It was fate, if anything.
But Miya Atsumu didn’t believe in fate—
not yet, at least.
He preferred to rely on the things he knew and in that moment, all he knew was the exact bus route he needed to take to the gym where the MSBY Black Jackals were holding their very first practice. He’d sat up in his bed in some late hour memorizing the stop numbers as best as he could but, knowing him, it still wouldn’t be enough. There were many places where Atsumu would rather not make a fool of himself, and public transport was high on the list. So as he stood shivering at the bus stop marked with a clear ‘3’ and ‘4’, he mouthed silent prayers to whomever might be listening that everything would go smoothly. The silky inside of his track jacket was running up the chilly skin of his arms and his knees, uncovered by a measly pair of shorts, knocked together every once in a while. Atsumu hiked his volleyball bag further onto his shoulder before shoving both hands into the pockets of his jacket, tapping his foot impatiently.
Some other people had gathered at the same stop. Atsumu admonished himself for staring, but he needed to occupy his mind for a little while. The only thing worse than looking like a fool on public transportation was having some sort of mental breakdown on public transportation. He’d only done that once, and Osamu still hasn’t forgiven him. There was one lady with a briefcase wearing sensible shoes. There was another woman who was holding the hand of a little boy who Atsumu assumed was her son. A little ways behind them was a young man probably close to Miya’s age who was bundled up in a puffy jacket and a baggy pair of gray sweatpants. He looked much cozier than Atsumu felt. With his eyes scanning the boy’s appearance, Atsumu almost didn’t notice him look up from his phone and catch him staring.
Atsumu swallowed hard. His mouth froze agape when he did, letting all the hot air in his lungs escape as quick as lightning. He waited for the boy to make that face, that disgusted face that people made when they noticed that Atsumu was staring; but, instead, the corner of his mouth turned up into a subtle smirk and his eyes raked over Atsumu’s body from the soles of his shoes to the bleached tips of his hair. When Atsumu finally snapped his mouth shut, he felt a hot wave flush over his cheeks as he tore his gaze from the man. His fingers buzzed and his chest tightened as the heat flooded through the rest of his body.
Well, at least he wasn’t cold anymore.
Not thirty seconds later, the bus finally came to a screeching halt at the curb. The mother and son boarded first, then the woman with her briefcase. Atsumu glanced over anxiously to the young man who nodded him gently towards the entrance. Feeling his cheeks still burning red, Atsumu accepted the offer and boarded the bus as quickly as he could, racing to the furthest seat he could find and hoping that the man who boarded behind him was more interested in something on his phone than he could ever be in Atsumu. Once he’d cozied himself into his seat by the window, Atsumu masterfully shoved in his earbuds and began to blast whatever song he’d been listening to in the bathroom that morning. He let his temple rest lightly against the cold glass; it was a refreshing feeling considering the rising temperature of his face. And as the warm, wet heat of the bus spread across the exposed expanses of his skin, Atsumu finally let a cleansing breath escape his lips. Just two more stops and he would be there, then everything would be fine.
Everything was fine when he was playing volleyball.
So, when the last stop finally did screech into view, Atsumu nearly bounded off the bus, despite the entire thing being packed with people. The young man had gotten off a few stops earlier, and Atsumu was silently grateful. When the crisp, winter air hit his face, Atsumu couldn’t suppress a smile. He’d come to this part of town for his tryouts a few months ago, but he’d stayed in a hotel so close by that he doesn’t remember the trip much at all. Now he had an apartment almost four stops away because he couldn’t afford anything closer. But it was nice, in some way, because he got to spend the entire trip thinking and half-sleeping. If he lived any closer, he’d become a little too good at rolling out of bed and racing to practice—he’d done enough of that in high school.
High school, he thought.
I should call Osamu tonight.
The city was a little denser than where Atsumu started. The gym, from what he remembered, was nestled between a dojo and a massage place, both as fancy as it got. He had a vague memory of one of the team reps telling him that he got discounts at the massage parlor, but his head was still rushing from the try out that he didn’t catch it all. When he was called to try out, Atsumu expected to see other volleyball players there that he knew, possibly guys he played against in high school. But it was just a bunch of guys from their regular tea, the coach said he wanted to see Atsumu’s technical skills in particular. Now, as he trudged towards the familiar building, Atsumu prepared himself to see a sea of unfamiliar faces.
Don’t say anything weird, he reminded himself.
Don’t tell them about—, he thought.
He didn’t have time to finish the harsh reminder before he was swinging the front door of the gym open, letting the golden light inside stream out into the dull, gray winter morning.
A voice. A familiar voice.
Could it be?
“Shoyou?” Atsumu asked meekly.
