If he hadn’t needed the credit, Kenma wouldn’t be here. The LIVING ART instructor was too loud, too excited with his frazzled hair pulled back into a low ponytail. He always wanted to yell, which should be illegal for morning classes. Or any classes. Or ever.
Kenma yawned, loudly, but no one paid him any attention. How could they when Takao-sensei kept waving his arms around and gushing over the BEAUTY OF THE HUMAN PHYSIQUE.
The beautiful human physique was boring. Give Kenma the bumps and zits, the crinkles at the corners of mouths, the scars that faded but would never disappear. That’s what Kenma wanted to see.
They had cycled through three models so far: a young woman, a middle-aged man, and a woman who had to be pushing fifty. Each one of them was made of smooth lines and tight skin and smiles that were disgustingly charming. Kenma drew them with long, elaborated pencil strokes that made people crowd around, but there was no substance there. They felt less like people and more like statues of people, sculpted and crafted over decades to get the perfect form.
He hated the aura of the studio, with all the students rushing to get work done first, or to get it done best. Art wasn’t a sport; there were no winners or losers, just a bunch of convoluted and opposing opinions. People treated it like one though: either by showing off their work at every opportunity with that conceited smirk that made Kenma’s face twist, or by standing behind him with their head tilted as they hummed and hawed in ways that made everyone know they found themselves superior. Art wasn’t a race, and you didn’t gain anything by “winning” (whatever that meant) besides the satisfaction of completion.
But he was still going to beat them all.
When Kenma painted or drew, he didn’t try to make things pretty to express some kind of message that you were supposed to find if you squinted hard enough. He wanted his meaning to be right there if you knew how to look. He wanted to capture the real—not “as seen through your eyes” but the real as it felt when it was lived. He wanted the ugly bits, the ungodly bits, the pieces of trash forgotten in the corner and concealed with a sweep of the curtain. He wanted to show how living in a moment felt, even if it was terrible and especially if it was ugly. That was, in his opinion, awfully beautiful.
Takao-sensei opened the door and whispered something to an unseen face. Kenma scratched his nose. New model today. Male. Mid-twenties. Not much older than Kenma, probably. He wondered if his hair would curl. Kenma loved drawing curly hair, with its kinky turns and fraying ends. His favourites were the ones that frizzed at the top, like a dark halo or a cloud of ravens.
“Please give a warm welcome to our next model!”
A chant of “welcome” followed, and the boy stepped into the room. Kenma’s fingers froze around the pencil he had been tapping on his easel. The boy was tall and lean, but he could see the strength in his arms even from across the room. He hunched slightly at the shoulders, hands shoved into the pockets of his robe. His smile was lazy, and crooked, curling up the side of his face like a cat stretching into the sun. He lifted his hand in a wave and moved onto the pedestal.
All that was fine. Nothing Kenma hadn’t already expected. What had caused him to freeze was that--- that thing on the top of his head.
It wasn’t hair, because hair sprouted and fell. Sometimes it fell like curtains, straight and thick, like it did on Kenma. Other times, it fell into waves, gently curling against temples and chins. Sometimes it sprang upwards in violent spirals that eventually turned towards the toes. This wasn’t hair, because hair wasn’t supposed to grow up.
He felt the crease form on his forehead as his eyebrows pinched in tight. This boy’s hair stuck up in every which way, swooping as if it had some aspiration to fly. Had he ever seen a brush before? Was he aware they existed?
Kenma liked the bumps and the creases on human beings. What he didn’t like were the cracks he didn’t know how to bridge.
What the fuck was he supposed to do with that?
The boy’s eyes landed on him, and Kenma quickly glanced away. “Uhh. Kuroo,” he said in a tone that sounded neither nervous nor confident. Kenma didn’t know why he said anything at all: most models preferred anonymity, and if he had to guess, “Kuroo” was probably his real name.
The sound of fabric hitting the floor, and Takao-sensei’s breathy “Begin!”
Kenma raised his eyes from Kuroo’s feet up and up and landed precisely where they began. To that matted thing upon his head.
He pressed his pencil onto the paper, then set it down again. He supposed it was straight, but to draw it in straight, smooth lines would disrupt its chaos. But it was smooth, the way the lines of his hair swooped and stuck out as if they had a personal vendetta against gravity. There were no knots or frayed edges. This was just how his hair was.
Pencils scratched around him. He only had a small dot on his easel. The clock kept ticking.
No time to waste, he’d skip the hair and go right to the feet.
He got the legs and most of the torso done by the time Kuroo switched positions. This time, Kenma started immediately, beginning with the feet again. His pose was fluid, one arm and leg extended, creating the lines most artists loved to follow. He sketched it quickly and began filling in details and shading, ignoring his face and head entirely. Instead of spiked hair, Kenma kept his head round and shiny.
And again, until the pencil moved so fast that Kenma had more than enough time to spare. Kuroo was standing straight ahead, hands on his waist and legs spread triumphantly. No shame, Kenma thought with a snort he hoped went unnoticed. When he looked up from his page, Kuroo was staring right at him.
His mouth quirked, and Kenma turned away. He had seen it though, he had to fill it in. Ignoring the hair, he began to draw in his facial features. The way his nose titled upwards, the curling of his lips. He dared a glance again. Kuroo hadn’t looked away. Kenma frowned. How was he supposed to get those eyes when the hair fell right into his face?
His frowned deepened, but he was too focused to see the boy’s smile grow.
In the end, he gave up, keeping the sketched boy bald.
When the class finally finished, Kenma took his time packing up his things. Normally, he didn’t bother looking through his sketches, but he felt a pull of curiosity. They felt bad as he drew them, as though he was missing something incredibly important, as if the boy on the page was any boy, and not the one he had been staring at.
It was the hair. It had to be the hair. Without it, he was nothing but personality-less lines. Dammit.
He sighed and pulled his bag onto his back. Oh well. It wasn’t like he was ever going to have to see him again. And if he did, the first– and only -- thing he was going to tell him was to get a haircut.
The Kuroo model (as Kenma was going to call him forever now) was there the next class, and the one after, and the one after that. Each time he pranced into the room (because that was what he did, looking so incredibly smug, even with his hands stuffed into his pockets, acting as though this was just a trip to the kitchen for a coffee), Kenma felt a tick of a growing headache.
He really wasn’t an angry person. He got pissed off when people annoyed him, but usually, Kenma didn’t care enough to get angry. This boy though--- he crawled right up under Kenma’s skin and made a nest.
Kuroo needed to make up his mind. One second, Kenma would feel that flash of inspiration, and his hand would be flying across the page, trying to capture the twist in his lips that never quite went away, and that bump on his nose that made Kenma think it might have once been broken. Kenma captured that zit on his cheek one week, right on his cheekbone below his eye, which looked surprisingly cute. He grabbed the way his cheeks were too broad, his jaw too wide for the chin they led into, but somehow still looked good. He was so flawed, so interesting, Kenma didn’t want him to move.
