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Learning to Hate You as a Self-Defense Mechanism

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There were several reasons why Kuroo left.

He justified it in his head over and over, though it never felt right, what he’d done. It had been a game of solitaire, their relationship – Kenma being the unsortable cards, and Kuroo being the one who attempted relentlessly to bring order to things. There had been nothing for him there. He’d give and give, and receive absolutely nothing in return.

Oh, how he’d grown so accustomed to the nuances of Kenma’s behaviour – a simple twitch of the lips was a satisfactory response to an “I love you”, as far as Kuroo was concerned. He’d examined the boy for so long, watched him with a sharp eye, learned to appreciate every little curve his body made, every little breath he exhaled. Kuroo knew very well that he’d given far too much meaning to the most redundant of actions, that he’d been too easily satisfied in the beginning, but it would’ve been impossible to do anything differently.

Kenma was a slow-burning poison, one that you wouldn’t even notice as it seeped into your bloodstream – or at least, not until it was too late. He was spellbinding, that boy, if you paid close enough attention. That’s what Kuroo had come to realize. Bewitching, that was the word. Gorgeous in an utterly malicious way. He absolutely hated him for it.

His heart had burned so brightly for him, it physically hurt at times. It was a simple ache that grew into a being of its own with time – it was a love so strong that Kuroo couldn’t fathom its eventual failure. He’d shower Kenma with relentless affection, lace words together like a poem as he described how beautiful Kenma was, he’d do anything the boy asked of him. He gave and gave, and all he ever received was a halfhearted smile or a mumbled ‘thank you’. Those needling, cat-like eyes never shone the way Kuroo’s did, and it was a devastating thing to realize.

Even in the bedroom, Kenma was always taking, begging for more and complaining about Kuroo’s lack of prowess. “Stop being so gentle with me-“ he’d whine, and Kuroo was unable to oblige – there was no way in hell he could ever manage to do something that might hurt Kenma. So he shook his head, kissed his forehead, and continued with those slow, loving motions that made his heart swell. Kenma would look up at him in exasperation, and afterwards he’d leave the bed immediately to wash himself up, rather than linger to cuddle.

Thinking about it now, Kuroo’s fists balled up. Sure, a year had passed since he cut his ties with that toxic boy, but Kenma never entirely left his mind, much to his distress. He heard that quiet, soft voice pass through his ears, even when he was sitting in complete silence. Every single time he walked through a crowd, he swore he could see Kenma – a hallucination that simply would not let him be.

Kenma had taken the breakup well. Too well. He’d given Kuroo a soft, heartrending look of confusion that lasted only a moment, before his features returned to their usual blank state. A shrug, a sigh, a quiet ‘okay.’ That was all Kuroo got. No begging, no protest, just a shrug. He didn’t even have the courtesy to ask if they could stay friends.

And so they did not stay friends. The breakup was the last time they’d spoken in person. Kuroo had packed his bags and left the apartment, leaving Kenma to figure out a way to pay the rent. Let that lazy asshole find out how jobs work, how the real world works. Kuroo refused to lend him money any longer. He expected a letter, a text, a phone call, but nothing came. He’d left him, and he hadn’t even put up a fight.

His friends knew not to bring up Kenma in casual conversation, because it always ended poorly. The first few months were tearful, the next ones depressed, and these recent ones had simply been angry. The worst part was that no matter how much Kuroo berated himself, pointing out all of Kenma’s flaws and all the ways he’d been a shitty boyfriend, a shitty person, he couldn’t bring himself to stop loving him.

And that love ate him alive. His sleep patterns grew irregular as he tried to dream up ways to forget that devil that had sauntered into his life and left just as casually. It proved to be an impossible task – time is said to heal all wounds, but this one only seemed to grow worse. It bled and bled, never forming a scab, never healing over. Kuroo tried to ignore it, but the blood seeped into his clothes and that deep cut only grew larger.

God, he missed him – he missed him so much. Those eyes, those gorgeous eyes – that rare smile, that adorable laugh. What Kenma gave him hadn’t been enough, but it came so close. In fact, Kuroo could’ve continued the relationship and eventually grown used to the indifference he was treated with, and things would’ve ended up fine. But in hindsight, this had probably been the right thing to do.

