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“Okay, today we’ll be drawing the male body,” says Narita-sensei, clasping her hands. “Use whichever media you like, but I’d love to see at least a few done in charcoal, for those of you who are still reluctant to use it.” She looks straight into Tetsurou’s eyes. He smiles crookedly and ducks his head, properly chastised. The rest of the class snickers. The young woman sitting next to him laughs softly and elbows him in the side. He meets her eyes and grins.

It’s common knowledge at this point in the semester that Kuroo Tetsurou despises drawing with charcoal. It’s not that he can’t do it, just that he hates the feel of the stuff, how it snags against the paper, the mess it makes of skin and clothes, how impossible it is to erase. There’s no turning back with charcoal; once you decide to mark a spot on the paper, that’s it. Tetsurou hadn’t known he had commitment issues before this class, but clearly, life drawing has taught him so much more than just how to properly render the human body.   

“Alright, alright,” Narita-sensei says, still smiling, fondness plain in her dark eyes. “Our model today is Kozume Kenma.” She lowers her voice slightly. “He’s a little nervous, so I want you all to give him a very warm, non-threatening welcome.”

Tetsurou unconsciously reaches up to flatten his hair. It has a life of its own, always sticking up in odd places and flopping over in others, like a rooster’s comb. It makes him look much more intimidating than he is. He’d startled his roommate one time too many first thing in the morning, and he doesn’t want to scare this model before class has even begun.

Narita-sensei opens the classroom door and pokes her head into the hallway. Tetsurou hears a quick murmured conversation, and then a young man follows her back into the room. He’s probably around Tetsurou’s age, clearly another university student. He’s wearing a grey flannel robe, and his long straight hair fans across his shoulders. It’s black from his roots to the bottoms of his ears, where it gradually lightens into a bright, ashy blonde. That’s either a really bold fashion statement, Tetsurou thinks, or the laziest styling I’ve ever seen. Belatedly, he remembers his own gravity-defying tangle of hair, and winces at the irony.

The model, Kozume Kenma, takes his place on the raised platform at the front of the classroom, puts down the backpack he’d been carrying, and bows. The rest of the class bows back, bending at the waist from their seats. As one, they greet him: “nice to work with you!”

The model gives a barely perceptible nod and murmurs, “thank you, you, too.”

Tetsurou studies him. He’s tight-lipped and a little pale. He’d ducked his head so that his hair curtains his face. Tetsurou wonders if this is Kozume Kenma’s first time modeling. You’ll be fine, Tetsurou thinks. Being naked is no big deal here, everyone just wants to focus on drawing. No one’s gonna heckle you. Kozume looks up and, quite by chance, meets his gaze. His clear, level eyes are the color of honey, crystallized at the bottom of the jar. Tetsurou gives him what he hopes is a comforting smile. Kozume looks a little startled, then the corners of his mouth lift slightly. His body relaxes.

Narita-sensei claps her hands, drawing Tetsurou’s eyes back to her. “Okay, great,” she says. “Let’s get started. Kozume-kun, thank you so much for agreeing to work with us. The first few poses will last about three minutes, then we’ll do a few more for around twenty. I’ll set a timer, so don’t worry about keeping time in your head. And I’ll always ask you if I can touch you when we move to a new pose. You’re always allowed to refuse if something makes you feel uncomfortable. Sound good?”

Kozume nods, his hair glinting under the fluorescent lights. He unties the sash of his robe and shrugs it off his shoulders. While Narita-sensei describes the pose she wants, the class busies itself by getting out pencils, erasers, and boxes of charcoal—the best and only way to give the model a bit of privacy.  

Once Kozume is still and Narita-sensei has moved aside to turn on some background music, Tetsurou settles his easel on his knees and looks back up at him. Narita-sensei has positioned him with his back to the class, his shoulders hunched and his head turned slightly to the right. He’s shifted all his weight to that side of his body. His right hand rests on his hip, and his left hangs loosely at his side. He posture screams defeat, exhaustion, hopelessness. Tetsurou finds himself oddly moved, wanting to put his hand on that narrow shoulder in reassurance. He pushes the feeling aside. If modeling doesn’t pan out for him, he’d probably make a pretty good actor, Tetsurou thinks vaguely, and gets to work.

About an hour later, Narita-sensei has posed Kozume several different ways, and the whole class has been dutifully engrossed in sketching. Tetsurou even has one—one—drawing in charcoal of which he is fairly proud. It was three poses in, when Narita-sensei had asked Kozume to sit on the edge of the stage, hunched over with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands. His hair had slipped down to shadow his face. It gave the illusion that his natural hair color was blonde, but someone had dumped black paint or tar over his head, which was slowly dripping down to cover it in darkness.

