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i. june

 

It's hot.

It's summer proper, though June is still new, and damp heat drapes itself along Daichi's shoulders like an overeager lover. He's soaked in sunlight and sweat when he straightens up from underneath the hood of the car he's been inspecting for the past half hour, stretches, and breathes out a weighty sigh made heavier still by the pressure of the heat and the stillness of the air.

The black-on-orange crow logo on the front door of the Karasuno auto garage seems to shimmer under the relentless light of the sun. Daichi glances around at his employees--most of whom are in various states of withering from sun exposure--and wonders if it's worth the trouble to call the air conditioning maintenance crew one more time, just to see if they can't come in any earlier than next week. Working outdoors is draining the life from everyone Daichi lays eyes on.

Well, almost everyone, anyway.

Hinata and Kageyama--who are two of the most brilliant and most stress-inducing new hires Daichi's ever taken on--are putting on their usual show of heat-defying exuberance: Kageyama is taking sharp swipes at Hinata with a grease-stained rag, and Hinata, in between side-steps, is shouting about Kageyama being his personal mechanic when he becomes a professional street racer.

 "You can't be a professional street racer, dumbass. Street racing is illegal," Kageyama snaps, whipping the rag at Hinata again.

 "No way," Hinata gasps, as startled as though Kageyama had just told him the earth was not, in fact, round. He turns to Daichi, wide-eyed and pleading, and says, "Is that true, Sawamura-san?"

 Daichi hides a snort in the damp collar of his t-shirt. Suga speaks up for him and says, not unkind, "Sorry, Hinata, but that's the truth."

"How could you possibly not know that?" asks Tsukishima, who's on his way out of the garage at the end of his shift. His glasses are sweat-slick and slide down the bridge of his nose almost every time he blinks, so the look he gives Hinata carries only half the derisive impact he'd likely intended it to have. "There's no way you couldn't know. Tell me you're kidding. "

Yamaguchi--who's been hosing oil off the pavement outside and looks like he's close to wilting under the heat--turns to Tsukishima and says, "I don't think he's kidding, Tsukki…Hinata, did you really not know that? I thought you've always wanted to race."

"I have!" Hinata nearly wails, ducking under Kageyama's arm one last time. Kageyama heaves a grating sigh and gives up, tucking the rag back into his belt as he sits down on the pavement.

 "You can still race, Hinata," Daichi says, placating. "There are plenty of professional circuits in Japan. You'll be able to race almost anywhere--as long as you're fast enough, anyway."

 Hinata blanches a bit at the dig, but that doesn't last long--he balls up his fists at his side, lifts his chin, and says, "It's not about being a professional, Sawamura-san. I want to build the best car Japan's ever seen--and then I want to win every race I enter. That's my goal!"

 "Alright, alright," Daichi says, chuckling. He recognizes that sort of passion, to be sure, feels an echo of it in his own blood--but he knows the value of practicality, of staying grounded, of waiting and wishing and working. "But before you do that, you should probably learn how to change out the oil like you're supposed to be doing. How's that for a start?"

Kageyama barks out a laugh, and Hinata executes what would have been a spectacular flying tackle if Kageyama hadn't rolled away at the last second. And then they're off again, chasing each other around the parking lot with all the energy Daichi can feel seeping from him under the June sky.

Daichi shakes his head, wipes his brow, and turns to Suga, who's eyeing Hinata and Kageyama like just watching them is making him tired. He says, gesturing to the heat haze rising off the metal of the car next to them, "I'm not sure how much business we can handle in this sort of heat. Especially without the air conditioning working properly…"

 "Oh, don't say that," Suga chides, frowning. "I'm sure we're going to have plenty of business this summer! Just you wait and see, Daichi."

 "Right," Daichi says. Suga gives him a look that says he'd give Daichi a solid jab to the ribs if he could summon the energy to lift his arms, and Daichi tries for a little more confidence this time as he rephrases. "You're right. This summer will be a good one."

 

ii. 

 

Daichi knows something is going on the minute he steps into the garage on one particular mid-June morning. 

Usually 'something going on' means Kageyama and Hinata are trying to build engines out of scrap metal, or Nishinoya has found the blowtorch again (Daichi doesn't know why they still keep that around the garage, honestly), or someone somewhere is doing something to make Daichi's 'trouble radar' go off. Today, Daichi's trouble radar is silent; today Daichi knows something's off because Takeda, who does accounting and advertising and god-only-knows what else, is currently in the garage, looking entirely too worked up.

Tanaka isn't helping; he's shirtless, as usual, and making sharp and generally vulgar gestures that Daichi thinks are meant to explain something about pistons firing. Takeda is nodding, wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked, when Daichi reaches them.

"Daichi-san!" Tanaka says, grinning, "Look, Take-chan came by to--" 

"Put your shirt on, please," Daichi interrupts. "I'm sure you came to work wearing one, right?"

Tanaka looks vaguely put out, but dashes off to do so anyway. Daichi sighs and turns to Takeda, who's pushing his glasses further up on his nose and offering a bright smile.

"Tanaka-kun is very energetic," Takeda says. He's slightly out of breath, which isn't surprising; Tanaka's level of energy is always rather impressive, even now, given the heat.

"You could say that again."

 "In a good way, of course--oh! Is Ukai-kun around? I have some interesting news!"

 "I'm not sure..." Daichi purses his lips, scans the garage. "Ennoshita! Make sure Tanaka's wearing a shirt--and then see if Ukai-san is in the front office, would you?"

 Ennoshita looks up from his paperwork with the same slightly harassed look Daichi himself so often wears, nods, and heads off in the direction Tanaka had gone. For the umpteenth time this week, Daichi is grateful that at least one member of his junior staff has their head on level.

 Ennoshita need not go far, though; he's still manipulating Tanaka into putting on his shirt when Ukai--the current owner of the Karasuno garage (not that you'd guess from looking at him)--stomps into the garage proper.

 "Found him," Ennoshita calls, dry, from the other end of the garage.

 Daichi gives Ennoshita a wave and turns his attention back to Ukai, who's growling, "You called me sixteen times in thirty minutes. I just saw you two hours ago--the hell's going on?"

 "I managed to get in contact with Nekomata-san!" Takeda is grinning ear to ear, and Ukai sort of looks like he's choking. Daichi wonders if he should be worried. "One of his drivers is going to be in the local race this summer, and they agreed to work with our garage!"

 "What?"

Takeda beams, bounces on his toes. "He's here right now, actually."

Ukai makes a noise caught somewhere between pissed off and stunned, and Takeda has to nudge him into movement again. He herds Ukai back through the garage and into the front office and Daichi, wondering what exactly Takeda's gotten them into, follows in their wake.

In the front office, when they arrive, is a man who looks to be around Daichi's age. He's all long legs in well-fitting pants and broad, sharp shoulders; very much that edgy kind of handsome, if Daichi's honest. There's something about him, though--the keen edge of his gaze and the canny little smirk on his face, maybe--that lends him the air of a cleverly-rigged game at the fair. That same something is what makes Daichi bristle when he offers his hand and a faux-genuine smile.

(He has a strong grip, though. Daichi thinks that says something about him.)

"This is Kuroo-kun," Takeda says, with an excited little bob of his head. "He's considering hiring our garage to fix up his car before the--you know--"

"The summer race?"

Takeda's smile is ear-to-ear. "Yes! I'm sure you've heard of the group he's affiliated with--they're called Nekoma--though they haven't worked with our garage in quite some time."

"Always movin' around like a bunch of stray cats," Ukai says, gruff. "The old man who gets 'em their cars used to race with my gramps."

Takeda, at Ukai's shoulder, is a ray of eager enthusiasm; Daichi can't help but smile before thanking him, sincere, and turning to Kuroo, who gives Daichi a quick once-over and a too-bright smile as he gestures outside. 

"The car's out front if you wanna take a look," Kuroo says.

Daichi resists the urge to reply with a somewhat less-than-polite well, that is my job, and follows Kuroo out to the parking lot.

Sitting under the high noon sun, gleaming bright enough to make Daichi squint, is a car so slick even rain wouldn’t stick to it, lipstick red and just as glossy. It's clearly meant for racing--the lines of it scream speed and aerodynamic efficiency--and Daichi approaches it the same way one would a sleeping beast: he keeps a few feet between himself and the humming mass of hot metal and dark glass, listens for the lively purr of the engine. Daichi would say six cylinders, though whatever modifications lie under the hood are anyone's guess.

"Not bad, huh," Kuroo says. He's a few feet away, hand on hip, watching as Daichi walks circles around his car. Daichi wonders if he always seems so smug, or if that's just an unfortunate first impression.

Nonetheless: "Yeah, not bad at all…and you want modifications?"

"More like maintenance and the occasional upgrade if necessary. I'll be driving pretty often over the next few weeks."

 Kuroo's voice drops low and firm, and something about the way he says it--determined, like he's got a goal in mind--piques Daichi's interest, makes him look at Kuroo straight on.

 "Oh?"

 Kuroo's shrug is airy, lighter than his voice would belie. "Practice makes perfect, y'know."

 Interesting, Daichi thinks; he gives the car one last look, circles back around, meets Kuroo's eyes. He can feel it in his gut already: this is going to be interesting. "The race is in August, right?"

 "Yeah." Kuroo's smile spreads slow; he cocks his head, looks between Daichi and his car like he's issuing a challenge. "How 'bout it?"

 "Deal," Daichi says, and when they shake on it Daichi feels the pressure down to his bones.

 

iii.

 

It's been a week since Kuroo's first visit, and progress is….slow.

 Slow meaning negligible, and negligible meaning nonexistent; Daichi's spent a solid seven days just thinking about what to do with this sort of situation.

 'This sort of situation' being that Daichi is officially--thanks to some nudging from Takeda and Ukai's blessing--in charge of fixing up Kuroo's car for the race in August, which is all well and good--except for the fact that Daichi's never headed up work on a street racer before. Especially not for an event so big, either. The race commemorates the end of summer and heralds the coming of winter--which means icy roads and frozen-up engines and a general decrease on the number of races possible for the season--and is well on its way to becoming a local tradition. And, like that isn't incentive enough, there's also a prize on the line: an obscene amount of money, the kind of money Daichi doesn't even want to think about because he's sure it'll give him some sort of headache.

 "Are you ever going to stop moping and actually work?"

 Daichi frowns up at Suga, who's armed with an oversized screwdriver and a fresh grease rag. He crosses his arms over his chest and says, firm, "I'm not moping." 

"Then what would you call this?" Suga asks, gesturing expansively with the screwdriver at...well, at everything in his immediate surroundings, really, but mostly at Daichi, who's been sitting at his desk for three hours and hasn't moved once.

 "Thinking."

"Right." There isn't a single ounce of belief in Suga's voice, and Daichi can't fault him for it. "Well, what're you thinking about?"

"Work."

 Suga gives him a you're being difficult look--brows drawn, disappointed frown, the works--and says, "What's the problem, then?" 

"I haven't done much work with this kind of car before," Daichi admits, staring into the murky depths of this morning's now-cold coffee. "I don't….I don't really know where to start."

Suga hums, looks skyward in thought. "It would probably help if we could see Kuroo in action--oh!"

His face is lit up when Daichi looks at him again; it's with a warranted measure of apprehension that Daichi asks, "What?"

 "He said something about a race when he came by the other day. We should go!"

"…what?"

 "A race! Not an organized race or anything. I think it's just him and a few friends. It could be a good experience, though--it'll be fun, and you'll get a chance to see how he uses the car."

 Daichi blinks slow, shakes his head. "...okay. How do you know all of this stuff?"

 "It's called talking." Suga puts his hands on his hips, gives Daichi another one of those looks. "You should try it, Daichi."

 "Alright, alright," Daichi concedes, because he does trust Suga's judgment. "We'll go."

 Suga brandishes the screwdriver again, this time in victory. "Good! Now, if you're ready to get back to work, I think Hinata and Kageyama need help with the tires."

 

iv.

 

Now, Daichi's seen plenty of organized races. Hell, when he was younger he'd dreamed of being a racer; it was only natural that a good number of his formative years were spent in front of the television or in the spectator seats lining open-air racing tracks, watching cars fly over pavement like fresh-fired bullets.

 Daichi thought he'd seen it all; but he's never seen anything quite like this.

 This isn't some well-organized spectator sport; this is three cars, a back street just out of reach of the noise and bustle of the city, and a crowd the likes of which--in both size and variety--Daichi has never before seen in one place before. It's the sporadic swell of engines growling; it's heat rising out of tailpipes in waves; it's Daichi's heartbeat tripping over itself as he looks out over the lights and the impending rush of it all.

It's exciting.

 Suga says as much when they get there; he's staring slack-mouthed at sleek cars, pure enthusiasm reflected in the light in his eyes, looking very much the way Daichi feels. Daichi doesn't blame him at all.

 "This is so cool," Suga breathes.

 Daichi nods, too busy marveling to say anything. The atmosphere is washed in awe, and Daichi finds himself wide-eyed, trying to take in everything all at once; though, naturally, as always, the first things to catch his attention are the three cars lined up and primed and waiting on the street.

 They're works of art in their own right, especially the car closest to them. It's Kuroo's; Daichi can tell by the slick black paint job and the smug purr of its engine and the person leaning up against its hood (tall, lanky, distinctly recognizable bedhead). It's a beautiful piece of machinery, Daichi has to admit--no matter how its owner comes off.

 Suga catches him looking that way. He grins, elbows Daichi in the side, and says, "We came here to watch him race. You might as well go talk to him."

 He gives a pointed look to Daichi's arms, which are crossed over his chest; Daichi folds them tighter, purses his lips, and, after a moment of deliberation, heads over to the cars.

 Kuroo glances up once when he sees Daichi coming--and then he looks up again, like he's seeing something out of place, something he can't quite identify. That confusion is gone by the time Daichi reaches him, though; all that's left of it is a smile--welcoming, if not a bit surprised.

 "Hey." Kuroo says, rocking upright off the hood of the car. Daichi watches him straighten up into something a shade nobler than his seemingly customary lazy slump and stretch, arms above his head, movements already fluid, before he gestures to nothing in particular. "How about it? Pretty cool, yeah?"

 Yes is Daichi's instinctive and genuine response; he swallows that down, though, and says something a little less wholly impressed. "Yeah. But aren't these illegal?"

 Kuroo grins, says, "Only if you get caught," and really, Daichi's already got the feeling he shouldn't have expected anything less.

 "How often does that happen?"

 "Hmm…" Kuroo taps his lip, pensive. His eyes light up wicked and bright after a moment of thought. "Bokuto over there--" he points at a midnight black racer studded with first-place-gold detailing, whose engine, even from a distance, is loud enough to rival Kuroo's "--once lost so badly that he quit early and parked in the middle of the street and almost got arrested…and Oikawa actually did get arrested a month ago, but that was just for a noise violation."

 The second car, a few yards away, is bleach-white, here and there streaked with clean mint-green accents; it's on and running, but its engine is quiet as a hush. Daichi raises an eyebrow. "Noise violation?"

 Kuroo laughs. "Yeah. Oikawa's boyfriend--if you ever meet him, don't tell him I called him that--is a cop, so he wouldn't arrest Oikawa for anything that could really get him in trouble. Noise violations, though…"

 "Ah," Daichi says, trying not to sound too nonplussed. "So it happens pretty often."

 "More or less." Kuroo's all smiles and cheer; a little odd, considering he'd just been discussing his friends' arrest records, but Daichi can respect that resilient kind of enthusiasm.

 A ways off, the crowd gathering on the sidelines takes up their volume with new vigor; Daichi spots someone making their way toward the street, head and shoulders twice over above the surrounding spectators.

 "That's Lev," Kuroo says, lifting his chin; "…that's Lev," he repeats, this time long-suffering, as the aforementioned mass of thin limbs disappears briefly below crowd level.

 Lev reappears on hands and knees at the edge of the crowd. He pops to his feet (and only gets tangled up in his own legs once, which earns him an approving noise from Kuroo) and bounces over to Kuroo's car, all mile-long strides and swinging arms, and when he stops just short of them, beaming, Daichi realizes he doesn't even come up to one of Lev's glittery tiger-print shoulders. Lev is three days' worth of slim legs in skintight leather and thick-soled shiny black boots, tall enough that even Kuroo has to tilt his head a fraction to look up at him.

 "Kuroo-san!" Lev chirps, eager, looking like he's barely holding himself back from bouncing on the spot. "Can I ride with you today?"

 Kuroo doesn't answer; instead he raises an eyebrow, gives Lev a quick once-over, plucks at the shoulder of his shirt. "Who dressed you? Yaku never would've let you out of the house in this."

 "Well--"

 "Did you change after you left?"

 Lev lets out a nervous laugh, rubs at the back of his head. "Well, Yaku-san gave me these pants, but the shirt was so plain! And Kozume-san said I should do what I wanted, so…"

 In this moment, Kuroo reminds Daichi of a kindergarten teacher trying not to laugh at something one of their students had done so as not to encourage them: he pinches the bridge of his nose, shakes his head, and says, "You're fine for now, but don't let Yaku catch you wearing that."

 Lev looks down at the sequined tiger-print shirt hanging from his shoulders. "But it's so cool!"

 "Of course it is," Kuroo says, dry. "And no, you can't ride along. You're too tall to fit in the car."

 "I can make myself smaller!"

 "And how would you do that? Besides, you're supposed to be starting the race, remember? That's just as important."

 Lev goes bright all over and straightens up even further (which is sort of concerning, because, really, how tall is he?) before pulling a bright red square of fabric from his back pocket. "I can do that!"

 "That's good to hear," Kuroo says. He reaches up, claps Lev on the shoulder, spins him, gives him a push. "Now, get on the starting line. And don't move until after we've gone past you--if you get hurt, Yaku's gonna kill you and me both."

 "Got it!"

