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Take This (It’s Dangerous to Bro Alone)

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1

“I’m the best!” Kuroo crowed, thrusting his volleyball high over his head with both hands and grinning at Kenma, who grunted and didn’t look up from his screen. “Oh, come on, your oldest friend is going to a Tokyo-wide invite-only training camp and you can’t even congratulate him?”

Kenma paused his game and looked up. “Congratulations,” he said. “Now will you leave me alone?”

“For a whole week,” Kuroo replied. He shoved the volleyball under his arm and ran out of Kenma’s house. “Later, gator. I’ve got a bus to catch.”

The tinkly music coming out of Kenma’s speaker said his goodbyes for him.

A bus ride and an afternoon of ice-breaker rotating matches later, Kuroo knew he wasn’t the best. Yeah, he was close, and his defensive skills were pretty much unmatched, but he saw the way some of the other guys moved. It was hard to believe some of them were fourteen or fifteen.

“Whoa!” someone called from the other side of the gym. “That was awesome, Bokuto-kun!”

Kuroo reached up and scratched his chest, right over his heart, drifting in the direction of the fuss. He wanted to see if awesome Bokuto-kun was worth all the commotion. He watched as the setter tossed to the outside hitter, a ridiculous-looking kid with hair as high as Kuroo’s and his – more ridiculous – seemed to be intentional.

A second later, Kuroo’s jaw was on the floor. “Amazing,” he breathed as he rolled his shoulder like it had a kink in it. Bokuto was faster and jumped higher and hit harder than any other wing spiker Kuroo’s age that he knew of and honestly it was a little intimidating being in his presence.

The guy next to him nodded. “Right?” he said. “I bet Bokuto’s playing in the Olympics by the time he’s twenty.”

“If he doesn’t get injured and have to quit volleyball forever,” the guy to the left of the first guy added. “Growing up is difficult.”

“What the hell?” his friend said. “Please excuse my dumb friend, he got his first tattoo last week and now he thinks he’s a man.”

Distracted, Kuroo waved his hand in front of his face to show it was no big deal. He was too busy watching Bokuto play to get offended, and the first guy shoved dismal outlook guy off the courts.

The tattoo thing was something Kuroo didn’t think about a lot, even though, as his mom was always saying, they were at “that age.” Adults always got dreamy far away expressions when they talked about when their heartmark first appeared, but Kuroo didn’t have the attention span to listen to his parents reminiscing. He knew a couple of kids in his class had a design over their hearts, or even spreading out toward their shoulders; Kuroo got a look at the guys who’d matured early a few times when they were changing for gym class, but he’d take his extra twenty centimeters of height any day. Pretty chest designs were useless when it came to getting his hands above the net.

He watched Bokuto for a while more, eyes wide as he slammed cross after cross past the other team’s blockers, laughing and fist-pumping every time he scored another point. Bokuto was definitely a volleyball idiot, but there was something about him. Kuroo couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“One day, I’m going to stop that guy,” he mumbled under his breath, just as Bokuto looked in his direction on the sidelines and offered up a wide grin. Kuroo blinked and a warmth like he’d never experienced before filled his lungs, making him look away and cough.

After dinner, the coordinators showed all the athletes to their rooms, two-bed dorm deals. Kuroo threw his duffel bag down on the right side of the room. He was there first, which meant dibs, and it was only for a week so whoever his roomie was could just deal. A minute later, he’d figured out where everything was (the room wasn’t very big) and sat down on the bed, getting settled in. The door burst open again and a gale of laughter spilled in from the crowd out in the hall.

“Hey hey hey!” said his roommate, dropping his bag on the floor and putting his hands on his hips, like a volleyball superhero.

“Hey,” Kuroo replied. It was awesome Bokuto-kun from earlier. Kuroo reached under his shirt and scratched lazily at an itch that didn’t want to go away. Bokuto was still standing in the doorway. “Are you posing?” asked Kuroo.

“Maybe you’re posing,” Bokuto grumbled, but he picked up his bag and threw it on his bed. He sat down and squinted. “I know you,” he said.

Kuroo shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“No, I do!” Bokuto nodded firmly. “You were blocking against one of the guys from my school earlier, and hoo boy, you locked him out and it was hilarious. Watch out, though, Konoha holds grudges like anything. He’s still pissed about the time I got the last Black Mont Blanc bar at the combi down the road from us, and that happened when we were twelve.” He grinned. “Bokuto Koutarou, future ace.”

“Kuroo Tetsurou, ace killer.”

Bokuto threw his head back and laughed, then looked at him slyly. “We’ll see about that.”

They both stood up and shook hands; Kuroo probably gripped a little harder than was strictly necessary, but Bokuto was crushing his hand and he wasn’t going to let that fly without fighting back. The thing about putting a bunch of hyper-competitive guys all in one place was they tended to compete at everything, and Kuroo wasn’t going to lose to them.

