A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you
is that a fact or a weapon?
—Margaret Atwood, We Are Hard
It's the middle of October, and Akaashi finds himself yet again in the bustling crowds of downtown Manhattan, a fixed point in a sea of people who always have somewhere to go. Somehow, here in the middle of the Flatiron, Akaashi feels both at home and out of place all at once: in his pressed suit and silver watch, standing in front of a coffee shop serving overpriced espresso that Akaashi will buy anyway just because it's coffee and he'll need it to survive the next forty-eight hours in this behemoth of a city he's slowly beginning to learn and know.
New York is a city of dreams dreamt without sleep, of ambition brimming with adrenaline. For Akaashi, it's a city that he visits every so often — every few months, to be precise — for business. Most of the time he's here to attend the two-day conferences of networking and unlimited free cocktails. Sometimes he visits clients too, wines and dines them at the finest restaurants in Midtown and SoHo, truffle oiled scallops and ribeyes and company secrets spilled all over the dinner table. It's an indulgent lifestyle, one that has him spending half of his time on airplanes and the other half seducing businessmen out of their money by telling them exactly what they want. Akaashi would be surprised at the things CEOs and partners say when their mouths are slick with booze and butter if it weren’t for the fact that he’s the one filling their glasses.
Yet despite sitting in the lap of luxury for many of his nights, Akaashi still finds himself in the middle of a city that he doesn’t know, feeling awfully stripped down and small under the awning of Caffè Lavazza. Still, he steps inside the little rustic coffee shop and orders himself an Americano.
He picks up his drink and makes good time to the venue, which is an impossibly ordinary steel skyscraper a few blocks east. When he gets there, the lobby is filled with bodies clad in suits just like his, limbs ironed crisp, and the chatter of the city softens into the smooth blurry conversations of businessmen. Akaashi scans the crowd to see if there’s any faces he can recognize before he feels a light, rapid tap on his shoulder.
"I'd offer you coffee," Kunimi says, a crooked smirk on his lips, "but it seems like you got something better than the watery shit we have."
Kunimi's in blue and silver, metal cufflinks and hair that's slightly slicked back, just enough to leave a few strands of hair framing his face. Akaashi lets himself study the way Kunimi shifts closer to him.
"Good to see you again," Akaashi acknowledges, taking a deliberate sip from his Americano. "Given the names attending this conference, you would think they would give us better coffee than Starbucks."
Kunimi's grin is wide and unkind. "Funds are better used elsewhere, it seems."
Akaashi snorts. "Seems like it." He looks out towards the crowd. "Are you ready for another riveting couple of days?"
"You say that like you don't enjoy these," Kunimi laughs. "Besides, everyone knows that all of the meaningful networking happens at all the receptions after the actual conference."
Akaashi slides his gaze over to Kunimi, who just looks at him with a smile. "The free drinks at the receptions make the experience much more bearable," he replies neutrally.
Another laugh. "Oh, absolutely," Kunimi says, "a well-loved perk among all of us alcoholics."
Akaashi smiles a little behind his coffee. "Indeed."
A few beats pass. Kunimi lets the silence settle as they look out into the idling mass of people before cocking his head to the side slightly and saying, "Do you have plans tonight?"
"No," Akaashi says truthfully. "Not at the moment."
"Will you?" Kunimi replies slyly.
Akaashi does not rise to the bait. Instead, he says, "Did you have something in mind?"
Kunimi is as unreadable as ever. “The usual, of course. Bar hopping. Hell’s Kitchen. God knows I haven’t had time to go to Industry lately.”
“I see,” Akaashi hums. Seeing the crowd disperse and spill towards what seemed to be an auditorium, he gestures forwards as his cue to leave. “I’ll let you know if anything comes up. I have your number, anyway.”
“Of course,” Kunimi replies politely, dipping his head to head off towards the start of the conference as well. Yet Akaashi finds himself hanging on the coy, knowing smile that Kunimi so loves to give when he knows something that he shouldn’t.
Akaashi reaches for the phone in his pocket and pulls up his text messages.
Akaashi doesn’t text anyone. Instead, Akaashi goes to Hell's Kitchen.
The usual, apparently, is different from the last time Akaashi went out with Kunimi. Last time, in the breath-cold of February, Kunimi had invited him out to a night in a club that pulsated with blue and pink with bodies swaying on the dance floor. There had been maybe a dozen other people then, unfamiliar faces that Akaashi learned over the course of night through hazy nothings, tequila, and powder. Salt on glass rims and the salt of sweat on skin. I like seeing you let loose, Kunimi had said in his ear, Akaashi feeling the words more than he heard them, raising bumps down his neck. Didn't see this side of you in college. I guess even proper guys like you need to unwind, huh.
Akaashi had said nothing, closing his eyes and letting himself melt against the velvet couch of the booth. Kunimi, with his deep pockets full of things like pills and fountain pens and the occasional Benjamin, seemed to be less of a friend and more of an enabler of sorts, a devil in satin.
Tonight, in the basement of Industry, Kunimi is by himself. He's standing against the wall towards the back, dressed down from suit to silk shirt and leather, an electric blue drink in hand that only promises a night impossible to remember. He's waiting for Akaashi, Kunimi's eyes sliding over, up, and down, before waving him over with a grin.
Akaashi exhales deeply, weaving through the crowds on the dance floor to make his way over to Kunimi. “No one else today?” he asks casually, acutely aware of how Kunimi looks like a knife, all edge and silver. Sharp enough to kill.
“They’ll come soon,” Kunimi dismisses with a wave of his hand. “There are only so many gay bars in Manhattan, and all of the good ones are here.”
Kunimi pushes himself off the wall to lean in inches away from Akaashi, not quite close enough to touch but close enough for Kunimi to fish a little device, small and sleek and black, from his shirt pocket and bring it up to Akaashi’s mouth. Akaashi feels cold metal slot between his lips and instinctively, he breathes in, smoke filling his lungs before he opens his mouth and exhales, tendrils misty against the neon lights of the club. Kunimi laughs a little, as if delighted at how Akaashi opens so readily.
“Any cool tricks you know?” Kunimi asks, grinning.
“There are other ways to prove my oral dexterity, if that’s what you want to know,” Akaashi says in return, raising an eyebrow.
To his surprise, Kunimi doesn’t take the challenge, instead opting to lean back and away. Still, the smile is still on his face as he turns around and beckons for Akaashi to follow him. “Let’s get you a drink.”
At the bar, Akaashi gets himself a vodka soda, the taste crisp and bitter and acidic as he downs the drink in three gulps before ordering another. He nudges the empty glass back over to the bartender, who just takes it nonchalantly and pours him another in the same cup.
“Whoa there,” Kunimi says, eyes wide, “in a bit of a hurry are you?”
“When in New York, right?” Akaashi mumbles. Then, louder, he says, “Can you blame me? The conference programming today was awful.”
“Can’t disagree with that one.” Kunimi motions over to the heat of the crowd, the neon lights painting dancing bodies blue, red, purple. He clasps his fingers around Akaashi’s wrist, urgent and nimble, and pulls him towards the dance floor. “Let’s try to forget your day then, yeah?”
