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A sock. 

An obviously worn sock, resting over the top of the lampshade of his favourite table side lamp. 

It’s 6:32 AM on a Tuesday, and there is a used sock on top of a lamp whose lightbulb is currently blazing an awful blue-white even though there is no one in the living room. 

A deep breath. In 3-4-5, hold-2-3, out-6-7-8. Repeat. 

The July heat seeps into his bones like a painfully muggy ghost possessing his body as the window air conditioning unit chugs away uselessly. The idea of homeownership has never particularly appealed to him, but in this moment he contemplates moving to the far suburbs of Tokyo, or maybe even Kyushu, if it means never having to experience this again. The impending volcanic eruption outweighs having to trudge through slurries that leave shoes soggy and socks soaked for an hour long commute of only 4 kilometres. 

Socks. 

In 3-4-5, hold-2-3, out-6-7-8. 

He contemplates whether to remove the offending clothing article from its current resting place before or after he’s had his morning cup of coffee. Either way, he knows he won’t be fully human yet. 

The next exhale comes out more like a sigh than anything, but he’s still breathing like his therapist told him he had to so it must count for something. 

Mind made up, he makes his way into the kitchen—which is truthfully little more than the kitchenette in his dorm during his first year of undergrad—and click, click, clicks on the stovetop. He pulls the french press from the cupboard and sighs, glancing back into the living room to confirm that yes, the sock is still there on top of the lampshade. 

As the water comes to a boil, he grabs the box of nitrile gloves stashed under the sink and pulls a pair from them. The material threatens to stick to his skin when he snaps them on, perhaps with more gusto than is frankly necessary before 7 AM. But the only other person in this apartment is he who caused this—this nightmare—so he finds it hard to feel bad if the noise wakes his new roommate. 

