Chapter 1: Part I
Kenma does not cry at Kuroo’s graduation.
There are a few reasons for this, even beyond his normal reluctance to show emotion. First of all, he’s genuinely happy for Kuroo - happy about the fact that his best friend will be able to go on to play volleyball in college, happy about the fact that he’s graduating with honors, happy about the fact that Kuroo seems really, genuinely happy, and that’s what matters anyways. Second, graduations are far too cliche an occasion for Kenma to even consider crying. And third, perhaps most importantly, he’s too busy trying to tame Tora and Lev, seated on either side of him.
Tora starts wailing first. It’s not even during a particularly sentimental part of the ceremony. The teachers are just announcing the students’ names, and they’re nowhere near Kuroo or Yaku’s names, so Kenma shoots him a look. When Tora ignores him and wails louder, Kenma jabs a bony elbow into his ribs.
By the time Tora calms down, though, Lev starts whimpering, and Kenma officially gives up on trying to get less attention drawn to him. He slumps down in his seat, letting his long hair cover his face - but not enough so that he can’t see what’s happening in front of him. He can’t miss Kuroo’s graduation ceremony. It’s important.
After the graduation is over, Kenma hangs back with the rest of the team as Kuroo embraces his parents and exchanges probably embarrassing sentiments with them. Usually Kuroo is one of the few people he feels totally comfortable with, but right now he just feels oddly uncomfortable. His discomfort only increases as Kuroo’s parents beckon him over with broad smiles on their faces.
“Kenma,” Kuroo says. Kenma’s been watching the expression on his face; his eyes gleam a little bit, like he’s about to start crying, but he quickly blinks it away and reaches out to ruffle his hair. Kenma glares in response. It’s not like Kenma’s all that much younger than Kuroo anyways. He’ll be here in a year.
A year. The thought makes Kenma nervous. He brushes it away.
“I can’t believe the two of you are going to be separated next year,” Kuroo’s mom says fondly. “Kenma, honey, whatever will you do without Tetsurou here showing up at your door every day imploring you to come play volleyball with him?”
“I guess I’ll have to find a replacement,” Kenma says quietly, the corner of his mouth turning up.
Kuroo looks outraged. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“May not be that easy,” Kuroo’s dad says. “Good friends are hard to find.”
Even harder for Kenma than for most people, Kenma thinks to himself. He’s had Kuroo forever, through no effort of his own - more like Kuroo glued himself to Kenma’s side and wouldn’t let go. He has Shouyou now, much for the same reasons. And his team - well, it’s hard for Kenma to determine what they are to him. He cares for them, but he’s always nervous about how much it’s reciprocated. He nods stiffly.
“It’s not even a problem, anyways,” Kuroo says breezily, moving his arm to rest around Kenma’s shoulder. Kenma tries to nudge him off, but as usual, he refuses to budge. “I’m gonna be so close. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be around so often Kenma’s gonna wish he got rid of me.”
“I already do,” Kenma mumbles. Kuroo’s parents chuckle, and, feeling rather rude, Kenma gives his parents’ regards and well-wishes. Kuroo doesn’t move his arm until one of his classmates walks over to greet him and engage him in some long, drawn-out conversation about something boring. Kenma takes the opportunity to sneak away.
“Wow,” Lev says, appearing from behind him like some kind of absurdly long-limbed spirit. “You’re really gonna miss him next year, huh?”
Miss him. The thought echoes in Kenma’s mind. Somehow over the course of his lifetime, he’s never really had an opportunity to miss Kuroo. He’s always been there. Even when they were in different schools, Kuroo would meet him afterwards so they could walk home together, shoulders brushing, Kuroo occasionally taking the opportunity to guide him when his nose was buried in the newest video game. The thought of Kuroo not being there anymore is uncomfortable, to say the least.
Kenma doesn’t know how to or particularly want to express this to Lev. He just shrugs. Lev seems like he tries to smile in response, but it looks like more of a grimace.
Kenma has always been Kuroo’s favorite.
From the second they met, from the second Kuroo somehow bamboozled him into playing volleyball together, they became some sort of odd team/duo combination. Kuroo’s never said as much, probably because he knows how much Kenma would hate the pure embarrassing factor of it, but Kenma knows that Kuroo would choose him over anyone.
He knows because when Kuroo would drag him along to play volleyball with some of his random friends, Kuroo would always choose him to be on his team before anyone else, despite the fact that Kenma wasn’t all that good at volleyball. He knows because Kuroo always lets him choose the game they play, even though Kenma knows Kuroo just wants to play Mario Kart most of the time. He knows because Kuroo once ditched a team dinner because Kenma wasn’t feeling great. He wasn’t even sick, really, just a little nauseous, but Kuroo took it upon himself to come over and make him soup anyways.
The rational part of Kenma’s brain tells him that’s not going to change. Kuroo’s not the type to replace people. After all, it’s been ten years or so now, and nothing between them has really changed. But there’s still a tiny part of Kenma’s brain that worries that Kuroo’s going to find someone better - someone more talkative, someone less sarcastic, someone kinder.
His mind brings him back to one of the times he’d brought up his plans of leaving the Nekoma volleyball team. Kuroo had blinked, his mouth curving down into a frown almost automatically. “You’re thinking about quitting?”
Kenma bit down on his lip. “I… yeah.”
For a second, Kuroo got that look on his face, the crease of his eyebrows and turn of his mouth that always appeared seconds before he exploded and said something he’d take back an hour or two later. He breathed in, though, and the look softened. “Why?”
“The team. I hate the whole hierarchy system. It’s bullshit. Your age shouldn’t determine your worth to the team.”
“Well, yes,” Kuroo said. “But you shouldn’t… I mean, you’re not doing it for the team. Not the rest of the team, anyways.”
Kenma glanced up at him, then nodded. It was a vague, strange statement. The conversation wasn’t the first conversation they’d had about the subject, nor would it be the last. But for some reason, it stuck with him for years after.
Kenma had always been Kuroo’s favorite. And it had always been clear that Kuroo was Kenma’s favorite too.
Sometime in between graduation and Kuroo leaving for college, Kuroo shows up on Kenma’s doorstep, a sly smile on his face. Kenma sighs. “What do you want?”
“How do you know I want something beyond the honor of your company?” Kuroo replies, still smiling.
“You’ve got that look on your face.”
“We’re not doing this,” Kenma says, sighing. “Just tell me why you’re here.”
“Well, Bo and I are going downtown today, and we were kind of hoping you’d come with us.”
“We were hoping?”
“It was mostly me,” Kuroo says, staring at him, his expression unreadable. “But Bo likes you! And he’ll like you more if you come hang out with us. Plus, I’m leaving in a week, and —“
“You… you will?”
“I said I would,” Kenma says, suddenly feeling a little irritable. “Just… don’t make me regret it.”
“You won’t,” Kuroo replies, beaming from ear to ear as he wraps an arm around Kenma’s shoulders. Some kind of shock runs down Kenma’s spine, and he’s struck by an intense desire to pull away, like it’s all too much all of a sudden. He wonders where it came from. Kuroo’s only been casually touching him like this for years upon years now.
Bokuto nearly keels over in shock once he sees Kenma beside Kuroo, but recovers quickly, his face alight with a joy that’s so unique to Bokuto. “Oh my god, Kuroo said you were coming, but I didn’t think he was for real! I can’t believe I get to hang out with the best of Nekoma today.”
“And I can’t believe that I get to hang out with the fifth best ace in Japan,” Kenma says, the corner of his mouth turning up a little.
“Fourth now, actually,” Bokuto brags, grinning. Kuroo nudges Kenma, giving him a small smile as if to say I’m proud of you.
Kuroo drags them to some obscure tea shop he swears he’s heard is amazing. Bokuto gets some kind of sugary coffee concoction that only ups his energy, while Kenma’s content with his basic milk tea and Kuroo gets jasmine tea. A bouncing Bokuto drags them from shop to shop afterwards, trying on weird hats and making Kuroo (and occasionally Kenma) pose for pictures with him in different fashions.
Kenma rolls his eyes fondly as he takes yet another picture of Kuroo and Bokuto dressed in some kind of odd wizard-like capes. Kuroo blows him a kiss, and he says, “You know, it’d be so easy for me to drop this phone…”
“You wouldn’t dare drop my child,” Kuroo gasps at the same time Bokuto gives some kind of battle cry and drops to the ground, sliding in front of Kenma as if to rescue the phone.
“I don’t know either of you,” Kenma grumbles, lowering the phone into Bokuto’s outstretched hands, but he can’t help but smile. The smile turns bittersweet as he realizes that soon, he won’t have this most of the time. He won’t have Kuroo.
By the look on Kuroo’s face, it seems like he’s realized the same thing.
Kenma leans back against the metal of the lockers in the gymnasium. It seems unreal that just a few days ago, Kuroo had bid him farewell and was now officially a college student. It seems unreal that today, Kuroo is officially a college student, and Kenma is still here. He’s in the locker room where they got ready together every day, with Lev and Tora and Shibayama and Inuoka and Fukunaga and Teshiro, but not Kuroo. Not Yaku or Kai, either.
There are new first-years now too, much to Kenma’s disappointment. Even though he knows they need new blood, training up first-years is a whole lot of effort that Kenma could do without. He’s learned this from working with Lev nearly constantly last year. Honestly, he’s terrified one of them will turn out to be like Lev, though he’s almost convinced no one could be like Lev.
Why isn’t Kuroo responding? Kenma thinks absently, and then suddenly, it hits him.
Kuroo isn’t the captain anymore.
At the end of the season last year, after their loss to Karasuno, Kuroo had pulled him aside. “I’ve got something to ask you.”
“Then ask,” Kenma replied. It always kind of annoyed him when people said they had something to ask instead of just asking. Unnecessary time and effort wasted, in his opinion.
“I… okay. Well, it looked like you were having fun out there,” Kuroo told him.
“That’s because I was,” Kenma said. “Karasuno’s powerful. Like the final boss. And yeah, I wasn’t able to beat them this year, but that just means we have to power up so we can beat them next year.”
A soft smile creeped up onto Kuroo’s face. “A year ago you wouldn’t have dreamed of saying you had fun playing volleyball.”
Kenma shrugged. “Things change, I guess.”
“And I’m proud,” Kuroo said. “Which is what I’m here to talk to you about, I guess. You’ve always been not only the brain of this team, but the heart —“
“Don’t say embarrassing things,” Kenma grumbled.
“It’s not embarrassing if it’s true,” Kuroo continued, not skipping a beat, “so I really could not think of anyone better to lead the team. Especially with the way you played versus Karasuno. You gave 100% of yourself to that game - hell, 120%, if I’m being honest. And you know this team. You’ve observed them, committed yourself to them. And I’ve been talking to Coach. He agrees completely. So Kenma…”
“Why does this sound like a marriage proposal?” Kenma asked, wrinkling up his nose.
Kuroo had laughed, ruffled his hair, and finished with, “Will you be the next captain of Nekoma?”
Kenma blinks now, bringing him back into the current moment. Lev Haiba is towering over him, green eyes wide. “Are you okay? Do I need to call an ambulance? Oh my god, do you have a concussion?”
“No, no, no,” Kenma says quickly. “Just zoned out for a second. What’s going on?”
“The new first years are here! Which means I’m not a first year anymore, and that means I’m their senpai,” Lev says, beaming from ear to ear. “Anyways, they want to meet the captain! They pretty much demanded it! And, I mean, it is one of the duties of being the captain and all.”
Kenma hates to admit it, but for once in his life, Lev is right. He nods. “Okay, I’m coming.”
“Are you sure you don’t need medical attention?” Lev asks, raising his eyebrows. “I mean, I’m not a doctor or anything, but I watched a couple of those medical dramas, and I think I remember -“
“Lev, it’s really fine,” Kenma says. “I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Oh, okay. You know, I bet I will too when I’m captain next year,” Lev says. For once, Kenma doesn’t have the heart to correct him. Lev practically skips back to the gym, where he practically drags Kenma over to four boys who are standing stiffly in the corner of the gym.
“Kenma, these are the first years! First years, this is Kozume Kenma, our captain and our secret weapon,” Lev says proudly.
Kenma sees it immediately. All four of them blink almost in unison, their eyebrows raise in surprise just the slightest bit, and they glance at each other, as if to ask “is this a joke?” He’s reminded of that first conversation with Shouyou, where Shouyou had asked if he was going to laugh at him, since boys that were short like him usually didn’t play volleyball. Kenma meant it when he said people usually reacted the same to him. He’s scrawny and has weird hair and just doesn’t look like a volleyball player, much less the captain of a renowned volleyball team. These boys were probably expecting someone who commanded respect like Sawamura from Karasuno, or someone who led their team honorably like Oikawa from Aoba Johsai, or someone with boundless energy like Bokuto, or even someone who inspired the team, like Kuroo had. Not Kenma – though at least he has grown an inch or two since last season.
This is your fault, Kuro, Kenma thinks wryly.
The shock seems to pass, though, because one of them, a tall boy with dark, shaggy hair and glasses, bows and says, “Kozume-san.”
“Call me Kenma, please,” Kenma requests. “I’m not much for the upperclassman hierarchy system.”
“He’s not!” Lev pipes up in support. Kenma elbows him.
“I couldn’t do that,” gasps the same first-year. “It’s not respectful.”
“Kenma-san, then,” Kenma says dryly.
Another of the first years, a boy with dark brown hair nearly down to his shoulders, snickers at this, but the glasses boy nods sagely. Kenma sighs, feeling uncomfortable already with the eyes of these boys he does not know on him. “So, do all of you have names?”
“Konae Minoru, sir,” the boy with glasses says, bowing again.
“The sir is really unnecessary,” Kenma mumbles, glancing downwards.
“Understood, s- Kenma-san.”
He learns that the boy with the long brown hair is Obata Tadao, the boy with hot pink tips who seems impassive to the entire conversation is Katayama Shotaro, and the final boy, a relatively short boy with light hair, is named Morioka Ryo. Although Konae seems to be the most talkative of the bunch at first, that honor ends up going to Morioka. As the practice begins, Morioka glues himself to Lev’s side and the two of them talk in loud, spirited tones that Kenma’s sure will give him a permanent headache.
Obata sort of isolates himself, though Konae seems determined to get him to converse. While Kenma sets to the team’s established spikers, he sees Konae standing next to Obata, babbling what seems to be technical commentary on the spikers at about a hundred miles an hour. Obata looks slightly less annoyed than Kenma would have imagined. Katayama stands next to them, looking as though he’s interested but also likely to fall asleep. Though Kenma can relate, it annoys him a little bit. His team ought to be giving all that they have. He wonders if this is how Kuroo had felt about him all of the last two seasons.
When he finally incorporates the three first years into spiking practice, he starts mentally taking notes. Konae has the height for a middle blocker, surely. He’s a little obsessed with the technical skill of the game, but that could serve to be useful in his position if he takes care to avoid the net when blocking and follow the spikers. Kenma’s also been a little worried about filling the role of libero without Yaku here, but Morioka informs him – or rather, informs Lev, who then informs Kenma with a great deal of glee – that he’d played libero at his last school and is more than willing to give this one hundred percent.
