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Koutarou is rummaging around under his bed trying to rescue an escaped sock when his fingers touch on something plastic and roundish. Curious, he pulls it out to reveal a notebook, his fingertips hooked in the thin rungs he had felt before. Its cover sports a cherry blossom tree against a soft blue background, pink leaves suspended mid-fall. The scene looks like it was painted on rather than coming pre-printed.

Koutarou doesn’t recall owning anything like this, nor even seeing it before now, so it probably doesn’t belong to his family. There’s only one person outside his family that has been in his room recently. He gets up on his bed and picks up his phone from the bedside table. hey! he texts Akaashi, i think u left ur notebook at my house.

He’d never actually seen Akaashi use a notebook with a cherry blossom on the cover, but it couldn’t be anyone else. Akaashi had been over yesterday to help Koutarou with his English homework – even being a year below, Akaashi had a better handle on Koutarou’s classwork than Koutarou did himself, but he doesn't mind and instead counts himself lucky to know someone so incredibly smart – so it would make sense that a notebook had fallen out of his backpack or something like that.

As he’s waiting for Akaashi’s reply, Koutarou studies the cover a bit more closely. It was definitely handpainted; he can see white peeking out at the edges where the paint missed. The colors were kind of transparent, the blue of the sky pushing through the tree’s gentle brown, so maybe it was watercolor instead of regular paint. Watercolor? He thinks that’s what it’s called. Art has never been his thing, especially since the best he could do was a really energetic stick figure. Still, it doesn’t take an expert to tell this was made carefully, attentively. It’s really beautiful, and calming, kind of. It reminds him of Akaashi.

Wait… Did Akaashi paint this?

If it really is his notebook, wouldn’t that make the most sense? Holy shit. Now that Koutarou thinks of it, it probably isn’t for school notes since Akaashi meticulously labels his notebook covers with the subject they’re for, and this one obviously doesn’t have anything written on it… Oh, maybe it’s on the inside.

Koutarou flips it open. The inside cover is completely blank. He should just close it after confirming it absolutely isn’t for school and is therefore definitely something private, and he knows how Akaashi is about his personal stuff, which Koutarou is one hundred percent respectful of, one hundred percent of the time. But… he can’t help it. His eyes are traitors. They stray over to the adjoining page.

On it are a bunch of errant body parts – an ear here, a nose there, a pair of disembodied legs. A mess of scribbles covers an eye, the artist obviously displeased with how it came out, and next to it is an untarnished eye with a circle around it in approval.

They’re all… really… really fucking good. The attention to detail – the eyelashes! are those pores on the nose? the lips are chapped! – and the shading – muscles in the legs highlighted to show they’re tensed, genius! – and all of it

Koutarou is gaping at the page, astonished. He had no idea, none whatsoever, that Akaashi – if it really is his book – was such a talented artist! Like, holy shit! Straight-laced and studious Akaashi (potentially) having such a creative side to him is turning Koutarou’s world upside down. Though, as surprised as he is to stumble upon this side of (maybe) Akaashi, he’s not in the least shocked that he’s so good at it. Akaashi is good at everything. Of course he’d be a master artist, if that’s what he chose to dedicate himself to! Koutarou peers closer at the drawings, trying to see all the fine lines pressed into the paper. It’s—just—holy shit!

He pulls back and looks down at the corner of the page. Maybe if he just… His fingers slide under the paper… No! That would be encroaching on Akaashi’s privacy. He’s seen enough. He’ll just close it and put it down and wait for Akaashi to get back to him.

…But… Well… Well—

One more page couldn’t hurt.

He turns it.

He lets out a huge gasp.

Owls. Owls. There are so many! So many owls! And they all look so good, oh my god, Akaashi! Some are in-flight, others perched on a fence that fades into nothingness. At the bottom is a speckled white wing drawn in relief against a sketchy black area, feathers fanned out. Koutarou can make out a very tiny moon hovering over the blackness. And behind the moon… he can see dark lines from the drawing on the next page. Well, now he just has to see what those lines make, or he won’t be able to sleep easy! It’s for the sake of a sound mind that he flips the paper covered in adorable, wonderful owls over—

To reveal the most fantastic, gorgeous, stunning owl he has ever seen. Ever!

