It starts with a toss.
All things considered, it’s a solid toss—mid-height and a few steps back from the net, the way Meian likes best. But Meian’s benched until the swelling around his ankle recedes, so they’ve spent the last few practices with Sakusa as MB for shits and giggles and the hell of it. Sakusa likes his tosses high and close to the net so he can see the blockers’ expressions when his spikes ricochet off their hands. He takes one look at the Meian-style set Atsumu tosses his way and refuses to touch it.
The ball hits the floor, a point for their opponents. Somewhere from the back line, Bokuto asks, Tsum-Tsum?
Atsumu frowns at the ball, then at Sakusa. Sakusa squints back at him, suspicious.
“You need to get off the court,” he says.
Atsumu glares. “Excuse me?”
“Something isn’t right.” He levels a withering look at Adriah, stopping him short on his way to collect the ball. “I think you’re sick.”
This is impossible. Atsumu hasn’t been sick since he was a teen. He’s nothing if not diligent about his health—the thought of being benched for even a single game unbearable for him.
“Sick? Me?” he asks, brow furrowed. “No way.”
Shouyou presses his hand to Atsumu’s forehead. When did he get so close? Atsumu could protest—should protest, probably—but instead he stands there quietly and takes it. When Shouyou’s lips press into a thin, considering line, Atsumu closes his eyes. Instead of watching everyone get all serious over nothing, he tries to assess how he’s feeling.
His body’s hot, but it always is when he’s on the court. He aches a little, in his knees and elbows and the soles of his feet, but that’s normal too. It’s mid-August and, with pre-season just around the corner, their practices recently kicked into a higher gear; his joints probably need some time to adjust.
It’s as simple as that. If his throat’s sore, it’s from exerted panting. If his head’s fuzzy, it’s some mid-match adrenaline. If his fingers are trembling, it’s cuz that happens, sometimes, when he’s eager to toss.
Shouyou says, “I think Omi-san’s right.” His voice is very, very small.
That’s Foster, who must have jogged onto the court to assess the situation. Atsumu turns to look at him. The world spins. He doesn’t realize that he’s stumbled until Bokuto catches him— have his hands always been so cold?
He slumps into Bokuto’s hold and, miserably, meets Sakusa’s dark gaze.
Surely it’s just exhaustion, he thinks. Surely I’m just overworked. Surely this is nothin’ to worry about.
So please, he thinks and thinks with all his might, like he can beam the idea directly into Sakusa’s brain, please don’t worry.
“Fine,” he snaps. “I’ll get checked out. But I’m tellin’ ya—” and here he looks heavenwards, issuing a challenge to god themself, “—I’m not sick.”
The thermometer reads 38.8 C, and Atsumu blinks dumbly at the display the whole way to Bokuto’s apartment. When the numbers disappear, he takes his temperature again; when the thermometer beeps, he checks: 38.8 C. Rinse and repeat. Over and over. Again and again.
A normal person—or Osamu—would have lost their temper over the beeping three blocks back and snatched the thermometer away from him. But if the sound bothers Bokuto at all, he keeps it to himself and leaves Atsumu to his testing and checking without complaint.
“Thanks fer lettin’ me crash with ya,” Atsumu eventually grumbles, the thermometer under his tongue garbling the words.
Bokuto slings an arm around his shoulders and beams. “It’s no trouble!” he says. “I don’t get sick.”
Atsumu twitches out from under his arm. “Famous last words,” he warns, but Bokuto’s smile doesn’t waver.
“I mean it,” he says. “You can ask Akaashi! He’ll tell you.”
Call it a lack of imagination, but Atsumu’s hard-pressed to think of a scenario where he’d want to talk about Bokuto with Bokuto’s… whatever Akaashi is. He thinks he’s been told before, but he’s pretty sure he didn’t ask and he’s certain he didn’t listen.
Bokuto’s apartment is unsurprisingly spacious. After his debut at the Olympics years ago, the sponsorship deals started pouring in, the whole country eager to buy any brand associated with the Beam Weapon himself. While he lacked the intimidating air Ushijima and Kageyama had become so famous for, he apparently had them—and everyone else in the V.League—beat in sheer likability. His apartment is proof positive of his marketability, if nothing else.
After kicking his shoes off and sulking into a living room flooded with the gold light of late afternoon, Atsumu’s struck with a sudden thought: someone really ought to have told him, back in his formative years, that grinning like a fool and shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!” could one day land him a penthouse apartment with an uninterrupted view of Osaka Bay.
“I hate you,” he says, with feeling.
“You can take this bedroom,” says Bokuto, opening the first door down the hall to Atsumu’s left and staring inside, nodding his approval. “It’s technically Kuroo’s but—”
No. Absolutely not. “Is there another room?”
Bokuto lights up and nods harder, eager to impress. “Yeah! But—”
“I want that one.”
Bokuto blinks. Cocks his head. Then a grin, wide and taunting stretches across his face.
“Right,” he says, and he taps the side of his nose in a conspiratorial little gesture Atsumu loathes. “Whoops. Totally forgot. You two don’t exactly play nice, huh?”
That’s an understatement if Atsumu’s ever heard one. He scowls at Bokuto as he closes the door and moves on to the next one down the hall. There’s an unusual amount of pep in his step now—even for Bokuto—and Atsumu knows better than to trust it. He flinches when Bokuto throws open the door.
“How about this?”
Atsumu steels himself and looks inside.
“Bokuto,” he groans, feeling dizzy again, "this is a shrine.”
Bokuto’s eyes are bright and his smile is soft. “Isn’t it cool?” he asks.
