A young Bokuto runs towards the greens, momentarily straying from his sisters, who have been given the begrudging task of keeping an eye on him, to chase after his volleyball, tumbling fast and forward despite his calls.
No force or the crackle of leaves can stop its journey inwards, towards the bushes and shrubs of the park; Bokuto has to exert his little legs to keep up, his chest does somersaults.
It is there he first sees them. Two young men, hands intertwined, standing so close, much closer than normal friends do, Bokuto knows.
The shorter man tugs his companion forward, their noses bump in a clash that must be painful, but only laughter follows. Bokuto would think to question this but suddenly they are kissing, right here, in between the trees in their neighborhood park.
He's unable to look away.
It's as though the roots of the ground have sprung upwards and claimed his ankles as their own. His volleyball has settled in a patch beside them; his mother had taught him that it was rude to stare.
But somehow, privy to a moment not his own, Bokuto feels his heart buzz. Peculiarly, distinctly; he does not recognize this clamor.
Eyes peek then immediately widen, breaking away from his partner, the taller boy takes a step back. The shorter boy is stunned, then he turns and sees their intruder.
"Hey kid, what's your problem?"
Bokuto knows this tone, it's the tone of the grumpy grandpa who runs the shop downtown and is convinced that he comes to steal candy, (Bokuto would never.) It's the tone of the older kids in his volleyball class, miffed and mocking, when his jump fails to reach over the net.
It's the same tone but there's a shudder, an uncertainty. Bokuto is undoubtedly scared of inciting the ire of strangers but his heart knows, there is a fear in them too.
"Hey now," the taller boy mumbles, "we shouldn't be here anyways."
His companion redirects his gaze, there's an instantaneous change of emotion- sadness and betrayal. He is triggered by the resignation in his tone, the unsaid defeat in his words; Bokuto is too young to fully understand why.
He should just apologize, scurry away to claim his volleyball and escape the scene; but he's still in shock. Seconds ago, he had not known that boys were allowed to hold hands in that way, much less kiss like mommies and daddies do.
Seconds later, he's learnt of the consequences.
"This is stupid anyways," the taller boy says, "leave the kid alone and let's get out of here." He does not wait for his friend to follow, the leaves crinkle with heavy footsteps.
Guilt rises in his chest, sour and sticky, Bokuto feels this overflow. His small palms clutch the edge of his shirt, willing to keep this foreign feeling contained. He's scared.
The shorter boy briefly glances at him, there is a tingle of resignation. When Bokuto is much older, he'll learn that it is not him, but something much more forbidding, that has caused this. Then, the boy stumps his foot and kicks the leaves where the impact lands.
"Dammit," he grits, "we weren't even doing anything wrong."
Bokuto opens his mouth to agree, or to say anything really. You aren't the bad one, I was the one being naughty, he wants to offer, but between the guilt in his chest and the scene that had just imploded, his child-self does not know what to apologize for.
The boy runs away in the opposite direction.
Bokuto remains, feet stuck in place, with the knowledge that he may have ruined something so seemingly sweet.
It was an accident, he swears!
It's moments later, when the sun has nearly set, and his ball remains tucked firmly in the ground, that he is found.
"Koutarou!" his sister calls, "how could you run away like that, mom is gonna be so angry-"
With a thump, he latches onto nee-san's waist, head securely on her chest, he tries to make the buzzing stop.
"Kou-chan," she whispers harshly, "don't think this is over yet, you can't just-"
"Nee-san..." he shudders, "I am so sad," at his little heart's limit, he starts to cry, and cry, and cry. Both girls rush to appease him, asking for reasons and sprouting concerns; he can do nothing but sob.
One sister locates his ball, the older carries him home.
It's right before he leaves for Nagoya, freshly signed with his first professional team, when Bokuto receives the notebook.
InterHigh is drawing closer, so he knows that he should be grateful that captain Akaashi Keiji is taking the time to assist him in the fastidious task of sorting through his socks.
Whites with whites, as long as they came in the same color, it was no different to him, but Akaashi insisted that they should be reunited with their pairs.
"What would you feel," he tells him slowly, "if you had to be separated from your partner just because of another's carelessness."
Bokuto would like to tell him that socks don't come with feelings, but he starts to consider the possibility. A pair is stitched together from the same cloth, packaged and shipped to endure days of uncertainty, until they are bought and worn to fulfill their purpose. Surely two halves would be incomplete without the other; Bokuto suddenly feels really guilty.
He does not remember the last time he made the conscious effort to match his socks, have they been sad all this time- has his mindlessness caused any untoward grief?
"There, all better," Akaashi calls to him, "you have twenty-three pairs of socks- a dozen whites, five blacks, three greys, and another three of assorted colors and patterns, but-" he turns to him.
"I found these two," he dangles a rusted yellow sock on one hand, and a smaller white sock, on the other, "they seem to be permanently missing their match."
Bokuto does not keep track of his footwear, would not know that the former was lost during a training camp two summers ago, and the latter is a remnant of middle school and should have been disposed of long ago. He feels remorseful just the same.
"I-I don't know why," his shoulders start to slump, "it's probably because it's really messy in here, maybe I should check my other cabinet or underneath my bed." To this, Akaashi raises an eyebrow.
"Bokuto-san," he punctuates, "we can simply discard them if they are of no use to you." You have twenty-three other pairs and only two feet, he wants to add, but Akaashi is attuned to the fluctuations in Bokuto's moods; he knows that this he has deemed as important.
A strong shake, "No, Akaashi," he grabs the pair, "I think they should go together, yea? So that they won't be lonely." He folds them into the other, out comes a misshapen ball.
Akaashi's ears tingle red at being indirectly acknowledged, "I agree."
The packing continues, just enough clothes to support Bokuto's new life dedicated to sport. There's no room for sadness or nostalgia, between Akaashi preparing for college and Bokuto looking to sink his teeth into the professional league, time can only move forward.
Akaashi fits socks in between stacks of clothes, does not waste any space in between. Essentials are accounted for, volleyball gear in place, he's ready to send him off.
Theoretically, Bokuto knows that he should be able to pack his own luggage, but there's something endearing about having Akaashi's undivided attention for the last time.
Years later, once Bokuto fully understands the depths of his setter's feelings, he would marvel at the courage it took to let him go. If there had been any hesitation, any inkling of something more, he would have willingly missed his train.
"I have a parting gift," the younger man reaches for his bag. Bokuto instantly buzzes in his seat, a hundred possibilities come to mind- a new volleyball perhaps, or the game that has just come out, or something undoubtedly sentimental. All of which, he would maybe trade for a kiss.
Akaashi's fingers peek into his backpack, searching slowly, it frazzles Bokuto's excitement. But Akaashi’s face remains passive, if he's aware of the older man's anticipation, he lets him simmer.
"I knew you'd miss me," he beams, scooting forward to claim his personal space, "what gift have you gotten your favorite ace."
No reaction, but the proximity is allowed, "hush you." Hands pause in their search, Akaashi takes a deep breath, "Here."
He hands him a dark blue composition notebook, thoroughly used and labeled, the edges showing only the slightest signs of wear. The holder of knowledge and secrets, Bokuto has seen this many times.
"Agkaaashi..." he whines, "I thought you were getting me something cool. What kind of parting gift is this."
He's never actually seen its contents but everyone on the team was privy to its existence. This is Akaashi's official record of Bokuto Koutarou's many weaknesses.
"I am giving this to you," Akaashi scrunches his nose, "because I'll no longer be playing games by your side. It's imperative that you are prepared for any occasion."
Bokuto whines more, this is bullying, he claims. It's not nice to remind people of how many times they've messed up. But Akaashi remains patient, willing to brave the tantrum to make his point.
Bokuto appreciates the sentiment, but his hopes of sentimentality deflate. He does not wish to know how much of a foil he is in Akaashi's perspective. What faults and weaknesses are perceived of him, and how unworthy he would be of hypothetical kisses.
His tantrum subsides when he notices Akaashi intertwine his fingers, a fidget to indicate his discomfort. Although he remains steady in his pursuit, Bokuto becomes aware of the underlying vulnerability in the air. Why- he's not entirely sure.
What he knows is that he would never want Akaashi to feel discomfort over anything he has control over, so he accepts the gift.
"Thanks 'Kaashi," he smiles, and the setter smiles back at him. He swallows his I miss yous, and, see you laters; Bokuto doesn't want their last moments to be riddled with sadness.
The notebook is placed on top of his clothes and makes its way to Nagoya.
He tells Akaashi to meet him at the temple.
Heavens had granted its blessing in the form of sunshine and warm weather. Its favored children, Bokuto's eldest sister and her husband-to-be, on the day of their union.
Nee-san, adorned in white, to be married to her childhood best friend, a soothing soul to compliment her kindred spirit.
Bokuto had grown up watching their gentle courtship, from flowers delivered to their door, to a seat in family dinners. He had seen how unexpected sentiments had left his stern sister flustered and giddy. She had never once looked embarrassed to hold her partner's hand in public, and this told a young Bokuto a myriad of things.
