Kei is not the kind of person who makes big mistakes. He thinks ahead, plans and strategizes, anticipates future outcomes (only the best ones) and avoids worst case scenarios. It’s a good system. His vision is always sharp enough to know which decisions will yield satisfying results and which ones will yield regret.
However: he can count on one hand the few times in his life where he willingly chooses the path he’ll regret.
Giving Kuroo Tetsurou his number is one of them.
“How else will I check up on how my protegé is doing?” the smirking Nekoma captain had said at the end of one of their training camp days.
To which Kei had responded, “It’s not doing me any favors, you know.”
He could see it, even then, the danger that exchanging numbers would bring. Since when has Kei ever willingly opted into more social interaction? Especially with someone as obnoxious as Kuroo? No, Kei’s sure he doesn’t want that.
And yet, the earnest and expectant way Kuroo had looked at him underneath all that sly pretense — something about it made Kei want to comply.
Reaching slowly into his pocket against his better judgement, Kei had pulled out his phone and dropped it into Kuroo’s waiting hand.
Kei’s still not sure why he agreed to give it to him. It’s not like him to ignore all the warning signs — in this case: Kuroo’s raised brow, his ever-present smirk, the frighteningly calm but maniacal glint in his eyes.
Everything about this should have compelled him to turn tail and run. It would have been the safer route. Safer is always more preferable.
The question comes back to haunt him a few weeks later when his phone buzzes next to him. He’s working through some practice problems at home on a pleasant Sunday afternoon two weeks into their return to school when a high-pitched, squeaky noise makes him jump out of his seat.
His pencil clatters onto his desk, his right eye twitches.
Was that… was that sound just now…
He stares down at his phone in horror.
The device sits innocently on his desk, its face fading from the notification that had lit it up just a few seconds prior.
What the hell?
Once the shock of hearing the unfamiliar and atrocious ringtone settles down, Kei picks up his phone as he begrudgingly comes to terms with the horrifying reality that he, in fact, really did just hear the unmistakable sound of a cat meowing.
The words of his very own I told you so flashes in bright, red letters in his mind. He had known this would happen. He had known giving Kuroo his number would lead to regret. By all means, he could have and should have prevented this.
The damage is done. He supposes he might as well take up a white flag and concede defeat. Looking down at his phone, he swipes to unlock and opens the text.
From: Kuroo-senpai 😸
hey tsukki, how’s volleyball?
Kei twists his lips, suppressing a sudden desire to smile. Volleyball has been unrewarding, but noticeably an improvement ever since Kuroo had roped him into their practice. These days, he’s been practicing with his brother’s adult team, determined not to lose to Hinata and to rise up to the challenge of stopping at least a few of Ushijima’s spikes. So far, it’s been exhausting. Who would have thought there’d come a day where Kei would voluntarily opt for extra practice matches?
don’t call me tsukki, he types out in reply. His thumb hovers over send, eyes fixed on the blinking cursor at the end of his sentence.
The screen light dims.
Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe he can stop this dangerous path that will inevitably lead to further regret if he chooses not to respond, ever. Maybe if he doesn’t give Kuroo what he wants, the Nekoma captain will leave him alone. Either that, or Kuroo will just keep trying.
A sense of twisted satisfaction creeps up in him at the idea of leaving Kuroo hanging without a response. It’ll be a fun experiment, he thinks, forcing a one way conversation onto him and depriving him of opportunities to tease or rile him up. And if he doesn’t stop trying to goad a response out of Kei, how long, he wonders, will the guy keep it up for? This fresh spike of curiosity fuels him to commit to this new decision.
Kei backspaces and deletes the text. Setting the phone back down, he adjusts his glasses and returns to his homework.
Three minutes later, another loud meow! followed by his phone’s buzzing jerks him out of focus.
Kei glares down at it. Picking it up, he reads the next message on the screen:
good talk tsukki
Rolling his eyes, Kei swipes the notification away and places the device face down on the desk.
For reasons he can’t explain, he doesn’t silence his phone.
The texts don’t stop.
For a few blessed days, Kei almost forgets the first one even happened. It was a fluke, an anomaly; he had figured it would stay that way. Him not responding to Kuroo should have killed whatever it was that had started.
Three nights later, however, he’s proven wrong. Kei is going about his business as usual, sitting at his desk with a pencil in hand and worksheets spread out in front of him, when he nearly receives a heart attack from a high pitched meow! ringing out of nowhere. With a jolt, his pencil tumbles out of his grip and falls to the floor. On instinct, Kei drags a hand down his face in embarrassment, even though no one is around to have witnessed his flailing.
Meow! it rings again with the buzz of vibration against his desk, followed by another meow!
Kei slaps a hand over his phone and pulls it up to his face, fearing the worst.
From: Kuroo-senpai 😸
i’ve been hearing things from kenma
have you been letting chibi-chan get ahead like i told you not to
A whole slew of responses comes to his mind at once (“What’s it matter to you?”, “Why are you worried?”, “Thanks for your concern but Hinata talks a lot; he hasn’t shut up about his ‘secret weapon’ and it’s been weeks ”) but instead of typing out any answers, Kei sets his phone down face up next to his text book and stares at Kuroo’s words with a raised eyebrow. A speech bubble appears at the bottom of the screen and this time, Kei is prepared for the atrocious ringtone.
Meow! it buzzes: have you been concentrating your strength to your fingertips?
Yes, Kei thinks with a roll of his eyes. Really big of Kuroo to be doling out free advice over text. He’s almost tempted to respond. Almost.
