“Are you getting Kuroo-san anything?” Tadashi looked sideways at Kei as a commercial interrupted the show they were watching. They were sitting on the floor on opposite sides of a low table. Kei had his back against the wall and Tadashi was leaning on his forearms.
“Hadn’t thought about it.” Lie. He’d thought about it nearly every night, among other Kuroo-related things, when he couldn’t sleep for the last week or so. “Why would I?”
“I don’t know, we all bought a graduation gift for our third years, so I thought…”
“That was a team gift. I didn’t go pick out anything.”
“But you also don’t stay up too late every night texting Daichi-san, Tsukki.” Tadashi dragged out the final sound of his nickname while smirking.
Kei’s only reply was a quick tongue click and a sour look as he went back to staring at the TV.
“Alright, I’ll just bring it up again later. And then probably again after that. And after that until you give me a good answer. I suspect it’ll take a few times, but you’ll crack.” Tadashi accented his final thought with a finger pointed in Kei’s direction.
In this moment, Kei knew that three facts were true. One, only Tadashi could get away with any of this. Two, crushes were terrible and stupid and embarrassing. Three, having one friend who knows all your business and pushes you in the right direction even when you come kicking and screaming can actually be a really good thing while also being a terrible thing.
They continued to sit in a comfortable silence. There was never any awkwardness with Tadashi, and Tsukki felt weird around most people. Other people didn’t always make sense. Tadashi, though, he was like the sun, but not in an annoying Hinata way. Like, the sun makes sense. It’s irritating sometimes, can be too much and hurt your eyes or bother you, but you need it and it’s easy to see the purpose it serves in your life.
“Do you want to switch to another show--” Tadashi started.
“What would you get?” The two spoke at the same time.
“What?” Tadashi’s hands dropped to the table.
Kei groaned and slumped hard against the wall behind him, running his fingers through his hair before repeating himself. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t say it. “What would you get someone for, like, a graduation present?”
Tadashi tucked his hands under his chin, resting his elbows on the table in front of him. He looked deep in thought, like this had been the challenge he’d been waiting for all day. “I don’t know, since I don’t have a boyfriend--”
“Not a boyfriend.”
“-don’t have a boyfriend like you,” Tadashi knew just how to play the Kei conversation game, “it’s hard to know what would be just right. It would need to be something meaningful, special to him or the two of you. It could say all the words that won’t come out of your sarcastic mouth.” At that, he threw his hands open wide like the words were taking up physical space.
“As a rule, I try not to let a lot of words come out of my mouth.”
“False. You say shady stuff all the time. It’s the sincere stuff that’s tough.” Tadashi glanced up to the ceiling. “Fine. If you’re still not ready, do something thoughtful, you’re still friends, after all. But Tsukki, one of these days I’m gonna yell at you like I did about you not caring about volleyball earlier this year. You wait so long and you can be so frustrating!” He threw his head back with a laugh.
Tsukki scowled but there was no venom in it. He knew these things about himself. Sometimes it was weird to remember that Tadashi knew them, too.
Tadashi had been right. Kuroo was a friend. Kei had exactly two friends. He was content with this change in his life. For many years he had only had one and though Kuroo was difficult to categorize, nothing approaching a “relationship” had manifested, so for now he was filed away as “friend.” Kei had categories for everyone he knew -- family, teammates, friends, and others. The friend category had, for so long, only contained Tadashi and now its definitions were being pushed to the limits.
Like, Tadashi could send him selfies. Kei would grin at them and send something teasing in response or a picture of his own. Earlier, Tadashi had sent a picture of him and Hinata after some successful extra serve practice and Kei had just smiled and sent back a “thumbs up” emoji.
Kuroo also sent him selfies. Some fit neatly into the friend category with Tadashi. Earlier this week, he had sent a selfie of himself with the biggest bowl of ramen Kei had ever seen. Kei had laughed and sent back a pig emoji, warning Kuroo to “be careful.”
Other selfies did not fit neatly into this category, which is why Kei found himself staring at his phone instead of his Japanese literature homework. It was late and Kei was grateful that the sun had set because these kinds of feelings did not belong in the daytime. His phone was lying on top of his homework displaying a selfie Kuroo had sent him after Nekoma’s volleyball practice. The same situation as Tadashi’s selfie, and yet, not even close to being the same.
