Hajime, on the other hand, hates any kind of ritual magic. He’s glaring down at the tin container of green tea powder like it offends him. "I can’t believe this class is still mandatory," he grumbles, mouth twisting up into one of his more grumpy frowns.
Tooru tilts his head to the side and offers up a teasing grin. "Any good Japanese magician knows how to perform a tea ceremony ritual," he replies, using the tiniest trickle of wind magic to poke at Hajime’s cheek, staying out of range for a headlock. "Just because you’re talentless—"
"Shut up, Shittykawa." Hajime swats his hand at the invisible magic finger, shifting on the tatami mat to get more comfortable. "Or I’ll turn you into a piece of gum and stick you on the bottom of my shoe for the rest of the day."
Tooru shudders, despite knowing Hajime’s magic isn’t exactly strong enough to do something like that even if he’s the best in their year at any kind of transformational magic. It’s a rare talent, to be able to do anything beyond manipulating an element, and Hajime can turn 500 yen coins into baby frogs with enough concentration. Tooru is pretty sure it’s the only reason Hajime had gotten in to Blue Castle; Hajime’s element is fire, but his fire magic is pretty weak, and he’s got terrible control over it. Back in their first year of high school, the class had gone camping for their summer trip, and when they’d prepped a fire for cooking sweet potatoes, Hajime had turned the tinder to ash in under ten seconds instead of starting a blaze.
"What a lucky shoe!" Tooru laughs, pushing aside thoughts of fire and tadpoles and prods Hajime again with his magic. Hajime is so easy to rile up, and Tooru is just twisted enough to enjoy seeing how much he can get away with. Hajime’s temper is short, but his tolerance is high when it comes to Tooru. "There’s no need to be jealous of my lovely face~"
"It’ll be lovely to step on," retorts Hajime as Matsukawa returns to their long wooden table with a pot full of water. Hajime takes it from him and then presses a hand to the side to heat it. It glows bright red for a moment, and Hajime winces. "Oops. I think I boiled away all the water."
"You’re not supposed to use quite that much heat, I think," Hanamaki says dryly, returning with the tray of traditional sweets. He sets the tray down, and Matsukawa, always hungry, grabs a square of sweetened mochi without a second thought. Silently counting the mochi cakes, Tooru notes that Hanamaki had planned ahead and picked up several extras. Ritual magic can be tricky, and having the right number of each piece of the ceremony is important to the success of the fortune telling.
"That’s all right," Tooru reassures him, grinning smugly as Hanamaki takes the pot gingerly from Hajime’s hold to go fill it again, dodging the low-hanging light and padding sock-footed back over to the basin at the back of the room, where well-water from the sacred river has been brought in. "No one expects you to be as perfect as I am—"
Hajime’s hand smacks him lightly on the back of the head. "Perfect, my ass!"
"Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Oikawa," interrupts Hajime ominously, and Tooru somehow manages to restrain himself from another fantastic retelling of that time last year when some girl at the SPYAIR concert had made a comment a little too loudly to her friend about the fit of Hajime’s jeans across his backside. The look on Hajime’s face had been glorious, but Tooru’s probably on thin ice right now.
Hanamaki returns with the pot, and this time, Hajime only presses a single finger to the side. Steam still puffs up from the spout, but at least, Tooru decides, there’s likely to be some hot water inside this time. He carefully picks it up and pours some into the first ceramic cup, which he swirls around with both hands to clean it in preparation for making the tea.
"You always look so serious when you’re hosting the tea ceremony," Hanamaki says, when Tooru’s set the first cup back down and picked up the second one. "I mean, you always sit traditionally and get very focused."
"Precision and practice are an important part of tea ceremony magic," is Tooru’s automatic response, and Hajime snorts.
"It doesn’t suit you at all," says Matsukawa. "Maybe if you were whining a little more…"
"My friends are so cruel to me! I work so hard to help you all get good grades and this is how I’m repaid?" He mimes stabbing himself in the heart. "Be nice to your diligent captain!"
"Yes, Captain," replies Hanamaki, straight-faced but lips twitching. "Whatever you say, Captain."
Tooru glowers at him briefly before turning up his nose. "That’s more like it!" he says, imperious. "As I am one of the best Elemental Arena players in the country, you’re privileged to have me!"
"No one calls it Elemental Arena," Hanamaki says. "Just call it Token like everyone else."
"And has privilege changed meaning lately?" Hajime asks Hanamaki, not bothering to lower his voice or even pretend to stage whisper.
"I’m feeling attacked!" Tooru announces. "Firstly, stop taking the gift of my presence for granted. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with calling something by its actual name, just because a few plebians—"
"Everyone," Hanamaki interjects. "Literally everyone."
"It can’t possibly be everyone." Tooru straightens his tie. "Because I don't."
Matsukawa, sitting opposite him, almost chokes on a piece of mochi in laughter, white sugar sticking to his cracked lips, and Hanamaki looks tempted to shoot a quick water spell at his face to clean it off. Honestly, though, Hanamaki always looks a bit tempted to send a water spell at Matsukawa, even if he mostly hides it with that impassive expression on his face.
The slide of the paper-thin shouji doors has them all looking up at once. No one ever enters the tea ceremony classroom once the period has started. It interrupts the magical flow of the room, or something, according to their teacher. Tooru thinks that’s probably complete bullshit, considering he practices tea ceremony at home all the time, and his nephew is often bursting into his room and bugging him to help practice his magic. Sometimes that ruins Tooru’s tea ceremony, sure, but that’s because he quits and chases Takeru outside with tiny bursts of powerful wind, tickling him at the sensitive backs of his knees until he’s nothing but giggles in the sprawling Oikawa family gardens, grinning up at Tooru with sparkling eyes.
"I’d heard we have a transfer this year," Iwaizumi murmurs as their visitor, the vice principal, walks into the classroom to approach their teacher, who is sitting cross-legged in dark navy traditional Japanese clothing in front of his own tea ceremony preparation. She’s carrying a stack of their previous ritual magics textbooks in her arms, even the bright pink and white cherry blossom patterned one from primary school, and she has an annoyed look on her face. Hajime, who’s been nursing a ‘secret’ crush on the vice principal lately, leans forward for a closer look, jostling Tooru slightly as he narrows his eyes at the textbooks, like they’ll somehow give him the power to know the entirety of the situation. "The poor bastard’s probably gotta take a million fucking review exams though."
"Such language from our student council president—"
Matsukawa reaches across the table and shoves a cake into Tooru’s mouth, halting his words. "Shhh," he says, "the adults are talking." Then he turns to Hajime. "Pretty impressive that he got in to Blue Castle, though, isn’t it? We hardly ever take transfers, and most of us have been here since primary school."
That’s true enough; most of them have grown up together, for better or for worse. The Spring Leaf Academy for Talented Young Magicians, known colloquially as the Blue Castle for the school’s unusual appearance, is a famous and elite all-boys magical preparatory school. The majority of eligible boys opt to do their entire thirteen years of formal education in the program, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
A transfer in the third year of high school is practically unheard of, although Tooru thinks he might have been told about it happening after that famous wild magic incident in Sapporo a few years ago had scared half of the Snow Path students to schools on any island but Hokkaido.
Rare or not, Tooru’s known most of his year-mates since he was five, when he’d passed Blue Castle’s extremely difficult Inherent Magic exam. Some of them, like Hajime, he’s known even longer, thanks to most magic users in Tokyo sharing the same social network and all. Hajime and Tooru’s mothers had gone to school together, and Tooru’s first memory of his best friend is of trying to chew on Hajime’s arm and getting a face full of snow for his effort.
"Must be someone special," Hanamaki says, bringing Tooru back to the conversation. "I wonder why they missed the first week of term?"
"What’s one week when you’ve missed an entire twelve years?" Tooru waves a hand dismissively, and returns his attention to their ceremony. If they let themselves be distracted any longer, he’ll have to start over. The tea ceremony is a ritual, after all, and rituals rely on ambient magic instead of the direct manipulation of it. That means the longer they take between steps, the longer the gathered magic has to seep out, and the weaker their end result will be.
Sighing and straightening his posture, Tooru focuses on completing his cleaning of the tools, setting them down in their appropriate places as Hajime presses his finger back to the pot to check the temperature of the water. As he methodically sets the whisk into position, he can feel the build of the magic in his hands.
It’s different from when he uses wind magic, since that always feels like it’s collecting around his fingertips, waiting for him to send it off again. Ambient magic is under his skin, pushing to pour out of him into the ritual. Tooru’s not sure if anyone else feels this kind of magic the same way, really. He had tried to explain it to Hajime once, but he’d just stared back at Tooru blankly until Tooru had huffed and given up on the whole thing getting through to him.
His hands tingle as he reaches for the green tea powder, opening the the matcha tin and adding three spoons of it to each of their cups as his friends continue their speculation about the transfer student around him. He pays attention with half an ear as he concentrates on adding the exact same amount of water to each of their cups, and then whisking exactly twelve times until the tea froths.
"The rice paper," he says, in his captain voice, and Matsukawa takes out the stack and sets a sheet in front of each of them for the fortune telling.
When he hands Hajime his cup, Hajime turns it to admire the design clumsily, frowning down at the pale green foam with his eyebrows crushed together. "Should I leave two sips or one?"
"One should be fine? You just need enough to pour out onto the rice paper at the end," Tooru says, handing the next cup to Hanamaki, who barely completes the ritual turn of the cup before taking his first sip. Matsukawa laughs at Tooru’s pout, and snags his cup on his own, breaking protocol. "Next time I’m working with Sawauchi."
"Yeah, right," Matsukawa replies. "He’s stiff as a board, and he’d never put up with you, anyway."
"No one has to put up with me." Tooru expertly holds his own cup, and arches an eyebrow. "I am an absolute delight."
Hanamaki hums thoughtfully. "Delusion is common in strong magicians, I hear." He takes a long sip of his tea as Tooru gives him a false wounded expression.
"You need to spend less time with Iwa-chan! You’re getting mean!"
"Or you’re getting more annoying," mutters Hajime, who looks as displeased as ever about the tea’s taste.
Tooru doesn’t dignify that with an answer, since he’s distracted by the magic that’s now buzzing so loudly under his skin it’s starting to drown out his friends’ voices. There’s an odd prickle at the back of his neck as he takes another sip of his tea. It stings his throat, hot and bitter, and he licks at the corners of his lips to catch the liquid there. The more precise the better, he knows from long hours of study. The tea he pours out has to be connected to the tea inside him for a more accurate fortune.
He takes a bite of sweet mochi between sips, and looks up to where the vice principal is wrapping up her conversation with their teacher. She’s left the books in a stack on the floor next to their teacher, and is looking impatiently in the direction of the door. Tooru turns to look too, and to his surprise, just as his eyes reach the open entrance, someone is stepping out of their shoes and into the tatami room.
He drags his gaze up long legs to an untucked shirt wrinkled at the waist and only halfway buttoned. Eventually, he lands on the stranger’s face, meeting eyes that stare straight back at him in amusement under lifted brows. The corner of a thin mouth lifts in a mocking expression, and at that smirk, Tooru suddenly recognizes the person standing in the doorway. Startled, he twitches, knocking over his tea and spilling it all over the table and his lap.
He shrieks loudly as the hot liquid soaks the thighs of his blue uniform slacks, and Matsukawa bursts out laughing as Hajime slides away from him to avoid getting wet himself. "There’s that famous Oikawa poise," Matsukawa gasps out, as Hanamaki grabs a towel and starts to sop up the tea on the table, and Tooru grabs his own extra towel and starts to pat the tatami and himself dry.
"You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?" Hajime asks suspiciously, eyes narrowed. "What happened?"
"The transfer," Tooru replies, head whipping back up to the entrance to watch the slouched figure make its way over to where the vice principal is standing with her hands on her hips. "He’s…"
"Well," says the vice principal, interrupting him, "now that Oikawa’s successfully broken everyone’s focus, it’s as good a time as any to introduce the new transfer student. This is Kuroo Tetsurou, who’ll be doing his final year of magical education with us here at Blue Castle."
All eleven students in the class break out into whispers.
"Isn’t he…?" Hajime hands over his towel too as Tooru sets the wet one aside.
"Yes, exactly," Tooru replies, frowning. "He won Magician’s Court two years ago."
"Youngest King in seventy years, or something like that," adds Hanamaki, and Tooru licks his lips.
"Seventy-seven years," Tooru corrects, and then bites down on his lip, returning his attention to the transfer.
He looks like a cat: eyes narrow and dark gold and watchfully predatory, with dark hair that hasn’t, in Tooru’s educated opinion, seen a brush in months. His tie, still stiff and fresh from the packaging, is loosely knotted, and he hasn’t bothered with wearing his blazer, or even doing his shirt up all the way, revealing too much bronzed skin to be polite, never mind neat enough for the dress code.
"Hey," he says, in an easy voice that pitches well across the classroom. "I’m Kuroo." He meets Tooru’s eyes again. "I’m most recently from Hong Kong, and my element’s fire." He shrugs, glancing around the room. "I’ve never been to a magic school, or anything, so…" Sliding his hands into his trouser pockets, he slouches further. "Should be interesting, at least."
"Never been to a magic school?" Matsukawa sounds intrigued as he talks to Hanamaki under his breath. "I heard in other countries they do a pull-out program at some regular high schools, where students go to most classes with other students who can’t do any magic, and just take one class a day in control. But that’s usually kids with weaker magic, right?"
Kuroo Tetsurou, Tooru knows, is not weak. He remembers watching the Magician’s Court on television during the winter holidays two years ago, hands clenched into the quilt over his lap as a boy his own age burned everything around his opponent to ash, winning the title.
Fire magic like Kuroo’s is wild and scary and dangerous without excellent control. Just the thought of magic like that has Tooru pressing his palm against the burns all along his side. They still feel hot, even through the fabric of his blazer and his uniform shirt.
Kuroo runs a hand through his impossibly messy hair and sighs, giving his attention back to the vice principal and their ritual magics teacher, who gesture to the books. He looks resigned about them, and Tooru wonders if--
"Stop staring at the guy," Hajime hisses into his ear, snapping him out of his thoughts. "You look like you’re about to throw up on him!"
"My tea ceremony was interrupted," Tooru hisses back, looking down at the table, where Hanamaki has righted his ceramic cup and cleaned up most of the spill. "I was supposed to…" He stares at his rice paper, where some of his tea has spilled out and spread into what looks a little like fire, flames dancing across the cream and grainy surface in various shades of green. "…Finish the ritual."
"Well," Hajime says, with a one-shouldered shrug. "Maybe that means the transfer’ll be good at Token."
"It’s called Elemental Arena," Tooru says, stealing another look at the transfer, who looks totally unfazed at standing up there in front of their small class, the center of attention. "And this has nothing to do with the transfer. It’s simply a divine certification of my hotness." He ignores the cooling tea across his lap to offer Hajime a consoling look. "Maybe you shouldn’t finish your ritual, Iwa-chan, it might hurt your feelings to see your mediocrity immortalized—"
Hajime punches him in the arm. "You’re a moron."
Tooru grins at him smugly.
After Hajime’s turned his attention to Hanamaki, Tooru grimaces, dropping his gaze back to his rice paper fortune. Fire, for him, has never been a particularly good omen.
The grass is just starting to grow back, more yellow than green in the face of the early March cold, and it crunches underfoot as he steps off the winding gravel path to cut across the lawn. His math book thumps against his leg repetitively as he walks, and Tooru wryly wonders why he even bothered to bring it at all considering how much he’d paid attention in class today.
He hadn’t been able to concentrate on the lecture even briefly, his thoughts instead wandering back to the new student in his year. Kuroo Tetsurou hadn’t been in any of his afternoon classes except economics, and even then he’d just come in, exchanged a few words with the teacher, and then left again, Tooru tracking his movements out of the corner of his eye until Kuroo’d disappeared down the hallway and out of sight. It’s difficult for Tooru to reconcile the slouchy, sleepy looking transfer student with the larger than life high school King of the Magician’s Court everyone had talked about for months, even if he can see it in Kuroo’s grin and sometimes the set of his shoulders.
Tooru used to love watching the Magician’s Court every winter, before the accident.
"It’s pretty much the only thing he likes that isn’t garbage American sci-fi programming," Hajime always said, in some variation, whenever Tooru’s sister would tease him about it. "At least he’s taking an interest in something besides Star Trek."
"I’m going to win it someday," had been Tooru’s customary response. "Watching it is research!"
"Sure you are, Tooru," his sister would say. "Future King of the Court, aren’t you?" She’d ruffle his hair, and then head outside to practice her own magic, letting her wind spells blow snow across the family garden.
He’d watched it alone the year Kuroo Tetsurou won, just out of the hospital and home by himself, both of his parents at work, and his sister off in France presenting her dissertation research on ikebana magic at a conference, having taken his nephew Takeru with her. Hajime had offered to come over, but Tooru had turned him down, not wanting Hajime to coddle him like he’d been doing a lot since he’d been injured, insulting Tooru as usual but avoiding his eyes and touching him like he’d break.
"You don’t even like Magician’s Court," Tooru’d said, and Hajime had laughed.
"I don’t like any of the shit you make me watch. Doesn’t mean I can’t be there, anyway."
But Tooru had wanted to be alone, just in case. His bandages, wrapped snugly around his torso and winding around his hips and down his left thigh, had chafed against raw skin, and he'd forced himself to watch the final match with his jaw tight with tension. On TV, Kuroo's lips had curled up at the corner as he'd flung fire around with an easy grace. His posture had been relaxed but his eyes had been as alight as his fingertips, excited and alive and competitive in ways that made Tooru remember how, even only a few weeks earlier, he'd wanted to be there, in the ring, fighting for the title, too.
Two years feels a little like forever ago, he thinks, walking across the arching wooden bridge that crosses the stream between the learning campus and the dorms, adjusting his satchel. He doesn’t watch Magician’s Court anymore, or dream about winning it. He prefers playing Elemental Arena to any sort of magical duel, these days. Magic used against objects and not people. A game, sure, but one that allows Tooru to show off his skill at strategy and his complete control over the wind, the most finicky of the elements.
"Oikawa, wait up!"
Tooru looks over his shoulder to see Yahaba running to catch up with him, his honey brown hair tousled by the strong winds that Tooru never allows to touch his own hair. It's still cold, and bundled up in his winter coat, Yahaba looks like the small boy Tooru had recruited for his Arena team six years ago instead of an eighteen-year-old high school second year, despite the fact that he’s shot up like a weed and is almost as tall as Tooru himself now.
Stopping to wait and learning against the red-painted railing, Tooru raises an eyebrow at his underclassman. "Need something, Yahaba?"
"Coach wants to see you tonight before practice," pants Yahaba, pink-cheeked and looking slightly put-out. It’s mostly for show, Tooru decides. Yahaba’s hard to upset, most of the time, and takes everything in stride. Tooru’s perfectly aware that’s why they get along so well.
"And does my favorite underclassman know why the coach wants to see me?"
Yahaba shivers. "I'm not sure? It didn't seem like he was angry or anything, though. Just said that when I saw you today, I should let you know to come early."
"Of course he's not angry," Tooru replies, throwing an arm around Yahaba's shoulders and urging him in the direction of the dorms. It's too cold for them to stand around outside. "I am a model captain. The epitome of responsibility~"
"Now that Iwaizumi-san has quit the team, there’s no one to keep you in line, huh?"
"Now, now, be respectful to your upperclassman, Yahaba!" Tooru laughs. "Is that all you needed? I’m going to start thinking you just love hearing my voice!"
Yahaba gives him a skeptical look. "I was going to ask for your help on a new magical intention exercise Matsui gave us third period. Watari overdid things and sucked all the water out of the air, which basically turned our classroom into a rain-water swimming pool, but all I've managed is making the wood of the bookshelves turn halfway back into trees."
"I’m sure Matsui-sensei appreciates the new Tolkien-inspired aesthetic of his classroom!"
"Unfortunately, my tree bookcase drowned," Yahaba replies. He looks so very resigned.
Snickering, Tooru files Watari’s pool away for later taunting. "We can work on it after practice," he says. "A few minutes with me and you'll be the best in your class!"
"You don't even know which exercise it is yet."
"I am one year ahead of you," Tooru replies, dropping his arm from Yahaba's shoulders as they reach the automatic doors of the high school dorm building. In contrast to the school learning campus, which is still the original Edo Period architecture, the dorms are all far more modern, and after spending all day in a mild chill, Tooru appreciates the immediacy of centralized heating as they step into the building. "And I'm the top student in my class. That means whichever exercise it is, I've done it, and excelled at it. So trust me!"
Laughing, Yahaba rolls his eyes. "Right, right." He combs his fingers through his hair and then tugs lightly at his scarf as they both head for the stairwell. "By the way, I heard you spilled tea all over yourself in class today!"
Tooru can feel himself about to blush in embarrassment, and ruthlessly suppresses it, opting for a wounded pout instead. "Who told you that?!" At Yahaba’s grin, he exaggerates his expression. "Iwa-chan is dead to me, and if you aren’t careful, you will be too!"
"I also heard Kuroo Tetsurou is the new transfer student in third year." Yahaba whistles. "I watched the finals when he won. He has impressive fire magic."
"He does." Tooru swallows. "Fire magic doesn't require any finesse, but I suppose he's good for one of those hot-headed brutes."
Yahaba pushes open the door and holds it until Tooru's walked through. "Iwaizumi is a fire magician, too, you know."
"Iwa-chan is absolutely a hot-headed brute," Tooru answers without hesitation. "He's not a good example of even-tempered--" Tooru's interrupted by the sound of his phone chiming, and he digs it out of his pocket as they climb the stairs side by side. It could be one of the girls he met last month at the cross-school mixer, but instead it’s a text from Hajime that just says "you forgot your history textbook in class again, moron, and if i have to carry this stupid thing back to the dorms one more time i'm gonna hammer you into the ground with it ", and Tooru laughs, showing it to Yahaba. "See?"
"You're not usually forgetful, Oikawa." Yahaba gives him a suspicious look, mixed with a bit of indulgence, and Tooru grins. He adores Yahaba, and he feels pretty confident about possibly leaving the team in his hands next year.
"Well," he drawls, "that book is heavy, and as an athlete I have to be careful not to, you know, strain myself..." He winks, and Yahaba rolls his eyes, charmed despite himself.
"Is Iwaizumi really hot-headed, or do you have a special talent for pissing him off, Captain?"
"I'd like to think it's both," muses Tooru, as they make it to the third floor. "I think I’ve made an art of it, really."
"You’re going to have to teach me how you get away with stuff like that."
"It’s charisma and charm!" He grins radiantly at Yahaba, who just shakes his head.
"You know what?" Yahaba wrinkles his nose thoughtfully as he presses his ID card to the door to give himself access to his floor. "You should use some of that charisma and recruit the King for Token."
"Why would I do that?" Tooru beams at Yahaba over his shoulder as he takes the next flight of stairs. "I’ve already got the best team in Japan!"
Yahaba laughs and disappears through the double doors with a quick, "see you at practice, Captain!" and Tooru makes his way to the fifth floor, where this year-mates' rooms line up along a narrow hallway.
Almost all the rooms at Blue Castle are shared, but Tooru's had his own for two years now. The previous eleven years he'd roomed with Hajime, but one of the perks of Hajime being student council president is his fancy single occupant room downstairs on the first floor, with enough space for a television, two big comfortable sofas, and a table, making it easy for him to hold student council meetings.
Tooru claims a huge swath of the floor pretty often for movie marathons, and Hajime never seems to mind. He probably misses Tooru, honestly, because his life is about a hundred times more interesting when Tooru's around. Hajime has a tendency to get way too serious without Tooru to needle him into having fun, after all, even if he hates Tooru's taste in music and films and everything else. Often, Tooru wonders how they've managed to stay best friends for so long without much of anything but magic in common, but most of the time Tooru figures it's because they're so used to each other's quirks that they've stopped seeing all the differences.
"It’s pretty quiet," Hajime’d told him, after a week of living in separate rooms, "But at least now I can see the entire floor, instead of just glimpses through the islands of your piles of crap."
Anyway, since Hajime'd moved out, Tooru's had their old double to himself. It's strange to look over to the other side of the room and see white blank walls instead of Hajime's volleyball posters and super-nerdy two-by-four meter poster of the periodic table, but something keeps him from putting any of his own extra posters up in that blank space. Maybe, Tooru thinks, as he fishes his key out of his pocket to let himself in, it's because he secretly still considers that side of the room Hajime's, or something.
Opening his door, Tooru slips out of his shoes and shuffles into the room, dropping his bag at his desk. It makes a demoralizing thud as it hits the wooden surface, and Tooru sighs, looking longingly at his bed, considering if he has enough time for a nap.
"You're not going to say 'hi'? I'm hurt, honestly!"
Tooru's key falls from his hand and clatters to the floor, and he spins around to find Kuroo Tetsurou sitting on Hajime's old bed on the other side of the room, resting his weight on his hands. His shirt is still barely halfway buttoned, and he's even more disheveled than he'd been earlier, clothes wrinkled and uniform slacks now rolled up twice to reveal a slice of tanned ankle. His messy hair falls into his face and he's smiling again, head tilted sideways as he takes Tooru in.
"Someone’s breaking dress code," Tooru says, wagging his index finger at Kuroo, like he'd never been surprised at all, instead of asking what Kuroo is doing in his room, or what he's doing at Tooru's school, even, when last Tooru’d heard he’d disappeared off the face of the planet and refused to participate in any of the pomp and circumstance of the following year’s ceremonial passing of the crown. Some King from the ‘80s had come to fulfill all of Kuroo’s duties, apparently, and Tooru had been too busy avoiding the whole event to actually try and guess why. "How scandalous of you, and on your first day, too!"
"Am I?" He gives Tooru a surprisingly friendly appraisal. "Never really cared much about that kind of thing. You going to turn me in for it, Oikawa Tooru?"
"I won’t have to if you show up in class like that tomorrow." Tooru saccharinely smiles at him. "Now, tell me, who gave you my first name?"
"You're pretty popular, Tooru," Kuroo replies easily, flashing teeth. He sits forward, and Tooru's gaze drops to the two suitcases at the foot of the bed, and the overly packed duffle at Kuroo’s feet. "I asked around, trying to find this place, and everyone couldn’t stop informing me about how lucky I am to be rooming with you."
"Naturally," is Tooru's breezy reply, as he sits down on the edge of his desk so that he can face Kuroo from a higher angle, not wanting to even chance having to look up. So Kuroo is his new roommate. It shouldn’t actually have surprised him; it’s not like Tooru's supposed to have a room to himself. "I'm a treasure! Besides, this room has a great view." From the window, Tooru can see out across the grounds all the way to the campus, and soon, the cherry blossoms will start to bloom.
