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learn how to lay me down in something other than danger, other than fury

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Sakusa Kiyoomi discovers the eighth layer of hell in an otherwise-empty lecture hall on a quiet Saturday morning.

The lecture hall itself is passable, never mind the dust on the chem table and the questionable stain a few meters away from him. The running list of facts regarding the room he is willingly spending another year of his life in are as follows: the bright wooden planks are aesthetically pleasing when set next to dark walls. There is a copious amount of breathing room. The air isn’t on the wrong side of stale. The lights aren’t too dim or too bright.

All of this, he can adjust to. What he cannot adjust to, however, is Miya Atsumu standing in the middle of the lecture hall, one hand raised to shade his eyes as he faces the far wall. Kiyoomi knows his presence has been registered as soon as the door handle turned because Miya Atsumu is the type of person who tracks even the most innocuous gesture like it’ll bite him if he looks away.

He takes a step into the room and throws them into a stalemate. Atsumu keeps his gaze on the wall steady; Kiyoomi keeps his grip on the files steady. He gets as far as reaching the desk before Atsumu spins around, a hand resting on his hip. The lighting dips the lower half of his face into shadow, but Kiyoomi has never once cared about the treachery surrounding whatever inane smile is on his mouth this time, so he makes eye contact.

“Ah, Sakusa-kun.” Atsumu bares his teeth. Kiyoomi knows Atsumu dares to call it a grin. “Are you the other TA?”

Like you haven’t read the email, Kiyoomi thinks, and watches the mimicry of a smile slip off Atsumu’s face. He realizes too late that the words had made a home in his mouth. It's a mistake he can live with, he decides in the split second before Atsumu decides what facade he wants to put on next.

“Sheesh, it’s called small talk. You act like you’ve never spoken to another person,” he drawls, looking at Kiyoomi like he’ll tear apart sheet metal. Atsumu is not a harbinger of judgment and is, in fact, a twenty-year-old sycophant on a power trip, so Kiyoomi does not care. “Whaddya say we—”

“Not interested,” Kiyoomi says, “I’m getting breakfast with Komori in an hour. I’m only here to check on the lecture hall.”

Motoya is twenty minutes away from campus, soundly asleep with no intention of waking for at least the next two hours.

“Shame.” Atsumu is no Minos, but his horribly thin smile is imposing regardless. “If I knew better, I’d say you’re avoiding me or something.”

The running list of facts regarding the man in front of him is as follows: Atsumu’s eyes, sharp and searching, are the only thing Kiyoomi can make out from his position. He is content with this much information, because getting closer to Atsumu provides the same effect as slamming his head into a wall, except worse, because the very act would incite at least five sad attempts at a joke and he does not have the patience.

He’s getting off-topic. Returning to the list:

The stack of papers on the desk that doesn’t belong to him is formidable, one gust of wind away from scattering across the floor. Kiyoomi’s hands twitch, but he does nothing about it because Atsumu’s eyes are still on him and this, too, is a challenge.

“Think whatever you want.” The coldness in his tone is unintentional but not unwelcome. “I’ll be going now.”

“Wait,” Atsumu calls, frustration evidently winning out against his desire to hold his ground. “You’re not gonna make this year hell for me or anything, right? I mean—seriously, I need this job or Samu will never shut up.”

Kiyoomi wants to point out that Atsumu has already dragged them past the gates of hell with unrelenting remorse and that he should be the one begging forgiveness, but behind the layer of irritation prickling at his skin, he can sense some level of sincerity. A minuscule amount. Normally irrelevant, but Miya Atsumu revealing this much is almost commendable, if functioning as a basic human being in society should be commended.

He settles with “Of course you bring your pride into this,” and watches Atsumu’s face twist into something ugly. A smirk pulls at Kiyoomi’s lips, which he disregards even with a mask obstructing any view of his mouth. Atsumu doesn’t get the pleasure of knowing he’s affected him in any meaningful way.

“Not just my pride,” Atsumu defends hotly. “Sure, you pissed me off last year when you kept fucking beating me during tests, but this shit—” he waves his hands around vaguely “—is important for my future. I’m thinking about that crap too, yanno.”

“What exactly are you asking from me.”

“Don’t get in my way—” Atsumu’s tone is imperious “—and I’ll stay outta yours, and maybe we can get through this semester unscathed or some shit.”

The eighth layer of hell lies in between them, in words that Kiyoomi can point at and say yes, that is deception incarnate because Miya Atsumu has never once in his life stayed out of Kiyoomi’s way if he could help it.

He shrugs, noncommittal. “I suppose we’ll have to see about that.”

.

Motoya, predictably, laughs in his face when he relays the events of the morning.

“You could at least try to get along with him,” he insists, a sky-high stack of pancakes in front of him. “The semester isn’t gonna go by any faster if you can’t stand the guy.”

Kiyoomi stares at the syrup sliding down the sides. The Tower of Babel stares back, proud and unblinking in the face of one man’s terrifying appetite. Though he is no god, the conflicting catalysts demand a choice: will Miya Atsumu be his downfall because he refuses to back down from the challenge, or because he took the challenge and lost?

The thought of losing to Atsumu is laughable, but perhaps this is the first sign of arrogance. “It’s impossible to get along with him.”

“As you’ve said so many times last year,” Motoya chimes in. “It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.”

“How.”

“You’ve been complaining about him for at least two semesters, and now you’re stuck with him for another one. It’ll just be the two of you, right? It’s like the universe is telling you to get along with him.”

If the universe is telling him to get along with Miya Atsumu, he’ll become god and demolish the Tower of Babel himself to split them apart. When the deed is done, he can pin the blame on Atsumu. No one who has been in the same airspace as him would contest Kiyoomi on this.

Aloud, he says, “That explanation is disgusting,” and takes in Motoya’s indifferent nod as he chews.

He at least has the courtesy to swallow before he responds. “Yeah, well, I don’t see this getting any better until you guys get along or someone drops the program.”

Kiyoomi knows with angry certainty that Atsumu would never voluntarily drop the program out of sheer virtue that he is still there. With equal viciousness, he cannot fault Atsumu for this, not when he sees a mirror image of his own defiance in the knife-sharp grins they both keep battle-ready.

Maybe arrogance will be his undoing. The thought is exhausting. He would rather become a god.

By the time he looks up, the tower of pancakes is gone. Motoya waits for him with a thoughtful expression. “You’re thinking about this too hard,” he says. Kiyoomi magnanimously resists the urge to strangle him. “You could work around this if you really needed to. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

He shrugs, grabbing a napkin. Kiyoomi watches syrup glisten on his index finger and humors fallen ambitions and hundreds of thousands of bacteria between him and humanity. He suppresses a shudder.

“Unless...” The corners of Motoya’s lips pull up. “You’re gonna let Miya Atsumu win?”

Kiyoomi supposes that, for the time being, arrogance is a passable way to be undone. “Don’t even think about it.”

 

 

 

The first time Kiyoomi saw Miya Atsumu, he was standing near the edge of the lecture hall, talking cheerfully to the woman on his left.

His seat happened to be on Atsumu’s right, and Kiyoomi carefully laid out his own materials as he listened to him build a city out of bricks. The bricks were made out of insignificant details like what he had for breakfast or where he bought his jacket from—superficial facts that colored the outer layers. Place enough buildings together, and the city almost looked presentable. A whole person could be visible if one squinted in the empty streets and the wide one-way windows.

Kiyoomi, by nature, gave everyone a wide berth, so he had never bothered with the details. He slipped on a mask and slammed a do not enter sign over his city, bar none. Atsumu’s city had entire skyscrapers. The shops were open for business. The walls were painted a soft periwinkle.

As Atsumu kept going, however, Kiyoomi began to notice cracks. His jokes wavered awkwardly in the air before dissipating; occasionally, he went quiet for a beat too long and the foundation shook. The girl asked him about family and periwinkle peeled from the walls as Atsumu flinched slightly. The cocky grin repaired itself before long, but the damage was done.

Kiyoomi had the feeling that, if he were to enter the city, he would see nothing inside. At most, he’d be able to make out a box on the side of the road. A very tiny box labeled do not enter, and Atsumu’s desperate attempt to be over-the-top was meaningless if he was carrying around unnamed baggage as well.

The girl lost interest when the professor walked into the room, as normal college students were known to do. As an abnormal college student, Atsumu pretended not to deflate as he pouted while pulling out his own materials. He then pretended to surreptitiously glance Kiyoomi’s way and proceeded to be horrible at being surreptitious.

It had not irritated him back then. Kiyoomi did not yet have to reinforce metal bars around his city as a fool persistently marched around, trumpet in hand like he stood in front of Jericho and not the Wall of Constantinople. Having his own brand of Greek Fire ready at a moment’s notice for a one-man intruder had not been necessary. Atsumu’s pretense was disgustingly inept, but it was harmless at the time.

It is truly a shame, then, that everything culminates in Motoya tearing through a stack of pancakes as he happily informs Kiyoomi of his inability to escape his departure to the gates of hell. Perhaps he should have fortified his walls more.

 

 

 

Atsumu is no Minos, but he sifts through Kiyoomi’s lecture notes like an unholy magistrate, eager to condemn. Kiyoomi is no god, but they are diametrically opposed regardless, and so he prepares himself for a debate.

“Sakusa-kun, are you sure we should focus on carbonyl-addition reactions this early in the unit?” The question is valid, but the smirk he has decided to wear as a facade today is not. “I’m thinking we should move it to after substitution.”

“Substitution is penciled in—” Kiyoomi squints at his paper “—approximately three days before Professor Kurosu even mentions carbonyl-addition reactions.”

“Okay, but what about carbonyl addition itself? Don’t you think the students’ll need some time to adjust before they’re thrown into what type of catalyst is on their hands?”

Kiyoomi has no desire to observe the bundle of hypocrisy that is Miya Atsumu up close, so he reads over the notes in bold print from a safe distance: carbonyl-addition reactions sits next to elimination like an accusation and his lips curl into a familiar scowl.

“You have elimination scheduled two days away from carbonyl-addition reactions.” Kiyoomi sets the papers down, careful not to brush his fingers against the edge of the desk. The dust particles do not need another invitation to slip into the cracks between him and humanity. “Fix your own errors before you touch my schedule.”

The sycophant melts away, but what’s left isn’t even remotely pleasant. “So touchy today. What, miss breakfast or something? Wake up on the wrong side of the bed? I was providing constructive criticism, you know.”

“Can you shut up, Miya.”

“Not even my first name after all this time, huh? That’s cold, Sakusa-kun. Say, I’ve been meaning to ask—”

Kiyoomi had run the calculations in his head, out of curiosity and a desperation he won’t ever publicly admit to. There are 2520 hours in a semester, and approximately a third of them will be spent with Miya Atsumu and his constant need to push and shove and flaunt like he’ll fade away if someone breathes with more conviction than him. Motoya had told him he could spend the other two-thirds regretting his decision and Kiyoomi told him to fulfill his general chemistry requirement at the cost of his life.

The next third of his semester begins to look like this: “—your name’s a mouthful. Can I shorten it?”

“No.”

“Too bad, I’m gonna do it anyway. Okay, Sakkun—nope, don’t like that. Gonna have to work with Kiyoomi, is that alright with you?”

Minos is too kind a name for the foreboding smile creeping across his face.

“Keep my name out of your mouth,” and Kiyoomi does not mean to let the anger shine through in his voice, but it spills out in dark red dots that coat the air between them, “and get back to work.”

“But this is way more interesting, Kiyoomi-kun,” Atsumu coos. Kiyoomi loses five years of his life. “Kiyo-kun? Nah, what about—Omi-kun.

Kiyoomi presses his fingers to his palms, careful not to let his frustration break skin. “Take my name out of your mouth,” he repeats, slower.

“Make me,” Atsumu throws out, because he has no sense of self-preservation, “‘cause I like the sound of Omi-kun. Makes you sound soft. Maybe even approachable.”

It occurs to Kiyoomi that he is also trying to slip into one of the cracks between him and humanity, and he would take a sledgehammer to the very notion if it did not involve breaking him apart and bearing witness to the festering pride rotting away what little of his personality remains. There is a unique, bitter brand of arrogance, but there are other unknowable, long-limbed things living in Atsumu’s head that only appear in the whisper of hesitation that graces his hands from time to time. Kiyoomi does not want to see it for himself. He does not want to invite it into his head.

“You are the last person that needs to get closer to me,” Kiyoomi tells him, and Atsumu laughs.

“So if I knock everyone else outta the way, you’ll let me in?” This is still not the sycophant talking, and that disgusts him further. “I do like a challenge, Omi-kun.”

“I am not a challenge to be won, Miya.” Kiyoomi pauses, evaluating the slight part on Atsumu’s lips. “Do not come near me.”

The smile Atsumu forces upon him is honest in a way most of his expressions are not. Kiyoomi wonders when, exactly, he strolled into the gates of hell to gain a smile like that.

“Is that a threat?” Atsumu asks, trilling the question like he’s trying to bite the edges of his syllables off. “So you do have it in you. That’s real nice.”

Kiyoomi swallows his frustration whole and brandishes a knife for his troubles, clean and sturdy. “I’m no longer indulging you. Get back to work.”

 

 

 

Atsumu continues to desecrate his name. Kiyoomi continues to wield fear like a weapon and calls it pride. They shout at each other across opposite ends of the chasm and mutually call it retribution. Kiyoomi does not know what form retribution comes in, only that Atsumu is in need of it, and that is enough justification for him.

To no one’s surprise, their first group discussion meeting is a colossal failure. Trying to summarize the course work for the week devolves into talking over each other, which devolves further into Atsumu throwing his notes on the desk in front of their students. The world narrows down to his anger. Kiyoomi seethes.

 

 

 

In the end, a catalyst comes in the form of Professor Kurosu sitting them down and telling them to get their shit together. He words it more eloquently, but the look he fixes on Kiyoomi when he sits down says squander this opportunity and you will face something worse than death in so little words.

Kiyoomi notes the distance between his chair and Atsumu’s as he eases into his seat; he notes the distinct lack of a smirk on Atsumu’s face as he stares at the wall ahead, eyes glazed in some sort of attrition, and subsequently notes the slow settling of an unknown substance behind his sternum. The substance feels sticky, reminiscent of the syrup that challenged mortality, and so Kiyoomi shuts it out.

“You both know why I’ve called you here,” Professor Kurosu says. Had Kiyoomi come here alone, Atsumu would be the asshole snickering as he was led out of the room, but Atsumu is instead the asshole two seconds away from fainting in a chair next to him. “I knew there’d be conflict when I chose both of you, but I didn’t think it’d be this much. If you can’t handle this—”

“We can!” Atsumu blurts out. Kiyoomi supposes it felt like losing to him, too. “We haven’t meshed yet, is all! It’s been like, two days, give us more time.”

“A week,” Kiyoomi corrects on instinct. Atsumu glares, hard. “Sorry,” he amends, “I would like to keep trying, too.”

A wry smile is on Professor Kurosu’s lips. Kiyoomi can’t help but feel like Jericho.

“I know you’re both playing this partnership thing by ear right now,” he says dryly, “so there’s bound to be some bumps in the road. Don’t compromise yourselves, but focus when you need to. For god’s sake, keep your distance if you really can’t handle it for the day.”

There are strings attached to his body, pulling his head up and down in a stiff rendition of a nod. Then again, Miya Atsumu is doing the same, begging forgiveness in a small office wherein no layers of dust can be seen on any surface.

Light streams in thin lines over his face, branding one frenzied eye in gold, and Kiyoomi tells himself it means nothing. You’re aligning with him, spite whispers between his frontal and temporal lobes, teeth bared in frenetic bursts of energy, and Kiyoomi tells himself it means nothing.

The notion of losing this job when he barely had the opportunity to see it through leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Any sympathy seeping into his fingertips is misplaced worry at his own fate. Any observations of Miya Atsumu and the quiet tremble at the corner of his lip are simply details he gathers for a cautionary tale.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find a compromise,” falls out of Kiyoomi’s mouth before he can contemplate the implications. Atsumu stares at him, doing the contemplating for him, and the conclusions he can see swimming in the horrid gold of his eyes are unpleasant at best.

Professor Kurosu passes back their respective notes, a satisfied shine to his eyes. “If I have to repeat myself, you’re out of the program. Finish the schedule by tomorrow. I wanna see what you come up with.”

As they leave the office, he can see Atsumu moving to shoulder check him. Instinctively, he pivots away, and is greeted by an arm hanging limply between them, the aborted action clear in his twitching fingers. Kiyoomi cannot be sure if the Muses or Atsumu himself grant him this respite, but in either case, he absently takes in the near-apologetic expression on Atsumu’s face before he draws away.

(He figures that Atsumu isn’t capable of a true apology, so he dismisses it. He once again does not care.

Spite worms itself between his shoulder blades and makes a home there as he falls into step beside Atsumu, demanding the truth. Unfortunately for spite, he has mastered the art of looking away.)

“What was that, Omi-kun?” Atsumu asks, apparently deciding it is safe to test his luck. “I mean, thanks and all, but—”

“Have you forgotten that this is my job too, Miya?”

“No, not what I meant.” Atsumu sounds stressed. “Hear me out—you sounded concerned in there. Do you really care about me after all?”

Kiyoomi bites back the snide remark on the roof of his mouth and considers the factors that could have led Atsumu to such a conclusion: he had apologized immediately (Professor Kurosu was right there, he should have known not to speak out of turn). He had defended both of them in the end (they had played into the professor’s hands and Kiyoomi knew it). He had unnecessarily chased the enigma of Atsumu’s rising panic throughout the course of the meeting (unnecessarily, and no matter how observant someone is, they cannot possibly know his thoughts).

Each justification is weak and can easily be dismissed. Atsumu is likely delusional. He opts to emphasize, “I did not sound concerned,” in the resulting silence.

“Are you sure?” Atsumu chooses now to establish his reign as spite incarnate. “Did you hear yourself in there? I could hardly believe my ears—”

Kiyoomi frowns. “Then stop listening.”

There is less poison in the laugh Atsumu barks out. “If you knew what I heard, Omi-kun, you wouldn’t be saying that.”

“Stop calling me that.”

Because Atsumu obsessively tracks every gesture, he catches the corresponding lack of poison in Kiyoomi’s voice and shoots him a jagged grin. “So the nickname was a good idea after all. You’re way more approachable now.”

“Fuck off, Miya. Send your notes to me when you’re done. I’ll add revisions before tomorrow.”

Atsumu makes an absurd deflating noise. “And here I was hoping we could work on it together. Really thought we had a breakthrough back there.”

“We were almost fired.” And Kiyoomi does not want Atsumu hovering at his back as he makes revisions. “Please just cooperate for once in your life.”

“You can’t avoid me forever, Omi-kun,” Atsumu sings in a stuffy public hallway. The distance between his hands and the (microscopic) cracks in Kiyoomi’s defense are not large enough and he presses his lips together as he shuffles a half-step away. When Atsumu notices, he drops his hands but lets his eyes narrow in recognition. Spite, now nestled next to his spine, cackles. “We’ll have a real breakthrough sometime, alright?”

Kiyoomi is not himself if he is not contrarian. “Don’t count on it.”

He refortifies his walls, just in case.

 

 

 

Miya Atsumu stumbles through first impressions like a toddler would try new food. He recklessly sticks opinions in his mouth, commits the feel of it to memory, then spits out a half-assed attempt at kindness with no regard for the final product. Yet he’ll continue to look back and see if it’s been touched because, in entry one of a long list of hypocrisies, Atsumu cares about what people think. Kiyoomi knows this process better than he should because he had to endure it three times before Atsumu finally caught on and switched tactics.

The first time he had tried this, Kiyoomi had closed his notebook and inched away. At the very least, he hadn’t been touched, though Atsumu’s sordid smile formed a bridge between them and made a perch out of Kiyoomi’s shoulder. He refused to crack, and so it refused to budge, but footsteps enduringly trailed along his spine when he looked away.

The second time, Kiyoomi had gotten an express invite into Atsumu’s city and was shoved inside without the ability to take preemptive measures. He did not want to be there, but the architecture seemed to bend over backwards for his needs, ever-evolving and oddly subservient. The skyscrapers glittered in the sunset. The walls were now a faded yellow.

Despite the horrifying attention to detail, the support beams had started to rust and tiny spider web-fractures slowly made their way to the center of the window frames. The ugly root of regret was present there, but he couldn’t see it.

He found the box pretty easily. It had been wrapped in a dirty bow, laying on its side on the edge of the sidewalk. Kiyoomi tested the weight of it in his hands, balanced the word brother in his mouth before the gate closed on him and Atsumu looked away, twirling a pen in his hand as he abruptly cut the (one-sided) conversation. His grin wobbled for the first time. Kiyoomi only noticed out of morbid fascination, and the sudden flare of anger tightened his lips before he turned away.

The root of regret unraveled itself six months later, when the soft strain around Atsumu’s eyes had eased and he could comfortably fit the syllables for Osamu into his mouth again. The buildings repaired themselves, but something about the mangled interior had felt so distinctly Atsumu.

When the first test scores of the year were posted, he had been the unlucky audience of one to the way the furious curl on Atsumu’s lips bloomed and withered like a crescendo to a silent song before he smoothed out his expression and straightened up. Kiyoomi did not want to witness this either, but he had the further misfortune of crossing paths with him as he walked away from the board.

“Sakusa-kun.” Atsumu sounded like he was drawing a sword from his throat. Kiyoomi let him. “Congrats on your score! I bet you pulled a ton of all-nighters for this one, huh?”

“Your honesty could use some work.” Kiyoomi took a wide step back. “You sound like you want to strangle me.”

The sound that bubbled out of Atsumu’s throat was watery and flat and barely counted as a chuckle, but as the first candid motion from him since the day they met, it felt unfairly significant. “You’re observant, huh? It’s all fine and dandy, no need to—”

“I was not concerned.”

“Honest, too. You impress me more and more everyday, you know that?”

Kiyoomi deliberated this. He worked his jaw for half a second and regarded the way Atsumu’s gaze shifted in perceived triumph. “What a shame I can’t say the same for you.”

Humming, Atsumu made a theatrical out of drawing himself up to his full height and settling his hands on his hips like some almighty messiah. He was (and is) fond of drawing himself up like something capable of making the heavens tremble. This was also an observation spurned by morbid fascination, nothing more. “You’re gonna take that back,” he insisted, “one day. I’ll get you to do it.”