Kuroo was grinning, which was usually enough to make Kei think things he didn’t want to think, but he was sweaty and his shirt was slipping up his sides because Kuroo had positioned the phone high above his head. Kei blinked for the first time in a while. His chest felt warm and so did parts of his body that he tried to forget needed things because he was a rational person, he assured himself, who hated feelings, and this was certainly a feeling. A difficult feeling. A warm and growing hot feeling. An I can no longer focus on my homework feeling. A very unwelcome feeling, but impossible to ignore.
Kei stood up quickly, his rolling chair hitting his bed on the other side of the room. He picked up his phone and moved to his bed, propping his back against his pillows. As his free hand wandered down, he imagined that same grin from a different angle. He saw Kuroo above him, strong arms on both sides of his head, the muscles of his chest heaving as the grin broke and choked out, “Kei.”
This was not a friend selfie. Kuroo had been categorized as a friend, but neither the photo nor his response fit, Kei decided later that evening. He also made another decision. Kuroo deserved to be sent a selfie, too.
At practice the next day, Kei felt more awkward and far less sure than he had after a release of frustration in the dark of his own room. Now the plan seemed dumb. Kuroo was attractive. Kei was not. These were also categories that helped him understand the world. Last night he had felt like he was in one category, but then morning came and he looked in the mirror to see the same pale face and the same stringy arms. He discarded the plan quickly and focused on blocking.
Only he must not have done a great job. “What’s up your butt today?” Tadashi laughed, clapping him on the back as they cleaned up.
Kei clicked his tongue.
“I’m the Tsukki whisperer. I’ll guess! It’s… a bad grade. Ha, no, you never get those. It’s Hinata. The brightness of his spirit hurts you whenever you see him.” Tadashi kept rambling as they walked to the club room together. “...it’s something from Kuroo.”
Without meaning to, Kei missed a step.
“Oooooh, I got it!”
Kei kept walking, shaking his head.
“No, no, no I totally got it. Oh what did he send you? What’d he say, what’d he say?”
Kei stopped abruptly and checked that no one was listening. “What if someone heard you?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll whisper, but please,” Tadashi pleaded, “I’m the only person you talk to about this, and even then, not really. I can literally not help with anything else in your life. Give me this! It’s so fun. I have no one to date and these updates give me life.”
“I’m fully aware. Now tell me.”
Kei made a final check of the area to make sure no other students were around. “He sent a picture.” Clearly he should have said more based on Tadashi’s reaction - a gasp and wide eyes.
“No, not like, ugh,” Kei groaned, “he was clothed!” He yelled louder than he wanted to before whispering again. “It was just him after practice.”
“Did you like it?”
“Ha, you did. You really did.” Tadashi had his hands up by his face, all but squeezing his own cheeks from the joy of watching Kei be so uncomfortable with his feelings.
Kei responded with a soft growl.
“And now you won’t tell me anything else, so I can guess again. It’s fine, Tsukki, you’ve done such a good job already. Very proud. Um… now you don’t know what to say back. Ooh, no! It’s that you don’t know what to send back, like a text or a picture, too! You’re getting red, so I know I’m right. In fact,” Tadashi reached for Kei’s phone from his hand, “with this blush it’d be just about perfect.”
“Oh my god, no.” Kei snapped his phone back. “No. I regret all of my words.” Kei put his head down and kept walking towards the club room.
Tadashi actually skipped behind him.
When Kei finally started the walk home, the sun was beginning to set. Tadashi walked with him until they separated in front of Tadashi’s neighborhood and Tadashi parted with a friendly wave, content to not bug Kei anymore that day.
Kei made a few more steps before he stopped. Deciding that the sunset actually made everything look kind of… better, he took out his phone, slapped on a scowl, took a photo, typed “hey,” and pressed send.
Then he muted all notifications and shoved his phone deep in his backpack.
Several hours later, as Kei was heading to bed, he scrounged up the courage to dig his phone out of his backpack and see if Kuroo had responded.
He had. 27 times.
Kuroo>> Nice! good practice today?
Kuroo>> ours was good
Kuroo>> still whipping Lev into shape
Kuroo>> he doesn’t take to my stellar training techniques as easily as you do
Kuroo>> were you inspired by my photo
Kuroo>> is this a thing we’re doing now?
Kuroo>> I’m like your fit-spiration
Kuroo>> with my perspiration
Kuroo>> across the nation
Kuroo>> are you there
Kuroo>> are you reading this?
Kuroo>> that was gold
Kuroo>> I should be a writer in college
Kuroo>> a poet
Kuroo>> sitting in campus coffee shops with my hair in my face
Kuroo>> scrawling in well-worn journals
Kuroo>> I can’t believe I move in a week from now
Kuroo>> ooh! If we’re sending pics now, I’m gonna send you everything
Kuroo>> about college life
Kuroo>> Tsukki~ are you reading these?
