Kuroo and Tsukishima have been together for seven years, living together for four.
During their relationship Kei has told Kuroo that he would like to marry him. But of course he didn't actually tell him out right, he did so by asking Kuroo what his thoughts on marriage was. Kuroo had told him he doesn't believe in marriage and Kei has been fine with that for three years, but he can't help but think about what it would be like if he and Kuroo were married.
It doesn't help when almost everyone in their social circle are either married or engaged. It's as if they are taunting Kei, telling him that the real proof of their love and commitment is if they get married. And Kei knows that it isn't true, that Kuroo is right. You don't need to be married to prove your love and devotion. The nagging voice in his head saying otherwise doesn't go away though.
Especially when Kei gets a phone call from his best friend, Yamaguchi, bearing some big news.
Kei enters his and Kuroo's apartment, it's a decent sized loft that is filled with both of their things, there are a few items they have recently bought for the apartment that have yet to be placed that neither of them have gotten around to doing. Kuroo is in the Kitchen and is almost finished cooking dinner. Kei puts his briefcase away and takes off his jacket before rejoining Kuroo, who is placing the food on the dining table by now.
"Hey, Moonshine, I didn't hear you come in. Welcome home!" Kuroo beams at him. Kei greets him back a bit distracted as they sit at the table and Kuroo picks up on that, he asks Kei if something happened?
"Yamaguchi and Hitoka are getting married."
Kuroo's eyes widen in surprise. "Ey! Good for them. I kind of expected him to ask Yachi sooner, but that's great!"
And it's comments like that that get to Kei.
"You really think that's great?" Kei asks softly but there's a slight waver in his tone. (Now, don't get him wrong, he's absolutely thrilled for Yamaguchi and Hitoka. It's just that they have been together just as long as he and Tetsu have and now they're getting married. But Tetsu doesn't believe in marriages... or is it him he doesn't believe in?)
Kuroo doesn't seem to pick up on what's happening as he takes a bite of his dinner and nods. "Yeah."
Kei choses his next words carefully as he asks: "So you think it's great they're getting married, but you don't think we should get married?" He makes sure to keep his voice calm because he knows the answer already. Kuroo had told him the first time he asked him his views on marriage.
"I actually think the odds of having a successful relationship increases by not getting married. Look at my parents – all marriage got them was 32 years of misery and joint checking."
Kei nods. "Yeah, I know. I get that."
Kuroo gives him a loving look, a small reassuring smile and reaches across the table to take Kei's hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze. "I love you and we don't need a marriage certificate to legitimise our relationship."
Kei squeezes his hand back and smiles. "Yeah."
Kuroo chuckles, his eyes travel down and realises Kei doesn't have a drink. "Oh, let me get you a drink." He gets up to do so, leaving Kei at the table.
A single tear runs down Kei's cheek and he quickly wipes it away, blinking back any more tears. He takes a deep breath and forces himself to pull it together.
Kei has at least one friend who isn't married yet, but that's also because he can't seem to find someone who would last more than one date. Which is such a pity because Hinata is such a sweet guy. Not that Kei'll ever tell him that.
With the way Hinata's moping at his desk, eyeing his phone intently as if willing it to ring, Kei knows he has had another failed date.
"You know, your phone will ring without you staring it down to death." Kei quips from behind him, startling Hinata.
“I wasn’t-, I- it-…” Hinata looks from his phone to Kei a couple of times, gaping like a fish before sighing deeply. "I went out with this guy and he said he'd call me back but... it's almost been a week since then."
Hinata looks so dejected Kei feels bad for teasing him. "You know what? If you have his number, call him. I called Kuroo after our first date. There are no rules. Why should you wait for him to get off his ass?"
The bright smile Hinata gives is blinding, Kei can't help but smile back.
The next day Kei is chatting with Akaashi at his (Akaashi's) desk which is right next to Hinata's, when Hinata comes in looking as if he has gone through a tornado. His suit isn't tucked, his tie a crumpled mess and his hair even messier and seems to have a piece of his breakfast stuck in there.