“Nice to meetcha,” Bokuto said, once they’d let go. He shook out his hand and rubbed at the front of his t-shirt with his palm.

“Likewise,” Kuroo said, reaching under his shirt again to scratch his chest. What the heck was going on there, anyway? Maybe his mom switched detergents.

Kuroo and Bokuto became fast friends, the kind where Kuroo didn’t remember how he worked before he knew Bokuto, the kind where it felt like the sun was a little brighter and there was more color in his life just by knowing each other. The week at training camp went by in a flash, the days taken up with matches and clinics and flying falls, the nights taken up with watermelon seed spitting contests and bone-deep exhaustion that led to hushed conversations under the cover of dark.

On the last night, Kuroo was tired but couldn’t get to sleep, staring up at the ceiling of their little room. A deep ache sat heavy in his chest; it felt like a fat cat had sat on it and made it hard to breathe. Kuroo pushed a hand underneath his shirt and rubbed his chest in slow circles, which helped a little, but didn’t make him fall asleep any faster.

“Kuroo? You awake?” Bokuto whispered, or at least he attempted to whisper, but his voice was never quiet. Everything about Bokuto was loud – his voice, his personality, his style of play – but not in a way that annoyed Kuroo. Instead, it seemed to lift Kuroo up; his own game had improved immeasurably during camp and he chalked a lot of that up to being able to go up against Bokuto so often, even if Bokuto’s spikes still blasted past him more often than not.

“Yeah,” Kuroo said. “What’s up?”

Bokuto paused and Kuroo could almost picture him shrugging in the dark. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m gonna miss you, bro.”

Kuroo let out a short laugh. “Yeah,” he said again, and his voice broke on the word, making him curse puberty and feelings. “Gonna miss you, too. We can hang out, though, after camp. We traded emails.”

“Cool,” Bokuto said, sounding satisfied. A moment later, Kuroo heard covers shifting around and then Bokuto’s breathing slowing down and evening out. He didn’t know when he finally fell asleep, but it was to the rhythm of Bokuto’s soft breathing.

The next morning Kuroo woke up with a yawn, running a hand through his hair and stripping off his sleep shirt before padding off toward the communal bathroom, toothbrush in hand. Bokuto was already there, leaning over a sink, and grinned at him around a mouthful of foam. He spit and pointed at Kuroo.

“Hey, how long have you had yours?”

“What?” said Kuroo.

“The tat!” Bokuto exclaimed and pointed again. “I just got mine this week! What a souvenir. I know a lot of guys get theirs after stuff like this, but I always thought it’d be from high-fiving a cute manager or something.”

Kuroo looked down and widened his eyes. Starting at his heart, a flowy spiral vine of stars slowly spiraled out toward his right side, where the stars widened and seemed to be morphing into a new, still indistinguishable shape. The stars were a muted rainbow of dark color and Kuroo was fascinated. He lifted his head to get a better look in the mirror. It was then that he realized the itch in his chest was gone, no ache or deep-down burn.

“So?” Bokuto prodded.

“Hmm?” Kuroo didn’t look away from the mirror.

Bokuto cuffed the back of Kuroo’s head. “So how long!”

“I guess,” Kuroo said, dazed, “um, just now?”

“Whoa, that’s awesome!” Bokuto exclaimed. “Same bro hat.”

“Yeah,” Kuroo said. He slowly released a breath and gingerly ran his fingers across his soul ink. “Looks that way. Hey, lemme see yours.”

Shrugging, Bokuto pulled his arm into his T-shirt and yanked it up, baring his right side. His tattoo had thicker, straighter lines than Kuroo and barely any color yet, but the outline was sharp, unlike Kuroo’s hazy design. Kuroo hadn’t seen anyone’s like that before, but then again he’d never seen one like his own, either.

“No idea what set it off?” Kuroo asked as Bokuto was pulling his shirt down. Not like he had any idea what had done it for him, either.

“Nope!” Bokuto grinned. “It’s a mystery! But guess it’ll make sense one day, right?”

“Here’s hoping,” Kuroo agreed, content for now just to have Bokuto slinging an arm around his shoulders and dragging him to change for the last day of practices.

 

2

 

“Relax, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said mildly from the mirrors where he was inspecting his outfit. “You see Kuroo-san all the time. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

“This is different, Akaashi,” Bokuto insisted, tugging on the bottom of his tailored vest, trying to get it to stay in place. “He’s coming all the way here to our school. Not to have a practice match or to meet up to go play volleyball. Just to see me!”