They weave back and in between the maze of people lost in their own haze, brushing against limbs to eventually situate themselves on the middle of the dance floor. The music thrums underneath Akaashi’s feet and against his skin, some house remix that Akaashi vaguely recognizes — Snakehips or Hermitude or one of those indie electronic artists that always sound better when Akaashi’s more fucked up. Kunimi knows this, it seems, because he pulls out a small plastic baggie filled with white from his shirt pocket, hips swaying slightly to the beat as Kunimi pours out a small amount on his hand.
“What are you planning,” Akaashi mutters, and knows that Kunimi understands that he’s not talking about the drugs.
“Just wanna have some fun,” Kunimi says, just barely loud enough to hear over the music. “You’re good company, you know. Just gotta loosen you up.”
Akaashi’s eyes flicker down at the little lines on Kunimi’s hand.
“C’mon baby,” Kunimi coos. “Have your share.”
Fucking hell, Akaashi thinks, before leaning over.
In seconds, the world becomes sharpens, brightens. The music slows, deepens. His eyes are wide, he’s moving. Swaying, really. He’s not thinking. His body’s just going. Rolling his hips, rolling his neck back, closing his eyes.
Kunimi’s laughing. Kunimi’s always laughing. Kunimi is pressed up against him, and Akaashi feels the curve of his mouth against the skin of his neck, his breath sticky against the sweat-slicked skin of Akaashi’s throat. His body’s thrumming to the music. His skin’s hot, he feels like a live wire, he’s going to jolt at the touch. He does jolt at the touch. Kunimi’s touching him. Fingers sliding down his back, hooking onto his belt hoops.
And then he’s not. Akaashi blinks — Kunimi has drawn back, a few feet of distance between them, and Akaashi looks around in confusion before his head is being turned by a grip on his chin and he’s looking right into the eyes of Kuroo Tetsurou, who’s grinning, all teeth.
“Been a while,” Kuroo says, fingers still on Akaashi’s jaw. The touch is gentle and firm and Akaashi feels like he’s being anchored only by the hand that keeps him there. “Didn’t expect I’d see you here.”
“Kuroo,” Akaashi mumbles. “You always know when I’m in town.”
“You didn’t text me. I’m hurt.” Kuroo drops his hand from Akaashi’s jaw down to his shoulder, then turns to Kunimi. “Who’s your friend?”
Kunimi dips his head gracefully in a greeting, flashing a charming smile. “Kunimi Akira, at your service.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kuroo says firmly. Then he turns to Akaashi. “Doing blow without me, Keiji? Thought that was our thing.”
“I don’t want any issues,” Kunimi’s saying, stepping back. But he’s grinning again. “I didn’t know you were taken, Akaashi.”
“I’m not,” Akaashi says truthfully. “Kuroo and I aren’t together.”
“No issues then,” Kunimi says. Then, as if it’s some sort of peace offering, Kunimi fishes the bag out of his pocket and dumps the rest back on his hand before giving Kuroo a look. “More than enough to share.”
Kuroo smirks. “Don’t mind if I do.”
Akaashi watches as Kuroo bends over at the waist, face hovering over Kunimi’s hand before he sniffs the line abruptly through his nose. Kunimi’s watching Kuroo too, eyes half-lidded as Kuroo stands back up straight. He shifts back to Akaashi, smirking as he reaches over again with his hand and brushing it across Akaashi’s nose.
“You have some left,” Kuroo murmurs. “Can’t let it go to waste.”
Kuroo’s finger falls down to Akaashi’s lips, nudging his mouth open. Akaashi’s lips part willingly, pliant against Kuroo’s touch, and Kuroo’s finger slips in and slides over the slick of Akaashi’s teeth and then the soft flesh of his gums. Strokes the remainder of the powder in once, twice, three times. Akaashi’s body burns blindingly hot as his mouth remembers the way Kuroo’s fingers taste and feel as they slide out slowly with a pop.
Beside them, Kunimi whistles. He’s got an impressed look on his face. “Thanks for the show,” he says, eyebrows raised and lips upturned. “And thanks for the dance, Akaashi.”
“You’re leaving already?” Akaashi blurts, bewildered.
“Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?” Kunimi teases with a wink. Then he snorts, “Or maybe when you’re just high. We’ve been here for half an hour. Sorry, but you’ve had your fair share of me tonight.” Then, turning to Kuroo, he asks, “Kuroo, right? You in the city often?”
“Often enough,” Kuroo replies, his eyes flickering down to where Kunimi’s shirt has unbuttoned, exposing the slick, slight curve of his chest.
Kunimi smirks. “Get my number from Akaashi, will you?” Then, with a small salute, Kunimi ducks out and disappears into the crowd, almost as if he was never there in the first place. But Akaashi’s still reeling, body still electric, before Kuroo grabs his wrist and tugs him closer, down to earth and Akaashi has to restabilize.
“Dance with me,” Kuroo says, mouthing against his hair, lips pressed against his skull. Akaashi feels every syllable with his bones, the words reverberating into his body, and feels Kuroo’s desire like it’s his own. Like it’s an earthquake, or the parting of seas, or the breaking of bread: holy with a touch of wonder, reverent in the wake of sin. “And then come home with me.”
Familiarizing yourself with a city, Akaashi finds, is a lot like fucking someone. Tracing the veins of an underground subway. Learning the roads and highways down the body. Finding the spots, in the crooks of the city's neck and in the curve of its hips, that can only be found with a little bit of exploring. This is how Akaashi fucks Kuroo: it's like learning a place over and over again, committing it to memory. Only to forget it for a while, and then coming back to feel it all again like it's the first time, and Kuroo is parting his lips and before he even says the words Akaashi can feel him breathing out missed me, didn't you. Can feel the words in the way Kuroo's thighs quiver with laughter just a little bit around Akaashi's ears.
Kuroo reaches down and runs a thumb under the curve of Akaashi's jaw, nudging his head up with a firm lift of his chin and forcing Akaashi to look up at Kuroo, who smirks and murmurs softly, "What are you waiting for, pretty boy? Still feeling it?"
“You know damn well cocaine doesn’t last that long,” Akaashi mutters. But still, like this, kneeling in between Kuroo’s legs, he thinks he could get drunk off of the way Kuroo quivers when Akaashi runs a nail up up and across the line of his thigh. High off the way Kuroo breathes out a moan, shaky, when Akaashi grips his hips to hold them in place just hard enough to hurt. He doesn’t, though. He’s perfectly sober in the way he opens his mouth wide and swallows Kuroo whole.
“Fuck,” Kuroo hisses through clenched teeth. Akaashi laughs even with his mouth full. He laughs even when he almost coughs as Kuroo fucks his throat, having one hand around Akaashi’s neck and the other gripping his hair. It’s tight, all of it, and Akaashi feels like he’s drowning, and even when Kuroo shudders and pulls out of his mouth, Akaashi doesn’t come up for air. He keeps sinking, falling down to ocean floor, and when he looks up at the blurry flecks of sunlight breaking the water’s surface all he sees is a man who wants to be Akaashi’s god. Who just might become it if he lets him.
Akaashi doesn’t let Kuroo become his god. Instead, Akaashi grabs a fistful of Kuroo’s hair and pushes his head down, down, down.
