Kenma arrives on the doorstep of their home (his new home, Kuroo’s home) in a foul mood, loaded down with bags and drenched from head to toe.
Fortunately, the rain isn't the icy kind that soaks him down to the bone. But it is the sort of weather Kenma dislikes most—displaced worms littered all over the sidewalk, and a watery haze impossible to walk through without getting himself wet.
Kuroo had mailed him the key, had asked only one question after Kenma’s text of “Can I move in?” when Kuroo mentioned his housemate had moved out. In fact, Kuroo’s answering, “How about right now?” had Kenma rolling his eyes.
He doesn’t bother to hide his scowl as he fumbles for the key. But either Kuroo heard him coming or sensed his surly presence, because the door opens.
“Kenma! Welcome to your humble new abode!”
Kenma makes an effort not to make a snappy reply. From what he can see of what's inside, Kuroo’s clearly made an effort to clean up the place. There’s something forced about the tidiness, like a host cleaning up for a guest, and Kenma doesn’t like it.
But then Kuroo opens the door wider, and Kenma's stomach clenches.
Because Kuroo looks the same. Albeit taller, and a bit older, but still in his usual lounging outfit of a black shirt with sweatpants, still with his incurable bedhead, still wearing the smile that either makes people pause, run the other way, or fight the desire to punch him.
But Kenma takes comfort in that smile; it makes him think not of denizens that creep or of sinister intent, but of afternoons spent at nets, sharing the fan on warm nights, and the first name that shows up in his texts. It's an old comfort that may prove to be past its due, but Kenma holds his ground to watch and wait.
With a quiet, “Thanks,” he hangs the heaviest of his bags over Kuroo’s proffered arm.
Kuroo offers to help him unpack the same day he arrives, but Kenma refuses. All he wants is to shower and change into some dry clothes and curl up somewhere, preferably with a hot drink. The unpacking can wait.
Kuroo remembers Kenma prefers having two towels—a large one for his body, a smaller one for his head. The larger towel's already hanging neatly on the rack when Kenma steps into the bathroom. When Kenma comes out, his black hair still dripping at the ends, Kuroo drapes the smaller towel over Kenma's head, briefly ruffling Kenma's hair, but not doing anything else. Kenma's glad he didn't; he isn't sure how he'd react if Kuroo immediately tried to go back to the way they used to be in high school, when Kuroo toweling Kenma's hair dry was a normal practice.
They end up at the small kitchen counter, with Kenma stiffly on one of the wooden stools. The seat is too small to curl up in, the back is too wide to comfortably lean against, and he already knows he hates it. Kuroo stands on the opposite side of the counter to face him, one elbow propped on the cool surface. He's not looking at Kenma; rather, he's looking away towards one of the small windows, lost in thought. Only the quiet gurgling of the kettle on the stove fills the silence.
But Kenma doesn't mind. He towels down his hair while he waits for Kuroo and the kettle to come to, peering about the small apartment. He doesn't miss the volleyball, slightly dusty but still in an accessible corner, and notes the ways Kuroo's managed to stuff what appears to be his entire library of books into every nook and cranny. He notes the locations of wall outlets and power strips, the light grey futon couch that's able to become a makeshift bed for unexpected guests, and the white walls that seem starker with the window displaying a sky of overcast storm clouds.
Kuroo finally stirs when the kettle sings. Pouring the water into two red mugs, he reminds Kenma to wait for their drinks to cool. "My roommate picked them out," Kuroo adds, gesturing apologetically at the stools. "Insisted on them, even when I told him they'd be uncomfortable."
Kenma shifts, in a fruitless attempt to prove Kuroo wrong and find a spot on the stool that isn't both cramped and too spacious in all the wrong ways.
Kuroo just laughs, with the resigned air of a sympathizer. "We'll go pick out replacements, yeah? These stools weren't worth arguing about before, but now we can do what we want."
The way Kuroo says we settles Kenma. It's not said with a conspiratorial manner or in the spirit of camaraderie, but rather with a twinkle in Kuroo's eye, in the way he lights up when things go in his favor. When he puts himself first. When there's no obligation for Kenma to include himself as part of the we, if he doesn't want to.
Kenma tugs his sleeves until they almost entirely cover his fingers and wraps his hands around his mug, reveling in the warmth. And because Kuroo's prodding at their tea bags and it's a question he hasn't asked for a long time, he asks, “How are your parents?"
"Oh, fine. I told you living away from home improved our relationship, but it got even better after I graduated. They insist we share a meal every few weeks or so, and I can't even say I mind all that much." Despite cautioning Kenma to wait until the tea cools down, Kuroo takes a long, careful sip. He comes away just fine, too, and Kenma envies his sense of timing, for catching opportune moments. "How about yours?"
“Fine,” Kenma echoes. Even during university, his parents visited often. They now only live a few subway stops away, so Kenma never had the distance to miss them. “Last I visited, they were talking about going abroad after my dad retired. Italy or something.”
Kuroo whistles. “Abroad, huh?”
“Or at least somewhere different for a change. Anyway, my mother wants to know when you can come over for dinner. In her words, she hasn't seen you in forever.”
"Whenever you want to go, then. I always liked coming over to your place anyway. It was so full of warmth. And love."
Kenma glares at him. "More like you loved my mother's cooking and regularly cleaned out our entire refrigerator."
