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interlude: happiness

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Osamu gets the text right at noon.

It's not just any text; it's the text. The text he's been holding his breath for, even though Yūto warned him specifically not to. The text that could change the entire course of his business, and therefore his life. So, by the transitive property: the most important text of his life. (And if that isn't actually the transitive property, whatever. He had a shitty attention span and window seats all through high school.)

The text is short, to the point, and—most importantly—time sensitive. And of all the times for it to come, it comes right at noon. Smack-dab in the middle of a lunch date with his almost-maybe-not-quite girlfriend. A lunch date that he's already postponed twice before in the last ten days. A lunch date that, if he's being totally honest, he's already half-checked-out of.

Ugh. He's gonna get dumped again.

"Sorry." He slips out of his side of the booth, rummages through his wallet, and drops a 5,000 yen note on the table. The visage of Ichiyō Higuchi stares up at him from the paper, like she's as unimpressed with him as his date. Which, okay, that's probably fair. "Somethin' came up. I gotta go."

He spares one last glance at her, just enough to see her roll her eyes and wave him off with a dismissive flick of her wrist. Her nails are yellow and white and decorated with various Gudetamas. She looks as cool about this as she's been about every other rescheduling and postponement and "Shit, sorry, I overslept—" he's put her through over the last two months, but the pinch of her brows says it clearly: this is the last straw.

He really liked her a lot.

But he's still gonna ditch.

 

*

 

If he'd known exactly how much number-crunching went into restaurant ownership, Osamu would've picked a different dream.

Sure, there's no joy like seeing someone's face light up when they taste his onigiri for the first time. But there's also no devastation like realizing the numbers aren't adding up and that—even at his highest productivity—the bottom line still isn't where it needs to be.

As he preps Onigiri Miya for the evening rush, he leaves his phone unlocked on the counter, opened to the text:

The sushi shop in Shibuya just got listed.

He needs to reply, sooner rather than later. Knowing Yūto, he's probably glued to his phone and turning away food and company while waiting for response. Commercial real estate in Tokyo is a brutally competitive market. If Osamu wants the place, they have an infinitesimal window of time to make that happen.

Osamu wants the place.

He wants the place more than he's ever wanted anything in his life. It's a ground level unit that was once—just a year ago, before the owners retired—a quiet, beloved sushi restaurant. It's already equipped with the storage and prep spaces that he needs, and its location in Shibuya is better than he ever dreamed for his price range.

Only, despite Yūto's earlier projections, it's not in his price range.

It's too much.

Worse, it's just barely too much.

Osamu is the one who crunched the numbers seventeen times over, fruitlessly hoping to close the gap. He knows the exact amount standing between him and his hopes for expansion, and it's small enough to taunt him, small enough that he could have afforded it, if he'd had about ten more weeks before the listing went up.

There was a time—a lifetime ago—when he would have run and jumped without hesitation. All confidence, skill, and trust in his brother.

But that's the difference, isn't it? Back then he knew the ball would be right where he needed it to be, exactly when he needed it. Running a business isn't like volleyball. There's so much more on the line for him than a point, a set, or a match.

Volleyball is volleyball. Business is business.

So he'll play it safe. Say no to the gorgeous old sushi shop in Shibuya—with its enormous shopfront windows and expansive, built-in freezers—and wait for whatever comes around next. Pinch his pennies and hope he falls in love with another property, someday.

It's the right thing to do.

And if it's also breakin' his heart, well. Time heals all things.

He's still gotta let Yūto know, but he's putting that conversation off for as long as he can. Like some miracle is gonna fall into his lap during the dinner rush. Like the clouds will part and a solution will descend from the heavens, just for him.

But no, all he gets is another text.

[Akiko][14:52:29]: I'm breaking up with you, by the way
[Akiko][14:52:35]: I'll drop your stuff off at the shop tomorrow.

It probably says a lot of (unflattering) things about him that he's got no clue what stuff she's talking about. And that's before unpacking the fact that he's less heartbroken over this breakup than the old sushi shop he can't afford.

He drafts half a dozen tepid replies and deletes all of them because acknowledgments feel cold, apologies feel trite, and jokes feel egregiously inappropriate. Eventually, when his spirit's good and truly broken and a headache's started to blossom behind his eyes, he throws in the towel and responds the dumbest way imaginable: with an emoji of a cat giving a thumbs up.

Because he can crunch numbers, cook a meal so good it reduces grown men to tears, and still smash a volleyball cross-court with enough force to break a person's nose, but he's never understood a single thing about relationships.

He's in dry storage almost an hour later when it hits him: he gave up a really good thing today with a really cool, totally understanding girl—and for what? It's not like he's got anything to show for it.

