At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.
Atsumu says, “This soju tastes like shit.”
Here is what Atsumu means to say: This soju tastes like shit. Atsumu is having a shit day. He is reflecting on an old superstition that his grandmother liked to tell him and Osamu: on good days, your alcohol tastes sweet, and on bad days, your alcohol tastes like shit. The more he thinks about it, Atsumu isn’t sure what comes first: the day or the taste, the chicken or the proverbial egg of shitty causality. Is the alcohol always going to taste awful? Is the egg a self-fulfilling prophecy? Baa-chan, why’d you even bother telling us this crap anyways? We were seven. Osamu says that food is food no matter which half-assed metaphorical way you look at it, but then again Osamu has also never been found drinking himself to pieces at his brother’s onigiri restaurant after hours because he broke up with the love of his life. Or the love of his life broke up with him. Or they broke up with each other, because they were mutually consenting adults who understood that certain things had expiration dates, like bread, unlike alcohol, even when Atsumu is pretty sure that you could eat bread for, like, a week after it allegedly expired. He also supposes the cause-and-effect relationship doesn’t matter as much here—because no matter which half-assed metaphorical way you look at it, Hinata Shouyou is on a flight to a country 18,747 kilometers across the globe, Atsumu is not, and his soju tastes like the end to something he didn’t want to throw away. Ergo: his soju tastes like shit. It’s going to taste like shit for a while.
“Stop drinkin’ that shit then,” Osamu says, “and eat.”
He slides a bowl of miso soup towards Atsumu. The first mouthful nearly burns Atsumu’s tongue. The second settles somewhere between his throat and the pit of his stomach. It’s still hot enough to make his eyes water, but the numbness in his body loosens bit by bit. He’a able to taste the green onions better. That’s nice.
“Could be saltier though,” he says, frowning. Osamu flicks him in the forehead. Atsumu flicks him back in his mind, because his body isn’t quite ready for motor control yet. “My face hurts.”
“Good,” Osamu says, a little cryptically. He nudges the bowl towards Atsumu again. “Eat your soup.”
“I feel like soup is somethin’ that you drink,” Atsumu retorts, but he picks up his soup and eats it anyway.
After he swallows the last mouthful, Osamu asks him: “Did you cry?”
Atsumu sniffs. “No.” He sniffs again. His nose feels clogged. “You just made the miso too damn hot. And the airport was really cold. And now my poor, hard-workin’ body’s tryna figure out what temperature it’s s’posed to be at.”
“Nah,” Osamu says, considering. “Nah, you definitely cried.”
Osamu goes back into the kitchen, and when he comes back out, he places a plate of tuna onigiri in front of Atsumu. Atsumu sniffs, wipes his nose, and then stuffs an onigiri into his mouth. He doesn’t say thank you, but whatever. Osamu doesn’t say anything either.
Earlier that day, Atsumu was at the airport breaking up with the love of his life. His face was wet. His hair looked awful. On the taxi ride there, his phone had died in the middle of him switching between a tab on Brazilian time zones and a Google search on how to not cry in public places, and now he had nothing to distract himself with as Shouyou collided into him with all the force of an 8.5 magnitude earthquake.
“I have to board in five minutes,” Shouyou mumble-vibrated against him.
“Alright then,” Atsumu said. Tried to remember what his Google search results had said before the screen went black. He swallowed in a breath, and then kept it there. “Five more minutes.”
It was hard for Atsumu to come up with things to say after everything else had been said in the month-long crawl towards this moment. Brazil is really fucking far. Long distance is hard. We’re going different places in life. We’re going to the same exact place in life, which is volleyball, but the volleyball in this case occupies various locations and narrative arcs around the world. The approximate distance between Osaka and São Paulo is 18,747 kilometers, which means that long distance is hard, which means that we know this because we both watched Bokuto and Akaashi Keiji’s three-year relationship quietly implode under the pressure of 397 kilometers, which isn’t even that fucking far, which means that holy shit, shouldn’t that tell you enough at this point that Atsumu is not emotionally mature or developed or far enough in his narrative arc enough to handle any of this?
Atsumu had not once asked Shouyou to stay, and he wasn’t going to ask now. He held on and held on tight and just waited for the tremors to stop.
At the three-minute mark, Shouyou let go of the breath that Atsumu was holding and said, “Okay.”
He pulled away and Atsumu felt his center of gravity finally steady. When he blinked back down, he saw Hinata Shouyou looking back at him, whose eyes were warm and wet and who made the act of crying at the terminal of an international airport seem like the bravest possible thing in the world.
“I love you,” Shouyou said to him, and Atsumu wanted to say, Fuck you. I love you, too. I love you so fucking much and I’m not gonna ask you to stay, but. But. But somewhere between his face also getting wet and his body succumbing to an 8.5 magnitude earthquake, the words fucked off and died in some place that Atsumu couldn’t bring himself to find, probably in a dirt fissure 18,747 kilometers from where Atsumu and the love of Atsumu’s life were currently standing.
Atsumu croaked out, “You should probably start headin’ over now.”
Shouyou nodded. He glanced down at the Gudetama wrist-watch Atsumu had gotten him for their one-week anniversary, and then back up at Atsumu. Whatever he saw there made his face break out into a sharp, shimmering smile.
“Atsumu,” Shouyou said, with all the certainty and fury that had made Atsumu pause and stutter in place when he was seventeen, when he was twenty-two, when he was standing before him now, “don’t you dare regret any of this.”