“That too." Kuroo grins without a hint of shame. "And she loved me for it. "
"Typical," Kenma huffs, making an experimental poke at his mug with an exposed finger. Still too hot.
"But your parents don’t mind us... living together?”
The sudden sharpness in Kuroo’s voice is what makes Kenma look up. He frowns, unfamiliar with uncertainty in Kuroo's voice where their families are concerned. “No. Why would they mind?”
Sure, it’s been a while since Kenma and Kuroo spent a considerable amount of time together under the same roof, but it’s not like they haven't kept in touch during the times they were apart. In fact, Kenma’s parents’ reactions were the opposite of worried. Kenma’s father even said, “We don’t need to worry about Kenma with Tetsurou-kun around.”
Kuroo’s wearing an odd expression, and Kenma’s frown deepens. Kuroo’s face isn’t one he knows, and he wonders what other habits Kuroo has picked up during their time apart that he needs to learn.
But Kuroo, sharp as ever, doesn’t miss Kenma’s discomfort, and the sharpness vanishes to be replaced with something still slightly rigid, but fond. “Your parents have a lot of faith in me.”
Kenma's still frowning. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“Well," and Kuroo's tone is purposefully light, "suppose I had changed from the innocent, charismatic, kindhearted boy I was—and still am—"
"Get to the point."
"You wound me," says Kuroo, but he continues, "Suppose I drifted into less sanitary practices.”
"I don't know. Joining the yakuza? An embezzlement ring?"
"Like, being an evil microbiologist in a shady criminal organization for some chain smoking boss?"
"Something like that. Although in the situation you've proposed, I would be the boss, and hasn't anyone told you cigars are bad for you?"
Kenma snorts. “You make an awful first impression, you know.”
Kuroo shrugs. “Fair. I eventually win people over, though.”
“You do," Kenma admits. He takes a sip of his tea and, because Kuroo's looking at him in a way where he'd genuinely like to hear more, Kenma adds, "Because you're clever, and you know your way around people.”
And Kenma knows this to be true, even when he hasn't seen Kuroo in a while, because even now he can sense the stirrings of what Kuroo calls charisma and what he prefers to think of as exhausting willpower, lapping at him in unrelenting waves.
Kuroo sighs. “So... not because of my devilishly good looks and charm?”
Kenma slides off the stool. “Good night, Kuro.”
The rain continues, unrelenting and unusual, for the next two days.
In that time, Kenma unpacks. His bedroom's next to Kuroo's and is the smaller of the two. But that's fine—Kenma doesn’t have that many possessions to organize, anyway. It’s mostly his consoles and their extensive wires that require a bit more set up, and is the last cardboard box he organizes while plopped in front of the TV in the living room.
He doesn’t love games in the way that people assume, when they see his collection and decide his interest stems from nostalgia or even worse, passion.
He had relied on his electronics as a safeguard against anything he found uncomfortable or inefficient. But working meant he couldn't avoid hiding away anymore, and so he's found ways to deal with people and situations that don't always include burying himself in a device. Ways such as excusing himself from unfavorable situations, for example, or having friends text or call him to bail him out. Or, on occasion, gritting his teeth and putting up with what came.
But his games aren't merely recreational, either. At some point, they became a collection too extensive for Kenma to conveniently move from place to place. But he still carries around the ones of significant value, the ones that remind him of perseverance and leveling up.
He wonders what Kuroo thinks. Not that Kenma's ever changed himself because of anything Kuroo's said, but Kuroo's never been shy about his own opinions.
But, “Huh,” is all Kuroo says, from where he’s lolling about near the doorway.
Kenma squints at him. “What?”
“You kept this.”
Kuroo's looking down at the game cartridge strewed closest to his foot. Kuroo's eyes are misty, which means he's in a sentimental mood—which means encouraging that sentimentality may set off his penchant for long-winded reminiscing.
But the rain keeps falling, and Kenma’s on the floor with nowhere to go and a box to sort. He can indulge Kuroo, sometimes. So he says, “Yeah. I kept it."
"The first game I gave you."
"Yeah," Kenma says again, waiting for Kuroo to launch into some past memory or wax poetic about old times.
Thankfully, Kuroo just joins him on the floor, sprawling across the rug to reach for the cartridge and spin it in his long fingers. “I said I wanted to buy you something, so my parents figured making me earn money by doing chores was a good way to teach me the value of hard work.”
That game was also the reason for Kenma's first all-nighter at the ripe old age of seven. He hadn't made staying up a habit yet, so his parents hadn't started checking on him each night. That night was also the only time he played a game in peace, but it was hardly peaceful; the notoriously difficult final boss had elicited Kenma's first stirrings of real irritation. And so, instead of just shrugging and giving up like he always had, Kenma bent over the controls and kept going. Before he knew it, the first rays of daylight were peeking through his bedroom window.
He opens the cabinet beneath the television, wondering how much room he’ll need to make for his things—only to find there’s already two shelves cleared for him. He looks at Kuroo, whose amused expression indicates he's caught the implications of Kenma's glare.
“I just figured you might need the space.” One side of Kuroo’s mouth curls up. “And I was right.”
His smirk, lopsided but cocksure, makes Kenma want to both marvel at it and wipe it right off.
Kuroo leaves for his graduate school's lab in the morning. And since Kenma had delayed starting his new job under the guise of moving, he had looked forward to a gloriously free day all to himself.
