"Both is good!" Tadashi called over his shoulder as he left.
Kei turned around in the aisle, still holding up both flavors of bread. "What do you mean, both?" he said to the closing door as Tadashi headed outside again without hearing. Kei sighed. "Both. I hope he's got money for these because I'm not paying for them."
In truth, Kei was paying for both and he knew it. If Tadashi really wanted both, well, that was the way these things went, but it wasn't like Kei was going to say that out loud with his mouth. Just like he'd been calling Tadashi Tadashi in his head for literal years without anyone else knowing.
That was it, wasn't it? Keep it secret, keep it safe: the Tsukishima Kei motto.
Kei dropped Tadashi's bread and their drinks on the counter. Ukai put down his manga, but didn't ring him up. Instead, he stared at Kei for a long enough time that the back of his neck started to heat up.
"What?" said Kei.
Ukai narrowed his eyes and stared some more. "It's on the house," he said finally.
Kei's eyes widened. It wasn't unlike Ukai to forego economic sensibility in the face of his players, but this was the first time he'd done it for Kei alone. He couldn't even come up with a smartass remark, instead mumbling, "Thanks," and gathering up his things.
"Don't mention it," Ukai said, picking up Jump again. "Go get 'im, tiger."
For a split-second, Kei considered playing dumb, but Ukai saw Hinata and Kageyama almost every day, so he knew what real dumb was. "It's not like that," he mumbled, standing near the door.
"Mmhmm," Ukai agreed dismissively, already engrossed in One Piece again, so Kei just gave up and left.
Outside, three girls were talking to Tadashi, crowded around him, giggling and tucking their long hair behind their ears. Kei knew them all a little; they were definitely in his year, but he wasn't sure of their names. He wasn't surprised to see them there. Things had been like that for a while, like as soon as Tadashi stopped walking two steps behind Kei, a light shone down on him and everyone could finally see him.
Kei couldn't blame them; after all, that was true for him, too.
"Tsukki!" Tadashi said, spotting him. He jogged over to take his food out of Kei's hands and lowered his voice: "Come over and talk to them with me. They're nice. You be nice, too."
Kei sighed and twisted the cap off his juice. He could see it, the way Tadashi's shoulders hunched up just a little at the sound, and Kei hated himself for making him feel that way. "Okay," Kei agreed, then added, "For you."
Tadashi's eyes widened for a split-second and then he grinned, huge and guileless. The bottom dropped out of Kei's stomach at that look, like Tadashi's smile was the key to opening a bottomless chasm of feeling and Kei had just fallen down into it. Tadashi grabbed Kei's wrist and tugged him over to the girls.
"Do you all know each other?" Tadashi asked. Two nodded, but one shook her head, so Tadashi said, "This is my best friend, Kei," then froze when he realized what he'd said. "Tsukki," he corrected. "Tsukishima," he concluded finally. "He's smart and great at volleyball and he's really tall, too! Tsukki's so amazing."
The Shut up, Yamaguchi, was right on Kei's lips. He knew Tadashi was expecting it, too; Kei could see the hunched tension all across his shoulders again. Kei opened his mouth.
"Thank you, Tadashi," he said softly. Tadashi's head whipped in his direction, his mouth hanging open a little, a blush starting up on his freckled cheeks. The girls looked from Kei to Tadashi and back, and they all wore the same knowing face Ukai had inside the store.
Kei had told Ukai that it wasn't like that. But he could feel his own face heating up and, well, maybe it was.
You're up, springmaid!