6:00 AM - Wake Up. Take shower (15 minutes, cold water, don’t forget ears, neck, fingernails, belly button, ass.) Brush teeth (2 minutes). Floss. Mouthwash. Read news.
Sakusa Kiyoomi lived in a penthouse in the old east. Despite the fancy term and the rooftop terrace, it was nothing special. Just another one of many hundred-and-forty year old piece of shit buildings in Friedrichshain that got gentrified to high hell.
He first rented the place back when he was still an undergrad, long before the shiny new paint job and renovated kitchens. Sakusa almost missed the old look: water-stained facade, bullet holes from The War, utterly hideous graffiti, and a considerably un-trendy thrift shop on the ground floor. It was ugly, but at least it had character.
Sakusa was a grad student when the gentrifiers rolled around, evicting the unwanteds and transforming the neighborhood into Hipster Hell. Buy your apartment or get out, they’d told him. Asking price: One million Euros. We’ll renovate it if you do. Sakusa’s neighbors all fled the moment the brokers opened their mouths to say ‘million,’ precisely what the new owners wanted.
Sakusa merely shrugged and signed a check. 1.2 million. For his apartment and for exclusive access to the rooftop terrace. Pocket change.
A few months later, the building’s facade was redone in a bright hipster friendly paint job and his apartment was newly refurbished. Naturally, his classmates took it upon themselves to throw a house party. After all, dodo sightings were far more common than a grad student buying a condo.
It was a miserable ordeal. All the Anthropology department grad students showed up, arms overflowing with whatever foreign alcohol they could get their hands on. Soju. Caña Manabita. Good Martinican rum. Sakusa allowed it. They were noisy but they at least cleaned up after themselves and were respectable enough to not touch any of his very old vases. The undergrads who snuck in were a different story.
Let’s just say Sakusa considered bringing defenestration back into fashion that evening.
His home was a lot more quiet these days. Now that he was Doctor Sakusa, his peers had all scattered to the wind. The universities of America. The jungles of Tenochtitlan. The steppes of Eurasia.
One classmate lived in Japan. He flitted from city to city, documenting modern and ancient sites, and was constantly sending Sakusa photos of his homeland. He hardly recognized it anymore. It'd been a long time.
Sakusa didn’t mind the quiet much. The penthouse had become his fortress of solitude in the middle of the German capital. Books lined the shitty IKEA bookcases covering every single centimeter of wall in his hallway — all neatly alphabetized by Author, Title, and Edition. The rooftop terrace was covered in plants — fruit trees, massive ferns, ivy that tumbled over the balustrade. The wood parquet floors exhaled as he danced over them, record player crackling as it spins vinyl — from Tchaikovsky to Coltrane to Jepsen.
Eventually, he would need to move on. Carve his initials into the foundations of another town, another city, another country.
But for now, Berlin was his home.
7:00 AM - Make coffee. Do not, under any circumstance, get coffee on your commute. Starbucks is trash. Coffee Fellows is mediocre. Cook, if you are feeling ambitious. Eat breakfast. Stop skipping meals.
Sakusa’s coffee maker is busted.
This was inevitable.
Ya treat yer stuff like trash, Omi. Atsumu said once.
That wasn’t true.
His miniature library and vinyl collection were a testament to the contrary. He carefully maintained an optimal temperature and humidity for preservation. And it worked. Not a single book in his collection was marred by crinkled or yellowed pages. And his vintage Billie Holidays sparkled as brightly spinning on the player as his copy of Future Nostalgia did.
Visiting colleagues — those stopping by for coffee or impromptu catch-ups — were always baffled to find his home mirroring his conservation studio.
Sakusa had also considered converting his rooftop terrace into a proper greenhouse. Help his babies survive the cold Berlin winters without having to transform his spare bedroom into a jungle. It'd be stupidly expensive, and he was positive the building's owners would throw a fit. But money is just money. And he was entirely too old to care about the opinions of idiots. It was his terrace after all.
They’d had an argument that night.
That, too, was inevitable.
“Ya treat yer stuff like trash, Omi.”
He’s never been fond of electronics. They should be easy to understand. Fossil fuels mutated and forged into plastic parts. The earth’s bounty of elements — copper, tin, lithium, aluminium, gold. And mathematics was one of the few constants in the universe.
But once all those pieces of the puzzle were slotted together into circuit boards and diodes, they no longer made sense.
At least, that was his excuse when he broke the microwave. And when he broke the television. And when he broke Atsumu’s cell phone — one touted as unbreakable by the manufacturers.
“I never shoulda let ya borrow it!” Atsumu shouted, his voice booming through the entire apartment.
He was rightfully pissed off.
An uneducated outsider would have scoffed at the drama of it all. So much bluster and anger for something as minuscule as a cell phone. A few hundred dollars — chump change to Sakusa — and Atsumu would have a new one.
But it wasn’t about the phone. It was never just one thing when they fought.
The shattered plastic crime scene on the floor of their kitchen was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Atsumu screamed and shouted as he stomped around the apartment hastily shoving his belongings into a duffel bag. Snapped his teeth at Sakusa, plenty of bite to his bark. Accidentally shattered one of Sakusa’s very old vases, leaving ceramic dust coating the toes of his socks.
Throughout the entire debacle, Sakusa simply sat at their dinner table. Legs crossed. Hands folded. Mouth shut.
“I’ve tried so fuckin’ hard, Omi! Why won’t you?”
It was his fault, after all.
He’d broken the cell phone, sure.
But over that last month, he’d become a shadow of himself.
Regressing into the worst Sakusa he could possibly be. Falling into his own personal black hole of emotions and thoughts and lack thereof. Relapsing into old, bad habits from his time without Atsumu. Sleeping less. Eating less.
Gradually distancing himself from Atsumu.
It was better that way. Less painful for himself.
After all, Sakusa could see the end from one hundred forty-nine point five million kilometers away.
And thus, Mount Atsumu erupted without resistance. Flooded their apartment with molten hot lava, choked their lungs with noxious gases, and left flecks of volcanic ash on Sakusa’s heart.
“I can’t fuckin’ stand you!”
