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Those Words Left Unsaid

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Exactly 71 hours after Kenma got his new video game, Kuroo received a phone call. He had expected it. The weekend was starting.

After hours, days, of no message from his childhood friend, not even a short text of acknowledgement, Kuroo had told himself not to worry. This was how things usually went whenever Kenma got into a new game. It was their routine.

Disappearing without a trace for some days and then, a phone call. Looking fondly at his phone, Kuroo put his study material aside and answered his phone, not being able to hold back the smile on his face.

“Kenma,” he stated, “I was this close to thinking you had died on me.”

Kenma just snorted. The sound was like heaven in his starved ears. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Am I not allowed to miss you?”

“Kuro.”

“Ah.” Propping his chin on the palm of his hand, the one that was not busy holding onto his phone, he stared at the wall in front of him, imagining the blond looking at him with a frown that he could only describe as adorable. Not that he’d ever tell him that. Yet. He had a lot to live for. “I take it you’re ready to mingle again, then? Have you finished your new game?”

He heard a puff. Kenma had huffed against the speaker of his phone.

“No.” Kenma sounded almost offended. “Of course not. I still got school and practice, you know,” he elaborated, somewhat irked.

This was their usual script. Whenever Kenma lost himself in a new game and Kuroo had to bear with continued silence from his childhood friend, he told himself to look forward to this. At that moment when Kenma had finished the tutorial and had immersed himself into the world of the game without missing vital story parts, oftentimes during a breather in the plot, he would manage to rip himself away from the game. And he’d call. Kuroo saw it as the reward for the time he had to endure without a word.

“How long are you in, then?”

There was a beat of silence while Kenma tried to remember. “Maybe twelve hours?”

“And how many does the game have?”

“I’m not sure, actually. I hope at least thirty. I’ve cleared about twenty-seven percent right now.”

“That’s more than 30 hours then, most likely,” he commented smartly.

Kenma sighed. “I’m talking about the actual story and not thousands of side-quests.”

“You like side-quests though?”

In front of his mental eye, Kuroo saw Kenma giving him an annoyed glance while he heard him sigh on the other end of the phone. “It’s not the same.” Kenma answered, nonetheless.

“Is it?”

“It’s not.” He left no room for retorts so Kuroo easily gave in, not in the mood to indulge their usual banter. There were better things to talk about, anyway. It had been too long.

There was nothing that got Kenma talking more than video games. Leaning back, Kuroo closed his eyes, trying to think of the tiny smile on his face that always managed to betray his excitement. His assignments long forgotten. “Tell me more.”

Like a broken dam, Kenma seldom fell into monologues like this but once he got talking about games, he barely needed any input from Kuroo at all to keep the conversation going. Describing the graphic, the artistic landscapes and whether the characters left footprints in the snowy or sandy areas. He talked about sunsets and fog and maybe a bug he had discovered. About little details he was pleased to find. After a detailed report on that, filled with promises to send him some pictures soon, he went on to rant about the story.

Kuroo just listened, soaking it all in. The slight hitch of elation, the hurried inhale and the rising rhythm breaking his usual monotone. He was unbelievably expressive like this, and Kuroo loved it. Listening to the beat of his voice, his words almost weren’t as important. But only almost. Kenma felt so close like this.

Arguably his favorite part was when the blond began to explain the music and how it managed to convey the story and mood of the game. The way he said ‘atmospheric’ with a hush in his voice as if he was letting Kuroo in on a secret. Kuroo wished it was, he knew he was. One of the few people Kenma let in like this.

Behind his closed eyes, he saw Kenma’s light up with excitement.

I am incredibly attracted to you right now, he thought, not for the first time. I want to wrap you in my arms and never let you go. I want you to tell me about all your favorite things while you’re buried against my chest, your words muffled , he thought, and longing caught in his throat. He swallowed it down, focusing on the words alive and close by his ear instead. Acutely aware that his expression was left unguarded, he did not care that his emotions were seeping through. There was no one to see it anyway and there was no way he could help it with the blond on the phone being like this, open and elated. Ecstatic even, for his standards. He did not want to tell him like this, over the phone and their relationship oddly fragile. Kuroo promised himself he would not break script.

