They're still screaming and shouting his name as he exits the stage into the wings. He's performed two encores already, and if his agent says he has to perform a third one he's already decided he's going to flat out refuse. His limbs ache, and his sweat glistens with the tons of glitter that's been dumped over him. He needs a shower. He wants a nap.
Kenma closes his eyes, legs quivering and threatening to give out. He feels a light touch on his bare shoulder and opens his eyes to find himself looking into the face of Kuroo Tetsurou, his manager and childhood best friend.
"Hey, you were great out there," Kuroo says with a gentle smile.
"I'm not doing another one," Kenma says flatly, shaking his head.
Kuroo grins. "I wouldn't let you even if you wanted to. You look like you're about to collapse."
Kenma sighs, rubbing his forehead. "Can I go back to the trailer now?"
Kuroo's grin slips. "You have an autograph signing . . ." he trails off as he registers Kenma's glare. "I'll see if I can postpone it until tomorrow."
Kenma nods, grateful. He starts walking toward the stage exit, tugging his hair out of the buns his stylists fashioned earlier. His knee-length boots clack against the floor, and every step dislodges more glitter, creating a trail behind him. Entering his trailer, he immediately strips off the boots and crop-top and skin-tight shorts. He showers off the sweat (though he can't completely rid himself of the glitter), before dressing in the softest, fluffiest robe he has and flopping down on the couch.
Minutes later there's a soft knock on the door.
"Come in," Kenma calls, turning on the TV. There's a recap of his performance playing in highlights. He narrows his eyes, as the door opens and Kuroo steps into the trailer.
"I look stupid," he says flatly.
Kuroo glances at the TV, as he makes his way over to the couch. "Your fans think you look hot," he says with a grin.
Kenma stares at Kuroo. How do you think I look? It's a question he never dares to ask but that lingers at the back of his mind every day. He sighs, turning his gaze back to the TV. The station has gone back to the news room, with two female reporters talking about Kenma's upcoming tour of Japan. A stress headache starts to form between Kenma's eyes, and he quickly changes the channel to some cartoons.
"Bet you never thought you'd make it this big when you started, huh?" Kuroo asks, sitting down at the end of the couch. Kenma lifts his legs to give him room, setting them down across Kuroo's lap.
He shakes his head, eyes fixed on the TV, as Kuroo picks up one of his feet to start massaging it. It feels good, really good. Closing his eyes, Kenma allows himself to relax. It's only when he's alone with Kuroo that he feels he can let go of the tension that coils at the base of his spine. He started performing as a backup dancer for a different idol, not very well known but loved enough by his fans to have a decent following. It was easy money for college, and if he wanted to become a video game developer, he needed the equipment as well and it wasn't cheap.
When his agent, Konoha Akinori, approached him, telling him that he had the talent and the looks to make it big, to earn more money than he was making as a lowly backup dancer, Kenma only thought about it a few days before deciding the ends justified the means.
And as time went on, and his fanbase began to grow, he found himself enjoying the limelight. He's always been concerned with how people think of him, and now he has hundreds of followers who adore him. It's a nice feeling to be adored. He's not naïve enough to think that they truly love him, but the positive attention is nice. Uplifting.
As tiresome as the performances are, he can't help but grin at the sound of the cheers and whistles and shouts of "I love you Kitten Kenma!" (His stage name, Kitten Kenma. Konoha thought it cute and fitting, and most of Kenma's costumes and performances are cat-themed.)
He doesn't even really need to interact with his fans, either. Kuroo manages all his social media accounts, posting photos and messages from Kenma now and then. Sometimes Kenma will check them himself, but he finds it better when Kuroo does it, as he can weed out the crazies and the less-positive posts.
It's exhausting, being an idol, but Kenma's come to enjoy it, in a way. It's rewarding, and not just because of the money. The feeling he gets after a well-done performance, that rush of self-confidence and adrenaline, it feels good.
The only thing is . . .
