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Of Sunsets and Mirrors

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It was cold up there. 

The kind of cold that meanders through the pores of your skin and makes every hair stand on your arms stand on edge, it kisses your back and makes you want to hold yourself as tightly as possible in the hope of feeling something other than its claws. 

The kind that caresses your lips as it holds its soft hands around your throat and embraces it until all that's left of you are sighs. 

The kind that whips your bones, fracturing them in all the spots where they’re most fragile. 

It was the type of cold that reminds you just how far you ran away from the bonfire of life, that accompanies you along every step, a nefarious presence, but comforting in its indifference.

For Miya Atsumu it had always been a matter of steps: one, four, six, four... 

One step. Only one step for the frost to leave him. 

But Miya Atsumu was a liar. 

He kept putting stuff off, telling himself that every breath would be the last. Because breathing had become increasingly difficult ever since all he had managed to inhale was the dust of his shattered desires and the smoke of a past whose fire continued to consume his lungs. 

But still, Atsumu wanted to keep doing it. Because he didn’t know how to live in a world without oxygen, and the unknown was just as attractive as it was terrifying. And it was waiting for him at the bottom of the abyss, at the end of that journey during which gravity would guide him.

One last step.

One last breath.

One last lie.

Miya Atsumu was hesitating.

If death was the only future we have confidence in, then how could something so certain cause so much uncertainty? How was it possible for the known to strike fear? 

In the ice prison of his ribcage, Miya Atsumu felt his heart beating. The boom came from his chest, from his throat, from his temples. It was singing a sad song.

An ode to the fall. 

Atsumu wondered if he would continue to listen to it even during the fall. But it was more likely that the only thing he could sense would be the wind ringing in his ears. Maybe it would have crept into his nostrils, allowing him one last, desperate breath. Atsumu could only hope that, at least, it wouldn't taste like dust.

He took a look at the city, a body of asphalt and concrete that stretched for meters and kilometers beyond the frozen tip of his nose. It was a cruel, wonderfully ruthless creature, existing under a gray, detached sky. 

There had been days when Atsumu had looked at it with amazement, with the same eyes of a child discovering the universe. For him, the canvas of the sky had been an immense expanse of blue and oblivions on which a painter kept tracing brushstrokes of clouds, new spots that could adorn instead of ruin. But for some reason that painter was never satisfied. Because the hues changed every day. And a frightening sense of intimacy resided in rediscovering the colors of the firmament at each new dawn.

At that moment, the sky was starting to wear the shades of the evening. 

And Miya Atsumu thought it wouldn’t be bad to set together with the sun. 

It was an excuse. He knew. He was hesitating. 

But there was something so terribly delicate about that thought. 

"When did this boy die?" someone would have asked. 

"At sunset" 

He smiled. 

He closed his eyes. 

He whispered his goodbyes. 

"Don’t do it" 

A voice. 

A rustle. 

It must have been the wind. 

"Don’t do it" 

Again? 

Atsumu didn’t believe the wind could blow in the same direction twice. 

Oh.

He turned towards the source of those words. Brown irises got stuck with the dark ones of a guy who he hadn't seen enough times to remember the name. He looked away. 

"You don’t really want to do this, do you?" 

Atsumu exhaled. For all that time he had been busy chasing air, welcoming it inside the fallen house of his lungs, grasping it greedily to have something to anchor himself to. 

Letting it go made him feel...vulnerable, exposed, defenseless. 

"It’s always so cold," he said looking down. 

"Then let’s go back inside" the owner of the voice didn’t move.

They had already met: Atsumu had been living in that building for months now, and he used to take a morning run. Every once in a while, when he came back, he crossed the eyes of that guy with two moles on one side of his forehead and a shoulder strap on his right shoulder. At first they hadn't taken the other into much account but, with time, one look had become two, it had become five, eight, eleven. 

They had begun to greet each other. In the same way as we greet strangers, the people whose path touches ours without altering it. It had all begun with a simple nod of the chin, then a slight movement of the hand. Then a smile, the curve of their lips wide enough to make it look polite, but never too friendly.

More than once, Atsumu had asked himself if they would ever get to say a "hello" or a "good morning" or maybe a "have a good day" or "good luck". He'd deduced that he needed it since, clearly, that guy was a university student. 

Then he had stopped thinking about the future and, consequently, about words that would never be uttered. 

But now he wondered "What's your name?" 

"Sakusa Kiyoomi" 

A pause. 

"Yours?" 

"Atsumu" 

"And?" 

"Just Atsumu" 

"Okay" he was looking at the street below too.

It is bizarre, the way in which that quiet creature between them could be defined as silence. After all, "silence" means lack of sound perturbation. But, right then, in the spacial void that brought them apart, noise existed. It belonged to the city: wandering cars, birds returning to the nest, distant voices from equally distant realities. 

And if silence is absence, then why was its presence so evident? 

"I’m going to die in three months" 

And if a mirror exists to show us who we are, then who are we when the mirror shatters?

A silent echo of rupture made its way along the lines of Atsumu’s body, greedy chills that caressed his uncovered ankles, moving their sharp nails along his legs, embracing his hips and converging along the spine. 

"Why?" Atsumu asked in one breath. 

"I’m ill"

"No. Why are you telling me ?" 

Atsumu couldn't get rid of the earthquake Sakusa’s words caused. 

"Because you're up here and the only thing you do is look down" 

Atsumu didn't think he understood. He said nothing. 

"When looking down, one tends to forget that they're closer to the sky"

Atsumu lifted his eyes. Allowing himself to notice details that had previously escaped him: stray clouds and new colors that played hide and seek behind them, tenacious rays that clung in vain to the lines of the world, swallowed by the horizon. 

And at that moment, Miya Atsumu realized that the sun had set without him.

 

The story of Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi was a story about endings. 

A loss, an abandonment, broken glass and dust dancing between the rays of a pale sun until it settles on the memories. 

An instrument with a broken voice, hearts ceasing to sing, tears being shed.

And it started with Atsumu asking about death. 

His questions were about the time that remained, words spoken several times by different doctors, solutions that couldn't be defined as such.