Kenma is convinced that Katayama, despite his relative lack of experience, could be a good setter. He seems very observant, his eyes following each of the spikers as they go up to jump. There’s also something about the way he hits and receives – gently, but high enough to hit.
The only one of the first years Kenma can’t get a read on is Obata. He seems kind of disdainful to the whole thing, only giving the practice a fraction of his energy. With that kind of performance, it’s difficult for Kenma to determine which position he’d be best suited for. So after the practice, and after Tora’s gleeful rendition of Kuroo’s embarrassing speech (which now just kind of serves to make his heart ache), Kenma steps up to Obata. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
Obata shrugs. “Sure.” His eyes slide over the team, and with a single eyebrow raised, he says, “Interesting collection of people you’ve got here.”
“Why are you here?” Kenma says in response.
It’s a little blunter than Kenma had wanted to be. He hopes Obata won’t be angry – Kenma’s never been much for conflict. He tries to clarify. “Sorry. I mean, you just don’t seem like you’re very happy about being on the team. I can tell you have a great amount of potential to reach a higher level, but it doesn’t seem like you want to.”
“That’s because I don’t.”
“Huh,” Kenma says thoughtfully. “Then I guess I have to repeat the question. Why are you here?”
“My friend, if you can call him that,” Obata says. “Konae. He talked me into joining volleyball in middle school, and then he dragged me here because he didn’t want to join the team alone. I’m not even convinced I like volleyball. I mean, basketball seems much more exciting.”
Kenma is overwhelmed for a second by the amount he sees his younger self in the first-year. He sees the resentment, towards his friend and towards the sport, the confusion, the lack of connection. And then he feels a sudden rush of determination.
“I get it,” he says.
“What?” Obata peers at him. “You’re the captain. You have to love volleyball.”
“I do,” Kenma says. “I mean, I do now. But I didn’t before.” When Obata looks even more confused, Kenma lowers his eyes, feeling mildly self-conscious. “Just… give me to the end of the season, okay? Stick with it. I’ll find a way to make you love volleyball.”
Like Shouyou and Kuroo did for me.
“Good luck with that,” Obata remarks darkly. And once again, Kenma is hit with a strong sense of déjà vu.
Text from Kuro:
u got the new first years today right? howd that go?
Text to Kuro:
decent, i guess. got a new libero, but he’s not quite as angry as yaku. clings to lev just as much, though. and one guy i think could be a setter. the new middle blocker in training is very technical but could be good. and then the last guy… he’ll take some work.
Text from Kuro:
this is the most ive seen u text in like years lol
Text to Kuro:
do you want me to block your number?
Text to Kuro:
anywayyyy you got this! if anyone can bring out the best in these players its you
Text to Kuro:
stop being so embarrassing. but… thank you.
In Kenma’s opinion, his single most useful asset is his observational skills.
His video game skills seem to not account for much in the real world, much to his displeasure. He’s not all that talented at volleyball. The only reason he has decent grades in school is due to Kuroo’s continual concern for his education, not an inherent fortitude for schoolwork. But a lifetime of being too concerned with what everyone else was thinking about him has given him a keen eye for observation of other people.
Kuroo knows this, because half a lifetime spent with Kenma has given him many of the same skills. These skills have shaped him into the shrewd, manipulative captain.
A couple of weeks before school had ended, Kuroo had showed up in his classroom during lunch break. This in itself was not unusual; Kuroo came to his classroom with a regularity that ensued that most of Kenma’s class knew who he was and who he was looking for. Sometimes he’d drag Kenma to eat with the rest of the team, citing the need for team bonding. Other days he knew better. He knew that Kenma needed some time alone and just sat beside him, eating his lunch in silence. That day, though, there had been a mischievous glint in his eyes, one that gave Kenma cause for alarm. Mischievous Kuroo never turned out well for him.
“What’s going on now?” Kenma had groaned.
“You know, it’s really no fair how you can always tell when I’m up to something,” Kuroo said, frowning. “But well, that’s kinda what I need you for. See, we have that match against Itachiyama next week, and there’s a few players I just can’t get a read on. So I was hoping that, after school…”
“You want me to come over and analyze the tapes you have,” Kenma finished.
“You know me so well.”
“Fine. But in return…”
“I’ll wait with you for the release of the new game next week, I know. Was gonna do it anyways, but, hey, you know…”
Kenma remembers trying not to smile and sticking out his tongue to disguise it.
They’d gathered at Kuroo’s house after school. As soon as Kuroo booted up the DVD, he pointed immediately to Sakusa. “Him. He’s the main concern.”
“Hm.” Kenma stared at the screen, taking in the way Sakusa moved, then frowned. “Go to a time-out.”
Kuroo fast-forwarded, speeding through the gameplay till he got to a time-out. Kenma stared at the screen for a second, then nodded. “Like I thought. Germaphobe.”
“Yeah. Won’t touch his teammates. One of them brushed his hand on accident and he looked like he might freak out for a second.”
“Interesting.” Kuroo paused. “Not sure how we’ll use that to our advantage, though, unless we wanna get Lev to sneeze on the ball. Anything else?”
“He seems kind of uncomfortable in the huddle and when people are cheering really loud. Maybe doesn’t like crowds? Good at putting on appearances, though, because he looks calm most of the time. He’s also very analytical, you know, not like Bokuto, who just throws himself into his spikes. He knows how to analyze the toss before he jumps.”
Kenma remembers feeling incredibly self-conscious from the speech, but Kuroo just beamed at him, pure pride lighting up his features. “Now that we can use. What would this team do without you?”
Now, just a few months later, Kenma sighs as he inserts the same DVD into the DVD player. Their first game is versus Itachiyama, and Kenma figures it can’t help to brush up on the players. It’s the duty of a captain, after all.
But it’s not quite as fun without Kuroo to tell him how important he is.
Kenma doesn’t end up falling asleep until 2 AM that morning, and he wakes up the next day around 11 to the sound of incessant buzzing from his phone. Groaning, he rolls over to look at the screen.
Text from Shouyou:
KENMA!!! we had some family stuff in tokyo this morning so now im here and free for the rest of the day!! WE HAVE TO HANG OUT!!!
Text from Shouyou:
KENMA ARE YOU THERE???
Text from Shouyou:
OH NO I FORGOT YOU SLEEP IN!! SORRY IF I WOKE YOU UP
Text from Shouyou:
what if i wake you up by texting you sorry about waking you up??? that would be so sad!!!!
Text from Shouyou:
I DID IT AGAIN!!! SORRY KENMA!!
He groans, rolling over onto his side. Shouyou can be a lot to deal with sometimes. But still, he’s one of Kenma’s few close friends, and without Kuroo here his hangout opportunities have been few and far between over the past few weeks. It’s kind of weird that Kuroo hasn’t asked him to hang out yet, but Kenma figures he’s been settling into school, so he doesn’t want to bother him. Instead, Kenma replies:
Text to Shouyou:
it’s fine. hanging out sounds good. where and when do you want to meet?
Shouyou replies almost immediately. Kenma chuckles at his eagerness.
Text from Shouyou:
ASAP!!! i can meet you at the stop near your house bc im on the train anyways!!!
Kenma dresses quickly and leaves the house. By the time he makes it to the station near his house, Shouyou is already there, bouncing on his toes. He bounds over to Kenma, beaming from ear to ear. “Kenma! I’m so glad you could come! It’s been a long time.”
“Since the game,” Kenma says.
“Yeah! I’m kind of sorry about that, but mostly not sorry, because we won! And we almost won Nationals afterwards.”
“You were really close,” Kenma offers.
“We’re gonna win this year,” Shouyou says confidently. “Kageyama and I are sure of it. And even though our first years aren’t as good as last year’s first years, they’re still really good! Kageyama sets to me more this year too, which is nice…”
Shouyou continues talking, babbling about the team, while Kenma takes the time to process. Kageyama — Karasuno’s scary setter, who it turns out is not quite as scary as Kenma had imagined. In reality, he’s the same kind of nearly brainless (in a somewhat endearing way) volleyball freak as Hinata. They work well together. But when Nekoma plays against Karasuno, their kind of scary partnership is a real threat.
Nekoma’s first years this year could give them an advantage, though. He considers this for a second.
“Anyways,” Shouyou says, interrupting his own rambling, “we should go somewhere! There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
You’ve already been talking, Kenma thinks, feeling mildly confused. In Shouyou-speak, it probably means there’s something slightly more important that Shouyou wants to talk about. This peaks Kenma’s curiosity.
They get onto the train. Kenma whips out his video game as soon as they sit down, but thankfully Shouyou is not the type to be offended. He oohs and ahhs at the monsters that Kenma battles, then asks for a turn at it. Kenma surreptitiously turns the difficulty down to Easy before handing it over. When Shouyou brags about how good he is because he took down the monster so quickly, Kenma just nods and gives a slight smile.
Shouyou drags him into a cat cafe, which he’s honestly not complaining about because he truly loves cats. They’re independent, easy to manage, and occasionally affectionate in a way that makes Kenma’s heart warm a little bit. Almost like —
No. He cuts off that thought before it even fully forms. He can’t let his feelings towards Kuroo develop into anything more than they are now. Things are good at this equilibrium.
An equilibrium that seems likely to tip as Shouyou looks at him directly in the eyes and says, “How do you know when you like a guy?”
“W-what,” Kenma stutters out. He can feel the red rising to his face and he hates it. He hates looking so thrown off. But he really does not know how to respond to this question, because… “Why would you ask me that?”
“You seem wise, and you’re an upperclassman,” Shouyou says, and Kenma almost starts to feel relieved, until Shouyou continues with, “And I thought, you know, with… I mean. Never mind.”
“I don’t think I can help you with this,” Kenma says, trailing his fingers through the fur on the cat in his lap. Maybe it’ll help distract him from whatever kind of conversation is going on right now.
“But you must have some idea!” Shouyou protests. “You play all those romance visual novels, don’t pretend you don’t! Even the boys’ love ones.”
“I… okay.” Kenma feels slightly defeated. “You know you like a boy when… when you think about him a lot. And you want to be with him most of the time. You miss him when he’s not around. You might dream about him. I don’t know, things just seem… better when he’s around.”
“Oh, okay,” Shouyou says, looking as though, for once in his life, he’s deep in thought. Kenma wishes that Shouyou would get back to chattering, because the thoughts he’s having of who all those statements apply to are starting to get very dangerous.
“This is about Kageyama, isn’t it?” Kenma says as gently as possible.
“No! Why would you….”
“How did you know?” Shouyou asks, his face bright red.
Kenma goes with “I’m good at reading people” in lieu of “You’re both incredibly obvious”.
“I mean… I think about him setting to me a lot! But it’s starting to not just be that. He’s funny, and smart about volleyball, and athletic, and I’ve even started to think he’s handsome. Handsome! What’s wrong with me?”
“Lovesick,” Kenma says.
“This is why you’re not a doctor,” Shouyou pronounces.
Shouyou starts into another rant about how good of a setter Kageyama is or something, and Kenma wills his traitorous heart to stop its complaints. He’ll keep ignoring the budding feelings in his chest for forever if he has to.
Everything is okay right now.
Text from Kuro:
saw on shortys story that you were hanging out today? how was that
Text to Kuro:
yeah, he was in tokyo for a family thing. it was good. we went to a cat cafe.
Text from Kuro:
ohoho so youll go to a cat cafe with chibi-chan but not with ur best friend?? what kind of treachery???
Text to Kuro:
you never told me you wanted to go to a cat cafe.
Text from Kuro:
well maybe i do so how about that
Text to Kuro:
then we can go, i guess?
Text from Kuro:
sorry that was weird
Text to Kuro:
you could have just told me you wanted to hang out.
Text from Kuro:
i do. i really really do but i need to get some stuff straight first with the team and with myself. but ill come visit soon! i promise
Text to Kuro:
Text from Kuro:
anyways tell me about the cat cafe!! how many cats were there did any of them look like me were any of them calico cats
Generally, Kenma really does not enjoy the idea of extra practice.
He’s done it before - with Lev, of course, because Lev remains so desperately in need of it - but it had taken hours upon hours of Kuroo prodding at him. Kuroo eventually wore him down by bribing him with a freshly baked apple pie, and Kenma had to begrudgingly admit that it was in the team’s best interest if Lev could hit, given his massive stature. But certainly, he had never done it of his own volition.
Konae and Morioka are standing in front of him, though, their young eyes wide, a ball in Konae’s hands. “Kenma-san, will you toss for me?” Konae asks solemnly. “I would like to perfect my hitting jump. Right now I believe I’m jumping about .02 seconds too early.”
“And if Konae hits, then I can receive his hits!” Morioka says eagerly. “And I can practice so that one day I can be as good as the libero from last year, Yaku-senpai!”
“Additionally, Obata and Katayama would like to practice hitting,” Konae informs him. “But they lack the communication prowess necessary to inform you of this.”
Kenma glances to the right to see that, yes, Obata and Katayama are standing in the corner, very determinedly not looking at the rest of the group or at each other. Half of him wants to assign Katayama to be the setter and just leave them there to practice amongst themselves. But the other half of him, the rational half, knows it’s not what a captain should do.
It’s not what Kuroo would do.
He kind of hates Kuroo right now.
“Sure,” Kenma says, taking the ball from Konae. “Morioka, you can go to the other side to receive first. The other three, you can line up to hit, but Katayama, watch what I’m doing, please. Also, we’ll need to work on your receives before the first game, so may as well start now….”
It’s not as bad as working with Lev. The four of them combined aren’t as loud as Lev, and none of their receives are half as bad as Lev’s were when he first joined the team. Konae and Morioka, at least, seem happy to be practicing. Obata still kind of half-asses the extra practice, which makes Kenma wonder why he’d even stayed. But he kind of sees why when Konae meets Obata by the door, smiling widely and informing him that he’d had great form all practice. Obata just shrugs, but he straightens up a little, seeming to bask in the praise.
Sure, he’d had a great practice, Kenma can admit that. He’s perfect for volleyball without even really trying. And a year ago, Kenma would have been happy with that kind of performance. But he’s beginning to see that volleyball’s just not fun when it’s all form and no heart.
Katayama approaches him, his red tipped hair falling in front of his eyes. “Hi, Captain Kenma,” he says at a volume Kenma can barely hear.
Kenma doesn’t want to embarrass him by telling him to speak up, so he just says, “Hi.”
“I was just wondering why you wanted me to observe you,” Katayama mumbles. He looks as though he wishes his athletic shorts had pockets so he could shove his hands in. Instead, he settles with nervously entwining and separating his hands. “I mean, I’ve never played volleyball seriously before, but it seems maybe like you want me to set?”
Kenma nods once, brushing his hair behind his ear.
“But… but that’s a really important position. And I’m not sure I’d be any good at it. Definitely not better than you.”
“It’s not a competition. Besides, I’m leaving next year,” he says, and as he says it he feels that little twinge of fear in his chest he feels every time he thinks about graduating (or about Kuroo, come to think of it). “So I need someone to replace me.”
