The first time he meets Kuroo is at the annual summer training camp in his first year. The bus trip out to Nekoma’s school grounds is long, and Akaashi spends most of the trip trying not to fidget as Bokuto drifts in and out of sleep on his shoulder.
Bokuto drools a little in his sleep, Akaashi learns, after he wonders where the damp patch on his shoulder came from.
When they arrive at their destination, Akaashi hangs back with the rest of the Fukurodani team as they mill around their bus. Some of the older members are hauling bags into the main building and volleyball equipment into the gymnasium when a loud shout erupts from the other side of the car park.
Bokuto is chattering loudly, twirling his spare volleyball between his fingers. "You're excited right, Akaashi? This is gonna be awesome, training camp is alwa-"
There’s a flurry of red and black, then Bokuto is suddenly cut off with an offt and disappears from Akaashi’s side to go flying into the gravel behind him, leaving Akaashi too stunned to react. When he turns around, all he can see are two boys tussling on the ground, with Bokuto yelling something about old cats and another boy pinching his cheeks with a derisive comment about how Bokuto’s put on weight.
(He has a little. Akaashi had caught Bokuto frowning and poking his stomach with a tiny jiggle in the change rooms more than once in the past month.)
Later he’s introduced to Kuroo, who turns out to be Bokuto’s best friend and main man, brother from another mother and platonic broship of the highest fucking level. According to Bokuto at least.
Kuroo is a little more subdued (although compared to Bokuto, that isn’t saying much at all) and he shakes Akaashi’s hand cordially with a slight gleam in his eye.
It has Akaashi feeling slightly apprehensive.
It's not until later that night that Akaashi realises exactly what a platonic broship means, and not entirely in a good way.
He spends the rest of the camp cooling Bokuto down after he and Kuroo have riled each other up beyond rationality and far into just plain exasperation. Which tends to mean that they’d probably just rolled themselves around on the volleyball carts and crashed into the wall, sending volleyballs flying everywhere. Or one of them had thought it was a brilliant idea to pour bubble bath liquid into the fountain just outside the gymnasium and all three schools wake to a flood of bubbles and foam across the bushes outside and seeping into the building.
Akaashi is also absolutely certain that one of them changed out his shampoo for dish-washing liquid. His hair feels like straw for the rest of the week.
Somehow Akaashi ends up being the designated voice of reason after each of these pranks have run their course, taking Bokuto aside and firmly telling him off before sending him to go clean up his latest disaster while he sulked. Kuroo seems well-behaved enough to pick up after his own mess without needing to be bullied into it, which Akaashi supposes he can be grateful for.
But it isn't until the fourth day, when they’re both off court that Kuroo sidles up to him during the match and casually remarks,
“So. Have you seen Bokuto’s knee pads?”
The look Akaashi gives him can't be described as anything less than incredulous, because one, Kuroo hasn’t actually spoken to him since that first introduction, and two, excuse me knee pads?
“What?” is all Akaashi manages to say.
“His knee pads, of course. You can’t tell me you’ve never noticed.” Kuroo leans in closer to Akaashi in an almost conspiratorial manner. “That little gap between his shorts and his knee pads that you only see when he jumps real high.”
Akaashi gives Kuroo a good, hard look at this point. Bokuto had said that they were in platonic broship (Akaashi still isn't entirely sure what this means to be honest, though he's decided to roll with it in the interest of keeping things simple) but now Akaashi isn't quite so sure.
“That absolute territory,” Kuroo says, humming a little in self-satisfaction as he turns back towards the game. “It’s hot.”
Akaashi doesn’t reply to that, and Kuroo doesn’t say anything more on the matter, but the next time Bokuto jumps high for a spike, Akaashi can’t help when his gaze lingers around the fluttering edge of Bokuto’s shorts and oh-
Kuroo was right. Akaashi had thought they were leggings this entire time but no. They’re knee pads. And they end just where his shorts do, and when Bokuto stretches up, well.
