“You realize,” said a voice behind Kuroo, “that you’ve been playing Butterfly on repeat for nearly an hour now.”
Kuroo paused, turned. He leaned forward onto the safety bar, examining the newcomer who had approached the DDR machine behind him.
They were tall, although Kuroo still had quite a few centimeters on them. It probably didn’t hurt that he was still standing atop the DDR pad. Their hair was soft and curly black, and although they wore nothing more complicated than denim short-shorts and a faded Galaga t-shirt, their stance was poised and elegant. Like a dancer.
They also looked faintly unimpressed with Kuroo, especially when he smirked back at him and pulled the hem of his shirt up to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “Only way to get better at it, yeah?”
“Please put your shirt down. We’re in public.” When Kuroo let the hem of his shirt fall, the stranger was counting out change into their hand, examining the coins studiously. “At any rate, I’d like to use the machine, if you don’t mind.”
“Heh, alright.” Kuroo stepped off the DDR machine, stretching his arms over his head and looking around the dim arcade for another game to occupy himself.
For someone who lived in a beach town, Kuroo didn’t much enjoy being outside. Oh, he didn’t mind the beach at night, when the sand was cool and the moon rippled in the ocean and he could climb up into the lifeguard chairs and listen to the breakers. But when it was daytime, and the beach was hot and bright and crowded with tourists, Kuroo liked to go inside.
So usually, when his mom kicked him out of the house and told him to go do something with his summer instead of playing Final Fantasy eight hours a day, Kuroo came here. The arcade was dim, air-conditioned, and full of screens, just how he liked it. Kuroo only had one friend, and Kenma was gone to spend the summer with their pen pal in Miyagi, so there wasn’t much else for Kuroo to do besides waste all his money at the arcade and occasionally say hey to Ushijima, the constant presence at the Tetris machine in the corner. That was where Kuroo went now, nodding to Ushijima as he started up a game of Pac-Man at the next machine over.
The arcade was pretty empty most of the time, so one could hardly blame Kuroo for sneaking glances at the stranger as they dropped their coins into the DDR machine and stepped onto the pad. The recorded voice announced the beginning of the song, and then the person started to dance.
Thirty seconds later, and Pac-Man was blinking away into death at Kuroo gaped at the stranger’s movements.
They were one of those dangerous people who leaned back on the safety bar as they danced, with the soft cotton of their t-shirt stretching snug over their narrow chest. They played barefoot - shit, Kuroo could never do that without stubbing his toes - and as they shifted between the arrow-pads, jumped and landed in a long freeze-hold, their body rolled to the rhythm of some electropop Kuroo didn’t recognize, hips swaying enough in their shorts to catch Kuroo’s eyes and hold them.
He didn’t even realize the song had ended until the person stood up from the balance bar, curls a little damper and lips parted slightly. As Kuroo stared from the Pac-Man corner, with Ushijima busily breaking world records or something at Tetris next to him, the electronic announcer delightedly told the entire arcade that the player was a star.
The screen flashed to show their score (an A) and an impressive combo. But the final blow didn’t land until the next screen that flipped up - one that was intimately familiar to Kuroo. The New Record screen.
The person stepped forward to tap in a name, and a few minutes later, the HIGH SCORES screen popped up - a long list of KUROO, KUROO, KUROO, MATSUKAWA, KUROO, with one new name at the very top of the list.
AKAASHI, in pixelated white letters.
The stranger - Akaashi - stepped off the DDR pad and nodded to Kuroo. “Have a good day, Kuroo-san.” And then they strode over to the doors of the arcade and were gone, leaving nothing but sunlight swinging in through the doors after them.
In his Pac-Man corner, Kuroo seethed.
Me, 2:07 P.M.
I mean they showed up played one song beat my high score and left
Me, 2:08 P.M.
who even does that
kenmachine, 2:10 P.M.
Me, 2:11 P.M.
you’re no help
Me, 2:12 P.M.
kenmachine, 2:15 P.M.
less melodramatic than you
kenmachine, 2:16 P.M.
just beat their high score back
Me, 2:17 P.M.
