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In Another Life

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It had been some time since Akaashi set foot into that hospital.

It was a dreary place for him, a place he was not fond of, but a place he was obligated to visit. Akaashi's parents were intent on having him intern in a hospital nearby, so that he could stockpile more things that would look good on his resume, for future purposes.

Often times, however, Akaashi would disagree with his parents, unhappy with the suggestions they'd given him. But ultimately, they would urge him to carry out the task that had been pushed on him, and one way or another, he'd do it.

Asking around here and there, the male put little to no effort in finding out where he could go to sign up for what. He didn't care, nor did he think he would care in the near future. Akaashi was unhappy with where he was, unhappy with what it was that he was doing. He was wasting time, asking for something that he did not want in the least.

Pointing a finger down the hall, a small assistant nurse directed Akaashi to a different desk, one where he would be able to find more information on the subject. Blatantly, he thanked her, and continued on his way, passing by several rooms as he did so.

His eyes where set forward. He didn't look into any of the rooms. He didn't want to. It would hurt if he did.

Akaashi closed his eyes and sighed, swaying absentmindedly in his step, opening his eyes just in time to swiftly avoid colliding with someone.

A doctor- no- just another person.

He circled around the male, apologizing flatly before he continued on. An 'It's alright,' could be heard from behind him, but it soon faded as Akaashi continued forward.

Do I really want to do this?

His eyes stared forward, uninterested in the information desk several meters from him.

No, I really don't.

Standing still, Akaashi remained in place for quite some time, his legs refusing to carry him further. People walked by him, around him, up and down the halls, to and fro, but no one seemed to notice him. He stood there, hesitant, uninterested, indifferent.

Unfeeling.

He remained in place silently. No one was bothered by him, so there he stood. He brought a hand up to push through his black hair, and slowly, his head fell forward. Akaashi stared at his shoes.

What am I doing?

The thought rattled his mind.

Why am I even here?

Another person walked by at a gradual pace at first, then slowed progressively as they drew near. Their walking then slowed to a halt, and it was then that Akaashi had become aware of the new individual who'd invaded his personal space.

From his peripheral, Akaashi could see their hand reaching out to him.

He withdrew and looked up.

"Oh- you can move." He smiled in Akaashi's direction, bright yellow eyes catching his own. It had been the same guy he'd almost bumped into... Perhaps he'd remained in the hall and watched as Akaashi had gone from a brisk walk to a sudden stop. He understood how that would be alarming to some people.

"Is there something wrong with me standing here?" Akaashi asked sincerely.

"No, I don't think so." He brought his hand down to his side. "Why did you stop so suddenly? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. I was just thinking." Akaashi blinked slowly.

"Of what?"

A question asker. How thrilling.

"Of this hospital. I've realized that I don't want to come here anymore."

The male who stood across from Akaashi shifted his weight to one leg. "Were you sick? Are you checking out?"

Akaashi stared through the stranger. "No. I'm not sick, but this place makes me feel like I am." His answer was cold, but it did not seem to cut through the other's pleasant mood.

"I feel the same about this place, honestly." He paused. "So you must be leaving soon, then."

"Yeah." Akaashi shifted, leaning in the direction of where he'd come from.

He had no interest in staying where he was. His only intention was leaving. He figured he would tell his parents that the people in the hospital were too occupied with everything else to tend to him. He started on his way without so much as a second glance in the other's direction. "Goodbye."

"Hey, hey!"

Akaashi turned his head. "What?"

"What's your name?"

Why did he want to know his name? When would he ever use it again? The stranger could have been a patient at the hospital for all Akaashi knew, and the last thing he needed was a sickly acquaintance to add to his already short list of friends.

"You don't need to know."

The male across from him did well in hiding the look of offense that almost surfaced upon his face. "I understand. But for what it's worth, my name is Bokuto."

Akaashi cast a weary look in Bokuto's direction, gave a nod, and continued on his way until he was out of the building.

 


 

Two weeks had passed since Akaashi's last visit, and to his dismay, he found himself on the same aimless path back to the same dreaded hospital. He couldn't stand his parents' persistent natures, but he was somewhat relieved to be out of the house, to say the least.

Here we go again.

Akaashi entered the building and greeted the woman at the front desk, as always. He wasted no time ascending the steps needed to get to the part of the hospital where he'd almost reached all that time ago. In minutes, the information desk was in his sights, and for the first time in forever, he'd actually gone to it.

He spoke with a small woman there, and after several minutes had passed, Akaashi backed away from the desk, some sheets of paper in hand. He started down the hall, sighing heavily, intent on rushing home.

"Hey! Hey- it's you!"

The familiar voice made Akaashi's throat tighten. Another sigh was forced out, even heavier this time. He turned around.

"Bokuto."

"Apathy-kun." He grinned from ear to ear.

"Don't call me that." Akaashi stuffed the sheets into his bag.

"I thought you said you weren't ever going to set foot in here again." There was something strange about the excitement in his tone.

"I didn't say exactly that..."

"But it was implied!"

Akaashi squinted.

"Yes, it was implied."

Bokuto's smile never left his face, and his tired eyelids contradicted his facial expression.

Why must I always run into the strange ones?

"So what brings you here again?"

"I could ask you the same thing..." Akaashi's lips screwed to the side.

Thick, white eyebrows raised above yellow hues. "I'm supposed to be here, actually."

Akaashi yawned. "Intern?"

"No, patient." His smile was unnerving.

Silently, the dark haired male frowned. "I've been insensitive..."

A laugh bubbled out from Bokuto. "No you haven't. Don't worry about it."

Though he'd been dressed in normal, casual clothing, upon further examination, there was indeed something sickly about him. He was paler than the others who walked along in the halls, and soft, dark circles sat under his eyes.

Akaashi made sure not to stare.

"I know you aren't going to ask, so I'll just let you know. From what I've heard, the doctors say that whatever I have is called... FFI?" Bokuto folded his arms. He held an air around him as if he were having a normal conversation about the weather. "Fatal Familial Insomnia? If I remember correctly."

A cold shiver curled up Akaashi's spine. He'd never heard of that disease before. It worried him enough to get some words out of him.

"I don't think I want to ask about the symptoms of this illness."

"Well, even if you wanted to, I wouldn't have an answer for you." Another laugh. "All I can say is that sleeping doesn't come as easily as it used to." What normally would have pained someone to say, he delivered with ease, and with that same grin to boot.

Akaashi couldn't help but almost smile back, his lips barely twitching. He stared in Bokuto's direction, at him this time. "Are you here every day?"

"Of course! Been here for about... Four weeks now." He blinked sluggishly.

"I see..." Akaashi nodded once. No words were exchanged for a moment, and soon, the short amount of silence had become awkward. "Well, I'll be going now."

Shut him out, don't let him in. He's sick.

"Ah-uh, one second-."

Akaashi's jaw clenched. "I have to go, Bokuto." He started on his way.

Please don't persist.

"If you would please listen." His hands at his sides, Bokuto bowed. "Please, it will only take a second."

Akaashi was straightforward, but he wasn't heartless. He huffed out a breath and turned around. "What is it? I really have to go."

His eyes lighting up, Bokuto straightened his back and fished his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a phone, and to Akaashi's dread, he asked for his phone number.

What was he to do? What was he to say? Akaashi literally found nothing special about Bokuto. Why had the sickly one taken a sudden liking to him? He wanted nothing more than to push him away, throw away the forms, and never set foot into that hospital again, but for some strange and irritating reason, Akaashi found it difficult to deny Bokuto. He was trying to, he truly was, but he just couldn't.

"I... Don't... Usually text," Akaashi murmured. He looked down at Bokuto's phone. He couldn't look at his face. "I'm often busy. Keeping in contact with me wouldn't be a good idea."

He watched Bokuto's fingers curl around the phone, and his hand slowly backed away.

"But–" Akaashi shocked himself with that one word. He could still see Bokuto's hand, and it had frozen in place. "I guess I could find some time to talk every so often." He looked up, and his gaze found Bokuto's. Those yellow eyes were gleaming.

He entered his number swiftly, and then handed the phone to Bokuto, the name section empty.

"Thank you." His voice was full of excitement as he proceeded to enter the name for his new contact. Akaashi watched closely as Bokuto mouthed and typed the name,

"A-p-a-t-h-y—k-u-n." Bokuto was close to saving the contact before Akaashi spoke up.

"You don't have to put that." He sighed. "It's... Akaashi."

 


 

The sky burned a strong, orange glow as the sun set in the distance. Akaashi sat in bed, laptop in his lap, as his fingers scrolled and typed frantically.

FFI.

The page loaded. Akaashi went straight into the reading.

(FFI) is a very rare autosomal dominant inherited prion disease of the brain... Akaashi's eyes scanned the screen. FFI has no known cure and involves progressively worsening insomnia, which leads to hallucinations, delirium, and confusional states like that of dementia...

Thin lips pressed into an even thinner line. His fingers remained stiff for quite some time as his eyes read the introductory paragraph over and over again.

"There is no known cure, huh...?" Akaashi continued to read on. "All the people who've contracted this disease eventually die within a year or less..." This part was read aloud.

He rubbed his face quietly. "Of course they do." Akaashi leaned his head on his hand, chin resting in his palm.

"I wonder if Bokuto knows about all of this." He must have looked it up at some point, right? It was the only normal thing to do, considering how he was the one who was suffering from said disease.

"Insomnia." He thought back to the bags around Bokuto's eyes.

'All I can say is that sleeping doesn't come as easily as it used to.'

Akaashi exhaled quickly through his nose, making a sound that was almost like a laugh. He read up on the symptoms and blinked gently, a hand over his lips. After several minutes, Akaashi closed his laptop and lay back on his bed. He stared at the ceiling.

"Some friend I've made."

There wasn't much else to say.

 


 

New Text Message!

From: Bokuto (Sent July 29th at 11:56 PM)

[Hey! I hope this isn't a bad time!]

Akaashi lifted his head from his pillow and reached a hand out to grab his phone. The bright light caused him to squint as he read the message. Quietly, he contemplated on whether he wanted to respond or not. He blinked weakly and slid his fingers down the sides of his phone, a sign of weariness that he could not disobey. Akaashi watched as the screen went to black, and it was then that he placed the phone back on his nightstand, choosing to ignore the message.

He couldn't sleep for about an hour after the text, but ultimately slipped off to sleep.

Akaashi never received another message in the remaining hour that he was awake.

 


 

During the next day, Akaashi decided to stay home. He sat in his room for the majority of the day, and had spent at least six hours awake until he'd picked his phone up in his hands again.

He looked at the message Bokuto had sent him the night before. His thumb aimlessly hovered over the keyboard, thinking of what to type.

From: Akaashi (Sent at 4:43pm)

[Hello.]

Bokuto:

[Hey hey heyyyyy!]

[I must have texted you while you were asleep!]

Akaashi was dumbfounded. He'd never received a faster response in his life.

Akaashi:

[Yeah, that must've been the case.]

[You say "Hey" a lot, Bokuto.]

Bokuto:

[I know! It's kind of my thing!]

Akaashi could feel Bokuto's enthusiasm through his text messages. He spoke to Akaashi as if he hadn't had a friend to text in years.

Bokuto:

[How are you today?]

Akaashi:

[I'm well, thank you... Just catching up on some volleyball things...]

Bokuto:

[VOLLEYBALL?! You like volleyball too?! WE HAVE TO PLAY TOGETHER.]

Wincing a bit, Akaashi squinted at his phone screen. Such an energetic texter, Bokuto was. He was kind of difficult to keep up with, and Akaashi felt like this would be a long term sort of thing.

Akaashi:

[Uh, sure. I mean, will they let you out of the hospital?]

Bokuto:

[I guess. I can still walk around and get to where I have to go! Pretty much the only thing wrong with me is that I can't sleep!]

Akaashi scowled. He could feel the ignorance emanating off of Bokuto's text messages. Did he really think he was admitted to a hospital just because he was having trouble sleeping? He knew full well the name of the disease he had. So then why was he so cheerful about his entire situation? Why did he lack the understanding of just how serious his condition was?

Unless... Bokuto was purposely playing the fool. He must have been.

Right?

Akaashi's grip tightened around his phone. He had to be.

Akaashi:

[Then I guess I'll see you at the hospital around a week or two from now. I know a gymnasium we can go to...]

Bokuto:

[A WEEK OR TWO?!]

Akaashi:

[Is that too long a wait? I can probably reschedule...]

Bokuto:

[Nah, it's alright! I guess I can wait that long. I've got time.]

I've got time. The words echoed in Akaashi's head, as if they'd been spoken aloud. He stared down at the screen, his brow furrowing slightly. Did Bokuto know about the lifespan of victims with his condition? Was he just playing the fool after all? Just what kind of guy was he?

Indifference morphed into curiosity, and said curiosity was what drew Akaashi closer to his new friend.

Akaashi:

[Great. I'll see you then.]

 


 

"Akaashi!"

Another two weeks had passed since Akaashi had seen Bokuto, but this time, he waited outside of the hospital, several meters away from the entrance.

Akaashi had looked up from his phone and stuffed it into his jacket pocket as the energetic hospital patient made his way across the lot. In no time, Bokuto was standing in front of Akaashi, eager in every way to make it to the gymnasium.

"I haven't set foot outside in weeks." He looked around. The day was strangely chilly, with an occasional breeze now and then, causing the browning leaves to rustle in the trees above. Those yellow eyes examined everything, adamant with taking all of it in.

Bokuto tucked his hands into the pockets of his hood, his shoulders hunching. A puff of smoke came from him as he exhaled. He was paler than before, and the bags under his eyes were darker. Bokuto looked exhausted beyond belief, yet there he stood, excited to make his way to the gymnasium.

Akaashi hadn't even mustered his first word before Bokuto snapped his head to the side to give him his undivided attention.

"The gymnasium's about ten minutes that way." Akaashi pointed down the road.

"Then let's go!" Bokuto power walked ahead, obligating Akaashi to catch up to him with a quickened pace, whether he wanted to or not.

