Tsukishima Kei is 29 years old when he sees the man he had fallen in love with as a boy.
Now the starting setter of the Japanese National Volleyball team, Kageyama Tobio is just a few feet away from him, waiting for his order. Kei already knows what it’s going to be: an extra-large hot chocolate. His hands remember how to make it exactly the way Tobio likes it, and he doesn’t need to check what the hot chocolate at the café tastes like to know it won’t taste nearly as good to the man that taught him the craft. Only he can make it that way.
Nothing about Tobio has changed, not the piercing gaze, the angular nose, the jet black hair. Even the kind of outfit he has on or the length of his bangs haven’t changed. And looking at him, Kei realizes that one’s destiny isn’t always a career, a destination, or a phone call. Sometimes, it can just be a person.
Immediately, he turns back to his date (he’s not sure if that’s the right term, considering the fact that he was forced into this situation) and says, “You’re a really nice person, and someday, someone is going to treat you like the most precious thing they’ve ever seen, but I think we both can safely assume that person is not me, and that time is not tonight.”
The woman he was set up on a blind date with is understandably startled.
He tries to be as polite as he can possibly manage while attempting to end the conversation quickly.
“Sorry, but my future is standing right there, and if I don’t go now, I’ll lose him all over again, perhaps forever.”
He throws some money on the table to cover the bill and takes determined strides in Tobio’s direction.
This time, I won’t let go.
Slowly, Kei picks up the pieces. Life goes on. He occasionally watches volleyball matches when he gets the time, and smiles nostalgically when his ex-boyfriend is on the screen. He stops trying to get over Tobio, because it isn’t helping, and makes peace with his situation.
Thanks to his friends, he is constantly updated about Tobio. Everyone makes a point to tell him that Tobio is still single, still not showing any interest in the hundreds of women and men that have shown any interest in him. He knows they're trying to encourage him to do something, and he’s grateful even if he doesn’t express his gratitude, but the thing is that they don’t know what he should do at this point, and honestly neither does he.
So he stays content with the way things are.
Kei doesn’t just change apartments when he leaves; he changes cities. For a few months, no one knows where he is, until one day Tadashi finally receives an email from him.
Even after getting back in touch with friends, he keeps his distance. He attends a few of the weddings he receives an invite to, just the ones he cannot afford to miss if he cares for his life, such as Shouyou and Kenma’s, and Kiyoko and Hitoka's. He doesn’t run into Tobio there, but he knows the other did attend both. In fact, Tobio was Shouyou’s best man. So Kei figures that both of them do a pretty decent job of avoiding each other.
But there are other things that cannot be avoided. For instance, one inevitably receives a blast from the past when one decides to thoroughly clean the house. Nearly one year after he moved out of their apartment, Kei finally gets enough time to go through this process. He had haphazardly packed when he left, and so there’s a lot to sort out from things he didn’t unpack right away.
Pressed between the piles of his books (which he had simply grabbed off the shelves while packing) is a letter. Or perhaps it’s a note Tobio wrote to himself. The more Kei reads, the more it starts to seem like a speech.
A speech for a marriage proposal. And his name is scattered with care, like delicate flower petals, all over it.
While Kei had easily given up on their future together before it had even started, Tobio had been working to give it a solid foundation in their present.
Hands shaking and eyes blurring with tears as he rereads the speech, Kei mourns the end of his and Tobio’s relationship for the first time.
“I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t do this anymore.”
His heart is protesting at the words, but his mind seems to be made up, and since the latter controls his mouth, Kei can’t do much more than pity his heart.
Tobio looks at him, but his gaze holds no signs of disbelief. It’s like he was expecting it, which only makes Kei’s heart ache more. After all, they both have always been the type of people to expect being let down by others, to expect betrayal, disappointment even.
“Why?” Tobio finally asks.
“Because I can’t see beyond the present when it comes to us.”
Tobio knows how much Kei hates uncertainty, and how he tries to get rid of factors that can bring uncertainty into his life. He himself embraces uncertainty, and the excitement it entails. Kei is the opposite of him in this regard; uncertainty implies a certain amount of risk, and he doesn’t like to put his soul into anything that bears the risk of ceasing to exist in the next moment. This doesn’t stop him from pursuing his passion in academics and putting in effort in volleyball, but these two things don’t consume him like his relationship with Tobio does, and so this attempt to break up with him makes sense. All of this is predictable because it has happened a couple of times.
