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It’s nights like this Kenjirou second-guesses his commitment to a medical career. The semester has just started and he’s already nose-deep in his Microbiology book, struggling to ignore the music and distant chatter coming from the hallways. He has no interest in joining everyone else in celebrating the end of the first week of university, but sometimes he wishes he could also be so carefree. Still, he can’t afford to lose his scholarship. If that means sacrificing his already minimal social life, he doesn’t care. He finished his first year at the top of his class and he plans to do it again this year.

“You could relax for one night, you know,” Semi says as he gets ready to leave.

“Funny words coming from you,” Kenjirou scoffs at his roommate. “How many times have you begged me for help with your exams?”

Unbothered, Semi ignores him. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last time they have this conversation, and Kenjirou knows better than to insist. Besides, if Semi spends the night at his boyfriend’s then Kenjirou won’t have to put up with his music all night. He’s ready to focus back on his book when a message on his phone makes him frown at his screen.

“Why do I have a message from someone asking for their mentor?” Kenjirou asks. The way Semi flinches tells him he knew this would happen. “And why are they calling me Semi?”

“Oh, that—” Semi opens the door and already has a foot outside by the time he starts talking. “I was forced to join that dumb mentorship program to help first-years… I must’ve put in the wrong number, sorry!” He’s gone before Kenjirou’s book hits the door closing behind him.

With a sigh, Kenjirou looks down at his phone to type a reply.

[you][21:33]: You got the wrong number

[you][21:33]: contact sent

[unknown number][21:34]: oh

[unknown number][21:36]: where’s the head of admissions office?

[unknown number][21:37]: i was supposed to go before the end of the week but i forgot

[you][21:38]: That’s something you should ask your mentor

[unknown number][21:38]: but i’m talking to you now..

[you][21:41]: Main building, go right until you pass some stairs, turn left there and you’ll find it

[unknown number][21:42]: thanks!

[you][21:43]: Next time ask your mentor

 

[unknown number][12:24]: how do i reset my password for the website thingy?

[you][12:25]: Have you tried the red button that says “I forgot my password?”

[unknown number][12:26]: of course i did how dumb do you think i am

[you][13:11]: It worked, didn’t it?

[unknown number][13:11]: shut up

[you][13:12]: :)

 

[unknown number][03:02]: what’s the best place to eat around here?

[you][03:04]: it’s 3am

[unknown number][03:04]: so? can’t a guy plan in advance?

[you][03:06]: you’re texting me at 3am because you might be hungry later

[unknown number][03:06]: yea

[you][03:08]: I’m blocking you

[unknown number][03:36]: how do you feel about crispy pasta?

[you][03:37]: what the hell is wrong with you

[unknown number][03:38]: what if i just wanted to thank you for your help

[you][03:39]: you can thank me by not texting me at 3am

[unknown number][03:40]: does that mean i can still text you during the day?

[you][03:42]: no

[unknown number][03:43]: aw can i at least know your name, not-my-mentor?

[you][03:46]: no you’d start annoying me in person

[unknown number][03:47]: i’ll have you know i’m really cool irl

[you][03:47]: yeah you keep telling yourself that

[unknown number][03:47]: i will!

[unknown number][03:48]: anyway about crispy pasta..

[you][03:49]: i hate you

[unknown number][03:50]: maybe but you didn’t block me!

 

[unknown number][15:06]: what if i lost my student ID?

[you][15:07]: You get kicked out of uni

[you][15:07]: What a tragedy

[you][15:08]: You won’t have any more reasons to annoy me

[unknown number][15:10]: are you done?

[you][15:12]: Just go to the Student Centre they’ll get you a new one

[unknown number][15:13]: see? that wasn’t so hard

[you][15:13]: I’m never helping you again

 

Kenjirou would love to say he kept true to his word. Unknown number is annoying and demanding and dumb and so are his texts. It’s almost like he’s set on driving him insane. It doesn’t matter what time it is, or how much Kenjirou tries to remind him he never agreed to be his mentor, he doesn’t stop. Sometimes it’s about classes, sometimes it’s about food or dogs. Most times it’s nonsense.

Kenjirou still replies every time.

