A/N: Prompts! I love prompts! From dreams-like-edges: Hello! Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. Tsukishima, Yamaguchi and Hinata. Cuddles? Work your magic!
It was harder than I thought it would be. Tsukishima is such a difficult character. But for Yamaguchi, he'll do a lot of things he's not comfortable with. And Hinata is there because of course he would be.
There were a number of different ways that Yamaguchi said that phrase. Laughing, when Tsukishima had done something stupid and Yamaguchi called him out on it, followed by Tsukishima blushing and telling him to shut up. Completely unapologetic, when Tsukki told him to be quiet after Yamaguchi complimented him, directly or indirectly. Absently, when the familiar phrase fell out in the course of their usual interaction. Softly, on the rare occasions when Tsukishima wasn't just irritated, but genuinely hurt.
But this was Tsukishima's least favorite tone of all. "Sorry, Tsukki." The words were quiet, miserable, almost inaudible. Yamaguchi's mouth was muffled against his knees, pulled up to his chest as he hugged his legs, his head bowed and shivering. Sorry, Tsukki, because Yamaguchi hadn't meant for him to find him like this, sitting in a closet in the dark with his entire body shaking.
Tsukishima's fingers tightened on the edge of the door, and he stood there, and he stared down at his friend. It was a linen closet at their winter break training camp, and Tsukishima had only come here in search of a fresh pillowcase. (Yes, sometimes he drooled in his sleep, but shut up about that, it wasn't important.) He had only wanted to find a pillowcase. He hadn't meant to find Yamaguchi, to pry into his affairs, to interrupt him when he wanted to be alone. Yeah, he had noticed that Yamaguchi had been missing for a while, but he hadn't meant to go after him. Everyone needed privacy once in a while.
But when he slid open the closet door and light spilled in from the hallway, there was Yamaguchi sitting with his back to the shelves, curled up and balled into himself. Just a quivering lump of humanity, sixteen years and still so young, so small, despite his height, his ability to stand on Tsukishima's level nearly all of the time. Yamaguchi blinked up at him in astonishment for a few seconds, eyelashes fluttering as he tried to adjust to the sudden light. Then Yamaguchi went very, very still. He ducked his head back against his knees, and he said those words.
As if he was ashamed, as if it was his fault that Tsukishima had found him in this state instead of random chance. As if he should have been better at hiding, as if he should have made himself invisible so as not to disturb anyone with his distress. As if Tsukishima found this disgusting and contemptible, instead of heartbreaking.
Tsukishima stood there, and he looked down at his friend sitting curled up in the closet, and he tried to figure out how he should respond. Yamaguchi wasn't crying, but it looked like he wanted to be. Tsukishima wasn't good at comforting at anyone, and he knew that extremely well. It would be worthless try. He didn't have it in him. The wisest course of action would be to apologize in return, then gently shut the door and go back to the sleeping area and endure his gross pillow until Yamaguchi returned on his own and he could go fetch a fresh pillowcase without disturbing a teammate seeking privacy.
That would be the wisest course, most likely. Certainly the easiest. But Tsukishima's fingers tightened on the edge of the door, and he couldn't do it. If he was the one sitting in the closet, he would want to be left alone. But Tsukishima knew that Yamaguchi was different. He might have sought solitude right now, but that had been because he didn't want to bother anyone, not because he actually wanted to be alone. Yamaguchi was not the kind who wanted to be alone.
So Tsukishima couldn't leave. He stood there for a moment longer, his feet feeling rooted to the floor. Then he stepped forward.
He moved into the closet, into the close, tight space muffled on all sides by blankets and futons and spare pillows and, yes, clean pillowcases. He crouched down on the floor in front of Yamaguchi, forced by the smallness of the space to brush up against him, their knees touching. He shut the door behind him.
"Tsukki..." Yamaguchi's voice was dull, and weary, and still so very miserable. So very apologetic and sad and everything else that Tsukishima hated to hear in his voice. "Why...?"
"Because," Tsukishima said roughly, unable to explain himself. "Just...because."
Yamaguchi was quiet for a little while, taking this in. Then he accepted it, as he always did. As he always accepted Tsukishima and anything he said or did or chose (except for once, and that had been a very large exception that proved the rule). "All right, then."