Me, 2:19 P.M.
You are a small mastermind
kenmachine, 2:23 P.M.
The next time Akaashi came to the arcade, Kuroo wasn’t even at the DDR machine. He was lurking in his Pac-Man corner again, watching and waiting. At the machine next to him, Ushijima was focused on his game of Tetris like a solemn captain pacing the foredeck of a proud frigate.
Sure enough, Akaashi’s eyes went straight to the DDR machine - and if Kuroo hadn’t been watching so carefully, he would’ve missed the flick of their eyes halfway towards Pac-Man before they caught themselves and stepped fluidly up to the pad.
They played only one song this time, too. And just like before, when Kuroo glanced over at the end of the song, they were already leaning forward to type in their name for a new record.
But this time, when the screen flipped to HIGH SCORES, Kuroo’s name was still smug and pretty at the top of the list. Akaashi’s scores held only slots two and four.
Akaashi didn’t react much, but the barely-visible grind of their jaw told Kuroo all he needed to know.
He grinned to himself, and on his own screen, Pac-Man swallowed a large, blinking white dot. The four ghosts turned royal blue and started flashing as they fled in terror.
Me, 11:38 A.M.
Me, 11:38 A.M.
kenmachine, 11:49 A.M.
i cant believe i leave for a month and you make a mortal enemy
By the time Akaashi left that day, they held the high score again. Fortunately, Kuroo had a lot of time to kill. And when Akaashi showed up again, a few days later, Kuroo’s name held slots one, two, and three on the HIGH SCORES screen.
After their first song, Akaashi approached him. They looked calm enough, but Kuroo didn’t miss the strain in their voice as they said, “Kuroo-san, this is childish.”
Kuroo barely looked up from the joystick on the Pac-Man machine as he responded, “What is?”
“I-” They paused for a second, and then continued, “The… DDR records. You must be putting a lot of effort into breaking my high scores.”
Kuroo cursed softly as Pac-Man lost his last life, and then turned to frown at them. “Now, Akaashi, that’s not very nice. I’m just playing DDR like I normally do.”
“I’m sorry,” Akaashi replied, without hesitation. “I did not intend to offend.”
“Mmm.” Something about their politeness really made Kuroo just want to get under their skin deeper. He shoved his hands into his pockets, fixed Akaashi with a knowing stare and a feline smirk. “And if you think it’s so childish, care to explain why you’re spending all your spare change here too?”
“I,” said Akaashi, and turned to walk back to the DDR machine just a little too quickly.
The back of their neck was red, and the tips of their ears.
Kuroo was delighted.
Me, 4:23 P.M.
if it helps I’m pretty sure they hate me too
kenmachine, 4:36 P.M.
they have good judgment
Me, 4:38 P.M.
Akaashi showed up to the arcade a lot more after that.
They brought a friend sometimes - a tall, brawny guy with streaky black-and-silver hair named Bokuto, whose defining feature was that Kuroo never saw him wearing more clothing than a pair of swim trunks. Bokuto didn’t care too much for video games, but he cared plenty for talking, which Kuroo learned when the guy wandered over to the retro corner and attempted to strike up a conversation with Ushijima.
“Hey,” Kuroo cut in, after about ten minutes of almost entirely one-sided rambling. Ushijima didn’t look particularly upset at the attention, but there was only so long that Bokuto would be able to talk before realizing he wasn’t getting any responses. “Are you a friend of Akaashi’s?”
Bokuto patted Ushijima on the shoulder and then turned his stare on Kuroo, yellow as a pair of headlights and smiling just as bright. “Yeah! You’re Kuroo, right? The one who started that weird DDR rivalry with them?”
“Well,” Kuroo began to protest, before pausing to realize that yeah, that was pretty much exactly what he had done. “Ha, yeah. They’ve talked about it, huh?”
