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Love me halfway

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The thing is.

The thing is that it’s a small, miniscule detail amongst a thousand, different details.

In the everyday routine of noisy teammates hollering cheerfully about “I’ll beat you!” and “Hinata, you dumbass!”, who has time to guess the nature of one little detail that is unnecessary to think about anyway?

As a person who’s good at reading motives, feelings and fears from someone’s body language, that miniscule detail is a speck of dust finding its way through his window. A detail that gets swept out under the rug later on in the day by the swipe of his boots.

Just a speck of dust.

The thing is.

It’s just good, nice ribbing. Everyone does it. It’s practically a rite of passage-- seniors lording over their seniority to tease first-year students if they so wanted. Heck, Tsukishima did it to Hinata and Kageyama (but they were on equal footing so that didn’t count). It definitely wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. And he was sure that some people got off on lightly teasing decent, half-respectful high schoolers just standing on the sidelines, wrinkling their nose at the absurdness of the noise around them.

Even more, it was typical behavior from someone who was named “Provocation Expert”.

Those sly smirks of his were so often directed at teasing others that really, what the hell kind of difference did it make that they somehow always got under Kei’s skin?

“Come jump some blocks for us, Tsukki,” The man would demand, with come-hither fingers drawing him in.

“Watch me block Bokuto and follow my lead, Tsukki!” He would shout as he moved across the court with nimble feet, eyes sharply watching for every slight movement on the opposite side and knowing when to jump and strike. And Kei watching from the side, studying and absorbing every little clue of a lesson bound in those capable feet and hands.

The thing was…

It wasn't a secret that Kei admired the Nekoma Captain, Kuroo Tetsurou (well, maybe it was to clueless simpletons like Hinata and Tanaka-san). Kuroo-san was a middle blocker and one of the best at read blocking, a specialty Kei had accepted as his main technique when out on court. So, of course, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary to admire and respect someone like that.

There was just something so wholly satisfying about getting one up on his opponent through a long, persevering game of cat-and-mouse. Kuroo-san knew that best.

The thing is…

Him and Kuroo-san were much the same type of people. They both liked riling other people up. There was a special, twisted pleasure about it that Kei enjoyed. He knew Kuroo was the same in that regard.

But there were differences too. Stark differences.

One of them being that Kei was way in over his head when it came to Kuroo Tetsurou.

Their win at the national tournament against Nekoma wasn't just because of Kei’s skills. It was because the whole team put in their all. Without that, they wouldn't have won.

Kei was a first year, after all, and was only just figuring out his newly awakened passion for volleyball.

Kuroo, on the other hand, was experienced at many things and not much could surprise him.

Even by the end of their match, at the peak of crisis, he remembered the composure Kuroo kept, even while his limbs trembled from prolonged use.

Even sweating, panting, flushed, Kuroo was the calm anchor around whom Nekoma team revolved.

Kei had never found himself admiring the curve of someone’s Adam apple before. Nor did he chase the sweat dripping down a sharp line down a tan neck until it absorbed onto a red, wet shirt with nonsensical focus.

He was good at noticing things.

So maybe, he imagined intense, hazelnut eyes watching his every move.

He was a middle blocker though so there weren’t any special, fancy spikes or tosses that separated him from the ones on Karasuno who did deserve all undue attention, like that shrimp, the King setter and their third year ace.

Kei was happy with that situation. More than. If attention was off him, that meant he could observe little moments of flaws in his opponent’s play and devise his own plans so their team play succeeded by the end.

It was just that…

Kuroo had been so surprised and slightly proud of him at one point (when Kei’s plan on getting through Nekoma’s infallible, tenuous defense had panned out) that Kei had felt the tell-tale prickle of his consciousness rising to the surface, poking him with all the other speckle of dusts that consisted of Kuroo trying to unobtrusively intrude inside… him.

Since when did their relationship turn out this way? He had wondered, watching the slight stretch of Kuroo-san’s brows and the slow broadening of his eyelids and being completely flabbergasted by the happy curve deepening on the Nekoma captain’s face.

While Daichi-senpai and Tanaka-senpai patted his back, Kei had watched that smile and wondered and wondered. It would make sense if this were a practice match. If Kuroo-san was instead on the stands, watching Karasuno oppose some other powerhouse team.

Hadn’t the ulterior motive to teach Kei and Hinata some moves over with? Wasn’t the ultimate goal achieved already: with the Battle at the Dumpster observed with good cheer by Ikkei Ukai and Nekomata-sensei? What was the point of being proud over his team’s one-point loss?

It was just plain weird.

Maybe, Kei was reading a bit too much into it. Maybe, it was just a mentor thing. Maybe, Kuroo-san was really that nice of a person.

But the thing was… Kei liked to think he was getting better at reading people and Kuroo-san’s actions and reactions made him rethink everything about their past interactions.

“What a load of crap,” Kei muttered to himself in the dark of his room, hands behind his head as he scowled up at the ceiling.

The thing was that this was the exact type of thinking that one would dub wishful thinking.

Rolling his eyes, Kei told himself to go the fuck to sleep and turned to his side, shutting his eyes real hard so as to push away all kinds of pointless introspective thinking.