The bedroom is packed with the various awards and recognitions Bokuto’s earned throughout his career. On one wall, his Fukurodani, MSBY, and Team Japan jerseys are framed and surrounded by medals, ribbons, certificates, and pictures taken with teammates and fans. Elsewhere, a wide bookcase, three glass displays, and a dozen floating shelves are stuffed with trophies, mounted newspaper clippings, and an offensive amount of merch.
The bedspread—designed to look like Bokuto's national team jersey—is abysmal, and the sheets beneath are almost certainly worse. Near the door is a life-sized cardboard cutout of him, smirking proudly in his MSBY jersey. Most disturbing are the three latex Bokuto masks on the wall over the bed, which have holes for his eyes and mouth.
Atsumu considers his options. On one hand: a bed that Tetsurou Kuroo has slept in, that he’ll likely sleep in again one day. On the other hand: hell.
“This will work," he decides.
Bokuto’s guest bathroom is Western-style and nearly as big as his living room. Atsumu isn’t sure what he hates most about it: the wall tiles, the floor tiles, the light fixtures, or the miniature swimming pool he calls a bathtub. It’s not envy; he really has no fucking clue what to do with this sort of space.
He’s also not used to being lightheaded. Is it smarter to take a shower—where his legs might give out at any moment and he could brain himself on the shampoo shelf—or soak in the tub—where he could fall asleep, slip under the water, and drown?
In the end, he goes with the shower, where he intends to scrub himself down as fast as possible to minimize the risk. But the tepid water makes him intimately aware of the aches and pains of his body, so instead he ends up standing in place with his eyes closed and his head tipped back.
For the first time since he left practice, he lets himself think about Sakusa.
It’s difficult. His thoughts don’t come fully formed. They’re patchworks of his memory of the day, of the singular details that seared themselves to his mind: Sakusa’s pinched brow, his unhappy pout, his clenched fists. The way he sounded when he said, Something isn’t right. Certainty. Resignation.
Under the lukewarm spray, Atsumu shivers. He never knew that voice existed, before. He hates, more than anything, that he knows it exists now.
Getting out of the shower feels like a climb—like every step in the process is an obstacle. His arm aches when he turns off the faucet; his neck aches when he tucks his chin to his chest and scrubs a towel through his hair; his feet ache when he shifts from one to the other getting into the shorts and t-shirt he brought from home.
The shirt he grabbed is banana yellow and smells like fresh linens and a hint of citrus. Sniffing it makes his chest hurt but, tucked away in the privacy of Bokuto’s guest bathroom, he does it anyway.
“Tsum-Tsum?” Bokuto calls from the other side of the door, followed by a sharp rap of knuckles on the door. “You okay in there?”
“Shaddup,” Atsumu grunts, lifting his head from his shirt collar. The room wobbles a little; he braces himself on the sink. “Can’t a man bathe in peace?”
Bokuto laughs. “He can, if he wants his dinner to get cold!”
Atsumu sighs, collects his things and all his tender feelings, and steps out into the hall.
When he sleeps, he dreams of sweat.
He stands at center court, wearing his Inarizaki jersey, his MSBY shorts, and a pair of bunny slippers he vaguely remembers from his childhood. His name fills the stadium, shouted and sang by the sea of fans filling the stands.
The sea swells. Voices crash together like waves. The water surges out onto the court. His slippers are soaked.
“Atsumu,” Sakusa says. “You’re sweating too much.”
Atsumu turns to him. What, he tries to ask, but there’s too much sweat in his mouth. It spills over his chin, rolls down his throat.
It rolls off him in waves, and suddenly he knows it’s him that’s soaking the floor. It was always him.
“Atsumu,” Sakusa says, his tone certain and resigned, “something isn’t right.”
He startles awake, swaddled in a blanket and gasping for breath as he kicks his way out of it. His fever rages, stealing the moisture from his eyes and mouth even as he sweats through his clothes and the awful owl-patterned sheets stretched across the mattress.
Struggling to his feet is exhausting. Every muscle in his body protests being upright—bed, bed, bed his new biological imperative. He ignores it in favor of padding out into the living room where Bokuto’s sprawled on the couch with a protein shake the size of his head, eyes fixed on the TV.
“That’ll rot your brain,” Atsumu grumbles.
“I knew you cared,” Bokuto says, casting a grin over his shoulder. “No offense, but you look bad. Should you be up?”
“I’m sweatin’ too much to sleep.”
Bokuto pushes to his feet and stretches long and tall, popping his back in the process, and says, “Let’s check your temperature.”
It takes some searching, but they uncover Atsumu’s thermometer and lay a towel across a chair where he gingerly takes a seat.
“Say ahh,” Bokuto jokes.
Atsumu opens his mouth to say Fuck off, but Bokuto shoves the thermometer under his tongue before he can. He closes his mouth and glares instead, even as Bokuto laughs maniacally and bounces away. So fuckin’ pleased with himself.
When the beeping starts, he checks the display. His heart sinks.
“It’s gone up,” he groans.
“That happens at night,” says Bokuto from somewhere in the kitchen. “How much higher is it?”
“Just a couple degrees.”
A cool glass is pushed against Atsumu’s cheek, and he jumps. Silhouetted by the light from the TV, Bokuto could be an angel or an axe murderer. He forces the glass into Atsumu’s hand.
“Don’t drink it yet,” he insists before disappearing into the kitchen again.
From his seat, Atsumu hears drawers being wrenched open. Silverware rattling. Porcelain knocking against porcelain. He drinks half the glass out of spite and thirst.
When Bokuto comes back, he drops two little white pills in Atsumu’s palm and says, “That’s to bring the fever down. You can drink now.”
“Thanks for the permission.”