Said unbreakable broken cell phone was flung — with truly impressive force — out the window of their apartment. Sakusa never bothered to look, but he was certain it was shattered into oblivion in the street.
The door slammed and Atsumu was gone.
Sakusa hadn’t seen him since.
Probably never will.
8:00 AM - Commute to work. Take the S3, S5 or S9 (whichever comes first) at Warschauer Strasse. Do not touch the railings in the S-Bahn station. Get off at the Hackescher Markt. Do not get off at Alexanderplatz, Kiyoomi. I repeat, do not get off at Alexanderplatz. Walk to the museum.
Sakusa gets off the S-Bahn at Alexanderplatz.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, despite his set schedule’s insistent warnings.
In fact, there’s something strangely romantic about jogging down the steps of the Bahnhof, pushing past the shops and fast food joints, and finding yourself face to face with the massive television tower flanked by grey, unremarkable architecture.
He’d gone up the tower entirely once. Looked out through the green-tinged glass at the metropolitan sprawl. Pretty wasn’t a word he’d use to describe Berlin as a whole. It was an ugly mishmash of architecture. Baroque cathedrals and palaces, with massive pleasure gardens lined with statues. Brutalist concrete bunkers thrown up during the postwar rebuild — housing museums, parishes, and families. Soviet Era cinemas and housing blocks that stood as staunch reminders of the divided past. Modern hotels and condos that resembled fucked-up Tetris games more than they did actual buildings.
Beautiful, perhaps, was a better term for it.
Sakusa never went up again. Seen it once, seen it a million times.
What his past self vehemently warned against, however, was the throng of people choking the passageways of the station. The filthy railings and floors that made his skin crawl.
The temptation of shitty chain restaurant coffee. Bitterness that bit at his tongue and left a burnt aftertaste in his mouth. Starbucks. Dunkin Donuts. Coffee Fellows.
He gives in.
Atsumu would be disappointed.
I know ya hate that shit. Why do ya torture yerself like this, Omi?
But it’s not like he’s here, is he?
You know, Atsumu... I think I just enjoy being disgusted.
“Hello!” The barista trilled at him in English. She probably took one look at him and made assumptions. Sakusa didn’t mind, he knew how eager some of the denizens of Berlin were to practice their English. “How can I help you?”
“Coffee, light roast, black.” He responded in German, setting his personal steel travel mug on the counter. Eyebrows raised as if he’d just recited the entirety of King Lear and not basic phrasebook German. “And two cherry Danishes, thank you.”
The barista tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, shooting him a tiny grin as she entered his order into the computer. Sakusa didn’t need any of his many degrees to know she was going to attempt to flirt with him in approximately 3… 2… 1…
“Do you live around here?”
There it was.
“Yes, in Friedrichshain.” Sakusa slid his card through the machine, careful not to touch the plastic casing. He plucked a pen out of his bag to tap in his pin. “I moved here for University.”
“Cool!” She smiled, mega-watt bright. “What do you study?”
“Studied.” He tucked the pen away. “I have a doctorate in Anthropology.”
“Oh!” Her increasing disinterest was palpable as she slid his now-full travel mug back to him. He wiped it down quickly with a disposable wipe. She nibbled her lower lip, trying desperately to hold back whatever comment she had bouncing around in her head. “Sounds difficult, you must’ve been studying for a long time.”
“Not really. It comes naturally to me.”
“Cool.” She most certainly did not think it was cool. A bag filled with his pastries was set in front of him. “Do you work on Museum Island, then?”
“Yes, the Neues.” He plucked the pastry bag off the counter and left his statement at that. No use continuing to make small talk. “Have a good day.” He offered, dryly.
The coffee was significantly less than delicious. Leaning on the medium side of the light roast spectrum. Uneven flavors of burnt and unburnt that made him sneer with displeasure.
He hated when Atsumu was right.
The final reason Sakusa swore to not get off at Alexanderplatz was the path he had to walk to the museum. If he got off at Hackescher Markt, he’d have a pleasant stroll across the quiet Friedrichs Bridge. A chance to enjoy the stunning view of the deep blue-black waters of the Spree and the columned shoreline near the art museum.
The path from Alexanderplatz to work led him along the stubby bridge near the cathedral, no more than eighteen meters long. The bridge was terminally filled with throngs of tourists eagerly waiting for the museums to open, cart vendors hawking Soviet era patches and trinkets, and countless locks fastened to the railings.
He put a lock on that bridge once. ‘SK + MA’ carved into the metal. Tossed the key into the river.
It was no longer there, naturally. City workers came by occasionally with bolt cutters to remove the rusted ones. Took those symbols of eternal love and melted them down for reuse elsewhere.
Still, that didn’t halt the ache in his chest every time he crossed the bridge.
I miss him.
9:00 AM - Leave your bag and belongings in your office. Say good morning to Frau Schlitz in the cloakroom. Make the rounds around the museum. Say good morning to Frau Nefertiti on the first floor.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
— Robert Frost
Sakusa kept the poem framed on the wall in his office, beneath snapshots of him in Egypt and high-quality photocopies of his many diplomas.
It was a gift from Atsumu.
They say the world is gonna end next year.
No, it's not. They say that every year.
I just have this feelin' they're right this time.
Or, well, that's what Sakusa assumed.
It had arrived in his mailbox a few weeks after Atsumu stormed out.
The words were handwritten, in metallic golden ink and utilized a skilled calligraphic technique. Certainly not something Atsumu would've done on his own.
But rather, his beloved Kita.
Omi Omi! Look what Kita-san sent me!
They were classmates together. A part of Atsumu’s world Sakusa was completely divorced from. Teammates. Friends. There was this jealousy, somewhere, deep in the recesses of Sakusa’s heart. That Atsumu and Kita had been something more once.
It was foolish for him to be jealous. Just another bad habit he’d developed over the course of his life.
When Atsumu had stormed out of the apartment that night, he’d left behind a considerable number of belongings. Mostly clothes, photos, tacky knick knacks — shit that didn’t matter in the long run. But on the top shelf of Atsumu’s closet, he’d left behind a shoebox. Full of handwritten letters Kita had sent him.
