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How to Breathe Again

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Osamu always does things first.

He's always the first to try something. He's the first of them to get hooked on volleyball, and he's the first to play setter. More often than not he's the one who tries new food first. He finishes his dinner first, brushes his teeth faster, and his turn for a check-up at their doctor is always before Atsumu's, too.

There's a way of looking at being second in speed where you take all that extra time you spend catching up to a person to learn more about yourself, to really look at the options in front of you and decide if what they're having is truly what you want to have.

Atsumu doesn't look at things that way. As far as he's concerned, Osamu's the first of them to do things, and that's a problem, even if it does sometimes give him the chance to avoid making certain mistakes (like that time they were racing to climb up a tree and Osamu stepped on a bad branch and nearly fell).

Still, Atsumu does things second, and so it really should not surprise Atsumu when, in tried and true Miya twin fashion, Osamu comes out first.

It really, really shouldn't.

So why does it feel like his entire foundation has been ripped out from under him?

Atsumu chews on a nail while he listens to his brother's (private) conversation with their parents.

Their mother is crying; their father sounds agitated; Atsumu just wants to know why Osamu never said anything to him.

He is also a little shocked. No, maybe that isn't the right word, but it's not like his eight-year old brain can really grasp onto another adjective for this. You can just decide that you don't want to be a girl? Atsumu can't lie and say he hasn't entertained the idea of being a boy before. He sees girls on TV, in movies, girls who are in middle and high school when he walks home with Osamu from their own school, but when he tries to think about growing up, he doesn't think about girls.

Maybe that's what that is, whatever it is Osamu's talking about.

Their mother bans Osamu from using the TV and the family computer, and then she paints Atsumu's nails pink for him because he "needs to stop biting them". Then she leaves to do something or another while their father cooks dinner.

On the top bunk, Atsumu uses his teeth to rip off bits of nail polish so that he can bite at his thumbnail. He spits the pieces over the edge of the bed, of course, because he doesn't want to roll around on them when he's sleeping.

"Stop," Osamu grumbles from the bottom bunk. "Yer being gross."

"You're gross, shut up," Atsumu says back, and he sticks his tongue out even though he knows Osamu can't see him.

Osamu sighs, loud and dramatic for an eight-year old, and Atsumu hears him flop over on his bed. "Mom's mad at me."

"Duh," says Atsumu.

"I'm not allowed to watch TV until I stop makin' her cry."

"That's dumb," says Atsumu. "Ya like TV."

There's more shuffling from the bottom bunk, and then Atsumu hears Osamu screaming, muffled, into his pillow.

"Well, bein' a girl's dumb anyway," Atsumu says. He tears a last strip of nail polish off his thumbnail, then bites the nail off and spits both over the side of the bed.

Osamu kicks him through the mattress and Atsumu yelps. "Yer disgustin'."

Atsumu bites into his pinky nail without tearing the nail polish off, and it's surprisingly soft and easy to bite through.

"I can hear ya," Osamu snaps. "Stop." Then, "Ya really think bein' a girl's dumb?"

"Duh," Atsumu says. "Why would I say that if I didn't mean it? Stupid."

Osamu's quiet for a long while, and Atsumu goes back to trying to bite off his nails. The nail polish does taste really gross, though, and it's making it very, very difficult.

"I wanna be a boy."

Atsumu leans his head over the side of the bed, hands gripping the edge to keep himself up. Osamu's lying on his back staring at the bottom of Atsumu's mattress, but he looks at Atsumu when he leans down. "Can ya really do that?"

"Yeah, I googled it," Osamu says.

"Woah. Cool." Atsumu sticks his tongue through the gap one of his baby teeth left, something he's been doing for two weeks since it fell out at dinner, and says decidedly, "Me too. I wanna be a boy."


"Yeah," says Atsumu, and then he almost falls off the bunk bed.

They cut each other's hair in the bathroom after their parents are asleep, and it looks so awful that their mother starts crying again. Atsumu uses his computer time to look at name databases for boy's names with cool kanji, and Osamu refuses to leave the house, crying and screaming, when their mother wants them to go to a social thing in a nice dress or whatever.

Their mother hears them calling each other "Osamu" and "Atsumu" and has to leave for a whole week. Their father just tries to keep them calmed down.

He cooks dinner and lets them pick what to watch on the TV together afterwards, and he fixes their DIY haircuts with his clippers, and when Atsumu gets up to get water at one in the morning, he finds their father looking at resources for parents of transgender children online.

"That's what it's called," Osamu says the next day, pulling broccoli out of his teeth using a fingernail. Atsumu's own nails are too short, so he just sits with broccoli bits uncomfortably between his teeth. "That's what came up when I googled it."

"Cool," Atsumu says.

Their mother comes home and she cries a lot again, but Atsumu thinks their father talks to her or something, because she seems okay after a few weeks.

Atsumu thinks that, really, it shouldn't surprise their parents so much that he wants to be a boy too. Osamu does things first, and then Atsumu follows. And if Osamu's a boy, then why shouldn't Atsumu be, too?

The real personal issue for Atsumu, however, doesn't start until Osamu comes out as gay.

Atsumu doesn't really notice boys. He doesn't really notice girls, either, not unless he's in one of his bad days where he keeps comparing himself to them, keeps forcibly trying to feminise himself in his own mind in a pitch of self-hatred. All he's really thought about lately is volleyball. Not even being trans occupies his mind all that much, except when he remembers that he and Osamu are going on T next year…

Osamu, apparently, notices boys.

Their mother is crying again. But Osamu doesn't sound like a timid little eight-year old trying to tell his parents how he feels anymore. He isn't asking for anything, either, is just laying it all out for them to see.

Their father doesn't say anything. Or, maybe he does, but Atsumu can't hear him through the door he definitely isn't supposed to be listening at and over their mother's crying.

She cries so much, he's thinking. I don't get it. It's not like me an' 'Samu are different people just 'cause the doctor an' everyone else was wrong about us. It ain't like we're comin' out at American or somethin'. He bites at his thumb nail.

Osamu is trying to say something, but their mother talks over him, says something that leaves Atsumu feeling like stone, stiff and cold: "If you like boys, then why couldn't ya have just been a girl?"

Atsumu shouldn't be listening to this.

Atsumu should really stop listening.

He crouches down and presses himself closer to the door.

"You're making this so hard for yerself, Osamu," their mother says. She sniffles. "Do you realise how difficult life is going to be for ya when you graduate? Out there in the real world?"

"I can deal with that when it happens," Osamu says, but he doesn't sound so sure (or maybe that's just the door warping his words and the way they're being said). "I'm not askin' ya fer anythin'; I just wanted ya to know."

Atsumu stands up abruptly and walks away from the door, for once being extra careful to avoid the squeaky spots in the floor. Again he wonders why Osamu didn't say anything to him. They're twins, aren't they? They're meant to share these kinds of things, right?

(Never mind the fact that they've been drifting apart ever so slightly over the years, becoming their own people, bullying each other a bit more than they used to.)

But then things after that are fine, for a while. They play volleyball together, Atsumu causes problems on purpose and Osamu seems to mellow out around others as time goes by, and they fight and argue and torment each other all the same.

Their mother, again, calms down pretty quickly over Osamu being gay. Atsumu knows she's just worried for them (Osamu's said so, too).

As they get older, though, and as middle school rushes to an end, their mother's words stick to Atsumu's brain like gum on the bottom of your shoe. "If you like boys, then why couldn't ya have just been a girl?"

He tells himself it's not a problem; he'll just like girls when the time comes for him to like anybody other than himself (and Osamu, but he would never actually tell Osamu this, because then he'd end up getting teased for the rest of his life. Sue him for caring about his brother).

So Atsumu will like girls, and he'll bring home a nice girlfriend in high school - or after high school, because who has time for dating when you're going to a school with as talented a volleyball team as Inarizaki? - and his mom will fawn over and love her, and she won't have to worry about Atsumu existing as trans and gay. She won't have to worry so much.

(She won't have to say "why couldn't ya have just been a girl?" to him as well.)

High school is… different.

There are good and bad differences, and Atsumu will admit that a lot of them are frustrating, but overall it's just … different. There's a bit more personal freedom, sure, and finally he isn't in the same class as his brother, but there's just about nobody else he actually knows (and you can't count Aran, because Aran thinks that Atsumu and Osamu are some of the most unholy things to ever grace the surface of the planet, and even though Atsumu and Osamu really look up to and respect Aran, he is quite fun to prank and tease, so.)

Perhaps the biggest difference is volleyball.

Inarizaki is a powerhouse school. There's a good number of incredibly skilled players that come here, and the coach is highly praised as well.

Their first practice reminds Atsumu of middle school; all the first years introduce themselves, they meet their seniors, and then the coach starts them off on warm-ups and drills. There are a lot of big, clearly talented players here. Atsumu, pushing 180 centimetres, is determined not to be outdone.

But there isn't much time to prove anything, as it turns out. Their warm-up consists of peppering for maybe ten minutes, and then they go straight into a blocking drill.

There's a gangly kid with unkempt black hair whose block looms over the net, and Atsumu might even be intimidated by that if he were a spiker. But he's not. Intimidated or a spiker, that is.

The seniors and their coach look interested, though, and the gangly kid looks like he doesn't give a shit, and Atsumu doesn't know if he should be upset about that or not. He's not jealous. Especially not because the team already has a starting setter, some guy in his third year.

There's a little voice that chirps in the back of Atsumu's mind that he's probably better than that setter, that he probably works harder on volleyball every day than anyone else here, and really, it's probably right. Even if he's not as good as that guy now, Atsumu bets he will be after a month or two, maybe less depending.

Atsumu's blocking isn't anything special, and neither is Osamu's, really, considering neither of them spend a huge amount of time working on that. But they're tall, probably the tallest of the first years here, plus they're the Miya twins. Atsumu doubts there's any school in Hyougo that doesn't know them by name already.

Their coach splits them up into teams, most of them a mix of first and second years. The gym is larger than Atsumu's middle school's, with room for three courts, although the centre one isn't set up. Multiple courts must be efficient for practice, though, so there could be first and second string players all together on one court, and everyone else off to the other side.

Atsumu gets placed on the same team as Osamu and the gangly blocker from earlier. There's also a kid with light brown hair who's maybe ten centimetres shorter than Atsumu and who, while Atsumu is being ignored by both Osamu and the gangly kid, introduces himself as Ginjima.

"So, are you the setter, or is that yer brother?"

"That's me." Ginjima… He's in Atsumu's class. Maybe. Probably?

Ginjima says something else, but Atsumu isn't listening. He's too preoccupied watching that blocker stretch. There's something about him that just looks fucked up. Or maybe that's just because Osamu is talking to him, like they know each other.

Maybe they're in the same class.

That makes one more friend Osamu's made than Atsumu.

Whatever. It's not like friendship is a competition or some shit. Atsumu can get by just fine by himself. Other people, he's sure, will approach him soon enough looking to be friends, and there's always the seniors on the volleyball team. There isn't much point in being friends with people who can't play well, so.

Aran does not get put on their team, much to Atsumu's disappointment. They'll be playing against him, though, and another second year with two-toned hair who seems to know Aran pretty well, because they're a little lost in conversation.

There are a few other second years put on Atsumu's team as well, but Atsumu doesn't bother paying attention to their names. He'll forget them anyway. Is there a point to learning the names of anyone that's not actually on the team team?

They play. Atsumu shows off because he doesn't know how not to. For a first practice, it's good, and it feels nice to play with a new group. Atsumu's excited for the rest of these three years.

