The dim lights of the dinner reflect in his dark eyes and turn them into small supernovas as his enthusiasm brightens him up from the inside out, a glow that suffuses his skin, magnified by the flash of a smile, the lightning speed of his fingers as he gestures to get across a point. As he listens to someone else speak, he quiets down a little, but his eyes remain as bright, his focus just as scorching. At other times, his gaze seems to turn inwards, and there's still light in his eyes, but softer, less likely to burn when you stare.
And boy, do you stare.
Everyone else has left. Coach Ukai (the Young, you can't help adding, because in your mind, the words coach and Ukai will always conjure a seemingly perpetually grumpy old man with crow's feet and grey hair) and Takeda-sensei were the first to take their leave: there were twelve rambunctious kids high on a victory to look after and strategies to review before morning came. Shimada and Takinoue, surprisingly responsible for once, have decided to take an early bus back home; and finally, Tanaka-san and her friends have left to see someone's cousin's dance show, perhaps? You weren't paying attention.
Your attention has been arrested all evening by the dark-haired boy (man, he's only a year younger than you, get a grip) across the table. It's like a kaleidoscopic mirage that keeps changing each time you glance at him: at times, the intensity in his eyes matches the boy that lives in your memory, Karasuno's ace, whose feet seemed to burn the ground each time he soared into the sky. At other times, he looks unexpectedly sheepish, his dark hair falling over his eyes like a curtain to hide behind; when something surprises him, he smiles in childlike wonder. And then there are those other times, when he gets this faraway look, pensive and beyond his years, and you wonder where his mind goes, so far from your reach. You try to reconcile all these colourful shards into a composite image, a way to match the boy you used to know with the one who is right now sitting across you.
The question, of course, is whether you actually knew him in the first place. It is possible that, even back then, Karasuno's Small Giant was as much of a mirage to you as he seems to be now.
Or perhaps, you're just overthinking this and you really shouldn't have had that last beer, Tanaka-san's taunting be damned.
And then he glances down a moment, his dark hair falling like a curtain, and under the dim lights it looks so warm and fluffy you feel sorely tempted to stretch across the table and touch it.
Yeah, you definitely shouldn't have had that last beer.
You look away, anywhere, and your gaze falls upon the clock on the wall. The sight makes you flinch as reality comes crashing down on you.
You could swear you feel the heat of his gaze on your skin before you even turn around.
"What? What happened?"
Nope, you were wrong: now you feel the heat of his gaze, as he looks at you head-on, a worried twist to his lips. You rub the back of your head, feeling like a total idiot.
"The time. I have to, like, fly to the bus station if I want to catch the last bus home."
"Oh." Does the brightness in his eyes dim a little or it's just stupid wishful thinking on your part? Whatever it is, he seems to shake it off as he jumps to his feet.
"Well, then let's get going," he says, as he grabs his stuff without even glancing at you. You stare, a little dumbfounded, but he's got a point: you need to bolt. Once you're outside the diner, though, you linger: it's stupid, but it feels too abrupt a goodbye. And it is stupid, because you haven't spoken to him in years, barely even thought of him, and it's not like you were that tight in high school. But there are so many things you want to know and you didn't get the chance (the nerve) to ask yet:
Why did you stop playing volleyball? Did something happen? Because he might've told Hinata that he was more interested in other stuff, but you didn't imagine the longing as he watched the Karasuno players on the court, his wistfulness as he spoke of the immense pressure Karasuno's ace must've been feeling under the weight of his team's expectations. There's a story there, and it surprises you the burning need you feel to learn it.
What are those other things that make your eyes glow, the blood under your skin burn? What is your life like, outside of our shared passion that almost burnt out us both?
And, perhaps even more pathetic and telling:
Can I be a part of it?
Yep, that's pathetic.
You can own that much, at least.
Back on planet Earth, he throws you a befuddled look.
"Eh, Tsukishima-san, you said you had to hurry…?"
"Eh, sure, of course," you reply, feeling yourself deflate like a dumb idiot and then, out of nowhere, his hand closes on your arm and squeezes before pulling you towards him.
"C'mon, I know a shortcut."
Oh, alright, he' walking you to the station. That's… totally fine.
And he doesn't let go of your arm for almost two blocks. That's also fine. There're huge crowds in Tokyo, after all. Easy to lose sight of one another, and all that.
Sure, that doesn't explain the sizzling feeling under your skin where he touched you, or the bright red blush that paints his skin when he seems to realize he's still holding onto you and abruptly lets go.
You don't ask any of the questions burning on your tongue on the way to the bus station, in part because rushing through crowded streets is hardly the time and place for that type of talk, and partly because you're a chicken-shit and they're way too heavy for the easy camaraderie you've been sharing all night. You're afraid that any allusion to the past that is light and easy to brush off might break something precious, so instead you babble, and you probably say something again about how proud you feel of Kei-chan, because his mouth twists a little, with a hidden smile, and his eyes crinkle in a way you've already learnt to recognize.
You've said that seven times already, Tsukishima-san. Your little brother's ears must be burning.
