Normally, Kuroo doesn’t mind too much that his roommate is pretty much always having sex with his gorgeous boyfriend, while Kuroo is not having sex with anyone, gorgeous or otherwise. Sure it’s a bit of a bummer, but Sawamura’s a good guy, and it’s not like Kuroo is above getting himself off to the sounds on the other side of his wall. Probably he should be above that, but his entire college experience has been one epically long dry spell, so he has to take what he can get.
Tonight, though, he’s just not feeling it. He has a huge exam tomorrow and he really needs a little peace, but going back to campus to work is off the table, because then he’d need to wear pants.
What he needs is a compromise. His first idea is to line the bathtub with a blanket and try to study in there, but he can still hear everything, and God he hasn’t even been on a date in months, could they just not paw at each other for a few hours?
He drags his blanket and books out to their little patio instead, and tries to get comfortable on one of the metal chairs. That's an impossibility, of course, because it’s a metal chair. Also it’s fucking cold.
If my ass gets stuck to this chair you’re gonna have to deal with it, he starts texting Sawamura, but then he pauses when he notices something. Music in the air. Soft, and classical, and coming from the apartment right above him. He’s lived here for months, and he’s come to the conclusion that whoever is upstairs is either dead or never home, because they literally never make a single sound. But here, finally, is evidence of their existence. Maybe it’s a kindly old lady who will feed him cookies and let him study on her couch with an afghan wrapped comfortably around his shoulders. Or a cultured professor with a library full of books for Kuroo to peruse, and the answers to all of his questions about the universe.
He closes his messaging app without sending anything and gets to his feet, slinging his blanket over one shoulder and tucking his books under his arm. He carries his things with him through his apartment, out into the hall and up the stairs, and to the door of 11B. As long as he’s calculated correctly and come to the right place, his peaceful study haven should be right on the other side. All he has to do is knock. Twice, maybe, because no one responds the first time. Or the second, it turns out, but third time’s the charm, right?
“Hello?” he calls, when his third round of raps on the door goes unanswered. “Sorry to bother you! I live downstairs and I just—”
“What?” says his heretofore silent neighbor, who has swung the door open rather violently to reveal that he’s not an elderly lady or a distinguished professor, and is in fact a blond, bespectacled guy maybe a year or so younger than Kuroo.
There are two important things that Kuroo gathers very quickly. One, his neighbor is cute, in a slender, nerdy, oblivious kind of way. And two, he looks to be only seconds away from murdering Kuroo in cold blood.
“Hey there,” Kuroo greets him with a winning smile. “I’m Kuroo Tetsurou, from downstairs?”
He receives no indication that this means anything to his neighbor, or that it’s made him want to dismember Kuroo any less.
“You know, I wasn’t even sure anyone lived here until tonight? But since you do, and you don’t seem to be going anywhere…” Kuroo nods down at the fleece pajama pants Specs is wearing. They’re black, with neon green dinosaurs sporting jaunty santa hats. Very fucking cute.
“Excuse me?” Specs says, giving Kuroo a scathing once over, which isn’t wholly unreasonable given that Kuroo’s wearing old volleyball shorts that have gotten way too short. He has pretty great legs though, so probably this is more embarrassing for Specs than it is for him. “What the hell do you want?”
“Oh!” Kuroo says, pretending Specs has asked this in a friendly, curious tone. “I need to study without listening to my horny roommate and his horny boyfriend, so…” He lifts his armful of books and notes. “You don’t mind, right?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. It clearly wouldn’t be in his best interest—since Specs has turned concerningly red and probably is not on the cusp of saying “Not at all! Come right in!”—so Kuroo just does it. There’s no afghan covered couch or platter of cookies awaiting him, but the apartment is a much cleaner version of his and Sawamura’s, and blessedly the sound of love being made does not seem to carry between levels.
“Perfect,” he says, dropping down in one of the modern, grey armchairs in the living room. It’s more comfortable than it appears, and there’s a footrest in front of it, perfectly positioned for the length of his legs. Specs is nearly the exact same height as him. Just an inch taller maybe, but Kuroo's hair makes up for that. “What did you say your name was?”
“Is this… are you serious here?” Specs asks, watching Kuroo spread the blanket he brought over his lap. “This seems to you like a thing that humans actually do?”
Kuroo, in truth, is beginning to doubt himself a little. Specs still looks pretty damn murderous, and if smiling and ignoring the fact that he is actually being totally inappropriate isn’t going to work, then Kuroo doesn’t know what the fuck else to do.
“Look,” he says, dropping the forced smile as he bites his lip. “I’m sorry, I really am. I just have this super important exam tomorrow, and I cannot focus with the noise in my apartment, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
“There is a library at the—”
“I didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t require getting dressed.”
Specs’ eyes get very, very wide behind his... specs, and then he honest to God roars, “GOING TO A STRANGER’S HOME REQUIRES GETTING DRESSED.”
“Woah,” Kuroo says. “And here I thought you were quiet as a mouse.”
Specs does not say anything. His fingers are curled into white knuckled fists, which is really awfully cute because God, he’s skinny as hell. But then he relaxes them suddenly, exhaling slowly with his eyes closed. When he opens them again he looks almost resigned, with just an edge of murder.
“Don’t talk to me anymore,” he says. “Just do your studying, and get the hell out.”
“Okay,” Kuroo says quickly. “But, just—”
“What,” Specs growls. It is not a question, but it really couldn’t matter at this point if Kuroo does one more thing to annoy him. He’s gonna be on the top of this guy’s shitlist no matter what.