And so everything falls quickly into routine. High school means more homework, which means even less free time than before, but it's not like Atsumu does much other than play volleyball. He and Osamu become fast friends with Ginjima and that middle blocker called Suna. Sometimes the four of them meet at someone's house to do homework together, but that's not really what ends up happening, especially when they meet at Suna's, because Suna has a Wii.

And Atsumu is better than the third year setter they have, even if coach Kurosu doesn't put Atsumu on first string for the InterHigh. Whatever. His loss.

The other guys on first and second string are all great, excellent players and all-around nice people if Atsumu takes the time to actually consider them, but he's far more interested in the specific people Aran chooses to hang out with. Aran is the ace, after all. Someone so skilled must spend all their time hanging out with equally skilled people.

(Atsumu tries to use himself as an example here, but it kind of falls short, because is there really anyone as skilled as him that he hangs out with? Not when talking about setting, at least. Definitely not.)

Aran seems to be friendly with just about everyone on the team, which Atsumu supposes is great but a bit surprising, considering how frustrated he constantly seems with him and Osamu (but maybe, possibly, he's just a little bit fond of them considering they've known each other for years). But there are three people in particular that Aran hangs out with the most.

There's Oomimi, who's a starter middle, and Akagi, the second string libero. Both are very, very good at their respective positions, and Atsumu does enjoy playing with them. Oomimi is easy to set to, and with a powerful spike, and playing with Akagi behind him always makes Atsumu feel more comfortable on the court.

But that third guy Atsumu just… can't seem to figure out. Like, at all.

Kita Shinsuke isn't even on second string. As far as Atsumu can tell, he doesn't have any special skills when it comes to volleyball. He just comes to practice, does everything they're supposed to do, and goes home. Well, actually he always stays and cleans up after practice, and he tells Atsumu to "go home" a lot (which is kind of annoying because if Atsumu doesn't stay and practice his serve, how is he ever going to get any better at it?), and he makes a lot of comments to other players about their playing.

"When ya overhand, it tends to go right, so ya should aim left a little more" to Akagi, "Are ya feelin' alright? Ya aren't jumping as high as usual today, maybe ask fer shorter sets" to Aran, "Oomimi's liking his crosses today; keep blocking him from doing a line shot so he feels more comfortable, then block him out when it means somethin'" to Atsumu's team during a practice game's time-out.

The weirdest thing, though, in Atsumu's genuine, honest opinion, is that everyone just seems to take these things and follow them. Even Suna, who at times has been referred to by the second years as a "third Miya", follows Kita's suggestions. Maybe there's something comforting to other people about having someone observing on the outside and giving feedback, but Atsumu just can't get into it. Who does this guy think he is?

...Maybe that's just the "gigantic ego" Osamu says he has. Atsumu just can't see it.

But Kita is also… well, Atsumu doesn't really know, to be honest. He's nice. Atsumu likes being around him, despite really not knowing the guy. Sometimes he puts a hand on Atsumu's shoulder and says something nice about his playing, and Atsumu feels like he's going to puke, but it's in a strange, kind of nice puke-y way, not a super sick puke-y way.

Maybe he's got allergies.

Atsumu gets a girlfriend after the InterHigh prelims (which they lose, by the way, and then Atsumu snaps and says something about their third year setter (when he isn't in the room, by the way), and Osamu gets mad and tells him he's got a big head and some dumb inflated ego again, and then they get into a fight in the gym, and it's kind of a mess, but whatever, who cares, everything's fine). Her name's Nomura Yuuna and she's nice, pretty. She confesses to him in June and who is Atsumu to just say 'no'?

She has small hands, too. Atsumu doesn't know why he's so focused on that, and he doesn't know if he likes it, either.

Nomura comes to watch practice when she's done with her own club, and she sometimes sits with Atsumu and his friends at lunch, and Atsumu walks her home if she's still there when he's finished with his late serve practice and after they've cleaned up, because that's what a boyfriend is supposed to do.

He doesn't really meet her friends, and he's too busy to take her on dates, and he never brings her home to meet his family, and when they hold hands Atsumu feels kind of slimy (which is not the right word to describe the feeling at all but he can't think of anything else that fits), but that's okay. Is it supposed to feel like anything else? He can't help being busy, either, or being preoccupied with volleyball. He's going to go pro someday, so he has to spend all of his free time practicing.

Osamu says she's gonna dump Atsumu and he can't be surprised when it happens, but Atsumu just snaps that at least he's not the one pining after a middle blocker on his own team. (The real surprising part is that they don't get into a physical fight after that.)

It keeps Atsumu awake in bed that night, though, staring at the ceiling with hands resting on his stomach while Osamu shuffles around on the bottom bunk in his sleep. Is he a bad boyfriend because he hasn't met Nomura's friends yet? Or brought her home even though they've been dating for a month? He rarely walks her home because of how late he stays at practice, and they never see each other outside of school.

Atsumu rolls over to face the wall.

He doesn't much like holding her hand, either.

And they haven't even kissed yet.

Atsumu flushes, wide-eyed.

He talks big shit with his friends, but privately, he doesn't think he wants to kiss Nomura.

Atsumu breaks up with her the next day when they meet before morning practice, and she tells him he's an asshole, and that he wasn't a good boyfriend anyway, and stomps off to do whatever it is she does at school in the mornings. Atsumu doesn't even know how he's supposed to feel, so he just goes back to practice like nothing happened.

It doesn't really feel like anything's changed at all, anyway.

They eat lunch in Atsumu and Gin's classroom that day, and the first thing Suna does once he's sat down is ask where Nomura is.

"What?" Atsumu says it with his mouth full.

"Geez," Suna says, "you really are a shit boyfriend, huh?"

"Huh?" Atsumu almost drops rice from his mouth. Osamu watches this whole exchange through tired eyes. "And where's your girlfriend, Sunarin?"

"Where's yours?" Suna asks again.

"Oh," says Atsumu. "We broke up." Nonchalant. Like he doesn't care, like it didn't even affect him (which, I mean, it really didn't; dating a girl felt the same as not dating a girl, just with added bragging rights that he wasn't single).

"I told you she was gonna dump ya," Osamu says, finally.

Atsumu scrunches up his nose. "I dumped her, dumbass."

"Why?" says Suna.

"You were literally talking to mom about her last night," Osamu says.

"Look," says Atsumu, "I don't know, okay? I just wanted to, so I did."

"Oh my god. Are you serious?" Gin looks incredulous.

"What?" Atsumu snaps.

Gin turns to Osamu and says, "Is he joking? Tell me he's joking."

Osamu levels his gaze at Atsumu and says, "No, he's serious."

"Why's it such a big deal?" Atsumu asks lowly.

"You just dropped her. Just like that?" Suna asks.

"Yeah, I guess," says Atsumu. "I don't get why y'all care so much."

"'Tsumu…" Osamu rubs at his eyes like he's getting a headache. "Was she pissed? I bet she's pissed."

"Yes, she was mad, whatever." Atsumu picks at his bento with his chopsticks. "I don't see why y'all are so invested in my break-up habits. Worry about yer own relationship history." He has to stop himself from snorting when Osamu's eyes look to Suna at this, but Suna isn't even looking back, busy with something on his phone.

From his vantage point, Osamu's thing for Suna or whatever is looking kind of sad, because the two have quickly become what seems like best friends. What's worse is that Osamu doesn't even talk about it a lot, he just sighs at his phone, and it all kind of makes Atsumu a little upset with Sunarin for not liking his brother back and doing something about it, but it's not like he can ethically threaten somebody into a relationship. Atsumu is just stuck watching his brother trail after Suna (okay, maybe not trail, he doesn't act like some hopeless puppy).

If he's being truly honest, Atsumu's a little jealous of Osamu here. It's obvious he's started to care about Suna a lot. Atsumu's never felt that way about anyone before. Part of him doesn't think he's meant to.

Life goes on. One of Nomura's friends (well, she's probably one of Nomura's friends. Atsumu has to assume because he'd never actually met any of her friends) comes to chew Atsumu out for being a dick. They play volleyball and one of the third years works with Atsumu on perfecting his jump serve. Sometimes Suna comes over and studies with them (if you can call playing video games and chatting "studying").

Atsumu is perfectly fine not dating anyone again. Being single is fine. Great, really. He doesn't have to worry or even think about making commitments outside of volleyball.

But then another girl confesses to him, and he accepts. And they date for two weeks (the same as before, no friends, eating lunch together, no dates, and this time Atsumu doesn't even bother to hold her hand, doesn't miss that nasty squirmy dirty feeling) before he breaks up with her.

The third girl dumps him after three days.

After that, Atsumu stops bringing any girls to lunch with him and his friends. He stops really bringing it up with his friends and his parents whenever he starts dating a girl (if it can really be called "dating"), and romantic endeavors just drift into another background thing he doesn't care much for, like math class and reading, just another part of the routine.


They won the Spring High prelims, and since, practice has seemed to only get more and more intense. Kurosu splits them into teams and has them play each other every practice after a series of warm ups and drills, and then after the practice game, they do more drills.

The ball leaves Atsumu's fingertips in a perfect arc, a rainbow out of the little catch-toss set.

Kita's been moved up to second string for the Spring High, and Atsumu doesn't really get why. He's a stable presence on the court, yes, and his receives are immaculate, but there isn't really anything special or flashy about his play-style like Atsumu's come to expect from everyone else playing on first and second string at Inarizaki. His critiques and suggestions are always helpful, though, and he's amazing at reading both his own team's and the opponent's players. He's comforting to have behind you when you're playing.

Kita jumps and feints the ball over the tips of the blockers hands.

Atsumu, he despises being on second string. He knows he should be on the other side, playing with their first string players, because he's good. He's better than their third year setter, and not being on first string pisses him off.

Kita, he doesn't seem to care about that. Getting to play on second string, well. Atsumu really can't get a read on the guy. To Atsumu, Kita'd looked completely unfazed.

They really, really don't talk, not beyond Kita bluntly telling Atsumu things about his playing that day, or telling him and Osamu off for their fighting (which happens a lot). But they score a point, and Kita claps a hand on Atsumu's shoulder and tells him it was a good set "as always", and Atsumu feels that good squirmy feeling erupt in his stomach again, and god he'd really, really like to know what the hell that is.

They're in the locker room later, and Atsumu's going through his locker looking for his second pair of knee pads, because he needs to wash these ones, they're getting kinda gross with sweat and little bits of wood from the floor and dust, but if he's gonna take them home to wash he's gotta have the other pair here so he doesn't just not have knee pads.

And Kita's next to him, and he says, "Osamu."

Atsumu doesn't look up, even though he wants to, wants to know what Kita wants with his brother, doesn't like the not-so-good squirmy feeling he gets from thinking about that too long.

Kita places a hand gently on his upper arm and says, again, "Osamu."

Atsumu nearly jumps, turns to look at Kita, ignores the nice fluttery feeling that's back in his belly. "Huh?"

Kita blinks. Twice. Then, "Oh. Atsumu. I'm sorry, that's my bad." He pulls his arms back and cranes his neck, looking around the rest of the room. "Have ya seen yer brother? I need to ask him something."

His brother. Kita's gotten them mixed up.

Atsumu just shrugs and wills the topsy-turvy-ness of his stomach and nerves away. "Haven't seen 'im, sorry, Kita-san."

"That's alright, I can ask him tomorrow. Thanks, Atsumu." He pats Atsumu's shoulder, then bends down and picks up his gym bag, and leaves.