He couldn’t explain it, but Kiyoomi looked at Atsumu and couldn’t parse apart anything remotely kind or likeable. The sensation dragged across his thoughts, merciless.

“Whatever,” Kiyoomi tossed behind him, tucking his hands into his pockets and stretching the fabric out as he walked away.

(The constant reminder of cover against bare skin was both a blessing and a curse, for the same reason of the awareness that bacteria slipped through the cracks more often than not. Tens of thousands of particles persisted past the wide berth he gave humanity. It was inevitable that he could not escape even himself.

If Atsumu could have understood and acknowledged this, then perhaps, just slightly, Kiyoomi would be impressed. But he knew better than to indulge in useless probabilities.)

 

 

 

He does not believe Atsumu for a second, but he begins to strengthen his walls in consideration of the rest of the world. Kiyoomi tells himself it isn’t an obsession and the bottle of Greek Fire (fashioned into a molotov) scoffs in his hand. At least I am alive, he protests calmly. No one answers.

 

 

 

There is no breakthrough, but animosity has decided it has been fed enough for now and tucks itself squarely by the door, sound asleep. Atsumu looks at it for a long moment before meeting Kiyoomi’s eyes in a gesture too aciculated to be careless. Prioritizing his work, Kiyoomi generously decides not to slice him in half today.

He breaks the stalemate with, “We aren’t friends, you know,” and Atsumu props his head on his left hand. A pen dangles from his right. The defenseless nature of his position cannot be an accident.

“I wonder,” Atsumu says to the air. The pen begins to spin in a wild, erratic pattern and he taps it against the desk with a twitchy sort of confidence.

Kiyoomi stops his attempt to crack the surface of the earth with three harsh raps of his own. Atsumu stares at the distance between Kiyoomi’s knuckles and his own like they’ll grant him the strength to manipulate the unpredictable nature of fortune or the secret to sympathy, neither of which he is particularly inept in. There is no trace of the facade he has so grown to hate, except maybe in the corners of Atsumu’s eyes, acute tension chasing away the lethargy.

The substance behind his sternum peeks its head out, knocks three times, tells him he’s reaching. Kiyoomi shuts it out again.

“What,” he grits out.

The pen stops in mid-air. This, he can be sure, is the doing of the Muses.

“Omi-kun,” Atsumu says seriously, “you’re not really gonna lead the group discussion meeting with that outfit, right?”

“What,” Kiyoomi repeats. It’s not an invitation for Atsumu to clarify so much as it is an opportunity to set himself on a different path before Kiyoomi’s generosity retracts itself and he slices him in half.

Atsumu gestures towards his jacket. “I mean, have you looked into a mirror recently? You could be burning people’s eyes without even knowing it. Isn’t that tragic?”

For the first time, Kiyoomi considers violating the well-kept space between himself and humanity to throttle him. He imagines the sweet, blissful silence before the breech settles in. Ultimately, spite crawls onto his shoulder and bites into the thought before he can dismiss it. Animosity waves back, stirring in elegant motions. Atsumu goes on, oblivious to the newfound guests in their vicinity.

Kiyoomi readies his knife.

.

He lays his three brightest jackets out on his bed the night before the next group discussion meeting. The bright green windbreaker in particular stands out as a candidate for his most offending piece of clothing. It has also been recently washed.

Motoya had been responsible for his ownership of the jacket, citing that he had needed diversity in his wardrobe. Kiyoomi caught the laugh on his puffed cheeks and slipped his arms inside the jacket in an increasingly-common moment of vitriol. Dispassioned eyes watched as Motoya wheezed against the doorframe, wiping away actual tears before pulling himself up and telling him he could take it off and forget about it. Unfortunately for Motoya, it also had been the most comfortable article of clothing he had put on at the time and a part of him perhaps thrives on spite. He kept it on.

Perhaps this is where human error began: the universal assumption that everyone shares the same belief. To the rest of the world, the jacket is probably an atrocity that should be burned. To Kiyoomi, it is another layer against the unknown universe. A degree of protection that casts a bright glare even onto the bacteria that clusters near him.

After giving him the jacket, Motoya had met his eyes after the first two weeks of teasing and must have discerned something past the usual apathy. “Ah,” he had said. “I’ll stop with the jacket thing.”

Kiyoomi stared.

Sighing, Motoya waved a hand in the air. Typical of him, except this conversation was not. “It means something to you, so I’ll leave it alone. I’ll probably never get it anyway. It’s like your imaginary aches, right?”

He contested the argument about his aches because the belief that his body will always be able to work how it needs to is a facade that the world had collectively decided to tell themselves. Motoya, who had heard this before, simply laughed and walked away, but Kiyoomi will realize later that, while he had brushed off his concerns many times, Motoya had never once argued against his right to hold said beliefs. He brought with him a quiet sort of acceptance embedded in all his teasing that Kiyoomi never quite knew how to accept.

Perhaps he had been wrong, then, to assume that everyone else held assumptions without questioning it. Thinking he could understand humanity when he holds them at a distance is a detestable thing of its own. He props the jacket onto a chair and attempts to trace the humble beginnings of his conceit.

He has made this mistake twice. First with Motoya, and then with—

Enter Miya Atsumu, Epicurus reincarnated. He waltzes into a room and tap dances on the ashes of a burning tomb just to say he defied death. Being his own worst critic and biggest enabler, he does not believe in fear or anguish, and the resulting assumptions that leave his mouth are never made in the interest of the rest of humanity. Atsumu doesn’t point out the jacket in a misplaced attempt at saving him from scorn, not when his eyes had been tracing angry lines on his face the whole time. The spectacle had been purely for his enjoyment.

Atsumu, too, does not go by the societal beliefs of genial courtesy because he operates like he transcends all earthly expectations. This is entirely different from Motoya’s acceptance, which sits on the mantel and beams at him every time he shoulders a door open. Atsumu’s selfishness shatters a fourteen-story high window and tears the jukebox from the wall to announce its presence. The music cuts, as a jukebox is apt to do when tossed from a fourteen-story window.

(Though Kiyoomi never had a particular fondness for Moonlight Sonata, it was pleasant to have around. If Adagietto had been interrupted, perhaps he would be more angry.)

He will be more careful in the future. Kiyoomi decides on the bright green windbreaker and carefully tucks the others away in sharp, neat folds.

 

 

 

The group discussion meeting goes well, Atsumu’s shit-eating grin notwithstanding. Kiyoomi wants to keep his job and is also sensible, so he only aims one question about the material at Atsumu as revenge. It is not enough to hold him back, but the sheer panic on his face is satisfying enough.

 

 

 

Kiyoomi takes one step outside the Wall of Constantinople.

“What’s your major?” he asks three weeks later as he puts down another set of notes.

(It is covered in red marks. Atsumu is blissfully unaware.)

“What?” The syllable knocks, two sharp raps against Kiyoomi’s door. He leaves it to suffocate outside.

In return, Atsumu blinks twice. His eyes drag over Kiyoomi’s face for a few lingering seconds before he adjusts his gaze to the bright green windbreaker. He repeats this process three times before Kiyoomi says, “Miya” with all the saintly patience of a starving lion.

“Sorry,” Atsumu supplies, unapologetic. His thumb and forefinger carelessly work the top-right corner of the paper into rumpled folds. Kiyoomi is painfully aware of what he will have to live with. “Was just making sure you’re the one speaking.”

“Answer the question.”

Atsumu does not go by the societal beliefs of genial courtesy, so he lets the silence drag before leaning forward. The urge to tell him he isn’t at a campfire and no one cares is relegated to astringent aftertaste as Kiyoomi matches him.

“Straightforward is your style, huh.” Whether his delivery is to himself or the world or the cloying ventilation of the room is yet to be determined. “Well, I'm not answering this like a damn game of twenty questions. Le processus devrait être naturel, Omi-kun.”

The process should be natural. “You're majoring in foreign language?” Observing the way Atsumu’s eyes light up, Kiyoomi takes care to tone down any accidental interest in his voice. “I didn’t expect that from you.”

Atsumu unsheathes a knife-sharp grin as he feeds animosity scraps under the table. “Nah, minoring, but you don’t know me well enough for expectations. At least take me out to dinner first.”

“French,” Kiyoomi says. “You’re minoring in French.”

“Yeah? What, you interested?” Atsumu stretches. His loosely-interlocked fingers somehow look calculating.

Kiyoomi resists the urge to roll his eyes, but gives in when it arrives a second time. “No.” He ruminates. “Why?”

“So you’re interested after—”

Why, Miya.”

Atsumu stays silent for an extra moment. “Thought it’d be interesting. And if I get outta this place, might as well prepare.”

“Ah,” Kiyoomi mutters. He keeps his single syllable concise, curt, a little pointed. They certainly do not knock on anyone’s doors.

“Aren’t you gonna ask me about anything else?”

He waits half a second before he retreats. “No.”

.

Atsumu interprets the moment of initiative as an invitation to continue to pry. Kiyoomi tells him every chance he can that he is irritating, misguided, ridiculous, or any creative combination of the three, but Atsumu also happens to be equipped with a frustrating amount of stubbornness that he regularly strengthens.

He should have seen this coming.

“You should have seen this coming,” Motoya says, sunny disposition firmly in place through the tinny speakers. “Weren’t you the one going on about how he was always so persistent? He’s been on your case for a year now.”

Kiyoomi knows he should say something. In a rare series of events, he had made the call. Motoya is on his break to properly answer because he never calls. Motoya is rightfully chewing him out for a problem he initiated.

He stays quiet.

“You know it’s your fault, right? That’s why you’re not saying anything.” Damn his cousin. “I think the best you can do is grin and bear it, since telling him to leave you alone isn’t gonna work ever again. Well—you’re super pessimistic, so I guess you don’t have to grin. You rarely smile, and I bet you don’t wanna do that around Atsumu-san.”

Despite himself, this shakes him out of his stupor. “Atsumu-san?” Kiyoomi’s mouth curdles around the unfamiliarity. “I didn’t know the two of you knew each other.”

“Careful, Kiyoomi, you almost didn’t sound bored there.” Damn his cousin. “And I don’t, not really. I hear about him from Suna-san from time to time. He complains about him almost as much as you do.”

Motoya rarely talks about his own life developments, opting instead to make fun of Kiyoomi’s with the knowledge that he is possibly the only person in the world who can get away with it, so he has to comment. “Suna-san?”

There’s a shy, almost flustered quality to the laugh Motoya lets out. “New coworker.” It carries over to his voice, falling into something formless and murky. “We have the same shifts, so I’m in charge of showing him the ropes.”

Kiyoomi observes from a distance. “I see. Good luck, then.”

“Thanks!” Motoya’s voice holds shape again. “I’ll have a heavier workload over the next couple weeks, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“You don’t sound like you mind,” Kiyoomi points out, because if Atsumu refuses to face retribution, he might as well bestow it onto the next reluctant victim. “It sounds like you—”

Motoya dances around retribution too. “Alright! It was nice talking to you, but my break’s almost over. It’s rush hour over here, so—”

“Yeah, I get it.” Between the two of them, Kiyoomi has always been better at calling his bluff. “Have fun with Suna-san, Motoya.”

He hangs up and pretends the dial tone sounds like victory.

 

 

 

Victory, if it ever existed, is short-lived. One month into the school year, in a three-act play that unfolds the morning after, Atsumu ruins his own life and drags Kiyoomi in as collateral.

.

Act one begins with Atsumu, the tragic hero (unempathetic protagonist, Kiyoomi corrects) who, as a sympathetic, picky bachelor, can’t find love (and whose fault is that? to which Atsumu scowls and replies shut it, Omi-kun, just listen). After becoming infamous for going on date after date with little success (sleazy, Kiyoomi scoffs. I’m trying my best, Atsumu hisses back, and stop interrupting me!), he ends up on a date with objectively one of the most beautiful men on campus, Akaashi Keiji.

(Wait. Kiyoomi tilts his head. How’d you get a date with Akaashi-san?

Atsumu narrows his eyes. The hell does that mean?

Akaashi-san’s nice, and you’re… Kiyoomi gestures. You.

Christ, could you let me breathe for one second? I swear, Omi-Omi, you’re always on my case.

Someone has to be, Kiyoomi says. The strained pinch around Atsumu’s eyes is almost distressingly obvious when he’s looking. They had only found a home once before, in a time where familial issues burned in the pads of Atsumu’s fingertips as he nearly tore the scoresheets from the walls. Kiyoomi resigns himself to prying.)

The date is not at all what Atsumu expected it to be. Akaashi is nice enough—smart, polite, attentive in all the right ways—and diligent enough to pick up on topics that should be skipped. He is also beautiful (before you call me shallow, it’s a fucking fact! Look at the guy!) and holds a respectable reputation. Samu would approve if Atsumu brought Akaashi home for dinner. Or forever. Hell, his mother would approve and she has never approved of anyone Atsumu's ever brought home before. She’d probably smile and wipe a tear from her eye and say, “Tsumu, look at how you’ve grown,” the way she always does to Samu whenever they both visit home. (I sense some resentment here. The corner of Atsumu’s mouth twists sharply. Shut up, Omi-kun, no you don’t.)

But there are absolutely no sparks. None. Akaashi doesn’t try to start conversation, preferring to nod and listen, and this wouldn’t be a problem if he reacted to something. Anything. Half the time, Atsumu’s making sure Akaashi’s still breathing, for god’s sake.

The last straw is Akaashi’s dry silence at Atsumu’s jokes. It feels like needles in his chest, pushing in deeper with every passing second (dramatic, and you’re insulting someone’s attempt at being kind to you. Typical. Atsumu throws an arm in the air and shouts, look me in the eye and tell me you like it when people don’t react to any of your damn jokes!

Kiyoomi wants to say I don’t, but he would be giving Atsumu more ammunition. The revelation slides down his throat like syrup).

The food is more interesting than the guy in front of him, which is tragic on several levels considering that it’s just brown bread on the plate. Fucking brown bread. Couldn’t it have been something with variety? Flavor? Noodles or sushi at least, to spare his damn pride? If Atsumu was staring at a whole row of fatty tuna, then of course he’d in fatty tuna paradise, but fucking brown bread?

Akaashi Keiji takes a bite out of his appetizer and Atsumu learns that he looks mesmerizing even when completely unenthused. Akaashi pats his mouth with a napkin and wrings his hands together and glances at the menu despite ordering already and Atsumu learns that none of these are habits that naturally come to someone actively enjoying their date. Christ, even his last date had put more effort than this, though that had ended in the loss of one of his shoes and the leftovers he was gonna trade Samu for onigiri with. Atsumu consoles himself with that (horrifically low, Kiyoomi mutters) standard as he looks Akaashi in the eye.

(Bewilderment does not begin to cover it. Who the fuck are you going out with?

Relax, Atsumu says, I’m forcing Samu and Sunarin to fact-check their criminal records next time they try to set me up.

Kiyoomi is genuinely at a loss for words.)

Atsumu makes a classy getaway to the bathroom to get emergency help and also probably yell at Samu. It goes like this:

“Sorry, Akaashi-kun.” Atsumu rubs the back of his neck in a manner that indicates he is actually apologetic. “I think I gotta go to the bathroom real quick.”

Akaashi nods once. “That’s fine.” Any syllables Atsumu could begin to form wither away even before Akaashi’s gaze shifts. (Wow, Kiyoomi sneers, I almost feel bad for you.)

Atsumu smiles sheepishly before he pushes himself away from the table and tries to walk away. His limbs flail as he nearly trips over the excess tablecloth (Wow, Kiyoomi repeats, and Atsumu swats the air near him) and he picks up his pace as soon as he reorients himself.

Atsumu overshoots the bathroom by a mile and walks outside, raising a passive hand to a worried-looking waitress as he walks by. Once outside, he mindlessly types a number he’d be hard pressed to forget. Not even for sentimental reasons, Samu would just kill him out of pure anger if he forgot his number.

“C’mon,” Atsumu mutters. Given how fast he's looking between the door and his phone, he should be getting whiplash. “Samu, pick up or I swear I’ll curse your fucking convenience store with every single god I know. I’ll shatter mirrors while thinking of that damn building. I’ll run under ladders chanting your name, you fucker.”

(Are you always this kind to your brother?

For the record, Omi-kun, I am the kinder twin.)

Samu is either blessed with the best comedic timing in the universe or cursed with the worst contextual timing in the goddamn universe, because he picks up at the tail end of that last sentence. “What the fuck?” he snaps. “There’s no way in hell Akaashi Keiji has a criminal record.”

“That isn’t the problem!”

“The hell is it then? Did you ruin another date by being a shit-faced pig?”

There is no bite in Samu’s tone. Oddly enough, that makes it worse.

Atsumu holds back from stomping his feet on the ground because he is twenty years old and a refined bachelor in a nice suit, and refined twenty-year old bachelors in nice suits do not throw tantrums outside of restaurants when their date goes sour. He does, however, allow himself to huff into the receiver. “No, I was courteous and shit, there’s just no spark.”

“Tough.” Samu snorts. “How’s that my problem?”

“You’re my emergency line, dipshit. Call me in ten—”

“Sorry, it’s rush hour over here.” You work in a convenience store, Samu, you piece of— “Gotta go. Good luck or whatever.”

(In all fairness, Kiyoomi cuts in, I’d give you the same treatment.

Aw shucks, I didn’t know you wanted to be on my emergency line.

That’s not it.

I’m touched, really. Could you have ever—

Miya, call me during a disastrous date and I will spend every day of this semester making you regret it.

Atsumu dutifully does not let his next remark leave his lips.)

That leaves him with no options and a painfully awkward date to head back into. Atsumu considers: does he really have to go back? Sure, ditching Akaashi isn’t the kindest or most mature or even a semi-decent thing to do, but he’s been a certified asshole since the time Samu told him to get out of the house and Atsumu tried to throw a textbook at his face (his aim was horribly off and he dropped it on his foot, but still). If Atsumu can get away with this last, objectively terrible act, he’ll resolve to be a better person starting tomorrow. He’ll actually clean the bathrooms when it’s his turn. He’ll get his test scores back without rubbing his superior science grades in Samu’s face (not too much, anyway). He’ll help out more with community service—

“Miya-san, are you still looking for the bathroom?” Akaashi, apparently having gained the ability to teleport, asks next to him. “If you couldn’t find it, I’m sure an employee could direct you.”

Atsumu has no idea what expression he’s wearing other than the fear of god and Akaashi Keiji is very much present on every inch of his face.“Oh, uh,” he starts weakly, “I just needed a breather, you know? Restaurant’s nice, but—”

“It’s fine,” Akaashi says to the sky and possibly Miya Atsumu. “I know you didn’t feel anything.”

Now this is just awkward and sad. Atsumu kind of wishes they were back to staring at the brown bread. He could go back to thinking of fatty tuna paradise, Akaashi could go back to thinking about not-him. A win-win for both of them.

“Sorry it didn’t work out,” he means to say, except it comes out, “Sorry, but I’m kinda interested in someone else.”

Wait, what the fuck.

(Are you fucking—

I panicked! Okay! I know it was stupid!

That’s a kind way of putting it.

Atsumu outright pouts. You think I haven’t beaten myself over the head about it enough times?)

Akaashi seems to have the same thought, because his head yanks up like he’s being controlled by a puppeteer. “Oh, I understand,” he says, instead of any justified outrage, “Do I know this person?”

(I don’t know, Miya, does he?

Way to kick me when I’m down, huh.)

Well, shit. Does he backtrack while he still can and save himself some future embarrassment at the cost of some dignity, or does he go all in on a lie that could very easily backfire on him? He doesn’t even know who he’d pretend to have a crush on. Akaashi could remember that he lied and carry it into some college reunion party like some horror story. He can see it now: they’re all forty-five and Akaashi Keiji offers his head up for the funeral pyre with the same blank stare he’s worn for most of their date and also probably most of his life. Because Akaashi’s the campus legend and everyone’s forty-five, he’ll be the talk of the fucking town for god knows how long. It could be years later and someone will call and say, “My, my, Atsumu, that must have been embarrassing,” badly-disguised condescending tone notwithstanding while he’s trying to make some noodles. Samu would never stop laughing at him. Please, god, just let him have some peace.

“Uh, I don’t know.” Atsumu’s brain is bad at gambling and has also ostensibly decided it does not want peace. “Maybe, I’m not sure who—”

(Kiyoomi grits his teeth. Why did you lie.

I— Atsumu’s mouth clicks shut. Yeah, no, I can’t defend that.)

Akaashi folds his hands together like he’s decoded a puzzle. Atsumu would like to know the answer. “I understand. Is it Sakusa-san?”

(What the fuck?

I have no goddamn clue where that came from either! Don’t shoot the messenger, Omi-kun, you wouldn’t do that, right? Atsumu’s arms are crossed in front of him in a, frankly, embarrassing way to deflect. It would be laughable if Kiyoomi didn’t want to deck him.)

Atsumu would like to unhear the answer immediately. “What?” he means to say, except it comes out as a surprised cough that turns into five surprised coughs that turns into him doubled over, gasping in breaths as Akaashi lays a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

As the concrete in front of him swims in and out of his vision, it occurs to him that Akaashi will assume that this is his grand reaction to the reveal of his and Sakusa’s scandalous secret relationship. Great. So he still managed to lose some dignity in this mess.

(Atsumu looks him in the eye. Don’t say it.

But you make it so easy. It’s the only easy thing about Atsumu, in fact. I think I’ve earned it after this shitshow.

Oh, he chuckles, and Kiyoomi digs his nails into his own walls to swallow down the dread. It gets worse.)

When Atsumu manages to straighten up, he tries again. “What?”

“I apologize if I’m out of line, but I see the two of you around whenever I pass by the building.” Akaashi has the sense to sound bashful about the whole affair. Atsumu can’t help but bemoan the fact that he’s more enthused about this than he had been about any part of their date. “You seem like you’ve grown closer. And I didn’t want to say no to this date because I wanted to get to know you better, but I couldn’t get over my presumption that you were interested in each other. I suppose it affected my behavior tonight. I’m sorry.”

(Possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life, Kiyoomi mutters flatly. We’re just coworkers. I don’t even like you.

Obviously, we’re just coworkers. Like you haven’t made that abundantly clear. Because Atsumu is a child, he sticks his tongue out and unilaterally declares himself the winner.)

