A wrench clanged onto the scuffed linoleum floor as Akaashi patiently waited for the coin machine to be fixed. Or maybe, patiently wasn’t the right word.
“You’re fidgeting.” The toolbelt-clad Kuroo Tetsurou glanced an accusing look Akaashi’s way. He’d rushed down when he received the message that the coin machine was, yet again, spewing out Turkish Lira every few minutes, which was absolutely no good in their machines.
“You got somewhere to be?” Kuroo continued tinkering as black smoke billowed out of his machine, accompanied by the soft jingle of Turkish coins hitting the ground. Akaashi took several steps back and defeatedly slumped into a plastic chair. Laundromat chairs had to be the most uncomfortable seating arrangement Akaashi had ever experienced, he’d honestly rather just lay on top of the bank of dryers. He shifted one leg to tuck under his chin as he waited, patiently, for more coins.
The laundromat was the most conveniently located for Akaashi’s needs, but not always the most convenient. It possessed a certain something, Akaashi could only describe as an undercurrent. An electricity in the atmosphere that hinted at something more, that gave Akaashi the feeling he was missing something right in front of his nose.
There was the Great Soap Flood in May of last year, which he’s still convinced was not some sort of foul play, but incited by Kuroo for insurance money. There was that time Akaashi was sure for months, that something was stealing all of his left knee pads. And let’s not forget the slightly mysterious coin machine, the coin machine that more often than not, did not give out coins at all, but did sometimes give out spearmint gum balls, and various assorted breakfast cereals. Akaashi counted himself lucky that today he got coins at all, despite it being foreign currency.
The laundromat was dependable in all the ways it was not, and gave Akaashi a sort of comfort in its daily dramas, missing knee pads included. He didn’t really consider his life very interesting, yet, getting swept up in the mayhem and magic of the place was a flicker of fire that kept him on his toes.
He was about to call it and go to work in sweaty workout gear, when an exalted cry came from the region of the coin machine. Akaashi turned to find 50-yen coins spilling out of the machine like a river, pooling in the folds of Kuroo’s work jumper and rolling across the linoleum flooring.
“Akaashi. Your lucky day.” Kuroo stood up, coins spilling from his clothing onto the ground. He piled two handfuls of coins into Akaashi’s outstretched palms.
“Kuroo please, this is easily triple the value of the bills I provided.” Akaashi didn’t know what to do besides stand there, hands full of coins, floor also covered with coins, as still more coins spilled from the busted machine. They were alone in the laundromat, and Kuroo surely didn’t seem surprised by the turn of events. Akaashi badly wanted someone to react to or at least to notice the strangeness.
As if by some sort of cosmic sign, laughter burst into the room by way of the jingling above the door jam and the musical voice of--
“Bokuto, you son of a gun!” Kuroo waded through the coins and slapped Bokuto on the back, as he was doubled over laughing in the misty sunshine.
He was golden in the isolated light of the doorway. The usual coldness of the fluorescent bulbs overhead slowly seeped away as sunlight streamed in through the double glass doors. Laughter racked his body like some sort of benign hacking cough; Akaashi couldn’t quite figure out the feeling, but perhaps it was contagious.
Bokuto chatted animatedly with Kuroo in the doorway; Akaashi was still frozen with a handful of coins and no notion of who he had been before he heard the raucous warmth of this stranger’s laugh.
“So, who’s this?” Bokuto surveyed the scene. The coins, Akaashi’s outstretched hands, more coins. Akaashi shook his head, no. Clearly aware that wasn’t the answer to the question, nor a particularly polite thing to mime to a stranger.
Bokuto elbowed Kuroo and whispered “Does...he ..talk?” to Kuroo with visible concern.
He wasn’t sure what to do, but was sure his quota for shenanigans was quite filled for the day and he was definitely sure he should stop dawdling and start his wash cycle. It all was a little too much, a little too bright, when Akaashi usually thrived more in muted tones. He weighed a few options, and perhaps in a moment of weakness under Bokuto’s golden stare, he just laughed.
