In my dream, I built a funeral pyre.
For myself, you understand [...]
I thought this was the end of my body: fire
seemed the right end for hunger;
they were the same thing.
You’re always so cool, Kenma. People who don’t know any better mistake that coolness for a great lack of love. But I can’t be like you, cool like you. Can’t you see me burning beside you?
It's been years since Shouyou had last seen Kenma.
No, that's not quite right. Shouyou's seen him plenty enough times through FaceTime calls and internet videos. In those moments, Shouyou and the rest of the world got to witness Kenma growing up. So he knows Kenma’s gotten a little taller, and that he’s snipped away a lot of the dyed hair that used to veil him in gold. Now only the edges stay bleached, the rest an oil-spill over his shoulders. Through a thousand filters of glass and dust and distance, Shouyou's noticed the way his profile's become a little sharper, a new, cruel quirk in his mouth, a new, blown fire in his eyes.
Kenma’s offered Shouyou his Tokyo house to stay in during the volleyball off-season, but he’s only been able to catch glimpses of Kenma ever since arriving from Osaka.
Now Shouyou stands at the periphery of Andaz Rooftop Bar, surrounded by sleek glass surfaces and beautiful people and an open view of Tokyo at dusk. Chopped-and-screwed jazz plays from the speakers on either side of a neon-violet DJ booth — Hiroshi Sato, Otis Redding, Kimiko Kasai, Nina Simone’s voice, now, cut up and slowed over a languid beat: It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day.
“This is Kenma’s party?” Shouyou widens his eyes at a grinning, suit-clad Kuroo, who languidly sips from the wine glass in his hand. “Like, he’s hosting this?”
“Yep.” Kuroo gives a wink. “Why so shocked, Chibi-chan. Things have changed since you’ve gone.”
Shouyou raises an eyebrow. “Kenma hates stuff like this, though. Crowded spaces. Loud music. Lots of people.”
“He doesn’t hold these for fun.” Kuroo shrugs. “It’s a shareholder meeting. Part of the job. You’d just missed the boring part.”
In the corner of Shouyou’s eye he sees Kageyama and Tsukishima arranging a line of shots overtop a glass table. The two of them had brought Shouyou here.
“Kuroo-san,” Kageyama says, looking up from the shots with a very grave expression. “Is it true that Kozume-san is seeing Kiko Mizuhara-san?”
“What? No. Where did you even hear that?” Kuroo frowns, then brings a thoughtful hand under his chin. “Actually, don’t go around saying it’s not true. This could be really good for publicity.”
Tsukishima stares at him, unamused. “Kozume-san won’t be happy with you. Again.”
“Yeah, sure, if an influx in revenue ever made multi-millionaires like Kodzuken unhappy. Lighten up, Tsukki!”
Shouyou grins at Kuroo. “Seems like a pretty fun job.”
“For us, maybe. Kenma doesn’t like being at the centre of these things.” Kuroo pats Shouyou on the shoulder. “He’s usually somewhere on the periphery, looking in. A Gatsby type, if you will.”
Shouyou is awed. “You make him sound so cool, Kuroo-san!”
Tsukishima nearly chokes on the shot he’d been downing. Kageyama scowls at him, but presses a hand to his back. “Slow down.”
Raising an eyebrow at Shouyou, Tsukishima asks, “Have you read the Great Gatsby, Hinata?”
“Isn’t that the American movie with the guy from Titanic? I saw it with my host family in Brazil once, with Portuguese subtitles.”
Kageyama blinks, and asks, “Was it good?” Kageyama had really liked Titanic.
“Yeah! Well, I didn’t understand half of what they were saying. And I couldn’t read most of the subtitles.” Shouyou frowns, suddenly contemplative. “So I think you’d understand it even less, Kageyama?”
Kageyama barks out some offended retort, but Shouyou’s mind is still fixed on Kuroo’s words. He remembers, with no small amount of fondness, how during high school volleyball events Kenma had usually idled in some corner, making up his own little pocket of quiet anywhere.
Shouyou usually found him eventually, and stayed to crouch beside him for a while. They didn’t always talk. In time, Shouyou could tell the minute differences between his boredom, irritation, tiredness, anxiety. Kenma must have trusted him to know those differences and react in kind, because he had always let Shouyou sit with him, sometimes laying his head on Shouyou’s shoulder.
When Shouyou sees Kenma now, he’s still inside his own little pocket of quiet amongst the noise.
But the pocket looks different than it did during high school. Now it’s wide enough to fit finely dressed shareholders, all of whom hover close to him, bowing heads and speaking low, occasionally sipping from glasses of wine. Sometimes free hands wrapped in gold or silver would come up to brush Kenma’s shoulder, a flirtatious gesture that Shouyou was familiar with by then.
In these moments Shouyou studies Kenma’s face, sharper and more handsome than in high school but also more unreadable. He waits for the flinch to come, waits for him to step away from them, or make an annoyed, admonishing gesture. But he never does.
Instead Kenma smiles, he laughs, he talks. He carries himself like he knows exactly how much power he has over everyone on this rooftop. The leaving sun splays red over his face and hands, staining him the colour of warning.
Shouyou goes to approach Kenma when he finally catches him alone, having just finished speaking to some woman in a shimmery dress. Visually they made a striking pair, both sharp-faced and knowing and dressed in the most expensive all-black that Shouyou’s probably ever seen.
Kenma smiles upon seeing him, and it’s not those polite, corporate smiles he’d thrown everyone else, although Shouyou knows even those weren’t fake at all, they never are. Kenma’s too blunt to really fake anything. But the warmth on him now is at once familiar and new, and Shouyou always ends up feeling special beyond words. A look just for him. Warmth just for him.
“Kenma,” Shouyou calls out, and he doesn’t understand why it comes out a little breathless. “I’ve been wanting to get a moment alone with you since coming here.”
Here as in this rooftop. Here as in Tokyo.
Kenma raises a playful eyebrow. “You have me now.”
Shouyou smiles. “Kuroo-san said you’re hosting this whole thing. I was so surprised. I thought you hated things like this.”
Kenma laughs at him then, and it’s both familiar and new. It makes Shouyou’s chest ache.
“You weren’t really wrong. I still don’t like it. But it’s part of the job, now,” Kenma says, rolling his eyes. “Like Kuro is always saying. And he’s the one who insists I book melodramatic venues like this one.” Kenma vaguely gestures at the rooftop’s glass balconies and the cityscape beyond them, an upright, just-woken field of fireflies. “But honestly, he just wants to give a good impression to clients that he ends up leeching off me.”
The longer they talk, the harder it is for Shouyou to reconcile this version of Kenma with the one he knew in high school. Maybe it's the way Kenma's dressed, head-to-toe in handsome black silk and a Minase watch, all of it somehow cooly contrasted with his messy half-up hair. He’d undone the top buttons on the collar of his shirt, barely revealing a choker’s dark velvet circling the pale of his neck. Maybe it's the way he presses his free hand to Shouyou's shoulder when he laughs, more easily than Shouyou remembers, open-faced and a little high on something Shouyou can’t identify.
Whatever it is, it becomes both easier and harder to find remnants of the old Kenma in the person before him now. His warmth is familiar. His sharp, cool edges are anything but.
“They’re healed, right?” Kenma is looking at his ear, which Shouyou knows has much more metal now that it did the last time they’d seen each other. It’s then that he remembers that Kenma isn’t the only one between them who’s changed.
“They are,” Shouyou says, Kenma’s touch already ghosting along the piercings on his ear. His finger stops to trace the inner ear cartilage where a curved rook barbell sits. Shouyou swallows and tries not to shiver under the touch. “A while ago.”
Still touching his rook, Kenma murmurs, “I’ve been meaning to get this one too.” His curious gaze lifts to meet Shouyou’s. “Did it hurt?”
“Just a little.”
“Hmmm.” The corner of Kenma’s mouth lifts. “You must have a high pain tolerance.”
Hinata tries to laugh, suddenly embarrassed. “What about you, Kenma? Some of your fans think you’re in the Yakuza, did you know that?” His eyes pointedly fix on the small, black gauges that weren’t there two years ago. It’s also only then that he notices the slim, black knife tattooed behind his ear.
“You keep up with fan theories about me?” Kenma grins with a hint of mischief before he purposely licks across the front of his teeth, exposing the pink underside of his tongue and a small, steel barbell pierced through its center.
“Wow, Kenma, that’s so cool!” Shouyou decides he won’t even begin to unpack how the sight makes him feel. “They keep popping up in my Youtube recommendations. Like, The True Identities of Kodzuken! Some of them are very well researched.”
“What am I, the Illuminati?” Kenma smirks a little, and he’s close enough now that Shouyou could make out flecks of gold in his eyes.
“Some people think that, too.”
“I guess that’s on me for being such an—I quote—enigmatic personality.”
Shouyou wants to say something like I missed you, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to see you like this again. He doesn’t know what stops him from saying it now, at least not in any words.
But Shouyou laughs and leans against Kenma’s side by the balcony, like they used to do in high school. He rests his head on Kenma’s shoulder, and he thinks that might be enough for the message to come across. And Shouyou thinks it does come across, becomes Kenma responds through movement in turn, lifting a hand to card through Shouyou’s hair.
“Kenma,” Shouyou murmurs, sighing a little. He turns and smiles into the thick fabric of Kenma’s suit jacket. Instead of I missed you, he says, “Your hair’s gotten so long.”
Kenma doesn’t say anything back for a while, but he quietly continues to run his fingers through the low fire of Shouyou’s hair.
“I guess it has,” Kenma says, a few beats late. Shouyou can’t see the soft way he smiles down at him, but by now he knows him well enough to imagine it. “And you’ve cut yours.”
