After the truck has been fully unloaded and the movers have left, Kageyama turns to Kenma and offers him a sugary-pastel paper bag. Kenma recognizes the name, a famous sweets shop in Sendai that Coach Nekomata used to visit during their trips up north. It’s already been a year since they graduated, but Taketora still texts him about the chocolate wafers.
“Um.” Kageyama clears his throat. “I’ll probably be around a lot, so please keep me in your favor.”
Shouyou pokes his head out from where he’s been pushing boxes around in his bedroom, curiosity shifting into excitement when he notices the bag. “You got him those roll cake things?”
“No, it’s just that my mom says gifts should come in nice bags.”
“Way to get a guy’s hopes up,” Shouyou says with a playful smirk before disappearing again. After a moment, the sound of tape being pulled from boxes drifts into the living room.
Kenma takes the bag from Kageyama, opening it to reveal a plastic bag from an electronics store tossed inside, and then within that bag a nice set of headphones. He carefully avoids looking at the receipt that Kageyama’s forgotten to throw away. “Thanks,” he says softly, looking back up. “I don’t really use headphones, but I guess I’ve never really had a roommate before.”
Kageyama nods. “I have a pair that I use when I go running sometimes. They’re noise-cancelling.” His eyes flicker to Shouyou’s bedroom door before he returns his attention to not-quite-Kenma’s-eyes. “I’ll… probably be around a lot,” he says again. At least he has the decency to look embarrassed this time.
“Tobio!” Shouyou calls, and they both turn their heads at the sound of his voice. “How long did it take to unpack your room again? I bet we can do mine faster!”
“Yeah, well, if some dumbass cheater hadn’t been so distracting it would’ve taken half the time,” Kageyama snaps, stomping toward the bedroom.
“It’s not cheating because you’re allowed to do it, too!” The rest of the conversation is muffled after Kageyama slides the door shut behind him.
Sighing, Kenma looks around at the living room full of boxes, stacked tall and dense like a cardboard forest, but he takes his new headphones out of their packaging first. Just in case.
It’s only been a few hours, but Kenma is already considering getting replacements for when these headphones inevitably wear out. He can’t hear much over the phone game music blaring in his ears, but he knows with depressing certainty that the rhythmic thumping that shakes the wall between their bedrooms has nothing to do with unpacking.
There are four spare keys in existence relevant to Kenma: Kuroo and Kageyama each have a key to Kenma and Shouyou’s place, Shouyou to Kageyama’s, and Kenma to the extravagant full-floor condo Kuroo shares with Bokuto. Kenma hadn’t even wanted to deal with spare keys in the first place; the idea that someone can just appear in his space unannounced makes him incredibly uneasy.
“But I used to do it all the time,” Kuroo reasons.
“And I hated every second of it.”
Kuroo clicks his tongue and shakes his head, full of pity, as if he knows some grand truth Kenma doesn’t.
Two weeks have passed since they moved into the new apartment, the last of the stray boxes pushed along the walls. Kuroo’s brought a jumbo tin of gaudily logoed cookies to share. They’re a weak peace offering from the part-time job and “delicious cash” that he’d chosen (disloyally, mercilessly) over helping his childhood friend lift heavy things and endure a new couple on their own for the first time.
Kuroo occupies most of the couch, arms and legs and giant personality spread from end to end. Kageyama looks tiny and demure next to him, tucked politely against the arm rest, his legs open only wide enough to fit Shouyou on the floor between them. Even so, he seems relaxed, his fingers curling and uncurling unconsciously in Shouyou’s hair. Kenma has to remind himself that it’s not cute, because he doesn’t want to encourage young love and their consequent space-sharing of any kind.
“Why’d you even move in together anyway?” Kuroo asks Kenma. “Even though you said no to moving in with us last year.” It’s not hurt or accusatory. Sometimes he just likes to hear himself talk.
Shouyou and Kageyama turn toward Kenma in unison, awaiting his response. Kenma shrugs, rearranges himself in his seat at the kitchen table; it’s complicated, kind of, but it’s also simple. “Because Shouyou asked.” Shouyou beams, and Kageyama nods solemnly like he understands (he probably does).
“Hm,” Kuroo hums, but he doesn’t press the issue further. “Actually,” he says, perking up and turning a shrewd eye to the pair sitting next to him. He smiles pleasantly, and they straighten in their seats, still too earnest and not quite used to Kuroo’s… Kuroo-ness. “Why aren’t you two living together?” It’s the delicate kind of question that you probably aren’t supposed to ask a couple, but Kuroo’s the undelicate kind of person who can barrel right through social niceties without a hint of remorse.
Kenma knows the answer, of course. He’d asked Shouyou the same thing when he’d received the overjoyed text about how he and Kageyama both passed the entrance exam for the school they were scouted by, and that means they’re moving to Tokyo, and that means he and Kenma have to be roommates.
To Hinata Shouyou:
You don’t want to live with Kageyama?
From Hinata Shouyou:
I do but we’re still kind of new you know? I don’t know how to ask and I don’t want to mess this up and what if I forget to do the laundry one day or he hates the way I wash the dishes or like the curtains I pick out are ugly and he decides to break up with me??
Kenma knows that it’s only been a few months at this point, after an apparently eye-opening winter break, but he also knows how hopelessly obsessed (in love) with each other they are, have been since their first year of high school. Kenma had probably had it figured out long before the two of them even knew it for themselves.
Shouyou and Kageyama tuck their heads down and blush in unison, everything in unison. (Not cute at all, Kenma thinks.) There’s a suspended moment of silence, and surprisingly, it’s Kageyama who breaks it. “We will, someday.”
It’s quiet, but he says it with such steady confidence that “someday” may as well be next month; they all hear the forever he doesn’t say in so many words, ringing in the air so loud that Kenma almost wants to cover his ears. Even moving in together at some far-off “someday” is minuscule in the face of forever.
Shouyou doesn’t say anything, just leans his head back into the base of the couch, tilting it to rest against one of Kageyama’s knees. Kageyama’s fingers find Shouyou’s hair again, stroking softly.
Shouyou’s hand curls itself loosely around Kageyama’s ankle. “Someday,” he echoes, and the room suddenly feels a little softer, warmer. He seems at peace. Kenma thinks he might be, too.
“Someday” basically does mean next month, and now that Kenma knows for sure, he’s feeling much less charitable about it.
It’s not like Kageyama’s particularly hard to have around. It’s the opposite, in fact. As much of a terror he is on the other side of a net, he’s a good kid, mostly, who’s still learning how to trust himself with his words. Shouyou gets the worst of it, all unfiltered, though Kenma imagines he also gets the best of it (mostly behind closed doors, not that it does much good either way). With everyone else, he tries to be polite and remember his manners.
“Sorry for the intrusion,” comes a voice from the genkan, followed by the clunk of the closing door and the rustle of an eco-bag accompanying it. Laces being untied and shoes plopping to the ground, some padding footsteps, and then Kageyama appears. “Kozume-san. Good afternoon.”
Kenma nods wordlessly from his seat at the kitchen table and glances at his PSP, sliding the volume down in case Kageyama is feeling chatty. (He usually isn’t, but Shouyou almost always is, so he does it out of habit now. Adapting in these little ways isn’t as bothersome as Kenma had thought it’d be.)
Kageyama sets to work putting groceries away in the kitchen, and Kenma lets his game character stand around the plains as he observes. There’s a big carton of the milk that Kageyama likes, and then a smaller carton of the milk that Kenma takes in his coffee. The chewy snacks that Shouyou gnaws on when he’s trying to memorize vocab words at the kitchen table, the beef and vegetables for the stir fry they’d decided to eat for dinner tonight, some protein drinks and a bottle of apple tea, half a dozen chocolate bars to replenish the stock that Shouyou had “accidentally” decimated when they all visited Kuroo and Bokuto last weekend.
As undeniably book-and-logic-stupid as both Kageyama and Shouyou are (he says this out of love, he truly does), they both put in the effort when it’s something that matters to them. It’s nice that it matters enough to Kageyama that he’s memorized who likes what in his small circle of friends in Tokyo.
And it’s nice, Kenma supposes, that they even consider each other friends now.
Over the years, Kageyama has gone through many phases in Kenma’s consciousness: the scary Karasuno setter; Kageyama, the scary Karasuno setter that his friend Shouyou is obsessed with; Kageyama, the Karasuno setter who’s mutually obsessed with his friend Shouyou; Kageyama, the guy that his friend Shouyou is in love with and who loves him back but they’re too clueless to realize it; Kageyama, his friend Shouyou’s boyfriend (finally); Kageyama, his roommate Shouyou’s boyfriend.
Kageyama, his friend.
Kageyama (his friend) takes the chair across the table. He scoots a meat bun toward Kenma and stares carefully at a corner of the room. “Sorry again for last night.” He sneaks a glance up, a light blush streaking his cheeks. Kenma resists the urge to turn the volume all the way back up on his PSP.
It’s not okay. They eat at this table. But at least the tablecloth in question is sitting in the bag of burnables waiting for trash day, and Kageyama’s sworn on every ancestor’s grave that he won’t leave his boyfriend, naked and blindfolded, out where other people can find him.
Kageyama gives him a small smile before he tilts to one side to pull a nail file from his back pocket. Kenma keeps the volume down but returns fully to his game, finding some wandering foes in the tall grass to continue his level grinding. Feverish clinks and thwacks are replaced with the stilted scritch-scratch of already perfect nails. Between baddies, Kenma tears the meat bun in two and leaves the bigger half in the wrapper, sliding it back toward Kageyama.
Kageyama blinks at it, and then he mumbles a “thank you”, pausing in his motions just long enough to pick it up and bite lightly into a corner. Using just his lips and teeth, he maneuvers the meat bun into his mouth bit by bit, and the scritch-scratch of his nail file continues.
Kenma smirks, and nibbles, and wanders toward a save point because this is a moment in time that he wants to keep.
Kenma doesn’t come all that often, but he’s there enough that the people on the team know who he is. When he arrives at the gym that night, he takes his usual seat near the back of the stands, and no one seems to notice him because there’s nothing unusual to see. He prefers it this way.
Kuroo notices, though, when he’s trotting to the back of the line for another spike. He grins and waves, like a family member’s come to visit him. Kenma lifts his hand in response and tries not to dwell on why that thought upsets him so much.
It had taken all of two texts from Kuroo his freshman year of college to convince Kenma that his volleyball career would end in high school. Kenma, I’m gonna die, he’d been told sometime during what must have been a very life-threatening first practice. He hadn’t gotten the response to his response until the next morning: Sorry, I just saw your text, passed out as soon as I got home.
So. That had settled that.
Kenma’s always liked watching, though. He watches the team run defense drills, the burly assistant coach standing on a step stool near the net, sending balls to all ends of the court; the players are worked through the dangerous dance of getting the ball to the right place, keeping their energy up, and dodging each other. He watches the second-string setter, someone he might have a class or two with, whose subtle play style people might read as similar to Kenma’s. They’d see that they were wrong, of course, if only they looked more carefully — this guy is less calculating, more aggressive, switching easily to instinct because ultimately he likes it better than strategy.