The next time Akaashi entered the laundromat, Bokuto Koutarou was already there. He was parked near the dryers, holding up two tank tops and analyzing them closely. One looked like it might fit him, one looked to be sized for a toddler. Akaashi shook out his umbrella and set it by the stand, and took to his regular plastic chair by the door to sort out his laundry.
The set of chairs were bolted together and also to the ground like a set of seats at a baseball stadium. Immediately after sitting, another body joined him.
“Hi, Akaashi!” Bokuto sat in the chair directly next to him, despite the empty line of blue plastic reaching out until the end of the room.
Akaashi was not prepared for the brush of thighs and the soft, subtle scent of freshly dried laundry that would accompany Bokuto to his seat.
“Kuroo told me your name!” He blurted out before Akaashi could respond. Akaashi nodded, picking up on the blush in his cheeks, and also, without meaning to, noticed that their feet rested staunchly next to each other. Bokuto’s sandaled feet looked bare next to the heavy waterproof boots Akaashi had to dig out this morning before trekking through the storm. He must have gotten drenched in the rain.
“So do you play volleyball?” Bokuto nodded towards some of his gear that he was sorting out into piles to be washed: kneepads, sweatband, socks. All immaculately sorted so as to not mix in with the rest of his civilian clothing.
“I play on a rec league at the community center,” Akaashi says.
“I play too!” He was folding a striking red and black jersey onto his pile, following it: fancy-looking gear with Mizuno logos down to the socks. Akaashi eyed the number 4 emblazoned on his jacket and thought he probably shouldn’t, but he just might look that up later.
Bokuto rose to the nearest machine and looked inside, a good hard look, then placed his clothes in.
“What were you looking for?” Akaashi found the words spilling out in honest curiosity.
“Ugh. The laundry gremlins. I can never see them, but I know, something is in there.” He put his head in the next washing machine, looking around.
Akaashi had experienced a lot in his time at the laundromat, some things...inexplicable. He’ll admit, the darker corners of the industrial sized dryers seemed like they might encompass an endless void, and sometimes, he’d seen Kuroo simply wave his hand near a locked door and it opened. Nothing quite added up, but that’s how he left it. He wasn’t one to meddle, and keeping to himself was the closest thing Akaashi had to a hobby.
“No I’m completely serious--” Akaashi’s stare must have implied disbelief because Bokuto’s mocked offense, “They steal all my left knee pads! They’re out to get me!” At this, Akaashi laughed. A full laugh, like he hadn’t in a long time. Bokuto would continue doing that: causing cracks in Akaashi’s facade by way of face splitting laughter and smiles hidden behind hands. It was a slow seeping feeling, a low rumbling pull in a fixed direction. He leaned towards it.
Slowly, Bokuto nudged his way into Akaashi’s Wednesday afternoons.
Rainy spring season turned into summer, and Akaashi found himself leaving his umbrella at home more often than not. He exchanged weathered boots for light sneakers and enjoyed the crisp air that nipped at his elbows and bare neck.
As he gravitated towards lighter fabrics and more breathable tees, Bokuto seemed to be favoring long-sleeved sweaters and hoodies, which in Akaashi’s opinion was just a shame. But he didn’t really think much of it. Laundry day was, after all, a day to wear the last remaining clean clothes, and that was that.
Some days they talked about everything from poetry to the weather, which their opinions differed wildly. (Bokuto, surprisingly, loved thunderstorms and hated poetry, while Akaashi was wary of any sort of weather that dipped above or below mild, and only read poetry of the heart-breaking sort.)
Bokuto went starry eyed when Akaashi talked about something he liked, which Akaashi found himself doing more and more. Akaashi liked horror movies with a twist because everything else was just too predictable (Bokuto agreed with this, despite his argument that he was even good at guessing the twist-endings). Akaashi liked his albums played from start to finish in one go, because you always miss out on the nuanced transitions when you only listen to the catchy songs (Bokuto rolled his eyes at this, but said he would give it a try, next time).
