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Avoidance Behavior

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The morning after Atsumu decides to start squatting in Osamu’s house, Osamu walks into the bathroom and discovers the toothbrushes are now upside down in a glass filled with mouthwash. In his still-asleep haze, Osamu wonders if this is some kind of offering to the gods of oral hygiene, but he doesn't question the odd display further before he takes his toothbrush out and begins his day. And Tarou doesn’t complain either when Osamu crawls back into bed to use his mintier-than-usual breath to kiss him awake. Indeed, the early summer morning that follows is blessedly absent of any indication that Osamu’s worst first half has stumbled into his life for what Osamu can still honestly claim is no discernible reason. Osamu tells himself that Sumu has to be gone sooner than later; after all, they haven’t been able to occupy the same space for more than a day in over a decade.

Not that he and Sumu have been on bad terms. They just went their separate ways, once Osamu quit volleyball after high school. Starting your own business takes money, which takes time, and setting up shop at games doesn’t exactly leave you with enough energy to mingle with the players. Not that Sumu was swimming in free time either, between working his way up to a regular starting position and staying in shape between seasons. Sure, Hirakata City is only an hour and change away, but the centrifugal force of life—working every shift every day the first few years of the shop, buying a house, overcoming emotional constipation to live with someone you have admitted more than once to perhaps, maybe, just possibly more than like—won out.

Which is to say, Sumu arriving and then not speaking to anyone for the duration of his stay is not unexpected or undesired, even if it's also perhaps unpleasant. Osamu does not begin to get suspicious about the underlying cause of Sumu’s presence until he wakes up and finds three toothbrushes upside down in a glass filled with mouthwash for the seventh day in a row. This, he concedes to himself, is an undeniable trend, and an uncharacteristic one, too, considering that Sumu’s refusal to clean once led to an infestation of mice in the room they shared growing up. Osamu decides that Tarou, who informed him yesterday that technically one needs only three data points to define a trend over time, must never know about this concession. He also begins to think that maybe Sumu isn’t just here for a visit.

Unfortunately, this is the same day that Osamu walks into the kitchen to discover Tarou looking puzzledly at the sink as he finishes making breakfast. Whatever’s wrong, he must decide it can wait for later, because he washes his hands and plates the not-sweet-enough tamagoyaki that he has somehow tricked Osamu into liking. Osamu spoons out the rice into bowls and sets them next to the cups of miso already on the table. Sumu, of course, is gone for the day, having picked up a weird habit for early morning runs from someone on the team, if the past week has been any indication. 

“I thought you said your brother was a no-good oversleeper,” Tarou teases once they’re seated and tucking in. “He wasn’t even here when I got up at five to piss. Futon was put away and everything.”

“That’s what you were doin’?” Osamu wonders for no particular reason other than the vague memory of suddenly being cold. Then, with a kernel of hope that maybe today’s oral hygiene ritual was a prank, he asks: “Were the toothbrushes in the cup that way again?”

“Yeah,” Tarou replies. Osamu deflates and stares gloomily into his rice bowl. “S’pretty weird. But kinda nice, actually?”

“I guess.”

“I mean, my breath is just extra fresh,” Tarou continues through a bite of rice. “Y’think he learned it from…”

“Don’t,” Osamu interjects, stabbing in Tarou’s general direction with his chopsticks. “Do not. Not on my day off.”

Tarou shrugs and downs the last of his tamagoyaki. “I’m just sayin’,” he says while chewing, “you’re gonna have to talk to him about why he’s here sooner or later.”

With that, Tarou swallows and rises and gathers his empty dishes in one hand like the smug asshole Osamu has always known him to be. He then downs his cup of miso in one go, same as always, shaking the tofu into his mouth without chopsticks like a heathen. Osamu lets himself briefly wonder why he decided to buy and live in a house with such a shitty person. 

“You done yet, slowpoke?” Tarou asks once he’s done. Osamu’s still got half his rice to eat, which is uncharacteristic to say the least. “Or has your brother’s sudden dedication to cleanliness stolen your appetite for good?”

“Shuddup an’ let me eat,” he mutters. 

By the time Osamu finishes, Tarou’s back to staring at the sink in mild confusion, the water running for nothing as he looks in the silverware drawer, behind the cutting boards, then in the basket of scrubbing brushes on the window ledge. When Tarou seems to have given up, he gathers the rest of the dishes and, of course, immediately goes back to searching. Osamu scrolls through the news, reluctant to ask Tarou what’s wrong, because he’s pretty sure he already knows, and he’s pretty sure he’s not going to like the reason. Osamu braces himself when he hears the fridge open, then the freezer, and finally the microwave. When Osamu looks up, Tarou is looking back, sponge in hand.

“I’m guessing,” Tarou says, “that you also don’t wanna talk about why the sponge is in the microwave?”

Osamu buries his face in his hand and groans. 

