It’s snowing in Tokyo when Kei’s flight lands at Narita International.
It’s been three years since Kei’s been home, and from his seat in the airplane it still all seems surreal. As they taxi across the airfield, the captain’s voice filters through the speakers— Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Tokyo— and Kei almost doesn’t believe it. The local time is nine thirty-two, the evening of December 31st. Currently, we’ve got a light snow falling outside. Kei watches the snow fall through the tiny cabin window, drifting down through the bright airfield glow like tiny pieces of clouds.
Kei checks his phone; it’s not snowing in Paris.
After what seems like an eternity, the plane’s engine finally whirs to a stop. The seatbelt light follows shortly thereafter, dimming with a chirping tone. It sets off a plethora of other sounds—the cabin fills with a cacophony of seatbelts clicking and bags rustling as the passengers slowly spring to life after the twelve hour flight. Kei doesn’t bother standing quite yet—he has the window seat, and he’s too tall to stand without hitting his head on the luggage compartment above.
It takes a while for the passengers in the rows ahead to file out. When the kid and his mother sitting in the seats next to Kei stand to leave, Kei tears his gaze from the window. He swings his bag over his shoulder and stands, head bowed, until they’re gone. Kei follows them out of the airplane and through the airport terminal. At customs, an officer looks at the Japanese on his passport and then at the color of Kei’s hair, and welcomes him home for the holidays with a faded blue stamp.
Kei can’t help but wonder if, after all these years, he still has a home here.
When Shouyou invites Kenma to his New Year’s Eve party three weeks before Christmas, Kenma respectfully declines.
It’s not that he doesn’t like Shouyou; Kenma likes Shouyou more than he likes most people, at least. But it’s clear that the rest of the Karasuno team will be there, along with people from teams Kenma has never even heard of, and the thought of interacting with so many people all at once is more off-putting than the seeing Shouyou is enticing. He’d probably just end up hiding in a corner somewhere with his switch anyway, in which case he might as well just do that at home.
Kenma’s plans to do exactly that all goes to shit, however, when Kuroo finds out about the party.
“No,” Kenma says, when Kuroo starts giving him puppy-dog eyes. “I’m not going to the party.”
Kenma curses Bokuto for telling Kuroo about the party. It must have been Bokuto—there’s no one else close enough to both Shoyou and Kuroo to know about the party and then tell Kuroo about it. Or at least, not anymore—the only other person Kenma can think of no longer lives in Japan.
“Why not,” Kuroo whines, petulant. “I’ll go with you!”
“Then I’m definitely not going.” Kenma ignores the look of betrayal on Kuroo’s face and turns his attention back to his game.
“What have I ever done to deserve this slander?” Kuroo splurts, waving his hands around in a futile attempt to get Kenma to pay attention to him. It doesn’t work. Kenma doesn’t bother responding, focusing instead on the battle on the screen before him. Kuroo makes a sound like disappointment, and it’s no surprise when Kuroo speaks up again, taunting.
With an indignant huff, Kuroo says, “I’m returning your christmas present.” Kenma knows better than to take the bait. He continues ignoring him, hoping that Kuroo will just drop the matter altogether if he holds out for long enough. It’s worked well enough in the past, and Kenma doesn’t intend to give in any time soon.
“It’s a game you’ve wanted for a really long time,” Kuroo adds, his voice growing sing-songy. “The title starts with an s … and ends in an o ... and has six letters in it…”
Kenma hits the pause button and turns to face Kuroo. “You didn’t .”
“Oh, but I did.” Kuroo’s mouth twists into a smug smirk, and Kenma knows he’s being played but god does he want that game. It’s been on his wishlist ever since it came out, but Kenma hasn’t had enough spare funds to buy it for himself yet. Kuroo knows this. Kenma hates that Kuroo knows this.
It only takes him a second to decide. “Fuck you,” Kenma says, unpausing his game. “I’ll go.”
