On a snowy Christmas night, tucked away in the warm and familiar comforts of their childhood home, Samu puts down his book, turns to Atsumu, and asks, “Dontcha ever get hungry?”
It’s a weird question to ask so late in the game. This time next year, they’ll be out on their own. Samu wants to open a restaurant. Atsumu wants everything.
With his tongue between his teeth and a pencil in his fist, he doesn’t look up from his sketchbook to say, “Nah.”
Samu slurps his dinner from a clear little bag marked A-NEG. “Huh,” he says, blood at the corners of his mouth.
Pencil to paper. Point A to Point B. A perfect parabolic line. Atsumu lifts his wrist, pushes the paper up a few inches, and starts again. Nah, he doesn’t get hungry. In order to get hungry, he’d have to stop being hungry.
And that hasn’t happened once in the last eighteen years.
The doctors call it Haemato Intolerance. Atsumu’s grandmother calls it, Something yer ma had, before—. Atsumu calls it a pain in the ass, when he bothers to mention it at all.
A HINT diagnosis is really just a one-way ticket to pamphlet hell. Atsumu’s been up to his balls in the trifolded little bastards for as long as he can remember. They ask rhetorical questions like, “So you’re a vampire who can’t drink blood: what now?” and share useless facts like, “Only 1 in 9,500 natural-born vampires will be diagnosed in their lifetimes.” He hates them with a singular passion.
Decades ago, in his ma’s day, folks with HINT just did their best to endure. They couldn’t not drink blood, but drinkin’ blood made ‘em all sick. The hungrier they were, the better they felt—up to a point. Nowadays it’s all about doctors and pamphlets and prescriptions that instruct him to take haemoglobin replacements three times a day instead’a meals.
The pills keep him alive, keep him healthy, and keep him from tryin’a eat any old sad sack that passes him on the street. But they don’t satisfy his hunger, which is constant. It thrums in his stomach, in his veins, in his ears. He feels it in his fingertips, in the bends of his elbows, in the soles of his feet. His canines—
“Shorter than average,” a dentist once said during a routine fluoride treatment. “Probably just a side effect of his condition. Nothing to worry about.”
—sometimes itch with it. Sometimes he thinks he might die if he doesn’t sink them into something soft and warm and willing.
He takes his pills. He doesn’t die. The hunger remains.
The followin’ spring Atsumu turns in a career planning sheet with just one thing written down: TATTOO ARTIST. This earns him a trip to the hallway and a scoldin’ from his teacher.
Kurosu thinks it’s a joke. He says, “You should take your future seriously, Miya!”
Atsumu bites the inside of his lip to keep from sayin’ somethin’ nasty. His too-short fangs are still sharp enough to draw blood. He tries his best to not think about how hungry he is or how appetizing the angry color in Kurosu’s cheeks is, but it’s a lesson in futility. Fortunately, like every other bleeder out there, the old man reeks like a fish shoved up a tailpipe and slow-smoked by exhaust.
“I’m takin’ it perfectly seriously,” Atsumu tells him. “I’m gonna be a tattoo artist.”
Kurosu looks bewildered. The color in his cheeks darkens, his temper mixed with embarrassment. The stench of him is almost enough to make Atsumu’s eyes water.
“Be more serious,” Kurosu urges. He shoves the career planning form back into Atsumu’s hand. “Take a week. Think about it. Don’t turn it in with the same answer.”
With that, Atsumu’s allowed back into the classroom where he stuffs the paper away. Kurosu never broaches the subject again, so the sheet ends up crumpled into a ball at the bottom of Atsumu’s backpack until free period three weeks later when he fishes it out and whips it at the back of Samu’s big fat head.
So, maybe people don’t expect much of him. It’s whatever.
(Samu says it’s cuz he’s got a shit personality and no plans to fix it—not that Atsumu’s ever asked for or particularly cares about his opinion on the matter. A late-term mutation in his DNA equipped Samu with a naggin’ gene that’s gonna drive Atsumu into an early grave one’a these days.)
It’s not like he cares what some nobody like Kurosu thinks of him. The guy’s probably gonna spend all his life in Hyogo, dealin’ with lesson plans and shitty teenagers day after day. Bein’ judgy and givin’ shit advice is probably as good as it’s gonna get for the guy. Atsumu tunes him and Samu out and spends the rest’a his time in Kurosu’s class drawin’ straight, clean lines of varying thicknesses and countin’ down the days to graduation.