Akiko confessed to him in Onigiri Miya on a Friday afternoon with snowflakes in her hair, a kamaboko-pink flush in her cheeks, and a barely-there tremble in her voice. She was pretending to be brave, for him. For the chance that they could be good together. He felt charmed and flattered, and it had been so easy to just say, Sure. He liked her so much. And now, three months later, they're done.

What the hell is wrong with him?

How can he be so naturally good at everything else but so bad at this?

He wilts against a stack of unpacked boxes with his face buried in his hands. He's too tired to scream, to groan, or to cuss so he stays still and quiet for as long as he can stand it.

Then he goes back to work.

 

*

 

(He's busy that night, which helps. Keeping his hands occupied keeps him from thinking too much about it. But over and over again, a single errant thought rears its ugly head, like some twisted game of Whack-a-Mole:

Is it—

Is this—

Is he—messed up, somehow?)

 

*

 

His night appropriately ends in a flurry of texts. They start coming just after two in the morning, when he's drunk with exhaustion and stumbling around his apartment getting ready for bed. With a sudsy toothbrush hanging out of his mouth and a drying face mask smeared halfheartedly across his face, he scoops up his phone to squint blearily at the screen.

[Tsumu][02:04:13]: Akagi said the shop was real busy tonight
[Tsumu][02:04:20]: So I'm telling you right now you sleaze
[Tsumu][02:04:25]: I don't care how tired you are
[Tsumu][02:04:35]: If you cancel on me tomorrow you're DEAD

Fuck.

Tomorrow is Monday. Atsumu's Monday. The Monday Atsumu claimed from him for losing a bet like two months ago. The Monday Osamu's already had to reschedule once before, because his life these days is basically one long line of postponed plans. He counts himself lucky that his friends are a bunch of broke gluttons, too happy to accept food as apologies.

Atsumu's different, though. Osamu's been feedin' him so long—for testing, for shuttin' him up, for changin' the subject, for peace and quiet—it's a given. And it's rare enough that Atsumu demands an entire day from him to begin with. That he's been this pushy about it says a lot.

Says it's gotta be, like. Important.

Fuck.

[Tsumu][02:04:41]: I'll come get you if I have to
[Tsumu][02:04:54]: I'll carry your ass around on my back the WHOLE DAY before I let you ditch
[Tsumu][02:05:12]: 11 AM. Shinsaibashisuji. Don't be late. Or else.

He spits the toothpaste out like a curse word and wets a towel to scrub his face. Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck. If he passes out right now, he can get—he counts on his fingers, too worn out for mental math—three whole hours of sleep before he has to get up and catch the train to Osaka.

Atsumu's lucky he loves him. And also that Osamu would sooner eat his own foot than renege on a bet he lost. Dammit.

 

*

 

Osamu's self-aware. He knows the impression he gives off.

It's an attitude and a brand he's slowly, deliberately cultivated across his social circles over the years. The guy he is behind the counter at Onigiri Miya isn't who he is on the street or at home. At work, he's a better, brighter version of himself. A version meant to be served up and shared.

Anywhere else he's—in a word? Blasé.

In a few words: a smug, pretentious bastard.

It was a natural conclusion. Growing up with Atsumu meant getting dragged into one ridiculous idea or vicious slap fight after another, and the novelty of most things—anything other than a good bite of food, honestly—wore off quickly. Now it takes a lot to impress him and even more to upset him; there's not much that Osamu loves, but there's even less that he really, truly hates.

He really, truly hates Shinsaibashisuji.

It's the coalescence of the worst things humanity has to offer: crowds, tourists, and shopping. Strolling down the alley—with its high ceiling and wide walkway—would be a dream if it was empty and the shops were decent, but the place is always overflowing with people and all the interesting shops got pushed out years ago by bland, overpriced tourist traps.

So now it's Osamu's hell in 4K.

He served a sentence in Shinsaibashi three years ago, running a food stand and serving up mouthfuls of his dream to the tourists pouring in and out of the main strip. The experience was uniquely, distinctly soul-sucking. Signing the rental agreement for his first brick and mortar shop should have been a grand, joyous occasion for him; mostly he was just relieved to kiss this place goodbye.

But now he's back—despite swearing he never would be—and getting jostled left and right by the unending sea of people. Just like old times. The only good thing about it is the perspective it's giving him: figuring out the right way to expand his business might be exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking, but downsizing would be so, so much worse.

That actually boosts his mood, a little. Maybe focusing on the positives is the best way to survive this day. Gratitude is the attitude, or whatever.

Then some stranger shoulder-checks him so hard his upper arm goes pins-and-needles numb for thirty seconds.

So no. Fuck Shinsaibashisuji.

"You better have a real good reason for draggin' me out here, Tsumu," he says, gripping his aching shoulder so tight his shirt starts to wrinkle.