Sure enough, a head of fluffy, orange hair bounded towards him like an excitable dog. Thing is, Atsumu hadn’t seen Hinata in years, not since their triumph at Nationals all those years ago. Back then, Hinata had been decidedly thin and gangly; if anything, his shape was the reason he could fly so high when he jumped. But now, Hinata was far more built and his skin was tanned to a golden brown that Atsumu knew he couldn’t have achieved in Japan. There’d been talk of Rio when it came to both Oikawa and Hinata, but Atsumu hadn’t paid much mind to the rumors—perhaps it really was true. Hinata’s jaw was wider and more set with age. His flaming hair was long and tied into a low bun with the front pulled back by a thin headband. It looked like the hair of that one Karasuno player—Asahi, was it?
With firm, strong arms, Shoyou wrapped Atsumu in a bone-crushing hug. All the air was expelled from Atsumu’s body as Hinata nearly spun him all the way around. He still wasn’t very tall—he only reached Atsumu’s chin—but he’d grown a few inches since Nationals. Or maybe it was just his new confidence that made it seem that way.
“You’re on this team?” He asked vibrantly.
“Yeah,” Atsumu eked out, nursing his chest after Hinata’s vice grip.
A laugh bubbled from Hinata’s chest. He paired it with a blinding smile which seemed even whiter against his tanned skin.
“That’s what you said, right?” Hinata leaned in, “You said you were gonna set to me one day?”
Atsumu’s eyes fell in thought. He did say that, right after their game at Nationals. And he’d meant it. There was something mesmerizing about Hinata’s potential and the dynamic of the setter he worked with on that team that was frankly intoxicating to Atsumu. Once his brother confirmed that he would be done with volleyball after high school, Atsumu found himself scrambling to fill such a gaping space in his soul. Maybe the fulfillment of this promise was the exact remedy he needed.
“I did say that,” Atsumu replied, feeling a smile crack onto his own face.
“And now you’re here!” Hinata screeched, “It’s real!”
Atsumu couldn’t help but let the warm crackles of Hinata’s voice thaw his frozen insides. Though they’d played three entire sets against one another, they hadn’t spoken much. Perhaps this was Atsumu’s chance to fill the hole in his world—Hinata seemed to be the perfect size.
“C’mere,” said Hinata, his hand already clutching Atsumu’s wrist and dragging him towards the open court, “I gotta introduce you to someone.”
As the full court came into view, the cracking of a volleyball hitting the ground roused Atsumu from his early-morning daze. When he watched the body descend feet-first towards the ground, Atsumu took in the sight of a familiar spiker. The man’s head turned quick as a whip, his large, round, golden eyes locking onto Atsumu almost immediately. His smile was wide and bright, like he was stretching his own face with his fingers.
“Hey, hey, hey!” He cried.
In a flurry, Bokuto abandoned the court and rushed towards Atsumu with reckless abandon. Atsumu braced himself for another gripping hug, but Bokuto chose instead to hold Atsumu firmly by the shoulders and stick his face in a little too close.
“C’mon, gimme a set, just one!”
Atsumu shook his head.
“What?” He replied.
“A set!” Bokuto cried, “I’ve only ever watched you play, I wanna hit a Miya set for real!”
Atsumu’s mouth hung agape like it had at the bus stop. He could feel his face flushing again as he carded through every excuse of why he couldn’t do it.
“I haven’t warmed up yet!” Atsumu shouted.
Bokuto’s smile never faded. His eyes trailed around for a moment, probably an indicator that he was gathering his thoughts from the ether.
“Yeah,” he said, “that makes sense.”
Once Bokuto’s hands had abandoned Atsumu’s shoulders, he shifted the fabric around and felt wet patches on either side—there was no doubt that it was Bokuto’s sweat.
“Where’re the locker rooms?” Atsumu asked, a little too desperate to remove himself from the loud environment for a moment.
“Over there,” said Hinata, pointing towards a door off to the left of the court.
Atsumu muttered a quick promise of return to the rowdy pair before sauntering off towards the locker room doors. Even in the hallway that ran alongside the court, Atsumu felt the weight lift from his shoulders. He was still decidedly nervous; the successful feeling of his bus trip had only lasted so long. The echoing squeaks of shoes and the shouts of men went from muffled to silent when Atsumu let himself through the door labeled “Men’s Locker Room”.
It was nice—nicer than anything Atsumu had ever changed in. Even at Nationals the team would often share a locker room with boys from other teams, so it was never a particularly pampering experience. But the MSBY locker room was larger than the one at Nationals and was painted with alternating black and gold walls. The lockers were a matching sleek black and each shower had a curtain in front of it which was adorned with its own MSBY logo; the curtain provided much more privacy than Atsumu ever remembered in his locker room showering experiences. In the center of the room were two long, golden benches bolted atop a crest that was painted into the hard ground, Atsumu threw his things onto some space atop the bench and took a deep, cleansing breath.