Shouyou had gone to Kenma’s house, before, so he’s seen for himself the breadth of it.
It doesn’t stop Shouyou’s surprise at the sight of it, a gorgeous mosaic of dark colours. Charcoal oak flooring. A high chandelier at the entrance, all glittering glass. A kitchen decked out with black marble surfaces. Walls hung with paintings that blend Ukiyo-e woodblock styles with that of Western gothic.
Shouyou examines one framed on the walls of Kenma’s living room, depicting something part human girl, part exposed bone wrapped in dim foliage. A shock of twisting, red rope holds the body together.That one’s by Yamamato Takato, Kenma says, when he notices Shouyou staring.
A staircase walled with obsidian glass spirals up to the floor where Shouyou knows Kenma’s bedrooms is, right beside the guest room where Shouyou himself would be sleeping. A large, comfy kotatsu sits at the centre of the living room. A more Western living room opens up beside it, bracketed by jade plants and leather couches dotted with Little Yoshi pillows. The furniture is all dark, but still light streams in from a ceiling that also acts as a window, transparent glass allowing the day’s gold to pass.
In the past their friends have used Kenma’s house as a venue to schedule get-togethers, New Years spent with socked feet under the thick kotatsu, happy off homemadenabe and sake and each other.
There’s a dark, fluffy thing from the corner of Shouyou’s eye. He immediately jumps up, eye wide as a cat walks in from the archway, yellow eyes fixed upon Shouyou, assessing.
“Is this Miso?” Shouyou asks, referring to the black cat that Kenma had adopted only a year ago. Shouyou’s only ever seen Miso over FaceTime or photos on Instagram. He had been miffed when Kageyama and Tsukishima texted photos to the their group chat one day of Miso curled up in their arms, Kageyama wearing a shit-eating grin. Shouyou had sneered at the caption under it. got 2 meet miso b4 u lol hope ur hving fun in rio <333
also she lvoes me fuck u —Kageyama, who had been the subject of much of Shouyou’s teasing whenever Miyagi’s stray cats ran away from him.
“Yeah, that’s Miso,” Kenma says, quietly.
Miso walks up to Shouyou, who holds his hand out to pet his head. The cat melts into his touch as his fingers curl to scratch behind his ears. She’s beautiful.
Shouyou's missed swimming, missed the cool kiss of saltwater. In Brazil, Shouyou would swim in a sun-warmed ocean nearly every day of the summer. The pool in the backyard of Kenma’s house is no ocean, but it's Kenma's, and maybe that’s better.
"C'mon, Kenma. You really don't wanna get in with me?"
Kenma shakes his head, a soft smile on his face. He’s wearing a short black robe and is holding a blunt, smoke drifting away from it into the night. “I don't swim."
But you have a pool?Shouyou makes a disbelieving noise. "Why not?”
"Lots of reasons. Don't like getting wet."
“What do you think towels are for?”
Kenma laughs at him, and kneels to sit poolside, his feet pale fishes kicking in the water. He raises the blunt to his lips. His legs are long and smooth.
Shouyou considers swimming to the white tile shore and pulling Kenma in by the ankles anyway, have Kenma join him in the wet dark. Kenma could never stay mad at him, Shouyou knows. Any scolding yelp would be worth it, probably, as long as Shouyou gets to be so close.
Shouyou considers it. Kenma’s gaze watches him bemusedly, golden, grinning. Then he tilts his head away to blow smoke in the air, and all Shouyou can think of is how badly he wants the perfect snow of Kenma’s thighs, only barely, barely an inch above the water, to turn pink against the flush of his mouth.
Shouyou rolls back into the cool water, submerging his face, kicking further away from him.
"You should visit Brazil, then," Shouyou says, sighing. "Come swim in the ocean with me. It's beautiful there.”
"I'll take you to my favourite beaches, to Ipanema, Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca. It's so hot over there, you’ll dry up just minutes after swimming in the ocean. Just by lying on the sand. Or playing beach volleyball. Oh," Shouyou gasps at his happy realization. "You would be so good at beach, Kenma! I know it."
“You think so?”
"Of course I do. Beach teams have two people,” Shouyou continues, swimming a little away. “We could be on a team together, and you could set for me. I’ll make it fun for you, I promise I will. Do you believe me?"
"I always do, Shouyou,” Kenma says, and even Shouyou could recognize the plain affection in his voice. Shouyou grins.
"So come to Brazil with me." Shouyou startles a little at his own drop of tone, and quickly adds, “Like, for vacation! You should visit me and stay for a while. I could teach you some Portuguese. I even got Bakayama to learn some when he visited with Tsukishima, the other month.”
"I know right! Besides," Shouyou says, hands drawing absent lines across the water. "You’re the reason I got to go to Brazil in the first place. It's only fair that you come with me, too."
"Fair for me?" Kenma raises an eyebrow. "What, because I spent some money that I didn't need anyway?"
"No," Shouyou says, after a thoughtful pause. He swims closer to Kenma, making sure they could see each other. "It's only fair for me.” He keeps his tone light, playful. “It’d make up for all those days I'd spent there alone."
Kenma studies him a moment, his sharp, amber gaze always so discerning. Shouyou tries not to shrink away from it, before Kenma beckons him forward with the slightest tilt of his head. Come here.
Once Shouyou’s close enough to rest his elbows on the edge of the pool, Kenma lowers the blunt to Shouyou’s lips. Shouyou leans in almost thoughtlessly. Smoke curls into his throat.
Shouyou coughs instantly, but it’s not the first time he’s smoked after two years spent away in Brazil. Still, the smoke in Rio had never tasted quite as sweet as it does pouring out from Kenma’s offering hand.
“Speaking of invitations,” Kenma says finally, raising the blunt to his own lips. Smoke curls away from his mouth as he speaks. “I’ve been meaning to ask. Shouyou, can you be my plus one?”
“Networking event. Typical. Boring. I don’t like going to these alone,” Kenma says, voice softening a little toward the end. “I was going to bring Kuro, actually. But he’s busy that day. You know how it is.”
“Yes! Of course I’ll go with you,” Shouyou says, fast enough to nearly cut off Kenma’s last sentence. He nods his head, hands drawing quiet ripples in the water. “I’d go anywhere with you, Kenma.”
“I also think,” Kenma starts quietly. “That it would look good.”
Shouyou runs a hand through dripping hair, peering up at Kenma. He blinks, genuinely curious.
“For your sponsorship,” Kenma clarifies. “With the company. Bouncing Ball.”
“Oh, right!” Shouyou laughs, suddenly nervous, but only a little. He doesn’t know why. “Yeah. Our sponsorship.”
Kenma smiles. It’s unexpected, but Shouyou doesn’t break his gaze.
“It won’t be difficult,” Kenma says, soft, hand lowering to hover close to Shouyou’s cheek, “You only need to be good.” Shouyou can make out the lines of his irises, can pinpoint the border between gold and endless black. There is no sound but the cicadas, their nighttime song. Wind skimming the pool. Shouyou’s quick heart, beating its wings like a bird afraid.
“Good?” Shouyou echoes, shivering.
“Yeah.” Kenma tilts his head, cat-like, soft mouth set in a funny little curve. “You’ll be good for me, won’t you?”
The cicadas, the wind, the heart.
Kenma turns away. Shouyou feels the break of their gaze like a physical blow. He is all heartbeat; his hands furtively scramble up to claw at the runaway pace of it.
“Goodnight, Shouyou,” Kenma says without looking at him, drawing away from the edge of the pool. From the water Shouyou watches Kenma’s path toward the house, smoke still drifting from his hand, glass door sliding shut behind him. The inside remains dark. Everything is dark, nearly soundless. There are only the cicadas, the wind, the heart, and the ghost of Kenma’s voice whispering over and over in Shouyou’s ear.
Cicadas, wind, heart. For me, Shouyou. For me.
Once after having dinner with Kageyama and Tsukishima, Shouyou comes back to a frustrated-looking Kenma leaning against the kitchen island, a phone pressed to one ear. Eyes furrowed, mouth frowning. He's handsome in his black silk shirt, his loosened tie, having come back from some fancy corporate meeting, Shouyou guesses. His eyes drift to a hint of Kenma's collarbone, exposed by the undone top buttons of his shirt. A wallet and a glass dish of cherries sit beside him on the counter.
There’s a heavy Grand Seiko watch on Kenma’s wrist, and for a second Shouyou wonders how cool the steel might feel pressed against his throat. He starts to cough before he opens his mouth to say hi, but decides against it when Kenma speaks into his phone, fingers kneading at his temple. Shouyou thinks to himself that he should offer Kenma his peppermint essential oils later, just in case he has a headache.
Still, Shouyou makes his way to the other side of the counter and sits on a stray barstool. He catches Kenma’s eye and watches his stony face soften, if only a little. Shouyou gives a wink, and there it is, the smile he's always searching for, small and private like a secret between them.
But then the person on the other end of the call must have said something, because Kenma's face easily scrunches back into annoyance.
It's kind of cute. A stray memory comes to him — some small scene during a high school training camp. Kenma must've been in third year, he in second. Kenma had gotten angry at someone — Tora-san, Shouyou thinks, the ace of Nekoma — for some reason that Shouyou's never really figured out. At the time Kenma had gone to sit beside Shouyou at the corner of the gym, still grimacing. He wasn’t looking directly at Shouyou, just out at the court, but Shouyou knew that in a way, Kenma was always looking at him. Unable to help himself, Shouyou brought a thumb to the furrow between Kenma's eyebrows, pressed, and let it fall away. Smooth again. He watched Kenma's face change into something else—far away, but affectionate. Anger all seeped out.