 Daichi watches Lev skip off, glittering threefold in the glare of headlights, to take his place at the starting line: a straight slash drawn in thick yellow paint, run through and through with impatient tire marks. Lev straddles it, unfurls the handkerchief, snaps it open with a sharp flick of his wrist that seems more dangerous than befits the child-wide set of his eyes.

 "Does he not race?" Daichi asks, gesturing in Lev's direction. Kuroo rolls his eyes.

 "Not yet," Kuroo says, "and not for lack of trying. He's a model, if you'd believe it…he came out here to take some pictures at first and ended up sticking around."

 "A model, huh…"

 "He's a good kid." On either side of them, Bokuto and Oikawa are rolling closer to the starting line; Kuroo, in accordance, swings open the door of his own car, throws Daichi a sly sideways glance and a matching smirk. "You wanna ride?"

 There's a part of Daichi--a large one--that wants to know if Kuroo's special skills, beyond racing, include the ability to make anything sound like a poorly veiled innuendo; and there's another part of him, smaller only in the slightest, that wants to say yes, because there's something in the atmosphere--a hint of adrenaline lacing the gasoline-tinted air, maybe--that makes Daichi think getting in that too-slick racer might be a novelty he wants to assess for himself.

 But he's not here for that rush. Not today.

 "I'll watch," Daichi says, gesturing toward the crowd gathering on the sidelines. When he turns that way he catches sight of Suga, who's lifting his hand to wave and grinning like he knows something--or like he's grinning at Kuroo, who's looking over Daichi's head and in Suga's direction.

"That's Sugawara, yeah?"

"Huh?" Kuroo's waving at Suga, and Suga's waving back, and that grin is only getting wider. Damnit. "Ah--yeah, that's him."

 Kuroo turns back to Daichi, still smiling. "Thought he looked familiar."

 "Yeah, well. You'll get used to seeing him around soon enough--look, you should be in your car already, right? I'll get out of your way."

"What, you're not gonna wish me luck?"

 Daichi glances over his shoulder, raises an eyebrow. "D'you need it?"

 Kuroo's smile goes wide, bright, belligerent. His voice is still even, though, and he's all confidence when he says,  "No, but isn't that the thing to say before a race?"

 Daichi understands that. He can appreciate the need for a bit of sentiment, for a sense of commemoration--but the look in Kuroo's eyes reads more like a challenge, and Daichi's never been able to turn one down.

 "Well," Daichi says, glancing down the length of Kuroo's car with deliberate slowness, "how about this: when--if--" and that purposeful slip makes Kuroo's eyes go narrow "--you lose, we'll talk shop over dinner. Your treat."

 Kuroo grins, slides into his car, shuts the door. Daichi raises an eyebrow as Kuroo rolls down the window, leans out, and says, "So you're taking me to dinner when I win?"

 His grin is cocky, competitive, begrudgingly infectious; Daichi can't help but let a shade of the same sneaky expression slip onto his face. "If you win, yes."

 "I'm free Thursday night," Kuroo says, giving Daichi what looks an awful lot like a poorly executed wink. "We can talk details at the finish line."

 Daichi rolls his eyes, says, "Fine. I'll see you there," and turns, sharp, determined not to encourage Kuroo any further. He only makes it about five feet, though, before Kuroo's engine cranks from a purr to a roar--once, twice--and when he looks over his shoulder, Kuroo, still grinning, tosses him a wave before pulling away towards the starting line.

 Suga is waiting when Daichi reaches the edge of the crowd; he's grinning, eyes bright in a way that means absolutely nothing good. When Daichi raises an eyebrow, he says, "You were over there for a while."

 "We were talking," Daichi says, ignoring the intonation in Suga's voice. "Business stuff."

 "I'm sure."

 Daichi's aware he's frowning at nothing in particular, but he can't quite bring himself to stop, even though Suga's laughing at him--nudging him in the side, now, stifling his giggles long enough to say, "Pay attention. You'll miss the start," as he points back towards the street.

 Even from a distance, Lev cuts a striking figure; something sharp has sunk into the lines of him, makes him look less like the wobbling tower he'd been not ten minutes ago and more like a person whose stride could knock someone down to their knees. He's all angles as he raises the handkerchief high above his head and points to each car in turn.

 Three roars, low and thick, rise from the throats of the cars at the starting line.

Lev swings the handkerchief down.

 The cars take off.

 

--

 

Kuroo doesn't lose. Not technically.

 "If anyone lost, it was Oikawa."

 Kuroo tilts his head toward the mint-and-white car on the other side of the dingy parking lot a mile and a half from the intersection that had been designated the finish line. Daichi had gotten there just in time to watch Bokuto hop out of his car, whooping at the top of his lungs, and smack both Kuroo and Oikawa on the back as they took to stable land again. Kuroo had traded matching sour glances with Oikawa before shaking Bokuto off; now, after wading through the crowd of spectators either mourning or celebrating the outcomes of their bets, he's leaning against the side of his car and trying to defend his loss to Daichi, who's standing in front of him, arms folded, trying not to laugh. "He came in after both Bokuto and I did."

Daichi's got half a smirk on his lips. "You still lost to Bokuto, though."

 "Barely. He pulled in at the same time I did."

 "And a foot ahead of you," Daichi points out.

 A sigh and a click of tongue behind teeth make Daichi's smirk go wide. "Alright, fine. Second place it is."

 "It was still pretty impressive, though."

 "Yeah, well. Second place is second place." Kuroo shrugs, straightens up, pats the frame of his car as if in consolation. When he looks at Daichi again he's got an eyebrow cocked and the beginning of a smile on his lips. "Though I'll defend myself over dinner, if you were serious about that bet."

 Daichi'd been half-kidding, honestly. He'd made the bet more out of competitive spite than anything; but Kuroo sounds sincere, and Daichi's never turned down a meal--especially not a free one.  

 "You said Thursday, right?" Kuroo nods, and Daichi makes a mental run-through of his weekly schedule. "That's fine. I'm free after work."

 Kuroo nods again, drums his fingers against the frame, swings the car door open. "Good. I'll call you."

 "Fine...wait, how--"

 The engine of Kuroo's car takes up its voice anew, cutting Daichi off mid-sentence; Kuroo is grinning, rakish and cocky, when he says, "Fair warning: I'm a cheap date."

 And then, as though that's an appropriate way to end a conversation, Kuroo slams the door shut, gives the engine a good revving, and takes off.

 Daichi's answering splutter-and-sigh is quiet in the wake of Kuroo's engine. He purses his lips, shakes his head, and heads over to the impromptu winner's circle, wondering how exactly Kuroo had gotten his number.

 

v.

 

Thursday rolls around faster than Daichi had expected.  

 Dinner is an easy affair: Kuroo calls him up on thursday afternoon with a "Hey there, Sawamura," and the address of a ramen place Daichi thinks he might've visited once when he was very much drunk and not very much discerning. But free food is free food, and Daichi does have a bet to collect on; he figures, hey, how bad could it be?, and tells Kuroo he'll meet him at eight.

 The shop is about the same as Daichi remembers it, though Kuroo is a new detail; he's waiting when Daichi walks up, still wearing that same leather jacket from a few weeks ago even though the day's heat hasn't yet thinned out under the weight of the night. He looks ridiculous--a little handsome, true, but mostly ridiculous, and Daichi bites back a smile as he stops just short of where Kuroo stands.

 (Briefly, Daichi wonders if by now, with two weeks' worth of acquaintance under their belts, a handshake is still too formal; he decides not, just to be safe, and Kuroo takes his hand with a laugh and the same firm grip he'd had the very first time they met.)

 "How'd you find this place?" Daichi asks as Kuroo gestures toward the restaurant, grin expectant and wide on his face. "It's…"

 "Cozy? Eclectic?"

"…interesting," Daichi supplies, trying not to laugh.

 Kuroo's smile goes wry as he shrugs. "This place is actually pretty close to my apartment. Cheap, quick--"

 "Not eclectic?"

 "And eclectic," Kuroo finishes, giving Daichi a look that falls on him equal parts quelling and playful. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, Sawamura."

 That is, at the most basic level, a pretty good summation of Daichi's outlook on life. It's served him well so far throughout the years; why should his particular brand of optimism let him down now?

 "Alright," Daichi concedes, and lets Kuroo usher him inside, fingers at his elbow. "Besides, it's not like I'm paying anyway, right?"

 Kuroo, just behind him, makes a disgruntled noise, makes Daichi laugh. He says, dry, "Yeah, yeah, rub it in. C'mon, let's get a seat."

 Over the course of the evening, the ramen proves to be better than what Daichi had expected, and Kuroo proves to be three things: much less smooth than he'd come off earlier; very knowledgeable about cars; and a good conversationalist. Daichi's not sure which of these revelations surprises him more, but he isn't complaining; it's nice to talk about things he loves with someone who has more than a passing knowledge about the subject (even if Kuroo does have an absurd fondness for American-made machinery that Daichi can't pinpoint as being genuine or joking). He could talk for hours about this sort of thing--and, tonight, he does.

 (The thing is that Kuroo makes it easy, makes Daichi forget they've only known each other for two weeks. Something about him, once Daichi gets past the smirking and the penchant for provocation, is sort of charming; maybe it's the readiness of his smile, or his quickness to tease, or just the fact that they're both a little tipsy. Regardless, Daichi spends the evening smiling more often than not.)

 (It's not until Daichi gets home--tired, full, and working on a buzz made pleasant from decent alcohol and maybe better-than-decent company--that he realizes they'd hardly talked about business at all.)

 

vi.

 

Kuroo's gang--and Daichi uses that term in the least hardcore way possible, because Kuroo's friends are about as intimidating as bunch of hissy cats--get along well with Daichi's garage. Hinata seems to have taken a shine to Kozume (who appears to be both the most adept and the least willing to put up with Kuroo's unique brand of being), and Daichi would swear that Yamamoto (who, when Daichi asked about his occupation, was only said to do heavy lifting, no further elaboration offered) was likely born to meet Nishinoya and Tanaka. Even Yaku, who has something like a magic touch when it comes to designing car frames and a bit of a temper to boot, ends up talking shop with Nishinoya. And it's--nice, sometimes, to see the garage so lively, to have a row of gorgeous cars shimmering in the heat out front, to witness the influx of business as the surrounding community takes note of the new popularity of the Karasuno garage.

It's also a little tiresome.

It's been three weeks since Kuroo's first visit to the garage, and today's visit--the fifth, if Daichi recalls correctly--has not been entirely productive. Yamamoto's pulled up footage of some race on his phone and Nishinoya and Tanaka are whooping over it at maximum volume, while Inuoka, whom Kuroo is attempting to teach to drive with a little more finesse than that of a child playing their first video game, is explaining his last drive to Hinata in complete and exuberant detail. Suga and Yaku are laughing about some strange facial expression Kageyama had made upon being asked to introduce himself properly. All anyone has managed to do was get Kuroo's tires changed--which is, admittedly, what they came to do--but the lack of any further productivity is a bit irksome.

 It's great that everyone is getting along so well, and Daichi doesn't quite mind having a full garage...it's just that--

 "I can barely hear myself think," Daichi grumbles, head in hands where he sits at his desk. He's been staring at the same workup order for the past ten minutes now, and he hasn't managed to write a single thing beyond his own damn name; he chalks it up to the incessant noise and the fact that his 'trouble radar' has been pinging all afternoon.

 The creaking of the chair to Daichi's left tells him Kuroo is leaning back a touch too far--now spinning--now coming to a stop. "Well, we don't have to do this now; we can talk later if you want. You're usually free on Thursdays, right?"

 Daichi lifts his head and his eyebrows in sync. "How did you--"

 "I'm good with details," Kuroo says, shrugging, though he doesn't quite meet Daichi's eyes. "If you'd rather do this some other time, we can meet up for dinner tomorrow. My treat, I suppose, since this--" he waves a hand at the chaos of the garage "--is partially my fault."

 "Partially?"

 The dryness of Daichi's tone makes Kuroo wince; he gives a weak laugh, but relents under Daichi's unimpressed gaze. He says, somewhat abashed, "Alright, it's all my fault."

 And that's…gratifying, definitely--a nice change from the air of faint smugness that's been clinging to him since they first met.

 It's maybe even a little cute.

 Daichi could get used to it--especially if teasing Kuroo is always this entertaining. He gives it a shot now: he tucks the corners of his mouth down, makes his voice drop flat, and says, as disapproving as possible, "You're disrupting my work."

 He manages to keep a straight face for the three seconds it takes for mild embarrassment to settle into the lines of Kuroo's face; when he laughs, Kuroo huffs and turns a faint shade of pink.

 "Alright, alright. I already said I'd buy you dinner--isn't that enough?"

 "As long as I get to pick the place," Daichi says, grinning. His answer is met with a groan made on behalf of Kuroo's wallet; he claps Kuroo hard on the back and says, "I have good taste, don't worry."

 Kuroo says, a touch sour, "That's not what I'm worried about," but doesn't shrug off Daichi's hand.

 

---

 

("And where are you going?"

There's a lilt to Suga's voice that rings a bit like a warning bell; Daichi winces and turns, briefly regretting that he'd brought anything nicer than a t-shirt and jeans as a change of clothes for dinner after work.

 "Out," he says. Suga gives him a look, and Daichi picks his words carefully when he elaborates."I'm meeting Kuroo to talk about work."

 "Isn't it a little late for work?"

 "Well…"

 Suga's tone goes sharper. "You'd better not be slacking off during business hours, Daichi!"

 "I'm not! It's just…" Daichi sighs, purses his lips, regroups. "His crew always tags along, and you know how loud Nishinoya and Tanaka and Hinata can be when they're….being themselves...It was impossible to get anything done earlier, so we just rescheduled."

 "Rescheduled."

 "Yes."

 "For dinner."

 "I didn't say--"

 "For dinner."

"…yes."

 Suga doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to.

Daichi doesn't stomp out of the garage, but it's a near thing.)

 

vii.

 

June is the beginning of a work in progress. June is long days spent dodging people running around the garage like children always underfoot; June is sunshine and long days; June is hard work and Nekoma and Kuroo in increasing amounts, until Daichi begins to forget what June is like without them.

 On one of those warm easy days where everything seems to be as it should, Daichi leans back in his chair, puts down his pen, and looks at Kuroo over a list of prospective engine modifications. “What’s this all for, anyway?”

 “My car.” Kuroo gives Daichi a look, like he’s wondering if the heat has gone to Daichi's head. “I thought we were on the same page with that.”

 He’s reclining in his chair, two legs on the floor and arms crossed behind his head, giving Daichi a grin that practically invites him to nudge the chair and see if he can give Kuroo a bit of a scare. Daichi doesn’t, though; instead he rolls his eyes and says, “No, I know that. I meant….how did you end up here, I guess. I’ve heard of this race, but I never knew anyone who’d actually been in it.”

 “Well,” Kuroo says, slow, “I’ve wanted to race since I was a kid. All of my video games were racing games, and I always had toy cars growing up….I was born for this sort of thing, y’know?”

 Daichi snorts, and Kuroo rolls his eyes. The slight tilt of his head is a quiet concession; he looks up at the ceiling, purses his lips, and adds, “I’d always wanted to run my own group, maybe get a couple of other people to race with me….Nekomata-san is the one who brought my group together, though. He gave me the first car I ever won a race in.” A chuckle, a shrug, a glance that skips from Daichi and into the corner of the room. “Winning this race...it just feels like something I should do.”

 And maybe this is what’s hidden under the snark and the teasing and the lightheartedness that Kuroo wears like a second skin: sincerity running deep like an untapped well, a vein of something warm and close and genuine that makes Daichi look at Kuroo like he’s seeing him for the first time again.

 (Though, once he does, Daichi sort of wishes he hadn’t. He thinks he likes the Kuroo that talks about racing the way people talk about dreams and smiles at his car like it’s something to be treasured; he likes the Kuroo that teases Hinata and seems a little taken aback by the vaguely menacing way Suga handles tools; he likes the Kuroo that gives him understated smiles and bumps their knees together when they sit at the same desk to talk shop.)

 (He likes Kuroo, and whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen.)

 

viii.

 

"Come out to the garage."

 They're out for dinner at Daichi's favorite ramen place, which--after several visits and no lack of argument--has been deemed superior to the cheap place around the corner from Kuroo's apartment, and has therefore become their designated Thursday-night haunt. Kuroo complains about both the distance and the slight hike in price, sure, but he still sits next to Daichi at the counter, still bumps their knees together whenever he swivels too far in his seat to say something, and--most importantly--still rolls his eyes and waves off Daichi's semi-genuine attempts to pay for his meal on at least half of their visits.

 This visit is one of those times; Kuroo had tapped his back pocket right when they'd walked in and said, "I'm pretty sure you paid last time. Can't have everyone here thinking I'm broke, yeah?"

 "You didn't look respectable to begin with," Daichi had teased, grinning; Kuroo had just rolled his eyes and pushed Daichi toward the counter.

 They'd spent twenty minutes in relative quiet, the way they usually do when they first start eating; now Kuroo's bracing his chin on his hand, waiting, and Daichi's wondering if the heat of the shop had gone to Kuroo's head or if he'd just heard wrong.

 "What," Daichi starts, but his mouth is mostly full and Kuroo gives him a look, so he pauses and swallows before beginning again. "What do you mean? You're out at the garage at least once a week now."

 "I meant my garage," Kuroo clarifies. "I figure it'd be a good experience--y'know, see how the other half lives and all that, whatever."

 For a brief and jarring moment, Daichi remembers the first time he'd been asked to meet his high school girlfriend's parents; he recalls, with startling vibrancy, the tightness in his stomach and the faint feeling of apprehension. The memory is fleeting, though the feeling lingers, and it makes Daichi jolt, makes him flush warm and press his lips tight to keep a straight face.

 "Sure," he says, swiping at his mouth. "Uh, when do you want me to come over?"

 "You free this weekend?"

 "Yeah."