Not that Atsumu's even here for him to bitch at. As a rule, punctuality doesn't come naturally to Miyas. And if owning a business and going pro hasn't done much to correct their chronic tardiness, it's unlikely anything ever will. So it's no surprise when Atsumu shows up half an hour late, face flushed and chest heaving like he booked it across town in a dead run.

When he reaches Osamu, he doubles over with his hands on his knees and wheezes.

"Aren't you an athlete?" Osamu asks.

Atsumu doesn't even raise his head. "Shut up," he pants.

Because Osamu's a good person, he leaves Atsumu to catch his breath and meanders across the street to buy a bottle of water from a vending machine, possibly interrupting a tourist's impromptu photoshoot in the process. When he comes back, Atsumu's leaning against a storefront with deliberate stiffness, like he thinks he could be spotted by some adoring fan at any moment. Idiot.

Osamu throws the water bottle at him. Unfortunately, Atsumu catches it, cracks it open, and empties half of it in one messy gulp. And probably thinks he's the coolest thing in the whole world while doin' it.

"Where's yer other half?" Osamu sneers.

"Omi?" Atsumu uses his sleeve to wick away the water running down his chin and throat. "I put'im in front of a steatocystoma popping compilation. He watches 'em at half-speed, so we've got time."

Osamu opens his mouth to ask what the fuck that is, but Atsumu snaps a hand up to stop him.

"Don't."

On closer inspection, he looks a little queasy, so Osamu shuts his mouth so fast his teeth rattle. They're both sympathetic vomiters; all it would take is one dry heave to ruin the day for themselves and everyone else on the street.

Instead he asks, "So what the hell're we doin' here?"

And because Atsumu's made it his life goal to be the most obnoxious, least helpful person in the whole world, he says, "Shoppin', duh," and chucks the now-empty water bottle at the mouth of the nearby recycling bin.

He sinks the shot, which feels like an omen. Like somehow this whole day's gonna turn out great for him, which usually—volleyball matches not withstanding—spells trouble for Osamu. Ugh.

"Lead the way," he says with exactly zero enthusiasm.

Negative enthusiasm, even—if such a thing is possible to convey. A lack of enthusiasm so deep and thorough that it could syphon other people's enthusiasm right out of their bodies. Only that could convey exactly how much Osamu does not want to be shopping in Shinsaibashisuji right now.

"'Course I'm leadin'," Atsumu boasts, already headed for the densest, loudest part of the crowd like a moth to hellfire. "Who'd'ya think yer talkin' to?"

Osamu rolls his eyes. He has no choice but to follow.

Along the way, some shoppers start to holler and wave their hands threateningly at each other; a child drops her ice cream and wails at the top of her lungs; and a tourist in the middle of a livestream turns around to complain, in English, "Um, hello? You're blocking my shot?"

Because Shinsaibashisuji is where hope and happiness and basic human decency go to die.

 

*

 

Of all the places Osamu expected them to end up—

(Atsumu's tastes can be divided into three categories: practical, tacky, and offensive. The more eye strain he can inflict on someone with a single t-shirt, the happier he is. This is just one of the many awful preferences he's picked up from his boyfriend over the last few years, but it's one of the three Osamu hates most.

So he'd been braced for the neon clothes racks of the athleisure section in some creatively-bankrupt department store, or a shop completely dedicated to weirdly-shaped sunglasses, or even a combini where they could buy armfuls of weird international snacks for shits and giggles. All of that would make perfect sense, for a day spent shopping in the world's worst place with Atsumu.)

—a hole-in-the-wall jewelry shop wasn't one of them.

It's technically not part of Shinsaibashisuji. In fact, they only get to it after Atsumu spends the better part of an hour pretending to look at garish clothes and unsensible accessories and questionable foods, after which he slips out the alleyway through a side exit, wanders along the street, and stops in front of the classy shopfront with a strange, perplexed look on his face.

"What the fuck," Osamu says.

"Shut up."

When Atsumu opens the door, a single, tasteful bell chimes, and someone dressed in all black with a severe bob and beni-shōga-red lipstick appears behind the counter.

"Oh, hello," they say, voice warm. "Welcome back."

"What the fuck," Osamu repeats.

Atsumu pinches his side with the strength and vindictiveness of a mantis shrimp.

Then he says, "Hi."

It's awkward. He sounds as out of place as they both look in this fancy, clean shop with its pristine glass cases and sparkling, handmade products.

"I, uh. Brought my brother this time," he continues.

And Osamu, the aforementioned and unwarned and critically unprepared brother, says, "What the fuck is happening right now."

 

*

 

Five years ago, if someone had conducted a poll asking, Which Miya twin is going to settle down first?, Osamu would have won in a landslide. That's probably why no one ran a poll like that in the first place, actually—there was no point. One of the Miyas was charming and handsome and knew how to play nice with others, and the other was Atsumu.