Sakusa never read any of them.
Instead, he sealed the box up and hid it elsewhere. To collect dust and unfortunately, not be forgotten about.
Sakusa had written a letter himself, penning it after Atsumu left.
It hadn’t been addressed to Atsumu, no. But to Kita.
Please take care of him. He really admires you.
In return, several weeks later, one arrived. The final correspondence.
I will. Thank you for entrusting him with me, Sakusa. I wish it hadn't ended this way.
This morning, Sakusa found himself strolling through the collection, the way he did every day.
There was something sublime about wandering around an empty museum. Nothing could compare to the sound of his shoes clacking against the marble floor, the morning sunlight gently streaming through the lofty windows and the peaceful solitude of ancient stone kings overseeing their silent kingdoms.
Two rooms were dedicated to the spoils of ancient Asia Minor. First taken from Turkey to Greece by a man more thief than archaeologist. Then to Germany, tucked away in a secure place during The War. When the city fell, the treasures were locked in a vault in Moscow for decades. And then sent back to Berlin, again.
They deserved to be repatriated back to Turkey and perhaps one day will be, but for now Sakusa could keep them safe.
He wasn't the curator, not by a long shot. But when a pair of Milesian statues — long hidden in a private collection — came up for an auction, he encouraged Doctor Leonhardt to jump on the opportunity.
Sakusa stood before them now, looking at the finely carved facial features that have endured the test of time.
The Olympian twins. The warm god of the sun, harbinger of dawn in his gilded chariot. The cold goddess of the moon, lady protector of the wilds.
Apollo was draped in decadent fabric, probably once a prismatic painted swathe of Tyrian purple or dragon's blood. Colors long lost to centuries of burial. In one hand he clutched his lyre, several of his fingers broken off mid-strum. The other held that of his sister's, standing united against some foul, unseen opponent.
Artemis would've once held a bow in her free hand, ready to release her brother's hand, pull an arrow from the quiver on her back, and strike at any moment. The fierce look somehow reflected in her now blank eyes proved it. She was in worse shape — the lower half of her left leg gone and the only evidence of her weapon was a broken chunk of marble in her hand.
Sakusa was more fond of them than he cared to admit.
There was a theory amongst the Classical archaeologists that — due to the twins' unusual posing and Artemis' body type — this wasn't meant to be a true representation of the Olympian twins. But rather a pair of brothers, famous actors from antiquity donning costumes of the gods.
As he stared at the statues' spotlight illuminated faces, it wasn't Atsumu — his personal deity of the sun — he thought of.
But rather Osamu.
Several years ago, Rintarou had given him a call. Just checking in, he claimed. He asked about work, about how Berlin was treating Sakusa, about his plans for the future. But his concern was dual-bladed, the poisonous Do you miss Atsumu? tucked under his tongue, hidden in plain sight.
Yes, I miss him. Sakusa had provided after being prodded one too many times.
After carefully extracting that truth, Rintarou proceeded to talk about himself — with his entirely-too-intelligent, sharp-toothed bite of a voice. Told him about Tokyo, and oh , how he wished Sakusa would come home someday. Told him — in detail — when he planned on retiring from the V.League. Told him about his decision to eventually work with Osamu in the restaurant.
Osamu. His beloved god of the moon.
Rintarou and Osamu had always been sturdier than he and Atsumu, throughout their entire relationship. Always knew how to find each other. Always communicated their concerns. Always worked their problems out hand-in-hand.
That’s not to say he and Atsumu were bad for each other. They were just fundamentally different people. Nothing like Rin-and-Samu’s hivemind that worked a little too well.
Sakusa wondered what he would say if the planets aligned and Rintarou decided to phone him today. Would he tell him that his world, all those years ago, had ended in fire?
Sakusa didn’t know much about astrophysics. Just a smattering of crumbs he’s picked up throughout the years. But he did know that eventually the sun would evolve into a red giant, growing so large it engulfs a third of the Solar System.
Then its destined path forks. Death by exploding into a vibrant, furious supernova burning hotter than anything humans could possibly fathom. Or death by collapsing into an icy black dwarf, barely above absolute zero.
Rintarou would laugh, call him dramatic. And he’d be right.
Still, he wondered if perhaps one day, Rintarou’s world would end in ice.
10:00 AM - Answer emails. Try to be polite, no matter how stupid the query. Do not break your computer.
Doctor Kiyoomi Sakusa
Chief Conservator, Neues Museum
Sakusa never was too fond of the title 'Doctor.'
He'd earned it through hard work and dedication, so naturally he was going to use it. But there was no joy to be had from the way his name rolled off the tongues of his colleagues and clients.
At this point, he didn't bother to correct pronunciations.
Thankfully there were exceptions to every rule.
Doctor Leonhardt called him Kiyoomi. Perhaps a bit informal for a boss referring to his employee. But in exchange, he allowed Sakusa to call him Wolfgang.
Erika Suzuki, his intern. She was an art history major who knew next to nothing about ancient history. Sakusa had been the sole conservator on the island seeking an intern when she applied. Conservation was conservation, he supposed.
Still, he didn't miss the look of longing in her eyes every time they passed the Alte Nationalgalerie as they walked to lunch together. Craving to oversee Friedrichs and Manets more than Akhenatens and Tiberiuses.
It was enjoyable, though, being able to talk to someone in his native tongue.
"Good morning, Erika."
He hit send on the email.
"Doctor Leonhardt stopped by while ya were gone. After yer done with your office work, he wanted ya to help re-organize the lab." There was an unmistakable Kansai-ben lilt to her Japanese. Kyoto, if he could remember correctly. Not quite identical to Atsumu's accent but close enough to bring a twinge to the corners of his mouth and a soft spot in his chest. "Somethin' about bones?"
"Right, thank you."
She hesitated in the doorway, probably unsure if she should help him with his office work or come back later. Most people sent their interns to run pointless errands or get coffee, but that was unfair.
"You can sit down, if you want." He offered. "Chat or read Tweeter, whatever."
Erika laughed. "It's Twitter, Sakusa-Otchan."