The first step of becomin’ a grown up is movin’ out to the city. He considered Tokyo, where the vampire community is biggest and bleeders are probably more accepting or whatever. But in the end, he and Samu end up in Osaka. They get separate apartments in the same building; neither of them ready to be much further apart than that, neither of them willing to admit it.
Samu jokes, “Funny seein’ you here,” when they move into their places on the same day like they didn’t sign their rental agreements side by side, elbow to elbow, under the scrutinizin’ eye of their new landlord.
That afternoon they put out some cheap chairs on Samu’s west-facin’ balcony. The late summer sun sears the concrete while Samu makes lunch—onigiri, cuz it’s quick and easy and leave it to Samu to be a lazy fuck anytime it’s just the two of them—and it tastes good, tastes great, even though it does nothin’ to satisfy either of ‘em.
Afterwards, Samu sucks on a blood pack labeled AB-POS and sighs like he just took the first sip of an ice cold beer.
“When’s yer job start?” he asks.
Atsumu looks at his wrist. It’s a weird instinct to have seein’ how he’s never worn a watch a day in his life. Then he fishes his phone out of his pocket, glances at the screen, and says, “‘Bout an hour and a half.”
“If you wait much longer you won’t get t’do yer hair.” Samu’s smirkin’ the ugly smirk he gets when he thinks he’s bein’ funny.
Atsumu peels the seaweed off the last of his onigiri and flings it at him. Samu tries to duck outta the way but ends up capsizing his chair instead. He spills out on the scorchin’ hot concrete in a mess of red and black cotton and cusses so hot he could scald milk. It’s the funniest shit Atsumu’s seen in a minute. He folds over with tears on his face, howlin’ so loud he drowns out the growlin’ of his stomach.
The shop’s a hole in the wall called Pins & Needles. The owner’s name is Ukai. Three weeks ago, he took one look at Atsumu and hired him on the spot. Probably cuz of the whole matching hairstyles thing, but maybe a little cuz of his portfolio too. He’s a nice guy—despite his lame wardrobe—and seemed eager to take on a new apprentice. Best of all: when Atsumu provided him with all the proper documentation, Ukai’s gaze didn’t linger on the big red V stamped on his photo ID.
And when he noticed whatever look Atsumu had, he just said, “Don’t worry, kid—no one’s gonna give you a tough time about it here.” Then he went to make some copies.
Atsumu shows up to his first day of work at eight on the nose. There’s a bored-lookin’ guy with square-rimmed glasses and a throat tattoo sittin’ behind the desk. He studies Atsumu for a minute, nods, and wiggles his computer mouse. The screen lights up and reflects off his lenses.
“We take walk-ins, but there’s a small wait,” he says. He’s got fangs. They’re normal-sized and shiny and the sight of ‘em makes Atsumu feel sick with envy. “Will that be okay?”
“Miya!” says Ukai as he appears from beyond a beaded curtain hung up in the doorway on the back wall. His hair’s pushed back with a strappy headband, and he looks genuinely pleased to see Atsumu. He crosses the shop in a few long strides with a wide grin stretched ‘cross his face. “Akaashi,” he says to glasses guy, “this is my new apprentice. Miya, this is Akaashi. One of our artists.”
“Hello,” Akaashi says. He still looks kinda bored.
Atsumu says, “Call me Atsumu,” then asks, “How long’d ya apprentice for?”
“Fifteen years, give or take.”
Ah. He doesn’t look a day older than Atsumu. Must’a been turned.
“He learned from my gramps,” Ukai cuts in to say. “When the old fart opened the shop about thirty years ago, Akaashi was his first apprentice.”
Akaashi looks away, but a small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. It’s the most emotion Atsumu’s seen from the guy since he walked in. Could mean he’s hard to please. Could just be his face.
“Cool,” Atsumu says, not really meaning it. He’s never been a big history fan. He looks to Ukai. “What’re we doin’ first?”
“That’s easy,” Ukai says, grin going sharp. “I’m gonna introduce you to the autoclave.”