Yamaguchi shuffled around to make room for him, and Tsukishima squeezed in tighter, and then they were sitting side by side with their backs to the shelves. Yamaguchi stayed curled up in his little ball, even smaller and more compact than before in order to make room for Tsukishima, who sat cross-legged and loose-limbed against the linens.
"Shut up, Yamaguchi," Tsukishima said, cutting off the new apology. He didn't want to hear it. It wasn't right.
Yamaguchi chuckled softly and was silent.
Tsukishima didn't ask what was wrong. He wouldn't be able to fix it if he knew, so there didn't seem to be a point in asking. Still, his mind spun over the events of the day, trying to pick out what had done this, what had chased Yamaguchi into the smallest, loneliest space he could find.
He couldn't think of anything. Yamaguchi had been cheerful all day, as far as he remembered. They had planned a series of practice games all week with all of their rivals from the Miyagi preliminaries, and it had been an intense time. Today Yamaguchi had pinch-served several times and also made several important and well-executed receives. He had been happy at supper, if a bit worn out and eager for a bath and bed.
Something must have happened between then and now. Tsukishima wracked his brain, but he couldn't remember noticing anything. Had someone stopped Yamaguchi in the hall, said something to him? Tsukishima's hand clenched into a fist. He would ask around later, find out who it was...
"I got a call," Yamaguchi said.
Tsukishima went still.
"You're wondering why, right? I got a call from my dad. My mom was in car accident."
Oh. Tsukishima knew how much Yamaguchi loved his mother. She was sweet and quiet, maybe shy, maybe just introverted. But she lit up around her son, and he lit up around her, smiling and talking far more than he usually did, eager to share the details of his life with the one person who was the most interested in hearing them. She was kind to Tsukishima, too, always happy to see "Tadashi's handsome friend." One time, when she knew he was going to come over after school, she presented him with a small bowl of gorgeous, perfect strawberries. She had found them at the grocer that morning and thought of Tsukishima, and she had saved them especially for him.
Yamaguchi drew a shuddering breath. "Dad said she's going to be okay. She's in the hospital, but... She'll be okay. He said so."
He didn't sound like he believed it.
Tsukishima gritted his teeth, unaccountably angry at Yamaguchi's father. Why had he called him, knowing that his son was in the middle of a training camp, that he would take this news very hard? It was going to mess up his concentration for the rest of the trip. Why not just let him know when he came back home?
Yamaguchi probably wouldn't have appreciated that, though. He would be upset with his father for not telling him right away about anything that happened to his mother. There was no winning here.
After a long moment of contemplation, Tsukishima opened his mouth. "We...we could speak to Coach Ukai. I'm sure we could find a ride back for you, if you... If you need to go. To see for yourself."
Yamaguchi considered this, but then he shook his head. Tsukishima could hear it in the dark, could almost feel it, the soft slide of Yamaguchi's hair brushing close to his arm. "I want to stay," he said, and there was that note of steel, usually so well hidden. Lately it had become stronger and stronger, more in evidence with every day that Yamaguchi fought and pushed himself and struggled for success. "I'm learning a lot at this camp and I don't want to give it up. But I... I think I need some time. Mom will be okay. I just...I need to believe that."
"Ah. Of course."
Well, knowing what the problem was really hadn't helped at all. Just as Tsukishima had thought, there was nothing he could do to fix this. There was nothing to fight, no bullies to intimidate, and his single suggestion had been rejected.
Tsukishima wasn't good at comforting people. Sugawara would put his arm around Yamaguchi, Captain would say something firm and reassuring, Coach or Takeda-sensei or Yachi or practically anyone else on the team would be able to say something, do something, anything, anything at all. But here Tsukishima sat, stiff and awkward and too tall and long-limbed for the tiny space, and he couldn't do a thing.
Yamaguchi didn't seem to mind. He never did. After a moment, as if to make sure that Tsukishima wasn't going anywhere, Yamaguchi blew out a breath. And he let his head roll sideways, off his raised knees, and rested it on Tsukishima's shoulder instead.