Between the air cracks that had crept into the space separating a body as hot as life and a body as cold as glass, Atsumu cut out some seconds, perhaps minutes, to let oxygen widen the open tissue voids between his lungs. At that moment, silence was his friend: he held him in an icy but tender embrace, he approached it as close as possible, he let it caress his cheeks, brush the ghosts of tears that had carved invisible but indelible paths on his skin.

And he listened to Sakusa’s low voice. His tone was that of someone who accepted long ago to follow a score composed by somebody else.

Atsumu’s cruel and petty thoughts suggested that this boy was somehow luckier than he was. People like Sakusa lived a life in the light of a sun of truths that cannot be ignored, there can be no clouds or perturbations along a path that has been paved and protected by a destiny that, although ruthless, was meticulous in its projects.

However, for those like Atsumu life meant existing at the mercy of unpredictable storms of randomness, flashes of unexpected hurdling themselves on the colors that painted the picture of possibilities, eagerly absorbing them, until all that was left on the canvas was a melancholic black and white.

For people like Atsumu Miya, there was no meteorology of life. 

And no matter how much he tried to drive those images out of his head, they remained firmly anchored to every cell that formed that cracked-glass organism of his.

 

"Yer not afraid" Atsumu said once Sakusa finished his list of possible symptoms. It sounded more like a statement than a question. 

"It's easy to get used to it when you grow up with people that keep reminding you that you have an expiration date" Sakusa shrugged. 

Atsumu looked at his hands, abandoned in the solitude of his womb "No one should get used to living a life defined by the way they'll die"

 

Atsumu’s nightmares were made of glass.

Fragile little things. Sharp corners. 

Atsumu was alone in a house as familiar as it was distant. It was cold there too. There were blurry pictures on every wall, cobwebs that softened the edges of furniture against which Atsumu had slammed his body more than once. There was dust on the two beds in the room he was in.

Atsumu reached out his hand to the same blankets which, long ago, had cradled the warmest part of his heart. 

But he couldn't touch them. 

A sharp sound prevented him from doing that, it echoed between the tense strings of a ghostly stillness. It felt like a stab right in the chest, a snowflake that the breeze deposits on the more delicate petal of a flower, a candle's flame that wobbles, and then, goes out.

Atsumu turned to the source of that noise, his bones creaking at every step, the chills struck his skin, his muscles twitched. It was a warning. His body was yelling at him not to approach, to run away, to stop before the dust suffocated him too.

But Atsumu continued to walk, trembling step by trembling step, until he found himself face to face with a window. 

It had eight panels separated by symmetrical wood lines: one vertically, three horizontally. The white cladding that covered them had begun to fail. Atsumu was under the impression that if he laid a finger on one of them, he would end up bleeding out.

The glass was dirty. So much so that the light couldn't penetrate, so that the outside world couldn't be seen. 

Good for him, Atsumu was afraid to find out what was there in the garden. Atsumu feared his reflection. 

A crack had made its way through the opaque crystal plates. This. This must have been the noise he heard. Atsumu tilted his head, looked at that rift, a black line in the middle of the desert. 

He didn’t need a mirror to know that that image was symmetrical and opposed to the one that had opened up in the spaces between his ribs. 

Atsumu extended his index finger. He wanted to touch it. He wanted to know it. He wanted to understand. 

He brushed it.

And hundreds of cuts began to appear on the cold surface under the tip of his finger. A labyrinth without exits, built on an ice field. A puzzle under construction. 

A glass scream. 

And then everything shattered. 

Pieces of the past breaking to the ground, stubborn shrapnel of a life that had broken so long ago. 

And Atsumu’s chest was no longer enough to sustain his breaths. His lungs were filled with dust. His throat closed and the polar cold suffocated him in a pungent embrace. 

And, all around him, only broken crystal wings.

 

When Miya Atsumu jumped awake in the middle of the night, black eyes and a wrinkly forehead were watching him, worried. 

It took Atsumu a few seconds to catch his breath. 

He felt his heart beat faster than usual, he felt it challenge the bone bars of his rib cage. It was striking tenacious blows, punctuated by an almost imperceptible moment of abysmal stillness. It was beating as if he wanted to tell him I’m still here.

"I screamed, didn’t I?" Atsumu asked, slowly bringing two fingers to his lips, as if he could caress the echo of a cry that he didn't hear himself utter. 

Sakusa nodded.

"Oh. Sorry" Atsumu took a moment to remember where he was, what happened. 

Sakusa had taken him back inside, driving him down the hallways of the apartment building until they found themselves in front of Atsumu’s door, then he had insisted on staying, perching on the couch and saying that he would have spent the night there. 

"Do you think you can go back to sleep?" 

Atsumu grabbed his own trembling fingers, a desperate attempt to stabilize his axis "Not here" 

Because his bed was a ruthless winter.

And the tears that had wet it had opened scars between the warp and the weft of his sheets. 

The tremors that had shaken it had slashed the mattress. 

The silent screams he had uttered had become friends with his pillow. 

And Atsumu hadn't been able to sleep anymore. 

"It’s cold" he added. 

Atsumu felt Sakusa’s irises piercing his flesh, resting on the innermost depths of his soul. 

"Okay, then let’s go"

 

Sakusa’s apartment was two corridors and a flight of stairs away from Atsumu’s, and it wasn't that different: a sofa in the center of the room, a modest-sized TV in front of it, some furniture here and there. 

What made it 'Sakusa’s' were the photos on a dresser, the post-its attached to some walls, a computer with a galaxy-like cover resting on the small kitchen table. 

The window at the bottom of the main room was ajar, the light breeze of late winter nights blew through the thin curtains that separated the reality in which the two were located from that in which the rest of the world existed. 

And Sakusa Kiyoomi’s bed was warm.

Like the light in his house, like the steaming cup he had just offered him, like the body lying motionless a few inches from his. 

"How are you feeling?" 

How are you feeling?  

It’s been a long time since anyone asked him that question, so long that Atsumu couldn’t find an answer in the dusty drawers of his brain. He was sure he'd lied the last time someone asked. But, for some reason, he didn’t want to lie now. Not to Sakusa. 

"You’re crying" 

Ah

For the second time that night, Atsumu brought two fingers to his face. He wiped those glass tears at the corners of his eyes. Fragile creatures. Sharp. He looked at his fingertips to make sure he hadn't cut himself.

"Sorry"

"About what?"