“Kunimi’s a funny one,” Kuroo says casually. The two of them are on the balcony of Kuroo’s Times Square hotel room, hundreds of feet high in the air, watching over the lights of taxis driving down below. Kuroo’s leaning over the railing, elbows propping him up, and Akaashi’s sitting on a lounge chair, one leg crossed over the other. They’re both smoking cigarettes: Spirits for Kuroo, Camels for Akaashi, a bottle of red from the hotel’s overpriced mini-fridge corked open and poured into two glasses on a round table.
Akaashi brings his smoke to his lips, inhaling deeply. “Sure.”
“How’d you meet?”
“Wow,” Kuroo says, pausing for a moment to take a drag himself. “Y’all go way back, then.”
“I’m twenty-five, Kuroo. I’ve known him for maybe five years, and we’re only really friends because we’re both gay men who ended up in the finance industry.”
“Still.” Kuroo flicks his cigarette, the ashes drifting off and down. “Makes me realize I don’t really know you at all.”
“Why would we know each other?” Akaashi asks.
A brief moment of silence: distant movement of people below, of cars passing by, always moving. A gust of wind whips around them, the autumn night breeze threading through Kuroo’s finger-tousled mess of hair. Then he laughs. “You’re right. Why would we?”
Akaashi watches him closely. Kuroo looks like a beautiful kind of stranger, the kind that deserves lingering eyes and longing; the kind of stranger that artists sketch on the subway, their pencils hastily scratching on paper. Akaashi can imagine the curve of Kuroo's shoulder in an art gallery in Chelsea: elegant, simple, admired from a distance for a breath of a moment.
“We’ve been with each other five times, including today,” Akaashi recounts. He brings his cigarette to his lips. “If you remember, there wasn’t much talking when we did see each other.”
“You’re right,” Kuroo agrees, putting out his cigarette on the metal railing before tossing it to the wind. “What do you know about me, other than the fact that I work in private equity?”
Akaashi sits back, finishing off his cigarette as well, and rolls his head to the side. “You have a somewhat concerning relationship to illicit substances.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Keiji. I drink and smoke and snort as much as the next person in the industry.”
There it is again. Keiji. Akaashi exhales and picks up his glass of merlot. “Sure. And you’re twenty-six.”
Akaashi just looks at Kuroo, who pushes himself off the railing and picks up the other glass for himself. He downs the wine in two gulps, a dribble of red running down his chin. “Right, let’s get to know each other then.”
Why, Akaashi doesn’t ask. Instead, he watches as Kuroo wipes his face with the back of his hand.
“My name is Kuroo Tetsurou,” he says, placing the glass back down on the table. “I’m twenty-six, like you know, and I’m originally from LA, though my parents bounced around a lot between Tokyo and California because of their jobs. I work in San Francisco, but I’m in New York a lot, like twice a month or so, because office headquarters are out here. I majored in government in college — I actually wanted to be a diplomat like my dad was. Ended up with the sharks instead. I’m a big fan of experimental electronic music and I like my eggs over easy.”
Kuroo pauses and looks back up at him. “And you?”
Akaashi doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Kuroo is a stranger five times over: they know each other by the way Kuroo knows just how hard to wrap his hands around Akaashi’s neck and how he knows that Kuroo likes it most when Akaashi runs his tongue down the scratch marks on his back. Akaashi doesn’t know what Kuroo’s favorite color is or why his hair never seems to lie flat on his head and Kuroo doesn’t know why Akaashi doesn’t ever stay the night, even though Akaashi can see the question written plainly in the way Kuroo watches whenever Akaashi gathers his things and leaves.
Still, he opens his mouth and surprises himself when he says, “Akaashi Keiji. I work in the London office of my company. I majored in business, though I like literature.” He pauses for a moment, before adding, “And I don’t really like eggs.”
To his credit, Kuroo just laughs.
The first time they’re in the bathroom of some lounge in Koreatown, the dim lights turned down to a deep purple that stains the entire room violet. Kuroo’s handing him a rolled up twenty and asks, do you want some? Akaashi takes the straw from Kuroo’s outstretched hand and Kuroo smiles and says, what’s your name, pretty boy? And Akaashi says Akaashi, Akaashi Keiji, and Kuroo replies Keiji, then. Keiji, do you wanna get out of here? This reception got boring when they ran out of tequila.
Akaashi is reeling when he says, I’m not really interested in having any business conversations.
And Kuroo is smiling when he’s grabbing Akaashi by the wrist and pulling him close, and then away, and then into a taxi cab. That’s alright. I’m not either.
And then the second, third, fourth time. It’s always a reckoning. It’s always Akaashi on the bed like he’s crucified, hands pinned down, and Kuroo fucking him slowly like every thrust is a lash of judgement. Yet Akaashi is always the one to leave. And Kuroo’s always the one to say, see you next time we’re both in New York, pretty boy, and Akaashi always just says, yeah. Yeah, sure, and feels Kuroo’s eyes on his back even after he’s out the door.
He thinks he’s cruel, maybe, for letting Kuroo fuck him like this. For fucking Kuroo like this. Somewhere sinister Akaashi enjoys the way Kuroo always seems to want him for just a moment more. He never lets him, though: instead, he just lets Kuroo leave little bruising kisses down his body. Sometimes, when Akaashi is alone on his plane back to London, he’ll press his fingers into the hickies and relishes the tenderness.
Next time, next time. I’ll see you next time. Like there is always a next time. Like Kuroo never wants this to stop. And Akaashi will smile and spread his legs and be Kuroo’s just for a night, before he’s gone again.
“You know,” Kunimi says airily, swirling his drink absentmindedly in his hand, “I really didn’t expect you to be such a party animal.”
It’s the second day of the conference and Akaashi’s with Kunimi again at an end-of-day reception on a rooftop bar overlooking the Hudson River, the kind that serves little umbrellas and elaborate orange peel sculpture-twists perched up on the rim of their drinks. The six-o’clock sun dissipates its warmth onto the patio, lighting the space with golden quiet that comes with a growing dusk.
“I’m not,” Akaashi says with a raised eyebrow.
Kunimi snorts and leans back in his chair, sipping at his French 75. “Like last night didn’t happen. Alright.” Then, looking around at the crowd, he asks, “Is he here at the conference? He’s also in the industry, I reckon, with that attitude of his.”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I didn’t know he was in town.”
Kunimi gives Akaashi a weird look, eyebrows lifted and a stillness in his features. “What are you two, anyway? Friends with benefits?”
Akaashi grimaces. He’d never thought to label whatever Kuroo was to him in his life. That would, for one, mean that Kuroo meant something substantial enough to label. He always thought their arrangement was a matter of stress-relief and convenience, anyway. “People who sleep with each other on occasion?”
“Seriously?” Kunimi deadpans. “Not even friends?”
“We don’t talk. We just…”
“You just do blow and have sex.” Kunimi laughs. “That’s a dream scenario for a lot of folks like us.”
Akaashi shrugs. “We’re both in New York sometimes. That’s all. I’m not from here and neither is he. There isn’t much to it.”
“I see,” Kunimi says, a little skeptical. But the doubt in his voice dissipates as he throws back his champagne and smacks his lips after his last gulp. “Are you going to see him tonight, then? When’s your flight?”
“Six a.m.,” Akaashi recounts. He reaches into his pocket to take out his phone, tapping the screen to find a text notification from an unnamed phone number that he’s come to recognize as Kuroo’s.
He swipes the notification open.
19205553985 — when are you leaving?