The only difference this time is that when Kei starts packing and looking for a new apartment, Tobio doesn’t stop him.
“Kageyama Tobio spotted leaving a nightclub with actress Shimizu Kiyoko: is this the start of something new?” Kei reads aloud from one of the tabloid newspapers he picked up on his way home from the lab. He rereads the headline silently and laughs out loud as he stands in the doorway of the kitchen.
“As if you have a chance with Shimizu-san of all people”, he adds mockingly to his 25-year-old boyfriend, who is currently reheating leftovers. Tobio laughs with him in agreement.
“How they ignored the way she was all concerned about her publicist’s safety more than anything else when we were leaving is beyond me”, he replies, shaking his head in exasperation. “Plus, I wasn’t even leaving the place with them; I only saw them to their limo and then went back in to join you!”
“Watching the paparazzi fall all over themselves looking for the latest scoop on her is so entertaining, though. Although, I wish they’d stop; if they dig any further, they’ll find out who she knew in school, and that’s a pain to deal with then”, Kei says, clicking his tongue. He says this, but Tobio knows that Kei would do anything, absolutely anything if it meant keeping both Tobio’s and Kiyoko’s reputations intact. His heart warms at the thought of his boyfriend’s protective nature. It also says a lot about Kei that instead of falling prey to the false rumors, he chooses to treat them like a joke, all the while standing by his boyfriend with unwavering confidence.
How did I get so lucky?
He raises his hand slowly and cups Kei’s cheek, getting close enough to see the golden specks in honey-brown eyes. Kei leans in the rest of the way, sealing their lips together in a welcome-home kiss.
“How’s the house hunting going?”
Kei leans against the back of the couch far enough to see Tobio set his things down.
“I feel like I’ve seen more houses in the span of one day than I would ever inhabit in my lifetime”, Tobio groans. Kei chuckles at this. He sees the floor plans in Tobio’s hands as the latter settles down next to him and thinks, Okay, I guess I should help him a bit.
“Life after college is tough, huh?”
“You don’t say.”
Kei laughs louder this time, but abruptly stops when he notices something strange about the floor plans he’s looking at.
Kei’s tone makes his boyfriend look nervous.
Innocently, Tobio asks, “What is it, Kei?”
“These floor plans… they’re not for single occupancy apartments.”
Like he doesn’t know what Kei’s talking about, he innocently inquires, “Yes, and?”
“This is too big for yourself and too expensive. Who are you going to share the rent with?”
There’s a pause and then:
“I was hoping I could share it with you. That we could live together.”
Kei’s heart skips a beat.
“Can I open my eyes now?” Tobio says as he huffs, trying to walk with his eyes shut. The smell of his surroundings inform him that he is in Kei’s dorm room, but there’s a faint scent of something he can’t quite name.
He hears some ruffling and the sound of the television switching on. His nose picks up the aroma of freshly prepared microwave popcorn.
“Kei”, Tobio grumbles. He hates being left in the dark like this, and he’s growing impatient. Finally, his boyfriend pries his hands away from his eyes gently, and as he takes in the scene in front of him, his breath hitches.
“We’re watching the volleyball qualifiers you missed because you had exams; I recorded all the matches. We have all the supplies: microwave popcorn, chilled beer, comfortable blankets for snuggling, and time together, uninterrupted.”
Kei sounds like an auctioneer, and it’s amusing, and Tobio would not change it for anything.
“We also have cake, baked by yours truly”, Kei adds, almost as an afterthought, as though he’s trying to pass it off like it’s no big deal. But Tobio knows how much pride Kei takes in his cooking and baking skills, no matter how nonchalant he tries to sound about it.
“Happy 21st birthday, Tobio.”
There’s a wobbly smile on the birthday boy’s face; people tended to forget his birthday because it was so close to Christmas, and those who did remember made two big mistakes in their attempts to celebrate it. Firstly, they gave him just one gift on two occasions, so he received Christmas-themed birthday gifts, which annoyed him to no end. Secondly, they threw big parties for him, and these would end with Tobio escaping from them halfway, being the introvert that he was.