There’s that absolute territory; the tiniest sliver of pale thigh between the dark fabric of his knee pads and shorts.
Logically, Akaashi knows that even he shows more thigh than Bokuto between his knee pads and shorts on a regular basis, but there’s just something about that tiny gap that seems so much more...obscene.
Not that it’s obscene to begin with, of course. That’s just the way Bokuto wears his knee pads, and it’s just his legs after all. Akaashi has seen Bokuto naked before for goodness sake; the entire team has been sharing the communal baths since the beginning of the camp.
Akaashi starts cursing Kuroo in the back of his mind when he realises his eyes are still helplessly trailing Bokuto across the court.
As his luck would have it, Kuroo has the nerve to notice and sends him a wink before catcalling Bokuto, who unwittingly waves back with ridiculous amount of enthusiasm for someone who’d been running across the court for the better half of the morning.
Akaashi purposely resolves not to stare and forces himself to focus on vengefully strategizing a way to defeat Nekoma in the next match.
It’s only at the end of the summer camp that Kuroo manages to catch Akaashi alone again, this time when all of the teams are gathered around the courtyard munching on slices of watermelon that the Nekoma coaches had bought for them. They’re both sitting on the wooden railing of the gymnasium, Akaashi's legs dangling over the edge as watermelon juice dripped down his forearm, leaving a sticky, sweet trail.
"Good match today," Kuroo says suddenly, and Akaashi glances at him warily. "Bokuto was in top form."
"Nekoma played well too," Akaashi finally offers, when Kuroo continues munching on his own watermelon, with no signs of following that up.
It’s silent for a few moments, Akaashi nibbling on the last bits of red near the rind of his watermelon slice. Then-
"So you and Bokuto, huh?"
Akaashi's attention snaps back to Kuroo and he gives the other boy a blank stare. "What about us?"
"Nothing, just- " Kuroo stops mid-wave and turns sharply to stare back at Akaashi. "What, really?"
"But you're always telling him off, and he never stops dragging you into things- really?"
"Kuroo-san, I'm sorry but I don't know wha- "
Kuroo squints at him with an almost incredulous expression. Then he breaks into a wide smirk. "Wow, I guess you're not really a...feelings kinda guy are you."
That was rather abrupt, Akaashi thinks irritably. It’s his turn to stare at Kuroo now, deliberately letting his gaze become appraising until even Kuroo starts to look a little uncomfortable. His voice is blunt when he replies, "...I don't really understand you. Or what you want."
"I don't want anything." Kuroo lets the emphasis hang clearly in the air between them.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Akaashi fires back with a frown. Whatever game Kuroo is playing, he’s playing it alone; Akaashi has no clue what Kuroo is trying to get at. But Kuroo just laughs him off, before wandering away to hunt down another piece of watermelon.
"Kuroo-san is strange," Akaashi tells Bokuto later, when they're boarding the Fukurodani bus after having finished packing away their bags.
Bokuto grins at that, flopping down onto one of the backseats. "Nah, he's cool when you get to know him. Was he picking on you?"
Akaashi frowns. Is that what it was? "I'm not sure," he admits.
When Akaashi checks his phone later that night, after everything had been unpacked and he’s just about to climb into his own bed for the first time in nearly a week; he finds a text message from an unknown number:
didnt mean to tease u too bad lol. lets be friends yeah? (bokuto gave me ur number btw. and chewed me out for pestering u haha)
It’s obviously Kuroo. Akaashi struggles to think of an appropriate reply for a few minutes, then finally settles on a simple fine and resolutely ignores his phone for the rest of the night as it flashes with new messages.