 "Great." Kuroo gives him a half-smile, quirks a brow. "I'll pick you up on Saturday. How's seven sound?"

 Daichi's stomach does a neat little flip, which can't mean anything good. "Seven's great."

 Kuroo's smile goes full. Through the thin haze of steam he looks content, genuinely so, and Daichi's stomach transitions smoothly from basic flips into rather ambitious somersaults as Kuroo says, "Good. I'll make sure you have a good time--you do know what fun is, right?"

Daichi's first instinct is to snap right back at him, but Kuroo has the nerve to pair that jab with a wink and-- god, it's got to be one of the most poorly executed winks Daichi's ever seen, but the somersaults turn into a full-on floor routine and Daichi thinks: oh, no.

 "Relax, Sawamura." Kuroo knocks his free hand against Daichi's, grins, says, "It was a joke--oh, man, don't tell me you've never heard of a joke before? Look, it's this thing called humor--"

 "Alright, alright," Daichi interrupts, exasperated, resisting the urge to elbow Kuroo in the side. "Shut up and eat before I finish that for you."

 Kuroo looks sorely tempted to make some smart-ass comment--but Daichi's finally worked up a proper scowl, so he just huffs, murmurs, "Okay, jeez," and goes back to his bowl.

 And that's convenient: that quick turn of Kuroo's head, the way he refocuses like he hadn't just extended Daichi what feels an awful lot like an informal invitation to go on a date; it means he doesn't see the way Daichi's eyes linger on him for a moment too long before he turns away.

 

---

 

Saturday evening finds Daichi on the couch, flipping idly through television channels. His dog, Souta, lies where Daichi's feet would be were they not tucked underneath himself for that exact reason--late summer heat means Souta sheds enough fur to knit cat-sized sweaters round the clock--and Daichi reaches down to pet him sometimes when jabbing at buttons on the remote isn't enough to keep himself occupied anymore.

 It's seven o'clock, and Daichi is trying to convince himself he's not sitting around just waiting for Kuroo to pick him up--which would be easier to do if he hadn't put on his 'presentable' jeans (the nice pair, the ones without stains or tears, the ones he's been told make his ass look great), gotten dressed about an hour too early, and checked himself out in the bathroom mirror at least three times before relegating himself to the couch.The fact that Daichi nearly jumps off the couch when a noise from the street makes Souta spring to his feet and bolt for the front door doesn't do much to prove his case either.

 In an attempt to prove he's not nearly as excitable as is his dog, Daichi waits at least a minute before he follows. When he does, he finds Souta pacing in front of the door, whining, ears twitching to pick up the sounds of a car door slamming shut on the street.

 It's not nerves that make Daichi duck back into the bathroom to check his hair for the absolute last time, and it's certainly not eagerness that makes Daichi shove his feet into his shoes and slip out of his apartment before Kuroo even has the chance to knock; it's just...a preemptive measure, to make sure Souta doesn't get past him and run outside, that's all.

 Kuroo's halfway down the hall when Daichi steps out.

 Daichi falters for a brief second as he remembers that yes, actually, it is standard protocol to wait inside one's house until one's date actually knocks. This isn't a date, though--so Daichi, cheeks burning, shrugs off Kuroo's stare and heads down the hallway. 

 He has time for three deep breaths before he reaches Kuroo; he spends that quick interlude trying to will away both the blush on his cheeks and the butterflies beating against his ribs. Neither of them concede to Daichi's willpower, though, and isn't that just perfect? He's going to end up embarrassing himself in front of Kuroo, of all people; Kuroo, who--

 --who takes him to dinner every Thursday night. Kuroo, with whom Daichi's spent enough time to recognize the scent of his cologne (why is it so thick tonight, what the hell). Kuroo, with whom he's spent hours elbow-deep in engine parts, who helps Daichi wrangle his charges when the garage falls into chaos, who makes Daichi laugh more than he'd like to admit. 

 Things are easy between them. They have been for a while now. 

 Daichi's voice is even and warm when he says, "Hi."

 

---

 

The ride over to Kuroo's garage is uneventful.

 Kuroo is a good driver. He handles the car well, makes smooth turns and smoother stops, sticks close enough to the speed limit to make Daichi let go of the overhead handle and relax into his seat after a few minutes.

 But, truth be told, Daichi pays more attention to the shape of his fingers as they curl around the steering wheel than anything else.

 

--

 

Kuroo's garage (which proves to be less of a garage and more of a hangout spot with garage capabilities) is buzzing when Daichi steps out of the car and follows Kuroo to the front door. It's brightly lit--especially the black-on-red neon sign just above the door, bearing a cat design that would seem tackier if Daichi's own garage weren't stamped with a crow logo--and clearly very much occupied, judging by the full row of cars lined up neatly outside. Among their number are the two other cars from the race Daichi'd gone to watch a few weeks ago; he recognizes them even at a glance, though they look much less alive with their engines cut and their rumble quieted. 

 Kuroo catches him looking and chuckles. "Bokuto and Oikawa are always hanging out here. I probably should've warned you."

 "That's not very encouraging," Daichi notes, eyes still on the slick gleam of Bokuto's car as Kuroo leads him past it. 

 "They're not all that bad...well, Oikawa is, anyway." Kuroo grins. Daichi can't tell if he's kidding. "You'll have fun. I told you I'd show you a good time, didn't I?"

 "That's what I'm worried about," Daichi says, dry, but he follows Kuroo into the depths of the garage anyway, towards the sound of laughter.

 This Saturday night is a little more hectic than what Daichi's used to, even though they all end up just sitting around in an office that looks more like an overly extravagant break room than anywhere one would do work. That's in part due to the following: the fact that Bokuto has a penchant for accidentally segueing into inappropriate topics, that Oikawa has a penchant for purposefully segueing into inappropriate topics, and that Kuroo is something of a practiced troublemaker. Between the three of them Daichi is kept either laughing or cringing or sighing nonstop, which is….different, yes, but Daichi's having fun. In retrospect, he's glad he agreed to come out here with Kuroo.

 Toward the end of the night, Kuroo, who's spent all night pressed up against Daichi's side, arm draped ever-so-casually along the back of the couch, leans close to be heard over the noise and asks, "You wanna see something cool?"

 "Ah..." Intentional or not--and Daichi doesn't know which one he should hope for--Kuroo's lips had nearly brushed the shell of Daichi's ear when he'd posed his question. The resulting shiver throws Daichi a bit off-balance, makes him pause before he says, "Sure."

 'Something cool' is in the corner of the garage under a dusty tarp, far away from the cackling and the bad jokes still filtering from under the door to the office. Daichi gives Kuroo and the tarp matching skeptical looks, but Kuroo is undeterred.

 "Have a little faith, Sawamura," he says, and pulls the tarp away with an over-exaggerated flourish.

 The tarp flutters to the floor, and Daichi lets out an involuntary, appreciative "oh".

 "Told you," Kuroo says, sounding more proud than smug. Daichi can't be bothered to argue; instead he takes the high road and keeps quiet, crouches down to get a better look at the gorgeous little fastback now glimmering under the overhead lights.

 The car is impressive, damn near beautiful: all long sleek lines, the edges of it as smooth as a soft breeze, black paint still untouched by rust. The chrome detailing carries that extra bit of elbow-greased shine, and the tires are freshly filled, and it's--

 "It's incredible."

 The smugness doesn't cover up the hint of genuine pride in Kuroo's voice when he comes to a stop behind Daichi and says, "Not half bad, huh."

 Daichi nods, stands. "What's the engine like?"

 "Nothing too special," Kuroo tells him, shrugging. He ducks into the car, pops the latch on the hood, leans up against the frame as Daichi pushes the hood up all the way to take a look around. "Pretty standard. Six cylinders. I've had it since high school."

 Daichi, otherwise lost for words, says, "Wow."

 Kuroo laughs. "I thought you'd like it."

 "I do…hey, hold on." The satisfaction in Kuroo's voice registers at last, and Daichi turns, gives Kuroo a look. "Did you bring me out here just to see this?"

 The tops of Kuroo's cheeks are pink. That's really all the answer Daichi needs.

 "What's wrong with that?" Kuroo grumbles. "You liked it, didn't you?"

 Daichi goes just as warm as Kuroo looks. He's a touch embarrassed, to be sure, but something sweet and fond takes up an insistent flutter-rhythm in his chest, makes him laugh, makes him smile. Daichi says, "Yeah, I did," and then, sincere: "Thank you, Kuroo."

Kuroo--well. Kuroo doesn't say anything at all.

 And sure, that stupid gooey smile is still stuck to Daichi's lips, but he doesn't think that's any reason for Kuroo to be staring at him the way he is now: a little wide-eyed, lips tight, color blooming in shades of rose across the bridge of his nose. It's maybe sort of--oh, hell. It's high time Daichi admits he thinks it's cute.

 It's satisfying, too; Daichi doesn't think he's seen Kuroo this quiet in weeks. He allows himself a moment to revel in oddly fond smugness before he bites down on his bottom lip to quell his smile and says, "What?"

 Kuroo snaps himself back into focus with a shake of his head, forces a smile and a nervous little laugh to match. "Nothing, it's just…ah, it's getting late, isn't it?"

 If it is, Daichi hasn't noticed; but when he checks his watch, Kuroo proves to be right. It's coming up on eleven o'clock somehow, and for the first time that night Daichi remembers he has work the next day...meaning he has to get up in about six hours. Daichi sighs. "Dammit."

 "What, is it past your bedtime already?" 

 "Yes, actually, and you're not funny."

 "I beg to differ," Kuroo says, sidestepping neatly when Daichi throws a half-hearted jab his way. He's still smiling, though the pink has nearly faded from his cheeks, when he says, "Let me take you home."

 And just like that, tension swells up between them, as though that one phrase had been one more drop of water in a too-full glass; Daichi blinks up at Kuroo, once, twice, slow, and Kuroo holds his gaze the way one would catch something delicate when it falls.

 In that split second, Daichi's heart stumbles over its own too-quick rhythm, makes him go as hot as though he'd been standing in high noon sun for hours; but it lasts only that split second, and then Kuroo is backpedaling, tripping over his own words as he tries to speak.

 "Back to your house, I mean--ah, shit…" One of Kuroo's hands is on his hip; he's got the other pressed over his face like if he pretends not to be here for long enough it'll be as though he never said anything at all. "Let's just ignore that, yeah?"

 Daichi swallows hard, finds his voice again, chooses his words carefully. "Yeah," he says, though he knows already he'll remember those words in Kuroo's voice for a long while. "You can drop me off at my apartment."

 

--

 

(Kuroo does take him home; he drops Daichi off at his own apartment, gets out of the car to lean against it and watch Daichi walk to his front door. Daichi waves him off with a smile, and goes to bed that night thinking: maybe, someday.)

 

 

ix.

 

Today--a Tuesday in early July, the afternoon drenched in humidity and summer's heat in full swing--finds Daichi bent over a thick sheaf of papers. Work orders, timetables, a suspiciously out-of-place brochure for a vacation in the countryside--Daichi's been grumbling indiscriminately at it all for longer than he cares to remember. He's trying to concentrate, he really is; it's just that every time he tries to clear his head to focus he's distracted by the memory of dark eyes and a wryly sweet smile and the faint scent of a cologne he's come to like way too much. Kuroo is distracting even when he isn't actually present, and it's sort of driving Daichi crazy.

 Beside him, Suga's toying with a wrench and looking up something about engines on a beat-up company laptop. After yet another grumble from Daichi, he taps hard on the trackpad, glances up, and says, "You've been sighing at your paperwork for twenty minutes. What's wrong?"

 "Nothing," Daichi says, but Suga knows better; he raises an eyebrow, keeps his gaze trained disbelieving until Daichi huffs and relents.

 "I was just...thinking, that's all."

 That's vague enough to get Suga's attention; he half-turns in his chair and gives Daichi an evaluating look. "Is this about Kuroo?"

 "His car, yeah." Daichi's reasonably sure he's keeping a straight face. "It's…tricky. I'm having trouble getting a feel for it."

 "Have you taken it out for a drive?"

 "What? No! Why would I?"

 "Well...sometimes you just have to take 'em for a test drive." Suga shrugs, spinning the wrench in his hand. He tosses it, catches it, points it at Daichi with too much emphasis to be anything but dramatic. "You have to feel the ground underneath your wheels! The wind in your hair, the freedom of the open road--you'll never know how the car rides until you get out there."

"Suga…"

 "Okay, okay," Suga says, grinning, "Really, though. Once you get in the car, it'll be easier to figure out, y'know?"

 This is something Daichi's known for years. Ever since he was young--seventeen and headstrong and determined, elbow deep in research and the cheap-bought guts of old cars--he'd been one to learn by experience rather than hearsay or speculation. Even now, at twenty-six, Daichi still looks at the world like a promise yet unmade, like a mystery to be unraveled by diligent hands and persistent effort.

 That sort of individual self-sufficiency, the optimism, the curiosity, they all come down to this: Daichi will never know until he tries--and he has to know, so he has to try.

 "Yeah," he says, and the smile that alights on his lips is steady and sure. "Yeah, I know."

 Though he's grinning wide, Suga huffs and gestures sharply with the wrench. "Well, you hardly ever listen anyway, Daichi. Just go with your gut. You're good at that."

 "Thanks…I think, anyway."

 "No problem!" Suga chirps, smacking Daichi on the back just hard enough to sting. "Now, how about lunch? I think you owe me ramen."

 Daichi throws Suga a wry little half-grimace, checks his back pocket for his wallet, and says, "As long as you keep yours away from mine. I don't want to end up gargling milk for an hour after I eat."

 "Oh, quit whining! It wasn't that bad and you know it. And besides, you like your ramen so bland…"

 "If by 'bland' you mean it's not going to burn a hole through my stomach, then yes, I do like it bland--hey, I'm buying you lunch! Don't complain!"

 "Alright, fine," Suga concedes, turning up a pair of placating palms; and then, with a mischievous bite that Daichi really should have been expecting, he adds, "I bet Kuroo likes his hotter, though. You really should spice up your tastes a little."

Daichi chokes.

 

x.

 

Daichi thinks Kuroo might be rubbing off on him.

 Now, this particular instance is not the first time Daichi's had this thought; but this is the first time it's occurred to Daichi that Kuroo might be rubbing off on him in a way that might not be so bad after all.

 "You want me to ride with you," Daichi says, leveling Kuroo with a skeptical look.

 Kuroo, in his usual seat on the other side of Daichi's desk, gives him a shrug. "I was thinking you could drive, actually."

 "What?"

 "Don't sound so surprised," Kuroo says, dry. He leans forward, chin in hand, elbow on the desk, and raises an eyebrow. "I only asked because I thought you'd want to give it a try. If you don't want to, that's fine; if you can't, on the other hand…"

 That's a barefaced taunt. No subtlety to it at all; it's about as crude as pulling pigtails on the playground.

 Daichi lifts his chin. "Fine," he says, ignoring the smugness dripping from the dip of Kuroo's smirk. "I'll drive."

 "Saturday? We should go a little later, since the roads will be less--"

 "Pick me up at eleven."

 "Yes, sir," Kuroo says, ready, snapping off what could kindly be considered a salute in the abstract. Daichi rolls his eyes and resists the urge to throw his pen. "Oh, don't make that face. I'll be right there to take over if you can't handle it."

 And that grates on Daichi's nerves, that little quirk of Kuroo's brow and the matching uptick of his lips; it makes Daichi bristle, makes him want to turn that slick smirk into something wholly less self-satisfied.

 He thinks he knows how to do just that.

 Daichi drops his voice low, leans over the desk, aims a smirk up at Kuroo's widening eyes and rising brows."That won't be necessary," he says. "All you have to do is sit back and watch."

Daichi takes his time with those last few words, lets his tongue curl around them the way it would around something sweet; when he finishes, flashing teeth, he can feel the weight of Kuroo's gaze on his mouth, takes note of the way Kuroo's lashes flutter dark over darker eyes when he tilts his head, looks down slow.

 There's a flash of soft pink on pink as Kuroo wets his lips; when he speaks again, he says, voice edging on husky: "I can definitely do that."

 "Good," Daichi says, wondering if smugness would taste the same if he were to win it with a kiss instead of a tease.

 He thinks that, for now, teasing works just fine--and if there's an extra touch of jauntiness to the movement of his hips when he gets up and walks away, well….the noise Kuroo makes when he puts his head down on the desk in Daichi's wake is worth it.

 

--

 

A knock sounds from the front of Daichi's apartment at eleven on the dot on Saturday evening. This time Daichi is prepared; this time Daichi stays on his couch until the knocking has faded, even though Souta has long since taken up his post in front of the door.

 Kuroo looks handsome as usual when Daichi finally answers the door; he's in a blazer Daichi hadn't pegged Kuroo as the type to own (though the sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, and doesn't that just figure) and a pair of jeans that make Daichi want to skip the drive and just invite Kuroo inside on the spot. The smile on Kuroo's lips doesn't do much to quell that particular urge, either: it's a touch enthusiastic, wide and nearly sweet, and Daichi can't help but smile in response.

 "You clean up well," Kuroo says.

 Daichi's wearing his best jeans again tonight--that much, at least, hasn't changed from the first time Kuroo took him out--and he'd already been fairly sure he'd looked good, but the confirmation is nice, makes heat prickle at the height of his cheekbones.

 "I don't spend all day in my work uniform," Daichi points out, raising an eyebrow. "You've seen me out of it before."

 Kuroo goes summer-sunrise pink. "Still…alright, you look good, then. Is that better?"

 "Thank you." Daichi's grinning, bright and amused, over top of the frayed insistence of his nerves; his stomach is tight, sure, but he's more excited than apprehensive at the prospect of spending the night with Kuroo and the car and a stretch of open road. "Are you ready?"

 "I think the better question is: are you ready?"

 They're both wearing the eager smile when Daichi says, clear and firm: "Yes."