That is, until Tora shows up at the apartment to ruin Kenma's plans.
"Kuroo-san said you'd be here by yourself," Tora announces, his voice still too loud to be considered appropriate for indoors. "And now you've graduated and live closer to me and Fukunaga, you can hang out with us more!"
Kenma scowls. Tora presses a paper bag that smells of freshly baked bread into his hands. "From Fukunaga. Specially made, he says. Nice, yeah?"
"Good! Now! Out!"
"Where are we going?" Kenma asks suspiciously, as he's ushered along with no say whatsoever.
"Don't get all squinty eyed yet," answers Tora. "We're just heading to Fukunaga's cafe. Been a while since you last went!"
The cafe is situated on the corner of a busy cross street, which, ironically, is one of its selling points. Kenma and Tora make their way across the bustling cross walk, but as soon as they open the heavy glass door, they're met with a quiet that Kenma takes in like air—an oasis in a desert of commotion.
"Fukunaga!" Tora roars. "Look who's back from the dead!"
"I wasn't dead—" Kenma starts.
But Fukunaga, bustling over in a neatly tied apron to greet Kenma with a pat on the head, places a finger to his lips. Despite the room being occupied by a number of cats and humans, the noise remains at comfortable decibels—the result of Fukunaga managing the cats by teaching them not to yowl, and managing the humans with the menacingly polite, "Please be quiet and respectful of other guests; violators will be asked to leave" sign at the front desk.
Once Kenma and Tora are shown to their table, one of the many rescued cats that live at the cafe, an orange and white Norwegian forest cat, stalks over to nudge Kenma's palm.
Fukunaga's eyes widen, and he points at the photo wall. It's meant to commemorate celebrities who have dropped in to visit, but the picture of the last time Kenma came is proudly displayed in the center, complete with a fish shaped border.
"Hey, he's right," Tora says. "It's the cat who made friends with you last time you came, Kenma."
"The cat who monopolized all the pats, you mean."
"The cat who made friends with you a year ago," Tora insists. "You just attract the pushy types. Like that guy from Karasuno. What was his name—Hinata? You guys still keep in touch?"
They do, particularly when Kenma catches one of Hinata's national level volleyball matches on TV, but Kenma decides not to answer. He trains his eyes instead on Fukunaga, who's gotten up to check on the dozing cats. They nap in front of the rain-speckled window, causing spellbound passers-by to pause and point in delight.
With a scrape of his chair, Tora scoots close to Kenma. "Just like old times, eh?" he says, slinging his arm around Kenma.
Kenma rolls his eyes, but doesn't pull away. "We didn't hang out like this in high school."
"True," Tora agrees. "But we're still friends. And isn't meeting like this better anyway?"
"If you're trying to make this a weekly thing—" Kenma begins to say, but Tora is quick to reassure him.
"Nah, that's impossible. Who has time for that? Fukunaga's the busiest of the three of us, you know."
Fukunaga's clear on the other side of the room now, putting the finishing touches on an orange tart. But he seems to know he's being talked about, because he raises his arm in a good-natured wave.
"You're busy too," Kenma points out, and Tora grins.
"Yeah, with all my hooligans."
Tora works as a youth counselor—a job requiring a level of patience and tact that Kenma didn't think he had.
"You're a hooligan yourself," Kenma says. "Birds of a feather flock together."
Tora snorts. "Ain't that true. Barely got a moment to myself, what with all the time I spend at my job and at Nekoma. There's a new little snot whose only standout skill is a mean spike, but thinks that's enough to make him ace material. Like how Lev used to be, but he at least put in the effort. This guy's got double the ego and half the work ethic. Here's to hoping he'll also grow out of whatever complexes he has." He props his feet up on the table, ignoring Fukunaga's pointed look. "Man, to be young and have that much energy again."
"So quit, if it's that much trouble," says Kenma, although he knows Tora won't quit.
"Sure," says Tora, although he's never quit anything he's started. "So. What have you been up to after graduating?"
The Norwegian forest cat has since claimed Kenma's lap for its own and fallen asleep.
"Not much," Kenma says. Besides moving, and games, and work, all of which is common knowledge on the Nekoma group chat.
"That's what you always say," Tora counters.
"Isn't it true?" Kenma replies. "Are you going to tell me I should apply myself and do something with my life, or whatever?"
"Not really," Tora shrugs. "If you finish what needs to be done, I don't have anything else to say."
"Your hooligans changed you," Kenma smirks. "What happened to giving everything your all?"
And Tora just smirks in return. "Turns out giving your all includes giving yourself time to rest and kick back."
They lapse into silence, a rarity when one is conversing with Tora. Tora starts on his soup; meanwhile, Kenma bites into his apple tart, remembering the endless tarts he'd sampled while Fukunaga was still creating the cafe's menu.
"So what's it like, living with Kuroo-san?" Tora eventually asks. "Is it like how you guys used to be? "
"Kind of. We kept in touch." Kenma thinks, taking another bite before he starts again. "But it's different, too. We're more careful. Getting used to stuff we used to do, or don't do anymore."
Tora leans back against the seat, arms behind his head. "Well, of course it's different. That's what you both get for going to universities farther away from each other. And us."