And yet here they are at twenty-six: Osamu, chronically single, and Atsumu in nearly-wedded bliss.

He marvels at the unlikeliness of it as he watches Atsumu twitch along the counter, staring wide-eyed and empty-headed into the too-bright, too-white lights of the display cases. He has no idea what he's doing or what he wants, and it's painfully, hilariously obvious.

Why the hell he thought Osamu would be able to solve that for him is a mystery.

"Does he even wear jewelry?" he asks, not nicely.

"He's gonna wear this jewelry," Atsumu says, like he's dead certain. Like, that's how it's gonna happen, or Sakusa's dead meat. Yeesh. "Would'ya come look already?"

Osamu wanders over to stare dispassionately into the display case. Beside him, Atsumu's practically vibrating out of his skin with nerves, and it's so singularly unfamiliar that Osamu hates it on principle. And if he decides that this new, bizarre mood is yet another bad thing Atsumu’s picked up from his boyfriend, only reinforcing Osamu’s general distaste for the guy?

He'll take it to the grave.

"These all look the same," he eventually sighs.

And they do. It's a bunch of silver mobius rings, some of which boast tiny little gemstones, most of which do not. Some of them look… mobius-er than others. A couple are barely mobius-ed at all. All of them are boring. Not one of them looks like something a haughty, fussy bastard like Sakusa would ever deign to wear. Even Osamu knows that much, and he's actively repressed thoughts of the guy ever since he and Atsumu started dating.

Still, while he can swallow his opinions on Sakusa—who, despite everything, seems to make Atsumu genuinely happy—he refuses to be silent about this. If Atsumu wants to waste his money, Osamu'd rather he just light his wallet on fire and call it a day.

The next row of rings is, impossibly, even uglier.

"No," Osamu says, barely sparing them a glance before shoving Atsumu further along.

Atsumu scowls and hisses, Hey!, but actually listens, for once in his life. Like this is important enough that he's willing to endure Osamu's brattiness. Bizarre. He shuffles down the length of the display case; out of boredom and a fledgling sense of curiosity, Osamu follows.

"How're you so sure about this?" he asks, without consciously deciding to.

Atsumu stops and looks back over his shoulder at him. For a moment, they're both quiet.

"Uh," the absolute genius says, "I'm not? Why d'ya think—" he gestures at Osamu, at the fact of his presence. Then his tone takes on a sharper, cutting edge. "Yer always tellin' me my taste is shit, aren't ya?"

"Not about the ring," Osamu snaps. "About him."

Though the taste thing applies either way.

The shopkeep makes a polite noise to remind them both that they're not alone, just in case they'd forgotten and don't want to get into a fight in public. Osamu did forget, honestly, but it's not like he's ever gonna see this person again, and Atsumu's never let an audience stop him from making a scene. So they both ignore them.

Well, Osamu ignores them. Atsumu doesn't seem to notice them at all, too busy visibly thinking the question over. His face is screwed up the way it gets when Osamu makes him test strange, new flavor combinations. Like he's considering something completely unfamiliar for the very first time.

"I dunno," he says.

"Great," Osamu drawls, sarcasm honey-thick on his tongue. "Very informative. Thanks."

He wants to press the topic further, but Atsumu is already wandering along the display again, face washed in the pale light and fingers twitching like he wants to touch but won't let himself. There was a time when Osamu, frustrated and petty, might have tripped him just to see Atsumu smear his greasy hands along all that immaculately clean glas. But he's grown and matured since then and opened a shop where he learned firsthand what a bitch it is to wipe away oily handprint residue, so he resists the urge.

"Why's it matter?" Atsumu asks.

Osamu shoves his hands in his coat pockets and shrugs. "It doesn't, I guess. Just curious."

And that's that. Nothing more to say.

Except—

"Do you ever feel like..." he starts then hesitates, one foot in and one foot out of his curiosity as he tries to find the right words, "...like you like him cuz he liked you first?"

"Are you kiddin'?" Atsumu squints at him, suspicious. "That's basically my favorite thing about him."

Osamu's not sure exactly what his face does in that moment, but Atsumu tenses up defensively as soon as he sees it.

"What?" he demands. "Am I supposed to go around likin' people who don't like me? What the hell is that?"

"That's not what I meant," Osamu sighs, though he kinda sees how it sounded like that's what he meant.

Atsumu rolls his eyes so hard it's a miracle he doesn't pull anything. And Osamu—fuck. He's not sure if he's ever blushed in his life, but his whole face suddenly feels so hot he thinks he must be. Something about Atsumu smashing through all of these half-formed, poisonous insecurities Osamu's been harboring with a single sentence makes him feel so… silly.