Sakusa pinched his brow as he moved on to the next email. "Right. Well, you know how I am with technology."
"Do ya mind if I watch somethin' on my phone? I forgot my headphones."
He waved his hand. "Go ahead."
Thumps came through the tinny phone speakers, along with tidbits of half-shouted Japanese. "What is it?"
"Yeah!" Erika beamed. "I always miss th' games live cause of the time difference."
"Do ya watch?" Erika paused the video, the commentator getting cut off mid-sentence.
"Used to. Too busy these days."
"Sad but understandable. Didja have a favorite team?"
Sakusa bit his tongue as he hit send on another email. Being honest would invite a lot more questions than he wanted to entertain. "I was always fond of EJP."
"Oh!" Her face lit up. "That's my fave team! This is their game against the Falcons!"
Sakusa glanced at the polaroid taped to the bottom of his monitor. Him, Rintarou, and the twins on vacation in Los Angeles, outside of a concert venue. Atsumu's hair was a horrendous shade of orangey blonde, and Rintarou’s outfit could probably get him tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity.
"Do you want to see something?"
Erika tilted her head, blinking owlishly.
Sakusa carefully peeled the polaroid up, leaned across the table and handed it to her.
"H….holy shit." She grinned. "That's Miya Rintarou?! Ya know him?"
"Mhm." She had the polaroid mere centimeters from her face, eyes soaking up every detail.
“That’s so cool! What’s the story there?” Sakusa watched her turn the polaroid around, checking to see if there was anything written on the back. It was blank, so was the label beneath the photo.
“We grew up together. But, he’s also my brother-in-law.”
Her jaw dropped. “I didn’t know ya were married, Sakusa-san!”
His fingers instinctively brushed against his chest, feeling the cold metal of the ring beneath his sweater press into his skin. You’re oversharing, Kiyoomi. But then he glanced back at Erika, excitement clear on her face.
Sakusa hated how all it took for his heart to go soft was the tiniest twinge of Kansai-ben.
“Ah, technically, I’m not. We planned on it, but haven’t worked it out yet.” He let his hand drop from his chest. “Perhaps one day.”
Or perhaps not.
“Oh.” Erika’s eyebrows furrowed for a brief moment as she handed the polaroid back to him. She followed it up with a shit eating grin, so similar to Atsumu’s fox smile that he felt an ache in his sternum. Directly beneath the ring. “I planned on stealin’ yer phone to setcha up a Tinder account, but I guess I can’t do that, huh?”
Sakusa allowed himself to smile as he re-attached the photo. Was everyone from Kansai an utter shithead? “Probably for the best you don’t.”
Doctor Kiyoomi Sakusa
Chief Conservator, Neues Museum
The final email of the morning, sent off.
“Erika?” She looked up from her game, head tilted. “I’ll need you to join me in the bone lab just so I can go over the basic procedures with you. But once that’s over, I talked to Doctor Straube and she’s totally down to have you help for the afternoon.”
“W...wait… really?” Her eyes lit up. “ The Evelynn Straube? At the—”
“Mhm. She has a yellowed Friedrich that requires some attention.” Sakusa glanced back at the polaroid — those smiling faces he hasn’t seen in so very long. “And she owes me a favor.”
“Thank you so much!”
11:00 AM - Lab work. Stay hydrated.
Sakusa had always been a fan of jazz and blues, more so than any other genre.
He didn’t deny that Mozart's Jupiter or Beethoven’s Adelaide were grand masterworks of music. But nothing could compare to the playful swing of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, piano played like it's an extension of his soul. To Ella Fitzgerald’s multitude of octaves, smoother than melted chocolate and oh, so much sweeter. To the revolutionary Sister Rosetta Tharpe, eyes rolling back in her head as she wove her faith into the strings of her electric guitar.
I get along without you very well,
Of course, I do
Today, he had opted for Nina Simone, her deep, low contralto echoing through the marrow of his bones.
Fitting, as it was the bone lab that needed his attention.
The word lab makes it seem like it's a much fancier place than it actually is. No lab coats were to be found in what was essentially an oversized storage room in the basement of the museum. Racks lined the walls with pull out trays filled with faunal bones once discovered in situ with human artifacts, labelled with the archaeological site and the age of the specimens, if known.
Except when soft rains fall,
And drip from leaves that I recall,
The thrill of being sheltered in your arms
The selection of mummies they possessed were elsewhere, safe and sound in a cool, dark room. He didn’t go in there unless absolutely necessary.
Not out of fear, it’d be beyond idiotic for an Egyptologist to be scared of mummies. And not out of germaphobia, it was standard to handle the remains carefully, with gloves and a mask.
That brown linen wrapped tightly over desiccated bodies simply brought back memories that Sakusa preferred to forget.
Of course, I do,
But I get along without you very well
He sighed as he pulled a tray out. The labeling had been done several decades ago, the clear nail polish now yellowed, chipped, and on some fragments, even completely gone. Their museum didn’t feature many bones — a grand elk skeleton, other ancient megafauna, and a handful of Cro-Magnon remains from the stone age — so those in storage were often left alone for ages, waiting to get sent elsewhere.
I’ve forgotten you, just like I said I would,
Of course, I have
Labeling artifacts was tedious. If Sakusa were a crueler mentor, he would keep Erika here. Made her be the one to squint at the bones, swipe a tiny strip of adhesive onto the surface, carefully hand write the inventory number with a calligraphy pen, watch the ink dry, finish with a top coat, then carefully log the number and description of the item into a computer.
But he knew he’d finish faster alone than he would with her help. Besides, he enjoyed the tedium.
Well, until he looked up from his work and the world spun.
Or maybe except when I hear your name,
Someone’s laugh that’s just the same
The cassette in the bone lab’s tape player was Sakusa’s, one he’d brought from home and left in his office.
He was on the way to Atsumu’s place — before they moved in together — when he bought it. Dinners and evenings together were always so much more pleasant with music. But Sakusa could neither trust Atsumu’s taste in music nor could he haul his record player all the way over there.