This stupid vest wasn’t long enough. When the volleyball club settled on running a fancy cafe for their school cultural festival activity it had seemed like a great idea. They’d serve curry and sandwiches and cake, simple stuff. Bokuto had imagined that he would be on the kitchen team - he could cook curry pretty well and he made a mean sandwich. But stupid Konoha insisted that he needed to be a server because he was ‘visually interesting’ whatever the hell that meant. Bokuto still wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a compliment or not.

So here he was in most of a suit: dress slacks, shirt, tie, and vest. But the biggest vest they could get was kind of tight across his chest. His new conditioning routine must have been starting to pay off which, you know, was great. Unless he needed a stupid vest to fit correctly.

“Bokuto-san,” Akaashi’s voice was suddenly right over his shoulder and Bokuto jumped a little. “I think you’ll find that this--” Akaashi did something to the back of the vest that suddenly made the middle expand a bit and fit better, “should help.”

“Akaashi, you’re amazing!” Akaashi was Bokuto’s favorite first year. He was smart, and a great setter, and most importantly, did not seem to be put off by Bokuto’s super-sized emotions. He had won Bokuto’s undying loyalty in his first week on the team by offering to stay after practice to set for him. He had wondered aloud to Kuroo once why someone as cool and together as Akaashi would be friends with him.

Kuroo had pouted at him. “Oh, so I guess that means that I, your best friend, am not at all cool or together.”

Bokuto sputtered in panic; see, this was exactly what he was talking about! But Kuroo’s pout melted into a grin right away.

“It’s simple, Bo. It’s because you’re easy to love.”

“Awwww, thanks bro!”

Akaashi was currently proving that he was cooler than Bokuto could ever hope to be because the third years had decided that they couldn’t just have a butler cafe, oh no, that would be boring. Some of them would have to be maids and Akaashi had been one of the few who had drawn a short straw. Bokuto suspected the game might have been at least a tiny bit rigged because Akaashi was hands down the prettiest member of the club, and it would have been kind of a shame if he hadn’t.

In Akaashi’s sensibly-heeled Mary Jane shoes, Bokuto would have melted into a puddle of embarrassment, but Akaashi was the picture of composure, arrayed in frills and tights and managing to look like he must do this everyday because he was so good at it. The other club members had hooted and cheered and speculated about how much money they were going to rake in. Akaashi had handled it all with a serene smile, not at all concerned that his tattoo was showing, curling just past the lace of his puffed sleeve.

So really it was a little silly for Bokuto to be having a meltdown at the prospect of his best friend coming to the festival that Bokuto had expressly invited him to attend. Anyway, it was Kuroo, who always laughed at his stupid jokes, and indulged him with extra volleyball practice outside of all of their club related practice, and who sometimes texted him random science facts when he was up far too late studying. Of course it would be fine.

“Thanks, Akaashi,” he said gratefully, smoothing down the front of the now comfortable vest. “Let’s get out there and run the most kick-ass cafe in Fukurodani history!”

Akaashi smiled his quietly fierce game smile. “Let’s do it.”

Kuroo’s timing had been perfect; he had shown up with about thirty minutes to go in Bokuto’s shift, his frame taking up a centimeter or two more of the doorframe than Bokuto remembered.

“Dang, dude. Do you get taller every time I see you?”

“Maybe.” Kuroo smirked. “But if so, we’re even because I think your biceps get bigger every time, too.”

Bokuto couldn’t help but laugh. “Stop crowding the door and let me serve you some perfectly adequate cake.”

“Ooooh, look who’s been expanding his vocabulary.”

“Stuff it,” Bokuto said with a smile. “I can’t help but pick up a few things from my incredibly nerdy friend, you see.”

As soon as Bokuto was done with his shift, he dragged Kuroo off to see the rest of the festival. They giggled their way through the haunted house with only one or two high-pitched shrieks that Bokuto would never admit to, no one could prove anything, ate an inadvisable amount of food on sticks, and caught the music club’s rock show.

“Well,” Kuroo said surveying the rows of booths, “there’s just one thing left to do.”

“Go for thirds of yakisoba?”

“Naw, man.” Kuroo wrinkled his nose at Bokuto. “Seriously, how do you have room? Are those arms of yours just filled with noodles? No, I am speaking, of course about festival games. Let’s go win some shitty prizes!”

“Well since you make it sound like such a good use of time and money,” Bokuto teased, already dragging Kuroo toward the games.

They both lost at the goldfish catching game and won some dinky keychains playing the ring toss. Suddenly Kuroo’s eyes lit up and he dragged Bokuto off to a booth that turned out to be a shooting game with air rifles.

“Sweet, I am great at these,” Kuroo declared confidently. “What do you want, Bo? I’ll win you something.”

Bokuto made a show of hemming and hawing, considering the prizes before Kuroo interrupted him with a thump on the shoulder.

“Too slow! I know what I’m gonna win you.”