"Yer thinkin' too much about it," Atsumu says. "That's whatcha always do—complicate shit."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Atsumu gives him a flat look. A look that says, It means exactly what I said. And, See? Yer doin' it again, at the same time.

"Is this about yer girlfriend?" he asks.

Osamu opens his mouth to deny it, then stops. It's not not about her. It's about him, but she's a big part of how he got here, interrogating his brother about his ooey-gooey longterm relationship.

Someone else enters the shop. The bell chimes. The shopkeep goes to greet them.

"We broke up," Osamu says, voice low.

Atsumu doesn't look up from the display case. If possible, he seems to stare into it harder. "Ah," he says. "That sucks."

"I guess," Osamu concedes. "I dunno if she even was my girlfriend."

Atsumu groans. "What the hell, weren't ya seein' each other for a few months?"

"Casually, yeah."

Not that he expects Atsumu to understand casual. Atsumu treats practices like games and his first-ever honest-to-god relationship like marriage. The guy wouldn't know casual if it bit him on the ass and stole his Olympic medal.

"Yeesh." Atsumu grimaces. "That's too complicated. No one does that unless they're overthinkin' it."

"Sounds like bullshit to me," Osamu counters, lip curling in distaste. "You a psychologist now? Show me the degree."

That earns him a glare. Not just any glare. It’s the look Atsumu gets on his face when he’s decided he’s gonna ruin the other team’s entire day.

"Show me a relationship of yers that’s lasted more than four months," he snaps.

It's a low blow, meant to sting—and it does. But Osamu didn’t grow up with Atsumu without learning to be resilient to all his meanest barbs. Survival meant learning how to give as good as he got.

"Just because you wound up in some weird, codependent—"

Atsumu stabs the display case with the tip of his finger before Osamu can finish.

"Do you have this in any other sizes?" he asks the shopkeep, deliberately interrupting their conversation with the other customer. “For my boyfriend. Who I actually know is my boyfriend, cuz I’m not an idiot.”

The shopkeep looks about as comfortable being in the middle of this spat as can be expected. They speak to the other customer with low, quiet words, then turn to Atsumu with a placid smile.

"Please wait here," they say, then they disappear into the back room.

The showroom goes quiet in their wake. It's a strange, stilted silence—the sort Osamu first got acquainted with after he told Atsumu he wasn't gonna play volleyball after high school. Full of all the things they both wanna say but can't. Or won't.

After a few minutes, Atsumu says, "I like other stuff about him too, y'know."

"Gross," Osamu says, with feeling.

"Is it bad that I didn't think about him like that until he confessed to me?" Atsumu asks, brow furrowed. "Back then, all that mattered to me was the game. But then he confessed, and I started to like him too, and now I have all this other good stuff I never thought to want before. Is that... wrong?”

Osamu doesn't know, actually.

He knows that he's never liked someone first, and that that's always felt unbalanced. The person who falls first always loses, right? He could never like them as much as they liked him. But if that's a universal truth it would mean the impossible: that somehow Kiyoomi Sakusa likes Atsumu even more than Atsumu likes him.

That's unfathomable. It's already hard enough to reconcile his mouthy, mean brother with this happy, lovesick guy—the total stranger he only ever sees when Sakusa gets mentioned.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," he lies. Whatever it takes to put this conversation to rest already. "Sorry I asked."

Atsumu makes a dismissive noise in the back of his throat, but his expression stays pinched. The shopkeep returns with the ring Atsumu picked out in a variety of sizes, and Atsumu looks to Osamu, waiting for his approval.

He takes one look and sighs.

"What the hell, Tsumu? This one's ugly too." And before he can bitch about it, Osamu hauls him back from the display case by the shoulder. "Move aside, yer blockin' the merchandise. Lemme see if they’ve got anythin’ decent."

 

*

 

("Have ya considered somethin' custom?" Osamu suggests at one point.

Atsumu's makes a face like he got force-fed a spoonful of natto. "If I give that bastard a custom ring he'll never let me live it down."

So they keep looking.)

 

*

 

At lunch, Atsumu shovels rice into his mouth with one hand while holding his phone at eye level with the other.

Judging by the scowl, he's either swiping through fan comments left on a rival's recent social media post, or looking for something ridiculous to send his equally ridiculous boyfriend. They've been apart for maybe three hours. Osamu's not sure where exactly the line that defines codependency is, but it feels like Atsumu and Sakusa are edging closer to it every minute.

In the booth next to Atsumu is a small, classy paper bag. Inside is an emerald green ring box, and inside that is a simple, pretty band that even Osamu couldn't find a fault with. It's a good ring for a tremendous pain in the ass; if the bastard doesn't appreciate it, Osamu's gonna blacklist every Sakusa within a thousand-mile radius from his inevitable Onigiri empire.

"You gonna tell me what’s really on yer mind?" Atsumu asks, gaze still locked on his phone, cheeks still stuffed with rice.

