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just like a tattoo (i'll always have you)

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☆      ☆      ☆

The distant rumble of an engine gets Kei’s skin buzzing, a phantom vibration under his fingertips. His pupils constrict and dilate when bright white headlights loom and then fade in his rearview mirror.

Kei blinks the glare out of his eyes. Just a truck passing by. The corner of Kei’s mouth presses down in displeasure when he realizes that he’s….disappointed. How pathetic.

It’s two am on a Friday night, and the block is desolate. The mere sight of Kei’s flashers is enough to silence the entire street, now that the presence of a police car means so much more than it used to. Crime has plummeted since Chief Sawamura took over the police department and shut down the most prominent gangs in the city. As Sawamura likes to boast, trouble is hard to come by these days. It's not Kei's style to go looking for trouble. But he has been half-hoping all night for trouble to find him.

"Tsukishima." Sugawara's voice crackles over the radio.


"Everything going okay?"

"Yes, Sugawara-san. There hasn't been any sign of them."

There are a few names for who Kei is referring to. They call themselves Nekoma because of their tattoos—feral claw marks over their hearts. Others call them the 12 O'Clocks because of the way they ride. Stupidly dangerous, with their bikes dropped straight back and front wheels in the air at 12 o'clock.

Sawamura's name for them? Trouble.

They're not dangerous in the traditional sense, but they're not exactly harmless either. Unlike the other gangs that once plagued the city, Nekoma has no history of violence. They've never hurt anyone, except for the police department's pride. And they ride the streets like they own the city, which doesn't sit well with the cops either.

Kei was on traffic duty when he first encountered the man known only as Kuroo, the infamous leader of the biker gang. Kei remembers nothing about that night except for a black motorcycle weaving in and out of neon yellow lanes at twice the speed limit before fading into the black night.

For the first time since earning his badge, Kei felt frustration when Kuroo taunted him with their little game of cat and mouse. For the first time in a long time, he felt excitement.

He's volunteered to stake out the corner of 33rd and Charles, a rumored epicenter of Nekoma activity. Not that it'll make much of a difference—they're only ever seen when they want to be noticed. The gang is shrouded in myth and legend, their identities unknown. Only through anecdotes and grainy videos does their presence linger beyond the night.

☆      ☆      ☆

"Daichi, this is bad," Sugawara says, pressing a button to transfer yet another call to a different dispatcher.

The police chief tenses instinctively at the strain in Sugawara's voice. "What's the matter?"

"We've gotten twenty calls in the past five minutes about reckless bikers."

"Do you think it's–"

"Has to be. Listen, they're sporadic. No sign of localization, they all seem to be moving independently. From what I can tell, there's a lot of them, but it's impossible to pinpoint where they are. By the time we get the call, it's too late. They could be anywhere."

Daichi grips the steering wheel tighter. This isn't the time to wish he had a bigger police force, even though more pairs of eyes are precisely what he needs right now.

"We'll do our best," he says curtly. "Thank you."

The unmistakable growl of a motorcycle whizzes past Daichi's parked vehicle, kickstarting his heart into overdrive. He floors the engine to give chase and dials police dispatch.

"911, what's your emergency?"

Instead of Sugawara's gentle, soothing voice, the other dispatcher answers his call.

"Oikawa, can you put Sugawara on the line?"

"He's busy. Can't you talk to me?"

The tiniest whine lilts Oikawa's voice, even in this urgent situation.

"I'm chasing after a biker right now. Most likely one of them. Send Kageyama’s unit for reinforcement."

"Yes sir," Oikawa replies promptly.

☆      ☆      ☆

It’s him.

Kuroo recognizes the license plate from a distance. It’s his favorite cop, the one who doesn't give up the chase when his car is surrounded and he's twenty miles outside of his precinct. This guy, he drives as dangerously as the bikers, just on the opposite side of the law. Kuroo suspects that he enjoys the chase just as much as they do.

He reaches up in the air to give his members a hand signal, and they nod, revving their engines to follow him.

☆      ☆      ☆

Kei hears the indistinct growl of motors coming from every direction. He switches his headlights on only to see at least two dozen motorcycles pouring out from the alleys on either side of the street.

"Tsukishima!" Hinata's voice squawks over the radio. "We're following them down 33rd, I think they're headed your way!"