"Is everything ok?" Akaashi asks as he gets out of his chair to help Hinata with the pile of folders he's holding.
"I was up all night." Hinata explains with a manic smile on his face and thanks Akaashi for the help.
"Please tell me you were working on the newsletter." Akaashi sighs.
"Sure. It's done. It's basically done." Hinata says with a noncommittal shrug. "But this is important."
Kei sees that they're attracting attention from their colleagues so directs both Akaashi and Hinata towards his office. "Why don't we go to my office before others see that you have a mini muffin stuck in your hair."
Once inside with the door closed, Kei helps Hinata take out the piece of muffin from his hair.
"Thanks. Ok, so I went to a bar last night and met this guy named Kageyama who was kind of a dick but was also very wise. And he said some things that got me thinking." Hinata explains as he places the remaining folders in his arms on Kei's desk before he starts pacing. Kei and Akaashi sit down on the remaining chairs in the room wondering what Hinata is talking about. "And I think I figured it out. Remember when I went out with that notary public? And he cheated on me? And then Kira from upstairs told us that story about how her boyfriend cheated on her at the beginning but then he totally changed and now they're married and crazy in love."
"I thought that guy was a process server." Kei mumbled.
"No, notary." Hinata clarifies. "Anyway, the point is - Kira is The Exception. Not The Rule. We have to stop listening to these stories! Because the rule is that most people who cheat on you upfront don't really care about you very much."
"Okay..." Both Kei and Akaashi say. Not knowing what else to say to that.
Hinata turns to Kei's desk and goes through the folders before he pulls out a bunch of crumpled looking papers.
"Exhibit A. There was a drummer who only used me for rides and yet I continued to stalk him for most of my time in senior year of high school. Then there was another guy who broke up with me every Friday so he could have his weekends free. I was so delusional about our relationship I referred to him as my husband to random people like the old lady at my Laundromat. And all my friends would tell me stories about how things might work out with these dipshits because they knew someone who knew someone who dated a dipshit just like mine, and they ended up getting married and living happily ever after. But that's the Exception. And we're not the Exception - we're the Rule." Hinata collapses on the seat near him and breathes heavily. Spent after getting all that out in one breath.
Akaashi looks at Hinata with worry, wondering if he has finally lost it.
Kei on the other hand has actually been listening and can't help but think of how similar the situation sounds. He closes his eyes and says: "Ok. So let me see if I understand." He opens his eyes and looks at Hinata. "What you're saying is that when people tell me about someone they know who dated a guy for 13 years, and then he finally married them, that's the exception."
Hinata nods, happy that Kei had been listening to him.
"And the rule is that guys - like Kuroo - who are with someone - like me - for seven years without getting married... are never getting married." Kei's face is scarily blank. He blocks out his emotions as this information squeezes around his heart.
Hinata freezes and tries to backtrack everything he's said. "NO. No, no, no. That's not what I'm saying." He rushes out, Akaashi backs Hinata up shaking his head and denying Kei’s statement. "This has absolutely nothing to do with you. I was just talking, you know, about me. Specifically."
"Just him." Akaashi urges.
But Kei knows that it's about him too. As much as he wishes he were the Exception all the facts point him to being The Rule.
And Kei fears there may be an Exception out there waiting for Kuroo.
Later that evening.
When Kei comes home he opens the door to find Kuroo in the living room, standing on the couch in his socks, hanging a painting.
It's moments like this that Kei loves but right now it's hard to see.
"Hey babe, is this alright?" Kuroo asks turning his head to greet Kei.
"Why are you hanging that?" Kei asks because he can't take this right now. It makes this so much harder.
"I told you I'd do it weeks ago and I finally got around to it... You don't like it there?" Kuroo asks as he climbs down the sofa and takes a couple of steps back to look at it from a distance.
Kei sighs. "I love it there." he really does. "But just- Stop."
