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Sometimes, all it takes for the world to change is a measly few words. Sakusa Kiyoomi knows this for a fact.

The first of them was when he was eight and his parents sat him down and said, “We are moving away.”

And then, days after they had packed up all their belongings in their apartment in Tokyo and moved into a small city in Hyogo, he heard more of them.

“Why are you crying?”

Kiyoomi had turned to regard a curious boy with brown hair and brown eyes, and that was how he met Miya Atsumu. And subsequently, his twin brother, Osamu.

Over the following years, he’d hear more life-changing words:

“Let’s play volleyball!”

“I dare you to kiss Osamu.”

“I said yes, we can try dating.”

Those utterances were like the shifting of the gearstick, signaling a change in pace, a change in direction. Kiyoomi doesn’t believe life is linear — it goes pear-shaped, and then in circles, and then it goes all around and upside down.

But he knows where it starts and ends.

 

Eight

He swung his legs as he sat on the bench Atsumu and Osamu parked him at. The twins were inside the mall, buying kneepads for all of them so that they can play volleyball without worrying about wounds. Kiyoomi didn’t want to go inside with them — there were lots of people and he’d quickly be overwhelmed. Atsumu didn’t want to leave him alone, but he had learned early on that he could get his way almost every time. All he needed to do was widen his eyes and say, “Atsu.”

Atsumu had frowned and said, “Stay there. Don’t move, no matter what, okay?”

He’d nodded and they’d left.

He meant to follow their instructions, he really did, but from where he was sitting he thought he could see an ice cream stall. He hopped off the bench, thinking he’d have lots of time to get back before the twins returned. He had some pocket money his parents gave him, so he’d be fine.

He hurried to the stall and got his ice cream, but before he could turn back around and walk back the way he came, he spotted a dog by the window. It was a pet shop, and the dog was getting a haircut, and he just wanted to see.

He walked closer and stared up through the window, charmed when the dog panted and wagged his tail at him.

“Hey kid,” a deep voice said.

He looked up to see a bearded man wearing a hat.

“Where are your parents?”

Kiyoomi was immediately uncomfortable, suddenly remembering his parents telling him not to speak to strangers. They probably meant people like this man, right?

The man stepped closer, looming over him, and his fight or flight instinct kicked in — he ran away as quickly as his legs allowed, his ice cream dripping down to his hand. He dropped it on the ground.

He was truly frightened for the first time in his life and he didn’t dare look back. He dove straight into a crowded area, wanting to hide, and he pressed against the wall, shaking. He scanned around and saw no sign of the stranger. He relaxed.

But he was still scared to try to go back to the bench. He didn’t even know which direction it was. He started to cry, wondering how Atsumu could ever find him like this.

It felt like forever before he heard familiar voices calling out, “Omi? Omi!”

He instinctively started running towards the voices, relief flowing through him when he spotted a twin pair of brown heads. “Atsu!” he cried.

Atsumu whipped around and tried to catch Kiyoomi as he barrelled towards him, but he wasn’t quite strong enough. They fell to the ground, Atsumu already scolding him angrily, and him sobbing and blabbering about the scary thing he’d just been through.

Osamu sighed and helped them both up, checking to see if Kiyoomi was injured in any way. He patted his head when he saw that he was fine. “You’re a bit sticky, but we can just go to the restroom to wash your hands.”

Kiyoomi clung to him, wanting the familiar feeling of comfort that usually came with Osamu. He was always calm where Atsumu was stormy, and Kiyoomi needed that sometimes. Atsumu was who he looked for when things went wrong; Osamu was who he looked for when things with Atsumu were wrong.

“Where did you go?” Atsumu demanded, still upset.

“I just wanted ice cream,” he mumbled. “But I dropped it.”

Atsumu looked like he was going to go off on another rant so he just widened tearful eyes at him again. Atsumu deflated and grumbled, “Alright, alright, let’s get you a new one.”

Kiyoomi softened and shuffled closer to him, clinging to the back of his shirt. The storm had passed, and he was safe once again.

It was a terrifying experience he’d never forget, but it taught him something: Atsumu would always find him, no matter what.

 

Nine  

It was the first day of school, always a nerve-wracking affair. It’s been a year since their family moved to Amagasaki, but he still felt new.

He stepped out the front door and walked sluggishly to where Atsumu and Osamu were waiting for him by the sidewalk.

“Can you be any slower?” Atsumu complained.

“Morning, Omi-kun,” Osamu greeted.

He didn’t bother answering either of them. He adjusted the straps of his backpack and blinked slowly.

Atsumu grasped the tie slung around Kiyoomi’s collar and started to tie it. “When are you going to learn this, huh? We’re in fourth grade now. You can’t keep walking out like this when your mother has to leave early for work.” He knotted the tie and said, “There, now stop pouting. Let’s go, or we’ll miss our train.”

When Atsumu turned to walk away, Kiyoomi impulsively kicked him behind the knees. The moment he fell to the ground, Kiyoomi grinned and took off running, down the street that has steadily become as familiar to him as the back of his hand. His backpack bounced against his back and the cool morning air whipped past his face as he ran, his eyes catching on the neighbor’s pink car, and that one huge sakura tree.

He could hear Osamu laughing behind him and Atsumu hollering as they tried to catch up. The twins liked to boast that they were months older than him, but while he was smaller, he was able to run faster. When they arrived outside the train station, they panted and wheezed and Atsumu hooked an arm around his neck and scrubbed a fist against his already wild hair. He tried to squirm away but he couldn’t help but let out a little laugh.

“Omi-Omi, what did I tell you about playing dirty? I’ll get back at you for that.”

He felt much lighter as they walked into the station, but he still inched closer to Atsumu. He still disliked crowds, and he definitely did not like being surrounded by them in tight spaces. Train rides were a nightmare for him. He nervously made sure his mask was in place.

And then Atsumu held out a hand. “C’mon, Omi-Omi.”

He slipped his hand into his, relaxing. He didn’t bother looking where they were headed, he just followed. On their platform, there weren’t many people yet. They were able to get seats in the train carriage and he sat next to Atsumu, who was lightly chattering to Osamu about a new video game he wanted to try next.

He didn’t know that the new school year would bring, if he’d make other friends, or if kids would be mean to him again. 

But as he rested his head on Atsumu's shoulder, he felt safe and sound.

 

Ten

It was a summer so hot that none of them could bear being in close quarters with each other. Should they be in the same room together, they flopped on a surface from a distance and moaned.

“Let’s go swimming,” Osamu suddenly said one day.

Kiyoomi already knew where he wanted to go: the Amagasaki Sports Forest, which had a bunch of facilities ranging from ice skating to swimming to golf. There was even a waterpark there, and he just knew that was where the twins wanted to go. They had been trying to ease him into the idea for weeks and weeks.

“No,” he said, hoping he’d drop the idea.

“That sounds so fun right now,” Atsumu said from where he was lying on the ground next to the open windows in Kiyoomi’s room.

“No,” he repeated.

“Are you still hung up about the germ stuff?” Atsumu asked. “Because you always whine about it, but when you try it, it always ends up just fine...”

“C’mon, Omi-kun,” Osamu said, raising himself to his elbow from where he was flopped on the floor beside Kiyoomi’s bed. “It’s not that bad! I promise it won’t end up so bad.”

He slung an arm over his eyes and groaned. They weren’t lying. There were many things that sounded gross to him, but the twins always made him face them one way or another.

Inevitably, he caved. The heat was compelling enough — water might be nice.

“Swimming? In the waterpark?” His mother sounded too thrilled about the idea. It was Sunday, so she was home. His father was usually home on Wednesdays.

“Yes, Kanna-san,” Atsumu said eagerly. “He finally agreed!”

“That’s wonderful, dear. Will you three be fine on your own?”

Atsumu puffed out his chest. “Of course!”

“Alright. Let me prepare Kiyoomi's things, then he’ll meet you guys in a few minutes, okay? Go get your stuff.”

The twins ran out of the house to get ready, and he sulked as his mother zipped around the house in delight.

And then, as she was smearing sunblock on his skin, his mother asked, “You still liking this city then? You didn’t really want to move.”