Later the Nekoma team’s libero had told Shouyou, very absently, that if anyone else on earth touched Kenma while he was mad like that, he’d get on his knees and pray for them personally. Shouyou thought this was hilarious, and told Kenma so later. Kenma seemed to think on this, mouth turned downwards in a way that Shouyou always thought was so charming, but Shouyou didn’t miss the glint of amusement in his eyes.
When Kenma turned back toward Shouyou he had the same look on his face as when he said things like stay interesting across a long net, that challenging, curious expression, like he’s looking at some rare bird. Like he’s looking at Shouyou.
Kenma had broken the expression with a small smile, and said, “You might be the only person in the world who never gets afraid of me.”
Shouyou thinks of this now in the kitchen as Kenma seethes into his phone. It puts a confusing knot of joy and smugness in his stomach, like it’s something to boast about. Maybe he just likes the way you might be the only person in the world sounds in Kenma’s mouth when it’s spoken directly to him.
Shouyou thinks, almost shamefully: all those times I’d imagined those words in your mouth. Your exception. Your only one. Tell me I’m doing so well, better than the rest. Tell me I’m your favourite.
Kenma takes an exasperated breath before saying something cutting, but it’s full of financial lingo that Shouyou can’t wrap his head around. Still, Shouyou lingers at the counter, resting his elbows on the surface just to study him. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t just go, but Kenma doesn’t ask him to leave, and maybe that’s why. Maybe that’s more than enough to get him to stay.
“I told you to take care of it yesterday,” Kenma says, but his tone drops as he does so, going colder than Shouyou’s ever heard from him. Certainly, Kenma’s never directed a tone like that toward Shouyou. “I wrote you a list of the clients. All of their numbers. What do you mean, you couldn’t find their contact info—”
And his face — Shouyou’s seen Kenma annoyed before, countless times. But not like this, his set mouth, his cold eyes.
“I expect you to carry it out,” Kenma says into the phone, and Shouyou realizes it’s a voice similar to one he’s used in high school, one he’s used on Tora-san and Lev and even Tsukishima, once — but sharpened, frozen longer. Shouyou remembers, all over again, that it’s been years since they’d last seen each other, and in those years they’d both whetted their knives. “Properly. You’ll fix it tomorrow. You’ll fix this for me.”
Shouyou continues to listen in for a little while longer, to this new, colder Kenma that he’s never heard before. His voice leaves a chill down Shouyou’s arms. But inexplicably, a small part of Shouyou also feels — almost envious, of whoever’s on the other line. The chill drains away, gets replaced by something burning.
Shouyou shakes his head to himself, frowning. Kenma gives a cursory glance his way but doesn’t say anything, still deep into his phone conversation. With an uneven exhale, Shouyou decides that now’s a good time to leave.
But as he goes to move past him, Kenma stops him with a hand to Shouyou’s shoulder. An unspoken wait. He has’t hung up from the call, but his face is softer again, the way it only gets with Shouyou.
Kenma lifts a cherry by its stem from the bowl beside him. An unspoken here. He takes a step towards Shouyou, cherry nearing his mouth. An unspoken open.
Shouyou’s lips part, unthinking, as Kenma slides the cherry past his teeth. Curled fingers on his lips. Heat and sweetness on the tongue. Shouyou bites to sever fruit from stem, teeth only barely grazing Kenma’s nails.
Shouyou tries to chew, but Kenma leaves his thumb pressed to Shouyou’s stained bottom lip as he continues to chastise over the phone. He’s speaking to someone else, but he’s only looking at Shouyou.
You can be pretty terrible to people, Kenma, Shouyou had said to him once in high school, after he’d made Lev cry. Like it was a revelation. He laughed at the scowl it drew from Kenma. But then Kenma’s expression went thoughtful, quiet for a while.
Not to you, Kenma had replied. Then his eyes dropped from Shouyou’s face, as if he were worried it weren’t true.
Not to me, Shouyou was quick to agree — except for on the court during nationals, probably, but he didn’t say this. Still, there was something wistful in his tone that Kenma seemed to catch.
Kenma raised an eyebrow. What is it?
Nothing! Shouyou had grinned at him, trying to quell the light blush on his cheeks. Then he’d changed the topic to something he couldn’t remember — something annoying Tsukishima had said, or Natsu’s progress in receiving, maybe — doing anything to push down the stupid, curious corner of his brain that so badly wanted to leap from his mouth, pleading, what if I want you to be?
Shouyou’s head starts to feel a little light. There’s a strange expression on Kenma’s face, going stranger when Shouyou’s tongue darts out to catch a stray drop of juice at the corner of his mouth. Only then does Kenma’s hand move away, and so does his gaze. So does he.
Once, Kenma asks him, softly, "Did you ever feel lonely in Brazil?"
Shouyou had missed Kenma, back in Rio. They'd FaceTimed each other a few times per month. Shouyou would say hi to Miso, would say how beach volleyball’s going, would list all his favourite haunts in Rio so far—Pão de Açúcar, Dois Irmãos, Pedra do Sal. Places that he wished Kenma could see with him, too. Over FaceTime, Kenma gave the kind of soft smile that ground Shouyou’s heart to dust. Yes, sure, Kenma had said to all of his ideas, Miso purring happily in this arms. We should. Of course.
Sometimes the calls made Shouyou feel better. Speaking to Kenma in his mother tongue made him feel less alone. So did calls with Kageyama, Tsukishima, Yachi, Yamaguchi. His mom, Natsu. But sometimes, when the calls ended, he wound up feeling more alone than ever.
Shouyou had swallowed the aloneness with the rest of his drink at clubs like Casa da Matriz, or Febarj, got up, went to dance. By then, he recognized the effect he had on people—knew with his eyes closed, hips swaying, that everyone was looking at him. Sometimes he’d let some woman buy him a drink, and then some man. For a moment he’d thought that was enough to staunch the loneliness. At least, that’s what he told himself.
Kageyama was in Rio for the Olympics. Shouyou had wanted to see him so badly. But he couldn't, not yet, not like this. He couldn't let anyone see him like this, not anyone but strangers. Shouyou wanted to get to the world stage, had wanted it forever, and the weight of his wanting burned through the core of him him, rendered him see-through. He thought anyone could look at him and see how much he'd fallen apart under the sun, over the sand. Anyone could look at him, and their look would hollow him out completely.
Yes, Kenma, I felt lonely. I felt so lonely without them. Without you.
Shouyou doesn't tell Kenma all of that. He looks up at him and smiles, always cheery, always fine. Always, always fine.
He simply says, "Sometimes, I guess. But only sometimes." He thinks his grin should be enough to chase the conversation away. It usually is.
But just as Shouyou thinks to mention something else about Brazil, like oh, you should've seen the Grand King fall on his ass on the sand, it was hilarious, Shouyou's shocked by the weight of Kenma's arms, suddenly encircling him. He startles at the tightness of the hold, of Kenma's warm breath on his neck.
"Kenma," Shouyou says, knowing the unspoken why comes across in his voice.
"I'm sorry," Kenma says, quietly.
Shouyou's eyes go wide. No, no, he wants to say, don't apologize to me. I don't know the first thing to do to repay you for everything. I was just joking about getting lonely, you know I'm not like that, you know I feel at home everywhere.
"It’s fine," Shouyou tries to start.
"It's not fine," Kenma says, tone firm but still somehow gentle.
Shouyou gives a lopsided smile. "You do know Brazil's the best thing to happen to me, right? If I had to go back and do it over again, I would. I’d take the sweat and sand and aloneness again, all of it. I'd take full advantage of your generosity," Shouyou laughs a little, burying his face into the soft, white cotton of Kenma's tee shirt. "As many times as you’d allow me. Would take as much money from you as possible. As many plane tickets."
"You wouldn't have to go back in time for that," Kenma says, absently. "I could buy plane tickets right now. You could go anywhere in the world."
Shouyou laughs a little, then cranes his head back, and startles at the small dampness on the white fabric of Kenma's shirt. He'd started crying. Did Kenma know this would happen?
"You know I’m so grateful for you, right?” Shouyou says softly, more serious this time. Neither of them let go of the other. “Don’t say sorry for sending me to Brazil, Kenma.”
“I wasn’t saying sorry for that," Kenma says, and Shouyou could imagine the roll of his eyes. It throws Shouyou off, but Kenma continues, "Because I see you now, in front of me. And you're the best you've ever been. Imagine how boring you’d be if you never went to Brazil.”
Shouyou breathes out a startled laugh onto Kenma’s neck. He can't see Kenma’s face with his head perched atop Shouyou's shoulder like this, but he’s sure that Kenma’s smiling.
"And you only keep getting better," Kenma continues, hushed and heavy with an unrecognizable emotion. Only a beat later does Shouyou realize what it is, a tone he's heard from so many players he’s worked with and against, has heard in his own voice. A sparkling undercurrent of pride. Shouyou heart speeds up in his chest. "Forgive my selfishness. Because I'd let you get lonely again, and again and again, if it means I get to see you like this."
Finally, Kenma says, "That's what I was saying sorry for."
Then Shouyou laughs, a large, wet sound against the fabric of Kenma's shirt, bright with relief.
“You’re crazy,” Shouyou murmurs, warm all over. Impossibly, he feels Kenma's torso shake gently against his, and he’s laughing, too. Little, pretty things fall from his mouth, seeping into the skin of Shouyou's neck.
Shouyou's heard Kenma laugh before. But he doesn't think he's felt him laugh against him, not like this, mouth so close to his ear. Shouyou considers lifting a hand to tug on the collar of Kenma's shirt just a little, just enough to expose the curve between his neck and his shoulder. He thinks of moving his mouth just enough to reach the smooth skin there. He wonders how the salt there tastes. Two short movements. It would be so easy.