Kuroo>> are you ignoring me?
Kuroo>> fine. I’ll just make it be my bedtime now
Kuroo>> usually we talk before bedtime
Kuroo>> attachment loading
Kei looked at a photo of Kuroo lying down on his pillow, a pouty lip and sad eyes across his face. He didn’t reply, flipped his phone over on his nightstand, and went to bed.
“You’re hanging out with who this weekend?” Kei whipped around after catching the tail end of a conversation the third years were having. The team was meeting together one last time as a big group in a park near Karasuno before the third years finally made their way to college or the world of jobs and careers.
“Kuroo-san, you remember, the Nekoma captain?” Daichi answered.
“Yea, I’m familiar.” He shrugged. “What are you doing all the way in Tokyo?”
“Suga’s attending the same university and it’s move-in weekend. They’re in totally different schools there, Suga’s in the school of Education and Kuroo is… I have no idea, but it’s not education, and we thought it’d be nice to meet up.”
“Why are you going to Suga’s move in?” Kei asked.
Asahi tumbled in to the conversation. “Because Daichi is such a good friend.” The taller boy leaned his elbow on Daichi’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll tell him you said ‘hi.’” Daichi added.
“Good, I’ll tell him you said, ‘whatever.’ ‘Hi’ might confuse people, coming from you.”
Suga rolled in to join them again and the trio dove into another round of “do you remember that time when…” that would inevitably end with raucous laughter or buckets of tears. Even Kiyoko had shared a sniffle or two. Kei had grown weary of both responses. He couldn’t imagine ever being that sentimental. He looked over at Tadashi, laughing with Noya and Tanaka, and thought maybe in two years he would feel that way about Tadashi. But Kei also understood that life has chapters and some close periodically.
He realized with a start that he maybe had never had a life chapter end, not really. Sure, childhood ends, but it’s gradual and so many have an eagerness to grow up, including Kei. And Tadashi had been with him since grade school. His chapter had never closed because there had been so many constants - family, that one friend. Akiteru going to college was kind of a chapter closing, Kei reasoned, but he was home so often, it kind of wasn’t. Kei shuddered slightly, wondering if there were more part of him that might come out in new situations -- like this thing with Kuroo.
Kei jumped back into the conversation. “What day do you leave?”
Daichi blinked. “Friday morning.”
Kei pushed his glasses up his face. “Thanks.” Then he darted back away again, leaving the three third years puzzled.
Kei bought Kuroo a planner. It was black, naturally, and simple. The only decoration in the soft leather was an embossed marking of the year. Kei gently ran the tips of his fingers down the cover before handing it to the cashier to pay for it it and have it gift wrapped. Dark blue paper. No bow. Absolutely no ribbons of any kind. A present that fit into the friend category. The tag on the outside read:
He debated writing their given names after family names, but decided against it.
As he got on his bike to leave, his eyes kept leaving the road to watch the small brown paper bag in his basket. A gift for a friend. Friends buy each other gifts. He does this for Tadashi for important occasions. Graduating is an occasion. This is no different.
Instead of going straight home, Kei turned left into another familiar neighborhood. He biked until he was in front of a yellow house with vegetables showing signs of sprouting on nearly every patch of green outside in the early spring air. Kei took several deep breaths, shoved his glasses up his face a few times, and nearly turned back around before pressing the doorbell.
Right after the sweet little chime, a woman came to the door. “Ah! Hello! Tsukishima, right?” She motioned for Kei to step into the genkan. “Dai-kun, a volleyball friend is here!” She shouted down the hallway. She waited until Daichi walks in from another room to leave. “Thank you so much for coming today.”
“Thank you for having me.” Kei added awkwardly, still standing in the genkan with his shoes on. He had weighed this decision in his mind all week. His options had been to mail the planner, give it to Daichi, or try to get to Tokyo. The first option meant he would have had to ask Kuroo for his address, which felt deeply personal for some reason. Plus he was about to move and there was too much worry about it getting there late. The last option meant that he would have to use his own money to get to Tokyo, arrange to meet with Kuroo, and then spend a bunch of time with him. While that didn’t seem like the worst, it also was the option that twisted his stomach into so many knots that it became the worst. Giving it to Daichi was the best option for now, but Kei worried about the third years talking about it -- the one downside.
To say that Daichi looked confused would be an understatement. He looked down at Kei and put on one of his comforting dad-like smiles. “What’cha need?”