He trudged over to the lockers. They were the kind that began at the ceiling and ended at the floor, leaving each player a long, skinny place to put their things at the end of the day. Atsumu had only seen lockers like these in American movies held at high schools—he never thought he’d get to use one. Slipped into a little frame on each locker was a piece of paper with a name of an MSBY player. Atsumu spotted Shoyou’s and Bokuto’s, but his was all the way at the end. When he was finally standing in front of it, Atsumu’s fingers rose subconsciously towards the printed letters. He ran his index over each syllable of his name, just to make sure it was his. Atsumu pulled his lips between his teeth to suppress a grin. It felt good to be playing volleyball again. It felt—right.
Atsumu took a quick glance to his left to see if, for any reason, he knew the player who had the neighboring locker.
“Sakusa Kiyoomi,” Atsumu whispered to himself.
It sounded a bit familiar. Maybe they’d played each other at Nationals? Or maybe they’d gone to a training camp together? Atsumu was probably making it all up. His memory was a bit of a bitch, he forgot important things and remembered innocuous things. It was like a curse.
And considering that he’d forgotten to take his meds in the flurry of his morning, Atsumu wasn’t going to think on such a curse for too long.
Dragging his feet back to the benches, Atsumu plopped down next to his bag which was slumped over the edge. He got to work on his shoes first, untying the black laces with his defrosting fingers. He kicked them both off and unzipped his bag to root around for his good volleyball shoes. They’d been a gift from Osamu on his last birthday, and he’d broken them in during a pickup game with his old Inarizaki buddies. That was, of course, before Suna left. Nothing felt the same since he moved, so the boys didn’t really get together to play anymore. The inside of his bag was uncharacteristically dark, and his black shoes were hiding somewhere within it. He tried to use the eyes of his hands to see what he was touching, but it was no use. Atsumu had a nasty habit of shoving trash into his bag, covering anything of actual use.
“Excuse me,” a voice said flatly from above.
Atsumu furrowed his brow. His hands froze within the garbage inside his bag. He turned his head slowly towards the tall figure towering over him.
“Yeah?” Atsumu asked.
He was tall. That was all Atsumu could register for a moment. He was wearing a warm track jacket and a thick pair of winter sweatpants. His black, wavy hair was swooped back with a very thin layer of gel and he hauled an almost identical sports bag. Though Atsumu could see him very clearly, the man’s face was obscured by a blue, surgical mask that was covering both his mouth and his nose. The only parts of the man’s face that Atsumu could see was his set of thin, dark brown eyes which sported matching rows of thick, long lashes. His brows were sharp and intense, yet thin and well-groomed, and just centimeters above his right eyebrow were two dark moles; one was just a tad below the other, positioned perfectly. Though the man’s eyes were flat and serious, Atsumu couldn’t shake the downturned direction of them both—they looked almost sad.
“You’re in my seat,” he said.
His voice wasn’t particularly low, but it wasn’t as high-pitched and crackly as Hinata’s. It was somewhere in the middle. Atsumu let a quick chuckle escape from his nose at the assumed joke, but the man was speaking with such composure and certainty that Atsumu felt his body start to shudder in response. Was this guy actually serious?
“What?” Atsumu asked.
“You’re in my seat,” the man repeated, enunciating each word a little more than last time.
Atsumu’s brow furrowed even further. His eyes trailed from one end of the enormous locker room to the other.
“Dude,” Atsumu said, “it’s a bench.”
“And you’re in my seat.”
The man was relentless. Since Atsumu had turned his head, he hadn’t moved a muscle. Even his face was stoic and set, glaring down at the bumbling Miya.
“I don’t see your name on it,” Atsumu half-joked.
“It’s where I sat during tryouts and now I need to sit there again,” he said sternly, “because it’s my seat.”
Reeling back a bit, Atsumu removed his hands from his sports bag and turned towards the towering figure just slightly.
“You’ve gotta be joking, right?”
The man’s face finally moved with his hardening brow and narrowing eyes, “What about me makes you think I’m joking?”
He said the final word like it was someone else’s dirty napkin that he was forced to pick up and put in the trash. Atsumu’s body began to rush with prickling waves of anxiety.
“But I—” Atsumu began.
“Just move,” he commanded.
“No,” Atsumu retorted.
The man’s eyes widened.
“Move,” he repeated, his voice lowering.
“No,” Atsumu replied, “it’s a bench. You can literally sit anywhere. I was here first.”
