. More often than not, it was Tsukki who suggested they hook up. Tadashi wasn’t really complaining though.

Like now, as Tsukki’s hands dragged along Tadashi’s side underneath his shirt. Tsukki’s perpetually cold hands sent shivers down his spine, but Tadashi couldn’t care less. Tsukki was giving him a hickey and nothing else mattered. 

Tadashi relished in the feeling, moaning into the silence before a slamming sound drew him out of his own ecstasy. 

A scared Karasuno first year stood in the doorway, eyes locked onto the obscenity of his senpais before him. 

“Sorry I didn’t mean to disturb,” he hastily said as he exited, not bothering to finish whatever he needed to do in the locker rooms, 

Tadashi tore his eyes away from the closed door to look back at Tsukki. He was still frozen in shock, expression completely… contorted. 

Tsukki looked ashamed. 

Carefully removing his hands from their entanglement in Tsukki’s hair, Tadashi helped them both into a standing position. Tsukki was difficult to move though, limbs unresponsive even as Tadashi pulled away to fix his rumpled clothes. 

“We should go…” Tadashi whispered, not really wanting to face whatever the outside world had in store for him. He needed to go talk to that first year and make sure he wouldn’t make the situation any larger than it needed to be. He needed to talk to Ukai and Takeda to make sure the rumor of Karasuno’s captain doing certain acts wasn’t spreading around. He needed to focus on what lay ahead and face the world with a smile on his face as he received a trophy for all of Karasuno to be proud of. 

But what pride could Tadashi take in himself? Here he was, attempting to hook up with his best friend in a public locker room… and for what? Why did Tadashi subject himself to this?

“We shouldn’t do this anymore,” Tsukki said loud and clear, voice projecting over the empty lockers. 

Tadashi had something to retort, but it didn’t come out and Tsukki was already beginning to speak again. 

“Friends shouldn’t do this,” he said, but Tadashi could clearly hear the pain interlaced at the back of the simple statement. 

Tadashi swallowed hard. Tsukki wasn’t looking at him. 

“So what are you suggesting that we do?” Tadashi asked. He hated the way his voice cracked mid-sentence, but he remained and attempted to bolster his trailing confidence. 

Tsukki blinked a few times before meeting Tadashi’s eyes. “I don’t think we should be friends anymore.”

There wasn’t anything more that Tsukki said. Tadashi was waiting for a but or a yet or any other sort of conjunction to keep the sentence going, to add on and say that they should be more than friends or they shouldn’t talk at all or everything they’d been through together over the past near decade actually meant something. 

And yet there was nothing more Tsukki had to say. He left it at that, placing the period in their relationship. If he wanted to add on, Tadashi didn’t give him the chance.

“Okay,” Tadashi said curtly as he pushed past Tsukki and walked towards the door, not bothering to wait any longer for the end of a thought that may never come. Tsukki had waited too long this time. Tadashi was done sticking around.

It didn’t really hit him what had just happened. He couldn’t comprehend it yet. No, he had other matters to take care of. 

He wiped his face as the locker room door slammed behind him. Tadashi wasn’t crying, but he could feel the discomfort and dishevelment creeping up to meet him. Could people tell what had just occurred? Did they know all of Tadashi’s dirty, horrible secrets? What other parts of his personal life were threatening to be exposed any minute now?

Tadashi readjusted his clothes, smoothing down his jersey and shorts. He felt completely exposed. 

The number one on his chest felt sort of like a joke. If anything, Tadashi didn’t deserve to be seen by the masses as the face of Karasuno. How could he lead a team to victory if he couldn’t even control his own gross impulses?

A wave of nervous energy poked and prodded at every inch of Tadashi’s body. It wasn’t nearly the same as the soft, cascading touches of nimble fingers paired with glorious laughs when the moon was high in the sky and there was no one on the earth except—

Tadashi stopped himself.

Tsukki wasn’t interested in relationships. He didn't even want to be friends. 

Really, Tsukki didn’t want anything to do with him at all. 

