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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.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Oikawa-san?” Kei said, feeling as if he was a far-way meteor streaking across Earth. That is to say he had no fucking idea the former Aoba Josai player had been in Komazawa. Much less that he was Captain of the team as well. What the hell.

“Ah, I understand that look on your face,” Oikawa said, an index finger curved over his smiling mouth. “It’s the one that says: ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Then, you will of course try to look through all your memories of this match, wondering where I was. Maybe, you missed me. Maybe, you were too busy looking at someone else.”

“Uh, no,” Kei said, wanting to distort the truth of Oikawa’s words just for the hell of it. “It’s probably because you’re just not any good, right?”

The teammates behind Oikawa exchanged looks with each other speechlessly before they burst out laughing.

“Haha! He got you, Oikawa-kun!”

“Good burn, dude!”

A hand patted Kei’s shoulder from behind him. “That’s Tsukki for you,” Kuroo-san said, tipping a look of proud surprise to Kei. Inside Kei, there was a hitch in his pulse.

“Haa,” sighed Oikawa dramatically, lifting nonchalant hands up in a shrugging fashion. “As expected from a former Karasuno team member. You guys just can’t resist come-upping me.”

“It’s got nothing to do with me being from Karasuno,” retorted Kei, twitching. “You’re just the type I hate,”

“Hey, hey,” nudged Kuroo by his side, faux-whispering into his ear: “He’s gonna be your Captain, you know,”

“Ah,” He just remembered that, but he still wasn’t getting the whole thing. He tilted his head questioningly at Oikawa-san. “Sorry, but I thought someone named Amai Eikken was the Captain,”

“He was expelled out of the university for dealing weed in campus,” Kuroo’s roommate and reserve spiker, Tayaoki, said. “It’s okay if you didn’t know. It’s actually something we try to hide.”

“But it was a good thing that Oikawa-san had just ended his volleyball program aboard and was willing to be recruited by our University.” said a teammate with number six emblazoned on his jersey. “He’s the best of the best setters out there, after all.”

“But our hardass coach won’t let him join the matches until he completes a few requirements,” player fourteen said.

“It’s probably because of Oikawa-san’s way of handling things,” Player two snickered.

Oikawa’s hand drifted up to the back of his head as he chuckled. “I suppose he doesn’t like the look of me either,”

It’s not the look of you per se , Kei wanted to point out, but kept the thought to himself. He had already done enough damage. Still, Oikawa Tooru reminded him of Kageyama and that made him instinctively irritated because that “King” type behavior was just the kind of thing he couldn’t handle. Maybe, it was because Kei was no good with cunning people trying to move him the way they wanted.

“Anyway, I’m starving and need to get out of these clothes,” Oikawa said, gesturing at his completely dry uniform, as compared to some of his teammates (Kuroo-san included), who were drenched in sweat. “Why don’t you join us for dinner at--” He paused and looked over his shoulder. “What was the name of that place again?”

“Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ,” said player nine cheerfully, fist in the air. “We’re getting some grilled meat for ourselves in lieu for our victory!”

“And what’s up with your complaining about changing, Oikawa-san? We’re the ones who should be complaining,” Yahaba grumbled, bunching his shirt’s front between his index finger and thumb, sniffing at the pungent smell probably coming off him. “I need a shower,”

“Well, thanks for the invitation but I came with my brother so…” Kei trailed off, wondering what had made his big brother so silent for such a long time anyway. He turned to see Akiteru having some kind of private chat with Remi-chan, the assistant manager.

What the hell? Hadn’t he been so psyched about seeing Komazawa players in the flesh? Did beautiful girls come before stars in big brother’s radar? He eyed the two-- the way his brother’s eyes gleamed while they talked-- the way Remi-chan was looking into his eyes.

Huh.

“Well, he’s invited too, of course,” Oikawa said, hands on his hips.

“Come on, Tsukki, we haven’t seen each other in a while,” Kuroo-san encouraged, arms going around Kei’s shoulders. Now, he could definitely smell the sweat. It wasn’t bad though. The heat of Kuroo-san’s body was what was getting him at the moment. “I wanna know how you’ve been doing these days.”

Who cares what I have been up to these days ? His mind screamed at him. It wasn’t like that was at all interesting.

“Right,” Kei said with a dry tongue. “Sure,”

Sure, he could get a hold of himself by then. His heart was stuttering a little too much (because of the sweat, the heat, the heavy breathing still heaving out of Kuroo-san’s chest) for him to make heads or tails anyway.

“Good,” Kuroo-san said, his eyes weighing down Kei with a pressure that felt physical. He almost wanted to slouch against the pressure.

He had never felt like this with Omura.

“Good,” repeated Kuroo as he detached himself from Kei’s side. A prolonged pat was his only other physical gesture to Kei before he left with his teammates to the locker room.

“Wait for us,” waved Oikawa to them as he walked off too. That ever-present smile was still plastered on his face but his eyes held a message in them. If Kei were to guess the message, it would probably be: “I’m watching you,”

“I have to help them pack up,” Remi-chan said, waving at Akiteru as she went after the Komazawa players.

“See you in a few,” Akiteru said to her sweetly, beaming.

His brother came at a stop by Kei’s side, looking kinda lovestruck. Then, as he glanced back to Kei, the look shifted to one of wry amusement.

“They have quite the presence to them, huh?” asked his brother rhetorically, looking part-impressed and part-intimated.

“Is that why you didn’t talk to them?” Kei asked pointedly, slightly annoyed. “I thought the whole reason we came all this way to wait for them was because you wanted to see them,”

“Well, I saw them,” Akiteru declared happily. Then, he sagged, sighing. “But maybe, I got a little distracted,”

“You think?” Kei asked, amused that at least, his big brother was aware he had completely changed his tune once Remi-chan entered the premise.

“Sorry,” Akiteru scratched at his cheek, looking sheepish. “But hey, we got invited to dinner with them so I have more chances to talk to them if I wanted,”

Kei shook his head, exasperated. “You won’t talk to them,”

His big brother gave a hearty laugh and slapped Kei’s back again. “You’re so good at reading others, Kei. I’m sorry for lying to you like this, but I really just wanted to make sure you were familiar with what kind-of team you will be joining in the future.”

Kei wrinkled his nose, shoving Akiteru’s arm away. “I don’t need--”

“It’s because you’re such a sourpuss, Kei. What if you offended one of them and so were alienated from the rest of the team? Just because your attitude isn’t good shouldn’t affect your much-deserved spot on the team. I was worried about you.”

“You and mom worry too much,” Kei said, jutting his chin stubbornly. “Besides, I already insulted the captain and that same captain just invited me to dinner with them.”

“Hey, you don’t realize--”

“I realize enough,” Kei interrupted, giving his brother a hard, warning look. “So just stop,”

Akiteru stared at him before leaning back, a small smile rising on his face. “Yeah, I’m probably becoming a worry-wart ‘cause I know you can go places but you have a habit of self-sabotaging.”

“Maybe, you have that habit and you’re projecting,” bit out Kei as he sauntered away. “Let’s just get to that restaurant already,”

Akiteru snorted. “Someone’s tense,” He intoned tauntingly.

Yeah, okay, so he was tense. Sue him. He was jittery about sitting at the same table as Kuroo-san and talking with him once again. These past two years, he really had thought he was done with this stupid, silly crush. But nope.

That crush was still so very, very present.





“Come on, Tsukishima, try it,” Shigeru Yahaba cajoled, pushing forward a beer glass in front of him. His soft face was flushed with the three drinks he had guzzled down previously like they were water.

“I’m okay, but thanks for the offer,” Kei said with polite disinterest.

They were in the yakiniku restaurant with the table cleared of food. Because the whole team felt like chilling some more, they had ordered bottles of sake to the table. Remi had explained to him and Akiteru that because coach wasn’t here and they didn’t have a match for two weeks at least, they could finally let go of their inhibitions. Which meant, they were making a racket as well as a mess.