If Tetsurou were being honest with himself, he would have admitted that the sight took his breath away. Kozume, for all his obvious inexperience, was proving to be an excellent model.

Once Narita-sensei calls time, the concentration breaks. Everyone starts chattering and packing up their supplies. Tetsurou keeps his eyes on Kozume, who looks a little shell-shocked. Narita-sensei smiles at him and hands back his robe. “You did wonderfully, Kozume-kun, thank you so much!”

Kozume pulls on the robe and cracks a small smile. “You’re welcome. It was…an experience.”

“That’s usually the general consensus,” Narita-sensei says. “But this is my favorite part, and the part most of our models really enjoy as well. Now you’ll get to see the results!” She raises her voice to address the class, and Tetsurou tries to pretend like he hasn’t been listening to the entire exchange already. “Alright, everyone, I want you to pick your best sketches—let’s go with three, total—and bring them up to the front. Kozume-kun, feel free to go change in the bathroom while we get situated here.”

Kozume nods. He slings his bag over his shoulder and leaves the room.

Tetsurou brings his attention back to his drawings. He picks the first one, of Kozume with his back to the room, then adds the charcoal sketch to it. His third choice depicts Kozume lying on his side on the platform, his legs curled slightly to his chest, his arms pillowing his head, as though sleeping. He’d enjoyed that one, too. Kozume had looked peaceful, soft in the way people did in the early mornings, dawn light slanting across them from a window. It had felt so domestic, and the image had soothed Tetsurou more than he could put into words.

He brings the sketches over to where his classmates have congregated, and they all lay their pieces out on the platform. Kozume comes back into the room, having changed out of the robe and into black skinny jeans, boots, and a white hoodie. He hesitates outside the knot of people until Narita-sensei waves him over, and the students part to let him through.  

“Oh, everyone, these look so great!” Narita-sensei says. “Kozume-kun, what do you think?”

Tetsurou watches Kozume’s face. He has a little smile on his lips. It’s like a secret, that smile, and Tetsurou is inexplicably drawn to it. He mentally shakes himself to keep from staring too long.

“It’s…weird, seeing myself like this,” he says, quietly. “I don’t usually do ‘center of attention’ very well. But it’s also really cool. There’s a lot of…energy and motion to these.” He looks around at the class, his eyes snagging on Tetsurou’s as he does. “How do you all do it?”

“An awesome instructor and a lot of practice,” pipes up the young woman who’d been sitting next to Tetsurou. She grins at Kozume, then does a quick little bow to Narita-sensei, who tips her head and smiles.

“You give me too much credit,” she says. “And you’ve all improved so much over these past few months, I can hardly believe it! For example…” She deftly snatches up Tetsurou’s charcoal sketch and shows it to him. “I’m so proud,” she says, drily. Her eyes, though, are warm.  

Tetsurou ducks his head, fighting a grin. He feels Kozume watching him. “I was pretty happy with that one, I’ll admit,” he says. He looks back up and meets Kozume’s curious gaze. “It’s a well-known fact that I really, really hate working with charcoal. Like, really hate it. And now everyone makes fun of me for it. It’s actually quite hurtful.” He places a hand to his heart and does his best to look wounded. Narita-sensei and his classmates laugh, and Kozume smiles that small, secret smile again. Tetsurou’s heart flips in his chest.

“Alright, everyone,” Narita-sensei says, laughter lingering in her voice. “Class dismissed. See you the same time next week. Have a great weekend!”

The class filters out, packing up sketches and chattering amicably. Tetsurou dawdles around his easel as Narita-sensei thanks Kozume once more before also heading out. Tetsurou watches as Kozume gathers up his things. He swallows, and musters up the courage to speak.

“You made a really great model, you know.”

Kozume looks up. “Oh. Thanks. I’ve never done this kind of thing before. That’s…nice to hear.”

“Really? You’re a natural!”

Kozume glances down and away, one side of his mouth pulling up awkwardly. “Um, thanks.”

Tetsurou winces inwardly. “Sorry. I don’t mean to shower you in creepy compliments.”

“They’re not creepy,” Kozume says, meeting his eyes again, gaze perfectly level. “I’m just not really used to it. I never know how to respond.”

“You don’t need to respond! I mean, you can tell me to knock it off if I make you feel uncomfortable,” Tetsurou offers. “I just...wanted you to know that you were awesome and, like, we were lucky to have you and stuff.”

Kozume cocks his head, considering. “That’s kind of you.”

