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i will look at love as more than an instrument of pain

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"Bo," and Tetsurou hates the whining stretched out quality to his voice but he's not going to stop. "Come drink with me tonight."  

"I've got practice early tomorrow morning, bro, I don't think I can."

Tetsurou has to pause, wondering when Bokuto had gotten so responsible, and when they'd all grown old. 

"Risa broke up with me." Tetsurou is well aware that he's being manipulative, but he's just been dumped, and the only thing sadder than drinking with friends after a breakup is drinking alone after a breakup.

"I'll be over at your place in an hour with beers and ice cream," Bokuto says immediately, bless him. Maybe they haven’t grown that wretchedly old after all. “Akaashi has a deadline, so he can't come over - " 

"That's okay - "

"But I think Kenma might be available. Maybe Yaku. Do you need me to bring the PlayStation?" 

"I love you, Bo." 

Bokuto's raucous laugh through the phone, at least has not changed, no matter how many years have passed. “Yeah, I know you do, Kuroo.” 

 

"You dated Suzuki for what, a year?" 

"Eighteen months." 

Bokuto waves his can of beer over Tetsurou’s upholstery, contents sloshing precariously. "That's nothing,” he says, as the person who’d been dating the same man since high school. "You guys weren't thinking of getting hitched or anything, right?" 

"I was," Tetsurou says, remembering all the jewellery shops he'd visited in the evenings after work, trying to figure out which ring Risa would have liked best. In the end though, she'd been the one to leave - I'm sorry, she'd said after she sat down in front of him, But I think it's for the best as though that makes any kind of sense - and then left him sitting alone in the cafe, thinking with a twisted kind of relief while he clamps down on the mounting panic welling up in him At least I hadn't actually bought a ring because that would have been an expensive and awkward error. 

Bokuto swears. "You deserve better," he says, and usually Bokuto’s straightforward honesty is so in-your-face that one can't help but believe everything he says. Only Tetsurou is so far down a pit of self-loathing that he can't. 

“Do I really?” he asks, the question that has been haunting him since that breakup. What did It’s for the best mean anyway, he wonders sourly. 

“You didn’t like her that much anyway,” Kenma says quietly from his corner. He’d arrived and plugged himself into his Switch, headphones on, but his presence is always a comfort. 

“Kenma, I was picking out rings.”

“I didn't say you didn’t like her.” Kenma finally looks up from his game and levels Tetsurou one of his piercing looks, the one he gives before he delivers some kind of final, inexorable statement of fact that always make Tetsurou want to hide in a hole. “But you’ve never liked any of your girlfriends or boyfriends the way you liked Daichi.”

Tetsurou had braced himself for a blow that could have come from any number of directions- You weren’t ready for marriage, Risa was too good for you anyway, all of which painful truths that he'd spent months grappling even as he made the decision to propose.

But bringing up Sawamura? That was like bringing in nukes while everyone else was still trying to figure out how to load a canon. 

Bokuto whistles, long and loud as Tetsurou contemplates crawling into bed to die. “Low blow, Kenma."

“It’s the truth,” Kenma says, shrugging, bending over again so that his hair hangs over his face and he can’t see the glare Tetsurou is sending in his direction. 

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter how much I like someone, if they’re not going to like me back,” Tetsurou says pointedly. 

He’d been a good boyfriend, he thinks. He really had. He’d been attentive whenever Risa spoke, and made mental notes about her habits and her friends. He remembered their anniversaries and made sure they always had a special dinner then. He’d surprised Risa with flowers at work a couple of times - no occasion to it, he’d just gotten them delivered and she would plaster them all over social media to the jealousy of her friends.

He had been so sure he’d been doing it right. 

I feel like I don’t know anything about you, she had said, like that had meant anything. 

Tetsurou decides that that is enough reminiscing, and that he'd stop all brain functions by downing a few more cans of beer as quickly as he can. 

 

Kuroo Tetsurou had not meant to fall in love with Sawamura Daichi.

He'd been living his best high school life. He had a group of good friends. Had grown another few inches sometime between second and third year. The Nekoma team was really coming into its own now, especially with Kenma as the main setter. His grades were good. He was on track to his first choice university. 

Then he'd met the Karasuno captain - had noted the broadness of the other captain's shoulders and wondered first about his handspan when blocking, then noticed the steady, adult-like manner with which he spoke. Saw the way his team equally feared and respected him, even their giant ace, even their snarky blonde first-year. His hand had felt the press of Sawamura's hands on his, hours after they had left Miyagi.

Oh, he had realised on the train on the way back to Tokyo as his brain replayed for the hundredth time Sawamura's grin when they shook hands for the first time, the way he'd said We're looking forward to this match as well, how his fingers had tightened at the same time as Tetsurou's. I like him. 

The carriage had been quiet, silence only broken by Yamamoto's snores, the frantic clicking of Kenma's buttons from his game. He had closed his eyes, focused on the soft rocking of the train, the phantom pressure of Sawamura's hand on his. 

And he hadn't even thought to ask for his number. 

Well, that, he had thought, digging his fingers into his palm so tight that he almost broke skin. Is the end of that. 

But of course, it wasn't. Nekoma went on to lose at the InterHigh semis, and then summer rolled round and they had their annual training camp, and Karasuno showed up and Tetsurou learnt how Sawamura looks first thing in the morning - rumpled and eyes that can just barely be described as 'open' until he plunges into the coldest possible shower and comes out awake like some fucking masochist - when they ran into each other in the bathrooms. He learnt that the rival captain ate his weight in food, saw how he took every loss with more grace most teams have in victory. He climbed into bed every night with the knowledge that Sawamura was sleeping in the classroom right next to his.

In other words, it definitely wasn't the end of his crush on Sawamura Daichi. 

 

When the call from Yaku comes a couple of days later, Tetsurou almost doesn’t pick up.

Yaku hadn’t joined his pity party in the end - too busy with his wife and newborn child, who of course, took priority. It’s fine. Tetsurou knows that if he’d shown up he’d just have been kicked - literally and figuratively - until he stopped feeling sorry for himself. Which entirely missed the point of the pity party. 

“Hey,” Yaku says, and to his credit, he at least sounds concerned, instead of pissed that Tetsurou had taken forever to pick up. 

“Hi.” Tetsurou is in his living room on his couch, where he’d collapsed after he’d returned from work until Yaku's call had interrupted his very important business of listening to Adele at full volume while staring up at his ceiling.

“How’re you doing?” 

“Good good, spiffing, all well,” he says, but knows he wouldn’t even convince Yaku’s baby that he’s fine. 

“Sorry I couldn’t make it the other night,” Yaku says, and it takes too much energy for Tetsurou to roll his eyes so he doesn’t. 

“Papa Yaku’s got important things to take care of, I know.” And because that had come out far too bitter, he adds “I mean it. I don’t mean to sound sarcastic or anything, but… yeah.” 

“Apology accepted,” Yaku says after a moment. "Well, I’ll be going to Coach Nekomata’s retirement party in a couple of weeks so maybe I’ll see you there with the rest of the gang - "

“Ah. Fuck,” Tetsurou says out loud. He’d forgotten, and he has no idea how given that it’s been the biggest event on his social calendar for months now - both a farewell party for Nekomata, and a giant reunion for Nekoma and Karasuno teams past. 

Then he realises, of course his would-be fiancée breaking up with him and sending him into an existential spiral and subsequent reflection on all his relationships would make him lose track of things so he's not losing his mind. Not quite, anyway. 

“You’re coming, aren’t you?” Yaku’s voice is crystal clear over Tetsurou's gougingly expensive Bluetooth headset, disapproval dripping from each syllable and Tetsurou knows he’s going to be slipping into demon senpai mode in a moment. He chews his lip and decides to take his chance. 

“Sorry Yaku, the connection’s really bad, I’m going to have to call you back later - "

“I know you’re there, asshole. You are going to show up, right?” 

“Of course I will, it's Coach Nekotama’s retirement party, what do you take me for?” Even if Tetsurou is going to show up puffy-eyed and ugly, he will. He just doesn’t want to have to listen to Yaku talk right now - Yaku with his wife and kid and perfect little family, he thinks, then immediately feels guilty for his ugly thoughts. It’s not Yaku’s fault Tetsurou’s sad and alone. 

Yaku huffs impatiently. “I’m not even going to answer that one.” 

And like the snivelling child he still is, Tetsurou can’t help but ask “Do you know if Sawamura is coming?”

There’s a short pause, and when he finally speaks, Yaku’s voice is very gentle. “Yes, he is.” 

Tetsurou exhales with a loud whoosh, and he can’t tell if it’s relief or anxiety. Given that he can feel every one of his muscles tense up even further - something he really didn’t think was possible given that he feels like he’s been clenched into a giant fist since Kenma had dropped the proverbial bomb that is Sawamura Daichi's name - he’s going to think it’s not the former. 

“It’s been years, Kuroo.” 

“Don’t I know it,” he grumbles. 

“I’m not - this isn’t a lecture, you dick,” Yaku snaps. A pause, and then he says with a surprising amount of patience “There’ll be a lot of people there. You wouldn't have to talk to him.” 

It’s not like I’m afraid of that, I’m more afraid I find out that I still want to, Tetsurou thinks but because he hasn't sunk that low yet, manages to choke the words back. “I know. Thanks, Yaku.” 

Tetsurou spends the next few weeks in a haze.

They’d lost contact, once they graduated and Sawamura moved back to Miyagi, and things were never quite the same after their breakup anyway. For all he knows, Sawamura’s married and has a kid now. Maybe two kids now.

He always was the practical one, between the two of them. 

Tetsurou has moved on. He has, he tells himself. He’d tried, it had all been a high school crush turned college romance anyway, and he'd seen plenty of people around him break up with their college partners and then find someone else in the workplace and get blissfully married shortly after, so yeah. It wasn't like him and Sawamura breaking up - and over something as reasonable as distance, what with Sawamura moving back to Miyagi - had been the end of the world. 

Only, it had felt like the end of the world. 

It still does.

Maybe that was why Risa had left him - because who would want to be together with someone who didn’t have their shit together six years after their ex-boyfriend had broken up with them. He wonders what is wrong with him, that the prospect of meeting his college ex hurts far more than the fact that the woman he'd been about to propose to has just left him. 

Maybe you're still processing your breakup with Risa, a part of his brain says reasonably, and he wants to nod along, even when knows that that isn't it, and is still too afraid to examine the dark nest he's been shoving all his unwanted feelings into for years now. It's been years, really, but he still doesn't know when he won't be afraid to.  

Maybe Risa was right. If his life isn't in an utter upheaval because of their breakup maybe he didn't deserve her after all.  Maybe he hadn't really cared for her after all.

He just needs to be a normal human being, he tells himself for the umpteenth time, and move on

He does. He shows up at work on time, like he always does, and he joins his colleagues for lunch when asked and consumes convenience store sandwiches at his desk when he doesn’t, he goes out for drinks and karaoke after work when he has to. He wakes up early to run at least three times a week. He games with Kenma some nights, he still hits the court when he can with Bokuto, if only to prove to himself that he can do it still. He takes the train to his grandparents’ house in the suburbs for dinner every Sunday night, and does his best to spoil them, bringing them teas and fruit for them every time.   

It’s easy to slip into routine, he thinks. Especially when there are things too big for him to think about.

So he gets out of bed every day. He does his laundry, keeps his small apartment is reasonably tidy. He has friends, he’s doing well at work. He’s not moping or throwing regular pity parties. The ghost of Sawamura Daichi does not scare him. 

And all too soon, it’s D-Day.

He tells himself it doesn’t mean anything that he takes special care with how he dresses. He wasn’t going to look like a scrub, whether or not Sawamura shows up.

And yeah, maybe it’s a bit of an overkill to show up in a suit, but he had to head into work, that day. 

It’s fine. He’s fine. 