When Kei finally makes it through customs, Yamaguchi and Yachi are there waving excitedly from behind the stanchions. They look different. Of course they do—Yamaguchi’s hair is longer now, again, and Yachi’s is cut into a stylish bob. They both look a little older, a little more confident. Somewhere, in the depths of Kei’s heart, a sense of pride swells at the thought. Kei wonders if he looks different to them, too, as he walks up to them with a polite nod. It’s been so long, Kei can’t help but worry that they won’t be able to talk the way they used to.
“Tsukki!” Yamaguchi exclaims, immediately pulling him into a hug. It knocks the breath out of Kei in more ways than one, and as Kei melts into his friend’s embrace he thinks that maybe things will be okay. “How was the flight? How are you feeling?”
“It was fine. Please let go of me,” Kei says, growing uncomfortable in Yamaguchi’s grasp, but he’s smiling.
Yamaguchi doesn’t let go. Kei thinks he sees Yachi snicker out of the corner of his eye. “One more second,” Yamaguchi bargains, and Kei rolls his eyes.
Kei waits a second. “Your one second is up.”
Yamaguchi pouts up at Kei, and with one last squeeze he lets his arms fall away from around Kei’s shoulders. “It’s so good to see you again,” he says, and Kei can’t tell if he’s imagining the way Yamaguchi’s voice quivers at the end.
“Thank you for coming to pick me up,” Kei says, his voice still gravelly from disuse. “You too, Yachi. You didn’t have to come.”
“It’s not a problem at all. I’ve missed you too, you know,” she says, her eyes crinkling kindly at the corners.
The sincerity of her words hits Kei like a punch to the stomach. Tears start prickling behind his eyes, and it takes every ounce of control not to let them well. “I’ve missed you guys too,” he admits, voice cracking at the end. With a shaky breath, he lets the tears spill over, running warm and wet down his cheeks. “I’ve missed you guys so much.”
Daichi doesn’t believe in ghosts, but there’s something about the idea that makes Daichi wonder. He remembers the way his grandmother would leave fruit on the porch for the yuurei that lived under the floorboards of their house. A ghost in the house is good luck, she’d said. He doesn’t know what kind of luck a ghost is supposed to bring, but memories, he thinks, are a little like ghosts—the vaguest echo of someone, like an imprint in space, gone from the world but living forever still in the minds and spaces that once loved them. They haunt and they do not go away, and it takes a special kind of strength to look past them at night.
If Daichi believed in ghosts, tonight would be full of them. Hinata and Yamaguchi’s apartment is filled to the brim with people Daichi hasn’t seen in years—people Daichi didn’t think he’d see again. Nostalgia hits him like a volleyball to the face when he sees Bokuto Koutarou, and the former Fukurodani setter as well. It catches him off guard; Daichi never knew a familiar face could be so unsettling.
Kuroo is unnerving in particular—Daichi feels the former Nekoma captain’s stare before he sees him, a creeping feeling that makes the hairs on his neck stand on end. He’s just about to give in and tell Kuroo to stop looking at him like that when Kuroo starts towards him, a drink in hand. “Well well well,” Kuroo says, raising his cup to take a slow sip. “If it isn’t Sawamura Daichi. I hear it’s your birthday—how’s it feel to be old?”
Daichi turns. He smiles dryly. “I’m twenty-seven, not seventy.”
“Sure, you’ve still got three years before you’re really fucked,” Kuroo says, nonchalant.
The plastic cup crinkles with the strength of Daichi’s grip. “Aren’t you older than me?”
Kuroo doesn’t even blink at the question—just waves a hand in dismissal. “Oh, age is just a number.” Daichi wants to strangle him. “By the way, have you seen Kenma? Former nekoma setter, about yea high, shoulder-length hair—”
“Kenma’s here?” someone says from behind him, and Daichi turns around to see Hinata. He’s looking at Kuroo with stars in his eyes, that sunshine puppy-dog face that Daichi knows too well.
“Well, he was until I went to get a drink. Then he disappeared,” Kuroo explains. “Don’t worry shorty, I’m sure he’ll turn up again soon.”
Hinata looks ready to pick a fight over the nickname, so Daichi quickly interrupts before he gets the chance to open his mouth. “Hey Hinata, where’s Yamaguchi?”
