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"dare" is just another word for nothing left to lose

Chapter Text

“Tsukki!”

Kei blinked hard at the ground, feeling the grit of the dirty linoleum tile under his palms and trying to remember when he’d fallen—and why.

“Tsukki!” Yamaguchi called again, his sneakers squeaking against the gym’s floor when he came to a stop in front of Kei. He crouched low, a hand hovering in the air even when Kei pushed himself up onto his arms and fought down the whiplash embarrassment because everyone’s eyes were on him, now.

“Tsukishima!” Daichi shouted across the court. “Are you alright?”

 Yamaguchi stood with Kei even if he didn’t touch, fluttering, years of quiet glances and muted dialogue stretching between them like rope tied across a canyon. “Tsukki?”

“I’m fine,” Kei grit out in response, casting his eyes low and hunching his shoulders.

“Break,” someone—it might have been Akaashi-san—called across the net, slowing the practice match to a stop as the rest of his teammates circled him and Tadashi like sharks smelling blood. Kei scowled at the attention, dodging away from concerned hands and eyes and voices, but he did accept the water bottle Yamaguchi held out for him. He took it with practiced ease, careful not to let their hands brush as Ennoshita called out for the rest of them to back up a step.

Hinata puffed out his chest, because of course he did, and looked Kei in the eye. “You better not be hurt!”

“I’m fine!”

“Are you sure?” Suga asked carefully, stepping out from behind Daichi with a towel in his hand. Kei didn’t take the offering, shoulders tensing at the sight of him. 

(His mother’s lips were pressed into a thin line—even an eleven-year-old could tell something was wrong as she drummed her nails on the table across from him. The silence grew, long and harsh and grating, and Kei tentatively wrung his fingers together: a nervous habit he’d picked up since Akiteru—

“Your teacher and I had a chat today when I picked you up from school.”

Kei felt his pulse quicken, though he wasn’t sure why. It was something about her tone that sent a foreign, ice-cold sensation washing over his skin, seeping deep through his veins and settling. “What did she say?”

There it was again: the tight lips, serious eyes. Kei swallowed. His mother didn’t flinch. “No university is going to accept you if you don’t pick up the slack in your advanced placements, Kei.”)

“I’m sure,” Kei said, staring at Suga’s outstretched hand and resisting the urge to take a step back because he knew Nishinoya and Tanaka were right there, peering around to try to see his face. Suga had done it—he remembered, now. He’d made his way past him and touched his shoulder and squeezed, and the surprise had caught Kei off-guard so much that he—because he wasn’t prepared, he hadn’t braced himself

(Kei’s father sided with his mom, of course, of course; he didn’t ruffle his hair or tell him goodnight like he always did when Kei passed by on the way to his bedroom. Except nobody told him it wouldn’t just be that night things would be different.

Summer break ended, Yamaguchi came back to live at his dad’s after staying at his mother’s apartment in Tokyo. Kei had greeted him with a nod, asked him if he’d heard any new songs recently, Yamaguchi had beamed in response and they were back to their rhythm like nothing had happened in the first place.

It was only when Yamaguchi had paused his ramble to grab Kei’s arm in excitement did the taller boy flinch away from his touch with a scowl.)

Daichi fixed him with a look across the group, this little narrow-eyed stare like he wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him. Finally, after what felt like forever, he said, “that was quite a fall. Do you know what happened?”

“No,” the lie rolled off his tongue easily, because there was no way he would admit he’d been so startled by contact from another person his knees had buckled

At his side, Yamaguchi looked away.

(“Don’t touch me unless I tell you to,” Kei told him a week later. They were doing homework in Yamaguchi’s room, Kei had gotten distracted by the problem he was working on, Yamaguchi touched his arm to get his attention, and he jerked away so hard he’d slammed his elbow into the bedframe.

Upon hearing the request, Yamaguchi’s mouth had formed a tiny “o” shape. Kei waited in silence for a few seconds, before relaxing at the soft “sorry, Tsukki,” that almost seemed to echo around the room.

Kei didn’t know how to explain that his household had become less and less affectionate with every goal he failed to reach, with every week that passed since the “your teacher and I had a chat today,” and that every time Yamaguchi even brushed his arm against Kei’s bare skin he was so overstimulated it hurt.

He didn’t know how to explain it, Yamaguchi didn’t push, and it was left tucked away between his fingertips—in the spot he held all the things he wanted to say, but didn’t.)

 

Kei wasn’t quite sure how he got here, sitting like the lettuce in the middle of a Hinata-Kageyama sandwich he never asked to be a part of and hunching his shoulders to his ears like a shield; shot glasses filled with soy sauce sat like an offering between the Karasuno-Nekoma dividing line, and he winced when the oddball duo shouted nonsense at each other. 

Kei wasn’t quite sure how he got here, but he knew it was all Yamaguchi’s fault.

Granted—not everyone was sitting in the middle of this teen-angst bullshit circle: only a few first and second years from Karasuno (and Asahi-san, because Nishinoya had towed him into the empty gym like a dog on a leash,) Kuroo-san, Lev, the one who reminded Kei all too much of Tanaka and, surprisingly, Kenma.

Yamaguchi knocked on his door the morning after Suga had—after Suga had —and asked him if he wanted to play truth or dare with a few players from the training camp. He’d asked this innocently, because everything Yamaguchi did was innocent, unlike the traitor Akiteru. Truthfully, Kei would have rather done anything but hang out with more people.

Yamaguchi had then proceeded to mention that Suga and Daichi were looking to practice with someone and they’d probably seek him out if he didn’t come with—a fair warning. He’d smiled in a half-joking way when he said this, absently scratching the freckles on his cheek because he knew Kei was not the type of person to be swayed with ultimatums like that.

But oh, Kei faltered, because human touch was something he was pathetically afraid of and Suga, apparently, was undeterred by the put-off nature he’d been perfecting for years.

So he agreed.

Yamaguchi’s eyebrow twitched up and Kei knew that was his surprised-but-trying-not-to-show-it face; he said nothing of Kei’s decision and only smiled that tentative smile again like he was afraid the world would come crashing down on him if he gave it any more.

Kei was also not the type of person to, in fact, come crashing down on his best friend if he offered him something other than anxious glances and a grin like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed it, but Kei would never tell him any of this. He swallowed instead, followed Yamaguchi out of the room, and didn’t point out the “don’t touch me unless I tell you to” memory or the way Yamaguchi took extra care to leave space between their shoulders as they walked.

So, there he was, sitting stock-still in between the King and crow, listening to Nishinoya and the not-Tanaka boy Kei could never remember the name of argue over a refused dare and doing his best to blend into the gym floor. Kenma was doing the same thing across from him, but he had a PSP in his hand and appeared to be doing a much subtler job.

“Yamaguchi,” Kageyama said over the argument Nishinoya seemed to be winning, either not realizing that it wasn’t his turn or not caring. Kei saw Yamaguchi shrivel in the corner of his eye.

“Truth or dare?”

“M-Me?” Tadashi asked first, as if there was another Yamaguchi in the gym with them. When Kageyama nodded like the dumbass he was, Yamaguchi swallowed. “Truth.”

And Kageyama, although he’d been the one to ask, paused for a long time as if he wasn’t sure what to say. Finally, very decisively, he asked: “how can I improve my set so it’s most comfortable for you to receive?”

Kei decided he hated this, and Kuroo let out a loud guffaw that made him cringe into his skull.

“Shut up, Kuro,” Kenma said, quiet but without conviction.

Kuroo didn’t seem to notice and only laughed again, this kind of wheezing noise that didn’t match an attractive face. Kageyama either tried to keep a neutral mask as he stared at their senior or was just brick-stupid as to why Kuroo was laughing at him. (Kei knew it was the latter, and he also knew that was the saddest fucking thing he’d ever seen.)

“That’s not the point of the game, Bakageyama,” Hinata said matter-of-factly, but still shouted his protest when Kageyama dove around Kei to grab a fistful of orange locks.

The movement, coincidentally, made Kei tip forward on instinct, graceful and sure of himself like he hadn’t been when Suga—

Kuroo, who had already been looking at Dumb and Dumber with that feline amusement only he knew how to possess, slid his gaze to meet Kei’s. Kei bristled at the attention and came to the quiet realization he was, in fact, a goner.

“Tsukki,” Kuroo said, annoying in the way he drew out the sound. “Truth or dare?”

Kei frowned, carefully sitting back up after the wonder duo had calmed enough to do so, and glanced over to his best friend. “Yamaguchi hasn’t completed his turn.”

Kuroo waved him off. “He can later. It’s your turn, now.”