“But there are so many talented players on the team already,” Katayama tells him, as if he doesn’t already know. “So…”
“Why do I wear my hair long?” Kenma says once he realizes Katyama’s not going to finish that sentence.
“I… sorry?” Katayama responds.
“Just… tell me why you think I wear my hair long and down,” Kenma says, looking up to meet his eyes. “Don’t worry, I won’t be offended.”
“I… you…” Katayama looks embarrassed, so Kenma just gives him a small smile in encouragement. Finally, he says, “So you can hide, maybe.”
“You’re right,” Kenma says softly. “I’ve gotten better about it recently, but sometimes when I get overwhelmed, it’s nice to have a hiding place. And how did you know that?”
“I just guessed.”
“You observed,” Kenma corrects him. “And that’s what I look for in a setter. Someone who can observe and understand the other players, not just on our team, but on the other team too. And I… I think you can do that.”
Katayama looks like he’s going to protest again, but Kenma just shakes his head. Katayama sighs. “Okay, then. Thanks, Captain Kenma.”
Captain Kenma still sounds weird to Kenma’s ears. Wrong, almost. Kenma nods anyways.
One of these days maybe he’ll feel like the title of captain wasn’t passed down to him by some cosmic mistake.
Back when Kenma first started playing, back in middle school, Kuroo was his captain for the first few years. That was one of the selling factors of his joining the team, in fact. Kuroo was not the type to take advantage of his position. He led their lowly middle school team with dignity and grace, and Kenma followed him, just as he always had.
When they got to Nekoma, all of that changed. Suddenly Kuroo was not the one in charge. Suddenly there were these third-years that thought they knew everything about volleyball and thought that they were above Kenma simply based on the fact that they happened to have been born a year or two before Kenma. It didn’t encourage him to play any better; if anything, it made him bitter, which just decreased his level of play. It even made him want to quit the team, much to Kuroo’s continual dismay.
So when Kuroo finally became the captain of Nekoma, Kenma was incredibly satisfied. Kuroo was the antithesis of the captains Kenma had so despised. Besides his lighthearted teasing, he never forced Kenma to do stupid, pointless things just because he was younger. He put the whole team on a cleaning schedule, rotating each member through so that everyone helped equally. He was the sort of captain that Kenma liked, and the sort of captain that he was hoping to be for the rest of the team. Kuroo was the sort of captain that encouraged teams to rise up to his level.
He is the sort of captain it’s hard - no, nearly impossible - to live up to.
Kenma lets the ball he’d been tossing to himself fall to the floor. He’s sweating, he realizes now, which is really inconvenient. But he needs to get better. It’s kind of embarrassing being the captain that doesn’t stand out at all. It also feels silly to tell his team to improve when he isn’t doing so himself.
I’m leveling up, he tells himself, and then he pictures Karasuno in his mind. He pictures the tears that fell down Kuroo’s cheeks after their loss. He imagines how he’d felt that day, like he could have played forever if it meant beating the final boss.
I’m leveling up, and this time I’m going to win.
And Kuroo won’t be there to see it.
It’s kind of odd that he hasn’t visited yet. It’s been a month now, practically, and beyond the sporadic texts, there’s been no word from him. He doesn’t talk about college, doesn’t tell him anything about his friends or his teammates or classes. And he doesn’t mention coming back to visit.
Kenma’s never experienced a life without Kuroo. It’s even emptier than he’d imagined.
He tosses the ball to himself again, biting down on his lip. This is all I have. I’ll make it count.
The final boss.
Text from Shouyou:
kenma!! how’s your team doing??? can you believe our practice match is next week?? i can’t wait to see you guys! and your new team! and your first years! they’re not cooler than me right??? kageyama says hi!!!!! see you soon!!!
Text to Shouyou:
hi shouyou. my team’s doing well. the first years need some work, but we’re getting there. i shouldn’t tell you too much since we’re going to play you. tell kageyama i said hello in return. see you soon.
Text from Kuro:
you can do this. i believe in you.
Shouyou rushes over to Kenma the moment Karasuno walks in the door, flanked by his partner in crime, who looks notably less eager but not unwilling. Beaming, Shouyou greets him with a “Kenma! We’re back again! And I know it’s just a practice match, but give it your best!”
“Of course they’re gonna give it their best, dumbass,” Kageyama says gruffly. Looking at Kenma, he manages a, “Hi.”
“Hi, Shouyou, Kageyama,” he says. “Some of our team are very excited for this match.” He motions to Tora, who is hooting and hollering with Tanaka, and Lev, who has somehow suckered Morioka and Inuoka into a weird yelling competition. It seems right up Shouyou’s alley.
“We really have to hang out again soon,” Shouyou says in an animated tone. “And it’s really good to see you…”
“Go join the yelling party,” Kenma says, trying not to smile.
Shouyou just grins and darts over to where Lev, Inuoka, and Morioka are. He hears Shouyou animatedly introduce himself to Morioka, who asks if Shouyou is the tiny giant Kenma’s been telling them about. Kenma knows Shouyou will absolutely love that.
Kageyama turns to him, looking about as awkward as Kenma feels. As long as Shouyou’s around, conversation with the three of them flows pretty naturally, but both Kenma and Kageyama fall more on the quiet side of things. Kageyama says, “So, you’re the captain now?”
“Yeah,” Kenma says, glancing down.
“Captains are cool,” Kageyama says. “Ennoshita is ours now. He yells at me and Hinata dumbass a lot, though.”
“Oh.” Keep the conversation going. Captains know how to make small talk. “How are you and Shouyou doing?”
Kageyama gives him a weird look. “Normal, I guess? We practice together almost every day.”
Kenma can’t help himself from asking, “What do you think of him?”
“He’s dumb, but as far as volleyball goes, he’s decent. Definitely improving. And he’s not so bad to hang out with. Why? Did he say something?”
Kenma tries not to laugh. “No, nothing like that. Just curious.”
He realizes soon after he needs to round up his team for warmups and then their group huddle. Honestly, the more times Kenma has to threaten his team members - mostly the upperclassmen - into doing what they’re supposed to be doing, the more respect he gains for teachers. Trying to wrangle Lev and Inuoka and Tora into doing anything together is near impossible. Once they finally finish their stretches and serves, he gets them into the circle and then passes it over to Coach Nekomata.
“Okay,” Nekomata says, glancing at the board in his hand. “Starting lineup for today: Kozume, Fukunaga, Yamamoto, Inuoka, Obata, Haiba, and Morioka as libero.”
“You want me to start?” Obata says, clearly shocked.
“Kozume says you’re the only potential wing spiker we’ve got,” Coach Nekomata says. “Konae is more of a middle blocker, so he’ll sub in for Inuoka or Haiba if necessary.”
“It won’t be!” Inuoka and Lev chime in.
“Morioka’s our libero-in-training, but we also have Shibayama to play in the back. And then Kozume suggested we train Katayama for setter, but he’s just not experienced enough yet. So yes, you’ll be starting, Obata. Do your best.”
Kenma fixes the first-year with a look he hopes communicates what he’s feeling. Give this your all. This is the first level, but it’s a practice for the final boss. Next, he glances at Shibayama, trying to make sure the second-year isn’t upset about not starting. Shibayama doesn’t look too devastated, but it’s hard to be sure. After all, Morioka had come in as a first-year and unintentionally stolen his libero position.
“All right!” Tora yells. “Let’s get this show on the road. Okay, everyone, after me. We are the blood in our veins…”
“So embarrassing,” Kenma says to Tora after the huddle, but Tora just grins. It’s not the same.
He pushes the feelings down, though, and takes his place on the court. Shouyou beams at him from across the net. Shouyou then turns his gaze to Lev and manages a vaguely threatening glare. Lev yells, “I’m gonna be the ace before you, just watch!”
“No, I’m gonna be the ace first! The little giant! Kageyama said so!” Shouyou yells back. Kageyama looks vaguely satisfied, probably because Shouyou puts so much stock in his opinion.
“You’re both wrong! I’m going to be the ace first!” Inuoka joins in, jumping up and down.
Kenma turns his glare on both Lev and Inuoka, who immediately stop their frantic yelling and jumping. “Put all that energy into the game,” he says simply.
Playing against Karasuno is everything Kenma remembers it to be. Shouyou and Kageyama certainly aren’t here to make things easy for them. They’ve perfected their quick even more, made it faster, harder to hit. Shouyou’s learned to aim for the back corners.
Nekomata calls their first timeout when the score is 11-9, Karasuno up. He looks at the team in a manner that Kenma can’t completely read, something that’s not yet defeated, yet not completely hopeful. “Look, I know you’re a new team,” he says. “I know you’re not used to each other yet, and I know the freshmen haven’t gotten used to Karasuno’s play style yet. Despite all the stories Kozume may have told you, there’s nothing like actually being in the game and seeing one of their quicks. But you can do this.” He pauses, taking in their team. “They lost their captain, so did we. But they also lost their ace. We still have ours.”
“Not you, Lev!” Tora pipes up before Lev can even say anything.
“Kozume, keep it up. Though you could stand to be a bit louder. Yamamoto, you need to be jumping just a few seconds quicker. Inuoka, keep your eyes on number 10 at all times when you’re in the front, and same for you, Haiba. Morioka, don’t let the upperclassmen intimidate you. Fukunaga, keep your energy up. And Obata, you’re about to go in again. I need you to give this all that you’ve got. You’re in the big leagues now. Kozume, Fukunaga, any words?”
“We can win this,” Kenma says, his voice at a lower volume than it should be, but hey, this is his first captain speech. He can’t start at the top. “They might look like they’ve got it all together, but that’s because they’ve got a new trick. They’re just as nervous and new as we are. I know it. And remember, as long as the ball doesn’t hit the ground, we can’t lose.”
“What Kenma said,” Fukunaga says, grinning and giving him a gentle nudge.
They head back to the court, but despite Kenma’s inspiring pep talk, they aren’t able to win the first set. They fall to Karasuno, 25-22. But it’s not a large enough margin to get Kenma to give up. It simply signifies that this is a boss that can be beat, a level that, with time and effort, can eventually be passed. And though he’d failed last season, this season, as the leader, he can’t let them fail.
His voice becomes a little louder in the second game. He’s not quite as loud as Karasuno’s captain, Ennoshita - a third year who’d spent a good amount of last year riding the bench - but he’s not exactly quiet anymore, either. He snaps at Lev when Lev goes up to spike and completely misses, because that had been Yaku’s tactic last year and it’d been plenty effective. He settles for more “encouraging words in a slightly harsh tone” when it comes to Inuoka. And slowly, slowly, the tides start to turn.
Inuoka blocks one of Shouyou’s spikes. Lev gets a kill right over their tall middle blocker, the Tsukishima guy Kuroo had loved to tease. Kenma gets a dump straight into the center of the court. Morioka receives one of their new ace, the clone of Yamamoto’s, spikes, clean into the air, straight to Kenma. He freaks out after and does a little dance that causes him to nearly miss the next ball, but he doesn’t. Fukunaga’s passes and hits are consistent and clean.
There’s just one person who hasn’t had a moment yet.
It’s not like Obata is playing badly. No, if the ball comes to him on the first hit, he passes cleanly. He doesn’t call for any tosses, but if Kenma tosses to him, he delivers a light hit to the other side. He doesn’t make any mistakes. But on the other hand, he doesn’t do anything particularly amazing either, and he doesn’t really score any points. Once again, it just feels to Kenma like his heart’s not particularly in the game.
Regardless, they win the second game - 26-24. He can hear Shouyou and Karasuno’s obnoxiously loud libero groaning on the other side, but here, with the sweat dripping down his face, facing down a worthy opponent, he’s never felt so alive.
He suddenly wishes that he could transfer the feeling to his kouhai.
As he steps onto the court for the third game, he can see the determination clear in the faces of the Karasuno players. This is it, and even though it’s just a practice game, nothing ever feels like just a practice game when they’re playing against Karasuno. He silently thanks Kuroo in his head for introducing him to this game, wishing, not for the first time, that Kuroo was here to see it.
Nekomata makes the unconventional decision to start Konae in for Inuoka this game, though. Inuoka drops his head in his hands on the bench, and Shibayama, who’s played a grand total of two minutes, pats him on the shoulder. Konae runs straight for Obata, who’s standing awkwardly on his side, and gives him a thumbs up.
And Kenma sees it.
Clear as day, the affection painting his features. The reason Obata is playing, and the reason he’s not doing as well as he could be. Kenma hadn’t played well when he was playing just for Kuroo, either. He’d only played up to his potential when he’d started to play because the game had become fun. So, now, all he’s got to do is find another reason for Obata too.
Nekomata seems to only be playing Konae to give him some in-game experience, because he only plays him for a couple of rallies before he snatches him back out and puts an even more fired up Inuoka back onto the court. And there’s something magical about the combination of fired up Inuoka (which in turn results in a desperate to be the ace, fired up Lev), motivated Kenma, and determined Tora.
And it all comes to ahead when, as Nekoma is up 24-23, Kuroo’s snarky kouhai Tsukishima makes a remark to Obata.
“I see your friend didn’t last long,” Tsukishima says. “Guess Nekoma’s first years this year really aren’t all that after all.”
Obata’s face goes completely red. Fukunaga serves, the little angry Karasuno libero receives, Kageyama tosses, Shouyou hits - but not the super quick one. Morioka receives. And then, Kenma hears it.
He doesn’t even look before he tosses it to the position the sound is coming from. Anyone that fired up can get in a decent hit. And then there’s the sound of the ball connecting with a hand, the sound of the ball hitting down, and - the whistle.
And Obata has just scored their winning point.
He doesn’t say anything, barely even moves. He just stares at Tsukishima and says, “Maybe go work on your own first years.” But the rest of the team more than makes up for it. Tora practically jumps on top of Inuoka, and Lev, not to be bested, joins the pile. One of Lev’s absurdly long limbs drags Kenma into the pile, much to Kenma’s disgust. All three of their loudmouths tend to get disturbingly sweaty during games. One by one, the rest of the players join in - Fukunaga and Shibayama, then the first years, all at once. Konae has clearly dragged Obata, but for once, he doesn't look all that annoyed.
Once Kenma manages to extricate himself from the Nekoma pile, he meets Kageyama and Shouyou at the net. Kageyama's eyes are wide. "I have to learn from you. I have to get better."
"I didn't even do anything," Kenma says, shrugging. "It was almost entirely the rest of my team."
“You’re too modest!” Shouyou sings, grinning from ear to ear. “Maybe people used to think that, just like they used to think that I wasn’t a threat because I’m so short, but now everyone sees what you can do! People have started calling you the ‘really smart setter’.”
Kenma glances down, hoping that Shouyou won’t see the red creeping up on his cheeks. “No one calls me that.”
“I’ve definitely heard people call you that!” Shouyou says, waving his arms as if to accentuate his point. He nudges Kageyama in the side, as if to ask for backup. Kageyama just nods, and Shouyou continues, “Just like I’ve heard people calling me the Little Giant!”
“Dumbass, no one calls you that,” Kageyama says, rolling his eyes, but the expression on his face is soft, almost affectionate. It hurts to look at.
“Well, they’re definitely going to start soon!” Shouyou says, grinning.