Someone had managed to pull enough strings so the retirement party is held in Nekoma High's gym. He assumes it is the current batch of students who had decked the place with streamers and decorations, the Nekoma motto hanging merrily from the second-floor railings.  He wanders around the gym pretending he isn’t tensed hard enough to shatter with a flick of a finger and greets the people he recognises - upperclassmen over the years, as well as some of the juniors. He thinks he recognises the Karasuno coach - the man’s hair now black instead of bleached blonde, but otherwise still looking the same, just with laugh lines and frown lines etched deeper into his skin. Then Coach Nekomata waves him over when he gets close enough. 

“You’re retiring for good this time, aren’t you, coach?” Tetsurou asks, clapping a cautious hand on the old man's back. 

“Of course, of course. Only the quiet life for me from now on.” 

“You say that, but it’d be just like you to back here in six months, telling the young 'uns how to play better.” 

Nekomata laughs, but Kuroo doesn’t miss how his face is a little wistful and decides not to press it any further. Yet another group of old students appear, and he quietly ducks out of the conversation, and promptly runs into what feels like a brick wall. 

“Sorry,” he mutters, rubbing his nose, and blinks, because of course, it’s him. 

"Sawamura," he says, mouth dry, his heart suddenly tripling its speed. He can feel his brain kicking into flight mode - We're still fit enough, we can run before he notices we're gone, come on Tetsurou - but for some reason, his legs are suddenly very heavy and won't move off the ground. 

"Kuroo," Daichi responds, a slight smile on his lips. 

He tries to think of something appropriate to say as his panicked instincts take in every inch of Daichi's appearance. Nice hair, it looks good on you, I bet you could still crush a watermelon with those thighs, I miss you, please please take me back. "People are supposed to get fat after ten years." 

A frown and Daichi raiases a hand to cover his face - Tetsurou hates himself for noticing that there isn't a ring on his hand - but Tetsurou knows he's not actually angry, and braces himself for the incoming riposte. "Speak for yourself, you're still a starved alley cat." 

"Ouch." Tetsurou staggers back dramatically, clutching his hand to his chest. "We don't see each other for years, and all you do is wound me." 

Daichi’s eyes are crinkling at the corners and it's stupid that he notices, and stupider that he thinks it's cute. "You started it." 

"It was a compliment.

"If I squinted hard and tilted my head at a specific angle, maybe." Daichi pauses, and then smiles more broadly. "You look good, Kuroo."

And there's that terrible chest tightening sensation again, the one he'd felt when they'd dated and he hasn't felt again since they'd broken up no matter how hard he'd looked, and as his chest releases, he feels all the tension he's carried since Risa broke up with him leave his body. Why was he panicking before, when Daichi is here, smiling up at him?

Sawamura Daichi it seems, was it for him. He can’t imagine anyone else coming close. 

Tetsurou doesn't know what to do with that fact now that he has discovered it and can only keep staring at Daichi, mouth hanging slightly open. Daichi is the one who saves him from the awkwardness in the end. 

"I'm actually going to be in Tokyo for the next few days," he says. Most people would think he was calm, but Tetsurou knows him well enough to see the tells - Daichi’s hands are behind his back, his right hand probably gripping his left tightly while he stands straight, and he isn't quite looking Tetsurou in the eye - and he wonders what on earth is Daichi so nervous about. "I know it's been a while. But would you like to catch up over dinner or something?” 

As usual, Tetsurou's brain works slower than his mouth, because before he's even done thinking Holy shit and Yes, of course, do you have a place to stay because my apartment and heart is always open to you his mouth is already curling into his signature smirk and saying "Missed me, captain-san?" 

Yay, his brain cheers. Successfully avoided any kind of life-altering confession while still managing to look suave. Good job, Tetsurou. 

Daichi rolls his eyes. "And all of a sudden, I don't anymore." 

"Aww, I know my charms keep many up awake at night." Tetsurou throws an arm around Daichi's shoulders - Friends, we're friends, friends do this all the time oh god did that sound like an innuendo? He feels Daichi stiffen slightly at the sudden contact, but at least he doesn't throw the offending arm off.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure you've caused a lot of people to lose sleep," Daichi gripes back as he reaches for his phone, still letting Tetsurou place his hand on him. "Are you still using the same number?" 

Tetsurou has died, he's sure he has, but he has no idea if this is heaven or hell.

 

And at the end of it, no matter how hard each team had worked, no matter how talented they were, no matter how much they want to win, there will always be a loser. 

The same was true when the ball fell in Nekoma’s side of the net and Karasuno was crowned the victor. 

The same was true as well when Karasuno faced Kammomedai. 

And while Nekoma had played their game to the absolute best of their abilities - it had still hurt. Tetsurou wasn't so petty that he would begrudge Karasuno their win but that hadn't change the fact that it had been his dream to win Nationals. 

They’d fought so hard, and yet come up so short.

He heard the door slide from behind him. “I’ll head back in a bit,” he said out loud, not turning around to face whoever it was. His cheeks had been burning in the cold, and the tears didn't help, but he couldn't seem to stop anyway. 

“Thought you could use some company,” the intruder had said - and ah fuck it had to be just his luck. 

“Thanks, Sa’amura, but I really wanted to be alone right now.” 

“Yeah.”

He did his best to stifle his sniffle, but it was that or let snot drip all over his face and then freeze painfully in place. “That means I want you to go,” he said pointedly. 

There was a shuffle, and then there were arms wrapping around him from behind. 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Sawamura said quietly in his ear and oh this was like something out of his daydreams, except he’d always thought they would be in reversed positions, where Nekoma would have beaten Karasuno, and he would graciously extend his hand to the defeated captain and ask him out. He hadn't planned for there to be this much snot involved. Certainly not on his part. 

That, of course, had not happened. And now here they were.

Tetsurou sucked in a breath of frigid air, trying to steady his breathing before he hyperventilated from shock. Sawamura’s chest was warm against his, and his arms - arms Tetsurou had spent hours fantasising about - were just as strong and firm as he’d always dreamt, and surely Sawamura could feel how fast his heart rate was going. 

“I had my cry session earlier with Suga and Asahi,” Sawamura said gruffly. “I get it.” 

And it was like a dam cracking open and finally breaking - the tears came out, and he was taking huge gulps of the freezing winter air, snot and tears running everywhere. Sawamura shifted so Tetsurou ended up crying on his chest. And then Sawamura rubbed his back like he was taking care of a child, and made a soft humming noise.

Eventually though, Tetsurou ran out of tears - he’d never been much of a crier anyway. Sawamura produced a pack of tissues, which he took.

“Thanks,” he mumbled after blowing his nose, very aware that Sawamura’s shirt was now covered with his snot. 

“Hey, us captains have got to stick together.”

“Right. Captains.” Of course Sawamura was just being kind. That was just like him, he thinks. So, so kind to everyone. Of course he won’t look at Tetsurou the same way he’d - 

He shook his head, trying to break off that depressing train of thought. Sawamura was here, when he could be with his team instead. He should be grateful. “Hey, Sa’amura-san. Hand over your phone.”

“Why?” Sawamura asked but he took his phone out anyway - a flip phone, Tetsurou notes, cute - and passed it to over. 

“Because I’m putting my number in here, of course.” He saved his contact on the phone, then sent himself a message. Sawamura scrunched his face up when he took his phone back and stared at the screen. It was adorable and it took all of Tetsurou's willpower to not kiss him on the nose. 

“Who says you’re my favourite captain?”

“Are you saying I’m not?”

Sawamura rolled his eyes, but Tetsurou counted it as a win that he didn't move to change the contact, only to tuck his phone away.

“You ready to go back in?”

“Nah.” Tetsurou squeezed his eyes shut and took a long breath. “Maybe in a couple of minutes. Need to get my captain face on, y’know.”

“Want me to wait with you?”

Does the human body need oxygen - But for once, his mouth couldn't come up with a witty quip to save him from saying anything stupid. “Thanks,” he said lamely instead. Sawamura nodded, and stayed with him until he felt he could face the rest of Nekoma. 

He did not say a word about his feelings. 

Sawamura never did text him back.

 

"How much longer are you going to pine for?" 

"I'm not pining," Tetsurou says desperately from Kenma's bed. "Pining implies that I'm waiting for something to happen. And I'm not waiting. Because nothing is going to happen. So there."

It only took a few minutes for him and Daichi to agree on a meeting place for the next day and the former captain had flashed Tetsurou a dazzling smile that almost made Tetsurou's heart stop and then walked away like he hadn't just changed the course of Tetsurou's universe again. Then Tetsurou walked straight over to Kenma, who had sequestered himself at the corner of the gym and was fending off wide-eyed kouhais who follow his livestreams. Something about how wild and unhinged he felt must have shown itself to Kenma because the younger man just sighed, took him back to his apartment and shoved a Nintendo Switch into his hands and piled his favourite snacks in front of him before logging into his own computer to game, all without saying a word until now. 

To his credit, Kenma's eyeroll is barely imperceptible. Tetsurou feels the motion anyway, and flinches as though the back of his head is spiked with a volleyball. 

"What am I going to do, Kenma?" Tetsurou groans, rolls off the bed and flops onto the floor, barely registering the smack of his flesh against the surface as he whines. "You'd think that I would be over a stupid high school crush by now." 

"Maybe you should tell him about it." 

Tetsurou sits up immediately at the thought. "Absolutely not.

Kenma's sigh is all too familiar now. It's like they've had this conversation multiple times. Which they have, Tetsurou realises. Not just the circular conversation they been having all night, but over the years.  

“I told you you liked him more than Risa.” 

The sounds of the video game starts up again as Kenma returns his attention to the screen. Tetsurou thinks about all the times they’d done this before - after losing a volleyball game in middle school, after getting his heartbroken for the first time, after - one Sawamura Daichi is the reason this happens a lot. He wonders how Kenma isn’t sick of him yet. 

“Why,” Tetsurou demands. “Is the measure of how much I like a person is based on how much of a wreck I am when they leave me?” 

“How else would you want it to be measured?” 

“The amount of time I spent with them.” Tetsurou gestures wildly. “How much effort I put in in remembering what they like, and what they don’t.” 

“A lot of people don’t like their jobs, but spend a lot of time with them,” Kenma points out, all too reasonably. 

“I do everything to raise affection levels! I take them out! I notice their hair! I buy them nice things!" 

“People aren’t video games,” Kenma says slowly as though speaking to a remarkably simple child. “You can’t just plug them in and pump in specified amounts of time and receive an expected output.”

Tetsurou squints. “And yet, you still hand me otome games whenever I come over.”

Kenma shrugs. “I was hoping you’d pick up some tips there.”

"My point exactly." Tetsurou sighs. "I've done everything that would normally work in a video game. Why are people so hard?" 

"Not everything, I think," Kenma says cryptically, but of course, won’t elaborate further.  "You can come hang here whenever you need to cry," Kenma says, not turning away from the screen. He leans his chair back slightly, so the weight of it rests against Tetsurou's back while he continues to play his game. 

Tetsurou could cry at that.

 

"Kuroo san!" He'd thought so much about that voice in the last few months that he at first was convinced that he was hallucinating, and then he turned and felt a clap on his shoulder and he had known who it was before he turned and schooled his expression into something that is less like a mixture of panic and awe.

"Sa'amura san," he had drawled, because he was a master actor. The cherry blossoms were in bloom around them as they stood in the university grounds, like they were out of a shoujo manga. He had wondered who the scriptwriter for his life was, and if they were going to run out of cliches anytime soon. "What a surprise. Don't tell me you're studying here too?" 

"I am," Sawamura had said, and Tetsurou knew it wasn't biologically possible, but he swore his heart stuttered in his chest, torn between joy at the thought of getting to see Sawamura on a regular basis, and sheer terror. 

"You never texted me," Tetsurou blurted out, because he was a deeply pathetic man.

"You didn't text me first," Sawamura shot back too-quickly, and grimaced after like he had immediately regretted the outburst. 

