In the autumn of his seventeenth year, Kuroo is afflicted by a crush that never quite leaves him.
It starts with a skip of his heart, a hitch in his breath, and a startling realisation that:
I like Sawamura Daichi.
Kuroo feels like he has been bowled over, the only thing keeping him tethered to the ground and standing on his two feet being the firm grip that Sawamura has on his hand.
“Kuroo, are you alright?” Sawamura asks when Kuroo falters for a moment too long, his throat working furiously and his eyes blinking rapidly as he tries to process his last thought.
Sawamura, bless his heart, looks concerned, his eyebrows furrowing as he gazes up at Kuroo with brown eyes that have caught Kuroo off-guard far too many times. Now is one such instance and Kuroo can’t tear himself away from Sawamura’s gaze. Heat floods into his cheeks as Sawamura keeps looking at him like that and Kuroo can do nothing but stare.
“I’m fine. I just... tripped a little bit,” Kuroo blurts out.
Confusion overtakes the concern in Sawamura’s eyes and Kuroo realises belatedly that what he just said makes no sense when Kuroo is standing stock-still with his hand locked in a handshake with Sawamura and the only tripping he has done is tripping over his own feet falling head over heels for Sawamura and only coming to that realisation mere minutes before Karasuno leaves for Miyagi. Kuroo doesn’t want Sawamura to go but if he holds Sawamura’s hand hostage for any longer, things are going to get awkward and maybe Sawamura won’t want to look at Kuroo with that warmth in his eyes anymore and Kuroo will miss his fire when he bites back after one of Kuroo’s taunts and his mirth when he finally laughs at one of Kuroo’s jokes. Instinctively, Kuroo clutches Sawamura’s hand tighter and Sawamura’s confusion turns to wariness and Kuroo panics because shit, it's already happening.
“Uh,” Kuroo says before he can mess this up even more.
Sawamura waits politely for Kuroo to continue, which is more than what Kuroo deserves at the moment when Kuroo has Sawamura's hand trapped in a warm and clammy handshake that has gone on for far longer than social niceties deem proper.
"I really," Kuroo's brain fizzes out, fainting away in a dead swoon, and his mouth, the fast-talking, excuse-making coward, finishes with, "appreciate you, Sawamura. And, uh, all you've done during this training camp."
"I didn't do much," Sawamura tells him, a corner of his mouth lifting in a half-smile now that Kuroo seems to be making some sort of sense. "Takeda-sensei and Nekomata-sensei were the ones who set this up."
"They did," Kuroo stammers, trying to keep his grasp on the conversation, "but this couldn't have happened without you."
"I think you're giving me too much credit, Kuroo."
"I mean, I think this training camp could have gone very differently without you around." Kuroo adds hastily, "And Karasuno of course. For one, there would have been more flying falls all around for the rest of us."
The grip on Kuroo's hand turns abruptly painful and Kuroo's eyes water in regret, even though he had no control over what his mouth had been sprouting off in his state of panic.
"Is that so?" Sawamura says, his tone dangerously pleasant. "If that's the case, I hope you're ready to be wiping the floor next time."
Next time. Those two words send a thrill coursing through Kuroo's body and just like that, he snaps out of his panic-induced funk. Crush or no crush, those are fighting words and Kuroo is never one to back down from a challenge issued by Sawamura.
"It'd be such a shame to take that role from Karasuno when you guys do it so well," Kuroo responds, his brain coming back into consciousness and teaming up with his mouth to make a muscle in Sawamura's jaw twitch at Kuroo's words.
Kuroo fully deserves Sawamura's last attempt to crush the bones in his hand to fine dust before they finally let go of each other. Kuroo grins at Sawamura, his fingers throbbing and his heart pounding in time with each other, and Sawamura grins back, his determination for revenge etched on his face and his eyes glinting with fight. Most interactions with Sawamura often end this way, with Kuroo exhilarated and Sawamura swearing revenge, the air tingling with the promise of a next time between them. And for now, despite the dawning realisation that he may (he does, he does) have feelings for Sawamura, Kuroo is content with that.
Kuroo’s high school life, the fun stuff at least, comes to an end with the conclusion of the Nationals and it ends so abruptly that Kuroo finds he is not quite ready to let it go yet. They are due to leave the hotel tomorrow morning and Kuroo seizes the night before that with a quiet desperation that creeps up on him as he stands in the lobby of the hotel, not quite wanting to return to the room that Nekoma shares yet. Then he slips out of the front door and into the night.