Atsumu downs the rest of the glass and hands it back to Bokuto. For a while, he stares blearily at the TV and tries not to think about how much effort it’s taking to keep his head up. Is this what being sick is always like? Or is this some sort of karmic payback for all the bugs he’s managed to dodge over the last ten years?
“Wanna watch something?” Bokuto asks.
“Wha—” he starts, then stops.
A memory comes to him, unbidden: his and Sakusa’s small living room, cast in blue by the light of the TV. The smell of fresh laundry from Sakusa’s legs bracketing Atsumu’s shoulders, a hint of citrus from the wipes they use on the coffee table, and moist soil from the plants hanging from the ceiling and standing in the corners. His cheek, pressed to Sakusa’s knee; his eyes, closed so he doesn’t have to see Sakusa’s horrible bare toes.
It occurs to him, as he sits in Bokuto’s enormous living room, that he’s not sure what time it is, but he knows Sakusa’s awake.
“I’m going back to bed,” he says.
“Goodnight, Tsum-Tsum!” Bokuto calls after him. “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better tomorrow!”
Atsumu doesn’t dignify that with a response. He lets himself into the guest room, avoids eye contact with the Bokuto cutout by the door, and drops face-down onto the mattress.
He should send a text, at least. But his fingers ache like the rest of him, and he’s suddenly very, very tired.
So instead he sleeps.
Morning seeps in, gray and murky.
Atsumu wakes up in a room that’s not his own, in a body he’s sure can’t be his own. Have his arms and legs ever felt so stiff? Has his hearing always been so muffled? Has his mouth ever tasted this bad?
When he sits up, a damp compress falls from his forehead to his lap, and he stares at it for a long time. The gears in his head turn slow, slow, slow. He doesn’t remember getting this for himself, which leaves only one option, and he’s not sure he wants to burn energy imagining Bokuto as his bed nurse.
Awareness comes back to him by the handful. Turning his head makes the world spin; dragging himself out of bed takes herculean effort. The only thing worse than the taste in his mouth is the smell of his body, ripe and sour. How is it that his nose can be stuffed all the way to his ears, but he can still smell this?
Too exhausted to even complain, he makes his way down the hall to the guest bathroom, listening closely for any sounds of his host.
But if Bokuto’s here, there’s nothing giving him away. There’s a stillness to the penthouse that some people might call peaceful; Atsumu finds it stifling. The only places he’s ever truly comfortable are noisy by nature: his home and the court. In the absence of Sakusa’s eclectic playlists or the squeaking of sneakers on hardwood, he’s too aware of his own thoughts.
He finds a spare toothbrush under Bokuto’s sink, still in the wrapper, and claims it. Even this—something as small as brushing his teeth—is exhausting. If he’s being honest, he’d eventually get over the taste of his morning breath, but what he can’t get over is the thought of Sakusa’s judgment, the look he’d get if he knew Atsumu skipped this both before bed and after waking.
Too tired for another shower, he wipes himself down with a washcloth and uses the deodorant he brought from home to wrangle his stench. It’s not ideal, but nothing about being sick is, so it’ll have to do.
When he goes back to the guest room, he picks his phone off the nightstand and squints at the screen.
[Omi][06:52:19]: Stay hydrated.
Looking at it makes him want to hit something or break something or—maybe, terribly—cry. He’s known Sakusa for ten years now, and he’s never known him to voluntarily wake up before eleven. Sending a text before seven in the morning?
[Me][07:31:02]: i’m fine go to sleep already
Guilt twists in his belly, and, fuck does he hate that. It’s not like he chose to get sick! It’s not like he wanted this! Dating a germaphobe has made him act like a germaphobe, even when Sakusa’s not around to judge him, so it feels unfair and wrong that he somehow managed to catch this bug anyway.
(When sleep eluded him between midnight and three in the morning, he tossed and turned and thought about it. In the end, the culprit was obvious: Onigiri Miya. It’s the only place Sakusa never goes, and Atsumu—in the seemingly-perpetual spring of good health—has never thought twice about smacking his face against the bartop and smearing his cheek and nose and mouth against the polished wood.)
He’s still figuring out how all of this works. How he works, now that he knows he’s capable of feeling joy and concern and guilt for someone else. Sure, he probably always could. It’s the knowing that changes things.
[Omi][07:34:27]: Have you eaten?
Atsumu sighs, rolls his eyes, and flops onto the mattress.
[Me][07:34:51]: stuffin my face as we speak
[Me][07:35:02]: GO TO SLEEP
They’re scheduled to have a mid-afternoon practice. If Sakusa goes to sleep now, he could get a good five hours of rest. That’s more than he gets most nights.
Atsumu stares up at the ceiling. He feels too shitty to hold a grudge even if he wanted to—that, more than anything, tells him just how sick he must be. So he stares and stares and stares, and time slips away, away, away.
Every second he doesn’t receive another text is a second Sakusa could be falling asleep.
Every second he doesn’t receive another text, he yearns.
Just before nine, Atsumu hears the front door open. Then there’s rustling and footsteps and humming, and he rolls off the bed and pads down the hall to the kitchen where Bokuto is shimmying around in his tracksuit.
When he sees Atsumu, his whole face lights up. “Tsum-Tsum!” he shouts, like Atsumu isn’t five feet away. “Glad you’re not dead! I brought your breakfast.”
He gestures at the counter, where a packaged bowl of porridge sits steaming. There’s a logo on its lid that Atsumu recognizes. Homesickness twists in his gut, like his and Sakusa’s apartment isn’t just a few blocks away.
“Careful,” Bokuto warns, offering him a pot holder, “it’s hot.”