His new house was small, but at least it wasn’t an apartment. Three jobs, two of them part-time and one of them freelance, and he’d managed to create a stressful source of income to pay for it. It lay close to the train tracks, and this only perpetuated his insomnia. That rush, that clatter, it played through his head as Kenma’s voice ghosted through his ears as always. It was still early, but he was trying to sleep – to no avail, obviously.

Raindrops splattered against the window, blossoming into smaller shapes that raced down the glass like eager slugs – the night was eerily silent, save for the occasional train. It was so dark, there was no way he could make out the shapes that were so apparent in the light, and it put him on edge.

Through the silence, a sharp ring stabbed Kuroo’s ears like a scream. Christ, what was that-? Disoriented and thoroughly startled, it took him a few moments to realize that it was merely the doorbell. It was only nine, so it wasn’t odd for someone to ring, but…

It’s Kenma. Don’t answer. Don’t answer.

The thoughts were irrational and stupid, but Kuroo still hesitated before going to open the door. The handle creaked, and those little voices grew louder. Every damn time he opened this door he expected that face, that beautiful, precious face, staring up at him again.

But no, it was only his neighbor, come to tell him that he’d left the headlights of his car on.

The apartment was silent – it had been for quite some time now. The spaces once filled with friends, with ex-girlfriends, with family…they were empty. Kenma thought he’d be happy like this, but it just made him feel on edge. It was far too big a space for him, and he swore things were lurking around every corner.

Nights alone, nights like these, he sometimes thought of Kuroo.

It was still strange – to know someone since you were in kindergarten, to watch him grow up, to know every single aspect of his personality…to have someone become a part of you, only to have them ripped away. It sounded like a very tragic thing, but it was really just strange, overwhelmingly so.

He’d still find things Kuroo had unintentionally left behind – ordinary things, like spare razor blades and tweezers. A few socks here and there. A book. Never anything interesting – these things could’ve belonged to anyone, and they didn’t make Kenma feel anything. They were just there, a dull little reminder of the boy that he’d probably never see again.

When Kuroo left him, he’d felt guilty about it. Of course he had – if someone yelled at you, pointing out all the things you did wrong, there’s no way you could avoid the guilt. Sure, Kenma blocked it out to the best of his abilities. After all, Kuroo was right, and there was no way he could convince him to stay. There was no point in it, and it was altogether too much effort. So instead, he let Kuroo go without a fight, numbing himself to that shitty feeling that pooled in his chest.

Without Kuroo around, he matured. Learned to do things on his own, learned to talk to people properly (though he still got flustered introducing himself), and stood up straight for once. There was no one left to coddle him, so eventually, he grew up.

He floated through a few relationships, all of which fell apart within weeks. His lovers called him ‘unresponsive’, ‘disinterested’, ‘selfish’ - Kenma had never thought of himself that way, and he certainly didn’t want to be considered a bad person. Whatever he’d had with Kuroo had lasted for years, and it dawned on him that Kuroo was special – no one else could stand to be with Kenma for more than a month.

Was he really that difficult to put up with?

He chose not to think about these things, but on lonely nights like these, the thoughts were unavoidable. They rattled around his head like dice, landing on unpleasant combinations every time. It was a dull ache, not a sharp pain. His skin prickled up into goosebumps and his palms began to sweat.

The anxiety attacks only happened when he was alone. His medication had helped him overcome them for the most part, but that didn’t mean that they’d been eradicated completely. Back when he’d been with Kuroo…he’d nuzzle up against the other’s chest, feeling those big arms around him, and he’d calm down almost immediately.

No one was here to hold him now, though. Kenma was alone, as always – it seemed he just wasn’t cut out for being with others.

He’d always known that, but he’d honestly thought that Kuroo was the exception to that rule. But Kuroo could only put up with him for a decade-and-a-half before running in the opposite direction. He missed him sometimes. That awful, scratchy laugh, those smiles that seemed to hold all the love in the world – he’d taken him for granted and he knew it, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

He’d lost him, and he’d left things like this for too long to repair them.

Had he loved Kuroo? He’d only told him a handful of times, and he hadn’t been sure as to whether he really meant the words. He cared about him, liked him, but love was a different thing entirely. It was only now, when he took the time to stop and think about it, that he realized it – he probably loved Kuroo more now than he had back then.

A slow-burning love, the kind that took its sweet time, and the kind that was highly inconvenient and infuriating for your partners – that was the sort of love that Kenma supposed he’d developed for his ex. A fondness, a lingering sense of guilt, and that overwhelming feeling of missing him.