Kuroo plunked down his hundred yen coins and raised the air rifle to his shoulder. It definitely looked like he knew what he was doing.

Kuroo had to hit three balloons of the same color to win. Just after his first successful shot, Bokuto noticed it. As Kuroo raised his arm to shoot, the sleeve of his loose t-shirt had fallen back to reveal part of Kuroo’s soul mark Bokuto hadn’t seen before. Several delicate paw prints were scattered on there, like a cat with ink on its paws had walked up his chest and right over the curve of Kuroo’s shoulder. His own hadn’t budged in ages, still just the one over his heart and some murky colors on his shoulder. Other guys on the team had way more by now, making Bokuto worry that his was somehow defective.

Kuroo had paused, lining up his next shot, and noticed him looking. “Oh yeah, they showed up last week. The day after we went to the movies.”

“Cool, cool, cool,” Bokuto murmured, his fingers hovering, itching to trace the lines. He wondered if the cat prints meant that Kuroo was connected to someone at Nekoma or if it meant something else entirely. Adults were always telling them not to drive themselves crazy trying to guess or interpret the designs but Bokuto couldn’t stop the whirling thoughts through his mind.

“Hey, dude! Snap out of it!” Kuroo startled him by booping him on the nose with something soft. Bokuto’s eyes crossed for a moment, trying to focus before Kuroo stepped by and handed him a plush volleyball, like the kind you’d win out of a UFO catcher. It was shockingly neon, pink and blue. “Is that perfect, or what?” Kuroo demanded with a cocky grin.

“It totally is, I love it!” Suddenly overcome with a burst of warmth in his chest, Bokuto tackle-hugged Kuroo.

“Ooof!” Kuroo complained but he was hugging back. “Ok, I guess I might be able to forgive you for missing my last, totally epic shot.”

“How about I kick your ass at Super Smash Bros and I’ll show you epic,” Bokuto laughed.

Kuroo released him from the hug with a thump on the back. “You’re on.”

A few days later Bokuto woke up to discover new dark lines, a large bird wing spreading out over his own shoulder. He sent Kuroo a picture and got a text back immediately.

Ok, now that’s epic. ^__^

Bokuto flicked the plushie volleyball that he had hung from the corkboard by his desk and went to get dressed with a huge smile on his face.

 

3

 

It was roughly nine o’clock by the time Bokuto finally started to feel like he was running out of steam. He wanted to spike more, especially against Kuroo’s blocks, but it had become more difficult once Akaashi had called it quits an hour ago. Admitting defeat, Bokuto plopped down on the gym floor, his head thrown back against the wall behind him as he caught his breath.

Kuroo joined him without question, out of breath when he spoke, “You brute, did you finally run out of stamina?”

“Yeah…” Bokuto groaned before he took a swig from his water bottle. “I blame the heat.”

Kuroo snorted. “Right, the heat.”

He ignored the mocking tone of Kuroo’s voice and rolled his eyes. The summer had been brutal, temperatures breaking record highs and humidity that had lasted through camp. It had to have some effect on him, unfortunately.

Then Kuroo sighed. “I think we missed dinner.”

“Oh, my bad.” Bokuto winced as he looked over at the clock in the gymnasium. He always lost track of time when he and Kuroo stayed late for extra practice. Though this summer training camp was different, their last camp, and Bokuto just hadn’t allowed himself to take it easy.

“You know,” Bokuto began, “it’s our last training camp together, so I wanna put in as much practice as I can.” Saying it out loud already made him feel a little nostalgic.

“Yeah, you’re right.”

Bokuto turned his gaze to Kuroo, who looked down at his hands with a soft smile. “And with you,” he blurted out.

The smile was gone, confusion now present in Kuroo’s features, “What?”

“Well, it’s just - we’ve spent all our training camps together for the past three years! It’s kind of weird knowing that we won’t be doing this next year.” Bokuto had spent far too many late nights thinking about this, trying to accept that it was his last training camp with his team and with Kuroo. Sometimes, it being his last camp with Kuroo weighed on his mind more than his team, and Bokuto couldn’t quite place why. He pulled his knees into his chest, pouting when Kuroo still fixed him with perplexed eyes. “Sorry, that was weird to say, huh?”

“What? No, I - I wasn’t really expecting it, that’s all.” Kuroo rubbed at the back of his neck before he elbowed Bokuto with a smile. “Hey, there’s still volleyball camps to look forward to in college, remember?”

Bokuto nodded absentmindedly, too focused on the arm that Kuroo nudged him with. He had noticed at the beginning of the camp that new markings had bloomed over Kuroo’s upper arm. It was pretty, colorful designs that swirled and tangled together just past his bicep. Finally getting a decent look at Kuroo’s arm, Bokuto realized once more that his and Kuroo’s marks looked rather different from each other. He ignored the pull on his heart.