Akiteru hollered out a laugh beside him, slapping at his thigh. “Remi-chan, you’re too funny. I didn’t know a woman as pretty as you could be so funny.”

Remi, looking slightly uncomfortable and slightly endeared by Akiteru’s behavior, blushed and waved her hand in a dismissive fashion. “Please, it was nothing, really, Tsukishima-san.”

“You can call me Aki, you know,” his brother said in that disgustingly flirty tone of his. “All my friends do,”

“Am I… your friend, then?” Remi-chan asked.

“If you like,” was the suggestive reply.

Kei felt his eyes raising up to the ceiling of the pub, trying hard not to roll his eyes at every smarmy word out of his brother.

“So?” Kuroo-san said across from him, leaning forward on his elbows. That sharp, toothy grin of his made an appearance once again. “How are you liking Tokyo so far? Have you gone sightseeing yet?”

“Uhhh,” Kei said, internally banging his head to find some words out of his suddenly parched mouth. “I’ve been to Shinjuku,” Shinjuku Station, to be specific. To get to this gymnasium, he didn’t add. “It’s pretty,”

“Nowhere else?” Kuroo asked, frowning in confusion. “What about Skytree? Tokyo tower?”

Kei only quirked a brow. “Are you recommending I go there? Or are you listing them because they’re the most obvious tourist destinations?”

“Uhhh,” Kuroo said, staring at him with wide eyes. He blinked when Kei smirked, finally on familiar grounds now. Until the older man leaned forward a bit more, puzzled furrow binding his eyebrows together. Then, Kei was back to the unfamiliar territory. “Don’t expect me to believe you have no interest in checking this place out. Even if you’re not into views, there’s plenty of other things worth looking into here. I mean, you must have wanted to get into a Tokyo University for a reason, right?”

Kei didn’t know what to say. A lot of factors had come into him wanting to go to Tokyo University but some part of him was already deeply, embarrassingly aware that the motive that reigned supreme over his decision had been a mixed bag of illogical selfishness.

“I like views,” He shrugged finally. “I just haven’t had the time to really explore the place,”

“But you had time to check out an Intercollegiate Volleyball match?” Kuroo asked, Cheshire grin in place.

“Well… yes,” admitted Kei reluctantly.

“Oh?” Kuroo’s mouth drew into a wide O that made Kei reluctantly want to look there and when he briefly did, his heartbeat raced so hard inside his chest that he instantly flickered his gaze elsewhere. “And here I thought you weren’t a volleyball maniac,”

“I'm not,” He retorted abruptly, a little vehemently. He felt flustered beyond belief and because of nothing more than being on the other side of Kuroo-san’s attention.

But to be honest, Kuroo’s gaze was unyielding and affecting-- like a couple of invisible shackles had reached across the table and cuffed around Kei’s four-chambered heart.

“I watched your matches, you know. When you were in your second year,” Kuroo said, his thin, dark eyebrows descending. “You looked pretty into them. Like somehow, your whole universe came down to the ball. It's a good look on you, to be honest.”

Was it? Kei blinked, stunned by the information and by the words too. So it hadn't been wishful thinking after all, to think ( know ) that Kuroo-san had witnessed Karasuno’s performance at the Inter-High Spring Volleyball Nationals his second year. He gazed intently into Kuroo’s eyes, searching for something, anything to give him a clue about what was really going on here. ‘Cause there was a vibe. He was not imagining it.

“But still,” Kuroo slapped the table between them with his palm. “Even here,” He gestured out the window to his left and to Kei’s right. “There’s lots of places to see. Like, Cat Street, for example.”

“No, that place is no good if you’re not interested in shopping,” one of the teammates, who’d introduced himself as Naegi-san, informed them from beside Kuroo-san. “And since we’ve already eaten, the food places won’t hold interest either,”

“Still, it’s Shibuya, there’s definitely places to see if we had some time,” Kuroo insisted.

Kei raised a brow, “You want to show me around, Kuroo-san?” He was surprised at the boldness of his question, but not as much. The stutter regularly bothering his heartbeat had relaxed a bit now that he was used to Kuroo-san’s presence, to his tone, to his body language. Everything was just as it was before. Except they were just a little older and different people chattered around them.

Before it had been Bokuto-san, Akashi-san, Lev and Hinata on occasion.

Kuroo blinked, a wave of upwelling modifying his laid-back face. He stared with a contemplative line around his mouth. “That’s not a bad idea,” He said slowly. Kei cocked his head to the side in question. A grin decorated Kuroo’s angular jaw once again. “How long is your stay here?”

“Uh,” Kei’s breath hitched as he wondered if there was such a thing as too much too soon. His head felt like spinning, there was so much he wanted to dissect alone in his bedroom. So much he wanted to just think about.

But was that too cowardly of him?

“We’ll be heading back by the 8:30 pm train from Shinjuku Station,” said Akiteru out of nowhere. Well, it wasn’t out of nowhere. But with Kei so muddled in himself, it was helpful that someone else was keeping their heads about them. For Kei, it wasn’t clear anymore. The reasons why he couldn’t just go along with Kuroo-san’s spontaneous flow.

“Oh,” Kuroo said, looking a little disappointed. It was disappointment, right? Kei wasn’t imagining it. He definitely wasn’t imagining it. “Well, maybe, some other time.”

Some other time?

Could it be that simple?

Kei nodded, ducking his head.

There was a minute where a lot of things happened but they didn’t talk. Kei wanted to speak up. Ask about Kuroo-san, for once. But--

“You know, I’m kinda glad I made Kei come meet you guys outside Gate F,” Akiteru said, relieving Kei of the pressure to start conversation. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have known that Kei had a senpai right here who he can rely on,”

“Oh, you made him come?” Kuroo asked, head in hand, elbow on table. There was a half-lidded, crooked smile kinda look to his face. That look always reminded Kei of the ‘Provocateur Expert’ part of Kuroo-san’s personality. Which he should hate. He definitely never received Kuroo-san’s methods of challenging him all that well.

That first time had been a disaster, in his opinion. But it had also, made Kei realize how much he hated losing to Hinata. Sort-of.

“Yeah, I nagged him a lot until he gave in,” Akiteru admitted. “But you know, he’ll be two hours away. In a completely different city, not to mention Tokyo’s really big and really strange to anyone who hasn’t been here for long. So I wasn’t joking when I said I hope you take care of Kei for me.”

“Quit it, aniki!” Kei yelled, blood rushing up to his face. God, what was up with his brother-- he was acting like Kei was a helpless girl with no idea how things went. Kei had never felt more looked down on than now. He’d been to Tokyo a great deal-- three times for nationals-- other times for practice camps-- and then, for his enrollment exam and interview, he had gone completely alone.

Heck, Ennoshita-san would instruct Kei to go with Hinata and Kageyama when they cluelessly wandered around Tokyo so they didn’t get lost. Didn’t that mean Kei was the reliable type? That he had more of a clue. He wasn’t some dense shrimpy or some volleyball-freak like baka-yama.

All this he could have pointed out to his brother but there were people here. Kuroo-san was looking at them.

He clenched his teeth, resisting the urge to shout at his brother, noticing how the corner of the table where they sat had gone awkwardly, awfully silent.

“I need some fresh air,” Kei said, after stewing on it for a while.

“Uh, I’ll go with you,” Kuroo said, standing up as well.

“Kei,” his brother said. It took some scooching to get through the narrow, congested space because of the occupied chairs. Komazawa players scooted over, closer to the table as Kei scurried off and headed for the door.

The door closed after Kuroo-san exited the restaurant. Kei stood on the pavement at a corner, hands in his jean’s pockets, with his head tipped to the ground. People passed them by while Kuroo looked at him.