Kuroo chuckles. Contrary to his smug smile, it's not mocking. "I agree, the view can’t be beat," he says, still looking at Tooru, but then he flicks his gaze to the wall behind him. "Star Trek fan, eh? Look at all these aliens! Wow. Are you obsessed?"
Tooru studies his new roommate carefully, trying to decide if Kuroo is just asking or trying to tease. Tooru feels strangely like he’s being poked at. "What’s the point in liking something halfway? I prefer to be the best in everything I do, even being a fan~"
"So, do you think something’s out there in space?" Kuroo lifts both brows, and he’s definitely teasing, now. "The real world too boring for you?"
"I think life on other planets is a logical possibility," Tooru replies, loftily, curling his fingers into the thick weave of his scarf. "When the aliens invade, I will be sure to say ‘I told you so’."
"You're the first magical type I've met that likes that sort of thing," Kuroo says, focus flitting back to Tooru's wall of posters, his gaze lingering on the Elemental Arena Japanese national league poster from 2010. "Most of you only want to watch magical stuff, like Token or whatever."
"It's called Elemental Arena." Tooru unbuttons his wool coat slowly, sliding it off and throwing it on his desk. He lets his scarf fall to the floor, along with the tea-stained slacks he'd worn and changed out of earlier today and some unsorted paperwork for gear requisitions for the team's two new first year players. "I'm captain of the school team."
"Of course you are," Kuroo says.
"What? Do I have 'captain-material' written all over me?" Tooru bats his eyelashes.
Kuroo's smile just widens a little. "Something like that," he answers, his eyelids lowering to half-mast as he continues to hold Tooru's gaze.
Tooru's pulse picks up, and he shifts his weight from one foot to the other, discomfited. "What do you mean by ‘magical types’? You’re a magician."
"Yeah," Kuroo says, scratching at a cheek that's lightly stubbled, "but everyone in your family probably has magic, right? In mine, it's just me, so I grew up with people who don't care about weird shit, like, you know, 'tea ceremony magic' and all that." His fingertips are black. Hajime's have never gone that dark, since he doesn't use enough of his element to cause the singe that makes fire magicians easy to pick out in a crowd. "Plus, I don't get how Star Trek and faeries or aliens or whatever can be all that exciting when you have actual magic."
"Faeries and magic have nothing to do with outer space!" Tooru huffs. "You’re talking like you've never seen an episode of Star Trek!" The amused twitch of Kuroo's lips has Tooru looking at him in only partially feigned horror. "You haven't, have you? You're a heathen. Star Trek is one of the most important franchises of modern times." It’s a well-trodden rant that he’s given Hajime more than once.
"And you're clearly a nerd," replies Kuroo, seeming delighted with the fact. "Which is a relief, honestly. Because the way everyone was talking you up, you sounded like a real asshole." He stretches out on the bed, then, turned sideways so he can still face Tooru. "I like nerds." His eyes gleam, and Tooru's breath catches in his chest for a moment.
Kuroo has an interesting face, Tooru thinks, full of sharp angles and firm lines. The curve of his mouth is sly, and Tooru has no doubt that Kuroo likes leaving the impression that he’s always just a little above it all, one step ahead, just like Tooru likes to leave the impression that he’s built of confidence and surety.
"I like having my own room." Looking away from Kuroo pointedly, Tooru strips off his blazer and crosses the room to put it on the hanger he leaves on the front of his wardrobe. He takes a moment, as he straightens the lapels, to figure out how he should direct this conversation, and, for the first time in a long time, is uncertain if he even can. He licks his lips.
"So you're also into that Token game, I guess, since you’re the captain and all that jazz." Kuroo hums, and Tooru looks over his shoulder to find him scratching lazily at his belly. He even stretches like a cat. "Never really got the point of it."
Tooru bristles, because Kuroo sounds a bit like Tooru's dad when he says it. "A waste of time, don't you agree, Tooru? Iwaizumi is student council president, and you're spending all your free time on a game?"
"Elemental Arena is the most popular game in Japan." Tooru narrows his eyes. "And don't worry, I wouldn't expect a fire magician to understand the intricacy of a game that's more about strategy than blowing things up."
"Ouch," Kuroo says, apparently not bothered at all. "Maybe I'll watch a game and see if I can figure out what all the fuss is about." A slick grin. "Even if I’ve never heard anyone under the age of fifty call it ‘Elemental Arena’. They should officially change the name."
"That name has a lot of history," Tooru replies. "Arena is older than the Magician’s Court." He purposefully relaxes backwards, to lean against his wardrobe. The sleeve of his blazer tickles the small of his back. "Ah, well, it might not be stimulating enough for a famous dueler."
Kuroo wiggles his toes inside his socks. "That didn’t take long to get around, did it?"
"I recognized you immediately," admits Tooru, and then instantly regrets it, flushing at Kuroo’s sharp, pleased grin.
"Oikawa Tooru," and Tooru's not sure how he feels about the way Kuroo says his first name, "did you spill your tea because you recognized me?"
"The cup was just too hot." Swallowing, Tooru tugs at his tie. "That's all."
"Hmm." Kuroo runs his hand through his hair. "If you say so." His phone beeps twice, and he pulls it out of his pocket to check the screen. He frowns at it, the first frown Tooru's seen from him, and then, without answering it, he slides it back into his pocket. Then he sits up, snagging a book from the top of the stack of them next to his bed. "Time to learn all about magic, I guess."
"Why didn't you go to a magic school?" Tooru asks. "Before, I mean. You really never studied any of this?"
It seems impossible for Kuroo to have won the Magician's Court without having studied magic formally before, especially at such a young age. Fifteen is the lower age boundary, but the majority of contestants are in their mid-twenties, finished with university and saddled with ten more years’ experience in controlling elemental magic than Kuroo’d had, when he took the crown with a literal blaze of glory.
Holding the bright pink primary school ritual magics textbook in one long-fingered hand, Kuroo presses his lips into a thin line. "I didn't want to," he replies, after a long silence. "I wanted to just keep going to normal school with my best friend, and go home every day to my family and live my normal life. It's not like I'd ever met anyone else who could do magic, so it was just a side-thing, like… I dunno, learning to play piano."
"Like learning the piano," Tooru echoes, taken aback, trying to imagine a world in which magic is nothing but an extracurricular. He tries to imagine going to a school that isn’t full of people who can shut doors with a flick of their hand or grow tomatoes on the vine overnight in the middle of winter with nothing but serious intent.
He knows ninety-five per cent of the Japanese population lives without access to magic, but Tooru's family can trace its wind magic back at least nineteen generations, and he'd never doubted, even before his own magic manifested, that he wouldn't have it too. To him, normal is pushing his sister into the pool with a gust from his upstairs bedroom window and knowing she’ll retaliate, but slamming his window closed in retreat anyway before she climbs out again. Normal is Hajime boiling all the water out of the ceramic teapot with the palm of his hand, or Yahaba making all the grass on the campus lawn grow waist high by accident when he has the flu. Normal couldn’t, for Tooru, involve people who can’t do magic, because he breathes it.
Kuroo simply shrugs. "It wasn’t something I did all the time, since my friends couldn’t do it. We mostly played volleyball, or video games."
"So why are you here now?" Tooru asks, sharper than he means to. He takes a deep breath. "Just to warn you, we don’t have a volleyball club."
"Because now I do want to." He blinks, then Kuroo grins again. "Guess I am curious about what you guys learn in an all-magic school. Even if I have to read all of these textbooks in like, two weeks. I can’t believe there’s magic involved in shit like flower arranging."
Tooru turns his attention to the pile of books by Kuroo’s bed, spilling out of a stack that probably wasn’t neat in the first place. "Going to teach yourself twelve years’ worth of material?"
"I’m sure I’ve picked up a thing or two already over the years." Kuroo chuckles, and Tooru actually, maybe, hates that smug little grin, because Kuroo acts like he thinks magic is easy, and Tooru can’t help but wonder if for Kuroo, it is. Tooru has never suffered prodigies well. "You gonna give me a hand? I’ve been told you’re the top student in third year."
"Oh, I’m sure it’ll be no problem for a champion like you~" He pushes away from his wardrobe and offers up a shallow smile. Snagging his bag for practice later, Tooru bypasses his bed and walks back toward the door. A nap is out of the question now, he supposes, since he spent his free half-hour talking with Kuroo. "After all, I’m sure most of us ‘magic types’ don’t have anything to teach the King!" At the look of genuine surprise on Kuroo’s face, Tooru’s own grin strengthens.
He wiggles his fingers in a casual wave goodbye, and escapes the room, his bag of protective gear digging into his shoulder as he takes the stairs two-by-two. He’ll have dinner early tonight.
"Yahaba passed along my message, I see." Coach crosses his arms. "We really have to get you to start checking your e-mail, Oikawa."
"I do check my e-mail," Tooru replies with a cheeky grin. "It’s just that I get so many messages from cute girls that—"
"I don’t want to hear it," Coach interrupts. "I didn’t ask you to come early so you can brag about how popular you are." He coughs, and gives Tooru a pointed look that has him straightening his posture and focusing. "There are two teams favored to make it to the national finals this year. Blue Castle and, of course, last year’s winners, Swan Valley."
"We’re going to beat them, this year," Tooru says. "We almost did it last year, and with Kindaichi and Kunimi rounding out the team, I think this year we’ll be able to pull it out."
"With Iwaizumi not returning this year, we don’t have a fire magician." Coach taps his chin. "While normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, circumstances have changed."
"Changed?" Tooru’s gaze sharpens as Coach nods at him seriously. "Did Swan Valley get a fire magician?"
"Ushijima is playing for Swan Valley again this year."
Tooru’s heart drops all the way to his stomach. "Ushiwaka? I thought he was tired of Arena." Buffing his nails on his practice uniform, to give his hands something to do that isn’t clenching into fists, he stares down at the gym floor. "Didn’t he say it was boring to play a game where everyone is inferior to him?"
"He’s registered as team captain this year."
"So you think we won’t stand a chance without fire." He looks up to meet Coach’s gaze.
"Though each challenge obstacle can be completed without all the elements, having a strong fire magician will improve our chances." He taps his foot. "I don’t think any of the first years will do, and Kyoutani is still on suspension."
Tooru has the sinking suspicion he knows what’s coming next. "You want me to recruit Kuroo."
"If nothing else," Coach says, "he’ll intimidate everyone else at least as much as Ushijima does."
Tooru winces, looking past Coach to the other side of the gym, where the middle school team is wrapping up their practice. "I don’t even think he knows the rules."
"So teach him," replies Coach. "You teach the primary school kids how to play every year. I’m sure you can teach a fellow nineteen-year-old."
That’s because Tooru enjoys teaching kids. They have the appropriate amount of awe when he talks to them, and they’re still cute and eager enough that they don’t give him any trouble when he’s trying to show them how to direct their magic.
He’s not sure he’d enjoy teaching Kuroo. Especially if Kuroo keeps him as unbalanced as he had earlier.
Tooru rocks back and forth, bouncing from heel to toe, as he carefully chooses his words. "I get the impression he thinks Elemental Arena is a waste of time." Moreover, Tooru hadn’t liked the way Kuroo talked about magic in general, like it’s something you do instead of something you are. Elemental Arena is a game that relies on using magic like a sixth sense, extending it outside yourself to complete the challenges and defeat the obstacles faster than the opposing team. Someone like Kuroo, who seems to want to go through life putting their magic aside, isn’t the sort of person that excels in Arena. "He probably won’t want to play, and we’ll be good enough without him."
Coach studies Tooru with a stern tilt to his mouth. "You’ve got a lot of excuses, Oikawa. That’s not like you."
Running his tongue across his teeth, Tooru tugs at the neck of his jersey. "I’ll ask him. And teach him the rules if he agrees," he says finally.
Nodding his approval, the Coach drops his arms to his sides, as if to conclude the conversation. Then, suddenly, he reaches out to grip Tooru’s shoulder. "Does it make you uncomfortable to work with a fire magician that’s not Iwaizumi? Is that the problem?"
"No," Tooru answers immediately, clenching his left hand into a fist to keep from touching his side. "It’s fine. I worked with Mad Dog-chan, didn’t I?" Kyoutani is blackened fingertips all the way down to the second knuckle, and terrifying bursts of flames whenever his temper spikes, but Tooru had known immediately how to needle him enough that he’d mostly stayed away, avoiding Tooru and never trying to combine their magic for an effect. Tooru had watched the bright orange out of the corner of his eye and never let his guard down.
It had been a guilty relief, when Kyoutani had gotten suspended from extracurriculars for missing too much class, even though Tooru would never have admitted it aloud.
"It’s understandable, you know, if fire magic makes you uncomfortable, especially after…"
"We’re going to compete against Swan Valley." Tooru pushes his jaw forward stubbornly. "Ushiwaka is going to be there, whether we have a fire magician on our team or not."
"Then I expect you to do what’s best for the team, as you always do." Coach smiles at him. "You’re a good captain, Oikawa, and the center of the team for a reason."
Tooru’s saved from replying by Kindaichi and Watari both entering the gym through the back door, laughing about whatever Watari’s got pulled up on his phone. Coach wanders off to speak to the last remaining middle school second years mopping up what looks like ocean water from underneath the bleachers, and Tooru, not wanting to linger on the idea of working with fire magic again, calls across the gym to the new arrivals.
"Watari, how did things go in Fundamentals of Elemental Control class today?" He smiles sweetly as Watari looks up from his phone like a man hunted. "I didn’t bring my snorkeling gear, so do try to contain yourself!"
"It was just a slight… technical difficulty!" He grins sheepishly. "It was an accident!"
"Sounds like someone needs a few more drills~" Tooru singsongs, and at Kindaichi and Watari’s matching groans, Tooru counts it as a victory.
He avoids thinking more about Kuroo Tetsurou through the rest of practice, and keeps Yahaba after to go over his classwork.
Rubbing tired eyes, Tooru collapses onto one of the cushions on the floor across from Hajime, his own tray thumping down onto the table. "Iwa-chan, you don’t always have to look so mean!" He leans forward. "Your face might get stuck like that! Then you’ll never get a girlfriend!"
Hajime looks up and glares at him. "You’re lucky it’s too early in the morning to punch you, Oikawa." Then he quirks an eyebrow. "What are you even doing up? I usually don’t have to put up with you until the end of breakfast."
"It’s weird to sleep with someone else in the room that’s not my Iwa-chan!" Tooru bites down on his lower lip. Kuroo isn’t a loud roommate, or anything like that. He’d gone to sleep without Tooru even noticing, really, but he had breathed heavily, and Tooru, used to silence or maybe the podcast he likes at a low volume, had tossed and turned and then, ultimately, turned to stare at the invading presence in his room curled up in a ball on the bed across the room, pillows covering both sides of his head as if to block out Tooru’s noise. "And what do you mean, put up with me? We’re best friends! You’re supposed to relish the time we spend together!"
"Relish?" Hajime snorts. "Whatever, idiot."
Tooru grins. Hajime’s all bark and no bite, and after all these years, Tooru knows an emotionally stunted admission of affection when he hears one. Living with Hajime had been easy, considering that they’d been in and out of each other's personal space since they were toddlers. Kuroo, on the other hand, is an unknown, a fire magician who came to magical school on a whim.
Tooru pokes at his rice with his chopsticks. "I wish I could just move in with you again."
"Absolutely not. I’ve paid my dues." Hajime takes a large gulp of his coffee. "One of us is supposed to have a roommate, and it’s not me. You’re just being your usual melodramatic self about all this."
After chasing down his rice with a sip of miso, Tooru sighs, resting his cheek on one hand and glaring at Hajime. "I guess there’s nothing wrong with him."
"Yet." Hajime stabs his mackerel again. "Living with you is sure to do something to the poor man. I feel sorry for him."
"Feel sorry for me, instead, Iwa-chan!" He presses the back of his hand to his head dramatically. "I’m allergic to cats!"
Hajime stares. "…I’m going to regret asking this, but what do cats have to do with anything?"
Tooru looks at him seriously. "I’m pretty sure Kuroo is part cat."
Rolling his eyes, Hajime takes another swig of coffee. "Be serious, Oikawa." He points at Tooru with his chopsticks. "You barely know him. Is this like with Kageyama, where you don’t like him because he’s the best at something you wanted to be the best at?"
With a wince, Tooru sets down his own chopsticks, suddenly less hungry. "I don’t know what you’re talking about," he replies airily.
"For years, all you wanted to do was win the Magician’s Court. The first year you compete, you have to drop out for…" He stops himself, lips twisting in a grimace. "Well, you have to drop out, and Kuroo Tetsurou goes on to win the whole thing." With a pointed lift of his eyebrows, Hajime focuses in on Tooru’s face. "But sure, you don’t know what I’m talking about."
Tooru’s stomach twists up in knots. "I don’t know," he admits, since no one but Hajime is around to hear him. "He’s a first-gen." Thinking of Kuroo’s casual dismissal of the years of study people put in at magical schools makes Tooru remember that flash of frustration that had curled up his spine. "I don’t like the way he talks about magic."
"You sound like your father," Hajime says shortly. "What’s being a first-gen got to do with it?" Tooru flinches, blinking at Hajime, wounded, until he realizes how Hajime might have taken what he just said.
"No, no, Iwa-chan, I don’t mean—" He wiggles in place, pouting, searching for a better way to explain it. "I mean, he never went to a magic school because he never really expected to end up having magic, and when his manifested, he already had friends and all that." Picking up his chopsticks again, he taps them against the ceramic bowl, picking his words carefully. "And that’s not really a big deal, but… the way he talks about magic and magicians… it’s like he’s here to do a study, or something. ’You magic types’, he said." Tooru wrinkles his nose. "How do you win the Magician’s Court and not consider yourself a magician?"
Hajime frowns thoughtfully, and if Tooru didn’t know him well, he’d think his friend was angry. A few middle schoolers who’d been eyeing the empty seats next to them abruptly veer away. "Blue Castle doesn’t have any other first-generation magicians, does it?"
"Not a one," Matsukawa says, coming from behind Tooru to sit down next to him. Hanamaki is circling the low wooden table to go sit next to Hajime. "Your new roommate is the only one. Blue Castle’s hard to get into, and kids from families without magic don’t even know where to take their kids for the tests."
"Does everyone know he’s my new roommate?"
"Yep," says Hanamaki. "It’s all anyone’s talking about."
"I suppose it’s only natural, since it involves me." He grins. "Everyone admires me so much—"
"It’s still too early for this." Hajime rubs at his temples.
"This is when I usually come down for breakfast, Iwa-chan!"
"Let me rephrase. It’s always too early for this, Shittykawa!"
Matsukawa and Hanamaki both laugh, digging into their breakfasts, and sulking, Tooru is about to complain that they’re all just jealous of how popular he is when he sees Kuroo creep into the back of the room, sliding the traditional doors open only widely enough to slip through them. He casts his gaze around the room, cataloguing the occupants like they’re an enemy Elemental Arena team, and then, possibly feeling Tooru’s eyes on him, he relaxes into that lazy slouch of his, shoving his hands into his pockets.
A group of elementary school students notice him, then, and, with awed, excited voices, call him over like they do with Tooru sometimes, tugging on the sleeve of his rumpled blazer. He joins them, easily, and Tooru forces his attention back to his friends.
"It’s impressive that he’s come this far without magical schooling," says Hanamaki.
"Shh," Matsukawa says, "we all remember Kageyama."
Tooru crosses his arms defensively. "Tobio-chan pissed me off, that’s all. Mr. Black Cat isn’t exactly like that."
"He doesn’t use the same element, you mean," replies Matsukawa, amused, a little piece of rice sticking to his lower lip. "Mr. Black Cat?"
"Aren’t you allergic to cats?" Hanamaki asks.
"Don’t encourage him," Hajime says, with a tone of long-suffering, before redirecting his focus to Tooru. "Shut up and finish your breakfast, Oikawa!"
"I hate it when you’re bossy, Iwa-chan!"
"I hate it when you’re breathing," Hajime replies. "But here we are, having breakfast." He shifts in his seat. "Knowing you, you’ll practice late tonight, and you barely ate anything at dinner last night."
"Aww, Iwa-chan, how sweet of you to notice—"
Hajime snarls at him, which sets Matsukawa and Hanamaki off laughing again, and Tooru shoves a huge bite of rice into his mouth, smiling all the while. He spares another glance over at Kuroo, then, and this time, Hajime follows his gaze.
"Play nice, Oikawa," Hajime says to him quietly, when they’re carrying their dishes over to the tray drop. "He’s in a new place, and basically a new culture."
Tooru sticks his chopsticks straight up in his leftover rice, like a funeral offering. "Oh, I’ll play nice. Coach wants me to recruit him for Arena."
"Fire magician for the team," Hajime says thoughtfully. "Last year, Coach said we’d be fine without one if I left."
"Ushiwaka’s playing this year," says Tooru nonchalantly, knowing he won’t be able to fool Hajime and trying anyway.
Hajime lets out a low sigh. "Are you all right with that? I mean, are you—"
"What are you two whispering about?" Matsukawa asks, throwing an arm over each of their shoulders. "We’ve got to go or we’ll be late to Elemental Engineering."
Tooru laughs. "Well, some of us do need to spend as much time in that class as possible…" He cuts a glance toward Hajime, and it’s enough to distract his friend into a blush and a scowl.
"Fix your damn tie and let’s go!" Hajime snaps, and Tooru uncurls his fingers from the unconscious fists he’d made during the conversation as he moves to follow, winking at a couple of bemused first years on his way out the door.
Then he realizes everyone is watching Kuroo, and that grin might not have anything to do with Tooru at all.
Clutching his pencil a little tighter, he goes back to his classwork assignment, determined not to pay any more mind to that particular puzzle until later.
The other eight texts are an increasingly angry rant from Hajime about his math textbook, and he can’t help laughing delightedly as he gets to the last one, which is just a series of swear words that get increasingly misspelled.
Tooru adores him.
"What’s so funny?" Tooru almost drops his phone at the smooth voice, and he looks over his shoulder to see Kuroo walking sedately just behind him. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you." His arm brushes Tooru’s as he falls into step with him. His hair falls into his face, as messy as it had been yesterday.
"It’s nothing," Tooru says, continuing to watch Kuroo out of the corner of his eye as he tucks his phone into the pocket of his uniform slacks. "Did you need something?"
"I got cited for violating the dress code today," he says, pulling at his horribly knotted tie.
"Hmmm, surprise, surprise," Tooru singsongs. "Being famous can only get you so far, Kuroo."
"I think you’re more famous around here than I am, Oikawa." That grin of his curls up on the left, as he stares unabashedly with those sleepy eyes.
"So good to know everyone at Blue Castle still has taste," Tooru replies, and Kuroo laughs.
"Old magic and old money," he drawls. "Haven’t all of you been raised to have taste?"
He doesn’t sound upset or judgmental, simply like he’s stating a fact. Tooru isn’t sure if he’s offended or not.
He looks up at the sky. It’s a cloudy, overcast day, and he wishes spring would just come in earnest. Kuroo isn’t even wearing a scarf. "Are you finding magic classes as easy as you thought you would?"
"I never thought they would be easy," answers Kuroo, and at the surprise in his voice, Tooru switches his gaze back to the slumped figure beside him. "I just thought that if I worked hard, I’d definitely be able to catch up."
"Oh," says Tooru, licking his lips. "That’s… not the impression I got, yesterday."
Kuroo leans into his personal space, and Tooru catches a hint of cinnamon and ash, like a winter fireplace. "I don’t remember all of that conversation, honestly. I was a bit… distracted."
"By what?" Tooru adjusts his scarf. "My charm? My wit? My dashing good looks?"
Kuroo laughs again, and this time, his breath is warm on Tooru’s cheek. "All of the above," he says easily, poking Tooru’s arm. "Or my own exhaustion. I did just get in two days ago from Hong Kong, you know."
"It’s only a one-hour time difference." He watches Kuroo through his lashes.
"I had to move." He’s put out, pouting, and it’s such an unexpected reaction that Tooru laughs genuinely, his nose crinkling up. "And then there were all these classes I’ve never even heard of—"
"Well, you know, us magic types do have special schools for a reason~" He wags his finger at Kuroo. "Surely you didn’t think it was all about status?"
"You know, when I said ‘magic types’, it wasn’t an insult." He scratches at the back of his neck. "Ah, I just meant people raised around magic. I wasn’t."
"But you are magical," Tooru says. "You’re one of us."
"Not everyone would agree." Kuroo reaches out and tugs on one hanging end of Tooru’s scarf, unbalancing him slightly. "After all, I can’t trace my family back fifteen generations or whatever."
Tooru fishes his ID card out of the front pocket of his bag. "Is that why you competed in the Magician’s Court?"
"I liked competing in things." He shrugs. "I couldn’t play volleyball without… accidents, so it was something I could compete in without worrying about that."
They work their way up the stairs as Tooru turns what he’s learned around in his head. "So you don’t find magic easy," he says, as Kuroo fumbles with the room key, jamming it roughly into the lock to let them in. Tooru leans against the hall wall and watches him, taking in the rumpled shirt and the five o’clock shadow and Kuroo’s soot-dark fingertips.
"Depends on what you mean by easy." Kuroo opens the door, then gestures with pseudo-gallantry for Tooru to enter first. It’s still weird to see stuff on the other side of the room. Kuroo has put up a few posters of his own, mostly volleyball and videogame related. Nothing like the practically Spartan design Hajime prefers. "It’s… always there, my fire."
Pressing his lips together, Tooru nods sharply, and walks past Kuroo into the room.
"The classes, though… Those are hard," Kuroo continues. "Especially ritual magic."
"My best subject," Tooru says, dropping his bag by his desk and immediately starting to take off his uniform, habit taking over. It’s not until he’s half unbuttoned his shirt that he remembers Kuroo’s in the room with him, and he looks over to the other side of the room to find him sitting on his bed and staring fixedly at the ceiling, his ears slightly pink. "If you let me teach you how to play Elemental Arena, I’ll tutor you."
Kuroo’s eyes snaps toward him, calculating. "Your coach or your team wants you to recruit me."
Tooru runs his tongue along his teeth. "Yes," he admits. "We don’t have a fire magician."
"That’s a disadvantage?" Kuroo rubs his thumb along the line of his jaw, thoughtful.
"This year it will be," answers Tooru. "In the past, Iwa-chan-- That’s Iwaizumi, the student council president—he was on my team, but he doesn’t have time to be my vice-captain anymore."
"Iwa-chan, eh?" His lashes flutter. "Your best friend? He’s a fire magician?"