Kei didn’t like he tease in his voice or the cheshire grin on his too-smug face and all he could think about was his unwillingness to talk about traitor-Akiteru or how he’d been starved of touch for almost four years, so he picked dare on instinct.

Kuroo’s grin widened, and Kei realized seconds too late that he’d fallen into a trap. With his stupid bird’s nest hair and piercing eyes and horrible, horrible lips, Kuroo said, “I dare you to sit in someone’s lap until your next turn.”

Kei looked down at the shot-glasses of soy sauce, the punishment for backing out of a challenge, and downed one of them before he’d had a chance to breathe.

That, ironically, had been his fatal mistake.

Both his team (besides Asahi-san and Yamaguchi) and Nekoma (besides Kenma-san) practically rioted at his willingness to drink the condiment, shouting teases and insults and demanding to know which one of them he was crushing on so hard the idea had made him too mortified to move. (“Is it me?” Lev asked. Kei told him to go fuck himself.)

That spurred them on even more, and soon it became a game to see which questions Kei answered (“I dare you to tell me who you have a crush on.” “I don’t have a crush on anyone.”) and which ones he didn’t (“I dare you to put a braid in Asahi’s hair.”)

Much later in the morning, when Kei was so sick on soy sauce he felt like throwing up, he decided to pick truth, just this once. It was Kuroo who, of course, had asked him, and when Kei changed his usual answer Kuroo’s expression didn’t falter. In fact, unless he was imagining it, he picked up on a flash of genuine curiosity in his eyes. “Why don’t you let anyone touch you?”

Kei drank another glass of soy sauce and then some, enough that he was drowning in the disgustingness of it all. (He felt like he was going to throw up again and he did, all over stupid fucking Kageyama and his stupid fucking pants.)

Chapter Text

“Sorry, I know this is probably boring,” Yamaguchi cut himself off, and Kei lifted his head.

“Who said it was boring?”

The other boy paused, scratching at a freckle near his jaw out of habit and fixing his lap with a stare like the stitching on his shorts was threaded from star dust. He shrugged again, a little lift of his boney shoulders under the fabric of his shirt. “You seem bored.”

The school bus swayed and jostled with the uneven bumps in the road below them, the early night sky already twinkling with stars above. They’d been on the road for what had to have been an hour or two, packed with Kei’s bruised and battered teammates and their luggage on the way back from Tokyo. He turned to look at his friend. “If I were bored, I would tell you.”

“Oh,” Yamaguchi tilted his head, hesitant, but some of that sparkle had returned to his expression even as his knee bounced at Kei’s side. “Right. Sorry, Tsukki. Where—”

“You were on the part about the shockwave.”

Yamaguchi’s eyes twinkled again, as if happily amused Kei really had been paying attention to what he had to say. He glanced out the window to watch the road pass, pulling one of his knees to his chest as the bus swayed again. “Right—so the documentary said that when the supernova explodes, it could create a black hole if it’s big enough. It also said that the sun isn’t big enough to explode, which was reassuring because—”

Kei looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “When we were kids, Akiteru told us the world was going to end when the sun explodes.”

“Right, but the documentary said that it wasn’t, so I was reassured.”

“That’s how you got over that fear?”

Yamaguchi smiled at him, full on this time, so his eyes crinkled at the corners. “Shut up, Tsukki.”

Kei felt the corner of his mouth twitch and he looked away to hide it. 

“Anyway,” his best friend continued, “in some galaxies, there’s—uh—a white dwarf star? And a companion to it. The white dwarf draws matter from the companion star because it has really strong gravitational pull. Except, eventually, the dwarf star gets too much matter to handle and it explodes. It kinda makes me think of us, you know? Of humanity, I mean. How someone can take and take and still hurt the people who’re providing for them.”

There was a pause as Kei thought about this for a moment, this broad statement his friend was making. Yamaguchi wasn’t like him—he wasn’t pessimistic, he wasn’t cruel, and he softened in sentiment to things Kei found ridiculous to soften to: old memories of early sleepovers or flashes of steaming mugs in the winter or watching the stars together the last day of middle school. Yamaguchi saw the good in things, he thought, so if he could say that with a straight face, maybe they were worse off than Kei assumed. 

That realization was not inherently comforting.

Around them the bus rumbled again, muffled under his heartbeat. It rounded a corner—Kei felt it tip—and before he could blink Yamaguchi slid down towards him just enough that their arms brushed before he was able to lean away; the bus straightened out again.

The contact wasn’t jarring, not quite, not collapsing-on-the-gym-floor kind of surprise, but it still sent a prick of anxiety deep in Kei’s bones—the feeling of oh, this is not right.

Yamaguchi murmured apologies as he leaned away, still all soft words and comforting eyes even when the “don’t touch me unless I tell you to” memory resurfaced and shifted like water between them. Kei swallowed and shrugged, a don’t worry about it, and they both turned their gazes back to the window.

That is, until Kei’s phone buzzed in his back pocket.

He didn’t react at first, still a little startled and still a little raw, but after some seconds of hesitation his phone buzzed again. The plastic case was cold in his hands when he pulled it out, blinking at the two newest notifications before pressing his thumb against the home button to unlock it. 

It wasn’t a number he had saved, nor did it look familiar to him in any sense of the word. 

The first text said, eloquently: a the partyy.

The second text said: yu gettin this>:?

“Who is that?” Hinata asked, and Kei jumped out of his skin.

When he looked up, he took in how the redhead was leaning over the seat back in front of them, the top of Kageyama’s head visible at his side. Kei scowled instinctively, closing out of his phone. “No one.”

Hinata pointed, undeterred. “Sure looked like someone.”

“It’s not like he has other friends,” Kageyama’s voice carried back, and Kei was half-surprised he wasn’t sleeping like he’d originally assumed. His scowl deepened but he didn’t respond—it’s not like he was wrong.

“Who was it?” Hinata asked again, and Yamaguchi shifted uncomfortably at his side, head back and eyes fluttering as if he was fighting off sleep. Neither of them paid him any mind, and Kei ground his teeth together.

“A drunk text,” he said, not really sure why he was still talking.

Hinata smiled, and it was one of his smug I’m-right-and-you’re-not smiles, like he was confident he knew everything Kei was missing. Kei was frustrated he knew Hinata well enough to pick up on that shift, but it’s not like Hinata was subtle about anything he did—he was the most expressive person on the team.

Hinata turned and sat properly again, returning to his spot beside Kageyama, and Kei took a moment to be amused that he disappeared right out of view like a mountain hare in the snow. He resisted from making a short joke, just barely, because the temptation was unfortunately outweighed by the unwanted probability of the middle blocker peering back over to yell at him. 

Kei slipped his phone back into his pocket and that was that.

A few minutes later, when it buzzed again, he didn’t bother checking for the new message. He didn’t bother looking over at Yamaguchi, either, when he shifted again, didn’t bother thinking about how if he wasn’t so messed up he might have— might have —let him lean on his shoulder instead of cramping up his neck like that.

He didn’t bother doing any of it, so when he pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the window and the bus swayed again, sleep took him easily.

 

 

Kei’s sleep-drunk eyes fluttered open and closed as he stumbled up the sidewalk, Hinata shouting out the window at him at a volume far too loud to be appropriate for whatever late-night, early-morning limbo he was trapped in. Their bus rumbled away after that, taking the rest of his sleepy classmates with it, and Kei was left with the chirping of cicadas to keep him company while he dug around in his bag for his key.

He’d just moved to unlock the front door when he spotted traitor-Akiteru’s car in the driveway, and after that it was too late to stop his momentum. The door swung open, a little too loud and a little too fast, and Kei’s heart stuttered when his brother looked up from his phone across the room. “Hey, you’re back! How was it?”

What.

“What are you doing here?” Kei asked, a little breathless. His voice was more vulnerable than he wanted it to be.

Akiteru, to his credit, didn’t point this out, and tossed his blanket off of his lap. Kei watched him stand from his spot on the couch. “I’m just dropping in for a week or so. Uni’s on break right now.”

Kei stared, and then he stared a little more. His phone buzzed in his back pocket, and he said, “oh.”

“What was your favorite—” Akiteru started, actually looking genuinely intent about whatever he was asking, but Kei shook his head and brushed past him to disappear down the hall and into his room. He pressed his back to the wood when the door slid shut behind him, and he knew—he knew that was probably rude of him, but his clock read two a.m. and he had been looking forward to dropping face-first into his bedsheets for a good few hours, by then.

He felt his bag slip down his shoulder, hit the ground with a soft thump, and realized a little belatedly that he’d left the bigger duffel with his uniform in it in the living room. When had he set it down?

Kei could only hope Akiteru didn’t decide to be a good Samaritan and try to return it; he could grab it in the morning, whenever he woke up. Thank God for Saturdays.

