Kenma’s imminent demise starts like this:
Kenma is dead tired. He could barely keep his eyes open on the bus and each step he took up to his apartment feels weighed down with sludge. The books in his bag feel heavier than usual, textbooks on Java bogged down with the whole hour he spent missing one curly bracket. He leans his forehead against his door as he fumbles with his keys, ignoring the growling in his stomach. He had eaten the last pack of cup noodles earlier today before his group work session and the prospect of having to cook real food with the contents of the fridge makes him more tired and more hungry in equal parts. Making the decision to deal with an empty stomach tomorrow morning, Kenma slinks through the door and heaves a sigh.
“Welcome home, sunshine!” Kuroo greets, all too enthusiastic for almost midnight. His smile is bright despite how absolutely stupid he looks.
His head is pressed against the arm of their couch in a way that can’t be comfortable and gives him a double chin. His glasses are pushed too high up his nose and make his eyes look smaller. The laptop sitting haphazardly on his chest doesn’t cover the ‘SEX WAX’ branding of his thrifted t-shirt. His legs are spread at awkward angles to accommodate for a half-asleep cat.
“Oikawa had errands to run today so I tagged along and bought these weird frozen apple tart things in the freezer.” Kuroo shifts his laptop to the coffee table with one hand. Moving slowly, he sits up and pulls Dante into his arms before walking towards Kenma. He stops at the ledge of the genkan. “And Iwaizumi made some yaki udon so I stole a serving for you. I don’t know if you’ll want it though, he used beef instead of pork so it’s probably gonna be chewy.”
Kenma quietly toes off his shoes, steps up to be on the same level as Kuroo, and then wordlessly leans forward to bury his head into the soft white fur of Dante’s stomach.
It is in this position that Kenma first thinks, I’m going to marry him. Then, fuck.
“Long day?” Kuroo asks, voice laced with concern. He very gently manipulates Dante’s arm into patting Kenma’s head twice. Kenma feels like he might cry.
Instead, he pulls his head back from their cat and looks at Kuroo. “Will you eat the beef out of the yaki udon?”
Kuroo hums and runs his tongue along his teeth. Kenma understands this to mean that Kuroo’s already brushed his teeth for the night, and then Kenma feels awful that he was able to understand such a subtle gesture so quickly. His heart starts pounding.
“Only some of it,” Kuroo says. “You still need protein.”
This only serves to make Kenma’s heart thud faster and throat tighten further, so he turns sharply towards the kitchen. “Mm,” he says instead of complaining because he is afraid if he opens his mouth now he’ll say something stupid.
Kuroo follows him, lifting Dante so that he can climb on top of the fridge. He likes to watch them while they cook, for some reason. He even has a little pillow up there. For the first time since Dante’s adoption, Kenma becomes incredibly aware that he and Kuroo have a cat together.
The yaki udon smells delicious as Kenma mixes it a bit before popping it in the microwave.
Their microwave. The one that Kuroo hesitated buying because it was more expensive but relented when Kenma explained that it was more expensive because it would actually heat their food in less than 10 minutes and would probably last longer than four months. Kuroo had pursed his lips before setting it into the shopping cart and here they are, 17 months later, Kenma's fingers shaking as they punch in a time.
Together. Ours. I think I love him.
“Kenma, don’t stand so close. You’ll get radiation.”
Kuroo does eat exactly only some of the beef flanks. He very methodically pokes around the bowl, likely calculating how much he should leave for Kenma. Nutritional value - Kenma’s willingness to chew for a long time = x. Kuroo very quickly solves for x, and he gets it just right because the moment Kenma’s jaw starts to tire he finds there is no more meat in his bowl.
It’s fine. They’ve been best friends for 13 years. That’s a perfectly normal thing to know about your childhood friend. Just like it’s perfectly normal to know that Kuroo probably had a nap earlier in the day, because the right side of his hair is more wild than usual, but it wasn’t a great nap, because the inside corner of his left eye is a little bloodshot so the poor sleep must’ve given him a headache and he must’ve rubbed at his eyes.
Normal, run-of-the-mill friend stuff. Bokuto would probably be able to tell the exact same thing, or even Yaku.
The chopsticks in his hands are suddenly hard to hold. Are his hands sweating? He doesn’t feel hungry anymore.
Kenma pushes the bowl away from himself. Kuroo automatically grabs it to put the remains in a container and back in the fridge.
Husband, Kenma thinks. Then, shut up!
He glares at Kuroo’s broad back, at the small hole at the hem of his shirt that he knows his thumb fits through, at the space between his shoulders that he knows his forehead fits snugly against. Why does he know that? How often does he latch onto Kuroo’s back while he flits about the kitchen? These can’t possibly be things that Bokuto, or even Yaku, also know. The pounding of his heart is back.
Kuroo turns then, leaning against the counter and bringing a glass of water to his mouth. All at once, Kenma is hit with everything he knows about Kuroo’s body, things that always settled in the depths of his mind and were never touched. It’s all tinted pink and smells like roses, it makes him nauseous.
The unruly mop of hair is untamable because he sleeps with pillows pressed against it, but more recently because Dante likes to sleep on his head. On special occasions, like dinner with family or outings with his friends, his throat smells like cedarwood and spice, otherwise, it smells like the bergamot body wash he uses. His chest is always warm and solid with muscle, but it’s become a bit more comfortable to rest on since high school ended. Kuroo’s hands are large, but they are steady and careful, be it blocking a volleyball or working with chemicals or braiding Kenma’s hair late at night with a YouTube tutorial playing on his phone.
Kenma’s eyes land on Kuroo’s pelvis. Years of being teammates have made Kenma unfortunately familiar with his best friend’s flaccid penis. Initially, it is a brief respite that Kenma doesn’t know what Kuroo’s dick looks like when it’s hard. His rotting brain takes this solace and twists its neck without remorse. Kenma doesn’t know what Kuroo looks like erect, but he finds that he kind of, sort of, wants to, which is enough to make him stand from the table abruptly, chair screeching against the tile floor.
“I’m going to bed,” Kenma manages to get out.
Kuroo, who Kenma is just now realizing must’ve seen him stare at his body for anywhere between 6 seconds and 6 years, simply raises an eyebrow. “Goodnight,” is all he says, because the way Kenma’s eyes dart anywhere but Kuroo’s face leaves little room for conversation.
He goes through his night routine in a daze, mind completely frazzled with thoughts of his best friend. Kuroo’s ugly donkey laugh, the drool that slips down his chin when he’s been staring at homework for a little too long, the incessant and childish whining that comes whenever he gets hiccups. All unattractive, annoying things that Kenma has always been a bit fond of, and wants to experience for the rest of his life. For a split second, Kenma thinks of the way Kuroo looks after winning a match: hair plastered to his forehead, sweat rolling down his neck, eyes on fire and grin wide and proud. This is enough to shut his brain down completely and send him on autopilot.
By the time he’s in bed, Kenma thinks he may never sleep again. There is simply too much to unpack. How, what, why, when, where? His thoughts are wild, bouncing back and forth in his skull with no coherent answers in sight, just more thoughts about how Kuroo has gone to every midnight game launch with him since they were 14.
His body, however, does not get this memo. The day’s exhaustion is still burrowed into his bones, and not too late after Kenma settles into his blankets do his eyes seem to sag.
(It starts like this: Kuroo prefers dogs. When Kenma hints, very subtly, that it gets a little lonely in the apartment when Kuroo’s shifts run late, Kuroo goes straight to the dogs at the animal shelter. They wag their tails and yap and lick his fingers through the metal bars. There is one he stares at a little longer than the others, a 3-year-old Shiba Inu mix, and while Kenma is going through possible names in his head, Kuroo shakes his and asks to see the cats.
Not that Kuroo hates cats, Kenma knows, but he likes dogs and their affections and the wistful look he gave that little Shiba was not a common one. Still, he leads Kenma into the room where cats are roaming free, and Kenma can’t help but be drawn to this teeny tiny white thing that jumps and flips after the little feathery toy Kenma holds in front of him.
“Dante,” Kuroo says behind him, like he could tell exactly what Kenma was thinking. Kenma doesn’t know exactly what kind of look he gave Kuroo at that moment, but before he knows it they are back in the car with ‘Dante’ mewling from the backseat.
Kenma, for the first few days, feels a little bad that Kuroo did not get a dog. Kuroo explains that busy college students probably couldn’t look after a medium-sized dog all that well, and very carefully does not say that Kenma probably wouldn’t want to have to take a dog on walks when Kuroo worked late even if it’s what they’re both thinking.
It works out for the best because a month in and it’s rare to see Kuroo separated from their cat. Dante sits on his shoulder and Kuroo more often than not refers to him as ‘their son’.)
(It starts like this: The water pressure in the shower is awful. There are strange stains on the ceiling of the kitchen. There is paint peeling in the living room. One room smells like cigarettes, and the other smells like mothballs. There is a brand new scuff mark on their door frame because Bokuto believes in nothing if not brute force even despite Akaashi saying, “Koutarou, just flip it around— no, to the left a little more— oh my god.”
Kenma is occupied with organizing boxes and placing them in their designated rooms. Kuroo gets the cigarette room, “because I’m a bad boy, Kenma, it fits my image. Oh, fuck, wait that’s worse than I remember. Where’s the Febreeze?” Kenma gets the smaller room, which he doesn’t mind because now the TV he will use to play games will be in their living room and will have no restrictions surrounding it. The thought of being able to play games on a larger TV late at night with Kuroo reacting behind him makes the mothball smell worth it.