A single Great-horned Owl takes up the entirety of the page, head turned over its shoulder to stare at the viewer with startling yellow eyes. The eyes are the only part that is colored-in, the rest shaded delicately with pencil, and it makes them even more alluring. It must have taken Akaashi a really long time to finish it, judging by the tiny feathers he drew in on the owl’s face, the texture of its taloned feet gripping a tree branch emerging from the paper’s right side.

Koutarou could stare at the picture forever, probably. It is so, so incredible, and Koutarou feels a huge well of pride bubble up inside of him. Akaashi is on a completely other level! He should put this in a museum!

Then he notices something is written in very small print in the bottom right corner of the page. Koutarou brings it up to his face to read it:

“Koutarou” – Akaashi Keiji

The notebook falls out of his hands and onto his lap. He’s frozen for a moment, at a total loss. He looks back down at the owl. The owl stares up at him, seeming a little judgemental and knowing.

Well, that’s one thing confirmed – it’s Akaashi’s book, full of Akaashi’s art. And Akaashi drew an owl version of him. Oh, god. Koutarou sniffles and swipes at his damp eyes. He’s so lucky.

Wait! What if there are more owl hims? He has to see them!

The next page is a landscape drawing of what Koutarou recognizes as the park near school. The page after that is the school itself. They’re both really nice, thin lines redrawn over erased sections, colored pencil filling in the grass and sky and parts of the buildings. Sadly, though, no owls in sight.

He flips a little more past some sketches of flowers and lands on another full-page animal drawing. It’s not an owl, but a fluffy black cat in a prowling pose, fur falling into its face over one eye, tail flicked high in the air. Koutarou checks the corner of the page to see if there’s a title – not all of them have one, but this one does:

“Kuroo” – Akaashi Keiji

Koutarou heaves a righteous snort. Looking back into the cat’s face, it seems obvious now that the fur is supposed to be that stupid bang Kuroo wears. Its expression even seems to mirror the snide grin Kuroo always puts on. Koutarou almost loves it as much as owl him. Almost.

When Koutarou turns the paper over, he’s half-hoping to see more cat Kuroo, or maybe cat Kozume, or— oh! Crow Tsukki, holy crap! Yes!

What he sees instead makes him pause again.

After catching wind of Karasuno’s advertising scheme, Fukurodani had decided they wanted to do something similar to promote their own volleyball club’s matches. A photographer had come in to take pictures of the players in action to use on posters to put around the school and shop windows. One of the photos that had been used was of Koutarou right before he spiked the ball over the net, his body bowed, eyes trained, arm tensed. What the photographer had said they liked about that shot in particular was the small smile on Koutarou’s face – It looks like you know you’re going to hit the ball for sure, they’d said. You look like you’re having a lot of fun.

The drawing is from Koutarou’s chest up. His face takes up the main part of the page. His smile is the focal point.

There are lines over lines over lines over erase marks. The eyes – his eyes, his mouth, and, strangely, his biceps, are the parts with the darkest outlining. The parts where Akaashi paid the most attention, fixated, maybe. Koutarou thinks about how Akaashi is always resting his hand on Koutarou’s arm – his bicep. He feels face turn a deep burning scarlet. Jeez.

He notices a circle hovering near his drawn self’s head; it’s very light, like Akaashi didn’t want to bother going over it after drawing it once. Looking closer, he sees that it’s actually a little thought cloud, three small circles trailing from his forehead to indicate he’s the one thinking it. Inside the cloud, it says Hey hey hey!

Koutarou’s going to freaking melt. He’s a total goner. Holy hell, Akaashi. His cheeks hurts from grinning.