But Tora's not making that statement as a reprimand—merely as fact, as something else to adapt to. And Kenma won't admit it, but he's developed a grudging admiration for Tora that's only grown with time. Tora's fire, Tora's volume, Tora's guts, aren't the kind of lifestyle Kenma would freely choose. But he's remained fascinated with the way Tora can tackle life head-on, and recalibrate without losing himself along the way.
Fukunaga slides back into his seat. He nudges Tora's feet off of the table just as Tora asks, "Didja miss us, Kenma?"
They all know Kenma won't dignify that question with the affirmative.
He made friends at university. Not many, but that's how he prefers it—he wouldn't have liked having a huge social circle, anyway. His group insists on meeting up every once in a while, and Kenma goes because he enjoys them all well enough. But he wouldn't have made those university friends without the ones he made in high school first, the rowdy team who made him feel accepted for being himself.
Which is why Kenma's reluctant, "In a way," is enough to make Fukunaga laugh and Tora grin.
Fukunaga leans down to scoop up the cafe's largest, fluffiest black Maine Coon. He musses up the cat's fringe in a messy sideswept do, in a style not unlike that of their former captain.
"Didja miss Kuroo-san?" Tora translates. When Fukunaga shakes his head and swats at Tora, Tora insists, "That can't be asked politely. It's a direct question, however you put it!"
Instead of glaring at either of them, Kenma focuses on the cat, who's watching him with droll yellow eyes. His answer, though spoken to the cat, is addressing Tora. "You were the one who said Kuroo and I were like family."
"That's what I thought," Tora admits. "But Fukunaga and I talked a lot when you weren't around. Now I think that maybe I was right, or wrong, or a bit of both." Now his stare is piercing enough that Kenma averts his gaze to look at his own knees. "But what's more important is: do you agree?"
Family, to Kenma, is time spent with people who he values, but don't necessarily understand him.
That starts with his parents, his mother sighing when he doesn't interact with his classmates. It extends to his volleyball teammates, who frustrate him to no end, but are the first to hiss at anyone who belittles him. Then there are his university classmates and his coworkers, who all interact on a need-to-know basis.
And, of course, there's Kuroo, who has been around for more of Kenma's life than he hasn't.
Kuroo is "Kuro", the boy who folded his arms and tsk-ed along with Kenma's mother when Kenma refused to eat his vegetables, who was deaf to Kenma's pleas to stay in bed and dragged him outside to play volleyball anyway, who made all sorts of friends but still wound up glued at Kenma's side at the end of the day.
"Kuro" is also the high school volleyball captain with top grades, equal parts admirable and intimidating to most except for the other third years and Kenma. Any opponent who side-eyed Kenma across the net had to deal with Kuroo, whose most politest of tones meant the person was about to receive a royal tongue lashing.
Not to mention "Kuro", the hardworking university student, so busy with volleyball club and his promising career in microbiology that Kenma only saw him every six months. But his texts continued to make their way into Kenma's inbox, with anything from musings to links to good matches or something he thought Kenma might like. They spent hours on video chat, whether in silent study sessions or to game together.
Then there's the "Kuro" who, after graduating university, put volleyball aside to focus on graduate school and never found the time to properly pick it up again. Kenma, in a university that was too far away from most of his old friends to visit, still received texts. Those texts mentioned topics Kenma hadn't yet experienced, like rent deposits and dates or reacquainting oneself with childhood haunts, but he listened. From time to time, they still found chances to talk when Kenma was in between classes or Kuroo was on break, particularly when Kenma thought of home or Kuroo's relationships went sour.
And now, there's the "Kuro" that Kenma already knew through words, but is becoming reacquainted with in person.
Kenma considers it fortunate he was spared the horrors of apartment hunting that Kuroo had often lamented about. And there are certain things that have changed for the good; Kuroo doesn't barge into Kenma's room anymore, or pester him about his eating habits. Though Kuroo does have other annoying methods to wake Kenma up in the mornings, like rapping insistently on the door each time he passes by or making a racket in the kitchen that echoes off the tiles.
But it's unsettling just how easily Kuroo's slotted himself back into Kenma's life, how they've pick their bickering back up, except now it's face-to-face instead of over texts or chats. Kuroo indulges in long-honed habits, like sprawling with an odd grace that makes any place seem like it exists to accommodate him, or hearing only exactly what Kenma tells him but deducing the rest on his own anyway.
His presence bleeds into every aspect of Kenma's life, rendering him uncategorizable.
But there are odd times, strange times, when Kenma's curled up on the stool he hates and Kuroo's on the couch. Then Kuroo mentions, in the casual way he does, some notable place he went with an ex or a newly opened shop with a pleasant atmosphere that would make a good date spot, and an unpleasant weight settles in Kenma's chest.
When they talked over the phone or on a webcam, Kenma had never felt bothered when Kuroo talked about being interested in someone. When Kuroo's relationships ended, Kenma did his best in the ways he knew to comfort him—if best was defined by staying on the line, lamely saying “Yeah,” to everything Kuroo said, and feeling frustrated he couldn't see Kuroo in person to at least keep him company or stop him from drinking his sorrows away.
Kuroo hasn't mentioned dating anyone, not since Kenma moved in. So why is it all rushing back now? Kenma wonders while his heart beats a little harder, just enough that only he can tell the difference.