The screen fades to black and his eyes shift back to his homework where he had left off in the middle of his fill in the blank English vocabulary questions.
“The author's (1)__________ style renders a fascinating subject, the role played by luck in everyday life, extraordinarily (2)__________.”
Kei rereads the line a few times before checking the multiple choice options, but just as he is about to take in the first vocabulary word, he hears a buzz and another meow!
His eyes snap back onto his phone as two successive rings cry out one after another.
not even gonna pretend to type anything this time?
i’m sure in your heart of hearts, you lie awake at night and read and treasure these sacred texts from your senpai
i can feel it
Kei rolls his eyes even harder. He has never done anything of the sort and he doesn’t plan to start any time soon. Which is exactly why his cheeks feel flushed with annoyance ( it’s definitely annoyance ) and his chest starts to hurt a little from the angry pounding of his heart.
That’s bold of you to assume — is what he would’ve said if he’d been intending to respond. But he’s not and he isn’t going to; he refuses to give Kuroo that satisfaction.
The speech bubble appears again and he shifts his gaze to it at once, anticipation coiling tight in his stomach as the three gray dots continue their never-ending trail. Whatever Kuroo is going to say next, Kei is ready for it.
It stops. Completely disappears. Kei narrows his eyes in suspicion, waiting to see what will happen next. Surely more speech bubbles as Kuroo tries his best to string some impressive, witty words together? The thought brings a tiny smirk to his face.
Kei’s eyes widen.
Wait. No. No, no, no, no, no . He has not been having expectations about any of this. Not even in the slightest. He hasn’t. Feeling any amount of expectations is dangerous.
Bottom lip upturned, he drops the phone back down onto the desk and pushes it away from him. The speech bubble doesn’t appear again.
Forcing himself to return to his homework, Kei lets the phone fade to black and tries not to feel too disappointed when it doesn’t light back up for the rest of the night.
Tues, Aug 20, 5:18 PM
so just out of curiosity did you keep my name in your phone as kuroo-senpai?
it’s only fitting since you are my cute little kouhai and i’m such a great influence
Tues, Aug 20, 5:42 PM
you’re never going to respond are you nobukatsu-kun?
come on tsukki are you punishing me for the cute ringtone i set?
Tues, Aug 20, 6:03 PM
ah well. someday i’ll get you to admit what an amazing senpai i am
Thurs, Aug 22, 5:45 PM
did you have a good practice today tsukki?
hope you’re eating well 😸
Sat, Aug 24, 10:04 AM
good morning 🐱
Sun, Aug 25, 9:51 AM
passed by tokyo tower on my run today and thought of you crows
i’m sure you’ve forgotten what buildings look like by now so take this as a token of remembrance of me 😽
beauty isn’t she?
if you promise to think of me whenever you see this photo don’t respond
Sun, Aug 25, 11:17 AM
aww tsukki that’s so sweet of you!
Mon, Aug 26, 9:30 AM
i just have to say
i’m thoroughly enjoying these quality conversations we’re having. really feels like i’m getting to know you 😽👌🏼
get at least one amazing block in at your practice for me today okay?
bonus points if it’s against hinata
Fri, Aug 30, 9:55 PM
you better bring your game face on
don’t be a stranger nobukatsu-kun
see you there
Sat, Aug 31, 10:12 PM
you’ve improved so much tsukki
been practicing hard i see
makin’ your ole senpai proud
sorry bokuto wouldn’t shut up
Sat, Aug 31, 10:30 PM
he still won’t shut up
By the next month, Kei stops flinching whenever he hears the cat’s meow. He’s not sure why he hasn’t bothered to turn it off, but really, it’s because he’s too lazy to go through his phone’s settings to complete the task. He can just leave his phone on silent like he usually does anyways. (Except when he doesn’t. Which ends up happening a lot because he’s also too lazy to turn the sound off, so long as he’s not in class.) It’s simply too much effort to exert for someone so insignificant like Kuroo, much like how taxing it would be for him to actually text back and extend the conversation to maintain some sort of friendly relationship.
All in all, not worth the trouble.
And besides, at this point, it’s become such a habit hearing the cat tone, that it would be weird to switch it off now. Better to just leave things as they are. These things sometimes happen. It’s out of Kei’s hands.
The only problem, he discovers one day, is that he’s become so accustomed to hearing random bouts of cat sounds, it stops registering as something surprising or strange.
He’s studying with Yamaguchi on the first Sunday afternoon of September when the text comes.
Like Kei himself had done so many times during the first few instances of Kuroo texting, Yamaguchi gives a startled yelp and drops his pencil in alarm. It clatters onto Kei’s side of the desk and stops before rolling off the edge. Kei stares down at it unblinkingly, trying to appear unphased.
“Th-that — that sound just now,” he stammers, looking extremely nervous that he even has to ask this question to Kei. “Was that… was that — a cat? ”
Kei doesn’t bat an eye. “No. A text.”
“W-well — yeah, ” Yamaguchi says. “I figured that much.”
Kei picks up the pencil and hands it back to him without saying a word.
“You were asking about essay question number 4?” he asks, as though nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
Yamaguchi opens his mouth — to retort, probably — but no sound ever makes it out. Kei levels him with a glare, daring him to even try. The good news is, Yamaguchi is his best friend, which means he knows when to respect Kei’s boundaries. The bad news is, Yamaguchi is his best friend, which means no matter how tightly sealed Kei’s lips are, Yamaguchi will probably already have figured out the worst of it by now.