 

---

 

Traffic on the highway Kuroo chooses is surprisingly scarce; there are but a few cars in the oncoming lane, and the only cars on their side of the highway had been three pretty and vaguely familiar sports cars, by now maybe a good half-mile behind them. Daichi finds that a little odd, yes, but perfect for this sort of thing--'this sort of thing' being Daichi shutting the door behind him as Kuroo's car sits parked on the side of the road, heartbeat tripping double-time as he settles into the driver's seat.

 Daichi's always been aware of the fact that he's a good few inches shorter than Kuroo (he has to look up to make conversation, a fact that has gone from frustrating to embarrassing to slightly endearing as June melts into July), but he'd never fully realized how damn long Kuroo's legs are until this particular moment. Much to Kuroo's amusement, Daichi can barely put his foot on the gas pedal; he has to adjust the seat two settings forward before he can reach comfortably.

 "Sorry," Kuroo says around a mouthful of laughter, though he doesn't even attempt to fake remorse under the weight of Daichi's glare. "It's just--that's cute, you should've seen yourself--"

 For a moment Daichi entertains the thought of how much petty damage he could do to Kuroo's car without warranting any severe reparations. Kuroo must be able to read that on his face, because he sobers up within a few moments and adds, hasty, "Alright, alright, I'm done…you were cute, though--"

Daichi puts the pedal to the floor.

 The engine howls, and Kuroo makes a strangled noise as he slaps his hand atop Daichi's, curled over the gear stick, to make sure the car is still in park.

 Kuroo's hand is warm, much larger than Daichi's own, the palm of it rougher than what Daichi had expected. His knuckles are here and there scarred, and Daichi itches with the seemingly sourceless urge to run his fingers over them, to brush his lips across the ridges of them and ask about each old injury. He doesn't, though; instead he sits still, startled into wordlessness, and takes distant note of the faint conviction at the base of his brain assuring him that, were he to turn his palm over, his hand would fit as snug within Kuroo's as does his favorite sweater in the harsh of winter. 

 "Okay! Okay, I won't say it again, jeez..." In Daichi's periphery, Kuroo's other hand is flat against his chest;  the expression on his face would be priceless right now if only Daichi could bring himself to look away from the tangle of their fingers on the stick. "What are you looking at?"

 Kuroo is looking at him, eyebrow raised, when Daichi jerks his gaze up to his face; though Daichi makes no attempt to move his hand, his cheeks go warm, and as Kuroo's eyes flicker between his own and their hands he says, eloquent, "Uh."

 "Oh, shit." Kuroo snatches his hand away, blush blossoming bright; in the absence of his touch, Daichi's hand goes cold. "Shit, sorry."

 "It's fine," Daichi mumbles. He can see a shade of Kuroo's flustered reflection when he turns away to look out the window; Kuroo notices, blanches, smacks the overhead light off.

 In the relative darkness, Daichi's blush fades a bit faster--but every little noise is made that much louder, amplified by the weight of the silence that settles between them. He can hear each of his own breaths, and, under that: each turn of the engine, each individual curse Kuroo mumbles low in his throat.

 Once his cheeks have cooled and his hands have steadied, Daichi takes a breath loud enough to break the silence and says, firm, "Are you ready, or--"

 Kuroo interrupts him with an aggressive cough, clears his throat, and says, "Yeah, yeah. I'm ready if you are, Sawamura."

 "Alright, then," Daichi says, and (before he can think twice, before he can change his mind, before he can back out) shifts the car into drive.

 Daichi's no stranger to driving. He's taken test sprints, spins around the block, lazy afternoon drives; cars and the handling of them, to Daichi, are as familiar as the hearth of his childhood home.

 This is different.

 This is the engine responding at the barest hint of pressure; this is wheels rolling smooth as silk on skin; this is Kuroo rolling down the windows so the wind snaps sharp against Daichi's skin as the speedometer ticks steadily upwards past one hundred kilometers and then further still--one-twenty, one-forty-five, one-seventy--

 --and this is what Daichi is after: the feeling of flying despite being anchored to the earth, the energy streaking through his blood like electric shock in miniature, the sensation of invincibility that only wells up when one is anything but. The thrill pounding in the wake of his pulse is vital, vibrant, and it spurs Daichi to whoop out a laugh lost at once to the wind.

 "You just broke two hundred." Kuroo's hand is heavy on Daichi's shoulder, mouth pressed up against his ear; his breath, in the fleeting half-second before the wind sweeps it away, is warm. "Nice driving, hotshot, but slow down a little. Don't get too carried away."

 Daichi's laughing still, caught up in the speed and the rush of everything, but he eases off the gas little by little, guides the car off to the side of the road. As he slows down, the world slows down around them, sounds fading out until Daichi can pick out distinct noises that had been buried under the insistent roar of the engine: Kuroo's laugh breathless and soft in his ear, the faint call of night, the quick tick of his own breathing. 

 "That was incredible." In the absence of constant and overwhelming sound, Daichi's own voice is loud, thin, wondering.  "Is this what you feel like all the time?"

 "Well, I don't know exactly what you're feeling--but from the look on your face, I'd say yeah. This is what it feels like."

 Daichi turns to say something--like I can't believe I let you talk me into that, or thank you, maybe--but when he does Kuroo is there, almost fully within Daichi's personal space, elbow on the center console as he leans over to check something on the dash.

 Maybe it's the adrenaline high, or maybe it's the awe in the atmosphere, but either way Kuroo looks nothing less than thrilling in this moment: his eyes are bright beneath dark lashes, smile genuine and sharp, and he glows with the same kind of vitality that Daichi feels flashing through him like a fire.

 These are the things Daichi sees on Kuroo's face in that second when their gazes lock: surprise in the height of his brow, satisfaction in the upward curve of his mouth, expectancy in the flutter of his lashes. They're still there when Kuroo lifts his head, drops his gaze to Daichi's mouth, parts his lips.

 Daichi doesn't pause, doesn't think; he knows what that heavy-lidded look means, knows the intent behind it in the same way he knows the feeling coiling tight in his stomach right now. It's want, pure and simple, and it strings itself between the two of them like it would catch them up in a cat's cradle.

 He gives into the pull.

 The distance between them, when Daichi moves to close it, is less than he'd thought. Kuroo meets him not even halfway, keeping himself on course with a hand laid to Daichi's jaw; and from there it's as easy as putting a key into the ignition.

 Kuroo gives him two tentative kisses, close-mouthed and careful, the second much longer than the first. They're gentle, nothing more than small gestures to test the waters; but already the beat of Daichi's pulse is quick and mounting still, spurred on by the adrenaline flooding his blood, and even these tentative touches of Kuroo's mouth make him come alight. It's a natural high, and it makes Daichi feel as sharp as a razorblade, makes him act on instinct, makes him open his mouth the next time Kuroo kisses him.

 And that’s--oh, that’s good, the slick slide of Kuroo's tongue against his and the satisfied hum Kuroo gives up as he cups the back of Daichi's neck; Daichi catches himself smiling in instinctive approval and reaches out, curls his fingers into the front of Kuroo's shirt, pulls him closer. That's better, yes, but Daichi wants him closer, wants the warmth of him, wants to know if Kuroo's hands on his skin would feel the way he's tried not to let himself think they would--

 Kuroo mumbles out an "ouch" against Daichi's mouth, pulls back only the most necessary fraction to look down at the center console digging into his ribcage. He's half out of his seat and still not where Daichi would like him to be, nowhere near as close as he should be, and Daichi can't help but think that a little more space to move would make this whole making out thing a little easier.

 They spare a simultaneous and lingering glance for the backseat; when Kuroo meets Daichi's gaze again he's contemplative, considering. He says, "If you want to keep doing--" a quick hand gesture that nearly drives his elbow into the window "--this, I could try to fold the seats forward or something….the backseat's small, but--"

 "We could go back to my place," Daichi says, rushed; in the pause before he plows ahead, Kuroo's eyes go wide. "My apartment is--well, I live alone, so…"

 After a beat, Kuroo nods, reaches back blindly for the door handle. "Okay, yeah--let me drive, though, I think you've had enough excitement for one night."

 Daichi knows he shouldn't say anything, but-- "Are you sure about that?"

 Kuroo gives him this look, half 'you've got to be kidding' and half 'no, I'm not sure at all', and leans in to kiss Daichi once, hard, before getting out of the car.

 Daichi puts the width car between them when he goes round to the passenger seat--but the distance is only a fleeting reprieve from that pull, and he's leaning over the console again as soon as the door clicks shut behind him, meeting the expectant crook of Kuroo's mouth with his own. It feels a little like scratching an itch, like balm to a burn; something about the way Kuroo tastes and smells and feels makes Daichi want to kiss him until he goes pliant, lightheaded and easy.

 But that's impractical, isn't it, given the circumstances; Daichi's reminded of that when Kuroo murmurs, against the corner of his mouth, "You know we're still on the side of the highway, right?"

 Daichi pulls back, hoping the motion of it didn't seem as reluctant as he'd felt, and levels Kuroo with his sharpest smile. "So drive."

 

---

 

A thousand different things go through Daichi's head as he unlocks the door to his apartment and turns on the hallway light. Is the bedroom clean, are there still dirty dishes in the sink, is an excess of dog hair a turn-off--a highlight reel of domestic nuances that hadn't seemed anywhere close to significant until viewed in the context of Kuroo, who follows him into the kitchen, leans up against the counter in quiet observation, and hums what sounds like assent when Daichi asks if he wants a drink.

 A quick assessment of the contents of his fridge reveals beer, water, and juice. It's a little scarce, sure, but he's better equipped than the average bachelor, and he's about to say as much when Kuroo tugs him backwards and reaches around to swing the fridge door shut.

 Daichi sucks in a breath, tries to force the nervous smile off his face and keep his cool--but Kuroo's there when he turns, boxing him in against the fridge, dipping his head low to brush his mouth over the curve of Daichi's cheek. His lips are warm, dry, and Daichi can't help but tilt his head back and let slip a shaky breath against Kuroo's jaw.

 Kuroo is looming close, the weight of his presence cloying and heavy in Daichi's senses. In an attempt to hold on to some sense of control, Daichi blurts, "Do you want a beer?" 

 "No," Kuroo murmurs, breath warm when he quirks his lips against the corner of Daichi's slack mouth, "but I can think of something else I'd rather have instead."

 Kuroo looks so tempting--lashes low, gaze intent, hips slanted jaunty--but that's got to be one of the worst innuendoes Daichi's ever heard in his life, hands down.

 Daichi can't help it: he presses his forehead into the crook of Kuroo's shoulder and laughs, breathing in the scent of Kuroo's cologne with every choppy inhalation, trying not to let that make him any more giddy than he already is. "Oh my god," he chokes, "that was so bad--"

 "Please, shut up," Kuroo grinds out, though Daichi feels the mortified rumble of it more than he hears it. 

 Daichi can't pass up an opportunity to see Kuroo with that sort of face, no matter how warm and welcoming the breadth of Kuroo's shoulders may be; so he straightens up, puts a few bare inches of distance between them, blinks his eyes clear, and--oh

 He's cute with that blush rising on his cheeks, just over the tight line of his mouth, more embarrassed by himself than by anything Daichi's tried since they first met--and Daichi likes that, the way Kuroo won't quite meet his eyes, the way that, for once, it's Kuroo with his eyes averted and not Daichi himself. And that's satisfying, yes, but Daichi sort of wants to see if he can push it a little farther, see if that blush will creep down Kuroo's neck the way it looks like it might if Daichi can manage to get under his skin.

 That shouldn't be too hard.

 His hands may be smaller than Kuroo's, but they're sturdy, strong; it takes no more than a few insistent tugs to pull Kuroo's hand away from his face so Daichi can take him by the chin. After that, catching Kuroo's attention is easy: Daichi need only swallow down his mirth, lean in close, and pair the cockiest smile in his arsenal with a well-timed flutter of his lashes as he issues his challenge.

 "Make me."

 Kuroo opens his mouth to say something, but he goes easy when Daichi pushes at him, lets himself be backed up until he's leaning up against the sink, makes room for Daichi to stand between his legs. By now he's pink from cheek to cheek, all across the bridge of his nose, and the mock-innocent look Daichi gives him only serves to make that flush darken.

 On Kuroo's lips, the crowning jewel of his chagrin, is a flustered frown; around it, he says, "You're so forward, Sawamura."

 "Coming from the guy who thought it would be a good idea to kiss me for the first time in a car..."

 "Heat of the moment," Kuroo says, dismissive--though after a moment he purses his lips and scratches at the back of his head, shifting gears from embarrassed to something close to bashful. "Ah…sorry about that, actually. I should've done it properly."

 Daichi blinks, frowns. "Done what?"

 "Kissed you." One of Kuroo's hands settles on the curve of Daichi's waist; the other starts on his shoulder, moves up until Kuroo's cupping the back of Daichi's neck, fingers careful in his hair. Kuroo's lashes fall low, though the gaze beneath them is still intent; he leans in, takes a breath like he's steeling himself, and murmurs, "I should've kissed you properly."

 A quiet oh tugs itself free of Daichi's lips, and he thrills somewhere close to the surface, just beneath his skin. Kuroo is intimate in his space, the pull of him as seemingly inexorable as gravity, and when Daichi leans up to kiss him it's thoughtless, natural, as easy as falling.

 The thing about kissing Kuroo is that, while it's happening, it's easy to forget anything and everything else. The scope of Daichi's world is Kuroo's hands and mouth and breath on his skin and nothing more, and he finds himself kissing Kuroo back with a singular focus, with an intent that sets each of his senses on high alert.

 High alert means Daichi is intimately aware of the movement of Kuroo's hands as they catalogue the course of Daichi's body; Kuroo lingers at the first vertebra of Daichi's spine before moving downwards, tracing the line of it, drawing his fingers over the matching curves of Daichi's ribcage. His hands catch on the soft width of Daichi's hips and sit there, comfortable, and the unconscious steady sweep of his thumb over Daichi's hipbone is one of the only things that rival his mouth for Daichi's attention. What vies against hands and mouth are the noises that Kuroo delivers to Daichi on the tip of his tongue, low and wanting, layered thick over the irregular hitch of Daichi's own breath; Daichi coaxes soft groans and throaty hums free of Kuroo's lips to feel their weight in his mouth. 

 Like this Daichi melts into Kuroo, under the warmth of him and in the circle of his arms; he goes pliant, relaxes against the broad plane of Kuroo's chest, tastes both yearning and comfort on his tongue when he pauses, on occasion, to breathe. He could kiss Kuroo for hours this way, slow and unhurried, and he thinks that maybe, tonight--

 A sharp trill from somewhere below their belts makes Kuroo pull away with a curse. He digs his phone out of his pocket, checks the caller ID, groans, and silences the phone before he shoves into his back pocket. 

 After a second of confusion, Daichi finds his voice. "I hope that wasn't important."

 Kuroo rolls his eyes, gives up a sigh, and says, as though it's a full explanation, "It was Bokuto. It's probably nothing important…he won't stop calling until I call him back, though."

 Daichi's had enough of a reprieve from the slick skill of Kuroo's mouth to be able to say, "That probably means you should get going, then", but that reprieve isn't enough to make him say it like he means it, and certainly not enough to keep him from tugging Kuroo down by the lapels to kiss him again.

 Like he knows, like he can tell, like he has no intention of stopping at all, Kuroo says: "I should probably leave."

 Daichi kisses him again, tries for a different angle. "It's late."

 "Mm."

 "I have work tomorrow."

 "Mhmm."

 Kuroo tilts his head to let Daichi mouth at his neck, which would be great--is great, really--if only Daichi weren't attempting to exercise some semblance of self-control. Kuroo isn't not helping at all, and he knows it; Daichi gives him a bite that's a little more reprimand than play, relishing the hiss that rolls up through Kuroo's throat. "Are you going to say anything, or--"

Kuroo's hands are quick and sure: he fits them to the curve of Daichi's face and kisses him until he goes quiet, until he curls his fingers into the fabric of Kuroo's shirt, until he doesn't remember what he wanted Kuroo to say in the first place.

 When at last he pulls away, Kuroo murmurs, "I have work tomorrow too."

 Something buried in the tone of his voice--want, thinly restrained, and reluctance beneath it--makes Daichi press close and give Kuroo a look he's almost sure will win him a kiss. He's proven right when Kuroo makes a half-frustrated noise, kisses him again, and says, "Don't do that--didn't you just say you had work?"

 "Mhmm."

 "Oh, you--" Kuroo narrows his eyes, leans in, kisses the smile blossoming full on Daichi's face. He flicks his tongue across Daichi's teeth in a way that should, by all rights, be disgusting, but just makes Daichi laugh instead.

 "That's gross," Daichi tells him, and does the same right back.

 Kuroo wrinkles his nose (he's so close still that Daichi feels it more than he sees it, and god, that's cute, Kuroo shouldn't be that cute) and says, "Ew, yeah, that's gross--hey, you're still kissing me, though. What's that say about you?"

 "Probably not anything good."

 "Hey!"

 Daichi rocks back on his heels, bites his lip to quell another one of those terrible Kuroo-induced ear-to-ear smiles, smoothes down the lapels of Kuroo's blazer. Not for the first time, it occurs to Daichi that Kuroo is a little more neatly dressed than usual: he's handsome, all broad shoulders and long legs in crisp dark denim, and he smells like something clean and warm and musky that makes Daichi want to bury his face in Kuroo's shoulder and breathe him in.

 He doesn't, though, out of mercy for the butterflies threatening to take up arms beneath his diaphragm again; instead Daichi takes a deep breath, collects his thoughts, and says, "I really do have work tomorrow."

 "Then stop kissing me."

 That's harder to do than Daichi would like to admit, but he manages anyway: he steps back, puts a good two feet of space between them, watches Kuroo's face fall just the slightest.

