Ukai has been trying to quit smoking ever since Ennoshita decided to take his turn to speak in a team meeting to give a powerpoint presentation about the negative effects of smoking cigarettes. It was color-coordinated, easy to look at, and the language used was simple but managed to get the point across. So, basically, it was a mortifying wakeup call for him and the students that had been caught trying to smoke outside of school. That was mainly because Ennoshita had cut them down so finely and passed out many detailed pamphlets.

This is all to say that Ukai has been doing pretty well ignoring the craving. He's even managed to wheedle it down to a pack a month. Still, he's only human. So, when it comes down to it, he has to stop himself from giving into the twitch that runs up his right arm as Tanaka stares at the same batch of meat buns for fifteen minutes straight. It really shouldn't take the kid this long but sometimes customers need a little bit of encouragement.

"Grab one if you're hungry," Ukai calls from behind the register. He reaches into his pocket for a stick of gum. "You're making me anxious just standing there like a zombie." Popping one in his mouth, he watches Tanaka reach in and grab a meat bun with satisfaction bubbling in his chest.

Tanaka hands over the money. Exact change as he usually has been doing since he became a third-year. Then, instead of sitting down at the small table, he stands there. He's got a constipated look on his face which reminds Ukai of Kageyama.

Shoving the gum to one side in his mouth, Ukai tilts his chair so that the front legs are in the air. "Sheesh. Which idiot messed you up?"

That seems to snap the third-year out of whatever state he was in. "I," he starts, letting it die out. A minute or two pass before Tanaka nods, more to himself than to anyone else, and sets Ukai with a stern look. "I have to ask you something." Ukai gestures for him to continue. The older man has to watch the confidence slowly drain out of his face. "Well, you see…"

"Tanaka, if you're not comfortable asking me whatever it is you wanted to ask me, then wait." Ukai unwraps another stick of gum, popping it into his mouth alongside the other piece. He uses the wrapper to gesture at the player. "It's not going to do you any good to start something you're not prepared to start. Breathe."

The newest week of shonen jump is underneath the counter next a large box of gum he needs to stock on the shelves but has been neglecting for the past few days. Sticking his hand towards it, he grabs it as Tanaka takes a deep breath. When Ukai looks up, Tanaka has a determined yet intimidated expression on his face. It reminds him of the first time the third-year did a jump serve in an official match.

"Ukai-san." Tanaka closes his eyes, pauses for a few seconds, then opens them again. "I'm ready to talk about it."

It doesn't take a lot of time for them to move to the small table in the corner of the shop. Ukai can't lean back in this chair since the customers use it so he settles for tapping his fingers against the wood. Patience is a virtue, he reminds himself as Tanaka fidgets in his seat. It's times like these that remind Ukai that, at the end of the day, he's dealing with teenagers. They tend to be nervous about discussing anything they think is serious.

After a few minutes of silence and staring at the cold meat bun on the table, Tanaka takes another deep breath. "I don't mean to pry in your personal life but I've heard some rumors from students in my year about you. Their siblings went to school with you at some point and mentioned that… Um…"

Ukai's heart stops for a second. It's one measly second but it's enough to set him on edge. "What'd you hear?"

"You," Tanaka pauses to think about how to word it. "You used to be a woman."

They both sit there. Neither of them go to speak, the tension palpable. Eventually, Ukai can't stand it and spits out his gum into a napkin. "People used to think I was a woman. So what?"

Ukai half-expects some dramatic reaction from Tanaka. Either an apology for being nosy or words of disgust. But neither options happen. Instead, Tanaka bows his head. "How…"

The rest of what he says is muttered too low for Ukai to hear so he taps the table with more pressure. "Hey. Speak up." He points at his ear once Tanaka raises his gaze.

"I… I wanted to know how you figured it out."

The third-year says it so low Ukai almost doesn't catch it but the sentence is easy enough to read. He rubs at his chin. "I wasn't expected that," he replies honestly. His hair becomes mussed with how he runs his fingers through it as he thinks. "I don't really have an answer to that. It's a personal experience most people just don't get."

"Please," Tanaka starts, just as quiet as he's been since he's arrived. "Whatever it is, I'd like to know. Even if I don't understand, I'd still like to know. If you don't mind."

Surprised at his earnestness, Ukai breathes out heavily. "I can't remember exactly when I realized I felt differently about gender than my peers. Maybe I always felt it, maybe I didn't. It doesn't really matter anyhow." He fiddles with the zipper on his sweater, flipping it up and down. "I didn't enjoy people referring to me as a girl or saying I was cute. It felt like a pit in my stomach. One day I sort of blew up at my grandfather." His face turns sheepish at the memory as he rubs at the scruff on his jaw. "He was the one taking care of me since my parents lived and worked in Tokyo. I told him about how I didn't feel like I was actually a woman. He didn't understand at first but he didn't try to argue with me. He just said that, no matter what anyone else thinks, if I knew something about myself to be true then it was true. That really stuck with me, I think. We talked about things after that, just normal things like the weather. But at one point I told him the truth. I was a man. I am a man. The rest is history."

An odd sort of pressure Ukai didn't notice comes up with the whole speech. He hasn't truly discussed any of this with anyone other than his family and close friends. Suddenly, a wet sniffle snaps him back to reality. Tanaka is waving him off before he's even said anything even though the third-year is definitely crying.

"Sorry." Tanaka rubs at his eyes. "I don't know why I'm crying. I guess I'm happy things turned out well for you."

They sit in silence as Tanaka rides out his tears. Eventually, he calms down enough that the only signs of his earlier fit are his puffy eyes and red nose.

The determined expression from earlier makes a reappearance, making itself home on Tanaka's face. "I think I'm not a man," he says with confidence. It's the recklessly stupid kind Tanaka is known for but it suits him. "It might not be as easy as thinking something but there are moments where I'm… I'm not uncomfortable. I'm annoyed because I know it's not true." He gestures around like Ukai will understand with the added motions. "But I don't mind being called handsome or using traditionally male pronouns or even my appearance. Like I don't want breasts or long hair but whenever I hear someone being referred to as a woman, I can't help but want to be referred as that too. Is that weird?"

Ukai shakes his head. "Not at all. For some people, it takes some time to figure out what they're comfortable with." His fingers immediately reach for the blonde strands of hair coming loose from his headband. "A couple of years back I finally felt confident in myself to grow out my hair. But it's all relative. Being transgender isn't a universal experience, Tanaka. Everyone like us thinks of their gender in a different way. There's overlap but there's no cookie cutter way of being transgender."

"Like us," Tanaka mumbles to himself.

It's still loud enough for Ukai to understand, though. "Sorry. It slipped. I didn't mean to presume."

Shaking his head, Tanaka smiles at his coach. It's small and unlike him but very appropriate for the conversation they're having. "It's fine. I think I am. I'm a woman. Even if others don't think so."

"Well, I'm glad I could help a little. Sometimes all you need is a person to listen." Ukai takes out another stick of gum. Putting it in his mouth, he taps on the table again. "Go at your own pace, Tanaka. Just keep breathing."

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