Kei groans. “Shut up, Yamaguchi.”
His friend’s mouth snaps shut at once, then opens again. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking it,” Kei replies.
He expects Yamaguchi’s face to droop or look abashed, perhaps with his usual muttered apology and sheepish grin. What he doesn’t expect is for the corners of Yamaguchi’s lips to twitch upwards as he tries to suppress an amused and all-too-knowing smile.
Thankfully, Yamaguchi doesn’t say anything. Instead, he shakes his head and returns to their homework assignment, still smiling to himself. Kei scowls at how his friend is probably waiting expectantly for him to check his messages, and at the fact that he secretly wants to.
Out of nowhere, the text tone rings out again in the silence. Kei slaps a hand over his phone as Yamaguchi looks up in alarm. Feeling a vein pulse in his forehead, Kei lifts his phone up and silences it, but not before getting a quick glance at the text previews showing up on his lock screen.
Sun, Sept 1, 11:26 AM
so what kind of music do you listen to?
since you’re not going to answer my question, i’ll just speculate out loud…
Over the top of his phone, Kei spots Yamaguchi studying his expression with wide, observant eyes. Only someone like him could look innocent doing that. Normally, Kei respects that. Today, however, it ticks him off. Setting his phone face down on the desk, Kei grabs his literature textbook and cracks it wide open until the covers obscure Yamaguchi from his sight.
“It’s Kuroo-san, isn’t it?” Yamaguchi blurts out, his lips twitching with amusement still. “Judging by the ringtone, it’s got to be someone from Nekoma and there’s no one else you’d willingly give your number to, so… uhh — hey, Tsukki? What’re you doing?”
The textbook Kei’s using to block out Yamaguchi’s face is now completely covering his own. He sees four fingers grip the top of the book and pulls back to lean away from him even more.
“If you’re not going to focus on the homework, you can leave,” Kei says.
Yamaguchi lets go of his textbook.
“You’re really enjoying this aren’t you?” he laughs.
Kei lowers the book so he can glare daggers at Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi, who is now long used to this sort of behavior from Kei, merely lifts his hands defensively and shrugs.
“It’s written all over your face,” Yamaguchi grins.
It occurs to Kei eventually, begrudgingly , that Yamaguchi is right: he has been rather enjoying himself over the last few weeks — not because Kuroo is texting him, but because it is satisfying to ignore them all. Honestly, he’s impressed by how long Kuroo has managed to keep it up. Whenever a few days pass by without a text from Kuroo, Kei always wonders if the persistent Nekoma captain has given up. But eventually, without fail, that increasingly familiar meow! will show up when he least expects it, followed by some inane anecdote or mundane words of advice. It really is quite fun to watch, like dangling a toy on a string in front of a cat and watching it run around in circles trying to catch it. The cat is enjoying itself, but it can never truly grab hold of the toy, and Kei is the one who gets to laugh through it all.
Sure, his heart still jumps every time the ringtone buzzes against his desk, but it’s hard not to feel shocked when Kei is just trying to mind his own goddamn business in the peace of his home. It’s a conditioned response.
That’s all it is.
Thurs, Sept 5, 2:45 PM
you’re definitely a beatles kind of guy, aren’t you?
come again please
here i am on my knees
beggin’ if you please
yeah? did i peg you right?
if i did, don’t respond
Thurs, Sept 5, 2:53 PM
Wed, Sept 18, 7:43 PM
did you know? if you rub your stomach too much after a meal, your stomach will get bigger?
my mom just told me this over dinner
i’d tell it to you over dinner too but
you’re not here :(
Wed, Sept 18, 8:00 PM
i can practically feel you rolling your eyes at me right now
you’re a funny guy, tsukki. i really enjoy these talks we have
i’m sure deep down, you feel the same too : - )
Mon, Sept 23, 1:44 PM
holy shit i just passed someone that looked like you
he was tall, skinny, wore glasses
but then i realized it couldn’t be because he was smiling way too big
somewhere in tokyo, you have a cheerful, exuberant-looking doppelganger
( … )
maybe i should take him out to dinner 😽
Mon, Sept 23, 1:57 PM
it wouldn’t be the same if he doesn’t make snide remarks though :(
Fri, Sept 27, 12:00 AM
a little birdie told me it was your birthday so
Fri, Sept 27, 12:08 AM
if i showed up in miyagi for your birthday would you have dinner with me?
(don’t respond if the answer’s yes)
Fri, Sept 27, 12:15 AM
aww, tsukki! you flatter me
Fri, Sept 27, 12:18 AM
see you at practice next week 😽
it’s our last one together so make it count!
Practice with the Tokyo teams this time around isn’t as grueling as usual. There’s a twinge of satisfaction at that because Kei knows this means that his putting in extra effort into volleyball has become habit. It’s strange to think just a few months ago, he had elected to stay idle with his feet sunk into the ground. Now, he’s been going to his brother’s practices and asking Ukai-sensei for advice, doing all that’s within his power to reach higher and higher.
But that’s not the only thing that’s different.
Grasping at his light hair, Lev throws his head back in a frustrated wail as Kuroo berates him about how he keeps forgetting to block with his arms together. Kei stands by and observes with interest, watching as Kuroo demonstrates better technique. Ukai had said that Kuroo was someone who had a good grasp on the nuances of blocking so of course Kei has to pay attention. While he appreciates Ukai’s suggestion, it’s also something that he doesn’t need to be told. He observes as Kuroo reaches his arms out over his head in front of him, spreading his long fingers out just right, and his eyes trail down the line of his jersey, pausing at the place where his shirt rides up just a little bit over his waistline…
Kei frowns. As he continues to gaze out at the court, heat unrelated to their current work out creeps up the back of his neck. Despite the changes that have happened since his resolve to keep his head in the game, perhaps this one aspect of practice in particular is something that’s not too different after all. Remembering that sly, cat-like grin from the very first night Kuroo had blocked Bokuto before him all those months ago, Kei knows that he’s been watching Kuroo for quite a long time now.
