It was supposed to be joyous, a symbol of love between souls so compatible a single touch left vibrant colors. Great romances and undying friendships were always preceded by a brush of the hand, an accidental bump, or a forward caress of the cheek. People coveted the brilliant marks adorning their bodies. Kenma, on the other hand, had no great aspirations in the way of soulmate marks.
All his marks were accidental, made by brushing arms (Hinata, Kuroo, and Fukunaga) or legs (Akaashi) unintentionally. In all the movies, accidents were romantic, but to him it just seemed like a not-particularly-funny joke. Don’t get him wrong, he loved his soulmates and was glad he’d met them, but only Kuroo hadn’t been a surprise. Kenma hates surprises.
The logical way to prevent them was to stop touching people. Or more accurately, stop letting people touch him. He wore hoodies and clung to Kuroo to lessen the chances, and his general vibe of “don’t talk to me” kept even touchy extroverts like Lev away.
Well, most touchy extroverts. Kuroo’s friendship with Bokuto was a chaotic match made in heaven, and the marks that came from Kuroo slinging his arm around Bokuto’s shoulders after a match were entirely expected. They hung out frequently outside of training camps, and for a while Bokuto would always swoop in on Kenma for a hug or fist bump or some other uncomfortable contact.
Kenma always managed to avoid Bokuto’s friendly advances, and over time Bokuto understood how Kenma felt and stopped trying to touch him. He never told him, but Kenma was extremely grateful for the accommodation. Bokuto found other ways to connect with Kenma that didn’t involve putting his hands or other assorted body parts on him and over the years they became nearly as close as Bokuto and Kuroo were. Now that they were out of college and into their careers, the trio still spent as much time as they could manage in each other's company.
Today was a rare day, Bokuto was back from an overseas match, Kuroo didn’t have to work late, and Kenma didn’t have a stream scheduled. With their agendas blissfully free, they decided to occupy Kenma’s living room and order an obscene amount of food from their favorite restaurant. While Kuroo didn’t have to work late, he did still have to work, so he was to pick up the food on his way back. This left Kenma and Bokuto alone in the house with some documentary playing in the background, waiting for their friend to get home.
They mostly sat in silence, with Bokuto occasionally laughing at something on his phone or pointing out something cool in the documentary. Neither felt the need to fill the space with words and Kenma enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere.
Kenma had always admired Bokuto, even before they were real friends. Bokuto had the most marks of anyone he knew, a whopping 15. He just had the type of personality that could mesh with anyone and he loved others so easily.
When he thought about soulmates too long, his thoughts always turned towards himself. He had so few, partly of his own doing, but who’s to say he’d have more even if he let people touch him? He was difficult to be around; he didn’t talk much and when he did he never knew what the right thing to say was. He wasn’t outgoing, he didn’t make friends easily, and he could barely handle the four soulmates he had. When was the last time he even spoke to Fukunaga? If Hinata didn’t text him constantly he doubts he’d speak to him often either. Of course he loved them and was deeply grateful for their bond, but he couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t deserve them. They needed someone better, someone who could keep up.
Kenma was so lost in his thoughts he paid no attention to Bokuto trying to worm his way out from under the kotatsu they were both seated under. They had blankets strewn everywhere, and when Bokuto put his hand back to stand up, the blanket underneath him slid on the hardwood floor and sent him sprawling into Kenma’s side, jerking him out of his thoughts.
Kenma’s hoodie and blanket kept their skin from touching, however Kenma’s heart was racing. Bokuto scrambled to get out of Kenma’s space and began apologizing profusely.
“Kenma, I’m so sorry, it was an accident. I didn’t mean to touch you, I know you don’t like it,” he said, holding his hands out in apology.
He knew it wasn’t a big deal and forgave Bokuto entirely, but he couldn’t calm himself down. Bokuto had touched him. He worked so hard to keep it from happening, but it seemed even he was not immune to chance. What if they’d touched skin? What if marks appeared, and he’d have another person who deserved more than he could give? He liked Bokuto, but he’s already got so many soulmates, does he need dead weight?
“Kenma, are you alright?” Bokuto interrupted his spiraling thoughts. He leaned towards Kenma, but still gave him plenty of room and kept his hands in his lap.