Kenma’s aware of Shouyou’s lack of aptitude at subtleties, so he decides it’s better not to risk anything with pointed looks. He waits until Kageyama is distracted by one of the first years sidling up to him, asking him for pointers on improving their receives, and then pulls Shouyou off to the side. “Have you confessed to him yet?” he asks matter-of-factly.
“I - what - I said it wasn’t Kageyama!”
“You’re not exactly a good liar,” Kenma says, frowning.
Shouyou sighs. “I can’t, Kenma! He doesn’t like me like that.”
“You don’t know that!”
“You said I’m the genius setter, right? So trust me on this.”
“What about you?” Shouyou says back.
“Me?” Kenma’s usually so good at keeping up with Shouyou, beyond when he gets into the volleyball zone and starts to speak entirely in onomatopoeia, but he has absolutely no idea what Shouyou could be implying here. “I…. what?”
“I thought you…” Shouyou says, looking completely thrown off. “Never mind! Maybe I’m just crazy.”
Kenma’s about to ask what the hell Shouyou could possibly have thought, but he’s interrupted before he can speak by the doors being thrown open and the former Karasuno captain striding in. He watches as the Karasuno boys all run over to him. The libero practically pounces on him, yelling unintelligibly, and Shouyou follows suit on his other side. Kenma can’t even watch. HIs chest feels like a weight has been placed on it, and he has to cough.
When his coughing fit is over, he notices that his team has surrounded him again. “Do you need some water?” Shibayama asks, concerned.
“I’m fine,” he says.
“So when’s Kuroo-san coming to visit?” Lev says, bouncing on his toes. “I miss him! He was a fun captain. You’re a good captain too, though, of course!”
“I don’t know,” Kenma replies.
“You don’t know?” Tora says, his loud, booming voice echoing all over the gym. “But you two are best friends!”
“Kenma-san was close friends with the previous captain?” Konae says, eyes wide. “Then he must come to visit soon. We need to glean his wisdom as well as learn more about our valued captain.”
“It would be cool to meet the old captain!” Morioka agrees, grinning. Inuoka nods and ruffles Morioka’s hair. Even Obata and Katayama look mildly interested.
Everyone’s eyes are on Kenma now. It’s one of the situations Kenma hates most in the world, one of the situations Kenma is constantly trying to avoid, and he’s never felt more like a failure than right now, knowing he can’t deliver. He doesn’t know when Kuroo’s coming to visit. He doesn’t know why Kuroo’s pulling away from him. And suddenly, he feels an inexplicable anger rush over him.
“Maybe once he feels like keeping his promises,” Kenma snaps. He then feels the embarrassment that accompanies such an outburst, so he immediately turns and starts walking towards the locker rooms. He hates that he created this embarrassment for himself.
“Kenma-san!” he hears Konae yell, and he thinks he hears Fukunaga mutter something to Tora that sounds like, “Did they break up?”
Ridiculous, he thinks to himself. But he’ll have to apologize for this outburst later. It’s not very becoming of a captain.
Not that he was ever very captain-ly, anyways.
Text from Kuro:
u played karasuno in a practice game today right? howd that go?
Text to Kuro:
fine. we won.
Text from Kuro:
holy shit how????
kenma?? im dying over here i need details
Text to Kuro:
sorry. our first years pulled through and everyone played well.
Text from Kuro:
but we played well and it wasnt good enough last year :/
Text to Kuro:
guess this year is different.
Text from Kuro:
yeah…. i guess so :(
He’s awoken the next day by a loud knock on his door. Considering it’s loud enough to reach him all the way in his room, the knock is really loud - which means that there’s only one person it could reasonably be. He rubs his eyes, not even bothering to get dressed, and goes to open the door.
Just as he’d imagined, Kuroo Tetsurou stands on the other side of the door.
He almost wants to pinch himself to ensure he’s not dreaming, but that would be really odd. Instead, he says, “What are you doing here?”
“I texted you,” Kuroo says, looking mildly guilty. “But I told you I would come visit, yeah? So here I am.”
“Yeah,” Kenma manages, staring at him.
“Are you angry at me?” Kuroo asks. “I mean, do you want me to leave? I can if you want, but I just thought…”
Kenma is suddenly struck by the urge to hug him, to reach out and wrap himself around Kuroo’s tall body. Kuroo looks the same as always, perhaps a little skinnier, but beyond that he’s the same old Kuroo. So Kenma can’t explain where this urge has come from. He stammers out, “N-no. It’s fine. Come in.”
Kuroo smiles back at him, his rare, non-smirky smile that’s usually reserved for Kenma alone. Kenma can’t help but wonder if maybe that smile is directed to someone else now. Someone at his college, someone that didn’t want Kuroo talking to Kenma so much. Maybe a girl - tall, funny, outgoing, athletic - everything Kenma’s not. Kenma scrunches his eyes shut in an attempt to get the images out of his mind.
“So,” Kuroo says once they make it to Kenma’s room and he perches himself on Kenma’s desk chair, like he never left. “You gonna tell me why you’re upset or am I just supposed to guess?”
“The latter would be nice,” Kenma mumbles.
“As much as I’d love to be able to read your mind, unfortunately us scientists haven’t exactly perfected the art of telepathy yet,” Kuroo tells him. “So you’re gonna have to use your words.”
Kenma just stares at him. He’s still processing that Kuroo is here, so he doesn’t exactly have the brainpower to explain that he’s upset that Kuroo is sitting in front of him and he feels like he barely knows him. He doesn’t know what Kuroo’s been doing the past few months, he doesn’t know who Kuroo hangs out with, hell, he didn’t even know that Kuroo was going to come visit today. He sighs. “I…”
“Take your time,” Kuroo says.
Suddenly Kenma is annoyed all over again. Annoyed that Kuroo can still read him, annoyed that Kuroo seems not to be flustered at all, annoyed at himself for being annoyed. “Where have you been?” he snaps.
Kuroo looks alarmed. “…at college?”
“I never would have known,” Kenma says. “Considering how little you tell me.”
“Oh,” Kuroo says. Understanding dawns on his face - his eyebrows uncrease, and he sits up a little straighter, so he can look at Kenma straight in the eyes while he talks. “You didn’t ask.”
“I never have to.”
Kuroo breaks the eye contact with Kenma, folding his hands in his lap and staring down at the ground. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I’ve forgotten how tough it is to be around someone you can’t bullshit.”
“You’ve been acting weird, Kuro,” Kenma says quietly. “I knew you were leaving, but I guess I didn’t think you’d actually leave.”
“Kenma.” Kuroo’s voice sounds broken. He jumps up like he wants to comfort Kenma, but he hesitates, standing awkwardly in front of Kenma instead. “I…”
“It’s okay if you’ve outgrown me.” It isn’t really okay, but Kenma doesn’t have the heart to tell him that. If Kuroo’s happy, if Kuroo doesn’t look like he’s about to cry anymore, then it’s okay.
“Kenma, no. That’s not… it’s not you. I swear.” He looks back up at Kenma now, his eyes shining with sincerity. “It’s me. I’m the fuck-up.”
“College sucks,” Kuroo says. Kenma pats the space next to him on the bed, and Kuroo plops down beside him, his head falling naturally onto Kenma’s shoulder. Kenma ignores the way his heart speeds up at the touch. Kuroo continues, “My team is fine, I guess, but they’re no Nekoma. My classes are interesting, at least. But I’m not playing that well. I don’t have many friends. I’m not that interested in joining clubs. And…”
Kenma brushes his hand over the top of Kuroo’s hair in his own awkward attempt at comfort. “And?”
“And I miss you,” Kuroo says, his voice sounding hoarse. “I know you’re better off without me, and you’re doing all this crazy shit this year, like beating Karasuno. I know you don’t need me. But that doesn’t change the fact that I need you.”
Much to Kenma’s dismay, he can’t help the laugh that bubbles up out of him at that. Kuroo glances up at him, eyes wide with hurt, and Kenma shakes his head. “Who told you that?”
“I mean, no one I guess, but you beat Karasuno, and you’ve got all these crazy first years that are so strong, and they’re only getting stronger with you leading them, and - -“
“I always thought it was me who needed you too much,” Kenma muses. “Anyways, Kuro, it always feels empty without you. It’s never the same. I thought you knew that.” He feels embarrassed all over again, saying such cliché things, so he hides his face in his hair.
His solace doesnn’t last long, though, because Kuroo’s arms wrap around him, pulling him close. Kenma unconsciously hugs him back. He mutters “I missed you too” into Kuroo’s neck as Kuroo holds him tightly. Once Kuroo finally lets go, wiping stray tears out of his eyes, Kenma says, “So now that that’s done, can we get back to where you actually tell me stuff?”
Kuroo grins back at him, a real, honest smile, and Kenma realizes he would do about anything in the world to see that smile.
Suddenly it all makes sense.
I just want to say thank you so much to all of you who have read this/are reading this, to everyone who left kudos and bookmarked, and to my commenter! Please keep it up, it'll motivate me to keep posting and keep writing.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter! I love Kenma and Kuroo (and Nekoma) so much. Just hope I can do them justice.
Kenma doesn’t exactly have a plethora of options of people to talk to about his latest crisis, so despite his hatred of talking on the phone, he finds himself calling Shouyou. Shouyou picks up on the third ring. “Kenma?? I’m surprised you’re calling me, but perfect timing! I just got out of practice a few hours ago, and Kageyama tossed to me a whole bunch, which made me really happy! Oh, and then after practice Kageyama and I went to get meat buns, and I bought his, and he was like ‘why are you buying mine?’ So then I was like ‘because I like you’ and he was like ‘oh, ok, like a friend?’ I was like ‘no, like more than that’. Then he said ‘what’s more than a friend? A best friend?’ So I finally had to tell him ‘no, idiot, I mean romantically!’ and then finally he said ‘oh, me too’ and then we kissed and stuff. Anyways! I have a boyfriend now!”
It’s all very adorable, and very Kageyama and Shouyou, Kenma thinks. He shakes his head. If only his life could be that simple. “That’s great, Shouyou. I’m happy for you both.”
“Thanks! But why are you calling?” Shouyou asks. “Not that I’m not happy about it. It’s just, you always say you'd much rather text.”
“I have a problem, and I figured it’d be easier to talk about than text about,” Kenma groans, sitting down at his desk.
“A problem? Is something wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m…” Kenma trails off, not sure how to respond to the question. Technically he’s fine, but his heart kind of aches, which is annoying and inconvenient. “I know you asked me this before, but... how would you say that you know when you like someone?"
“Well,” Shouyou says, sounding bright again. “You’re happier when you’re around them! And when you’re not around them, you miss them. You want to spend time with them. And your heart beats faster when they’re around. They make you feel like you’re flying. Plus, you want to make them happy too.”
That settles it, then. It’s just as Kenma had feared. “Thanks,” he says, but he doesn’t really feel all that thankful.
“Kenma,” Shouyou asks softly, “do you like someone?” Kenma stays silent. “It’s Kuroo, isn’t it?” Kenma still says nothing, though he is impressed that even someone as unobservant as Shouyou had picked up on it. “I knew it!” Shouyou crows. “Kageyama owes me so much money! And Daichi-san too. I’m gonna be rich.”
“Hang on, you bet on me?” Kenma says, his eyebrows creasing.
“Nothing!” Shouyou says, his voice squeaking. “I mean, we’d never do that! Totally. Anyways, you know he loves you, right?”
“Yes,” Kenma says. “I’m his best friend. Of course I know that.”
For once, Shouyou’s voice is soft as he says, “Not like that.”
Both of them are silent. After what feels like forever, Kenma asks, “How do you know?”
“Daichi-san talks to him a lot,” Shouyou says. “Asahi-san too, apparently. And Tsukishima for some reason. Then they talk to us. But you know, it’s not really my place to be talking about this! You should talk to him.”
Kenma’s quiet again. For some reason, the prospect of his feelings being returned is even more terrifying than the opposite. He doesn’t know how to be in a relationship. He doesn’t even know what it means to be in a relationship, really. His heart picks up speed and he feels like he's choking.
“Thanks for your help, Shouyou,” he gets out.
“No problem! Good luck with everything!”
Shouyou goes on to ramble about volleyball and Kageyama. In gratitude for Shouyou’s help, Kenma lets him keep talking for the next few minutes, then he makes some excuse about needing to go do some homework and hangs up. He stares at his phone as it buzzes, indicating a new message.
Text from Kuro:
miss u already
He bites down on his lip, remembering how warmly Kuroo had hugged him before he’d left earlier that day, the feeling of absolute safety he’d felt, and tries to imagine what it’d be like to transition their relationship into something entirely different. Then he imagines how it’d feel if something went wrong - if Kuroo realized how boring Kenma truly is and fell in love with someone else, leaving Kenma in the dust.
He can’t. He can’t risk it. He closes the message, puts his phone back on his desk, and climbs into his bed. Maybe if he hides under the covers long enough, everything will go away.
He can’t sleep that night. Thoughts of Kuroo plague his mind, and he needs more than anything to ignore them, so he pops in one of the DVDs of the team they’re playing next and watches it, carefully analyzing each member of the team. Number 5 has decent receives, but could stand to work on his hits. Number 9 tends to screw up when under pressure; he starts missing serves near the end of the game. Number 2 has a remarkable jump serve that could serve to be challenging for certain members of the team to receive. The setter is very good at performing dumps, so Kenma can use some of the strategies he sees him using and warn his team to watch out.
Around 4, he finally dozes off, only to hear his alarm go off less than two hours later. He groans, then frowns when he hears his phone buzz.
Text from Kuro:
have a good day. i promised to tell u everything so my captain is being a total ass today. scheduled a 5 am practice. im dying over here. plus volleyball sucks without my favorite setter. talk to u later
Kenma winces, particularly at the “favorite setter” line, and once again turns off his screen without responding. Even he had the will to respond, he doesn’t know what he’d say without giving himself away somehow. It’s better this way, he tells himself, and he heads off for morning practice.
“Captain, you don’t look so good,” Lev says once he walks through the doors.
“I really appreciate your kindness,” Kenma deadpans.
Shibayama frowns in his typical empathetic way. “Did you not sleep well?”
“Did a new video game come out or something?” Tora asks.
“No. Nothing,” Kenma says. “It’s fine. Now get to practicing before I make you all run laps.”
“Running on little to no sleep is harmful for your body, Kenma-san,” Konae chimes in. “Perhaps consider taking a short nap at some point during the day.”
“There’s no time for that,” Kenma says. “I’ll just sleep early tonight.” But even as he says it, he knows it’s not true.
The next few days feel like something out of a dream. Kenma doesn’t reply to Kuroo’s multiple texts, detailing how his days are going, how classes are going, and even snippets of his odd conversations with Bokuto. Even when Kuroo seems to pick up on the fact that Kenma is not going to reply, he persists, as though he is determined to keep his promise. It makes Kenma feel even worse about what he’s doing.