Once again Atsumu didn't know. Simply, it had seemed like the right thing to say. 

He had never been good with words. 

He had never been good with feelings. 

He kept repeating phrases he had heard from people who seemed more competent than him, memorizing fragments of conversations and recycling them. 

Atsumu Miya had long since stopped talking with his heart on his sleeve. 

He had given honesty up. 

He got lost inside the mirror maze of his mind. The walls that imprisoned him knew how to be deceptive and ruthless, but it was only his fault and his bad choices that led him to hit them repeatedly.

Some walls aren't made to be overcome. They exist to show us who we are, everything we can ever be. 

And Atsumu Miya was tired of bumping against his own reflection. 

Atsumu Miya had started hating his reflection. 

So he built himself a paper armor, filled it with ink lies and prayed it was enough to fool the people around him into thinking he was a human being. 

And now he couldn’t recognize himself.

And he wanted to break all those mirrors. Even if it would have meant bleeding out, even if it would have led him to walk barefoot on a floor of splinters for the rest of his stay within his own thoughts.

"Atsumu" 

Atsumu shook his head, finally focusing his eyes on Sakusa. His face looked quiet, but there was a thin veil of something behind his irises. Something that Atsumu, so unused to see it in people, had forgotten the name of. 

"Are you listening to me?" 

Atsumu nodded. 

"Your head was somewhere else" 

“Sor- 

"Stop" 

Atsumu looked down. 

Sakusa’s sigh came as a soft whisper to his ears "Are you feeling better?" 

This. This was a question Atsumu had an answer to. He nodded. Then he thought it was not enough. He wanted Sakusa to hear it, he wanted him to know.

"Yes" and it sounded like a thank you

"Are you still cold?"

"A little" 

Sakusa waited for him to finish his tea before taking the two cups and going to wash them. Atsumu was already under the sheets when Sakusa returned with a duvet in his hands. 

Atsumu made a slight content sound when Sakusa deposited it on his tired limbs. 

It was a sweet, gentle embrace. Atsumu could sense Sakusa’s hands beyond the layers of tissue that enveloped him like a protective chrysalis. 

And Atsumu Miya understood that, sometimes, the greatest warmth comes from bodies that meet in the cold.

The story of Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi was a story about threads.

About the ways they walk, touch, shake hands. They slip on each other, intertwine, form bonds.

It was a story about the loom of existences.

Warp and weft stretching and embracing, trapeze artists who defy the abyss of time. Paths and paths and paths of string. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal lives colliding at every unlikely point of a surface made of breaths.

And it was written with trembling seams on the fabric of their souls. Needles piercing the space that divided them.

The space that united them.

There were rules. They had established them those hours when the sun was at its highest in the sky, the same hours when the shadows dissipated, leaving no space for doubts. They had uttered them on a bed that had started feeling like spring warmth, a place where promises of life are whispered.

Rule number one: Sakusa Kiyoomi didn’t like to touch and be touched.

Atsumu didn’t ask why. 

There was something about Sakusa that required distance. It was incised between the curves of his back, in the almost imperceptible boundary between his pupils and his dark iris, in the creeks that divided his long and pale fingers.

Sakusa Kiyoomi belonged to a museum, or perhaps to an art gallery. He was to be observed from afar, in religious stillness.

He was breathtaking in the same way a drop of dew falling on the flat surface of a lake was.

Atsumu had agreed to touch that limitless void between them only with gloves on.

Rule number two: never ask Atsumu Miya to talk about his family.

Sakusa didn’t ask why.

There was something about Atsumu that required silence. It sat on the cupid arch of his lips, it was evident in the way he chewed on them, moved along with his weight when he balanced it from one leg to the other.

Miya Atsumu existed in the absences of sound that defined him. He could be understood through the noises that he didn’t emit.

It was exceptional in the same way a bud that opens in the middle of a snow desert was.

Sakusa had accepted the uncertainties of walking alone on a bridge suspended over an ocean of fog.

That was all. Their rules.

For Sakusa, establishing rules was like keeping an order in his personal system of things, it was something necessary, made everything easier, clearer. They were a way to always know where to look, where not to venture. 

For Atsumu, having rules meant building actions that would become certainties over time, they were a distant echo of what his future might have been. As long as he had them, he’d have to respect them, he’d have to move on.

And that was how their little routine was born: early (too early) in the morning, Atsumu knocked at Sakusa’s door. The latter, still buried in that heat nest of his sheets, grumbled. But he always ended up getting up, thinking to himself that, one of those days, he should have made a copy of his key.

Sometimes, Atsumu would drop by the supermarket before coming to see him, showing up with a bag full of ingredients with which he could cook something more nutritious than their usual cup of coffee or milk. Sakusa couldn’t really complain about Atsumu’s culinary skills, yet he wrinkled his nose every time he saw him staring at his food without even taking a bite. Some days he had to insist on making Atsumu eat something.

Other times they decided to walk down the stairs to go to the bar at the corner of the street where they resided. For two weeks now they had continued to occupy the same table, a quiet, open-air spot, as far away from other customers as possible. It was in that bar that they started to get to know each other.

Once finished, they returned to Sakusa’s apartment. Atsumu’s apartment, according to him, was not worth the shivers it provoked. It was a place where noise had established a tyranny of creaks and broken glass. Atsumu’s shadows were deformed, their movements irregular, their whispers cruel.

His world was kept  together by thin threads.

And when you sew a cobweb house around you, you can’t really expect to get out of it without injuries.

He was a frayed soul.

And the knots with which he tied his ropes were often too fragile to bear the weight of his visceral loneliness.

But Sakusa’s house was a cozy place. Atsumu liked the light that reigned there, the manner in which it kindly settled on the furniture’s profiles, in which it caressed the memories on the shelves, crowning them with rays. Even the shadows were protracted in all the right places to look friendly.

It was a place dedicated to the worship of eternal warmth.

A sanctuary of peace of mind.

But the existence that inhabited it was grey, a color with empty and sad shades. 

The color of dust, of the rubble, of ruins.

Sakusa knew that some ruins weren’t worth visiting.

And yet, there was someone. Someone who every day stood in front of the gates of that forgotten world Sakusa Kiyoomi was. There was someone who came looking for life in a place of decay.

Atsumu told him that the sky was prettier to look at from his window.