The roommate. 

~~~~~~~~

“He’s a complete slob.” Tsukishima spears a piece of lettuce and triumphs when he comes away with a small slice of tomato haphazardly stuck to the tines of the fork. 

Across the table, Akaashi raises a delicately arched eyebrow. “Tetsurou?”

“Yes, Kuroo. Do you know what I found on top of a lamp today?” Tsukishima sets down his cutlery to pointedly make eye contact with his lunch partner. “A sock. A used sock , Akaashi.”

Instead of responding immediately, Akaashi takes a small sip of his cappuccino. After a moment he has the nerve to ask, “Are you sure it was him?”

“You’re right!” Tsukishima snaps his fingers, drawing the attention of the only other patron of the cafe. “It could’ve been that damn sock gremlin finally deciding to return all those socks lost to the dry cycle.”

Though he tries to hide it, Akaashi cracks a barely-there smile. “Alright, you ass. I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just weird that Testurou would be a ‘slob.’” He puts air quotes around the word ‘slob,’ as if Tsukishima might be exaggerating. “I mean, you went to his last place a few times, right?”

“I’m beginning to think the cleanliness was due to Nagano,” Tsukishima mumbles with a shrug as he goes back to his salad. 

Akaashi shakes his head. “No, he’s always been super neat. A little bit of a control freak about it, actually.”

It’s Tsukishima’s turn to raise an eyebrow incredulously. “Maybe he used to be. People change.”

The smile Akaashi gives him isn’t as innocent as it might seem, Tsukishima thinks. “Sure they do, Tsukki.” He emphasizes the forsaken nickname around a spoonful of mushroom soup. 

“Not you, too,” Tsukishima groans. 

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry,” Akaashi says with a soft chuckle. “Anyway, I wonder if this breakup is affecting Tetsurou more than he wants to let on.”

Tsukishima shrugs once more as he stabs another bite of his food. “I don’t care, as long as he keeps his clothing in his room.” Akaashi opens his mouth to say something and Tsukishima knows it’s going to be something dirty, so he quickly says, “Except the ones on his body, you pervert.”

The smile has turned into a full, shit-eating grin. Something really must have Akaashi in a good mood today. “Phrasing.” The corners of his lips droop back to their neutral state. “Seriously though, it was his first real relationship. It must be hard for him. Whenever Koutarou gets into one of his moods, he turns into a complete mess.”

Not sure how to respond, Tsukishima shoves more lettuce into his mouth. 

Akaashi sighs. “I think you do care, for the record. If you didn’t, you’d post to your salt twitter account and get over it like the Craigslist roommate from hell.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Why did Yamaguchi have to go and get a live-in girlfriend?”

“I’m sure Tetsurou just needs time to get over the breakup with Nagano.” Akaashi lifts his spoon to his mouth, but pauses, considering. “Maybe he needs someone to help him, give his life some semblance of structure with all his internal chaos going on right now.”

Tsukishima scoffs. “So I’ll tell him to get a therapist like the rest of us.”

Akaashi shakes his head and takes another sip of his coffee. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, maybe Akaashi wasn’t that far off. 

Tsukishima spends the next week observing Kuroo as he putters around the apartment, leaving a steady trail of unwashed clothing and crumpled food wrappers in his wake. 

No matter the day of the week, Kuroo wakes sometime between noon and two-thirty in the afternoon. His bedtime, however, is a mystery to Tsukishima—once, during a 3 AM trip to the kitchen for a glass of water, Kuroo was still in the living room playing video games, his voice quiet as he chatted with (presumably) Kenma, but the next day when Tsukishima stumbled into the apartment at 10:30 PM after a breakthrough in the lab, Kuroo was already snoring softly in his bedroom. 

Tsukishima hasn’t seen him cook a single meal, though he did microwave a cup of instant noodles on Tuesday. 

(He’d forgotten to pour water into the cup until a minute into the cook time, at which point Tsukishima lifted his nose from a textbook and said, “Do you smell something burning?”)

The supply of glasses in the cupboard above the sink is quickly dwindling. Tsukishima has seen Kuroo enter his room with a glass at least once a day, but has yet to see him exit with one. 

On Wednesday, through the thin wall separating their bedrooms, Tsukishima heard Kuroo’s ringtone—a 2007 K-pop abomination—blare for an entire 30 seconds before Kuroo groggily muttered, “Hullo?” followed by “He did what with the sodium hydroxide?” The banging that ensued as Kuroo undoubtedly clammored to gather his things was hopefully not a sign of anything that could gouge Tsukishima out of his security deposit. 

Thursday brought Tsukishima the gift of finding yet another article of clothing discarded on his living room furniture. This time, faded sweats with a snag just above the right knee. Tsukishima neatly folded them and set them outside Kuroo’s door along with a sticky note that read, “Laundry is free on Thursdays.”

Kuroo didn’t leave his room the entire day on Friday except twice to use the bathroom. Tsukishima knew because he worked from home on Fridays. If quiet sobs filtered in through the thin wall between them at 9:30 that night, Tsukishima wasn’t going to mention it. 

Saturday, Tsukishima thought he might see Kuroo smile for the first time all week. They watched a comedy special that Hinata had recommended in their group chat, a too-big bowl of popcorn on the empty couch cushion between them. Kuroo insisted on dousing the whole thing with a cheddar cheese powder because it’ll change your life, Tsukki , but it didn’t do much except leave a powdery film in his mouth. Stand-up isn’t really Tsukishima’s first choice of entertainment, but Hinata had sent him a private message, please make rooster head watch this, it’ll make him laugh, I swear! and Akaashi’s somber foretellings of Kuroo’s potentially bad reaction to the breakup echoed in his mind. It was fine, as far as comedy specials go, and the popcorn wasn’t all that bad once he got used to the weird feeling on his tongue. But the comedian made a joke about their first love in college, and Kuroo bolted to his room without a word. 

Everyday, Tsukishima wakes to find a sock resting atop the living room lamp.

It’s now Tuesday again, and Tsukishima has a plan. 

~~

Tsukishima leans against the kitchen counter, favourite mug cradled in his hands. The clock reads 9:15. Normally, it would be hours before Kuroo ambles out of his bedroom with bleary eyes, but last night Tsukishima overheard his conversation with Kenma, I have an early meeting with my advisor, gotta log off early , that made Tsukishima wonder if his less than responsible behaviour is about to come to an end naturally. 

But the chart.

The amount of time he spent typing, adjusting, and re-arranging all the color-coded text boxes would embarrass him, but it doesn’t look terrible attached to the fridge by a small, daisy-shaped magnet stuck on the corner of the page. 

...

Who is he kidding? This is dumb, it’s stupid, he spent literal hours on the stupid thing all because a precursory google search of how can I help my depressed slob roommate be less gross turned up an article about subtly pushing the friend in question toward a healthier lifestyle, which linked to another article about peacefully living with other roommates, which led to a bulletpoint about setting ground rules, boundaries, and a god forsaken chore chart. 

Really, he could speak to Kuroo instead of all this song and dance, but they’re not… close. They never have been, really. Akaashi stayed in touch with Tsukishima after their first training camp together in Tokyo, all the way through university. And Akaashi has been dating Bokuto for years now (Tsukishima isn’t convinced they hadn’t been dating back in high school, no matter how many times Akaashi pinks at the nose and tells him otherwise), and Kuroo is Bokuto’s best bro so where Akaashi is, Bokuto is, and Kuroo is. 

Years of being dragged—sometimes quite literally, Akaashi has really strong arms, okay?— from his textbooks and through the threshold of roaring clubs, bustling bars, and countless raging house parties via one Akaashi-shaped storm meant years of being around Kuroo. They didn’t not get along, but there were a lot of jabs and banter, and when you’re six shots under at a bar with the haze of cigarette smoke clinging to all five senses, it’s hard to tell if there’s any underlying malice under sarcastic words and silver tongues. 

Besides, Tsukishima isn’t the best with feelings, or whatever. If Kuroo needs a shoulder to cry on, there’s always Bokuto. Or Kenma. Or even Akaashi, probably. 

But structure? Structure, Tsukishima can do. 

So when Kuroo pads into the kitchen with heavy footfalls muffled by socks, Tsukishima clears his throat to garner his attention. 

“Oh,” Kuroo breathes out as he looks at Tsukishima over his shoulder, reaching into a cabinet to grab a coffee mug. “Morning, Tsukki.” The deep purple bruises under his eyes don’t belong there, on that face usually overtaken by a mile-wide smirk. 

“We should set some ground rules,” Tsukishima says without preamble. Mincing words has never been a habit of his. 

Kuroo’s eyebrows raise slightly. He finishes pouring out a cup of coffee and raises the mug to his lips. He doesn’t take a sip, just stands there watching Tsukishima. Waiting. 

“Yes, so, I made a weekly rotating chore chart—” 

“Oh,” Kuroo interrupts, his voice again nothing more than a force of breath. “I didn’t… mean to make your life harder while I’m here. Sorry.” 

Tsukishima watches as Kuroo’s eyes scan the rainbow-printed sheet stuck to the fridge. “Don’t be,” he says slowly. “It’s your place now, too. I figured…” Tsukishima pauses, thinking back to the article and trying to articulate its main points without sounding like a shitty self-help book. After a moment, he continues, “I figured having some order would make you feel… better.” 

And man, Tsukishima really isn’t cut out for this feelings thing. He musters up what he hopes is a comforting smile.

Kuroo stands there, shoulders hunched, coffee mug raised to his lips, joggers sagging around his hips, staring at Tsukishima with an unreadable look on his face. Several beats pass with neither of them saying anything. Tsukishima shifts his weight from foot to foot a few times. Kuroo still holds the mug to his mouth but hasn’t taken a sip. 

Eventually, Kuroo bursts into laughter. Full-bodied guffaws that rattle Tsukishima’s brain. Cackles that rack Tsukishima’s spine. It’s really, truly awful.

But it’s the first time in a week and a half that Tsukishima has seen Kuroo smile. Even if it is at Tsukishima’s expense, it makes a sense of relief wash over his spine. 

“Oh my god, Tsukki,” Kuroo rasps through lingering chuckles bubbling up his throat. “Are you trying to be nice? Supportive? A good friend? Oh my god.” He dissolves into more giggles—though, Tsukishima supposes, they can’t really be considered giggles because the sound is big and ugly and giggles are reserved for cute girls and small children.

“Ugh, whatever,” Tsukishima scoffs. He reaches to take down the chore chart in anger—he’s trying to help, and Kuroo has the nerve to make fun of him for it?

A hand settles over Tsukishima’s. “No, don’t do that. I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just… You’re usually so,” Kuroo gestures vaguely at Tsukishima, “prickly. This is really nice though. Thank you. For real.” Kuroo’s grin settles into a smile, something more sincere than Tsukishima has ever seen on his face. “I think it’ll help. It’s just been weird, y’know?”

Tsukishima doesn’t know, not really, but he remembers how hard it was to adjust when Tadashi moved out to live with his girlfriend. So, maybe, a little. 

“Anyway,” Kuroo steamrolls over anything Tsukishima might say in response, “what’s the worst chore on here?”

“Dishes, of course.” As if there’s anything that could possibly be worse.

Kuroo smiles over the rim of his coffee cup. “Then I’ll make that my permanent duty.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Tsukishima points to the top of the page, ROTATES WEEKLY clearly printed under the title. “We’ll change every week. It’s fair that way.”

“C’mon, Tsukki, let me be cool just this once, please~?” Kuroo looks up at Tsukishima through his long, long lashes, feigning coy .

It’s disgusting. “No: Weekly. Rotation.” Tsukishima sighs, pointing to the paper hung by a tulip-shaped magnet next to the chore chart. “House rules.”

“Hm, shouldn’t it be called ‘apartment rules,’ since this isn’t an actual house?” 

Tsukishima clenches his jaw and resists the urge to sock Kuroo in the mouth. “It’s the principle of the thing.” He clears his throat and moves his index finger to the first rule. “1. Follow the chore chart.” He moves his finger down. “2. No drama.” Kuroo nods as he takes a sip of his coffee. Tsukishima moves his finger down another line. “3. Weekly shopping trip bills are split down the middle. Anything not purchased on this trip is not to be shared without express permission.”

Kuroo raises a brow at this one. “There’s gotta be a story here. What did Freckles do to you?”

“Tadashi didn’t do anything,” Tsukishima says, taking a deep breath to steady himself. 

“He ate your cake, didn’t he?”

Tsukishima huffs. “I don’t want to talk about it. Rule 4. Exam time is sacred. Observe the listed quiet hours during exam weeks.” Kuroo nods again, skimming over the printed times. Tsukishima swallows thickly as he moves onto the next point. It’s something Tsukishima never thought he’d have to deal with when he first moved in with Tadashi, but things changed. “5. Warn the other before inviting guests.

Sucking in a sharp breath through his teeth, Kuroo nods once more. He stands straighter and gulps down the rest of his coffee in one go. “Effin’ whew.”

“Excuse me?” 

Kuroo chuckles at Tsukishima’s expression, which is undoubtedly a little offended. He points at the first letter of each bullet points as he says, “F-N-W-E-W. Effin’ whew.”

When Tsukishima scans the paper, 

  1. Follow the chore chart.
  2. No drama.
  3. Weekly shopping trip bills split 50/50.
  4. Exam time is sacred.
  5. Warn the other before inviting guest(s).

he sees that, yeah, okay, Kuroo is technically correct. But he’s not convinced that’s entirely necessary. 

“I’m a biology major, I use acronyms to remember everything. So sue me,” Kuroo says, lifting his hands as if in surrender.

“I’m also a bio major. I don’t have to use stupid pneumonics to remember things.” Pointedly taking a sip from his own coffee, Tsukishima raises a brow in challenge. 

Kuroo shrugs. “That’s working harder, not smarter. Anyway, I gotta go, meeting with my advisor.”

Tsukishima rolls his eyes and waves his free hand dismissively. He takes a sip of lukewarm coffee, watching Kuroo with steady eyes over the rim of his cup as his roommate slings his bag over his shoulder and tumbles out of the front door. 

~~

The frustratingly halted kitchen confrontation is apparently the kick in the ass Kuroo needed to get back to living like a reasonable human being. 

(It doesn't stop the socks, though, to Tsukishima's utmost chagrin. They do morph into clean, freshly washed socks, at least. 

"It's to keep the dryer sock gremlin from snatching away my precious footwear, Tsukki. Lamp bulbs are excellent heat sources for drying more delicate clothing, didn't you know?"

Nevermind that Tsukishima once walked into the bathroom after noticing Kuroo had been locked behind a closed door for 42 entire minutes, only to come face to face with one Kuroo furiously scrubbing away at said socks. Hands submerged in sudsy water, he'd said, "The washer gremlin is real, too, Tsukki. I haven't lost a sock in three years with this methodology. How many socks a year do you lose, hm?")

Without any invitation, Kuroo joins him for breakfast every morning at the tiny dining table with the one leg that’s too short. The coffee pot seems to not be able to handle having two graduate students constantly return to it for life-giving bean juice, the way it groans and sputters along with the sizzling noises that emanate from the toaster each day. 

They’re never in the same place for lunch, between classes and research and whatever meetings they might have throughout the week. Sometimes, though, Tsukishima will open the fridge at 2 pm and see a plastic-wrapped plate topped with a sticky note emblazoned with some silly face and his name. 

Somewhere along the line, Kuroo adds a line to the chore chart: Dinner duty.  

(“You just wanted to write the word ‘duty,’ didn’t you?”

“C’mon, Tsukki, I’m an adult.” A poorly concealed giggle behind a bitten lip. “I wanted to hear you say ‘duty’ with that serious face.”)

And so they share their evenings together, too. Tsukishima finds it entirely impossible not to recognize that it’s not the most agonizing thing, not when Kuroo somehow makes pre-packaged udon taste like that.

~~~~~~~~~

“Hey, is it cool if Bo and Akaashi come over on Friday?”

Tsukishima shifts his eyes from the too-cluttered code on his laptop screen. “Akaashi’s finally done with the manuscript?”

Kuroo shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee, face not leaving his own laptop screen—surely it’s a mirror of Tsukishima’s workspace. “Bo didn’t mention it. He said they’re free, though.”

“Hm.” Tsukishima clicks into his calendar app to make sure he doesn’t have anything pressing to take care of on Saturday morning. After a precursory glance, he nods and switches windows back to his data. “Sure,” he says. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kuroo pump his fist in the air in silent celebration. Unbidden, the word cute passes through his traitorous brain. 

~~

Poor, naive Tsukishima is the one who answers the door. He opens his mouth to greet the guests, but before he can manage a single syllable, Bokuto shoves a small plastic container in his face. 

“Shots!” 