Atsumu watches him go. His arm is still lighting up with little fireworks in the places Kita'd touched.

At home, he digs his mom's bleach and toner and other miscellaneous hair products he doesn't understand out from under the sink, and he bleaches his hair a yellow, yellow shade of blond. Osamu shoves into the bathroom, too, when Atsumu's got his head under the tub faucet, washing everything out.

"Ya think I'm just gonna let ya do this crap on yer own? Why're ya leavin' me outta this?" Osamu grumbles, starts mixing up another bowl of bleach to put in his own hair.

Their mother yells something at them from the living room, but it's too muddled for either of them to make any sense of it. It's probably about making sure they actually clean up their mess in the bathroom for once.

"We can't both be blond, dumbass," Atsumu grumbles. He gets a bit of bleachy water in his mouth and spits.

"Yeah, dumbass, that's why I'm toning mine."

""Toning" isn't a word."

"I'm using toner you fucking-"

Their mother bangs on the bathroom door hard with her fist. "Stop fightin' or I'm gonna come in there and deal with ya myself."

Atsumu clamps his mouth shut.

Osamu grumbles something out that definitely isn't "sorry".

They go to school the next day with their new blond and silver hair (and Osamu won't stop telling Atsumu that his hair looks like piss, and Atsumu has to restrain himself each time from socking him in the face). Kita doesn't mix them up again.

They lose the Spring High in the semi-finals.

Instead of spending another night in Tokyo, they take the bus straight home. Atsumu can't really blame them. He doesn't want the time in the hotel to continue stewing in their defeat on his own.

He and Osamu almost get into a fight in front of the bus, so they're separated on the ride home, Osamu crammed into a window seat with Suna (oh, the horror, the torture that must be for him. Can you feel the sarcasm here?) and Atsumu's pressing his own cheek against the window with Kita on his other side.

Kita chats quietly with Aran sitting in front of them while Atsumu stares out the window, playing with his hands and, like he didn't want to do, stewing in their defeat.

Kurosu had switched out their third year setter during the second set, thinking, maybe, that Atsumu could pick things back up and win it for them, but he'd lost. There's a conflict in Atsumu's brain, now, on whether to blame the team for not being able to hit his tosses properly, or blame himself for not playing to his full potential.

He picks hard at the sides of his fingertips with his nails and fights the urge to bite his nails by trying to draw blood.

Kita, without looking away from his conversation with Aran, reaches a hand over and places it over Atsumu's own hands, holding them in place.

Atsumu's breath stills in his chest, his heart doing somersaults, and stops picking.

After what can't be more than two minutes, Kita pulls his hand back to his own lap. His quiet chatting never ceases, doesn't even stutter.

It takes Atsumu more than a few moments to catch his breath.

Back home, Osamu and Atsumu really do get into a fight.

It's nasty.

Atsumu will have a black eye tomorrow, and Osamu's got his fair share of scrapes and bruises, and his mom is pissed, worries and frets over them, and Osamu might need stitches over his eyebrow (he doesn't, they both insist, but his mom takes him to get it checked out anyway (and lo and behold, no stitches are needed)).

There's a storm gathering on the horizon when it happens, and Atsumu swears it's the tension in the air from the anticipated release of rain that makes the fight itself feel so utterly surreal.

When Osamu punches Atsumu in the face - in the eye - he yells, "Yer a fucking idiot, 'Tsumu. Ya don't win a game because of a single person, ya win because of all six of ya. So why would losing mean it was just one person's fault."

Atsumu thinks about Osam's words that night, a sliver of light illuminating the room from where Osamu's on his phone on the bottom bunk (texting Sunarin, probably), and Atsumu's got an ice pack wrapped in a towel over one closed eye. Maybe it is his fault - the loss, that is - but maybe it's everyone else's fault, too.

Kita sees them the next morning before practice, and Atsumu doesn't like how he feels when he sees that flash of disappointment in Kita's eyes.

Like letting Kita down is a much bigger deal than making their mom worry so much she actually takes Osamu to the hospital to get checked out.

"Didja get that outta yer systems, then?" Kita asks.

Atsumu feels like a dog with its tail between its legs, ears low.

Feels like he should apologise to Kita. For what, he really doesn't know.

"Yeah, Kita-san," Osamu says. "Don't worry 'bout us."

Kita just gives them another cursory glance before walking away. Atsumu swears Kita's gaze lingers on him for a moment longer than it does on Osamu, and he doesn't know how to deal with that, with the wave of feeling that he's enveloped in then.

Letting Kita down… Maybe that's the worst feeling in the world.

Kurosu keeps Kita on second string, and when the third years leave to focus full-time on graduation and college entrance exams, he names Kita captain for the following year. Atsumu had been sure it was going to be Aran.

It doesn't make sense to have someone with no official court time placed as the captain of such a powerhouse school as Inarizaki, but also… it kind of does make sense. Kita's a strong force on the court, grounding, and keeps everyone else from getting too cocky or too reckless; his reads, both of their own players and their opponents, are always spot on; he does everything the way it needs to be done, keeps his uniform and practice clothes and knee pads and volleyball shoes clean, never skips out on cleaning up the gym (something that the twins and Suna are extremely guilty of), always makes sure the locker room is spotless, doesn't slack off during drills (again, something the twins and Suna are sometimes guilty of). If anything, Kita's the brain of the team. Being off court so much, he analyses the game, how everyone's feeling and playing, and uses it to their advantage during timeouts when he gives tips and suggestions, and makes comments.

So maybe Kita doesn't play, really, but he's one of the reasons Inarizaki does as well as they do in tournaments.

Atsumu doesn't congratulate Kita out in the gym (because something about that feels strange, wrong, impersonal (and that's a word that'll be on their test Friday, and he remembers it and is using it correctly, fuck you Sunarin). But he changes slowly, ignores Osamu's taunts that he's being too slow, until he and Kita are the only ones left in the locker room.

Something about being alone with Kita, it makes Atsumu's heart pound so hard he can hear it louder than his thoughts, feel it in his neck. It makes his palms sweaty and his mouth dry. It feels like if he tried to talk right this second, he wouldn't be able to say anything comprehensive, would just stutter and stumble over his words, letting them fall out in a garbled mush of Japanese.

Is he really this intimidatin' to me? Atsumu wipes his palms on his pants and hopes Kita doesn't see, because that's a little gross, even if he is putting these in the wash tonight. What the hell is goin' on with me… What's wrong with me? This is nothin' compared to playin' volleyball in front of thousands o' folks at Nationals. Why do I feel like I'm about t' confess or somethin'?

"Atsumu? Didja need somethin'?"

Atsumu realises he's just been standing there, hands awkwardly at his sides, staring.

"Oh! Kita-san." And, hey, at least he's not stuttering. "Uh, I just wanted to congratulate ya on becomin' captain, is all."

"Ah. I see." Kita blinks. "Thank you. It means a lot, comin' from ya."

Does he look a little pink? Atsumu must be imagining things.

"Yeah! Well." Atsumu feels like an awkward idiot. "Uh, I gotta go. 'Samu's waitin'." Osamu is not waiting. Osamu, in fact, is on his way to their house right now, probably with Suna, probably stopping by the convenience store to stock up on snacks and buy Sunarin some of those gross spicy chips he likes, and Atsumu knows this. "Um, congrats again, yeah. Uh, I'll see ya."

Kita just raises a hand in a little wave, and maybe he's got a little smile, maybe Atsumu's just imagining things, but his ears definitely look a little red.

Atsumu grabs his bag and leaves the locker room, presses his back against the door once he's outside. His hands are shaking, sweating, and his heart's beating faster than he thinks it ever has before.

"The hell's wrong with me?" he mutters to himself. "Am I gettin' sick or something?"

After a quick google search, Atsumu confirms that there is, in fact, nothing wrong, not unless he's been using meth without knowing, and all of this can't possibly be from heat exposure because it's still winter. So, no, definitely not getting sick, definitely not going through drug withdrawal.

He might-

No, definitely not. He doesn't.


Google is telling him, in tall blue letters with a thin green link below, that he has a crush.

He does not have a crush. He doesn't. Not on Kita. Because Atsumu likes girls. He doesn't like boys. He's not gay. He's had lots of girlfriends since high school started, and sure he hates holding hands, and the thought of kissing a girl literally repulses him, and he doesn't even bother meeting their friends, doesn't introduce them to his own friends even, but he-

He likes girls. He does. (He doesn't want to hear "why couldn't ya have just been a girl?" out of his mom's mouth ever again.)

Kita puts his hand on Atsumu's shoulder while he's talking to him the next day, and Atsumu nearly jumps out of his skin, just stands there, stiff, while Kita keeps talking, doesn't seem to notice that anything's wrong.

Atsumu can't even hear the words coming out of Kita's mouth now.

Osamu, drinking out of his water bottle, watches them with his eyebrows raised. Suna just smirks.

If he had command over his body right now, Atsumu would flip the both of them off, even if that risked a Look from Kita.

Okay. Maybe he does have a little bit of a crush. Maybe. Whatever. He'll get over it, and then go back to liking girls like he's supposed to.

So to aid in that process, he gets a new girlfriend, and this time actually pours time into her.

She's in Inarizaki's girls' volleyball club, their second year ace. Her height's about in the 170s, she's got cropped silvery hair that doesn't quite reach her shoulders. Her build's a bit wide, she's muscle-y, and her hands aren't small.

And Atsumu asks her out.

And she says "yes".

He doesn't have lunch with her, but they do walk home together, because they both stay late at practice and finish around the same time. They even hold hands, which is actually kind of okay, because her hands aren't small, they're bigger, calloused, and Atsumu's hands don't completely envelop them like they did Nomura's.

Atsumu thinks maybe, maybe, if he got to have his eyes closed the whole time and didn't think about it at all, he could maybe kiss her.

"So," Osamu says at lunch, "Suna." Always 'Suna' with him, never 'Sunarin' or some other nickname. Atsumu always finds this interesting, considering Osamu's the one with a crush on Suna. "Didja hear Atsumu's datin' Kita-san now?"

Atsumu chokes.

Suna raises his eyebrows. "Huh? You mean Kikuno-senpai? I know."

Atsumu bangs his fist on the desk. "Why'dja hafta say it like that, 'Samu!"

"She does look like Kita-san, though," Gin says. He waves his box of apple juice around in a vague gesture. "The hair, she's the same height, same build, even."

"So? What's the big deal?"

Osamu raises his eyebrows. "It's not a big deal; I'm just makin' fun of ya. Why's it a big deal to you?"

Atsumu scrunches his nose, crosses his arms, leans back in his seat. "It's not."

Suna smirks. "It's because he likes Kita-san, but he doesn't want anyone to know."

"Can it, Sunarin," Atsumu spits. "I don't fucking like Kita-san."

Suna laughs at this, a little sputter of a thing that leaves his lips. Christ, Atsumu thinks, 'Samu likes this guy?

Gin looks thoughtful. Damn these guys. "I mean, it would kinda make sense if ya did-" he starts.

"I don't have a fuckin' crush on Kita-san," Atsumu snaps. "An' why's it always my fuckin' love life we talk about, huh? What about fuckin' 'Samu's?"


Osamu's voice is low, quiet, carrying a dangerous tone, and Atsumu, for once in his goddamn life, backs down.

The third years graduate, and spring break flies by. It feels like no time has passed at all before Atsumu's a second year, back in class and at practice. He gets his jersey number for the year (seven, take that 'Samu with lousy number eleven).