Akaashi types a text back.
— Tomorrow morning.
Kunimi’s looking over at Akaashi curiously as his phone lights up with another notification not even a minute later.
19205553985 — plans tn?
Akaashi chews on his bottom lip, running through his schedule in his head before typing back.
— I’ll be there.
“So?” Kunimi asks expectantly, leaning forward.
With as neutral of a face he could muster, Akaashi clears his throat and says, “I’m afraid I’ve got other plans tonight, Kunimi. Let’s have a few more rounds before I head out for the night.”
Kunimi grins, the smile cutting a wide arc on his lips. “I didn’t even invite you out today, Akaashi, you don’t need to apologize to me.” But he stands from his seat, brushing the dust off of his ironed slacks before winking. “Have fun, though. Buy me a vodka cran.”
Akaashi looks out to the Hudson, the sun dipping down to kiss the water’s surface with a bleeding, fractured orange before ducking its head below the horizon for the night, and thinks of his time like sand, or like the river’s current, washing moments downstream. The sky is darkening with the sun’s goodbye and come morning, Akaashi will be up there right among that stretch of blue, flying east on a plane back home.
But Akaashi tucks his phone back into his pocket and stands. “Come on, then.”
By the time Akaashi enters Kuroo’s hotel room up on the thirtieth floor, there are already highballs of glistening whisky on a small mahogany table, like glasses of liquid ambrosia: an offering to the gods. Kuroo’s sitting at a seat right by the drinks with a leg kicked up over his knee and a joint in between his fingers, the smoke trailing off the cherry like incense smoke travelling heavenward. He’s dressed down to a chiffon shirt rolled up at the sleeves, the fabric thin and wispy, buttoned open to his sternum.
At the sound of Akaashi’s arrival, Kuroo shifts his body to turn towards Akaashi and says, “Oh, good. You noticed that I left the extra card key in your wallet. I’d thought you would.”
Akaashi grimaces, dropping his bag next to the closet. He had been paying for Kunimi’s last three drinks at the bar just an hour ago before noticing a sleek metal hotel room key neatly tucked into a card pocket of his wallet. “Barely. I don’t usually use my wallet when I’m out here on the company’s dollar.”
"And you brought your wallet out for what? To throw singles at a strip club?" Kuroo reaches over and picks up his glass of alcohol swiftly with his free hand before taking a long, smooth sip. Wordlessly, he stretched the other arm out towards Akaashi, offering the joint with an upturned wrist.
Unbuttoning his blazer, Akaashi peels the jacket off and hangs it in the closet before walking over and taking the joint out of Kuroo's hand and slipping it in between his lips. A deep inhale settles an itchy smoke at the depths of his lungs, putrid and ugly, but Akaashi holds it in for a few seconds before exhaling out a cloud that curls out and away from his mouth. "Paying for Kunimi's drinks."
Kuroo hums, shifting his gaze over to the ceiling-tall window that overlooks the neon studded billboards of Times Square. “I see. Well, I hope you had fun with him.”
Akaashi feels the need to say, “It was for the conference. A reception at the Kimberly.”
“Ah,” Kuroo nods sagely, “you must be at the hedge fund conference this weekend. That one’s always a bit dry.”
Akaashi purses his lips in acknowledgement and takes another toke from the joint before passing it off to Kuroo, who accepts the smoke in between two fingers.
“You’re here, what, a few times a year?” Kuroo asks between puffs, flicking the ashes of the end into a small gilded ashtray that, Akaashi notices, has already built up a small hill-heap of cinders. “Are you going to sit down?”
Just now realizing that he is still standing rather stiffly by the table, Akaashi clears his throat and sits at the plush seat across from Kuroo, the only distance between them being two glasses of bourbon and an ashtray. Fingers distance from touch. Akaashi carefully picks up his drink and looks away, sipping at the alcohol before blinking — the taste is of the honeyed smoked wood of an extremely expensive whiskey.
You spent money on this, Akaashi doesn’t say. Neither does he say did you really go out of your way to buy a five-hundred dollar bottle of Hibiki for me. And he also doesn’t say you’re spending an awful lot of time talking to someone who doesn’t see you for months on end.
What he does say is: “This is nice whiskey.”
And Kuroo doesn’t say anything like I bought it for you, or I’m glad you like it. Still, Akaashi can hear it underneath, a secret buried in the way Kuroo sings, “Drink up then, pretty boy, don’t you have a flight to catch bright and early?”
Akaashi closes his eyes and bottoms the drink. Then he sets the empty glass back down and asks plainly, “Pour me up another?”
Kuroo chuckles and sticks the half-smoked joint in between his teeth before uncorking the bottle and filling up Akaashi’s glass high. “You have a liver of steel.”
“Comes with the job.”
“Consulting? I bet. Living in London doesn’t help, I imagine. Do you like it there?”
Akaashi pauses. The feeling of looseness spurred on by six drinks and two hits of flower begins to thaw at his throat. He brings his glass to his lips again. “I’m actually not there too often. Consulting means I’m on a plane all the time. I’m everywhere.”
“Yeah, everywhere.” Akaashi thinks of San Francisco and her winding streets, Paris with her cobblestone sidewalks, Hong Kong with her beaming neon reds. Sometimes he’s in small suburbs, with their quaint little rows of fences and children with their teeth missing and sticky hands. Every time, he only gathers his small moments with these cities through the images that flee by past a car window, like he’s watching a camera reel he can’t pause and rewind. “I’m everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”
“Ah.” A pause. “That must be hard for you. Do you have a place you like the most?”
“New York,” Akaashi finds himself saying. “I come here the most. And it has the most life. You never feel alone here.”
“Corporate nomads, the two of us.”
Akaashi shakes his head and feels the world tilt sideways languidly, like he’s in an underwater dream. “No. You’re split between two places. San Francisco and New York. California and Tokyo. Me, I’m divided into so many different pieces that I can’t even have the luxury of duality.”
A few beats of silence. “That’s kind of depressing, Keiji.”
“You’re always calling me that,” Akaashi says, the words spilling out like an accident, “You’re always calling me that. Do you like the way my name sounds in your mouth?”
“Do you want me to call you something else?”
“I don’t care. Just not my name, it’s weird.”
Kuroo stills before taking a long drink. “Pretty boy, then.”
“Pretty boy,” Akaashi repeats. Then, he throws back the rest of his drink before standing up from his seat and crossing over to the edge of the bed, where he plants down and spreads his legs open just a little: an invitation. “That’s what I am to you.”
Kuroo’s eyebrows knit together. “Hey—”
“I’ve got to make it back to my hotel by three to grab my things and make my flight.”
“You’re insatiable,” Kuroo laughs. The sound is short, dry. “Always sex and sin with you.”
“Isn’t that the case for you, too? I’m here for a reason. You are too. It’s stress relief.”
Kuroo doesn’t say anything, just stands up and unbuttons his shirt steadily, like it’s a ritual of habit, and shrugs the clothing off. A firm push causes Akaashi to fall down on the bed on his back as Kuroo stands above him, stripped down to only his slacks.
“Strip, then,” Kuroo says, and it’s nothing like the deep sultry voice he usually murmurs into Akaashi’s ear, coaxing and warm. Instead, it’s cold and unmovable, like steeled teeth, or a whip. So Akaashi shivers and obeys, unbuttoning his shirt down until it’s open and his torso is bare, and waits for Kuroo’s touch.