Scowl already firmly in place, Tsukishima grasps the cup held up to his nose. Whatever is inside is an unnaturally saturated green. And jiggly. “Jello shots? Aren’t we too far removed from the frat village for—”

“Ah, ah, no words, Tsukki! Shots first!” Bokuto shoulders his way past Tsukishima, removing his shoes before entering the living room. He nearly slams the giant tupperware container full of small cups similar to the one in Tsukishima’s hand onto the coffee table. 

From the other side of the doorway, Akaashi shrugs and doesn’t grace Tsukishima with so much as an apologetic smile before he, too, steps through the threshold and into the living room. He stoops down to the table and picks up his own jello shot, this one a neon pink not dissimilar to the shade of Tsukishima’s preferred highlighter. He pops the lid off the top and raises the cup in half-cheers in Tsukishima’s direction. 

“Ugh, not you too.”

Bokuto mimes zipping his lips and points exaggeratedly at his own jello shot. The toxic-looking blue contents jiggle dubiously close to the brim, and Tsukishima prays to whatever deity to protect his already shoddy carpets from the man-shaped accident-waiting-to-happen that is Bokuto. 

With a deep sigh, Tsukishima lets the front door fall shut behind him. He joins the two standing in his living room and pops the lid off his own shot. When in Rome, as they say. 

“Do I smell jello shots?” 

The way Bokuto’s eyes shine at the sound of Kuroo’s voice paired with how he mouths a soft, soundless bro is so pathetic Tsukishima downs his shot before any cheers are to be had. 

~~

Tsukishima pushes aside the tower of tupperware containers—he swears he’ll deal with them all once his first exam date has passed—to make room for the five ( five ) cases of beers Akaashi and Bokuto brought. He pulls out four bottles from the only chilled twelve pack and shuts the fridge door, standing from his crouched position to find Akaashi less than a foot in front of him. 

“Jesus,” Tsukishima breathes out in lieu of jumping out of his skin. “Don’t sneak up on people. It’s rude.”

Akaashi points at the chore chart stuck to the door of the fridge, reaching out with his other hand to take a bottle where it’s tucked under Tsukishima’s arm. “Were you trying to take care of Kuroo like I said? How cute.

Tsukishima can’t recall a time Akaashi has called anything cute , aside from dogs or that one time they all got really drunk and Bokuto somehow ended up in footsie pajamas patterned with cartoon owls. Scowling, Tsukishima sets down the drinks onto the counter. “Shut up. I just got tired of his dirty socks ending up all over the place.”

With an eyebrow raised in obvious skepticism, Akaashi pops open his beer on the edge of the counter with practiced ease. 

Bokuto, of course, chooses that moment to stumble into the kitchen. He beelines toward Akaashi, arms outstretched like a clingy octopus fuelled by liquid (gelatinous?) courage. He barely spares a glance in Tsukishima’s direction, but just as he’s about to lay a hand on his boyfriend, his eyes zero in on the colorful chore chart tacked onto the fridge. “Oho? What’s this?” He steps closer, squinting to read the rainbow print.

Tsukishima kind of wants to die, a little. 

(Akaashi’s half-smirk tugging at one side of his mouth doesn’t help the overwhelming embarrassment threatening to suffocate Tsukishima.)

Bokuto turns his head slightly but keeps his gaze firmly locked on the chore chart as he calls out, “Bro, did Tsukki go full control freak on you?”

“I’m right here, idiot!” Tsukishima grabs the bottle opener from the silverware drawer. “It’s not being a control freak—did you know he dries his socks on lamps?”

“Hey hey hey now.” Kuroo steps into the kitchen, joining the pow-wow of torturing Tsukishima. “It’s efficient and keeps the washer gremlin from taking them!”

“That is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard—”

“You say that to me every day, Tsukki. I’m going to start taking it as a compliment soon—” 

“If you didn’t say such stupid shit, maybe I’d stop saying it—” 

Bokuto moves between them and throws an arm each around their necks, creating a strange Kuroo-Bokuto-Tsukishima sandwich in the middle of the kitchen that’s frankly too small for all four fully grown men. “Ohoho, aren’t you two just the cutest .”

Over the mouth of his beer, Akaashi snickers. 

Tsukishima throws an elbow into Bokuto’s stomach, eliciting a soft oof from the brick wall of a man as he pushes away. “ Stop calling me cute.”

~~

Whoever suggested drunk Super Smash Brothers deserves a swift kick to the shin—the haze of alcohol clinging to Tsukishima’s last mental faculty obscures his memory of who brought it up. He hopes it wasn’t himself. 

Because Kuroo is good at this game. Like, really good. 

The jerk brushes it off with a smirk and a smug, “Kenma is my best friend, of course I’m good at this game,” while Tsukishima takes his third shot of the night in punishment for being spiked. Again.

“Bro,” Bokuto whines in response, “that shit hurts.

Kuroo pauses the match just before Akaashi’s character—Wolf, of course—can touch the edge of the screen. “Bro…” he says solemnly, cradling his Gamecube controller in the crook of his arm. “You’re my best bro. Kenma is my best friend. There’s a difference.”

Bokuto fake sniffles, and Tsukishima swears he can see a slight glaze in his eyes that has nothing to do with the half-empty container of jello shots on the third shelf of the fridge. “You’re my best everything, bro.”

“Bro,” Kuroo breathes out, the sound wet. 

There isn’t nearly enough alcohol in Tsukishima’s veins to explain the sudden urge to vomit. 

Ever the astute, Akaashi clears his throat and raises an eyebrow—the right one, the one he only ever moves when he’s pissed.

"Oh babe," Bokuto says breathlessly, and the glaze in his eyes turns into a fill blown shimmer. "You're my everything."

Akaashi’s eyes widen slightly and his lips part slightly, the tell-tale blur of shots-past lingering in his gaze. Bokuto leans toward Akaashi, and the urge to puke doubles. 

“I think I’m going to vomit,” Tsukishima mutters as he takes another gulp of his drink. 

“You’ve only had, like, three drinks.” Giving Tsukishima the side eye, Kuroo reaches down to grab his beer. 

“It’s not the alcohol, you’re all disgusting.”

Kuroo chuckles around the rim of his beer can, deep, low, and Tsukishima swears he can hear the aluminum of the can vibrate in response.

Akaashi is knocked out of his Bokuto-induced trance enough to spare a glance at Tsukishima. “I haven’t done anything!” he says, defensive.

Lifting a finger to his chin, Tsukishima hums contemplatively. “Akaashi is okay, I guess.”

Kuroo lets out a low whistle. “High praise, comin’ from Tsukki.”

Releasing a stutery breath, Akaashi wipes away a fake tear from the corner of his eye. “I’d like to thank not only God, but also Jesus—” 

Without a word, Tsukishima leans over Kuroo’s lap to unpause the game, earning an indignant squawk from the man. He immediately jams the joystick to the right to fling himself off stage, not bothering to jump or otherwise recover. As he stands from the couch—a little too quickly, if the blood rushing into his ears has anything to do with it—the disgusting sounds of obnoxious drunk kisses sound beside him. 

“Self-destruct means a shot, Tsukki!” Kuroo calls as Tsukishima steps into the threshold of the kitchen. 

“Way ahead of you.”

~~

“I’m just saying Mecha Hitler always wins. Always. It’s the best card—”

“Bro! It’s obviously overpowering your father !”

“Look, Kuroo, bro, just because you have daddy issues—”

Tsukishima chokes a little on the too-sweet wine cooler Akaashi insisted was the best way to get drunk . “Oh my god,” he manages between stuttering coughs. Drunk Cards Against Humanity may have been an even worse decision than drunk Super Smash Brothers.

“You’re both wrong,” Akaashi intervenes, his words slightly slurred, eyelids characteristically heavy. “It’s windmill full of corpses.”

Kuroo’s looks absolutely affronted. He turns in his seat, the wooden dining chair squeaking perilously beneath the quickly shifting weight of a 6’2” giant. Tsukishima bites his lip, half at the intense look Kuroo is giving him, half at the way the chair looks so tiny beneath Kuroo’s body. “Tsukki, c’mon, you have to be on my side—”

“Please, Kei has the most twisted sense of humor.” Akaashi twists in his seat to face Tsukishima. “You agree with me, right? It’s windmill !”

“But MechaHitler, babe!”

“You’re all wrong,” Tsukishima says, but the words feel heavy and cottony in his mouth. So heavy, like a bowling ball you’ve already let go of and you can’t stop no matter how embarrassing it’ll be to see it crash into the gutter. “It’s clearly dick fingers.”

The room hushes. Even the music quiets as the playlist comes to an end. 

And then, Kuroo and Bokuto fall beside themselves laughing. 

In Kuroo’s case, of course, it’s cackling. 

“Oh my god,” Kuroo manages out between sharp intakes of breaths. “I can’t believe a dick joke is your favourite. Tsukki, that’s incredible—”

Akaashi wastes no time in jumping in with an impeccably timed, “Incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender—”

“This is easily the worst night of my life.” Tsukishima tips his bottle completely vertical to drain the last dredges of his drink as Akaashi continues. 

“—shit on it, vomit on it—”

Bokuto is, predictably, the first to fall out of his chair because he’s laughing too hard— 

“—eat it, give birth to it.”

—but Kuroo isn’t far behind. 

~~

The thing about Kuroo that drives Tsukishima the most mad, even beyond the annoyance that prickles beneath his skin every time he sees a damn sock on top of a lamp, is that the bastard never gets a hangover. 