🧽🧽🧽

Of everyone Osamu knows and has known and, he might’ve once said, will know, Sumu has always been the most difficult to deal with and the easiest to read. Take the time Sumu burst into the locker room before practice and claimed his heart had been broken. Shattered in two, in fact, the pieces ne’er to meet again. Instead of asking where Sumu, who fell asleep in literature class more often than not, had learned Shakespearean grammatical structures or offering him a shoulder to cry on, Osamu had immediately known that this had to do with the fact that Yamanashi Mina refused to stomp all over Sumu in her newly acquired Doc Martens. Osamu had immediately known this because Sumu hadn’t shut up about the irrational desire all week: He yammered about it the minute he woke up in the morning, on the way to class, when they pushed their desks together at lunch, when they were changing in the clubroom. The entire school had basically known, and while Osamu really wouldn’t have minded seeing his brother flattened to a pulp, he valued his day-to-day acceptance by his classmates more. 

Knowing the cause of Sumu’s distress meant that Osamu 1) did not have to waste his finite and valuable time trying to cheer up his weird-as-fuck sadsack of a brother, and 2) could use this as another teachable moment to impart on Sumu the value of behaving in the world like a normal human when it came to his more out-there whims. If Sumu really wanted to get stepped on so badly, Osamu suggested, perhaps he should go to a massage parlor or dabble in wrestling. That kind of thing seemed to happen there. And oh, perhaps he shouldn’t scare women off by telling the whole school his fantasies involving them, sexual or no. The former advice seemed to stick, at least. Though really, that Sumu never again (to Osamu’s knowledge) burdened another classmate with the intimate details of his immediate and insatiable fantasies was more likely a coincidence than a tangible result.

That Osamu could not think up a description of his brother’s mood beyond “upset” when he appeared on Osamu’s doorstep what is now ten days ago, measly duffle bag in tow, should have been the first sign that Osamu was about to be in over his head. 

What Osamu has refused to admit except when inebriated and under extreme duress (read: under threat of Tarou calling up Sumu and taping the phone to Osamu’s head) is that he hasn’t been able to read his brother with the same ease for at least three years. Sure, Sumu may still be the same loudmouthed abrasive slob that Osamu spent two decades of his life trying to polish into something at least somewhat amenable to existence in normal society, but at the same time, he’s different. For one, Sumu’s managed to crawl into the heart of a guy who can barely stand to look at a picture of a cockroach, much less inhabit the same space as a live one for an extended period of time. 

And then there’s the problem of Sumu’s social skills. Whoever his brother is now may involve sanitizing toothbrushes and microwaving sponges and lining up the shoes in the genkan and unloading the dishrack in the morning, but Sumu still isn’t suited to talking to a normal person for more than ten minutes. Honestly, the upper bound may have dropped to even five over the course of Sumu and Sakusa’s relationship. How Sakusa Kiyoomi managed to somehow make Sumu worse while appearing to make him better is beyond Osamu, but it makes him so mad he could spit.

Sumu’s continued status as unfit for human consumption becomes painfully apparent when, on day seventeen of his not entirely consensual cohabitation with Osamu and Tarou, Sumu goes off on a tirade that’s eighty-percent curse words in the middle of a McDonald’s whose customer base is eighty-percent under ten years old. 

“What,” Osamu says once Sumu has piped down and gone back to aggressively thumbing the joysticks on his Switch, “in the name of everythin’ holy could you possibly be this upset about?”

“Omi keeps comin’ to my town and sendin’ me letters gripin’ that my flowers ain’t symmetrical,” Sumu grumbles. “If he’d just give me a fuckin’ day to plant ‘em again…”

Osamu stares at his brother, still mashing away at his Switch in angry ignorance, for what feels like a lifetime, mostly wondering why the hell he chose to give up his hard-earned hour break from the shop to watch Sumu play virtual house. 

The last Osamu checked, Sumu only played FIFA and Pokemon, and he ended up ditching the latter when he realized he would never ever get to woo Nurse Joy. Sumu playing Animal Crossing—a game, Osamu understands, about living a peaceful, nonviolent, helpful life by cohabitating with peaceful, nonviolent, helpful humanoid animals—is unthinkable. Nevermind that he’s playing it with someone who might or might not be his ex, who might or might not have taught Sumu not to live like a total pig, who might or might not have domesticated a scavenging rat, to whatever degree that can be done. 

And now that Osamu thinks about it, Sumu’s hair is a less noxious shade of blonde and doesn’t look like it has an entire drugstore of gel in it. Maybe it’s just the light, Osamu argues with himself. What has nothing to do with the light is Sumu’s outfit—a black shirt and jean jacket and shorts that are orange, sure, but look new and sturdy and like they might have even been ironed once. It’s the first time since Sumu’s arrived that Osamu has seen Sumu in something other than gym clothes. That Sumu now wears something other than gym clothes is news on its own. Osamu supposes he can forgive the neon socks and translucent high tops.

