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The road may be long but the company is not that bad

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Kei got assaulted on his third day of high school.

“No,” he said with certain finality. Because if there was one thing he was absolutely sure he did not want to do, it was to join the volleyball club.

The captain of said club leaned back, bracing his arms against the desk in front of Kei’s. It was lunch time, so the classroom was almost empty. But those who did remain were not very subtle about the looks they kept sneaking at the alpha.

It made sense, of course. Nekoma team was nowhere near the strongest in Tokyo, but it was known. Especially now that the old coach had returned and put the stop to the steady decline. Some even speculated they might make it to nationals this year.

The glances could also be attributed to Kuroo Tetsurou being ridiculously handsome despite the atrocious bed hair and exuding the kind of easy confidence that was attractive rather than oppressive. Subjected to it, Kei had to stop his hands from curling into fists when the alpha just kept looking at him, full lips curled up in faint amusement. “And why not?”

Kei gave him the most dazzling fake smile he could manage. “Kuroo-san, don’t you know? Omegas have no place in sports. It is a simple fact.”

“What I know is that you are tall and you know how to play.”

“Look around. Plenty of alphas are tall. Surely most of them also have enough brain cells to learn the rules? And if they can’t… Well, brute force always seems to work for your kind.”

Whatever reaction Kei had been expecting from the insult, it hadn’t been Kuroo letting out an easy laugh. “I’m sure it does. But unlike you, I’m not very concerned with secondary genders.”

Of course he wasn’t. He was an alpha, after all. But saying that out loud would have meant admitting things Kei barely acknowledged in the safe confines of his own mind, so he bit his tongue. “You’re not very concerned with the fact that I have no interest in joining your team either. My, what an alpha you are, truly.”

“So you’ve said. But is that the truth?” Pushing up from the desk, offensive sheet of paper still in hand, Kuroo leaned closer; close enough that he must have felt Kei’s sharp intake of breath. “Or could it be that you’re afraid?”

Kei sneered. “Of alphas?”

“Of being weaker than us.”

Rage bubbled inside him, scalding and familiar. Viciously, Kei forced is back. Silenced it with an annoyed click of his tongue and a condescending tilt of his chin.

Naturally, Kuroo ignored all of it. “Instead of proving that omegas have no place in sports as you’re doing right now, why not prove that you can stand on equal footing with strongest of alphas by joining, hmmm?” His smile was dangerously knowing as he slid the club application form between Kei’s elbows on the desk. “Unless, of course, you think you can’t.”

Kuroo left the same way he came: ridiculously graceful and silent on his feet despite obvious slouching. Once the door slid close behind him, Kei looked down at the blank lines on a white sheet of paper.

His nails bit painfully into his palms.

He had thought he had left it all behind. That he had come to peace with his ambition, readjusted it according to the stark awakening reality. He had been so sure his childish foolish dreams had been left behind, crushed brutally then locked away in his past. He had thought that after Akiteru…

He had thought many things after Akiteru.

But, apparently, when challenged, none of those things mattered.

Damn you, Kuroo Tetsurou.

Because few moments later, he picked a pen and started writing.

 

-

 

That stupid impulsive decision haunted Kei all the way home, nagged at him throughout dinner, during which he studiously ignored the concerned looks from his mother who must’ve scented something, and snagged his attention away from homework. He even considered sneaking into the teachers’ office in the middle of the night to steal the damn form he’d dropped there after school. Then he sadly remembered the look on his homeroom teacher’s face and knew that with paperwork magically missing, he would be approached with questions like, “Were you bullied into quitting, Tsukishima-kun?” and “Do you want me to talk to the coaches?” and that was so not worth it.

Being an omega sucked. Good thing he was used to it.

“Tsukki?”

Kei’s attention snapped to his phone screen, where his best friend was patiently waiting for his inner crisis to be over.

Yamaguchi was what Kei missed most about Sendai.

Tsukishima family had moved to Tokyo a few months back, after Kei’s father got a job offer he would have been a fool to refuse. It took some travelling back and forth, that with Kei finishing junior high and a new fiscal year starting, but now their old house in Miyagi had finally been sold and they were slowly settling into the new one. Adjusting to the city life, including long commutes to school in rush hours, had been easy.

