“The soulmate phenomenon is one we still have very little understanding of. We have studied and researched and investigated over the course of centuries, but it’s a bond that we as a species are no closer to grasping. Why are we bound to one person above all others? Why does this bond allow us to inhabit our soulmate’s body as if it were our own? Why, then, is this bond that draws us to switch bodies then revoked via way of a kiss, of all things? We have yet to discover why.”
Atsumu had never placed much importance on the word ‘soulmate’.
It had nothing to do with a hidden agenda, or some hatred of soulmates borne from a rejection of society.
No, it had to do with the fact that, at age four, he had assumed ‘soulmates’ were a boring grown-up thing like ‘taxes’, and as such, wasn’t a thing he needed to bother caring about. He was perfectly content playing with Osamu, watching his daddy bake cookies that he always tried to eat straight out of the oven, and wave at his friendly old neighbours when they walked past. Things like ‘soulmates’ were barely a blip on Miya Atsumu’s radar.
Which was why, at the tender age of 4 years, 2 months and 11 days, he was more than a little surprised to suddenly find himself outside on the ground, when just a moment before he’d been wrapped up inside with Osamu to avoid the cold spell that had descended over Hyōgo Prefecture.
But after a brief moment of an indescribable tingling sensation, rather than snuggled next to his dozing twin while watching Sailor Moon, he was outside, wrapped in a raincoat with his hands and knees on wet concrete. He blinked, befuddled.
“Oh, you okay, Kiyo? Seems you took a little spill there.”
Atsumu looked up, only to be faced by a woman who was not his mother, or one of his aunties, or even a person he knew, for that matter. He let out a small squeak, somehow stumbling to his feet in a body that felt…strange. Atsumu froze, looking down at himself. He felt smaller than usual, and his hair, which usually sat neatly atop his head until Osamu saw fit to grab it and scream, was tickling at his forehead. He grabbed at the offending locks, blinking when he took them in. Where his own hair was a little fluffy and dark brown, the hair in his hands now was pitch black and so curly that it reminded him of the wire sponges his mama used to clean things.
“Kiyo?” Atsumu jumped when another adult appeared alongside the gently frowning lady. It was a man this time, so insanely tall that Atsumu shrunk in on himself upon spotting him. He took an uncertain step back, wobbling slightly as he wished beyond anything else that his mama and papa were here to scoop him up and hug him close.
His words – undecided in whether to take the form of a question or confused exclamation – were cut off when he felt the same tingling sensation roll back through his body, and he was suddenly back at home, with small hands fisted in his jacket as he was shaken back and forth.
“Where’s Tsumu ya-”
“I’m here ya scrub!” Atsumu yelled out of habit, surprising his twin so much that Osamu released him immediately, stumbling back a few steps and staring open-mouthed at him. “Wha’ are ya shaking me for?!?”
“Ya fell off the couch!” Osamu exclaimed, waving to where their comfortable nest of blankets and pillows did indeed seem to have become rather dishevelled. “And then when I came to see if ya hit your head because ya were lookings around all weird ya started sayin’ ya didn’t knows me!” Osamu pouted, lip stuck far out for a long moment in defiance before he promptly burst into tears. Atsumu scrambled up, bouncing over the blankets lying around to hug his twin.
“I didn’t mean to dos that! I was in another place!”
“Whattaya mean?” Osamu sniffled, hugging Atsumu’s arm as he hiccupped. Atsumu shrugged.
“I dunno! I was in a place with big buildings and it was raining and there were strangers there and-”
“What is all the commotion about?” their mama said, stepping into the room with a mildly concerned look when she saw Osamu still sniffling. As one, they released one another and ran over to hug her legs tightly. “Oh, sweethearts,” she murmured, stooping down to wrap her warm arms around them both. “What happened? Was the TV too scary?”
“Tsumu telepotted!” Osamu exclaimed, bouncing up and down, the appearance of their mother seemingly have calmed him down completely. She blinked, cocking her head at him before glancing to Atsumu.
“Teleported? Have you been scaring your brother with new stories again Atsumu?” she teased, reaching out to fluff his hair. He preened, leaning into the touch, but shook his head.
“No! I was watching TV with Samu then I was in a city with big buildings and there was some people around that I didn’t know and-”
“Oh?” his mother’s focus was suddenly laser-keen and entirely on him. “Did you feel weird before it happened? Like a…” she fumbled for a word for a moment, “tingling?”
Atsumu brightened immediately. “Yeah! And I felt short for some reason and ma hair went all curly it was really weird-”
“Alright, sweetheart,” his mother said, carding her hands through his hair gently, “you didn’t teleport, but you did do something very very cool. Most people don’t get it until they’re older.”
Atsumu’s eyes practically bugged out his head, as he determinedly ignored how Osamu immediately started whining behind him. “Really?”
“Really,” His mother smoothed his hair back, smiling. “Do you boys want to hear about soulmates?”
Kiyoomi started a little, relieved to see the strange boy from before was no longer grabbing at him and making a lot of noise. He blinked up, only to see his parents staring down at him, both pictures of concern. He remembered he’d been holding both their hands, swinging between them happily before the strange tingling had happened.
“Are you alright, honey?” his mother asked, reaching out to gently touch at his hair, brow crinkled with a bit of confusion. He considered the situation. It had been weird, yes, but not so scary, now that it was over, and though he felt a little strange, it didn’t hurt at all.
“Someting weird happened mama!” he said, rocking up and down on his heels slightly. His mother, seemingly content that he wasn’t hurt, smiled at him, holding out her hand for him to take again.
“Alright, sweetie. Why don’t you tell me when we get home, hmm?”
He nodded, swinging her arm energetically as he watched Tokyo bustle past beyond him. His father was up ahead a little, on a phone call again, so Kiyoomi contented himself with poking at his mother’s fingers gently and plucking snails gently off the road to set aside on the grass.
He didn’t end up telling his mother about the strange experience; the minute they got home, she and his father were off to discuss something about work, leaving him in his room with his toys, but he wasn’t bothered. Kiyoomi just stayed stuck in his head for the rest of the day, thinking of the yelling kid and the warm blankets. But most of all, thinking of the tingling in his body right before it had happened.
And, as he was tucked into bed by his distracted father, he couldn’t help but wonder if it would happen again.
Safe to say, after Atsumu had first experienced what his parents explained was a ‘soul-switch’ – wherein two soulmates traded bodies for an indeterminate amount of time – he was practically desperate for another. The idea of a soulmate still felt so massive and huge, but the way his mother had explained them – as someone who “would love you more than anything” – made Atsumu want nothing more than to find out more about them.
He didn’t know much about his soulmate – only that he was also a boy (thankfully, otherwise Atsumu would have been terrified of the possibility of cooties), he had curly hair, and he lived in a big loud city. Osamu hadn’t been able to help much, only mimicking the ‘weird’ way the boy had talked while he was in Atsumu’s body, which his parents, after hearing it several times, had dubbed a likely Tokyo accent.
The thought made Atsumu almost vibrate with excitement. He liked living in Hyōgo, but the idea of Tokyo was just so amazing. It was no secret that the city was huge, and the fact that his soulmate lived there was only more motivation for him to go.
But between his parents’ jobs, his and Osamu’s daycare and everything else, his parents just couldn’t make a trip there happen.
“You’re not going to lose contact with your soulmate, Atsumu,” his mother had said as she apologised, “you’ll continue to have soul switches as you get older, and then when you know more about them, won’t it be that much more fun when you meet him for real?”
Atsumu had disagreed, loudly declaring that he wanted to meet him now, but to no avail. His parents smiled sadly, encouraged him to wait for the next switch, and let the matter settle. Atsumu pouted over it for days but eventually conceded that he would get another switch eventually. (Plus, Osamu was upset that even though they were twins, they hadn’t had their first switches at the same time, so he decided to stop talking about it so Samu wouldn’t be sad.)
But as more and more time passed, and no more jarring sensations stole him away into his Tokyo-stranded soulmate’s body, Atsumu found himself wondering whether the first time had just been random. It couldn’t be, his parents had assured him because it was very common for successive soul-switches to happen years apart, but that answer wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to see his soulmate again! He wanted to know more about him!
But time spent worrying about his soulmate wasn’t a privilege Atsumu could afford, especially since he started school just a year after the switch had happened.
Atsumu wasn’t sure how he felt about school; on the one hand, it was nice to make friends with other kids that weren’t identical to him, and everyone in their class thought it was super cool that he and Osamu looked the same, but he also didn’t find it very easy. While Atsumu, on a social level, was blooming brighter with each passing day, on an academic level, he was already faltering a little.
It started off slow; small hints that he wasn’t learning as fast as everyone else that came in the form of less sparkly stickers on his finished work, and teachers that hung around him more than they did his brother. He almost didn’t notice at first. Had Miya Atsumu been born an only child, he probably wouldn’t have cared at all.
But Miya Atsumu wasn’t just born with a sibling, he was born a twin. Meaning that, in the grand scheme of things, he was twice as competitive as a normal kid was. And when he realised that the little books they learnt reading with were sorted by colour according to difficulty, and that Osamu was several colours above him, he was more than a little upset. And his poor teachers definitely didn’t appreciate his tantrum, but in hindsight, it was a good thing he had thrown a fit over the whole situation.
Because when his teachers and parents realised that Miya Atsumu, a child who by all means appeared just as, if not more, sociable, intelligent and eager to learn as Osamu, was stumbling far more badly, they started to pay proper attention.
The problem wasn’t his memory, like with a girl called Sasaki-kun in class. He could count just fine, too. But then his teacher, a nice woman named Aohita-sensei, encouraged him to read a small passage from a book, and he ended said passage in confused tears, he was sent home with a soft, reassuring hug and a note of referral for his parents.
The doctor they took him to see was very friendly, in Atsumu’s opinion. He smiled a lot and ruffled Atsumu’s hair and he didn’t call Atsumu dumb like some kids in his class had. But Atsumu still left the appointment feeling down.
Dyslexic. He didn’t know what the word meant, only that it set him apart from his classmates, his friends, his twin. It made him bad at reading even though everyone else was getting good at it, and he spent the rest of the day sulking, hiding away from Osamu when his brother tottered around looking for him.
He didn’t want to see his twin, didn’t want to admit that there was now something that made them different from each other. As much as they complained about looking the same, the two of them became vastly more distressed at the idea of not being identical. When they were three, Atsumu had gotten into a block of old sunscreen that had ended up all over his hair and bleached it a few shades paler for several days. Osamu had been nearly inconsolable, tugging on the offending strands and demanding it turn back to brown so they were identical again.
Atsumu was just as guilty; a cousin of theirs had seen Osamu squinting at something and commented that he might need glasses. Atsumu’s immediate meltdown in response had derailed that conversation quicker than a blink.
(And Osamu’s vision was fine; their parents had taken them both to the optometrist just to be sure.)
But even if dyslexia wasn’t a physical trait, it was still something that Osamu didn’t have. And for that reason alone, Atsumu hated it.
By the time Atsumu’s second soul-switch with his soulmate happened, he had been so wrapped up in the – no longer new, but no less distressing – matter of his dyslexia that he’d almost forgotten about his soulmate. So, when the tingling feeling ran across his whole body, and he abruptly remembered their first switch, he yelled in excitement, not realising he had already switched, and scaring the hell out of a teenage girl nearby.
“Kiyo-chan! Don’t yell like that,” she pressed a hand to her chest, blinking at him. Atsumu stared at her, mouth slightly open. She was pretty – tall with freckles all over her face and curly black hair that fell to her collarbones. He gasped as he remembered that his soulmate had curly hair too. Was this his sister? She was so tall.
He let out another excited squeak, bouncing up and down. “Yer tall!” he exclaimed. She blinked at him, raising one eyebrow slowly.
“Yes, I am,” she said, mouth curling into a grin as she reached over to scoop him up and deposit him in her lap. “Are you only now noticing Kiyo-chan?” her fingers dug into his ribs, tickling relentlessly, and Atsumu shrieked in delight, laughing and wriggling before the girl tucked her head under her chin and kissed his hair. “You really are too cute sometimes,” she murmured. Atsumu grinned, before abruptly remembering that wait, he wasn’t Kiyo-chan, and he should probably tell her that.
“Miss!” he sat up, planting his hands on her shoulders and sticking their faces close together, “I’m not Kiyo-chan!”
She blinked. “Yes you are, silly!”
“No, I’m Atsumu!”
“Atsu-” her eyes widened, as the situation undoubtedly ploughed into her, “oh, oh my god! Are you Kiyo’s soulmate?” at his eager nod, she practically shrieked in excitement, bending down to be level with his eyes. “Oh wow, it’s so nice to meet you! What’s your name?”
“Miya Atsumu!” he bounced up and down on his toes. “I live in Hyōgo! I’m six!”
“That’s an adorable name,” she cooed. “And wow, six! That makes you older than Kiyo, definitely.” She smiled at him. “You probably want to know about your soulmate, right?” He nodded so fast his head felt like it would roll off his shoulders, and she laughed for a moment before continuing. “Well, his name is Sakusa Kiyoomi. He’s not as big as you, he doesn’t turn six until March. We live in Tokyo.”
“Whoooaaa,” he gasped, committing the name of his soulmate to memory. Sakusa Kiyoomi. It was such a pretty name. He felt his cheeks flush a little just thinking about it.
“Are ya his sister?” he asked. The girl nodded.
“Yup! My name is Sakusa Norie, and I’m his oldest sister,” she said, “Kiyo and I have another sister, Hana, she’s 13. I’m 15.”
“Oooooh,” he said, bouncing again, “I have a brother! His name is Osamu! We’re identical!”
“Ohh, you have a twin? That’s so cool!” she said, reaching out to ruffle his hair. “You’re really bubbly, Atsu-chan! Kiyo-chan is a lot quieter than you,” she cocked her head to the side, “actually, I just thought of something! Do you wanna see what Kiyo looks like?”
Atsumu really was too vigorous a nodder – he would send his poor soulmate’s neck into structural failure with how sharply he was swinging it up and down. Norie giggled, before motioning for him to follow her. He tottered after her at high speeds, taking in the fancy, traditional-looking house around him. It was a lot different from his own, but he still liked it. he couldn’t say why, but it felt right for Kiyoomi.
Kiyoomi, his soulmate’s name. He repeated it over and over in his head. Kiyoomi, Kiyoomi, Kiyoomi.
It got prettier and prettier every time.
His attention was drawn elsewhere when Norie opened a door, to what looked like a bathroom, and beckoned him over. He darted over to her side, and with a grin, she wrapped her arms around his middle and hoisted him up, so that he cleared the high benchtop, and suddenly, he realised he was in front of a mirror.
He stared at his reflection – at his soulmate, and felt himself fall in love, just a little.
Kiyoomi was shorter than Atsumu was, by just a little bit, but he had the same amount of baby fat making his cheeks round and chubby. His eyes weren’t as light as Atsumu’s were – dark, deep black where Atsumu’s own were a softer grey colour. There were two small dark moles above his right eyebrow.
And his hair. Atsumu’s initial assessment hadn’t been wrong; Kiyoomi’s hair was like a mound of wire wool, so thick and curly that it looked viable to break any brush that attempted to tame it. Like his eyes, it was the deepest shade of black, the colour rich and uniform.
His soulmate was so so pretty. It was the only word Atsumu could think of that did justice to his soulmate. He could tell he was blushing because his soulmate’s reflection was gradually getting redder and redder in the mirror, but he didn’t even have the mind to be embarrassed, not when he was so blindsided by everything he’d seen and learned today.