“Your name? I know I’m already in your home now, but if I knew your name at least, you’d be less of a stranger, right?” He chances another smile. It’s slightly crooked and always very successful with the girls, which is fucking useless to him since he doesn’t like girls.
“Tsukishima,” Specs says, not appearing even a fraction charmed.
“Cute,” Kuroo says.
Tsukishima gives him a look that causes Kuroo’s very soul to shrivel up within him, ashamed of itself for ever existing. Probably he shouldn’t try for any more compliments tonight. He watches Tsukishima settle down as far away from Kuroo as possible, and then tap his phone until the voices of restless violins rise.
“What is this?” Kuroo asks.
“Yes,” Kuroo says. He is aware. It’s the reason his short shorts and the metal chair were extremely ill-matched. “What’s the music though?”
Tsukishima closes his eyes deliberately again. It makes Kuroo’s lips twitch with amusement, and his chest constrict fondly.
“It’s Winter, from The Four Seasons. Vivaldi.”
“Oh,” Kuroo says. He doesn’t know what any of that means, except that he’s maybe, maybe heard of Vivaldi. “Nice.”
Tsukishima gives him a weird look, a little surprised. It’s the first thing Kuroo has seen on his face that isn’t disdainful annoyance, and it’s real fucking cute.
“Yeah,” Tsukishima says.
Oh my God, Kuroo thinks. He loves his old man music.
He smiles at Tsukishima, and Tsukishima looks away very quickly, but does not do the careful breathing thing that means he’s trying not to behead Kuroo. The rest of the evening passes without a word exchanged between them, but there’s the music, and there’s Tsukishima’s perfect, delicate nose tilted down towards the book in his hands, and it really isn’t a bad way to spend the night at all.
“You saved my life, you know,” Kuroo says, when his mind has become too numb to retain any more facts, and he’s gathered his things to leave. “Thanks a lot, Tsukki.”
“What did you call me?”
“Tsu… ki?” Kuroo says carefully, gently, because Tsukishima is looking a bit frightening again.
“Tsuki-shima,” he corrects, as if Kuroo had just been too stupid to remember the whole thing.
“Don’t come back.”
Kuroo definitely can’t promise that. There’s already the ever present issue of all the sex being had in his apartment that isn’t being had by him, but now there’s this new issue, too. This uptight, dinosaur-pant wearing guy with his unruly hair and thick rimmed glasses that apparently are really doing it for Kuroo.
“Have a good night,” he says instead, and then adds, “Tsukki,” again, because that murderous look really does it for him too.
It ends up being harder than expected for Kuroo to talk to Tsukishima again, which is saying something, because it’s not like Tsukishima left him with the impression that it was going to be a walk in the park. He tries keeping an eye out for him when he’s leaving and returning to the building. He tries loitering by the mailboxes in the lobby. He tries going to the second floor even though he has no reason at all to be on the second floor, except his desire to see Tsukishima’s lips get all pinched again. And more importantly, to see if they’re actually capable of doing something else. Of turning up at the corners, and maybe even opening to let out a happy sound.
First things first, though. He needs to actually get Tsukishima to talk to him again.
“Should I just knock on his door?” he asks Sawamura, when a week has passed and he hasn’t spotted Tsukishima once.
“Why not? It worked the first time.”
“Right, but now he knows who I am, so probably…”
Oh,” Sawamura says with an understanding nod. “Yeah, he’s not gonna let you in.”
Kuroo sighs heavily. Sawamura is right, of course, but it’s not what he wanted to hear.
“If he hates you though, why do you even want to see him again?”
“I think…” Kuroo says thoughtfully. “Hate is maybe his default. I think maybe he could not hate me if we got past that. I mean he did let me stay.”
Sawamura considers this and seems to find it valid enough, because he nods again. “Well, knock then. But don’t be an asshole this time. If he doesn’t invite you in, just leave.”
Kuroo was not intentionally being an asshole in the first place, which is likely a large part of his problem. He’s just awkward as fuck, so he powers through uncomfortable situations and pretends he’s not uncomfortable, which sometimes makes him look like he really is a smooth ass motherfucker. And sometimes just makes him look like a loser. The results are varied.
In the end he decides to mostly go with Sawamura’s suggestion, with just a bit of flair. He stands in front of Tsukishima’s door the next evening, dressed in actual jeans (black and slim and flattering), and holding a small gift in the palm of his hand. A capsule toy from one of the vending machines in front of the konbini down the street.
He deliberately knocks with a different cadence than he’d used the first time he came here. Then he feels weird and knocks again the normal way, fully expecting Tsukishima to not come to the door, and wondering what his alternate plan will be.
There are zero sounds of movement inside the apartment, but a moment later the door swings open, and there he is. He doesn't have his glasses on, and Kuroo feels his face reacting to this in the same way it would to seeing a fuzzy little kitten.
Tsukishima does not say anything. He’s wearing shorts this time, and his legs are actually nicely muscled, in a wiry, rangy kind of way. Like maybe he runs.
“Hey,” Kuroo says. “I just wanted—”
“You can’t come in,” Tsukishima tells him.
“Oh, no, that’s fine! My roommate’s bf is actually out of town this weekend. So you know, no one’s knockin’ boots down there.”
Tsukishima’s expression doesn’t change even the slightest bit. It’s actually kind of amazing.
“Anyway,” Kuroo goes on, “I just wanted to give you this? To say thank you.” He holds out his hand and the little round gachapon rolls slightly towards Tsukishima, so the clear half of it is on top and the charm inside is visible. A purple stegosaurus with pink plates on its back.
Tsukishima continues to have no reaction, and Kuroo continues to feel his stomach clenching, but then finally long, pale fingers reach out and pluck the capsule from his hand.
