When Atsumu was seven years old, he found the magical spot in the field a few miles from his house.
He’d been the victim of taunting from his twin brother and his friends long enough, so he started to run down the road and didn’t turn back. Wiping tears from his bleary eyes, he didn’t look at the signs or the sun or anything, his heart was too torn up to care anyways. Thus, when the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky went ink black, he started to panic. There were no lights in the countryside besides the sliver of moon that hung in the sky and the stars that accompanied it. Atsumu stood on the side of the road with his mouth agape, familiar names caught up in his throat.
“Osamu,” he whimpered.
His eyes trailed as far down the road as the moonlight would allow him. The gravel was digging into the balls of his feet and his heels had gone all raw from running without shoes. Sweat dripped into his eyelashes and mixed with old tears.
“Mama?” he eked out.
Even if he’d tried to navigate his way back home, he would’ve ended up blinded by the night and too fatigued to go any further.
A soft brushing arose behind him. The crickets that had once acted as background noise to the rushing blood in his ears grew louder and clearer. Turning slowly on his heel, the field came into view.
It was a vast landscape, reaching as far as his young eyes could see, a patchwork of reeds and wheat and unkempt grass. It towered over him, the tallest reeds could tickle his noise while he was standing up straight, and the shortest ones just brushed his hip. The moonlight glittered off of the very tops of the reeds and when they swayed in the night breeze, they cast shadows on the edge of the old dirt road where Atsumu was standing.
Like the field had some magnetic pull, Atsumu found himself shuffling into the field, using both of his hands to part the grass and make a path for himself as he moved further in. As his hands slipped from the sides, the grass would tickle the backs of his arms and legs where the sweat was already drying in the night chill. Yet, wrapped in the arms of the field, Atsumu was pleasantly warm and his feet sighed with relief padding along the soft dirt ground.
Instantly, the panic in his body subsided. His once dry mouth felt normal and the relentless trembling in his hands had stilled. He kept walking, on and on, not quite sure where he was going but not worried in the slightest about it. He could’ve walked on forever. Perhaps he would eventually reach the end of the field, or maybe the end would never come, and he could walk forever and ever, far away from all the taunting and teasing.
But, for now, he wanted to lie down.
He traveled a few more feet into the field before finding a pleasantly soft spot where he could lie down without killing his back. Gingerly, he lowered himself onto his hands then kept shifting until he was on his back. Sometime during the process, he’d closed his eyes—he didn’t want to look until he was sure he’d be looking at the sky. So, when his back was comfortably flush with the dirt, he let his eyes finally fall open.
The sky was bigger than Atsumu ever remembered. The stars twinkled all over like freckles across heaven’s giant face, the moon as its eye watching over him. Atsumu lifted his hand and jutted his thumb out to measure the distance between the moon and the brightest stars in the sky; it was about the end of his thumbnail to the center of his first knuckle. There was usually only one brightest star but, tonight, there were two, one below and one about a thumbnail’s length above it.
Two brightest stars—he couldn’t wait to tell Osamu about it.
A pang of sadness shot through Atsumu’s heart. It was the first moment since he’d crawled into the field that he felt small—and looking up at the sky, he couldn’t imagine feeling any bigger than a speck. Yet, he was happy. For a brief moment, he wasn’t Miya Atsumu, he was only a speck, a stroke of paint against the canvas of the endless universe.
Insignificant, yet content.
The sound of the rustling reeds surrounded him, and he felt safe amongst the chirping crickets and buzzing June beetles that were swarming his head. He wanted to be small forever.
“Atsumu!” One of the crickets called out to him.
The sound was very far away. Atsumu furrowed his brow and listened again.
The sound was no cricket.
It was his mother.
“’Sumu, baby, are you out here?”
Atsumu scrambled up as hastily as his lanky, young limbs would allow. Just as his head peeked over the reeds, a pair of blaring headlights shot through the darkness.
“I told you he ran this way, Mama!”
A smile cracked onto Atsumu’s face at the sound of his brother’s voice. There was a familiar old truck pulled up on the side of the road, but there was no driver—perhaps because his mother was racing through the field towards the tuft of her son’s hair that was peeking over the reeds.
He ran towards her, parting the grass with even more insistency than before.
“Mama!” He cried.
When they collided, his mother made quick work of wrapping her arms around him and entrapping him in the tightest, most suffocating hug.
“I am so mad at you,” she whispered in a teary voice.
Atsumu didn’t mean to cry, but he felt the hot tears fall all on their own. The space where his chin was digging into his mother’s shoulder was already damp with his snot and sweat. His mother only held him tighter, rubbing a comforting circle around the expanse of his shoulders.
“Oh, my baby,” she hummed.
She planted kisses all over his face, on his forehead and his eyelids and his chin. Though they only stayed in the field for a few more moments, it felt like ages to Atsumu. While he sat in the car with Osamu pinching at his sides, he could only gaze out the window and wish he was lying in that field again, feeling small and happy.
There was no other place that made him feel that way.
Atsumu couldn’t sleep.