“I’m… I have… favor…” Kei jostled the paper bag in his hand, looking up at Daichi from the genkan.
“Come in. It’s weird talking to someone when I’m standing above them, or…” he took in the situation, “better yet, I’ll throw on some shoes and we’ll talk outside.”
Kei nodded and briskly opened the door. Daichi followed behind him with some sandals on over his socks.
Kei nodded again, like a little bow, and began, “I know you must be busy, getting ready to leave tomorrow, but I have a small favor, if it’s not troublesome.” He held out the bag and motions for Daichi to take it. “It’s… you said you would see Kuroo-san this weekend and,” his skin betrayed him, growing warm and pink, “this is a graduation gift for him and if you could take it I would really appreciate it. It’s just like how we got gifts for you guys, you know, “he quickly added, “to thank you guys for… everything… or whatever.”
Daichi took the paper bag and Kei waited for a laugh to joke to break the tension or make him realize this is so much more awkward and awful than he thought it would be. Instead, Daichi smiled. “Of course. I’d be happy to. Not troublesome at all!”
Kei let out a little of the breath he’d been holding. He noticed how Daichi held the presently gently in his hands, one palm holding it up from the bottom, like it was fragile.
“Well, thank you very much, Sawamura-san. Please have safe travels. I hope Sugawara-san’s move goes well.” The words came out robotically, but he did mean them even though he made no eye contact at all.
“Thanks, Tsukishima. I’ll deliver this, promise.”
They said their goodbyes quickly and Kei biked away from the house fast enough to make the cooler spring air of the evening whip the redness out of his cheeks and replace it with a chilly sting.
Late Saturday night, Kei received a string of texts from Kuroo, faster than he could reply.
Kuroo>> you got me a present
Kuroo>> it is very nice
Kuroo>> and you are very nice, too! you thought about me!
Kuroo>> I have already purchased stickers to use with it
Kuroo>> Suga helped me pick them out
Kuroo>> they are black cats, ofc
Kuroo>> they will remind me to do my homework and kick ass at practice and text you pictures
Kuroo>> really, tho, thank you
Kei>> it’s nothing special
Kei>> but you’re welcome
Kuroo>> it’s special to me!
Kuroo>> you picked it out
Kuroo>> for me
Kuroo>> and it’s useful
Kuroo>> like, it’s a very YOU present
Kei>> what does that mean?
Kuroo>> like, kenma got me a hoodie that has cat ears attached
Kuroo>> and bokuto got me two shot glasses and a note that says ‘to be continued’
Kuroo>> and you got me a planner that I can use
Kei>> I’m glad you find it useful
Kei>> It can help you get it together.
Kuroo>> oh, no hope of that
Kuroo>> but now I can keep track of everything I forget outside of volleyball!
Kuroo>> and and and
Kuroo>> the planner stickers, with the cats, I guess because they are black cats
Kuroo>> they came with a lot of moon stickers
Kuroo>> and you know, black cats and the moon, they just go together
Kei stared. He usually took a little while to respond. He liked to think, most of the time, before he wrote something back, a rule that applied to his texts with everyone. Kei also liked to take things at face value. Kuroo liked the planner. Good. He was glad. Kuroo says a cat and a moon go well together? Not good or bad. Confusing. Kei wanted to peel back the layers, but that wasn’t how conversations worked for Kei. He had very little practice and feared overthinking everything. Though, overthinking had become a painful habit lately.
He started typing, erased, typed again and again a few times before settling.
Kei>> they do
Kei>> like at halloween
Kei>> or at night
He cringed. Those were very dumb words he had just typed with his very dumb hands.
Kuroo>> like our chats! at bedtime!
Kuroo>> I know you’re allergic to sincerity
Kuroo>> and I enjoy that about you
Kuroo>> but I have been more nervous this past week than I have been in a long time
Kuroo>> and knowing I have such good friends and you
Kuroo>> makes it all a little easier
Kuroo>> okay now say something snarky
Kuroo>> I’m getting allergic, too
Such good friends… and you… and you… and you… separate from friends.
Kei>> I give you a planner
Kei>> you give me hives
Kei>> not a fair trade
Kuroo>> aaaah, better
Kuroo>> good night, Tsuki~
Kei>> g’night Kuroo-san
Kei took forever to fall asleep. He kept seeing “such good friends and you” over and over, mixing with memories of photos he’d received from Kuroo throughout the week. ...and you, and you, and you. Kei lived his life through neat categorization. Kuroo defied categorization. It was annoying and embarrassing and frustrating and it was the best.
Kei woke up the next morning grinning.