“It’s a’ight.”

“Better than Tokyo?”

He nodded. “Better than Tokyo.”

His mother’s hands turned him around so she could get his back. “I’m glad. I was worried about making you adjust to such a different environment, but the hospital really needed us in the Kobe branch… it looks like this might be a blessing in disguise, though, hmm? You look like you’ve been having the time of your life with those boys.”

He squirmed and pouted. “They’re annoying.”

She laughed. “Your father used to annoy me so much, too. Ended up marrying him, though.”

His mother turned him around and helped him into his shirt. Then she started running her finger through his ink black hair, so wild compared to her straight locks. His father always said Kiyoomi would look exactly like his mother if not for his hair. He also got his dark eyes from her. He winced as she attempted to detangle his curls.

“How is it that your hair has gotten even more uncontrollable, huh? That’s what you get for running around outside all day.” She gave up and started looking around for a hair brush. He warily watched her as she returned with one in hand. “Be still, darling.”

He unhappily sat through a torturous hair brushing session.

“We have to do something about this,” his mother sighed. “Still, I’m happy you’re having fun here. You didn’t really have friends in Tokyo. Except for maybe Motoya.”

“Oh, yeah,” he mumbled. Komori Motoya was his cousin who visited sometimes with his mother. They weren’t really close, but they got along fine.

“Do you know, you’ve started talking like them now? What have they done to my baby?” There was a smile in his mother’s voice.

Finally putting the brush down, she pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“You go have fun, okay? The world isn’t so bad, especially not when you have friends with you. I’m sure they’re waiting outside already. Run along now.”

He did. He took his bike — he had one of his own now — from where it was parked in the front of his house, and headed towards where the twins were waiting for him. And then they were off.

There was a moment at the edge of the pool where he hesitated too long and each twin grabbed one of his hands and jumped. He tumbled into the water after them, holding his breath as the world became silent, and for a second he was terrified.

But he surfaced laughing.

They were right. It wasn’t so bad.

 

Eleven

He sat on the bench with his arms crossed, a severe frown on his face. He glared at Atsumu, who was crouched on the floor with Kiyoomi’s foot on his lap, tying the laces of his roller skates.

“...bunny ears, bunny ears, playing by a tree, criss-crossed the tree, trying to catch me…”

“I know how to tie shoelaces,” he finally snapped.

Unfazed, Atsumu only said, “Why do I always end up doing it, then?” He lowered Kiyoomi’s foot, then took the other one.

Then he recited the rhyme again, and Kiyoomi resisted the urge to kick him in the face.

“Here, Omi-kun,” Osamu said from behind him, and his hand popped into view, offering him a can of the fizzy milk drink he liked.

He took it and said, “You’re the best.” He watched Atsumu look up at that, eyes narrowing. It was so easy to push his buttons. He kind of wanted to pinch his puffy cheeks.

He sipped on his drink idly as the twins put on their own skates. By the time they were done, he was only halfway through his drink, but Atsumu was already dragging him up.

“Let’s go, Omi-Omi.”

“But my soda,” he muttered.

“I’ll buy you a new one later, let’s go!”

Reluctantly, he tried to stand up, then immediately fell on his butt back on the bench when his feet gave way. He’d never gone rollerskating before, and he already knew he was going to hate it.

“I don’t wanna,” he decided. Osamu was already headed towards the rink, leaving him to be nagged by his twin.

“Omi,” Atsumu said, exasperated. “We talked about this.”

“You talked, I didn’t listen.”

Atsumu scratched an eyebrow, then crouched over him, bracing his hands on his knees. “I promise it’s only scary at first.”

“I’m not scared.”

“I won’t let you fall, and Samu will be there to catch you, too.”

He pouted harder.

“That won’t work on me no more. It will be fun, okay? Let’s go.” And Atsumu held out both hands.

Seeing no way out, he sighed and let Atsumu heave him up. He kept his knees bent and body leaning forward, shuffling his feet carefully until they reached the rink. When he got there, his ankles started wobbling unsteadily and he clutched at Atsumu’s hands in alarm.

Atsumu braced him with an arm around his waist, one hand holding Kiyoomi’s, as he tried to tell him to “Just move your feet — just one foot after the other, I know you can walk, Omi, it’s just like that, kinda —” And he was the worst teacher ever, but Kiyoomi picked it up eventually.

“You’re doing it!” Osamu said, skating past them. His sudden appearance startled Kiyoomi, and, unbalanced, he fell to the ground, dragging Atsumu with him.

Osamu cackled as he zoomed away, making no effort to help them up. Atsumu lifted himself to his elbows and glared at his twin. “You shitty Samu!”

“Oooh, you said a bad word,” he couldn’t help but say.

Atsumu huffed. He tried to stand up, but he fell again, elbow landing right on Kiyoomi’s stomach and he wheezed, pain shooting up his body. He kicked him away reflexively.

“Oh crap, I’m so sorry! Ow, hold on —”

Kiyoomi started to laugh breathlessly, feeling incredibly ridiculous, a familiar feeling when he was with the twins. He was literally bruised on the floor, but an inexplicable kind of contentment didn’t let him be bothered by it for too long.

Atsumu eventually got them both up and rolling again. By the time the hour neared its end, they were skating hand in hand and side by side, perfectly in sync.

He kind of wanted to stay like that forever.

 

Twelve

It was one of those arguments where they got a bit too rough in their anger. Atsumu had shoved him away, and he fell on all fours, scraping his knees.

His eyes teared up reflexively, already feeling the burn. He wasn’t looking forward to the sting of disinfectant and the itch when the wounds eventually scabbed over.

Moving gingerly off his knees, he sat on the ground to inspect the damage. As suspected, the top layer of his skin had been scraped off, and the wounds were a mix of blood and dirt.

More tears filled his eyes, disgust making his stomach roll. He had learned to stand dirt for the most part, but to have it rubbed into a wound was a little too much for him to take. What if he got an infection?

“Sorry,” Atsumu muttered. He crouched down beside him. “How bad is it?”

His lips wobbled in hurt and fury. He crossed his arms and looked away. His hands and knees throbbed and he knew walking the rest of the way home was going to be difficult. He wished for Osamu’s soothing presence, but his best friend went to the supermarket with Shiko-san. He shouldn’t have agreed to accompany Atsumu to the video game shop.

Atsumu’s careful hands lifted his knee so he could inspect it.

“‘S not that bad,” Atsumu mumbled defensively.

Suddenly incensed, Kiyoomi reared his foot back and slammed it right on Atsumu’s chest. Atsumu hit the ground with a pained grunt, the force of the kick sending him splayed on his back.

Ow, Omi,” Atsumu complained, sounding out of breath. “What’s your problem?”

“You pushed me!”

“And ya kicked me so we’re even!” Atsumu shuffled until he was sitting up. In a dark voice, he muttered, “Sea urchin Omi.”

Kiyoomi tried to kick him again, but Atsumu caught his foot.

“Alright, alright!” Atsumu got his feet under him and stood up. He grabbed Kiyoomi by the arms and tugged. “Let’s go.”

Pouting, Kiyoomi stumbled to his feet, wincing at the stab of pain.

Atsumu crouched before him, displaying his back. “C’mon, up.”

Shuffling forward, he climbed on Atsumu’s back, wrapping his arms around his neck. Atsumu straightened, gripping the backs of his knees with his hands.

“We’re getting way too old for this,” Atsumu said.

“It’s your fault,” he mumbled, less angry now. He rested his cheek against Atsumu’s hair as he carried them home. When they got to Kiyoomi’s room, they washed his wounds and treated them the way his parents taught them, using the items in their first aid kit.

Atsumu bandaged him up and smacked a kiss on one of his knees. “There. All healed.”

He huffed. “No it ain’t.”

But in the next minute, all was forgiven. They spent the day reading about the different species of birds in the Sakusas’ collection of children’s encyclopedias.

It was a nice afternoon.

 

Thirteen

“And then you toss it like this —” Atsumu demonstrated the hand motions.

It was summer and Atsumu was teaching him how to set. Osamu already knew how because he was the setter first, but Atsumu was better at it.

(Atsumu was probably the best at it.)