“Sumu,” Osamu begins to say with no idea where he intends to go, but then a child spills their drink two seats over at the bar, and chaos ensues independently of Sumu and his emotional issues, whatever they might be. For yet another day, Osamu remains unable to muster even one of the questions he is used to being able to answer on his own.

“Maybe they didn’t break up,” Osamu tells Tarou that night after a bath. “Maybe he just got kicked out for some dumb reason and is too embarrassed to tell. Maybe—”

“Maybe,” Tarou mocks in monotone without looking up from the game he’s watching on his phone.

“Maybe,” Osamu snaps back, “he’ll be gone tomorrow an’ we can go back to livin’ quality, normal lives.”

“It’s not Atsumu’s fault you’re afraid to have sex when someone else is in the house. Just admit it—”

“I swear to god, Rintarou—”

“—your dick—”

“—if you do not shut your giant—”

“—gets stage fright.”

Osamu shuts his mouth so hard his teeth click. Tarou, meanwhile, is still looking at his phone. The only difference is that he now has a stupid smirk unfurled across his stupid face. Osamu decides that he has never and will never care about this monster of a person, with his freakish core strength and uncool hair and snotty ass Tokyo dialect and strange preferences for tamagoyaki seasoning. 

“For the record, I think it’s cute that you’re shy,” Tarou adds. “But you still need to talk to your brother.”

Osamu leaves the room, middle finger held high.

🧽🧽🧽

Osamu wouldn't say he hates Sakusa, exactly. And of course, he wants his brother to be happy. But the combination—Sumu being happy with Sakusa—is something he hates for sure. 

The first time he heard that Sumu was dating, of all people, Sakusa fucking Kiyoomi, Osamu had been convinced that the source had been misinformed. Osamu had, in fact, said: Shouyou-kun, I think you’re misinformed. And then Bokuto had choked on his rice, possibly due to laughter, and everyone’s attention promptly went to shit.

As fate would have it, and as, in retrospect, indicated by Sumu’s absence from a social gathering at which he could’ve been the center of attention, however briefly, Shouyou-kun was not misinformed. The call confirming as much came just over a week after. Osamu took it with the enthusiasm of someone being told that their favorite dish was sold out after a week of patient planning.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” Sumu had said. He had sounded sheepish. Osamu suspected that someone might have stolen Sumu’s phone.

A dinner followed, which Sumu arrived to blessedly alone, lending credence to Osamu’s hunch about the phone thief, until Sumu claimed that Omi-kun—gag—was caught up in some routine or another and would arrive when he arrived. Sumu said something about Sakusa being worried about a wet doorknob he had touched, then dropped the subject. And Osamu had watched his brother, once prone to fumbling through his orders as if delivering lines in a part for which he had been not the first or second, but third understudy, once prone to fiddling with his chopsticks like batons and dropping them more often than not, once prone to ripping up paper sleeves and napkins and receipts into pieces of snow-like confetti that Osamu would then discover stuck to his clothes after a wash, sit across the table like a person who hadn’t been raised by wolves, worrying only at the tip of a pinky finger with his other hand. Sumu wiped the table down with a sanitizing wipe, then the booth next to him with another, then folded them both up neatly and laid them next to his used—but also folded—wet cloth. Sumu poured tea for Osamu without spilling, did not stuff his face to bursting, and did not talk with his mouth full even once.

The dinner, Osamu would have said halfway through, was the single most civilized interaction he had ever had with Sumu. They talked about V. League politics. About new onigiri fillings Osamu could feature for the coming fireworks season. About the latest foible by their favorite soccer star. Osamu had half a mind to call their mom so she could bear witness. 

And then it happened: Sakusa Kiyoomi appeared, wearing leather gloves and a mask. At the same time, Osamu felt himself vanish.

“Stop picking at your nails,” Sakusa said upon sitting down, gaze shifting to a point underneath the table. “Or scratching your crotch. Whichever it is, it’s gross.”

“Omi-yom,” Sumu gushed, artificial sweetener on a pancake, “I missed you too!”

“No.”

“See, Samu?” Sumu asked without flinching. Osamu rolled his eyes and hovered his chopsticks over the remaining sashimi, torn between the salmon and the bonito. “Omi-omi’s worried ‘bout me.”

“Yes,” Sakusa replied, pulling a packet of wipes out of his pocket. The package is identical to the one Sumu had used earlier. Osamu suddenly wondered how one was supposed to share plates with a germaphobe. His chopstick-holding hand wavered. “Worried about your raggedy nails ripping up my arms when you paw at me later.”

“Stop fussin’, I did that already,” Sumu said, batting at the package without touching Sakusa. “Maybe I’ll jus’ wait ‘til I get home and bite em and spit ‘em all in your bed.”

After a considering look, Sakusa pocketed the wipes, and Osamu found he had lost his appetite. “Disgusting. You are absolutely, cretinously disgusting.”