I’ve forgotten you,
Just like I should
Atsumu was preparing dinner and bobbing his head to the noisy punk rock blaring over his tape player when Sakusa slipped into the apartment, unnoticed. He set his belongings — a few last minute groceries, his house keys, and the Nina Simone cassette — on the breakfast bar counter before climbing into a stool.
The final verse of the song swelled, the singer’s voice low, until it crashed into a cacophony of instruments for the chorus. “Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby Soho.” Atsumu sang along as he strummed his air guitar.
He spun around to face Sakusa, eyes closed. “Ruuuuuby Ruuu-” They open and grow wide.
What a guy,
What a fool am I,
To think my aching heart could keep the moon
Atsumu wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Yer like a damn ninja, Omi. Give a guy some warnin’ before ya come bargin’ in.”
“You’re the one who invited me over in the first place.”
He cracked that beautiful fox grin. Cheeks tinted rose. The very grin that Sakusa would cross oceans and centuries just to see. “Right, right.”
Sakusa slid the cassette across the counter towards Atsumu’s hands. “Put this on.”
“What? Ya don’t like Rancid?” Atsumu cackled, bobbing his head to the current song’s bass solo as he danced — if you could call that dancing — towards the tape player. “Everybody’s a damn critic.”
What’s in store,
Should I phone once more?
Atsumu scrunched his nose as he pulled the Rancid tape out and clicked in the Nina Simone. “It’s not gonna be nearly as good as ‘Samu’s but it’ll do.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Piano played as Atsumu pinched chunks of fresh mozzarella and plopped it onto the top layer of lasagna. He slid it into the oven and twirled back to face Sakusa.
“Your dancing is terrible. Have I ever told you that before?”
“‘Course ya have. A million times.” He spun around the breakfast bar until his honey brown eyes were face to face with Sakusa’s midnight black. Fingers slipped over his and hauled him out of the stool. “Why don'tcha teach me?”
No, no, no, no, no,
It’s best that I stick to my tune
"It's a basic step progression." Sakusa said, demonstrating the pattern alone. "You really should know this by now, Atsumu."
Left step, one, two, left step, three, four.
Right step, five, six. Right step, seven, eight.
"'M forgetful." Atsumu grinned.
Sakusa slid one hand out of Atsumu's grasp, wrapping that arm instead loosely over his shoulder.
Left step, one, two, left step, three, four.
Right step, five, six. Right step, seven, eight.
The corners of his lips twinged as he watched Atsumu staring down, tongue poking out in concentration, eyelashes casting downward.
“I’m going to spin you.” Sakusa whispered after several completed rounds, once Atsumu stopped tripping over his own socked feet. “It’s not difficult.”
Atsumu nodded, biting his lower lip.
“When I drop my arm, pivot on your right foot away from me. Then pivot on your left foot back to me.”
That I get along without you very well,
Of course, I do,
Sakusa dropped his arm from Atsumu’s back as he spun, pivoting along the axis of their raised, clasped hands.
They had almost returned to the starting position, when Atsumu’s foot slid on the wood floor and he nearly slipped to the ground.
His half-fallen body was heavy in Sakusa’s grasp, legs bent beneath him, lips parted as he stared up. “I am never dancin’ again, Omi.”
“Perhaps, that was my plan all along.” Were Sakusa’s final words before he leaned down, took Atsumu’s bottom lip between his teeth and kissed him. Zinfandel, hints of raspberry, chocolate, snappy cinnamon. As sweet and as spicy as Atsumu himself.
Except perhaps in spring,
But then I should never, ever think of spring
They part and return to the basic steps, Atsumu’s forehead settling on the crook of his shoulder. His personal deity of the sun traversing — not the sky but — the distance between them, to bring warmth to the recesses of his soul.
Left step, one, two, left step, three, four.
Right step, five, six. Right step, seven, eight.
“She sounds so sad.” He whispered into Sakusa’s collarbone as Nina's voice cracked, all the transcendental feelings in her heart spilling over into her diaphragm.
Sakusa spun them both, nearly bumping into the sofa. “Of course she does, the song is about losing your lover.”
Atsumu was silent for a long moment as the last segment of the song played. “At least that’ll never be us.” He finally spoke, lips brushing against Sakusa’s shirt. “Tsumu and Omi.” He pulled back so they could lock eyes, donning a gentle smile. “Together ‘til the end of the fuckin’ world.”
Another kiss shared, feather soft. Fingers tangling into black curls. Foreheads pressed together in silent reverence.
“Together until the end of the fucking world.” Sakusa echoed.
For that would,
Surely break my heart in two
12:00 PM - Lunch. Please eat, Kiyoomi. It won’t kill you to take a break.
“Doctor Sakusa?” A tiny college student with round glasses poked his head into the bone lab. In Sakusa’s periphery, he noticed the man fidgeting with the sleeves of his massive turtleneck sweater.
“Yes? Can I help you?” Sakusa spoke dryly, not looking up from his calligraphy pen, taking care not to smudge the ink.
“Apologies.” More fidgeting. “It’s nearly lunchtime. Doctor Leonhardt sent me down here to remind you.”
Ah. Great. Now even the volunteers were learning about his bad habits.
It won’t kill you to take a break, his schedule said. Sometimes he wished it would, maybe then he could justify allowing his work to consume his life.
Like so many of his little habits and routines, the schedule was Atsumu’s idea.
(Oh, how he hated to admit when Atsumu was right.)
Sakusa had been at one of his lowest points. Somewhere between jobs, where he didn’t have mundane distractions to pull him away from the raging waterfall inside his skull. Not bogged down by a war or a famine, but simply ancient misery.
Worse than he’d been when Atsumu left.
Meals were skipped. What was the point in eating? He barely ever roused himself out of bed, sometimes sleeping for days. What was the point in getting up?
What was the point in any of it?
Atsumu found him one morning, curled up on the bathroom floor — naked, soaking wet, and half delirious from gnawing hunger. He’d managed to crawl out of the tub but hadn’t made it much further before collapsing. Sakusa recalled the sound of shouting, Omi! , the world a blur as sturdy hands pulled him upright.