"Oh ho? So were you just playing hard to get, Sa'amura?" Tetsurou's mouth automatically spat out while his brain tried to take in Sawamura's expression - flushed cheeks, furrowed brows, looking almost bashful, for some reason. 

"Shut up," Sawamura replied, turning away. 

Tetsurou decided the best thing to do would be to change the subject because he didn't know what other stupid things he might just say if they continue down this line. He slung an arm around Sawamura's shoulders, which were as broad as he'd remembered, and asked "So, how's the big city been for the country bumpkin so far?" 

 

The next day, Tetsurou winds up at the train station they'd agreed to meet at ten minutes early, because he is that pathetic. To his surprise, Daichi is already there, checking his phone. 

"Sawamura!" he drawls, like his insides didn't light up at the sight of the other man. "Been waiting long?" 

Daichi's face is pink, probably from waiting in the cold. "Not at all, I only just got here." 

"Eager to see me, Sa’amura?" he teases. 

"I note that you arrived here early too," Daichi says dryly and Tetsurou has no witty comeback to that at all. "Now where is this famous ramen place?" 

He leads him to a small family-run eatery that Tetsurou had discovered once when stumbling back from a bar - drinking because he’d been dumped, again - and the owner, a kindly wrinkled man had given him the best bowl of ramen he’d ever eaten in his life as well as a stern talking to about throwing up in the plants at the front. 

Not that Daichi needed to know about that.

They catch up between slurps of noodles and long draughts of beer. Tetsurou talks about his job at the Japan Volleyball Division and what marketing and promoting was like - I don't even know how I'd ended up here when I spent four years studying cells Sa'amura, life is so strange  - It fits you somehow though. You seem to like it - Oh yeah I do but man, I could tell you about how freaking picky some of our clients are.

Meanwhile, in the time that they’d been apart, Daichi passed his prefecture’s exams to become a police officer on the first try - Always knew you could do it Sa’amura, you smarty pants you - Shut up, Daichi says without any real heat, ducking his head in embarrassment. He’d moved out of his parents’ place to rent a place in Sendai with Sugawara, who is now a kindergarten teacher - It fits him, Tetsurou says, and Poor kids and Daichi sniggers into his ramen and Tetsurou feels all warm that he’d managed to make the man laugh. Asahi, he learns, ended up moving to Tokyo after apprenticing with a tailor in Miyagi after high school, and Sugawara and Daichi visit his studio every few months. 

"So you've been coming by Tokyo, and I've not seen a hair of you?" is what comes out of Tetsurou's mouth. He doesn't know how he keeps his voice light when his hand is shaking a little by his side. 

"Ah." Daichi looks down at his beer, almost like he's embarrassed. 

"I'm hurt, Sa'amura-kun, I thought we were closer than that." Shut up, Tetsurou, the man clearly didn't want anything to do with you, he tells himself, and mercifully, his mouth clamps shut then.

"I thought," Daichi gulps, looking unsteady and unable to meet Tetsurou's eyes even though he hasn't had that much to drink. "I thought you didn't want to see me anymore." 

"Oh, Sawamura." He blinks, glad that Daichi isn't looking directly at him because he isn't quite sure what expression he has on his face now, only that he doesn't want Daichi to see it. "Why would you ever think that?" I'd love to see you, every day, all the time, and that's the problem. 

"I thought you hated me." Daichi is drawing circles with his finger on the sticky tabletop, still unable to look at Tetsurou. "After our breakup." 

Oh. "No, I didn't," Tetsurou says slowly, very aware that every word that came out of his mouth is extremely important, and how their friendship would operate going forward is dependent on what he says. "I was hurt at the time, and angry, but - " He takes a deep breath and the words spill out like water from an overfull glass. "I could never hate you." 

"Oh." Daichi's finger stills, and his eyes are wide, still fixated on the fake wood grain of the table laminate. "Oh." 

Too honest Tetsurou, what the fuck are you doing. 

Daichi chooses to interrupt his mental lambasting by clearing his throat. "All this time. I thought - I - "

"I thought you wanted space," Tetsurou says, feeling very cold. "You said - you moved out and I assumed that was what you wanted." 

Daichi laughs more than a little nervously. "I don't really remember much about that night anymore. It was a long time ago." 

Six years, seven months, and if you gave me a bit I could probably count it down to the number of minutes since we broke up. "Yeah, years."  He runs a hand through his hair. "I never hated you," he says, because he feels it is extremely important that he emphasises this now. "I've - it's been good talking to you again." We could have been talking all this time, he thinks.

"It has," Daichi says, face wistful as he finally looks up. "Did I tell you about the dog my parents got after I moved out?" 

"Photos. Now," Tetsurou demands, and the tension between them leaves like air leaving a burst balloon. He coos appropriately over the photos, stealing glances at Daichi while he's not looking and thinks Fuck, I missed this jawline and again, We could have been talking like this before.

“What?” Daichi suddenly asks, eyebrows knitting in a frown. Tetsurou has a sudden memory of laughing and brushing at the groove between his eyebrows - You're going to be an old man before your time, Sa'amura-san and his fingers twitch. “You keep staring at me.” 

“I’m just glad,” Tetsurou says as he reaches for his beer because there is no way he can look at Daichi now without molesting his face. “You seem happy with your life.” 

"I am," Daichi says softly after a long pause. "Are you, Kuroo-san?" 

Yeah, I like my job, and my apartment, and my friends, and apparently I can't go on a date without comparing them to you but everyone leaves me after that so that doesn’t really matter, but apart from that fly everything is peachy. Also since when did you start calling me Kuroo-san? 

He chugs down his beer instead and shrugs, smile on his face like a shield. "I'm doing alright."

“I think our younger selves would be proud of how we’ve turned out,” Daichi says, resting against the back of his chair.

Tetsurou wonders about that. 

 

They were at a party to celebrate the end of their first semester, before they all went home for the summer break. It's unbearably hot out in Tokyo, and they're sprawled around the university's field. Tetsurou had moved out of the main field and is watching the festivities from up a hill, taking large swigs of rapidly warming beer while contemplating what the hell he was doing with his life.

There’d been a girl earlier, who had stopped him after their exam, blushed, said she had admired him from afar all semester and had caught a couple of his volleyball games, said that she was taking the module for her general requirements and was actually from another faculty and wouldn’t see him around much anymore after the term was over, and then asked if he wanted to go out sometime over the summer.

He’d been taken aback, thought about it for two seconds and then he’d turned her down - as gently as he could, with excuses about his busy schedule and how he wasn’t really keen on starting something he wasn’t sure he could see through to the end - but he'd turned her down all the same. 

He wasn’t even quite sure why. She had been cute, he thinks, in a magazine sort of way, all small doe-like features, artfully tousled hair and stylish clothes. And even if he hadn’t really noticed her presence in class before, he’d admired how she had approached him with a quiet sort of determination, and made it through her confession without stammering once.

She had, he thought, deserved someone far better than a complete loser like him.

"Hey." He turned to see Sawamura Daichi, the source of all his uncoolness, stepping over a bush. "Mind if I joined you?" 

Of course, his brain blabbered. Did you even have to ask? Can I get you something? Water? Another beer? My undying devotion

And yes, perhaps Sawamura Daichi was the reason why he had said no. It felt dishonest to think about going out with anyone else, but whether it was because he felt bad for the girl or that he’d feel like he was almost cheating on Sawamura - well, he wasn’t sure and didn’t think he wanted to examine that clusterfuck of emotions quite yet. 

Instead of saying anything that would reveal his inner turmoil though, he had lifted his shoulders. "It's a free country, Sa'amura-kun," he said lightly, as though Sawamura's presence absolutely didn't matter.

Sawamura flopped down beside him, and somehow didn't spill any of the beer in his hand. "Thought you'd be down there doing something with Bokuto," he said. 

"He can get up to plenty of trouble by himself," Tetsurou replied, trying to not notice the way Sawamura’s sweaty hair was adorable or how his T-shirt stuck to his skin. "The man defies all laws of physics and has an infinite amount of energy. I, on the other hand, am a mere mortal, and have not recovered from my last paper." He knows he's blabbering, but he can't help it, not when Sawamura sits close enough to him for him to feel the body heat radiating off his skin, even on this muggy summer night. 

They'd spent time together over the semester of course, but rarely one on one. There were always other team members after volleyball practice, or study groups with other people. He hadn't had time to built up some kind of immunity to Sawamura's presence, especially not when Sawamura had all his attention on him, the side of his mouth quirked up in a grin.

"You talk a lot, Kuroo-san." 

Testurou waves a hand. "C'mon Sa’amura-kun, we're past those formalities at this point."

"Maybe I just like annoying you." 

Tetsurou huffs. "Nice try, but I was a captain too. You're going to have to do better than that."

Sawamura laughs - and oh god Tetsurou is fucked, he really is - and then taps a finger on his chin. "And I was with Suga for a good three years. I'm good at dealing with the annoying ones."

"Is that a challenge, Sa'amura?" Tetsurou said, peeking at the other boy from under his lashes.

Sawamura pretended to consider this. “Nah,” he finally said. “Too hot right now.” 

“True that. Truce until we come back in the fall?" Tetsurou raised a hand for Sawamura to shake, and Sawamura took it, clasping back hard and firm, and Tetsurou thinks for a moment that they might actually have a normal handshake for once, but on some cue even his consciousness is unable to register, they both tightened their grip at the exact same moment. 

"This is nice, isn't it?"  Sawamura grinned as he tried to crush Tetsurou's bones to powder. "Like old times." 

"Oh yes," Tetsurou agreed, squeezing just a bit harder and watching with satisfaction as Sawamira winced. "I think you might have lost your touch a little, there though, captain-san. Don't worry, I won't tell your baby crows." 

He didn't know how long they had been staring at each other as their palms turned sweaty and red under their hands but neither of them loosened their grip because that would mean admitting defeat - which meant Tetsurou got to drink his fill of Sawamura: the rictus grin on his face, which somehow managed to still be endearing, his dark brown eyes and brows scrunched in concentration, his lips pressed against each other - 

"Hey," Tetsurou blurted out, because he's drunker than he's ever been, and he can pretend that he can't remember if it all goes wrong. "What would you do if I kissed you now?"

"Oh." Sawamura's face was very pink. Tetsurou wondered how much he's had to drink - not enough that he can't consent he thought, if he's still able to tease him. "I suppose it would be rude to not return the favour." 

He choked on his own spit, and released Sawamura's hands. Sawamura just thumped him on the back like a good friend, amused smile on his lips. 

"Since when were you so smooth?" Tetsurou asked once he stopped dying. 

"I must have spent too much time with you,” Sawamura quips back without missing a beat. "Also, I think that counts as a win," he says, winking as he shook out his pulverised hand. 

Tetsurou was dying, and as he did, he carefully preserved the image of winking Sawamura in his brain. But he also had his reputation at stake here, so he wasn't going down without a fight. 

"Sawamura," he said, and his voice must have been serious enough that the other boy started and looks at him with surprise. "Last chance to back out." And he brought his hand up to cup Sawamura'a cheek - his poor, tortured hand, but for Sawamura, it will work - and rested his thumb by the corner of Sawamura's mouth so there is absolutely no mistaking his intention.  

"Crows never back out," Sawamura replied, but despite the cockiness of his answer, his eyes were wide and his breath was a little ragged and Tetsurou wanted so hard to believe that he also wanted this just as much - 

Sawamura's lips were chapped and dry under his, and it was soon pretty clear that neither of them knew what they're doing. 

It was perfect anyway. 

It had been his first kiss. He never dared ask Sawamura's if it was his as well. 

 

Daichi goes back to Miyagi and Kuroo is left in Tokyo trying to remember what his life was like before the man casually strolled back in and wrecked it. 

They start texting again - small, banal things that have Tetsurou smiling at his phone anyway every time he gets a message. Daichi sends him a photograph of the cat he passes when patrolling at work, and he teases with Slacking off at work, officer? He regrets it instantly because he doesn’t get another message until after the end of Daichi’s shift. Sorry, was at work, you know how it is he receives in response.