Sometimes people did remember but ignored it simply because it's so close to a festive time. Thus, many of his birthdays went by, unnoticed. For the first time, someone had done exactly what he had wanted all this time.
“All this… for me?”
Kei looks mildly confused, but his unwavering good mood keeps him from snapping as he otherwise would. A gentle smile graces his features.
“For you”, he affirms.
Tobio throws his arms around his boyfriend and buries his face in Kei’s chest. He wills himself to not cry, but a sniffle escapes him. Kei jolts, concerned.
“Are you crying? Tobio, look at me. What’s wrong?”
Suddenly, Tobio leans back and looks Kei squarely in the eyes as he says, “I love you.”
“I love you too, king”. Kei smiles openly now and draws his boyfriend back into his chest. Tobio can feel the vibrations as he laughs.
“You’re a strange one, Your Majesty. If birthday celebrations were all it was going to take for you to proclaim your love for me, I would have skipped family vacations and just done this on the first birthday we celebrated together.”
“Kageyama-kun, are you feeling shy now?”
“Shut up, dumbass! Just hand over the next set!”
It’s almost the end of their second year at Karasuno. They’re standing in Tobio’s room, and Shouyou is finding outfits for Tobio to wear on his first date with Kei. As he changes outfits, Shouyou critiques his appearance, with teasing comments in between.
“Stop being so mean to the only person who would help you, meanie!”
“Sugawara-san offered to help me as well since he was going to be in Miyagi over the weekend. Be grateful that I picked you instead.”
“Huh? What kind of logic is that?”
The bickering stops there as Tobio tries the next outfit on. It consists of a form-fitting navy blue sweater and black skinny jeans. It’s relatively plain, compared to some of the other clothes in his closet, but it highlights the best features of his physical appearance. Shouyou smiles and wolf-whistles.
“We have a winner.”
Towards the end of the date, as they’re sitting on a bench facing the community lake, Kei mumbles that he thinks Tobio looks really good, and the latter makes sure to thank his friend somehow, possibly by treating him with meat buns later.
That first date leads to another, and another, and another. And all of a sudden, Tobio can’t remember a time when they didn’t fit well together.
It’s quite late in the evening after their match with Shiratorizawa. They’re the last two in the club room, but Kei doesn’t make a move to leave. His Majesty looks like he has something to say, and for some reason, Kei is interested in hearing what it is.
After a long pause, Tobio inhales deeply, and says, “Good game, Tsukishima.”
Kei shakes his head.
“Don’t give credit where it isn’t deserved, king.”
Tobio looks at him, shocked. He can’t believe his ears. Didn’t this guy hear the coach call him the MVP today?
“Well, in my personal opinion, away from whatever facts you have in your head that helped shape that judgment, you did well.”
He’s shaking. He can feel it. He knows he looks angry too, which would explain why Tobio is absolutely baffled. Kei wonders, how can he praise me when I couldn’t even block most of the spikes?
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, king, but the success rate of my blocks was so low today, and- “
Tobio looks furious.
“You slowed the ball’s momentum with every one-touch, you strategized, organized, and executed elaborate traps and plans, and you raised the whole team’s morale by being reliable and by upping our collective defense. You may not have stopped as many spikes as you wanted to, but that’s not the only aspect of your role as a blocker, as a teammate.”
Tobio is breathing heavily when he is done. Slightly ashamed of himself for yelling, he peeks nervously at the other’s face, only to realize something important upon seeing it: Kei isn’t angry, he’s in agony and he’s blaming himself.
Goddamnit, where was his perception when he needed it?
Suddenly Kei is pulled into a hug, and he doesn’t know what surprises him more: the fact that Kageyama Tobio is hugging him, or the fact that he doesn’t mind it.
“You were great today, and I’ll keep saying it till you actually believe it in your heart.”
Kei doesn’t get any sleep that night.
Kageyama Tobio is 14 years old when he meets Tsukishima Kei for the first time.
Based on their first interaction, it’s pretty obvious that they’re not going to get along, maybe ever.
Fate is an interesting thing, though.