“You don’t smoke, do you?” Kuroo asked all of a sudden. Making Kei look up at him with a confused frown. “I mean, if you do, that’s fine. I just meant--” The panicked way he waved his hands was a breath of fresh air, actually. Made Kei a little relaxed.

“No, I don’t,” Kei answered, tense shoulders loosening. “If you want to smoke though, you’re welcome to. I don’t mind.”

Kuroo chuckled. “Uh, no, I don’t have such a bad habit. It affects the game, you know.” He rubbed the nape of his neck, looking nervous for some reason. “It was getting a little noisy in there. And don’t you think it felt like someone let loose something bad in there?” He asked.

When Kei nodded, he sighed. “It’s nice to get out of that kind-of situation once in a while. I needed a breath of fresh air too.”

Kei remained quiet, keeping his stare fixed straight at the crowds of people strolling in front of him.

“I would have looked after you even if he didn’t ask me to,” Kuroo-san said in a low, confidential tone.

Kei glanced at him. Kuroo-san looked serious for once, resting a hand on the back of his neck and bending his head low with a somewhat chagrined look to him.

“Ah, sorry, I really wasn’t that mad at nii-san,” Kei turned fully to face Kuroo-san and tried to explain. “He’s always like that and I’m getting used to it but I just wish he wouldn’t look down on me that much.”

“Yeah, I guessed that…” Kuroo-san tipped his head up, smiling. “...from the look on your face,” Kei started. It always astonished him to be read by Kuroo-san. It didn’t happen often but when it did, it… thrilled him. Kuroo-san straightened and continued with hands folded behind his head: “But you know, you have to stop taking it so personally. He’s probably just worried and had a few drinks too. You can’t blame him for blathering like that. Just take it in stride like a mature guy.”

“I’m--” Kei glared, shoulders bunching together as a scowl formed on his face. “I don’t want to hear about maturity from you, Kuroo-san.”

“I know,” Soft. That look on Kuroo’s face was as soft and warm as hot caramel on ice-cream.

For a second, Kei could only stare and feel the air go out of his lungs but he had to snatch composure back into his body. If he couldn’t, this would go awkward very quickly.

“But I appreciate you offering to show me around,” Kei said tentatively, swinging his head away. A flush had taken over his face.

“You’re welcome,” Kuroo-san breathed out. “It’s a shame you aren’t here for long. There’s so many places nearby I could take you to if we more time.”

Kei drew a breath in. Don’t let yourself get caught up in his luring words. He told himself. He doesn’t mean it the way you’re taking it, anyway. He just… likes you, for some reason. Or maybe, he thinks you’re amusing or whatever. I don’t know what’s going on in his head, exactly.

Which was a cruddy thing to admit to himself. He wanted to be able to read Kuroo-san, because even if they were going to be teammates, that didn’t mean he didn’t consider the man his rival. Still, Kuroo-san was a little too good at reading people. It was irritating.

“That reminds me, we should probably exchange phone numbers, huh?” said Kuroo-san from behind him. “That way when you come to Komazawa campus in a month’s time, we can plan to meet up and go places together.”

Kei’s brow crinkled as he dragged his phone out of his jeans’ pocket. “I feel like this is going exactly as nii-san wanted,”

Kuroo sniggered as he took Kei’s phone in hand. “Don’t worry so much about it,”

As Kuroo typed his number on Kei’s phone, Kei frowned and twisted only to see through the transparent window of Gyu-Kaku to where his big brother was giving him a wave before showing a thumbs-up.

Kei wanted to facepalm. Why did it feel like his big brother’s ulterior motives for all of this was this moment right here-- him exchanging phone numbers with Kuroo-san? In the first place, how had Akiteru even guessed such a thing? No, no. His brother was perceptive, sure, but he wasn’t that smart. Besides, Kei had been very composed around him. Well, not as much today, maybe, but where had this notion even come from?

Kei never talked to his family about Kuroo-san, no matter how much he thought about the man.




The morning after...

“Ah, sorry, I may have mentioned that to him,” Tadashi Yamaguchi admitted over the phone in a nonchalant tone.

Kei was back in his room, lying on his back with one hand folded over his forehead and the phone in his other hand. He sighed, not really annoyed with his best friend, but kind-of irked. After all, this wasn’t the kind-of thing Kei wanted projected all over the world. It was a secret. A secret.

“Why?” He asked.

“It was a complete accident,” Tadashi explained. “He was talking about you going to Komazawa and was all: “Oh, what’ll he do? I’m pretty sure he’ll alienate them all with his bad attitude,” and I was like: “Well, don’t worry, Tsukki has a few people there he’ll get along with just fine,” And then, your big brother grilled me over and over about what I meant by that until I had to spill some beans.”

“What kind-of beans exactly? How much does nii-san know anyway?” Kei questioned, completely exasperated.

“Well, he knows that you admire Kuroo-san. A whole lot,” Tadashi clarified. “But he doesn’t know about the crush thing,”

“I don’t admire Kuroo-san,” gritted out Kei.

“Then, it’s like, you aspire to be like him,” Tadashi corrected himself. “Well, I did say something along those lines and I mean, it makes sense. You’re both middle blockers. And you learned a lot from him in your first year. It’s not unreasonable to make that leap.”

Kei stopped for a moment, staring up at his ceiling. In a month, he wouldn’t be staring at this familiar sight anymore. He would be there. In something somewhat unfamiliar. Akiteru nee-san was justified in his worries. It wasn’t like Kei was completely free of anxiety but still, that whole debacle had been going overboard.

But well, it was only recently that they had started talking like siblings again. Now that the tension and issues between the two of them had defused, Kei didn’t want to push away his brother that much. It was good they were close enough that Akiteru felt compelled to interfere in his business.

That’s what siblings did.

Kei smiled. “So? What made you leap to the conclusion that I had a crush on him?” He asked Tadashi.

“Hm?” said his best friend. “Oh. You talk in your sleep,”

Kei turned his nose up in disgust. “No, I don’t,”

“Don’t believe me if you don’t want to, Tsukki but if you want to confirm that, you can ask Omura-san. He’d tell you.”

Kei frowned. It had been a mistake to introduce his former boyfriend to Tadashi. “You haven’t kept in contact with him, have you?”

“You know, just because you want to keep everything completely clear of complications doesn’t mean I have to too,” Tadashi reminded Kei sternly. “It’s rude to just cut the guy off for no reason. He’s done nothing to me. And you, as well. It isn’t his fault he’s not Kuroo-san.”

Kei held his head and pressed lightly. A headache was surely going to form any minute. “He didn’t say anything about Kuroo-san, did he?”

“Why? Did you moan his name while having sex with Omura-san too?”

“What do you mean, too?!” Kei was amazed Tadashi could say those words without a hitch. “Do I moan his name in my sleep?”

“Well…” Tadashi said and took such a long time to reply that Kei felt like he was being trolled for some reason. “You come close to it. Why? Did you really moan Kuroo-san’s name?”

“Stop saying ‘moan’. And no, I didn’t. That would be the height of rudeness, wouldn’t it?” Kei said.

“But you’re rude on purpose, sometimes,”

“Not to Omura-san, I wasn’t. Not until the break-up,” Kei couldn’t believe he was believed to be that insensitive of a person. Or was insensitive jerk the right word?

Tadashi was making him feel bad about himself.

“Yeah, but that break-up was brutal,” Tadashi said.

“Did Omura-san share the details of how brutal it was himself?” Kei inquired, hackles up.

“No, I’m only guessing from what you said. Omura-san doesn’t mention the break-up. Just says you’re a jerk and leaves it at all.”

Kei huffed. “You know, you should just stop talking to him,”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” retorted his best friend.

Kei sighed and changed the topic: “And? What else is going on?”