The introduction had happened in the morning, a simple tea ceremony between the bride's and groom's families to celebrate their unity; followed by prayers and offerings. A glimpse of tradition, open only to immediate family, before the more modern ceremony in the hotel.
But still, he asks him to come.
Akaashi arrives from university, forgoing his afternoon classes to accompany Bokuto, whose heart hums in delight.
"Let's make a wish," he beckons him forward, towards the stalls to purchase an Ema for each of them.
"Have you not made your wishes already," Akaashi asks, noting the contrast between his own casual attire and Bokuto's formal kimono. "It's only proper that we wish a long and happy marriage for your sister and her husband."
"We did that already," Bokuto waves his hand, "the whole ceremony of abundant babies and fortunes. I prayed extra for aniki's never ending patience when dealing with nee-san's grumpiness." He leads them towards the temple's side, where rows of Ema are hung, enclosing the whole space in light brown.
"This is for us," he explains, procuring two markers, "we never get to visit any temples together, so now should be a good time to make a wish."
Akaashi accepts the marker but looks unsure, juggling the weight of the wooden board and the printed horse staring at him. "Are you sure this is proper, today is supposedly your sister's day."
Bokuto unscrews the cap, "It'll only take a few minutes, Ji," he reassures, his family had left for the venue a while ago; they'll be expecting them much later. He turns his board and starts to write.
Akaashi can only sigh and follow suit. He had not been expecting the detour, but should come to anticipate his boyfriend's impulsiveness by now. As for wants, right now, one thing in particular stands out.
"Let's reveal them together," Bokuto chirps, clutching his Ema to his chest, "maybe we'll have the same wishes."
Akaashi smiles, the athlete counts one till three, with a nod, both reveal their boards.
Acceptance into the MSBY Black Jackals.
More yakiniku dates with Akaashi.
They stare at each other.
"What Ji, are you the one trying out for the team?"
"Obviously not, I wrote this in your perspective, that should be self-explanatory."
Bokuto gestures to his board, "this wish was supposed to be for you, tryouts have already happened and it'll be ages before we know the results."
Akaashi pinches the bridge of his nose, "You asked me what I wanted and I answered, being accepted into this team will do wonders for your career."
"That's not the point," Bokuto raises his voice, then nervously looks to see if he's disturbed any other temple visitors, "this was supposed to be about us."
"And it is," Akaashi looks at him questioningly, "are you really arguing that yours is any better?"
"In this context, yes," Bokuto feels the frustration well inside of him, how can Akaashi be so irritatingly selfless? On one hand, Bokuto can only blossom at being so thoroughly cared for, but on the other hand-
"You can want things too, you know," he challenges, with a seriousness that causes Akaashi to pause. "There's nothing wrong with wanting. Between us and the gods, we can ask for anything."
The birds chirp to accompany the serene atmosphere, not a cloud in sight. A content hum embraces the temple with a promised illusion of relief. Today, heavens shine for another couple, Akaashi remembers.
A sigh, "You know we can't." He hangs his Ema on top of a bunch of other wishes, he wonders how many have fallen onto deaf ears.
Bokuto stares at his frivolous desire, a joke compared to the gravity of what Akaashi had asked for, selfish in the face of what he is given.
Is it wrong, he thinks, to want to have more time with you. He goes to hang his Ema next to Akaashi's.
"We can have yakiniku before you go back," Akaashi whispers, an attempt to break through the tension. Somber in the face of human desires, they allow themselves a moment to bask in the light.
We can ask for anything, Bokuto tells himself, and a part of him acknowledges his inner hypocrite, because if he truly believed this, he would have been more honest with his desires.
He glances at his companion, fingers already entangled in a haze of conflicts, and takes a moment to want.
It's not impossible but it feels damn close.
Bokuto's new team functions under a hierarchical system, athletes enduring years on the bench for the slightest taste of starting in an official match; they don't take to new players lightly.
Everyone trains for themselves, there's no extra practice unless something is to be gained. No running with each other, only against the other; halfhearted compliments on successful plays. Certainly, no asking for anyone's one-hundred and twenty percent.
But Bokuto already knows he's been spoiled in that regard.
Today is one of Bokuto's many days in Nagoya. The team is practicing serves now and he picks a ball and gets into position. One arm extended, another positioned to hit; he takes a deep breath.
Beside him, another athlete knocks his elbow causing the ball to escape his grasp; no apologies are exchanged. Bokuto takes another breath and endures.
It's nasty and tasteless, so far from the volleyball he knows to be fun. Solidarity neither exists on or off the court, he finds himself frequently alone with his thoughts. And oh, are they loud.
Nevermind, he'll find another ball. It's no problem.
His mind reminds him that he's not normal. That he's been trying and failing to get some semblance of task focus in his life.
He remembers their discussion, Akaashi dismantling the other side of their school's banner to emphasize the importance of directing one's energy towards each individual play. When every step matters, lingering emotions of disappointment and failure take a step back to allow the mind to move forward.
It's easy to understand in theory, Akaashi had even revealed his own vulnerabilities, briefly laying himself bare. The toxicity of self-doubt, the crippling fear of not reaching expectations, loud and suffocating even in the middle of the busiest matches. It's no surprise that Akaashi understood him well.
And Bokuto had absorbed this lesson with an open heart, he did make a commitment after all. Fearlessly, in front of his team, up until they achieved silver, and more fervently, after his companions had officially retired. The toils of his teammates' care will not be wasted, he'll do his best to dignify their sacrifice.
He finds another ball, but an older player catches his gaze with a look. Wordlessly, he surrenders the item.
But it's days like these where Bokuto wonders if it's all for naught, if he's meant to fade into the backend and spend his days on the bench.
He's been getting better at concealing his emotions, keeping his back straight even when his muscles yearn to curl in self-doubt. Training his mouth to stay shut to prevent his countless concerns from escaping- the lights are too bright, coach has been mispronouncing a teammate's name, hand signals are too abrupt. Frivolous things that he knows no one else cares about.
But he does, deeply.
It shouldn't take this long to find another ball, Bokuto needs to move faster, be more alert. People could be watching, taking note of his movements; he should know better.
Unfortunately, hiding these feelings doesn't make them go away. He would stop them if he could, instruct his mind to keep quiet, will his nerves to detach from whatever has caught his interest.
He finds one, at last. The serve goes through and stays inbounds. Now, to find another.
A normal ace, his feeble wish starts to mock him. Is it arrogance or naivety that keeps him working towards both?
Why is he thinking about this now, Bokuto shakes his head. He should be focusing, there are things he has to do. He needs another ball.
One is within reach, but someone gets to it first. It's not their fault, Bokuto was just too slow.
Being endowed with the label of having great potential out of high school is a scam. The glory of being on the list, being one of the greatest, but not the greatest, amounts to nothing past the moment itself.
Bokuto briefly wonders if he'll ever, truly, be an ace again.
What use were his proclamations if he never makes it past the bench, if he fades into obscurity before being known in the slightest. He'd waste his former team's honor, make a mockery of their trust in him.
But had he even earned that, Bokuto doesn't remember, the buzzing is too loud.
This time, it is he who bumps into a fellow rookie, the collision isn't as nasty as the look that gets thrown at him. Bokuto is too stunned to apologize.
Task focus, he chants, he can't let himself be distracted.
But he's already failed, has he not? When had his thoughts start to escape him, why is his chest so uncomfortable- it's heavy, sticky. He should be looking for another ball, it's time to be normal.
A ball rolls towards him, he takes his chance. Three steps backwards, a toss, he runs forward.
The whistle blows, practice is over.
The volleyball unceremoniously meets the floor and rolls away towards obscurity. Rookies are assigned to cleanup so he's made to chase his escapee, forward, always an arm's length away from his grasp.
The rest of the team huddles towards their coach, they'd need to move twice as fast to make it. But Bokuto limbs don't feel like his own, his head is clouded, there's a ringing in his ear.
His fingertips might be coated with butter, maybe that's why the ball tumbles away from his hold. He has two underneath his arms now, and reaching for a third, and then a forth.
Bokuto doesn't remember how the training ended or when cleanup concluded. He's sure he hadn't made it to the final huddle, or if he did, there had just been too much noise to pay attention.
He doesn't put a label to his emo mood, apart from the friendly term Fukurodani used to call the times he got like this. It simply just happened, it was no one's duty to delve into its implications.
Except, maybe, his own.
But there's a fear of knowing, of finally acknowledging what has been demanding his attention since childhood. To stop blaming circumstances and crafting reasons around what constitutes as normal. How could Bokuto ever hope to be an ace if he can't be fully honest with himself?
Training has ended, he should stay behind for extra practice, it's an ingrained routine within him. But he's not in particularly good terms with any of the team's setters, and he knows his fellow rookies will take his offer as offense.
He could, perhaps, continue practicing serves. But his last one was less than remarkable, and it irks him just enough that he doesn't want to try again.