Shouyou feels lightheaded. He slides his hands up from Kenma's spine to his shoulders, pulls away gently to look at him, still-laughing. Shouyou realizes that maybe pulling away was a mistake too, because he can see Kenma now—lightly flushed, eyes squinted closed. The sight and sound of him like this will press to Shouyou's memory forever. Somewhere deep under Shouyou’s chest, an ancient ache pulses.
Flashes of memory: slitted eyes, dirty net, hands that move like water. Sweating with you over concrete, linoleum, the low grass fields behind Shinzen High. Danger as impulse. Skinned knees, sprained ankle, short and fevered breathing. The voice you use when it’s only me. Always easy. Always easy, your head on my shoulder. The wheat-gold of your hair. My hand, a makeshift comb. Nearness as impulse. Hours-long conversation. Silence, even longer.
Most dangerous phrase: Remember when? If we don’t remember in the same way, does it mean we’re out of sync? Does it mean we’re not in love?
Shouyou spends hours in Kenma’s kitchen, trying and sometimes succeeding at cooking Japanese and Brazilian dishes alike. He bookmarks Pinterest recipes, follows Youtube tutorials. Once, he tries to bake apple pie for Kenma. It ends in disaster. All he’d gotten by the end of it was a kitchen full of flour and blackened crust. Shouyou’s face heats up when Kenma finds him there.
But Kenma only laughs, and lifts a finger to dust away flour off his nose, and leans in to kiss him, very softly, on the cheek. Then Kenma’s turns to study the ruined pie, all while Shouyou burns like Rome beside him.
After practice, sometimes, Shouyou comes back before Kenma does and fingers through worn stacks of records that Kenma keeps on his living room shelves.
Shouyou likes the jazz ones the most. He flips through records by artists like Toshiko Akiyoshi and Ryo Fukui, but American ones, too, like Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone. Billie Holiday, who Shouyou ends up listening to in perfect stillness while lying with his back to the hardwood floor, watching the world turn black past the skylight.
I’m a fool to want you. Pity me, I need you.
Shouyou wonders if he is a fool.
Once, Kenma walks in on Shouyou looking through his records.
“What are you looking for?”
Shouyou jumps up with a startled sound. He turns and sees Kenma beside him, materializing like a mirage. He hadn’t made a sound. “Kenma! You scared me.”
“Sorry,” Kenma says with a shrug, but he doesn’t sound so apologetic. He steps forward to run a hand over the record collection, their faded, flimsy spines, breath near enough to bloom over Shouyou’s bare shoulder. “You know any of these?”
Shouyou shakes his head no. “Pick something for me,” he says. It’s not so different from asking Tsukishima for new music to play, but Shouyou finds himself blushing anyway. It’s just Kenma, he reminds himself, exhaling slowly.
Kenma raises an eyebrow, but his hand stops in the middle of the pile, and he pulls out a bright, fuchsia record cover. Record in hand, Kenma finally draws away from Shouyou, and Shouyou finds he’s able to breathe again in the space he leaves.
Kenma bends down to kneel next to the dark wooden record player, and carefully slips the vinyl from its sleeve. Shouyou watches him fumble with the dials before the record starts spinning, and Kenma slowly brings the needle down to the surface of the vinyl. Shouyou doesn’t remember the last time he had seen Kenma’s fingers move with such unmistakable gentleness.
A woman’s rich, deep voice comes out of nearby speakers, connected to the player through thick black wires. The lyrics are in English, but the song is oddly familiar. Belatedly, Shouyou realizes he heard this voice, this song, at the party Kenma hosted at Andaz Rooftop Bar, but it was slowed down, chopped up then. Now it’s much more clear, a coherent, honeyed sound.
Like this, Shouyou can better detect the singer’s longing, a bitter honey over sparse piano, trumpets, coronary drumbeat. Don’t don’t try to blow out the sun for me, baby.
Summer resumes. Shouyou practices, and exercises, and meditates. He goes out to meet up with Tsukishima and Kageyama and a host of other people whose names he’d put on his calendar months ago, promising to catch up once he was back home.
Somehow, he is home yet still untethered. Japan has become both familiar and strange. In Tokyo, Shouyou is both citizen and stranger.
Part of it is Tokyo, which had never stopped being a marvel to him and anyone else from small-town Miyagi. Part of it is this giant house, the likes of which he had never stepped into before.
But most unexpectedly, part of this feeling, this wicked strangeness, comes from Kenma himself. Kenma—who Shouyou had expected, more than anything or anyone, to act as his beacon of familiarity.
Shouyou watches Kenma curl up on the couch, pale hands caught in the dark of Miso’s fur. Long, undone hair drifts over his eyes. He looks up and smiles at Shouyou, at once familiar and strange. There's a hair tie on his wrist. Kenma raises his hands to gather his hair, probably to pull it into a bun.
"Wait," Shouyou says.
Kenma stops and turns to look at Shouyou, raising an eyebrow.
"Let me," Shouyou clarifies, an embarrassed little murmur. He pulls the hair tie from Kenma's wrist and goes behind Kenma's, quiet and steady. There's something about the way that Kenma's back is to him—the way he dips his head forward to accommodate him. Placid. Malleable, without Shouyou even touching him yet.
Shouyou takes the hair tie between his teeth and gathers Kenma's hair in his hands, carding his fingers through them first. It's soft, nearly all black now, except for tips dipped in gold. He twists his hair into a bun and leans back, says, "Kenma, look here."
Kenma does so. Placid. Malleable. Shouyou smiles—he looks better with his hair out of his face. Shouyou likes his face. But it's not finished. Shouyou frowns, goes hmm for a second, before he brings a hand forward to pull some of his Kenma's bangs from the bun, letting them fall on either side of Kenma's face like dark curtains. He’s pretty. He’s perfect. Shouyou grins. Kenma reflects a little of it, a small smile that makes Shouyou turn away, a hand coming up to rub at his nape sheepishly.
Shouyou tells him he looks good. He’s always looks good. Pretty. But something's different, now. He's both the same and changed. Something's changed.
Shouyou has always felt a tall well of affection whenever he thought of Kenma, whenever he looked at him. It's been like that since the day they met—Shouyou, seeing Kenma sitting alone beside a fence with his DS and blinking up at him, a blank-faced, beautiful stranger. Shouyou had thought, almost immediately, that he wanted to know how this blank face looked when it's excited. Annoyed. Happy. Angry.
It was an impulse without any origin Shouyou could confidently name. Even years later, Shouyou never lost that impulse. He still craves Kenma's intense emotion. He likes to be the reason for it.
Yes, for Kenma, Shouyou had always filled with a deep well of affection. Even now, Shouyou feels his chest burst with the same old giddiness, the kind reserved only for Kenma's happiest face, which he shows, tenderly, to Shouyou now. Thank you, Shouyou.
It's only later that Shouyou realizes the difference. At sixteen, the thought of Kenma made him feel warm all over. Speaking to him was like that. But when Shouyou recalls Kenma's face now, mindlessly humming while washing dishes, he has to pause mid-scrub for a second, hands gloved in white soap suds. He feels hot all over. The water keeps running over the plate, Shouyou's hands. Shouyou turns the knob over the sink, lets the water run cold.
Shouyou wants to be Kenma’s best. His favourite. His only one.
He wants it badly enough to let it bleed into all of his actions. It shapes the way he speaks to Kenma. The way he walks. The way he plays.
In the years they’ve known each other, Shouyou and Kenma have sculpted a world with space enough for only the two of them. They built it from concrete, painted a skyline, fed it an endless stream of sunlight.
Is it possible to make up memories, the way people make up futures? Shouyou wants to say yes. This way, he could look back and unravel the history between him and Kenma, then double it, triple it, multiply it until it’s longer than before the earth began.
But now, Shouyou walks the worn paths of this world, first cartographed so many years ago. But seasons have passed. The landscape has changed. Without any will of his own, Shouyou has become both citizen and stranger.
Shouyou can’t sleep.
He leans against the dark wood of his headboard. The room’s only light comes from the moon outside the window, low and seeping silver. The room is nearly all dark.
He’d went out for ramen with Kageyama and Tsukishima earlier, and they both thought there was something off about him. His admittances to them ricochet in his head, preventing him from sleep.
“Seems like you’re having lots of fun, no?” Tsukishima had said, taking a sip of his drink. Shouyou blushed at his tone.
“It’s not like that! We haven’t done anything. But it’s not,” Shouyou had stopped, voice dropping to a mumble before continuing. “It’s not like I don’t want more.”
“What?” Tsukishima grinned then, playfully holding a hand up behind his ear. “Sorry, what was that?”
Shouyou glared. “It’s not like I don’t — fuck, never mind.”
“Not yet, you don’t.”
“Wait,” Kageyama looked between the two of them with a confused expression. “What does Hinata want?”
“Something from Kozume-san, it seems.”
“Oh.” Kageyama blinked. “Like a video game?”
“No, Kageyama. Like his dick.”
“What?” Kageyama’s face went very red. Tsukishima rubbed his arm in sympathy.
“So crude, Tsukishima!” Shouyou glared. “I didn’t mean it like that!”
“Oh, poor thing,” Tsukishima went on to say by the end of Shouyou spilling his woes. “The person you’re obsessed with is just as obsessed with you. Paid for your ticket to Brazil. And now you’re living in a giant mansion for free, alone with him, just the two of you. Did I mention that he’s obsessed with you? That must be so hard.”
“Don’t be fucking rude, Tsukishima,” said Kageyama, elbowing him lightly.
Tsukishima is wrong, anyway. Living here is starting to feel more difficult with every passing day. Which is why, in the quiet of his room, Shouyou starts to think about Kenma's hair, the soft oil-black of it spilling into into his palms, and wonders how it’d feel pulled taut by his fingers.