Finding his way back to the team, Tadashi ducked to avoid the few wayward glances sent in his direction. Yachi greetly him warmly, like she always did, but seemed to notice that something was off kilter. 

“What happened?” she asked in a low voice, crouching beside him. 

Feigning a smile, Tadashi replied, “Nothing at all.”

She seemed uncertain. He didn’t have the energy right now to convince her otherwise. Thus began their carefully constructed friendship of silent acknowledgement. 

A bit later, the first year returned and apologized to Tadashi in a whispered huff when the rest of the team began to line up for the award ceremony. 

“Sorry,” the first year apologized again. 

Tadashi sucked in a breath. “It’s okay,” he replied again. “Seriously. It’s not your fault. Please don’t feel bad or blame yourself.”

“I just didn’t realize that you and Tsukishima-senpai were dating,” he said back before promptly shutting his mouth. 

“We’re not.”

The first year made a small, “Oh,” sound. 

“Why don’t you get in line?” Tadashi suggested. “It’s almost time to go. We should be celebrating our successes right now and looking up.”

The first year nodded and ducked to his spot before Tadashi had the chance to add anything more. 

Slowly, painstakingly, Tadashi could feel his heart drop.

You’re such an idiot. 

“Where’s Stingy-shima?” Hinata whined much louder than necessary. 

Coming to take his own place at the front of their line, Tadashi shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“That’s surprising,” Kageyama chided. 

“Why?” Tadashi demanded, whipping around.

Kageyama simply raised an eyebrow before crossing his arms. “You’re the one that’s always around him. Don’t blame me for pointing it out.”

Tadashi pressed his lips together. “He’ll come.” It was maybe the only solid thing Tadashi knew about Tsukki any more. 

Sure enough, Tsukki appeared a few moments later with a sour expression already locked into place. No one bothered to comment or speak out, lest they feel the wrath of whatever Tsukki had planned for them. 

Usually Tadashi would be the one to get the team in line seeing as he was the only one who could comment on Tsukki’s condition and come out unscathed. But he too feared what Tsukki had in store so he decided against saying anything at all. 

Karasuno walked out together, facing the crowd of thousands as victors in their own right. Tadashi wished he could feel more accomplished about the whole feat, but the weight of everything that came after was jading his happiness. 

When he was handed the large trophy and had the medal looped around his neck, he began to cry. Luckily most of the team was crying too, but they had valid reasons to be shedding tears. Tadashi just hoped that the rest of the world couldn’t actually tell how everything was shattering around him. 

 

---

 

The moment Tadashi steps through the door, he begins unravelling his tie. It’s been choking him all afternoon—all day really—like a snake had slithered its way around his neck and forced all the air out of his system. 

This feeling, like he can never quite catch his breath, is becoming a real issue. There’s always something preventing him from getting the air he needs and Tadashi doesn’t exactly know how much longer he can handle this sort of thing.

Maybe it’s his own fault, though. Perhaps he’d bitten the apple and sanctioned his own retribution. How was he supposed to know that his first indulgence in Tsukishima would lead to his downfall? 

A sin like that, an irreparable, incorrigible sin, wasn’t his fault. 

Or at least that’s what Tadashi keeps telling himself so he can sleep at night. 

Collapsing onto his bed, Tadashi’s encroaching mind begins to think about that boy he’s tried so fruitlessly to ignore. Because even though they’re technically on good terms now, there’s still a certain level of pain associated with the name. 

Tsukishima.

He used to be Tsukki, an awful voice reminds him. He used to be a lot of things, most of which Tadashi fears he’ll become once again. 

That boy, who was the one Tadashi used to yearn for in the night until he knew nothing other than ache. That boy, who Tadashi, even though he’ll never say the words aloud lest they actually become true, wants to become close with again. That boy, who isn’t really a boy any longer; no, he’s a grown man with the capability to undo his past mistakes but no drive to do so.

What Tadashi often forgets though is that Tsukishima is trying. In his own sort of way, of course. He offers rides home and check-ins and lunch. He gives away smiles like they’re free, visible to Tadashi and Tadashi alone. 