Norie giggled, setting him back down on the floor. “Is there anything else you wanna know, Atsu-chan?” she asked, running a hand through his hair gently. He thought about it for a moment, but as he opened his mouth to speak, the tingling sensation rushed back in, and he found himself back in his house. But rather in the kitchen as he had been before, he was in his bedroom, and his parents were standing nearby. His mother noticed his slight stumble and, cocking her head slightly, asked, “Atsumu?”
He whirled around, alight with excitement. “Mama! Daddy! My soulmate is so pretty!”
Kiyoomi was glad that, when his second soul-switch happened, that he actually knew what was going on. That wasn’t to say that he enjoyed himself much, though. It was very disorienting to suddenly be somewhere else, not least because he had been sitting down with Norie, and when he switched, he was standing up in a kitchen.
He spun around, excitement encroaching a little on the immediate reservation he felt at being in such a strange place.
The house was nothing like his own, that was the first thing he noticed as he walked through. Where his own house was very big and very Japanese, this place was more Western-looking. He did his best to not oooh and ahhh as he walked around, but it was hard to not poke at all the strange things he’d never seen before. He leaned up on his toes to see small photos contained in frames, blinking when he saw two seemingly identical boys. He absently poked at the cheeks of the body he was inhabiting, wondering if his soulmate was one of them.
A small hallway caught his attention, and he shuffled down it, mouth forming a small ‘o’ as he pushed the door open, obviously having located a bedroom. It looked like his own, if a lot more decorated. Drawings were plastered on the walls, and toys were scattered around the floor. There was a bunk bed propped up against the wall, both bunks messy and unmade, strewn with teddy bears and plushies.
There was a small desk on the other side of the room, with what looked like schoolbooks. He moved over, jumping up onto the small chair to get a better look, brightening when he recognised some of the covers. He used the same books at school! Did that mean he and his soulmate were in the same grade? The thought made his stomach warm pleasantly, and he leafed through some of the sheets absently. The desk seemed to be split down the middle, with the papers on the left apparently belonging to ‘Osamu’, and those on the right marked as the property of ‘Atsumu’.
The names were easy to read, but as Kiyoomi scanned his eyes further down, his eyes did something weird. The words seemed to twist out of reach, the kanji oddly incomprehensible to his eyes, and it was only after a few read-throughs that he could understand what the words said. He blinked. Did his soulmate need glasses or something?
He shoved it out of his mind – glasses looked nice, so even if his soulmate did need them, he was sure they would look good on him (nevermind that he had still yet to catch a glimpse of his soulmate’s face, he was set in that decision) – and parsed through more of Atsumu’s papers. He didn’t remember much of his last switch, but he did remember getting called that, so he assumed that was his soulmate’s name.
Kiyoomi found himself frowning the further he went through Atsumu’s papers. The kanji was a whole issue of its own, which he was solidly convinced was a result of needing glasses, but plenty of answers and questions alike had been scribbled out messily, the very lines speaking volumes to the frustration of the person who had put them there.
Staring at the sheets made something inside him feel small and sad. His soulmate had been struggling with something that Kiyoomi had always found easy – his sisters had been teaching him kanji even before he started school – and he hadn’t even known. Seeing how much it must have upset Atsumu made Kiyoomi sniffle a little with empathy. He didn’t like to think about his soulmate being sad.
He looked down at the sheets. He didn’t think he could do the exercises on them, especially not with his eyes doing what they were right now, but if there was any way to brighten up Atsumu’s kanji sessions, he would do it.
Kiyoomi looked around the desk, locating a bright pink pen with a small sound of delight before tugging the many sheets over to himself and slowly, methodically starting to draw on them. Some got smiley faces, others got tiny illustrations of Kiyoomi with his sisters, one even got blessed with the best drawing of a dog that Kiyoomi had done in a while. On a few sheets, blushing all the while, he even drew a few small hearts. Anything that might make the sheets a little more colourful and a little less frustrating. He sat back and surveyed his work, smiling happily at how the drawings had turned out.
“Whattaya doin’ Atsumu?” a voice from the doorway piped up. Kiyoomi jumped slightly, blinking at the boy who’d appeared there. It was the same one who’d grabbed him and started to yell a lot last time. He looked a lot calmer, though, and Kiyoomi knew that he probably hadn’t known what was going on either. He shuffled off the chair, landing softly on the carpet before bowing. “Wha-”
“I’m not Atsumu, sowry,” he said, “I’m Kiyoomi.”
The boy blinked at him before his eyes bulged. “OH!” he exclaimed, before pivoting to yell down the hallway. “Mama!! Daddy!! Atsu’s soulmate showed up again!”
“What are you yelling about, Osamu?” a woman with brown hair twisted into a messy knot on top of her head appeared. The boy – Osamu – bounced up and down on his toes, pointing at Kiyoomi.
“Atsu’s soulmate person thing!” he exclaimed by way of explanation, pointing even more vigorously at Kiyoomi. “It happened again! His soulmate gots in again!”
“Ohh,” she said gently, smiling at Kiyoomi before stepping into the room and gracefully sinking down to the carpet so she was kneeling. “I see. Hello there, I hope Osamu didn’t scare you with all his yelling.”
Kiyoomi shuffled. “No, it’s okay Miss, I wasn’t scared.” The woman smiled, and he found himself relaxing a bit.
“That’s good. I don’t suppose Osamu has told you anything, has he?” Kiyoomi cautiously shook his head, and the woman laughed slightly, turning to the other boy. “You’ll be hopeless when you have your first switch, Osamu. You’d better hope that Atsu is more thoughtful.” The boy just pouted, and with another dazzling smile, the woman turned back to him. “Well, your soulmate is my son. His name is Miya Atsumu.”
So, he had been right. Kiyoomi tried not to let his pride in himself show too much. He moved a little curiously. Osamu just eyed him almost suspiciously. The woman, however, just continued.
“This little rascal,” she ruffled Osamu’s hair, “is Atsumu’s brother. They’re identical twins, so the body you’re in looks exactly like his.”
Identical? Kiyoomi turned to survey Osamu, ignoring how the boy fidgeted. His hair looked fluffy, and Kiyoomi wondered if, he met Atsumu in person rather than through a soul-switch, if he would let him touch his hair. He felt himself flushing and turned away as a tall man appeared in the doorway – probably Atsumu’s father. He saw the woman mouth an explanation to him, to which his eyes went wide and he nodded. Kiyoomi turned shy eyes on him. “Hello.”
“Hey there little guy,” he said, bending down with a smile. He looked friendly, too. “What’s ya name?”
“Sakusa…Kiyoomi…” he said falteringly, shrinking in on himself a little. Atsumu’s mother cooed.
“Oh, that’s a lovely name. I can only imagine there’s a very handsome young man to go along with it,” she teased gently. Kiyoomi turned red again, and he heard light, melodic laughter in his ears a moment before tingling surged over him, and he swayed slightly, finding himself being caught by familiar, sun-tanned arms. Looking up, he could see Norie.
“Nee-san!” he exclaimed, hugging her leg immediately. She chuckled, ruffling his hair.
“Welcome back, Kiyo-chan. I just had a good chat with your soulmate,” she murmured. When Kiyoomi’s head snapped up, she giggled. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it.”
(The next switch they had was a long way after that one, but Atsumu spent months gushing about his lovely, pretty soulmate who drew such nice pictures in his books. Behind him back, his parents smiled and did their best not to tear up at the sweet gesture they hadn’t realised the boy had made. And Kiyoomi hung off every single word that Norie spilt about Atsumu, ignoring Hana’s complaints that she hadn’t been around to see it happen.)
Atsumu would admit, he could be a little self-absorbed at times. He was willfully ignorant about a lot of things, but even at seven years old, he was aware that he tended to be a little arrogant. Unless an issue was something that affected him directly, he tended to ignore its existence.
Hence why, when Osamu finally had his first switch, Atsumu realised that it had been a long while since he thought at all about his brother’s soulmate, or the lack of switches he’d had up until that point. Or, really, anything about a soulmate other than his own.
Atsumu had discovered that switching as young as he had was rare – most kids started to switch at around six years old, not four – so Osamu’s first switch was right in line with the first ones of most of the other kids in their year. His first one happened during class, which infuriated Atsumu for several reasons. First and foremost, they had been put in different classes this year – likely for the sake of their poor teachers, since differentiating between them was always hard – and as such, Atsumu didn’t get to meet his brother’s soulmate while they were there.
Secondly, because they had switched at a higher age, one where soulmates had been explained to all children, they knew what they were doing, and immediately set out to gather the details that Atsumu had had to wait an extra two years for. He couldn’t help but sulk over it a little when Osamu happily parroted off his soulmate’s full name, age and where he lived to their parents. Even though Atsumu had switched first, his had been a lot harder, and he couldn’t help but be a little upset.
But as much as Osamu rattling off easy facts did annoy him somewhat, he was still his twin, so Atsumu obediently sat with him and grilled him for answers. Name? Suna Rintarou. Age? He was still six, since his birthday, according to the teacher Osamu had talked to, was in January and it was only December. He lived in Chiyoda, Tokyo. From what Osamu had seen of his soulmate’s reflection, the guy had bright green eyes. Atsumu committed all of the facts to memory, watching as his brother basically waxed poetic about this Suna guy, and wondered if he looked the same whenever the topic of Sakusa was brought up.
But with Osamu now having had a switch of his own, the topic was no longer one that aroused any sulking from either of them, and the twins would sit for hours and talk about their soulmates. Neither of them really had that much to go off, but they never got sick of talking about the same things over and over.
But Atsumu hardly even had time to be worried over not having enough to talk about, because just a month after Osamu had finally gotten his first switch, he found himself sliding into his third. He’d been up early in the morning to watch cartoons, but the tingling that raced across his body quickly proved far more enthralling. Even more intriguing, though, was where he ended up.
He was neither outside nor inside Sakusa’s house this time, but instead in a long room, one wall of which was panelled with mirrors. A long bar ran all around the room, and the floor seemed to be polished timber. Soft light filtered through large windows set into the side of the room adjacent to the mirrors, but even with the obvious clues, it took Atsumu a moment to realise that he was inside a ballet studio.
Sakusa must have been resting when they switched because he was sitting down, obviously having been in the middle of doing the splits. Atsumu marvelled at the flexibility, rotating one pointe-shoe clad foot curiously. There was no feeling of burn or strain in his limbs when he slid up into a standing position, and even mimicking the movements of the dancers across the room by bending in the middle to touch his toes aroused no discomfort. He gasped quietly when his fingers closed around his toes effortlessly. So not only was his soulmate super pretty and nice, but he was also stretchy and did dancing? If he’d known what it was, Atsumu would have been swooning.
“Kiyoomi-chan,” a heavily-accented voice murmured, “are you going to do your barre warmup?”
He turned around, blinking up at a slender, dark-skinned woman who was smiling softly down at him. she was dressed in fitted black leggings and a tank top, her own feet wrapped in delicate pointe shoes as well. Her frizzy black hair had been intricately braided and pulled back from her face.
Why was everyone that Kiyoomi knew so tall and cool?
“Uhm,” he shuffled a little before stopping, not wanting to mess up the shoes, “I’m Kiyoomi’s soulmate, Atsumu.”
“Ahh, I see,” the woman nodded, “well, enchanté, my child. I am Madame Coulibaly. I teach ballet to your soulmate.”
“Ohhh,” he said, eyes sparkling. “That’s so cool! Yer accent is pretty!”
“Thank you, my boy,” she said serenely, “I am from Cote D’Ivoire.”
“I don’t know where that is!” he exclaimed happily, bouncing with excitement. Madame Coulibaly just laughed softly, combing one of Kiyoomi’s wild curls out of Atsumu’s face.
“I’m sure you’ll learn, mon petit,” she murmured, “do you know much about ballet?”
“I know it’s hard!” he said, “And ya wear the pointy shoes.”
“Pointe,” she gently corrected him, “and you are right, ballet is not an easy discipline to master. But your soulmate is quite good at it. He has great natural flexibility.”
“He does! He can do the splits!”
“He most certainly can,” she chuckled, gesturing to some students across the room who were doing barre exercises, “you can watch my other students if you would like.”
“Ooohhh,” he gasped as one gripped their leg and pulled it up behind their head, “can Kiyo-chan do that?”
“Not quite yet, but soon he will be able to,” Madame Coulibaly winked. “He’s a very good student.”
Atsumu nodded. “Yeah! I was watching cartoons at home but he’s doing ballet in the morning which is so cool but also he has to wake up early right? He must be a good student!” Madame Coulibaly just smiled at him again, and Atsumu turned his attention back to the dancing students for a moment before a thought occurred to him. “Excuse me Madame? Do ya have a pen and paper I could write on?”
She did, and he found himself writing out a short letter for Sakusa. It wasn’t easy; even occupying a brain without dyslexia, Atsumu’s kanji still wasn’t his strong point, but he took care to make them as neat as possible, sketching out the characters with immense care. Once he was done, he carefully folded it up, drew the neatest drawing he could – a small dog wagging its tail – and handed it to Madame Coulibaly, shyly asking if she would give it to Sakusa when they switched back.
“Of course, darling,” she said, accent curling prettily around the words as she took the letter and tucked it carefully into her pocket. “I’ll make sure it gets to him safe and sound.”
Atsumu lit up at the words, thanked her by way of hugging her leg, then resumed staring at the dancers across the room in stunned appreciation. To think that his soulmate was cool enough to do stuff like that!
“Amazin',” he whispered, only realising after a moment that the swooping, tingling feeling running across his body wasn’t just him getting flustered. His own living room materialised in front of him, and he gasped happily when he saw a note, not unlike the one he’d just struggled through, sitting before him. his mother, sitting a little way away with coffee in her hands, smiled at him, looking very satisfied about something.
“Welcome back, Atsu.” She looked unsurprised when he ran over to her, keen to hear everything. “Alright, I’ll go from the beginning…”
The diary habit started almost without Kiyoomi’s say-so. He could hardly even say, after all, why he’d started it.
Maybe it was the small note his soulmate had left him during their third switch, maybe it was just his increasing reading and writing skills and a desire to practice outside of class. Perhaps, it was even a manifestation of his desire to meet Atsumu face to face. but really, Kiyoomi wasn’t stupid. He played dumb sometimes, but he knew why he’d started to write the small daily entries, each addressed lovingly to his soulmate.
It was a distraction. From the stress that school was now placing on him as a third-grader, and from the pressure of being picked as one of Madame Coulibaly’s soloists, and even from the rattling shakiness in his joints at times, which threatened to have them roll right out of place.
Mostly, though, it was a distraction from his parents. His room was quite soundproof, their whole house was, despite the traditional architecture, but not even his thick walls could block out the yelling.
That was something his parents had started to do more and more, over the years. Kiyoomi hated it, but they almost never stopped. Sometimes, if Norie yelled at them, they would quiet down, but Kiyoomi hardly wanted to yell at anyone, much less his parents, so he stayed silent, wrote the entries, and did his best to nuzzle down into his pillow and ignore the yelling.
Ballet became a sanctuary as well; Madame Coulibaly was a strict but compassionate presence, and getting to hear soft reassurances instead of muted shouts of anger helped unspool the tension that made itself at home between his shoulder blades. Dance was something he could lose himself in, from the moment he arrived at the studio to when he was picked up. Plus, his sisters were always happy to ask him how his classes were doing. Their mother had done ballet as a child, so she’d been keen for both Norie and Hana to do it as well. The fact that Kiyoomi had also shown an interest had only been an extra bonus.
It was funny; Kiyoomi’s life had always been dominated by his parents, with his sisters as nurturing but undeniably distant people on the side. It wasn’t their fault; the age gap between him and them was very large – 8 years between him and Hana and 10 between him and Norie – so it made sense they didn’t spend as much time with their little kid brother as they did with each other and their friends. As his parents slowly but surely started to retreat from his life, their minds caught up with work and the speed at which their marriage was splintering dangerously, Kiyoomi would have expected to be left with an absence in their place.