He’d been tossing and turning for what felt like hours and every time he looked at the clock, he’d heave a sigh and slam his head back into the pillow defeated.
Images of the evening played on an endless loop in his mind. The colors of the sunset peeking out from over Sakusa’s curls, his bubbling laugh travelling through the spring breeze, the feeling of his lips between Atsumu’s.
Atsumu groaned. He grabbed the pillow beside him and pressed it over his face to muffle his scream. By the time the pillow was back in its original place, Atsumu was all the way awake all over again. He peered at his alarm clock
It was no use. He’d even taken his medication on time, but his brain still wouldn’t quit. He was lucky that the thoughts weren’t harrowing and haunting like usual—rather, the thoughts sent shivers through his body and made his heart skip beats. Yet, the excitement would only last so long. He was sure that he’d screwed up everything with Sakusa. What was he thinking kissing him? And in such a stupid way, too?
Atsumu used his fingers to drag down the skin beneath his eyes in anguish.
Everything felt like it was moving around him, spinning and shifting and twisting around. He took out his mental checklist.
Aran—sorta check, they had never really been on bad terms.
Atsumu sighed. After himself and his father, Osamu was the one Atsumu was angriest at. They’d lived together for years, they shared a womb, yet Osamu never understood what he was going through. He was always coarse with Atsumu no matter how terrible his mental health was. There was nothing he wanted more than to get back at him, to exact his revenge for all the years of cruelty. Maybe the next time Osamu was visiting the apartment or Atsumu was back in his hometown he could finally—
“Oh my god,” he whispered to himself as the realization flooded through him.
He scrambled for his phone on the nightstand. Pulling the cord from the port, he dialed one of his most recent numbers. While it rang, he pressed the phone to his ear and flopped back onto the pillow so that his eyes were trained on the ceiling.
“I am gonna kill you for callin’ me at such an unholy hour,” Osamu’s groggy voice crackled over the receiver.
“I was fifteen,” Atsumu said.
Osamu was silent for a moment.
“I was fifteen years old in my first year of high school,” Atsumu recanted, “and I’d had the shittiest day at school. The thoughts were bad and at some point, I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Atsumu,” he whispered, “why are you tellin’ me—?”
“I ditched practice and just ran,” Atsumu continued, his voice finally starting to waver, “and I kept runnin’ until sunset, I don’t know why it was just all I could think to do.”
Honestly, he’d forgotten this story—he’d forgotten it until tonight.
“I couldn’t look at you or mom so I just—” his voice got caught up somewhere between his chest and his throat.
“Atsumu,” Osamu replied lowly.
“And, at some point, I ended up at this—field,” Atsumu felt the first tear trail from the corner of his eye down the side of his head, pooling somewhere on the pillowcase, “and I sat in the middle of it feelin’ so small and insignificant.”
Osamu didn’t respond. Atsumu felt his face go hot with shame from crying so openly while his brother was just on the other end of the phone, but he couldn’t help it, not after years of holding back. It was the same field, the one he’d gotten lost in as a kid, and he had the feeling he couldn’t find anywhere else—right down to the two brightest stars in the sky.
“All I could think to do was call you. So, I did,” he whimpered, “I gave you my location and you said ‘okay’—and then you hung up.”
There were tears on both sides of his face now, creating a collection of damp spots all over his pillowcase. His chest kept getting tighter and tighter, but he supposed it was the aftermath of letting years of resentment roll right off of him.
“And then you showed up ten minutes later in dad’s old truck,” Atsumu sucked in a shuddering breath, “I got in, you handed me a stick o’ beef jerky, then you drove me home.”
He had to whisper now to mask his wavering voice, gut with how often he was sniffling, he really wasn’t hiding anything.
“You didn’t ask any questions about why I was in that field,” he whispered, “or how I got there or anythin’. You just—drove.”
Atsumu heard Osamu sniffle on the other end. Whether it was because he was crying or just suffering from springtime allergies, Atsumu would never know, but he liked to entertain the former.
“I was so mad at you for all these years because you’d never understand but, that day, you didn’t need to understand—you just had to be there. And you were.”
Atsumu felt a cry rattle in the center of his chest, the rest he tried to keep trapped behind pursed lips.
“You’re a really good brother, ‘Samu.”
The words barely came out. He hoped if they translated well over the speaker because there was no way he’d be able to say them again without losing it completely.
“And I love you,” he added.
He listened to Osamu’s heavy breathing on the other end. Maybe he’d fallen asleep—the thought almost made Atsumu chuckle.
“I love you, too,” Osamu replied in a low voice.
Atsumu inhaled sharply. When he released the breath, he felt the weight of twenty-three years fall from his chest. As he smiled, hot tears fell over his top lip.
“Well,” he muttered, “that’s all.”
“Next time you’re gonna pour your heart out, make it happen in the PM,” Osamu grumbled.
The call disconnected in the very next moment. Atsumu set the phone onto the nightstand and let the silence of the night fill in the spaces left by the dropped call. Even though the weight off his chest felt phenomenal, the rest of his body was still restless, and his mind was racing.