Before hanging up, Kei hears a shout of “Watch the road, dumbass!” Rarely does Kei ever question Sawamura's judgment, but sometimes he wonders if it was a wise decision to pair Hinata and Kageyama as a unit.

Kei prefers to work alone, but when he can't, Tadashi is the only classmate from police academy he can tolerate partnering with. Working with Kageyama and Hinata is like hurtling headlong towards catastrophe, just to veer away at the very last second.

"Why'd you hang up on us?" Hinata whines no less than sixty seconds later.

"I'm chasing them," Kei grits out through clenched teeth. He's followed the biker gang from the city to the highway, which is eerily desolate at this time of night. "Is Hinata driving and talking? What the hell is Kageyama doing?"

"Oi, listen–"

Sometimes Kei can't believe how easy it is to string Kageyama along. He hangs up before they get in trouble for wasting precious airwaves again.

To be fair, Kei lets himself be strung along too sometimes. Or more accurately, he lets a certain Kuroo Tetsurou pull him into their little game of cat and mouse that’s apparently becoming a regular activity. He’s never seen Kuroo’s face, but he recognizes him by the way he rides: brash, even by Nekoma’s standards.

It’s definitely him. Kei finds himself entranced by Kuroo’s silhouette as he rides out in front of Kei’s police car. He's close enough for Kei to see the black leather jacket stretched tight across Kuroo's broad back, even the contours of his shoulder blades. The biker leans hard to take a sharp turn. Kei is almost sure that the motorcycle will flip over, but he swings upright at the very last second. Just like a cat landing on its feet.

Don’t hang up on me, asshole!” Tsukishima can vividly imagine the struggle between Kageyama and Hinata for the radio speaker occurring at this very moment. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?

“Doing my job,” Kei mutters, carelessly pressing his accelerator when Kuroo pulls further ahead. “Kind of.”

Kei is so fixated on Kuroo—keeping up with him and watching his every move—that he doesn’t realize how fast his own vehicle is moving. A glance down at his speedometer tells him that they’re pushing speeds that are beyond illegal, but now that they’re on the expressway, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s so tempting to forget about laws and law enforcement, just to focus on this moment with Kuroo. Kei isn’t the type of person to ignore his responsibilities, but Kuroo makes him want to be.

His vehicle is surrounded now by bikers swerving in and out of his path. It takes all of his concentration to keep track of Kuroo in his black motorcycle jacket as a sea of bikers rises to drown him.

And then, a mass dispersal. The bikers pull away and scatter. Ahead of Kei now is just an empty road, no man or vehicle in sight.

He hears a knock on his window.

☆      ☆      ☆

Kuroo has his attention now. They're driving side by side, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five above the speed limit like it's some kind of race. The cop stares stubbornly ahead, refusing to look at Kuroo, but Kuroo is sure that Kei knows he's there. The car doesn't waver above or below Kuroo's speed, so he's knows that he's captured Kei’s attention.

"Tsukishima, huh?" Kuroo grins, watching the man's silhouette through the tinted window.

He found out the guy's name through Akaashi, whose tattoo parlor is on the corner of Charles and 33rd, where Tsukishima is stationed every Friday night. Kuroo hasn't seen him with his own eyes yet, but according to Akaashi, Tsukishima's skin would look divine inked with tattoos. Kuroo isn't sure what that means, but he wants to judge for himself.

Kuroo pulls even closer to Tsukishima's vehicle, so close that sparks fly. He knocks on Tsukishima's window again, knocks on it until the cop finally rolls his window down. At last, Kuroo gets a good luck at the cop, his favorite cop, who's a little more persistent than the rest, a little more willing to take risks. Kuroo likes what he sees.

He lifts the visor of his own helmet so that Tsukishima can see his face and calls out to him, "Give Sawamura my love, Tsukki!"

With a wink at the stunned cop, Kuroo accelerates and disappears into the night.

☆      ☆      ☆

The tension in the room is palpable. Sawamura's disappointment is etched in his premature wrinkles when Kei returns to headquarters empty-handed. The rest of the officers are already lined up, also having spent the past hour on equally disappointing wild goose chases.

It’s quiet, eyes are down. Kageyama is the first to break the silence.

