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kitsune udon for the soul

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Atsumu was at the conbini after a gruelling Friday practice, grimly third-wheeling Osamu and Suna, when he spotted her.

Osamu had just dropped the line “oh, you like this brand? I like them too!” for the third time in ten minutes, after his hand had once again brushed against Suna’s as they were reaching for the same snacks, and Atsumu was just about ready to put them all out of this misery. Everyone knew that Osamu liked every single brand of every single snack in the world, so why was he putting on this whole coy song-and-dance about it? And why was Suna just blushing up to his ears and letting it all slide, as if Osamu wasn’t being a complete embarrassment to Atsumu, the Miya name, and humanity at large?

The only reason Atsumu hadn’t abandoned them both in utter disgust was because Osamu owed him exactly ¥728 worth of snacks after that whole incident with Coach Oomi and the bees, and he wasn’t leaving until Osamu paid up. There was no other way to guarantee reimbursement. If that meant he had to trawl the shelves with a laser focus and intensity just to try and tune out the absolute clown show taking place right next to him, then so be it.

As Atsumu contemplated the choice between grape or melon Hi-Chew, and also between who he wanted to strangle first, his brother or his brother’s annoying crush, he caught sight of a small figure near the doors of the conbini. Bowed over with the weight of all their shopping, their white head dipped dangerously low before they managed to straighten themselves up a little.

“Will you be okay, ma’am?” the shop assistant asked anxiously, leaning over the till to watch the customer leave.

“I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine,” the customer – an old lady, from the looks of it, with sweet round cheeks – laughed. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but it wasn’t like Atsumu made a habit of memorising random old people’s faces, so he couldn’t quite place who she was. “I don’t live far, so I’m sure I can make it.”

As she slowly tottered out the door, Atsumu was about to turn back to his Hi-Chew when it suddenly hit him. He’d seen her before. Shit, he’d 100% seen her before. At their matches, and sometimes even at their practices, when they went on a little late and she decided she wanted to come pick up her grandson.

Shit! That was Kita-san’s granny! And he’d just watched her leave without even offering to help!

Before Atsumu quite registered what he was doing, he was dumping all the snacks he’d amassed into Osamu’s basket and barrelling right down the aisle after her.

“What the hell, ‘Tsumu!” Osamu yelled after him, sounding even more indignant than usual. Probably because whatever nice moment he and Suna had been having was now completely ruined after Atsumu had literally shoved them apart in his haste to chase down an old granny.

“Look, just – just buy that stuff for me, you can get whatever else you want, I’ll pay you back later!” Atsumu yelled over his shoulder, immediately regretting the ambiguous wording when he saw Osamu fist-pump and sweep a whole shelf of seaweed crisps into his basket.

“I meant I’d pay for my stuff! Just my stuff! I’m not paying for anything else!” he screamed, but by this point he was practically vaulting over the magazine displays and his words were probably lost on his shitty twin. 

Fuck. Whatever. Osamu was absolutely going to clean him out, but that was a problem for future Atsumu. Right now, he was on a mission.

The target of that mission moved surprisingly fast, for an old lady laden down with shopping bags; she was already a good way down the street before Atsumu caught up with her. As he got close enough to make out her face again, he breathed a sigh of relief. This was definitely Kita-san’s granny, at least, and not just some random senior citizen he’d decided to run after and accost.

Atsumu slowed down on the approach and made sure to straighten out his jacket collar and cuffs. A good first impression was always important with old people, after all.

 “Hello, granny,” he said when he finally drew level with her, trying on his most charming smile for size. He was also trying very hard not to sound breathless from the sprint. “I saw you from across the street, and I was just wondering – would you like some help with your shopping?”

“Oh, hello there!” Kita-san’s granny said, eyes crinkling as she looked up at him. “Why, that’s very kind of you, thank you so much.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Atsumu reassured her, stooping down to relieve her of her shopping. Wow, for such a small lady, Kita-san’s granny was stronger than she looked; the weight of all these bags was not insubstantial.

Once she was freed from her burden, save for a couple of small bags that she insisted on carrying herself, Kita-san’s granny stood back and looked at him thoughtfully. “You’re one of Shin-chan’s old teammates, aren’t you? The new Inarizaki captain... Atsumu-kun, right?”

“… He’s mentioned me?” Atsumu said, trying not to sound too eager. “All good things, I hope?”

“Ah, Shin-chan only ever says nice things,” she laughed, in that way that sweet old people did when they were trying to spare your feelings by lying right to your face. As they set off down the street together, Atsumu made sure to stay slow and keep pace with her. “He’s so proud of the whole team, you know. You all played so well at the Spring High.”