“Good game, Tsukki.”
Kei hears the screech of sneakers on the court beside him, then the thump of Kuroo resting his back against the wall behind them. He slides down to sit next to Kei, taking a long, generous drag from his water bottle. Kuroo’s arm brushes against his as he lowers his drink to his lap, and Kei suddenly finds it a little harder to breathe.
“That’s a funny way to describe your torture of Lev,” he remarks, leaning his head back against the wall.
“Or the most accurate way,” Kuroo laughs. He tilts his head to the side as he stares at Kei, a knowing grin playing on his lips.
“What?” Kei asks, doing his best not to look away. That would give off the impression that he’s feeling embarrassed or ashamed, which, he’s not.
“You’ve changed, Tsukki,” he replies, his eyes crinkling with mirth. “In a good way, of course,” he adds. “There’s just something different about you.”
Kei snorts, trying to ignore the weird butterflies in his stomach. “Yeah, you’re right. I think I grew another two centimeters.”
“God, seriously?” Kuroo groans. “You need to stop that.”
“Catch up, then,” he challenges, knowing full well that it’s a losing battle for him.
Kuroo shakes his head and leans back against the wall with Kei. “I try to give the guy a compliment and he ends up rubbing it in all over my face.”
“How am I different?”
The words tumble out of Kei’s mouth against his better judgement. He’s the kind of person who never gives proof that he might care what someone else thinks of him because most of the time, he doesn’t. This time, however, the fluttering in his stomach still hasn’t stopped, and he can hear his heart beating in his ears as Kuroo’s lips curl into his usual cat-like smile.
His expression unnerves him. Although this is the second time they’ve seen each other in person since the training camp when Kei gave him his number, Kuroo still hasn’t brought up their texting exchanges out loud to him in conversation (or Kei’s lack thereof). While he’s not sure whether Kuroo ever intends to mention it or not, now that he finds himself alone in the Nekoma captain’s presence, a small part of Kei is worried that he might force the topic on him, and no part of Kei wants to be trapped in a situation where he can’t back out and simply ignore the text.
“I dunno,” Kuroo says. “You’re still quiet, but in a different way. More focused. More obstinate. That distant, spindly megane-kun I knew from training camp? He backed down pretty easily. You, on the other hand, would not.”
Kei falls silent, contemplative. He supposes he has had a shift in motivation lately but he hadn’t realized it’s been obvious or visible to others who aren’t Yamaguchi. The fact that Kuroo’s noticed makes him wonder what else the Nekoma captain has seen in him.
“Ah, speechless as usual, I see.”
Kei turns to look at him, frowning.
“It’s alright, Tsukki, I understand,” Kuroo chuckles, patting him on the shoulder. “You’re an interesting fellow.”
Kei narrows his eyes.
“Interesting,” he repeats.
Kuroo smirks. “Very.”
His gaze locks onto Kei’s, daring him to look away. Kei holds his ground, even though his heart feels like it’s beating a hundred meters per second.
Startled out of their moment, the spell breaks as Hinata’s voice pierces through the air across the court.
“Help me clean up!”
Kei spares his short, excitable teammate one disdainful glare before setting down his water bottle with a resigned sigh.
“Can’t ignore the decoy,” Kei mutters under his breath before pulling himself back onto his feet. Kuroo laughs.
“We should get dinner sometime,” he says, smiling.
Kei frowns, looking down at him. “We’re about to tonight.”
“No, no, no, not with the team,” Kuroo corrects, waving a hand at him. He fixes Kei with a sly grin and adds, “You know what I meant.”
Kei feels his face heat up at once, but merely shrugs.
“Sorry, I’m too speechless,” he deadpans, to which Kuroo chuckles.
“Ah, yes. I tend to have that effect on people.”
Kei tightens his lips and stares determinedly away from him, focusing instead on Hinata who is fumbling with the net in the center of the court. To try and quell the rapid pounding of his heart by exiting this situation immediately, he takes a step forward, but then pauses for one last quip.
“Also, you were right,” he says without looking at Kuroo. “I love the Beatles.”
As Kei walks away, he spares one last glance at the Nekoma captain out of his peripheral vision, and for the merest glimmer of a second, swears he sees a pair of yellow, hooded eyes and a glinting, Cheshire cat grin.
Tues, Oct 1, 11:23 PM
it was good seeing you guys today as usual
you know i really wasn’t joking about dinner tsukki ;)
stay speechless if you want to take me out to dinner sometime
Tues, Oct 1, 11:35 PM
looks like it’s your treat! 😽
Sun, Oct 7, 10:36 AM
i may have cheated when i guessed you liked the beatles
shrimpy told kenma about the time he stole your headphones and discovered a lot of john lennon
but somehow it’s really fitting
you’re an interesting fellow mr. moonlight
Sun, Oct 13, 2:49 PM
daichi just texted me one of the group pics you guys took a few months back
why the long face? you should really smile more often tsukki!