"You let him get away," he growls at Kei.

"They all got away," Kei replies flatly.

"No, you let him get away. As in you could have caught him, but you chose not to. You were right next to him!"

“Now, now, Tobio,” Oikawa tries to intercede. “I'm sure that Captain Tsukishima was just doing his job.”

“If you were close enough to see, why didn't you help me?” Kei asks. He's silently grateful that Oikawa takes special care to temper Kageyama's fiery attitude.

“We're not going to point fingers here,” Sawamura decides. “I’d like to hear both sides of the story. Major?”

“We were trying to follow Tsukishima as his back-up but we got distracted, sir!” Hinata pipes in.

“He was talking to me, dumbass,” Kageyama hisses.

“Sorry, Kageyama! I forgot that you're a major now, too!”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Boys, please,” Sawamura sighs. “I won't ask what ‘distracted’ means, but don't let it happen again. And what about you, Captain?”

“He got away….sir,” Kei explains quietly.

He doesn't offer any further explanation because he doesn't quite understand what happened himself. All he can recall from the moment is wind on his face and a sharp black pair of eyes staring out at him from the darkness. The other details are lost memories, but those eyes, they were unforgettable.

☆      ☆      ☆

“Bokuto, you can tell Akaashi that he was right.”


Kuroo wipes the polishing rag across the gleaming black body of his motorcycle one last time and then steps back to admire his handiwork. “I need that wrench now. Switch?”

He crumples the dirty cloth into a ball and tosses it across the garage to Bokuto, who catches it and throws his wrench back in return. Akaashi steps into the garage just as Kuroo narrowly avoids getting hit in the face by the hurtling piece of metal. It slams into the wall behind him and lands on the ground with a noisy clatter.

“That was an awful toss,” Kuroo complains.

“Hey!” Bokuto whines. “You’re just bad at catching!”

“I’m not sure what I just saw, but I’m going to leave now,” Akaashi announces as he excuses himself, face pale as a sheet.

“Wait, no! Please don’t go, Akaashi!” Bokuto drops the tools in his hands and bounds toward the tattoo artist, arms wide open. Akaashi recoils when he sees that Bokuto’s bare, muscular arms are slick with black grease.

“Bokuto, no, you’re covered in oil–”

Akaashi’s protests are muffled by Bokuto’s shoulder as he holds him in a tight embrace.

“I missed you so much, Akaashi.”

“I saw you yesterday, Bokuto-san.”

“This house is so cold and empty when you’re not here,” Bokuto sighs.

“Bokuto-san, I lived alone in this house for six years before you moved in.”

Kuroo averts his attention back to his motorcycle. It amazes him that they can still greet each other like they haven’t seen each other in years, even if it’s been less than a day. But what defies his understanding the most is the sacrifices they’ve made for each other. Bokuto quit biking for Akaashi, whose greatest concern has always been the safety of his klutzy partner. He’s still affiliated with the gang in other ways, but he doesn’t participate in their stupidly dangerous stunts anymore.

Kuroo’s the type of person who needs to push himself until he’s within an inch of death just to feel alive. He doesn’t have a family, or at least anyone he cares about enough to protect his own life. Kuroo can’t imagine quitting his favorite distraction for the sake of another person. It’s the only thing that forces him into the present tense, reminding him that he exists. At this point, he’s so much of an adrenaline junkie that high speed chases don’t do much for him anymore.

But Tsukki, that pale young cop—being chased by him makes Kuroo feel so alive. In a way, Tsukishima Kei is Kuroo’s new high.

“By the way, Akaashi,” Kuroo announces. “Bokuto and I were just talking about you before you came in.”

“We were?” Bokuto asks, lifting his face from where it was nuzzled in Akaashi’s hair.

“Yeah,” Kuroo continues. “Remember that cop guy you told me about, Tsukishima?”

“What about him?” Akaashi asks politely.

“You were right about his skin. It is fucking divine.”

“Who’s divine?” Bokuto demands.

“That policeman Kuroo is preoccupied with, Bokuto-san. And you’re putting words in my mouth, Kuroo-san.”

“Ohhh, that guy.” Bokuto nods in understanding. “Are you seeing him again soon?”