Adjusting to the life without Yamaguchi’s physical presence in it was not.

Kei felt it especially keenly that evening.

Their communication had become fully virtual. Frequent messages throughout the day, keeping each other entertained and updated. Today Yamaguchi had told him, nervous and fidgeting visibly from it, that he had joined Karasuno volleyball team. The same one Akiteru had gone to, had lied about, was forced to quit. So it was in order to stop the alpha from a potential heart attack at the age of fifteen that Tsukishima told him about joining Nekoma.

Yamaguchi’s entire freckled face lit up. “…oh!”

Before Yamaguchi could ask any questions about the team, or worse, Kei’s feelings about it, Kei said, “You done with the last exercise?”

They’d been in the middle of doing English when Yamaguchi’s confession interrupted things. This had become a sort of routine, after Yamaguchi had had a mild panic attack on the first day of school. Having been accepted into college prep class, he had become frustratingly certain he would fail. Since Kei was doing college prep too, he suggested joint study sessions, the same ones they had always had back in Miyagi. Yamaguchi grasped at the chance with alpha intensity and so video chats after dinner had become a daily thing.

Kei, for his part, felt grateful, even if he would never admit it out loud, to anyone. Yamaguchi’s chatter made the world, ironically, quiet. Listening to him, Kei felt at peace. Maybe it was alpha pheromones; Yamaguchi might never learn how to act like he was one, but nature was nature, and a part of Kei had always been aware of that.

It helped that Yamaguchi knew when to be silent, too.

Or, he did sometimes.

“Tsukki?” Yamaguchi said again, just as Kei hovered his finger over the hang up button, both having finished their assignments for the day. “I’m really glad. That you decided to do volleyball again, I mean.”

Kei ended the call without another word.

Of course Yamaguchi would be glad, Kei thought, slipping his headphones on as he laid down on his bed. He was there when Kei had witnessed his brother’s moment of shame and humiliation. And that was after he’d heard Kei repeat all the lies his brother had told him about alphas and omegas and volleyball.

He closed his eyes and sighed.

Well, at least volleyball would look good on his college application. Surely that was worth some struggle.

 

-

 

He rethought that statement many times the next morning.

Towel and water bottle in hands, Nekoma’s only other omega member approached Kei at the end of his first practice. Suspiciously, everyone else had already left for the locker room.

“Tsukishima, right?” Yaku asked as if Kei hadn’t been thoroughly introduced by Kuroo to the whole team.

Great, here comes the misguided and unasked-for attempt at omega bonding and solidarity, Kei thought but kept the eye-roll in check. It wouldn’t do to upset a senior on his first day. His ability to make adversaries fast was still something that could make Akiteru and Yamaguchi cry, but…

But Yaku Morisuke was a weird omega. Possibly weirder than Kei himself, and Kei was almost 190cm tall.

It didn’t take long into the practise for Kei to deduce that Yaku was the team mom. Whether it was instincts or his personality or a combination of both, his eyes followed each member of the team like they were his pups. He was there when encouragement was needed, gave advice freely and had confidence but lacked arrogance in being one of the most skilled liberos in the high school circle. How typically omega of him.

Except he also enjoyed kicking the rowdiest of alphas into submission. And they obeyed.

“Yaku-san,” Kei acknowledged, gratefully taking the towel Yaku had offered and wiped the sweat off his face. Nekoma took their practice very, very seriously, he had learned.

“This is going to be weird and embarrassing but better I than Kuroo.” Yaku paused, and shuddered. “Yeah, no. Definitely not Kuroo. Or worse, coach.”

“You want to know about my heats.” It wasn’t even a question. Being an omega, Kei was fucking used to it. Or used to being annoyed by it, anyway.

Yaku seemed to pick up on that. “I know it sucks, trust me, I do. But if your heats are irregular…”

“They’re not.”

“Suppressants?”

“When needed.”

One hand on his hip, the other pointing the water bottle at Kei’s chest, Yaku looked Kei square in the eyes. “Nekoma may not be the strongest, but we have a lot of connections in both Tokyo and outside it. A lot of our training camps are joined efforts with other schools. That means a lot of swaggering alphas high on aggression and other volatile emotions.”