He belatedly remembers to see if it’s titled. He’s almost a little afraid to see what it could be, sure it’s going to be the final blow. Maybe he should exercise self-restraint for once and not look.

Yeah, right.

He looks.

“Beauty” – Akaashi Keiji

Shit.

When his phone lets out a loud ping! to alert a new message, Koutarou convulses so badly the notebook flies out of his hands and onto the floor. He quickly scoops it back up to make sure none of the pages got bent, heart hammering in fear – they didn’t, thank god, it landed cover down. He sets it carefully on his bedside table, then picks up his phone.

New Message from: Akaashi Keiji

His heart, already pounding a painful tattoo against his chest, skips into tripletime. With trembling fingers he goes to open the message, when suddenly the phone vibrates and ping!s again in his hands, startling a shout out of him.

YOU: hey! i think u left ur notebook at my house

AKAASHI: I didn’t. I have all of my school things, I checked.

AKAASHI: Wait. Does it have a cherry blossom tree on the front?

Fuck fuck holy shit what has he done he’s screwed why did he look? Why did he look!

YOU: haha yeah it does! its a rly pretty one too!

You idiot!

AKAASHI: Bokuto-san, please don’t look inside that notebook. Can you give it to me at school tomorrow?

Shit! SHIT! GODDAMMIT

YOU: sure thing!

AKAASHI: Thank you. See you tomorrow.

YOU: see ya!!

Koutarou lets the phone slip through his fingers. He puts his hands on his face and falls back against his pillow. Ahh, shit. He fucked up. He fucked up big time. He’d known Akaashi wouldn’t have wanted him to look, and he’d looked anyway! God, why doesn’t he have any self-control? Fucking moron. But now what? Should he admit to it, or pretend like he had used his head for a damn minute? Koutarou doubts he would be able to forget what he’s seen, and Akaashi knows him too well and would probably see through him in a second… But Koutarou doesn’t even want to think about what Akaashi will say if he admits to looking… Ugh, god. What should he do?

Koutarou stews in doubt and frustration, berating himself a million times and wishing time travel were real. If only he hadn’t seen the notebook at all! If only he hadn’t seen his owl self! If only he hadn’t seen cat Kuroo! Kuroo? Kuroo!

Koutarou snatches up his phone.

YOU: BRO

KUROO: duuuuude whats up

If only Akaashi had replied as quickly as Kuroo! No, no, Akaashi didn’t do anything wrong, this is all on himself.

YOU: bro u gotta help me i need some advice on how to unfuck my life

KUROO: lmao idk if i can do all that im not magic but lay it on me

YOU: ok so say u accidentally found out something secret about kozume or tsukki and u know they would be upset if u told them u found out but u dont wanna NOT tell them u found out… but u also dont want to b murdered… IDK WHAT TO DO

KUROO: oh my god. bro. what did u do

KUROO: like what kind of secret

YOU: shit idk! like if u found out tsukki secretly knits or something

KUROO: OH MY GOOOOODDD HOLD ON

YOU: kuroo?

YOU: ?????

YOU: DUDE WHAT ARE U DOIN

KUROO: sorry i just had to ask tsukki if he secretly knits. he doesnt. or so he says. further investigation needed

KUROO: aaaanyway were u snoopin in akaashis stuff or somethin?

YOU: god no i wouldnt do that! intentionally.. IT WAS AN ACCIDENT

KUROO: bo just tell me what u saw im 9 kinds of curious

YOU: i really shouldnt…… i shouldnt have seen it in the first place

KUROO: come oooon its between bros i wont tell anyone not even kenma or tsukki i swear on the BRO CODE

YOU: well… ok fine

YOU: i found a sketchbook i think thats what ud call it. like its just a notebook full of stuff hes drawn basically

KUROO: :O no way! mr serious can draw? is it shitty lol

YOU: NO ITS SO GOOD HES AMAZING!!!!

