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The first mistake Kuroo makes is really looking at Yaku.

The suit jacket has been abandoned, but the telltale signs of the national team’s press conference are still glaringly obvious. In his white collared shirt, top button undone. The gentle dust of powder across the apples of his cheeks. Eyes bright and alive and so much more jarringly real than a pixelated image strung through a six-hour time difference.

“Oh.” Yaku squints up at him from where he’s seated on a flimsy foldable chair. Makes a face. “You’re late.”

“Am not,” Kuroo shoots back reflexively.

He is. There’s an obnoxious round of sirens splitting through his head as he watches Yaku roll his eyes in response. Static rackets through his brain like a thousand broken TV’s, and through the noise of it all, a voice bleeding dry and exasperated, saying idiot. Saying this was a bad idea. Saying why the hell is no one else in the locker room.   

Yaku cocks his head, a brow raised. “What.”

Kuroo shakes his head. Something catches in his throat; sticks and drips and spins a sickly-sweet ball of nerves in his gut. "You gel your hair up now," he just says dumbly.

Yaku blinks. "Yeah?" Confusion wanes to amusement. "What, you want to try?"

That brings out a scoff. “Nothing works on my hair.”

But Yaku’s already bending over and rummaging through his gym bag, lips quirking. His hand emerges a moment later with a small, lavender tub of product that looks far too innocent. A suspicious beam settles over Yaku’s face.

“It’s not going to work,” Kuroo declares, narrowing his eyes.

“It will.”

“It wo—”

There’s a smile ghosting over Yaku’s mouth when he pops up from his chair. A shove. A yelp. A loud creaking sound when Kuroo falls down gracelessly onto the plastic seat, and then his world is reorienting itself and he’s blinking up at the sight of Yaku standing over him. Still with the dumb shirt, nice eyes. Collarbone peeking out to say hello.

Yeah. Bad idea.

“Didn’t think you had it in you,” Kuroo grumbles.

“I’m a professional athlete, Kuroo.”

He clicks his tongue. “Forgot about that.”

Yaku’s busy unscrewing the quaint little cap on the tub of gel, gaze lowered to his hands, but Kuroo still manages to catch sight of the signature huff and eyeroll.

It’s undeniably fond, though. Reluctant warmth leaking out Yaku’s eyes and soaking the space between them with something gentle, unhurried. And it’s like everything about them, really—silly adolescent grievances and petty arguments worn and whetted by time. Until it’s just this. Halfhearted banter. Yaku’s exasperated smile. A familiarity that trickles down to flesh, bone, heart. Settles with a soft hum and refuses to budge.   

“You should really learn to drive,” Yaku’s muttering. He scoops out two fingerfuls of the creamy, off-white mystery gel before fixing Kuroo with a pointed stare. “Next time you ask for a ride I’m charging.”

“You—"

He cuts Kuroo’s protest off with a wave of product-laden fingers. “It smells kinda weird,” he starts. “But it works really well.”

You smell kinda weird,” Kuroo grumbles.

“Shut up. I smell great.”

He does, Kuroo realizes dimly. Vaguely bitterly. But the quiet blend of jasmine and citrus fizzle to nothing the instant Yaku steps forward, and the obligatory quip about his height dissolves to dust in his lungs.

Yaku’s got a hand in his hair now. Standing between his legs, brows furrowed in concentration, so close Kuroo can trace the way the dingy locker room light clings to each individual eyelash. Features limned with a soft, gold-white haze that yanks every syllable of coherence out his mouth.

He swallows. Everything feels brittle, abruptly. As if a second longer in Yaku Morisuke’s presence could splinter his body whole.

A sudden, loud ping from Yaku’s phone makes both of them jump.

Something between a sigh and a grunt escapes Yaku’s mouth as his gaze tracks down to where his phone is laid against his bag, and the ugly, blistering thing of want in Kuroo’s chest hiccups. Teeters dangerously as he watches a weird look cross over Yaku’s face.  

“Still figuring out the whole Russia thing?” He tries lightly.

“Yeah,” Yaku sighs. A conflicted glance at his phone again, before his fingers resume combing through Kuroo’s hair. “I don’t know if I’ll stay here or go back again. I have really good offers from both.”

“You’ll figure it out,” he just says, quiet.

Yaku’s eyes flicker down to his. A pause. Then a soft yeah, I guess before he resumes focus on whatever black magic he’s doing on Kuroo’s hair.

And here’s the thing. There’s this shapeless, unquantifiable something that’s been spinning between them for months. Years. Stitching itself up, down, left, right, and carving out wicked little notches in his ribs. Because Yaku had left for Russia that year. And Kuroo had been swamped then, too. With work, life, all the finicky wonders the universe throws at you, but still. Etched up the side of his brain—all those times he caught Yaku over a video call, sleepy in the early Russian hours with sunlight threading its fingers through his hair. So far and close and a gaping, tender bruise over his chest that he’s never been able to stop prodding.

Kuroo clears his throat carefully. “You’re really slow at this, Yakkun.”