But then the pose would shift, and the light would fall on him in just the right way, and Kenma would hate it. Hate how silky and creamy his skin way, hate how his eyes were heavy with something Kenma didn’t want to read. Hate how he kept looking towards him, and how his mouth would quirk into a smile at something no one else could hear. He hated how strong his jawline was, and how plump his cheeks, and how his lips made some sort of bow that Kenma knew he could string. His hands, so wide and with such long fingers Kenma thought he should be a pianist. He wanted to draw those fingers, curled around a coffee cup, around a wrist, entwined with another hand.
Most of all, Kenma hated his hair. He knew how to draw beautiful people. He knew how to draw ugly people. He didn’t know how to draw this.
Was his hair windswept? Was it bedhead? Was it from sleep, or an illicit rendez-vous? Or, heaven-forbid, did he style it that way?
Kenma kept sketching until, eventually, he could see his face with his eyes closed. He kept sketching, after class ended, because he couldn’t quite get the angle of his jaw right. He kept sketching, everything but that hair.
By week four, he knew Kuroo’s face nearly as well as his own.
In week four, Kuroo stopped coming to class.
The woman, 32, with a round face and large eyes, had enough curves and edges to keep Kenma intrigued, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quite get it right.
The waitress dropped off another cup of coffee and Kenma grunted in response. He wasn’t exactly a fan of sit-down cafés, preferring to take his drink and go, but his normal shop was full, and his fingers had been itching too much to wait in the line, so he kept walking until he reached the first one he could find.
The walls were white and blue, the staff wore matching uniforms, and the windows were large and bright. It was primarily empty, but busy enough that the doorbell kept dinging. Normally, Kenma liked busier locations, where he could get a 2-minute sketch done and then move onto the next person who walked in the door. Today, he felt more focused, his eyes zoning in on the smallest details and connecting them to the other bits of a person. A smudge of lipstick on the lips and crumbs on the shirt collar. He had been on an unsatisfactory date and wanting to rid the taste and memory from his brain. Chipped fingernails and the tag sticking out of the back of a jacket. She was nervous, on the way to a job interview. Dark circles and stained pants. A father, working nights, who had to get home to watch the kids.
It was easy to tear apart a person if you knew where to look.
The doorbell dinged. Kenma took a moment to sip his coffee and made a face. Too bitter. He grabbed the sugar dispenser and poured without counting. He set it down, stretched his fingers and flipped the page.
New subject: boy, probably around his age, maybe older. Tall, broad shoulders. (His fingers were already running with it). Dark hair and it has this weird curl---
No. No, no, no, red alert, retreat, retreat.
Kenma’s shoulders slumped and he focused on whatever it was his hand had been doing. The lines looked good, and it would be a waste to give up already. He kept going, following what he had seen from memory. He had drawn this back before, and he knew how the lined crawled up to strong thighs on one end and a long neck at the other. He stopped at the head. How terrible had the impossible mess been today? He glanced up and nearly fumbled the pencil in his hand.
Kuroo was staring right at him. Kuroo was grinning.
Kenma glanced back to his sketchbook, then slowly, lifted his eyes again. Still grinning, although now he was closer. Kenma stayed focused, forcing his hand to move. He didn’t know what he was drawing, but it was something, and obviously he was distracted, and focused, which was, of course, the universal sign for LEAVE ME ALONE so there was nothing to worry about. He would get the hint, and leave, and Kenma would flip the page and none of this would matter within five minutes, or maybe ten, if he was being honest.
“I’ve modelled for you, right?”
Keep your eyes down, Kenma hissed in his head, but his artist curiosity got the better of him.
Kuroo tilted his head and gave Kenma a cat-like grin. “No, I know I’ve modelled for you. How could I forget that hair?”
“You’re one to talk,” Kenma muttered, but the sound of a chair squeaking against the floor drowned it out.
“Uh, yes.” Quickly, Kenma flipped the page.
Kuroo’s smile was infuriating. “Don’t want me to see, huh? That’s fine, that’s fine. You can keep your secrets. I’m only interested in one thing anyhow.”
Kenma felt his cheeks warm, but he wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment, humiliation, or something else entirely. “Which is?” he found himself asking, his voice bored and distant.
Kuroo leaned forward, not caring that his arm fell into the little puddle of coffee Kenma had created. “Show me your drawings of me.”
He couldn’t help it; Kenma laughed. A short laugh, more breath than voice, but it was enough. He immediately covered his mouth.
“Is that a yes?”
“It’s a no,” Kenma said, voice now muffled by his hands. “No.”
Kuroo, Kenma realized, had no sense of boundaries. He kept leaning in over the invisible line that dictated Kenma’s side from his, and although his grin faded, there was still mirth in his eyes. “Why not? They’re of me, and therefore you should show me.”
“I drew them. They’re mine.”
“Hmm.” Kuroo rubbed his chin. “You have a point. But come on. Just one? They can’t all be bad, right?”
“No they’re not all bad?”
“No, I’m not showing you.”
Kuroo leaned back. “Okay. But what if we made this a game?”
This boy didn’t know a single thing about him, yet he was still able to pull out the one thing Kenma could never resist. His ears were burning, and he was glad for his long hair. “What kind of game?”
Kuroo looked around the café. Kenma watched the tendons in his neck he so loved to draw. “Hmmm. That lady, the one who just came in.” A tall woman with wide lips and glasses. She lifted her head high and looked highly uninterested in everything around her. “Whoever guesses her coffee order gets to ask one thing of the other.”
Kenma’s eyes flew over her, then he met Kuroo’s. “Deal.”
Kuroo gave a lazy smile. “I’ll go first.” He watched her approach the counter, her fingers trailing along the ledge. “Strawberry frappuccino, extra syrup, no whip cream.”
He kept grinning, even as Kenma stared. There was no way. Her hair was pulled back into the neatest ponytail Kenma had ever seen. Her hands weren’t shaky, meaning she was probably exhausted and needing a pick-me-up, judging by the way she was standing, which favoured her right side.
Staring directly at Kuroo, Kenma replied, “Large coffee, double cream, but no sugar.”
“Is that your coffee order?”
“No,” Kenma said, pulling his mug closer. It was rapidly losing its heat, but he took a sip of it anyway. Ah, much better.
The woman was at the till. Kenma leaned forward, straining to hear and—
“Strawberry frap, please. Extra syrup.”
Kenma sunk in his chair. What had he read wrong? Was it the glasses? Had they thrown him off? Kuroo punched the air. “Aw yeah! Okay, for my singular request, I ask that—”
“Kuroo-san, are you making a scene?”
The boy’s cheeks turned a surprising shade of pink. He craned his neck back and smiled up at the woman behind him. “Not at all, why?”
Ah no, it was the beauty mark. It always made women seem more mysterious and alluring. Not that Kenma cared for such things, but he noticed them. He divided his attention between Kuroo and the woman behind him who was far prettier than any woman ought to be.
“Is he bugging you?” she asked. “He’s like a cat. Give him enough attention and he’ll leave you alone.”
“Aww, Kiyoko-chan, you’re so sweet.”
“It’s fine,” Kenma muttered, curling his fingers back around his mug just to have something to do.
He barely saw her lips curl, and then her drink was called, and she said her goodbyes with a nod of the head. Kuroo watched her leave, and something unfamiliar unfurled in the pit of Kenma’s stomach.