“… Thanks,” Atsumu said, swallowing down the bitter taste the word left in his mouth. It had been a month and a half since they lost to Karasuno, and even despite the Inarizaki team motto, the memory of that match – of its voracious pace, of Hinata Shouyou’s endless drive, of that last minus tempo quick, of Kita-san’s final, proud smile – was still a little raw.

Kita-baasan seemed to understand. She didn’t offer any words of pity or condolence; she just hummed to herself and swung the bags she was holding back and forth by her side. 

Well, she was Kita-san’s grandmother, after all. He had to have gotten those scary powers of insight from somewhere.

“My house is just off of here,” she said when they reached a corner and turned onto a new street. “Just a bit further down this road. We’ll be there in no time at all!”

“You know, I only meant to pop out for some shichimi,” she continued, “but now look at all this! It’s just too easy to keep adding on things when you’re shopping, isn’t it? It’s lucky that we bumped into each other, Atsumu-kun – I don’t know how I would’ve managed with you!”

“It was lucky, wasn’t it? Now I get to enjoy your company on such a nice evening,” Atsumu replied, summoning up a megawatt smile. He juggled the bags so she’d be able to get a more direct view - sure, he was possibly laying it on a bit thick, but it wouldn’t hurt to get in her good books, right? That way, he might at least stand a chance of wriggling his way into Kita-san’s good books before he graduated, instead of languishing between the pages of his scrupulously-neutral-to-reasonably-bad books.

“Ho ho, you’re too sweet,” Kita-baasan chuckled, but she wasn’t even looking at Atsumu’s very handsome and extremely charming expression. Instead, she stepped right past him and pushed open the gates to a pretty, traditional-looking house with a well-tended garden. “Ah, we’re here!”

As they proceeded towards the front door, Atsumu couldn’t help how his eyes roamed restlessly about the house before him, the garden around him. He’d been here before, once or twice, but every time the inherent strangeness of the situation just got to him. Of course he knew that Kita-san didn’t go to the nearest power station every night and plug himself into the electrical grid to recharge – but somehow it hit a little differently, to see for himself the place that Kita-san called home.

“Where would you like me to leave all this?” he asked as Kita-baasan unlocked the door. She’d probably want them in the hallway, and then Kita-san could help her carry them into the kitchen; Atsumu wouldn’t even make it past the genkan. He was oddly disappointed by the thought. 

“Is inside fine?” Kita-baasan replied, bolstering Atsumu’s genkan-and-then-get-out hypothesis. She beckoned for him to shuffle into the genkan after her, and then she took a step up into the hallway proper and kept beckoning. “Come on in, come on in! Here, I’ve got some slippers for you – they should be big enough, you know, all you volleyball players are so tall but I make sure to be prepared.”

“Oh,” Atsumu said, feeling a smile come, unbidden, to his lips. “Thank you. I’m sure they’ll fit.”

They were, in fact, a little big. Kita-baasan had probably been thinking of Oomimi-level giants – although it wasn’t like Atsumu was that much shorter than Oomimi, and besides, he definitely still had growing to do! 8cm was nothing! He’d catch up to Oomimi in no time, and then he would fit into these slippers perfectly.

“Thank you so much, Atsumu-kun, you’ve been carrying all of this for so long,” Kita-baasan fussed over him. “Just put it down here, just here is fine.” As he set the shopping down, she turned into the house and called out, “Shin-chan, I’m home! And look who I brought back with me!”

“Welcome home!” Kita-san’s voice echoed back. “I’ll be out in a moment, granny - I’m almost done. Who’s our visitor?” Atsumu had thought it a little odd that Kita-san hadn’t greeted them as soon as he’d heard the key turn in the front door lock, but now that he strained his ears, the sound of a faint sizzling emanated from deeper within the house. Kita-san probably hadn’t been able to hear them over the sound of the cooking.

Kita-baasan flashed Atsumu a mischievous smile and pressed a finger to her lips. He played along, miming zipping his mouth shut. “Why, a prospective grandchild-in-law!” she declared.

What. What. What?!

“Again?” Kita-san sounded closer now, his voice louder than before, and hey, wait, what did he mean by again? Was this a common occurrence in the Kita household? Exactly how often did his granny bring random people home for impromptu omiai?!

But wait, at least this meant that Atsumu met Kita-baasan’s standards for a prospective in-law, right? Even if she was just joking, it wasn’t as if she would hand over her beloved grandson to just anyone, right? So she definitely had to approve of Atsumu, at least on some level. Which meant he’d made it. He’d made it into her good books!