Tsukishima tried not to stiffen up, but he did anyway. His entire body went rigid the moment Yamaguchi's head touched down. Yamaguchi had never done anything like this before, and he didn't know how to respond. Yamaguchi didn't move, though, apparently choosing to ignore his discomfort. In only a few seconds, Tsukishima felt himself relaxing, slowly, bit by bit, until he leaned almost bonelessly against the shelves and the boy beside him.
It was just Yamaguchi, and he was sad and in pain, and Tsukishima was here. And...it didn't hurt. Tsukishima didn't hate it. He didn't know how to respond, but he didn't hate it. Yamaguchi's head was warm and heavy on his shoulder, and his breath was slow and relaxed. The small space didn't feel uncomfortable or confining. With anyone else, probably even Akiteru, Tsukishima wouldn't have been able to handle this. It would have been too close, too claustrophobic, too overwhelming. But Yamaguchi had always been the exception to many rules.
Before he realized he was doing it, Tsukishima leaned his head over to rest on top of Yamaguchi's. A long, slow sigh passed through Yamaguchi's lips, accepting, always so accepting. And they were still and quiet, just leaning against each other. Just being themselves, here in the dark, Tsukishima and Yamaguchi.
Yamaguchi cried then. It wasn't noisy. He didn't sob, just sniffled a bit. Tsukishima felt the tears leaking out to wet his shoulder. It didn't feel gross and nasty, as he would have expected if he'd ever contemplated the possibility of such a strange and awkward situation befalling him. It just felt necessary, a release of emotion that had to be done, one more task Yamaguchi had set for himself.
"She'll be okay," Yamaguchi said almost to himself. Testing the words, seeing if they felt true on his tongue, in his mouth.
"Yes, she will," Tsukishima said, and he believed it. Yamaguchi's father wouldn't have called him if that wasn't true. He wouldn't have been so cruel as to give such awful information over the phone if the news had been worse. He would have come in person to fetch Yamaguchi and bring him home. The fact that he hadn't done that meant that everything was going to be okay, eventually.
"I'm gonna play hard tomorrow. For her."
"I'm sure she'll be proud of you."
Maybe... Maybe Tsukishima wasn't completely terrible at comforting people. He hadn't exactly cheered Yamaguchi up, but at least he wasn't as miserable now. He was still tired and scared, leaning heavily on Tsukishima as if he didn't want to hold himself up just yet, but he also seemed confident and resolved. They couldn't leave yet, though. Not until Yamaguchi was completely ready. It really would be nice if Tsukishima could cheer him up, even just a little.
Pounding footsteps sounded in the hall, sudden and loud. That was all the warning they had before the door of the closet opened once more and there stood Hinata Shouyou, caught in the middle of a laugh that died suddenly on his lips when he saw them inside. Hinata's eyes went wide, then wider, and Tsukishima glared up at him, just daring him to say something. He did not move his head from Yamaguchi's.
"Oi," Hinata said, and Tsukishima could only be grateful that he instinctively dropped his voice. As much of an idiot as he could be, Hinata did tend to be fairly astute about the feelings of others. Hinata's eyes flicked over them, then settled on Yamaguchi. He gasped, hushed and distressed. "Yamaguchi, you've been crying."
"Shut the door," Tsukishima said, his voice a low hiss. This was no one's business but Yamaguchi's.
Hinata hesitated, his hand tightening on the edge of the door, just as Tsukishima's had. Then he obeyed. He shut the door. But he was inside it.
"Go away," Tsukishima said, crowded suddenly against the shelves by yet another presence in the too-small space. He heard and felt the fumbling in the dark as Hinata pushed his way in with them, insinuating himself into a crevice on Yamaguchi's other side. At least he was small and compact, but Tsukishima still caught his breath at the audacity of this intrusion.
"What are you doing, Hinata, no one asked you..."
"Shut up, Tsukki." The words were soft and absent, as if Hinata was paying almost no attention to him at all. "Yamaguchi is my friend, too. I'll leave if he tells me to, but if he doesn't, I'll stay."