And Daichi doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the way Kuroo’s face pales when Hinata answers the question makes Daichi wonder. For the first time since Daichi met him, Kuroo’s signature smirk falls, and Daichi watches shock and confusion and anger flash across Kuroo’s face in the span of a few seconds. It’s not the change that surprises Daichi the most—he’s always known that Kuroo’s cunning confidence had to be a facade. But Daichi had always thought Kuroo’s facade to be impenetrable. Seeing it crumble away so easily feels wrong—Daichi almost wants to look away.
“Kei— Tsukishima’s coming?” Kuroo asks, but it’s devoid of all the roguish grandeur so typical of the former captain. Daichi almost asks if he’s okay. Almost, until he realizes what Kuroo said, and then he’s too stricken to say anything anyway.
“Yeah!” Hinata says, blissfully unaware. “He’s staying over tonight before taking the train back to Miyagi.”
Daichi bites his lip in concern as Kuroo laughs—a short, abrupt laugh—and when he looks away from Hinata he almost looks like himself again. Almost, but the smirk that once looked effortlessly lazy looks tired, exhausted from pretending. “I need another drink,” Kuroo says, and suddenly Daichi feels like he needs one too.
They get to Yamaguchi and Hinata’s shared apartment an hour before midnight.
By then, Hinata’s New Year’s Eve party, which also doubles as a Karasuno reunion and triples as Kageyama, Daichi, and Asahi’s birthday parties, is already in full swing. It’s a versatile party, to say the least—which, unfortunately for Kei, means the attendance is huge. Most of the Karasuno team is there, Yamaguchi reports on the way from the airport, along with a handful of people from almost every team they’d played in highschool, and from their respective classes at Karasuno.
Essentially, it’s Kei’s worst nightmare. In retrospect, agreeing to stay at Yamaguchi and Hinata’s apartment despite the existence of the New Year’s Eve party was probably not Kei’s best decision. But there isn’t really anywhere else for him to go—he can’t catch a shinkansen to Miyagi until tomorrow morning, and there’s no space for him in Akiteru’s tiny apartment in downtown Tokyo.
Kei can hear the party as soon as they step out of the elevator on Yamaguchi’s floor. It’s a low hum of laughter and chatter that only grows louder as they approach—Kei has to resist the urge to turn around and go right back down the elevator. Instead, he settles for clicking his tongue in irritation, trailing reluctantly behind Yamaguchi and Yachi toward the apartment door.
“I know you probably just want to go to sleep after your flight, so if you want you can hide away in my room. It’ll probably still be really loud, but it’s better than nothing, at least,” Yamaguchi offers as he opens the door into the tiny genkan.
“It’s fine,” Kei says, resigning himself to his fate. “Thanks for letting me stay with you.” He takes off his shoes and places them in an empty spot in the genkan, sighing heavily as he looks over all the pairs of shoes that fill the floorspace. It’s then that he spots it—a pair of black Adidas trainers, spotted pale pink in the same place Kei accidentally spilled bleach many years ago.
He’d been cleaning up his mess—the idiot had spilled Pepsi on one of their couch cushions in the middle of a stupid argument about whether or not raisins belong in cookies (they don't). The task of cleaning it up fell to Kei simply because the stain bothered him more than it did Kuroo, who’d been satisfied with just scrubbing it a little with some soap. Kei still remembers the teasing curl of Kuroo’s lip when he’d said, looks fine to me , like the terrible roommate he was—remembers it perhaps a little too well, considering the three years that have elapsed since.
Kei doesn’t realize he’s frozen until Yamaguchi speaks up. “Tsukki? What’s wrong?” He sounds concerned in the way that makes Kei want to say something mean, so Kei stands up and bites his tongue.
“Nothing,” Kei says, letting his eyes linger on the shoes for a moment longer before looking back up at Yamaguchi. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Keiji is busy wondering whether Kuroo agrees to playing beer pong with Koutarou because he actually wants to play beer pong or just because he wants to get drunk when Tsukishima Kei walks into the room, trailing hesitantly behind the green-haired boy.