He woke up over twenty-four hours later. Dressed in his preferred set of pajamas, curls messily wrapped in a silk scarf. Atsumu was curled up on the bed next to him — asleep, still in his clothes and sporting impressive under eye circles — with his fingers wrapped loosely around Sakusa’s wrist.
On the bedside table was a brand-new planner, folded open to reveal the first page.
If ya wake up before me, this planner is for ya.
If ya turn to the next page, I’ve already written out a schedule.
It’s nothin’ special, but I hope it helps.
I’m always here for ya if ya need me, you’re not alone.
I love you, Kiyoomi
The current iteration of his schedule wasn’t written by Atsumu.
No, wherever he was in the world right now, he certainly wasn’t actively reminding Sakusa not to drink shitty coffee, to not get off at the dirtiest and busiest station in Berlin, and to eat three square meals a day.
But every time it came time for Sakusa to open his planner — the very same one Atsumu had given him years ago, now utterly battered into near oblivion — and update his schedule, he imagined: What would Atsumu say?
Wash yer ass. Stop skipping meals. Do not get off at Alexanderplatz, Kiyoomi. Do not break your computer. Stay hydrated. It won’t kill you to take a break.
Sakusa had a fantasy, one where Atsumu still cared about him. That wherever Atsumu was, he felt pride every time Sakusa successfully followed his schedule. And when he willfully ignored it, Atsumu’s lips pouted and his nose scrunched in annoyance.
But he knew the truth. He never even crossed Atsumu’s thoughts.
“Thank you.” He finally looked up from the bone in his gloved fingers to look at the volunteer clearly. “Anything else?”
“No, that’s all.” The volunteer nodded his head and disappeared.
Sakusa was in the middle of typing up a description when his cell phone — housed in the bulkiest, most damage-proof case on the market — screen lit up.
[Wolfgang Leonhardt]: Kiyoomi, please go eat
[Wolfgang Leonhardt]: Those bones are over a thousand years old
[Wolfgang Leonhardt]: They can wait a little bit longer
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM - Lab work. Stay hydrated. Take at least one bathroom break and one thirty minute break. Wear your glasses if your eyes hurt. Figure out what you’re eating for dinner.
“So, Doctor, what made you get into archaeology?”
When Sakusa was a young boy, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Not that he had many options. Just an average kid in an average world with no ascribed status nor delusions of grandeur.
The idea of studying the complexities of the past certainly wasn’t in his plans.
But now that he was here, in his conservation studio, delicately cleaning fineware ceramics from 200 AD with a toothbrush and a bucket of water, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is probably a cliche but, the past is like a massive unsolved puzzle.” Sakusa stroked a gloved finger over the indented markings along the clay. “Figured I’d throw my pieces into the ring.”
“Cool.” His partner responded, in a dry voice reminiscent of his own. Sakusa wasn’t sure what the kid’s name was, just that he was another student volunteer.
They’d set up a mini production line. Sakusa unloaded the cobwebbed boxes, taking care not to get any spiders on himself or break any of the artifacts. Then cleaned the decades worth of dust, dirt, and — in some cases — ashes and scorch marks off the pieces.
If a piece was sturdy enough, he’d pass it off to the student so he could take photos of it, record it in the inventory, before shelving it. Sakusa would take care of the more fragile ceramics himself.
“Have you actually contributed anything?” The student donned a bored expression like a badge of honor. Sakusa felt like he was looking at a mirror.
“Digs every year since undergrad.” Sakusa gave his vessel one final scrub before passing it on. “Found plenty of artifacts. Helped translate some old inscriptions. Probably not whatever Lara Croft shit you’re thinking of.”
The student merely grunted as he carefully angled the camera towards the vessel. “Why Egypt, specifically?”
He first visited Egypt when he was considerably younger, a time in his life when he was ruled by innocent naivety.
Atsumu had joined him on his lengthy journey westward. Bitched and moaned the entire trip, but by the time they reached the Eastern Desert, Atsumu had stars in his eyes. The splendor of the ancient cities, the vast lush farmlands of the green Nile delta, the great pyramids towering over Kher Neter.
Egypt suited Atsumu. He had a perfect complexion that allowed him to tan to a deep golden brown — chest and cheekbones dotted with constellations of freckles. The vibrant off-white of his linen clothing beautifully contrasted his skin and accentuated his thighs. Smile honeyed, eyes soft as he greeted the locals. Quiet I love you ’s whispered beneath grape-vine pergolas, in the shade of sycamore trees, and beside lotus-filled ponds.
Give him the head of a falcon and Sakusa would’ve confused him for Amun-Ra himself.
“It’s a fascinating place.” Sakusa said. “The puzzle of their history is missing many pieces. I may have a few.”
He’d returned to the Nile countless times since that adventure with Atsumu. For business, for pleasure, even lived there.
It brought him joy, to recall how it felt to stand amongst the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings, gazing out across a grand empire of golden limestone, malachite farmland, and azurite skies. How it felt to brush his fingers along the crumbled columns of the ancient city of Thebes. How it felt to carefully explore underground passageways beneath modern Luxor, eyes trailing over painted gods and hieroglyph carved walls.
Nothing like it’d been at its prime 3000 years ago, but perhaps that was what made it beautiful in its own way.
The student pondered his answer for a long time.
“Bit arrogant, don’t you think?”
Sakusa couldn’t help but laugh, startling the kid. “I think, after all this time, I’m allowed to be arrogant.”
4:00 PM - Clean up your work. Answer any outstanding emails (politely, Kiyoomi). Make a final round around the museum.
“Good night.” Sakusa spoke softly, bowing politely to the Bust of Nefertiti. Though he was the museum’s chief conservator, she was its true protector. Heterochromatic eyes — one coal black, the other empty chalk white — staring down the long corridors that stretch out from her throne room.
“So obedient, Omi.”
Sakusa slowly straightened, eyes not straying from Nefertiti’s gaze. There was the tiniest hint of an amused smile on her stucco lips. “Atsumu.” He spoke, seeing the faintest reflection of his form in the glass case.
Atsumu took another step towards him, the soles of his shoes clacking against the tile floor.