What sort of thoughts exist inside Tsukishima’s brain? Do any of them concern Tadashi? Has Tadashi ever lived inside that mind? 

For Tadashi, at least, he spends most of his free thoughts trying to drown out the ones that are of Tsukishima. He tried, desperately tried, to hate Tsukishima. It was mostly during that interim period between Nationals and graduation. Those months had been a certain type of hell where they spoke with no emotion whatsoever. 

It’s a lot easier to hate Tsukishima. At least there, he can tie down an emotion and have a reason to dislike him. The worst times though were the periods where Tadashi didn’t think of him at all. 

But now, he’s slowly, incrementally beginning to like Tsukishima again. They’re friends, at the very least. Most people like their friends. Tadashi can try his best to copy that and exist purely within the platonic. 

Yet the platonic, it seems, isn’t made for them. No, they’ve never really been only platonic at all have they? There are far better words to describe their temperamental relationship and Tadashi fears ‘platonic’ doesn’t begin to describe the chasm left behind in the stead that once contained Tsukishima. 

“Tsukki,” Tadashi whispers, like the word doesn’t hold some terrestrial weight that makes Tadashi’s stomach sink into the floor. 

Even so, the name does succeed in sending little prickling bits of electricity through his entire frame. Tadashi says it again.

“Tsuk-ki.”

It should hurt more to say. Instead, it’s a chant Tadashi’s urging to repeat. 

“Tsukki.”

How many times has Tadashi called him by that name? How many times had Tadash wanted to call him, only to be lost in his own fumbling desires? 

“Tsukki.”

That last one’s a bit breathier. Needier. Nearly a plea. 

Desperation begins to settle in, thick and lustful as Tadashi begins to palm himself over the thick fabric of his work pants. He can’t figure out why he’s craving some sort of relief, especially now at all times. Nevertheless, his hand continues to press against the growing erection and Tadashi finds himself needing more. 

Somewhere deep down in the recess of his mind, Tadashi recognizes this is a horrible idea. And yet he ignores that in favor of satisfying himself now and worrying about the outcome later. Often, this mindset puts him in these sorts of horrible situations in the first place. But this moment isn’t the time to think about the after. The now, the right here as Tadashi can’t take the swelling neglect any longer, is what matters. 

“Tsukki.”

Tadashi hastily releases his belt buckle, sliding down his slacks and briefs all in one slick motion to let his erection come undone in the low light of the bedroom. He begins a lazy pace, not wanting to rush his own pleasures, when the perfect image surfaces in his mind. 

He can nearly see it, but he can definitely feel it: Tsukishima looming over him, glasses off but eyes steady as he leans forward and presses a soft kiss to Tadashi’s forehead. It’s so real. The featherlight kisses on Tadashi’s shoulders, the large hand wrapping around him, the finger swiping over his slit to let the beading precum act as lube. 

“Is this okay?” Tsukishima asks, voice low and rough just like how Tadashi remembers. 

“Yes,” he begs, “Tsukki, yes, please.”

Tsukishima nods before upping the pace, making long gliding motions that Tadashi had taught him how to do long ago. Tadashi lets out an irrepressible moan before he gets the common sense to not bother his neighbors by biting down on his hand. 

The strokes speed up, Tsukishima’s nimble fingers proving to work well for things other than volleyball. Tadashi idly remembers kissing those same fingers not too long ago; oh what he’d give to press his lips against them once more. Really, he’d kiss every surface of Tsukishima’s body once again. It’d been too long since he’d gotten the chance to explore— really explore, taking his time to discover all of the little hidden things about his former best friend that otherwise wouldn’t surface to the light. 

Tsukishima continues to stroke, his own breathing becoming more rapid as the tempo increases. 

“This is still alright?” Tsukishima asks, eyes burrowing into Tadashi. 

He can’t enunciate anything, but Tsukishima still gets the message. He knows Tadashi well, after all. Knows what he likes. Knows that he’ll come with even the simple strokes of a quick hand. So Tsukishima continues to pump and Tadashi continues to edge closer to completion. 

Tsukki, Tsukki, Tsukki. 