 


When Kei headed to volleyball practice the morning of mid-October, his mood overall was dreary at best and testy at worst. If someone so much as looked at him the wrong way, he feared he would bring his rarely seen wrath down on them. Unlike Hinata or Kageyama, he was used to calming down urges to maim people just for insulting him to his face.

But he wasn't sure he would be able to do that today.

There was just something about the weather today-- it was all cold yet itchy-- made him want to either just lie down and give up or hit something really hard and win somehow.

As he entered through the open doorway to the indoor gym, he heard Hinata’s excited chatter overtake all other conversation inside.

“Left! Left!” he was shouting now.

Kei’s eyebrow twitched. Lying down and giving up sounded like a great idea right about now.

“Oh, you're here,” Ennoshita-san said with a smile once he spotted the tall, blond-haired player.

Kei stopped next to Ennoshita-san to take stock of the court and blinked. “Is that…”

“Mhmm,” Ennoshita nodded, guessing his inquiry because of where Kei’s eyes had frozen in surprise. “Kuroo-san, Yaku-san and Kenma came to visit us for a little while,”

He could see that. The three of them were up against Kageyama, Hinata and Tanaka on the court.

“I thought they graduated-- Yaku-san and Kuroo-san, I mean.” He said as he watched his copper-haired teammate try a quick attack on the Nekoma trio, which was instantly deterred from reaching the floor when Yaku-san received the ball and sent it flying up.

“Yeah, well, they said they were in the area,” Ennoshita shrugged. “Kuroo-san did say something about Kenma missing Hinata or something or other. Kenma, of course, completely denied all charges.”

“Kenma!” Kuroo cried as Kenma pulled his wrists together and tossed the ball his way. Kuroo grinned and flew up while Kagayama and Tanaka jumped up to intercept his spike.

“Like I’d let you!” Tanaka was screaming. Kuroo’s eyes moved quick enough to miss if you blinked and he twisted his right hand just so that the ball in a slow arc fell over Karasuno’s side with a thump.

“Point!” Kinoshita cried out as he flipped the Nekoma scoreboard one point up.

“Argh!” groaned Tanaka as he landed on his feet, swinging his fist in frustration. “I could have blocked that!”

“Hinata, you dumbass, you could have received the ball at least,” Kageyama was grumbling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Sorry, your highness,” Hinata said with his tongue poking out. “But unlike, you, oh Great King, I only have two eyes.”

“Oh, playing with you guys is always a hoot.” Kuroo was saying, slapping his knee as he guffawed.

Hinata and Kageyama exchanged a look, glared and turned away. Kageyama’s grumpy expression changed when he noticed Tsukki standing there.

“Oh, Tsukishima, you're here,” He said, which made all the other players and one female manager look in his direction.

“Oh good, I’m switching out.” Tanaka sighed in relief as he stepped off the court. He was sweating loads through his white shirt and brought the collar of it up to wipe at his face. “Cover for me, Tsukishima,”

“I have to change and warm up first,” Tsukki informed him, putting down his bag against the wall.

“That's okay, we can wait a little,” Yaku-san called out from the court, stretching out the kinks around his shoulder as he pulled it over his head. “We’ve had six three-on-three matches already and it's getting boring now. New flesh will freshen things up a bit.”

“Haven't you tried switching players on either side?” Kei asked them while ambling over to where the five players stood by the net.

“We tried that but apparently, the opposite combo sucks so much that it was literally a ridiculous train wreck,” Kuroo said, with a half-curve smile directed Kei’s way.

“Oh,” Kei knew this was the perfect setup to tease Hinata for being completely useless without Kageyama but-- but well, he was trying this new thing, see. He was trying to appear like a mature, polite student who didn’t pick fights for stupid reasons.

Nothing illustrated the complete difference in levels between two people than… well, you acting like a complete childish, arrogant brat while the other knew exactly what was spouted bullshit and what was vulnerable truths. He couldn’t fool Kuroo-san with the mask he wore around his teammates, he was aware.

“Well, I’ll go and change,” He decided to say aloud, backing two, three steps. He wondered if he should say something like: “Nice to meet you, Kuroo-san,” or “How’s university life, Kuroo-san?” But the time for thinking of something to say was way past gone once he tripped on his way back, eyes still fixed on Kuroo-san’s enigmatic face.

The former Nekoma captain was a hard person to get a read on, most days. But now, he was in college and it had been months since they’d last seen each other. So when Kuroo’s lips crept into a slow, knowing smile, Kei whipped around fully to trot off to the locker room in a hurry.

God, he needed to have more composure around Kuroo or who knew what that man might end up deducing about Kei’s strange, tongue-tied behavior.

 


It was exhilarating playing with the original Nekoma once again. Well, a quarter of it, anyway. There had been a fair bit of competition that by the very end, Kei was panting and bending down to hold his knees. His muscles were screaming protest after trying to block some of those wild attacks.

Kageyama, like a strict dictator, had ridden both him and Hinata hard and at the time, Kei had deferred to the setter because he had needed to shed his frustration off somehow and he didn't want to come across to Kuroo as a lazy, non-serious brat.