They cross paths in the kitchen, Kenma picking up a box labelled ‘Kuroo’s Miku Phase (DELICATE!)’ as Kuroo sets down a box labelled ‘PS4 1/3’ on a rickety dining table. He smiles at Kenma like he’s just found a golden ticket. In their small kitchen with the mysterious stains on the ceiling and Bokuto and Akaashi bickering in the hallway over the best way to bring in a mattress, Kenma can’t help but smile back just as wide.)
(It starts like this: They lose to Karasuno at nationals. Half the team is in tears, but Kenma can’t find it in himself to be disappointed. He identifies more with the boisterous cheers from Karasuno on the other side of the net, even as he’s collapsed on the ground. He can’t feel his fingers, and he has to count his breaths so he doesn’t hyperventilate trying to get more oxygen in his lungs. He imagines this is what euphoria may feel like.
The thrill, the excitement, the pure joy he felt during this match is the payoff for years of practice and patience. It makes it all feel worth it.
He garners enough energy to sit up and looks Kuroo straight in the eye as he says, “Kuro, thank you for getting me into volleyball.” He needs Kuroo to know that he means it.
Kuroo fumbles with his response.)
(It starts like this: The autumn breeze is cool, and the concrete step Kenma is seated on is cooler. He stares blankly at the little clearing of green grass that they’ve spent years trampling. He doesn’t look at Kuroo as he explains all the reasons he wants to quit the team.
“I heard a rumour that Nekomata is coming back. The third years are going to retire soon, too.” Kuroo pauses briefly, considering his words. “So don’t quit, alright? The first and second years know how incredible you are. The team is definitely stronger because of you.”)
(It starts like this: “It’s nothing but a little internal bleeding.”)
The next morning, Kenma wakes feeling nostalgic. His dreams were full of his and Kuroo’s childhood, and that is the only reason he sneaks into Kuroo’s room and steals his worn Nekoma jacket. Technically, Kenma does still have his, but it’s in a box at his parent’s place. If he had it with him he would have definitely worn it instead, because he definitely doesn’t like the way that Kuroo’s sleeves cover his hands completely.
He smothers peach jam onto his toast and sits in front of the television, deciding to boot up Hyper Street Fighter II instead of his current playthrough of The Witcher 3. For nostalgia’s sake, is all. If Kuroo wakes up with time to spare before his first Friday class and decides he wants to play a couple rounds too, then so be it.
Kenma plays a few games to familiarize himself with the player roster again, bouncing back and forth between Cammy and Ryu the most. When he hears the bathroom door close and the shower start, his heart rate picks up only because he hasn’t played SF2: Turbo in a few years and he’s excited to beat Kuroo at it again. When he thinks about rivulets of water tracing paths down a chest and thighs he attributes it to the huge bulking designs of the male characters in the game. Ryu’s just incredibly buff, that’s it.
Kuroo pads into the living room in nothing but boxers, roughly towelling off his wet hair. Kenma looks for less than a second because he’s in the middle of a match, not because if he looked for any longer he’d never be able to look away.
“Holy shit,” Kuroo says. “I haven’t seen this game in forever. Give me like, five minutes and then I’ll kick your ass.”
There is a running tally of wins and losses on a board next to the TV. As it stands, Kuroo is at 63 and Kenma is at 127. “I’m sure you will.”
Kenma makes it through three more rounds before Kuroo is dressed and ready, flopping back on the couch, smelling deliciously of bergamot.
Scratch that last part.
“You’re up early,” Kuroo points out. He picks up the PS2 controller Kenma’s set out for him.
Kenma glances at the clock. It’s already past 9AM, but considering Kenma is typically dead to the world until at least noon he understands Kuroo’s concern. “I slept well last night.”
This sounds like a lie to both of them, but Kuroo doesn’t push it. Nor does he bring up the red jacket with ‘NEKOMA’ printed boldly on the back that is clearly two sizes too big for Kenma. It is appreciated. Kenma flicks the thumbstick between Cammy and Ryu, an action that is completely unrelated to the current situation.
Kuroo defaults to Blanka and Kenma finally settles on Ryu. For what it’s worth, Kuroo does put up a decent fight, especially considering Kenma’s spent the last half hour relearning Ryu’s combos and Kuroo probably hasn’t so much as thought about Street Fighter for a year. Kenma still wins. He wins most of the matches they play, save for the one where they both played as Chun-Li and the one where they agreed to use exclusively punches.
Nice, is the word Kenma decides to settle on.
Time dwindles closer and closer to Kuroo’s class, and 5 minutes before he has to leave he does what is the equivalent of holding Kenma over the edge of their balcony by the collar and making him beg for mercy.
As the title screen demo plays, controllers untouched on the table, Kuroo says, “I wish Street Fighter had hotter guys. I mean, I guess Ryu’s sort of attractive but not really my type, y’know?” Then he grabs a pear from the bowl on the kitchen counter and leaves.
Several minutes pass. Kenma reaches for his phone.
mr game and watch
how hard do i haveto slam my head against the ground for brain damage
I’m not trained in biology, psychology, or math. You can probably ask Sugawara-san.
mr game and watch
google diy amnesia got it thnks keiji
I’m going to check in again in 10 minutes. If you don’t respond, I’m coming over.
Kenma does not, in fact, google DIY amnesia. He does open an incognito window and to type ‘do straight guys think ryu is hot’ into the search bar, but he closes the page before any results load. It’s 2015, of course some straight guys are comfortable with announcing their attraction to video game characters designed to be good looking. Kenma can’t say he’s one of them, but Kuroo must be!
It’s the only explanation. It’s the only reason why Kuroo ‘Women-Love-My-Smirk’ Tetsurou would say such a thing. Ryu’s attractive but not really his type. His type, which is women, obviously. Before Kenma has a chance to talk himself out of what “I wish Street Fighter had hotter guys” means, his phone pings again.
Are you alive?
mr game and watch
how did you know koutarou was into guys
He kissed me on the mouth and said “please go out with me.”
Why do you ask?
Kenma flips his phone in his hands a few times. Why did he ask? What is he asking for? Really, it isn’t like it matters to him one way or another if Kuroo does happen to like men more than aesthetically. Then they’d just be two best friends who both like men but not each other. It’s not that different from two straight guys being friends. Maybe they could even bond further over men they find attractive.
That idea disregards the fact that the only time Kenma had ever told Kuroo about someone he found attractive was when he was 15 and confessed into a dark room that he’d stumbled across Zack Fair porn while looking up easter eggs. Kuroo did not push him out of his bed and completely excommunicate Kenma from his life like Kenma thought he might, instead he barked a laugh that he immediately covered with his palms so as to not wake his parents.
With a desperately even voice, Kuroo had said, “I’m glad you could trust me with your Zack Fair porn.” They haven't spoken about it since, but Kuroo did give him pointed glances the next time he played Crisis Core.
Kenma is only recounting this memory because he is feeling nostalgic today, not because this particular memory is pertinent to any current situations in his life.
Stupid boys with their stupid spiky black hair.
Heaving a deep sigh, Kenma falls back onto the couch. He hears a tiny meow and that’s all the warning he’s given before a solid weight lands on his stomach. Dante kneads into him, 11 pounds of white fur and yellow eyes crushing Kenma’s internal organs. He strokes the cat’s head affectionately.
“Why is your father the way that he is,” Kenma says. It’s something he’s said at least a hundred times before, but the phrasing brings him back to the night prior. All of the ‘us’ and ‘our’ that made him dizzy. He curls his toes.
Realizing that you want to marry your best friend and see what he looks like aroused doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s probably just what happens when you spend the majority of your life with just one person. Marriage pacts are a thing, and so are friends with benefits. Maybe Kenma’s just horny. Love horny. For romance and deeper bonds and whatnot. It could have nothing to do with Kuroo at all, not his stupid eyes or the outline of his dick through those gray sweatpants. Kenma could just be hormonal.
His eyes widen.
mr game and watch
is there such a thing as 2nd puberty? asking for a friend
It’d be nice if there was. It would definitely explain this whole thing going on, and if Kenma gained a few inches in a couple different places he certainly wouldn’t complain.
He doesn’t get a response until hours later when he’s returned from his only Friday class and is in the middle of a recording session. He’s gotten early access to Ori and the Blind Forest and has every intention to have a first impressions video recorded, edited, and out by Monday before its official launch. Despite the prickling of curiosity he feels, the itty bitty voice in his head that wants validation, he ignores the light of his phone screen and pushes forward with the video. The game is easy to get lost in, at least.
So easy to get lost in that Kenma doesn’t find himself wrapping up until just before 7PM, a whole 2 hours after his typical recording session finishes. After triple checking that his audio and video files have safely been saved onto his drive, he pulls off his headphones and stretches his jaw a few times to get used to the lack of pressure. He stretches his arms over his head and arches his back with a satisfying pop.
Finally, he swipes his phone off his desk and unlocks it to find a slew of messages awaiting him.
oh no is kuroo going through menopause already :((
just kidding!!!! kenma u don;t talk to me for WEEKS and then ask me that? do u onjly love me for my biology night classes?
kuroo probably also knows more about it than i do but im HONOURED u would come to me first!!!!!!!!!!