As Tadashi nears, he throws his head back into the pillows and bites down even further on his hand as a moan rips from his chest. He swallows it down though as the bliss from satisfaction takes over all of his senses. 

“Tsukki!” Tadashi whimpers between his teeth, and the high finally overcomes him. He barely has enough sense to catch his release into his cupped palm as the vision of Tsukishima fizzles out like the dying embers of a fire. Suddenly he’s gone, leaving Tadashi alone to robotically clean his hands with a tissue. 

When the high from the orgasm finally begins to wind down, the shame settles in like a pair of shackles, binding Tadashi with gripping, intrusive thoughts.

He’s disgusting. 

He’s a filthy, disgusting creature that got off to his friend of all people. The one person he’s not supposed to be thinking about in any sort of romantic or sexual way. Not to mention, Tadashi had a full on fantasy about him. And it felt so real…

Tadashi is a revolting, horrible, loathsome pervert. 

Getting out of bed, he strips out of his work clothes and heads straight for the bathroom. Even the scalding hot water of the shower doesn’t aid in stripping the feeling of grime that’s slowly building all over him. 

Once again, Tadashi has completely and utterly fucked everything up. 

And just when their friendship’s success was on the horizon, Tadashi has plunged himself into the night. Not only has he bitten the apple, he’s burned down the entire garden. The blooming relationship they were growing together was completely destroyed. 

Tadashi scrubs harder, but the thoughts won’t go away. 

He steps out of the shower, even the cold rush of air doing little to shock his system back into processing. Instead, his stomach is churning with unfavorable desires. 

After all, Tadashi is done reverting back to that same teenage horny brain that got him here in the first place. Because even though this isn’t the first time Tadashi has pleased himself with the thought of Tsukishima alone, at least now Tadashi is certain it’ll be the last. 

He wants… he wants… well… he wants more. 

In a futile search to find some comforting clothes, instead Tadashi pulls out Tsukishima’s Frogs shirt from the bottom of his drawer. He’d tucked it deep under his other tees, hoping to never have it see the light of day again. Only now Tadashi’s holding it gingerly in his hands like it’s some sacred object instead of something that should be donated. 

Against his better judgement, Tadashi raises the shirt and presses it against his nose. Tsukishima’s scent is gone though, replaced by Tadashi’s cheap detergent and the smell of his drawers. 

Tadashi shoves the shirt back into the drawer and takes out a pair of sweats. 

He climbs into bed, heart still racing like he’d been running from his own mind. There, he finally breaks down. Shuddering with the full force of his aching chest, he slips into a deep sleep with tears staining his pillowcase and a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

In his dreams, he’s visited by fleeting laughs and easy smiles. Even in his semi-lucid state, Tadashi can’t help but wish for that sort of feeling once again. 

 

---

 

Mid-morning light finally manages to draw Tadashi out of slumber. 

Not the horde of phone calls from Aiko and the office. Not the flurry of text messages questioning where he is and what he’s doing and why he isn’t where he needs to be. 

If Tadashi couldn’t breathe before, now he was truly completely and utterly breathless. 

The awful guilt that had built up the night before itches and claws at him as Tadashi hastily leaps out of bed. He barely has time to regard himself in the mirror, but it’s not like he appreciates what stares back at him. 

Heavy, purple half-moons hang under his eyes, darkening his whole face with a grim expression. Tadashi can barely even recognize the strange man that parallels him. A man that is simply a shell of his former self, someone a young Tadashi would’ve hated with his full heart.

Splashing his face with some water, he attempts to silence the beasts inside his mind in favor of dressing quickly and leaving without any more delays. 

It’s been years since Tadashi exercised, but he’ll be damned if he’s any later than he needs to be, so the moment he’s on the street he breaks out into a run towards the train station. He flies past the other businessmen running late and past the kids attempting to make it to their classes on time. The pedestrians don’t pay him much mind though, even as Tadashi bounds down the steps to the train. 

It’s… freeing. 