“Dude, your mark’s grown since the last time I saw you.” Bokuto reached out; calloused fingers traced the pattern on Kuroo’s arm. “Why does yours grow so fast?”

Kuroo didn’t shake off Bokuto’s touch, but held up his own arm to press it against Bokuto’s, elbow to elbow. “Yours grew, too.”

Bokuto looked down at his own arm next to Kuroo’s, the pattern of his soulmate mark almost reaching his elbow now. For a while now, a question had lingered in the back of his head with every new addition to their marks; every time Bokuto thought about their marks slowly creeping closer to completion he felt anxious rather than all excited like in books and movies and stuff.

Kuroo flicked his forehead. “You look constipated, what’s wrong?”

With a yelp, Bokuto backed off and rubbed between his eyebrows, “I’ve been thinking -”

“Never a good thing.”

“Shut up, let me talk!” Bokuto grumbled over Kuroo’s chuckle. “Do you think we’ll meet our soulmates in college?” They’ll be meeting new people, going to new places; Bokuto has been thinking it’s bound to happen. He’s wanted to ask Kuroo, because he felt like Kuroo was the only one he could ask, but bringing it up suddenly has always felt awkward.

Kuroo shrugged, “Maybe.”

Maybe?”

“Dude, I don’t know.” Kuroo sighed. “We don’t even know where we’re going yet, or if we’ll end up at the same school. You’re gonna drive yourself nuts thinking about it.”

“Don’t you think about it?”

Kuroo stared at him for what felt like minutes, and when he finally opened his mouth to respond, another voice interrupted them.

“What are you two still doing here?”

Bokuto whipped his head around and saw Akaashi frowning at them from the doorway.

“Akaashi!” He was a little disappointed that Akaashi had walked in, and it furthered his curiosity in Kuroo’s answer.

Akaashi put his hands on his hips. “The coaches want to lock up for the night.”

“So you were sent to fetch us,” Kuroo smirked.

“Yes, Kuroo-san, because for some reason, they all think you and Bokuto-san listen to me, when the truth is you do things I tell you not to all the time. Like practicing through dinner.”

It was late, and Bokuto could already feel the heaviness in his limbs from today’s training. He knew his body couldn’t handle another hour of self-practice, even if he was dying to keep going at it. Faced with defeat once more, Bokuto rubbed the back of his head sheepishly and took the hand Akaashi was holding out to pull him up and helped Kuroo stand as well. They headed back together, and for the showers. Akaashi parted ways with them there.

He was showered and changed into a fresh pair of clothes before Kuroo decided to speak up. “I think about it.”

“What?”

“I think about it - meeting my soulmate.” Kuroo combed back his wet hair. “And that it could happen soon, especially since we’re heading into college.”

Bokuto flashed him a grin. “I knew you did. You’re such a romantic, after all.”

“Shut up.”

It wasn’t the first time he had thought about what kind of person Kuroo’s soulmate might be, if their marks looked similar or if they were even a good match for Kuroo. Kuroo had lots of sides after all, sometimes loud and sometimes sneaky and sometimes smart and serious, and it was really hard for Bokuto to imagine a person who would match so many different things.

Bokuto forced himself to shake it off, because that was silly. Of course your soulmate would be a good match! They’d probably be really great, because Kuroo was really great. “You know, whoever your person is, they’re pretty lucky to have you as their soulmate.”

Kuroo stared at him again, cheeks turning red before he punched Bokuto’s arm. “Stop saying such embarrassing shit!”

He laughed despite the pain. “I’m serious!”

“I know, so stop it!”

With Kuroo’s flaming cheeks and wet hair, he looked like an embarrassed, drowned cat. Bokuto chuckled and rubbed his sore arm from Kuroo’s attack. Wanting to avoid getting hit again, he dropped the subject. It wasn’t like them to have serious talks, anyway.

When Kuroo finished changing, they exited the showers together. Bokuto didn’t miss how their marked arms brushed against each other on the walk back to their rooms, reminding him of their earlier conversation. It still weighed heavy in his chest, and probably still would even when he and Kuroo were finally off at college.

Just because some soulmate was out there somewhere, being perfect for your best bro, didn’t mean a guy had to be totally happy about handing his best bro over.

 

4

 

Kuroo sighed as he turned away from handing his ramen ticket to the waitress and looked around for Bokuto. After a long week of classes and even tougher volleyball games, the only thing he wanted was to be able to sit down and rest with nothing to worry about except his best friend and a hot bowl of ramen. Even with going to the same school it felt like forever since they’d had any time to spend with each other that wasn’t full of the distractions of studying or practice.