To keep his mind busy, Kenma throws himself fully into volleyball. He meets with Nekomata before practices every day, giving him a full analysis of each team they’re going to play, which seems to surprise Nekomata greatly. After practices, he tosses for the first years, taking a little extra time to teach Katayama how to toss himself. Once he gets home, he puts on a DVD or a mindless video game until he dozes off, taking care to keep his brain occupied at all times. His brain takes every opportunity to remind him of how upset he’s making Kuroo, but he doesn’t know what to do. He feels like whether he tells Kuroo the truth or continues in the way he’s going now, he’s going to hurt Kuroo. Maybe it’s best to just get it over with early.
Don’t think about it, he tells himself.
On his fifth day of running on empty, the first years confront him, which is kind of humiliating. Soft-spoken Katayama takes the lead for some reason, probably because they’d determined ahead of time that the other three didn’t have the sensitivity for it. “Captain,” Katayama says, avoiding contact, “you know, you don’t have to stay after practice with us every day. You can take some time off to rest if you want. We’ll understand.”
“It’s fine,” Kenma says, hoping he doesn’t sound as exhausted as he feels. “I don’t mind. It’ll help us get better. So we can beat… the final boss…”
That doesn’t make sense, Kenma knows, and all of the first-years are eyeing him with something like marked concern in their eyes. He slumps down against the wall, feeling incredibly small and wishing, not for the first time, that Kuroo was here.
“Captain?” he hears as he drifts off, mixed with “Kenma-san?” and “Is he okay?”.
He comes back to just a few more minutes later on the nurse’s cot. Annoyed that the first-years had brought the nurse into it, he stands up, only to get a scolding from the nurse about how he needs to take better care of himself. He nods through the lecture, just wanting to get away.
Once he gets home, he collapses in his bed, feeling the exhaustion weighing down on his entire body. Only then does he allow himself to shed a tear.
The next day, on a weekend, Kenma hears a knock on his door at some ungodly hour of the morning. He ducks back under his blankets, hoping that if he ignores the knocking long enough, the person will simply realize it’s fruitless and give up. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the person on the other side of the door understands this social cue, because the knocking continues without ceasing for at least two minutes straight.
Great, Kenma thinks to himself. Whoever’s on the other side of the door is someone incredibly stubborn. Someone who knows Kenma, most likely, because he doubts a robber would spend so much time knocking on his door, and any door-to-door salesman would have given up by now. Probably someone who knows of Kenma’s current predicament, either directly or indirectly. This means there’s only a small selection of people it could be.
Biting his lip, Kenma peers through the peephole in his front door. All the breath rushes out of him at once as he realizes it’s not Kuroo, thank God. It’s the only other person he could think of that’s determined enough to do this. (All right, maybe Yaku too, but he likes to think that Yaku’s smart enough to stay out of Kenma’s personal life.)
Hinata Shouyou scowls at Kenma after Kenma slowly opens the door. For the entire year he’s known Shouyou, he’s never seen him look this angry, much less at him. As tiny as Shouyou is, he’s also kind of terrifying. He also says, “Kozume,” as he brushes past Kenma into his house without invitation, which, whoa. He’s never called Kenma by his family name before. Almost no one does.
“Shouyou,” Kenma says slowly, reluctant to return the coldness. “What’s going on?”
“Lev called me,” Shouyou says.
Kenma frowns. “He shouldn’t have. I’m fine.”
“Yeah, that’s what he said you’d say. But you know absolutely no one believes that.”
“I’m not that easy to read,” Kenma gripes, but then switches tactics. “So, what, you came all the way to Tokyo? You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble. I’ll get over it soon.”
“When? When your body gives out from exhaustion and you have to be hospitalized?” Shouyou says. His voice is tinged with fear, and Kenma finds himself overwhelmed with guilt for the hundredth time in the past few days. “You know, I talk to Bokuto-san too sometimes! And he says that Kuroo’s a wreck. A wreck, Kenma! Is that what you wanted? And you, you aren’t sleeping, you’re exhausting yourself… this isn’t what you do when you like someone! You’re supposed to be like me and Kageyama. You should just tell him and then you guys can be happy -“
“Kuroo and I are not like you and Kageyama, Shouyou.”
“I mean… you both clearly love each other,” Shouyou says slowly. “What else is there?”
Kenma startles a bit at the fact that he’d used love instead of like, but it’s not like he can really argue with the sentiment. He and Kuroo had been together for too long for it to be described as some passing crush. So he says, “I know you and Kageyama have a strong foundation and everything, so I don’t mean to disrespect that, but I’ve known Kuroo for the majority of my life. If anything went wrong… if I lost him…” He can feel his voice cracking, and he hates how embarrassing it is, but he continues nonetheless. “I can’t lose him. I can’t.”
“…what do you think is happening right now?” Shouyou asks.
Kenma stares at the ground. It’s a rare occurrence, really, but Shouyou’s right. He’s pushing Kuroo away, and it’s working at preventing them from being in a real relationship, but to what end? This could be another avenue to losing Kuroo, and he can’t have that, he can’t…
“Kuroo deserves better than me,” Kenma says.
“Well, that’s just not true!” Shouyou says, his normal upbeat voice back, all trace of scariness gone, which in itself is kind of scary. “You’re an amazing setter, and you love your team so much! And, yes, I know volleyball’s not all that matters, but like, you’re so nice and funny and smart! Kuroo would be lucky to have you. Anyone would.”
Kenma stares at the ground, his cheeks heating up. He can feel a smile - the first in a while - creeping its way up onto his lips. “But… but… I don’t know how to be in a relationship.”
“No one does!” Shouyou chirps. “I had no clue, and neither did Kageyama, but we’re figuring it out together, and it’s so much fun! I wouldn’t want to figure it out with anyone else. I’m sure Kuroo feels like that, too!”
“You aren’t worried you’ll break up?”
“I’ll kick Kageyama’s ass if he tries to dump me for no reason,” Shouyou says, his face suddenly scary again. Kenma gulps. “But no, I’m not that worried about it! Honestly, I just wanna worry about right now, right now. And right now, Kageyama makes me happy. Really happy.”
Kenma thinks back to feeling wrapped up in Kuroo’s strong arms and nods.
“I… okay, I guess that makes sense,” Kenma concedes. “But he’s mad now, probably. And he has every right to be.”
“Sometimes, in life, you gotta fight for what you love,” Shouyou says serenely.
For someone who tends to be so dumb, Kenma thinks, Shouyou can be extremely wise at times. Kenma just nods again, feeling himself lost for words. Shouyou grins again, whipping out his phone to send a quick text (which Kenma can see is dotted in hearts and smiley faces, in typical Shouyou style). He then drags Kenma to the kitchen. “So when was the last time you ate? You gotta get all powered up if you wanna go get your man! So you need to eat, and then you need to take a nap, and then you need to figure all this out…”
Kenma groans, suddenly regretting ever giving Shouyou his address. (But not actually, because he really, really needed this kick in the ass.)
Back when Kenma was a kid, he’d asked his mom what it meant to be married, just like most kids do at some point in their lives. He’d heard his whole life that “marriage is what happens when you love someone very very much”, but, as he told his mother, he loved her very much but he knew he couldn’t marry her. The whole concept just didn’t make sense.
“It doesn’t have to make sense now,” his mom told him. “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Kenma was not satisfied with that answer. He didn’t like having things that he didn’t know, particularly things that apparently he’d find out when he was older. It felt like something was missing. So he pushed out his lower lip and said, “But I want to know now.”
“Fine,” his mom said with a sigh. Kenma didn’t understand that, either; he didn’t think that this marriage thing should be so hard to explain if pretty much all the grown-ups he knew were doing it. “You marry someone you love very much, yes, but in a different way. Someone you want to be with for the rest of your life. Someone who, uh, makes you happy every day, and makes your heart beat fast. Stuff like that.”
Kenma was quiet for a second, considering. He still didn't think it was all that different from the love he feels for his family or his friends, but maybe it was one of those things he'd have to experience to fully understand. Kind of like how his mom had told him about school, yet somehow he still had not been fully prepared for the suffering he’d experienced being surrounded by annoying and loud kids his age for hours on end. Even still, he couldn’t help but think of someone he knew - his best friend, to be more specific.
Ten years later, he thinks back on that conversation as he stares at the phone in front of him with shaking hands. In all that time, nothing has changed at the core of him, and yet everything has changed. Now he’s getting a glimpse as to what that kind of love is. He’d never really thought about marriage all that often since that day, since it had been all but irrelevant to his life, but now there are these kind of thoughts niggling at the back of his mind.
Plus there’s the fact that he’d been an ass to his best friend for the past week or so and now he’s trying to make amends, despite the fact that he really, really hates conflict. That’s kind of anxiety-producing too.
He opens Kuroo’s contact and stares at it, his vision blurring. He can’t get his muscles to move, which is really bothersome. You have to, it’s the only way, you can’t lose him, he chants on repeat, and finally, finally, after a few minutes, his finger lands on the call button. He jumps as he presses it and resists the incredibly strong urge to throw his phone against the wall.
The phone rings, rings, rings, but Kuroo doesn’t answer. Maybe he just couldn’t get to it, Kenma thinks to himself, I’ll try again later. But he knows from the sinking feeling in his chest that’s not it.
He calls again a couple of hours later, just in case. Once again, he’s sent to Kuroo’s voicemail, and he hangs up before he can record a voicemail. He doesn’t even know what he could possibly say in a voicemail anyways.
Most of him is tempted to give up. It’d be so easy, just let Kuroo keep his distance, continue on the path he’s on, think that maybe one of these days Kuroo will return his calls, one of these days he’ll show up to visit and maybe they’ll get back on the same path they were on. But at the same time, he doesn’t really want to be on the same path they were on. And he thinks about what could happen if he doesn’t act. They could end up the kind of casual friends you see maybe once a year, coincidentally, or the kind you pass in the street and exchange casual greetings with. He doesn’t want that. He can’t do that.
So he won’t give up. Just like Kuroo never gave up on him, always encouraged him to keep playing volleyball, even when he was so sure he was going to quit. Just like Kuroo never ditched him for his more outgoing, extroverted friends when he had the chance. For once, he has to think like Kuroo and do something sporadic, some big gesture.
For once in his life, Kenma decides, Kenma is not going to overthink things. He’s going to jump in, heart first, brain second.
“You’re going to visit Kuroo this weekend?!” Tora practically bellows, the sound echoing all over the Nekoma gym. Kenma winces, and Tora frowns. “Sorry. But, Kenma, holy shit, I thought you guys were fighting.”
“I have to make it up to him,” Kenma mumbles, shifting uncomfortably. He really shouldn’t have told Tora. But he’d figured it could be safe to have someone besides his mother and Shouyou know where he's going, and, well, despite Tora’s obnoxious exterior, he can be reliable in a pinch.
“Knowing you, I thought you’d like, send flowers or something,” Tora snorts. “Or even better, virtual flowers. By like, an e-card.”
“Shut up,” Kenma says, ears burning. “Kuroo likes big gestures.”
“Trust me, we know,” Tora says, bouncing up and down and grinning. “We are like the blood in our veins,” he continues, in a slightly more dramatic impression of Kuroo. “We must flow without stopping…”
“Okay, okay,” Kenma says. "Anyways, you get it."
“Kuroo?” Morioka says, joining in the conversation, probably because Tora isn’t exactly subtle and Morioka likes to talk. The rest of the first years crowd around him, looking about as eager for gossip - even Obata, which is surprising. “You mean the last captain of Nekoma? The one you guys were talking about before? The one that’s friends with Kenma-san?”
Kenma groans, glaring at Tora. “Yes, that one.”
“You’re going to visit him?” Obata asks cautiously. “You two must be rather close. Did you know him before volleyball?”
“They could have gotten close through volleyball!” Konae says before Kenma can even say anything. “Volleyball is an invaluable tool for forging relationships.”
Obata rolls his eyes, but Kenma can see the remnants of a fond smile on his lips. Deciding this might be a good time to discuss their similarities, Kenma says, “We knew each other before volleyball, actually. We’ve been friends since childhood. Kuro, uh, he kind of got me into volleyball.”
“That’s really cute,” Morioka says, smiling widely. “I’m glad you guys are still friends!”
Throughout the past couple of years, Kenma has questioned a lot of things. His sexuality, for one. His volleyball abilities. His aptitude at being captain. Most of his friendships, just because he’s constantly paranoid that everyone he knows secretly hates him, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The one thing he had not questioned, though, was his friendship with Kuroo. And it pains him that he has to question it now. Katayama, of course, picks up on his change in mood, and he quickly continues by saying in his usual soft tone, “How did he get you into volleyball?”
“He was really into it when we were younger,” Kenma says, staring at the ground in front of him. “So he would drag me along to practice with him, because it’s hard to practice alone. And then he convinced me to join the junior high club, and to stick with it in high school. Last year…” he trails off for a second, trying to organize his thoughts. “Last year he helped me to see that I was, uh, I was important to the team. So it kind of encouraged me to give it my all this year.”
“That’s adorable!” Tora crows, grabbing Kenma’s head roughly and ruffling his hair. Had it been anyone else, Kenma might have been mad, but it’s impossible to be mad at Tora simply for being who he is. He elbows him off anyways, though. “Him and the Karasuno shortie, huh?”
“Number 10?” Konae asks eagerly. “I did notice you two had established quite a bit of familiarity. Did he also encourage you to get into volleyball?”
All of the first years stare at him with the same interested expression. Kenma just gives a slight nod. “Shouyou is an interesting opponent, especially when he’s with Kageyama. They’re constantly evolving. It made me more interested in volleyball to play against teams like them.”
Later, once the first years have dispersed and Tora, who is determined to be a good senpai, recruits Katayama to set for him (which Kenma truly hopes will build his confidence), Obata makes his way over to where Kenma is standing. “I’m starting to see what you’re saying, captain,” he says in a softer tone than Kenma’s ever heard him use.
“What do you mean?” Kenma asks.
“It was… more fun than I thought it would be, playing against Karasuno. Kind of exciting, I guess,” Obata says, clearly trying to sound impassive.
“You could be good,” Kenma says. “Really good. You’ve got the height and the athleticism. And I know you started playing for Konae, but there are more reasons to keep playing. It’s fun, like you said. You could also get a scholarship to college if you play as well as I think you could.”
“A scholarship?” Obata asks, his face betraying his interest. “Like… they’d pay for my college?”
“Yeah,” Kenma says. “But only if you’re really good.”
“I could do that,” Obata says, slipping out of his impassivity altogether just for a second. He startles, though, and then follows it up with, “But basketball’s still more exciting.”
“Whatever,” Kenma says. He still doesn’t see how sweaty boys throwing a ball into a hoop could be all that exciting, but maybe it’s best to let Obata have this one. Basketball’s one of those sports he could have never been convinced to play.
Before they leave practice that day, Katayama stops him, placing a hand on his arm. It looks like there’s something he wants to say, so Kenma waits in silence, but Katayama just keeps the level stare for a few seconds too long. Then, finally, he says, “It’ll work out, Captain.”
Kenma nods slightly. “I hope so.”
“Kuroo-san would be lucky to have you,” Katayama says stiffly.
Kenma feels his throat threaten to close up. He stares down at the ground, blinking rapidly, and then manages to choke out, “You don’t have to flatter me. I’ll work on setting with you on Monday.”