“Maybe tonight if anyone’s bored,” Kuroo shrugs. “I think that Yaku mentioned wanting to blow off some steam.”

“Is that why you came here for a new paint job?” Bokuto teases. “So you could impress your little cop?”

It suddenly strikes Kuroo that they’re talking as if he’s taking Tsukki on a date. Which isn’t too far from the truth, now that Kuroo thinks about it. This fixation on Tsukki, Kuroo begins to realize, almost feels like a crush.

☆      ☆      ☆

Bright white floodlights approach in the corner of Kuroo's vision, and he swerves into darkness to avoid them.

“Don’t you love Friday night lights, Tsukki?” Kuroo mutters under his breath. “They were my favorite part of high school.”

His heart beats faster when he feels the rumble of Tsukki’s engine behind him, and it's not just because he's been weaving in and out of traffic lanes all night. It's because Tsukki, being chased by Tsukki, makes Kuroo feel like he could really get hooked on being alive.

But this feeling, this crush, it dulls his other senses. His heart is thumping in his ears, so loud that he doesn't hear the other sirens approaching from behind him. Kuroo's little game for two has a few dozen extra players now that reinforcements have been called in to corral the rogue bikers. His careful chaos is slipping out of his control.

Kuroo doesn't hear the rest of his gang coming up close and crossing into each other's paths in their attempts to escape. Someone turns too sharply and Kuroo reacts a second too late to veer out of the way.

For a long split-second, Kuroo is numb. Sounds and sights are melting away from his awareness, except….his bike. It's gone. The last thing that registers in Kuroo’s mind is that his bike is no longer beneath him.

☆      ☆      ☆

Kuroo slowly blinks awake to an unfamiliar ceiling, and then the pain sinks in. It's an effusive ache that he feels in every part of his body, down to his bones. It's like every moment of pain in his life Kuroo has ever made himself numb to is manifesting itself at once.

He screams as loudly as he can.

“Calm down, you'll wake the neighbors.”

A vaguely familiar face looms over him.

Kuroo's throat suddenly feels dry. “Tsukki….?” he asks hoarsely.

“Who said that you could call me that?” Kei frowns.

A surreal feeling of warmth wells up inside Kuroo, and he can't help but smile.

“So I can call you Tsukki, right?”

“No,” Kei refuses flatly. “You can call me officer, or you can call me Officer Tsukishima.”

“Tough choice….officer,” Kuroo says, letting the word roll suggestively off his tongue.

Kei bristles and says, “I don’t know how you make it sound so….provocative. I change my mind, you can just call me Tsukishima.”

“Is everything alright?” a worried-looking nurse asks as he rushes into the room.

“Everything’s fine, Kindaichi-san, thank you,” Kei says.

“Okay, I'll let Dr. Iwaizumi know that Kuroo-san is awake.”

During the exchange, Kuroo's recollections slowly catch up to him. “Where is everyone?” he asks, looking around the empty hospital room. “Why are you here?”

“Aren't you interested in knowing why you're here?” Kei asks back.

“Okay, why am I here?”

“You fell off your bike,” Kei says bluntly, but his face is troubled as he explains, “You swerved out of the way, and your bike flipped over.”

“Am I….dead?” Kuroo asks in awe. “Is this….hell?”

Kei stares at him in a shocked silence, until Kuroo breaks into a grin. “Just kidding,” he chuckles. “I know this isn’t hell, because you’re here. But why exactly are you here?”

“I called an ambulance for you. Kuroo-san, you almost died.”

“I've heard that line before. Kuroo-san, huh? You can just call me Testurou.”

Kei ignores him, his cheeks feeling warm. “You’re taking this well,” he mutters. “You’ve been unconscious for most of the weekend, and the first thing you do when you wake up is scream bloody murder. I’m sure Dr. Iwaizumi will be pleased when he hears that you’re well on your way to recovery.”

“I apologize, officer,” Kuroo says smoothly. “The first thing I should have done was to thank you for saving my life.”

Pain rips through his entire body when Kuroo leans forward to reach for Kei’s hand, bringing it to his lips. He peeks through his eyelashes to catch a glimpse of Kei blushing furiously.

“That must have hurt,” Kei remarks, snatching his hand away.

“I can handle the pain. I’m a grown man.”