As soon as the door dinged behind her, Kuroo turned entirely back to him. “As I was saying, for my winnings, I would like—”
Kenma interrupted him without so much as a glance. “You didn’t win.”
Kuroo frowned, causing a crease between his eyebrows Kenma had never seen before. “What do you mean, I guessed the drink!”
“You knew the drink.” Kenma watched realization dawn on Kuroo’s face, starting with the widening of his eyes and dripping down to the parting of his lips. But then it was replaced with something more curious, as his eyebrow quirked, and his mouth lilted upwards. “You cheated.”
“Does that mean I get a rematch?” Kenma stood up and began to collect the pencils, erasers, and bits of paper scattered around the table into his bag.
“It means you lost.”
“Which I think deserves a rematch!”
Kenma slung his bag over his shoulder. “Are you always like this?”
Kuroo placed his hand on his chest and gave him a look so falsely sincere Kenma nearly snorted. “Yes.”
He clicked his tongue against the top of his mouth. “Bye, Kuro.”
He headed towards the door, Kuroo’s voice chasing after him. “It’s Kuroo! Kuroo-san to you!”
“I know,” Kenma said, not bothering to look back to see if Kuroo heard him.
Surprisingly, and maybe with a bit of disappointment, Kuroo didn’t call out about the rematch as the door swished shut behind him. It didn’t matter, Kenma told himself as his feet rushed along the pavement. Most people were only whispers in your life, gone before you could fully hear them. All his sketches would remain unfinished, an infuriatingly intriguing boy somewhere between known and stranger.
It wasn’t until later, when he was digging through his bag for his phone charger that he found it. A slip of paper with a scribbled down number. He had no idea when he had found the moment to slip it into his bag, but he knew exactly who it was from.
Alongside the number, in the corner, was the ugliest drawing of a cat Kenma had ever seen. His lips quirked, but he steered his expression down to neutral before it could go any further.
An unfinished drawing. That’s all Kuroo was going to be.
Normally, Saturdays were homebody days. With no classes and no work, Kenma spent Saturdays in a t-shirt and the baggiest shorts he owned, spread out on the couch with either video games or his sketchpad. Sometimes, he’d paint, but he hadn’t been in the mood recently. Nothing inspired him enough to have the colours bleed from his fingers.
He had just collapsed onto the couch with his favourite pencils when the door to Hinata’s room banged against the wall. “Guahhhhhhhhhhh!”
Kenma flipped open his sketchbook, then changed his mind and reached for the PS4 remote. He ignored Hinata’s early morning screaming because sometimes that was the only way to deal with him. There were many types of problems in the world, and “Hinata Problems” generally ranked near the bottom, somewhere between “my cellphone charger doesn’t reach my bed” and “there’s nothing to eat in the fridge.”
Footsteps paced behind the couch. Hinata kept mumbling something to himself that was audible enough to hear, but not loud enough to distinguish the words. Kenma turned up the TV volume. Hinata’s mumbling got louder. Kenma flipped through his game library, but he could swear that Hinata was throwing his name into the mumbling now, and every time he said “Kenma,” Kenma felt his annoyance thermometer grow.
He selected Overwatch then spun around to face his roommate. “Shouyou.” Hinata stopped pacing. “What?”
Hinata pattered in front of the TV and threw his arms into the air. “Kageyama!” It was always Kageyama. He knew it, the moment they met, that Hinata was done for. It was the way his eyes sparked when he talked about him, even if he was scowling and complaining about how much of a pest he was.
Kenma flicked his wrist to indicate that Hinata move, and he did. He was willing to be cooperative now that he had attention. Such was Hinata’s way. “What did he do this time?” Kenma asked with a sigh.
“He wants me to meet his parents! His parents, can you believe! They’re probably just like him—what am I going to do with three Kageyamas!”
His tone hadn’t switched much, but Kenma noticed. He had gone from loud (Hinata’s default) to loud but quieter towards the end. He was nervous, and trying to hide it behind his loud, eager façade. The opposite of himself, but that’s probably why they got along so well. Kenma didn’t deal well with subdued people.
Kenma selected D.Va and began to play. “You like him a lot.”
The couch wobbled as Hinata collapsed down beside him. “Yeah.”
“Won’t three be better than one?”
Silence, which meant Kenma had said exactly what he was supposed to. “What if… what if they don’t like me?”
Translation: what if Kageyama doesn’t like me as much as I like him?
“I wouldn’t know,” Kenma began, dodging a very close kill-shot. “But wanting to meet his parents. That, hm, means he likes you, yeah?”
A head against his shoulder and a nuzzle against his upper arm. Hinata was the only one allowed to do this. “I really like him.”
“I know.” He got play of the game, which, although expected, was nice anyhow. Back in the waiting lobby, he wandered his character around aimlessly.
Hinata mumbled something into his shoulder.
“He’s coming over.”
Kenma let out a soft sigh. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Kageyama, but sometimes it was easier to not be around the two of them together. They gave him a headache.
He shut off the Playstation. “Okay. I’m heading out anyhow.”
He could have gone anywhere. The sun was out, making it warmer than normal for March. Warm enough he could have sat outside if he wanted, but the problem with sitting outside was that people always wanted to talk to you. That’s how he had met Hinata. He had been quietly sketching in a park near campus, trying some still-life for once, when the boy had bounced up to him, asking if he was an artist, then excitedly proclaimed that he was one too. He spilt his entire life story, explaining that he wanted to build sculptors tall enough to see over everything else around it, ones that people would gasp and look up to in awe, ones so magnificent they couldn’t be real.
Somehow, Kenma ended up showing him his sketches.
Somehow, he ended up Kenma’s best friend.
So outside was a no-go. He could study in the library, but he didn’t want to, and who wanted to go to campus on the weekends anyway? All he really wanted to do was draw.
He passed the turn-off for his regular café but kept going straight. Sometimes, you needed something different. That’s what he told himself anyway, but it was a losing battle. He knew exactly what he was doing.
With an extra-sweet coffee, Kenma settled in at a table by the window of the blue and white café.
Pencil in hand, he began to dream with his open eyes. Not quite as busy as a weekday, but busy enough. People rushed on by, holding the hands of tiny daughters or with bags full of junk they didn’t need. Kenma sipped at his coffee and waited. Everyone was moving too fast, and no one was flashy enough to catch his eye. After a few minutes, he gave in and began to sketch the crowd, blurring lines together to show movement, and letting the shadows of beings wash over each other.
It had been too long since he had had the chance to just be and it was draining him. As much as he loved drawing in public, he wanted to be alone, without a worry, with nothing but him and his games and maybe Shou to bring him some food. He was tired of the pressures of school, and especially art school, with its dumb cliques and parties that you had to go to or else you’d have no idea what everyone was talking about on Monday. He didn’t mind the occasional party, as long as Kageyama was there to help them push through the crowd, and Akaashi-san was there to sit with him in the corner. For some reason, most people still didn’t understand that liking to be alone didn’t mean you liked being lonely.
He wanted a break. Something to take him away from the everyday and to make him feel excited about things once again.
The chair beside him was pulled out, and Kenma felt a tick of irritation. An empty café, and they had to come and sit beside him? If he were a different person, he might have confronted them. Instead, he stuck his elbows out as he drew and kicked his feet against the window.