Which is why, on this fateful Saturday morning—afternoon, maybe—Tsukishima feels the overwhelming urge to punch the self-satisfied smirk off Kuroo’s face as he steps into the living room to find the other man shirtless .

Here Tsukishima is, blood pounding heavily at his temples, eyeballs burning because of the artificial lighting, bile threatening to rise into his throat, feeling like absolute death, but Kuroo—

Kuroo has his feet propped up on the ottoman, sweatpants-clad legs stretched in front of him, sipping at steaming coffee out of Tsukishima’s favourite mug, dressed in nothing but those sweatpants. Flimsy, thin, threadbare sweatpants that cut just below the top of that damned pelvic “V” muscle. 

And shit, it’s really unfair how Kuroo has remained so inexplicably toned through grad school, considering he doesn’t even play volleyball anymore, hasn’t in years. 

But Tuskishima can’t spend too much time waxing poetic about Kuroo’s ridiculously defined abs, because thinking about six packs reminds him of how much he drank last night, and his stomach turns in revolt. 

He must make some sort of noise that alerts Kuroo, because the man’s shoulders jump slightly. Kuroo twists his neck to look at Tsukishima and chuckles lightly, setting down his (read: Tsukishima’s) mug. “How ya feeling, glasses?”

“Shut up,” Tsukishima groans. He plops himself on the couch next to Kuroo, careful to leave the middle cushion vacant. “Are you even human? You drank more than any of us last night.”

Kuroo laughs lightly, thankfully nothing like his terrible cackle that would put even hyenas to shame, and takes a drink of his coffee. He crosses his legs at the ankle, uncrosses them, crosses them again with the opposite foot on top. The smile lingers on his lips, and Tsukishima gives himself two seconds—but only two—to observe the man before him. 

Here, sitting like he’s the king of the castle without a single care in the world, his face looks serene. Calm, less severe than it has been since he moved in weeks ago. But there isn't a trace of the mischief that tends to seep into his smirk. No, his smile is almost… tender. 

Tsukishima shakes his head and burrows into the soft fabric of the couch cushions in a vain attempt to rid his brain of these stupid, stupid sentimental instrusions. 

As if struck by something, Kuroo jolts upward a bit. Leaning forward, he slides a paper bag across the coffee table. 

“What’s this?” Tsukishima begins to move toward the bag, wincing as his head lets out a vicious pounding against his temples.

“Breakfast,” Kuroo says simply. “I hope avocado toast is still your hangover thing.”

Tsukishima freezes with his hand outstretched to pick up the bag. He tries to remember the last time he was hungover around Kuroo. Sure, they’d made many a bar hop or club crawl together—in the company of Bokuto and Akaashi, of course—but Tsukishima usually suffers with a hangover on Akaashi’s couch, alone, with only the noises of Bokuto crashing through the kitchen at 1pm to accompany him. 

The worst hangover, he remembers, was his first real one, back in first year of undergrad. He’d just failed his first university exam and tried to find the cure to imposter syndrome in the bottom of a legally-procured bottle. A decision he’d come to regret the next morning, as he was shaken awake by one Kuroo Tetsurou whispering so quietly, so softly into his ear, asking what food wouldn’t make him puke. 

All he could think of was the stupid, stupid question on his exam about how avocados ripen in an environment lacking oxygen, and so he’d said avocado toast. 

It was offhanded, said in a haze of pain, both physical and psychological. 

It was also four years ago. 

But somehow, Kuroo had managed to store and retain that information, even through, well, everything. 

Tsukishima clears his throat, realizing too late that he’s just been staring at the paper bag without a word. “Uh, thanks,” he mumbles. He grabs the bag and sets it in his lap, contemplating on whether or not he should even open it. 

“No problem.” 

From the corner of his eye, Tsukishima sees Kuroo’s smile morph into a satisfied grin. Abruptly, Tsukishima stands, cradling the bag under the crook of an arm. “I'm gonna…” he trails off, thinks better of talking, and turns toward the kitchen with the unstable dining table and mismatched chairs. 

“Oh, I see,” Kuroo says, chuckling. “The great Tsukishima Kei is too good to eat with the lowly Kuroo Tetsurou.” 

Shaking his head, Tuskishima sighs. “Couch. Crumbs. No.”

“Fair. Wouldn’t wanna mess up these phenomenal Goodwill-chic cushions.” Kuroo tips his head back, eyes closed. “There’s fresh coffee on. Extra strong, like you like it.”