And every evening they watched those remnants of sunset adorning the firmament with an explosion of yellow and orange.

And Atsumu’s eyes were lost in the immense through the glass, Sakusa observed the reflection of the sun sinking beyond the lines of the earth melting in Atsumu’s warm irises.

It was in those moments that Sakusa looked down at Atsumu’s hands. He was always holding them in his lap, fingers intertwined with each other, caressing his own skin. Sakusa wondered...

“Atsumu”

"Mh?" when Atsumu turned to him, the sun had disappeared from his eyes, leaving behind traces of softened browns, silent greens.

"Why are you sad?"

"I lost someone" the answer was quick "Someone who always ran beside me."

Sakusa held his breath.

"I guess it made me realize how miserable I am when I’m alone" Sakusa could not look away from the way Atsumu’s fingers were fidgeting, his grip on himself was getting stiff.

A tear walked down Atsumu’s face.

Sakusa thought, guess we all have ruins to go back to.

It was abrupt. The moment the two of them finally let go of the insecurities that existed in the spaces between Sakusa’s untouchability and Atsumu’s inaudibility.

Sakusa didn’t know how to overcome his fears of proximity. Atsumu didn’t know how to let someone get closer.

Neither of them was ready.

They’d been exploring for days now. Sometimes they preferred to stay at home, thriving in the intimacy of their silences, among the slight sounds of the world pulsating, alive, out the glass shield that kept them safe. Other times they explored the outside’s insides: a walk through the supermarket aisles in search of their next dinner, a ride to the nearest cinema to observe all the ways existences could run on a screen, furtive glances between the shelves of an old library, a place where the dust doesn’t ruin, but beautifies.

And at some point Sakusa started thinking about hands.

Fingers stretched out towards jars on the shelves, fingertips that ran on the backs of ancient bound books, nails that sank into the flesh of a palm to avoid shaking.

Hands on the verge of touching, a breath between skins.

His hands...

It was on a late March Sunday that Sakusa Kiyoomi woke up with a headache.

That morning, when Atsumu showed up at his door, Sakusa opened it barely, just to say "I can’t today"

Atsumu stared at him for a few seconds before asking "Is there something wrong?"

For some reason, hearing Atsumu’s voice uttering those words annoyed him. Perhaps because his temples kept pulsating, preventing him from thinking clearly, perhaps because it was too early in the morning, or perhaps because Atsumu, more than anyone else, should have known that there was nothing going right in the first place. 

There wasn’t enough time. All Sakusa could hope for was to survive long enough to cross the line between spring and summer. And, as if that wasn’t enough, exams would take place in a week or so. And Sakusa wasn’t ready.

He brought a hand to his head, making an effort to shake his head before closing the door in Atsumu’s face.

 

Atsumu knocked again during the afternoon. When Sakusa opened, he noticed the other was holding a plate covered with tinfoil "Thought ya needed lunch"

It was at that moment that, for the first time in more than seven hours, Sakusa looked at the clock. It was three o'clock. Oh. He forgot to eat.

Atsumu let himself in to place the plate on the table. Then he opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. At least not until he noticed all the open books on Sakusa’s desk.

"Were you studying?"

Sakusa just nodded his head.

"Ya should stop that"

Sakusa wasn’t ready for that conversation. But that didn’t stop him from asking "Why would I?"

“You don’t need that”

Sakusa inhaled.

"And since when do you know more about what I need than I do?" 

Only after finishing the sentence did Sakusa realize that he had said it out loud. But he didn’t take it back..

Atsumu took a few steps back "You know that’s not what I meant"

Sakusa bit his cheek enough to feel the metallic taste of his own blood in his mouth. Suddenly he felt a slight sense of nausea.

"And what did you mean?" he forced his own tone to sound neutral.

Atsumu connecte his own hands, starting to fidget with his own fingers. Sakusa knew what it meant. He knew.

It was wrong. It was all wrong.

"I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound offensive but...you don’t have much time...it would be a waste to spend it on to books that can’t teach you noth-

"Atsumu" the name left his lips before Sakusa could swallow it and forget it in the depths of his throat "Tell me, how should I spend it?"

Sakusa was aware of the venom in his voice, but that chasm between his lungs kept widening and his heartbeat kept composing a song made of disconnected notes inside the cavity of his skull and it hurt, it hurt so bad. So wrong.

Atsumu couldn’t find the courage to look him in the eye when he whispered "You should learn more about life"

Sakusa’s insides were ashes, and they were crumbling inside his own organism. Pillars of cells collapsed to the ground, castles of tissue fell, the empires of his organs drowned in blood.

And Sakusa wasn’t really ready for that conversation. So he said the one thing that would definitely nip it in the bud:

"And what exactly do you know about life?"

Sakusa’s heart gave a last hopeless scream, stabbed by the sharp bones of his rib cage. Despair echoed through the cavities of his body where the air had resided until a few minutes ago.

Decadence of systems.

Sakusa couldn’t see Atsumu’s eyes. All he was able to perceive was the immediacy with which his figure got perfectly still a stone’s throw from the entrance, the way the tension crept between the infinitesimal spaces between those fingers he had intertwined shortly before.

The absence of any emotion in his tone when he said "Are we fighting?"

"I guess so"

"Okay" was the last word he heard him utter before he heard the door of his own apartment closing with a delicacy that ruined the harmony of disintegration in his chest.

Sakusa fell to his knees.

And at that moment Sakusa Kiyoomi realized that, contrary to all expectations, it hadn’t been  his illness to kill him.

There was an abyss of differences between being alone and feeling alone.

It was something that Sakusa had always known, but somehow he’d never been able to grasp.

It is a discrepancy that lies in the concepts of 'to be' and 'to have'. We are alone when no one is with us, we feel alone when we have no one with us. It’s really that simple.

Sakusa Kiyoomi had met solitude at a young age: distant eyes, gray faces, tears running on glass cheeks. The thread that held his family and him together was as fragile as crystal.

Sakusa was sure that it had broken years ago, by the time his relatives stopped smiling at him and began to feel pity for him. Not that he cared.

He had never thought too much about life, not when the only reality presented to him was death. The little color that Sakusa had tried to cling to had begun to fade between the wards of the hospitals he had visited, in the studies of doctors who did nothing but repeat the same words in different languages. But the place that ultimately drained every nuance had been his own house.