It was childish, but growing up with a twin brother had formed Atsumu into an expert in childish fighting. And what this guy was asking for wasn’t even close to being a big adult problem. If anything, he was just mad he didn’t get his way, and Atsumu had no sympathy for people who complained about petty things like that.
“Just move a foot so I can sit there,” said the man.
“Just sit somewhere else on the bench,” Atsumu spat.
The man’s chest rose slowly then fell back down in a huff. The sound was muffled by his mask, but Atsumu swore he heard him grumble a bit. Turning cleanly on his heel, the man stomped out of the locker room. Atsumu’s lip quirked up at the sight. It was ridiculous, there was literally no one else in the locker room, he could’ve sat anywhere.
What was this guy’s problem?
Atsumu shook the interaction from his mind, his hands finally locating the shoes in his bag. As he slipped the shoes over his feet and tied them with warm, nimble fingers, Atsumu hoped that, if anything, the man he just met was some sort of benchwarmer, perhaps an overeager assistant coach.
He’d suitably warmed up just in time for the head coach to give a short spiel to the men scattered around the giant court. Bokuto and Hinata had been practicing serves and the other players were milling around, retrieving stray balls and stopping at walls for the occasional hamstring stretch. Soon, Atsumu found himself in a frighteningly familiar position—he had a volleyball in hand and was preparing to serve at the back line. He smiled. For the first time since his last pickup game, Atsumu noticed how right to felt to be standing on the court. For the moments where he was handling a ball and watching other players dance in the exquisite choreography of the game, all of the gruesome, harrowing thoughts would dissolve and Atsumu could be capable, for once in his life. It flowed through him like a wave of warm water, extending even to the ends of every fingernail and strand of hair.
With an expectant inhale, Atsumu scanned the court for his teammates in that specific practice match. On the other side of the net, he spotted Bokuto in the front where he was about to jump out of his own skin in excitement and Hinata, a row back, whose body seemed to vibrate even more than Koutaro’s. But as his eyes panned to his left, Atsumu caught sight of a similar mop of wavy black hair.
Damn, Atsumu thought, so he is on this team.
Atsumu didn’t have time to lament. Before he knew it, the whistle was being blown and the ticking clock of his serve had begun. It was fluid, instinctual: the gliding threads against his fingertips as he tossed the ball, the perfectly planned steps, the slight burn in both knees when he sprung from the ground and, Atsumu’s favorite part, the resounding smack of his hand against the surface of the ball. Falling back to the court always felt like floating as he watched the ball travel masterfully over the net.
It was Hinata who received the ball like he’d been born to do so. Atsumu’s eyes widened as he watched his toned, tanned leg stretch out beside him as his arms locked at the perfect point at the end of the ball’s arc. As soon as the ball smacked against the skin of his arms, shoes squeaked all over the court, particularly those of Bokuto who was running cross court and calling for a set from a player that Atsumu didn’t recognize. His feet moving before his mind could, Atsumu hurried up to the net and gave a look to a player behind him, urging the teammate to receive what would undoubtedly be an expert cross-shot from Bokuto. The player obeyed, sticking himself right at the direction of the impossibly fast ball that traveled back across the net to Atsumu’s side. Atsumu heard Bokuto give a hearty “ha!” as he hit the ball; he probably felt as natural as Atsumu did on the court.
When the distinct sound of volleyball against skin rang once more through the court, Atsumu’s eyes shot up to trail the ball carefully, shifting himself ever so slightly to place himself beneath it. With a quick glance down, Atsumu searched for the spiker that would have a hand up or give a shout to call the ball to themselves. Even though he’d told himself it wouldn’t be Aran or Osamu or even Kita, the idea hadn’t quite burrowed itself into Atsumu’s brain until he saw a complete stranger standing in their place.
Well, it wasn’t exactly a complete stranger.
If he hadn’t still been sporting his two moles aligned perfectly above his left eyebrow, Atsumu might not have recognized him as quickly as he did—particularly because the man had shed his mask. His eyes were still thin and darkened at the sight of Atsumu, but his jaw and lips were set in a rather soft line. His skin was impossibly smooth and seemed almost translucent and pearl-like—Atsumu swears he could see three blue veins crawling up the line of his jaw. He’d shed his warm tracksuit to reveal a rather built frame of muscles that were covered in similar, pale skin. A few black curls had loosened from their gel prison and fluttered along his forehead, kissing the top edge of his raven-black brows.
Silently, with little change in expression, the man lifted his left hand, coaxing the ball to himself. And if Atsumu had registered it all in time, he would’ve set the ball right as the material grazed his fingers, but he was caught up in a paralyzing moment.