He reminds himself, occasionally. Of course Kuroo dated someone. Multiple someones. It’s Kuroo. Kuroo, who draws people to him like moths flitting to a lamp in the night—
And yet, the discomfiting feeling remains—stirrings, unclear stirrings that Kenma can't name. He doesn't like their unfamiliarity, and so he tucks them away to peruse later, perhaps best examined when he's alone with his thoughts.
But one of those quiet places doesn't include his room. Because there, distinct even through the patter of rain on the windows, Kenma can hear the murmur of a voice on the other side of the wall, laughing while on the phone or humming a tune he can't catch, and that's distracting enough.
Their apartment is situated in a peaceful neighborhood, just a few beats away from the heart of the city.
Kenma doesn't hate it. He's not cut out for the country life, what with its lack of electrical outlets and abundance of mosquitoes, but he's not one for constant noise and bustle, either.
Call it luck, call it fortune, call it ability—at any rate, he had secured his job as a computer programmer before he graduated university.
"Congratulations," Kuroo had sang over the phone while waiting for his bus. His voice was tinged with static; the noise of heavy rain in the background meant his cell phone reception was weaker.
Kenma had just harrumphed.
"Well, I mean it. I knew you could do it." And the faith in his voice made Kenma stammer something and change subjects as soon as possible.
Like everything else in his life, Kenma’s job isn’t his passion, either. It's not something he talks about with steely resolve, like Tora, or attends to with a spring in his step, like Fukunaga.
But his work suits him just fine—the pay is decent, his cubicle is close to the water machine and the bathroom, and is secluded enough that not many people pass by. The most arduous travelling demand is for him to occasionally work from home. And his boss and coworkers aren’t the chatty sorts who fret over him and are interested in the minutiae of his life. Kenma likes them precisely because they are colleagues, not friends; he can only have so many people in his life to call friends, who require his time and energy.
As it turns out, Kenma's workplace and Kuroo's lab are only two subway stops away from each other.
Kuroo gets off first. There's always at least one person who stares at him when he rises to his full height, appearing even taller in his dark jeans and messy bedhead. He always looks back to see Kenma off, and never with a goodbye, either. He grins as he says a, "Later, Kenma", or a, "See ya, Kenma". And Kenma knows he's pleased because they don't need to say goodbye anymore, and rolls his eyes at the sentimentality of it.
But for all of Kenma's insistence that some things are different, some things have remained the same, too.
Things like sitting next to one another, so cramped from the full car at rush hour that their knees are pressed together. Or Kenma, uncomfortable at not being able to look through the sea of people at the cloudy view on the other side, focuses instead on Kuroo's presence beside him, heavy and grounding.
With Kuroo, food is always an important affair, even back when the Nekoma team rendezvous included making dishes for fundraisers and events.
"My food tells a story. I cook from the heart," he says, telling the truth when he seems so at home in his green apron.
"It was just fried rice, Kuro."
"So? Doesn't need to be fancy. Just fresh. And nutritious." Kuroo grins. "Dare I say you liked it? I can see my reflection in your plate."
Kuroo does it so easily, cuts right to the heart of the matter, and Kenma squirms. "It could've used more vegetables."
"Says the guy who ate ramen for a week straight when his parents were out of town. But," Kuroo concedes, "you do actually cook when you were left to your own devices. For you, that's an accomplishment."
Kenma scowls. He can cook for himself, more or less. He just chooses not to when he doesn't have to—like when Kuroo's around.
But he can't leave all the cooking duties to Kuroo. And that's how they end up traipsing through the grocery store aisles for the late-night discounts, despite the beginnings of a gentle rain.
"Anything you want to eat tonight?" asks Kuroo.
Kenma drifts over to the vegetable section, surveying what's available. "Okra, I guess."
Kuroo blinks at him in surprise. "Okra? Really?"
Kenma stares back. "Yeah?"
"I thought you hated it. Last time we ate it, you said it was sticky and messy."
Kenma shrugs. "That was high school. I eat it now." One of his university friends had made a stir fried okra dish that made it tolerable. He doesn't enjoy it, but he doesn't detest it, either.
"How about you prepare it tonight? And show me how you make it, that's got you craving it."
Kuroo's thoughtfully weighing the okra in his hand, and Kenma plucks the bag from him to place it in the basket. "Okay."
Kuroo and Kenma never used to cook together, unless it was with the rest of the team. And if they ate together, it was with the family of the person whose house it was, with the food prepared by his parents.
Now, under the same roof, these are new habits they form: moving around each other to drop various ingredients in a pot, the fragrance of simmering soup filling the room as they while away the time. The slosh of water as Kenma washes vegetables in the sink, hands briefly touching as he hands them over, and then the flash of a knife as Kuroo gets to work on the cutting board.
Meanwhile, the occasional gust of wind blows droplets onto the window, announcing rain that must first arrive before the gray clouds can clear up.
On the days that one of them works late, the other heads home with the unspoken agreement to be responsible for dinner.
When Kenma was only responsible for his own meals and no one else's, he could afford to eat ramen for a week straight. But now that Kuroo's roped him into a routine for two, he's not cooking just for himself anymore.
When Kenma texts Kuroo that he'll be late, Kuroo stays up until Kenma finally arrives home. He greets Kenma from a variety of spots around the room, whether that's from in front of the TV, looking up from the course paperwork he's completing at the kitchen counter and sitting in one of those uncomfortable stools.