“That’s what your parents think, too.”

The grin slips away from Kuroo’s face. “You talked to my parents?”

“Your parents paid off your misdemeanor charges and your hospital fees, but they’re not going to take responsibility for your actions in the future, Kuroo-san.”

“So my folks don’t want to clean up my messes anymore, huh?” Kuroo asks quietly. “Serves me right.”

Kei usually has little sympathy for people like Kuroo who live recklessly and destroy their own lives on a whim. But while Kuroo was unconscious, Kei spent hours on the phone trying to find anyone who cared about him enough to clean up this mess. It almost broke his heart to discover that no one, not even Kuroo’s own parents, had the time to nurse Kuroo back to health.

Both their heads turn when they hear a quiet knock on the door.

“Mind if I come in?” a young, athletic-looking doctor asks.

“Hello, Dr. Iwaizumi. Of course,” Kei answers.

Iwaizumi examines Kuroo’s condition, explaining his injuries to him. Concussion, minor blood loss, a broken elbow, surgery performed on both knees. Kuroo listens mindlessly, like the doctor is talking about someone else. It doesn’t register at first that Iwaizumi is talking about him.

“From what I hear, your natural vitality is remarkable,” Iwaizumi tells him once the examination is complete. “Not many people would have the energy to scream so loudly right after waking up from a short coma. You must have given Officer Tsukishima quite a scare. He’s been at your bedside for two days straight.”

Kuroo glances curiously at Kei, whose gaze is fixed on his own shoes.

“I’m not sure if you know the details of your crash,” Iwaizumi continues, “but I was just told that you somehow managed to land in a grassy spot behind the guard rail. If you had crashed on the road, my team would have had a bit more trouble putting you back together. You’re pretty lucky, Kuroo-san.”

“I am,” Kuroo agrees, still watching Kei. The younger man peeks up at him and then looks back down when he realizes that Kuroo’s eyes are still on him. “I’m a very lucky man.”

“As for your discharge, you should be good to go fairly soon. Since you’ll be in a wheelchair for the next six months, Officer Tsukishima has generously offered you a place in his home until you’re ready to live independently again.”

“He has?” Kuroo asks incredulously. His eyes widen when Kei gives a tiny nod in confirmation.

Iwaizumi smiles warmly at them and announces, “Best of luck with your recovery. Please let me know if you have any concerns.”

“Wait, doctor,” Kei says suddenly as Iwaizumi strides towards the door.


“Oikawa-san wanted me to ask you what you wanted for dinner.”

Iwaizumi sighs with fond exasperation and says, “I’ll call him about it. Thanks for letting me know, officer.”

When the doctor has left, Kei explains, “His husband is a dispatcher at the police station.”

Kuroo nods absently, and then he asks, “Was what the doctor said true? That you’ll let me stay with you for the next six months?”

For some reason, Kei goes on the defensive. “That’s only because my apartment is on the first floor, and it’s easier that way,” he sputters.

“Of course it is.”

“No other reason.”

“Of course not.”

Kei compresses his lips into a stubborn, hard line.



“Thank you.”

He finally looks over at Kuroo, and he’s surprised to see the sincerity in Kuroo’s shining black eyes.

“You’re welcome,” he mumbles, feeling a warmth in his chest.

☆      ☆      ☆

Kuroo notices that Kei is almost bashful when he shows him around his modest apartment.

“It isn’t much,” Kei says almost apologetically, “but you’re stuck here.”

“It’s perfect.”

“But don’t get too comfortable, because you’re leaving as soon as your legs heal.”

Kuroo grins and asks, “So where’s the bedroom?”

Kei pushes his wheelchair towards a door tucked away at the end of a narrow hallway. Inside is a plain bedroom with a few photos and a map of the world taped to the wall.

“That’s the bed?”

“Is it not to your liking?” Kei asks sarcastically.

Kuroo scrutinizes it for a moment before deciding, “It might be a squeeze for the both of us, but as long as you hold me close we should be okay.”

“You’re kidding, right?”


“But...we can’t share a bed!”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re both men!”

“Officer, almost everybody I know is gay.”

“Well, me too, but—“

“So what’s the problem?”

Kei scowls. “I’ve got an air mattress in my closet. I’ll be sleeping in the living room.”