Kuroo doesn’t notice him, at first—he’s got his back turned away from the entrance, too busy lining up his next shot to hear the two come in. It’s Hinata who screams first; Bokuto follows shortly thereafter. They’re both already tipsy and blushing and it’s making them even louder than they usually are, and Tsukishima looks like he’s ready to turn around and walk right back out the door.
But it’s not Tsukishima that Keiji’s worried about. Keiji sees the moment Hinata’s scream registers for Kuroo. Kuroo, ever so calm and composed, lurches mid-throw, sending the ball veering straight over the cups and missing the table entirely. Kuroo doesn’t linger long on his miss—doesn’t linger at all. Keiji watches Kuroo turn, eyes wide and mouth open, in slow motion. His expression reads like shock and hurt and hope, and Keiji doesn’t think he’s ever seen Kuroo feel so openly.
Keiji watches Kuroo’s eyes’s meet Tsukishima’s, and thinks that there’s something between them that he never knew was there.
It’s then that Hinata barrels into Tsukishima, and whatever it is that Keiji sees between them breaks. Tsukishima looks away—down at Hinata to say something, something mean and fond in that bitter way of his—and Keiji sees Kuroo’s face fall before he turns and slips away to the kitchen. Keiji wants to call out to him, to tell him to wait, to ask him what the hell that was; Keiji wants to do all these things, but he does none of them because when he looks back at Tsukishima he’s staring at the place where Kuroo stood, enraptured by something that Keiji cannot see.
Seeing Kuroo again after all these years doesn’t happen the way Kei imagined it would.
It’s over before Kei can blink. Kei looks at Kuroo and he stops, ceases for just a second. Freezes, and wonders why his heart is still beating—fast, faster, too fast. The reality of it is just starting to sink in when suddenly Hinata’s jumping at him with his arms out, and even then Kei doesn’t want to take his eyes off Kuroo. It’s not until Hinata collides into him, almost knocking him down, that Kei looks away; by the time Kei looks back up, Kuroo is gone.
Kei doesn’t expect it to hurt, but it does anyway.
“Tsukki! How tall are you now?” Hinata asks with his arms wrapped tightly around Kei’s torso. Kei’s trying to pry Hinata’s hands off of his body but everytime he manages to get one hand off Hinata just replaces it with the other.
“Does it matter? I’m still taller than you,” he replies, after finally escaping from Hinata’s grasp.
Hinata sticks his tongue out angrily. “Ugh, I almost forgot how mean you are. This is why no one wants to hug you.”
“It’s almost like I don’t want people hugging me,” Kei retorts.
Hinata shakes his head. “It’s okay, Stingyshima. I’ll still hug you if no one else will.” He grimaces the entire time he says it, and Kei just blinks.
“Did you even hear what I just said?”
Hinata nods sagely, a cartoonish sight. “You might not want a hug, but sometimes what you want isn’t what you need,” he declares, all confidence and wisdom, and Kei suddenly feels like he’s been punched.
“What are you talking about?”
“You have this look on your face, like someone’s just stolen your pork buns or something. It’s kind of sad. You don’t really look sad, because you’re Tsukishima,” Hinata explains, “but it’s like you’re sad but you don’t want to look sad which is just making you more sad.”
Kei clicks his tongue in irritation. “I’m not sad,” he says, but even as he says it he doesn’t know if he believes it.
Hinata raises an eyebrow. “Okay, Tsukishima. Whatever you say.”
“I’m not,” Kei repeats, but it’s not as reassuring as he wants it to be. So he says it again, and hopes. “I’m not .”
Koutarou has only ever seen Kuroo drunk twice before tonight. The first time, when they’d gone out together in their first year of college and neither of them knew their limits and they both ended up kneeling in front of the toilet when they finally went home; and the second, when Kuroo finally finished moving into his new apartment a week after Tsukki left for Pairs. It’s a little strange to witness, in all honesty—Kuroo’s never liked being out of control, but now he’s stumbling and he’s slurring and he’s saying things he would never say if he were sober.