If Kuroo’s the one who gets home late, Kenma’s usually parked on the floor, sitting on a cushion and using the bottom of the couch for a back, playing games. Or, if Kenma's lying on the couch to use his phone, he hears Kuroo coming and opens the door first. Kuroo's "I'm home" as he looks directly at Kenma is so warm that Kenma is forced to look away.
Regardless of who's first and who's second, the food lies, made but neatly wrapped in clingfilm and untouched, on the dining room table.
Neither of them eats until the other is home.
That's an unspoken agreement, too.
Kenma's boss allows him to spend a cold and drizzly day working from home. To his satisfaction, he finishes early, and looks forward to staying in, with nowhere to be and nothing to do.
But while sweeping the floor, he finds Kuroo's umbrella—black, neatly folded, forgotten—on top of the shoe cabinet.
He harrumphs in disapproval. But Kuroo’s just finished for the day; if Kenma's quick, he can catch Kuroo at one of the subway stops.
He reaches for his coat.
It's hard to surprise Kuroo.
Which is why it's a rarity when, just for a moment, his eyes widen and his mouth opens slightly when the subway doors open.
Kenma slips in, hands in his coat pockets. The car isn't jam-packed enough to trigger the alarm bells in Kenma's head, but it's crowded enough that he's pressed with Kuroo against one side of the car.
Like many of the other passengers, Kuroo's jacket has turned darker with jigsawed splotches of rain. But at least it's waterproof and none the worse for wear; some of the commuters appear to have walked through a running shower with their clothes on.
"How did you find me?" Kuroo wants to know.
"Because you're so damn tall," says Kenma. "And you give up your seat for expectant mothers and old people. Of course you'd be standing."
"Weren't you working from home today?"
"Then, to what do I owe the pleasure of seeing you here?"
"You forgot this." Kenma holds up the black umbrella.
"I could've just bought an umbrella, you know. Or borrowed one from the lab."
Kuroo doesn't even have the grace to be sheepish—only matter-of-fact. For some reason, this irritates Kenma. "I know that! Just, your umbrella's windproof, and the weather forecast said there'd be a thunderstorm this afternoon with heavy gusts. So..." Kenma's voice trails off, and he finds he doesn't quite know how to finish his sentence.
Kuroo's expression has changed from one of surprise to amusement. "So?"
"So I came!" Kenma snaps.
"Shut up," Kenma says immediately. "Don't even start."
"You were worried about me," Kuroo starts, delighted.
"Yes, you were. You didn't want me to get caught in the rain."
"I swear I'll get off at the next station."
Kuroo pauses, but only to add fuel to the fire. "You came all this way. Just to save me."
"I hate you," Kenma mumbles. "And it's not that far. You don't have to put it like that."
"But I do."
The note of finality in Kuroo's voice makes Kenma look up. Kuroo's watching him again, with a mix of exasperation and affection, as if searching for something.
"Still a sap," Kenma mutters, retracting into his scarf until only his eyes are visible.
Kuroo just laughs. "Guilty as charged."
Just when had Kuroo leaned his arm against the wall, forming a barrier between Kenma and the rest of the commuters?
"I didn't start dinner yet," Kenma says, because he has nothing else to say, his mouth dry.
Kuroo nods. "Let's get take out, then. Just for today."
They’ve reached their stop.
Kuroo drops his arm, only to place his hand on Kenma’s back like he did back when they were younger—back when Kenma played on his devices and didn’t pay attention, didn’t have to pay attention back then. But Kenma's devices are all absent now, plugged into their respective chargers behind a locked door.
And so, with Kenma holding the umbrella and Kuroo's hand on his back, they guide each other home.
When Kenma steps out of the apartment, the rain's just stopped falling. The world seems like it's been put on pause, with its still puddles and quiet streets.
He's not exactly sure what spurs him to don his rain boots, and go wherever his feet might take him.
Perhaps it's the silence that's made him stir-crazy, what with Kuroo gone to a conference abroad for two weeks, leaving the apartment devoid of a voice that carries through walls and a figure that sprawls wherever he pleases. Kenma would have completely relished in silence before, and still appreciates having time to himself. But solitude is a period that's best treasured when there's someone else around to disrupt it.
Ever since the incident with the umbrella, it feels like some previously raised barrier was broken. Kenma wasn't even aware it was there—an obstacle raised by time and distance, of the caution in re-navigating old paths that have retained enough of their shape to be identifiable, but still need to be shaped into new forms.
Kuroo pauses now, on occasion, at the entrance to Kenma's room, just to look in when the door is open. Sometimes, he's gone before Kenma realizes he was there. Sometimes, he's around long enough for Kenma to catch his eye.
Once, Kenma had actually spoken during one of these exchanges. "Kuro," he had said, coming to the doorway. But he had found he didn't have anything that needed saying, and Kuroo had given him one of those deceptively sinister smiles, ruffled his hair, and continued on his way.
Kenma finds himself crossing the street to enter Fukunaga's cafe.
For once, the external environment matches the calm atmosphere inside. And given it's a weekday, Kenma has his pick of seats. Fukunaga directs him to the plumpest beanbag cushion, which is the perfect height for a table made of a tree stump.
Tora can't stand two minutes without doing something or making conversation. If he were here, he would have started talking; Kenma can't say that always goes unappreciated. But even though he didn't want to stay in the apartment alone, he doesn't feel like talking today, either.
