Haikyuu!!, Return to Sender

Title: Return to Sender [Tsukishima/Kuroo]
Rating/Warnings: R
Summary: After training camp, Tsukishima starts getting packages from Nekoma’s Kuroo, and somehow it turns into a thing that Tsukishima doesn’t think is strange at all.
AN: This thing turned out to be 20,000 words in the end, I’m not sure how exactly. I’m supposed to be writing SASO stuff, and instead, package fic, egged on by Beltenebra, Midori, and a lot of really nice commenters over on Ao3.

Return to Sender

August

The first package is innocuous, wrapped in brown paper with Tsukishima’s name printed neatly underneath Karasuno’s name and address. The only thing strange about it is that the box also has Coach Ukai’s name on it, and that it gets handed to him by Takeda-sensei. It’s only by chance that Tsukishima had stopped by the faculty room to pick up a book on block strategy that Takeda-sensei had tracked down for him, rather than being handed the package in front of the entire team later that day at practice.

“It came in the mail yesterday,” Takeda says, pushing his glasses up his nose as Tsukishima frowned at the package. “Since Ukai-san isn’t on staff, they gave it to me instead. Were you expecting anything?”

“Not really,” Tsukishima says. The bell rings just then, saving Tsukishima from opening it in front of Takeda-sensei.

Later, after school and practice and dinner, when Tsukishima opens the box in the privacy of his own room, he’s glad he didn’t open it in front of anybody, because it turns out the box is from Kuroo Tetsurou of Nekoma. Tsukishima can’t possibly imagine how he would even start to explain that to his teammates and/or coach and/or faculty advisor, since he has no idea what’s going on himself.

The box contains an envelope sealed with a black cat sticker, several packages of purple sweet potato KitKats, a blob-shaped plushy that looks like it came out of a shady UFO machine, and a phone strap with a volleyball. The plushy has a grumpy-face kaomoji on the front.

Yo, Tsukishima, the letter inside the envelope reads. The handwriting is readable but just a little messy, and somehow brings to mind Kuroo’s smirk and sweat-spiked hair immediately. I didn’t know your address, so I sent this to your school instead. If you’re reading this, it must have worked! Some of this stuff made me think of you, so I sent it. The kaomoji looks just like your face! Hope the chocolate didn’t melt, that’s my favorite flavor this season. You don’t have those there, right? Now you have to send me something from Sendai. Miyagi omiyage, get it? HAHAHA.

“That’s not funny,” Tsukishima says out loud, frowning. “And that doesn’t look like my face.”

P.S. Tell me your address or I’ll just keep sending stuff to your school. That’ll be awkward, right?

Underneath the last line, Kuroo’s full name and address are printed, slightly more neatly than the rest of his handwriting. Tsukishima frowns harder, reads the whole letter again, then heaves an aggravated sigh because it doesn’t make any more sense than it did the first time. Why is Nekoma’s captain mailing him anything? Is this some kind of prank? Sure, he’d spent most of the last training camp practicing blocking with Kuroo, but Tsukishima doesn’t exactly consider them friends. He’d spent just as much time with Fukurodani’s Bokuto, and Tsukishima isn’t expecting to get a letter from that guy just to say “HEY HEY HEY.”

Tsukishima shudders at the thought. He certainly hopes that isn’t going to happen.

He has Kuroo’s mail address, since the captain had insisted during training camp it was easier to track each other down that way rather than hunting across a bunch of gyms. Tsukishima could just mail Kuroo to ask what the hell is going on, or to tell him to knock it off, but somehow Tsukishima finds himself reluctant to do that. For the rest of the week, the box sits on his desk, as if daring him to do something about it every time he walks by.

Over the weekend by chance, his mother drags him along on a shopping trip to Sendai, which is how he finds himself in an omiyage stand in Sendai Station while his mother picks up some things for her friends. Without thinking very hard about what he’s doing, Tsukishima buys a package of dried persimmon, zunda Pretz, and a keychain with an edamame pod hanging off of it. The soybeans peeking out have bows on them as if they are girls, and Tsukshima thinks that serves Kuroo right.

The bag is safely out of sight, tucked in his messenger bag, by the time his mother comes around the corner with her own purchases.

Sendai’s famous for soybeans, Tsukishima’s return letter reads. No, I haven’t seen those Kit-Kats here. They were fine. That thing doesn’t look like my face. I don’t understand why you’re mailing me anything.

He puts his own full name and address at the bottom with a sense of misgiving, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any choice if option 2 is that Coach Ukai or Takeda-sensei will keep getting a chance to inspect his mail. At least if they come to his house, he has a chance of intercepting a package before anyone else sees it. Maybe not a very good chance, given how late practice runs, but it’s better than nothing.

Getting his own package mailed is more of a problem, since he’s always at practice and school during post office hours. With the whole bundle wrapped securely in Kuro’s reused brown paper, Tsukshima tells his mother that he’d accidentally taken home one of the Nekoma guy’s towels in his bag, and could she mail this to Tokyo, please? She doesn’t seem to think anything’s odd about that request, and Tsukishima congratulates himself on his stealth and cleverness.

He’s feeling much less clever when two weeks later, his mother hands him a squashy padded envelope decorated all over in shiny moon stickers.

“Left something in Tokyo yourself?” she asks with a raised eyebrow.

“Only my sanity,” Tsukishima grumbles, snatching the package out of her hands and pretending his cheeks aren’t turning pink.

Inside this package is a half-empty sheet of shiny moon stickers, a T-shirt which reads “Middle Blockers Do It In Your Face,” and a postcard of a normal cell tower with “TOKYO TOWER” markered on the bottom of it.

Those other guys call you Tsukki, right? the letter starts without any preamble. Can I call you Tsukki too? Also, I didn’t realize you were Kei like ‘firefly’ which is kind of stupid cute. Those Pretz were pretty good! I hear zunda mochi is amazing but you can’t mail it so you should bring some next time you guys come to practice. It’s a promise!

“Don’t decide on your own,” Tsukishima grumbles, clicking his tongue at Kuroo’s smug-looking emoji.

And wear the shirt too! It’s great, right? I got Bokuto one that says “Kiss my Ace” HAHAHA. I hear you like dinosaurs, so you’re definitely watching Kyouryuuger. It’s great, right? Way better than last year’s Sentai. Do you like all dinosaurs or do you have a favorite? And you like music too, right? Your headphones are really nice so you must. What kind? Who’s your favorite? I’m a shameless pop addict myself. Kenma says that’s embarrassing, but it’s great for running, nice and upbeat. What do you listen to when you run?

Tsukishima sits the letter down and goes to get his phone, because he’s man enough to admit when he’s out of his depth. He Lines Yamaguchi and tells him to just come over already without any other explanation, because the point of having a best friend is having somebody to ask what the fuck is going on sometimes. Fifteen minutes later, Tsukishima hands Yamaguchi the letter with one hand, waving with the other at the assortment of Kuroo-related items.

“Why is he mailing me things?” Tsukishima demands, as if somehow Yamaguchi will divine the answer from the I Ching of stickers and Kit-Kats littering his desk. “Why doesn’t he just text or Line me like a normal teenager? Where did he even get a postcard of a transmission tower?!”

“He seemed nice enough during training camp, he helped you all that time,” Yamaguchi points out, looking like he’s suppressing a smile. His eyes widen a little when he reads the letter, though. “Um, maybe he wants…to be pen pals?”

“He calls my name cute! He wants to know my favorite dinosaur!” Tsukishima exclaims. “I don’t understand what’s going on here at all!”

Yamaguchi looks up at him, back down at the letter, and then back up again. “Are you going to mail him something back?”

“I already used up all my easy to mail hometown goods ideas,” Tsukishima complains without thinking, then regrets it immediately when Yamaguchi grins.

“You did! You totally mailed him stuff already! Tsukki!” He starts laughing and Tsukishima punches him in the arm, but it only makes him laugh harder. “Okay, ow! So now you have to mail him back stuff, huh. It’s only polite.”

Yamaguchi gives Tsukishima an innocent grin, and Tsukishima informs him he’s the worst best friend on the Japanese high school volleyball circuit.

After an afternoon at the shopping street, Tsukshima mails back a pack of gyutan-flavored gum, socks with volleyballs on them, and a cat-shaped smartphone dust plug that he got from a gatcha machine on the way home. He throws the plastic capsule into the box without even opening it to see which one he got. His letter starts with No you can’t call me that and ends with Stegosaurus.

September

The third package arrives with a green stegosaurus plushy and a ziploc bag of homemade cookies, and Tsukishima is forced to admit that he maybe does have some idea of what is going on here. What he’s going to do about it, if anything, Tsukishima is much less sure about.

“Practice match is next week,” Yamaguchi points out. He’s lying on his back on Tsukishima’s bed, holding the stegosaurus up over his head and making faces at it. “Think he’ll ask you to go out?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Tsukishima asks, drumming his fingers on his desk. He feels edgy and nervous about the whole situation. “What’s the point of flirting with me anyway? He’s in Tokyo and I’m in Miyagi. He’s going to graduate in spring and I’m a dumb freshman. What?” he demands when Yamaguchi looks over with a knowing smile.

“The fact that he’s a guy is pretty far down your list there, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi points out. Tsukishima calls him several names, which Yamaguchi ignores. “You aren’t freaking out about that even a little?”

The truth is that Tsukishima is sort of freaking out about it, a little. But because the mail had stretched the situation out over a much longer period of time than emailing or calling would have, the situation had unfolded too gradually for Tsukishima to build up to a full freakout. Once you mail another dude volleyball socks and he sends you back a dinosaur, it seems like the moment for worrying about whether it’s weird to worry about whether the other guy is coming on to you came and went quite a while ago.

Kuroo Tetsurou, Tsukishima realizes with horrible clarity, is kind of a genius. Also Yamaguchi is still grinning at him.

“Why aren’t you freaking out about your best friend turning into a homo?” Tsukishima asks, but Yamaguchi just shrugs a shoulder.

“I’m not sure maybe liking one guy enough to send him gyutan gum makes you a homo,” Yamaguchi answers, so reasonably that it gets on Tsukishima’s nerves. “Do you? Do you like him? He’s pretty cute, I guess. I’m not a good judge or anything, but Yachi-san said—”

“Stop that,” Tsukishima interrupts, a small ball of irritation flickering in his chest at the idea of Yachi eyeing up Kuroo. Shit, that’s probably a bad sign.

Yamaguchi grins a little harder, like he knows, that jerk. He wiggles the stegosaurus, turning it to face Tsukishima. “Plus, this is really cute. You could do a lot worse, right? Also you still didn’t answer, so the answer is definitely yes.”

“Your mom’s answer is definitely yes,” Tsukishima grumbled, standing up and snatching his stegosaurus out of Yamaguchi’s hands.

“Oh man,” Yamaguchi laughs. “If you’re sinking to your mom jokes, you really have got it bad.”

Really, Tsukushima isn’t sure. He hasn’t ever liked anyone before, but he had thought it was supposed to be more pleasant than the knot of anxiety currently lodged under his ribcage. It draws tighter as the days until the practice match whittle down to zero. When he thinks about seeing Kuroo face to face it kind of feels like he’s having a panic attack, but on the other hand when he tries to imagine kissing Kuroo, it seems impossible.

Tsukishima frowns deeply at the net during practice, his brain supplying the image of Kuroo smirking at him from the other side every time he blinks.

“I know, right?!” Hinata hollers from the other side of the net, startling Tsukishima out of his thoughts and apparently mistaking Tsukishima’s expression for war face practice. “Nekoma’s gonna be on the other side of that net tomorrow and it’ll be like GRRR! GRAAAAAR!”

“YOU WANNA GO?!” Tanaka roars from Tsukishima’s side, assuming Hinata is making faces at him. “HOLD ME BACK, GLASSES!”

“Tcht,” Tsukishima says, doing no such thing. Over Tanaka’s shoulder, Yamaguchi is clearly muffling a laugh with his hand, and Tsukishima throws him a glare that says I’m watching you.

“Now, now,” Sugawara says, yanking on the back of Tanaka’s T-shirt on the way by like a cat casually scruffing kittens. “Save that energy for tomorrow, hm?” He pauses, holding Tsukishima’s gaze for a second or so longer than necessary as he adds, “Keep your eyes on what’s in front of you.”

“R…ight,” Tsukishima answers, wondering what brought that on.

On the bus the next morning, Tsukishima is ready to just hurry up and get this over with one way or the other already, ideally before the zunda mochi in his bag thaws enough to get all his T-shirts wet. He taps his feet impatiently while Takeda-sensei runs down his checklist, making sure they haven’t left anyone or anything behind. Much as there’s a few anyones Tsukishima wouldn’t mind leaving behind. Is just one pukeless bus ride too much to ask?

“Oh, Tsukishima-kun,” Takeda-sensei says suddenly, stopping in the aisle beside Tsukishima and Yamaguchi’s pair of seats. “That reminds me, what was that package from Tokyo about?”

“Scouting materials,” Tsukishima lies quickly. “Nothing major.”

“Really?” Takeda-sensei purses his lips. “Seems a bit early for anyone to be looking into you closely. They shouldn’t be pestering first years, so let me know if anything else happens, all right? I’ll take care of it.”

“Yes, sensei,” Tsukishima says quickly, giving a small sigh of relief when Takeda-sensei accepts that and moves on. He glances over to find Yamaguchi snickering. “What?”

“Somebody was checking you out closely all right,” Yamaguchi laughs. “Ow! Tsukki!”

It’s almost anti-climactic when they finally arrive in Tokyo, all of them stretching out stiff limbs, and Kuroo strolls up with a casual, “Yo, Tsukki,” as if it’s been a couple hours since they practiced blocking instead of weeks full of squashy packages and scrawled handwriting.