It became a running joke that Bokuto claimed every band or movie Akaashi liked was too obscure, yet, he still eagerly asked him to recount the plots as he ooh-ed and aah-ed at the exciting bits.
Akaashi was amused that Bokuto hadn’t watched any of his favorite horror films (and found it slightly more peculiar he hadn’t even heard of them). The next Wednesday he brought his laptop along and cued up his favorite twist-ended film as both of their wash cycles began thrumming.
As he expected, Bokuto was very entertaining to experience while watching a film. He reacted wildly to jump scares and yelled out every theory he had about this character or that. He begged Akaashi to tell him the ending, and while they switched over their laundry to dry, Akaashi almost gave in just to save his own sanity.
“So the ghost is really the daughter, right? But--but she was dead this whole time!” Bokuto scrolled through all of his theories, watching Akaashi intensely. Surely looking for a tell. Akaashi tried to keep a completely straight face, but he felt it happening again, the cracks in his perfectly arranged expression. This time he couldn’t stop the fissure, he let himself break wide open.
“I’m not telling.” Akaashi mumbled. He covered his face with his hands. Bokuto launched into more guessing, “Is it the doctor? No, the NURSE!?” (He was right all along.)
Something was wrong. Akaashi’s cursor hovered over the ‘Search’, as he talked himself out of this unmitigated breach of privacy. He closed out the window for the 3rd time and pulled up some work he was trying to finish.
He was absolutely worried for his own mental state over this whole situation, this Bokuto situation. How do normal people even function in the blaring sunlight exuded by Bokuto Koutarou? Every moment felt like a sunburn, that warm almost good kind of hurt.
Akaashi found himself enacting other self-destructive behaviors by way of lingering glances and looking for Bokuto’s same brand of laundry detergent in the grocery store. (He bought it, because it was on sale, and nothing more.)
He likened the feeling to gravity.
Black holes generate an immeasurable gravitational pull, capturing celestial bodies as fleeting as waves of light. Passing objects get pulled in, disengaged from their original orbits, pulled off course. However there is a boundary, the event horizon. At this boundary, light waves or electromagnetic particles or other bits of space can possibly escape a black hole’s pull, swing back into their orbit. But past this boundary, there is no means of escape. You just drift until you are consumed whole.
He typed in ‘national team bokuto 4’ again, this time he clicked ‘Search’. Something was wrong.
Not a single search result popped up with Bokuto Koutarou’s name and the Japanese national team. Not a single result popped up about Bokuto Koutarou at all. Akaashi scrolled enough to feel fully confused and slightly invasive. Not a single social media profile, sports statistic, or photograph. Nothing.
He closed his laptop and set it on the other side of the room. He needed to give this distance, he needed to lie to himself a little more that everything was just normal. He got into bed, encircled himself in covers, and tried to be quiet.
But his brain wouldn’t stay quiet. Hadn’t he seen Bokuto wash and fold his jerseys several times? He talked amicably about his teammates, and he even entered the laundromat in workout gear, kneepads, and sneakers just last week. But, he never invited Akaashi to a game. They never communicated or visited each other outside of the laundromat. Was he a ghost? Someone Akaashi had just made up, all along? This was doubtful, Akaashi thought, but definitely wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to show up at the laundromat.
The laundromat had lasted two weeks without any incidents, and despite the fact that one of his left knee pads had gone missing, Akaashi was in a good mood. The coin machine was giving out correct currency for once, and he was just about to settle into a new murder novella when trouble wisped in the room in the form of Oikawa Tooru.
Oikawa was an acquaintance of Kuroo, who was an acquaintance of Akaashi, giving Akaashi just the right amount of discernable social distance that he deemed small talk not required, a cordial nod would suffice.
Oikawa scanned the room for Kuroo, upon finding only Akaashi, seemed to deem him acceptable to unload whatever drama he had saved for the former.
“Akaashi,” Oikawa slumped into the seat next to him, “Bokuto says he has something of yours and needs to give it back to you. And that you need to go to this address to get it.”