Idly, Atsumu wondered if that was a threat, and then thought, Well, shit. Of course it was. Shouyou said so many things with the sort of cheerful lethality that made Atsumu feel like he was being held against a wall, knife curving into his neck in the shape of a smile. You didn’t say shit like that to Miya Atsumu and not expect him to bare his teeth back and open himself up for the wound.
Atsumu breathed in, let his mouth curl into the same cutting sliver of a grin. He held his head high. “Have I ever been one to regret anythin’, Shouyou?”
Shouyou laughed, the sound reverberating somewhere between his body and Atsumu’s heart, and then that was it.
As Shouyou’s shadow blinked and disappeared behind the terminal gates, Atsumu felt his grin splinter off into pieces because this was also a little like what he’d felt like at seventeen. He wasn’t on his knees this time, but it was the same boy, the same view, watching something slip in and out of his life while an old saying about memories kept echoing in his head.
A list of things Atsumu thinks about as he’s washing the taste of shitty soju out of his mouth:
- His phone’s still dead. Shitty Soju Samu doesn’t keep a phone charger in his restaurant. He’s an old man like that, despite being 12 minutes younger than Atsumu. He does make good onigiri though. He always has.
- In retrospect, it was a terrible idea to fall in love with someone like Hinata Shouyou. Maybe it’s a mistake to call him the love of Atsumu’s life.
- No. That’s not right. Miya Atsumu doesn’t make mistakes. Miya Atsumu doesn’t regret. When he was sixteen and thought Kita Shinsuke was the love of his life, he didn’t stop to think twice about what that could mean. Kita Shinsuke gave Atsumu umeboshi and Ito En tea. Kita Shinsuke liked to file his nails on the steps outside Inarizaki’s gym, and every time, Atsumu would watch him, fixated, until Osamu kicked him in the shins and told him it was time to go home. Back then, that’s what Atsumu thought love was: the taste of warm lemon, the silhouette of a boy facing something Atsumu couldn’t see.
- When he was twenty-two and met Hinata Shouyou for what felt like the second time in his life, Atsumu reassessed his definition of love. Shouyou didn’t give him umeboshi or Ito En tea, but he taught him how to cook feijoada and his mom’s tamagoyaki and still took care of him during flu season. When Atsumu stepped into the Black Jackals’ practice gym during season try-outs, he watched, fixated, as Shouyou took flight even higher than he’d remembered—and when Shouyou touched back onto the ground of mortal men, the earth and sands and oceans parting around him, the first person he looked at was Atsumu.
- That’s it, Atsumu thinks. He looked back. Love is something that looks back at you.
- Well, fuck. That doesn’t make him feel any better.
- He wishes he could play Tetris on his phone already.
Atsumu stays in Kobe for the next few days. The universe and the Black Jackals’ practice schedule have aligned themselves so Atsumu can mope on his childhood bed and play Pokemon. He loads his save file for Pokemon Gold, which is, objectively speaking, the best game in the franchise.
His little cousin, who is visiting for the weekend, tells him, “No, it’s not.”
“Ran-chan,” Atsumu says, clutching his yellow Game Boy Color like it’s his last bastion of emotional defense, “why would you say that?”
“It’s old,” Ran-chan replies, matter-of-fact. She’s peering up at where he’s sequestered himself in blankets at the top of the bunk. “Plus, Cyndaquil’s a lame fire starter. Fennekin is way cuter.”
Atsumu’s Lv. 99 Typhlosion—nicknamed Expl0dy at the tender age of 12—cries in its 15-bit color palette. Atsumu, now at the tender age of 24, says, muffled, “It’s not that old.”
“Outdated then,” Ran-chan retorts. Oh, no. She’s definitely related to him.
“What the hel—what the heck is a Fennekin anyway?”
Ran-chan blinks her big, Gen Z eyes up at him. And then, in a softer voice, she asks, “Tsumu-nii-san. Are you outdated, too?”
Approximately five seconds from Atsumu having a premature mid-life crisis, Osamu decides to take this chance opportunity to pop his head into their bedroom. “Yo, Ran-chan. Your mom’s lookin’ for you.”
Osamu lingers in the room while Ran-chan bounds off and does whatever menacingly cheerful 10-year-olds in Hyogo do. Atsumu ignores him and turns his attention back to the pixelated screen of his Game Boy Color. If Osamu wants to say something, then he can do it while Atsumu makes his way up the summit of Mt. Silver.
“Should I even ask,” Osamu says boredly, with the air of someone who has had to ask his entire life.
“Fuck you,” Atsumu says. After a moment, he adds, “Pokemon Gold is objectively the best game in the franchise. Right.”
Osamu stares at him, unmerciful. “I only played Silver. But no. Green was obviously the best game.”
“Why are you such an old man? That is the most old man opinion you could have on anythin’, and I’m ashamed of you. Objectively.”
“Your shame objectively means nothin’ to me,” Osamu says. He eyes Atsumu under the brim of his old man hat. “Get outta bed. Kita-san’s stoppin’ by.”
What. “What,” Atsumu screeches. “Why?”
“Calm down, Tsumu. I told him that we’d both be back home for the weekend. He wants to have tea in the park.”
“Samu. Do I look like I’m ready to have tea in the park with Kita-san?”
“Not one bit. Go put on your shoes.”
They find Kita waiting by his white pickup truck outside. Atsumu emerges out of the house wearing a Gudetama hoodie, a pair of old sweatpants, and his father’s fur-lined Crocs, because his mother insisted on washing his, in her words, “smelly ass sneakers.” Kita-san merely graces them both with a small smile. Atsumu notes distantly how this has become a more frequent occurrence in the past few years: Kita Shinsuke smiling like it’s the most natural expression in the world, even if Ojiro Aran is nowhere in sight.