“Don’t call me that, I told you,” Tsukishima says, narrowing his eyes. When Kuroo doesn’t reply after a second, Tsukishima adds, “The mochi’s in my bag. Probably be thawed by lunch.”

“Hmm,” Kuroo hums, smile getting almost imperceptibly wider, but Tsukishima can see it. “I brought something for you, too.”

He strolls off to greet Daichi for some captain trash-talk before Tsukishima can work out whether that’s literal or a set-up for a dirty joke with Tsukishima as the punchline.

Fortunately Tsukishima has no trouble channeling both anxiety and irritation into their first practice match, and while he’s constantly aware of where Kuroo is on the court, he doubts anybody besides Yamaguchi notices anything off. And as for his weird crush being a problem against when both of them are in the vanguard, the most satisfying moment of Tsukishima’s whole morning is getting to smash down one of Kuroo’s spikes right in his face.

“Ehh, your smile got all scary!” Hinata points out.

“Really?” Tsukishima glances back over his shoulder to where Kuroo is glaring at him with narrowed eyes. “Ohoho.”

Lunch is a hectic and confused affair, both teams anxious just to get back to playing already while their managers try to pass out lunches and their coaches yell at them about sitting down and resting properly, not to mention not choking themselves to death. Tsukishima ends up sitting with Yamaguchi, Kuroo, Kenma, and Hinata, wondering how on earth those two are friends anyway. Kenma is picking quietly at his lunch while Hinata is hollering at the top of his lungs about something that happened last week with Tanaka and some girls from the photography club, but Kenma doesn’t seem annoyed by it, given how he smiles a little at various parts. It only quiets down when Hinata accidentally inhales a pickle and Kuroo has to pound him on the back.

Tsukishima hands over the box of mochi without much fanfare, and that’s when it turns out Kuroo’s return Tokyo omiyage is a box of Tokyo Bananas. Yamaguchi’s face confirms Tsukishima’s misgivings that this is a not very subtle offer for dude-on-dude action.

“Are you trying to be funny?” Tsukishima asks with a bland look, which for some reason sets Kuroo off laughing too hard to answer for a solid minute.

“No!” He finally manages. “They’re really famous! And perishable, so I couldn’t mail them. Shut up and eat it.”

“Yeah, Tsukki, just put his banana in your mouth,” Yamaguchi says, too quietly for anyone else to hear, making Tsukishima choke hard enough for Kuroo to have to pound his back too.

“Quit helping!” Tsukishima hisses when he can breathe again. Yamaguchi just blinks at him innocently, and Tsukishima is going to definitely take new applications for best friend once they’re home. Even Tanaka or Hinata might be an improvement because at least they don’t look innocent while sneakily trying to ruin Tsukishima’s life.

“HEY,” Hinata announces suddenly, mouth full. “They look like dicks! HAHAHA!”

“Do they?” Kuroo says, looking Tsukishima right in the eye, and fuck this, Tsukshima thinks, getting up as if he’s throwing out his trash. Maybe he can just hide in the bus until they go home.

They manage to get two more games in that afternoon, before it’s getting so dark that the coaches call it. While Lev and Hinata are whining to go one more one more and Tanaka, Nishinoya, and Taketora are kicking up some kind of fuss about how to attract a sexy manager to Nekoma’s club, Kuroo casually grabs Tsukishima’s wrist and tugs him aside. Tsukishima tries to look like nothing is happening either, like it’s completely normal for Kuroo to be kidnapping him and dragging him into the dubious privacy of supply closet. Once they’re out of sight, Kuroo drops Tsukishima’s wrist and turns to look him over. Standing next to the flat gym brooms, Tsukishima tries not to look incredibly awkward and meet Kuroo’s eyes, but he’s sure he’s failing.

“So you get it, right?” Kuroo asks without preamble. “The packages. You know what I’m asking you?”

Tsukishima hesitates; he could say no, he doesn’t. Part of him wants to make Kuroo explain himself directly, and part of him says if he doesn’t get the hell out of here and gets caught in here with Kuroo his entire team including his coach will know what’s going on as well (except for Hinata and maybe Takeda-sensei). Some other weird part is wondering if this is the scene in the BL manga where the sexy senpai captain ravishes the cute, naive freshman.

Except for how he’s not very naive, and Kuroo is totally not that sexy. Much. Probably.

In the end he just nods and gets it over with, because Kuroo’s too smart anyway. “Yeah.”

“Is it okay?” Kuroo asks. Tsukishima is a little surprised that Kuroo asks that, but he just nods again. If it weren’t okay, he wouldn’t have bothered with the mochi, much less let Kuroo drag him into a closet. Kuroo’s shoulders relax and his grin widens, and Tsukishima realizes that Kuroo had been nervous.

Kuroo nervous about anything feels like a strange idea. He’s always seemed to Tsukishima as if he could just make anything happen himself if he wanted it to, without too much worry.

“Good,” Kuroo says. “Because I really do have something for you, but I wasn’t going to give it to you unless you said it was definitely all right.”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out what looks like an audio cassette tape. Did this weirdo play the whole afternoon with that in his shorts? Tsukishima stares at it once its been dropped into his hand, flipping it over to find the lined notebook paper under the clear plastic case covered in Kuroo’s familiar scrawled handwriting. He half wonders if Kuroo seriously just gave him a mixtape and half wonders how in the fuck he thinks Tsukishima would even be able to play a cassette tape.

“Did you also bring a time machine to take me to the 1990’s?” Tsukishima asks, making Kuroo bark a laugh.

“You’ll see when you open it,” is all Kuroo says, looking smugger than ever and making Tsukishima wish he had a volleyball to slam into Kuroo’s face right now.

“I don’t get it,” Tsukishima says suddenly, because if he doesn’t blurt it out now, he might never. Kuroo opens his mouth, and Tsukishima cuts him off. “Not the tape. I don’t get this. You’re Nekoma’s captain and I’m some dumb freshman a 2-hour bullet train trip away. What’s the point?”

“You, dumb?” Kuroo laughs again but it’s wry and quieter. He looks Tsukishima over for a second before answering. “You seemed interesting. You seem like a challenge.”

Tsukashima snorts. “You weren’t even sure I’d say yes to a guy. There has to be a few in your school you know about, if that’s your thing, people you could see every day.”

“Nobody said guys were my thing,” Kuroo counters. “But I guess if I see them every day and I’m still mailing shit to you, that must mean you’re a lot more interesting, right?”

Tsukshima looks away, flustered, which means he doesn’t see it coming when Kuroo leans in and brushes a kiss against his cheekbone. It’s fleeting, over in half a second, but Tsukishima feels the imprint of it after Kuroo takes that careful step back again.

“I’ve been wondering what your surprised face looks like,” Kuroo chuckles, the sound of which for some reason makes Tsukishima flush harder than the actual kiss. “It’s cute.”

Tsukishima narrows his eyes and opens his mouth, but before he can get out a snappy response, Sugawara appears in the doorway and levels both of them with a look that makes Tsukishima feel twice as embarrassed despite the fact that they’re just standing there, talking.

“Mmhmm.” Sugawara folds his arms. “I wonder what Nekoma’s captain might want with one of my cute freshmen, hm?”

“We’re just getting the brooms,” Tsukishima says quickly, sliding the tape into his pocket. Kuroo raises an eyebrow.

“Oho?” he asks, then grunts when Tsukishima elbows him hard. “Right, right. Just trying to keep this guy from slacking off.” With a last amused glance, Kuroo grabs a broom in each hand and then saunters back out into the gym like that was all he was there for in the first place.

Sugawara is still eyeing Tsukishima.

“Nothing’s going on!” Tsukshima insists. “It isn’t like that! I’m not—”

“Whoa whoa!” Sugawara holds his hands up, palms towards Tsukshima to stop him. “If it’s nothing, don’t explain so much. It just makes you look guiltier.”

Tsukishima frowns. “Don’t give me advice on how to lie better.”

“Ah, it’s cuter if you can’t lie at all, huh,” Sugawara says, almost to himself. He laughs softly when Tsukishima scowls. “Relax, I didn’t come in here to scold you. Just to make sure Daichi didn’t find you two first, because he believes his cute first years are way too innocent for this sort of thing, and I’d rather he didn’t have an aneurysm. I’m sure you’ll be more careful next time.”

“Right,” Tsukshima mumbles. Somehow Sugawara trying to support him is more embarrassing than being yelled at, and Tsukishima wishes intensely that it would stop.

“Be careful about the other thing too,” Sugawara advises, patting Tsukshima’s shoulder on the way by to grab a broom himself. “Are you sure? I hear he’s aiming for university. Long distance is pretty hard.”

Tsukishima opens his mouth to ask what Sugawara knows about it, then closes it with a snap because honestly he doesn’t want to know at all. He settles for grunting a “Whatever” and jamming his hands in his pockets as he scuttles out of the closet as fast as he can go without it looking like he’s hurrying.

“Eh?” Kageyama asks when Tsukishima almost runs right into him outside the doorway. “Didn’t you go to get the brooms?”

Tsukishima glares at him, and then Yamaguchi, that asshole, who is muffling laughter over Kagayama’s shoulder.

“Lemme tell you what you can do with the brooms, King,” Tsukishima snaps without thinking, and that’s when Yamaguchi really loses it.

The cassette feels like it’s burning a hole in his pocket, but Tsukishima waits until the bus has been in motion long enough for most of the team to have fallen asleep before he pulls it out to examine it closer. Yamaguchi watches in interest, but doesn’t say anything, and Tsukishima ignores him. When he flips the case open, it turns out that it’s shaped to look like a cassette, but has a USB plug that swivels out from the bottom. A digital mix tape, then, and Tsukishima has to admit, that’s clever. He flips the tape over in his hands once or twice, thinking about Kuroo’s smirk and how annoying it’s going to be to try and outdo this guy.

He really wants to listen to it, right now, but he’s trapped on the bus for another two and a half hours. He could just read through the written list of songs, but it’s not the same. Tsukishima huffs a little sigh of irritation out his nose.

Yamaguchi reaches over and takes the tape out of Tsukishima’s hand, but before he can argue, he turns it to show Tsukishima the little hole of the headphone jack on the side, where Tsukishima hadn’t noticed it.

“Thanks,” Tsukishima says gruffly, running his fingers down the cord of his headphones to pull the plug out from his phone.

“Mmhmm,” Yamaguchi says, reaching for the paper. Tsukishima fastidiously avoids looking over while Yamaguchi unfolds it and reads, not wanting to be spoiled, even when Yamaguchi starts snickering loud enough to be heard over ONE OK ROCK’s “Karasu” playing through Tsukishima’s headphones.

He finds out why twenty-five minutes later when suddenly the Kyouryuuger end theme that names all the dinosaurs starts blaring in his ears, and Tsukishima laughs hard enough in surprise to startle Yamaguchi out of a doze.

During the ride, Tsukishima’s phone interrupts the music with a handful of message notifications, but Tsukishima doesn’t pull it out of his pocket to look. It’s not until he’s the whole way home, met his mother waiting up, showered, and is in the safety of his room before he reads the mails, all three of them from Kuroo as expected.

[you figured it out right?]

[what did you think?]

[is messaging okay now? let me know either way]

Tsukishima sends back that it’s fine, but asks if they can Line instead and sends his username. While he waits for a response and wonders if Kuroo’s already gone to bed sensibly instead of staying up to wait just for this crap, Tsukishima debates between sitting at his desk and just flopping into his bed like he wants to. Is it weird to talk with Kuroo while he’s in his bed? It feels like a thing that Kuroo would like to know way too much.

Fuck it, Tsukishima decides. It isn’t like that guy will know.

NekomanoTetsuBro: [shit dude is ur icon actually a rabbit napping on the moon]

NekomanoTetsuBro: [that’s adorable why r u so fucking cute]

Tsukishimoon: […I’m changing it right now]

NekomanoTetsuBro: [DONT U DARE]

Uugh, Tsukishima thinks as he flops down on his back, wincing as his spine realigns. The only comfortable position for his neck is to hold his phone straight up over his head, and Tsukishima just knows this is going to end with him dropping it right on his face.

Tsukishimoon: [The tape was fine. I was surprised it wasn’t just 30 songs with moon in the title.]

NekomanoTetsuBro: [wasnt gonna blow em all on the 1st one. Send it back and ill make u another one]

Tsukishimoon: […maybe. I’m going to sleep. Texting is fine but I have practice and school all day.]

Kuroo sends back a goodnight sticker of a snoring cat, and Tsukishima wonders how that guy managed to find stickers that look just like his own smug face.

October

It turns out Kuroo is a steady texter, although just as busy as Tsukishima, so they come in irregular bursts during Kuroo’s lunch period, the gap between class and practice, and his commute. He sends pictures as well, of his team, of Kenma, of the stray cat he’s petting, of the view out of his classroom window, of the keychain he won from a gatcha machine. They’re always from Kuroo’s point of view, never of himself, and Tsukishima thinks he wouldn’t mind getting a selfie now and then, but doesn’t know how to ask.

Sometimes Tsukishima answers the messages, if he’s being asked a question, but just as often Kuroo is telling a ridiculous story about something that’s happening and doesn’t seem to need any reply.

[Are all your friends as ridiculous as you?] Tsukishima asks after a few days. [Or is it just the way you tell stories?]

[both probably] is Kuroo’s answer. [o man tsuki I have so much good material]

[Don’t call me that.]

“You’re in a good mood,” Yamaguchi comments. He grins around the straw of his juice box when Tsukishima looks up from his phone. “Funny story from Kuroo-san?”

“Not really,” Tsukishima says, putting his phone facedown and going back to his lunch.

Tsukishima expects the postal courtship to end now that they’ve sorted some things out face to face, so he’s pleasantly surprised when a padded envelope appears the next week. He’d be more pleased if his mother wouldn’t hold up his mail with her eyebrows raised so high, but you can’t have everything, he guesses.