But no. Even for all that his presence must have been vastly less interesting than her pretty friends and the many boys who had asked her out before, Norie still made time to show up for him. She had a license now, so she came to get him from ballet, always excitedly asking how the day had gone. When he wanted to go out to Shinjuku but was too scared to take the train, she would smile, grab his hand and go with him. Even if he was the least interesting option for company, he somehow still found himself ranked highly on her preference list.
And he adored her for it. He’d always loved his big sisters, even if Hana tried to do his hair too much, but he latched onto Norie like nothing else, the year that his parents finally fell out of love.
And the fact that his oldest sister did most things for him started to show. It showed when Kiyoomi got a stomach bug, and Norie cancelled her plans to go see a concert so she could take care of him. It showed when, on the night when Kiyoomi’s parents were supposed to meet with his teachers to discuss his learning, Norie arrived, apologised for their absence, and listened attentively in their place.
It showed most of all when, while practising a spin in ballet, Kiyoomi stepped into it just slightly wrong, and felt something in his leg slide out of place. He went down hard, his fellow students gasped, and Madame Coulibaly called an ambulance first and his sister second.
He was sitting on the floor, blinking back tears as a paramedic spoke to him softly when Norie came in, expression scrunching in sympathy as she combed a hand through his hair and quietly asked what had happened.
A bad knee dislocation, a paramedic explained. Deserving of a hospital visit to ensure there was no permanent damage.
There wasn’t any, as the friendly doctor who saw him explained, but there was another issue.
“Were you aware that your brother is hypermobile?” the doctor asked. Norie blinked, Kiyoomi mirrored the action, and she slowly shook her head.
“I wasn’t, no,” she murmured, “does that have something to do with his injury?”
The doctor winced slightly, turning to Kiyoomi with a slightly sad smile. “Tell me, Kiyo-chan, how long have you done ballet for?”
“Oh, two years,” he murmured, looking down at his leg. His right knee was still hurting a little, and he could see that it was still swollen and red. The doctor had gently manoeuvred his bones back into place and then strapped it tightly into a knee brace. The doctor nodded.
“Now, since you’re hypermobile, Kiyoomi, your joints have a much larger range of motion than other people. It means you can move around a lot more. And that can be useful in a lot of ways,” he sighed, “but the fact of the matter is that hypermobility is a condition permitted by weak ligaments and tendons around the joints. It might give you a larger range of motion, but it also means that you are much more likely to hurt yourself.”
Norie nodded. “I see. I assume that ballet wouldn’t help that.”
“Definitely not,” the doctor winced, “ballet dancers naturally suffer more bone, joint and ligament issues than a lot of other athletes, and when combined with hypermobility, I can only dub that pairing a dangerous one. You’d be playing with fire, definitely, by allowing him to continue dancing, I’m afraid.”
Kiyoomi felt his stomach drop, and he hung his head. So that was it? No more ballet?
“There are plenty of other sports you would be able to safely play, I’m sure,” the doctor said gently, obviously trying to soften the blow somewhat, “but ballet, as a discipline that involves so many turns and contortions of the joints…it wouldn’t be wise. Dislocating a few bones in your life isn’t going to kill anyone, but if you were to continue to dance, you would have to expect consistent and continuous injuries. As a medical professional, I can only advise against it.”
“I’ll have to discuss the matter with my parents,” Norie murmured, “thank you so much, doctor.”
“It’s no problem. And you take good care of that knee, alright Kiyo-chan? Keep it wrapped.”
“Yes sir,” he murmured, bowing lightly to the man like his sister as they left. Norie spoke with the receptionist before they left, probably something about repeat check-ups, before helping him onto the train home, wincing and promising to go fetch her car from the ballet studio tomorrow so they wouldn’t have to take the train.
“Do you want to talk to mum and dad?” she asked gently when they got home. Kiyoomi didn’t even think twice about shaking his head, slipping into his room silently and closing the door behind him.
Sighing, he dug around in his small desk, desperate to find anything that could cheer him up. His fingers closed on a familiar letter, and he tugged it free, smiling. The letter Atsumu had written to him when they’d switched during a lesson with Madame Coulibaly. He could tell his soulmate had been careful with the kanji, but it was riddled with errors nonetheless. It didn’t bother Kiyoomi at all – he’d read it so many times that the words corrected themselves automatically.
I don’t know how long I got to write this so I’ll be quick! I’m really glad I’m your soulmate! I was worried it would be someone lame but you’re cool and pretty and you can dance which is super awesome! Your sisters are nice, not like my twin Osamu he sucks sorry you have to meet him before me.
I really wanna meet you because you’re the best soulmate ever already and I wanna do more soul switches with you! I hope we get another one soon!
Kiyoomi hugged the familiar letter to his chest, breathing in the old comfort and praying that him having to quit dancing didn’t stop him from being ‘cool’, ‘awesome’ or ‘the best soulmate ever’ in Atsumu’s eyes.
He wrote another diary entry to Atsumu, detailing the day’s events as best as he could, and staring hard at the paper when more yelling bled through the walls.
“–Can’t even be there for him when he has to go to the fucking hospital-”
Should he include the detail of a small cat he saw in the morning? It had been very cute, after all. Atsumu drew a lot of animals so he probably liked them. Kiyoomi added it.
“–trying to tell me how to parent, you’re his sister-”
“And more of a parent to him than you, the last few years! The least you can do is show up!”
His grip on his pencil tightened. Before he’d fallen, Madame had been showing him a really cool spin. Atsumu would want to hear about that, of course, since he thought the dancing was cool. Kiyoomi’s heart once again stung with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to again. Norie knew how much he loved dancing, but she also got really upset whenever he got hurt. He didn’t want to upset Norie, after all, so if quitting dance kept her happy, he would do it.
“If you’re going to divorce, just do it already. Stop leaving us all in limbo like this. Kiyo needs actual parents, and if neither of you is going to step up then I’ll fucking take him–”
“Take him where? Are you going to raise an eight-year-old boy in a college dorm?”
“At least living with me he might feel loved! He probably doesn’t, here!”
“Don’t talk back to me–”
“I’ll talk as much as I want! And instead of getting angry at me, why don’t you spend your time being an actual mother? I love Kiyo to death, but you’re right, I’m his sister, I shouldn’t have to do all this stuff for him. A woman mistook me for his mother the other day, you know. I doubt anyone would pick you out as such-”
“Shut up, otou-san, you’re just as bad! What, too busy fucking your receptionist to come and see Kiyo dance? Or go to his parent-teacher meetings? Or acknowledge his existence at all? You both make me sick.”
Kiyoomi slammed his book shut, forgoing finishing the entry to crawl under his blankets instead, burrowing down deep enough that he could no longer hear anything but vague, muffled sounds, his loudest companion the sound of blood rushing through his head. He was shaking slightly, the mild jostling doing nothing for the pain in his knee.
When the tears finally spilt free and trickled down his cheeks, he had no idea if it was because of the pain or what he’d listened to. But a broken dam couldn’t simply stop the flow of water, and similarly, once the rare show of emotion had been unleashed, he was curled up under the covers sobbing, burying his face in his pillows to muffle the sounds.
He heard a low creak as his door opened. “Oh, Kiyo.”
It was Hana, back from her soccer practice, which must have run late again. He stuck his head out from his mound of blankets, still sniffling, and his sister swept over. He practically leapt into her arms the minute she opened them, rubbing his back and cooing softly. “It’s alright. I hate when they all fight, too. Is your knee okay?”
He nodded, hiccups rattling his whole frame. “I j-just w-w-want them t-to st-top fight-ting,” he sobbed, burying his face in her jersey. She stroked his hair.
“Me too, otōto,” she murmured, hugging him protectively to her chest, “me too.”
(Kiyoomi quit ballet. Norie, as his primary contact, signed over the forms for him. Madame Coulibaly shook her head sadly, hugged him, and kissed the crown of his head by way of farewell. She called him a fine dancer. Kiyoomi almost started crying all over her.)
(He switched again with Atsumu, just for a few minutes, while sitting with Hana. He had never been as close with her as Norie, but after she’d hugged him that night – and fallen asleep with him – she’d come back from soccer earlier to see him some days. Hana was delighted to finally meet his soulmate. Kiyoomi got told multiple embarrassing things Atsumu had done by his twin. And for a few, suspended moments of childhood naivete, everything felt okay.)
(His parents started the process of divorce a fortnight later.)
Atsumu knew there was something wrong with his soulmate.
Kiyoomi never came off to him as the most energetic person in the world – he felt like a much calmer, quieter presence in contrast to Atsumu’s own overwhelming energy – but even by his less wild standards, Kiyoomi felt…off.
In the handful of soul switches they had between the ages of 8 and 10, Kiyoomi’s whole body felt emotionally heavier, like there was something pressing on his chest. Some days, when they switched, it felt even worse, like water was clogging up his throat and threatening to suffocate him. He’d wondered over it and fretted so much that his parents actually had to sit him down and ask him what was wrong.
During one switch, where Kiyoomi was at some official-looking building, Atsumu finally dredged up the courage to ask one of his sisters, Hana, what was happening. She smiled sadly, combed hair out of his face, and gently explained what divorce was. Knowing what had his other half so down was good, but at the same time, Atsumu just felt worse and worse the more he thought about it. His own parents loved each other a lot, so he doubted he would have to worry about them leaving each other, but the thought was enough to make him so upset he made himself sick.
As his parents gently explained, Kiyoomi’s parents seemed to be fighting over who got custody of him. It was a process, they said, that could take years and normally wasn’t very fun for kids to go through.
Atsumu hurt just thinking about it. The only thing capable of distracting him was volleyball – a new fixation of his – and even then, he would sometimes mourn the fact that Kiyoomi could no longer pursue his own passion for ballet, as he’d discovered via one of Kiyoomi’s notes. He still thought his soulmate was the coolest person ever, but he was starting to realise that right now, he was a very sad person, too.
The two-year nightmare that was family court was both the most traumatising and most therapeutic experience of his life.
On the one hand, Norie kept nothing from the judge, laying out every misstep their parents had made in neglecting him, something he had only realised the full extent of when Norie stated the facts plain and simple. He felt his own subconscious, unspoken frustrations spat with venom from her mouth. He snuggled closer to Hana during long court sessions and got a warm slung around him in a hug. He got closer to her than he ever had before, and adored being tucked protectively at her side.
His favourite cousin, Motoya, and his parents – Kiyoomi’s Aunt Nayoko and Uncle Gihei – moved back to Tokyo to help deal with the whole thing. His Aunt Nayoko was his father’s sister, but she held back no criticisms of either his parents. Motoya was a welcome distraction, who babbled about volleyball – a love of his that Kiyoomi didn’t find much interesting in – and made mochi with him. Kiyoomi had been an awkward and shy child for as long as anyone could remember, but Motoya didn’t care. He was content to fill any silences that arose between them.
A year into the divorce, Kiyoomi shyly asked Motoya if they could be best friends. Motoya didn’t need to call them that at school if he didn’t want to, Kiyoomi promised. They were cousins, so some people might it funny they were best friends, too. He swore not to be sad if Motoya wanted a different best friend for school.
His cousin just hollered, tackled him a hug, and declared them the best of friends. And then swatted him on the head and told him he was his best friend both at school and at home.
But as much as the process brought good things into Kiyoomi’s life, like Aunt Nayoko and Norie’s vented frustrations and his favourite cousin and new best friend, it also brought the worst thing he’d experienced yet. And the one thing, when all his other traumas had been processed, that would stay the longest.
It started off small.
Courtrooms were always stifling, less in the sense that they were boiling hot and more in the sense that when inside, Kiyoomi never fully felt like he was able to breathe. He was sick of wearing fancy clothes to the court. He would rather stay at home with Motoya and Aunt Nayoko, eating the umeboshi that his aunt bought and laughing at the ridiculous designs Motoya painted when she brought them kabuki masks to decorate. But as one of the focal things being argued over, he had no choice.
He usually felt like he couldn’t breathe right in the courtroom, but it took a few months before it got to such a point that the very air he was inhaling felt tainted and thin. Norie recommended wearing a face mask to alleviate the feeling.
She didn’t know what she was starting.
He had already slowly started spiralling out of control one day in the courtroom, before his eyes pinpointed on the smudges of dirt alongside the side of a nearby man’s shoes. And somehow, more than the back and forth screaming he’d been made to witness, that set him off. He had a panic attack. He vomited. Aunt Nayoko picked him up, not questioning why he wasn’t touching anyone, and made sure he got to bed early.
And from those tipping dominos, the last piece fell into place.
One thing that no-one had told him before his parents had decided to throw their seemingly infinite legal resources at one another; people touched him a lot.
Not in any wrong way, but he got a lot of consoling shoulder pats, one-armed hugs, and a lot of hair-ruffles.
Once the process of negative development had started, it only took a few months for those touches to feel poisonous.
(Funnily enough, it took a good year for his condition to be centred around germs. Maybe mysophobia was just the easiest channel for his paranoia to take form in. He despised that it had been allowed to grow and bloom as much as it did.)
Norie and Hana asked him questions, as did his parents when they saw him wearing long sleeves to avoid skin-to-skin contact, or pulling on child-size medical masks, or even tugging on gloves when everything felt a bit too much.
Aunt Nayoko and Motoya didn’t ask. Motoya helped him disinfect the entire kitchen after he saw a cockroach and had a meltdown. Nayoko made sure to clean the rooms in their house at least once a week. He had no doubts that they saw how strange and bizarre the paranoia was, how deranged the habits. But they silently accommodated them.
Because not cleaning the kitchen made Kiyoomi hyperventilate, and refusing the long sleeves made him wrap his arms around himself and shake when he brushed up against someone. Because refusing his quirks only made the ever-growing pile of trauma on his plate rear its ugly head with a vengeance. After a short conversation, his sisters came to understand that. When Norie came home on weekends from university, she brought with her new, patterned face masks she had found. They sometimes cleaned the oven grille together.
His parents never stopped asking. And they never started cleaning more.
Kiyoomi was more relieved than he could ever express when he switched with Atsumu again. His soulmate was one of the few things that could brighten his days, and having actual switches with him could keep the misery of divorce court at bay for longer than not. But switches themselves were few and far in between, as was typical, and Kiyoomi craved them like nothing else.
But shortly after his 10th birthday, his many wishes to be connected with Atsumu again finally came true.
He’d been at home, thankfully not in court, when the tingling had raced across his body, and he’d found himself in a large gymnasium. He’d given himself a moment to bask in the euphoria that he was with his soulmate again, before spinning around to try and seek out Osamu. His soulmate’s twin was someone he found himself enjoying the company of a lot, not least because he quickly and efficiently offered Kiyoomi context for whatever was going on.
But this time, Kiyoomi didn’t need Osamu’s assistance to know what was going on; he recognised it well enough from all the times he played with Motoya.
Volleyball. Atsumu played too, apparently.
“What are ya standing there dumbly for, idiot Tsumu?” Osamu’s familiar voice said. Kiyoomi just waved, cocking his head just so.
“Not Tsumu, but hey.”
“Oh, hey Kiyoomi,” Osamu greeted him casually, understanding immediately. “Been a while. I don’t suppose ya know how to set, huh?”
He shook his head. “I barely know the rules of volleyball. Everything I do know is from my cousin.”
“Ahh, that sucks. I’ll hafta ask Demura-kun to set for me, then,” he wrinkled his nose up like this was a rather unpleasant prospect, and Kiyoomi shrugged hopelessly. “Tsumu normally sets for me, ya see. He’s an idiot but he’s actually kinda good at it. I’m a spiker, though.”