(Kita claps Atsumu on the shoulder at some point and tells him he hopes they'll "have another great year together", and Atsumu nearly combusts on the spot.)

And things are going great with Kikuno.

Atsumu gets to meet her dog, and her very sweet father. He even invites her over for dinner one weekend, and his mom gushes over her while Osamu watches through half-lidded eyes.

They hold hands, but they don't kiss. Kikuno doesn't ask, and neither does Atsumu, and honestly that is more than fine by him.

He frets, though, worries. His little… thing for Kita (god forbid he calls it a crush) only seems to be getting worse. And is there really something to be said about the fact that the girl he immediately went for after realising his thing for Kita just so happens to look exactly like Kita? Is there something to be said about hating the thought of kissing her? About how sometimes holding her hand feels like too much, and Atsumu has to resist the urge to pull his own hand forcefully away?

(About how seeing Kikuno in his volleyball jacket has been keeping him up at night thinking about Kita in his jacket.)

But. It's. Fine.

Atsumu pushes all of this down and away, doesn't let himself think about it, doesn't let himself think about how he lingers a beat and a half too long when his fingers brush Kita's when he's handed his water bottle at practice, doesn't let himself think about how much his gaze lingers on Kita's back in the locker room, doesn't let himself think about how, even though Aran's praise has always made him elated, praise from Kita hits him two fold.

(Doesn't let himself think about how he wishes it was Kita's hand he holds on the way home, Kita's dog and father he gets introduced to, Kita who his mother fawns over.)

And everything is going great!

Until their first overnight training camp of the year, where Osamu comes back with a boyfriend.

With Suna.

Atsumu ends up sitting with Kita on the bus ride back to school again (not because he wants to, but because Osamu and Suna are sitting together, with their heads close together, talking about crap Atsumu doesn't want to be anywhere near).

Osamu hasn't said anything, but Atsumu knows something's happened. It's in the way he's carrying himself around Suna. Something's shifted just a little bit to the right.

They unload the bus at school, and Atsumu has to keep himself from moping. Something about this just feels so unfair.

When they walk home, Osamu doesn't say anything, but he's got a new spring in his step, hands shoved in his pockets.

"Are ya gonna start whistlin' or something?" Atsumu asks; grumbles, really.

Osamu raises his eyebrows at him. "Hm?"

"Ya just seem weirdly happy, is all." Atsumu does his best not to scuff his feet on the ground as they walk, but he definitely fails.

Then after dinner, over pudding cups in their room while they watch a match on Atsumu's laptop, Osamu says, "I kissed Suna."

Atsumu scrunches his nose, tries to push aside that suffocating, overwhelming feeling that threatens to drown him. "Gross, why'dja wanna do that?"

Osamu ignores him. "He kissed me back."

Atsumu says nothing for a long moment, then, "Happy fer ya, 'Samu."

"Just wanted ya to know," Osamu says, and Atsumu gets this strange sense of deja vu.

"What, that yer gonna be all gross an' stuff with Sunarin durin' practice now? Yeah, I guess a heads up is nice."

Osamu punches him in the shoulder, hard, but it's not mean, or unfriendly.

Truthfully, the status quo within their small group of second years barely changes now that Osamu and Suna are a thing. Osamu's almost always brought Suna snacks, and Suna's always been a little touchy with Osamu. It's just that now, there's a real weight to those actions. Also, Gin and Atsumu have full privilege to make fun of them non-stop for it.

Sunarin, the saint (not) that he is, doesn't even bat an eye, doesn't give a shit. Osamu at least graces them with his middle finger almost daily, which brings Atsumu nothing but joy.

And Atsumu? He does his best not to feel jealous.

Because that's what the suffocating feeling is, he's realising: jealousy. Which makes no sense, because he has a girlfriend. (A girlfriend who looks exactly like Kita, but still isn't him.)

They make it to Nationals again for InterHigh, this time with Atsumu starting along with Osamu, Gin, and Suna. They don't win (they get beaten by Itachiyama, some stupid Tokyo team), but it's the team's cohesiveness and talent, along with Kita's suggestions and careful eye, that gets them to the finals.

There's a lot of crying on the bus home. Even Kita cries a bit, from what's become his usual spot next to Atsumu and behind Aran. Atsumu doesn't cry, surprisingly. He's just pissed, curses Itachiyama and there stupid ace. Vows to get his revenge on them at the Spring High.

There's no anger at himself or his team, this time, no self-hate, self-deprecation. Just anger at that stupid weasel team and their stupid, stupid ace. Fuck him and his fucking face mask, fucking curly hair, fucking moles.

He screams into his pillow at home, and his mom slams her fist on the door telling him to "keep it down!"

"Calm down," Osamu tells him, but Atsumu can tell he's angry as well. "Take it out at practice."

He ends up calling Kikuno and she lets him vent and complain and lament their loss, offers kind and inspiring words. And it helps, but Atsumu can't help but wish it was Kita on the other end of the line.

They get a break during summer, and Atsumu gets ice cream one day with Kikuno. It's actually really fun.

Despite everything bottled up inside him, Atsumu does find himself able to relax and let go around her. It's kind of like when he and Osamu aren't fighting and picking on each other, and are just messing around, causing problems for others instead of for each other. Maybe this is what having a best friend is like.

There's no pressure to kiss or any of that, either. That's what Atsumu really likes about Kikuno. He doesn't feel like he needs to live up to all these expectations with her, what people think you're supposed to do when you're dating someone.

They end up finishing their ice cream and just wandering around the streets. At one point, they wind up in an alley after following a little orange cat and finding a box of rags with little orange kittens that the mom actually lets them bend down and pet.

And then they end up in a little tussle when Atsumu steals Kikuno's phone, with shoving and loud laughter, and then-

And then Kikuno's got Atsumu against the wall, and they're not laughing anymore, just grinning. And Kikuno's smile drops off her face, and she looks, for a moment, small. Eyebrows turned up just a notch, a little concerned-

Atsumu's not smiling anymore, either.

And then Kikuno's closing her eyes and leaning in, and so Atsumu closes his too and thinks, hey, maybe it won't be so bad, as horrible and awful and just repulsive as he keeps worrying kissing girls will be.

She stops, for a beat, with their noses almost brushing.

He breathes, "Kita-"


Atsumu's eyes fly open. Kikuno's staring at him.

"Huh?" Atsumu's heart is in his throat, but it's not in the nice way like when Kita puts his hand on his shoulder and talks to him about something at practice. This just feels awful.

"I-" Kikuno takes a step back, licks her lips. "I'm sorry. We should get going, I gotta be home fer dinner."

"Yeah," Atsumu says, breathless. "Yeah, okay. Alright."

Atsumu gives Kikuno her phone back. They walk back toward their neighbourhoods holding hands, and chat like nothing had happened in the alley except seeing the kittens.

They part ways where they normally do, promise to see each other again before their break ends, head home.

Atsumu, though, doesn't stop thinking about that moment in the alley for the rest of the week. He feels like such an idiot.

They're getting ready for the Spring High prelims now, and as summer finally comes to a close, they have their annual week-long training camp away from school. The girls' club has one, too, but they go to completely different locations, so Atsumu knows he won't be running into Kikuno here.

It's a little inn-like place, where the team's made to take care of themselves with nobody but their coaches, and a little run-down indoor gym. The first time Atsumu was here, he'd been skeptical, but it'd proven to be one of the best weeks of his life.

They arrive now and pile off the bus, Atsumu and Osamu literally scrambling over each other to get inside the dorm building. For once, Kita doesn't even bother scolding them, just laughs a bit, and Atsumu feels like his heart is going to explode.

All they do the first night is set things up for sleeping, and get the kitchen and eating area all cleaned and set up. At one point, Atsumu and Osamu get exiled outside because they start causing too many problems. Kita checks on them intermittently, too, to make sure they aren't fighting or causing even worse problems outside.

"C'mon, Kita-san," Atsumu says with a toothy grin when Kita pokes his head out the door for maybe the fifth time in less than two hours. "Have a lil' faith in us, wouldja?"

Kita raises his eyebrows. "In you two? No."

Osamu cackles while Atsumu pouts. Kita gives them a little smile before going back inside.

They eat dinner together, but it's a tight fit for them all into the small dining area, so most of them end up eating in the grass outside. Atsumu sits with the other second years on first string, he and Gin trying to get Suna to snort milk out his nose while Osamu pulls up grass and rips it into shreds.

Gin's telling a particularly bad joke, something Atsumu's sure he'd find hilarious if he was actually listening, but he's stuck staring across the grass at where Aran and Kita are eating alone together under a tree. They're too far away for Atsumu to be able to make anything out, but Kita's smiling, and he laughs at something Aran says.

Atsumu knows he shouldn't be staring, knows it's kind of weird, but he can't help it. Kita is… impossible to look away from.

He turns and meets Atsumu's gaze then, holds it for a beat, then looks away, says something to Aran. Aran immediately turns to look at Atsumu, and Kita pushes his shoulder, laughing. Atsumu feels himself flush.

There's no way they're talking about him.

"Hey." Osamu snaps his fingers under Atsumu's nose. "Earth to Miya "I don't have a crush on Kita-san" Atsumu. Yer starin'."

Atsumu snaps at Osamu's hand with his teeth, and his brother only pulls his fingers away right in the nick of time.

After dinner, they get ready to turn in for the night. They'll all be sleeping in futons in one big room, the windows and doors propped open because there's no air conditioner, no fans, and it is unbearably hot. Atsumu's managed to secure himself a nice space in the corner of the room, where it's cool, but unfortunately this means Osamu, Suna, and Gin all come with him. To think he almost had a good night's sleep all to himself.

He's joking, of course.

Or, he is until he remembers about Sunarin's little folder of blackmail photos he keeps on his phone.

It's a good night, though.

The start of the training camp goes by well. Atsumu feels like he's making good, real progress with his serves, feels like he's really syncing up well with everyone on the team. The food's good, too, and they're all mostly too busy or too tired for Atsumu to find his thoughts straying to Kita. Which is good. Maybe this whole thing is finally starting to disappear.

The fourth night, though, Atsumu can't sleep.

He'd been tired when they'd gotten ready to sleep, but Suna had been busy with something on his phone, and the light had kept Atsumu up. And now Suna's finally put that thing away and gone to sleep himself, but Atsumu just… can't fall asleep.

After tossing and turning for what could either be two hours or two minutes, he decides to just go get a glass of water and see if he can find a snack.

Quietly, carefully, he steps over his teammates and makes his way out into the hall. The whole place looks completely different at night, and it takes a real effort to remember which way the kitchen is and to not step on any of the extra loud, squeaky floorboards.

The light in the kitchen is on.

Atsumu halts in his tracks. Did he wake someone up?

But then, he realises, if he did wake somebody up on his way here, they would've gotten to the kitchen after he did, which means this person was already up anyways.

He pokes his head through the kitchen entrance.

It's Kita.

He's got a glass of water on the table next to him and is reading a book. The kitchen windows are open, a cool night breeze blowing against the curtains in gentle flutters. The warm light of the kitchen overheads feels stark and strange against the night landscape, against Kita and his quiet reading.

Part of Atsumu wants to turn back, to not disturb the scene in front of him; part of him also really wants that glass of water.

He clears his throat, and Kita looks up from his book, gives a soft smile when his eyes find Atsumu in the doorway. "Atsumu."

Atsumu's heart skips a beat. "Hey, Kita-san. It's kinda late, isn't it?"