Tetsurou Kuroo is the sorta guy that just oozes coolness. He’s got a sly grin, an edgy hairstyle, and a witty anecdote about anythin’ and everythin’ you can imagine. There’s three binders full of his art sitting behind the front desk of Pins & Needles, and his Instagram account has nearly a million followers. Rumors say his waitlist’s four months long, but he’s happy to correct anyone who brings it up: it’s actually about six months, these days.
Naturally, Atsumu hates him.
Kuroo’s a bleeder, but his stink—like a half-drunk carton of milk left in the refrigerator well past its expiration date that comes out in gummy chunks when finally poured down the drain—is somehow the least offensive thing about him.
Gun to his head, Atsumu’d say the most offensive thing is the staring. Normally, Atsumu’s a big fan of folks starin’ at him; he likes attention, he likes knowing he’s being admired from afar, he likes being adored. But when Kuroo stares at him, it’s not like any of that. It’s more like a dissection—quiet and intense and assessing. Here we’ve got the Atsumu Miya, says his gaze, I will now make a single laceration from navel to nipple, and then we’ll reach inside to see what he’s made of.
Sometimes Atsumu has vivid fantasies of tellin’ him to shove his stupid stares (and everything else that goes with ‘em) where the sun don’t shine. The only thing that stays his tongue is the vague fear that snapping at him might just embolden Kuroo to stare more, and that’s the last evil Atsumu’s lookin’ to invoke.
One day, about a month into his time at the shop, Ukai asks Atsumu to help Kuroo clean up his station. If Kuroo minds another artist’s apprentice in his space, he doesn’t say anything ‘bout it—he just fills the silence between them with lazy grins and meandering, one-sided conversation while Atsumu repacks his kit for him. And more staring.
Eventually he asks, “Can I ask a personal question?”
And Atsumu asks, “What kinda personal question?” even though he knows exactly what kinda question it’s gonna be.
“Your fangs. They’re kind of small, aren’t they?”
Akaashi makes a disapproving noise. He’s about ten feet away, sweeping the shop floor cuz his own station’s already so clean it damn near sparkles.
“What?” Kuroo asks, “Is that offensive?”
“It’s not polite,” Akaashi tells him. “Whether it’s offensive or not in this case is for him to decide.”
Atsumu considers this. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s pretty offensive.” Though everything about Kuroo is generally offensive so what’s one more thing, really?
“Shit,” says Kuroo. “My bad. Sorry.” He puts his hands up in a placating gesture. “Won’t happen again.”
But later, when Ukai is locking up the shop and it’s edgin’ towards three in the morning, Atsumu’s close enough to see when Kuroo leans over to Akaashi and says, “I’m not crazy though, right? Like—they’re small.”
“Kuroo,” Akaashi sighs, sounding his age for once, “he can still hear you.”
It’s a couple months later when Akaashi lets himself into the break room, lips pressed in a thin line, and takes a seat next to him. Atsumu bites back a groan and plucks an earbud out to hear what he has to say. If he’s bein’ honest, he doesn’t dislike Akaashi—he minds his business, has a kickass art style, and compliments Atsumu sometimes with the sorta sincerity that could give a man a high—there’s just somethin’ unnerving about the guy. Bein’ alone with him’s never much fun.
To his surprise, Akaashi offers him a blood pack. It’s one of the fancy brands with the sleek, minimal packaging. O-NEG is stamped in white lettering across its black label.
“I’m not a fan of this type,” Akaashi says. “Do you want it?”
Atsumu eyes the bag and tries to decide if this is a test or not. Akaashi’s been around long enough and is sharp enough that the chances of him suspectin’ Atsumu’s condition seem pretty good. This could be the last piece of a puzzle he’s been quietly piecin’ together in the background all these weeks. He may not always look it, but there’s a quiet intensity that sometimes slips behind that bored look of his. In terms of shit Atsumu hates, it’s right up there with Kuroo’s staring.
He accepts the blood pack.
“Thanks,” he says, ungrateful.
Akaashi nods. “If you ever want to have lunch together, let me know,” he says. “My partner is a worrier. He tends to pack extras in my bag when I’m not looking, so I end up with too many all the time.”