“Nothing. Just nervous about going to college.” Tadashi said. He was going to one nearby. He would play volleyball there but it wasn’t as impressive as Komazawa program. Kei had tried to encourage him to try to apply in far-reaching places but Tadashi had stuck by his choice.

“Yeah, same here,” Kei said.

“I’ll miss you,” Tadashi said after a pregnant pause.

“Yeah, me too,” Kei said, closing his eyes. It would’ve been nice if Tadashi followed right to Komazawa too. He could have too. But some people were content with the way things were. Tadashi had a serious girlfriend here. His family’s business kept him occupied part-time, at least. There were things here that kept him grounded to this place.

It wasn’t the same for Kei. He wanted things to change. He didn’t know how. It might have nothing to do with Kuroo-san. It might just have something to do with him. But what mattered was the challenge in this step to the future.

He had told Tadashi he was nervous but he was excited, actually.



 


One month later

The oak door emblazoned with number 113 adorned on it stared back at Kei. The lady at the reception area had informed him before giving him the key that his roommate was already here. When Kei had thanked her, she had unnecessarily added that he shouldn’t look so nervous because his roommate was actually very small and cute-looking. To be quite honest, Kei was sure she was gushing about a newborn crush but maybe, he was looking too deeply into things.

The door then. He should open it.

He curled his hand around it. A short person, huh?

But this was one of the dorms where athletic types gathered so it was rare to see short-- and now, he was thinking maybe, Hinata Shouyou had somehow wormed his way into Komazawa University without him knowing anything about it.

No, no. That couldn’t be.

Last he’d heard, Hinata was excited about going with Kageyama to Tsukuba University.

Which was so fine with Kei. To face that chibi-brat and that jerk-king on the other side of the net was what he really desired. Not something as stale and familiar as having them be his teammates again.

“Aren’t you going to open that?” asked someone from behind him. Someone who sounded so very familiar. Chills swept up and down Kei’s spine as he turned to look toward Kuroo-san. Once again, the man stood before him with a smile and a hand on his hip.

“Kuroo-san? What? How did you--”

He was interrupted from his barrage of questions when the door to room 113 opened behind him and out popped a bleach-haired, short-height and dull-faced Kenma Kozume.

“Kuroo, you’re here?” said Kenma, blank expression perfectly plastered on his face. “Did you bring the drinks?”

Kuroo-san lifted the plastic bag he was carrying as illustration. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry they’re here,” He then gestured to Kei, who felt a little side-lined for some reason. “By the way, your roommate is here, I think.”

Kei tightened his grip around his backpack’s band, eyebrows elevating on his face as he looked down at Kenma, Kuroo’s childhood friend.

“Oh?” Kenma stared up at him, incomprehension adapting to perception once he took a good look at Kei. “You’re that tall guy from Karasuno,”

“Yep, yep, the tall guy,” nodded Kuroo a little too happily. He shuffled closer to Kei, touching his arm. “Let’s get inside and talk, shall we?”

“Uh,” Kei uttered, honestly stupefied by the turn of events. He had really thought his only connection to Kuroo-san would be through their phone but wasn’t this too good to be true?

Chapter Text

 

“Man, but it sure is a nice coincidence,” Kuroo said grinning, straddling the swiveling chair with his muscled legs wrapped on either side of the leathery backrest. His elbows were folded on top and his head lay against his strong, bronze arms. To Kei-- who sat on the bottom of the bunker beds lined against the upper-right corner of the small room facing Kuroo-- it was an image that was going to get stuck somewhere in the back of his mind. And late at night, it would come back with a vengeance.

He looked away, edging his glasses up his nose. Kenma sat next to him, a fat throw pillow clutched around his arms. A half-empty soda can sat next to him on the bed. Kei had long guzzled his own down and thrown it in the trashcan on the other side of the room.

Kuroo had let out an impressed, low whistle at that and tossed his empty can there as well.

“Your aim’s good,” He had said with sharp eyes twinkling in a disturbing manner, like he wanted to see much more of Kei’s athletic abilities with his own eyes. Which… he got. Kuroo wanted to win the Intercollegiate Cup, after all. So his potential teammates-- and their abilities-- were a given to check out.

Still, there was a space under Kei’s ribcage that turned hot and cold at any sign of regard from Kuroo-san’s direction. He wanted to drown in the feeling but he had to keep his head above the noise in his chest.

Kei wasn’t like this back then. In his first year, when he was training under Kuroo-san, the crush hadn’t even registered yet.

He had been too focused on learning from the best, too focused on finding a way to one-up Shiratozawa’s captain and ace.

Yet he had had years to stew on a few sparks he felt only under Kuroo-san’s radiating presence. Like a stray touch on his elbow, his hand. Like a companionable hand around his shoulders. Like his voice echoing around Kei’s head, in his memories and seeping down his throat.

“I didn’t know…” Kei began, glanced at Kenma’s face and wondered if he should feel uncomfortable around the boy. After all, Kenma was shy and didn’t interact much with people unless they were his childhood friend (Kuroo-san) or his (former) teammates or Hinata. So maybe, having Kei around made it hard for him to speak like he could.

“Hm?” Kuroo’s voice came from the swivel chair that kept twirling because apparently, Kuroo-san couldn't stop moving it. His feet kept tapping unrhythmically on the floor.

“Kuroo-san, you never mentioned anything about Kenma-kun enrolling here too,” Kei said, “And we’ve texted a lot since then about everything,”

“Oh, that?” Kuroo scratched his head. “I guess it never came up,”

How could it never come up? “But you mentioned wanting to give me a tour around Tokyo. I assume we’ll be going with…” He gestured with his head toward Kenma.

“Oh,” laughed Kuroo-san, head tipped back as the amused noises left his chest. He straightened up and waved his hand. “There’s no use taking him to tours around the city. He’d just be bored and exhausted by the end. And besides, nothing interests him outside of videogames or volleyball.”

Kei looked at Kenma to confirm what Kuroo-san said and got a small nod. Kei was sure the quietness of the boy was going to be a good thing but still, he at least needed to be a little friendly with the boy if they were going to share a room together.

“So what made you come to this university, Kenma-kun? The volleyball program?” He caught a glimpse of the ever-present smile on Kuroo-san’s face and turned to him with a wry, sarcastic smile of his own. “Or did Kuroo-san insist so much that you had to give in before he drove you insane?”

Kuroo sighed, twisted smirk lingering around his lips as dark and shiny bangs fell over his face. “You know, I’m not liking the way you’re talking to me right now, junior.”

“Sorry,” Kei said with a straight face, sounding droll and unapologetic.

“Volleyball is more fun with friends,” Kenma answered, pulling their attention back to Kei’s previous question. Kei scanned the usually bored-looking boy’s expression and felt puzzled.

Kenma averted his gaze from Kei’s searching gaze and softly spoke: “But in this University, there's so many excellent players from all over the country that I'm sure they won't need someone like me.”

“You won't know that, Kenma,” chided Kuroo like a father would to his deflated, discouraged son.

“Fine,” sighed Kenma, as if he'd argued about this with Kuroo a million times and was agreeing only for the sake of it. “In a year or so, if I keep working on my skills and Oikawa-san graduates from this University, I'm sure the coach will consider me to be setter for this team but until then, I'll be sitting on the bench. I know that much.”

Kei exchanged looks with Kuroo, who gave him a quiet smile and a shake of his head. Kuroo was saying with his gaze that he knew Kei could hear a bit of bitterness welled up in Kenma’s voice but that he shouldn't let it bother him. Maybe, he would explain it later too?

It was surprising though. He’d thought Kenma to be as indifferent and uncaring as Kei.

But then again, it wasn't like Kei was as uncaring these days as he liked to pretend he was.

When it came to Kuroo-san, even less so.