Luckily Fukunaga seems to sense this, in the unique way with which he reads people. Instead of attempting to chat, he plops the affectionate black Maine Coon cat into Kenma's lap, gestures at the new items on the menu, and pushes Kenma's nose with his finger.
Kenma can't help but smile.
"Let me see," Kuroo insists.
"Kuro," Kenma protests.
They're finally on their long-postponed trip to the furnishing store, and stopped at a traffic light with a minute left on red. Kenma's pulled the parking brake, idly watching the cars drive by that alternate between blurry and clear as they pass through his windshield wipers.
"It'll only take a sec." Kuroo pouts, and flutters his lashes in an exaggerated fashion. "Please?"
"Fine," Kenma grumbles. But he stays still, letting Kuroo take his shoulders, turning him this way and that to examine his glasses from every angle.
40 seconds left, until the light turns green.
"Black frames. You chose these yourself?"
"Yup." Kenma picked them for practicality's sake; they don't slip down his nose and don't weigh heavy on his ears. But Kuroo already knows.
"You don't wear these all the time?"
"Just to drive. And read powerpoint slides."
Kenma doesn't expect Kuroo to take his face in his hands for one last inspection.
"Looks good," Kuroo says, no hint of teasing.
He finally lets go, leaving Kenma wondering why, despite the air conditioner being set on high, it's suddenly so warm.
Their first priority are new stools, the roomy sort with seats and backs that are actually suitable for humans. They finally settle on a black, faux-leather variety that spins, roomy enough for Kenma to curl up in and comfortable enough for Kuroo to cross his long legs.
“We also need a lamp for the living room,” Kenma says. “The adjustable kind, with a shade.”
Kuroo glances at him, curious. “What for?”
“Because you read on the couch,” Kenma points out. “And the ceiling lights alone aren’t bright enough.”
Kuroo laughs, the sound simultaneously rueful and fond. "Of course you'd notice. But really, it's fine. I’ll just move to the dining table.”
Kenma frowns, instead striding over to the nearest shelf in blatant disagreement. “This lamp looks fine. And this one.” He glances around, rising up on his tiptoes to see what else he can spot. “There are more over there. Let’s pick a normal design that doesn't need anything custom bought." Then they can buy more standard lightbulbs, and that means Kuroo won't ever have to read in semi-darkness.
Somewhere in between Kenma's musings, he’s taken Kuroo’s arm to tow him along. He can feel Kuroo watching him, silent, but letting him lead on.
After a movie and a meal with some university friends, Kenma foots the brief walk home as fast as he can. Despite wearing a thick jacket, he's shivering; to make matters worse, a thick rain, rare during the winter, has started falling. With his hands encased in gloves, it takes Kenma a few seconds longer than usual to fumble with the key.
When he opens the door, he finds all the furniture has been pushed aside to make room for a navy blanketed kotatsu.
"Like it? I figured it suited the weather." Kuroo's muffled voice is coming from somewhere in its general direction.
"I didn't know we even had a kotatsu," Kenma says, putting his shoes away.
"I unearthed it at the back of the closet. Care to join me?"
Kenma shuffles forward, prodding around with his foot until he finds a lump that's distinctly Kuroo-shaped. "I need to change first."
Kuroo finally emerges, poking his head out from under one side of the blanket. His bedhead is even scruffier than usual. “I have an idea."
"Let’s have a sleepover here,” Kuroo grins. "Mind grabbing the pillows?"
Kenma does, because he's the one who's still standing. He can't fault Kuroo for asking; frankly, if he was in Kuroo's position and snug under the covers, he wouldn't want to move, either.
After tossing the pillows to Kuroo, he turns off the lights. Leaving only the water blurred cityscape in the window as illumination, he also slides under the kotatsu, on the side next to Kuroo. Glad for the kotatsu's warmth but aware of Kuroo's presence, Kenma carefully slants himself so as not to inadvertently bump into him.
"How are your friends?" Kuroo asks, flipping onto his stomach.
"The same. Two of them are dating now. " Kenma curls his hands in the thick blanket. It still smells a bit musty from being shut away for so long, but the worst of the scent is gone, thanks to Kuroo airing the blanket out during the day. "They couldn't stop smiling at each other and held hands the whole time. It was kind of a pain."
Kuroo chuckles. "Relatable."
"Not that I want them to break up or anything," Kenma adds.
From here, Kenma can only see the shadowy outline of Kuroo's head. In the dark, it's hard to see what facial expression Kuroo's wearing. But he doesn't sound disinterested or bored—merely like he understands, and Kenma suddenly feels the urge to make something clear.
"And," he says, "not that I wanted you to break up with anyone else, either."
"I know," Kuroo says again, softer this time.
Kenma's breath hitches, the noise all too loud in the silence. That affection, familiar and reserved only for Kenma, is back in Kuroo's voice. It's something Kenma's heard a million times in person while growing up, on the phone, and through a computer webcam over the years. But he's only really started listening now, only now realizing what it's been telling him the whole time.
The blanket rustles as Kuroo shifts onto his side. ”Afterwards... people told me a lot of stuff. They meant well, but I didn’t need to be told that I’d find someone else, I was a catch, or I'd be okay. I already knew those things—I just needed time to process stuff and get to the point where I could believe them. So all those hours of silence in calls... you probably thought you weren't helping, huh?”
