“Good news!” Takeda could make a ban against dessert sound like good news. “I just got off the phone. Putting the last touches on your recruiting weekend.”
“Thank you very much, sensei.” Kei double-checked a point of English grammar in his homework. He put his phone on speaker and set it on his desk. How did anyone keep the tenses straight between lie and lay?
“Well, it’s an easy thing now that we have a couple alums there.” Takeda’s inexhaustible modesty really shouldn’t be such a surprise after three years. “Anyway, your schedule with the team doesn’t start till noon next Saturday. You could get a train in the morning and arrive in plenty of time.”
He even checked the train schedules? Kei erased his last entry on his worksheet. “That sounds excellent, thank you, sensei.”
“Of course, if you wanted...” Takeda sounded slightly unsure. “You could go up Friday night. The student who will be hosting you has indicated that would be more than fine.”
Kei permitted himself a small frown. “Is that... expected, sensei?”
Takeda was silent for a moment. “Well,” he began slowly, “it could be a good opportunity to meet a few of the players on more informal terms.”
Kei’s frown deepened. An entire Friday night of study gone. “If you think it is important, sensei.”
Takeda’s chuckle said he saw through Kei’s polite agreement. “If you’re offered a scholarship there, you’ll be spending a lot of time with these boys. It never hurts to see your colleagues in a social setting.”
An image sprang to mind of Takeda and Coach Ukai. They’d gotten absolutely shitfaced after Karasuno’s last game. It had been... an enlightening thing to see. “Of course, sensei.”
“And you’re still sure this is your top choice for university, yes?”
Heat prickled the back of Kei’s neck. “Yes, I’m sure.” Was that too fast? That might have been too fast.
“I don’t blame you.” Takeda didn’t sound like Kei had said anything weird. “Between their volleyball and bioinformatics programs, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find you a better fit.”
“I think so too.” That’s right. This was a logical decision. It made sense.
Kei’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. Perhaps some extra time on campus wouldn’t hurt. He could probably shake off whatever undergrad they’d conned into hosting him. He could walk around campus a little, check out the library, the student center. Might even see—
“So I’ll tell them to expect you Friday night then?” Takeda continued.
“Thank you, sensei. It’s good advice.”
“Excellent.” Takeda sounded pleased. “Your meeting with the team manager isn’t until noon on Saturday — I’ll email you her office number — so you can just head straight to the house you’ll be staying at. Oh, you’ll need the address for that, hang on...”
“A house?” Kei repeated. He put down his pencil. “Don’t freshmen stay in the—”
“Mm, yes.” Rustling paper echoed over the line. “But apparently the men’s volleyball team has been renting a large house for several years now. Ah, here it is! A few underclassmen do stay in the dorms of course, but your host is a second-year. I can email the address to you, or would you prefer to write it down?”
“Email, if you please.” Kei’s throat felt dry. What, all of the upperclassmen stayed in one place?
“Done! Stroke of luck, actually,” Takeda nattered on. “I meant to tell you earlier, but there’s just so much information to get through for things like this. You might recognize the name of the student who volunteered his room...”
Takeda’s voice faded into background static. Kei stared at the email that had just come in.
Name: Kuroo Tetsurou
Major: Environmental Science
Extracurricular: Men’s volleyball, No. 4, middle blocker
“... and I’m tempted to think this is a sign really, I mean, how wonderful that it’s someone you connected with at training camp your first year of high school?”
“Tsukishima, I’m sorry, did I lose you?”
Kei should really be using homeroom to review his last biology quiz. He’d missed two questions on the back, and he still wasn’t very sure why. Instead, he was staring at his phone. It was hidden in his lap under his desk. Like he was a goddamn first-year waiting to get caught.
He ground his molars together. Kuroo had volunteered to host him?! A day later, and Kei’s mind still fought the idea.
Why? He clenched his phone. They’d spoken at a couple games since Kuroo had graduated — the guy would probably always be a faithful Nekoma fan. He was always there when Karasuno played them. But Kei wasn’t going to add to the crowd fawning over the alum, and Kuroo, frankly, hadn’t seemed to notice.
Which was fine.
Something of a relief, actually.
At least, it was clear the only one feeling awkward after That One Phone Call was Kei.
He wiped his face with his hand. You’re not calling. You’re not texting. You have two whole days of school before you leave, can you just...
“Tsukishima? Did you have a question?”
Kei glanced up over his glasses. The homeroom teacher — as well as every other student in the room — was watching him. She did not look as though she believed that he had a question.
Had he made a noise?
Kei cleared his throat. “No, ma’am.” He slid his phone in his pants pocket and got back to staring sightlessly at his biology quiz.