There was a conscious silence that always followed when Kenma realized he had fallen into a monologue again.

Kuroo filled it without a hitch, with no thought, and almost revealed too much. “Missed you.”

He heard a low chuckle and his heart squeezed.

“Ah, missed you too, Kuro.”

A soft sigh left the confines of his chest, unwarranted. Silence settled before Kuroo got a hold of himself again.

“Let me move to my bed, I’ll tell you about my day then,” he picked up the conversation again, already moving to stand and stretch.

Kenma hummed again, agreeing. Plopping down on his bed, he grinned and started a detailed report on the past days Kenma had missed with his game-induced absence. Valiantly, he was ignoring the grounding feeling that his bed felt lonely, missing a warm body with eyes that would look at him with sleepy and comfortable eyes. Their call ended only when they were both on the verge of falling asleep.

Kuroo did not care that he was supposed to finished up on assignments as he fell asleep, the murmur of Kenma’s voice still warming his ears, he did not feel like lifting a finger, afraid of breaking this painstakingly crafted bubble.

----

“Did you watch our latest match against Tohoku?” The raven did not try to hide his giddiness. The adrenaline of a game well played has barely left his system and he felt like taking chances. It was not often but sometimes, he was aware, the setter of his former high school team caught a stream of his current team. Asking never hurt, maybe he got lucky.

“I did.”

This was too good to be true. The grin that spread on Kuroo’s face was bordering on maniac. Kenma was in a good mood, Kuroo could tell already. This meant indulgement and he planned to exploit it.

“Mhmm, you did, huh?”

“So I’ve said, Kuro.”

The raven barked out a laugh, staring at the slowly darkening sky above him. It was only a short ten-minute walk to his apartment from here. He contemplated a quick stop by the nearest grocery store but quickly decided against it. “What did you think?,” he picked up the conversation again, smoothly.

He heard the rustle of fabric and guessed Kenma was getting more comfortable in his seat. The grin on Kuroo’s face almost hurt by now.

“You finally managed to pull of that attack you’ve been working on in an actual game.”

Kuroo was not sure whether to feel smug inn memory of the game or because Kenma noticed. It did not really matter but something warm was settling in his chest once again.

“We did.”

They had won that game. It was only a practice match, so the coaches had let the first years play, to strengthen the bond of a strong rivalry long established. Competing again, pulling of combos they had practiced so hard for with a new team, it had felt great.

“You still have a lot to improve, though.” Kenma spoke, indifferent, but Kuroo knew better.

“Are you going to offer me some of your wisdom again, kitten?”

Kenma grumbled and Kuroo laughed it off easily. He would not have minded it either way, a honest response or a change of topic. There was no denying, however, that hearing his childhood friend talk about volleyball, their common hobby, something that had managed to connect them so deeply, filled him with a muted sense of pride and relief. It made him remember Kenma’s face on that day. The day of the battle of the garbage dump and unwittingly, his breath hitched. The memory always did that to him.

“Your timing is still off,” the blond started to explain, the sound of the phone cracked awkwardly and for a second Kuroo feared he had lost connection. Kenma’s voice returned closer to a whisper. “Your setter has the toss completely figured out already, though, that’s impressive. He seems to have problems coordinating relayed attack. I guess he’s not used to the way you move yet, it’s easy to look through. His toss to you comes in a little bit too low, you should ask him to check that. You can hit a toss higher than that, make him work you for it.”

Dodging a mother distracted by her toddler, Kuroo snorted. “And you call me a slave driver.”

“That’s what you get for continuing volleyball in college.”

“Any more advice?”

“Some.”

Kuroo understood a dismissal from Kenma when he heard it. Following their well-executed play, once again. The terse tone of his voice made it clear he did not feel like elaborating so the raven did not press him. Instead, he basked in the knowledge he had gained. “I’m so going to show you off when you come visit me next time. My teammates all want to meet the genius I’ve got hidden up my sleeve.”

“I have no idea why I put up with you.”