Kuroo had been one of the reasons he was drawn to the idea of being hooked to volleyball like a fool, after all. Kei didn't do things he didn't want to do. And passion for volleyball had been one of his turn-offs. Except it no longer was.

“Good game,” a voice said, black sneakers covering the floor in front of him. He paused, gaze drifting from Kuroo-san’s well-built chestnut legs and strong thighs to the rest of him.

The man hovering over him practically shone with glistening sweat dotting his forehead and upper lip. The arch of his narrow, caramel jaw was lined with a crooked grin. His eyes gleamed like the sun had swallowed them up for a startling moment, but Kei knew, they were a hazelnut brown, light yet bold like granite.

Kei let his knees go and straightened up, slotting his glasses back up his nose with a finger.

“Kuroo-san,” He greeted the man politely. “Were you really here for practice matches with us little high schoolers? I can't imagine your college coach doesn't ride you as hard as Kageyama does us.”

Kuroo’s grin widened, teeth involved in the expression now. “I’m as surprised as you. I came for a visit and suddenly, the shrimpy started hollering about a practice match. I thought, why not, but now, I'm regretting it just a little.”

Kei let a small smile linger on his lips. “Still, good workout?”

“Oh, I don't know. You're right when you say my college coach rides me hard.” Kuroo said nonchalantly ignoring the double entendre so Kei did the same. “It's non stop practice for us and more challenging than high school, if you can imagine that.”

“I can imagine,” Kei said. Kuroo raised his brows in question. “My big brother has been taking me to train with his college teammates since spring inter-high tournament. It’s good practice.”

“Oh,” Kuroo processed that with his hands on his hips, tilting his head to the side. “Oh, I wonder if that’s why your blocks have been getting better and better.”

Kei shrugged. Kuroo kept smiling foolishly back to him. Well, at least, the whole vibe about him when it concerned Kei hadn’t changed. Kei had been wondering… but really, it had only been a few months since they’d last seen each other. What really could have changed?

“Kuroo, get changed and let’s go!” Yaku screamed from the back, interrupting the muted vibe around them. “We have to catch the next train if we want to get there on time!”

“Right,” Kuroo touched the back of his neck as he turned to look over his shoulder. His profile looked pensive for a moment. The next Kei blinked though, he was being bestowed with another priceless grin. “Well, it’s always a pleasure practicing with you, Tsukki.”

Kei cocked an eyebrow, attempting to paint his face with indifference. Just practicing? He wanted to say, but held back the urge.

Kuroo stopped, a fondness flashing in his eyes as he patted Kei’s shoulder.

It was a warm hand. Kei didn’t even try to glance at it. God knew how he’d react. Internal bodily responses needed to be nipped in the bud right there, not express themselves anywhere on his body language or his facial expression.

He would not even let a twitch of his feelings show.

“It’s been fun,” Kuroo said, topaz eyes sparkling at Kei, who wanted to immediately burn the image right out of his mind.

Because once Kuroo-san left out of that door with Yaku-san and Kenma, waving at them for one last moment before he took footsteps outside-- once Kuroo-san left, Kei wouldn’t see him again for a long time.






One year and a few months later

“I’m sorry,” Kei got somehow out of an inelegant tongue, a rock lodged somewhere around his throat. His eyes kept moving-- kept escaping the eyes of his lover-- well, eyes of his former lover.

Omura Yasunaga with his brown eyes and poutish mouth studied Kei with intent focus that was intimidating and irritating because of how it got under the skin.

“You used me, didn’t you?” Omura accused, looking peevish instead of hurt. Which was good. This would all be for the better if both of them came out of this unhurt and fine.

This had all been a bad idea from the beginning anyway.

“I…” Kei winced. “Yes. I might’ve--” inadvertently “-- used--” super inadvertently “you.”

God, even saying it out loud was painful. Yes, he always knew he was a jerk, but being in a relationship for the first time, he hadn’t yet discovered that he could be a bigger jerk too.

Because yes, his whole sexcapade-slash-small-dates-on-the-side relationship with Omura had been just that. An experimental test on a fairly certain hypothesis that Kei was more interested in people of his own sex (that certain hypothesis had come from trying to date a girl in his second year). And now he was familiar with and hundred percent sure about the whole thing. Omura, being the more experienced of the two of them, had taken Kei by the hand and led him through all the pleasures that were derived from gay sex.

All kinds of monkey sex had been had. Omura had asked him out. Kei, not wanting to appear like a cold-hearted dick to someone giving him so much ( intimate ) pleasure, had opportunistically let them date on. And on and on and on they had gone on for a year almost.

And now they were here in late-March. At the front lawn of his about-to-be-former high school. One graduation ceremony later. A rolled-up parchment confirming his attainment of a degree held in one hand. Another hand coming up to scratch at his eyebrow.

God, there was poison coating his throat. It felt so awkward and awful to stand there and try to reject someone he’d been leading on all this time.

To be fair, Kei had tried to give this whole thing with Omura a chance, but the dude was clingy as all get out. Sure, sex was good. But personality-wise? Omura was a one.