Bokuto shrugged his broad, muscle-bound shoulders. “I don’t really get it, the only game I play is beach volleyball, but they seem pretty invested. Good for you, though! It’s not easy to get them this worked up about something. They’ve started collecting change in a jar.”
Bokuto was easy to talk to, and over the course of the next few days, whenever Akaashi was playing DDR, Kuroo chatted with him in the Pac-Man corner. It helped that Bokuto didn’t really have a filter - Kuroo could learn just about anything from him. For example, he learned that Bokuto and Akaashi were friends and volleyball teammates from Tokyo, Akaashi in town for their sister’s wedding in a few weeks and Bokuto tagging along as a family friend and beach enthusiast. Kuroo asked where they were staying, and let out a low wolf-whistle when he heard the name of the nearby apartment building. The Akaashi family must have no shortage of cash.
On the DDR pad, Akaashi had just finished a song, and they looked over to Kuroo and Bokuto at the sound of Kuroo’s whistle. Kuroo, who considered himself an opportunist, just grinned at them, crooked and lidded-eyed. They turned back to the machine in haste, bumping their knee gracelessly on the front corner.
“How’d they even get so good at DDR?” Kuroo asked Bokuto idly. “Do they play a lot back home?”
Bokuto bored quickly of watching Akaashi dance through their next song, and went back to observing Ushijima’s Tetris game as he answered Kuroo’s question. “Uh, nah, they have a DDR thingy at home. Um, the pad, you know. They actually brought it here, it’s one of the two-person ones. We were playing a lot before they started coming here.”
“Huh,” said Kuroo, frowning. Something didn’t add up. “Hang on, if they have the DDR pad at your place - why would they keep spending money here?”
Kuroo looked over him, and then examined him more closely. It wasn’t like Bokuto to give up a chance to talk, and his lips were pressed into a thin line, eyes too-intent on the Tetris screen. “Bokuto? Even before we started competing for the top spot on the machine, they were here twice just to play DDR. Why is that?”
“HEY,” Bokuto said loudly. “USHIJIMA. COULD YOU SHOW ME HOW TO PLAY TETRIS.”
Kuroo, who was just about grinning ear to ear by now, turned away from Bokuto and headed for the DDR machine.
“Hey, Akaashi,” he said.
He waited patiently for Akaashi to finish their song. They turned to him, one eyebrow raised. “Yes?”
“How come you came back here to play DDR when you have your own pad for free at your place?”
Akaashi stared at him for precisely four seconds, in which they looked pale as the grave under the low lights of the arcade, and then turned on their heel and rushed for the doors.
Fortunately, Kuroo’s legs were longer, and he kept pace easily as the two of them emerged into the bright, bright sunlight of a summer Friday. The arcade was only one building away from the waterfront, and Kuroo fell into stride next to Akaashi as their flip-flops and Kuroo’s converse shh ’ed over the sandy parking lot towards the apartment buildings. He grinned down at Akaashi, who was staring straight ahead. “Akaashi, why’d you really keep coming back to this shitty little arcade, if you thought getting into a rivlry was so juvenile?”
“You - you know,” Akaashi gritted out. The irritation in their voice was offset by the crack in the middle of the last word.
Oh, this was wonderful. “Do I?” Kuroo drawled. “Enlighten me.”
And only then did he realize that Akaashi’s steps had brought them to the bottom of a wooden staircase that led up to the very apartment building that Bokuto had named as his and Akaashi’s residence. Akaashi stepped up three stairs, pausing where they were just taller than Kuroo, and turned to face him.
“All I would like to say,” they began, precise enunciation mismatched with the high color in their cheeks, “is that my DDR pad is a two-person. If you would like to come play one-on-one. To make our competition more direct.”
And then they turned and half-ran up the rest of the stairs, leaving Kuroo at the bottom.
He stared after them for a moment, and then a grin bubbled up in his chest and spread across his face like a slime mold.
“Oh, I sure would like to play some one-on-one,” he mumbled to himself, and leapt up the stairs two-at-a-time to follow.