Akaashi gasps at the feeling of something cold and wet being poured onto his chest, and looks down to see Kuroo pouring the rest of his whiskey on Akaashi’s bare body. The liquid dribbles down his torso, coating his skin and raising goosebumps with every inch the alcohol travels. Still, he doesn’t move, and just waits.
“You would really let me do anything to you,” Kuroo murmurs, almost to himself, “except get to know you as a person. I would just like to know who I’m fucking. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Akaashi quivers, but holds still. The alcohol has run down his body and is now seeping into the waistband of his slacks.
“And yet here you are. Letting me dump booze all over you like you're some sort of garbage can. Is that what you want? You want me to treat you like you’re dirty? Good for nothing, just a hole and a mouth?
Akaashi swallows and inhales shakily. Heat prickles down his spine. The room is spinning around him. The only thing keeping him from losing himself is the tight feeling of anticipation like a shackle around his neck, like he's being tugged by a chain at the mercy of Kuroo's whims.
Akaashi shudders. "I—"
"You don't have all night, but I do."
"Fuck," Akaashi hisses. "Can't you just fuck me?"
"Yeah," Kuroo laughs, "but what fun would that be? I'll do what I want, especially since you wanted to be used so desperately."
Kuroo's on top of Akaashi now, but snakes down his body slowly to press his mouth above Akaashi's navel where he is sticky with alcohol. With a slow lick, Kuroo drags his tongue up the line of Akaashi's torso. Akaashi chokes out a moan like he's being strangled by the way Kuroo's lips brush across the strip of skin he just tasted.
"Touch me," Akaashi begs. "Please."
He can feel the way Kuroo smirks as his lips turn upward against his hipbone. "I am."
"More." He grits his teeth. "More."
"Call yourself my little whore." Kuroo's hands have come up to clutch at Akaashi's thighs now. His grip tightens, the fingers burning blinding-hot around Akaashi's muscles. "Say it."
"I'm a little whore," Akaashi gasps out, head pounding, body shaking, hips bucking. "I'm your little whore. Touch me please," he pauses for a second, before adding, "Sir."
That does something for Kuroo, because he inhales sharply and grabs Akaashi's thighs even harder before unbuckling and pulling down Akaashi's slacks until Akaashi is only in a wet shirt that's splayed open like an unwrapped birthday present, ripped open. Kuroo's got a hand wrapped tightly around him, the feeling of pressure painful and hot and hard and Akaashi's trembling. He whines, the sound high and pathetic and entirely what Kuroo wants to hear because he starts moving, slowly but surely, stroking up and down like it's the easiest thing in the world to unmake Akaashi like this. For Kuroo, who moves his hand steady and smooth and with unrelenting calm, his mouth pressing open kisses with the scrape of his teeth, it probably is. Akaashi comes apart so easily like this, and both of them know it, with the way Akaashi moans and writhes every single time Kuroo murmurs, just like that, you filthy slut. You dirty whore. You want to come so badly, don't you.
And then Akaashi actually does come, jolting as he pulses and twitches in Kuroo's hand. Kuroo pulls away and his hand is wet and sticky. He brings his hand up to Akaashi's mouth.
"Open, baby," Kuroo whispers.
Akaashi parts his lips and feels Kuroo's fingers slip in, his knuckles brushing against the roof of Akaashi's mouth. It's bitter, and Kuroo strokes the inside of Akaashi's cheek gently. It's like they're in the club all over again, with Kuroo's fingers inside his mouth, rubbing sins into his flesh, where his muscles will store Kuroo's memory in their very atoms.
When Kuroo pulls his hand away, Akaashi is left bare and panting. He looks up at Kuroo, who's standing back up again, turning away towards the bed.
Akaashi frowns. "Did you want to—"
"Nah," Kuroo interrupts quickly. "I'm not feeling it right now. But if you want to go again let me know."
"Okay," Akaashi says slowly. Still, he squirms a little bit, the idea of Kuroo not wanting sex so foreign to him that Akaashi feels a strange combination of uncomfortable and concerned curling in the pit of his stomach. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Kuroo exhales. "Are you more sober now?"
"Yeah," Akaashi replies, a little confused at the question.
"Alright, that's good. I'm stepping out for a cigarette. You can use the shower before you leave."
Kuroo doesn't even let Akaashi respond before he's stepping out onto the balcony with his pack of Spirits and a small lighter, closing the door shut behind him. Akaashi sits up and stares after him.
Ah, Akaashi thinks. He's kicking me out for once.
He gets up from the bed and stands by himself quietly for a few moments. Stares at Kuroo's back and how he leans over the balcony to look at anywhere else. It’s the only thing he can do. So Akaashi swallows, and the only taste in his mouth is the bitterness of his own cum and something unnamed that catches in his throat, full of thorns.
On the plane back to London, Akaashi thinks of his body as a warzone. Or that maybe every single encounter in his life is like two trains heading down to an inevitable collision on intersecting tracks. Crash-course disaster. Akaashi meets Kuroo and the two of them cause an accident of bodies, splayed limbs and violence. And then time will pass and they’ll do it again. Maybe it’s repeating the same mistake over and over again. Maybe it’s a fateful encounter. Maybe it’s just a matter of choice, and that both of them come crawling back to each other every single time under the twinkling neon lights of New York’s skyline that Akaashi could almost mistake for stars if he closes his eyes and pretends for just a moment.
When Akaashi is in New York next, it’s December. The two months have turned the skyscraper landscape of the city into one that is dusted with snow, the streets muddy with salt but the parks beautiful and covered in ice. This time, Akaashi’s here for a client meeting and reception — his team just closed a deal and consulted a merger between their client and a private equity fund to immense success on both sides. So Akaashi’s standing awkwardly with a martini in hand at the obscenely elite, all gilded-lush and marble of the Core Club in Midtown as his coworkers and clients alike mingled around the grey velvet lounge chairs and the sleek black countertops of the bar.
“Akaashi,” a voice calls out from behind him. Tsukishima’s got a drink in his hand too, a tall glass of something purple with sprigs of silver-dusted lavender garnished on top. “You look about as uncomfortable as I feel.”
Akaashi bows his head slightly in acknowledgement. “The air in this room is probably worth more than my entire existence.”
“Yeah,” Tsukishima laughs. “The company doesn’t usually take us out to things like this. You know it’s $50,000 to get access to this place as an individual? I don’t even want to imagine how much money it took for the PE firm to rent this place out for a night.”
“And they’re not even here,” Akaashi murmurs from behind his drink. “That feels incredibly in-character for a private equity firm.”
“I’m sure they’ll be here soon,” Tsukishima dismisses. “They’re the ones who just spent billions of dollars to acquire our client anyway. Good work on that deck, by the way.”
“Thanks. I couldn’t have done it without your number-crunching genius, so good work to you too.”
Tsukishima’s lips quirk up at the edges ever so slightly before he takes a sip of his cocktail. “You come to New York far more often than I do. I’m jealous, if this is what you experience every time.”
“Absolutely not,” Akaashi snorts softly. “Usually I’m at conferences. If I do have client dinners they’re usually at steakhouses. It’s not nearly as glamorous as this.”