Or well, Kei’s opinion of Omura had fallen levels and levels as they had dated.

The only reason he had kept at it was the sex.

Which was the whole point of anything , Kei felt. Who cared about mushy stuff when you could just shut up and have sex?

“I knew it,” Omura pointed out now, surprising Kei. “You know, you’re not exactly subtle.” Kei hadn’t been trying to be. “You were all for it when I started kissing you but whenever I opened my mouth, you would get this look on your face, like you were disgusted.”

Kei had been disgusted, but Omura had been one of the few good men he had found around town. He had been older than him, which was a turn-on because Kei was pretty sure he was into older, mature guys. He had also, lived thirty minutes off Kei’s home, which meant conveniently far from most of his acquaintances but easily accessible (through bus) if he wanted to get it on.

There had been other factors involved. Good factors that had outweighed the bad for a long while but now that Kei was heading to Tokyo in about four months for college, time was up.

Expiration date was close and Kei wanted to be done with this relationship before any complications.

Which was very pragmatic of him.

Cold, almost.

Yes, so he was a jerk. But like Omura mentioned, it was expected.

“So… you’ll be fine?” Kei questioned cautiously. “With us breaking up?”

Omura snorted, crossing his arms defensively. “Fuck you,” He muttered.

Kei’s brow twitched. “Is that a yes?”

Omura glared at him. “You just want a clean break so you don’t have to deal with the mess.”

Well, what was so wrong with that? “Well…” He didn’t repeat the words in his head but his unsaid words apparently showed on his face.

Omura harrumphed and looked away. “Fine. Fine! We’re done. Okay? Not like I had a choice in this anyway. You utter and complete jerk.”

“Thanks,” slipped unbidden out of Kei’s mouth and when Omura gaped at him like a floundering fish, he winced and bit his lips.

“You just can’t wait to get away, can you?” scoffed his now ex-boyfriend. “Whatever. I don’t care for jerks who don’t care for me.”

“Sure,” Kei nodded politely, about to step away.

“It’s just--” Omura let out, which made Kei stop out of basic decency. “--I’m a catch, you know. Look at me. I’m great.”

“Yes, of course,” Kei agreed, nodding amiably. “Just… not for me.”

Omura blinked and blinked, leaning back like he just had the biggest shock of his life. “But-- but--” He sputtered. “What the fuck’s wrong with me, you douche?!”

Kei almost-- almost rolled his eyes. But that wouldn’t be polite and at least, his parents had taught him some manners. He gathered all the patience inside him and after giving out a heavy sigh, looked Omura in the eye and said: “Look, I’ll be blunt with you. You’re kinda whiny. I hate most of your little quirks. They’re annoying. I could try to tolerate them just for how good of a lay you were but… sorry, I don’t have the patience to.”

Omura’s mouth opened and closed as his eyes popped out of his head. He jerked away as if stung by a snake. “Jeez, okay, sorry for asking.”

Kei arched a perfectly angled brow. “So? We okay?”

“Yes, yes, we’re okaaaay .” he emphasized the last word in an irritated, mocking intonation.

“I’m deleting you from contact numbers so if you try to call or text me again… ” He knew he was being a little too much with this, but he didn’t want this coming back to bite him in the ass later on.

“Wow, harsh,” sighed Omura, looking tired now. “I don’t want to contact you again either. Jerk.”

“Good,” Kei nodded. This was it. The perfect clean break. He had done it. He had been dreading it for months but he had done just fine when the time came. Well, no. It still felt terrible to let down someone as eager and genuine as Omura but that was life. It was inevitable that you let down some people in your life. And other people let you down too.

It was nothing personal.


 


three months later

The arena was not too spacious but the uproarious crowd helped raise tension in the air. There was a palpable, sharp tang of anticipation that stuck to the tongue like syrup candy. If you breathed the atmosphere in from way over on the stands, you could smell the sweat and apprehension pouring off the players as well as the audience.

“This is the best!” Akiteru shouted from the seat next to him. When Kei glanced at him, his older brother looked at him and grinned. “I can’t believe you’ve been accepted to this university, Kei. They’re good enough to participate in Intercollegiate Volleyball Cups like this? That’s amazing!”

While his brother’s eyes shone with glee as he looked down at the court where the match was about to begin, Kei hunched over with his chin under his hand and contemplated his dilemma. Would it be too obvious that he chose this university?

Like his big brother, he could’ve chosen a college in the Miyagi prefecture too. Yet.

Yet.

University of Komazawa was one of the very best universities in Japan, period. Research institutes, numerous departments, enormous campus and a great volleyball program (their team had won consecutively many times in the previous years)-- it was a dream to be admitted here.

But anyone who had spent any time with Kei would be able to tell that while he didn’t like losing to anyone and may be passionate about volleyball on occasion, that didn’t mean he wasn’t completely lazy, utterly lacking in drive and unambitious to the core of him.