It’s not the first time he’s mentioned having a partner. Atsumu’s got a vague idea of what the guy is like: a bleeder with a big mouth and too much energy. The polar opposite of Akaashi. Atsumu’s never thought highly of the “opposites attract” theory—as he sees it, the more someone resembles him, the better they are—but apparently people like Akaashi make that sorta thing work.
“I don’t usually do lunch,” Atsumu says, uncapping the pack. The stench of it fills his nose, and it takes physical effort not to gag.
Akaashi’s lips press into a thin, neutral line as Atsumu takes a slow, torturous sip.
He says, “I know. But I thought I’d offer anyway.” Then he gets up, his chair scraping against the wood floor as it’s pushed back, and leaves.
Atsumu watches him go and drinks the pack down to the dregs. He feels physically full but not at all satisfied. His hunger’s always been a more complex beast than his stomach.
But they call it intolerance for a reason. Later that night, he shits himself so hard he practically launches off the toilet.
Osamu brings by a pack of sports drinks and some crackers. He drops them outside the bathroom door while Atsumu’s moanin’ his misery and silently promisin’ god he’ll make better choices in the future.
He says, “I thought you’d grown outta this phase,” in that naggin’ tone of his.
“Shaddup,” Atsumu groans as his colon convulses.
He counts the days in vocabulary lessons: collector, heterotrophic, pneumatic, rotary, scratcher, tenderfoot; in study sessions: needle making, autoclave operation, risk reduction; and in his own appearance: the snake eye piercing Akaashi threads through the end of his tongue, the large geometric piece Kuroo inks across his right flank, the inches and inches of hair he grows out on top of his head despite what a pain it is to keep it all bleached.
The first time he gives someone a tattoo is a fuckin’ spiritual experience. Ukai, Akaashi, and Kuroo hover ‘round like a pack’a guardian angels of varyin’ degrees of helpfulness. The tattoo itself isn’t anything special—a single-line black cat from Atsumu’s flash collection—but Kuroo whistles low and long, Ukai pats Atsumu’s head approvingly, and Akane lights up with joy at the sight of the finished product. Akaashi smiles, nods, and says nothing, which counts as a win.
Atsumu stares at his hands for a long time after, pleased with how steady they still are, and feels the ghost of the tattoo machine against his palm. If only he could feed on this feeling. He’d never be hungry again.
As a natural-born, time passes normally for him. After two years, he looks Akaashi’s age. After five, people start to assume he’s older. It’s around then that Ukai officially promotes Atsumu up from apprentice to artist, which means Atsumu can quit his second job at the convenience store down the street and claim one of the shop’s chairs as his own.
Samu starts bringin’ Suna around to their apartment building, but now he calls him Tarou and gives him extra servings at every meal. Atsumu sees their relationship comin’ from a hundred miles away and decides to make himself as scarce as possible. Nothin’ against Suna—who stinks vaguely of wet dog, a big step up from most bleeders—it’s just weird. No one wants front row tickets to their brother fallin’ in love.
So it goes. Each year feels a little shorter than the one before, and in no time at all Atsumu realizes they’ve been in Osaka for six years and some change. That’s when all the familiar, comfortable shit in his life starts to change.
Ukai’s gramps gets sick. Real sick. The sorta sick that has Ukai promotin’ Akaashi up to manager and then, shortly after, asking him to buy in as co-owner. Akaashi accepts, Ukai passes all his regulars over to the team, and then goes to be with his family. From then on, he drops by a couple times a month with his husband, the both of them smilin’ despite the dark bags under their eyes.
Akaashi puts up an online ad for more artists. He conducts a few interviews, hires no one, then takes the ad down. For weeks after that he rumbles through the shop like a pretty stormcloud, doin’ all the work they’d normally foist off onto interns and lookin’ ready to murder anyone he catches slackin’ in their end of shift duties. Atsumu’d help more, but his share of Ukai’s regulars keeps him up to his eyeballs in appointments. Also, he hates cleaning.
Then Lev Haiba shows up like a stubborn, bleach-resistant fungus. He’s Kuroo’s first-ever apprentice and is so tall he’s gotta duck a little to enter the shop. He’s a silver-haired, green-eyed bleeder with lotsa passion, some artistic talent, and zero practical experience. His “portfolio” consists of a single page of designs he was thinkin’ might look cool on skateboards someday or somethin’. He smells like mildewed laundry. Where Kuroo found him is a mystery. Atsumu asks, Can we return him already? no fewer than six times during Lev’s first week and the only answer he gets is Kuroo’s insufferable, shit-eatin’ grin.