2nd puberty isnt really a thing BUT soemtimes puberty can last into ur early 20s b/c u dont stop growing until around 25 so ur testosterone can spike even after u think ur done
thank u for coming to my ted talk
In the solitude of his room, Kenma doesn’t bother hiding a small smile at Bokuto’s energetic responses. He shoots back a quick gratitude but doesn’t expect anything else for the day, assuming Bokuto’s either at evening practice or helping Akaashi make dinner.
He slumps back in his chair, satisfied with the knowledge that this newfound predicament is really all just in his dick. It gave him quite the scare. Being in love with Kuroo ? What a silly notion. With this weight off his shoulders, Kenma taps on the next notification bubble without thinking.
matsuo is out so practice is wrapping up early what do you want for dinner
its your turn to pay btw
mr game and watch
mcnaldos. i love the it
okay do you want a happy meal i hear theyre selling inkling toys
mr game and watch
yes but i want salad instead of sweet corn
And everything is back to normal. He rises from his desk, swipes the garbage from his desk into the bin, scoops some food into Dante’s dish, and is not in love with his best friend.
His best friend comes home with a greasy bag of McDonald's and a tiny figurine of a lime Inkling, they eat over an episode of Food Wars, and Kenma feels perfectly at peace.
“So I was thinking,” Kuroo starts. Kenma chews absently on a stray shred of lettuce that fell from his burger, paying little attention to the screen in front of him where a woman’s chest is on full display fanservice-style. “There aren’t very many fighting games with cute guys in them.”
The strand of lettuce falls from Kenma’s mouth into his lap. This is just a normal conversation between friends. The Kill Bill sirens going off in his head don’t mean anything. “Jin from Tekken,” Kenma says calmly. “Patroklos from Soul Calibur.”
Kuroo hums thoughtfully. “He’s not bad, actually.”
“Devil Jin from Tekken.”
“I’m starting to sense that you might have a thing for Jin.”
“I have… a type.” Kenma specifically leaves out the part about stupid boys with their stupid spiky black hair.
“They’re all just so big, though. Like, seven feet of pure bulging muscle big.”
Kenma turns to look at him. “They’re fighters in fighting games.”
Kuroo shrugs. “I’m just saying I’d like to be bigger than my boyfriend. Jin is like, three of me standing shoulder to shoulder.”
Oh, what a world that would be.
Kenma takes the next 30 seconds to process what’s just occurred. Kuroo has just confessed to (potentially) liking men. Who are smaller than him. Kenma is batting 2 for 2 so far. He doesn’t know why this is so important to him. He doesn’t want to be Kuroo’s boyfriend, he’s just a little more attracted to him than he used to be.
(He tucks the mental image of 3 shirtless Kuroo’s standing next to each other, predatory grins on each of their faces, into the deep dark recesses of his mind.)
“Is this a hypothetical?” Kenma asks. He would like to say he’s batting 3 for 3 now because his voice didn’t crack at all.
“Kenma, I like…” Kuroo looks like he’s searching for something on Kenma’s face. Kenma rubs at his mouth in case he’s gotten any McDonald’s Special Sauce somewhere. “I’m bisexual.”
Inexplicably, Kenma feels like he’s hit a home run, like he’s just won something. His traitorous heart thrashes in his chest like a caged bird, and something tells him it isn’t just from hormones. This is terrible news.
“So you understand where I’m coming from with Zack, then.”
Kuroo offers him a small smile, the one where his eyes droop and his lips quirk only a fraction. The one Kenma’s only ever seen directed towards him. It lasts only a second before his mouth pulls into a larger, shiftier smirk. “I’m more partial to Cloud, actually.”
Because he’s shorter than Zack? Because he’s blond? Kuro, if I learned how to wield a sword, would you be partial to me too?
Denial had gotten him nowhere. All the mental gymnastics Kenma had performed today in an effort to dissuade any romantic inclinations he was feeling for his best friend were for naught. As the sunset, as he went through his nightly routines, as he laid motionlessly in bed, Kenma’s thoughts were once again occupied solely by Kuroo. Kuroo, who is just that much more within reach. Kenma bites his lip.
To the left of his bed, Kenma’s computer glows softly. He watches the lights of the RGB strips in his rig bleed from one colour to another. He hasn’t turned it off yet. He thinks about the blissful 5 hours he’d gone earlier without thinking of Kuroo once. He thinks about all the editing he’ll have to finish before Monday.
He watches the lights cycle through the rainbow two more times before he pushes himself out of bed and sinks into his computer chair.
Denial didn’t work, but maybe distraction will.
Off the top of his head, there are 2 things Kenma hates for sure.
Being sick is at the top of the list. He doesn’t like to sweat in general, so sweating even when doing nothing but lying in bed is the pits. If he gets rid of any of his three layers, he’ll get so cold he starts to shiver, so he has no choice but to settle for being kind of damp everywhere . His head becomes so congested he feels like he might explode no matter how many tissue boxes he goes through and it throbs painfully whenever he isn’t asleep. Both his nose and hands start to crack due to dryness from tissues and hand soap. Cough syrup makes him gag and works for all of 20 minutes before he has to resort to sucking on throat lozenges which taste just as bad. The sore scratchiness of his throat used to be a silver lining in high school, an easy way out of talking, but now that he lives with Kuroo it’s just another layer of agony.
This brings him to the second thing on his list, though at times it does feel pretty close: Kuroo.
Kenma is rolled in a cocoon of blankets and sweaters with a cool towel pressed against his forehead and an inability to stare at any screen for too long. It’s hell, and it’s all Kuroo’s fault.
If not for his terrible best friend and the awful way he dotes on Kenma and how stupidly charming and hot he is, Kenma would never have thrown himself into high gear and overworked himself to the point of sickness. If Kuroo really were as good and kind as he claimed to be, he would’ve simply stopped being everything Kenma wants forever so Kenma wouldn’t have needed to spend the past two weeks hunched over his computer or in the campus library in an attempt to pray the gay away. He was successful in his efforts to avoid his best friend along with any thoughts surrounding him, and he’s now almost an entire month ahead of schedule in terms of uploading and classwork, but as he feels a bubble of snot grow when he exhales, he wonders at what cost.
With all the strength he can muster, he extends an arm from his blankets and slaps blindly around his nightstand for a tissue. His ears pop when he blows his nose and his brain feels like it’s bleeding. He tosses the used tissue into the recently emptied garbage can and hopes for death to take him soon.
It does not take him soon enough. There is a soft knock at the door. It creaks open and Kenma rolls onto his side to avoid the hallway light that seeps into his room.
“Okayu’s done,” Kuroo speaks softly to not exacerbate Kenma’s aching head. “There’s ginger and umeboshi in it.”
Kenma’s dry mouth starts salivating at the mention of food, even if umeboshi is involved, and starts to sit up. Even taking his sweet time, his body decides that he moved too fast and he has to lie back down to combat the dizziness.
“Hey, easy,” Kuroo’s voice is laced with concern as he sets the bowl down on the nightstand. He slips an arm under Kenma’s back and sits him up gently, maneuvering them both so Kuroo’s sitting partially behind him and Kenma can lean back against his chest. Kuroo peels the now-lukewarm towel off Kenma’s head and touches it with the back of his hand. “We should really get a thermometer. You feel warmer than this morning.”
Kenma doesn’t say anything. He pulls his fallen blankets back up to his chin.
“How are you gonna eat like that?”
Kenma opens his mouth. Kuroo laughs.
“You’re such a baby,” he says, but he picks up the bowl anyway and spoons the okayu into Kenma’s mouth. The warm rice and ginger feel incredibly soothing as they go down his throat. Kenma is reminded of how furious he is.
Supposedly, Kuroo had worked overtime at the lab last week while Kenma was holed up decidedly away from him. His professor had given him a long weekend off for his help and instead of doing anything fun, like showing up unannounced at Bokuto and Akaashi’s apartment or crashing a Nekoma volleyball practice like he was begrudgingly allowed to, Kuroo has spent the last day and a half tending to Kenma.
He made him hachimitsu daikon immediately after wrapping him in blankets pulled from their linen closet. He changed the towel on Kenma’s forehead every half hour. He even went through his phone to quietly play the newest episodes of the Rebuild podcast so Kenma would be able to consume some form of entertainment, even if he’d drift off to Miyagawa’s voice more often than not. Worst of all, Kuroo doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by it.
Kenma gets so lost in his all-consuming rage that he doesn’t notice when Kuroo feeds him the umeboshi until it’s too late. The salty flavour on his tongue makes him cringe and he leans deeper into Kuroo. He makes a distressed noise, but doing so irritates his raw throat so he swallows the offending fruit down anyway. He sticks his tongue out afterward with a soft “bleh.”
“Good boy,” Kuroo says, then groans when Kenma elbows him in the stomach. “I’m feeding you and this is how you treat me? I’ll leave right now and let you starve.”
Kenma opens his mouth again and Kuroo doesn’t hesitate before feeding him another spoonful of okayu. It seems almost instinctual. Kenma feels his temperature rise by exactly 2 degrees.