“Well, I know that's typical for any first year,” Kei began. “I know my height gave me the advantage and made me starting player in high school right from the get go but here, everyone seems tall enough so my chances of being chosen--”

“Don't you start too,” Kuroo interrupted, scoffing. When Kei looked at him skeptically, Kuroo face palmed while groaning loudly. “I swear I’m surrounded by the most negative people in the universe! For one second, I thought you two being roommates was going to be a good thing.”

Kei quirked a brow. “How so?”

Kuroo eyed Kei’s baffled expression and waved his hand in dismissal. “It doesn't matter,” he clapped his hands and said. “Now, which Tokyo landmark are you most interested in? ‘cause we’ll make sure to go there tomorrow… if it's plausible and nearby.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yes, because I don't know about you but things are about to get really busy once semester starts.”

“Practice?”

“No, not just any practice. It'll be gruelling practice.” Kuroo pointed at him. “So you better be prepared, Tsukki.”

Kei squinted at the pointed index finger as if it offended him and said: “You're trying to scare me,”

Kuroo shrugged. “The more I scare you, the better. It's no joke. The practice, the away matches and then Cup preliminaries. They all take a toll on you. Add onto that, your college studies. It's so hard.”

Kei understood that it would be difficult to balance all of that but something about Kuroo’s tone was irritating him. Suspicious, he asked: “You're not going to haze me, are you Kuroo-san?”

Kuroo looked at him, so did Kenma, with stunned eyes before he burst out into sniggers. “Really, Tsukki? Is that what you think of me?”

“I don't know what I think of you just yet,” Kei said, clipped tone.

Kuroo fell silent and Kei stared at him, wondering if he'd said the wrong thing. Meanwhile, Kenma side eyed the both of them with a weirded out expression.

Finally, Kuroo glared and stood up. “I'm picking you up at 9 am. We’re going to the Tokyo tower.”

“Kuroo, why are you leaving?” Kenma asked as Kuroo turned to leave.

Kuroo stopped and looked back. “I’ll come by in a few hours to take you guys to lunch but it's better that you take this time to get familiar with each other and this small dorm room. After all, you're roommates now.”

Saying that, Kuroo closed the door behind him and left.

There was a pin drop, awkward silence after Kuroo-san’s departure that felt like it was wafting over from Kozume Kenma’s slouched form.

“Uh,” Kei stood, getting up and taking his backpack from the corner of the room. “You prefer bottom bunk, I assume?”

Kenma didn't so much as look at him as glance fleetingly at his direction in a hurry. “I don't mind either,” he grabbed the PSP he’d left lying down by his side when Kuroo had been there and powered on the device. “As long as I can play my games without interruption, I can lie on the floor even.”

Kei smiled. “That's fine. Bottom bunk is better for you anyway, height wise. I'd feel worried if you had to climb down in the middle of the night in the dark. If you fell from that distance, you’d get a concussion for sure.”

Kenma swept a glance at him again before looking back at his PSP. “I'm not as vertically challenged as I look,”

“Still…” Kei trailed off, knowing his words didn't matter. Bottom bunk bed was, for all intents and purposes, already Kenma’s territory.

Kei knelt by his backpack and unzipped his backpack, taking out the essentials of his life: headphones, laptop, chargers, toiletries, and extra clothes.

The rest of his stuff was in his suitcase, which he'd unpack at a later time.

Kozume, from the looks of it, had unpacked most of his things (there weren't many). He didn't seem the type to get done with it so fast but Kei guessed if he looked at Kenma’s priorities about playing games without interruption, the short boy might just want to get over with the heavy lifting beforehand.

Kei sorta knew the feeling. He and Kenma had quite a bit in common if he thought about it but whereas Kenma’s introverted personality was characteristically shy with a dash of indifference and a dollop of intelligence, Kei was an aloof, smart-mouthed and clever guy who tended to annoy and provoke when chance struck.

So to say, they weren't both sociable but Kei didn't experience a spike of anxiety every time he met a stranger's eye. He did look away once in a while from the stares of others but only to hide his feelings. Kenma was a bored individual who probably didn't feel much anytime of any moment except for a choice few times that he cherished beyond measure. Strangers and crowds and loud noises probably gave him a scare.

This dynamic, in Kei’s opinion, was going to take quite a bit of work from his end since Kenma could possibly go weeks without talking to him and as roommates, they needed to communicate once in a while. At the very least.

Kei wouldn't care either way about their two-way communication much if in the back of his mind, he didn't feel that Kuroo would be sorely disappointed at their lack of… anything.

Kei looked down at his laptop charger and turned to Kenma. “So is there a power outlet here I can use?”

Kenma looked up from his game and frowned. “There's one attached to the desk and one here.” He indicated to the wall their bunk bed’s headstand was lined with, tapping his finger next to his bottom bunk where the lone outlet was.

Kei sighed. Of course. “Would you mind if I put a multi outlet plug there? That way, we can both use it for multiple things and the wire of the wall plug will extend the reach and access of the outlets for both of us.”

“Sure,” Kenma shrugged, finally looking at him with mild curiosity. “You have it with you?”

“No, I'll have to buy it from a mechanical shop from nearby or online.” He gave a wry grimace. “Good thing Kuroo-san’s taking me for a tour around campus. I need to know where things are before semester starts.”

“I know of a place nearby,” Kenma said, unexpectedly. “I can buy it for us by tomorrow.”

“Really?” Kei asked. “It's not a problem for you?” When Kenma shook his head, Kei nodded. “Okay, thanks. I can pay you for it right now if you'd like.”

“It's fine. It'll benefit both of us anyway,”

“Yeah… okay,” Kei said and it seemed their conversation would end right there and then but Kei had a prickling curiosity about something. “You're new to this University right?”

“Yes,” Kenma’s attention didn't waver from his game.

“So how come you know so much?” questioned Kei with his head tilting.

Kenma stopped playing and put down his PSP. He weighed Kei with a look and said: “After graduating from high school, I didn't apply for college or well, I didn't feel like going. My parents accepted on the condition that I do a part time job at least. So I did. But it got boring after a while and whomever I talked to at that time, whether it was Shouyo or Kuroo or Yaku-san, they all were talking about college volleyball this and college volleyball that.

“I thought I was done with volleyball for the foreseeable future but then, I started attending Kuroo’s official matches and then I started paying visits to his practices and then his dorm and I missed my part time job a few times because of that. So I was fired and seeing that I spent most of my unemployed days at Kuroo’s dorm, my parents said I should just give up on trying not to care about volleyball and just give it my all from now on. It was because Kuroo recommended me so highly to the coach that I was accepted into the volleyball program.”

Kenma’s explanation had been concise and spoken in a low tone so it didn't feel like he said a lot but he probably did. It just didn't feel like much because he said all this so fast. Kei blinked in surprise.

“You spent your days at the dorm? Is that allowed?”

“Mostly,” Kenma said. “The RA doesn't mind visitors staying here longer than intended.”

“Oh,”

Well, this made a lot of sense, actually.

“Well, before you go back to your game,” Kei began, halting Kenma from reaching out for his PSP again. “Do you have any ground rules or pet peeves or allergies I should know about. I like to listen to music a lot but I usually listen to them with headphones on. Still I know they make some bit of noise so…”

Kenma shook his head. “I'll tell you if something bothers me but chances are, you won't.” When Kei still stared at him in concern, he said: “You forget I've slept with a whole volleyball team cramped in one room. I'm familiar with the discomforts of living or sleeping in the same room as another person. To be honest, I think you’ll be more bothered by my habits than I with yours.”

“Right… Let's just try not to irritate each other,” Kei came to the conclusion after listening to Kenma. He didn't say that being roommates was a whole different ball game than sleeping with your volleyball team for a few days of training camp.

Actually, training camps were so exhausting in and of itself that Tsukki would only need to put blind folds and headphones on before he was dreaming of crows fluttering their wings against the backdrop of a shining sun or walking through a maze of mysterious, dark alleyways or whatever else his mind decided to cook up.