Normally, Atsumu would make some sort of scathing remark, declare the whole thing over and done with, and start his post-date ritual of moping with some ice cream and an extra onigiri. Wheezing-and-a-little-delirious Atsumu is still reeling at the fact that someone thinks that him and Sakusa are together. Dating. Like Sakusa would ever want to step closer than five meters to him. Like Sakusa would ever lay a hand on him and wait for him after class and look at him with that stupid smile that sometimes curves his eyes and makes him look real soft when he’s on his phone and thinks Atsumu’s not paying attention (he conveniently leaves out this last part when retelling this).

Atsumu will never truly know peace again. “I think you’re getting the wrong picture,” he tries.

“So it’s undefined,” Akaashi smoothly cuts in. Atsumu wants to scream, refined twenty-year old bachelor in a nice suit and all. “I see. I wish you the best of luck in defining it, if that’s what you so wish.”

“Akaashi-san, wait—”

Akaashi is already walking away. “I won’t let anything slip, rest assured.” The smile he aims at Atsumu is objectively dazzling, and he once again bemoans the circumstances in which he sees it.

.

Kiyoomi interrupts with, “I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this,” and watches Atsumu slump over into his seat further without falling off. He entertains the thought of pushing him, but he is not reckless by nature and he refuses to let Atsumu be the leading cause of breaking yet another one of his rules.

(In a surprising turn of events, it also seems that he has a heart, and it jolts in guilt when he thinks of Atsumu flailing around as he slams into the ground. It is a shame that his morals chose now to step in, because that would have brought him some much-needed respite.)

“Oh, trust me, Omi-kun,” Atsumu draws out, “you’re gonna understand real soon.”

.

Act two takes them back to several days before the retelling (the day after the date). Kiyoomi remembers this.

“Hello, Miya-san, Sakusa-san,” Akaashi says as he lets himself in. The half-hearted echoes of his quiet knocks resonate through the room. Kiyoomi respectfully looks up. Atsumu, who has decided to be a responsible TA for the first time in the observable universe, continues to scrawl out a lesson plan.

Atsumu has been undergoing a meltdown at the speed of molasses since he entered the room. Kiyoomi’s noticed, because unfortunately, one doesn’t spend a decent amount of time around Miya Atsumu without allowing his habits to stick like glue. Not engaging is the most efficient way of ensuring that Atsumu gets over it, so Kiyoomi indulges in his hobby of Not Caring About Miya Atsumu and gets back to work.

“Good morning,” Kiyoomi greets. “Do you need anything?”

“Nothing much.” Akaashi sifts through his folder. “Though I was hoping I could see your professor’s schedule for the upcoming charity event.”

Akaashi could probably have asked Professor Kurosu directly, but Akaashi is a decent person with decent grades and a decent reputation, so Kiyoomi does not directly question him. He also does not have the schedule, because Atsumu had insisted on taking it home with the poor reasoning of you hate crowds, you won’t even be there. To which Kiyoomi had said yes, but I still have to look over the schedule and Atsumu had replied with an eloquent I don’t like your tone, Omi-kun, you don’t get to see it. How do you feel now?

(Not any different, but Kiyoomi could see the beginnings of a tantrum pooling at Atsumu’s feet, so he rolled his eyes and went back to work.)

Atsumu’s shoulders are raised in a way that indicates he has decided to make the day difficult for everyone. Kiyoomi almost wants to tell Akaashi to go to Professor Kurosu, but Akaashi is already here, so he sucks it up as the responsible person at the table.

“Miya, I know you’re listening. Give me the schedule so I can look over it.”

“You don’t gotta.” His shoulders loosen but the look on his face mirrors the ongoing meltdown. “Already did. It looks fine.”

“We almost got fired because we couldn’t work as a unit,” Kiyoomi reminds him. He decides to forget that he has probably said this at least five times last week. “Let me see the schedule.”

“You don’t gotta!” Atsumu throws the schedule in his direction. The papers somehow stay in the right order as they slide to a stop in front of him. Kiyoomi has been thanking the Muses more and more lately. “I don’t mess everything up, yanno.”

Kiyoomi nods once. “Right. Only most things.”

“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting something—” Akaashi’s voice is more jarring than it should be “—but is the schedule finalized?”

He aims a secretive sort of smile in Atsumu’s direction. The effect is unsettling, mainly because the expression seems almost too sacred to grace Atsumu’s presence. He delivers it with a sincerity a smile of that caliber would typically not come with. Akaashi is many things, and strange has always been one of them. Kiyoomi narrows his eyes.

Equally unsettling is Atsumu’s response: he crumples like the tiny paper balls he shoots at the wastebasket to throw off Kiyoomi’s focus on a bad day. Something lingers on his face before he dons a tight smile, long enough for Kiyoomi to recognize what it is.

Helplessness. Akaashi, or something he holds, is hollowing out the same hole behind Atsumu’s sternum. Kiyoomi, better than most, knows the slow suffocation of hands and arms and legs against the universe. He is no stranger to the miasma in his head, the sickly tone of red alarms that spread into everything he touches, everything that touches him. Kiyoomi wears a jacket and a mask and bars his city to avoid this. He has been working against this for possibly his whole life.

Perhaps his discovery of a heart begins here, upon further inspection. Atsumu does not look nearly as overwhelmed, but the process starts slow. Even if it only gathers under his fingernails, it begins to create discord. Kiyoomi knows this. He knows this too well.

He hands over the schedule, deliberately raising it to eye level. “Here. Email me for any details, since I’m sure Miya has no idea what’s going on.”

“Excuse me,” Atsumu protests. Kiyoomi looks at him and, for once, sees something he doesn’t quite hate. Atsumu must register this because he falls silent.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Atsumu mutters later, folding the edges of his notes. “It’s not serious or anything.”

“You’re not acting like yourself.” Kiyoomi thinks back to the morning in its entirety. The meltdown takes a new light, unfurling in the silence and establishing itself as a force to be reconciled. “Something happened yesterday.”

“You’re so quick to jump to conclusions, Omi-kun. You ever think that one day, you’ll be wrong?”

The assumption that he is wrong lingers in every aspect of his life, and he prepares accordingly. Kiyoomi takes care to keep it hidden away, but sometimes it manifests like this.

“I don’t think I’m right all the time,” he says instead. “Just when it comes to you. I question your decision-making.”

“That was almost nice,” Atsumu grouses. He tucks his head into the crook of his arm and somehow makes it look like defiance. “Thought we were having a moment.”

“Stop deflecting.”

“Stop calling me out, sheesh. Nothing happened last night. This morning, though.”

“This morning?” Kiyoomi prompts.

Atsumu waves a hand around. “You looked at me like I was panicking. I wasn’t—” he gives Kiyoomi a calculated look “—but you handled it like you cared.”

The word choice would ring hollow with anyone else, but Kiyoomi considers the slow crumpling of Atsumu’s soul under Akaashi Keiji and whatever secret he holds over him. The swell of solidarity in his own actions, the gaze edging close to empathy when he had looked at him.

So Kiyoomi had misconstrued Atsumu’s discomfort as panic. Perhaps half of that had been projection. The other half, he cannot ignore.

“I don’t,” he tries, and immediately understands Atsumu’s complicated relationship with speaking coherent sentences. “I don’t turn away from someone who might be panicking, Miya.”

There is a vulnerability he can’t erase and Kiyoomi prepares himself for any level of mockery, but the expression Atsumu wears is unreadable. “Thanks, Omi-kun,” he says.

Kiyoomi stays silent.

The honesty is foreign. But it is not unwelcome. Kiyoomi does not begin to linger on this.

.

Akaashi Keiji comes at a frequency that warrants suspicion. He carries a different excuse every other day (or the same excuse dyed in a different color, depending on how you looked at it). He gives the same look in varying degrees of subtlety to Atsumu, who takes it with his usual stride. Kiyoomi politely looks away from the warzone.

One day, Akaashi says, “It’s nice to see the two of you get along,” and he’s given a piece of the puzzle.

.

Act three begins immediately after the retelling. It starts when Kiyoomi says, “There’s something you’re not telling me.”

He thinks he knows, but the absurdity still drives him to say something. Atsumu had looked unsettled that day. Atsumu is looking at him like he wants to say something but does not want to die.

“No,” Kiyoomi corrects, “what are you going to ask me to do?”

“Observant,” Atsumu mutters. Something dangerously close to clarity tries to creep in between Kiyoomi’s jacket and the clipped beats of his heart. “I’m gonna have to ask you a favor.”

“What is it.”

“I can’t tell Akaashi-san the truth without losing face. I literally can’t. Can you help me fool him, just until the end of the semester?”

“This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Kiyoomi says. It is one of the kinder things on his mind. Atsumu should be grateful.

Atsumu is not exactly grateful, but he has enough survival instincts not to look offended. “It’s the best I could come up with! He’ll stop comin’ in here every day since I—if we’re together.”

“Since you what,” he snaps.

“Omi-kun, you didn’t hear that.” Atsumu nods, far too proud of himself for someone who has gotten away with jack shit. “We just—”

Kiyoomi is ready to smack him out of the room. “Don’t bullshit me. What did you say?”

“Okay. Promise you won’t kill me?”

“What did you say.”

Atsumu is looking at him like he will probably die. “You’re not gonna like this.”

He looks apologetic. Atsumu, who—in a stellar example of professionalism on their second day—had thrown his notes all over the floor and refused to pick them up for thirty whole minutes, looks apologetic. Atsumu, who had stopped working on the class list they needed to assemble by tomorrow because Kiyoomi hadn’t laughed at a stupid joke, looks apologetic. Atsumu, who regularly walks backward into the fifth layer of hell while waving a firecracker in the air just to ask those fighting on the surface if they’d like a try, looks apologetic.

“I, uh, may have already told Akaashi we were together.”

.

Atsumu’s explanation, delivered in rapid-fire speech: “Listen, Akaashi-san would not stop bugging me about it! Every time we talk, he always gives me this look. And he’s never gonna let it up, yanno how he is! He’s like, quiet but scarily persistent, like in a horror game, he’d be the monster that’s at your back when you turn around for one second. You know what I’m talking about, right, Omi-kun? And one day, I just slipped and told him we were together so he’d get off my damn case. I dunno how it even came up in conversation, I swear, but I can’t admit to lying now, I’m too deep in the rabbit hole.”

Kiyoomi’s response, delivered with a reasonable amount of homicidal intent: “Is your pride seriously more important?”

“I’m just saying, I’ll be a walking circus tent if this gets out. This is about my wellbeing!”

Kiyoomi tries to take this in, but all he ends up with is the sickening feeling of blood in his mouth. Imaginary or not, he can’t stand the fallacy. “So it’s about your pride.”

“Okay, fine, it’s about my pride and wellbeing! C’mon, Omi-kun, aren’t we friends?”

That sentence is an abnormality. This entire conversation is an abnormality. The “No” that fits solidly in his mouth feels like the last slice of normalcy in the room.

But Atsumu doesn’t let up. “I swear you don’t gotta do anything. I can do all the romantic shit, since you probably don’t have a single romantic bone in your body—”

“You’re incredibly bad at this.”

“—hypothetically!” Atsumu continues to be horrible at being surreptitious. Blasphemy would be fitting, but Kiyoomi is not willing to spit at his feet. “I’m sure you’re great in the real thing. And besides, don’t you want someone to practice with?”

Kiyoomi has never met anyone like Atsumu. The revelation is fitting. It is also a pressure point at his throat while the perpetrator asks him out with all the subtlety of a megaphone taped to the ceiling.

“In what universe would I ever practice with you?”

“Omi-kun. Think about it, would you? It wouldn’t be that much effort on your part, just pretend to put up with me—”

“That’s entirely too much effort already.”

“—and I’ll pretend to put up with you and we’ll be golden.”

Kiyoomi does his own rendition of cracking the surface of the earth. “Why do you care so much? Just say you changed your mind and have feelings for someone else. Or say we broke up. Wouldn’t that be easier?”

“The hell? Who breaks up in two weeks?” This has to be a joke. They are college students. “And you know how bad that would make me look?”

“You’re known for turning people down. You already look bad, just say we broke up.”

“No need to point it out, Omi-kun! And that’s such a lousy excuse, he’ll look at me with such pity whenever I pass him if we break up that fast.”

Kiyoomi takes out his knife and cuts his sympathy in half. “And why does that matter?”

“Because I have pride!” There it is. Atsumu looks at him with the grace of a child that cannot figure out how a Rube Goldberg machine works. “Listen, just gimme until the end of the semester, and then we can break up.”

“Why are you so insistent on keeping it up for that long?”

“By then, finals will be around the corner and we’ll be old news! It’s the perfect time to plan a quiet breakup. Or a dramatic one, if you really want.”

Atsumu has a death wish.

.

After the tenth string of “Omi-Omi”s on the third day, Kiyoomi decides to become collateral in exchange for half a second of peace. The implication that he has a death wish as well does not escape him.

(Introspection lingers in the hollows of two a.m. and dangles its legs over the edge of his desk when he finishes his last assignment. He’s unsettled to find that he no longer treats this as an abnormality, between spite resting under his feet and animosity curled up on Atsumu’s shoulder like demented pets. He throws this fact with the other abnormalities he’s had to make room for: most people’s cities are open, Kiyoomi’s are closed indefinitely, and Miya Atsumu will not stop trying to break in.

Hasn’t he already? Introspection wields a searing grin. You said yes. Are you afraid he’ll break something in that city of yours?

To which he does not reply.)

 

 

 

It is clear Atsumu has given no thought to this when he mindlessly reaches over to Kiyoomi’s side and earns a hefty stack of papers slamming onto his hand mid-movement. He refuses to be the only one saddled with the responsibility.

“We need to establish boundaries,” Kiyoomi announces when they (including Atsumu, for once) have finished their work.

Atsumu sheepishly rubs his hand as they finish packing up. “Yeah, I don’t need to get mauled again, Omi-kun.” Kiyoomi hopes he got a paper cut. Several, if he dares to believe in a higher being. “But yeah, sorry about earlier. Got too excited, won’t happen again.”

“Of course,” Kiyoomi says as he stands. He truly can’t help it, so he adds, “Because you’re so known for keeping your secrets.”

“It really wouldn’t hurt you to trust me just a little bit more,” Atsumu mutters offhandedly as he reaches the door first and holds it open.

Atsumu is wrong. Trust implies allowing someone to settle into his carefully-built spaces, and Kiyoomi has dedicated too much of his life to these spires to loosen his grip. Motoya is perhaps the only exception, but he was in Kiyoomi’s life before he had a chance to establish these air bubbles. It leads to the calls. The occupied mantel.

“Boundaries, Miya,” he opts to repeat. “Just hurry it up. Where are we discussing this?”

Atsumu stops in his tracks. The door almost slams on his fingers, and he jumps away with a yelp. Kiyoomi watches it play out in mild fascination, but Atsumu’s fingers are not jammed and the universe is laughing at him instead.

“What’re your thoughts on boba?” Atsumu asks.

Kiyoomi wordlessly raises an empty cup. Three hours ago, it had been filled with black oolong tea and lychee. He had not been shy about drinking it in front of Atsumu, who had many choice words about the ‘no food, drinks are allowed’ policy Kiyoomi had established.

“Ah,” Atsumu says intelligently. “Well, I know a place.”

.

He once again takes him to the entrance of hell.

The running list of facts regarding the boba shop Atsumu had dragged him into are as follows: the pastel aesthetics of the shop are an old friend. He has long-since grown used to the tiny light bulbs lining the ceiling, threatening to strain his eyes every time he orders. None of the employees so much as blink when he makes a beeline to the table furthest from the counter and carefully slides out a packet of wipes. His knees continue to knock into the low tables when he sinks into a seat. One employee in particular is not at the front counter, and dread drains out of his still-damp fingertips.

Kiyoomi would not know how to explain anything to him right now.

Atsumu, who should never have been part of the list, stares at the wipes hanging limply from Kiyoomi’s hands with an eerie sort of intensity. The telltale question arrives after Kiyoomi finishes sanitizing the table. “You alright, Omi-kun? Your movements are kinda stiff.”

“I’m fine, Miya.”

“Wow, could you try to sound any less convincing?” Damn Miya Atsumu and his ability to register anything that could come back to bite him. “Did you piss someone off in the thirty seconds I was lookin’ away?”

“Just go order.”

“Putting me to work already, huh?” Atsumu winks. It’s charitable to describe Kiyoomi’s reaction as disgusted. “Aw, don’t pull that face, Omi-kun. What do you want?”

Atsumu sets a menu in front of him, already opened to the first page. Kiyoomi scans the pamphlet, but he already knows exactly what to order to fuck with him. “Lavender milk tea.” Kiyoomi pauses. “Add extra boba.”

“Flowery.” Atsumu flicks the pamphlet shut. His eyes are narrowed as he picks it up.

This, too, is a competition. Kiyoomi keeps his eyes trained on the pout Atsumu’s doing a bad job at covering up. He waits for the inevitable.

But it doesn’t come. Atsumu wordlessly walks to the front without a snide remark left to fill his space, and Kiyoomi adds a footnote to the corner of his mind that Miya Atsumu has unfortunately taken over. Can be quiet sometimes he adds in bold red ink, and tells himself it means nothing.

“You look like you’re deep in thought,” Atsumu sneers when he gets back. “Did you miss me?”

“You wish. Let’s get this over with so I can go home.”

Atsumu threads his fingers together, looking every bit the picture of the responsible college student he isn’t. “Aw, Omi—”

“Miya.” Kiyoomi takes out a handkerchief. The light pink border gives him some sense of relief, but he has never voiced that out loud and probably never will. He is not sure why the thought comes up around Atsumu: his current defenses are strong enough and Atsumu is not examining him yet. “Don’t start.”

Atsumu leans hard on his right elbow. Kiyoomi opens his mouth to complain about the asymmetry when he takes in Atsumu’s general disposition: his shoulders are slumped over, his mouth is lax, his left pointer finger is tapping the table in a manner that holds no intention or spite. Atsumu isn’t even looking at him. In quiet bursts, it occurs to him that this is an Atsumu who isn’t holding himself like a weapon against the world. He adds this to his footnote, too.

“I guess I’ll indulge you just this once.” Atsumu raises his head. “Where do we start, Omi-kun?”

“Indulge me? This is for your benefit too,” Kiyoomi mutters. “And you tell me. This is your idea, after all.”

“Touchy.” Atsumu scoffs. Then his finger stops moving in midair. Kiyoomi is not sure who he’s trying to sell his facade of brilliance to. “Your touch thing!”

“Yes,” Kiyoomi says blandly. “The ‘touch thing’ has existed before today.”

Straightening up, Atsumu throws his phone in Kiyoomi’s direction. “You smartass, that’s not what I meant. Start scrolling—and I sanitized the screen, knock off the damn scowl!”

The phone had slid to a stop centimeters away from the end of the table. Kiyoomi looks at the screen, adorned with a few cracks. He is not heartless enough to assume that Atsumu didn’t keep his word, but each crack contains god-knows-what that human reach cannot get to. If Kiyoomi lets up for even one second, he will forever be reminded of the fact that what is in his power to fix is merely in humanity’s perspective. He does not touch the screen.

MYSOPHOBIA: THE FEAR OF GERMS greets him in all caps. Charming.

“Congratulations for learning a new word,” Kiyoomi says. The discomfort festers underneath his fingernails, and he looks at his hands for two quiet seconds. He had cut his nails three days ago. If he’s careful, he could get away with cutting them again tonight.

Atsumu’s corresponding gaze to Kiyoomi’s fingers is not subtle. He sighs. “Nah, I was hoping you could read it and tell me if anything was inaccurate. I don’t know anything and we can’t sell this if I don’t get it.”

The world stills. Atsumu and his unflappable mask freeze into place. Kiyoomi stares at the space the words occupy and can’t quite believe it, but Atsumu is here and he is still talking and the implication that he researched beforehand and is double checking so he doesn’t hurt Kiyoomi is—

“Order twenty-six!” the front counter calls.

No, Kiyoomi reasons, he’s making the first move. This is a competition—everything is a competition with Atsumu. He is simply doing research so his dirty scheme can run as smoothly as possible. That is all. Do not read into this. Do not think about this more than necessary.

Atsumu casts one last, lingering glance at the phone. “I’ll scroll for you if you want, just lemme know.”

“It’s fine,” Kiyoomi probably says. His mind is not reeling at the implications. It is not laughing against his teeth.

He turns to the article and reads defining lines of something for which he has built castles and torn down regret. It is accurate and the tone just barely avoids demeaning. His wall is decisively closed, but he looks outside and finds the frighteningly unfamiliar form of concern outside his door. It knocks quietly, like it knows it shouldn’t be there.

Kiyoomi doesn’t let it in, but he contemplates the crease around Atsumu’s eyes. He sits beside the gate and finds that he isn’t repulsed, which is strange. The syrup that refuses to leave doesn’t provide an answering knock, but he knows it is stirring.

When Atsumu arrives at the table, he sets a bundle of napkins next to Kiyoomi’s drink. “Don’t worry, the napkins I held your drink with are in my pockets.” He raises his chin towards his phone. “So?”

Lying is an easy monster to feed but Kiyoomi looks outside the wall and hesitates. “I didn’t read it,” he admits. “There’s cracks on your screen protector.”

“Told you I could scroll for you,” Atsumu grumbles, setting down his drink. He gets up and drags his chair over to the other side of the table, unprompted. Kiyoomi should probably be more alarmed, but the distance separating his chair and Atsumu’s does not make him want to immediately evacuate. He looks again at the space between his fingernails before checking his surroundings.

Atsumu hisses when his knees knock into the table, and something close to sympathy gurgles in the silence. The only other patrons in the shop are staring in their direction, so Kiyoomi stares back until their gazes flick towards him and they hastily look away.

“You don’t have to do this,” Kiyoomi says, taking out a wipe. Atsumu doesn’t blink as he begins sanitizing the cup. “I can read it on my own time.”

“Yeah, but I'm impatient.” Atsumu leans a little closer, holding the screen close to Kiyoomi’s nose. “This is the most important point, you know.”

“Pull the screen back, I’m going cross-eyed.” The cup is clean. Kiyoomi gingerly picks up a napkin and lets his hand settle over the lid. Atsumu does so, and the ease in which he complies is striking. “Are you gonna be like this all the time?”

“Like what?”