 


 

The sounds of their sneakers squeaking against the gym floor was so memory inducing, it caused Akaashi to take a moment and reminisce on the old days, as if doing so would take him back in time to when he'd play volleyball every single day after school. After a while, he opened his eyes and sighed, then moved across the court to the net. He'd brought along a volleyball of his own, just in case they weren't provided with any.

"What used to be your position back when you would play?" Bokuto asked aloud, finally pulling his hands from his hood pockets. His head was cocked back as he surveyed the gym.

Akaashi bounced the ball off the floor twice. "Setter. You?"

Bokuto grinned. "I was the team captain, and the ace." He gave a mock swing of his arm, as if spiking. "Do you think you can toss to me?"

"Of course."

Akaashi and Bokuto carried a sort of unspoken communication with each other. They had a strange relationship, to say the least. Akaashi would answer his questions coldly, with little to no emotion, but Bokuto would cherish these answers and retort with excitement in his tone. He did not seem to take offense easily. Bokuto was very different from everyone else Akaashi had ever met before him.

Where most people would detach themselves, Bokuto took hold and wouldn't let go, being as persistent as he was energetic. It was very unsettling. Akaashi turned away and frowned.

I wouldn't have given you my number if you weren't a patient...

The black haired male bounced the ball again and walked over to position.

"This is all so nostalgic." Bokuto's voice was filled to the brim with excitement. He took several steps back to prepare himself for the toss. Mentally, he was more than ready to spike, but not so much physically.

Bokuto missed Akaashi's set twelve times.

"Shit- shit." His frustration was unmasked. "Please toss to me again!" He threw the ball to Akaashi.

There's no stopping you, is there? Taking the ball in his hands, Akaashi aimed for the approximate location as to where Bokuto would spike the ball. He wanted for him to spike it at least once lest Bokuto threw a self hate-induced panic attack.

Watching as Bokuto ran forward, Akaashi set the ball perfectly. It brought him back to his high school days. Now if only the sickly one would hit it.

The sound of the palm of Bokuto's hand meeting the ball sounded much like an explosion. Akaashi flinched. It had been so long since he'd heard something so loud. It was amazing.

"Ha! Did you see that?!" Bokuto was bursting with emotion. He was ecstatic. "I spiked it perfectly just now! That toss was perfect!" Without hesitation, he ran across the court to retrieve the ball.

Akaashi knew that running probably wasn't the best thing that he should have been doing, but he said nothing about it. The ball was tossed back to him, and again, he got back to tossing the ball for Bokuto.

After three sets, there was another hit, and another cheer from the former ace. Akaashi raised his eyebrows.

"Impressive." He watched the ball roll further away from them, and expected to see Bokuto trailing it, but instead saw nothing. He turned his attention back to the only other in the room.

Bokuto stared off in the distance from beyond the net, his face carrying a confused expression. After a moment, quietly, he spoke.

"They... Aren't really there, are they?" The words left his mouth reluctantly.

Akaashi glanced in the direction of where Bokuto was staring. No one. They were the only two in the gym. He dug his thumb nail into the side of his index finger and returned his gaze to Bokuto.

"They aren't really there." He had to force himself to say the mere four words.

Bokuto mouthed an "Okay," before backing up several steps. "Could you please toss to me some more?"

"Sure." Akaashi nodded once, and that was all that Bokuto needed to hear before he ran off to retrieve the ball.

 


 

At some point during their walk home from the gym, Akaashi had agreed for Bokuto to spend the night at his house.

"My parents are out for a month," he'd unconsciously said, causing Bokuto to go into a begging frenzy to stay over until Akaashi said yes. Normally he would have been red with irritation from the sound of such irksome persistence, but the smile that would claim Bokuto's face whenever he agreed to something would make Akaashi forget all about how frustrated he was.

He entered his home with Bokuto in a matter of minutes, having walked faster than usual. Out there, the sickly one trembled like a new born animal, even with the extra jacket that Akaashi had offered him.

"It's warm-" Bokuto exhaled and shuddered once he was inside, slipping off his shoes.

Akaashi stepped in and turned his head. "I would hope so." He moved forward. "My room is this way."

Bokuto followed briskly. He observed his surroundings once again, having been fascinated by the inside of someone else's home. Everything was neat and placed perfectly here and there, giving Akaashi's house a warm atmosphere to it. It reminded him of his home...

Bokuto nearly bumped into Akaashi as he stopped to enter his room.

"You can sit anywhere." He climbed into bed and folded one leg, pulling over his laptop to start it up.

"Is your bed alright?" Bokuto pulled off Akaashi's jacket.

"I said anywhere."

Bokuto plopped onto the mattress right after those words, bumping his head against Akaashi's shoulder. He recoiled with a grunt.

"Watch it." Akaashi shifted to the side to give his visitor more room. Despite this, Bokuto was still close enough for their arms to touch. Akaashi sighed and lazily dragged his finger along the d-pad. "Do you want to watch a movie?"

Bokuto curled in on himself and pushed his hands into his hood pocket. "Yeah. Anything is fine." His yellow eyes stared at the screen intently.

"Okay." Akaashi opened the first movie that he had in his computer's memory. He pushed the laptop away and pressed play.

"What's it called?" Confused, Bokuto glanced over at him.

"Cloud Atlas."

"How long is it?"

"About three hours." He kicked his legs out of bed and walked across his room to retrieve a thick blanket that sat bundled up in a rolling chair. He then tossed it to Bokuto once he was close enough. "You've been shivering. Use it."

Bokuto gathered the navy blue blanket in his arms, and cautiously threw it around his shoulders. It was soft. "Thank you." He kept his eyes on the screen. "I used to handle the cold better than this." An embarrassed chuckle escaped him.

Exhaling through his nostrils, Akaashi reclaimed his seat in bed, crossing his legs. "Things happen."

"Yeah..."

Outside, the sky above grew dark as clouds rolled in. Bokuto quieted himself, curled up, and watched on as the movie started.

 


 

The sound of rain pelting hard against the window snapped Akaashi back into reality. He looked around in weary haste, but calmed quickly once his memory had returned to him. He'd nodded off for a brief moment, with his arms crossed and his head resting on a thick bundle of pillows. With much effort, he sat up to look at Bokuto.

The movie was well over two hours in, nearing its end, and Bokuto lay on his side, curled up and clutching the blanket with what little strength he had left. His eyes were half-lidded and glued to the screen, his face void of emotion. It almost looked as if he were asleep.

"Bokuto?" Akaashi's voice was groggy.

Slowly, his yellow eyes scrolled to the side to catch Akaashi's gaze. He turned his head weakly, and his body along with it.

"I'm sorry. I've watched this movie so many times, I actually fell asleep." Akaashi dragged a hand down his face.

"Don't be sorry." Bokuto found himself smiling. "It's your house. You sleep if you want to."

"Not if I have a visitor over."

"It's fine. I'm not just some visitor, after all. We're friends." Bokuto's head lolled to the side, directing his attention back to the movie. "You were out for about an hour."

Akaashi heaved a sigh. He rubbed the back of his neck.

"I envy you. I wish I could sleep like that again."

Guilt bubbled up within Akaashi's chest. He'd realized just how rude that was, falling asleep so easily in front of a person who's biggest struggle was just that.

"How... insensitive of me..." He furrowed his brow, mentally scolding himself.

"Don't cry over it." Bokuto shifted as he lay down, sticking a leg out to kick Akaashi. "The movie kept me company. It's very good. Kind of confusing, but good. I'll have to watch it again."

Strange. Bokuto was such a strange one. He seemed to be unfazed by many things, and blatant about others, blurting sentences out that didn't seem to have much thought behind them. Akaashi doubted that he'd ever have Bokuto over again, so hearing him say 'I'll have to watch it again,' didn't sit too well with him.

Akaashi twisted his lips to the side and decided to bring up something else. "Are you tired?"

"Exhausted." Bokuto answered honestly.

"Close your eyes for the time being." Akaashi kicked his legs out of bed with much effort and stood on his feet. "I'll get us some water." He left the room quickly, leaving Bokuto by his lonesome.

After several seconds, he'd returned to see that Bokuto had changed his position in bed entirely. He lay on his back, with his head on some of Akaashi's pillows. His hands rested on his stomach, the dark blanket surrounding him from behind, but slipping off just enough for his torso to be exposed. His head rested against the bed, slumped to the side, facing away from Akaashi.

Again, if he hadn't known any better, Akaashi would have figured that Bokuto was already fast asleep. He approached his bedside silently. The room was dark, apart from the soft orange glow that his lamp gave off.

He set the drinks down and shuffled into bed, as if trying not to wake the other. Lying on his back, he stared at the ceiling.

No words were exchanged for what seemed like forever before Akaashi spoke up.

"How does it feel? To not be able to sleep?"

Bokuto's answer was delayed. "Awful." He turned his head in the opposite direction, facing Akaashi now. "I can barely keep my eyes open by day, and can barely keep them closed by night." He snorted in laughter.

"Does it frustrate you?"

"It did at first, when I didn't understand why. But now I'm kind of okay with it." A hand reached up to push through his own messy locks. "I still miss it though. Sleeping. Dreaming."

Akaashi watched Bokuto, listening to every word he said.

"I used to have some insane dreams, too. Especially before certain volleyball matches." He laughed again, louder this time. "I'd dream that I messed up during a spike, and then I'd wake up fuming, and would constantly tell myself that I was the best."

"Do you still think that you are the best?" Emerald eyes searched Bokuto's own for an honest answer.

He sighed his response with a grin. "Yeah." Bokuto closed his eyes after that, one hand resting on the side of his head. He was obviously tired, showing signs of exhaustion with every small move he made.

Akaashi grew silent and knitted his fingers together on his stomach, his head relaxing into his pillow. The both of them didn't exchange any words after that, ending the conversation just as suddenly as it had started.

 


 

Two hours had passed since their last words towards each other, yet Akaashi still lay awake in bed. Unknown to Bokuto, he watched him quietly through almost closed eyelids, his thick lashes being enough to hide the fact that he was still awake. Tired, but awake.

Akaashi couldn't sleep, but it wasn't because of his unfamiliarity with Bokuto that caused this. He couldn't sleep because of his honest fascination with him.

Bokuto would lay still for quite a while, his head tilted to the side with one hand on his stomach, and the other at his side. When he was like this, Akaashi would think that he was resting, and he would almost believe that thought until Bokuto would twitch awake again, his body jerking him from what little relaxation he tried to achieve.

At first, Akaashi thought nothing of it. Bokuto would wince and snap back to reality the way someone would when they dreamt they were falling. But Akaashi knew full well that such a thing wasn't possible with Bokuto's condition. It made Akaashi pity him, to say the least.

Three times, Bokuto jolted awake involuntarily, and three times, he covered his eyes with his forearm and heaved a quiet sigh. Akaashi refused to have reacted to those moments, hoping to spare his visitor the embarrassment of him having seen that. He intended on closing his eyes and falling asleep for real afterwards, but after having felt his mattress shake for the fourth time, he opened his eyes.

Akaashi lifted himself onto his elbows. "Bokuto," he whispered.

Alarmed, he snapped around quickly. His face looked both shocked and exhausted at the same time. "Akaashi? I'm–"

"Don't." His voice a mere murmur, Akaashi moved closer to Bokuto, then resumed to lie down on his back, his head slightly elevated with the pillows that sat behind him. "Don't apologize."

Mildly embarrassed, Bokuto looked away and rubbed his arms.

"Come." Akaashi beckoned for his visitor.

Turning his attention back to him, Bokuto met Akaashi's gaze. He wore a confused expression, wondering just what the other had meant by that word.

"I said come." He motioned for Bokuto to come closer. "Get over here." As Akaashi said this, he held out an arm, as if readying himself for some sort of hug.

Obeying with hesitance, Bokuto shifted towards Akaashi and lay against him, fitting into the curve of his arm. It was no doubt that he was larger than Akaashi, but that didn't stop him from fitting in just right.

Bokuto's head lay against Akaashi's shoulder. Akaashi's arm cautiously wrapped itself around Bokuto's broad shoulders.

Neither of them said a word.

Minutes passed, and in time, Akaashi could feel Bokuto relaxing against him, the signs of fatigue finally wearing him down. His head slumped against his shoulder, and both his hands rested on his stomach. He was trying. Trying so hard to fit in that small amount of sleep that would get him through the next day, and Akaashi wanted to help.

As much as he didn't want to believe it, Akaashi wanted so badly to help.

Why?

Akaashi watched as one of Bokuto's hands twitched involuntarily, and to his dismay, it wouldn't stop. Slowly, he reached a hand out and closed it over the twitching one, his four fingers fitting into Bokuto's palm. In seconds, his hand was calm again.

Akaashi inhaled quietly. He watched as Bokuto's chest rose and fell with each breath that kept him alive. His breathing was controlled, much like one of a person's who was actually asleep. Pursing his lips, Akaashi let his head fall back into the pillows. He turned his head to the side, towards Bokuto's. He could smell his faint scent. He smelled sort of like a hospital.

 


 

 

Akaashi made his way to the hospital for the umpteenth time that week, his hands in his jacket pockets and his nose burying into the burgundy knit scarf that protected him from the chilly weather.

It had been two months since Bokuto's visit over his home, and ever since then, Akaashi found that making his way to the hospital had become a daily routine for him. And even if he didn't show up, he would still spend his days sending messages to Bokuto, be it text, email, or the occasional video chat.

He exhaled through his nose and entered the hospital, greeted the woman at the front desk (who now knew him by name), and removed the scarf from around his neck. Akaashi already knew where he had to go.

He ascended those familiar steps, said hello to the familiar faces, and rounded that familiar corner that he knew would lead him to Bokuto's room. Another breath escaped him, slow and casual, but he'd soon learned to hold his breath when he noticed another person sitting outside in the hall, several feet from the room, where visitors could spend their time.

Akaashi eyeballed the small male for a long second, knowing that he wouldn't look up to catch him. His head hung low, and his attention belonged only to the handheld system that entertained him.