Distantly, he heard his phone buzz again, and confusion pricked at his shoulders when he slid it out of his pocket for the second time.

He’d missed nothing short of a slew of texts in the couple hours he’d been sleeping, and skimmed over the screen with a pinched brow.

 

Unknown Number

 

[12:37am]

-heyyyyt

-u thr>?

-its kidna loud here

 

[12:53am]

-hop riu sleeping

-becas ill beat u up if uyr not

 

[1:13am]

-ikm loenlyyy

-knema

-thfis was a bad idae

-imNF kind if unfvomfortable

 

[1:17am]

-cna y pick me up

-or tedx ur sidter

-u have to beawke

 

[2:07am]

-im a little more sober i think

-can u pelase text neechan

-shes in the area u said

-add this to the list of 

-very bad ideas

 

Kei squinted at the screen, trying to understand what he was seeing. His thumb hesitated over the keyboard, a frown pulling at his lips because he just wanted to sleep.

He texted back: You have the wrong number.

Kei dropped his phone on his bedside table, shrugging off his jacket and expecting to be done with it. He caught a groan between his teeth when it buzzed again, and then again after that. On the third noise, right in a row, he realized it was probably an incoming call. One glance at the screen confirmed that theory—the unknown number.

Kei sat down on his bed and let it go to voicemail.

His room settled into a quiet tranquility, something he hadn’t gotten in a week, and his breath of relief was tangible.

His phone buzzed again.

Kei slammed his hand down and pressed Answer without thinking much of it, all too prepared to let this stranger know just what he thought about this whole predicament, but every working synapse in his brain skidded to a stop when Kuroo Tetsurou’s groggy voice carried over the line with a “very funny, Kenma.”

Kei didn’t respond, didn’t quite know how, and pulled the phone away from his ear to double check that this was, in fact, the unknown number who’d been texting him previously. When he tuned in again, Kuroo was in the middle of speaking.

“How did you get my number?” Kei asked, interrupting whatever he’d been trying to say.

Kuroo shut up very quickly.

After a millennium had passed, both waiting for the other to move, Kuroo shuffled a little like he was pulling his phone away from his ear to check the contact name like Kei had. When he spoke again, his voice was still husky, but just a touch more focused than it had been before. “Tsukishima?”

Kei closed his eyes, a prick of irritation in his voice when he spoke next. “You have the wrong number.”

There was another pause, another shuffle, and then Kuroo spoke as if he was just coming to the realization. “I texted you instead of Kenma.”

“No shit.”

“I—” another pause. Kei had never heard this Kuroo, had never heard this strange hesitancy in his voice before. It was different—Kei didn’t like different. Kuroo exhaled. “Did I wake you up?”

“No. Are you drunk?”

“Um.” Kei could hear music in the background, now that he was more awake than he had been. “No?”

Kei hung up.

He wasn’t not expecting Kuroo to call again, but he still jumped when his phone lit up in his hand. He was sure Kuroo could hear the frown in his voice when he pressed it to his ear. “What?”

“I just realized that if I texted Kenma, he wouldn’t have responded because his phone is broken.”

“How is that my problem, Kuroo-san?”

Kuroo didn’t respond for another beat, and Kei came to the final conclusion that he didn’t like this Kuroo—it wasn’t fitting for him to be so unsure of himself. Kuroo was someone everyone was influenced by; if he was in a bad mood, everyone he spoke to could feel it. Kei didn’t want to be unsure of himself because Kuroo was unsure of himself, first.

“Do you know someone with a car?” Kuroo asked.

Akiteru, Kei thought.

“No,” he said.

Kuroo breathed again, a little stressed sounding, and hummed under his breath. “Okay, no problem. Sorry to bother, Tsukki.”

“Wait,” Kei said, before he could stop himself. Kuroo waited, evidently, and Kei kind of wanted to punch himself. What had he done?

After a moment, Kuroo asked, “Tsukki?”

Kei bit his lip, hard, hard enough to taste something metallic on his tongue. “Why do you need someone with a car?”

 

 

Kei quickly came to the conclusion that he had, in fact, completely lost his mind. His white-knuckled grip tightened around the handlebars of his bicycle against the frigid 2a.m. air. He had to have been drunk himself, surely, because no logical person would ever find themselves pedaling over to a house party twenty minutes away to pick up a barely-sober third-year who amused himself with bad cat puns and never looked unattractive a day in his life—even with the bird’s nest hair and sorry excuse of a laugh.

He cursed himself for the whole of it, because he should have been sleeping by then. Even when he cleared the last hill his eyes scanned his surroundings, patient until he narrowed in on Kuroo Fucking Tetsurou with his horrible lips and riot red bomber jacket and ripped jeans and this posture like he knew Kei’s secrets and he couldn’t wait to share them with him.

“I thought you were joking,” Kuroo called, hands tucked away in his pockets even as he approached the fence Kei slowed to a stop in front of. There was a stain on the shirt beneath his jacket and his eyes weren’t as sharp as Kei was used to, but he still frowned at him with an expression Kei did recognize to be familiar when he swung his leg over the seat to dismount. “And this isn’t a car.”

“Sue me,” Kei bit in response, but he leaned the bike towards Kuroo and waited in something only he would define as patience. “This should get you to the subway, and given that you have money, you can take the train the rest of the way back.”

Kuroo’s dark eyes moved from Kei’s hand to the empty seat to Kei himself, a little confused and a little amused like he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say in response. “Back where?”

“To Tokyo. Why are you even in Miyagi?”

“Ah!” The third-year exclaimed, tugging at one of his jacket sleeves so it covered the palm of his hand. Kei followed the movement with tired eyes. “I’m not staying in Tokyo right now. We’re with my aunt and uncle—what am I supposed to do with your bike, Tsukki?”

Kei felt a flash of anger burn tight in his throat. He didn’t have to come here, didn’t have to lug his sorry ass out of the warmth of his house only for Kuroo to tease him when he finally arrived. “You’re supposed to ride it.”

“Where?”

“To wherever you’re staying.”

Kuroo looked at him again, more fully this time, like it was the first moment he was really seeing him, really processing that he was there. His expression didn’t shift, but Kei watched his eyes flick across his face in something like cautious curiosity. “And you’ll, what, walk back to your house?”

Kei frowned, disliking the older boy’s tone of voice. “Yes.”

“Nah, not happening,” Kuroo said, and that teasing glint in his eye was back. “What kind of senpai would I be if I left my cute underclassman to walk home by himself at this time of night?”

“Okay,” Kei snapped, tugging his bike away from the fence and moving to throw his leg over it again. “Sorry for wasting my time, then.”

Kuroo reached for him, and Kei flinched away before he could touch. “Hey, wait, hold on—Tsukki.”

Kei looked up, frowning harder, but he didn’t press his heel to the pedal like he’d intended. What was he doing? What was he doing?

“Okay, okay,” Kuroo conceded, rushing a little to open the fence’s latch and step around the bike to hold his hands out almost placatingly. “Don’t leave.”

“Do you want the bike or not?”

“I think I’d rather walk with you, instead.”

“You could have walked home on your own. Why did you need a car?”

Kuroo clicked his tongue. “The car’s faster!”

“So’s the bike,” Kei argued.

“Not when there’s only one of it and two of us.” Kuroo pressed a hand to his hip when Kei didn’t respond, as if he were considering something, before another slow smile pulled at his lips and Kei felt like dying, just a little. “Unless you want me to cuddle up against you and wrap my arms around your waist. How romantic, Tsukki~”

Kei hoped his glare communicated every colorful thing he wanted it to say in response to that statement.

Kuroo laughed at that, a little quiet and scratchy and different than the one Kei had heard from him before—it was neater, less obnoxious—yet still similar enough that he would be able to pick it out and think ah, that’s a Kuroo laugh. Kuroo reached up to rub the back of his neck, scuffing his shoe into the dirt at their feet, and coughed a little. “Can you just come with me?”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to be alone.”

Kei looked up at that, at the sheepish glint in his eyes and the way his shoulders tensed in the atmosphere of the night and oh, oh—

“You’re afraid of the dark,” Kei said, and it wasn’t a question.

Kuroo laughed again, but this time it sounded like a can-we-please-stop-talking-about-this laugh to fill the silence as quickly as possible. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Kei wasn’t quite sure what to do with this new information, because it wasn’t that important, really, but he also knew that this was something he’d be able to hold over Kuroo’s head for years, for the rest of the time they would know each other. 

Kuroo Tetsurou, afraid of magic and authority figures and closed-in-spaces and monsters? Fine—to be expected. Kuroo Tetsurou, afraid of the dark? That didn’t sit right on Kei’s tongue, and that thought within itself was automatically amusing. “You’re afraid of the dark.”