Katayama stammers, but then seems to realize Kenma is joking, and breaks out into one of the few genuine smiles Kenma’s seen on him.
It’s nice to have a great team behind him, Kenma thinks.
By the time Kenma boards the train, his heart is pounding at about a million miles an hour.
Kuroo is still not answering his calls or texts. Having a taste of his own medicine demonstrates to Kenma how absolutely terrible it is to worry about someone you care so much about and not be able to talk to them, or worse, to feel like they don’t want to talk to you. He’s checked in with Bokuto to make sure Kuroo’s all right. Bokuto had told him, essentially, that Kuroo was fine and not particularly mad either, just confused and trying to figure things out. Kenma’d asked if Kuroo seemed up for a visit, and Bokuto’s response had been YES PLEASE!!! COME SNAP HIM OUT OF THIS FUNK!!!. That, at least, was encouraging.
He whips out his DS and headphones as soon as he sits down on the train, desperately trying to avoid eye contact at first. Once he’s settled in a bit, though, he starts to observe the guy next to him, a tall guy with his hood pulled down over his eyes. His build indicates that he may also be an athlete, but his relaxed demeanor seems to indicate that, unlike Kenma, he is going somewhere without a lot of pressure. Maybe to visit a significant other or a concert or something fun like that, Kenma figures. Half of him wishes he was going somewhere fun like that, but he's desperately hoping that going to see Kuroo will turn into a fun trip too.
He spends the rest of the trip alternating between observing people and playing his game. By the time he gets off the train, he feels slightly more relaxed. Thankfully, Bokuto had agreed to meet him at the station and take him to Kuroo’s dorm, since he hasn’t ever been there before and unfortunately, given the current circumstances, it's not like he can ask Kuroo. Bokuto bounces up and down as Kenma approaches. “Kenmaaaa,” he says, his mouth splitting into a smile. “I’m so glad you came! I was kind of worried you wouldn’t. I didn’t think you liked traveling alone.”
“I don’t, usually,” Kenma says with a shrug. “But for Kuro…”
“Sweet, bro,” Bokuto says, clapping his arm around Kenma in a bro hug, his typical style. “So I’ll take you to his dorm, then. I know he’ll be so psyched to see you.”
“I don’t know about that,” Kenma mumbles.
Bokuto rolls his eyes in a manner that’s somehow jovial. “You two are like, caterpillars or somethin’!”
“Caterpillars?” Kenma says.
“Yeah, man!” Bokuto says, sounding like he’s high, though Kenma knows he’s just high on life or whatever gets Bokuto going. “Aren’t caterpillars the ones that are like, soulmates, and then blossom into beautiful butterflies together?”
“At least half of that is true,” Kenma tells him.
“50% success rate!” Bokuto cheers, grinning. The prime example of a glass half full kind of guy, Kenma thinks wryly.
Bokuto drags him through the train station and into the car he’s borrowed off one of his friends, though Kenma’s not exactly sure who would trust Bokuto with a car. He spends the whole time playing ridiculously loud American rap music and trying to sing along. Kenma shrinks down in his seat and hopes no one can see him through the window.
About ten minutes later, they pull into the parking lot outside of Kuroo’s dorm. Bokuto points out random buildings around it as they approach the building, another dorm that apparently has ‘the hottest parties’ and some cafeteria building that has ‘the world’s soggiest noodles’. He continues chattering as they take the stairs up to the third floor, where Kuroo is, and Bokuto drops him off outside of room 338.
“Have fun, but not too much fun,” Bokuto says with a wink.
Kenma wants to kick him. Instead, he says, “Thanks for your help, Bokuto-san,” in the most serious tone he can muster. Then, he turns to face Kuroo’s door.
His heart immediately picks up the pace again, hammering away in his chest. He reaches out a hand to knock on the door, but stops before he can form a fist. His fingers trail down the cold wood of the door.
What if he doesn’t answer the door? Kenma thinks, but that’s not even close to being the worst case scenario. What if he sees me and tells me to go away forever? What if I talk to him, tell him everything that’s on my mind, and he rejects me? What if our friendship is never the same again?
Suddenly he doesn’t feel so brave. He thinks back to his team’s encouragement, though, the way even shy Katayama had told him that Kuroo would be lucky to have him, and he decides to try to harness their confidence. He breathes in deeply through his nose, then out through his mouth. I can do this.
He knocks on the door.
“Come in,” comes a voice that is very distinctively Kuroo’s. Kenma is glad to hear that Kuroo is in the room, at least, and he prays to whatever god is listening that Kuroo will be alone as he pushes open the door. God must be listening, because the only one in the room is Kuroo, Kenma notices immediately. It's hard to notice, though, because the lights are off and Kuroo is tucked up under the covers.
"Who is it?" Kuroo croaks, poking his head out from under the covers. It takes a minute for him to realize, but once he does, his expression immediately changes. "...Kenma."
Kenma takes action almost immediately. He switches on the light, then walks over to the bed and sits gingerly on the edge of the bed. Turning his head to look at his friend, he says quietly, "I need to talk to you."
"Oh, now you do," Kuroo says, voice biting.
"I tried to call you," Kenma mumbles.
"Yeah, after ignoring me completely for a good week. And even then, even now, you haven't said what exactly you want." Kuroo pauses for a second, and Kenma thinks the hurt in his face must be obvious, because Kuroo sighs. "...sorry. I'm not mad at you. I'm just... confused, I guess. I thought we were doing so well, and we were going to communicate, but then you kind of dropped off the face of the planet. I don't want it to be like this over and over again, you know? If it is, maybe it's better if we just -"
"I love you," Kenma says, cutting off Kuroo's rant. Now that it's out there, he thinks, he may never have the courage to say it again. Especially considering the fact that it’s been a few seconds now, and Kuroo hasn’t said anything. No, Kuroo is sitting there with his eyes wide and jaw dropped.
After a few more agonizing seconds of silence, Kuroo finally stutters out, “W-what?”
“You heard me,” Kenma says. He won’t repeat himself, especially knowing that Kuroo’s going to reject him. He can already feel his cheeks burning. Lowering his head, he says, “It’s okay that you don’t feel the same way.”
It’s not really completely okay, though. His head is already going a million miles an hour, trying to plan out some kind of method to make his friendship with Kuroo not completely awkward now that he’s gone and screwed it all up. Maybe if Kuroo is gracious, he’ll agree to still be friends, because that way at least he wouldn’t lose him completely —
“Kenma!” Kuroo’s voice cuts into his thoughts - fairly loud, as if he’d been saying Kenma’s name over and over.
Kenma deliberately doesn’t make eye contact. Maybe in some messed up way he thinks it’ll make this all easier. “Yes?”
“Kenma, I love you too.”
Kenma’s head snaps up. For a second, his heart is soaring. Then, suddenly, it hits him like a ton of bricks that he hadn’t exactly clarified, so he says stiffly, “As a best friend. Yes, I know.”
“No,” Kuroo says. “God, listen to me, okay? I love you. Not as a best friend. As more than that. I’m in love with you.”
Kenma’s mouth falls open. What spills out is a flat “What,” and damn, this is probably the least romantic getting together in the entire universe, Kenma can’t help but think.
Kuroo’s eyes are shiny as he reaches out for Kenma, and for once in his life, Kenma doesn’t shy away. “I missed you so much,” Kuroo says, voice sounding slightly strangled. “That’s why I tried to distance myself. I thought you would never feel the same way.”
“Then maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do,” Kenma says, and Kuroo pinches him lightly on the shoulder. Kenma can’t help but smile. “And maybe I just figured it out last week.”
“That’s why you were avoiding talking to me?” Kuroo asks, his head falling into Kenma’s lap. Kenma lightly strokes his wild hair, reveling in the fact that he can do this now. Him, and no one else. Except maybe Bokuto.
“…yeah. I was a little freaked out,” Kenma says, attempting to hide behind his hair. It’s a little difficult when Kuroo’s staring straight up at him.
It’s even more difficult when Kuroo shifts up to push his hair behind his ears and then leans further up to connect their lips.
The kiss only lasts for a few seconds before Kuroo pulls back slightly, a slight smirk to his mouth, and says, “Sorry, was that okay?”
“Yes,” Kenma breathes before he leans down to kiss him again. Yes. Always.
The rest of the weekend passes just as most other weekends he’s spent with Kuroo, but instead now when he gets on his DS, he sits between Kuroo’s legs, his head on Kuroo’s chest while Kuroo plays some ridiculous mobile game. Kuroo occasionally will turn his head to plant a gentle kiss on the top of Kenma’s, which makes Kenma happier than he can express.
And, all right, there are a few more changes. But mostly it’s the same teasing Kuroo and the same grumpy Kenma and their same relationship, just with a few extra benefits they hadn’t had before.
“I win,” Kuroo says one night when they’re lying side by side in Kuroo’s bed, getting ready to sleep. Kuroo’s roommate, thankfully, is away for the weekend, visiting family, so they’re pressed close together. The closeness is oddly familiar and oddly terrifying at the same time.
Kenma shoots him a look that he probably can’t see, which is annoying. “You win what?”
“I figured out I had feelings for you way before you did,” Kuroo sings. “So there.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“When did you figure it out exactly, anyways?” Kenma asks, rolling onto his side to face Kuroo. “You know when I figured it out. It’s only fair.”
“You’re so cute it’s unfair,” Kuroo says, turning onto his side so that he can face Kenma, grinning his stupid cat grin. Kenma kicks him. In response, Kuroo kisses Kenma on the nose, which only makes Kenma more impatient. It must show on his face, because Kuroo just sighs. “Okay, okay. I figured it out my first year.”
“First… year?” Kenma repeats slowly, as if saying it out loud will somehow make it make more sense. He can’t have known he had feelings for Kenma since his first year at Nekoma. That would make… “Three years?”
“Almost four,” Kuroo says, looking sheepish.
“You never said anything.”
“How could I?” Kuroo says softly. “I didn’t want to mess anything up.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“You said yourself you didn’t even know how you felt about me till last week,” Kuroo reminds him. “Besides, it was good enough just having you with me. I didn’t need anything else.”
“So you want to go back to just being friends, then.”
“Hell no,” Kuroo says emphatically, which makes Kenma snicker a little. The grin on Kuroo’s face softens, turns into a slight smile as he kisses Kenma gently on the lips. “Now that I have this, I’m never going to be able to go back.”
“Maybe this was a bad idea,” Kenma says. “I’ve given you an excuse to say embarrassing things all the time.”
“You did,” Kuroo says, ruffling his hair. “And it’s only going to get worse.”
“I’m not sure that’s possible.”
“Is that a challenge, sweetheart?”
Kenma’s train ticket is for Sunday afternoon, much to Kuroo’s dismay. He drapes his too tall body all over Kenma’s, trying to convince him in every way to just stay with him. “I’m sure they’ll accept you if you apply now! You’re smart,” he says. “So you can just drop out of high school and go to university with me.”
“Most colleges don’t look fondly on high school dropouts.”
“Transfer to the high school here then!”
“Nekoma wouldn’t be very happy with their captain leaving a few weeks into the school year.”
“Ugh,” Kuroo says. “Can’t believe you’re so responsible now. What have you done with my Kenma?”
“Shut up,” Kenma says, wrinkling up his nose. “Volleyball’s fun sometimes. I don’t want to quit. I like my team. That’s all.”
Kuroo genuinely beams at that. Kenma’s not sure if he’s ever seen Kuroo smile so much before; it’s kind of scary. “My baby’s growing up so much,” he says, pulling Kenma into his arms again. “I’m so proud.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Baby. My baby.”
“Ugh. I hate you.”
“You love me,” Kuroo sing-songs. “Anyways, speaking of the team, tell them all I said hi and I miss them, yeah? Oh, and that I’ll be there next weekend to visit for the match against Fukurodani.”
“You’re gonna visit next weekend?” Kenma says, peering curiously up at him.
“Yeah?” Kuroo says, sounding like it’s obvious. “I mean, I have to visit my boyfriend. He gets lonely without me, I hear.”
“Shut up,” Kenma says for what feels like the fortieth time in the past few days. He can't help but give a little smile, though. "So I guess you won't have much time to miss me, then."
"Kenma, honey," Kuroo says dramatically. "Baby. I will miss you every second of the five days we're apart. Desperately."
"Oh my god." Kenma tries to wrench himself out of Kuroo's arms, but with no success.
"You love me," Kuroo repeats quietly, tilting his forehead down to press against Kenma's.
"Yeah," Kenma says. "I do."
Once he gets on the train, he immediately whips his phone out to send a quick text.
Text to Shouyou:
thanks for your advice. i have a boyfriend now btw
Text from Shouyou:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH MY GOD KENMA REALLY THIS IS SO EXCITING IM SO HAPPY FOR YOU IM GUESSING ITS KUROO??
Kenma rolls his eyes, but happiness bubbles up in his chest anyways. It's nice to be able to tell people. And he knows he can, since less than an hour after they'd gotten together, Bokuto had showed up at Kuroo's room and the two had hollered for an hour about how cute Kuroo and Kenma were.
Text to Shouyou:
Text from Shouyou:
THATS GREAT IM SO HAPPY YOURE HAPPY! you are happy right???
Text to Shouyou:
yes. i'm really, really happy.
And he is, he thinks as he leans back in his uncomfortable train seat and begins to count down the hours till next weekend.
They practice a lot for the match versus Fukurodani. Generally Kenma’s been fine with large amounts of practice, but this is beyond the parameters of exhausting. It’s so tiring that Kenma falls into bed at night and barely manages to make it through his homework without falling asleep. He barely even has the time to text Kuroo updates about his day, though he still does - Kuroo’s a priority, now, and he doesn’t ever deserve to feel like Kenma doesn’t care again. The bright side, though, is that practicing so much takes his mind off of missing Kuroo, and that makes the week pass a lot faster.
He doesn’t tell any of his teammates about his and Kuroo’s new relationship. For one, he’s a little afraid, but also he figures it’ll just be easier to explain when Kuroo’s there with him. He can just give Kuroo a big peck on the lips and then explain afterwards. Easy.
By the time the Fukurodani game rolls around, he’s damn near ready to just pass out on the court, but the excitement of seeing Kuroo keeps him upright. He briefly considers asking the coach to let Katayama play instead of him, but also he knows Fukurodani - well, Akaashi, at least - and he kind of wants to play against him. He hates that he’s starting to think the word “fun”, but in a way, he is. Plus, he knows Kuroo’s coming at least partially to see him play, and he can’t let him down.
“Now, remember,” he says in the huddle, “for those of you that were here last year, this team is a very different team than we played against last year, since Bokuto graduated. For those of you that weren’t, this is our first real game. I need all the first years playing at 100%.” He doesn’t really want to single out Obata, but he hopes the heat of his words gets to him anyways. Kenma knows that, unlike last year, he himself will be playing until he falls on the ground.
Nekomata takes over after that. He goes into the starting lineup, which will be the same as the Karasuno practice match, since “that seemed to work out fine.” After a few more motivating words, Tora goes immediately into their typical opening speech. As they close out, Kenma can’t help but look to the corner of the gym, where Kuroo is sitting with his arms crossed and a big smile on his face, Bokuto at his side. Kenma wants more than anything to run to him, but he has to control himself. He’s a captain now, after all.