He almost picked up the phone, but Kuroo had probably blocked his number. The can of beer that he’d had earlier wasn’t enough to release his inhibitions, and his hand lingered over the device like an unsteady crane. Should he just try? It was a terrible idea. The worst.

So why were his fingers picking up the phone? Why were they dialing that familiar number? Why? Oh, god- oh god, he was going to regret this-

The phone rang a few times, and to Kenma’s absolute horror, Kuroo actually picked up.

He’d erased the number from his contacts, but he still recognized it – Kenma’s number. Kuroo’s mind did the oddest thing upon seeing that number – there was no hint of panic, of anger, of sadness. Just an unbearable whiteness that made the situation seem dreamlike and unreal. He lifted the phone to his ear, arm moving as if underwater.

“Hello?”

“Hi-“ cracked out that familiar voice. It brought back an influx of awful memories that Kuroo had to fight strongly against in order to choke out his next sentence.

“Why are you calling me?” He snapped, though he hadn’t meant for his voice to sound that sharp. He hadn’t spoken to Kenma in so long – he’d forgotten how it felt, forgotten how to actually deal with the boy.

“Am I bothering you? I’m sorry-“ Kenma stammered, evidently nervous. There was that disgusting pang in Kuroo’s heart, that love – how it was still there, Kuroo didn’t know.

“No, no- not at all. But why did you call?” Kuroo asked, struggling to keep his composure. He felt like screaming at him, felt like sobbing – this was the boy who had destroyed his world and torn it up into tiny pieces, and he had the nerve to call him again after a year.

“I was just thinking about you. I know this is a bad idea, and I’m sorry.” Kenma stated plainly, his voice still unsteady, though it was obvious that he was taking the time to carefully plan out the sentences. It was evident in the little pauses he made.

“It’s a terrible idea.” Kuroo murmured, venom practically tangible in his words.

“Don’t hang up.” Kenma begged.

There it was again, that horrible, heart-melting pain. He loved him, god, he loved him so much. Just hearing that voice crackle through the phone made all those feelings rush back with a stronger force than ever before. It made his eyes water, like allergies, like onions. It stung.

“I won’t.” He said, his tone softening.

“Do you miss me? Ever?” Kenma asked, and the question seemed so redundant, so stupid, that Kuroo didn’t even know why he’d bothered asking it. The answer should be obvious, but Kuroo didn’t know if he wanted to sacrifice his pride and tell Kenma the truth.

But of course, he was weak – he always had been. And before he could stop himself, the words spilled out of his mouth, increasing in volume until he was practically yelling into the phone.

“Ever? Kenma, I miss you every day. I haven’t been able to get your fucking face out of my mind since I left. All you’ve ever done is tear me apart, and still, still – I can’t stop thinking about you. The way you walk, the way you smell, fuck – even the way you blink, Kenma. You’re all I fucking think about and I hate you for it-“ he spat, no longer in control of himself. Tears had started to fall, but he didn’t care anymore. Let Kenma see the damage he’d done. Let him finally see.

There was a pause. Of course, there had to be a pause. Kuroo expected him to hang up.

“I love you.” Kenma murmured.

“Bullshit.”

“I didn’t before. I know.”

“Nothing’s changed.”

“I know. But I think I get it now. I know you hate me, so I’ll leave you alone, but…I miss you sometimes. I think about you. I try not to, but it’s hard when I’m alone. I hate the way things ended, and I really think that…well, I mean, it took a while, but for some reason – for some reason I fell for you when it was already too late.”

It was the most that Kuroo had ever really heard Kenma say at once, and he clung to every word like an idiotic teenage girl, his heart swelling as he cried. He knew Kenma could hear the sobs, but there was no way he could hold back – he’d held all this back for far too long.

“You’re an asshole-“

“I know. This’ll be the last time we talk, I promise.”

“I still love you. I always will.”

“You can’t love and hate someone at the same time, Kuroo.”

“Just watch me.”

“I shouldn’t have let you leave.” Kenma said shakily, his voice indicating that he might be on the verge of tears – either that, or he was just moving the phone around a bit. Most likely the latter.

Kuroo pondered hanging up right then and there – it was far too painful to endure. Each word was like a knife, attacking a different part of his body until he was nothing but a collection of wounds, a body so bloodied that it was unrecognizable. This was the effect Kenma had on him, even after all this time. It had to mean something. God, if Kenma wanted to try again, Kuroo would never let him go – but he wanted to run far away from him, he refused to let himself be hurt again.