“So agreeable.” Kiyoomi takes a sip as he nods, and Atsumu scrolls down the page. “It’s strange, but I could adjust.”

Atsumu laughs. It grates against the pleasantry of the pastel color scheme, and Kiyoomi winces.

“You wish, Omi-kun. The personality’s stuck with the face, you know.”

“I don’t even want the face.”

He turns back to the screen as Atsumu takes a breath, presumably to defend the virtue of his perceived attractiveness. The site is reputable, and experts have weighed in. Miya Atsumu is babbling about his looks and the annoyance Kiyoomi would normally feel is not lying in wait for once.

“This is fine,” Kiyoomi says. “Nothing is incorrect. I suppose you can find good sources if you try, Miya.”

“I messed up on one set of annotations and now it’s all doubt with you, huh. What’s specific to you, though?”

The closest anyone has ever gotten to him were study sessions where Motoya would lean over to grab a textbook Kiyoomi had tactfully set aside. The smell of detergent always had the tinge of danger to it, but the buzzing in his chest retreated when Motoya did. He considered it a victory. He still does.

“Don’t touch me. This distance is fine. I could handle it if you get a little closer, but don’t.”

“Like that wasn’t obvious. So nothing specific?”

The urge to respond the way he usually would is temporarily retreating and it is deeply unsettling. Kiyoomi offers a justification to animosity and wills it to wake up.

It does not. “Nothing specific,” he confirms. He does not know what compels him to add, “I’ll initiate physical contact if I feel up to it,” but he wants to strangle the words as soon as they leave his mouth.

Atsumu looks like he wants to swallow them himself. For once, Kiyoomi can’t blame him. He can hardly remember the way they felt in his own mouth. “Really?” he blurts before digging a hand through his hair. “I mean, yeah, sure, Omi-kun, that’s fine.”

The silence isn’t uncomfortable, per say, but Kiyoomi would rather be anywhere else than facing the brunt of Atsumu’s naked surprise. He is uncomfortably aware of the condensation creeping up the pads of his fingertips and adjusts his grip, but there is no way to adjust Atsumu’s unrelenting stare. Though if there was a way to adjust it, the man in front of him would not be Miya Atsumu. So Kiyoomi seals his fate and clears his throat.

Atsumu takes the hint. “Moving on,” he crows, taking a sip from his drink and managing to make the action look like it should be put on a pedestal. Kiyoomi’s fingers are itching again, but for a different reason. “We can’t tell anyone about our little arrangement, got it?”

Kiyoomi agrees, mostly on the grounds that if Motoya finds out, he will have no reservations on privately shaming him for at least the next three years.

As for Atsumu, the haunted look in his eyes when his twin’s name comes up (in a drawn-out tale of all his failed escapades) is a warped sort of reverence that only a bone-deep weariness can generate. He says Osamu like he is his personal Minos. Kiyoomi does not ask.

Once that conversation is closed, Atsumu grandly places his phone down. Kiyoomi wants to tell him that his self-importance could start wars, but he comes to the conclusion that Motoya would also hold that thought over him for three years if he let that leave his mouth.

“Alright, now we need a good cover story.” Atsumu’s bared teeth begin to resemble a grin if Kiyoomi squints. “You got any good ideas?”

“Once again,” Kiyoomi enunciates slowly, “this is your idea. You come up with it.”

“Oh.” Atsumu casually juggles danger with one hand. “You’re fine with letting me control every single aspect of how we got together? All of it? You’re fine with giving me that power, Omi-kun? I’ve always been in the mood for being wooed outside a restaurant in the moonlight—”

“I get it, I’ll help. Just shut up.”

.

Eventually, this is what they come up with, should anyone ask:

Study sessions had played a major role. Atsumu would not stop asking over the summer and Kiyoomi gave in out of a desire to get him to shut up. Since he volunteered to spend time with Atsumu, he ends up acquainting himself with the harsh lines of Atsumu’s scowl when he gets a problem wrong and the way he fries his rice for breakfast. Kiyoomi supposedly finds this attractive. He supposedly finds this so attractive, he agrees to a date.

“There’s no way I’d do this,” he interrupts. “Can’t I just say I have no idea why I’m dating you?”

Atsumu weakly clenches a fist. “I… absolutely fucking despise that your statement makes sense, you asshole.”

.

Revised, this is what they come up with, should anyone ask:

Kiyoomi and Atsumu have no idea why they’re in this accursed relationship. They are not taking questions at this time.

.

“No,” Kiyoomi says immediately. “I don’t go to school events. You know this, Miya.”

“It’ll look weird if I go alone, Omi-kun.” Atsumu has a point, but Atsumu has many points that Kiyoomi wants to shove back into his trachea. “Besides, these things are few and far between. We can skip the annual campfire next month if you want, but we should go to some workshops, and the internship fair, and…”

Kiyoomi has learned that an Atsumu who doesn’t talk is more of an immediate threat than an Atsumu who does. “And?”

“Winter formal’s at the end of the semester.”

Over-familiar pop songs and sweaty college students make the decision for him. This is the type of environment Kiyoomi has boxed in red ink and scrawled warning signs along the borders for.

“No.” For emphasis, he puts his drink down and makes eye contact. “You’re demanding too much of me.”

Atsumu sets down his own drink. “Okay,” he says. Just like that. Kiyoomi stares at the boba sitting sadly at the bottom with a healthy amount of skepticism. “Don’t you like paintings or something?”

“Paintings and photography,” Kiyoomi corrects. “Why is this relevant?”

The grin Atsumu flashes at him promises opportunities, but so does fool’s gold under similar lighting. Kiyoomi tempers his expectations.

“I’m friends with the student council co-presidents and the secretary of the photography club. They could probably get us a discount to any exhibitions happening this semester.”

This is one particular point that can stay out of Atsumu’s trachea. “With no strings attached?”

The grin starts to rust. “I’d have to do some extra work for them, but theoretically, yeah.”

“Do you even like art?” He’s not sure why he asks because Atsumu is notoriously impatient and has only ever laughed at the contemporary art Kiyoomi has pulled up to study during their breaks. This is from his footnotes, fact-checked and loaded with primary sources.

Atsumu shrugs. “Eh, not really. But you might as well get something out of this, right?”

His footnotes also dictate that Atsumu is selfish and self-centered. Kiyoomi double-checks his primary sources for this. He triple-checks. A fourth check is redundant, but he still has to hold himself back from doing so. The addendum of Atsumu is self-centered, but considers the people around him sometimes sits in fresh maroon ink, and it does not look real.

Maybe his footnotes will need much revising. The thought feels like an oncoming headache.

“Maybe I’ll start getting the point of art too,” Atsumu finishes desperately. It sounds like an excuse. It feels like an excuse. It tastes like an excuse against the excessive probing of Kiyoomi’s taste buds.

“That’s unexpectedly kind of you,” he eventually says. “I never would have expected it.”

“Aw, aren’t I this charming all the time?” Atsumu blinks innocently at him. It gives Kiyoomi the same impression as all his teeth-bared smiles.

“You’re insufferable.”

“If that’s what the world thinks, whatever. But you’re my boyfriend, Omi-kun. I should be more charitable for you.”

The words feel like a long-limbed hand slowly punching into his solar plexus. Kiyoomi does not remember inviting it in, but perhaps Atsumu passed out party envelopes like candy in the gloam of his quietest hours. He would certainly feel like he was at liberty to.

“Charitable,” Kiyoomi repeats. “Right.”

Atsumu snorts. He tries to hide it by brushing the back of his hand against his mouth, but it just draws Kiyoomi’s attention to the lingering distortion in the air.

“Don’t shoot a gift horse in the foot, you know,” Atsumu chirps.

“That’s not even right. I despise you more and more everyday.”

And yet Kiyoomi ends up agreeing to go to select school events, caveat of backing out whenever he pleases withstanding. Atsumu grants said caveat with little more than a hand wave. He isn’t allowed to read into this, either.

.

Atsumu’s grin is sharp and horribly unpleasant and he insists that Kiyoomi smiles, which is unfortunate on several levels. “Lean in, Omi-Omi!” he adds, which makes no sense because they are close enough. A part of him wants to bare his teeth in response, but he battles the urge.

Atsumu’s hand is on the back of his seat, languidly settled like it knows its place. Kiyoomi’s own hands are curled in his pockets, and nowhere feels appropriate to place them. He hates the juxtaposition greatly.

“At least smile for the camera, c’mon,” Atsumu continues. “Just one picture.”

“Why can’t you post without the picture?” Kiyoomi shoves his hands further down his pockets. “People can read.”

“Oh, you know social media etiquette now, Omi-Omi? How many times a year do you post?”

Kiyoomi closes his mouth. “Fine. One picture.”

He tries to get away with a blank expression, but Atsumu’s grin gets wider when he turns to him. “Your eyes are still visible,” he says. “Your forehead’s all creased too. Wonder what could have caused that?”

“Miya.”

“I’m just saying, smile a little.” Atsumu’s thumb hovers over the button. “Nothing’ll get you when your mouth’s under that mask all the damn time. At least pretend you like being here.”

Objectively, he does. The lights do not grate on his skin, the aroma is soothing against his rugged nerves, the employees are tolerable at worst and nice acquaintances at best. Miya Atsumu and his obnoxious resolution is mirrored in the tension running along Kiyoomi’s whole body, so he can give him this.

His mouth stretches into some semblance of a smile. The odd thought that he hasn’t seen himself grin in years rolls into his hand as Atsumu takes the picture. It digs in between his fingertips and carves a spot out of nothing.

Kiyoomi almost asks Atsumu for a nail filer.

After messing with the picture a little (for aesthetics, god, Omi-Omi, I really gotta show you what you’re missing out on) Atsumu pulls the picture up. His eyes have gone soft in whatever filter he applied, honey-gold rather than the sharp amber he usually aims Kiyoomi’s way. A tiny peace sign is visible by Kiyoomi’s shoulder. Kiyoomi himself is an acceptable distance from anger, so his usual placid expression in turn appears to be curved into something resembling peace.

The serenity in the photo is anomalous. The honey gold probably has something to do with it. Despite popular belief (and Motoya’s various gag gifts), Kiyoomi has always liked gold, and he can extend his appreciation where it’s due, no matter the source. Unfortunately.

“Hurry up and post it,” Kiyoomi says, running his fingers over the seams of his pockets. “And don’t embarrass me with the caption.”

“Don’t you mean embarrass us, since we’re—”

“Get on with it.”

.

Atsumu’s caption: when you get both the guy and the boba, but the boba is sweeter (一。一;;)

The first comment, generously from Osamu: Atsumu what the fuck. Get home now.

Kiyoomi threatens to throw his phone out the window if he doesn’t change it. Atsumu laughs in his face and tells him jack shit will be changed if he breaks his phone. And besides, he wouldn’t throw it hard enough to break the glass of this beloved establishment, could he?

He places an extra bar over his city and shouts over the wall, but Atsumu holds up a peace sign from the other end and jeers until the sun sets. Kiyoomi has no qualms about leaving him in the dark, but he almost dreads what lies in wait for him when he wakes up.

 

 

 

(It isn’t part of the contract, but Kiyoomi figured people would expect him to use his boyfriend’s first name.

Boyfriend. God.

Two in the morning finds him under sallow lighting, staring into a mirror as he sounds out a name. It comes out of his mouth—as a litany or an exorcism, he isn’t sure. He never really gets used to the way the syllables sit on his teeth without the promise of venom.

He looks at his recently-cut fingernails. Examines them until the sickly yellow stops creeping into the safe space he’s curved out in dividing lines for himself. Curls his toes into fuzzy carpet—that, truly, is only there out of spite—and breathes until he re-establishes the hole for himself.

Miya Atsumu’s given name lives somewhere in between. Not in his personal bubble—never in his personal bubble—but close enough to ghost his fingers alongside the edge. He does not. But he still practices the syllables.)

 

 

 

News about their relationship spread fast the morning after Atsumu had posted, mainly because of his confusingly high follower count and status of being a picky asshole. Most of his comments had echoed varying degrees of shock, to Kiyoomi’s endless enjoyment. His old high school classmates had genuinely been in denial, which promptly sent Atsumu to the void.

“None of them believe it,” Atsumu mumbles into the desk. His hands are nowhere near the scratch paper they used this morning, so at least Kiyoomi has that. “Not even Kita-san, and there was evidence and everything.”

“Evidence that can be faked,” Kiyoomi provides. Atsumu reaches for the scratch paper. “Okay,” he backtracks, “maybe they can be swayed in the upcoming months.”

“You really think so, Omi-Omi?”

No. “Yeah, sure.”

Atsumu raises himself up to his elbows. His hands are pressed together, curled into fists. “I’m glad you have faith in me.”

No. “Start working, Miya. Just because the world thinks we’re together doesn’t mean I’ll let you slack off.”

Atsumu tilts his head in the silence and barks out a laugh. It dances away in the echoes and leaves him defenseless. “Don’t worry. If I wanted easy, I wouldn’t have asked you to help.”

Kiyoomi’s hand pauses. He watches Atsumu slowly unfurl his hand and attempt to snatch victory from the air. “You wanted convenient.”

He stops mid-motion. “Obviously, since Akaashi-san mentioned you. Why, did you want something else out of this?” Atsumu leers. At least, he tries to, but it comes off as a weird grimace. Something is holding his smugness back, and Kiyoomi is curious, but not curious enough. “Interesting, Omi-kun.”

Today is not a good day. “Nice to know you’re still full of shit,” Kiyoomi snaps. He throws away the food meant for animosity, now lying in his lap. With it, he almost throws his pen straight across the room. “Finish up so I can leave.”

“Wait.” Subdued is a strange emotion to hear from Atsumu’s voice, but it crawls out and hangs in the air between them, observing curiously. “I didn’t mean to push.”

The nerve of him, truly. “At least make this arrangement bearable, Miya.”

Atsumu grabs a pen. To Kiyoomi’s eternal dismay, it’s his. “I’ll make it up to ya,” he says proudly. The pen once again spins in his hand like the world will stop if it does. Kiyoomi once again thinks about pulling out his wipes. “I’ll get you anything from the vending machine outside, the one with the good stuff. That’s a real bargain, yanno.”

“Wow, thrilling. Next, you’ll tell me I have the pleasure of your company too?”

“How’d you know?” Atsumu marvels.

.

At least it isn’t the gates of hell this time. It’s just far more ridiculous.

“You’re missing out, Omi-kun!” Atsumu repeats as he crouches to grab whatever just dropped into the dispenser. Kiyoomi hadn’t been able to see it because after Atsumu had punched in the number, he threw himself over the glass like a hysterical koala. “Try it just once, I swear it’ll change your life!”

The reassurance is anything but. Kiyoomi gestures to Atsumu’s arm, just barely out of the light. “What exactly are you holding?”

“That’s part of the surprise,” Atsumu asserts. “Surprises are what makes this fun, live a little!”

Even in the low lighting, Kiyoomi can make out the self-satisfaction on Atsumu’s face. “I don’t like surprises.”

“Just try this one thing.” Atsumu fearlessly holds a can in front of Kiyoomi’s face. He is blocking most of the light from the vending machine in active self-sabotage. “Swear I’ll leave you alone if you just try this.”

Kiyoomi takes two steps back this time. “I thought we were here to get food for you. I don’t want vending machine food.”

The light from the vending machine curves into all of Atsumu’s darkest lines, outlining him into some sort of fallen angel. The Tower of Babel was not supposed to fall like this, Kiyoomi laments. This is another surprise he does not welcome.

Atsumu shrugs, but this, too, looks reluctant. “The can’s still hot. If I sanitize it, will you drink it?”

It’s still from the vending machine, Kiyoomi doesn’t say. It’s still from the vending machine, which guarantees that other hands have touched the can and the dispenser and the air around it. Kiyoomi is meticulous—all these lifetimes have not passed him by for him to be careless—so he can’t help but think of these things. He must think of these things. It’s a rule he’s had underlined and bookmarked for years upon years.

“I can’t drink it,” Kiyoomi interrupts. “You should know that. I tried—”

He recognizes the exact moment Atsumu recalls the rule because he pulls back. It is unrefined and jerky and would be the antithesis of this particular facade if Atsumu cared, but he’s leaning against the vending machine in earnest and cracking open the can like the world has slotted itself out of place.

“Miso soup,” Atsumu says quickly. “It’s hot. Don’t you think it’s cool that they’re in vending machines now?”

In earnest. The shaky grin hanging on for dear life is in earnest. “You’re bad at deflecting,” Kiyoomi tells him, “and it’s fine. I have dinner at home.”

Painstakingly-prepared after thirty minutes of debating whether to bother with a bento box or not. Kiyoomi had opted out, and now he is here. Perhaps he regrets it a little bit, but he will have to ask an Atsumu that isn’t holding back the light about the expression on his face to get a more honest answer.

“Shame, though,” Atsumu concedes. He tilts his head a little, and neon blue bursts onto the ridge of Kiyoomi’s nose. “Would have liked to treat you.”

There’s no jeer in the spider web-fractures in Atsumu’s eyes. There is no right way to respond to this and yet, it isn’t a trap. Kiyoomi rolls his stiffening shoulders in protest and tries to settle into himself.

“You really don’t have to. I’ll bring my bento box next time.”

“So there’ll be a next time?” Atsumu unpeels himself from the vending machine and takes three steps towards Kiyoomi. Three steps away. He grins, but Kiyoomi ignores his invitation for a tango. “That’s nice.”

The candid flare that accompanies his words would sound ugly in anyone else’s mouth. Kiyoomi hates that he wonders if it will be the first or only time he’ll hear it.

 

 

 

There comes a time where Kiyoomi must reach into himself and process the regret to move on. Motoya tells him often that his outward indifference is terrifying, but it’s simply not worth the energy. Being amicable enough to hold his last stronghold close is enough. Few things possess the ability to draw out his care, or lack of it.

One of these things is Miya Atsumu, carelessly. In his car, disastrously. It is not quite his last stronghold, but Kiyoomi marvels at his own audacity.

“Can I—” Atsumu gestures to the radio right as Kiyoomi pulls out a disk. “Oh. Whaddya usually listen to, Omi-kun?”

Kiyoomi turns the volume up. “If you shut up, you’ll know.” When Atsumu protests this, he turns the volume up higher.

It is a sort of spiritual experience to bear witness to a confused Miya Atsumu as classical music blares from his speakers. His mouth uselessly flaps around for a bit before he sinks into his seat and stares out the window.

.

(Here is the context Kiyoomi keeps hidden: he had been the one to suggest using his car. Atsumu’s expression when the vending machine was out of order threaded a persistent, angry string through his wingspan and draped a cape over his shoulders. It is dyed yellow and he can’t shake it off. It brushes against his calves in reminder. It tells him to care.

Kiyoomi argues that every second he spends with Atsumu gives him more reasons not to give a shit about his well-being, but the string tightens and it compels him to tell the truth.

He looks at Atsumu and the rotting insides of his desolation. Atsumu, his knees on the cold, hard dirt, his palms pressed against the glass. This is who he is. Kiyoomi knows who he has to live with.

He takes him off-campus for food and in the process, he reaches into himself and leaves the door open. A centimeter of light cuts across Atsumu’s cheek, and he looks away.

This is only happening once, Kiyoomi insists. Yet again, no one answers.)

.

“Is this…” Atsumu’s mouth flaps around some more. It looks like dog ears on a windy day, except Kiyoomi doesn’t despise dogs so the simile doesn’t work. “How’d you know where this was?”

“Komori told me about this place once.” Kiyoomi shuts off the radio. October dies a staticky death from the swirls of its crescendo. “You were bitching about the vending machine on campus, so I took you to another one. Big deal.”

Atsumu’s lip curls as his arm darts toward the door handle. “And here I thought you had my best interests at heart. You almost had me wooed, Omi-kun.”

“Like I want that.”

(But here is the context Kiyoomi tried to catapult out of the window earlier: Motoya had mentioned the existence of a vending machine store in Tokyo but never gave him the directions. He hadn’t even properly confirmed if it was there.

Here is the fact that lies in all of its reprehensible glory on the floor of the driver’s seat: there are closer vending machines. Less annoyance. Less trouble. But he takes him here.)

“You say that now, but—Omi-kun.”

“What.”

“There’s soy milk here.” Atsumu’s wonder expands, forming a pocket universe of him and the beloved soy milk and an unbothered Kiyoomi, watching fluorescent lights oscillate on the ground next to their feet. “My favorite brand, too. Did you know?”

Kiyoomi notes his role in the pocket universe. He steps into the skin of an unattached designated driver well. “Of course not. Why would I know that?”

Though the skin does not quite fit him. Atsumu impatiently shoves crumpled yen into the vending machine and the truth rattles underneath his bones. Gently. Like coarse sandpaper.

“Right, right, I just thought the coincidence was kinda weird,” Atsumu says, aiming for casual and missing. His lopsided smirk meets Kiyoomi’s hidden frown and tugs on the corner with a bold twitch of its pinkie.

What a strange pocket universe, Kiyoomi thinks, to watch this unfold. He turns back to the writhing shadows and looks for relief.

“Take it or leave it, Miya.” But he will take it and keep taking, Kiyoomi. Try again. “And hurry it up. I have classwork due.”

“Really, Omi-kun? I didn’t know.” Atsumu snickers. His straw flashes, deadly in his mouth. “We should take a picture first.”

“Why?”

“To prove that we’re together! Samu won’t stop giving me shit.”

“Funny, because that isn’t in my job description.”

Atsumu hisses quietly. The straw resurfaces in the most disturbing kind of invitation. “Would you just do it.”

.

The soy milk is the star of his post, lined up in the center perfectly as Atsumu shoots a wink at the camera. Kiyoomi is off to the side, his usual exasperation present in the dead curves of his eyelids.

“What if we did one of those posts where someone kisses the other person on the cheek?” Atsumu asks, slumped forward in his seat. He smiles when he looks up, swallowing Kiyoomi’s disgust (teeth and all), and his laughter curls into the open air in gold sparks.

Kiyoomi pulls out his bento box and starts peeling the fabric away. It is not all that special, yet Atsumu hovers over his shoulder and tracks the fabric or his hands, he hasn’t determined yet. “I’m convinced you want to die.”

Atsumu watches the last of the sparks disperse with a lethargic wave. “Nah. There’s a fine line between ‘reckless’ and ‘has a death wish.’”

“You seem to be crossing that line pretty consistently.”