Kuroo feeds him the rest of his dinner, makes him drink a glass of water, fluffs Kenma’s pillows, and gingerly lays him back down. With his stomach full, Kenma begins to grow tired again and it seems like each time he opens his eyes Kuroo is in the midst of a completely different action. Taking the empty bowl and old tea mug out of his room. Blink. Setting a fresh cool cloth on his forehead. Blink. Starting an unplayed episode of Rebuild. Blink. Petting his hair. Blink.
He doesn’t have the energy to protest Kuroo holding another dose of cough syrup to his lips, so he swallows dutifully and knocks out the second Kuroo says, “Okay, get some rest.”
When Kenma wakes up again, he takes a second to recall his own name and then another to gauge how he feels. His nose is still stuffed up, but he doesn’t physically recoil from the sunlight streaming through his curtains, and when he takes long swigs of water from the bottle left on his nightstand his throat doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as it did the day before. He stands up and feels mostly sturdy. Progress.
The long, hot shower he takes rinses off the layer of dried sweat he feels on his skin and in his hair and relieves some of his congestion, though it doesn’t offer him enough strength to try to change his bedsheets, so he opts for the couch. Dante greets him happily, twisting between his legs while he walks, and at that moment the front door unlocks to reveal Kuroo holding a shopping bag in one hand.
“Well, what do we have here?” Kuroo smiles, pushing the door shut behind him. “Feeling better?”
Kenma tries out talking for the first time in 2 days. “Still stuffed up. Otherwise, okay.” He pauses before continuing, “My voice sounds worse than it feels.”
Kuroo reaches into the plastic bag and tosses something at him. Kenma catches it, but barely. He looks down at the thermometer in his hands.
“I’m glad. You were out for sixteen hours when I left, so I got some stuff in case you died for real. Go disinfect that and then check your temperature.” Kuroo’s tone leaves little room for argument, so Kenma does as he’s told.
16 hours he was asleep. When he woke up, the towel on his forehead was still cool, and his garbage had been changed again. Even when he was asleep, Kuroo took care of him. Kenma tears the thermometer out of its packaging and wonders if throwing it fast enough will weaponize it. He hears Kuroo singing a Polkadot Stingray song in the kitchen as he puts things away. Sneak attacks usually do more damage. Kenma huffs.
“Thirty-seven point one,” Kenma announces when he walks back in the kitchen.
“Cool, that means you feel well enough to talk about why you worked yourself into a cold,” Kuroo says casually. He doesn’t even look at Kenma while he speaks, too focused on tying the empty shopping bag into a knot and shoving it in the drawer where they keep the rest of their various plastic bags. Kenma should’ve stabbed him when he had the chance.
“I meant forty-seven point one. I need proper medical attention right now.”
“I didn’t see you for almost five days in a row at one point,” Kuroo accuses. “Even Akaashi said you hadn’t texted him since the ninth.”
“Keiji and I have a relationship built upon quiet solidarity.”
“You text Akaashi more than you text me and Bo combined.” Then, Kuroo pulls out the big guns. He looks Kenma right in the eyes and says, “Kenma, I’m worried about you.”
Ah, the bastard. The motherfucker. How dare he use his serious voice.
Kenma crosses his arms and shifts his weight from foot to foot. Even with his eyes on the floor, he can feel Kuroo stare at him. He relents. “I’m fine. I was just… running from stuff. Things I didn’t want to face.”
“Things like?” Kuroo prods, but the worry in his tone is palpable. He approaches Kenma slowly, like he wants to comfort him but doesn’t want to scare him away. In his head, Kenma tacks on ‘how well he knows me’ to the list of things he can’t stand about his best friend.
“Just. New things I haven’t experienced before.” He’s glad that leaving it vague is in character, but he still feels obliged to soothe Kuroo’s worries somehow. “It’s nothing bad, Kuro. Probably hormones. I’m a growing boy.”
It probably is not hormones, although Kenma’s still holding out a little hope that it may be, so it doesn’t feel like a complete lie. He looks up at Kuroo now, satisfied with what he’s said. It’s eased the atmosphere of the room and he watches Kuroo’s shoulders droop as the tension leaves them.
“I promise, you have nothing to worry about,” Kenma says honestly. “I’m pretty sure I’m already over it.” That one was a lie, but just a little one. What Kuroo doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
Kuroo’s expression shifts from concern to relief to something dreadfully mischievous.
“Hormones, huh? Is that why you asked Bo about if there was such a thing as second puberty?” Kuroo grins. Kenma prepares himself for whatever moronic thing he’s about to say to lighten the mood. “Kitten, I’m sure your dick is already—”
Kuroo does not get to finish his sentence. Kenma presses hard on one of the zits growing on Kuroo’s chin, a deep one that’s red and swollen and sure to hurt. It does the trick because Kuroo immediately crumples to his knees with a strangled yelp.
“Fuck!” he cries. Kuroo gently cradles his chin as he collapses on the floor. “Holy shit, I’m sorry. Ow.”
“I’m going to go cough all over Koutarou’s things, but when I get back make sure your will is prepared.”
“Leave Bo alone,” Kuroo chides. “He doesn’t understand the concept of secrecy. I know the first three digits of his social insurance number and I’d probably know the rest if Akaashi didn’t stop him.”
“So I kill you now, then.” Kenma places a socked foot on top of Kuroo’s chest. The look Kuroo gives him from the ground can only mean bad news.
“You know, this is kind of hot. I didn’t think I was—” He’s cut off with a pained wheeze as Kenma lifts his foot again to kick him in the ribs. “Mercy,” he gasps.
“You never learn. One more and I’m locking you out on the balcony in your boxers.”
“It’s what you deserve.”
“Dante,” Kuroo extends an arm towards the cat sitting atop the fridge. “Defend my honour.”
“Dante doesn’t side with demons.” Dante chooses this time to meow. Kenma shoots Kuroo a wicked smile.
“Betrayed by my own family,” Kuroo sighs, splaying his arms out wide and staring sadly up at the ceiling.
The knee jerk reaction Kenma has developed over the association of ‘Kuroo’ and ‘family’ acts up, and a little voice in his head starts chanting husband, husband, husband! Kenma’s tempted to kick Kuroo again for this, but he knows it isn’t really Kuroo’s fault. Which is why he presses against the place he just kicked with only a little bit of pressure instead of a lot.
Kuroo frowns at him before grabbing Kenma’s ankle, pushing his pant leg up, and biting him.
Kenma jerks away from him. “What the fuck!”
“It’s what you deserve,” Kuroo says with fake sincerity. Dante meows again. Laughter bubbles out of Kuroo until he’s wiping tears from his eyes. “Son status: restored,” he says as he pushes himself up off the ground.
Kenma offers him a hand that Kuroo takes, then uses to pull Kenma into a tight hug. He is warm and it is terrible.
“Thank you for being honest with me,” he says into Kenma’s hair. “I’m sorry for talking about your penis.”
“This household is a fucking nightmare.” Still, Kenma wraps his arms around Kuroo’s middle and buries his head into his best friend's chest. “Thank you for taking care of me,” he mumbles.
Kuroo pulls back suddenly, holding Kenma in place by his shoulders. “For real? You’re really thanking me?”
Kuroo’s face is still flushed red from his bout of laughter on the floor. The acne breakout on his chin spans up the left side of his jaw. He’s smiling softly and his eyes sparkle. There is nobody on the planet that Kenma hates more. Kenma wants to kiss him so, so badly. He nods instead, not trusting himself to speak.
Kuroo throws his hands in the air and whirls around. “Dante! Did you see that! Your dad thanked me! I think he’s finally starting to warm up to me.”
With Kuroo’s back turned and his attention focused on smothering their cat with affection, Kenma allows himself this time to replay Kuroo’s voice saying, “Kitten.”
The heat that crawls up his cheeks and settles in the tips of his ears must be the fever coming back.
Kenma likes to think he’s grown exponentially since he was a kid. He’s still shy, still a homebody, and still prefers video games to most human interaction. The keyword there is ‘most’. Not only has he become more comfortable expressing himself to the people he’s close to, but the list of people he’s close to extends well beyond his parents and Kuroo.
There’s Shouyou, who Kenma doesn’t see as frequently as he’d like to with the time difference between them, but who makes Kenma smile more than most people and really inspires him to work harder.
There’s Taketora, who makes a point of taking Kenma out at least once a month to ensure he goes outside. They frequent a retro-style arcade and diner where their names are consistently at the top of the leader boards (Kenma, obviously, is first overall).
There’s Shouhei, who Kenma grew much closer to after high school ended and who gives him free tickets to all his standup gigs. He’s experienced firsthand the upgrade from dingy bars to more professional joints with a wider audience, and he laughs at every show.
There are Bokuto and Akaashi, who ended up coming as a 2-for-1 deal much like Kuroo and Kenma do. Bokuto’s overwhelming presence but constant positivity makes him feel like the older brother Kenma never wanted, and Akaashi’s similar demeanour and sense of humour had him quickly climbing the ranks as one of Kenma’s closest friends.
His social circle is practically huge now. He’s able to joke and talk casually with all of them and it took less than half the time it did with Kuroo. Even if it seems juvenile, Kenma’s pretty happy with himself for coming this far.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gotten better at talking to people outside his social circle.
Kenma and Akaashi sit next to each other in front of Akaashi’s coffee table. They’re kneeling with their hands on their knees, both staring silently at Kenma’s phone flat on the table between them. Akaashi is not as shy as Kenma by any means, but they’re in agreement that he’s just as bad with people. Bokuto just wasn’t home when Kenma got there.