“Tsukki,” Kuroo said, and this time it sounded more like a whine. “You’re not putting an effort into sustaining a healthy relationship.”

“We don’t have a relationship, Kuroo-san.”

“Then why are you here?”

Kei thought about this for a moment. His bike chain rattled at his side. He didn’t have an answer.

Chapter Text

Kuroo, Kei learned not too long after they’d set off, was not as sober as he originally thought. 

It came in the warning of a half-wheeze on Kuroo’s end; by the time Kei looked over at him he was already hunching low where he stood. “Dizzy,” Kuroo managed, and Kei watched with impassive eyes when he took a nosedive to the dirt.

“Are you okay?” Kei asked, voice monotone as he peered over at the third-year’s crumpled form. Kuroo cracked an eye open after a few seconds, groggy, and Kei’s hands itched. “Get up or I’m leaving.”

Kuroo groaned low in the back of his throat. “Help me.”

“No. Get up.”

“Tsukki,” Kuroo tried again, but when Kei didn’t move he begrudgingly ground his hands into the dirt and pushed himself into a squat. Kei stepped back when he grabbed a hold of his bike and stood, though he swayed in his spot.

“How drunk are you?” Kei asked.

“Not much,” Kuroo said, and pinched his thumb and forefinger together while Kei continued to stare at him. “Guess I’m a lightweight.”

“The legal drinking age is twenty.”

“Twenty-shmenty; I didn’t have that much.”

Kei stared at him a little longer, before tightening his grip on the handles and continuing their pace when Kuroo began forward again. “I don’t really think that matters. The laws are in place because—”

“I know,” Kuroo cut him off, sent him a crooked smile across his bike, and Kei didn’t like the way his stomach turned at the motion. “I’m smarter than I look, Tsukki. Don’t underestimate me.”

“I’m not,” Kei said, though they both knew he was. Kei could recall some memory pressing at him, something Kuroo had been squawking to Yaku about—the classes they were taking. Had he mentioned advanced courses? He couldn’t remember.

Above them, the night sky twinkled with 2a.m. stars and leaves rustling and everything that put Kei at ease. The fact that he knew Kuroo was tense at his side was infinitely amusing—the dark.

“The dark,” Kei called off-handedly, and some of that smugness had crept into his voice. 

Kuroo smiled over at him, but his eyes were hard and his grin was sharp. “Tsukishima.”

“I’m just saying,” Kei continued. “Of all the things to be afraid of, you chose the dark.”

“And you chose human touch,” Kuroo shot back, and Kei’s bones went rigid.

Neither of them spoke for a moment after that—Kuroo didn’t rush to apologize like Yamaguchi would have, didn’t even seem to mind the tension in the air or the way Kei was grinding his teeth together at his side. 

Kuroo didn’t speak, so Kei was forced to hum a little: short and cold and uninterested-sounding to fill the gap Yamaguchi wouldn’t have dared to leave. Something uncomfortable twisted in his chest when Kuroo slid his eyes to his without turning his head and his gaze was sharp, sharp like he knew everything Kei could never say out loud. Kei forced his attention to the gravel at his feet and wondered how much longer they’d be walking for.

Somewhere in the distance, like the Gods were disagreeing in the wake of their echoing footsteps on the whisper street, the sky rumbled. It was quiet at first, so quiet Kei didn’t quite notice, but when Kuroo slowed to a stop and the first raindrop hit Kei’s shoulder through his worn jacket, he forced his gaze up. Impassive eyes gazed upon the dark storm clouds that had grown above them as they walked. 

Another raindrop fell, and then a few more, and Kuroo looked over at Kei with neon illuminating sharp on his skin from the streetlights’ glow—and he grinned; his lips tilted into something too sharp, too predatory, and through the readily oncoming downpour he inclined his chin in the direction they’d been walking and said with all the disgusting confidence he held when he blocked a serve, “run.”

Kei startled, visibly startled, when Kuroo took off in front of him, shoes hitting hard against cement and wow, it was really beginning to pour. He gripped the handlebars of his bicycle tighter and, against his better judgement, began to sprint after his upperclassman. The rainwater pressed hard against his exposed skin like little needle pricks; his socks were already soaked through and he’s sure the rest of him wasn’t faring any better. Kei’s glasses fogged as they ran, blindingly so; he hoped with every shred of consciousness he had left that Kuroo knew where the hell he was going.

He did, evidently, when he slowed to a stop in front of a small building that didn’t seem like Kuroo—Kei looked at Kuroo and he’d think, confidently, that he would live in a two-story house with adventures best fit for a Scorpio with an untamable bedhead and a name that means iron waiting inside. Kuroo did not, apparently, live up to that expectation, as he fiddled with the knob for a few seconds before pushing inside with a soft crow of victory.

Kei was forced after him lest he be drenched even more than he already was; he dropped his bike, elegantly, in the pathway leading to the door before brushing past his senior when Kuroo held the door open wider and looked back at him as if that was—as if they were friends, as if he expected Kei to follow him without question like Yamaguchi would have. (Kei would have stood outside, stubbornly, had it not been raining. He considered telling Kuroo this, but he didn’t have enough energy to part his lips when the older boy leaned back against the door and shook out his hair like a drenched dog.)

“Be quiet,” Kuroo warned him, seriously, pressing a finger to his lips in a motion that would have probably been endearing if Kei was a schoolgirl with a crush. 

“You’re the only one that’s spoken,” he said.

“Ah.” Kuroo raised an eyebrow, pointing in Kei’s direction like a warning. “Quiet.”

“You’re the loud one.”

Kuroo ignored that comment, reaching for Kei’s hand like he was about to tow him inside before thinking better of it and sidestepping around him, shooting Kei a sheepish smile over his shoulder before kicking his shoes off and continuing further into the house. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I’m touchy.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Kuroo sent him another smile, this one more lopsided as Kei carefully removed his shoes at the stoop and carefully, carefully followed. There was a pattern to this, he knew; the first time Yamaguchi had invited him over for a sleepover he had that same nervous feeling in his stomach, twisting and uncomfortable. “I’m only staying until the rain stops.”

“Tsukki,” Kuroo said, aghast. “No way.”

A small part of Kei kind of wanted to cry at that, exhaustion weighing down on his limbs and sending an unwanted tremble through to his fingertips. “Yes. I’m not sleeping over, Kuroo-san.”

Kuroo had made his way into the kitchen, fingertips trailing over the wooden accessories hanging from the walls before seeming to spot something he was looking for on the counter. “Please, Tsukki? It’ll be fun.”

“I told you not to call me that,” Kei said, another prick of irritation weighing heavy on his shoulders when Kuroo snatched two bottles of water and tossed one to where Kei was still hesitating in the doorway. He caught it easily, watching with narrowed eyes when Kuroo popped the cap on his and took a long drink.

“What do you want me to call you, then?”

“Tsukishima.”

Kuroo hummed, as if he was actually considering it, and Kei rolled his eyes and uncapped his drink. The older boy tilted his head, the corner of his mouth twitching up just so, and he said, “Kei.”

Kei felt the breath in his lungs seize and he coughed into his sip, pulling the drink from his lips and covering his mouth as he coughed again. Kuroo laughed, that loud obnoxious one he was used to—he’d either forgotten about his “be quiet” rule or determined that teasing his junior was enough of a reason to surpass it.

When he was done choking on his pride, Kei fixed Kuroo with an angry glare even when his ears began to burn red. “Kuroo.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Kuroo mused, though he didn’t look that apologetic. “I guess there’s no other choice than Tsukki, hm?”

“I hate you,” Kei told him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Outside, thunder clapped again, and Kuroo jumped in his spot. He raised his eyes to the ceiling, considering, before looking over at Kei again and he knew, on some level, that if Kuroo opened his mouth to suggest a sleepover one more time he would leave, downpour and all. Kei watched his upperclassman with narrowed eyes until Kuroo sighed, propped his hip against the center island, and said: “I’ll wait for it to pass with you.”

Kei’s ribcage twisted again, because something in Kuroo’s tone—that was important. It was like he was trying to be considerate, trying to do… to do what? Kei tried to decipher what he could have wanted from him in exchange. “What are you trying to pull?”

“What?” Kuroo asked, and he sounded genuinely surprised when he looked at Kei, really properly this time. There wasn’t any tease in his voice this time when he spoke through another clap of thunder. “I don’t want to leave you here alone.”

“You need sleep,” Kei pointed out.

“So do you.”

Kei tilted his head, his grip tightening on his drink as he swallowed. This was out of his element; he never signed up to deal with… with this. What was he supposed to do with this? “Why are you being nice all of a sudden?”