“Right, so you…spike the balls the setter sends to you?” he asked, trying to recall everything Motoya had babbled to him about volleyball. Osamu nodded.
“Yeah. We play on our school’s team, and this is one of our weekend practices,” Osamu rolled his eyes, “Tsumu hates missing ‘em, but I think he’ll be alrigh’ with it this time.” Kiyoomi blushed a little at the implication, and Osamu bid him farewell, running over to a boy with closely-cropped silvery hair – probably the ‘Demura-kun’ he’d mentioned before – and they got to work setting and spiking.
Kiyoomi watched them for a moment, observing how the setter – Atsumu ‘s position, and by god did he now feel more invested now that he knew it was something his soulmate loved – positioned and moved the ball perfectly for Osamu to then spike. There was something oddly sacred, in Kiyoomi’s mind, when considering the position of setter, but his eyes were drawn continually to Osamu. Wing spiker, the position that got to take advantage of a setter’s efforts, to connect with them in an attempt to gain points for their team.
Kiyoomi didn’t know any rules of volleyball, but as the tingling swept over him again, and he found himself back in his Aunt’s house, he found himself wanting to.
And he would say this; Norie hadn’t known what she was starting when she’d first handed him a surgical mask to wear, but Kiyoomi hadn’t known what he was starting when he first walked up to Motoya, and asked an innocent question.
“Hey, Motoya? Can you teach me how to play volleyball?”
Kiyoomi knew the custody battle over him had been one of the most bitter battles in all of the divorce court. His mother wanted him. His father wanted him.
(Which was funny, given that neither had seemed to care much for him before the issue of his existence was one being put before a judge.)
But they still claimed to want him. Which was why, when he was called up to the front, and there were three custodial applications on the desk in front of him, not two, he had no idea what to make of it. The breath fanning back up onto his face from behind his mask came a little faster in his confusion. The judge didn’t seem all that surprised by his reaction.
“As I’m sure you know, Kiyoomi-kun, there are a few people that want to be the one to take care of you. Your mama and papa have been feuding over you for a long time, and they both make good points. But I am predominantly interested in your welfare, and I have not yet seen either one of them ask you what you want.”
“And…?” he responded. He’d been told that he’d gotten a lot snappier in the last two years. Luckily, thus far, no-one judged him too harshly for such.
“Well, my job was essentially to choose between the lesser of two evils,” the judge murmured, “which mildly apathetic parent is the better choice for a child who does not appear overly attached to either of them? Not a good situation to be in. But last week, you see, I got a third application for custodianship over you.”
Kiyoomi eyed the third folder, swallowing slightly. “You see, Kiyoomi-kun, parents are favoured in family court, as is fair enough, but in the case of the best interests of the child, alternative guardians can be assigned, if they are deemed to be suitable and be acting in the best interests of the child at hand. And, of course, I think that, when considering any alternative guardians, that asking the child in question is a very important thing to do.”
“I guess so…” he whispered, fiddling with the hem of his jacket uncertainly, “people don’t usually ask me things. They just tell me.”
The judge sighed softly. A little sadly. “Well, Kiyoomi, I would like to ask you now, which person you would like to live with. They have all been cleared as suitable guardians by this court, so your preference will make the decision final. Like I said before, there are three contenders. Your mother. Your father. And the most recent application,” he indicated the folder, “your Aunt Nayoko.”
His stomach swooped. Aunt Nayoko? She…
“She wants to keep me?” he whispered. The judge nodded.
“They all do. But I am not asking them who deserves most to keep you, because I think that would start another yelling match. So, Kiyoomi,” he leant forwards slightly, “you know all three of them very well. Who do you want most to live with?”
The answer was easy and came effortlessly. The judge nodded, sat back, and motioned to the lawyer next to him, who scribbled something down. Kiyoomi found himself dismissed, and slid back into his seat quietly. Eyes were burning into him, and he kept his head down to avoid having to identify which ones.
A few minutes of excruciating silence scraped by. Then the judge was speaking, and all eyes were on the front of the room.
“I have heard countless arguments and accusations over the last two years,” the man said, straightening up a little. “I have heard many good reasons to consider the issue of the custody of the child at hand here. And now, I have come to a decision.” He shuffled his papers. Kiyoomi stopped breathing. “I speak now on the matter of custodianship of Sakusa Kiyoomi, son of Nakata koi and Sakusa Ryoma. Note that the decision of this court is binding, pending any successful appeals, and as such, will be subscribed to by the parties involved.”
Hana squeezed Kiyoomi’s arm, taking care to touch him only where the fabric of his sleeve covered his skin. He was going to miss her so much when she went away.
“In making my deliberation, I have considered not only the arguments made by the parties, but their history, and their demeanour, and the testimony of the children who have lived under the same roof as them. In any case, where the welfare of a child is at stake, my duty as an executor of the law is to ensure the safety, health and happiness of that child to the highest extent possible under the circumstances. In my view, of the three applicants who submitted requests for full custodianship, only one promises a high standard of the maintenance of such. They also remain the only candidate with which Kiyoomi-kun has actually expressed an active desire to live.”
“Oh god,” Norie murmured softly. Hana shushed her.
“As such, by order of this court, full custody of Sakusa Kiyoomi is hereby granted to Komori Nayako, whomst bears the relation to him of paternal aunt, effective immediately. The visitation rights of Nakata Ikoi and Sakusa Ryoma will be determined at a later date by a tribunal. Again, this declaration is binding, pending any successful appeals.”
Kiyoomi didn’t see how his parents reacted. He was too busy crying with relief.
He’d rejected every hug offered to him for the last 5 months, but when his Aunt Nayoko opened her arms, he dived right into them.
Atsumu was, for all his flaws, a very observant person. Even though he was only eleven, people had picked up on it; they could hardly ignore it, after all, not when it was a skill he used to such great effect in volleyball, or used to so blatantly point out the problems with other people’s plays.
He used it in selfish ways, for the most part. Until Kiyoomi, because, like in all other spheres of life, Kiyoomi tended to drag the best parts of him out into the light.
It didn’t take him long to notice how Kiyoomi felt about germs.
Every time they switched, the other boy was wearing a surgical mask, and usually gloves if he was out on public transport as well. The smell of sanitiser became a familiar presence every time the tingling feeling swept over him and he found himself in Tokyo.
He worked up the courage to ask Nayoko – Kiyoomi’s aunt, who he was now living with, as his soulmate’s cousin had explained one day – what the whole deal was.
Germaphobia. He knew what it was, but in his experience, it was something usually treated as a punchline. To think that Kiyoomi hated germs so much that he had to wear a mask and gloves almost all the time was distressing, to say the least.
Then Atsumu thought his own room, constantly messy and probably rife with germs that would horrify his soulmate, and he was even more upset.
He ran straight to his mother after they’d switched back, demanding to know how a room could be methodically and completely cleaned, so as to eliminate as many germs as possible. She seemed a little stunned, but his reasoning was explanation enough, and he followed her closely, eyes skimming over labels as she showed him what cleaned which surface.
He wrote up a list of things to do, pinned it to his corkboard and got to work.
Kiyoomi would never feel uncomfortable in here again.
It took Kiyoomi two years to realise that he had become good at volleyball.
Not just good, as Motoya said, but pretty damn great at it, too. Even at twelve, when he was just starting middle school, he was getting pegged as their team’s ace, and though the title felt ill-fitting – he didn’t think he had anything to offer other than a damn good serve and the wicked spin that his flexible wrists could put on the ball – it was one he found himself unconsciously basking in regardless. Kiyoomi had never been called best at anything, so to be named the best on their team, the one that could be relied upon to score a point…it felt nice.
He had started volleyball for the sake of seeing what about it brought his soulmate so much joy, and he’d continued because he liked spending time with Motoya, and given how much time his cousin spent on volleyball, it was the best way to do so.
But those justifications only went so far; he might have started volleyball for his soulmate and his cousin, but he continued it because his own love started to grow. Slamming a ball down in his opponent’s court became less about the dream of one day doing such for a ball set to him by Atsumu, and more for the thrill that raced down his spine when he did so.
That didn’t mean his desire to one day play with Atsumu faded at all. To the contrary; the more he fell in love with volleyball, the most he wanted to be able to share his passion with Atsumu.
His soulmate had been the one to introduce him to the sport he’d now taken on as a love more intense and enduring than that which he’d had for ballet, and he had no idea how to thank him for it.
He penned a short letter to him, rather than his usual diary entries, and carefully stowed it in his desk. He wanted to be there when Atsumu read it, he decided, rather than just passively letting him read it when they were switching bodies.
He ran his fingers over the drawer handle. He hoped it wouldn’t be badly received. Maybe, one day in the future, he would rewrite it, when he had better words to express how he felt and could get it across better.
Their next switch wasn’t long after that, and it was one that Kiyoomi felt had been long-coming. He hadn’t known whether or not his family had informed Atsumu that Kiyoomi now did volleyball as well, but judging by the very dramatically written note that he was handed by his coach after he’d switched with Atsumu halfway through a practice game, he knew now.
Only because of you, he was dying to say to his soulmate’s face. I only have so many happy things because of you.
He was so close to grasping the truth then, but it took until his next switch to truly realise.
As Atsumu would explain later, he had fallen in love with Kiyoomi via a slow, gradual progression. It was through years’ worth of switches and seeing snapshots of what his soulmate was like that had pushed him into the realm of love. It was something he didn’t admit full until he was about 13 – it was hardly unusual to be irrevocably in love with your soulmate, but definitely atypical for such to have occurred before a face to face encounter.
But it was just the truth; as the years had passed, Sakusa Kiyoomi had grown on Miya Atsumu, and he loved him. It was as simple as that; Atsumu’s love was neither complicated nor unexpected, and it was probably the most enduring part of him, by the time he had started middle school.
Kiyoomi was nowhere so organised.
He fell in love kind of like how planes landed. He had jolted his way further and further towards true feelings, and when he’d finally hit them, he’d slammed down hard and careened forward, unable to process the enormity of what his heart felt. He couldn’t quantify what his heart held, just that it was more immense that any other emotion he’d yet grasped fully.
And it was all because Atsumu – stupid, sweet, perfect Atsumu – had known without asking directly what Kiyoomi needed, and silently abided by it.
Kiyoomi could have lived a million lifetimes in a thousand other ways, and not once would he have wished for a different soulmate. Somewhere along the line, Atsumu had become everything to him.
Because when Kiyoomi switched bodies with Atsumu for the first time after the volleyball revelation and landed in his bedroom, he found the previously messy space that the other boy inhabited now spotless. Clothes were tucked neatly away in drawers, papers stacked nicely, the soft smell of scented cleaner hanging around.
He softly asked Atsumu’s mother why everything was so orderly, after explaining that they’d switched again. She smiled softly at him and didn’t ruffle his hair like she used to. Maybe she knew the touch would be unbearable to him.
“Well, he said that you really hate germs, and they make you very uncomfortable, right?” at his nod, she continued, “well, when he found that out, he insisted on keeping his room all neat and tidy so you wouldn’t be uncomfortable if you switched while at home. He deep cleans it once a week, now,” she chuckled, “and he has some surgical masks and gloves in his drawers if you want to wear them.”
Realising he was in love with his soulmate wasn’t a scary revelation; their very bond suggested that they were perfect for each other and for good reason, but it was a big one nonetheless.
It felt a little like coming home.
He followed Miya-san’s instructions and located the masks, tugging one on, but forwent gloves. The therapist his aunt had set him up with was confident he would be able to operate out in the world without needing gloves – the mask was another thing entirely – and he was trying to work himself up to such as much as possible.
And where better to test out how long he could last without gloves, than in a room he knew well? His soulmate’s room?
Miya-san said that Atsumu deep-cleaned this place once a week. He trusted his soulmate.
He didn’t put any gloves on before they switched back.
Being thirteen was…interesting, to say the least. The jury was still out on whether it was good or not, in Atsumu’s mind. On the one hand, he finally got to be nearer the top of the food chain in middle school, and having younger kids run around after him clamouring for his attention with calls of ‘Atsumu-senpai!’ added years onto his life.
On the other hand, it also offered the many experiences, of varying awkwardness, that early adolescence bore in droves. Atsumu and Osamu were lucky in some ways; their voices – one of the main points of embarrassment for middle school boys – had dropped quickly, and most of their awkward variation between squeaking and deep tones had passed over the summer holidays, and their growth spurts had been smooth and continuous as opposed to sudden and uncomfortable.
But a lot of the changes brought on by puberty, horrendous as it was, weren’t just relegated to the development of the larynx or stretching of the bones. And one such consequence was that Atsumu, in addition to all the other boys in his class, often had a lot of…tension that usually needed an outlet.
And Atsumu loved Kiyoomi, but he was pretty certain he would have rather jumped in the ocean wearing a lead weight around his neck than have Kiyoomi switch into his body while he was trying to alleviate said tension.
Atsumu had never invested in suppressants, despite being an athlete for so many years. He treasured his bond and switches with Kiyoomi too much to risk suppressing a switch just for the sake of volleyball. Volleyball was his second love, but Kiyoomi was his first, and he would sit out half a set if it meant being able to see more of the person who’d so thoroughly enchanted him.
But tension needed to be alleviated, and given that their parents had finally caved and granted Atsumu and Osamu separate rooms, the only thing holding him back from such was his fear of either being interrupted or doing some interrupting by way of a soul-switch.
So, under the guise of getting much more serious about volleyball – which he was, so it wasn’t completely a lie – he asked his parents for a pair of suppressors.
They were simple devices – small, hard black bands that went around each wrist – which bore the ability to suppress any switches for as long as the person was wearing them. They were usually a precautionary measure more than anything since switches were generally rare and infrequent, but it was better to be a little paranoid than to severely injure oneself because their soulmate didn’t have the same reflexes or physical prowess. Plus, there were some cases of badly timed switches that had resulted in accident and injury before. One hardly wanted to suddenly switch while driving, for instance.
He knew his reason for getting them wasn’t a first by any means – there were suppressors specifically designed to suppress switches only when the heart rate was elevated, and despite what the ads on TV said, everyone knew that they were meant to stop sex being interrupted – but he still felt guilty the first time he clipped them on. He wore them during volleyball so as to not attract any suspicion from Osamu, too, but there was something about wearing them in private that brought on a whole new kind of shame.
But said shame was soon forgotten about, not least because he found himself dealing with something that aroused far more guilt.
Namely that, despite the fact he didn’t have to worry about being caught in the act by Kiyoomi anymore, the boy stayed on his mind
More specifically, he was a fixture of sorts.
A rather sexual fixture.
Objectively, Atsumu knew that being attracted to one’s soulmate – and he was, Kiyoomi only got more attractive with each successive switch, and his hair alone could almost drive Atsumu insane – and acting on feelings of attraction were normal. But that didn’t stop the feeling that he was doing something wrong every time that the burning heat in his gut was allayed after he thought of kissing forehead moles, smoothing his hands over alabaster skin or gripping thick, curly hair.
The internet research that he’d done on the topic told him that a lot of people were in the same boat as him. The advice that people who’d met their soulmates already gave was soothing; it was normal, they said, and nothing to be ashamed of. Hell, one girl on a thread he investigated had even boasted that she and her soulmate had been so into each other before they’d even met that clothes had come off right at their first meeting in her apartment. Atsumu quickly cleared the browsing history and shut down the laptop after that, but it didn’t stop his pubescent mind from capitalising on the very concept.