“Tetsu!” The call of his name was loud, exaggerated, and Kuroo turned, along with a couple other people, to find Bokuto at one of the small tables near the window. It was clear he was trying not to be too excitable, though he didn’t quite manage, but the other patrons of the restaurant were mostly used to it, and besides the couple behind the counter, no one paid them any attention.

“Hey, Kou.” Kuroo dropped into the chair opposite Bokuto with a grunt of relief.

“Hey! How’s your day?”

Kuroo slumped down in his chair and smiled across the table at Bokuto. “Better now that I’m here. You?”

Waving a hand in the air, Bokuto made a nebulous noise, something Kuroo was used to hearing. He knew that Bokuto would come out with it in his own time, his mind too busy to avoid whatever he was thinking about for very long without saying something, but it was usually better if Bokuto talked it out quicker. Sometimes all he needed was a little push, and Kuroo intended on giving him exactly that, before he was distracted by the waitress bringing their food, and an unfamiliar flash of color when Bokuto reached for his bowl.

“Woah.” Reaching out, Kuroo wrapped his fingers around Bokuto’s wrist, pulling his arm down and holding him still. “You got more color!”

He pushed Bokuto’s sleeve up higher on his forearm, making it easy to see the new addition creeping out from beneath the fabric. The new colors were gorgeous, flushed bright against his skin, filling in the stark black lines of his tattoo that he’d been carrying around for weeks now. Kuroo couldn’t help caressing the filled-in section with a gentle touch, his thumb brushing over Bokuto’s skin; it was funny how it was still smooth, like nothing had changed at all.

Bokuto stayed still just long enough for Kuroo to get a decent look, then he pulled away with a laugh that sounded a little strained. He picked up his chopsticks and stuck them into his bowl even as he started to chatter. “Yeah, a couple days ago.” He paused to slurp a mouthful of noodles, waving the chopsticks in the air as he chewed his mouthful of food. “Anyway, that team we played the other day, I’m worried that our practices won’t pay off as well against them in a couple weeks. What do you think?”

Kuroo frowned at the abrupt subject change and picked up his own chopsticks. Something was definitely up. He hummed as he started to eat, giving serious thought to the question that Bokuto had asked. He thought over their last game, which they had just barely won against their neighboring university’s team. It had been a hard game, draining and fierce from start to finish, but they had played well. He smiled thinking about winning match point, when Bokuto had thrown one arm around Kuroo’s neck and pumped the other in the air as he hollered in rejuvenated excitement. Being on the same side of the net was one of Kuroo’s favorite things about college; that was worth the stress of it, Kuroo thought, glad for the reminder.

There were plenty of things their team could work on, though.

He said as much between mouthfuls of food, Bokuto considering his opinion and weighing in carefully, until they had a reasonable modification to their team practice to suggest at practice the next day. Finally done with that conversation, Kuroo sat his chopsticks on the top of his bowl and crossed his arms as he leaned back, gaze steady on Bokuto’s face. Bokuto, on the other hand, was keeping his concentration on his own bowl.

“So?” Kuroo asked. “What else is bugging you? Out with it.”

“Nothing.” The smile on Bokuto’s face was strained; Kuroo just stared as Bokuto kept on talking, voice falsely cheerful. “I’m just glad we got that all sorted out, that’s a relief!” He shoveled more food into his mouth, like if it was full enough he couldn’t be made to talk. Kuroo bided his time, watching and waiting. Bokuto raised his head after a long moment and looked at him uncertainly before heaving a sigh, poking at the bit of rice in the bottom of his bowl. “More colors. They’re like the whole way down now. There can’t be much more, right? So then...”

“Yeah,” Kuroo agreed. He’d been trying not to think about this too much himself. It was inevitable that both of them would get all the colors filled in, both find their soulmates, and the time is only drawing nearer the older they get. It was hard to think about it, the possibility of them not being as close, even though they shouldn’t have any problems with still being best friends. But it wasn’t going to help anything to share all this anxiety with Bokuto, that he was afraid of this person taking him away, that he was a little jealous of them already. Bokuto didn’t need any help getting himself all worked up over stuff like that.

Kuroo’s attention was drawn back by the sound of Bokuto setting his chopsticks down on his tray, fidgeting without anything to keep his hands busy and looking glumly down at his hands

Kuroo braced himself and grinned brightly. “That’s great! It'll be super exciting to meet them after all this wondering, you know.”

Bokuto smiled, tiny but more real than the fake grin he’d had before. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“I am. And I’m sure they'll be great.” He nodded to himself, and seeing the lingering bit of doubt in Bokuto’s eyes, continued. “We’ll still be best friends, anyway. It would be silly not to. And if it’s someone you really like, I will too, obviously.”

And that seemed to work, because Bokuto finally relaxed back in his chair. “I guess I’m a little excited. Wouldn’t it be great if our soulmates were best friends too? Then we could all be best friends!”