If Kei were to see into his future, like five years from now, it wouldn’t have anything to do with volleyball. It would have to do with some reasonable career in which he did about just fine because he was intelligent, after all. Volleyball was fun now that he was trying, sure. But it also, meant blistering fingers, aching muscles, unexpected injuries and sprains and such things. It meant a pain in the ass.

And yet.

A roar started up from the inner crowd right to the very back as a beep signaled the beginning of the match and the ball went up. From way up here, Kei could hardly see the expressions on the players’ faces, but he could squint very hard to see if he wanted. He didn’t squint, though. That would give the game away to anyone trying to gauge him and his older brother was one of those people.

He kept a very uninterested face on as the ball went back and forth with players on both side of the net shifting forward and backward, jumping and sliding down to keep up with the ball.

Cheering squads from both universities kept hollering and making whacking noises so aside from the squeak of sneakers on the court, the whistle of the umpire and the thud of the ball, nothing else could be heard. Except maybe, the booming cheers of the players when their balls hit the other side’s floorboard.

Kei wrinkled his nose. The noise was bothersome, which was another reason against him joining the volleyball program.

And yet.

His eyes, unequivocally following the tune of his heart, sought and found the figure wearing the crimson uniform with number five emblazoned on his back. Player number five’s arms hung down right between his knees as he waited patiently. A beep and then-- the other side-- in the yellow uniforms-- served up a flying ball and that figure that Kei was fixated on watched the trajectory of the ball as Komazawa player number six tossed it up with splayed out hands.

Those narrowed eyes that Kei remembered so well shifted and surveyed all movement from yellow-and-black uniformed players (from Waseda University) as Player number three shot the ball straight forward. The libero from Waseda received the ball before it could fall down to the ground and sent to the setter, player number one.

A spike from the back row was lobbed at Komazawa’s side. It was a fast and unexpected one. No way anyone could avoid it.

Yet.

Right as the ball reached past the net and fell just a few notches, Player number five bounced up and slammed his hand against the ball until it blasted right into Waseda’s side with a resounding smack.

Komazawa cheering squad went crazy with the victory as the winning point for the first set was theirs now. And Player number five? Player number five was hounded on all sides by his teammates as they patted his back and commended him for the kill block.

Kuroo-san raked a hand through his tousled jet-black hair, grinning throughout the commendations. His face was tilted up for anyone on the stands to see. He had acquired a piercing on the upper lobe of his ear since the last time Kei had seen him. It glinted like burnt sienna under the soft-yellow lights from overhead.

The red shirt and shorts really suited him, still. Maybe, that was why Kuroo-san had chosen Komazawa. Kei couldn’t imagine him without that constant, persistent and achingly loud red. It wasn’t a light, blue-red coral like Nekoma’s uniform anymore. Now, it was a darker shade of red. Which strangely enough suited with the desire that was boxed inside Kei’s wavering heart.

He still looked the same. Well, no. He had filled out some more. Broader shoulders. A more sharpened curve lined his jaw. His cheekbones were wider, maybe. But that toothy, crooked grin still remained the same-- an alarming thrill to see even from this distance.

Kei’s heart clenched in his chest and he bunched his fingers around his knee as he straightened on his seat, trying to look anywhere else. Waseda players were gathering around the bench where their coach and manager were seated, probably discussing strategy. Kei’s golden-brown eyes remained there until they didn’t.

Until they unwillingly, stubbornly slid over to where Kuroo-san was bending down and picking up a water bottle for himself. Kuroo’s tan neck arched back as he gulped down from the bottle, while the crowd chattered amongst themselves, completely ignoring the sinful sight.

How was he going to live with this for the next few years?

“Kei?” Akiteru’s call hit his ears and he drew in an inaudible breath before looking to regard his older brother.

His brother’s eyebrows were furrowed. “You okay?”

Oh wow. Was it all showing on his face?

“Yeah, of course,” Kei said, presenting a cool, composed look back to his brother. “I was just wondering about that Player three. I feel like I’ve seen him before.”

Akiteru studied him for a fleeting second in what looked to be worry before he smiled. “You probably remember him from Aoba Josai. Shigeru Yahaba, he was the setter after Oikawa graduated.”

“Ah, of course,”

“But he’s not the only familiar face,” Akiteru continued. “Look there,” He pointed to the right of Kuroo. At Player ten who wore the black uniform with crimson details. “That’s the former libero of Shiratorizawa, Yamagata Hayato.”

“Right,”

“And that’s Kazuki Maruyama,” Akiteru gestured to Player seven. “You remember facing him in your first year, right? They were qualified from the Kanagawa Prefecture to enter the nationals.”

“Nope,” Kei shook his head, trying to come up with the memory of that black, spiky head in his memory.

“I guess that’s a given. You’ve faced a lot of people since then.” his brother said, scratching the back of his head with a sheepish laugh.

“True,” grunted Kei. Now drop this subject .

“But you must remember player number five, right?” asked his brother in an indecipherable tone that Kei didn’t quite like. “That’s the former Nekoma captain who mentored you for a time in your first year, remember?”

He glanced at his brother, trying to read his simple smiling expression.

“Um, he didn’t technically mentor me,” Kei said reluctantly.