Osamu blinks. "What?"

Atsumu looks at him, finally, and points at Osamu's plate with his chopsticks. Then at his face. Rude. "Yer not eatin'. Didja think I wouldn't notice?"

"Swallow yer food before tellin' me what to do with mine," Osamu snaps back.

He knocks Atsumu's chopsticks aside with his own. They used to get in fights like this over their food all the time, brandishing utensils like weapons at home and in public. They were, objectively, really horrible kids. They're only slightly better adults.

"If the breakup's buggin' ya this bad, just call her already," Atsumu says. "Worst she can do is tell you to fuck off, right?"

She could probably sell Osamu's stuff. Or set it on fire. But she doesn't seem like the type, and it's not like Osamu's missing whatever she's got since he can't even remember what it is.

"It's not the breakup," he says.

It's not just the breakup would be more accurate. It's the sushi shop in Shibuya, and the ring his brother just bought, and the breakup. It's the acute awareness that he wants something more—in work, in love, in life—but not knowing how to get it.

He shrugs.

Something flashes across Atsumu's face, and he slaps his phone and chopsticks down.

"Fine," he snaps. "If yer not gonna say anything, I will: why'd'ja tell Yūto to pass on that sushi place? You were dead set on it last time we talked."

Osamu scowls at him. "How the hell—"

"Yūto has my number too, y'know," Atsumu huffs. "He looked over mine and Omi's rental agreement when we moved in together."

Ugh. Of course. How could Osamu forget that, even after all these years, their social circles are still shaped like the Olympic rings?

He crosses his arms and slumps in his seat, the vinyl of the booth squeaking against his back. "It's nothin'," he lies. "They just listed it faster than we thought they would, and I wasn't ready." He closes his eyes. Exhales slowly through his nose. Opens his eyes again. "I'm not ready," he corrects.

Atsumu gapes at him. Then he says, "You dumbass."

A lifetime ago, he would have roared it and pointed his finger right in Osamu's face. Now he says it in a perfectly flat tone, with a bitter, bitchy expression—the other two traits he's picked up from Sakusa that Osamu hates most. Unlike his boyfriend though, Atsumu only brings them out when he's feeling especially judgmental, which unfortunately makes them all the more effective.

"I'm the dumbass?"

"Yeah! You are!" Atsumu barks back. "What the hell d'ya mean yer 'not ready'? You've been plannin' this for years." Osamu glowers, but Atsumu just keeps going. "Don't gimme that look. I'm right, and you know it! What's really goin' on?"

Pride is a trademark Miya trait, and Osamu's loathe to abandon his even for a moment. But he's tired and he's sad and he's sick of having to be a grown-up all the time, so he smacks his hands down on the table, summons up his inner child for the both of them and snaps:

"It's the money, you asshole!"

 

*

 

Later—after getting kicked out of the restaurant and arguing their way down the sidewalk until they were blue in the face—they walk side by side in near silence back to the train station. Atsumu swings his arms and the bag in his hands as he walks, filling up the space with his body the way he normally does with his voice. He nearly decks not one, not two, not three, but four other pedestrians on the way, but Osamu can't quite care enough to tell him off.

Unbelievably, he feels much better.

It's been a long time since he's shouted at his brother at all, let alone in public. And there's something uniquely cathartic and comfortable about venting his feelings at Atsumu, specifically. They've always been able to do that for one another, if nothin' else.

As if he can read thoughts, Atsumu breaks the silence between them to ask, "Feel' better yet?"

Osamu glares at him. "Felt a lot better before you opened yer trap just now."

Atsumu shoves him, and Osamu shoves him back.

"Yer such a pain in the ass."

"The feelin's mutual."

Then they're quiet again. They used to be quiet like this a lot, back when they experienced everything together so there were no stories to tell or new jokes to share. A familiar quiet. A quiet without secrets.

Then Atsumu asks, "How much?" and Osamu stops dead in his tracks, uncaring for how that interrupts the flow of pedestrians around them.

"No."

"Seriously, how much?"

Osamu glares at him. "Too much."

"Are ya kiddin' me?" Atsumu asks. "I'm a pro athlete, datin' another pro athlete, livin' in an apartment the size of a shoebox. How. Much."

That's true enough, at least. The place was tiny before they moved in with all their furniture, Sakusa's online shopping habits, and their ten thousand plants. Initially he thought it was a cleanliness thing, something Sakusa needed, and he expected the decor to be clinical and cold. All of Sakusa, none of Atsumu.

But anyone who's spent five minutes at their place knows: Atsumu's Volleyball Monthly collection has its own cabinet; the plants are growing in pots with stupid faces handdrawn on them; and Sakusa looks as beatific as Osamu's ever seen him when Atsumu hops up on the kitchen counter and sings bad pop songs at him while he cooks. It's a space that's so distinctly theirs that it sometimes feels like the only thing that doesn't fit is Osamu. And if that's maybe why he visits a lot less often these days, well.