Atsumu props an elbow on the table. “Maybe it’s just fun messing with you, Omi-kun.”

Kiyoomi says, “And if you could stop that,” before he pulls off his mask, but only one of those actions is honest.

“I don’t think I will.” Atsumu decorates the words with a smile. It is as sincere as all the others he has seen, except the assessment feels off and he can’t place why. “Besides, you’re stuck with me for now.”

This is a shitty pocket universe.

.

Atsumu’s caption, tragically: evening runs for soy milk with him (*^◇^)_旦

Kiyoomi likes the post, as per their arrangement, and debates whether he should throw Atsumu from the car or not. Instead, he watches the dial on the speedometer rise until Atsumu tells him to slow the fuck down, Omi-kun, are you trying to kill us? Funny, that question, coming from him.

.

“Hey, Omi-kun,” Atsumu says when the car finally rolls to a stop, “wanna walk me to my apartment?”

Kiyoomi turns down the radio. “You ask me these questions like I’ll ever give you a different answer.”

Pushing the car door open, Atsumu grins and pops the pocket dimension. The residue lands on the passenger seat and Kiyoomi once again laments the extra work he’ll have to do.

“Here.” Atsumu holds a hand out. Kiyoomi stares at the fear in his palm, watches it quiver as the hand stills. “I’ll clean my seat if you walk me to my apartment.”

He looks at the hand, the wipes, the seat. The lesser of two evils makes itself obvious. “Sure.”

Atsumu takes care to limit the amount of times his fingertips brush any surface area of the car. Kiyoomi adds this to his notes, carefully. In the midst, a question builds from the residue Atsumu’s almost done scraping away: does he despise Atsumu?

Does he?

It disappears as Atsumu straightens, the used wipe dangling from his hands. “I’ll find a trash can,” he adds as he awkwardly cups it in the center of his palms like an offering. “Shame I can’t ask you to hold my hand now, huh?”

“I seriously don’t understand why you keep saying these things when my answer won’t change.” But Kiyoomi’s response is shaded in muted yellow. “I’ll go with you.”

And it is uneventful. Atsumu runs his mouth and Kiyoomi counts the lines on the sidewalk and the moonlight illuminates their distance in comforting rays. If Atsumu swerves into his space, he leans away a second later without dropping his cadence. His voice blends into the night sky the same way unknown voices filter through his window at ungodly hours of the night. Kiyoomi accepts all of this with some level of resignation, and it is uneventful.

He learns that Atsumu lives on the second floor and that he and Osamu were cheated on their view from the window because the view over the nearby field is prettier than the parking lot, who even gives a shit about the cars, hey, Omi-kun, are you listening?

He is. Kiyoomi tells him so. Atsumu laughs and laughs and it once again unfurls into the moonlight, shimmering in honey-colored bursts. He then flicks the wipe into a nearby trash can with irritating accuracy and cracks the illusion.

When they reach the building, Atsumu gives a cheeky wave and Kiyoomi does not stay to listen to the door click shut behind him. The walk back feels longer somehow, and the moonlight draws the question out of him this time. Avoiding the answer feels like cheating, but Kiyoomi gets away with it for all of ten seconds until it glues itself to his back and tugs on the string. The truth writhes and lays itself over his ribs and Kiyoomi sighs.

He will readjust his notes in the morning.

 

 

 

“Be a little more impressed, I’m going through with my promise! I got them for a discount, too.”

Kiyoomi wonders if his retribution comes in the form of Miya Atsumu dangling tickets to the upcoming art show between his eyes.

“There will be people we both know there,” Kiyoomi observes, taking a seat. No one else is around, and Atsumu shifts forward eagerly. Too eagerly. He tries to lock himself away but Atsumu holds the door open with the usual disgustingly confident smile. “And stop grinning like that, it’s obnoxious.”

Atsumu rolls his eyes. “I’m really swooning over here. But c’mon, Omi-Omi, you know you wanna go. I’ll even pretend I like your fashion sense for one night. Or better yet, I’ll dress up. Sounds like a good deal, huh?”

He slides an elbow over to Kiyoomi’s side, but he does not see it as a threat, not anymore. Atsumu nudges and pushes with all the usual greed, but it’s coated in an opaque layer of understanding. When it settled, he does not know, but it takes some of Atsumu’s turbulent nature and smooths out its creases.

“I don’t need your validation,” Kiyoomi says, “I never have and I never will.”

“But there’s nothing wrong with someone saying you look good. Besides, you’re going with me. As my boyfriend, you should dress the part, Omi-kun.” Atsumu eyes the door. Spite and animosity have been gone for a while now, but he sometimes looks around like they’ll tug on his ear again. He searches for them with such intensity, Kiyoomi wonders if he swallowed them. He himself had been tempted, once.

“When have you ever looked good?” But the words topple out with little fanfare and Kiyoomi—no, he is not going to sit here and contemplate the extent of Miya Atsumu’s attractiveness. The thought shouldn’t even exist in the first place. He takes a knife to the string of consciousness but it spits out an article and a filter-induced peace and a pocket dimension he has not yet managed to scrub out of the car or his fingertips.

So Miya Atsumu can be attractive under specific circumstances. Kiyoomi chooses to believe his knife is blunt. He will purge the thought later.

“Don’t lie, Omi-Omi, it’s not a good look on you.” Atsumu grins and Kiyoomi catches a glimpse of the haughty chaos behind his teeth. He idly wonders what it would be like to tear it apart with gloves. “Maybe you need a change in perspective.”

“And where the hell would I get that?” He already knows.

Atsumu holds up a ticket between his middle and index fingers. It droops over like a wilting flower. The sound of footsteps grows more frequent outside, and Kiyoomi knows this is the moment he seals his fate.

“Why don’t you come with me and find out?”

.

He goes with him and finds out.

Atsumu objectively looks decent in a suit. It doesn’t quite look tailor-made, but they are college students. Some of the outfits other people are donning make him want to rip off the price tags just so he can be appropriately horrified.

Anyone can look decent in a suit. This, he can accept.

Atsumu doesn’t do the same. “Wow,” he lets out when Kiyoomi falls in step next to him. “You actually dressed up.”

“The theme was formal,” Kiyoomi snaps, “and stop sounding so surprised.”

“You wear the same two shitty jackets each time, of course I’m gonna be surprised.” Atsumu pulls out their tickets. He thrusts one in Kiyoomi’s direction and shrugs when he shakes his head. “I’m not sure why you enjoy these things, but whatever makes you happy, right?”

“Your ability to make everything that comes out of your mouth sound repulsive is marvelous,” Kiyoomi says.

Atsumu snorts. He reaches the front door first and pulls it open with a practiced ease they haven’t rehearsed. The subtlety that settles over Atsumu’s consideration is strange in that it’s not subtle at all: Kiyoomi can’t help but notice the nerves that jump through Atsumu’s spine whenever he gets too close or holds eye contact for too long. Something is beginning to burrow itself in each of Kiyoomi’s limbs and he does not want to know this. It stays like an imprint on every one of Atsumu’s smiles and he does not want to know this.

“So you think something about me is marvelous.” And here is the space where Kiyoomi wills whatever had just taken shape to wilt. This is who you’re acknowledging, he begs, Miya Atsumu and his selective auditory attention. “I’m honored. You owe me three hundred yen, by the way.” And Atsumu dusts the floor by their feet with a crooked grin.

Kiyoomi nods and is greeted by a hallway when he walks in. The linoleum floor clicks against his shoes and the walls aren’t close enough to feel like they’re reaching out, so he deems it an acceptable space. Under the stark light, he can make out a desk, a money box, two half-empty drinks, and two people, heads close together in some sort of discussion. His shoes obnoxiously click again and they both look up.

Atsumu is still holding the door open. He braves this alone.

The first man to lock eyes with him says, “Oh, hello!” and the set of his lips is warm. “If you’re here for the exhibit, it’s straight ahead.”

“Drop off your ticket here if you pre-ordered.” The second man doesn’t smile, but the acknowledging tilt of his head holds equal weight. “Otherwise, it’s five hundred and sixty yen at the door.”

Kiyoomi would be hard-pressed to forget student council co-presidents Ojiro Aran and Kita Shinsuke, but he figured he would leave a better first impression than letting the silence trail on as he stares at his empty hand.

“My—” he frowns. Should he say boyfriend? The suggestion catapults itself out of his head as soon as it exists “—partner has the tickets, so I’ll just wait here.”

“No worries, take your time.” Ojiro reaches for one of the drinks. His other arm rests just outside of view, but the edges of his fingertips appear at the end of Kita’s chair. “We won’t kick you out or anything.”

“Unless you try to steal from us,” Kita adds. “We have good security.”

Ojiro laughs and brings the straw to his mouth. “Hey, don’t scare off the guest, he just got here!” He turns back to Kiyoomi and the fond resignation lingers. “We’re not gonna call security on you.”

When Kita turns his head slightly, Ojiro nudges the drink in his direction and he shakes his head. The gesture reminds him so strikingly of Atsumu that Kiyoomi’s head twists away on instinct.

“We might.” Kiyoomi isn’t sure when he moved, but Kita’s head is resting on Ojiro’s shoulder as his hand cups the rim of the other drink. How Kita can look so threatening in such a casual position, he will likely never know. “We have to lay down the basics before we do anything else. I don’t condone stealing.”

“Kita,” and the way Ojiro drags it out sounds impossibly enamored, “there’s logical and then there’s paranoid, and you’re kinda scaring me here.”

“I was proving a point.” Kita initiates eye contact. The stoniness in his expression is disorienting. Sitting next to Ojiro, whose posture is completely at ease, this is even more jarring. It fits them, somehow. “But welcome. I hope you like the exhibit.”

“You should have started with that!” Ojiro shakes his head. Gently, so he doesn’t bump into Kita’s head. The level of care flashes its teeth at Kiyoomi and it burns.

“Omi-kun, I got the tickets right—” Atsumu rounds the corner and snaps his mouth shut almost instantly. “Kita-san, Aran-kun, you’re running the ticket stand tonight?”

Kita raises his head. Ojiro accordingly straightens up. “We volunteered,” Kita says, then gestures to Kiyoomi. “So this is your boyfriend, right? From the social media posts.”

“You sound like a grandpa,” Ojiro slides in. He nods at Atsumu. “But this is the guy, huh? I’ve been wanting to meet him!”

Atsumu comes to a stop next to Kiyoomi, and it is the most disheveled he has ever looked. The mask is knocked crooked by surprise and tangible worry creeps into the air bubbles. The tickets underneath his elbow rock side to side slowly, waving like a white flag.

Defending Atsumu is not and should never be in Kiyoomi’s job description, but this is pathetic to witness and he is also not a quitter. “Hello, Kita-san, Ojiro-san. My name is Sakusa Kiyoomi. Yes, I’m the boyfriend from the social media posts.”

“Damn right he is,” Atsumu chimes in, having tap-danced back into his facade. “Never really got around to introducing you to everyone, you know.”

“I think you’re just lazy. We all go to the same college.” At Atsumu’s offended scoff, Kiyoomi tilts his head back. This is territory he can tread on with relative confidence. "Improve your work ethic before you start parading me around to all your friends.”

Kita’s mouth pulls into a grin. “I was wondering what type of person you would go for, Atsumu,” he announces flatly. “I approve.”

“If someone keeps you in line for me, so do I.” Ojiro glances over and freezes. “Calm down with that look in your eyes,” he mutters, and only then does Kiyoomi notice the calculating wonder in Kita’s gaze. He prides himself on catching Atsumu’s mannerisms to be able to appropriately react, so this repeated slip-up is unnerving.

“I was just making sure for myself.” Kita curls a hand around the fingertips drumming along his shoulder. “It never hurts to be meticulous about these matters.”

“Yeah, well anyways,” Atsumu says fast, holding out the tickets, “here’re the tickets. Omi-kun and I are gonna go ahead.”

Ojiro smiles good-naturedly, exasperation resting in his gaze like an old friend. “It was nice to meet you, Sakusa! Enjoy the exhibit.”

Kita raises a hand in recognition.

Kiyoomi’s shoes click in the imposed silence and Atsumu offers a clenched fist forward. Something momentous sits in this moment, but Kiyoomi does not want to waste time determining if it props up its feet on Kiyoomi’s newfound perception as the boyfriend or Atsumu’s stilted reluctance or the sudden, strange realization that Ojiro and Kita are a warped mirror of Atsumu scrolling through an article for his mysophobia and deeming it a rule to settle his boundaries.

But he does not waste time.

.

Atsumu walks like he has gotten away with incurring the wrath of god. In some ways, he has, but this particular offense is automatically tied to Kiyoomi by collateral, so he has no choice to be curious.

At least, that’s what he tells himself. “Miya, why are you so nervous?” he asks as they step into the main hall. High ceilings and faint chatter and blissful meters of space coalesce into an outline of chaotic restlessness, and Kiyoomi doesn’t look away.

After thirty whole seconds, Kiyoomi tries again.

“Miya—”

“I didn’t think I’d have to lie to Kita-san.” The hushed whisper coats his tone in harsh lines. “Thought the student council wasn’t helping out tonight. Should’ve known they’d have volunteered to help, since they’re model students and all.”

Kiyoomi looks at the bubble of respect Atsumu has dug out from the deepest chambers of his heart. Studies the way it trembles under each passing worry. He could prod it if he wanted, but that is a moot point.

“Interesting,” is all he offers.

Atsumu shoves the bubble back into his mouth, rocks on his heels, and turns to Kiyoomi with an absent-minded sort of wonder. “He believed us, though.” He frowns, presses his hands against his cheeks. It’s like watching someone resurface when Atsumu closes his eyes for a long moment, opens them, and aims an over-familiar smile Kiyoomi’s way. “Wait, he believed us.”

“Are you just realizing this now?” Kiyoomi can see the victorious shine in Atsumu’s eyes and bites back a curse. His words were too half-hearted.

“Aw, Omi-kun, you were worried too, huh? Don’t worry, I won’t tell.” Atsumu makes a show out of stretching himself up to his full height. “Let’s go look around!”

He waves at the space next to Kiyoomi’s arm encouragingly and walks off. The discount’s value is questionable.

.

“This one just looks like a ton of lines, Omi-kun.”

The discount’s value has gone down exponentially with every passing minute. “Miya, if I hear you say that one more time, I will throw you out myself.”

Atsumu hums, turning so sharply the tail of his jacket billows out behind him. His smile is pulled smugly over his teeth and he fixes a cuff link to be extra pretentious. “How’re you gonna do that?”

The evidence had practically unfurled at his feet. “You seemed like you were scared of Kita-san earlier,” Kiyoomi says loosely.

Atsumu stills. “Wait, Omi-kun, you can’t just say that.” He inches closer, eyes Kiyoomi’s cold expression, and backs up. “There’s no need to bring Kita-san into this, we’re all grown adults, right?”

Kiyoomi looks at him and the desperation the lights don’t catch. They are still in the eighth layer of hell and the bridge has collapsed in front of him, and Atsumu sounds like he’s hanging off the edge. Who does that make him in the narrative, to sound so vulnerable? Kiyoomi has the power to let him go.

“Okay,” he says. “Let me look at the art in peace.”

“Peace,” Atsumu echoes like he’s committing the word to memory.

The discovery that he had a heart continues to mock him at every turn. Kiyoomi sighs. Metaphorically pulls him from the edge with a reasonable amount of regret. “Just stop, please. Let’s go.”

.

Atsumu stays silent, but he does not stay still. He fidgets with perfectly-adjusted cufflinks and tries to loosen his collar on three separate occasions. Kiyoomi catches a flash of collarbone the second time and immediately throws the thought away.

A feeling settles at the edge of his esophagus and blooms into harmonious being with every passing action. It seems to feed off of Atsumu’s anguish, except the roots fall to his chest and expand into painful, digging siphons that say the same things: the article, the laugh lines in the moonlight, the footnotes. Kiyoomi takes no joy in this. He looks at Atsumu’s defeat writhing through his mask in twitchy lines and one of the roots crawls into the space behind his sternum and gets glued there.

Sympathy is vicious and unrelenting in conjunction with guilt. Kiyoomi takes his words and shapes them into a ball and lobs them at Atsumu’s head in an effort to pass the retribution to someone else.

He says, “I’m not mad,” and observes the way the roots wither away—except for the one that lays, now-dormant, behind his sternum. Its nutrients come from something else, but he isn’t sure what, so he can’t kill it.

The change is immediate in that Atsumu lets go of his collar and unfortunately fills the room with his presence again. “Aw, were you worried about me, Omi-kun?” Atsumu’s eyes curve with his lips this time. “Don’t worry, I knew you weren’t.”

But he means thank you. Atsumu looks up at the ceiling and breathes in slowly, deliberately, his gaze unfocused but clear. He is made up of these contradictions and they begin to unravel in Kiyoomi’s arms, whether he wants them to or not. And Atsumu’s smile dips into shy and he means thank you.

He turns away.

“Well,” Kiyoomi murmurs, “I’m going to the next room.”

.

Atsumu is still, but he is not silent. He hums a rhythm that switches every few seconds as they wander. The skipping cadence makes its way through Kiyoomi’s ear every so often and settles into place next to the clicks of his shoes and the occasional adjustment Kiyoomi makes to his jacket.

Standing in front of one particular painting, Atsumu says, “Interested?” with a startling lack of malice. Kiyoomi nods without looking away.

“I won’t bore you with the observations,” Kiyoomi says absently.

“Wait!” The shout pierces through the relatively empty room. The three people lingering awkwardly shuffle around. One has the audacity to clear their throat. Kiyoomi stomps his foot, the click like a shotgun, and they turn away sharply. Atsumu stares, lips parted, at the spectacle and quietly reaches for another cufflink. “Sorry, I just—damnit, you don’t have to move on if you’re interested.”

“What?” Kiyoomi tears his eyes away from the painting this time. Atsumu looks away, eyes conspicuously directed at the metallic circular rings decorating the ceiling at odd intervals. After all this time, he still hasn’t learned any subtlety, but that is not the point.

Atsumu huffs, throwing an arm to the painting in strangely confrontational honesty. “You’re—there’re some paintings you stare at, and you look way more interested, and it’s so clear you want to stay! Just—stay, for god’s sake. This is your thing, do whatever you want.”

He scowls, frustration tearing through his restraint, and digs into the cufflink so hard, he pops the button from his cufflink. It clatters to the ground in finality.

“Sorry, Omi-kun, I’ll just—” He leans down, picks up the button and quickly stuffs it into a pocket. He looks around indiscreetly. Kiyoomi wonders why, as even the Tower of Babel lies in ruins, but Atsumu carries on regardless. “We can go if you want.”

His helpless gesturing is not quite pitiable. Kiyoomi has never thought it was fair to pity people either way, whether circumstantial or by design, as it would be unfair if it were the former and deserved if it were the latter. This is neither of those.

Maybe this is Atsumu reaching out, an opaque layer notwithstanding. Kiyoomi has to answer.

He is already taking a breath. “At first glance, it looks like waves. To me, at least.”

Atsumu nods without prompting. The implications are enough to nudge the root awake. Kiyoomi narrows his eyes, clears his throat. He had temporarily forgotten his rule of not reading into things, but this is a natural reaction. Atsumu lives for breaking rules. He at least hasn’t reached through the gates. Not yet. Hopefully not ever.

“The different shades of blue mix in the middle,” Kiyoomi continues. “It looks like chaos. We usually see chaos as undefinable, something we can’t quite capture, right?” He has a definable manifestation of chaos, but it is for the sake of argument. “When it disperses… there’s not much we can do with how it affects the environment around it. An empty canvas like this could turn into darkness—or excitement, if you wanted to be daring about it. There’s nothing we can do but work around it.”

Tapping his foot, Atsumu glances at the painting again. Kiyoomi has never been shy about expressing his beliefs, but there was something oddly heavy about letting his thoughts slip in this place. Not many people are privy to these thoughts. Motoya usually faced the brunt of them, though he was usually an unwilling participant. Atsumu, though.

Atsumu is still looking at the painting.

“I’m not very good at this analyzing stuff,” he says right as Kiyoomi opens his mouth, “but I just think it’s a wave. You think the artist could have pulled one from the ocean, and then just threw it onto a canvas? Would fit with the chaos theory you have going on.”

“This isn’t chaos theory—”

“You know what I mean. You sure you’re not a philosophy major?” Atsumu crosses his arms. “Your thoughts aren’t entirely awful, I guess.”

And that should feel like familiar territory. The ground under his feet trembles, like some other monumental event has occurred.

“Thank you, Miya.” Kiyoomi rolls his eyes. “How charitable of you.”

Spite taps his collarbones with weakened prods as Atsumu laughs—he’s always laughing—and waves a hand in front of his face. Points to another painting and asks Kiyoomi for his thoughts. Grins like the sun has moved in when Kiyoomi tells him pointing is rude. These are all facts. Kiyoomi does not know why spite’s knocking gets more demanding, leans on desperate when his automatic response is to tug on Atsumu’s string and bite back.

He generously ignores it.

 

 

 

One employee in particular is at the front counter this time.

“Ginger milk tea, no ice, and thai milk tea,” Iizuna recites as he sets down the drinks. He gives Kiyoomi a half-smile (normal), pulls out the opposite chair (unusual), and folds his hands as he sits down (alarming). “How have you been, Sakusa?”

This is how Iizuna sets his barbs: he makes small talk in a disarming voice before he leans on a syllable in a connecting word and mercilessly digs out the heart of his curiosity. Motoya has walked into it before in guileless wonder and Kiyoomi had privately laughed at him. Now he is here.

“Aren’t you at work?” Like they haven’t had this exchange before.

“Break.” Iizuna raises his own drink in response. He always manages to make honey green milk tea with watermelon boba look daunting. “You’ve been well?”

Kiyoomi isn’t escaping this one. “Iizuna-san.” From experience, he knows it’s better to expose the matter himself. “There’s something you wanna say.”

Iizuna hums, tapping his pointer finger against the rim of the cup. He's faintly caught off-guard, but Iizuna Tsukasa has managed to maneuver himself out of the impossible before. Motoya can attest.

"You already know, don't you?" Iizuna moves his drink to his other hand. "Komori showed me the post. I was wondering when you'd tell me.”

Kiyoomi stares at the expectations laid plainly out on the table and looks away discreetly. He hasn't perfected it, but the satisfaction of at least beating Atsumu in the art of subtlety is something he revels in. Privately.