All he knew was that it was a lot easier dealing with all of that (the snores of some of his members, the mumbles of a sleepy yet excitable Noya-san, the bad smells that would gather throughout the night) than what this was (sharing a room with the shy, quiet but introspective best friend of his crush).

He'd have to be extra careful about everything.







Kuroo-san showed up at their room barely an hour after Kei and Kenma’s conversation ended and took both of them to the cafeteria of their athletic dorm. There, he introduced them to the volleyball team members one by one before they were ushered to choose their meal and return to their table in the center of the cafe.

It was unlike any cafeteria Kei was used to. It was like a big, shiny hall with round, oakey tables and nice, comfy chairs. There were multiple stalls with different options of food and off to the side was a rectangle table containing all types of beverages, condiments and plastic spoons and stuff.

Kei grabbed some rice balls and a bowl of noodles before he walked to sit with Kuroo, Tayaoki (Kuroo’s roommate) and Kenma.

“So Tsukki, is it?” Tayaoki inquired, eyes sparking with interest. Since when did Kei give the guy permission to call him that? He glared at Kuroo because it was his damn fault his nickname was being abused by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Kuroo-san just gave a half-assed shrug in response.

“How’re you liking it so far? The whole college experience?”

“It's too early to ask that question, Seno,” Kuroo told his roommate. “Tsukki needs to see the sights first, attend a few classes; get the whole experience before you can ask him that.”

“Ok,” Tayaoki said with a sarcastic raising of his brow. “How about first impression then? Or is that too early to ask too?” He looked to Kuroo with a smirk. “How about pre-impression?”

“Not a thing,” Kuroo huffed, rolling his eyes.

“Oh, screw you,” said Tayaoki airily and turned to look back at Kei, who was so not grateful for the attention. “So what made you decide on this University?”

Kei was mid-swallow during this question so he had an interval to contemplate how to answer this. Kuroo looked like he wanted to hear Kei’s reply to this question too so there couldn't be any dodging here.

He cleared his throat and said: “Uh, I liked that it had a good, stable and well-known educational and volleyball program. So I thought if there was a place I could decide my future plans, it'd start here.”

“What are your future plans then?” Seno asked, looking like he was going to keep questioning Kei until the very end of this meal.

Kei made a vague face. “I'm good at studies. I'm also good at volleyball for now. If one of these two things don't work out, I can focus my concentration on just one and go from there.”

“Huh. I guess that's smart. It's difficult to have even one thing work out for you, I'll tell you that.”

“Yeah,”

“Hm,” mumbled Seno thoughtfully. Kei, sure that this conversation was over now, slurped into his noodles when Seno continued his interrogation: “But even in the miyagi prefecture, I'm sure there's plenty of “good, stable, well-known” programs, why move all the way to Tokyo?”

“Ok, now you sound like an inspector jostling the suspect for clues,” Kuroo said, finally intervening in the middle thank God. “Chill, okay?”

“I am chill. Do I not look chill?” Seno asked the occupants of that table, being obtuse on purpose.

Kenma, for the first time since lunch began, lifted his head and point blank questioned Seno: “Why’re you here?”

Seno blinked innocently. “Excuse me?”

“We’re here to eat. Sustenance. That's our reason. Why're you here if you're not here to eat.” Kenma didn't ask so much as spat out. Kei had never seen him angry with someone before.

“Wow, Kuroo,” Seno glanced at his roommate. “I think your best friend is defending the four eyes.”

Kuroo sighed. “Kenma, while a bit rude, is right. You're disturbing them. Barrage him with your questions later, when he’s not mid chew.” He leaned into Seno’s ear, whispering loudly: “Also… I think they're both a little uncomfortable with you around.”

“I'm not,” Kei denied.

“Oh man,” Seno said as realization seemed to dawn on him. “Sorry about that, bro.” He pushed back his chair and stood up. “I'll see you guys in a few days at the volleyball court. I hope you'll be ready for my invasive questions then.” And with a wave and an easy smile, just like that, he was gone.

“Sorry about Seno. He can't take a hint unless you're blunt with him.” Kuroo explained to Kei with a sheepish grin after his roommate was out of hearing distance.

“I didn't mind…” Kei assured him and then mumbled softly. “Much.”

He felt eyes on him from Kenma’s direction and ignored it because he knew exactly why those eyes were on him. This was a big problem. If Kenma was half as intelligent about things socially as he was about volleyball and games then Kei’s secret crush was on the precipice of being exposed. And that couldn't happen. No matter what.

“Anyway, how are you guys doing? The roommate situation okay?”

“It's fine,” Kenma murmured.

“What he said,” Kei replied in a low tone as he took another slurp of his noodles.

“Well, you both should know where the athletic center is and how to find the volleyball court in that big center. It’s confusing at first but I’m sure a few trips in there will familiarize you to it.” Kuroo said, changing the topic. “So we’re gonna go there after we eat,”

“Okay,” Kei said.

Kenma nodded.

Kuroo bit into his rice ball and chewed in a pensive silence afterwards as he leaned back into the chair. Kei kept glancing at him throughout their meal and then, hurried to look away before he could be caught. Somehow… this was going to be more difficult than he thought.




When Kuroo was showing them the wide, spacious volleyball court, a few of the volleyball team players were doing a practice match. So Kuroo introduced them to Kenma and Kei for the nth time and somehow, surprisingly, Kenma got into a chat with one of the reserve middle blockers. He seemed to know them better than Kei, probably because he visited the team frequently before.

Once Kenma was busy, Kuroo grabbed Kei’s elbow and pulled him out the exit, away from the court and into a empty, narrow hallway.

“What’s wrong?” Kei asked, looking at Kuroo’s dark expression.

“I know you have a tendency to doubt the people around you and their intentions,” Kuroo began. “But I’m not your enemy, Tsukki.”

Kei quirked his brow. “Yes, I know,”

Kuroo opened his mouth to continue some kind of speech assuring Kei to trust him, most likely, but he stopped himself and took a deep breath. “Anyway, is it okay if it’s just the two of us hanging out tomorrow?”

“Why wouldn’t it be okay?”

Kuroo looked skyward in frustration. “Yes, you monosyllabic person, why wouldn’t it be okay? You know you’re one of those weird people who don’t say to people’s face if you dislike them, right?”

Kei stared at him in disbelief. “Uh, that’s not me… at all .”

“You’re a polite bastard,” Kuroo declared. “Don’t even deny it,”

“What are you even trying to say, Kuroo-san?” said Kei with an exasperated sigh.

“You don’t like Seno,” Kuroo pointed out. “But you’ll try to get along with him despite your dislike of him because he’s with me. Well, he doesn’t have to be with me when we hang out.”

“Uhhh… okay,” Kei said, feeling like Kuroo’s words were flying right past his comprehension.

“So?” Kuroo asked, as if Kei should know how to respond to him.

“So what, Kuroo-san?”

“You’re okay with hanging out with me alone?”

“Yes, of course, you’re putting way too much concern over a faux tour guide,” Kei replied in a gruff tone. “It’s not like we’re going on a date.”

“Sure,” Kuroo said, exhaling through his nose. A sound that was emphasized in Kei’s ear: seeing as they were standing so close together in this near-empty hallway. “Oh, also, I almost forgot,” Kuroo said, remembering. “There’s a party in the athletic dorm living room the day after tomorrow. So you should come and join us during. It’s going to be a bit more tame than other typical college parties here but it’s a start. You can get to know your future teammates this way too. I know other first years are also, gonna join us so it’s gonna be great. Fun, even… I hope.”

“Yes, okay,”

Kuroo nodded, patting Kei two times with a firm hand, a smile pasted on his lips.