Atsumu’s tempted to pick it up with both bare hands just to prove that he can, but he’s got a career to think about. He takes the pot holder. Only when he’s sat down with it at the table does he realize there’s a problem: he’s got no appetite.
“These too,” Bokuto says, setting a tall glass of water and a small package on the table on his way to the living room.
Atsumu reaches for the package first. His breath catches. Umeboshi. It’s impossible to look at it without feeling Kita’s quiet concern and Sakusa’s fierce insistence all at once. He blinks several times, like he might cry, but his fever’s burned up whatever tears he might have had.
He reaches for the glass.
The porridge, when he finally forces himself to take a bite, has a nice texture, which is good because Atsumu’s got no sense of taste left. All he’s got is pressure in his face: on either side of his nose, his brow, his jaw, his temples. It doesn’t hurt but it does disorient him, making it difficult sometimes to direct his spoon to his mouth. Bokuto, thankfully, has wandered too deep into his apartment to catch Atsumu making a mess.
Halfway through the bowl, he starts to feel like an over-blown balloon so he wrestles the lid back on it, shoves his leftovers in the fridge, refills his glass of water, and pads out into the living room with the unopened package of umeboshi clutched protectively to his chest.
There’s a blanket thrown over the arm of the couch that wasn’t there yesterday. Atsumu helps himself to it, wraps himself up, and drops onto the cushions with enough force that he bounces a little on impact. Only then does he remember he left his phone in the guest room.
“Bokkun!” he whines, like his congested voice isn’t already pathetic enough. “Can ya bring me my phone?”
From the depths of his home, Bokuto calls out, Sure thing Tsum-Tsum! and as much as a relief it is, it’s also kind of disturbing for someone to be so willing to wait on him like this. He thinks about the compress this morning, the porridge for breakfast, the blanket folded and waiting.
It kind of—just a little—makes him miss Samu, whose idea of taking care of Atsumu usually involves cussing him out then putting food in front of him before he can complain. Kindness served with a side of kick ass. It’s the only way he’s ever known how to take it.
“One phone,” Bokuto says, reaching over the back of the couch to drop Atsumu’s phone in his lap, “and a pack of wipes, cuz you reek.”
Atsumu scowls up at him and burrows deeper into the blanket, hoping to embed his stink so deep in the fibers that no amount of wash will pull it out.
Bokuto’s grin is ever-sunny. The bastard.
“Coach says to give you three days,” he says, taking a seat on the far side of the living room. His hair’s damp from a morning shower, falling softly across his forehead. It never fails to weird Atsumu out, seeing it down. “If your fever gets real high, though, we’ll have to take you to a hospital.”
Atsumu grunts. There’s something mean on the tip of his tongue, something like Death would be preferable to spending another night in your guest room, but talking requires energy he doesn’t have. Instead he wriggles an arm out of his blanket cocoon, snatches up his phone, and flicks through his notifications.
Nothing from Sakusa.
Shouyou’s sent him a series of texts that are just pictures of some pages from a book on dealing with fevers. Someone must have told Samu about the situation, cuz there’s a vaguely threatening message from him saying, You did this to yourself, so don’t even think about blaming me or the shop. The rest is all updates on his social media engagement, newsletters, and advertisements.
“I have some of our high school matches recorded,” Bokuto says. “Wanna watch a few?”
Atsumu considers this. He considers the way his entire body feels like one big fresh bruise. He considers his phone, the way it stays still in his hand, and the probability that there won’t be any notifications coming from Sakusa anytime soon.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I think I actually do.”
Nostalgia is a drug. Atsumu gives himself over to it, and five hours pass in the blink of an eye. Only when Bokuto jumps to his feet and declares, “Practice!” does he snap out of the haze.
On the screen, seventeen-year-old Atsumu and Osamu steal the freak quick out from under Shouyou and Tobio’s noses. Twenty-five-year-old Atsumu still remembers that feeling, the alchemy of turning an ordinary play into gold.
“Check your temperature a bunch,” Bokuto says as he shoves his sneakers into his bag. “Text me if you think you’re gonna die.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if that cardboard cutout comes to life’n tries to kill me,” Atsumu says dryly.
Bokuto pauses. “That,” he says, “would be so cool.”
Then, before Atsumu can think of anything snappy to say, he’s gone.
His absence makes the place feel different. It’s like the eerie quiet of this morning; even with the sound of the TV as a distraction, being alone leaves Atsumu too aware of himself.
Awareness brings with it the memory of Sakusa’s expression yesterday, when he’d quietly agreed that, yes, Atsumu should probably stay somewhere else for a few days. When he’d glanced, just briefly, at Bokuto’s arm slung around Atsumu’s waist, and said, “Text me when you’re finished.”
It’s not like they broke up, but it tore open something in Atsumu just the same. Company could plug the hole, but left alone his feelings start to pour out.
He checks his phone. Nothing new. He sets it down and waddles, still wrapped in the blanket, into the kitchen to collect the thermometer.
Something isn’t right, Sakusa’s voice rings in his ears, and Atsumu wants to scream and throw things and—really, terribly—cry because of course something’s not right.
He should be at home. Their home. He should be surrounded by familiar, comfortable things, not Bokuto’s jerseys and grinning cardboard face. He shouldn’t have to fish for spare toothbrushes or worry about inflicting his scent on someone else’s stuff.
And yet, here he is. A stranger in a strange land. Interloping on Bokuto’s life because he doesn’t know where this version of himself—sick and aching and miserable—fits in the one he’s made for himself.