“Fucking says you, Mr. Covered-in-Bleach.”

“Your brother,” Sakusa said, turning to Osamu for the first and, in Osamu’s recollection, last time, “does not seem to be aware of the purpose of bleach. Or soap. Or facemasks. Or humidifiers. Or—”

“That’s rich, comin’ from the dumbass who didn’t fuckin’ know sunlight kills germs,” Sumu snapped back, straight through a mouthful of fish.

“I told you, the risk of skin cancer isn’t worth the benefit.”

“Whatever, Omi.” Sumu took a too-big bite of rice. “Just get some color on you an’ your pasty butt.”

“What have I said about talking with your mouth full, you crusty-haired asshole.”

“An’ exactly what,” Sumu said, at least taking a moment to swallow, “would you know ‘bout the hair ‘round my asshole, you rubber chickenshit?”

And even though Sakusa, at the same time as Osamu, put his hand over his face and sighed, Osamu hated him. Whether out of jealousy or disappointment, he did not care to examine. He still doesn’t. All he knows is that even though this particular hell might’ve come to an end, he’s not quite sure he’s happy.

🧽🧽🧽

On day twenty four of what Osamu is now terming the Sumu infestation, Osamu comes home from managing lunch delivery to find his brother sprawled out on a precarious pile of cushions in the living area, PlayStation controller in hand. The low table next to him is covered in fruit, fruit snacks, and peanuts, all some degree of eaten. A water bottle big enough to flood a rice paddy is nestled between Sumu’s crossed legs. 

“I thought you were goin’ to the gym,” Osamu says. He sits down on the other side of the table and grabs as big a handful of peanuts as he can manage before Sumu can swat him away.

“Client couldn’t make it. And then Bo canceled on me, too,” Sumu mutters. “Somethin’ about rememberin’ that his four-point-two-five year anniversary is tomorrow. Which for anyone else would be a copout, but for Bo is disgustingly sincere.”

“That’s nice of ‘im, though,” Osamu says.

“S’fuckin’ rude if you ask me,” Sumu spits. He leans sharply to the left in unison with the curve of his car around the race track on the screen. “Who matters more? His setter or his boyfriend?”

Osamu throws a peanut at his brother, smirks when he hits Sumu straight in the head. “What’ve you got against ‘Kaashi-san again?”

Sumu puts down the controller and looks at Osamu, face serious. 

“One,” Sumu begins, counting the number off on his fingers. “No one should be able to look good with that haircut. It’s a universally terrible fuckin’ haircut. Case in point: Suna.”

“Hey!” Osamu says. He reaches over to swat at Sumu, but Sumu evades, a smirk plastered across his big dumb face. Osamu wrenches his hand back before a karate chop comes down on his arm.

“Two,” Sumu says, looking like himself for the first time in weeks. “Guy’s a fuckin’ mind reader. You can’t think one thing without him lookin’ you straight in the eye and bein’ all, ‘Oh, Miya-san, is something upsetting you? You hit all your serves out today. Do you think maybe you’re in love with Omi-kun even though you’re a disgusting slob who can only keep mold alive for more than three days?’ It’s creepy an’ I don’t like it.”

Osamu notes that he should become better friends with Akaashi-san. “You’re an idiot,” he shoots Sumu’s way. “Is there a three?”

“Three,” Sumu says, voice getting even more serious, fingers held down now under his pointer finger. The nail is short and ragged. “He voluntarily dates and lives with Bo.”

Maybe the friend thing isn’t such a great idea. “Okay,” Osamu concedes. “That point’s fair.” And then, as smoothly as he can muster, he wonders: “What does Sakusa think of ‘im?”

Something odd happens to Sumu’s face, which Osamu would prefer not to have seen and which he is not sure Sumu is aware of. Something between a twitch and a grimace and an eyeroll. Something that might look like pain, if Osamu believed Sumu could feel such a thing. The only time he can remember Sumu coming close involves a roll of bubble wrap and a hill and the type of terrible decision making you can expect of 12-year-old boys. But then Sumu had realized how cool the scar on his face would look and broken out into a bloody grin. Their mother’s dedication to scar cream had crushed that dream to pieces.

“Omi can go choke on a used shoe for all I care,” Sumu grumbles.

And really, this vitriol is unhelpful, because Sumu would probably say something like that if Sakusa’d just told him Nike had picked Sumu as their poster boy. When Sumu picks the controller back up, Osamu lies back on the tatami and tries to construct the question he wants answered in his head. 

Yamanashi and her Doc Martens excluded, Osamu can’t think of a time when his brother had been beyond his own help. Osamu’s only ever needed to pull Sumu back to Earth or put him in his place or both, not lift him back up again. Is heartbreak what Sumu’s experiencing now? That’s not what Osamu wants to know. 

“If you’re gonna stay much longer,” Osamu decides to go with, “we should probably get you an extra set’a sheets. An’ wash your things.”