“Nah, it’s just the truth.” Tetsurou flashes a crooked smile. “And hey, sorry, I’ll stop holding you up and let you get out of here. You’ve probably got stuff to do.”

Kozume looks like he’s struggling with something. “I…don’t mind. This has actually been sort of refreshing.”

“Really? You think so?” Tetsurou perks up.

“Yeah.”

“Well…cool, then!”

Kozume gives him a quizzical look. “You’re, like…beaming. That’s weird.”

“Ah, but at least I know how to take a compliment,” Tetsurou says, a shit-eating grin plastered over his face.

Kozume narrows his eyes, but he’s still smiling. “Gross.”

“Maybe so,” Tetsurou says, and fires off some finger guns at him before turning back to pack up the rest of his supplies.

Kozume rolls his eyes. He watches as Tetsurou stacks the sketches and then starts to slip them inside his portfolio. “I really do like that charcoal one you did,” he says softly, dropping the banter.

Tetsurou’s eyebrows shoot up and he whirls to face him. “Really? You do?”

Kozume nods. “Yes,” he says. “I like it a lot.”

“Wow, thanks!” Tetsurou says, elated. “Hey, you can have it, then! If you want it, I mean…it might be weird to just, like, have a drawing of your own naked body—shit! I mean, it’s not like we noticed, we just draw whatever’s there in front of us, it’s not sexy at all, I swear. Um.” He backtracks, rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He’s blushing, dammit, and he suddenly can’t find the willpower to meet Kozume’s eyes. He’s never going to buy any of this. “Uh, that is, it wasn’t like that and I don’t want you to think we were perving on you because that definitely wasn’t happening, it was strictly professional, and like, you’re really really attractive, but I swear, that wasn’t what we were focusing on, it was just—”

He’s stopped mid-sentence by a hand on his arm. He looks up to see Kozume’s face, now inches from his own. “You’re babbling,” Kozume says, and he almost sounds…fascinated? His eyes flit back and forth between Tetsurou’s, searching for something in their depths. Tetsurou feels pinned, like a butterfly on a mounting board.

“I, uh…” Tetsurou trails off, utterly disarmed.

“You think I’m attractive.” It’s not a question.

Tetsurou hadn’t thought it was possible to get more red than he already is, but he can feel his face heating further. He squeezes his eyes shut, then slightly opens one to steal a glance at Kozume’s face.

He’s smiling, the skin around his bright golden eyes crinkling. “Really, really attractive. If I recall correctly.”

“Ugh.” Tetsurou hides his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m hitting on you and it’s weird and awkward and I swear I’ll stop and never bother you again. I might go jump in a river or something right now, immediately, so if you’ll please excuse me...”

“Don't do that.”

Tetsurou peeks out from between his fingers. “Huh?”

Kozume takes his wrists in both hands and drags them away from his face. “Don't do that. You're not bothering me, and I don’t want you to jump in a river.”

Tetsurou swallows, then tries to reply and ends up making a kind of guh noise. Kozume lets go of his wrists to reach into Tetsurou's portfolio. He pulls out the sketch, opens Tetsurou’s charcoal container, and silently selects a stick. Then, in tiny, deft strokes, he writes out the digits of what is unmistakably a phone number on the back of the paper.

Tetsurou feels like he might have a heart attack then and there. Kozume puts away the charcoal, then slips both container and sketch back into Tetsurou’s portfolio. He looks down at his charcoal-blackened fingers and grimaces. “This stuff really is awful. I can see why you hate it,” he says, then calmly walks back to the platform, shoulders his bag, and just…leaves.

Once he picks up his jaw from where it’s resting on the floor, Tetsurou fumbles his phone out of his pocket and frantically opens up a new text message.

 

Today 2:18 PM

 

Hello? Um, Kozume-kun?

 

kenma’s fine

that’s my first name

 

Ok, Kenma.

I’m Tetsurou Kuroo by the way, nice to meet you

 

hello, kuro

 

???

 

it suits you

because of the hair

and the charcoal thing

 

Ooookay then

 

I’ll stop if you want me to

 

No, no it’s fine! Just unexpected

…you’re quick to nickname.

 

one of my many charms & talents

 

I don’t doubt it!

 

also I’m not a big fan of formality

 

Yeah I can see that

 

rude

anyway

are you still offering me that sketch

 

Yeah!

I mean, it’ll still have your number on it tho

since like

charcoal’s not very eraser-friendly

 

it’s fine

you can bring it with you when you buy me coffee this weekend

 

I think I can manage that.

:)

Saturday at 11 at the cafe by the library?

 

sounds perfect

 

Great. I look forward to it very much, Kenma.

 

same here, kuro.

see you soon