Basically, his life is wonderful. His ex-boyfriend is talking to him after years of silence and he knows now why all his other relationships have fallen through - because he is still a complete and utter simp for one Sawamura Daichi. 

“Just tell him,” Yaku hisses to him during their bi-monthly dinner and drinks where everyone has to hear Tetsurou talk about the spider Daichi had found outside of his house earlier that day. "Tell him and put us all out of our collective misery." 

“I can’t,” Tetsurou wails, slamming his forehead onto the table with a loud thunk.

His feelings for Daichi are embarrassing. They always have been. They meet the one time, text a little after with Daichi back in Miyagi and Kuroo’s ready to drop to one knee and tell Daichi he wants to spend the rest of his life with him.

Who would want to go out with that? Certainly not Sawamura Daichi - cool, steady, reliable, put together Daichi. 

"So help me," Yaku mutters into his beer. "We are not doing this again."

"Fuck off." Tetsurou glances up blearily from his place on the sticky table. "What do you mean, again?"

"Again!" Yaku yells, throwing his hands in the air. "Where we watch you pine over him, and I get messages from Suga complaining how he sees Daichi pine over you, and for some reason you both are convinced that it's not going to work out even though you're absolutely miserable without each other and are too much of idiots to just get over your stupid pride and tell each other that!” 

“Wait,” Tetsurou blinks, trying to catch each word from Yaku. “Suga complains about what?” 

Yaku lets out a long sound that sounds like a scream through gritted teeth. 

"Kuro." Kenma's voice is very quiet, but still manages to cut through the din of the bar. "Why did you two break up?" 

“Because he was moving back to Miyagi,” Tetsurou says, closing his eyes and trying not to recall that last conversation. It'd haunted him enough for years. “Because he said that we weren’t going to work with long distance.” 

I would have followed him, he thinks. I would have done everything I could to make it work. 

But if Daichi had thought that they wouldn’t work out - if Daichi hadn't even wanted to try - 

It had been a quiet Thursday morning, Tetsurou remembers. He'd been about to run out of the house for class, and then the moment fell like a sledgehammer to his glass self. He didn’t know then, what was the right thing to say or do. 

"You should talk to him," Yaku says like a broken record. 

"No," Tetsurou says, and calls for another beer. 

 

"Oh.” Sawamura’s mouth fell open in a perfect O as he came out of the lecture theatre and spotted Tetsurou slouched by a nearby wall. 

" 'sup, Sa'amura." He waved a hand lamely as the man in question made his way slowly to him. 

"I thought you didn't have class today." 

Yes, but I wanted to walk you back to your dorm, and maybe hold your hand as we walked and maybe kiss you some more and I'd like to be allowed to do that for the rest of my life - Shut the hell up, he told his brain. 

Sawamura had gone back to Miyagi the day after they'd kissed, and they had texted some over the summer break, and Tetsurou had constantly reminded himself to not come on too strong, because any normal person would freak at how obsessive he is over Sawamura Daichi. They hadn't even discussed their status yet - they hadn't even discussed the fact that they'd kissed yet, so if Sawamura didn't want to remember it then he wasn't going to bring it up. 

Tetsurou thought, at the very least, Sawamura did not seem to mind his company or the incessant texts he sometimes sent over. He'd replied to his messages and even sent some random photos of his day as well. He'd take it over nothing.  

"I needed to check out something in the library," Tetsurou shrugged, as though he hadn't taken a train to campus just to see if Sawamura wanted to hang out. "Thought I'd stop by and say hi." 

"Oh," Sawamura said again. He shifted the straps of his bag on his shoulder. "Well, I'm done for the day," he said, and Tetsurou didn't say I know, I've got your schedule saved ever since you sent it to me. "Do you - would you want to have dinner together?" 

"Are you offering to cook for me, Sa'amura-san?" Tetsurou asked, lips curling while he crossed his arms, resisting the urge to reach out to hug the other boy. 

Sawamura rolled his eyes. "For that, you don't get any egg in your instant ramen." 

"Hey! What do you mean, for that?" 

"That sleazy thing you do that makes me want to half punch you and half kiss you - " He stopped himself, but Tetsurou had heard him.

"Oh ho? Did I hear that correctly?" 

"Shut up," Sawamura muttered and started marching in the direction of the school dorms. Tetsurou chased after him, unable to stop a grin from spreading across his face.

"No Sa'amura, was that right? Did you say you wanted to kiss me?" 

"Did you miss the part where I said I'd like to punch you as well?" 

"Worth it," he said smugly, his disaster brain for once in agreement with the way his mouth liked to run off. 

Sawamura made a strangled noise. "Later," he said. "In my room." 

Tetsurou stopped in his tracks, and felt the grin spreading across what must be half his face, because it was starting to hurt, but fuck if he can stop now. "Sa'amura I've waited all summer for this - " 

And then his mouth snapped shut because Sawamura had grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. 

"Well," he said in his stern captain voice, and Tetsurou might have been captain once too but he wasn't immune to Sawamura by any means. "You'd better walk faster then." 

 

"He texted me while I was thinking about him," Tetsurou coos to Bokuto when they meet for dinner, because Bokuto is now the only person who will put up with his incessant updates on Daichi. "That means something, right?"

“Bro, I hate to break it to you,” and here, Bokuto pauses and to his credit, looks genuinely apologetic. “But you're never not thinking about him." 

He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. That’s not true, he wants to protest immediately, but settles for grumbling instead. “Now you're starting to sound like Yaku."  

"Well, maybe Yaku has a point?" 

"Since when did you get so sassy?" 

Bokuto shrugs. "Must have been because I've known you for so long." 

“My friends are the worst.” 

“We’re the best. We’ve put up with this for years, man.” 

“I can’t help that he’s adorable,” Tetsurou whines. “Also, I put up with you when you were moping about how you couldn’t ask Akaashi out.”

“And then I did," Bokuto says, completely unperturbed. Tetsurou wonders if it's being with Akaashi for so long and he's mellowed out, or just how low his life has sunk that he can't even provoke Bokuto right anymore.

“And now I just put up with you two being saps with each other.” 

Bokuto shrugs again, and steals some of Tetsurou’s tempura, and Tetsurou is too busy thinking What the fuck has my life even become that he can't bring himself to protest at the theft. “What can I say, Akaashi’s the best.” Tetsurou feels a spike of jealousy so strong he shudders.

It’s not like he likes pining over someone who will never look at him the same way. He wants the easy steady love that Bokuto and Akaashi share - how much they look at each other with absolute adoration, how easily they show affection in public. He wants all that too.

And yet, now that Daichi’s back in his life, it feels like it doesn’t matter. They talk now, and this, he thinks, is enough. Better than all the half-hearted dates he’d tried to put himself through, going through all the motions because that was the healthy thing to do. 

He's okay being single, he thinks. He's happy with what he has now - he really, really is. 

 

One morning, Tetsurou had woken up alone in a bed that was not his and panicked. 

He'd blinked, realised he was in Daichi's room, and then panicked some more.

It's not like he hadn't been in Daichi's room before. Usually only at night, when they had post-practice study sessions that then devolve into make-out sessions which had only very recently turned into sex sessions but Tetsurou had always been careful not to impose and would leave right after. 

Oh god, he thought. Daichi was going to catch on about his embarrassing amount of feelings and declare him too-clingy and then break up with him.

He rolled over on the bed so he was face first in the mattress and could let out a muffled scream. 

The sheets smelled of Daichi. And sex. Which was a little gross and Daichi probably should clean his sheets and Tetsurou should help him with that because he's a responsible person who looks after his messes but that would mean staying even longer and he wasn't sure Daichi would be happy with that.

There was a knock on the door, and Daichi stepped into the room at the same time Tetsurou rolled himself off the bed while trying to untangle his self from the blanket and landed on the floor with a thump. 

"Ow," Daichi said while Tetsurou let out a long groan. "Well. I bought breakfast." 

"Thanks Sa'amura," Tetsurou managed to say once the room stopped spinning. 

Daichi pulled out the low foldable table - the one they'd been studying on the night before, the same one where Tetsurou had spread Daichi over after they were done with their work and enthusiastically eaten Daichi out - and laid out the convenience store breakfast out. Bread for himself, a proper Japanese breakfast bento for Tetsurou, complete with grilled fish. It's still warm from the microwave, Tetsurou realised, and wondered when Daichi had learnt his breakfast preferences. 

"Are you planning on doing anything today?" Tetsurou asked whilst separating his fish from its bones, studiously trying to not look at Daichi as he did. 

"Catch up on homework, laundry, the usual kind of thing," Daichi said.

"I thought you finished your homework yesterday."

"Maybe I would have, if someone hadn't insisted on distracting me."

"Who on earth would be so cruel as to keep you away from your responsibilities?"

Daichi snorted into his bread at that and Tetsurou shouldn't think it's cute, but he does.

"Well," Tetsurou said. "I can always stay to make up for that villain's dastardly deeds. Help you with your laundry since I had some hand in making that mess. If you want," he tacks on casually, throwing in a lazy smile, but always afraid that he comes across as too desperate.

"Whatever will I do without you," Daichi says, rolling his eyes. "Don't you have to get home to see your parents, though?"

A twinge, but a familiar one, like an old scar overstretched. He had made a mental note to tell Daichi about his family, at some point.

"I can go back tomorrow," he said instead.

"Well," Daichi said. "Gloves and cleaning material are in the cupboard over there."

Tetsurou had balked at that. "Gloves?"

"You're helping me clean, aren't you?" And Daichi had winked at him, the bastard. "Going to scrub the place out properly."

"You're going to pull out a black light at some point, aren't you?"

"Don't give me ideas, Kuroo."

 

“I’m going to be in Sendai for business next month,” Tetsurou says on the phone, because they’ve started calling now and Tetsurou not only gets to text Daichi but also hear his voice - all because Tetsurou had caved one day and hit the call button on impulse when they’d been texting late at night and he’d fallen asleep remembering what a sleepy Daichi’s voice sounded like and they haven’t stopped since. 

"Oh," Daichi says. “When exactly?" 

They confirm a date to meet up for dinner and drinks. 

"I'm going to look like absolute shit after three straight days of meetings, Sa'amura, I'm warning you."

"I'll try not to drop dead from horror," Daichi says dryly. "Also I've seen you during exam season" and Tetsurou's heart stops working for a moment at that casual reminder that yes, they used to live together "So I think I'll be okay."

"Right," Tetsurou says, mouth dry. “See you then.” 

 

Tetsurou can still remember how they'd agreed to move in together. It had been less an agreement really, but more like a decision that Daichi had made and he, grasping at anything that Daichi was willing to give, took it.

“Rent in Tokyo,” Tetsurou had moaned, looking up from the listings on his screen as his eyes slowly crossed. “Sucks. Why did my landlord have to decide to sell off the perfectly functioning entire block to corporate overlords? Why am I forced to choose between a two hour commute from school and an apartment that might be haunted, Daichi? Why are we stuck in this evil capitalist world? Why?”

“I’ve been looking for a place longer than you.” Daichi had an amused grin on his face as he reached over to ruffle Tetsurou’s hair like he was five, instead of twenty, and quickly reaching his third year in university. Tetsurou wasn't complaining. “It’s not so bad. What if you just got a shared apartment?”

“And deal with a roommate who might smell, or clip his toenails in the living room, or murder me in my sleep?” Tetsurou scrunched up his nose, as though he can already smell the offensive stink from his future roommate.

“Well,” Daichi said. “I promise not to clip my toenails in the living room, and I don’t think you have a problem with the way I smell. No promises on not murdering you in your sleep though.” 

Tetsurou felt his mouth hang wide open as Daichi rifled through a stack of papers and then hands them to him, pointing at some of the listings printed out. 

“I’ve circled the ones that I think could work price-wise, but we could go view them together - “ He paused. “You alright?”