"Barely," Tooru says, and reflexively, he curls a hand around his side. "I don’t… I don’t work well with fire magicians, but Iwa-chan is far better at transformation magic than anything with his element."
Kuroo follows Tooru’s hand with his eyes, his eyebrows furrowed. "You don’t work well with fire magicians, but you want one for your team."
No, Tooru thinks, but I need one, if we’re going to win. "So that’s the deal. I’ll help you catch up on ritual magic if you let me teach you how to play Elemental Arena."
"I see." Kuroo tugs on his tie, undoing it with a finger hooked through the front of the sloppy knot. "That’s it? Just learn the rules? Is that a fair trade?"
"Are you going to turn it down?" Tilting his head to the side, Tooru studies Kuroo, who is now digging through his bag to pull out a folder that looks full to bursting with assignments. He’s surprisingly graceful, for all that slouching he does, lithe and almost pretty when he stretches his limbs out from that broad and sturdy frame. Tooru’s eyes widen at the thought, and he looks away, crossing the room to grab a T-shirt to change into.
"No," Kuroo says to his back. "I’ll just have to think of some other way to make it even."
"You can owe me a favor," Tooru says, clutching the shirt and fishing out his phone to reply to Minako’s message asking if he’s free Friday evening. "I like that even more."
"Heh," Kuroo laughs. "You’re pretty mercenary, aren’t you?"
"Now, now, Kuroo, I thought you wanted to be fair?" He moves toward their shared bathroom with his shirt, so that he can change.
"By the way, I thought it was mostly about safety," Kuroo says, and Tooru looks over to see him settling at his desk with his legs splayed wide, pulling his trousers high enough to show a flash of ankle. "The magic schools, I mean. After all, without control, magic is dangerous."
"Right," Tooru says. "Fire magic most of all."
He closes the bathroom door behind him to avoid continuing that particular line of conversation, and when he comes back out, Kuroo is all wrapped up in his book, and Minako has texted him back with a time to meet.
"I didn’t know I should," Tooru says. "I thought you just needed to get all that yelling off your chest~"
"What have you done now, Captain?" Yahaba, who is half-asleep over his dinner, looks between them as Tooru sits down on the other side of him.
"Forgot my math book," Tooru replies, making his eyes wide and innocent. "A perfectly honest mistake! I don’t know why Iwa-chan is so angry."
"You haven’t remembered your textbook since the second year of junior high when we started getting hardcover ones," growls Hajime. "And you don’t forget things, you piece of garbage, you have an eidetic memory."
"Iwa-chan’s never been good with terms of endearment like I am," Tooru stage-whispers to Yahaba, who muffles a sleepy laugh behind his palm as Watari plops his tray down on the table across from them.
"Where’s your roommate?" Hajime asks pointedly.
"Asleep on his desk," Tooru says, and then fishes out his phone, thumbing to his camera app and showing a picture of Kuroo passed out drooling on his desk with no small amount of triumph. "Drooling."
"And you took a picture?" Hajime looks unsure if he should be amused or chiding. "Why?"
"Because he looked so cute," Tooru replies. "I’m sure he’ll think so too when I print out a copy for him!" He taps the table. "I’ll tape it on our door so everyone can enjoy it!"
"Don’t terrorize him in his first week," Hajime says, then sets to cutting his katsu with the same general ferocity with which he approaches pretty much everything else.
"What about the second week?" Tooru teases, and Hajime’s expression falls into the realm of ‘definitely amused’, even as he shoots him a growled "Behave, Trashykawa."
"Did you have the opportunity to talk to Kuroo about Token?" Watari asks, as he sets his tray down too hard and spills his glass of water all over the table. He promptly wiggles his fingers, and it leaps back into the glass.
"I did," Tooru says. "He agreed to let me, the master of Elemental Arena and your beloved captain, teach him the rules of the game."
"Did you bribe him with something?" Hajime asks, with suspicion, and Tooru smiles winningly over Yahaba’s bowed head. "Or manipulate him into it?"
"Iwa-chan, aren’t you supposed to trust me?" Tooru’s doesn’t think it would be easy, to manipulate Kuroo, who seems to evaluate every single one of Tooru’s actions with due consideration. "You’re pretty mercenary, aren’t you?" Kuroo’d said, without any condemnation in his tone.
"I trust you to consistently have a terrible approach to human interaction," Hajime replies, unimpressed.
Tooru eats all of his pickled radish dish in one bite, chewing as he considers how to best present his deal with Kuroo. "I offered to tutor him until he caught up in Rituals," he says, finally. "Because I am kind and openhearted."
Hajime narrows his eyes. "That sounds like a lot of work for you," he says. "What else?"
"Now he owes me an unspecified favor." Tooru’s grin turns sharp.
Hajimes barely manages to stifle his snort, but Tooru takes it as a victory anyway. "Your shitty personality is showing."
"I’ll have you know my personality is sunshine on a cloudy day, and that’s why Minako has asked me out on Friday."
"From the school festival last month," Tooru clarifies. "Long hair, origami crane earrings, really likes red bean frozen yogurt and Chinese martial arts films?" He sighs at Hajime’s blank stare. "If you can’t remember anything about the girls you meet, Iwa-chan, you’ll never get a girl! It’s not like you can fall back on your looks--"
"We spent most of that festival trying to beat that goddamn target game because you hated the way the vendor thought you couldn’t! How am I supposed to remember some girl we talked to for five minutes!"
"At least ten," Tooru muses. "And clearly I made an impression, since we’ve been texting back and forth."
"Oh, so you’ll answer her texts!" Red and blustery is good, because it distracts Hajime from what they were talking about before. He’ll probably try to guilt Tooru out of asking for anything egregious from Kuroo when he remembers, but hopefully it’ll already be too late.
Using a tiny bit of wind magic, Tooru plucks a couple of pickled radishes off Watari’s plate. Watari sputters, but doesn’t bother to stop the pickles’ dance across the table. "They are significantly less violent. Why, I’d even say they’re romantic, and you know how I love romance."
Hajime grunts with disgust. "You like the idea of romance."
"I can’t believe Oikawa has another new girlfriend." Watari looks sorrowfully down at his dinner. "We go to an all-boys school. Why do you always have girlfriends?"
"I’m not sure if it’s my dashing good looks or my great sense of humor," Tooru answers, doing his best to look thoughtful. "Perhaps a combination of the two?"
Hajime reaches across Yahaba’s tray and knocks Tooru’s water over on the table in front of him, and Watari, quailing under Hajime’s glare, doesn’t put it back in the glass. "Watari, you’re more afraid of Iwa-chan than me?"
"Yeah," Watari admits, averting his eyes. "Obviously, Oikawa."
Sulking, Tooru tries to convince Watari that Hajime isn’t really all that dangerous, as Yahaba, yawning, mournfully slides his tray away from the spreading puddle of water.
Dinner ends in bickering, and it’s a damp Tooru that accompanies Hajime back to the dorms after dinner when Watari and Yahaba disappear into the library to do some work.
"You only date when you’re having a crisis about something else," Hajime says to him, standing at the door to his first floor room. "And you tried to change the subject this morning, when I asked about fire magic."
Math book cradled in his arms, Tooru tries to pinpoint what made him agree to Minako’s offer this afternoon. Something about Kuroo sitting there, all lean and—Tooru squashes the thought, dinner sitting heavier than the textbook he’s holding against his stomach. "Can’t I just want to go on a date? I’m in the blossom of my high school years, and there are so many pretty girls—"
"Don’t bother lying to me, Trashykawa. When you want to talk for real, I’ll listen."
"So sweet behind that grumpy bear face," Tooru coos, to keep from biting at his lower lip. "I knew you loved me!"
Hajime’s eyebrows gather like storm-clouds at the center of his face. "Whatever," he says, opening his door. "If you forget your math book again, I will use it to dig you a shallow grave in the same shape as the bell curve on the front cover."
"You always plan such nice deaths for me, Iwa-chan!" Tooru dances back just out of range of one of Hajime’s swats, holding his math book to his chest.
"Go away," Hajime replies, without any heat, and Tooru laughs and heads back up to his room, hoping Kuroo is still asleep when he gets there.
Instead, he’s gone, and so Tooru lies on his bed and stares at the ceiling, absently practicing control exercises with wind magic that relax him in their monotony.
When Kuroo finally comes back to the room, his dinner packed up in a to-go box by the school dining staff, he has a serious look on his face and his phone clutched in his hand.
"Your family?" Tooru asks lightly, watching Kuroo out of the corner of his eye instead of looking at him directly.
"My best friend," Kuroo replies, setting his phone down on his desk and looking dispassionately at his ritual magics textbook.
Tooru licks his lips. "He can’t do magic, right?"
"No," Kuroo says, and it almost sounds choked, and Tooru turns sharply his head sharply to look, but Kuroo’s face is hard to read in profile. His hair is even more messy in the back, and the black and red tracksuit he’s wearing is almost as wrinkled as his uniform. "No, he… can’t do magic." That sounds normal, and maybe Tooru imagined what he heard in Kuroo’s voice before. "His avatar in Skyrim is a mage, though."
"That’s… a video game, right?" Tooru scans the posters on the wall. "You like video games?"
"I like Kenma, and he likes video games." Kuroo smirks, then. "Almost as much as you seem to like Star Trek. I like volleyball, so we do… well, did, both."
"Like me and Iwa-chan," Tooru says. "He played Elemental Arena with me, and I play dutiful student with him!" He sighs. "Friendship is all about compromise, sometimes."
Kuroo gives him a long, amused look. "You ‘play’ dutiful student, eh?"
"It’s something to do." He laces his fingers together atop his stomach. "Good grades make for good impressions." He grins. "Appearances are important. That is, of course, why there’s a dress code."
"Yeah, yeah," Kuroo says, and the meter or so between them shrinks as Kuroo walks over to squat beside his bed. "So, when are my lessons, teacher?" His fingers curl into Tooru’s dark green sheets.
Tooru watches those blackened fingertips for a few moments, and then meets Kuroo’s laughing eyes. "Which ones?"
"Both." Kuroo smirks. "I’m going to be a very busy student." His fingers are only a few centimeters from Tooru’s elbow, and Tooru can feel the heat coming from his hands. Fire magicians are always warmer than everyone else. Even Hajime is warm enough in the winter that he never zips up his coat. Tooru wonders if Kuroo’s hands are hot to the touch. "Friday?"
"I’ve got a date," Tooru replies. "No time to play with you then."
"A date?" Kuroo’s eyes are half-lidded, and far too close. Tooru can see the flecks of gold in his eyes. "With your Iwa-chan?"
Tooru’s eyes widen, and he sits up too quickly, blood rushing to his face. "What? No!" He runs a hand through his hair. "With a girl I met at a school festival last month." He narrows his eyes at Kuroo, now looking up at him with sleepy amusement. "I’m very popular with girls."
"Oh, I see," Kuroo says, with a grin. "My mistake." He sits down on the ground, catching his weight with both hands as he leans back, his legs crisscrossed as he continues to watch Tooru’s face. There’s more space between them now, though, which Tooru appreciates. "And you probably have practice on Saturday, right?"
"R-right." Tooru rubs at his face. "But Saturday morning, I could take you to the gym."
"You play Token in the gym?" Kuroo sighs. "Just like volleyball."
Tooru examines the wistful look on Tooru’s face. "Do you miss volleyball?"
"Every day," Kuroo says. "But I still have magic." He lifts a hand up in front of him, palm up, and a flame the size of a golf ball ignites in his hand. He changes the size of it, curling and uncurling his fingers.
Tooru watches that flame with trepidation. His side aches with remembered pain, and as the flame licks Kuroo’s fingers, he wonders what it’s like not to fear getting burned.
"Magic is better than piano lessons," Tooru says, yanking his gaze away from that tiny fire to stare at his posters on the wall, at the stars on his posters and the sprawling universe.
"Yeah," Kuroo agrees, his voice low and clear, "it definitely is."
That seat usually stays empty, so he’s not displacing anyone. Tooru shrugs. "Hoping some of my talent rubs off on you?"
"Please ignore him," Hajime says, from Tooru’s other side. "We all do."
"Iwa-chan is jealous," Tooru says.
"Jealous of what, Shittykawa?"
Tooru grins winsomely at his best friend. "Would you like that list in alphabetical or chronological order?"
"It doesn’t matter, since there’d be only one thing on the list," grumbles Hajime. "Your ability to come up with exactly the right bullshit to piss everyone around you off."
Kuroo chuckles. "I don’t know," he says, dragging the end of the last word out, "I think Oikawa has his charms."
Tooru, inexplicably, finds himself flushing. "See, Iwa-chan? Some people recognize my amazingness—"
Hajime punches his arm, and looks sourly at Kuroo. "Don’t tell him things like that. He’ll believe you."
"Sorry ‘bout that, Iwa-chan."
Hajime chokes, and Tooru bites back a loud guffaw. "Iwaizumi," Hajime gasps out. "It’s Iwaizumi Hajime."
Kuroo nods in an approximation of a bow. "Kuroo Tetsurou," he replies. "Nice to meet you. I’ve heard a little about you."
"None of it’s true, if you heard it from this guy." He rests his hand on Tooru’s head, and Tooru pouts.
"I didn’t even tell him you were a violent barbarian," says Tooru. "I only mentioned you were my best friend."
"That, unfortunately, is true." Sighing, Hajime drops his hand back to the table to page through his notes. His chicken-scratch handwriting makes them illegible to Tooru. He’s always secretly thought Hajime might be writing in code or something. "My apologies that you have to live with him."
"The view is nice," Kuroo says, looking at Tooru again. "And I’m apparently going to learn the rules of Token."
"It’s not called Token," Tooru starts to protest, but then their teacher enters the classroom, her long hair pulled back and the usual stern expression on her face.
Tooru hates Magic Control class. It’s easily his least favorite class of any he’s had to take over the course of his studies at Blue Castle, because it’s all about testing students’ command over their elemental magic.
Even before Tooru had faced magic gone truly wild, he’d still felt like walking into a classroom of his peers trying to tame more and more dangerous spells was an experience he’d rather pass on. Tooru’s own control had been mastered with too many hours spent alone in the gym, casting spells and calling wind until it did exactly as he told it to, refusing to quit before Hajime came to find him in the minutes before curfew to drag him to bed.
Control class only serves to remind him that not everyone else has taken that same care, and while Tooru prides himself on working hard to be the best, it curdles like old milk that to his classmates, a lot of magic is still a game, and not something dangerous. He’s always spent most of the class period watching carefully for stray spells in his periphery, ready with a defense spell to protect himself and Hajime.
Hajime’s elemental magic isn’t dangerous. It’s weak enough that it takes his full concentration to summon a ball of flame the size of the one Kuroo had called in their room on Tuesday night with such ease. That’s why Tooru has never worried about Hajime’s fire magic. Always felt safe.
He watches their teacher demonstrate today’s exercise, a simple act of external object manipulation, with pursed lips, cataloguing all the ways it can go wrong with Hanamaki’s water magic or Matsukawa’s earth spells. She demonstrates with her own weak wind spell, shoving all of Sawauchi’s pencils off his desk and spilling them into his lap, and the class breaks out into low chuckles as Sawauchi hurriedly gathers them all up again with a sour look on his face.
"What’s that grim look for?" Kuroo whispers, after the class has settled down again. "You’ve been all sulky since the teacher walked in. You don’t like her?"
"She’s okay," Tooru replies, after she passes their long table and leaves a box of objects for them to practice with on the end of it. "I don’t much like this class."
"Why not?" Kuroo digs into the box and pulls out a large glass orb before pushing it down toward Tooru. He palms it thoughtfully. "Seems like this is the most important class we’ve got, right?"
"Yes," Tooru murmurs, picking a smaller plastic ball for himself as Hajime continues to shift through the offerings. He immediately sends it up into the air with one of the tiny threads of wind he keeps at hand, swirling his fingertip in a deliberate circle. The wind obeys, cradling the ball and taking it up higher at Tooru’s whim.
"How…?" Kuroo seems honestly mesmerized, fully alert with his eyes trained on Tooru’s dancing plastic ball, floating on tiny gusts of wind above their heads at a measured beat, as though going through the motions of a waltz in three-four time. "Isn’t wind notoriously mischievous?"
"Just like Oikawa." Hajime looks up from his careful contemplation of a small leaf to glare at Tooru’s ball. "Show off."
Tooru points the finger controlling his wind at Hajime, and the plastic ball thumps against his best friend’s forehead. Hajime growls at him, and Tooru catches the ball again and brings it down this time in front of Kuroo, who is still tracking its steady motions with pleasure.
"I’ve never seen wind magic this close before," he says, reaching out to grab the ball. Tooru directs it to jump just out of his reach, curling wind around it so that it’ll nip warningly at Kuroo’s fingertips if he gets too close. "Maybe you’re a little amazing after all, Oikawa Tooru."
"You don’t have to sound so surprised," Tooru replies, arching a brow. "I’m so underappreciated~"
"I’m appreciating," Kuroo says, finally looking away from the ball. "For a class you don’t like, you’re good at this."
Tooru gives him a smug grin. "I’m good at everything."
"Don’t encourage him," Hajime groans, and then his leaf catches on fire, slowly turning to ash at his fingertips in a controlled burn. "Ugh, I don’t even know why they bother to have me come to this class."
Kuroo studies the remains of the leaf. "You can’t control much fire, right?"
"No," Hajime says. "Not at all. My elemental magic is weak. I got into Blue Castle because my transformation magic is strong, but I’m barely gifted at all in fire."
"How does transformation magic work?" Kuroo tilts his head. "Is that a primary school question?"
Yes, Tooru thinks about saying, sending his plastic ball spinning in small circles with his pinky. Yes, and I can’t believe someone like you, who knows nothing won the Magician’s Court, when I… "It’s a type of internal magic," he says, instead. "The power that allows you to call on your element, put into a different form. Only a few people can use their magic like that, but it’s useful. It’s how Arenas are made for Elemental Arena."
Kuroo wraps both hands around his selected glass orb. "Like that stuff in ritual magic?" He stares into the orb, and Tooru almost steps back at the wash of heat that emanates from him.
"No," he answers faintly, as Kuroo’s hair wilts, damp at the edges. "That’s ambient magic. It’s the magic available in the outside world that we can pull into ourselves to tell fortunes or change the atmosphere of a room, and things like that. Traditional magical arts."
The orb in Kuroo’s hands bursts into life, filled with fire on the inside, the glass melting in the middle but staying firm on the outside. Kuroo’s eyebrows are furrowed in concentration, and Tooru does take a step back this time, uncomfortable with the flickering light of the orb.
"Wow," Hajime says. "Is he heating just the inside of the orb while keeping the outside completely cool?"
"I’m not sure," Tooru says, wanting to look away but unable to. He can feel the power coming off Kuroo and his glass-caged inferno, and it reminds him of…
"Hey," Hajime says, "Oikawa." His voice is low, whispered, but Tooru can still hear the urgency of it. Subconsciously, he’s aware that he should respond, but he can’t speak, his eyes trained on Kuroo and that orb as he clenches his hands into fists, the plastic ball he’d been playing with falling to their table and then bouncing twice before rolling onto the floor. It would be easy, Tooru knows, for that fire to get out of control. To burst through the thin glass shell and set the table on fire, set the room on fire, set Tooru on fire—"Shittykawa, look at me!"
A swat to the back of his head has Tooru taking a deep breath, filling his lungs as he tears his gaze away from Kuroo and looks at Hajime instead. He’s lightheaded, and he takes another gulp of air.
"You all right?" Hajime is gruff, searching Tooru’s face for something. "You looked…"
"Handsome?" His voice croaks a little, but he grins to play it off. "Aww, Iwa-chan, I know. I always look handsome."
"I hate you," Hajime replies, but he sighs, a relieved cast to his face. "Kuroo seems to have good control, if he can do that." He looks past Tooru, to where heat still pours off Kuroo in waves, making Tooru sweat. "You don’t need to…" He shifts, awkward in concern. "Worry, or whatever."
Swallowing, Tooru edges his smile just that much wider. "It’s so cute when you’re a mother hen, student council vice president!"
Hajime rolls his eyes. "Fuck off." Then he hesitates, looks again at Kuroo, then, in his quietest voice, murmurs: "Are you sure it's okay, to have him join your Token team, if you’re going to react like that?"
"React like what?" Tooru waves a hand, and forces himself to return his eyes to Kuroo. This time, he’s able to separate what he’s seeing from his memories, mostly, even though he can still taste ash and fire in his mouth, and smell burning. "Everything Is fine, Iwa-chan. Maybe it’s you who shouldn’t worry."
And really, what Kuroo is doing is, in its own way, as impressive as Tooru’s tricks, if not as easily done. Tooru’s practiced so much he can do his control exercises without much thought, but Kuroo clearly has to devote a substantial amount of attention to it. His whole focus is on the orb, both hands cupped underneath it as that brightly burning flame presses out at the cool shell Kuroo has preserved.
Tooru is safe. Kuroo is not being reckless. He’d even chosen a contained spell instead of manipulating his element directly. It’s fine, he says again, to himself, and when Kuroo exhales heavily, letting the fire burn out, Tooru’s sure most of the color has returned to his face, and he no longer looks seconds from bolting out of the classroom.
"You’re not bad," he says to Kuroo, as the air around them returns to normal. Most of the class hasn’t been paying attention to them. "That’s… a difficult trick."
"It takes too much focus," Kuroo replies, tossing the orb up in the air and catching it casually. His eyes, when he meets Tooru’s gaze, are as hot as his magic had been earlier. "When I can do it without giving it my entire attention… Well, then I’ll be almost as cool as you."
"Almost," Tooru says, wanting to tell Kuroo that nothing about him can possibly be cool when Tooru’s shirt sticks to his skin with sweat thanks to Kuroo’s magic. "It’s nice to have dreams, even when they’re unreachable."
"How’d you learn that?" Hajime asks. "That exercise?"
"I taught it to myself last year," Kuroo answers, setting the glass orb down on the table. "My magic… it got stronger, last year. Harder to control. So I had to think of ways to…"
"Cage it," Tooru says, and Kuroo offers up a crooked grin.
"Yeah, something like that," he says. "Show me that ball trick again?"
Tooru licks his lips, and reaches into the box of objects again. "How about I show you another one? I wouldn’t want you to get bored."
"Somehow," Kuroo says, pushing sweaty hair out of his face, "I doubt you could ever be boring, Oikawa."
"You’re right," Tooru replies, hand emerging from the box with a handful of thin metal pieces that he quickly starts to spin and juggle at the same time with thin strips of summoned wind. "I’m full of excitement."
"I like excitement almost as much as I like nerds," says Kuroo, and Tooru’s neck goes hot again, but this time, Kuroo hasn’t used any magic at all.
"The time leading up to school starting again is always busy," Tooru says, giving her his most flattering smile. Back when he was fifteen, he used to practice this one in the mirror when Hajime was out, or when he was back at his family’s estate on holidays with a room to himself. He knows his angles. "It’s no reflection on you."
It works, and Minako giggles, covering her mouth with a small hand as she drops her eyes. "And you’ve got to be especially busy since the Elemental Arena season is starting up again."
"We have our first match in a month." Tooru takes a big bite of his pastry, savoring it for a moment before returning his attention to Minako. "Have you ever played?"
"No, but I watch it all the time." She leans forward excitedly. "I heard you might go pro?"
"I’ve considered it." He looks out the window, where light spring winds blow. "What do you think? Am I destined to be a professional athlete?"
She looks up at him through her lashes flirtatiously. "I think you’d be good at anything you wanted to do, Oikawa." She’s so pretty, he thinks, as he takes in the bow of her lips and the way her hair is short enough in the front to curl under right below her chin. She’s so pretty, and Tooru can’t even summon up an elevated heartbeat. It’s always like this, and he doesn’t know why he keeps trying, except that it bolsters his self-esteem, to be so popular with girls, even if he’ll never…
"I think so too," he says, leaning forward as well, like he’s sharing a secret. "Don’t tell Iwa-chan I said so, though."
She laughs, mouth covered by her hand again, and Tooru recalls, briefly, the way Kuroo’s lips had stretched thin when he’d chuckled lowly at Tooru from across their shared bedroom. That sends a flash of heat up his spine, and Tooru bitterly takes a sip of his hot chocolate.
"How was the date?" Kuroo asks him from his hunched position at his desk, when Tooru gets back to their room late that night.
"Good," Tooru replies, because it was. Minako’d had fun, and Tooru had gotten to try a new pastry shop in the area. "You working your way through the third year textbook while the adults are out doing things?"
"Nope," Kuroo answers, looking up from his work to shoot Tooru a sly grin. "I’m in the fifth grade now."
"Congratulations," Tooru says, taking in the sleepy mess of Kuroo’s hair, and the way his tracksuit bottoms are just a little too short. He looks a disaster, and Tooru isn’t sure why he feels slightly warm at coming back to a room he’d thought he preferred empty and finding someone here. It must be, he decides, just the physical warmth that Kuroo exudes, since Tooru is like a snake, and always a little cold until the summer sets in.
Kuroo is leaning against the wall beside Tooru as Tooru sets up an Arena, instructing the simulation machine to display a randomized obstacle course with a few keystrokes.
"That thing makes Arenas?" Kuroo asks. "It looks like a desktop computer."
"You don’t even need a simulation machine this large unless you want to make an official competition setting." Tooru hits enter, and watches the spiraling rainbow wheel until he feels the shift in the air. Kuroo doesn’t seem to notice anything is happening until the gym disappears, melting into a jungle, color suffusing the boring wood-linoleum floors and spreading out until it looks like Yahaba’s room right when he’d hit puberty, vines and flowers so thick that just walking through them seems a dangerous prospect. "You can make simple Arenas with your mobile phone."
"This is pretty complicated magic," Kuroo says. "An iPhone really can do anything, these days." Vines curl up around his ankles, and he kicks at them.
Tooru laughs, and shoots little wisps of wind to pluck the vines free from both of their feet. "Works faster on Android," he replies, then gestures to the changed gym. "This is transformation magic, mostly. This jungle can’t be commanded by a magician with an affinity for plants, because they’re not actually plants. It’s still the gym."
"So earth elements don’t actually have an advantage here." Kuroo looks around, eyebrows high. "Is that to make it fair?"
"No," Tooru answers. "It’s to make the game harder. It wouldn’t be any fun if someone good with plants could just send them all away." He summons more wind, this time to blow away the insects that have started to cluster around them. "Each Arena caters to one element more than the others. This one…" He swallows around the lump in his throat. "Actually, it caters to fire. It’s your lucky day."
"But not yours." Kuroo plucks a huge purple blossom from the nearest vine as he stands up from what’s left of the bleachers. "You don’t like fire much."