Damn, turned out that helping old ladies with their shopping really worked. Atsumu would have to do it more often.

To his right, a door suddenly slid open, and out stepped Kita-san, accompanied by an eddy of heat from the kitchen and a mouthwatering scent.

“Oh, Atsumu, hello,” he said. He was wearing a blue apron, shirt sleeves pushed up past his elbows, and from the sweat on his brow and the brush of pink across his cheeks, it was obvious that he’d only just stepped away from the stove.

“Hi. Hi, Kita-san,” Atsumu stammered. His own face was turning red, too. It must have been from the heat.

It felt like ages since he’d last seen him - seen him properly, at least. Atsumu had caught a glimpse of his pale head in the lunch queue yesterday, before the crowd closed in and carried him away. Kita-san still came to practice, sometimes, but he hadn’t been able to make it all week; with graduation less than a month away, he was getting busier and busier, and volleyball was becoming a smaller and smaller part of his life.

Of course, that was only to be expected. Kita-san had always made it clear that he wouldn’t keep playing past high school. Even if they’d made it past their very first match at the Spring High, they would’ve only been able to stand on the court together for a little while longer.

For a moment, Kita-san just studied him. Then the corners of his mouth tugged upwards minutely - not quite a smile. But perhaps the suggestion of one, just about his eyes.

Atsumu’s face got even warmer. Wow, that sure was some heat coming from the kitchen! Maybe they needed to fix their extractor fan.

“Here you go, Shin-chan,” Kita-baasan said, passing over one of the bags she’d personally carried all the way home. The lash of irritation that Atsumu felt as she reached between them was completely unreasonable; even he could tell that. “Sorry I took so long - I know we have lots at home, but it’s just that this one particular brand goes so well with what you’re cooking… I hope I didn’t make you wait too long!” 

“Not at all. You’re just in time for dinner,” Kita-san replied, that hint of a smile blossoming open as he received his shichimi. “You sure bought a lot again, granny. Did Atsumu help you carry it home?”

“He certainly did,” Kita-baasan beamed back at him. “Saw me struggling in the street and offered to help on the spot! You know -” and here, the look in her eyes turned sly, “- he’s such a kind young man, and so handsome too. Wouldn’t he be a nice grandson-in-law, Shin-chan?”

There was such fondness in Kita-san’s smile that Atsumu felt a bit like he’d been spiked directly in the face. Or maybe that was just the shock of such shameless matchmaking. “I’m sure he would,” Kita-san said, clearly indulging his granny. “But I don't think either of us are quite ready for marriage just yet. Are we, Atsumu?”

“Um,” Atsumu said. It was one thing to witness his old captain openly emoting towards the grandma he so dearly loved; it was quite another to have Kita-san turn the full force of that smile upon him. “Um. I. I want to win gold at the Olympics first.”

Kita-san’s expression became, if it was possible, even fonder. A trick of the light. Surely it was a trick of the light.

“There we go,” he said, turning back to his granny. “He’ll have to win gold for Japan first.”

“I eagerly await your victory,” Kita-baasan said with great solemnity. Then her face broke out into a wide smile. “But before then, why don’t we have Atsumu-kun over for dinner? We’ve got more than enough food tonight, right?”

Kita-san cocked his head slightly, as if he was calibrating the amount of food he’d made relative to what he knew of Atsumu’s portion size. “Hmm, yes,” he said after a few seconds. “How about it, Atsumu? Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Yes I would love to,” Atsumu blurted out. Dinner! At Kita-san’s! Eating Kita-san’s home-made food! What sort of idiot would turn that down!

Then, with a start, he remembered his manners. “Oh, but I wouldn’t want to be an inconvenience…”

“Not at all, not at all,” Kita-baasan said, her eyes crinkling. “As long as your parents don’t mind us having you over.”

“They definitely, definitely won’t mind,” Atsumu reassured her immediately. “Osamu eats enough for both of us. Osamu could eat for triplets. No, quadruplets.” 

“Well, that’s sorted, then! Come through to the kitchen and let’s all have dinner.”

God, how he just wanted to say yes right now. But Kita-baasan’s opinion of him right now had to be at an all-time high, and he couldn’t fall short of that. Through gritted teeth, he forced out just one more refusal, just to be super-ultra-extra polite: “Oh, but I really couldn’t…”

Ask me one more time, just ask me one more time, he chanted in his mind. One more time and I can say yes!