Kenma watches Kuroo, now officially an upperclassman. Kuroo gets to make the incoming freshmen feel like they’re going to die, but he also gets to show them the joy of pulling something off that they hadn’t been able to before. He looks happy, encouraging and attentive, passionate and alive. Kenma’s glad that he still gets to see this, Kuroo in his element, like a volleyball court is the playing field that gives his powers the biggest boost.
Maybe when Kuroo’s much, much older, he’ll stand a little shorter, their backs curved to match, and he’ll teach kids volleyball while Kenma watches from the stands. He’ll no longer have any reason to use his powers, decades of hard-earned wins and losses tallied in wrinkles around his eyes. But Kenma will know that those powers are still there, simply lying dormant, because the time they’ve spent together with volleyball can’t be taken away from them.
As always, Kenma gets invited to dinner because his observations always give the team things to work on (“Kuroo can come, I guess”). They stay for as long as Kenma has the energy for it, which isn’t very long, because he knows them and they know him but it’s still a lot of people he’s not quite used to. Kuroo catches his eye and immediately rises from his seat, his long fingers wrapping around Kenma’s elbow to tug him up with him. He thanks his teammates for treating the both of them to dinner, and he snickers as the other upperclassmen yell at their retreating backs that he’s buying for everyone next time.
Long after they’ve said goodbye and Kenma’s stepped off the subway, waving to Kuroo as the doors close between them, his elbow still feels warm.
“We have to do it. If you find all the Easter eggs in the park, they let you be Egg King. We could be Egg Kings together!”
“That can’t be right. A thousand people would be Egg King every day if that were the case. There is only one Egg Throne. There can only be one Egg King.”
“There can be as many Egg Kings as I want!”
“Who made you Egg God, dumbass?”
“You know what, let’s ask Kenma.” A slight change in volume as the conversation turns toward the kitchen table. “I’m right, right?! Tobio should take me to the Egg Hunt and then we can be the Egg Kings together.”
“More like an Egg Jester.” (“Oi!”) “Kozume-san, don’t listen to him. You’re smarter than that.”
“Hey, he’s smarter than you, too! Plus, Kuroo-san works at an amusement park.”
“That doesn’t mean Kozume-san knows the answer.”
Kenma knows the answer. There is no such thing as an Egg King. “Kuro works at a different amusement park,” he says instead. He lifts his gaze from his textbook to narrow his eyes at the pair. They’ve somehow had this entire debate sitting as one mass on the couch, Shouyou’s back to Kageyama’s chest, all their limbs tangled together in front of them like messy crab legs. “You’re being noisy. Leave me alone.” He turns back to his book. They’ll be heading into Shouyou’s room soon enough.
“See,” Kageyama hisses at exactly the same volume as his speaking voice.
“Whatever,” Shouyou hisses back sulkily, as if he’d actually lost the non-argument they were having.
“… we can go, if you want. It’s till the end of the month, right?”
“Really? Thanks, Tobio! You’re the best.”
A wordless, embarrassed-but-pleased murmur.
“Ah, but don’t be mad when we go and you find out I’m right.”
“Hinata.” Half annoyed, half amused.
“You know who else would know? Tsukishima. They’ve got that dinosaur area in the park so he’s probably an expert.”
“Hinata.” Softer this time.
“And he’ll be like ‘yeah Hinata you’re totally right, I misjudged you all this time, you’re actually a genius.’”
“And then the two of us will agree on everything ever and that’s as good as the truth.”
“Shouyou…” The sound of lips pressed against skin.
“Ah…” It’s somewhere between a whisper and a gasp. This isn’t the quiet Kenma wanted, but he can’t say that he didn’t see it coming. “I know you’re trying to win. Don’t think you can just use my first name and… Stop, not there, you know… ah, s-stop… you know I’m sensitive there…”
Kenma curls further into his reading, his eyes planted firmly on the page as he reaches for his headphones.
There’s a running list things Kenma has to get used to in the new apartment. Getting used to things is something people do out of necessity and not because they want to, but Shouyou always seems so joyful and Kageyama really is a good kid and together they keep Kenma’s life relatively interesting, so he finds himself almost (almost) happy to make concessions for them.
He knows he’ll get used to coming home from class to find Kageyama doing fingertip push-ups on the living room floor, but right now he’s shirtless and Kenma doesn’t like it. It’s not as if Kageyama’s terrible to look at (most athletes aren’t, and Kageyama’s grown into an especially effective communion of long limbs and hard muscle that would make anyone who cares envious, and specific redheads horny). But as nice as this is to watch in theory, Kenma feels almost guilty about seeing Shouyou’s shirtless boyfriend and Shouyou’s shirtless boyfriend’s muscles shifting under his skin. Then he feels annoyed that he even has to feel almost-guilty in the first place, because it wouldn’t be a problem if Kageyama remembered that he has his own apartment he can shirtlessly work out in.
“Put on a shirt, maybe?” Kenma suggests, not bothering to hide his irritation.
Tall, Dark, Handsome, and Clueless just stops where he is, halfway into a push-up, arms straining. He bends his knees to the floor and pushes himself back onto his heels, looking up, clearly confused.
“There’s less sweat to clean up from the floor if you’re wearing a shirt,” Kenma explains. Kageyama’s not as socially inept as he used to be (and wow, is Kenma grateful for that), but sometimes practical logic still works best on him.
Kageyama blinks. “Oh. That makes sense.” He graciously picks up his t-shirt from where he’d thrown it onto the couch, inspects it briefly to find the holes for his head and arms, and pulls it back on in one fluid motion.
Kenma drops his backpack onto the kitchen table and toes around Kageyama to find a spot on the couch, plugging his phone in to charge. Watching Kageyama work through some stretches, he fleetingly considers making a blanket rule about remaining fully clothed in the living room and kitchen area. But they haven’t seen the summer in this apartment yet, and he doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of undershirts in case it gets too muggy and gross.
If nothing else, he knows that naked exercising won’t be a problem anymore. That’s another nice thing about Kageyama — even if Kenma has to suffer, Kageyama listens. He never has to suffer through the same thing twice.
Kenma’s in the middle of a puzzle battle when he feels the couch dip next to him. Kageyama’s hair is damp, a towel around his shoulders, and he’s in a fresh t-shirt, one of the ones he wears to sleep sometimes. Kenma hates that he knows this, but some unremarkable winter day a few months back, Shouyou had wanted to prove (needlessly) that he and Kageyama were having their first sleepover together as a couple!! but not like that yet haha I’ll let you know, and he’d sent an unprompted, unwanted photo of Kageyama curled up in Shouyou’s bed, in this shirt. Kenma sees the shirt regularly now, whenever it shows up in their laundry bin. (He wishes he could unsee that first photo, or maybe the follow-up some weeks later, a shot of Kageyama curled up in Shouyou’s bed, conspicuously without said shirt. He has yet to find much luck on this front.)
Maybe they can make a rule where just Kageyama has to stay fully dressed at all times. You only get to be shirtless in the common areas of this apartment if you pay rent here. Yes, that’ll do.
(Kageyama will probably offer to pay rent, just to spite him.)
“What should we do for Shouyou’s birthday?” Kageyama asks, ruffling the towel through his hair.
Kenma looks back down at the screen, tallying up how much attack power his party members have left between them. Thank goodness all of these characters wear shirts. “‘We’? You want me to come?”
He’d figured that they would disappear for a sexy weekend like they do sometimes, Shouyou showing up again on a Sunday night, happy and spent, his neck an obscene pageant of hickeys rising up from his shirt collar all the way to his jaw. Kenma might look toward the hallway like he did the first time, waiting for the other half of the duo to come in, and Shouyou might notice, grinning suggestively.
“I begged Tobio to give me a break because he took and took all weekend and I can’t take anymore.”
Kenma frowns. “Isn’t this conversation against the terms of the lease? Do I finally get to kick you out?”
Shouyou’s delighted laughter echoes in Kenma’s head now as Kageyama eyes him quietly, running the towel through his bangs one last time. They stay there, sticking out in a jumbled mess.
“Why wouldn’t we want you to come? You should be there to celebrate with us.” Kageyama smooths his bangs down unconsciously as he tries to make sense of Kenma’s response. “You’re his best friend.”
There it is, Kenma realizes, not for the first time. That’s the real reason Kenma puts up with all of this, all of the things he notices but wishes he didn’t, all of the oversharing he never asked for, all of their absurd little arguments and open displays of affection for each other. It’s because they’re never not totally honest and upfront with him when it matters. It’s because they treat him as a friend who’s earned and will always be given their full trust and respect. It’s because with them, what he sees is what he gets. He never has to worry that they’re holding back or not saying what they mean, or making their relationship with him more complicated than it needs to be.
Sometimes people look at Kenma with their minds already made up, and they judge him before they even try to get to know him. He has a small tally of the people in his life who’ve never done that to him; both Shouyou and Kageyama make the cut.
“You’re his best friend.” And there’s nothing more or less to it than that.
“I guess so.”
Kageyama nods. As long as Kenma acknowledges it.
They ultimately decide on a day trip to Yokohama, because it has “that Chinatown with the curry buns”, Kageyama says with exaltation and a glimmer of drool at the corner of his mouth, and because Kenma had heard from Kuroo who’d heard from Tsukishima that Shouyou once referred to Yokohama and Kanagawa as separate “prefectures”. Kenma tries to catch Kageyama’s eye so they can share a conspiratorial chuckle at the expense of the boy they both adore. What he finds instead is Kageyama staring back at him with a carefully neutral expression on his face.
Kageyama opens his mouth.
“Please,” he whispers urgently, interrupting. “Please don’t say anything.” He doesn’t need this level of honesty. Shouyou not knowing is already enough; he can’t handle the both of them failing at such basic geography. How did they even get into college?
Kageyama closes his mouth and nods slowly, and Kenma lets out a slow, not-quite-relieved sigh.
Kuroo’s employee perks don’t make admission any cheaper, but it does make it easier for Kenma to agree to come along in the first place. Kuroo knows when all of the most popular rides are the least busy, and he knows which walking routes to take to best avoid crowds.
It helps that they’ve picked a weekday in the middle of the rainy season. Heavy rain had been in the forecast, but the worst they’ll be getting is overcast skies, which means all of the rides will still be open. Combined with the glorious lack of people, they’ve managed to land on the ideal day for this trip (as ideal as an amusement park outing can be for Kenma, at any rate).
Shouyou tugs Kageyama ahead with their arms linked, nearly bursting with excitement. Kageyama lets himself be tugged, relaxed and content, scanning the area around them with curious eyes.
“Bets on how long it takes Shrimpy to break something?” Kuroo asks with a sly glance as they follow a few paces behind.
“I don’t like this bet,” Kenma mutters.
They had spent the night at Kuroo and Bokuto’s, because Kuroo’s the one with the car to get here and the park maps needed for their strategizing. In the end, this is what they settle on: they’ll head into a deeper section of the park with the popular areas first, zigzag through the side attractions that most “laypeople” (Kuroo had said with affected omniscience) always overlook, and then do one final walk around the perimeter for any last ride-agains.
Kenma is undecided on whether he likes the big thrill rides. Any chance to sit down after walking and standing for extended periods of time is welcome, but there’s so much walking and standing involved to even get to the sitting down. Plus, they aren’t the most comfortable seats. Then again, people probably don’t come to amusement parks to feel comfortable.