“So,” Akaashi says.
“You want Koutarou’s help with…”
“Because you think he’s… experienced?”
Kenma snorts, eyes finally tearing away from his phone to look at Akaashi. “Koutarou’s been over the moon for you since I first met him. He’s just good at conversation.”
Akaashi nods at this and they both return to looking quietly at Kenma’s phone. Displayed on the screen is a photo of some guy flexing in a mirror, seemingly named Kato Akira, aged 23. By an act of God, there’s suddenly a commotion at the front door.
“Keijiiiiiiiiiii!” Bokuto yells from the entryway, sounding like he’s truly in awe that Akaashi is sitting in the apartment that they’ve shared for the greater part of two years. The tone is naggingly familiar, but Kenma can’t place it.
Much like a puppy, Bokuto scrambles getting his shoes off so he can rush to Akaashi as fast as possible and press a greeting kiss to his lips. Akaashi acts a lot more like he’s familiar with this scenario, gently placing his fingertips against Bokuto’s jaw and saying a soft, “Hello, Koutarou,” when his boyfriend pulls away.
“And Kenma too! I’m not missing a birthday, am I?” Bokuto sounds genuine in his question, but he ruffles Kenma’s hair playfully. Kenma doesn’t bother reaching up to fix it because “Kuroo! Kenma’s here!”
Kuroo enters the apartment at a much more leisurely pace, though he does mimic Bokuto in his action of leaning down towards Kenma with a kissy face. Kenma has half a mind to lean up and kiss him for real to prove a point. And because over the past few days, his desire to kiss his best friend has gotten out of control. Which is why he’s here in the first place.
Kenma flicks Kuroo’s nose before turning to address Bokuto. “I wanted your help with something.”
This stuns both Bokuto and Kuroo equally. “My help?” Bokuto asks at the same time Kuroo says, “His help?”
Kenma nods and points at his phone. Bokuto picks it up off the table and swipes his thumb around the screen a few times. “Woah! Kenma, is this—”
“Grindr?!” Kuroo rips the phone from Bokuto’s hands. “Kenma, do you—”
“Need my help getting a date?” Bokuto’s eyes sparkle as he grins at Kenma. He hollers when Kenma nods.
“You didn’t want to ask me, bachelor extraordinaire?” Kuroo’s voice is playful, but his knuckles are white around Kenma’s phone. Kenma doesn’t know what to take from this.
“The last time you went on a date was last August and you had to come home early because she wanted to share a milkshake and you didn’t bring any dairy pills.”
“Hah!” Bokuto points a finger at Kuroo before doubling over in laughter.
Kuroo hands Kenma’s phone back to him before collapsing onto the couch behind him. Kenma leans against his shins. “Is that why it was my last date? Do you think she told every girl in the Tokyo area about my lactose intolerance?”
Privately, Kenma wonders if this means Kuroo has asked girls on dates since then. His stomach sinks and he has to bite his tongue to keep himself in the moment. It doesn’t matter anyway. Kenma is here because if he gets a boyfriend, he’ll forget all about wanting to kiss Kuroo good morning and good night and every time in between.
Step one is actually acquiring a boyfriend, which is completely foreign territory. Kenma has considered dating exactly 3 times in his life.
The first was when he was 8 and all the kids at school were pairing up to hold hands and push each other on the swings. He thought that maybe a girlfriend would help him get out of his shell more, maybe it would be nice to have someone in his class that he could talk to. Before he had a chance to write down a list of the pros and cons of each girl in his class, he overheard one of them talk about what she wanted at her wedding. The idea of such permanence was enough to squash whatever meagre curiosity he’d developed. The only forever he could imagine was with Kuroo by his side, and the thought of having that with a girl wasn’t unlike the thought of having that with a worm.
The second was when he was 11 and Kuroo was preparing to go on his first date. Kuroo had his nice t-shirt on, the one with the stripes, and had Kenma’s mother put gel in his hair to keep it down. Kenma had heard plenty about ‘Yoshiko-chan’ over the few weeks leading up to his date, but Kuroo rambled more then than ever before. He talked about double dates, and having pairs for volleyball matches, and finally being able to beat someone at Mortal Kombat. It took Kenma longer than it should have to realize Kuroo was implying that Kenma would also date a girl soon. Despite his best friend’s excitement, Kenma couldn’t find it in him to picture himself doing those things with anyone outside of Kuroo and Kuroo alone.
The third was four weeks ago. In retrospect, he should have seen it coming.
Now, equipped with the knowledge that he’s attracted to men and Bokuto Koutarou already swiping left on people he doesn’t feel are good enough for him, Kenma is more prepared than ever to go on a date. Relatively speaking. 1% is still more than 0%.
“Say, Kenma, do you have an ideal type? It would make this a lot easier,” Bokuto says, pausing his wild swiping.
Zack Fair. Jin Kazama. Kuroo Tetsurou. It’s pretty simple.
Kenma is saved from having to admit any of that out loud because Kuroo speaks for him. “Tall. Pointy black hair. Wears chains. Has black wings.”
Kenma lets out a breath. It almost sounded like Kuroo was catching on.
Bokuto blinks. “Isn’t that—”
“Jin from Tekken?” Akaashi says. He gives Kenma a look that says he’s definitely caught on.
“No athletes,” Kenma says, mostly to throw Kuroo of his tracks. “I’m tired of them.”
“Kenma!” Bokuto wails. “You wouldn’t date me?”
“Koutarou, you’re very important to me,” Kenma starts. “I would marry, divorce, and then marry Keiji again before going on a date with you.”
Akaashi’s snickers snowball into a full-blown giggle fit. He twists to hide his face in Bokuto’s leg as peels of laughter escape him. Bokuto stares at him with a gaping jaw and his cheeks flush pink. Something seems to click in his head and his mouth snaps shut. “You would divorce Keiji?!” he yells, like that was the most offensive part of that sentence.
“This is going nowhere,” Kuroo says, plucking Kenma’s phone out of Bokuto’s hands again. “Too short,” swipe left, “too preppy,” swipe left, “too old,” swipe left, “likes anime too much,” swipe left. Kuroo pauses his rapid judgements and his thumb stills over the screen.
Kenma contemplates the irony of Kuroo being the one to find him a boyfriend.
“This one…” Kuroo says slowly, like he’s thinking really hard about something. “This one is just Oikawa.”
As soon as the words are out, Kuroo erupts into loud, boisterous laughter. The stupid one that sounds like a donkey and involves far too many consonants for a laugh. Kenma’s heart flutters and he forces himself to look away before he gets the same dopey look on his face that Bokuto did.
All Kenma’s hopes of finding a boyfriend and getting over Kuroo are slashed in one fell swoop. He snatches his phone back with a scowl.
“Kenma,” Kuroo says through gasps for air, “Don’t tell me you’re going to match with him.”
“Wait!” Bokuto says between his own laughter. “You wanted my help. Ask him if he needs tips on setting.” This throws him and Kuroo back into an uproar. Kenma doesn’t feel bad about joining in, especially when he sees Akaashi with his hand over his mouth and his shoulders shaking.
Kenma’s phone sits forgotten in his lap as they trade digs at Oikawa. Akaashi and Kuroo are the most familiar with him, being on the university volleyball team with him and all, but they all know just enough about him to start crying with mirth when Akaashi tells him to “ask why he didn’t go to Shiratorizawa.” In reality, Kenma doesn’t mind Oikawa all that much, but he does think the man could stand to be knocked down a few pegs.
When they finally settle, faces red and all breathing heavy, Kenma thoughtfully holds up his phone. After a minute passes, he unlocks his phone, screenshots Oikawa’s profile, and then deletes Grindr.
“Nooooo, Kenma, your true love is waiting for you!” Bokuto says, but he makes no move to take Kenma’s phone and salvage the lost data.
“Doubt that,” Kenma says. He doesn’t say my true love is sitting right behind me. This is the happiest I’ve felt in weeks and I can’t imagine being here with anybody but him. He is not waiting for me.
“It’s true,” Akaashi says knowingly. “You’re a catch.”
“I’m sorry I divorced you earlier. Please make love to me right here.”
“In front of my boyfriend? Why, you dog.”
“It’s taboo. Adds flavour.”
Kuroo nudges Kenma with his knee. “What do you know about ‘flavour’? You haven’t even had your first kiss.”
Kenma scoffs. “You say that like you aren’t also a virgin.”
“Kuroo! You still haven’t done it?” From anyone else, it would have sounded condescending, but from Bokuto it sounds like he’s seriously taking notes to later jot down in his Best Friends notebook.
“I’m saving myself for someone special.”
“God. Amen,” Kuroo says with an air of finality, shutting that conversation down completely.
“Curry rice?” Akaashi asks, standing from where he’s been seated on the floor for the past hour. Several of his joints pop. He fiddles with a pile of take-out menus he and Bokuto keep in one of the TV stand drawers.
“When did you get so old, Akaashi?” Kuroo remarks.
Akaashi throws a look over his shoulder at Bokuto, who throws up a V sign. Akaashi hands the menu to his boyfriend before looking at Kenma.
“Are you two staying over?” he asks while Bokuto and Kuroo argue about which meat is better to get with curry.