Oh god, what if he's forgotten how to serve. What kind of pro-volleyball player doesn't know how to serve?
Calm down, he tells himself, and he tries to imagine this in another voice, deeper, like velvet. He misses home so much.
But now is not the time, it's never the time. Akaashi is busy and Bokuto has no business reporting bad news. It'll just make him worry, Bokuto can already see his fingers intertwine.
He shakes his head and wills the noise to stop. It's too much, task focus, make it stop.
It's not impossible but it's incredibly, unbelievably, hard.
If Bokuto camps underneath his desk in the corner of his dorm room, no one needs to know.
Nee-san chooses a western ceremony without the theatrics, not uncommon for this generation.
But Bokuto silently judges her decision, pictures of their parents' own traditional ceremony hang on their living room walls. He's grown up enraptured by their serene display of romance.
But seeing his nee-san absolutely glowing in her white ball gown dress, he supposes he can't fault her desires. He's traded his kimono for a suit, Akaashi had changed too in their hotel room.
Subsequent room had two single beds; Bokuto tries not to linger on the fact.
His mother and other sister, the maid of honor, fawn over placing the veil, he's technically part of the groom's party, but his priority is seeing her at full bloom.
Nee-san has tears in her eyes before the ceremony begins, as she grasps his arm and kisses his cheek.
"Make sure he doesn't run away for me, Kou-chan."
She laughs, Bokuto does too and he bids her farewell.
The next time he sees her, he's standing by the altar beside the groom.
Akaashi has a seat alongside unnamed cousins, but they are a clan of white hair and black streaks, so the setting feels familiar. They curiously welcome him into their group, inquiring on his relation to the bride.
"The bride's brother," he says, and introduces himself as a best friend; they accept this readily.
It would be unwise to cause a scene, he tells himself, but a part of him feels like he's betrayed Bokuto's honor.
The next time he sees him, he's surrounded by flowers.
The groom's nieces make a mess of the aisle, their flower-throwing enthusiasm is noted, but their skill is grossly lacking; the crowd laughs nonetheless.
The ring is held by a toddler, barely capable of walking, in fact, he is carried halfway through the march, but he surrenders the ring readily which makes Bokuto's job easier. At first, he doesn't see Akaashi's fond gaze.
He holds the rings against his palm, the weight of a promise, an incomprehensible forever. When he looks up, he finally meets Akaashi's stare.
It's customary to turn around when the bride enters the venue, when a distinct tune is played and the audience rises to welcome her entry. That's exactly what Akaashi does, it's hard not to, when she's grace and beauty incarnated.
Silver hair in curls, black streaks framing her face, lace and sparkles wrapped around her in a delicate way. For a moment, he's just like the rest of them, in complete awe.
But the resemblance is uncanny, and his thoughts drift towards his partner. Like magnets, he turns back towards the altar and misses her descent. It doesn't matter, a distinct gold meets his blue and suddenly, they're the only two people there.
Bokuto is fully prepared for tears, from his parents, who will be saying abstract goodbyes to their eldest today. From the younger sister, who will be watching her best friend fulfill fairytale childhood fantasies. From the couple, for obvious reasons, and himself; he's never been afraid of honest emotion.
But he's not prepared for the tears that cloud Akaashi's eyes when the crowd starts to fade and suddenly his field of vision is clear.
Bokuto doesn't notice when his cheeks catch tears of his own, when he unconsciously steps forward and angles his body towards where Akaashi stands. No one notices his distraction, Bokuto doesn't even smile, but he bites his lip to keep his tremble and the restraint speaks volumes.
The wedding march continues to play, his sister is almost at the front; Bokuto's wishes are suddenly so loud.
Do you ever think about the wedding we'll never have, Akaashi wants to ask, do you ever think about what you've given up? His chest is heavy with yearning, it's a selfish feeling to have in someone else's wedding.
But he's only human.
If Bokuto were to hear his thoughts, a telepathic message from across the hall, he'd answer no. I don't think about what we won't have, how can I, when you give me the most.
But Akaashi doesn't know this; all he's aware of is his own envy and bittersweet resignation. If he had another Ema for his wishes, he'd write this in capital letters.
Bokuto continues to look at him as the couple exchanges vows. He doesn't wonder what he would say if this were his wedding; if he starts now, his thoughts may not stop running.
Akaashi's mind writes poetry as they speak, tumbling, twisting, until the words escape him.
Their gaze only breaks when the bride and groom finally have their first kiss as an official married couple. The crowd cheers at their union, flower petals are released into the air.
A ceremony, traditional or not, Bokuto tells the heavens he'd be grateful for any.
The first place Bokuto seeks help in is Google.
A feeble search of how to deal with moods brings him a myriad of wellness pages that try to sell him essential oils and online yoga plans. He's not about to allow mid-aged suburban mothers to dictate his life.
Some searches are a bit more helpful, if you consider being told the obvious an improvement.
There's the consistent advice of keeping a healthy lifestyle, incorporating greens into one's diet and an hour of daily exercise. There are breathing patterns, short inhales paired with longer exhales. The use of music, movement, creativity.
They should have just told him to be happy, Bokuto wrinkles his nose. The road to happiness is happiness itself, thank you google.
Bokuto chances on public forums, people of all walks of life sharing their daily woes. One person had dropped out of high school due to distractions; another had broken up with their partner. It's mildly depressing and does nothing to appease his anxieties.
It's easy to spiral into a web of links, stories, and reasons, Bokuto absorbs it all with a curious mortification, wondering where the lines of fact and fiction start to blur. The buzzing gets louder, he shuts his eyes.
His hands had moved unconsciously towards his phone, he hadn't even checked what hour it was. It had only taken a couple of buzzes before Akaashi picked up, shame builds underneath Bokuto's skin.
"Bokuto-san," comes his static reply, a beacon mile away, "how are you feeling?"
At once, Bokuto wishes to end the call and claim that it was a slip of hand; he had been doing so well in resisting the urge to seek help. It was an unspoken promise to only call home to declare good news, so months have passed without any real contact.
"Akaashi," he says again, just because he can; it comes off like a whimper, and the next wave of shame feels like nausea.
There is a pause, Bokuto can barely hear Akaashi shift his position, a slight creak in his bed, and a flick of lights. He undoubtedly disrupted his rest, and Akaashi is too kind to tell him off, he should do him a favor and end the call-
"The yakiniku place you favor," velvet comes back, "the one near the corner store on the way home, it has a new curry flavor."
Home drifts into Bokuto's consciousness, how long had it been since he had walked that path. And how charming it was that despite his absence, Akaashi still referred to this as theirs.
"It's meat dipped in their spicy curry," comes his lame explanation, and Bokuto almost laughs at his shyness. "I haven't tried it out myself, been much too busy."
"But I wanted," in comes the honesty, "to maybe go there with you, once we won nationals." But we didn't, comes unspoken.
Bokuto's heart swells, "Akaashi, you did great. We have plenty of reasons to celebrate, you should have told me about this sooner."
There is a pause, and then, "You too, Bokuto-san."
And then he is caught, quiet elegantly, in his trap. It is a gentle callout to his hypocrisy and one that came with admission, they were both guilty of keeping concerns unspoken. Leave it to Akaashi to transition into the topic with tact.
So he chuckles to fill the silence, to steal a few seconds to quell his uncertainties. Akaashi waits patiently.
"I've been having a hard time adjusting," and there it is, finally spoken out loud. "I've been trying to keep my emotions controlled, just like what we talked about before I left, but I am not doing so well."
Bokuto stares at Akaashi's name from his phone screen, a cold substitute of the real person. He's too embarrassed to do anything to remedy the distance, not at his state.
"That is alright Bokuto-san," Akaashi answers, "Thank you for telling me, I know that was quite hard for you to do and very brave."
Bokuto has taken to sitting inside his closet, the two walls pressed against his sides give him a space to crouch into. He isn't the epitome of bravery at the moment, but a part of him knows that Akaashi would still say the same thing even if he saw his current state.
"There's one more thing, 'Kaashi," he squeezes his eyes shut, "I've been thinking of maybe, seeing one of the team's counselors."
Tears escape his eyelids and he lets out a muffled sob, foolishly hoping that the static will mask his pain. "It's kinda embarrassing that they've noticed I wasn't performing so well, so they offered, and it's taken me a long time to give them a reply."
"I wanted to be cool, you 'know? Deal with my problems on my own, and I really tried to, but it's not working out," Bokuto drapes his palm over his eyes, "I guess I am just feeling really lame."
This time Bokuto hears him reposition, to sit upright and grip his phone with both hands. Akaashi takes a deep breath, clear across the static.
"Bokuto-san, at times, I wish you could see yourself the way I see you."
Bokuto's eyes widen at the unexpected sentiment, he clutches the phone closer. "You give yourself wholly to the things you love, you're passionate and bright, unwavering in the face of conflict. We've conquered so much as a team because of your leadership, none of which is by chance."
"Nothing you do could ever deem yourself as lame, at least not to me."