“Dinosaurs were not purple,” Tsukishima says.
“I mean, they probably also didn’t wear santa hats, but…”
There, holy fuck, there it is. A twitch, just at the corner of Tsukishima’s lips. Only for a second, but Kuroo caught it.
“Goodnight,” Tsukishima says, his fingers closing around the gachapon and bringing it to his side.
“Kuroo,” Kuroo says. “In case you forgot.”
“I’m not a goldfish. My memory works just fine.”
“Wait, is that like, a real thing? Do fish have terrible memories? Is that where Dory came from?”
Tsukishima squints at him. “Who?”
“From… Finding Nemo? The forgetful fish? Did that have a scientific basis?”
Tsukishima shakes his head, though it’s unclear if he’s actually answering Kuroo’s question, or just dismissing his entire existence.
“Okay, well—” Kuroo begins, but then the door is being closed in his face. “Night, Tsukki!” he calls through it. He doesn’t receive a response, but he can’t help noting that the door was not closed forcefully, and Tsukishima, in his own way, did tell Kuroo he had not forgotten his name.
“How’d it go?” Sawamura asks when Kuroo goes back to his own apartment. “You weren’t up there very long, but you also don’t look like you’ve been punched.”
“He’s like… a cactus,” Kuroo says. “You know those cute little ones that are shaped like cartoon ghosts?”
Sawamura does not seem to know what he means.
“He’s prickly,” Kuroo clarifies. “But underneath that, he—”
“A ghost?” Sawamura says, “What the fuck kind of cactus looks like a ghost?”
They get into a mostly good natured argument then, in which Kuroo points out how useless Sawamura is for not being able to picture a standard fucking cactus, and Sawamura says he will never understand how a fucking science major can be so completely unscientific.
“Cacti are plants, Sawamura. That’s biology. I’m a chemistry major.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Sawamura says, but he does agree, once Kuroo finds a picture on his phone of a cute little rounded cactus, that it does kind of look like a ghost. “You said he was tall, though.”
Kuroo finds himself mimicking Tsukishima as he closes his eyes to shield himself from Sawamura’s deliberate obtuseness. “It’s a fucking metaphor,” he says.
“Fine. But how are you going to literally get close to your prickly cactus ghost?”
That’s an answer Kuroo doesn’t have yet, but he’s always enjoyed looking for answers, and Tsukishima’s acceptance of the dinosaur charm may just mean he’s willing to let Kuroo try to find them.
It’s not a difficult choice, when the following weekend rolls around and Sawamura is back in the saddle, for Kuroo to beat a hasty retreat and head up to Tsukishima’s.
“It’s Friday night,” Tsukishima (now dressed in some kind of thermal pants that are thin and stripey and distracting) tells him upon opening the door. “You don’t need to study.”
“No,” Kuroo agrees, “but I also don’t need yet another reminder of my own lonely journey through life. And I brought entertainment.”
“Does your roommate have some kind of disorder? How much sex does he need to have?”
“All of it, apparently,” Kuroo says with a shrug, before gently shouldering his way past Tsukishima and into his lovely, clean apartment. “Do you actually... live here? Because you’re inhumanly quiet, you know. And how do you keep everything so neat?”
“Your incessant question asking is obnoxious. And idiotic. Obviously I live here.”
Kuroo turns back to face Tsukishima and is pleased to find that he’s closed the door, which means he’s letting Kuroo stay again. “It’s time for you to meet Dory.”
He slips his copy of Finding Nemo from his back pocket with a flourish. Of course Tsukishima will need to see Finding Dory too, but they can’t get ahead of themselves. They each sit down in one of the modular chairs, which isn’t ideal, because Tsukishima is completely separated from him, but they are in the same room this time, and Kuroo’s not going to turn his nose up at progress.
Tsukishima, unsurprisingly, is a quiet movie watching partner, but he isn’t devoid of reaction. Kuroo catches his little frown when Nemo’s mother dies, and the twitch of his lips when Dory says just about anything. Dory is a blessing, and he’s glad Tsukishima recognizes this.
When the credits run he sings along softly to Beyond the Sea while he waits to see if Tsukishima has anything to say.
“Would you know the words to this if it wasn’t at the end of an animated movie about fish?” Tsukishima asks.
That seems like a loaded question, to which the answer should probably be yes. Kuroo is really horrendous at lying though, and doesn’t like doing it anyway. “No,” he says. “Would you?”
Tsukishima nods. More old man music. It just keeps getting cuter.
“Did you like it? The movie?”
“I looked it up,” Tsukishima says. “I was wrong about goldfish, their memory isn’t actually terrible.”
“O-oh,” Kuroo says, catching up with the change in subject, and the fact that Tsukishima looked it up oh my God. “How far does their memory go? Do you know?”
Not only does Tsukishima know, but his memory is fucking incredible. He doesn’t even have to whip his phone out to remind himself of anything, he just tells Kuroo all about the studies he read, and all the things he learned about fish training, which Kuroo didn’t even know was a thing.
“So Dory is just Dory, then,” Kuroo says after.
“Dory is a blue tang. But it's a widespread myth, the three-second memory of a goldfish thing. So maybe the writers were playing with that.”
“Maybe,” Kuroo agrees, trying not to smile too big. It’s been so nice having Tsukishima actually talk to him, and to get a taste of how bright and serious and thoughtful he is. He’s wearing his rectangular glasses again tonight and God is he ever cute. “Thanks for looking it up.”
Tsukishima shrugs, looking past Kuroo disinterestedly, like he doesn’t really care about anything they were just talking about. Except clearly he does.
“So since a goldfish’s memory isn’t too shabby, and yours is even better than that, does that mean you remember my first name, too?”