Spring nights are chilly but the winds that blow carry the smell of green things growing, poking their way up from the earth to greet a new cycle. It reminds Kuroo of promises made and kept, and crushes kept but not quite conveyed. That day when he had faced Sawamura across the net, the pounding of Kuroo’s heart had not only been the result of the promise they had kept between them as sworn rivals of trash heap, but also because of another promise Kuroo had kept with himself that he would see Sawamura again. And maybe, perhaps, that he would tell Sawamura how he feels about him.
Kuroo has no idea how to go about with that when Nekoma and Karasuno had been ushered out of the sports hall so quickly after their legendary match and emotions had been running so high that Kuroo had lost track of Sawamura somewhere in there. Kuroo has Sawamura's number, of course, but he just can't seem to work up the nerve to click on it. What should he say? How should he say it? Sawamura, don't freak out, but I think I like you so could we keep seeing each other even after our promised match is over? Even after we're done with high school? Don't freak out, I know we've only known each other for a year but I think I'd like to spend my whole life getting to know you better.
Kuroo jumps so violently that it sends his phone flying out of his hand and onto the ground with an unfortunate crack. Then he stares down at his phone, with Sawamura's contact information still bright on the screen but no call made even though Kuroo swears he just heard Sawamura's voice come from somewhere.
Kuroo turns around and Sawamura smiles at him with that wry half-smile he seems to reserve for Kuroo's bad jokes and terrible antics. It makes Kuroo's stomach flutter weakly and his thoughts burst into butterflies, all clambering to leave the confines of his head.
"If I'd known that you were such a scaredy cat, I would have called you in advance before saying hi," Sawamura says, his brown eyes glinting with amusement in the glow of the street lamps.
Kuroo bends over to scoop up his phone quickly before Sawamura can see his name on the screen and Kuroo most certainly does not stammer as he asks, oh so casually, "Sawamura! What are you doing here?"
"Same thing that you're doing, I'm guessing," Sawamura says, settling back against the railings that Kuroo had been leaning on.
"Out for a late night snack?"
Sawamura hums noncommittally. "Maybe later."
"Appreciating the Tokyo night and sights?"
"Is that what you're doing?" Sawamura raises an eyebrow at Kuroo.
"Yes," Kuroo says automatically, just to be contrary. Then he follows it up immediately with, "Nah."
Sawamura snorts quietly. "Thought so."
They stay in silence for a while, the night washing over them, cool and calm, with the occasional late night car passing them by quietly. Kuroo fiddles with his phone, checking it for damage before he pockets it. He looks forward, staring at nothing in particular, but his gaze drifts over to Sawamura, stealing glances at him out of the corner of his eye and soaking in the softened edges of Sawamura's silhouette against the street lamps.
Then, Sawamura breaks the silence with a long exhalation of breath and something skittering along Kuroo's nerves settles down in place to listen. "I guess," Sawamura says slowly, thinking his words through, "I just can't believe that it's all come to an end already. That felt like the fastest year of my life."
"Seeing that freak quick attack on a near-daily basis must have sped things up quite a bit." Kuroo chuckles.
"You have no idea," Sawamura says with feeling. "Every time they do that it feels like the flow of time accelerates and I've got to run even faster to keep up. Maybe that's why I feel like I've aged ten years earlier than I should have."
"Don't worry, it hardly shows. You're still young and handsome to me, Sawamura," Kuroo assures him and his feelings slip off his tongue so easily that it makes him flush when he realises what he just said.
Thankfully, Sawamura doesn't seem to notice Kuroo's reddening face in the dim lights and he grins back at Kuroo. "That's because you're old too. Don't tell me that keeping your band of cats in line hasn't contributed to some rapid ageing of your own."
"You have no idea," Kuroo groans. "Thinking of who to pass the mantle of captaincy on to has been a nightmare and a half. And then there's Lev, who now not only wants to be ace but captain as well." Kuroo makes a face. "I should make 'being able to receive' a requirement for being captain. Maybe then he'll work harder at that."
Sawamura laughs. "It'll happen. Just look at Hinata."