“That’d probably be good,” Sumu says. 

🧽🧽🧽

The only other time Osamu encountered Sakusa and Sumu as a unit outside of a sports stadium was the day Tarou dragged him out on a double date, though everyone but Tarou refused to call it as much. The aquarium had been suggested, but once it became clear that the crowds were still dense even on a Wednesday morning, the group defected for Sakusa’s sake to get coffee at some antique car collection nearby before walking to the park.

“Y’all wanna come with Suna and me for this onsen weekend I won from the Chamber a’ Commerce?” Osamu had asked while he waited with Sumu outside. They both watched through the window as Tarou and Sakusa exchanged orders, a foot between them. Osamu would have preferred to be looking at a giant squid, but he supposed the lack of crying children wasn’t the worst. Would Sakusa have sanitized every piece of glass he stood in front of? Osamu still remembers the thought, crystal clear.

“The ryokan got a private bath?” Sumu asked.

“Don’t think so.”

Inside the cafe, Tarou laughed, his snicker pulling at the edge of his lips. Sakusa’s face was turned, but useless anyway with the mask he insisted on wearing. Sumu didn’t pay a scrap of attention to the pair of them, even as Osamu tamped down a thousand bitter comments. Sumu just drummed his fingers against his thighs, then picked at the seam of his jeans. He avoided Osamu’s eyes.

“No can do.”

“What?” Osamu bit. “You too good to be naked in front of other people now?”

“It’s not me, you idiot,” Sumu snapped back, stepping out of, not into, Osamu’s space. “Omi doesn’t like that kind of thing.”

“What kinda thing?”

“Shared stuff.” Sumu gestured at the world around them. “Baths. Y’know.”

“He don’t like onigiri, he don’t like hands, he don’t like baths. The hell does he like?”

Sumu paused, startled. “Me, I think?”

“What kind of person’d ever like you?”

Osamu had expected Sumu to shove him or punch him or kick him or all of the above. He wanted Sumu to yell and scream and realize that, at some level, Osamu was right. Only a brother could love that face, after all, the kind Sumu made when he knew he was wrong. The kind of face Sumu was not making now.

“It’s burnt,” a monotone announced. Sakusa Kiyoomi walked toward them, coffee in latex-gloved hand. His face was set in a grimace. 

“I’ll drink it, then, and make you a new one,” Sumu snapped. “Omi-yom, we gotta go.”

“The heck did you do?” Tarou asked as they ambled to the park anyway. Or Tarou ambled, while Osamu sulked.

“Just told it to him straight.”

But Tarou wasn’t listening. He was taking a drink of coffee, finally cooler than scalding. His face crinkled up after that first sip, and he said: “Sakusa-kun was right.”

🧽🧽🧽

“Atsumu-san’s staying with you?” Shouyou says when he stops by the shop to pick at the leftovers after his run on day twenty-five of Sumu’s attempt to turn Osamu’s house into some no-budget reenactment of The Grudge. That morning, Osamu had gotten out of bed to hear what he could only describe as a haunting coming from the room currently lost under a thick layer of Sumu’s belongings. When Tarou unhelpfully suggested that Osamu knock and ask what was wrong, Osamu had not replied that the reality was probably scarier than the sound.

“Him an’ his mess have been smellin’ up my guest room for almost a month now,” Osamu grumbles. “D’you know what the deal is?”

“I guess Omi-san’s been gone for a while,” Shouyou ventures, more to the fluorescent lights above than Osamu. “Maybe Atsumu-san is just lonely?”

“Where’d Sakusa-san get off to?”

“I didn’t hear. Just that he went away for a bit. He’s been gone since…” Shouyou counts invisible weeks in the air, and Osamu sings a hymn of thanks that Shouyou is normal fucking person who can assume what other people are wondering instead of making them ask every goddamn thing. “The middle of March, I think? Just after the season ended. He didn’t play any of the exhibition games or anything.”

“Does he usually go home to work durin’ the off-season?”

Shouyou chews, swallows. Again, a normal fucking person. Or maybe he’s just buying time. Osamu chooses to be magnanimous. “Omi-san doesn’t say much about his personal life. All I know is that we never see him much between seasons, but he’s always played the extra games.” 

“An’ that big-mouthed bastard doesn’t blab?”

“Atsumu-san?”

“If that’s what you wanna call ‘im, sure.”

“Not really,” Shouyou says. “I think Omi-san might’ve threatened to kill him if he did.”

Osamu laughs, because getting Sumu to keep his big mouth shut about anything is the best joke he’s heard in a long time. He still remembers the time he walked into grade school to find his desk pushed to the back of the class because Sumu had the balls to tell everyone that Osamu still wet the bed from time to time. Osamu had beat him up after school. Gotten grounded for a week, sure, but Sumu had too, and it was worth the payback.