“It’s good to see you two,” Kita says, the corners of his mouth still quirked up. “I like your shoes, Atsumu. Very practical.”
Atsumu picks at the frayed strings of his hoodie. He doesn’t want to be caught staring like he’s sixteen again. “Thanks, Kita-san.”
Kita’s truck has only two seats in front, including the driver’s, so Atsumu and Osamu scrabble and race to see who can make it to the car door first. Naturally, because Atsumu has been having an extraordinarily shitty struggle with existence recently, he ends up in the trunk.
“Why am I in the trunk?” Atsumu seethes, completely aware of why he is in the trunk.
“It’s not a trunk,” Osamu corrects. “It’s a bed, dipshit.”
Kita’s face is placid behind the truck’s back window. “Don’t worry. Park’s not too far from here anyhow.”
Thankfully, against Osamu’s silent wishes, Atsumu brought his Game Boy Color with him before heading out, so he keeps playing the most critically acclaimed Pokemon game ever while Kita and Osamu enjoy the privileges of indoor seating. He can hear the faint sound of their voices underneath the breeze skidding his face, the drag of the tires against asphalt. As Expl0dy demolishes a Sneasel with Flamethrower, Atsumu wonders if they’re talking about him. That would make sense. Atsumu’s life is rich with things for other people to talk about, like his pro volleyball career, or his periodic bouts of mental devastation.
Osamu calls out, above the noise of the engine, “Any bird shit hit your face yet, Tsumu?”
Atsumu can’t believe that people still think Osamu is the easier twin to deal with.
There are a few people at the park when they arrive, but Kita takes them to a grassy spot away from everyone else, laying out a blanket with little birds embroidered onto the corners. When Atsumu shucks off his shoes, the earth is soft and crumbling beneath his feet.
“Cute blanket,” Osamu comments as he settles next to him.
“Thank you. My grandma’s been teachin’ me how to knit.” From the tote bag slung over his shoulder, Kita produces a thermos and three small mugs. “Tea?”
Atsumu takes his tea iced, and usually lets everyone know as much, but he has also learned to take anything Kita gives him with no small amount of gratitude. He cradles the mug close to him, lets the steam billow and fog against his skin.
As Atsumu takes his first sip, Kita says, as if commenting on the weather, or the color of Atsumu’s fur-lined Crocs, “Osamu told me that you’re goin’ through a breakup.”
“Samu,” Atsumu starts, just shy of choking on the taste of his own spit and chrysanthemum, “is a filthy shittin’ gossip.”
Osamu sips his tea, utterly serene. Kita just tilts his head. “Are you takin’ care of yourself?”
“Yeah,” Atsumu lies. He bites his lip, and then because maybe he really is sixteen again and can’t bear Kita’s super-effective Ice Beam Stare of Disappointment, he adds a half-hearted truth: “I’ve been playin’ Pokemon.”
Kita’s head is still slanted at that 15-degree angle of terrifying scrutiny. “Pokemon?”
“Tsumu’s been emotionally stunted since birth,” Osamu explains, which is fucking bullshit because Atsumu’s pretty sure that Osamu only allows himself one display of authentic human emotion per lunar cycle.
“There must be other ways to take care of yourself other than playing video games from the 90s,” Kita says gently.
“Have you ever played Pokemon Gold, Kita-san? I dunno if you’d be sayin’ that if you did.”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“Well.” Atsumu frowns. “Maybe you should.”
“Wow,” Osamu says, inflectionless.
“Atsumu.” Kita’s voice is doing something funny that Atsumu can’t figure out. He doesn’t sound mad, but he doesn’t sound exactly happy either. Kita Shinsuke’s emotional depth will continue to be an ever-evolving and enigmatic phenomenon for Atsumu. “Would you like to talk about what’s on your mind?”
“Um,” Atsumu intones. He carefully places his cup of tea down in a divot between the dirt and grass. The side of his face feels burnt, so he turns his head away from the sun. Kita is staring at him, patient. “Um.”
Here’s what’s on Atsumu’s mind: Up until this moment, he wasn’t thinking about Hinata Shouyou at all. Or Brazil. Or Hinata Shouyou in Brazil. Up until this moment, Atsumu was thinking of other things. He was thinking about the tragedy of Kita Shinsuke never playing Pokemon ever in his life. He was thinking about how he and Osamu spent some part of their childhood in this park, back when Osamu allowed himself three displays of authentic human emotion per lunar cycle. He was thinking about the one instance where Atsumu skinned his knee trying to climb up the playground slide and Osamu dragged him all the way home and held his pinkie finger as Atsumu tried valiantly not to cry from the small, stinging pain. Osamu, surprisingly, did not make fun of Atsumu’s valiant efforts to not cry. Osamu told him not to think about it. Do not think about the hurt. Do not look down at the blood. Do not glare back at the slide, which cares nothing for your hurt or your anger or your six-year-old tears. Let it go. Things heal. The body can repair all sorts of skinned knees and mid-20s heartaches. The body will overwrite the memory of the pain. Here. Have a Hello Kitty Band-aid, you big crybaby.
“No,” Atsumu settles on. Kita is still staring at him. “No, I’m okay.”
Kita, who only ever says what’s on his mind, replies, “Alright. Just lemme know if you’d like to in the future.” And then, to Osamu: “How’s the business goin’?”
The conversation turns from Atsumu to Osamu’s ventures in local business hell, and then to Kita’s ventures in agriculture and animal embroidery. Atsumu pours Kita’s second cup of tea while Kita shows them the seven little foxes stitched onto his tote bag.