Then there were arms around Yamaguchi, wiry and strong. Hinata's curled fists bumped against Tsukishima, too, jammed up on Yamaguchi's other side. He huffed out a breath, but made no move to resist the touch. Hinata was right. This was about Yamaguchi, not Tsukishima and not Hinata.
"Do you want me to leave, Yamaguchi?" Hinata asked. It sounded like he had hooked his chin over Yamaguchi's shoulder, his voice was so close. Tsukishima could practically smell his breath.
Yamaguchi was quiet for a moment. Then, "No," breathed out on a puff of air. "This is good."
It really seemed to be. Hinata didn't ask what was wrong, and Yamaguchi didn't tell him. It seemed to be enough to just sit there, so close that they could all feel each other breathe. Tsukishima listened for sounds outside the door, wary about being found by yet another person, but the Karasuno team seemed to have settled in for the night. No doubt someone was going to wonder where they were eventually and come looking for them, but for now they were safe.
"Hey, Hinata," Yamaguchi said after a while. His voice barely shook at all. "Why did you come to the linen closet?"
"Oh." Laughter bubbled up in Hinata's voice again, swift and strong. His arms tightened around Yamaguchi, fingernails brushing Tsukishima's arm and upper back. "We were having a pillow fight. Stupid Kageyama stole my pillow, so I came to find another one. He probably thinks I ran away."
"Pillow fight?" Curiosity glimmered in Yamaguchi's tone, and Hinata laughed again and told him the whole story.
Hinata was good at telling stories, and this was a fun one. "...And then Noya-san took Tanaka-senpai's pillow and tried to smack him in the face, but Tanaka-senpai ducked and he hit Asahi-san instead, and Asahi-san fell down making a noise like a wounded moose, and then Suga-san and Captain Daichi..."
Tsukishima wanted to ask Hinata what kind of sound a wounded moose made, and perhaps how he knew such a thing, but he didn't have the heart to interrupt. Yamaguchi made interested noises now and then, egging him on, and Hinata kept thinking of more details, more things that had happened. Yamaguchi's voice was stronger, now, and Tsukishima couldn't feel him shivering anymore.
When the story was done, Yamaguchi slowly, wearily raised his head, pulling it off of Tsukishima's shoulder as with a great effort. Tsukishima sat straight, too, his hands on his knees. Yamaguchi blew out a sigh, exhausted but content. Hinata squeezed him tight for a moment longer, then let go.
"Everything okay now?" Hinata asked, and though his voice was cheerful, a serious note lingered beneath.
Yamaguchi hummed. "We should go back before the senpai get worried about us."
"Yeah. You're probably right." Hinata bounced to his feet, light as a puff of cotton, and slid the door open just enough for him to slip through. The light from hall made Tsukishima squint against it, and Hinata turned back to look at them again, his orange hair haloed in the yellow glow. "I'll tell them you're both on the way, okay?" He nodded firmly. "Okay."
"Thank you, Hinata." Yamaguchi was thanking him for much more than this.
Hinata nodded again. "It was nothing." Then he clattered away, pausing only long enough to close the door gently behind him.
They sat in the dark for a moment longer. Then Yamaguchi drew in a bracing breath, bumped his shoulder against Tsukishima's one last time, and climbed to his feet. Tsukishima moved with him, his joints protesting after the long stillness. He stood still, waiting, while Yamaguchi gathered himself, then set his hand on the door.
Even in the dark, he could feel Yamaguchi turning to him, looking up at him with those big eyes. No longer sad now, he hoped, but still so large, so trusting. Yamaguchi drew a breath to speak, and Tsukishima gritted his teeth, bracing himself for yet another Sorry, which he would then refuse.
But no. "Thank you, Tsukki." Soft, a little embarrassed, but no longer ashamed.
Tsukishima held still. "It was nothing, Yamaguchi." He was silent for a moment, then said the rest. "I'm glad I found you here."
It had been hard. He hadn't thought he would be able to do it. Comforting people and cheering them up was not Tsukishima's strength and never would be. But he was glad that he'd been able to do what he could, and Hinata had done the rest. It was good to have a team, all with varying strengths, so they could fill the gaps for each other.
He felt Yamaguchi smile. Then he opened the door, and they stepped out into the world again.