“I wasn’t joking,” Shouyou clarifies. He shoves the rest of his current onigiri (number three of five) in his mouth, but doesn’t look back up. “Hey, Myaa-sam,” he says, fiddling with the plastic wrapper of his hand wipe. “Is your brother okay?”

“Who fucking knows,” Osamu replies. If Sumu’s taken to exercising prudence about whose secrets he goes around spewing, Osamu sure as hell doesn’t, and he definitely does not care. 

🧽🧽🧽

“You still don’t know what happened,” Tarou says in bed at the end of day twenty-eight of Sumu’s tyrannical reign over what Osamu will now claim is an entire wing of his house. “Really, Samu?”

Earlier that day, Osamu had dared to bring Sumu a late lunch at the gym. When he had arrived at the Anytime Fitness, Sumu was still wrapping up with his last client. The guy was patting Sumu on the arm, as if apologizing for something. When Sumu stepped away, that hand went up, apologetic, soon mirrored by Sumu's own. A back pat followed, then another, along with a sheepish grin, and Osamu that decided if he had lost his appetite, then Sumu should lose his, too. He left and promptly devoured his lunch in a conbini a block over.

“Don’t,” Osamu snaps for what feels like the millionth time since Sumu’s arrival. He elbows Tarou. “Ain’t there that Itachiyama guy on your team? Can’cha just, I dunno...”

Osamu gestures fruitlessly at the ceiling.

“I told you," Tarou says. "I’m not doing this for you. Besides, Komori says he doesn’t even talk to Sakusa-san much.”

“But me’n Sumu’ve been gettin’ along so well,” Osamu tries. “We haven’t even argued since he’s been here!”

“That’s not comforting. That’s scary. Look—” Tarou sits up and clutches Osamu’s cheeks between his freakily strong thumb and forefinger.

“All you have to say is—repeat after me—” Tarou squishes Osamu’s cheeks in time with his words: “‘Sumu, wha’ happened ‘tween you’n your boyfriend?’ Now you try.”

“I don’t sound like that, you ass,” Osamu bitches after he breaks free from Tarou’s hand. “Sumu should’ve just followed my advice an’ found a nice normal person to settle down with. Then we wouldn’ have to be havin’ this conversation at all.”

“What makes you think that?”

“What makes me think what,” Osamu spits. Tarou rolls his eyes and then rolls onto his back, stares up at the ceiling in the way he does when he wants to say something he knows Osamu doesn’t want to hear. 

“We could break up one day, too,” Tarou says. Osamu has half a mind to punch him straight in the nose, but he doesn’t, because Tarou rolls back over and flicks his forehead before he can. Tarou starts toying with Osamu’s fringe after, combing it and smoothing it and pushing it out of his eyes, and fuck if that isn’t endearing, even if Tarou will inevitably send him to the barber in the morning. “Sometimes things happen,” Tarou continues. “Sometimes no one does anything wrong and they still don’t work out. It doesn’t take away the fact that those two people meant something to each other.”

Osamu grabs Tarou’s wrist and pushes Tarou onto his back again, arms pinned on either side of his head.

“I don’t get what you have against Sakusa-san,” Tarou says straight to Osamu’s face. “Except that maybe you think he took away your brother. But that could’ve happened with anyone, y’know. Just like whatever happened now could happen to anyone, too.”

“Don’t talk to me about breakin’ up,” Osamu manages over the lump in his throat. 

“That’s what you heard?” Tarou sighs. Tarou pulls his hands free of Osamu’s grasp and threads his fingers through Osamu’s hair so he can pull Osamu down into the warm, solid fact of him. “You’re an idiot.”

“Takes one,” Osamu snaps. The words are muffled in Tarou’s chest, and Osamu gets a mouthful of fabric for his trouble. Then he gets pulled up into a kiss, and another one, and another, and another, until Tarou mutters something about going to sleep, each word a connection spoken straight into Osamu’s being.

🧽🧽🧽

After day thirty-three of Sumu’s forcible occupation, which Osamu suspects might violate some international treaty, Osamu wakes in the middle of the night and finds he cannot go back to sleep. When he tries to bury his face deep in Tarou’s back and forget he woke up to begin with, he gets an elbow to the head and a half-asleep curse before said body turns and, Osamu will later claim, tries to crush him out of spite and ill will. Osamu relents. Which means he gets out of bed and resigns himself to drinking a beer on the ledge of the tatami room until he feels like falling asleep. 

When he walks from the kitchen to the main part of the house, though, Sumu is already sitting on said ledge, dressed in only his briefs. He has his phone pressed to his ear and his hand to his mouth. A blunt sound breaks through the room at random intervals. Sumu must be gnawing at his nails. Osamu stops on socked feet and waits.

“Y’don’t gotta be sorry, Omi,” Sumu says in the softest voice Osamu has ever heard him muster. He immediately decides he hates the sound and everything that could ever inspire it, which, by the transitive property, includes the already hated Sakusa Kiyoomi. Osamu’s hatred therefore only intensifies. “I toldya you could call whenever, even if y’didn’t think you’d want to. Didya try using an extra blanket?”