YOU: but he clearly didnt want me to see it bc he told me SPECIFICALLY not to look inside when i told him i have it

KUROO: oh man. u are in a pickle

YOU: i know :( :( :(

KUROO: weeeelllllll

KUROO: if it were me i would just tell him i saw it

YOU: i know but im so afraid hes going to kill me. or stop talking to me. which would be the same as killing me

KUROO: u are so dramatic i love it

YOU: WHATEVER whos the one that cries to me whenever a certain loser with glasses is mean to him? HMMMMM

KUROO: low blow my guy u know how it is

YOU: exactly thats my PROBLEM

YOU: UR USELESS

KUROO: ok 1. i know and 2. ur the one who asked this useless guy for advice so wtf does that make u

YOU: ugh

KUROO: just tell him

YOU: UGH

YOU: fine fine fine.

YOU: thanks i guess -__-

KUROO: ur welcome u ingrate lol tell me how it goes

YOU: k

YOU: btw he drew a pic of u as a cat

KUROO: OH MY GOD ARE U SERIOUS!!!! U GOTTA LET ME SEE IT

YOU: HELL NO I CANT HAVE INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE ON MY PHONE

YOU: but if all goes well ill ask if he’ll let u see

KUROO: DUDE IT IS IMPERATIVE U MAKE THIS GO WELL

YOU: U SHOULD HAVE BEEN THIS INVESTED BEFORE WTF

=====

The last time Koutarou had been this anxious about going to school had been the night before volleyball tryouts his first year. He’d been so nervous about not meeting the standards, not making a good impression, not being able to hit a single ball.

He can’t believe anything would ever feel more important than doing well at volleyball, but as he’s walking through the school gates, he finds he’s almost physically nauseous at the thought of Akaashi reacting badly. The sketchbook feels like it’s a hundred pounds weighing down his bag.

Koutarou has no idea what he’ll do if Akaashi says something like You’ve betrayed my faith in you or I can’t trust you now or Please don’t talk to me anymore. He wouldn’t blame Akaashi at all for saying any of those things. In fact, he probably should tell Koutarou to fuck off forever. He deserves it. He’s a terrible person. God, he doesn’t want to see Akaashi… But he does… But he really, really doesn’t.

YOU: im leaving u my xbox in my will

KUROO: bro… ur so kind. i shed tear

KUROO: good luck im sure itll be fine

YOU: lol ok say nice things at my funeral

KUROO: only the best for my main man!

For once, he’s glad he and Akaashi are a year apart and their classes aren’t that close to each other. Koutarou has until lunch break to steel himself for the inevitable meeting, since they always eat together. He’ll practice what to say, maybe write it out and read it, or no, maybe he can just hand it to Akaashi and run— walk away and let him read it himself, yeah, yeah, that sounds good—

—That sounds cowardly. Come on, Koutarou, jesus. Okay. He’ll just practice what to say when he gives the sketchbook back and hope for the best. Listen, Akaashi, I accidentally looked— No, it wasn’t exactly an accident since it didn’t just fall open in his lap, did it? I was too curious and just had to look— No, no, no, that sounds like it’s not his fault. This is so hard, shit. Why did I have to look?

Horribly enough, though, he hadn’t left the sketchbook alone after his conversation with Kuroo like he said he would. He’d figured, hey, I probably won’t make it out alive tomorrow, so this will be a parting gift, and had opened it back up. He’d actually sort of intended to look deeper into the pages, but when he got to the portrait of himself jumping for the ball, he hadn’t been able to look at anything else until it was time to get ready for bed. The sweat framing his face, his hair flying back in flowing strands, his teeth peeking out through the smile, the uniform hugging his chest; he’d taken in every minute detail until it was the only thing he could see when he closed his eyes to fall asleep.

Beauty Akaashi had called it. Koutarou couldn’t believe that’s how Akaashi saw him. Is that how he thought of Koutarou all the time? Unreal.