That’s none of your business is on the tip of Tooru’s tongue, because the last thing he wants to do is remind himself of what he’ll need to show Kuroo today. "It’s better if we play in an Arena that you can do a lot with, while I teach you the rules." Tooru twists his index finger, calling a few tendrils of wind to gather, and shoots it toward Kuroo’s face, ruffling the messy hair that falls across his forehead. "Besides, I’m good in any Arena."
"You do have the best control I’ve ever seen." Kuroo looks at the flower in his hand thoughtfully, and then reaches out to tuck it behind Tooru’s ear. "You know, when I first learned your name, I thought your element would be water."
Kuroo’s fingertips, when they brush his skin, are hot enough to leave a tingle in their wake. Taking half a second to catch his breath and hoping it’s not too noticeable, Tooru arches one brow as he reaches up to touch the flower. The petals are as soft as silk, tickling his cheek. "Because of the river in my kanji? We’re all wind, in my family. Even my nephew has wind magic."
"You have a nephew?"
"My older sister’s son." Tooru drops his hand back to his side, the feel of the flower petals lingering.
"Does his father have some other element that he could have gotten?"
It’s not an unreasonable question, but Tooru still hates answering it. It reminds him of being in his first year of middle school, listening to fights downstairs and his sister’s tearful voice matching up against his father’s angry one. He’d spent more time in the gym, that year. "I don’t think he has any magic at all."
Kuroo stares at him for a long moment, then pushes aside a swath of vines to start exploring the Arena. "So all these plants are flammable?"
"To an extent." A few vines snake down and try to wrap around Tooru’s waist, so he grabs at one and forms a small blade of wind to slice through it like a machete. "The whole thing won’t burn away though, and it’s against the rules to seriously endanger your opponents."
"So, if you’re battling an Arena, why do people call it Token?"
"You really don’t know anything about this?" Tooru summons more wind, and slices through a few more vines to clear a path deeper into the Arena. "Have you ever played capture the flag?"
Kuroo, ducking under a low hanging tree branch, gives him an odd look. "You know how to play capture the flag? Not much magic in it."
"It’s not like we’re from two completely different worlds," Tooru says, impatiently, poking Kuroo’s chest as though he’s talking to one of his friends instead of this almost stranger. "I go to the movies and text my friends and watch Star Trek on the weekends."
"But you don’t have any non-magical friends," replies Kuroo. "And you can’t imagine someone with magic wanting to live in a world not built around it." He wraps his hand around Tooru’s finger, hot enough that Tooru jerks his hand back. "So forgive me if I’m surprised you would know how to play capture the flag when you’ve had games like this to entertain you." He gestures to the jungle around them, with wild flowers starting to curl toward him like he’s a miniature sun. "Can’t imagine capture the flag has all that much appeal."
"Iwa-chan and I used to play capture the flag with a couple of kids in our neighborhood without any magic, when we were in primary school." Tooru thrusts his jaw forward stubbornly, with an inaudible so there. "They used to make us play against each other as team captains to make the magic fair."
Kuroo laughs. "Smart kids. You still friends with them?"
"No," Tooru says, remembering very clearly the lecture he’d gotten from his mom, about how Tooru could hurt them, if he wasn’t careful, and wouldn’t it be nicer to play with his friends from school? "Guess we grew apart."
"Let me guess," Kuroo says, "they didn’t believe in aliens?"
"No one believes in aliens." Tooru swats at a tree branch reaching out to wrap around Kuroo’s waist. "We’ll see who’s laughing when they come down to earth to investigate which humans are worth eating."
Kuroo stares at him, hooded eyes and a smirk. "You don’t think they’ll come in peace?"
Tooru crosses his arms, pouts, and then bats his eyelashes in the way that always pisses Hajime off. "You’re making fun of me!"
"Never," Kuroo says, with pseudo solemnity. "I thought you were going to tell me about why some people call this game Token?"
Producing a Token from the pocket of his sweatpants, Tooru holds the oversized coin up between them. It’s larger than his palm, and the ridged edges dig into his skin.
"Every member of each team has a Token to protect. You have to capture them all without harming the player or the Token itself." Tooru produces a tiny whirling tornado to surround the golden circle. "The complexity of the protection is up to the magician, but you have to keep the magic active from the moment the match starts until the moment it ends, or until you lose your Token."
"So it’s a control exercise," Kuroo says, thoughtful.
Tooru nods. "And multitasking. You have to pay attention to the Arena, the other players, and your ongoing spells, as well as figure out how to get all eight of your opposing teams’ Tokens before they get all of yours." The wind carries his Token up a little higher, out of reach. "Some people are better at defense, while others specialize in offense. Blue Castle’s team usually splits into four offensive and defensive pairs, but there are other teams with much different strategies."
"And if you lose your Token, you’re out?" Kuroo ducks, suddenly, as a vine moving snakelike behind him lunges out at where his neck had been moments before. "I thought you weren’t supposed to hurt your opponents?" He sounds breathless, but not upset, and when he looks up, still in a crouch, his eyes are brighter than Tooru’s ever seen them.
"The Arena isn’t on a team," Tooru tells him, slicing the vine into ribbons. "Besides, Arena wouldn’t be fun without any danger."
Kuroo grins at him, and Tooru remembers his first impression of Kuroo, feline and predatory. It feels true all over again as Kuroo straightens up into the best posture Tooru’s ever seen from him, and he’s alert, not sleepy at all as he surveys the Arena again, this time with new eyes. "Well, then, are we going to play a one-on-one match?"
"I wouldn’t want to discourage you," Tooru demurs, even as he grins sweetly with all his teeth, what Hanamaki calls his ‘Machiavellian smile.’
"I think you take a special delight in discouraging people," Kuroo replies, holding out his hand. "A Token, please."
Tooru reaches into his pocket and pulls out the second coin. It’s heavy in his hand, and Tooru suddenly recalls that Kuroo is a fire magician. "Remember, you can’t purposely hurt me, and I can’t hurt you. You have to use your magic cleverly. It’s not about brute force."
"Oh, I have my moments," Kuroo promises him, taking his Token and looking at it thoughtfully. "I can carry this any way I want?"
"Yes," Tooru says, "as long as you can maintain it." He waggles his fingers at Kuroo. "Catch me if you can, Mr. Black Cat."
"Mr. Black Cat?" Kuroo stretches his arms above his head, cracking his neck, and then grins. "Careful, cats are pretty dangerous."
Ten minutes later, panting and wiping dirt from his hands onto his sweatpants, Tooru rests his weight against a sturdy tree trunk, watching for Kuroo from every visible direction.
He should have expected him to be good at it; he’d already known Kuroo is athletic, and he’d demonstrated his control in class with that orb. Tooru hasn’t even caught a glimpse of Kuroo’s Token, and Kuroo had almost taken his own several times with just his speed. Only Tooru’s quick reflexes had saved him when Kuroo had sent a lick of flame right toward his Token that he’d only dispersed by doubling the size of his tornado to eat them.
"On the ropes, Oikawa Tooru?" Kuroo calls out, amusement evident in his tone. Tooru wonders if he ever gets shaken up, or if everything just rolls off him as easily as Tooru’s barbs do.
"The six-year-olds I work with on Sundays come up with better tricks!" Tooru singsongs back at him, and Kuroo, instead of blustering like Hajime, just laughs.
"You’re a little bit cute, actually," Kuroo says, then, suddenly closer, appearing from behind Tooru’s tree to lash out for his Token with a whip of fire, as thick as a climbing rope and brighter and hotter than anything else Kuroo’s used so far.
Tooru gasps, fear clamoring and clawing its way up his insides, and he instinctively lunges away from it. Kuroo, not expecting Tooru to react like that, lets the whip finish its motion, and it smacks into the tree, setting it ablaze. "Shit!" He calls it back immediately, sending it away, but it’s too late to stop the tree from turning to ash in record time, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be more resistant to magic than this.
How powerful must he be? a small part of Tooru’s brain queries. It’s the part that isn’t panicking as the flames lick higher. His heartbeat pounds like a drum in his ears as the flames spread, and he turns to Kuroo with eyes so wide he’s sure there’s more of the whites than anything else. Opening his mouth to gulp more air, he tries to push down the memories rushing up to fill his vision, and fights the sudden bout of nausea as the flames that consume him in his dreams are replaced by the ones hotly growing in front of him.
Swearing again, his face more serious and desperate than Tooru had thought it could be, Kuroo abandons his tactical position entirely and rushes toward the flames, spreading his arms out and concentrating. He’s furrowing his brow like he had in class until the flames, as one, dampen, disappearing and leaving behind a huge stretch of charred jungle.
When the fire goes dark, Tooru can breathe again, and before he can commit a conscious decision to it, he’s shoved Kuroo down into the wreckage left behind and snatched at the Token hanging from a chain of liquid fire around his neck. It pulls away without leaving a burn behind, and Tooru stares at it. It’s hot in his hand.
The ashes are just as hot under his legs where he straddles Kuroo in a bed of scorched earth. "I win," he says, staring down at the gasping Kuroo underneath him, face streaked black and skin pink and covered with a thin sheen of sweat. He looks… Tooru scrambles off him, heat surging through his whole body. "Better luck next time."
"What next time?" Kuroo asks, pulling himself to his feet and holding out a hand to help Tooru up. Tooru takes it, but almost lets go again when he feels how warm Kuroo’s skin is to the touch.
The door to the gym opens, accompanied by the bubbling chatter of the team’s two second years. "And then Kindaichi—What the hell?" Watari’s voice cracks. "Oikawa? Did you do this?"
"No, those are all scorch marks," comes Kunimi’s voice. "Oikawa, isn’t this too far for practice with six year olds?"
"I’m calling in my favor," Tooru says, ignoring the questions and the arrival of most of the rest of the team and plastering on a smirk as Kuroo wipes the soot and leaves off his face. The other members of the team, who have fought through jungle toward the simulation machine, are looking at Kuroo and the razed middle of the gym with faint awe. Tooru’s insides quiver, and his side burns like it’s a new wound, instead of two years old and long healed over.
"What do you want?" Kuroo asks. There are slightly charred red flower petals caught in his rat’s nest of a hair style, and Tooru reaches out with a trembling hand to pluck a couple out and wave them in front of Kuroo’s face.
"Join my team," Tooru says, as Kuroo grabs Tooru’s shaking wrist, wrapping those long, dark-tipped fingers around the bone, hot to the touch. Tooru wonders if Kuroo can feel his pulse, shallow and quick, or if Kuroo’s magic is rushing so fast under his skin that he can’t feel anything else. "Play Elemental Arena with us."
Kuroo blinks at him, slowly, back curled just like a cat about to pounce. Then he smiles, easy, as his eyes pin Tooru in place with those glinting flecks of gold. "You sure about that?" His thumb strokes along the bump of the bone on the outside of Tooru’s wrist. He’s still shaking. "I don’t know how to make little fires, most of the time."
Tooru’s stomach ties itself up in knots, and his heart is in his throat. "But you can control the big ones, right?" He takes a deep breath. "You’re fast, and you can think on your feet. So. You told me I could have an unspecified favor. I want you to join my team."
Licking his lips, Kuroo nods. "Should’ve known you’d drive a hard bargain, Oikawa Tooru."
"Call me Captain," Tooru says sweetly, dropping the petals and letting them fall to the ground between them.
"Can I shut off the Arena now?" Matsukawa calls out from the back of the gym. "Pretty sure one of these vines has a crush on me, since it keeps trying to crawl up the leg of my pants and touch my—" He cuts off with a yelp, and Tooru hears the splash of water to skin. "That’s cold, Hanamaki!"
"No one wants to hear about your junk, Matsukawa," Hanamaki replies dryly, as Kunimi bats aimlessly at a half-burned, half-shredded vine.
Tooru huffs a laugh along with the rest of the team, pulling his wrist free of Kuroo’s grip and offering up a beaming grin. "Now, now, children, it’s time to set up a new Arena!"
"No one here is a bigger child than you, Captain," Yahaba says, shaking pale hair from his eyes.
"Yahaba, sweetheart, did you want to run laps around the gym? Is that what I’m hearing?"
"No, sir," Yahaba replies, with a grin, jogging away from Tooru to join everyone else by the simulation machine. The crisped jungle vines fade away into a regular gymnasium, with florescent lights and hard brown floors, and the only ash remaining is streaked across Kuroo’s cheeks, and on Tooru’s forearms.
"Coach will be here soon," Tooru says to Kuroo. "You want to stay for practice?"
"Should I?" Kuroo asks, and Tooru considers the way his heart has yet to slow, from either adrenaline or the way Kuroo had looked at him, he’s not sure which. He thinks about the ash under his nails and the smell of fire clinging to his skin and the phantom burn of long healed scars.
He gives Kuroo a long look. The King of the Magician’s Court is eyeing him carefully, like he’ll break. Tooru hates that more than the slow curl of fear mixed with that something else he refuses to name sitting at the bottom of his gut. "Absolutely," he says. "Welcome to your new extracurricular activity." He winks at Kuroo. "Just like piano."
"Thanks." Kuroo’s face contorts, like he’s not sure what expression he wants to make, but finally, he settles on a wicked little grin. "This is more fun than I thought, Captain."
"As fun as volleyball?"
Kuroo scratches at his belly, his shirt catching on his fingertips and revealing a glimpse of smooth, tanned skin. "We’ll see," he says, long dark lashes fluttering as he laughs. "We’ll see."
Tooru finds himself sitting next to Kuroo in economics class, and walking back to the dorms with him so they can change for practice, and then, after they’ve worn themselves out in the gym, helping Kuroo with his homework. He’s on the middle school first year books now, and he’s picking up the material quickly enough that Tooru would be jealous if it weren’t for his abysmal skills in Rituals.
"You catch on well with the other things," Tooru says, one Saturday afternoon, lying on his belly watching old episodes of Deep Space Nine on his laptop as Kuroo stabs at his Rituals homework with a ballpoint pen.
"I used to be able to figure out volleyball moves by watching them on television," Kuroo says, a smile playing at his lips. He looks longingly at his mobile phone, and Tooru’s curious about who that fact makes him want to call. "A lot of these magical exercises, if I watch you do them, I can pick out the nuances, and make them work for me. But the ritual magics… I don’t know, most of it just reminds me of the stuff rich people do in Getsu-9 dramas, not magic. I can’t figure out how to use it."
"It’s ambient magic." Tooru pauses his television show, and gets up, walking over to Kuroo’s desk to stand behind him. "It’s the magic in the air around us. Everything has magic. Rocks, grass, insects… There’s magic in all of that, and with the right ritual you can use it."
"Sounds like Shinto," Kuroo says, and Tooru leans over his shoulder to look down at his book. "I’m working on the theory behind ikebana magic."
"Of course it’s Shinto," replies Tooru. "Is that so surprising?" He inhales, and gets a whiff of cinnamon and ash, a smell he’s come to associate with Kuroo. "My sister did her graduate work on the ambient magic in ikebana rituals, and she devoted a substantial portion of it to the magic practiced even by non-magical Shinto priests."
Kuroo hums, and Tooru realizes how close he really is when he can feel the vibration where his chest almost touches Kuroo’s shoulder, and he puts more space between them, forcing his heartbeat to slow down by thinking of some way to show ambient magic to Kuroo.
"Close your eyes." Tooru flicks Kuroo’s hand until he drops his pen, and then rests his own hand along the back of Kuroo’s. It’s startlingly warm, again, but Tooru focuses on drawing in ambient magic, like when he does the tea ceremony, and then pushes it out through his hand to the back of Kuroo’s. "Do you feel it?"
Kuroo shivers, and then swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing as his hand twitches in Tooru’s grasp. "Yeah, I think so," he says. "I can feel… um, something." When Tooru draws his hand away, Kuroo’s balls up into a fist. "Feels different than my fire."
"Remember that," Tooru says. "That’s what you’re sticking out feelers for, when you do ritual magic. That’s the magic you want to call instead of elemental magic."
Kuroo nods, and his hair tickles Tooru’s cheek. "Got it," he says, and then he opens his eyes, turning slightly to look at Tooru, leaving only a few centimeters between their noses.
Tooru’s phone rings, and he takes a step back, breaking the odd tension. He fumbles for the device, relieved to see Minako’s name flashing on the caller ID. "I have to take this," he says, flopping back down on his bed belly first even as he answers the phone with a cheery "Hello, gorgeous!"
Kuroo goes back to his homework, and Tooru eventually escapes his room entirely, heading down to the first floor to bug Hajime until he gets kicked out minutes before curfew.
But even taking incidents like that into account, Tooru soon forgets what it was like to have this room to himself. He accustoms himself to changing his clothes in the bathroom, and stops panicking when he wakes up to the sound of someone else breathing that isn’t Hajime. Kuroo’s just…there, and for Tooru, who casually collects acquaintances and admirers but rarely makes friends, having someone he can’t categorize as either nags at him.
"I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of this," Hajime asks, when Tooru mentions his lack of a description for Kuroo in his mental catalogue. "You obviously like him, since you spend all sorts of time with him even when you don’t have to."
"I do not!" Tooru sits up. "I mean, I don’t hate him, but he’s…" He struggles to explain. "Hard to predict. I don’t know what he’s going to do, or how he’ll react to things. And…"
And Tooru doesn’t know how to deal with Kuroo’s eyes and mouth and long limbs and warm skin, alongside his frightening ability with fire magic. He doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he gravitates toward Kuroo even when he represents all the things that Tooru tries to avoid in life.
"And?" Hajime is glaring at a stack of what looks like official documentation, all with student council headers at the top.
Tooru averts his eyes. "And his hair is awful."
"So in summary, you’re petty, as usual, and a control freak, also as fucking usual," Hajime says. "All that aside, you like him. I can tell."
"Iwa-chan! I am not petty!"
"Bullshit." He pulls his lips in an exaggerated frown. "Anyway, friendship doesn’t need to be that complicated, Oikawa."
"You can’t be friends with someone you don’t know anything about," complains Tooru. "Even someone as emotionally constipated as you are should know that!"
"Then learn more about him." Hajime narrows his eyes at him, then smacks him upside the back of the head lightly enough that Tooru wonders if he looks sick. "Whenever you want to tell me what’s really bothering you, you can, but until then, go the hell away, asshole. I’ve got a ton of work to do on club budgets."
"I’m way more important than club budgets, Iwa-chan!"
"One of these budgets is Token’s," is the growled response as Hajime shuffles through the admittedly daunting stack of papers. "You want me to throw it in the trash and listen to you instead?"
"On second thought," Tooru says, folding his hands together and smiling angelically, "perhaps I’ll leave you to your work!"
"That’s what I thought," Hajime says, waving Tooru off. "Go play with your new friend. Find out his favorite color or something."
"You sound like a babysitter," Tooru complains as he stands up to let himself out.
"I constantly feel like a babysitter with you, so it fits," is Hajime’s parting shot, and Tooru is still laughing when he closes Hajime’s door behind him, making his way back upstairs.
Kuroo is taking a nap, long arm hanging over the edge of the bed and pillow mashed into his face, legs curled up under him like a sunning kitten, and Tooru can’t really look at him, because in moments like this, when Kuroo isn’t smiling at him slyly or keeping Tooru on his guard with statements Tooru can’t quite get a read on, Tooru is his closest to admitting that the way he sees Kuroo is as something scary, and maybe it’s easier if Kuroo stays uncategorized after all.
"You’re back," Kuroo says sleepily, voice hoarse and face still hidden by his pillow. "I need your help with my Rituals homework."
"Hmmm," Tooru says, his own voice catching, "I hope it’s the tea ceremony."
"It’s ancestral rites," Kuroo says. "I’m supposed to ask a question to the spirit of my great-great-grandfather, or something." He yawns. "You any good at it?"
"Naturally," Tooru says, averting his eyes as Kuroo sits up, clad in nothing but a thin tank shirt and his boxers. "Dress code violation."
"Not everyone is a nevernude like you," teases Kuroo in reply. "C’mon, Captain, teach me. I’ll let you watch whatever alien show you want unmolested later."
"You could watch it with me," Tooru says, without thinking, and then he bites down on his lip and shoots a quick look in Kuroo’s direction. Kuroo is staring at him with a slight smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.
"I could," Kuroo says. "You think two of us can fit on your bed?"
"Get your textbook," Tooru says, his throat dry, so dry. "I’m popular and busy. I haven’t got all day."
"Mmm," Kuroo agrees. "I know. But this was our deal, right? Rituals for Token."
"I know, I know." Kuroo tilts his head, eyes still on Tooru’s face. "You’ve got an adorable mad face, though."
"All my faces are adorable," Tooru manages, and then he goes to his desk to dig out his incense kit from first year, so he can set up the ritual.
"Oh, yes," Tooru says, grabbing a light jacket and ushering her out of the room before she notices his pile of dirty underwear at the foot of the bed. "New student."
"In the third year of high school?"
"It’s Kuroo Tetsurou," Tooru replies, and at his sister’s obvious incomprehension, he adds: "the winner of the Magician’s Court the year I competed."
"The youngest winner in—"
"Yes," Tooru interrupts. "That’s my new roommate."
Frowning, she looks at him in concern. "He’s a fire magician."
"Is everyone going to worry about that?" He rolls his eyes as he pushes open the dorm doors leading to the outdoors. It finally feels more like spring, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. "Do I look like someone who can’t handle anything at all?"
"You spent an entire month in the hospital recovering from third and fourth degree burns, Tooru," she snaps, snagging a handful of his jacket and pulling, stopping him from walking ahead of her. When he turns around to face her, her expression is grim. "No one expects that to have left you unscathed."
"Good," Tooru replies, yanking himself free. "Since it didn't. Trust me, it's not something I can forget." He almost reaches to touch the burns at his ribs, but stops himself when his sister’s eyes follow the aborted motion of his hand. "I don’t have nightmares anymore, and Kuroo’s on the Elemental Arena team this year. He uses his magic during practice."
"He plays Token?" She’s alarmed, now. "Tooru…"
"He has good control," Tooru says. "Mostly. His elemental magic is strong, sis, but he can put out a fire in a second."
She shakes her hair out of her face, looking as young as she did when she herself was in high school. "That’s… not what I heard," she says, quietly.
Meeting his gaze squarely, she sighs. "Last year, there were rumors he was the one responsible for that school burning, in south Tokyo." Tooru can feel himself go pale as his sister looks up at him seriously. "No one was hurt, but Mom was called in to consult with the rebuilding. Everything was kept hush-hush, but according to her, he and a friend were playing after school on the volleyball court alone, and he set the whole place ablaze."
"But…" He’d seen Kuroo stop a fire in its tracks. Seen him hold a flame inside a glass ball and keep the outside from melting. When Kuroo had lashed out with that whip and set the Arena on fire, Tooru had panicked, but Kuroo had stepped into it and commanded it to go out.
"After that, apparently he went abroad for a while, and then he was encouraged to enroll in a magic school instead of a regular one." She grips Tooru’s uniform blazer. "It wasn’t considered safe for him to go back to his old school, with that much magic he hadn’t learned how to control. You know how the most powerful elemental users are discouraged from living with people who can’t protect themselves."
Tooru covers her hand with his own. "I don’t think…" He looks up, staring at the stretching branches of the cherry blossom trees above them. "I don’t think I’m someone who can’t protect myself."
He looks back at his sister, only to find her looking at him curiously. "You aren’t afraid of him." She plucks at the hem of her jacket. "You know, Dad thought you’d be afraid of magic, after. Or that you wouldn’t be able to be around it so much. He was looking into schools for you in Europe."
"Really?" Squaring his shoulders, Tooru grins. "I guess now you all know I’m not that fragile."
"You’ve never been fragile, kiddo," she says, smiling back. "Between you and me, I think you got that from Mom."
"We both did." He puts an arm around her shoulders, guiding her out toward the bridge. "How long are you home for?"
"I’m headed to Germany next week." She leans into his hug. "Teaching a guest lecture in Frankfurt. Look out for Takeru for me?"
"This is Blue Castle. He can’t get into that much trouble."
She smirks. "You and Hajime were terrors when you were his age."
"Slander," he replies. "I was an angel."
"You’re just Dad’s favorite, so you got away with murder."
Tooru squeezes his sister closer. "You’re the one out giving lectures and writing books, so he can brag about you to his friends when they go out to drinks."
"I’m the one that ran off with a guy with no magic and got pregnant," she says. "Honestly, I think you’ll have to work pretty hard not to be dad’s favorite."
Tooru doesn’t think it will be that hard. If wanting to be a professional Arena player isn’t enough, there are other skeletons in his closet that might push him over the line. "You underestimate yourself."
"Well, you overestimate yourself enough for the both of us!" She pats his back as he sticks out his lower lip mournfully.
"Et tu, Brute?" He presses a hand to his heart. "You’re supposed to be on my team!"
"I am!" Slipping out from under his arm, she stretches a hand up to bop his nose. "Sibling solidarity, and all, but Tooru, Hajime and I have spent our whole lives poking holes in the balloon of your ego."
"All the girls tell me self-confidence is sexy." Tooru combs fingers through his hair. "I’m just being the best possible me!"
They’ve reached the library, and Tooru spots Yahaba sitting under a tree holding his Elemental Engineering text, with a rice-ball pressed to his lips. Kyoutani is sleeping next to him, his own text open only to sit on top of his face and protect his eyes from the sun.
"Hajime mentioned you were seeing a specific girl, when I called him to ask where you were earlier."
"Her name is Minako," Tooru replies. "It’s nothing serious."
"It’s never serious with you." She wrinkles her nose. "That’s good, I guess. You’re too young."
"I don’t know," Tooru says, "I think I’m at just the right age to drop out of high school and procreate."
"Ha ha," his sister says. "I didn’t drop out. I just missed the graduation ceremony." A wry grin. "We’re a pair, aren’t we? The one that committed too soon and the playboy."
"I’m not a playboy. I’m just constantly in search of friends prettier than Iwa-chan to spend time with."
That earns him a full laugh from his sister, who puts her hands on her hips. "You’re ridiculous."
"You love me."
"I do! You’re my little brother." They stop in front of the primary school dorms. "I’m going to get Takeru, and we can all go get lunch?"
"Sounds perfect," Tooru says. "I’ll tell you all about my classes. Takeru will like that, too."
She nods, then hesitates. "You’re really okay, right? About the fire magic, and your roommate?"
"Yes," Tooru says. "I’m really okay. It’s been two years. I’m not…" He smiles lopsidedly. "Besides, Kuroo’s going to help us win our match next week against Iron Wall."
"Sorry I’m going to miss it," she says. "Wipe the floor with them, Tooru."
"Don’t worry," he says, pulling out his ID card to let her into Takeru’s building. "We will."