There’s a pause filled with only crickets, after which Sumu hums and beats his heels against one of the wooden poles supporting the porch. “Yeah, it’s gettin’ hot down here, too.”

Sumu takes his hand away from his mouth and fists it at his side, the same way he used to when their granny used to walk in a room. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t get Sumu to stop gnawing at himself. Only volleyball—the sudden need to have impeccable, reliable, godsent hands—could do that. Granny didn’t mind being shown up, so long as she didn’t have to suffer the sound. Osamu thought he’d kicked the habit for good, or at least settled with picking and filing them down.

“‘Course m’not bitin’ my nails. Why would I be—” Sumu’s shoulders sag. “Yeah.”

A bitter laugh rings out. “I think Samu thinks I got fucked in the head. I guess I didn’t realize, y’know…”

Sumu’s voice warbles. He takes a shuddering, slow inhale, loud enough for Osamu to hear across the room and surely loud enough to be heard on the phone.

“Fuck you,” Sumu snaps not unkindly. “All I’m sayin’ is no one tells ya that three years is a really long time.”

Osamu remembers conversations like this on nights like these. Curse words and half-thoughts thrown from top bunk to bottom and back again. In the dark, things felt somehow more and less real. They shared crushes and dreams and disappointments, in those conversations; came out and accepted and, in their own way, loved.

“I still haven’t found a new place.” Then, “I will, I will.”

Where did Sakusa live again? Osamu can’t remember. He wonders whether Sumu moved in to the place, whether they found a new one. Can’t imagine Sakusa agreeing to live in the pigsty of a room Sumu dared call an apartment. Even without all his shit all around, the pipes leaked and the balcony door barely closed. Could this Sumu move back to a place like that?

“Yeah, yeah, you too. G’night, Omi.”

Osamu waits a moment before picking at the tab on his beer can, the sound loud enough to make Sumu turn.

“What’re you doin’ up so late,” Osamu says as casually as he can manage. He rubs at his head for effect, scratches his groin.

“I didn’t wake ya up, did I?” Sumu has the indecency to ask. Like he really fucking cares. Osamu sits down next to him, legs dangling off the side.

“Nah. I just couldn’t sleep.”

“You must be gettin’ old. What’s that like?”

“Shuddup, you trash.”

They butt shoulders, and Osamu is smug when he finds that he can still keep Sumu at bay despite nearly a decade away from volleyball. When they separate, each of them laughs. Sumu’s is more subdued than his usual childish cackle, which, Osamu once claimed, could scare a sleeping town straight into ghosts. Osamu has never before missed the sound.

“Alright, Sumu,” Osamu sighs. “What happened? Between you’n Sakusa.”

Sumu waves him off, feet still swinging off the ledge. “It’s nothin’ no one can do anythin’ about.”

“Didn’t ask whether I could do nothin’, you scrub,” Osamu snaps. “I asked what happened.”

Osamu knows this may get him the opposite of the desired reaction: Indignance and sass. Keeping Sumu calm is not in his repertoire, and Osamu can only grab blindly for tools beyond instigation and mockery. 

But then, Sumu sighs, void of his usual dramatics. “Y'know how Omi is,” he says. “A few months ago, he came down with the flu after his shot. So he went to some doctor’s appointment. Then another. An’ a third. An’ after each an’ every one, his anxiety just got worse an’ worse. He started missin’ practice. Couldn’t sleep in the same bed. An’ one day he came home an’ said that the team’d told him to take a break. That he needed to go back to Tokyo an’ be with his dad.”

“He didn’t say why?”

Sumu lies back on the porch, his hands behind his head. “He said somethin’ about some tests they did. Couldn’t really bring himself to say any more. God, that pissed me off. An’ he wouldn’t just show me the results. Y’know all thirteen steps to a guy’s grooming ritual, down to the exact way he prefers to disinfect his toenail clippers, and then he won’t fuckin’ show you some test results…

“But then he said the tests weren’t the problem and that seein’em wouldn’t fix anything, anyway. I told him I thought he was full of shit an’ scared. After that, we just started fightin’ more often, until we never really talked to each other except at practice, when he came. He wouldn’t even let me touch him anymore, at the end. Like we were back at square one. But worse.”

“So,” Osamu says, trying to put the proper words together, “you broke up?” 

“Honestly, Samu, I dunno. We’ve still been talkin’ every few days.”

This is not an answer Osamu knew he could get. Yes or no—those were the options, right? 


Illustration by Quip.

“I dunno, an’ I’m too ‘fraid to ask. An’ Omi—” Sumu laughs here. The sound is wet. “Omi won’t do it for me, y’know? But he’s there an’ I’m here an’ V.League volleyball don’t pay enough to get my ass to Tokyo every weekend. An’ once a month, well… I think it’d just make things worse. Omi, y’know...he likes...” Sumu shrugs, helpless.