 "I didn't think that through," Kuroo mumbles, and Daichi laughs as he reaches for Kuroo's wrist to pull him along toward the door.

 They make it to the front door without incident (meaning they make it to the front door at all, without any accidental detours to the bedroom or the couch), though Kuroo does stop once to pet Souta and consequently attempts to wipe a handful of dog hair on Daichi's shirt. Daichi pushes him across the threshold before he can succeed and leans against the doorframe to watch as Kuroo tries to shake his hand clean, gives up, and wipes his hand on his jeans with an over exaggerated grimace.

 "Have fun washing that off," Daichi says, raising an eyebrow at the mess on Kuroo's left thigh. "Trust me, dog hair is hell to clean up."

 Kuroo peers past Daichi's leg, gives Souta a fake scowl. "You're lucky you're cute."

 "So are you," Daichi mutters. Kuroo looks at him, questioning, and Daichi wonders where exactly his mind-to-mouth filter has gone. "Ah--nothing. I'll see you."

 The shape of the smile Kuroo gives him as he waves is familiar, but the warmth in it is still new; Daichi finds himself staring at Kuroo's back with his heart crawling up into his throat.

Kuroo's already walking away, and this is something Daichi could save for later, for a better occasion, for a time when his voice isn't going thick with some odd emotion that doesn't quite have a name--but there are some things that just need to be said, no matter how small they seem, and Daichi thinks this just might be one of them.

 He takes a breath and says, just loud enough to be heard: "Thank you."

 And he's not expecting much in return--maybe a wave or a laugh and some snarky comment--but what he gets is this: Kuroo turning back, closing the distance between them in three purposeful strides, taking Daichi by the shoulders to pull him in.

Daichi is fully prepared to be kissed, just...not in the way Kuroo kisses him now. This feels like easing off the gas, like going from sixty to zero in a matter of seconds: Kuroo is gentle when he moves against Daichi's mouth, gentle when he traces the curve of Daichi's jaw with his thumb, gentle when he pulls back with a smile that makes Daichi go warm from head to toe.

 "Anytime," Kuroo says, so genuine it nearly knocks Daichi sideways. And then, quick as a flash, he cocks a brow and adds, "Told you I'd show you a good time, didn't I?"

 "Yeah," Daichi says, smiling, too thoroughly content to take issue with Kuroo's smugness. "Yeah, you did."

Kuroo tosses him a sloppy salute, grinning, and Daichi, unable to wipe the well-kissed smile off his face, leans against the doorframe to watch him go.

 

---

 

Daichi spends the next day in relative comfort--that is, if a full day of chores counts as comfort.

 It's not that Daichi's apartment is particularly messy--it's only been a month since the last time he'd gotten stressed out enough to deep-clean the place--it's just that if he doesn't do something proactive to soothe his nerves, he'll be up all night thinking about what's been weighing on his mind.

 What's on his mind--more often than not, as of late--is Kuroo.

 Kuroo, whom Daichi has started to look forward to seeing, with whom Daichi has a standing weekly dinner date, whose mouth Daichi remembers much better than he should.

 Daichi hasn't had something as trivial and at once terribly confusing as a crush in a long time; he'd almost forgotten how distracting the constant butterflies could be. Though it's sort of…nice, maybe, when the whole butterflies and racing heart thing isn't getting in the way of his work or free time. Daichi sort of likes spending time with Kuroo, likes the way he feels when Kuroo gives him those quick crooked smiles, likes the way Kuroo touches him so casually. He definitely likes the kissing--everything about it, even the swollen lips and ridiculous lightheaded giddiness that come thereafter--and, though it's completely contradictory to the whole "stop thinking about Kuroo" initiative Daichi's been attempting to pursue today, he can't help but pause in the middle of loading the washing machine to think about it. He can still recall the pressure and softness of Kuroo's mouth, remembers how Kuroo's hands had felt when they'd settled on his skin and fit perfectly to the curve of his hips, remembers--

 Remembers, as his reverie is interrupted by a faint knock echoing from the front of his apartment, that he is not supposed to be mooning over Kuroo instead of doing laundry and tending to his responsibilities.

 Though, as Daichi refocuses, he realizes hasn't invited anyone over--not that he can recall, anyway. The last person he'd spoken to was Suga, who hadn't seemed worried enough about Daichi's love life to surprise him at home like he usually did when Daichi was having a rough time with things; and Asahi usually calls before he comes over, as do Tanaka and Nishinoya. Daichi couldn't imagine Shimizu coming over without him having invited her beforehand, and that sort of rules out everyone who would feasibly have a reason to pay Daichi a visit at this time of evening.

    Daichi frowns, kicks a small pile of dirty clothes out of his path, and puts down the laundry basket. He's about to head for the front door when Souta lets out a low, long howl, nearly loud enough to disguise the sound of the door clicking shut.

 Adrenaline spikes within seconds, makes heat prickle under Daichi's skin. He reaches instinctively for the nearest blunt object (a lamp; probably not the best weapon, even in a pinch), but after a long, frightening moment, his brain registers the tone of Souta's bark: it's a greeting howl, low and looping, accompanied by the familiar sound of nails clicking staccato on the wood floor as Souta prances. And while that sort of approval isn't entirely reassuring coming from a canine police academy dropout, it's enough to put Daichi at ease.

 The living room, when Daichi walks through it, is empty; but there's someone in the entryway, bent over to pet Souta. When Daichi stops short they look up, straighten, and--

    "Oh, there you are. I was wondering what was taking you so long."

  It's Kuroo, unabashed and grinning, and goddamnit, Daichi should have known.

 "Why didn't they train you to bite when you were in the academy?" Daichi asks Souta, who completely misses the irritation in his voice and bounds over to butt his head against Daichi's leg, persistent and panting, until Daichi gives in and pets him.

    "He's sweet," Kuroo says, casual, like he hadn't just walked into Daichi's apartment without anything even resembling an invitation. He looks completely unapologetic. Daichi is unsurprised.

   Daichi says, "He's a dumbass," turns on his heel, and does his best to ignore what he knows by now is the weight of Kuroo's gaze as he makes for the laundry room again. He has things to do tonight (mundane things, ordinary things, the kind of things he'd always done before he met Kuroo) and he's not going to let an unexpected and most likely nerve-wracking visit throw him off.

 Kuroo is persistent, though; he trails after Daichi and picks his way through teetering heaps of darks and whites to lean against the far wall of Daichi's undersized laundry room. Daichi busies himself with sorting through his shirts, looking for visible stains; and though he's not looking at Kuroo, he can hear the smug lilt to his voice when he says, "He's got good taste."

 Daichi snorts, looks over to tell him otherwise, and--

--a sensation halfway between complete orientation and total lack thereof hits Daichi like a sucker punch.

 Daichi is elbow deep in a week's worth of dirty work clothes, his dog is attempting to curl up in the empty laundry basket by the door, and his--and Kuroo is here, in Daichi's laundry room, nudging a stray white sock out of the pile of darks and bragging about the fact that Daichi's dog has taken a liking to him.

Detergent smells a little like domesticity. Daichi's never quite noticed that before.

 "He likes you," Daichi says when he finds his tongue again, throwing a grease-stained t-shirt into the laundry machine with a little more force than necessary. He focuses on scrubbing at a stain, doesn't look up even though he can hear Kuroo push himself off the wall and come to stand behind him. "His taste can't be that good."  

   Kuroo huffs out a wry little laugh against the back of Daichi's neck; the sound of it is the only warning he gives before laying his hands to the curve of Daichi's hips. "So do you. What does that say about your taste?"

 Daichi goes tense, then, enough so that Kuroo must be able to see it in the set of his shoulders; that would explain why he's laughing as Daichi steels himself, takes a deep breath, and turns in place, lifting his chin in some semblance of defiance.  As sharply as possible, Daichi says, "Who says I like you?"

 Kuroo grins, says, "Just give it time."

 A month ago, Daichi's first instinct would have been to punch Kuroo somewhere soft and tender before kicking him out of his apartment.

 Here, now, Daichi still feels that same irritated instinct scratching sharp at the back of his mind; but stronger than that is the impulse to pull Kuroo down by his collar and kiss him until he stops saying things that make Daichi's heart do particularly ambitious acrobatics in his chest.

 So he does.

 Daichi gives Kuroo the green light: he tugs at the front of his shirt and Kuroo bends smoothly, only too eager to comply, fitting his mouth to Daichi's like he'd just been waiting for the go-ahead.

 After that, falling into place is easy: two close-mouthed kisses and then he's rising up on his toes, winding his arms around Kuroo's neck, opening his mouth so Kuroo can kiss him deep and slow. And oh, how he does; Kuroo kisses him with the same world-narrowing concentration he had last night, lets his hands follow the path of Daichi's spine and find their destination just above the swell of his ass--high enough to be some shade of respectable, low enough to make Daichi hum when Kuroo tightens his grip and tugs until he moves closer.

 What becomes apparent, though, as Daichi relaxes in Kuroo's arms, is that the difference in their heights is a little more extreme than what Daichi had thought last night. And that's fine for Daichi--he doesn't mind having to tip his head back to meet Kuroo's mouth, likes being able to anchor himself with his arms around Kuroo's neck--but Kuroo's bent at the knees, head bowed, and that can't be comfortable by any means.

It takes Daichi half a minute to cotton onto Kuroo's discomfort; it takes Kuroo about half a second to bend down just a little further, tighten his arms around Daichi's waist, and hoist him up.

 Daichi makes a noise that is most definitely not a yelp and hooks his legs around Kuroo's waist out of reflex. "What the hell are you doing?"

 Kuroo's eyes are a little wide when Daichi meets them again; he says, a second late, "That's not what I was aiming for--"

 "Oh--shit, sorry," Daichi says, a little flustered. He drops one leg and Kuroo shifts his grip lower, hitches Daichi back up against him again--which seems a little counterproductive if he hadn't actually been intending to get Daichi's legs around his waist. "What were you trying to do?"  

 "Well, I was gonna put you on the washing machine," Kuroo says, pensive, "but, y'know, this works too."

 Daichi says, "Huh?" and then, "oh," because Kuroo adjusts his grip one more time, fits his hands to the curve of Daichi's ass and holds him close.

 "Yep," Kuroo says, grinning, and leans in to kiss Daichi again.

 And sure, it takes them a minute or two to figure out how to touch this way, but when they do it's nothing short of good; Daichi is pleasantly surprised by the strength of Kuroo's arms when they flex against him, likes the way he can reach down and run his hands over Kuroo's shoulders, likes the way that he can tighten his thighs around Kuroo's waist and leverage himself up to be, for once, just a little taller than Kuroo. He likes the challenging little smile he gets when he winds one hand into his hair and pulls Kuroo's head back, craning his neck to scrape his teeth over the crook of Kuroo's jaw before kissing back up to the slick curve of his smile.

 Kuroo pulls away the next time Daichi pauses to breathe; his brow is knit, lips pressed thin, and Daichi frowns. "What?"

 "You're a bit heavy," Kuroo admits, and sets Daichi down on the closed lid of the washing machine with a grunt.

 "Hey!"

 "What--aw, shit. C'mon, Sawamura, not like that!"

 Daichi grumbles, though he lets Kuroo pulls his hands away from where he's crossed them over his stomach. He doesn't know what to do with them now, but Kuroo's looking at his waist like he'd like to put his hands there again, so Daichi keeps his elbows tucked into his sides, curls his fingers into fists on top of his thighs.

 Kuroo makes an exasperated noise, rolls his eyes, and cups Daichi's face in his hands instead. Daichi thinks that's maybe worse than having Kuroo's hands on the less firm parts of his waist, because this is--this is intimate, this is gentle, this is Kuroo's thumbs brushing across Daichi's cheeks as he leans in, careful, to give Daichi a slow kiss that slams home an ache in some deep sweet part of him.

 Daichi's body acts on that ache before his mind can register anything other than feeling: he gets his hands on Kuroo's shirt, his shoulders, his hair, pulls him close and closer still. Kuroo goes easy, but Daichi doesn't stop; he keeps pulling, reaching, kissing, until Kuroo's knees slam against the metal of the washing machine with a hollow thud. 

 The noise of it is startling, and Daichi bumps his nose hard against Kuroo's cheekbone when he startles in sharp surprise. That's enough to snap him out of his kiss-clouded haze; Kuroo's wincing when Daichi refocuses, looking like he's trying to figure out if he should attend to his knees or his face first, and Daichi resists the urge to bury his face in Kuroo's shirt.

Kuroo picks one, rubs at his cheek and gives Daichi a look that would be close to reproachful if he didn't look so well-kissed. "Smooth."

 Daichi's cheeks are a nice shade of pink when he says, dry as he can manage, "Yeah, well. The laundry room isn't exactly the best place for this sort of thing."

 "Oh? Where would you suggest we do this, then?"

 It's ridiculous, honestly--that's usually the progression of things, Daichi knows--, but his heart skips a beat because, god, he hadn't expected Kuroo to take him seriously, hadn't expected Kuroo to straighten up and look at him like he meant it, like he really wanted to know. And what's he supposed to say now, with Kuroo looking at him like this?  He wants that, wants Kuroo, wants to know if Kuroo would fuck him the way he looks like he would, but...

 Daichi takes a deep breath, sets his jaw, says, "Nowhere yet. I don't even know what we're doing here."

 "I'm kissing you," yes, he is, thoroughly and well and all over, "and you're…confused, I'm guessing."

"That's not what I meant, smartass," Daichi says. He wants to be cross, but that's difficult to manage when Kuroo is drawing a neat wet line of kisses down the side of his neck--even more so when he pauses, teeth bare on the juncture of Daichi's neck and shoulder, to speak.  

"Oh?"

Considering the near-tangible tension that's been hanging between them for weeks, this is the silliest hangup Daichi can think of--but he says it anyway, because he means it. "We haven't even gone on a date yet. Don't you think this is moving a little fast?"

 Kuroo pulls away from what's definitely going to be a sizable hickey tomorrow and gives Daichi the flattest stare he's seen in a long time. "What did you think we were doing last night?"

 "Wait--" Daichi straightens up so fast he nearly gives himself whiplash, eyes wide. "What?"

 Kuroo's pink-cheeked and wet-mouthed and incredulous, and Daichi can't help but think that, if he weren't preoccupied with being embarrassed, he'd find it sort of cute. "You can't be serious, Sawamura."

 "That was a date?"

"It's not like I let everyone I meet drive my car…and I hope you don't think I kiss just anyone, either."

Daichi doesn't think that at all, actually, but that's mostly because he's been trying not to think about that whole incident for the past twenty-four hours. How is he supposed to tell Kuroo he'd been avoiding the issue completely, even in the privacy of his own head--and now especially, when Kuroo had been under the impression that they were on a date?

"No," Daichi admits after a moment, scratching at the back of his neck. "I just didn't think you'd kiss me."

The room goes quiet.

It's a stark silence, the kind that makes Daichi a little nervous, and it accentuates the fact that Kuroo's just standing there looking at him. Even Souta has stopped scratching at his collar to blink at both of them, tail still, ears perked.

After a long, long moment, Kuroo finally comes back to life: he makes a noise that's half-sigh and half-laugh and covers Daichi's hand with his own where it sits, balled into a fist, on the slowly warming metal of the washing machine. His thumb traces the tendons on the back of Daichi's hand, careful and pensive, and in the back of Daichi's mind rises the feeling that out of all the ways Kuroo has touched him tonight, this is the most intimate.

"I'd have brought flowers if I'd known you weren't gonna get the message," Kuroo grumbles, though his cheeks are a sweet shade of sheepish pink.

Daichi can actually imagine that: Kuroo showing up at his door, unapologetic and only a little awkward, wielding a bouquet of flowers like a particularly effective weapon. The thought of it makes his ears go hot, makes his tone go sharp when he says, "I don't need flowers. Just ask me properly next time."

"Alright, then." Kuroo slips his hand into Daichi's, brings it up between them, bends his head until his lips brush against Daichi's knuckles. Eyes bright and smile verging on a smirk, he says, "Have dinner with me on Thursday?"

"I didn't mean now--and we always have dinner on Thursdays!"

 "That's kind of the point…is that a no?"

Kuroo is incorrigible and irritating and winsome, and Daichi doesn't know if he could say no even purely out of spite. So he doesn't try; instead he scowls and says, "Don't break into my house next time, dumbass."

  "No guarantees," Kuroo says, in a tone that implies he's going to do exactly that.

 "I'm not kissing you again until you promise."

 Their eyes meet for half a second, quick--and then Kuroo's gaze drops lower, to where Daichi runs his tongue over his bottom lip before he takes it between his teeth.

 "Promise," Kuroo agrees, low, sincere.

 "Then it's a date," Daichi confirms, and pulls him down for a kiss.

 

 

xi.

 

It turns out that having a pseudo-paramour who just so happens to engage in borderline illegal activities for fun is, at times, a bit stressful.

 Daichi finds this out on a Thursday in late July, at the end of what had been a rather relaxing day. He’d made himself something other than ramen for breakfast, braved the heat to go for a run in the afternoon, spent an hour playing with Souta, had a bath, made dinner, lounged in front of the television for the evening, and then gotten into bed. No confusing conversations with flirty racers, no joyrides taken, no fingers made sore from holding on to the oh-shit handle for upwards of twenty minutes.

 

Daichi’d spent the day alone, and he’d loved every minute of it.

 

 (Though there had been a few too-quiet moments when the air had gone still and heavy on Daichi's skin, and he’d caught himself thinking of open windows and wind on his face and the rumble of an engine humming up his spine before he could stop himself.)

 It’s just past ten o’clock, now, and Daichi's curled up with a book he’s been meaning to read for a few weeks. Souta is at his feet, paws twitching sporadically in his sleep. He looks comfortable like that, sprawled out and snoring, and Daichi is considering following suit when his phone goes off.

 On the screen is a number Daichi doesn’t recognize, which is...odd. He’s not in the habit of giving his number to people he doesn’t know, so there’s a warranted measure of wariness in his voice when he picks up.