He laughed, and Kuroo couldn’t help but smile, Bokuto’s easy excitement contagious. “It would be great, because I hope they haven’t been alone either.” They’re probably scared too, probably just as confused about how to turn into an adult, and just thinking that makes Kuroo feel more sympathetic towards their future mystery friend. He really hopes they do have a best friend, so they don’t have to worry about any of this alone.

And then Bokuto was bouncing up to take their dishes to the counter. Kuroo got another look at the colors on his skin as he brushes past in the narrow aisle, and the still blankness of his own arm, winter pale on the inside, as he dropped a napkin on the tray in Bokuto’s hands.

He was still a little distracted by his own thoughts, but he felt better too, determined to work as hard as he had to make sure they stayed best friends, no matter what happened.

 

5

 

“I’m home!” Kuroo called out from the entry way, kicking off his office shoes and wiggling his cramped toes. It still felt a little strange, but after three weeks he was getting used to it. He hadn’t accidentally gotten on the wrong train at his transfer even once all week, so he supposed that was progress. Their apartment wasn’t glamorous, but it was close to Bokuto’s pro team practices, and now that Kuroo’s job had taken him on full time, the rent wasn’t much of an issue either.

He still didn’t feel like an adult, but Kuroo had started to suspect in the last six months that nobody ever felt like an adult and everybody else was just faking it too. His wrist itched whenever he started thinking like that, which Kuroo took to mean his soulmate suffered from the same complex.

“Welcome back!” Bokuto called from their couch, just around the corner. He was deeply involved in a video game when Kuroo padded by, tongue stuck out in concentration and hair lit in oranges from explosions; it was still damp, which meant that Bokuto probably hadn’t gotten home from practice much earlier than Kuroo had.

Changed into sweatpants and a faded Nekoma T-shirt, Kuroo flopped down next to Bokuto on the couch with a sigh of relief. “Did you eat?”

“Yeah, team went out. How’s office life?” Bokuto asked, eyes still glued to the TV’s screen.

“The usual.” Kuroo shrugged. “I fixed a monster copier jam. My section head bought me lunch because we didn’t have to call the repair company again. Pulled out a paper wad the size of my fist.”

“Epic!” Bokuto laughed. “Conditioning was fine too. You wanna hop in? I’ll restart.”

“Nah, keep going,” Kuroo said, eyes tired from staring at his office computer and not feeling up to concentrating on another screen just yet. They lapsed into comfortable silence, the sag of their couch making Kuroo lean gently into Bokuto’s side so that their shoulders touched, and their knees when Bokuto bounced his in impatience sometimes.

Kuroo’s gaze drifted down to Bokuto’s hands, clicking busily away at the controller, big enough to almost cup the thing as it vibrated in his grip. The lines of his tattoo were dark, although the colors hadn’t spread that far yet, the whole way down to his knuckles these days, fading as they spilled down his fingers. It was unusual for a mark to reach someone’s fingertips, most people’s ending on the back of their hand, but Kuroo thought that it made sense for Bokuto who always had to learn by doing and always wanted to touch everything. He tried to keep from thinking about how close Bokuto’s tattoo must be to done, compared to his own that faded into incompletion just at the bend of his wrist. But he couldn’t help how often his eyes were drawn to Bokuto’s lines, when he drank protein shakes in the morning or reached for his toes to stretch on the floor or like now, strong fingers flexing in effort against the slick plastic of the controller.

Kuroo reached over to poke Bokuto’s bicep with a fingertip, the touch casual, tracing one of Bokuto’s dark, branching lines down along the outside of his arm until it was out of Kuroo’s reach.

“Found another box,” Bokuto spoke up, drawing Kuroo’s attention back up to his face. “Was in the closet, behind the vacuum. Gotta be the last one.”

Another one?” Kuroo groaned. They’d had a policy of unpacking at least one box a night after moving in and it had still taken two weeks. “What was in it?”

“Dunno!” Bokuto finished his round with a grunt of satisfaction and tossed the controller on the couch beside him. “I saved it for when you were home.”

“Thanks so much,” Kuroo grumbled, but let Bokuto grab him by the wrist and heave him to his feet.

The box was still sitting in front of the closet; Bokuto hefted it up with a grunt and sat it on their kitchen table. It wasn’t labeled, and Kuroo tried to think of something that they were still missing but couldn’t. They’d found Bokuto’s missing weights wrapped in some spare towels, and Kuroo’s missing textbooks were in the middle of a box of summer clothes, forcing them to apologize for calling Kenma a baby when he complained about the weight of the box of ‘just clothes.’

“Is this yours or mine?” Kuroo asked.

“One way to find out!” Bokuto worked his fingers under one flap of the box and yanked the tape up in one motion. “Oh, bro!”