“I’ve missed him so much,” Kuroo cries, flopping across Koutarou’s lap.
Koutarou glances up to where Tsukki is talking to Yamaguchi in hushed tones at the other side of the room. He and Akaashi (though it was mostly Akaashi) had pieced it together earlier in the bathroom that it was, in fact, Tsukki that Kuroo was sighing and crying about.
(“I think he had a crush on Tsukishima-kun,” Akaashi had explained, after Bokuto cleared up why he’d dragged Akaashi into the bathroom unannounced. Koutarou didn’t believe it at first—as Kuroo’s best bro, Koutarou wanted to think that Kuroo would’ve told him if he’d had a crush. But Akaashi made a good argument, and after ten suspicious minutes spent discussing in the bathroom, Koutarou had to admit that maybe Kuroo really did have a crush on Tsukki after all.
“Besides,” Akaashi had said, right before opening the bathroom door, “I don’t think even Kuroo himself knew he had a crush. At least, not until it was too late.”)
Koutarou feels a pang of pity. “Bro he’s right there. He’ll hear you if you don’t shut up,” he warns.
“What if I want him to hear me,” Kuroo says, with a dramatic pout. Koutarou sees Akaashi facepalm out of his periphery.
“Then you’ll have to say it louder, idiot. HEY TSUK—” Koutarou starts, but is quickly silenced when Kuroo clamps a hand over his mouth.
“What the fuck, bro?”
“You said you wanted him to hear!” Koutarou says, but Kuroo’s hand is still on his mouth so it comes out more like foo thaid foo vanted him foo ear! Kuroo jerks his hand back as soon as Koutarou is done, making a disgusted face at the spit dripping from his hand.
“Well I lied!” Kuroo says, wiping his hand on Koutarou’s shirt before collapsing once more into his lap. Koutarou is about to wipe the spit on his shirt back onto Kuroo’s arm when Kuroo admits, “I don’t even know what I’d say to him.” Koutarou freezes, and Kuroo’s voice sounds so hollow it siphons the anger right out of Koutarou until he feels a little empty too.
Koutarou lets go of his shirt, and wraps an arm around Kuroo.
Kei spends most of the rest of the decade hiding away in Yamaguchi’s room.
Yamaguchi had laid out a futon on the floor for Kei earlier, and Kei planned to spend the rest of the night reading while curled up under the covers. He can still hear the party through the thin drywall, but at least no one will bother him here.
He’s barely twenty pages into his mystery novel when Yamaguchi’s really loud, really bad singing pulls him out of focus. Yamaguchi must be drunk, because it’s the only time he ever does karaoke, which is also the only time he ever sings. It makes Kei’s ears bleed, but he still feels himself smile because it’s familiar in a nostalgic sort of way—he’s heard Yamaguchi’s terrible rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas” more times than he can count.
Kei’s chest tightens at the realization that it’s been three years since the last time he heard it—Yamaguchi used to sing it all the time during the holidays, when they were both tipsy on eggnog and shitty champagne. Kei wonders how many times Yamaguchi has sung it in the time he’s been gone; wonders who Yamaguchi gets tipsy with in his place.
Kei never got homesick when he was in Paris. Sure, Kei missed Japan sometimes—missed his friends and his family and the vending machines full of coffee placed on every corner of every immaculate street. But it was never more than a passing thought, just a blip in his monotone day.
Now, sitting on the futon in Yamaguchi’s room in Yamaguchi and Hinata’s apartment, Kei feels three years of unresolved homesickness wash over him, tide breaking against his ribs and pulling the ground out from right underneath his feet. Longing for memories long past overwhelms him until he’s curled on the floor and crying, knowing that things can never be the way they were and missing them all the more.
He’s so focused on the sound of blood rushing through his ears that he doesn’t hear Yamaguchi stop singing. The music on the other side of the wall changes to a soft, wandering melody as his heart pounds against his ribs, and it’s only when the when he’s cried the tension out of his shoulder blades that the tide of his sorrow recedes. Slowly, but surely, the ringing in his ears stops, and when it does there’s a familiar voice on the other side, lilting and tremulous and sweet.