(Worst of all is Lev’s Instagram. Kuroo posts one stupid picture of the two of ‘em to his account, and suddenly it’s like Lev’s face is made of fuckin’ gold. In a month, his follower count hits four digits; in three, it soars to six—more than Atsumu’s racked up in all five years of his apprenticeship. Atsumu’s basically forced to start sharing topless selfies of himself on his account to restore balance to the universe and their stats.)
While the shop descends into the sort of chaos only a massive influx of social media fans can wreak, Samu signs a contract on the modest retail space and a lease on the cozy residential space directly above it. He only tells Atsumu ‘bout this massive life-changin’ decision the day before he’s meant to move-in.
Hurt and furious with it, Atsumu refuses to help his brother pack up his apartment. It doesn’t stop the inevitable: Samu moves away from their shared building on a crisp spring day while Atsumu sits under Akaashi’s steady hands and receives a tattoo of a large fox on his right hip, the tail curling down and over the middle of his thigh.
Afterwards, he comes home to his own apartment and feels the absence of Samu like they haven’t been separated by three whole floors for over half a decade. He crawls into a nest of blankets and forlornly texts Samu that he’s sorry he couldn’t help today and gets, Like I wanted your help anyway. You woulda broken all my shit, in return. It makes him feel closer and further away than ever.
He’s just a few streets over, but it might as well be an ocean of distance as far as Atsumu’s concerned. They’ve never been far enough apart that they’d need to put on shoes to go yell at each other. The realization punches a hole through him and lets a lifetime of loneliness in all at once. The next day, he calls out of work for the first time in six years and wanders down to Cafe Miya to help scrub floors.
And then: the scent.
Atsumu catches his first whiff of it on a muggy evening in mid-August when he’s laid out in Akaashi’s chair. He’s been due to get color packed into the moon phases tattoo that runs down the back of his neck, and Akaashi’s been itching to hold a tattoo machine instead of a check-writing pen for weeks now. Atsumu’s on his side and contemplating a nap, and Akaashi’s doin’ what he does best and mindin’ his own business. When he finishes up, turns off the machine, and nudges Atsumu up into a sitting position, Atsumu catches the scent for the first time.
It’s like fresh-cut grass but muskier; like citrus but sharper; like petrichor but sweeter, and it comes and goes so quickly that he thinks he imagined it.
But over the next several weeks, he starts to catch it again and again and again, every so often, each time as brief as the last. It’s as unnerving as Akaashi’s stillness and Kuroo’s staring combined.
Atsumu isn’t sure what the hell he’s supposed to do about it, so he ignores it.
It comes for him on the cusp of autumn.
It’s a relatively slow night at the shop, and in between appointments Lev somehow manages to brain himself on the autoclave and Kuroo—laughin’ so hard there’s tears on his cheeks—drags him into the break room to try and stop the bleeding. It’s a shallow head wound, the sort that looks a lot nastier than it really is. Nothin' to freak out about. While those two worry over it, Atsumu and Akaashi can only try to themselves busy and hope for some walk-ins.
Atsumu, bored and restless with it, eventually wanders away from his chair to the foyer where Akaashi’s sweepin’—a job that typically falls to him because, according’ to Ukai, the rest of ‘em can’t be trusted with brooms—and takes a seat on top of the front desk. When he kicks his feet lazily, Akaashi levels a disapprovin’ look his way.
“We have chairs,” he says.
“Yeah,” Atsumu agrees as he inspects his nails. The black paint on his right thumb has chipped at the end, and now that he’s noticed he’s starting to fixate. “Hey, do ya have any nail polish here? I need black.”
Akaashi pauses to consider this. “Check my bag. If I’ve got any, it’ll be in the front pocket.”
Good ol’ reliable Akaashi—emphasis on the ol’, since the guy’s rapidly approaching’ his hundred and fiftieth birthday. Atsumu hops off the desk and wanders back into the breakroom.