"It's the image, isn't it?" Kuroo wonders as he walks back to the painting. "I didn't see it before, but- You're right. It totally looks like a sagging boob." Kuroo chuckles as he uses a hand to highlight the saggy boob.
Kei doesn't respond. He bites his lip and raises a hand to cover his face.
"Do you want me to take it down?" Kuroo asks, trying to be helpful, as he readies himself to do so, but the defeated sound that escapes Kei stops him.
"No. I need you to stop doing anything nice."
Kuroo turns around to look at Kei properly. "Is this a trick?" he asks with a confused chuckle.
"No." Kei gives a small shake of his head and fiddles with his fingers nervously. "I need you to stop being nice to me... unless you're going to marry me after." It was hard but Kei manages to get it out.
Kuroo laughs, short and caught off guard. He didn't mean to laugh but he did.
Kei looks at Kuroo as if Kuroo had slapped him instead. "Is-, is that funny?"
"No. It was just-. I was just-" Kuroo stutters, he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't want to hurt Kei.
And Kei knows that, it just makes him frustrated.
"See, you can't keep being nice to me and I can't keep pretending like this is something that it's not. We've been together for over seven years. You know me. You either want to marry me or you don't."
Kuroo swallows. "Or there's the possibility that I just don't really believe in the concept of-"
"OH, BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!" Kei cries. And he knows he's going to hate himself for doing this later, but right now he just can't take this anymore. The number of times people have coddled him and walked on eggshells around him whenever the subject of marriage popped up have finally caught up to him and he has had it. He knows no matter how much he wants to marry Kuroo – to have some form of physical proof that they have committed to each other, a binding promise that they will love each other and care for each other for the rest of their lives - it will never happen.
Or just not with him. And it absolutely kills him inside. "Bullshit for every person who has been told by someone they love that they don't believe in marriage just to see them turn around eight months later and marry some 24 year old they met at the gym. Bullshit." Kei's eyes are filled with unshed tears that he's struggling to hold back. He tries to calm his breathing but he keeps on choking on the sob that wants to build.
Kuroo is stunned. He goes to Kei and cradles his face. "Honey, where is all this coming from?" He asks as he wipes the tears from Kei's eyes before Kei gently pushes his hands away.
"From a place I have been hiding from you for the last five years because I didn't want to seem demanding, or clingy or psycho, or whatever. So I never ask... But now I'm going to."
Kei looks into Kuroo's eyes, Kuroo holds his gaze.
"Are you ever going to marry me?" Kei's voice is quiet, but loud enough for Kuroo to hear it.
Kei's heart breaks with each passing second. The silence is long and painful.
Kei shakes his head, tears freely falling down his face now. "I can't do this anymore." His voice breaks and he walks out of the room and into their guest bedroom, leaving behind a broken Kuroo. His hand poised as if he had wanted to reach out and grab Kei but had stopped himself short.
The boys are helping Yamaguchi get ready for the wedding. Well, at least some of them are helping while others joke about Yamaguchi getting Yachi knocked up and that's why they're getting married.
Yamaguchi rolls his eyes at them. "We're in love, morons, that's what people do when they're in love. They get married."
Everyone freezes and looks at Kei who is busy adjusting his tie in a mirror. He looks at he group through the mirror at he sudden silence.
Yamaguchi looks devastated and stammers. "Tsukki-, I didn't-, I-"
"It's ok." Kei interrupts him. He straightens out his collar and smooths his shirt. "Kuroo and I are... done, anyway." He hasn't told anyone since that night almost a week ago, so it's understandable that everyone in the room looks taken aback.
They then talk over one another trying to cheer Kei up, but they do anything but. He turns to the group and tries to placate them when really he’s casually inching his way to the door. "It's fine, guys. So I lost a little time, big deal."
They then reassure him that he's "still young" and how he "will find someone". But really he doesn't want to find anyone else.