For his own good, or at least what was left of it, Sakusa had left that grayness behind. And he felt good, he didn’t look back once. He never really felt alone.

How could he ever imagine that, one day, it would be a person close to a stranger to teach him a lesson about loneliness?

It was a cold creature. An ice snake. Slow in its movements, but lethal in its manners. Capable of quietly crawling on the skin, leaving only a trail of innocent shivers, but as sharp as a knife’s blade.

Sakusa could only wait, inert, for that body of splinters to tighten around his throat. A beautiful necklace of stalagmites, capable of piercing the skin with the same tenderness with which it kissed it.

Sakusa’s blood was as colourless as his existence.

And ice was easy to break, but not when it breaks you first.

Sakusa thought he could finally understand the cold that Atsumu often talked about "your sheets are warmer than mine" he told him after that first night in his apartment.

Only now was Sakusa learning that Atsumu was referring to a cold that persists under layers and layers of blankets. It’s a being that embraces the most intimate level of the epidermis, it exists with you, for you.

 

Sakusa had started dreaming about hands.

They were on his cheeks, fingers brushing the soft skin of his face like the kindest breath of the breeze, an index taking a stroll on his bottom lip. Against all expectations, Sakusa dared to leave a light kiss on it.

Then those digits moved towards his chin, lifting it up up up until his neck was completely exposed. He wondered how those hands would look around it, how they would feel around it. Would the pressure applied by his fingertips be enough to shatter porcelain skin, to leave kaleidoscopic marks, pretty hues.

And now they were caressing his clavicles, just a thin layer of flesh separating fingertips from Sakusa’s bones, from Sakusa’s truth, from Sakusa. And they kept moving, dancers on his skin, tiptoeing, pirouetting, leaping on his shoulder, tapping the tips of their ballet flats in the seam that connects the head to the rest of the body.

Then they slid down his arm, a brush painting invisible lines of art among his goosebumps, their touch so tender, their pecks so warm: one in the crook of the elbow, one on the most sensitive part of his forearm, on the back of Sakusa’s hands, on his knuckles, on his nails.

Until they were intertwined.

Digits guiding the braiding of their hands over Sakusa’s head, pinning him on his own mattress, skin on cotton, day on night, breath on absence of breath.

Then the fingers left.

Not for long.

Never for long.

Never in his dreams.

They positioned on Sakusa’s bare hips, thumbs going up and down, up and down, up and now they were navigating his torso, fingertips zig zagging around his moles. Sakusa’s abdominals shifting under every single touch on the most fragile lines of his being, answering a question that was uttered at the beginning of times.

It was sudden, the moment those hands decided to continue their journey down Sakusa’s body. So sudden it caused dark eyes to flutter close, moans to escape a pair of lips that no longer knew how to keep their secrets. And those fingertips were wind, hypnotizing the waves of Sakusa’s pelvis into motion, making his whole figure vault to follow, to chase the flow.

Those hands felt like life walking down his thighs, a force so strong it produced changes on the other side of Sakusa’s organism, making tears gather in the cradle of his eyelids to witness the magnificence of existence.

How glorious.

And, as the entirety of his soul kept unravelling, Sakusa realized that those hands were painfully similar to Atsumu’s.

 

He ended up jumping awake on a bed that felt like snow. The silent tears descending on his face were the only source of warmth he could hold on to.

Another thing Sakusa realized, no matter how stupid it seemed, was that he couldn’t bring himself to study.

He had less than six days left before exams. And he couldn’t study.

He tried to understand those worlds of words that existed on paper sheets that had been repeatedly stained with coffee. It had never been too hard for him, but now every line looked like ink torture. He read it, re-read it, read it again. And nothing stayed.

It was during an early April afternoon that Sakusa Kiyoomi realized that there was nothing worth learning in those books. Not for someone like him.

He had always liked to see things through to an end, that’s why he had consecrated what little remained of his stay in that world to things he was sure he could finish with satisfaction: puzzles, books, college.

Objectively, he was aware of the fact that accidents happen, but he knew in his heart that the earthquake making his precarious stability tremble, couldn’t be considered an accident.

Sakusa knew that Atsumu didn’t like noises. He had closed the door gently.

Atsumu was a quiet figure when he entered Sakusa’s life, and it was in silence that he left it. Sakusa couldn’t even cling to a last sound sanctioning the breaking of the thread that united them.

At the end of the day, Atsumu walking out of his apartment was not an accident, but an end.

And Sakusa wasn’t satisfied with that. 

He looked out the window. The sun was still high in the sky, but it had begun its descent towards the end of the world. Through the contamination of the city air, Sakusa was able to see the first stars showing up, announcing the night.

For some reason, Atsumu reminded him of stars. 

He was one of those creatures that led a distant existence. And you can only see them when they are accompanied by darkness.

One of those things that makes you think about what it would be like to hold them in your hands, feel them on your skin.

Atsumu and the stars...made him think of life.

Suddenly Sakusa felt the need to be closer to the firmament. Up there, it would have been easier to think that stars existed for him.

Sakusa Kiyoomi needed to breathe.

So he decided to go back to the place that taught him how important breathing was: the roof.

He climbed the stairs in his heart’s company, each beat marking the temporal infinite between the steps.

 

Sunset was creeping in the streaks of the sky.

Clouds were slow-dancing among the immensities of the heights.

And the sun was weeping colored tears over the lines of the same buildings that prevented him from seeing it in all its magnificence.

And Atsumu sat on the edge of the roof of a building that had given hospitality not only to him, but to all its insecurities too. His legs were dangling in the empty ocean beneath him. 

But he wasn’t looking down.

Sakusa suppressed a gasp, a sound halfway between a cry and a hiccup.

He didn’t know what to do. 

It had been two weeks since the last time the two of them had spoken, one since the last time Sakusa had seen Atsumu wandering in the corridors, like a ghost looking for a house to haunt, an errant shadow.

Sakusa had feared that...

He got closer until he was just a few steps away from his back. He stopped. Reached out. Stopped again. He withdrew. Turned around. Found himself unable to take the next step. He turned to Atsumu praying that the breeze would prevent him from perceiving all of his hesitations.