He looks down the couch to where Kuroo sits, with his hands still massaging Kenma's sore feet. His gaze is fixed on the TV, and there's a laugh caught in the corner of his mouth. Kenma's chest aches.
The only thing is idols aren't allowed to date.
And Kenma's fairly certain he's in love with his best friend.
The feeling snuck up on him. Kuroo chose to be his manager once things started to pick up, and Kenma's popularity started growing rapidly. He said he'd need someone to have his back, make sure nobody in the industry took advantage of him. Despite still being in college himself, Kuroo's gone to every single one of Kenma's performances, and he works with Konoha with every event and interview to make sure Kenma's comfortable and not overwhelmed by anything.
Kenma was glad to have him. He still is. He's not sure he'd be doing this well without Kuroo as his constant pillar supporting him. Then one day he was asked in an interview if he had a girl he liked back home and if it was hard for him to be an idol since he couldn't date. Any time before that he would've answered no, it's not difficult for him because he doesn't have anyone he wants to date.
But in that interview room, looking across behind the camera to where Kuroo stood, watching intently with the faintest of smiles, Kenma realized that there was someone he liked, someone he wanted. The realization hit him hard, and he ended the interview early.
"Is everything okay?" Kuroo asked, handing him a bottle of water. "You look pale."
Kenma looked back at him, searching his gaze, trying to see if there was anything there that would let him know if his feelings were reciprocated or not. But all he saw was the same fondness he's always seen in Kuroo's gaze. He decided then that he couldn't tell him. He couldn't tell anyone.
It's Kuroo's life too, he realized. He might be willing to fuck up his own for the sake of love, but could he do that to Kuroo as well?
So he's kept quiet, bottled up his feelings, and an entire year has passed. He hoped it would fade, but it's only grown stronger. And for the first time in a long time, Kenma has no idea what to do.
"No, no, no it's side-step, kick, crouch, jump, spin, pose. How many times must we go over this? It's not a difficult move!"
Kenma rubs his sweaty hands over the skimpy material of his shorts, biting his lip and nodding at his choreographer, a red-faced man named Soho Katashi. "Sorry. I'm just . . . tired."
"Tired? Tired? You have a tour coming up, five shows in six days. You don't have time to be tired." Soho claps his hands together sharply. "Now! Again!"
The music starts, and Kenma does the routine from the top. His feet ache in the long boots, and the tail they've attached to the back of his shorts itches. They told him he had to get used to wearing it, since he'll be in full cat-boy get up on stage, with a headband of cat ears and gloves in the shape of cat paws to complete the look. Those were easy enough to move in, but the tail is troublesome. No matter how carefully he moves, he always seems to trip over it.
He does so now, again, stumbling off-rhythm.
"KENMA!" Soho shouts, a vein throbbing in his forehead.
Kenma flinches, as Soho storms up to him, grabbing his arm and shaking him hard.
"Do you want to look like a fool in front of all your fans? Do you want to make me look like a fool?!" he hisses.
Kenma shakes his head, a lump rising in his throat. He resists the urge to point out that he'll already look like a fool in the cat-boy costume, knowing that remark won't earn him any favors.
"If you can't get this routine down, we might as well cancel the tour! Do you want to do that? Do you want to disappoint your fans?"
Kenma bites his lip, lowering his gaze. "No," he murmurs.
Soho releases him, and Kenma steps back, rubbing at his arm. It's throbbing slightly, and he hopes there won't be a bruise his makeup artists will have to cover up later. As Soho turns back around, he can't help but mutter resentfully, "maybe you should make a routine that works with a tail."
"What was that?!" Soho asks, turning back around, eyes blazing fire.
Kenma's own eyes widen, but before he can apologize, Soho backhands him across the face, sending him sprawling to the floor. Kenma's barely registered what just happened, when the door to the studio slams open, and Kuroo rushes into the room. He grabs Soho by the collar and slams him up against the mirrored wall behind him.