Normally, Akaashi would have walked away that instant in order to pay Bokuto a visit, but as he neared his room, he could hear two voices coming from within. One of the voices belonged to Bokuto. The other, he had no clue. Akaashi paused and gripped the strap of his bag. Hesitating, he turned, pivoting on one foot to stare back at the small one who sat by his lonesome. Feeling that it would be rude to interrupt Bokuto's conversation with whoever the other person was, Akaashi strode over to the seats and sat one chair away from the gaming stranger.

Akaashi tapped his fingers quietly against his pants.

"... Are you here to see Bokuto Koutarou?" Akaashi's asked in a leveled tone.

"No. My friend is." The other spoke in a quiet voice, low and brooding. Or maybe not brooding, but more along the lines of apathetic.

Apathy-kun. The nickname popped into Akaashi's head for a brief second. He wasn't too sure why.

"Is your friend a friend of Bokuto's?"

"Yeah. An old friend." He pressed pause on his PSP and tapped one end of it against his open palm. "They used to play volleyball together. They go back a couple of years."

Akaashi leaned back in his seat. "Ah. I see." He felt the need to keep most of his questions at bay. His company did not seem like the type to socialize so openly, so he figured simple inquiries would do just fine, especially if he kept them to a minimum.

"May I ask your name?" Akaashi took a shot at it.

A small thumb rubbed at the system's screen to remove a smudge. He looked up, gazed at Akaashi past his bleached blonde bangs, and straightened his back in the slightest way possible.

"Kozume Kenma."

"Akaashi Keiji." He felt like he could enjoy Kozume's company, what with how his words lacked all form of emotion. "It's nice to meet you, Kozume."

"Kenma is fine." He looked back down at the game screen. "Likewise."

Akaashi nodded, glad to have made an acquaintance, and would have relaxed into his seat if not for the sudden disembodied voice that startled him soon after Kenma's sentence.

"Hey, Kenma, who are you talking to?" As if straight from a cartoon, out popped a tall male from Bokuto's room, with stark black hair that both hung over his face and stuck out in all directions. He carried a look on his face that made him seem more sinister than sincere, and his eyes flitted from Kenma to Akaashi, and then back to Kenma.

"This is Akaashi. I just met him." His words were as straightforward as they were indifferent.

"Akaashi?" Bokuto's voice rang out from the room this time. Akaashi didn't even have to see his face to know that Bokuto was beaming. "He's here? Is he here?"

"I am-." Akaashi rose from his seat to enter the room, but instead found Bokuto standing at the door in seconds, his eyes wide with surprise. He was thinner than before, a large flannel shirt fitting him loosely. He had probably lost a bit overtwenty pounds in the two months that passed.

Akaashi frowned. "Get back into bed. You shouldn't be-"

Bokuto didn't allow him to finish his sentence as he embraced Akaashi suddenly. "I didn't think you were going to make it today." Though he'd gotten thinner, his arms still had some power to them. He squeezed Akaashi, mashing him closer until he could barely breathe.

Akaashi's eyebrows knit together. "I told you I would..." He all but murmured against Bokuto's shoulder.

"What's this?" The taller, dark haired male gestured to them. "I come to visit and I'm barely paid attention to, but when he comes along, he's given the whole package?"

Bokuto pulled away to face his smirking friend. "Relax." He then turned his attention to Akaashi. "This is Kuroo, a close friend of mine."

He cocked his head to the side. "Nice to meet you, Akaashi. I've heard a lot about you in the short hour that I've been here."

Nodding once, Akaashi acknowledged Kuroo's words, but did not know how to respond to them. All he had to offer was a, "The pleasure is mine," before moving forward to try and usher Bokuto back into his room.

"Hey- hey!" Bokuto resisted, standing firm in place. "We were actually just talking about stepping outside."

"Well, I brought it up, just as a suggestion, but then he got really excited." Kuroo scratched the back of his head. "So we were going to step outside for a minute or two in order to get this owl to shut up."

"I've been cooped up in this place for too long. I haven't gone outside in days." The discomfort could be heard in Bokuto's voice. If there was one thing that Akaashi had learned about Bokuto in the little time that he'd known him, it was that he wasn't too fond of staying locked up indoors. Maybe taking him outside for a while would do him some good.

Akaashi looked down the hall. "Let's go then. To the garden out in the back."

Everyone came to an unspoken agreement after the one sentence. Kuroo started down the hall, Bokuto trailing after him. Akaashi followed after knowing that Kenma was nearby. As he walked, he stared at the backs of the two men in front of him. They both seemed to be the same height, but Akaashi couldn't help but realize that Bokuto looked just a bit smaller.

 


 

A mere two minutes outside had turned into two hours.

Akaashi shared a bench with Kenma. The both of them had sat down long ago, leaving Bokuto and Kuroo to their own business as they wandered about and waved their arms around in their animated way of speaking. He found it strange, how Bokuto was the one walking around when he was the sick one out of the lot. He furrowed his brow and exhaled heavily, his eyes looking down. He stared at his knees intensely before Kenma spoke up.

"You don't like to see him like that, do you?"

Akaashi lifted his head and looked to his side. He eyed the blonde one for quite a while. Kenma didn't give him a chance to respond.

"I don't like to see him like that, either. It's why I didn't want to come along. But Kuroo insisted." Kenma's unconcerned tone contradicted his words, but something told Akaashi that he meant everything he was saying.

"Were you ever friends with Bokuto?" Akaashi lifted his head in subtle interest.

"More like acquaintances. Our teams would face each other often. Whenever we did, Kuroo and Bokuto would meet up afterwards and spend time together. I'm usually around Kuroo, so..." He shrugged with little energy. "I sort of got to know him through Kuroo's company. He's an okay guy. Loud, though."

Bokuto's disembodied laughter rang throughout the garden, as if to prove Kenma right.

Akaashi almost smiled. "So... How are you taking all of this, if I may ask?"

"I'm..." Kenma's lips puckered in thought. "I'm taking it well, or at least I think I am. I'm trying to detach myself. It's another reason why I didn't want to pay Bokuto any visits." He looked down, his hair hanging over his face. "There's something about Bokuto that doesn't sit well with me."

Confused and mildly shocked, Akaashi made a face. "Is there something wrong with him? Has he ever done anything bad?"

"Not to my knowledge. But even if he has, that's not what I meant." Kenma rubbed his nose with his sleeve. "It doesn't matter if you've never met Bokuto before, or if you haven't seen him in ten days, or ten weeks, or ten months, or ten years. If you ever interact with him in even the slightest, you'll be reminded of just how good a person he really is."

Akaashi stared at Kenma, speechless.

"He's genuine, kind, and at times, infantile, but that's what makes him so... Likeable, I suppose. He drags you back in. He praises others while shouting that he's the best at everything he does. It's ridiculous."

Looking away slowly, Akaashi watched as Bokuto and Kuroo reappeared in the distance. They were still wrapped up in whatever conversation they were having.

"Kuroo looks happy now. But he wasn't, then." Kenma almost murmured the words. Akaashi turned to catch a glimpse of him, but he stared off in the distance, his eyes not focusing on anything in particular. Blinking, Akaashi turned his attention back to Kuroo and Bokuto.

"Five weeks ago, he was in shambles. He didn't want to talk to anyone. He only accepted my company. I was the only one willing to give it to him." He continued to stare on as he talked. "That was when he learned about the disease. This entire past month hasn't been any different for him, though. He almost didn't want to come today, either. No one likes to find out that someone they care about is sick... Much less diagnosed with a disease that can't be cured."

Bokuto and Kuroo continued to talk animatedly, the both of them out of earshot.

"Bokuto is starting to look less and less like his old self, too. He used to be thicker. He used to be bigger than Kuroo, but now he's the one who's smaller. Kuroo's the bigger one. Kuroo's the heavier one. It doesn't-... It doesn't make any sense."

Pursing his lips into a thin line, Akaashi looked down and noticed that Kenma had laced his fingers together. He pulled and tugged at them restlessly. His hands showed what his face dared not.

Akaashi figured it was safe to say that Bokuto had already begun to pull Kenma back in. It was an awful thing to do, but Akaashi knew full well that none of it was intentional on Bokuto's part. All he had to do was talk to someone, and in an instant, they would be involved in Bokuto's lively shenanigans once again.

Akaashi knew this. The same thing happened to him some two and a half months ago. If he had known that sending simple text messages would have turned into daily hospital visits, then he would have never handed over his cell number. This was not what he wanted. He wanted healthy friends that he could talk to on a regular basis, not one sick friend who he'd have to invest personal and emotional time into. Akaashi swallowed thickly and crossed his hands, rubbing one thumb over the other. He stared at Bokuto and found it difficult to look away. With a heavy heart, he spoke.

"I wish I never met him."

A cool breeze passed through the garden just then, and in the distance, Bokuto held on tight to the burgundy knit scarf around his neck to keep warm.

 


 

In time, Kuroo and Kenma found that it was time for them to make their way back home. Kuroo bid Bokuto farewell for the time being, while Kenma made his way downstairs to exit the building. He didn't seem like one to say goodbye ‒ or hello ‒ for that matter, so both Akaashi and Bokuto didn't pay any mind to it.

Kuroo finally left the room after four minutes or so, having forgotten that he was supposed to leave in the first place. He waved and jogged out, knowing that if he didn't hurry, he'd have to spend several more minutes trying to catch up to a wandering Kenma.

Standing at the side of Bokuto's bed, Akaashi glanced to the open door that led to the hallway.

"Your friend is a lot like you."

"Anything but," Bokuto retorted, sitting upright in bed. "He's a bit more of... An ass, to say the least." He chuckled and rubbed at his face wearily.

The sound of Bokuto's laughter caused Akaashi to turn his head back to him. It was a reaction that Akaashi was not expecting in the least, but he played off his surprise and only managed an, "I see."

Bokuto gazed at Akaashi, almost in wonder. "Why are you standing? Take a seat." He pat the empty space next to him animatedly.

"No, it's alright. I was actually thinking of taking my leave soon, as well-"

"What? Why?" The disappointment in his voice was clear. "You've only been here for like, thirty minutes."

Akaashi scratched his head. "It's been over three hours, actually."

"That's the same thing!" Bokuto moved closer to where Akaashi was standing, all the while still sitting in bed. "I spoke to Kuroo most of the time, so it doesn't count."

"What doesn't?" Akaashi took an unnoticeable step back.

"The three hours!" He was getting frustrated. "I'm very bad at measuring time now, too, if you haven't noticed. Three hours feels like seven hours, sometimes. But three hours can also feel like seven minutes. I may not be as sharp as I used to, but that whole 'Time flies when you're having fun,' rule still applies to me, even today."

"So... Three hours is nothing." Akaashi muttered.

"Exactly!" Bokuto's eyes lit up again.

Akaashi avoided looking into them. "I understand, but I still have to go." He avoided looking at Bokuto altogether. "I would stay if it were up to me. I've just got something to take care of, but I'll be sure to visit you tomorrow."

Bokuto didn't make a sound. He pressed his lips into a thin line and fell backwards on his bed. He probably had a thousand things to say, but he kept them all at bay and instead rolled onto his side, facing away from Akaashi.

He was shocked. Akaashi never knew that Bokuto was one to suddenly sulk on a dime. He looked around and frowned, and figured it would be best to take his leave.

"I'll... See you tomorrow."

"Do you want your scarf back?" The question came out of the blue. Despite him being the one who asked, Bokuto held onto it tightly.

Akaashi watched him and zipped up his jacket. "Yeah... I do."

In dismay, Bokuto sat up in bed and slowly reached around his neck to pull off the warm piece of cloth. He took his time, the thought of removing it killing him faster than the disease itself.

"...But I also want you to hold onto it."

The words had come as such a shock to Bokuto that he'd paused and looked up at Akaashi. His hands tensed, relaxed, and rested against his neck. "...You do?

"Yes." Akaashi managed the faintest of smiles. "Please hold onto it, Bokuto."

At that moment, he turned away and walked off, feeling he wouldn't be able to leave if he'd lasted one more second in the room.

 


 

Akaashi woke with a start that same night, his strangled shouts having pulled him from his sleep. He'd flinched hard and sat up quickly, closing his hand over his mouth to subdue the almost hysteric sounds that came from him. His breathing was heavy, his heart rate quicker than usual; Akaashi could feel his heart pounding in his throat, making it difficult to swallow.

"Sh- sh-it..."

That had been the fifth time that month where Akaashi had to tear himself out of another nightmare. They made him feel nauseous to a point where he had to sit up in bed and swallow deep, slow breaths in order to cool himself down, and he did just that, reaching his hands up to rub at his eyes before taking a tense look around his room.

Exhaling heavily, Akaashi turned to look at the desk near his bed. His phone was there. Hesitating for only a second, he reached his hand out and took the device into his hands. When the screen lit up, a text message from Bokuto waited there for him.

'Sleep well, Akaashi.' It had been sent two hours ago.

Akaashi swiped and unlocked his phone with trembling hands.

From: Akaashi (Sent at 2:47am)

[Are you there?]

Bokuto:

[Yeah! Akaashi? I thought you fell asleep.]

Akaashi had to wait almost a minute for Bokuto's response. It was the longest minute he'd ever been forced to sit through.

Akaashi:

[I woke up. Nightmares.]

Bokuto:

[Nightmare? You had a nightmare? Was it bad?]

Akaashi:

[Well, it managed to wake me up.]

Bokuto:

[The quiet kind of wake up?]

Akaashi:

[No, more like the clichéd kind, where you sit up in bed in a cold sweat.]

Bokuto:

[Are you calming down? Are you feeling better?]

Akaashi stared at the text message and let out a shaking sigh. Judging by his still trembling hands, he knew he wasn't.

Akaashi:

[Yeah. I'm just a little shaken.]

Bokuto:

[I don't believe you on that 'Yeah' part.]

Akaashi:

[I'm fine.]

Bokuto:

[Alright, well... We'll just see about that.]

Furrowing his brow, Akaashi stared at his phone screen and lay his head down sideways. It wasn't like Bokuto to question what he said in such a straightforward fashion.

Akaashi:

[There's nothing to see...]