"Rub it in my face, why don't you," Kuroo says wryly. "Hey, I'll trade you Lev for Hinata."
"You wish." Sawamura looks at him, still grinning. "We need him to beat your team again next year."
"You wish," Kuroo retorts. "You better savour that victory now because you're never getting a repeat of that again."
"Well, no," Sawamura says softly, with a falling smile on his face. "I'm not."
Ah. Kuroo feels a pang in his chest where his heart should be. Sawamura is right, and Kuroo isn't going to get another chance at this either, not with Nekoma and Yaku and Kai and Kenma and Tora and Fukunaga and Lev and everyone else exactly the same. That ship has sailed and Kuroo has been left at shore, looking out for them but not quite able to rejoin them again. That was what had brought Kuroo out here, alone into the night, and that is probably what is on Sawamura's mind as well, the both of them two captains stranded on shore when they had been so used to the sea under their feet all this time.
Kuroo is not ready to let go but he has to, borne ceaselessly into the future by the passage of time, and when tomorrow morning comes, things will be different for Nekoma. The same goes for Sawamura and Karasuno after a long trip back to Miyagi. And where will Kuroo be, in relation to Sawamura, after all has been said and done and high school is over? Fear seizes Kuroo as he realises that he might lose Sawamura to the uncertainty of the future once this night has passed and if Kuroo doesn't tell Sawamura all his muddling feelings now, he might never be able to.
Both of them fumble to a stop and Kuroo says hurriedly, "You first."
Sawamura opens his mouth like he is about to argue but then he seems to decide against it and Kuroo is suddenly acutely aware that it is only the both of them out here in the night, leaning against the cool metal of the railings, so close to each other that their fingertips could touch if Kuroo reached for him. Kuroo shivers, clenching and unclenching his hand instinctively.
Sawamura shoves his hands into his pockets, pulling his gaze up from the ground to meet Kuroo's, and that half-smile is back on his face, apologetic instead of wry. "I'm sorry for getting the mood down like that. I make fun of Asahi for that kind of attitude all the time and here I am doing the exact same thing as that negative beard. I mean, it's not like we're going to die after this. I'm going to keep playing volleyball in university and who knows? Maybe we'll face each other at the Nationals again." The conviction is back in Sawamura's voice, blazing bright in his eyes as he looks back at Kuroo, and Kuroo's chest swells with an answering fire.
"The cats and crows in university," Kuroo says. "I like it. We're not leaving the battle of the trash heap completely to the juniors."
"We can't lose to them," Sawamura declares, his words echoing loudly into the night. He looks relieved, glowing under the street lamps now that he has said what he wanted to say, and he turns his head to regard Kuroo with a curious look. "So what was it you were going to say, Kuroo?"
"Uh," Kuroo says intelligently because this doesn't seem to be the right time to talk about his feelings now that they have just extended their rivalry into the far, unforeseeable future, no takebacks allowed. This means that they are going to see each other again, and Kuroo will make it happen, which also means that maybe Kuroo doesn't really need to talk his feelings now. Not just yet.
Two years have passed since Kuroo graduated from high school and he thinks if he doesn't tell Daichi that he loves him, he might actually die. They were both wrong about facing off in the Nationals during their university years because as fate would have it, their paths not only ended up crossing, but had merged into the same path.
Kuroo has been playing volleyball for two years by Daichi's side and sometimes they show up at the High School Nationals to cheer on their alma maters and heckle the other side, and each other, mercilessly before going out for supper. It is a comfortable arrangement, with Daichi so close to Kuroo that sometimes Daichi sleeps on him when it is too late in the night because Kuroo's apartment is closer than Daichi's and he has only one bed and Daichi cuddles up to the nearest warm thing in his sleep and Kuroo just... doesn't feel like sleeping that night.
They had just spent the day watching Nekoma, Karasuno, and Fukurodani play on different courts and tonight feels like it is shaping up to be one of those sleepless nights as they walk back from a nearby ramen place and Daichi hides a yawn behind his hand.
"Sleeping over tonight?" Kuroo asks Daichi casually like he isn't about to sign off eight full hours of sleep to lying sleepless next to his longtime crush and praying that he doesn't get an inappropriate boner.