Even though the pressure of his tardiness still worries him beyond reason, there’s still some sort of freedom that comes with running. It was never the actual act of exercising that kept Tadashi from being active, rather it’s everything else. He doesn’t particularly like going to the gym, especially knowing that muscled men might be staring him down if he were to use a piece of equipment incorrectly, but working out and getting better with his friends had always been his favorite part of volleyball. Even his individual practices were simply there to allow him to play more with his friends. 

Tadashi had long forgotten how nice it was to just run on his own though. He’s never been the best nor the fastest, but even now as he dashes through the streets of Sendai, he’s slowly being reminded of a time when he felt free about everything in his life. When there wasn’t stress from his job or his relationships. When he could just run and look forward to catching up to a familiar tall figure in front of him. 

At the last moment, Tadashi’s able to squeeze himself into a train. His hard breathing and sweaty forehead is definitely a distraction to the others around him, but Tadashi tries his best to act like they’re not here. 

A strange sort of realization comes back to him though when he thinks about all of those early morning jogs before practice or sprints in the summer heat. 

Tsukishima had never outrun him. He was always a few steps behind. 

Tadashi shakes his head. He must be misremembering. Of course Tsukishima had been ahead. He always was. 

It doesn’t take long for the train to arrive at Tadashi’s stop and once again he’s off running through the streets and towards the Frogs headquarters. 

Inside, the complex is nearly devoid of any life. Tadashi already knows they’re all crammed into that big conference room in the back. Even so, it’s still shocking the way they all turn to him when he enters, out of breath and suit disheveled. 

“Ah, Yamaguchi-kun,” one of his colleagues from the Frogs side acknowledges from the front of the room. “We were just waiting for your arrival.”

“I apologize sincerely for the delay,” Tadashi huffs, throwing himself into a deep bow. “I can take it from here though.”

As he rises, he catches the eyes of Aiko from across the table. Her jaw is set into a deep frown, mimicking her coworkers only to a heightened extent. The entire room seems displeased with Tadashi as he stumbles to get his presentation up on the screen. All of the Frogs sponsors and their marketing teams are here precisely for Tadashi and he’s fucked the whole thing up. Not to mention, even some of the Frogs players are at the end of the room. Among them, Tsukishima is all kinds of ashamed.  

Tadashi flails through the entire presentation, his words jumbled and his eye contact nonexistent. He was supposed to practice last night, but other things made him too panicked to even consider getting his speech together. 

It’s a painful process and Tadashi hurries off to take his seat the moment he’s allowed to as a different presenter takes over. In one fell swoop, he’s completely tarnished his entire career. 

The rest of the meeting is practically unbearable. At the end, he skips the niceties of networking and opts to duck into the hallway to catch his breath. 

“Tadashi!” Aiko calls after him, heels clacking to announce her looming arrival. 

Tadashi stops in his tracks before facing her without a single drop of confidence to back him up. 

“Where were you?” Aiko demands, her voice straining high and pitchy. 

Tadashi begins to pick at the hangnail coming off of his thumb. He’s always been awful about keeping his nails tidy, even when it mattered most like during his third year. He’d watch Kageyama with envy seeing how neat his nails always were. Even Hinata started getting into the habit by the end of their time together. Tsukishima, on the other hand, claimed it didn’t matter each time Tadashi wrapped his jammed fingers. 

Aiko is still glaring at him expectantly. 

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tadashi musters up an answer. “I overslept.”

“Why though?” Aiko questions. 

Because I was too busy getting off to the thought of a friend and panicked when I realized what I was doing.

“I don’t know.”

Aiko sighs. “Tadashi-kun, I’m worried about you,” she admits, running her fingers through her hair. She’s always twirling her fingers. She’s always moving—rocking on her heels, shifting her weight, twisting her lips. She’s a constant force, while Tadashi is ten steps behind still stuck in a useless past with feelings he doesn’t know how to handle. 

“You shouldn’t worry,” Tadashi says unconvincingly. 

“It’s like you’re not even here. You’re off in some other world and I don’t know the best way to reach you. I’m trying to, though. You can see that I’m trying, right?”

“I’m sorry,” is all Tadashi can offer. 