“Aren’tcha gonna turn around and lemme see ya?”
Sakusa adjusted his sweater and turned slowly.
Atsumu looked young, a fact punctuated by his trendy haircut, his dark locks bleached into a pleasant pale blonde and a fashionable outfit appropriate for Berlin’s rainy fall. Nothing about him resembled the angry Atsumu that had stormed out of his life. He seemed happy.
“Look at ya. Beautiful as ever, Omi.” Atsumu's grin — the one Sakusa was willing to chase until the end of days — grew, eyes crinkling. “Don’t look a day over 25. Your skincare routine must be incredible, truly.”
Despite the ache in his bones, that deep set desire to touch, Sakusa made no effort to get closer. Preferred to stay firmly under the protective gaze of the bust behind him. “I assume you’ve gotten your memories back, then.”
Atsumu shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. He’d always been a bit thick in the head, but he was more than familiar with Sakusa’s body language by now. Keep your distance unless invited. “Yeah. Kita-san found me a few weeks ago.”
He fished a carefully folded piece of paper out of his pocket and wielded it between two knuckles with a flourish. “He showed me yer letter and everythin’ came rushin’ back.”
Please take care of him. He really admires you.
“I’m surprised he kept it all this time.”
“Yeah, well.” Atsumu glanced away, eyes focusing on one of the frescoes on the ceiling of Nefertiti’s rotunda. “He cares about me. And you, for that matter. Wanted to help me come home.”
“How is he?”
“Still in Japan, livin’ on the farm. He’s got a whole damn family now. Ya remember Aran? They’re married now. Got two daughters. I think their oldest is startin’ uni soon.” Atsumu pulled his cell phone out of his other pocket and held it out.
Memories of the last time they’d seen each other.
Of the hellfire blazing through honey eyes, through their apartment, through Sakusa’s gut.
“Omi. It’s been twenty years. Haven’t you forgiven yerself?”
Sakusa could easily conceal his emotions and himself beneath a shroud of midnight black. But Atsumu, he wore his emotions — his fear, joy, judgement, love, anger, confidence — like a gleaming suit of armor.
This new Atsumu — identical to every other Atsumu Sakusa had ever loved — was no different. His eyebrows were pulled upwards, like he’d just had his heart ripped out.
Haven’t you forgiven yerself?
He wasn’t so sure he had.
“Just take the damn phone.”
Sakusa sighed, taking it delicately into his palm. Atsumu’s wallpaper was a photo of him with Kita’s family. Aran and Kita, blessed with good genes, had barely aged a day in the past twenty years — with only Kita’s work-tan skin and the twinges of grey at Aran’s temples giving them away. Between them were a pair of teenagers, with curly dark hair and the same unnerving golden eyes as Kita.
“What happened?” Sakusa asked, barely a whisper, handing the phone back. Atsumu’s fingers brushed his.
He knew what happened, and Atsumu knew he knew. Three weeks after Atsumu stormed out of his life, he’d seen the obituary online.
October 5th, 1974 - July 20th, 2000
Atsumu took a step back. “I think Kita knew what was goin’ on. Every day before I left th’ house he’d tell me ‘Be careful.’ That day he just smiled ‘n’ said ‘Goodbye, Atsumu.’"
"They always say animals can sense death."
"That wasn't an insult." Kita had always seemed otherworldly, more like a fox spirit than a human being. When they'd first met, Sakusa assumed Kita was cursed in his own way.
As the twins were.
As he and Rintarou were.
Atsumu smiled weakly. “Anyway, next thing I know, I wake up red faced, screamin’ like a bat outta hell. I’m real fuckin’ glad I’m not born wit’ my memories cause damn that’d be entirely too much trauma straight out the gate.”
There weren’t enough words in the entire history of human civilization that would suffice. Not the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Minoans, the Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks. Not the A—
“Look.” His thoughts are cut off by Atsumu’s voice. “I’m not interested in hearin’ ya wax poetic apologies ‘til I become one of yer dusty fuckin’ artifacts."
Always so eloquent.
"If yer not gonna kiss me stupid, then at least show me around yer museum."
Reuniting was always the hardest part.
Years without one another, living as individuals in different ways.
Sakusa enduring the slow passage of time, watching with jaded eyes as humanity made the same mistakes time and time again. While Atsumu was allowed to be young again, to see the world with childlike wonder.
Wonder Sakusa had stepped on and ground into dust ages ago.
But also the circumstances of their final meeting. Sakusa tucking his metaphorical tail between his legs and giving up without a fight. Atsumu leaving, reaching the end of that short lifespan without Sakusa by his side.
Sakusa had figured this is it that night.
Atsumu'd been putting up with Sakusa's bullshit for millennia. He finally had enough.
Yet, here he is.
Sakusa stared one final time at the Bust of Nefertiti, heard her voice silently urging him forth.
How long ago was it when he stood by her side? A valued advisor blessed with knowledge far beyond his youthful appearance.
She would purse her lips as Atsumu — skin suntanned, kohl flicked out like a jackal — flitted around the palace of Akhetaten, charming her six daughters. Her eyes — as gold and regal as the filigree she donned — would stare down at Sakusa, thin brows raised in judgement.
Oh, how I wish you would marry my beloved Meketaten and not this fool.
“She’s gone, Omi.” Sakusa turned back at the sound of Atsumu’s voice. His hand was outreached, arm relaxed, an offer, not a demand. “I’m here.”
Sakusa sighed as he took Atsumu’s hand, letting their fingers tangle.
He led the way through the archway into the gold and crimson Library of Antiquity, lined with papyrus notes and letters and replica sculptures of the great philosophers. They’d gotten halfway down the corridor when Sakusa was halted, a pull at his shoulder as Atsumu stopped.
A bust of Socrates to Sakusa’s left. Which meant — Ah.
“You must allow me to tell ya how ardently I admire ‘n’ love ya.” Atsumu recited as he stared at a scrap of papyrus under the glass case. Written in calligraphic Greek. First century. Fayum, Egypt. It most certainly did not quote Pride and Prejudice.