During those two years together on court and in school, Kuroo has gotten comfortable enough to call Daichi by his first name like everyone else does and his constant proximity to Daichi has done nothing to diminish his burning crush on Daichi. In fact, it has only gotten worse over the years and Daichi has probably labelled Kuroo as the twitchiest person in the world since Kuroo reacts to every little brush of their shoulders or accidental touch of their hands when he doesn't get enough time to brace himself for it. It drives Kuroo crazy. Daichi drives Kuroo crazy, and Kuroo can't even blame him for it because Daichi doesn't know what he does to Kuroo.
"Mm. If it's fine with you." Daichi yawns again, without bothering to cover it up this time.
"Well, since you seem to love cramped spaces and cats," Kuroo says. "Who am I to deny you that?"
"You better be careful. I might actually end up moving in if you keep accommodating me like this," Daichi teases.
And Kuroo thinks fervently, Please do.
A grey smudge of a cat greets them as Kuroo opens the door to his tiny student apartment, twining around Kuroo's ankles before going over to claim Daichi as hers. Kuroo leaves Daichi to coo over her and switches on the lights, barely even flinching when a black shadow on his kitchen counter reveals itself to be another cat.
"Off," Kuroo tells her, jerking his thumb at the floor, and he is predictably ignored as she curls herself up into a lazy ball of black fluff.
Kuroo ignores her back for the rest of the night and preparations for the night go as usual, with Kuroo and Daichi taking turns in the shower before crawling into the only bed in the room, pushed up against the wall under the window. Daichi is wearing a spare set of Kuroo's pyjamas that Kuroo has thought of as Daichi's the first time he borrowed them and Kuroo tries not to look at him too long or his heart might actually somersault its way out of his mouth and into Daichi's pyjama-clad lap.
"Night, Kuroo," Daichi says, turning his back on Kuroo, which is completely unnecessary because Kuroo knows that he is going to turn over and inch his way into Kuroo's space the moment he falls asleep.
"Night," Kuroo mumbles back, sticking as close to the wall as possible as he lies on his back in the dark and braces himself for the inevitable.
It doesn't take long and in the fifteen minutes it takes for Daichi to fall asleep completely, Kuroo's bed is invaded by two smaller warm bodies, one of which proceeds to tuck herself into the warm space between Kuroo's legs and the other of which jumps right off the bed to find a roomier sleeping arrangement elsewhere. Then Daichi turns over and Kuroo stiffens as an arm throws itself against Kuroo's chest.
A minute passes and Daichi's leg joins his arm in pinning Kuroo down, narrowly missing the cat, and as another minute ticks by, Daichi is half-lying on Kuroo, with his face buried in the crook of Kuroo's neck. This is life for him now, Kuroo thinks resignedly, an uncomfortable kind of hot and sweaty with one cat and one Daichi crowding his space while he gets absolutely no sleep in his own bed. Daichi is right—maybe Kuroo should move out and let Daichi move in instead since he sleeps so soundly in Kuroo's bed.
But, Kuroo thinks to himself logically, or as logically as his mind will allow him at two in the morning, then he would miss out on looking at Daichi when he sleeps and Daichi's sleeping face is unreasonably cute. His cheek is pressed against Kuroo's shoulder and Kuroo is pretty sure that there is going to be a gross patch of drool on his shirt tomorrow, but he doesn't have the heart to move Daichi. From where Kuroo is, his vision is mostly filled with Daichi's hair, which smells like Kuroo's shampoo, but when his eyes travel lower, he can make out the line of Daichi's nose and cheekbone, his eyelashes a dark line across his skin as he sleeps. He isn't snoring but his breath touches Kuroo's neck in rhythmic puffs of hot air and Kuroo shivers with his awareness of it.
Daichi stirs, nuzzling his face against Kuroo's neck, and Kuroo freezes, trying to coax Daichi back to sleep with the sheer power of thought. Then Daichi relaxes, his face tilted at a different angle from before, and Kuroo relaxes with him, his chest dipping under Daichi's hold as he lets out a quiet sigh of relief. Slowly, carefully, once Daichi doesn't seem to be interested in moving anymore, Kuroo cranes his neck and, after a moment of hesitation, drops a kiss to the crown of Daichi's head. That is all Kuroo ever allows himself, since they aren't dating when Kuroo has a confession lodged in his throat he doesn't think he will ever be able to unstick until the end of the world.