He leaves Kuroo in the bedroom and stomps off to the kitchen to make dinner.

“Well, this isn’t so bad,” Kuroo murmurs to himself as he surveys Kei’s bookshelf for an interesting title.

He’s puzzled by what he finds in Kei’s collection. An entire shelf is occupied by old issues of National Geographic, and the rest of the bookshelf is filled with a random assortment of textbooks, legal dictionaries, and other reference books. Several volumes of poetry too, but hardly a novel in sight.

The only piece of prose he can find is a battered old volume of Alice in Wonderland.

“Who are you, Tsukishima Kei?” Kuroo asks aloud. Curiouser and curiouser.

The sky outside the window is a dim blue when Kuroo closes the book, memorizing the page number. A delicious scent wafts in from the hallway, and he follows it back to the kitchen.

“What’s cooking?”

“Oh, I was just about to call for you. Dinner’s ready.”

Kei serves him tonkatsu with shredded cabbage and a bowl of light chicken broth with tofu and black mushroom.

“You made this yourself?” Kuroo asks curiously.


Kuroo takes a voracious bite of tonkatsu and groans, “This is fucking amazing. I think I love you.”

“Thanks,” Kei grumbles, but he’s secretly pleased. For some reason, Kuroo’s approval fills him with a fluttery feeling. He tries not to think about it too much.

Their dinner conversation is mostly one-sided with Kuroo rambling about his family and his friends from high school. His background isn’t so different from Kei’s, although Kuroo comes from old money. Still, he had to suffer through the public education system in a small town not too far from Kei’s. And they both came to the city for the same reason: for a breath of fresh air.

“Do you have any siblings, officer?”

A shadow passes over Kei’s face before he answers curtly, “Yes.”

“Older? Younger?”

“Older. He’s almost thirty now.”

“Does he also live in the city?”

“No, he lives abroad.” Kei hesitates before elaborating, “He went to law school in England.”

Kuroo whistles. “Impressive. Is he practicing law now?”

“No. My parents have always been enamored with the idea of having a lawyer as a son, so they were so proud when he got into law school. In England, no less.”

“Let me guess, he dropped out?”

“Yeah,” Kei confirms bitterly. “But he never told our parents. He still writes letters home about how successful he’s been, how he’s an associate partner at a big law firm. My parents saved enough money for me to visit him, and that’s when I found out that he dropped out of school to pursue his love for writing.”

“Is he happy now?”

Out of everything Kuroo could have said, that question was what Kei expected the least. When he thinks about Akiteru, all he can think of is the disappointment of seeing his older brother, his hero failing to meet expectations. He’s never actually taken Akiteru’s happiness into consideration.

“I….don’t know,” Kei admits. “He writes for a newspaper now. I think he’s a sports columnist.”

“So he’s making a living as a writer?”

“I guess….”

“Then you should be proud of your brother, because I can’t think of anything more successful than earning a living while doing what you love the most.”

Kei’s almost afraid that Kuroo is teasing him, but Kuroo’s eyes are dead serious.

“What about you, Tsukki?” Kuroo asks kindly. “Are you happy?”

Kei shrugs, and Kuroo nods sagely. “Fair enough, that’s a tough question. Let me ask instead, why did you decide to become a police officer? There’s a lot of jobs out there that are just as respectable and far less dangerous.”

“I like that about the job. The danger, I mean,” Kei admits. “I don’t mind putting myself at risk because it gives my life some meaning, you know?”

It’s the first time Kei has admitted as much out loud. He doesn’t know why he’s spilling his personal feelings to Kuroo Tetsurou of all people, but for some reason, he feels like Kuroo understands. They may be on opposite sides of the law, but they’re two parts of the same whole.

☆      ☆      ☆

Kei wakes up exhausted after suffering from a plague of thoughts about Kuroo all night. Semi-conscious, Kei pads quietly down the hall to check his bedroom just to make sure that Kuroo wasn’t just an elaborate nightmare.

The door creaks, and Kuroo stirs in his sleep. “Tsukki….” he mumbles.


The man’s eyes flutter open, and he grins sleepily at Kei. “Thank god,” Kuroo sighs in relief. “I thought you were just a dream.”

“I have to go to work in an hour.”