Sakusa suppressed a groan. “Since when are you an Austen fan?”
“‘M not.” A soft smile danced on Atsumu’s lips. "Read it in highschool for class, a couple years ago."
"Let me guess... You watched the movie instead."
"So lil faith in me, Omi Omi." Atsumu clicked his tongue. He spared Sakusa a tiny glance. "Ah… though…Yeah. I did."
As he read, the smooth pad of Atsumu's thumb made broad swathes over Sakusa's skin, from his wrist to his knuckles. Still soft from a young, easy life.
"'Yours in life and in death, Thanatos.' Bit on the nose, don’tcha think?" Atsumu laughed.
"I'm many things. A poet is not one of them."
"Still… 'My beloved, Apollo'? Really? "
"No one expects their dorky love letters to survive two millennia."
Atsumu pushed away from the glass case and allowed Sakusa to lead him forth. Past Roman treasures — bronze statuettes, helmets and blades, glass bottles. A pair of sarcophagi beneath glass. One finely decorated with a funeral procession of gods and the other broken stone with an open-mouthed skeleton inside.
They moved quickly. The Roman Empire hadn’t been kind to either of them.
It was strange, being with Atsumu. Silence had long settled between them as they wandered from room to room. Sakusa appreciated being in the museum, his second home, his territory. Atsumu had willingly relinquished control.
Sakusa didn’t know why.
Why Atsumu was here.
Why Atsumu wasn’t angry.
Why Atsumu silently held his hand.
“Oh?” Atsumu whispered. “Omi…”
The ceiling hung low in this room. If they were a few inches taller, they both would’ve needed to duck. Sakusa usually skipped coming through here.
Plenty of other splendors to see. Less painful ones.
He knew what Atsumu was looking at.
Wood. Roughly the size of a laptop screen. Suntanned skin painted in with pigmented beeswax. A gilt laurel wreath twined through dark hair. Large golden brown eyes, lids lowered, smile honeyed. Once would have been affixed to the face of a mummy, to allow the dead’s visage to live on.
“Am I here?” Atsumu turned to face Sakusa with those same golden brown eyes, lids lowered, smile twisted into a frown.
“Two.” Sakusa said. “In cold storage.”
One that accompanied this portrait, from a lifetime after Sakusa wrote the papyrus letter upstairs. The other, much older, found buried alongside a pharaoh and his advisors.
“Well, fuck.” Atsumu laughed, frown exploding into a supernova grin. “What’dya think would happen if I touched one of ‘em? Ya think the world would end?”
“I am not letting you or your grubby fingers anywhere near the mummies.”
“Why not?” Atsumu brought their clasped hands up to his face — eyes wordlessly asking permission — before planting a gentle kiss on Sakusa’s knuckles. “My grubby fingers are good enough for ya, are they not?”
Atsumu smiled, vibrant enough to illuminate the entire dimmed room. Like sunlight.
My beloved, Apollo.
“Omi.” He spoke, eyes softening as he took a step closer. His free hand hovered in Sakusa’s periphery, a mere centimeter from his jawbone. “Do ya wanna know why I left?”
“Yes.” Sakusa whispered, permission enough for Atsumu’s hand to meet his cheek. Heat flooding the point of contact. Thunderstorm brewing in his chest.
“Ya were hurtin’ and I wanted nothin’ more than to help ya. But ya refused to listen to me. Refused to let me help.” Sakusa felt his eyes flutter closed as the soft pad of Atsumu’s thumb brushed along his cheek. “I felt betrayed. Like nothing I'd done ever mattered."
Twenty years and it never crossed Sakusa’s useless, self-centered mind once how Atsumu might’ve really felt.
“I never know.” Atsumu said. “I didn’t know, then, either.”
That he would die. Sakusa always knew, always watched the Moirai themselves — Clotho spinning the golden thread, Lachesis measuring the length of lives, Atropos ending them with her rusty shears — decide each iteration of Atsumu’s fate.
Never shared. A burden he bore alone.
“I wouldn’t have left, if I’d known.” Atsumu’s thumb settled, resting where Sakusa’s dimples fell. A spot he knew by heart, even with no smile on those lips. “I’d planned on takin’ some time for myself. See my shithead brother. See Rin. Kita. Then come back to ya. Never expected it to be twenty years.”
"Kiyoomi, I love ya so much. I have for three thousand fuckin’ years.” Atsumu’s gaze drifted downwards, dark eyelashes cast over freckled cheeks. “Please say somethin’.”
“I’m sorry.” Was all he could muster, the two words clawing at his lungs.
“Darlin’, I don’t think I’m the one ya should be apologizin’ to.”
“How long have ya been like this?” Atsumu adjusted his grip on Sakusa’s jaw, tilting his head downward slightly. “Makin’ yerself miserable, desperately collectin’ all these artifacts. The letters. That statue of Samu and I. This.” He gestured their still clasped hands toward the portrait in the glass case. “How many sculptures, how many paintings of me are in this fuckin’ city?”
Haven’t you forgiven yerself?
“I’m here now, Omi.”
He shouldn’t be. He should be—
He was doing it again. Not listening.
“You’re here now.” Sakusa whispered, finally leaning into the hand on his jaw. The thumb on his cheek found his bottom lip. A shiver at the base of his spine.
“Can I?” Atsumu said, no more than a breath.
Sakusa won’t lie and say kissing Atsumu is some transcendent experience. After all, not every aspect of their lives was touched and meddled with by the faceless gods.
But with his sunlight before him. One hand caressing his cheek. The other resting on his chest, pressing the ring into his skin. Lips brushing his, as gentle as an eyelid kiss. Always giving Sakusa an out to escape if it was ever too much. I love you whispered wordlessly in the flutter of his eyelids.
That was the closest to home he could ever possibly be.
Atsumu pulled back, leaving Sakusa craving for more. Not now.
“”Member what we used ta say, Omi?” Atsumu rested his forehead against Sakusa’s.
“Of course, I do.”
“Together ‘til the end of the fuckin’ world.” Atsumu grinned, fox-teeth sharp, eyes wild.
“Together until the end of the fucking world.”