"Everything you learn in one relationship will just strengthen the next one." Noya says right when Kei reaches the door. Which in all honesty stops Kei short in surprise, but the surprise is quickly washed away with dread, as even though he knows Noya is referring to his next possible relationship, Kei can't help but think of Kuroo's Exception.
Kei just agrees with a nod: "Exactly." Before leaving the room.
Everyone is silent, just staring at the door where Kei had just left through.
"Fuck!" Yamaguchi curses, startling everyone in the room. "Kei was the happiest when he was with Kuroo. Kei really loved him... I had so much hope for them."
Everyone looks back at the door sadly.
The wedding is beautiful.
But it was hard for Kei to listen to the wedding vows, because they were of promises to cherish and love one another. And it made him remember that night.
He sometimes regrets confronting Kuroo like that. Wonders if he made a mistake. Kuroo had moved out when he woke up and he hasn't heard from him since. He misses him. It made him wish he had Kuroo with him.
But he pushes that aside to focus and celebrate his best friend's and his beautiful wife's big day.
Kuroo is living on a boat, a big white sailing yacht he had bought for both he and Kei.
He was sitting on the deck watching the slowly setting sun when a loud: "Hey, hey, hey! How's my buddy holding up?" sounds from the dock behind him. Kuroo smiles and walks around the boat to greet Bokuto, who has come bearing gifts in the form of beer.
Kuroo lowers the stepping plank for Bokuto to come up. Once they are both settled on the boat with a bottle of beer in their hands, Bokuto looks around and nods appreciatively. "Not bad, how come you never invited me or Keiji to your boat before? It's beautiful."
Kuroo takes a big drink of his beer before answering. "The boat was for Kei and me. For our retirement. We were going to leave our jobs, sell the house and just take off at sea." Kuroo ends his sentence with a sad longing smile, staring at the neck of his beer bottle and picking at the label.
It's quiet between the two. Bokuto lays a comforting hand on Kuroo's back and gives him a gentle pat.
"Did Akaashi send you?" Kuroo asks after clearing his throat and sitting up straight, acting as if everything was fine.
Bokuto nods. "Yeah, I was going to come check up on you anyway. Just didn't know where to look until Keiji reminded me." He chuckled.
"Did, um, is-... is there a message from Kei? Did he- did he say anything?" Kuroo asks with a slight hitch, a glimmer of hope, in his voice.
Bokuto shakes his head with a pitying look. "Sorry, bro. I wish there was one."
Kuroo's body slumps in disappointment. He throws his head back and looks up at the sky letting out a deep sigh. "I always found marriage weird. And I-. I never expected Kei to give me an ultimatum."
Bokuto looks at Kuroo for a moment before speaking. "If he had been keeping all his feelings hidden, bottling it up until it finally burst. I can kind of understand why he did. He wouldn't have done that for no reason. He still loves you. You know, Keiji does the same thing too. ‘It’s the gummy bears or me.’ " He says the last sentence with a small fond shake of his head.
Kuroo takes a drink.
"Are you happy being married?" Kuroo asks cautiously.
Bokuto, who was about to take a drink, looks at Kuroo as if he's crazy before throwing his head back and laughing. When he calms down enough, he smiles at Kuroo. His smile is bright and the expression on his face says it all but he still answers Kuroo. "I love Keiji and everyday I love him more and more."
It's been almost two months since Kei broke up with Kuroo. He had plenty of time to reflect and has picked up the habit of people watching. He's hung out with his high school and college friends and their spouses, seen how they interact and how pig headed some of them are. He's seen random couples in public fighting and arguing, who say the nastiest things and who are down right miserable. Seen some at bars taking off their wedding rings or lying to their partners on the phone before picking up someone for a night of fun.
Kei realises how good he had it with Kuroo. He regrets that night all over again, but he doesn't know how to make it up to Kuroo. He had let out all his frustration on him and even gave him an ultimatum.
He had let the words of others get to his head and he had chosen them over Kuroo who had loved him everyday of their lives. And he had thrown it away.