Yeah, the soul switches he had with Kiyoomi were a little awkward, around that age. He did wonder at times if Kiyoomi felt the same way, or how the process of letting off steam would even work, with his mysophobia. If even Atsumu, who’d lived in a room which looked like the aftermath of a hurricane for a decade straight, felt weird or ashamed after doing that stuff, maybe it was worse for Kiyoomi.
A thought occurred to him. Kiyoomi had explained, in a short letter during another switch, that he found touching people’s bare skin deeply uncomfortable. He probably wouldn’t appreciate what came through Atsumu’s mind at times, he reflected sadly. Then something else important popped up.
Soulbonds were unbreakable, but their most recognisable feature – the soul-switch – was revoked via way of a kiss. No-one had been able to ascertain why, but the general consensus was that it signalled romantic attraction, in addition to physical closeness, by which point the bond assumed that the switches were no longer necessary.
But Kiyoomi hated skin-on-skin contact…did that mean he would be disgusted at the idea of kissing Atsumu?
Atsumu wouldn’t have minded if that was the case. He hadn’t gotten into a habit of routine cleanliness for the last few years just to go and completely disregard Kiyoomi’s boundaries, after all. He wouldn’t lie and say that he’d never thought of kissing Kiyoomi (the nights he dreamed of kissing him were some of his milder thoughts about the other, in all candidness), but even more than that, he’d dreamed of a life without switches.
People who walked around without suppressors on their arms were lucky, and everyone recognised them as such. The ones who had located the loves of their lives and didn’t have to worry about that spellbinding vertigo and bewilderment that came hand in hand with a switch. Atsumu had always imagined himself among them. The idea that he might never be made something unpleasant swell in his chest. He hated himself for it, but it sat there, nonetheless.
It was in a moment of self-consciousness that he wrote the note and slipped it into the small alcove that he’d long since reserved for any notes meant for Kiyoomi. He would remove it tomorrow and forget about the whole mess tomorrow, he promised himself as he slipped under his covers that night. Just getting to meet Kiyoomi in person would be incredible, and he dared not ask for more.
He woke up in Kiyoomi’s body the next morning, and did his best to not have a meltdown, sitting through a markedly pleasant breakfast with Kiyoomi’s cousin, uncle and aunt, all of whom seemed keen to hear how his life had been since he’d last switched with Kiyoomi. He felt a deep swell of pride when he heard that his soulmate was his team’s ace. Like the other boy could be anything less than amazing.
It was a very different experience to when Kiyoomi had lived back with his parents, and Atsumu was happy for him that he’d ended up in a much happier place. But even as he absorbed new information about his soulmate and enjoyed the morning, he was starkly aware of the embarrassing note that Kiyoomi would have undoubtedly read by now. He walked to school with Motoya, who kept up a chattering stream of conversation the entire way, and tried not to sigh too happily when he ended up in his own body right before class started.
He checked the alcove the minute he got home. A literature test he’d done extremely well on had a congratulatory sticky note taped to it, a letter he’d written to detail major updates in depth had a few paragraphs scrawled around it in what Atsumu had come to recognise as Kiyoomi’s impeccable writing. And then, beside it, the small note he’d slipped in there last night. His face burned just looking at it.
Kiyo, I know this might sound weird, but I know you hate touching people skin-to-skin, so I thought I’d ask.
Would you ever kiss me?
He resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands and groan, before forcing his eyes to slide lower and peek at whatever response Kiyoomi had given his pathetic ass.
The blush on his cheeks spread down his entire body when he deciphered the answer.
I would love to kiss you, Atsumu.
Frankly, being confused for Osamu had never been that bad.
Sure, it was annoying, and Atsumu tended to sigh twice as much through interactions that started with him being called the wrong name than any others, but it was understandable. After all, the two of them were identical. As their mother delighted in telling them, when they were really little, they’d despised the thought of not looking the same. The same definitely couldn’t be said now, though.
“It’s still strange to me,” their father murmured, shaking his head as he cleared the table. Atsumu crossed his arms, tossing his newly-dyed hair out of his face with a huff.
“Eyy, wha’s wrong with it?”
“Never said that there was anythin’ wrong with it, just that I can’t get used ta it.” his father clarified, reaching across the table to ruffle it. “The colours look alright, though. And it is nice not having ta wait for one of ya to speak before knowing who’s who.”
“Given that I’m taller than Samu, that should be obvious,” Atsumu grumbled.
“By a few millimetres, Tsumu,” his father laughed. “It’s not that much of a difference!”
They both looked up as Osamu stumbled down the stairs, and Atsumu was already opening his mouth to demand that they stand next to each other and compare heights when he held up a hand and deadpanned. “Not Osamu.”
“Ahh, morning, Rintarou,” his father said, waving slightly before grabbing the used mugs off the table, “there’s still some breakfast around if ya wanted to grab any. How’re things?”
“Not bad,” Osamu’s soulmate answered simply, “just more school to deal with, really.”
Atsumu’s father nodded, then departed. Generally speaking, Atsumu tended to be the one left to deal with Suna, or Sunarin (as he’d insisted on nicknaming the guy) since he knew Osamu best of their whole family. Since he and Suna were also around the same age, and his parents thought it would be good for them to get along, they got shoved together a lot when Osamu had a switch.
Osamu and Sunarin’s switches were a lot different to Atsumu and Kiyoomi’s; though theirs happened far less frequently – only about once every two or three years – they stayed in each other’s bodies a lot longer. Hell, Suna had once hung around in Osamu’s body for three days straight before they had switched back again. Generally, Atsumu felt like he’d gotten to know the other fairly well. He was snarky and laidback, and even without the soulbond, Atsumu would have thought he was perfect for Osamu.
“I noticed that you guys dyed your hair,” Suna said, fiddling with some strands of Osamu’s hair. Atsumu nodded, trying once again to reconcile that this was his brother’s soulmate, not his actual brother; there was nothing weirder than hearing a crisp Tokyo dialect leaving his twin’s mouth.
“Ya, we don’t care too much about lookin’ alike anymore, but better ta be distinguishable if we’re gonna go ta a good school for volleyball.”
“Right, Osamu mentioned in a letter you two are going to Inarizaki, right?”
Atsumu glanced at him curiously, not missing how intent his gaze was. “Ya, we are.”
“Good, I wanted to make sure,” Suna’s gaze sharpened suddenly, “by the way, do not tell Osamu this.”
“Huh?” Atsumu looked up, suddenly intrigued. “Ya want me ta keep a secret from my brother?”
Suna winced slightly, “I mean…yes-”
“Sure thing. What is it?”
Suna blinked, but relaxed. “Well, my family is moving out of Tokyo because my dad got offered a good job. Said job is in Hyōgo, and I may have done some research about good schools for volleyball. Then Osamu mentioned Inarizaki and…” he shrugged, “well, yeah, my parents agreed, so it looks like we’ll be classmates next year.”
Atsumu grinned. “Ayy, nice! Dontcha worry, I can keep my mouth shut to Osamu. He’ll scalp me when he finds out I lied ta him, though.”
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Suna deadpanned, dodging Atsumu’s light slap and grinning sharply. “But yeah. Osamu likes surprises, right? Maybe he’ll be happy when I show up unannounced at Inarizaki’s volleyball tryouts.”
“Definitely,” Atsumu laughed, “from what Samu has said, yer a good middle blocker, so hopefully they’ll have spaces open for all three of us.”
Suna gave him a look. “I reckon you’ll be fine, with those ridiculous serves of yours. Depends how good the other competition is, though.” Atsumu nodded in agreement, watching as Suna scooped up an apple, chewing on it thoughtfully. The two of them tended to have more snarky conversations, probably because Suna had picked up Osamu’s tendency to badmouth and insult him, but the other boy looked more subdued today, the expression ill-fitting on Osamu’s face.
“What are yer moping about?” he asked, not surprised when Suna reeled back in shock at his bluntness. Atsumu had never been one to hold back with his words too much, but he’d always at least attempted civility with Suna. Atsumu was an asshole, no one was disillusioned about that, but despite everything, he did love his brother, so he’d always avoided putting Suna off too much during any switches they had.
“I just…” Suna averted his gaze, “…Osamu will be happy to go to the same school as me, right?”
Atsumu rolled his eyes, “The asshole practically waxes poetic about ya on a normal day. He’ll be delighted, promise.”
Suna actually relaxed at that. “Right.”
“Of course I’m right. And yer better hope ya switch back on the way; Samu has maths first.”
Objectively speaking, Kiyoomi knew what a sports scholarship was. He’d heard about them plenty, of course, as someone who devoted a large portion of their time to an athletic pursuit. But he hadn’t ever really expected to get one. And not to one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
His Aunt and Uncle nearby passed out when the letter arrived, because even though Kiyoomi had done the entrance exam, and been scouted by a representative from the school, and been interviewed by the principal several times, none of them had expected a scholarship to be slid his way. Definitely not from one of the most selective schools in the country. Itachiyama was known for many things, but throwing out scholarships at will wasn’t one of them.
But Kiyoomi would take what he could get; his acceptance of the offer Itachiyama had given him probably arrived in record time.
Motoya was offered a place a few days later, and the two of them were perhaps a little too stupidly happy to be going to the same high school. They’d been on the same volleyball team since the start of middle school, after all, and the thought of trusting any other libero to catch his slips made Kiyoomi’s lip curl.
The school itself was huge, and Kiyoomi was glad to have the assistance of both a friendly upperclassman and his directionally gifted cousin to help navigate it. Though, in all honesty, he cared less for where his classes were located and more for where the gymnasium was. Itachiyama tended to do well in all sports, but since volleyball was their crowning achievement – and they currently sat at first in the country – the volleyball team got priority for practices. Probably a nuisance for other school athletes, but definitely a bonus for Kiyoomi and Motoya.
Kiyoomi’s first thought, upon being let into the gymnasium along with all the other team hopefuls – Kiyoomi was less a hopeful, though, considering that Itachiyama had lured him into attending purely for the sake of volleyball – was that the team didn’t look nearly as intimidating as a lot of others that he’d faced in middle school.
But naturally, in his mind, that was what cemented their reputation as absurdly talented – anyone who needed to use their emotion or physicality to intimidate others wasn’t playing well enough.
“Alright, welcome first years!” the captain said, smiling in a welcoming way. “I’m Miyata Hogai, and I’m the captain this year,” he gestured to the boy next to him, “This is Fukaya, he’s our vice. Now, we’d like to get right into things, so we’ll be doing a few exercises to gauge some of your skills.” Some of the first years exchanged looks, but Miyata smiled comfortingly at them. “Nothing too challenging. We’re gonna have you all do some diving receives, blocks and serves, and once you’re done, introduce yourselves with your name, position and middle school. Sound good?”
They nodded before being ushered into lining up. Kiyoomi sighed, not missing how the older players were scrutinising them. The shorter recruits looked more nervous than the taller ones, but that was hardly surprising. One boy to the side of Kiyoomi, who looked about 5’8’’ or so, kept glancing at him with an almost angry look.
Not like I can help it, he thought disparagingly. Kiyoomi had started to really grow at 13, and he hadn’t stopped since. Norie had almost had a heart attack when she’d come back to visit after half a year away at university and suddenly finding him taller than her.
“I’m ten years older than you,” she’d laughed, “I should be taller! Me!”
It was a relief to step out of the line and do diving receives with some of the second years, more so to try out blocking. Kiyoomi might not have been trained much as a blocker, but he was six feet tall, and that tended to do the trick more often than not. He could feel the coach’s eyes on him as he moved, and tried to suppress a grin. He’d never considered himself much of an attention whore, but perhaps he’d been picking up on some of the borderline obnoxious self-esteem that Atsumu had demonstrated in his letters, because seeing the approving glint in the man’s eye was making him struggle to hide a wicked grin.
Then came the last exercise of the day, serving practice. He watched as the line thinned, other students doing their best to serve impressively before introducing themselves with a bow. It was interesting to hear how diverse the recruitment pool for Itachiyama was, frankly. He watched Motoya do a decent jump serve; nothing special, but Kiyoomi already had a feeling that his cousin would get onto the team. He had, after all, made everyone else’s diving receives look clumsy and weak in comparison.
Then the student in front of Kiyoomi handed him the ball – Kiyoomi studiously avoided touching hands with him – and he stepped up to the line. He saw the coach gently nudge the team’s captain and point to him, and he dipped his head to hide a small smirk, spinning the ball in his hands pensively. At the sound of a whistle, he tossed the ball up and ran into his serve.
After finding out Atsumu had a serve powerful enough to decimate both the points and motivation of the opposing team, Kiyoomi had invested time in trying to do the same. If they ever played the court together, he wanted to be able to challenge his soulmate.
His hand connected with the ball, slamming into it so hard he felt the sting of pain before it had even left his palm, and ensured to snap his wrist forward in the way only he could as it went. Give it a killer spin, Kiyoomi.
It spun obediently through the air, ducked between two of their defenders, both barely even able to react from the sheer speed, and ricocheted off the floor, slamming into the opposite wall of the gymnasium hard enough to draw everyone’s attention. For a moment, silence reigned, and Kiyoomi knew he didn’t miss the almost hungry look on both captain and coach’s faces.
“Sakusa Kiyoomi,” he introduced himself simply, “I play wing spiker and I attended Okojo Middle School. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Atsumu knew that Osamu was going to be slightly late to their first-ever volleyball practice at Inarizaki. He knew this because he’d specifically mentioned to one of his classmates that his brother liked photography. The fact that said classmate happened to be a recruiter for the school newspaper was a coincidence.
And Atsumu definitely didn’t fast-walk (read: sprint) to the gymnasium, hurriedly introduce himself to the second-year taking everyone’s names and positions, mention his twin brother was going to be slightly late, and then spun in a circle observing everyone.
“You look like you’re searching for your own soulmate rather than your twin’s,” a dry voice, laden with a Tokyo accent, said from behind him. Atsumu raised an eyebrow, already recognising the speech pattern, and spun around.
Suna Rintarou was fucking tall – taller even than Atsumu was – with dark brown hair and narrow, green-gold eyes that reminded him almost viscerally of a fox. He neatly slotted into all of the physical descriptions that Osamu had offered in the past, and he found himself raising an eyebrow at his brother’s soulmate.
“My soulmate is a hell of a lot more attractive than yer annoying ass, actually,” Atsumu said, sticking his tongue out because he was a mature fifteen-year-old and that was what mature fifteen-year-olds did. Suna rolled his eyes, his facial expressions matching a lot better in his own body than in Osamu’s.
“Sure,” Suna sniped back, eyes trailing to the door, the only sign that betrayed the nervousness he must have been feeling. Atsumu allowed himself a brief moment to lament that his twin was meeting his soulmate first, before forcing it down to make way for the happiness he’d reserved for the both of them. Just as he did so, the doors swung open, Osamu stumbling in before racing over to introduce himself. Atsumu laughed at the slightly spellbound look on Suna’s face.
“Come on, ya loser,” he sighed, grabbing Suna by the arm and hauling him unceremoniously over towards his twin. Osamu turned to him with an obvious question on his lips, but it died the minute he saw Suna, mouth slackening and eyes lighting up. Atsumu feigned gagging before practically tossing Suna at his brother and walking away with little more than a yelled, “be sensible!” that earned him a glare from Osamu.
“Ahh, soulmates?” a third-year correctly guessed when Atsumu scurried over to the rest of the first-year recruits. Atsumu rolled his eyes but nodded. “Right. We’ll give them ten minutes or so. For now, the rest of you can get practising. You all know how to do a basic quick attack, right?”
All three of them got onto the team, and as much as Atsumu wanted to stay annoyed at the fact that he’d switched early but would inevitably meet his soulmate later, Suna was pretty alright. He was a good middle blocker, that was for sure, and given that one of the third years had actually whooped at Atsumu’s serve, and Osamu’s spikes had gotten past their other blockers, they weren’t really hanging in the balance waiting to see if they were in or not.