Written on the outside of the envelope in block print is CALL ME BEFORE YOU OPEN IT.

“Why?” his mother asks, holding the envelope up higher without handing it over. She isn’t taller, but somehow still manages to wave it just out of his reach. “Do you have to defuse it first? Crack the encryption with a decoder ring?”

“Remember how you used to tell me I needed more friends?” Tsukishima snaps, finally managing to snatch the envelope out of her hands. That’s when he realizes in place of his actual name, Kuroo had written ‘Tsukki-hime.’ “Great job on that advice.”

After stomping up to his room, Tsukishima debates ignoring Kuroo’s instructions out of spite, but quickly comes to the conclusion that it will only result in more messages that his mother can read. Reluctantly, he Lines to ask if Kuroo is busy at the moment.

[just homework so nope. did it get there already???? video chat video chat]

Tsukishima gives a huge roll of his eyes as he hits the button to comply, then once they’ve been connected, does it again just to be sure that Kuroo can see it.

“That just makes you cuter, you know,” Kuroo says as Tsukishima thumbs up his volume, then laughs when Tsukishima scowls at him. “I wasn’t sure you’d really call.”

“It’s hardly different than texting all the time,” Tsukshima says, although he’s lying. Seeing Kuroo’s face and hearing his voice aren’t the same as remembering them at all. “Also don’t write weird names on my packages! My mom gets the mail!”

“If you didn’t call me I was gonna write Prince Charming in the sender’s spot next time,” Kuroo informs him. “Just to make sure she knew I was a dude.”

“She knows you’re a dude!” Tsukishima snaps, hoping the lighting in his room is bad enough not to show his blush. “No girl has handwriting that bad!”

That at least makes Kuroo burst out laughing. “It’s true! Okay, okay, open it already. But sit your phone so I can see you, I wanna see your face.”

“How am I supposed to…wait.” Tsukishima takes the plastic case from Kuroo’s mix-tape then flips the cover out and pushes it backwards against the back of the case. The shorter plastic lip makes a perfect holding stand for his iPhone, a fact which he makes sure Kuroo can see over the video chat before he nestles the phone down in it.

“Oh shit, you’re a genius,” Kuroo breathes.

“Nice of you to notice,” Tsukishima says like he couldn’t care less, even though he’s pretty pleased with himself. He uses his desk scissors to slit the top of the envelope, then pauses just before tipping the contents out on his desk. “This isn’t going to cover me in glitter or something, is it?”

“Nooooo,” Kuroo says, like he’s just realized the opportunity that he missed. “Eh, you aren’t ready for my alternate universe exotic dancer idea anyway.”

Inside the envelope is a black one-subject notebook, which is strangely plain, an iPhone plug with Capybara-san stuck to the side of Tokyo Tower, and a pair of wrist sweatbands. They’re black with a red stripe around the middle. Ignoring Kuroo’s cooing about how cute his surprised face is, Tsukishima picks up the wristbands.

“They’re for good luck at the Spring High preliminaries next week,” Kuroo explains. “They’re all black on the inside, so if you thought the red was too obvious you can flip them inside out. Do they fit?”

“Seems good,” Tsukshima answers, tugging one on. It’s a completely normal and practical gift, but a warm spot rises in the center of Tsukishima’s chest anyway. The good luck of wearing something from your boyfriend and the bad luck of wearing your rival team’s colors probably cancel each other out. “Thank you.”

“Sure, yeah.” Kuroo waves him off, looking a little flustered himself. “Hey, while we’re talking like this, can I ask you something? It’s a little serious.”

“What is it?” Tsukishima frowns.

“Not bad serious, just…listen, you’ve told a couple people, right?” Kuroo asks.

Tsukshima nods. “Yamaguchi. And Sugawara caught us. You?”

“Just Kenma,” Kuroo answers. “I think Yaku knows because you can’t hide anything from that guy. So it’s kind of a secret and you probably want to keep it that way for now and I get that but…listen, don’t be mad. You have to give me Bokuto.”

“NO,” Tsukishima blurts immediately.

“I know, I know, but listen—”

“NO!” Tsukishima interrupts more loudly, then winces because he doesn’t want his mother coming up here to figure out who he’s yelling at. “You cannot tell the loudest guy on the entire high school volleyball circuit! Do you even know what a secret is?!”

“Shh, calm down,” Kuroo soothes, like he was expecting all of this. “I know that’s what he seems like, but he wouldn’t out us, he’d keep an important secret if I asked him to. He spent tons of time with you and never told you I liked you.”

“You…told him that?” Tsukishima can’t even figure out which part of that to process. Part of him really likes the idea of Kuroo having a long-standing crush on him, but other parts of him are a little disturbed by the idea of Kuroo and Bokuto talking about him. Also it makes their interest in him during that first training camp…questionable. “How long ago?”

“A while,” Kuroo says vaguely, looking away. “Anyway, he’s my best friend, except for Kenma, but that’s different. Best bro. He knows something is up with me already, and he’ll really be hurt if I don’t tell him a big thing like this. Please?”

Tsukishima reaches up to rub his temples, but it’s a stall tactic; he’s already been undone by Kuroo’s ‘please’ and the fact that apparently this is ‘a big thing.’ “If you get one more, I get one more.”

“That’s fair!” Kuroo agrees quickly. “It’s not your captain, though, right? Because I don’t want him coming to Tokyo to murder me for touching his cute, innocent first year.”

“You haven’t actually touched me yet,” Tsukishima says without thinking, and then turns bright pink at Kuroo’s blink of surprise.

“Yet?” Kuroo asks. The surprise melts into that familiar smirk. “Oho. Ohoho~.”

“Shut up, whatever,” Tsukishima snaps. “Isn’t that the point of dating? Anyway I want to tell my brother.”

“Oh! Your…yeah, if you want.” Kuroo looks uncertain, but he nods. “Wasn’t expecting you to go for family right away. Will he… I mean, is that okay? Are you close?”

“I guess so. He’s away at college, so it won’t happen right away,” Tsukishima says. Truthfully he might not tell Akiteru for a bit anyway, but he wants the option because he isn’t in the habit of lying to his brother. He likes being on the higher moral ground. “Thank you.” Tsukishima looks down and realizes he’s drumming his fingers on the notebook. “What’s up with this notebook?”

“You’ll see,” Kuroo tells him, insufferable. “So, hey, did you watch yesterday’s Kyouryuuger yet? Oh man! Please say you did so we can talk about it without me spoiling you.”

“I keep telling you I have practice in the morning,” Tsukishima says.

“Tsukishima, don’t bullshit me, first of all everybody watches Sentai,” Kuroo rests his chin on his hand. “And secondly there’s no way a guy whose favorite dinosaur is a stegosaurus isn’t watching this thing.”

They stare at each over for several heartbeats.

“Fine, I stream it when I get home,” Tsukishima grumbles.

“HA! I knew it! Green reminds me of you, you know. Straight-laced high school kid.”

“We’re BOTH high school students, you asshole.”

A few days later, Tsukishima is peacefully taking notes during history when he flips the page over and finds a doodle of a spike-haired cat poking a bird with glasses, and he can’t help the loud snort.

“Something the matter, Tsukishima-kun?” his teacher asks, drolly.

“No, sensei,” Tsukishima says through gritted teach while Yamaguchi muffles laughter. He spends the rest of the lesson flipping quietly through the notebook to find two dozen or so small drawings in various places, and during lunch he texts Kuroo to tell him he’s an asshole.

November

With Nationals and Spring High preliminaries over, things are quiet for November. Even practice is a bit tamer than usual, since several of them came out of Nationals with injuries, Tsukishima’s dislocated finger included. Sometimes Coach Ukai even chases them out after only an hour or so of practice, especially the seniors.

“Get out of here and study, huh?” Ukai says, shooing them off with a stern look. “Especially the third years! Don’t you all have entrance exams to think about? Don’t wanna end up working part-time for me, do you? And eat real food!”

“This is a first, an Ukai telling us we can’t practice,” Daichi grumbles as they scuttle out, making Sugawara and Nishinoya laugh.

The routine of the following weeks is punctuated by regular Line conversations and the semi-regular send and return of Kuroo’s digital mixtape. Tsukishima is no good at picking songs with some sort of message, so instead he sends favorites and whatever he’s been listening to without worrying much about whether Kuroo will like them or not; after the first tape, Kuroo does the same. As advertised, Kuroo’s tastes run more to pop than Tsukishima’s, but there are usually a few things he likes enough to move over to his phone. It’s fine to be exposed to stuff he wouldn’t listen to on his own, he supposes, even if he only realizes he’s humming the new Arashi single to himself when a couple of his female classmates start giggling at him.

Kuroo’s birthday is in the middle of that, November 17th, and Tsukishima spends an hour trying to figure out how to even handle that before he realizes he’s a moron and can ask for help from somebody a lot closer who already knows the situation. Bokuto is just as obnoxiously loud over the phone as he is in person, but he knows Kuroo’s favorite karaoke place, tricks him there with ease, and then puts Tsukishima on the phone to sing the stupid Kyouryuuger theme song with him. He also hands Kuroo a wrapped present that Tsukishima had nothing to do with, and then hisses, “You’ll thank me later, bro” into the phone before hanging up on Tsukishima.

“Condoms,” Kuroo reports without a trace of shame later. “So many condoms. They glow in the dark and I think they might be strawberry flavored.”

“I JUST SAID NOT TO TELL ME,” Tsukishima snaps, face red enough to probably glow in the dark as well.

Tsukishima isn’t exactly sure how it turned out this way, but by the end of November he and Kuroo have a weekly Skype date to watch Kyouryuuger together, plus whatever else one of them thought was good that week. Sometimes Kenma is in the background of Kuroo’s room, playing on his usual handheld, and other times Yamaguchi is over if they’ve been doing homework. Once or twice Kuroo helps them with their math when even Tsukishima was stumped.

“Wow, Kuroo-san is smart!” Yamaguchi gushes, almost tearfully relieved at being saved from any more geometry.

“Well, I am two years ahead of you,” Kuroo points out, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. From behind him, Kenma calls lazily that Kuroo should do his math homework too, if he’s so good at it, and Kuroo rolls his eyes as he calls behind him, “Do it yourself, brat!”

Akiteru comes home eventually, on break from classes for a few days. Tsukishima doesn’t hang around outside his room any more than usual, but he doesn’t kick Akiteru out when he knocks and asks if he can come in.

“So,” Akiteru says when he’s sitting on the edge of Tsukishima’s bed. He looks good, Tsukishima notices idly, arms toned from volleyball practice and hair getting longer like he’s been too busy to bother cutting it. “I saw like two minutes of Spring High preliminaries on TV. Tell me everything.”

Tsukishima rolls his eyes, but when he opens his mouth, he…tells Akiteru everything. He only means to say something about Oikawa or Ushijima, since he assumes Akiteru knows who they are, or maybe that ridiculous tall guy from Kakugawa. But then he just keeps going about the weirdos from Johzenji and how Wakutani’s captain had a Small Giant obsession just like Hinata, and how it’s kind of annoying they didn’t get to play Datekou again since Tsukishima put all that effort into blocking practice, and then they went and lost to Seijou like a bunch of jerks.

It’s probably the longest Tsukishima has ever talked to his brother about anything. He guesses all the Skyping accidentally trained him, or something.

“So you guys might get to do the Battle of the Trash Dump after all?” Akiteru asks when Tsukishima finally takes a breath. Tsukishima nods. “Awesome. What’s Nekoma like this year? You already had some practice matches with them, right?”

“They’re focused on receives, on getting the ball back to their setter. They call him their brain.”

“Is he their captain?” Akiteru asks. “I didn’t see any of the Tokyo coverage.”

“No, he’s only a second year.” Tsukishima tries to figure out how to summarize Nekoma, but it’s difficult, and Kuroo’s stupid hair and smug grin and golden eyes keep flashing into his mind, distracting him. “They’re a little slow to start, but they’re clever. Flexible. Really annoying.” Somewhere Kuroo is laughing at him, he knows it. “It’s easier to show you. I think I still have some footage on my phone.”

Kuroo had sent him a couple videos last week of them running a practice match, regulars versus non-regulars. He’d claimed he had a first year film them with his phone just to show Lev how he was still flailing his fucking hands, but Tsukishima privately thought that Kuroo just wanted to show off.

“Here,” Tsukishima says, handing over his phone and tapping it to play. Even on the small screen from a slight distance, he can see Kuroo glancing over his shoulder to make sure the guy is filming, grinning. “That jerk in the middle is their captain.”

“Hmm,” Akiteru says, focused on watching the gameplay. “Ah, they are slippery, aren’t they? Cats.”

And then, because Tsukishima’s luck and Kuroo’s timing are exactly like that, Kuroo Lines him at just that moment, making the notification at the top of the screen slide down over the video.

[home from practice don’t forget skype date in an hr]

For a second neither one of them does anything as the notification disappears and Tsukishima thinks, that wasn’t too incriminating, right? He’ll just play it cool and pretend nothing happened.

[also ur mixtape came and its almost as adorable as u r]

“Ohohohohoho,” Akiteru starts, and Tsukishima groans, his cheeks already turning pink. “What’s all that about, hey?”

“It’s not that serious,” Tsukishima grumbles, staring at the carpet and wishing he’d thought to just go to YouTube for game footage or something.

“Doesn’t look like nothing~,” Akiteru teases, reaching over to ruffle Tsukishima’s hair. Tsukishima scowls and shoves him off. “Youth! C’mon, little brother, tell me her name.”

Tsukishima pauses. Kuroo already said it was fine, but he doesn’t have to. He could deny it. He could just give Kuroo’s family name, which wouldn’t tell his brother anything. But instead Tsukishima takes a deep breath, looks his brother in the eye and says, “Tetsurou. Kuroo Tetsurou from Nekoma.”