They are calling you my boyfriend, he wanted to say, remembering the quips he heard at today’s practice when he impishly refused an invitation to a team building meeting for the sake of this phone call. It was not the first time this has happened and by now, he did not need to do more than mention Kenma’s name to get an out. His teammates had just accepted Kenma as a vital part of himself and Kuroo wanted. The longing, usually hidden away with the utmost care, was leaking, seeping through, tingling. Do you want to be? My boyfriend? Instead, he said. “Come on, we both know you love me.”

Carefully obnoxious. The way he always reacted. He wished Kenma’s answer would break the routine of their usual banter, tell him what he wanted to hear but could not believe with the words unsaid. Considering the amount of time they spent talking on a regular basis, the parts left unsaid sat heavy in the crevice of his chest.

The sigh he got in reply was long-suffering and Kuroo cackled, as always. Playing along to the script they had meticulously created during the years of their friendship. Never missing a step.

----

“You actually called,” a baritone replied when the call got answered.

Kuroo grinned, tired, even though the other could not see. “I promised I would.” He made a gesture with his free hand that, again, went unseen. “So here I am.”

“You’re being dramatic again, aren’t you?” Kenma breathed out a sigh, but Kuroo sensed a note of fondness. It made him feel awake, all of a sudden.

Giddiness was bubbling inside of him. “You know me well.” He pushed it down, controlling himself carefully and faced reality. “I don’t have that much time to talk, if I’m being honest.”

Kenma grunted. “It’s fine. We can just stay on the phone. I can finish up on some homework.”

Nostalgia was pulling at his chest. “Like we used to.”

“Mhmm.” The low murmur reverberated in his ears.

His first finals were coming closer and he was completely buried in assignments. Thankfully, practice had decreased to give the students a chance of facing their workload, but two afternoons more to spend studying was not nearly enough. Kuroo felt drained and had not been able to talk to Kenma as much as he would like to. It had made things even worse.

Now, hearing the faint scratches of a pen against paper through the phone, breathe came easier to him. He inhaled deeply, held the oxygen and when exhaled again, the tension left with it. Straightening his back, he set to work himself. It was easy to trick himself into thinking Kenma was actually beside him.

After working in silence for a while, Kuroo could tell Kenma was getting restless, then sluggish. The rhythmic scratching stopped and there was muffled crackling that had nothing to do with pages being turned. A hushed thump. Kuroo raised an eyebrow when he realized he could barely hear movement anymore.

“Kenma?” He got no answer, so he chanced a glance at the clock. It had gotten late. Kuroo gave a fond half-smile, staring at his phone lying innocently beside his laptop.

Bordering on the verge of a nervous breakdown, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that had to be done and not enough time to do so, he had made more progress in the few hours he had spent with Kenma than he had the whole day. Some part of his consciousness told him Kenma knew somehow, he had needed this. That he craved some form of human interaction but had no time to ask for it. How right the blond had been. How thankful he was for making him promise.

“I love you,” he said then , sure the one on the other side of the phone had already fallen asleep. “Thank you for looking after me.” His admission was break in their script. One that could easily be ignored, the words tugged at his heart nonetheless.

----

Despite his latest optimism , it did not get better. His workload just kept in increasing, exams crawling closer.

He could feel the exhaustion settling into his bones and yet, he continued sluggishly , tormenting himself with one all-nighter after the other, reviewing the material endlessly, proofreading his essays until he no longer cared. His phone calls with Kenma became sparer, he did not even have the energy to text him his usual good morning. Kenma continued unbothered, sending him random updates and thoughts despite the silence he got in return. Kuroo read every single one of them as if they were a lifeline, but he never responded. It was not like him at all, to be so quiet. He broke their routine. He was painfully aware of it but did not know how to change it, how to make sure he played along with their lines.

Kenma seemed to get fed up with his silence. And even though he was seldomly the one to instigate it, that evening Kenma called.

While his phone announced the call, Kuroo contemplated not taking it. Studying the whole day and feeling like he had achieved nothing, he really did not feel like talking right now. But this was Kenma. So, despite his unwillingness, he answered.

“Kenma,” he started, cautious to draw out each vowel. Playing along the lines again, now, that they were talking. Kuroo was drained, but falling back to this part of himself happened naturally.