What matters is that Atsumu's happy.

"Just text it to me, if ya don't wanna say it," Atsumu continues. "Weren't you the one sayin' I'd owe you someday for all the shit I stole or broke over the years?"

Osamu hesitates. "That's different."

"Is it?" Atsumu's grin is wide and wicked, the way it gets when he knows he has the upper hand. "I told ya, Samu: I'm gonna look ya right in yer face and say I had the happier life. But we're doin' it fair'n'square. You don't get to cop out just cuz yer too stubborn to ask for a loan."

Osamu's self-aware. He knows what kind of guy he is.

He is not a crier. Especially not in public.

"Dammit, Tsumu," he groans, blinking furiously and looking anywhere but at his twin. His stupid, smug bastard of a twin. "Fine, ya bastard. You win. I'll text ya the damn number."

"Text Yūto first," Atsumu says as he comes to a stop outside the station. "And don't—are you cryin'? What the hell?"

Osamu shoves him again. "Shut up," he complains. "Outta my way, idiot. I've got a train to catch."

"Don't be a stranger, crybaby," Atsumu calls after him.

His delighted cackles follow Osamu all the way down the staircase, and then some.

 

*

 

By the time he gets back to Sendai, his eyes feel bruised—too much time spent rubbing at them and dozing on the train—but his head feels lighter. He texted Atsumu the amount, got cussed at for "acting like a baby over THIS," and called Yūto on the way home to tell him to start the paperwork. And if the whole ordeal triggered more of the waterworks, well. Who could blame him?

He should go home, probably. But his mood is all over the place, and home isn't gonna make any of this feel any less surreal.

So he goes to the place he always feels the most grounded, the most himself. The restaurant.

And—because the world is conspiring against him, maybe—arrives right when Akiko does.

"Oh," she says.

Her hair is shorter. She's holding a box in her hands. Her nails are painted with the cats and wands from Sailor Moon. It's evening, but she's wearing a pair of sunglasses with dark blue lenses.

"Here," she says, pushing the box into his hands.

He cracks it open and squints inside. A couple t-shirts and his Switch, which he's never played enough to miss. He doesn't remember bringing it to her place to begin with. He was, objectively, a really shitty boyfriend.

"Thanks," he says, stiff. "And—sorry."

"Right," she says. "Well. Whatever. See you never."

Ouch. He deserves it, but that doesn't make it sting less. He watches her turn to go, and he knows right then, right there, that this is the only chance he's ever gonna get to ask.

"Akiko—" he calls, stumbling after her. "Wait."

She stops and glances over her shoulder. The sunglasses obscure so much of her face that he can't really tell what she's thinking.

"Were we—" he stops. Swallows. Tries again. "Were you my girlfriend?"

Her jaw goes slack. She slides the sunglasses down the length of her nose and squints at him like he's grown a second head. Which—okay, that's probably fair.

"Osamu. Babe." Pity drips off her tone. "You're not hot enough to be this stupid."

This time when she leaves, he doesn't stop her.

She was so fuckin' cool, all the way to the end. In another life, he probably would have dragged Atsumu out to help him look for a ring to give her.

(Atsumu would have been useless because he has the taste of an eight-year-old who just discovered he could paint flames on model cars, but Osamu would have brought him anyway, because he can't imagine making a choice like that without Atsumu by his side.)

In this life—at least for now—it's just him and his shop, and all of the other Onigiri Miyas he's going to make. However many it takes to make Atsumu eat his words and see that Osamu was the happier twin after all.

Starting with the one in the old sushi shop in Shibuya.

 

***

 

Atsumu gets home after sundown, and he finds Omi on their couch—right where he left him this morning. He's laying on his back, with his laptop on his sternum, and scowling at the screen like it personally cussed him out and insulted his handwriting. His chin is tucked against his chest; just lookin' at him makes Atsumu's neck and eyes hurt.

When Shion sent them that pimple popping video weeks ago, he couldn't have known it would unlock whatever this is in Omi. Shion's kind of an evil genius, sure, but he's not omnipotent. Hopefully.

"Pickin' fights in the comment section again, baby?" Atsumu asks as he slips out of his shoes and hangs up his coat.

He doesn't bother to hide the shopping bags as he crosses the room. When Omi gets sucked into something, he goes full tunnel vision—Atsumu could swallow a flaming sword right in their living room and Omi wouldn't spare him a glance. It's infuriatingly endearing.

"They left the sacs in again," Omi mutters, continuing to chicken-peck at the keyboard. No doubt telling someone halfway across the globe exactly where they can shove their bad information. "What's the point? They're just going to grow back in."