"Akaashi," Bokuto whines, a stream down his cheeks, "I don't think you'd say that if you knew how bad it has been-"
"And why would that matter to me," he cuts through, Akaashi clenches his fist. "You've been thinking of getting help, what's the shame in that, Bokuto-san?"
The tingling under Bokuto's skin, a forbaring inch that makes itself known during his most vulnerable. He closes his eyes and meets this unrest.
"I am just scared, 'Kaashi, what if I am no good," Bokuto mumbles so softly. "What if this thing in me can't be fixed and it stops me from playing volleyball. I just don't know what to feel."
He can almost picture Akaashi, stoic in his care, masking his concerns with logic. "I think you should be kinder to yourself, Bokuto-san."
The buzzing in his heart responds, "You need to give yourself the chance to succeed, it might be scary, but," and he exhales, heart in the open.
"You're stronger than that. To me, you've always been a star."
Bokuto is rendered speechless, unable to counter how his heart sings at Akaashi's words. There is a cacophony of conflicting feelings in him, sounds of dread, loneliness, and hope.
It is not Akaashi's job to fix him wholly, not when he's already delivered more honesty than expected. But this, Bokuto can honor- a glimpse of something that may be reciprocated.
"Thank you Akaashi," he mumbles, absolutely fond, "you're my best friend."
Akaashi answers back quickly to confirm that the feeling is mutual. They are both blushing, but neither know this right now, this will remain a discovery for another day.
"Tell me when entrance exam season begins, I wanna wish you luck when it happens- although you definitely don't need it."
Akaashi bites back a smile, "call me after tomorrow's training session, you can tell me about the technique you've been practicing."
Bokuto laughs, and soon, static matches his glee. It's completely unprompted and just a bit silly, but he figures that there's no shame in salvaging a bit of good in the bad.
There's no shame in seeking comfort, really.
After the ceremony, the newly joined family takes about a dozen pictures before Bokuto is freed from their grasp.
He encounters Akaashi purely on accident, while taking a side route to avoid the guests; the younger man had stepped out for some air.
"Bokuto-san," he calls.
"No," he moves closer, "Koutarou, there are too many Bokuto-sans to count here."
He raises an eyebrow and dares him to protest; the act is quite cute so Akaashi indulges.
"Kou-ta-rou," Akaashi recites, testing the word on his tongue, as expected, his ears turn a shade of red.
Quite the innocent reaction from someone who was just eyeing vows to him from across the aisle. The heightened awareness of the depths of their feelings juxtaposed by the grandness of the very thing they could never have.
The revelation of forever between them is as momentous as it is quiet. Bokuto is a man of action, so he steps forward into his space.
Akaashi's eyes widen before he is overtaken. Their mouths meet, slow and gentle, Bokuto relishes the moment before logic takes control.
It takes three seconds for Akaashi to take a step back, a quick look from side to side, before he deems them safe. "Don't stand too close, somebody could see."
Bokuto shrugs his shoulders, already knowing that this will aggravate his companion. Had their relationship not shifted with an insurmountable gravity just moments ago, he would be miffed at the denial. But he knows that Akaashi means well despite his stubbornness, it's something he's learned to endure.
"I want to," he challenges, "it's okay if they see, it would save us a lot of explaining."
Akaashi clicks his tongue and wills his utmost patience for the sake of maintaining the sanctity of the event.
"There'll be other days for that," Akaashi reassures, his own olive branch. And before Bokuto can retort, it is Akaashi who takes a step forward to tug at his tie.
Bokuto instantly stills when long hands fix the base, tugging slowly at the knot to keep secure. His hands linger for far too long, a small apology for the necessary distance.
Bokuto can only accept, it's neither their fault that shadows are necessary.
"Not everyone in my family is kind, Ji," Bokuto warns, already anticipating the whispers he'll be subjected to.
"I don't mind," Akaashi reassures, and his palm briefly rests on his heart to feign final adjustments before it is released.
Bokuto wants nothing more than to walk into the ballroom by his side. (Perhaps another day.)
By grace, the counselor is quite a warm individual.
The smiley stickers on the door are a bit of an overkill and Bokuto is almost sure that the potted plant he had caught her watering a few times is indeed a fake. But for all intent and purposes, he's comfortable.
It isn't difficult to open up, Bokuto knows the role he plays in people's lives. He's there to instigate laughter, make jokes and be joked at. Giving people a good time is one of his specialties.
But these talks are different, not exactly serious, but deeply introspective. What started from getting to know you branched into discussions on career, family, and his overall satisfaction with life.
Slowly, Bokuto learns to take a few seconds before he answers, to ponder through his feelings earnestly to offer his utmost honesty. What comes out of these sessions are a surprise to him, not because he finds answers, but because of the depth of which is asked of him.
Questions no one has dared ask before, because Bokuto knows that this character is not expected of him. He is the silly man, the moody man, but just like any man, he has his rhymes and reasons. Coming to terms with that breathes new life into his system, so a few sessions in, they finally tackle the elephant in the room.
"Do you know who you are, Bokuto-kun?" his counselor asks, a voice like chimes just barely grazing the wind.
A few weeks ago, he would have made a joke and introduced himself. Hello, I am Bokuto Koutarou, now you know me, and let be. Today, he sits straighter in his seat and swallows his discomfort.
"I guess I do, I know what I like and don't like, and the the things that make me happy and sad, but I am not really sure if that's enough," he offers meekly, and he's grateful that she doesn't write this down on a clipboard like how therapists in the movies do; instead, she offers a smile.
"It's good that you know that your hesitation is valid, this isn't something young folk such as yourself get asked everyday," Bokuto nods back at her.
"Is it important that I know?" he asks, "It seems like it'd be easier to fix me if I knew what was going on right? Then I could just find the problem and solve it."
His eyes catch the light green bundle on the table, currently witnessing his increased fidgeting. He's even more sure that it's fake now and that maybe his counselor just had a weird sense of humor.
"You're both right and wrong Bokuto-kun," she offers, palms open in an inviting demeanor, "It is important to know who you are to an extent, to understand yourself and set boundaries, it makes the process easier."
Bokuto nods. "But you'll never truly know, you are constantly growing as a person, and part of the intricacies of being human is a continuously evolving sense of self."
Intricacies is a cool word, Bokuto notes, perhaps he could use this in a sentence next time. The other stuff she had said were cool too, he keeps this knowledge in his heart.
"You don't need to be fixed, you need to be understood- by yourself, first and foremost, before you can truly be your final form in front of others," his counselor doesn't twindle with her pen nor avert her gaze when speaking, complete focus- he's learning slowly.
"And the first step in understanding yourself is taking the time to really ponder on what incites your feelings. You've told me about your mood swings and difficult days, did you ever stop and ask why?" Wind chimes sound again, and it's gentle despite the implications.
Bokuto does know why, there are too many reasons to count. Small insignificant things that pile together to create a blur of noise, triggered by the tiniest off-key tune.
"I don't know, not really."
Maybe he's been conditioned to paint all these things into one shade, to label everything as silly, and compartmentalize these emotions as just something that happened. Maybe, despite crossing the boundary into adulthood, Bokuto didn't know why.
"That's alright, you have time."
She pulls out a paper, it has flowers on the edges, and her tool of use is a green pen, Bokuto supposes that she likes to breed comfort in the littlest things and the care is noted.
"You'll have to work on yourself to improve and start making deliberate choices to get better," she starts to curate instructions, "don't think of this as hard labor, think of this as a time of self-discovery."
Bokuto nods once again and tries to peek through her list. Time would prove it futile to try to accomplish every little thing, but it'll be the act of trying that will lead him one step closer to better days.
"You're strong Bokuto-kun, the strength you display on court will translate to a heart capable of growing," she reassures, and the gentleness of her smile reminds him of velvet. "You have a lot of people who love you and are cheering you on, and you do well with cheers don't you?" And her tone is teasing, inviting, so he raises his chest and goes-
"Hey hey hey," Bokuto pumps his fists forward, "things will definitely be okay!" And they all laugh, Bokuto, the counselor, and the plastic plant.
It isn't okay for quite awhile, but that turns out to be alright too.
The cake is three tiers tall, a different flavor on each level, and the most interesting thing in Akaashi's peripheral.
That, and the fact that Bokuto had long left the table to assist in the program alongside his sister, leaving him to fend against family gossip.
"Our engineer got her fairytale wedding, some people just have it all," one cousin swoons, the first taste of liquor on her tongue.
"And with her childhood friend too," another laments, nursing her third glass despite her minor status, "plus I heard he's rich."
Both girls giggle and Akaashi closes his eyes in frustration. The bottom layer is definitely chocolate and he hopes that one of the perks of secretly dating the bride's brother is getting to try a piece.
"He's rich-rich," another cousin, male, interjects, "mom was talking about how impressive it was that she got a man like that to settle," more laughter follows.
Akaashi knows that family rivalries were more common in bigger clans, the nature of backhanded comments and the need to compare status and fortunes.