“I’m not a newbie at this,” Kei sniped in annoyance. Just because he hated being an omega and didn’t act or look like one, didn’t mean he was going to settle for ignorance. Or denial. On the contrary, he was far, far too aware of all his shortcomings and disadvantages.

“You are at accepting you’re not less than them,” Yaku stated, ignoring the emotion on Kei’s face. “But we’ll work on that. My point is, suppressants are dangerous when overindulged in. I’m sure you’ve read the warnings, just as I’m sure you’ve ignored them. On this team? They will never be needed. If you need to skip, you skip. Practice, camp, match… It doesn’t matter. You feel your heat coming? You stay at home, or take the pills. It’s up to you and only you. No one on this team will hold it against you, ever.”

“That’s assuming I even make it to the regulars.” It didn’t take a genius to hear how much confidence he had in that: total zero, and that was fine.

“I know you don’t believe me, not yet anyway. But on this team, you claim a spot by proving your worth. Not by having whatever lucky genetics you were born with.”

This time, Kei really couldn’t help the sneer. “My, what an impressive welcoming speech. Does everyone get it, or just omegas?”

“Tsukishima,” Yaku said calmly, and exuded danger, of all things. “When I say you aren’t less than others, I do also mean I won’t be kicking you any less than others, you know.”

And Kei suddenly, inexplicably, felt like smiling.

 

-

 

Sadly, conversation with Yaku turned out to be a mere glimpse into Kei’s future suffering.

Because a few days later he received his first courting offer in the new school. An alpha girl he’d never seen before, let alone talked to, cornered him after first period. She was confident enough to do it in public so it wasn’t surprising a lot of people had witnessed the whole embarrassing ordeal, including Inuoka.

Damn puppy who then went on and shared the “exciting news” with the rest of the team.

Kei wasn’t a stranger to confessions, if that’s how you wanted to call what essentially were offers of ownership. Ever since presenting in his second year of junior high, Kei had been approached often. Omegas were rare and society encouraged bonding early. He’d always said no, and usually it ended there. A few more obnoxious alphas tried to be bolder and got into Kei’s space even after being rejected, but a nasty remark or two usually did the trick. No one wanted a snarky omega. Aside from making Yamaguchi worried that one day some alpha might not react well to such humiliation, all was fine.

All was not fine, however, if you had the joy of being on Nekoma volleyball team.

The moment Kei stepped into the gym for evening practice, Yamamoto Taketora was on him.

“Hey, Tsukishima! How the hell did you manage to score a pretty girl on your second week here when I’ve been here for two years and not one, not a single girl, has ever confessed to me?!”

“I don’t know, Yamamoto-san,” Kei said, side-stepping the loud annoyance that was their ace with a broad faux-smile. “Could it be because my face isn’t as ugly as yours?”

It took Yamamoto less than a second to realise he’d been insulted, again. “TSUKISHIMA!” he roared.

And didn’t it speak volumes that Kei was utterly, tragically used to that situation already.

“Tsukishima’s right, though?” Case of suffering number two: resident beanstalk. Haiba Lev was exactly the kind of mouthy obnoxious volleyball idiot Kei despised.

That’s why it was always so pleasing to see Yaku kick him in the ass. “Don’t be disrespectful to your senpais, even if they’re annoying!”

“No, I mean,” Haiba continued, undeterred. “Tsukishima’s just so pretty that most people look bad in comparison? Don’t feel bad, Yamamoto-san!”

He probably hadn’t even meant anything by that comment, the brainless smiling simpleton that he was. But in that moment, in the sudden silence that enveloped the gym like a cloak, Kei wanted to pulverise him.

Pretty.

How he loathed that word. It was always the first one to describe omegas, followed by submissive and nurturing.

It didn’t help that Haiba had all the physical qualities Kei did, like height and limb reach, and one that Kei did not: being an alpha.

“Hey, Lev, stop being a horny dog and go practice some receives. Yaku, you’re with him. Make him wish for death, would you? Coach gave you OK.” Kuroo’s raspy drawl sliced the tension like a knife. It always did, effortlessly. Kei hated that voice more and more each passing day. “Tsukishima, you’re with me.”

Pulling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, Kei scolded his features into full neutrality as he approached the captain.