Akiteru’s shocked face, wide eyes and mouth a perfect O, would be hilarious if Tsukishima didn’t feel like he was about about to have a panic attack.

Then Akiteru starts laughing, making Tsukishima jump. “Could you possibly pick a worse person to date than Nekoma’s captain, you moron?”

“I really couldn’t,” Tsukishima says, not quite ready to laugh yet, but some of the panic ebbs away. He wants to ask if it’s all right, but he doesn’t want the answer. “You’re the first person I’ve told on purpose.” Akiteru raises an eyebrow. “Sugawara caught us in the—no, never mind,” he retracts hastily. And he surely isn’t going to mention Hinata and the girls’ bathroom.

“Uh-huhhhh,” Akiteru says, eyeing Tsukishima. Tsukishima tries to look innocent. “Can I meet him? You have a Skype date, right?”

“That…” sounds like a terrible idea, Tsukishima wants to say, but Akiteru seems to be ready to play this low-key, and Tsukishima cautiously would like to encourage that. “You aren’t going to ask him weird stuff, are you? Like if he has honorable intentions?”

“He’s Nekoma’s third-year captain, of course he doesn’t have honorable intentions,” Akiteru snorts, and Tsukishima presses his lips together into a thin line. Should he protest that they haven’t basically done anything yet, or is that actually more embarrassing?

So that’s how he ends up answering Kuroo’s Skype call with Akiteru sitting backwards in his own desk chair, borrowed from his room next door, because Kuroo should have to suffer right along with him.

“My brother wants to meet you so don’t say anything weird,” Tsukishima says quickly, making Kuroo freeze just as he’s opening his mouth. He looks like a deer in the headlights. “Akiteru, this is Kuroo-san. Kuroo-san, my brother, Akiteru.”

“Nice to meet you, Kuroo-kun,” Akiteru says, leaning in a little.

“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you,” Kuroo answers, and at least his manners are decent. His arms are folded nervously across his chest, but he dips his head in a polite bow. “You’re at university, right? Tsukki says you’re still playing volleyball.”

Akiteru’s lips twitch at the nickname, making Tsukishima grit his teeth, but he doesn’t comment on it. “I do. Wing spiker. You’re a middle blocker, right? Kei was showing me a video of your team.”

“Y-yeah.” Kuroo seems surprised, glancing to Tsukishima and back. “We did free practice together during training camp.” A trace of Kuroo’s sass reappears. “One of us needed a lot of practice.”

“Shut up,” Tsukishima tells him, but there isn’t much heat in it.

Tsukishima mostly just listens as Akiteru deftly turns the conversation towards what Kuroo plans to do after graduation. He’s not surprised to hear that Kuroo’s going for university, he’s certainly smart enough, but he is a little surprised to hear that Kuroo isn’t set on a place yet.

“I’ve got a few choices in mind,” Kuroo says. “I think I’d like to major in sports training or physical education, maybe go into coaching after I’m done playing. Nekomata suggested it. But that won’t be for a while, you know.”

“It’s hard to picture what comes next,” Akiteru agrees. “All right, I’ll leave you two kids alone. Nothing too scandalous, okay? We share a wall.” Akiteru ruffles Tsukishima’s hair on the way by, picking up his chair to take back with him.

When the door clicks shut, Tsukishima and Kuroo heave identical sighs of relief.

“Fuck, don’t do that to me!” Kuroo exclaims, arms flopping down to his side. “I nearly had a heart attack! I was all excited to show you my new shirt and—”

“Does that say ‘Block out with your cock out?!'” Tsukishima demands, because yes, it does, and no wonder Kuroo kept his arms folded so tightly across his chest. Tsukishima starts laughing first, nervous snickers trickling out without his permission just because of relief at the whole situation being over, and soon both of them are dying, slumped in their chairs. Tsukishima is trying to muffle his volume with his hand because Akiteru really does share his wall, but Kuroo is doing no such thing, making Tsukishima’s shitty laptop speakers crackle.

“Oh man, you’re the worst,” Kuroo gasps, finally winding down. “Next time you answer, it’s going to be my mom sitting in my chair, I swear to god. Hey, are you okay? Telling him. That’s kind of a big deal.”

“It wasn’t really,” Tsukishima says, picking at the knee of his jeans where they’re starting to fray. Now that it’s over, he wants to downplay it and ignore the traces of anxiety still lurking in his chest until they go away completely. “You told people.”

“I told Bokuto,” Kuroo corrects. “That’s not…okay, he’s people, but he isn’t…c’mon, you know what I’m trying to say.”

Tsukishima stares evenly until Kuroo huffs a sigh.

“Bo wasn’t going to care, and I knew it,” Kuroo says. “He was safe. Telling your brother isn’t anything like that. He seemed all right with it, though, so I’m glad. And I’m glad you think this is worth telling him about. Were you scared?”

Tsukishima shrugs, then nods, then says, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Let’s just watch the stuff, then,” Kuroo says agreeably. He clicks around on his computer, eyes on the screen but not exactly on Tsukishima. “It really sucks that I can’t hug you right now, you know.”

“Yeah,” Tsukishima agrees. Kuroo’s eyes meet his briefly, then slide away again. Tsukishima reaches behind him and grabs the stegosaurus plushy off his bed to squish in his lap in place of hugging, hopefully low enough to be mostly out of sight of his webcam.

It’s not nearly close enough, but it’s better than nothing.

December

Before Tsukishima knows it, it’s December, which Tsukishima doesn’t think of as anything special until gets a text that says [just bought ur present hohoho].

[Present for what?] Tsukishima asks, pausing so suddenly that Yamaguchi runs into his shoulder.

[christmas dumbass]

“Fuck, come on!” Tsukishima yells at his phone. “I just did your birthday!”

“Christmas is for couples, though,” Yamaguchi points out, reading over Tsukshima’s shoulder. “At least he warned you, because you’d feel like a pretty big asshole if you didn’t get him anything after he sent you something.”

“Dating is the worst,” Tsukshima grumbles as he sends back the reply that Kuroo is, in fact, the dumbass here. “I quit.”

“Aw, don’t quit now,” Yamaguchi encourages, patting Tsukishima’s back. “Then you’ll never get your present. Hang in there, Tsukki~.”

[If you call your boyfriend names santa-san might put you on the naughty list. unless thats the list you want to be on heyyyyyy]

Another afternoon on the shopping street nets Tsukishima a perfectly serviceable scarf for Kuroo, soft and warm. He’d thought for a moment about finding out which college Kuroo was most serious about and picking that color for the scarf, be he rejected the idea in the end because even if Kuroo had a top choice, which Tsukishima wasn’t sure he did, it wouldn’t be a very good present if he didn’t get accepted. Tsukishima sticks with red and black striped for Nekoma’s colors, figuring Kuroo will appreciate the sentiment even if his time there is almost over. On the way home, he stops at the shrine where his family does their New Year’s visit and picks up a charm for good luck on exams, then considers himself done.

The week of Christmas Eve, Kuroo’s present arrives, but when Tsukshima opens the box, inside is another, smaller box and a note that says he can’t open it until their Skype date Tuesday night. Tsukishima clicks his tongue, irritated that he didn’t think of that, then sits the present on the corner of his desk and tries to ignore it. After a couple minutes of trying and failing to start his English homework, Tsukshima has to shut it in a desk drawer.

Tsukishima doesn’t know why he expected any better, but when the Skype date finally arrives, Kuroo answers the call already wearing the scarf and and an idiotic grin.

“I’m hanging up,” Tsukishima says flatly, reaching for his mouse.

“NONONO,” Kuroo protests, but he’s laughing. “Aw, come on! You seriously didn’t open it? Shit, I would have lasted two hours, tops.”

“Fuck you fuck you fuck you,” Tsukishima chants under his breath as he tears open the paper with the jaunty snowmen that have been tormenting him all week, and he only pauses when he gets the lid off the box and sees there’s nothing inside it but a slip of paper that reads ‘your present experienced a delay in shipping and will arrive on the first train Dec. 28th by very handsome courier.’ “What the fuck is this?”

“Ah, well,” Kuroo scratches his nose, “I couldn’t exactly skip school just to come see you, so it’ll have to wait until this weekend. Surprise?”

Tsukishima puts his head in his hands for a moment because of course his asshole boyfriend wrapped and told him not to open an empty box as a mechanism to say he wanted to come and visit. Can’t one single thing ever be normal?

“You could have just told me,” he finally says, picking up his head to glare. “I didn’t have to bother mailing mine at all if I was going to just see you!” There’s a pause where Kuroo just waits before it all sinks in. “Wait, you’re coming here? To see me?”

“If that’s okay, yeah.” Kuroo shrugs, but Tsukishima can see the hint of nervousness in it. “It is, right? Because I really want to see you.”

“Yes,” Tsukishima answers, trying not to shift awkwardly. He wants to see Kuroo too, but he doesn’t want to admit it out loud, and the same knot of anxiety as before the last practice match reappears in his chest. “My school’s out by then, and we have a few days off practice. And you’ll never make it onto first train.”

“Shut it, you, I could!” Kuroo protests. A message window pops up with a link in it. “Click that.”

“Tell me what it is first, I’m really done with your surprises right now.”

“It’s our date. Just do it, hurry up.”

“Our…” Tsukishima clicks the link as instructed and is surprised to end up on a page aggregating videos of various lumination displays for different cities. “Eh?”

“We’re gonna look at Christmas luminations together like a normal couple,” Kuroo informs him. “Except way smarter because we’re not gonna freeze our nuts off doing it, and we won’t waste a whole day on the train going to Sapporo or Kobe.”

Tsukishima can’t suppress all of the smile that turns up the corners of his mouth. “Well. All right.”

Eventually it becomes Saturday, and Tsukishima is not at all surprised when Kuroo texts to say he’ll be at his station shortly after noon. He tries to sleep in, since it is his first day of break, but Tsukishima is too antsy and ends up going for a run in the morning. It doesn’t really work, nervous anxiety still balled up right in the center of his chest.

“It’s stupid to be nervous,” he complains to Yamaguchi as they run. “We already met! Why am I still nervous?”

“I don’t know,” Yamaguchi answers, more out of breath since his stride isn’t as long. He side-eyes Tsukishima. “You know…maybe you aren’t nervous at all. Maybe you just really like him, huh?”

“What?” Tsukishima clicks his tongue in annoyance. “I know what being nervous feels like.”

“But you never liked anyone before,” Yamaguchi points out, entirely too reasonable. “They kind of feel the same, I think. Your chest gets all tight and your heart feels squeezy and right before you see them it gets like three times worse. Is it like that?”

“No,” Tsukishima lies. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Plus I never even saw you blush before this started, and now I can probably make you do it just by saying Kuroo-san’s name a few times.”

“Feelings are the worst,” Tsukshima growls with feeling, which makes Yamaguchi laugh until he has to stop and brace his hands on his knees, wheezing.

Tsukishima is still thinking about that while he waits for Kuroo’s train to come in, hands shoved in his pockets and headphones blocking out all the people around him. Unfortunately it can’t block out his own thoughts, or the way that his heart jumps in his chest when he finally spots the familiar black hair spikes sticking out above the shorter Japanese commuters. He stands still, letting Kuroo spot him, and not hearing a word of whatever Kuroo is shouting at him while waving his arms like an idiot. For the three seconds it takes Kuroo to cross the station floor, Tsukishima considers Kuroo’s excited grin and the way it looks like he slept with his face crushed against the train window.

Shit, he thinks with some exasperation. I like you way too much.

He doesn’t move as Kuroo rolls his eyes and reaches up to tug Tsukishima’s headphones off his ears and down around his neck.

“—say hello properly?” is the half of his question that Tsukishima hears.

“So much for first train,” is Tsukishima’s answer.

“Hmmm,” Kuroo says. “Ugh, did you get taller again? Fucking quit that. Anyway, show me your house and stuff, come on.”

Kuroo looks around with interest as they walk from the station towards Tsukishima’s house, as if he’s memorizing the route. Tsukishima doesn’t mean to play tour guide, but he ends up answering most of Kuroo’s questions about which way to the school or where Yamaguchi lives or where Tsukishima buys his Shounen Jumps.

“Please enjoy these,” Kuroo says to Tsukishima’s mother, an aggravatingly polite guest as he hands over his box of Tokyo omiyage. He answers some questions about his team and school and exams cheerfully, and then just as Tsukishima is gearing up to do something drastic, turns to Tsukishima to say, “This guy says I’m not allowed to see his room, though.”

“What?” Tsukishima-san rolls her eyes while Tsukishima sputters. “You take your friend upstairs to put his things down right now, honestly. He came the whole way from Tokyo to see you, heaven knows why.”

“You,” Tsukishima hisses as they climb the stairs, Kuroo muffling laughter behind his hand the entire way.

He’s barely got the door shut before Kuroo is spinning him around by the shoulders and kissing him firmly. The nerves still fluttering in his chest seem to spread out to his skin, and he’s still frozen in surprise when Kuroo pulls back.

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that?” Kuroo asks. There’s a little pink stripe over his nose, and he looks half thrilled and half uncertain. “It’s okay, right?”

“Y-yeah,” Tsukishima manages, feeling strangely breathless from such a small thing. Kuroo’s hands are warm on his shoulders through his T-shirt, and Tsukishima realizes that his own hands are fisted in the front of Kuroo’s hoodie. ”It’s fine.”

“Good.” Kuroo pulls Tsukishima in a little closer, hands sliding down to the small of Tsukishima’s back. Just before their mouths touch, he says, “Try closing your eyes this time, you’re freaking me out.”