Mon, Oct 14, 4:06 PM
today lev attempted a dive save
needless to say we all had a good laugh
Tues, Oct 22, 1:12 AM
the moon is bright tonight
have dinner with me sometime
Wed, Oct 23, 12:01 AM
stop pretending tsukki, you loved that poem
Thurs, Oct 24, 9:03 PM
ready for the big day? don’t forget everything your favorite senpai taught you
Sat, Oct 26, 9:44 PM
well played well played
looks like the crows are steadily creeping higher aren’t they?
good luck against shiratorizawa tomorrow. show ushijima who’s boss! (otherwise i will never hear the end of it from bokuto)
Sun, Oct. 27, 8:11 PM
It’s a quiet Sunday night when Kei hears the news.
He’s lying in bed watching a documentary on his phone when a notification banner pops up at the top of his screen. Upon seeing Yamaguchi’s name, his first instinct is to swipe it away for later. Whatever it is, his best friend can probably wait. But just as he lays a finger on the message, he catches the words “battle of the garbage dump” and curiosity gets the better of him.
Pulling down on the notification, Kei opens it up to read.
Just heard from Hinata: the battle at the garbage dump is on its way to finally happening!
Isn’t it exciting Tsukki? I’m sure you’re excited ;)
Kei frowns at that last winking emoji just as another speech bubble appears. He has a bad feeling about this.
The message comes in:
You still haven’t turned off that cat text tone have you?
Kei rolls his eyes at Yamaguchi’s text and does what he’s best at doing with texts: he ignores it.
Not long after, his phone lights up again.
Hinata also mentioned that it’s Kuroo-san’s birthday by the way.
The hairs on his neck seem to perk up at this. Eyes shifting to the calendar on his wall, he takes note of the date.
So today is Kuroo’s birthday. Interesting.
Kei assumes the reason why Hinata knows all this is through Kenma, and the thought unexpectedly drives an unpleasant question into his mind: Why hadn’t Kuroo texted him about all of this?
The moment he thinks it, Kei scolds himself. It’s stupid to be annoyed about this. He should be more annoyed (and is annoyed) that Kuroo still frequently sends him messages about the most mundane things. But if the Nekoma captain can be bothered to text him about going on runs or about Lev’s bathroom habits, surely he would’ve thought to text Kei about something comparatively much more important in magnitude.
Although, now that Kei thinks about it, Kuroo hasn’t texted at all in a while. Two weeks to be exact. Not that he cares. Because he doesn’t. He really doesn’t. He really couldn’t care less about whether that messy black-haired mop of a rooster head is thinking about him or not. Kuroo, with his provocative nature, his stupid bed hair and broad shoulders and long arms and—
Kei scowls, the vision of Kuroo’s lazy eyes and easy smirk now emblazoned on the forefront of his mind. Tossing his phone away from him onto the desk, he tries to shake the image off, but even as he attempts to do so, a familiar stubbornness to shove all of these maddening thoughts and feelings aside rises up in him. He recognizes this brand of stubbornness, is well-acquainted with it. It’s the same kind of resistance he’d felt when he denied himself the desire to put his full self into volleyball and to excel further than he’d ever gone before. The inevitability of falling short or failing at something with no hope of recourse grips him again now, and this time, Kuroo is the one lying at the center of gravity.
Why do you always draw the line where anything beyond that point is impossible?!
Yamaguchi had said these words about volleyball, but when it comes to Kuroo, Kei starts to wonder: where exactly is that point and what is the anything that lies beyond it?
Kei rolls the idea around in his head.
Just this once, he’ll break his own rule.
Sun, Nov 17, 9:28 PM
see you at nationals
Of course, Kuroo doesn’t respond to his text. Not right away, at least. In the week following his birthday, Kei is confident that he’ll soon be treated again to the usual little inane snippets of Kuroo’s life. Kenma beating a new game and drowning in post-win slumps. Lev attempting to bond with Kenma more over his tosses. Kuroo going on a run every Saturday morning and eating rice and fish for breakfast afterwards. Kei doesn’t keep track of when they come. He just knows he’ll soon be hearing those high pitched meow’s cry out again. It’s the usual situation.
It isn’t until the first week of December that Kei notices there might’ve been a shift in his behavior.
With nationals and the training camp looming over them, volleyball practice has become increasingly extensive, causing mountains of homework to pile up until one Sunday night, Yamaguchi invites himself over so they can catch up on all their schoolwork together and study for an exam. It’s in the middle of their math assignment when Kei, out of the corner of his eye, starts to get distracted by Yamaguchi stealing glances at Kei’s phone.
“Is there a problem?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“What? No,” Yamaguchi replies innocently, just as his eyes shift again onto Kei’s phone before flickering back to his face. It’s as though he is waiting for it to do something peculiar.
And then it hits Kei. His phone hasn’t meowed in a while.
Unable to help himself, he picks his device up to check if he’s accidentally left it on silent. It isn’t. And there still hasn’t been any texts from Kuroo since Kei sent him a birthday text.
An unpleasant sort of sinking feeling starts to seep in, and with it, a wave of irritation, prickly and clawing. The moment the sensation hits him, Kei tries to stamp it down at once.
What’s gotten into you lately?
“You know you could just text him back for once,” Yamaguchi’s voice cuts through the air.
“What?” Kei asks sharply. He can hear blood ringing in his ears.
“I mean — that’s what you’re all worked up about right?” Yamaguchi shrugs. “Why don’t you just text back?”
“Worked up?” Kei scowls. “I’m not worked up.”