Akaashi didn't anticipated the slew of messages he'd now receive from Kuroo, ranging anywhere from cat photos, to sharing tips on setting (apparently that shy boy with the blonde-streaked hair is as much of a strategist as Akaashi, and good friends with Kuroo, although Akaashi really can't fathom why), to strange, little bizarre facts about Bokuto. It goes on for weeks, and when he finally asks Kuroo just why he insists on being friends with Akaashi, all he gets is a simple,
anyone important to bokuto is important to me
Akaashi blinks at the message, wondering how how to respond when his phone flashes again. This time it reads,
what, dont u wanna be friends with me? ouch im telling bokuto on u
And then Akaashi is hurriedly trying to convince Kuroo to please not say anything to Bokuto, not this late at night because he has an assignment due tomorrow and when Bokuto gets started, the owl pictures and terrible emoticons just don't end.
It’s pointless trying though, and Akaashi has to stop himself from throwing his phone across the bed with a loud groan when the first indignant owl-related emoticons start rolling in.
Which are soon followed with sad cat photos.
Needless to say, he hands in his assignment the next day with bags under his eyes and an irritable mood to boot.
It’s hard staying awake through the last of his classes and by the time afternoon practice rolls around, Akaashi is just glad the day is finally drawing to a close. But then Bokuto manages to corner him as they stretch before going on court and all but demands, “You’re still gonna be friends with Kuroo right?”
“I’m not sure you could call us friends to begin with,” Akaashi answers carefully, grabbing hold of his toes and breathing out as the stretch burns up his calves. He’s probably going to fall asleep halfway through this match at this rate. He’s already barely managing to stifle his yawns. “I’m not going to just ignore him, if that’s what you’re asking though,” he adds, when Bokuto starts to look a little worried.
“Oh, yeah- that’s good then!” Bokuto chirps, apparently relieved. “I want my best friends to get along, y’know?”
“Tell him not to message me so much, and I’ll get along with him better,” Akaashi replies, reaching over to his bag to snag his phone. He unlocks it, flicks open to his messages and tosses it to Bokuto. “He’s almost as bad as you.”
It takes him a few minutes to realise that Bokuto has fallen strangely quiet, and when he finally looks up, Bokuto is staring at his phone, wide-eyed as he scrolls through Kuroo’s old messages.
“What’s wrong?” Akaashi asks warily, straightening up from the stretch.
“That’s- I can’t believe- Kuroo,” Bokuto splutters, gesturing at the screen. He starts furiously tapping out a message, and Akaashi protests briefly, but Bokuto is actually a pretty fast typer and the message gets sent before Akaashi can grab his phone back. Bokuto’s voice is sulky when he insistently orders, “You’re not allowed to talk to Kuroo anymore.”
“What?” Akaashi frowns. He glances down at his phone; Bokuto’s hastily typed out message reads,
bro u suck :(
“Kuroo is a dirty schemer,” Bokuto tells him seriously, scowling as he folds his arms. For some reason he isn’t quite meeting Akaashi’s eyes. “C’mon, let’s go play already. I’m going to spike that ball so hard, and I’m gonna imagine it’s Kuroo’s face.”
Later Akaashi’s phone flashes,
oops looks like i got caught ;)
The rest of their volleyball practice is spent with Bokuto slamming his tosses down with far more energy than Akaashi is able to keep up with, and each of Bokuto’s victory roars is louder than usual. The ball is probably going to come out worse for the wear at the end of this practice, but Akaashi supposes that it’s better than having Bokuto fall into one of his more despondent moods.
And later when Akaashi tries to bring the text messages up again, Bokuto just flushes and grumbles something about sneaky, scheming cats, so he reluctantly texts Kuroo to ask what had happened but Kuroo brushes him off with a deliberately vague response of shh bro-secrets, man and sometimes Akaashi really wonders if he ought to find friends his own age.
The messages die down again for the next few months, and the only time he talks to Kuroo is when Bokuto insists they have an inter-team match up, or drags them all down to Shibuya to hang out, though they almost always end up at Harajuku when Bokuto starts looking hungry (Akaashi has spent more money on crepes this year than he has in his entire life).