“What?” Kuroo leaned over to peer in the box. Inside was a confusing jumble of stuff, including a tangled extension cord and an incredibly out-of-date issue of Shounen Jump. “Well, that’s yours.”

“Yeah,” Bokuto laughed, starting to pull stuff out. “It’s the last box from my room at home. You know how at the end you just have a bunch of stuff you throw in a box? Guess I never unpacked it from that last place, and just moved it again. Catch!”

Kuroo snorted as Bokuto extracted a small stuffed volleyball and tossed it at Kuroo’s head, the obnoxious blue and pink color scheme familiar. “I can’t believe you kept this,” he chuckled, rolling it over in his hands.

“Course I did! You won it for me. Hey, look at these.” Bokuto pulled a fistful of photographs out from the bottom of the box, some of them with curling edges, half of them stuck together with the tape residue on the backs.

“The ones from your mirror? Aww,” Kuroo cooed at the picture of Bokuto with his arm around Akaashi’s shoulders, Akaashi wearing his Fukurodani jacket for the first time. He carefully peeled it up from the picture underneath it and found one of him and Bokuto at training camp, cheeks puffed out in a watermelon seed spitting contest. The whole pile was like that, a mix of important moments and mundane, all the faces familiar, most of the hair hilarious.

Kuroo set the pictures aside, out of harm’s way, as Bokuto finished emptying the box. The last items were a pile of brackets and screws for a lamp Bokuto hadn’t owned in years, and Bokuto happily dropped them right in their kitchen trash can.

“Know what this means?” Bokuto asked, dusting his hands off. “We’re officially moved in! Home sweet home, right?” He held up his hand for a high five.

“Absolutely,” Kuroo agreed, grinning, slapping his palm against Bokuto’s hard enough for it to sting. Bokuto shoved at him, palm to palm, and Kuroo shoved back. It turned into a two-handed grapple, both of them laughing and cursing as they bruised hips against the edge of the table and stumbled back into the countertop. “Hey! Ow, quit it, you…”

Kuroo cut off as he looked down at their joined hands. Bokuto had laced his finger through Kuroo to get a better grip, his longer fingers all but covering the back of Kuroo’s hand. Where Kuroo’s tattoo faded into nothing, the lines seemed to pour down off Bokuto’s fingers right into it.

“Kou?” Kuroo asked, voice quiet because he couldn’t get any air into his lungs. He felt like he was going crazy, like he could only clutch at Bokuto’s hand tight enough to turn his fingers white.

“What?” Bokuto wanted to know, head tilted. Kuroo twisted their hand around to show Bokuto the other side. For the longest second of Kuroo’s life, Bokuto still didn’t see it, and then his eyes went wide all at once. “WHOA! Whoa, really? I mean...do you think…” Bokuto trailed off, squinting anxiously at Kuroo’s expression.

“Do you?” Kuroo asked. His heart was racing, half with excitement and half with terror that he had to get this exactly right. “Did you ever think, you know, about us?”

“Uh-huh.” Bokuto dropped his eyes to the kitchen floor. “I used to all the time. But I made myself stop, because you’re my best friend and that’s the most important thing.” Kuroo reached with his free hand to cup Bokuto’s jaw, forcing him to look back up at him. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s the most important thing,” Kuroo answered. Hearing Bokuto say he’d thought about it too, the tightness in his chest loosened in relief like a stubborn shoelace coming undone. “But I still really want to kiss you right now. Can I?”

Bokuto nodded, expression so serious that Kuroo had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Palm still cupping Bokuto’s cheek, Kuroo stepped forward into Bokuto’s space and fit their mouths together carefully, still a little afraid that if it didn’t go perfectly it would all go up in smoke. Their joined hands were caught between their chests, and Kuroo was glad for something to hold on to, for the tightness of Bokuto’s grip. Kuroo’s eyes fluttered shut, and Bokuto’s mouth against his was warm and still, as if he was holding his breath too, but sweet.

When Kuroo pulled back, Bokuto’s eyes were wide, as if he’d never closed them. Kuroo chuckled at him, feeling like the weight of his secret was suddenly gone from his shoulders.

“Oh man,” Bokuto breathed, giving one slow blink. “Can we do that again?”

“Yeah.” Kuroo let go of Bokuto’s hand to wrap arms arms around his neck properly, finally. He kissed Bokuto like sealing a promise. “Anytime you want.” Kuroo felt Bokuto’s hands settle on his hips briefly before sliding the whole way around his waist. “As much as you want.”

Awesome,” Bokuto said. He squeezed Kuroo in a hug so tight that Kuroo gasped a laugh, his bare feet coming off the floor for a second. “You’re the best.”

“We’re the best,” Kuroo corrected, which, in hindsight, was definitely something he’d known all along.