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in the same place, by my side

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i.

Kenma can feel Kuroo’s eyes on him.

At first, he ignores it, instead focusing on his PSP. But as their train approaches Heiwadai, a station which they passed by together for the last two years, Kuroo’s gaze doesn’t waver, nor does his uncharacteristic silence. Kenma can feel the nervousness rolling off of Kuroo in waves, and he shifts under the excessive attention. So he says, finally, “It’s just the first day of school, Kuro.”

Just the first day. Just a day—the same as always.

“Yeah, well,” Kuroo says, looking out the window to the blur of subway tiles. “I’m just worried, you know, ‘cause it’s going to be your first day of school without me there. I don’t want you to be lonely.”

It’s just another day of school out of a year, even when Kuroo is going to be at a different school, and Kenma doesn’t particularly see a reason to be so excited about it. He isn’t going to get too lonely, he thinks. Without Kuroo there to distract him, he might even be able to beat the boss before the train ride home today.

But Kuroo will get lonely.

That’s who he is, Kenma thinks. Always worrying, even about things that he doesn’t need to. Worrying about how the members of the volleyball club at Nekoma might like him, worrying about a new homeroom teacher. Kenma doesn’t say, don’t worry about me, or stop worrying so much, Kuro, because he knows that it’s not going to stop him. Kuroo’s like that.

“You were excited about volleyball practice, yesterday,” he says.

“I still am,” Kuroo insists, and Kenma’s eyes flicker back down to his PSP in time to see the cutscene that follows the end of his battle.

“It’s just another day, Kuro,” Kenma says as their train slows into the station. There’s some kind of tight feeling in his chest, but he ignores it, because to do otherwise would be inconvenient. He watches as Kuroo gets off of the train, give one last wave before disappearing into the steady flow of exiting commuters, and heads toward his future at Nekoma High School.

Through the windows of the closing doors, Kenma can still see the unmistakable crest of his bedhead in the crowd.

The train moves forward again, a gradual build until it reaches a more steady pace, and Kenma holds on to the familiarity of it.

 

 


 

 

ii.

Over the past few days, Kenma has gained an extensive knowledge of Nekoma High School’s volleyball team.

(Really, it has been about a year in the making—all of the times when Kuroo would come over after practice to play games and tell him all about his frustrations with the captain, and about how he’s definitely the favorite kouhai, because god forbid that demon child Yaku ever steal his place—but it is in the past week or so that Kenma has started filing the information away for future use.)

In the seat beside him, Kuroo near-vibrates with excitement. The last weeks have seen him teetering precariously between heartbreak over saying goodbye to his beloved senpai, and elation that he and Kenma will be on the same team again.

“Kenma,” he says.

On Kenma’s screen, a banner tells him he’s cleared the stage. He looks up.

“I want to go to Nationals this year,” he continues. “For the senpai.”

Kenma doesn’t say, But can we, really? or Do you really think the team is good enough? Instead he just blinks, taking in the Kuroo before him: second year at Nekoma High School, middle blocker on the starting lineup.

He’s grown up a lot, Kenma thinks, since starting high school. Learned himself in time spent integrating himself into a new team, filled out in places Kenma had never thought to look before. He is different than he was when they were in middle school, but Kenma doesn’t dislike it; he wears it well, new buttons on a well-worn coat that has weathered so many winters with Kenma.

 

 


 

 

iii.

“Good morning,” Kuroo greets him, tone cheerful and eyes tired, and Kenma can guess that he spent the night awake, worrying about how he’s going to be as captain, scrolling through team pictures on his cell phone and watching old tapings of matches. He doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a few shed tears over their recently-graduated class.

Kenma sends him a withering look, then re-focuses on his mobile game. Kuroo laughs, taking the seat beside him, and lets an easy silence rest between them.

Kenma calls him sentimental Kuroo.

Sentimental Kuroo does not show his face often—even so, more often than Kenma would like—but when he does, he is a force to be reckoned with; this year, sentimental Kuroo has doubled down, as he and team captain Kuroo are one and the same. Which is how Kenma finds himself on the train at six-thirteen in the morning rather than eight-twenty, heading to school early for a pre-morning practice warm-up that he hadn’t had any intention of going to. It’s the team captain’s orders, and Kuroo claims that he can’t be late, or Yaku will have his ass, so Kenma ought to show up early, too.

Yaku will have Kuroo’s ass if he beats him to practice, but that’s not why Kenma agreed to come.

There are reasons for that, ones that Kenma has considered without thinking too much, because they don’t require much thinking at all. It’s simply the natural choice: it would be far too much of an inconvenience to have Kuroo pout if he didn’t go, and Kenma doesn’t want to face his whining, or his disappointment.

He doesn’t want to face the first day of their last year at Nekoma together, either, but it is, again, a train of thought he doesn’t let continue for long—to do so would become troublesome, and it’s far too early in the morning for such things.

“Kenma,” he says, seconds after a congratulatory message of STAGE CLEAR! flashes across his screen. “We’re going to go to Nationals this year.”

His eyes flicker up to Kuroo’s, only for a second.

“Okay, Kuro,” he says, and clicks onto the next level. Kuroo shifts in the seat beside him, and Kenma knows he’s satisfied, happy, even though he doesn’t say it, and they settle into the comfort of routine again.

 

 


 

 

iv.

This time, when the train pulls into Hikawadai station, there is no entrance of a friend with a familiar face, no one to get on and take the seat next to him. Kenma feels the keen absence of a still-sleepy gait, a pattern he would recognize in his sleep; at the back of his mind there appears an image of a best friend who is always almost-late to the metro station, of a bedhead that can’t be tamed and a heart that can’t be shaken.

Instead, a woman in business attire sits beside him, and Kenma refocuses on his game. The space doesn’t feel any less empty than before.

 

His phone vibrates with a notification as he exits at Heiwadai and takes a left turn toward Nekoma for what is to be the first time in a year-long series of last times.

Don’t miss me too much :3, Kuroo has texted, followed by a series of cat stickers. And then, a moment later, almost as though it is an afterthought—except that Kenma knows Kuroo well enough to know that it isn’t an afterthought at all, but timed carefully to seem a little less like he’s woken up early specifically to message Kenma during his morning commute—comes another message: Have fun in practice~

The tiniest of smiles ghosts across his face for a moment, and he continues his walk to school. In his mind, he considers a few possible replies: Don’t worry so much, Kuro, maybe, or Go back to sleep, or perhaps the cat stickers merit no response at all. Kenma immediately decides against that option—ignoring the messages would most likely lead to a pouting Kuroo, which would be even more troublesome.

 

It’s only when he’s sitting down, minutes before class starts on the first day of his third year of high school, that he types out his reply:

I will.