“You actually said ‘fuck me.’ Kind of loud.” Yamaguchi’s smile was as sunny as ever. “Sorry, Tsukki.”
“I hate it when you say that.” Kei’s retort was automatic these days. “And I did not.”
“I regret to inform you that you totally did.”
“That is not remotely anything that I would say.”
“You say it every time we play video games. You say it every time you attempt to drive.”
“I would never say it in school.” Which, under normal circumstances, was probably true. However… Kei glanced up from his rice and hamburger.
Yamaguchi looked at him sympathetically. “It wasn’t that loud.”
Kei thought about groaning but didn’t. “If the homeroom teacher heard it, it was loud.”
“Oh, come on. If this is the worst thing that happens your last year of high school, please, trade me lives.” Yamaguchi turned his attention back to his lunch.
“Yes, your life is so terrible. Tell me how, how was your date with that third-year? What was his name?”
Yamaguchi smiled around a mouthful of sandwich. “What the hell were you thinking about anyway?”
Kei poked at his rice. “Nothing much. The weekend, I guess.”
Yamaguchi furrowed his brows. “You worried they’re not going to offer you the scholarship? Because… you shouldn’t be worrying about that.”
Kei wasn’t. With the medals and the games won and the invitations to elite training camps, Kei would have to be very unobservant indeed to think he wasn’t good enough for this. If he wanted the scholarship, it was going to be his. Probably. “Takeda-sensei called last night. Some last-minute details about the weekend.”
“... such as?”
“Got an invitation to come out early. Friday night.” Kei shrugged. “Most of the team lives in a house near campus apparently—”
“No way, really?! Aw, man, if you get to check out a house party before I do—”
“They are hardly going to throw a party the night before a game.” Kei snorted. “Can you imagine?”
“Well. Okay.” Yamaguchi still sounded disappointed. “So your problem is...? No party, volleyball only. Just gonna be around the team all weekend—” A thought bloomed on his face. “The whole team. In one house. Two. Whole. Nights.” His grin was slow and awful.
Kei leaned away from him. “Yamaguchi, whatever you’re thinking—”
“How long has it been since you talked to him?”
The shitty thing about being pale and blonde was that the entire world knew when you blushed. “Don’t you remember the last time we played Nekoma?” Kei asked, trying for any disdain at all.
Yamaguchi frowned. “That was last year. I thought you guys talked all the time.”
“We have literally never done that.” Except for That One Phone Call, which Yamaguchi didn’t know about, which was as it should be because Kei would rather die.
“Really? Cuz whenever I see you anywhere near him, you’re — uh. I mean...” Yamaguchi faltered in the face of Kei’s sudden and very intense focus.
“I’m what exactly?” Kei inquired icily.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, crushes usually don’t notice a thing unless you tell them.” Yamaguchi paused. “That was supposed to be comforting.”
“I do not,” Kei enunciated, “have a crush on Kuroo Tetsurou.”
“Oh. Oh, good. Cool that we were talking about the same guy though.”
Kei glared at him. “He’s my host.” The words fell out of his mouth. “This weekend, he’s the guy who volunteered to host the fucking high-school recruit.”
Yamaguchi blinked. “Wait, what?”
“Kuroo volunteered to babysit me this weekend.” Kei barked a laugh. “Or someone put his name on a form as a joke or something but I have to concentrate this weekend, I have to think about scholarships and impressing a coach, no, a fleet of coaches, and he always starts something, and I—”
Yamaguchi’s mouth was open. Someone could have fit a whole apple in it.
Kei adjusted his glasses. “That’s all I was thinking about.”
“Oh my god.” Yamaguchi’s eyes were huge. “Are you sharing his room? What’re you gonna do?”
“I don’t know that I’m sharing his room!” Kei gripped his lunchbox. “It’s a house for an entire volleyball team. I’m sure it’s huge.” He glanced at Yamaguchi, and it was completely not a cry for help.
Yamaguchi sighed. “All right. Here’s what you do.”
Kei sat up straight.
“First—” Yamaguchi looked very serious. “— for this weekend, he’s your teammate. Maintaining the team dynamic is the important thing.”
“Yes. Yeah, of course.”
“If you’re working together on a court, it helps to be sociable off the court. You’ve gotten a lot better at that.”
“And if you don’t have time to buy them online, remember that condoms and lubes are cheapest at konbinis.” Yamaguchi polished off his sandwich in a single bite.
“... You know, your freckles are such a lie.”