By some miracle, Tetsurou remembered how to work his voice. "You want to move in together?"

"Yes," Daichi said, then flushed. "It makes sense, doesn't it? We're always over at each other's places, we might as well share the rent."

Ah. Of course Daichi had solid, practical reasons for why they should rent together. 

Tetsurou liked where they are. It'd been almost a year since he'd plucked up the drunken courage to ask Daichi for a kiss. They hold hands when watching movies in Tetsurou’s apartment, and sometimes even in public when Tetsurou is feeling especially clingy and Daichi is gracious enough to entertain him. Kissing is great of course, and they’d both gotten much better at it after much practice. They wait for each other after class and go to practice together, and then go to someone’s or the other’s place after practice. They take turns cooking for each other. It’s all very domestic, all very nice. 

And then there’s the sex of course, which had started out as fumbling and awkward, but had been a mind-blowing experience to Tetsurou all the same - because holy fuck he can touch Daichi now, and Daichi is by some miracle all too happy to be touched by him - and after weeks of figuring out what they’re doing they’re really getting into it, complete with pornography level types of moaning and quick slick sounds and flesh slapping against flesh - and that’s wonderful. 

He sometimes wanted just a teeny bit more, as selfish as it was to want more. 

It’d be nice if Daichi told him he loved him, for example. 

"Tetsu? If you don't want to, we don't have to," Daichi said. 

"I do," Tetsurou blurted out. "Want to, I mean." He licked his lips and avoided the worried look he knows Daichi was giving him, chose instead to look down at the stack of papers Daichi had placed in front of him.

"Well, good, because both of our leases are up soon, and I really don't fancy the idea of being homeless in Tokyo. " 

"We'd stay at my dad's place, if it came to that," Tetsurou said without thinking. "Like I'd let you be homeless." 

"I don't think your parents would be too pleased with that," Daichi said dryly as he spread the listings on the table all business-like, but his cheeks were slightly pink. 

 

“Sa’amura,” Tetsurou waves a hand at the figure waiting at the train station, and wonders how is it he can still spot Daichi in the middle of a crowd even after all these years.

“Hey,” Daichi says, as he straightens up from staring at his phone, expression brightening a little. No, that had to be Tetsurou's imagination.

Tetsurou still has his hand up, and for a split second wonders if he should be leaving his hand out to shake, or to give Daichi a hug - They've traded spit and other bodily fluids, they can hug, right?  - or some manly combination of both, complete with back thumping. But it's not like they've just ended a volleyball match so that would be far too weird - and then the moment passes and he settles for putting his hand down lamely. 

“So what wonders are you going to be showing me?" Tetsurou asks to cover up his brief moment of stupidity. 

"Well," Daichi says, flushing slightly. "Uh, I was thinking that I'd just cook dinner for all of us, and we can head out to an izakaya after if we want drinks."

Tetsurou stops breathing for a moment. Cook dinner meant going to Daichi's place, right? He opens his mouth but before he can say something stupid like I think we're moving a little fast Sa'amura - his mouth works itself to say "All of us?"

"Ah, Suga's going to be home tonight."

"Ah."

That's fine. Fine. He gets to go to Sawamura's place and spend time with him. He should be grateful for what he can get. He shouldn't be upset, or feel a small curl of jealousy at the thought of Sugawara interrupting his little time with Daichi.  

Sawamura and Sugawara are renting a small house in a lovely suburban neighbourhood. Lots of families around, children playing in a park nearby. It's all very domestic, he thinks. The kind of place a married couple would settle in, a far cry from the expensive shoebox Tetsurou pays for in Tokyo. For a moment, Tetsurou wonders if they're dating, but surely Daichi would have mentioned something so important?

"The house is a five-minute walk from Sugawara's work," Daichi says, somehow reading his mind and interrupting the death spiral that is Tetsurou's mind. "And not too far from my station as well. It was a decent find." 

Tetsurou tries his best to not think of the implications, just in case Daichi really could read his mind. 

The house is neat and clean, as Tetsurou expects, all cosy and made with warm woods.  Daichi takes Tetsurou's coat like the perfect gentleman he is.

"Suga should be home in a bit. You can settle down in the living room, it shouldn't take me all that long to cook," Daichi says.

"Don't be silly." Tetsurou rolls up his shirt sleeves as he follows Daichi into the kitchen. "I can help."

"You? In the kitchen?" Daichi isn't quite raising his eyebrows, that dick, but it is close.

"I'll have you know, I have become a master chef since college," Tetsurou says, putting his hands on his hips in faux indignation.

"Right," Daichi laughs. "But remember the time you charred the base of a non-stick pan - "

"That was just the one time - " 

"And you definitely set off the fire alarm more than once." 

"It's not my fault they were overly sensitive! An iron could have set them off!"

"Or the time you thought you'd add dried mushrooms to our miso soup and used half the packet - "

"How was I supposed to know re-hydrated mushrooms would taste that strong?"

"I could only taste mushrooms for days after. The kitchen smelled of mushrooms. Our skin smelled of mushrooms, Tetsu," Daichi says, and then his smile fades when he realises what he'd said.

Tetsurou ignores it because it seems like the polite thing to do.

"Right," he says. "If you're not going to trust me to do the actual cooking, at least let me impress you with my knife skills."

Daichi laughs at that, but he does let him chop up the vegetables, put the rice in the rice cooker, and god forbid, leaves him to supervise the meat cooking in the pan one point.

"You did learn to cook."

He had, after his previous girlfriend before the last one had nagged him about taking care of himself. I'm not always going to be around to take care of you, she'd said, which he had taken as a cue that she was already planning to leave. 

She had a point though. He bought a couple of cookbooks after that, and the first couple of months were filled with various overcooked, burnt and soggy meals but he can now whip up a four-dish meal in a couple of hours.  Even correct Daichi when he got his mirin and soy ratio wrong.

"Yeah," Tetsurou says, winking with a smugness he didn’t feel. "Became an even better catch than I was, who knew that would be possible?" 

“Who would have thought,” Daichi says, rolling his eyes, but with an almost fond expression on his face.

They're done cooking and the rice cooker has started to beep its song when the front door opens.  "I'm home!" Sugawara calls.

"We're in the kitchen," Daichi shouts back.

Sugawara Koushi, Tetsurou thinks sourly as the man steps into the kitchen, is as pretty as ever. Even with finger paint down the front of his shirt and his hair a mess.  He always... twinkled. Tetsurou isn't someone who has insecurities about his appearance, being the tall, dark and devilishly handsome person his grandmother says he is, but right now, with the panicked thought that Suga and Daichi might actually be dating, Tetsurou feels like a hulking troll.

"Welcome to Sendai, Kuroo," Suga twinkles. "Sorry I didn't see you during the party - I had a parent-teacher conference that night."

"Your presence was missed, Suga chan," Tetsurou says smoothly, pushing down the ugly feelings welling up in his chest. It wouldn't do for anything to show on his face. 

"Still a charmer, I see," Suga says, laughing. "Let me wash my hands and I'll set the table. Did Daichi offer you anything to drink?" 

"Ah - no I forgot- "

"You have the manners of an oaf." Suga is smiling as he opens the fridge - Friends, Tetsurou thinks, It's perfectly normal for friends to smile fondly at each other... unless one of them is securely pining for the other. Like me. Oh god. 

"Water, juice, tea, beer? Take your pick, and if we don't have it, I'll run down to the convenience store." 

"What on earth would your children's parents think, if they heard you offering beer like that?" The stretch of his lips feels more like a grimace than a smile. "Water's fine, thanks. Making fun of Daichi does make me thirsty." 

Suga definitely raises an eyebrow at that, and too-late, Tetsurou realises what he's just said. He manages not to cringe, but can't bring himself to look at Daichi, just leans on the counter casually and reaches for the offered cup of ice-cold water. 

"So, Kuroo," Suga says, changing the subject. "How's Yaku's baby?" 

Dinner goes fine, he thinks. He keeps his jealousy off his face, and manages to hide the fact that he's eyeing up every time Daichi and Suga make some kind of physical interaction with each other - which seems to be all the damn time, he thinks sourly. 

But it's hard to be grumpy when Daichi is here and talking to him and laughing at his bad jokes. 

It's about halfway through the meal that he starts noticing the looks that Suga keeps levelling him, like he has rice stuck to his cheek or he's grown horns. Something. He's not convinced Suga doesn't have magic powers. Maybe he knows all of Tetsurou's worst thoughts. 

"Well," Suga finally says. "You kids should head off to the izakaya, the next bus should be in soon." 

"No, I still have to do the dishes - " 

"Daichi, I'll handle them! Besides," Suga says, looking Tetsurou square in the eye as he twinkles. "I need you two to clear out before my boyfriend gets in. It's been a long week, if you get what I'm saying." 

Tetsurou chokes, and Daichi thumps his back like a good man. 

"Clearing out now," Daichi says. "Got it." 

 

"Did you think Suga and I were dating?" Daichi asks after his third beer. 

"No," Tetsurou lies.  

Daichi leans over close to examine his face, and it takes all of Tetsurou's willpower not to just close the few inches between their faces and kiss him. 

"You're lying," he declares. 

"Am not," Tetsurou says like the liar he is. And then because it's Daichi, and he's never been able to lie to him - Except where it matters, he thinks, years and years of emotions and words and confessions buried under quotidian platitudes and habits so it's almost like second nature for him to carry around the weight of his feelings around his neck - he fumbles and blabbers "I mean, I can't help it, two men living in a nice domestic home together - " 

"Kuroo," and Daichi says his name so fondly his mouth immediately clams shut. 

"I'm joking," he says, face full of that soft kindness that made Tetsurou back away in case he did something stupid like lean forward and kiss him. "Lots of people have wondered about that though, which annoys Suga to no end. His current boyfriend didn't ask him out for months because, well." 

"Right," Tetsurou says with a dry mouth and wonders why Daichi is telling him this. "And has that affected your game, Sa'amura?"

Daichi actually laughs at that, loud and long with his head thrown back and heaving chest and Tetsurou wonders how he has gone for so long without it. It's a sound he'd like to hear every day, he thinks, and then feels that familiar heavy guilt curl around his stomach again. He wishes he could just stop being so greedy. Things, he thinks, would be perfect if he could just be happy with what he had. 

"You know me," Daichi says. "Terrible luck in the dating department." 

Tetsurou stares at Daichi for a long moment, and then realises he's serious. 

"Sa'amura," he finally says. "Do you know how many people I had to fend off while we were dating?" 

"What?" 

"And that was just in college, and I heard you had your share of admirers in high school, and now that you're this fine upstanding pillar of society with your uniform are you actually telling me - " 

"You're exaggerating," Daichi says, blushing more heavily than Tetsurou's seen in years. 

Tetsurou shakes his head. "Well," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if you had all sorts of people interested in you right now who have been dropping all sorts of hints, but you've just been too dense to notice." 

"Maybe," Daichi says. "But I've never been interested in having gaggles of admirers - unlike some people I could mention," he adds dryly. 

"I really hope you're not talking about me right now," Tetsurou has to say because he has his honour to defend. 

"If the shoe fits." 

"Lies and slander!" 

"Are you telling me you're actually unaware of the fan club you had in school?" 

"Yes, but I never encouraged them!" 

Daichi is laughing, and Tetsurou feels like he's lost this fight for some reason, even if he can't quite understand what they were fighting about. 

"I never cared about having admirers," Daichi says all of a sudden. "I only ever needed the one person I liked to like me back." He closes his eyes and Tetsurou feels hope rising up in him, expanding his chest like a balloon, maybe, maybe Daichi still has some kind of feeling for him still, that maybe it isn't too late for them - 

"I'm glad we're talking again," Daichi says after a moment, opening his eyes and taking his beer glass in hand. "I missed having you as a friend." 

"Me too," Tetsurou says, raising his glass to clink against Daichi's, ignoring the horrible empty ache in his chest that lasts until he sinks into his hotel bed hours after, alone. 