Koutarou wished he could draw so he could show Akaashi how he looked to him, too. Truthfully, though, he doubted anyone would be able to capture Akaashi’s likeness accurately. He was, like, just too gorgeous, with his soft black hair and gentle mouth and long eyelashes and everything, man, his everything…

He is so distracted thinking about how every little thing about Akaashi was perfect in every way (his thin fingers! his prim nose!) that he forgets he’s dreading actually seeing him until he looks up and, shit, there he is, wait, why the hell is he here? I’m not ready for this! Oh god!

“Good morning,” Akaashi says softly, and Koutarou feels his knees start to give a little bit. He feels so guilty. So, so, so, so, so so so so so—

“Morning!” he replies with only a small amount of forced cheer. He manages not to collapse to the ground and beg forgiveness, though it’s a near thing. Instead, he swings his bag around and opens it. He wills his hands not to shake as he extends the sketchbook to Akaashi, saying with a grin, “I believe this is yours!”

Akaashi takes it a little too quickly, relief flooding his face for a moment until he schools his expression. Koutarou doesn’t miss the way he briefly hugs it to his chest before he slides it gingerly into his own bag. Koutarou’s heart is thudding in his chest.

Akaashi looks up and smiles faintly. “Thank you, Bokuto-san,” he says.

Holy shit. Koutarou can’t believe he might lose that precious small smile.

“No prob,” Koutarou says. He wonders if he looks green because he definitely feels like he’s going to be sick really soon. “I found it under my bed. I guess it must have fallen out of your bag when you came over.”

“Ah,” Akaashi says. Then he glances away. “Um.”

No, please no, don’t ask it. “What’s up?”

He meets Koutarou’s eyes again. “Did you…” No, don’t, don’t! “Bokuto-san, did you look inside at all?”

Goddammit!

Koutarou starts stuttering out something, anything, he doesn’t know, he hasn’t practiced, when, by some otherworldly miracle, the school bell chimes.

“Oh, that’s the bell!” Koutarou points out like a dumbass. “Gotta go. See you at lunch, Akaashi!”

Akaashi’s mouth is opening and his eyebrows are scrunching up the way they do when he’s about to tell Koutarou off, but he escapes into the classroom like the gigantic fucking infant he is before he has to hear whatever it is Akaashi wants to say.

====

Koutarou has never before wished for class to take longer and stave off lunchtime. Today sucks. For so many reasons. For every reason. The bell rings to let out class for break. Crap, crap, crap.

He goes to find Akaashi at their usual place, gearing himself up for what he should say all the while. Look, Akaashi, please don’t be mad but— Listen, I know this is going to sound bad— Ugh. Koutarou wishes he could just say what he really thinks, which is, Akaashi, listen, I was really curious about your sketchbook and looked inside, and I’m really sorry because I don’t want to upset you by invading your privacy, but I think your art is really, really good, and I would love to see more, if you’d let me, pretty please. And also maybe he’d ask for the owl picture to hang up in his room. He loves that owl picture.

And also also maybe Beauty, but Koutarou has the sneaking feeling that Akaashi would be more reluctant to part with that than the owl.

Koutarou sighs deeply. It’s all a pipe dream, anyway. He’ll probably never see either of those drawings again.

He checks his wristwatch and finds Akaashi is late. That’s never happened before. Koutarou takes out his phone as he bites into his sandwich.

YOU: where are u? u ok?

He’s almost halfway through his food when his phone buzzes.

AKAASHI: I’m fine. See you at practice.

Well, that’s not suspicious at all. Suspicious… Maybe he suspects Koutarou of looking in his sketchbook! And he already can’t stand to be around him, oh god, could this be any worse?

YOU: gave the book back but didnt have the chance to fess up. think he suspects me tho and is avoiding me :/

KUROO: brooooo :\

YOU: :/ :/ :/

KUROO: :\ :\ :\

YOU: im gonna try telling him after practice

KUROO: godspeed brother

====

Practice is… okay. Akaashi is there, and he does seem fine; he’s setting the ball just as well as usual, and scolding Koutarou when he gets distracted by his whirring thoughts and misses the ball, so that’s like normal, too. Maybe he just had to talk to a teacher during break or something. Nothing to do with Koutarou.