“Ah! Yeah, you’re right. But he taught you a few things in those practice matches, right?”

Why was he asking all these questions? Did he have some clue as to Kei’s underlying reason for wanting to enroll in this university? And it was a very small underlying reason so, really, none of this conversation mattered one whit.

God, this was just stupid.

“I guess you could say that,” Kei grudgingly admitted, hunching over once again.

His brother’s eyes were gleaming as they were directed full on at Kei filled with expectation.

“...What?”

“We can go meet up with him after the match,” Akiteru suggested excitedly. “You could tell him that you'll be joining the team this September.”

Kei gave him a deadpan look. “No,”

Akiteru puffed out a pout. “But I’m sure he’d like to know!”

Kei rolled his eyes. Why on God’s earth was Akiteru insisting this much?

He opened his mouth to reject the idea but then, he really looked at his brother and hit a pause. “You wanna go meet Komazawa players face-to-face, don’t you?” Kei asked.

Akiteru’s cheeks tinted a pinker shade as he rubbed his neck. “It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to meet stars like these.”

Kei snorted. “Stars. Please.” A restless moment passed between them as the players went on playing, the audience went on cheering and the umpire went on whistling at every in or out.

At last, he gave an uncaring shrug and said: “Fine, we’ll go meet up with them.”

His brother shot his fist in the air in triumph. “Yes!”




As the match was about to end, Akiteru nudged Kei over and over until Kei exhaled heavily and followed his older brother out of the stands. There were many people crowding the exit, gawping down at the court where the players were giving it their all to score the last match point.

“Did you wanna see it till the end?” Akiteru asked him as they left out of the door after pushing through the people blocking their way.

Kei didn’t hesitate to shake his head. “No, I already know how it’s going to end.”

His older brother smirked knowingly. “Oh? Who’s going to win then?”

Kei glanced at his brother’s expression and crinkled his brow. “It’s a bit obvious,” He said gruffly while walking speedily ahead of his brother to avoid this bit.

“Oh, come on, Tsukki!” His brother exclaimed, right on his very toes. Errant bystanders outside the courtyard looked over at that enthusiastic shout. “I wanna see that special deduction skill of yours at work again. It’s so much more impressive outside of volleyball.”

Kei kept his head down, pretending as if this overly jittery adult-of-a-child wasn’t with him, which was hard to do as Akiteru immediately swept his arms around his lanky shoulders. Kei jerked into the sideways hug and stiffened up his lips while he was cajoled the whole way to Gate F.

While they waited outside, with Kei leaning against the wall beside Gate F, Akiteru crossed his arms and smiled up at the closed double doors.

“Why are you being so gungho about it anyway?” Kei finally asked.

“It’s just great, you know,” His brother murmured, sounding serious. “My little brother is finally showing the world exactly what he’s made of.”

“There’s nothing impressive about it yet,” muttered Kei in a low undertone, but his brother heard it all the same.

“How can that be? These past three years, you’ve gotten so much better at volleyball. Your read block is one of the best I’ve witnessed so far.”

“Now, you’re just exaggerating,” Kei tsked.

“Am I?” His brother’s eyes were shining in an eerily watery way.

God, this was turning into a sentimental thing and any moment, those double doors would lurch open and who would pop out of those doors but Kuroo and his teammates. And they would be talking about their win and all those strategies that worked and didn’t work and they would halt to see Kei and his brother weeping right out in the hall. He really needed to nip this moment right in the bud.

“I don’t know why you’re being this way,” Kei grumbled defensively.

“It’s just… “ Akiteru trailed off, lips twisting on the corner. “Well, I guess I’ll get off your case for now. What did you think of Komazawa play? Do you think you will fit right in with their setup?”

Thank god, they were finally on a topic that didn’t make him want to flee off into the woods.

Kei tossed his head to the side. “Any team needs time to fit together. Sometimes, it’s instant chemistry. Sometimes, you have to develop it by practicing together and communicating your issues. So we’ll see.”

“Your chemistry was pretty good with Karasuno,” Akiteru remarked. “Especially with Hinata and Kageyama.”

Kei’s calm expression splintered into a completely disgusted one. “You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s true, though.”

“No, it’s not, I just went along with their nonsensical, bizarre play because I had to,”

“Oh please, you enjoyed playing with them. They were highly intuitive teammates who goaded and challenged you in more ways than anyone’s ever done before.”

“No, they didn’t,” Kei retorted vehemently before realizing his tone was verging on childish.

Akiteru’s face brightened right up, his eyebrows raised in a “You see” way that was very annoying.

“Ugh, whatever,”

“Which is your answer for everything,” Akiteru said, beaming.

Kei rolled his eyes and turned his head to hear the tell-tale screams of a game ending from inside the double doors. There were chants of Komazawa mixed in with other incoherent shouts of triumph. There were great murmurs and chatterings going on inside those doors, but Kei had no way of knowing what was going on inside exactly.

Except he could guess. Right now, Komazawa and Waseda team would be shaking hands.

A few minutes later, they would be taking a long-needed water break while their manager and assistant were packing everything up. The coach would probably give a short or long speech (depending on many factors) to his players, commend them or fixate on their mistakes.