Tsukishima resists the urge to groan, barely. 

~~~~~~~~~

The shirtlessness continues. 

The morning after that night of drinking, Tsukishima could look past (after staring at rock hard abs for way too long to be appropriate between friends). Walking into the shared living space after a shower with nothing but a towel wrapped around his hips, Tuskishima could deal with. Coming back from a morning jog in the middle of summer and immediately ridding himself of his sweat-soaked shirt, Tsukishima could reconcile. 

But it morphs into the lack of upper body clothing basically every minute of every day unless they have company over, which Tsukishima does not have the capability of coping with. 

Especially since he hasn’t gotten laid since the start of the semester. 

And, okay, Tsukishima has known Kuroo for seven years now. It’s obvious the guy is incredibly attractive, always has been, but being in such close proximity to it every day is driving him mad.

That, paired with the casual intimacy Kuroo throws around by way of an arm slung around his shoulders as he answers the door for Bokuto and Akaashi every Friday, a hand smoothing over the small of his back as Kuroo reaches around Tsukishima to grab a coffee mug, toned pecs pressed into his side as Kuroo leans over Tsukishima on the couch to slap Bokuto on the arm in retaliation for a particularly brutal video game KO—it’s… 

A lot.

And, oh, the sight of dusky nipples pebbling as the air cools with the incoming fall season—that’s really something else. 

Tsukishima contemplates ridding himself of his shirt in revenge, but between his constantly cold skin perpetually covered in goosebumps and his rapidly softening middle section, he decides against it. 

So instead, he watches. 

He watches as Kuroo slinks around the apartment seemingly without a care in the world, his toned pecs on perfect display as he fills the coffee pot with water in the mornings, as he folds his laundry while sitting on the couch as a some old sitcom rerun blares from the shitty TV, as he stirs their dinner in a cast iron skillet. 

(“The popping oil doesn’t burn you?”

Kuroo looks down at his front, then at the stove, then back again. “Are you suggesting I put on a shirt?”

Tsukishima sighs and turns his attention back to his forgotten textbook on aquatic pollution. “I just don’t want to hear you complain about the burns later.”

Clicking his tongue, Kuroo turns off the burner. “I’m a big boy, I can handle it.”

Big boy, indeed. )

~~

It comes to a head a few weeks into the Shirtless Ordeal. 

Tsukishima gets let out of his last class of the day twenty minutes early because the prof was called into an emergency department meeting, something about funding this or fellowship that. It’s brutally hot with the sun blazing overhead with the last burning vengeance of the final week of summer, causing Tsukishima’s t-shirt to stick uncomfortably to his back underneath the weight of his backpack. Finals are impending, and he can feel the long night loom ahead of him. 

What could be a better day for a mid-afternoon iced coffee from that one tiny coffeehouse exactly halfway between campus and his apartment? And if he orders a second extra-large cold brew with extra cream, well, it’s because it’s Kuroo’s night to cook and Tsukishima is feeling awfully grateful today. 

As he fumbles with his keys while juggling two sweating—possibly leaky—plastic cups under his arm, Tsukishima thinks that maybe he should’ve said yes when the barista offered him a drink carrier. 

Finally, after no less than forty five seconds of struggling with the lock, Tsukishima steps into the apartment. He’s about to call out to Kuroo, entice him from his room with the promise of extra sweetened caffeine, when he hears it. 

At first, Tsukishima can pass it off as a sigh—albeit a really low, breathy one. 

But then the second time, there’s no mistaking it. 

A long, torturous moan rings out from Kuroo’s room, down the hallway, all the way into the living room. 

The sound sends all the blood in his body rushing southward. 

It’s a normal physiological response, then, when he loses his grip on one of the coffees in his hands. The flimsy plastic shatters into a thousand pieces when it makes contact with the floor, coffee seeping out of the busted cup in sticky pools that trail across the floor. 

“Shit, fuck,” Tsukishima whispers. He drops his bag and the untouched coffee onto the ground away from the mess and fast-walks to the kitchen as quietly as possible, hoping not to…

To what? 

Not disturb Kuroo while he’s obviously busy?

God, what is he even doing?

He rips a paper towel from the roll with a little bit too much force, flinging the whole thing to the ground. He looks at the traitorous thing for a moment before deciding that he can deal with it later. He makes his way back to the entryway where the coffee is quickly spreading toward the carpet of the living room. 

As he stoops down to place the paper towel on the ground, an unmistakable squelching sounds out, followed by a sharp gasp and a wet, wanton moan. 

Tsukishima realizes that Kuroo must be wearing headphones or something for the sound of the falling cup to have not disturbed him because another god forsaken groan rattles Tsukishima to the core as he’s still bent over the sticky mess on the ground. 

And suddenly, the image of Kuroo jacking off and making himself into a sticky mess appears in Tsukishima’s brain. 

Uninvited, intrusive, unbidden, fucking erotic as hell

He mops up the liquid on the ground and stupidly, stupidly strains his ears to try and decipher if there’s a second voice mixed in with Kuroo’s. 

But there isn’t. 

No, Kuroo just keeps moaning, groaning, and that damn squelching sound speeds up and oh my god Tsukishima shouldn’t be listening to his roommate—his very attractive, very affectionate roommate— jerk off. 

It’s a completely normal thing to do, jerking off when your roommate is supposed to be in class. 

But if that’s true, why does his collar suddenly feel too tight, the ambient air too hot? 

And why the hell is he sneaking around, listening in like a complete pervert?

Seriously, what the hell is he doing?

His glasses start to slip down his nose as he continues scrubbing away at the remnants of the spill on the floor and then, oh.

A particularly harsh groan, stuttering and breathy and completely fucking sinful. 

Tsukishima stops breathing for a moment when his dick throbs particularly hard at the obscene noise. It’ll never leave his brain, he’s sure. 

He doesn’t know how long he stays like that, couched over this sticky spot on the floor with a soggy paper towel clutched too-tightly in his clenched fist, but it’s obviously much too long because all too soon the telltale click of a door opening interrupts his little dirty-brain powwow.

Tuskishima’s head shoots up in surprise, and he’s met with a sight to behold, indeed. 

Out from his room steps a completely naked Kuroo. 

The last three weeks of witnessing Kuroo’s chiseled abs, sculpted biceps, perk pecs— none of it was preparation for the full thing. As much as Tsukishima has tried his hardest not to think of his roommate’s dick, he has, but even if it wasn’t on his mind lately there’s nowhere else to look because holy fuck

Kuroo’s dick is fucking massive. 

Tsukishima doesn’t even have the room to feel inadequate because that thing is so huge it takes up every space inside his brain. 

“Tsukki!” Kuroo squacks indignantly, a hand flying to cover his nether regions. He crosses his legs in a vain attempt to hide himself. “Ah, you’re—uh, you’re home early!”

Tsukishima contemplates standing up to address Kuroo. He quickly dismisses the thought as his fully hard cock throbs, rubbing against the metal teeth of the zipper of his jeans uncomfortably. “Yeah, uh, class let out early.” He casts his eyes to the lone coffee cup, still full, standing a couple feet away from him on the ground. “I got you coffee.”

Pink dusts the tip of Kuroo’s nose. Embarrassment, post-orgasm flush, whatever. He clears his throat. “Er, thanks. I’m gonna…” He points vaguely at the bathroom with the free hand not being used to cover his huge dick — 

Tsukishima nods curtly and wills his soul not to leave his body as Kuroo shuffles awkwardly down the hall. 

You won’t look at his ass, you won’t look at his ass, you won’t look at his ass— 

His ass is nice, too. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Tsukishima places his freshly cleaned plate in the drying rack and shakes his hands in a petty attempt to dry them. He looks to the dining table, the small upturning of his lips unstoppable as he sees the crumpled up hot pink post-it note with his name written in Kuroo’s messy scrawl. It’s stupid and unneccessary, the labelling of last night’s leftovers, but it’s thoughtful in the same way Kuroo will seemingly do any ridiculous thing for no reason but to incite a laugh, or a smile, or even a mock-offended scoff and a playful punch to the arm. 

By the mercy of some benevolent god, a knock resounds at the front door, releasing Tsukishima from the embarrassing fate of wherever those sappy thoughts are sure to lead him. He pads over to the door and swings it open, only to be met with the face of someone he actually thought he’d never see again. 

“Nagano,” Tsukishima says. He hopes it comes out blandly because this really is not what he wants to deal with today. 

As if they’re best friends, as if this guy isn’t the person solely responsible for turning Kuroo into a stumbling, emotionally irreparable tornado for weeks, Nagano pushes past Tsukishima and into the sparse living room, eyes swinging wildly around the room. “So you’re the new boyfriend, huh?” Nagano huffs, throwing himself onto Tsukishima’s couch as if it’s his own home. “The little shit hasn’t shown his face in weeks. I knew he was always a coward, but I’m tired of seeing that little blonde prick come by to pick up his shit.” Nagano’s eyes trail Tsukishima’s body from head to toe. Tsukishima feels the urge to squirm crawl up his spine. “The other blonde prick, I guess.”

Tsukishima sighs and lets the door fall shut. Crossing his arms, he braces himself for confrontation. To think, it was supposed to be a relaxing Friday, free from the clutches of a just-passed proposal deadline. Maybe that god wasn’t so benevolent, after all. “It’s rude to let yourself into a stranger’s home uninvited.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself.” At Nagano’s rough words, Tsukishima raises a brow. “Where is he?”

“Not here.” Tsukishima crosses the threshold into the living room. “If you need to talk to him, maybe you should come by later.”

“Yeah, right. I’ll wait here for him.”

“Oh?” Tsukishima’s other brow raises. 

Nagano chuckles sardonically. “Yeah, it’s his place too. I’m his guest.”

The hot pink post-it left on the dining table draws Tsukishima’s attention toward the kitchen momentarily. “I’m not sure he’d want you here.”

“Oh, please, Tsukki—” 

“That’s not my name.”

“Whatever, Tsukishima,” Nagano says, voice dipping into a mocking tone Tsukishima quite frankly isn’t a fan of. “Don’t pretend we weren’t friends.”

Tsukishima coughs into a closed fist, shifting his weight from his right leg to his left. He really doesn’t know what to do in this situation. If Kuroo hasn’t even been by his old place to pick up his things, then surely he doesn’t want to see Nagano, right? But… “Kuroo-san and I were hardly friends, let alone you and I.”

“‘Kuroo-san,’” Nagano says mockingly. “Must give him a real power trip to hear you say that.”

Before Tsukishima can respond, the sound of a key turning in the lock rings out in the tense atmosphere. 

In steps none other than Kuroo, hair idiosyncratically disheveled and hoodie wrinkled to match. He’s still looking down, fiddling with his backpack to shove his keys back into the little zippered pocket on the front, when he says, “Tsukki, you’ll never guess what the yeast babies did—” Kuroo finally lifts his gaze to the living room and takes in the sight of Nagano. 

Tsukishima sees Nagano’s entire demeanor change, softening around the edges—his chest deflates from its dramatically puffed out position, his scowl melts into a pleading look, his self-satisfied smirk unravelling into a pout. 

It’s disgusting. 

What’s worse, Tsukishima watches as Kuroo’s shoulders tense, rising toward his ears slightly. He observes Kuroo’s smile slip from his face, his features steeling into something cold. Unforgiving. 

But when Kuroo flicks his attention to Tsukishima, he sees the panic swimming beneath those amber irises. 

“Uh, Minoru, what’s up?” Casual. 

(Cool, Kuroo, very cool.)

When Nagano speaks, his voice comes out soft and saccharine sweet, artificial and nothing like the way he spoke to Tsukishima mere moments ago. “I’m here to apologize, baby.”

O-kay , Tsukishima definitely doesn’t need to be here for this. He really shouldn’t be, not with the way Nagano stands and wipes his palms on his jeans as if he’s nervous about this whole thing, no matter that Tsukishima knows it’s a farce. Tsukishima takes a few steps back, fading into the shadows of the hallway. He’s about to turn on his heel and dart into his room like the coward he knows he is when it comes to emotions , but the pained look Kuroo threw at him flashes in his mind’s eye and damnit when did he start getting so soft? So he hangs back, a silent observer for the nightmare of a reunion happening before him. 

(It’s because Akaashi would kill him if anything were to happen to Kuroo, Tsukishima tells himself.)

“You won’t take my calls, babe, so I had to track you down—”

Kuroo interrupts Nagano with a dark chuckle. “That’s not creepy at all.” Fingers flexing over his backpack strap, Kuroo sighs. “Look, I really don’t have time for this—” 

“Listen to me!” Nagano stalks over to Kuroo where he stands, seemingly frozen in the entryway. Tsukishima thinks Nagano is trying to make himself look big, the way he lifts his chin and pushes his shoulders back. But, really, Kuroo is a literal giant—the attempt is pitiful looking, and Tsukishima would laugh but he notices the tips of Kuroo’s ears flush and the breath is stolen from his lungs. “I fucked up, I know that. But please, baby, you’re the one I love.”

“Yeah, right,” Kuroo says flippantly. “Is that why you fucked half the population of Tokyo?”

“C’mon, baby, I’m weak—but I’m weak for you!”

“I need you to leave.” Kuroo’s voice cuts cold, sharp. Not angry, not quite, but something.

Nagano’s face twists into a sneer, gross and ugly and a little bit feral. He lunges toward Kuroo, reaching a hand out toward Kuroo’s bicep, but Kuroo flinches away easily. “Cut the bullshit, Tetsurou! You and I both know I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to you!”