“Alright, have fun,” Kuroo mumbles, turning over to go back to sleep.

“Let me rephrase that. I need to give you a bath, and you need to cooperate because I’m going to work in an hour.”

“Oh?” Kuroo raises his eyebrow. “What did I do to deserve such a luxury?”

“You’re starting to stink,” Kei tells him flatly.

Kei helps him strip down, trying not to stare at the muscles flowing in Kuroo’s shoulders and abdomen. But he’s entranced by the tattoos sprawling across Kuroo’s back, an elaborate black design with intricate spikes and curves and edges. And covering his left pectoral, red tattooed claw marks.

“Like them? They’re Akaashi Keiji originals. The man’s a fucking genius.” Kuroo points to the claw marks over his heart. “Everyone in Nekoma gets this tattoo when they join the gang.”

“Matching tattoos, how cute,” Kei remarks sardonically.

He lowers Kuroo into the bathtub as gently as possible, taking care to avoid nudging any of Kuroo’s numerous bruises.

“It hurts,” Kuroo groans, and Kei’s heart lurches.

“Where does it hurt?”

“Here.” Kuroo grabs Kei’s hand and places it over his heart. “A kiss might make it better.”

“Shut up,” Kei grumbles. He does his best to ignore the desire stirring deep inside him. It doesn’t help that Kuroo is naked and flushed and shamelessly flirty.

“Aren’t you fond of me? I’m fond of you,” Kuroo purrs, shivering when Kei dabs at the back of his neck with a damp washcloth.

“It’s probably just Stockholm syndrome,” Kei mutters.

When Kuroo’s clean and dry, Kei gives him a loose old turtleneck that fits him just right.

“Some house rules before I leave for work,” Kei announces. “No leaving the house, no calling friends over, no ordering movies on pay-per-view, and no doing anything that will get you arrested again.”

“Can you drop me off at Akaashi’s place before you go to work?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Even my parents gave me more freedom than you do!” Kuroo whines.

☆      ☆      ☆

“Why don’t you arrest him?” Kageyama demands when Kei explains his new living arrangement with Kuroo to the rest of the police department.

“Kageyama, I can’t just arrest him,” Kei says patiently.

“Why not? He’s caused so much trouble for us, you should just arrest him already!”

“That’s not how it works.”

“Then can I arrest him for you?”

Kei hasn’t trusted Kageyama’s judgment ever since Kageyama and Hinata got so fed up with one another during a mission that they tried to arrest each other. At some point, Sawamura had no choice but to handcuff them to each other until they decided to cooperate again.

“My authority only goes so far,” Sawamura warns. “I can’t forbid you from housing a gang leader since he’s no longer a wanted criminal. All I can say is be careful, Tsukishima. People like him can be dangerous, so I hope that you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Why are you being so nice to him, Tsukishima?” Hinata asks. “That’s so weird of you.”

“Yeah, how do we know that Tsukishima didn’t join the biker gang?” Kageyama adds.

“That’s enough, boys,” Sawamura sighs. “I’m sure Captain Tsukishima knows what he’s doing. Let’s just review our agenda for this week.”

Unwarranted thoughts of Kuroo float in and out of Kei’s mind all day. He finds himself worrying about Kuroo more than necessary, but what troubles Kei the most is his irrational fear that Kuroo won’t be there when he gets back home.

By some miracle, he is.

“Welcome home,” Kuroo greets him, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. All of a sudden Kei realizes what people mean when they say that they love having someone to come home to.

“What do you want for dinner?”

“Anything you make would be amazing,” Kuroo grins.

Kei doesn’t mind cooking for two, especially since Kuroo makes it clear how much he enjoys the food. It’s almost unsettling how right it feels to have Kuroo in his home.

Days and nights melt into each other, and it’s like Kuroo has always belonged by Kei’s side. Eventually Kei lets his guard down around him and confides in Kuroo, whispering about his dreams and fears and revelations late into the night. Eventually Kei starts calling him “Tetsurou” and eventually Kuroo tells him late one evening, “I just really want to kiss you right now.”

They’re sitting on his bed together, poring over Kei’s high school yearbook.

“Why?” Kei asks, feeling his hands start to tremble.