He thinks of Kenma's legs, pale blurs cutting through dark sheets of water, thinks of graceful fingers teasing Shouyou’s lips a little open. Kenma's quiet expression, his eyes always heavy on Shouyou, that soft smile that he reserves for nobody but him. Kenma’s voice, the way he uses it sometimes during calls with other people, the way he sounds when he's angry, when he's cold—he wonders if he’d sound the same if he were angry at Shouyou instead.
Shouyou thinks of all these things and fills with affection because the thought of Kenma always comes with affection. But underneath Shouyou feels nearly as lonely as he did in Brazil some nights, walking barefoot through an endless sand, his the only footprints not yet swept away by the tide. He had done anything—will do anything—to chase away that loneliness.
Shouyou's fingers drift to his mouth and press there, the way Kenma earlier had. He slips a thumb past his teeth to push on his tongue, the way he wishes Kenma had, and wonders how Kenma’s mouth might taste against his, cherry-red and cherry-sweet. He imagines Kenma’s moonlit thighs opening above the opaque pool, imagines slotting himself in the wet space between them. Shouyou lets his hand drift down, drawing gentle roads from his mouth, to his neck, to his collarbone. Sternum, stomach, hip bone. He touches all the places that he wishes Kenma would.
When Kenma's arms were around him earlier, a warm and snug comfort, it would have been so easy to walk his fingers down the cotton hem of Kenma's shirt, slip underneath and trace the skin there, record-keep the soft of him. His hair had smelled like apple and sandalwood. Shouyou wants the perfume of him to linger on all of his clothes, wants to fall asleep on sheets stained with Kenma’s midnight smoke. He presses his nose to his pillow and pretends that Kenma’s slept there, hand slipping beneath the waistband of his boxers, eyes shuttering closed. It would have been so easy to lower his head just a little and plant his mouth on Kenma’s collarbone, only barely exposed by a tug of his shirt collar.
Kenma is asleep in the next room. He could wake at any moment. The thought brings a hot flush to his cheeks—shame, ribboned with something darker. Shouyou bites his lip and tightens the turn of his wrist. What would happen, he wonders, if Kenma were to overhear and open that door to witness Shouyou in the moonlight, flushed scarlet on his borrowed sheets. Kenma could be listening now, for all he knows, could come into his room at any moment, could see him like this, breathless and red and burning for him. Shouyou lets out a moan that he’s quick to smother in his pillow. Would Kenma linger at the door? Would he sneer? Would he watch? Would he draw closer. Would he touch him.
Shouyou fixes his mouth over his knuckles and bites down as he comes, little sounds slipping out past his teeth anyway. It’s not too long before all the bad feeling Shouyou had been avoiding starts to come crawling back.
He turns his head to face the wall and pants softly, wondering if Kenma had heard him, if he has ever heard him. He wonders who Kenma might be dreaming of on the other side.
Shouyou couldn’t find anything fancy enough to wear to the networking event in the luggage he’d hauled from Brazil. He told Kenma so, apologetically, but Kenma didn’t do so much as blink, saying, okay, I’ll just get you something.
Miso appears now from behind Kenma’s bed, walking up to Shouyou to rub his head against his ankle. Shouyou kneels down to scratch the dark fur behind Miso’s ear, laughing happily.
It’s not the first time Shouyou’s been in Kenma’s room but it still stuns him every time, big enough to fit apartments Shouyou’s leased in the past. A staircase rises from the centre and curls to a dark glass balcony. More Yamamoto paintings. Floor-to-ceiling windows obscured by swaths of black voile. On the top floor are wall-spanning, wooden dressers full of suits and ties and robes, stacks of shirts in different colours. From beside the bed, Shouyou looks up in awe as Kenma climbs up the winding staircase and opens all of the dresser doors and drawers to reveal shelves of various fabrics and colours, brief swatches of black and grey and blue, silk and linen and plaid, red and silver and gold.
Kenma briefly comes to the glass banister, tilting his head to look at Shouyou down below.
“What do you want, Shouyou.”
“Um,” says Shouyou, who doesn’t know the first thing about fashion. He swallows nervously.
Kenma raises an eyebrow, but waits.
“I don’t—I don’t know,” Shouyou says, a little overwhelmed at the sight of so many clothes. It feels like standing in the centre of a designer store. “What do you have?”
And Kenma laughs at him, then, and picks up a stack of shirts from one side of the dresser. He comes back and starts throwing them over the banister, shirt by shirt, to Shouyou down below.
“Kenma!” Shouyou starts laughing, too, as a rain of fabric falls around him. It’s like something out of a movie. “What are you doing?”
“Showing you what I have.”
He takes another stack and tosses them down too, grinning all the while. They land on the bed, on the floor, over Shouyou’s hair. A rain of silk and linen and cotton and plaid. Black and red and silver and gold. Shouyou tries to catch the shirts as they fall, laughing in disbelief that Kenma would so carelessly treat his things like this. Disbelieving that anybody could have so many things.
“These are all so fancy!” Shouyou shouts up at Kenma, cool silk brushing smoothly past his cheek. “I thought you’d have way more casual clothes! That’s what I usually see you in.”
“Oh, I do.” Kenma smiles slowly. “This is just one of my dressers. For events. I have another one over there.” Kenma points to the other side of his floor, where sure enough, another wall-length dresser sits.
Shouyou makes a disbelieving noise. “You’re crazy!”
Kenma just responds with another rain of fabric, and another, and another.
He ends up picking a silk shirt off the floor to go with a pair of dark slacks. Shouyou marvels at the champagne material’s subtle shimmer, nearly rose gold in certain lighting. It has the kind of softness only money could buy. Just in case, Shouyou asks, “You’re sure it’s okay for me to wear this?”
Kenma’s fingers curl at Shouyou’s collar, in the middle of fixing his tie. “Yes, just don’t spill your drink on it,” he replies, curt as always. “I’ll make you sit through the rest of the event shirtless.” He’s joking. He is definitely joking.
“One more thing.” There’s something unfamiliar under Kenma’s soft voice. Shouyou raises an eyebrow, watching Kenma slip a small, black box from the his blazer pocket. He opens the box with a short snap of his thumb. Inside: winking emerald studs on a plush, velvet bed, green light snapping off them.
Shouyou stands completely still as Kenma gently pulls off the old, silver studs on Shouyou’s ears. Shouyou holds his breath as Kenma twists in the new stud posts, the pads of his fingers impossibly soft even after so many years gaming and playing volleyball as a setter. Shouyou studies his new emeralds in the brass-framed mirror, dazed, the light on them breaking with every sparse motion of his head.
“You can keep these, after,” Kenma says, waking Shouyou to attention. “I want you to have them, Shouyou.”
Shouyou widens his eyes. “Oh, no, Kenma, it’s too much now—“
“You don’t want people to think I keep someone underdressed at my side, do you?”
And that was that.
Outside the red brick walls of Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Shouyou brings a hand to his ear, exhaling softly. There's late summer wind on Shouyou's skin, its coolness a reminder of their dwindling time.
Shouyou doesn’t understand what the party’s about, doesn’t know who anyone is aside from Kenma at his side, hand gentle on the small of Shouyou’s back. All he knows is that the venue is gorgeous—inside, the museum is all ivory walls and warm wood interiors lit up by golden lamplight, and a main exhibition hall complete with a geometrically wood-carved, eight-metre high ceiling.
The warm light somehow renders Kenma sharper, more handsome. He’d switched the simple black plugs on his lobes for ones cut from diamonds. In a fitted Raf Simons three-piece, Kenma looks like money. He looks like sex.
Shouyou watches, a little awed, at how people come to greet Kenma, always so respectful, always so intimidated.
You might be the only person in the world who doesn't get afraid of me.
Shouyou remembers this and bristles, stands up a little straighter. That strange swell of pride erupts from his chest again. He touches Kenma's shoulder and Kenma turns to look at him, a questioning look in his eyes. Shouyou lets his hand fall, smiling. Kenma sends a little half-smile back before turning again, going somewhere else.
Shouyou wonders, for a moment, if he's the only person in this entire place who could touch Kenma like that, and get only a smile in return. It's a stupid thought—Shouyou shakes it away. Still, he turns to look at everyone—all dressed in suits, all slicked back hair and decked out wrists—and thinks of one of them touching Kenma like that. Maybe they would, if they weren't so clearly intimidated by him. Shouyou watches Kenma clink glasses with women and men he's never seen before, graceful, grey-haired ones, but young ones, too. He imagines their casual hands coming up to brush Kenma's shoulder, or his wrist, his hair. The small of his back.
Shouyou frowns. He looks down at the glass of red wine in his hand and brings it to his mouth, downs most of it in one go.
Some guests approach Shouyou, recognizing him as the spiker from the MSBY team, as winner of the championship, as one to watch, the one to beat. They know him by his relationship to Bouncing Ball, and marvel at how impressive it was for Kenma to instinctively sponsor him before he was anybody. Shouyou speaks amicably with them all and poses for selfies with them when asked to, flashing peace signs and winks and easy grins.
How does Kenma Kozume know you, some of them ask. We go back a long time, Shouyou tells them, beaming proudly. Our teams went against each other in high school volleyball. We versed in nationals, yeah, really! Kenma was a setter, did you know? He was amazing at it. He's amazing. He's one of my best and oldest friends.
Shouyou speaks with his hands as much as his mouth, waving them around animatedly, voice so earnest. He knows he’s good at making anyone he's speaking to feel important, knows exactly how charming he can be, and as he laughs with some man in a grey suit, some woman in a green dress, he prides himself for how good he's been this entire time. Shouyou collects a dozen new names by the end of the night. It'll be good for their sponsorship, like Kenma said.
You'll be good for me, won't you?