Kuroo doesn’t talk much to Akaashi during these outings, just meanders along in the background with that perpetual smirk of his as Bokuto disappears into store after store with Akaashi hurrying to catch up with him. It gets better when Kuroo finally coaxes Kenma out into joining them; Akaashi can appreciate having company that's quiet and unobtrusive for once, and he and Kenma get along remarkably well.
Then Akaashi wakes one morning to find a single text message from Kuroo reading,
bokuto’s bday is next week. do u hv something for him?
To be honest, Akaashi hadn’t even known it was going to be Bokuto’s birthday soon, which makes him feel a tiny bit guilty. He ponders briefly, but no ideas immediately come to mind. He’d like to get something though, he knows that much, so he replies,
No, any ideas?
It only takes a second for Kuroo to respond:
i’ll tell u what to get if u tell me about that combo u guys hv been working on…?
Akaashi snorts at that, wondering if Kuroo really expected Akaashi to give away team strategies that easily. He doesn’t bother responding to that message, convinced that it had to be a joke and Kuroo was probably just teasing as always. It couldn’t be that hard finding a gift for Bokuto, after all.
He doesn't worry too much when he comes home empty-handed from a day out in Shibuya, after frequenting the stores he knows Bokuto likes to linger at.
But by the day before Bokuto's birthday, still empty-handed after numerous trips to Shibuya, he's starting to suspect that his initial assumption might be a little off mark.
In the end, he gives in and texts Kuroo a deliberately vague and poorly detailed outline of the combo he and Bokuto had been testing lately, ambiguous enough that there had to be no way for Kuroo to get anything valuable out of that. In response, he gets a picture of a pair of compression sleeves and a set of GPS coordinates, that open to the UnderArmour store just outside of Shibuya station.
He grinds his teeth when he sees it, because he must’ve passed that store at least four times in the past week.
But Akaashi gets those compression sleeves anyway, and he decides it's worth it with the way Bokuto’s face lights up, his grin wider than Akaashi has ever seen as he rips open the present after volleyball practice that Tuesday. The sight of it sends strange little flutters down into his stomach, and the small smile he offers in return is utterly helpless in the face of Bokuto’s delight. Akaashi barely manages to politely thank Bokuto for his friendship so far this year, after wishing him a happy birthday, before he’s running out of the gymnasium with his heart thudding something awful as he thinks, oh no.
He has to resist the urge to leave practice early that day, fumbling with far too many tosses.
"Man, Akaashi what's up with you?" Bokuto complains, when the toss falls too short for the third time in a row. He lands dejectedly near the net, glaring at the volleyball as it rolls away as if that would help put Akaashi back on track.
Akaashi scrubs his face with his hands tiredly. He hasn't been able to concentrate this entire time, not with the way his heart has started to pick up every time Bokuto flashes him a smile, or calls out "Good toss, Akaashi!"
"Maybe we should finish early, Bokuto-san," Akaashi tries. "Everyone else went home half an hour ago, and it's your birthday after all. Your family-"
"No way," Bokuto protests. "I wanna keep spiking for another hour. It's my birthday right? Another hour!"
Akaashi just groans, but he stays and wills himself to stop sneaking glances to Bokuto at every other moment. He wants to blame Kuroo for his predicament, but there is absolutely no way he's letting any of this out to him. Who knows what Kuroo would do with that kind of information?
(Later at the next inter-school match up, Akaashi finds himself vehemently agreeing with an outraged Bokuto that Kuroo is a dirty, filthy schemer. Somehow, Nekoma had managed to figure out enough from Akaashi's pitiful description to nullify their combo, much to Bokuto's disbelief. But in the end Akaashi can only scowl and grudgingly admit that Kuroo deserved some modicum of respect when Nekoma easily counters half their moves and proceeds to thoroughly thrash them.)
By the time Akaashi’s first year at Fukurodani comes to an end, he’ll concede that somewhere along the way, he and Kuroo may have become friendly. He’s still not sure he likes how much of a schemer Kuroo might be (alright, maybe he's still a bit sore about that loss at the last inter-school match up), but Kuroo has Bokuto’s best interests at heart and Akaashi is happy enough to go with that.