He’s just a little put off by the fact that Kuroo started this routine and suddenly stopped it, that’s all. It feels as disruptive and weird as it did when he had first started it up. There had been a good rhythm going now that he’s acclimated Kei to the habit of hearing meows and receiving texts. His sudden withdrawal into radio silence disturbs the established peace and is, quite frankly, uncalled for.
“Okay, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi says with a small chuckle. “Whatever you say.”
Yamaguchi returns to his homework assignment. Kei continues to frown at him.
He’s not worked up. He’s not. But as Yamaguchi’s suggestion of texting back echoes in his ears, irritation rises up in him again. Kei tries to squash everything down. He had made an exception once and only once. If Kuroo doesn’t text him, then they won’t text at all. Fine by him.
At this thought, the sinking feeling returns to Kei, and with it, cold realization sliding down his spine like ice.
He’s feeling disappointed.
Picking up his pencil, he tries to follow Yamaguchi’s suit and return to work.
This is stupid. It’s only been a little over a week. Kei shouldn’t be feeling this way. He should have known giving Kuroo his number in the first place was a big mistake. This isn’t like Kei at all. But even as he thinks this, a fleeting thought, intrusive and unbidden, flashes through his head.
Maybe he got bored of it.
Scowling, Kei bends over his math assignment and begins scribbling his work out furiously. Next to him, he can see Yamaguchi staring down at his own paper with a small smile on his face.
“Not a word,” Kei warns him.
Yamaguchi ducks his head as his grin spreads even wider.
Draft Messages (Unsent)
Sun, Dec 2, 10:12 PM
stick with volleyball; you should definitely never get into poetry
Sun, Dec 2, 10:16 PM
tell lev thanks for the entertainment
Sun, Dec 2, 10:17 PM
give kozume-san my condolences
Mon, Dec 3, 9:25 PM
assuming that you even have a sophisticated cultural palate, what kind of songs do you
Wed, Dec 5, 11:23 PM
funny story: hinata overheard me joking to yamaguchi about sneaking into shiratorizawa’s volleyball training camp after he didn’t get an invite. guess what he did the next day?
Sat, Dec 8, 7:03 PM
have you lost your phone? i can’t think of any other reason why you’d stop trying to annoy
Tues, Dec 11, 5:52 PM
guess what song came up on my playlist while walking home today?
Sun, Dec 16, 2:37 AM
the moon takes approximately 27 days to orbit around earth, which is the same amount of time it takes to rotate on its axis. as a result, we see the moon like it’s keeping still instead of spinning and never get to see the other side. in essence, we’re stuck orbiting like this around and around each other for the rest of
Sun, Dec 16, 6:21 AM
if i start writing these texts but never send them, did i really manage to get my message across to you
Wed, Dec 19, 5:52 PM
i heard a real live cat meow today and experienced a conditioned response. i hope you know this is all your fau
Sun, Dec 22, 1:40 AM
light travels at approximately 300,000 kilometers per second. a star that’s trillions and trillions of miles away could have exploded years ago and we’d only just be seeing its light now. although tokyo is only 365 kilometers away from miyagi, sometimes i wonder if
Wed, Dec 25, 12:01 AM
Sat, Dec 28, 1:40 AM
i don’t even know why i
Wed, Jan 1, 10:55 AM
yamaguchi invited me to the temple to wish for victory but i didn’t go. i’m not sure i believe in that sort of thing. what are your thoughts on the matter?
Sat, Jan 4, 11:47 PM
i was forced to babysit kageyama and hinata on their run just now. i’m not even getting paid for this.
Sun, Jan 5, 12:35 AM
as much as i loathe to say this, i’m feeling nervous about
Mon, Jan 6, 10:11 PM
well. i guess this is it. good luck tomorrow. may the best team win.
The aftermath of nationals leaves Kei’s every muscle and limb aching. He can’t remember the last time he’s felt this sore; even the Shinzen training camp hadn’t beaten him this badly.
By some abnormality of nature, the others, of course, still find energy to spare. Kageyama and Hinata are up to who knows what, the others are hanging out in the lounge, and Tanaka has disappeared after some girl from his old school showed up (Kei must remember to tease him about it later). Yamaguchi had decided to join the others in the lounge, leaving Kei to play video games on his phone, all tucked in beneath the blankets of his futon by himself.
For a good thirty minutes, Kei lies there on his side, killing hordes and hordes of enemy spaceships on his screen. After the mental exhaustion of so many intense and seemingly unending matches, he needs this mindless activity to take the edge off for the night. And besides, despite how drained he is from the day, he couldn’t get to sleep right away. Try as he might to not think about it, his traitorous body can’t seem to stop ruminating on the sensation of Kuroo’s hand on his back and on his arm when he’d patted him playfully — twice — earlier after Karasuno had won the game.
If Kuroo had been bothered at all by the lack of text communication between them as of late, he had done a great job of not letting it show. Sharp and genial as always, he’d played through each match with his usual good-humored sport, occasionally taunting and giving Kei a good, hearty ribbing, but overall, acting completely like himself. Since Kuroo hasn’t texted him at all for a little over a month, Kei assumes he must’ve lost interest ages ago. As such, the electric tingle Kei might have felt when Kuroo had slapped him on the back and shaken his hand had probably all been a figment of his own imagination, projecting feelings that no longer exist on Kuroo’s end.
Scowling, Kei pauses the game to plug in his earphones, willing the sound of laser guns and heavy-synth music to drown all other thoughts out. After unpausing, he focuses his attention back onto his own spaceship and continues on to the next level.