Phone still pressed against his ear, he slid down the wall he’d been leaning against, slumping onto the carpet.

“I shouldn’t have started something with you until you were ready.”

“I’m ready now. But I know it’s too late.”

“It might be.”

“We could try, but- that’s-“ Kenma stammered, unable to finish the sentence. Fortunately, Kuroo cut him off anyways.

“It’s an awful idea, Kenma. I love you too much.”

“Still?”

“Always.”

“Kuroo…come over.”

Suddenly, the line went dead, and Kuroo realized that Kenma had actually hung up on him. He’d given him that tiny little order, and then hung up, as if he expected Kuroo to follow blindly behind him like a dog.

Kuroo scowled, murmuring obscenities as he got into his car.

Kenma was still shaking, the sweat on his palms so evident that it was forming little beads, making his phone slick. Gross. But he couldn’t help it – he’d just had a conversation with the most important person in his life, whom he hadn’t spoken to in a year. And things had gotten a bit…intense.

Why had he invited Kuroo over? Did he have a death wish?

Although he knew in the back of his head that his ex would most likely not make an appearance, he still spent the next fifteen minutes panicking about the possibility. Christ, what if Kuroo had gone crazy and tried to kill him? What if he hurt him? What if he just yelled at him and stormed out?

What if he actually wanted to give this thing another try? What then?

Kenma’s head was spinning when he heard the doorbell ring. His heart was beating at a pace Kenma thought was probably highly unhealthy, and his legs had essentially become gelatin. Making his way over to the door was a feat, and managing to open the door with his sweaty hands was a triumph.

God – there he was. There he was. Kuroo was there.

Nononononononono-

Kenma looked up at the oh-so-familiar face with wide eyes, trying his best to fight back the pent-up emotions and nervousness that had built up within him. Seeing Kuroo again was so different from stalking his instagram. He was a thousand times more handsome in real life, a thousand times more lovely. Kenma wanted to tell him so, but the words got caught in his throat as he realized they were fucking stupid.

“You came.”

“That’s what she said.”

Kenma couldn’t help but chuckle a little, feeling a bit of the anxiety melt away as he stepped back to let Kuroo inside, out of the cold. “So…what’s the plan?” Kenma ventured.

“What plan?”

“What happens now?”

Seeing Kenma again reminded Kuroo why he’d put up with him for so long – he was everything, he was gorgeous, he was amazing-

He wasn’t perfect, but…he was more than that.

Kuroo couldn’t stay as angry as he’d hoped.

“Well…what do you want from me?” Kuroo asked, his voice still laden with tremors from the sobbing session he’d held earlier.

“I don’t know. I just want you. I know it’s selfish, but…I think I can do a better job this time.” Kenma murmured, approaching Kuroo in that sheepish way that he knew so well.

“Kenma...I don’t think you understand what you did to me. What you’re still doing to me.”

“You’re right. I don’t. I can’t. I just…Kuroo, you’re the only person that I think I can be with. The only person that I actually want to be with.”

“You never seemed to want me all that much.”

“I know.”

There was a pause, and Kenma leaned against the back of the old couch, looking up at Kuroo expectantly. He had no idea what sort of effect he had on him, did he? It hurt looking at him, like staring directly into the sun. It was painful and beautiful and Kuroo couldn’t resist. He never could. He’d already been poisoned, after all.

“Kenma…”

“Look, just leave if I’m making you uncomfortable. Just know that I think I love you. For real, this time.”

The way it was phrased, the sincerity evident in his eyes, it was all too much for Kuroo. His defenses crumbled, and he knew that he shouldn’t. But oh god, he was going to. He was going to take Kenma back into his life. He was going to open himself up again, he was going to eagerly await the new wounds that would surely form on his body.

And he was going to enjoy every moment of it.

As always, the shopping mall was crowded, and Kenma was hiding behind that curtain of hair that had steadily grown longer and longer over the years. It pained Kuroo not to be able to see his pretty face, but he’d lived a year without it, surely he could go another five minutes without seeing it.

“Hey, Kenma-?” He asked, surprising himself a little. Apparently he couldn’t even wait five minutes.

“Yeah?”

“You love me, right?”

Kenma tucked his phone away into his pocket, holding Kuroo by the arm and ceasing his slow pace. He looked up at him through those dark lashes and flashed a rare smile.

“You don’t have to ask anymore.”