It never sounds annoyed, the way he says it, but like it's a private joke, between you two; a private joke that can be conveyed by a glance, a twist of the mouth.
It's only been a few hours since you've bumped into him (since he called out your name and ran through a crowd to get to you). It should not be like this.
(It thrills you, though, each time he glances at you as though you shared a secret language already, even if you haven't figured out all the words of it yet).
You get to the station with time to spare, partly because of the shortcut but more likely because you take after your mother and you panic well in advance when it comes to being late. You thank him all the same, for walking you all the way, and he half-shrugs, a twitch to his mouth as he glances away, and you'd very much like to decipher what that particular twist means.
"Don't mention it," he mumbles, shuffling his feet, and you wonder…
You wonder a lot, actually.
"Too bad you couldn't stay longer," he goes on, his gaze arrested by an ad poster on… pet food? "There's a lot to see in Tokyo."
You've been to Tokyo, more than once, but your breath catches, because the way he says it, even though he's not looking at you–
– especially because he's not looking at you –
"Next time, then." The words blurt out of your mouth before you can reign them in, but you have no time to regret them, because when he looks back at you, his eyes are ablaze, a smile turning the corners of his lips.
"Next time," he says, and it's not a question, but you still nod, and his smile gets a little wider, a little more certain. Then he looks away, and you feel stupidly cold without the heat of his gaze on you. He seems to be searching for something, though, and when he finds it, something settles on his shoulders. He tugs on your sleeve once more, glancing at you, a silent question. You nod and you follow him, the smile on his lips reason enough, until he drags him into an awning. You look around but there seems to be nothing noteworthy except the lack of anyone else, and then you feel both his hands on your forearms and you can't look anywhere else but at him.
This close, you have to tilt down your head a little to meet his eyes, glowing in the faint light, his smile gone as he bites his lower lip, and everything about his uncertain stance screams a question to you, a question that you'd love to answer if you could only decipher it. You pull a little closer, a moth drawn to his light, and maybe that's the right answer, because the tension bleeds out from his wiry frame as his lips curve once more in a tentative smile, his thumbs rubbing circles on your inner arms, leaving traces of heat through the fabric of your sleeves. He squares his shoulders, like he's getting ready for a killer serve, and takes a deep breath, his eyes so bright they burn. In a rush, as though the words will disappear if he doesn't get them out in one breath, he says:
"I think you're beautiful and I would like to kiss you." His smile turns a little rueful, a little sheepish, as though he hadn't just knocked you off your feet. "I can think up some clever lines, if you like. But I wanted to say that, first."
"Well," you reply, the height of eloquence. "I'd like that. The kiss, I mean. Not the lines."
"Oh, thank god, 'cause I couldn't have thought of any," he admits breathlessly, and you feel like laughing, but his hands are sliding up your arms up to your shoulders, leaving a scorching trail on their wake. The sight of his face, skin flushed, lips parted and eyes brighter than ever, is arresting and breathtaking, so you can be forgiven for taking a second or two to realize why his stance is so wavering: he's standing on his tiptoes to reach you.
Oh, right, you think and you lean down to close that last distance between you two.
It's soft, softer than you expected (even when you didn't expect anything at all), soft and warm and oh so tentative. He's being careful, you realize, like he's afraid to spook you, and you think well, that's just stupid. You didn't come this far to be careful, so you give in and you do what you've been longing to almost from the moment you laid eyes on him hours ago.
It is fluffy, you find, as your fingers run through his hair, fluffy and soft and tangled and perfect, but not as perfect at the way he gasps, wide-eyed, and you can feel the smirk tugging at your lips before you dash to press them against him, before you take advantage of his gasp to lick his mouth, nothing tentative about it as you cradle the back of his head to position him just so, and then he just melts against you, his wiry frame a furnace against yours, his fingers clutching the lapels of your jacket, trying to pull you closer even though there's no air between you.
All too soon, a clipped voice over the speakerphones informs you that yes, you have to get on your bus right now or you won't get back to Sendai tonight. He pulls apart first, but only barely, the breath escaping his lips caressing yours. It'd be hard for him to pull farther away, though, with the way your fingers are still firmly entangled in his hair and your other arm is wrapped across his back in a tight vice pushing him back into your chest.
(You find you like that a little too much, perhaps, how easy is for your long arms to wrap all around him and hold on tight. A thought for another time, perhaps.)
Then again, his hands are still clutching the lapels of your jacket for dear life, so it's not like he had any intention of going very far.
"Tsukishima-san," he whispers, absurdly clinging to the honorific, his eyes heavy-lidded and dazed, "I think that's your bus."
You consider, for a fleeting second, to ignore it so you can keep kissing him and yes, miss that damned bus… but there's a job waiting for you tomorrow in Sendai and you don't think this counts as a valid reason for missing work.
Even though it feels very, very valid right now.
"Next time?" you whisper against his lips, chasing their heat one last time, and his eyes widen, all the lights of the night sky glowing in them like supernovas.
"Next time," he promises.
A mantra you'll repeat to yourself all the way back to Sendai, touching your lips every now and then, chasing the ghost of warmth long gone.