He was. He is. He hopes that Kenma’s seen him.
All the while Kenma, serious and radiant, sharp and aware of his own importance, stands at the centre of the gold-filled room, beaming rarely. From a distance, Shouyou watches Kenma laugh at something a man says near his ear. They’re both smoking, both dressed in black silk. They don’t look like people so much as they look like a photograph, or a still from a glitzy Yakuza film, heads bowed close together.
Kenma’s snubs his cigarette out on a passing glass ashtray and turns, catching Shouyou’s eye as he does so. A small smirk forms on his face, and Shouyou swallows, wondering if he’s easy to read. Maybe it doesn’t matter because when Kenma draws near him, Shouyou doesn’t do so much as think before saying, “I missed you.”
Kenma gives a slow, cat-like blink. “I’ve been here the whole time.”
“Missed you anyway.” Shouyou doesn’t break away from his gaze, even knowing that his face must be flushing pink.
“You know, Shouyou.” Kenma tips his head forward to murmur low near Shouyou’s ear. “Half the people here are in love with you, now.”
Shouyou stops himself from replying with no, actually, I think they’re all in love with you. Still, Shouyou lets himself be smug, feigning a humble, “Oh, no, everyone here is just really nice, Kenma.”
“Hmm.” Kenma studies him a moment. “I wouldn’t have faulted you for being intimidated.” In truth, Shouyou likely would have been, if he were still fifteen and easily-nauseous, bolting away from tall, powerhouse players in public restrooms. But he’s changed, since then.
Shouyou smiles. “It’s harder to get intimidated when I’m wearing your fancy clothes.”
Kenma laughs a little, and Shouyou watches, half-tipsy, as he fishes something from his blazer pocket.
“I brought a gift for you, Shouyou.” There’s a playful curve to Kenma’s mouth. Before Shouyou could frown, Kenma lifts a pill between a thumb and forefinger, small and perfectly round, perfectly blue. “For being so good.”
“Oh,” Shouyou says, eyes gone wide. He shifts on his feet.
Kenma’s smiles slowly. “Want a taste?”
Shouyou exhales, head nodding near thoughtlessly.
“Then stay still.”
Shouyou’s secretly dreamt a thousand imperatives inside of Kenma’s mouth, ones just like this. Follow me, feed me. Go there, come here. Touch me.
Kenma gives a flash of a grin before closing his mouth over his thumb. He takes a silent step toward Shouyou, drawing close, closer.
Don’t touch. Close the door. Come close.
Kenma finally leans forward to press his lips against Shouyou’s, mouth hot and half-open, gentle tongue pushing past the sharp of Shouyou’s teeth.
Open your hand, your mouth, open, open.
Kenma draws away as fast as he’d come in, amused eyes flashing a wicked, sharp gold. Shouyou’s speechless, breathless, pill dissolving on his tongue.
Take it. Take me.
A good hour later finds Shouyou buzzing from the inside out. His blood rushes fast and sweet through him. Everything feels good. Every slight brush of Kenma’s skin against his makes Shouyou want to gasp. There’s a burn mark in the shape of Kenma’s hand on the small of his back, felt even through expensive layers of fabric. Each place that Kenma’s only barely, barely touched him at this party — his elbow, his nape, the tips of his fingers — feels light and fizzy, hot as if singed, nearly apart from the rest of his body.
But most of all, Shouyou fixates on the phantom pressure which sews his mouth shut, too-hot and too-sensitive where Kenma had kissed him earlier.
Shouyou wets his lips, and Kenma’s sharp gaze lifts. His irises, thin rings of gold. Shouyou wants to wear them over his knuckles. His mouth runs dry.
“Shouyou,” Kenma interrupts, voice thin as a ribbon. His hand trickles up Shouyou’s silk sleeve and stops to rest on his shoulder, fingers curling. The heavy silver on Kenma’s wrist gleams under the dim light. Shouyou takes a slow breath, words dissolving in his mouth. “Are you okay,” Kenma whispers, close to his ear.
“Yeah,” Shouyou replies, honest. He smiles warmly. “I feel great.”
Shouyou faintly registers coming across someone who looks a lot like Kunimi, holding a glass of wine and seeming to bite his lip against a laugh upon seeing him. He glances at Shouyou, gives the kind of smile that gets spun between co-conspirators, the details of a secret, and goes on his way.
Another few hours later, Shouyou stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, all vivid colours and sharp edges. Every light is blinding. A muffled, heavy bass pulses outside the door. His tie feels too tight; he remembers Kenma’s quick fingers twisting it for him just a few hours back and it feels even tighter, so he tugs it away and undoes the first couple buttons of his shirt. Shouyou plants his hands on the counter and leans in to look into his own eyes, the black-hole dilation of them. He's full of longing. He doesn't know for what.
The bathroom door swings open. Shouyou's gaze flickers to Kenma coming in, cool as always, eyes sly and glittering. Kenma walks toward him with a small, private smile, and it has Shouyou feeling lightheaded, too special for words.
They study each other through the mirror. The space between his eyes and the glass—the glass and Kenma's eyes—suddenly feels too large. Oceanic.
Shouyou wants to touch him. He keeps his hands to himself.
"I was looking for you," Kenma admits, tone still cool. He's always so cool.
"Oh?" Shouyou grins at him through the mirror. Kenma's flushing — it must be the wine, must be the ecstasy. But a selfish, desperate part of Shouyou wishes he'd caused it, knows that Kenma's always calm around him but wishes, just a little, that he'd make Kenma shy, too.
He moves to Shouyou’s side by the counter and turns, breaking contact with his mirror gaze so that he’s looking at Shouyou directly.
Shouyou wants to touch him.
Kenma flicks a teasing finger on Shouyou's inner forearm. Still not saying anything, he starts to drag it up slowly along Shouyou’s silk sleeve. His touch is sparse but intense, amplified even through the fabric. He passes Shouyou’s elbow, drags up his shoulder, stops to pinch at Shouyou's collar.
Shouyou realizes, very belatedly, that Kenma's flirting with him. And maybe he’s been flirting with him the entire time they’ve been here. The thought has Shouyou feeling too-sensitive where Kenma traces him through his borrowed shirt, too-hot all over.
Nails barely skim the top of Shouyou's chest, skin exposed by two undone buttons.
Kenma stops to trace the small hollow between Shouyou’s collarbones, eyes seeming to fix there. Hardly breathing, Shouyou glances down and sees — oh, fuck — a muted maroon spot near his collar where he must have, at some point, spilled his drink.
“Fuck,” Shouyou says, eyes going wide. “Fuck, Kenma, I’m so sorry, I’m—“
“Stop,” Kenma says, not at all sharply, but still Shouyou snaps his jaw shut. He brings his other hand to cup Shouyou’s cheek, impossibly gentle. His touch burns. “Shouyou, do you remember what I said?”
“Um,” is all Shouyou can say in reply.
“What I said would happen,” Kenma says, mouth curling slightly now. He leans in close enough that Shouyou could feel the ticklish warmth of each word at his ear. “If you spilled your drink tonight.”
“Oh,” Shouyou says, dumbly. “Oh. I think I remember. Kenma, I’m—“
He’s interrupted by Kenma’s thumb sliding to press on Shouyou’s bottom lip, and his mouth goes still again. Shouyou tries not to shiver under his touch and searching gaze. The phantom taste of cherries spills over his tongue.
Thumb pressed to his lip, Kenma says, “You liked when I did this, didn’t you?”
It’s not a question. Still, high on ecstasy and the closeness of his face, Shouyou can’t seem to find the word for yes. Shouyou doesn’t know how to tell him every minute I spend near you is an exercise in self control. Doesn’t know how to tell him I never deny myself anything but forever I’ve denied myself you.
Kenma’s thumb moves down from his lips, tracing his jaw and past the front of his throat, following its motion as Shouyou swallows. He starts to unbutton down Shouyou’s shirt with long, graceful fingers.
Shouyou thinks he might faint. Kenma drags down Shouyou’s chest, touch cutting past skin, past sternum, the frantic muscle of his heart. He continues until he’s gotten the buttons to his ribs, exposing Shouyou’s blushing chest.
But the touch leaves just as quick, and Kenma’s stepping away and smiling a little, gaze darkly entertained. Shouyou scrambles to lean back against the edge of the sink, trying to catch his breath. Something unfathomable flickers in Kenma’s eyes.
“I was only teasing, you know,” Kenma says, expression folded back to being so cool, so sweet. “Fix up your shirt before coming out, okay?”
Kenma leaves without another word, bathroom door swinging shut behind him.
Shouyou sinks to his forearms on the counter and stares at his own flushed expression, shirt hanging half-open, confused and embarrassed and hot all over.
They get back home late into the night. Kenma doesn’t say a word to him on the ride back, and for once, Shouyou doesn’t have anything to say either. Instead he stares out the tinted windows, finally more sober and more than a little tired, gathering all of his nerve to ask what he knows he’s going to have to ask.
Shouyou tries to catch secret glances of Kenma through the rearview mirror. Kenma notices every time, golden eyes instantly flickering to his in question through the glass. It’s terrifying. Shouyou looks away.
Shouyou cycles through a few possible wordings in his head. Like, hey Kenma, can I kiss you? Or I really wanna kiss you but for real this time, or do you know how long I’ve waited, or can you bend me over your fancy black marble kitchen countertop? Or are you playing me right now?
Kenma’s just locked the front door and is in the middle of taking off his shoes when Shouyou instead ends up saying, with no small amount of hurt, “You knew this whole time, didn’t you? You knew exactly how I felt.”