He pressed send and watched the phone carefully, waiting for the small ellipses to appear on the lower left side of the screen. But instead, he was greeted with nothing. He didn't get a response, nor did he see any signs of responding.

Akaashi frowned and left his phone screen alone to dim and blacken. He held it in his shaking hands and closed his eyes in an attempt to try and find sleep again. It was difficult, however, as each time he tried to drift off to sleep, that unnerving fear of having the same dream would jerk him back awake. Akaashi groaned softly and covered his face.

BZZT

Akaashi's phone vibrated against his forehead. He flinched and pulled his hand away to stare at the screen.

Bokuto:

[Look outside! (@´∀`)ノ]

"What?" Akaashi kicked his legs out of bed and strode to his window. "Impossible-" He pulled apart the blinds and looked down.

Out in the dead of night stood Bokuto, with the burgundy knit scarf around his neck, a jacket, jeans, and slippers. He looked up and grinned, and waved wildly in Akaashi's direction.

Akaashi's eyes widened. "No, no, no, no-" He pulled away from the windowsill and ran out of his room, straight downstairs and to the front door. He threw it open and faced Bokuto, who was jogging to him with a smile and a shiver in each step.

"May I come in?"

"No! No, we're-"

"Why not?"

"We're going back to the hospital right now. I'm taking you back." Akaashi reached his arms out and pushed Bokuto away.

"What? No!" Bokuto refused to budge. He pushed Akaashi back this time. "I just came from there."

"Exactly, because you belong there!" Akaashi felt that his words were a bit bitter, but he had no other way of telling Bokuto the truth. "You're sick, you need medical attention."

"So I can't sleep." Bokuto swatted Akaashi's hands away. "What's the big deal?"

"It's more than that!" He exerted more force into his arms, getting Bokuto to take a step back. "You've had two panic attacks this week already, and your hallucinations are getting worse. My home is not a place for you to be right now."

"I get panic attacks when you're not around," Bokuto answered simple-mindedly. "And my hallucinations aren't all that bad."

Akaashi clenched his jaw behind a mildly irritated face. "Stop trying to act like this isn't such a big deal... You may not think it is, but I..." He paused and reached his arms out to get in another shove. "Let's just go."

"I don't want to." Bokuto grabbed Akaashi's hands with his own.

"Bokuto, stop."

"I don't want to go back!"

"How did you even sneak out?"

"By sneaking out! They don't pay much attention to me anyways!"

Akaashi yanked his hands away and stared at Bokuto. As much as it infuriated him, he knew that Bokuto wasn't going to go anywhere unless he let him into his home first. He swallowed thickly.

"Get inside." Akaashi stepped to the side.

Bokuto's eyes did the familiar light up thing as he bounded into Akaashi's home. He removed his slippers and waited at the entrance for his friend to enter. Akaashi stepped in and shut the door behind him.

"You chose the perfect night." Akaashi said bitterly as he hobbled up the stairs. "My parents aren't home."

"It's not like I would've made any noise," Bokuto all but shouted, following after him.

Akaashi sighed. "I'll get you back to the hospital by seven in the morning."

"Fine by me! Imagine the looks on their faces when they see me coming in from the outside. Imagine their faces when they notice I'm not even in my room." Bokuto was elated.

Akaashi entered his room and shut the door behind Bokuto. "I'm going straight to sleep."

"But I thought you had that nightmare." Bokuto stood at the side of Akaashi's bed.

"I did..." He paused for a moment. "... Is that why you came here? Because of the nightmare?"

Bokuto stared at Akaashi. "Because you said you were okay, and I knew you weren't."

Akaashi was at a loss for words. He returned Bokuto's gaze, then looked down quickly afterwards. A hand tugged at his shirt weakly. "I see." He reached a hand out to turn on the lamp that sat on his nightstand.

Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Bokuto rubbed the back of his neck. "What was the dream about?"

Akaashi sat in bed and wrapped a sheet around himself. He tossed the navy blue one to Bokuto, remembering how fond he was of it the last time he'd come over. He watched as Bokuto gathered it up in his arms and threw it around himself. He then stared at Akaashi, waiting for his response.

He sighed. "I was drowning." His hands picked at the small lint rolls that stuck to his sheet. "Drowning in something black, sort of like tar. I was fighting and trying to get out, but... I had no power over it whatsoever. I was so weak, and it'd gotten to the point where I could barely breath. My face was the only thing sticking out." Akaashi cocked his head back to demonstrate this, with his finger tapping his chin.

"I was struggling. But in the end, I couldn't move. I was shouting, but no sound came out. No one could hear me. No one was around." Akaashi shrugged. "The liquid started flooding into my mouth and nose, and it wasn't until I was suffocating that I forced myself awake."

Akaashi didn't say another word afterwards. He only bundled himself up in the sheets that surrounded him. He turned his head to look out the window, eyeing the moon timidly.

Shifting in his seat, Bokuto pulled himself closer to Akaashi, one hand grasping the blanket that had been given to him.

Akaashi remained in place with the thought in mind that Bokuto would respect his personal space and sit a foot or two away from him, but to his apparent surprise, Bokuto leaned his head on Akaashi's shoulder and slipped an arm around him.

Akaashi squirmed in discomfort. "What are you doing?"

"Comforting?" Bokuto replied, lifting his head. "Isn't that what humans do?"

Akaashi watched him carefully. "Don't talk like you're not one..."

Bokuto chortled quietly and placed his head back on Akaashi's shoulder. They didn't speak for a moment, and the room was filled with the hushed sounds of the outside.

"Hey."

"What?"

"Let's watch Cloud Atlas."

"No." Akaashi shook his head.

Bokuto grumbled to himself. "Why not? Don't you have it in your laptop?"

"I do, but I don't want to watch it. It's a long movie, and I've watched it about seven times already."

"Well if you've watched it seven times then why not watch it an eighth time?"

"Because it's three in the morning and I want to fit some sleep into my schedule. By the time that movie ends, it'll be six. Then I'll have to walk you to the hospital before the doctors find out you're missing and lose their minds."

A laugh escaped Bokuto, the sound curling his lips into a smile. "What if they've already found out?"

"Then that would be a problem."

"And then they'd turn my room upside down in an attempt to find me."

"That'd be a tough mess to clean up."

Turning his head, Bokuto looked at Akaashi. "Everything you say is so straightforward. Why is that?"

"I... Don't know." Akaashi inhaled slowly. "It's just how I am. Sometimes I think I'm funny. But people never laugh at my jokes."

Bokuto snorted. "When have you ever tried to make a joke?"

"When I said that it would be a tough mess for them to clean up..." Akaashi sounded genuinely confused. "Didn't that come off as remotely funny?"

Bokuto couldn't help but guffaw, his head tilting back. "That was your idea of a joke?"

"You're too loud, be quiet." Akaashi shoved his visitor lightly. Despite this, it only seemed to make Bokuto laugh even harder. Akaashi pursed his lips in frustration, but this look quickly vanished as a small laugh fell from his lips.

"Well, you're laughing now..." He tried to hide his smile. "So I guess I am pretty good at being funny."

Bokuto glanced at him. "Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons." His laughter died down along with Akaashi's. "You know... I don't think I've ever heard you laugh, or seen you smile for that matter."

Shrugging one shoulder, Akaashi grabbed his phone. "Well now you have."

Bokuto looked over at the phone screen. "What are you doing?"

"Setting an alarm for six AM." Akaashi set his phone down and leaned back slowly, resting the back of his head against his pillow. Bokuto followed, his arm still around him.

This is strange. He stared up at the ceiling and sighed. Why do I let him do this?

Akaashi's head slumped to the side, in Bokuto's direction.

"I hope you don't mind me sleeping." He whispered the words.

"Of course I don't. I showed up to your house unannounced at three in the morning. You've got all the right to sleep..."

"I just hope it isn't rude-"

"It isn't." Bokuto's arm unconsciously squeezed Akaashi closer to his side.

"Alright..." He closed his eyes. "Good night." Akaashi pulled his arms in close, wrapping the sheets around himself.

"See you in three hours." Bokuto whispered.

Complete and utter silence befell them afterwards. Akaashi had kept his eyes closed for quite a while, trying to fall into a deep sleep, but found that he couldn't, or at least, not as quickly as he thought he could. He kept his breathing controlled and steady for about forty minutes; he looked sound asleep, but was actually drifting between the real world and the dream realm.

There was silence, and then there was a sound. A subtle, gentle sound. The sound of someone cautiously moving their arm when they didn't wish to wake someone.

Akaashi remained in his faux sleeping position, feeling that it would take much more of an effort for him to open his eyes and check around than to stay dormant. And so he continued to try and grasp sleep, expecting nothing from the noise.

It was because of this that he was so surprised when he felt a gentle sensation against his forehead. It took all of his power not to flinch when he'd felt the unfamiliar touch.

They were fingers. Hesitant fingers that ghosted over Akaashi's forehead in order to push a loose strand of hair away.

Keeping his eyes closed, Akaashi took in the feeling of this. He could sense the heavy amount of reluctance in each movement that Bokuto's hand carried out.

Bokuto was afraid to wake Akaashi. So much so that his hands trembled slightly whenever he'd push Akaashi's bangs away.

Slowly but gradually, Akaashi's heart rate picked up. His hands twitched once, and he moved closer, leaning into Bokuto's touch. This backfired, however, as the other's hand quickly withdrew. Akaashi relaxed then, keeping the sleeping act alive.

Bokuto did not move a muscle after having seen Akaashi stir. The last thing he wanted to do was wake him up, so they lay in silence for minutes on end. Akaashi figured that Bokuto would keep to himself for the rest of the night, so he put his focus back to trying to sleep. He held the same position and felt himself dozing off...

"I'm sorry." The words were barely a whisper, and they came without warning. It almost sounded as if Bokuto were talking to himself.

Akaashi remained still and silent.

"... I never meant to drag you into my life..."

Bokuto inhaled all that he could. Akaashi felt his chest rise. He could practically hear the frown in his voice.

"I know that I'm unbearable. I know that I'm a lost cause. I know that you know that, too... And yet you still stick by me."

He paused for a moment, then spoke up again. His voice was a soft tremor.

"So... Thank you."

Bokuto had nothing more to say after that. He lay his cheek on the top of Akaashi's head and kept still, daring not to wake him.

But Akaashi now couldn't find it in himself to sleep. Bokuto's words haunted him, and they repeated themselves over and over in his mind. 

He swallowed once, hoping to get rid of the lump in his throat.

 


 

 

After that night, things had only gone downhill from then.

Akaashi took a glance out the window, only to instantly throw on his clothes and toss his bag over his shoulders. He jogged downstairs, slipped his shoes on, and was out the door in seconds, making his way down the familiar route to the hospital. Above, the clouds were dense, and they gathered quickly, casting a dark shroud over Akaashi's path. He zipped his jacket up to shield himself from the harsh winds that came his way and advanced forward. There was definitely a storm coming his way, so Akaashi knew that Bokuto would need him.

A month and sixteen days had passed since Bokuto's final visit to Akaashi's home, and once he'd been taken back to the hospital, the doctors and nurses made sure to keep a closer eye on him, and with good reason. Not only was Bokuto the kind of guy to sneak out when no one was watching, but his condition had quickly begun to worsen without warning. Before then, he would normally lose several pounds a week, but ever since the night he'd snuck out, his weight loss could only be described as alarming. In the span of a little over a month, Bokuto had gone from a general one-hundred and fifty pounds to a mere ninety-seven pounds, last time they'd weighed him. The drastic weight loss was awful enough, but as if to add insult to injury, Bokuto's worsening condition also made it increasingly difficult for him to walk, move, and speak.

Akaashi frowned heavily as he entered the hospital. He made his way up the same path, walking swiftly and without pause. That was, until he saw a familiar face.

"Kuroo?" Akaashi stopped in his tracks, in front of Bokuto's room.

The black haired male looked up from his hands. He faked a smile. "Hey- Akaashi, right? Long time."

"Yeah, I'm-," He turned his head, "Is there someone in there?" He didn't wait for Kuroo to respond and glanced into Bokuto's room. Surely enough, he noticed Kenma sitting in the seat next to Bokuto's bed. His back was facing the door, and Bokuto seemed to have all of his attention on him.

"Will Kenma allow me to enter the room?"

Kuroo rubbed the lower part of his face with his hand. "Nope." He leaned back in his chair. "Take a seat. Kenma usually isn't the kind of person to speak to people one on one, so... I think you'd better leave 'em both alone."

Inhaling deeply, Akaashi lingered in place, then sat down in the empty seat next to Kuroo.

"You seem a bit anxious." Kuroo looked at Akaashi sideways.

"I am. There's a storm coming. Bokuto doesn't do well with those..."

"Ah..." Kuroo looked at the ceiling, as if he would be able to see the clouds from there. "I hadn't noticed that one was rolling in." He slowly lowered his head and folded his arms. "Didn't think you knew that about him."

Akaashi turned his head to face Kuroo. "Was he ever fond of them?"

"Don't think so. In the past, he'd always get sort of tense and paranoid whenever a storm would pass over head, but that was kind of it. Now I bet he... Suffers panic attacks because of them."

Akaashi looked down. "He does. Storms trigger them."

Kuroo made a grunting noise and had nothing more to say on the subject. Akaashi figured he should stay quiet too. He knit his fingers together and kept his eyes down, anticipating when the first boom of thunder would sound. He would have to close Bokuto's blinds and take his mind off of it somehow. Show him a movie or play a game with him that would result in him to calm down quickly. Akaashi rubbed the back of his neck hastily and closed his eyes.

"Ninety-seven fucking pounds."

Startled, Akaashi opened his eyes and glanced in Kuroo's direction. He glowered at nothing in particular.

"I'm sorry?"

"Ninety-seven pounds, right? That's how much he supposedly weighs now?"

Once Akaashi realized what Kuroo was talking about, he instantly felt his spirits fall. "Yes."

"Fucking bullshit." He swore without a filter.

Wincing, Akaashi turned his head away. He'd only spoken to Kuroo once before, and they barely exchanged any words. He didn't know how to deal with him now, so he remained silent. He twisted his fingers and pursed his lips, wary of what Kuroo would say next.