"You ever lay a finger on him again, and I swear you will never work for any idol or dance company ever again, do you understand me?" Kuroo seethes, his face twisted into a furious mask that Kenma's never seen before.
Soho sputters, his feet dangling off the floor. Kuroo lifts him off the wall before slamming him against it again. The mirror wobbles, cracks appearing. "I said, do you understand me?!" he yells.
Kenma scrambles off the ground, grabbing Kuroo's arm, honestly afraid that he might hurt the man. "Kuro, let him go," he says. "I'm fine. It's fine."
"It's not fine!" Kuroo roars. "This-this sack of pathetic meat should be fired immediately!"
"M-Mei, call the police! I'm being assaulted!" Soho shouts to his assistant, who jumps out of her frozen state and hurries out the door.
Kenma latches onto Kuroo's arm more firmly and tugs. "Kuro, let him go."
Kuroo releases the man, taking a step back and letting him drop to the floor. Before anyone can do anything else, however, he's grabbed Kenma's wrist and is pulling him out of the studio at a brisk pace. Kenma stumbles, trying to keep up. He trips over his tail before reaching behind him to yank it off, tossing it aside.
He lets Kuroo lead him out into the cool evening air, past the cars in the parking lot and into the street. He has no idea where they're going, but he can tell Kuroo's still angry, so he keeps quiet, letting the rage simmer out of him.
Eventually they come to a stop on a bridge. Kuroo releases Kenma's wrist in order to grab the railing instead, glowering down at the water beneath them. Kenma watches him, shivering as a breeze ghosts across his bare skin, and his sweat begins to dry. His tiny shorts and crop-top don't do too much to warm him, so he crosses his arms over his chest tightly to conserve body heat as best he can.
"Kuro . . ."
Kuroo turns to look at him, and he looks older than Kenma's ever seen him look before. The lines of his face are deep, the circles beneath his eyes pronounced. Kenma frowns faintly, wondering how much sleep Kuroo's sacrificed to manage everything and stay in school. His dark gold eyes are gleaming though, anger still evident in them.
"How many times has that happened?" he asks flatly.
Kuroo interrupts him sharply. "How many times has he hit you?"
Kenma sighs, shaking his head. "None. This was the first time."
Some of the tension leaves Kuroo's shoulders, and his eyes go to the side of Kenma's face that Soho struck. He lifts his hand, caressing the reddened skin gently. Kenma finds himself leaning into the touch before he can stop himself. Kuroo's thumb trembles, as he strokes it along Kenma's cheekbone.
"Shit, you're shivering," he mutters, drawing his hand away and shrugging out of his coat. He drapes it over Kenma's shoulders, tucking it in close beneath his chin. It swamps him, but it's warm, and Kenma grabs the lapels to hold it steady. Kuroo's wearing a black sweater and jeans, and he looks good. Really good. Kenma bites his lip, turning his gaze away.
"Kenma, I swear, if you want to stop this, if you don't want to do this anymore, I'll find a way to get out of the contract."
Kenma shakes his head. "How will I pay for school then? How will you pay for school?"
"Fuck, we can worry about that later. Kenma, if they aren't treating you well—"
"I told you, it was just this one time. And I can get another choreographer. It's not a big deal."
"It is a big deal!" Kuroo snaps.
Kenma blinks up at him, and Kuroo steps back, running his hand through his hair agitatedly. "Sorry. I'm sorry," he mutters. "I just . . . seeing you on the ground like that . . . I was so angry and so . . . scared."
"Scared?" Kenma repeats, staring at him.
"Kenma, if something happened to you, if you got hurt in some way . . . I don't know what I'd do. It'd destroy me."
Kenma rolls his eyes. "That's kind of dramatic, don't you think?" he asks, though his heart betrays him by beating faster, pounding loudly in his ears.
Kuroo's lips quirk faintly. "Maybe," he relents. "But it's how I feel." He reaches up to touch Kenma's cheek again, and this time his fingers stroke down the curve of his face to his jaw, tracing along the line of it. "I'm in love with you, Kenma," he says softly. "I have been for a long time."