 

[unknown number][22:41]: hey how good are you with anatomy?

[you][22:42]: Please tell me that’s not an innuendo

[unknown number][22:42]: omg no???

[unknown number][22:42]: i can’t fail my classes or i’ll lose my scholarship

[unknown number][22:43]: but i’ve been really busy with practice and didn’t have time to catch up with classes

[you][22:44]: Ever considered prioritizing classes over practice?

[unknown number][22:45]: i’m on a sports scholarship.. i can’t skip practice it’s the whole reason why i’m here

[unknown number][22:46]: but i can’t lose my scholarship my parents would never support their gay son who wants to play sports for a living

[unknown number][22:52]: uh anyway

[unknown number][22:52]: sorry for oversharing

[you][22:53]: No it just took me off guard

[you][22:53]: Sorry they suck

[unknown number][22:54]: eh it’s okay they’ll regret it once i make it to the national team

[you][22:54]: Well at least you’re confident

[unknown number][22:55]: if i don’t believe in myself then who will?

[you][22:55]: Eh maybe you’re right

[you][22:57]: What do you need help with?

[unknown number][22:57]: :D !!!!

 

Something shifts in their dynamics after that night.

Maybe it’s the three and a half hours struggling to keep him focused as Unknown tries to memorize everything he needs for his exam. Maybe it’s knowing they’ve crossed a line when they’ve never talked about something personal before.

Whatever it is, they start talking more and more. Sometimes it’s just a dumb question followed by a short conversation, sometimes they stay up talking about nothing and everything until way past midnight even if they both need to be up early the day after. That’s how he ends up learning all about Unknown’s family and how sometimes he feels so lonely he regrets being so proud and stubborn. Even then, he refuses to give up. He spent too much time worrying about what everyone else says. Now he’s determined to chase his dreams no matter what.

Kenjirou thinks it’s sort of admirable, yet he’d never say it to his face. Instead, he tells him all about his own family and the pressure on his shoulders as the oldest sibling. He’s supposed to be the responsible one, yet there are days when he can’t help but wonder how different his life would be if he were the youngest child, bouncing around school clubs without a care in the world.

It’s weird, opening up to a complete stranger. But that’s exactly the reason why it feels so easy—there’s no fear of being judged or outed by someone who doesn’t even know his real name. Unknown’s presence, even if only through texts, has become a constant in his life. His messages come at the most random times, but they always come.

It takes Kenjirou a full morning of scowling and snapping at anyone who dares cross his way to realize there hasn’t been any message today.

He’s been lying on the couch, scowling at his phone for longer than he cares to admit when Semi gets back home.

“Please tell me you moved since I left three hours ago,” Semi says. His face says he already knows the answer.

“I moved since you left three hours ago.”

“Okay, you’re coming with me.” Kenjirou can hear the exasperation in Semi’s voice. “Wakatoshi’s game is about to start.”

“I need to study,” Kenjirou argues although he hasn’t touched a single book all day.

“Who are you trying to fool?” Semi huffs. “You’ve been doing nothing but stare at your phone.”

As much as he’d like to say that’s a lie, Kenjirou knows he can’t. Agreeing to go with Semi is easier than accepting how much today’s silence has been bothering him.

Only it does nothing to distract him from it. Semi might have taken his phone away from him, but Kenjirou is still thinking of Unknown. He knows he plays sports—what would be the odds of him playing volleyball? He could just… ask, but somehow the thought terrifies him. Things are fine as they are, they don’t need to get any closer than they’ve already gotten.

The cheers from the crowd around them remind him he’s supposed to be paying attention to the game. Their team just got the first set, led by Ushijima. He’s a great player, but Kenjirou’s eyes keep following one of his teammates, his hair styled in the most ridiculous bowl-cut he’s ever seen. It shouldn’t work for someone in his twenties but it does, although maybe it’s just his presence in the court. He’s scored just as many points as his captain and even from all the way up in the stands Kenjirou can see the fire inside him.

“I can get you his number,” Semi’s voice drags him from his thoughts.

“Shut up.”

“Oh, don’t want your boyfriend to be jealous?”

“What—” Kenjirou squeaks. “He’s not my boyfriend!”