So it comes as a surprise when they’re all at Akihabara, with Kenma and Bokuto having disappeared into the discount video game store within seconds of arriving only to leave Akaashi and Kuroo patiently waiting outside, that Kuroo turns to him and asks with a strange lilt to his voice, “So. You and Bokuto been up to much?”
“No. Just the usual with school and volleyball practice,” Akaashi replies absently.
He shoves his hands into his pockets and stares into the store instead, the bright flashing advertisements and discount signs blurring into one. There’s a sudden shout, and Akaashi refocuses his gaze to see Bokuto gesturing wildly at him from inside the store, holding up a video game with a particularly battered cover in victory.
Bokuto is dressed nicely for once, having met up with them just after attending his cousin's graduation ceremony, the sleeves of his dress shirt carelessly turned up and the first few buttons having been popped when Bokuto complained about how hot it was. Akaashi's eyes are drawn to the flex of Bokuto's forearm, the firm muscle tensing under his skin built from years of determination and endless spiking practice.
It's probably in poor form to admit he's probably been nursing a slight crush for over a month now, Akaashi thinks as his cheeks warm a little when Bokuto notices his staring and waves back (cluelessly, Akaashi reminds himself glumly).
So maybe Akaashi can’t quite help the sigh that escapes his lips.
“Seriously?” Kuroo’s voice is flat, and Akaashi turns to look at him with a raised eyebrow. Then Kuroo sighs and mutters, "Well, at least it's progress."
Kuroo just hums at him, sounding exasperated and by now, Akaashi has learned that it’s hopeless trying to draw sense out of Kuroo when he’s set on being ambiguous. Kuroo and Bokuto disappear at the end of the day; Kuroo seizes Akaashi forward with a whispered, “You owe me,” before hauling a mildly protesting Bokuto away.
Akaashi really doesn't understand Kuroo sometimes. On some level, he can see why he and Bokuto get along so well; they're really two birds of a feather in some aspects. But sometimes Kuroo lets his easy-going facade slip a little, and well. He's is not sure how Bokuto ended up friends with someone so devious, Akaashi thinks wryly as he watches their retreating backs.
It's probably not a good idea getting into debt with Kuroo either, Akaashi decides with a grim feeling as he wonders exactly why he would owe Kuroo anything.
The weekend rolls by without any word from either Bokuto or Kuroo, and he ends up putting the matter aside as probably just another failed prank. But the next time Akaashi sees him, Bokuto is tense and jumpy, yelping loudly when Akaashi puts a hand on his shoulder to get his attention at Monday’s afternoon practice.
He stares at Bokuto, who immediately flusters and starts to fiddle with the hem of his shirt as he rattles off a list of things he needs to go and do, right now, I’ll see you later Akaashi!
“Has Bokuto-san been a little strange lately?” Akaashi asks Sarukui when they take a break midgame.
They’re both filling up the water bottles at the outside taps, and from here Akaashi can hear Bokuto loudly demanding another toss from inside the gymnasium. Sarukui gives a slow shake of his head, looking thoughtful. “Not in class, no.” Then adds knowingly, “He’s not exactly at the top of his game right now, is he?” and Akaashi nods. Bokuto has missed a lot of his tosses today; which might not be strange in itself but the fact that he hadn’t even looked remotely close to falling into one of his despondent moods was nearly downright alarming.
It’s not until they reach the end of practice time that things really start to get worrisome, when Bokuto hasn’t come running up to Akaashi pleading with him to stay just a few more minutes so he can keep spiking. A quick glance around tells Akaashi that Bokuto is in fact, nowhere in sight.
It takes more effort than it should, hunting Bokuto down. Akaashi ends up calling Bokuto’s name out in the field with a stern frown, but it gets no response and he starts to wonder if Bokuto had left early for once.