He’d felt a different kind of discomfort when Shouyou and Kageyama had taken the guest bedroom the previous night, forcing Kenma to sleep in Kuroo’s room for the first time in… maybe ever. Back when they were younger, they would always just return to their own homes at the end of the night, and since Kuroo’s graduation (and especially since Kenma’s), the guest bedroom in the condo had essentially become Kenma’s room whenever he visited.
That night, though, Kuroo had led him inside and asked him if he wanted the spare futon, which had been… weird. Alarmingly so. Why had it even been a question? With anyone else, he would have brought it out automatically. Caught off guard, Kenma hadn’t been sure what the right answer was.
“If it’s too much work,” Kenma says after a moment, “we can share your bed.” His voice is odd and scratchy, grating in his ears, and he can feel his heartbeat twittering in his chest. He doesn’t say out loud that he trusts Kuroo, because then they’d have to acknowledge that there’s something between them that requires trust if they’re going to spend a night in the same bed.
Kuroo grins. “Thanks. Less laundry to do.” But then he stands and watches, looming quietly as Kenma crawls under covers that smell too much like Kuroo, making a feeble attempt at the truly impossible task of getting comfortable in Kuroo’s bed.
Kenma squirms deeper into the mattress for a bit and huffs out a sigh. “Okay.”
Kuroo slowly crawls in, leaving several centimeters between them, but he’s so warm and present that Kenma feels like he’s suffocating anyway.
They fall asleep, somehow, and Kenma only knows this because he wakes up with one of Kuroo’s arms draped along his side, his fingers wrapping around Kenma’s back. Kenma’s arms are curled between them, his head tucked so far into Kuroo’s nest of pillows that he worries briefly they’ll end up with matching hair for the day. But then Kuroo’s hand flexes, and he sleepily drags Kenma in closer, almost needy. Kenma lets himself be pressed flush against Kuroo’s heat, his fingers instinctively clutching at Kuroo’s shirt.
When Kuroo stirs and stretches several minutes later, Kenma does the same. They open their eyes and come to the silent agreement that they’ll pretend they hadn’t already been awake.
They make it as far as the first ice cream stand on the east side of the park before all their plans fall apart. The bumper car rink comes into view, and Shouyou and Kageyama stop short, share a heated glance, and sprint out of sight before Kenma can even process what’s happened.
“Well then,” Kuroo says with a smirk.
“Come on,” Kenma sighs, walking back toward the unoccupied bench he’d spotted nearby. Wordless war cries sound in the distance. “We’re going to be here a while.”
They don’t often have visitors. It might be Shouyou’s way of being courteous, or it might just be that he’s one of those puppies who insists on dragging his also-puppy boyfriend around to sniff at all the sights and sounds of Tokyo outside of these four walls. Kenma’s glad for it, whatever the case, and quietly grateful that any visitors they do have are at least people he knows.
“No, stay there!” Shouyou says in a rush when Kenma starts to get up from the couch. Kenma slowly settles back into the seat, his eyes following Shouyou as he wipes down the kitchen table for the third time. Fourth time. Scrubs at a stain that isn’t there. “At least stick around to say hello when they get here. We’ll be out of your hair soon anyway.”
“Shouyou.” Shouyou jerks to a stop, not looking up. He needs gentleness now; Kenma tries to be gentle. “Are you… nervous? Aren’t they your friends?”
A warped giggle slips from Shouyou’s lips, and he turns his head sharply, smile not quite reaching his eyes. “They are my friends!” he blurts, and hesitates. Kenma waits for him to continue. “But… this is the first time anyone from the old team’s coming by, and it’s already been a few months, and… I don’t know. We’re supposed to be adults now, but I still feel like a kid.”
“But maybe that’s okay,” Kenma reasons. “If you’re still the way you were in high school. They liked you then, right?” Shouyou nods slowly. “Plus, it’s only been a few months. I doubt anyone’s changed that much.”
Shouyou seems to process this. Then he smiles for real. “Thanks, Kenma. I don’t know why I get nervous sometimes.” He tilts his head in thought. “Change is weird,” he laughs, almost to himself, folding the rag he’d been using and depositing it next to the sink. “I wish there were some guarantee that change won’t mess up all the good things in our lives.”
Kenma can understand that. Status quo is comfortable. “But sometimes change makes things better.”
Shouyou looks at him quietly. After a moment, he grins and nods, his eyes bright. “Well, that’s definitely true.”
There’s the telltale jingle of Kageyama’s keys at the door, and then they hear a gruff “come in” followed by a low-medium-high chorus of “sorry for the intrusion”. “Sorry for the intrusion,” Kageyama echoes after them, louder to announce their arrival, and Shouyou sock-slides excitedly toward the door to welcome everyone in.
Some indiscernible screeching and a thumping hug later, Yachi peeks into the common area, sugary-pastel paper bag in hand. She spots Kenma on the couch and straightens to attention before bowing deep in greeting. “Long time no see, Kozume-san. Thank you for having us.” Kenma smiles and nods, and Yachi extends her arms in front of her, offering her gift from Sendai. “It isn’t much, but their roll cakes and wafers are famous.”
“Ah, thanks, you can put them on the table,” Kageyama says as he comes into the room. Shouyou follows, trailed by Tsukishima and Yamaguchi, who quietly take in the space from opposite sides before their eyes land on Kenma at the same time.
“Long time no see,” they say together. Kenma nods and mumbles it back.
It’s endearing, really, how much they haven’t changed as people. Yachi is still sweet, still full of nervous energy, though she seems more settled and confident than she had been in the past. Tsukishima is still guardedly aloof and far too tall, and it makes Kenma a little claustrophobic because he’s the tallest person they’ve ever had in the apartment; he should have taken the last seat at the kitchen table instead of letting Kageyama have it. Yamaguchi still seems to be the balm that smooths into the spaces between, kindly and gracefully no-nonsense in a way that had only started to shine near the end of that first year. Kenma can understand now why he’d been chosen as captain.
Not everything has stayed the same, though. Their dynamic as a group is different. It’s been over a year since Kenma’s seen them together — an important, team-defining year, if Shouyou’s texts are anything to go by — and something about the depth of their bond hums and shimmers in the air around them. They’re on a first-name basis with Yachi, who’s reminiscing in scolding tones about the time they sleep-drooled so much on the bus she’d had to prepare backup jerseys when they got to the venue. “I hope you’ve got that under control now,” Shouyou says, leaning over to elbow Yamaguchi slyly, and Yamaguchi retorts, “You were the worst of all of us, Shou!” Kageyama comments bitterly that “Hinata still drools a lot; it’s terrible,” and Tsukishima laughs openly, affectionate instead of derisive. Shouyou snipes about Kageyama’s unnecessary comments, reaching across the table to twine their fingers together without so much as a look between them.
Sometimes change makes things better, Kenma thinks. His gaze sweeps lazily over the five former-teammates, still-comrades. He meets eyes with Shouyou, who gives him a smile so sunny it threatens to brighten the cloudy sky outside. Sometimes change makes things better, Shouyou seems to agree.
Eventually they stand to leave for lunch and their long-awaited visit to Skytree, and Kenma starts, glancing at the clock on the wall. It’s already early afternoon. He hadn’t realized how much time he’s spent just watching them, content.
“We’ll come back here afterwards, so you can put your stuff in our room if you want,” Kageyama offers, and it takes Kenma a moment to realize what’s wrong with that sentence. He’s gesturing toward the door to Shouyou’s room, the room that belongs to Shouyou and only Shouyou, singular.
Kenma’s eye twitches. And they’d been doing so well.
Kenma hears a pathetic noise from Shouyou’s bedroom. “Wait, don’t leave…”
A half-hearted grunt in response. “Get away, Hinata. You’ll get your germs on me.”
“But you’re already sick.”
“Am not.” A weak cough. “Just tired from having to take care of you.”
“You’re such a terrible liar.” Whoomph. Kenma can see in his mind’s eye Shouyou toppling into Kageyama to lay them both back on the bed. “I’m sorry I got you sick.” Muffled, sounding guilty, pouting probably.
A pause. Maybe Kageyama’s doing something loving and tender. Kenma’s glad he doesn’t have to know for sure. “Let me go get us some water, okay?”
Shouyou’s door slides fully open and closed again, and Kageyama blinks dazedly at Kenma where he’s sitting on the couch. He looks especially soft and ruffled, half the morning light and half the flush of the summer cold he’s clearly suffering from. His head dips in greeting. “Good morning.”
“Hinata didn’t get you sick?”
Kenma shakes his head. “And they say it’s idiots who don’t catch colds,” he jokes mildly.
Kageyama frowns. “Don’t say that about yourself, Kozume-san.” His feet drag slightly as he shuffles away. He opens a cabinet and pulls out two glasses from the top shelf.
His movements are surprisingly steady for someone who’s supposed to be sick, and as Kenma watches him prepare glasses of water on a tray, he’s reminded of the two years they shared on the court. Maybe he’s hyper-focused the same way he gets when he plays volleyball. Maybe getting back to Shouyou and making him feel better is of such high priority that he can’t even feel his own fever or hear his own breath pressing through his lungs.
“Dumbass Shouyou,” Kageyama mutters as he pops cold medicine out of the foil packaging, and Kenma knows for a fact then that he’s sick; he’s usually aware enough to stop himself before he says “Shouyou” out loud. It only ever comes out when Kageyama really wants to get his attention, or when Shouyou’s not even there to hear it. Kenma has half a mind to ask why, but he’s afraid of how obliviously sappy Kageyama’s answer will be.
Kageyama turns to Kenma with narrowed eyes, and Kenma slouches defensively. “What?”
“Are you planning to be here the entire weekend?”
Kenma nearly chokes on his own indignation. “I… live here…?”
Kageyama’s eyes widen. “No, that’s not… sorry, I mean…” His mouth quirks as he finds his words. “He’s, we’re… contagious.”
“I can stay in my room.”
Kageyama shakes his head firmly. “I’d really hate for you to get sick because of us.” He seems to struggle with his next thought, eyebrows pulling together. “I’ll be here taking care of him until he feels better, so if you feel like you need to get away, you can stay at my place.”
Oh. Kenma hadn’t been expecting that offer.
“It’s clean. I don’t use the space much.”
Kageyama continues. “You’ve never been with him when he’s sick. The last time was when we were still in high school, before…” He drops his head the tiniest bit as he blushes. Before they’d started dating. “It was a lot to deal with.”
Kenma remembers it, actually. He’d received some frantic messages from Shouyou this time last year, about Kageyama barging into his house yelling about Interhigh nationals, ready to beat the cold right out of him. Kageyama wasn’t the only one who’d found the incident “a lot to deal with”.
Realistically, it likely had less to do with how Shouyou is when he’s sick and more with Shouyou and Kageyama navigating their feelings for each other. And now that Shouyou subconsciously understands that Kageyama will do anything he asks, he’s very consciously milking it.
“Tobio,” comes a pitiful cry from Shouyou’s room. Kageyama’s head snaps up and he storms forward, pausing just long enough to shoot Kenma a look far too sharp for someone sick.
“Please consider it.” And then he disappears into Shouyou’s room, sliding the door not-quite-closed behind him.
It takes one pleading-turned-coy “I hate being sick, make me feel better” for Kenma to consider Kageyama’s offer seriously, and a breathless “fuck, Shouyou, you’re hot all over” for Kenma to head to his room to start packing.