"My sister," Tooru says, taking a gulp of his water. His skin is slick with sweat, and he’s exhausted from avoiding Yahaba’s constant attempts to snag his Token during their four-on-four scrimmage. "Don't we look alike?"
"I was far away," replies Kuroo. He's barely out of breath, but he's sweating too, his arms shimmering under the gym lights. "I just wondered if she was your girlfriend."
"Aww," Tooru says, "are you looking for a girlfriend, too?"
"No, definitely not." Kuroo flips his Token around and around between his middle fingers and thumbs. "I was curious."
"About me?" Tooru sets his water down next to him, and smiles at Kuroo sweetly. "Did you want to join my fanclub, Kuroo?"
"Not really," says Kuroo, looking at his Token instead of at Tooru. "It's more that I'm interested in your type."
"My type?" His chest tightens, and Tooru forces himself not to think about broad shoulders or Kuroo's five o'clock shadow. "I don't have a type! Every girl is unique and special, and should be appreciated for her own merits!"
"So what do you like about your current girlfriend?" His sneakers squeak against the gym floor as he shifts his weight.
"Minako is a good listener, she's understanding of my time commitments to the team and school, and she enjoys all the same sports as I do." Tooru clears his throat. "And she has, um, nice hair."
"Nice hair?" Kuroo laughs.
"As in, she actually combs it," Tooru clarifies. "You wouldn't understand anything about that—"
"Like you're one to talk!" Kuroo reaches out and ruffles his hair, fingers lightly scraping Tooru's scalp and then tangling in the curls. "Yours is messy, too."
Heart pounding, and tingles going down the length of his spine at the gentle tugging, Tooru bats Kuroo's hand away. "I have a naturally full texture, and it's artfully tousled."
"Sure it is," Kuroo replies. "Girls who comb their hair and listen to you, eh?"
Tooru licks his lips and focuses his attention on the other side of the gym, where their coach is working with Kindaichi to decrease the strength of his water sprays, but he's achingly aware of Kuroo spinning his Token on the tip of his index finger, and Kuroo's arm only a centimeter from brushing his own. "Of all the things to ask about me, you chose that?"
"What would you ask about me, then?" Kuroo tosses his Token up in the air, then catches it with both hands again, his elbow bumping Tooru's. "If you could ask me anything."
About the school fire, Tooru thinks. About what it feels like to have your magic escape your control. "Who says I want to know anything about you?"
"Don't you want to know who sleeps two meters from you at night?" Kuroo's lip curls teasingly. "You don't have a single question?"
"Then..." Tooru tugs at the neck of his T-shirt, swallowing down a hundred questions and replacing them with one he doesn't really want to know the answer to. "What kind of girl do you like?"
"The kind that doesn't comb her hair," Kuroo promptly replies, and when Tooru sticks his tongue out at him, he raises an eyebrow mockingly. "Out of all the things to ask about me, you chose that?"
Tooru shrugs. "I don't ask personal questions."
"Is that so people won't ask any of you?"
"Nosy," Tooru answers, wagging his finger in Kuroo's face, other hand clutching his water bottle.
"I've been told that before," Kuroo admits. Then he frowns, staring down at his Token until the thin chain of fire reappears, before hanging it around his neck. "Back to practicing, Captain?"
"I do think Matsukawa is slacking," says Tooru, setting his water bottle down on the bleachers. "Shall we go get him back into gear?"
"After you," Kuroo says.
"Haven't seen you around here in a while."
"We haven't had any reports due."
The wooden table suddenly sprouts a few long branches, and picks up the book on the top of Matsukawa's stack, opening it up in front of him at a forty-five degree angle to a section about halfway through. "And you've been all wrapped up in Kuroo Tetsurou."
Studiously turning a page, Tooru pushes his reading glasses up on his nose. "I most certainly have not."
"Yeah, okay," Matsukawa says. "Only, you know, you spend like, most of your time with him now."
"He is my roommate." He looks at Matsukawa over the top of his frames. "Of course I see him more than most people."
From the tree branch, a tiny twig emerges, just thick enough to bear the weight of a page and turn it. Matsukawa has always been lazy, and this trick had been one of the first ones he'd developed, back in their sixth year of primary school.
With a cough, Matsukawa manages to convey a whole lot of disagreement. "Easy to see more of him when he's the only thing you look at when he's in the room."
The words describing the magical law reforms during the Meiji Restoration blur, and he blinks twice to refocus his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Reminds me of how you were with Iwaizumi in middle school." Matsukawa nudges him. "You finally going to let Iwaizumi off the hook and find another best friend?"
"Iwa-chan will always be my best friend." Tooru's throat is dry. He... doesn't like thinking about being thirteen and confused and wanting things no one else did. "Kuroo doesn't stand a chance."
"You might want to tell your eyes that." Sighing, Matsukawa clicks the head of his ballpoint pen. "Anyway, since I've finally cornered you outside of practice, you can help me figure out the Engineering homework. How on Earth would wind magic be useful in carpentry?"
Tooru, eager to distract himself from what Matsukawa's brought up, takes off his glasses and begins to explain.
"What's actually on your mind?" he asks Tooru bluntly after fifteen minutes of Tooru babbling about Yahaba and Watari's performance during practice as Hajime checked his email.
"A lot," Tooru says. "Sis told me... that Kuroo accidentally burned down his old no-magic school."
"Shit," says Hajime. "The Tokyo school fire? How did it not leak that it was the fault of a Magician's Court champion?"
"Mom," Tooru replies.
"Are you telling me your roommate can't control his magic?" Hajime gets up from his desk to come sit next to Tooru on the couch.
Tooru shakes his head. "He can, I think. I've been... watching him." He flushes, thinking of Matsukawa's accusation. "He has great control. You've seen him, with the orb."
Hajime nods, and then squints. "You only talked to your sister about him today. though, right? You've been watching him a lot longer than that." He crosses his arms. "You figure out what to classify him as, yet?" Hajime shifts in place. "Or is there something else?" His tone is odd.
"Something else?" He leans his head back to stare at the ceiling. "An Arena match coming up."
"You're not worried about that." He lightly punches Tooru's arm. "Oikawa Tooru, one of the best Token players on the high school level in Japan, worried about the first game of the season? Get real."
"Iwa-chan, I think you just complimented me!" Tooru looks at him with a mischievous grin. "Are you sick?"
"I must be. Or tired. Go away so I can go to bed."
Tooru does, heading back up to his room, already mentally listing out the things he has to do before he goes to sleep. He pushes open the door to his room, and then stops in his tracks at Kuroo, clad in nothing but his underwear, drying his hair with a towel.
And they've lived together a month, almost, but Tooru's managed to avoid this: Kuroo, back slick from the shower, water clinging to the ridges of his shoulder blades and falling from his hair in thin rivulets down the length of neck. "Um," Tooru croaks out, and Kuroo turns around, still wet, still almost naked, to smile at him.
"Productive library visit?" He grins, and Tooru's hands clutch desperately at his bag as he stares. "Oikawa?"
"Sorry," Tooru says. "Tired." He drops his stuff on his bed and rushes into the bathroom.
The mirror is still fogged up, room hot from Kuroo's shower, and water has splashed onto the sides of the sink. Tooru folds his arms and rests his weight on it anyway. Heat sits low in his belly as he takes deep breaths, and as the image of Kuroo, wet and pretty and all angle and muscle, resurfaces, he can feel that heat drop lower, zipping down his thighs and lingering at his cock.
"What the fuck," he says to his fogged reflection, and he wonders how long he'll have to ignore his attraction to Kuroo before it goes away.
Kuroo is blessedly clothed by the time Tooru re-emerges from the bathroom, but for all the looking that Tooru’s apparently been doing since Kuroo came to Blue Castle, he can’t bring himself to even meet Kuroo’s gaze when he tells him goodnight, guilt at his body’s reaction enough to have him curling up on his side to face the wall.
It's a perfect date, but Tooru feels nothing for her but the mildest interest in friendship, because he doesn't have a type of girl. Doesn't think he ever will.
"I'm just thinking about our match this weekend," Tooru says. "The Iron Wall."
"Heard their first years are good," she replies. "But they're not Blue Castle."
"That's true," he says. "We'll win. How can we lose when I'm team captain?"
She laughs, and steals another bite of his ice-cream. "Exactly, Oikawa. Aren't you invincible?"
"Absolutely," he replies, before snagging her entire container of melting strawberry ice-cream.
"It’s a game," Kuroo says, when he’s satisfied that the laces won’t come undone while the match is in progress. "What’s the use in playing if you don’t have fun?"
"Take it seriously," Tooru tells him, kicking out with his leg to dig the toe of his sneaker into Kuroo’s thigh where the material of his black uniform stretches tight across a muscular thigh. "The first match will set the mood for the season."
"On the other hand," Kuroo says, catching Tooru by the ankle, thumb warm even through Tooru’s socks, "what’s the use in competing if you don’t take it seriously?" He laughs, rubbing his thumb up and down over the material. "Looking a little uptight there, Captain."
Kunimi is fidgeting in place next to Tooru on the lowest bench of the bleachers. His uniform is slightly too big in the shoulders, and he’s rolled the black sleeves up so that they don’t cover his hands.
"If Oikawa’s worried, no wonder I’m terrified," he mumbles to Kindaichi next to him, probably not meant for Tooru to overhear.
Tooru slaps Kunimi’s back anyway. "Hey, just do your best, little first year. Besides, I’m not worried, I’m focused." He grins, enjoying Kunimi’s nervous twitch away from him. Kunimi has never known quite what to make of Tooru, and it’s always been funny. "If you mess up too badly, the worst thing that could happen is that you have an excellent team to support you and pick up the slack."
"R-right," Kunimi says, leaning into Kindaichi, who has applied twice as much hair gel as usual today, like it’s some kind of safety blanket.
"That sounded surprisingly mature," Hanamaki says, draping his arms over Matsukawa’s shoulders in a hug, his chest pressed to Matsukawa’s back. "Are you sick?"
"There is a time and place for everything," Tooru replies loftily, pretending not to notice that Kuroo still has his ankle, and is still doing that thing with his thumb. Every brush down sends a tiny spark of electricity up toward his knee, and it feels like every bit of him not keeping up with the conversation around him is honed in on Kuroo. "Besides, Kunimi is one of our beloved first years, and we have to make sure he feels comfortable."
"He’s definitely sick," Matsukawa says, fussing with the giant Blue Castle patch on the right breast of his black uniform jumpsuit, nails catching on the sea-blue threads.
"Nah," says Kuroo, smiling up at Tooru, staring at him through ink-dark lashes. "He’s just trying to throw you off. Mind games, you know."
"Oikawa’s favorite," Yahaba says, amused. "Right up there with singing off key."
"And taunting the younger members of the other teams during competitions like a brat," adds Watari.
"Don’t forget hitting on other guys' girlfriends and then not understanding why people want to punch him." Hanamaki delivers it deadpan, and Matsukawa stifles a laugh in a clenched fist held up to his mouth.
"You know," Tooru says, indignant, "just because Iwa-chan’s not on the team this year, it doesn’t mean I need all of you to try to fill the gap in mocking me."
"On the contrary," Hanamaki says. "It’s our duty."
Kuroo’s hand slips higher on his leg, until his thumb hits the skin just above the line of Tooru’s sock, and Tooru’s indignation is lost to the heat of that digit against his skin. Swallowing, Tooru bends his knee, reclaiming his leg. The phantom of Kuroo’s touch remains at the bottom of his calf as he summons a thin stream of wind to slap Hanamaki’s backside.
"Whatever helps you sleep at night." Tooru waves a hand. "After all, I’m pretty and popular and talented, so your words are nothing but a gentle rainfall in the scheme of things."
"Rainfall," Hanamaki says, speculatively, and Tooru narrows his eyes.
"Save it for the Arena," Tooru warns, and then their coach is gesturing for Tooru to walk over to the gym midpoint to shake hands with the opposing team’s captain.
Moniwa is a tiny dictator with an excellent sense of strategy that Tooru’s been competing against for years. "Where’s your vice-captain?"
"Left the team," Tooru says easily. "We have a transfer student taking his place this year."
"Interesting," Moniwa replies. "We have some interesting first years."
"Let’s have a good match then!" He accepts the stack of eight fresh Tokens from the referee, and watches Moniwa do the same. "Good luck~!"
Tooru’s halfway back over to his team when he feels the rush of magic that indicates that the simulator has been activated. The audience screams with excitement as the gym starts to transform from the center out into a rocky cliffside, the ground beneath Tooru going from smooth linoleum to slippery and uneven rock.
Tooru shifts his footing, hopping along water-slick rocks until he’s back to his team. The timer at the end of the gym starts a countdown from five minutes until the start of match right as the roar of ocean water starts to fill the gym.
Their coach is waiting for him. "The Arena is a cliff by the sea. Ideas?"
Tooru hums. "Lots of water to work with, which means we need a water or wind magician on defense with each plant or fire to help nullify the environmental effects if necessary."
"I’ll stick with Matsukawa," Hanamaki says. "And Watari and Yahaba are a good team."
Coach nods. "Good." He studies the first years, and then Tooru and Kuroo. "Third years and first years together, or one of each?"
"I’m used to practicing with Kunimi," says Kindaichi. "I could work with the Captain, too, but…"
"I don’t know if I have good enough control to keep my water magic from putting out Kuroo’s fire," says Kunimi, anxiously.
Tooru steals a quick glimpse at Kuroo, who has his hands resting casually on his hips. "Kuroo and I haven’t practiced using our magic in tandem before," he says. The timer reads three minutes, now. "I’m sure we can do it, though. Plus, wind is far less likely to put out a fire."
Their coach purses his lips. "Oikawa… I haven’t been pairing you with Kuroo in practice." Is it all right? his eyes ask, and Tooru, not wanting to know what Kuroo thinks about this exchange, nods briskly to cut off further questions.
"We’re both pretty good at thinking on our feet," says Tooru. "Any problems working with me, Kuroo?"
"It’ll be my pleasure," Kuroo says, summoning a thin chain of fire and taking a Token from the top of Tooru’s pile. The flames encircle the flat gold coin-like Token, and then form a loop for him to hang it from his neck. "Do you think you can juggle balls of my fire like you do with plastic ones in class?"
"You will not throw fire at me," Tooru snaps, and Matsukawa, who is reaching out for a Token, pauses mid-motion to give Tooru a brief considering examination.
"Of course he won’t," Matsukawa says, snagging two Tokens and tossing one to Hanamaki. "He’s just asking if you can control his fire with wind."
"It’s something I’ve practiced before," Tooru admits. "With Iwa-chan. His fire isn’t as… wild as yours is."
"But with the water everywhere, mine won’t be a strong as usual." Kuroo grasps Tooru’s elbow. "I won’t send any fire at you directly. I promise."
Tooru nods shortly, and hands a Token to Kindaichi and Kunimi. "Then I can probably amplify your spells and protect them from ocean spray."
Kuroo’s fingers grip a bit tighter. "I really won’t," he says, into Tooru’s ear, low enough that Tooru knows it's for only him to hear. "If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I did Magician’s Court, it’s that I don’t like to throw magic at people."
Tooru swallows, and straightens his spine. "Then we shouldn't have any problems," he says back, the last remaining Token bursting out of his hands and up into the air in his famous miniature tornado. "One minute. I'll keep in touch the same way I usually do."
"Try not to let it tickle as much this time," Hanamaki complains. "It's already creepy as fuck to hear your voice when you're not anywhere near me, it doesn't need to tickle, too."
"I dunno," says Kuroo. "I like the tickle." He winks at Tooru. "Kinda kinky."
Kindaichi squawks as Tooru fights a blush. "Careful, Mr. Black Cat, the children are listening." He checks the timer. "Firsties, your mission is to get Moniwa's Token." He taps the 'C' on his Blue Castle patch. "He's the captain. He's also a water magician, and you can turn that to your advantage, Kindaichi. Kunimi, block Moniwa's attacks." They both nod. "Their second years are strong, but nothing you four can't handle," he says, to everyone else except Kuroo. "We don't know how the environment is going to actively work against us yet, so be on guard."
"That leaves you with the first years," says Matsukawa. "Some reason for that?"
"Moniwa mentioned that they were interesting," Tooru replies. "Which he probably didn't mean as a tip, but he's easy to read. They're dangerous."
"Sounds fun," Kuroo says, cracking his knuckles.
And then the timer is ringing, and the Arena opens up before them, water spilling and splashing up from the far side of the cliffs to wet the already difficult to navigate rock underfoot. Tooru takes the lead, gesturing for Kuroo to follow him as he sends out invisible wisps of wind to find the members of the Iron Wall's team. He finds the second years first, and so he whispers their approximate coordinates and uses wind to carry the message to Kindaichi, Matsukawa and Yahaba.
"It's almost a shame we're partnered this time," Kuroo says, alert as they crouch behind a wall of craggy rock. "I really do like the way you use the wind to talk in my ear."
"It's convenient. It's probably one of the reasons I'm captain."
"It has nothing to do with it. You're captain because everyone trusts you, and because you understand this game pretty deeply." Kuroo gives him a smug grin at his look of surprise. "Have you found the first years yet?"
Inhaling, Tooru tastes the ocean. It always feels real, in Arena, and their practice simulations in Blue Castle's gym have nothing on the complex magic involved in the official ones. For one thing, the gym appears, to the naked eye, to suddenly encompass an entire kilometer, instead of just the length of the gym. "They're by the water."
"Hmm," Kuroo shifts his weight, then points at the next rise in the rocks. "Does that mean they're bad against fire magic or that they're good with water?"
"The Magic Technology Institute is called 'Iron Wall' because they're so good at defense." Tooru's foot slips on rock, and he uses his hands to catch himself. As he does, baby crabs scuttle up from the rocks beneath, biting at his fingers. "Ow!"
Kuroo lifts one of Tooru's hands to eye level. "No blood."
"So there are animals," Tooru murmurs. "And probably sand."
"I hate sand," Kuroo tells him in a harsh whisper, as they pick their way across the rocks. "When I was a kid, if I fell asleep at the beach the sand below my towel would always turn into sharp pieces of glass."
"You give off that much magic when you're sleeping?" Tooru used to, as well, but his was in the form of a gentle breeze.
"Not anymore," says Kuroo. "A magician in Hong Kong taught me--" He pauses, tilting his head. The chain of fire around his neck flickers as he diverts too much attention from maintaining the background spell. "What's that sound?"
Tooru uses wind to amplify the noise. "I think we found the first years," he answers. "One of them is definitely a water magician."
"How do you know?"
Tooru laughs, quietly. "He's complaining to the other two that the waves won't react to his commands."
"What's the plan?" Kuroo asks, looking at Tooru like he's the absolute authority. Kuroo does the same thing during practice, too, but Tooru had always thought the moment they were in an actual match, Kuroo would attempt to wrest some of that control for himself. After all, he's the youngest winner of the Magician's Court, and Tooru is just... Well, Tooru is damn good at Elemental Arena, but still.
He commands the wind to check on his other team members, and grimaces. "Watari's had his token taken, and he's out of the match, meaning we're down one water user. Yahaba's with Mattsun and Hanamaki, so he's all right. They're still even, since we've got three down here." Another gust brings news of Blue Castle's first years. "And Kunimi and Kindaichi have Moniwa and the other third year on the ropes. That's good. It means we can be a bit reckless."
"Oh?" The referees announce Watari's retirement from the game across the Arena, and Kuroo sighs as the audience bursts into either cheers or cries of dismay. "We're one behind."
"We're not losing badly enough that we need to be conservative, is what I mean." Tooru scratches his nose, leaving a streak of sand. "I wonder how they communicate with each other."
"Could they have a wind magician that does what you do?"
Tooru raises a brow. "I doubt it." He wiggles his fingers, sending wind from each one in barely detectable streams. "It takes a lot of practice and control, and also works better if you can regularly and easily detect ambient magic."
"You're so impressive," Kuroo says, lowly, without a trace of irony.
"I've been saying so for a month," Tooru replies, avoiding the intensity of Kuroo's gaze. "About time you acknowledged it."
"I've acknowledged it the whole time." He dusts sand from his knees. "Even though when you say it, you're trying to hide how much you worry."
Tooru ignores that last bit and bends his thoughts toward the cluster of first years standing out on the sand. "You said you know how to turn sand into glass?"
"You want me to trap them in the sand." Kuroo rubs his cheek, where he's already got a shadow of facial hair. "Clever."
"Can you do it without hurting them?"
Kuroo is quiet for a few long moments. "It's like the orb exercise, right? I just need to keep the fire from touching anything I want to protect."
"Yes," Tooru says. "Don't... don't burn them."
"I will never burn a person," Kuroo tells him, grabbing Tooru's bicep and squeezing. "You really don't trust fire magic, eh?
"Fire hates being controlled more than the other elements. It likes burning things."
"Trust me, there isn't anyone that knows that better than I do." He drops his hold on Tooru. "I'll stick them right where they are, and you take their Tokens?"
"Watch out for their magic," Tooru warns him, before blowing sand up into the air all the way out to the gym's illusion of an ocean.
The Iron Wall first years yell and burst into motion, and one of them is a wind magician, Tooru realizes as the sand starts to blow back. He wrestles for control, and wins only by strength of will, wrenching the wind out of the first year’s quickly spreading influence, keeping the sand opaque until he hears the surprised yelps of the two first years not controlling the wind as the sand at their feet reaches up, swallows their feet, and then turns to glass.
Tooru moves in at a run toward them, searching for their Tokens. He spots one on the third of the first years, a plant magician, twining up his chest mixed in with climbing ivy as thick as a vest. He'll cut that one free first, he decides, and then take out the water magician.
The wind magician suddenly releases the sand, and Tooru has only moments to wonder why before he realizes a wall of water is headed right for him. He lets the sand drop all at once, and scrambles to call enough wind to protect himself and Kuroo from a wave of water at least six meters high. He can hear the screams of the audience, and he knows the refs won't let them drown, but it'll still mean the loss of both his and Kuroo's Tokens if they get swamped like this.
The water magician on Iron Wall's team has already prepared himself to push back the water around his trapped teammates, sparing them from the onslaught. "Kuroo!" Tooru yells, amplifying it with wind. "Can you get out of the way of the water from over there? We can't lose both Tokens like this!"
"I'll do you one better!" Kuroo yells back, maybe, words coming in fragmented on wisps of wind but eaten up by the rising roar of the water. Suddenly, it's hot, and Tooru breaks out immediately into a sweat as the temperature by the water rises fast enough that all of his skin exposed to air turns pink, and the air is thick and wet in his lungs. Then, between Tooru blinking and bracing himself to get hit by the water, it all turns at once into a thick cloud of steam.
For a moment, Tooru just gapes, but then he laughs, amazed, and uses a judicious gale of wind to clear a path toward the plant magician, slicing his Token free of the ivy and calling it to him. The water magician's Token falls to the glass, as well, the cage of water protecting it turning to steam along with the ocean wave, and Tooru takes that too. Then the steam is clearing, and it's just him and Kuroo versus the wind magician, a tall, broad first year with white hair and a determined frown on his face.
Kuroo's hands are on fire, and the sight makes Tooru nauseated even as he knows Kuroo's own fire cannot burn him.
"Oh ho, you're interesting all right," Tooru says, as the referee announces that the other two Iron Wall first years have been eliminated, along with Moniwa. "Good idea with the wave!" He searches for the wind magician's Token, looking in all the places he would keep it, and sees nothing. Then he notices the way the chest of the first year's uniform flutters, and he smiles victoriously. "But I've got you~!"
The first year grunts, slamming downward with his fist and shattering the glass at his feet with wind magic. Tooru reflexively shields himself and the other two first years from the spraying glass with a briefly held wall of wind, and then falls back into sand and a second thrust of wind directed at his feet to unbalance him. Kuroo swears from behind him, and Tooru realizes the rocks of the cliff-face are reaching out for all three of them.
"Of course the rocks are alive," Kuroo says, with a smirk. "More of that Shinto thing, Oikawa?"
Barking out a laugh, Tooru rolls twice, until he's close enough to Kuroo to put up another wall of wind as the Iron Wall first year makes an attempt to slice Kuroo's Token loose from around his neck. "Don't get distracted now," Tooru says, and Kuroo snorts, the flames around his hands growing bigger and brighter as he concentrates.
"Can you blow sand waist high on him?" Sweat is collecting between Kuroo's brows, and rolling down his neck. He smells of ash and burnt sea salt, and his eyes glow with fire as bright as his hands.
"Naturally," Tooru replies, and he drops the wall in front of them and directs the wind to disturb the sand again with his left hand, his right index finger spinning as he makes the motion cyclone around the wind magician.
"Perfect, Captain!" Kuroo says, and then he drops to his knees and presses both his palms flat to the sand. Magic shoots forward in a path of glass toward the Iron Wall magician, and when it gets to Tooru's cyclone, it turns it solid, trapping the magician's arms at his side, unable to move at all.
The referee announces the other Iron Wall players' eliminations, and with satisfaction, Tooru sends tendrils of wind to slice open the front of the wind magician's uniform, slicing through the Iron Wall patch and revealing his Token, suspended in midair just underneath the material.
The moment the Token falls into his open palm, the refs announce the end of the match, and the Arena starts to fade away, revealing an average sized gym. Next to him, Kuroo is panting, his fingers splayed out on the linoleum and black all the way to the knuckles with fire. The effects of his magic have faded, leaving the wind magician from Iron Wall free to move. One of the second years is patting him on the back consolingly.
Tooru looks for his own teammates, and is amused to see Kunimi patting Watari on the back as Watari stares out at the Arena with a disappointed grimace.
After he returns the confiscated Tokens to the referee, he basks in their coach's congratulations and then joins the lineup to bow to their opponents. Moniwa looks chagrined. "I sort of sent you after my first years, didn't I?"
"Yep~!" Tooru grins at him, then remembers the shattered glass. "The scary one without eyebrows is good. Nice reflexes. But he needs to be careful not to hurt his teammates when he breaks out of attacks. I think he's just so big he doesn't realize some things are dangerous."
"Thanks for the tip." He tilts his head. "No shame in losing to you, but it won't happen again."
Winning feels good, thrumming in his veins, and he high-fives Yahaba, and digs his knuckles into Watari's hair aggressively when he tries to apologize for getting his Token snatched.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Tooru jumps at Kuroo's voice so close to his ear, and he turns his head to find himself nose to nose with him.
"Like what?" It comes out mostly normal, but Tooru's whole body is reacting to Kuroo this close, especially in the wake of an exciting match.