Kuroo opens his mouth and takes a heaving breath, the flush on the tips of his ears spreading down to his neck. Tsukishima thinks he’s about to say something, about to fight back because Tsukishima knows Kuroo has a million things going for him—his research, his manuscripts, his friends—and there’s no way this asshole without the decency to keep it in his pants is the best thing that’s ever happened to Kuroo. Tsukishima expects that ridiculous smirk to play across his face and for him to toss out some self-assured words, but instead, Tsukishima sees a crack form in Kuroo’s typical confidence. 

He watches as that little crack is split open, splintering Kuroo apart into a million pieces, shattered by the words of a guy who did nothing but hide Kuroo away for two years. 

Kuroo’s eyes quiver, his shoulders slump, and Nagano’s mouth curls into a grin. 

It feels too intimate, too real, too personal for Tsukishima to be privy to, when he and Kuroo have been acquaintances-but-not-quite-friends for years, when they’ve been roommates-and-maybe-friends for a few months. But whether he’s supposed to know about it or not, he knows now. 

Suddenly, it makes sense, the not seeing Kuroo during most of the bar crawls with Akaashi and Bokuto, the lack of Kuroo at triple feature movie nights at Bokuto’s glitzy off-campus apartment, the absence of Kuroo in Tsukishima’s only social circle for the last year. 

Tsukishima narrows his eyes. He debates for only a moment, but when Nagano lifts an arm to grab Kuroo again, he steps out of the shadow of the hallway and clears his throat. He plasters on the most artificially pleasant smile he can. “Nagano-san,” and, well, if he cracks his neck it’s just because it’s grown stiff. “Get out.”

Thankfully, Nagano drops his hand to his side and swivels his gaze to Tsukishima. His eyes widen slightly, as if he’d forgotten Tsukishima was here at all. He flicks his eyes back to Kuroo, back to Tsukishima again, and his face lights up in brilliant crimson patches. “I always knew there was something going on with the twink .” Nagano’s blazing eyes revert back to Kuroo. “I may have been the one to physically cheat, but don’t forget that this,” Nagano gestures vaguely in Tsukishima’s direction, “is what drove me away.” 

The door slams behind Nagano as he storms away, leaving Kuroo and Tsukishima alone in the living room that’s always felt small, but suddenly feels ten miles wide. 

Tsukishima looks at Kuroo in silence, the only sound in the room the muffled lyrics of some top-40 song playing from the apartment across the hall. 

Backpack starting to slip from his shoulder, Kuroo stands there in the entryway, staring at his feet. He looks small, Tsukishima thinks— something he’d never equate Kuroo with, normally. 

He’s never been good with words or any form of comfort, so he just stands there, watching Kuroo watch the ground. He doesn’t know what to do. Most people would give someone a hug in this situation, right? But he isn’t— he and Kuroo have never really— 

Whenever Tsukishima is upset, he likes to be left alone. Maybe that’s what he should do?

But Kuroo is inherently more social, so maybe he’d want someone to talk to?

As Tsukishima wars with himself how to be a not terrible roommate-slash-sort-of-friend, Kuroo lifts his gaze from the ground to make eye contact with Tsukishima, and shit are those unshed tears? Fuck, Tsukishima really doesn’t know how to handle crying— he’s never been able to— what does he do—

“Sorry you had to witness that.”

Kuroo’s voice is tiny, tinny, a sad imitation of his normal timbre and Tsukishima’s heart clenches at the sound. But he can’t feel pity right now, or sympathy or any of that, because why the fuck is Kuroo apologizing? He can’t possibly believe that any of that was his fault, right? Tsukishima grits his teeth. “ You’re sorry?” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say without coming off like a complete dick. 

“Yeah,” Kuroo breathes out, dejected, nothing like his normal carefree air of their regular banter. “I know you don’t like drama. Rule number two, yeah?”

Tsukishima doesn’t know how to respond to that. 

Before he can think of something more eloquent and specific than what the fuck, Kuroo says, “Anyway, I’m gonna turn in early for tonight. I’ll… let Bokuto and Akaashi know tonight is no good. See ya, Tsukki.” And just like that, Kuroo brushes past Tsukishima to get to his room. 

As the door falls shut softly behind Kuroo, Tsukishima fully realizes that Nagano had said there was a thing between Kuroo and himself. 

Tsukishima cranes his neck to stare absently at Kuroo’s closed bedroom door. 

There’s never been anything between them. 

Right?

~~

He’s hesitant to leave his room in the morning, hearing Kuroo bang around in the kitchen. It’s going to be weird, and awkward, and there’s probably going to be some weird energy between them, and it’s way, way too early to deal with it. 

(Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It might be Tsukishima projecting his own shortcomings with handling delicate emotional matters. Kuroo is a much more emotionally capable person, so he’ll probably handle it like an adult. 

Regardless, Tsukishima can’t get the alien crawling sensation in his gut to go away.)

Much to his surprise and confusion, Kuroo greets Tsukishima in the kitchen at 8:30 am with a grin plastered on his face, full and bright and reaching all the way to his eyes. The smell of frying bacon drifts through the air around them. “Mornin’, Tsukki.”

“Good morning,” Tsukishima mutters, brows turning inward. 

“Coffee’s almost finished brewing.” Kuroo turns his back to Tsukishima to stir something in the cast iron skillet. “Eggs are almost done, too.”

“What’s with the full continental?”

Kuroo chuckles. “I have to bribe you into listening to me rave about my colonies. Bowser Jr. is almost as big as Bowser, can you believe it?”

“Even with the weird growth media?”

Kuroo nods enthusiastically, eyes alight. “Yes! So freaky, right?”

He rambles on, spouting technical jargon Tsukishima isn’t familiar with as he plates their breakfast onto chipped, mismatched glassware. The atmosphere is missing the air of awkwardness Tsukishima was expecting, instead filled with the carefree warmth of Kuroo excited about his research. 

The smile tugging at the corner of Tsukishima’s mouth is weighed down only by the echo of Nagano’s words, there was always something going on, there was always something going on.

Tsukishima searches for something, anything, in his memory of their tentative friendship that could allude to some sort of something going on . He can count on his fingers the number of times they’d seen each other in the last year preceding their current living arrangement—so what something could there possibly have been?

There was that one time, back in his sophomore year at university, behind the sort-of-seedy bar where they’d almost kissed, kind of, but it was such a fleeting moment cut short by the sound of some drunk patron retching behind them. They never talked about it. There were no furtive glances through hooded lashes, nothing. After that, it was back to accusations of cheating at cards and half-serious bets on who could snag a free drink from the hot bartender first.

“Yo, earth to Tsukki.”

Tsukishima blinks, shakes off his stray thoughts. 

“C’mon, I’m not that boring, am I?”

“You’re talking about yeast. Sorry if I’m not exactly intrigued.” Tsukishima picks up his fork, stabbing a piece of egg with more vigor than necessary. 

Kuroo gasps dramatically. “Those are my children you’re talking about!”

“It’s a shame they can’t love you back.”

Kuroo kicks his shin under the table, but his lips are still stretched into a playful grin. “You don’t have to be a dick about it.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s like the words Nagano said in a fit of anger have possessed him. 

Every interaction no matter how insignificant or mundane, every backhanded compliment served hot or cold, Tuskishima tries to find that something.

He thinks he might see it, at breakfast when they’re pushing around each other on the quest for coffee and Kuroo places his palm against the small of Tuskishima’s back.

He thinks he might detect it, the Friday after exams when Kuroo makes them a giant feast for lunch and a socked foot touches Tsukishima’s during the entire meal.

He thinks he might notice it, during their Friday game nights when Kuroo refuses to sit anywhere that isn’t next to Tsukishima and somehow always picks Tsukishima’s card as the winner in Cards Against Humanity. 

(“It’s nepotism!” Bokuto screeches as Tsukishima collects his fifth card of the game. 

Tsukishima looks to the others and sees that Kuroo has one, Akaashi two, Bokuto none and his grin widens. 

“That’s not the right word, dear,” Akaashi says lightly, giving Tsukishima a weird, knowing look that Tsukishima is entirely too tipsy to fully comprehend. “You’re thinking of favouritism.”

“Yeah, you’re right! God, you’re so smart, ‘Kaashi, you know?”

And so they devise a system that is completely blind. Akaashi confirms that there is no conceivable way for the judge to know who submitted which card with their new methods. 

But still, without fail Kuroo continues to pick Tsukishima’s card every round.

When Bokuto shouts exasperatedly as Tsukishima wins the third game that night, Kuroo sends Tsukishima this sappy, sugary smile and Tsukishima’s insides feel like warm molasses, sticky and sweet.)

He thinks he might recognize it, the sixth night in a row Kuroo does the dishes before Tsukishima has a chance to roll up his sleeves to do it himself, because it’s your least favourite, Tsukki, let me do this for you.

He thinks he might feel it, when the sight of Kuroo smiling at him over the top of his laptop and the sensation of his legs draped heavily over Tuskishima’s lap as they lounge on the couch in the evenings fill his chest with a warm, fuzzy tingle that he craves every night thereafter.

~~

His leg is bouncing completely of its own volition, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. 

Akaashi eyes his jiggling leg as he sits across from Tsukishima, cappuccino grasped between his hands. He doesn’t say anything, lets Tsukishima brood and bounce for as long as he needs. 

Tsukishima doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve such a good friend. 

After some indeterminable amount of time, Tsukishima finally feels ready—enough, anyway. “Akaashi-san.”

“Why so formal?” Akaashi flexes his fingers around the handle of his mug. 

Tsukishima mirrors the action, watching as his knuckles turn white with the added pressure. “I have a problem.”

When Tsukishima doesn’t elaborate, Akaashi tries, “Do you need money? I know the stipend is small—” 

“No, I don’t need money.” Tsukishima takes a shuddery breath, inhaling between his lips. “It’s…” he trails off, unsure of how to put it into words. Unwilling, more like. 

But Akaashi doesn’t push, just lays a hand over Tsukishima’s wrist, a physical force of comfort. 

“I messed up.”

“What happened?” Passive, not an accusatory what did you do, and god Tsukishima is so inexplicably lucky.

“I—it’s—” Tsukishima shakes his head. “Kuroo—”

“Did something happen between you two?”

“It’s—” Tsukishima sighs and slumps back in his chair. He really, really wishes they weren’t in public right now.

Akaashi reaches out without a word to run his fingers over the back of Tsukishima’s knuckles, still white from their iron grip on his coffee mug. 

Taking a steadying breath, Tsukishima relaxes his hand slightly. “How did you know you liked Bokuto as more than a friend?”

“Oh.” 

“Yeah,” Tsukishima breathes out. “Oh.”

“Well.” Akaashi takes a sip of his cappuccino and hums thoughtfully. “I hadn’t considered it until Bokuto asked me on a date.”

“What?” Tsukishima lifts an eyebrow in surprise. “Bokuto was the one who made the first move?”

Resting his chin in his free hand, Akaashi nods. “It was right after his last high school game, back in the Spring High prelims my second year. I spent the next three days over-analyzing every interaction we’d had the last two years, trying to figure out if there was something I was missing.” He shoots Tsukishima a sly, knowing look. “Sound familiar?”

“I hate when you do this stupid psychic bullshit.”

Akaashi chuckles lightly. “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

With a shake of his head, Tsukishima sits up in his chair a little, tension rolling off of his body in waves. 

“But you think you can’t ask him out so soon after his breakup, right?”

Tsukishima narrows his eyes. “Psychic bullshit.”

Akaashi sighs. “Look, there’s no ‘right time’ after a breakup, especially not when they were together for so long. But I’ve seen Kuroo lately, and he doesn’t seem affected by it anymore. He seems happy. Especially when you’re around.”

“What if I’m making it all up?”

Akaashi gives him a confused look.

“A while ago Nagano came by our place and said some things, so maybe I’ve been psyching myself up because of what he said and not because I’m actually feeling these things.”

“What did Nagano say?”

And so Tsukishima recounts the interaction to Akaashi, leaving out the details of Nagano’s weirdly threatening behaviour. 

“Hm.” Akaashi takes a moment to think. “Did he really call you a twink? You? You’re at least 75 pounds heavier than him.”

Tsukishima scowls. “Not the point.”

“Okay, you’re right. But, honestly…” he trails off but maintains eye contact with Tsukishima. 

“Honestly what?”

“You two flirted all the time. Do flirt. Still.”

Coffee catches in Tsukishima’s windpipe, sending him spluttering and coughing. A few cafe patrons turn to look his way, but quickly dismiss him at Akaashi’s flippant wave of his hand. When he finally recovers, he says, “Of course we don’t flirt. We never have. We argue all the time.”

Rolling his eyes, Akaashi leans back in his chair. “Please, you two tease each other and torture the rest of us with the extreme sexual tension.”

“There’s no sexual tension.”

Akaashi pins him in place with his stern expression. 

“Okay, there was one time I walked in on him, uh…”

“Walked in on him…?”

“You know!” Tsukishima whisper yells, curling over his mug defensively. 

Akaashi chuckles again. “Alright, fine. But you’ve been thinking about it, right?”

“Psychic bullshit.”

“Kei, have you thought about him while you jerked off?”

“We’re in public,” Tsukishima hisses, glancing around the mostly empty cafe. “I regret ever becoming friends with you.”