He doesn’t hear the jingling of Kageyama’s keys when he picks them out of the bowl at the genkan or the tapping of his phone as he opens up their group chat for Kageyama’s address. He feels rather than hears the deadbolt slide into place before he leaves the apartment behind. Everything is blissfully silent but for the random YouTube suggested video he’d chosen just to block out the rest of his life.
Kageyama’s small one-room apartment is more lived in than Kenma expects it to be. The mail is mostly sorted on the low living room table, some important-looking envelope from the university sitting dejectedly untouched on the side but a letter from Kageyama’s aunt obediently opened and read. When Kenma opens the refrigerator to put his bottled tea inside, he notices that the milk isn’t even expired. Maybe Kageyama comes to his apartment just to drink it, before going to Shouyou and Kenma’s to drink even more.
There are touches of Shouyou all over the apartment, little ways it’s clear how much they care about each other: next to the kitchen sink sits the cactus that Shouyou had bragged about picking out for Kageyama’s birthday last year, and some nonsense post-it doodles in Shouyou’s handwriting are stacked neatly at a corner of Kageyama’s desk. On the wall above it, there’s a pinboard of photos almost identical to the one Shouyou hangs in his room (Natsu must have made one for Kageyama, too), and Kenma stands in front of it as he lets his eyes roam. The three photos of the Karasuno High School Volleyball Club over the years are the same, as well as the combined family photo of the Hinatas and Kageyamas together at graduation. There’s also the selfie that Shouyou had taken at the Egg Hunt, the two of them wearing the handmade paper crowns that Shouyou had been so proud of. In the photo, Kageyama’s looking calmly into the camera, subdued in comparison to the enormous grin Shouyou’s sporting next to him. They both seem happy. Kenma smiles to himself; Shouyou’s always been amusingly transparent, but he’s getting the hang of deciphering all of Kageyama’s non-expressions, too.
There is one photo on Kageyama’s pinboard that isn’t on Shouyou’s, and it takes Kenma by surprise. It’s a candid shot of Shouyou and Kenma leaning toward each other in conversation on a busy sidewalk, taken from behind, from their recent trip to Yokohama. He hadn’t even realized it’d been taken, much less printed and kept in Kageyama’s apartment, on Kageyama’s pinboard. He thinks about Kageyama, the hard-mouthed softie who believes in forever but would sooner kill than admit it to the person he’s pledged his forever to. It’s almost odd that Kenma would have earned a spot on a pinboard clearly meant for Shouyou, but maybe it isn’t that odd after all — what’s important to Shouyou becomes important to Kageyama, too.
Kenma is, he supposes, important to the both of them. His cheeks warm with embarrassment, but his chest warms with fondness.
He spends the next three days in Kageyama’s apartment in sweet, sweet quiet. Kuroo offers to keep him company, but Kenma turns him down; Kuroo makes his mind too loud and busy these days, and he doesn’t want this peace shattered. He pushes down the fidgety thing in his heart that maybe kind of does. Sometimes change makes things better.
He washes the bedsheets he’s used and hangs them up to dry, and he makes a brief trip to the conbini to buy a new carton of milk to replace the one that’s about to expire.
When he arrives back at his and Shouyou’s apartment, the two of them are gone, having finally regained the strength to face the world together. In the refrigerator, Kenma finds an entire shelf’s worth of apple tea waiting for him.
“Tobio! I missed you.”
“I was just taking a shit, dumbass. You could have come in if you wanted.”
“Tsk, tsk, so vulgar. We really need to do something about that mouth.”
“I’ll do something about your mouth.”
“Dirty! Not in front of Kenma.”
Please, Kenma thinks desperately, tilting his head back to look up at every god that may or may not exist. Never in front of Kenma.
Kenma dislikes these parties even if he doesn’t dislike the people: various team members past and present, various college friends, various part-time job coworkers, and various random encounters, all crammed into what once felt like a spacious condo. It’s Halloween, which means that it’s time for Kuroo and Bokuto’s costume party.
Annual costume party, Kenma remembers with a scowl. They’re trying to make it a thing.
Kenma’s settled into a big armchair in a relatively quiet corner of the main room, sporting the cheap cape and plastic fangs that Shouyou had brought home for him from the costume store.
Kageyama appraises the items on the living room table after Shouyou’s slipped into the bathroom. “You’re going as Frankenstein?” he asks.
Kenma just smiles and pats Kageyama on the shoulder.
He sits and taps away at his PSP, letting people come to him or not. Most don’t, and those who do already know how he is, so he doesn’t fuss with pausing his game and pretending to enjoy small talk. He finds himself explaining multiple times that he’s living with Shouyou, which means that Kageyama is around all the time, and he gets multiple sympathetic looks in response (though Yaku gives him a cheeky grin and wiggly eyebrows, and then pounds his bare chest, seemingly proud of being the world’s most compact Tarzan). He’s not sure if everyone understands exactly what he has to deal with or if they’re extrapolating from high school and assuming it’s just the hyper-competitiveness and shouting matches. (If only.) He’ll take what he can get, though. Maybe all of formerly-Nekoma will feel sorry for him and offer him a free apartment elsewhere, or at least pitch in to support his very real plan to soundproof Shouyou’s room.
Kenma’s getting his degree in architecture, after all. He’s got the walls figured out and everything.
Lev pats his head in what he probably thinks is sympathy (even though Kenma knows for a fact that he’s one of the people who doesn’t get it). He bounces off before Kenma is able to get a good punch in, his bunny ears bouncing with him as he looks for other people he can pretend to understand things about. Kenma’s gaze trails after him for an irritated moment, and then it cools and glosses away, sweeping slowly across the room to land on the same people he always ends up watching.
Kuroo is in a skin-tight Catwoman outfit, slinking around to greet guests, slipping quickly into senpai mode when the occasional underclassman gets too rowdy around expensive decor. Kenma tries (and possibly fails) not to notice the way his muscles shift and flex under the fabric as he walks.
Bokuto’s drunk already, yelling compliments (about others, about himself) at anyone who’ll listen, and Akaashi gives him exasperated looks between the apologies he nods to everyone else. Kenma hadn’t recognized their costumes, and Akaashi had had to explain that it was an old American cartoon his grandfather used to watch; apparently they’re a fairly accurate representation of Fred and Wilma.
Shouyou and Kageyama are laughing sheepishly and standing there wildly uncomfortable, respectively, at every person who coos at them for having finally gotten together. Like Bokuto and Akaashi, they’re dressed as a pair, in the other two outfits Shouyou had brought back from the costume store. He makes a convincing Nobita, really, looking cute in his little shorts, though his thighs are far too thick for someone who’s supposed to be in elementary school. He’d somehow convinced Kageyama to dress up in a Doraemon onesie, complete with red nose and black whiskers painted on.
(Kenma imagines the conversation had gone something like this: “I bet I’ll look better in my costume than you do, Tobio!” “Fucking try me, Hinata, I’ll be the best goddamn Doraemon you’ve ever seen!” “You’re so hot and I want to have loud sex right now so Kenma’s traumatized forever!” “You’re also super hot and I’m already naked so way to fall behind, loser!” grrr kissy kissy fucky fucky, ad nauseam.)
Kenma sighs. Even his imagination isn’t safe anymore.
He feels a light tap to his cheek, something soft and fuzzy. He looks up to find Kuroo standing there; he’d slapped him with his tail. Wait, does Catwoman even have a tail? Kenma frowns around his fangs, distracted for a moment as he tries to remember, but he doesn’t miss the way Kuroo’s eyes drop to his mouth and back up again.
Wordlessly, Kuroo bumps at Kenma with his hip, and Kenma scoots automatically so that Kuroo can squeeze into the seat, their thighs pressing together. Surely there are other chairs Kuroo could have taken. He can even sit perched on the side or the back if he really wants to invade Kenma’s space. There’s no reason for them to have to sit this close.
“What’s that look for?” Kuroo asks, pressing the tip of his index finger to the annoyed crease between Kenma’s eyebrows, smoothing it away. “You gonna bite me?”
They both know he’s flirting, his eyes pausing boldly on Kenma’s lips as he waits for a response.
Kenma chooses not to pick it up, letting it sit there instead, as if there’s any space left for it between them. He’s somewhere between hot want and cold disappointment when their conversation shifts naturally to everyone and everything but their own relationship.
Shuffle floats him through several genres as he waits, hunching slightly against the cold, his hands stuffed as deep into his pockets as they’ll go. He’s not big on the cold, but if he’s too bundled up he’ll just get bothered by it later on, so he only wears as many layers as he needs to stay warm. It’s that time of the year when they’re still somewhere between autumn and winter, though, cold enough to be surprised by it. He’s glad for the scarf that Shouyou had wrapped dutifully around his neck before he left.
The next song that comes on had been one of Kageyama’s picks, some soft rock band from an era none of them had been alive for.
“I can’t believe you listen to dad music,” Shouyou says, a teasing lilt to his voice.
“Well, yeah, he was the one who introduced them to me.”
“That’s not what that means!”
The music player they had gotten him for his birthday last month had come preloaded with a wide assortment of music, from the latest pop hits to hard metal to thumping techno, to Kageyama’s dad music (Kageyama’s dad’s music), down to some soaring orchestral pieces which, unexpectedly, had been Shouyou’s choice and not Kageyama’s. Kenma had found himself surprised when they were going through the playlists together, up until Shouyou’s explanation why: he likes to pretend he’s the hero in a dramatic action movie, and when the music swells, it means he’s achieved some kind of climactic triumph. Kenma had nodded, because he should have known, and Kageyama had continued to sit there, nearly vibrating at that point, clearly imagining it and wanting to try it for himself.
Idiots, the both of them. May they never change.
Kuroo arrives on the next bus, raising a hand and squeezing an eye shut in apology as he lands with the clop of his shoes on the sidewalk. Kenma is about to complain that he’s late, but then he takes him in, fitted sweater and pressed slacks and a long leather jacket that accentuates his height. He looks handsome in a way Kenma doesn’t know how to deal with, hasn’t been able to for a while now, all adult and put-together. It makes sense that he would; he’s 21 now, no longer the painfully shy kid he met all those years ago or the little brat with sports friends, or the geeky teenager slowly gaining confidence as a leader or even the college jock he still acts like now when he’s on the court.
“You look nice,” Kenma hears himself say.
Kuroo blinks stupidly. Then he grins, playful and pleased. “What’s this, Kenma being nice to me? It’s a birthday miracle!”
Kuroo just grins wider, elbowing him and nodding toward the entrance of the mall.
Their agenda for the day consists of shopping for new gear and gadgets and winter clothes, and then going to the food court for one of the few times during the year Kuroo really lets himself eat something of zero nutritional value, something plain junky and gross and delicious.
This has always been their tradition for Kuroo’s birthday. Of course, the things they’ve bought and the amount of money they’ve been able to spend has evolved over the years. Kuroo’s dad had stopped going with them once they’d both entered middle school, and sometimes they’ve had to do it on a different day depending on school or club activities, or like last year when Kuroo was turning 20 and Bokuto had plied both of them with so much alcohol the previous night that they’d all spent Kuroo’s actual birthday miserably hungover. (They’d ended up going on a random Saturday some weeks later, though they didn’t say explicitly that it was a make-up trip. Neither of them had wanted to admit how important the tradition had become to them.) For the most part, though, it’s been roughly the same thing every year since they were 8 and freshly-9.