“Sure, but I’m pretty sure that there is nothing as glamorous as this in general. This—” he waves a hand at the room— “is pretty much reversed for the best of the best. This is exactly what people imagine when they say 'eat the rich.’” The younger consultant smirks. “Despite the luxurious lifestyle we live, we’re still really never going to get used to things like this, will we.”
“No,” Akaashi agrees. “We’re not. Consulting isn’t where the real money is, anyway, everyone knows that.”
As if on cue, people started filling in from the doorway, marking the arrival of the team from the private equity firm. There were only maybe ten of them, but they walked like they were royalty, dressed in designer, tailored suits that clung onto their bodies in all the right places.
Akaashi blinks. Then frowns.
Kuroo walks right behind the rest of the group, hair brushed back and gelled down, in black and silver and a red tie and leather shoes that Akaashi’s certain he’s seen somewhere — a Hugo Boss advertisement, maybe, or in the windows of any other designer store on Fifth Avenue. Completely untouchable. All Akaashi can do is stare from the other side of the room, watching as Kuroo passes by like a film in motion, or like a mirage in a daydream, far away and too close at the same time.
Kuroo’s eyes flicker over to Akaashi, and then looks away.
Akaashi startles at the sound of Tsukishima’s voice, his coworker looking at him with concern. Shaking his head, Akaashi rips his attention away from Kuroo and to his martini, which he takes a generous gulp of. “No, nothing.”
What are the odds, right? Of all the private equity firms in New York City, Kuroo happens to work for the firm that Akaashi’s been coordinating with for the past two months. It occurs to him that Akaashi never bothered to learn the name of which company Kuroo works at, nor did he ever think about finding out. He wonders if Kuroo was the same. Akaashi never told him the name of his firm — but hell, maybe Kuroo found out anyway, somehow, with a simple search on LinkedIn.
I don’t really know you at all, Kuroo had said. And here, as Kuroo stands next to a partner of the biggest firms in the world, Akaashi feels like the two of them are nobodies with nothing in common but a sterile connection of a ten billion dollar business deal and their names on the dotted line.
Under the soft light of the crystal chandeliers above, Akaashi feels naked, stripped down to nothing but a sense of loss.
Swallowing the rest of his martini, Akaashi clears his throat and mutters under his breath to Tsukishima, “When are you leaving? The pretentiousness of his place just skyrocketed — I didn’t even think that was possible.”
Tsukishima’s smart — Akaashi’s sure he’s trying to put the pieces together in his mind about why Akaashi’s suddenly trying to bail from the nicest cocktail party they have ever been to. Still, he plays along and says, “Not a fan of buy-side folks either, huh? Maybe in twenty minutes?”
“Great,” Akaashi nods, and heads straight to the bar to order himself another drink.
They don’t look at each other once. Akaashi doesn’t spare Kuroo a glance, couldn’t dare to, and if the way Kuroo looked at him earlier that night meant anything, he wasn’t looking at him either. The two of them are on separate islands, distance marked by unchartable waters, the waves of an ancient sea furious enough to drown anyone who dares trespass. And so he looks away, and when Akaashi turns his back to leave, it’s like Kuroo isn’t even there. Like he was never there in the first place.
“What do you mean, you want to go to Industry?” Kunimi’s voice crackles over the phone. “I didn’t even realize you were in town.”
“Client closing at a private club in Midtown. I left an hour ago.”
“And where are you now?”
“My hotel room,” Akaashi says blankly, staring up at the ceiling from the fluffed up duvet on his bed. “Lower east.”
“Is Kuroo not in town?”
“I didn’t ask,” Akaashi fibs. “Are you not free?”
“Jesus Christ, no. I’m in the office right now. My manager doesn’t know what the fuck protected Saturdays means. But I should be done in like an hour. So like midnight. You wanna go then?”
“Yeah. Sounds good.”
“Akaashi,” Kunimi says seriously, voice somber and lower than usual, “are you okay?”
“What are you talking about?” Akaashi replies. “I liked going last time. I’ve got some time to kill.”
“Alright,” Kunimi says slowly, but it’s skeptical. “We’ll get you some dick, eh? Sounds like that’s kind of what you need right now.”
“Thanks.” Akaashi mutters.
“You’re welcome. I’ll meet you there. Drinks on me tonight.”
A chirp from his phone indicates that Kunimi has hung up. Akaashi sighs and gets up from the bed, reaching over for the jacket he slung over the loveseat and fishing out a pack of Camels that he’s been nursing over the past hour. He’s already halfway through. Nevertheless, Akaashi fishes a cigarette out and sticks it into his mouth before flicking his Zippo and lighting the end, inhaling sharply as the musky smoke fills his mouth.
There’s something acutely pathetic about being alone in his hotel room in the dead of a New York City winter, chain smoking menthols at eleven at night as the snow falls outside. He wonders who he'll open his legs for tonight. Come to think of it, Akaashi grimaces, he hasn't had sex with anyone other than Kuroo consistently for the past year. Maybe he's had one off nights in whatever city he was in for the weekend, but there's a comfort in the knowledge that there's another person in the world that is familiar with your body. Akaashi knows that Kuroo has a small crescent scar on the inside of his ankle and Kuroo knows that Akaashi's got little freckles like constellations across his back. Intimacy is in the details, not that Akaashi has ever looked hard enough to find them. They commit themselves naturally to memory, like they're meant to be there, nestled in the fibers of his being. Like Akaashi knows just how Kuroo likes his hair pulled. And Kuroo knows just how much Akaashi likes having a hand around his throat.
The question, as always, is the matter of vulnerability. Akaashi can trust Kuroo with his life when Kuroo's grip tightens on his neck, but he can't trust that Kuroo will be there the next time he's in the city. And that's the problem, really. Akaashi's in New York. So is Kuroo. Neither of them looked at each other. And that's the way the trains move forward after a spectacular wreck on the tracks: chugging along and away as if nothing ever happened.
This is the way Akaashi chugs along: in front of Industry, finishing his last cigarette in the smattering of snow that falls gently before a taxi pulls up to the curb right next to him and Kunimi hops out, still in his work clothes.
“Rough day?” Kunimi asks once he approaches Akaashi.
“Do I look that bad?” Akaashi grumbles back, but his voice is scratchy from smoking an entire pack of cigarettes in two hours. Kunimi levels a look at him and Akaashi clears his throat, admitting defeat. “Sometimes I get stressed out. It’s part of the job.”
“Right.” Kunimi says, shaking his head. “Let's get you drunk, then.”
Kunimi ushers Akaashi into the club with his hand around Akaashi’s wrist, tugging him inside. The temperature instantly rises from the biting cold to the humid heat of a packed club, crowded with young twenty-somethings who are all caught up in the daze of alcohol and music and filthy touch. Predictably, Kunimi leads Akaashi right to the bar, and orders four rounds of tequila shots all at once.
The bartender shoots them a concerned look before lining up eight little glasses of liquor down the counter, all rimmed with coarse salt and a lime wedge.
“Back to back, baby,” Kunimi shouts over the thrumming bass of whatever pop remix that vibrated throughout the entire club. “And then we’ll do more of these if you need. Are you sober?”
“Not really,” Akaashi admits. He had opened one of those small wine bottles in his hotel room’s fridge and downed the whole thing before he left. “Sober enough, though.”