“Hey Sumu!” Lev says brightly, and Atsumu clenches his teeth. There ain’t much he hates more than these two trash bags using’ his nickname, which he realized too late only makes it more fun for ‘em. “Kuroo says it might scar!”
“Great,” Atsumu says flatly, his mood officially tanked. Lev with an eyebrow scar will probably gain followers even faster than Lev without an eyebrow scar, and Atsumu’s still not shameless enough to post his bare ass on the internet. The universe will teeter out of balance once again. Dammit.
“Don’t sound so thrilled about it Sumu,” Kuroo teases. He’s got a soft white cloth in his hand that he’s using to apply pressure to Lev’s wound. “You can smack your face against an autoclave too if you’re jealous”
“Howdja even manage t’do that?” Atsumu snaps, riflin’ through the bags hanging off a hook on the back wall. They’re all black, and most of them are the same brand, but Akaashi’s has a handicraft owl keychain on it with just one eye and a wonky wing. It’s just hard to focus on lookin’ for that while also contemplatin’ a double homicide. “What’s the point of bein’ seven feet tall if yer gonna smack yer face on stuff all the way down at yer waist?”
“I dropped something,” Lev argues. “I bent down to grab it and didn’t think about—”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it,” Atsumu says, waving his hand dismissively. “Where’s Akaashi’s bag?”
“Counter,” Kuroo says, pointing. Atsumu turns and, sure’nuff, there it is, most of its contents strewn about the formica. “He carries around enough medical supplies to stock a hospital. So we’re borrowing some.”
That’s—strange. And probably somethin’ Atsumu shoulda known before now. He crosses the room, snags the bag, and shoves his hand into the front pocket.
That’s when the smell hits him.
It’s not one of those ghostly whiffs he’s been catchin’ for weeks on end. This time it’s a nose- ‘n’ mouthful of saturated sweetness, oozin’ from the fibers of Akaashi’s bag. It’s dizzyin’ how good it tastes. His mouth’s waterin’ before he realizes—thick, heavy saliva coating his tongue and teeth. The need to eat is all-consuming. It’s different from bein’ hungry. This is something imperative, somethin’ demanding.
“What the fuck,” he says sharply, and Lev and Kuroo both jerk their stupid faces his way. “What the fuck.”
His gums hurt. His fingers shake. Is he drooling? Is this actually happenin’ right now? He drops the bag and stumbles back four, five steps and covers his nose and mouth with his hand.
There are pamphlets about this. Dozens of ‘em, in every pastel color imaginable. There’s word art and stock photos and shitty poetry about this exact sorta thing, and Atsumu can remember exactly none of it because he’s too busy trying to shove his fist in his mouth to taste the smell it picked up from touchin’ Akaashi’s bag.
“You okay?” Kuroo asks, expression and voice serious. It’s the tone he uses when he’s got someone in his chair who’s just felt the needle for the first time and has started shakin’ like a leaf. He’s suddenly very, very close.
Is he okay? Atsumu’s not sure. He wants to call Samu. He wants to grab Akaashi by the throat and demand he explain this smell to him. He wants, more than anything, to feel in control of his damn body.
“Akaashi!” Kuroo hollers. “Can we get some help here? Sumu’s about to choke on his damn hand!”
Atsumu tries to bark, “I’m not—” but his hand’s in the way, his fingers inching towards the back of his throat as he tries to speak.
There’s a telltale clattering of broomstick-on-floor in the front room, and Akaashi throws himself through the doorway at breakneck speed. Then he stops and, slowly, takes in the room before him, and Atsumu’s got a clear enough head to imagine what he’s seeing: the wreckage of medical supplies (mostly his medical supplies) spread over the countertop; Lev on the table, holding the gauze to his sluggishly bleeding eyebrow; Kuroo holdin’ his hands out while slowly approachin’ Atsumu, like they’re in some twisted-ass nature documentary.
The gears in Akaashi’s head turn and turn; it’s obvious by the blanker-than-usual look on his face. Finally, he fishes his phone out of his pocket, punches a few buttons on the screen, and holds it to his ear.
“Hey,” he says, tone clipped. “Sorry to bother you. Something weird is happening with your brother. Can you come by?”
Atsumu sags against the counter with relief. Samu’s comin’. It’ll be over soon.
He sucks on his own knuckles. They taste like citrus.