Kuroo must’ve come early, seeing as he was already looking all warmed-up, face flushed with exerted energy. A drop of sweat trickled down his neck, curved gently around his collarbone, then disappeared into the collar of the snug black t-shirt. Kei made a point of not looking lower than Kuroo’s eye level from that point onward.

“While Yaku’s keeping Lev busy and others are with coaches, you and I will be spending some quality time together.” Kuroo grinned broadly, mischievously and Kei felt his stupid heart skip a beat. “It’s about time I taught you some blocking.”

Kei’s no thanks never had the chance to leave his mouth because Kuroo threw an arm around his shoulders and steered him towards the farthest net. His clean, earthy scent assaulted Kei’s senses, all at once, and he wanted to leave. Immediately. “Tora, Kenma,” Kuroo shouted without turning his head, “come spike for Tsukki.”

“Don’t call me that,” Kei snapped, shaking off Kuroo’s arm to put some much-needed distance between them.

The alpha was infuriating. He was skilled, both as a player and as a captain. He was respected. He got good grades and was sure to get into a prestigious university, most likely on scholarship. He was genuinely liked and seemed to have plenty of acquaintances.

And he never, ever acted dominant towards anyone on his team.

It’s like his charm just made people want to listen to him. Including Kei.

Infuriating.

“Your instincts are good, even if you don’t trust them. You know how to read the game and you read it well,” Kuroo said as they got into position in front of the net. “But your form sucks. Your jump is too far to the side when you’re blocking.”

Despite his anger, Kei found himself listening. Learning. It wouldn’t help him in the long run, of course, but… But.

Yamamoto’s first spike grazed Kei’s fingers and left them stinging. The ball landed behind him with a sharp thud. Kei only had enough time to click his tongue in reaction, as Kenma was already tossing another one.

Kuroo killed it effortlessly.

“Concentrate your strength to your fingertips, so you’re not blown back.” Kei watched Kuroo’s fingers wiggle in demonstration. They were long and slim. Probably had calluses all over. There even was an old looking scrape between his thumb and index finger. Still suffocated by that scent, Kei’s traitorous omega mind couldn’t help wondering how those fingers would feel against his skin, on his nape, inside him.

Mortified, Kei missed the next spike completely.

“Hands in front of you, instead of over your head,” Kuroo continued, unaware of the storm inside Kei’s head. His smirk was daring. Terrific. Beautiful. “Stop that alpha, Tsukki.”

Kei did, if only to see Yamamoto’s annoyed face.

 

-

 

That night, he had his first dream about Kuroo. It wasn’t even dirty and Kei couldn’t remember most of it in the morning.

But he couldn’t look at those damn hands without feeling warm all over for a long time after.

(If Kuroo noticed, he didn’t say anything.)

 

-

 

“This Golden Week we will be doing something new,” coach Nekomata announced a week later, looking very pleased for some reason. “Instead of our usual training camp, we’ll be travelling to Miyagi prefecture. A few schools there have agreed to have practice matches with us.”

A round of excitement passed the team. Yamamoto in particular seemed to be on fire, mumbling something about girls and managers. Kei didn’t bother hiding his disgusted sneer, and only smirked when Yamamoto made a move towards him but was stopped by Yaku’s well-aimed physical force.

“And finally, your new jerseys have arrived,” coach Naoi gestured at the cardboard box at his feet.

More excitement.

Kei was exhausted just from watching them.

“You’ll get used to it,” came from his left. As always, Kenma hadn’t even looked up from his game while he spoke.

Quiet and awkward, but blunt and not at all shy, especially when it came to Kuroo, Kenma was almost likeable by Kei’s standards. He hated noise and crowds, didn’t care about team bonding, and most pleasant of all, saw volleyball as just a club. Kei approved. To the point where he often sought whatever corner the beta chose to occupy in the gym during practice because people usually left him alone, unlike Kei. For some reason, the third years made it their mission to include Kei in pretty much everything they did together after school.

“I hope you’re not teaching Tsukki how to ignore us, Kenma.” Startled, Kei looked up. He hadn’t heard the alpha approach. Hadn’t sensed him, either. But then, Kuroo was really good at controlling his pheromones and masking his presence. It was just Kei’s luck he was hyper-aware of the alpha regardless. “Here.”

Confused, Kei looked at the offering of red fabric covered in plastic. At the white number 11 on it. He tilted his head, only belatedly realising that it could be taken as a sign of submission.