    “Who is this?”

 “Yo, Sawamura.”

    Daichi's heart attempts to leap and sink simultaneously; it succeeds only in tying itself in an odd little knot somewhere off the center of his chest. “What do you want, Kuroo?”

 “Oh, c’mon. You haven’t seen me in days. Not even a hello, how are you?”

    “Hello, how are you, what do you want?”

    Kuroo huffs out a tense laugh, barely audible over Yaku’s voice sharp in the background. He says, “D'you know anything about first aid?”

    “What?”

  “Y’know, standard stuff, basic medical techniques.”

    “What?”

    “Even if you can do a nice cross-stitch, that would work--”

    “Kuroo.” Daichi sits up. Souta is whining, ears perked, alert; Daichi reaches out to scratch his head, hoping the motion will help him calm down too. “What’s going on?”

    There’s a yelp, followed shortly by a hiss and a few seconds of static. When it fades, someone clears their throat and says, a bit too brightly, “Hello, Sawamura-san.”

    Yaku's voice is familiar, both reassuring and slightly worrisome. Daichi swallows down the nervousness bubbling in his stomach and says,“Okay, what’s going on?”

    “Well, our fearless leader here--” Kuroo, in the background, says I like the sound of that, and is immediately cut off again as Yaku speaks over him “--decided it would be a great idea to get a little too competitive during a friendly race and ended up getting run off the road.”

    “Damnit--are you serious?”

“I wouldn’t joke about this,” Yaku says, half exasperated and half too-sweet. “We were hoping you had some sort of medical know-how.”

 Daichi's already getting out of bed and fumbling for the nearest pair of sweats. He figures he can be wherever Kuroo is in under half an hour, which should be long enough for Daichi to talk himself down to only scolding Kuroo's ear off instead of punching him. “I can leave now if you give me the address.”

  “No need." Underneath Yaku’s voice is a rumble, deep and imminent. It takes Daichi a moment to realize the sound isn’t coming through the phone.

  “Akaashi will pick you up.”

 

--

 

The car humming outside Daichi's apartment complex is an oil spill strung tight across a beautifully sleek frame. Daichi's not sure he should be touching it, let alone sitting in it, but Akaashi rolls down the window when he's close enough, gestures for him to get in, and says, "Sorry about the late notice, Sawamura-san, but we're in a bit of a hurry."

 Daichi shakes his head, offers the best smile he has. "Don't worry about it. That's alright."

 The gingerness with which he buckles his seatbelt earns him an amused look from Akaashi. Akaashi doesn't remark on it, though; all he says as he pulls away from the curb is, "Thank you for coming."

 "Of course."

 Nervousness strings Daichi tight as a bow; he makes himself relax into the passenger seat, closes his eyes, and tries to let the rhythmic roll of tires on pavement soothe his mind as they drive.

 

--

 

In the unnerving quiet of the garage, Akaashi's voice is loud, sharp. "Yaku-san and the others went home already. Kuroo-san didn't want to worry them; he just needs to be taken home."

 Daichi can understand that; he'd do the same, were he in Kuroo's shoes, and he's about to say as much when something creaks on the other side of the garage and catches his attention. When Daichi looks, Bokuto's car is there, unscathed, still warm; Oikawa's is next to it, also whole, though it sports a red-edged gash from nose to tail on the right side.

 And there, on the far side of the garage, coughing up curling wisps of thin smoke, is--

 "Oikawa-san clipped him on a straightaway. He spun out and hit a barrier." The left side of the hood is crumpled, headlight shattered, paint scraped away. Daichi's heart is somewhere up in his throat. "They weren't going too fast, so the car isn't damaged too badly. Neither is Kuroo-san."

Daichi breathes a sigh of minor relief, and Akaashi kindly does not comment.

 The garage is quiet, yes, but not silent; the closer Daichi gets to the back room, the easier it is for him to hear the distinct sharp sounds of voices. Their cadence and acidity strike a chord, and even from a distance Daichi can pick out Oikawa snapping at Bokuto, Bokuto retorting in what is likely his best attempt at an inside voice, and Kuroo laughing at both of them.

 It's familiar; almost comforting, but not quite.

 From fifteen feet away, through the open door, Daichi hears Bokuto, clear as glass. "Just let me fix you up! I swear I'll only give you cool scars."

Akaashi sighs, throws Daichi a look that says his patience has been worn thin, and says, “It's always like this when one of them gets hurt. Bokuto-san is under the impression he’s got some sort of medical skill, but that’s not quite the case.”

“I see,” Daichi says, noncommittal, because Akaashi’s gone a little fond at the corners of his mouth, and Daichi's learning that good judgment is not always infallible.

There’s a terribly familiar and yet very out-of-place noise, immediately followed by Kuroo shouting that no, staples are not necessary--and just like that, the fondness on Akaashi’s face fades into seriousness just as quickly as it had come.

“I kept the first aid kit out of sight to avoid this sort of thing. I’ll go get it. If you wouldn’t mind stepping in…?”

Over the swelling buzz of his own nervous thoughts, Daichi says, "Ah--yeah, sure."

 In the back room, Bokuto is, indeed, gesturing with a stapler (the garden-variety office kind that can’t even hold together a decent-sized sheath of paper without the staple bending and slipping loose, what is he thinking?). He stops when he sees Daichi, though; he goes a little sheepish, puts down the stapler, and says, “Hey, Sawamura, how’s it going?"

 There’s an apprehensive little noise from behind him, and then Bokuto moves out of Daichi's line of sight and--

“Yo,” Kuroo says, aiming for nonchalant and falling a little short. He flips Daichi a left-handed salute. “Took you long enough.”

“I wasn’t driving,” Daichi says, briefly irritated, before he steps around Bokuto. Kuroo twists just the slightest bit away; Daichi gives him a hard look and says, “Don’t mess around. Let me see you.”

Kuroo laughs weakly, braces his weight on his left arm, and shrugs. “Look all you want. It ain’t gettin’ any prettier.”

 It couldn’t have been pretty to begin with: there’s blood, tacky and glistening, splotched all the way down to Kuroo's hand from various minor cuts, weaving brownish patterns down the inside of his wrist and making the scars on his knuckles look fresh. The fabric of his t-shirt is speckled with russet-red and ruby remnants of a recent nosebleed, and he's tonguing at a cut on one side of his top lip. He's bloodied up, to be sure, but when Daichi takes a breath and fights down that initial wave of worry his attention drifts elsewhere: to the bruises soaked into his skin like red wine spilled on a clean carpet, every shade of rose from first bud to last bloom. The worst of them sits high on his right shoulder, run through by dark seatbelt-stripes that spell out, clear and bold: it could have been worse.

 "Could've been worse," Kuroo says, as if he knows what Daichi's thinking. "It's more bruises than blood. I'll be fine in a week or two."

 Oikawa, across the room with his hands on his hips, says: "This wouldn't have happened if you'd have just let me pass you."

 Kuroo shoots him a glare. "That kind of defeats the point of racing, y'know. Besides, you wouldn't have won anyway--Bokuto would've beaten you if I hadn't."

 "Hey--"

 The door to the office bangs open, cutting Oikawa off mid-protest, and in stomps Iwaizumi--the cop not-boyfriend, whom Daichi's met on occasion (occasion being the time he'd met Kuroo for dinner at their usual restaurant and seen Oikawa getting cuffed out front)--, who looks like he's just rolled right off of the wrong side of the bed. Oikawa straightens up, slaps on a grin that doesn't quite seem wholly confident, and says, voice a shade higher, "Hey, Iwa-chan!"

 Iwaizumi doesn't bother to return the greeting; he stops just short of where Oikawa stands and gives him a once-over that consists of a few pinches, several pokes, and one long scrutinizing look. When he's satisfied that Oikawa is in one piece, Iwaizumi growls, lands a solid slap to the back of Oikawa's head, and says, "Dumbass. You know better than to be reckless in friendly races…you won't be able to race at all if you end up with a broken leg and a trashed car."

 "Well, it worked out alright, didn't it?" Oikawa's tone is borderline petulant, though something sober settles into the lines of his mouth. "I didn't get hurt, and Kuroo will be fine. You really should try to relax, Iwa-chan."

 "The only time I relax is when you're asleep or in handcuffs so I know you're not doing anything stupid," Iwaizumi says, gruff. Oikawa breaks into a smile anyway, bouncing up to throw his arm around Iwaizumi's shoulders.

 "Let's go home, Iwa-chan. Did you make dinner while I was gone? You know racing takes a lot out of--ow!"

 Iwaizumi cuts Oikawa off midsentence with an elbow to the ribs and shoves him out of the room, grumbling about how of course he'd made dinner, dumbass, he always does, though he really should make Oikawa fend for himself. Post-lecture, he turns, leans back into the room, and says, "You gonna be okay, Kuroo?"

 "Yeah," Kuroo says, giving Iwaizumi a grin that pulls at the cut on his lip. "I'll be fine. I'm sure Sawamura's got great bedside manner."

 The quip earns him a laugh and a shake of the head; Iwaizumi claps the doorframe the way he would Kuroo's shoulder if there were unbruised space available to do so. "Take care of yourself, alright?"

 Half of the look Iwaizumi gives falls on Daichi, who nods out of instinct even as Kuroo sounds off with an all-too-assured "I always do". Iwaizumi snorts, shakes his head, and heads out, presumably to herd Oikawa out of the garage without further incident.

 With Oikawa gone the noise is cut by a third; Bokuto makes up for the quiet by gesturing at the bruise on Kuroo's shoulder and saying with a grin, "I've had worse before."

 Kuroo scoffs and pulls his sleeve up a little higher; the bruise sticks to the line of his collarbone, color thinning out as it approaches the soft swell of his throat. "This is pretty damn cool, y'know. Probably better than anything you've ever gotten falling off your bike."

 "I don't own a bike!" Bokuto protests; and then, reconsidering, he adds, "No, remember summer last year? I hit that huge puddle and spun out and the engine caught fire!"

 "Yeah, well--"

 "You know," cuts in Akaashi, who's returning with a first aid kid the size of a small child, "that's not actually a good thing, right, Bokuto-san?"

 Bokuto winces, attempts to recover: "No, but the bruises I got were pretty cool, huh?"

 "The cost of repairing the car and fixing that telephone pole certainly weren't."

 "Akaashi," Bokuto whines. The beginning of a pout is dangling from the edge of his bottom lip; Akaashi rolls his eyes, sighs, and pushes the first aid kit into Daichi's hands.

 "He mostly just has to have his cuts cleaned and bandaged. Besides that, ice and rest are all he needs. I assume you can take care of that, Sawamura-san?"

 "Got it." The first aid kit is heavy, and if Kuroo didn't look a shade shy of miserable Daichi would make him carry it himself. But he does, and it's making something in Daichi's chest wind up tight in on itself, so Daichi hefts the kit properly into his arms and gives Akaashi what smile he can muster up. "Thanks."

 Akaashi's brow relaxes, and the set of his mouth is understanding when he says, "Don't worry about it. Let me know if either of you need anything."

 "Will do," Kuroo says, sliding off the desk. Daichi catches the tail end of a very well-disguised hiss, but Kuroo turns to him with a too-bright smile that Daichi knows better than to question, gestures toward the door, and says, "Shall we?"

 Daichi sets his mouth in a steady smile. "Yeah. Let's get you home."

 

--

 The first order of business, when they finally get back to Kuroo's apartment, is getting Kuroo cleaned up; to that end, Daichi sets about herding Kuroo into the shower as soon as they're through the door.

 "If you're not out in fifteen minutes I'm coming after you," Daichi says. Kuroo is stripping down in front of him, shameless, and Daichi fixes his eyes on the sink instead. "I mean it."

 "That's more of an incentive to stay in than to get out," Kuroo tells him, letting his jeans fall to the floor with a rustle and a click.

 Daichi won't deny the way his pulse jumps under his skin at the thought; but he swallows it down, gives Kuroo his best glare, and says, "If I have to come get you, you will not like it. That's a promise."

 He turns on his heel and leaves to set up camp in an open space on Kuroo's living room floor.

 The shower cuts off after six minutes, much to Daichi's satisfaction. After another five, wherein several drawers are opened and shut and one bottle of something is knocked onto the floor (accompanied by a sharp curse), Kuroo pads back into the living room, clean and dry and wearing nothing but a pair of clingy gray boxers.

 Under normal circumstances Daichi would be distracted by the swell of muscle in Kuroo's arms, by the cut of his waist, by the remnants of the thoughtless fluidity with which he moves; but tonight Daichi is business through and through, so he ignores those things, focuses on the bruises, and says, "Sit down."

 Kuroo looks at Daichi, looks at the contents of the first-aid kit spread out over the floor, looks at Daichi again. Daichi raises an eyebrow and keeps it high until Kuroo heaves a sigh and lowers himself to the floor with a grunt. And from there he doesn't move, doesn't wink, doesn't make any smart remarks; Kuroo leans back on one arm and stays obligingly still as Daichi, kneeling next to him, looks him over.

 With the blood washed away Kuroo looks closer to whole; now that he's clean, Daichi can tell that most of Kuroo's injuries are bruises, here and there struck through by shallow scrapes. It's not nearly as bad as Daichi had thought it was when he'd first seen it--but still...

 A quick shake of his head clears his mind. In place of dwelling on could have been worse, Daichi cracks open the bottle of antiseptic, soaks a square of cloth. He scrunches up his nose at the sharp smell; Kuroo winces, but he keeps still as Daichi dabs at a long scrape on his arm. 

 Silence only lasts so long, though, and after a swollen moment, Daichi, sounding every bit as displeased as he feels, says, "You got lucky. You know that, right?"

 "I know," Kuroo says, wry. "I usually try not to wreck my cars, y'know."

 "I would hope so."

 "Oh, come on. My driving record is almost as spotless as I'm sure yours is."

 Daichi would laugh if he were anywhere close to being in the mood; as it stands, he gives Kuroo a quelling look and says, "Shut up and hold still."

 "I am," Kuroo points out. He doesn't shut up, though, which is what Daichi had been getting at, and when Daichi rolls his eyes he says, "I'm surprised you haven't chewed me out yet. Yaku definitely would have."

 And, really, if Daichi's honest, he's a little surprised about that, too; but then again, relief can be a very powerful source of calm. That's something Daichi doesn't want to think about, though, something he doesn't want to analyze; instead, he switches gears and plows on ahead. "Why'd you call me?"

 "Because I needed someone to drive me home," Kuroo says, as though that was the dumbest question he's heard in weeks.

 Daichi clicks his tongue and rephrases. "No, why did you call me? I'm sure someone else could have done this for you."

 The space between them is negligible, but into it fits a pause that falls as heavy as a loaded die. Kuroo's gaze is trained on the ceiling, resolute and unblinking; he takes a moment, lips pursed, to think, and when he speaks again, his tone is honest, warm. "Your hands are always steady."

 "Oh," Daichi manages, though the words come out a little strangled around the lump rising in his throat. "Are they?"

 A smile finds a delicate perch on the curve of Kuroo's lips. "Yeah."

 Daichi breathes out, hopes the butterflies he feels banging against his ribs don't show on his face. "I'm glad you called, then. I'll do my best."

 "I would have called you anyway," Kuroo says, a touch too breezy; and then, like he's trying to change subjects: "You'd kill me if I showed up at the garage with a busted hood and I hadn't told you."

 Daichi soaks the cloth in antiseptic again, dabs at the scrapes on Kuroo's shoulder. He's careful not to meet Kuroo's eyes, gaze trained instead on the mottled skin near Kuroo's collarbone, when he says, "I don't care about the car."

 "What?"

 "I don't care about the car," Daichi repeats. He knows his voice is thick and his cheeks are going hot, but he doesn't care; this is something he has to say. "That's fine, I'm good at my job. I can repair the car. But I….if something serious had happened to you, it wouldn't be like changing out spare parts or putting on a new coat of paint, you know? So I'm glad you're okay--" and, because that clawing tightness in his chest is something Daichi would like to avoid feeling ever again "--but don't get yourself hurt again."

 Those last few words are said with all the force of meaning Daichi can muster up, but Kuroo doesn't look anywhere close to appropriately chastised; instead he scratches at the back of his head, tries to crumple the smile on his lips into a frown, and mutters, "I don't know how you can say stuff like that with a straight face."

 "Stuff like what?"

 "Like that," Kuroo says, nodding at the space between them. Daichi blinks. "Ah…jeez. You could've just kissed me instead. That's much less…honest, and it gets the message across just the same."

 Daichi's blush flares to life on a half-second delay; he focuses on unwrapping a band-aid and says, "I just thought you should know."

 "Of course you did. I wouldn't expect anything less of you."

 "Shut up," Daichi grumbles, smoothing the band-aid into place. He doesn't need to look up to know Kuroo's grinning--he can feel it, the warmth and the spark of amusement in it tangible on his skin like a brush of fingertips.

 (He kisses Kuroo anyway, just to make sure he'd gotten his message across.)

 

---

 

Kuroo starts complaining about the hardness of the floor and the ache in his back after about ten minutes of making out on the living room floor. Daichi can't quite blame him, either--his knees are starting to ache where they dig into the hardwood on either side of Kuroo's hips, and bracing himself above Kuroo is putting a bit of strain in his shoulders--and while it's still nice, there are much better places to be doing this sort of thing. That's why Daichi acquiesces without protest when Kuroo pushes himself to his feet with a grunt and says, "Let's go somewhere more comfortable, yeah?"

 'Somewhere more comfortable' is, apparently, also somewhere much more intimate; without a second thought, Kuroo guides Daichi down a hallway, pushes open the door at the end, tugs Daichi across the threshold and into his bedroom.