Like the moment before the perfect set - like snatching victory from the jaws of, well, victory - he watched Kita-baasan’s mouth open in slow motion, already forming the words it’s fine. But Kita-san beat her to it. 

“You should stay,” he said. “Don’t refuse something you want just to be polite.”

Atsumu nodded energetically in agreement. Of course! Only an idiot would do that! “Thank you, Kita-san, Kita-baasan! I’m looking forward to the meal!”

Once again, that suggestion of a smile on Kita-san’s face. “Let your parents know, and then we can go eat.”

One quick phone call later, Atsumu followed Kita-san into the kitchen, receiving a cheerful wave from Kita-baasan as she packed the perishables into the fridge. 

“Sit down, sit down,” she urged, and Atsumu obliged, pulling out a chair at the dining table and taking a deep breath of the enticing aroma which enveloped him. Abura-age, he thought, or perhaps something deeper, richer. Inari-age?

On the stove sat a couple of matched pans, wafting steam and that delicious smell, but before Atsumu could take a sneak peek at their contents, Kita-san stepped in front of them and began assembling the dishes. 

But that was fine; Atsumu could wait. He wanted to make the most of this rare privilege. He wanted to take everything in. All the sights and sounds of Kita-san’s home, all the smells; all the little nooks and crannies, lived-in and full of love.

The kitchen was neat and tidy, even though Kita-san had just been cooking - he was the type to wash up as he went, of course. There were orderly piles of books and magazines on the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the living space, and plants set all around, green and flourishing magnificently despite the winter season. Atsumu could almost see Kita-san going around with a little watering can every morning, petting the wilting leaves of the plants that weren’t getting enough sunshine, and having a stern talking-to with those that were hogging all the light.

Kita-baasan finished up at the fridge and bustled across to help Kita-san with the bowls, grabbing the shichimi along the way. Atsumu was too far away to make out all the details, but he could see that the fridge was completely covered in photos - snaps of Kita-san, in his school uniform, in Inarizaki red, in casual clothes, on holiday, most often with his grandma but sometimes with two other adults too. 

Atsumu didn’t know too much about the whole situation, but he knew it was often just Kita-san and his grandma at home. His parents were busy folks, and they were more of a presence in the baby photos - and they had to be baby photos, Atsumu was dying to look at them more closely, to pore over every last pixel of Kita-san’s adorable fluffy hair and chubby baby cheeks - than they had ever been at Inarizaki matches.

Atsumu was so busy squinting - well, glaring, more like - at the frozen faces of Kita-san’s parents that he almost missed the picture at the very top of the fridge. There, pinned right at Kita-san’s eye level, was the commemorative photo they’d taken after the Karasuno match, blown up big enough that Atsumu could read the characters behind them: we don’t need things like memories.

“Here,” Kita-san said, prompting Atsumu to tear his eyes away from the photo, blinking quickly. He placed a bowl in front of Atsumu and set his own down opposite, while Kita-baasan took the seat at the head of the table and passed out chopsticks and hashioki.

“Thank you. Thank you,” Atsumu said, eyes going wide as he stared down at the meal before him. 

He’d been right; it was inari-age he’d smelled, golden-brown and perfectly seasoned, the proper home-made kind rather than overly sweet store-bought stuff. On top, Kita-san had added slices of frilled narutomaki with soft pink curls at their hearts; delicate shavings of scallions; a sprinkle of shichimi. And all this floating on a bed of udon, half-submerged in a rich dashi broth.

“Shin-chan is so talented, isn’t he?” Kita-baasan smiled, practically glowing with pride. “Kitsune udon is my favourite in the winter months, so he’s worked hard at making it for me. It’s just wonderful.”

Wonderful, Atsumu thought. Kita-san looked quietly on his granny, hair falling about his ears, not quite hiding the tender smile tucked into corners of his mouth. The warmth from the udon unfurled around him, weaving itself into an answering warmth deep within Atsumu’s chest. Just like everything else in his life, Kita-san had done this properly - worked hard, put all his heart into it, because it was the right thing to do. Because it made someone he loved happy.

Kita-san’s parents were idiots. Atsumu would be the luckiest person in the world, to come back to a home like this.

“Thank you for the meal,” he murmured, bowing his head, and the two Kitas - the only two Kitas he gave a shit about - followed suit.

When he glanced up, it was to see Kita-san, gazing steadily back at him. 

“Thank you for helping my granny, Atsumu,” he said. “Thank you for being here.” There was something almost soft in his gaze. Something which made it difficult for Atsumu to meet his eyes, and even more difficult to look away.

“Now,” he continued, “let’s eat.” And Atsumu gladly obeyed.