Kenma nodded slowly and adjusted the blanket in his lap, not making eye contact.
“It’s fine. I’m not upset,” he said quietly.
“Can I do anything to make you more comfortable?” Bokuto asked.
“Um, no, I don’t think so. I don’t touch people often.” Kenma knew that Bokuto knew that but he looked so apologetic he felt he owed him some kind of explanation.
Bokuto smiled at him and resituated himself next to Kenma under the kotatsu, going back to watching the documentary. That was another thing Kenma appreciated about Bokuto, he could just let things go. He didn’t draw unnecessary attention to Kenma’s anxiety by asking lots of questions, he just listened and trusted Kenma to say if he needed help.
Kenma, on the other hand, was not good at letting things go. He felt guilty for getting so worked up over an accident, and at Bokuto no less. Bokuto had always tried so hard to get to know him and make him feel comfortable, and in return Kenma couldn’t even get up the nerve to touch him.
He wasn’t intending to prolong the situation, but the question bubbled out before he had a chance to stop it.
“What’s it like? Having so many.”
Bokuto looked surprised but smiled reassuringly.
“It can be hard, lots of people have opinions about people with more marks than average, and sometimes I feel like I have a lot of responsibility. But mostly, I really like it. All of my soulmates are really important to me and my life is a lot better for knowing them,” He replied.
“I only have four.”
“Sometimes even that many is too much.”
“Is that why you don’t want people to touch you?”
“Yes? Maybe?” he paused. “I hate that I don’t get a say. All of my marks were accidents. Hinata and I went for a ball at the same time, Kuroo bumped into me while he was climbing on my bed, Fukunaga tripped on the steps next to me, and Akaashi sat too close. I hate that I can avoid it all I want but someone could still touch me without my permission and suddenly there are all these obligations.”
“I can see how you’d feel there are obligations, but do you stay friends with Kuroo out of obligation?” Bokuto asked. Kenma shook his head.
“Kuroo doesn’t expect anything different from you because you have a mark. You’d be friends with him regardless. Same for all of my marks. The mark isn’t what made me have a relationship with them, we were already going to be friends. It’s just like a reassurance that you picked a good person, in my opinion.”
Kenma thought it over. It made sense, what Bokuto was saying. He didn’t treat Kuroo any differently because they were soulmates. And he was pretty sure Kuroo didn’t expect anything different from him after the mark appeared as compared to before. If anything, all it did was make him a little more likely to imagine Kuroo in his future.
“Also, if you don’t like people leaving marks on you, you could always leave a mark on someone else.”
Kenma looked at him skeptically.
“You could practice on me if you want, I like touching and I have no expectations of you no matter the outcome. Even if you do leave a mark, it’s not like our relationship would have to change. I already really like how we are,” Bokuto said. Kenma was comforted by how casually he said it. Maybe it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as he feels like it is. He can’t say he’d never thought about letting Bokuto hug him goodbye when he left for a match, or giving him a fistbump like Kuroo did when they did something “totally awesome.”
“It's your choice.” Bokuto looks at him for a few more seconds, and turns his attention back to the TV. They sit together quietly for a few more minutes while Kenma thinks it over.
“Are you sure it’d be alright? Whatever happens?” Kenma asks.
“Of course! Either you leave a mark or you don’t, and nothing about us has to change if you don’t want it to. We’ve already been friends for so long without it, I’m not worried.” Bokuto is always so sincere. It used to unnerve Kenma somewhat, but now it just makes him feel safe. He knows Bokuto is going to tell the truth every time; he never has to worry about underlying meanings or missed hints.
Kenma doesn’t respond but settles in slightly closer to Bokuto, who smiles warmly and returns to the documentary. He doesn’t move for a long time, long enough that Bokuto was more draped on the table than leaning on it and his eyelids were drooping farther and farther. The credits had just begun to roll when Kenma lifted his hand hesitantly.
The world won’t end, Kenma thought to himself. He was sure Bokuto had meant what he said, and he’d be lying if he said the idea wasn’t at least a little attractive. Maybe with so many marks, Bokuto wouldn’t notice if he was a terrible soulmate. If he left a mark, of course. He couldn’t say for certain he would.