Kuroo’s eyes flashed. Kei braced himself and didn’t flinch from them.

“Congratulations,” Kuroo said, voice a note lower than usual. “On making the regulars.”

The words registered slowly. “What.”

“You made the team. Your first match will be in Sendai.” Kuroo gave the other jersey he was holding to Kenma. Kei’s eyes tracked the movement of his fingers, shifted away when he realised what he was doing. “We’re celebrating with everyone after, so don’t you two even try sneaking off before us.”

Kenma nodded, still immersed in his game.

“I heard you’re new in Tokyo?” Kuroo turned his attention back to Kei. He looked smug, far too much so. “Allow us to show you the best ramen place you’ll find around here. And no, you can’t refuse. It’s mandatory.”

“No, it’s not,” Kei protested. “Practice ended five minutes ago. I’m free to go.”

“Nope, you’re not. C’mon, Tsukki, live a little. With us.”

Yaku’s loud voice put a stop to the nasty remark on the tip of Kei’s tongue. “Hey, Kuroo, stop bothering the kids and come help us close up.” With a terrible wink, Kuroo obediently followed the order and went to help Yaku take down the net.

Alone again, Kei looked at the jersey. His jersey.

“You shouldn’t be so surprised.” Kei flinched, startled. And found Kenma’s sharp eyes focused on him. “You’re the best middle blocker we have, after Kuroo.”

For now, Kei knew. He couldn’t help looking for Haiba, then. He wasn’t surprised to find him pestering one of the seniors, probably begging for more spiking practice. Both coaches were adamant about focusing Haiba’s attention on receiving for now, which left the rest of team to suffer after the practise was over. He was relentless in his pursuit.

Yes, for now, Kei thought as he stood up and headed for the club room. The plastic crinkled in his hands and he had to lessen his hold on it.

 

-

 

The locker room that also functioned as storage space for their team was even noisier than usual. And that was saying a lot. People were trying on their new jerseys, and damn Haiba was full of energy, talking to anyone who would listen—and those who wouldn’t, really—how he was going to get one next time.

Kei, in the process of packing his bag, felt the absence of Yamaguchi by his side like a physical wound.

“Aren’t you going to put it on?”

Kuroo came up behind him, clad in only his school trousers, a towel around his neck. His hair was all over the place, some strands matted from sweat and clinging to skin.

Kei himself had already changed and was ready to go. But something in Kuroo’s eyes made his hands start unbuttoning his dress shirt.

It was strange, how bright and obnoxious their team colour was, when Nekoma specialised in slow and steady defensive approach. Even stranger was how nice the shirt felt on, even when Kei did his best to ignore how it wasn’t the question of fabric.

When he turned back around, jersey on, Kuroo was watching him, face unreadable. The air around them got thick, strong scent of fresh pine and earth permeating the room, effortlessly overpowering sweat and male that always clung to the room.

Kei blushed, humiliated at the realisation of how much he wanted to roll in that musky scent, until every part of him smelled like Kuroo, like claimed.

“Knew you’d look good in red,” Kuroo finally said. “Welcome to the team, Tsukki.”

From the periphery, Kei noticed Yaku looking straight at them. Shame burned through Kei with new intensity. It was one thing to be reluctantly attracted to Kuroo, it was another to give into his pathetic omega nature and have others witness it.

“Looking good, Tsukishima!” That from Yamamoto. “Hey, Kuroo, you should put yours on, too! We gotta take a picture.”

Kuroo tore his gaze away from Kei’s face, after a beat too long. But then his mouth widened into a stupid smile and he was back to being his annoying dorky self. “Oh, nice idea, Tora! Gather round, everyone.”

“It’s the worst idea,” Kei muttered under his breath. “Also, you’re the only one still not dressed, captain.”

“Now, now, Tsukki, don’t be a grump, no matter how cute that looks on your face.” Thank the universe and whatever deities existed in it Kuroo was finally putting on his damn shirt. “Kai, you’re in charge of making sure Tsukki doesn’t run away.”

Like Kenma, Kai Nobuyuki was on the silent side, and therefore on Kei’s good side. Unfortunately, he took his duties very, very seriously.