He could get up and make himself some dinner. He could watch Fast and Furious 2 again. He could walk all the way to the police station in a craze again. Or—
he could play volleyball.
Hinata and Bokuto had pulled Atsumu aside after practice one day in a very dramatic fashion.
“We found a key,” Bokuto had whispered to him.
“What?” Atsumu replied.
“Shh!” Bokuto pressed his finger to Atsumu’s lips.
“A key to the court,” Hinata hissed.
“Yeah, me and Bo have been using it to get in some midnight practice,” Hinata added.
“It’s under the mat at the back door,” Bokuto wiggled his eyebrows.
They’d let him go in as dramatic of a fashion as they’d pulled him aside, and he tucked the information away to process some other time.
Now felt suspiciously like that time.
Atsumu swung his legs to his left and heaved himself up off of his bed, a flood of energy flowing through him. He didn’t even have time to think about Sakusa and the kiss as he slipped his sweatpants on over his briefs and tugged his shirt over his head. Atsumu tumbled towards the front door in the darkness, making sure to grab his phone and keys on the way. At the door, he pushed on his tennis shoes and slipped his arms into his coat.
Atsumu raced down the hallway and down the concrete stairs. When he was finally out in the open, he felt a shiver run down his spine. The buses had stopped running a long time ago, so Atsumu was relegated to travelling by foot. It would take a while, but it wasn’t like Atsumu had anything better to do. Thus, with a sigh, he started his trudge through the city.
It was a tad later than when he’d left the bar, so even the usual drunks had vacated the streets. His walk was quiet, the only real sound coming from the buzzing streetlights and the pound of Atsumu’s feet on the pavement.
He didn’t mind it actually, the silence. He would’ve gone mad as a teenager with no stimulus to keep him occupied but, as he got older, he found his own thoughts to be more interesting than anything else. He thought of Sakusa—the moment their pinkies brushed, Sakusa’s finger intertwining with his, the smell of his coat from that one night. While the thought of him made Atsumu’s chest feel warm, the knowledge that he’d probably lost him made everything feel cold. Perhaps a few good serves would be enough to get his mind off the whole thing.
He passed the comic book store and the movie theatre and the corner store. He turned and passed the library and the massage place and the doctor’s office. When the courts finally came into view, he was sure that he’d been walking for a year or two. All the lights that usually illuminated the parking lot had been turned off and the only way Atsumu knew where to go was because he went there every day. Shoving his hands further into his pockets, Atsumu rounded the left side of the building and peered around, just to make sure no one was lurking around.
When he was sure the coast was clear, Atsumu shuffled to the back door where a large black mat was laid before it on the concrete slab. He took one last wary look out to the darkness before crouching at the mat to lift the corner.
But when he glanced up to the back door, Atsumu furrowed his brow.
The light was on inside.
Tentatively, and with a thrumming heart, Atsumu pressed at the door and felt it open at his touch. He took a deep breath before poking his head through the opening and peering inside.
Descending gracefully to the ground was Sakusa, trailing the volleyball with his eyes as it bounced on the other side of the court. Atsumu’s breath hitched in his throat. The golden light of the court flooded every edge of Sakusa’s form—it glittered off of the ends of his curls and shimmered on the folds of his t-shirt and sweatpants. He crouched over and planted his hands on his knees to catch his breath, sweat dripping down from his forehead.
Atsumu tried to shimmy inside as silently as possible, but the slam of the heavy metal door gave him away instantly. He winced when the sound echoed through the court and shot Sakusa a sheepish look when his neck craned to look.
“Hey,” Atsumu muttered.
“Hi,” Sakusa replied breathlessly.
What the hell was he doing? Not twelve hours before this very moment, Atsumu had kissed Sakusa. He was frozen in place, scared out of his mind for what Sakusa would say, which direction he would run in just to get the hell away from Atsumu. Maybe he should leave first, just to spare himself the embarrassment.
Instead, Sakusa picked up a ball from the cart and motioned to Atsumu.
“Throw me a set?” He asked softly.
Atsumu’s mouth went dry. He blinked a few times and shook his head, just to be sure he heard Sakusa right.
“Y-yeah,” he stammered, stumbling towards the court.
Sakusa watched Atsumu as he shed his coat and tossed it off to the side. With both hands, Atsumu took the ball carefully. Sakusa’s eyes flickered all over his face and, for a moment, neither of them moved, they could only stare.
Atsumu was the first to break away, turning towards the net with the ball clutched between his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Sakusa shuffle into place. Thus, with a deep breath, Atsumu positioned himself.
As always, the ball felt familiar in his hands—the pads of his fingers trailed down the stitching and the rubbing of the leather against his palms felt like his youth. He let his eyes flutter closed and his mouth crack into a small grin.
When he set, he felt like he was floating. The ball would rush off his fingers like the running water of the creek, all he had to do was dip his hand in and savor the sensation. When he really listened, he could almost hear the croaking frogs that sat on the nearby logs and the June bug he trapped in a jar that had holes poked in the lid. He could hear Osamu chattering to Aran in the distance and the thwip of a fishing line darting towards the water.