Fly me to the moon—
Kei feels his heart stop. Kuroo sings on, words slurring ever so slightly at the end of a phrase and then bleeding into the next. Kei stands without meaning to, and when he watches himself twist the knob on Yamaguchi’s bedroom door he feels like he’s learning to breathe for the first time.
—in other words, hold my hand…
Kuroo is swaying in the middle of the room, holding an upside down solo cup like a microphone as he sings. He looks like a mess in the best kind of way, hair pressed to the sides of his head more awkwardly than usual, and Kei thinks of a time when he would watch Kuroo stumble blearily out of his room looking like he fought a crow and lost.
—in other words….
Kei closes the door before Kuroo can say the words, and when the sound of it filters through the drywall Kei is already on the floor with his knees to his chest.
...I love you.
They’re getting ready to watch the ball drop on TV when Tsukishima walks into the room looking like he’s been crying. It’s a strange sight, even to Yamaguchi—he falls silent mid-sentence to watch Tsukki trail across the living room like an angry ghost, and Yamaguchi’s just about to say something when he levels him with a glare that makes the words die in Yamaguchi’s throat.
It’s been a while since he’s seen Tsukishima glare like that, and the hesitation Yamaguchi feels sneaking peeks at Tsukishima out of the corners of his eyes is a bitter reminder of the past three years. It didn’t bother him the way he thought it might—when their calls became shorter and shorter until they just didn’t call at all. It made sense, at the time, and Yamaguchi knew it didn’t mean that Tsukki didn’t want to be friends anymore, or anything like that.
It made sense at the time, and so Yamaguchi let it happen without too much thought. He didn’t feel like anything had changed until he was driving to go pick Tsukki up, and even then his anxiety dissipated as soon as he saw Tsukki coming out of the airport terminal, three years older but still the same. Still his best friend. It’s not until now, pretending that he isn’t watching Tsukishima pour himself a shot of Kahlúa, that Yamaguchi wonders if maybe there was something he should have done differently.
At least, it does until Tsukishima comes back into the room looking pissed and determined at the same time, and pulls Yamaguchi into a crushing hug. Now, Yamaguchi really doesn’t know whether he should be concerned or not. It might just be one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened in his life, right after becoming team captain in their third year and getting into the University of Tokyo, despite his less than stellar grades.
“I really, really missed you,” Tsukki says into the crook of Yamaguchi’s neck, and Yamaguchi is so stunned he doesn’t know what to say. “I’m not going to let us fall out of touch ever again,” he says, with a conviction so unusual to him that before Yamaguchi can finish processing it all he’s already pulled away, headed to the opposite side of the room where Kuroo sits on the floor at Bokuto’s feet.
Yamaguchi feels like his throat has been scraped of every word he’s ever spoken. He watches, stunned, as Tsukishima drags a surprised, red-faced Kuroo toward the balcony. Tsukishima slides the door open with effort, and when he does a gust of winter rushes into the apartment with a light dusting of snow that gathers in the air for a mesmerizing second before dropping to the ground to melt.
No one else seems to really notice, except for maybe Akaashi, who looks at Yamaguchi with those owlish eyes and says nothing at all. Yamaguchi lowers his gaze instinctively, because Akaashi is terrifying that way, and doesn’t dare look toward the balcony.
It’s been three years, but Yamaguchi still remembers what Tsukishima said to him all those years ago before he’d packed up and moved away. He told me he loves me, he’d said, in the middle of the climax of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The music swelled in the background, dramatic with suspense, and Yamaguchi remembers turning to look at Tsukki with a piece of popcorn halfway to his mouth. Can you believe? The jerk told me he loves me, he’d said, and Yamaguchi had watched silently as he angrily threw popcorn into his mouth. I’m in love with him, and he tells me he loves me like it’s a joke.