 His bedroom, in a word, seems: comfortable. Champagne carpet, sleek mahogany furniture, and a bed big enough for three, wine-red sheets rumpled and folded down haphazard. Judging by the pileup of pillows shifting dangerously toward the edge of the mattress on the right side, Daichi can only assume that's Kuroo's designated half.

 Kuroo confirms his suspicions when he leads Daichi over to that side of the bed, using him for leverage as he sinks slow onto the mattress, ginger and wincing. He's aching but he's alright, Daichi's sure of that; he's already turning to go back into the living room, satisfied with a job well done, when Kuroo speaks up.

 "Why don't you stay here?"

 "I'll sleep on the couch," Daichi says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in what he thinks is the direction of the living room. "I don't mind."

 "Stay here," Kuroo repeats, fingers sure on Daichi's wrist. He's leaning back, cushioned by the mass of pillows, and doing his best to bring Daichi down with him. "The bed is way more comfortable than the couch, I can guarantee you that one…and, besides--" and his thumb is pressed into Daichi's palm again, tracing the creases and scars there "--I might need you during the night."

 There are no mistakes to be made here; Daichi knows the weight of Kuroo's tone, knows the way it catches at him with clever hooks, knows the way it will pull him in. He's not sure of what lies between the soft press of Kuroo's bedsheets--besides Kuroo himself, warm and tempting and as predictable as a coin toss--but when he looks at Kuroo he feels a little like he's standing on the edge of uncharted territory, like an explorer at the edge of some unknown wonder armed only with a dubiously-illustrated map and a handful of hope.

 It's a bit of a frightening prospect--but maybe Daichi could do with a bit of adventure.

 "Why would you need me?"

 "Hm." Like he's thinking about it, like he's making a list of well-rationalized reasons, even though they both are aware that Daichi knows perfectly well what he's been getting at. "I might have a concussion or something."

"Akaashi said you were fine."

"Akaashi could be wrong."

"Akaashi is a nurse."

 "Alright, alright…uh. What if I get cold?"

 Daichi pauses, raises an eyebrow, watches Kuroo's cheeks redden. "That's your excuse?"

 "Do I really need an excuse to try to get you in my bed?"

 "A better one than that," Daichi says, but he kneels on the bed anyway.

 There's a shade of relief on Kuroo's face, and Daichi tries not to think much of it; instead he focuses on the way Kuroo reaches for him, fingers hooking briefly in the loose collar of the borrowed t-shirt before working their way upwards, cupping the back of Daichi's neck, thumb stroking at the soft spot behind his ear. Daichi lets himself lean into the steady pressure of Kuroo's hands, lets his eyes fall shut, lets himself give in.

 "I'll think of a good one," Kuroo murmurs.

 Daichi leans down to kiss Kuroo on impulse; once, gentle, just long enough that when he pulls away he can see the gleam of Kuroo's teeth where he'd parted his lips. Around the tongue-tying urge to do that again, he says, "Sleep on it. Tell me in the morning."

 "Deal," Kuroo says, and the smile he gives Daichi is easy, lopsided, genuine. Daichi wants to memorize the curve of it with his mouth, wants to know what it takes to coax that sort of expression onto Kuroo's face more frequently--and he'll try, one day, if all goes well--but not tonight. Sleep is tugging at his eyelids, and Daichi figures if he's tired Kuroo can't be much better off.

 Daichi frees himself from Kuroo's grip, moves over, pulls the covers back near the middle of the bed, and pauses, just for a moment. The hint of hesitation swelling in his chest is not unfamiliar--but at the same time it's reminiscent of the rush of adrenaline he gets when he tries something new, when he figures out the way something suits him for the first time. You'll never know until you try, Daichi thinks, and, with what amounts to a mental shrug, pulls the covers up to his shoulders.

Kuroo watches him, eyes the outline of Daichi's form beneath the sheets, and says, after a moment: "Well, you sure got comfortable quick, didn't you?"

 There's no bite to his tone; it's more observation than teasing, and Daichi lets the remark slide. Instead he pats the unoccupied foot of mattress space next to him, watches Kuroo lift an eyebrow, and says, grinning, "Are you coming to bed or not?"

 That gets Kuroo to move: he blinks, sits up, and turns a nice shade of pink, all in quick succession. "Foul play, Sawamura," he grumbles as he shifts, tentative and careful, and rolls onto his stomach.

 "Whatever works," Daichi says, unrepentant, and leans over to tug the covers up to the small of Kuroo's back.

 Kuroo gives him an appreciative grunt and reaches up to grab at a pillow. Daichi really hadn't meant to start anything tonight, but when Kuroo moves like that his shoulderblades shift smooth beneath his skin and the muscles in his back coil and he's so broad, wide-shouldered and wiry, and Daichi sometimes forgets Kuroo isn't as lanky as he seems when he's dolled up in leather jackets and skintight jeans. He's tempting this way--when he's not even trying, and oh, how he'd tease Daichi if he knew--and Daichi can't help himself: he leans down, impulsive, and presses his mouth to the rise of Kuroo's bare shoulder.

 "Sawamura--"

 "Sorry," Daichi says, and drops another kiss into the valley between Kuroo's shoulderblades. His face is hot enough that Kuroo can likely feel the warmth of it against his skin when Daichi kisses him again, this time at the peak of a vertebra. "Go to sleep."

 "You're making it hard to sleep, though."

 Daichi can't help but laugh; he shakes his head and lies down again, makes sure he settles down far away enough that he won't be tempted to kiss Kuroo anywhere else. "Shut the hell up."

 "Yes, sir," Kuroo says, playfulness thick under a layer of sarcasm; but atop the playfulness and sarcasm is exhaustion, heavy and grating, and Kuroo is asleep before the smile fades from his face.

 Silence settles into the room, eager and quick, and Daichi--who reaches out, careful, to catch Kuroo's fingers between his--settles into sleep much the same way.

 

---

 

Daichi wakes to a long groan, a shifting mattress, and an unusual excess of sunlight.

 When he opens his eyes, he can make out Kuroo, to his left, blurry and out of focus, stretching stiff limbs. The bruises have settled in to stay--though in the morning light they seem somehow less worrisome than they had last night--and Kuroo is mindful of them as he stretches; his breathing is even, measured, and his movements are sparing where need be.

(Daichi is struck by the sudden and lingering desire to kiss every single one of those bruises; he blames the urge on fitful sleep and the haze of new wakefulness, even though the need is one he can't quite shake.)

 Daichi doesn't ask how Kuroo's feeling. He knows full well he'd only get some flippant answer, and besides, he can see Kuroo looks well enough, anyway; instead, he rolls onto his back, shakes himself awake, and squints down at Kuroo, who takes the opportunity to get himself situated on top of Daichi's legs like he weighs nothing more than a well-fed housecat.

 Though Daichi clears his throat, his voice is still sleep-thick when he asks, "What are you doing?"

"I slept on it," Kuroo tells him, in the same way one would say good morning. He lays his hand flat across Daichi's belly, rests his chin atop it, raises an eyebrow when Daichi furrows his own. "My excuse from last night. You said you'd hear it in the morning."

 Daichi says, "Oh," half because he does remember that, now that Kuroo's bringing it up, and half because Kuroo is moving upwards, nudging his shirt up to kiss what he can reach of Daichi's skin. "I did, didn't I…"

 Kuroo hums his assent and pauses, then, lips pressed to the curve of Daichi's ribs. He says, "Yeah, you did."

 Something in his voice is a shade different than usual; Daichi attributes it to early-morning hoarseness and props himself up on his elbows to get a better look at Kuroo's face. His cheeks are pink, probably warm from sleep, and he's looking over into the corner of the room like there's something intriguing to be found beneath the pile of last night's discarded clothes.

 Daichi shrugs it off as a bit of drowsiness. "So? Let's hear it."

 Kuroo pauses, purses his lips, drops his eyes to somewhere near Daichi's elbow. After a moment he draws in a breath and presses his forehead to Daichi's shoulder, and it's there--in the hollow of Daichi's throat--that he secrets his answer away.

 "Because I like you," he says, and the words sink into Daichi's skin like the heat of a brand; only the brief matching quiver-and-steel of Kuroo's fingers and voice give him away as anything less than confident.

 Daichi swallows against a fresh burst of anxious adrenaline and says, belated, "Ah."

 Kuroo huffs out half a laugh, props himself up on one elbow, gives Daichi a flimsy quarter-smirk. "You're usually so eloquent," he says, tracing the stitching of the shirt's collar. "What happened to that?"

 "You caught me off guard," Daichi confesses. When they're this close--when Kuroo's heart is beating against his stomach, face scant inches from Daichi's own, when they've spent the night together and woken up tangled in each other--what's the point in lying?

 "Obviously." The heat sitting high on Kuroo's cheeks belies his smirk, and the self-satisfaction in his tone melts down into something thin and bare. "You don't have to say anything. I just thought you should know. Full disclosure, y'know, whatever."

 Of course Daichi's going to say something. And maybe sometime later he'll have a decent response, something comprehensive and maybe even poetic. But Daichi knows that ten words can spark a fire just as well as one hundred when properly used and fully meant; and, after all, he's never been one to let necessary things go unsaid.

 "Okay. But I'm still not kissing you until you brush your teeth."  

 It's a little like watching a time-lapse recording of a flower turning toward the sun: Kuroo perks up, blinking, and the smile that blossoms on his lips is lovely, bright, vital. "But you will kiss me," he confirms, leaning up to press his mouth to the underside of Daichi's jaw.

 "Yes." Daichi rolls his eyes, pinches Kuroo's side. "Now go."

 "Hey--ouch, alright, alright, I'm going."

Kuroo hauls himself out of bed--catches his foot in the covers, stumbles, recovers with a modicum of grace--and trots off in the general direction of the bathroom. Daichi watches him go, watches the way Kuroo stretches as he walks, watches him throw a poorly executed wink over his shoulder before he rounds the corner and disappears from Daichi's line of sight.  

 Silence and tension stretch thin over the room, quivering like the surface of a soap bubble swollen too fast to hold its shape. The atmosphere is still, transient, and Daichi is suspended within it: staring up at the ceiling, counting down the seconds, letting out a slow breath.

 The bubble pops.

 Daichi slumps down into the bed, muffles a long groan in the nearest pillow, and presses his palm to the center of his chest, where his heart beats so hard it might bruise itself against his ribcage. When he tries for a deep breath he finds butterflies humming just beneath his diaphragm; they crowd his lungs, cluster tight around his stomach, make his nerves quiver from the evanescent tickle of so many perceived paper-thin wings.

 He's nervous as hell, yes, but beneath that--beneath the trip of his pulse and the rush of adrenaline in his blood--is something relieved and quietly satisfied, settling into his bones as does heat into the earth. Daichi is happy--he is, he really is--and that realization makes his second groan trail off into a laugh.

 "What's so funny?"

 The bed shakes enough to make Daichi roll a little further onto his belly, which gives him a moment to compose himself; he sucks in a short breath and pastes on a smile before turning over.

 Kuroo's hovering over him, bedhead newly refreshed, face soap-scented and damp, a spot of leftover toothpaste foam sitting at the corner of his mouth. He's grinning, broad and ready, and Daichi's smile goes genuine in echo.

 "You've got toothpaste on your face," he says, gesturing with his chin.

 "Shit," Kuroo mutters, swiping at his chin. He misses completely and Daichi laughs, reaches up, thumbs it away. He lets his hand linger there, on the sharp cut of Kuroo's jaw, smoothing his thumb across patches of stubble, until Kuroo softens from his smile to his eyes and says, "So, about that kiss…"

 Daichi clicks his tongue. "I haven't brushed my teeth yet."

 "And I'm not fussy," Kuroo counters, leaning down.

 In the second it takes for Kuroo to dip his head and kiss the corner of Daichi's mouth, Daichi's blood takes up its pace with new vigor; his pulse jumps under his skin, eager and wanting, and before he can  remember there was some sort of point he'd been trying to make he's turning his head just enough to brush his lips over Kuroo's own.

 Kuroo makes a noise that's half surprise and half victory and pulls away, presumably to say something that, more likely than not, would be a complete mood-ruiner. But Daichi's feeling generous and more than a little indulgent, and he would rather his mood stay unspoiled. So he doesn't give Kuroo the chance; he reaches up, fits his hand to the back of Kuroo's neck, pulls him down and kisses him soundly.

 Kissing Kuroo is like finding a new shade of a favorite color: familiar and novel all at once. Daichi hasn't had the same kiss twice yet--and he's not sure if he ever will--and though by now the shape and warmth of Kuroo's mouth are well-documented by Daichi's own, Kuroo still manages to make Daichi feel something novel every time. 

What Daichi feels now are the butterflies in his stomach making a concentrated effort to help his heart do somersaults instead of beating the way it should; what he feels now is a smile pulling at his lips, because Kuroo tastes like toothpaste and his stubble is scratching at Daichi's chin and Daichi hasn't been kissed good morning in a long time.

 If asked, Daichi would say he flips Kuroo onto his back now because he's got most of his weight on his left arm and that can't be good for his shoulder; but, privately, he would admit that he does it because he likes the way Kuroo's eyes go wide in brief surprise before he laughs, grinning, and winds his arms around Daichi's neck.

 "I don't think you've actually told me good morning yet," Kuroo observes.

 He's running his hands through Daichi's hair, thumb pressed into the dip at the base of Daichi's skull. It's distracting, and Daichi's only half listening to what he says, so it takes a moment for him to blink down at Kuroo and say, "I haven't, have I?"

 "Nope."

 "Well, then." Daichi presses his lips to Kuroo's collarbone, etches a smile there when Kuroo blows out a sharp breath between his teeth. He says, "Good morning," and kisses him again, this time just below his breastbone.

 Kuroo wiggles his eyebrows. "Thank you," he says, jovial, though his tone changes as Daichi makes his way down the length of Kuroo's stomach. A brush of lips against his ribcage makes him clear his throat, but an open-mouthed kiss laid just inside his hipbone makes his voice dip low when he adds, "This really is a good morning, huh?"

 "Yes, it is," Daichi tells him, nosing at the spread of dark hair just above the waistband of Kuroo's sweats; and after that he doesn't say much else, not for a long while.

 

--

 

(Kuroo comes alone when he brings his car to the garage to have the hood fixed a few days later.

 Daichi spends long minutes looking at the car with words like luck and chance at the forefront of his mind; he spends long minutes on his toes, pressing Kuroo carefully against the side of his car and kissing him, thorough and slow, until what-ifs and could-have-beens give way to relief and contentment and nothing more.)

 

xii.

 

 

Their "first" date (which is not actually their first date, not if you count the dinners and 'work meetings' and the joyride and the make out session in the laundry room--which Kuroo does, of course, much to Daichi's embarrassment) is good.

 Daichi had ended up having an unusually tiring day at work--Tanaka and Nishinoya had spent half the afternoon whooping over the admittedly sleek new paint job on Asahi's car and Hinata had knocked over three boxes of screws all at the same time, guaranteeing at least an hour's worth of cleanup for everyone--and he'd let that slip over the phone when Kuroo called him that afternoon to confirm.

 Two hours later Kuroo had showed up at Daichi's door, bearing "gifts"--takeout, an array of stunningly terrible movies, and, of course, himself--and subsequently refused to let Daichi near the food until he'd showered and put on something comfortable. Daichi had, of course, complied--few things motivate him quite as well as food--which is why, by seven o'clock, Daichi is curled up on his couch in sweats and an old t-shirt from his college days, batting Kuroo's daring fork away from his plate and trying not to talk with his mouth full.

 Daichi has to admit that being with Kuroo like this is easy, comfortable, nice--hell, it's better than nice, not that he'd admit that to Kuroo just yet--and the bout of nerves he'd had earlier is reduced to nothing but a warm sensation sitting right in the middle of his chest, one that kicks up a flutter every time Kuroo smiles at him or kisses him or--or anything, really. It's a good feeling, a sweet one, and it makes Daichi relax more than he would have on any other first date.

 That comfort is probably why, when Daichi returns from throwing away takeout boxes to find Kuroo stretched out on the couch and beckoning to him, he doesn't put up much of a protest: he nudges Kuroo back to free up space and flops down, sinks into the cushions, lets himself be comfortable.

 Kuroo wiggles his cold feet between Daichi's calves, wraps an arm around his waist, and says, "Pick a movie."

 Daichi hums, shuffles through the selections on the four-for-one DVD, and picks a movie that doesn’t look terribly enthralling (not hard to do) but also doesn’t seem awful (significantly more difficult). His choice makes Kuroo grin against the back of his neck, though, and he plays out the opening score on a miniature scale as he drums his fingers against Daichi's hip.

 The movie is good, as far as shitty B-grade scifi movies go: it's some poorly animated supernatural thriller, starring a giant snake that looks like it was designed by a grade-schooler with a wild imagination, and a protagonist with a startlingly level head.

 "He reminds me of you," notes Kuroo, ten minutes in.

 Daichi watches as the protagonist--typically handsome, dark-haired, graced with a little more brawn than necessary to be fighting off CGI anacondas--makes some overly dramatic speech, and tries not to roll his eyes. "Should I be flattered you think snakes would want to eat me?"

 "It's a compliment," Kuroo insists, smirk audible, right before he presses his mouth to the back of Daichi's neck. Daichi can feel the faint curve of his smile as he kisses each of the vertebra above Daichi's collar individually, though it fades as he moves downwards.

 Once Kuroo's marked each accessible ridge of Daichi's spine with the fleeting pressure of his lips, he moves on, moves up, draws his tongue slick along the shell of Daichi's ear. He blows at the wet spot there once, quick, just to tease; it makes Daichi's skin go cold, makes him startle and jerk backwards and press himself firm against Kuroo's chest. Kuroo moves against him like an instinct, and Daichi is made very much aware of the fact that Kuroo's half-hard, cock twitching now where it's pressed up against Daichi's ass.