"Meanwhile her sister just finished med school, been single since birth," someone chirps, and waiters come to change their plates. Akaashi tries to focus on his salmon.
"You're one to talk, you failed out of nursing school," an irritating squak, followed by another chorus of laughter. Just family joking around, Akaashi tells himself, there's no malice.
"Say what you want but I've been gainfully employed for awhile now," comes a retort, and there are whispers and scoffs of, "yea, in your family business," and more laughter.
Akaashi doesn't take well to large family settings, it's always been him and his mother, with the occasional grandparent in the mix. He wonders if blood justifies the lack of tack.
"At least we all graduated university," Akaashi freezes, and this time the table snickers in unison; something sticky rises within his throat.
"Hush, we can't all be professional athletes," one male chirps, but his tone is mocking, and all the references are clear. "College just isn't for everyone, but sitting on the bench is."
Akaashi chokes on his food, some indulge in the cousin's banter, others politely chuckle. Akaashi thinks about the cake, at how satisfying it would be to smash it against the jester's head.
"Pipe down, this is their family's event," someone scolds, "you don't want to get in trouble." Loyalty shifts fast and without care, now the table playfully jeers at him.
But he doesn't relent, instead raises his voice, "We all work hard here yet some people get to play around and chase silly dreams- guess life's just not fair."
Akaashi balls his fist and takes a split second to debate the pros and cons of making a scene. On the negative side, they've been doing so well at keeping to themselves to maintain Bokuto's honor; causing a disturbance now would waste their previous efforts.
On the positive side, Bokuto's very honor is put into question and Akaashi is known to be very petty.
"Koutarou will see international glory before any of you reach acclaim beyond what you've inherited," Akaashi says quickly before impulse control kicks in.
"And when it does happen, he won't be the type to focus on what others lack."
Impulses have mellowed, self-preservation takes control and Akaashi shuts his mouth before more damage is done. He had spoken so clearly, all eyes are now on him, shades of gold holding volumes of shock and intrigue.
Akaashi wonders who will find out first. Will it reach the man himself, or will Bokuto's parents be told, perhaps his sisters- he shudders at the reputation he'll have to repair.
And then laughter. First from an older cousin with glasses who's remained silent thus far. He puts a hand on his mouth but clutches the table in an exaggerated motion, and he's not the only one.
"He's got you good man," he says, "God, you can be such a jerk ya 'know. Jealousy doesn't look good on you."
And then the rest joins, others finally voicing their disdain.
"You used to poop your pants as a kid," a drunk girl calls out, and the accusation is returned. "Show the photos," someone else says, and the table dissolves into a lighter chaos.
Akaashi lets his nerves settle and retreats to being an accessory to the dinner. Despite his worries, he's glad to have spoken up.
It's a small step in their relationship but a big step for him. While he sometimes frightens himself with the depths of his devotions, Akaashi has no shame in being able to love with such gravity.
He could be held on a stake and not once deny his feelings. Modern circumstances may hinder their safety and careers, but it does nothing to change the loudness of his heart.
"Alright kids, time to get up and look pretty," and there she is, the bride herself with her husband just a few steps behind.
The mood instantly changes and choruses of well wishes and compliments start. Each cousin rises to hug her while her husband receives friendly handshakes. Family is a fickle thing, Akaashi laments.
They get directed by the photographer to arrange themselves between the couple but Akaashi stays on his seat, some partners of the family do as well.
Photos get printed and framed or pinned on refrigerator walls, Akaashi would not like to be permanently remembered at such odd circumstances.
When the session ends, nee-san glides through the bodies and walks toward him. He stands to properly greet her.
"Thank you for the invitation," Akaashi bows.
Nee-san places her hand on his shoulder and smiles, "we're doing one round with guests, then another with family after dessert."
Akaashi nods dumbly, wondering what to do with the information.
"I'll get someone to signal to you and then come, okay?" she winks at the red on his nose, "You're with family, no need to be shy."
Akaashi opens his mouth and then closes it. Her knowing glint is unmistakable, the power of a married woman who has seen true love.
"Don't worry," she soothes, "we all want you there."
Akaashi can only mumble a thank you and bow his head again, which makes her laugh and pat his shoulder with a strength much like Bokuto's. It must run in the family, he laments, being so disarming.
She gets whisked away before Akaashi can say more and settles back into his place to find that the table has shifted conversations already.
Later, the program begins with a reckless acrobatics show by Bokuto in athletic gear. It earns him cheers, laughter, and idle remarks of, "he's the family's rising star, right?"
He'll watch him take the microphone and excitedly wish the new couple a happy marriage, thank his sister for taking care of him, and share a few tears with family.
Nee-san will wipe his tears with a tissue and proclaim that he'll always be her baby, and Bokuto will feel no need to deny that he can be both the protector and the protected.
The theatrics are Bokuto, the upsets and judgement, the laughter and heart, all of this- Bokuto.
He's my man, Akaashi's heart is certain.
It starts with silence.
Noise canceling headphones at least half an hour before practice, playing lo-fi beats or instrumental covers, but no lyrics. Preferably, he'll have his eyes closed, and then take deep breaths.
Until this becomes a rhythm. In and out, seven seconds to enter, a slower release. Let your mind get used to the flow, be still, take a moment.
Then, there are positive affirmations, not from the crowd but from Bokuto himself. Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eyes and say this even during the days you don't mean it.
Kindness is a gift best given to others but rarely given to oneself. Compassion is learnt and then shared. It's a process, Bokuto reminds himself.
There is staying hydrated, a conscious effort when a split second away from court feels like time wasted. Exercise, a lot of it, which is easy when being an athlete, but also rest, knowing when your body is at its limit and choosing to stop- that, Bokuto needs to work on.
The moods still come, unexplained and ill-timed, but now they happen less on court and are limited to the days where he feels homesick or displaced.
It doesn't feel like progress, it feels like staying afloat, surviving to wait for the next tide and wondering if that will be the one to tip the balance.
Bokuto resolves to double down on his efforts.
"Do you know who you are, Bokuto-kun?" his counselor had asked a few weeks ago, and the questioning had naturally transitioned to whether he had any souls within his life who understood his.
"We appear differently to people," she elaborates, "there are layers to what we show, natural barriers we employ to keep boundaries and protect the more vulnerable parts of our psyche. Revealing your core to someone is quite special."
They had talked about his time as captain, how he had dealt with the pressure and assumed his leadership role. They discussed individual friendships, whether this extended past the court and how it impacted his current perception of sport.
"I was well taken care of," Bokuto reveals fondly, speaking on his team made his chest feel like tea with a drip of honey.
"You were very lucky," she agrees with him, after he recounts the finer points of his high school days, "they seem to really care about your happiness."
It's more than happiness, he wants to tell her, the care he received was for their success; to reach the highest levels of acclaim and glory young high school boys could dream of. It was a deliberate care, one that carved a path for him to eventually go professional. One that gave him the best environment for success, despite his shortcomings and all the noise.
Bokuto pauses, and the counselor's eyes twinkle at his revelation. He thanks her for the session and goes home.
It's normal to be a bit afraid of being known, Bokuto tells himself as he searches for the blue composition notebook among his belongings. He had purposely misplaced it upon his arrival, not quite ready to face the parting Akaashi had gifted him with.
He finds it underneath an old sweater and surrounded by pairs of socks that have escaped his rotation. Its shade of blue is not quite gunmetal but deep enough to remind him of home.
He swallows his hesitations and takes a deep breath, "Here we go."
Bokuto's List of Weaknesses
It starts in Akaashi's cursive handwriting. Bokuto bites back a whine on the setter's lack of tact and then laughs because he's always been ridiculous.
The list is normal, much like how taking notes in class would look like.
#6 He loves to show off.
Bokuto wrinkles his nose, well he can't be faulted for that one.
Below each item are a couple of bullet points to elaborate, observations Akaaahi had made to justify each addition. There are also methods to deal with the aforementioned item, what to do in multiple scenarios and the probable results to follow.
It's thorough, eerily so. It takes a few moments for Bokuto to go through each weakness due to the comprehensive mini-analysis Akaashi details on the most nuanced things.
It's painstakingly profound, but also quite charming, because the curves and loops of Akaashi's familiar scrawl remind Bokuto of joint study sessions in the library or filling club forms after school.
Bokuto knows the face Akaashi makes when he's focused, and he can imagine that same face, pout and all, curating a list on him.
It's humbling really, to be held under such scrutiny.
#37 If he becomes too fixated on one thing, he'll completely forget how to do anything else.
Akaashi completely nailed his analysis on that one, there are six ways to deal the scenario and two backups in case the worst happens.
"I am sorry for worrying you," Bokuto mumbles, but he's smiling as he turns to the next page.
The list is long, embarrassingly so, which is probably why Akaashi had kept it from him initially. He makes use of the whole notebook, even resorting to margins when a new development happens.
#42 He wants everyone to be happy on court and may get distracted while trying to uplift your mood.