Osamu whistles. “Foxes, huh? Ain’t that a little too on the nose?”
“I don’t think so,” Kita says. He takes his mug back from Atsumu with a murmured thank you and a brush of the wrist. “Why shouldn’t I be proud of my old team?”
“Oh, no,” Atsumu comments as Osamu’s face goes blank. “Samu’s ‘bout to go and have himself an emotion, Kita-san.”
Atsumu just narrowly avoids getting hit with the Croc Osamu tosses at him. They manage to finish the entire thermos of tea by the time the sun starts to flicker and waver beyond the Kobe landscape. Atsumu’s mouth tastes like chrysanthemum and the eggs Osamu cooked for breakfast. His face is still warm from when the light last touched it; his wrist, still warm from when he poured Kita’s tea and Kita thanked him.
“I like to knit at this park on Sundays,” Kita says. “You’re free to join me whenever you visit home again.”
“I don’t knit,” Atsumu says, a little sadly. “I have a Game Boy.”
Kita considers him for another moment. Inexplicably, his mouth tilts back into a smile. “That should still work.”
ME: OI shitty sleeping Samu i’m on the train station now
ME: thanks for
ME: inviting Kita-san
ME: and for the onigiri
ME: it was nice. i guess
ME: tell everyone i said Bye
ASSHOLE 2: Don’t cry on the train
ASSHOLE 2: Someone’ll take a picture and then I’ll be obligated to repost it on Instagram
ME: i’ll be obligated to repost YOU on instagram
ASSHOLE 2: What
ME: shut up
Hinata Shouyou was the kind of guy who woke up with the sun. He liked his morning meditation, his smoothies comprised entirely of fruits and vegetables he’d bought from the farmer’s market that week. He liked watching the sunrise. He said it was different every day, and he was grateful for that.
Atsumu didn’t get it. “But it’s the sun. Ain’t it always the same?”
Atsumu did not wake up with the sun. He was the kind of guy who woke up when his phone alarm told him to, or when Shouyou pressed juice-stained kisses onto the tops of his shoulders until Atsumu was conscious enough to return the favor. He much preferred the latter, even if he woke up with his skin all wet and purple-y. Or orange, or green, depending on the harvest season. Shouyou liked making kale smoothies the most.
“Nah, not exactly,” Shouyou said. He was playing Mario Kart on his phone while Atsumu summoned the motor control to peel himself from the bedsheets. “The sun’s always there, yeah, but it’s like—it’s more like the experience of seeing it that’s unique, y’know?”
Atsumu squinted up at him. There was probably some nasty ass crust in his eye and pores and everything, but Shouyou had assured Atsumu enough times that seeing Atsumu pre-morning skincare ritual was not a dealbreaker for him.
“I don’t know,” he replied, slightly pouting. He did want to know. For Shouyou, at least. “I’m honestly more of a sunset guy.”
“Mmm, I can see that! Golden hour looks really good on you, Atsumu.”
“No, you,” Atsumu said, a little helplessly. Shouyou routinely elicited a number of unfathomable—and probably illegal—emotions in Atsumu.
“No, you,” Shouyou said back, smiling. “You should wake up early with me some time. I can show you what I mean.”
Atsumu wrinkled his nose. “Sho, you wake up at 5 AM.”
“You gotta wake up early enough, or it’ll be gone before you know it,” Shouyou chided. He was starting to sound a little pouty, too, so Atsumu tugged an arm around him and pulled them closer together. The sheets tangled in between their legs.
“You smell like peaches,” Atsumu mumbled against him. “Sorry that I like sleepin’. Tell me about today’s sunrise.”
He felt hands tug through his hair, gentle, familiar. “It was nice. All orange-y and purple-y. A little pink-y. Kinda like my smoothie actually ...”
“Tasty.” Atsumu buried his face deeper against Shouyou’s shirt. “I wanna drink the sun.”
“That’d probably be a hot drink.”
“You’re a hot drink.”
“That was pretty bad. I love you. But that was pretty bad.”
“But you love me,” Atsumu reasoned.
“I love you,” Shouyou agreed, and then showed Atsumu by pressing him back into the mattress, the sheets sticky with them and the morning and the sound of laughter and the taste of fruit, wet and sweet between both their mouths.
Anyway, the first day that Atsumu wakes up in his own bed in Osaka, his face crusty, his shoulders dry, the sunlight is threatening to break open his window and crawl inside his eyeballs, which is to say that it’s really fucking bright and Atsumu did not get enough hours of sleep to cope with this properly. He’s shivering. He must have kicked off the blankets at some point. His apartment smells like the plants that he’s neglected to water, the pile of dishes cultivating a new ecosystem in his sink. He wants to shove his head in a Ninja smoothie blender. He wants a Ninja-blended smoothie. He needs to brush his fucking teeth.
Yeah. Love is pretty awful.
Over the next few weeks, the MSBY Black Jackals treat Atsumu and the Shouyou-shaped emptiness around Atsumu in varying ways. Some are more helpful than others. Atsumu is, by birthright, a hard person to help. He is also, by choice, the kind of person who would sullenly rate his teammates’ acts of compassion by levels of actual helpfulness. (If asked: it’s part of his grieving process. He is grieving.)
- Meian is the first person to see Atsumu upon entering the gym. He tries to make Atsumu laugh all throughout practice. Meian is five years older than Atsumu, and a father, so his humor is an odd combination of archaic Internet memes and faces designed to make his two-year-old daughter spit up. Atsumu does not laugh or spit up.