“Tetsurou,” Tsukishima says with a roll of his eyes, and Kuroo bids this life adieu. There’s nothing else he needs to accomplish. Except…
“Why does it matter? You can’t even manage to say my surname correctly.”
“Tsu-ki-shi-ma,” Kuroo says, as slowly and tenderly as possible.
“Kei,” Tsukishima says, still not actually looking at Kuroo. It’s not out of shyness, though, it seems more like something else. A show of power, maybe. Of deliberate detachment.
“Hey, Tsukki?” Kuroo says.
“Oh my God.”
“Tsukishima Kei. Just look at me for a second.”
Tsukishima sighs heavily and turns only his head. His eyes are a lot lighter than Kuroo realized. A gorgeous, golden honey color.
“I think you didn’t hate hanging out with me tonight. Am I right?”
“I can imagine you being right only rarely.”
“Hey now,” Kuroo says. “I get excellent grades.”
“Your manners are horrific. This is the third time you’ve just invited yourself over.”
“Maybe you should invite me, then,” Kuroo says as casually as he possibly can when his heart is racing the way it is.
“What should I do, send you a carrier pigeon?”
Kuroo grins, and he swears to God there’s a bit of a smile in Tsukishima’s eyes, and a hint of color in his cheeks. “Ask me for my number, Tsukki.”
Tsukishima shakes his head. “No thanks.”
“Give me yours?”
“It’s bad enough that you know where I live.”
“Alright,” Kuroo says, with a defeated sigh that hopefully seems put on, when in fact his chest really is aching a little with disappointment. When he looks away from Tsukishima’s face he makes the mistake of taking in his thin pajama bottoms again, and then the arch of his bare feet, propped up on one of the footrests. There’s something so intimate about it all, and something so beautiful about him. Every damn part of him is so fine and fair, like a marble statue come to life. “I’ll see you around then.”
“You seem determined to make that inevitable.”
“You don’t seem that determined to stop me,” Kuroo counters, which is maybe very foolish because Tsukishima certainly could change that.
“Lock the door on your way out, please.”
“Sure,” Kuroo says, accepting that he won’t get anything more out of Tsukishima tonight. Still so many questions unanswered.
Except one. Because as he’s leaving, he catches sight of the little shelf next to the front door, just like the one in his own apartment. There are usually crumpled receipts and scattered coins on his, but Tsukishima’s is bare except for a keyring adorned with three keys, one tiny flashlight, and one purple stegosaurus.
So. Kuroo doesn’t know exactly what that means, but it definitely means something.
“Have you ever wondered,” Kuroo asks, “if they get the most wicked neck cramps?”
Tsukishima looks up at him from the stack of notes on his lap, with his standard what the fuck are you even saying? expression. Kuroo turned up a couple hours earlier, sans invitation, because he has a paper to write, and Tsukishima just sat down in the other chair and turned his music up. They’ve listened to the rest of The Four Seasons now (per Kuroo’s request), and are on to something new.
“The violinists,” Kuroo clarifies. “It makes my neck sore just thinking about it.”
“Your neck is stupidly long,” Tsukishima says without looking up. “It probably would hurt.”
“I would be smart enough to make the proper adjustments to my posture and positioning to ensure minimal discomfort.”
“I’d be smart enough to ask you how to do that.”
Tsukishima makes a little tch sound and turns the music up some more. He does an excellent job of acting like Kuroo isn’t even there for another good hour, which is fine because Kuroo’s on a fucking roll and has just knocked out the last paragraph before his conclusion. He lifts his fingers from the keys of his laptop for a minute, preparing for the final effort, and then hears another small sound from Tsukishima. A frustrated little huff.
“What? Am I typing too loud?”
“You type like a fucking elephant,” Tsukishima says. “But no, it’s just… it’s nothing.”
Kuroo sets his laptop on the floor and gets up to lean over Tsukishima’s seat. “Chemistry?” he asks, his eyes lighting up when he scans over the stoichiometry problems on Tsukishima’s worksheet. “I didn’t know you were—”
“Completely incapable of figuring this out,” Tsukishima snaps. “I’ve done it four times, and I don’t know how many grams of baking soda you’d need to neutralize the fucking battery acid.”
“Let me see,” Kuroo says, kneeling more comfortably next to Tsukishima. “Does it give you the concentration of the acid?”
“It… yes, but—”
“Here.” Kuroo takes the pencil so he can work the problem out for himself, and compare it to Tsukishima’s scratched out notes. “Oh, no you’ve got it, Tsukki. You just mixed up the bicarbonate and the sulfate when you copied it over, see?”
Tsukishima’s eyes are on Kuroo when Kuroo looks up, but then they dart down to the problem, with Kuroo’s fingers still resting beside it, and he nods jerkily. “Right, yeah. So I just…” He takes the pencil back from Kuroo, erasing his last attempt and doing it once more, arriving at exactly the right conclusion.
“Yep, perfect,” Kuroo says. “Need help with anything else?”
“I… n-no,” Tsukishima says, turning his head abruptly away from Kuroo as if he’s just now realized how close together their faces are. Kuroo actually hadn’t noticed at first either, he’d been so focused on Tsukishima's homework, but he’s definitely noticing now. Absurdly aware of each golden curl at Tsukishima's nape, and the mildly spicy scent of his skin. “You can… move.”
“Sure,” Kuroo says, even though he really, really doesn’t want to.
It’s much harder to focus on his own work now, to get back into the groove he was in before he got to be close enough to Tsukishima to feel his breath. He has to read over his entire paper twice before he manages to cobble together a mediocre conclusion that he’s definitely going to have to rewrite. He glances at Tsukishima over and over again. At his little frown of concentration, and the way his lower lip is going red where he keeps biting it. Oh God… Kuroo should not have looked at his lips.