Yamaguchi remembers not knowing what to say. Tsukishima looked so angry, so heartbroken, and it was like all the words in the world had suddenly evaporated into thin air. So Yamaguchi didn’t say anything. They sat through the rest of the movie in silence. And then two weeks later, Tsukishima boarded a plane bound for Paris, and it was too late to say anything at all.
Kei drags Kuroo out onto the balcony before he can really think about what he’s doing.
Kuroo is appropriately surprised, which is to say he looks like he’s about to scream, or cry, or both. Kei lets go of his grip on Kuroo’s arm when he realizes this, because he doesn’t want Kuroo to do either of those things, especially not when there’s a room full of people they both know just a sliding door away.
It’s snowing in Tokyo when Kei takes one look at Kuroo and says, “You’re drunk,” as if something so blatantly obvious needs to be said.
“I’m not,” Kuroo contests anyway, reflexively.
Kei scoffs. “Okay, you’re not.”
Kuroo looks away, and Kei doesn’t know if the blush on his cheeks is from the alcohol or the cold. “I lied, I am,” he confesses, and Kei already knew that but he nods anyway.
An awkward silence falls between them. Kei watches the snow fall and does not look at Kuroo, and Kuroo doesn’t look at him either. It’s not until snow starts sticking in the wisps of Kuroo’s hair that Kei asks, “How have you been?” at the same time that Kuroo blurts, “Why did you leave?”
And now Kuroo’s finally looking at him, and Kei just wants to close his eyes and pretend he can’t see the way Kuroo’s lip trembles. Kei opens his mouth, then closes it again, struggling to find the words that could cross the distance three years have driven between them.
When it comes, it comes like this: “Why do you think I left?”
Kei knows it’s not fair—Kuroo asked first, after all, but the twisting in his gut makes him stall, makes him a coward.
“I don’t know.” Kuroo looks away, then, and throws his hands up like he’s too drunk for this shit. Which he might actually be, Kei slowly starts to realize. “Because you love dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs in Paris are better or something,” he slurs, waving his hands around. “Because you had better things to do than just watching Jurassic Park with an idiot who spills Pepsi on the couch and doesn’t know how to use bleach.”
Kei can’t help but laugh at that. “I mean. Yeah, that’s exactly why I left. Because you spilled Pepsi on the couch.” He says it because he’s still stalling, and it’s the easier thing to say. “And because you drink Pepsi in the first place.”
Kuroo snorts. “ Fuck Pepsi.”
“Fuck Pepsi,” Kei echoes with a somber nod. They both fall quiet after that, but this time the silence settles between them like the falling of snow—whimsically, all the way to the bottom. But the chilled winter air is starting to abrase, and Kei has never liked the cold so he wraps an arm around himself and says, “Remember how you used to say you loved me whenever you fucked something up?"
Kei can't bear to look at Kuroo nod. He laughs, a bitter sound, and rubs circles into the thin cotton of his sweater. "Do you still love me?”
Kuroo’s response is immediate. “Yes.” It catches Kei off-guard, like the quiet release of an arrow, invisible until it’s already hit. Deadly and true.
“I loved you,” Kei confesses then, because Kuroo is drunk and it’s not fair. “Like, really loved you. More than anything.” He pauses, to give Kuroo the time to process or to give himself time to pull himself together, he isn’t sure. “More than you loved me. That’s why I left.”
Kuroo blinks, and the stupidity of Kei’s reasoning three years ago burns hot across Kei’s cheeks. “You loved me?”
“That’s what I just said,” Kei snaps, because saying yes would have been too easy. Kuroo hears it anyway.
A pause. “Do you still love me?”
Kei stays quiet, and lets the steady beat of his heart flood his ears. Three years is a long time. Kei thinks of bleached shoes and Jurassic Park and Frank Sinatra. “Yes,” he says, before he’s even thought it, and when Kei hears himself say it he knows it’s true. Because it’s been three years since Kei’s been home, and it’s then—saying the things he should have said three years ago, that Kei realizes why Paris never quite felt like home.
It’s snowing in Tokyo when Kuroo pulls Kei into a heartfelt hug. Kei doesn’t let go until the clock strikes twelve—and when it does, the world starts anew.