Is this about the time when he tried to sing that JPop song in between a match to lift morale? Or the time, during Akaashi's first game, when he tried to guess his favorite dessert so he could treat him after?
Tell him that the team will be happiest once we win the match, is the remedy Akaashi wrote and he's sure it has worked more than once. If not, tell him that you're happiest when he is.
Oh, Bokuto's heart sings, well the feeling is mutual.
#56 He doesn't like when the scoreboard is too close but also gets angsty when it's too far.
That- Bokuto hadn't noticed, did this affect him really? It made sense, having the score too close served as a distraction from the flow of the game, but having it too far would require the extra effort to locate the sign each time.
He'll take note of that.
#60 He drinks from the water bottle without taking aim which results in a wet shirt.
Alright, so Bokuto did have a bad habit of getting drenched when he's particularly distracted, but he hadn't known that Akaashi had seen these mishaps.
He hadn't known that Akaashi was always looking.
#64 He wishes you luck on your upcoming tests but seems to forget his own.
Akaashi's schedule just so happened to be easier to remember. That and he got nervous for tests when the subjects were not his expertise, nevermind that Akaashi is the smartest guy he knows.
"Besides," Bokuto grumbles, "you're the one who usually reminds me of my tests too."
#72 He tends to impulsively treat the team and has no money for the rest of the week.
This time the bullets underneath are a list of food Bokuto has bought them, from meat buns to ice cream, and even dinner that one time, complete with the date and the place.
On the section beside, a list of treats Bokuto had bought him specifically- their matching volleyball keychains, several onigiri, a new scarf after he had found out that Akaashi got cold easily. All accounted for and highly appreciated.
Bokuto has spent his coins wisely.
#76 He has big dreams for the future.
It's less of a weakness and more of an observation, as most of these latter items tend to be. Somewhere in the middle, Akaashi had started listing the little things he knew about Bokuto.
There's one on how he earnestly thanks the vending machine when buying juice, and another on how he always shifted upright regardless of what position he fell asleep in.
But this one, Bokuto sometimes forgets that he's a star just meeting the world for the first time, is written with such tender- and that there's nothing he can't overcome, restraint, with a heart like his.
His breath hitches, he's had an inkling since the first page, it's hard not to when everything has just been laid bare, completely unfiltered. Devotion.
This is how I know you, Akaashi writes.
I have penned so many things, he tells him, yet to me, you're still constantly changing.
The list goes on, detailing more of Akaashi's idle fleeting thoughts. Authored with the quiet intention of comprehending every mundane beat of his being.
Being perceived should be terrifying, but Bokuto has been eased into his fears and has been met halfway.
Some weaknesses are paths for him to understand his moods, distinguish the triggers and reasons, how to endure and overcome. Some weaknesses are reminders that there are habits to be conscious of and ways to improve.
Some weaknesses are strengths- this is how you go through life, this is a bit of what makes you.
And this notebook, a manifestation of their two years together that have spanned a lifetime, is Akaashi's heart. He had surrendered his confession with such restraint, gifting so many words, but never the exact ones.
He didn't need to, Bokuto can read between the lines.
The list ends with #86, an innocent, Bokuto-san seems to forget that he needs to pass his exams to graduate, and he takes to paper.
In his own writing, he adds:
#87 Bokuto Koutarou is in love with Akaashi Keiji.
Chandeliers dangle from high ceilings, connected to cloth that drapes across the whole overhead, then from the sides, flowers line the corners. The events place had done its due diligence in translating fantasies into form.
The program has long passed, now soft instrumentals coax the remaining guests into slow waltzes. First, led by the newly married pair, then followed by anyone looking to delve into the intimacy.
When the songs had shifted, Bokuto and Akaashi were still indulging in not one, but the three flavors the cake came in. The generous slices had brought such joy to his boyfriend's eyes, Bokuto was content in letting him revel.
Until their serenity is disrupted by two taps on his shoulder. He turns to find a lady, slightly familiar in her structure, looking to speak.
"Hello Koutarou-kun," she says, and Bokuto belatedly recalls her to be the daughter of a family friend.
He greets her in return but doesn't remember her name, luckily it doesn't matter. She looks slightly apprehensive, shyly meeting his gaze underneath long lashes.
Oh, he stutters, she must want to dance.
Had her parents coaxed her here or had she come on her own volition? Akaashi pauses a mouthful of sweets and looks at them.
Despite being happily committed, Bokuto turns red at the sentiment- he does thrive under attention after all. But naturally, he'll reject, the only person he wants to dance with is hindered by metaphorical barriers.
"Could you perhaps," then her eyes dart from him to Akaaashi, "introduce us?"
Oh, his brain short circuits, she wants to dance with Akaashi. Of course she does, he too wants to dance with Akaashi, which is the only similarity they share. She's petite, charming, and female, vital traits to exist by his boyfriend's side.
She extends her hand to invite him to the dance floor, Akaashi needs a napkin to wipe the chocolate on his cheeks and then a bigger one to disappear under completely.
His discomfort is palpable, Bokuto needs to pat his back twice to get him to respond.
"Go for it, Akaashi," and he means this with his whole chest. The betrayed look Akaashi sends him as he's being led away makes Bokuto laugh.
Yes, it's upsetting, but it won't ruin an otherwise good night. The truth is, Bokuto knows that Akaashi has not once glanced at another human, much less a girl, with any inkling of romantic capacity since his middle school self had laid eyes on a star.
It makes Akaashi self-conscious to admit how fast he had fallen, even though Bokuto had claimed to fall just as hard. He supposes that this would be good for Akaashi, a taste of something he could theoretically have.
And by the looks of it, Akaashi is clearly so far from his element. The space between the two dancers could fit a circus. She has her arms on his shoulders, which slouch down for her tiny stature to reach; his own hands are barely around her waist. He clearly doesn't know how to lead a waltz.
"Kou-chan," someone else calls him, "did you let him get away?"
"Nee-san," Bokuto is sure to smile, "I think this might be Akaashi's first contact with the female species."
They both laugh and his sister is relieved to see that he is indeed okay. His partner, not so much, as he apologizes for stepping on her feet again.
"Akaashi-kun will be upset that you let this happen," she chides him.
Bokuto feigns shock, "How did you know this was my fault?"
They share more laughter and continue to watch the spectacle. Nee-san claims that her feet need rest from the heels she's slaved in, Bokuto doesn't point out how she's walked across the ballroom to settle in this spot particularly.
"If he left me," Bokuto whispers, "he could probably have a wedding like this in the future."
She nods, "Yes, I believe so."
It becomes quiet between them despite the energy of the guests. Bokuto almost expects the buzzing to start but has found that his thoughts were more subdued when it came to Akaashi.
"I just want him to be sure," he offers, "I trust him, I know he's committed but he's also selfless. And I am afraid that he forgets to think of his own needs."
"He really likes you," she states.
"He does," Bokuto knows. The longer they stay together, the more restraint Akaashi manages to exhibit, which is a love language in itself.
"I am trying to deserve it," Bokuto's voice cracks, "he doesn't make me feel like I don't, but he makes me want to be better."
She reaches for his hand, it feels like being accompanied to his first day of school, or being carried home from the park.
"As your sister, I am obliged to say that you are perfect and that any person is lucky to have you," she deadpans.
"But I am also proud of you," she squeezes his fingers, "that you're thinking of this clearly and with such a mature outlook. You've been working on yourself, I know you don't tell us everything, but we'll always be here."
He knows this, he’s not one to intentionally shy away from family. “I need to be strong,” he proclaims, “to do a good job, to reach my dreams and be the world’s number one. Akaashi understands that, I am grateful, but it’ll be long before I can give him more than promises.”
She hums thoughtfully, “You’ve got a long way to go, Kou-chan, things may still change.” She doesn't tell him that his first love may not be his last, judging by his efforts, he’s well aware of how things are fleeting.
Bokuto closes his eyes and thanks the gods for unasked wishes that have long been answered. "I understand, nee-san."
Bokuto is about to tell her to rejoin her party, he should look to collect Akaashi soon. But she fiddles with something, he's just now noticing that she's brought an item with her.
"Your bouquet," he gazes at the bundle of pansies and violets, "shouldn't you have tossed that to the crowd a while ago?"
The arrangement is tied together with a velvet ribbon, it goes well with the lace of her gown. It's a keepsake, Bokuto knows, which does not explain why she had brought it with her.
"I've decided," she proclaims, "to pass the baton instead."
She hands him her bundle, now the blooms lean against Bokuto's chest.
“Things are going to change,” she tells him, “but this time will always be yours. Be selfish, make wishes, be loud with what you want, at least between the two of you. You might think that wanting is synonymous to deserving, but that’s not true.”
Bokuto recalls overhearing cries from behind closed bedrooms, the brief time they had broken up and his sister proclaimed to be single forever. The memory seems so far away now that they are married, but he supposes that no love is perfect.
"It takes a lot of bravery to want something, Kou-chan," she whispers, "the world will deny you many things, but you can still reach and grant it for yourself."