From beside him came a voice that sounded like blades of grass dancing in the wind, “How did I know I would find you here?”
He finished the outline of a girl’s hair blowing out behind her and set his pencil down. He knew that voice, but he wasn’t ready to meet his gaze. “Were you looking for me?”
There was no answer, so Kenma dared a look his way. Kuroo’s grin was blinding. (How did he do that? How could he stretch his mouth so widely in a way that looked ridiculous and attractive all at once?). “Maybe.”
(How did he always know exactly what to say?)
“If you’re stalking me, I’ll call the police. I have them on speed dial.”
And Kuroo laughed and it sounded like windchimes crashing together. It was so needlessly loud; Kenma felt a spark of satisfaction warm his chest. “Maybe you’re stalking me. I’ve never seen you here before, and then twice in the same week?”
“Coincidental,” Kenma quipped back.
Kuroo leaned forward, too close, and peered into the dark marks on his sketchbook. Kenma flipped his book closed and put his hand over the cover. “That was really good,” Kuroo said, “I like the way you caught the zooms on the page.”
Kenma eyed him curiously. “Are you an artist?”
Kuroo flicked his head back from his eyes. “I’m just the muse, baby.”
Kenma felt a pull at his lips. “You move too much.”
“Excuse me?” He placed a hand on his chest and gasped in a way that even Kenma could tell was hyperbole. “Insulting my exceedingly handsome body?”
“I didn’t say anything about your looks.”
“Ah, but you didn’t deny that I’m handsome.”
It was this. This was the kind of thing that Kenma didn’t get. The confidence. It was what he could never draw. A flash of inspiration, like lightening, making his fingers tingle and his mind spiral. This was what every drawing was missing. That and---
His eyes darted up to Kuroo’s hair, then back down to his eyes. “I—I--- no, um.”
“Let me see.” Kuroo tipped his chin towards the sketchbook. “So that I know what you mean by moving too much.”
He shook his head. He hated showing incomplete works to begin with because he hated acknowledging that something was missing. More than that, he hated the way people insisted they were good, even when they weren’t.
Kuroo leaned back in his seat and took a long sip of his drink. “You know, you never did give me my prize for winning…”
“You didn’t win,” Kenma replied quickly and firmly. Kuroo lifted his eyebrows and Kenma felt his cheeks flush. “I, uh, like games,” he mumbled to explain.
Kuroo took a long sip and gazed at Kenma through his eyelashes. “You should honour my win—”
“You didn’t win, you cheated—”
“By playing again.”
Kenma studied Kuroo’s face. He wasn’t teasing or lying. He met Kenma’s eyes straight on, entirely serious about the suggestion of a rematch. His eyes, he noticed for the first time, were swirls of brown and grey he couldn’t quite name. Hazel, perhaps.
He found his mouth speaking while his mind cycled through the names of muddied colours. “Okay, but I choose this time.” What would he use to paint them? It couldn’t be one paint, no, it would have to be at least two different shades, maybe three, and not blended together, but swirled into each other…
Kuroo’s fingers drummed against the table. “Whenever you’re ready.”
He twisted in his chair to face the counter. There were a few others in the café, each distracted by their computers or phones. The baristas were giggling together behind the counter. He frowned at them right as the door dinged open.
“Him,” Kenma said immediately, eyes swooping over the middle-aged man with nicotine-stained finger tips. Oh, this one would be easy.
“Black coffee,” Kuroo said. “No sugar either.”
Kenma’s lips pressed together. Dammit. That had been his guess. Kuroo was smirking, which infuriated Kenma more. Carefully, he replied, “Two cream. No sugar.”
“You’re playing dirty.”
Kenma shrugged. “I’m gambling.”
They both fell silent as the man approached the counter. He rubbed his beard as he studied the menu, then mumbled something Kenma couldn’t quite hear. He leaned forward as much as he could without tipping the chair entirely, but he didn’t have to. The cheerful barista replied, “One coffee, two cream one sugar? Coming up!”
Kenma clenched his fist triumphantly and smacked it against the back of his chair. “Yes!” He plopped back around and eagerly turned to Kuroo, ready to see that smug face turn crestfallen, but he didn’t see either. Kuroo was sitting with his elbow on the table, hand smushing his cheek with eyes softer than any loser had the right to be. “You got me, I guess.”
With the win still burning within him, Kenma ran his hand over his sketchbook. It really didn’t matter much, did it, if he showed Kuroo the sketches? He’d never had a model ask to see them before. Sure, Hinata asked every few weeks if he had drawn him recently, and in high school people would pester him until he drew some half-assed sketch of them, but professional models? Never. Not once. Kuroo was… strange that way.
If he was going to show something to Kuroo, he was going to make it worth showing. “Let me draw you.”
Kuroo’s smile stretched a mile across his face. “Don’t you draw me enough? It’s my good looks, I knew it, I knew you couldn’t get enough—”
“I draw you,” Kenma cut him off with a warning nip in his tone, “but I don’t draw your hair.”
A beat, and then Kuroo’s laughter overfilled the sink. “You! You!” he gasped through his laughs. Kenma watched as he clutched at his sides, leaning forward so that his nose almost brushed Kenma’s knee. He was sure they had every eye in the café on them now.
Kuroo wiped the tears from his eyes as he lifted his head. Joy still sparkled in his wet eyes. “You don’t draw my hair?”
He puffed out his cheeks. “Maybe I would if you brushed it.”
“I can’t believe—never?”
With a sigh, Kenma flipped open to a random page and lifted it for Kuroo to see the images that were obviously him, except painfully bald.
More laughter. “Oh God, but I’m still so hot.”
Kenma took the page back and added marks to make his head appear shiny. “What about now?”
Kuroo ran his fingers through his hair. “It takes real talent to look that good bald.”
He frowned until he felt a line between his eyebrows. This really wasn’t fair. There was a word for this, for the face Kuroo was making, and the way he was speaking, and the words that kept spewing from his mouth that formed a personality Kenma didn’t hate. It was the same word Kenma used for kittens and for tiny foods and for that head tilt female characters did in RPGs.
Kuroo tipped his head back as he finished what was left in his to-go cup, then tossed it in the bin from across the room. He stood, and Kenma felt a pang in his chest. He’d been too distracted. He misread this. Kuroo hadn’t been ready for his weirdo-ness; wasn’t made of the same sort of material he was. He couldn’t say he was surprised: he would walk away too, if someone confessed to drawing him repeatedly, but never drawing his hair.
Kenma didn’t bother muttering a goodbye, choosing instead to huddle over his phone as Kuroo’s footsteps retreated.
And then… a mug, sliding across the table and a leg brushing against his.
Slowly, he put his phone face down on the table. “What’s this?” Kenma asked, suspiciously eyeing the mug as Kuroo returned to his seat.
“I didn’t know what you took in your coffee, so I got black just to be safe.” Kenma reached for the sugar and cream, and Kuroo crinkled his nose as Kenma began to pour the sugar in. “You know, that’s really bad for you.”
“So is butting into other people’s business.”