- 5/10. Atsumu thinks that some of Meian’s jokes and facial contortions make him even sadder.
- Inunaki tells him, “You should try being an asshole again. If you’re an asshole like you always are, you won’t be sad.” Thomas, who is there whenever Inunaki is being an asshole, follows this advice up with: “We just want the best for you, Atsumu! Do you want a bite of my peanut butter protein bar?”
- 7.5/10. Inunaki’s comment does, in fact, annoy Atsumu long enough for him to forget about the Shouyou-shaped bruise on his heart.
- Thomas’s peanut butter protein bar isn’t half-bad either, even if the texture is a bit chalky.
- Sakusa stops a Sakusa-appropriate number of feet away from him when he sees Atsumu haunting the common room of their dorm complex. “You look sick. Are you sick?” And then, before Atsumu can say anything: “Ah. Hinata.” And then, with a strangely intense expression on his face: “A brown sugar and honey mask will help with the eye puffiness.” A pause. “I have some, but you can’t use it. I’ll email you the recipe.”
- Atsumu, after processing this: “Why email, Omi-kun?”
- Sakusa: “Why the fuck not? Move. You’re disturbing the furniture.”
- Ultimately: a begrudging 9/10. The brown sugar and honey mask is great. Atsumu comes out on the other end smelling and feeling like a $20 bath bomb. Sakusa’s customer service skills, however, leave other things to be desired, so Atsumu is forced to dock him by one point.
- The next time they pass by each other, Barnes gives him a firm, soul-shaking pat on the back.
- 8/10. Atsumu has secretly wanted to receive a firm, soul-shaking hug from Barnes since meeting him and his tree-trunk arms, but this is also nice.
- Bokuto is the only one to treat Atsumu the same way as he did before. He calls Atsumu Tsum-tsum. He hits Atsumu’s sets like he’s trying to happily rip open a hole to a new pocket dimension. He is loud, and overly familiar, and loud, but this Bokuto is no different than the Bokuto who knew Atsumu before the Shouyou-shaped ozone hole opened in his atmosphere.
- Bokuto, when Atsumu finds it in himself to ask about it: “Huh? I’m only doing what you did for me when Akaashi and I went through the same thing a few months ago. You helped me out a lot, Tsum-tsum. Treated me like nothing had to change. Made me remember I could be the same person before and after everything, y’know?”
- In the same breath: “OKAY, COOL, I ANSWERED YOUR QUESTION! Wanna help me with more spiking practice?”
- Atsumu, who is suspiciously nasally: “Yeah. Yeah, alright. Keep up, Bokkun.”
- In conclusion: a surprising 10/10. Atsumu never thought he would be grateful for Bokuto being. Well. Bokuto.
ME: friends are everything samu.
ASSHOLE 2: Are you high
ASSHOLE 2: Do I need to call Mom
ME: fucking christ nvm
The next time Atsumu makes it down to Onigiri Miya, he finds Akaashi Keiji sitting at the counter.
“Ah,” Akaashi Keiji says. There is a grain of rice on the left corner of his mouth.
“Ah,” Atsumu says. He does not tell him about the grain of rice. He is not feeling particularly charitable today. Or this lifetime.
“Tsumu, quit bothering my customers,” Osamu calls out. He emerges from the kitchen, plate in hand. “Sit down.”
“That’s not your customer,” Atsumu says. He sits. “That’s Akaashi Keiji-kun.”
“Just Akaashi is fine,” Akaashi Keiji-kun says politely.
“Sorry, ‘kaashi-kun,” Osamu whispers, even when Atsumu is literally one seat away. “He’s goin’ through a breakup. It’s been very hard on his interactions with other people.”
“Ah,” Akaashi repeats.
“Stop tellin’ people that,'' Atsumu snaps at Osamu, the filthiest shittin’ gossip in all of Hyogo. “I’m surprised Keiji-kun made it all the way down here, alright? Bokkun told m—I just thought you worked in Tokyo, or somethin’ like that.”
“I’m here for one of my writers,” Akaashi says without changing tone or correcting Atsumu’s use of his first name again. He’s almost as good as Osamu at appearing emotionally untouchable. “They’ve been working from their home in Kobe. And I like Myaa-sam’s onigiri, so I stopped here for lunch.”
“And he actually pays for it,” Osamu adds.
“Huh? You said he’s your customer. While I’m your brother. Your twin. So there.”
“And I mourn that fact every day,” Osamu replies blandly, and then, for whatever reason, shifts his attention back to Akaashi. “Oh, Akaashi-kun, you got a little somethin’ on your mouth. Here.”
Osamu hands Akaashi a napkin, which he uses to wipe away the grain of rice on the left corner of his mouth. Atsumu watches Osamu watch Akaashi do this, and feels something odd stir in his chest.
“Um,” Atsumu says, for lack of any other vocabulary to describe the Something Odd stirring in his chest.
“Shut up,” Osamu says, despite Atsumu not saying anything of actual value. He sets the plate of onigiri down in front of Akaashi. “I’ll be back with your usual order, Tsumu. Play nice.”
Atsumu keeps his retort to himself as a nonverbal offering of thanks. He glances at Akaashi, and then back down at the counter, and then back at Akaashi, who seems to be inhaling each onigiri with the grace of a very dignified deer.
“Samu must be real flattered whenever you stop by, Keiji-kun,” Atsumu comments. “You seem to, uh. Really like his onigiri.”
“Myaa-sam’s onigiri is very good,” Akaashi answers approximately half an onigiri later. “I try to have a healthy appetite whenever I stop by, since I rarely have the opportunity to eat his onigiri outside of the games he vendors for in Tokyo.”