She gestures to the bouquet- you can have this too, and her sentiments don’t stop with the flowers. Bokuto’s vision clouds ever slightly and he nestles the gift even tighter.
He's completely humbled to have her here, sorting through his travails on the supposedly happiest day of her life. Bokuto is grateful for every soul who has deemed him worthy of love during the times he's forgotten to extend this towards himself.
He won't let them down, he'll absolutely do his best.
“In my opinion,” she whispers, her last offering of the night, “I think he’s a keeper.”
The bride leaves for a final dance. Akaashi escapes the arms of another with a respectful bow, she doesn't try to call him back. His eyes search the venue and Bokuto waits to be spotted.
He is found, because this is well within Akaashi's element, and his man hastily approaches to be by his side.
"Yes he is," he whispers to no one. To everyone.
It happens slowly. Akaashi moves to the other side of the city, into his college dorm nestled within the university district.
Bokuto commutes from Nagoya once a month to visit. First, to get him settled, there are plenty of boxes to unpack and a favor to return. Next, to see the campus, so he can picture Akaashi's day with accuracy. Eventually, they stop needing excuses.
They split the bill during their escapades, not quite gainful enough to provide for what's budding between them. There are nights of instant noodles and convenience store onigiri. A thin mattress they spread out at the base of Akaashi's bed for Bokuto to settle in, continued conversations after closed lights.
It's a quiet courtship. A good morning before training, a good night after a taxing study session, riddled with promises of see you soons in between.
And when soon comes, they're in the dorm kitchenette, having just said goodbye to Akaashi's roommates departing for the weekend. Bokuto prepares eggs and bacon and insists on cooking these into a smiley, Akaashi is sitting on top of the counter.
He accidentally pokes a hole through one of the yolks, causing yellow to ooze into his set up. Akaashi laughs and places a bacon strip on top of the damage, claiming that their egg man could be a pirate.
Akaashi has just started wearing glasses, he usually tugs at them self-consciously when he remembers their existence. Now they dangle at the tip of his nose from the way he scrunches as he giggles at Bokuto’s silliness. The sun doesn't cast a glow onto them, there’s no pleasant buzz of nature in the background, but this is their moment.
Bokuto turns off the stove and moves to stand before him.
He braces against the counter, entrapping Akaashi against the cupboards, one arm on either side. Bokuto keeps his face neutral as Akaashi pauses, realizes their proximity, and recognition sets in.
For Akaashi, it's always been a question of will- will this happen, are we really doing this? For Bokuto, it's when- I know you're my person, you know that I am yours too.
The tips of Akaashi's ears are clearly red, his back is taunt, and breath already labored. Bokuto doesn't lean in, this isn't a persuasion.
"I won't say it yet," he tells Akaashi in his gentlest tone, "if you're not ready."
There's an ocean in Akaashi, a depth of hesitation, fear, intrigue- an exploration he has yet to dive in. Bokuto recognizes the uncertainty in uncharted territories.
"But Keiji," he beckons, braving the current, "I would like to take care of you, if you'd have me."
It would be his greatest honor to help him navigate through the tides, just like how Akaashi had unknowingly did for him.
Bokuto releases his grip on granite to bring his palms to his cheeks. He holds Akaashi's face tenderly, soothing his worry lines with his fingers, waiting for him to nestle into his touch.
"I think I could make you really happy."
If Bokuto had confessed, Akaashi would have hesitated. There are still so many things for you to discover Bokuto-san, and, are you truly certain that it's me- he would have demanded that they discuss the future, the implications of them, the adult decision to make.
But he had eased into them so simply. Here is Bokuto not speaking out of turn, ever willing to see this through the end. Faced with such honesty, Akaashi sees no reason to deny him the same.
"You already do," they meet halfway when their lips touch for the first time.
Akaashi has his hands on him before he can swipe the card, snaking up underneath his vest, chest pressed firmly against his back.
Bokuto has the bouquet on one hand and lets them in with the other. They stumble into the room, flip instinctively so that Bokuto pins him against the wall. It's an exaggeration, but Akaashi tiptoes to slot their mouths together, they instantly sigh.
He's warm and close, tastes vaguely like chocolate and the wine they had toasted to. Akaashi uses his teeth, captures his bottom lip to elicit a moan, or revenge, and rolls his hips into him.
Bokuto's lips are bruised when he aims for Akaashi's neck, licking and mouthing at the sensitive spot of his pulse, before biting his covered shoulder.
"We have to prepare water," Akaashi pants, "for the flowers," and he maneuvers out of Bokuto's hold to search for a suitable container in their hotel room.
He's left dumbfounded, top buttons undone, at the corner of the entrance. The faucet already runs from the bathroom; Bokuto stifles a groan and faces consequences head on.
Akaashi manages to locate a mid-sized glass decoration to house their half-dead flowers. He's standing in front of the vanity, tie loose and jacket discarded, he sets the blooms and unties the knots that bind them.
Bokuto moves to stand behind him and watch him work from the reflection of the mirror. He hadn't questioned why Bokuto had returned with the flowers, nor did he comment on being temporarily surrendered to a stranger.
He's pensive, Bokuto can tell from the scrunch of his nose, and rightfully so.
"I love you," he whispers, as he winds his arms around Akaashi's torso. His partner does not respond but does shift his shoulders to settle properly against his middle.
He waits patiently for Akaashi to finish, knowing that he's taking the extra seconds to compose himself. Bokuto sees him struggle from the mirror, and when Akaashi is ready, their eyes meet.
It's a beautiful scene, their bodies perfectly shaped against the other, the flowers in the peripheral, a snapshot of the future.
But Akaashi breaks from his hold to settle on top of one of their single beds and Bokuto prepares for confrontation.
He is met, unexpectedly, with compassion.
"You probably had your reasons," Akaashi's voice is hesitant, "I don't exactly understand why, but you must have thought that you were doing the right thing."
- because you would never hurt me, comes unsaid, and Bokuto's throat is heavy with guilt.
"I think she quickly realized that I wasn't made for this," he continues, "and it wasn't because she was a woman, she just presumed that I was in love with someone else." Akaashi puts his hands together but doesn't tug at them, a conscious effort to do so, but he's tempted really.
"I think every person I've met today, one way or the other, realized that I was in love," he takes a deep breath, "which is okay, because I would have been more concerned if I was too good at keeping this a secret."
Akaashi smiles, close-lipped but dimples peaking, and Bokuto knows that it's safe to sit next to him and apologize too.
Akaashi's shoulder is there for him to lean on, hands so eager to act as a home for his; he smells like honey, and the farm, and acres of land that span miles.
His apology is accepted, like an offense was never committed, like Akaashi had long forgiven him before he had asked. Akaashi's thumb soothes circles around his pulse and Bokuto wonders if he can hear it- the insistent buzzing in his heart.
It's a clamour to be conquered, the summation of Bokuto's quest to be normal, and some days he's strong enough to control it, but during others-
"I'd like a cake with matcha in it," Akaaahi interrupts, thoughtfully, "in addition to the three other flavors. Four tiers is still a reasonable amount."
Bokuto is well exposed to his boyfriend's weirdness yet it's manifestation never fails to startle him.
"I'd like an actual buffet too, with different types of cuisines, I've only seen that in international movies," he hums, as if pondering on the intricacies of life, "but I figured it would be reasonable for such an occasion."
Bokuto nods but only half understands, still Akaashi continues.
"I don't particularly mind whether it be modern or traditional, but a ceremony out of the city would be nice," his thumb is calming against his life line, and slowly, Bokuto settles. "That way, we'd have a relatively intimate gathering."
Bokuto's lips tremble at the revelation, and Akaashi is quite flustered but still determined to feign nonchalance, so he encourages him. "Go on, Keiji, tell me what you want."
They list mundanities, feeble things that don't require much detail but capture their attention nonetheless; like how their napkins should be folded into owls and their guest book should require accompanying doodles.
"And I want," Akaashi shifts his gaze to claim his attention, "for you to move to Osaka and continue to chase your dreams."
#89 Bokuto Koutarou cannot deny Akaashi Keiji of anything.
"I want you to make it to the National Team and wear Japan's name over your heart," he touches his chest for emphasis, Bokuto's rhythm responds.
"I want you to have the world on your side," Akaashi proclaims, "have everyone say your name and finally get the recognition you deserve."
#90 Bokuto Koutarou is not good in astrology (alternatively, he genuinely thinks Akaashi Keiji might be the world.)
"I want you to have a lot of fun," Akaashi laughs and there are tears in his eyes to match Bokuto's. "I want you to perfect our straight spike with other setters, win matches, discover your love for volleyball over and over again."
#1 Akaashi Keiji's weakness, being so selflessly selfish.
Tonight, it's revealed that between the two of them, they could cover a whole temple's worth of Ema. Have their desires proudly hung for the public to scrutinize, test the gods to see the limits of how many favors they can demand.