Kenma likes it like this. He takes comfort in the things that don’t change, even though twelve years later, at 20 and freshly-21, very little about this trip hasn’t changed. The mall itself has undergone multiple transformations. Together, they’ve lived through countless farewell sales and grand openings, expansions and renovated storefronts and emergency repairs. (Perhaps the same could be said about them.)
If he has to be honest, the only thing that’s stayed the same is that they’ve been together to celebrate this day every year, without fail. If he has to be honest, he can’t imagine spending Kuroo’s birthday any other way. Not now, not ever.
Kenma’s not sure he’s ready to be honest yet.
Kuroo drops a giant floppy-brimmed hat on him, and he snickers and pulls his phone out for a photo of what is assuredly Kenma looking like he’s drowning and incredibly put out about it. (He is.) He has his camera set to do that thing where it takes a thousand photos in a row, and the endless shutter noise is like taking continuous hits from a powerful combo attack.
Kuroo looks down at his phone screen with a small smile on his face, swiping through a few shots. “You look cute.” Critical blow. “I’ll send it to you.”
Kenma can feel the heat rising in his cheeks even as he pretends to be grumpy. “Don’t need it.”
Kuroo looks at him, staring for a moment too long, before he returns his attention to the hat display. He quickly decides on a silly little beret, laying it more on top of his hair than over it, and then he leans over and squishes his cheek into Kenma’s. His hand between them is held up in a peace sign for a selfie, his smile big and toothy like they’re at an amusement park and they’ve just found out that they both get to be the Egg King. Kenma puts up a lazy peace sign of his own. It’s Kuroo’s birthday, after all. He deserves that much for his birthday.
His music player is in the middle of a track from a drama he hasn’t seen and he’s just put his new pants away when his phone buzzes later that night.
A message from Kuroo. No title or text commentary, just the photo of the two of them in their hats. Alone in his room, to no one’s benefit but his own, Kenma pretends to be annoyed. He saves the photo to his phone anyway.
Autumn is in full swing, and Kenma hadn’t known before, but he realizes now that Shouyou loves it. He runs off to crunch through distant leaves on their way home one day, Kageyama running after him to yell about jostling the groceries.
Kenma just keeps walking. They return to his side a minute or two later, carrying a new plastic bag filled with fallen leaves (only the driest, cleanest-looking ones, Kenma notes with relief; he’ll allow it). Their hands are joined between them, swinging slightly, and Kageyama doesn’t look nearly as frowny as he had moments ago. Maybe he loves autumn, too. The warm colors must remind him of Shouyou.
After dinner, Shouyou pulls out the ingredients for paper mache. They’re leftovers from when the Hinatas had visited earlier in the week, and Natsu had insisted that Oniichan and Tobio and Kenma help with her art project. Natsu is cute, bright and bubbly like a miniature Shouyou. A little loud, like her volume bar is stuck at the highest setting, but it’s nothing Kenma isn’t used to. Diligently working on his part of the project, he’d truly believed that he’d be able to get through the evening unscathed, but then Natsu had reached out with sticky hands, yelling excitedly about Kenma’s “super braidable hair”; he’d jumped out of his seat and escaped to his bedroom with a speed he hadn’t realized he was still capable of. (He’d found Kageyama making coffee in the kitchen the next morning, his bangs a little crimpy except for one tiny braid he hadn’t gotten out.)
Kenma escapes to his bedroom again now, leaving the two to their crafting because he has studying to do. He can hear the low rumbles of Shouyou and Kageyama talking at the kitchen table, a stilted conversation between long, quiet bouts of molding. Even when he comes out of his room hours later to take a bath and get ready for bed, they’re still at it, working silently. Occasionally they giggle and exchange good-natured(?) insults like they’re teenagers (they still are, Kenma remembers as he slips groggily under the covers), and he falls asleep that way, wrapped up in his blanket and the ordinary, beautiful sounds of everyday life.
They’re already gone for the day when he wakes up and leaves his room the next morning. Three figurines sit on the kitchen table: two crows, turned slightly toward each other like they’re in love but not ready to admit it, and a cat with a mop of hair done in gold and brown leaves. It’s a paper mache memory of that time in their lives when they actually had been crows and cats, and Kenma’s hair had still been that color instead of the black it’s grown back into.
Kenma smiles and pats the cat’s head once before shuffling toward the kitchen to find something to eat.
“Remember when you used to wake up super early just to play video games?”
“Don’t say ‘just’ like that, like they aren’t important.”
In his peripheral vision, Kenma can see Kuroo look up from the magazine he’s reading to arch an eyebrow at him.
“What?” Kenma frowns as he executes the wrong attack on his CPU opponent, his thumb slipping on the buttons.
“Never thought we’d be here like this, doing the exact same thing we used to do as kids.”
Kenma doesn’t know what to make of the comment. What about this is the “exact same”? So much has changed, and they both know it. The CPU gets another hard kick in as he lets the thought process in his head. “Whatever.” His character loses the last of her HP and faints. Kenma clicks his tongue, and he reaches out to grab the second controller, turning to Kuroo and holding it up. “You in or what?”
Kuroo grins, wide and predatory, setting his magazine aside as he leans forward to take the controller. A thrill shoots up Kenma’s spine. “You know I am.”
It’s already Christmas Eve, so it’s kind of a waste of energy to decorate the apartment at this point; they’ll just be taking it down again in a few days. Kenma says as much to Shouyou, whose eyes widen, scandalized.
“We have to put up decorations, Kenma. It’s Christmas.”
Kenma turns to Kageyama, his eyes pleading. Kageyama just shrugs and continues to unpack the stacking parts of the fake tree. His face is neutral but his voice is mocking when he says, “It’s Christmas.”
Kageyama snickers and throws a hand up to easily block the glittery orb flying his way.
Shouyou declares when they’re done hanging ornaments that he likes having Kageyama around, because then they don’t need to use the step stool. Kageyama’s hand whips forward to grab Shouyou’s face, his lips smooshing out, and Kageyama holds him in place as he leans down for a kiss. His hand drops and he tries to pull back, but Shouyou lifts up onto the balls of his feet to chase after him.
Kageyama breaks the kiss and pushes him down by the shoulders. “Later.” He casts Kenma a furtive glance from across the room.
Kenma calmly turns his head and stares blankly forward, continuing to unravel the garlands onto the kitchen table. Didn’t they just get back from Kageyama’s apartment? Shouyou had left days ago to “give Tobio what he really wants for his birthday”, exiting stage left with a wink so obnoxious Kenma had actually felt his insides churn.
They really are perfect together, he thinks to himself as they start working on the walls — Shouyou and Kageyama build each other up, fill each other’s empty spaces. Sometimes it seems like they spend more time having sex than not (much to Kenma’s chagrin), but maybe that’s fitting. They seem to have boundless energy for each other, almost inhuman, like the demons they’d been characterized as long ago. Like gods, transcendent. An invincible force.
Kenma’s weirdly wound up by the time all of the decorations are done, and he wonders if he should leave the apartment for a bit; Christmas is for couples, after all. He typically wouldn’t be affected by it, but it might be the combination of Christmas and Shouyou and Kageyama and the fact that they finally got what they’ve always wanted and are so openly happy about it. He’s happy for them, he really is, but the jittery feeling won’t go away. He heads into his room to grab his bag.
Shouyou tries to stop him on his way out, rushing toward him, concern evident in his face. “Are we bugging you? Sorry, I think I’m just really excited about spending the holidays with you guys.” He includes Kenma in the statement, and Kenma can tell that he means it, appreciates the assenting nod Kageyama gives him from where he’s stood up from the couch.
“It’s not you, I promise.” It is, in a way, but Kenma knows that it’s really not. “Just want to… think about things.”
“Okay.” Shouyou nods. “We’re doing that movie marathon I mentioned last week, so come back when you’re ready.”
Kenma nods back and steps out of the apartment, locking the door behind him. He’s not sure he’ll ever be ready.
As if on cue, his phone buzzes with an incoming call. He pulls it out and answers automatically, knowing without looking who’s on the other end.
“Hey. What are you up to?”
“Nothing really. Shouyou wanted to decorate the apartment for Christmas, and we just finished. I’m out now. Felt like taking a walk.”
“Kenma, going out into the cold on purpose? My, how times have changed.”
They really have.
“Bokuto and Akaashi brought home this, um. Egg-neg? Eggnog. Eggnog thing that an exchange student in one of Akaashi’s classes told him about. It’s like a creamy egg drink, but you add alcohol to it. Anyway, they made it super strong, and you can guess how the rest of the story goes.”
Kenma chuckles, his breath billowing into a white cloud in front of him.
“Know of any good places to wait it out? Oh, what about Kageyama’s?”
“Ah, I don’t have the key on me. Besides, he and Shouyou spent the last few days there, and I’m not sure everything’s been adequately… sanitized.”
Kuroo’s startled laughter rings through the receiver. “Yeah, all right, that’s off the table, then.”
They chat like that for a while, lazy and familiar. The call lasts for who knows how long, and Kenma’s feet take him who knows how far.
He eventually turns down a small street in a residential area he thinks he might know, and for the first time in a while, he stops. Kuroo’s there, facing the other direction, sitting in his long leather jacket under a streetlight on one of those high barriers that force people to get off their bicycles when they pass through. His legs are sprawled out in front of him, and he’s pressing his phone into his cheek, steadying himself with his free hand against the metal bar.
“Hey,” Kenma says, interrupting Kuroo’s sentence.
Kenma ends the call and watches as Kuroo asks “Hello?” and “Kenma?” and “Kenmaaa?” before pulling his phone away, frowning at the home screen in confusion. The colors of his wallpaper look familiar even from this distance, and Kenma realizes it’s the birthday photo of the two of them in their hats.
“Hey,” Kenma says again, raising his voice against the tightness in his throat.
Kuroo jumps up in surprise, turning around. He visibly relaxes when he sees Kenma’s face. His lips quirk to one side. “Hey.”
“I’m cold. My feet hurt. My phone’s almost dead.”
Kuroo ignores all of this. “Have you had dinner yet?”
Kenma shakes his head.
“Good. Let’s go.”
There’s a family restaurant in the area that they’d found when Kuroo and Bokuto had first moved into the condo. The signs in the window boast the limited-time meal of the season, a fried chicken set, naturally, because Christmas is for couples and also for KFC.
They’re lucky enough to get a table next to an outlet, and they plug their phones in to charge as they settle in.
Their food comes and it’s fine, standard family restaurant fare. But it’s seasoned to culinary perfection by the schemes they come up with to harass the couples that have chased them out of their own homes, horrible ideas lobbed intermittently between them like a vindictive volleyball, spinning increasingly into absurdity as they go.
“And they’d have to use the pulleys just to open the shower door,” Kuroo finishes proudly.
“Poor Akaashi probably can’t even lift that much weight anymore.” Kenma smiles at his plate, absently pushing at a little sprig of parsley with his chopsticks. Kuroo gives him a look, and Kenma narrows his eyes and obediently puts the vegetable in his mouth.
“That’s why it’s a pulley system, makes it easier to move. I’m not a monster.”
“Wow, rude,” he hears for the second time that night. He looks up, and Kuroo’s grinning at him from across the table.