The other first-years who slid onto the roster – Ginjima and Kosaku – were good as well, and Atsumu found himself quickly gelling with the second years as well. Kita was a little robotic at times, but a well-rounded player, if a little too prone to making Atsumu and Osamu break up any fistfights they got into. He’d already known Aran, and was pleased to see his presence on the team seemed to be slowly shaving years off the older boy’s life. Akagi was, simply put, a delight, and Ōmimi could have been a little more vocal about just about everything, but the team was a good one.
The third years – Matsuyama, Endo, Nobiri and Devi – were all good, but it was clear that their main focus was cultivating the strength of the younger years. When Atsumu worked up to ask Devi about it one day, the older boy had just shrugged.
“Our grade has been the weakest comparatively in the last two years,” he explained, “we’re well rounded, but none of us has any mind-blowing singular abilities or outstanding talents, not like some of the young prodigies coming through high school now.” He gave Atsumu a look, then, which made a shiver run down his spine. “We know that we’ll probably get better results in a competition by cultivating the skills of the players just entering high school, hence the focus on you guys. We’re interested in the results we achieve as a team as opposed to competing on an individual level.”
It had surprised Atsumu, since it was no secret to most people that he got competitive fast, and that he’d gotten a lot of his skills by doing such. His focus had always been almost single-mindedly on volleyball, so having anyone threaten his prowess within the sport had always usually demanded recompense of some sort.
Kiyoomi was the only exception; Atsumu would still fight it out with his soulmate on the court if necessary, but he would never hold a victory against him.
But as much as Atsumu had thought he wore his heart on his sleeve, in some areas, he was cagier than he’d first thought.
“Was that…Morihei Shizuka you were just talking to?” Kosaku said at lunch one day, chopsticks frozen halfway to his mouth, a piece of wakame hanging precariously from them. “Like, the vice-captain of the girl’s volleyball team, Morihei Shizuka?”
Atsumu threw him a funny look. “Ya, what about it?”
Kosaku blinked at him. “What do ya mean ‘what’? She’s one of the most sought-after girls in school!”
“Oh, she is?”
“Tsumu doesn’t pay attention ta anything that isn’t volleyball, Yūto,” Osamu yawned from where he’d half sprawled himself across Suna’s lap – a sadly frequent occurrence, now that the two were properly together – “Ya should know that by now.”
“Still,” Kosaku huffed slightly, “I woulda thought you’d at least know her deal. Half of the school wants to date her. What’d she come up to you to talk about.”
“Uhhh…” Atsumu suddenly found himself not wanting to say. It had been awkward enough, to attempt compassion and thank her for her attention but gently turn her down, and Kosaku’s reaction to him not even knowing that Morihei was sought-after wasn’t very promising. “Nothin?”
“Confession, probably,” Osamu yawned, stealing a piece of Ginjima’s onigiri when the boy was distracted and cramming it in his mouth, “she kept asking me what kinda stuff ya liked.”
“She confessed to you?” Kosaku said, eyes wide with shock before he spun to face Atsumu. “Did you accept?”
“Why don’t ya go ask her out yerself, if yer so invested?” Atsumu huffed, reaching unceremoniously over the circle to pull hard on his brother’s hair, grateful that like usual, Suna only snorted and took a picture of the chaos rather than trying to help his boyfriend. “And no, not interested.”
“How?” Kosaku muttered under his breath as Osamu took a half-hearted swipe at Atsumu that he artfully dodged.
“You mean how is he not interested or how is Morihei into him?” Suna piped up, indicating where Atsumu and Osamu had engaged in a slapping battle over the centre of their group’s loose circle. Kosaku watched him for a moment, looking increasingly forlorn.
“Fuck you too, Kosaku,” Atsumu grumbled as he shuffled out of his brother’s reach and chucked a small piece of fish at him. “I’m fucking gorgeous. And I barely know her, why would I be into her?”
“He only cares about his soulmate,” Osamu said, wriggling back into an upright sitting position to brush fish off himself and give Atsumu the stink-eye. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen him give a shit about anyone else, really.”
“Huh, that’s kinda surprising.”
Atsumu once again glared at Kosaku. “Why? I mean, I don’t really give a shit what my soulmate does. If they wanna date someone else then good for him, but I just don’t find anyone else that interesting.”
Ginjima blinked at him. “That’s…actually a pretty mature take on the whole thing. Wasn't expecting that from you, to be honest.”
“Oh, fuck you all-”
Kiyoomi had always been careful about his body.
Ever since he’d sent himself sprawling as a kid in ballet class, he’d done his best to train and strengthen the ligaments and tendons rendered weak and pliable by nature. He’d even gone so far as to inform his soulmate of the fragility of certain parts of his body so that soul-switches didn’t result in any undue injury.
He had always ensured he iced his joints when they ached, ceased practice when they stung just on the side of too much, and used compression bandages and strapping tape so as to avoid worsening or enabling any possible injuries. He was careful, sometimes to the point of absurdity.
That didn’t mean that he could beat statistics, though. For all his care, he still got injured twice as often as anyone on any of the teams he’d played on. Whether it was dislocations that he’d fixed himself but still necessitated time on the bench, or sprains that had him limping through recovery for weeks at a time, his hypermobility had lived up to its promise of being just as much a curse as a blessing.
But he’d avoided serious time out during his first year of high school for a good while. All throughout practise matches, prefectural qualifiers and Tokyo playoffs, he’d been able to build up his reputation as a spiker to be feared – and somehow, even among all the talent at Itachiyama, a prospective ace – and as a rising star. When Itachiyama snagged a place at Nationals because of the vicious spikes he sent the way of another Tokyo school, that reputation had only heightened.
He was only three months into high school, and he had already been propelled to a national level of competition. It made all the hardships he’d encountered to get to this point worth it, and he’d been keen to show the world that he – and his team by extension – were a force to be reckoned with.
And he did so. Until the semi-finals, at least.
He’d neglected to care for his own body in the lead-up to Nationals, being so single-mindedly focused on his goal that he’d chosen to ignore small signs of discomfort. He’d brushed off a lot of them, and for the most part, that had been okay to do. Because the bruises on his arms were standard. The ones on his right foot ankle were not. The pain that swelled and spread through his calves after rigorous jumping for spikes and blocks was a part of volleyball, but the persistent ache in the same part of his ankle wasn’t normal.
The pain and bruising had only been around for about three weeks prior to Nationals, so he’d assumed it was a small injury, one that would go away on its own, and ignored it summarily.
It had been tolerable during the first and second rounds. Uncomfortable during the third. The quarterfinals had left him limping for a few hours afterwards. But it was the semi-finals where Kiyoomi’s wilful ignorance had finally caught up to him.
He’d jumped to block a ball alongside another member of his team – and the ball had rebounded right into a point for Itachiyama, thank goodness – but a small, accidental connection between him and the other blocker made him land wrong. Just wrong. He had expected to roll his ankle at worst, maybe slam his side unpleasantly into the ground.
But the angle his foot hit the ground at was just wrong enough for the small injury he’d been nursing – a stress fracture, as a doctor would tell him later – to erupt into something worse.
He felt his foot hit the ground as he attempted to land, felt the bone of his ankle snap clean through, and felt his knee slide sharply out of place when the rest of him landed hard a moment later. The low gasps from the crowd were probably more from the sight of a rare fall than any realisation that he’d just been injured, and he could tell from the pitying tuts from the other team that no-one but himself knew how bad it was.
He sat up with the distinct feeling that all the blood in his body was rushing away from where he needed it. A low buzzing sound had taken up residence in his ears – perhaps a distortion of the sound of the audience – and he could feel his stomach churning unpleasantly as the pain radiating from his right leg suddenly became much more present in his mind.
The middle blocker who’d slammed into him turned to look at him, probably to offer an apology. He paused, staring at Kiyoomi.
“Shit, you alright?” he asked. Kiyoomi lifted his head, and the other boy blanched so fast it was honestly concerning. The opposing team’s setter, who was at the front of their rotation, ducked down where he was standing, frowning.
“You don’t look so good,” he said, “you fuck up your leg or…?”
Suddenly, someone else was in his space, another Itachiyama player. Motoya. Kiyoomi’s heart swelled with relief. His cousin took one look at his leg, whitened, and scrambled to signal to their side for help. A whistle rang out, shrill and piercing, as their team called for a time out, and Kiyoomi found himself squeezing his eyes shut, bending closer to the ground and for once paying no mind to how dirty it was.
A hand – Motoya’s – landed on his arm. “You knock something out of place again?”
“My knee,” Kiyoomi murmured after a moment of pained silence. “And, I don’t know, I think my ankle……” His cousin muttered a curse as their coach slid into place beside him, hands hovering anxiously.
“Broken ankle,” their coach confirmed, eyes fixed on Kiyoomi’s already swelling ankle, “alright, I’ll get Matsuda to call an ambulance. Can you guys get him up?”
Kiyoomi bit back a groan of pain as Motoya, Iizuna, and another boy hefted him up, Iizuna making sure to support him in such a way that there was no pressure on his leg, and carried him off the court. The audience had fallen into buzzing, everyone craning their necks forward to try and see what had happened. He forced his mind off it, swallowing down bile as the pain made his head feel lighter and lighter.
“You’re okay,” Motoya murmured, eyes fixed on Kiyoomi’s face – which, he was certain, was deathly pale at this point and probably verging into green territory – “you’ll be alright, Kiyo.”
He was set down off-court very gently, something he appreciated, but the motion also jostled his leg, and though the action was only minuscule, it sent pain shooting up the whole limb, and he dry-heaved as dizziness swept over him again. He heard more muffled cursing, and a sick bag – probably snatched from the first aid kit – was slotted neatly under his chin. He gripped it weakly, leg still throbbing with immeasurable pain.
Motoya’s hand came to rest on his arm, a steadying presence that cut somewhat through the pain still gripping him. He forced himself to listen to his cousin, dragging in slow, deep breaths as directed.
“Time-out is up,” their coach muttered to the teammates still crowded around him, “paramedics will be here soon, don’t you kids worry.”
The others exchanged looks, some of them murmuring comforts to Kiyoomi as they reluctantly walked back onto the court. Motoya hesitated, eyes fixed on Kiyoomi, worry clear in their depths.
“Get back on the court, Motoya,” Kiyoomi murmured, swallowing hard and trying to ignore the clammy feel of his skin, “I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” he forced a smile that he knew looked weak and wobbly, “bring me umeboshi in the hospital?”
Motoya bit his lip, but nodded, sending a final concerned look over his shoulder as he jogged back onto the court. The whistle blew to continue the first set, and Kiyoomi fixed his eyes on the game, desperate for the distraction. He watched maybe ten minutes of serves, spikes and impressive blocks, dizziness rising with every accidental jolt of his leg before he heard the shuffle of footsteps behind him, and a paramedic squatted down next to him.
“Hey there buddy. Not a great day so far, huh?”
“It hasn’t been the best,” he responded weakly, warranting a chuckle from the woman.
“Alright, well don’t you worry, we’re gonna get you to the hospital and fix up that leg of yours. Sound good?” he nodded in agreement, slumping back against the bench with relief. Actually getting into the ambulance was a blur of carefully being picked up and spoken to gently. Their coach slipped into the ambulance with him, and Kiyoomi almost sobbed in relief when he was handed one of his facemasks. The man evidently spoke to the paramedics as well, because a few minutes later, he was offered surgical gloves as well.
It did nothing for the throbbing pain radiating from his leg, but did wonders for the slowly growing distress that all his contact with both the floor and complete strangers had instilled.
His knee was snapped back into place with a sharp crack that made both Kiyoomi and his coach wince, but the resetting of his broken ankle was even worse. He shouldn’t have welcomed the slide of a needle under his skin to administer painkillers, but the soft fuzz that overtook his mind and drowned out the continued handling of his mangled ankle was a very welcome presence indeed.
He must have fallen asleep at some point – probably a combination of the painkillers and exhaustion – but when he woke up again, his ankle had been clad in a thick plaster, his coach was pacing on the phone nearby, and he’d obviously been moved into a small, private room.
“Definitely not, I say,” he heard the man murmur, before he glanced in Kiyoomi’s direction, “ahh, he’s awake again. I’ll call you back.” He turned his phone off and slid it into his pocket, approaching but not standing too close and, in a move that made Kiyoomi’s heart swell with gratitude, tugged a mask up over his face. “Rise and shine, Sakusa-kun. How are you feeling?”
He swallowed, his tongue feeling thick and clumsy in his mouth. “Like, uhhh…light.”
“Floating……” he mumbled, turning his head to press into the pillow more as his coach chuckled. “My leg’s heavy?”
“Yeah, you broke your ankle, kiddo,” he explained as Kiyoomi blinked dumbly at him.
“Oh…that’s not good.”
“No, it isn’t,” the man outright laughed again, “they must have given you some strong painkillers. Can’t say I blame them, though. You weren’t looking good earlier.”
“Rest up a bit,” the man chuckled, “the team is coming to see you in a bit.”
“Di-we win?” he slurred. His coach winced slightly but shrugged.
“Nah, we stole a set, but they got the game, in the end. Couldn’t be avoided though.”
“Oh…is it my fault?”
“Everyone looked all…” he waved a hand and made some noises, trying to illustrate a point that his coach very clearly did not understand, “after I got hurt.”
“Ahh, it did shake them up a bit, but that’s not your fault, Sakusa. We’ll just need to train harder so we can beat them next time.”
“Oh, cool. I’m gon-sta nap.”
“Alright, take a nap, Sakusa.”
He passed out almost immediately afterwards, descending happily into a haze of half-remembered fever dreams and silent sleep. When he next dragged himself into the land of consciousness, not only was he not alone in his room, but his room was verifiably packed with people.
“…sure he’ll be okay? Doesn’t look good…”
“…gave him a lot of painkillers…”
“…nasty fall though…out of commission for a while…”
Kiyoomi blinked his eyes open, the motion attracting the attention of Iizuna, who grinned at him and murmured a small greeting, which then attracted the attention of everyone else. Words of greeting were called out, as were bits of news about the match and inquiries about his leg, but Kiyoomi ignored them all in favour of his cousin, who looked very relieved to see him awake, and was also, as promised, clutching a bag.
“Plummmmssss-” Kiyoomi gargled, extending an arm in Motoya’s direction and making a grabbing motion. Motoya grinned and obediently handed the bag over. “Fuck yeaahhhhhh,” he slurred, tucking them to his chest like one would a baby. “I like plums.”
“I know, Kiyoomi,” Motoya said, obviously stifling giggles, “They gave you a lot of painkillers, huh?”
“Yeah…good drugs…” he mumbled as someone else in the room snorted. “I like drugs.”
“Not a good thing for an athlete to say, I’ll admit,” Captain Mitaya said with a choked-off laugh. “But I get where you’re coming from.”
“You feeling better?” their vice-captain, Fukaya, asked gently. Kiyoomi hummed, tightening his grip on the bag of umeboshi and considering it.
“My leg hurts,” he said simply, not noticing how so many faces crumpled in sympathy. “Did I break it?”
“You broke your ankle and dislocated your knee,” his coach piped up again. “So, you won’t be able to play for a while.”
“Why not?” he whined. The coach sighed.
“Because your injury needs proper time to heal, and I refuse to allow you to cause permanent damage to your body. You’re already more prone to injury than everyone else here. I’m not helping exacerbate that.”
The room was silent with the heaviness of what the coach had just said, everyone no doubt processing the months to come in which he would be sidelined. It would suck, they all knew that. Injuries in sports were common but devastating for serious athletes. In a moment, the reminder of such sent the mood from light to solemn.