“But I’m not other people, right?” That stupid grin he wanted to plaster upon page upon page. He hated it. He hated that he loved it. “Anyhow, I figured you could use a refill since it looks like we’ll be here awhile.”
Those long fingers sweeping through those strange waves of hair. “You have to get my shockingly stylish hair right, don’t you?”
He stirred his sugar in and tapped the spoon against the side. A sip and a sigh. Too sweet. Perfect.
He stretched his fingers out and rolled around his neck before flipping open the pad to a blank page. “Keep your non-stylish head still,” he mumbled, and then he began.
It was the lighting that made him easier this time. The clouds parted and the sunlight dropped through the window, landing right on Kuroo’s nose. His cheeks weren’t as round as he had thought; they were soft, the shadows dancing along the smooth curve up to his eye. His eyes slanted, even more so when he smiled, and when Kenma muttered at him to “stay still.” That only made Kuroo smile wider, so crinkled eyes were what he drew.
From the tilt of his head, Kenma could trace the smooth line right down the side of his face to that point of a jaw. Such a strong jaw, one that would slice through rock and shatter hearts. One that trembled when he kept smiling. Right down to his chin, still too gentle, like a man holding onto boyhood. His lips pink like the sky before the sun, thinner now that that spread across the expanse of his face. Back up his nose, round yet long. His eyebrows, thick and assured. And then—and then—
Kuroo laughed. “You reached the hair, didn’t you?”
He scoffed and sent him what he hoped was a death glare. He pushed his hair back from his face to make the glare more effective, and something unfamiliar crossed Kuroo’s face. His heart leapt. He hadn’t seen that before, and it was gone too soon for him to press it into memory, but he wanted that. He wanted that, drawn on paper, so he could pull it out and gaze at it over and over again until it—and what it did-- made sense to him.
“Try not to move.”
“You’re talking.” Kuroo zipped his fingers over his lips and Kenma gave him a long look before inhaling and letting his fingers dive in.
It only took a couple of minutes. Kenma set down his pencil and blew any remaining lead or eraser bits away. He could feel Kuroo leaning in, eager to see. Kenma immediately flipped the page.
“It’s not right.”
Kuroo whined. “What do you mean? Let me see!”
He shook his head. “it’s not… finished.”
“Did you skip the hair again?”
It was a tease; he knew that much. A piece of bait he was supposed to bite. With a pointed eyebrow raise, he swam the other way. “No. It’s not… you yet.”
Kuroo tapped his fingers against his cup. It wasn’t a to-go one anymore, but a ceramic mug. “Do you need another angle?”
“Don’t you—don’t you need to go?”
He shook his head and turned so his profile face Kenma. He couldn’t help the word that flashed through his mind. Beautiful. “I’ve got time.”
Kenma opened the book and started again.
It became an unintentional pattern. It fell into existence, as natural and sure as a leaf falling from a tree. Kenma, with his coffee with too many sugars. Kuroo, with a mug of black sludge. The seat by the window, a notepad, and a pencil.
Sometimes, Kuroo bought the coffee. Sometimes Kenma did. Sometimes, they ate something, at some point. Kenma liked those drawings, of Kuroo with pastry crumbs at the corner of his lips. Sometimes, all he drew was lips.
“You know,” Kuroo commented one day, the rain pattering down against the window in a way that made Kenma wanted to curl up in a nest of blankets for days, “you’ve never asked me what I do.”
Kenma grunted in response and kept trying to imagine how the rain would pool on Kuroo’s face.
“I mean, I’m a model of course, and I’m sure you’ve guessed I’m a student, but our school is large. I could be anything.”
He knew Kuroo well enough by now to know he wanted something, and he wouldn’t give in until Kenma played his game.
“Maybe,” Kuroo continued, drawing out his words. “I’m an artist too.”
“First day,” Kenma said without looking up. “You told me you weren’t.”
“Maybe I was too embarrassed to admit to it.”
Kenma turned his head from his sketchpad to meet Kuroo face on. Embarrassed wasn’t a word he would associate with Kuroo. It happened so fast he would have missed it if he hadn’t been studying his face for weeks; a twitch of a smile that screamed playful. Kuroo tipped his head in the way that Kenma was starting to find charming. A curious cat, knowing he was heading into danger but unable to stop himself.
If his gut was right, and it normally was, this was going to be a wonderful disaster.
He flipped to a blank page and offered his sketchbook. It took him a second, but Kuroo took it, fingers brushing against Kenma’s, then set it on the table before him. He grabbed a pencil and swiveled in his chair so that he faced him. Kenma’s entire face burst into flames and he covered his cheeks with his hands.
“No, no, no, not me.”
“Oh come on!”
“I don’t like… attention.”
Kuroo hummed and tapped the pencil against the paper. “It’ll just be for you. Promise.”
There was something there, in his eyes, that was sticky like caramel and smooth like peanut butter against your tongue. He tried to read it, but he didn’t know what words he was looking for. Slowly, Kenma tipped his head forward until his hair drooped down in front of his face. “Okay.”
The pencil scratched against the paper. It was too hard, his lines too harsh, but it was easier to watch the paper indent than to see the way Kuroo looked at him. He sat like that, hunched forward, hair brushing his cheeks, eyes on Kuroo’s hand.
A few minutes that were way too long and the pencil dropped. Kuroo brushed his hand over the drawing before it held it up over his face. “There we go.”
Kenma sat up and tucked his hair behind his ear. “Let me see.”
From behind the sketchbook, Kuroo’s wild grin appeared. “You ready?” Kenma gave a small nod and Kuroo turned the book around.
Kuroo burst into laughter and dropped the book, but Kenma caught it before it could fall. “Your--- your face!” he gasped.
Whatever face he had been making turned into a scowl. “Did you even try?”
“My—my hardest!” Kuroo, through his gasping laughter, crossed his finger over his heart.
Kenma doubted that.
It was him, in the barest of terms. The hair was a waterfall, pin straight, and darker at the roots. Kuroo had pressed the pencil too hard, smearing lead everywhere and creating a very uneven shading. The eyes were wide, disproportionately so, making him look like some short of shoujo anime character. His nose was only a line, his mouth an em dash across his face. Individually, the parts of his face weren’t terrible, but together, they made something not-quite-human.
His finger tapped on the page. “Do you not think I have a nose?”
Kuroo doubled over laughing.
He didn’t see it; he heard it. The way the sun didn’t emit from Kuroo but curled around him. He didn’t need an outside source of light; he was his own shadows, his own darkness, his own warming sunbeam. Kenma heard it in his laugh, the way he glistened as he emerged from water, and how the wind blew his wet hair dry.
For the first time since he had really met him, Kenma didn’t want to draw him. He didn’t have to capture the angles perfectly on the page—they were right there, before him, clear enough to see in the way he wiped the tears from the corner of his eyes.
Kenma ducked his head to conceal his smile. He wondered, briefly, at how Kuroo would draw him now.
One of the baristas in her tiny blue dress approached and hugged the tray to her chest. “Can I get you two anything else?”
They exchanged a look, and Kuroo gave her a charming gaze through his lashes. “Another coffee, please.”