Fukurodani is weird without Bokuto. it’s much more calm, for one, and Akaashi is a very different kind of captain than Bokuto was. He’s less loud, more sneaky. Kenma can’t help but wonder if other teams feel the same way about Nekoma this year.
Their first years are good, as expected. Good recruits tend to flock to Fukurodani because of their reputation. They’ve got an absurdly tall guy with strong arms that look like they could crush Kenma like a fly. Another of them is just large all over. He looks like he might be better suited for another sport that involved more physicality, wrestling maybe? American football? Another is of a normal height, but the aggressive glare on his face makes Kenma not want to get near him. Who knew that even in his third year, Kenma would still be scared of first years? He vaguely knows how the first years play based on the tape he had (somewhat illegally) obtained, but they are still mostly a mystery. A mystery Kenma is determined to figure out.
“Kozume-san,” Akaashi says politely once he meets him at the net. In the two years now Kenma has known him, he still hasn’t been able to convince Akaashi to drop the formalities. “I look forward to our match.”
“We do as well,” Kenma says, giving a slight bow. “Best of luck. I look forward to this glimpse of your new team.”
Akaashi casts his eyes to make sure no one is listening, and then, in a quieter tone, says, “It’s odd without Bokuto-san.”
“Weird without Kuro, too,” Kenma offers.
“Good to know I’m not the only one,” Akaashi sighs. “I mean, I always suspected things would change, but it’s more than I anticipated. And I am afraid I can’t live up to Bokuto-san’s legacy.”
“I get it,” Kenma says softly. “I think that too a lot. But before Bokuto, before Kuro, there was another captain, someone they thought they couldn’t live up to. And I know when you graduate, your next captain will feel the same way about you.”
He sees the corners of Akaashi’s mouth turn up into a small smile. “I suppose you’re correct. Thank you. And best of luck to you.”
“Same for you guys,” Kenma offers with a nod as he turns back to his team. He glares at Lev to stop the frantic gesturing Lev is doing, but then Lev points excitedly to the corner. Kenma turns around to see that Yaku has joined Kuroo and Bokuto in the corner. Well, that certainly explains it. “Save it for afterwards,” he says anyways.
“Like you and Kuroo?” Lev asks, wiggling his eyebrows. Kenma glares at him.
“Don’t disrespect your captain!” Konae says from the bench. Lev sticks out his tongue. Some kind of senpai, Kenma thinks wryly.
The game starts just a minute or two later. Fukurodani sends one of their overly muscular first-years up to serve, and the ball comes whizzing over to their side of the court at a speed Kenma is absolutely certain could break his hand. Morioka goes for it, though, with all the first-year enthusiasm he can muster, and it flies back into the air high enough for Kenma to get to it and set it. Tora slams it to the other side of the court. He starts celebrating before it even touches the floor, which Kenma mentally notes to discuss with him later.
“Nice receive,” he says to Morioka now, though. Morioka basks in the praise like a little puppy dog, which makes Kenma wonder momentarily if he’s on the right team.
On the next serve, though, Akaashi sets an incredibly high toss that is slammed down by one of the terrifying first years. Not even Morioka’s enthusiasm can get him to that ball. He can hear Bokuto hooting from the corner, and then the slap of skin on skin, probably either from Kuroo or Yaku trying to get him to quiet down so that the game can proceed. The game continues in much the same way - a constant back and forth, but not much as far as rallies go, especially from Fukurodani’s side. They aren’t particularly talented at receives, but when they manage to get a good receive and toss, they score pretty consistently just by hitting the ball at nearly inhuman speed and with monstrous amounts of force. One time Lev just neglects to even attempt to block it. Kenma hardly has the heart to yell at him, because he’s kind of terrified himself.
During the first time-out, though, he addresses this problem. “They hit well, definitely. But if they’re doing messy receives and messy tosses, they won’t be able to get in those hits. So instead of focusing on blocking or receiving the hits, let’s try to prevent them. Focus on hitting hard and to places that are more difficult to receive.”
Obata approaches him as they leave the circle, an odd expression on his face. “Would you mind setting to me sometime soon, captain?”
“Yeah, if you think you can get a hit in, just call it out,” Kenma says. “Any particular reason?”
“I just… want to try. Is that wrong?” Obata says, mostly coating over the annoyance in his tone in some twisted attempt at respect.
Kenma shrugs. “All right.”
During the next rally, he glances over at Obata in the center. Their blockers seem to be concentrating more on Lev, due to his larger-than-life presence, which makes this the perfect opportunity. He catches Obata’s eye, and Obata gives a slight nod, so Kenma sends the ball soaring.
Obata targets it perfectly to the back corner, right over the heads of the back row, but right in that area where it’s not out either. It goes so fast that Kenma can hardly keep track of it. And then it hits the ground.
This time it’s Kuroo’s turn to shout and get slapped. Tora shouts something like “Looks like you got some competition for the future ace, Lev!” and Lev yells back something that Kenma might have thought could be Russian had it not been for Lev’s complete inability to speak it. Kenma glances over to where Obata is standing. It might not be obvious to the untrained eye, but there’s a hint of a smile on his face, a hint of a flush on his cheeks, a slight glint in his eyes. The smile becomes a little more obvious when he looks over at Konae, who is practically bouncing up and down and yelling something weird like “Terrific ball placement!”
Obata turns back to Kenma. “Again,” he says, and Kenma gives a slight nod.
He gives Lev a toss next, though, because Lev will probably whine until the end of the season if he doesn’t and sets to the first-year again instead of him, and then after they’re able to return Lev’s hit (much to Lev’s chagrin), he sends it back to Obata. Obata sends it straight down the right line. Someone on Fukurodani bellows “out!”, so all the players avoid it, but it lands squarely on the line. Obata’s mouth turns up into a smile so obvious that even the most oblivious people could see it.
“He’s smiling!” Tora yells.
“Keep your head in the game,” Kenma shoots back, but he can’t help but smile in response.
Thankfully, to keep the team’s ego in check, Fukurodani scores the next point. They seem to have learned from their mistakes, because they receive the ball even when Obata hits it so that it toes the line. Kenma’s pretty sure it was going out that time, but it doesn’t even matter, because they receive it, get it to Akaashi, and then one of the first years slams it down right in front of Kenma.
Well, he’s never claimed to be a receiver.
He tries a new strategy this time, hitting it high to Lev - high enough that only Lev, with his massive height and too long limbs should be able to hit it. Instead, it hits Lev on top of the head and drops to the other side, smacking against the floor. Kenma groans, even though he’s sort of amused. “Lev, you were supposed to hit that.”
“But Captaaaain, it scored us a point!” Lev protests, a cheeky grin on his face.
“Don’t try it again,” Kenma warns. Lev pouts.
Through some combination of Lev’s ridiculous strategies (which are mostly just going with whatever he feels like and really aren’t strategies at all), Obata’s hits, Tora’s aggressive slamming of the ball, and Inuoka’s enthusiastic hits and taps, they manage to pull out a win in the first game, 25-21. Bokuto yells “You’ll get ‘em next time!”, which Kuroo follows up with “You will not!”.
They head into the first game with a lot of momentum, but unfortunately, momentum for a game tends to be short-lived. By the time they’re halfway through the game, even Inuoka has started to tire a bit. He’s really mellowed out a little from his overly energetic first-year self. Lev starts to make some more stupid mistakes, which kind of makes sense given that this is only his second year playing volleyball, but still annoys Kenma. Obata’s still giving more than Kenma’s ever seen him give. Even that, though, isn’t enough.
Kenma’s surprised that his stamina has really improved from last year. It’s probably the higher volume of practicing he’s been doing or the higher amount of effort he’s been putting in. Still, it’s nowhere near Shouyou’s, but it’s good enough to keep him going throughout the second game.
The game ends in a loss this time, 24-26. Kenma’s disappointed, but like he says to the team (in a louder voice than usual), “We can’t let this get us down. That’s exactly what they want.”
“It almost sounds as if they’re conspiring against us,” Konae says, eyes wide.
“They could be,” Kenma says, casting a glance in their directions.
“I can ask,” Tora says, grinning. “HEY, FUKURO-“
Kenma puts his hand on his mouth and scowls. “You’d better be putting all that energy into this last game.”
They have to win this last game, Kenma thinks as he walks onto the court. It’s not even a matter of wanting to win anymore, like it had been when they’d played Kuroo. He has to win to show Kuroo that he’s a good captain. He also isn’t really keen on the idea of hearing Bokuto brag about how good Fukurodani is for hours on end. Slowly, he breathes in, attempting to center himself. I can do this. He glances around at his teammates, then corrects it to We can do this.
And for the first half, it seems like they might. Apparently something has Tora’s energy levels back up, because he’s hitting at full power again. Lev seems to have remembered that Yaku’s watching, because he gets a few points in and then gives a flashy wave in Yaku’s direction, which as far as Kenma can tell, just serves to piss him off further. Konae keeps yelling words of odd encouragement at Obata. Morioka keeps making great saves. Inuoka nearly crashes into Obata trying to jump for a ball.
But then, the ball comes over to their side, straight to Fukunaga. He receives it, but for once his receive is a little off, heading too far to the right. Kenma takes off, determined to follow it, but once the ball makes contact with his fingers, he realizes his center of gravity is off.
He starts to go down, down, down, There’s a sharp pain and someone screaming and a lot of white. He manages to catch himself with his hands, but then he hears the whistle and his team is running over to him.
“Kenma-san!” Konae says, staring at him with wide eyes. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” Kenma manages, staring at his team with blurry vision. “I…”
“You’re going to the bench,” Nekomata says firmly. “Sprained ankle, it looks like. Katayama, get ready to substitute in. I’ll send Saito off to get an ice pack.”
Their first-year manager nods vigorously and takes off out of the gym. Kenma can’t manage to even think as Tora and Fukunaga haul him off to the bench. Fukunaga says something in his ear that sounds like “I’m so sorry, Captain, I’m so sorry,” and Kenma thinks he says “Don’t worry about it” in response, but he can’t be sure. Even once he’s sitting on the bench, he can’t bear to look at Kuroo. He doesn’t want to see the pain in his eyes, the disappointment that Kenma won’t be playing the rest of the game, the disappointment that Kenma has failed his team.
But he can’t dwell on that, not right now anyways. He raises his voice loud enough to be heard above all the chatter on the court and says, “You can do this, Katayama.”
Katayama turns to look at him, eyes wide with obvious fear. Kenma gives him a a nod and a subtle thumbs up, which, as dorky as it is, he can’t really think of anything else to do. Katayama breathes in shakily, squaring his shoulder. Fukunaga goes over to give him a pat on the back and a “you got this!” before returning to his spot, and Kenma silently gives thanks for his vice-captain.
The game continues. Kenma’s never really thought about how much it sucks to not play for his own team, because first year he didn’t really care and second year he played every game, but it sucks. He’s on the bench constantly thinking about what he would do if he were playing, who Katayama should send it to, what they’re doing wrong that he can fix. He’s not much of a shouting guy, but he’s shouting now out of necessity. Once or twice he even feels the urge to get up and run onto the court.
Despite the best efforts of the team, though, they still lose. Katayama’s not terrible, but he’s a first-year setter without experience, and he can’t compete with third-year Akaashi. Kenma feels an overwhelming sense of guilt crash down on him as his team returns to him.
“I told them we’ll be back for the Interhighs, so they shouldn’t get too cocky,” Lev says, puffing out his chest.
“Yeah!” Morioka chimes in, his eyes shining. “We’ll get them then!”
“Yeah, we will!” Inuoka says, high-fiving Morioka. “Cause Captain will be back. They won’t stand a chance.”
“You guys did great,” Kenma says. “And Katayama, for a first real set, you did really well. You’ll only get better.”
“Thanks, Captain,” Katayama says, a half-smile on his face. “…I wasn’t expecting to have to play, but it didn’t go as badly as I’d thought.”
It’s the most Kenma’s ever heard him say at one time.
“You performed fantastically, Tadao,” Konae says, grinning over at his friend.
“…shut up, Minoru,” Obata says, his cheeks heating up.
“I truly am proud of everyone who played,” Kenma says, trying not to let his voice waver and show that he’s not really so proud of himself. “I know we’ll only continue to improve and take down Fukurodani in the Interhighs.”
He lets Nekomata take over from there as he sits back, biting his lip so that his eyes won’t well up. He definitely refuses to cry, especially over something so trivial as a volleyball game. It’s the kind of thing he always internally laughed at Shouyou for caring so much. And he still really doesn’t want to face Kuroo. He’d been hoping that he could give a game to remember, a game that Kuroo could brag about and be like, “That’s my boyfriend out there!”, not the kind where he has to go “Oh, that’s my boyfriend that got hurt”.
But he doesn’t have the chance to avoid Kuroo, because as soon as the huddle disbands, Kuroo’s arms are around Kenma.
“Kenma,” he’s saying in his concerned Kuroo tone. “Are you okay? That fall didn’t look too good. God, you have to be okay.”
“I’m fine, Kuro,” Kenma says patiently. “And… I’m sorry.”
Kuroo’s brow creases. “Sorry? For what?”
“I didn’t mean to fall,” he says, his voice breaking a little bit, which makes him feel even smaller. “And we could’ve won, we were so close… I wanted to you to see a game where you could be proud.”
“A game where I could be proud?” Kuroo says, sounding incredulous. “Kenma, baby, I was proud. Don’t you see?”
“You were an amazing captain,” Kuroo says emphatically. “I saw the way you were encouraging, the directions you were giving them. And you sent in that brand new setter and still almost kept up with Fukurodani! That’s a damn great accomplishment if you ask me. God, you should’ve heard me over there bragging about my amazing boyfriend, the captain of Nekoma. Yaku’s impressed too. And Bo, of course, though he’s biased and insists Akaashi is better. But I guess it’s just a boyfriend thing, because I, personally, am convinced my boyfriend is the best captain on the entire planet.”
“Well, that’s just untrue,” Kenma says, his cheeks heating up. It’s wild how quickly Kuroo can cheer him up. Kenma supposes it’s one of the benefits of knowing him for practically forever.
“Is too,” Kuroo says petulantly. He turns around, kneels, and pats his back. “Now hop on.”
“I can walk.”
“You cannot. You need to rest that ankle.”
“You’re not my mom.”
“I’m one step better. I’m your boyfriend. Now hop on.”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Kenma mutters, feeling like a five-year-old.
“Stop being difficult,” Kuroo says. “Almost everyone unrelated to the teams has left, and no one on Fukurodani or Nekoma cares.”
Kenma can’t argue with that. He manages to get himself onto Kuroo’s back and Kuroo stands up, his strong arms wrapping around Kenma’s legs. Almost immediately, Lev starts screaming. “Oh my god! Kenma…. and Kuroo… I’m so happy for you guys!”
“I can’t say I didn’t see it coming,” Tora says brightly, slapping Kenma on the back.
“You must be Kuroo-san!” Konae says, beaming brightly. “I have heard much about your captainship. It is truly an honor to make your acquaintance.”