Kei lies on
their his bed, curled around the pillow that still had the lingering scent of Kuroo, when he gets a text from Akiteru telling him he can’t play volleyball with him tomorrow as he had hurt his leg a week ago. Kei immediately calls him.
"A week? Why are you just telling me about this now? We talk almost every day! You never thought to bring it up when I ask you how you've been?... How bad is it?" Kei asks when he finally calms himself down earning a laugh from his brother.
"It's fine Kei, nothing's broken, it's still a bit bruised and swollen but I can get by. Besides Saeko's here."
"You should still tell me when you are hurt." Kei pouts. "Is it alright if I come over tomorrow instead? I could help with any errands you guys need done?"
"Yeah, that'd be great."
When Kei came over the next day he was glad he did as Saeko was busy in the living room with Tanaka trying to sort through boxes of their belongings. Deciding who should have which since Tanaka had just bought a house with Kiyoko. But since it was just the two of them, unsupervised –Kiyoko was at work –, they were bickering with each other acting as if they were kids.
Kei greets them, receiving two distracted greetings in return. Saeko has Tanaka in a headlock as she informs him that Akiteru is in bed resting his leg.
He asks if Akiteru had lunch yet since it was nearing half past one and by the looks of things, she and Tanaka have ben down here for a while. An empty pizza box left on the table behind them.
"Oh, no, we've eaten already thanks." Tanaka grunts back as he tries to get out of his sister's hold by trying to tickle her.
"No, I meant-." Kei sighs as he realises there's no use trying to talk to them at the moment, so he heads on up to his brother's room. He knocks on the door and enters when his brother responds.
"Hey, how're you holding up Nii-chan?" Kei asks as he closes the door behind him. “Have you eaten?”
"I'm doing good. And yes I have. How about you, how have you been?" Akiteru lifts up a hand for Kei to take as he joins him on the bed. "I know you always change the subject when I bring it up on the phone but now you can't hide." He jokes earning a soft groan from his little brother. "So, how are you really doing?"
Kei fiddles with the blanket as he thinks, but there isn't really anything to think about, he knows the answer. "I miss him." He finally admits out loud. "You know, my friends are already trying to set me up with their single friends and colleagues, but... I don't want anyone else but him." He huffs and lets go of the blanket. "I messed up. He was always telling me and showing me how much he loved me... but I was too stubborn to see it." Kei bites his bottom lip to stop himself from saying anything else, knowing he was going to cry if he carried on.
"He still loves you." Akiteru tells him after a moment of silence and pulls Kei to his side, Kei's head resting on his shoulder. "He asks about you every time I see him."
Kei pulls his head back to look at his brother confused. "'Every time you see him'? How often do you two meet up?"
Akiteru laughs. "He's been coming over quite a bit since you guys broke up. He is miserable, and lonely; so we hang out, get drinks together... He's been dropping by a lot since my accident, he helps me with the groceries, meals and even with some errands when Saeko is at work. And every visit he asks how you've been and what you're up to. He misses you just as much as you've missed him. He loves you despite what happened that night."
Kei rests his head back on his brother’s shoulder and though they do eventually change the topic, Kei knows he will try to fix the mess he made with Kuroo.
(The next day)
Kei walked up to the boat and hoped he got it right this time.
"Hello?" He calls out. His voice loud but cautious. He lets out a relieved breath when Kuroo comes to the side of the boat to see him. "Hey," he greets a bit breathless, Kuroo always has that effect on him. "Permission to come aboard, captain?" his smile is small but it grows when Kuroo smiles back.
"Climb on board."
"So you recognised the boat, huh?" Kuroo asks as he helps Kei onto the boat, keeping him steady with a hand on his arm.
"Well," Kei starts as he climbs the ladder to the boat. "I thought I did but then it turned out to be a different white boat that looks like our boat but is not our boat."
Kei finally gets on the boat and he turns around to point at the boat he mistook their one for. "But the kind gentleman who owns the boat invited us for some white wine spritzer."