“Stockholm syndrome?” Kuroo offers. He lifts the yearbook from Kei’s lap and places it on the nightstand. And then he rests his fingertips lightly against Kei’s soft cheek. “Can I kiss you, Tsukki?” he breathes.

“If you want to,” Kei murmurs.

Kuroo’s face is hovering close, but he’s just watching Kei through his eyelashes. He doesn’t want to rush Kei into it, he’s waiting for him to make the first move. Kei closes his eyes and leans in for the kiss. Kuroo’s lips are warm and soft, but hesitant like he still isn’t sure if Kei wants to kiss him or not. So Kei makes it clear by threading his fingers through Kuroo’s hair to bring him closer, moving his lips against Kuroo’s and grabbing a fistful of his shirt.

The kiss leaves Kei breathless, and he’s panting by the time they part for air. All the worry and pain and other shapeless, inarticulate feelings building inside him are suddenly acute. Kei kisses Kuroo again, hoping to make the pain disappear but mostly because he doesn’t know what else to do.

He’s rough and sloppy in his desperation, and Kuroo takes his hands and whispers, “Kei. Kei darling, what’s wrong? Tell me, what’s the matter?”

“Do you know what month it is?” Kei asks hoarsely, avoiding Kuroo’s eyes.

“March? But what’s so important about March? Oh wait!” Kuroo suddenly realizes, “Akiteru’s coming back for his thirtieth birthday this month, isn’t he?”

“Not just that. It’s March, which means you’ll be out of your wheelchair soon.”

“So you’ll finally be able to get rid of me. Isn’t that a good thing?” Kuroo grins. His smile shrinks when he realizes how tightly Kei is clutching onto his hand.

Kei says slowly, hesitantly, “I know my apartment probably isn’t as nice as what you’re used to, but when you’re here it feels like a home.”

He turns a violent pink as soon as he makes his confession, frowning when Kuroo only stares back at him in awe. “Say something, you idiot,” Kei whines.

“I love you too, Kei.”

☆      ☆      ☆

Kuroo isn’t exactly the type of person Akiteru ever imagined his baby brother dating. He’s huge—not quite as tall as Kei, but way more broad and rebellious looking. Akiteru is frankly intimidated by Kuroo, but their mother is smitten with him. Kuroo apparently attended a very prestigious university, but Akiteru still isn’t sure what he does for a living. He’ll have to ask Kei for details later.

“So how exactly did you and Kei meet?” Akiteru asks, ladling miso soup into everyone’s bowls.

“Tsukki saved my life,” Kuroo declares proudly. He beams at their mother, who has fallen completely captive to Kuroo’s charms at this point. “I got into a bad motorcycle accident, which is why I’m in a wheelchair now. Tsukki was the first to arrive at the scene, and he’s been nursing me back to health ever since.”

“You make me sound like a hero or something,” Kei mumbles.

“That’s because you are! You’ve protected so many lives, even guys like me who don’t deserve to be protected.”

Akiteru has always worried about whether or not his younger brother would find someone he could be in a happy, healthy relationship with. Now, he’s not so worried. But he still pulls Kei aside after dinner to whisper nervously, “If that guy ever does anything to hurt you….I will personally fight him.”

Kei looks surprised for a moment before breaking into a grin, the first genuine one Akiteru has seen in years. “Thank you, niisan. But I don’t think you have anything to worry about anymore. Kuroo’s a good guy.”

“I’m glad,” Akiteru says, visibly relieved now. “You deserve to be happy, Kei.”

When Kei finds Kuroo in his childhood bedroom, Kuroo is admiring the collection of dinosaur figurines lined up across Kei’s desk. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, he’s ready to defend himself when Kuroo asks, “What’s your favorite dinosaur?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ve always liked the stegosaurus,” Kuroo says thoughtfully. “Anyways, I’m ready for bed, are you?”

Once they’re under Kei’s old quilt, Kuroo brings his lips close to Kei’s ear and whispers, “Do you keep handcuffs in this bedroom, too?”

“Shut up, or I’ll arrest you,” Kei hisses back, flustered.

Kuroo kisses him, smiling against his lips. Then he brings Kei’s hand up to his lips to kiss his knuckles, and then he leans down to kiss the red claw marks tattooed over Kei’s heart.