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You were born second to your brother. For a while, those eleven minutes were the most important eleven minutes of your life, being the only thing that differentiated the two of you. Sometimes you wonder how long it took before everyone could tell you apart by indicators other than the different-colored clothes you were dressed in, how long it took before your personalities diverged to the point where your pensive silence in place of Atsumu’s outward expressions was enough to identify you by.

You were born second to your brother, but you don’t mind. Growing up, many have equally assumed you to be the older, so even he rarely rubbed it in your face. And on the rare occasion that he did, it was all the more opportunity to leverage those eleven minutes to get Mom on your side. Atsumu, share with your brother. Atsumu, you’ve gotta take care of your younger brother!

Besides, it was nice to have someone to follow, when it would’ve been exhausting to try to exert your autonomy. You cheered with him when he called out to Aran-kun. You followed his lead when the two of you wanted things your way. The effects were always compounded, with the two of you together, both on and off the court.

It was nice to have someone who would protect you and speak for you when you were too ambivalent to do it yourself. Anything anyone else had to say always seemed to affect him more anyway, so it was only natural to have him be the one to speak up. He could always be relied on to know your true thoughts, so there was no harm in that.

As such, perhaps the only thing in which people would rank you before your brother was your kindness. Or, the mellowness that they perceived as kindness. You heard it, in whispered conversations behind your back, how demanding they thought Atsumu and how powerless they felt it was to try to resist him.

To ‘Tsumu, you say “Everyone hates you. I’ve decided I’m going to be kind from now on,” but to them, what you send is an unwavering stare the next time you see them, until there were no more whispers behind your back and only sets hit with renewed vigor in their place. After all, if you’ve always had ‘Tsumu to shield you from the outside world, he’ll always have you to do the same for him.

You never confronted anyone about those conversations, not even the ones you hated the most — the occasional chatter that followed your retreating figures, wondering how you felt living in your brother’s shadow. You hated them not for anything as trivial as pride — after all, your skills were equal — but for the liberties they took in making assumptions about your relationship with your brother. As if Atsumu would ever be satisfied with a scrub who just trailed behind him in all endeavors. No, he needed someone to keep up with him, to push him, and you were the only one who could. As if Atsumu was ever anything but selfless on court, going out of his way to support the other players with his all, giving off the illusion that the spikers in the limelight were the skilled ones.

No, the only shadow you might’ve been living in was that caused by Atsumu’s burning, all-encompassing love for volleyball, which left everyone else’s muted in its wake. By any metric that mattered, the love of the game was the only thing in which you truly placed second to Atsumu, and even then he was the one more indignant on your behalf than you were.

He fought you hard for your decision to drop volleyball, but eventually, as always, he became the one to support you the most. The path to opening Onigiri Miya was the first time you had to walk a road untrodden by your brother before you — if only by eleven minutes — but he was with you the whole way all the same. No. This time, he was the one to back you.

And on his own path, even though you are no longer the one to hit his tosses and run at his side, you are the one to back him as well. All your shared experiences racked up over the years, all the food you’ve served him to strengthen his muscles, have become part of him. All he needs, on court, is right there with him, but if he ever needs a reminder, all he has to do is look to the side of the court, where you’ll be, sharing his victories.

As you watch your brother now, his eyes scrunching closed in delight as he bites into the steaming onigiri held with all ten fingers — all the more to support his spikers with — you think of the vow he made when your paths first diverged. I’ll live a better life than you. It seems unimportant now, after everything, but you think that’s the one other thing you wouldn’t mind coming second to him in. But because you know he’d never be satisfied with an easy win, you’ll keep charging forward, ahead of everyone else, right by his side.