“Yet you knew exactly who I was talking about.”

Kenjirou hates how much he can’t deny it. He hates it even more when an hour later he gets his phone back only to find there are no new messages.

He doesn’t talk on the walk back home, ignoring Semi’s attempts to include him in the conversation between him and his boyfriend. Even if he appreciates his efforts to distract him, all Kenjirou wants is to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. As soon as they get home, he climbs into bed, ready to sulk for the rest of the day. He doesn’t want to give in and admit how much he cares after spending so long building his mask.

He texts him anyway.

[you][19:16]: Ran out of dumb things to ask?

[unknown number][19:17]: hey not everything i ask is dumb!

[unknown number][19:17]: missed me today?

[you][19:17]: Never

[unknown number][19:18]: hmmm well you’ve never messaged me first before

[unknown number][19:20]: sorry i didn’t text earlier

[unknown number][19:20]: i had an exam and then a game

Seconds ago Kenjirou was about to throw his phone across the room, now he can’t even get himself to breathe. It has to be a coincidence. There are plenty of sports teams at their university, it’s completely possible there were two games on the same day… right? For all he knows, Unknown might as well be the star of the lacrosse team. He could just ask, get his answer, and stop overthinking. But what if that leads to learning something he’s not ready to know? Pretending not to be interested is a much safer option when he’s still terrified of getting to know the real person behind the screen.

[you][19:24]: Sounds exhausting

[unknown number][19:24]: it is!!!

[unknown number][19:25]: i’ve just been lying in bed since i got back

[you][19:25]: Aw poor you

[you][19:26]: I’ll let you rest then

[unknown number][19:26]: no! i like talking to you

Kenjirou’s heart is beating so fast he starts mentally listing all possible reasons. He isn’t any more stressed than usual, he hasn’t done any kind of exercise in the past hour, no caffeine, no alcohol. When he starts considering heart failure he knows he’s being stupid. But so is Unknown, for saying something like that so easily.

He’s probably just as friendly with everyone, Kenjirou tells himself. Why is it making him react like this, then? Why does it make him happy? He wants to say he likes talking to him too, he wants to admit that yes, he missed him today.

Instead, he types:

[you][19:32]: How was your game?

[unknown number][19:35]: aren’t you gonna say you like talking to me too?

[you][19:38]: But I don’t

[unknown number][19:40]: if you say so..

[unknown number][19:40]: anyway we won!!

[unknown number][19:41]: and i aced my exam so thanks for your help!!

[you][19:41]: It’s not like you gave me much of an option after your sob story

[unknown number][19:41]: sure sure

[unknown number][19:42]: what about your day?

[you][19:42]: Not much

[you][19:43]: Went to the vb game with my roommate

[unknown number][19:43]: oh that’s cool!!

[unknown number][19:44]: how was it?

[unknown number][19:44]: was it fun??

[you][19:45]: Yeah I guess

[unknown number][19:46]: who would you say was the best player from our uni’s team?

[unknown number][19:46]: if you say the captain we’re not friends anymore

[you][19:47]: Bold of you to assume we’re friends

[unknown number][19:47]: :(((

[you][19:47]: idk I didn’t pay much attention to him

[you][19:48]: But I assume he’s okay if my roommate’s dating him

[unknown number][19:49]: ohhh some cute player distracting you?

[you][19:49]: No???

[unknown number][19:50]: you should go for it

[you][19:51]: I only thought he was cute I know nothing about him

[unknown number][19:52]: HA so there was a cute player!

[you][19:55]: I hate you

Kenjirou doesn’t know how long he lies in bed staring at the ceiling. Unknown, whoever he is, is familiar with the volleyball team. That doesn’t mean anything. Semi knows them too and he doesn’t play any sports, he’s just dating their captain… Who Unknown apparently dislikes. But that doesn’t mean anything either, right? They both play sports, they both have a scholarship, they both go to the same university. That’s it.

But if he’s so sure about it, then why is he now imagining Unknown with a stupid bowl-cut?