“You are one crazy son of a bitch,” Kunimi yells back. “Bottoms up.”
Immediately, Akaashi licks the rim, throws back the tequila, and sucks the lime. He does this three more times, the taste sour, salty, and bitter all at once. Kunimi does the same before coughing a little and clearing his throat and ordering two vodka sodas: make them as strong as you can, please.
Akaashi takes a sip of his drink when the bartender, still concerned, places the drinks in front of them. It's almost entirely vodka. "Kunimi…"
"Rough solutions for rough problems," Kunimi says plainly. "Get your ass out there. I'll join you in a sec. I need to be more fucked up for this."
Kunimi shoves Akaashi out towards the dance floor with a forceful push, the force of the push causing Akaashi to stumble a bit and nearly spill his drink. Grimacing, he gulps down the alcohol before weaving his way through the labyrinth of bodies, the edges of the maze morphing and shifting with dancing limbs and swaying hips. The lights above flash green, blue, then green again, cascading ocean shades onto the crowd.
What is he even supposed to do here? Akaashi, despite his admittedly substantial use of substances, doesn't actually enjoy dancing unless he's far gone enough to lose himself in music and movement. Akaashi, at the moment, is only mildly buzzed, the blurriness of an alcohol-induced haze creeping up slowly through his limbs. He throws back the rest of his drink, wincing at the sharp taste of the vodka slicing down his throat and placing the glass on a small table a few steps before making his way back towards the center of the mob.
"Hey," a voice says next to him.
Akaashi whips around to find a man with straw-bleached blond hair and the widest, cockiest smirk he's ever seen. He's got a pierced eyebrow and a pierced tongue as well, the barbell glinting in his mouth as he speaks. "Dance with me?"
"I'm not good at dancing," Akaashi confesses. Still, he looks at the stranger up and down: strong shoulders, narrow hips, and a tight black t-shirt that clung to his skin.
"Just move to the beat and look pretty," he replies, stepping in closer and sliding his hands around Akaashi's waist. "You're already got half of it down."
Akaashi's face flushes. Still, with the stranger's touch and the heat of the drinks starting to make his vision go a little fuzzy, he nods and rolls his hips forward to the thumping bass of the music: one, two. One, two. Taking his lead, the stranger moves in time with Akaashi, the swaying of his body languid. He laughs and leans in to whisper in Akaashi's ear, the words low and hot. "What are you talking about, baby. You dance like you were born for it."
They stay like that for a while, closer than two strangers ever should be, brushing up on each other's bodies, the buzz settling into Akaashi's blood and bones. Suddenly, the stranger tugs him even closer, pressing him close, and in the suddenness, Akaashi catches the briefest glimpse of two bodies, both dark-haired, interlocked mouths and intertwined bodies in the crowd.
Akaashi feels a chill run down his back, jaw dropping open as he makes direct eye contact with Kuroo, kissing a man Akaashi doesn't recognize.
Kuroo sees him. Akaashi knows Kuroo can see him, because Kuroo still has his mouth on someone else and yet somehow he is still looking straight at Akaashi like he never wants to look away. Akaashi can't look away either. It's like watching two cars crash on the highway and waiting for the explosion. It's like watching someone get hit by a fucking train. You can never look away from disaster as it happens right before your eyes.
"What's wrong, baby?" the stranger asks, voice sultry and completely clueless.
Akaashi grabs the stranger's face and kisses him.
The stranger moans softly, surprised, but instantly reciprocates, dragging his bottom lip against Akaashi's. Akaashi isn't paying attention, of course, and neither does he close his eyes to lean into the stranger's soft mouth. Kuroo's still looking at him, after all, still kissing his own stranger. There's a sea of bodies between them, undulating waves in this carnal circle of hell, and yet Akaashi only feels like the waters are pulling him closer, across this room, across this distance. How does he win a tug of war when the rope is a tension stretched so thick that it's felt through a silent stare across a crowded room? Akaashi doesn't blink. He doesn't dare to. Neither does Kuroo. Neither of them stop touching their strangers. Their nobodies.
Kuroo's nobody grinds his hips, and Akaashi does the same. And Akaashi can see Kuroo tense and tighten his grip around his nobody's hips. Kuroo moves a hand up to his nobody's neck, and Akaashi reaches down to guide his own nobody's hand up to match his movement. And even from across the club Akaashi can see Kuroo smirk into someone else's mouth before he finally, finally looks away.
Immediately, Akaashi breaks away from the kiss. The stranger looks breathless, hair mussed by what must have been Akaashi's furious tugging, fingers trying to find familiarity.
"My name is Atsumu," he pants out, grinning wide. "Miya Atsumu. Hey, do you want to get out of here?"
"Can't leave my friend," Akaashi lies. He's fairly certain Kunimi wouldn't give a fuck.
"Oh," the stranger says, looking disappointed. Then he brightens up and says, "You can follow me on Instagram and DM me there. It's just Miya Atsumu, no underscores or periods or numbers, that's M-I-Y-A-A-T-S-U-M-U. Okay?"
"Sure," Akaashi says. He looks across the crowd— he can't see Kuroo or whoever he was kissing anymore. Akaashi purses his lips, before clearing his throat and saying, "Hey, I have to go find my friend."
"It was fun," he calls out one last time over the deafening music. "DM me, okay?"
Akaashi's already slipped away, though, pushing through the crowd and stumbling out to the bar. Kunimi's still there, hand curled around the waist of some blue-eyed boy that he must have mercilessly flirted with, the poor thing. It takes Kunimi a few moments to notice him, and he frowns when he does. "Akaashi?"
"I'm going to go back," Akaashi rushes out.
"What?" Kunimi says, scandalized. "You just got here."
Akaashi gives Kunimi the most scathing look he could muster at the moment, which just ends up looking exasperated. "You're clearly busy. Thanks for the drinks."
He's already turned around and making his way to the door before Kunimi yells out, "Glad you're feeling better!"
And as Akaashi leaves the club and steps out into New York's midnight snowfall, he laughs. Even if Kuroo looked away first, Akaashi still feels like he lost. Win the battle, lose the war, and Akaashi's out waiting for a cab and wondering if Kuroo's going to go home with his nobody. He doesn't care, though. Because somehow, Kuroo picked up a stranger that looks just like Akaashi, messy black hair and all.
Akaashi smiles as his taxi drives away, knowing that even if just for tonight, Kuroo will be thinking about him, even as he fucks someone else. Little victories in the smallest of blessings.
When Akaashi gets back to his hotel room on the Lower East Side, he doesn't sleep, he doesn't drink, he doesn't touch himself. Instead, he buys a pack of Spirits and imagines the cigarettes that he slips in between his lips are Kuroo's fingers, slim and rubbing gently on his mouth. When he lights them on fire, he thinks of the cold of whiskey, poured onto his chest. When he exhales out the smoke, he thinks of Kuroo's breath warm against his thigh, chuckling, you really are such a fucking pretty boy, Keiji. You really are. And he thinks of himself, spread open like self-sacrifice, a martyr for a man that could be his god. How he laughs back quietly, Just for you. Just for tonight. And until next time.
In January, Akaashi gets an assignment in San Francisco.