Kita closes his book neatly. Doesn't even put a bookmark in. He's probably one of those people who memorises what page they're on. Atsumu has to admit, he finds that a little endearing.

"Yer still up," Kita points out. "Didja need somethin'?"

"Just water." Atsumu regains control over his body and scuffs across the kitchen floor to grab a cup, fills it with cool water from the sink. Then he sits at the table next to Kita, close enough where they're barely touching.

This is dangerous. Atsumu knows this is dangerous. He should drink his water quick, go back to the other room and lie down.

"What're ya reading, Kita-san?"

"Ah." Kita looks back at his book. "Just somethin' my granny recommended to me."

Atsumu hums. "Is it good?"

"Why?" Kita asks. "Are ya asking if you'd like it?"

"Na. I don't really read."

Kita huffs a small, breathy laugh. "I'd kinda figured."

They're quiet. Atsumu drinks his water carefully and tries not to think about how he's only a few centimetres away, how he could reach out just barely and touch Kita's bare arm. The key word here is "tries".

And he savours the silence, the quiet, the gentle sounds of the breeze through the window, the sink dripping, Kita turning the pages of his book. This memory is a snapshot, something Atsumu's sure will be imprinted on his mind for the rest of his life.

For the first time in a while, he feels totally at peace.

Eventually, though, his cup of water empties, and he can feel sleep tugging at the corners of his vision, so Atsumu puts his cup in the sink and bids Kita a good night. Kita just smiles after him again, and goes back to his book.

Atsumu falls asleep, warm, and he dreams about warm smiles and soft, gentle, calloused hands, and when he wakes up, he's curled around his pillow.

Okay, so the Kita problem is still definitely an issue, and, contrary to Atsumu's previous belief, it is definitely getting worse.

Great. Excellent. (Again with the sarcasm.)

He knows that avoiding Kita on purpose won't go unnoticed, so Atsumu decides that he'll just have to suck it up and continue hoping this whole thing goes away on its own. Even if, well-

Even if he's started hoping it doesn't go away. Even if part of him is hoping that he isn't making up the number of times he's turned to look for Kita only to see Kita already looking at him, the way both their hands linger on water bottles and towels and whatever else it is they're both reaching for, the way Kita seems to seek him out during individual practice.

The quiet, gentle, warm way Kita says his name.

If Atsumu's been imagining all of that, then he should just give up now.

The day before they leave to go back home, it's particularly hot. They're struggling to keep the water bottles full, because they have to keep running between the gym and the kitchen to fill them all up, so Kurosu sends Atsumu and Kita (for some godforsaken reason) back to the other building to fetch a couple of water coolers from one of the closets.

And it has got to be the smallest "closet" Atsumu has ever seen. If you can even call it a closet. If he and Kita stood in there together, they'd be pressed chest to chest, it's so goddamn small. It's tall though, and the shelves in the back and along the sides are so full, Atsumu's struggling to find the coolers.

"Hold on." Kita places a hand on Atsumu's shoulder and leans around him as much as he can in the tight space. "I think I see one of 'em."

Atsumu holds his breath and steps into the closet to give Kita room to actually get the cooler, if he can. He tries his best to ignore his sweaty hands.

Kita steps into the closet too, then, and stands up his tiptoes, trying to reach something on the top of the shelf that Atsumu doesn't think is a cooler, but, well, he trusts Kita. Whatever.

Kita clicks his tongue against his teeth. "I can't reach." He turns around, almost bumping his face into Atsumu's, which sends Atsumu jerking his own head back and nearly smashing it into the shelf behind him. "Atsumu-"

The door slams shut.

Atsumu panics.

"Hey!" He reaches toward where the door is wildly, trying to find the doorknob, but all he finds is flat wood and Kita. "Shit, sorry, Kita-san-"

"Atsumu." Kita places a hand firmly on Atsumu's chest, and Atsumu's heart skips. "Hold on."

There's the sound of the doorknob jiggling, but then no sudden burst of light.

"It's locked."

"Shit," Atsumu says again. "Are ya serious?"

"Why would I joke about this?"

Kita huffs a sigh, and Atsumu feels his breath on his face.


Seriously, shit.

"We're stuck in here," Atsumu says, tries not to think about his own breath on Kita's face.

"Yes," says Kita, "it appears that we are."

"Shit. Kita-san-"

"You're fine," says Kita. "Are ya claustrophobic?"

"No." Atsumu really doesn't want to talk about the real reason this situation is stressing him out so much.

"Then, we'll be okay." Kita places a hand on Atsumu's shoulder in what's probably meant to be a comforting gesture, but in the tight space, it ends up being right at the juncture of Atsumu's shoulder and neck.

It really, really feels like Kita's about to kiss him. And Atsumu? For once, the thought of kissing someone doesn't make his skin crawl. Because Kita's not a girl? Because he's Kita? Atsumu hates thinking about this.

In all honesty, he wishes Kita would just put his hand on the back of Atsumu's neck and close the gap between them, would just kiss him. It's not like Atsumu hasn't spent the last several months daydreaming about that, not like it's all he was thinking about, really, when Kikuno had almost kissed him.

They're quiet for a long time. Atsumu hopes someone comes and finds them soon.

After a long, long while, Kita says, "Hey." Atsumu is acutely aware of the fact that he can feel Kita's breath against his lips. If he leant forward just a bit, he could probably… could probably just fit their lips together.

He wonders, then, if Kita bites his lips a lot. Does he use a lot of chapstick? He probably takes very good care of his lips, if the rest of his habits are anything to go off of. His lips are probably really soft.

Atsumu wonders what Kita tastes like. What would it be like to run his tongue across Kita's bottom lip, or to run his teeth gently over it? Would he whimper? Gasp? Grab Atsumu's shoulders with both hands and pull him closer?

"Atsumu," Kita says, soft - so, so soft. "Can I-"

The door flies open.

"Hey- What the fuck."

"Osamu," Kita says, doesn't even miss a beat.

"Oh, my god." Atsumu feels like he's going to pass out.

"Um." Osamu holds the edge of the door with one hand, looking unsure on what to do.

"We got locked in here," says Kita, puts a hand on Osamu's shoulder and gently pushes him back so that the door fully opens. "It's real windy today, huh? Must've blown the door shut."

"Sure," Osamu says easily. He won't look at Atsumu. "Coach sent me to come find ya, 'cus they found the water coolers in the gym storage."

Atsumu thinks he might explode.

The rest of the day is fine. They play like normal, eat, bathe, mostly pass out before eleven at night.

Atsumu, again, cannot fall asleep, but this time he's determined to do so on his own and without the unintentional help from Kita.

He spends the better part of an hour rolling over, trying to get comfortable, and right when he finds a good spot-

There's the sound of soft footsteps on hardwood, the rustle of sheets and clothes, and finally, "Atsumu?"

He pretends to be asleep. He doesn't want to face whatever it was Kita was going to ask earlier today. Call him a coward, whatever. If he pretends to be asleep, they don't have to talk, and then he can actually fall asleep.

Atsumu just wants to get rid of this, to run away from it all, to go back to the way things are supposed to be.

Another beat, and then Kita's walking away.

When Atsumu falls asleep, he dreams of a dark closet, Kita's warm hand on his neck, "Can I kiss you?"

"You have a crush on Kita-san."

"Shut the fuck up." Atsumu mashes the buttons on his controller harder.

"Playing badly isn't gonna help ya win," Osamu says; Atsumu kicks out a foot to try and knock him off the bed, but Osamu just scoots over. "Look, I'm not gonna make ya talk about it, but it's getting kinda sad to just watch."

"'Samu," Atsumu growls, "ya don't know what yer talking about."

Atsumu pours his all into preparing for Nationals. He only sees Kikuno when they walk home because of how busy he is with that, and how busy she is with balancing both volleyball and college entrance exams. Her team's not going to Nationals, but she'll still be playing in university, so she still attends club.

He sees Kita a lot more often than he knows he should (because at this point he's beyond pretending he doesn't want to see him). Everyone stays at practice a bit later than usual, and Atsumu apparently is not above actually offering to help clean the gym up afterwards if it means maybe getting to brush Kita's hand with his own if they reach for something in the storage closet at the same time.

...God, is he really this desperate?

He gets invited to the All-Japan Youth Intensive training camp in December. Osamu does not get an invite. He doesn't seem bothered, though, and something about that unnerves Atsumu. Is it that desire to constantly be ahead of his brother in a way that makes Osamu angry, jealous? (Because when Osamu's jealous, Atsumu knows he'll keep going, keep pushing, just so they'll remain on the same stage. He supposes they have to go their separate ways at some point, but Atsumu's been hoping that day won't come for another ten, twenty years.)

Kita congratulates Atsumu on his invite, tells him that he deserves it, and Atsumu smiles, genuine, so wide his cheeks hurt later.

Kikuno congratulates him, too. His leaving for a week really won't mess with them, considering how busy they'll both be until the spring. Part of Atsumu has been wondering what happens when Kikuno graduates - do they break up? - but mostly he's trying not to think about it.

As long as he has a girlfriend, nobody can seriously think he has a crush on Kita. Even Osamu'll have to let it go sooner or later.

Atsumu'll be missing school for the training camp, and when Kita tells him to stay safe and not let his grades drop, it feels strangely like he's being threatened.

He heads off to Tokyo on his own with nothing but a duffle bag packed with clothes, hygiene products, and his volleyball kit.

Some of the people there, he's not surprised to see. Sakusa, for one, and Komori, from Itachiyama. Hoshiumi Kourai is there as well. Not Ushijima, though.

The only true surprise, really, is this no-name kid Kageyama Tobio. He's a good setter; Atsumu can tell just from hitting one toss. The ball goes up and it's right where Atsumu wants it to be. Really, it's kind of scary.

But it's not really a challenge, is it?

There's something about this kid that so obviously wants to please people. Atsumu's got to wonder what's making him so afraid of being more a conductor than a teammate.

He says as much to Kageyama, and the kid actually looks offended when Atsumu suggests that maybe he'd want to play a hitter instead. Atsumu can feel Sakusa's eyes on him for the whole exchange.

And damn Sakusa. Atsumu tells him harshly at dinner the first night that he's beating him at the Spring High. Sakusa just scoffs, doesn't even grace him with a real response.

At least Komori has the sense to look a little apologetic at that.

Throughout the week, Sakusa stays as a constant blip on Atsumu's radar. Up close, the guy is pretty handsome, even when he's wearing a mask. Atsumu's heart does funny things when he sets to the guy, and he finds himself really enjoying being around him, even if Sakusa refuses to call him by his first name, just says "Miya" with as much disdain as he can muster.

It's on night three that Atsumu, lying awake, is google searching about crushes (again).

Because he understands Kita, kind of. He's a pretty guy, and his features are a little soft up close. It would maybe kind of sort of make a tiny bit of sense for Atsumu's straight guy brain to project onto him or something, and for Atsumu to develop a crush.

He can understand Kita being a fluke. He doesn't understand Sakusa.

What does it mean if I'm a guy and I have a crush on other guys?

He honestly doesn't know what he expects.

You're gay.


You like men.

Someone slides the door open, presumably coming back from the bathroom, and Atsumu slams his phone against his chest so fast it actually stings a bit. Like he's been caught committing a crime of some sort.

"You're still up, Miya?"

It's just Sakusa.

Just Sakusa.


"So're you," Atsumu points out.

"Whatever." Sakusa sits down on his own futon against the wall. "You better not complain about being tired tomorrow."

Atsumu snorts and rolls over away from him.