“Good,” He murmured. “Let’s go in then. Let’s have you get familiar with Akira, Maruyama, Naegi and Hoshi-san for now. We’ll get to other members later.”

With his hand moving over to Kei’s back, he led the first year back into the court and made Kei deliberately join in on the conversation between Komazawa’s third year team members. Naegi-san, who had conversed with him before, nodded at him with a welcoming smile. And they talked about records and the speed of their opponent’s Wing Spiker and predicting how the coach was going to choose starting players from now on.

And about Oikawa Tooru.

“I mean, sure, I know Oikawa is the shit around here, being such an excellent leader and all-around skilled player,” Hoshi-san was saying. He was one of the middle blockers who wouldn’t be here when the semester started. He had graduated in his field of business administration and was only here for a bit more time just to enjoy the last few moments in Komazawa. “But I know the managers and coach will bend over backwards just to appease him.”

“Meaning they’ll listen to his every suggestion,” Akira, a tall and muscular Wing Spiker, said in a displeased manner. “And don’t me wrong. I’m sure there’s lots we can learn from Oikawa but we have our own of doing things and I don’t want to get controlled or manipulated into doing things.”

A thought Kei shared with the older man. Yet something about all this complaining and whining was hitting a spot in Kei’s patience, which was wearing thin the more he heard from the players. He had never seen players gossip as much as this group was doing. He was glad Kuroo wasn’t heaping into the negative comments against Oikawa but that was probably because he didn’t know Oikawa that well.

Well, neither did Kei but he had seen exactly how Oikawa operated and sure, there was the fear of being controlled but there had been no signs from Aobajousai that they were manipulated. Actually, all his peers and underclassmen respected the heck out Oikawa.

“I believe you’ve got the wrong impression of him,” Kei said.

Kuroo, Akira, Hoshi and Naegi turned to give him a look. It felt like he shouldn’t have spoken up at that moment but it felt like he had to. This… was wrong.

“I’ve played against him when he was a high school third year and watching how he interacted with his players, I’ve felt that he was nothing but respectful to them,” Kei clarified, receiving a smile from Naegi and an encouraging nod from Kuroo. “All he did was encourage them and give choice advices at the right moments to bring out the member’s highest potential to the surface.”

“Well, I’m flattered, four eyes.” an annoyingly smug voice said from behind him. Kei gave an internal groan as he turned to see Oikawa himself standing behind them. “I had no idea you felt that way about me after the way you dissed me last time we met.”

“I dislike your shifty personality,” Kei retorted. “Doesn’t mean I won’t correct misguided information before it can circulate and mess with the atmosphere around the team.”

“Shifty? Me?” Oikawa gave a swift mask of a smile. “Now, how could that be?”

“Yes, how could it be,” Kei bit out, giving out a sarcastic smile.

Oikawa-san snorted. “It's okay, Tsukki,” he patted the tall, blond first year in a condescending way. Nothing like the pat Kuroo had given Kei just a moment ago.“You won't get in trouble with me. In fact, I'll even recommend you. Not because you were kissing up to me but because you really are talented. You and Kuroo blocking together on our side of the net would be the bomb.”

Kei wanted to refute the statement about him kissing up to Oikawa but he bit his tongue. Better not to give the man more cause to tease him by showing him his teasing was working.

“What are you doing here, Oikawa?” Kuroo asked. “And who is that behind you?”

Oikawa beamed then, a real, bright smile that lit up his face. “I have been begging him for months to transfer here but he was being so stubborn that I just dragged him here by any means possible,” he was in the middle of saying as the person concealed by Oikawa’s body revealed himself to be Iwaizumi Hajime. “True, I had to lie but I had to do something. There's no way I can do anything without my bestie, after all.”

Iwaizumi gave an unattractive snort. He was tall, nicely built and a strong wing spiker. He was a childhood friend of Oikawa and formerly played with Oikawa since middle school to high school. He seemed to have a sorta rough exterior but… well, Kei didn't have a guess as to how he was inside. Still, someone who had been with Oikawa-san since forever and trusted the shady, skilled volleyball maniac with all his heart on the court couldn't be just ordinary.

“That's a lie and you know it,” Iwaizumi said to Oikawa.

To which, Oikawa pouted and shrugged. “It's true!” He insisted childishly.

“So you're showing him around the university in hopes he’ll transfer?” Kuroo asked. “What, you don't like the six wing spikers we have here?”

Oikawa’s eyes twinkled as he met Kuroo’s gaze. “They're all well and good. Especially Mr. Akira. I love those muscles he has going on there,” he directed at the third year from before. “but they don't exude that charismatic aura an Ace should.”

“Like hell!” Hoshi-san yelled in anger. Naegi-san grabbed his arm to hold him back but couldn't stop his graduated upper class man from ripping loose on Oikawa. “You’ve clearly had your eyes closed to our wing spikers until now if you can't see their Ace potential. Each and every one of them is capable.”

“Alright then,” Kuroo said, clapping his hands to get attention from the glaring going on between Oikawa and Hoshi. “Let's all calm down, please.”

“I'm glad I'm out of here before you could become our captain,” Hoshi gritted out with Rich animosity in his voice.

Oikawa only smiled in a relaxed manner and tilted his head. “Uh huh,”

Hoshi, with a scowl, brushed past them and left out the exit. The rest stared at each other awkwardly.

“Oikawa…” Iwaizumi said finally. “I really shouldn't have come,”

Oikawa blinked as his smile faded. “It's just a disgruntled former member of the team. It doesn't matter.” He placated his childhood friend. And in this situation, he should have been placating anyone but Iwaizumi.

Somehow, Kei realized his new Captain's head really wasn't in the game. He didn't know what happened the past two to three years but Oikawa had changed. He looked like he was codependently relying on Iwaizumi’s presence.

It was weird but it also, made an odd sort of sense.

People’s priorities changed as time went by. Back then, Oikawa had been dead set on proving to the world that he was the best setter in the world but now that this goal was partly accomplished, his goal seemed to have changed too.

Or so Kei perceived from a few glimpses at the cracks in Oikawa’s mask.

“Let's talk somewhere else, shall we?” Oikawa said, grabbing his friend around the shoulder and leading him away.

“That man… I'm sorry to say, but he's a mess.” Naegi-san pointed out.

“He probably just missed Iwaizumi-san while he was abroad,” Shigeru Yahaba, who had somehow magically appeared out of nowhere, declared from behind them. They turned to look at him. “It'll take some time for him to find his groove back, I imagine. And for that, I do think he needs his former Ace to beat some sense into him. I'm sure that's the only reason Iwaizumi-san is here.”

“To beat some sense into him?” Maruyama asked.

“Oikawa-san has fallen into a hopeless trance.” Shigeru said with his hands on his hips. “It happens to the best of us. I assure he’ll be back to full power soon enough.”

“Well, if you say it so confidently like that,” muttered Akira-san skeptically.

“No, for real,” insisted Shigeru.

“You're kinda weird, you know that, Shigeru?” Naegi-san said. “I mean, aren't you incensed that your position as setter is so easily being snatched away from someone like that.”

Shigeru grinned, his eyes not wavering for even a second. “Volleyball is fun because it's a team sport but it's only just a sport to me. You don't want a setter like me to lead you guys. You need a volleyball maniac like him. If you want a win, of course.”

“Of course,” Kuroo repeated with a shake of his head and a grin lurking on his lips too.

“Something funny?” Kei asked Kuroo in a low tone.

Kuroo looked at him and just smiled. “Maybe,”

Lips. Kei was looking at Kuroo’s lips. He needed to stop right now before his gaze was noticed. He looked back up into Kuroo’s eyes and felt like falling into a hopeless trance too. Just for a moment. Maybe, even two.

Ah, he was screwed.





The next morning, he woke up to a knock on his dorm room door. Kei tried to ignore it so he could snuggle into his warm comforter cocoon but the knock persisted.