And he saw that Atsumu was trembling.

He finally noticed that the fabric of the clothes covering his body was an armor too light to defeat the blows that the wind was inflicting on him.

Sakusa didn’t remember returning to his room and opening a closet, but next thing he knew was that he had a blanket in his hands and he was dangerously close to Atsumu, so much so that the other turned when he felt his presence.

Although those hazel eyes were fixed on his, Sakusa felt as if they were staring through him. They were empty, sad.

And empty was the space between Sakusa’s lips when he tried to bring out the words he had thought of when he had snuggled under his sheets in search of a warmth he’d lost.

It had been stupid of him to think that breathing would be easier up there.

At one point Atsumu must have gotten tired of watching him gasp for air that was no longer able to satisfy the needs of his lungs, because his fingers tightened around the blanket that Sakusa was offering him.

For a second, just one, Sakusa thought Atsumu would touch his hand.

Then he remembered that those hands only belong to him in his dreams.

"I-”

"You know...you don’t have to say anything." 

Atsumu looked away, turning towards the building behind which the sun was playing hide and seek "I may not know what ya need, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need your excuses. There’s no reason to apologize for telling the truth" and his voice was low, defeated.

Atsumu observed the blanket without making any movement to put it on his shoulders.

He got up. He gave it back.

"Atsum-”

"For what it’s worth, I forgive you" and he moved to get back inside.

And every string of Sakusa’s heart broke, an explosion so abrupt that all those wires that had protected him up to that moment ended up whipping the walls of his ribcage, tearing him apart, stopping the oxygen from circulating.

"It will be wrong. If you leave now...it will feel wrong" he said as if they were the last words he could pronounce.

Atsumu turned around. The tears in his eyes were different from those that were sliding on Sakusa’s cheeks. Atsumu’s ones refused to leave his eyes. They just sat on the corners of his eyelids, kissing his eyelashes. They didn’t know how to fall.

For the first time that night, Atsumu looked at him. He looked at him as if Sakusa meant more than the scars he had left.

"Kiyoomi" said. And it sounded desperate in its stillness "Give me a reason to stay."

Sakusa found himself empty-handed.

With a dry mouth. 

Shiny eyes.

He had nothing to offer. 

But the thing about miracles is that we often find them in moments when we need them the most. Because Sakusa was looking for an answer in the sky, and the sky gave it to him.

A plane.

White trails created artificial clouds, dividing the firmament into two equal halves, leaving a sunset-colored lane between them, dedicated to hope. 

But can you really divide the unlimited?

Are humans capable of that?

Sakusa Kiyoomi was human. And he was so small in front of the infinite of the world. He was nothing.

"Atsumu" the name fell from his lips like a drop of water crashing against the motionless surface of a lake. Sakusa observed the owner receiving it as if it were sacred. And it had the potential to be, if Sakusa could find the right words.

"What I’m about to say will sound very selfish" he said.

There was a cheerful bitterness in Atsumu’s smile when he said "Was there really anything between us that could be considered not selfish?"

Was.

But it was true.

Those words were true in the same way Atsumu was true.

Sakusa didn’t need to reflect on that something between them to recognize its essence. 

The braid of their vibrations was held together by whispers of selfishness.

It was hidden in the cracks of Sakusa’s organism, it had accompanied him on that roof, it had brought him to stop a fall. There was selfishness in the way Sakusa Kiyoomi coveted life through someone else’s bones. 

And there was selfishness in Atsumu’s presence before him, in the greed of warmth in his chest. And it was evident in the way Atsumu Miya longed for death through someone else’s future.

There was nothing they could do about it.

So Sakusa Kiyoomi spread his arms and embraced that selfishness thriving between them.

"No one cares about us. We’re small. Insignificant."

Nobody cares about dust.

“We’re alone. But we’re free”

Atsumu remained silent.

"We’re nothing. We must be the ones who care about ourselves" Sakusa sat down on the edge. He looked down. Up. Never back. 

He was giving Atsumu a chance to leave. To dig new wounds in his skin. Sakusa wouldn’t have tried to stop him. 

He inhaled.

"Live for me" he whispered, "Live for me until you find a reason to live for yourself. And I promise you, as long as I’m alive, I will do everything I can to help you."

I’ll live for you too.

"It doesn’t have to mean anything. We don’t have to be anything."

He was shaking.

"I’m asking for two months, three at best. But it can end anytime you want it to end. It doesn’t have to mean anything" he repeated.

We exist together until we understand what it means to live.

"But it’s your choice" he lowered his head "You’re allowed to be selfish too"

Sakusa didn’t know if Atsumu had listened to him. He didn’t know if he was still there. The wind was good at hiding the traces of other bodies.

Until Atsumu was next to him. He sat a few inches away, making sure, as always, not to touch him. And he did the same when he took the blanket from his hand to finally put it around his shoulders.

"It’s warm" he whispered.

Sakusa smiled through the tears that blurred his field of vision. He wiped them.

"The last time I spoke to him, we had a fight" it was Atsumu’s turn to speak "There was this thing we’ve always done together since we were kids, and I thought...that it would continue to be that way. Until one day he told me he wanted to stop. I guess I felt left behind" tremors and sobs shook his voice.

"I told him...that when we would be on our deathbeds, I would look him in the face and tell him that I had the happiest life" a sad laugh left his mouth.

"He got into a car crash shortly after"

And the sun was still kissing the horizon line, but Sakusa thought that its cry of pain was ripping the universe apart, echoes reverberating among grains of stardust.

The whole cosmos was mourning.

“He’s dead” Atsumu whispered “And I’m a liar”

“Atsu-”

"Then why do I want to keep that promise anyway? I want to show ‘im that I am capable..."

Sakusa swallowed.

"I wanna live, Kiyoomi. I wanna be happy"

Sakusa wanted to touch him. Hug him. He didn’t move.

"When we fought" Atsumu’s breaths were irregular "I thought...I didn’t want to lose you too. Is that normal? We don’t even know each other. You’ll die. And yet I thought that"

Sakusa realized that Atsumu’s scars ran as deep as the sharp words Sakusa had given him that day.

"It’s selfish" Atsumu murmured.

"It’s honest" Sakusa said "You’re honest."

A sob resounded in the air that fed those desperate breaths of theirs.