He wants to tell Daichi about his feelings one day and he has thought of it so many times again and again, but it has been two years and then more and Kuroo has never ever been able to find the right time for it. Maybe he should have done it two years ago, at the end of the battle of the trash heap, or even further back from that, when they were breaking apart after the training camp. Maybe Daichi is right and Kuroo is a scaredy cat, flinching away from the thought of getting this close to Daichi and then losing it all. He never thought that he would fall so hard for Sawamura Daichi and now that he has, he doesn't know what to do with himself.
"You never get any sleep when I sleep over, do you?" comes a murmur and Kuroo looks down sharply to see Daichi blinking back sleep, his brown eyes catching the moonlight streaming through the window.
"Nonsense," Kuroo denies, his voice rising high like a contained scream, too startled to even properly startle. "I sleep just fine."
"Kuroo, every time I shift, you squeak like a dying mouse. I'm surprised the cats haven't pounced on you yet."
"They don't like mice. They've never seen one in their pampered lives, the spoilt things. They only eat my food when they're supposed to be eating theirs," Kuroo rambles. "Why are you still awake, Daichi?"
"Why are you?" Daichi retorts. He has made absolutely no move to detach himself from Kuroo even though he does that every time he wakes up in Kuroo's bed. Kuroo goes deathly still, like if he doesn't move, maybe Daichi won't notice that he is still cuddling Kuroo.
"I'm going to sleep. Now. Right this instance," Kuroo replies and shuts his eyes as if that is all it takes. "I'm asleep now."
Daichi huffs out a laugh and it tickles Kuroo's neck, making him shiver when he is supposed to be sleeping. Daichi's hand on Kuroo's chest moves and Kuroo prepares for Daichi to roll away to the other side of the bed, only for Daichi to reach for Kuroo's hand and link his fingers with his tentatively.
"Do you like me?" Daichi asks and there is something soft and uncertain about his voice that stops the instinctive denial from rising out of Kuroo's throat.
Time stops for the barest moment as Kuroo considers all the options laid out before him at this very instance, in a situation so surreal, so fragile and dreamlike, that Kuroo would have thought he was dreaming if he didn't know for a fact that he hadn't fallen asleep. He can't, not with Daichi curled around him like it is the most natural thing in the world for him to do and Kuroo finds himself soaking in his warmth, his touch, the closeness of his presence, and wishing that Daichi would never let him go.
"Yes," Kuroo says, his voice as soft as Daichi's, even though there isn't anyone else in the room except for them. A sensation of lightness bubbles up in his chest, expanding outwards and pushing off the pressure that has gripped his heart every since he realised that he had fallen for Daichi and hadn't stopped falling even after that.
"Not as a friend?"
"As a friend, a rival, and so much more," Kuroo says, the lightness within him growing with every word. "Daichi, I want to sleep next to you like this every night."
"So do I. Now that we've gotten that sorted out, go to sleep, Kuroo."
It takes Kuroo a while to process that but once he does, he shakes Daichi urgently. "Wait wait wait. Daichi, you can't just say something like that and expect me to go to sleep. What do you mean by that?"
Daichi refuses to get up, keeping his face pressed to Kuroo's shoulder as he mumbles, "It's exactly as I said."
Kuroo's hand stills. Then he says, "No, wait. It still doesn't clear things up. Does that mean that you like me too or that you're declaring your intention to move in but like in a platonic way—"
Daichi finally moves, lifting his head up from Kuroo's shoulder, and Kuroo shuts his mouth with a startled click as Daichi looms over him, the moonlight slicing across his face and illuminating his features clearly for Kuroo to see.
Then Daichi kisses him on the lips and it ends with a skip of his heart, a hitch in his breath, and a startling realisation that:
Sawamura Daichi likes me.
The autumn of Kuroo's eighteenth year comes full circle with the spring of his twentieth year and in it, Kuroo realises that perhaps this was why people called it a crush when his heart, which had been under pressure from the turmoil of liking Sawamura Daichi but never ever telling him for fear of something Kuroo can't quite remember now, finally sighs in relief, swelling to its fullest now that he can finally breathe. Or maybe still not quite, because Daichi is stealing the breath right from his lungs through his lips and Kuroo is letting him win when he should be pushing back, giving Daichi as good as he gets just like he has done all these years together.
So Kuroo kisses him back.