Akaashi takes a long sip from his drink nonchalantly. He sets the mug down gently, watching as Tsukishima relaxes visibly into his chair again. “Seriously, though. You should ask him out.”

“That’s a terrible idea. He could say no and our whole roommate dynamic would be weird. We live together . I can’t just… spring this on him. He probably wouldn’t even say yes, anyway.”

Akaashi fixes him with a look that clearly says you’re an idiot.

“What? He’s never expressed any interest in me.” 

“You two only met because he went out of his way to include you in his extra practice during summer training.”

“Okay, he expressed interest in me once. But not romantic interest.”

Akaashi sighs. “There’s no convincing you, I know. But you should trust me. If you ask him out, he’ll say yes.”

“And when he doesn’t and it makes our living situation weird?”

If he says no, which I know he won’t, I’ll let you stay over at my place while you look for a new apartment.”

“That’s the worst offer I’ve ever heard.”

~~

Thinking up what to do on a date is hard, way harder than he thought it would be. 

A precursory internet search turns up cliche bullshit like aquariums, theme parks, picnics, wine tastings. He tries to imagine himself and Kuroo out on these rom-com excursions and can only foresee their too-long legs being cramped up in roller coaster seats, their heads crouching down under the low arches of the local aquarium, ants in their food at the park, how nasty wines are and what the hell are tannins anyway?

Tadashi tells him that he took Yachi to dinner and a movie on their first date. 

(And proceeded to gush for fifteen minutes about how perfect and romantic it was.) 

Again, all he can imagine is the two of them well over six feet tall in the middle of a packed movie theater and some poor, average-height soul sitting behind them and not being able to see over the rat’s nest that is Kuroo’s hair. 

But there is a new action film coming out this weekend that Kuroo hasn’t been able to shut up about. 

And dinner— they do dinner all the time together. It wouldn’t be weird at all, even if their dinners are usually them sitting at home in mismatched pajamas, eating off of mismatched dishes, bantering about some anime or another. 

Which is how Tsukishima finds himself scrolling through the first four pages of google results for “best first date restaurants” in town. 

This is, of course, after he’s already purchased two back row seats for the movie. 

~~

The vindication he feels when he slams down the tickets onto the dining table is worth something, surely. Maybe not worth all the anxiety he felt rolling around in his gut as he tried to fall asleep last night, but, well. Something. 

Kuroo jolts, obviously not expecting Tsukishima to have appeared behind him as he worked on some paper or another. “Jeez, Tsukki, no need to be so violent.”

“Here.” Tsukishima pushes the paper closer to Kuroo. 

Head tilting to the side in a way that definitely isn’t cute ( god damn it Tsukishima get a hold of yourself) , Kuroo picks up the tickets and scans the text. “What’s this?”

“Saturday.” Tsukishima tops off his glass of water. “We’re going.”

“Ohoho?” There’s a pause as Kuroo reads through the pages. Tsukishima doesn’t turn to face him. “I thought you hated action movies.”

Tsukishima shrugs, still facing away from Kuroo. “You won’t shut up about it.” He can just feel the grin that undoubtedly spreads across Kuroo’s face. “Dinner is at 6:30 at Icarus.”

Kuroo lets out a low whistle. “I like a man who’s prepared.”

The heat that rises to fill Tsukishima’s cheeks has nothing to do with the unwarranted comment. It’s probably because their heater has been acting weird, turning on and off randomly in the oscillating fall weather.

Surely.

~~

He's not entirely sure how much time he spent picking through his closet, flinging rejected piece after rejected piece onto an ever growing pile atop his bed. He doesn't know because when he glanced at his bedside table and saw that 17 minutes had already passed, he draped a cardigan that was entirely the wrong color over the top of it. 

Ignorance is bliss, and all that. 

The last three days had flown by in a whirlwind of grant proposals and committee appointments. Kuroo never mentioned their date , but they hadn't exactly been able to see much of each other, anyway. 

It's hard to say he isn't thankful for it. 

Sleep has evaded him since he practically assaulted Kuroo with the tickets, accosted him with spare details about their date. (The word continues to send little jolts of incredulity through his veins every time he thinks it. Date. With Kuroo. Date. ) His coffee consumption is up roughly 150%, and his hands were so shaky on Friday that his advisor sent him home with a concerned look and a spare protein bar she had in her office. It’s stupid, so stupid, it’s just a date— he’s been on dates. Some of them have been not terrible, in fact, and he survived and definitely didn’t have this kind of ridiculous reaction. 

To be fair, none of those dates had been his roommate. Or his best friend’s boyfriend’s best friend. 

Tsukishima sighs. 

Once nearly half his wardrobe has been thoroughly rejected, he’s ready to give up. It shouldn’t even matter anyway, what fucking clothes he wears. He’s not some high schooler antsy about their potential prom date thinking they’re not cool enough to be seen together in public, or whatever it is kids care about these days. 

Just as he’s about to reach for his trusty, artfully plain black sweater, the zipped-up garment bag shoved into the back of his closet catches his eye. AZUMANE is printed in thin white serif type across the front, though the ‘e’ is obscured by a teal-colored post-it note emblazoned with Tsukishima’s name. 

“To inspire your confidence,” Asahi said when he handed it to Tsukishima nearly a year ago. 

“He means you need to get out more and this’ll make you look hot,” Nishinoya had helpfully supplied from his seemingly permanent spot next to Asahi. 

Tsukishima hadn’t so much as looked inside the bag after he accepted it with a slight bow in Asahi’s direction and a scowl in Nishinoya’s. 

But his eyes scan his well-worn black sweater, his equally-used only clean pair of black skinny jeans, his stained sneakers, and lets out a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. Deciding there’s no way it could be worse than his current options, he reaches for the bag and roughly pulls the zipper down to reveal the outfit inside. 

He stares at the clothing, unblinking. 

Okay, they aren’t hideous or anything—Asahi is a professional—but he’s not entirely sure they’re… him. 

The deep emerald cardigan looks soft enough, and the navy and dark green plaid pattern in the pants is subtle to be sure, but the tiny white poufs of dandelion seeds dotting the black button up seem a little too… dainty.

Pinned to the area above the collar of the shirt is a note that reads Pair with black leather loafers , written in neat block lettering Tsukishima knows belongs to Asahi. Below it, or combat boots because ur a badass, in Nishinoya’s less neat, chicken scratch scrawl. 

There must be something in the air—some weird pheromone released alongside the falling leaves, or something—because the longer Tsukishima stares at the ensemble, the more it grows on him, until eventually he finds himself pulling the clothing off the hanger. 

~~

He swipes down to refresh his twitter feed for the fifth time since he arrived. He thumbs through his timeline mindlessly, not paying particular attention to any of the posts. His eyes scan the sidewalk in front of him for the thousandth time and turn up nothing, again. 

Getting here his standard fifteen minutes early was the wrong choice, quite apparently. He should’ve known it was a bad idea— Kuroo is entirely too punctual, the literal bastard, and so Tsukishima has had to stand here, alone with only his anxiety to keep him company, waiting. 

Waiting. 

The hostess keeps sending him pitying glances, and he wills the clock to fucking say it’s 6:30 already. 

He scowls down at his phone, giving up all pretense of half-assedly looking through his social media as he continues to wait for the clock to tick down from 6:29 already

“Woah, Tsukki, if you’re hoping it’ll burst into flames, you just might get your wish soon enough if you keep looking at it like that.”

The low drawl pulls Tsukishima from his hyperactive thoughts. He jerks his head up to greet Kuroo with some sarcastic comment about his almost-tardiness, but wow Kuroo’s hair is even more of a spectacular mess than normal. He wonders if maybe Kuroo attempted to tame it, or if the beast had decided to be wilder than normal of its own volition. 

Regardless of the bed head situation, Kuroo looks damn good , albeit casual. Much more casual than Tsukishima. 

Oh god Tsukishima is wildly overdressed, compared to Kuroo’s ripped skinny jeans and his red flannel with the one loose string at the hem. 

With the way Kuroo is staring openly, mouth slightly agape, at Tsukishima’s body, he’s probably thinking the same thing. 

Tsukishima kind of wants to die, a little. 

But he’s made his bed, so he’s going to have to lie in it, he supposes. 

Tsukishima opens his mouth to say something (hopefully) witty to break whatever this weird tension is as Kuroo keeps fucking staring at him, but Kuroo suddenly slaps his forehead with his hand, eliciting a loud smack that echoes around them. 

Kuroo’s eyes squeeze shut and he takes a deep breath. “Oh my god, this is a date, isn’t it?”

Oh.

That’s. 

That’s definitely not a good sign. 

That’s unquestionably a very, very bad sign. 

Heart jackhammering against his ribcage, Tsukishima thinks back to Tuesday, when he asked Kuroo out. 

He… did ask him out, right?

And he remembers the slamming down the tickets, the telling him about the dinner reservations, the snarky comment about Kuroo not shutting up, and—and—Kuroo had said that thing, about liking a man with a plan, right? That’s obvious as hell even if he didn’t explicitly say it was a date… right?

Right?

Oh god he didn’t even actually ask Kuroo out. 

Oh god.

Crawling into a hole and leaving behind all worldly possessions sounds fantastic, right about now. 

The twice-folded movie tickets radiate heat that threatens to burn through his pockets, complemented by the heat rising to his cheeks. Tsukishima literally cannot form words at the moment, and after the hostess throws him one last sympathetic look over Kuroo’s shoulder, he turns on his heel to walk away from this mistake, to go literally anywhere but here. 

Maybe somewhere with dirt soft enough to dig his grave. 

“Wait!” 

But he doesn’t. He speeds up so his steps come fast enough to overcome the rapid beating of his heart. 

“Tsukishima, seriously!” Kuroo lets out an incredulous sound, somewhere between a huff and a growl, and soon there’s a second set of footsteps pounding in Tsukishima’s ears. “Jesus Christ, why are your legs so damn long?”

It quickly becomes apparent, however, they aren’t quite long enough. 

Kuroo grabs Tsukishima’s shoulder roughly, effectively stopping him in his tracks. For a quiet moment, neither of them say anything, the only sound their slightly staggered breaths puffing out between them. 

Eventually, Kuroo speaks, voice softer than normal. Placating. “This is a date, right?”

Still unable to force a sound through his vocal chords, Tsukishima nods without looking up from his feet. 

Kuroo is still, silent, for just long enough to make Tsukishima’s skin start crawling under his stupid, too-fancy clothing. 

“I wish I’d known so I would’ve worn the pants without a mustard stain.”

Tsukishima’s head snaps up, and he finally meets Kuroo’s gaze. 

Kuroo’s face is adorned with a smile, sweet and soft and genuine without a hint of his normal teasing, his eyes alight with… something. “You look incredible, Tsukki, and I look like I just rolled out of bed.” He pauses, letting his hand trail down Tsukishima’s arm slowly. “Which, for the record, is absolutely the case.”

Scoffing, Tsukishima withdraws his hands into his pockets before Kuroo can touch them. 

“But,” Kuroo says emphatically, “if I’d known this was a date I would’ve woken up at least an hour ago to try to tame this.” He gestures to his hair. 

“You’re not…” Tsukishima’s voice cracks around the words, so he clears his throat into a closed fist. “You’re not weirded out?”

“God, Tsukki, of course not!” Kuroo chuckles lightly. “I’m a little put out that you managed to ask me out before I could man up and ask you, not gonna lie.” He pauses, lifting a finger to his chin. “I mean, you didn’t technically ask me, but I guess I’ll let it slide.” 

“‘Man up and ask…’” Tsukishima mutters. “You… what?” His eyebrows draw together in confusion.

“Tsukishima Kei.” Kuroo’s voice turns stern. “You can’t be serious.” 

“I don’t understand what’s happening right now.”

Sighing, Kuroo shakes his head admonishingly. “I like you. A lot. C’mon, I’ve been flirting with you literally every day for the past…” he lifts his hand, counting on his fingers. “three months. Plus all those times for seven years before that. You seriously didn’t just now notice, right?”

“I—we—it was arguing, most of the time!”

Teasing , Tsukki. Sexually loaded teasing.”

“You flirt by teasing? What, are you going to pull on my pigtails next?”

Kuroo lets out a low whistle and lifts his hands in mock-surrender. “I didn’t think this would turn into a kink-negotiation, but if that’s where this is headed—”

“Oh my god,” Tsukishima breathes out, cheeks flushing at the brazen openness. “I can’t believe this is what I’m attracted to.”

Kuroo’s lips pull into a predatory grin, and Tsukishima’s stomach drops into his feet at the sight. “Me neither. But hey, we have a dinner reservation, yeah? I’m starving, let’s go eat.”

Kuroo reaches out a hand, palm up. Tsukishima stares down at the offered hand, mind still reeling at the events of the last five minutes. 

Kuroo wanted to ask him out first. Kuroo has been flirting with him for years. 

Kuroo likes him.

Quote, a lot

It’s a lot, this whole stupid situation, but right now, it’s just Tsukishima and Kuroo, and Kuroo is offering his hand to hold Tsukishima’s, and it’s all weird and not how he imagined this going, but it is what it is. 

So, he reaches out to intertwine his fingers with Kuroo’s, ignoring the way all his blood rushes to fill the tips of his ears as they begin the trek back to the restaurant. 

“Your blush is cute, Tsukki.” 

“I’ll stab you in your sleep.”

“If you really wanted to do that you would’ve already.”

“There’s still time. Don’t tempt me.”