But he knows even despite that, even despite really not wanting to, despite wanting to pretend nothing ever happened and just let the day end without incident… Koutarou knows he has to tell him, so as they're cleaning the equipment up he touches Akaashi on the elbow to get his attention and says, "I'll wait for you after I'm done, okay?"

Koutarou always waits for him so they can walk home together, anyway, so it's unusual for him to bring it up like this. He knows it, and he can see Akaashi realize something is up, too. Something twists his features for a blinking moment before he settles back into his usual placid expression. Then he just nods understanding and goes back to taking apart the net.

After he’s done with his share of clean up and changes out of his gym clothes, Koutarou obediently waits for Akaashi by the gymnasium doors. The sun has started to set, the moon already a hanging sliver in the darkening sky. It makes Koutarou think of that owl wing set against the pseudo-night background that Akaashi had drawn. He sighs, and then sighs some more, and sighs a bit more after that.

“What’s the matter, Bokuto-san?”

Koutarou looks up to see Akaashi framed in the light from the gym, shadows cast over his face, long elegant fingers holding his bag. Koutarou sighs again. He really is, like, the most beautiful person he has ever seen. Ever. And he betrayed him. What a moron.

“Listen, Akaa—”

“You looked, didn’t you,” Akaashi cuts in plainly. He briskly walks down the gym steps and past Koutarou.

“Wh—” Koutarou starts, but Akaashi talks over him again.

“You were acting weirder than usual today,” he says crisply, voice fading as he gets farther away. He’s almost at school gates before Koutarou finally scrambles after him, totally dumbfounded.

He almost asks What do you mean, weirder than usual? but figures now isn’t the right time to challenge that particular sentiment. Instead, he takes a breath, ignoring the nervous fluttering in his chest, and admits, “Yeah, I did.” He adds remorsefully, “I’m sorry.”

Akaashi comes to an abrupt halt and Koutarou stumbles. They’re off school grounds now, standing near the dim illumination of a streetlamp. Someone whizzes by on a bicycle. Akaashi looks at him. “Why are you apologizing?” he asks.

What?

“What?”

“Why did you say sorry,” Akaashi reiterates, sounding impatient.

“Wait, wait.” Koutarou puts his hands up in front of himself, as if he could fend off the entire confusing ordeal. “Aren’t you mad I looked at your drawings?”

“Ma— mad?” he echoes, sounding incredulous, like it’s totally out of the realm of rationality for him to be pissed off that Koutarou pretty blatantly violated his privacy. This isn’t making any sense. Maybe Koutarou is still asleep… No, that can’t be right, since a volleyball had smacked him over the head earlier in practice and that had felt pretty goddamn real.

“Yeah, mad,” Koutarou says. “You said I shouldn’t look inside, but I did anyway! Well,” he amends, “I actually looked before you told me not to but—”

“How much did you see?”

“Uh—um.” He really doesn’t want to admit how long he stared at that portrait. “Up to, the, um. Up to the sketch of me from the poste—”

Oh my god,” Akaashi moans, and he covers his face with both his hands, turning his entire body away.

He’s so angry he can’t even look at me! “I didn’t look at anything past that, though, I swear!”

Akaashi mumbles something in response that Koutarou can’t make out. His not even being able to look Koutarou in the face is making him feel unbelievably miserable. He really, really, really hates this, and he hates even more that doesn’t know what he can do to fix it.

“Akaashi…” He walks around to stand in front of Akaashi, who’s still hiding behind his fingers. Koutarou puts his hands around Akaashi’s slim wrists. “I’m really sorry, okay? I wish I could go back in time and not look because I knew it would upset you but I still did it anyway because I was so curious after seeing the painting of the tree on the front because it is so beautiful—” This is not at all what he should be saying “—but I shouldn’t have, I know, I’m so sorry. Please look at me. Please.”