 

The next morning, Kenjirou is still trying to come up with perfectly plausible reasons why Unknown might have beef with Ushijima. From what he’s learned of him, it’s probably something stupid. Maybe they’re classmates who simply don’t get along, maybe Ushijima cut in line right in front of him a year ago, maybe—

“Are you even listening to me?” Semi snaps from where he’s sitting across him. He claimed Kenjirou needed to get out of his room and dragged him to join him for breakfast at the cafeteria. It hasn’t really made much of a difference.

Kenjirou looks up from his coffee cup. “You were saying you’re thinking of dropping out of Uni to focus on your music.”

“That was a good guess, but no.” It’s pretty much all Semi has been talking about since the year started. It might not be the most solid of plans, but he’s good enough to make it worth the risk, not that Kenjirou would ever admit it out loud. But if he wasn’t talking about that, then there’s only one other option. “Wakatoshi’s roommate is hosting a party next week, you should—”

“I’m not going to a party.” He knows exactly how that would go: he’ll third-wheel Semi’s date for an hour or two and then he’ll be left on his own, surrounded by people he has no interest in getting to know. No, thanks.

Semi seems to want to insist when something makes him change his mind. When his lips curve in an ugly smirk, Kenjirou just knows he’s about to do something stupid.

“Goshiki!” he calls, waving at someone somewhere behind Kenjirou’s back. “Come sit with us!”

Even if he’s never heard that name before in his life, somehow Kenjirou knows exactly who it is without turning around. He doesn’t have to, anyway—the bowl-cut guy from the volleyball team plops down on the seat next to him with a greeting so loud it’s a wonder it didn’t burst his eardrum. What kind of person has that much energy in the morning?

“I was just talking about Tendou’s party,” Semi says. “You going?”

“I don’t think so,” Goshiki shakes his head. “I need to get up early for some extra practice.”

“Still hoping to take Wakatoshi’s place as the ace, huh?”

“I’m not hoping!” Goshiki protests. “I know I will!”

It’s almost cute how passionate he is about it, Kenjirou thinks, but then Semi has to ruin everything by opening his mouth.

“Y’know, taking a day off won’t hurt your chances,” he says, “and my painfully single roommate could use some company.”

His face feeling on fire, Kenjirou kicks him under the table. “What the—”

“You’re Semi-san’s roommate?” Goshiki asks. His voice sounds lower now and there’s a weird expression on his face Kenjirou can’t quite read.

“Yeah,” he scowls. “What of it?”

“Nothing!” Goshiki squeaks. “I—I just realized I’m late for class!” he says, jumping to his feet only to knock his knee on the table and spill coffee everywhere… Including Kenjirou’s clothes. “Shit—”

Kenjirou curses under his breath, reaching for a napkin to dry himself when Goshiki has the same idea. The moment their hands touch, Goshiki pulls back as if he’d been burned.

“Sorry!” he says, “I—”

“It’s okay,” Kenjirou huffs, exasperated. Semi’s laughter at this trainwreck doesn’t help at all. “Just go to your class.”

“My class?” Goshiki blinks.

“Didn’t you just say you’re late for class?”

“Ah—yes!” Goshiki says, his blush creeping up to the tips of his ears. “Uh, okay, I’ll just—uh, go.”

Kenjirou just groans in response, not even looking up at him as he runs off.

“Well, that was… something,” Semi snorts.

“That’s your fault for saying stupid shit.”

“I was just trying to help you—”

“Say another word and I’m poisoning your coffee next time,” Kenjirou says, getting up to head back to his room.

 

Forgetting all about it would’ve been easy if it had been a one-time thing. It isn’t. Every time he runs into Goshiki he starts acting weird, talking loud and not making any sense. He seems so different from the guy he saw back then at the game, so sure of himself to the point Kenjirou couldn’t take his eyes off him. In a single week, Goshiki manages to spill coffee on him two more times and trip on his own feet so much Kenjirou almost worries for his motor skills. Another time he knocks Kenjirou’s tray and then gets his order all wrong when he offers to get his breakfast for him as an apology.

When Goshiki spills coffee on him for the fourth time, Kenjirou decides he’s never eating in the cafeteria again.

[you][11:02]: I changed my mind

[unknown number][11:03]: ?????