"Whatever", indeed.

So, maybe he does like men. Okay. That's fine.

Because Kita, Kita could've been a fluke, just something off. But Sakusa, too? In such a short period of time? Not to mention, the first girl Atsumu's ever been genuinely interested in looks exactly like Kita. Also, he's terrified of kissing her, and he knows the only reason he holds her hand is because her hands remind him of Kita's-

Okay. Alright. Maybe he doesn't like girls at all. Osamu was right; he does have a big, stupid crush on Kita.

And, really, Atsumu should've been expecting this since middle school.

After all, Osamu always does things first.

When he gets back in Hyougo, the first thing he sees is a text from Kikuno telling him "welcome back", and then a second message that says, "I need to talk to u about something Monday".

That's great, Atsumu thinks, because I really think we need to break up.

Now he's got this big revelation, something absolutely ground-breaking for him, and he has told absolutely nobody. He thinks about this Sunday night, lying on his back in bed, staring at the ceiling, while Osamu talks to Suna over the phone and finishes some homework last minute.

He could tell Osamu; he could tell his parents, too, but-

("Why couldn't ya have just been a girl?")

Atsumu decides not to do that.

Instead, he formulates a plan for how to end things peacefully with Kikuno.

And as it turns out, he doesn't have to.

"I think we should break up."

They meet outside the entrance of Inarizaki. It's a cold morning, grey-yellow clouds on the horizon telling of snow later.

Atsumu blinks. His eyelashes are cold on his cheeks. "You do?"

"Yer a great guy, Atsumu," Kikuno says, and, geez, this is probably the first time he's actually heard that with some semblance sincerity. "Ya really are. But this, just," and she gestures vaguely between them, "isn't gonna work out. I'm sorry."


Kikuno blinks a few times, looks a bit taken aback. ""Okay"?" she repeats. "Yer not upset?"

"Actually," Atsumu starts picking at his fingers with a nail again, and wishes Kita were here to put his warm hands over Atsumu's own, like he did months and months ago, "I was gonna tell ya the same thing."

"Oh," says Kikuno. "Well, that worked out, huh?" Then, "Why?"

Atsumu looks at her; she looks back at him, doesn't move.

Yeah, he can see why his brain picked her to project his crush on Kita onto, because beneath the looks, they've both got that special stubbornness about them.

Alright, Atsumu thinks, if I'm gonna have to tell people, namely 'Samu, I guess I'd better start now.

"I don't think I like girls," he says, which is bullshit, actually, because he knows he doesn't, has probably known since Nomura. It had just been too much to accept at the time. There are always going to be things Atsumu doesn't want to think about, things he doesn't want to hear, consequences he doesn't want to deal with. It's just a matter of being ready to finally face the music.

"Oh," Kikuno says. "Oh."

Please, pleads Atsumu silently, say something else.

"That's kinda funny, actually," she continues, "because I do."

"...Ya do?"

Kikuno nods.

"Wait, you do what?"

"Like girls," Kikuno says. "Actually, the reason I accepted yer confession was 'cus I wanted to make Natsumi-chan jealous. I shouldn't have let this go on fer as long as it did, though. So I'm sorry about that."

"Oh," says Atsumu. "Well, I kinda just realised last week, so it's alright."

Kikuno raises her eyebrows. "Last week? Was there someone cute at that camp?"

Atsumu scowls.

Kikuno bursts out laughing. "Sorry! Sorry, ya don't have to tell me." She grins. "I'm glad ya got yerself figured out, Atsumu-kun."

"Yeah," he says. "Good luck with, uh, Natsumi-san." Then, "Wait, yer manager?"

Kikuno blushes hard. "Well, I- yes. Our manager."

Akabane Natsumi is a small, mousy girl with brown hair cut in a bob, small shoulders, tiny wrists- Atsumu's spoken to her approximately one time, and she'd looked really stressed out their entire conversation.

"I see," he says. "So that's yer type, huh?"

"Atsumu." Kikuno puts a hand on his shoulder. "I know the only reason ya asked me out is 'cus ya have a giant crush on yer captain."

Atsumu gapes. "I- No."

"Fer crying out loud, ya said his name that time we almost kissed." Kikuno crosses her arms, and again the resemblance to Kita is clear. "Which is okay, by the way. I didn't really wanna kiss ya, but I didn't want ya to think something was off because we hadn't kissed, and it just felt like the time to do it, ya know?"

Atsumu nods.

"Look, Kita, he's-" Kikuno cuts herself off and sighs.

Atsumu raises his eyebrows. "What?"

"I don't wanna get yer hopes up fer nothing," she says. "He's a sweet guy. Good luck."

"Oh. Uh, thanks."

They go their separate ways, and Atsumu scours the bottom floor of the school hunting for Osamu, who he knows slinks off somewhere with Sunarin every morning, he just hasn't found where yet. But he wants to talk to his brother before they meet up at lunch and he has to inevitably explain just why he and Kikuno broke up. It'll just be easier if Osamu understands beforehand, just to keep it under wraps.

And he does find Osamu and Suna, under one of the stairwells, sitting pressed close together and watching something on Suna's phone.

Atsumu knocks a couple of times on the wall inside the stairwell and says, "'Samu."

Osamu jerks his head back, the earbud being ripped from his ear. "What."

"I need to talk to ya."

Osamu looks at him, then at Suna, then back at him. "Okay?"

"Like," Atsumu gestures behind his shoulder, "alone."

Osamu looks confused, and Suna just stares at Atsumu dead on. It's unnerving.

Finally, finally Osamu stands up and comes out of the stairwell. He's got his hands shoved in the pockets of his pants, and he's slouching a bit - come on, Sunarin, of all the habits you could've passed off on Osamu, this is the one that stuck? - and he already looks bored with the conversation.

"What's up."

"Okay," says Atsumu, tries to mentally stop his pounding heart and shaking hands. It's not like Osamu of all people would react badly to this. "I'm gay."

Osamu hums, nods. "Okay," he says. Just like that. "Yer not bi?"


"Ya dated Kikuno-senpai fer, like, months. And it was you who asked her out, so. I just assumed."

"No," Atsumu says. "I don't like girls." Then, "Also, me and Kikuno just broke up."

"I see. Is that it?" When Atsumu nods once, firmly, Osamu continues, "I'm gonna go back to Suna then. See ya at lunch."

Atsumu truly accepting that he's gay feels simultaneously like a huge deal, and like nothing at all. It feels like something should change, like maybe he's supposed to feel different, like a new person, but all that's really changed is-

Well, for starters, he doesn't have a girlfriend anymore, and he feels like that internal pressure to have a girlfriend is almost gone entirely. Also, he feels like he can finally let his pining, hopeful thoughts about Kita just be instead of having to fight and challenge them all the time. It's- honestly, it's relieving. Atsumu didn't realise you could live this easily.

But now that he's realising his crush on Kita is okay, it's not something he needs to get over, everything with Kita involved becomes quickly overwhelming.

Their hands brush when Kita hands Atsumu a mop, and Atsumu spends the next ten minutes remembering how to breathe; they lock eyes in the locker room or across the gym, and Atsumu has to look away and remind himself to focus on whatever it is he's actually meant to be doing.

There seemed to be this two week long grace period after Atsumu told Osamu he's gay where his brother actually left him alone, but now that Suna and Gin know, too, that whole thing is up. And none of them leave Atsumu alone.

Atsumu gets to lunch in Osamu and Suna's classroom later than normal one day, and when he enters, Suna greets him with, "Ah, so Kita Atsumu finally decides to grace us with his presence."

Atsumu sets his bento down harshly on the cluster of decks they push together to form a table. "Sunarin."

"Wow," Gin says, chewing on his juice box straw. "Not even a 'fuck you'. What's Kita-san done to ya, huh, Atsumu?"

"Never seen 'im this docile before," Osamu says.

"Domesticated," Suna mutters.

"Ya can go after me all ya want, but are we just gonna ignore 'Samu givin' Sunarin half his lunch yesterday?" Atsumu grumbles.

Osamu just says, "Suna's my boyfriend", like that clears everything up (and, Atsumu supposes, it does).

But besides the teasing and the new inability to cope with any interaction with Kita, nothing changes. He still hasn't told his parents, because, despite how quickly they came around to their sons being trans and Osamu being gay, Atsumu just- he doesn't want to be a disappointment. Doesn't want to-


A week before they leave for Nationals, Osamu points out on their way home that graduation is only a few short months away. "If yer gonna tell Kita-san ever, yer gonna have to do it soon."

Which, yeah, Atsumu knows. Did he ever plan to tell Kita, though? These last few weeks, where everything's been different and the same, he's just been winging everything. Every interaction, every glance, every word. He's improvising.

"Ya like to just do things," Osamu says. "And… yeah, me too, that's how me and Suna-"

Atsumu flaps his hand in Osamu's face, shutting him up. "Yeah, yeah, I know, I don't need to hear about you and Sunarin kissin' in the training camp bathrooms again."

Osamu stops walking and aims a level gaze at Atsumu. "Yer gonna pretend ya and Kita-san weren't about to kiss in that storage closet? Okay."


Osamu raises his eyebrows.

"We were fuckin' locked in there, Samu. 'T wasn't like that."

"Okay," Osamu concedes, "but what's important is that ya wish that's what happened. Anyway, back to my point that ya so rudely interrupted me on-"

Atsumu sticks his middle finger up and jabs Osamu in the nose with it.

"I'm tryin' to be serious here, ya jackass," Osamu snaps. "Ya should tell Kita-san before he graduates, and ya should do it properly. Think about it, make a plan of action, execute it. A guy like Kita-san, he'd appreciate that kinda thing."

Atsumu shoves his hands deep in his pockets and frowns, starts walking again. "Can't," he says. "He'll say 'no'."

"So? 'S the end of the year, 'Tsumu; who cares? You'll feel better if ya get it off yer chest, anyway."

Atsumu doesn't say anything.

Osamu bumps their shoulders together companionably. "There's nothing to be scared of, 'Tsumu. Even if Kita-san didn't like ya, he's not the kinda guy to hold something like this against someone."

"Easy fer you to say."

"Why. 'Cus I confessed to Rin?"


"'Tsumu. Shut the fuck up."

Atsumu snorts.

"Look, I was fuckin' terrified back then, okay?" Osamu says. Lays his past fear of rejection out like a peace offering. Atsumu, true to his nature, eats it up. "I thought if he'd said 'no', we weren't gonna be friends anymore. But Rin's not that kinda guy. And lucky me, I was reading his own signs right, so I didn't have anything to really worry about. Kita-san-"

"Kita-san's a bit harder to read than Sunarin."

"Ya can read Rin?"

"Well, no," Atsumu admits.

"I think Kita-san's a little easier to read than Rin, actually," Osamu says. Out of the corner of his eye, Atsumu can see him stroking his chin. He looks like an old man, but Atsumu bites his tongue and doesn't say that. It's the least he can do right now. "Maybe yer just struggling 'cus ya like him."

"Kita-san's impossible," Atsumu argues.

Osamu gives him a Look. "He's not," he says. "It's been easier to tell what's goin' on in his head this year. 'Specially when it comes to you." He flicks Atsumu's forehead, and Atsumu smacks him away.

"Whatever." Osamu stuffs his hands in his pockets. "I still think ya should tell him. Wait 'til graduation if ya have to, even. But if ya do nothing, you'll regret it someday."


But what Osamu's saying makes sense. Even if Kita rejects him, what's the harm in confessing? In opening up and admitting his feelings after nearly two years of repressing them?