And then, with exhaustion setting into their limbs and mind, the players would walk over to the Gate so they could get to the locker room and change before they left for home.

Yeah. Kei knew exactly what was going on there. Which was why, suddenly, it didn’t seem like a good idea to meet Kuroo-san right about now.

Sure, the man was nice (on occasion). He always greeted Kei with a smile but that had been a long time ago. Also, they were exhausted and probably cranky and hungry. Who was Kei to interrupt that with his sulky presence and his embarrassing brother?

And what if, worst-case scenario, Kuroo-san took one look at him and didn’t even recognize him? Sure, yes, that was far-fetched as Kei and the former Nekoma captain had interacted a lot during those practice match camps but still…

What if the Komazawa players were walking past these doors and one glance Kei’s way didn’t immediately register on the Kuroo’s retina because the memory was so dusty and faded?

What if Kuroo-san didn’t think about him anymore?

He had no reason to anyway.

Yeah, sure, Kei had heard that a few former Nekoma members had been in the audience stands during his second year in the spring inter-high nationals. And sure, one of those former Nekoma members could have been Kuroo-san but what if it wasn’t?

What if Kei was only a blip in Kuroo-san’s radar? That would be… awful, to be honest.

“Kei?” inquired his brother, bringing Kei’s mind right out of the proverbial negative void and right into reality. Which… wasn’t much better, at the moment.

Kei cleared his throat. “They’re about to come out,”

“The match ended?” Akiteru asked, tilting his head to hear the noise inside for himself.

“Yeah,”

Kei remained leaning against the wall there like buddha himself-- his face removed of any hint of emotion. Inside though, he still felt hammering pricks of his self-consciousness rising up and screaming at him to run and hide. Meeting Kuroo-san here and now hadn’t been part of the plan anyway. Today was just supposed to be a calm exploration into a Komazawa volleyball match (with his interfering brother) to get the gist of things.

Today was not supposed to be this stressful.

“That’s good. I don’t know how much longer I could have waited. We probably should have seen the match till the very end.”

“Yeah, I guess,” sighed Kei, grazing the tip of his nose with his nail. It was a nervous habit of his. Hard to stop when he was practically breaking out in stress goosebumps.

“But it’s good to be able to talk to you once in a magical while,”

“Sure,”

“I mean, in a few weeks, you’ll be moving out of home and living right here in Tokyo with some stupid roommate who won’t respect your quirky little ways. And you probably won’t respect his quirky little ways so then, you’ll have a fight and there’ll be this hostile atmosphere whenever you would enter your room and then--”

“Quite the imagination, aniki but no, I’ll be okay.” Kei interrupted before this long tirade could escalate. It had already escalated quite a way just then. “Besides, I don’t have any “quirky little ways”” He quote-unquoted the last three words with his fingers.

“Yeaaaah,” Akiteru intoned, looking at him with a condescending, sad smile. “You kinda do,”

His big brother was a total idiot and no, Kei was not in any way quirky. You know who was quirky? His older brother. And Hinata. And Tanaka-san. And Kageyama, that great big jerk. And everybody else but him.

He. was. Normal.

“Yeah? And what about me is quirky?” He asked his brother, a sarcastic look molding his expression.

But just then, Gate F creaked and flew wide open.

“Oh!” A girl wearing a jacket in Komazawa colors squeaked and leapt back. “Sorry, I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“Uh…” His brother was staring-- no, that wasn’t the right word-- his brother was full-on gaping at the girl who’d just revealed herself on the other side of the double doors. Not what Kei or his brother were expecting, obviously.

She was probably the assistant manager. Like Hitoka Yachi.

This girl had long, blond hair and quite the symmetrical features. Pale features, cucumber-green eyes and glossy lips. His brother’s mouth was still hanging open ajar.

Kei pulled away from the wall and went over to his brother’s side, where he not-so subtly stomped on the man’s foot. As his brother found his tongue again, he sneaked a glance behind the girl to where Kuroo-san must be. The conversations he could hear inside was a lot louder now but that didn’t mean it was any less incoherent.

Speaking of incoherent.

“Uh, yeah, sorry. No, I’m not hurt at all. Are you? I mean, you don’t look hurt. You actually look wonderful.” His brother was nervously rambling, still gaping at her. “But I probably startled you, didn’t I? I’m so sorry about that.”

The girl blushed a pretty pink and ducked her head down. “It’s okay,” She murmured to the ground, looking flustered. “Um,” Her gaze flickered from Akiteru to Kei before she straightened, her composure returning. “Were you waiting for someone?”

“Oh yeah, we were waiting for the Komazawa players,” Akiteru said, patting Kei’s back. “My brother over here knows one or two of them. He played against them in the nationals. He’s about to start his first year at Komazawa university, actually, and he’ll be joining the volleyball team, of course.”

“Of course,” The girl hesitated before she glanced back at Kei, who was fighting off the tinge of mortification that his big brother’s bragging had brought upon his face. “I thought I recognized you. I’ve seen your picture in the portfolios for the starting players. Tsukishima Kei, right?”