And that is how Tsukishima Kei ended up in the centre of a team photo, flanked by Kuroo and Kai, looking a mere fraction as annoyed as he felt, with Kuroo’s finger poking him in the cheek, urging him to smile. Kuroo himself needed no encouragement: his grin was wide and smug and fucking annoying.

Also, he looked really good in red.

“Alright, off we go, then,” Kuroo ordered, after the picture had been sent to everyone on the team—probably some people off the team, too, if Kuroo’s phone vibrating constantly was any indication—and everyone was done changing.

Not everyone decided to go, much to Kuroo’s chagrin but also understanding. The usual culprits, however, were all present so Kei didn’t attempt to run, knowing he was under constant supervision.

And it wasn’t all that bad, he thought. The conversation revolved mostly around volleyball, until their group naturally split into a few smaller ones, to make walking down the road more comfortable. That’s when topics started to range from school hell to video game heaven.

Kei was enjoying not having to contribute to the conversation, walking next to Kenma. Even if that sadly meant walking next to Kuroo. But Kuroo was surprisingly silent, smiling at nothing. Beside him, Kenma was killing some monster on his PSP.

Late afternoon sun was warm and pleasant, the rush hour of Tokyo felt far away on the small street they’d taken, and Kei was left to his own thoughts while still being in the company of others.

No, it wasn’t bad at all.

“Here we are,” Kuroo’s voice interrupted, prompting Kei to take in his surroundings.

They stood in front of a small ramen shop that blended well into the surrounding area; not too flashy, clearly catering towards those who knew what to look for. Most of the team was already trickling inside, giving cheery greetings to the man at the counter. A common occurrence, then.

When Kei followed them inside, he could see why Nekoma would prefer this place: small, but cosy, it was filled with other students.

He glanced at Kuroo, question unvoiced.

Kuroo shrugged, waving at the man, too. “It’s cheap, but good. And the old man—he’s the owner, by the way—used to play basketball in his youth. He likes to reminisce, I guess. Live again through our stories, or so he says.”

With a hand on Kei’s shoulder blades—which Kei was far, far too aware of—Kuroo led Kei to the table, even though Kei clearly could’ve deduced where it was himself, seeing as everyone was already sitting down around it. But his throat had gone completely dry and he stayed silent, rebelling only when Kuroo tried to pull out a seat for him. With a glare that had Kuroo raising his hands in mock surrender, Kei chose to sit next to Yaku.

That was a mistake.

A few minutes into the meal, while everyone was busy talking, eating and being generally gross, Yaku made his move.

“You should definitely take advantage of Kuroo, since he’s offering.”

Kei was glad he didn’t have anything in his mouth. “Excuse me?”

Yaku picked a piece of chicken, shoved it into his mouth. Chewed meticulously, unhurriedly. “I’ve heard the rumours.”

Ah, the rumours. They’d started sometime after the fifth rejection. Alphas and their wounded pride. Kei wasn’t at all surprised when he’d heard people whisper about the frigid omega that either didn’t know his place, or worse, was a failure as an omega in general.

Sadly, it didn’t stop the offers. Apparently now he was a fucking challenge and no alpha could possible refuse that.

“So?”

“So,” Yaku said patiently, munching on more food between words. Kei wanted to hit him. “You’ve annoyed a lot of alphas and gained a reputation for doing so. You don’t wear a patch, even when you’re walking out in the city. And you don’t have a mate, not from what I’ve seen. Or if you do, they’ve sure been taking shitty care of you if you don’t smell like them at all.”

Kei ignored the taking care comment. In a society like theirs, it was useless to argue about the established norm. He just thought Yaku would be different.

But then, Yaku also wore a scent patch. Kei had seen him put the square sticker the colour of his skin right over his scent gland, immediately suppressing his scent as an omega. By the time they were out on the street, he could’ve easily passed for a beta.

Kei had a couple of exact same patches in his bag, too, but rarely used them. Because along with suppressing your own scent, they muted all scents around you. Kei had never felt comfortable enough with the world to allow that.

Irritation growing, he put down his chopsticks and pushed his bowl away. “I repeat, so?”