By the time the plates for their Christmas cake are cleared away, it’s already past midnight.
“Oh,” Kenma says, pressing the power button on his fully charged phone. The screen returns to black.
“Merry Christmas, then,” Kuroo says. He smiles a smile that Kenma doesn’t see often and has to pretend doesn’t affect him — warm, genuine, affectionate. “Shall we head back?”
Kuroo escorts him back to the apartment, where they find Shouyou and Kageyama asleep together under a fuzzy blanket on the couch. The dimmed TV screen is stuck in an endless loop on the DVD menu of the action movie they’d been watching.
“We haven’t watched movies like that in a while,” Kuroo says quietly, wistfully.
“Mm,” Kenma responds. They both know why.
“We don’t have to, you know.” Something about the tone of his voice makes Kenma turn toward him. Kuroo’s looking at him with a serious expression on his face. “Just call me if you feel like it.”
They’re not talking about watching movies anymore.
Kenma nods. “Goodnight, Kuro. Thanks for walking me home.” He smiles. “Merry Christmas.”
Kuroo smiles back with a look that’s soft and tender and filled with something Kenma recognizes but refuses to put a name to. “Merry Christmas.” The lights from the tree make his eyes twinkle.
Kenma is surprised to realize he’s a little (but only a little) excited about the new year’s holiday. This is the first time he’s lived away from home, and Shouyou’s always keen on making new traditions in the apartment. The topic comes up as they get started on the customary deep clean of their home, just on the cusp of the new year.
“I usually just stay in for the whole week,” Kenma says. “It’s cold outside and nothing’s open, and my mom and Kuro’s grandma always make enough osechi for both houses.”
“Cool! That sounds nice.” Shouyou says it about the family tradition, but it’s clear by the distracted look on Kageyama’s face that he’s just thinking about the food. “I finally convinced Tobio to go to the big shrine in Karasuno last year after we started dating, so we’re going to do that again.”
“You’re going back to Miyagi?”
“Well, yeah. You’re going back to your parents’ house, right?”
He is, but that’s not the point. So much for new traditions.
It only takes him a few minutes to get over his disappointment that there isn’t a specific thing they’re doing here before they leave, because then they’re starting to pack up the Christmas decorations, just like Kenma said they’d have to mere days ago. And then he’s thinking about how Shouyou and Kageyama are going to be away for a few days, and it’s such a missed opportunity because the apartment will be so blissfully void of sex noises and he won’t even be here to appreciate it. And then he remembers that after this cleaning is done, he’s going to have to lug a suitcase across Tokyo and help clean his parents’ house all over again.
Moving into this apartment was a mistake.
(Shouyou and Kageyama share a deep, open-mouthed kiss, right there in the living room as if no one else is around. It’s sloppy and wet and a little bit moany, and Kenma hears it when they pull apart with a juicy smack.)
His entire life was a mistake.
Thankfully there’s not a lot of accumulated grossness to clean in the nooks and crannies, since they’ve only been here for nine months. Kageyama easily gets to most of the high spots (he really is handy for all the hard-to-reach work), and Shouyou clambers onto his shoulders to get even higher, wiping down the tops of the cabinets and running a wet wipe along the corners of the ceiling. The experience is “awesome”, apparently, and Shouyou implores Kenma to try it as Kageyama bends over to let him down. Kageyama stays bent down low, peering up through his bangs at Kenma as he waits to be mounted.
Shouyou gives him a big hug and Kageyama gives him a small bow on their way out, first to Kageyama’s apartment to do cleaning (and probably have sex) there, and then to Miyagi. Kenma stays in the apartment for a little while longer, flopping onto the couch and closing his eyes to the peaceful sound of nothing.
He wakes up to a text from his dad saying that they’re excited to have him back home soon, and that Tetsu-kun is already here helping. (“Soon” actually means “get over here right now”, he sees.) Kenma groans and stretches, and he reluctantly trods to his room to prepare for a few days at home.
He can hear “Tetsu-kun” talking to his mom and puttering around in the kitchen when he gets there. Kuroo’s probably wearing the apron that Kai had gotten him as a joke for graduation. “Since you’re always taking care of us,” he’d said, straight-faced, and Kuroo had shoved at Kai in response, but when they’d returned to Kuroo’s house after the ceremony, Kuroo had gone straight to the kitchen to hang it up.
Kuroo stares at the apron where it hangs on the side of the refrigerator for a full minute. Then he huffs out a laugh and shakes his head, turning back toward the dining room.
“You were a good captain,” Kenma says.
Kuroo halts, his eyes rising to meet Kenma’s. He doesn’t respond.
“I wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for you.”
Still no response. Then, he smiles softly. “Will you miss me?”
“Probably not. Fukunaga’s funnier.”
Kuroo smirks, eyes fond. “As long as you’re having fun, Kenma.”
“I’m home,” Kenma mumbles, toeing his shoes off.
“Welcome home,” come three voices in response, Kuroo’s and his mom’s directly from the kitchen, his dad’s hollered from farther away in the living room. It’s so comfortably everyday that Kenma thinks nothing of it.
“We’re having cream stew tonight,” Kuroo tells him as he comes to stand in the doorway to the front hall, apron wrapped around him. Kenma nods, and then he turns his head, scowling at the formidable staircase that he’ll have to carry his suitcase up. Kuroo seems to notice. “Leave that there. I’ll get it later.”
Kenma looks back at him. “Thanks, Kuro.”
Kuroo gives him a simple smile and nod in response, disappearing again to continue cooking.
The next couple of days are spent the way they always are, just Kenma and his parents (and sometimes Kuroo when he comes over, or Kenma with Kuroo and his dad and his grandparents when he goes over there, or all seven of them cramming into one house or the other). They clean, they eat, they sit around the kotatsu, they catch all of the year-end specials on TV. There’s the big music show that everyone watches on New Year’s Eve, and Kenma’s parents let Kenma play on his phone the entire time as long as he sits in the room with them. When all of the artists gather on the stage to sing “Auld Lang Syne” at the end, he hums along under his breath. His dad changes the channel to the other big music show they watch, and they ring in the new year for real with all of his parents’ favorite idols, sparkly, technicolored suits glimmering on the screen in front of them.
Kenma heads up to his bedroom at 12:01. He plugs his phone in to charge and crawls into bed, closing his eyes. Another new year begun. Another 365.25 days until they do it all over again.
The weight of a warm hand on his head pulls him from sleep. He’s disoriented for a moment until he remembers it’s the new year and he’s at his parents’ house. But his mom’s hand isn’t this big, and his dad hasn’t done this to him since he was in elementary school. (The only alternative hasn’t done this to him ever.)
Kenma squeezes his eyes closed tighter and turns slightly, burrowing into the pillow. “Go away.”
A low chuckle rolls across the bed toward him, and the hand on his head brushes softly through his hair once before lifting away. “Happy new year to you, too.”
He’s about to drift off again when he hears the sound of a phone camera taking a thousand photos in a row.
Kenma scowls, turning so far into the pillow he almost can’t breathe. “This would be creepy if it were anyone else.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not anyone else, then.”
A long silence follows. Kenma turns his head a little, cracking an eye open to peek blearily up at Kuroo. He’s not looking, though, peering instead at his phone, swiping through the photos he’d just taken with a small smile on his face.
Kenma feels impatient for some reason, and he opens both eyes to glare properly. “Why are you looking at photos when you can look at the real thing right in front of you?”
Kuroo looks up, scanning his face. “I can?” He sounds curious, cautious.
Kenma exhales through his nose and closes his eyes again, shifting backwards a little to give Kuroo more space than just the edge of the bed where he’s sitting. “Only if you let me sleep a little more.”
The blanket pulls taut over Kenma’s body where Kuroo lays on top of it. “I’d stay here and let you sleep all day, if I could,” he says, voice low.
Kenma keeps his eyes closed. “You have somewhere to be later?”
“Yeah, we do.”
“‘We’?” Kenma gives up and opens his eyes again. The first thing he sees is Kuroo’s hard grin, and then his strong nose, his playful eyes. He could count all of Kuroo’s pointed lashes at this distance, if he wanted to.
The impish look on his face fades a little, and the palm that comes up to press against Kenma’s cheek is callused but soft at the same time. Kenma draws in a sharp breath.
His voice is quiet when he says, “New year, new traditions.” And then his smile slips away completely, moving closer to wonder, and his eyes track slowly across Kenma’s face.
Kenma can feel his heart thumping in his chest, the blood rushing loudly through his veins. He’s been wanting something new; Kuroo always seems to know what Kenma wants. Slowly, he snakes his arm out from under the blanket, fabric rustling as he moves, and he tentatively touches the tips of his fingers to the back of Kuroo’s hand.
Kuroo’s eyes widen briefly in surprise. He brushes his thumb once across Kenma’s cheekbone, and the heat of it stays on Kenma’s skin. Kenma realizes he’s staring at his lips.
“Kenma.” His voice is nothing but a rumble, passing through the almost nonexistent space between them. Then he smiles, his lips quirking wryly. “You’re making it so hard to want to leave right now, but we really do have to go.”
Kenma frowns slightly, and his fingers slide down to Kuroo’s wrist of their own volition, curling around it. Stay here, they seem to say, or maybe I think I love—
“You’ve got ten minutes to get ready.” Kuroo gives Kenma’s face another glance up and down, landing on his lips, returning to his eyes before his thumb strokes Kenma’s cheek one more time. He takes a deep breath as if to steel himself, and then he pulls away, rolling off the bed and walking out. Kenma’s left feeling hot and cold at the same time.
It takes him one minute to recover, four minutes to use the bathroom, brush his teeth and hair, and change his clothes, and the remaining five minutes to work up the nerve to walk downstairs. What he finds when he gets there is Kuroo and his dad sitting at the dining room table, sipping coffee together in companionable silence.
It’s so comfortably everyday that it nearly gives Kenma whiplash.
Kuroo lifts his head, and their eyes meet. They seem to say “we don’t have to” and “as long as you’re having fun”, and an overwhelming sense of relief washes over him.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to, he’s pretty sure now; he’s just not ready yet. Ten minutes isn’t nearly enough time to feel ready for this. Thirteen years hasn’t been enough time.
“Way to make me wait forever,” Kuroo jokes. The look in his eyes says he doesn’t mind. He’s willing to wait for Kenma.
Kenma smiles. “Where are we going anyway?”
Kuroo stands and grins, gesturing for Kenma to head to the door as he puts his mug in the sink. “I told you already, didn’t I? New year, new traditions.”
Kenma hopes to get there soon.
When they arrive at the condo, they hear before they see that Shouyou and Kageyama have beaten them there. Somehow the two who’d made an early morning shrine visit and then taken a shinkansen down from a different prefecture had arrived earlier than the two who’d only lain together in bed for a bit and then taken a train ride across Tokyo.
Kenma doesn’t mind, because he doesn’t feel like he’s lost. He’d quite liked his morning.
A large blue tarp lines most of the living room, and in the middle they find Shouyou and Kageyama working over a barrel, pounding mochi rice with a speed and precision that only they could achieve, slam smack slam smack slam smack. Bokuto looks up from where he’s watching over them, and he grins and summons them into the room with outstretched arms. “Happy new year!” Slam smack slam smack slam smack.