Kuroo lifts up his hand, and for a moment, Tooru thinks Kuroo is going to do something like... like cup his cheek, or something like that, but instead he extends a little higher, and plucks Tooru's Token from where he's still been subconsciously floating it. "Match is over, Captain." He presses it into Tooru's hands, and then busses his temple with a press of lips so slight Tooru thinks he imagined it.
Then Kuroo is gone, throwing an arm around each of the first years and mussing their hair, leaving Tooru reeling from the affection of that touch.
"You're not going to give that back to the ref?" Yahaba asks, shaking him from his daze, and Tooru looks at him blankly before dropping his gaze to where Yahaba's is directed.
He considers his Token, and, shooting another quick glance at Kuroo, now collapsed down to the ground with Kindaichi and laughing, squeezes it in his hand. "Think I’ll keep this one," he says to Yahaba, who grins.
Yahaba had clearly followed Tooru's eyes. "Because it’s Kuroo’s first match?"
"Now, now, Yahaba-chan, don’t make it sound so sentimental! It’s the first match of the season, is all." He straightens Yahaba’s collar, bunched up around his neck where his vines had probably clung to him, and grins. "I’m going to get some water."
"Coach still wants to talk to us."
"I’ll only be a minute," Tooru replies. "Now be a good little boy and wait for me."
"I’m eighteen," Yahaba complains, and Tooru just laughs, letting the sound carry as he crosses the gym to the audience bleachers and exits to the halls.
Someone unexpected is waiting for him next to the water fountain, dressed in a Swan Valley Academy uniform and looking as pristine as Tooru is disheveled. Tooru hates that it’s always like this. That Tooru, who makes a constant effort to be as put-together as possible, is always caught flat-footed by Ushijima Wakatoshi.
"Ushiwaka-chan!" Tooru smiles at him blankly. "Fancy meeting you here. Slumming?"
"Watching," he says. "My coach is worried about Blue Castle, this year."
"He should be," replies Tooru. "We’re a good team."
"Not good enough to beat Swan Valley." Ushijima pushes off from the wall, and Tooru takes an involuntary step back. "Not even with that strong fire magician replacing Iwaizumi."
Adrenaline is still pumping through him, and the memory of Kuroo's lips brushing his temple has him out of sorts enough to forget his tact. "What are you doing, playing Arena again this year?"
"What are you doing, avoiding Magician's Court?" Ushijima's face doesn't change as he watches Tooru.
"Decided that wasn't for me." He curls his hands around his Token. "I thought you didn't like Arena."
"It has its limitations."
"I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you won't take this year from me. Blue Castle is going to take the title this year."
"That’s optimistic. Swan Valley were champions before I joined. Now? Unbeatable."
"No one is unbeatable." Kuroo’s voice comes from behind Tooru, arm casually winding across Tooru’s shoulders. "That’s the fun of competitions, right?"
Ushijima’s forehead creases in a minimal show of emotion. "You’re Kuroo Tetsurou, aren’t you? I thought you looked familiar."
"I don’t know who you are, sorry," Kuroo says, his fingers plucking absently with the fabric at the arm of Tooru’s uniform. "But I have to take our captain, now. Our coach wants to talk to him."
Ushijima frowns, examining Kuroo speculatively before glancing back to Tooru. "Make the finals," he says, then spins on his heel and leaves.
"Friend of yours?" Kuroo asks, pulling Tooru in closer. He smells of sweat, sea salt, and fire, but after Tooru’s first urge to jerk away from that, he catches the soothing undertones of cinnamon, and relaxes into the touch.
"Ushiwaka-chan’s my rival." He holds his Token up in front of him. It’s nicked and scratched from Tooru’s summoned wind protection, but no one had taken it from him. "We both played Arena in middle school, but he told everyone there wasn’t enough good competition, and it was boring, so he quit."
"He should try out the Magician’s Court." He slides his arm around Tooru’s shoulder until his hand is resting on the nape of Tooru’s neck.
"He did," Tooru replies, dropping his eyes to his shoes. "Anyway, I’ve been trying to catch up with him, beat him, since I was a lot younger, though he didn’t really recognize me as competition until a few years ago."
"I became competition, I guess." Tooru remembers the look on Ushijima’s face, when Tooru had faced him across the the hall at the Magician’s Court, blocking attack after attack with ease and then slicing through the wall of fire he’d put up to protect himself. It had been almost surprise, almost anger, and it had been the first time Tooru had earned any expression on the other’s face at all. "Ushiwaka has always been the meter-stick that I use to measure my success."
"He seems like kind of a jerk." Kuroo’s hand slips the hand on Tooru’s neck up into his hair, tangling them and pulling. "There are other ways to measure success."
Tooru is hyper aware of the feeling of Kuroo’s fingers and the warmth of him beside him, and that, combined with the tingling rush of adrenaline, makes him shiver. "Like ruthless victories over the Iron Wall?"
"Like that," Kuroo agrees, gesturing with his chin over to where the rest of the team is waiting for them. "Let’s go, captain. It’s time to give your pep-talk."
"Every conversation with me is a pep-talk~!"
"You’re really something." Kuroo shakes his head. "You were right, though."
"Arena being difficult and challenging. About needing to be clever to play it." Kuroo rubs at his neck. "I haven’t had this much fun in a long time, playing a team game."
"I’m always right," says Tooru, and when Kuroo laughs this time, something sets alight in Tooru’s chest.
Poised to knock, Tooru stops at the sound of his own name.
"It’s just that I think he’d be good at it," says the other voice. It’s Kuroo, Tooru realizes, and he drops his hand, instead calling a bit of magic to help himself eavesdrop with less strain. "His control is amazing. I never knew magic could be as versatile as Oikawa makes his, and I think he’d go really far."
Tooru turns so that he can lean against the hall wall, right between two potted bamboo plants that are filled to the brim with ambient magic. He absently takes a little bit of it in to mix with his wind magic.
"Oikawa’s put a lot of effort into practicing his magic. Hours and hours. His control is hard-won."
"To me," says Kuroo, "that only makes it more impressive. I don’t understand why you don’t want me to nominate him for Magician’s Court."
Tooru’s heart stops in his chest. Nominations by former champions allow participants to skip the long and tedious early elimination rounds. Three years ago, Tooru would have loved to receive one. Now, though...
"He doesn’t like battling with magic, or using magic to hurt people." Hajime sighs. Tooru can easily imagine him pacing in front of his desk, all frowny and grumpy-concerned. "And if he had to face a fire magician—"
"You think he’d panic." Kuroo doesn’t sound surprised. "That was the other reason I wanted to nominate him. It would give him a chance to face that fear."
"He doesn’t need to face it," Hajime says sternly. "He already does, letting you use magic anywhere in his vicinity, considering how strong your element is."
"I know," Kuroo says. "Selfishly, I don’t want him to be afraid of me or my magic." Tooru runs his tongue along his front teeth, trying to figure out Kuroo’s tone. There’s a strangeness to the way he says that, and it’s probably written on his face if Tooru were to barge in right now and look. "I don’t want to be the cause of that look on his face anymore. It reminds me of the way people looked at me back home, sometimes. Like it was only a matter of time until I hurt someone."
"Magician’s Court won’t help him with that." A long pause. "Just, don’t bug him about it. You won’t get the reaction you’re looking for. He won’t appreciate it or want it. It was his dream to compete in the Magician’s Court when he was a kid, but he’s not a kid anymore."
Hajime seems on the cusp of saying something more, but Tooru doesn’t want him to tell Kuroo about the nightmares, or the burns up his side he’ll carry for the rest of his life, so he knocks on the door as a warning before opening it without waiting for an answer. "Iwa-chan, we’re going to be late to History!" He pretends to just notice Kuroo, who is staring at him speculatively. "Ah, is this a meeting for my fanclub?"
"You don’t have a fanclub, dumbass," says Hajime, grabbing his bag and hoisting it onto his shoulder.
"I definitely do," Tooru replies. "They have business cards. They gave me one. Minako says they’re all very jealous that she gets to go on dates with me."
Hajime ushers them out so that he can lock up behind them. "Proof that they don’t actually know you."
"I’m a delight."
"You are," Kuroo reassures him, grinning.
"What have I said about encouraging him?" Hajime grumbles, as they head down the hall to class.
They’re sitting next to each other on the floor between their beds, a tea ceremony set up between them. Tooru is carefully going through the motions of hosting, slow enough that Kuroo can register the nuance of each move. Tooru hadn’t been expecting a question, and especially not one so personal. He has to fight to keep from losing his grip on the ambient magic he’s drawn in.
"It’s dangerous," he replies, holding the kettle out to be heated before he remembers it’s Kuroo across from him, not Hajime. Kuroo doesn’t blink, though, holding out a single finger to heat the contents of the kettle in a matter of moments.
"All magic is dangerous," says Kuroo. "It’s a matter of intent."
"Some elements are more wild than others. Fire is unpredictable and terrifying in its moods. I don’t like things I can’t predict."
When Tooru looks in the mirror after a shower, he sees a visual reminder of how easily fire magic can slip a magician’s grasp. When Tooru closes his eyes, sometimes he still sees the flickering flames eating away at his suit, consuming the wool in massive guttering mouthfuls.
"All things you can’t predict? Or just the dangerous things?"
"Anything you can’t predict is dangerous." He drags his thumb along the rim of the cup. "Fire magic, though…" He hesitates. "I’ve seen it attack people."
"Yeah," Kuroo says. "Me too. That’s why…"
"You said a magician in Hong Kong taught you how to not give off so much magic in your sleep." He spoons three heaps of green tea powder into each of their cups. "During last week’s match."
"Mmhmm." Kuroo is watching Tooru’s hands. He looks far younger than nineteen, with that childlike pure interest on his face. "And when I’m awake."
"So before that," asks Tooru, "how did you control your magic?"
"Whims," says Kuroo. "Sometimes Kenma would…" He licks his lips. "My friend Bokuto tells me that it was always a fun betting game, to see what my mood would set on fire next. Only one day, it became not so funny."
"It was you, then. The Tokyo school fire." Tooru doesn’t reach for his own burns. Instead, he pours the hot water into the two cups, and then retrieves the whisk. As the tea froths, a long silence builds between them.
"I just wanted to play volleyball," Kuroo says. "Kenma didn’t think it was a terrible idea. Then, somehow my happiness and my longing got all tangled up."
Tooru, hands wrapped around his cup, swallows harshly. The ambient magic is buzzing in his ears. "Your will was divided, and your magic lashed out."
"That’s what the firefighters said." Kuroo picks up his tea, remembering to spin the cup so he can admire the design. "They rebuilt the school. I just haven’t been back."
"But you don’t want me to be afraid of fire anymore." Kuroo gives him a sharp, knowing look, and Tooru bites his lower lip hard enough that he can taste blood in his mouth. "Hajime is easily heard through closed doors."
"I don’t want you to be afraid of me calling fire," he says. "Because I’ve learned the hard way what it means to lose control over it."
"I’ve learned that the hard way, too." After a long sip of his tea, Tooru stares into his cup. Across from him, sitting criss-cross instead of seiza, Kuroo mimics the action. "I competed in Magician’s Court before."
Kuroo’s grip on his cup slips, but he doesn’t drop it. "When?"
Another sip of tea. "Two years ago. When you won." The tea is bitter in his mouth, but the magic is sweet, humming under his skin.
"Ushiwaka was my opponent. It was one round before the televised ones. He…" Tooru is holding the cup too tight. "He couldn’t make me yield, and I almost pushed him out of the ring. His hold on one of his fire spells snapped, and…"
He looks up to see Kuroo staring at him in horrified fascination.
"He set you on fire," says Kuroo, eyes falling to where Tooru is always touching his burns. "I remember a fire magician getting disqualified."
There’s just enough tea left to tell a fortune. Tooru spills it out onto a piece of rice paper, slowly, carefully, pushing the magic he’s collected out through his fingertips and into the pouring liquid, letting it spread out on the page.
The tea morphs in front of him, spreading out into the shape of a Token, in greens instead of golds. Then, the last drop falls, right into the center of the image, and sets the Token on fire, like Kuroo carries his. Tooru’s mouth goes dry. "It’s the second time."
"For what?" Kuroo’s face is unusually solemn, and Tooru doesn’t know what to make of the way he’s looking at Tooru.
"Getting fire in my fortune."
Kuroo reaches out and puts a hand on Tooru’s knee. "Maybe that means you were meant to meet me," he teases. It lacks the usual bite of Kuroo’s taunts, but his hand is as hot as always, warming Tooru’s skin through the fabric of his slacks. "Look at my fortune."
Tooru focuses on Kuroo’s rice paper. It’s not as crisp and clear as Tooru’s, but it’s obviously a Token too. And despite the muddled nature of the image, Tooru is pretty sure it’s wind curling and twisting around the Token, like Tooru’s protection spell.
"A matched set, see?" Kuroo withdraws his hand, but he leaves a little of his heat behind. Tooru wants to grab his hand and keep it in place, as much as he wants to tell Kuroo to stop touching him entirely, because it makes him want things he can’t have. Tooru’s never been good with that feeling. "Don’t be afraid of me."
"I’m not," Tooru says, and he mostly means it.
"I’m surprised you told him that." Hajime pauses in buttering his toast. "I don’t think I’ve seen you open up to someone so quickly before."
"I don’t understand it myself," says Tooru, grimly, and it startles a laugh out of Hajime.
"I bet you hate that."
"I really do, Iwa-chan." Tooru looks down at his own unbuttered toast, and snags a piece of Hajime’s off his plate instead of bothering. Hajime gives him a filthy look before sighing and taking an unbuttered slice of Tooru’s.
"Good," Hajime says. "Suffer like you make everyone else suffer."
"That’s not a nice way to talk to your best friend in the entire world, Iwa-chan."
"It’s the only way to talk to you."
Tooru laughs, and takes another already buttered piece of toast just to piss Hajime off.
"It’s gross how much you enjoy the misery of others," Hanamaki informs him. "Honestly, Oikawa."
"I don’t enjoy their misery," Tooru replies. "It’s more that I enjoy winning points in a match before we even play it." He turns to Kuroo and smiles beatifically. "You’re not so bad, transfer."
"Oh, so now you’re glad I’m here," jokes Kuroo.
Flushing, Tooru glowers at him. "I was never…" He crosses his arms. "It’s more that I didn’t think we needed you."
"With Iwa-chan too busy to play, I suppose it is good to have someone who can use fire." He says it lightly, like it’s offhand. "You’re not too bad."
"Not too bad," Kuroo muses. "All right, then."
His name is Bokuto, and Tooru’s first impression of him is that he’s loud. "You can do magic, too, right?" Bokuto is looking around their room like it’s something special. "When I was a kid, I wanted to do magic. Or be a professional volleyball player!"
"I wanted to be a volleyball player, too," says Kuroo. "What about you, Oikawa?"
"My dad’s business," Tooru says. "My family is into engineering and wind energy. I wanted to take over the business."
"That was your little kid dream?" Bokuto shakes his head. "No, no, no, choose again! You should have wanted to be a rock star or something!"
"It’s not like I can go back and change it now," Tooru replies, amused. He lies back on his bed and watches Bokuto pick his way through Kuroo’s textbooks, each one holding his focus for barely long enough to ask a single question before discarding it and looking through it for new questions.
Kuroo is watching him with a soft fondness. "He’s always been like this," he says.
"That’s cute," Tooru says.
"An engineer for the family business? That really is a surprising childhood dream." Kuroo leans against him slightly as Bokuto explores their room.
"It wasn’t so much the job. More that I wanted my dad to be proud of me, and that was the surest way to do it."
"You thought he wouldn’t be if you didn’t follow him into the business?"
"I still think that," Tooru replies. "If I don’t join him after university, get married to someone from a respectable magic family, and have two point five kids with wind magic as well, I’ll be disappointing him." He watches Bokuto bend down to look under Kuroo’s bed, butt wiggling, and laughs.
Kuroo presses his lips together for a moment, and then slips into a teasing grin. "What will you do with half a kid?"
"Not sure yet," says Tooru. "Depends on which half I get."
Kuroo laughs, and Bokuto looks up at them in dismay. "You aren’t making fun of me, right?!"
"No," Kuroo says. "I try not to aim for easy targets."
"Hey!" Bokuto points at him accusingly. "I’m telling Kenma you’re getting mean!"
Somehow, Bokuto talks Tooru into going with them into the city, despite the rapid approach of their midterm exams. Tooru takes them both to a pastry shop that his girlfriend two before Minako had liked.
"You’re popular with girls?" Bokuto has flaky bits of pastry on his mouth. "Teach me! None of my friends are popular with girls."
"Not even Kuroo?" Tooru plucks a scone from the pile of treats they’d brought back to their table. "I’ve hardly seen him try, but you’d think being King of the Magician Court would help his game."
"Kuroo doesn’t like girls, though, so it doesn’t matter if they like him, he never takes them up on advice for dates!" Next to him, Kuroo stiffens slightly, and it’s not until Tooru fully parses the words that he gets it.
"Oh," he says, and he feels cold all the way through, the only heat coming from Kuroo next to him, as warm as ever. "Well, the secret is to be as devilishly good looking as I am, of course."
Bokuto chuckles around a pastry, but Kuroo stays surprisingly quiet. Tooru sneaks a look at him while taking a bite of scone, only to see Kuroo looking back at him, face tight and shoulders held tense.
Kuroo doesn’t like girls, Tooru thinks, faintly, returning his attention to Bokuto. He’d never considered… He squashes that thought, and elbows Kuroo. "If you don’t eat another pastry soon, it might be too late," he jokes, his voice rougher than he means it to be.
Kuroo definitely notices, and grimaces. "Yeah, yeah," he says, then jumps into a conversation with Bokuto about some television drama they both watched over winter vacation, and Tooru smiles vaguely while his thoughts churn.
They part from Bokuto at the Izumi-Chuo station, and walk back to campus alone, just the two of them. Kuroo’s steps are unexpectedly measured. "Do you mind?"
Tooru’s tongue is sticking to the roof of his mouth. "Mind what?"
"That you’re rooming with someone who doesn’t like girls?"
"No," Tooru manages, his heartbeat speeding up. His lungs press against his ribs with every sharp inhale. "Should I? After all, you like boys who don’t comb their hair, and mine is—"
"Artfully tousled," Kuroo finishes for him. He’s still uncertain. Tooru can see that in his smile. "It’s not something I hide, necessarily, but not something I go out of my way to advertise, either. The people whose business it is to know usually do."
It sounds so simple, when Kuroo puts it like that. He hasn't mentioned the stigma, or the way Tooru is constantly left out of conversations at lunch because you don’t get the big deal about some new actress or another, or the way his father talks about homosexuals like they’re criminals instead of people like Tooru, who realized at thirteen that he'd wanted to kiss his best friend and has never really let himself think about any boys again until Kuroo barged his way into Tooru’s life. "It wasn’t my business?"
"I’m not sure yet," Kuroo replies, pitched low enough that it sends a thrill down Tooru’s spine. "I’m still figuring that out." He puts a hand on Tooru’s shoulder when they arrive at the campus gates, the big castle looming in front of them, gorgeous in the sunset. Tooru involuntarily flinches, and Kuroo’s lips twist. "Is it going to be a problem?"
"No," Tooru says, punching in the keycode. "I don’t care what you like, as long as you keep helping me win games."
"I see," Kuroo says. "I don’t want…"
"You being a fire magician is a bigger concern to me than anything else," Tooru continues. "Everything else is…" He pushes open the school gate. "I’m not going to dwell on that."
He can feel Kuroo studying him, and, not wanting Kuroo to read anything on his face, tries his best to keep his expression blank.
"All right then," Kuroo says.
Later that night, he disappears with his phone for two long hours, and when he comes back, he’s smiling.
"Talking to Kenma?"
Kuroo nods, plugging in his mobile and falling into his nest of covers. "Yeah, he hates it when I call because he hates talking on the phone but it’s not like I can corner him on video-chat."
"Is he your boyfriend?" It falls out before Tooru can stop it.
"Thought you weren’t going to dwell on it?”
Tooru flushes. "Just curious," he replies.
"No," Kuroo says, after a moment or two. "He’s my best friend. I’m not… I’ve never had a boyfriend."
Tooru plucks at the hem of his night shirt. "Really? But you’re so…" He does stop himself, this time, from finishing that sentence with 'handsome' or 'charming' or 'really hot naked', but he can feel his face burning and stares pointedly at his sheets.
"I’m what?" Kuroo rolls over in bed to face Tooru. "Hmm, Oikawa Tooru?"
"It’s nothing," Tooru says. "I just looked at your hair and realized why you can’t get a date."
Kuroo laughs. "It’s not like I wanted one," he says.
Tooru, not sure how to respond, turns off the lights and doesn’t relax until Kuroo’s breathing evens out in sleep on the other side of the room.
He starts to dodge those little touches, and he’s sure Kuroo notices, but he doesn’t say anything, letting Tooru duck away from arms around the shoulder or lingering grabs at his wrists.
He takes to studying in Hajime’s room for part of every evening again, too, because spending that much time with Kuroo thinking about certain things makes it hard to concentrate on his homework, and there’s a lot on Tooru’s plate. Hajime has started a countdown calendar for the Magical Center Exams on the the wall of his living room area, and Sawauchi is apparently stopping by three times a week to pin information about overseas universities on the bulletin board Hajime bought to organize application information for the third years.
He doesn’t have time to waste wondering what Kuroo’s mouth would taste like if he kissed him. Or wondering if Kuroo would actually kiss him back.
"You’re thinking too hard about something."
"I’m thinking about next year," Tooru says. "University and all that."
"Still going to major in engineering with me instead of ritual magic like you should?" Hajime looks up from his homework when Tooru doesn’t answer him immediately. "Oi, Shittykawa, you still here?"
"Why does everyone make it sound so easy? To do what I want instead of what I should?"
Hajime blinks. "Not all of us think those two things should be different." He sets down his pen. "Remember when you were a little kid and you wanted to be an astronaut?"
"No," Tooru says. "I think I always wanted to be in the family business."
"You didn’t," says Hajime. "You wanted to be an astronaut. You’ve always liked outer space. You told your mom you were going to be an astronaut and meet an alien face to face." He frowns. "She told you it sounded like fun, but that you’d make her proud by taking over your dad’s business someday instead if you didn’t manage to make it out into a new part of the solar system."
Tooru does vaguely remember that conversation, now that Hajime mentions it. He and Hajime had been sitting at the kitchen counter, covered in burnt dirt from outside and eating apple slices.
"From then on, you told everyone that was what you wanted to do when you grew up. Run your dad’s business. It’s the same thing you do with everything else. Pick out the answer you think the most people want to hear, because you think that’s simpler."
"Iwa-chan, do you think you’re my psychiatrist?"
"You could not pay me enough to dig any deeper into your psyche, Oikawa. I’m just telling you, you probably still want to be an astronaut, somewhere deep inside. You’ve just buried it, along with the part of you that still thinks if you lose a match it says something about you as a person, underneath the competent Oikawa Tooru image you’ve built for yourself."
"I want to be a professional Elemental Arena player," Tooru tries, and Hajime nods.
"You’d be good at it," he says. Then he picks up his pen. "What’s this all about, anyway?"
It’s about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about Kuroo, and how much Tooru wants him, the ache big and scary whenever he lets himself dwell on it too long. It’s the same way he feels about Arena. How he used to feel about the Magician’s Court. "Would you still like me, if it turned out that I…" The words stick in his throat. "Never mind."
"Whatever it is," Hajime replies, "it can’t be as terrible as your personality, so the answer is probably yes."
Tooru kicks him under the table, the confusion in his gut easing a little in the face of Hajime’s firm answer. "Iwa-chan, you like my personality."
"It’s a mild form of Stockholm’s syndrome," says Hajime. "Now let me work, asshole."
"Such language from the student council president!"
"Fuck off, Oikawa!"
In his exhaustion, Tooru doesn’t have time to think about what courses he’ll take in university, or his weird crush-thing on Kuroo, because he’s got enough homework to keep him up late into the night. It’s sort of a relief, to put those things aside and focus on the here and now, and Arena practice keeps him from boiling over with stress most of the time.
But when he’s informed by the coach that the tournament brackets have come out for the post-season, and that they’ll be facing Swan Valley in the quarter-finals, Tooru starts having nightmares again; the ones he’d started having when he was still in the hospital, recovering from his burns. He gets even more tired, then, and starts losing his temper at the oddest things, and all of his emotions feel too close to the surface.
"You need to chill out," Kuroo tells him one afternoon after practice, putting his hands on Tooru’s shoulders, standing behind him at his desk. "You’re going to make Watari cry if you keep this up."
His hands are too warm, and Tooru’s unprepared for the conflicting rush at the contact. "Don’t touch me," he snaps, and Kuroo’s hands pull back immediately.
"Is it because I’m gay?" Kuroo asks quietly, from the other side of the room, and Tooru turns to look at him. "You only started not wanting me to get close to you when you found out."
Tooru swallows. "No." It’s only partially a lie. It’s not that Kuroo is gay, that makes Tooru wary of his touch. It’s that Tooru is gay, and Kuroo has attracted him almost since the beginning. Kuroo being gay has only brought it into sharp relief how close Tooru is to giving in to something he’s denied about himself for six years.
"Are you sure?" He shakes his head, then, like he’s giving up on that train of thought. "What has you this on edge, lately?"
Tooru gets up from his desk and walks over to his bed, sitting on the edge of it to face Kuroo. "It’s quarter-finals after next week, if we win this weekend."
"You’re worried about that?" One lifted eyebrow. "I thought your ego was a bit bigger than that, Oikawa." His face hasn’t changed, like he doesn’t believe Tooru. "Aren’t you sure you’re going to win?"
Pushing his fingers through his hair, Tooru grimaces. "After that, It’s Swan Valley."
"That Ushijima guy’s team," Kuroo says, after a long quiet. "They’re beatable, you know? He’s beatable."
"You don’t understand," Tooru says, throwing himself down onto the bed.
"You have a complex," Kuroo tells him, getting up from his bed and crossing the room. "Don’t let it get to you."
Tooru closes his eyes. "I’ve never been able to stand up to Ushiwaka. Not in Elemental Arena, not in Magician’s Court—" He bites on his lower lip, and the bed dips beside him as Kuroo sits down next to him. There’s no ash this time, only cinnamon and the smell of Kuroo’s shampoo.
"Your meter-stick of success." Kuroo is not even touching him, but Tooru can feel his heat. Fire magicians always tend, he thinks, to burn hotter than anyone else, and Kuroo burns hottest of them all.
"He’s my rival, and this is my last chance to beat him. If I don’t, I might always wonder…"
"If you could have." Kuroo exhales, and then the heat of those burnt black fingertips presses on the inside of his wrist. Tooru’s eyes fly open, and he looks at Kuroo in surprise. "You don’t need to place so much of your self-worth on something like that."