Kuroo can't help but laugh at that. Kei smiles at Kuroo, taking in everything about him that he missed the past few months. And doesn't ever want to miss again.
Kuroo leads him to the stern and they sit on the ledge.
"Thank you for helping my brother. For everything." Kei says once they've seated.
"Of course, I really care about your brother and I love you... Even if I can't give you what you want."
Kei places a hand on Kuroo's thigh and leans close as he tells him: "You're what I want. Our life together is what I want. Your love is what I want. I was stupid to not see it or appreciate it and I am so sorry." Kei gives Kuroo's leg a small squeeze. "You have been a better spouse to me than any of those real partners will ever be. And that's enough for me." Kei smiles at Kuroo, his eyes hopeful.
"And you'd really be ok if we take the whole marriage thing off the table?" Kuroo asks carefully, his eyes searching Kei's for the truth.
"If you promise to love me and be committed to me-"
"I always have-" Kuroo chuffs only for Kei to say: "Wait, I'm not done." And Kuroo nods, apologises and listens to what Kei has to say.
"And let me eat Strawberry shortcake in bed." Kei finishes with a cheeky grin.
Kuroo beams brightly and cups Kei's face as he says: "I do." He then pulls Kei into a deep long awaited kiss, both of them happy and smiling that they can't help but laugh when the other kisses their teeth instead. Kuroo moves to trail his kisses down Kei's neck.
"So I get to move back in?" Kuroo asks just to be sure.
Kei pretends to think it over and grins. "Hmmm, I guess." He earns a nip on the neck for that, Kei giggles and looks down to see the tacky cargo pants Kuroo wore way back in his first year of college that he's surprised lasted this long. "But, you cannot bring those." Kei says as he pokes at the raggedy pants.
Kuroo pauses his kissing to look down at his pants, bewildered. "What?"
Kei huffs playfully. "Look, I have to win something. I let you win the big battle, so throw me a bone."
Kuroo grins. "Ok. We're not getting married, but I'm chucking the pants."
"Great. We both win." Kei chuckles and Kuroo pulls Kei back into another kiss. Glad he has him back again.
Kei and Kuroo are in the living room unpacking some of Kuroo's things he'd taken with him when they split. Putting them back where they were before and moving some things around where they think it'll look better.
Kei is looking through one of the boxes that contained Kuroo's clothes and as he takes them out and refolds them he comes across the cargo pants that Kuroo said he'd throw. Kei huffs, suppressing a grin at Kuroo's antics.
"Tetsu! You cannot bring that back in here. We had a deal mister." Kei puts down the shirt he just finished folding and picked up the cargo pants with two fingers as if it were a stink bomb.
Kuroo laughs. "Hey, you fell in love with me in those pants." Kei just raises an unimpressed eyebrow and starts walking to the bin in their kitchen. Kuroo chuckles. "Ok, alright. But before you throw them out you might want to check the pockets first to see if I left any valuables inside."
Kei mutters under his breath about how slick Tetsu thinks he is. He stands in front of the bin checking each pocket and as he checks the back pocket of the cargo pants he freezes.
His hand feels around a small cubed object and he gingerly holds on to it while his mind races. Because, it can't be what he thinks it is... is it?
No, Tetsu doesn't believe in-, I mean we made a deal and-...
Kei pulls the box out of the pocket slowly; he bites his lip as tears fill his eyes when he sees a small black box in his hand. he turns around to ask Kuroo 'What is this? What's happening?' but the question dies in his throat when he sees Kuroo on one knee looking up at him with so much love it squeezes around his heart.
"I love you so much. So much. I want to make you happy. I need to make you happy for me to even have a shot at being happy, too." Kuroo says before he asks: "Kei, will you marry me?"
Kei has tears cascading down his cheeks as he nods his head and says: "Yes!"
Kuroo stands up and kisses Kei. Holds him tight as tears start to fall down his own face. Both of them crying tears of joy and kissing like they're teenagers again.