They take turns, subbing in for Shouyou and Kageyama sooner than later, because it’s not volleyball and they don’t actually have to work themselves half to death for it (not that they have to do so for volleyball either, but no one’s stupid enough to try to tell them that). Kenma doesn’t want to get his hands sticky but the pounding part seems like even more work, so he stands above the barrel and pokes at the mass of sticky rice a bit until he feels comfortable with it. Bokuto stands next to him at the ready. Kenma nods and goes in with both hands, folding the rice over once, and he barely moves out of the way in time before Bokuto smashes the mallet in with the terrifying power of a college ace.
Kenma snaps his head up and almost starts hissing, but Kuroo’s already next to him with a soothing hand on his back and Shouyou has moved between them with placating arms outstretched, and then the front door opens.
Akaashi steps in carrying a big bottle of sake. He takes one glance around the tense room before stating calmly, “Whatever happened, I’m sorry, because I know it’s Bokuto-san’s fault.”
“Kenma.” He sounds nervous, agitated.
Kenma hums in response, not looking up from his phone. Akaashi’s sent him an article about another conspiracy theory he’s found, and Kenma is thoroughly entertained, as always. Imagine having a mind this wacky.
“It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.”
Is it? “Oh.” He scrolls down to the next paragraph.
“Are you doing anything for it?”
“Shouyou, I know you’re not asking because you want to spend it with me.”
There’s enough of a lull in their conversation that Kenma lifts his head up. Shouyou’s looking down at his breakfast, his face squirmed into the tiniest frown like the rice offended him but he knows it didn’t mean to.
“He doesn’t care about this kind of thing.” Shouyou lifts his chopsticks back up and shovels some rice into his mouth. “Last year he got a bunch of chocolates from like a hundred girls, literally fifty thousand girls, Kenma! And he didn’t feel guilty at all.” He chews audibly, jaw working in angry chomps, having moved from forlorn to bitter.
“Did people know you were dating?”
Shouyou eyes him, mouth still full, and shakes his head. He swallows a couple of times before speaking. “Tsukishima and Tadashi were there when it happened — I mean, not there in the room there, but you know. They knew that it had happened. But we never talked about whether we’d make it public for the last few months of high school. Though we’re open about it now.” He puts a clump of scrambled egg in his mouth, slightly calmer than before.
“So he couldn’t help that it happened then, right? If people thought he was still available.”
Shouyou makes a noise, eyebrows jamming together stubbornly. “I know that much. And he told the girls who came to him that he’s already dating the sexiest, most perfect person he’s ever met.” Kenma doubts the accuracy of this statement but doesn’t push it. “But he still accepted all the chocolates. I almost wished it’d been like first year again when he didn’t even know what they were for.”
Kenma sighs. He’d been holding his phone in his hand in the hopes that he’d get to return to his article soon. He puts it down on the table now, the screen dim with the lack of activity. “He makes you happy, right?” Shouyou nods without hesitation. “You know he doesn’t accept chocolates to make you feel bad. He’s just trying to be nice, but he isn’t naturally good at it like you are.” Shouyou nods again, straightening in his seat a little at the unexpected compliment. “And people know about you now, so you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?”
Saying that people “know about” Shouyou and Kageyama is like saying that chocolate “sells well” for Valentine’s Day. Anyone who looked at them together would see it right away. It’s so obvious even the two of them figured it out.
Shouyou tilts his head in acknowledgment, swallowing. “I still don’t like this holiday. It’s no fun knowing he’s getting so much attention, you know? Even if we’re doing great together.”
Ah, he gets it now. Shouyou’s just being jealous; he’ll be fine tomorrow. Kenma taps his phone screen back on.
“It doesn’t bother you when Kuroo-san gets chocolate from girls?”
Kenma’s jaw clenches. He scrolls up a bit to reread the previous paragraph. “Maybe try talking to your boyfriend instead of me? If you want to do something special with him.” He feels a little guilty about sidestepping the question when Shouyou’s just been so honest with him, but maybe it’s okay to focus on one person’s love life at a time.
Shouyou nods sheepishly, and he pushes away from the table, standing to put his dishes in the sink. “I wish Tobio would just figure it out on his own, but he can be a little dense, huh?”
Kenma literally snorts.
Shouyou turns and raises an eyebrow, mouth tilted into a grin. “Are you being rude about my man?”
“Never. Just thinking about how perfect you are together.”
“Oh.” Shouyou preens like a baby crow that’s just flown for the first time. “Thanks.”
“Anyway, later today I have that group project I mentioned, but I should be back in time for dinner. You’re in charge tonight?”
Shouyou stands to attention and salutes. “Tobio also has a thing this afternoon so we switched our cooking days.”
Kenma almost snorts again, but he manages to keep it in this time. Truly perfect together.
When Kageyama opens the door that afternoon, the sweet aroma of their “group project” spills into the hallway around him. “Kozume-san. Thanks for coming.”
“It’s fine. You two are entertaining.”
Kageyama nods even though he must have no idea what Kenma means, stepping aside to let him in.
A batch of chocolate is already melting on the stove, set to low heat. Kageyama had asked Kenma a week ago to come to his apartment to help make something for Shouyou, because “he always gets super mopey and jealous, that dumbass” and “sometimes he needs reassurance, that dumbass” (and probably something like “I love him so much and he means everything to me, that dumbass”, but Kenma won’t ask for the words if Kageyama doesn’t volunteer them).
Kenma has stopped being surprised at how thoughtful Kageyama can be, and how observant he is when it comes to Shouyou. He’s definitely stopped commenting on it, because Kageyama gets all flustered and frowny but can’t deflect it by yelling the way he does with Shouyou. It ends more often than not with Kageyama feeling embarrassed, and Kenma feeling uncomfortable and kind of exasperated that he’s made Kageyama feel embarrassed. Maybe they should both leave the people-ing to Shouyou.
Like with anything Kageyama cooks, it takes three tries for the recipe to come out right. (Any chocolate he makes from here on out will be unfailingly delicious.) They’ve connected Kenma’s music player to a small set of speakers, and Kageyama strikes triumphant little poses with his spatula in time with the beat.
“I’ll bring these to the table,” Kenma says, lifting up the baking sheet and wax paper.
“Ah, please, thank you.” Kageyama follows a minute later with the pot of melted chocolate and small measuring cups.
They work in silence but for the music, pouring chocolate out into small discs. Kageyama’s plan is to draw lines on them and turn them into little volleyballs. Kenma is amazed that he’s managed to find a shape even more cliché than hearts (though maybe just to them).
“These would have looked even more like volleyballs in white chocolate,” Kenma comments offhandedly.
Kageyama’s face scrunches in darkly. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Kenma smiles at him, soft and reassuring. “But he likes milk chocolate best, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, that’s true. There was one time we used chocolate for…” Kageyama stops himself and looks up at Kenma, and then back down at the piece of chocolate he’s working on. “Yeah.”
Kageyama speaks up again a little while later, almost to himself. “Sometimes it’s useful to live alone.” He’s mostly done with his batch of volleyballs, the lines steadily improving over the course of the afternoon.
Kenma, who’s already finished with his half, looks up from his phone. “Did you not want to live with Shouyou?”
“I did. I do!” He rearranges his legs under the table and leans back with his palms on the floor behind him as he seems to remember his reasoning, sifting through it. “But he didn’t bring it up, so I figured that meant he wasn’t ready. And I didn’t want to rush him or make him feel like he needed to do something just because I asked.”
“Especially since you were still new,” Kenma fills in.
“But just because he hasn’t brought something up doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking about it. You know he gets anxious sometimes.”
“Mm, he used to have explosive diarrhea before matches.”
That’s… not the same thing at all. “Ah.”
“But, you know. We have the rest of our lives together, so if Shouyou needs time to get used to that idea, then he can have it.” Kageyama nods to himself, and he sits forward, returning to the table to finish off the last of his volleyballs.
The unabashed love Kageyama has for Shouyou is a little embarrassing for Kenma. He’s not used to people being so open and straightforward with their feelings, and for someone who gets as easily flustered as Kageyama sometimes does, it almost seems like a miracle that he can say the kinds of things he says without flinching.
Then again, this is the person who declared when he was fifteen that he’d become the best high school setter in all of Japan, and actually pulled it off. If he’s decided that he’ll be with Shouyou forever, he has no reason to doubt that it’ll come true. He’ll do the work to make it happen.
“Have you ever said that to Shouyou?”
Kageyama’s mouth crumples into a small frown. “It’s embarrassing because he gets all weird and sappy sometimes. I… don’t really handle it well.” He finishes the last line of chocolate he’s working on and puts his spoon down. He sits up straight, hands in his lap, and looks at Kenma. “I… Shouyou…” Kageyama looks back down at the table.
“Shouyou’s the only thing besides my family and volleyball that’s always been there. Even when we’ve fought, he’s never left. I can always count on him to be there, to make me better.” Kageyama’s hand comes up to play with the spoon in front of him, swivelling it back and forth in the small pool of chocolate it’s made on the wax paper. “I don’t know how to express how much that means to me. And I don’t know what I’d do if I said something to mess it all up.” He lifts his head, meeting Kenma’s eyes. For as someone as big as Kageyama is, he looks… small. “I’m not great with words.”
He needs gentleness now; Kenma tries to be gentle. “You were able to say all that to me just now,” he prompts. “Even though I’m not the one it’s meant for.”
Kageyama’s eyes fall in time with the corners of his lips. “It’s easier with you because you’re not going to get all gross and weepy about it like an asshole.” He outright glares at the spoon.
Kenma chuckles. “You guys are funny. In a good way!” he clarifies when Kageyama gives him a confused look.
Kageyama nods slowly, obviously still confused. “Thanks.”
“Try talking to Shouyou about this sometime.” Kenma doesn’t know when he became a relationship counselor, and the sooner he can be relieved of his duties, the better. Having such serious conversations about this kind of thing makes him… itchy, somehow. “He deserves to hear it from you.”
Kageyama’s eyes are clear and resolute when he nods this time. “Thanks,” he says again.
They put the chocolate in the refrigerator to cool, and they head back to Kenma and Shouyou’s apartment together. Kageyama doesn’t think to stagger their arrival in case Shouyou finds their joint absence suspicious, but Shouyou doesn’t think to ask about it when they come in, too excited by the appearance of “the two best people!” He’s made curry, Kageyama’s favorite, and when Kageyama walks silently across the kitchen to wrap him up in his arms, it only takes him a stunned moment to recover, furiously hugging back.
Kenma’s in his room when Kageyama comes by the next day. “Here, I love you or whatever,” he hears along with the crinkle of plastic, and Shouyou yells about Kageyama’s lack of enthusiasm but is clearly overjoyed. He knows just by the thumping noises that Shouyou’s jumped into Kageyama’s arms and they’ve landed in a heap on the floor.
“Ow, be careful, dumbass!” It sounds like the most genuine term of endearment.
“If you’re hurt, I’ll kiss it better for you.”
“I don’t need that, stupid—” but Kageyama’s shout is cut short by an abrupt smack of lips, which melts like milk chocolate into something softer, sweeter.
Maybe Kageyama confesses for real this time, saying the words he’s only ever meant and will only ever mean for the one person who will always be there. And maybe Shouyou says them back because he feels the same way, all of it, all of the above. But Kenma doesn’t know because this is a private moment, and he doesn’t need to be a part of it; the peppy video game soundtrack tinkering through his headphones is all he can hear.