Aiko drops her arms in order to loop herself into an embrace with Tadashi. She’s warm. And she smells nice. And she’s a genuinely kind person.

He sees it all the time. The way Aiko brightens a room and makes friends so easily and acts bubbly and free. He admires it, really… 

Maybe he’s a little jealous, too. 

Although he’d never admit it aloud, there might have been a time when Tadashi had the same effect. He tried not to dwell on it since he was usually just genuinely happy to be around other people, but every once in a while he could catch the glimpse in people’s eyes when he came to greet them. Over time, he’d lost that charm. Now people saw him with pinched expressions and dark circles hanging under his eyes.

He wants to smile and laugh and be kind like Aiko. He wants to have the emotional capacity to worry about others and ask about their days. He wants that sort of kindness that has seemed to elude him in the past few years. 

Aiko pulls away from him, eyes wide and observing. “Please, Tadashi,” she asks, voice low and soft, “let me help.”

“I don’t think you can,” Tadashi admits. 

“What do you need? I can stay here, I can go, I can get whatever you need. Let me inside of that mind of yours.”

Aiko reaches out, gently cupping Tadashi’s chin with her hand. And while the gesture should be warm and sweet, all Tadashi’s mind can scream is don’t touch me. 

“I think I just need some more rest,” Tadashi says. 

Nodding, Aiko removes her hand and pockets it inside her suit jacket. “If you do need anything, you know that I am here for you… right?”

“I know.”

“So you can rely on me,” Aiko urges. “I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone.”

Tadashi is truly a despicable man. 

Because he knows, he knows that Aiko is here for him. That she genuinely wants the best for him. 

But all Tadashi can offer her is a weak smile, a nod, and a latent promise that he doesn’t feel alone when he’s around her. She seems pleased by his lies, so she gives him a quick kiss and heads off to her next meeting. 

Tadashi wants to scream. 

But he doesn’t. No, he winds back through the Frogs complex, hoping to get out before he’s forced to go through any more interventions. Unfortunately though, he’s faced with Tsukishima standing by the doors. He searches around, tapping his foot impatiently until Tadashi comes into his view. 

“What’s going on?” Tsukishima asks, taking long steps to meet Tadashi in the middle. “Are you sick or something?”

Tadashi shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

“Bullshit,” Tsukishima claims. “You’re a terrible liar, you know that right?”

“What do you want me to say?” Tadashi says, exasperated. 

“I want you to tell me what’s wrong. Obviously something happened.” Tsukishima lays a hand on Tadashi’s shoulder. He immediately flinches away from the touch, recoiling his arms near his chest. 

“Don’t touch me,” Tadashi instructs, fearing if the hand lingers too long he’ll become dependent on it. “Please just… don’t.”

Tsukishima presses his lips together. “Tadashi—”

“And don’t call me that,” Tadashi finishes, panic settling in thick. He fucking despises the way Tsukishima can say it so easily. Who gave him the right?

“What the hell happened?” Tsukishima demands.

Shaking his head, Tadashi responds, “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing, huh?” Tsukishima’s exasperated. He lets his arms drop to his sides. “When did you become so temperamental? One moment you’re okay, and the next you’re completely freaking out. It’s not going to get any better if you just keep it all inside.”

Tadashi pauses. “Oh don’t act like you care about me now,” he says, voice low and anguishing the words as they fall out of his mouth. 

Tsukishima should get angry. He should blow up and storm away and never speak to Tadashi again, but he doesn’t. He stays put, stubborn and forthright, as he crosses his arms and stares Tadashi down. 

“I’ve always cared about you,” Tsukishima says, the candor in his voice seeping like a melody. 

To Tadashi though, it’s cacophony. A petty lie that rings through his ears. He doesn’t believe it even though he knows when Tsukishima’s lying. He’ll scrunch his nose and avoid eye contact, but Tsukishima’s eyes hold their firm glare on Tadashi. The rest of his face is relaxed with no indication whatsoever of a lie. 