+one week until nationals+

Atsumu's first plan to confess goes like this: He's going to write Kita a letter, like girls do in anime, like girls do in real life, like the ones Atsumu's been handed in person and gotten stuffed in his locker. Then, he'll give it to Kita on graduation before he goes home. That way, if he gets rejected, he can just move on and not deal with seeing Kita face-to-face ever again.

...The downside to this one is that if he doesn't get rejected, they'd have to navigate through long-distance or at least barely seeing each other from the get-go, which is far less than ideal.

The second downside, Atsumu finds one day later, is that he can't write for shit.

He considers asking Sunarin for help, because he knows Sunarin's good at this kind of thing, but then he considers how much mockery he'd face for that, and decides against it.

+six days until nationals+

If he can't write a letter, Atsumu decides, he'll just stick with the original plan and just tell Kita with his mouth. He can just stroll up to him before they both go their separate ways and say, "Kita-san, I like you."

Downside number one is still the possibility of being primarily long-distance.

At practice that afternoon, Kita pulls him aside and tries to talk to him about his jump floats. Atsumu spends the whole conversation saying nothing, because Kita's got his hand on his arm again, and he thinks he's forgetting how to breathe properly again.

He's barely able to stumble over a "Yeah, okay, thanks, Kita-san" when Kita stops touching him.

So maybe trying to tell Kita verbally how he feels isn't a great idea, after all.

+five days until nationals+

"What's he doing?"

"He's trying to figure out how to confess to Kita-san," Suna says.

"I can hear ya," Atsumu snaps. "Why didn'tja go get juice with 'Samu, huh? Aren't ya meant to be attached at the hip or some shit?"

"Yer projecting," Gin says.

"Literally how?"

"Because ya wanna go on a vending machine lunch date with Kita-san." For some reason, Suna gives Gin a high-five for this.

Atsumu grinds his pencil into the paper he's been writing on until the lead snaps. "Fuck you guys."

He's gone back to the letter idea, but this time, he's just writing a list of all the things he likes about Kita. But he keeps restarting because he's either being too specific ("Your smile when you're looking at our daily stats after practice") or too vague ("Your hair). It's really, really not going well.

"Look," Gin says, "ya gotta court the guy first."

Suna squints. "Court him?"

"Yeah, like how Osamu did with you, bringin' lunch and snacks and all those pudding cups fer ya every day for, like, months."

"What? He wasn't courting me."

"Na, I gotta agree with Gin here," Atsumu says. "'Samu doesn't share food with people. He was totally trying to butter ya up before he asked ya out, Sunarin."

"What? No."

"Yes," Atsumu says, grinning ear to ear.

"What the fuck are ya talkin' about now."

Osamu's in the doorway, holding two milks, a yoghurt cup, and an apple juice.

"Idiot courting habits," Gin says. "How stupid men land equally stupid boyfriends."

"Kita-san's not-"

"We're literally talking about me and Osamu," Suna says. "You gay idiot."

+four days until nationals+

Atsumu wants to get this all figured out before they have to leave for Nationals, he really does, but it's proving to be impossible. How is he supposed to tell Kita how he feels if not through a letter or out loud? And he can't do it before graduation, because if he does it sooner and Kita rejects him, Atsumu would have to spend the whole rest of the school year feeling awkward around Kita for completely different reasons.

"Do it conditionally," Suna says over a round of Smash Bros. Atsumu's losing.

"The fuck does that even mean, Sunarin?"

"Like, tell yourself you'll confess if you get a good grade on our test on Friday," Suna says. "Or once we win Nationals."

Osamu snorts from where he's reading on his bed. "Ya think 'Tsumu can commit to something like that?"

"Shut up, 'Samu," Atsumu snaps. Then, "I'm not doing that."

"Told ya."


Their mother yells at them to keep it down from across the house.

+three days until nationals+

As sad as it is, Atsumu ends up googling how to confess to your crush.

When you're struggling, the internet has all the answers, truly.

Except in this case.

write them a letter

Been there, done that, it's not working.

just tell them

Please. Like Atsumu can even articulate his own name around Kita, let alone a confession.

He's on a WikiHow article when Osamu leans over his shoulder and says, "That girl's doing the anime shy girl thing."

Atsumu bats his face away. "Shut up, I'm researchin'."

Osamu just laughs.

+two days until nationals+

Atsumu is panicking.

They leave in two days, and he still can't hold a conversation with Kita. Everything's awful. He's just glad it's not affecting his playing.

But, apparently his strange behaviour around Kita hasn't gone unnoticed, because he almost walks into Kita cornering Osamu to ask him about it.

"Are things okay at home?" Kita asks. "Atsumu's been a bit off lately, and I wanted to check that everything's alright."

Osamu snorts. "Things are fine, Kita-san. Ya don't gotta worry 'bout 'Tsumu."

"Alright," Kita says, but he still sounds worried. "If ya say so, Osamu."

There's footsteps approaching, so Atsumu pretends he just got into the locker room when he strolls out around the lockers.

"Um, hey, 'Samu. ...Kita-san."

"Hello, Atsumu." Kita gives him that small smile he always does when he sees him, and Atsumu feels his heart trying to strangle itself inside. "Don't take too long changin', we've got a lot to do today."

"Y-Yeah." Atsumu salutes when Kita walks past.

The door closes, and Osamu bursts out laughing. It takes a lot of self-restraint not to sock him in the stomach, but Atsumu's doing his best to avoid Kita's wrath at the moment.

+one day until nationals+

They have to pile onto the bus to leave for Tokyo at six in the morning, so Atsumu wakes up at four-thirty (he can sleep on the bus) to get ready and finalise his plan to confess to Kita. As much as he hates to admit it, Sunarin was onto something when he said to do it "conditionally".

"When we win Nationals," Atsumu says while brushing his teeth, "I'll tell Kita-san how I feel."

Atsumu ends up being blessed (and cursed) with the window seat next to Kita again. Aran's giving them a raised eyebrows look, but Kita says something quietly that makes Aran just laugh and look away. Atsumu feels like the butt-end of a joke.

But they all had to wake up extra early today, and they're all tired, and so they just about all end up falling asleep on the ride. It's to be expected, really.

Still, when Atsumu jerks awake a few hours later and finds Kita sound asleep with his head on his shoulder, he is in shock.

Kita's wearing his team jacket, and Atsumu suddenly remembers seeing Kikuno in his own jacket, wonders how seeing Kita in his would make him feel. Would seeing it in real life give him the same pit-drop feeling he gets when he imagines it? That twisty-curly feeling he gets in his stomach when he thinks too hard about kissing Kita, like he'd wanted to during the summer training camp…

Kita mumbles something in his sleep and moves his head a bit, getting comfortable in the crook of Atsumu's neck. Atsumu knows he's bright red right now.

"Kita-san," he says quietly. No response. "I swear I'm gonna tell ya soon…"

Nationals. Atsumu doubts it'll ever stop feeling so huge, so monumental.

Because they came second at the InterHigh, they don't have to play on the first day, so they spend the night before messing around in the hotel. Atsumu's got a queue of games of other teams he wants to watch later, but for now, he's content to throw Hello Pandas at Osamu and see how many he can catch in his mouth in a row while Suna films and Gin cheers them on.

Kita doesn't even scold them when he finds them later, Osamu slumped on the floor in defeat with the floor around him covered in little panda-shaped cookies.

After they finish dinner and shower, one by one, they turn in for sleep.

But not Atsumu.

Once their official Inarizaki "lights out" time has passed, he waits twenty minutes before slipping out of his and Osamu's room with his laptop, headphones, and case of DVDs containing recorded volleyball matches. They aren't playing tomorrow, so he's not worried about sleep. He can't really fall asleep now, anyway.

There's a little lounge area at the end of the hall with a coffee table, water cooler, coffee machine, and cushy chairs and couches. Atsumu presses into the corner of a couch, wraps a blanket over himself, plugs his headphones in, and sets up the first match.

He wants to watch Karasuno play. Tobio's team.

There's other teams he needs to watch, too - namely Itachiyama and Fukuroudani - but he's the most curious about Karasuno, about that little team that managed to defeat Shiratorizawa and their Ushiwaka.

He gets halfway through set two when a touch on his shoulder startles him so hard he jumps and nearly drops his laptop. His headphones fall off, settle around his neck.

"Atsumu." Kita. "Yer still up?"

"Couldn't sleep." Atsumu, strangely, finds his breath. "Figured I'd watch some games instead of just starin' at the ceiling for a few hours. Be productive."

"I see."

Kita stands there for a moment, silent. Atsumu picks at his fingers, waiting to be told off.

But it never comes.

Instead, "Can I watch with ya?"

"Uh-" Ah, there it is; the breathlessness. "Yeah, sure. Ah, I only have these headphones, though…" He trails off.

"That's alright." Kita holds up a pair of earbuds. "We could use these, or I can watch without sound; I don't mind."

"Oh," says Atsumu. "No, those are fine."

He swaps out his own headphones for Kita's, and Kita gets settled in beside him. Atsumu lifts the blanket for Kita to scoot under, and Kita thanks him quietly. The cord's a bit short, so they have to sit close, pressed together shoulder to hip to thigh to knee.

Atsumu's thankful that the hotel's lights are dim, because he doesn't know what he'd say if Kita asked him now about how red he is. That he'd caught a fever or something? During Nationals? That's just asking for trouble.

They sit like that, watching the game, heads pressed close together. Kita's hands are in his lap, and all Atsumu can think about is what if he just reached out and held them? What if he just reached out and put his arm around Kita's shoulders? What would Kita do? Would he shrug Atsumu off? Look at him like he's a creep, like he crossed a serious line?

Would he lean closer, rest his head in Atsumu's neck like on the bus, take Atsumu's hand in his own and hold it close to his heart?

Atsumu doesn't know which possibility scares him more.

When the match finishes, Atsumu feels like he's seen nothing, having been too hyper-aware of Kita pressed close to his side. Kita's yawning by now, head drooping low against Atsumu's chest but still high enough so that the earbuds don't get ripped from either of their ears.

Atsumu wants to lift a hand and run it through Kita's hair.

"Are ya tired, Kita-san?"

"Mm…" Kita yawns again, quietly. "No, I'm okay. But thanks fer lookin' out for me, Atsumu."

He's lying. Atsumu can't figure out why Kita would lie, especially about sleep. He's the last person Atsumu ever thought he'd see doing something like that.

So, he lies himself. "I'm kinda tired, though." He fakes a yawn. "Think I might try to sleep again."

"Ah, alright." Kita sits up slowly, and Atsumu immediately feels the loss. He wishes he could pull Kita back to his chest, lie down next to him on the couch and fall asleep together. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Atsumu."

"Yeah," Atsumu says quietly, breath catching in his throat as Kita stretches, moves his bangs out of his eyes. How can someone possibly look this pretty on a backdrop of a hotel with faded grey-brown walls, beneath dim overhead lights, hair messy, sleep-shirt dropping down his neck. Atsumu swallows thickly. "G'night, Kita-san."

Kita waves at him, smiles that soft, warm smile, and something about it feels so tender and raw that Atsumu's heart clenches in his chest, the air sucked from his lungs.

When Kita's gone back to his room, Atsumu closes his laptop as quietly as possible, gathers up the blanket, his DVDs, his headphones, and goes back to his own room to try and sleep.