"There wasn't a good time," he says.

Iizuna's half-smile twists into something unsteady. Kiyoomi braces himself. “You've avoided coming here with Atsumu, right?”

He’s right, of course he is, but that is entirely why Kiyoomi refrains from introducing them: the deftly confident way Iizuna navigates the corners of his mind to pick out the lies would no doubt shine a spotlight on their relationship. Iizuna’s sense of twisting out the truth is different than Motoya's, but it is no less earth-shattering and exasperating to deal with. "It's complicated with—Atsumu."

He tries not to fumble with the name. Throwing himself off-balance will not help his case at all. Kiyoomi holds himself back from worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, but Iizuna tilts his head like he knows (of course he does).

"Complicated." Iizuna takes a sip. Glances at the second drink sitting near Kiyoomi's elbow. "Complicated enough to be buying drinks for him?"

"It isn't for him."

"Sakusa, you have never once wanted to try thai milk tea, even when I recommended it the second time you walked in here." Iizuna stares at the table, smile slipping off in a frenzy. "You don't have to lie to me about this."

"There’s nothing to lie about," he argues for the sake of it. “It’s not serious.”

Whether this is the wrong thing or the only thing to say is lost in the way Iizuna puts his drink down: carefully, like he could disturb the weight in his gaze or the center of the world if he moved too abruptly. “So there’s no commitment,” he says oddly.

“I wouldn’t phrase it like that,” Kiyoomi replies, and wonders why.

Iizuna folds his hands together like he’s passing judgement. “Sakusa.” The infinitesimal fear in his voice weaves its way into the conversation, plants itself into the forefront of Kiyoomi’s mind. He has never heard this particular brand of worry before. “You don’t do things halfway. Be careful.”

“When have I ever been careless?”

“Never,” Iizuna says, giving him that same half-smile, “but a reminder never hurts.”

 

 

 

Kiyoomi is packing up after the week’s group study session when Atsumu opens his mouth.

“Omi-kun, are you going anywhere today?” He’s bent over behind one of the desks, having decided to properly do his job for once and clean up.

“Home?” Kiyoomi slings his bag over his shoulders. Maybe if he leaves, the conversation won’t happen. “I should be leaving soon. I have to pick up Komori.”

“Not so fast!” Atsumu shouts while trying to straighten up and, like a comedy, slams his head into the desk. At the very least, his papers don’t spill out all over the carpet, but he does go down swearing. The spectacle this time is Kiyoomi’s to behold.

He should not be watching this, though. He should leave.

“Watch your head, Miya,” Kiyoomi calls out, evidently because he is a traitor to everyone, including himself. “You almost dropped your notes.”

Atsumu wheezes out a laugh as his head pokes out from the desk. “You’re such an asshole. And I was gonna ask if you could take me to the grocery store nearby, since you’re going home already.”

The idea is highlighted in bright yellow and underlined in red. “I have to pick up Komori—”

“Motoya-kun can take the backseat! Or I can take the backseat, whatever, your car has room. Please, Omi-kun, you wouldn’t let me starve, would you?”

They stare at each other.

“Actually, don’t answer that.” Atsumu shuffles to his feet. “Look, just—once? Samu will keep talking out of his ass if he doesn’t get whatever the hell he needs for his latest onigiri experiment and I’m tired.”

“Motoya-kun,” Kiyoomi repeats thoughtfully. “I wasn’t aware you were on such good terms with my cousin.”

Atsumu scoffs. In the still air, animosity has nowhere to go and free falls into knowing exasperation. “We’re not, but Sunarin never shuts up about him.”

The fluttery Suna-san spins in his head again and Kiyoomi just wants to sit down and have this revelation elsewhere. “Marvelous.”

“Listen, take me once and I’ll shut up for the next month.” The hilarity of that claim is boundless. Kiyoomi almost laughs and strangles it back.

“When you want to develop a believable proposition, let me know,” he drawls. Though something disgusting oozes envelopes his chest again. It seems to have taken Atsumu’s side. He truly is a traitor to himself. “Whatever. I’ll take you. This won’t be a regular thing.”

“Really?” Atsumu picks up his notes and, in true irresponsible fashion, balances them against his chest instead of tucking them into his ready and willing backpack. “I thought it’d take more heckling to get you to take me.”

Heckling, Kiyoomi thinks. This shoots into exasperation, too. “Clean the seat when you get out.”

“Aye-aye, captain.”

.

“Atsumu-san!” Motoya waves without dropping anything he’s balancing in his other arm. A miracle in action, every day. “I didn’t know you were joining us today!”

Atsumu, ever the gentleman, gives a saccharine grin in response. “Ah, Motoya-kun, pleased to meet you.”

“Motoya-kun?” Motoya manages to make confused wariness look kind as he begins with placing his textbooks on the adjacent backseat. “How do you know—”

Recognition shines through Motoya’s eyes as he places his coffee in the cup holder.

“Sunarin,” they both say.

Atsumu sends finger guns to the backseat. Kiyoomi wonders if this, truly, is retribution served to all three of them at once.

“What’s he like at work?” Atsumu pulls on his seatbelt at Kiyoomi’s heated glare as Motoya slides into the car. “He never stops bitching at my place.”

“Sounds like him,” Motoya says. He can’t quite hide the happiness spreading to his entire face, though. Kiyoomi grimaces. “He gossips a lot, but you probably know that.”

“He and Samu are a nightmare to be around.” Really, Kiyoomi feels crawling around his trachea. They’re the nightmare? “They never shut the hell up.”

Motoya carefully pulls the coffee out of its holder. Kiyoomi has long-since stopped bothering with the warning, content in the knowledge that Motoya would pay for whatever damages he caused. “That kind of sounds like you, actually.”

Kiyoomi suddenly has the ability to forgive every one of Motoya’s transgressions since the dawn of time. “Finally, someone put it into words,” he says.

“What the hell?” Atsumu props an elbow up on the door handle. He glances at Kiyoomi. “I know, I know, I’ll clean it, Omi-kun. But seriously, Motoya-kun, I met you today, why’re the two of you bullying me like this? I get enough shit from Samu and Sunarin as is.”

Kiyoomi eloquently cuts in with, “Have you ever considered that you deserve it,” right as Motoya bursts into laughter. The coffee cup sways, even without any potholes threatening its short life.

“Sunarin’s told me things,” Motoya says breezily. “Vague, but they get the point across.”

“The fuck has he said about me?” Atsumu shoots out of his seat, elbow knocking gracelessly against the window. He hisses, cradling his arm to his chest.

“I have no sympathy for you.” Kiyoomi then turns to Motoya. “And if a drop of coffee falls—”

“Relax, Kiyoomi—” In the rearview mirror, Motoya’s gaze cuts to Atsumu “—Sakusa. I drank most of this on the way here, so you don’t have to worry about a thing!”

“Kiyoomi?” The syllables roll around on Atsumu’s tongue like marbles in a funnel. It feels strange to hear a non-bastardized version of his name anywhere near his mouth, but Kiyoomi’s poor life decisions up to this point are shaping up to appropriate consequences. “You two call each other your given names when you’re alone? How sweet.”

“Do you even know the meaning of that word?” Kiyoomi muses.

Right as Atsumu opens his mouth to respond, they hit a pothole and his jaw audibly clacks shut. Motoya yanks the coffee cup close to his chest because despite all the teasing, he does not actually want to pay for damages. Kiyoomi, not engaging in anything dangerous, haughtily drives on and revels in the silence.

“I think he knows the dictionary definition, Sakusa,” Motoya provides when he’s safely placed the coffee cup back in its rightful place. “He just doesn’t apply it.”

“I am right here. Listening to everything you assholes are saying.”

“Really?” Motoya taps his ear. “The wind’s strong today, don’t you think, Sakusa?”

“Yes. Grating, too.”

“Are you kidding me.”

Kiyoomi spares a glance at Atsumu then, though he continues facing forward. “You’re the one who asked for a ride.”

“This isn’t what I was expecting.” Atsumu slumps over in his seat. Defeated, Kiyoomi thinks viciously. Unnecessarily, depending on who was asked. “I thought Motoya-kun was nice, at least. Could’ve balanced you out.”

“I am nice,” Motoya interrupts, broad grin notwithstanding, “but we’re cousins. I’m not sure what you expected.”

Atsumu deflates into his seat. Kiyoomi wants to capitalize.

“I suppose you’ll have to get used to this,” he mutters, loud enough for both of them to hear.

Atsumu responds by coughing into his arm several times. Kiyoomi holds himself back from looking over. Perhaps that had been a little too convincing.

Motoya is still watching them. The hunger in his curiosity is more vigorous than ever at this point, Kiyoomi has learned from experience. He is an inherent gossip. Kiyoomi needs an insulator.

“So, this Sunarin of yours,” Kiyoomi begins.

Atsumu catches on immediately. “When’d you get on such familiar terms with Sunarin, anyway? I call him that because I’ve known him for years, Motoya-kun.”

Motoya narrows his eyes. “You guys are trying to change the subject. You have something to hide, don’t you?”

Kiyoomi shrugs. “I don’t need another reminder of who I’m dating.” Before Atsumu can react, he continues, “And that sounds like a deflection, too. At least Atsumu and I have established our boundaries.”

There’s a question in that, but it hasn’t begun to sprout, so Kiyoomi is at liberty to run his pointer finger along the bumps of the wheel and ram his worries on the underside of his car.

“So clinical.” Motoya rolls his eyes, but it doesn’t disguise the grin. He leans back, wiggling his fingers around in a gesture Kiyoomi’s had to redefine as reassuring. “Fine, fine, I get it. Don’t pry, right?”

“Nah, Motoya-kun, now I’m interested.” Atsumu twists around his seat, hands clutching at his seat like demented claws. “What’s up with the two of you?”

Motoya eyes Atsumu for a second, crooked smile falling into place. Motoya's led them into a trap, Kiyoomi realizes belatedly. He keeps his eyes on the road.

“Nothing, nothing.” The stack of textbooks ominously wavers as Kiyoomi takes a sharp right. Motoya reaches over to stop it with ease. “I know you’re only asking because you want blackmail on Sunarin. Sorry, I don’t have anything that can top getting trapped in a supermarket overnight.”

“You—” Atsumu chooses that exact moment to start clambering over the seat, seatbelt still fastened and all. The curtains fall as Kiyoomi slams hard on the brakes.

.

“So that was fun,” Atsumu says capriciously.

“Komori completely destroyed you and we both know it.”

“God, shut up, Omi-Omi.”

.

Kiyoomi learns quickly that Atsumu had only offered to push the cart so he could glide around the aisles while he actually shopped.

The Muses are humorous today, he observes. Atsumu—flying at speeds no one should be in a grocery store—or anywhere, really—slams his feet against the floor and swears as violent skidding fills the aisle. Other people stop and stare. The elderly woman in the middle of the aisle gives him a glare Kiyoomi is envious of. He politely looks away.

Atsumu starts rolling the cart his way in a sad attempt of compensation, and the smile playing on his lips is not so much daring as it is meek. “Heh, sorry, Omi-kun.” He picks up two boxes of cereal. “I gotta ask, though. Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Special K?”

“Are we just gonna pretend that didn’t happen?”

“Omi-kun, this could be a life-changing decision, and you’re just gonna brush me aside? A new cereal brand is a commitment, yanno.”

Irritatingly, the pout on Atsumu’s face guarantees that he will accuse him of not giving a shit if he picks at random. Kiyoomi just wants to buy his groceries. “I prefer Special K, but Cinnamon Toast Crunch suits you better. What did you even buy before this?”

“Suits me, huh?” In the middle of the aisle, Atsumu looks cornered. “I used to—hey. Don’t look at me like that, you’re gonna judge me, I know it.”

“You should be used to this.” He gestures to the open space. “Everyone was judging you earlier.”

“That’s different.” Atsumu’s fingers curl around the handles and he props one foot up on the bottom bar as he propels him into Kiyoomi’s apathy. “You judge me for everything, you know. If I told you I ate Froot Loops until last week, what would you say?”

“That you just told me you used to eat Froot Loops?” Having finished, wiping down the packet of basil leaves in his hands, Kiyoomi throws it into the cart. It just barely misses Atsumu’s chest. “You’re bad at keeping secrets.”

“No, I’m not,” Atsumu says on reflex. He looks down, frowning. “Our relationship?”

They still treat each other the same, with less implicit anger out of necessity. Atsumu’s best-kept secret regarding his disaster of a grand scheme had been the article, the wipe, the care in which he dances around Kiyoomi’s space. And those aren’t secrets—they are considerations that Atsumu has built onto himself, predominantly for himself. If they allow Kiyoomi space for comfort, it is collateral.

“Doesn’t count.” Kiyoomi looks at his list. Five more items until he’s done. “We act the same, except you pretend to be a decent human being for once.”

“We do not—” Atsumu fumbles with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch box he decided to pick up “—wait, shit. We do, huh?”

Kiyoomi narrows his eyes. “What do you think we’ve been doing this entire time?”

Atsumu falls silent. “Hoping for the best?”

“I don’t even know your major, Miya.” Kiyoomi moves down the aisle. He counts four steps before crouching down. “Nothing has actually happened.”

(And it feels like something to unearth. The tectonic plate shift had slipped past his notice, but it had been steady and uncontrollable and it now crests to the revelation that Atsumu stands in front of him in garrish lighting and Kiyoomi can’t remember the last time he hated what he saw. Even then, irresponsible with the shopping cart. Even then, moping in the art museum. Even then, under the moonlight, laughing—because he’s always laughing.

Maybe especially then.)

Atsumu hums, lowering himself to the floor. “If I tell you my major, you gotta tell me your favorite boba flavor.”

The worst thing about their arrangement is that Atsumu now knows where to strike to kill.

But Kiyoomi has never backed down from a challenge. Drawing first blood is second nature. "Jasmine green milk tea," he says casually. Atsumu almost falls off the cart. "Your major?"

"What the hell, Omi-kun." He straightens, pushing himself up, and offers a weak smile. "I had no idea you'd be so forward.”

"Your end of the bargain or I'm leaving."

Atsumu's expression verges into contemplative. "Well," he murmurs, and the space expands, takes in Kiyoomi and gives him room to breathe. "Kinesiology. Knew I was always destined for something related to sports, but Kita-san taught me what it meant to care about others, so."

"Caring about others?" There is evidence of this. Even still, there is evidence of this. "How so?"

"He put together a care package when I got sick my first year of high school," Atsumu runs a hand over his knuckles like an old ache. "Pulled me aside later to tell me people could only offer their best to those around them if they're at their best, too. Always stuck with me."

Kiyoomi doesn’t mean to say, “That is remarkably earnest,” but the oddly pleased expression on Atsumu’s face tells him all he needs to know. He tunes it out. "It sounds like a good philosophy. Never thought I'd hear something like that come out of your mouth."

The deflection doesn't work. "You don't—" Atsumu coughs and turns away, cupping a hand over his mouth. He gives a hesitant expression to the seasoning products on the opposite shelves. "You don't sound like you're ready to kill me on the spot right now."

Kiyoomi will never admit it, but something about the past five minutes invites honesty. It is a warm, gaping maw he steps into because he is curious or delusional or both. "I haven't been," he concludes. "Not for a while."

The maw shuts, unforgiving. Atsumu runs his hand over the plastic packaging for the basil leaves over and over. It is a deviation or a genuine moment to think, one can never be sure with Atsumu.

"If I didn't know any better," he echoes, "I'd think you were warming up to me. Careful what you say, Omi-kun."

"I'm always careful." Kiyoomi takes out another wipe. "You're the one I should be telling that to.”

Atsumu huffs. "I'm careful when it matters."

"I see. Keep telling yourself that."

The light creeps onto Atsumu’s cheekbones as he looks up at the overhanging lights. “Any story behind the drinks? Or were you just doing that to fuck with me.”

“I was just doing it to fuck with you.”

Atsumu whistles lowly. “Damn, and I was about to be impressed at your range.”

He doesn’t smile, but there was something to resist. “I do enjoy all of the flavors I’ve ordered, though. They all have their benefits.”

“Typical of you to have boba for the benefits.” And yet it falls out of his mouth too softly to be a jeer. Atsumu notices the same time Kiyoomi does. “Well, whatever. I might as well order randomly the next time I order for you, huh?”

If this is a trap, Atsumu is about to step into it himself. “If this is your idea of revenge, it’s a bad one.”

“I know, I’m just messing with you.” His smile settles into varying shades of authentic every time he plants himself in Kiyoomi’s life, but this one is not like the others. “You’ve been kinda open tonight, Omi-kun. It’s nice.”

“All I told you was my favorite boba flavor.”

“You haven’t been ready to fight me on sight for a while now, huh?” Atsumu raises a pointer finger. Paired with narrowed eyes, it’s a stick of dynamite. “Sounds pretty open to me.”

“Well.” Kiyoomi looks at the crafted space between himself and the grocery cart. Atsumu’s pinched fingers moving the basil leaves with ease. The lax set of his mouth as his gaze fixes itself onto Kiyoomi’s once again. A gentle setting, threatening to tip over into domesticity. A gentle illusion, if he’s honest, and Kiyoomi’s never had to be dishonest around Atsumu. “This is fake, isn’t it?”

“Oh,” Atsumu says. The set of his mouth melts away. “Of course. Can’t forget, right, Omi-kun?”

“Miya, what’s—”

Atsumu swerves past him, shopping cart clanking down the hall on indignant wheels. The wind he leaves behind brushes Kiyoomi’s bare hands.

He presses them together in thought.

.

“You bought a lot. I’ll bring some up to your apartment.”

Atsumu stirs for the first time since buckling his seat belt. “Omi-Omi, what—”

“I’m not dense.” Kiyoomi checks the rearview mirror. In his peripheral vision, the streetlights trail along the messy tufts of Atsumu’s hair in uneven curves. “You’re upset. You could leave faster if I take some of it.”

He is clinical about this. He is not sure why he offers.

(That is not quite true. He has a suspicion.)

“I—yeah, sure.” Atsumu gives him a look. “You keep surprising me, you know.”

Me, Kiyoomi scoffs. Atsumu, filled to the brim with withering pride and his own begrudging brand of warmth, is surprised by him. Look harder. Look at yourself.

.

“Damnit, Tsumu, it’s—Sakusa-san?” Miya Osamu rubs his eyes and blinks again. “Oh. You’re really here.”

Kiyoomi holds up the bag of groceries. “Is there a problem?”

At Osamu’s minute head shake, he maneuvers his way through the doorway.

“There’s—yeah, down there—slippers if you want.” Osamu holds the door open like Kiyoomi’s bag is full of live wires. “Are you staying for long?”

“No. Where’s your kitchen?”

Kiyoomi asks to be polite. Motoya had lived in a dorm his first year, so he knows the layout well enough: a cramped doorway branching off into a kitchen on his right and a tight living room straight ahead. The college provides dingy curtains, which the Miya twins have at least replaced with soft blue fabric. It sways with the gentle hum of the air conditioner. If he continues on, the hallway to both bedrooms, the closet, and the tiny bathroom are to his left.

When Osamu gestures vaguely to his side, Kiyoomi pads into the kitchen without further prompting. He plops the bag onto the counter and looks around.

The kitchen is clean, relatively. There’s not much that can be done about the flickering lights, but the counter is cleared off for the most part, minus the packets of seasoning scattered everywhere. Dirty pans clutter the sink. Nothing is on the fridge, save for a magnet clipping a calendar to the side. A party hat is drawn on one specific date, colored in with accompanying streamers.

There is something he wants to do. It sneaks in, shatterproof, and plants itself squarely on the floor next to his feet. Dragging him down with the lowly weight of it.

The door clicks shut as Osamu appears by the doorframe. He doesn’t try to breach the space. “Sorry, don’t mind the mess.” His arm sweeps towards the entirety of the kitchen. “Been trying to come up with new onigiri recipes nowadays.”

“It’s fine.”

“So, where’s Tsumu?” The lethargic set to his eyes doesn’t disappear as he smiles wryly. “If you killed him, I’ll help you hide the body.”

“Thank you for the offer.” Kiyoomi motions to the groceries. “I don’t know where to put these.”

“No worries, I got it.” As Kiyoomi steps backward to let Osamu in, he continues, “But seriously, where is Tsumu? He promised he’d pay me back tonight.”

“He’s—” holding Kiyoomi’s car keys, probably whistling into the night, aiming his generously wide grin at no one in particular “—getting something he forgot from my car.”

“Already at the carpooling stage, huh?” Osamu reaches into the bag. A surprised hmph escapes him. “Sesame oil. Finally.”

Their shopping habits are going to give Kiyoomi a migraine. “We’ve been at the carpooling stage for a while.” He looks at the bag again. It’s late September. There is nowhere for his impulsivity to go but here. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Depends. Whaddya want?”

Kiyoomi lets his arms drop to his sides. “How much would it cost for you to prepare fatty tuna onigiri?”

“For god’s sake.” Osamu’s responding grin looks vicious under the terrible lighting. “You have a particular date in mind?”

“I’m sure you already know.”

.

It’s early October. Right outside the lecture hall, Atsumu is ranting about the cold spell that reared its unholy head right as he left the building. Kiyoomi believes he’s just underprepared.

“Was this in the weather forecast today?” Atsumu huffs, shrugging off his coat.

“It was.” Kiyoomi’s already in the process of folding his. He is over-prepared for today. “I’m not surprised you didn’t know.”

“Hey—”

“Be quiet for a second.” Kiyoomi pulls out a container. Meticulously put-together, yet not by him for once. He holds it up to Atsumu’s chest with his usual brand of joy. “Happy birthday. Enjoy. Please finish everything outside before you enter.”

Atsumu blinks. Twice. Holds the container to his chest like a lifeline as he looks at Kiyoomi with unfocused awe. “You—you got me something?”

“Yes.” Kiyoomi’s hand curls around the doorknob. “It’s your birthday. Now if—”

“Eat with me.” Atsumu stands there, coat precariously dangling off his left shoulder. His smile is tentative. “Since you—did you really make this?”

“I asked your brother. I’m not that good of a cook.”

“Aw, but I’d eat anything you made me, Omi-Omi,” Atsumu croons. Kiyoomi rolls his eyes, hard. “Seriously, though. Thank you.”