"Yes," Kenma admits, disgruntled that Kuroo can still read him, even when down in the dumps.
"Well, you did. That's what I've always liked about you. That hasn't changed."
Something clangs on the roof. Most likely a cat, scrambling for shelter from the rain.
Kuroo snorts. "Remember the last break-up? When it was so bad that I moped for a week, and you were so fed up you actually came over?"
Kenma had grumbled all the way from leaving his apartment, taking the bus and god-knows-how-many subway stops to Kuroo's door—the door, which, coincidentally, would become his as well. He groans. "How could I forget? That was really a pain."
"Aw, come on. I treated you to awesome okinomiyaki and showed you around before you left. It wasn't that bad."
"I had exams. And it was snowing."
"Right, right. My bad.”
"Sometimes you're a pain," Kenma says. "But not all the time."
Kuroo's voice is a bit brighter when he asks, "Were you jealous? Even a little?"
"What's the point of asking?"
"So you were?"
"I won't make fun of you either way, I promise. I just want to know."
"Well, I wasn't. Not when your relationships were happening, anyway. " Kenma wraps the blanket tighter around himself. "Now... I am, a little bit. But not for the reasons you'd expect."
"A little bit?"
"I know. It's all in the past. It's dumb to think about things that have already happened. Irrational."
"I think it makes sense."
Kenma props himself up on his hands, wishing he could see Kuroo more clearly. "How? Would you be jealous?"
"You were off doing your own things. And it'd be selfish of me to keep you from someone you were interested in. So no, I wouldn't be jealous in that way. That's what you were saying, right?"
"Yeah." As usual, Kuroo puts into words what Kenma can't. Not that Kenma's actually dated anyone, or is ashamed of the fact that he hasn't.
"But I was jealous of what I missed with you. For not being there for stuff I wanted to be around for."
"Well, missing stuff is what we get for going where we did," Kenma says. "We put our own goals first, so we had to get used to each other again. That's what Tora said."
"Tora said that? Sometimes he actually makes a good point. But he's right." Kuroo exhales. "I don't regret my choices. Do you?"
And Kenma finds he can say so with surety. Living life on his own terms doesn't mean he can't tell Kuroo about his experiences, and for whatever else he can't properly express, Kuroo will help to fill in the gaps. So he says, ”Kuro."
"Are you... dating anyone now?”
"That's how you're going to ask me out?”
Kuroo sits up, but Kenma stays lying down. He knows that with the poor lighting, Kuroo wouldn't be able to see his face anyway, and asks, "How else am I supposed to do it?"
Kuroo's silent for a moment. “Ever since you moved in, that’s the first time you’ve asked.”
”Well, are you?”
Even with Kuroo leaning over the table, Kenma can only see the glint of his eyes, bright like a cat's. "What do you think?"
Kenma thinks about their first evening together, seated at opposite ends of the couch, sequestered to separate bedrooms, his arriving only with the promise of housing and finding someone he knew for years through a phone and a computer screen. He thinks about where they were, last weekend—Kuroo on the couch, Kenma playing games while seated on the floor and leaning against his legs. Kenma considers mentioning this, and more.
Instead, he stretches, pulling himself towards the center of the kotatsu, where his legs tangle with Kuroo's.
The consistency isn't so different, Kenma thinks, between the thick, soft fur of a black Maine Coon and the hair of a Kuroo Tetsurou, both of whom make beelines for Kenma's lap on grey, wet days, as well as all the days in between.
Kenma startles awake at the sound of a loud clang.
"Sorry," Kuroo apologizes, looking guilty.
Kenma rubs the sleep from his eyes. He looks down at how he's sitting—propped against his bed, phone loosely held in his hand, a blanket carefully placed over him. He must have fallen asleep, and Kuroo must have knocked the wastebasket over on his way out. "What time is it?"
"Almost two," and Kuroo looks even more apologetic. "You didn't have to wait, you know."
Kenma elects to ignore the second part, and yawns. "Leftovers are in the fridge."
“I meant to stay up until you came back.”
“Oh.” For once, Kuroo appears out of sorts—all long limbs and tousled hair in a space that's not his, dressed in clothes rumpled from the day and standing next to an upended pile of trash. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I figured I'd skip dinner and eat breakfast with you tomorrow. But I just wanted—“
Normally, Kenma would leave well enough alone. But Kuroo usually doesn't hesitate, usually finishes his sentences.
So Kenma prods, “You just wanted to what?”
“I just… Well.” Kuroo shifts, adjusts, then becomes sure. “I just wanted to look at you.”
Kenma's suddenly wide awake. Warm. Aware.
He meets Kuroo’s gaze head-on. “Look, then.”
Kuroo smiles. With what, Kenma can’t pinpoint exactly—something that's being stoked within, something like love. “I am.”
The roof of their apartment building rises eight stories high—just enough for one's line of sight to skim over the tops of the lower complexes.
Up here, there’s not much to see, especially during stormy weather. Only concrete, and steel, and the endless expanse of city lights that blur into the suggestion of vibrant life below.
And yet, as if they’re gazing upon a tranquil meadow of snow or a sunset that threatens to burst at the seams with brilliance, Kuroo puts his arm around Kenma's shoulders anyway.