“Tsukki?” he says, before he can stop himself.
Tsukishima looks up and glares at him, which is probably the only response he’s going to get.
“You should ask me for my number. In case you run into any more trouble, when I’m not around.”
“You’re always around.”
“You should ask me anyway.”
“I’m finished,” Tsukishima says, snapping his notebook closed. “Lock up when you go.”
“You’re killin’ me, Tsukki.”
“Good. It destroys a part of me every time you use that stupid nickname.”
“Tsukki is an adorable nickname, Tsukki. It fits you perfectly.”
Tsukishima’s expression briefly does something unreadable, before settling into predictable haughty annoyance. “I’m not adorable, and I’m not asking for your number. Go away.”
Kuroo saves his work and closes his laptop before getting to his feet. Tsukishima is standing there, waiting for him to leave, and there’s a tension about him that Kuroo also can’t read. The edge of color in Tsukishima’s ears and the brightness in his eyes set it apart from his usual irritation, and make it seem a little more…
“Are you afraid to?” Kuroo asks. “To ask for it?”
“Are you capable of saying anything that doesn’t involve at least two unnecessary questions?”
Kuroo shrugs. There’s so much to learn. Especially about Tsukishima, who just managed to evade yet another question. Though maybe not as effectively as he hoped, because the color has spread to his cheeks now, deepening as Kuroo takes two long steps towards him so they’re almost as close as they were when Kuroo helped him with his work.
“You are adorable, actually. No question.”
Tsukishima swallows, then glares a little harder, and Kuroo’s not much of a blusher but he feels himself burning up inside. He wants to touch Tsukishima’s cutely pointed chin. He wants to slip his glasses off and hold his face and taste his lips.
“Goodnight, Tsukki,” he says. His voice is not as smooth and steady as he’d like. Tsukishima’s eyes haven’t left his, and his heart is losing its fucking mind.
Tsukishima doesn’t say Kuroo’s name, and he doesn’t smile, and he doesn’t try to stop him to ask for his number before Kuroo leaves. But he watches him until Kuroo steps out and pulls the door closed behind himself, and Kuroo is on fire.
The next time Kuroo goes upstairs to Tsukishima’s, Sawamura and Sugawara are remarkably not banging, but they are baking cookies together, which is almost worse.
“You must have other friends,” Tsukishima says, standing in his doorway in a thin white t-shirt and his dinosaur pants. One cuff is slightly rolled up, clearly unintentionally, and Kuroo almost chokes at the cuteness. “Or, I guess I shouldn’t assume that, given—”
“We’re friends?” Kuroo asks, cutting off whatever insult Tsukishima was building up to. “Your wording definitely suggests you are one of my friends.”
“Why are you here.” He says it so dryly there’s nothing inquisitive about it, but Kuroo answers anyway.
“The usual… roommate’s boyfriend is over.”
“The sex addict.”
“They’re actually baking tonight? And the domesticity is killing me. They’re so fucking happy.”
Tsukishima considers this, and then steps aside so Kuroo can come in. The apartment is pristine, as always.
“Are you actually a ghost?” Kuroo asks. “I was thinking about it last night and like, my heart’s gonna break if I run into someone else in the building and mention you, and they say, “The guy in 11B? No, no, you must be mistaken, he’s been dead for ten years!”
Tsukishima’s mouth opens, but he doesn’t seem to have anything to say. It’s an actual jaw drop.
“Oh my God, are you?” Kuroo demands.
“No, oh my fucking God. You’re serious?”
“Yes!” Kuroo cries. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility!”
“It’s… it’s entirely beyond it. How—how can…”
Kuroo is concerned for a moment, because Tsukishima seems like maybe he’s choking. “Are you… having a stroke?” he asks, but then he realizes it’s nothing so dire. It’s just, against all odds, the sound of Tsukishima trying not to laugh, and then failing. His eyes crinkle up, and he clutches his stomach, and then he literally fucking snorts, and Kuroo stops being stunned and starts laughing too.
“Shut up,” Tsukishima says, trying to pull himself together. “It’s your fault for being so ridiculous.”
“You’re really weirdly quiet!” Kuroo defends himself, and Tsukishima just shakes his head. He isn’t laughing anymore. Just looking at Kuroo with his lips still curved slightly upwards, his cheeks flushed, and his eyelashes wet with tears behind his glasses. “Holy fuck, you’re beautiful.”
Tsukishima stops smiling. He doesn’t stop being beautiful.
“I’m not a ghost,” he says. “I just pick shit up after myself.”
“Okay,” Kuroo says. He cannot look away from Tsukishima’s eyelashes, long and fair and glistening.
“Are you going to sit down? Or just stand there like a giant, awkward rooster.”
“Wow,” Kuroo says. “I guess I’ll sit like a giant, awkward rooster instead.”
Kuroo sits and Tsukishima walks away, going into the kitchen where Kuroo can’t really see him (which is painful), and then coming back with two bottles of flavored water. He’s never fed Kuroo before.
“There’s a coelacanth documentary coming on in a minute, if you want to…”
“Yeah!” Kuroo says. “What’s a coelacanth?”
Tsukishima looks at him with narrowed eyes, then he shakes his head and goddamn smiles again. “It’s one of the oldest species of fish in the world, they call it a living fossil. Scientists thought they were extinct until 1938, and then… well it’s in the documentary, Kuroo.”
“Awesome,” Kuroo says, and not just because Tsukishima is the cutest thing he’s ever seen when he talks about ancient fish. Ancient fish also sound pretty damn cool.