Kenma shakes his head, “Kuroo has work tomorrow morning. And we have to feed Dante.”
“Mostly we have to feed Dante,” Kuroo says. They all know that he likes the mattress in Bokuto and Akaashi’s spare room more than the one he has at home. To Kenma, he says, “I’m getting mild duck curry. You can share with me.”
Kenma’s struck with the sudden overwhelming feeling of domesticity. Maybe deleting Grindr was a mistake. He stares up at the ceiling. He isn’t particularly religious, but if some higher power could make him straight right now, or at the very least make him think that Kuroo’s aversion to doing laundry was a deal-breaker, then that’d be pretty cool.
It doesn’t happen, it seems. As Kuroo and Kenma walk back to their apartment, Kenma still battles the urge to take Kuroo’s hand in his own and intertwine their fingers. He settles for lagging behind slightly and grabbing the hem of his best friend’s sweater, something he’s done since he was a kid and was too anxious to look ahead at where he was walking. It’s admittedly been a while since he’s done it, but Kuroo doesn’t bring it up.
“Kenma,” Kuroo says after a while, breaking the silence of the warm spring night. Kenma hums in acknowledgement. “The next time you want to go on a date, come to me first, okay?”
Both Kenma and his heart stop dead in the middle of the street. His throat closes up and he blinks rapidly to clear his vision. When he looks up, Kuroo has stopped too, just a few feet in front of him. He’s half-turned to look at Kenma, but his face is void of anything playful or mischievous.
If only you knew, Kenma thinks. He nods before forcing his shaking legs to move the few steps it will take to catch up to Kuroo, and they walk the rest of the way home in silence, Kenma’s hands at his sides.
Oddly enough, Kenma’s fanbase notices the problem before he does himself. He’s monitoring the comment section of his newest videos like he usually does when he picks up on a common theme.
anyone else feel like kodzu has been sad recently?
woah kodzu failed that boss fight so many times whats happening is he ok
kodzu was so happy these past couple weeks….. ive been following his channel for years and its rare to see him upbeat so consistently but hes even more quiet than usual now…… i hope everything is okay
why are half the comments about kodzu being quiet lol isnt that his whole schtick
There have to be over a hundred comments like these, talking about his prospective personal life and feelings. Kenma’s long since gotten used to the constant poking into his privacy, but the comments like these in particular rub him the wrong way.
In a new window, Kenma scrubs through a video of his from a couple weeks ago. It’s the first part of his Bloodborne playthrough and it did very well. Over 2 million views, a nearly nonexistent dislike bar, positive comments excited about the start of a new longplay. As the video runs, Kenma can admit to himself that even by his standards, he’s more talkative than is typical. He reacts to in-game events more than usual and laughs at several of his own jokes.
If Kenma recalls correctly, it had been recorded a few days after he’d gotten over his cold in March. The day before, he had gone to watch one of Kuroo’s practice matches to show his gratitude, and they went out for dinner with Akaashi afterwards. He’d gone home with his heart and stomach full, and on top of that was beyond excited for Miyazaki Hidetaka’s newest masterpiece. He recorded late into the night, unable to put the game down.
When the video ends, Kenma switches back to his newest video, in which he spends most of it fighting the Shadow of Yarnham. He was frustrated while playing and at the time chalked it up to cheap tactics on a 3-on-1 boss fight, and while editing he hadn’t been happy with just how much time the fight really took for him. Now, watching it critically with a new perspective, he realizes he was just playing badly. His dodges were sloppy, his attacks were mistimed, he consistently made it harder for himself by trying to do equal damage to each Shadow instead of one at a time, leading them all to mutate. Kenma frowns. In the video, he’s dead quiet.
This video, Kenma knows, was filmed shortly after he had come to terms with the fact that Kuroo would never love Kenma the same way Kenma loved him.
Initially, Kenma had put off dealing with his newly discovered feelings because it was just too much effort. Falling in love and the sensations that came with it always appeared to be exhausting. Racing heart, flushed face, rolling stomach, to Kenma it always sounded much too close to a panic attack to seem desirable.
After growing to maybe, sort of, enjoy the way that liking Kuroo made him feel, Kenma’s main worry shifted to the fear of ruining their friendship. 13 years in the making, the sturdiest pillar in Kenma’s life, he couldn’t possibly risk making Kuroo uncomfortable enough to push Kenma away, or worse yet, risk a breakup down the line that damaged their relationship irreparably. Distancing himself, or perhaps pursuing a different romantic relationship was in his best interest.
It was only when both of those plans fell through and Kenma was left with a burning at his core, encompassed by the knowledge that Kuroo was just it for him, did he realize on a warm spring night that Kuroo simply did not feel the same way. Would not feel the same way.
Kenma was Kuroo’s best friend. Irrefutable fact. Kenma was one of the most important people in Kuroo’s life. Irrefutable fact. Kuroo trusted Kenma with everything, from embarrassing secrets to deep, troubling insecurities. Irrefutable fact.
If Kuroo had ever felt anything romantic for Kenma, Kenma would have already known.
So Kenma was considered undesirable in Kuroo’s eyes. Irrefutable fact.
And it hurt. It hurt in a way Kenma had never experienced before. Anxiety always manifested in his ribs, a cold and curling pain that wrapped around his lungs and squeezed the air out of them until he couldn’t breathe. Loss settled in Kenma’s throat, right behind his Adam’s apple, making the sobs he swallowed down feel a lot more like knives and nails. Exhaustion made a home in Kenma’s bones, weighing his limbs down until his joints ached and his eyes burned.
Kenma felt heartbreak in his veins. He felt the rough edges of sadness scrape across his nervous system, pumping through his heart in jagged bits and pieces. For so long, Kenma had dismissed the weight of rejection and solitude, had never given real loneliness a second thought. He was so unprepared for this, for eyebags and migraines and cold fingertips over someone who he always felt was cozy and comforting and warm, and that made it all the worse.
Unable to bear any more comments throwing his plight back in his face, he finds himself standing at the door to solace. The door to the lion’s den. His brain is a confusing place nowadays. He loves Kuroo so much it’s unbearable.
He knocks twice on Kuroo’s door before cracking it open, pressing his face into the room. Kuroo looks up from his laptop and offers Kenma an easy smile before waving him in. His desk is covered in textbooks with notes spread across them, his reading glasses are perched on his nose, and he has a word document open, a paragraph halfway written. He must be working on a paper for the new semester.
“What can I do for you?” Kuroo asks. His voice is homey and familiar and ebbs some of the domineering thoughts away.
“I’m tired,” Kenma responds because it is the only truth he can offer him right now.
Kenma crawls into Kuroo’s bed, burying himself in the pillows and letting the comforter settle on top of him. Bergamot, he thinks absently. He could probably drown in this scent and still not get tired of it. At some point, Dante hops onto the bed as well and chooses Kenma’s back as the perfect place to lie down. Closing his eyes, he lets himself have a full 5 minutes of pretending that this is his bed too. Kuroo’s typing picks back up, and Kenma nearly lets himself be lulled to sleep by it. In this environment, safe and comfortable and playing pretend, he almost feels normal again.
“Kuro,” Kenma says after 5 minutes and 20 seconds. “When are you planning to get married?”
The typing from the other side of the room comes to an abrupt halt. He hears Kuroo push his chair away from his desk, presumably so he can turn around to address Kenma. “Why are you asking?”
Truthfully, Kenma has no idea why he’s asking. The words were out of his mouth before they were even a cohesive thought in his head. He’s surprised it came out grammatically correct. “I need to know how long I’ll be splitting rent for,” is what he lands on, as though it’s even in the top 50 concerns he has about Kuroo getting married.
I need to know how long I have to confess. I need to know how long I have to get over you. I need to know how long I have to prepare for the worst kind of heartbreak. I need to know how long I have to prepare my best man’s speech. I need to know how long I’ll be the only one by your side. I need to kiss you at least once before I lose you for good.
“May ninth, twenty-twenty,” Kuroo says.
If not for Dante purring contentedly on his back, Kenma would have launched up, thrashed around a bit, maybe tore the entire room apart. His cat keeps him in check physically, but Kenma’s thought process has launched into the atmosphere.
Kuroo replied too slow for it to be a joke but too fast for it to be completely random. This is not the first time he’s thought about this question, and clearly, he’s thought about it thoroughly enough to have settled on a specific date. What else does he have planned? The venue? The colour scheme? The spouse?
Oh god, the spouse.
There’s no reason Kuroo would have given such a serious, solid answer if he didn’t have someone seriously, solidly in mind to marry in the first place. The date probably means something to him, to them, to the ‘them’ that Kenma isn’t a part of. He wonders if Kuroo is dating them already, or if he’s pining quietly like Kenma is. The difference between them is that Kuroo quite obviously has a plan to sweep them off their feet if he’s already decided on the date they’ll get married.
Fuck. He must really be head over heels for this person. This whole time. This whole time Kenma was so caught up in the warm stuttering in his chest whenever he thought of his best friend, he never once considered that his best friend already felt that way towards someone else.
Kenma expected Kuroo to say something along the lines of ‘whenever I meet the right person’ or ‘after getting my career on track’, anything vague and uncertain that would allow Kenma more room to daydream. The specifics, the clear confidence in them, cut deeper than anything Kenma could have imagined. Was once not enough? How many times did Kuroo have to shatter Kenma’s heart before he learned?