He had not brought up the internet search conundrum with Bokuto yet. Last week, they marathoned 3 albums of one of Akaashi’s favorite bands, played on Kuroo’s record player he brought in from his apartment upstairs. They’d sat shoulder to shoulder against the coin machine, and Akaashi didn’t want to mess this, whatever this was, up.
He had planned to ask him about it that day; he’d rehearsed the conversation in his head as he fell asleep at night. But in his dreams, he was drifting. He could feel the pull of that black hole again, except now, he was at the laundromat. He opened the circular door of the industrial dryer to find the black hole, and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching, floating, edging, towards it. He tested just his head inside, then his shoulders.
It was an endless fall, but also, not really falling at all. It was that feeling when you take a dive on a rollercoaster, like your stomach’s doing backflips. But this time, there wasn’t a clash of brakes to slow you down at the gate. No means to an end. Akaashi felt that plummeting sensation without really moving at all, until he eventually woke up.
Oikawa rests a piece of paper in his lap. His stare was kind of unsettling, but Akaashi’s head was swimming with Bokuto has something of yours and he immediately thought, Oh God. How can he possibly know?
“But I just started my wash,” Akaashi mumbled as he unfolded the note. It really did have an address on it, scribbled in pencil. A street he didn’t recognize in slanted handwriting he did.
“Just... Take this with you,” Oikawa curled Akaashi’s hand around the note. “Hold it tight as you leave. You’ll get where you need to go. Trust me.”
Akaashi did not trust Oikawa, or many people for that matter. But his head wasn’t really in the right place. His pulse was beating in his throat, and Oikawa was the only person who seemed to know what the fuck was happening.
Akaashi was so curious, he had to ask someone, and Oikawa was the only one here. “His name, I couldn’t find his name online or on the team’s website…” Oikawa gave a tiny, smug smile. Like he knew just a little too much.
“Perhaps you were just looking in the wrong place.” Oikawa said loftily. He pointed Akaashi towards the door and pushed him a few steps in that direction. “I’ll switch your laundry for you, I’ll make sure it’s on delicates.”
It was dark when Akaashi stepped through the doors, hand clutched and sweating around Bokuto’s note. The pavement was wet from rain, he could feel it in the air, like it had immediately halted the minute he arrived. And arrived was indeed the correct term, because it was clear that Akaashi had traveled much farther than the two steps it took to get out of the door.
Everything was almost right. Like someone had shifted everything in his world a little to the left, just to see if he’d notice. The graffiti on the sidewalk next to the laundromat was different, the sign on the corner that advertised VERY FRESH NOODLES had been replaced with a similarly designed, brightly flashing neon one. The street signs were all jumbled up; he recognized the names, but it was like they got switched around with no rhyme or reason.
It looked like his Tokyo, it even smelled like his Tokyo. But it definitely wasn’t. There were differences he couldn't place, feelings and sounds that he deemed strange, but didn't know exactly how. Akaashi approached a fast food restaurant. He saw a familiar logo of a tiny hedgehog holding a hamburger. But he quickly realized he’d only seen it before on a cup Bokuto was holding last week at the--
He spun around, there it was. The laundromat looked precisely, exactly the same here, wherever he was. A glitch in this new Tokyo, the faded blue lettering and mismatched blinds were identical to the one he’d walked into, seemingly 20 minutes ago, in his version.
He had to pause from his confusion to glance down at the note. He was quite possibly in another Tokyo, another universe altogether, one that was undoubtedly also inhabited by Bokuto.
Akaashi meandered down the unfamiliarly familiar street. His mind was clicking into place all the inconsistencies of Bokuto Koutarou, down to the wintery clothing he’d been sporting the past few weeks. Akaashi pulled his thin cardigan closer to his chest. It was fall in this Tokyo.
The sky was inching towards black. Akaashi had no idea where to go, but he had this indescribable pull at the back of his mind, it bounced through his muscles and willed him to keep walking. He passed by a convenience store and stared in shock. In the window, displayed in a grouping of other confectionery goods and canned drinks, was a package of chips featuring the spiking form of a volleyball player sporting a very distinctive hairstyle.