~~~~~~~END~~~~~~~





[Bonus]

It’s cheesy, the whole atmosphere of this restaurant. The waiter has a thousand metal buttons pinned to their half apron thing, there’s terrible early 2000s generic pop playing too loudly through grainy speakers, the drinks are cheap and colorful and taste terrible, and the vinyl of the booth pokes into the back of his thighs even through the thick denim of his jeans. 

But Akaashi has a Groupon, whatever the hell that is. 

It’s halfway through his fourth long island whatever, when the greasy mozzarella sticks have finally hit his stomach like a rock, that it occurs to him. 

“I can’t believe Bokuto figured out Akaashi was flirting with him and made the first move.”

Beside him, Kuroo cocks his head, confused. He kind of looks like a chicken, with his stupid bed hair all over the place. 

Bokuto tilts his head in a similar fashion. “What? No, Akaashi kissed me after practice one day, totally out of the blue! I wasn’t expecting it at all!”

Kuroo lets out a terrible guffaw and says, “Bro, you said he ‘mauled you’ when you told me about it later!”

Across the table, Akaashi sips his highlighter-pink drink nonchalantly. 

Bokuto continues, “Yeah, man! He kissed me all hard and heavy and then said ‘Bokuto-san, please be my boyfriend’ like he hadn’t just sucked my soul out of my body. It was great.”

Tsukishima turns his attention to Akaashi, eyes narrowed. “You lied to me. Traitor.”

Akaashi just shrugs and pops a fry into his mouth. “You need a push. Besides, all’s well that ends well, right?”

Kuroo’s hand rests on Tsukishima’s thigh, thumb rubbing soothing circles along the top of his knee. Tsukishima looks over at him and sees Kuroo smiling so gently, so sincerely, and his heart does this weird stuttery thing and his stomach fills with butterflies that have nothing to do with the mix of alcohol and junk food, and okay, yeah, his chest fills with a sappy sweet warmth that he wouldn’t trade for the world.

Kuroo mouths I love you, his eyes twinkling with joy and mischief and that something that keeps Tsukishima coming back for more.

So, yeah, maybe sometimes the end justifies the means.