“You’re really rude, aren’t you?” Yaku may’ve rolled his eyes as he said it, but the smirk on his lips told Kei he wasn’t offended. If anything, he looked… almost proud. “My point is, in your situation, having an alpha like Kuroo around is beneficial. Stick close to him. Let him be overprotective, as his instincts dictate. It should make the majority of others back off. Unless they are really into you, and not just after an omega.”

The logic behind that was something Kei couldn’t deny: being a captain, Kuroo was the leader and he clearly saw the team as his pack, or something akin to it. His instincts would absolutely demand he provide safety for the members. And his scent would warn off any stray alphas.

But Kei would rather block a spike with his face than do that.

He gave Yaku a smile that was as cheerful as his mood. “Thank you, but no thanks.”

“Tsukishima,” Yaku said, abandoning his food in favour of Kei. “High school is not junior high.” A dark shadow fell across his face—there, and gone. “It’s your choice, ultimately. But do be careful. For you own sake, even if you don’t seem to value yourself much.”

That wasn’t true. It was precisely because Kei valued himself that he was hell-bent on not repeating his brother’s mistakes.

Silence fell over them. Their conversation had been quiet enough for no one to hear, so no one noticed when it ended either. Kei fiddled with a napkin, not exactly self-conscious, but rather having nothing to do.

From across the table, he caught Kuroo’s attention on him. “Eat, Tsukki.” He nodded at Kei’s bowl, more than half-full still. “Or you’re never gonna grow into a big boy.”

“You already have a big boy right next to you, Kuroo-san,” Kei replied, referring to Haiba who was busy shoving noodles in his mouth, cheerful and energetic even at that task. “Don’t be greedy. It’s considered unattractive. And you need all the help you can get in that department.”

Kuroo made a dramatic show of clutching his heart. “Ouch.”

Kei felt just a tiny bit better.

(Enough to feel his lips curl up at the corners, and in his struggle to control the emotion, he missed the dumbstruck look on Kuroo’s face completely.

Others did not.)

 

-

 

“I made the team,” Kei told Yamaguchi that evening, after he got home.

It took Yamaguchi a second to understand what Kei meant, hand holding the pen pausing. Then he smiled, wide and innocent. “Tsukki, that’s amazing! Did you get a jersey? What number are you? When is your first match?”

If it were anyone else, Kei would’ve shut down the questions immediately. It wasn’t a happy occasion, and it certainly did not warrant any attention.

But this was Yamaguchi. The same boy who’d stuck with Kei after that one afternoon when Kei hadn’t managed to keep his mouth shut in the face of bullying. The same boy who hadn’t changed at all even after he’d presented as an alpha, letting omega Kei lead the way, as he’d always had. The same boy who had always had Kei’s back.

That is why he said, “We’re coming to Sendai. On Golden Week. To train, I mean.”

Yamaguchi dropped his pen. “You’re- You’re the team from Tokyo that agreed to play against us!”

“I don’t know the details, but apparently there is history between our teams.” Or so Kuroo had explained. “Something about garbage dumps and old friendships.”

And wasn’t that some weird twist of fate: Nekoma’s fated rival was Karasuno, of all teams.

Thinking about that made him think about his earlier conversation with Yaku and the looks he’d seen between him and Kuroo throughout the dinner.

Did Kuroo know about Yaku’s ridiculous suggestion? Did he agree? Was he the one who came up with it in the first place?

That disastrous train-wreck-about-to-happen of a thought came to a much-needed stop with a knock on his door, followed by his mother’s voice, “Kei?” At his affirming noise, door cracked open and his mother peeked inside. “Oh, hello, Tadashi-kun.” As always, his beta mother smiled warmly at his friend and even though he wasn’t physically present in the room, asked him the kind of questions that spoke of genuine interest and care. After they’d exchanged their pleasantries, she turned back to Kei. “Dinner will be ready in fifteen. Come help me set the table when you’re done? Oh, and your brother’s coming, too.”

She mentioned the last bit as an afterthought, even when she no doubt was ecstatic about the news. Though Akiteru attended a university in Tokyo, he moved out to stay closer to campus, having rented a rundown flat with a couple of friends. Kei didn’t know if it had been because of him.

Just as he didn’t know if he appreciated his mother’s attempts at pretending that everything was fine between her children.

Kei bid Yamaguchi goodbye and with a sigh, followed his mother downstairs.

Yes, everything was just fine.