"I don’t want to lie to you" he smiled "You make it harder to leave"

Sakusa returned the smile "You make it easier to live"

And the last ray day caressed the sky. A plane disappeared beyond the clouds.

And they realized that some stories about life begin at sunset.

Because the story of Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi was a story about endings.

And it started with Atsumu asking about death.

But it really began when Atsumu asked about life.

And that’s why every morning he asked a question. Always the same one.

"What are we doing today?"

The story of Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi was a story about knots.

Undone spools, messy skeins, mountains of filaments that have lost their way. Rope that meets wool, cotton that meets copper, iron that meets silk. Color combinations that nobody had ever seen before. Bonds destined to last, ties unravelling, fingers forced to let go.

And it existed on pages that were turned every day.

And that’s how the two of them assembled their future: building it on bricks of today.

That’s how they found themselves navigating the sea of colorful post-it that they had covered Sakusa’s apartment in.

It was nothing new. Sakusa already used many of those to take notes, for his shopping list, to mark the most important or indecipherable pages of those textbooks he had decided to close permanently. 

Now some were attached to the fridge, others on Sakusa’s desk, some dangled from the bathroom cabinet. There were stripes of green and pink pieces of paper that covered a part of the counter, a chessboard of orange, blue, yellow and lilac that adorned one of the bare walls of the small living room. 

They started with black and red pens, writing their plans on those post-its, filling them with ideas and proposals about what they could do. The objective was to create an order that could be defined "theirs" in that kaleidoscopic chaos.

Every time they completed one of the proposals, they removed the piece of paper and placed it in an old shoe box, ready to replace it with another if needed.

And they went looking for life among tree-lined avenues, quiet parks, shadows of ancient cherry blossoms. All the places where it’s easier to listen to the words the heart whispers against the chest. And they explored the noises of streets full of people, crowded shops, concerts that were retransmitted on television. In those moments the heart screamed. 

Sakusa couldn’t stop thinking about the way Atsumu’s fingers would reach for the sleeve of his light jacket when, in public, some passer-by risked bumping into Sakusa. 

Atsumu couldn’t help but notice the way Sakusa offered him a pair of headphones when the noise around them became so unbearable that he had no choice but to close his eyes.

Little by little, to that red and black ink, was added a dark blue, a green that echoed the grass on which they used to lie during sunny afternoons, a light lilac, the same shade of those flowers both of them liked but neither could remember the name of. At some point they had decided to use felt-tip pens, the same ones that children use to fill the white spaces of drawings where only the border lines exist.

And lists, reminders, stories and scribbles started blooming on those post-its. It happened often that a word was deleted, rewritten as it was a few seconds before, deleted again, rewritten in a new way.

And they went looking for the sun on rainy days, for the wind on sunny days, for the rain on windy days. They survived thanks to sensations, shivers and sighs, thanks to smiles so thin they could be considered a spectre, small wrinkles forming at the corners of bright eyes.

Sometimes it hurt. 

It hurt in the way Sakusa often found Atsumu contemplating his reflection in the mirror, an inverted image of Narcissus. Atsumu had once confessed "You know, he looked like me."

It hurt in the way purple looked beautiful on Sakusa, but not under the form of deep circles embracing his eyelids, bruises kissing his skin in all the places where Atsumu touched him through the fabric. Several times Atsumu wondered what it would feel like to touch, but the fear of breaking something so fragile stopped him from asking.

Atsumu’s writing was large and full of curves, his pen traced paths and worlds made of ink. Every now and then a piece of paper would come off and, pushed by a lazy gravity, it would plummet towards the ground. Sometimes Sakusa noticed and managed to grab it before it crashed into the floor. Then he’d twist it between his fingers, like he was afraid that reading it would lead him to violate the boundaries of Atsumu’s soul.

Because, on most of those post-its, Atsumu wrote the lyrics to his favorite songs, and Sakusa knew that music is honesty.

This is why he himself had kept his music secret: an old violin hidden among blankets’ folds in a closet that he had decided not to open anymore.

But he had broken his promise. And he had done it again after seeing Atsumu trembling...

Other times, it was Atsumu who glanced at the tight lines and sharp corners of Sakusa’s calligraphy. When he opened the door of an apartment that wasn’t his but of which he now possessed the key, he first prepared breakfast. When everything was almost ready he went to wake Sakusa up, to give him time to adapt to a reality that wasn’t a dream. Then he would go back to the kitchen to finish cooking. It usually took Sakusa about ten minutes to reach him. During that time Atsumu read his wishes on  sheets of paper that were as fragile as the person who had given them a purpose.

And he thought that, after all, to make art meant having the courage to fill a blank sheet, despite fears and uncertainties. It meant to be able to face it, to learn something from it.

Atsumu knew that even though he didn’t realize it, Sakusa Kiyoomi was an artist.

Even when the spasms shook the lines of his writing so much to make it almost incomprehensible.

Because, sometimes, to make art means failing and failing and failing. Trying two, five, fifty, a thousand times and still find yourself faced with an inextricable knot.

It was frustrating. So tremendously frustrating.

And yet, Sakusa Kiyoomi kept getting out of bed every morning.

And that was enough.

Atsumu smiled at himself as he read the small blue letters that had been written on a pastel pink post-it. It was such a pointy handwriting, full of cutting strokes. It was a rose. It had thorns so sharp to defend the most fragile, most intimate part of itself. It was just like Sakusa.

And then, a few seconds later, a sleepy-looking and ruffled-haired Sakusa came up to him to see what he was doing.

"Hey, Omi-kun" 

Sakusa had already made his way to the cup of coffee that Atsumu had placed for him on the counter, but he gave him a nod to show that he was listening.

"There’s something I’d like to do. It’s something I haven’t done in months, but I’d like to try again."

...

If you search the dictionary, it will define the concept of 'art' as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power"

Sakusa couldn’t deny the truthfulness of those words. However, he was sure that such a vast concept couldn’t be summed up with a few ink lines on an old book full of ink lines.

It had been a long time since Sakusa Kiyoomi last wondered about art.

He’d taken this question and turned it into a personal challenge. Would he have been able to find an answer before the sand on his half of the hourglass wore out?

He had a few months left, two, maybe three, and then only dust would be left.