"It’s easy for you to say," Tooru replies, words unsteady. He’s torn between pulling away and pushing closer to Kuroo, the indecision leaving him stock-still. "You won. No one beat you."
"My own magic beat me." Kuroo’s fingers drag up his wrist, toward his elbow, and Tooru follows them, thinking it’s a safer bet than meeting those molten cat eyes. He should pull away, but the drag of Kuroo’s fingers is burning him alive.
"At least that’s something you can change," Tooru says. "No matter how hard I work, people like you and Ushiwaka are always going to be stronger." His tongue is thick in his mouth.
Kuroo is quiet for a long stretch of time that Tooru measures in hurried heartbeats. "I disagree," he says, softly. "I think the fact that you’re still willing to face him, and work with me, and play Arena when you know you might have to deal with fire magic… That’s pretty strong, Oikawa."
"They’re just burns," Tooru forces himself to say. "It would be childish—"
"You’re a little childish, you know that, right?" His lips brush Tooru’s ear. He can probably feel Tooru’s pulse under his fingertips. "It’s cute."
That’s not the first time Kuroo has said something like that, and Tooru’s eyes go wide. He turns sharply to look at Kuroo next to him, all of the teasing flirtations he’d brushed off as Kuroo teasing him suddenly reflected in this new light.
Kuroo, close enough for Tooru to see the pores in his nose, even without his reading glasses, stares back at him.
Something in the expression on Kuroo’s face makes Tooru’s stomach twist into a heavy knot, pressing back against his spine. He hates that look on Kuroo’s face; prefers, he thinks, the smug little grin or the snide half-shuttered eyes meeting his across the arena, or even the excited look when he manages to twist his magic with Yahaba’s just right.
And he’s so tired that his first thought isn’t say something, it’s do something, and he wants...
Without any conscious decision, Tooru reaches up with his left hand, knots it into Kuroo’s hair, and presses their mouths together in an off-center kiss. Kuroo releases this tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a chuckle, and then one of his hands splays out across Tooru’s ribs, right along the top of his burns, and his head tilts slightly to the right, and they’re kissing for real.
It’s Tooru’s turn to whimper as Kuroo’s tongue licks at his bottom lip. He parts his lips, and Kuroo presses in closer, clumsily pushing his tongue in to brush along the roof of Tooru’s mouth, and this is so much better, Tooru thinks hazily, than the few clumsy kisses he has shared with past girlfriends, because he can feel Kuroo’s stubble scraping at his cheeks and Kuroo’s arms thick and strong wrapped around him, and Kuroo’s heartbeat under his hand when he rests it on Kuroo’s chest for balance.
Kuroo tastes like fire, and it’s as exhilarating as it is scary, to feel like he’s going to disintegrate under the the hot pressure of Kuroo’s mouth. He knows, somehow, that if he ever kisses Minako, it won’t be like this.
Then, at the memory of his not-quite-girlfriend, Tooru’s thoughts all seem to catch up with him at once, and he tears his lips away from Kuroo’s, pushing back and falling into his pillows as he looks at Kuroo in horror. "I…"
Kuroo’s eyes are hazy, and his lips are slick with spit. He’s panting as hard as Tooru is, pink cheeked and dark against Tooru’s white bedsheets, looking like he wants nothing more than to kiss Tooru all over again. "You…?" His voice rasps, and Tooru licks his lips, watching as Kuroo’s eyes flicker down to them.
Tooru takes a deep, shuddering breath, and then panics. "I’ve got to go," he says, and bolts.
His first impulse is to go to Hajime… but, well, Hajime will take one look at Tooru’s face and have Tooru spilling everything, somehow, with his freaky best friend powers that Tooru half-believes are an undiscovered type of telepathy magic. And Tooru’s honestly not ready for that, yet, because he’s barely had a chance to process any of this for himself.
So instead he walks down to the end of the hall and pushes into Hanamaki and Matsukawa’s room without knocking.
"Rude," Matsukawa says, chewing on a piece of dried squid as he looks up from the board game spread out between himself and Hanamaki on the floor. "Shouldn’t you…" His voice trails off, probably because Tooru is still panicking. "Oikawa?"
Tooru darts for Hanamaki’s bed, flopping down face first and then squirming under the covers. "I’m fine," he says, muffled by the pillow. His lips are still tingling. "Don’t mind me, losers, keep playing your board game." He’s aware that his voice is coming out on the borderline of hysterical, and Hanamaki’s silence is fairly telling.
"Should I go get Iwaizumi?" Matsukawa asks dubiously, after a long moment.
"Absolutely not," Tooru hisses from under Hanamaki’s covers. "Let me freak out in peace."
"What about my peace?" Hanamaki grumbles, poking at Tooru’s side through the duvet. "It’s almost bedtime."
"I’m having a crisis!"
"Yeah," Matsukawa says, followed by the chewing of dried squid, "obviously. Can I please go get Iwaizumi?"
"Coward," whines Tooru, burying his head more deeply under the covers. It smells like fresh laundry detergent, because Hanamaki is blessedly clean in ways no one else in Tooru’s friend circle bothers with. Best of all, he smells like water, and Tooru still tastes Kuroo’s flames, can still feel the pressure of his mouth, but in the face of Hanamaki’s soothing scent, it fades just a little.
"Seems to me like there’s someone hiding in our room under the covers right before curfew," Hanamaki says. "I don’t wanna name any names, but if we’re looking for cowards…"
The worst part is, Tooru knows he’s right. He can still see Kuroo’s face in his mind, lips slick and face slack with shock, his unforgivably messy hair going in more directions than usual from the pull of Tooru’s fingers through it. It had been soft, Kuroo’s hair. Soft like his lips, like his little gasp into Tooru’s mouth.
Fuck, Tooru thinks. Fuck.
"Yeah, I’m calling Iwaizumi," Matsukawa says, and Tooru burrows deeper into the covers.
Hajime does knock on the door, and Matsukawa pointedly clears his throat in Tooru’s direction before he answers it.
"Where is he?" Hajime asks, and Hanamaki grunts.
"Under my blankets," he says. "We’re going to the convenience store, and we’ll be back in fifteen minutes."
The door closes, and Hajime sits on the edge of Hanamaki’s bed.
"I’m a moron," Tooru says, into the silence.
"Tell me something I don’t know." Hajime falls backward, his weight crushing Tooru into the bed. "Did you get into a fight with Kuroo?"
"Um." Tooru thinks about what he wants to say. "Not exactly." It’s the opposite of a fight, he thinks, resisting the urge to touch his lips with his fingers.
An impatient grunt. "Did you say something you regret?"
"… Sort of," Tooru ventures.
Sighing, Hajime stands up and grabs Tooru by the ankle and pulls him out of Hanamaki’s bed. "You can sleep on my couch tonight. This is a one night offer, Shittykawa. Fix things with him tomorrow."
"Thank you," Tooru says, quietly, and Hajime shakes his head.
"That’s what best friends are for," he replies.
He feels stupid, because he’s spent every moment since he turned thirteen trying not to like boys, not to want them, and it’s all been unraveled in a couple of months under Kuroo’s teasing grins and Tooru’s own lack of control.
He shuts himself up in the gym after class, turning the simulation on and selecting a grassy plain, so he can practice linking spells. He repeats the exercises mindlessly as he keeps a Token up in the air above him, hoping to clear his thoughts, but in the end, they keep coming back to Kuroo anyway. Kuroo, with his arm around Tooru’s shoulders. Kuroo, with his tiny excited little smile when an opponent is tough. Kuroo’s lips at his temple, or leaning back into him as Tooru shows him how to find ambient magic.
Distracted, he sends a gust of wind to sheer the grass short from one side of the gym to the other, and the cut blades of grass flutter slowly down as the wind dies.
"As impressive as always," comes a voice from behind him, and Tooru turns to see Kuroo, hands in his pockets and jaw tight.
"I locked the Arena."
"You always use the same passcode when you’re in here, Oikawa." Kuroo runs a hand through his hair, and then drops his hand to fiddle with his tie. It’s as sloppily tied as ever, knot hanging crooked just below his collarbones. "Four zeroes isn’t exactly a difficult password to remember."
Hajime had told him the same thing, once. Tooru’s never bothered to change it because Hajime’s not great at remembering passwords, and Tooru always wants Hajime to be able to get in, even if he’s in the middle of practicing. Tooru licks his lips and plasters a superior expression on his face. "Usually, people know better than to interrupt me when I’m in here."
"Why did you kiss me?"
Tooru squeezes the token in his hand more tightly, the ridges around the edge digging into his palm. "Seemed like the thing to do~" He laughs. "You should count yourself lucky! Plenty of girls vie for that honor on a daily basis!"
He steals a glance up at Kuroo through his lashes, only to find himself unable to look away. Kuroo’s eyes are pinned on him, his mouth set in an uncertain frown. "I’m not a girl, Tooru."
"First name basis, now?" Tooru takes a quick breath. His thoughts racing, he wonders what he wants to say. "And I know. That you’re not a girl. That’s…" Exhales. "That’s part of the appeal."
Whatever Kuroo was expecting, it wasn’t that, and Tooru feels a flicker of triumph that he’s finally surprised Kuroo, for once. It’s quickly swallowed up by his anxiety, though, because Tooru, after today, is sure they both can never go back to how they were before Tooru kissed him. So what’s left, Tooru decides, is where they go from here.
"You’re into guys?" Kuroo steps closer, coming into Tooru’s personal space. "Are you into me?"
Part of Tooru wants to say no, but a surprisingly large part of Tooru, now that Kuroo is standing in front of him, looking careful and tired and vulnerable, just wants to kiss Kuroo again.
"I’ve never told anyone," Tooru admits. "I’m from an old magic family. We’re expected to do certain things."
"Like have two-point-five children," replies Kuroo, with a weak smile. His hooded eyes are watching Tooru carefully.
"Yes," Tooru says. "And you’re a fire magician, and I’m…"
"Afraid of fire." Kuroo steps closer again. Tooru hadn’t realized the Arena was cold until Kuroo’s warm hand encircles his wrist. "All that aside, though… Are you into me?"
"Yes," Tooru chokes out, and Kuroo grabs a fistful of Tooru’s shirt and drags him in to meet his mouth, knuckles digging into Tooru’s chest as Tooru melts into him. He nips at Tooru’s lower lip, and then sucks on it until Tooru’s knees go weak, and Tooru has to put his hands on Kuroo’s broad shoulders for balance.
They keep kissing, learning the feel of each other's mouths, and Kuroo is just as good at this as he is learning new magic exercises, or strategies for Arena. He leaves Tooru’s mouth to lick and bite his way to Tooru’s ear, licking there and nibbling down his jaw to his throat as Tooru winds a hand back into the mess of Kuroo’s hair.
"Okay?" Kuroo asks, sucking and biting at the curve where Tooru’s neck meets his shoulder. Tooru can feel his smile against his skin.
"Not bad for a beginner," Tooru replies, yanking on Kuroo’s hair until he pulls back enough to kiss him on the mouth again. He shifts closer and feels the press of Kuroo’s hardness against his belly, and an answering heat pools in his lower stomach.
Kuroo kisses him like there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing more. Like Tooru is the fire at the center of a glass ball and Kuroo is trying to set him alight without burning him. He bites and teases and licks, and Tooru finally gives in completely and takes, letting his hands wander up along the strong back muscles and then down along Kuroo’s biceps as he’s kissed breathless.
Kuroo is as hot literally as he is metaphorically, and the heat stings Tooru’s palms. It’s not enough to hurt, just enough to remind him that he’s playing with fire. He ignores that, as best as he can, and lets his fingertips dip just into the waistband of Kuroo’s uniform slacks, earning him a low moan and a pulsing reaction from Kuroo’s cock, still full and hard along Tooru’s lower abs.
"Shit," Kuroo says. "You’re so…"
Then they’re tumbling back into the grass, and Kuroo’s straddling him, pinning Tooru beneath him, their cocks pressing together as Kuroo takes advantage of this new position to take Tooru’s mouth deeper, exploring between his teeth and skating along the insides of his cheeks. Tooru catches his tongue and sucks lightly on it, and Kuroo groans loudly into his mouth, hips thrusting down and sending shocks up through Tooru’s body all the way to his head, where a buzz as loud as ambient magic is making it hard to think about anything but the push of Kuroo’s cock against his own.
It’s all Tooru can do to dig his fingers into the grass and dirt and lifts his hips up for more of that friction as he sucks Kuroo’s upper lip into his mouth. One of Kuroo’s hands is wandering up his stomach between them, over his shirt, and Tooru whines as a thumb brushes across his nipple.
"I wanted you from the moment you spilled tea on yourself my first day," Kuroo mumbles against his lips, and at that, Tooru shivers, bucking up again right when Kuroo is pushing down, gyrating against him, the material of their uniform slacks and their underwear doing nothing to keep them from feeling how hard they are.
"Everyone wants me," Tooru replies, prying one hand free so that he can grip Kuroo’s hip. He can feel little bursts of wind magic ruffling the grass as his kisses get more desperate, and Kuroo’s hands, running up and down his sides, get hotter, like his own magic is clawing out as he ruts into Tooru.
Kuroo pants into his mouth, and Tooru’s sure he’s doing the same, everything in him focused on how close he is to coming. He can feel the strain of it in his thighs, and he plants his feet into the ground for more leverage as everything coils up, faster than it ever has when he’s alone in the shower, jerking himself off.
Then he’s coming in his underwear, messy and embarrassingly loud, and Kuroo’s laugh is cut off as he pulses against Tooru’s hips, a wet spot spreading across Tooru’s hip. Kuroo collapses into him bonelessly, still shuddering, and Tooru stares, wide-eyed, up at the transformed gym ceiling, grass tickling the back of his neck.
"This is not how I imagined my afternoon practice going," Tooru says, to keep himself from panicking again. Instead he focuses on what he likes, like the heavy weight of Kuroo on top of him. "Or any afternoon practice, ever."
"This was stupid," Kuroo says, into Tooru’s neck. His breath is hot, and his lips tickle the skin. The words, though, have Tooru tensing, until Kuroo continues. "Everyone knows your code, and we share a room."
"Then why…" He tries to get a look at Kuroo’s face, but it’s still buried in his shoulder.
Kuroo fumbles for the hand Tooru still has digging into the grass, and laces their fingers together. "I didn’t want you to keep avoiding me."
"I won’t," Tooru says, then he cringes. "These are Iwa-chan’s trousers."
"Your Token is still floating above us," Kuroo says. "That’s some multitasking." Kuroo’s laughter against his skin feels better than it has any right to, and for now, Tooru decides, he won’t worry about the rest of it.
Tooru is overly aware of everything Kuroo does, right now, his magic keyed into Kuroo’s on a level he hasn’t been with anyone else’s since Takeru was born and he’d hovered over the baby’s crib while his father and sister argued over what to use as his last name downstairs. So when Kuroo’s magic sucks in all at once, Tooru looks over at him to see him smiling crookedly at Hajime.
"We didn’t fight. Not really."
"Whatever," Hajime says, returning to his conversation with Matsukawa and Hanamaki about their Elemental Control teacher’s new boyfriend.
"You didn’t tell him what happened," Kuroo says, under his breath, his fingers walking up Tooru's knee to his thigh,
Tooru shakes his head. "No," he replies.
"You’ve never told anyone," Kuroo says.
"No," says Tooru again, and then his phone rings, interrupting them.
He pulls it out of his pocket to see who it is, and Hanamaki immediately reaches over and plucks it out of his hands when he goes to answer it, giving the caller ID a desultory glance. "No calls from girlfriends at the dinner table," he says, and Kuroo’s magic shifts, pulling in tighter around him like it's shying away from Tooru, who has gotten used to the warm pressure of it since they crept out of the gym, sweaty and hopeless and tasting of each other.
Tooru wants it back, surprised that he misses something he's only had for a few hours, and he grabs at Kuroo's hand before it can shrink away from him like his magic did, his mind racing.
"Oh," Tooru says, "I think we’re going to break up." He pouts, exaggerating the expression. "Why is it so hard to find the girl for me~?"
"You probably have unreasonable standards," Hajime says, after clicking his teeth. He looks between Kuroo and Tooru again, eyebrows pulling together in the middle of his forehead in one of his ridiculous, angry-looking expressions. "You should stop dating people you don't care about."
"Iwa-chan, don't be silly. I care about everyone I date!"
"You also care very deeply about what brand of toothpaste you use," he replies. "There are different levels of caring."
Kuroo’s hand settles, high on Tooru’s thigh, fingertips at the seam of his sweatpants and ticking at the skin through the cotton. Underneath, Tooru is burned, scarred by another fire magician, but the warmth of Kuroo's hand, squeezing lightly, doesn’t feel as scary as it could.
"You should always care deeply about dental care," Tooru says, happiness as fragile and light as a bubble in the center of his chest. He knows it could pop, at any moment, but he allows himself to savor it while it lasts. "Toothpaste is man's best friend."
"I thought that was dogs," Watari says, bemused, and Tooru laughs.
"I get confused about that sometimes too," he says, with a wide grin. "But that's mostly because my best friend is Iwa-chan and he looks kind of like a dog—" Hajime cracks his knuckles, jaw muscle twitching, and Tooru's words dissolve into cackles.
"Looks like yesterday's crisis is over," Matsukawa says to Hanamaki, and Tooru shoots them a tiny grin before picking up his bowl and starting on his soup.
Sometimes, he traps Tooru against the hall wall and kisses him, too sloppy and rough, until Tooru’s lips are bruised and it feels like it’ll be forever before he can take enough breaths to make up for all the ones Kuroo’s stolen. Then he just leaves Tooru there, panting, and goes into class while Tooru has to figure out where the rest of his thoughts have scattered.
"You don’t look so anxious anymore," says Yahaba, when he catches up with Tooru outside mathematics class two days before their semi-final match. "Before that everyone was wondering whose head you were going to bite off."
"I would eat Kunimi first," Tooru tells him, grinning at Yahaba. The weather is gorgeous, and Tooru feels light. "Then Kindaichi. It’s like with veal. The younger flesh is more tender."
"Gross," Yahaba says, laughing. He really does look relieved. "I heard you broke up with your girlfriend."
"On Tuesday." Tooru sweeps his hair out of his face. "It just wasn’t working out." Minako had looked unsurprised when he’d told her, Tooru thinks. I had a feeling, she’d said, that you weren’t really invested.
Yahaba stares at him for a long minute. "Did you want it to?"
"Hmm?" Tooru loosens his tie. Soon enough, it’ll be warm enough to forgo the blazer entirely.
"Did you want it to work out?" He grips his strap of his bag. "You know, Hanamaki has a theory that you only date girls because you want to be seen dating girls."
Tooru narrows his eyes at Yahaba. "Does he, now? And what do you think, my cute little Yahaba?"
Yahaba shrugs. "I think that your bag looks awfully light for you to be coming from mathematics, Captain." He grins. "Iwaizumi’s gonna murder you."
"Ah, rage keeps him young," Tooru says, letting Yahaba change the subject as they continue walking back toward the dorms.
"No offense," Kunimi adds, looking at Kuroo. "Sometimes I forget you’re, you know, famous for that."
"None taken," Kuroo says, and then casts a sly glance at Tooru. "After all, how can even I compare to your captain?"
"How many times do we have to ask you not to encourage him?" Matsukawa groans, snacking on potato sticks as they wait for the refs to finish conferring.
"At least once more," says Kuroo, as Tooru feigns preening.
After the match, Tooru flush with a victory over Kageyama and a guaranteed slot for his team to the playoffs, pushes Kuroo into a stall in the men’s bathroom and kisses him, hard, peeling away at the material of his jumpsuit to kiss the skin of his throat.
"Not that I’m complaining," Kuroo says, tangling his hand in Tooru’s hair, "but surely all this is not because I snatched a Token off of that four-eyed first year."
"No," Tooru says, "it’s because I always feel like this when we win, but I’ve never—"
"Yeah," Kuroo says, "I get it," and then he yanks Tooru closer and presses an open-mouthed kiss to his lips, tongue slipping in without pause. Tooru curls into it, sliding a hand down Kuroo’s chest and dragging the zipper going down the front of his uniform with it. He licks and nips down the skin above Kuroo’s undershirt, and then unzips the jumpsuit further, until he can see the waistband of Kuroo’s briefs.
His dick is already hard, bulging in the tight white cotton. Tooru runs the backs of his fingers up and down the line of his cock, and Kuroo hisses, claiming Tooru’s mouth in a bruising kiss that clangs their teeth together and makes want surge through him faster than before.
Unwilling to break the kiss, Tooru slants his head for a better angle, and Kuroo eases up until Tooru slips his hand into Kuroo’s underwear to pull his cock out, gripping it for the first time and marveling at how different it feels from his own.
"Fuck," Kuroo says, "yes. Let me—" He reaches for Tooru’s uniform, and Tooru breaks the kiss to bite warningly at Kuroo’s lower lip.
"Don’t," he says, grabbing his hand to stop him as his other hand works slowly up and down Kuroo’s shaft, thumb catching pre-come and dragging it down to smooth his stroke. "Please."
"Is it your burns?" Kuroo asks, after a long, low groan that echoes in the empty bathroom. "I won’t think they’re ugly. I promise."
"It’s not about that," replies Tooru. "I just don’t want anyone to see them." Only Hajime ever has, besides his sister, because both of them had been the ones to help him change his bandages, after he’d been released from the hospital. He’s not sure anyone else knows how severe the scarring is, and he secretly likes that no one treats him like he’s damaged.
"Can I touch them, then?" Kuroo’s voice is husky, and Tooru’s own dick throbs at the tone. He shifts, so that he can push into Kuroo’s thigh, riding it as Kuroo thrusts into his hand.
"Because I want to know." Kuroo grins at him. He’s flushed, and his eyes are wild. Tooru runs his palm over the head of Kuroo’s cock, and watches him bite his lip at the sensation. "Let me."
"No," Tooru says, tightening his grip just a little, and pressing his thumb into the vein on the underside of the dick in his hand, eliciting a high pitched noise this time, and another spurt of pre-come. "Not now."
They both still when the door of the bathroom opens, and someone comes in to wash their hands. Tooru, after a few moments’ consideration, slowly starts to move his hand again, and Kuroo drops his forehead to Tooru’s shoulder, breathing harshly as Tooru focuses on the head, wanting Kuroo to come.
Kuroo shifts closer, until his thigh is pressed more fully between Tooru’s legs, and pins him to the stall wall, rocking into Tooru’s grip and moving his whole lower body to do it, so that Tooru’s cock and balls drag up and down the firm line of his thigh. Tooru muffles a whimper into Kuroo’s neck, his toes curling in his sneakers as he pushes back against the strong thigh pressing into him.
The water turns off, and Tooru is so hard that he knows if Kuroo moves in just the right way, he’ll come. Kuroo is shaking against him, and his cock is throbbing in his hold, getting impossibly harder and leaking as Tooru skates his fingers down back into Kuroo’s underwear to cradle his balls, feeling them tighten up in his hand, drawing into his body.
"Shit, shit, shit," Kuroo says, as soon as the bathroom door swings closed again. "I can’t believe you—" His breath hitches. "While someone was in here, you’re such a—" And then he comes, sticky and wet all over Tooru’s fingers, dripping down between the webs. He bites down on Tooru’s clothed shoulder, and Tooru falls after him, writhing in Kuroo’s grip as he moans loudly enough that if anyone is out in the hallway, they would probably hear it.
Sated, he slumps back against the wall as Kuroo fumbles for toilet tissue, and wipes at his stomach perfunctorily. Then he reaches for Tooru’s hand, cleaning it much more carefully. "Are you busy on Saturday after the practice match?" Kuroo asks, lips brushing Tooru’s in a short kiss, the same way he’d kissed his temple weeks ago. Affectionate, and it makes Tooru’s already rapidly beating heart skip.
"Just homework. Why?"
Kuroo drops the tissue into the toilet. "We should go out and do something." He’s nonchalant, but underneath is a question, and with a sinking feeling, Tooru reads between the lines.
"You mean like a date," says Tooru, watching Kuroo tuck his cock back into his briefs, and zip up his uniform. "You want to go on a date."
"Yeah," Kuroo admits. "With you, specifically."
"I can’t date a boy," Tooru says, taking a step back from Kuroo in the already close quarters.
"Then what is this to you?" Kuroo asks him, a look of concentration on his face as he gestures between them.
"I don't know," replies Tooru. "I just want..."
"I don't just want to have sex with you," Kuroo says, and he grabs Tooru's hand, forcing their fingers to link together. Kuroo's black-tipped fingers curl around his. Their hands look good like that. "I want to introduce you to my mom and stuff. I want you to meet Kenma and see if you can make him talk to you. You’d find it fun to pester him, I know you would. He’d teach you how to play one of his games, and you could try to outthink him."
"I..." Tooru doesn't know what to say to that. Maybe that his family wouldn't think much of Kuroo's, or that Tooru hasn’t spent any length of time in a non-magical environment in years, or that no one knows that Tooru’s even… like this, wanting people like Kuroo instead of people like Minako, and that the idea of other people knowing about… whatever this is, is something Tooru doesn’t want to consider. "I don’t have time for that."
Kuroo studies him, a picture of inscrutability, and then pulls away from Tooru, exiting the stall and, after washing his hands, leaving the bathroom all-together. Tooru rests his back against the painted metal, and, with come cooling in his underwear and on his belly, wonders if his whole body is supposed to feel this cold when Kuroo walks away.
"What did you fight about now?" Hajime asks, when Tooru shows up with his pillow and blanket to camp out on his couch. "Kuroo seriously doesn’t seem like the type to argue."
"We didn’t argue," says Tooru. "It’s… complicated."
Hajime stares in silence at him as he makes the couch up like a bed, and then he walks over to sit on the arm of the couch, behind Tooru’s head so that Tooru doesn’t have to look at him. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
Tooru clenches his hands into fists. "No," he says, and Hajime rests a hand on Tooru’s head, a gentle, steady pressure.
"If you change your mind, remember what I said."
"About my personality being terrible?" Tooru asks.
"About me liking you anyway," replies Hajime, and then he hangs out in the living room until Tooru’s almost asleep, like he knows Tooru’s been having nightmares about Ushiwaka again.
With his nerves on edge, he keeps… having flashbacks, remembering that other fire. Kuroo’s magic is strong, too, in this randomized Arena, full of things that can burn, much like the first time they’d used the simulator, and it's not helping Tooru to rationalize, not when Kuroo himself is the source of a lot of mixed up emotions.