And the sound of Sakusa’s hand hitting it over the net was the lure breaking the surface of the water with a plop. It was the rush of the warm summer wind through the tall cedars and the splotches of sunlight that passed through the leaves. When he turned to look behind him, Sakusa was watching on, waiting. On the other side of the court, the ball rolled towards the wall.
“Any critiques?” Atsumu asked.
“No,” Sakusa shook his head, “it was perfect.”
With a smile, Atsumu grabbed another ball. He set it just like the last, feeling pure power run through his veins as the leather brushed his fingers and the familiar smack of the ball against Sakusa’s palm came the perfect number of seconds afterwards.
However, when he looked behind him again, Sakusa was hunched over to catch his breath again, an obvious bead of sweat dripping from the end of his curl. His brow was low and his eyes were narrowed. When he shifted his right hand, Atsumu saw that his entire palm was bright red.
“Omi,” he whispered.
“Throw me another,” Sakusa commanded in a hiss.
Atsumu complied, picking up another ball from the cart and getting into position. He swallowed nervously, but set the ball anyways, hearing Sakusa grunt from behind him as he jumped up to reach it.
He landed back onto the court with a thud and when Atsumu turned to see the damage, he watched Sakusa reel back a few steps.
“Hey, if you need to take a break—” Atsumu stepped towards him.
“Another,” Sakusa snapped at him.
“Another,” he repeated in a lower voice.
Atsumu nodded to mask the downcast of his eyes. Maybe he should ask about what happened at the bridge, the thought was eating him up inside to the point where he could barely set. With trembling hands, he picked up another ball. His body felt all off-kilter, his mind even more so. Atsumu wanted to turn back and insist that Sakusa sit, even just for a minute, but he set the ball anyways and prayed that Sakusa wouldn’t fall right on his ass after he hit it.
Not a moment after the ball left the tips of his fingers, Atsumu heard the familiar thump of the ball against the court—but it wasn’t the only thump he heard.
Atsumu turned in a panic to see Sakusa on the floor, hoisted upright by only his hands. His chest was heaving with deep, heavy breaths and the sweat that had been dripping once every so often was now streaming from that same front curl in a constant stream. His tongue was nearly hanging out of his mouth like he was a dog running through the streets in summer.
“Omi,” Atsumu chuckled.
Sakusa shot him a very serious look, but his cheeks burned in embarrassment. Atsumu smiled, suppressed another chuckle, and offered an outstretched hand to Sakusa, feeling a shuddering wave of déja-vu pass through him. But instead of Sakusa scoffing and blowing him off, he peered at Atsumu’s fingers in a thoughtful moment.
Ever so slowly, Sakusa lifted his right hand and reached for Atsumu’s hand. The first contact sent a flurry of sparks through Atsumu’s arm even though it was just the rough, calloused tips of Sakusa’s fingers brushing Atsumu’s palm. When Sakusa’s fingers wrapped around his hand, Atsumu’s brain went absolutely haywire—so haywire that he almost forgot to pull.
Sakusa was pretty helpful in hoisting himself up, so much so that they were both standing in no time. But he didn’t let go of Atsumu’s hand. Atsumu even relaxed his hand briefly to see if it would set off a chain of reactions where Sakusa would let go and they’d return to sets and spikes.
Instead they just stood there, panting and staring. Sakusa’s eyes trailed over the line of Atsumu’s hair then to his nose. Atsumu wasn’t exactly sure what he looked at next, but it was lower than his nose. Perhaps—
Maybe it was that Sakusa grew tired of just standing there, holding onto a sweaty Atsumu. Or maybe he was wracked with a bout of muscle spasms.
Neither seemed likely considering the way Sakusa pulled Atsumu towards him—hard.
As Sakusa’s face came crashing into view, Atsumu wondered what he was going to do. Was he going to punch him out? Was he planning to toss him to the side and start swinging while he was incapacitated on the floor?
Before he could even answer his own query, Sakusa’s lips were sealing over his.
It took a few seconds for Atsumu to understand what was even going on. For those few seconds, it was just one pair of lips over his, still and unmoving. His eyes were darting all over, perhaps to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming.
It wasn’t until Sakusa tilted his head that Atsumu’s eyes could flutter closed, confident that he was definitely awake, and this was definitely real.
Every dream he’d had of their kiss earlier that day was coming true—Sakusa’s actual lips were pressed to Atsumu’s with no flimsy piece of fabric to shield them. And it was all he’d imagined, warm and soft. Sakusa’s lips were soft and—well, that was the only word Atsumu could think to use.
Unsteady hands rose to the sides of Sakusa’s arms. He was tentative in pressing his palms against Sakusa’s skin but, as he did, Sakusa’s own hands flew up to grab the sides of Atsumu’s face and tilt his head even further. He tugged Atsumu’s face up as they shifted, deepening what was already a mind-boggling interaction.
With Sakusa’s hands nearly engulfing Atsumu’s jaw, he couldn’t even think anymore. Atsumu’s heart was beating out of his chest and the rest of his body was flooding with pure fire. Sakusa’s scars grazed Atsumu’s skin and sent a shudder down his spine. He pressed his fingers into Sakusa’s arms to hold on, sure that if he let go he’d float right away. The tip of Sakusa’s nose pressed into Atsumu’s cheek as he dove deeper and deeper.