Atsumu couldn’t tell if it was the carefully crafted line of his body as he prepped his body to run towards the ball or the deliberate places in his face where the bone was cavernous within which his eyes and cheeks could sink. Or perhaps Atsumu was perplexed by simply seeing the lower half of his face for the first time. In any case, he’d noticed the ball in his hands far too late.
With a flutter of panic falling down his body, Atsumu set the ball awkwardly off of his stiff fingers towards the player’s general direction. And as he watched the player run towards it and spike it, Atsumu could’ve listed twelve mistakes in that one simple toss. Watching the ball be received by the other side, Atsumu knew that what he’d done was fatal, proven true by the thwack of the ball against the floor of his side of the court. Atsumu’s eyes flew from the ball that was now rolling towards the back of the gym to the celebrating players on the other side. As badly as he wanted to melt away right then and there, he could feel his team’s eyes all on him, and there was on particularly stinging pair.
Atsumu craned his neck up to see the spiker. His brow had dropped, his hands were balled into fists, and his lip was twitching with unfettered anger.
“The toss was late,” he spat, “and low.”
Obviously. Atsumu had already identified those two failures of his toss amongst a slew of others. And from any other spiker, he would’ve done his obligatory whining session before promising to be better and delivering on that promise. But the anger of his earlier interaction with the guy started to burn in his memory. It didn’t help that the voice he’d used to demand Atsumu leave his seat was the same voice he was using to critique Atsumu’s set.
“I know that,” Atsumu retorted.
“Then fix it,” the man hissed.
From the sidelines, Atsumu heard the coach yell his name and, presumably, the name of the player he was squabbling with.
“Cut it out, get set up to receive,” the coach barked.
Atsumu met Sakusa’s eyes once more, the name now etching itself into his brain. With only a little internal grumbling and groaning, Atsumu set himself onto the back line once again and prepped himself to receive a serve from the other side. And the play went pretty well, Atsumu set to a player he didn’t know, but the set felt comfortable and familiar, like the ones he’d done a million times before. They scored a point on the other side, then the other side scored a point on them. Now, in the middle line, Atsumu hunched over for a moment to catch his breath. In some way, the challenge seemed almost insurmountable when it came to beating the powerhouses on the other side of the net. But, in another way, the thought of playing on a team with those same powerhouses made Atsumu’s heart thrum against the edge of his chest. When he smiled, he could taste salty drips of sweat rolling over his lip and into his mouth.
Like before, Atsumu found himself at the front line with the ball falling directly towards him. But when he looked down at the player who’d called his name, it was Sakusa with an even bigger scowl on his face. Atsumu quirked his lip and set to the eager spiker. He had to admit, Sakusa’s technique wasn’t bad at all. If he wasn’t such a dickwad, Atsumu would’ve actually been excited to play with him. When Sakusa spiked, his body would curl into a near perfect arch which would give him just the right amount of power to still be precise, but also watch the ball nearly flatten against the opponent’s side of the court. Sakusa fell back to the ground with a squeak of his shoes. Atsumu smiled as the players around his murmured praises and one even slapped his shoulder in encouragement, but Sakusa turned to shoot a rather dark glare at the setter.
"Do you always wait until the very last minute to set or are you just trying to mess with me?” Sakusa asked bitingly.
“Hey, we got the point, didn’t we?” Atsumu joked.
“It’s not about the point,” Sakusa grumbled, “it’s about the game. Set earlier.”
When Sakusa turned to reset himself on the court, Atsumu’s brow curled in half-confusion, half-amusement. Was this guy for real? It was almost like playing with a way-more-serious, lethally-authoritative clone of his brother—perhaps their only similarity was their expressionless faces.
They volleyed for a little while and Atsumu got to accustom himself to the styles of other spikers and even practice his own receives against Hinata’s quicker-than-lightning feet and another player’s terrifyingly violent serve. After every set, the spiker would come up to Atsumu, give him a pat on the shoulder, and request a small change for next time. Atsumu would smile and graciously accept the correction, storing it away for the next play.
So, when Sakusa called for a set sometime around the halfway point of the game, Atsumu glared at him for a moment. This guy couldn’t actually be serious. With a chaste sideways glance, Atsumu spotted a spiker a few paces behind Sakusa who was just as primed to receive the set. After he made sure that Sakusa was watching, Atsumu set the ball particularly so Sakusa would run, thinking the ball was his, but it would be too short and obviously meant for the spiker in the back line. In reality, it was just a feint so the opponent would think the ball was going to the left, but Atsumu saw the vindictive potential in the maneuver. But as the ball smacked against the spiker’s palm, Atsumu watched his feint fail as Hinata sped towards the other side of the court and received the ball. Once the ball flew back up into the air, Atsumu watched the opponent setter trail the ball with his eyes.
“Three blockers on the left!” Atsumu barked to his teammates.