It’d been his idea to shack up somewhere else to see this thing through. He’d been the one to suggest it. He’s knows, logically, that he’s got no right to be bitter that Sakusa accepted his offer. But he’s too sick for logic, too sick for reason. Too sick to do anything but miss Sakusa like a fuckin’ limb.
Worse than the yearning, worse than the aching, is the fear. It snuck up on him last night, between one fever dream in the next, and followed him out into the real world, clinging to him like sweat: what if Sakusa doesn’t miss me at all?
It’s a fear too big to unpack, even in all the space of Bokuto’s luxury apartment. The best Atsumu can do is swallow it down with another glass of water and hope that it breaks with his fever. Whenever that happens.
He measures the sticky-slow passage of the afternoon like the shadow of a sundial—by his position on the couch.
At 1PM: congestion gives way to drainage, so he sandwiches himself upright between two overstuffed throw pillows, swaddles himself anew in the blanket, stuffs tissues up his nose, and breathes miserably through his mouth.
At 2PM: physical exhaustion takes precedence, so he slumps against the arm of the couch and drapes the blanket across his side so there’s less interference as he continues to reach for tissues again and again and again.
At 3PM: the dizziness returns but the sneezing and sniffling stop, so he lays out on his back with the blanket covering him from waist to ankle and stares bleary-eyed at the ceiling, trying and failing to remember a body not ravaged by sickness.
At 4PM: the only position he feels vaguely comfortable in is mostly upside down, with his legs propped against a back cushion, his neck bent over the edge of the seat, and the blanket lost to the other end of the couch.
Logically, he knows he can’t be sick forever. But a part of him is certain that he will be anyway. Resigned to it, even. As the shadows stretch longer and darker across Bokuto’s apartment, Atsumu’s body slowly recalibrates to this new normal. Gone is the superstar pro athlete; in his stead sulks this sad sack of flesh and bone and phlegm.
Bokuto doesn’t return until just after sunset, when the last streaks of orange have bled from the sky. Atsumu hears the beeping of the keypad by the front door just before six, when he’s curled on his side on the couch with his knees tucked up to his chest. His face hurts. His mouth tastes of umeboshi, of Sundays spent at home, dancing in his socks to Sakusa’s weird playlists and stealing kisses off his grumpy mouth. His heart aches.
“Are you dead?” Bokuto asks.
He sounds far, far away.
Atsumu struggles to lift his head. From deep within his aching, plugged ears, something begins to ring. A throbbing pain blossoms at his temples. The room tilts. He lays back down, closes his eyes, and moans, “I wish.”
And there’s Bokuto, sitting on his coffee table and pressing his enormous palm to Atsumu’s head. He says, “Yuck,” in the same wondrous tone as a kid who’s just stomped through his first mud puddle. “You are seriously icky right now, aren’t you?”
Atsumu cracks an eye at him. He can’t summon the strength to scowl.
“Can you help me to the bed?” he asks in a voice so small he can’t honestly call it his own.
Atsumu nods. Within him, nausea crests.
It’s slow going. Bokuto tries to lift Atsumu off the couch bridal style, but Atsumu—never too sick to be proud—knees him in the gut as soon as he realizes what’s happening. Then does it again when Bokuto tries two more times, spitting cusses in the face of Bokuto’s delighted cackling.
In the end, Bokuto drags Atsumu’s arm around his shoulders, hoists him to his feet, and stumbles both of them down the hall. After he drops Atsumu off in the bed in the guest room, he disappears.
The ringing in Atsumu’s ears continues. Petulantly, he rubs his runny nose against the pillow case and only remembers afterwards that it’s temporarily his. Gross, gross, gross.
Tucked under a blanket in a cool, dark room and surrounded by a thousand little pieces of Koutarou Bokuto, Atsumu’s awareness slips away by the handful. His mind: quiet; his body: heavy.
Here ya go, Tsum-Tsum, says Bokuto from somewhere on the edge of Atsumu’s consciousness.
Something is placed under Atsumu’s tongue. Something else, cool and damp, is placed on his forehead. His arm is lifted again and a soft, familiar shape is pressed to his chest. Vabo-chan. Atsumu curls around it protectively and buries his nose against the old, worn velvet.
The last thing he remembers, as sleep finally takes him, is the ghost of a smell: fresh linens and a hint of citrus.
The train is coming. It’ll be here any minute, any second. But he’s only just made it to the station, and that’s a world away from the platform. A sea of people moves around him, knocking his shoulders—left, right, left, right. More than once, he feels himself getting dragged into the riptide of the crowd, at risk of being pulled under.
So he stops. He breathes. He tries to remember what he’s doing, where he’s going, and why it’s so fucking urgent.
The overhead lights flicker.
Atsumu looks up.
A fluorescent bulb bursts, shattering in a thousand water droplets that rain down on the commuters below. Another one pops nearby. Then another. Then another. The crowd roils. Atsumu stands beneath the lukewarm spray and feels himself being carried away by the current.
“Wait,” he says, “something’s not right.”
But the crowd doesn’t wait, doesn’t stop, doesn’t do anything but surge like waves crashing against the concrete confines of the station. Those who can’t keep up are simply walked over, climbed on top of, pushed face-down into the floor as others climb higher and higher.
Water overhead, hands and chests and knees down below. And Atsumu, caught in between, trying to remember where he needed to be. A ringing in the distance, higher and shriller and emptier than a train horn, but a train horn all the same.
“I have to go,” he says, trying to move towards the platform again. “I have to go, I have to go, I have to—”
Something grabs his hand. Someone grabs his hand. And his wrist, and his waist, and his knees, and his ankles. The poor souls lost to the raging sea reach for him with greedy hands.
He struggles. He’s strong and healthy and filled with purpose. He has somewhere he needs to be.