That did the trick, snapped Kuroo out of his daze, and the shit-eating grin slipped back on in a way only a teenage boy could pull. “I’ve always been a nice person.”

“Sure.”

“Like you’re any better!”

Kei blinked at him, took another slow sip of his water, and tried not to think about how Kuroo’s voice had curled around his given name in a frustratingly attractive tone. “I know I’m not a nice person.”

Kuroo didn’t respond for a moment, perhaps caught off-guard, but neither of them had a chance to speak before another clap of thunder shook the walls around them and Kei jumped this time. His upperclassman looked suddenly uncomfortable in his own skin, which isn’t something Kei expected to see when he shifted his weight onto his other leg and cast a glance to the dark window across from him.

“Are you afraid of the thunder, too?” Kei deadpanned, unsure if he wanted to be right or not. 

His suspicions were confirmed when Kuroo’s lips twisted up in the plastic way they did when Kei had met him outside of the gate twenty minutes prior. “What?” He asked. “No.”

Kei took another sip of his drink, watching him impassively. The silence stretched. Neither of them moved. Kuroo laughed again, a little hiccup of nervousness. “Maybe a little.”

“I can’t believe you.”

Kuroo smiled again, and his tongue poked out between his teeth. Kei wondered how someone could perfect so many different expressions. “Can we move rooms?”

“I don’t care.”

“Great,” Kuroo said, and ducked around the corner faster than Kei could blink.

Kei took a moment to stare after him, to relax in the quiet atmosphere now that his senior’s stare wasn’t rooting him in place, now that he didn’t have to hold his guard so high because of the unpredictability of their interactions. He shifted his weight, looked down when his sock squeaked, and realized belatedly that there was a little puddle of rainwater under his feet. Kuroo had led tracks out of the room, too.

“We’re dripping water everywhere,” Kei announced when he rounded the corner a few moments later, and Kuroo jumped out of his skin.

Kei watched him when he spun around, pressing his hands to his hips like that would make his figure more intimidating, even when the thunder struck again. I used to be afraid of thunder, Kei would say, if the thought in itself didn’t make him want to combust. And before Akiteru was a traitor he told me that dragons were in the clouds. That’s why it’s so loud that’s why there’s really nothing to be afraid of. I told him that dragons aren’t real, and pterosaurs are probably up there instead.

“There are towels in the bathroom,” Kuroo said, and they both kind of stared at each other for another second before the next clap of thunder jolted Kuroo to consciousness and he scrambled to move. Kei raised a brow but didn’t comment, following him down the hall and slowing to a stop when he slid a door open and peered inside. 

“Here,” Kuroo called, and that was all the warning Kei got before his face was met with soft fabric. He flinched and pulled it away, watching Kuroo towel at his bedhead with this kind of reckless abandon, like he truly didn’t care how it would turn out. 

Kei decided he didn’t care either and lowered his gaze to remove his glasses, rubbing at the lense and clearing the last of the fog from them. When he looked up again, stifling a yawn, Kuroo was leaning against the wall with the grace of a drunk man and a barely-used towel around his neck. Now that Kei was focusing better, he could tell he looked… he looked bad. Worse than he’d originally assumed. “Do you have a fever or is it the alcohol?”

“Huh?” Kuroo asked, blinking softly at him, and Kei narrowed his eyes. 

“Are you piss drunk or sick?”

“How would I know?”

Kei fought the childish urge to press a finger to his lips like Kuroo had done to him before, toweling at his hair and face for a moment while he considered what to do. “Well, I don’t really care.”

“Wait,” the other boy said, and peered back into the bathroom to look into what Kei assumed was a mirror. When he looked back, his cheeks were flushed. “Am I gonna die?”

“Yeah.”

“What?”

Kei felt a smile pull at his lips and he looked away to hide it, focusing on running the cloth up his arms and shrugging. “It’s what you get for drinking underage.”

That made Kuroo’s panic falter, and when he looked back at Kei some of the clarity had returned to his eyes. “That’s not what happens.”

“Yeah, it is,” Kei said, but his voice lacked the emotion to convey what he was trying to pull. He couldn’t really find it in himself to care and instead fixed Kuroo with a look out of the corner of his eye. “It’s like you’re sober one second and drunk the next.”

Kuroo made a waving motion with his hand, and buried his face against his towel. His voice came out muffled when he spoke next. “It comes in stages.”

Kei ignored the uncomfortable dampness of his clothing weighing down against his oversensitive skin while Kuroo shrugged off his riot-red bomber jacket to reveal a black t-shirt underneath. He frowned down at himself before looking over at Kei. “Do you want a change of clothes?"

“I can’t think of anything I’d want less, actually.”

Kuroo huffed, something that probably could have been a laugh if he had more energy. He slipped past Kei and Kei noticed how he was careful not to let their arms brush like Yamaguchi would have been. Something pressed in on Kei’s shoulders and there was that feeling again—that was important, what Kuroo just did. He couldn’t place why and didn’t have the energy to wonder how, but he stored the feeling away nonetheless and trudged after Kuroo and—when would he get to sleep?

“I know you’re not staying,” Kuroo said, as if a disclaimer, as he pulled another door open and stepped inside. It was a bedroom, Kei realized belatedly— Kuroo’s bedroom. He only spared a glance to the drumsticks on his dresser and the volleyball bag in the corner of the room before he was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of intrusion, he’s intruding.

Another clap of thunder rang overhead and Kei sighed, low in his throat, and wondered how bad it would really be if he swallowed his pride and— “Kuroo-san.”

“What?” Kuroo asked, alarmed at the sound of Kei’s voice and honestly, he probably would have been too if it weren’t for the fact that Kuroo had just shrugged his shirt off like he was alone and Kei wasn’t there and—and—Kei turned his head so he wouldn’t focus on the muscles on his stomach. “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t—” Kei made a waving motion with his hand, trying to keep his composure while still refusing to meet Kuroo’s eyes. “You don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

Kei groaned and blamed it on his lack of sleep, burying his face in his hands with an emotion he’d almost place as stress crawling up his shoulders. It was overwhelming—he was overwhelmed; Christ.

The next clap of thunder startled him out of his thoughts, and when he looked back up Kuroo—with a new shirt on, thank shit —was already looking at him with that same little nervous laugh building on his lips. “Sorry. Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Kei bit, crossing his arms over his chest and looking down at the wooden flooring to avoid meeting Kuroo’s eyes when he dropped down onto his bed. “Give me a pillow.”

That—obviously wasn’t what Kuroo was expecting him to say, because he sputtered a little. “Huh?”

Kei dropped down into a crouch on the floor a few feet away, glaring up at him and holding out an arm as if he was staring down a rather unappealing insect or something. “Pillow.”

“Tsukki?” Kuroo asked, but reached behind him to toss a pillow in Kei’s direction nonetheless. Kei ignored the cat and tucked his knees under him, still wet with the cold, and pulled his glasses off to lay down more comfortably.

“Tsuk—?”

Kei pretended he wasn’t overwhelmed with the scent of pine and— Tokyo, because, dammit, if he didn’t rest within the next thirty seconds he was going to start crying or yelling or—something in between that. Hiding his face with his sleeve and squeezing his eyes shut, Kei pretended he didn’t hear Kuroo’s amused and almost disbelieving huff of laughter. Swallow your pride for a few hours. Catnap. That’s what Kuroo probably does that’s why his hair looks like that; he doesn’t actually sleep.

“Tsukki?” Kuroo asked again.

“I’m sleeping over,” Kei announced, voice muffled by his arm. He was out within seconds.

Chapter Text

Kei had a dream, but he forgot all about it.

In this dream, he was standing in his bedroom—the pictures on the walls were a little off and his dinosaur figurines were sorted by color instead of alphabetized, but it was still his bedroom—and he was waiting for someone with a crushing fear in his chest like he knew whatever was coming would be very, very bad. The door swung open and Akiteru was standing outside in the snow, panting hard and frantic like he was desperate for something Kei could not provide. His mouth moved, pleading—no sound came out.

There was movement behind his brother, a weapon raised, glinting in the light of his too-bright room; his mother’s face peered out over Akiteru’s shoulder and she pulled the trigger without a shred of hesitation. Kei felt the bullet strike his chest, fast, too fast, and pain blinded his senses like the blade of a heated knife. Akiteru reached for him again, shouting something that looked like—his name, he was shouting Kei’s name, desperate and scared—he was going to touch him. Kei scrambled away the instant his room cleared into a white void and his mom and brother faded with it. 

He gasped, trying to breathe around the gaping hole in his chest, his ribcage, squinting at the figure suddenly standing across from him, a dark shape in the snowstorm. It was… it was another Kei, frowning at himself like a twisted mirror image. 