They get the notice at the beginning of March, sitting on top of the countless restaurant coupons and local bulletins Kenma finds in their mailbox when he comes back from his morning classes. It’s almost been a year since they’ve moved in, and it’s time to decide if they want to renew the lease.
“Well, obviously!” Shouyou declares at Kenma with a grin before he returns to the sheet of paper to go through the details.
When he’s done, he puts the paper down, swinging his head back and forth until he spots the pen sitting on top of Kenma’s notebook. He takes it and writes a reminder on the back of his hand: bank. He’ll owe Kenma for half of the renewal fees when they’re taken out of his account.
Shouyou clicks the pen closed and gives it back with a purposeful nod, and Kenma looks down at it in his hand. It’s one of those erasable pens that uses the heat of friction to erase the ink; Shouyou’s reminder will be smudged to illegibility (if not rubbed away completely) by the time he’s done with evening practice. Kenma switches to the messaging app on his phone and texts Kageyama to take Shouyou to the bank on the way home.
Humming an aimless melody, Shouyou walks over to the living room and grabs the latest issue of Shonen Jump where he’d left it on the table before flopping onto the couch, settling in. “Another year with Kenma,” he says cheerfully to himself, giddy with excitement, as he flicks to the last page he’d read. Kenma’s not sure what there is to get excited about.
Kenma’s not sure how to say this without sounding like he’s hinting at something. He’s not; he just wants Shouyou to be happy.
But Shouyou will understand what he means. He’s always been good at understanding people’s feelings, in a way that’s very different from how Kenma understands people’s feelings; Shouyou is empathetic and personal instead of analytical and removed. It all apparently falls apart when he’s so overwhelmed by his own emotions that he can’t see what’s right in front of him, but Kenma can tell that he’s getting better at that, too. He and Kageyama talk now, really communicate, more willing to put even their messiest and most vulnerable feelings into words instead of relying on their physical connection to understand each other. Shouyou hasn’t been “Hinata” for a couple of weeks now.
Maybe it’s time. Maybe Shouyou is ready now. Maybe Kenma should give him that last push he needs.
“Are you sure you don’t want to move in with Kageyama?”
Shouyou nods once, confident. “I’m sure. I like it here.” He considers his answer. “I do want to move in with him, so it’s not like I’m nervous about it. Not anymore.”
Kenma smiles. He can tell.
“But we,” he continues, flicking his wrist back and forth between the two of them, “won’t get to live together forever. Tobio and I have forever. Ah, not that I think we’ll ever stop being friends!” he adds frantically, eyes wide. “You’re my best friend and I’m keeping you! But you know what I mean.”
Kenma flushes a little, his gaze dropping back down to his phone. “Don’t worry, I get it.” Maybe he’ll keep Shouyou, too.
“Besides, it kind of feels like he’s already living here with us, doesn’t it?” Shouyou asks, voice pleasant.
Kenma looks up and squints at him, suddenly suspicious.
Is this a test? He didn’t actually ask such a stupid question, right? Does Shouyou turn into a ten-headed beast and tear Kenma’s face off if he answers incorrectly? Is he one those characters who joins the hero’s party and acts like an ally for 95% of the journey just to turn around and reveal he’s been the actual final boss the entire time?
It must be a trick. It can’t be this easy. But there’s no other answer Kenma can possibly give.
He thinks of the extra toothbrush that’s always been lined up with theirs above the bathroom sink, the conditioner he accidentally uses sometimes that makes his hair super soft and shiny, the schedule of chores divided into three that they’ve posted on the refrigerator door, all of the dairy products taking up space inside. There’s a shelf in the cabinet for Kageyama’s kitchenware, a section in the TV stand for Kageyama’s DVDs, a hook in the genkan for Kageyama’s coat, an entire extra dresser in Shouyou’s room for Kageyama’s clothes.
Kageyama has bought groceries with them since the beginning. Sometime in December, when Shouyou had shivered in his cocoon of blankets and complained about how expensive it is to run the heater, he’d also started chipping in for utilities.
Does it kind of feel like Kageyama’s already living there with them? “Yeah,” Kenma says. “It does.”
“You like it here, too, right?”
Kenma doesn’t have to think about his answer this time. Despite the exhaustingly high energy, despite the flagrant stupidity, despite the loud sex, despite having to clean up after all of their human emotions, despite how… them they are, Kenma likes it here. He likes being with Shouyou and Kageyama. He likes their them-ness. “Yeah, I do.”
Shouyou grins. “Good.”
The final boss rears its ugly heads as they’re getting ready to leave together for afternoon classes.
“Say, Kuroo-san mentioned a long time ago that he’d asked you to move in with him and Bokuto-san. Why didn’t you?”
Kenma feels weak from the sudden blow. It’s not a question that Kenma had been expecting from Shouyou, but then he remembers grimly that this is what he likes about Shouyou: he’s always new and unexpected, ready to take him by surprise. Their battle is neverending.
He forces a shrug, brushing it off like lint from his jacket sleeve. “I just didn’t feel like it.”
“Hmm,” Shouyou responds. He must sense that Kenma doesn’t want to talk about it, and he leaves the topic behind them in the genkan as they walk through the door. Maybe they’ll pick it up another day. Kenma gets the feeling he’ll have to.
Honestly, he hasn’t thought about it much since that day. He hasn’t had to think about it, and he’s been content with just letting it be for as long as he can. It’s like skipping a bonus stage because he can clear the game without it.
All he remembers is that back then, the thought of living with Kuroo, even with one of their closest friends there, had made him anxious.
It was two years ago, right before Kenma’s graduation, when he’d been given the option of moving out of his parents’ house for the first time. Being a year apart, there had always been the year between when Kuroo had waited for Kenma to catch up: elementary school into middle school, middle school into high school, and now high school into college.
It had been that last year between, and Kuroo’s physical distance, that had changed things for Kenma. For almost as long as they’d known each other, Kuroo had had a life away from Kenma: more friends, more places he wanted to see, more experiences he wanted to have. But by virtue of their proximity, Kenma had always been involved, always dragged into it. Kenma had never really minded, not with Kuroo, because Kuroo had never forced him into anything; Kuroo had always known when to give him space.
But for that year between, Kuroo had no longer been just a door away. The space Kenma had been given wasn’t space that he’d asked for. They’d still talked as much as they could, a stop-motion stream of phone calls and text messages, but Kenma had missed Kuroo in a way that he hadn’t realized he could actually miss someone.
He hadn’t liked learning that he depended on Kuroo in that way. And once he’d been given a chance to get it back, to have Kuroo so close all over again, it had been terrifying how much he’d wanted it.
“I don’t think so, Kuro.” Kenma shakes his head and looks ahead at the sidewalk in front of them, avoiding Kuroo’s eyes. “I’ll just stay at home.”
There’s something off, now, something different. The offer to live with him and Bokuto isn’t supposed to make him so happy. He’s not supposed to need Kuroo like this, to want him around as much as he does. Kuroo’s just supposed to be there, and Kenma shouldn’t have to think about what that means to him.
He can feel Kuroo’s eyes on him. “Okay.” This is correct, mostly. Kuroo’s supposed to let it go, like he always does whenever he knows Kenma truly doesn’t want to do something, except he isn’t supposed to sound as disappointed as he does right now. “I miss you, though. You should visit more often.”
Something lurches in Kenma’s stomach. Kuroo’s not supposed to say that.
“I’ll try.” Kenma’s not supposed to agree.
Shouyou says something, and it takes a moment for Kenma to process it. But then everything, everything, clicks into place. “You’re coming, right?” To the end-of-the-year practice match Kuroo’s team always plays against the team that Shouyou and Kageyama are now on.
As if Kenma would miss it. He has Kuroo and Shouyou and Kageyama. He’s keeping all of them.
“Eh, why haven’t you finished that level?” Kuroo points at the screen, twelve-year-old eyes wide with distress.
“Because that level’s stupid. Plus, the last part’s just a bonus stage. I don’t actually need it to beat the game.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Give me that.” Kuroo snatches the controller from Kenma’s hand, and Kenma glares with as much annoyance as he can muster, which admittedly isn’t a lot right now; if Kuroo’s going to clear this level for him and save him the work, he doesn’t have much to complain about.
“Do you usually skip the bonus stages?” Kuroo asks twenty minutes in. He’s gotten as far as Kenma’s ever gotten on this stage, dying countlessly in the same spot, resetting the game a few times so the amount of lives he’s used isn’t recorded. As a result, Kenma’s gotten a chance to observe from the outside. He’s starting to see openings he hadn’t before.
“I play them,” Kenma responds petulantly. “The harder stages are more fun to figure out. But if they’re impossible to beat, then they’re just boring.”
Kuroo dies again, and he wilts a little, handing the controller back to Kenma. “This one’s impossible!”
Kenma plants his feet and leans forward, focused, mind clear. “No, I think I know what to do now.” It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth the effort.
Besides, the bonus stages always do have the best rewards.
“Sometimes change makes things better,” he hears.
Kuroo is beaming down at him, eighteen and full of life, a volleyball tucked under his arm. He has a look on his face that’s warm, genuine, affectionate. He’s moving out, going to college next month, but they still have this. They’ll always have this.
Without another word, Kuroo turns and starts walking in the direction of the riverbank. They make their way there together, sakura trees blooming shyly as they pass.
It’s finally starting to warm up outside, and when Kuroo barges into the apartment, he brings the spring air in with him.
“Kenma! You busy?”
Kenma looks up from his game. He didn’t actually hear Kuroo, because he’s got his headphones in with the volume up as loud as it’ll go, but he has a 50/50 chance of getting this right. “Yes.”
“Liar,” Kuroo’s mouth seems to say as he steps forward to stand next to Kenma’s chair. He’d answered correctly, then.
Kenma tugs his headphones out, the earbuds blasting a tinny melody from where they’ve landed on the table, and he tilts his head upward a bit as he waits.
There it is.
Their eyes meet, Kenma’s expression deadpan, and Kuroo smirks wryly. “Now’s a perfect time to go to the riverbank, wouldn’t you say?”
“There’s a reason I have headphones.”
“Come on, for old times’ sake. I know you miss playing. Plus, now you can brag to all your friends that you hang out with the captain of the volleyball team.”
“Hanging out with you is hardly anything to brag—”
Shouyou’s bedroom door bursts open, bouncing with a loud slap against the frame. Shouyou and Kageyama are standing in the doorway, disheveled and breathing hard, lips wet and swollen. Shouyou’s t-shirt is bunched unevenly around his shoulders, and Kageyama doesn’t seem to realize that he’s wearing nothing but his boxer briefs, tented obscenely.
“Did someone say volleyball?!”
They wheeze in perfect unison, bright-eyed and earnest, and Kenma, frankly, is amazed. How did they even hear anything over the sounds of their own horniness? Next to him, Kuroo’s amusement swells up from his chest and then spills through his lips. He doubles over, laying an arm across Kenma’s shoulders to steady himself as he laughs and laughs and laughs.
Kenma leans into the touch, a small comfort in this dark hour, and Kuroo’s fingers curl around Kenma’s shoulder a little tighter.
If this is what his life has become after moving into this apartment, well, maybe he’ll just have to get used to it. Sometimes change makes things better, after all.
It certainly could be worse.