“Kuro.” Neither of them continued, so they remained in silence.

Unsure on why Kenma had called him, Kuroo stared at the notes in front of him. The messy line of his handwriting were blurred to his eyes. It was late but he told himself to cover just one more chapter.

“I'm coming over to visit this Friday.” It was Wednesday now. “I'm staying the weekend and maybe some,” Kenma told him.

Kuroo frowned at the wall in front of him. This was not right. “Don’t you have school?”

“It’s fine.”

“Kenma.” Kuroo sighed, disapproving.

“You are not doing well right now, Kuro, I know that. You haven't answered my texts in a week and you have never done that before.”

He wanted to respond, but had no idea what to say to defend himself.

“My mom said it’s alright as long as I promised to study while I’m here. School’s mostly self-studies at this point and the team doesn’t mind. It’s fine, Kuro,” Kenma stressed. “I’d rather be here with you right now.”

The raven wanted to deny it, oppose to it with all his might. But when he opened his mouth to retort, to protest, words caught in his throat. He was so tired. He felt like he was going nowhere. He was so sick of it, and maybe Kenma was right. His quiet but firm voice made him listen. In front of his inner eye, he saw feline eyes glint with (not typical) determination. His mouth worked without his consent. “Alright.”

---

Getting Kenma from the station was nothing he had to do. Kenma knew the way, five minutes by foot, from the past times he had visited. His apartment was not hard to find either. Still, some part of the raven felt restless and could not be calmed down any other way.

It was already dark outside when Kuroo left his apartment, still in sweats and a thick jacket throwing over in hurry. He realized he should have prepared the futon for either of them to sleep in before, but now it was too late to turn back. A job easy managed even after getting back.

During the short walk, he told himself to not think about the reason for his childhood friend’s visit, it made his restlessness worse, thousands of possibilities running through his head in light speed. He ignored all of it.

The station was relatively empty when he arrived, only minutes before Kenma’s train should. He shifted on his feet uneasily as he watched the train enter the station. Locating

A fond smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. It had been a long time since they had seen each other. The moment Kenma’s eyes caught his, the noise that had been bothering him, quieted. Like an itch finally soothed. His shoulders slumped as he greeted his friend, the smile on his face painfully honest and a comfortable warmth spreading in his insides..

Kenma stared at him, mustering him critically. The raven, soaking in his presence, did not even bother feeling conscious of himself. The blond nodded and let himself get pulled into a quick hug. Kuroo made sure his touch did not linger longer than appropriate, ignoring the disappointment in his chest, and lead him home.

Entering his apartment, Kenma ignored the obvious mess he encountered. Kuroo should have cleaned, he lamented, feeling embarrassed. The blond, however, just dumped his bag in a mostly unoccupied corner and made himself feel at home.  A slow smile found its way to the raven’s face, watching his friend. It threw him off-skelter, seeing Kenma casual in his own place. In a good way. Kuroo could stare at him forever.

Remembering himself, he turned to start preparing Kenma’s place to sleep for the night.

“Don't bother with it.” Kuroo stopped moving to the closet where he stored his guest futon. “Wanna watch a movie?”

Kuroo wanted to refuse, he should be using this time to study. Time was running close. The whole deal of Kenma coming over was throwing him off his schedule already, he should spend as much time as possible studying anyway.

Taking one look at his childhood friend, however, the pinched look on his face, the slight turn of his nose and slouch of his shoulder, Kuroo could not deny him. Instead, he sighed and gave in.

Apparently, Kenma came more prepared than Kuroo would have expected, already set on a movie for them to watch. He hurried the raven to get settled in their usual place, perched on top of his bed with his blanket and pillows messily scattered. Meanwhile the blond already selected this chosen movie and joined Kuroo.

The movie started with little delay, but Kuroo’s thoughts kept running, just an edge away from out of control, material he still had to review on the forefront of his mind.

Kenma's fingers brushed against his jaw, breaking him out of his unwitting trance. “Kuro, relax.”

He had not realized he had clenched his teeth that much until the blond had pointed it out. He laughed. “I'm really tense, huh?”