Even though their ministrations against each other’s lips were small an understated, each sent sparks flying through Atsumu’s limbs. How long had they been like this? When was the last time they breathed?
It was as if Sakusa read his mind. As the long moment ended, Sakusa used his hands to pull Atsumu’s face away slowly. It took an extra second for Sakusa’s eyes to flutter open but when they did, Atsumu was met with his large brown eyes watching over him with a sort of soft desperation.
And then, the feeling came.
Atsumu thought he’d never feel it again, the sensation from lying in the middle of that field. Yet, looking at Sakusa, he couldn’t ignore the moon-like eye that watched over him and the two brightest stars in the sky stacked one on top of the other right above his eyebrow. In that moment, Atsumu felt so small and insignificant, like a splotch of red in a field of wildflowers. But he was happy. He didn’t think he could ever be so happy.
Sakusa leaned in, seemingly to kiss him again, but he stopped right as his nose brushed the side of Atsumu’s. His eyes watched over him, terrified and desperate and warm, his breath was hot and huffy against Atsumu’s lips which itched for another kiss.
“I have obsessed over the most disgusting, terrifying things you could ever imagine, but you—” Sakusa whispered,
Atsumu’s heart thrummed.
“—you were the first beautiful thing I couldn’t stop thinking about.”
Without another word, Sakusa pulled Atsumu’s lips back against his as if all his breath was caught somewhere behind the man’s teeth. Although it was deep, he kept his lips fairly closed as if he was afraid.
Open up, Atsumu’s mind begged.
All I want is for you to trust me.
Atsumu knew Sakusa would never be the first to do it, so he tentatively parted his lips and invited Sakusa to follow suit. With slightly trembling lips, Sakusa began the slow process of parting them. Atsumu smiled and shifted his hands so he was carding his fingers through the thick black curls that covered Sakusa’s head. Sakusa mirrored him, letting his hands slip from Atsumu’s jaw so one could grip his side while the other reached across to his back.
He couldn’t help but return Sakusa’s sentiment: his mind was unequivocally stuck on Sakusa Kiyoomi. Of any intrusive, repeating, harrowing thought he’d ever had, this was the only one he wouldn’t mind having for the rest of his life.
Just as Sakusa pushed his tongue past the invisible barrier they’d been obeying for far too long, Atsumu felt his hand trail down the center of his back—just like he always wanted someone to do.
Atsumu parted breathlessly from the addicting kiss with a small grin.
“I hate you,” he whispered.
Sakusa’s brow curled. His glittering brown eyes raked over Atsumu’s features.
“Really?” He asked pitifully.
Atsumu chuckled, “No.”
Atsumu wasn’t sure how long they stood there locked in the more drawn-out kiss Atsumu thought could ever actually happen, but all he knew was that when they finally left the court, the sun was peeking out over the horizon. So, Atsumu took Sakusa’s hand and tugged him to the bridge where they’d been the prior evening while they talked about pointless things, stupid little stories from childhood and new volleyball techniques they wanted to try out. There were so many words hanging on the edge of Atsumu’s tongue, more serious inquiries into the future, but those things could wait.
After all, Atsumu wanted to see if the sunrise was all Sakusa had said it was.
But, frankly, they were too busy staring at each other to notice it.
“Better isn’t always a feeling.”
Dr. Hirai grinned out to the group.
“Oftentimes, it’s a state of being. You’re better without even realizing it.”
Atsumu glanced up to flash a smirk and a flirty eyebrow wiggle at Sakusa who rolled his eyes in response.
“Every time you wake up and put your feet on the floor, you are better than you were yesterday by the sheer virtue of yesterday being behind you,” the doctor continued, “Even if you do the exact same things from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall back asleep, you are better than ever before.”
Tamura reached her hand over to the arm of Atsumu’s chair. He took it without thinking, feeling a wave of comfort flow through him as a weathered thumb rubbed over his knuckles.
“It’s when you realize that fact and begin to invest in that state of being in small, intentional ways that you’ll start to feel it.”
Sakusa glanced up once more, just to make sure Atsumu was still watching. A soft blush peeked out from the edge of his mask.
“If it were me, I would begin with a task that’s so small and insignificant—” Dr. Hirai eyed Atsumu, “I’ve been putting it off for far too long.”
Sureness took root somewhere in Atsumu’s chest. He knew what he had to do, but it wasn’t the right time, not yet.
“Excuse me,” Akari mumbled.
In an instant, she’d scrambled up and slid out the door that led into the long corridor. The group watched her leave and sat in the strange silence that followed, wondering if someone should go out and fetch her.
“Well, in the meantime, we might as well get started,” Dr. Hirai instructed.
However, he was cut off by the sound of the door, opening then closing with a click. Akari was pressed up against the wood with a sheet-white face and a cell phone clutched to her chest.
“I quit my job,” she blurted out.