Tsukishima snorts into the kiss, because I’m freaking YOU out?!, which makes Kuroo snicker a laugh, but neither one of them pulls away. The second kiss lasts long enough for the weirdness of kissing to fade, and it turns into the third and fourth before Tsukishima forgets to keep count any longer. When they finally do pull apart, both of them are pink-cheeked and Tsukishima’s lips are tingling; when he licks them, Kuroo’s eyes widen.

“Yeah, okay, break, break,” Kuroo says, sounding a little breathless as he pushes Tsukishima back a step. “You promised to take me somewhere you like to eat, so if we don’t get out of here in about ten seconds, I’m never leaving again. Oh, plus your present!”

“Huh?” Tsukishima asks stupidly, before his brain finally kicks back into gear. “Oh, right. Hand that over, you.”

“Tada!” Kuroo tugs a squashy package out from his backpack, wrapped in more of those cursed jaunty snowmen, and presents it proudly. “Oh man, you are gonna love this!”

Tsukishima pauses, because that’s a warning sign if he ever heard one, but in the end his curiosity gets the better of him and he rips open the paper. A soft, gray hoodie falls out into his hands. A soft, gray hoodie with dinosaur spikes the whole way from its hood down to its pointed, black spiked tail. For several seconds Tsukishima is actually speechless.

“Your face right now, oh my god,” Kuroo starts laughing. “Put it on!”

“Nothing on earth can make me wear this thing,” Tsukishima hisses. “I am not dressing up like some mascot on a creepy kids show!”

“You’re gonna eat those words once you try it on, because this is the most comfortable hoodie in the entire world,” Kuroo informs him, pulling the hoodie out of his hands and undoing the zipper. Somehow he manages to get Tsukishima’s arms inside it and zipped up despite Tsukishima’s struggles. “Don’t bother to lie, because I already tested it out.”

It actually might be the most comfortable hoodie in the world, soft and warm and not staticky at all, plus it smells vaguely like Kuroo. Tsukishima hates everything in the whole world.

“I’m not wearing it outside,” Tsukishima reports. It only makes Kuroo’s self-satisfaction more evident.

“Fine by me if I’m the only one who ever sees this,” Kuroo says, looking him up and down. Tsukishima mutters that he’s a pervert and a weirdo as he quickly strips the hoodie off and throws it over his desk chair.

The ramen place Tsukishima likes is only a ten-minute walk away, and the lunch rush is over, so the two of them are the only ones inside. While they wait for their food, Kuroo reaches over to pick up Tsukishima’s hand. Tsukishima opens his mouth to protest, but Kuroo only examines Tsukishima’s previously dislocated finger. Tsukishima’s hand is mostly back to normal, the webbing between his fingers a little discolored.

“Healed well,” Kuroo comments, flipping Tsukishima’s hand over to look at his palm. The brush of Kuroo’s fingers against his skin is clinical, but the attention feels pleasant. Kuroo pushes Tsukishima’s fingers into a curl, then straightens them out again. “Still hurt at all?”

“It gets a little stiff, but it’s mostly good,” Tsukishima answers. Kuroo nods as if satisfied, and Tsukishima expects him to let go; he’s surprised when Kuroo slides his fingers through Tsukishima’s. It only lasts a couple seconds, just long enough for Tsukishima to know what holding hands with Kuroo feels like, before Kuroo pulls away.

The ramen occupies them after that, Kuroo commenting on the difference between Sendai-style and Tokyo-style. He refuses the few drops of chili oil Tsukshima explains you’re supposed to use, citing his cat’s tongue as an excuse and laughing as Tsukishima rolls his eyes. They’re stuffed when they leave and it’s freezing, but Kuroo insists they get ice cream anyway, saying that if he’s only going to get one date every three months, they’ll just have to do as many date things as once as possible.

Once they head back, there’s only a couple hours until Kuroo has to catch his train. After some awkward negotiation with their long limbs and sharp elbows, somehow they end up in a reasonably comfortable cuddle, Kuroo’s chest against Tsukishima’s back, one arm thrown over his waist, re-watching the Christmas episode of Kyouryuuger from last weekend on Tsukishima’s laptop. Tsukishima’s skin feels tingly and over-warm, but it feels good to be close, better when he relaxes into it enough that Kuroo’s breath stirs his hair. He makes it about fifteen minutes into the episode before he rolls over and kisses Kuroo, the closeness too much for him to take without doing something about it.

“Ohh?” Kuroo asks, but he doesn’t tease any more than that before kissing back, pulling Tsukishima closer with the arm still around his waist. Tsukishima brings a hand up to run fingers through the mess of Kuroo’s hair, surprised by its softness, and startles when Kuroo makes a low noise against his mouth. Tsukishima has to bite his lip to keep from doing the same when Kuroo slides a hand under his T-shirt to lay his palm flat against the bare skin of Tsukishima’s back.

Making out like this, tangled flush together on Tsukishima’s bed, feels a lot different than kissing against the door had. They don’t go much further, not with Tsukishima’s mother downstairs and Kuroo’s phone alarm set to go off in another fifteen minutes, but it still feels illicit and exciting, as if they were a lot more naked than they actually are. Kuroo’s palm skates higher up Tsukishima’s spine, and Tsukishima makes an embarrassing noise which is mostly muffled by Kuroo’s mouth, thankfully.

“Didn’t think you’d be loud,” Kuroo chuckles, pulling back to look him over with a low-lidded gaze. Something about that irritates Tsukishima, wondering who exactly Kuroo is comparing him to and how many others Kuroo has done this with. He orders himself not to care and, even more irritating, finds that he can’t. “Why are you making that face?”

“Because I like you too much,” Tsukishima says, too annoyed with himself to realize what he said until Kuroo’s face lights up with delight. He could take it back, but instead he just clenches his jaw stubbornly.

“Yeah?” Kuroo looks so pleased to hear that, genuinely happy. “Awesome. This whole trip was totally worth just hearing you say that.”

“Shut up,” Tsukishima grumbles, face heating up. He lets Kuroo kiss him again, though, then keeps kissing him over and over until Kuroo’s phone starts chirping at them to “Brave in” like an impatient voyeur.

He can’t hold Kuroo’s hand on the way back to the train station. He can’t kiss Kuroo goodbye. He can’t demand Kuroo stay in Miyagi for the night, for the weekend or the break, or long enough for them to re-watch every episode of this year’s Sentai.

“This sucks,” Tsukishima says flatly as they stand under the electronic board posting the train times.

“Yeah. Spring High’s in a couple of weeks, at least,” Kuroo points out. “I’d say we could make out in the bathroom, but that one teammate of yours tends to stumble into the bathroom at the worst possible times.”

“I think it’s his super power,” Tsukishima says, which makes Kuroo give an unexpected hoot of laughter. It does something funny to the center of Tsukishima’s chest every time he makes Kuroo laugh out loud. He wants to grab Kuroo’s hoodie and kiss him hard enough to make every person in this station blush. He shoves his hands in his pockets.

“I really want to kiss you,” Kuroo says, as if he’s reading Tsukishima’s mind. “I’m going to spend the next two weeks figuring out the best place to make out with you at the tournament.”

“I expressly forbid you to do that,” Tsukshima tells him, knowing it’s futile. Kuroo surprises Tsukishima with a hug, quick enough that Tsukishima is too startled to shove him off, tight enough that Tsukishima feels the strength of his grip.

“Hey,” Kuroo murmurs, close to Tsukishima’s ear. “I like you too, Tsukki.”

“Don’t call me that,” Tsukishima says, squirming out of Kuroo’s grip and taking a step back. He feels like everyone is staring.

Kuroo’s face is incredulous. “Really? I still can’t—”

“Kei,” Tsukishima interrupts. The whole thing is so embarrassing, but Kuroo’s mouth is hanging open, and Tsukishima feels smug about shocking him for once. Serves him right for getting all touchy-feely in the train station.

Unfortunately, Kuroo recovers quickly. He repeats, “Kei,” like he’s testing it out. The sound of Kuroo saying his name for the first time feels so much bigger than it ought to, traveling right down Tsukishima’s spine. “Shit, I have to go.”

Tsukishima can still feel the echo of Kuroo’s hug after he’s walked home and back to his room. Throwing himself down onto his bed to sulk, Tsukishima has the unwelcome realization that curling up on his side just makes him miss the careless weight of Kuroo’s arm over his hip, makes him want solid warmth against his back. He wants to hear Kuroo say his name again.

“Fuuuuuck,” he groans, rolling over to bury his face in his pillow. It smells just a little like Kuroo still, and Tsukishima wants to smother himself to death with it for a variety of reasons.

The next time they Skype, Tsukishima answers wearing the dinosaur hoodie. Kuroo’s face lights up with so much glee that Tsukishima hangs up on him before he even gets a word out. Tsukishima petulantly ignores the boop-bee-boop of the Skype ringtone, arms crossed, as if somehow his glare will reach Kuroo.

[aw come on just answer it i swear i wont laugh]

[kei come on]

[keiiii]

[keiiiiiiiiiiiiii]

Kuroo makes it up to three lines of i’s before Tsukishima grudgingly clicks the answer button. Kuroo is pouting at him, but Tsukishima eyes him, unimpressed. Kuroo’s pout breaks into his usually easy-going grin after only a few seconds of stalemate.

“If you don’t like it, I can take it back off your hands,” Kuroo suggests. “Trade you my really sweet Nekoma jacket, because seeing you wear my jacket, damn—”

“Over my dead body,” Tsukishima interrupts, voice flat. Kuroo bursts out laughing, and Tsukishima has to smile at that, just a little.

January

Long practices and strategy meetings for Spring High make the days rush by faster than Hinata on a sugar high, until Karasuno is loading up the bus to head towards Tokyo. It’s barely dawn and freezing cold, which is what Tsukishima blames his shaking fingers on as it takes him four tries to tap the message to Kuroo that they’re leaving. He doesn’t expect a response, since it isn’t like Kuroo has to be up nearly as early, but it only takes a minute for Kuroo to send back a good morning.

[what the hell are you up for?] Tsukishima asks.

[bo slept over and he kicks. oh man today is gonna be SO GREAT]

They go back and forth for a little while before Kuroo says he’s getting up for a run.

“When you smile like that it’s cute and creepy at the same time,” Yamaguchi comments, making Tsukishima jump because he swore Yamaguchi was asleep. He turns to glare, but Yamaguchi just chuckles. “Not just excited to play?”

“Who’s excited,” Tsukishima scowls, thumbing his volume up so he doesn’t hear whatever other crap Yamaguchi is saying.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium can’t be that much bigger than the Miyagi Prefectural Gymnasium, but it’s overwhelming. As soon as they’re off the bus it feels like the bustle of all the other teams is trying to sweep them away from each other, Ukai’s hollering for them to grab their stuff and not get lost barely intelligible over the noise of so many overexcited teenagers in one place. Tsukishima manages to get off a quick message to Kuroo that they’re here, but isn’t surprised when he doesn’t feel an answering buzz from his phone, tucked safely in his pocket while his hands are full.

He is surprised when he turns around from helping Yachi with the weight of the cooler to find Kuroo casually chatting with Sugawara. It doesn’t seem like just idle smalltalk or Kuroo asking where Tsukishima is either, although Tsukishima can’t hear what they’re saying from his distance; it seems like they’re really talking about something. Even when Kuroo looks up and sees Tsukishima watching, he doesn’t break off the conversation immediately.

“What’s up, Kei-pop,” Kuroo greets when he does finally stroll over. Tsukishima gives him his most unimpressed look.

No,” Tsukishima says firmly. “And what was that about?”

“Asked him to use his dubious charms to keep your captain from interrupting.” Kuroo grabs Tsukshima’s wrist and pulls him along. “Come here, hurry up.”

“You did not,” Tsukishima hisses, but he doesn’t want to argue loud enough to draw attention to them as they slip away. A quick glance around shows nobody paying them any mind, to Tsukishima’s relief.

The relief only lasts until Kuroo drags him into the girls’ bathroom.

“The girl teams’ area is on the other side of the stadium, so nobody’ll come in here, right?” Kuroo reassures. The smartness of that makes Tsukishima pause before opening his mouth to argue, and then it’s too late because Kuroo is already pressing Tsukishima up against the back of the door to kiss him.

It feels sharp and desperate in a way that kissing in Tsukishima’s bedroom hadn’t, the adrenaline for the start of the tournament already bright in his veins. When Kuroo leans in close enough for their chests to touch, Tsukishima can feel the way his heart is hammering too. Kuroo’s cheeks are turning pink and his eyes are bright when he pulls back to look at Tsukishima.

“I can’t wait to play you,” he murmurs, as if it’s some kind of endearment; it makes Tsukishima’s blood rush as if he’d just told Tsukishima he loved him. “Don’t you dare lose your block! Nobody’s allowed to kick your ass but me!”

“Fuck you, we’re going to crush you,” Tsukishima replies. They grin at each other stupidly for a second before Tsukishima’s mouth finds Kuroo’s again. It’s hard to say whether he likes the kissing or the trashtalk better; with Kuroo they’re both so damn appealing. They can only linger for a few minutes, but when they break apart Tsukishima feels like every nerve ending is buzzing.

“You good?” Kuroo asks, trying to finger-comb away the evidence of Tsukishima’s hands in his hair. Tsukishima can’t see any difference. He wonders if anyone else at Spring High is secretly meeting up in some bathroom or corner, if they feel almost out of their skin with a crazy mixture of adrenaline and nerves and want. In the dozens of teams that come, there must be a few, right?

“Suddenly I get why everybody thinks all the guys in sports anime teams are doing it,” Tsukishima says wryly. Kuroo barks a laugh as he sneaks a last, quick kiss.

“Rivals are better,” he says.

When they slip out of the bathroom door, both of them trying to look casual, Hinata is just coming out of the male bathroom, and his eyes pop comically wide.

“Shut it,” Tsukshima warns before Hinata can holler anything to draw attention to them.