It was something Kiyoomi never bothered to learn — why’d he have to, when Atsumu was there? He knew the ball would come to him. But now Atsumu was talking about “broadening your skill set” and “secret power moves” and “it won’t kill you to learn, Omi-Omi.”

So there they were, under the sweltering heat of the sun, tossing volleyballs up in the air. Osamu was lounging on the back porch, drinking a mango shake he’d made with his mother. He watched them, bored and disinclined to join.

At some point the sun got into Kiyoomi’s eyes just as he tossed the ball up high, and he blinked, disoriented. The volleyball landed right on his face and he jerked in shock. He could hear Atsumu burst into laughter and Osamu choking on his drink, and he glared at them, irritated. He fetched the ball and spiked it right at Atsumu.

But that kind of thing could never catch Atsumu off-guard anymore. He had all the honed reflexes of an athlete — he blocked his face with his wrist in one sharp movement, and the ball rebounded off of it, bouncing harmlessly to the ground.

And then Atsumu had the gall to wink at Kiyoomi. Wink. While smiling. When did he learn that?

He couldn’t explain why his stomach was fluttering.

 

Fourteen

They were getting a little bit too old for this, Kiyoomi thought. He really shouldn’t be treating Osamu as his own personal teddy bear, but he was upset.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Osamu asked, exasperated. His deepening voice vibrated in the chest his cheek was pressed against. “It’s just a few pimples, it’s fine.”

“It’s not,” he sulked. “I’m disgusting. It will get worse. Why don’t you have any?” Even Atsumu didn’t have a single blemish, and he had the most questionable hygiene. Kiyoomi was pretty sure he sometimes forgot to brush his teeth. Gross.

“Dunno, genes or somethin’? Seriously, it’s not even that noticeable.”

“For now,” he said darkly.

“What you should be worrying about is your hair. It’s a monstrosity, Omi. Can’t you get a frickin’ haircut?”

“I don’t want the barbers or hairdressers to touch me.” He always tended to avoid going to a salon until the length got unbearable.

“How will you get girls to like you, then?”

He flushed, his insides squirming. He hasn’t told anyone of his revelation, but he wanted to tell Osamu. He was the only person he wanted to tell. At least for now. 

After some thought, he mumbled, “I don’t like girls.”

“Huh? I suppose I couldn’t imagine you liking them yet, but one day —”

“No,” he interrupted. “I don’t like girls.”

He waited for Osamu to get it. His best friend was smart. He’ll pick it up eventually.

And then Osamu tensed and said, “Oh.”

He waited anxiously.

“I suppose...that’s okay then?”

They both relaxed. After a few minutes of silence, in which Osamu seemed to absorb the new information, he asked, “Have you told your parents?”

He shook his head.

“Anyone else?”

He shook his head again.

“I see. Well, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to.”

“Thanks.”

Despite the easy acceptance, Osamu didn’t seem to know what to say next. Kiyoomi could practically hear his mind going, ‘Act normal, say something.’ He was amused and grateful. And even more grateful that Osamu wasn’t shoving him away. They way they were cuddled up in bed might actually be construed as ‘gay,’ for all its innocence. But Osamu smelled the way he always smelled — like the detergent his mother always used to wash their clothes, and the soap he switched into using because Kiyoomi wrinkled his nose at the old one. It comforted him.

“I never actually thought about my own sexuality,” Osamu said, finally. “How’d you know?”

He flushed again. He couldn’t exactly say his twin brother was his gay awakening. ‘Hey, Osamu, your twin winked at me once and I think he’s actually kinda cool, and when he touches me I feel things’ ? Yeah, no. Never.

So he said a name that he had also recently fixated on. “Remember Wakatoshi-kun?”

Osamu paused. And then he pushed away Kiyoomi so he could look at his face. “You have a crush on Ushijima Wakatoshi? From Tokyo? Did you even talk to each other? It was one training camp, and we were all busy!”

“I ran into him in the bathroom once,” Kiyoomi admitted. “He seemed cool. And, well, I suppose we got to talking during breaks. And there was one time when you and Atsu were off somewhere, and he joined me during dinner.”

Osamu was staring at him like he suddenly didn’t know him. “What the hell. You’re fraternizing with the enemy!”

He rolled his eyes at that. “Stop being so dramatic.” Sometimes the twins were too alike for his peace of mind.

“Wait ‘til Tsumu finds out —”

“Do not tell him,” he hissed back. “I swear, I will kill you.”

“Why not? And why not tell him you’re gay?”

He didn’t actually know. He just felt like he wasn’t ready for that. He knew he’d just be a blushing mess, and what if he accidentally admitted that he’d been crushing on him for a year now? And there simply was no reason for Atsumu to find out he was interested in Ushijima because — “He’ll be upset. Very upset.”

Osamu paused. “Yeah, he will. He’s possessive like that. But he won’t be upset about you being gay, he’s a shithead but not that kind of shithead.”

“I know, just — I’ll tell him one day. Soon. I’m still getting used to the idea.”

“Fine.”

He didn’t end up telling Atsumu, not for quite some time.

 

Fifteen

Atsumu wasn’t speaking to him. He was avoiding him, couldn’t bear to even look at him.

His heart ached.

Osamu sighed. “I told you. You should have told him.”

Kiyoomi had been nursing a lump in his throat since they left Tokyo days ago, after their latest training camp. It was November but he thought the cold he was feeling had nothing to do with the weather. He was angry and frustrated and upset. And a little bit ashamed.

Being caught kissing Wakatoshi was not how he’d wanted Atsumu to find out about his sexuality.

He’d tried to explain to Atsumu, but the latter just said, “Don’t fucking say a word to me right now, Omi.”

Kiyoomi rued the day Atsumu learned to curse. He somehow managed to use them like weapons, even though he initially wanted to learn them for fun.

“Fucking fine,” he snapped back. He learned to curse, too. Much to his parents’ horror.

And so, with Atsumu’s extended absence, he and Osamu took to playing chess, of all things. Osamu was extremely bad at it, and he relished in smugly saying, “Checkmate.” Having a win over a Miya twin was not something to be scoffed at.

Osamu groaned and let himself fall on his back. “I don’t wanna play anymore. This is boring.”

“You just wanna play volleyball.”

“Well, that or eat. Aren’t you hungry?”

“We just ate.”

“Three hours ago! Let’s go cook something.”

“We’re banned from the kitchen.”

“You and Tsumu are,” Osamu corrected. “Because you threw freshly cooked food at each other during some idiotic fight. On the contrary, I have potential to be a chef.”

“Is that what you want to be? A chef?”

Osamu’s voice turned timid. “I don’t know. I mean, right now, volleyball is the most familiar thing to me, and Atsumu’s barrelling towards that direction, you know? It’s hard to imagine anything else, what with him yapping about it all the time.”

“You don’t have to follow him.”

“Easier said than done,” Osamu said drily. “Also, I think I should be the one telling you that.”

That made him pause. “I don’t always follow him.”

“Uh, yes you do. Even when you don’t really want to. Why is that? It’s not like he forces you or anything.”

“I don’t know. He’s just…” He wanted to say ‘safe,’ but that wasn’t really accurate was it? Atsumu was the opposite of safe. He was untapped danger. He was as moody as the sea, tranquil one moment, stormy the next. Kiyoomi knew that if he wasn’t careful, he’ll slip and get pulled down by his currents, and never escape.

Kiyoomi wanted to hide in him anyway.

“...Atsumu,” he finished, helplessly.

Osamu snorted. “Yeah.”

“I know it’ll all be fine with him there, anyway. Eventually.”

“You know,” Osamu said, something unfamiliar in his tone. “I really wonder what he did to earn that level of faith from you.”

“I don’t —”

“I mean, he’s actually a rather shitty person. He’s temperamental, and selfish, and abrasive, sometimes even mean. Why do you look at him like that?”

He swallowed. “Like what?”

“Like it’s been raining for weeks and he’s the sun?”

His palms were sweaty. He should have known better, trying to hide things from Osamu. “I just — he’s just...Atsumu.”

“And you like him.”

He couldn’t deny it.