His mirror was holding a gun, too, and Kei clutched at his chest and tried to think, tried to—the other Kei pulled the trigger, unflinching, and it hit him in the throat this time. He gasped again and instinctively tried to breathe around it, even when his knees gave and he dropped hard, staring up at himself. The other Kei looked away, reaching out to take Yamaguchi’s hand when his best friend joined his side and smiled with all the intensity of stars in the sky. Kei gurgled around the hole in his throat; he tried to speak, tried to reach for them. 

Yamaguchi didn’t look back, didn’t turn to see what he’d done to himself. He didn’t like the pinprick needles in his eyes at the gesture, harsh and burning. He tried to call out again, tried to ignore the crushing finality in his chest around his blurring vision while he watched their backs fade further into oblivion.

“How can you forgive yourself?” A voice asked, echoing. It was old and wise and familiar all the same, but Kei could not place it. “How can we forgive ourselves?” It asked again. “For all the things we did not become?”

Kei had a dream, but he forgot all about it.

When he woke up his room was dark, something was—it was rain, a pitter-patter against the roof above him. He tried to squint around his blurry vision, realized his hands were trembling at his sides. What?

Something hard and uncomfortable was digging into his hip so he sat up, rubbing at his face and now he could say with certainty he really was trembling, shoulders wracking with tremors as he fought down the bile in his throat and searched for his discarded glasses with fumbling, bandaged fingers. The moment he’d slipped them on was the same moment everything came flooding back to him: he was in Kuroo’s room, on Kuroo’s floor; it was still raining, and it was still dark out. He tried to calm his hands by tucking them close to his chest, ignoring how they seemed to jerk even now. He was cold, he realized sluggishly. 

His clothes were still damp and sticking to his skin, cold, but after another second he processed the blanket swamped around his hips. He hadn’t put that there. Kei turned his gaze to the bed, squinting at the dark figure half-hanging off the mattress. Kuroo slept like everything else about him: untamed. His legs were awry and all spread out; one hand was carefully tucked under his cheek while the other dangled low so his knuckles slid against his flooring. His hair was in his face, even messier than usual, and as Kei watched him take slow, even breaths, he realized that Kuroo didn’t have a blanket for himself.

That realization made him scowl a little bit, though he wasn’t quite sure why. He ignored the protest of his limbs and the tremor through his ribcage, goosebumps dancing across his bare skin as he slowly pushed himself to his feet and gathered the blanket into his arms. Kuroo didn’t shift when he discarded it in a heap over his back, not bothering to spread it out. Kei grit his jaw to stop his teeth from chattering and dropped back into his spot—he didn’t need Kuroo’s stupid help; he was the one overstaying his welcome, anyway.

He pulled his knees to his chest and tried to breathe, chasing off some lingering anxiety from what he figured was a bad dream and rubbing his palms against his skin. After about five minutes of trying to rush the warmth back into his bloodstream with little to no success, Kei decided that something was probably wrong. He sneezed a few seconds later, much to his dismay, and tried to muffle the sound with a hand when Kuroo shifted in his sleep to his left. Kei breathed slowly, trying to push down the tremble in his arms—he couldn’t stop trembling.

Kuroo grunted, soft and unlike any sound Kei had ever heard him make. He looked over and tried not to stare too long at the gentle crease in his eyebrows in his otherwise peaceful expression, or the way his nose twitched a little in this endearing little motion like a fucking rabbit before he moved to rub a hand down his face. Kei looked on in dismay when his dark eyes cracked open, trying to blearily focus on his surroundings.

Kuroo blinked, slowly, and Kei had the passing thought to hold his breath and hope he wouldn’t notice him. That hope was dashed like a shot in the dark when Kuroo sat up, seemed to finally grasp his presence and, almost instinctively, shot him a little lopsided smile. “Hey, Tsukki.”

Kei didn’t respond, too focused on trying to keep himself as still as possible so Kuroo wouldn’t detect anything amiss. Luck didn’t seem to be on his side in that moment, however, because Kuroo glanced down to the blanket in his lap, over to his alarm clock, and then back to Kei’s rigid figure. “Why are you awake?” He whispered.

Kei shrugged, staring pointedly at a spot on the wall and trying not to flinch when Kuroo swung his legs over the side of his mattress. He fisted the fabric of his bedsheets, a little confused, before slowly pushing to his feet and tilting his head at Kei. “I gave you this to—Tsukki, you’re shaking!”

“I’m fine,” Kei whispered back, and his voice was rougher than he’d wanted it to be. “Kuroo-san—”

Kuroo shushed him, reaching around to sling the blanket around his shoulders. Kei pretended not to jump at the contact, fixing Kuroo with a cautious stare under his glasses when the other boy shuffled to crouch in front of him. 

The breath left his lungs like a punch when Kuroo pressed his hand to his forehead.

Kei jerked back, head slamming into the wall behind him as he scrambled away from the touch and oh, God, everything was burning. 

Kuroo made a small, wounded noise in the back of his throat when Kei flinched and moved to rake his fingers through his hair, gritting his teeth even when his hands shook. “Kuroo-san,” he said, and his voice was pained.

“Tsukki,” Kuroo said, and his voice had raised half an octave in his panic. “Tsukki, are you okay?”

Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. “I’m fine,” Kei managed, and sucked an uneven breath through his teeth. “I’m f—”

“You’re obviously not fine,” Kuroo half-snapped, and Kei’s world slowed to a stop.

Of course he was fine. He’s always been fine. 

“Yes, I am,” he said, but that did nothing to alleviate the racing of his heart. He could hear it, with the blood rushing past his ears, and only prayed Kuroo’s hearing wasn’t as keen as his cat counterpart. “I’m fine.”

“Then why won’t you let me take your temperature?” Kuroo asked, and if Kei was an outsider he might’ve assumed he was frustrated. Kei knew that voice, however, after he’d listened to his upperclassman use it to berate Kenma following an all-nighter or Lev for not hydrating enough before practice. He was, wholly and impossibly, concerned. That revelation made Kei’s skin crawl. “Is it a germ thing? I can wash my hands. Or—Or I can use my cheek.”

“That’s worse,” Kei blurted without thinking, shaking his head immediately after as if he wanted to swallow his tongue. He had to stop before he—“hands are most bearable. But it’s still—it’s not—”

“Tsukki,” Kuroo caught his attention, brows furrowed. Kei only shook his head, moving to cover his mouth with his hand because no, no, he was not doing this now. Not with the storm outside, not with—not with everything, not with Kuroo.

Kuroo said, soft enough to start a war, “Kei.”

Kei squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head again, thought about the don’t touch me unless I tell you to day with Yamaguchi and pretended his breathing wasn’t stuttered and wrong and pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. At some point, minutes or years later, Kuroo stood from where he was crouched in front of his junior. Kei’s ears pricked at the sound of a door opening and closing and—that had to be Kuroo, leaving the room, leaving to… to do what? To get his coat? To kick him out? Kei wouldn’t be offended. 

He forced himself to sit as still as possible and wait for the other shoe to drop. It always dropped.

He’d managed to gain some semblance of sanity by the time the bedroom door pushed open again and Kuroo stepped through with an uncharacteristic frown on his lips. Kei moved to stand on shaky legs, scowling, and when Kuroo instinctively reached out to steady him his knees almost gave again. This was pathetic.

“Tetsu,” someone whispered, and that was when Kei realized Kuroo was not alone. The girl standing behind him was wearing pajamas, messy black hair twisted up into a ponytail that was barely holding together; Kei guessed she’d worn it to sleep and inherited the natural bedhead gene from whoever gave it to Kuroo. At the sound of his name, Kuroo shuffled to the side to allow the girl to pass him (but not before shooting Kei a look he couldn’t decipher and ultimately decided to ignore, anyway.)

Kei fixed her with a wary gaze through tired eyes and shaking limbs, cold and calculating like he’d been all his life. She wordlessly held a thermometer out to him, Kei said, “I don’t have a fever,” Kuroo tilted his head a little and he looked almost (almost, barely, just a little bit) hurt, and Kei snatched the device from her with a scowl deeper than any he’d ever given Kageyama.

When it beeped after a few second’s pause, Kei pulled it out of his mouth and blinked down at the screen for a moment. He looked up. “I’m fine.”

“Tsukki,” Kuroo said, leaning forward to read his temperature. “You’re at almost 40 degrees celsius; you should have fainted by now.”

“I don’t faint,” Kei said defensively, as if that would help anything. He blinked the blurriness out of his vision and wondered why he was still shaking if he was too warm to begin with.