He tugs gently at Akaashi’s arms. After a moment, the hands slowly lower, but Akaashi doesn’t look up. Koutarou puts one of his hands under Akaashi’s chin and lifts his face.

The light from the streetlamp is washed out and dim, but it’s just vibrant enough to illuminate the dark blush spread over Akaashi’s pale cheeks. He won’t meet Koutarou’s eyes.

Koutarou has no clue what is going on.

He pushes a strand of dark hair behind Akaashi’s ear before dropping his hand to hold Akaashi’s again. He doesn’t really know what to say because he’s completely confused, so he just waits, holding both of Akaashi’s thin hands in his own.

Akaashi mutters something, quiet enough that despite their closeness Koutarou has to prompt him to repeat it. Finally, finally, Akaashi meets his gaze, and says harshly, “I’m embarrassed.”

“Em— huh?” If Koutarou was confused before, he’s at a total and utter loss now. If he thinks about it – the blushing and the not looking in his eyes – it makes sense that embarrassed is what he was, even if it’s not something Akaashi is very often. Koutarou just can’t think of: “Why?”

Akaashi’s face does that thing when he can’t fathom how ridiculous Koutarou is being, brow pulled down in incredulity, as if it should be obvious why he’s so embarrassed. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing Koutarou is bad at seeing and understanding, it’s the obvious. Akaashi appears to remember that after a moment, skepticism slipping away. His eyes flicker down before fixing Koutarou with an almost determined stare. The effect is kind of lost because his face is still bright scarlet, but Koutarou is damned if he’ll say anything.

“I’m embarrassed,” Akaashi says carefully, “because I didn’t want you to see the pictures I drew of you and be put off.” He looks skyward, mouth twitching like it’s physically paining him to be saying this out loud. “I was too embarrassed to even see you at lunch. I was afraid of what you might say.”

What the hell is he talking about? “Afraid?” Koutarou repeats. “Put off?”

“Weirded out.”

“I know what it means, Akaashi.” He rolls his eyes. “I just don’t see why I would be. I thought they were great!” he blurts out. Crap.

There’s that look again. Koutarou wonders if he’ll ever be able to say anything without earning that shrewd judgement. “What do you mean?”

What does he mean? What does he mean, what do I mean? Koutarou heaves his biggest sigh of the night. “Look,” he says, “I’m just going to tell you the truth. I am sorry about betraying your trust, but I’m glad I got to see your art because it’s all so good! Even I can see you’re super talented!” He squeezes Akaashi’s hands, cheeks tinging with heat a little himself when he admits, “And it made me really happy to see the drawings of me.”

“Drawings?” Akaashi presses, looking harried again. “I thought you said you only saw the one.”

That’s what he’s focusing on? “Uh, no, there’s the volleyball one and the owl one. Honestly, the owl was my favorite and I was actually gonna ask if I could have it…”

There’s a long pause where Akaashi just stares at him with a bewildered expression. Koutarou hopes he can’t feel how his palms have started to sweat a little.

Then Akaashi chokes out, “The o— the owl?” before he snorts and starts to laugh. Not his usual quiet breathy laugh, which in itself is hard to come by, but instead startlingly loud and full. His eyes have actually been squeezed closed from how big he’s smiling. Koutarou’s heart trips over itself and stumbles into a sprint.

He is starting to seriously doubt that he ever had any control over this situation.

But it doesn’t seem like it’s gone badly. Has it? Fuck, who cares, Akaashi is laughing so much he’s wheezing a little – are those tears? is he crying from laughing? – and his hands are gripping Koutarou’s and the streetlamp is illuminating the pretty pink on his cheeks and he knows, Koutarou knows, that if he were to die here, right now, in this instant, he would die perfectly and completely at peace. Look at him. Look at him.

Koutarou slides his hands out of their hold so that he can put them on Akaashi’s face, gently thumbing at the corners of his eyes, teardrops clinging to his sooty eyelashes. Akaashi encircles his fingers around Koutarou’s wrists and gazes up at him, his laughter quieting into a tiny smile.