And they obeyed, rushing to the left side of the net where Bokuto was watching the setter closely.
“No way,” Atsumu whispered to himself.
With just a single glance, Atsumu watched the opponent setter float gracefully back to the ground with his hands primed for a setter dump, and the ball was already bouncing on his side of the court. When he finally trained his eyes down to watch the ball roll away, Atsumu spotted a pale arm and a wide hand fall onto the court. Sakusa, mid-dive, craned his neck up to a bewildered Atsumu, hellfire raging in his eyes.
It sucked. Setter dumps always sucked, especially when it made you dive onto the ground and look up at your opponent with sad eyes. In a chaste attempt at reconciliation, Atsumu took one step towards Sakusa and offered his hand to help the man up from his position on the ground. But after just one searing look at his face then his hand, Sakusa pushed himself up off the ground and rejected Atsumu’s outstretched hand.
“You should’ve set to me,” Sakusa spat, “I wouldn’t have spiked it so close to a receiver and we would’ve won the point.”
“I thought it wasn’t about the point,” Atsumu mocked.
Sakusa’s brow hardened. The hellfire in his eyes only raged on further. He was balling fists at his sides as Atsumu spoke.
“If you’re gonna complain about my shitty sets, then don’t call for balls anymore, yeah?” Atsumu joked menacingly.
Apparently, the line Atsumu had been toeing with Sakusa wasn’t as “under his toe” as he thought. With sure steps, Sakusa charged up towards him with a pointed finger and a permanent scowl pasted onto his face.
“Who do you think you are?” Sakusa growled.
“I don’t want trouble,” Atsumu held his hands up in a half-joking surrender.
“Then stop acting like a piece of shit!” The spiker shouted.
“Me? The piece of shit? You were the one losing your cool over a seat—on a bench.”
A screeching whistle blow peeled loud enough through the gym for Atsumu to feel his ears ringing.
“Sakusa! Miya! Bench!” The coach barked in one-word commands.
Atsumu released a slow, hot breath. Sakusa’s chest still traveled up and down with his quick, angry puffs of air. They glared at each other for a second, Atsumu weighed the value of continuing such a heated conflict. But, soon, the two of them retreated to the sidelines where the head coach was stationed with crossed arms and an even crosser expression. His eyes trailed the two players as they neared the bench before he commanded two players who were standing off to the side to take Atsumu and Sakusa’s place. When they finally did reach the bench, Atsumu caught Sakusa’s eye.
“Milord,” Atsumu said in a mock English accent, his hands extended theatrically towards a random place on the metal bench.
Sakusa scowled in response, Atsumu almost heard him growl, before he took a seat at the furthest end of the bench from where Atsumu was settling himself.
“Not a word outta you two until this set is over,” the coach grumbled.
Atsumu was happy to oblige. It wasn’t like he had anything to say to the dickwad anyways.
The end of practice didn’t come soon enough. Sakusa and Atsumu were eventually permitted to rejoin the group, but not without a scathing look from the head coach. Thankfully, the rest of the day was full of drills and technical work rather than more practice games. Atsumu supposed that the first game had been an attempt by the coaches to see the dynamics that already existed between players and which dynamics would form quicker than others. If anything, he and Sakusa had helped them in their research.
After succeeding in evading Sakusa in the locker room and on his way out of the gym, Atsumu was feeling rather light and airy in the brisk outdoors.
“Wait up, Atsumu!”
Both Hinata and Bokuto appeared swiftly beside Atsumu. For just having finished an hours-long volleyball practice, they seemed pretty energetic. Atsumu stuck his hands in his pockets and watched his breath steam up in the cold air in front of him as both of the men rambled on about something or other.
“And when you went swoosh and fwoosh—so cool!” Hinata screeched.
“I know, right?” Bokuto shouted in response.
“Hey, ‘Sumu,” Hinata poked Atsumu’s arm with a mittened hand, “what was up with you and that guy?”
In an attempt to remain cool and confident, Atsumu scoffed.
“He’s a jerk, that’s it,” Atsumu replied.
“Oh,” Hinata responded, his eyes trailing down.
“I mean,” Atsumu attempted to remedy what had obviously killed the vibe of the conversation, “he’s a good player we just—had a spat in the locker room and took it out on the court. I guess.”
Hinata pursed his lips and watched his feet crunch against the cracked pavement sidewalk. Silence fell over the three for a few moments, and it was precisely the moment that Atsumu’s brain started to spin. Sure, he’d forgotten to take his medication that morning, but he’d had volleyball for the past six hours to distract him from his own thoughts. Now that it was silent and he was just walking to the bus stop, his brain lost control and started to do what it always did.
There was the first horrifying image—the one of Hinata.