But the creatures of the deep are stronger, and they aren’t confined to the laws of nature. Their hands slither around his limbs. Their fingers pierce his bones. They are so heavy.
“I have t’go!” he roars over the sounds of their voices, moaning in agony. “You have t’lemme go!”
He whips his head around, desperate. The rain’s getting heavier now. He knows he’s soaked, though he can’t feel anything but the weight, the pressure, the pull of the riptide and the souls who would see him caught in it with them.
They cling even when he kicks. Even when he curses. Even when he reaches out to others passing by, trying to catch their momentum. They cling and cling and cling, and their grips climb higher, higher, higher.
And then there they are. Face to face with him, their eyes and mouths enormous, perfect circles, deep and dark and unfathomable. Their hair, split down the middle and gelled into two distinct horn shapes. Their voice, high pitched and shrill and empty:
Hey, hey, hey!
Atsumu surfaces with a gasp.
The dream doesn’t let go. He lays there, wide-eyed and trembling, with the roar of his heartbeat in his ears. The room is dark enough to be a tomb. If it were, its inscription might read: here lies Atsumu, dead at twenty-five because of a fever dream caused by those fucking latex masks.
It takes him a long time to realize he’s muttering, What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck, to himself.
It takes him even longer to realize he’s not trembling. He’s shivering.
“Tsum-Tsum?” Bokuto asks, his whisper loud in the quiet.
“I hate it here,” Atsumu says, teeth chattering a little. “I hate you, I hate your apartment, and I hate this fucking room.”
Silence. Then: “I’ll get the thermometer.”
Footsteps. Atsumu tosses and turns in the bed until he can’t hear anything but his heavy, wet breaths. He pulls the comforter closer, but it offers no warmth. There’s sweat on his brow, above his lip, on the nape of his neck, and in the bends of his elbows and his knees. It seems wrong. Impossible. How can he be sweating when he’s so cold?
Shouyou’s textbooks could probably answer that. Too bad Atsumu feels too shitty to remember anything about the blurry screenshots he’d sent. Try as he might, all he knows anymore is the ache of his muscles, the heaviness of his bones, and the chill in his marrow. Was there ever anything else? He smears his snotty nose against the comforter, blinks away tears, and tries to recall.
“There, there, Tsum-Tsum,” Bokuto says, beside the bed again and turning Atsumu onto his back with a big, gentle hand. He lifts Atsumu’s arm and wedges Vabo-chan underneath it, then he sticks the thermometer in his mouth. “This is the worst part. It’ll be over soon.”
Isn’t that something people say to sad sacks on their deathbeds? Don’t worry, this will all be over soon?
The thermometer beeps. Bokuto removes it from Atsumu’s mouth. Atsumu turns to his other side and gives him the cold shoulder for his kindness.
As he rolls, the world spins, and his stomach gives a protesting heave. Because if he’s not shivering, he’s nauseated; if he’s not nauseated, he’s sniffling; and if he’s not sniffling, he’s just laying around, feeling like he got hit by a bus. Because he’s sick, and that’s what being sick is.
He’s sick of being sick.
“It’s alright,” Bokuto says. “It’ll break soon. Want me to hold your hand?”
“Fuck off,” Atsumu snaps. Then he ducks his head and nuzzles his face—runny nose and sweaty brow and all—against Vabo-chan.
A shiver racks his body. His teeth chatter. His toes curl so hard his feet start to cramp.
Helplessness consumes him. There’s nothing that can be done. He’s at the mercy of his immune system now, destined to triumph or succumb on its whims. That’s the shittiest part of all of this. No one gives a fuck about what he really wants—not this virus, not his body, and certainly not Sakusa.
The tears come unbidden.
Frustrated, terrible tears. He feels them eke out, cold against his feverish cheeks, and he rubs his face futilely against Vabo-chan so no one can see. So he can pretend they aren’t there. So he can believe, a little longer, that he’s gonna come out the other side of this with his pride intact.
If his shoulders are shaking, he’ll call it shivering. If his breaths sound wet, he’ll blame the mucus. If whines escape him every so often, he’ll say that happens, sometimes, when he’s sick. And everyone gets sick at some point or another—even Bokuto, no matter what bullshit he and Akaashi are tryin’ to peddle—so it’s nothing to be ashamed of at all.
When Bokuto takes his hand, Atsumu doesn’t snatch it away.
He lies there, instead, face pressed to a relic of his childhood, eyelashes heavy with tears, body aching and shivering, and lets himself feel it all—really, actually feel it. The acute agony of being ill. The acute agony of having company, but not the company he wants. The acute agony of only ever existing within himself.
“This sucks,” he sobs, furious.
“I know, buddy,” Bokuto says, squeezing his hand. “I know.”
He straddles the fine line between dreams and consciousness for the rest of the night. The fever makes it all bleed together—his tears, his fears, and the shape of Bokuto’s hand in his. Atsumu carries all of it with him, whether he’s sleeping or awake, and it’s not until the blue-black hour of predawn that he opens his eyes and knows his fever has broken.
His head still feels stuffed with cotton. His whole body still feels heavy. His breaths still sound wet, slicked by the refuse of his lungs.
But the chills have passed. When he sits up, the world doesn’t spin. His stomach doesn’t heave. For the first time in hours, he can see the other side of this minute, this hour, this day.
Bokuto’s not by his bedside anymore. Atsumu looks around and doesn’t find him passed out anywhere else in the room either. It’s impossible to tell how long he’s been gone, but Atsumu’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He climbs to unsteady feet, crosses the room in a few haggard steps, and closes the door as quietly as he’s able.