The documentary flies by, but another one comes on after it, about deep sea creatures. It kind of scares the shit out of Kuroo, but Tsukishima looks riveted. And they’re sitting on the floor together which they’ve never done before, so Kuroo isn’t going anywhere.
“Fuck,” he says when it ends. “I’m gonna have nightmares.”
“That dragonfish is coming for my fucking soul,” Kuroo says seriously, but then Tsukishima snorts, and Kuroo isn’t really thinking about the dragonfish anymore.
“Yeah,” Kuroo says, looking at Tsukishima’s profile, and the jut of his Adam’s apple in his pale throat.
“I have a chemistry exam on Friday.”
“If you… I have a few things I’m not confident about, if you have time later this week to—”
“You call, I’ll come,” Kuroo says.
“I don’t have your number.”
“No, you don’t.”
Tsukishima huffs and looks down at his hands, slender fingers laced together in his lap. “Just come over on Thursday.”
“Okay,” Kuroo says. He doesn’t try to make his voice sound level. He’s flying, lifted higher than the fucking clouds by the lines of Tsukishima’s narrow wrists, and the swell of muscle under the short sleeves of his shirt.
“You know, you agree with everything I say, and it makes me think you don’t really mean anything you say.”
“I mean everything I say to you,” Kuroo says without hesitation. “I’m just… agreeable.”
Tsukishima meets his eyes briefly, then purposefully directs his gaze across the room. His shoulders are a little more relaxed. His face a little more rosy.
“You should go. They must be finished baking by now.”
“They’re probably feeding each other cookies in bed.”
“Yeah,” Kuroo says with a sigh. He’s happy for Sawamura and all, but he’s only human. He gets jealous, and lonely, and the closest thing he’s had to a date in so long are these nights with Tsukishima, who is so goddamn determined to not let Kuroo know what he’s thinking.
“You can stay, if you want. Just for tonight.”
“W-what?” Kuroo asks.
“There’s an extra futon, in the second room. Or just go home, I don’t care what—”
“No! That—that would be great. Thank you.”
Tsukishima shrugs, clearly entering into full-on cactus mode. Kuroo doesn’t really understand him, but he knows this is necessary for whatever reason. This coming closer and pushing away at the same time.
“Could I… it’s fine if not, but like, I wasn’t joking about having nightmares. I have kind of a thing? About horrifying creatures glowing in the dark?”
“What are you asking me?”
“Could I sleep in your room? Like, just bring the futon in there, and then maybe, I don’t know. I’ll just feel a little—”
“I don’t care,” Tsukishima says. “Whatever.”
He’s already walking away from Kuroo, so Kuroo doesn’t say anything else. He just follows along and helps drag the futon into Tsukishima’s room. He very deliberately doesn’t freak out about the fact that he’s in Tsukishima’s room, and it’s really, terribly cute. Dinosaur statues on the shelves, a huge plush one on the bed. Plus an insane collection of CD’s and vinyl albums, and a legitimate fucking vintage turntable.
“You... really like music,” he says, somewhat casually.
Tsukishima nods, pulling a neatly folded blanket from a shelf in his closet and tossing it to Kuroo. “I sleep with it playing. So if that’s a—”
“Not a problem,” Kuroo says quickly. “That sounds good.”
Tsukishima looks over at him, golden eyes glinting with skepticism.
“Oh my God, it does,” Kuroo says. “I don’t like classical nearly as much as you do, but some of it’s really relaxing, and I like listening to it with you.”
“You’re not listening to it with me. We’re just… both listening to it.”
“Okay,” Kuroo says cheerily, and Tsukishima reaches over and shoves him.
Kuroo does not have nightmares. He barely sleeps at all, actually. He listens to the music of Einaudi and Tsukishima’s soft breathing, and he smiles a lot in the dark.
“You should have said something,” Tsukishima says out of the blue. It’s been a couple weeks since Kuroo helped him study for his chemistry exam, and they’re currently sprawled out on Tsukishima’s floor with some snacks between them and a cheesy drama playing on the tv.
“Hmm?” Kuroo says through a mouthful of rice cracker.
“When we watched the deep sea documentary. If it scared you we could have watched something else.”
“It was interesting,” Kuroo says after he swallows. “If I avoided everything that scared me how would I learn anything?”
Tsukishima blinks at him, then makes a dismissive clicking sound with his tongue and looks away. “What, are you scared of everything?”
“No. But anything that’s a total unknown can be kind of scary, right? Dark ocean crevasses. Laundromats. Inhumanly quiet neighbors with cute pajama pants.”
“You’re scared of laundromats?” Tsukishima says, ignoring that last part. (Sort of. His ears go pink.)
“I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. How do I know if it’s a small load or a medium load? Does it really matter if I use the measurements on the cup? Because I don’t, and it seems like things are clean, but I guess how would I know?”
Tsukishima is looking at him with his nose scrunched up in mild disgust. “You’re a fucking science major. How can you not determine the size of a load of laundry and use the appropriate corresponding measurement?”
“You’re a science major too, Tsukki, but chemistry is still hard for you. Laundry is hard for me.”
“Being a human is hard for you,” Tsukishima says, and it isn’t untrue.
“Sometimes,” Kuroo agrees. “Can you pass the kaki seeds, please?”
Tsukishima pushes the bowl closer to Kuroo, and turns his attention back to the television where the drama is still playing. Completely unrelated to the documentary they’d watched.
“What made you think of it?” Kuroo asks. “The deep sea thing.”
“Nothing. I had a dream with a frilled shark in it last night.”