He screws his eyes shut and digs his head harshly into the pillow. All at once, he’s sick of the smell of bergamot. Maybe he’s allergic. That would explain the tears springing to his eyes.
Christ. He can’t remember the last time he cried, and now he’s stifling tears into a pillow that isn’t even his over what? A stupid boy he never had a chance with anyway? A pipe dream?
Part of him wants to argue that it isn’t that serious. He’s only been aware of his feelings for Kuroo for a couple months. It’s just a crush, fresh and new in its honeymoon stage, and he’ll get over it sooner rather than later.
The bigger part of him, the part that can’t stop the tears from flowing, knows he isn’t an idiot. Sure, he’s been aware of his feelings for only a short amount of time, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist at all before. Kenma knows that his life has revolved around Kuroo for far too long for him to carefully extract himself from Kuroo’s side with grace and poise. Kenma knows that it’s always only ever been Kuroo Testurou, will always only ever be Kuroo Tetsurou.
And then Kuroo Tetsurou sits next to Kenma on his bed, his weight dipping the mattress enough that Dante is jostled from Kenma’s back. It’s at this moment that Kenma sniffles, gross and wet, and feels a cold wash of shame because there is no way Kuroo doesn’t know he’s crying now. Everything is going to shit immediately, it seems.
“Kenma,” Kuroo nearly whispers. Kenma feels a warm hand stroke his hair. Kuroo’s voice is soft again when he asks, “What’s wrong?”
Kenma wants to slap his hand away as equally as he wants to let himself hoard this attention for the rest of time. He wants to respond ‘nothing’ as equally as he wants to respond ‘everything’. He doesn’t know what’s wrong, except that he does .
You don’t love me, he thinks, but in his distress wires cross in his brain and he lets out a strangled, “Love.”
Hearing this, Kuroo moves carefully. He shifts up in his bed until he’s able to shimmy his legs beneath the comforter and lie beside Kenma. Next, he pulls Kenma gently into his arms, taking the utmost care not to glance at his face, because Kuroo knows that if there’s anything Kenma thinks is worse than crying, it’s being seen while crying. Kenma immediately hides his face in Kuroo’s shoulder. Kuroo doesn’t say anything, just continues to pet Kenma’s hair, and Kenma isn’t sure if it’s a calculated move or if Kuroo just doesn’t know what to say. In all the years they’ve known each other, Kenma can safely say that this is a situation he’s never put Kuroo through before.
To Kenma’s credit, he doesn’t sob. He doesn’t fall into hysterics and scream at the contact, longing for it to be something more. Kuroo has always been able to read him accurately, so it’s not a surprise that his tactics to calm him down are successful. The affection, offered at Kuroo’s own accord, is enough to knock away some of the insecurities that have wormed their way into Kenma’s head. Kuroo loves him. Irrefutable fact. Maybe not romantically, but it can be enough.
The tears slow eventually, but not soon enough to avoid a distinct wet spot on Kuroo’s shirt. When Kenma deems himself finally level enough to open his eyes again, he notices the branding on Kuroo’s shirt, ‘SEX WAX’. A quiet laugh escapes him before he can stop it.
“This shirt fucking sucks,” Kenma says, voice raw and watery.
“You have no idea how long I’ve waiting to hear you say that.”
“If I ever find out that you own a Big Johnson shirt I’ll have to burn it on sight.”
“What if I’m wearing it the first time you see it?”
“That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
“Ruthless,” Kuroo says. He twists a strand of Kenma’s hair around his finger. “Are you feeling better?”
Kenma means it when he says, “Yeah. Lots.” And then, because he can, “I’m sleeping in here tonight.”
“Okay. But you have to turn off the light.”
Kenma does so, then gets back into bed next to his best friend who wraps an arm around his waist and breaths softly against the crown of his head. He knows it means different things to each of them, but it’s enough.
Crying, sometimes, is all it takes. A minor breakdown to clear the head. Kenma felt exponentially better after that night in Kuroo’s room, just over 3 weeks ago now. Of course, he is not without the occasional bout of insecurity and sadness that comes with unrequited love, but the feelings are brief and never enough to affect him in any noticeable manner. He still feels a special brand of guilt when he catches himself wanting to lean in to kiss his best friend, he still laments over May 9th, 2020, he still stays up late some nights wondering just who Kuroo pines for, but in the grand scheme of things these are all trivial.
The more time passes, the more Kenma allows himself to adore Kuroo with everything he has. When he finds Kuroo dancing around the living room to a K-pop album Bokuto’s gotten him hooked on with Dante in his arms, he lets himself hum along to the catchy melody while he plays with Dante’s paws. After long days of class or recording, he lets himself tumble on top of his best friend’s body on the couch in a way he hasn’t since this whole ordeal started, Kuroo warm and solid beneath him while he drifts off for some much-needed rest. He even gives in to Kuroo more now, letting him have the last juice popsicle or going with him to run errands just because it feels good to be the one making Kuroo happy.
Relinquishing a fear of change and a need for control has cleared up Kenma’s mind more than a bit, as well. No longer does he spend days at a time trying and failing to ignore a single thing Kuroo did or said that week, nor does he feel completely affected by Kuroo’s presence in everything he does.
Well, that isn’t quite true, strictly speaking. Kuroo has affected Kenma’s life almost every day since they met in nearly every aspect. Now, though, it isn’t as all-encompassing and overpowering, just more… purposeful.
Thinking about Kuroo’s laugh motivates him enough to get an assignment over with so he can go home and hear it in person rather than making him want to shrink in on himself and play Sunny Car Wash way too loud in his headphones. The urges he gets to hold Kuroo’s hands make him feel warm and tingly when he allows himself to daydream instead of making him tug uncomfortably at his fingers to dissuade the sensation. In secret, in a way he refuses to admit to himself because it’s far too embarrassing, he lets himself get lost in images of the solid planes of Kuroo’s body, of large, warm hands, of his favourite voice saying “kitten” over and over again. It’s to relieve stress, is what he tells himself after he’s come so hard his vision blurred around the edges.
Kenma would safely consider himself out of the honeymoon phase where everything Kuroo did was tinged pink, and the reverse-honeymoon phase where everything Kuroo did made Kenma want to physically combat him. Now, he falls in love with 2 Kuroo-isms a day at most, and only punches him in the shoulder when he deserves it.
All in all, Kenma would say he’s doing pretty well.
Sat at the kitchen table, every once in awhile Kenma looks up from his 3DS to see Kuroo go through the motions of making mitarashi dango. Kenma’s mother had visited a couple days prior for Children’s Day, bringing with her bags of rice flour, matcha, and toasted soybeans she’d overstocked on along with containers upon containers of food from her and Kuroo’s grandmother.
His mother had poked and prodded at Kenma’s frame through his t-shirt and nearly hand fed him gyoza then and there. “You’re getting too skinny!” she cried. “You university students have to take care of yourselves more.”
“I try so hard,” Kuroo said while splitting the containers between the fridge and freezer. “All he ever wants to eat is konpeito.”
Kenma scowled at him, but his face quickly twisted in pain when his mother pulled his ear. “Kozume Kenma, you have this wonderful boy here to feed you and all you want is candy? I know Tetsurou-kun can cook. Look at him, he’s well-fed.”
Kuroo grinned at the praise before his face dropped in realization. “Okaa-san, what do you mean by well-fed?”
“Your face is looking fuller, Tetsu-kun! Very healthy.”
“Noooo, Kenma, why didn’t you tell me I was gaining weight?” Kuroo whined, throwing his head back.
“Hush, you. You were all bones in high school anyway, it’s a good thing.”
“Bones?! But my athletic physique…”
Kenma had watched him with a small smile on his face, tucking his hair behind his ears so he could see his mother scold his childish best friend clearly.
Now, as Kenma watches Kuroo slide grilled rice dumplings onto skewers, Kenma can’t help but wonder what would happen if this ‘wonderful boy’ was her son-in-law. He can’t imagine much would change. His mother had ignored the boundary of Kuroo being someone else’s son since Kuroo was 10. Maybe her nagging voice would say ‘Kuroo Kenma’, or even better, ‘Kozume Tetsurou’.
Kenma’s cheeks heat at the thought.
Kuroo hums the Shovel Knight theme as he brings the dishes to the table. The song is likely stuck in his head from them trying to beat the co-op campaign on the PS4 last night. He’s wearing the apron Yaku gifted him, the one with the figure of a busty woman in a red bikini printed on it, and his hair his pulled back by a thick frog-patterned headband. He begins pouring the mitarashi sauce onto their dango. It seems that without needing to ask, Kuroo has given Kenma only 3 dumplings on each of his skewers, though Kuroo himself has 5.
I’m in love with you, Kenma thinks for the first time that day.
The spoon in Kuroo’s hand clatters against the table, sticky-sweet sauce forming a viscous puddle. Kenma looks up at Kuroo in surprise only to find him staring wide-eyed at Kenma. The headband makes him look stupid.
Kenma sprints to his room faster than he’s ever done anything in his life.
Perhaps he isn’t doing as well as he thought. Accepting that he would be pining hopelessly for the rest of his life? Sure. Steadily making a game plan for the next five years to prepare for Kuroo’s wedding? Fine. Confessing this deep secret to the only person that matters? Not even in the cards. Outlook not so good.