“I’m not sure what just happened,” Koutarou says after a moment with an affectionate grin of his own, “but can you tell me so I can do it again? I wanna make you laugh like that all the time.”

Akaashi giggles – honest to god giggles, soft little bubbles of joy that explode in Koutarou’s face and leave him weak-kneed – and says, “I don’t know why I ever worry when it comes to you, Bokuto-san.”

It’s Koutarou’s turn to ask, “What do you mean?” When isn’t Akaashi worrying about him? Not that he doesn’t admit he causes enough trouble to deserve it.

“I mean…” He trails off to turn his face into one of Koutarou’s hands, nuzzling his nose to the wrist. Koutarou’s throat constricts. “You would never judge or ridicule me.” His grey eyes are glittering in the lamplight. “You would never laugh at me.”

“N-no!” Koutarou clears his throat, swallowing down the frenzied denial that wants to take over his limbs when he remembers he still has Akaashi’s delicate face in his hands; the last thing he wants to do is hurt him in his loud assurance that he wouldn’t ever hurt him. “No,” he repeats after he’s collected himself, “you’re right, I would never— Who— who would do that? Has someone done that?”

Akaashi falls quiet for a long moment, eyes averted. It’s obvious the answer to Koutarou’s question is yes. He wants to know names and addresses—but he also wants Akaashi to tell him himself, when he’s ready… He’s definitely learned his lesson about butting in… Maybe… Goddamnit, who would do that? They probably aren’t shit anyway. Pathetic loser, no doubt, getting their kicks ridiculing others… Making Akaashi get that despondent look on his face… Koutarou has never been in a fight before but he is willing to change that real quick—

“Do you want to come over this weekend?” Akaashi asks suddenly, interrupting Koutarou’s vengeful thoughts. “I’ll show you more of my drawings, if you want.” Koutarou catches a very (very very very very) small twinge of something like doubt clinging to Akaashi’s words. He can’t have that.

Koutarou moves his hands down to Akaashi’s waist, tugging Akaashi a little closer and making him huff in surprise, his own hands coming to rest on Koutarou’s chest. “This weekend? Why not during the week?” he says eagerly. “I’ll come over tomorrow!”

The corners of Akaashi’s mouth start to lift again. “We have practice after school all week, Bokuto-san.”

“I’ll cancel it! I’m the captain!”

“You can’t cancel practice just because you want to hang out with me.”

“I’ve done more for less.”

“Probably not something to brag about,” Akaashi teases. He loops his arms around Koutarou’s neck and presses in, chest to chest. Koutarou’s heart is about five seconds away from somersaulting out of his mouth and flying away into the dimming evening sky, never to be seen again. “Just be patient, for once.” He gives Koutarou a pointed look. “This weekend. Okay?”

Koutarou swallows and nods quickly.

Akaashi seems satisfied. He leans in to press a sweet kiss to Koutarou’s mouth. This is… not at all… not even close to being what Koutarou had imagined would happen but he is so… fucking lucky… Humbled… Blessed…

“Thank you,” says Akaashi softly when they part. He slides his hands down Koutarou’s arms, and Koutarou is hyperaware of the way the fingers linger on his biceps, Beauty pulling itself to the forefront of his thoughts. Wait—hadn’t Akaashi asked if that was the only picture of himself he’d seen? So there were more portraits. Holy shit. He hardly even notices when Akaashi tugs at one of the hands around his waist to entwine in his own, starting to walk up the street. There were more.

Koutarou lets himself be dragged along for a moment as his mind kicks itself into functioning again, realizing Akaashi had thanked him for something, and he asks, “For what?”

Akaashi glances at him with his signature ghost of a smile snugly in place. He says, “For being you.”

 

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YOU: OYA!!!!!!!!!!!!

KUROO: OYA OYA OYA!!!!!!!!!

KUROO: now get me that pic lol