The part of Atsumu that can’t resist poking at people, or deer, or anything really, says: “Ooh, I didn’t know you still went to our games.”
“Not as much recently, no,” Akaashi replies, placid. “Hence why I’m making the most of my visit today.”
“Hence,” Atsumu echoes because he can’t remember the last time the word was seriously used in his presence.
“It’s typically meant to express a cause-and-effect relationship.”
“Ah,” Atsumu says. He also wonders how many times they’re going to use ‘Ah’ in this conversation alone.
Akaashi stares at him, unblinking. Or maybe he is blinking and Atsumu isn’t catching it because he’s too busy blinking himself. Or maybe Osamu needs to get his stupid hovering lights fixed.
Akaashi, unblinking, says, “About Hinata-san.”
Atsumu blinks five times in a row before responding. “What.”
“I was sorry to hear about Hinata-san,” Akaashi elaborates. “It must not have been an easy choice for either of you.”
“A choice,” Atsumu repeats. Tries to shape his mouth around the word again, but it gets wrenched in between an exhale and the laugh scraping against his throat. “Yeah. Thanks, Keiji-kun. Wasn’t much of a choice at all, but thanks for that.”
“Oh. Were you forced into breaking up then?”
Atsumu thinks wistfully of his Game Boy Color, currently residing underneath his pillow at home. He wishes he brought it with him so he could escape this conversation and Hinata Shouyou and Akaashi Keiji’s unwavering owl-deer gaze.
He also thinks, a little viciously, of Inunaki’s advice on how to be a not-sad asshole and says, “Were you forced into breakin’ up with Bokkun? Or did Bokkun break up with you? Sorry if I’m not gettin’ it right. Details are fuzzy and all.”
“It was a mutual agreement.”
“Mm, I’m sure. It always is, ain’t it?”
“I’m sorry,” Akaashi says, slow. “Have I offended you in some way?”
Atsumu smiles, lets his eyes crinkle in the way he knows everyone hates. “I’m just makin’ conversation. Y’know, I’ve never had the chance to talk with you like this before. Alone, that is.”
Akaashi’s gaze narrows just fractionally—but enough for Atsumu to keep needling him.
“Bokkun just takes up so much space wherever he goes.” He clicks his tongue. “Must’ve been hard to make yourself known when he was always soakin’ up all the attention.”
“Not that it’s your business, Miya-san,” Akaashi says, “but I can assure you that’s not how I viewed my relationship with Bokuto-san. Out of curiosity, do you project on everyone you encounter in your brother’s onigiri restaurant, or am I the special exception today?”
Atsumu raises an eyebrow. Mr. Owl-Deer has some teeth after all. A terrifying prospect, really. “Ouch, Keiji-kun. Like I said, just makin’ conversation.”
Akaashi seems like he’s weighing the merits of responding again before Osamu comes back to the counter, another plate of food in hand. He’s about to set it down in front of Atsumu when, for whatever reason again, he glances at Akaashi, and his arm stills.
“Oi, Tsumu,” he says, frowning. “I told you to play nice.”
Before Atsumu can whine that he is, he swears, just please give him the goddamn food, Akaashi asks, “Myaa-sam, could I place another order for three umeboshi onigiri? Thank you.”
Osamu sends Atsumu a dead-eyed look that means “Stop talking like you want someone to shank you in a dark alley” before nodding and disappearing back into the kitchen like he’s fucking Batman or something. Typical.
“Didn’t mean to raise your hackles up too much, Keiji-kun,” he says to Akaashi. He pops a grain of rice into his mouth. Onigiri’s too hot to eat. “I’ll play nice.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” Akaashi’s voice is even, despite the razor-sharp edge of his eyes. “You don’t strike me as the nice type.”
Atsumu snorts. “Maybe not. Let’s just say I’m not in a particularly nice mood at the moment, alright?”
“I can’t imagine why.”
Akaashi says nothing after this, so Atsumu just shrugs and backs off and starts inhaling tuna onigiri with the grace of someone who never has to pay for their tuna onigiri. It’s amazing what food can do for a bitchy mood, even if it’s scorching every single atom of his taste buds.
He’s in the middle of biting into his third when Akaashi says, “They say it takes two people to start a relationship, but only one person to end it.”
Half of Atsumu’s mouth feels singed and useless. He replies anyway. “You hear that from one of your writers?”
“No,” Akaashi says, thoughtful. “Google, actually.”
Atsumu barks out a laugh and sends bits of rice and nori flying across the counter. Akaashi’s face twists, a momentary lapse of composure, before it settles into stillness again.
“In any case, I don’t personally subscribe to the saying,” he continues, sliding Atsumu a napkin. “Setting aside extreme cases, relationships can only end after a culmination of decisions from all parties. Or it can also be a lack of decision-making, as it was in my and Bokuto-san’s case.”
Oh, no. Were they actually making conversation now? Atsumu only has so many dialogue options tailored to Actual Conversation. He’s more of a drop-the-mic-on-someone’s-head kind of guy.
“Y’know, I was really just bein’ an asshole earlier,” he admits, brow furrowed. “We don’t—uh. We don’t need to talk about Bokkun or anythin’ like that.”
Akaashi shrugs. “I mentioned it again because I wanted to. I didn’t mean to provoke you earlier with my comment about Hinata-san.”
“It’s whatever.” Atsumu goes in for another bite. Chews. Swallows, and says, “And no. I wasn’t forced to—it wasn’t like—I mean, it was mutual for us, too. I guess.” His mouth still tastes burnt. Raw. “It’s not like most long-distance relationships survive anyway, right?”