No, Atsumu commanded his brain and shook the thought away, I’d never do that to Hinata.
But what if he did? The image persisted—bloody, gory, downright psychopathic. Why else would Atsumu’s brain produce something so virile unless he really, deep down, wanted to do it, wanted to hurt some guy he barely knew?
Sealing his lips together, Atsumu squished his eyes closed and tried to dismiss the thought. His therapist would’ve been disappointed in him, but he wasn’t exactly in the mental space to deal with the thoughts right now, he just wanted them gone. He tried to think of anything else: the game, the MSBY uniforms, Osamu’s onigiri, Suna in California.
“Hey, isn’t that the guy you screamed at on the court today?”
Bokuto’s voice broke Atsumu from his torment and, sure enough, Sakusa was climbing onto the bus just a couple hundred feet away. Atsumu swears that he heard Bokuto’s loud, unrestrained comment, but he didn’t show it even if he did. Sakusa, adorned again in his mask, grabbed onto the handle of the bus door and pulled himself onto the vehicle. But before his body could disappear completely around the corner, Atsumu caught a flash of blue on his hands.
“Bo and I are going to get pork buns, do you wanna come?”
When Atsumu turned, he was met with a beaming Hinata and an eagerly waiting Bokuto.
“I—can’t,” Atsumu said.
It was partly true. From where he stood, Atsumu had two choices: he could either get pork buns with Bokuto and Hinata and continue to see terrible images of the two of them in his head, or he could see terrible images all by himself at home. His therapist would definitely be disappointed with him now.
“Oh, okay,” said Bokuto, just a dash of sorrow in his voice.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at practice, right?” Hinata asked.
“Yeah,” Atsumu chuckled, “as long as I can stay as far from Sakusa as I can. D’you think I can swing a whole season without having to talk to him or set to him?”
The pair laughed like it was a joke, and Atsumu didn’t have the heart to tell them that it wasn’t.
The ride back to his apartment four stops away seemed shorter than it had in the morning. Atsumu shoved his earbuds in and drowned out all the yapping in his mind with some rap playlist that Suna had made for him. Some of the songs were good, some of them were decidedly not, but Suna seemed so excited about it that Atsumu said he’d listen every once in a while. When he finally got off the bus at the very last stop, Atsumu muttered a quick thanks to the bus driver and raced up to his apartment, mostly desperate to escape the cold. With numb, shivering fingers, Atsumu fiddled with his keys and let himself into the dreary, empty space. There was furniture there left by the last owner, but Atsumu had done little to spruce up the space in the month he’d lived there. There was only one window in his living room and an even smaller one in his bedroom, and the entire thing was painted a drab eggshell white. Osamu always complained about Atsumu’s side of the room being a mess, so he’d probably be pretty impressed to see how well Atsumu had maintained the space in his absence.
But it wasn’t so much that Atsumu had suddenly gained an affinity for tidiness as much as he just hadn’t unpacked anything at all. For a month, Atsumu had been living out of a few boxes, one that contained his clothes and another that contained his flatware and silverware that he dug out whenever he needed something or didn’t feel like washing the last dish he pulled out and used. There was one lonely MSBY poster on his wall and a small photo he’d taken with Aran, Kita, Osamu, and Suna on graduation day. He’d stuck the thing crudely up on the wall with a ball of painter’s tape that must’ve been left by the previous owners who were at least nice enough to remodel. The photo hung above his bedside table where there was one phone charging cord and an almost empty bottle of pills.
When Atsumu had told his therapist that he was moving, he felt—guilty, above all. It was like he was abandoning the man that had kept him mostly sane for two whole years in favor of some job. But the doctor didn’t seem startled at all, in fact, he was happy for Atsumu. He’d filled his prescription again and sent it to a pharmacist close to where his new apartment would be, but he kept giving Atsumu all these flyers and business cards for places and therapists in the area. Atsumu acted gracious in the moment, but the stack of papers had just been shoved into a non-descript box and was only revealed when Atsumu went on a mad hunt for a clean pair of underwear. Now, the stack was sitting right next to his prescription bottle, wrinkled and torn.
“You’ve been on medication for a while, Atsumu,” his therapist had said, “eventually you’re gonna need to start building upon the version of you we’ve established here together to start getting your life back.”
It all sounded good in theory. OCD had, in a nutshell, completely ruined his life. But every time the light of recovery would glimmer at the end of the tunnel, Atsumu would only watch it fizzle out before he could reach it, revealing more long, dark tunneling. Sure, he wanted the thoughts gone and his life back, but he wasn’t sure how far he’d go to get it, considering that it could even be got. For now, when he remembered to take his medication, it did wonders. Or, rather, it was just enough to make him not kill himself.