Atsumu shot a wide-eyed glance to Sakusa who was watching on with a confused expression.
“I hated it,” she added hastily, “from the moment I got there it’s been dogshit and I’ve been meaning to quit for ages but—it was never the right moment.”
Everyone seemed to be sporting a different sort of panicked look—well, everyone except for Dr. Hirai.
He was grinning from ear to ear.
“That’s nice to hear,” he mused.
With a bit of a wobble in her step, Akari trudged back over to the couch and lowered herself back onto the cushions. Even though her face was very slowly gaining color back, her mouth was twitching into a smile. Atsumu swore it was the first smile he ever saw out of Akari.
And her rash decision had gotten the gears moving in Atsumu’s mind. He was itching for the hour to be over, occupying himself with the knowledge that Sakusa was sitting right across from him, getting flustered any time Atsumu dared to look at him.
When Dr. Hirai finally gave his parting words, Atsumu stood up, bid Tamura a chaste farewell, and dashed out into the hallway where he slipped on his coat and shoes and took his position outside the door to wait for a very specific man to follow.
Sakusa pushed open the door and buttoned up the remaining half of his coat while Atsumu watched on, buzzing in place.
“What’s up with you?” Sakusa asked bitingly.
Atsumu smiled, “I’m taking you somewhere.”
“Where?” Sakusa peered down at him.
“It’s a surprise,” Atsumu teased.
Sakusa grimaced, “I don’t like surprises.”
“You’ll like this one.” Atsumu waved him off, “Oh! But first—”
Without warning, Atsumu wrapped his fingers around the collar of Sakusa’s coat and pulled him closer with one hand while he used the other to tug Sakusa’s mask down, certainly now that they were close enough for the kiss to feel as effortless as breathing.
Sakusa was stiff at first, not one for grand public displays of affection, but the kiss was too intoxicating for him not to melt into it. Atsumu lingered for a moment more, savoring the toothpaste and green tea taste that never seemed to go away. They parted eventually, but not before Atsumu could nibble at Sakusa’s bottom lip.
“Was that it? Was that the surprise?” Sakusa asked coldly.
“You wish,” Atsumu teased.
In the very next moment, Atsumu had grabbed Sakusa’s hand and begun pulling him through the streets. They turned corners and passed familiar shops, all while the sun teased the horizon. Atsumu’s entire body buzzed with anticipation and his heart leapt from the right side of his chest then to the left then back again in a relentless dance. The cold, brisk air stung his lungs, but every glance back to Sakusa would remind him how little he cared about such inconveniences. He would much rather feel a little sting than get to where they were going any slower.
Sakusa tried to ask where he was being pulled to, but Atsumu wouldn’t give him the chance, instead moving faster than ever before. Sakusa couldn’t even come up with a good guess until they were barreling towards Atsumu’s apartment.
“What are we doing here?” Sakusa asked breathlessly from close behind.
Atsumu didn’t respond. Instead, he tugged a little harder on Sakusa’s hand as they ascended up the stairs towards the door that led to Atsumu’s hallway.
It was such a long corridor that when Atsumu bounded down it, he felt like he was flying. Perhaps the fact that Sakusa’s fingers were intertwined with his made the feeling all the more real.
“This is the surprise?” Sakusa asked, heaving, “Your apartment?”
Atsumu chuckled and fumbled to unlock the door. He shot one last giddy look to Sakusa before rushing inside that made the spiker’s face curl in half-fear, half-confusion. Atsumu darted towards his bedroom door and tossed it open to reveal the mess of boxes that was still piled up all over the room. Sakusa eventually appeared behind him, placing a firm hand on Atsumu’s shoulder to steady himself.
To Atsumu, better had always been a destination, a glimmering light at the end of a long torturous tunnel. But it didn’t feel that way anymore, rather, better had become the journey itself, the winding path that rose and dipped in unexpected places and the signs that urged him to keep going. Perhaps he would feel it one day, the ‘better’ everyone always talked about, but he had a feeling it would hit at some innocuous moment like in the time between putting on his right shoe and his left shoe or the one-thousandth time he hit his toothbrush against the edge of his sink. This was simply the first step.
Atsumu turned and grinned.
If it were me, I would start with something so small and insignificant that I’ve been putting it off for way too long.
“We’re gonna unpack these boxes,” he said.
Sakusa’s brow dropped, “What do you need me here for?”
Atsumu carded his fingers gently through Sakusa’s curls, pulling back the front part to reveal his large, brown eyes and his perfectly placed moles.
“Because I like you a lot,” he whispered.
Atsumu would’ve probably stolen another kiss in that moment if he wasn’t so eager to get started. So, in a flurry, he grabbed the first box from the pile and watched on eagerly as Sakusa followed suit, choosing another box from the stack.
“I want it on the record that you roped me into this,” he grumbled.
“Whatever you say, Omi,” Atsumu replied.
And it was in this same apartment, approximately one year and two months later, that Atsumu would find himself waking up to a blaring alarm with a very heavy arm entrapping him to the bed.
“Mm, Omi,” he whined groggily as he battled the arm to give him enough leeway to reach for his phone.