As soon as she left, Kuroo scooted into Kenma’s personal bubble. He slid in so easily, as if Kenma hadn’t spent years fortifying its security system to only let those closest to him in. “On a scale of one to Da Vinci, how good of an artist am I?”
Kenma pretended to analyze the picture. “It’s not terrible. But… it’s flat.” He waved his hand, searching for the right words. “Empty.”
Kuroo nodded seriously. “Mm. I hear you. Let me try again.”
For the hundredth time in his life, Kenma was reminded that there was nothing more beautiful than a blank page.
His fingers were stiff, and his arms were full. He banged at the apartment door with his foot until it swung open. Tobio grunted and Kenma nodded in his usual greeting before rushing past him.
“Where were you?” Hinata called from the couch. Kenma didn’t have to look at him to know he was probably wrapped up in a nest of blankets with a suspiciously large empty space beside him.
Kenma didn’t have time for this. He dumped his sketches on the table and began sorting through them. Every time Kuroo drew him, which he had done over and over again, he had insisted on tearing the page out. Kenma didn’t mind—too much. He liked keeping everything together in his book so he could flip through and see the progress, even the terrible ones, but the drawings weren’t his, so he supposed Kuroo could take them if he wanted to.
The pile underneath began to grow and grow as Kuroo continued to draw, sometimes stopping midway through with a shake of his head, other times continuing on until he held it up with a triumphant smirk. They were getting better, but all it took was shake of Kenma’s head, and Kuroo was back to studying him again. His eyes didn’t feel heavy, but more like warm hands pressing down on his shoulders.
It was so strange, to watch someone else watching him. Kenma couldn’t help himself; soon, he began to draw Kuroo drawing him. The focus. The attention. The way his nose sometimes practically brushed the page. The way his hair swooped upward, a halo of café dust illuminated behind him.
Because yes, Kenma was finally starting to understand that mess upon his head.
It was Kuroo who ended it, complaining of sore fingers before exclaiming he was supposed to leave nearly an hour ago. He rushed to collect his things, a whirlwind of movement before Kenma’s brain caught up with what was going on.
“Wait!” he called after him, before he had to turn away. He glanced through the curtain of hair to Kuroo’s patient gaze. “Um. You forgot your drawings.”
Kenma swore if he could feel any emotions at all, he felt them all in that very moment. In the way Kuroo’s foot slid in a half-moon around his feet, and the way his shoulders sank, and the way his chin gave the smallest of tilts, like someone might do right before they leaned in for a kiss…
“No I didn’t. They’re for you.”
He was gone before Kenma could make sense of anything at all.
Kenma brushed through the pile, and then felt something cold wash through him. He needed to get home. Immediately.
Hinata was still waiting for a reply.
“Oh. Uh. I was getting coffee.” He spread the drawings out over the counter. The angle was rather consistent which was typical for beginners, especially those that had almost no artistic talent. But it was the eyes, Kenma noticed. That was what changed between each one. How Kuroo drew his eyes.
“For five hours?!”
“With a friend,” Kenma said before he realized. He could hear Hinata’s excitement from the way the couch squeaked and Kageyama’s low “ow!”
“A friend! Who! What are they like? Are they pretty? Are you—are you dating?!” he gasped loud enough to wake any sleeping neighbours.
“No, just—just a friend.” He opened the fridge and shoved a leftover piece of pie onto a plate. He paused, then pulled the magnets out of the drawer and stuck all of Kuroo’s drawings on the fridge. “I’m going to be busy. I have to…” He popped his head out so he could see Hinata and wiggled his fingers. Hinata nodded. “And. Um. You might be thirsty. So make sure you grab something from the fridge.”
Hinata smiled at him, and Kenma took that as his leave. He shuffled off to his room with his pie, Kageyama’s voice echoing behind him.
“How does he know you’re thirsty?”
“Shh, he was telling me something!”
“That you were thirsty?”
He clicked his door shut, but not before he heard a shriek from Hinata in the kitchen.
Kenma shovelled a forkful of pie into his mouth, then set it down and pulled out his easel. If he started this, he might not get any sleep, but his insides were ringing and there was no other way he was ever going to get this feeling out. He opened his paints, his heart sighed, and he began.
It wasn’t really his fault, but he felt like it was. Before he knew it, it was midsemester and he was swamped with papers he barely had time to write, and art projects he really didn’t want to do. Whenever he had a moment, Kenma dipped his fingers into the paints, splashing colour across the canvas. He knew what he was making, but he was not quite sure where it was going at the same time. It was freeing, and it was all he wanted to do.
Unfortunately, that meant he didn’t have much time for the coffee shop. When he finally found a moment to breathe, he packed up his drawing supplies and headed down, leaving Hinata’s demands for a photo of “mystery boy” behind him.
(He still had the pictures stuck up on the fridge, alongside one Hinata drew of Kageyama that caused Kageyama to spit out his milk, and one that Kageyama drew in return that made Hinata cry tears of laughter).
Kenma was fairly certain that Hinata thought that they were dating which… wasn’t the worst thing. He didn’t dwell on what that meant, or the fact that daisies bloomed behind his eyes whenever he thought of Kuroo.
He ordered a coffee and cozied into his favourite seat. Instead of drawing, he sat and watched, sipping the warm brew slowly. Once it was gone, he played a tapping game on his phone. After soaring through a few levels, he did a few warm-up sketches of a chair, a garden, fingers twisted around each other.
When the three-hour mark passed, he reluctantly packed up.
They were playing cat-and-mouse. Chasing each other around and around, but never quite meeting. Kenma drew two bodies, one walking onto the page as the other walked out. Occupying the same space, but always a second behind, and never quite realizing. The one walking in, he draws in colour. The one walking out is a hundred shades of grey.
Two weeks passed, and Kenma started to think he should take the pictures off the fridge.
He stopped going to the café, but he walked the extra five minutes to detour past it every day. He scowled at the unfamiliar faces, and every time wished he had just taken the shortcut home.
It’s one thing to be ghosted, but it’s another to be entirely abandoned. He thought they had been getting somewhere—maybe. That maybe Kenma could tell Kuroo the things he didn’t know how to phrase to anyone else. That Kuroo saw him, saw him in a way no one had ever dared, and had tried to show him just exactly who Kenma was to him. He hadn’t minded tucking his hair back when Kuroo was around.
There was nothing he could do. He knew nothing about Kuroo. That was a lie—he knew the important things. That he liked his coffee black, and that he blinked too much when he got nervous, and that his laugh sounded terrible yet felt sweet. But he didn’t know the practical stuff, like where he worked, and what his classes were, and his phone number—
Kenma rushed into his bedroom and threw open his backpack. He pulled out his sketchbook and flipped through the pages twice, just to be sure. Then, he dug to the bottom of his bag, feeling around for that scrap piece of paper Kuroo had slipped in all those weeks ago.
He unzipped every pocket and emptied the contents. He checked every corner of his room and dug into pant pockets. He flipped through the pages of his sketchbook again.
He had thought Kuroo had been avoiding him, but all along it had been Kenma avoiding Kuroo.
With a sigh, Kenma sunk down, his back against the bed. At least he had his answer, and he could close this door, no harm done.