Kuroo looked at him over the girl’s shoulder—he assumed she had to be his (older? Younger?) sister—like he was really seeing him for the first time, mouth drawn into a tight line and eyes narrowed as if studying a challenging puzzle he couldn’t quite decipher. Kei flinched when he raised a hand, just barely, and Kuroo’s frown deepened. 

“Hanako,” Kuroo mumbled, leaning forward to peck the girl’s forehead before nudging her back a half-step. “Give me a minute.”

Hana studied Kei’s face, searching for something, and the gesture was so familiar it hurt. He wasn’t sure why they were making a big fuss; he always handled colds on his own and his family didn’t bother asking otherwise (except Akiteru, sometimes, but Kei never took him up on his offers. He’d done this to himself. He’d done all of this to himself.)

When Hana had shuffled out of the room in her oversized, men’s pajamas, Kuroo didn’t move his gaze from Kei’s. He waited a long moment after the door clicked shut to speak, and the silence that stretched after that was suffocating. Kuroo’s eyes were like melted butter: soft and warm yet sharp, unforgiving. Kei watched him slowly duck into a crouch, so he was staring up at him from a vulnerable place on the floor. Kei wanted to yell at him to stand up.

“Kei,” he said slowly, softly. Kei’s breath felt tight in his chest when Kuroo continued. “Is someone hurting you at home?”

Kei didn’t hesitate. “No,” he snapped, biting. Kuroo didn’t flinch like Kei wanted him to. He tried again. “No. That’s ridiculous. No one’s laid a hand on me.”

Kuroo waited for a moment, and then another after that. He said, “you know I’m not going to hurt you, right?”

Kei wanted to yell at him again, because it wouldn’t matter if Kuroo’s touch was featherlight or burning; it would hurt. No matter what, it would hurt, and Kuroo was never going to understand that.

When he took too long to answer, Kuroo must’ve taken it as some sort of confirmation. His eyes softened further, like Kei was a wounded dog, and Kei would have kicked him on his ass if it didn’t involve physical contact. “Stop looking at me like that.”

To his surprise, Kuroo’s expression cleared. His brow smoothed out, tenderly, and he seemed less fragile when he looked at Kei this time. Kei watched his adams’ apple bob, dragged his eyes up to stutter like a comma on his lips before moving to his eyes again. Kuroo was still kneeling, still small and frustrating. Kei said, “stand up,” and he did.

It was almost a game, Kei thought, of Kuroo trying to unravel the mystery that was him. Kenma must’ve opened up more with deeper glances, softer words, and kinder touches. Kei was not Kenma. Kei did not need any gentleness from anyone. Kei especially did not need it from Kuroo.

They stood like that for a moment, almost long enough for Kei to forget that his entire body was trembling. It only took another notch in his legs to give out for him to catch himself an instant before he stumbled forward. Kuroo sucked in a sharp breath and some of that concerned glint had filtered back into his expression. Painstakingly, Kei grit out between his teeth, “I think I’m going to pass out.”

“Can you get to my bed on your own?” Kuroo asked, and he didn’t sound panicked but rather—controlled. He was using his captain voice, Kei realized. Kuroo had never used his captain voice on Kei before. Kei raised his eyes to Kuroo’s bed, a few feet away, and his legs shook harder. 

I’m going to have to.

Kei shook out his hands, shook his head, shook away his thoughts and the cloud in his vision and everything that was pressing in on his skin like little needle-pricks and—took a step. Or, rather, he tried to, because apparently his legs didn’t agree with that sentiment, and immediately shook like a baby fawn learning to stand for the first time.

“Kei,” Kuroo breathed, startled, and Kei stopped shaking when he felt the brush of a hand against his waist. It was gone just as fast, just a flicker of movement, but Kei grit his teeth and did something he knew he would surely regret in a few sharp moments.

Kuroo didn’t speak or move away when Kei caught his wrist with a hand, ignoring the burning, burning, needles on his skin, on his brain, and tried to balance himself. The next few steps were rough, still unsteady, but the stinging from his grip on Kuroo’s hand faded after a few seconds and he reasoned he’d rather bite it down than face the embarrassment of collapsing in his senior’s bedroom.

Kuroo’s other hand brushed his waist again within the last few inches, and after a beat of hesitation it settled sharp and concise when Kei dropped onto his bed without releasing his grip on Kuroo’s wrist. Kuroo immediately dropped to kneel before him again, and the hand that steadied his waist fell away to drop into Kuroo’s lap. Kei was having a hard time breathing, but he squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to drop Kuroo’s other arm. He shuddered when that one fell away, too, but it only dropped onto the bed a few inches away instead of pulling out of reach like he expected.

Kuroo was still watching him, trying to decipher, trying to solve. Kei looked away, biting back a cough and focusing on the early sunlight streaming through the older boy’s window. He said, voice scratchy, “I’m going home.”

Kuroo stared for another few seconds before nodding, chewing on his lip and turning his head to fixate on the glass. “Okay. But you’re not leaving yourself; call someone to come pick you up.”

Kei didn’t find the strength within himself to argue. “Okay.”

Kuroo reached behind him to grab Kei’s phone, which was discarded next to his pillow, and held it out. Kei took it with shaking fingers, careful not to brush their hands together, and dialed Akiteru’s number.

Chapter Text

It was close to six a.m. when Akiteru’s paint-scratched car pulled up the street to Kuroo’s house. The sun was rising, slow and steady, casting rays of golden-orange across the sky. Kei blinked up at it sluggishly. Hours ago, he’d been on the bus coming home from a practice match with Yamaguchi at his side—now, those familiar green eyes were peering up at him from the passenger-side window.

The first thing Kei said when his best friend stepped out of his brother’s car and began to walk up Kuroo’s driveway was, “what are you doing here?”

It was blunt and straightforward and sharp, like everything Kei himself was. He refused to lower his gaze even when Yamaguchi’s eyes hardened.

“Tsukki,” he started. An early-morning chill washed over Kei’s arms. “Akiteru-san called me at three in the morning and said it was an emergency because he couldn’t find you, and then you call him hours later to say you need to be picked up?”

Kei’s breath felt heavy in his lungs, as it always did when Yamaguchi scolded him. Yamaguchi was the only one allowed to scold him, because Kei knew he was honest when he got like that. Kei felt his mouth twist into something sour as that realization washed over him, but he bowed his head into the smallest bow he could muster, which he knew would mean everything to Yamaguchi.

The aggravation slid out of his best friend’s eyes at the gesture, replaced with something softer. “Tsukki,” he said slowly, softly. “What happened?”

Up the driveway, Akiteru’s car hummed in place as the driver's side door swung open. Kei knew Kuroo was hesitating somewhere behind him, lingering as if waiting for him to collapse on shaky legs like he truly looked seconds from it (but judging by Akiteru’s expression as he approached, that observation apparently wasn’t too far off.)

“Kei,” his older brother said when he’d gotten closer, and Kei knew that was his trying-to-stay-mad-but-can’t-quite-manage-it voice. Kei forced a neutral mask and tried to ignore the pang of guilt in his stomach at the sight of the dark circles under his eyes. He probably hadn’t gone to sleep, staying up to greet him when he got home and spending the better part of his morning searching for his missing little brother. Kei looked down at his shoes and the golden hue of the morning sun’s rays cast over them.

Akiteru reached out as if to grab him by the shoulder but thought better of it, and Kei tried not to sway in his direction when he pulled his hand away. He didn’t let Akiteru say anything else before he spoke. “I’m sorry.”

Akiteru’s eyes widened at the admission, but the harsh edge in his tone receded nonetheless. “Kei,” he repeated. “You should have called.”

“I know.”

“I was worried.”

“I know.”

“I was worried.”

Kei squeezed his eyes shut and looked down, hands clenched at his sides. Everything was so fucked; everything he did was so fucked. There was a growing pain in his chest, like his heart was trying to claw out of his skin and leave forever. Kei wouldn’t blame it.

Just as his vision began to blur, there was a sound behind him: the scuffle of sneakers against asphalt. “Hey,” Kuroo said, ever informal, and bowed low when Akiteru’s gaze raised to his. Kei didn’t turn to catch his expression, but he heard the tension in his voice when he spoke. “I’m sorry. I asked him to come out so late; it was my fault. I should have sent him home—I shouldn’t have even asked in the first place—but when it started raining I didn’t want to send him back alone.”

Akiteru Tsukishima considered Kei’s senior for a moment, keeping his expression deceptively neutral, and Kuroo didn’t rise from his bow. Kei absently wondered if he would tip over from it.