“Your hair is just weird,” Yaku shoots back.

“You sound like you’re jealous.”

A harsh tug on his hair pulls a yelp out of him. “Sure,” comes the snort.

Silence spills over them at that, languid. Slow-moving and syrupy as Yaku toys with his hair. His hands are painfully gentle against Kuroo’s scalp, each press planting a tiny, unbudging bud of warmth in his chest.

Kuroo exhales. Maybe the first mistake wasn’t really looking at Yaku, cutting a criminally beautiful image against the locker room walls. Or even asking for a ride home, because the trains decided to bless his day by breaking down unexpectedly and yeah, fine, he’s been putting off learning to drive for forever, but really—

Really, the first mistake was probably letting whatever this is fester for so damn long. Because it’s boiling over, now. Vicious, dizzying. An elephant in the room stomping itself silly; and Yaku’s still standing so close he can count his stupid lashes—but there’s no three-thousand-kilometer distance now. Just the dwindling length between them in the corner of the national team locker room in Tokyo and Kuroo thinks—brazenly, stupidly, fuck it.

“Hey,” he murmurs.

“What.”

He stares holes into the skin of his palms. A measured exhale. “Did you date anyone in Russia?”

Yaku’s hands stop moving.

And he can see the moment it registers in Yaku’s mind. That he’s not toeing the line anymore, eggshells prickling obnoxiously beneath his soles. That he’s stuck a foot in and breached the unspoken perimeter of whatever’s been simmering beneath the surface. Scalding his body whole. It’s evident, in the faint, panicked flicker behind Yaku’s eyes and the way his hands drop down to his sides.

“Kuroo,” he starts, hesitant.

“So,” Kuroo pushes on. “Uh.” Right. This is the culmination of his grand, groundbreaking, earth-shattering plan. Yes. Great. He swallows his pulse and says, elegantly, staring six centimeters to the left of Yaku's face, “youwannagetcoffeesometime.”

A stretch of deafening silence falls over them as he watches Yaku’s mouth open. Close. Open again. Brows pinching together.

“Kuroo,” Yaku starts slowly. “Did you just ask me out?”

“Maybe,” he mumbles, face warm.

Another beat, before Yaku’s snorting out loud and raising a hand to flick Kuroo on the forehead, hard. “That was so bad.”

“Okay, listen—”

“Neither of us even like coff—”

Wait. “Wait.” Kuroo blinks. His heartbeat is in his mouth. “Is that a yes.”

“Maybe,” Yaku parrots back immediately. But there’s the barest, slightest tinge of pink blooming over his cheeks and he’s kind-of-not-really looking at Kuroo and oh. Oh. Kuroo’s stomach is apparently an aspiring acrobat, now.

“Ooh-kay,” he drags out slowly, listening to the giddy rush of blood in his ears. He pulls a card out his breast pocket with practiced ease and flashes a grin. Brandishes it. “Well. Get back to me when you make up your mind. Here’s my card.”

“I hate you.” Yaku’s smiling as he takes the card anyways.

“I hate you too.”

Yaku takes a step forward, suddenly. And the jasmine and the citrus and the everything bludgeons his senses at full force again as Kuroo stares up at him, blinking. Not-gaping. Blinking again. Yaku just hums, lips twitching. Voice giddy and unfairly low when he says, “no you don’t.”

Kuroo’s brain is fogging at their proximity. “Russia changed you,” he manages weakly

“Maybe it did,” Yaku murmurs, before he tugs on Kuroo’s tie and leans down to kiss him.

An undignified noise of surprise escapes him, and oh, that’s the soft outline of Yaku’s smile against his mouth and oh; it’s—it’s everything. Yaku’s mouth, warm and sweet. His own heart, stuttering out his chest as he anchors his arms to Yaku’s waist. The honeyed feel to the air, trapping time in its clutches until it’s just this. Them. Now.

When they break apart, Kuroo’s grinning so hard his cheeks ache.

“Hey,” he starts, because he can’t resist. “Was that your first time being the taller—ow ow ow, that hurts—”

“Shut up,” Yaku mutters, releasing the pinch. But he’s biting back a smile, too. Hands still resting quietly at the base of Kuroo’s neck, playing with his hair. They stare at each other for a long, quiet second that stretches out like taffy. Childish. Sweet. Pumping liquid sugar into his veins.

“Kai’s going to have a field day,” Kuroo realizes aloud.

Yaku barks out a laugh at that. Shakes his head, smiling. “Yeah. We should get him something.”

They should buy Kai a gift, probably. A pet. A car. A damn house, really, for putting up with whatever emotionally constipated bullshit they’ve been cooking up since fifteen. But for now—

Kuroo looks. And keeps looking. For now, his mind is stuck to the tender curve of Yaku’s mouth. The unbridled fondness seeping out his eyes. For now, there’s that voice in his head saying idiots. Absolute fucking idiots. For now, Yaku’s hands in his hair. A fading heat on his mouth. Jasmine. Citrus. He pulls Yaku down again, grinning.

Yeah. His eyes flutter shut. It can wait.