But the theatrics are not needed- not a soul would hear of their night, their selfishness can exist between the two.
"I can want both," Akaashi settles, speaking it into existence makes it feel more real, "whether it be for now or the future, I want to be there."
Akaashi's heart is the temple Bokuto makes a pilgrimage to when his soul needs rest. He's the dainty he whispers wishes to when the impossible seems unlikely and the only thing left is to hope.
It's a relief to know, without an unreasonable doubt, that Akaashi wants him just as bad.
So Bokuto whispers his own desires- he'd like for Akaashi to stop intertwining his fingers, in his own time, because it hurts to see him hesitate. He'd like to keep his university jacket before he leaves, so that he too can be reminded of the dreams Akaashi chases daily. He'd like to have yakiniku in their future buffet and maybe an ice cream stand- to go with their four tier cake.
He doesn't tell him that there are things he cannot give because he's quite determined to reach for them with his bare hands, if he must, even if it doesn't come easy. Akaashi makes him believe that it isn't impossible.
"I'll take responsibility," he proclaims. Akaashi shudders through his tears which makes his glasses fog and his snort so ungraceful, and Bokuto loves him so loudly- it's the only thing he can hear.
"You better," Akaashi warns, "because I am planning to take accountability too."
. epilogue, several years in the future.
#91 Bokuto Koutarou's weakness, being so selfishly selfless.
Atsumu notices first, the dejected sigh Bokuto makes when he slams his locker door shut.
"I am returning to Tokyo tonight," he elaborates, "Keiji is mad and I have to take responsibility."
Atsumu doesn't ask why, instead inquiries on how, "How do you know that, Bokkun?"
The spiker doesn't miss a beat, "We haven't been able to keep any secrets between us for awhile now," and he could have been speaking in an alien tongue, for all Atsumu's efforts, he can't decode labyrinths that have been built upon decades.
"What did you do then?" he asks instead, because Bokuto has been pensive in his approach to every spike, taking a second longer to calculate the next step.
And it's Atsumu's duty to understand his spikers, especially when their heads start tumbling out of bounds.
"We agreed to move in together," Bokuto elaborates, this Atsumu knows of, the whole team was informed of the development as soon as it happened, "we were planning to split the bill, even if the apartment is in a fancier place and tougher on him."
Atsumu nods, and he has an inkling, from the way he knows Bokuto to be.
"But I bought the place," he admits, "for the both of us, so I know that Keiji is well taken care of while I am not there."
Good intentions are often packaged in beautiful things, whether it be a small velvet box hidden in a locker's corner, or a large upscale apartment in the middle of Tokyo. However, good intentions don't always guarantee understanding.
"Why did ya do it then," and since he has no filter, "if ya knew Akaashi-kun would get angry?"
Atsumu already knows the answer, it would be sickeningly sweet if Akaashi weren't so opposed to being spoiled. Not that his reservations are unfunded, it's hard to reign Bokuto in once he surrenders to impulse.
"Sometimes with Akaashi, it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission."
Atsumu can't decipher if his teammate is profound or foolish, but it's not for him to decide, so he lets him be and wishes him luck on his journey home.
He hopes Akaashi would be the least bit sympathetic.
His sentiments are shared by another man in Tokyo.
"Boku-kun," Udai notices second, "it seems like you've done something bad."
But he's jovial as he meets Bokuto with a handshake, which transitions into a side hug. From the glee on Udai's face, he's been long expected.
"Hi Ten-kun," Bokuto greets, "is he still up there?"
It's a modest building in the busier parts of the city; judging from the portfolios Udai carries, his boyfriend is still wrecking havoc for a bit over minimum wage.
"Unfortunately so," Udai's expression is strained, "I've told him to go home already but he's insisting on finishing up some tasks."
And then he looks at him, a question, "but I heard him grumble about not wanting to go home to free housing, so I wonder..."
Bokuto rubs the back of his head, "Yes, that would be my fault." He's sheepish as he apologizes for the inconvenience, Udai waves him off.
"Between you and me," he whispers, "I think Akaashi-kun is secretly grateful, he gets really blushy and then angry ever so often- it's quite amusing to watch."
Bokuto can imagine the scene, fleeting emotions on Akaashi's face that change just as fast as they come. For his sake, he hopes the positives outweigh the disdain.
"I hope he won't chew me out then," Bokuto sighs, and Udai chuckles again because he's already taken the brunt of that- and no, Boku-kun, it's okay I deserve it, and now they're both laughing.
"I am sure you have your reasons," Udai advises, and his glint is far too knowing. "So just let Akaashi-kun feel everything, yea? You do know him best."
Bokuto thanks him for the advice and wishes him a good weekend. The mangaka waves fondly and hopes to see another game soon.
Then, Bokuto enters the office's lobby, wondering how he should go about the next steps. He wouldn't want to disturb Akaashi by calling, but a text seems too informal. Perhaps he should lure him down with some coffee, or dinner if he hasn't eaten.
The receptionist is giving him odd looks, is he allowed to disclose that he's dating an employee- now that would definitely get him in trouble.
The elevator opens and Akaashi appears, messenger bag on one shoulder with Vabo-chan dangling to confirm that he is, in fact, real. His hair is tousled and his outfit thoroughly worn from a long day, yet Bokuto takes a moment to stare at his person.
"Hey there, love," the endearment comes out automatically, and Akaashi is disarmed by the sudden affection. After long periods apart, being in the same vicinity never fails to be special; the moment when soon becomes now. They stare at each other, until the elevator doors threaten to close with one still on board.
The spell is broken, Akaashi steps off the elevator and proceeds to lead them out of the building.
"Let's go home," Bokuto is too relieved to hear those words to say anything else.
It's a new apartment, three bedrooms, two baths, a real kitchen with an island, and a living room the size of Akaashi's former studio dwelling.
Akaashi had fallen for the wide windows that overlooked mid-rise buildings and the distant sunset, a big improvement from the carbon copy condominiums his denser area had been populated with. Bokuto had fallen for the steady floorboards, finally rid of stains and squeaky noises, and how they extended to indicate space.
Space for Akaashi to set his home studio, a comfortably aesthetic area to pursue his creative endeavors. Space for Bokuto to keep relics of his career highlights (and admittedly, Akaashi's ever growing collection of MSBY merchandise.)
"I am still mad."
Space to finally be together. A promise, several years in the making, now answered.
"I know you are," Bokuto calls, he wraps his arms around Akaashi's shoulders to hold him close. He doesn't reciprocate but doesn't pull away either.
"Our agreement was to split rent," Akaashi mumbles to his chest, face still in a pout, it'd be adorable if Bokuto could see.
"Yes it was," Bokuto threads his fingers on his crown to console his angry boyfriend; he can't wait to see all their furniture in place, "I am sorry."
"No you're not," Akaashi sulks, feeling the smile against his scalp, "don't apologize if you don't mean it."
His heart has been buzzing loudly, eager to enter the next stage of their lives. Most times Bokuto would try to quell his feelings, especially when critical reasoning is so intertwined with adulthood woes.
But today, Bokuto is selfish, Akaashi does not ask him to elaborate.
"I am not," he admits, and pulls him in tighter. He understands that feelings are hard for Akaashi too. And if they had decided on this together, the process would have taken a long and winding turn.
They've done their due diligence in waiting, Bokuto can take the fall for this one.
"I'll sleep on the couch tonight," he offers, wanting to respect Akaashi's anger, because he knows that it still upsets him, the difference in what they can offer.
"I love you," Akaashi promises, but still lets him untangle his arms. He immediately brings his own around his chest, as if consoling himself for the loss of warmth. Bokuto's heart constricts at the sight, but hopes their night apart would remind him of wanting.
It's within Akaashi's right to be selfish too.
In his dreams, a young Bokuto runs towards the greens, straying from the path many would dictate to be the right one, to chase after a ball, a dream, a future- tumbling onwards, just an arm's reach from his grasp.
No force can stop his journey forward, into the unknown where sounds are loud and roots run wayward. His chest tells him that there is a place.
It takes courage to meet him in the neighborhood park, to hide behind the trees for a stolen moment, running the risk of getting caught. In this version, Akaashi emerges from the bushes to retrieve his ball from the patch it has settled in, to bring this back to him.
We aren't doing anything wrong, the certainty in Akaashi's eyes tells him. And when their lips meet, publicly, in the future, there's no need to ask for permission.
They'd tell the world that this is allowed too.
When morning comes, Bokuto awakens on their mahogany couch, legs slightly numb from resting at an awkward angle.
He'd find a mop of black tangles on his chest, a nose buried against his heart, and a whole person on his being. Akaashi had foregone their queen-sized haven to lay on him, and perhaps remembered that their spaces, no matter what form, have always been their own.
Bokuto pulls him closer and buries his nose against his partner's crown. His breathing sounds like sunlight and honey, the impending long conversations they are set to have, the continuous noise that tries to make itself relevant. Growing up is scary, but considerably less so, when someone loves you unconditionally.
For now, the buzzing stops.