Osamu offers: “Routines.”

“Yeah. Those.”

“I just dunno what to do with the day,” Sumu tries. “I went to wipe down the handle a’the basket at the store an’ I stopped halfway because I thought, ‘I don’t gotta do this anymore.’ And then I did it anyway because, if I didn’t, I think I mighta kicked something or screamed or lit myself on fire.”

Sumu’s voiced is muffled when he speaks next: “It’s like that with everything. What the hell is that all about?” 

And with as much delicacy and meaning and care as he can pack into anything he’s ever said to his asshole, no-good, shit-humored, compulsive liar of a brother, Osamu says, “I think that’s called being sad.” 

Sumu’s fist hits Osamu’s back, but there’s no momentum or malice behind it. When Osamu turns to snap at his brother, Sumu’s eyes are jammed close. 

“Ah, shit, I gotta ask.” Sumu mutters. He presses his hands to his face hard enough to make the next thought difficult to decipher. “But what do I do if he says we’re still together? This bein’ apart—”

Neither of them can escape the sound that breaks into Sumu’s words. It is, Osamu knows, a sob, small and broken. Sumu sniffs, hard enough that Osamu can hear the anger. They have only cried in front of each other after matches and brawls. After they’ve known the other had given their all. Osamu looks away. Was there anything left that Sumu could do? He wouldn’t get a clear answer.

“I never thought he needed fixin’, but I thought…” Sumu continues. “I thought it was somethin’ we could get past. Like a tough rally or a team with a nasty set of blockers or a thunderstorm you gotta wait out after practice.”

Osamu doesn’t ask what the something is, because for the first time since his brother arrived, Osamu understands that he should already know. And he should already know because he should have already asked, and not thirty-three days ago. Years ago. After the dinner that Osamu wanted to disappear from. 

“D’you want me to beat ‘im up,” Osamu asks, like the good brother he wishes he wanted to be, not the coward he knows he is. Whatever Sakusa’s deal is, Osamu couldn’t even begin to say. But here next to him is a person who has lived that deal every day. Osamu never even thought to ask what it was like for Sumu, managing someone who thought they could manage everything. Being the chaos agent in the world of someone who must think everything is a trap set out for both no one and no one but them. Being a disaster and wanting to change. 

“Omi don’t deserve that.” Sumu sits up.

“The high school you woulda thought different.”

The sponge. The toothbrush. The symmetrical flowers. They piss Osamu off. 

“I always thought we knew each other so good because we were twins,” Sumu says. “But here I am, thinkin’ that there’s someone out there in the world who may know this me better than you.” And here he looks Osamu dead in the eye. “Does that make me a traitor?”

They piss Osamu off, because what do they mean without a person to do them for? A person who feels the weight.

“‘Course it does,” Osamu mutters. “But it makes me one too.”

He jerks his thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the bedroom he has shared with Tarou for going on five years. Tarou, who actually likes the whole toothbrush-in-mouthwash situation. Tarou, who hates the way Osamu makes tamagoyaki. Tarou, with his Tokyo accent and refusal to tell Osamu how to solve his own problems.

“Wow,” Sumu laughs. “Never thought you’d actually admit it.”

“Fuck off.”

“Not even in your dreams.”

They sit in silence for a moment, looking out into the night. Osamu wonders if Sumu misses Hyogo, between all his current worries: The family dinners and bike rides to school. The way the streets around their grandparents’ farm flooded in the rain. He’s glad he has someone else who might remember the things he’s forgotten.

“Hey, Sumu,” he says after enough time has passed. “You want a beer?”

🧽🧽🧽

On day forty of Sumu’s parasitic infiltration of the Miya-Suna residence, Osamu wakes up to discover that, yet again, his toothbrush has been stuck in a glass filled with mouthwash. He doesn’t mind the waste of mouthwash, especially since learning from Sumu three days before the joys of buying in bulk, just like he doesn’t mind the not-sweet eggs that will inevitably be waiting for him in the kitchen. His day off is once again free from Sumu, but this time he knows why.

“Komori told me Sakusa-san’s back in Tokyo,” Tarou informs him at dinner.

“S’what Sumu said,” Osamu replies. “He went up there today. Komori say anythin’ else?”

Tarou gets an odd look on his face for a moment, eyes focused somewhere over Osamu’s shoulder. Osamu turns to follow his gaze into the middle distance as if that might help him understand. “He put it kind of weirdly. I’m trying to remember,” Tarou says, still looking at that invisible point. “I think he said: What people don’t get about phobias is that they never really go away. You have to remember to forget them each and every day.”

“I guess he took some psychology classes before he dropped out of college,” Tarou adds. “When’s Sumu coming back?”

And Osamu can honestly say he is not angry to answer, “Tomorrow.”