“I suppose the distance is one part of it. But the other parts—the divergent schedules, the way you’re prioritizing one another. What you need from each other. The commitment.” Akaashi looks at him. Atsumu never particularly enjoyed being looked at like that with guys who wore glasses. Eerie. “Was that what you feared?”
Alright. There are a few ways Atsumu can respond here:
- He can say: “I ain’t afraid of anythin’, Keiji-kun.” And then he can take a big ol’ chomp of his still-too-hot onigiri to prove it. It’ll probably strip the second or third layer of his tongue right off, but he’ll get over it. Shit heals. His stomach will be all nice and warm and full.
- He can feign confusion and ask what kind of question is that, are they in some super dramatic shounen manga or something? ‘Cause that would be cool. You should write that down for the avant-garde screenplay you’re planning on writing in five years. Get someone famous to act in it. Someone with a real sharp jawline and a sharper smile and a voice that can be used to say lines like “Come with me if you want to live” or “Was that what you feared? Was that what you feared, Miya Atsumu? Love? A boy? The ocean between you two? What was it that you were searching for, after all this time?”
- “Can you take off your glasses? Seriously. Light’s glarin’ off the lenses real hard. Who’re you even lookin’ at right now?”
- He can say something like the truth. He can say something like: Here’s the thing, Akaashi Keiji-kun. Atsumu was born first, but Osamu wasn’t far behind. As soon as Osamu tumbled out after him, 12 chaotic minutes later, Atsumu latched onto his ankle with a high, whining cry and never let go. There’s a part of Atsumu that still believes that he’s going to play volleyball until he’s the tender old age of 92, even as he becomes increasingly aware of things like patellar tendinitis and lower lung capacity and getting so old your balls sag to the floor. When he fell in love with Hinata Shouyou, hard, breathless, like a body hitting concrete, Atsumu made up his mind that he would never fall out of it. He told Osamu this one night, drunk out of his mind. He and Shouyou had been dating for about a month at that point, and Osamu just sighed and told him he was going to hurt himself loving someone like that, and also “Holy shit, you smell like ass right now, go brush your fuckin’ teeth.” Atsumu huffed. He gargled Listerine, and thought, This is why Samu’ll always be the younger sibling. He understood jack shit about commitment. Atsumu though? He could write epics upon epics on commitment. He was the goddamn avant-garde book on commitment. For fuck’s sake, he’d been dyeing his roots since he was sixteen. Him, afraid of commitment? Really?
- What was it then?
- A boy?
- The ocean between you two?
- What was it you feared exactly? What were you afraid of?
- He can say—
“—Here you go, ‘kaashi-kun,” Osamu calls out. “Your third order of onigiri today.”
Akaashi stands and takes the box of food from Osamu, sliding something into his hand in the same motion. “Thank you, Myaa-sam. Excellent service as always.”
“Ah, you’re generous as always, ‘Kaashi-kun.”
“I’m simply paying you what you’re owed.” Akaashi moves towards the exit, bag tucked around his shoulder. He sends one final glance to Atsumu through the glint of his glasses. “Apologies for cutting our conversation short, Miya-san. I hope you feel better.”
Atsumu nods, still vaguely perturbed by the lens glare. Akaashi leaves. Atsumu watches Osamu watch Akaashi go, feels the Something Odd poking incessantly at his chest, and sighs.
“You know what you’re doin’ about that?”
Osamu looks genuinely confused. “Huh? What’re you goin’ on about?”
“Nothin’.” Atsumu takes another bite. It’s finally cool. “You’ll understand when you’re older, Samu.”
You are on the floor of your living room wearing nothing but boxers and an old Gudetama hoodie. The sleeves are coming loose at the edges. You haven’t washed it in almost a month, but no one else knows this. The love of your life is sitting across from you, legs tucked in front of him. You can see the tan line on his ankle. You’d once spent a whole afternoon tracing the shape with your tongue. You kinda want to do that again now, but—
“So, Brazil,” the love of your life says.
“So, Brazil,” you repeat. “Pretty far.”
“Yeah. Like 18,747 kilometers far.”
“Holy shit. How do you know that?”
You’re a little mad at yourself for not looking it up before him. “Okay. Whatever. 18,747 kilometers. How long are you gonna be gone?”
“They’ve offered me a contract for two straight seasons,” he says, biting his lip. You wish he wouldn’t do that. You are trying to have a serious conversation, and the love of your life is biting his lip like he wants you to grab him and do it for him. You’ve been told you have nice teeth. You’ve been told that you are surprisingly gentle.
Focus. “Okay. So two years. Ish.”
“Do you think that’s long? I mean, there’s always breaks where I can visit home. Fly back. Kageyama told me that Hoshiumi told him that Romero told him about how he and his wife were long-distance when he was playing abroad.”
“You’re not my wife though.” You pause. “Right?”
He frowns. You hate-love how handsome he still looks when he’s serious like this. “Well. No. You’re not. But I don’t think that’s my point.”
You consider him and his handsomeness for another moment. “Er. Should we get married then?”
“What,” you say back. “Disregard that. I don’t even know what I’m sayin’. Who said what now again?”
Oh, fuck you. You made him blush.
“Anyways,” he says, because he is the more functional of you two, even with how pink and cute his cheeks are, “I think. I think we can make it work?”
“Us,” he affirms. “Me. You. Us.” He pauses. Every part of him seems to still. “Unless?”
“Unless?” He is speaking in more question marks than you have ever heard from him before.
“Unless,” he repeats, lips twisting, “you don’t want to?”