And yet, Tadashi is certain Tsukishima isn’t telling the truth. There must be a mistake. Why would Tsukishima care about Tadashi? 

So he tells him so. 

“You don’t,” Tadashi insists. 

Tsukishima shakes his head. “I’m not going to fight you on this.”

“What, because you’re still afraid to show effort?” Tadashi bites back, the words leaving his mouth before he can comprehend them. “You don’t care about me. Frankly, you don’t care about anything. And I would really appreciate it if you stopped acting like you did.”

Tsukishima’s fists clench at his side.

Tadashi doesn’t regret things often. But even in just these few passing moments, a whole wave of remorse washes over him. 

Tadashi is rough. 

From the acne scars that line his cheeks and forehead, to the dryness of his lips, to the bumps that never seem to leave the upper parts of his arms. He’s rough in the way he speaks, voice hoarse when he doesn’t want it to be and words often unedited and untrue. His hair is coarse, uneven from the years he’s cut it himself. His hands are strong, with the remnants of calluses that used to show his hard work. 

As he’s aged, he’s only become rougher. It’s the way his shoulders and back expand, a broad sight he’s unfamiliar with but once could proudly show off the number of a captain. It’s the way he stares genuinely and attentively when someone is talking, giving too much of himself and destroying his own life in the process. It’s the way he walks with an unusual step that leads to him tripping over his own feet, more cuts and bruises to add to the raggedness. 

Tadashi is rough. Uncut. Unpolished and jagged. 

But Tsukishima… Tsukishima is smooth. 

From the soft feeling of his skin, to the plumpness of his lips, to the curve of sinew that runs along his neck. He’s soft in the way he addresses Tadashi: with precise words and a sense of restraint, like he too is holding himself back from the world. Tsukishima is smooth in the way he lies; he offers up pretty deceptions to make Tadashi believe that he’s pretty too. 

In the years since they’ve spoken, Tsukishima’s jagged edges and coarse personality have only smoothed out. Perhaps he is also a shell of his former self. Perhaps they’re both too different to even compare to those past versions that used to interact so well. 

Tsukishima is smooth in how he acts and lives and breathes. He’s put together and polished; he has a future waiting for him, an equation that doesn’t include Tadashi. He’ll go off to France and become a big-time volleyball star. He’ll meet some foreign man that will utter sweet nothings into his ears and make love to him just like Tsukishima likes, how Tsukishima learned with Tadashi. He’ll forget about Tadashi though, just like he has over the last few years. And throughout it all, Tsukishima will remain calm and steady.

All of his life, Tadashi has sought after this smoothness. He’s pleaded and cried to the gods above for a life free from the rough hands and rough skin. Oh what he would give to capture even a moment of that sort of beauty. 

But isn’t that ridiculous? Tadashi’s heart and mind are at odds because even though he knows better than to pursue Tsukishima, some sick twisted part of him still yearns for his touch. It’s almost as if the man he remembers, the man that lied to him and wanted him only for a good fuck, didn’t even exist in the first place. 

The man that stands before him, all smooth and sleek, is certainly not the same teenager who said they shouldn’t be friends. How could he be?

Or has Tadashi simply lied to himself all this time? Has he simply battered and torn apart this perfect image of Tsukishima in order to not fall hard and fall fast once again?

Because even though the Tsukki that Tadashi recalls is mean and harsh and spiteful and callous, the truth is that his edges have never been that sharp. But somehow he exists in Tadashi’s mind as some villain. It’s easy to blame him for all of Tadashi’s own wrongdoings. It’s easy to pin him as the issue. 

But… Tsukki isn’t all that bad, is he? 

Apparently… somehow… he even cares about Tadashi. 

It’s not enough though. There’s still so much that Tsukishima must make up for; a whole lifetime of memories to correct. 

Even so, Tadashi can feel his hand reaching out as this yearning pulls his chest taut. He can’t hold on though, he can only grasp for thin air. 

Run after me, Tadashi’s mind begs. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you care. 

But Tsukishima doesn’t. No, he simply pushes past Tadashi and goes on with his day.

Tadashi leaves without anything to keep him there longer.