“Relax,” Kenma repeated and Kuroo’s body obeyed him, albeit slowly, as Kenma scooted closer and sank against him.

In that moment, Kuroo allowed himself to feel. To breathe out all the stress and to exist in the present. Kenma had pulled Kuroo’s arm around his body, the two of them were nestled closely together. He pulled the blanket up, aware that Kenma enjoyed the extra warmth and weight.

I love you , he thought then, hand resting just above the blonds belly button and feeling every breath he took , I don’t want you to ever leave me . Kenma idly commented on something happening on the screen but Kuroo could not focus, too caught up in him. He pulled Kenma closer, their body’s aligning and he was immensely glad Kenma was here, in his arms, at this moment, even if he did not voice it . His body heat, his steady voice, his familiar smell a comfort, a relieve, a blessing.

They fell asleep like that, huddled together and it was the best he had slept in ages. Waking up to the blond's quiet breathes against his neck, he felt like he was floating.

They established his status quo anew. Taking care of himself got easier after that weekend and Kenma spent most of his free time on the phone with Kuroo, even though they were not talking for most parts of it while Kuroo studied. Kenma made sure to tell him to take a break and they even figured out how to watch some documentaries together in the evening once Kenma deemed Kuroo had studied enough. Finals were still overwhelming but at the same time, he felt more settled. He was not alone, he could do this.

Kuroo picked up messaging Kenma every day again.

---

The next time they saw each other again in person, Kuroo was visiting home. Their phone calls until then felt different, but the raven was never able to put a finger on it. Careful to never say too much.

Finals done for now, he decided a visit was long overdue. Everyone at home had welcomed him with open arms, his former team exuberantly deciding they had to celebrate his return. Kuroo suspected it was just an excuse to get some yakiniku, but he barely minded.

Seeing the new team dynamic first-hand instead of hearing Kenma’s reports was an experience. They clicked differently than they did before, but Kuroo was unspeakable relieved to see the blond still fit in, and even more importantly, was comfortable , bickering with Tora and making idly comments to something a first-year had said. And even though it was in outing for his sake, besides answering question about college life and trying not to cringe at the starry eyes of the first-years, he spent a considerable time observing his childhood friend. He did not regret it, never would.

Like he did when they still went to school together, he walked the blond home. The warmth that had wormed itself deeply inside of him refusing to leave, he strolled along the familiar path with Kenma by his side. The silence between them was easy, dealing with his teammates must have been exhausting for the setter and Kuroo understood, was content like this, even.

They came to stop in front of Kenma’s house, streetlight illuminating them after the daylight had long faded away. Catching the other’s gaze, Kuroo intended to wish the blond a good night, but words caught in his throat. Eyes gleaming in warm, artificial light, Kenma was completely at ease, bright the way he rarely expressed. The well-acquainted ache was drumming, stripping him bare and threatening to overthrow his rationality.

I love you , he thought for the thousandth time. Helplessly. At his mercy.

“I’m in love with you,” Kenma said, out loud.

Everything halted. There it was. A break in their routine, an improv in the script he always tried so hard to follow. The raven gaped.

Kenma’s hand was resting on top of Kuroo’s chest. There was no way he could not feel his heart racing, hammering.

“Are you in love with me, too?,” he asked, his voice soft.

There was no longer a point to pretending he was not. He had never done a good job of hiding it anyway. “Yeah.”

Kuroo cleared his throat, grasping the hand resting against his chest, squeezing it tightly. His voice felt thick. “Can I kiss you?”

Kenma nodded his agreement, peering up at him with wide, open eyes. Lifting his free hand to caress Kenma’s cheek, he could not suppress its quiver when he made contact. His heart was beating, his blood rushing quickly, his breath came in gasps as his gaze did not leave the other for the tiniest second. Always on lookout for hesitation, not prepared for the outright lack of doubt

After what felt like ages locked in the certainty of his eyes, Kenma raised to his tiptoes. Their lips brushed. Electricity racing through his core at the contact, Kuroo knew there was no way back now.

They had thrown aside their script, ripping pieces of it apart. The raven wasn't sure the broken routines of words unsaid would be repairable. But he was looking forward to creating new ones instead.