“Checkmate?” Osamu smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Yeah. Checkmate.

 

Sixteen

Atsumu was lying on his bed, talking to the ceiling while gesturing his hands.

“...and then Rin said we should go to this bird sanctuary…”

Kiyoomi lay on his side, watching him, not really listening. He nestled his cheek on his pillow, making himself comfortable as he studied Atsumu’s face, trying to figure out why his heart decided, ‘That’s the one.’

Was it because he was handsome? It’s not like his face is unique. Hell, there’s one that’s exactly identically like it. So why Miya Atsumu?

Atsumu turned his head and grinned at him excitedly, his words lost in the murky river that was Kiyoomi’s brain. The afternoon light bled on unfairly smooth skin, and Kiyoomi’s eyes tracked its journey.

It was just a face. He had seen it nearly every day for eight years. He should be sick of it. It should not hold this much power over him.

“..so the two of us are going bird watching next weekend. I guess we gotta buy binoculars or somethin’...”

And then his words finally registered. Atsumu and Suna were going bird-watching in a sanctuary.

Resentment lodged in his throat. Kiyoomi was the one who liked birds. He was the one who made Atsumu read him books about it, he was the one who used to always talk about it. This was an activity Atsumu should have invited him to. So why Suna?

Right. Because he didn’t like Kiyoomi best anymore. 

Friends drifted apart, Kiyoomi knew that. It was normal. It was part of life. The people involved barely even even notice it happening, that’s why it was so easy to lose each other.

This did not feel easy. This felt like someone was unraveling a ball of barbed wire in his stomach and slowly pulling it out while he clung to it with bloody hands, terrified of the day the last of it would slip from his fingers.

Atsumu was looking at him as if he wanted Kiyoomi to share his excitement. Kiyoomi tried to smile, but by then Atsumu was looking away, moving on to a different topic. Kiyoomi was left to stare at him, thinking, thinking, thinking.

It won’t be long now. There wasn’t much of the wire left.

 

Seventeen

If he had to choose what part of his life was the darkest one, he would simply answer, ‘Seventeen .’

Walking into Atsumu and Suna having sex was akin to receving a bowling ball to the stomach. He left the Miyas’ house as fast as his legs could take him, his ears ringing, his eyes burning. His mind utterly refused to comprehend what he just saw, simply chanting, ‘No, no, no.’

“Omi-kun!” Osamu called from behind him.

“Not right now, Samu.” He didn’t look back, lengthening his strides when he reached the street. Osamu didn’t follow him.

He didn’t manage to reach his room before the sobs started ripping out of him. Thankfully, both his parents were at work, so he took his time dragging heavy legs up the stairs, feeling disjointed, disoriented.

Was this what heartbreak felt like?

He sat on his bed, shaking, tears flowing freely. The scene replayed in his mind mercilessly and he wondered if banging his head against the wall would give him some relief.

When he got a hold of himself after the initial shock, he gingerly curled under his sheets, and told himself things were going to get better. It always did.

But this time, it didn’t.

Because Atsumu spent months and months sleeping with Rin, and eventually with many other people. Every day was a living nightmare for Kiyoomi — he felt frozen, perpetually in shock.

Osamu was a blessing during those dark times. He was there for Kiyoomi, day in, day out. Osamu was the only person who knew that he liked Atsumu, and knew how hard he was taking it.

So he wasn’t prepared for the soft press of lips on his temple and then his cheek while Osamu was hugging him in comfort one day.

He drew away and looked at his best friend. “Samu?”

Osamu’s face was red. “Sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”

Kiyoomi narrowed his eyes at him. He’d felt something shift between them ever since that night they kissed as a dare, but he’d been avoiding thinking about it. He’d noticed Osamu being more present, drawing ever closer every day, and he was selfish enough to let him in because he needed him.

But something was becoming more clear to Kiyoomi. Something he didn’t want to see. “Don’t you?” he asked Osamu.

Osamu looked up at the sky, shifting from foot to foot. “Ah, shit. I wasn’t prepared to do this today.”

Dread started unfolding in his chest. He decided to rip off the bandaid. “Osamu, do you like me?”

Drily, Osamu said, “Since we were fifteen, but thanks for noticing. I’ve been trying to warm you up to the idea for months.”

He stared at him speechlessly.

Osamu took one look at his face, then looked away. “It’s okay. I know you...like Tsumu. I know you can’t move on just like that.” Then he met his gaze again, eyes burning with determination. “But I’m not giving up. I’m here. He’s not.”

Then Osamu walked away without giving him the chance to say a word.

And then one day, Suna approached him carefully. “So...I’d totally get if you hate me, but I want you to know it’s not like that between me and Atsumu.”

His first instinct was to say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and then demand, ‘How did you know?’ But this was Suna, who saw everything with his sharp eyes and even sharper mind. Kiyoomi resisted the urge to punch him. If he knew how Kiyoomi felt, then how could he? How could he? Kiyoomi might have been able to forgive it if it happened once, but it’s been months, and Suna still had Atsumu. He wanted to cry and ask why. Why Suna? If it was sex that Atsumu wanted, Kiyoomi would have been willing to try that with him, but he wasn’t even considered for a second.

But there was no use starting a fight — it would just upset Atsumu. And he still had pride left; he knew he didn’t have the right. He simply forced himself to say, “Okay.”

“Um…” Suna flicked his eyes around, a sign of discomfort. “I might be asking for too much but...Sakusa, I think you should talk to him.”

“And why would I do that.”

“He’s — spiraling. I’ve tried to talk to him but I think he’s at a place only you or Osamu could reach.”

He knew what he meant. Atsumu was distracted, distant. He was their team captain, but he didn’t look like he was taking the job seriously. Hell, it didn’t look like he was taking volleyball seriously, and that was unlike him. Volleyball was his life.

He did try to talk to him when he ran into him in the bathroom, looking like he was fresh from a tryst and the sight made Kiyoomi feel instantly sick. Atsumu’s words burned him: “Jealous? Wish it was you?”

Because yes. He did wish it was him. He never wanted to kill Atsumu more than he did at that moment.

“What’s wrong with him?” he asked instead. He really wanted to know. Was the really sex so good that he’d let everything else go and prioritize it? Was this his teenage rebellion phase? Atsumu had certainly been meaner lately. Kiyoomi had been wondering what he did to deserve it — he was the one getting hurt here.

“That’s not something I should tell you, so please talk to him,” Suna said.

At this point, talking was not enough to shake Atsumu out of his daze. So he slammed him against the wall and gave him a piece of his mind.

It seemed to work, anyway. He could tell Atsumu started trying to get back into the swing of things.

And it took months since that day he walked into Atsumu and Suna, but things did get better. Atsumu was taking volleyball seriously again. He was spending time with Kiyoomi again. He and Osamu weren’t speaking so Kiyoomi tried not to rock the boat by avoiding mentioning his twin’s name in his presence. Other than that, things were good. He felt like he had his old Atsumu back, and he couldn’t help but cling selfishly.

Atsumu stopped seeing other people. He still had that thing with Suna, but they said it wasn’t serious, right? Maybe he had a chance?

He decided to confess. It wasn’t the first time he’d decided this, but every time he tried to find a good time for it, the moment slipped away. This time, he’ll do it for sure.

He pulled Osamu aside and did the hardest thing he had to do: break his heart.

The worst part was that Osamu looked like he’d been expecting it. He just nodded, eyes shiny with tears. 

“I’m so sorry, Osamu.”

Shrugging, Osamu sniffled. “Ah, well. It was worth it. You’re worth chasing, Omi-kun. I hope my brother figures that out, but forgive me if I never tell him. I’m not giving him an inch in this fight.”

“It’s not a fight.” What even were they fighting for? Something was different between the twins, but he had no more energy to fix them. He wanted to lick his wounds in peace.

Osamu just let out a jagged laugh.

Heart aching — Osamu was his best friend, if he hurt, Kiyoomi hurt too — he dug up his classmate Kitiara’s old confession letter to see how she wrote it. He sat down with a pen and paper but found that he couldn’t write a single word.

How do you tell someone you've known for most of your life that you wanted to spend the rest of it with him? How do you put nine years worth of love into words?