They eat breakfast the next morning as a team. Atsumu sits with the other second years as usual, and Kita sits with the third years. Aran keeps looking over at Atsumu, and it's stressing Atsumu out a bit, because Aran is Kita's best friend, and he's always exasperated with Atsumu and Osamu, and every time Aran's with Kita and looks over at Atsumu, Atsumu feels like he's done something wrong.

Aran is the sweetest guy on the planet, but he's broken up his fair share of Miya twin fights and given his fair share of lectures to them, so Atsumu knows the guy's capable of being stern and putting his foot down when he needs to.

If Atsumu and Kita started dating-

This is a dangerous thought to continue, especially this early. Atsumu tries to focus on his breakfast and the conversation Osamu and Gin are having.

But it's hard when he keeps glancing up at Kita only to find Kita looking right back.

Atsumu wants to watch the Karasuno game in person, so that's where he drags Osamu, Sunarin, and Gin. He really didn't get anything from watching last night, and while he could probably get a lot more useful information out of watching Fukuroudani, or Nekoma, or even Kamomedai play, Tobio and his "nice young man who lives next door" playing style are pulling him, so. Karasuno it is.

They make it to the court Karasuno is meant to be playing on only to run into Akagi, who directs them all to Fukuroudani's match in the other building instead, because, "Kita wants to get a better look at their setter". And who is Atsumu to argue with his captain?

Fukuroudani's a fun team to watch. Atsumu doesn't know what to think when their ace seems to stop functioning, but the rest of the team seems to act like this is normal. They keep playing like it's nothing out of the ordinary, and then Number Four gets back on his feet and they win.

Their ace is meant to be as good as Aran. Atsumu supposes he can see it.

Their setter, the one Kita wanted to watch, doesn't really stand out. He doesn't pull a lot of flashy plays, and he's not cocky, but he looks like he knows what he's doing - he has to, really, playing for a team like Fukuroudani - and the team clearly trusts him. Atsumu wonders how this Number Five compares to Tobio, to himself.

Then they're rushed along to watch another game, and before Atsumu knows it, it's the end of the day and they're all on their way to get dinner.

Kita actually comes and sits with the second years at dinner, much to everyone's surprise. (Sunarin waggles his eyebrows at Atsumu across the table, and Atsumu kicks him in the ankles, relishing in Suna's obvious wince.)

"Akagi said ya were going to watch Karasuno play," Kita says, and he's addressing the whole table, but looking straight at Atsumu.

"'Tsumu wanted to see their setter," Osamu says with his mouth full.

Kita furrows his brow.

"I wanted to get a better look," Atsumu explains. "Wanted to see if I could see more in person."

"I see." Kita gets started on his dinner; Atsumu pushes down the wobbly good sick feeling and tries to eat his own.

And then-

Day one. Or- day two, technically, but this is day one of playing for Inarizaki.

They wake up, eat, then head to the arena to get warmed up. There's liquid fire in Atsumu's veins. Nowhere does Atsumu feel more alive than on the court, playing in front of a crowd. This year, he plans to come home with a trophy and a boyfriend (or, at least a trophy and an attempt at a confession. Whether that second bit succeeds is all up to fate). The pressure is on.

The official warm-up on the court starts, and Atsumu wastes no time in baiting Tobio and the little red-headed blocker of his.

And playing against Tobio, it's exhilarating. Watching Number Ten jump, doing his own freak quick both ways with Osamu, Atsumu is on fire.

And then he gets to play with Kita. An official match with Kita there to back him up.

He doesn't send a toss up for Kita - the right time for it never comes - but Kita saves their ass with his receives, and keeps Atsumu focused with his serves. They lose the first set, but Atsumu's certain the reason they go into the second as strongly as they do is all because of Kita.

And then-

they lose.

They actually lose.

Their first game at the Spring High Nationals and-

The post-match formalities go by in a blur. Atsumu makes some inane promise to Karasuno's Number Ten, tells Kita to "go ahead and brag" about him, and then shuts himself in a bathroom stall and cries his eyes out for fifteen minutes.

They're told to rest up and meet in front of the hotel by eight. They'll spend the remainder of Nationals in Tokyo before going home, because if they're going to win next year, they might as well use their time here to gather information on other teams.

Atsumu spends a lot of the afternoon walking laps around the inside of the arena. The sounds of volleyball are all around, but he can't bear to watch right now. He's angry, upset, feels like their Nationals victory was just ripped from his hands by little crows completely undeserving of it. If Karasuno goes on to defeat Itachiyama instead of Atsumu, well. He doesn't know what he'd do.

It's seven at night when he runs into Kita sitting outside on a patch of steps by himself. He's wearing a clean white shirt, but still dressed in his uniform shorts. He must be freezing.

Atsumu approaches him quietly, careful not to slip on the steps.

Kita doesn't even look up when Atsumu settles down next to him.


"Hello, Atsumu." Kita's voice is quiet.

"Ya look cold."

Kita stays silent.

"Here." Atsumu strips off his jacket. "I've got long sleeves on." He drapes it over Kita's shoulders.

Kita's face is red; he must've been sitting out here for a long time.

"Are ya alright, Kita-san?"

Kita scoffs. "Shouldn't I be askin' you that?"

"Well," says Atsumu, "I already had a good cry, so I think I'll be alright."

Kita hums and pulls Atsumu's jacket tighter around himself. "I see." Then, "Thank you."

The jacket's too big for him. He looks a bit like he's drowning, but then he snuggles his face down into the collar and Atsumu can't breathe. Forgets how to inhale, exhale.

"Atsumu-" Kita says at the exact same time Atsumu says, "I-"

They both stop.

Kita coughs once. "You can go first."

Atsumu rests his elbows on his knees, and his face on his hands. "I just-" Is he doing this now? Is he really doing this now? "Hm. I had this whole plan on how to tell ya this, I was gonna do it after we won Nationals, right there on the court when we were celebratin', but… well." He is.

Kita turns to look at him, raises his brows just a touch.

"Um." Atsumu sits up, puts his hands in his lap, picks at the skin. Wishes he could bite his nails.

Kita puts one hand gently on top of Atsumu's, and for a heartbeat, he's transported back to the bus, coming home from the Spring High a year ago. "Ya were gonna tell me… what?"

Atsumu can't look away from Kita, brown eyes searching his face, a completely open, patient, waiting expression.

Finally, finally, after over a year of drowning, Atsumu catches his breath.

"I like you."

It's a whisper, barely audible, but in the quiet outside the arena, in the dark where the only light comes from street lamps and the reflection of those on Kita's eyes, it might as well be a promise screamed from the rooftops of Tokyo.

"You… like me."

"I really like ya, Kita-san," Atsumu says, still quiet, ever quiet. A snowflake lands on Kita's eyelash. Kita blinks, and Atsumu traces the small water pattern down his cheek with his eyes. "And I get it if ya-"

"I like you."

Atsumu blinks. "Huh."

"I really like ya too, Atsumu."

"Oh," says Atsumu. "Oh."

"And," says Kita, and his voice is so quiet Atsumu would normally need to strain his ears to listen, but in this private silence, miraculously found in Tokyo tonight, he can hear him loud and clear, "I'd really like to kiss ya right now, if that's okay."

Kita lifts his hand from Atsumu's lap and brushes the backs of his knuckles against Atsumu's cheek. Involuntarily, Atsumu's eyes flutter closed at the touch.

"I- Yeah. Yeah. That's- Yeah." Atsumu swallows. "Please."

That's how he finds himself, in early January, post- Nationals-loss, kissing Kita Shinsuke as thick snowflakes flutter gracefully down around them.

It's soft and close-mouthed, but Atsumu doesn't care. He doesn't care because he's kissing Kita, and Kita is kissing him. Kita's lips are soft, softer than Atsumu could've imagined last summer. He's got one hand on Atsumu's cheek, the other curled around the back of his neck, and Atsumu-

Atsumu can breathe.

There are no fireworks, no sakura petals like in shoujo anime, just a warm, enveloping feeling of calm, of rightness. Kita moves his lips softly against Atsumu's, and Atsumu finds himself sighing gently into it.

This. This is what falling in love feels like.

When Kita pulls back, his cheeks are still tinged pink, and he's a little out of breath, his eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. "I've wanted to do that for so long."

"Me, too," says Atsumu. "Me, too."

"I almost did," says Kita, "back over the summer. At our training camp."

"Why didn't ya?"

"Well, I was going to ask, but yer brother interrupted."

Atsumu flushes when he realises what Kita's talking about. "I wish ya had," he says.

"Me, too." Kita runs a hand down Atsumu's arm, meeting his eyes again, and Atsumu suppresses a shiver. "We could've been doing this for months."

"Well- I- Actually, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise it was okay to like ya," Atsumu says. "Like, I wasn't really okay with it 'til a month ago."

"I don't think that's embarrassing," Kita says. "Taking yer time. I know it can be hard."

They sit in the quiet for a while, just looking at each other, until Atsumu breaks the gentle silence with, "I- Can we- Can I-"

"Yes," Kita says, a breathy laugh, and he takes Atsumu's face in his hands and kisses him again,

and again,

and again.

"Shinsuke, honey, are ya sure ya don't need more tea?"

"I'm fine, thank you, Miya-san," Kita says with a smile.

Atsumu's mom is fretting over him, as usual.

"Well," she says, "I just wanna make sure yer getting everything ya need. Ya know you can always ask if ya need something."

"Of course."

"What're ya majoring in again?"

"Agricultural science," Kita says without missing a beat. "I don't know how long I'll stick with it, though; I'm already set up to take over my granny's farm when she's ready fer me."

On the other side of the patio table, Suna snorts. "Can't believe she doesn't treat me this way."

"'Ts 'cus she's seen ya skippin' out of homework, Sunarin," Atsumu says. "She knows yer no angel. Miya triplet."

"That's disgusting."

Atsumu sticks his tongue out.

"Atsumu, stop torturin' poor Rintarou," Atsumu's mom calls.

"Ha! Favourite son." Suna sticks his tongue out.

"Sunarin, yer lucky yer still dating my brother or I swear I'd-"

"Yer really threatening Rin?" Osamu gives Atsumu a poignant look.

"Can't have ya bein' too rude to a future brother-in-law, Atsumu, come on," Kita says, nudging Atsumu's knee with his own.

Suna chokes, and Osamu sputters on his water.

"Oh," says Atsumu, "yer evil." He's grinning.

On top of the table, he takes Kita's hand in his own while Osamu and Sunarin, after catching their own breaths, make gross faces at them. Atsumu's mom gives both of them a gentle smack on the back of the head.

"Play nice," she says, definitely not missing the tongue Suna sticks out at Atsumu after but also not saying anything about it.

Kita laughs, and it's a cheerful, bright sound, something Atsumu still hasn't gotten used to hearing, doesn't think he ever will. But it's quickly become his favourite sound in the world, and he'd do anything if it meant he could hear it every day for the rest of his life.

Even if it means waiting, long-distance calls, imagining that he can hear his laugh when Kita types out 'lol' in their text conversations.

Even if it means breaking the seventeen-year-old tradition of Osamu going first, getting down on his knee someday and asking Kita to really spend the rest of his life with him before Osamu's even thought about doing the same with Sunarin.

But that's years from now, too far ahead for any of them to see clearly. Right now, all that matters is this: Kita, in his backyard with his mom, Osamu, Sunarin, him; Kita laughing at Atsumu, who's bickering as he always does with Osamu and Suna; Kita's hand in his, their knees pressed together.

For once, Atsumu understands Kita's dislike for their high school banner.

"We don't need memories", but this is one Atsumu will cherish forever.