“Go get it,” Kenma muttered sleepily and even a little crankily to Kei.

“Me? You're the one on the ground floor. You do it.” snapped a groggy and irritated Kei.

“The knock is for you,” Kenma retorted. “So go get it.”

He said it like he was so sure of his statement that Kei balked for a moment and sat up.  

“Wait, what time is it?” He asked himself since he knew Kenma would rather pretend to be dead asleep than answer him. He sighed, grabbed his phone from beside his pillow and looked.

It was 8:23 am. Oh.

“Tsukki!” he heard Kuroo’s voice outside as two more knocks pounded on his door. He saw Kenma cover his head with his blanket to ignore all this noise and gave a sigh.

“It's your best friend,” Kei said to Kenma as he put on his glasses and climbed down his bunk bed. “You can't blame me for him disturbing your sleep,”

“I’m not,” he heard the muffled words from under the blanket. “Now, go away,”

Wow, Kenma was rude when he was sleepy. What an unexpected discovery.

“Tsukki, are you still not up?!” he heard just as he opened the door to blearily glare at the person on the other side.

“You're early,” Kei said, annoyed.

“And you're not even a quarter of the way ready.” Kuroo countered, folding his arms across his chest with a pointed stare to Kei’s pajamas, bleary eyes and bed ridden hair.

“Make that not even a bit,” Kei said, ruffling at his hair to feel the texture. It didn't feel greasy or oily so guess he didn't have to take a shower before they went.

“Do you not wanna go?” Kuroo asked testily.

“No, I do. I just…” He stretched his arms out as a yawn projectiled out of his mouth. “..am really tired.”

“You didn't set up an alarm for today?” Kuroo sounded disappointed for some unfathomable reason.

Kei gave him a stinky eye. “It’s your fault. Show us around, my foot. All we did yesterday was have lunch, go to the volleyball court and have a thousand practice matches and then dinner late at night. I had no time to set up anything after I came back to this room.”

“You're so out of practice, Tsukki,” Kuroo snickered.

“And I resent the fact that you allowed Kenma to leave after the fifth match but held me hostage till the last minute,” Kei complained.

“Well, sue me for enjoying playing a couple games with you,”

“A couple ?!!”

“Could you two take your bickering outside of this room?” Kenma’s voice came out clear and furious from inside the room. "Please."

Kuroo looked in on the short boy, who was sitting up on his bed and glaring at the two. “Ah, welcome to the world of the living. So how long into the night did this midnight prince play his games?”

“Long enough,” Kenma huffed. “I need three hours more if you want me to function as a human being so could you please spare me from unwittingly witnessing whatever this is between you two?”

Whatever this is between you two… How telling of a statement that was to Kei but Kuroo looked unperturbed by what was blurted out by his best friend just now so Kei pretended to be the same as well.

“Uhh, I need my clothes.” Kei whispered to Kuroo. At the very least, he needed to get his clothes.

“Go ahead,” Kuroo waved him off. “Freshen up and change. I’ll be at the cafeteria waiting for you.”

“It'll take me more than thirty minutes to do all that.” Kei said doubtfully.

“Then I’ll wait more than thirty minutes,” Kuroo said as he back stepped through the hallway, hands in his pocket, cocky grin on his face. He looked really cool like that. Lively and smart and… intoxicating. “But not more than fifty. That's my limit, okay?”

“Okay,” Kei said, feeling a simple warmth suffuse his chest. He ducked his head and waited until Kuroo turned around to leave before he was shutting the door to the room and rustling through his belongings for some good clothes.

He didn't speak to Kenma, who he knew was struggling to sleep at the moment but somehow, he knew they both were aware of “whatever” it was that was lighting up between Kuroo and Kei.

He didn't want to confirm this though. That he was quite possibly transparent. That there may be some mutual flirty vibes going on between them. He didn't want to know these things to be fact because it was scary to think about.

This wasn't like any of his crushes before. This was different.

This was… complicated.





True to his words, Kuroo was waiting for him at the cafe. But Remi-chan (the volleyball manager) and another girl were sitting next to him so Kei hesitated for  a moment but once Kuroo saw him, he ushered the four-eyed blond to him.

Kei walked over and sat across from Kuroo, putting down his tray filled with steaming hot breakfast. He cautiously looked at the women seated at the table and raised an eyebrow in question at Kuroo.

“Sorry, Tsukki. We were just chatting while I was waiting for you. You already know Remi, I think.” Kuroo introduced while gesturing at the woman in question. Remi waved at him with a genial upturn of her lips. Kuroo gestured at the unknown woman next: “And this is here is my girlfriend and the football club's manager, Takagi Miu. She's infuriated by all our volleyball talk at the moment so she’s just about had enough and was just about to leave actually.” He gave her a teasing, Cheshire grin that Kei had thought was only for him.

“Funny,” Kuroo’s girlfriend (and wasn't that a whole shock to the system), Miu, crossed her arms and harrumphed. “You need to learn how to treat your girlfriend right, mister.”

“Hey, Tsukki,” Remi greeted. "How's everything?"

“Is everyone here going to call me that from now on?” Kei muttered half distractedly. Takagi Miu was attractive. With her long, auburn hair and symmetrical, pretty features, nobody could deny her attractiveness. But by god, in Kei’s selfish, jealous heart, he wanted to deny it. He wanted to deny her beauty, her intelligence and her personality. He wanted to deny all of it so the chance of him and Kuroo didn't get shot down like a popped out balloon.

A chill had gripped his heart but more so than before, he kept his composure about him as the conversation around him continued.

“Sorry, Tsukishima-kun,” Remi said sheepishly while fixing her speech. “It's just easier to call you Tsukki. I know I can't just casually call you that but I hear it from Kuroo all the time so I guess the habit stuck.”

Kei arched his brow at Kuroo. “How much have you been talking about me exactly?”

“Enough,” Miu said cheerfully, her elbows on the table and her legs swinging back and forth under the table.

Kuroo raised his hand in guilty surrender. “I was just excited about you coming here. Sue me.”

“I really should sue you,” Kei said half-jokingly, half-sternly.

Kuroo gave a wide smirk. “I knew that catchphrase was gonna get me in trouble.” he shrugged. “But enough about that, eat up. It's a long trip we’re going on today. You'll need every bit of strength.”

“I hope we’re not going hiking,” Kei said warily.

“Would you just eat already!” Kuroo hissed before letting out a long suffering sigh. “God,”

Kei mixed in his miso soup with the rice and start chowing down, so to say. The others chatted in the meanwhile. Kei half listened and then, didn't because the weight of what was just revealed to him hit him and he wondered how he could even pretend to be okay the whole day that he was going to be on this trip with Kuroo.

He hoped she wouldn't come with them.

It was selfish but he couldn't take it if he were made to be a third wheel. That would just make this situation laughably embarrassing and it was embarrassing enough as it was.

To think he was indulging the idea of mutual flirty vibes. Heck, even if it were true, people flirted with others all the time. Didn't mean it was a serious thing. It was how they tended to interact with people. It was in their DNA or something to charm the pants off of someone even if they didn't want those pants off in anyway.

Still, it didn't help that Kuroo was so concerned and so enthusiastic when it came to Kei. He was going the extra mile here to show Kei around and watch out for him but maybe it was just some roundabout obligation to Kuroo.

Just… a country bumpkin to take care of.

Well, Kei was no country bumpkin.

He wouldn't be the fool here.

So what if Kuroo had a girlfriend? Kei only needed to get a boyfriend of his own. That was all. It was no big deal, really.

He'd swallow up the hurt, raise up those walls and pretend like no tomorrow.

It was a stupid crush anyway. He'd get over it.

A voice inside him called him a liar but he ignored that in favor of putting his focus on the food in front of him.