He ended up with a measly five paragraphs and told himself it would have to do.

But right after he told Atsumu, “I have to tell you something,” Kitiara showed up and called him away again.

He watched with a frown as she obviously confessed for a second time. He wasn’t worried — Atsumu has never accepted a single confession. Propositions, sure, but never confessions.

So when Atsumu told him that he’d accepted Kitiara’s confession and that they were going to start dating, it was like a needle to the heart. He spent the rest of their lunch in a daze, wondering why he wasn’t a crying mess yet.

Maybe because he’d gotten used to nearly a year’s worth of pain. At that point he might as well be numb.

 

Eighteen

The last few months of high school were a different kind of hell. The adrenaline from winning the Nationals had faded and real life started to set in. The future was barrelling towards them mercilessly, and he was faced with the fact that he was leaving.

Leaving Amagasaki. Leaving Osamu.

Leaving Atsumu.

He knew he shouldn’t have waited too long to tell Atsumu. He knew he’d be upset. But every time he opened his mouth, he imagined Atsumu flipping out, getting angry with him and never forgiving him. And call him selfish, but he wanted to keep him for as long as he could, before he had to go away. He didn’t want to spend their last months together fighting.

Going to university in Tokyo was a decision he’d made at the peak of Atsumu’s Whore Phase, as he’d taken to calling it in his mind. He’d been in pain and he wanted it to end.

Even now, he couldn’t regret the decision. Because he’d had to hear Kitiara and Atsumu make plans to eventually reunite in Osaka and move in together in the near future. Atsumu was headed to Osaka, and Kitiara to Kyoto, but they were sticking together.

He missed his chance. And now he must take himself out of the equation. Maybe then he’d find peace.

Atsumu had stormed out of his room the night before he was set to leave, and of course their last goodbyes were filled with hurt and bitterness. He didn’t know what he expected.

Osamu walked him and his family to the station. He was crying.

“Stop it already, Samu.”

His best friend wiped his eyes. “I feel like after this, I’m never seeing you again.”

Guilt slammed into him. It was true. He planned on forgetting the Miya twins entirely, because he couldn’t stand the constant heartbreak in Osamu’s eyes, and he couldn’t stand the constant heartbreak Atsumu forced him to go through. Osamu had been supportive the past months, but it was clear he was still hoping. He once told him, “Samu, I’d understand if you need to get away from me for a while.”

But Osamu just smiled sadly at him and said, “Don’t you think if I could stay away, I would? If I could leave you, Omi, I would.” And it broke his heart. He didn’t know how much breaking it could still do before it died, honestly.

Kiyoomi felt that a clean break would be the most merciful solution. He never wanted to give Osamu false hope. He never wanted him to feel what he himself suffered through.

His parents gave Osamu a hug, thanking him for everything. “We’ll give you two a moment alone,” his mother said. “Honey, we’ll wait at the platform.”

When they were gone, Osamu grabbed him into a hug. “Omi, please.”

He shut his eyes to keep the tears in. “Samu. Don’t make this harder for me.”

“Why him?” Osamu whispered. “I'm right here. I've always just been right here.”

He was sobbing now. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Osamu.”

It took a long while before Osamu could let go. He let out a wet laugh. “Guess the heart wants what it wants huh? I have no chance against that. Never did, I guess. But I needed to try anyway.”

“I’m so sorry.” It was the only thing he could say.

“I’m not.” Osamu smiled at him, eyes wet, lips trembling, and Kiyoomi’s heart broke a little more.

“I wish it was you.” A measly offering, one that would never be enough.

“Yeah, me too.” Osamu gazed into the distance, smile bitter now. “I love you, Kiyoomi. At least let me say it once.”

“I love you, too.”

Osamu looked at him. “But not like that, right? Never like that.” He started walking backwards. “Goodbye, Kiyoomi.”

He whispered, “Goodbye, Osamu.”

He doesn’t speak to Osamu for five years.

 

Nineteen

Tokyo turned out to be exactly what he needed. It was large and busy and there was something comforting about getting lost in the crowd. He was a stranger in a city of strangers. He loved it. He barely remembered the years he’d spent in the city as a child, but he enjoyed getting to know it all over again.

He was nineteen when he lost his virginity to a random guy in a random bar. He was half-drunk, but he remembered it was actually rather shitty, painful even. He just wanted to get over it, wanted to see what the hype was about. He crossed it off his checklist and vowed never to do it again.

It wasn’t like he had much time to mess around anyway. Balancing physiotherapy and volleyball was no easy feat. During his first year, he’d had to sacrifice a lot of sleep before learning how to manage his tasks. College was intent on teaching him a lesson, and not about anatomy.

The highlight of his stay so far was getting to know his cousin Komori again. They used to be playmates before he moved away, and Komori had given him his number during training camp in high school. He’d been so caught up in the drama that he’d forgotten, but now that they were in the same city, he was sure to message him.

Having a friend outside of the hellhole that was Amagasaki was a relief. Komori was nice and cheerful, and he pulled Kiyoomi out of his mind without trying.

“So, what’s the deal?” Komori finally asked one day when they were out having dinner.

“What?”

“I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, but it’s been a year since you moved here, and you still haven’t told me why you look like a walking zombie.”

He stared at him.

“What?” Komori asked. “Did you think you were hiding it well? You have the face of someone running away from something.”

“I didn’t run away.” He paused then considered that. Did he? “Well, I suppose I did, but it was for my own good.”

“Tell me about it.”

He did. He cried. It felt like removing a long-buried stake planted in his stomach.

He thought maybe he could be allowed to heal now.

 

Twenty

“Kiyoomi?”

Startled by the voice, he turned around to see none other than Ushijima Wakatoshi. They blinked at each other in confusion.

“Wakatoshi-kun,” he finally said. “Hello.”

Ushijima walked closer, clutching a book he’d clearly just picked out from a shelf. “How have you been?” he asked formally.

“Pretty well,” he said honestly. “I’m studying in Waseda.”

His old friend nodded like he knew that. “I’m playing for the Adlers.”

He nodded back. He knew that, too.

“Would you like to catch up? This bookstore has a cafe attached to it.”

“That sounds nice,” he admitted.

They talked about the past two years, strangely comfortable for two people who’d once shared an awkward kiss. That was something they’d never talked about actually — back then, they were just two boys left alone together, and Kiyoomi just dove in and went for it. Ushijima had kissed back, Atsumu caught them, and that was that.

They were clearly very different people now. He enjoyed getting to know this new Ushijima, and it looked like the other man thought the same thing about him, because he asked him out to dinner in that straightforward way he had.

Kiyoomi accepted. He walked out of the bookstore with a new number on his phone and a date.

He had to laugh, remembering telling Atsumu he was never going to date Ushijima. Life certainly loved to throw curveballs.

 

Twenty-One

It was not a relationship meant to last. Much of Kiyoomi’s heart had long been taken by a certain boy with badly bleached hair, and that was something he simply had to live with.

More importantly, Ushijima was leaving the country, having been recruited by a professional volleyball team in Poland.

Kiyoomi saw him off at the airport, heart heavy. Before they parted, Ushijima brushed his curls off of his forehead and pressed a kiss there. “Be well, Kiyoomi.”

He teared up, wondering if every goodbye was going to be this painful. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you as well. What we had will forever stay with me, but I know we’re meant for different things.”

Ushijima knew, of course, about Atsumu and Osamu. He had told him all about it, and Ushijima never made him feel guilty for it. He was amazing like that. He truly deserved better. Everything the world could offer.

“I love you,” he said instead.

“And I love you.” This time the kiss was pressed to his mouth. “Goodbye.”

Kiyoomi watched him go, wondering how some people could stay so briefly in his life, and still manage to change him. And save him.

A part of him will probably always love Ushijima, he thought. He earned that place in his heart. Kiyoomi only wished he could offer more.

But it looked like he was doomed to forever love Miya Atsumu. At this point, he’d made peace with it.

He supposed even the fabled frog in boiling water got used to the heat. That was why it didn’t jump out of the pan, right? It saw the end coming too late.