 

In his last year of college, Tetsurou was in the lab almost eighteen hours a day, stumbling home at unearthly hours and praying that the nearest convenience store still had sandwiches or some kind of food stacked as he walks back. 

I’ve got dinner for you, Daichi had texted him one night. Come home early tonight? 

And he had tried to go back early. He really does. But then his professor called him over to talk about a paper he’d submitted, and then something had happened to the experiment he’s running in the lab and he had to do it all over again, and by the time he’s done it’s already past nine and he’d promised to be back at six.

Fuck, he thought as he looked at his phone. The messages from Daichi stopped at around seven. 

Come home when you can was the last one.

Fuck

He sent a quick text promising he’s on his way back with promises to pick up Daichi’s favourite drinks from the store on the way up, and then runs to the train station, spending the entire ride panicking. 

He needs to be better, he thought. He’s a terrible boyfriend, really, and Daichi deserves someone who can spend far more time and effort than he does. 

“I’m home,” he called when he got back. Daichi was bent over at the living room table, surrounded by textbooks and typing away at his laptop and the whole house smells of dashi and mirin and his favourite fish - and fuck, Daichi had gone all out, hadn’t he? It was a far cry from the instant noodles they ate in his dorm room in their second year of college. 

“Welcome back,” Daichi said tiredly.

Tetsurou bent down and kissed him on the lips. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. 

“It’s fine,” Daichi said. “I know you’re busy. I just need to warm up the food.” 

“I’ll do it.”

“No, I’ll - “ Daichi huffed a breath and squared his shoulders. “I want to.” 

“Okay.” Tetsurou tries to remember if it’s their anniversary or some other significant occasion that he’d forgotten. 

“It’s just - I haven’t seen you in a while. I thought it would be nice, to have dinner together.” 

“God.” He sucked. He really did. “I’m so sorry.” 

“Hey, it’s worse for you,” Daichi smiled, and it’s only slightly wobbly at the ends as he turned on the stove. “You’re stuck in that lab for hours, I can at least write my papers in the comfort of our living room. And snack whenever I want.” 

On cue, Tetsurou’s stomach lets out a loud noise and he remembers that he hadn’t eaten lunch yet.

“C’mon, big boy,” Daichi laughed, and in a few minutes has everything plated out on the table, complete with two steaming bowls of rice.

“You didn’t eat either?” Tetsurou asked, dismayed. 

“It’s fine, I told you, I wanted us to have dinner together.” 

It’s not, Tetsurou thought. I fucked up. I really fucked up. 

“How was your Criminology lecture today?” he asked instead, and Daichi seemed to brighten a little at the change in topic. 

When he was done with his food, Tetsurou let out an actual moan. “What would I do without you?” he asked, and it was slightly terrifying that he actually does not know how his life would go with a Sawamura Daichi shaped hole in it. Wander around despondently, he supposed. Be a lot less well for sure.

“I think you’d be alright,” Daichi said, turning to stack the dirty dishes in the sink. Tetsurou elbowed him out of the way because it's silly that Daichi had cooked, the very least Tetsurou can do is wash the damn dishes.

Tetsurou was always waiting to wake up one day and have Daichi to tell him that he’s found someone better, that he’s actually head over heels in love with, the same way Tetsurou was for Daichi. He knew it would happen one day, that it was only a matter of time.

Someone like Sawamura Daichi would never want him for the long term anyway.

 

Both Daichi and Suga accompany him to the train station when he takes the shinkansen in the morning - There's a cafe at the station that does the best tea, of course we're coming with you and he knows that something is up when Suga gives Daichi a sweet smile and tells him to go get the bill.

"So," Tetsurou says the moment Daichi is out of earshot, resigned. "Let's get this over with." 

Suga shakes his head. "The two of you," he says. "Are the biggest morons I know." 

He swallows hard. "I know I am," he says. "But that's a bit much to describe Daichi that way, don't you think?" 

"Best friend privileges," Suga says dismissively. "I'll call it what I see it. And from where I'm sitting, the both of you are the dumbest rocks I've ever had the privilege of knowing." 

"Thanks." 

Suga flings his hands in the air almost exactly way Yaku does. "If only you'd just tell him - " 

"Tell who what?" Daichi says, appearing out of nowhere and coming very close to having Suga's flailing hands in his face. 

"Tell you to hurry up because Kuroo's going to miss his train before you get back," Suga says so smoothly that Tetsurou would completely believe it if he hadn't been sitting in a completely different conversation a minute ago. 

Daichi rolls his eyes, utterly unaware that Tetsurou can't stop drinking in the sight of him. "I'm here, aren't I? Let's go." 

On the train ride back to Tokyo, Tetsurou makes a decision.

His feelings for Daichi, he thinks, are absolutely irrelevant. He's too happy with what they have right now, and he won't trade it for anything.

When he gets off the train, he thinks I'm going to go back to dating.  It's a step, he thinks.

 

"Your dinner looks good," Daichi says over the phone, calling ten seconds after he'd uploaded his photograph of the painstakingly plated lemon chicken herb pasta he'd just posted on Instagram. 

"Hi Sa'amura, nice evening to you too," he replies, deadpan as he opens his fridge looking for the fancy juice he'd bought specially for this dinner. 

Daichi laughs, just a little embarrassed. "Sorry, I was just contemplating what unhealthy kind of takeout I was going to get and then I saw your photo." 

"Oh ho? Are you actually envious of my domestic skills, Sa'amura-kun?" Tetsurou can't help but tease, it's his nature to, especially when he's biting back the instinct to say Come over and I'll cook for you anytime you wanted. "Admitting defeat then?"

"Not everything's a competition, Kuroo."

"Only the best things are," Tetsurou says, then pauses. "God, when did you grow up?"

"Some time after graduating from college, it seems."

"I take it back, you've always been a middle-aged man."

"Always a silver-tongued one, aren't you, Kuroo san."

"No, I mean - " Tetsurou gestures pointlessly at the air while the pasta on his plate congeals. How does he say Our rivalry was always our thing, I don't like it that we don't compete over pointless things anymore without sounding like an idiot?

He can't. So he changes the subject.

“Well, I gotta go, my guest should be here soon.”

“Oh, is Kozume going over?”

“No, Sa’amura, I have a hot date,” he says, waggling his brows even though no one is here to see it.

“Oh.”

"Show more enthusiasm, will you! Unless you're actually jealous about my popularity."

Daichi just laughs at that, the ass, because why would he ever need to be jealous when he owns Tetsurou so completely?

"Have a fun evening," Daichi says, and puts down the phone. Tetsurou spends the night going through the motions of getting to know his date- the cute barista near his workplace who had smoothly asked for his number and he'd agreed to go on a date because what the hell, why not - but he can only lie to himself so much.

 

So the cute barista doesn't work out - something about how he's Really not looking for anything serious and Tetsurou can lie to himself all he wants but he knows he can't just stick with something that casual, unless he wants a world of hurt coming his way. Then there's the very well-dressed man he sees reading the latest Shounen Jump on the train whom he gives his number to and goes out for coffee with and then learns is an anti-vaxxer and then he has to launch into a lecture fuelled by his formal education in biochemistry - that one is an absolute mess.  And someone else turned down their nose at getting a bowl of ramen together - I'm not expecting a Michelin star restaurant, but I expect dinner to be better than that for a first date sorry - and then someone else was scandalised by the jokes he made on the dating app's chat - You do know puns are the lowest level of humour right.

The worst one was when he was on a date that he'd thought had actually gone well - Koyagani was pretty, funny, had suggested a nice mid-point restaurant she'd been meaning to go to but was fine with going to an izakaya as well, and he'd felt very comfortable bantering with her and snorting into his steak when she made a dirty joke about the anime that they were both following and he'd actually begun planning a second date halfway through the dinner.

You're not what I had thought you would be, she'd said over dessert, cheeks slightly flushed over her wine.

He'd blinked. And what did you think I would be?

No, no, I had meant that in a good way, she had said, waving her arms around. You were... I mean, you look like - and she had gestured at him vaguely. Like an actor or something. And the photos on your dating profile were... Yeah, I was quite sure I was being catfished.

I have no idea where you're going with this.  Are you telling me I'm not as good looking as my photos or not? 

No, not that. And it was gratifying, really, the way she looked at him and blushed a little. My point is, you look and act all suave and cool but you're really a big nerd, aren't you?

He'd blushed then - it wasn't necessarily something he'd ever been ashamed of, but it had been something he'd avoided showing to most people until they'd known each other better, it had taken months before he'd been comfortable enough with Risa to let himself get carried away with random biology lectures.  

Is that a problem?

No, no not at all, I love that you are. I'm just not sure that... And here, she'd fixed her big brown eyes onto him, and she'd looked nothing like Kenma, really, but she had the same piercing focus when she looked at him, and he'd suddenly had the panicked thought No, no I don't want to hear this. 

You don't actually want to be here, do you?

He'd gone slightly numb at that. Am I not paying you enough attention?

It's not like you've taken your phone out and played with it throughout the meal - and she'd rolled her eyes here as though remembering something - but I have the sense that I'm not the person you want to be here with.

He can't deny that. 

Koyagani had a good sense of humour about the date and it ends with her saying Let me know if you want to catch the Violet Evergarden movie when it comes out. As friends, of course. 

He goes back alone with the thought that he really shouldn't go for any more dates, at least until he sorted himself out. It isn't fair to whoever he goes on dates with, he thinks. How his disinterest must have been so plain that this complete stranger had been able to reach in and name it completely. 

It is entirely by accident when he runs into Risa at the train station the next day. She's wearing a light blue coat he's never seen her in before, and has on soft pink lipstick that makes her look younger, more like a college student than an office worker. She's also smiling as she looks down at her phone, and he wonders if she had ever looked at her phone like that when he had texted her.

He waves to her just as she looks up, instead of just walking by because he's an idiot. She straightens a little when she sees him, but she's still smiling and doesn't look like she's about to slap him so he takes it as a good sign.

"Hi," he says, because what is someone supposed to say to their almost-fiancée almost three months after breaking up?

"Hi," she says. 

"Waiting for your friends?" he asks. Her cheeks flush a little and she tugs her hair the way she does when she's nervous. 

"No, my boyfriend and I are going Christmas shopping," she says.

"Ah." He waits for the whiplash of hurt, at the thought that she's moved on so quickly, but curiously there is none.

"How have you been doing?" she asks, and he can't quite tell if it's a meaningless pleasantry, or if she means it.

"Why did you break up with me?" he asks instead of answering her question, because that is how pathetic he is.

She blinks but isn't as taken aback as he thought she might be, as though she expected the question.

"It's not that you're not a good catch," she says slowly. "You are, but I never got the sense that I really knew you."

"What do you mean?" he asks, not caring that he's desperate, feeling like if he only understood this, he could understand the disaster that was his love life.

"I'm going shopping with my boyfriend," she says. "And then we're going to have dinner with his friends, and I'll be meeting his family during the New Year holidays."

"That's nice," he says, because that seems like only thing he can say.

"I never met your friends," she says, as though that went on to explain everything. "Or your family. And you're a good listener, Tetsurou, but you never told me about your high school, or your hobbies or what was going wrong at work. And I never saw you as anything less than perfect I suppose - everything felt calculated.  Like a selfie with only your best angles. And in return I felt like I had to be that too."

"I'm sorry," he says automatically.

"You didn't mean it," she says. "And you're handsome, and very kind, and charming so I just felt silly, whenever I felt uncomfortable. That's probably why we lasted as long as we did." Her face twists into something like pity. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but that's how it was."

"I think I understand," he says.

And he does, really, when Risa waves excitedly - and he can't remember when she ever waved to him like that - and when her boyfriend walks over to them and he is awkwardly introduced as an ex-boyfriend and he's told the other man's name but it goes out of his other ear immediately, and he makes a joke about the train station that Tetsurou doesn't quite catch but Risa bursts out laughing with her mouth open her head thrown back and Tetsurou has never seen her laugh like this.