[you][11:02]: he’s the most annoying person I’ve ever met

[you][11:02]: how is someone so loud

[you][11:02]: and clumsy

[you][11:03]: where does he get all that confidence from when he’s useless

[you][11:03]: and why is he EVERYWHERE

[you][11:04]: with his dumb smile and his even dumber hair

[unknown number][11:06]: wow okay

[unknown number][11:06]: that kinda sounds like you like him

[you][11:06]: how

[you][11:07]: I just said he’s annoying

[unknown number][11:08]: but then you mentioned his hair and his smile and that sounds… yknow

[you][11:08]: because they’re stupid

[unknown number][11:09]: that might just be your way of saying you like it

[you][11:10]: ugh you’re worst than my roommate

[unknown number][11:12]: maybe you should listen to him

 

Kenjirou would rather set himself on fire than to listen to anything Semi says. He keeps his distance from the cafeteria and rants over and over again when he still runs into Goshiki. Only now Unknown starts going quiet every time Kenjirou brings him up and he can’t help but wonder why everyone around him is being weird. Unknown is familiar with Ushijima, it wouldn’t be impossible for him to know Goshiki too. But Kenjirou has never mentioned his name or said anything specific, hasn’t he? He wouldn’t need any specifics if they were the same person…

Rolling to his back to stare at his ceiling, Kenjirou sighs. He’s been lazing in bed for most of the afternoon, trying to figure out what’s going on. The thought of Unknown and Goshiki being the same person is laughable. Goshiki is loud, selfish, and annoying. Unknown can be just as annoying, but he’s also smarter and kinder than he seemed at first. Maybe sometimes, only sometimes, Kenjirou finds him fun and interesting. And above all things, most of the time Unknown can communicate like a normal person.

Why, then, does he think of Goshiki when his phone pings?

[unknown number][18:30]: hey this is gonna sound weird

[you][18:31]: Everything you say is weird

[you][18:43]: What is it?

[unknown number][18:46]: nothing

[unknown number][18:47]: it’s weird

[you][18:48]: I don’t think you could surprise me anymore

[unknown number][18:54]: it’s just

[unknown number][18:54]: do you think you can like

[unknown number][18:56]: fall for someone you’ve never met in person?

Kenjirou doesn’t know what he expected but it certainly wasn’t that. The worst part is he can’t even laugh at him for saying something weird, because, well, it isn’t. If anything, it feels awfully familiar. Is that why Kenjirou’s been glued to his phone for the past few weeks? And is that why the thought of Unknown falling for someone makes his heart squeeze inside his chest?

It’s when his phone buzzes again he realizes he never replied.

[unknown number][19:04]: told you it was weird

[unknown number][19:04]: sorry

[unknown number][19:05]: let’s just pretend i didn’t say anything

Now, Kenjirou is many things. He’s smart, determined and hard-working. He’s stubborn, moody and cold. But right now, he’s nothing but a coward, so he replies ‘okay’ and buries his phone under his pillow.

 

A whole week passes and every attempt at conversation has failed. Kenjirou has lost count of the unsent texts on his phone, afraid to face something he’s not entirely sure he’s ready for. The few messages they’ve exchanged were about classes and the weather, nothing even remotely personal. It’s like they lost whatever it was they had.

It hurts how much Kenjirou was taking it for granted.

By the second week, Semi’s nagging to get him to leave his dorm is becoming unbearable. As a rule, Kenjirou has always done the exact opposite of what Semi suggests. It’s for the best, he’s always told himself. Nothing good could ever come from listening to his advice.

But nothing good has come from ignoring it, either.

He decides to give him a chance, but maybe he should’ve chosen something other than following him to someone’s house for a party. There are more people than he expected and Semi and Ushijima disappear sooner than usual. Soon enough he finds himself nursing a warm beer, standing by a corner away from everyone who might seem even remotely interested in starting a conversation. He’s considering walking all the way back home when his eyes land on a much too familiar bowl-cut right across the room.

Unlike him, Goshiki seems to thrive in company. At first glance, he seems happy, smiling and talking to some friends. The smile is gone from his face the moment they turn away. At least now he can see him act like a normal human being instead of… whatever he’s been lately. It’s a good thing he hasn’t noticed him yet—the last thing Kenjirou needs right now is another awkward scene.