 

Twenty-Two

He had spent the past four years healing from the pain of loving Atsumu, but apparently, all it took was seeing him again to be right back in that hell.

He couldn’t help but be ungodly happy at their reunion. He missed Atsumu. He honestly, genuinely missed him. As if no time had passed, Atsumu was right back to teasing him and generally being the most insufferable person he knew, and he liked it.

There really was something wrong with him.

It almost made him forget why he moved to Osaka to join the MSBY Black Jackals: Atsumu was engaged. He was marrying Kitiara.

The news had sent him into a panicked frenzy, and before he knew it, he had accepted the invitation to the Jackals’ tryouts and packing up his things. And now here he was: teammates with the person who broke his heart, and would keep breaking his heart for the rest of eternity. Kiyoomi really deserved all the exasperated scolding Komori had treated him to.

He avoided his cousin’s calls. What was he supposed to say? ‘Yes, you were right, I’m back to suffering again, please save me?’ No thank you.

What did he even hope to accomplish? When he was feverishly making plans to ruin his life again, he’d done it with the hope of somehow, finally telling Atsumu how he felt. But why did he think that was a good idea? The man was getting married. He’d lost his chance long ago, what was he doing?

Clarity washed over him too late. He decided to do nothing.

He was happy being Atsumu’s friend and teammate. He was happy with the “Omi-Omi” and even the “Sea urchin Omi” and the ruffling of his hair and the arm around his shoulders.

It was going to have to be enough for him.

 

Twenty-Three

Osamu was waiting for him at the station, the same one they parted in five years ago.

He stopped in his tracks and Osamu looked up. He looked good. His hair was dark brown again, and Kiyoomi's heart warmed at the strangely familiar, yet unfamiliar sight. His smile looked easy. Real.

“Suna told me you were coming,” Osamu called out.

Despite the hopelessness of the situation, Kiyoomi grinned back. The next second, they were running at each other and hugging.

Osamu laughed and heaved him by the waist. “Oh, jeez, you’re heavy.”

Kiyoomi pulled away and jabbed at Osamu’s stomach. “And you’re soft.”

His old friend poked his tongue out at him. “It’s the onigiri.”

“Hey, congrats on that, by the way. I’m proud of you. Really.”

Osamu nodded, eyes alight. “Thanks. I’m...pretty happy.” His smile faded. “I’m not gonna bother asking if you are, too. Shit, Omi. I’m so sorry.”

His heart throbbed in remembered pain. “Yeah, well. He seems happy, anyway. I’m good with that.”

“Are you?”

“Samu, I’ve had years to learn how to lose Atsumu. Nothing has changed.”

They made their way out of the station and started the familiar way back to their old neighborhood.

When they reached a familiar street, Osamu said, “I just can’t believe it. That it reached this point. How’d it reach this point? Tsumu’s getting married. And not to you.”

“We were never together,” he pointed out.

“Still,” Osamu said. “Something about this just doesn’t make sense to me. After everything…”

“Just because I loved him doesn’t mean he had to love me back.” He’d made peace with that.

Osamu just gave him an incredulous glance.

After a few more moments of silence, Osamu asked, “How are you, really?”

His heart throbbed again. “Not good,” he finally said. “I don’t know how it could still hurt this much. Joining the Black Jackals was a bad idea.”

“So why did you?”

“It was an impulsive decision,” he admitted. “I heard he was getting married and I just...I couldn’t leave it like that. I couldn’t just let it go without giving it one more shot, you know? But then...in the end, I couldn’t say anything. We were friends again. And he was engaged and happy and...I couldn’t ruin any of that.”

“Shit, Omi.”

“I shouldn’t have gone to Osaka. I’m leaving after this.”

Osamu stopped walking. “What?”

He swallowed and faced Osamu. “I don’t know how much more I could take, Osamu.”

Eyes wet, Osamu looked at him with a pained expression. He whispered, “This is all my fault.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Why would Osamu think that? “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just life.”

The days flew by, despite his efforts to cling to them. Soon enough, Atsumu would marry Kitiara, and Kiyoomi would have to leave again. He wasn’t ready. Everything was just going too fast.

He didn’t know how to tell Atsumu that he was leaving the Black Jackals. He knew that the moment he did, they were done. Permanently.

“I am really not looking forward to this,” Osamu muttered to him one day. “Am I the only one one who has a bad feeling about this?”

“You’re not the only one,” Suna said, sounding exhausted. Kiyoomi studied him, trying to figure him out. It was easier to look at him now — high school felt so long ago, and in the end, it was Kitiara who turned out to be the biggest threat.

“Why are you two being so pessimistic?” he asked, frowning at them. He didn’t understand why he was the one who seemed to be handling this the best. “It’s happening. Everything will be fine.” Except him. But he’ll cope.

But then everything went to shit at the dinner rehearsals and it was all his fault.

Even filtered, his letter was too damn telling. He didn’t know what possessed him to read it out loud in the first place. Some last ditch effort, maybe.

The ensuing silence pricked at him, broken only by some merciful applause. He wanted, no, needed, to get out of there. But before he could, Atsumu and Osamu were suddenly having a screaming match. His body moved automatically, dragging Osamu away.

The twins could not be stopped, though, and he knew better than actually trying to end the confrontation, because sometimes, this was the best way to get them to make up. They yell at each other and shake each other, sometimes even punch each other, but they walk away better people.

And then Osamu dragged him into it by saying, “But he is the problem! Isn’t it? Isn’t he the cause of all our goddamn problems? Just admit that you’ve loved him your whole life and that you couldn’t handle the fact that I made the first move. Just admit that you don’t like anyone trying to take away your precious Omi-Omi even though you had no rights to him, none.”

He froze, trying to comprehend the words. The more the twins argued, the more they revealed to him, and he mentally shuffled puzzle pieces until they fell into place.

And he did not like what he saw.

The twins’ cold wars, the mood changes, the way even Osamu would sometimes seem upset with him for no reason. Atsumu pulling away and coming back and pulling away again. Atsumu being mean, Osamu being clingy, and Kiyoomi just sitting there, clueless, the one person among the three of them who had the least knowledge of what was going on. It made so much sense.

He was furious. He felt so stupid. For the first time, he wanted to hurt them, he wanted to hurt Atsumu the way he hurt him. He couldn’t help but mouth off right back at them. And then, carried away by emotion, he couldn't help but say, “You think you had it bad, Atsu? You will never understand the constant torment I've been in since we were fifteen. You put me through hell. And it hurt me to leave, but it hurt me to stay, so what was I supposed to do? I just needed to learn how to be me without you. I’m so tired of you.”

The moment the words left his mouth, he knew he’d said too much. He walked out, heart pounding and screaming, ‘He loved you, he loved you, he loved you.’

So when Atsumu chased him outside, he finally bared his heart to him. He shoved the stupid letter at him and said, “My confession letter. Eight years in the making. Maybe even longer.”

And he found out that he was wrong: confessing to Atsumu didn’t bring relief, only more pain. Because worse than not being loved by Atsumu at all was being loved by him, and never getting to have him.

That night, he packed his things, again, and decided to catch a train to the airport, right when the wedding was supposed to happen so no one could stop him.

He felt guilty about leaving Osamu like this again, though — they’d just made up. The next day, less than an hour before his train, he cowardly texted him to tell him he was leaving.

He had every intention of leaving, he did. He planned to take a vacation to Hokkaido, maybe do some soul searching, a little healing. And then he’ll check out which teams were holding tryouts and head over there. He didn’t care where.

But when the train doors opened, he tried to lift foot to take a step and he just — couldn’t do it.

His mind screamed at him, ‘Are you really going to run away again? He loved you. At some point in his life, he loved you.’

The thing about hope is that it’s lethally persistent, and sometimes you don’t realize until too late that it’s been planted. A seed was more than enough to hold his feet firmly on the ground, filling his mind with ‘what if, what if, what if.’

Before he knew it, the doors were closing and his chance at freedom was slipping away.

He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know how to feel. He was frazzled, confused, kind of scared. He felt like he was a little kid again, lost in a new neighborhood, lost in the mall.

And then the train left, revealing the opposite platform, and there was Atsumu staring back at him.

His first thought was, ‘Ah. He found me again.’