At least, it was for a moment.
“Ugh, fine…” Kiyoomi murmured as he slid an arm over his eyes, but not before peering at his coach, glaring, and muttering, “…bitch.”
A nurse had to come by to ask their hollering team to quiet down, but it was worth it for the moment of levity.
Recovery periods sucked. Being sidelined for five months to allow his leg to fully heal sucked. Switching three times in that period with Atsumu and having to then field his soulmate’s written out questions also sucked (though, slightly less than the other times). Even just watching his team get to practice for hours while he watched longingly was painful, even more so than his actual injury had been. The time he was made to take off stung.
But it was worth it when Kiyoomi was allowed to step back onto the court, during the Spring Interhigh, the second stint at Nationals in his first year, and slam home spike after spike, decimating the carefully cultivated esteem of their opponents. They’d dealt with Itachiyama’s other spikers for the entirety of the competition, with Kiyoomi being used as a reserve or secret weapon of sorts. The coach had been reluctant to let him play again, but when they breezed their way through Nationals and were brought to their knees only in the competition’s very last match, everyone could see it had been a good decision.
He still had to be careful to avoid more stress fractures, and support braces had become fixtures on both his ankle and knee of his right leg, but the more he practised, the stronger he got.
That didn’t mean he was expecting the announcement, though.
Motoya was hollering in his ear so loudly that he could barely think, and Iizuna had grabbed at his other arm in a rare display of accepted skin-to-skin contact. “Kiyoomi! Holy shit!”
He had no idea why he had just been deemed one of the top three high school aces in the country. He’d spent the majority of his first-year season recovering. Yes, he’d enjoyed a superb comeback at the Spring Interhigh, but…
“What is happening……?” he murmured in shock.
He repeated the words a fortnight later when representatives from Volleyball Monthly showed up to interview him. He was almost certain he came off twice as awkward in the interview as he had in real life. It didn’t stop his team from losing their minds, though, nor from buying the issue when it came out to tout it proudly.
Everyone had been a lot more relaxed around him after they’d visited in hospital. He didn’t understand why until Motoya deigned to explain.
You do come across a bit untouchable sometimes, you know…
No longer, though. Calling one’s esteemed volleyball coach a ‘bitch’ shattered the ice like nothing else, apparently. But despite the closer infringements on his personal space, and the light-hearted jabs that he’d observed but not been the subject of until now…it was nice, to truly be part of the team. He didn’t quite bloom under the attention like his cousin did, but it was nice, nonetheless.
Being a second-year was a strange experience. To be on the middle of the ladder rather than the bottom, and to be looked up to as a kind of role model or mentor. Kiyoomi was awkward in every situation that came around, and the idea of trying to show first-years the ropes made him almost physically gag anyway.
But they looked at him with stars in their eyes and gasped over every play he did, and he couldn’t quite shake them off. He thought of Atsumu, how easily he seemed to connect with people, and begrudgingly gave it a shot.
Motoya looked ready to cry, the first time he stumbled across Kiyoomi helping a first-year correct their spiking form, before Kiyoomi’s glare drove him right into helping their newly recruited backup libero. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, to be a senpai again, and Kiyoomi was definitely handling it with more grace now than he had in middle school.
The mentoring proved a good decision, though, after Itachiyama practically bulldozed their way through the Tokyo Qualifiers and came out as their first representative yet again. Kiyoomi had immense respect for the other schools in the city; Fukurodani, for one, never failed to be impressive, but he did often wish sometimes that a strong contender from the city could put in a good effort to knock them down a peg.
Maybe Atsumu had rubbed off on him too much; he usually wasn’t so thirsty for a fight.
At least, not usually.
The first three rounds of Nationals were usually something of a breeze, and they proved to be such again in the Summer Interhigh. The quarterfinals were a little tougher; Nekoma was prolific on defence, which made his job as spiker all that much harder. The semi-finals were even harder; their team held on by a proverbial hair through the second set before rising back up to top form to steal the third.
But in the face of competing in the final again, all of the preceding matches failed to mean anything, after the second semi-final match was over.
Kiyoomi knew his grip on the bannister was tight as they watched the last whistle sound, knew that his eyes were wide and his mouth was curved into a sharp grin.
But how could he have helped himself? His eyes raked almost greedily over the bracket board, the final spaces now chalked in.
[ SUMMER INTERHIGH FINAL ]
Itachiyama [Tokyo 1] v Inarizaki [Hyōgo]
He was going to play against his soulmate.
Atsumu’s heart was in his throat, and he had to wonder if the same could be said of Kiyoomi. They hadn’t entered the arena yet, but the roaring of the crowd was already audible as a low, persistent sound on the edge of his awareness. The sounds of countless people talking to one another, milling around waiting for the match to start, and practising cheers for their respective teams.
He felt Osamu squeeze his shoulder, sidling up to him with his eyes fixed on the doors they would enter in a few moments.
“Ya gonna be alright? Ya are playing against yer soulmate, after all,” Osamu kept his voice low, for which Atsumu was grateful, and he sighed, nodding.
“Yah, I’ll be fine,” he muttered, even as he continued to wring his hands nervously. “I just…I dunno what to expect.”
“It’s…weird, seeing ‘em in person after years of switching bodies,” his twin murmured, “but in a good way. Kinda feels like yer floating.”
“Loser,” Atsumu muttered, hoping the insult masked the slight shakiness in his voice. It clearly didn’t, given how Osamu tightened his grip for a moment before releasing him.
“Alright, head on in, guys,” their coach said, making an ushering gesture as Kita took the initiative to shove the doors open, Aran on his heels. The sound from before amplified tenfold, no longer muffled in any regard, and Atsumu took a deep breath, steeled himself, and followed his team.
The arena was sensory overload manifest; the lights were piercing, even though they’d played in here just yesterday, and he could tell the difference easily now between a crowd that showed up for a semi-final as opposed to the actual final showdown. Inarizaki’s side was cheering and hollering so loudly that it almost knocked him off-beat. For the first time, he appreciated how infuriating their cheer squad must be for other teams to face.
But Itachiyama’s side was just as fierce, a sea of green and gold that were stamping and yelling chants in response. The match hadn’t even started, but both sides of supporters already seemed to be locked in a stand-off. A laugh tugged itself free of Atsumu’s throat, and then, feeling oddly buoyed by the slightly childish display of rivalry, found the courage to look at Itachiyama’s line-up.
His eyes glanced over the players they’d been warned about; Iizuna’s excellent setter dumps, Komori’s relentless receives (and hell, it was even weird to see him in real life) and the others that they’d reviewed footage of. All players to be watched. All dangerous not least for their inclusion in the best high school volleyball team in Japan.
Then, finally, his eyes met a jersey with a #10 emblazoned across the front, travelled upwards, and came to rest on his soulmate’s face.
He’d already known Kiyoomi was beautiful; he’d grown up staring at the other boy’s face in mirrors and imprinted it onto his mind since the tender age of six. But seeing him in real life, just as Osamu had said, was another experience entirely. For a moment, he felt suspended of all earthly ties, like not even gravity had jurisdiction over him.
His eyes raked over every detail; the dark wells of his eyes, the sharp line of his jaw, the two moles on his forehead and swathes of curls. He knew them all already, but committed them to mind again and again.
And at that moment, he knew he would do just about anything for his soulmate.
Then Kiyoomi, who’d been standing by his cousin, turned to look at Inarizaki’s team, and his eyes locked dead onto Atsumu’s. Every ounce of air in Atsumu’s lungs escaped in a single rush as he watched Kiyoomi’s face transform, watched a strange gentleness come into the usually harsh features as his eyes widened, round and almost wonder-struck, and his lips parted slightly.
Atsumu felt his twin slide up next to him. “Number 10,” he breathed, unable to tear his eyes away. Osamu glanced across the court obediently.
“Not bad,” he mused, clapping a hand onto his shoulder, “we gotta warm up.”
“Right.” Tearing his eyes away was almost physically painful, but Atsumu managed it, nonetheless. They were here to play, as much as he wanted to abandon the game entirely and run his hands through Kiyoomi’s curls. “Actually, just a minute.”
“Tsumu-” he ignored his brother’s cautious warning, stepping over to the net. Kiyoomi, who’d seen him coming, stepped up in tandem. He was taller than Atsumu, just slightly, and he resisted the urge to reach across the line and thread their fingers together.
“Don’t think I’m going easy on ya,” Atsumu declared, aware of the sharply competitive gleam that must have shown clearly in his eyes, “ya don’t get any special treatment just because yer my soulmate, ya know.”
Kiyoomi eyed him for a moment before a smile curved across his own face. Atsumu wanted to kiss him senseless.
“Good. And know that I won’t go easy on you, either.”
Atsumu grinned, wide and feral, and pivoted, jogging back to his own team to join their warm-up. Osamu raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask any questions. They drew into a huddle as the game was set to start, and Atsumu clenched his fists resolutely.
“Let’s crush ‘em,” he said with a grin.
The starting whistle marked the beginning of the most intense volleyball game of Miya Atsumu’s life, and he lived for every second of it.
Kiyoomi had been a tour de force since he’d started volleyball, but seeing him across the court, receiving his legendary spikes and sending service aces sailing past him…it was borderline ethereal. Atsumu offered silent worship to every practised twist of his soulmate’s arms, to the flip of his hair as he sailed effortlessly upwards, for each and every single time their eyes met across the court. Sakusa Kiyoomi was incomprehensibly talented, so Atsumu pushed and pushed to show the same of himself.
“You’re in top form today, Atsumu,” Kita murmured as they had a break after the second set, sculling water like their lives depended on it and stretching any muscles they’d pulled uncomfortably during play.
“Yah, yer actually doing well,” Osamu said, “I thought ya’d be more messed up playing against yer soulmate but apparently not.”
Atsumu grinned, wiping sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. “Playing against him just makes me wanna win more.”
“Wait, your soulmate is on Itachiyama’s team?” Aran said, eyebrows raised in surprise. Osamu snorted, rolling his eyes.
“Why else’d ya think he and Sakusa Kiyoomi have been aiming fer each other the whole game?”
Jaws dropped at the revelation, Atsumu laughed, and chased his brother back onto the court as the whistle sounded for them to continue. He could tell his teammates were staring at Sakusa with new eyes now; after all, they now knew him not just as a spiker to be dreaded, but as one of their own members’ soulmates. Kiyoomi clearly picked up on the change, just tilting his chin up in a clear challenge.
Atsumu did his best to deliver. He slammed down service ace after service ace, watching as Itachiyama scrambled to score a point and limit his serves as much as possible. He slammed himself to the ground like a libero to catch Kiyoomi’s amazing spikes. He pushed himself harder and harder through each successive set, until he was struggling for air and his body was burning with pain. Then he pushed himself further yet.
It wasn’t enough. Inarizaki were an excellent team, and they hadn’t made it to the finals on a fluke, but Itachiyama were beasts, plain and simple, and the most wrathful of them all was none other than Atsumu’s one and only. Sakusa Kiyoomi brought victory home for Itachiyama, and judging by the number of people screaming his name when the final whistle blew, everyone knew it.
They lined up to thank each other and bowed to the crowd in gratitude. Kiyoomi’s eyes followed him all the way out.
“Hey, coach, would I be in trouble for…vanishing for this evening, let’s say?”
The news about Sakusa and him had obviously spread, because the man just smiled slightly. “Get back before 10 pm, and I don’t think any punishment would be in order.”
Kiyoomi showered fast after the game, tugging on the clean clothes he’d packed into his bag so fast that Iizuna gave him a weird look. He’d been moving at the speed of light ever since the medal ceremony had ended. The weight of gold around his neck felt good – of course it did, as did watching Atsumu and Osamu bicker over who looked better in the silver medals – but right now, his priority was not on admiring the symbol of their victory. His thoughts were dominated entirely by brown eyes and two-toned hair and the damned smirk that Atsumu had aimed at him through the net.
He didn’t know how to express in words how light he felt. Not only had they finally scored a win at Nationals after how close they came both times last year, but he’d also seen his (beautiful) soulmate in the flesh for the first time, and he was everything Kiyoomi had wanted and expected.
Seeing him waiting in the hallway after the rest of his team had gone back to their hotel did strange things to Kiyoomi’s stomach, and he stopped in his tracks, inexplicably nervous.
“Hi,” he breathed, a stark contrast to their bold proclamations before the match. Atsumu smiled at him, melting through his reservations and reigniting the ever-present desire that Kiyoomi had to press kisses to his face until they were both flushed with red.
“Heya,” he said softly, “congrats on the win.” Kiyoomi barely had time to blush at the words before Atsumu’s expression slid more into the territory of flirtatious. “Ya looked good with that medal on.”
He felt his face heat up more. “Did you and Osamu decide who looked better in the silver?”
Atsumu grinned. “Ahh, ya heard that? We ended in a draw, mostly because we realised tha’ we look the same.”
“It’s a little late to be just figuring that out now,” Kiyoomi teased, heart thundering when Atsumu laughed. “Well, umm…”
“I hope ya know good places to grab food, Omi, because I’m starving,” Atsumu said, smoothly cutting over Kiyoomi’s hesitance. He cocked his head to the side, curious.
“Uh, yeah,” Atsumu blushed suddenly, “I mean, I like nicknaming people, and ya were one of the only ones I hadn’t given one to.”
“I like it,” Kiyoomi smiled a little as Atsumu blushed, “it’s cute.”
“Yeah…” Atsumu murmured, looking a little dumbstruck for a second before he collected himself and straightened up, nodding, “Yeah! Let’s go.”
They slotted neatly at each other’s sides as they walked, Atsumu’s arm brushing against Kiyoomi’s as they slowly fell into a rhythm of conversation. Atsumu was walking far closer to him than Kiyoomi usually let anyone do, but there wasn’t even the fleeting implication of discomfort on his part. Even had his soulmate still been drenched with sweat from their game, Kiyoomi doubted that would have changed.
Because Atsumu was different; there was no part of him that put Kiyoomi off. He was the exception to every rule Kiyoomi had ever established for interacting with other people. And he felt no shame in admitting that.
One new thing he discovered about his soulmate as they explored Shibuya; he was impatient. Their knuckles dragged together a mere one and a half times before Atsumu saw fit to grab Kiyoomi’s hand and lace their fingers together. It didn’t bother him – to the contrary, it sent warmth ploughing through his system and rushing into his face – but it did surprise him, and the small noise he let out was proof enough of that.
“Ya really are too cute,” Atsumu crooned, which only made him blush more. “Now come on! Food! I demand it!”
“Ugh, fine. What do you want?”
“I dunno. You pick!”
Kiyoomi turned ever redder, settled on a small but clean restaurant he’d visited with Motoya before, and led Atsumu inside, taking note that it closed in four hours.
“Why’re ya checking the closing hours? We got plenty ‘a time.”
“I just like to be organised, alright?” he said, feeling his soul exit his body when Atsumu laughed again, before swinging his body to press his head into the juncture between Kiyoomi’s neck and shoulder. He sucked in a sudden breath upon feeling the barest brush of lips across what little of his collarbone was exposed. “Hmmm-”
“I want soba,” Atsumu declared as he pulled his face away, feigning complete nonchalance in the face of Kiyoomi’s (undoubtedly obvious) intense blush. “What about you? Oh! Ya like gyoza? Let’s get some.”
Kiyoomi made a small whining noise, dropping his head so that his forehead connected with Atsumu’s shoulder. He felt the reverberations of a chuckle journey up the other boy’s body before a hand came to gently rest at the nape of his neck, digging into the small curls there. “Like I said,” Atsumu said, voice so fond that Kiyoomi felt like he would combust, “too cute.”