"All of this is so- ugh. Why the hell did this have to happen to him? And at such an early damn age, too?" He hissed the words under his breath, openly frustrated with the situation. "He turned twenty only three months ago..."

Akaashi lowered his head. "It's not fair."

"It's not." Kuroo echoed the words in agreement. "But... Here we are. And here he is..."

Kuroo rubbed his elbow, irate, and sighed in defeat.

"I'm not coming back to visit him anymore. Not after this. I've seen enough." He turned to look at Akaashi. "Keep him company from now on. I don't know how you do it, but... When you're around him, you help him forget."

Akaashi kept his eyes down. He wouldn't show this, but Kuroo's words had hit him harder than he could ever imagine. They sat heavily in the pit of his stomach, churning and pestering him, urging him to throw up. But he only swallowed and kept his composure, just as he'd been doing since the day he met Bokuto.

Akaashi reached his hand up to rub the back of his neck roughly, administering a feeling of discomfort to one area in order to ignore the pain that threatened to swallow his heart. He closed his eyes in a slow blink and kept his breathing quiet.

Having been neck deep in his own sorrows, Kuroo was blind to Akaashi's. He forced himself to stand after some time, tapping his fingers against his pants.

"Keep doing what you're doing." His voice was low.

Akaashi nodded in response.

"Of course. I couldn't stop, even if I tried."

A biting chuckle escaped Kuroo.

"Yeah... Ain't that the horror of it all..." He rubbed his chin and stalked his way down the hall. "Keep in touch, Akaashi."

"Of course." He repeated the same phrase, finding that it was difficult to search for words at the time. He watched as Kuroo walked away, far enough for small details to become blurred. He only looked like a tall, thin, black mass now as he stood near the stairway. He was waiting for Kenma, but Akaashi wondered why he hadn't waited for him in the seat that he was initially sitting in.

Just then, as Akaashi bit down on the inside of his lower lip, he turned his head in time to catch a glimpse of Kenma lowering his head towards Bokuto. It wasn't necessarily a bow. It seemed more along the lines of an act of affection, or at least as affectionate as Kenma could get, which wasn't much.

He touched his forehead to Bokuto's shoulder, which only earned a laugh from him. Bokuto talked quietly in response to Kenma, gave a nod, and smiled.

He never seemed to stop smiling.

Once he saw this, Kenma picked himself up from his seat, put his hands at his side, and bowed his head. He didn't last another second in Bokuto's company before he turned and briskly walked out of the room. He kept his head down and played the fool, pretending he didn't see Akaashi. In seconds, Kenma was down the hall and making his way down the stairs, having completely ignored Kuroo as well.

Kuroo didn't seem surprised in the slightest. He only waved goodbye at a staring Akaashi before following his small friend down the stairs.

Hesitantly, Akaashi barely managed to wave back before he heard his name being called from that all too familiar room, by that all too familiar voice.

He directed his attention to a grinning Bokuto who eagerly sat up in bed.

Akaashi almost smiled back, and he would have, too, if it hadn't been for the thunder that sounded its arrival from above. He watched as Bokuto's smile faded instantly, his eyes having gone from half lidded to wide in a second. His hands squeezed tightly around the navy blue blanket that enveloped him.

"Akaashi-"

"I know." He walked ahead quickly, straight into the room. He pushed the chair away and found Bokuto's side in bed.

Frail, shaking fingers pushed through his own black and white hair in an attempt to calm himself down, but another thunder clap sounded, louder that time. Bokuto flinched hard enough to make the bed shake.

"F-f-u-ck." His voice broke in terror.

"Look at me, it's going to be fine." Akaashi spoke in a calm, slow voice. His hand took Bokuto's own, and he held it gently. It was cold and shook in short bursts. "You will get through this. You always do."

Staring down wide-eyed at the floor of the hospital room, Bokuto fought to find words.

"Akaa-sh- d-don't-" Bokuto struggled with his breathing.

"Don't what?"

"Don't l-le-leave m-me..."

"I won't leave you." He moved closer, his other hand taking hold of Bokuto's. "Just breathe with me."

Bokuto nodded frantically and forced himself to comply with Akaashi, as he always did. He was the only person who could get him through those horrible moments, after all.

Heavy raindrops pelted against the window as Bokuto's frantic sounds filled the room. Akaashi was glad to have made it in time. That had been one of Bokuto's worst attacks yet.

 


 

"Hey, Akaashi?"

"Hm?"

"When do you think it will snow?"

"I don't know... Snow falls at random."

"Yeah, but... Do... You think it will snow soon? Or maybe January?"

"I hope so. That would be nice. Tokyo needs a little more snow now and then."

"Yeah... Yeah. When it falls, I want to go out and stand in it."

Akaashi sat cross legged in the seat adjacent to Bokuto's bed. He looked up at the sickly one when he'd said those words, trying to meet his gaze, but ultimately finding no yellow eyes to look into. Bokuto had his head turned away.

He was staring outside at the white clouds that shrouded the skies, mesmerized by just how colorless it made everything seem. It was one of those "White days", as Bokuto liked to call them, so he paid much more attention to the world beyond the glass than he did to his own confined life in the hospital. Bokuto breathed in deeply, the sound filling the small space around them. The bedsheets crumpled beneath his hands.

"Are you sure you should be going out in the cold like that?"

"I think I can handle it."

Akaashi didn't want to bring up the fact that Bokuto probably would no longer possess the ability to walk by the time any snow did get a chance to fall, so he kept his mouth shut. He rubbed his hands together weakly and tilted his head to the side.

"I guess you can... Just as long as you're feeling better."

Bokuto scoffed. It was a quiet sound.

"I am. Stop asking already. That was six days ago."

"I know, but it was bad."

"It passed." Bokuto turned his head, the pillow crumpling under his neck. He looked at Akaashi with heavy lidded eyes. He was extremely pale, and somehow thinner than before, but he kept that same smile on his face. "I'm fine now."

Akaashi couldn't help but smile back at him. He leaned his chin against the palm of his hand and chortled.

"Or at least as fine as you can get."

Bokuto stared at Akaashi sharply. His lips quivered before he could form his words.

"Sh...ut up." A stronger laugh broke out from him, rattling his body as he lay down in bed. "I look... Like shit, I know."

Akaashi found himself laughing along with him. His quiet chuckle was louder than Bokuto's wholehearted laugh.

"You don't. You don't look like shit." He tried to hide his grin with his hand, but it was still visible from the gaps between his fingers.

Bokuto reached a hand out, aimlessly trying to swat Akaashi's own hand away. He tried to aim for it at the very least, but found it difficult to. Still, he continued.

"Don't cover that."

"Cover what?"

"Your smile."

"Why? It isn't anything spe-"

"I barely ever see it." Bokuto's fingers touched at Akaashi's knuckles. That was enough for Akaashi to remove his hand from in front his mouth slowly, moving it to rest it over his chin. He smiled down at him.

Bokuto's eyes stared forward with an engrossed gaze, his yellow hues taking a mental picture of what he probably would never see again. Many words dashed through his mind, but he could only think of three that would be best for him to say to Akaashi. He tried to open his mouth to say them, but he performed another action instead. Unconsciously, his hand grasped Akaashi's own, and he dragged it down with his lack of strength, causing both of them to startle. Bokuto's eyes widened.

"I- I thought you would... Hold it up-"

"It was sudden." Akaashi stifled a laugh. "It caught me off guard."

"I didn't mean... To..."

"It's alright." He smoothed his thumb over Bokuto's knuckles. "I'm... Holding it now."

Silently and almost in fascination, Bokuto stared at Akaashi once again, longer this time before he looked up, then down, then away. He turned his head towards the window, away from Akaashi. He couldn't face him.

Pursing his lips timidly, Akaashi ceased to speak. He studied the back of Bokuto's head, eying the messy strands of black and white hair that overlapped each other. His green eyes then fell to study his paling skin; his veins were easily noticeable now, and they bulged from beneath his flesh whenever he moved. Akaashi's eyes lowered, focusing on the arm that was attached to the hand that he was holding.

He studied the small needle that was lodged into Bokuto's forearm, eyed the thin tube that was attached to this, and followed it up to the bag of IV fluid that hung above his head.

Whatever was left of Akaashi's smile faded.

Ever since Bokuto's last panic attack, it had suddenly become more difficult for him to control his words, movements, and actions altogether. Such a task as easy as swallowing was now a problem for Bokuto, too, and after many failed attempts at keeping his food down, or getting it to go down in the first place, the nurses found it would be best if Bokuto received nourishment the only other way possible, and that was through a tube.

Over the span of the six days, Akaashi found that the only things Bokuto could manage to swallow were small snacks, like grapes, ice cubes, and Pocky Sticks that were specifically strawberry flavored. Other than those things, Bokuto found it nearly impossible to stomach anything else. His only other choice was to lie there and accept whatever it was the IV liquid had to offer him.

Looking back to Bokuto, he was relieved to see that he still had his attention on the window. At some time while Akaashi was spacing out, the blue blanket that surrounded Bokuto had been pulled up just below his chin, with only his arm hanging out to hold onto Akaashi's hand. Bokuto's breathing was quiet, and his hand never really remained still for a long time. It would shake every so often, and each time it did, Akaashi would squeeze lightly in response. This was their unspoken communication.

It was Akaashi's way of letting Bokuto know that everything would be alright, and this would always comfort him, no matter the situation they were in.

They both found it easier to believe in that lie than to accept the truth of what was to come.

 


 

On the numbingly cold day that was January 3rd, at 8:04 PM, snow had fallen for the first time that year. Bokuto was the first to notice this, but had also been the last to say anything about it.

It wasn't until Akaashi looked up from his laptop screen that he realized it was snowing heavily outside. His eyes lit up, intent on informing Bokuto, but when he turned his head to get a look at him, instead of being greeted by an over enthusiastic friend, he was presented with an unfazed expression upon Bokuto's weary face.

Akaashi frowned.

"Bokuto? Don't you see it?"

Looking up from the laptop screen, Bokuto directed his attention to Akaashi.

"Wh...?"

"The snow? It's snowing outside."

Bokuto turned his head to catch another look out the window. Surely enough, snow was falling, and in chunks too, but this did not grasp Bokuto's attention. Frankly speaking, it had no affect on him in the slightest. He managed a feeble shrug and turned to continue on with the movie that he'd watched for the thirtieth time already.

Akaashi was genuinely confused.

"I thought you were waiting for the snow. I thought it was what you wanted..."

His eyelids drooping and then snapping open again, Bokuto made a small sound.

"Mnh-... I... See it... All the t-ime."

Just then, Akaashi's lips parted in realization. Bokuto's hallucinations had become such a part of him, that he thought the snow outside was just another mind trick. He breathed in sharply.

"It's not a hallucination, Bokuto. It's actually snowing."

"..." Bokuto looked up to stare out the window again. There was a longing in his eyes that Akaashi couldn't stand to see. With barely an ounce of strength left, Bokuto pulled himself up a tad to get a better look outside. Curiosity had sparked within him. He wanted to know if it was real or not. He hated how difficult it had become for him to tell apart the real things from the fake ones.

"I'll show you." Akaashi stood from his seat and walked to the windowsill. There, he parted the glass slightly. A gust of icy wind charged its way into the room in an instant, draining the warmth from everything it touched.

Bokuto's skin crawled, goose bumps pimpling his porcelain surface. He pulled the thick blanket over himself with much effort.

Swiftly, Akaashi closed the window, having gathered just enough snow off the edge for him to show to Bokuto. He strode to him quickly, cupping the already melting snow in his hands. Bokuto held out his own, eager to see if it were true.

"See, look." Akaashi placed the small, white compressed lump of snow into Bokuto's palm. This earned a gasp from him. Bokuto stared down at the white clump of melting ice, and with one finger, he pressed against it to watch it fall apart. The tiny snowflakes deteriorated in the warmth of his palm, leaving a small puddle behind.

A gasp escaped Bokuto. His eyes widened as much as they could.

"Akaashi!"

"I know."

"Take me... Outside!"

"It's freezing." Akaashi murmured the words and looked Bokuto up and down. He was nothing more than a blanket with a head. "You tremble when it's seventy degrees in the room. Right now, it's about... Ten degrees outside."

"Please, Akaashi."

Pressing his lips into a thin slab of a line, Akaashi shook his head once more. He found it much too difficult to say no to Bokuto, but it had to be done.

"I can't..."

"But why?" Bokuto's spirits fell, his frown deep.

"That weather will only hurt you. You need to be protected."

"F-from... What?" Bokuto stared at Akaashi, his features having gone from disappointed to unaccepting.

Akaashi drew in a breath, but found that he couldn't say anything. He watched Bokuto with a wary gaze, unaware of what he was to say next.

"I'm already in... Death row. I can.. B-arely speak. I can bare-ly walk... I can't eat. I can't... Sl..eep. The l-last thing you..." He clenched his jaw, frustrated with himself and the words he spoke, "... You... Need to do.. Is worry about me... C-atching a... Cold."

"Bokuto."

"C... Cold or n-not... I'm still... Not going to last v-... Very long. So please... Let me have this."

His eyes were glued to Akaashi's, and Akaashi found that he was unable to look away. Bokuto's eyes said everything to him. He translated all that his words could not.

Akaashi looked down and away from Bokuto, then back to the window.

"... I think the window will be as far as we can go." He said in a hushed voice.

"That's... Fine with me." And just like that, a smile found Bokuto's face again.

Akaashi sighed to himself, frustrated with how easily he'd given in to Bokuto's begging. But as he thought of it, he figured he couldn't be blamed for it. He didn't want to be the one to say no to someone who had little to nothing left in his life.

There was that, and the fact that Akaashi couldn't help but find Bokuto's smile endearing, no matter how sickly he looked when he wore one.

"Come on..." Akaashi reached a hand out to help Bokuto to his feet. He urged him to keep the blanket around him, but Bokuto insisted that he leave it behind. He held onto the IV stand with one hand and Akaashi's hand with his other as he hobbled over to the window. Bokuto's hands were as cold as ice, causing Akaashi's concern in him to grow even more. But no matter how much he worried for him, Akaashi continued on their way to the window at a slow and steady pace until they finally made it.