In a moment of bravery and impulse, he gently placed his hand on Bokuto’s thigh. It was warm and Bokuto clearly had the leg muscle necessary for volleyball. Not that he paid attention to that. Fighting down the blush that had risen to his cheeks, he glanced up to see if Bokuto had awoken and was met with wide gold eyes.
“I, um, sorry. You said-” Kenma stuttered out.
“No! It’s alright. I’m glad you trust me,” Bokuto smiled and sat up, looking at the TV. “Looks like the movie is over, do you want to watch something else?”
He nods, hand still on Bokuto’s leg and no intention of removing it. He’d like to say it was because he was enjoying the contact, which he was, but it was more about the fact that he had no idea what would or wouldn’t be there when he lifted his palm. What did he want to be there?
He knew he wouldn’t be able to untangle that knot in any reasonable amount of time so he shoved all the thoughts down and tried to focus on the new movie Bokuto had put on. It was some animated one he’d not seen yet because he had a meeting to attend when Kuroo and Bokuto went to see it. He doubted he’d understand much of it right now.
At least Bokuto seemed comfortable. He’d leant back, careful not to jostle Kenma’s hand, and had a mound of pillows and blankets around him in some kind of fluffy throne. If he wasn’t so nervous, Kenma would even call it cute. His hair was ungelled today, so it was strewn across the pillows and partially flopped over his eyes. His earlier fatigue seemed to still be present as his eyelids were once again drifting closed. Unfortunately for Bokuto, Kenma can’t take it anymore.
“Bokuto,” Kenma said quietly. Bokuto jerked a little and turned his head with a yawn.
“Yeah? Sorry, I was falling asleep.”
“I can’t look, you need to tell me,” Kenma said, shutting his eyes and pulling his hand off Bokuto’s leg in a swift motion. Several seconds tick by.
“Wow, Kenma! You leave a very pretty color. Thank you for giving me such a nice mark!” Even though he’s not looking, Kenma can hear the warmth and sincerity in Bokuto’s voice, and that’s the only thing keeping his anxiety from reaching new heights.
He left a mark. On Bokuto. Kenma hadn’t touched anyone who wasn’t a soulmate in at least two years, if not longer, and the first person he touches, he leaves a mark. How’s that for an unfunny joke?
Kenma cracks an eye open and looks towards Bokuto, pointedly avoiding any exposed skin.
“Really Kenma, I’m glad you trusted me enough to touch me. It’s a beautiful mark and I’ll cherish it,” he says, smiling warmly at Kenma.
“You’re welcome. I think,” Kenma replies. Curiosity takes over and he sneaks a glance down at his hand. He’d known what color Bokuto’s marks were before now, what with nearly his whole friend group having one, but it was a different experience altogether seeing the glittery silver dusting his palm and fingertips. Entranced, he twists his hand to catch the light and watches the way the mark sparkles. It’s really, really beautiful.
He tears his gaze from the mark on his hand to look at the one on Bokuto. Sure enough, his pinkish red makes a small handprint right on Bokuto’s thigh. He inwardly preens knowing it will definitely be visible while Bokuto is wearing volleyball shorts, then has to fight down a second wave of blushing at the realization of what he just thought.
It’s a wonderful Moment they’re having, but tragically they are interrupted by keys at the doorway; likely Kuroo with dinner. Kenma’s heart rate spikes again and he clenches his fist like a child caught doing something they shouldn’t.
“Oh! Kuroo! Um,” Bokuto looks frantic. “I kinda forgot what time it was. I can run and put on some sweatpants if you don’t want to tell him! Whatever makes you comfortable but you have to decide fast. I’m sorry.”
Kenma sighs. “No, it’s okay. I mean, my entire hand is silver so it wouldn’t really make a difference. He’d find out anyway.”
Kuroo yells something unintelligible from the kitchen and enters the living room with arms filled with food. Sensing the weird mood, he quirks an eyebrow at the pair on the floor. Kenma hold up his hand to show Kuroo the glittering mark, and after a moment of shock Kuroo is whooping and hollering while jumping around the living room. He’s thrilled he and Kenma share a soulmate and at this rate Kenma is going to get a noise complaint from the neighbors.
Eventually they all settle together on the floor, Kenma sandwiched between his two soulmates, marks touching. Kuroo wraps his free arm around Kenma’s waist and whispers in his ear,
“I’m proud of you.”