In the dark, where only Bokuto’s awards and merch and jerseys can judge him, he presses his forehead to the back of the door, takes a deep breath, and tells himself, Nut the fuck up, Sumu.
His phone is on the nightstand. He sits on the edge of the bed and cradles it in his hands.
The clock reads 4:18.
A swipe, a tap, a press. He holds the phone to his ear and collapses back in the sweaty sheets. When the line clicks over, he can only groan.
“What are you doing awake?” he complains.
“Funny,” Sakusa says, voice flat as a board, “I was going to ask you that.”
He sounds tired. He’s always tired, Atsumu knows—physically, existentially, take your pick—but he sounds it now.
“My fever broke,” Atsumu tells him. “The bed’s all moist from my sweat. I had a dream about blowing my nose in a pillow case, but I’m starting to think it wasn’t a dream—”
Sakusa says nothing.
“I’ve been so tired I haven’t brushed my teeth the last two nights,” Atsumu says, gaining momentum now. “I brushed my teeth yesterday morning, but the toothpaste has the same texture as my—”
“Stop,” Sakusa begs. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because this sucks!” Atsumu hisses down the line. “Because I hate this and if I have to hate it, you should hate it too.”
A beat. “You think I don’t hate this?”
Atsumu has to stop to catch his breath. What is it about being sick that makes ranting feel like running? What sort of ass-backwards rules does the immune system adhere to?
“I think it’s different,” he decides. “You hate it different.”
Sakusa’s quiet again. Finally he says, “Okay. I think I get it.”
There it is again: that quiet certainty, the quieter resignation. Atsumu wouldn’t know what to do with that voice on a good day, let alone right now.
“You’d hate it the same way if you saw it, I think,” he says, voice dropped low and soft to match Sakusa’s.
Sakusa takes a sharp, sudden breath and holds it. Atsumu waits, impatient but too sick to fuss, and the silence stretches long between them. It’s impossible to gauge distance over the phone—physically or otherwise. Sakusa’s no more than a handful of blocks away right now, but he could be halfway around the world and Atsumu wouldn’t be able to hear the difference.
“Omi,” he says finally. “I wanna come home.”
It’s an ugly truth. A selfish truth.Two days ago, Atsumu offered distance to Sakusa like a gift. Don’t worry about me, the tag said. And now here he is, begging to take it back and all it symbolized.
But Sakusa just says, “Then come home already.”
Like it’s that simple.
“I hate this too,” Sakusa says. “So come home.”
The words don’t come. His tongue ties itself in knots trying to drag them out. He’s too sick to be clever, too sick to figure out the angle here, too sick to do anything but lay here, confused, and want.
“I know,” Sakusa continues in a hard, strange tone, “that you probably wanted to get through this somewhere without me around.”
“It won’t be easy. Not if you’re using pillow cases like tissues. But I—I’ll try. Not to make you miserable.” A pause. “More miserable.”
“What,” Atsumu says again.
“What?” Sakusa echoes.
“Go back, go back,” Atsumu urges. “Did you just say you were gonna try’n not make me miserable?” And when Sakusa says nothing, he groans. “Please don’t tell me we both agreed to this cuz we thought we were bein’ nice.”
Silence again. And folded within it: the truth.
This. This is why Atsumu’s never been a nice person. This is why he’s never gone out of his way to think about others, to sacrifice himself, to be a good guy. This bullshit.
“Bokuto’s been nice t’me the whole time,” he says.
“I know! He brings me medicine and lays out blankets for me and tonight he held my hand when I thought I was gonna barf. And his guestroom is like a shrine. I swear. Or a rejected museum exhibit. I’ve been sleepin’ under masks of his face, only they don’t have any eyes. There’s a cardboard cutout of him by the door. It’s taller than me.”
Sakusa, damn him, makes a curious sound.
“No, you can’t come see it,” Atsumu says before he can ask. “Because I’m gettin’ the hell outta here. I’m—fuck. I’m coming home.”
He gets to his feet and looks around, ignoring the way things still kind of woosh when he moves too quickly. Where are his things? His clothes, his toiletries, his Vabo-chan—
“Hold on,” he says, pausing to pick up Vabo-chan.
This is his Vabo-chan. There’s a telltale stitching on one of its legs from where granny sewed it back on after he and Osamu fought over who, exactly, this Vabo-chan belonged to. Atsumu would know this Vabo-chan anywhere by sight, by smell, by the feel of it in his arms. It was a constant companion to him as a child, a guilty comfort as a teenager, and has been the bane of Sakusa’s existence ever since they moved in together and Atsumu insisted on it living on his nightstand at all times.
Fever-brained Atsumu hadn’t been able to put two and two together. Now, the gears in his head pick up their pace. He stares at Vabo-chan until his eyes start to prickle with tears. Bokuto went to practice and came home with Atsumu’s Vabo-chan. There’s only one real explanation for that, isn’t there?
“You brought that porridge over for me too, didn’t you, you bastard,” he accuses, voice weak. “From that place you actually like. And the plums, the freakin’ plums.”
Sakusa’s resounding silence is confirmation despite itself.
“I’m comin’ home,” Atsumu repeats. “Just—do what I say for once in your life and go to sleep. I’ll be back soon.”
“I don’t think—”
“Sleep,” Atsumu insists.
He kills the call before Sakusa can protest. For a long time after, he stares at the screen and tries to wrangle his racing, happy heart. He’s going home.
Getting ready to leave takes more time than he’d like.
He still feels like death warmed up, and his muscles and joints protest every bend and hoist he puts them through. His face in the mirror of the guest bathroom looks like a stranger’s: limp, greasy hair and wan, flaking skin and deep, dark bags beneath his bloodshot eyes. He bares his teeth at himself and brushes them quickly, roughly, thinking of Sakusa and nothing else.