Once there, Bokuto pulled his hand from Akaashi's and leaned it against the windowsill. The air was bitter and cold, and it hit Bokuto like a slap to the face as another gust of wind forced its way into the hospital room. This did not faze him, however, as Bokuto only closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, allowing the burn of the winter air to fill his lungs. When he exhaled, a puff of smoke left him. Bokuto stuck his head out of the window slightly and kept it there as the snowflakes fell all around him.

"Don't do that." Akaashi pulled Bokuto back inside. He expected to hear a whine of resistance from him, but instead received nothing. Bokuto only complied and stuck his entire arm out instead, watching as each individual snowflake passed around his limb, as if none wanted to touch him. On occasion, one or two would land on him, and he would draw his hand in quickly to try and see if he could make out the small pattern on them. He would study them for quite a while until they melted and left behind nothing more than a droplet on his arm. After this, he would repeat the same process, paying little to no mind to the freezing cold that surrounded him.

Akaashi watched Bokuto, mesmerized by his actions. He almost portrayed the behaviors of a child, sticking to an activity and refusing to let it up, repeating whatever he was up to without having anyone to tell him to stop. Akaashi furrowed his brow and looked outside, away from Bokuto. That familiar feeling of dread was rising from deep within him, something Akaashi wanted to forget. He placed one hand on the windowsill and squeezed, his knuckles going white.

They shared another moment of silence, something that occurred more often than Akaashi would have liked. Though Bokuto's speaking skills weren't as good as they used to be, he was still the more talkative one out of the two. So whenever he went silent, an unwelcomed feeling of discomfort found its home within Akaashi. He wanted to rid himself of this feeling, rid himself of this silence, so he searched his mind in haste for any word that came to mind. He needed something – anything – to say to Bokuto, just so that he could liberate himself of the horrid feeling that threatened to overtake him.

"You know... I never asked." Akaashi managed to say, staring out into the distance. "Why are you so fond of the snow, Bokuto?"

He waited for an answer, but did not receive one. Unnerved, he spoke up again.

"I mean, in your state now, it's a bit clichéd, don't you think?" It was his attempt at brightening the mood, or "being funny," as some called it, but alas, his words had fallen flat on the ground as he received another silent reply from Bokuto. Akaashi frowned deeply. He turned his head to get a clear look at Bokuto's face, but instantly wished he hadn't.

In his silence, Bokuto wept to himself, fat tears rolling down his cheeks in numbers. The hand that supported his weight against the windowsill trembled without pause, and his other remained outside, shaking in the cold dead of night. Several flakes had gathered on the outstretched limb, but they were not quick to melt. They settled there, deeming Bokuto one of them for the remainder of their frozen lives before they eventually melted or fell away.

Akaashi stared at Bokuto, opened his mouth to say something, but found that he couldn't form even one simple word. Realizing this, Akaashi decided to take action instead and reach out to comfort him, but not even this he could do. His arms and legs were stiff, as were his eyes. All he could do was stare at the melancholic performance that played out before him.

Do something... Akaashi closed his mouth and swallowed.

Do something... Anything .

Akaashi's body didn't respond.

He could only watch as those tears fell at a faster pace, down onto his hospital gown and onto the floor. The light that came from outside reflected off of Bokuto's teardrops, lighting his face up in the most gentle of ways. Eventually, Bokuto drew back his hand and let it fall to his side. He hung his head and tried to keep his crying controlled in the best way possible, but this proved to be very difficult as sobs broke out of him, causing his entire being to shake.

After a moment of trying to gather himself, Bokuto choked out two simple words with quivering lips.

"Why... me..?"

Akaashi stared on as his mind searched for words. He found some and said them without a second thought.

"Because life is unfair."

Bokuto reached up a cold, frail hand to wipe at the mess that was his face. "I w...anted to do s-so many things..."

"I know." Akaashi balled his hand into a fist, mentally scolding himself for the present lack of emotion in his voice.

As Bokuto backed away from the window, Akaashi was quick to close it, locking the bitter night air out of the room for the remainder of the night. He then reached out and took hold of Bokuto's arm to help him back to the bed.

Once they'd reached it, Bokuto resumed his usual position and wrapped the thick blanket around himself, then turned away from Akaashi. He watched the window quietly, paying no mind to his visitor, or so Akaashi thought. In a matter of minutes, just as Akaashi had started to fidget, Bokuto spoke up.

"Akaashi..."

"Yes?" His undivided attention was on Bokuto.

He hesitated for a moment, but finally spoke up. "I don't want you to visit me anymore."

Akaashi's eyes squinted to the words, and he leaned forward in shock. "What?"

"Please... Don't visit me... Anymore."

"No." Akaashi stood from his seat.

"Please-"

"No. It's a little too late for that, Bokuto." A shiver racked Akaashi, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand.

"Akaashi, please..."

"No is my final answer." He stalked over to the other side of the bed, where he would be able to look at Bokuto's face. Once Bokuto noticed this, he turned his head and slowly rolled away. Akaashi's eyes widened, his emotions now falling victim to a strange mix of fear and fury.

"Bokuto, what is the meaning of this?"

Bokuto didn't respond. He remained in the same position and only moved his hand to wipe at his face again.

"Answer me."

Sucking his teeth, Bokuto pulled the blanket up to just beneath his chin. It took some time, but he finally answered.

"I don't want you... to grow... any m-more attached to me th-than y-you already are."

Akaashi nearly scoffed. "What makes you think I'm attached to you? I never said that I was."

This time, Bokuto directed his attention to Akaashi. He wore a grimace upon his reddened face.

"Sh-shut up, Akaashi..." He breathed in deeply, frustrated with himself and the gradual growth of his speech impediment, but continued on. "I know... You hate hosp-itals. Don't... Come telling m-me now that you... Have only been... coming here every day because y-you wanted to."

Akaashi had nothing else to say. He stared at Bokuto with his lips parted, as if he were going to speak, but ended up speechless.

"I know that... You care... Ev-... Even if it's just a little bit." Bokuto covered his mouth and coughed suddenly. He found that speaking was taking much more energy than he thought. Still, he continued to talk. "I don't... Know much about this... Disease. Partly be-...cause I was too afraid to read up on it. But... I know I don't have... much time left." His frustration slowly faded, and all that was left behind upon his pale face was a look of defeat.

"One, maybe two months at most, if I'm lucky. That's... How long I know I have... Left."

The air around Akaashi thickened, and suddenly he found it difficult to breathe.

Bokuto looked down and twisted his lips to the side. "I heard the doctors talking. They d...on't know how to... H-heal me, so..." From beneath the blanket, Akaashi could see Bokuto's shoulders rise and fall. "It's just... A slow, downhill ride f-f...rom here. And I d-don't want you to... See it all h-hap...pen."

Bokuto lay there glass-eyed, his welled up tears glinting in the dim lighting of the room.

"I don't... Want you to... Watch me decay."

Small tears spilled out of Bokuto's eyes and rolled down his hauntingly placid features. "So I figured if you left now... You... Wouldn't have to... And it wouldn't h-hurt so much..."

Once again, that crippling spell took hold of him, and Akaashi couldn't move, nor could he speak. All he could do was watch in muted anguish as Bokuto finally accepted what had become of his short lived life. Akaashi realized that those smiles he'd seen before were smiles of denial – forced grins that tried desperately to trick Bokuto into thinking that everything would be fine. But he couldn't keep it up forever. Not in the state that he was in. Bokuto had always been struggling to keep a positive front, but inside, he was falling apart all along.

Akaashi knew this now.

In an attempt to move, he tapped his fingers against his legs at an impatient pace. He was trying everything he could to psych himself into doing at least something to let Bokuto know that he was there for him.

Do something... As if he were one of the living dead, Akaashi forced one leg forward, then the next, until he was touching the bed side. He pushed his negative thoughts aside and sat himself down in bed, right next to Bokuto. Akaashi did not give him time to react to this as he moved closer still, and when he was close enough, he lowered his head to lean it on Bokuto's shoulder.

Akaashi squeezed his hands together to keep them from shaking uncontrollably.

"I'm not leaving, Koutarou." His voice was hushed, gentle. "And nothing you say will make me leave."

Bokuto kept silent. Not a word left him, even as he reached a hand up to wipe at his face again. He only sniffed on occasion, and shifted in place, but never did he say anything to oppose Akaashi's decision.

He was glad.

Akaashi turned his head slightly, his cheek gently resting on Bokuto's shoulder. He took in a slow, deep breath and closed his eyes, and his eyebrows knit together for only a second. His hands quivered as he dug his nails into his knuckles.

Bokuto no longer smelled like a hospital.

Bokuto smelled like... Home.

 


 

The reflection of ending movie credits could be seen in Akaashi's eyes as they scrolled up along the screen of his laptop.

Sitting back, he reached a hand out and paused the movie that'd been on screen.

"So, how was it, watching the movie for the thousandth time?" There was almost a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Lying next to Akaashi, a ghostly pale Bokuto smiled.

"...Good..." Bokuto eased back and buried his head into his pillow. He looked in Akaashi's direction. It took a moment for Bokuto to focus on him.

Pulling his laptop close, Akaashi smoothed his finger along the mouse pad. He looked to the lower right corner of the screen. January 19th, 6:40pm.

Akaashi pulled a solemn face and closed the laptop. He moved in his seat and sat straight against the head of the bed, then looked down at Bokuto.

His tired eyes were on Akaashi. He was grinning.

Forcing a smile of his own, Akaashi tilted his head only slightly.

"What are you smiling at?" He reached a hand out and touched Bokuto's forehead. He was cool to the touch – colder than most. Akaashi was quick to withdraw his hand, but he managed it discretely.

It took a moment for Bokuto to respond, but after some time, he managed some words.

"... Thank you..."

"Don't worry about it." A sheepish grin curled Akaashi's lips. "I know you're fond of that movie." He looked down at Bokuto as he said this, and glanced away soon after. Something told him that those words weren't meant for the movie, but Akaashi shoved this thought away.

He twisted his body to reach for the box of Pocky that sat on the counter. He opened it and pulled one out.

"Do you want one?"

Bokuto nodded and stretched a wobbling arm out. Akaashi placed it in between his fingers, and Bokuto retracted his hand to hold the biscuit snack against himself. He held it to his nose with some difficulty and breathed in the strawberry scent, then let his arm fall. He touched at it lightly, twirled it shakily between his fingers, and studied it, but he never ate it.

Akaashi placed the box back onto the counter and huffed softly.

"You seem to have grown more attached to that Pocky stick than me..."

Bokuto looked up, surprised, and glanced back down at the snack in his hands. It took time for Akaashi's words to reach him, but when they finally did, his face lit up as he broke out in laughter.

It was the weakest sound Akaashi had ever heard.

"Ah, I've finally said something funny." Akaashi chuckled with Bokuto, folding his arms in the process. "I told you I had my moments every so often."

Bokuto's laughter died down and he closed his eyes.

"R...arely..."

"Give me a break here." Akaashi's chortling had been dragged out for a few seconds longer before he, too, quieted down.

They remained speechless in each other's company for several minutes before Bokuto actually spoke up, his voice sounding like nothing more than a mere whisper.

"Keiji..."

Akaashi looked at him.

"M-hm?"

Bokuto swallowed thickly and toyed with the Pocky in his hand.

"Ask... M-me w... Why I like... Cloud Atlas so much."

Perplexed, Akaashi directed his full attention to Bokuto.

"Well alright... Koutarou, why do you like Cloud Atlas so much?" He watched Bokuto intently, curious to know what his answer would be.

Looking up at Akaashi with eager eyes, as if he'd been asked the question out of his own free will, Bokuto gladly answered.

"S... So you... Know in the m-movie when... Th... Characters die in one life...?" He kept his weary yellow eyes on Akaashi, waiting for him to nod. Once he did, Bokuto continued. "W-well... I... Like it when... Th-they find each other again... In another life."

Bokuto's voice was soft, measly, and carried no force to it. But as he spoke about his favorite scene, Akaashi could sense a powerful vibe coming from him... One that wasn't there before.

A hopeful one.

"It m-makes me... Feel like I'll h-have another life... One beyond this one... One that's better... Wh.. Where I can actually wake up to you... and be with y... you..." A smile played on his pale, thin lips. "One where we... Can... Live n...normal lives instead of... Living... This one."

Akaashi couldn't find any words to say at that moment. He stared at Bokuto and could only nod with whatever it was he thought he was agreeing with. He felt as if all the air had been squeezed out of his body by the words that Bokuto had spoken.

Of all the things that Bokuto found most endearing of the movie, Akaashi never thought it would be that.

Managing a miserable smile, Akaashi roughly rubbed his palm with his thumb.

"You know... I would like that. Very much." He spoke gently in Bokuto's direction.

"Me too..." Bokuto's eyes never left Akaashi. He stared at him intently and watched every move he made, to the point where this had captured Akaashi's attention.

"Why do you watch me like that?" His emerald eyes met golden ones.

Though the question was asked clearly, Bokuto didn't make a sound, nor did he move. He instead continued to stare in Akaashi's direction with hopeful eyes.

After what felt like the longest ten seconds of his life, a sudden shudder charged down Akaashi's spine, causing goose bumps to rise on his flesh. He held his breath, then proceeded to ask again.

"Koutarou... Why do you watch me like that?" It took every fiber of his being to keep his voice from trembling.

It was then that Bokuto's eyes blinked in realization, and slowly but surely, he moved his lips to answer.

"Just... Because..." He replied in what almost sounded like a surprised tone. "I didn't... Want you to leave. Sometimes when I... blink... you aren't there anymore..." Bokuto rubbed one of his eyes, then the other, and let his hand drop to his sides.

Akaashi tried to hide his frown. His eyes looked down at Bokuto's hands. They were thin and bony, and he could see those smooth blue veins curling over the bones beneath his flesh.

He reached a hand out and took Bokuto's hand in his own.