Kenma doesn’t even pause to look at him. He slips off his shoes and casts them neatly to the side. Shouyou kind of wants to scream even as he slips off his own shoes too, and he wonders for a second if Kenma’s heard him, when Kenma finally looks up at Shouyou and pins him in place with only the firelight intensity of his gaze.
“Maybe a little,” Kenma admits, not a trace of apology in his voice.
Any half-formed dialogue Shouyou came up with in the car dissolves under his tongue. The house is too warm. “How did you know?”
“Sorry, Shouyou. It’s hard not to,” Kenma says, shrugging a little. He looks and sounds like he’s got all the nonchalance in the world. “When you keep looking at me like that.”
“Like what?” Shouyou frowns.
“Like you want me to bend you over the kitchen counter.”
Shouyou nearly chokes on his spit. He thinks of Tsukishima smirking at him with that annoying, all-knowing look on his face, thinks of Kageyama’s embarrassed little muttering. Isn’t it, though?
This isn’t going anything like Shouyou thought it would.
"That’s kinda mean, Kenma.” He doesn’t know what else to say.
Kenma doesn’t try to hide his smirk. “Like you wanted, right?”
Shouyou flushes. Kenma laughs a little at him—which only makes Shouyou blush harder—and moves to shrug off his coat before making his way to the kitchen.
Shouyou is so mortified that for a second he considers bolting behind Kenma’s turned back and making a beeline to the guest room. Better yet, he could run out the house altogether. He’s got plenty of contacts in Tokyo. The Adlers are in the city, he thinks. He could call Kageyama or Hoshiumi-san, and one of them’s bound to let him crash for however long until he has to get back to Osaka, right? He’d let Kageyama count it as an extra win on the tally they’d kept ongoing since high school. He’d let it count as ten extra wins, which it probably does.
Just in case, Shouyou whips out his phone and quickly texts Kageyama, hey do u want 10 xtra wins on our tally lol 😛, and then texts Hoshiumi-san, hi how ru!!!! did i evr get to tell u how sorry i am 😔, before pocketing it again and making his way to the kitchen.
“So you knew that I—” Shouyou pauses, chewing his words against his lip. “And you just. What, waited for me to break?” He rubs at the back of his neck as he follows Kenma, pouting a little. “Kenma, why didn’t you say anything?”
Kenma leans over his forearms on the kitchen counter, expression sharply calculating in a far too familiar way. Shouyou’s seen it enough times through the bleached criss-cross of a volleyball net. It sends a hot phantom panic—and maybe something else—crawling up his nape.
“‘Cause it’s way more fun, Shouyou,” Kenma says eventually, looking up and wetting his lips. “Watching you come apart like this.”
Shouyou exhales sharply. He wills the phone in his back pocket to vibrate, but it doesn’t. “What am I, one of your video games?”
“Somehow, I don’t think you’d mind that.”
And he’s not even wrong, and Shouyou knows that Kenma knows that he’s not even wrong, and Shouyou feels himself coming apart at the seams. Maybe Kenma can tell, because his gaze softens a little for the first time all evening.
“Shouyou,” Kenma starts, suddenly gentle, like he’s trying not to spook him. “Come here.”
Shouyou does so without question, and leans against the countertop beside Kenma with his arms crossed, still a little petulant. But then Kenma’s pulling him into his arms and carding clever fingers through his hair, and Shouyou distantly thinks he should probably stay at least a little mad, but it’s hard when Kenma’s touching him like this.
“I just wish you said something,” Shouyou mumbles, burying his too-warm face into Kenma’s neck. He lets Kenma run his fingers down his back, carving lines through borrowed champagne silk.
“I know,” Kenma says, low and placating. “But now that I’ve said something. What are you going to do about it?”
Shouyou’s eyes snap open. The last time he was this close to Kenma, he’d thought about turning his head to taste the salt on Kenma’s neck. It would have been so easy. He wonders what Kenma would’ve done, if only he had, in that moment.
Shouyou wants to try and see. Before he could second-guess himself, he turns his head a little, parts his mouth a little, and presses a featherlight kiss just below Kenma’s ear.
“That,” Shouyou whispers into the skin there. He’s a little dizzy. “Can I do that?”
“Yes.” Kenma continues running his fingers through Shouyou’s hair, nails lightly scratching the scalp.
“And this. Can I,” Shouyou pauses only a little before pressing his tongue against the top of Kenma’s jaw, and he wants to live inside the stuttered breath that escapes Kenma’s mouth. He tastes the lobe of Kenma’s ear. “Can I.”
“Yes,” Kenma says again, a little breathless now. “Yes, just—”
Shouyou lightly tugs on the lobe of Kenma’s ear between his teeth, an edge of glass catching. Kenma gasps again, and Shouyou grins because finally, finally, he’s not the only one between them losing their composure. Finally, finally, Shouyou gets to be the one teasing, shedding his previous nerves and tasting the salt on Kenma’s ear and softly laughing, “Sensitive here, are you?”
Kenma tugs hard on the back of his hair, turning Shouyou’s laugh into an embarrassing whine that he tries to bury in Kenma’s neck. He pulls Shouyou further away by the hair, and when they look at each other Shouyou can finally see how sweet and pink Kenma’s skin has gotten. He’s waited so long to see him like this.
When Kenma’s kisses him on the mouth, it’s so much better than earlier at the party, warm and heavy and long, and it gets Shouyou more high and giddy than any drink, than any pill. Kenma keeps a hand in Shouyou’s hair as he deepens the kiss, his other hand moving between them to elegantly unbutton Shouyou’s shirt all over again. Shouyou’s almost afraid that he’ll stop halfway and dip like he’d done only hours before, but then Kenma’s hands slide the shirt past his shoulders and Shouyou half thinks he might be dreaming.
Kenma still looks so clean in his fully-buttoned shirt and still-perfect tie when he presses a leg between Shouyou’s and rubs. Shouyou’s too busy gasping to react to the way Kenma puts his mouth to Shouyou’s ear and echoes, amused, “Sensitive here?”
Shouyou kind of wants to kill him, but he wants to kiss him more. They spend so long like that under the low kitchen light, Kenma mouthing the soft expanse of Shouyou’s neck before murmuring into the skin, hardly heard, “Shouyou, what do you want?”
He thinks of the party, of the barely-there brush of Kenma’s lips on his, of Kenma’s too-brief tongue slipping past his teeth.
Do you know how long I’ve waited.
“I want a taste,” Shouyou says, soft and almost shy, hand pressing Kenma closer by the small of his back.
“Okay.” Kenma’s eyes dance with a wicked smugness. “Taste me.”
Shouyou’s hands press Kenma’s waist against the counter. He kisses Kenma hard on the mouth as he clumsily undoes Kenma's belt, fingers shaking nearly too hard to unclasp and unzip the front of his pants. He presses there with the heel of his palm and Kenma lets out a soft gasp, tilting his hips forward for more of his touch.
Kenma flattens his hand at the back of Shouyou’s neck and applies gentle pressure, staring at Shouyou all the while. Shouyou reads the unspoken command in Kenma’s movements and licks his lips before sinking to his knees.
Somehow, Shouyou still feels a frantic second away from having all of this taken away from him. Shouyou grips behind Kenma’s thighs and kisses up them until he’s mouthing at the outline of him through the dark cotton of his briefs, the fabric already a little wet.
“Shouyou,” Kenma gasps. The hand at the back of Shouyou’s head pushes a little more insistently. Shouyou tugs down the fabric and traces the head of his cock with his tongue, causing Kenma’s legs to shudder around him. Shouyou keeps his hands steady at his thighs, tilting forward to taste more of him.
“Pretty mouth,” Kenma murmurs, tracing Shouyou’s bottom lip with his thumb as Shouyou stretches his mouth around him. The words send heat crackling down Shouyou’s spine. Kenma’s thumb suddenly curls tighter over his lip, adding an almost painful pressure that floods Shouyou’s head with dull, white static.
“Wider for me, Shouyou.” Shouyou obeys, taking more of him even with the strain in his jaw.
Kenma sounds so sweet above him as his mouth works, Shouyou’s hands running up from Kenma’s thighs to harshly dig into his hips. All the while, Kenma’s hand stays inside the fire of Shouyou’s hair, gently pressing down, then tugging in a way that pulls Shouyou’s voice out from around him. Kenma moans when Shouyou swallows, taking him into the back of his throat, and Shouyou thinks he would do anything to hear that sound again.
It’s only after Kenma comes into his mouth that he lets up his tight grip. Shouyou still keeps his head in place as he finishes, swallowing what he can, before he finally breaks away, panting heavily.
“Good,” Kenma murmurs, still catching his breath, fingers back to carding through Shouyou’s hair with an almost surprising gentleness. Shouyou doesn’t know if it’s the word itself, or the low way Kenma says it that sends thin fire running under his skin. Kenma reaches forward to cup Shouyou’s jaw in his hand, thumb wiping spit and cum from the corner of his mouth. Shouyou leans into the touch, burning for him. “So good for me, Shouyou.”
At the heart of a house as shadowed as it is gilded, Shouyou stands both citizen and stranger. In a dream he watches Kenma’s silk-covered back retreat from him to nowhere, a gauzy, dark curtain skating in between them. Shouyou runs and presses his face to the fabric, wants to say please turn around, please tell me who you are. I’ve never seen a face like yours; the back of a head like yours. Where are you going? Who are you?
They don’t talk about it. The week after has Kenma booked for an inordinate amount of live streams and meetings and game launches in succession, or something. Kenma won’t seem to look at him for over three seconds, which bewilders Shouyou because he had felt pinned by the rigidity of that stare for what felt like all of the other night. Or the ecstasy made it seem that way.
Still, they talk amicably. Briefly. Small talk. Hey Kenma, what’s up, have you eaten yet? How was the launch last night? Wow, you broke another game record? Amazing, awesome, that’s so cool, Kenma. It leaves Shouyou crawling under his skin because they never do small talk. That’s not what Shouyou and Kenma are to each other, never has been.