Eventually, he gathers up all his stuff and deposits it in one big, unmanaged heap in his duffel.
As he crosses through the hallway on his way towards the front door, he hears the rumble of a snore coming from the direction of Bokuto’s bedroom. It gives him pause. Reminds him that if he does this—disappears into the dawn—someone is gonna be left wondering where the fuck he went.
A nice person would leave a note. Atsumu is dead set on pretending like none of this happened. Bokuto will figure it out eventually.
But on his way into the kitchen to double check for anything he might have missed, Atsumu runs into Akaashi and nearly shrieks.
“Oh,” Akaashi says, sleepy-eyed and holding a steaming mug of tea.
Atsumu gawks at him.
Akaashi shifts his weight from one foot to the other, adjusts his glasses, and asks, “Something wrong?”
“When did you—” Atsumu gestures at all of him, from his bare feet to his official MSBY merch pajama bottoms to his Onigiri Miya t-shirt.
“Three days ago,” Akaashi yawns. “I crash sometimes, after a deadline.”
Atsumu narrows his eyes.
“You’ve been here,” he says, dread twisting tight in his belly, “for the last three days.”
Akaashi blinks. “Yes?”
A shiver runs down Atsumu’s spine, completely unrelated to his sickness. How many hours did he spend here, thinking he was alone, not realizing that Akaashi was holed up somewhere in the back? Akaashi had to eat, right? What if he came out while Atsumu was sleeping and saw—
No. The further down that rabbit hole he goes, the more miserable he’s gonna be. Better not to think about it at all. Better to get back home to Sakusa, his insomniac bastard of a boyfriend who should be but definitely isn’t sleeping, and forget everything about the last sixty hours.
“I’m too sick for this shit,” he says. Then he extracts a mask from his bag and—fumbling only a little with his sick-stiff fingers—fits it over his face. “So I’m gonna go now. See ya. If Bokuto gets sick, tell him it’s his fault.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” says Akaashi. “Bokuto-san doesn’t get sick.”
Atsumu pauses at the edge of the genkan, half in and half out of his shoes with a hand pressed to the wall to keep himself balanced. “Of course he doesn’t,” he sighs, too worn out to argue.
Then, at last, he leaves.
The walk to his apartment is a blur.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a trek he’s got no business making in his current state. By the time he’s taking the elevator up to his and Sakusa’s little apartment, he’s dizzy, disoriented, and sweating. His mouth tastes like something crawled in between his gums and tongue and died. He gives up on standing upright and slumps near the buttons, aware that he probably reeks and grateful that he can no longer smell himself.
The elevator dings on arrival. He pokes his head out and looks at the hallway of their floor. Looking at the patterns of the wallpaper and the carpet make him feel dizzier than ever, but he wills himself to endure, endure, endure and takes a deep breath. This is it: the last leg of his long journey home. On the other side of these seven meters—Sakusa. Omi.
He takes a step. Then another. And another.
By the time he’s standing at his door, he’s at his limit. He has to brace his forearm against the wall over the lock when he starts to punch the numbers in. He only gets two entered when the door is thrown open and he’s dragged inside, pulled into an awkward, familiar embrace so fast it makes his head spin.
“I told you to go to sleep,” he argues, voice faltering a little.
“Shut up,” Omi says, hunching his shoulders and tucking his face in against Atsumu’s sweaty throat. “You stink,” he complains.
“Would it kill ya to be nicer to me,” Atsumu sighs, but he curls his arms up Omi’s back just the same, palms flat against his sweater. His mask comes loose and falls, lost to the crush of their bodies. Neither of them try to retrieve it.
When he props his chin on Omi’s slouched shoulder, he feels it. The way they just fit. Almost as close as they’ll ever be.
Omi takes on most of his weight while Atsumu takes in the wreckage of their apartment. Anyone else might call its current state ‘lived in,' but Atsumu takes one look at it and wonders what the fuck happened while he was gone.
There’s a blanket and a pillow—like, a bed pillow—on the couch. There’s a stack of Volleyball Monthlys smeared haphazardly across the coffee table. There’s a watering can sitting on the floor by the record player. By Kiyoomi Sakusa’s standards, it’s a hellscape.
“What happened here?” he asks, dazed.
Omi’s quiet, but his arms squeeze around Atsumu’s waist. It’s as close to an answer as he’s ever going to give, which is fine. Atsumu gets the picture.
He tightens his grip on Omi and presses his face fully against his shoulder—pausing, just once, when he realizes that the fabric under his hands is thick and maroon; when he lifts up onto his toes he can just make out the white lettering of INARIZAKI stretched across the back. He drops back down and hides the curve of his smile against his own sweatshirt stretched tight over Omi’s broad shoulders.
He smears his snotty nose against it too, because he can. Because it’s his and because Omi, incredibly, will probably love him anyway. Despite all the reasons he probably shouldn’t.
Omi groans, and Atsumu laughs. The sound is bright and happy even muffled between them. Even through the gunk in his chest and throat. He feels better than he has in days. Better than he’s felt in a while, actually. When he closes his eyes and takes a slow, deep breath, the aches and pains of his body feel like a distant memory, like a very bad dream.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Omi holds him through it, anchoring him in this moment. This single perfect moment. Soon enough, Atsumu’s blinking away his tears and pressing a sloppy kiss to the tender skin behind Omi’s ear. Then he pauses.
He can smell it—just the tiniest bit. Even through the congestion, he knows it’s there.
Fresh linen. A hint of citrus. The smell of home.