Bokuto's automatic reaction to the warmth was to curl his fingers around Akaashi's grasp. He looked at him and exhaled through his nose quietly.

Akaashi met his gaze, then looked down.

"Don't worry. I'm still here."

Bokuto nodded feebly against his pillow.

"I'm still... Here too..." His voice was weaker than before, if possible.

Akaashi nodded, with him.

"Yeah. You're still here, too..."

With what little strength he had left, Bokuto beamed.

Akaashi wished he could do the same.

 


 

New Message!

From: Kuroo (Sent January 31st at 2:25 PM)

[Hey, are you there?]

Akaashi:

[Yes, I am.]

Kuroo:

[How are things?]

Akaashi:

[Things could be better. Things could be worse.]

Kuroo:

[May I ask how Bokuto is doing?]

Akaashi:

[He's... Hanging on.]

Kuroo:

[Can he still walk? Or talk?]

Akaashi:

[No, he can't. He lost the ability to walk a little more than a week ago. His ability to speak left him soon after.]

Kuroo:

[I see. You really are straightforward, aren't you?]

Akaashi:

[I don't know any other way to put it. Sorry.]

Akaashi looked up from his phone after sending the message and turned his head to notice that Bokuto was once again staring at him with acute interest.

His eyes read, "Who's that?"

Stuffing his phone in his pocket, Akaashi shrugged.

"Just... Kuroo." He said the name with a lack of interest to try and soften the blow, but Akaashi knew that no matter how he approached it, Bokuto would frown when he heard the name.

And he did.

Bokuto looked down at Akaashi's hand. His eyes gave away just how much he missed his friend. Feeling an amount of guilt build up within his chest, Akaashi pulled out his phone just as quickly as he'd hid it away.

"Would you like for him to send a photo?"

Bokuto looked back up and thought for a moment, then nodded.

Playing off of this, Akaashi texted for Kuroo to send an image of himself for Bokuto to see. It took quite some time for a message from Kuroo to arrive, but when it did, Akaashi realized that he'd sent a video instead of what was initially asked for.

Akaashi leaned over in his seat to move himself closer to Bokuto. With one elbow on the bed, he held his phone so that the both of them could see. Bokuto stared at the screen with interested eyes, wondering what the content would consist of. Akaashi pressed play, and a video of Kuroo started to play.

He sat at home in bed, with a snug fitting shirt on and his hair an absolute mess.

"What's up, guys? Ahhhh I know you didn't tell me to send a video, but, I'm not someone who follows rules." He pulled a mock cool expression, but this was cut short as someone else spoke up.

From the background of the video, a low voice could be heard.

"What? Did you just... Say that to yourself?"

"No- wow, no, I'm taking a video."

Kuroo panned the phone to his side, and a blurred Kenma came into focus on screen. He sat cross-legged, with a shirt on that was two sizes too big, and a hat that looked as if it had been placed on his head without his consent. His head was down and his fingers moved swiftly over the buttons on the gaming device that he held in his hands. At one point, he reached a hand up to grab the beanie off of his head, and he aimlessly chucked it to the ground with force.

"Say hi, Kenma."

"Wait, what? I didn't hear what you said..." Kenma looked up and was greeted with a front facing camera. He quickly got up from the bed and walked off. "Don't record me."

"At least say hi," Kuroo called.

"Hi." The disembodied voice came from off screen.

"And that's Kenma for you..." Kuroo groaned as he repositioned himself in bed, and then he smiled. "But putting him aside... I hope all is well. Um..." He scratched at his cheek, just below his eye. "I miss you guys. I miss you especially, Bokuto. Um... Hang in there, alright? Akaashi, don't give him a hard time, or you and I are going to fucking fight."

Bokuto smiled wide to those words. He would have laughed if he could.

A grin ghosted across Akaashi's lips as well, but it was quick to vanish.

"Well, I guess that's it for now. I would have Kenma say bye, too, but-" He turned his head to look around, "He left... the room...? Yeah, he left the room. So I'll just say bye for him! See you, Bokuto. Keep it cool. And remember, you're the best." He held his hand up in a "peace sign", and the video ended with him on screen.

Akaashi sighed. He thought the video had gone by too quickly, but it had actually lasted a little under thirty seconds.

"For a guy who's name is Kuroo, he sure is a colorful one." Akaashi sat up and placed his phone on the counter.

Bokuto nodded and looked up at Akaashi once again.

"You guys were best friends, huh...?"

Bokuto nodded once more. He struggled to raise a hand, and slowly he twirled his index finger in circles at the side of his head.

Akaashi snorted softly and leaned back in his seat.

"Is he crazy?"

The smile on Bokuto's lips grew just a little more, signifying that he'd answered yes to Akaashi's question.

It was moments like these that made Akaashi realize just how much of an innocent soul Bokuto really was. Every now and then, it would come to him that Bokuto was only twenty years old, and that fact would only weigh Akaashi down even more than it usually did. It hurt him to think that Bokuto had barely even experienced the joys of a young adult's life before that crippling disease had taken a hold of him. It was frustrating, it was infuriating, and it was overall saddening, but Akaashi could not show any of this. Not in front of Bokuto.

So instead of putting on a sour expression, Akaashi only kept a neutral one, like he always did. It was his best and only way to hide his pain.

 


 

Several hours had passed since the message from Kuroo, and both Bokuto and Akaashi didn't do much.

Without a voice, Bokuto couldn't keep up a conversation as well as he used to, no matter how hard he tried. And even if he could speak, he wouldn't have been able to talk for long considering the state he was in. His movements were uncoordinated and slow, and the only sounds he could manage were meek and most of the time inaudible. At times, Bokuto would do nothing but lie there in bed, twitching back awake whenever his body tried so desperately to fall into the sleeping state that it once knew. When this would happen, he'd pull a frustrated expression for only a moment before his face grew too tired to hold it any longer.

When Bokuto was like this, Akaashi would normally look away to spare himself the sight of it all. But on rare occasions, there were times when he'd have no choice but to watch Bokuto fall apart at the hands of his illness, and he hated it.

For every time Akaashi would witness this, his mind would repeat one phrase, whether he wanted to hear it or not.

This is what a dying person looks like.

Looking down swiftly, Akaashi's sights locked onto his hands. He glared at them intensely with that same placid expression of his, making this look all the more unnerving. He wanted the thought to leave his mind. He wanted nothing to do with it. He forced those words away and replaced them with new ones. Ones that said, He's not dying. He's going to be fine.

But as he thought of it, as he narrowed down the true meanings of both phrases, he ultimately could not decide which of the two were more horrifying.

Akaashi closed his eyes and heaved out a sigh, feeling more and more hopeless with each passing second. He feared he wouldn't be able to pull himself out of this state, but then it occurred to him that he was not alone in this.

He felt the gentlest of taps against his arm, and he turned his head to meet eyes that were as concerned as they were exhausted. Akaashi sat up straight and composed himself.

"I'm fine." He commented softly, leaning back in his seat. "How are you feeling, Koutarou?"

Bokuto blinked slowly. This was his way of saying he was feeling alright. Not great, but alright.

Akaashi pursed his lips and nodded once. He found himself unable to say anything else, figuring that Bokuto wouldn't have anything to say either, but he was wrong.

Again, he felt the light tapping against his arm. Surprised, Akaashi gave Bokuto his attention again.

"Hm? What is it?" He turned the chair so that he was now facing Bokuto from the front.

Gazing up at Akaashi, Bokuto frowned and tried to form some words, but failed in the end. He looked around and moved his fingers, trying to make out a phone. Akaashi picked this up quickly, and he pulled his phone out for Bokuto to use. He opened his notes application and held the device in front of Bokuto. It was then that he started to inaccurately press at words that he was trying to make out. It took him some time to get down what he wanted to say, but after several minutes, he withdrew his hand.

Akaashi looked at his phone to read the sentence. It read:

"If I knew those words I spoke a week ago would have been my last, I would have chosen them more carefully."

Akaashi stared intensely at the screen, then tore his gaze away and looked back to Bokuto.

"You weren't happy with those words?"

Slowly, Bokuto nodded.

"Well then, if you had a second chance..." Akaashi hesitated. He almost didn't want to ask the question. "What would you have chosen to say?"

Just as those words left Akaashi's mouth, the clouds outside parted, allowing the setting sun's orange light to flood into the room. It illuminated both Bokuto and Akaashi, and they squinted at the same time. Despite this, Akaashi did not miss the look of slight nervousness that claimed Bokuto's features.

He was now more curious than he'd ever been before.

"Um... Bokuto? You don't have to say it now if you don't want to."

Bokuto shook his head.

"So... You don't want to?"

He shook his head again, stronger this time.

"Ah, you do want to say it now."

This time, a weak sound left Bokuto's throat through a closed mouth, and he nodded.

"Alright." Akaashi shifted in his seat, now timid. He glanced to the side. "How many words are there? In what you want to say, I mean?"

Responding as slowly as ever, Bokuto raised one hand. On that one hand, three fingers stuck out.

Akaashi felt his heart sink to his stomach. Another shudder threatened to rattle him, but he kept himself still, as difficult as that was.

"Three words? That's all?" Akaashi forced a smile. They felt mandatory now. "That's interesting..."

Please... Please don't say them.

He reached his arm out and held his phone in front of Bokuto for him to type.

Please don't type them... I don't want to hear them. I don't want to read them. I don't want to know them.

For what felt like an eternity, Bokuto typed the words on Akaashi's phone. His hand wobbled so much that it was impossible to decipher which letters he was hitting. Akaashi was close to holding his breath before Bokuto had finally drew his hand back. He let it fall over his stomach, and there it rested. His golden eyes searched the room for Akaashi. When he'd finally found him, those shining eyes of his lit up just a little more than usual. And with that glint came his smile. It was small and measly, but there.

Akaashi made sure to take a mental picture of this before he looked down and closed his eyes. He gripped his phone in his hand and took in a deep breath, filling his lungs with all the air that he could before he exhaled through his nostrils. He turned his phone so that it was facing him, opened his eyes, and read the three words that would haunt him forever.

... Or so he thought.

Akaashi's eyes widened slightly, and his eyebrows knit together in surprise. What sat upon the screen was not what he thought it would be, but rather... A simple compliment.

"You are beautiful."

Freezing in his seat, Akaashi read the words ten times over before he finally looked up. He could feel his heartbeat thumping hard against his chest, as if it wanted to break free. His eyes locked onto Bokuto's.

"You... Think that I'm beautiful?" He asked this in a tone of disbelief.

Mustering a weak nod, Bokuto's lips curled at the sides just a bit more. With this, he raised a quivering hand and his index finger. He was trying to tell Akaashi something else.

Guessing quickly, Akaashi muttered, "One?"

Bokuto kept his finger up, then moved his hand to point it at himself. He did not give Akaashi time to voice his guess as he then moved his finger to point at his eye, then finally at Akaashi.

Weakly, Akaashi parted his lips. He almost couldn't find his voice, but when he did, he tried his best to keep it from shaking.

"Since... The first day you saw me..."

To this, Bokuto's arm fell and rested lightly on his stomach. He did the only thing that he could and nodded again, then closed his eyes, and slightly turned his head away.

Akaashi watched curiously as Bokuto's lips quivered into a wide grin, and as the light captured his features, Akaashi realized just how embarrassed Bokuto actually was.

His face glowed the quietest shade of red, and he tried to hide it from Akaashi. It seemed that, after finally hearing his pent up thoughts aloud, they had frayed his nerves more than he thought they would.

Seeing this display unfold before him, Akaashi could barely think. His heart beat a mile a minute, he found it difficult to swallow, and one of his legs bounced up and down rapidly. He didn't know how to react, didn't know what to do or say, but as he searched for the right words to speak, or the right thing to do, Akaashi found himself doing something he didn't expect of himself.

A light hearted laugh bubbled out from deep within his chest, and the sound filled the room as soon as it hit the air. He laughed hard, or at least as hard as he could. His voice was gentle, light on Bokuto's ears. It caused him to open his eyes and look in Akaashi's direction, astonished. Those honey-hued eyes took in all that they could of Akaashi's laughing face. The way his lips curled at the corners, the way his eyes squinted just enough so that only a glint of green could be seen. Bokuto captured it all, and in no time, he found himself laughing too.

It was a quiet laugh. It was so weak and feeble, it could barely be heard, but it was there, and Akaashi could hear it, so that was enough for Bokuto. His face still wore the same shade of red, but he no longer minded this. He was happy where he was. He was happy that he'd admitted those words. He was glad that Akaashi found company in him.

Finding a breath between his laughter, Akaashi managed to speak.

"You're... Ridiculous." He said lightheartedly, his fingers trembling around his phone.

Bokuto gave him a look that could only be read as, "I am, aren't I?"

Slowly, Akaashi's laugh eased into a chuckle, and as he sat there in his seat, he looked down at Bokuto with placid eyes. A genuine expression made its home on Akaashi's features, and a hand reached up to push through his raven locks.

"Thank you, Koutarou." He whispered softly, his voice shaking in his throat. He reached a hand out and found Bokuto's.

Bokuto tightened his grasp in that automatic way he always did. He stared up at Akaashi with that smile that never seemed to fade. His eyes read,

"You're welcome, Keiji."

 


 

February 2nd.

What time is it?

Akaashi stirred in bed slightly and let out a weak grunt. He didn't bother to check. He didn't care.

The sky was already black. He figured it was already past five in the afternoon. So he didn't care anymore. He didn't care if it was seven at night, or eight at night, or twelve in the morning, or if the world's clock stopped moving altogether.

All he cared about was the fact that Bokuto was still with him, next to him, breathing, alive.

All he cared about was the fact that Bokuto Koutarou was still there.

Akaashi moved his head to the side and touched his forehead to Bokuto's neck.

Bokuto's movements were late to this, but he reacted nonetheless as he turned Akaashi's way to touch his chin to the top of his head. The soft touch of Akaashi's hair against his chin comforted Bokuto, and pulled him into a relaxed state.

Akaashi liked it when this happened. It would cause less spasms to grip Bokuto's body, allowing him to unwind more than he usually could. Akaashi didn't know why he had this effect on him, but he did, and that was all that mattered to him.