“Damn, that really is your super power, huh, kid?” Kuroo whistles, making Hinata blink in confusion. He jerks a thumb in the opposite direction of Karusuno’s spot. “I’m this way. Don’t forget, Tsukki, I won’t forgive you if you don’t win your block!”

“Of COURSE we’re gonna win!” Hinata shouts at Kuroo’s retreating back, before Tsukishima can answer. He scowls down at Hinata, but Hinata just looks back up at him thoughtfully. “I guess this is the only time you can see each other, huh? That must suck.”

“Eh?” Tsukishima asks. “What are you talking about, idiot?”

“Because you’re dating,” Hinata says, enunciating his words as if Tsukishima is the idiot here. A knot of cold panic rises up in Tsukishima’s chest. He opens his mouth to deny it, to threaten Hinata into never talking about it again, but Hinata is already blathering on. “Isn’t it hard to like someone who’s so far away, though? It sounds tough. But Kuroo-san is really cool and he helped you out a lot during training camp so it’s only natural that you’d like him, I guess. Like when you get a crush on a cute girl senpai because you did some class activity together, right? Like do you think Kuroo-san is cooler than Kiyoko-san?”

Hinata finally pauses, looking up for Tsukishima’s reaction. Tsukishima’s mouth is frozen still partially open, some of the panic still squeezing his chest, but it seems stupid to argue now that they’ve been talking about it for a solid minute and clearly Hinata knows for sure. Also Hinata seems unexpectedly casual about it.

“Kuroo isn’t cute or cool,” Tsukishima says. “How do you know any of this?”

“Kenma told me.” Hinata shrugs. “But to be honest I kind of knew anyway because you went into the closet and didn’t even come back with a broom.”

“Well…” Tsukishima makes a face because when Hinata says it, it sounds so stupid. They’re almost back to the others, and Tsukishima tugs Hinata’s sleeve to make him stop. “Can you not talk about this with anybody? I don’t want…” Tsukishima trails off, not exactly sure what he doesn’t want. For anyone to know? To think he’s gay? To be mad it’s with someone from the rival team?

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Hinata assures. But just when Tsukishima has an iota of good will towards him, he adds, “Although if you don’t want anybody to notice, you probably shouldn’t meet in the girls’ bathroom.”

The worst part about it is that Tsukishima can’t even yell at Hinata because he’s absolutely right. Tsukishima settles for a grumbled, “Shut up,” as he shoulders past Hinata.

Karasuno wins their first round, then their second, then their block. Tsukishima’s hand is still throbbing from the last block where he basically jammed his middle two fingers, but he uses it to text Kuroo an [I told you so] anyway. Kuroo’s answer is almost immediate, which means their match must have ended earlier. Tsukishima scans the upper deck until he finds the blob of red jerseys; they’re pretty far away, but he can still see the way Kuroo points right at him, the sharp edge of the smirk that says they’re coming to fuck Karasuno up, just wait.

“It’s creepy when you smile like that,” Yamaguchi teases, startling Tsukishima into looking down just before Yamaguchi grabs him in a tight hug. A second later Tsukishima grunts as a couple other people hit his back and squeeze all the air out of his lungs, probably Tanaka and Hinata based on the sheer volume.

“THAT LAST BLOCK WAS MAGIC YOU TERRIBLE ASSHOLE,” Tanaka hollers, right in his ear.

“WHAT?” Tsukishima hollers back. “I COULDN’T HEAR BECAUSE NOW I’M DEAF FOREVER, DICK.”

“STOP SHOUTING CURSE WORDS AT EACH OTHER,” Sugawara shouts, making sure Tsukishima is now deaf in the other side as well as he grabs the backs of their shirts to shake them apart.

[go ice your hand bc i got plans for all ur fingers] Tsukishima’s phone says when he looks, which makes Yamaguchi crack up laughing.

“He means for volleyball, you pervert!” Tsukishima snaps, blushing pink all across his nose. Yamaguchi laughs harder, clutching his stomach, and Tsukishima gives up because he isn’t 100% sure that Kuroo does mean volleyball entirely.

They make it to the last round, but they play Nekoma in the semi-finals, and to Tsukishima that’s the goal of the tournament. When Tsukishima and Kuroo are both in the vanguard there’s nothing like it, nothing that can make his concentration sharper, nothing better than the fierce triumph in his chest when he smashes down a block or unravels one of Kenma’s plans. Maybe he should wish that Kuroo was on the same side of the net as him, but Tsukishima doesn’t. Looking through the net to see Kuroo grinning or glaring at him is so much better.

Rivals are better, Kuroo said earlier. Tsukishima wishes the gap between them were smaller so that this wouldn’t be the last time they played like this. Next year Kuroo will be at university tournaments, and jealousy is a dull burn in Tsukishima’s chest that others will get to stare down Kuroo through this net when Tsukishima can’t.

“Oho, your face just got scary,” Kuroo says. “Don’t lose focus, now.”

“Speak for yourself. I’ll make you look at just me,” Tsukishima growls, and the spark of fire in Kuroo’s eyes says if a read-block is what Tsukishima wants, that’s what he’ll get.

Kuroo probably gets more blocks than Tsukishima in that match, and he certainly scores more points, but Tsukishima makes Kuroo take a ball to the face in the middle of the second set, and that’s the best point of the game so far as Tsukishima is concerned.

“It was one point!” Kuroo snaps, shouldering Tsukishima hard. Both teams are out to dinner to celebrate their long-fated Battle at the Garbage Dump, and Kuroo’s cheek is already spreading purple up into half a black eye. Tsukishima is sitting next to Kuroo because Kuroo had plopped down and demanded they take a face-squish selfie so he can show Bokuto pictorially the abuse Tsukishima did to him. Now they’re kicking at each other’s ankles comfortably while Kuroo drops food onto Tsukishima’s plate in a not very subtle attempt to force him to eat more.

“It might be the best point of my entire volleyball career,” Tsukishima says reflectively.

“Shame to peak so young,” Kenma comments, making Tsukishima narrow his eyes. Beside him, Hinata pauses shoveling rice into his mouth to do an impression of the face Kuroo had made, which is accurate enough to make Kenma snort and Kuroo whine.

“You should know,” Tsukishima comments, hiding a smile himself. “You take more balls to the face than anyone else.”

“Hey hey hey,” Kuroo says, pursing his lips in a sleazy expression. “Just what kind of practices are you Miyagi weirdos running up there?” Under the table, Kuroo sneaks a pinch of Tsukishima’s thigh, and Tsukishima slaps his hand away.

“So Hinata knows,” Tsukishima says as he and Kuroo are putting on their coats as slowly as possible. Kenma already shooed Hinata away with barely a side-glance at Kuroo, but Tsukishima had been grateful for the slight veneer of privacy. “I guess that means I have to give you one more.”

“Yeah?” Kuroo asks, raising an eyebrow. Tsukishima nods. “Hm. Well, I kind of want to tell my mom.”

Their eyes meet for a long moment, the same cold panic running through Tsukishima’s veins as when Hinata had announced that he knew about them. But Kuroo stares at him evenly, and Tsukishima stares back, and most of the panic runs its course in a few seconds just like before. Tsukishima wonders if this is what Kuroo felt like when he’d asked about telling his brother, when he’d introduced them over Skype. Probably.

“Okay?” Kuroo asks.

“Is it?” Tsukishima replies. “For you?”

“I’m not sure,” Kuroo says. “But I think she might already know something is up, since I keep getting packages from some weird guy in Miyagi.”

Tsukishima clicks his tongue in annoyance and says he’s leaving. He doesn’t pull away when Kuroo walks close enough for the back of their hands to brush as they go to join their teams.

February

After Spring High, practicing for the Newcomer Tournament feels anti-climactic. The seniors retire, Ennoshita becomes captain, and everything is strange and unbalanced. Ukai says it’ll pass, that every year ends and starts this way. Tsukishima is annoyed by it, and more annoyed with himself for how quitting isn’t an option worth considering anymore. Also high on the list of annoyances are Kuroo’s increased busyness as he crams for entrance exams, his own end of year exams, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is problematic when neither one of you is the girl.

“Nice, Tsukki!” Yamaguchi praises when Tsukishima says he isn’t planning to do anything. “Stay strong! Then Kuroo will have to be the girl.”

“Nobody is the girl,” Tsukishima hisses, wondering why they always have to have these conversations during lunch when any of their classmates might overhear.

“Right right,” Yamaguchi nods, barely looking up from where he’s examining the contents of his mother’s complicated bentou. “Anyway, it’s impossible because only girls get store-bought ones this time of year, right? And it isn’t like you can make homemade ones.”

“How do you know that?” Tsukishima bristles. He has a vague sense that psychology is being used against him, but he can’t stop himself from arguing. “Maybe my homemade chocolate is great!”

“Come on,” Yamaguchi laughs. “Be serious. I can’t picture you making chocolate at all.”

“Picture him doing what?” Hinata cackles, showing up at the worst possible moment, of fucking course, and dragging Kageyama along with him to boot. They’ve both got their own lunches and drag chairs over without so much as a ‘do you mind.’ “They wouldn’t be cute at all, right?”

“Right?” Yamaguchi agrees, twirling a chopstick for emphasize. “Instead of handing them over cutely he’d be like, ‘Take it already, asshole.'”

“Eat it or I’ll kill you,” Hinata adds, lifting his nose to sneer in what he apparently thinks is an impression of Tsukishima. Yamaguchi laughs so hard he has to put his forehead down on the desk, shoulders shaking.

“Why would Tsukishima be making chocolates?” Kageyama asks, putting up a hand as if he’s waiting to be called on in class. “Isn’t it way too early for that? Do you even like a girl?”

“No, idiot, they’re for Kuroo-san,” Hinata says, as casually as if he’d said ‘math is third period.’ It makes Kageyama’s eyes go comically wide, but Hinata carries on, ignoring him. “But it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Seems like you should have figured out if you’re the girl already.”

“NOBODY IS THE GIRL,” Tsukishima snaps, loud enough that he cringes when a couple classmates look their way. He lowers his voice to a scathing hiss. “And I could make cuter chocolates than you assholes any day of the week!”

“Nahhh,” Yamaguchi says, waving a hand.

“Oh yeah?” Hinata challenges. “Prove it.”

“I will! I’m going to make a whole bag of them, and you’ll all be jealous because you can’t taste them!” As soon as it comes out of his mouth, Tsukishima sees his grievous error, but Yamaguchi is already nodding as if he expected exactly this outcome.

“All settled, then. Hinata, can I have some of your egg?” Yamaguchi says, and a split-second later Tsukishima’s brain catches up to his mouth and he realizes that he’s just been had by a bunch of morons.

“Wait.” Kageyama’s hand is in the air again. “I have some more questions…”

Tsukishima spends the rest of the afternoon sulking and giving Yamaguchi the silent treatment, but Yamaguchi mostly just looks amused. On the walk home, Yamaguchi says that he doesn’t see what Tsukishima is so worked up for anyway, since they’re really helping him out.

“If nobody sends anybody chocolate, both of you have hurt feelings,” Yamaguchi points out. “This way you can claim it was a dare. And if Kuroo sends you chocolate then it just proves you’re even. It’s win-win, see?”

“You tricked me,” Tsukishima says flatly. “With psychology.”

“Yeah, I was really surprised that worked, usually you’re a lot smarter than that,” Yamaguchi shrugs. Tsukishima puts his headphones on, but it doesn’t entirely drown out Yamaguchi’s laughter.

This is how he ends up spending an afternoon with Yachi in the Home Ec kitchen. Yachi is almost tearfully grateful that Tsukishima is willing to help her out since she wants to make chocolates for the whole team and she’s never done it before. It’s not even that painful, once Yachi solemnly swears to take this secret to her grave, because she has chocolate molds shaped like volleyballs, so it’s mostly a matter of melting and pouring.

Tsukishima isn’t exactly sure what to do with the cellophane-wrapped bundle of shame, not 100% sure it won’t melt if he just mails it, so he drops it on his desk and tries to ignore it while he starts his weekend homework. The problem solves itself the next afternoon when Tsukishima’s phone rings, blinking Kuroo’s name.

“Hi,” he answers, swiping his finger across the phone to answer without really looking, used to Kuroo’s video calls. When he finally does look up, Tsukishima is puzzled by the dark screen of his phone for two or three seconds before he realizes Kuroo must have called him the regular way. Scooping up the phone, he asks, “Why are you calling me?”

“Meeean,” Kuroo says. “Please say you’re free right now.”

Tsukishima frowns. “What’s it matter if I am?”

“Because I’m about to make the transfer that goes to your station. You want to see me, right?”

“I guess.” Tsukishima squirms; it’s embarrassing to be asked directly.

“Good! I gotta go, see you in fifteen, bye!”

Glaring at his phone like it’s to blame for this disaster, Tsukishima quickly tugs on a hoodie, shoves his wallet and keys in the pockets, and after a second’s debate, the bag of chocolates as well. Might as well get it over with. He’s halfway to the station before he realizes he put on the dinosaur hoodie. He pauses, debating going back out of spite, but then gives in with a huffed sigh because Yamaguchi is right and he causes at least half of these problems for himself.

“Not a word!” he orders as soon as Kuroo turns up, grinning hugely at the sight of Tsukishima sporting his cute little stegosaurus spikes. Kuroo holds up his hands in surrender, but his smug grin says basically everything he’s thinking anyway; Tsukishima calls him a dick and asks what he’s doing here.

“Visiting a friend,” Kuroo shrugs, but before Tsukishima can ask him what that’s about, Kuroo is demanding Tsukishima take him on a proper karaoke date. “We’ve been dating for like three months and we haven’t been even once! That’s just shameful.”

“There was that one time on the phone,” Tsukishima points out reproachfully, and Kuroo laughs and says he remembers.