Kenma exhales shakily, realizing he'd been holding his breath. His skin burns where Kuroo touched it, and he wants that hand to keep moving, to keep traveling over his skin, to burn him more. But he stands still, not stepping forward, not drawing away.
"I know I shouldn't say that," Kuroo mutters, watching his hand instead of Kenma's face. He takes a piece of Kenma's hair that's fallen from his bun, twirling it gently between his fingers. "I know nothing can happen between us while you're under contract. And I know you're under contract for the next few years. But I just . . ."
Kenma reaches up to take his hand, holding it gently. "I'm in love with you too," he whispers, blinking back the tears that blur his vision. His chest aches, and he feels like he's being cut in two, a blunt knife sawing through his heart.
Kuroo's eyes widen, and before Kenma can think better of it, he reaches up and takes Kuroo's face in both hands, rising on his toes to kiss him firmly. Kuroo's arms instantly surround him, crushing him to his chest. His lips are warm and pliant against Kenma's, moving slowly but with a desperation that's nearly palpable. Kenma can sense it, because he's feeling that same urgency, that same anxiety.
We can't do this. We shouldn't be doing this.
The tears slip down Kenma's cheeks, despite his best efforts to keep them at bay. If Kuroo minds, he doesn’t say anything, only tightens his hold on Kenma. His lips part, and Kenma licks into his mouth, whimpering softly, as the ache only grows stronger. Kuroo meets his tongue with his own, and it's squishy and wet, but Kenma doesn't care. He doesn't want to stop.
But they do stop, because they have to. Despite the late hour, they're on a public bridge. If anyone recognizes Kenma and takes a photo of them in this compromising position . . . it would ruin both their careers.
So when Kuroo pulls away, Kenma lets him, despite the pain it causes. They're both breathless, flushed, and Kenma shudders as the cool breeze slips into the coat. He takes a step back, holding it closed once more, as he turns his gaze to the ground.
"We . . . that can never happen again. Not while you're still Kitten Kenma. You know that, right?" Kuroo asks, and his voice is hoarse, agony lacing his tone.
Kenma nods, the heat in his cheeks fading, leaving him feeling cold and empty.
"Fuck," Kuroo sighs. He turns back toward the railing of the bridge. He grabs it tightly between his hands and shouts the word down into the river with all the frustration and pain that's coursing through him. "FUCK!"
Kenma trembles, unsure of what to do or say. He knows he can't jeopardize their futures. He can't break his contract and forever stain them both with the reputation that comes with that act. For Kuroo's sake he has to remain single, and he knows that Kuroo won't do anything to compromise Kenma's status either.
But still . . .
He reaches out and lays his hand on Kuroo's arm gently. "We still have each other," he says quietly, yet with a firm resolve. "Even if we can't be together in that way, we can still be together. You're my best friend . . ."
Kuroo reaches over to lay his hand over Kenma's, glancing sidelong at him and offering a crooked smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right." He lifts Kenma's hand to kiss the back of it gently. "You're my best friend too. Don't worry. That's never going to change."
Kenma nods, glad he feels the same. He glances across the bridge then, before looking up at Kuroo. "Can we go back to the apartment now?"
Kuroo's grin widens. "Yeah. Sounds good. We can order in too. You hungry?"
Kenma's stomach chooses that moment to growl obnoxiously. He blinks, as Kuroo laughs.
"I'll take that as a yes, then," he says, draping his arm across Kenma's shoulders, as they make their way down the bridge.
An hour later, freshly showered, they eat takeout in front of the TV. Limbs tangled together, bodies shaking together, they laugh and run commentary at the antics on the screen. And that night, as they settle in to sleep, Kenma pulls Kuroo into bed with him, curling around the larger man as best he can.
"Are you sure?" Kuroo asks softly.
"It's just sleeping," Kenma reasons. "They can't fire us for that."
Kuroo has to concede this point, and after a few moments they fall asleep, together.