(You mean to say: Yes. Duh. Of course. You’re the love of my life. I want to make everything work for you. I want to make the whole friggin’ galaxy and planets and itty bitty pieces of starlight work for you. I want to go back and make that sentence work for you. Let me bite and kiss your lips forever, thank you, amen. Grope ankle. Tug to body. Fade to black.)
Here is what you say: you say. You say. You say—
Nothing. You say absolutely nothing. You say absolutely nothing until the moment stretches on and the blush on the love of your life’s face is rapidly replaced by something else that you don’t want to look at. You need to say something. So say something. This is your dream. You can do whatever you want. Take the silence back. All of it. Remember where you are? Here. Scene: you are in the living room of your apartment. Scene: you are on the balcony of his apartment. Scene: you are standing in the shade of a tree outside the practice gym trying to avoid the summer heat. Scene: you are at the terminal of an international airport. He is there, across from you, in every single one of these scenarios, asking you to say something.
Say something, before the distance between you and him and everything you mean to say but never do becomes something you—
“Atsumu,” Shouyou says. “Don’t you want to be with me?”
CALL MADE TO ASSHOLE 2 @ 4:01 AM
“Tsumu. What the fuck. Why are you calling. It’s 4 AM.”
“... Tsumu, you good? ... Tsumu, you better say somethin’ before I hang up and call Mom.”
“The hell? Are we still five?”
“One of us is.”
“My point exactly.”
“Ugh. Whatever. I wanted to ask you somethin’.”
“Alright. So ask.”
“Er. So you know the team motto, right?”
“Motto? Didn’t realize the BJs had one.”
“Told you to stop callin’ us that. I was talkin’ about Inarizaki, dipshit.”
“You’re the dipshit. ‘Course I know it. What about it?”
“What do you think it means?”
“I think it means exactly what it says. We don’t need the memories.”
“Okay, duh. But like. What does that mean?”
“Isn’t it self-explanatory enough? We don’t need to focus on the past. The past is gone. Yesterday is gone—”
“Yeah, yeah, what’re we gonna do today. Y’know, that sounded way cooler back in high school.”
“Anyways. My point is—yesterday’s gone, blah, blah, blah, but what about the next day? Not today, not yesterday, but the day after? What then?”
“The day after? Why’re you thinkin’ about the day after when you haven’t even dealt with the day as it is? How does that make sense?”
“It’s called plannin’ ahead, you asshole. The future.”
“Future doesn’t mean shit if you can't take care of your shit today. It’s the same as gettin’ stuck in the past. You’ve got your head so far up your ass that you can’t make shit of anythin’ behind or in front of you.”
“... Oi. You should watch your language. You kiss Mom with that mouth? Gross.”
“Shut the fuck up. It’s 4 AM. Talkin’ is hard.”
“You’re such a grandpa.”
“Stop thinkin’ so hard, Atsumu. Do what you need to do. Simple as that.”
“... Okay, but what if I don’t know—”
“Holy shit. Then figure it out. Take today to find out. Take tomorrow to actually do it. Take as long as you need. ‘S not like the future is goin’ anywhere. God knows you’ll catch up to it eventually. You always do.”
“I’m about to pass out in two seconds, so if you have another existential crisis to take care of, just text me in the morning. Okay? Or Google it, or somethin’. Google is your friend. When it’s not stealin’ your data.”
“... Okay. Fine. I got it.”
“Dipshit. Love you. Go to sleep.”
“You’re the dipshit. Whatever. Love you, too.”
Atsumu can barely make out anything when he peeks out the window to his apartment. Everything’s smudged against the dark drip of the sky, but Atsumu squints his way through and eventually finds the fire escape that leads to the roof. He climbs his way up, thighs faintly burning with the exertion. Bokuto told him about this shortcut back when they’d first moved in. He said that he took it whenever he got impatient with the building’s elevator, which was to say that he took it all the time because Bokuto was a monster who would rather suffer through an unsolicited Leg Day than wait 20 seconds for anything. Atsumu—because he was also a bit of a monster, go figure—begrudgingly understood this.
Atsumu’s breath puffs out in thin streams the closer he gets. Holy shit. It’s so fucking dark. He squints harder. It’s so fucking dark and cold and quiet that it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t washed his face yet. He makes it onto the rooftop, shivering in his Gudetama sweater that he needs to wash and sew up and probably chuck in the nearest dumpster. He’ll get to it.
He rubs a hand across his face, sits down, and looks up at what’s left around him.
Scene: Hinata Shouyou is playing volleyball 18,747 kilometers from where Atsumu is sitting right now. Or maybe he’s cooking his mom’s tamagoyaki, or playing a cooking game on his phone, or charming every single person, pet, and monster that’s lucky enough to be swept into his life. Hinata Shouyou is the love of Atsumu’s life, but Atsumu’s starting to think that he won’t be the end to it. There is a day that will come when he and Hinata Shouyou will stand on the same court, under the same streetlights, in the city where they first fell in love. There is a day that will come when the distance between Atsumu and Shouyou will be a number that Atsumu doesn’t have to Google on his phone. Atsumu will say something. He will say 90% of what he means to say, and he will be stupidly, fiercely proud of himself for it. Shouyou will understand the 10% that’s been left unsaid, or maybe he won’t. He’ll still smile at Atsumu like he never stopped, and Atsumu will think about all the different ways you can brace yourself for natural disaster. He will take a breath, and let it go, right where it needs to be. His body will settle, slow, steady, like the earth after it rains. This day will come. Today is already here.
Atsumu is here. Atsumu looks up.
Well. Ain’t that nice?