“Fuck, that’s like… worse than the dragonfish. I’m touched that it made you think of me, though.”
“Who wouldn’t want a creepy, prehistoric eel-shark to remind people of them,” Tsukishima says blandly.
“I mean… maybe a step up from giant rooster, right?”
Tsukishima turns away, hiding his soft laugh in his shoulder. Kuroo has to actively resist the desire to reach out and touch his back, where his t-shirt strains against the sharp rise of his shoulder blade.
He’s slept over at Tsukishima’s twice more since that first time. Both times in the same room as him, lying awake and forcing himself to keep his eyes closed, when all he wanted was to look at Tsukishima with his glasses off and his hand curled loosely next to his face.
“Did the frilled shark chase you?” Kuroo asks.
“I don’t think so. It was just there, being a frilled shark.”
“Which is bad enough.”
“Oh my God, we could have turned it off!”
Kuroo laughs, stretching out on his back and accidentally crunching the senbei package. “You should ask me for my number, Tsukki. Then next time you have a bad dream you can ask me to come over.”
“How would a nightmare help a nightmare?”
“Oho, clever,” Kuroo says appreciatively. “Did you know you habitually answer a question with a question? What do you think that means?”
“It means you should stop asking so many fucking questions.”
That’s possibly true. But Kuroo is pretty sure it has a lot more to do with Tsukishima not wanting to give anything away.
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s watch Finding Dory.”
“It won’t scare you?” Tsukishima asks, raising an eyebrow at him.
“No dragonfish or frilled sharks. But I’m not scared with you anyway.”
Tsukishima rolls his eyes and kicks Kuroo’s foot before he gets up to go to the bathroom, which Kuroo loves but is also kind of destroyed by. Tsukishima keeps doing that lately, touching him briefly when he doesn’t have to, making Kuroo feel like he’s right about that something he feels between them. The burning that keeps turning up in Tsukishima’s cheeks, and in Kuroo’s chest, that seem to be the same thing.
But then Tsukishima walks away, and he deflects Kuroo’s questions, and maybe he does think of Kuroo as a frilled shark. Something dark and unknown. Something that maybe he’s never going to decide to let in.
Kuroo doesn’t mind being patient. He likes Tsukishima’s snark and his eye rolls and temper. He just doesn’t like the idea that maybe Tsukishima’s legitimately scared in some way when he’s with him. And that if he is, Kuroo shouldn’t keep making him feel like that.
They watch Finding Dory quietly, as they usually do. When it ends Tsukishima looks sleepy and soft, and Kuroo feels his heart aching too badly to ignore.
“Tsukishima Kei,” he says softly, waiting while Tsukishima seems to consider ignoring him, and then relents and faces him. “Ask me for my number.”
“I don’t want your number.”
“Do you want me?” Kuroo asks, because he needs to know. Because it’s been two months of these nights, of Tsukishima sitting closer and closer to him on the floor, but still never telling Kuroo if he actually wants him there. And Kuroo shouldn’t be there if he doesn’t.
“Don’t do that,” Tsukishima says, stiffening.
“Don’t…” Tsukishima shifts, sitting up and hugging his knees to his chest. “Don’t wreck this. Don’t act like you want me just because your roommate’s getting laid and you want some, too.”
“What?” Kuroo says, sitting up so fast he smashes the pack of rice crackers all over again. “What are you—”
“It’s fine that you come here so you don’t have to feel lonely. It’s fine if you want to watch movies and do homework, but don’t—”
“Don’t what? Don’t fall for you? Like I’ve been doing since the first time I saw you in those goddamn dinosaur pants?”
“Stop it.” Tsukishima shakes his head, looking confused and ready to raise all those walls back up that he's been lowering so, so slowly. “Stop—”
“Tsukishima Kei! I don’t come here to escape my roommate. I like my roommate, and I like his boyfriend, and I actually kind of like listening to them fuck. Sorry, God, sorry. Sometimes I do get lonely though, yeah. And when I do… Tsukki, you said I must have other friends, and you’re right. So why the hell do you think I keep coming here to be with you?”
Tsukishima just stares back at him, so uncertain, so totally un-Tsukki like, that it breaks Kuroo’s heart.
“I come here, and I flirt with you, and I think about you all the fucking time because I want you, Tsukki. You. With your cute fucking nose, and your Vivaldi, and your smile oh my God. If I just wanted anyone I’d go find someone who just wants anyone, too. But I—” Kuroo has to stop suddenly, because now that he’s finally saying all this stuff to Tsukishima, it’s really hitting him hard. How much he loves spending time with him. How much he needs Tsukishima to know that he means it from the bottom of his fucking heart. “I—”
“Stop,” Tsukishima says again, but he doesn’t sound fearful and angry this time, and he’s reaching to press the tips of his fingers to Kuroo’s lips. “Stop, you’re such a disaster.”
He is. Kuroo isn’t a blusher, but when he’s feeling big things he’s a crier, and he’s feeling huge things right now. His eyes well up and spill over, and Tsukishima watches him, lifting his fingers from Kuroo’s mouth and touching them to his wet cheek instead.
“I didn’t… I didn’t know how to believe you meant it, all this time,” he says quietly. “I have some trust issues.”
“Because…” Kuroo whispers back, “someone actually murdered you, ten years ago.”
Tsukishima closes his eyes. He breathes out slowly and carefully, and then he smiles. Hugely, beautifully, with his eyes still closed and both his hands on Kuroo’s face. “Fucking idiot,” he says.
“Tetsurou, actually. It’s Tetsurou,” Kuroo tells him.
“Tetsurou,” Tsukishima says, and then he kisses him. Soft and hesitant, his fingertips carefully resting on Kuroo’s cheeks.