Kei held back a smirk as he scooped up another bite of green pepper and pork. Akiteru liked to brag about his studio apartment these days, but somehow his brother still managed to have dinner with them three times a week. Akiteru ate their mom’s cooking like he had no idea how to operate a stove.
Probably doesn’t. Not that Kei was any great hand in the kitchen, but he wasn’t the one bragging about independent living now, was he? He watched Akiteru shovel food into his mouth like someone was going to take it away from him.
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
Kei frowned and slipped his hand into his pocket. Yamaguchi wouldn’t text at this hour — dinner at the Tsukishima residence was sacred. Which meant cell phones were generally frowned upon, but... Mom was fussing over Akiteru’s half-empty plate, Dad was reading a paper (Kei never understood why that was allowed but cell phones weren’t)...
Kei kept his phone in his lap and tapped the text. He sucked in a quiet breath.
Kuroo T.: yo! this still your number?
Kuroo T.: Tsukki?
Kuroo T.: Tsssuuukkkiiiiiii
Kei glanced up. Everyone was still occupied.
Kuroo T.: what can you not live two days without?
Kuroo T.: foodwise?
Kuroo T.: cuz i assume you’re good on like whatever else but hey lemme know
Kuroo T.: anyway be at the store for like five more mins
Kuroo T.: already got strawberries
Kuroo T.: oh heeeeyyyyyy!
You: Why strawberries in particular?
Kuroo T.: don’t know if you’ve heard but im gonna be hosting a recruit for the team this wkd ;)
You: Of course I’ve heard
Kuroo T.: and i’m gonna be great at it i’ve decided and i heard i need strawberries
Kuroo T.: someone said
You: If you please.
Kuroo T.: always so polite! anything else you want?
Kuroo T.: i got beer and chips
You: This is the diet of a college athlete? Beer and chips and strawberries?
You: Also who told you I like strawberries?
Kuroo T.: now now. the team’s menu at the cafeteria is pretty good actually
Kuroot T.: you’ll have all the veggies and lean protein your elite heart desires
Kei was impressed with himself. He only jumped a little. “Yes, sir?”
His father eyed him over the top of his glasses. A finger marked his place on the paper’s stock index. “Is there a reason your cell phone is at the table?”
Kei kept his face neutral. “My student host is asking if I have any particular requirements for the weekend. I’ll let him know I can respond later. Sorry, sir.”
“Oh, isn’t that thoughtful?” His mother stood from the table. She had a small giggle that she seemed to save for moments like this. Kei felt a smile start in his chest, but he didn’t let it get to his mouth. “Hurry it up though — I bought a new type of cake today, and I’m not waiting on volleyball things before I eat it.”
“Cake?” His dad looked up from the paper. “Honey, you brought cake home last week.”
“It is absolutely not my fault that the bakery on my way home puts out new flavors on Thursday.” Her voice was muffled from the kitchen. “Help Akiteru bring in the dishes!”
Grumbles all around, his dad and his brother got to their feet and began clearing the table.
Kei slipped down the hall to his room and tapped open the texts again.
Kuroo T.: so you don’t want anything? really?
Kuroo T.: hm
Kuroo T.: what else
Kuroo T.: i’m sure Inari-san already sent you all the stuff you need for observing the game saturday
Kuroo T.: did she tell you to bring something to take notes with?
Kuroo T.: that was helpful when i had my recruitment wkd
Kuroo T.: oh but i guess i have notebooks and stuff
Kuroo T.: if you need em
Kei frowned. Their first communication in months — the last had been an impersonal “Congratulations!” after Karasuno stomped Nekoma in two sets — and Kuroo wanted to ramble about notebooks.
You: Inari-san did suggest a notepad. I have a certain type I like, so I’ll come prepared.
You: Thank you.
Kuroo T.: you would have a favorite notepad
Kuroo T.: oh hey, almost forgot
You: some are simply more convenient for taking notes away from a desk than others
Kuroo T.: the house is having some people over tomorrow night
Kuroo T.: might wanna bring something other than gym clothes
Kei stared at his phone.
You: ‘the house’ is having people over? What does that mean?
Kuroo T.: in layman’s terms, this is what one calls a party
Kei’s eyes went wide. No. No, no, no—
You: What do you mean, a party?
You: You have a GAME the next day
Kuroo T.: not till 3
Kuroo T.: didn’t Inari-san tell you?
You: You. Have. A. Game. The. Next. Day.
Kuroo T.: ...
Kuroo T.: (〃⌒ー⌒〃)∫
Kuroo T.: tsukki. you are going to be so much fun.
Kuroo T.: k, i’m at the checkout, gotta go see you tmw byyyyee!!!
It took Kei longer than it really should have for him to realize he’d covered his mouth with his hand.