His canvas would remain half-finished, discarded into the closet with the rest of them. Maybe someday he would feel inspired again and pick it back up. A time where it hurt less, and his chest didn’t burn a frozen flame at the thought of throwing something away before it could ever really start.
There were a few drawings on the floor beside him, ones he had probably done at night and torn out in frustration because they didn’t quite fit. He shuffled through them—the multiple eyes as he tried to get the shape right, and the lips that were too perfect and bow-like. And then the cat, hideous and ugly beyond measure. When had he ever drawn that?
A number, scribbled in the corner. A beat, stolen from his chest. A smile, stretching across his face.
Kuroo really couldn’t draw, could he?
Takao-sensei exclaimed something about the beauty of the human body, and Kenma drew daisies in the corner of his page. His mind was elsewhere, travelling somewhere where the wildflowers blow and don’t stop growing until the first frost.
How do you speak after weeks of silence?
He had the number now, burning in his back pocket where he placed his phone, and a name to accompany it: Kuro with a paint brush beside it.
What could he say?
Hey, it’s Kenma.
You might not remember me, but I’m the artist who likes to draw you.
Nothing felt right. Nothing felt like enough.
I miss you.
The new model was ugly and beautiful in the way Kenma liked them to be, but no matter how hard he tried, the lines from the pencil didn’t match what his eyes saw.
Takao-sensei squeezed his shoulder. “We have our days and we have our models. It’s alright. Here, try focusing on your shading. It will help.”
Would it? Would creating dark lines and settling into the nooks of darkness really help? For the last pose, he set his pencil down and kept the page blank.
He was the last one out of the room, mostly so he could avoid socializing on the way out, but partially because he wanted to flip through his sketches. He couldn’t tell where he had gone wrong, but it was evident that something wasn’t right. Stupid Kuro, playing with his mind even when he wasn’t around. Especially then, apparently.
He checked the room to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind and flicked off the lights on his way out.
“Well, well, well. Took you long enough.”
Kuroo leaned against the wall, but he stood straight when Kenma’s eyes slowly took him in. It was as though nothing had changed. Same hair, same smirk, same worn jacket.
Kenma pulled on the straps of his bag. “You know when class ends.”
He shrugged with one shoulder. “It’s been awhile. I tried to sign up to model again but they wouldn’t let me. They said I’m too—”
“Fidgety,” Kenma interrupted. Kuroo’s mouth formed into a small ‘o.’ “I told you, you move too much.”
He tapped beside his temple. “It’s because there’s too much going on in here.”
“If that’s what you want to think.”
His gaze was too heavy. Kenma never thought of himself as an active person, but he had to move. The energy in Kuroo’s eyes was making his legs itch. He began to walk, and Kuroo fell into step beside him.
“It’s alright, though. I found another job. Human experiment, but all I have to do is avoid dairy for a month.” He clenched fist determinedly. “I’ll get my lizards.”
That made Kenma stumble. “Lizards?”
He felt, rather than saw, Kuroo’s grin. “Lizard farm. I’m in cold blooded biology, so it’s slightly less weird.”
A bump against his shoulder. When Kenma looked up, Kuroo’s smile was different, like the final shades of yellow stretching across the sky after the sun had set. It made Kenma’s stomach twist with something that felt a lot like courage.
In a burst of energy, he moved forward, swinging in front of Kuroo, stopping him from walking further. “Come over.”
A demand, so unlike him, but said softer than he wanted it to be. He wanted to sound commanding, and assured, and… dominant. Instead, he rubbed his sweaty hands against the side of his thigh.
Kuroo nodded. “Yeah, sure. I’ve been wondering why you haven’t been around to draw me. I thought, maybe—” He cut himself off with a laugh. “I don’t know what I thought.”
But Kenma shook his head. “Not to draw. Not today.”
He watched the Adams’ apple bobble in Kuroo’s throat. “Okay.” The grin that follows was blinding.
Kuroo sat too close to him on the train. Every bump and turn was met with a brush of his forearm. Kenma sat on edge, as still as possible, and Kuroo leaned into him, showing him memes on his phone that weren’t even funny.
“I’m the meme lord,” Kuroo proclaimed. “My roommate Bokuto will try to claim he is, but he really doesn’t get the art of memes.”
“You remember that I’m an artist, right?”
Kenma wanted to call his grin wolfish, but there was nothing wolf-like about Kuroo. He was just a big cat, curling into the nook of your lap. “Yes, and so am I. I work in the art of memes. Very contemporary.”
“And tell me,” Kenma turned his head to face Kuroo completely, letting his hair slide down over his right eye, “how is that working out for you?”
Kuroo’s cheeks pinkened, but it must have been the lighting. He turned away, gazing up at the train map. “Pretty good, actually,” he replied, his voice soft like ice cream melting in the sun.
Kenma never brought people over, so he wasn’t really sure what to do. Did he point out the quirks of his building and neighbourhood, like how there were boys who got up to play baseball every morning before dawn? Or that Rei-san lived in that apartment, and she would often come over with baked goods because she was lonely and loved Hinata? What about that the fifth stair creaked, and for some reason their mail always got dropped off in the wrong box?
In the end, he stayed silent, leading Kuroo up the stairs to his second-floor apartment door. As he turned the key, he realized he had forgotten one crucial detail. “Oh, um. I have a roommate.” Kuroo raised his eyebrows expectantly. “He’s probably home already.” And with that, he pushed opened the door.
“Kenma, finally! Can you come here, because I can’t beat the stupid Olympus boss and it’s been hours and I just really want to play!”
Kenma dropped his bag on the floor by the door and pushed off his shoes. “Shou, that’s the first one.”
“I know,” he whined from the other room. “But if you could just show me how…”
A chuckle beside him, warm and comforting yet somehow making everything in Kenma feel cold.
From the entry way, he heard the click as the game went to the menu screen, and then the rapid pattering of feet.
“Hyah!” Hinata yelled, jumping into the hallway. His eyes flickered from Kenma to Kuroo and back. His mouth fell open, and he took a step back so he could peer into the kitchen. He turned his attention back with the sweetest devil grin. “I know you!”
“Oh yeah?” Kuroo asked, and Kenma could feel his eyes on him. “You do, hmm?”
Hinata nodded rapidly. “Yeah, you’re the—” Kenma shook his head quickly, not caring if Kuroo saw. Hinata pressed his lips together with a wink, but he couldn’t hide his smile. He turned back to Kuroo. “Nevermind, never seen you before in my life! And definitely never seen any art of you!”
His face was on fire, but he tried his best to push past it, motioning to Hinata to go back to his game. “You have to zoom around to avoid his attacks but move close to him to hit him when he stops attacking.”
Hinata took a few steps backwards. “Okay, okay! You’ll come watch, right?” He loved Hinata but sometimes he wondered if it was possible for someone to live without a braincell. No, that wasn’t true. Hinata did have a braincell; he shared it with Kageyama. Today, obviously, wasn’t his day to have it.
Kenma nodded reluctantly and Hinata smiled. “You too, Kuroo!” he pointed at him, then flounced back to the couch.
Kenma wondered if there was a way to get to his room without going past the kitchen. He was starting to regret this entire thing. It was too soon; he wasn’t ready. Kuroo had stepped in through the door, but he wasn’t ready to show him the rest of it, of the mess Kenma was.