“I like you so much,” Kuroo tells him after, with his eyes still closed, and Tsukishima’s breath on his skin. “I like you even if you’re a ghost.”
“I’m not a fucking ghost,” Tsukishima says, pressing his lips to Kuroo’s again, and then falling away when a laugh breaks out of him.
Kuroo wraps his arms around him and feels him shaking with it, pulls him closer so he’s warm against his chest. Living and breathing and soft, God, the skin at the back of his neck is so soft. The loose waves of hair Kuroo slips his fingers into are so fucking soft. Not a prickly cactus ghost at all. Just a beautiful, brilliant boy who tastes like salt and chocolate.
“Were you scared of me?” he asks, after he’s reverently removed Tsukishima’s glasses and kissed him again, and Tsukishima has hidden his face in Kuroo’s neck, because Kuroo probably isn’t allowed to see too many smiles in one night. That's fine though, he just wants to know they’re there.
“Of course not.”
“But were you?”
“I hate all your questions.”
“Were you?” Kuroo asks again, slipping his fingers under the hem of Tsukishima's shirt to tickle him.
Tsukishima grabs his wrist in a death grip and has him on his back and pinned to the floor before Kuroo can even blink. “Why would I be scared of you?” he asks. Exchanging a question for a question, as always.
“You tell me,” Kuroo says, not trying to get away. He knows the answer, he thinks, but he really, really wants to hear it from Tsukishima. He'd wait here forever for it.
“Because… I like you,” Tsukishima says.
“There it is.”
“Shut up,” Tsukishima tells him and kisses him again, a little harder this time, with more confidence. Also with less tears, because Kuroo has pulled himself together now. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Me neither. I’ve dated, but I’ve never… I haven’t felt like this.”
Tsukishima blushes and lowers himself to Kuroo’s chest so he can press his hot cheek to Kuroo’s neck again. This is quickly becoming the best fucking thing that exists in the world.
“Yes, I want you,” Tsukishima says against his skin.
It takes Kuroo a minute to travel back to earlier in their conversation, when he asked and Tsukishima didn’t answer.
“Do you want my number?”
“I don’t need your fucking number,” Tsukishima grumbles, but it’s very soft and warm when it’s said with lips brushing Kuroo’s neck. “You’re always here.”
“But do you want it?”
“I’m going to murder you,” Tsukishima says, wrapping his arms around Kuroo’s neck and yanking him so they topple over and Kuroo ends up on top (which does actually murder him, holy fuck.) “And then you’re going to be the fucking ghost.”
“Oh my God, ghost boyfriends!” Kuroo says. “We’d be—”
Tsukishima doesn’t care what they’d be. He’s kissing Kuroo much harder now, pressing his tongue between Kuroo’s lips and clutching at his shoulders, his legs bending on either side of Kuroo’s hips. It’s almost too much, to have all of this happening when he’d thought maybe none of it would, but Kuroo pulls him closer, tighter. Letting Tsukishima's hips bite into him, making their chests press together so he can feel Tsukishima's heart pounding, and Tsukishima can feel his.
They kiss until Kuroo is lightheaded, until he has to draw back so he can breathe and his heart can not explode. Tsukishima doesn’t let him move too far, locking his ankles behind Kuroo's back and looking up at him with swollen lips and shadowed eyes. He's the single most gorgeous thing Kuroo has ever seen. The way his shirt rides up on his stomach is a world wonder. The way he's looking at Kuroo, the way that makes Kuroo feel, is making him want to cry again.
“Tsukki,” he says, trying to catch his breath. “You know I meant everything now, right?”
“So you don't really see me as a frilled shark?”
“What ?” Tsukishima asks, his standard fuck, you're so stupid tone coming out softer than usual. “Kuroo, God… why are you like this.”
Kuroo attempts a shrug—quite a challenge with one hand supporting him over Tsukishima, and the other tucked under Tsukishima's back. He does not know why he's the way he is, but Tsukishima is shaking his head now, with a small, fond smile.
“I guess you're kind of like one. You're… an unknown. Or you were.”
“A more attractive unknown though, right?”
“Frilled sharks are incredible, Kuroo.”
“I like them,” Tsukishima says, tugging Kuroo closer again and brushing their lips together. The warmth of his tongue and his breath and his hands sliding under Kuroo’s shirt make Kuroo insanely happy to be compared to a horrifying deepwater shark.
“Okay,” Kuroo says.
Tsukishima pinches his stomach before knocking him onto his back again. “Stupid agreeable shark,” he says, and Kuroo grins up at him, breathless. “Give me your number.”
“I hate you,” Tsukishima says, trying very hard not to smile, with lips that Kuroo has kissed red and full.
“O-kay,” Kuroo says sweetly, drawing it out so it’s both agreeable and totally disbelieving.
“Shut up, and let’s give your roommate a run for his money,” Tsukishima growls, with the pinkest cheeks and the softest fingers on Kuroo’s chest.
Kuroo doesn’t say okay this time, or anything else, because Tsukishima already looks beautifully murderous enough. His hands have slipped into Kuroo’s hair, and there’s nothing Kuroo needs to say right now, nothing he needs to learn, except how fucking amazing it feels to hold Tsukishima like this.
He’ll save the rest of his questions for the next time, and the next next time, and the time after that. And maybe Tsukishima will answer him with his words, or maybe with his lips, or maybe he won’t answer him at all, and that’s okay. He likes Kuroo, and he wants him here, and Kuroo will stick around as long as the goddamn coelacanth has for this. For his upstairs neighbor who is not a ghost or a living fossil, but is something a hundred times more incredible.