Kiyoomi practically steamrolled through his order after that, trying not to lose his mind when Atsumu stepped up after him, a hand brushing at the small of Kiyoomi’s back as he moved. He had always thought he’d be prepared for when he first met Atsumu, and that he would manage a good impression rather than whatever uncontrollable things he’d experienced during soul-switches.
Perhaps he should have been a little more realistic.
They slid into a booth together, Atsumu intertwining their hands together again the minute they were sat down, and launched into a conversation about the final. This, as much more familiar territory, set him instantly at ease, and Kiyoomi enthusiastically joined in his play-by-play breakdown of the sets. It was strange to him that someone as driven as Atsumu didn’t much mind his team’s loss, but the explanation he gave when Kiyoomi asked him why nearly knocked his off his proverbial feet.
“Well, I would be miserable, but then I wouldn’t get ta soak up my great first day with my soulmate, right?”
That comment reduced Kiyoomi to a blushing mess again, a blessed distraction arriving in the form of their food. Atsumu insisted on doing ‘some of that cutesy cliché bullshit’ by trying to feed Kiyoomi some of his noodles. It ended terribly, and with the tragic sight of noodles splayed out on the ground, but Kiyoomi’s gut also hurt from laughing so much, so it was ultimately a victory.
He didn’t stop blushing at Atsumu’s bold flirtations – or at how his boot-clad foot kept gently brushing up and down the inside of one of Kiyoomi’s legs under the table – but the conversation did come easier and lighter as time passed. He hadn’t even realised how lost in the conversation they’d become until a waitress came over to inform them that the restaurant was closing in 10 minutes.
“Oh shit,” Atsumu laughed, “I guess checking the opening hours was a good idea.” He turned to Kiyoomi with shining eyes and a wide smile, offering his hand. “Shall we go?”
Kiyoomi – in a shocking move – blushed, accepted his hand, and followed him out of the restaurant. A glance at his phone showed that it was about half-past nine. Which, as Atsumu informed him with a wince, was half an hour off from his unofficial curfew.
“I can walk you back,” he offered, which only made Atsumu’s grin widen, and they set off in the direction of the hotel that Inarizaki’s team had been staying at. There was some light chatter as they walked, this time, but they mostly went in silence, drinking in the feeling of being beside one another.
It was a feeling Kiyoomi wanted for the rest of his life.
They hesitated in front of the hotel, even though Atsumu technically had to get inside in the next few minutes. Kiyoomi watched him for a moment.
It was easy to tell what had been on both their minds since they’d first met up in the arena. It was what everyone thought about when they first met their soulmate in person; severing the soulbond. It was done easily enough – with a kiss – but the question remained of whether or not they both wanted to sever it now or not.
Atsumu answered his unspoken question. “Oya, ya should come to Hyōgo. We can sever our soulbond there.”
“Oh?” Kiyoomi raised an eyebrow, still high on the feeling of being with Atsumu but craving another fix just at the suggestion of another day like this. “Why not here?”
“Because,” his soulmate leant closer until his warm breath ghosted across Kiyoomi’s ear and made him shiver, “I ain’t gonna be able to stop kissing ya once I start, and I’d rather not do that with an audience, yeah?”
“Right,” Kiyoomi choked out, aware of how strained his voice sounded, “well…the break…Summer?”
“Yeah,” Atsumu murmured, fingertips ghosting over Kiyoomi’s jawline for a moment before he swiped at a lone snowflake and stuck his hands back in his pockets. “Summer.”
Then his soulmate smiled – so bright it was blinding – and darted inside the hotel. And Kiyoomi walked home with the distinct feeling that this was what euphoria felt like.
They organised it over texts and phone calls – a new form of communication that Atsumu was delighted to have. They’d made sure to exchange phone numbers while in Tokyo, thankfully, and seeing a small contact with the affectionate name Omi-Omi at the top ignited warmth in Atsumu’s heart every time he looked at it.
It was strange to have contact with his soulmate so readily available, after years of waiting out for their switches and hastily scribbled letters, but Atsumu wasn’t complaining.
It was easy enough to ask his parents if he could have a friend stay over for a night – his parents had always loved surprises, so he figured surprising them with his lovely soulmate would be a great one – and once Kiyoomi had secured a shinkansen ticket to Kobe, it was set in stone. Atsumu went to bed the day before feeling all fuzzy inside, like his feelings would burst free of his chest from how intense they were.
This is what it is to have a soulmate, he thought dreamily as he drifted off, to love someone so completely it almost overwhelms you.
His parents were out the day Kiyoomi came to visit, a good thing, since it meant that they could walk all the way back to the Miya household through Kobe. Atsumu made sure to take the prettiest route back and wasn’t disappointed by the content look on Kiyoomi’s face as they walked.
“Ya like Kobe so far?” he dared to ask.
“Prettier than Shibuya,” Kiyoomi murmured, a smile tugging at his mouth again. Atsumu felt almost dizzy knowing that he would finally get to kiss said mouth soon. “I still don’t think you can really call yourself a ‘country boy’ though. Kobe is a pretty big city.”
“We’ve established this,” Atsumu laughed, “if yer not from Tokyo, yer a country boy.”
He barely had time to blush at the nickname before realising they’d ended up right at his door, and he ushered Kiyoomi inside with a promise that he’d cleaned the whole place. Osamu, who’d been slumped on the couch playing Ao Oni while Suna yelled commentary in his ear, glanced up as they came in. “Oooh, there he is.”
“Don’t be an ass, Samu,” Atsumu said, kicking his shoes off in the entryway. Osamu rolled his eyes.
“Whatever. Nice to finally see ya in yer own body, Sakusa.”
Atsumu sighed, giving Suna the finger when he grinned maliciously at them. “Come on.”
He led Kiyoomi upstairs, stalwartly ignoring Osamu and Suna’s chorus of wolf-whistles, simply yelling a curse at them before shutting his door. It was only once their voices were blocked out that he remembered to feel self-conscious about Kiyoomi seeing his room for the first time.
“I promise it’s clean!” he said, waving his hands slightly as Kiyoomi looked around, brushing his fingers softly over pictures that Atsumu had taped haphazardly to his wall.
“I know it is,” Kiyoomi said, smiling again in the way that made Atsumu’s stomach flip-flop pleasantly. “It’s very…you.”
“Can’t tell if tha’s a compliment or an insult.”
“Who says they’re mutually exclusive?”
“Oiiii,” Atsumu whined, elbowing Kiyoomi gently in the ribs before wrapping his arms around his waist from behind. “Mean.”
“I, um, I actually have something to give you,” Kiyoomi murmured. Atsumu released him from his grip.
“Yeah, I, well, back when things at my house were kinda…tense, I used to distract myself by writing little diary entry things,” he rubbed the back of his neck shyly, “and I kinda addressed them all to you. So, I figured, if you wanted to read them…”
“That is literally the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard so fuck yah I wanna read ‘em.” Kiyoomi reddened at his words, but obediently opened the bag he’d brought – which, yeah, Atsumu was now realising was a little larger than what most people needed for two days away from home – and pulled out a small stack of lined notebooks. Atsumu took them gingerly, not wanting to damage the small mementoes, and ran a finger over the covers carefully.
“I was…a pretty lonely kid at the time, I guess,” Kiyoomi whispered, “but I never felt lonely while writing to you. So…I did it all the time. You, uhh, you can keep them, if you want.”
“Can I?” he said, astonished that Kiyoomi was willing to give away such a private remnant of the roughest part of his childhood. His soulmate nodded, and Atsumu hugged them gently to his chest for a moment before carefully putting them on his desk and stretching up slightly to kiss Kiyoomi on the cheek. The other boy reddened, a hand flying to the spot as Atsumu grinned.
“Now, what can we do until my parents come back to annoy my brother?”
To say that Atsumu’s parents were delighted to finally meet his soulmate was an understatement. When Atsumu dragged Kiyoomi to the door when they arrived home and introduced him, it seemed to be all they could do to not jump on him and suffocate him in their hugs. Luckily, they remembered Kiyoomi’s mysophobia at the last second and contented themselves with the widest smiles their faces could possibly hold, and gentle arm pats to show how happy they were to have him there.
Dinner was far louder an affair than usual, not least because Suna got roped into staying to eat, Atsumu’s parents asked Kiyoomi a million and one questions, and because Atsumu and Osamu started flinging food at each other discretely after a small argument started.
(Kiyoomi shut that down the minute a speck of it got on him by pouring his water glass over Atsumu’s lap under the table, while Suna did the same to Osamu. Atsumu decided very quickly afterwards that Kiyoomi and Suna getting along was a dangerous, dangerous concept.)
After dinner was all said and done, Atsumu’s mother innocently pulled him and Kiyoomi aside to mention that, sadly, they would have to share his bed, since their spare futon had gotten some rainwater on it from a leak in the roof.
“But…” Atsumu murmured after Kiyoomi assured her it was fine and went upstairs to shower, “…we got that leak patched up months ago…?”
His mother winked, Atsumu stifled an embarrassed scream, and promptly fled after Kiyoomi, ignoring her melodic laughter as he went.
If seeing Kiyoomi in his house had been a strange but delightful experience, walking into his room after showering to find his soulmate cross-legged on Atsumu’s bed, with damp curls and rumpled pyjamas was a borderline religious one. He swallowed heavily, towelling off his own hair. There was tension in the air again, but this time, it wasn’t caused by awkwardness.
“So, uhh, I know you wanna go ahead and…end the switches,” Kiyoomi spoke up, blushing, “but there’s just…one more thing, first.” He pulled a small envelope from his pocket and handed it to Atsumu when he sat down beside him, “I’d like you to read this. I first wrote it a few years ago, and I’ve redone it a few times since to add things, but…this is the version that turned out the best. So, before we sever this I just…read it, please.”
Atsumu took it gently, unfurling it as Kiyoomi fidgeted. He had to squint a little, with his dyslexia, but he eventually deciphered the contents, face growing warm once he did.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to give this letter to you, or if I’ll even still remember it’s existence by the time we meet. Considering that I don’t know when we’ll meet, it seems fair to say that it’s up in the air.
But if you do read this, I want to say thank you.
I’ve never been the most social kid out there, nor the friendliest. My whole life, I’ve always been slightly ill-fitting. Not an outsider by any means, but just uncomfortable enough that I never really felt at ease. It’s not something that I tend to tell people, since most don’t see any problem with how I fit into the world. But it’s there regardless. Becoming a ‘weird kid’ only made it worse. Watching your parents get divorced in the messiest way possible is shitty, and becoming a weird-ass germaphobe is even shittier. I’m used to people treating me like a strange lab specimen rather than a person.
I always thought that I would need to chop and change myself in order to really fully feel comfortable not only in my own skin, but in the world as well. It’s why I quit ballet as a kid, and why I kept my mouth shut constantly while parents screamed their heads off at each other all the time. I always thought I’d have to become nicer, or force my quirks down, to just live a normal life.
But then you showed me that the sport my cousin was always gushing about was actually pretty damn amazing, and that you didn’t think cleaning a little more than other people was an undue burden, and that regardless of how strange I am, there was someone out there who thought about kissing me.
I never really felt comfortable in my own skin, but the slots of time I spent in yours were some of the calmest I ever had. You’re one of the only people who never demanded that I change in some way, and I realise that’s a ridiculously cheesy and stupid thing to say, but it’s true. You don’t hold back, but you soften any blows you make. You’re far too overconfident and you definitely fight with your brother too much.
I’ve concluded over the last years of switching bodies with you and observing your life that you are, summarily, an idiot. Unfortunately for you, you’re my idiot, and I’m glad that I got you as my soulmate.
I realise now I was an idiot to commit this into writing when you’re dyslexic, but I assume that your competitive streak with Osamu helped you improve your reading, so suffer the written word.
Atsumu blinked hard, trying to push back the wetness pooling in his eyes. Kiyoomi was resolutely avoiding his gaze, and Atsumu wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, setting down the letter on his bedside table carefully before he slid a hand up to rest on Kiyoomi’s cheek.
The first press of their lips together was slow and tentative, marked by the sudden, warm tingling that rushed over their bodies. A familiar feeling, but for the first time since they’d both felt it as little kids, no soul-switch followed.
Their switch bond had finally been severed.
They pulled apart and stared at one another for a moment, the gravity of the change not lost on them. Atsumu slid the gentle hand he had on Kiyoomi’s cheek up, to gently nest in his hair.
Their second kiss wasn’t nearly as careful as the first, warm lips meeting and exploring each other in a set of gentle but deep exchanges. Kiyoomi’s hand circled Atsumu’s waist before sliding up to grip his shoulder, pulling their torsos flush together. They broke apart for a split second to breathe, look at each other, silently ask if it was okay.
Their third, fourth and fifth kisses all blended into one another, any distinguishment rendered impossible after Kiyoomi set Atsumu’s heart racing by cautiously tracing a lip with his tongue, before they connected again, mouths open, and Atsumu gripped Kiyoomi by the waist and tipped him back onto the bed. Hands flew to Atsumu’s hair, combing through and holding tight as they pressed against one another insistently.
Kiyoomi whimpered when Atsumu kissed and licked at the side of his neck, and Atsumu returned the sounds in kind when his soulmate adjusted his legs and wrapped them around Atsumu’s waist. He pushed back against Kiyoomi’s mouth with a small laugh of delight, relishing in being able to kiss the spiker senseless like he’d always dreamt of doing.
I’d give anything to kiss you like this every day, he thought when Kiyoomi snagged his lower lip with perfect, white teeth. You’re everything.
Kiyoomi pulled back, panting and looking thoroughly kiss-bitten. Atsumu committed the image to the deepest recesses of his memory, wishing that he could snap a picture and immortalise the beauty that was Sakusa Kiyoomi.
“We should…umm…we should sleep,” Kiyoomi murmured, a blush rising on his cheeks, “if we keep on kissing then…”
Atsumu knew exactly what he was getting at; they were, after all, teenagers, and the last thing he wanted to do was get overly into things when Osamu was next door and his parents were just down the hall. This house, tragically, had thin walls. He nodded, panting, and Kiyoomi released the death grip that his thighs had had on Atsumu’s waist, letting him roll onto the other side of the bed comfortably as they both fought to catch their breath.
“Important question,” Atsumu murmured when his heart no longer felt liable to burst right out of his chest, “are ya averse to cuddling at all?”
Kiyoomi huffed out a short laugh, before turning over so that they were facing each other, grabbing Atsumu’s hand and looping it around his waist. He settled one of his own hands on Atsumu’s shoulder, thumb tracing the line of his collarbone and nuzzling into the pillow a little.
“Not averse at all,” he replied softly. Sighing in utter contentment, Atsumu hugged him closer, pressing his nose to Kiyoomi’s hair and inhaling a soft, mint smell.
This had started with a walk down a Tokyo street and a day inside to hide from the cold. And it had endured through dyslexia diagnoses and ballet lessons, a nasty divorce and sibling rivalries. Through many, many years of volleyball and personal drama, and they’d somehow kept each other sane throughout the whole mess.
Atsumu knew that Kiyoomi would be heading back to Tokyo tomorrow. Knew that they still had to endure the better half of two years separated, and who knew what other challenges after they graduated. He knew that though they were pressed right up against each other now, that the future had no way of promising such.
But they were together now.
“Hey, Kiyoomi?” Atsumu murmured, words that he’d waited years to say resting on his tongue as he hugged the other boy closer. “I love you.”
And Kiyoomi, his soulmate, the boy he’d adored since he was just four years old, smiled, nuzzled into his neck, and returned the sentiment.
“I love you too.”