Despite his best efforts, however, his mind still drifts in and out of the game. On the topic of feelings that no longer exist on Kuroo’s end anymore, Kei remembers that he still has an inbox full of unsent drafts that, judging by the way Kuroo has behaved earlier, he doesn’t think will ever see the light of day. If Kuroo wants to talk to him again, Kei is sure that he will do so. Until then, Kei is busy taking down aliens.
With a crash and a withering sound, an enemy spaceship collides with his last life and ends his current streak. He sighs.
Roving his thumb over to the corner of his phone, he’s about to restart the game when his phone suddenly buzzes in his hands.
Yamaguchi: hey tsukki. why don’t you come downstairs and hang out with us? there’s someone here you’d…
Kei swipes the banner notification away. Even though January has just started, he thinks he’s probably had enough of the whole texting business for the rest of the year. As much as he hates to admit, he’s had enough of Kuroo teasing him through the phone and the past month of back and forth of Kei trying to decide if it’s even worth it to text him back. (It’s not.) After all, this is Kuroo. Kuroo, who is flirty and provocative by nature. Kuroo, who lives all the way out here in Tokyo. Kuroo, who is graduating.
Just two people revolving around and around, missing each other and passing through the night.
Lying in bed now, disappointment, along with a huge sense of loss, threatens to overwhelm him. He’s not sure what it is he feels like he has lost; he’s never had anything to begin with in the first place. There had never been any expectations. Just Kei giving Kuroo his number. That’s all there really is to it. He should have known that this path would only lead to regret.
Why do you always draw the line where anything beyond that point is impossible?!
Kei turns onto his back and glares at the ceiling. Looking back, Kei knows he’s been acting incredibly childish. He’s ignored every single text from Kuroo, has more or less been sending the general message that he’s not at all interested (contrary to his true feelings), and is now hiding away in his futon playing video games when Kuroo is staying at an inn not too far away from theirs. The ball has been in his court for a long while now but his stubbornness has been holding him back from merely picking it up. Instead, he’s been watching as the ball steadily slows its dribbling and rolls off the court. By all proper rules of logic, it’s probably too late. The game has been long over.
Kei rolls onto his stomach and unlocks his phone. Opening the messaging app, he scrolls through his list of unsent drafts, Yamaguchi’s previous words still echoing in his mind.
Even if it doesn’t work out, Kei figures he owes it to both Kuroo and himself to step out and take a risk. After all, it’s due to his inclination that they’ve been revolving around in circles and missing each other. It’s his fault the ball has rolled out of the court. Maybe there’s still time for him to bounce back.
It takes a few seconds, but Kei finds what he’s looking for. Tapping on one of the draft messages he’d never finished writing, he pulls it up and types an ending to it.
the moon takes approximately 27 days to orbit around earth, which is the same amount of time it takes to rotate on its axis. as a result, we see the moon like it’s keeping still instead of spinning and never get to see the other side. in essence, we’re stuck orbiting like this around and around each other for the rest of time. unless, by some miracle of nature, another force comes in and decides to knock things off course.
Heart pounding fast in his chest, he hits send before he can think better of it. The second the text leaves, Kei drops his phone face down on his pillow, suddenly overcome with embarrassment at his actions. This is all so stupid. He’s losing his cool over a fucking text message for crying out loud. And besides, there is every chance that Kuroo might completely ignore this. After everything Kei has put Kuroo through, it wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest if Kuroo decided not to—
The high pitched screech nearly punctures his ears. Kei jerks in surprise as his phone buzzes in front of him. He had forgotten his earphones were still plugged in, magnifying the ringtone to ten times its usual sound.
Heart beating loudly in his ears, Kei flips his phone over and unlocks the message.
wow tsukki that was some real deep poetry you’ve got going there
but you know
you could also
A loud meow! rings in his ears with each successive text. Trust Kuroo to purposely drag out the phrases for this intended effect.
Wait a minute. Kei rereads the messages. Come downstairs?
Another series of meows cry out:
bet you missed hearing this ringtone 😉
they say absence makes the heart grow fonder
but don’t stall for too long tsukki-poo okay?
Kei raises an eyebrow. Haah?
Come downstairs. Come downstairs? If Kuroo is telling him to come downstairs, then that means…
Throwing his blankets off of him, Kei grabs his phone, his glasses, and his jacket then hurries out of the room. The moment he’s out in the hallway, he can hear Hinata’s obnoxious voice drifting up from the lounge area. Kei doesn’t have the best feeling about this.
At the end of the corridor, he places a cautious hand on the stairway railing and starts descending the steps at a careful pace. Once he reaches the first landing where the stairs change directions, Kei turns and feels his heart skip a beat.
There, leaning against the wall of the first floor hallway with his arms crossed, stands Kuroo Tetsurou in all his smug glory.
At the sound of his arrival, Kuroo turns his head to face him.
“Hello,” he greets, gazing out at Kei with those infuriatingly attractive lazy eyes.
“Um…” Kei blinks, feeling his throat go dry. “What’re you doing here?”
Kuroo’s smirk grows wider. “Waiting for you, of course.”
“Waiting for—” Kei splutters. “But how did you — how did you know…” — that I was going to text you?
“I didn’t,” Kuroo shrugs. “I just figured there was a chance that you’d finally decide to come around. If my hunch was right, I didn’t want to miss it. And here you are.”
Kei swallows, feeling the heat rise up to his cheeks. While Kei has been hiding away this entire time, afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone, Kuroo has already been sticking his neck out, willing to take the risk and the all-too-possible fall of Kei never texting back.