“Stay there,” Atsumu called out desperately. “Fuck, Omi, just stay there!”

He was never good at following instructions. He left the platform, mindlessly searching for the exit, his mind buzzing. He didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t realize that he was crying until he reached outside and a breeze brushed past his wet face. He stopped, unable to take another step, feeling like he was about to combust with the storm of emotions ripping through him.

He just felt so lost, so in pain.

But then Atsumu showed up, panting. Right on time, like the hero he’d always been.

He cried harder, wanting him so much in that moment, he didn’t know what to do with himself. Was he doomed to never find relief? How many times was his heart supposed to shatter before the universe decided it was enough? He felt pathetic for thinking it, but he needed Atsumu to save him. He’d always needed Atsumu and that was his biggest flaw, his biggest weakness.

Atsumu took one sure step after another towards him, and asked, “Why are you crying?”

For a split second he was that lost eight-year-old again, meeting Atsumu for the first time — back in that moment that forever cemented Atsumu as his Most Important Person Ever. The words spilled out of him. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I wanted to leave, but you weren’t with me. I couldn’t do it.”

“I wanted to marry her, but I couldn’t do it either. Guess we’re both stupid idiots.”

He blinked, realizing — right, Atsumu was supposed to be getting married right now. He was still in his tux, his hair was windswept, and he looked so, so handsome.

And he was here. With Kiyoomi, not Kitiara. Why?

And then Atsumu echoed his words from last night. “I owe you a confession. Eight years in the making. Maybe even longer.”

His heart froze, then started beating double time.

“When I was nine, I met my first real friend. And when I was thirteen, he became my first crush. And when we were fifteen, he became my first love. It’s always been you, Omi-Omi. And you left me, but I kept a part of you with me because I’m forever unable to let you go. You occupy a part of me no one could ever touch. I’m sorry I kept running, but I’m here now. Sakusa Kiyoomi, I’m in love with you. Please...please. Give me a chance. I could no longer stand the feeling of being without you.”

He couldn’t help the sobs. This was straight out of his long-buried fantasies, and he didn’t know what to do now that it was coming true. Was this a dream? Was he hallucinating?

When he finally kissed Atsumu for the first time, it was like smoothing healing cream on a nasty burn. It was relief. It was being brought back to life. Or maybe he’d never lived until that moment. He was hyper aware of the softness of Atsumu’s lips, and he immediately decided he couldn’t live without the feel of it anymore.

Atsumu was his now, his heart decided. They can pry him out of his cold dead hands.

He took Atsumu’s hand and smiled smugly as he followed Atsumu, as usual, to wherever his silly little mind wanted to take them.

 

Twenty-Three (Still)

Kiyoomi traced his fingers across Atsumu’s strong eyebrows, his sharp nose, his full lips, his soft cheeks. His wide brown eyes watched Kiyoomi patiently.

They were back in Osaka, Atsumu having moved into the Black Jackals’ sharehouse. It’s been a hectic month, with Atsumu doing damage control with Kitiara and her parents in the wake of the ruined wedding, and then eventually moving out of their apartment. Unraveling a five-year relationship and a wedding that took a year to plan was not easy. Atsumu had been stressed and pained and guilty and Kiyoomi had caught him crying on the phone twice.

He watched on the sidelines helplessly.

One night, he told Atsumu, “I’m sorry.”

Atsumu just cupped his face and said, “Don’t be. It’s tough right now, but I still choose you. I won’t ever regret it. That probably makes me a shitty person, but that’s hardly news.”

He placed his hand over Atsumu’s. “You’re not a shitty person. Not that much anyway.”

Atsumu snorted. “Very comforting.” He pressed a kiss on Kiyoomi’s forehead. “I need to make another call. Manager, this time. This is blowing up.”

And that was another thing. Atsumu’s engagement had been all over the news ever since he’d announced it on his Instagram with a picture of Kitiara wearing a ring. He never gave much details about their wedding plans, but it was public knowledge that it was set to happen sometime in the spring.

They decided to make an announcement that the wedding was called off, before more damning things could leak to the internet. People were, to put it simply, freaking out. Japan’s Hottest Athlete on the market again? Whose fault was it? Right when they were supposed to marry too? He couldn’t fault them for being so curious. Atsumu was still in talks with Kitiara about what story to give out.

But now, things have mostly died down, Atsumu was settled in, and he was on Kiyoomi’s bed. Laying still as Kiyoomi studied him, touching every place he was compelled to, because he could now.

“What are you doing?” Atsumu finally asked.

“I’m just trying to figure it out.”

“What?”

“Why it had to be you.”

Atsumu quirked an eyebrow, amused. “Oh?”

“Mhmm.” He touched his face again. “I suppose you’re handsome. But so what? You’re insufferable.”

“Am I now.”

He nodded. “And you have a wonky elbow.” He touched said elbow.

Atsumu laughed. “Good thing my boyfriend has a background in physiotherapy.”

He paused at that. Boyfriend. That was what he was now. It sent butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

“You like that?” Atsumu, as always, missed nothing.

He pinched Atsumu’s stupid lips shut. “Shut up. Stop talking, you’re better-looking that way.”

Atsumu grabbed his hand and pressed kisses on it. “Never. I’m gonna annoy you for the rest of our lives.”

“Good thing my whole life has been a practice in patience.”

“You are very much not patient, Omi-Omi. Sea urchin Omi,” Atsumu teased. “Stabbing me with a pencil, dislocating my elbow, breaking my heart.”

“You really want to compare injuries, Atsu?”

Atsumu laughed. He grabbed Kiyoomi and rolled on top of him, effectively holding him still. He nosed at Kiyoomi’s cheek. “Do they still matter?”

He considered the question. Now that they were here, it was easy to let past hurts go. They were just bad memories in the promising sea of good memories. The bad and the good were weaved into threads that made up their life, and he thought the picture was still beautiful to look at.

“No,” he said. “I suppose they’re practice for our future fights.”

“Already planning to pick fights, are you? I don’t know what I expected. People think you’re so sensible but they just have no idea.” Atsumu kissed him on the mouth, startling him. “My Omi-Omi. So short-tempered.” He kissed him again.

Kiyoomi started squirming away, flushed and unsettled by the attention. How was he supposed to handle this? He wasn’t prepared to actually get the idiotic man of his dreams.

Atsumu shifted until he was laying beside him, but refused to let go of Kiyoomi. He kept his arms wrapped around his waist, tugging him closer. “No getting away from me now. Haven’t we learned our lesson?  We’re staying together — this way we don’t inflict ourselves on poor unsuspecting people. Again.”

He couldn’t help but be amused by that. “So this way we’re contained.”

“Exactly. Just us two, forever, the way it should be.”

He searched Atsumu’s face, checking to see if he meant it. It sounded too impossible, like a dream.

“You know, I don't know why it had to be you either,” Atsumu mused. “I've been trying to figure it out for years.”

It was Atsumu's turn to study him, fingers brushing across the curls over his forehead, the two moles over his eyebrows, his cheeks, his jaw.

“Then I decided maybe I don't need a reason. It is what it is. I love you with all my heart. Does it need to make sense?”

No," he finally said, after momentarily being struck speechless. “I guess it doesn't.”

This time when Atsumu kissed him, he kissed back, needy and eager. Then he curled in closer, pressing his face against Atsumu’s, snaking an arm around him.

Atsumu held him and stroked his hair. “You and me forever,” he repeated. “Let’s make it happen.”

He nodded. If Atsumu had decided on it, then it was as good as done. He settled in his arms, safe and secure.

 

Twenty-Four

He thought he knew everything about Atsumu, but there was an entirely new side to him he discovered: the taste of his kisses, the sound of his voice saying ‘baby,’ the feeling of him moving inside of him.

It’s been a year since they got together and Kiyoomi still wasn’t used to it. Everyday there something new, and it unsettled him. Atsumu liked to trace the moles on his body with his fingers and lips and tongue and it always felt like being burned alive. Atsumu liked to tug him down onto his lap and it always made him turn red in mortification. Atsumu liked to surprise him with a hug from behind and it always startled him.