That would explain why he did it by accident, at least.
Kenma rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms, pressing so hard he starts seeing stars. Kuroo didn’t chase behind him and start banging on his door, demanding answers, so that’s probably a good sign. He probably isn’t quietly packing to slip out the door while Kenma hides, because for all of Kuroo’s theatrics he isn’t the impulsive sort. Most likely, Kenma thinks, he is processing the information and formulating a clear and gentle way to let Kenma down but ensure that they’ll always be friends.
Kenma will take always being friends.
Minutes pass before there is a soft knock at his door. Kenma takes a deep breath.
“Kenma,” he hears through the door. Kuroo’s voice is not as soft and merciful as Kenma expected it to be, it’s more along the lines of his regular tone. “I just spent, like, an hour making dango. I refuse to let them go to waste.”
Not what Kenma was prepared for at all, but okay. Padding rejection with treats. This is understandable.
Once he’s gathered enough courage, Kenma creeps into the kitchen and slinks into the chair he was sitting on without looking at Kuroo once. His appetite has quelled quite a bit, but he nibbles on the dango anyway.
After a long, heavy silence, Kuroo finally says, “So.”
Kenma peers up at him through the curtain of his hair. It seems like Kuroo’s taken off at least the apron, which is nice. They are maintaining the barest minimum of dignity.
“Did I… hear you correctly?” Kuroo asks hesitantly.
Kenma wonders if he can play the whole thing off a misunderstanding. “What exactly did you hear?”
“You said that you l— that you like me.” Kuroo’s eyes are full of something that Kenma can’t look at long enough to read.
To give himself time to think, Kenma shoves an entire rice dumpling in his mouth. The sauce is a bit too sweet, but the texture is perfectly chewy.
“Then you heard wrong,” Kenma decides on. It is technically the truth. He expects Kuroo to react immediately, to lean over the table and clap him on the shoulder and say, ‘oh, good, would that have been weird or what!’ and they will both be filled with relief over the situation.
This is not what happens. Instead, Kuroo finally breaks his gaze. His lips pull into a wobbly smile as he stares at his hands. “Oh,” Kuroo says, voice thick. “That’s what I thought. I mean. Why would you. Of course.”
The short, clipped sentences feel wrong. Grammatically and tonally. Kuroo chokes over the words like he’s trying to keep them in, and they sound dejected. When Dante jumps down from the fridge and runs under the table to twist himself around Kuroo’s legs, Kuroo doesn’t lean down to set his son in his lap. He just keeps clenching and unclenching his jaw, curling and uncurling his fist.
Kenma stares on, bewildered at his best friend’s behaviour. He can feel his heartbeat in his throat as he decides to make a very stupid mistake. “‘I’m in love with you,’ is what I said. I don’t just like you.”
Kuroo’s hands freeze in place, fingers splayed wide. He very slowly looks up to meet Kenma’s stare. His eyes are glistening. He has to open and close his mouth a few times before any sound comes out, but when it does, all he gets is a breathy, “Oh.”
There is no word that could let Kenma know less about what Kuroo is currently feeling than ‘oh’. Then Kuroo starts to laugh, and Kenma decides that’s a much more confusing reaction.
Before Kenma has a chance to defend himself, Kuroo’s laughter subsides and he drags a hand down his face. “Man,” he says with a hazy grin, “I really wanted to say it first.”
Kenma blinks at him.
“I had this whole plan and everything. Tomorrow I was going to take you to that park under the bridge where we used to play volleyball and convince you to toss to me a few times, and then I had this big speech prepared about how that was where I learned you were special to me. Then I was going to pull out my old journal and show you proof because I know you wouldn’t believe me.”
Kuroo is right. Kenma wouldn’t have believed him. Kenma does not believe him right now, at this very moment. His silence says as much because Kuroo tells him to “hang on”, then disappears for a moment before he returns with a notebook in hand. It’s small and green and very obviously well used. The colour is faded around the corners and the elastic that holds it closed is loose.
Kenma recognizes it as the journal Kuroo’s dad got him after a therapist recommended writing down his feelings. He used to bring it to sleepovers and would write in it every night. Kenma’s doodled in the margins of it before.
Kuroo flips a little past halfway through the notebook before turning it around and presenting it to Kenma. He inspects the page. It’s mostly detailing their first experience playing volleyball, but Kenma stops at the end of the entry. In big, sloppy characters, Kuroo wrote Kenma is my new favourite person. I hope that one day I can be his favourite person too.
Kenma rereads the sentences a few times. His eyes dart to the top of the page, where the entry has been dated May 9th, 2002 . He launches himself at his best friend.
Kuroo lets out a soft oof at the force of Kenma’s body colliding with his, but he readily grabs the underside of Kenma’s thighs to hold him up. Kenma wraps his arms around Kuroo’s shoulders and digs his head into the crook of his neck. Tomorrow, he would’ve smelled like cedarwood and space.
“I can’t stand you,” Kenma mumbles.
“Is that a pun?” Kenma can hear the dumb fucking smile on his face. “Because I’m holding you?”
Ignoring him completely, Kenma continues. “You’re the worst person in the world. Why would you give me the exact date you wanted to get married. I cried over you.”
“I’m sorry, kitten.” There’s that word again, the one that apparently he’s meant this whole time. “Hey, look at me.”
Kenma pulls back and fixes him a glare. It’s ineffective. Kuroo only offers back that small, private smile.
“I cried too,” he admits, “So we’re even. I thought I had a decent chance and then out of nowhere, you wanted Bo to help you find a boyfriend. You didn’t even come to me first.”
“I was trying to get over you.”
“How was I supposed to know that?” Kuroo shifts Kenma in his arms so he can take them to the couch, where he sits so Kenma is positioned comfortably in his lap. “Let’s not make each other cry anymore, okay?”
Kuroo lifts a hand and extends his pinky. Kenma regards him for a long moment before finally rolling his eyes and hooking his own pinky around Kuroo’s. Before Kuroo can pull his hand away, Kenma twists his wrist and spreads Kuroo’s hand open before finally, finally lacing their fingers together. A smile finds its way onto his face as he stares awestruck at their intertwined hands.
“Oh my god,” Kuroo whispers. Kenma has no time to look up at him before soft lips press against his.
Eyes falling shut, Kenma loses himself in the kiss as Kuroo gently, slowly coaxes his lips into moving. He’s inexperienced, but neither of them seems to care as they tilt their heads ever so slightly to deepen their actions. Kenma’s free hand cards through the hair at the nape of Kuroo’s neck, while Kuroo’s free hand settles on Kenma’s hip. Neither of them is willing to unlace their fingers.
When Kuroo shyly sweeps his tongue along Kenma’s bottom lip, Kenma realizes something. He pulls back, just far enough to break the kiss. Their noses bump when Kenma tells him, “You haven’t said it yet.”
Kuroo looks properly dazed, eyes half-lidded, cheeks flushed pink, mouth shiny. “Mm?” he hums, incapable of words.
“I want to hear you say it back.”
Lucidity flashes in Kuroo’s irises. “I love you,” he breathes. The words are tangible in the minimal space between them. “I love you so much.”
Satisfied, Kenma leans in again.
(Hours later, once the moon hangs high in the night sky, Kenma crawls into Kuroo’s bed again. His best friend—his boyfriend is already in it this time, arms out wide and making grabby hands at him. Like a moth to a flame, Kenma settles himself against Kuroo’s chest. He hears Kuroo’s heartbeat under his ear, just a bit too fast for lying in bed, and thinks he wants to marry me. It’s a stark contrast to the last time he was here.
“Why twenty-twenty?” he asks as his mind follows that train of thought. He’s been filled in on the May 9th part, but 2020 in particular feels insignificant. They might as well just wait until 2022, a round 20 years of being friends.
“Bokuto’s going to propose to Akaashi after the Tokyo Olympics. Obviously, I can’t let that fucking mess get married before me, but I still wanted to have ample time to date you just to be safe.”
Kenma pushes himself up halfway so he can look at Kuroo in surprise. “Really?”
“What?” Kuroo says defensively. “I thought you’d appreciate my precautions. I’ve been in love with you since I was seventeen, but I thought you’d want to wait and see—”
Kenma squishes Kuroo’s cheeks together with one hand to shut him up. He hopes the little lamp on Kuroo’s nightstand is dim enough to camouflage the heat quickly growing in Kenma’s cheeks. “Not about that, about Koutarou proposing.”
“Oh. Yeah. Don’t tell Akaashi.”
“I’m going to tell Keiji right now.”
“Kenma, don’t you dare—” Kuroo scrambles to wrap his arms around Kenma’s middle and drag him away from where he’s reaching for his phone. Kenma is faster.
“He told you about the puberty thing!” He’s kneeling on the bed now, one knee atop Kuroo’s chest to keep him down. Kenma struggles to open his chat with Akaashi as Kuroo thrashes underneath him.
By the grace of long limbs and practiced coordination, Kuroo is able to swipe the phone out of Kenma’s hands while he’s trying to type ‘keiji GREAT news’. Once the phone is safely in his grasp, Kuroo shoves it down his pants.
“Bad Kenma. Bad,” Kuroo wags a finger in front of Kenma’s face. “No spoiling Bo’s proposal right now. We’ll do that at our wedding.”)
“What does your dick look like hard?”
“... Wanna see?”)