He looks up. Nothing obstructs his vision from Atsumu’s expression this time, and the amazement is only tempered by something else he can’t identify, something that curves his lips into a shy arc and reverberates around them.

“You’re welcome.” Kiyoomi lets his hands linger outside of his pockets, tapping along the scenes from a different perspective. “I haven’t taste-tested, obviously, but it’s probably decent.”

“You have such faith in Samu’s cooking,” Atsumu says mildly. He peers through the lid. “What is this, anyway?”

“Fatty tuna onigiri.”

“How’d you—”

“You kept saying vending machines should start selling fatty tuna. I made an educated guess.” Kiyoomi takes a step away from the door. “It was annoying. You are annoying, but I—” he looks away, starts over “—hope you enjoy it.”

“Hey, Omi-kun.”

“What?” His hands still.

“I meant it. Eat with me.”

.

There is an observation, and a meal, and a picture with an obnoxious kaomoji to go along with it.

The picture with an obnoxious kaomoji is standard: Atsumu holds up the container with his free hand, red blooming over his cheeks and the tips of his ears. His heavy jacket is barely in frame, but it is bulky enough to indicate the weather. Next to him, closer this time, is Kiyoomi, gloved hand holding something just barely off-screen. His mask is pulled down, likely for the drink, and the exasperation in the slight rise of his eyebrow is standard. His lips curve upwards just the slightest amount.

Atsumu’s caption (for once not the cause of Kiyoomi’s despair): omi-kun’s birthday gift to me~ ヽ(;^o^ヽ) #happy21st

(Motoya’s comment, out of the corner of his eye: sakusa...is that a smile i see?

Kiyoomi shuts off his phone.)

He credits Osamu afterwards and crowns him as the worse twin. Kiyoomi watches the war from his vantage point and has a front-row seat to Atsumu’s cackling as he slams his phone down four separate times, three of which probably should have left cracks.

The meal is non-standard, but not in any significant way. Atsumu spends an extra five minutes marveling over his food. Kiyoomi learns what genuine gratitude looks like in his eyes, expressive for once without walls. There is something about the flash of vulnerability that sets Kiyoomi’s nerves on edge with aching viciousness.

It laments Atsumu’s easy transition back to his mask, though this has happened hundreds of times before. Atsumu falls back to his walls, Kiyoomi watches passively, his hands neatly folded in front of him, and they repeat the cycle.

But this is not passive. Kiyoomi tracks Atsumu’s actions until he reaches half-lidded eyes watching the clouds.

He wants to see that last wall fall again. It tastes more like selfishness than defeat when he claws the thought back.

.

“Thanks for remembering, Omi-kun.” That sense of detachment is back. It nags at Kiyoomi like an itch. “Piece of shit Samu got me the expansion pack to Splatoon 2, so I appreciate an actual gift, yanno.”

“That sounds like a decent gift.” Kiyoomi watches Atsumu’s frown deepen. “Ah. You’re bad at Splatoon, aren’t you.”

“No—”

“What rank are you?”

Atsumu risks a glance. He scowls at whatever he sees on Kiyoomi’s face. ”C, don’t fucking rub it in—”

Kiyoomi pulls his mask up, but it is too late. Quiet laughter bursts out of his mouth, warbly and shaky in its disuse. They tangle in the air and Atsumu’s gaze trails over the space it inhabits.

“I play with Komori,” Kiyoomi offers to his unspoken question. “You’re just shit at the game.”

“What?” Atsumu’s expression skates over taunting. Neither of them give it a name. “You offering to teach me?”

“If you have a Switch.” Kiyoomi packs his bento box. Quietly folds the four corners, tucks it into a bow, tightens it for a final flourish. “I use Komori’s, so you’d have to bring your own.”

Atsumu clutches the container close. “You mean that?”

His voice is small. Kiyoomi’s answering nod feels small too, like if they acknowledge the weight of this one unspoken thing, it will crush them both.

 

 

 

Two weeks later, Atsumu makes a proposition.

“Annual bonfire’s in a week,” he says. The pen spinning is back. So is Kiyoomi’s temper, sort of. Lingering, but taking a different mold. “You think you’re up for it?”

“You already know what I’m gonna say.” The dirt and the cloying heat of the smoke and faceless drunk people are unappealing enough. There will be no room to breathe. No space even for his fingertips to peacefully occupy. “Hard pass.”

“I know, just wanted to offer.” Atsumu reaches into his bag. “I’ve got something better anyway.”

He pulls out a DVD, sly smile on full display as he waves it around.

“Movie nights! Whatddya think, Omi-kun? I’ll clean up the living room for you and prove I have the superior movie taste.”

“You have the superior taste?” Kiyoomi slowly zips up his bag with deliberate care. Feels the individual rungs one by one under the pads of his fingers. When he gets to the end, he reaches an answer. “I don’t believe you.”

.

Osamu goes to the bonfire. Kiyoomi knows this because Osamu opens the door right as he reaches it, and the awkward greetings only stretch on for a second before Osamu laughs and says, “This is why Tsumu’s been deep cleaning the apartment like no tomorrow, huh?”

Kiyoomi eloquently replies with, “What?”

“You heard me.” Osamu readjusts his hold on the duffel bag in his left hand. “Even started rearranging the closet. Told him it’s not like you were gonna spend the night, but he insisted. Loser.”

“To each their own,” Kiyoomi mumbles.

Osamu’s mouth lifts upwards at the edges. At least one of the twins makes an attempt at subtlety. “Guess the two of you are meant for each other after all.”

He shrugs in reply. Osamu shuffles down the hallway after one last wave, and he’s left with the open door.

Kiyoomi has a choice, but it isn’t really a choice at all. He steps inside.

.

In hindsight, he should have expected Atsumu to engineer a situation where he could use an egregious amount of French phrases for the sake of showing off.

“Omi-kun,” he says. Not too far, not too close. “Vouz aimez le film?

There are easier ways to ask if he likes the movie. Kiyoomi stubbornly keeps his eyes trained on the screen. He lost the plot about thirty minutes in because Atsumu hadn’t stopped talking and the subsequent fight tore his eyes away from the screen long enough to miss a crucial plot point or five. Atsumu doesn’t need to know this.

The perpetrator sighs, slinging an arm across the couch. His fingertips stretch towards Kiyoomi. Not too far, not too close. “The movie. Do you like it?”

He can’t lose. “Yes, Miya, I like the movie so far. The cinematography is decent.”

“Decent?” In the shadowy light, a thin strip of light cuts across Atsumu’s left eye. The challenge is fiery and lies in wait, but it is devoid of the usual tension. “I think you’re too harsh. Look at some of those shots.” The words aren’t accompanied with the usual grand sweep of his free arm. His gaze is pinned on Kiyoomi. Not too far. “And Miya? You’ve met Samu, don’t you think you can call me Atsumu?”

The movie drones on. Kiyoomi fights to keep his eyes on the screen, but, “And what if I don’t want to?” leaves his mouth with the elegance of a dying cockroach.

“You have before.” His words are sharper. Nearer. “In the car, with Motoya-kun.”

“It would be weird if I didn’t call you by your given name around other people.” Kiyoomi folds his hands and rests them on his lap. He tries to be purposeful, but he’s not sure what he hoped to gain from that gesture. A shade of normalcy, maybe. “No one’s around.”

A light chuckle near his ear. The darkening shadows creeping next to his feet. Shapeless blue lights dancing across the ends of the couch, the edges of his hands, the center of his chest.

“No one’s around,” Atsumu echoes. Not too close. Not too close, but Kiyoomi can still feel the grin at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, but haven’t we gotten closer? Tell me you at least don’t hate me, Omi-kun.”

“Miya.” He balances the syllables on the edge of a cliff. The moment rolls down his spine and hangs there. It feels pivotal. “I don’t despise you.”

“How gracious of you.” Atsumu’s fingers drum along the backrest. A steady rhythm, this time. “I never hated you. Well, nah, I kinda hated you last year, but you were a goddamn prick.”

The slant of Kiyoomi’s mouth is a byproduct of the situation, nothing more. “I was,” he concedes, “but so are you. Don’t try to pretend you’re better than me.”

The last of the light drains away. In the remains, Atsumu’s smile takes away another wall. “Sure, Omi-kun,” he says idly. The drumming stops. Atsumu’s fingers are pointed towards him. “Maybe we’re both assholes.”

Not too far. Atsumu’s smile clambers into warmth with a clumsy urgency. It’s not too close, but Kiyoomi wants—he doesn’t know. In the running list that has grown to encompass Atsumu and anything surrounding him without permission, he doesn’t know what more he could possibly want.

“Yeah.” He allows himself this one moment, this one uncertainty with Atsumu. “We are.”

 

 

 

At the next group discussion meeting, one of their students gathers the courage to ask if they’re dating.

Atsumu grins (obnoxiously) and points at Kiyoomi, who’s back by the desk (painstakingly) trying to gather the next set of notes.

“How many times have I told you to stop pointing,” Kiyoomi interjects without looking up. “It’s rude.”

Sighing, Atsumu turns back to his group. “No matter what he says, he’s stuck with me. And don’t look at me like that, I’m not lying! Now, who’s ready to go over the next set of class notes? If anyone needs more time, speak up now. We’re not going back for you later.”

Kiyoomi’s vantage point offers him a good view of the awestruck glances their group sends him, then Atsumu, then him again in quick succession. Atsumu turns back and winks like an asshole. Kiyoomi narrows his eyes like an asshole and goes back to sorting.

They function like this. It has turned into a routine. He knows that is dangerous, but Atsumu’s voice soars above the rest as he corrals their attention back to the lesson plan and the realization that a speaking style has hollowed him out and made a home along his ribs is simple, but no less devastating.

 

 

 

It continues into November. He doesn’t know why they continue, or why they even started in the first place. Atsumu doesn’t make posts about movie nights, and the only one aware of these meetings is Osamu, who ducks into the kitchen or out of the apartment whenever Kiyoomi shows up.

Yet he keeps showing up. He keeps looking for another crack in Atsumu’s expressions. He tells himself it’s a pointless game to play and it doesn’t make a difference.

“This is what you call a superior movie?” Atsumu mimes throwing a popcorn kernel at the screen. Your aim is off, Kiyoomi mutters snidely. “I heard that. But seriously, your taste is shit. This is so boring. Je peux faire mieux que ça, Omi-kun.”

I can do better than that. The day Atsumu realizes he understands French will not end well for either of them, so Kiyoomi keeps his mouth shut. “You pick the next movie, then.”

“Maybe I will.” Gold washes through the room this time. The movie has a lighter color palette. “You can’t complain, though.”

Kiyoomi relaxes enough to lean on the armrest. “You hypocrite,” he says lightly. “Take your own advice first.”

“Omi-kun—” and it sounds almost fond, almost dangerous “—you know better than that.”

.

And he does.

There is a story, maybe, to be found in the way Kiyoomi straightens his jacket once Atsumu falls asleep and the credits scroll. It always feels like he’s treading on a sacred space whenever his excuse for being at the apartment has run out, which raises several questions he does not want to answer. Yet again. Atsumu’s never awake to renew his lease on staying, so it doesn’t matter in the end.

He takes the time to zip up his jacket when he eases Atsumu’s door shut behind him. It is the last shelter no one has managed to take from him. Kiyoomi has especially valued its comfort at the reintroduction of one Miya Atsumu in his life, give or take the sweltering heat of early August. He values it now when the world shifts beneath his feet.

Kiyoomi notices things. He’s not stupid, but he is also remarkably good at lying. Spite and animosity haven’t said anything for a long time. The syrup has grown thicker, oozing into another crack as soon as he lets his guard down. The root prods at his foolish, shaking heart with an inconsistency that aches.

None of these have breached his jacket. His last and most trusted stronghold is still his to keep. This is just a fact.

Somewhere behind him, Atsumu is sleeping in an uncomfortable position and his neck will ache when he wakes up. Kiyoomi could not be bothered to fix him. They exist in a function like this. These are just facts.

 

 

 

“I don’t know that much about you, huh.” It is said with a certain level of detachment, but Atsumu’s eyes are barely illuminated from a kitchen light in the distance. Osamu is not here, but he had left the light on in his sudden haste to evacuate. Was late to a meeting with Sunarin, he said.

(Lie, Atsumu muttered. Sunarin’s out. Wouldn’t tell me or Samu what he’s doing, but he’s probably on a date with your cousin. No idea what the fuck Samu’s up to.

I didn’t need to know that, Kiyoomi snapped, but he observed this. He always did.)

Osamu is not here, and Atsumu is still looking at him, and he is very bad at being subtle.

“You don’t need to know much about me.” He no longer has as much personal investment as he once did in allowing Atsumu to see into him. Atsumu, by necessity, has seen more of Kiyoomi than he would have considered safe to show.

“Well.” Atsumu leans an elbow on the backrest, swinging his legs up onto the couch. “What if I want to?”

Kiyoomi doesn’t know the protocol for someone slipping through the cracks. No one has ever done so before. No one has even threatened to do so before, but here is Miya Atsumu, one of the most demanding personalities he’s ever come into contact with, quietly settling into his life and habits and demons with a surprising amount of grace.

He had opened a door, and Atsumu had tried to kick it down in retaliation for no real reason. This is who he has chosen to live with.

Kiyoomi shifts, slightly. To face him. Nothing that would knock the world off its axis. “That sounds like a personal problem."

“How about this, then?” Atsumu leans in. The walls of Kiyoomi’s city are as strong and unyielding as ever, but he inspects them for maintenance nonetheless. “Let’s go out and see what happens.”

.

Atsumu, chaos incarnate, decides on a park. In mid-to-late November. Without bringing an appropriate jacket.

“Why are we here,” Kiyoomi intones, hands in his pockets as Atsumu runs towards the swings. “It’s dark outside. And cold.”

“Parks are the best at night, Omi-kun! Who cares about a little cold, anyway?” Atsumu uses the moment before gravity reclaims him to look at Kiyoomi. Every wavelength, like he could stop time if he went high enough and stared for long enough. “You’ve never done this before, have you.”

It’s not a question and Atsumu isn’t wrong. On the rare occasion Motoya dragged him to a park when they were kids, he had stood in the center, trying not to get tree bark stuck on his shoes as Motoya ran around. Kiyoomi practiced tosses until Motoya got tired of watching him and allowed a one-on-one match.

A lone streetlight is their only companion. Atsumu breaks into the light whenever he swings forward.

“I haven’t. I didn’t like going to parks.” He looks up right as Atsumu hits the peak of his arc, and Atsumu lets go with one hand and waves. Kiyoomi scowls. “I still don’t.”

The wind snatches Atsumu’s huff of laughter from his mouth and gently carries it to Kiyoomi’s side of the park. He doesn’t look to see if sparks linger.

“I can see that.” He falls backwards gleefully. “I did, though. Went to parks all the time with Samu when we were kids. Used to take a ton of mulch in my hands and throw it at him.”

Kiyoomi frowns. “What the fuck?”

Midway through his arc, Atsumu sticks out his tongue. “Relax, Omi-Omi, it was fun! Samu deserved it, anyway, he was being a shithead. Probably.”

“Probably,” Kiyoomi repeats slowly. He takes his hands out of his pockets. They fidget in the cold air. “Nice to know you were always an asshole.”

“Like you can talk.” Atsumu lazily kicks in his direction. “Nah, but we used to try to push each other off the swings to see who could get on faster. One time Samu pushed me off so hard, I broke an arm.”

“You sound way too excited.” Kiyoomi has crept closer. When Atsumu sharply tilts his head to accommodate, harsh yellow curves over his cheekbones. His lips are parted. This is thrown in stark contrast to the dark.

“‘Course I do, Samu got in deep shit for it.” Atsumu says this like he’s whispering a secret. “We used to try to see who could swing the highest, too, then jump off and stick the landing. Yanno. All the shit kids do to try to look cool.”

Kiyoomi only remembers this from the coming-of-age movies Motoya sat him down for in junior high. He can spiritually relate. “So you never grew up,” he says, gesturing to their location. At Atsumu’s horrified yelp, he adds, “I get it. Regret is pointless, but there’s nothing wrong with reminiscing.”

They fall silent as the moon yawns above them. Beams of light caress the parts of Atsumu’s jacket the streetlight can’t reach. Given how Kiyoomi’s standing, silver lighting cuts across half of his face in unrelenting glory.

Atsumu slices through the silence, though it takes him a while and his attack is muted.

“I guess,” he mutters eventually, “that’s what I was doing.”

Kiyoomi looks at the ground and wonders what the memory of digging his hands into the earth would feel against his skin. He shivers, but perhaps it would be freeing, to others, to reclaim that as their own.

Atsumu’s legs have stopped breaching the streetlight.

“I thought Samu and I were both gonna go into something sports-related,” Atsumu begins. The wind drops to a slight breeze. “That’s what we—he and I’ve been working towards our entire lives, yanno? Then he told me he was gonna go into the food industry during our first semester in college, and we got in a huge fight over it.”

He starts losing momentum. Atsumu’s gaze has long since stopped meeting his, staring off into the distance. The sidewalk. The pole. The beige walls of a nearby house. His own attempt to detach himself.

It looks so familiar.

“The fight was messier than usual, but it’s whatever. We didn’t really get over it until halfway through the first semester, but who cares, right? It’s over.”

Atsumu’s toes barely touch the ground. His bangs hang over his forehead limply as a wispy, long-limbed hand mockingly cups his cheek. He is both quiet and still, and it was everything Kiyoomi had wanted at one point.

“You need to stop doing that.” Kiyoomi stands behind Atsumu and he isn’t sure when his priorities have shifted, but the world is irrevocably different and he has to own up to it. “Acting like no one cares. It’s confusing. You’re so dramatic about the small things but you clam up about important shit like this.”

“This is serious shit, sorry I’m not comfortable telling—”

“That’s not what I meant.” Kiyoomi takes a breath. He needs ten to tackle the subject matter, but the moon spills past his shoulders in clumps and Atsumu is drawing away and time dangles on a thread about to snap. “I first started taking precautions when I was nine.”

Atsumu turns back. Kiyoomi grabs onto the thread.

“Nothing really started it.” He flexes the fingers of his left hand, slowly. Raises each digit one at a time, then lowers them. “The mysophobia. I went to school one day and the proximity to—everyone sent this sense of urgency through my brain. Every time I tried to touch something, I had to wonder if it was sanitized. I hadn’t gotten into the habit of bringing my wipes yet. Motoya was the only one who noticed.”

The first days stand tall in his mind, erected in unloving memory of something he would continue to work around for the rest of his life. A classmate—any distinguishing features, he has long-since forgotten—tapped his shoulder and he had flinched so violently, he dropped his pencil. They looked at him in concern. He looked at his pencil in newfound fear. The breach on his shoulder burned.

Motoya had stood up in the middle of class and walked over. His steps were cautious but swift as he slid in between Kiyoomi and the classmate.

“What’s wrong?” he asked later, after the classmate had shied away. Kiyoomi glanced at the pencil, because he had been taught that pointing was rude. Motoya’s acceptance had been a gift given early and willingly, and he picked up the pencil without much fuss.

Kiyoomi had stared at the pencil, safely back on his desk. He couldn’t pick it up. The teacher had continued with the lesson and he pulled out a tissue and drowned it in hand sanitizer before swiping it over the pencil and the desk and every part of his hands that made contact. It had made sense. It was the only way to establish order in a universe that had recently introduced the inescapable fact of bacteria creeping into every crevice. He was only human, after all.

He learned early on that what he could do was carve an unbreakable chasm between himself and humanity. No one has violated it yet. To this day, no one has breached the chasm.

But all of his thoughtful precautions are to silence the droning and the dread that had overtaken him when he was unprepared. He is no longer unprepared. Miya Atsumu no longer draws out the urge to bring out his knife because Miya Atsumu is only human, too.

Kiyoomi recalls the well-maintained space and the countless adjustments and readjustments Atsumu only could have made through observation and consideration. Ah. Considerate. Not many people truly understand, but Atsumu—direct, unapologetic, demanding Atsumu—is one of the most considerate people he knows.

He takes a step forward.

“Everything looked like danger until I set boundaries. I sanitized anything that passed into my personal bubble. I sanitized my own hands until my skin broke. It was bearable then.”

Whatever expression Atsumu looks at him with is unguarded. “You’ve never talked about this before.”

“I know.” He flexes the fingers on his right hand in the same manner. “I know. It’s hard. You’re—” he turns his head “—the only person I’ve told about this.”

“Wow.” Atsumu chuckles weakly. “Now I’m really starting to think you might be warming up to me.”

“Shut up.” Kiyoomi raises his head. The way he watches the wind gently brushing through Atsumu’s ridiculous, messy locks is perilous. “Don’t ruin the mood.”

Atsumu laughs unabashedly, brilliant into the night sky, bright and full and curling into spaces Kiyoomi has never considered. He does not mind this intrusion. He doesn’t know why, but he welcomes the peace.

“So there’s a mood!” Atsumu twists around in his seat. He almost slips off a couple times. “You admit it, Omi-kun!”

“No need to be so loud.” But he is content. Kiyoomi has just admitted to something big and another looming revelation taps against his shoulder, and he is content. “Hey, Miya. Turn around.”

“Thought we progressed to first names after that.” But he obediently turns around.

Kiyoomi pointedly stares at his back. “You’re using a nickname, not my given name.”

He takes another step forward.

“Same difference. It’s from your given name so it holds like, the same weight.”

Kiyoomi rolls his eyes. Nothing Atsumu is doing right now inspires any animosity. “I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“And? Since when has anything about us been—”

The walls are unrelenting, but Kiyoomi is not. He opens the gates.

Atsumu’s shoulders stiffen under his touch. His mouth falls shut, syllables dying a slow death on the edge of his tongue.

Kiyoomi takes inventory. He had slathered on some hand sanitizer and the cold, murky substance slithers between the nonexistent space between him and humanity. Except this isn’t humanity, this is Atsumu, and the distinction is all-encompassing. His own breathing has picked up slightly, but the change is nothing that would cause alarm.

He started this on his own terms. He will continue on his own terms.

“I don’t hate you.” He is close enough to observe Atsumu’s fingers. Against the metal, they clench and unclench slowly, deliberately. A pulse point. “I don’t even dislike you. I said what I did earlier because you should stop downplaying things that are important to you. I—”

Care, Kiyoomi, you care. The Tower of Babel’s long-dead remains stare at him, unblinking. Admit it.