Rain comes down on them in fat, heavy drops, drenchin’ both of ‘em to the bone before they’ve made it the block and a half back to Atsumu’s apartment. The autumn air is crisp, and the wind is cutting. Samu’s expression is absolutely, perfectly bored.
Atsumu hasn’t been able to meet his eyes since Samu showed up at the shop a half hour ago—too embarrassed about his spit-drenched hand and the fact that he was half-hard in his pants over a fucking smell—but Samu helped him get to his feet, gathered all of Atsumu’s things from around the shop, and walked out into a September shower with Atsumu’s arm slung over his shoulders like a drunkard.
Together, they stumble like that through the rain and the scattered foot traffic. Neither of them says a word. If they do, the sounds are swallowed by the storm.
At Atsumu’s apartment, Samu busies himself with getting dry. He emerges from Atsumu’s room with two towels and a handful of things that Atsumu shamelessly stole from Samu’s wardrobe over the last six years.
“Here,” he says, tossing a towel right at Atsumu’s face. “Dry off.”
Atsumu catches it without much fuss, but he doesn’t move. “I don’t wanna talk about it,” he says.
“Tough shit,” Samu says, walking towards the bathroom and drippin’ everywhere without any consideration for Atsumu’s floors. “I’m takin’ a shower first. If ya bolt, I’ll catch ya and whup yer ass.”
Atsumu fumes. Samu disappears down a hall. A couple minutes later, the shower rumbles to life. When Atsumu closes his eyes, he can still recall the sharp-sweet smell, the way it felt in his nose and on his tongue, and it sends a shiver down his spine.
He drags the towel over his head, tugging his topknot out in the process. His hair—grown long and bleached near-platinum—falls around his face in drippy ropes. Drying it is a process, and if he had any plans to shower tonight he’d hold off on it. But he’s nursing a bone-deep exhaustion and the beginning of a headache, and the only way out of having this conversation with Samu is sleeping. So that’s what he’s going to do.
He strips out of his soakin’ wet clothes and leaves them in the genkan. In his room, he pulls out some sweatpants, drags them on, and uses the towel to wring out his hair. The siren song of his bed is tempting, but he drops to the floor instead to tear a shoebox out from under the bed frame.
Inside are the pamphlets.
The top one reads HINT & Me: Tips for Coping with your Haemato Intolerance Diagnosis. The sight of it makes Atsumu’s stomach hurt. He stares into it for so long he thinks the pretty-faced girl in the stock art on the cover is staring back into him. Then his door creaks open.
“I didn’t know you kept these,” Samu says when he takes a seat next to him, both of them leaning back against the bed frame, their shoulders brushin’. He reaches for the box and asks, “Can I?”
Atsumu shrugs. Samu takes the box and starts flipping through the pastel papers. For a long time, neither of them say anything.
“I don’t want this,” Atsumu admits. “I didn’t ask fer none of it, Samu.”
“Yeah,” Samu agrees. “What’re you gonna do? Run?”
“Maybe I’ll move in with you,” Atsumu threatens.
Samu’s face screws up for a second, then he casts a rude smirk Atsumu’s way. “You? Livin’ with me’n Tarou? We’re real lovey-dovey these days y’know.”
Atsumu tries very, very hard not to imagine this. “Yuck,” he says, with feeling.
Samu stops flipping through stuff and withdraws a lilac pamphlet. Atsumu’s heart sinks like a stone. He averts his eyes, half sure that looking directly at the thing will turn him to stone.
“You know what Granny’d say,” Samu says, opening the pamphlet because he’s a jerk with no consideration for Atsumu’s fragile mental state. “Not wantin’ to do somethin’ is sometimes the best reason to do it anyway.”
“I hate it when she says that,” Atsumu sighs. He studies a framed print on his wall. It’s one of Kuroo’s designs, from a time before Atsumu knew Kuroo to be the devil incarnate. It’s familiar and comfortable and the longer Atsumu stares at those elegant smoke trails, the less overwhelmed he feels.
“Akaashi says it’s his partner’s college roommate,” Samu says. “He’s gonna bring him by the shop in a few days, if yer up for meetin’ him.”
Atsumu buries his face in his hands. He presses the heels of his hands to his closed eyes and tries to will away the throbbing deep in his skull.