He stumbles back home without the groceries he'd meant to get and starts consuming all the alcohol in his house until he can't think clearly anymore and thinks that calling Daichi would be a good idea.

He should call Bokuto instead, a tiny, still functioning part of his brain thinks. Or Kenma. Yaku. Hell, even calling Risa is a better idea than this.

Shut up, he tells himself. He's tired of being perfect.

"Hello?"

" 'sup Sa'amura."

A groan. "Kuroo, have you been drinking? What time is it?"

"Don't look at the clock, it'd probably make you feel worse."

A rustle of sheets, and Tetsurou does his best to not think about Daichi in bed, probably in a sleep shirt and boxers, all deliciously sleep rumpled.

"What's wrong?"

"Why ever would you think there was something wrong, Sa’mura-kun?"

"Because it's 1am and you've called me." A pause, and then Daichi adds, much more softly. "You never call me."

It's true, Tetsurou thinks. It's usually Daichi calling him in - he's the one with the stricter workplace after all, and can't just take random personal calls, so Tetsurou's never really bothered. And even when Tetsurou knows that Daichi's off duty, he doesn't want to disturb his time.

A message is fine. One can take their time to reply with one. But he doesn't want Daichi to think he's overly pushy, or worse, desperate, so he doesn't call. 

"Ah, I guess." Really, drunk Tetsurou is shit at planning, he hadn't thought this through at all - he'd only known that it was Daichi's voice he wanted to hear. "I've had a bit to drink."

Daichi snorts. "That's clear."

"I met Risa earlier today," he says, trying to remember if he's ever mentioned Risa to Daichi because he does his best to not bring up his exes or the absolute dating failures he's had because he really doesn't need to give Daichi more reason to think that he's a loser, really, but yes, he thinks he's very briefly mentioned Risa before.

A pause. "How did it go?" Daichi asks, cautiously, as though he already knows Tetsurou's answer.

"Well, let's just say - " She basically told me that I never loved her, not really? And for that matter, what the fuck is love anyway?  "She told me, properly this time, why she couldn't stay. And I understand. It wouldn't have been fair to her if she had."

"You'll find someone in the end," Daichi says, and Tetsurou is almost angry at him for using such cheap meaningless platitudes.   "Someone who'd love you properly for who you are."

Tetsurou doesn't shout. He does something worse instead - let out all the ugly fears that have settled somewhere between his heart and his stomach ever since he realised he was still in love with Sawamura Daichi and probably ruined for everyone, and which has only grown since his conversation with Risa. "See, Sa'amura, the thing I'm afraid of most is - what if there's something wrong with me? I'm not going to get any smarter or wittier or more capable or more devilishly good looking than I already am. And yet, despite all my very solid qualities, I can't find someone willing to stay with me.” 

"Nothing's wrong with you, Kuroo."

"And how am I supposed to believe you? You left." The words fall out of his mouth like glass, slicing the insides of his cheeks as they go. 

"You left and I have all these feelings that have nowhere to go.” Dimly, Tetsurou is very aware that he should just shut up now, and he’s spilling out all sorts of awful things that he’d never want Daichi to know and he really should stop now before he says something that he really can't take back. “And now whenever I look at someone I can only wonder when they're going to leave me again. Why do I even bother trying, really, getting to know someone's birthday or their friends and I have to try so hard to fit what they want but then they're just going to go and I'm just going to be left with this impression of them that they've left in my life and habits I built around them and that I can't do without thinking of them and how many more times do I have to do this because I'm just afraid I'll end up alone - "

Dimly he's aware that he's not really talking anymore, just making loud ugly wet noises and wonders how Daichi hasn't just hung up on him yet.

"God," Daichi says. "I really wish I was there, Kuroo."

"You haven't been here," he hears himself say, and god does he sound pathetic. "Why start now?"

"I thought - I thought we had enough time," Daichi says. "I thought we could be friends again."

Tetsurou laughs and thinks he should stop here now, he really should. "Well. Thanks for listening to my rant. Consider your friendship membership renewed for another year." 

"Kuroo." And the way Daichi says his name is so gentle, so much like what Tetsurou wants that - he doesn't let himself finish that thought, just grips his phone so tightly in his hands he gets a sharp pain run through his whole arm.

"You are loved," Daichi finally says. "You're surrounded by people who love you so much. Myself included."

He wants to believe that. He really really does. " 'night, Sa'amura," he says, and puts down the phone.

He wakes the next morning to puffy eyes, a splitting headache and a text from Daichi reminding him to drink water and wonders how he has gotten here.

 

“I think we should break up,” Daichi had said casually as he wiped down the kitchen stove while Tetsurou bent down to put his shoes on at the door, about to head off for his morning lab. 

"I'm going to be moving back to Miyagi after graduation, and you'll be here in Tokyo," Daichi had continued as Tetsurou tried to understand how he could still be standing upright as his world upends itself on a rainy Thursday morning. "It makes sense to. I don't think we'd do very well long-distance," he had said in the same sure tone he used when he was in captain mode, or when he'd announced that they should move in together because the rent would be cheaper. 

Tetsurou had spent their entire relationship on tenterhooks, imagining the scene so many times - maybe it would happen after a big fight, or Daichi would meet someone else and realise he liked them more, but the looming deadline of their graduation had been haunting his imagination for months. He'd been too cowardly, too afraid to bring it up, so he supposes it's only fair that Daichi dropped it like this. 

There was a half-healed burn on his hand from when he had tried to make breakfast for them both on Saturday, scratches on his back from last night's sex, and he wonders when Daichi had decided this. 

He finished lacing up his shoes and picked up his bag. Couldn't even bring himself to turn to look over at whatever face Daichi must be making right now. "Sure," he said, no witticisms left in him. 

He never made it to class that day, instead headed straight to Kenma's to cry like the little bitch he was. Still is.  

 

It's just past noon when there's a knock on his door.

His eyes are still puffy but his headache has at least gone down since he swallowed the painkillers, and he wonders if he ordered delivery without remembering it, and opens the door to find Sawamura Daichi standing outside.

"Wha - "

He's cracked, he thinks. He's finally gone crazy and now his brain is making up both auditory and visual hallucinations. He needs therapy, immediately, and probably a cocktail of pills to fix this. 

"Hi," Daichi says, holding on tightly to the strap of the bag slug across his shoulder.

"Hi," Tetsurou says back, and hopes none of his neighbours can see him talking to himself. 

"I, uh - I know this is unexpected." 

"Are you actually here?" Tetsurou asks, and reaches forward to pinch Daichi's cheek. His skin is cold, but still feels real enough under his fingers. 

"Ow!" 

"This is a very realistic hallucination," he muses. 

"You're supposed to pinch yourself," Daichi says, grumbling, and then leans forward. Tetsurou only has a moment to think that his hands are warmer than his face was and they were large and cup his cheeks wonderfully and then - 

"Argh!

"So yes, I'm really here, and could I please come in?" Daichi says, and what can Tetsurou do but stand aside and let him in? 

"How are you here?" Tetsurou asks dazedly, still not entirely convinced that he isn't dreaming, because why would Sawamura Daichi be standing in his hallway as though he belongs there? Daichi bends as though to take his shoes off, but then straightens again as though he’d changed his mind.  

"I asked Yaku for your address," Daichi says. "After I booked a train ticket to Tokyo." 

"But -" Tetsurou shakes his head because that does not at all answer his real question. The real question being “Why are you here?" 

"Ah." Daichi clears his throat, looking almost embarrassed. Then he straightens and even though he's still on the front step and Tetsurou towers over him he still manages to look Tetsurou straight in the eye and Tetsurou wants to dive behind his couch because it is too much. 

"I'm in love with you," Daichi says firmly, shoulders squared, looking almost like he's about to stand in salute. 

Tetsurou chokes on absolutely nothing and Daichi graciously thumps him on the back until he can breathe again.  

"What?" 

"Wait, before you say anything, let me finish. I - " Daichi places his hands on Tetsurou’s shoulders and Tetsurou can only stare back at him wide-eyed, hoping his alarm doesn’t go off and wake him up from this dream.

Not that even he thinks his brain can conjure up something as fantastical as this. 

"I've been in love with you for years. From… god, from training camp, maybe. And we’ve known each other for so long I always - I mean, I thought that if we spent more time with each other you would feel something like that back for me - "

“Sa’amura - "

“And I get that you don't - " Daichi says, speaking even faster. "I just thought it would be dishonest, if we continued the way we've been - and I really do like what we have, it's just that I feel you should know- "

Daichi.” And it seems he finally has Daichi’s attention because his mouth finally snaps shut.

Tetsurou doesn't know what he's supposed to do - laugh? Hug Daichi and assault every inch of his face with lips? For once, he can't just run off his mouth with some flippant remark. 

You broke up with me,” he hears himself say and Daichi's face blurs. 

Daichi's voice when it cuts through his head is soft, confused. “I thought - But I thought it was what you wanted - “ 

"No, Sa'amura, whatever would have given you that idea?" 

"You - " Daichi swallows, pauses for a long time. "It always felt like you were holding me at arm's distance." 

"The fuck does that even mean - " 

"Like you had one foot out the door, and you were getting ready to go any time - " 

Tetsurou swipes at his face so he can have a better look at Daichi's expression. Daichi isn't quite crying, but he's blinking and his eyes are a little wetter than usual. 

"The fact is, I still don't really know anything about you,” he says, and it’s too close to what Risa had said that something in Tetsurou shatters.

"Fuck you," Tetsurou snaps. "Do you think I call other people or text them the way I do with you? You knew how I felt. You've always - You made these decisions without telling me.” He’s not shouting, but his voice is raised all the same. "You - you always - you decided we should move in together, just like you decided to break up, and you decided to come here today, without warning me. You never - you knew how I felt about you, how much I loved you and you still - " 

"No," Daichi says. "I didn't. You never told me that." 

And it's true, isn't it? Tetsurou tries to think of a time he'd actually told Daichi that he'd loved him and realises that he's coming up blank.

"I missed you in my life, Tetsu," Daichi says softly. "I'm sorry you've been hurting, but I came here to tell you that I wanted to try again." 

It is everything he's ever wanted. He just needs to reach out and take Daichi's hands and say yes.

He doesn't, because his brain gets there before his mouth does.

“Sawamura - I think we’re done.” 

Daichi looks like he's been slapped. "Tetsurou?"

“We’re not very good at being honest with each other, are we?” Tetsurou laughs, and the sound is more than a little wet. 

All these years pining after someone he thought he could never have. And now that he has it, he doesn't know what to do with it.

He's afraid he realises.

"I'm sorry you came all this way for nothing, Sa'amura," Tetsurou says. "But you really should have told me before booking your train ticket, and I wouldn't have let you waste your time."

Daichi nods, lips pressed tight together in a thin line, the same worried expression he would give when out of sight from his team. Worrying, always worrying.

His hairline is very slightly thinner, Tetsurou realises. He'd be balding by his mid-thirties. Why does he have to notice this now?

"Goodbye, Kuroo," Daichi says as he turns to go. The door slams shut, leaving Tetsurou alone in his apartment again.

He takes his phone out and dials the number he's had memorised since they were old enough to have phones in high school. Kenma picks up on the third ring.

"Can I come over?" he asks hoarsely.

There's a slight pause, and he's almost afraid Kenma will tell him no, that he's done with his shit, and to go away.

But of course, Kenma doesn't. "Of course," he says. "Do you want me to order food in as well?"

Tetsurou lets out a breath he doesn't even realise he'd been holding. "Yes, please."

 

Tetsurou goes back home for New Year's like the dutiful child he is.

He should go back more often, he thinks, as he watches his grandmother hobble around the house, smacking him away whenever he offers to help, so these days he doesn't ask and just reaches for whatever it is she's looking for. What was the point in raising me up to this height if you're not going to make use of it? he asks, and she laughs, and relents. Sometimes.