“But I never responded to any of your texts,” Kei points out as he walks down the last of the steps. He’s not sure what he’s fishing for, but he genuinely doesn’t understand it. Anyone else would have stopped reaching out, wouldn’t they? “So why are you still here? Not that I’m complaining or—”
Kuroo laughs as Kei stops at the final step. “Do you want me to leave?”
Kei feels his face burn. “No. That — that’s not what I meant.”
Kuroo’s lips curl in delight. “Well then. I fail to see the problem here.”
“You also stopped texting me,” Kei continues. “I thought that meant you'd lost interest.”
“You worried, did you?” he asks.
“No,” Kei mumbles. A lie. “But it would’ve made sense if you did.”
“Lose interest? In you?” Pushing himself away from the wall, Kuroo turns to face Kei, a winning smile on his face. “Never.”
Kei raises an eyebrow. “I still don’t understand.”
“Really, Tsukki?” Kuroo says, shaking his head. “Come on, it’s a leaf straight out of your own book. Playing hard to get.”
“I wasn’t—” But as soon as he starts these words, Kei knows it’s another lie. Playing hard to get hadn’t been his agenda at all, but in essence, when he considers the way he’s been acting and the reasoning behind it all, even he has to admit he’d unintentionally been doing exactly that. “Okay, fine. But you still kept it up way longer than I would’ve ever imagined. Why?”
“You know,” Kuroo hums, giving the matter some real thought. “To tell you the truth, I often wondered that myself. I guess you’re just too interesting of a person to let go of.”
Kei blinks, his entire body freezing up at the comment. Too interesting… to let go of. As he looks down at Kuroo, a triumphant feeling rises up in his chest.
“Surely, no one’s worth that much trouble,” Kei mutters in a low voice. Then, with a smirk of his own, he adds, “You must really like me, then, huh?”
“Speak for yourself,” Kuroo chuckles. “You're the one who gets off so much on ignoring my texts.”
“Wha—?” he flusters. “I’ve never — and how would you even know if I—”
“Relax, Tsukki, it’s just a figure of speech. Although of course, if you really wanted to take the concept to a literal level, I won’t stop you—”
“Oh my god, shut up. ”
Feeling bold, Kei places a hand on his shoulder and levels Kuroo’s burning gaze with one of his own. He’s not sure what’s gotten into him tonight but he’s feeling that same rare and elusive fire he felt in his chest that second he stopped Ushijima’s spike. The feeling that comes with weeks and weeks of chipping away at all his misgivings and reservations until he’s left with the invincible sensation that anything is possible.
“You owe me dinner,” Kei says. Kuroo’s neck is warm beneath his fingers and he has the sudden impulse to slide them up into his messy bed hair.
Kuroo tips his head up and looks him directly in the eye. “Whatever you say, Mr. Moonlight.”
Kei frowns. There are still a couple of problems between them here that he can foresee.
“Miyagi is really far away,” he mutters.
“So?” Kuroo shrugs. “What’s your point?”
“The bullet train costs north of 10,000¥.”
“I have Skype.”
“I don’t like mushrooms.”
“And I don’t love tomatoes. Is there supposed to be a correlation here?”
“Tokyo is really far.”
“You mentioned that already.”
“I actually do dislike texting.”
“Noted. Are you done making excuses?”
“No. I hog all the blankets at night.”
Kei feels his heart stop as Kuroo claps a hand on his shoulder and slides his thumb up to Kei’s cheek.
“You're getting way too ahead of ourselves,” Kuroo tells him. “I haven’t even proposed yet.”
Kei narrows his eyes. If such a time ever does come for them, Kei thinks, making a mental note for later, he will make sure he’s the one who proposes first.
“I’m just trying to prepare you for the worst.”
“Ah, you’re right,” Kuroo says in a mock lamentful tone, “The fact that you don’t like mushrooms is such a huge dealbreaker, Tsukki. Guess we’re not cut out for each other after all.”
“Shut up. It’s a legitimate concern.”
Kuroo lets out a soft laugh and leans in a little closer. “What’re you so afraid of?”
Kei holds his breath; with Kuroo’s eyes so close to his own, it’s all he can do to keep his knees from giving out.
“Regret,” he mumbles. “Failure… Putting forth all this effort only to suffer more later when things don’t work out.”
Kuroo smiles, a challenge flashing in his eyes. “You’re starting to sound like the old Tsukki. The Tsukishima Kei in front of me wouldn’t let fear dictate his decisions now, would he?”
Blood pumping in his ears, Kei tightens his grip on Kuroo’s shoulder. Kei is not the kind of person who makes big mistakes. He thinks ahead, anticipates possible outcomes and avoids worst case scenarios. Now, however, as Kuroo gazes up into his eyes, any concern he has about the future and their potential outcome flees his mind at once.
Twisting his fingers in Kuroo’s shirt, Kei tugs him forward and kisses him squarely on the mouth.
When he pulls away, he’s met with the sight of Kuroo smiling up at him, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
“Does that answer your question?” Kei asks, feeling rather smug with himself.
Kuroo licks his lips and pulls Kei down from the last step of the stairs so that they’d return to being the same level in height again. Flailing in surprise, Kei nearly loses his balance but Kuroo steadies him with an arm at his back.
“Almost,” he says cheerfully before leaning in to kiss him again.
Kei can count on one hand the number of times in his life where the path he thinks will lead to regret ends up being a path he doesn’t regret at all.
Giving Kuroo Tetsurou his number is at the top of the list.