Kei and Akiteru stared at her, confused but impressed.

“You have a good memory or something?” Akiteru asked curiously.

“No, he’s just the top choice for replacing one of our current middle blockers,” She said, smiling at Kei. “You have a lot of potential, apparently.”

He did?

His brother slapped him in the back again. Hard. Kei winced. “What did I tell you? I told you you’re good.”

Kei brushed his hand off, grimacing. “Whatever,” He stepped forward, moving closer to the girl, who looked to be about twenty-something. She was tall. No taller than him. Probably five feet, sevenish inch tall. She looked up at him.

“You must be the assistant manager, then.” He murmured, trying not to let his gaze slide off of her.

“Guilty,” She said sheepishly, shy smile curling her lips. “My name is Nishikiri Remi. Nice to meet you.” She bowed.

Kei bowed himself. “Uh, yeah, nice to meet you. This is my brother, Tsukishima Akiteru.”

She nodded at his brother respectfully, a placid smile on her face.

There was a pregnant pause where they all just stared at each other awkwardly before she cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. The coach is taking some time instructing the players on their lousy play. We won, of course, but--” Here, she leaned over and whispered: “--our coach is a bit of a hardass, to be honest.”

“Good to know,” Kei murmured, leaning back with his eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, you should be prepared for that,” She instructed him before her eyes went briefly back to meet Akiteru’s. “Uh, right, so who was it you wanted to meet again?”

“Tsukki?” came the familiar voice.

At least, he remembers me. Kei thought as his eyes closed halfway. Then, they opened back up and slid right over to where Kuroo stood by the doorway, holding a water bottle and accompanied by a teammate. He was wearing a jacket over his sweat-ridden uniform. His eyes were wide yet twinkling with pleasure.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were gonna be here,” Kuroo-san said, stepping forward until he was by Remi’s side. His narrowed, hazelnut eyes stole a small look down Kei’s body before he was tilting his head sideways and letting a sweet whistling sound escape his smirking mouth. “You’re still tall as always. Did you grow some more since the last time I saw you? And wow, it’s been a long time since I last saw you, huh?”

Kei wondered if he, like his brother, was gaping. For sure, he had forgotten to breathe. So he closed his mouth with a click and spurred his tongue to work. “Uh, yeah. It’s been a long-- I mean, it’s nice meeting you, Kuroo-san.” God, did he just duck his head? Was he blushing?

Dammit! He knew he wasn’t ready for this. Stupid aniki for dragging him into this unprepared.

“I was just--” He began once again, trying to get his coherency back. “--checking out the area. And the match. I heard it was happening on the same date that I was coming to explore the campus so I thought, why not. I wanted to see how Komazawa-- I mean, you guys, played. I’ve seen it on TV but it’s something different to see it in reality.”

“It sure is,” Kuroo-san agreed in a low, soft tone that did something to the inside of Kei’s stomach. That curl around Kuroo’s mouth was like the arch of a swallow’s wings when it soared in the air. And god, look at him go.

This wasn’t happening. He wasn’t immediately struck by the sight of Kuroo-san, like thunder had touched down the root of his body and sparked him up. Nope. He wasn’t feeling anything right now except boredom.

There was a clearing of throat from behind Kuroo-san. The brown-haired teammate from before was looking between Kei and Kuroo expectantly. His eyebrows were bushy and his head was cropped cut with a messy, curly fringe swept to the side. That fringe was his only saving grace in the appearance department, to be honest.

“Oh, right,” Kuroo said, eyes shifting to the ceiling before they connected with Kei’s again. “Tsukki. You’ll get to know him better later but this is Seno Tayaoki. He is one of our reserve wing spikers and my roommate, of course.”

“Hello,” Seno greeted, bowing.

Kei bowed as well. “Hello, nice to meet you,” He hurried on to say.

“I see you came with your brother,” Kuroo said, finally noticing Akiteru in the back. Kei glanced behind him too.

“Hi! Thank you for taking care of Kei back in his first year. He really needed all the help he could get.” Akiteru said, shaking Kuroo’s hand. “And he’s gonna need some more now that he’ll be in a university and living by himself so far away from home. I hope you’ll be taking care of him like before.”

Kuroo’s eyes widened while Kei averted his gaze. God, what the hell was aniki spouting now?

“Oh? I don’t know if I was really taking care of Tsukki or he was taking care of me but sure, I-- I’ll try to.” Kuroo said, a note of amusement swirling through his deep voice.

Kei hunched over, trying to signal the earth to up and swallow him whole now.

“But this is great, Tsukki. You’ll be joining the same team as me this time, huh?” Kuroo remarked, looking happy. “That’s awesome!”

“What’s awesome?” interrupted someone from behind Kuroo-san. That someone happened to be the captain of Komazawa, who was flanked by a few more teammates. But the disturbing fact was that Kei hadn't noticed it to be Oikawa Tooru, of all people. The man happened to glance at Kei's face and tilted his head with a smirk surging out of his smug face. 

"Oh? If this isn't a familiar face," said the man in a shrewd overtone, sly eyes glimmering at Kei.