Instead, he later finds Bokuto in the storage room for all their equipment, sitting on some of the girls’ gymnastic mats with a faint tapping sound ringing throughout the room.
‘Bokuto-san?” Akaashi asks almost incredulously. “What are you doing? Everyone has left.”
“Ah!” Bokuto fumbles with his phone, nearly dropping it before he clutches it tight to his chest. He’s not quite meeting Akaashi’s eyes. “I was gonna help you pack up, I swear, I just got a bit distracted, y’know how it goes…” Bokuto trails off into an awkward laugh and hurriedly shuffles past Akaashi, out into the main room.
“Well it’s all packed up now,” Akaashi points out as he unceremoniously drops the rolled up net on the bench. “You might as well go home.”
Bokuto’s phone lets out a beep. And another. And another.
“...is that Kuroo?”
“Nope! Alright, I’m going now, see ya!”
And with that, Bokuto all but runs out the door, leaving Akaashi standing in the middle of the room, not quite sure what had just happened.
This strange sort of behaviour continues all week; every time Akaashi tries to speak to him, Bokuto manages to find an excuse to run off, or conveniently remember needing to do some urgent chore. It’s a little depressing, and Akaashi wonders if he’s accidentally upset Bokuto in one way or another. But then he grimly remembers that no, the most suspicious moment before all of this was Kuroo dragging Bokuto away for another round of bro-secrets probably. That thought tides Akaashi over for another two days, but in the end Akaashi gets desperate enough to voluntarily text Kuroo with,
I think you broke Bokuto. Please fix whatever you did asap.
He gets a reply the next morning, very clearly smug, yet predictably vague,
good things come to those who are patient :^
Akaashi really wonders why he even bothers sometimes, and he once again resists the urge to throw his phone across his room in frustration.
It’s not until after practice, when Akaashi has resigned himself to another lonely pack up that he finds Bokuto lingering at the gymnasium doorway, peering in on occasion only to quickly duck away when Akaashi turns to look.
“Bokuto-san, you know I can see you,” Akaashi calls out with exasperation, as he locks the storage room door and slings his bag over his shoulder.
“Uh, yes,” Bokuto replies. He’s biting his bottom lip and his eyes dart to the side with every second blink, obviously flustered about something.
A flustered Bokuto is usually a guilty Bokuto and Akaashi heaves a sigh, preparing himself for the worst. “What did you do? Did you draw another dirty picture on your exam- ”
Akaashi cuts himself off when Bokuto suddenly grabs his hands and tugs him forward a few stumbling steps. Dimly it registers that Bokuto’s hands are incredibly warm, the rough calluses borne from hours of spiking digging into his palm. He glances up sharply, realisation dawning like a cold shock-
“Akaashi- ” Bokuto coughs, clearing his throat even as he starts to go bright red, his cheeks and the tips of his ears tinged with a rosy blush. “Keiji, do you maybe ah, want to go out with me?” There’s a brief pause, then Bokuto is stammering, “I like you! A lot! I like you a lot, so that’s why I asked and uh- ”
Somewhere in the back of Akaashi’s mind, behind the hot rush of affection and thudding of his heart; it clicks. But all he can think in this moment, all that he manages to say is “Yes Bokuto-san, of course,” with a poorly contained smile splitting his face.
The hopeful grin Bokuto returns to him is blinding, and Akaashi spends the rest of the night in a helpless daze as Bokuto’s tentative grasp on his hand becomes a firm hold that pulls Akaashi straight into Bokuto’s delighted laughter and boundless excitement.
It’s past midnight when he remembers to text Kuroo,
I figured it out. Should I say thank you?
The message he gets back is blithe and vague as always, just a photo of two cats curled around each other, fast asleep.
A few minutes later his phone flashes once, twice. And then again. And again.
it’s about fucking time.
ps bokuto's liked u for ages no joke. u guys are hopeless what would u do without me.
(happy for you guys.)
(and u def owe me lunch)