They bicker continuously, even as Kuroo defaults to Tooru’s lead. And maybe he’s as frustrated as Tooru, about the fact that neither of them can speak to each other, but Kuroo reacts to Yahaba’s next attack with a gush of fire so thick it burns a valley into the ground almost a meter wide, close enough to Tooru that he screams.
"Are you trying to kill someone?!"
"You know I’m not," he replies. "I needed to get all of Yahaba’s vines at once or we would have lost our Tokens to him."
"Fire magicians never think things through," Tooru says, glaring at him. "You know using that much magic is dangerous, or didn’t you learn your lesson the last time you almost blew up a school gym?"
A choked gasp, from somewhere behind him, and Hanamaki’s water gushes out around him to make sure Kuroo’s fire hasn’t left any embers in the grass.
"Guys?" Watari looks faintly alarmed, but Tooru can’t see past the range of expressions that flit across his face.
Kuroo rips his Token off his neck, throwing it on the floor. "I’m done."
"Now you’re done? You should have been done before you decided to roast your own team!"
"You have to trust me, Oikawa!"
Tooru knows he’s being ridiculous, and that this isn’t about the fire magic, not really. But a part of him— the part of him his sister had wanted to protect, when she’d told him about Kuroo in the first place, is afraid of Kuroo, and of his magic. "So you can burn me up like you burned up your school?" Tooru snarls back, his hands still shaking from how close the fire had come to touching him. He’d been stupid to think he could ever be partners with Kuroo. He will never forget what it feels like to burn. "I’ll pass on having that experience again, thanks."
"You don’t think I’m going to burn you, Oikawa," Kuroo says darkly. "You’re just scared to admit who you are and what you want, so you’re clinging to this as an excuse!"
"You think that’s an excuse?" Tooru’s anger sloshes around in his stomach along with his frustration and his misery and everything else.
"You’d be a lot happier if you stopped caring so much about what other people think," Kuroo says. His hands are clenched into fists, but he doesn’t look as angry as he did before, like maybe he’s pitying Tooru instead, and that just makes Tooru more vicious.
"That’s what happens when you’re a first gen and no one expects anything from you," Tooru says, narrowing his eyes and looking straight at Kuroo. "You already won the Magician’s Court, and all your friends and family are fine with--" He stops himself from saying anything about Kuroo's sexuality, and Kuroo wanting Tooru to meet his mom, or any of that other bewildering, confusing stuff, and lets those words sit behind his teeth as he shakes holding them in.
"And if you fuck it all up, it won’t be a big deal for you because you don’t seem to care about what anyone thinks!"
"I care about what you think," Kuroo says, quietly. "Or I did." And then he walks out of the Arena, and then out of the gym-just like he’d walked out of the bathroom last week-and his Token, lying on the forest floor between Tooru and Yahaba, flickers once, twice, then gutters out.
Coach cancels the simulation, and the gym fades back into existence, the forest disappearing.
"I don’t know what that fight was actually about, but fix it." He glares at Tooru. "It’s your responsibility as captain. The Swan Valley match is next week."
"Yes sir," Tooru says, subdued, and then escapes before anyone on his team can even consider cornering him to chat.
His anger has faded during the walk from the gym back to the dorms, and now there’s just a lot of everything else. His worry about the Swan Valley match, the nightmares he can’t make go away, and the things Kuroo wants, wanted, from him, that Tooru’s not equipped to give.
"I’ve been having my nightmares again," Tooru says, into the silence. "The one where I’m on fire and my magic won’t put it out."
"I’m so frustrated my magic is coming out stronger than I want it to," Kuroo replies shortly. "But it knows not to touch you. I’ve been very firm about it."
"I think I know that in my heart," Tooru says. "But my head can be very persuasive." He can’t bring himself to apologize. It’s not something he does. "I didn’t mean to bring that up in front of everyone. About your school."
"I’m sure you didn't," Kuroo replies, and then he turns over in bed and faces the wall.
Kuroo doesn’t move or speak again until Tooru turns the lights out to go to sleep, three hours later.
"Kenma was with me in the gym when I set it on fire. He was always with me, before. I used to go bug him about every little new thing I learned, when we were little. Just go over to his house and show him. He’s brilliant, like you. Understands magic like it’s one of his video games and every move has stats, even though he can’t use it. You’re all benevolent dictator about it, but he’s just… pure strategy, I guess."
Tooru lies on his back, and just listens.
"He only plays volleyball because I nagged him into it, but he’s really, really good. He’s leading his team to a lot of victories, this year. We were just discussing strategies, you know? And stuff happened— I told you about it, kind of— and my magic slipped out of my control. I hadn’t had enough training about that. Just pull out classes once a week, and I thought I was good to go."
"No one got hurt, though."
"My fire burned everything but Kenma," Kuroo says. "He was untouched, in the middle of all that destruction, just shaking, and as awake as I’ve ever seen him." Tooru knows what it feels like, to be in the middle of all that flame. "I left for Hong Kong, and I haven’t seen him in person since. He texts me a lot, still, but…"
Tooru fists his hands in the sheets.
"But I think he’s a little afraid of me, now, because he was there when the volleyball court burned down. He would never tell me he was afraid, but I don’t want to see him and know he is. And I don’t want…" Tooru can hear the shift of blankets. "That look in your eyes, sometimes. I don’t want to see it in his. I don’t want to see it in yours. Please don’t… use that against me in arguments."
Tooru closes his eyes and just breathes. He wants to go over to Kuroo’s bed and climb in with him, until he stops hearing him shake. He doesn’t, though, because then Kuroo might feel how much Tooru is shaking himself.
Tooru is tired of feeling like this, and being too proud to show anyone.
He gets out of bed and goes down to Hajime’s room, knocking on the door. Hajime answers, already in his pajamas, his glasses perched low on his nose. "Ah," he says, "now you’re ready to talk." He gestures for Tooru to come in, and Tooru does, slightly bewildered, wondering where to start as he stands in the middle of Hajime’s living room, without anything to hold but his door keys.
"I’m…" He buries his face in his hands. "I'm still having nightmares about the Magician's Court."
Hajime pushes his glasses up on his face. "I know," he says. "You were tossing and turning all night on Wednesday."
"I'm worried about facing Ushiwaka-chan in competition again," is the next thing he says. He'd come downstairs in bare feet, and now he's noticing that Hajime's floor is freezing against the soles of his feet. It lances up through his calves, and he rocks back and forth from the balls to the heel.
"It's normal, that you're worried about that." Hajime taps his foot. "Not that you're ever normal, but it's not… you don't need to be ashamed of that, idiot."
"I don't want to be an engineer. I want to be an Elemental Arena player."
At that, Hajime laughs. "Oikawa, no one with two eyes thinks anything different." His foot stops tapping, then. "What else, Tooru?"
Tooru gathers himself for the last thing. "I’ve been doing things with Kuroo," he forces himself to say. "Girlfriend things." He laughs, but it turns into something closer to a sob at the end, strangled. "Or boyfriend things, I guess."
He looks up from his examination of his toes to see Hajime frowning at him. "I thought so."
"What?!" Tooru flinches in shock. "Why would…" He stares at Hajime, who doesn't seem the least bit surprised or shocked. "What would make you think that?!"
"Unfortunately, no one knows you like I do, Oikawa," Hajime says, sitting down on the couch and looking flustered for the first time in this conversation. "That’s why I kinda knew, in middle school, when you… had a crush on me."
"You never said anything," Tooru whispers, throat tight. He feels his magic tingling under his skin, and he tamps it down, trapping it there. "I thought…"
"What good would that have done for me to say anything?" Hajime scratches his nose, his whole face pink, but he meets Tooru's gaze. "I thought it was a phase, honestly, because after that you started dating all those girls. Then…"
"Then what?" Tooru wraps his arms around himself as his wind starts to escape in his distress.
Hajime coughs. "Then, last year, I realized you didn’t actually act like you liked any of them, and I wondered if maybe…"
"It wasn't a phase." Tooru laughs dryly. "I thought no one would ever suspect if I played my cards right." He looks at Hajime from under the fall of his hair. "I didn’t want you to suspect."
Hajime sighs, slumping back into the cushions. "It wasn’t my place to make you say anything." He takes off his glasses, then, folding them up in his hand. "When I saw how you reacted to Kuroo, though… It was a bit familiar."
"Ah," Tooru says, bereft of anything to say, lost and certain any moment the ground is going to open up beneath his feet and swallow him. "Was it?" He can feel his hair blowing, and he grits his teeth.
Hajime lets that settle before he leans forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "So that’s what you guys are arguing about, right? He wants the whole deal and you’re worried about your dad and everyone else."
"You say that like they’re insignificant things to worry about!" Tooru flushes as everything in the room suddenly starts to whirl around from wild wind magic, papers fluttering from off their shelves to scatter on the floor. "They’re not."
"They’re not," Hajime agrees. "Between you and me, though, I think our friends won’t mind at all. And your dad is a lot of bluster but he loves you, just like he loves your sister." Hajime scratches his neck. "At least you won’t be getting anyone pregnant?"
"I think he’d prefer that to me being…" Tooru waves his hand. "What do I do?"
"What do you want to do?" Hajime holds up a hand. "Shut up for a second, Shittykawa, and listen. If you could do anything you want, without worrying about letting anyone else down or not living up to someone else’s expectations, what would you do?"
"Decimate Swan Valley in the Arena finals," Tooru says promptly.
Hajime rolls his eyes, getting up from the couch to go and pick up his disturbed paperwork. It looks like all the second years' proposals for the school festival in June. "About Kuroo, dumbass."
"Oh." Tooru licks his lips, and then looks down at his hands, remembering how they looked laced with Kuroo's. "I guess… I'd date him…" he says, slowly, but more surely than he'd expected.
"Then that’s my official opinion on what you should do," Hajime says. "Now go away so I can sleep." It's soft, though, not gruff and demanding like Hajime's voice gets when he's really annoyed, or really wants Tooru to leave.
Tooru walks over to him and gives him a hug, digging his chin into Hajime's shoulder. "Iwa-chan, I love you."
"You’re not the worst thing that ever happened to me," Hajime replies while resting a hand firmly at the center of his back, which Tooru knows is as good as an 'I love you, too'.
Finally, he does, watching the spilling green liquid as it spreads. Tooru nibbles on his lower lip as the image becomes clear, perfectly crisp in front of him. It’s fire again, and this time, when it sprawls out, vivid and untamed, across the rice paper, Tooru is almost expecting it.
"All right, then," he says, to the empty room, dragging his index paper across the tea-fortune. Ritual magic is something Tooru’s always been good at, and even he isn’t in denial enough to ignore a sign that comes in threes.
He calls his sister, then, staring down at the finished tea ceremony, and she answers after a few rings. "Tooru?"
"How did you know you wanted to run away with that guy?" He winces at how demanding he sounds.
"What?" There’s the sound of rustling papers, and then her creaky office door closing.
"In high school," Tooru says. "What made you decide that it was worth it, to run away and have Takeru and all that with that guy?"
She coughs, surprised. "I thought things with your girlfriend weren’t serious?"
"They’re not," Tooru says. "We broke up."
"What’s this about, little brother?" Her voice has gentled, no longer confused or worried.
Tooru stares at the fortune in front of him, and thinks about his burns, and about how the fire is a different type of frightening when Kuroo’s hand cups the back of his neck and lights him up. "I’m trying to make a decision about something," he says, "and I remembered that I’m not the first person in our family to excel at rituals."
"We did an i-go ritual," she says. "By the end of it, we’d tied, and the ritual magic held." Tooru stares out the window. I-go rituals, he remembers from last year's rituals class, even out magical energies over the course of a game of go, and detect if magic is compatible for other types of rituals, since those require trust. "I figured we at least had a shot at making it work."
There's a third use, Tooru recalls, of i-go rituals. He runs his thumb along the wire of the tea whisk, and thinks back to Kuroo's story about the burning building, and about Kenma, untouched by the flames.
"I-go rituals don’t have to necessarily be a game of go, right?" Tooru picks up a square of rice cake. "They can be other things, right?" He takes a bite, letting it stick to his teeth.
"As long as you face each other as equals," his sister says, thoughtfully. "Tooru, what’s this all about, really?"
"I think…" He lets his words trail off, and presses the pads of his fingers to the rice paper in front of him. It still thrums with magic. "I think I’m going to do my best to make you Dad’s favorite."
"I’ll talk to you soon," he says, ending the call. He sets his phone down on the table and starts to clean up the tea ceremony.
As long as we can face each other as equals, he thinks, sending the tray to the sink at the back of the room with a wave of his hand. He picks up his phone again, and looks up the official rules of a Magician’s Court battle.
"What’s this about?" Kuroo asks quietly, jolting Tooru from his thoughts. Kuroo’s lazy smile is brittle at the corners, but it’s still there, and Tooru tentatively smiles back.
"How far are you into the high school rituals curriculum?"
"I just started first year," Kuroo replies, shoving his hands into his pockets and slumping. "I might need a little help."
"After this," Tooru says, "I’ll go over the first few chapters with you." He sucks his lower lip into his mouth. "If you’d like."
"I’d like," Kuroo says, evenly, and Tooru nods. "But I’d like to know what 'this' is, Oikawa."
Tooru nods, and types in four zeros to unlock the gym, gesturing for Kuroo to follow him inside. Kuroo walks in first, and stops so suddenly that Kuroo bumps into his back, catching himself by curling his hands on Kuroo’s shoulders.
"Oikawa," Kuroo says, "this is a Magician’s Court."
"Fit for a king, don’t you think?" Dropping his hands, he walks around Kuroo, coming to stand in front of him, tugging the zipper of his sweatshirt up and down as he figures out what to say. He’d thought of a thousand things he might say, over the past couple of days, but now, in the moment, none of them seem right. "Do you know what an i-go ritual is?"
"I saw it on television once," Kuroo says. "Two old guys were playing, because they wanted to cast a really strong ancestral rite or something."
"It’s in the second year textbook." Glancing uncertainly at the set-up behind him, he inhales with purpose. "It’s used for a lot of things. Balancing magic, and checking for magical compatibility for rituals are two of the major ones."
"What does that have to do with the Magician’s Court?"
"It’s rather old fashioned, these days, to use go as the game in the ritual. It goes back to the Four Arts and all that." Tooru waves a hand dismissively. "But the point is, the game has to be one in which both participants in the ritual are well matched."
"You want to do this ritual with me?"
"Yes," Tooru says. "If you’re willing, I think…" He straightens, and unzips his sweatshirt entirely, peeling it down off his arms to reveal the thin material of his tank shirt underneath. He doesn’t look down to see himself, all too familiar with the scarring, but Kuroo’s eyes follow the burns down his shoulder and bicep, and linger where they disappear under his armpit. "I think we could successfully complete it."
Kuroo’s eyelids drop to half-mast, his lashes casting dark shadows on his cheeks. "Why do you want to do this ritual?"
"Because it’s the only way I know how to settle what’s between us," replies Tooru, and whatever Kuroo finds in his search of Tooru’s face must be enough, because Kuroo walks past him and takes his spot on the champion’s side of the court, leaving the challenger spot for Tooru.
"To first blood?" Kuroo asks. "I promised I wouldn’t use my fire against you."
"To first yield," corrects Tooru, calling wind to his fingertips as Kuroo’s palms fill with fire. "And just this once, you’re allowed."
The simulator wheezes to life as Tooru activates it, clear barriers springing up around them to protect them from the outside interference of a non-existent audience.
He reaches out with all his senses, and starts to pull in ambient magic, setting the ritual into motion as he attacks.
It's still like second nature, to look for weaknesses in defense, and even if Tooru hasn't participated in a battle since the Magician's Court two years ago, his muscles still remember how to dodge as Kuroo sends streams of fire to cage him in. Tooru buffets them away with wind as the ambient magic grows, determined to complete the ritual, even as he sees Ushijima out of the corner of his eye with every step he takes closer to the champion's side of the court. This isn't Ushijima he's facing, though, it's Kuroo, who learned to put out fires with the strength of his will just to avoid hurting anyone because of the force of his power.
Kuroo is coming toward him, too, not content to wait for Tooru's approach, breaking free of Tooru's rapidly summoned wind manacles and forcing him left with a whip of fire.
A glimpse of Kuroo's face reminds him of the sheer intensity he'd seen on a television screen two years ago, bundled up in blankets on his bed, fuzzy on painkillers and wanting to see how the whole thing ended.
The ambient magic peaks, and Tooru twists his wind, snaking it between Kuroo's legs and tripping him, taking advantage of Kuroo's position to straddle him, summoning wind to his hand and sharpening it into a blade to press to Kuroo's throat.
Tooru feels the ritual magic singing inside of him as he holds his razor edge of wind poised at Kuroo’s neck. Kuroo is panting under him, bright and emitting heat in waves as he holds a ball of fire centimeters from Tooru’s heart.
Less than a minute, Tooru thinks, from start to finish.
"Do you yield?" Tooru asks, sealing the ritual on his side, and Kuroo must feel this shift in Tooru's magic too, because he licks his lips and grins, full out, a Cheshire Cat smile of smug pleasure.
"Do you?" Kuroo replies, and his magic surges to meet Tooru’s, mixing with it briefly to taste it and memorize it all over again before withdrawing, leaving them separate again. "What was that?"
Tooru balances himself with one hand, and then releasing his wind magic with the other, grasps Kuroo’s wrist, holding it in place. The fire held between his fingertips flickers, but he doesn’t extinguish it. Tooru had known he wouldn’t, because when Kuroo closes his hand on it, the fire sometimes sneaks out from between his fingers.
"This ritual used to be used in the Heian period to cement bonds between warriors," Tooru says, looking right into Kuroo’s eyes. "The balancing of magic and ability to perform rituals in tandem was an important part of being a samurai."
"Are we samurai now?" Kuroo’s forehead is wrinkled with concentration. A bead of sweat rests in the dip above his upper lip.
"Most important, though, was that the ritual only worked if the two participants trusted each other's magical intent completely." He presses Kuroo’s hand right against his heart. Kuroo’s breath catches as the fabric burns to nothing, black ash falling down between them. When Tooru drops Kuroo’s wrist, Kuroo snatches it back, curling it into a fist as he stares at the unblemished skin of Tooru’s chest, only the hint of old burn scars peeking through the hole in the material.
"How did you…?"
"When you told me about the school fire, you said only Kenma hadn’t burned." Tooru touches the undamaged skin. "It reminded me, later, that magic has its own will. That’s why wind magic is playful even if its magician is not, or why fire magic is untamable, even when the magician has iron control. Your magic didn’t want to burn Kenma. He’s been near you so long, it recognized him as something not to hurt." He resettles his weight so that he’s sitting back on Kuroo’s lap. "The i-go ritual allowed samurai to take the measure of each other's magic, so that if, in a battle, their magic lashed out, it would know…"
"Who shouldn’t be hurt," Kuroo finishes. "Who to protect." He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing. "My magic can’t hurt you? Not even by accident?"
"Not at all," Tooru says. "I know it’s not much, but…" He bends forward again, to press his lips to Kuroo’s forehead, so light he’s not sure his lips actually touch skin.
"You’re terrible at just saying 'I’m sorry', aren’t you?" Kuroo slides his hand up Tooru’s arms, pausing at the first touch of burns and then continuing upwards. "You made it impossible for you to be afraid of me."
Tooru struggles to concentrate as Kuroo’s fingers trace the sleeve of his tank, dipping down to the slice of exposed ribs. "And your best friend, too. I’m pretty sure he’s always been safe. It’s the same magic that protects the non-magical parents of magical babies, you know."
"So now you’re included in a group consisting of my best friends and parents?"
"Not just that," Tooru says. "You’re also…" He hesitates. "You’re also included in mine."
"And you showed me your scars," Kuroo says. "Oikawa Tooru, this is all feeling very symbolic and romantic."
"I'm not sure about a lot of things," Tooru says. "I don't know what I'm doing after this year, or if I'll ever want to introduce you to any of my family besides my sister. I'm…" He swallows. "I do know that I like you, though, and Iwa-chan told me that I should definitely date you. If you still want—"
Kuroo curls himself up, abs straining, to kiss him, using his hand to pull Tooru down to the floor with him with a gentle pressure on his neck. Tooru would have followed Kuroo's mouth anyway, happy to taste that heat again, and he wonders if associating Kuroo with fire will eventually make the nightmares fade away.
"I still want," Kuroo says, against Tooru's open lips. "Trust me." It's barely a whisper, but…
"Okay," Tooru says, licking into Kuroo's mouth, and he can feel Kuroo's smile all the way down to his bones.
Kuroo's hands against his bare skin for the first time is intoxicating, every stroke of his palm leaving Tooru a little harder, rutting against him. He undresses Tooru without ever letting their lips part for more than a few seconds unless it's to suck a mark into Tooru's neck or shoulders, and their magic mingles as Tooru curls forward into him, relishing the nails scratching hard down his back.
Kuroo strokes them both off in one hand, fast and rough, like they're running a race, as they sweat and strive toward their peak at the center of a completed ritual, their voices carrying too loudly in the echoing gym. Tooru screams his orgasm into Kuroo's stubbled cheek, feels Kuroo's come splatter onto his bare belly a few moments later as he bites down on Tooru's ear.
"We’ve got to stop doing this," Kuroo gasps, his hands resting sticky and warm on Tooru's thighs.
"Getting off?" Tooru shivers, and Kuroo chuckles low in his throat, before warmth wraps around Tooru, without a hint of the fire that's undoubtedly the source of it.
"No," he replies. "Forgetting we have our own room."
"Probably," Tooru concedes, and then he rests his head on Kuroo's chest, right atop his heart.
"No one is unbeatable," Kuroo reminds him.
"I know," says Tooru, refusing to back down. The lines around Ushijima’s mouth deepen before he turns away first. "Plus, I promised Iwa-chan we’d win today if he came." He gestures out the the stands in the general vicinity of where he’d seen Hajime earlier, and Kuroo scans the audience until he finds him.
"He’ll probably kick your ass with your own math book if you lose now," Yahaba interjects, before returning his focus to untangling Watari’s shoelaces.
"Iwa-chan is so violent." Tooru bats his eyelashes at Kuroo. "You won’t let him kill me, right?"
"Hmm," Kuroo says, with a kitty cat grin, "I dunno, Oikawa, why should I save you?"
"Because you adore me." He shoots another glance over at Swan Valley’s team. Ushijima stands slightly apart from them. Tooru, on the other hand, is surrounded by his team, and he knows, when the match starts, Kuroo will be watching his back, with fire magic that cannot burn him, and will protect him from the kind that can.
At that thought, Tooru takes a deep breath, and takes Kuroo’s hand in his, linking their fingers together.
"Oikawa?" Kuroo asks, surprised, and it’s loud enough to gain Matsukawa’s attention.
"Wait a minute," Matsukawa says, voice carrying to the rest of the team. "Is this why Oikawa’s been having all those crises? Those were gay crises?"
Tooru flushes all the way to the tips of his ears as they all turn to stare at him, but he doesn’t let go of Kuroo’s hand. "I only had one crisis," he says, as Kuroo sweeps his thumb back and forth along the outside of Tooru’s.
"It was more like a series of increasingly odd crises," says Matsukawa, thoughtfully. "It culminated with that battle royale in the gym, though. Although the 'camping out in Makki’s bed and hiding from the world' episode was also a highlight."
"A highlight for who?" Hanamaki frowns. "You guys are…?"
"Yes," Tooru replies, when Kuroo doesn’t. Kuroo is still looking at Tooru in barely concealed amazement.
"I can’t believe you were having a gay crisis right under our noses," moans Matsukawa. "I would have taken it more seriously!"
"To be fair, Oikawa had a series of crises a few years ago when Firefly got cancelled," Hanamaki replies. "It’s hard to know when the issue is serious."
"That was serious." Tooru says. "That show was a treasure, and the early cancellation was criminal!"
Kuroo’s face melts into a sly grin. "You know, I haven’t seen it…"
"I refuse to date someone who has never seen Firefly."
"But now you get to watch it with me," he says, laughing, as Watari makes gagging noises in the background. "That can be our reward, when we bring the Token championship home." His eyes narrow, and his mouth curves into a slow smile Tooru wants kiss over and over again.
"Ushiwaka is the last monster I have to slay this term," Tooru says, more seriously. "We can’t take this match lightly."
There's so much tied up in Tooru's rivalry with Ushijima Wakatoshi, and instead of dreading it, Tooru's almost looking forward to this chance to take him down.
"We won't," Hanamaki tells him, still looking back and forth between Kuroo and Tooru with a speculation. "We wouldn’t want you to miss your opportunity to gloat for the rest of the season."
"Gloating is good for my skin." He squeezes Kuroo’s hand one more time and drops it as their coach approaches them, looking up to the timer marking the start. It’s set to five minutes, and the gymnasium starts to transform into a slippery-floored rainforest, complete with tropical birds and tree frogs.
"What's the plan, Oikawa?" The coach is looking to Tooru, and Tooru runs his eyes over Swan Valley's team one more time.
"Kindaichi and Kunimi will take the second years, and Matsukawa and Hanamaki will take out their water magicians." Coach nods, and Tooru continues. "That leaves Yahaba and Watari to handle that tricky earth magician along with the wind magician that always tags along with him. And Kuroo and I…" Tooru quirks a grin. "We'll take Ushiwaka-chan."
"You sure?" Hanamaki nudges him with an elbow. "I wouldn't mind cooling him off with a few water spells."
"Monster slaying," Tooru says, cupping his ribs where the worst of the burns stretch out almost to his navel. "David didn't outsource the slaying of Goliath, did he?"
"You are not David," Hanamaki replies. "Where is Iwaizumi when we need to keep Oikawa in line?" He throws his hands up in defeat. "He left the team to get out of babysitting duty, and now the task has fallen to poor Kuroo."
"Oh, it's not all bad," Kuroo replies with a leer.
Matsukawa chokes on the gulp of water he'd just taken, and Hanamaki pounds roughly on his back until he stops choking.
"Two minutes and thirty seconds~" Tooru singsongs, anticipation and nervousness and determination a cocktail in his gut.
They all cast their first spells, to protect their Tokens, and Kuroo steps up behind him, close but not touching.
"If you get too bored after we wipe the floor with Ushijima," he whispers, breath tickling Tooru's ear, "I’ve got a monster to slay, too." He curls an arm around Tooru’s waist. Two minutes until start. "It’s the second year Ritual Magic curriculum. You think you could give me a hand?"
"I’ll think about it," Tooru replies, and then he laughs as he sneaks a kiss to the underside of Kuroo’s jaw. He sends his Token whirring up into the air, and, with Kuroo at his heels, makes his way into the trees. "After we win."
"After," Kuroo agrees, and the buzzer sounds.