And hey, that was already loads better than two years ago.
Atsumu ran a lazy finger over the flyer that rest on top of the pile. It was an OCD group therapy session about a five-minute walk away. Eyeing the dates offered, Atsumu tried to remember what day it actually was.
It was Monday.
Monday at 5:45pm, to be exact.
Perhaps it was just his luck that there was a session Monday night at 6pm.
“I met this therapist in school, he’s really one of the best in Exposure Response, and he runs this group session that I think you’ll benefit from,” the therapist had explained while shoving the flyer into Atsumu’s hand.
“I—just don’t think I’m ready for a group—” Atsumu had replied.
“Miya, listen to me. The biggest thing OCD will do to you is make you feel like you’re all alone. Going to a group session will let you know that you’re not, and that there’s lots of people out there who feel just like you do.”
As much as Atsumu wanted his old therapist to be wrong, the man rarely was. With his fingers still sliding along the edge of the paper, Atsumu finally picked it up, studied it for just one moment more, then folded it into quarters to stick in his pocket.
“Why the hell not,” he whispered to himself.
It was the exact sentiment that was helping Atsumu take each trudging step down the sidewalk just a few minutes later. He’d taken a moment to change into a warmer outfit consisting of jeans, a gray hoodie, and a black jean jacket that he’d stolen from his brother during the move. Paired with his hi-tops, the outfit looked as bland and unassuming as Atsumu wanted to feel, hoping he could slip in and out of the group session without being noticed. He’d carefully transferred the folded paper to his new pockets so that he could stand in front of the strip and search for the correct address that was printed on the flyer. Sure enough, he was soon stood in front of the correct building, a skinny little block shoved between a convenience store and a soba restaurant. The “open” sign in the restaurant blinked incessantly in the corner of Atsumu’s vision. It seemed to prompt him inside even though the prickly anxiety had started to overtake his body the minute he started walking. Everything in him wanted to turn around and go home, but he couldn’t afford to disappoint his poor therapist a third time in just one day.
And he was a little desperate to get out of the cold sooner than later.
So, with his hands shoved in his pockets and the folded flyer carefully concealed, Atsumu slipped through the propped-open door. The hallway before him was long, but it was warm. Despite the blustery cold rushing through the cracked door, there was something about the dark wood walls and matching floors that filled Atsumu’s body with an indescribable warmth. A long, running, red carpet guided feet down the hallway which only let to one door all the way at the end. The hanging lights cast golden puddles against the ornate carpet and the deep wooden floor planks. His body wasn’t shivering from the cold anymore, but it was still shuddering every now and then from the anxiety. What was he thinking? He didn’t just show up at stuff like this. He was gonna make a fool of himself.
Atsumu’s mind practically screamed at him as he walked down the hallway and tried to distract himself with the pictures on the wall. Most of them were of random people, sometimes pair but sometimes groups. Seeing them up there made Atsumu feel like he’d just walked into someone’s house.
Oh my god, what if he had just walked into someone’s house?
Swallowing down a hard knot in his throat, Atsumu finally reached the end of the rather skinny hallway. There was a double door before him, a large wooden piece that was carved in a rather Western style. The entire place looked like an old, European house to Atsumu, like one he’d see in a foreign film about some pointless time in the past. On the other side of the door, Atsumu could hear murmuring voices. He was crazy. He was just going to walk in? Fat chance. Atsumu felt his face heating up, his anxiety only rising through his body.
He’d barely come to terms with his mental illness, there was no way he was ready to share his experience with other people. What if they laughed at him? What if they told him he wasn’t OCD enough to be at their meeting? That would be far too humiliating, Atsumu would be some kind of masochist to subject himself to that. And it was all strangers, he didn’t like to talk to strangers. He had to go home and keep himself safe from such a purgatory.
That’s it—Atsumu was just going to go home.
A small wave of relief poured over Atsumu’s body. Sure, he’d disappoint his therapist a third time, but the old bag didn’t know what he was up to, so it didn’t matter anymore. He was going to leave and make himself some instant ramen and go to bed and just remember to take his medication the next morning. Atsumu took another longing look at the door, seeing small beams of golden light poke through the line which cut the doorway in half. Maybe he’d come back some other day and try again, or maybe he wouldn’t. It wasn’t anyone’s business but his own.
But before Atsumu could puff his chest and saunter back towards the entrance, the door in front of him clicked and pulled away from his face, a member of the group must’ve gotten up and opened the door. Had they heard Atsumu outside? Glancing up in a panic, Atsumu’s mouth went dry.
Someone from the group had surely opened the door: a familiar masked spiker sporting a mop of black, wavy hair and two perfectly aligned moles above his left brow.