Sakusa didn’t budge. He was always a heavy sleeper. It was a downright miracle that Atsumu could reach far enough to turn off the impossibly loud alarm that seemed to go on forever.
“No,” Sakusa grumbled, using his anvil-like arm to pull Atsumu back beneath the comforter and against his warm chest.
Atsumu squirmed against his grip.
“We’re gonna be late,” he whispered.
“Don’t care,” Sakusa muttered, cozying in beneath Atsumu’s right arm.
“We have practice, Omi,” he said softly, turning his head to let his nose brush along the man’s forehead.
“Mm,” Sakusa grumbled again, “no we don’t.”
“You try that trick every morning and it never works.”
The sunlight glittered through the curtains they’d hung up only a few weeks ago. The two of them had gone to seemingly every furniture store in a 25-mile radius only to end up in the same ‘sheer v. blackout’ debate every single time. They eventually landed on semi-sheer and Atsumu grew to love the feeling of the sun kissing his eyelids each morning and the pools of light the sun created on the comforter.
Sakusa’s nose nuzzled into the center of Atsumu’s chest, his frizzing curls tickling the underside of Atsumu’s chin. Atsumu pressed his fingers into the moles that speckled Sakusa’s back, drawing lines between them like he was commanding the constellations.
“I’m quitting the team,” he muttered.
“No, you’re not,” Atsumu hummed in response.
Sakusa groaned again and started to kick the blanket off with his feet. He slept with it every night, and for good reason. Sakusa fought tooth and nail to even have it on the bed.
“Kylo cannot go on the bed,” Atsumu had grumbled when they first started living together.
“Why not?” Sakusa pouted with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
“I’m not waking up from my night terrors with Adam Driver staring at me,” Atsumu had protested.
As always, Sakusa wore Atsumu down and now he was greeted every morning by Kylo Ren’s face splayed across the blanket. It was part of a series of compromises that ended in two of Sakusa’s special edition Star Wars posters, three of Atsumu’s Fast and Furious sportscar replicas, and two figurines from their new shared interest: Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The alarm started to blare again. Atsumu sighed and battled the same arm to turn and shut it off—for good, this time. He successfully pried himself from Sakusa’s grip and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. While he rubbed his eyes, he glanced over to the little index card that was taped above the nightstand. It read:
Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true.
It was a reminder. The apartment was full of them, actually. There was one on the fridge urging Sakusa to not throw away food just because he gets a ‘feeling’ it’s gone bad. And Atsumu caught sight of another on the bathroom door that he was trudging groggily towards. He yawned and scratched at his hip, shuffling in front of the mirror. There was another card taped to the edge, for Sakusa:
Don’t look up the symptoms of brain cancer, it won’t make you feel any better.
Atsumu scrubbed at his teeth with the toothbrush while watching his weary eyes in the mirror. Sakusa eventually appeared behind him with a half-lidded gaze and his characteristic morning scowl. Once Atsumu had spit and rinsed out his mouth, he felt Sakusa’s arm wrap around him and press a pill to his lips.
“Meds,” he grumbled.
Atsumu whined, “I’m weaning myself off.”
“Not during the qualifiers,” Sakusa muttered, “you’re too in your head to raw dog it.”
“Ew,” Atsumu grimaced, “don’t say it like that.”
Sakusa was insistent, meaning that he didn’t relent until Atsumu had definitely swallowed the pill. They'd graduated from Dr. Hirai's therapy group a handful of months ago, but they'd only learned recently that he'd put the old house up for sale and moved to the States. Something about New York, but Atsumu wasn't one to pry. Instead, he and Sakusa were putting up a good fight to buy that old house.
The two of them went to Hayato's graduation, too. As a gift, they brought him his first bottle of alcohol (strangely Sakusa's idea) and took him to the MSBY court for a bit of midnight volleyball which had become the pair's favorite pastime. On the first Saturday of every month, Atsumu and Sakusa would have lunch with Tamura and play volleyball with her son in the yard. And they'd offered an office position at MSBY to Akari, but she too had fled the country—something about a band she wanted to follow around the world?
He vacated the bathroom and trudged into the walk-in closet to grab his practice clothes. The taste of the toothpaste had awoken him a little, so he could shove on his shorts and t-shirt with focused eyes, even though he had to sit on the edge of his bed to put on his socks.
He stifled another yawn as he sat and felt the mattress dip beneath him. He’d only slipped one sock on when Sakusa approached him and loomed close. Atsumu quirked his brow and looked up at the towering man.
“You’re in my seat,” he said lowly.
“Oh, fuck off,” Atsumu chuckled and kicked Sakusa’s shin with his socked foot.
Sakusa smirked and shuffled off to the kitchen, already fully clothed. Atsumu pulled on his other sock and snatched his phone from the nightstand. When he followed Sakusa into the kitchen, he saw the man in question peering at the milk carton with a steaming travel mug of coffee sitting before him.
“’Sumu, do you think this milk has gone bad?” He asked.
Atsumu pressed his shoulder up against Sakusa’s and looked at the top of the carton.
“The expiration date’s not for another week,” Atsumu told him.