The month’s almost over. Shouyou’s bound to leave for Osaka soon and a part of him is terrified that when they say goodbye to each other, it won’t be as Kenma and Shouyou, but rather as this. A goodbye between acquaintances. Between strangers.
Shouyou wonders if maybe he should just let Kenma know that hey, we can just pretend like nothing happened, if that's the reason you won't even look at me right now. Tell me, please. I think about it all the time but I won't speak a word of it to you or to anyone, if it only means you'll look my way again. Say a word, say anything back to me.
But one late night Kenma stops ignoring him altogether, to much of Shouyou's delight and confusion. Shouyou is on the living room couch with the Little Yoshi pillows texting Tsukishima about something that no longer matters. What does matter is the sight of Kenma coming in from the hallway—grey sweats slung low on his hips, hair a hasty half-bun casually gilded by lamplight. What matters more is that Kenma’s sharp gaze has stilled over Shouyou, and that even after five seconds, for the first time all week, it remains.
Kenma had just finished streaming. The circles under his eyes are darker than usual. For a terrible, selfish half-second Shouyou wonders if Kenma's lost nearly as much sleep over this as he has.
“Shouyou,” Kenma murmurs.
Shouyou had tried to forget the events of that night after the event—the black marble kitchen counter and everything committed there, the salt on Kenma’s skin, the heft of Kenma in his mouth—really, he did. But everything rolls back to him—a compressed, spinning film reel—when Kenma says his name like that.
To Shouyou's shock, Kenma smiles a little shyly to his responding stare before dropping beside him on the sofa.
“I wasn’t avoiding you,” starts Kenma, his sudden bluntness like a punch to the chest, even though Shouyou should be used to Kenma’s brand of bluntness by now. His eyes are wide gold. “I really did have a lot of commitments booked for this week. I’m sorry, Shouyou. I’d never ignore you on purpose.”
“Oh, no, don’t apologize,” Shouyou says, raising a hand to sheepishly rub at the back of his neck, and he nearly blanches at himself because he couldn’t recall the last time he’d acted sheepish around Kenma. “I know you’re really busy, Kenma. Being the great Kodzuken and all.” He smiles a little weakly.
Kenma smiles back, but it’s earnest.
From there, they fall into a pattern of talking that almost feels normal, as if their comfortable high school selves had come back to meet after many years of missing each other. Almost.
Maybe Shouyou should have expected it more when Kenma brings a careful hand to the back of his head and reels him in, slow enough to let Shouyou flinch away at any moment. Maybe. But he doesn't know what to expect from Kenma anymore, knows only that minutes later he’s straddling Kenma's lap on the couch as they kiss, nervous hands slow to undo Kenma’s bun, dark hair falling like smoke all around them.
The sky's fully dark by the time they make it to Kenma's bedroom. Kenma pulls off his shirt and mouths soft, hot lines down Shouyou’s bare torso, his stomach—but he keeps returning to Shouyou’s mouth, and he kisses so sweetly.
It’s overwhelming. This is something Shouyou’s thought about more often than he could recount, skin hot beneath Kenma's travelling hands. Sweet apple and sandalwood all around him. Kenma’s room. Kenma’s bed. His hair. His mouth.
“I imagined your hands, Kenma,” Shouyou murmurs, eyes fluttering closed. He doesn’t know where the admittance comes from, only that saying it feels like releasing a roll of breath that he’d kept coiled in for years. Shouyou’s wearing only sweatpants now, but Kenma’s still fully clothed.
“What do you mean?” Kenma’s voice is soft and distant, muffled by the skin on Shouyou’s chest.
“In Brazil, I thought about your hands on me. Like this.” His hand comes up over Kenma’s own, where it rests on the dip between Shouyou’s collarbones. “Here. Lower.”
“You thought of me in bed with you?” Kenma presses the heel of his hand between Shouyou’s legs, grinning wickedly. “Doing this?”
Shouyou’s agreement melts into a moan. He’s long stopped trying to keep quiet—there’s no point in doing so, anyway, when Kenma seems to bite harder, press harder with every short sound escaping Shouyou's mouth.
Shouyou says, “Lay awake and thought—” I would die, I would come apart. If you didn’t touch me then, right then, that hour, that second.
“So,” Kenma mouths over Shouyou’s nipple, voice laced with amusement.“What did you do about it?”
“Kenma.” It comes out pitched and whiny, and he lifts a fist to press over his mouth. He’s hot and flushed, he knows, red all the way down his chest.
“Don’t be shy with me, Shouyou.” Kenma presses soothing kisses along Shouyou’s sides, just above the hem of his pants. But he follows them with bites, leaves bruises near his hips. “What do you do, while I’m away from this house? When I leave you alone?”
“I—I play with myself.”
“You think of me?”
Kenma says, “Tell me how.”
“When you thought of me,” says Kenma, smile all dark. “What was I doing?”
“You told me what to do.” Shouyou burns like a candle, reduces to nothing.
“Where were you?”
“In my room. The shower,” Shouyou bites his lip, flushes darker before admitting, “Um, here once.”
“Here? Like, here?” Kenma raises an eyebrow, drops a hand to his bedsheets.
Shouyou winces. “Sorry—”
“Don’t you think that’s disgusting, Shouyou?”
Shouyou can’t bite down the noise that spills from his mouth. Kenma stares intently for a moment. But then his face crumples, and he’s laughing at him, a bright, mean thing that pierces through Shouyou like a lance.
“Shouyou,” says Kenma, finally. He reaches out to curl a hand beneath Shouyou’s jaw, grip tight. “Listen, baby.”
“You wanna be good for me, right?”
Shouyou swallows and nods, not trusting himself to speak.
“Why don’t you touch yourself for me,” Kenma says. His gaze crawls down Shouyou’s face and fixes below his waist, cooly amused. “The way you’ve been doing for weeks in this house already, right?”
Shouyou’s mouth goes dry. Kenma doesn’t say more, but he’s waiting now—Shouyou can tell by his unflinching eyes, the cat-like sideways tilt of his head.
Shouyou hadn’t realized this whole time that he’d been waiting to be told. Waiting to be touched. He pulls down his sweats just enough to take himself in his hand, breath stuttering. He pauses.
“Don’t get shy now,” Kenma nearly coos, stare unwavering. He kneels across from Shouyou on the bed, and Shouyou’s breath hitches again when Kenma lowers a hand between his legs. Shouyou would have thought Kenma unaffected if it weren’t for the motion, and for the telltale blush sitting high on his cheeks. “Go on. Show me.”
It’s fine for a while, like this—Shouyou stroking himself with burning cheeks, Kenma watching, still not making any move to shed his own clothes. Then Kenma moves to kneel behind Shouyou, bed shifting under his weight. He grips Shouyou’s hips and presses himself firm against Shouyou’s back.
From behind Shouyou, Kenma slips a hand over Shouyou’s own and makes him curl tighter over his own cock. Shouyou cries out when Kenma keeps his hand on top of Shouyou’s, guiding the way he strokes himself, his other hand keeping a bruising grip over the side of his hip.
“Like this, Shouyou?” Kenma’s breath fans warm behind his ear. “You touched yourself like this, right?”
Shouyou only nods his head hopelessly as Kenma applies more pressure, instructing the motions of Shouyou’s hand.
“Like this?” Kenma swipes his thumb over the flushed head, spreading the pre-come there. Kenma adds pressure while speaking, as if to emphasize his words, coaxing out short moans from Shouyou. “You wished these hands were mine?”
“Kenma, please,” Shouyou says, mindless, no longer sure of what he’s asking for.
“So polite.” Shouyou could almost hear the smirk in the voice behind him. Kenma tugs Shouyou’s wrist away, causing him to whine. He guides Shouyou’s hand up his own abdomen, teasing along hard planes, the lines of his muscles. “So good for me.”
Shouyou gasps as Kenma brings their joined hands to Shouyou’s nipple, pinning him there, making him twist himself. Behind him, Shouyou feels Kenma’s hips rock a little harder against his lower back.
“Wanna watch you work yourself open,” Kenma murmurs. He takes Shouyou’s free hand and guides it down slowly. “Can you do that for me, Shouyou?”
Shouyou gasps as he nods, hips rolling down on Kenma’s fingers. He’ll do anything Kenma asks of him. The mattress shifts as Kenma leaves and appears again — and then a quiet click, wetness on Shouyou’s fingers.
Shouyou is pliant. An offering. Kenma watches as Shouyou makes room for him, all the while pressing open mouthed kisses across and down the broad expanse of Shouyou’s back. Into Shouyou’s skin, he whispers half-believed things into full belief. You’re pretty like this. Gorgeous. I want you. You're perfect.
When Kenma fucks him it’s a revelation. It’s the overspill of every terrible, indulgent thought that Shouyou’s had all summer, and now they pour from Shouyou’s mouth in a breathless procession. Shouyou arches off the bed as he comes, nails digging into the meat of Kenma’s back, and he is so much like a deer that had never stopped burning, even with hooves tied above the stone altar, even when rolled to the feet of any god, antlers fire-blackened, smoke still curling from the hide.
Shouyou wakes alone the next morning, sun coming up like a dire confession. Maybe they’re safer kept away in the dark — more pure.
But Shouyou thinks he understands, or at least that he’s started to. They hadn’t lost their old selves, he knows now; they’ve destroyed them deliberately. In the very act of touch, they had pushed their old selves, with no small amount of force, into the hot, yawning mouth of a funeral pyre.
Shouyou later wonders if desire will always feel like surrender. Still he pulls in Kenma by the waist and kisses him without grief.