He doesn't go to San Francisco too often for work, and every time, he's been in the city's Financial District, somehow quaint and brutalist all at once with its eclectic mix of concrete offices, glass skyscrapers, and the tiny off-street with colorful cafes. This trip, however, is slated to be a week-long affair at the headquarters of a small tech-startup on Market Street, a relatively relaxed assignment that leaves Akaashi with a surprising amount of free time in a city he knows even less than the bustling streets of New York City.
He's unpacking his suitcase at his Airbnb in the Mission when he takes out his phone and stares at the screen for a moment and grimaces. There's no guarantee that Kuroo is even in San Francisco right now; he spends half of his time in New York, from what Akaashi remembers, and when he opens their texts, the last message is marked October 12th — three months ago. Still, though, Akaashi remembers vividly how Kuroo looked under the soft golden glow and then in the midst of electric blue water that night in December.
Akaashi quietly saves the unnamed number into his contacts list as just Kuroo, before sending him a message.
—In SF. Are you in town?
He puts his phone down to continue unpacking his luggage before his phone buzzes lightly a few minutes later.
KUROO— yeah. how long are you here for and where are you staying?
Akaashi types back quickly.
—A week. The Mission. On-site work at some start-up called Valexon.
Then, chewing his lip, he adds another message.
—I don't know what I'm going to do here for seven days.
He tosses his phone on the bed and stares at his phone before shaking his head and unfolding his clothes again. Waits for Kuroo's response and busies himself lest he takes out his pack of cigarettes and starts plowing through them in his idle apprehension.
Akaashi's phone vibrates about ten minutes later and he is slightly ashamed of how quickly he reaches for it.
KUROO— need me to show you around?
Akaashi exhales softly, before typing back:
—Yeah. That'd be nice.
It shouldn’t surprise him that Kuroo has a car, but it does. It’s nothing like a Maserati or a Tesla or anything ridiculous like that, but it’s a sleek thing, a black Lexus that looks a little bit like a panther and almost a little bit like Kuroo himself. He picks Akaashi up from his Airbnb at the corner of 16th and Folsom at the end of dusk, the lights of the city dimming to a much deeper, quieter black than the still buzzing neons that shine in New York City well after midnight.
“Hello,” Kuroo says politely as the car slows to a stop in front of Akaashi. “I’d take you out to something more fun, but San Francisco’s club scene is abysmal compared to New York’s. Hope a joyride is okay.”
“That’s fine,” Akaashi finds himself saying as he ducks into the passenger’s seat. “I don’t do much sightseeing anyway.”
“That’s good,” Kuroo says simply.
The two of them coast along in the smooth ride of the Lexus, Kuroo filling the tense space between them with facts about San Francisco. The Mission’s got a lot of history, particularly for Mexican-Americans. Lots of bright colors that I’m sure you saw in the daytime. Really good burritos. Actually, every single burrito you’ve ever had will probably pale in comparison to a good Mission burrito. Here’s Noe Valley — it’s been really heavily gentrified over the past few decades, though I guess that’s the case for all of San Francisco. Everything’s expensive, you know. I’m taking you to Twin Peaks. Do you know what that is?
“I’ve heard of the show,” Akaashi says stupidly. He barely pays attention to Kuroo’s voice. It’s like white static in his head, noisy radio silence. The only thing he can pay attention to is the way the streets are almost completely dark around them and how Akaashi and Kuroo are shoulders away from shoulders touching.
Yeah, Kuroo laughs, and it sounds polite again. The show has nothing to do with where I’m taking you. It’s a viewpoint, overlooking the entire city. It’s cold as shit up there and it’s always windy and a bit of cliche, but you don’t come here that often and certainly not to see the sights, right?
And then he falls quiet. “Sorry, I don’t want to assume that much, I just figured that was the case from our last conversation.”
Our last conversation. Akaashi barely remembers it — all he can gather are pieces of memory of his mouth running alone and along and an overwhelming feeling of displacement. “It’s fine,” he says, not entirely sure what he’s calling fine. “I’m happy to see the city views. I like cities.”
“You like cities,” Kuroo repeats.
The car begins to ascend a steep incline as Kuroo steps on the gas to navigate the road on a large hill. A kind of loud quiet settles between them again. Akaashi doesn’t look at Kuroo: he looks out the window, and it’s completely dark, still. Kuroo keeps his eyes on the road.
Because he doesn’t really know what to say, Akaashi opens his mouth and says, “I didn’t know you were on the Pointech deal.”
“Did you know I work for Evergreen Partners?” Kuroo remarks, a little dry.
“No,” Akaashi replies truthfully. “Did you know I work at Villegas?”
“Yeah,” Kuroo laughs, a little defeated. “I looked you up on LinkedIn. You didn’t accept my request.”
“I didn’t even know you sent one,” Akaashi says quietly, and feels as though they are talking about something different entirely. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” Kuroo says, and the sound is honest, if a bit unguarded. “What’s there to apologize for? It’s just LinkedIn.”
The car settles to a stop after reaching the peak of the hill. Outside his window and across the horizon, Akaashi finds a sea of lights, flickering gently with bright yellow glow like fireflies, almost, or like a galaxy just barely out of reach. It’s nothing like New York’s intense colors and flare, but it’s beautiful nevertheless: a microcosmos of buildings and cars and people and dreams and unknowable things, humming with light. Up here, the two of them are of something divine, cosmic beings removed from the world underneath.
“I mean,” Kuroo clarifies, shaking his head with a smile, “What’s there to apologize for? We were just fucking.”
Akaashi swallows down the thorns in his throat and stares ahead.
“I didn’t mean it to get so awkward,” Kuroo confesses, rubbing a hand across his forehead in surrender. “I just wanted to get to know you. It’s okay if you don’t want that. We can go back to just fucking if you want. Or we don’t have to go back to anything. But you’re here, and I drove you up here, so maybe that’s not what you want?” Another laugh. “Sorry, I’m assuming again.”
Akaashi doesn’t know how to say I don’t really know what it’s like to be known. I’ve never really tried it. It feels way too soft and fragile in his mouth, like a broken bird. So instead, Akaashi says, “I didn’t mean to be an asshole.”
“I know that,” Kuroo sighs. “I figured that was the case. Weirdly, you seem too polite to be an asshole on purpose.”
“I didn’t think you wanted anything from me because I didn’t really consider it as an option.”
“I know that,” Kuroo repeats. Then, looking out to the view of San Francisco, he pauses before he says, “So what now?”
What now? Akaashi is in a car with the man he’s been sleeping with for over a year now, actually, even though it doesn’t feel like it, even though each rendezvous has been broken and divided by months of distance. Akaashi’s in a car and he’s on top of a hill in San Francisco looking down at what might be the most beautiful sight he’s ever seen. Akaashi’s in a car and he doesn’t know what it means to be known and he doesn’t know what it means to know somebody but he knows that Kuroo likes having his hair pulled and also that Kuroo likes his eggs over easy and that the two of them are like planets in space, revolving and dancing around each other and missing the other’s orbit until suddenly, a fateful encounter in the sky. A conjunction, an eclipse, or two people who don’t quite know each other but who are finally able to sit down and say hello, it’s nice to finally meet you again.
It’s a train wreck, a car accident, and Akaashi will choose to collide into Kuroo time and time again. In a way, he already has. So Akaashi says, “When are we both in New York next?”
And to his credit, Kuroo just laughs.