Before he could do anything, whether that would be to walk Kuroo deeper into the apartment or spin him around and push him out the door, Kuroo moved in close. Kenma forgot how tall he was. When he was around him, Kenma never felt small.
“You talk about me?” Kuroo asked. Kenma brushed his hand over the wall behind him. Testing it, he took a step to the side. Kuroo followed.
“Not really,” Kenma replied honestly. Something twisted on Kuroo’s face that Kenma didn’t know how to read, and then he was backing away and—
No, that wasn’t what he meant at all.
He didn’t talk about Kuroo because he didn’t have to.
“Sorry,” Kuroo was saying, but he sounded underwater, buried underneath the pounding of Kenma’s heart. “I think I—” he cut himself off with a laugh. “I think I misread something.”
No, Kenma thought, but his mouth was too dry.
He had never been a man of words, but that didn’t mean Kenma didn’t know what to say.
With a stable hand, he reached out and grabbed Kuroo’s shirt, yanking him forward. Kuroo was stronger than him, but Kenma had caught him off-guard. Kuroo stumbled, and Kenma stepped back into the hallway and turned his head to the side. Right into the kitchen. Right to the fridge.
Kuroo had stilled, and Kenma dared to look back at him. His eyes were glued on the fridge. Kenma had never taken down the drawings, but after about a week, he had added another. It was Kuroo, bent over the table, eyes focused and nose too close to the paper as he drew Kenma. Not his best work, but it fit with the theme. Hinata had gushed that it was his favourite.
Kuroo swallowed and blinked too many times. His gaze returned to Kenma. Kenma rubbed his own arm. “I—”
“He won’t let me take them down!” Hinata yelled from behind them. “But he took down the drawings I drew! Unfairly!”
Kenma huffed “shut up,” under his breath, cheeks warming uncomfortably. “Be glad Tobio isn’t here,” Kenma said loud enough for Hinata to hear. He kept his gaze down, squeezing his own forearm. “Or else I’d tell him about the sculpture of him hidden in your bedroom.”
Hinata squawked and Kenma knew he had to be bright red. “How do you know about that?!” he exclaimed, then Kenma heard him run down the hallway and slam his door shut. “Don’t go through my stuff!” came his muffled cry.
Kenma shrugged at Kuroo’s amused expression. “He won’t tell his boyfriend he loves him.”
Silent fell between them. Kuroo’s eyes kept sweeping between him and the drawings of him on the fridge. Kenma’s eyes never left Kuroo’s face.
This was weird. It had to be weird. He had said what he had needed to say, and nothing had changed. Kuroo probably didn’t care for him that way. Maybe he was lonely, and wanted a friend until someone better came along, which was why he stopped coming to the café. Maybe this was just what people did for people like Kuroo: drew them, flattered them, and then turned away. Maybe Kenma had misread the entire thing. Maybe this wasn’t what Kenma had wanted in the first place.
He took a step back. “We can play video games.” Another step. “If you want. I have. Mario Kart.”
Kuroo’s hand flew out of nowhere and grabbed Kenma’s wrist. “You never messaged me.”
Kenma stared right back. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Kuroo motioned to the fridge, where the drawings of him where tacked with mismatched magnets and peeling glue. “I don’t think you’ve ever run out of things to say.”
Kuroo’s eyes weren’t hazel. They were the colours of a forest floor, of the brown dirt path leading you home, and the scattering of leaves the trees left behind, and a singular purple flower, reaching up towards the sun.
Kenma had never been good with words. But Kuroo always knew how to listen to what he said.
With a hand on his neck, Kenma pulled him in and said everything he need to.
When Kenma was little, he loved these little popsicles. They were yellow, and tasted like bananas and summertime, and Kenma would beg and beg and beg for them on every single sunny day. Then, one year, he couldn’t find them anywhere; it was as if they had disappeared. He searched and searched, and even thought maybe he had dreamt them up. It had been years, but every summer, he always checked the freezers for the little yellow treats. He kept hoping that maybe one day he would finally find the thing he was searching for.
That’s what Kuroo’s lips tasted like.
It was soft, and gentle, and barely a kiss at all, but when Kenma let go, his head felt woozy and his eyes didn’t want to open. When they finally did, Kuroo’s hazel looked just as glazed and scattered as Kenma felt.
Kuroo’s hand brushed across his own lips, which were redder than Kenma remembered. With the same hand, he brushed across Kenma’s lower jaw, then tucked his hair behind his ear. Kenma struggled to keep his eyes open, when all he wanted to do was curl up into Kuroo’s warmth. But he couldn’t. Not yet.
“Um. That drawing, on the fridge. It’s just a sketch for something else.”
The kiss still had courage pulsing through him, so he took Kuroo’s hand and pulled him towards his room.
“How very forward of you,” Kuroo said as Kenma opened the door. In response, Kenma dug his nails into Kuroo’s hand. “Ow! You’ve got claws.”
“I thought you’d realize that by now.”
He kicked the door open with his foot and pulled Kuroo in. Dropping his hand, he went over to the canvas in front of the window and, with a deep breath, pulled the dust cover off.
It was Kuroo, and like in the sketch, he was drawing. But this time, he wasn’t bent over, hidden from view. This time, he was gazing off somewhere so that the line of his jaw was firmly defined. Scattered around him were drawings, with the one underneath his hand being the best one yet. It was Kenma, staring at Kuroo from the page as Kuroo looked away.
It wasn’t quite finished yet, but what was done was a brilliant flash of colours. Instead of painting inside the lines, Kenma painted patches of pastel shades, blending into each other so their edges blurred. Each colour was a memory of a feeling, so the patches weren’t uniform or even, but they were all gentle and soft. Kuroo’s face was a pastiche of sunset shades and Kenma’s was nothing but black and white.
After a few minutes, Kuroo turned to Kenma with an unanswered question in his eyes. “It’s beautiful,” he said, “but… what is it?”
Kenma smiled the best he could. “I’ve titled it ‘A Self Portrait.’” The question in Kuroo’s eyes grew. Kenma gave a slight shrug to ignore the heat in his face. “I like the way you see me.”
This time, it was Kuroo who pulled him in.
He let Kuroo guide them, his lips barely more than the brush of butterfly wings. It wasn’t enough, so Kenma pushed closer, and Kuroo took the hint. His arm wrapped around Kenma’s middle and pulled him tight against him. Kenma gasped, and Kuroo stole it from his mouth. He was burning, everywhere was fire, but he couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t let it stop. He’ll burn the entire world down, as long as Kuroo never stops nibbling on his lips like that, as long as he never makes Kenma stop tracing his tongue over the inside of his lips like that. His fingers twisted into that obnoxious hair and he pulled until Kuroo groaned.
They pulled away, and Kenma was a sparking flame. He slid his hands down Kuroo’s shoulders, then onto his chest, before making their way to his cheeks. He pecked Kuroo’s lips once, and then again for good measure.
“Let me draw you,” Kenma whispered, lips grazing Kuroo’s mouth. “Just like this.”
Kuroo nodded, so Kenma did.
But this time, he drew them together. Side-by-side. Colours blurring into one.