Yamaguchi’s soft green eyes darted between them, settling on Kei as his hands fiddled with the hem of his shirt. Kei watched Akiteru break into a small, tired smile, reaching over to clap Kuroo’s arm. He looked away as a pang of jealousy hit him between the ribs. “Don’t apologize for Kei’s stupidity,” his brother said. “He’s usually more selfish than that: leaving at a friend’s request isn’t in character. Thank you for not sending home in the rain.”

Kuroo looked up at his words, a bit startled, and Kei felt the corner of his mouth twitch in exasperation. He looked away before those dark eyes could fixate on his again, repressing a shiver by gritting his teeth. Akiteru caught the movement, however, and Kei didn’t have to look up to know Yamaguchi did, too. His childhood friend stepped closer to him, candid and curious and concerned all the same. Kei closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to feel the pressure of his gaze.

“Alright,” Akiteru said, and his voice was a little softer. Kei still didn’t look up, but he heard him take a step closer, then hesitate. Kei stepped forward before he touched him, God forbid he touch him, twisting his shoulders perfectly so he could squeeze past Yamaguchi and Akiteru without having to brush against either of them. 

One of Kuroo’s blankets was wrapped around his shoulders, thin and fuzzy and warm. Kei’s pride was too high after he realized he was still clutching onto it, so he didn’t turn back to hand it over. He could give it back whenever; he was sure Kuroo wouldn’t mind. His fingers clutched tighter into the fabric as he approached Akiteru’s car.

“Kei,” Kuroo called at his back, and Kei’s steps faltered. He glanced up from the passengers-side door, fingers already brushing the handle, and met Kuroo’s eyes. The older boy shifted his weight, seemingly surprised under Kei’s stare even though he was the one who requested it. He hesitated, Kei didn’t say anything, and Kuroo breathed, “take care of yourself.”

Kuroo was asking a lot with that sentence, Kei decided. He was asking him to open up to people; he was asking him to reach out, literally; he was asking him to go against every rule he’d been carving out of cement and granite and iron for years and years and years. 

After a few moments of holding Kuroo’s stare, Kei looked away, opened the door, and slid into the passenger’s seat of Akiteru’s paint-scratched car without letting go of the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders.

Akiteru and Yamaguchi joined him after a few more words exchanged with Kuroo. Kei focused on his bike, still tilted over on the grass and drenched with rain from the night before. Kuroo gives him his bike, he gives Kuroo his blanket. Easy. Kei looked away from his bike, looked away from Kuroo, and meant to close his eyes again before movement from the second story caught his eye. It was a little shift in the blinds on one of the windows; someone was peeking out at him from the darkened room inside.

At first, Kei thought it was Hana—the girl who had checked his temperature as Kuroo anxiously waited at her side—but a closer glance showed that wasn’t right. It was another girl, who looked similar to both siblings with her messy black hair and sharp eyes, but she was much younger than anyone Kei had met in his small circle of friends. She seemed like she was in elementary school, judging by her height and the baby fat still clinging to her cheeks, but her eyes were old and tired and seemingly far too wise for her age. Kei barely had time to catch the dark bruise on her chin before she pulled the blinds shut and Akiteru’s car backed out of Kuroo’s driveway.

Kei didn’t look back at Kuroo when they turned onto the street and began their trip home.

Kei watched his brother in his peripheral, trying not to make it seem obvious he was looking at him. Akiteru’s hands were relaxed on the wheel like they always where when he drove, but Kei could tell it was a front without much consideration. Akiteru’s shoulders were never tensed up when his hands were relaxed like that.

I was worried, Akiteru had said.

Kei pressed his forehead to the glass and watched the streets pass by. In the rearview mirror, he could see Yamaguchi had done the same, but his eyes were more tired and bruised and they fluttered every few seconds. Kei felt another apology get trapped in his throat. He swallowed it down.

I was worried.

He realized Yamaguchi had fallen asleep about five minutes later when he spared another glance back, the light from outside catching the freckles on his cheeks as his thin shoulders rose and fell under his shirt. Akiteru hadn’t said anything since he’d started the car. Kei vaguely wondered if he was mad at him, but then he started trembling from exhaustion or sickness or both and found himself unable to really care.

And then Akiteru’s eyes slanted to Kei’s in the rear-view mirror, a beat of curiosity, before he refocused on the world outside of the glass. He didn’t look at him when he asked, “you alright?”

Something in Kei’s chest stirred at that, like—that was important. Something about that was important, something was considerate about the way Akiteru let the silence stretch between them when Kei didn’t answer right away and the way he’d asked it, all quiet like he’d only wanted Kei to hear. Kei felt overwhelmed at that realization, just for a second, before he swallowed the ball in his throat and twisted his fingers together in his lap.

“Yeah,” he said.

Akiteru didn’t ask anything else, like do you want a hug? or why don’t you talk to anyone about your feelings?

Kei pretended he didn’t want him to, pressed his forehead to the window again like it had been moments ago, and finally let sleep’s embrace swallow him whole.

 

 

(Kei had a dream, but he forgot all about it.)

 

 

When he woke up, it was to darkness.

It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust, for his glasses were no longer resting on the bridge of his nose and the car wasn’t moving anymore, the—his fingers brushed against cotton. 

Kei sat up in bed.

It took him another moment for him to fully process this: to process the fact that he was still in his clothes from the night before but now he was on top of his mattress, on top of his sheets, and he certainly hadn’t put himself there. His fingers fisted into the fabric, pulse point picking up against his neck. His blurry vision narrowed in on the out-of-place fleece blanket at the foot of his bed, bunched up past his socks. Kuroo’s blanket.

Kei fumbled for his glasses on his end-table, blinking hard to clear his vision but sneezing into the crook of his arm before he could fully zero-in on the time. When he did, chest still tight with a realization he wasn’t ready to place, the world stopped on a dime.

“Five thirty?” He spoke aloud, not even bothering to wince at the soreness of his voice as he scrambled out of bed and stumbled to his door. Kei cursed at the sight of the dufflebag he’d dropped off at the front door, blending into the dark of the room and intruding on his space. He had to push his glasses up again when he swung his door open, frazzled and confused and apparently very out of place.

“Five thirty?” He called again, out into the seemingly empty house.

Akiteru made his appearance known a few seconds later, flour on his cheek and an apron wrapped around his waist—one of their mom’s pink aprons with frilly things on the sides, mind you—and waved a spatula in Kei’s direction. “Ah, I see my sick little brother has graced us with his presence. Come set the table for dinner, we have guests.”

Kei struggled to comprehend the fact that he had slept most of the day away, mouth half-open and heart in his throat. Kei struggled to comprehend the fact that Akiteru had probably carried him inside and dropped him off like his father. “Five thirty?” He asked again. And then, “guests?”

In Kei Tsukishima’s fifteen long years of existence on planet Earth, nothing anyone could have said would have possibly prepared him for the rush of footsteps on tile echoing his words—for Hinata’s fuzzy orange head to poke out from behind Akiteru with a too-wide smile on his grossly freckled face.

Kei promptly slammed his door shut at the sight of him.

He slumped back onto the wood, palms splayed out like it would do anything, and listened to Hinata’s happy footsteps clop down the hallway and towards his room like a serial killer approaching his next victim. “Tsukishima-kun, don’t be mean!” He called, and his voice was muffled.

And then, to make matters worse, Suga’s airy voice carried to them, somewhere in the distance. “Hinata, can you call Nishinoya inside for dinner? I’m—ah—busy trying to juggle this.”

There were more of them.

Kei couldn’t process this. He stared into the darkness of his room, and sneezed.

Hinata’s voice cooed from the other side of the door. “Tsukishima-kun sneezes like a kitten!”

Kei only stared some more. After what felt like a century, he asked, voice dry, “what?”

No response. He said, louder, half on the verge of losing his mind. “What?”

“I said,” Hinata chirped, and the sound startled Kei away from the door because Jesus Christ, he didn’t think he was still there, “Tsukishima-kun sneezes like a—”

Hinata’s voice lifted into a sharp yelp when the door swung open and he practically fell through, stumbling to catch himself just before he stumbled into Kei’s chest. Kei was still staring. He’s sure he looked close to feral. “What are you doing in my house,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.

“Oh!” Akiteru interjected, wandering back into his line of sight. There was even more flour on his face, and Kei kind of wanted to cry. “I invited them. I didn’t think you’d be sleeping for so long, though.”

“It’s okay!” Hinata said, and he was still smiling up at Kei. Kei kind of wanted to deck him, too. “Tsukishima-san showed us your embarrassing baby pictures while we were waiting, so, really, we kind of got more out of the situation than—”

Kei grabbed a fistful of Hinata’s shirt and couldn’t even find it in himself to regret the contact with the choked-off sound that worked its way out of the shorter boy’s throat because of it.