Kenma jumps in with, “Kuro, this is Konae, Obata, Katayama, and Morioka, our first years. First-years, this is Kuroo Tetsurou.”
“Nice to meet you,” Obata grunts, and Morioka starts chattering something about them being just too adorable together.
Katayama is the last to pipe up, but when he does, he bows and says, “Nice to meet you. Kenma-san is truly amazing.”
“Don’t I know it,” Kuroo says, way too fondly. Kenma kicks him lightly, the red rising into his cheeks.
Then Yaku finally joins them and Lev practically tackles him, which means that finally the attention is off of Kenma and Kuroo. Kenma buries his face into Kuroo’s neck and hangs on for dear life.
“I’m not supposed to say this, because that’s my team over there, but you guys did really great,” Bokuto tells him in his sincere Bokuto way after joining them. Akaashi, who’s at his side, just nods.
“You were also great,” Kenma offers up, just as sincerely. “I look forward to our next meeting.”
“As do I,” Akaashi says, half-competitively, which sends Kuroo and Bokuto into a round of their stupid “OH-HO-HOs”. Even though everyone’s extremely loud, Kenma still can’t think of anywhere he’d rather be.
So this is (technically) the end of the fic, and an extremely long chapter! I'll have an epilogue up in the next little bit, which is really the last chapter :)
Please leave kudos or a comment if you enjoyed! I love hearing all of your thoughts and they'll definitely encourage me to write more Haikyuu in the future :) Thank you so much to the commenters and to everyone who left kudos/bookmarked!
When Shouyou suggests a double date, Kenma practically laughs in his face.
He then immediately feels bad about it, because Shouyou, being Shouyou, had been positively serious about it. His face falls immediately and he mutters something along the lines of, “Well, you don’t have to. I just, you know, thought it’d be fun for all of us to hang out together, and we never get to hang…”
Which is how Kozume Kenma gets himself and his boyfriend guilt-tripped into going on a date with Shouyou and Kageyama. When he tells Kuroo, Kuroo gives him a miserable look. “You’re kidding.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not,” Kenma says. “It’s only for a few hours.”
“How the hell did you get us roped into this?”
“He looked so sad when he thought I would say no,” Kenma mutters. “I couldn’t do it.”
Kuroo wraps his arms around Kenma’s much smaller body, kissing the top of his head. “You’re too nice.”
“You are too, but it’s okay because I love it.”
Kenma finds it difficult to argue with that logic.
He leaves the planning up to Shouyou, partly because Shouyou loves planning outings and partly because Kenma’s notoriously lazy. Because of this, he’s not sure what to expect when the train pulls to a stop in the Miyagi train station, his head comfortably resting on Kuroo’s shoulder as he plays absently on his DS.
Kuroo stands to his feet, offering Kenma a hand. Kenma glances around nervously, checking to see who might be watching, before he takes it. Once they leave the train and the crowd disperses, though, and the danger of getting separated in the crowd have considerably lessened, Kenma lets go.
“KENMA!” comes a shout from across the station, and then, “AND KUROO TOO!”
Before Kenma can even really process that he doesn’t have to text Shouyou because he’s already there, Shouyou is flying up to him, throwing his arms around Kenma in a very Shouyou-style hug. Behind him, Kageyama awkwardly strolls up, clearly not quite as affectionate as Shouyou - which Kenma completely understands. “Don’t overwhelm them, dumbass,” Kageyama says softly.
“It’s not overwhelming!” Shouyou says, sticking out his tongue and jumping back. “Besides, you told me you’d call me dumbass less! Anyways, hi Kenma, hi Kuroo, welcome to Miyagi!”
“Hi,” Kageyama seconds, giving them a nod of acknowledgment.
“I hear you have quite the day planned, Shorty,” Kuroo says, a stupid smirk on his face.
“I do!” Shouyou nods vigorously. “Well, first we’re going to go get meat buns, because me and Kageyama are hungry. And then maybe we can play some volleyball! And then maybe we can go to the park. And then shopping, and then dinner, and then…”
“That seems like it’ll take a lot of time,” Kenma observes. “Our train is at 8.”
“Have to get the princess home before midnight,” Kuroo says blithely. Kenma elbows him. Kuroo continues with, “Do you usually play volleyball on dates?”
“Yes,” Kageyama says immediately. At the same time, Shouyou says, “Well, most of the time.”
“To each their own,” Kuroo says, shrugging.
“We’re not doing that,” Kenma mumbles to Kuroo.
“Right. But you know, half of our dates are just me watching you play volleyball, or vice versa.” And Kenma can’t even argue with that, because it’s true, but he kind of loves having Kuroo at his games.
“Ooh, that sounds like fun!” Shouyou says, eyes bright as he turns to Kageyama. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I watched you play volleyball?”
“What, would I be tossing to myself, dumbass?”
“I could toss to Asahi-san or Daichi-san if you want.”
“No, no, no,” Shouyou says quickly. “I want all your tosses.”
Kuroo gives one of his throaty cackles. Kenma rolls his eyes, giving Shouyou and Kageyama an apologetic look.
“It’s okay!” Shouyou says. “Noya and Tanaka are way louder.”
“Your libero and ace, huh?” Kuroo says. “Tanaka seems especially bad around Yamamoto.”
“Yeah!” Shouyou says eagerly. “You know, Tanaka and Yamamoto-san kept talking about our manager, Shimizu-san. I think Yamamoto-san is really upset that you guys don’t have a female manager.”
“Well, we didn’t have a manager last year at all, so he should count his blessings,” Kenma grumbles.
After a few more minutes of conversation, mostly about Kenma’s injury during the Fukurodani game (which has since all but healed), Shouyou’s stomach rumbles loudly. “Are you hungry?” Kageyama asks immediately and somewhat aggressively.
“Meat buns!” Shouyou says, grabbing onto Kageyama’s arm. Kageyama glances down at him, a slight blush dusting his cheeks.
“Lead the way,” Kuroo says somewhat smoothly, linking his arm with Kenma’s. It’s still amazing to Kenma the way Kuroo can read his cues - the way Kuroo knows he wants to have that casual touch, but doesn’t want it in a way that will draw attention. This way they just look like good friends. He still can’t help but lean a little into Kuroo’s side.
A (slightly) overenthusiastic Kageyama offers to buy Shouyou’s meat buns. He buys him five, despite the fact that Shouyou insists that he’s not that hungry. Kageyama defends it by saying “If you want to grow taller, you have to eat a lot!”
“Kuroo, do you eat a lot?” Shouyou asks in between devouring his meat buns.
Kuroo gives Kenma a glance, then says, “I’d say I have a decent sized appetite.”
“Then I have to eat all of them!” Shouyou says eagerly. “And maybe I’ll be as tall as Kuroo, and I can hit like pow and like wham!”
“No, more like kapow,” Kageyama says seriously.
“Yeah!” Hinata grins. “And then we’ll totally beat Nekoma.”
“You will not,” Kuroo says, biting into his meat bun.
“It’s unlikely,” Kenma agrees.
“Especially under the leadership of our current captain,” Kuroo says, affectionately ruffling Kenma’s hair. Kenma gives him a slight frown, but still finds it kind of sweet, though he’d never say it.
“You two are so cute,” Shouyou says, beaming from ear to ear.
Kenma’s never been sure how to take compliments, and despite Kuroo’s confident exterior, Kenma’s pretty sure Kuroo’s bad at it too. Kuroo just confirms it by scratching the back of his neck and saying, “It’s all him,” which makes Kenma kick him lightly again. Kuroo’s so embarrassing.
They manage to weasel their way out of playing volleyball with the Dynamic Duo, mostly by Kenma pointing out that they each have a setter and a hitter, but nothing else, so really it wouldn’t be much of a game. Shouyou insists it’s still possible, but eventually relents and decides to drag them to the park. He also insists on bringing a volleyball ‘just in case’, but Kenma insists he carry it so that the idiots don’t start setting and hitting random people in the park.
The day is warm and the sun is bright as they stroll through the park. Kenma doesn’t touch Kuroo, but even still, he walks extremely close. Meanwhile, Shouyou hangs on to Kageyama’s hand with both of his, almost looking like his setter’s younger brother. They walk until Kenma suddenly hears insistent meowing. He tugs lightly on Kuroo’s sleeve, then says, “I think there’s a cat stuck in that tree.”
“A cat?” Shouyou asks animatedly. “I can jump pretty high! Maybe I can get him out!”
Even Kageyama says, “That seems like a bad idea.”
“I had to get on Lev’s shoulders to get a cat down last year,” Kenma says, shuddering. “And then we fell over. It was among the worst experiences of my life.”
“What are you, the cat rescuer?” Kuroo says, snickering. Kenma gives him a withering glare.
“You could get on Kuroo’s shoulders,” Shouyou points out. “Or I could get on Kageyama’s.”
“Dumbass, you’d probably scare the cat away,” Kageyama says.
“So would you with your scary face, Bakageyama!”
They’re an odd couple, Kenma thinks absently. He shrugs at Kuroo. “Get down so I can get on your shoulders.”
Kuroo does so, giving him an intense warning to hold on tight so he doesn’t fall and to tell him to move if the cat looks as though it’s going to bite or claw at him. Kenma goes up into the air, reaching out gently for the cat. “Come here, kitty. Don’t be scared. We just want to help.” It’s soft enough so that no one else can hear it, thankfully, because this whole situation is embarrassing enough already.
The cat looks terrified, hair standing on end, but Kenma slowly inches toward it until he has a hesitant hand near the cat. The cat sniffs it suspiciously, but then drops its head, giving him a hesitant meow.
Slowly, Kenma reaches out to grab the cat. He hears it meow again, but it doesn’t make any move to bite or claw, so he says, “Let me down” to Kuroo. Kuroo gets slowly down on his knees so that Kenma can get off, and Kenma lets go of the cat. The cat gives one last meow, then takes off running.
“You are a cat rescuer!” Shouyou says, sounding completely awed.
“How do you do that?” Kageyama asks. “Every animal hates me.”
“It’s a talent,” Kuroo says, grinning.
Embarrassing, Kenma thinks, and then he says it. Kuroo just grins even wider. Kenma thinks absently that he might be this embarrassing forever, and then thinks that maybe he won’t even mind.
Next, Shouyou drags them to some nearby shops. First is some kind of sporting goods store, in which Shouyou looks at new kneepads, despite the fact that, according to Kageyama, he’d just bought Shouyou new kneepads less than a month ago. Kuroo slings an arm around Kenma’s shoulders. “You need new kneepads?”
Kenma wrinkles his nose. “I don’t exactly fall on the floor very often.”
“You did last game!” Kuroo protests.
“I hated that,” Kenma mumbles.
“Kenma’s really giving his all this season!” Shouyou says. “Maybe next year he’ll even play in college.”
“I doubt any team will recruit me,” Kenma says. It’s not really in a self-deprecating way, more of in a matter-of-fact way. He’s not exactly impressive on the court.
Kuroo gasps anyways, though, like the overdramatic dork he is. “I’ll force my team to take you if I have to!” he insists. “But you’re the captain of one of the top teams. I’m sure schools are watching you.”
Kenma’s not sure if that makes him feel better or worse.
Their final destination is a restaurant for dinner, though Kenma’s still kind of full from the meat buns from earlier. He asks Kuroo if he wouldn’t mind sharing a bowl of noodles, to which Kuroo just raises an eyebrow and says “So I eat one end, you eat one end, and we meet in the middle?”
“Or I can just dump the entire bowl of noodles on your head,” Kenma says.
Shouyou squeals once he sees that they’re sharing. “That’s so cute! Kageyama, why don’t we ever do cute stuff like that?”
“You’re wearing my jacket,” Kageyama points out.
That much is true. Shouyou looks kind of ridiculous in Kageyama’s jacket since Kageyama’s so much taller than him. He’s rolled up the sleeves, but they still hang down over his hands. It’s almost cute in a weird way, though, and Kenma hates himself for thinking it.
“I had to make you!” Shouyou protests.
Kageyama sighs, picking up his chopsticks and grabbing a noodle, which he then offers to Shouyou. Shouyou turns red immediately and eats the noodle off Kageyama’s chopsticks. “I guess that counts,” Shouyou says, his face still red.
Kuroo guffaws. “Want me to feed you, baby?” he asks Kenma teasingly.
Kenma turns even redder than Shouyou and puts his head on the table. “I’m no longer speaking to you.”
Shouyou starts babbling away, though, taking the focus off of how embarrassing Kuroo is. He tells him about how different the team is this year, and even though it’s still a great team, he kind of misses last year’s team. Kenma says he feels much the same way, which makes Kuroo give his hand a quick squeeze. Then he starts onto wondering who next year’s captain will be.
“Yamaguchi, I bet,” Shouyou says. “I’m not really strategic or anything and Kageyama and Tsukishima are too mean.”
“I’m not that mean,” Kageyama says gruffly.
“Nicer than Tsukishima, definitely,” Shouyou says, which for some reason makes Kageyama smile slightly. Those two are weird in a way Kenma will never be able to fully figure out.
“You should pass the captain position on to Lev,” Kuroo says. Kenma groans.
“Well, if Lev is captain, then I have to be captain too!” Shouyou says indignantly.
“Lev’s not gonna be captain, dumbass,” Kageyama tells him.
“Under no circumstances would I let that happen,” Kenma agrees. “Honestly, I don’t even want to think about next year right now.”
“Yeah!” Shouyou agrees. “Let’s just think about right now and this season. And how we’re definitely going to win Nationals this year.”
“Nekoma’s got that in the bag,” Kuroo argues back.
Kenma picks up another noodle and, as he slurps it up, he decides he definitely needs to live in the moment, because soon it’ll all be gone. Soon he’ll be in college and Nekoma will be nothing but a memory. But still, there’s a chance he could be with Kuroo again, every day, and that in itself is enough to make him look forward to the future.
After they bid their farewells to Kageyama and Shouyou, Shouyou insisting they do it again sometime (which, considering the double date hadn’t gone as poorly as it surely could have, Kenma isn’t entirely opposed to) and board the train, Kuroo turns to Kenma. “You know, I used to think you had a crush on Shorty.”
“He’s just a friend,” Kenma says.
“I know that now,” Kuroo shrugs. “But back then, it seemed like he was the only one who could get you to like volleyball.”
“Maybe playing against him helped me to like volleyball,” Kenma says thoughtfully. “But I never would have loved volleyball without you. And I definitely couldn’t be anything close to the captain I am now without you.”
“Aw, Kenma!” Kuroo crows, burying his face into Kenma’s shoulder. Kenma knows him well enough to know that he’ll probably cry now. Embarrassing, Kenma thinks again, but he gives him a subtle kiss on the cheek and then whips out his DS for the ride.
And maybe this time, when Kuroo tries to subtly thread their fingers together, Kenma lets him.
Hi everyone, welcome to the last installment of this fic!
I hope you enjoyed reading. If you liked it, please leave a comment or a kudos! Your comments give me motivation to write more fic.
I'll be uploading a new fic sometime soon with Kuroken/Kagehina/Iwaoi/Bokuaka, so keep an eye out!