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Three words (and oceans between us)

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In his second year of university, Kei goes to Australia for a year-long exchange. His brother cries and promises to come visit him, and his friends throw him a farewell party and promise to send him daily updates of life in Tokyo. Neither of these promises are kept, though his parents do come and visit him once (mostly because they've never been to Australia and want to hold a koala).

Kei isn't surprised that his university friends have busy lives and don't stay in touch. What does surprise him, though, is that Hinata does.

They've barely seen each other since they finished high school, just that one time before he moved to Tokyo and all the third years (and the previous year's third years, namely Tanaka and Nishinoya) got together one last time for a quick three-on-three game. Of course, with Hinata and Kageyama involved, ‘a quick game’ turned into a four-hour slog fest that only ended when one of Hinata's vicious spikes (clearly intended for Kageyama's smug face, though Hinata denied it afterwards) ended up almost breaking Yamaguchi's nose.

Since that time, Hinata has sent him the occasional text (like "i saw this mean looking bird today, i thought he was gonna peck my eyes out and he reminded me of you lol" and "would i look like a cool pirate with only one eye") and sometimes tags him in comments to memes on Facebook. Kei replies, when he remembers to, but more often he closes the message and then just forgets to respond. Hinata probably assumes Kei is ignoring him, and Kei is fine with that.

Kei has been in Melbourne for three months, and he's finally getting used to the accent (though there are so many international students, it’s not the Australian accent he has to adapt to so much as a variety of English-as-a-second-language accents) and weird weather (like why is it sunny and warm but then there's a crazy thunderstorm an hour later) and the locals' obsession with coffee (okay, after trying proper, non-Starbucks coffee for the first time, he’s willing to admit that they’re not wrong).

After three months of radio silence from all of his friends in Japan, he gets a message from Hinata that screams “TSUKKI YOU’RE IN AUSTRALIA?!!!” followed by a string of shocked emojis.

“Yes,” Kei responds with one hand, his other hand holding on to a railing for support as the tram takes a sharp turn and everybody on it loses their balance.

“how did i not know this!!! i only found out when i ran into tadashi at family mart just now”

Kei doesn’t reply, but then Hinata doesn’t seem to need one.

“have you seen a kangaroo yet? what’s the food like? how’s your bro, he must miss you heaps!!!”

Kei can almost hear Hinata’s excited voice shouting all of these questions in his ear, and something about this makes him smile. He finds himself making the effort to type out a response that’s more detailed than just “No. Pretty good. Yes.”

This is followed by more questions, and more answers, and a screenshot of an owl that looks hilariously like Bokuto.

They haven’t even seen each other in over a year, and they’re 8000 kilometres and two time zones apart, but suddenly Hinata becomes the one person who Kei talks to all day long, the messages flowing thick and fast between them. He wakes up to texts that Hinata sent him the night before, after he went to bed, and he messages Hinata throughout the day, even during lectures that he’s still struggling to understand. They talk about everything, or more often nothing at all.

“i just ate a potato that looked like kageyama’s face”

“There isn’t an official volleyball team at this university, so I’m just playing in a team in a social league. They’re not very good, even you could be an ace here.”

“come on tsukki, skype with meeeee!!! i promise not to do anything weird!!!”

“What even is a semicolon? English is ridiculous.”

“i’m dyingggg suicide runs are the woooorst how is training even harder now than in high school”

“Japanese restaurants here have everything on the menu from sushi to udon, all in the one shop. It’s pretty weird.”

“i had a dream last night that i was 200cm tall but somehow i didn’t realise and i jumped like i usually do and i jumped over the net!!! and then i ended up playing for the other side!!! WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!!”

“I finally saw a kangaroo. It looked feral, like it wanted to murder me and bury my body in the woods. I never want to see another kangaroo again.”

“why won’t you skype with me, i wanna see your mean face when you tell me i’m gonna fail this exam... i mean, who knew you actually had to study at uni”

“This girl in my Biochemical Engineering class asked me out today. She seemed pretty normal at first, but then she called me ‘kawaii’ and ‘moe’ (yes, in Japanese). I told her I didn’t speak Japanese and ran out of the classroom.”

“bumped into tadashi, he asked me how you were doing and i told him you were terrified of kangaroos”

“Stop stressing about your game today. You’ve got this.”

“i was just walking down the street and there was a tall blond guy across the road and I suddenly stopped, like stopped right in the middle of all these people and they were bumping into me and everything but i couldn’t move, i couldn’t breathe because i thought it was you”

“How long is your hair now? Do you still have that denim jacket you used to wear all the time? I haven’t seen you in so long, I don’t even know if you look the same as I remember.”

“when are you coming home?”

Kei stops when he reads this message, takes a deep breath because his heart is suddenly pounding.

They text each other all day, every day, but Kei has been stubborn and absolutely refused to Skype or WhatsApp video call or anything else Hinata has suggested. Because what if this, whatever this is, only works because they’re just texting? What if, when they actually see the other person’s face, they have nothing to say and it’s just awkward and horrible?

What if Kei has just been homesick without knowing it, and has subconsciously been using Hinata as an emotional crutch? What if Hinata has been letting him?

In a moment of weakness, Kei actually brings this up one time. Hinata calls him an idiot (“tsukki is the dumbest smart person i know”) and just comes right out and says he likes Kei (“i thought you always knew”). But that’s Hinata for you, fearless and wild, charging forward without a care, while Kei is frozen in place, a step behind, busy mapping out every possible pitfall and hypothetical problem.

Kei can be honest with himself though, every once in a while, and he can admit that nothing makes him happier than getting a notification on his phone—not his first cup of coffee in the morning on his way to uni, not hanging out with his Vietnamese and Singaporean and Thai friends, not even the moment when he looks up his final grades online and finds out he got H1s for every class.

Nine months of texting and they’ve exchanged thousands of words but not those words, those three words that Kei feels every time he checks his phone.

Picking up his phone again, he replies, “I’ll be home in ten days.”

He’ll save those words for when he finally sees Hinata, who will jump on him with zero dignity or shame and wrap his limbs around Kei like a monkey clinging desperately to a tree, and Kei won’t stop smiling even as he whispers those three words into Hinata’s ear for the first time.