His grandfather has started to forget. Small things, like where he had left his glasses. It's only going to get worse, he knows, but his grandmother says that he still remembers how to make tea the way she likes it. He should be touched, he knows, but he can only wonder if he will ever burn such habits into body.

Daichi likes his coffee with cream, but now that they're closer to thirty than twenty-five, he uses some kind of sugar-free sweetener. It probably doesn't taste anywhere near the same, but Daichi has always been too concerned about his waistline.

He wonders how much longer it will take for him to forget these facts about Sawamura Daichi.

His father still works long hours, even though he's only a few years from retirement. It's like he doesn't know how to stop now, even though the mortgage has long been paid off and Tetsurou sends money home every month. 

After dinner and his grandparents have retired for the night, he and his father do the dishes and then take a warm bottle of sake to the living room.

"Why didn't you ever marry again?" he hears himself ask.

It's a silly question, he thinks. He doesn't know what answer he will get from it, or if it will be something he wants to hear. After his mother left - he'd been seven then, still a kid who barely understood concepts like death or object permanence or even what it had meant really, to come home from school by asking the station masters for directions because his mother had forgotten to pick him up, and then to find the lights off in the apartment, ringing the doorbell until his father had opened it, blinking at him with eyes still bloodshot from crying .

His father had told him that his mother wasn't coming back anymore, and then they moved out of that apartment in the city to his grandparents' house in the suburbs after that. He had cried for weeks after they'd moved, wanting to know how his mother was going to find them again.

He didn't quite understand what had happened until weeks after, when he had let himself quietly into the house to hear his grandfather shouting into the phone. It was the only time he'd ever seen the mild-mannered old man upset, spit flying out of his mouth as he says Tetsurou isn't your son anymore. He had gone up to his room and put the pieces together as he lay in his bed in the dark and hadn't come out until his grandmother called him down for dinner.

His mother had left, he'd realised, all those years ago. He still never quite knew why. If it had been for another man, or because she was just tired of Tetsurou and his father. Maybe she has another family now.

A man needs to provide for his family, his father had always said, and he had, long hours at the office, coming home with rumpled hair and clothes, sometimes only in the early hours of the morning. He had carried the weight of his child and ageing parents all those years. It never seemed fair to press him for details of something that would be so painful.

Of course his father wouldn't have remarried. How could he have had the time to meet other women?

"I suppose I was a coward," his father says instead, sighing.

"Don't be silly. It couldn't have been easy, being a single father."

"You were a good kid, never gave us any trouble." His dad grins and ruffles Tetsurou's hair like he is eight again. "But I just… I never took the chance. I just kept telling myself that there was work to do, even when I could have taken it easy. I didn't want to deal with your mother leaving me again."

And there it is, out in the open. They'd never talked about it.

"Why did she leave?" Tetsurou blurts out. "Was it something that I did?"

And - possibly because this is the first time he has ever voiced his fears aloud, his father is shocked. "No, no, of course not."

"Then why did she?" His voice breaks but at least he isn't crying yet.

It's stupid, he thinks. He has had his grandparents and his father take care of him, prove to him that while some people might leave others will work themselves to the bone to stay. He has had Kenma, who has suffered his presence and stupidity for years, and in turn he tries to make up for it by playing co-op games with him and making sure he gets enough sleep and eats enough vegetables.

He tries to give back. He does.

He is so afraid he will be left behind again. 

He hates it, that the source of this fear is as cliche as it is. So what if his mother had left him? He still has family. He still has friends.

And yet, he thinks of Daichi, of Risa, telling him that they do not know him.

He'd never brought Daichi to meet his grandmother, he thought. He hadn't wanted to. If Daichi had entered this house, how will he ever have been able to scrub the floors of Daichi's presence, when things ended? His grandmother would approve of him, he thinks. As would his grandfather, and his father.

"Your mother," his father finally says. "Was not a happy woman. Even before you were born."

"So she left because what, she was depressed? Because she didn't want to be saddled with a marriage and a child?"

His father sighs. "Yes."

"Did she ever try to come back?" Tetsurou hates how frail his voice sounds.

"Yes, she did."

"Then why - "

"I told her if she came back, it would have to be for good. That she wasn't allowed to walk out again, or only come in for weekly visitations. It had to be all or nothing."

"She didn't want to stay then."

"No, she didn't."

"Why did you marry her?" he can't help but ask. "She sounds awful."

His father is quiet for a long time, as though trying to phrase the words that he must have shaped over the years. "Your mother was not an evil woman. I think - she got married and had a child, because she thought that was what was expected of her." 

He thinks about Risa, and how he'd decided to propose to her because he had thought that that was the next natural step to their relationship. How he'd seen Yaku and his domesticity and thought that was what was expected of him.

He'd never stayed up late with Risa snorting into warm soda and popcorn while binging anime, he thinks. They had gone to the aquarium, to expensive restaurants, ate crepes by the park. And those had been all good and fine, but he can't imagine her agreeing to what he wanted if he suggested it.

"Did you love her?"

"She made me happy," his father says. "Even when I made her sad." 

He tries to remember what his mother looked like and realises he can't. It'd been years since he had thought of her.

He thinks of a snatch of a song being hummed in the kitchen as she cooked. Soft fingers combing through his hair.

But he thinks again of his grandmother, waking up before him to make sure he had a full breakfast before he went to school. He thinks of his grandfather, who had taught him to cycle. Of his father, growing greyer with each year.

He thinks of all those meals Daichi had cooked for him. How, in the last few months, he’d always answered his messages. Listened to him cry and shown up at his place the very next day.

He wonders how he could have ever thought before that Sawamura Daichi hadn’t loved him.

"There's someone I like," he says, and immediately knows that that is wrong. "No, I - I know I love him. I have for years."

He glances at his father sideways. It's the first time he's made mention about his sexuality to his father, and even though he'd always known that his father would be nothing but accepting, he'd never wanted to mention it. He had never seen the point anyway, since he hadn't planned on bringing anyone home.

"Tell me about him," his father says, and Tetsurou brightens.

 

When Daichi began the process of packing his things to move out of their apartment - the one they'd lived in together for the last two years of university - Tetsurou had avoided him throughout. He'd memorised Daichi's schedule from their second year so it wasn't even difficult. 

"Hi," Daichi had said from the couch when he walks into the apartment.

"You're supposed to be in class," Tetsurou said.

"I skipped it, because you're clearly avoiding me."

"No, I'm not. I'm busy and in the lab all the time. We have finals, remember?"

"Uh huh." Daichi stood up, and even though he has always been shorter than Tetsurou it still felt like he was staring Tetsurou down.

"Do we have to do this?"

"We've been dating each other for three years. We've known each other five. Shouldn't we talk?"

"What's there to say? You're leaving, so you decided to break up."

"I want us still to be friends, Kuroo."

Kuroo. He hadn't been called Kuroo in a while.

"And I don't," Tetsurou says bluntly. "I have finals to study for and I, unlike you, haven't got a job after I graduate so I really need to do well."  He had gone to his room and locked the door, and Daichi of course, was too mature to bang it down and demand that they talk.

That was the last conversation they had with each other, before Daichi moved out two weeks after.

Tetsurou spent months after that, picking up his phone at random times, debating whether or not to send Daichi a message, just to check in with him, how he’s settling back in Miyagi. A conversation over text, he had thought, would be easier than trying to not break down in front of Daichi in person.

He never sends that text. Daichi doesn’t contact him either.

 

This time, Tetsurou is the one to go to Miyagi.

He'd checked with Sugawara first, because he doesn't have Daichi's schedule memorised anymore, and learnt that Daichi didn't go back to his parents for the New Year's because he'd been scheduled on duty over the holidays.

Please don't fuck this up I can't deal with the moping anymore, Sugawara had texted him.

I'll do my best, he had replied.

Then he had sent Daichi a text, before buying his train ticket. Hi.

It takes a few minutes, but then he gets a response. Hi.

I'm sorry I was a dick the last time, he writes. I want to apologise and have a proper conversation. If you're still open to it.

Long long minutes pass. Daichi's response is simple. Do you mean it?

I can be on the next train to Sendai if you say yes.

That's not a response, Kuroo. Do you mean it?

He takes a long shuddering breath, and types. Yes. All or nothing.

He paces the floor while he waits for the response, stares at his packed bag, and wonders at his own audacity. Daichi could just tell him to fuck off and he would have every right to.

But he wouldn't, he thinks. Daichi would never do that.

He wonders how long he will carry these facts about Sawamura Daichi with him. For the rest of his life, he lets himself hope.

Finally, his phone buzzes.

I'll meet you at the station.

He's not stewing in his panic the entire train ride. He's calm, for once, manages to send out some work emails, even clears a couple of levels on his Switch.

It'll be fine, he thinks.

And even if Daichi doesn't want anything to do with him after this, well. At least he'd tried.

When he gets off the train, he sees Daichi standing by the station gates, hands dug deep in his pockets and looking lost in thought.

"Hi," he says stupidly in front of Daichi. And then, because his mouth decides it doesn't need a filter anymore, says "You look good."

Honesty, he thinks. He's trying.

And Daichi does, he thinks. He always does, even when he's tired from his shifts.

"Kuroo," Daichi says, nodding.

"I'm sorry," Tetsurou blurts out at the same time Daichi says "I messed up."

"You didn't mess up," Tetsurou says. "What?"

"It was inconsiderate of me," Daichi says. "To just show up at your place like that. I thought - I thought if I did some huge great romantic gesture, you'd like me back," Daichi mutters flushing pink.

Tetsurou stares at him, his heart squeezing in his chest, and then begins cackling.

"Sa'amura, what are you, a high schooler? Have you been reading shoujo manga?"

"It was stupid," Daichi says. "I know. Will you shut up now?"

"It was a nice gesture," Testurou says. "I just wish I had some kind of heads up, and I might have appreciated it better."

"Yes, well I appreciated your texts and giving me some kind of warning," Daichi says.

"Can we - can we talk somewhere more privately?" Tetsurou asks.

Daichi folds his arms. "I'm not sure, Kuroo, after you threw me into the mercy of the Tokyo winter I don't know if I want to invite you over to my place now."

Tetsurou feels the apologies bubbling up in his throat, and then realises Daichi is smiling. "You ass."

"Too soon?"

"Yes. God. At least let me grovel properly first."

"Oh." Daichi blinks. "Well. Grovel away."

"I love you," Tetsurou says, and it comes out far more desperately than he had wanted. Maybe because he's stopped himself from saying it out loud for years. "And I've never been honest about it. I've loved you since we first met, and then I fell in love with you even more as I got to know you, and I've never dared tell you because I was always afraid you'd leave."

"Oh." Daichi reaches out to touch Tetsurou's shoulder - and he's not going to cry now, no, he isn't. Not in public anyway, where it's too embarrassing to think about, and cold to boot.

"And I hadn't wanted to break up, back then," Tetsurou continues. "But I was too scared to say anything."

"Okay," Daichi says.

"And I'm sorry," Tetsurou says. "For hurting you. I'm so, so sorry. But I - " The words catch in his throat, and for the first time in his life, he knows what he wants to say but he can't work his mouth around it. "I want to try," he finally says. "I really do. If you still want to."

"Okay," Daichi says again, and Tetsurou thinks he sees tears glimmering in his eyes.

"Are you crying Sa'amura?"

"Shut up."

"But Sa'amura, I'm the one pouring out my emotions here! I should be the one crying."

"You don't know how much I've hoped for this. Well," Daichi pauses. "Not exactly this, I really didn't expect you to kick me out of your place - "

"I'm sorry about that - "

"But this. God."

And Tetsurou knows exactly what he means.

"I want you to meet my family," Tetsurou says. "My grandparents will love you."

"Okay," Daichi agrees, taking hold of Tetsurou's hand.

Tetsurou wraps his fingers around Daichi's tightly and doesn't let go.