Atsumu's stomach churns. "What did I say about the details?"

Omi—finally—glances up. He has the good sense to look a little ashamed, at least.

"Right." He nods and moves the laptop onto the coffee table next to a half-empty bowl of tonjiru. "How is your brother?"

"Stubborn as ever," Atsumu sighs. "But I made him cry, so there's that."

Atsumu drops the bags next to the couch, picks up the bowl, and slurps down most of the soup that's left. It's not warm anymore, but it's still as good as it was when he made it last night.

"I gotcha some stuff," he says, wiping his mouth on the back of his wrist.

Then he climbs over Omi and flops flat on top of him, chest to chest, which earns him a small, satisfying oof. He buries his smile in the curve of Omi's jaw and presses a kiss there for good measure.

"Do I want to know?" Omi asks, sounding only a little winded as he sweeps his hand up the line of Atsumu's spine and back down again.

His fingers are cold—Atsumu can feel the chill of them through his shirt. So he bites him, just a little. Right on his chin. Because he can. Because he can be kind of a brat and Omi will still love him just the same, the bastard.

Then he reaches for the bags and draws out the little green ring box.

Omi sees it and groans.

"You couldn't stand it, could you?"

Before Atsumu can bitch back, Omi hooks a long, knobby finger into Atsumu's collar and tugs until a chain falls out. It's a simple, delicate thing that Atsumu's been wearing every day since Omi gifted it to him three months ago. Dangling on the end of it is a small, gold, mobius band with a little red gem.

"It bugged me, okay!" Atsumu hisses. "Who gets a couple's ring for just one part of the couple? Who does that?"

Omi rolls his eyes and cracks open the ring box—

—and says nothing at all.

"Oh, come on," Atsumu says. "I know it's nice. Samu helped me pick it."

"It is nice," Omi agrees, like that's exactly what's surprising about it. "Want to put it on me?"

What a stupid question. Atsumu's wanted to put a ring on Kiyoomi Sakusa since the day they moved in together. Since before then, probably. Maybe an entire lifetime ago, when he shoved Omi into a locker because he was so mad about someone else touching him.

"Yer so needy," he sighs, plucking the ring out of the box with one hand and scooping Omi's hand up with the other.

It's such a simple thing, putting a ring on someone's finger.

But it means—it means a lot.

"Are you crying?" Omi asks.

He's smiling, soft and small and just for Atsumu.

"Shut up," Atsumu sniffs. "You suck."

He chucks the empty ring box back at the bags and sinks the shot. Then he lays his head on Omi's chest and closes his eyes, determined not to cry even a little bit.

Eventually he says, "I gotcha somethin' else, too," he says. "But it's got some conditions."

"More conditions than a ring?"

"Uh-huh." Atsumu pushes himself up slowly until he's straddling Omi's lap, looking down at him with a critical eye. He holds up one finger. "Only my back." He raises a second finger. "And I don't wanna hear ya mutterin' anything while you do it."

He sees the moment Omi catches on: his eyes go a little wide, his jaw a little slack. He looks more excited for this than the damn ring.

Atsumu raises another finger. "Once a week only." Another finger. "And if I see any blood, we're never doin' it again."

"Okay," Omi says quickly. Eager. It's so cute. He's so cute. Atsumu wants to put his foot through the wall just lookin' at him. "Okay—can I see it now?"

So much for romance.

Atsumu sighs, leans over, and rummages through the bags.

When he sits up straight and finally drops the blackhead extractor on Omi's chest, Omi looks like he might cry. Like nothing better than this has ever happened to him. Like his boyfriend didn't spend an entire day shopping for a ring just for him. What the fuck. Why is that cute?

"You are so weird," Atsumu says, but he strips off his shirt just the same. "Go disinfect it. I'll be in the bathroom—did I mention we're only ever doin' this in there?"

Omi squirms out from under him and presses a kiss to Atsumu's forehead, plush and lingering and so sweet it makes Atsumu's teeth hurt. Then he takes the extractor and disappears into their kitchen.

How are you sure? Samu had asked him.

Sitting in their living room—surrounded by all the things he and Omi love, and riding the strange, unique high of making Omi stupidly, incandescently happy—Atsumu still isn't sure about the how or the why.

He just knows.

Someday, maybe Samu will too. Or maybe he won't.

But he'll always have Atsumu—whether he needs a shift covered or a small business loan or a fresh kick in the ass. Because that's what brothers are for.

Atsumu's still gonna die happier, though.

"Ready?" Omi calls from the kitchen.

Atsumu could live forty lifetimes and not be ready for his boyfriend to pop his zits for him, but sure. Why not?

"Bathroom!" he hollers back, hopping off the couch and taking off in a dead run, cackling when Omi catches him by the waist and hauls him the rest of the way there.