“I think I’m gonna barf,” he admits.
Samu tenses. Then he reaches out and curls an arm around Atsumu’s shoulders and tips his head in, nudging their temples together.
“Yer gonna be okay,” he says. “Ya big fat drama queen.”
Atsumu, so grateful he can’t put it into words, elbows him in the gut.
Three days later, Atsumu shows up at the shop just before sundown. He’s nothin’ more than a bundle of nerves in a flesh suit, twitchin’ and jumpin’ at every new face he sees and unfamiliar voice he hears. He’s off the schedule until further notice, and most of his appointments were annoyingly happy when Kuroo offered to do their pieces instead, so work is at least one thing he doesn’t have to think about.
He’s too fidgety to be allowed in the shop, so Akaashi herds him into the breakroom with a look that’s one part annoyed and two parts amused.
“He’s on his way,” he says, smilin’ in a way that shows his fangs. A glimpse is more than enough to make Atsumu conscious of his own. Fuck. “He walks, so it takes him a while to get across town.”
Atsumu sits on a chair with his knees drawn up to his chest. He left his hair in a high ponytail today because it’s a comfort to tug on it when he’s stressed, and it keeps him from gnawing on his freshly-painted nails. His stomach has helpfully tied itself into a vicious knot, and thinkin’ about that scent again only tightens it.
At one point, Lev unhelpfully says, “Wow. You look miserable,” and claps a huge hand between Atsumu’s shoulder blades. “Are you worried you’ll try to eat your hand again in front of him?”
It took exactly one conversation with Samu and—Atsumu assumes—a night of Googling—for the whole shop to have a vague understanding of Haemato Intolerance. Six years of secrecy, down the drain just like that. It’d been a bitter pill to swallow a couple days ago, and it’s no sweeter now. He sometimes sees the questions in Lev’s lingering looks and the half-cocked jokes in the curve of Kuroo’s smirks, and it’s enough to drive a man to distraction.
“Shaddup,” Atsumu snarls, shoving Lev’s wrist away. “Go annoy someone else.”
Lev looks a little like a kicked puppy, but he sets his shoulders and shoves his half-eaten sandwich in his enormous mouth before sulking back to the front of the shop.
When the urge to chew his fingernails gets strong enough to qualify as a compulsion, Atsumu climbs to his feet and digs through his bag. The lilac pamphlet is there, wrinkled and worn thin after three days of near-constant handling. He still can’t look directly at it; instead he takes it to the table and painstakingly folds it into a paper football. It keeps his head and hands occupied, which is enough to keep him from goin’ totally crazy.
There’s somethin’ therapeutic to foldin’ and unfoldin’ and refoldin’ the pamphlet, and Atsumu surrenders himself to it totally until he’s completely satisfied with a beautiful, perfect, lilac paper football that’s just beggin to be shot across the room. Ideally right into Kuroo’s eye—that’ll teach ‘im.
Atsumu lines up the shot. He aims for the open, empty doorway. He draws a slow, deep breath and imagines a crowd of people cheerin’ his name falling totally quiet just to watch this single play.
The paper football soars across the room in a beautiful, perfect arc. The crowd goes wild. The air is electric. Atsumu’s heart climbs into his throat and sings with victory—
A tall, dark figure steps into the doorway. The paper football nails him right between the eyes. It falls to the ground, losing its shape on the way. For a long, quiet moment, both Atsumu and the stranger stare at it.
LOVESICKNESS, the blocky wordart on the pamphlet reads. AN OVERVIEW OF VAMPIRISM’S SECONDARY CONDITIONS.
“Uh,” Atsumu eventually says, voice ragged. “That’s mine.” Then, in an incomprehensible stroke of stupidity, he adds, “And I guess you are too?”
The stranger casts a murderous look his way. The guy’s tall as the day is long and pale as a sheet with dark hair, dark eyes, and a dark, knee-length trench coat cinched tight around his distractingly narrow waist. There’s a small red welt forming on the bridge of his nose where the paper football landed.
He looks like death warmed up but smells overwhelmingly like spring, and Atsumu wants to pluck him like a goddamn daisy.
Huh, he thinks, feeling hot and cold and hated all over under that furious glare. So this is my soulmate.