“—don’t like seeing that. It’s irritating.”

“You have such a way with words.” Atsumu’s hands remain loose. “But I think I get it. Are you—”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” He’s fidgeting under his hands now. “You don’t have to touch me to prove a point.”

“Didn’t I tell you I established my own boundaries?”

“Seriously,” Atsumu's voice wavers, “if you’re uncomfortable—”

“Miya.” Kiyoomi spreads his fingers out over Atsumu’s shoulder blades to get a better grip. A prickling sensation makes itself known across his arms, but he will be letting go soon. “I’m fine.”

And he pushes. Fingertips quickly become reacquainted with the chill as Atsumu yelps and swings forward. Kiyoomi watches him go up. Physically sees the tension melt off his face. Lets the world fall into motion, like this.

“Give me a little more warning next time!” Atsumu shouts as the momentum carries him back, but he’s smiling. If this is the closest Kiyoomi gets to his last wall falling in the moment, he’ll take it. “Geez, I didn’t—”

He plants his hands on Atsumu’s lower back and pushes even harder in retaliation.

Atsumu laughs—he’s always laughing.

“Be grateful for once.” But the curve of Kiyoomi’s lips have gone soft.

“I am.” Atsumu throws his head back and grins, open-mouthed and wholly, completely open. His mouth burns neon gold under the streetlight. “I am, Omi-kun.”

 

 

 

They exist in a function and nothing changes. The routine continues uninterrupted. Atsumu maintains a safe distance. Kiyoomi keeps his memories of warmth and a look he’s wanted to see again locked away by beating them with a broom whenever they try to crawl out.

Life goes on. Because Atsumu has so thoroughly wormed his way into Kiyoomi’s life, he tags along on grocery store runs and one-sided vending machine food grabs and impromptu visits to hole-in-the-wall stores Atsumu has found during morning runs. Motoya becomes accustomed to Atsumu’s presence. Osamu becomes accustomed to his presence. A line feels like it’s been crossed, but the path is so blurred, Kiyoomi can’t tell where it is, let alone where it begins and ends.

 

 

 

One night, Osamu asks if he can join their movie marathon.

Atsumu turns to Kiyoomi, who turns to the state of his hands. They are not shaking. He nods.

“Sure, Samu,” Atsumu calls, “but can you make more popcorn while you’re in the kitchen?”

“Get your own, dipshit,” Osamu returns. Kiyoomi tunes out the resulting volley.

They’re on the second movie. The first movie was his choice, and now it’s Atsumu’s. All he had said was that it involved ‘matters of the heart’, dramatic quotation marks notwithstanding. Kiyoomi had brought his own snacks and shuffled into his seat with marked reluctance. He is not a fan of romance.

At some point, Osamu slips in and rests on Atsumu’s other side, curled into the armrest like he can and will fall asleep out of sheer boredom at a moment’s notice. Kiyoomi learns early on that, unlike him, Osamu genuinely cannot understand French.

“The hell’s going on here?” he asks after nudging Atsumu’s shoulder a total of eleven times. Atsumu rolls his eyes and hits pause with an unnecessary amount of aggression.

“Read the captions. She just ran away from home, dumbfuck,” he sneers. Osamu swats at him. Atsumu ducks. Once they stop (which takes so long, Kiyoomi goes on his phone and stops counting the seconds), he continues, “It was ‘cause her parents weren’t supportive of the marriage. Lower status.”

“Oh.” Osamu leans against the backrest. “Sucks to be her.”

“If we could continue,” Kiyoomi interrupts.

.

Atsumu’s sniffling by the end. He has nowhere to turn, so he can’t exactly hide it. Comically, he presses his palms against his eyes and vehemently denies any tears.

Osamu and Kiyoomi are dry-eyed.

“Geez, forgot Tsumu was such a crybaby.” Osamu makes victorious eye contact. “You wanna hear about the time he—”

“Fuck off,” Atsumu snaps, straightening so fast, he slams his back into the couch. “We’re watching another movie.”

Kiyoomi checks his phone. “You’re gonna fall asleep by the time this one finishes.”

“I won’t.” There is far too much certainty in Atsumu’s voice. “I won’t! Just you watch. I won’t and you’ll eat your words, Omi-kun.”

“Sure.”

Atsumu still insists on a picture beforehand. Kiyoomi holds back derisive laughter. Osamu is not so generous.

.

“Omi-kun,” Atsumu stage-whispers at the fifteen-minute mark. His eyes flutter open and shut, butterfly wings mid-motion. His fingers are closer than ever. “Omi-kun.

“What,” Kiyoomi hisses. Osamu may be more subtle, but he can’t hide the fact that he’s listening to them in such an enclosed space.

Merci d’avoir choisi de rester. I know you could’ve just called it quits.” His head lolls back when he finishes speaking.

Kiyoomi blinks. Thank you for choosing to stay. The words still haven’t shifted. Neither has Atsumu, for that matter, and Osamu starts shaking his shoulders around the twenty-minute mark, but the chest cavity caves in, just a little.

.

He’s out by the forty-minute mark.

“Called it,” Osamu says. His expression is vindictive as he hovers over Atsumu to take pictures. Kiyoomi is convinced the only thing stopping him from drawing on his face is the lack of pens. “Tsumu’ll owe me in the morning.”

“Do you even know what this movie’s about,” Kiyoomi mutters.

“Nope.”

“So we’re on the same page.” Kiyoomi nods once. “Fine by me. If Atsumu insists on watching this again, please decline.”

“Like I’d ever agree.” Osamu puts the popcorn box on the table and sets the remote closer to the middle. “You know, Sakusa-san.”

Kiyoomi sighs. Most talks intending to drag him into a spiraling conversation topic started that way. You know, Sakusa-san and the immediate kicker.

“I thought Atsumu was screwing around at first when I heard.” There it is. “He bitched about you so much, I didn’t think it was possible. No offense.” Osamu shrugs. “But then you guys stayed together. Tsumu wouldn’t shut up, the cheesy bastard. Always going on about whatever the hell you did today. After our birthday, he kept bugging me about the fatty tuna onigiri too.”

There is genuinely nothing Kiyoomi can say.

“What I’m trying to say—” Osamu presses his hands against the couch “—is that Tsumu’s a complete and utter fool, but he likes you.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Kiyoomi nudges back the thing dragging itself through his throat. It feels heavy, like it slipped out from the cracks of something that shouldn’t have existed. Right. Kiyoomi has been careless lately.

Osamu rests his cheek against the backrest. “‘Cause you look at him like—I dunno, like it’s temporary. It’s kinda depressing.”

“Blunt.” Kiyoomi looks down to his own fingers, uselessly floating in the space above his lap. He lets them drop and stares at the flickering credits on the screen. “I do not. I’m fine.”

“Okay.” Osamu’s mouth slants further. “Let’s pretend I believe you. Tsumu’s not the kinda guy that’ll just ditch you outta nowhere, you know?”

That much has been drilled into Kiyoomi’s soul, along with the footnotes. “I am aware. That’s not what—”

“Then you can stop being so scared,” Osamu interrupts. He angles his head towards the ceiling, eyes drooping in earnest. “I see the way Tsumu looks at his phone when you leave. He’s scared too.”

.

(He ruminates.

Kiyoomi first learns of loneliness the same time he learns of restraint. They skip into his life at the same time, desperate hands digging into skin and disguising it as friendship as they form a circle. Kiyoomi puts on gloves and joins them without much complaint. Later on, he’ll realize that complaining would have been useless, but seven-year-old Kiyoomi stands there and watches the ground around him turn into fragmented glass as his lungs writhe like old, rotting things. He wants nothing more than to avoid it, so he looks away and stays in the circle. Here, the ground remains the ground. Here, his lungs untwist themselves and function normally. There’s no reason to leave, so he doesn’t.

He remains in the circle. Restraint is the price he pays for it, but Kiyoomi is satisfied with his life. Nothing makes the fragmented glass jaywalk worth it.

It just so happens that one day, someone else makes the trek and sits in front of loneliness and refuses to leave. There is a wall the traveler has scaled. Holes he has carved into himself. Long-limbed demons he has gently patted on the head and blown a kiss to after they’re done leaving scratches on him. It is a strange phenomenon, Kiyoomi thinks, that he is asleep in front of him now. He is not sure if Atsumu crawled into hell or out of it for this moment.)

.

Osamu retreats to his room. Kiyoomi doesn’t start his routine. His jacket remains unzipped and he looks at the remaining slabs of light in the room.

Kiyoomi checks his phone out of habit and the image Atsumu tagged him in smugly sits at the top. The caption, posted after the first movie: maybe one day omi-kun will make a good movie rec. can’t believe i still love him(;¬_¬). The substance from behind his sternum clears its throat, says finally with the wisdom of a thousand ghosts, and dissipates into his chest. Kiyoomi feels like fragmented glass piecing itself together and maybe that answers his question.

He traces over one word with the smallest part of his lips. The syllable doesn’t need to knock; the gates are open. Kiyoomi is behind the wall. He looks to his hands and the ceiling and the way metallic blue light cascades off of Miya Atsumu’s sleep-softened cheeks. He looks at the screen and digital Miya Atsumu’s laugh-stained cheeks and remembers Osamu’s charged words.

His own realization falls short. Ah, Kiyoomi mutters to the dispersion in his chest and possibly Miya Atsumu. He is a good actor. You can’t forget. Why did you forget?

He remains in the circle, yet he watches Atsumu curled right outside and wants to let him in again. The trek was not his to make, but it is his to cherish, and he resents this deeply. Kiyoomi never asked for the effort. Atsumu gave it freely, but to Atsumu, it had been a quiet evening in a park that Kiyoomi had happened to inhabit at the same time. He had strolled through memory lane and dragged him along as the guest of honor. To Kiyoomi, it had been an invitation, signed and sealed and ready to unlock his gate. He cannot take it back.

Another thought occurs: don’t you remember? There is stability.

There is their deal. There is also the fact that most of the 2520 hours of the semester were spent with one Miya Atsumu, and the dial had swung from reluctant to bearable to enjoyable. He is not one to make assumptions, but the lack of venom when Atsumu looks at him nowadays relates to the fact that Atsumu has taken the gates and made them a moot point. This may not be a one-way street. These are just facts.

These are all just facts.

 

 

 

“Oolong black milk tea, no ice, and thai milk tea.” Iizuna takes one look at Kiyoomi and idly adds, “You still haven’t come by with Atsumu.”

Kiyoomi grimaces. Nearly imperceptible, but the fact that he pulled an expression at all will be noted by both parties. “I was unaware that I had to.”

“You don’t,” Iizuna concedes, “but I did try to imply that you should.”

Kiyoomi gingerly takes his drinks. “It’s not—” “If you’re still going to say it’s not serious, I think you’re wrong.” Iizuna sets his cup down. “You’ve been in this situation for months now. You wouldn’t put in that much effort if none of this held weight for you.”

“I can’t say none of it mattered,” Kiyoomi admits. “I don’t know if my feelings are returned.”

Iizuna hums thoughtfully. His next response takes longer. “What do you think? If you were brutally honest with yourself.”

He does this too, sometimes. It’s part of Iizuna’s barbs, these questions that feel like they hold up a microscope to a part of the soul no one even knew existed. The refracted light starts to burn and Kiyoomi presses his lips together.

“He maintains my boundaries.” Kiyoomi looks up. “I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to try. And before—” he continues when Iizuna opens his mouth “—you say anything, I never took him for the considerate type. But he does it so easily.”

Iizuna’s lips are pressed together too, but his face is scrunched up in a strange mix of amusement and confusion. “If you could hear the way you sounded just now,” he comments casually before taking a long sip.

Kiyoomi follows suit but lets the thought hang in the air. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about his tone. Atsumu inspires a different category of responses, that’s all.

“Just now, you were probably thinking that was normal, huh.” Iizuna nods in his direction, a threat and an acknowledgement all at once. “I think you already know, but you won’t commit to it.”

“Because it was,” Kiyoomi argues reasonably.

“Okay, then.”

Iizuna reaches the end of his drink first, slipping the last of his boba into his mouth as he reaches for a napkin. Kiyoomi moves to do the same until he takes an extra long sip and realizes he has half of his drink to cover before cleaning up. Where had the time gone?

“Still, the wonder in your voice.” Iizuna’s smiling as he shakes his head. “I think you’ll be fine, Sakusa. You don’t cut corners when it comes to something as big as this.”

 

 

 

December rolls around. The threat of midterms comes with it.

Atsumu spends most days leading up to finals week with his head pressed against the desk in silent misery. Today, his eyes fight valiantly to stay awake, but he’s lost the battle in less than twenty minutes. Kiyoomi would join him, but someone needs to be responsible.

“Miya,” he calls, just to say he tried. After the predictable lack of motion, he says, “Repose-toi bien,” to the deepest corners of the room before he can stop himself. He stores it away quietly, like the folder for his notes. The packaging to his bento box. The practiced way Atsumu slides yen into the vending machine.

Reckless, Kiyoomi thinks. Catch your thoughts before the current takes them to him. He has no idea how to keep someone else’s heart safe when he has been suffocating his own for his entire life.

Atsumu doesn’t stir.

 

 

 

Midterms are grueling. Atsumu decides that all-nighters are a good idea and is about as functional as a walking corpse on legs by the end of the week. When they’re called in to help with grading, he tells Kiyoomi he’ll stay up just for you, Omi-kun, you’ll see and passes out before he can even be reminded of what happened the last time he said those words.

You fool, Kiyoomi thinks fondly, unstoppably. You absolute fool.

He doesn’t mind the extra workload. The grading process hasn’t deviated and the monotony takes his mind away from his own scores. Motoya tells him he worries too much, but Motoya is also capable of successfully double majoring, so he tunes him out and picks at his worries and his fingernails when he dares to.

By the time he’s almost halfway through his stack, Atsumu’s head has slipped from his arms to the desk with a harsh thud. Kiyoomi continues on alone.

Atsumu shivers, his nose scrunching up against the table, and after a minute passes, it becomes apparent that he will continue to shake in fitful doses. Kiyoomi raises a hand. Cold air curls around his fingers with obnoxious power and he glares at the air conditioner. Atsumu’s had a grand total of four hours of sleep in the past five days.

And he cares. To a surprising degree that burns sharply against his cheek, he cares.

He looks at the sleeves of his jacket, carelessly pulled past his hands. Carefully lists the consequences of his latest impulse.

The jacket is his last stronghold. But Miya Atsumu has been given express permission before. Unwisely, the footnotes state that, at this rate, he would be allowed express permission again and again.

.

The next morning, Atsumu’s grin is a cocktail of sheepish and coy as he strolls in—late for once—in familiar neon green fabric. Kiyoomi, wearing his black windbreaker, raises an eyebrow.

“I thought you said I’d be burning people’s eyes if I wore that,” he notes.

Atsumu scoffs. The sound wavers, but it is unambiguously, endearingly him. “And did you listen? No, so I’m not gonna listen to you either. It’s comfortable, so who cares?”

Who cares, indeed. Kiyoomi holds his tongue on the hypocrisy—perhaps his rawest form of affection—and shrugs. “Get to work.”

Smiling, Atsumu draws out his steps. The action is achingly honest. “You’re not gonna tell me to take it off?” Miya Atsumu is a good actor, but he is not subtle. This is not subtle.

“No.” Kiyoomi stops writing. “I don’t mind.”

 

 

 

Life goes on, except Kiyoomi’s jacket smells like Atsumu for a few days. Oddly enough, a hint of lemon is mixed in. He tries not to pay it any mind.

“I’m going to the winter formal,” Atsumu announces after their last session of the year. “Kinda have to. Samu’s going and I gotta tag along. You don’t have to go, unless you wanted to stage our breakup there?”

“Why would I want to do it publicly?”

“I dunno, to let off steam, maybe?”

“You sound like you want this to happen.”

Atsumu’s smile would be knife-sharp, but the edge is blunt. Kiyoomi has long-since mastered the art of seeing past this. “If we have to break up, might as well go out with a bang, huh?”

Ah.

Kiyoomi is witnessing a confession thrown in the dumpster and set on fire and his foolish, shaking heart couldn’t give less of a shit.

“WHEN,” Atsumu is saying, “WHEN WE BREAK UP.”

“If we break up, I’d rather it be quiet,” Kiyoomi cuts in.

And there is a sudden, blessed silence.

 

 

 

He considers going. Briefly. He settles on staying inside, but the battle is longer than it has ever been.

And none of it matters.

“Omi-kun.” Atsumu’s voice sounds small through the speakers. “Come to the park?”

.

Atsumu is already there when he arrives.

He stands alone, staring into the moonlight as he wipes sweat away from his forehead. Burning white light drips down Atsumu’s cheekbones and gathers on his cupid’s bow as puckered lips are thrown into shadow. There are thousands of small, discernible ways the world has been sent spinning off its axis since the day they met, and Miya Atsumu could be captivating if he believed in the word.

Could he be made into a believer? Kiyoomi is not a god and Atsumu has never been beholden to anyone. There is a question there, somewhere, and he reaches for it in passive curiosity, except nothing about this is passive and the weight of Atsumu’s smile rests in the palm of his hand. The weight of his back has bloomed when he wasn’t looking and rests against his manubrium in eerie silence. Kiyoomi never asked for the impromptu ecosystem, but he registers the unfamiliar emotion in his hands as a small comfort.

The syrup is gone and the chest cavity awaits. Kiyoomi could let anything inside. Anyone.

“Did you run all the way here?”

Atsumu turns around. His suit jacket, unbuttoned, picks up slightly and settles on his hips when he meets Kiyoomi’s eyes. He offers a tired, lopsided grin and his breaths come heavier. Kiyoomi takes him in and his first thought is what a warm glow.

What a way he has fallen. He considers, nominally, when he first looked at Atsumu and saw something other than danger.

“Maybe?” Atsumu wipes his forehead again. “I dunno, I had some free time.”

“The winter formal’s going on right now.”

“Yeah.” The look Atsumu fixes him with is destructive and terrifyingly gentle. “Felt like leaving.”

“Irresponsible,” Kiyoomi mutters idly, but he’s already moving forward.

“Don’t give me that!”

“But it’s true.”

When Atsumu tilts his head to look at him, Kiyoomi is a wingspan away.

“Omi-kun? You’re—”

“You ran here. Hold still.”

The park structures near them creak in the night air, picking up as the minutes pass. Running through them is a memory Kiyoomi will never have, but he has made peace with this. His precautions do not make him weak. But Miya Atsumu, gaze trained on a twitch of his finger, stands right in front of him, in reach. This is something he can have.

He brushes his handkerchief across Atsumu’s forehead and observes the hush that rolls through his entire body. In front of closed eyes, Kiyoomi smiles. Fondly, unstoppably.

“You don’t—”

“Miya.” Kiyoomi pulls his bluntness by the hinges and wills it to give him strength. “Atsumu. I’m fine.”

Atsumu’s eyes fly open. “Did you just—”

“Yes.” This is who Kiyoomi has reached through his boundaries for. This implicit wonder. The sharp awe building on his bottom lip.

“Don’t give me false hope here.” The corresponding laugh is weak. “That’s mean even for you.”

“I won’t,” Kiyoomi says patiently.

The world fixes itself on a pivot point and Atsumu’s heart spills out of his throat in murky, glass-like pieces. Kiyoomi’s grin flourishes in the dark, shapeless and certain, and nothing in his head raises an alarm.

“This isn’t a restaurant,” he says, “but it’ll have to do.”

Atsumu blinks. “Restaurant? The hell are you—”

Kiyoomi rests his hands on Atsumu’s neck and he stills. Careful fingers move over his jaw, past a rising pulse point. He stops at his cheeks and takes stock.

His own pulse, jumpy but not all-encompassing. Atsumu’s mouth, trembling under his touch.

“Omi-kun.” Something desperate bursts to life in his gaze. “Tell me this means what I think it means.”

Kiyoomi leans down and rests his forehead against Atsumu’s. He hums, contemplative. Watches Atsumu track the gesture with no small amount of interest and all he knows is a fragile, raw tenderness in the point of contact.

“Figure it out for yourself.”

“Your way with words is tragic,” Atsumu murmurs, but he’s smiling into his hands. Maybe Kiyoomi’s the fool for finding even this fascinating.

“You’re still here.”

The undoing of his wall happens in one silent brush of his hand. “Grand romantic gestures are overrated, anyway.”

“I suppose.” Kiyoomi traces a thumb over his cheekbone. The sheen from the streetlight breaks under his fingertips. “Though you still haven’t said anything out loud.”

“Really? After all this?”

Kiyoomi nudges his forehead. “After all this.”

“All you ever did with your words was insult me, so I call bullshit.” Atsumu pulls back. The chest cavity is empty, but it won’t stay empty for long. “I think you know already, Omi-kun. You’re too sharp to miss something like this.” The grin takes a stab at him. “Right, Kiyoomi?”

“That was so dramatic,” Kiyoomi sighs out. Atsumu laughs, and he always manages to draw him back into orbit, like this.

There is no hesitation in Atsumu’s gaze. As always, he holds out a challenge. It’s like watching someone take off from the edge of the cliff without wings: reckless, yes, and endlessly breathtaking.

This is the truth behind the facade. All that remains is a sweet, unsubtle fondness that slides through the cracks with practiced ease.

Kiyoomi accepts. If he loses the battle, he has still won the war.

 

 

 

In the end, even the Wall of Constantinople fell.

Atsumu takes him by the hand and the corner of his heart and continues to unravel what he can. The footnotes expand and take up more than a corner, and Atsumu does nothing but laugh, and Kiyoomi does well to remember this.

This is what he has allowed to take root and who he has allowed to stay. In the palm of his hand lies an extraordinary amount of want. Kiyoomi begins to carve out his version of peace and Atsumu coexists with this. He consolidates these small truths into one being and swallows it whole. These are all facts.

There is a wonder that comes with going into freefall. Atsumu never promises to catch him, but he never hurtles into the ground either way. Maybe it’s risky. Maybe it’s the lead-up to another, greater fall. Maybe it’s the meaning of a presence melting from a headache and reshaping into home. Kiyoomi will never be sure. Atsumu’s hand circles his wrist and his touch is light, gentle, almost reverent. It is a small mercy and not enough and it doesn’t matter. He meets him halfway.

There is something other than fury in the quiet aftermath. This, too, Kiyoomi cups like a prayer.