The day was exceptionally cold, but Akaashi was glad to know that the hospital's room provided enough heat to keep Bokuto from freezing over. But even so, Bokuto still suffered from trembling spells, and they would come in small, short bursts and last only several seconds before his body became too weak to keep it up.

Akaashi always made sure to hold Bokuto close and squeeze him tight whenever this happened, just to let him know that he was there for him. That he wasn't another one of those illusions his mind would create. Akaashi would also murmur quiet things to him from time to time, to keep up a small, often one sided conversation. He'd usually ask yes or no questions, ones that were easy for Bokuto to answer with a nod or shake of the head. But sometimes, he wouldn't answer certain questions, despite Akaashi asking them twice.

He wouldn't always get answers, Akaashi was aware of this, but he would still ask him things. At other times, he would just tell him things that were on his mind.

It was strange how the less Bokuto asked, the more Akaashi found himself saying.

Relaxing his head against the crook of Bokuto's neck, Akaashi blinked wearily and stared off into the distance. He focused on nothing... Something he remembered Kenma doing. His hand held onto one of Bokuto's very thin arms, and his thumb would occasionally rub up and down to comfort him. They shared the same navy blue knit blanket and huddled up beneath it, keeping each other warm in the best way that they could. As Akaashi lay there, quiet, listening to Bokuto's strained breathing, he opened his mouth to speak.

"Koutarou?"

He spoke just loudly enough for Bokuto to hear him. He felt him move against his head in response, so he continued. He drew in a deep breath and blinked away the stinging in his eyes.

"I want you to know that... I don't regret meeting you."

Bokuto didn't move much. He just breathed now.

"I am... Very happy to have met you. And to have gotten to know you..."

Akaashi paused for a long moment and said nothing for a while. But then he spoke up again.

"So... Thank you, Koutarou, for talking to me me in the hall that day... And asking me if I was alright. Because I wasn't, then. But... I am, now."

Slipping his head down to Bokuto's chest, Akaashi leaned against his frail frame. Akaashi listened to the quickened rate of Bokuto's still beating heart, and knew that this was his response to his words.

Akaashi closed his eyes against him. He found he had nothing more to say. He instead allowed his actions to speak for him. He pulled himself closer to Bokuto, and nudged his face into the warmth of his neck. He could feel Bokuto's chin rubbing against the top of his head, like it always did. It never failed to comfort Akaashi. He breathed in that familiar scent that he'd grown so attached to, then exhaled quietly against Bokuto's prominent collar bone.

Akaashi could feel a weak, ailing arm pull itself up to rest upon his shoulder. To this, he shifted in closer and allowed his body to relax. His breathing evened out and in no time, he could feel himself slipping, slowly, into the warm grasp of sleep, unable to resist.

In a daze, Akaashi's last words were, "Good night, Koutarou," before he slipped off into a deep sleep.

He dreamt of nothing in particular that night. He suffered no nightmares, nor did he see anything remotely close to a dream. There was nothing. There was only blackness.

 


 

Akaashi woke up to the feeling of sunlight against his face. It was warm on him, certainly something that one would find comforting, but as he stirred in bed, he was certain that something was off.

He kept his eyes half-lidded and his movements reserved, clinging onto the false hope that Bokuto wasn't moving because he didn't want to wake him. But Akaashi knew that this wasn't the case. He just didn't want to accept it.

Stretching out a trembling arm, Akaashi took hold of Bokuto's hand. He shut his eyes and squeezed his palm. It was cold. His hand trembled harder with each passing second, as if the movement would cause Bokuto to wake up. Akaashi's face buried into the crook of his neck. He nudged the bridge of his nose against the cool skin. His lips brushed against his collarbone in desperate search of that familiar warmth. Both hands had clasped around Bokuto's own now, quavering without pause. He couldn't find his pulse.

Devastation weighed down on Akaashi in that instant. It was a surreal feeling, one that he could never in one million years describe. It squeezed him, threatening to crush him from the inside out. The pain seared itself into his soul, hindering him, rendering him speechless to a point where he no longer knew what words were.

A sob wretched its way out from Akaashi's throat.

He tried desperately to hold it in. Tried so hard to keep himself together, but he knew he was too weak to pull such a bluff. Once the second sob had left him, he felt himself spiraling. There was no hiding it. He was undone.

His body jerked with each sob that was torn from him, his frame curling to bring himself closer. He held his face against the corpse's neck, just beneath the jawline, breathing in all that was left of Bokuto.

He had so many things he'd wanted to do with him, so many things he'd wanted to say, but all of those things seemed to have fallen away once the moment had finally come. Akaashi wanted to scream, but he couldn't find his voice. Not even a sentence could get past his suffering.

He kept himself against Bokuto and held onto him with what little strength he had left in him. He didn't get up to alert the nurses, or the doctors, or anyone in the hospital. He knew that once they found out, they would take Bokuto away from him.

So he stayed in place, holding onto Bokuto, taking in his company for one last time before he'd never see him again.

 


 

Once Akaashi had left the hospital, he never looked back.

He walked home that day with a balled up blanket in his arms, a burgundy scarf around his neck, and nothing more from the hospital. He held them against his frame in the twenty degree weather, and though many people gave him strange looks and watched him side-ways, none of this affected him in the slightest. The cold was no longer a factor to Akaashi. He couldn't feel it. His mind wouldn't allow him to.

He made it home without so much as a hello to his parents who sat in the living room. They asked him questions. He answered blatantly. They asked about the blanket and the scarf, but they never asked about Bokuto.

Akaashi was glad. It was a good idea to have never told them about him after all.

He ascended the steps to his room, balled his – no – Bokuto's blanket up into a lump, and dropped it onto his bed along with the scarf. He reached into his pocket to fish out his phone, and pushed call on one of his contacts. He held it up to his ear and waited for the other line to pick up. Once it did, Akaashi was greeted with a, "Hello?"

Akaashi hesitated. He swallowed thickly and looked out the window.

"Hello. Kuroo? It's Akaashi. Are you busy?"

Kuroo's voice was reserved and reluctant.

"No, I'm not."

"If it isn't too much trouble, may I come over?"

Kuroo was quiet on the other end. He already knew. He inhaled audibly, and Akaashi could hear a scratching sound. After a moment, he finally spoke. His voice was solemn.

"Sure."

 


 

Akaashi sat at the edge of Kuroo's bed, and he stared out the window without focus. Kuroo spoke to him, and Akaashi listened and often responded. But most of the time, he only sat there and continued to watch nothing.

Kuroo would have been concerned if not for finding out what had happened earlier that day. He was much like Akaashi, sitting on the same side of the bed, a good distance apart from his visitor. Those yellow eyes of his would often dart to the floor, then to the ceiling, around the room, and back to the floor, but he would never look at Akaashi.

He feared that if he did, he wouldn't be able to keep his emotions at bay.

"How did he look?" Kuroo asked with a hushed tone.

It took Akaashi a while to respond.

"When I woke up?"

"Yeah..." Kuroo looked down.

Akaashi let out a half-assed grunt and continued to stare forward.

"Pale. Sick. Dead."

"How did you find out that he wasn't... There anymore?"

"His entire body was relaxed. His head rested on mine with the weight of someone's who's unconscious."

This time, Kuroo was the one to grunt, the sound coming from deep within his chest. He was slow to speak up again, but did either way.

"Are you going to his funeral?"

"No."

The answer came so much more quickly than Kuroo thought it would. It shocked him as Akaashi continued.

"I refuse to go. My last memory of Bokuto will not be of him sharply dressed, pale, stiff, and stuffed in a casket, surrounded by a countless amount of people who did not care for him at all until the day they heard about his death. My last memory of Koutaro is already with me, and it will die along with me."

Akaashi's tone was monotonous, but Kuroo didn't fail to detect the venom that lined each word prior to his last sentence. He understood where Akaashi was coming from and didn't even think of holding his icy tone against him. Kuroo was just as bitter. He, too, did not intend on showing up to any funeral. He'd be furious with everyone in there, and he knew that the same pain burned within Akaashi, too.

Kuroo leaned forward and joined his hands together. He stared at the wall and bounced one leg up and down as his emotions slowly started to reclaim him.

"You know... Um..." He looked down and rubbed his neck roughly, leaving behind deep, red marks. "Bokuto, he... He really liked- uh- cared about you... He talked about you all the time when he first met y-"

"Don't."

Kuroo froze. With his hand clinging to his neck, he slowly looked up to find that Akaashi was staring back at him with vacant eyes, void of all known emotion.

"Don't, Kuroo. Just... Don't."

He swallowed thick, and turned his head to stare out the window again. Akaashi laced his fingers together and dug his nails into the backs of his hands. He was redirecting the pain.

"Sorry." It was the last word Kuroo murmured before he stared forward as well, having nothing more to say.

They shared each other's company in silence for what felt like the length of five minutes, and in that time, Akaashi never once looked to the side to catch a glimpse at Kuroo. It wasn't until he watched Kuroo's form double over in his peripheral that Akaashi did glance in his direction, and when he did, he was greeted with a quietly sobbing Kuroo, his face having been buried in the palms of his hands. Though is was delayed, Akaashi moved on instinct and sat near Kuroo. He placed a hand on his broad back and rubbed gently, hoping to comfort him and to be the stronger of the two. But as each second passed, Akaashi could feel his own pain building up more and more within him. He wished he could fight it, but he knew there was no possible way for him to.

It wasn't long before Akaashi had leaned his head on Kuroo's shoulder, as he, too, fell victim to the sorrow that slowly ate him alive.

 


 

It had been three days since Bokuto's passing, and surely enough, sleep did not come to Akaashi as easily as it used to. In the span of those three days, he had only acquired a little over four hours of sleep in total. On the first night out of the three, Akaashi flat out refused to get any rest in fear of suffering another night terror. But during the other two nights, he surely did make the effort to try and lull himself to sleep, but each time he did, he either found himself stirring awake from a strange dream, or lying wide awake in the middle of the night, half expecting to receive a message from Bokuto.

At times, Akaashi would look through the conversations that he'd shared with him. He'd scroll up, up, up until the first text, then would scroll all the way down again, waiting for the ellipse to appear on the lower left side of the screen. But always, he'd receive nothing.

That night was no different as Akaashi repeated this action for the twentieth time that day, his thumb scrolling up and down for minutes on end until he finally came to a stop. When he had, however, instead of shutting his phone off and trying to force a few hours of sleep upon himself, Akaashi stared at the phone screen longingly, and read the last messages that were sent between them.

Bokuto (Sent at 2:15 AM, December 20th):

[Hey! Akaashiiiii. Are you awake?]

Akaashi:

[Yes, I am. What is it?]

Bokuto:

[I'm excited for you to come over tomorrow!]

Akaashi:

[I visit you every day, though.]

Bokuto:

[I know! You never miss a day... Don't your parents ever ask why you come here so much?]

Akaashi:

[They think I'm interning. So they don't mind.]

Bokuto:

[Oh! Works for me. ٩( 'ω' )و]

Akaashi:

[I would hope so. It works for me as well. I'll be sure to bring my laptop when I visit. We can watch Cloud Atlas again.]

Bokuto:

[YES! PLEASE! Thank you, Akaashi!]

December 20th at 3:45 AM

[You probably fell asleep. Sorry for always messaging you so late. Sleep well, Akaashi! I'll see you soon.]

Akaashi frowned and felt that familiar pain pierce his chest. He re-read 'Sleep well, Akaashi!' and inhaled with frailty.

"I'm trying..."

He couldn't bring himself to read over the last four words of the text again and ultimately shut off his phone. He placed it on the counter near his bedside and buried himself into the blanket that he had so openly shared with Bokuto. Akaashi inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, his eyebrows knitting together as his brow creased. It still smelled like him.

Akaashi relaxed himself against his mattress and closed his eyes, a powerless yawn leaving him. His head eased into his pillow, and to his surprise, within a matter of minutes, he could feel himself slipping. It felt strange, not falling asleep against Bokuto's body, but Akaashi knew that he would have to get used to this form of sleeping by his lonesome once again. He just hoped that the night wouldn't bring him any malevolent dreams. All he wanted was to see Bokuto again, even if just for a second. An exhausted breath left him, and Akaashi finally fell asleep.

That night, he dreamt of the first night Bokuto had come over his home. He dreamt of how Bokuto had buried himself into the navy blue blanket to watch the movie that played on the laptop screen, and how he held Bokuto in his arms that night to aid him in his attempt to sleep. He could still remember the small details, like how Bokuto's starry shirt would slip off his shoulder every so often when he stirred in bed, and how the feel of Bokuto's weight on him would take his breath away. Akaashi could still feel the sensation of his wild white and black hair brushing against his cheek whenever he moved, and the warmth that came from him as he held him close. It was all still there, but there was something different about it all that puzzled Akaashi.

At one point in his dream, Akaashi looked out the window. The night sky had suddenly become a pale blue, and the warm orange glow of the sun slowly spread across the horizon. He turned his head slowly to look at Bokuto, and watched him as he lay in his arms. Akaashi said his name, and to this, Bokuto stirred awake. He turned his head and met Akaashi's gaze with weary, well rested eyes. He stretched and stifled a yawn, pushed a hand through the mess that was his hair, and relaxed his head against Akaashi's shoulder.

Sunlight broke into the room, cascading all along the walls and floor, and casting shadows all around. It lit Bokuto's face up just enough for Akaashi to take in those healthy features that were staring back at him. He felt his heart rate accelerate, and his throat tightened as his vision blurred. Bokuto beamed at him with a smile that spoke a thousand words, and his hand reached out to touch Akaashi's cheek. Akaashi felt his palm- warm, full, caressing the round of his face. He leaned into his touch, and his vision began to fade, his eyes welling with tears.

Bokuto leaned in and touched his forehead to Akaashi's. He was only a blurred shape now, but Akaashi knew he was still there. Bokuto spoke, his voice peaceful. Healthy. Whole.

"I found you."

A trembling, tender laugh escaped Akaashi. He smiled.

"You found me."