He didn’t know how much more of this he could take. Atsumu was bad for his heart. He was stuck in an endless loop of overwhelming happiness and terror — if this was what being in love truly felt like, then he wasn’t sure if he was a fan of it.

He sat on the bleachers now, watching his boyfriend. He was wrapping tape on Kiyoomi’s fingers because they were smarting from a block — Bokuto’s spikes were no joke. Atsumu was mindlessly humming a song, and his voice was pleasantly deep, but way out of tune. He was ridiculous. But his fingers were gentle and sure as they cradled Kiyoomi’s aching hand. Just like they’ve always been.

“Atsu, promise me you’ll never change.”

Atsumu looked up at that and he tilted his head, absorbing the request. “I don’t think people really change. Do you?”

He shrugged. Atsumu felt new. That was probably what unsettled him the most. He’d known him most of his life, how could he feel this way around him?

“I mean, I guess we’re always changing, but also...not really? Do I look different to you?” Atsumu cocked an eyebrow at him.

He stared at him intently for a while, trying to figure out when he’d morphed into something Kiyoomi was having a hard time wrapping his brain around.

And then Atsumu smiled, and that at least was the same.

Atsumu said, “It’s just growing pains, Omi-Omi.”

And of course he’d already figure out what Kiyoomi wasn’t saying.

That, too, was the same.

He figured he’d learn this Atsumu, too.

 

Twenty-Five

Adrenaline pumping through his blood, heartbeat thundering in his ears, Kiyoomi soared into the air and spiked the ball. It hit the opposite court with a clear, decisive thump, before spinning off almost violently. He landed on his feet, and just stood there in shock. There was a brief moment of stunned silence, and then deafening cheers.

Japan had just won the men’s volleyball finals in the Olympics for the first time in decades.

His teammates jumped at him — Hinata and Bokuto and Ushijima — and then Atsumu was shoving his way to him and kissing him, in front of everyone. In front of the whole world. They weren’t even out to the public yet, but he supposed they were now. Kiyoomi was shaking as he kissed him back, still in disbelief.

Atsumu pulled back and cupped his face and his brain went back online to register what he was saying. “..amazing, you’re amazing. You always come through, holy shit, I’m so proud of you. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” It was the only thing he could say. “You gave me the ball. It was just there.” He still couldn’t believe it.

The next few minutes slipped by like a dream. They shook hands with their competitors, bowed for their fans, for their watchers, for Japan, and then they trooped to the side for a huddle.

When they were more or less cleaned up, they zipped up their Team Japan hoodies and headed to where the awarding was held. They each received a medal amid constant applause, and Kiyoomi thought there couldn’t be anything better than this. This was it. If he was, for some reason, disallowed to play volleyball from this point onward, he’d still be satisfied.

When it was over, he made to step down from the podium, but Atsumu grabbed his hand. He glanced at him, and noticed none of their other teammates were moving. Were they not done yet?

And then Atsumu said “Omi” in a shaky voice and he frowned.

“Atsu, what —” he lost his voice when Atsumu went down on one knee and his heart thumped against his chest almost violently.

The stadium had exploded in cheers and screams, and the announcer was saying something excitedly into the mic, but the world seemed to slow and narrow until it was just the two of them.

Atsumu opened a tiny velvet box, revealing a gold ring inside, and the world hushed. He presented it to Kiyoomi with trembling hands. “Omi.” He faltered. “Oh god. Omi-Omi. I’ve loved you my whole life. Please let me love you for the rest of it. Will you marry me?”

“Atsu,” he said shakily. “Atsu, I’m going to kill you for doing this here.”

That made Atsumu laugh and Kiyoomi relaxed. He kneeled down in front of him and grabbed him into a hug. “Yes.”

The crowd was cheering again but they were both crying. They held each other tight as their bodies shook with sobs. Kiyoomi could hardly comprehend that he could achieve such happiness in just one day. As always, Atsumu had to prove him wrong: there was something better, all the goddamn time. He half suspected he was dreaming — this was just too good to be true.

And then their teammates were screaming into their ears and joining in the hug, and Hinata was sobbing and Bokuto was yelling, and he thought, ‘Nope, not a dream.’

It was real life and he was winning.

In the locker rooms, Ushijima dragged him into a hug. “I’m happy for you.”

He clutched him back. “Wakatoshi. Thank you.”

From behind Ushijima, he spied Atsumu avert his eyes. It was a difficult conversation, telling him about their relationship. Atsumu had insisted he wasn’t upset, but Kiyoomi knew that he was. He seemed to have swallowed it down, though. He didn’t kick a fuss while they were all training together for the Olympics.

Later, on the bus ride home, he studied his ring. He was never one for jewelry but he never wanted to take this one off. He’d shed countless tears before he reached this point. He’d had a lifetime of heartbreak, he thought he deserved this happiness.

“I had an entire speech planned,” Atsumu was saying beside him, a pout in his voice. “It was supposed to be very romantic. I totally choked, I can’t believe it.”

He looked over at him. “What’s new? You always choke at the worst moments. Remember when you put your foot in your mouth during that one fan event —”

“Okay,” Atsumu interrupted, looking increasingly upset. “That’s enough cheek from you.”

Kiyoomi leaned in and kissed the pout away. “You could have proposed in the bathroom while uttering gibberish and I still would have said yes. Stop being a baby.”

Atsumu seemed to mull that over. “Okay, I at least managed to do better than that. I’ll just write you a letter, too, the way you did for me.”

“There’s no need for such dramatics.” He rested his head on Atsumu’s shoulder, hugging him close. He shifted until he was comfortable. “I’m happy, Atsu.”

Soft lips brushed against his forehead. “That’s all that matters to me.”

 

Twenty-Six

Their wedding was a small and simple affair. Only their closest friends and families attended the traditional ceremony in the shrine. They drank cups of sake and recited their vows to the gods, and before he knew it, they were bound for life.

They made it up to their other friends in the reception and afterparty. Suna made a downright evil speech that made everyone gasp and laugh in turn, and Kiyoomi watched Atsumu’s eyebrows tick in irritation.

Osamu made a speech too, which made Kiyoomi cry. It was Atsumu’s turn to laugh.

Much later, the two of them moved slowly across the dance floor, not really knowing what they were doing, but happy enough to be in each other’s presence.

“So we’re stuck together for life now,” Atsumu informed him.

“I’m aware. I was there during the ceremony.”

“Just making sure you know. No take backsies.”

“It depends. If you leave your towel on the floor one more time —”

“Are you serious…”

“It bothers me, Atsu.”

“Alright, jeez.”

“That’s what you keep saying, and yet —”

“I don’t say anything about your habit of stashing sweets. You think I don’t know, but I know, Omi-Omi.”

He pouted at that. How did Atsumu find it? He’d been very careful.

“You know we’re on a diet,” Atsumu reminded him. “I’m gonna tell on you.”

He did the only thing he could. He widened his eyes and emphasized his pout, saying “Atsu.”

Atsumu stared at him, looking like he’d been struck. “Damn it, Omi. I hate it when you do that.”

He nuzzled his cheek. “I just want the sour gummies, please Atsu?”

“Alright already! Goddammit. This is unfair, it’s so unfair…”

Chuckling, he wrapped his arms around his husband — and didn’t that send a pleased thrill down his spine — and held on tight.

“I still can’t believe it,” Atsumu admitted softly. “This is a dream come true. How’d we manage to get here?”

“With a lot of difficulty and suffering.”

Atsumu huffed. “Have I ever told you that you’re the least romantic person I know?”

“You have.”

“Why do I put myself through this? You’re the worst.”

“That’s not what you were saying last night.”

Atsumu stiffened and clutched him tighter. “Don’t say things like that in public, oh god, you’re killing me.”

Kiyoomi snickered and tightened his arms around him. “Tell me you love me, Atsu.”

“I love you, Omi-Omi.” Atsumu said in his ear. He nibbled at an earlobe. “Even though you’re a brat. Some things just never change, huh.”

As they swayed together, surrounded by the people they loved most in the world, Kiyoomi thought that wasn’t such a bad thing at all. He rested his cheek against Atsumu’s hair.

Nope, not bad at all.