“Let’s try it without Bokuto as a chaperone,” Kuroo chuckles, hooking his arm through Tsukishima’s and nudging him with his elbow. “Come on, lead the way.”

Kuroo seems a little edgier than usual, as if he’s got more nervous energy than just walking can burn off. Tsukishima almost asks him what’s up, but he can barely get a word in edgewise with Kuroo chattering on about Nekoma’s new regulars’ line-up and some new training. The part that Tsukishima is most interested in is that Kuroo might come along as an assistant coach to the next practice match they have scheduled before the Newcomer’s tournament, so long as it doesn’t conflict with university applications or exams.

“Nekomata said I’ve been good about mentoring the younger guys this year.” Kuroo rubs at his hair, looking mildly embarrassed about repeating his coach’s praise. “Did I tell you I was looking into majoring in sports training? So he says this would be good experience.”

“Seems like something you’d be good at,” Tsukishima says. When Kuroo looks entirely too pleased about that compliment, Tsukishima adds, “Since you spend most of your time at training camp hassling innocent first years.”

“Hassling out of love!” Kuroo protests, then just laughs when Tsukishima rolls his eyes.

Tsukishima finds the place he’s gone to with people from school a couple times with a minimum of help from his GPs app. It’s not the fanciest or newest place, but it’s reasonably cheap and the staff never bothers you unless you order more drinks. Tsukishima mentions as much to Kuroo, and Kuroo looks up from the electronic song picker to give Tsukishima a side-eye.

“Why Tsukki, are you trying to get me to take advantage of you?” he asks. He’s busily tapping numbers into the song picker as if he’s writing a novel or something.

“I know what karaoke dates are for,” Tsukishima retorts, or at least he knows what Tanaka and Nishinoya say they’re for, and on second thought maybe those two aren’t the best source for information. He hopes the dim lighting of the room is hiding how his ears are burning.

Kuroo chuckles. “Believe it or not, I like karaoke for its own sake. That’s why Bokuto suggested it for my birthday.” He finishes tapping the song into the picker, but when he puts it down, to Tsukishima’s surprise, he reaches for Tsukishima instead of one of the microphones.
Tsukishima’s heart speeds unevenly when Kuroo’s warm, rough palm slides along his cheek, and he leans into it, shifting closer on the bench. “But I guess we should take advantage of the privacy, right? Hopefully there’s less chance of your teammates catching us here than sneaking out of a bathroom.”

Tsukishima kisses Kuroo rather than dwell on that thought, hands hovering uncertainly around Kuroo’s waist. Kuroo’s hand slides back from Tsukishima’s cheek to palm the back of his head, urging him closer, and Tsukishima hums in quiet approval without exactly meaning to. He tries to edge in closer but their knees bump awkwardly, the seat keeping them from pressing together like Tsukishima wants. Some of Kuroo’s edginess remains in the way his hands shift over Tsukishima’s back and shoulders restlessly, pressing into his skin here and there before sliding away. It’s contagious, making Tsukishima restless. He tugs on Kuroo’s T-shirt, trying to pull their bodies more flush together and huffing impatiently when he can’t in their current position.

Kuroo flops backwards suddenly, yanking Tsukishima with him and making him give a whuff of surprise. They almost crack skulls when Kuroo’s back hits the seat, Tsukishima’s weight landing hard on top of his chest, but before Tsukishima can yell at him, Kuroo’s arms tighten around his shoulders, pulling him down for another kiss. The position is awkward, straining the small of Tsukishima’s back with the twist of it, and after a minute he has to break the kiss to at least get his knees up on the seat.

“What’s with you anyway?” Tsukishima asks while they’re negotiating position, batting at Kuroo’s knee until he pulls his legs up as well. Kuroo shrugs as he wedges his coat under his head. “You seem worked up even for you.”

“Well, I only get to see my boyfriend once a month,” Kuroo retorts. “Anybody would be worked up.”

“You saw me two weeks ago,” Tsukishima says, rolling his eyes. It’s nice to be told that, but he’s sure that isn’t the reason. “You’re being weird about this whole thing. You don’t have to tell me, but I’m not dumb.”

“Mm,” Kuroo smiles, small, cryptic. His hand is on Tsukishima’s cheek, thumb tracing the sharp edge of Tsukishima’s cheekbone. “I might have a little secret. Wait?”

“That’s all I do, ugh,” Tsukishima grumbles, but he doesn’t press it. Kissing Kuroo again seems like a better use of his time, much better now that he feels slightly less like they might tip off the bench at any moment. Or at least it seems like a better idea until pressing down against Kuroo’s chest makes the package of chocolates crinkle loudly in his hoodie pocket. “That isn’t what you think.”

“Isn’t it?” Kuroo laughs as Tsukishima scrambles to sit up and dig the bundle out of his pocket. Tsukishima wishes it were something scandalous like condoms, because that would be a lot less embarrassing than handing over evidence that he’s okay being the girlfriend. Kuroo’s eyes light up when he figures out what Tsukishima just handed him. “You brought me Valentine’s chocolate? That’s—wait, did you make these? For real?”

“Shut up, ugh, they made me,” Tsukishima complains as he inches away, just wishing he could crawl in a hole and die. Do girls find it this mortifying? Who invented this damn holiday?

“They’re volleyballs!” Kuroo laughs. When he looks up, his face is so full of open adoration that Tsukishima’s discomfort doubles even before Kuroo adds, “You’re so cute I want to die. I’ve never even had a girl make me…hey, why are you all the way over there?”

“No reason,” Tsukishima mutters, pressing his back against the wall like he might be able to pass right through it if he tries hard enough.

“Hey.” Kuroo sits up the whole way, but he doesn’t come any closer, like he’s afraid to crowd Tsukishima. “Is it this? It’s no big deal, the chocolates thing.”

“Easy for you to say,” Tsukishima grumbles. He watches suspiciously as Kuroo reaches for his bag, casually tossed on the floor when they came in. He has no idea what to do when Kuroo hands him a half-squashed bag covered in cheerful dinosaur stickers.

“They’re kind of terrible, so I was thinking about not giving them to you,” Kuroo says sheepishly, rubbing his arms nervously. Tsukishima peels the tape off to open the bag, and finds a small heap of pink and white chocolates. If they are supposed to be shaped like something, he can’t tell what, and they smell like artificial strawberry flavoring. “See? We’re even. Except how yours are definitely better than mine.”

Tsukishima has trouble shaking off his suspicions that easily. “So you don’t think I should be the girl? You are older.”

“I am 100% aware that neither one of us is the girl,” Kuroo assures. Tsukishima’s shoulders loosen a little, although not much because it’s still embarrassing to talk about this so directly. “I haven’t even seen your dick yet, so it seems a little early to worry about whether it’s going in me or not.”

“You?” Tsukishima repeats. He hasn’t thought about it that way, or at least hasn’t thought about it as an option that Kuroo might consider. “You think it might happen…like that?”

“Maybe. Not in this karaoke booth, I hope.” Kuroo looks around like he’s considering whether anybody else might not have been so considerate. “That doesn’t seem hygienic for anyone. Are you freaking out?”

“No,” Tsukishima snaps, meaning yes, and also starting to get turned on by all the talk about his dick and Kuroo’s dick meeting each other in the not-very-distant future.

“Are you freaking out because we’re talking about role reversal, or about me seeing your dick? Because for the record, I want to do that a lot at the moment.”

“I’m not sure,” Tsukishima answers honestly and a little bit helplessly. His heart is racing and he feels hot and cold all over from Kuroo’s words. “Also, it’s really annoying that you are never freaking out.” He’s surprised when Kuroo barks a laugh.

“Do you somehow not know how intimidating you are?” Kuroo demands. “I’m freaking out every time I see you because all I want to do is kiss you and I’m never sure whether or not you’ll punch me in the face if I try to get past first base. Bokuto never shuts up about what a wimp I’m being, just waiting around for you.”

Tsukishima gives Kuroo a slow once-over, thinking about that. “Like right now?”

“Yes, Kei, like right now,” Kuroo says. He doesn’t look it, his hair mussed into soft spikes and his mouth curled in amusement. “My heart’s beating all funny and it’s hard to look you in the eye instead of just staring at your mouth while you talk. When you glare at me it’s like I barely fit in my own skin. All the stuff I actually want to say to you gets stuck in my chest and my mouth says weird shit by itself instead.”

A brief flicker of a smile crosses Tsukishima’s face, remembering Yamaguchi comparing liking somebody to a mild panic attack. “Sounds like you like me a lot.”

“Seriously? What was your first hint?” Kuroo scoffs. “Like you.” Kuroo looks like he’s going to say something else, something serious, and Tsukishima leans in to kiss him quickly because he doesn’t think he can handle anything else at the moment. He can barely handle volleyball chocolates, or whatever Kuroo’s strawberry things are. “Here, come here,” Kuroo mutters against Tsukishima’s mouth, lying back down and pulling Tsukishima over top of him again.

It feels good, like being pressed against Kuroo always does, and Tsukishima relaxes into it. He’s perfectly willing to ignore his anxiety in favor of focusing on Kuroo’s mouth against his, Kuroo’s fingers combing through his hair, and it’s surprisingly easy to do exactly that. It doesn’t hurt that here they’re much less likely to be interrupted than anyplace else they’ve been, which is how they end up going further than they should, both of them too hard to stop by the time Kuroo wrenches his mouth away.

“Sorry, wait,” Kuroo apologizes. He’s adorably rumpled, flushed and t-shirt wrinkled and hair sticking out all over. Tsukishima likes being over top of him. When Kuroo grins up at him, it looks like he might not mind being under Tsukishima either. “I was trying not to rush you but it’s not working out. Sorry.”

“You don’t look sorry,” Tsukishima tries to retort, but it’s breathless so it’s not as reproving as he’d like. They’re still grinding against each other, their hips with minds of their own at this point. Some part of Tsukishima’s brain is fretting about common sense, but the rest of him is all impatience for Kuroo to do something, anything. “Hurry up and do something about it.”

“Can I?” Kuroo looks surprised. Tsukishima opens his mouth to snap but remembers what Kuroo said about him being intimidating. He looks away.

“Yeah, just…” Tsukishima swallows. “I’ve never. With a person.” He winces, hoping Kuroo doesn’t think he’s done it with a robot or something weirder. “Not with another person besides myself, I meant. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to…anything.”

“I’ve never done any of this with another dude, if that helps,” Kuroo offers. When Tsukishima sneaks a glance, Kuroo doesn’t look like he’s about to laugh or tease, at least. He does look a lot more attractive than Tsukishima feels like he looks, which is…annoying. “What’s okay?”

“I don’t know, whatever,” Tsukishima mutters, squirming. Kuroo eyes him evenly. “I don’t know. I won’t punch you in the face.”

Kuroo snorts like he doesn’t believe that. “Can I touch you?” he asks; Tsukishima nods. His heart rate doubles as Kuroo palms the front of his jeans, fumbling with the zipper. “Lift up a second so I can see.”

It’s not fancy, and there are probably more comfortable places than this karaoke bench, but Kuroo gets a hand around both of their dicks together and Tsukishima has to muffle an embarrassing amount of noise in Kuroo’s shirt. It feels so much better than when he touches himself, whether because it’s Kuroo or because that’s just sex, Tsukishima isn’t sure. What he does know is that the smell of Kuroo’s laundry detergent is going to turn him on from now on, that volleyball calluses are great, and that being able to curl up with someone warm while his skin is still tingling from orgasm has probably just ruined jerking off alone for him forever.

“You can’t ever sleep over,” Kuroo murmurs, silly and affectionate from just coming himself. He’s nosing at Tsukishima’s hair and doesn’t seem to care his hand is trapped stickily between them. “There’s no way I can keep from doing it with you and no way my mom won’t hear you doing it.”

“Shut up about your mom while you’re still touching my dick, geez,” Tsukishima says gruffly. Despite the endorphins, he’s embarrassed about the loudness and annoyed it presents yet another barrier in an already complicated situation. And yet somehow that doesn’t stop him wanting to do it again as soon as possible. Liking someone is such a struggle.

They straighten themselves out enough that they won’t freak out the waitress when she brings them more soda, Tsukishima sitting up and Kuroo sprawling across the bench with his head on Tsukishima’s thigh. Tsukishima loyally eats one of Kuroo’s strawberry monstrosities, which are even worse than Kuroo said they might be, and they split the volleyballs instead, which are perfectly serviceable and barely squashed at all. Kuroo’s a better singer, but he’s fun to sing with anyway, and lets Tsukishima pick most of the songs.

“Hey,” Kuroo says after a while. Tsukishima looks down and Kuroo isn’t looking at the screen at all, but watching Tsukishima with a lazy smile. “If we could do this more often, you’d like that, right?”

“Sure,” Tsukishima shrugs a little, swallowing all the impossible things he wants to ask like miss your train, or stay the night, or purposely flunk third year so we can play all next year too. “I like karaoke.”

“Yeah, okay,” Kuroo snorts, eyes sliding back to the screen. He doesn’t look that displeased, though. And when the lady calls to say they only have ten minutes, they spend it making out as if saving up for however long it’ll be until they see each other in person again.

March

As it turns out, it’s not as long as until they see each other again as Tsukishima expects. It’s barely March when right in the middle of practice, Tanaka’s eyes narrow and he bellows “WHAT THE HELL?” across the net at Tsukishima. Tsukishima frowns, and then notices beside him Yamaguchi snickering and pointing over Tsukishima’s shoulder.

Kuroo is standing in the gym doorway, leaning casually against the frame like he’s in some B-grade shoujo romcom. Tsukishima freezes, which only serves to make Kuroo grin harder.

“Well, well, well,” Kuroo says. He looks around with a small smile, as if what he sees is cute and amusing. “So this is what you crows get up to.”

“Something you want, City Boy?!” Tanaka demands, making both Nishinoya and Hinata burst into snickers.