 This is easy, now, too; Daichi's getting used to the warm feeling rising in his belly, the one that makes Kuroo's breath on the back of his neck seem so much more stimulating than it had been moments ago. He's even getting used to Kuroo wanting him like this--though that's still new, and Daichi suspects it will feel new for a long while. 

 Even so, even as comfortable as he is, Daichi isn't keen on letting Kuroo get off easy in any sense of the phrase. So, although he's not at all uninterested himself, he says, more to tease than to reprimand, "Really?"

 "What?" Kuroo asks. Daichi gives him a pointed look over his shoulder, shifts backwards until Kuroo tamps down on a groan and tightens his grip on Daichi's hip. He says, cheeks flushed, tone borderline petulant, "There's nothing wrong with having a healthy sex drive, y'know."

 "I didn't say there was," Daichi tells him. "I just didn't think this movie was doing much to set the mood. But if that's what you're into..."

 Kuroo huffs, cranes forward to kiss the edge of Daichi's jaw, and Daichi turns his head so Kuroo can reach to kiss him properly on the mouth. He does, once, before saying, "Oh, come on. Is it so hard to believe I might want you all the time?"

 Daichi's reflexive and unvoiced answer is yes, actually, that is sort of hard to believe. He's nothing too arousing--and besides, he's in sweats and an old t-shirt. Though if Kuroo is into that sort of thing, they'll end up saving quite a bit on date nights…

 "I can hear the gears turning in your head," Kuroo says. He's pink, probably from both embarrassment and excitement, but he meets Daichi's eyes with an even gaze. "Don't think too hard about it. Just…listen to me, for once."

 There are parts of Daichi that bristle in response to the tone of a command, purely out of instinct. There are parts of Daichi that allow themselves to be soothed privately, quietly, without admitting they might have needed exactly that kind of attention. And there is a part of Daichi--an uncharted area somewhere in the center of his chest--that hesitates, brief, before unclenching. Daichi feels the relief of it like an afterthought.

 "At least wait until we're in bed before you say things like that," Daichi says after a moment, rolling over to face Kuroo. Like this the couch is cramped--Daichi's knees are jabbing into Kuroo's thighs, and falling off the edge of the couch is a very real possibility--but their faces are close enough that Daichi can see the smile stretching slow across Kuroo's lips, the quick flicker of his lashes when he looks from Daichi's eyes to his mouth and back again.

 "No promises," Kuroo tells him, but it sounds more like I understand.

 "I'm not kissing you until you promise."

 "I know the drill." Kuroo rolls his eyes, puts on his best game face, drops his voice to what Daichi supposes is meant to be a no-nonsense tone and says, "I promise I'll seduce you into bed instead of on the couch next time."

 "That's not what I said at all!"

 They both know that, but Kuroo's wriggling closer regardless, working his knee between Daichi's, fitting his hand to the dip of Daichi's side, and--utterly convinced of his charm--saying, "Close enough, yeah?"

 "I should make you promise properly," Daichi murmurs, but now Kuroo is nosing at him, grinning fit to outshine the overhead light, and Daichi thinks: oh, fuck it.

 

xiii. august

 

"Gross--does he always shed this much?"

 They're sitting in Daichi's living room--Daichi perched on the arm of the couch, Kuroo unwisely sprawled out on the floor--watching a rerun of some awful sci-fi movie with the volume on low. Souta's head is in Kuroo's lap and his tail keeps steady time with the movie's soundtrack, stirring up stray hair that floats in and out of Daichi's vision, illuminated by faint blue-green glow from the television screen.

 Daichi watches them both from a safe distance, allows himself a small smile. "Only in the summer."

 Kuroo makes a vaguely disgusted noise and attempts to stop petting Souta, who's having none of that; he huffs and paws at Kuroo's idling hand until Kuroo gives in and scratches under his chin again.

 "I hope you appreciate how much laundry I have to do every time I come over," Kuroo mutters, giving Souta the second half of the glare that Daichi shrugs off as he swings himself off the edge of the couch to go find a lint roller.

 "Try living with him," Daichi tosses over his shoulder. "Then you can complain."

 There's one in the kitchen; Daichi grimaces as he runs the roller over his shorts and comes up with an ungodly amount of hair. He makes a note to stock up on them later this week when he goes out for groceries and the like, along with mackerel and Kuroo's preferred label of beer (they'd compromised on that one; Kuroo had given up on winning out when it came to ramen places, but he refused to budge on the issue of alcohol). 

 Over the tinny sound of the lid on the trash can swinging shut as Daichi throws out the used sheets, he hears, from the living room: "What do you think?"

 "Huh?" Daichi calls, confused, but Kuroo's not talking to him; he's sitting on the floor scratching Souta behind the ears with both hands, expression very much serious, even though he stops every now and then to scrunch his nose up in what is definitely a precursor to 'puppy-talk'.

 "How 'bout it? I'm probably more fun than that stick in the mud. And--" Kuroo lowers his voice conspiratorially, leaning forward until Souta noses at his chin "--I know you like me better anyway, right?"

 "He probably likes you more than I do," Daichi teases, grinning, as he leans against the kitchen table.

 Kuroo shoots him a wounded look and turns back to Souta, saying, "See? D'you see what I put up with?"

 "'Put up with'," Daichi repeats, dry. "How nice."

 "Okay," Kuroo says, waving a hand in Daichi's direction. He pushes himself up off the floor with a grunt, mumbles something about old bones, and trots over to where Daichi stands with arms crossed, expectant. "How about…'what I have the pleasure of putting up with'? Is that better?"

 "Shut up." The kitchen tile's sudden intrigue has nothing to do with the fact that Daichi's blushing too hard to look Kuroo in the eye. "Why don't you just call it dating like everyone else does?"

 Kuroo makes a strangled little noise; Daichi stays resolute, though, glaring down at the floor, and wonders how he managed to fall for the most embarrassing person he knows.

 Once he's recovered, Kuroo sets his hands to the soft curve of Daichi's hips and says, for confirmation: "So you admit we're dating."

 Daichi frowns, looks up out of reflex; Kuroo's got on this crooked little smile, and the took-you-long-enough tinge to it makes Daichi sort of want to kiss it away. Instead he adjusts his arms where they're crossed over his chest and says, "I never said we weren't dating."

 "No, you didn't. You never said anything at all, actually."

 Okay, that's fair. This thing, the kissing and sleeping over and having feelings thing, has been going on for a few weeks now, and neither of them have put a label to it--or at least not aloud, anyway. But, then again...

 "Actions speak louder than words, y'know," Daichi says, and Kuroo smiles like he’d known that was what Daichi would say all along.

 "I didn't expect anything less from you, really--oh, ew." Kuroo makes a face, sticks out his tongue. "I think I've got dog hair in my mouth."

 Daichi grins, leans up, kisses Kuroo anyway. "Get used to it."

 

xiv.

 

Three months ago, Daichi would've thought he'd be spending the day of the race entirely on his feet, alternating between panicking and telling himself everything would be fine, going through checklists and making final adjustments and taking Kuroo's car out for trial runs, just to make sure everything worked the way it should.

 Today--the day of the race, the day Daichi's had in mind more often than not for the past three months--Daichi wakes up at nine and spends the remainder of his morning in bed.

 In Kuroo's bed, specifically.

Kuroo's already up by the time Daichi wakes; he's rifling through clothes in one of his dressers, looking supremely preoccupied--though he does pause briefly to kiss Daichi good morning and point out the cup of coffee on the bedside table--and making quite the mess.

 "You slept in pretty late," Kuroo remarks, tossing aside a nondescript t-shirt that lands on a small but growing pile of equally nondescript t-shirts.

 Daichi doesn't want to know how long Kuroo's been awake, and he doesn't ask; instead he mumbles something about how he'd had the day off, so of course he'd slept in--like any normal person would, thanks--, and considers burying his face in the pillow again. It's warm, and it still smells like Kuroo--two very tempting factors, to be sure--but Daichi hasn't yet mastered how to sleep in Classic Kuroo Pose without suffocating, so he decides against it.

 Kuroo says, "Mhmm," like he'd hardly been listening at all; and then he turns, comes to kneel on the bed, holds up two leather jackets for Daichi's examination. "I should probably ask someone else, since you dress like you're forty, but here: which one d'you like better?"

 Maybe Daichi's just confused, but...

 He rubs at his eyes, squints, and confirms that no, he is not seeing double: it's just that both jackets look exactly the same.

 "I can't tell the difference," he admits. Kuroo gives a heavy sigh, shoulders slumping. "Sorry."

 "Nah, it's fine…" Kuroo laughs, wry, drops both of the jackets on the floor. "They do sort of look the same."

 Daichi raises an eyebrow. He looks at the piles of discarded clothing, looks at Kuroo, looks at the clock. "I don't think I've ever seen you freak out before."

 "I'm not freaking out," Kuroo argues, but he lets Daichi pull him down onto the bed anyway. He lies along the length of Daichi's legs and presses his cheek to Daichi's chest, just over his heart. "It's just nerves, that's all."

 "Mhmm." Daichi's always surprised by how soft Kuroo's hair is; he'd always sort of thought it would be stiff with gel, or coarse and thick, but when he runs his hands through it the way he's doing now it's soft, fine. Nice.

 "Well, what's done is done. Not like I'm gonna be any more ready than I am now, right?" A pause as Kuroo reconsiders, pushes himself up on his elbows, squints down at Daichi. "Unless you've got a time machine."

 "Why do you sound like you'd believe me if I said I did?"

 "Because time machines are awesome." Kuroo grins. It's not his smile, though; there's something tight about it, something tense, something disrupting the usual sly-sweet curve of it.

"Kuroo."

 This--this tricky little maneuver--is delicate, purposeful: Daichi slides his hand from Kuroo's hair and settles it against his cheek, lets his eyes go genuine and his voice go warm. He picks out his best smile (small, encouraging, sure) and says, with all the conviction he's been building up for months: "You're going to win."

 It takes a moment for his words to sink in, a moment for Kuroo to accept the sentiment; but when he does, he brightens up--and there it is, that smile Daichi knows so well. 

 "Well," Kuroo says, leaning up to claim his first kiss of the day, "when you say it like that, how can we lose?"

 

--

 

Hours later, under cover of darkness run through with city lights, Kuroo and Daichi arrive at the starting line.

 The atmosphere has that same clutching tension it did months ago when Daichi had come to see his first street race, but he doesn't have time to revel in that wonder again tonight. Tonight Daichi's all busy hands and sharp mind, checking pressures, monitoring gauges, making final touches.

 (Kuroo is talking to his car. With a good amount of fondness, Daichi reflects that, as usual, Kuroo is lucky he's cute.)

 When Daichi's satisfied with the car, he straightens up, dusts off his hands, takes a deep breath. And in on that breath rides that familiar feeling of excitement: a thrill that rolls up his spine, settles high in his chest, makes his heart beat a little faster.

 "Are we ready?" Kuroo asks as he skirts the hood of the car, coming around to where Daichi's standing, arms crossed, surveying his and Kuroo's handiwork.

 He can't believe he's finally saying this, but--

 "Yeah. You're ready."

 Kuroo lets slip a wry laugh, settles his hands on Daichi's hips. When he leans down and closes the distance between them, it's to say, "We're ready. You and me both."

 He's smiling, sincere and earnest, and Daichi thinks this must be the way light bulbs feel when they first come alive from the inside out.

"Okay," Daichi says, breathless, as he meets Kuroo halfway, "We're ready."

 

 And Daichi's not usually one for kissing in public, but--this is different, this is vital, this is Kuroo's mouth on his like a promise that Daichi is only too happy to accept.

 When they pull away, finally, when Daichi's feet are flat on the ground again and the harmony of engines and spectators crashes back into his ears, Kuroo smiles at him and says, "You wanna ride?"

 Daichi loves the adrenaline of the ride, loves the wind and the rush of it--but he still hasn't managed to let go of the oh-shit handle overhead when Kuroo drives like that. "I'll watch."

 "I'll see you at the finish line, then," Kuroo says, dropping one last kiss into Daichi's hair.

Suga is waiting at the sidelines when Daichi turns; he waves and starts over, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder out of pure sentiment.

 "Hey--"

 Of course Kuroo would call after him to say something 'cool'; Daichi turns on his heel, arms crossed, gives Kuroo a look. "What?"

 "Aren't you gonna wish me good luck?"

 Daichi's heart flutters once hard, sweet and giddy; over the noise of the crowd, he says, "Do you need it?"

 If Daichi hadn't known what to look for, he would've missed the smile that streaks, small and fleeting and oh-so fond, across Kuroo's lips as he shakes his head. "No."

 They both know Kuroo doesn't need luck, but Daichi mouths it at him anyway, throws Kuroo a wink that makes his eyes go wide as Daichi turns away. 

 Daichi finds Suga at the edge of the crowd, chatting with Yaku; when Daichi comes close enough to greet them, he grins bright, gives Daichi a comforting jab to the side. "The car looks great."

 "It looks fine." That's an understatement: the car looks beautiful under the city lights, color washed in moonlight, exhaust heat soaking it in haze. "Now he just has to actually drive it."

Suga's eyes are appraising when he glances over at Daichi; and Daichi thinks he already knows what Suga's going to say, but (and to this he will not admit) he wants to hear it anyway.

 "You did your best," Suga says, "and Kuroo will do his."

 That's true, too, isn't it--and for what more could Daichi ask?

 (Daichi is standing underneath the moonlight with his best friend, watching his boyfriend rev his engine and roll towards the starting line of the race they've been anticipating all summer. There are many things Daichi could want from life; but for tonight, this is more than enough.)

 Daichi bumps Suga's shoulder with his own and directs the irrepressible grin on his face towards the road, where Lev--in sparkles and a pair of pants tight in the extreme--is walking down the starting line with an impressive amount of coordination. This time around he's holding a proper flag, fire-engine red and infinitely more impressive than a handkerchief when he raises it above his head as the ready signal. The responding chorus of engines resonates sixfold in Daichi's chest.

Lev swings the flag down.

 The cars take off.

 

xv. epilogue

 

"It's hot."

 It's summer proper, though June is still new, and Kuroo is draped along Daichi's back, warm as midday sun where they touch.

 "Don't say that, Tetsu," Daichi tells him, frowning. "That'll only make it worse."

 Kuroo's laugh tickles at the shell of Daichi's ear.  "And how does that work?"

 Shrugging is difficult with Kuroo on his back, but Daichi gives it a shot anyway. "It just does."

 "Like bad luck?"

 "Sure."

 "Mhmm. I won't say anything, then, I suppose."

 "Good. You'll need all the luck you can get this time around."

 "Oh, come on. You have so little faith in me--" Kuroo sounds like he’s pouting, and Daichi can't stifle his smile. He shakes Kuroo off and turns, looks up at him, gives his best grin: cheeky, unapologetic, charming. "--oh. What the hell, Daichi? This is a very serious matter."

 Daichi leans up, gives Kuroo what could be interpreted as an apology kiss on the cheek; his lips taste faintly like salt when he pulls away. "I know that. Why do you think I'm out here with you instead of at home in the air conditioning?"

 "Because I'm here," Kuroo says, matter-of-fact, "and because dog hair sticks to everything in this heat."

 "I was going to say 'because I want you to win', but you definitely have a point. The dog hair is awful."

 Kuroo ignores the slight--very mature of him, Daichi thinks, still smiling as he hooks his fingers through Kuroo's belt loops--and says, all optimism, "Well, that's the goal. If we put in enough work, come August, you'll be dating a winner. A champion, even."

 Slow, deliberate, Daichi raises an eyebrow. "As opposed to the loser I'm dating now?"

 Kuroo chokes on nothing in particular, and Daichi laughs.

 "Alright, alright." Kuroo sounds very much put-out, and that doesn't make Daichi want to stop laughing at all. "I might have set myself up for that one."

 "You think?"

 A very long eye roll is all Daichi gets in response; he blinks his eyes clear, though his smile doesn't fade, and tugs Kuroo closer. Around the amusement still tickling in his throat, he says, "Really, though. You're going to win this year. You'll make it happen."

 "We're going to win," Kuroo corrects him, raising an eyebrow. "That's how this works."

 It's been a year since Kuroo's first visit to the Karasuno garage, and his hands still feel the same when Daichi takes them in his own: strong, confident, sure.

 "Right," Daichi says, because he believes in Kuroo the way he believes in the constancy of the sunrise.

Kuroo answers Daichi's smile with one of his own; he leans down, kisses the corner of Daichi's mouth, and says, "Good. Now that we've established that: can we go home?"

"What, is the heat too much for you already?" Daichi quips, teasing.

 The next time their mouths meet he catches Kuroo's bottom lip between his teeth, and whatever Kuroo was going to say in protest is lost for a few long moments. When Daichi's satisfied he pulls back, rocks back on his heels, flashes Kuroo a kiss-pink smile.

 Kuroo lets out a long breath, shakes his head. "No. But I'd rather kiss you in private, y'know?"

 "Good point," Daichi concedes. Both Suga and Asahi are here; he figures they can hold down the garage while Daichi goes home for….well.

 Daichi beats Kuroo to his keys, spins them around his finger as he pops into the office for a moment to let Suga and Asahi know that he and Kuroo are going home 'for lunch' (which earns him a snort from Suga, a hasty nod from Asahi, and a laugh from Kuroo) before he follows Kuroo outside.

 There's that same red-and-black racer, its fresh coat of paint nearly blinding in the summer light. By now it's as much Daichi's car as it is Kuroo's; and today, when he sees it, his blood takes up a now-familiar demand for the adrenaline that comes with empty roads and top speeds.

 Kuroo can tell. He always can. "You wanna drive?"

 "Definitely," Daichi says, grin headlight-bright.

 By now he knows just how to slide the seat up so he can reach the pedals, just how to twist the key so the car will start easy and cooperative. The engine takes its first throaty breath, and Kuroo's hand fits neatly over top of Daichi's where it rests on the slowly cooling metal of the gear shaft.

 From there, it's as easy as shifting gears.