“Yes, but—” Sakusa groaned, “we opened it a long time ago, what if it’s gone bad anyways?”
He’d unscrewed the cap so Atsumu could grab it and give it a sniff.
“It’s fine,” he announced.
“But—” Sakusa began to protest.
Before he could, Atsumu wrenched the carton from Sakusa’s hand and poured a good amount into his coffee cup.
“Hey!” Sakusa whined.
“Drink it,” Atsumu instructed.
Sakusa eyed him coldly as he turned.
“Ah!” Atsumu looked back and pointed accusingly when he saw Sakusa about to pour the liquid out into the sink.
“Drink the coffee!” He commanded.
Sakusa grumbled and pouted as Atsumu patted his arm and walked back into the bedroom to grab his things. He had to shove over a pile of dirty clothes to find his volleyball and pull his gym bag from under the bed which was riddled with a bunch of empty boxes from the figurines that were now decorating every surface of the room.
Once he’d shoved all his things into the bag, including a loose roll of athletic tape and an extra water bottle for when Sakusa inevitably looked into his and got convinced that a deadly mold had festered on the mouthpiece, he hauled it over his shoulder and poked his head back out into the kitchen.
“I’ll have to ask,” Sakusa muttered into the phone.
Atsumu shuffled to his side while Sakusa pulled the thing to his chest and covered the microphone with his hand.
“Tobio’s in town and Shoyou wants us to go on another double date,” he whispered.
“What? No!” Atsumu hissed, “Last time we went out with them, I got kicked in the head.”
“And Shoyou said that, if prompted, Tobio would love to apologize for the unfortunate incident,” Sakusa said gently.
“No,” Atsumu insisted, “no way.”
Sakusa leaned towards him with a growing pout.
“But Tobio’s rich,” he said, “and we need rich friends.”
“We’re professional volleyball players, too!” Atsumu protested.
“Who live in an expensive part of town,” Sakusa added, “and if we’re gonna afford the Millennium Falcon Lego set then we need to start saving.”
“I’m not getting another concussion for the Millennium Falcon,” Atsumu hissed.
Sakusa pulled the phone back up to his ear and smiled teasingly at Atsumu.
“We’d love to,” he said cheerily.
Atsumu smacked him playfully on the arm and shot him a mean look. Sakusa only smiled and continued to go on and on about how excited he was to go to the very expensive bar the pair took he and Atsumu to last time.
Atsumu fetched Sakusa’s gym bag, which he always packed the night before, and handed it to him right as Sakusa was saying goodbye over the phone and in just enough time for Atsumu to lean in and say his own farewells.
Sakusa took his gym bag and hoisted it over his shoulder to free up his hand for his coffee. Atsumu padded towards the door and started to slip on his shoes with Sakusa in tow. He pulled a clean mask from the box beside the door and pulled it over his face, making sure to adjust the nosepiece. Atsumu leaned against the door frame and gazed at Sakusa.
“Hey,” he whispered.
Sakusa furrowed his brow, “What?”
Swiftly, Atsumu wrapped his hand around the back of Sakusa’s neck and pulled his face closer. He sealed his lips over Sakusa’s with the mask creating a thin barrier between them. Sakusa’s breath huffed with a soft chuckle as Atsumu tilted his head, the mask’s fabric rubbing over his lips.
Sakusa was the one to reach up and pull his own mask down to ensure that they got a real kiss in before they had to leave. They parted with only a minute or so to spare.
“Why do you always wait until the very last moment to kiss me good morning?” Sakusa whispered.
“It’s not about the point,” Atsumu replied teasingly, “it’s about the game.”
Sakusa rolled his eyes. Atsumu grinned.
“Wait,” Atsumu whispered.
Sakusa’s brow dropped, “Yeah?”
Atsumu glanced around for a moment at the cluttered apartment, the suncatchers hanging in the window, and the unceremoniously stacked collection of mugs that took up an entire corner. His eyes caught sight of the pile of movies beside the TV and the polaroids they’d tacked up all along the doorframe. If he tilted his head a few centimeters to the right, Atsumu could read the index card that was taped up behind Sakusa’s head, upon which a simple phrase was scrawled.
Better isn’t always a feeling.
To Atsumu, it was good, all of it: yesterday, today, even tomorrow, by the sheer virtue of living to see them all. And if you asked Atsumu to describe his life in that moment, he would probably tell you it was good.
He might even say—
but I will tell you this:
despite every lie you've ever been told,
every bitter shortcoming and
bridge you have burned,
all the words you wish you could take back and
the breaks that should've left you for dead,
you are going to meet
who is going to assure you that
there was nothing wrong with you,
wow, the response to this work has been so overwhelming, i could sit for hours reading comments from people who have seen themselves in this work and perhaps found an instance of “better” somewhere within it.
this past week has been hard for me, but in the midst of it i found this reddit post that was made by a haiku bot and it just brought me to instant tears i need you to see it:
yeah, instant tears. so simple but so real. and it’s all i can realistically say to some of you, even though i want to give so much more. that’s all. thank you for reading <33