Akaashi pressed his face to the window. Inside, there was a huge advertisement for “JAPAN’S ACE #4”, posters hung up at the end of the aisle and a small cardboard cut out of the whole team. He felt weird loitering in the aisle, so he purchased a bag. There he was, Bokuto Koutarou, action lines framing his jumping form. As he held the bag in his hands, he knew approximately where to find Japan’s Ace.
Akaashi approached the gym swiftly. It hadn’t moved, even though the street signs were all different, even in a different Tokyo, he found his way.
Through the doorway, the lights were on, beckoning Akaashi out of the dark. The bleachers looked slightly different, a dark reddish color, where in Akaashi’s Tokyo, they were blue. Everything about the place was familiar, yet strange. Like he had returned after many years, and couldn’t really recall what it was like before.
Pushing aside his recent revelation about space-time and alternate-Tokyos Akaashi had a pretty focused intent. To find Bokuto. He wasn’t sure what might spill out if he didn’t. He thought about his recent dreams: falling, but not really, letting the pull take hold of him, crossing over that event horizon and not looking back.
He floated to center court. Bokuto was standing there, under the fluorescence, illuminated by the buzzing of the bulbs overhead and the slight flicker of the scoreboard. They both seemed to pause for a few seconds, sure the other would say something first.
“I got your note.” Akaashi opened his hand, wadded up paper falling to the floor, he laughed under his breath. “Your directions were terrible.”
“I should have drawn you a map.” Bokuto said quietly, looking at Akaashi with millions of words unsaid.
“Turn left at the edge of the universe,” Akaashi joked, looking up and meeting stares with Bokuto.
“How did you figure it out?” Bokuto’s voice was rough around the edges, torn sandpaper and honey. They were standing close, Akaashi brushed their hands together to see what it felt like. Definitely not cold and clammy or ghost-like; but warm, skin-prickling, and real.
“I didn’t really, I didn’t know until I got here.”
“Hmph.” Bokuto crossed his arms, “I don’t know Akaashi, I gave you a lot of good hints!” Akaashi thought about it, realizing obviously: Bokuto didn’t not know any of his favorite bands, because they were too obscure, he didn’t know them because they didn’t even exist in this Tokyo.
“I guess, I was preoccupied.” And it was true. Akaashi was easily able to rationalize Bokuto’s irregularities, glitches in what should have been normal.
“Oh?” Bokuto questioned it, eyebrow raised, just like Akaashi knew he would. He could feel the cracks spreading and didn’t really know what to expect when they broke him open, this time. He leaned into the feeling.
A kiss that was weeks, months, years in the making. Akaashi wasn’t sure how timelines blended and meshed in this Tokyo but it felt like what he might call a rift.
Two Tokyos reached an alignment, overlaid maps and shifting skylines. Bokuto and Akaashi melded like two concentric circles rotated into the same plane. A soft brush of hair on cheeks, Bokuto leaned in slightly, letting Akaashi meet him the last few centimeters. Akaashi conceded, identifying that source of the pull was right in front of him, all along.
No tricks or twist endings, Bokuto was real and warm and sunlight under his hands. He felt a smile under his lips and reciprocated by reaching for more. It was all conjecture, what this would be like with Bokuto Koutarou, an over-analyzed formula of angles of heads and seconds allotted to pause for breath. But in reality the kiss didn’t follow any mathematical principles Akaashi knew of. It was wistful, deep, and nailed his feet to the floor. No more drifts or pulls.
They leaned apart, lights still buzzing. It was night, but he felt a sunburn on his cheeks, his arms, the back of his neck, places Bokuto touched.
“So, what do you have of mine?” Akaashi asked, expecting an answer he did not receive.
“Oh! I found this in my laundry,” Bokuto produced a single left kneepad and handed it back to Akaashi, grabbing his hand with it. He laughed, expecting something a little more metaphorical, but Bokuto was never one for poetry.
They lead each other out of the gym, leaving behind the fluorescence, but taking the sunshine with them.
It was always Wednesday afternoon at the laundromat, and good thing too, because they both had some laundry to do.