Something doesn’t feel right. Kenjirou never thought he’d ever feel this way, but he thinks seeing him act like a weirdo isn’t so bad if the alternative is this, Goshiki looking lonely even when surrounded by people. He’s focused on his phone, an unreadable expression on his face. Kenjirou wishes he were wearing his dumb smile instead.

When his pocket vibrates, Kenjirou takes his phone out in record time.

[unknown number][23:49]: hey

[you][23:49]: hey

[unknown number][23:49]: how’s it going?

[you][23:50]: bored

[you][23:50]: you?

[unknown number][23:51]: same

[you][23:53]: been busy?

[unknown number][23:53]: aw did you miss me?

[you][23:53]: no

[you][23:55]: maybe a little

Kenjirou looks up to find Goshiki smiling at his screen. His heart pounding against his ribcage, he tells himself it doesn’t mean anything and redirects his attention to his phone.

[unknown number][23:59]: sorry i made things weird

[you][00:01]: pretty sure we stated everything you say is weird

This time, Kenjirou looks up just to catch him laughing.

Logically, he knows Goshiki might have been smiling at something else, laughing at something else, talking to someone else. But there are only so many coincidences he can accept so without taking his eyes away from Goshiki’s face, he presses call.

Goshiki’s smile falls and Kenjirou can sense his panic from where he’s sitting. When Goshiki doesn’t pick up, he calls again. And again. By the fourth, Goshiki lifts his phone to his ear.

When he hears the shiest ‘hello’, Kenjirou is so stunned by the confirmation of everything he’s been trying to deny he forgets how to speak. He doesn’t have a chance to, anyway—their eyes meet and Kenjirou can see his expression shift from confusion, to understanding, to dread. He looks ready to bolt out of there, but Kenjirou is tired of running.

“Can I sit with you?” he asks.

Goshiki blinks once, twice, then nods.

For all the awkwardness he’s been displaying every time they meet, Goshiki seems calm now. Resigned, maybe. He doesn’t flinch when Kenjirou sits right next to him, he just gapes at him with eyes wide and filled with questions.

“I thought you said you’re cool in person,” Kenjirou says, a lopsided grin curving his lips.

That seems to get Goshiki to relax. “I am!” he protests.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Kenjirou huffs a laugh. “How did you know it was me?”

Goshiki doesn’t look surprised by his question. “You said your roommate is dating Ushijima-san…”

Ah. Of course, it was Semi’s fault. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I thought you hated me!”

“Is that why you acted so weird around me?”

“Well, yeah…” Goshiki admits, the cutest blush tinting his cheeks. “I wanted you to like me.”

Taken by surprise by Goshiki’s honesty, Kenjirou stares at him for a minute. Was that a confession? “You know, when you asked your… weird question—”

“I thought everything I ask is weird.”

Kenjirou rolls his eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I was thinking about you,” Goshiki says, and something in his eyes makes Kenjirou’s heart try to beat its way out of his chest. “If that’s what you’re asking.”

Everything in Kenjirou is telling him to run, to stop talking before he says too much. For once, he ignores it. “Do you still want to know my answer?”

Goshiki nods. When did he get so close?

“I know it’s possible to fall for someone you haven’t met in person,” Kenjirou says, “because I did.”

“Is that so?” Goshiki licks his lips and all Kenjirou can do is follow the movement with his eyes.

“I fell for someone who keeps texting me at four in the morning to talk about dogs and ask the dumbest questions.”

“Sounds annoying.” The grin on Goshiki’s face tells Kenjirou he doesn’t believe it one bit.

“He’s extremely annoying.”

“Does he have a dumb smile and even dumber hair?”

“The dumbest.” Kenjirou laughs through his nose and leans a little closer. “You still think I should go for it?”

“Yeah,” Goshiki breathes out. “Yeah, you should.”

Following Semi’s advice didn’t turn out so bad this time. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to follow Unknown’s—well, Goshiki’s advice, too. He’s all Kenjirou’s been thinking about, after all, so he takes a deep breath, smiles, and leans in to kiss his dumb smile away.