Oh. My god. He felt panic rising up in his gut. No, no, this will be fine, this is fine, everything is going to be just. Fine. He stared at his closet. Set his phone down firmly on his desk, walked (calmly) to his closet, threw open the door. Opened the door. Calmly. And totally like normal.
He could handle a college party. Everyone always thought he was much older. He wouldn’t look out of place.
Just a college party.
The day before a series of interviews, observing a game, impressing potential coaches, potential teammates.
Intermingled with two nights of sharing a room with Kuroo.
Kei screwed his eyes shut, let his head fall back with a groan. He walked back to his phone.
“... Tsukki?” Yamaguchi’s voice conveyed all the surprise warranted by a phone call from a Tsukishima after dinner on a school night.
“You doing anything right after school tomorrow?” Kei pinched the bridge of his nose. “I could use some help packing.”
The cake flavor for this week was apricot. Akiteru had two helpings. Kei managed to eat about half of his portion, his stomach tying itself in knots, before he mumbled something about needing to study. Akiteru talked him into video games instead.
Two hours of video games and no studying. And a party tomorrow night. Kei sighed. He’d have to tell Yamaguchi he’d been right. Yamaguchi would enjoy that, but it wasn’t something Kei was particularly looking forward to.
Kei clicked off his bedside lamp and cradled his head in one arm. He stared at his ceiling, finding something soothing about the dimly glowing stars stuck to it.
Wonder what Kuroo’s room looks like?
Kei’s eyes flew open wide. He gritted his teeth, rolled onto his stomach, and pulled his pillow over his head.
“Well.” Yamaguchi ran a hand through his hair. “The black jeans, definitely.”
Kei folded them neatly on the bed. So far, Yamaguchi had shown merciful restraint about totally calling the house party.
“And...” Yamaguchi rifled through the hangers once again. “This one?”
Kei eyed the gray sweater. It had thin blue horizontal stripes. “What about underneath?”
“I dunno. Collared shirt?”
“For a college party?” Kei asked doubtfully. “Seems a little... formal?”
“Yeah.” Yamaguchi put his hands on his hips. “Okay, T-shirt it is. Just make sure the neck doesn’t show.”
“Right.” Sweater and T-shirt went on the bed next to the jeans. “Shoes?”
Yamaguchi fell back on top of the neat pile. “Guhhhh, I am so glad you only have this one outfit to figure out.”
“Hey.” Kei shoved at him to rescue his clothes for the evening. “You’re wrinkling everything.”
“Oh my god.” Yamaguchi threw an arm over his face and stayed put. “You have definitely never worried about clothes before, will you please admit that you are going to try to get into his pants this weekend.”
Kei blamed the heat in his cheeks on the exertion of trying to shove his lanky friend off of a bed he seemed determined to stay on. “I don’t worry about clothes,” he grunted, “because I live in two uniforms and my practice gear. God.”
Yamaguchi finally landed on the floor.
“And I am not interested in anyone else’s clothes, pants or otherwise.” He glared at his friend. “Kuroo’s or otherwise.”
“Oo, maybe you’ll see him without his shirt on in the lockers!”
Kei stood up straight. He scooped up his clothes with what he hoped was a long-suffering sigh. “I’m done talking to you.”
Yamaguchi’s cackles followed him all the way to the bathroom.
Kei shoved his duffel onto the rack above an out-of-the-way seat toward the back of the car. It would be more than an hour of travel. The less he had to interact with other people, the better.
He settled his headphones over his ears, found an instrumental playlist, and assumed an attitude of unfriendliness. Flicked open his phone and found the text that had stopped his heart earlier that morning.
Kuroo T.: hey what time does your train get in?
Kei’s phone had vibrated in the middle of chemistry. His teacher had asked if he was having a bad reaction to the fumes. “You look a little dazed.”
Kei had mumbled something in the way of “no, sir” and put his phone away discreetly. His train would be getting in at 5:06 p.m. This was not a difficult question to answer.
As the train pulled away from the station, Kei still hadn’t replied.
Kei hadn’t even told Yamaguchi about it. Yamaguchi would have goaded him into replying or, worse, replied for him. And there was no point in a reply, as far as Kei could see. Other than good manners, of course, but whatever, if Kuroo really wanted to know, train schedules were easy to look up. There were exactly three express runs between the two cities today. One was too early, the other too late. Kuroo was a smart man. He could figure it out if he wanted to.
But if Kei wasn’t the one to tell him... he leaned his head back against the window with a sigh. Then at least it would be harder to pretend that someone would be waiting for him at 5:06 p.m.