“Yeah, actually,” Kuroo says. “I’d like to borrow your middle blocker there for a bit.”

“It’s the middle of practice!” Tsukishima exclaims, snapping out of his confusion. Seriously what is Kuroo thinking, just showing up here, in front of everybody? “You can’t just—”

“Ah, yeah, you can have him,” Sugawara says, popping up out of seemingly nowhere to give Tsukishima a push between the shoulder blades. Sugawara’s been coming to practice once or twice a week even though the seniors have retired, helping to figure out which of the first years they should be training as a setter.

“Suga-san!” Tsukishima protests, whipping his head around to glare. Sugawara doesn’t even look surprised, like he expected this somehow. What the heck?

“I’ll smooth it over with the captain, so get out of here, huh? Go on, hurry up.” Sugawara gives a firmer push, and Tsukishima gives him a last dirty look before heading over to quickly scoop up his towel and water bottle. When Tsukishima straightens up, Sugawara and Yamaguchi are both grinning at him in approval, Hinata is elbowing Tanaka, and Kageyama has his hand raised like he’s waiting to be called on in class.

Tsukishima scuttles over to the door as fast as he can, making eye contact with nobody. Kuroo is still blocking the doorway.

“Do you mind?” Tsukishima snaps. Kuroo shrugs, stepping down onto the ground and waiting patiently while Tsukishima swaps his gymnasium sneakers for his outside pair. Tsukishima stews quietly while he re-ties his laces, about how embarrassing this is and how everybody is looking and probably whispering about them, and by the time he stands back up, he’s actually fairly angry. “This isn’t cute, you know. What the hell?”

Kuroo glances over his shoulder back into the gym, and when he looks back, he does look a little apologetic. “I guess this looks really weird, even if those guys know me, huh?”

“You think?!” Tsukishima gives Kuroo a last sharp look before turning on his heel towards the club room. “I’m going to change.”

Kuroo waits outside the club room door while Tsukishima changes “so nobody thinks anything untoward is going on,” and Tsukishima grumbles about that as he yanks his uniform back on and shoves his things in his bag. Where was that sense of propriety ten minutes ago when Tsukishima’s entire team was staring at him?

Just before he goes back outside, Tsukishima takes several deep breaths to calm down and lets his temper go as best he can. He is glad to see Kuroo, and he doesn’t want to fight. Kuroo doesn’t do things without thinking them through, usually, so there must be some explanation for him showing up. When Tsukishima steps outside and pulls the club room door shut, he thinks he’s doing a decent job of looking calm.

“Sorry,” Kuroo says quickly, scrutinizing Tsukishima’s face as if he’s trying to figure out if Tsukishima is mad enough to push him over the railing. “For surprising you. I didn’t think how that probably would scare you.” He looks like he means it, and Tsukishima gives a tiny sigh to expel the last of his anger.

“Tell me what you’re doing here, please,” Tsukishima says. He refrains from adding and it had better be good.

“You remember I told you I had a secret?” Kuroo asks. Tsukishima nods. “I’m ready to tell you, but you have to come with me.”

“I have a curfew,” Tsukishima says doubtfully, a little worried that he’s about to be dragged the whole way to Tokyo.

“Relax, it’ll only take a couple of hours. We aren’t eloping in Shinjuku.” Kuroo winks, and Tsukishima rolls his eyes.

Kuroo is fidgety on the walk back to the station and then on the short train ride to Sendai Station, on edge like he was back when they went on the karaoke date. He drums his fingers on his knees and looks around at the advertisements in the train, and when he accidentally meets Tsukishima’s eyes, he gives Tsukishima a little smile before his gaze slides away again.

“You’re being really weird,” Tsukishima finally says. He wishes he could grab Kuroo’s hand just to stop him tapping. “Even for you.”

“The thing is, I’m actually shit at keeping secrets,” Kuroo says, staring out the train window across rather than looking at Tsukishima. “And I wanted to tell you first, so I couldn’t tell anybody, so I’m dying right now.”

“Melodramatic,” Tsukishima accuses. After a second, he realizes what Kuroo said. “You didn’t tell anybody?”

“Nope.”

“Not even Bokuto?” Tsukishima asks. That’s weirdly pleasing.

“Not Bo either.” Kuroo looks at him, expression excited and fond, crossing his arms over his chest like he can physically trap his secret in there. Now Tsukishima really wants to know what the hell is going on. “You’re first. Man, this is the longest train ride of my LIFE.”

At Sendai Station they switch trains, going south. Kuroo warns that they’ll be on this one for a little while, and tries to keep occupied asking Tsukishima about his team, his exams, the upcoming tournament, whatever. The further they go, the more curiosity eats at Tsukishima, who is trying to figure out where on earth Kuroo is so deadbent on showing him. Their exit at Funaoka Station explains nothing, nor the ten-minute walk that follows.

And it really explains nothing when Kuroo stops in what appears to be the middle of the sidewalk in front of a parking lot and says, “TADA.”

“It’s a parking lot,” Tsukishima says, glancing around.

“No! It’s…oh,” Kuroo says, looking over his shoulder and realizing he’s standing in front of the building’s name plaque. He steps to the side, and it takes the kanji a moment to sink in.

The gate’s plaque reads “Sendai University.”

“So they have a really famous Sports Science division, and I wasn’t sure I could get in,” Kuroo’s words tumble out in a rush, like a dam breaking. “I was looking at the campus when I came up around Christmas, and Sugawara let me stay at his place the night before the exam. That time we went to karaoke, remember? That’s what I was doing here.”

“I…” Tsukishima tries to make a sentence, and for once is at a loss for words. “You…Sugawara?!”

“He already knew about us, so I figured…” Kuroo shrugged. “I didn’t want to ask you or tell you anything about it in case I failed. But I passed the exam and my letter came yesterday and I start next month, and this is not as cool as I wanted it to be because this building is really ugly and the girls’ college gate is way better so I thought about taking you there for this but that seemed wei—”

Tsukishima shoves Kuroo up against the wall and kisses him firmly enough to shut him up, both of them staring at each other wide-eyed, and then he realizes what he’s doing and backs up a step, cheeks hot.

“Did anybody see that?” Tsukishima asks, not daring to look around himself. Shit, he’s in his school uniform still, shit shit shit.

“Nobody’s around,” Kuroo reports. His smile is so wide it looks like it hurts. Tsukishima’s face kind of hurts too. “So, hey, is it cool if I go to university in your prefecture?”

“You’re asking now?!” Tsukishima demands. “What if I say no?”

“I’ll go ronin for a year until I wear you down,” Kuroo says, like it’s a very serious plan. “I’ll work in a host club to support myself and become Miyagi’s number one until you acknowledge me.”

It’s too much, the idea of Kuroo in a slick suit pouring drinks for housewives, and Tsukishima laughs so hard his eyes squeeze shut, glasses slipping to the end of his nose. Kuroo reaches over to push them back up gently.

“C’mon, let’s go get some food before I have to head back,” Kuroo says. He reaches over to tug Tsukishima along by the wrist as they head back the way they came, thumb stroking the inside of Tsukishima’s wrist for just a second too long.

“You could stay over,” Tsukishima says, finally giving voice to all the irresponsible things he wants to say every time he’s near Kuroo. “Miss your train. Come home with me.”

“Oho, aren’t you just a cute bundle of terrible ideas,” Kuroo says, watching Tsukishima out of the corner of his eye. He looks relaxed now that his secret is out, self-satisfied. It’s easy to imagine curling up in a lazy ball with Kuroo, napping skin to skin. “Save it for a month, huh? Wait until I find an apartment out here and then I’ll show you all of my terrible ideas.”

“I think you used all of them trying to date me,” Tsukishima counters. “You can’t possibly have more, can you?”

Kuroo laughs all the way back to the train station.

Epilogue: August

[I am resting] Tsukishima texts his mother back, which at the moment is technically true. He’s lying on his back in Kuroo’s futon, squinting at his phone because his glasses are on the low table next to Kuroo’s laptop and he’s too lazy to go and get them. Kuroo is out cold beside him, face down in his pillow, and Kuroo’s hair made so much more sense after the first time they slept together. [No school or practice tomorrow, so I can take it easy. It’s fine to stay over, right? My homework’s done.]

He sets aside his phone without waiting for his mother’s answer, because he’s sure it’s going to be yes. Tsukishima has only asked to stay over a few times, never on a school night, purposefully spacing out his requests and picking weekends when his mother is preoccupied with something else. This weekend it’s a dinner with several of his father’s coworkers and their wives, including his father’s boss, and Tsukishima knows his mother has been dreading it for a week. She’s probably glad she doesn’t have to worry about when he’s coming home or whether she has to leave him anything to eat.

Also, somehow his mother got the idea that Kuroo is a respectable university student and a good influence. Glancing over at Kuroo’s bare ass, Tsukishima can’t help but be amused by that.

Stretching, Tsukishima glances idly around Kuroo’s apartment, not really needing his glasses to know where everything is. The apartment is tiny, but affordable on Kuroo’s university student budget and the air conditioning unit works fine, which honestly seems like the most important thing in the sweltering August they’re having. Ukai had even ended practice early on the grounds that A) none of them could be trusted not to overexert themselves and hydrate properly, and B) nobody wanted a repeat of yesterday’s Hinata puking incident.

That was fine with Tsukishima, who had let himself into Kuroo’s apartment a full two hours earlier than expected, snuck up behind Kuroo easily because he was blaring pop while he worked on a paper, and scared the living daylights out of him. Kuroo had called him an asshole, kissed him fiercely, and tumbled him into bed, which is how they ended up in their current relaxed and useless state. He should wake Kuroo up soon and make him finish his paper, he thinks, skimming fingers lightly over the warm skin of Kuroo’s shoulder, watching it rise and fall with his slow breaths. Maybe in a minute.

It’s nice. Not the apartment, which is a little bit shitty, but being here with Kuroo. Kuroo being close by. It’s nice.

Kuroo’s phone chirps with an incoming message, or rather it hoots because that’s the noise he has assigned to Bokuto. Tsukishima would know it was Bokuto anyway because of the rapid-fire way that Bokuto texts, always in bursts of five to seven messages, no more than a couple words or a picture each. Kuroo groans on the third hoot and slaps at the area where his phone is tangled in the sheets; by the fifth hoot, he’s fumbling his phone over to squint at the screen. He starts chuckling, voice rough, then rolls over to show Tsukishima his phone, curling up against Tsukishima’s side in a lazy, warm line. There’s a selfie on the screen of Bokuto with his arm thrown around Oikawa’s shoulders, Oikawa giving the camera a wink and a V. Both of them are sweat-soaked from practice, Oikawa’s curls sticking cutely to his head while Bokuto’s hair is spiked crazily every which way.

“Somehow he ends up on the same team as the only guy who takes more selfies than he does,” Kuroo comments, making Tsukishima snort in amusement. “Yeah, go ahead and laugh, it’s not like you have to play them. Do you know how annoying they are as a combination? My only hope is that without Akaashi or Iwazumi to stop them, they might practice themselves to death.”

Tsukishima takes the phone from Kuroo and messages back [Don’t practice until you both drop dead, morons. It’s too hot.]

[TSUKKI] Bokuto sends back. He can always tell the difference right away between Kuroo’s stream of consciousness typing and Tsukishima’s punctuation. [BRO LETS HANG OUT]

[WHEN UR IN TOKYO]

[COMIN TO UR MATCH AT NATIONALS]

[BABY CROW BRO]

“Ugh, make him stop,” Tsukishima says, pushing the phone back into Kuroo’s hands. Kuroo laughs and says Tsukishima brought it on himself as he taps something back at Bokuto. “Also did you really have to rename his contact ‘Broda Nobunaga?’ He likes that way too much.”

“Almost as much as you like that I renamed you ‘StrawberryShortKei,'” Kuroo retorts, smudging a kiss against Tsukishima’s cheek. Tsukishima shoves at him. “Hey, your phone’s buzzing too.”

It’s his mother. She says yes, but there’s a condition.

“I have to be home for lunch tomorrow,” Tsukishima reports. “And I have to bring you along because you look like you can’t feed yourself.” Tsukishima glances to the side out of the corner of his eye. “You don’t have to come, really. Your paper isn’t done.”

“Are you new? I’m a poor college student, of course I’m coming for the free meal.” Kuroo tosses his phone down with a soft thump and flops his head down against Tsukishima’s shoulder. His eyes are low-lidded, and his grin is soft at the edges. “Also I may or may not be stupidly in love with you, so I need your mom to like me.”

“Well.” It’s not the first time Kuroo’s said he loves Tsukishima, but Tsukishima hasn’t lost count yet. The corners of his mouth curl up stubbornly even when he tries to keep from smiling. “You’ve got the ‘stupid’ part right.”

“Mean,” Kuroo says. He reaches up to thread fingers through the back of Tsukishima’s hair, pulling his head down for a kiss. “You can say it back, I won’t tell anyone. I’m really good at secrets.”

“Liar,” Tsukishima murmurs against Kuroo’s mouth. Maybe he isn’t ready to say the words yet, but there’s no rush. In the meantime he has no problem showing Kuroo how he feels instead, rolling over to press Kuroo down with his weight, holding Kuroo’s wrists down against the futon while he kisses him breathless. He’s pretty sure Kuroo gets the message.

But just in case, there’s a sticker-covered package hidden in Tsukishima’s bag (contents: a Sendai University lanyard because Kuroo keeps losing his keys, a pair of movie passes, a T-shirt that reads “Block You Like My Crazy Ex,” and, of course, the mix tape), and as soon as Kuroo gets up to take a shower, Tsukishima is absolutely going to pretend that he found it when he went to check the mail.

If that doesn’t do it, Tsukishima can always mail the next one to Kuroo’s department at school. Turnabout is fair play, after all.

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