When Sakusa was a child, his parents made him take private violin lessons. The first time he heard his teacher play it, he thought it was a very sad instrument. But going on with the lessons, he understood that even a piano or a guitar or a trumpet were, or rather they could be.

The greatness of music lies in the care you put in plucking its strings, in touching its keys, in pressing its pistons. It resides in the heart that composes it, in the pauses between a breath and the other, in the echoes.

Art is a score on which notes are accompanied by beats.

And Sakusa had studied to be able to play, but it took him time to feel . He had observed his teacher, a man with a broken smile but eyes full of hope, he had often wondered what his sad story could be. But he’d never asked.

At some point he learned how to listen. He remembered the angle with which the bow leaned to caress the strings, the delicacy with which the man placed the violin on his shoulder, the way he cradled it between the cheek and the chin. He remembered eyes closing to leave room for feelings, hands moving nimbly, a tear that slipped on a wooden soundboard.

Sakusa thought he understood art.

But it often happens that, during the construction of a puzzle, some pieces get lost. Sometimes you spend hours and days and weeks assembling fragments in the hope of finding the right combination just to find yourself without some of them. And even if without them the figure remains recognizable, you notice the lack of something. Something important, fundamental to be able to give a sense of concreteness to what you’ve achieved.

But the notes Sakusa had learned to play were never enough. He’d learned to recognize and list every part of his black wooden violin, hoping that giving a name to his art would help him define it. But it never did.

There was a huge difference between being able to play and knowing how to play.

However, he never really stopped doing it. Some days he found himself holding his old instrument in his hands, his eyes lost somewhere outside the window, the bow touching the same strings that had watched Sakusa grow.

Today’s Sakusa wondered why he was thinking about all of that while watching Atsumu play volleyball.

"Can I come with you?" Sakusa had asked when he saw Atsumu cross the kitchen with a duffel bag on his shoulder.

And now he was witnessing him accompany the ball, touch after touch, into the hands of the spikers. No. He not only accompanied it, but also placed it in the perfect spot, where it would be easier for the other players to connect with it.

Sakusa didn’t know much about the sport’s rules, but at that moment he was certain he didn’t need them.

There was something hypnotic about Atsumu’s technique, something incomprehensibly exceptional: it was everywhere in the way he opened his fingers to accommodate the ball between them before letting it go, in his flawless form as he put himself into position, legs slightly apart, back bent perfectly, arms quickly lifted to collide with the object of his desires.

When Atsumu tossed the ball he not only did it with his hands, but with his whole body, his whole being.

When Atsumu tossed the ball, he did it wearing his heart on his sleeve.

And Sakusa thought he could finally understand something that he had missed before, like when you read a sentence on a piece of paper, but you later realize you misread it.

Atsumu reminded him of his old teacher: a soul that can’t communicate with human words, can’t live through them.

Sakusa remembered asking his teacher to play for him, still felt the consistency of his own violin between his arms, while his pupils were fixed on the man in front of him, who stroked his instrument with a bow made of breaths of wind, he would never forget the tears that had run down his cheeks while the most broken melody he had ever heard whispered notes inside his ears.

And at that moment, observing Atsumu’s volleyball, Sakusa thought this, this is art.

Because art means to be free within bars made of rules.

Because moving on a court is no different from dancing on a stage, in the same way that the fingers dancing from one key to another on a piano are no different from those that build worlds of words by tapping the keys of a computer. 

Art was a language of vibrations and beats.

And Sakusa Kiyoomi realized he was crying.

He smiled.

 

Later, when Atsumu finished practicing, he approached the spot in the stands where Sakusa had sat down hours ago.

"Were ya bored?" he asked, bringing his hand behind his head as if to apologize.

Sakusa realized that this Atsumu in front of him was completely different from the one that had existed on the court until a few minutes ago.

This Atsumu was wrapped in veils that made him opaque, distant. But Sakusa knew that 'distant' was not the right word to describe him. The purpose of layers, after all, is not to remove a person from reality, but to protect them from it. 

Atsumu’s layers were his defenses.

And they collapsed to the ground when he was honest. The court made Atsumu honest.

"Volleyball" Sakusa said.

"Hmm?"

"It makes you happy"

Atsumu gave him a light, almost shy smile "I missed it"

Sakusa watched him jump over the bars that separated them and, once Atsumu sat next to him, he heard him talk about a tournament he never had the chance to see to an end, about long bus rides and hotel nights, about teammates who...

"Atsumu-saaaan" one voice pierced the air at the same time as another, slightly deeper but no quieter shouted "Tsum-Tsuuuuum"

Two of Atsumu’s teammates approached them, greeting Sakusa, presenting themselves as Hinata Shouyou and Bokuto Koutarou. Then they turned their bright eyes to Atsumu, begging him to stay and toss for them a little longer.

Atsumu turned to Sakusa, and his gaze asked ‘Do you mind staying a little longer?’

‘Am I allowed to stay a little longer?'

Sakusa didn’t know enough about life to properly answer the question in Atsumu’s irises, but he found the right words in the curve of Atsumu’s lips  "Your friends are waiting for you"

Atsumu’s head went down in a silent thank you. And then "One day you could try to play with us. If you want and...ehm...if you can"

"I’d like to"

"You know...volleyball is fun" Atsumu said, shrugging before turning around and running towards his teammates.

And at that moment, Sakusa Kiyoomi realized he didn’t want to be left behind.

The drive home was quiet.

Atsumu was too tired to do anything other than focus on the road. Sakusa had felt enough to have nothing to say.

Once they arrived at their apartment building, Sakusa refused  (as usual) to take the elevator. Atsumu could barely stand up but, despite everything, he didn’t want to leave Sakusa alone.

They took the stairs. Each step was torture for Atsumu’s sore feet, but they finally reached the floor where Sakusa resided.

Atsumu was ready to say good night and face the next flight when Sakusa invited him to stay in his apartment.

Atsumu didn’t have the strength to ask questions, so he accepted.

"Shower" Sakusa ordered as soon as they walked through the door.

"Couch" Atsumu tried to counter, but his voice was weak. Like his bones, his tissues.

He really missed volleyball.

It was with this thought that he positioned himself under the hot jet of water, letting it remove every trace of sweat from his exhausted limbs, cleaning up those layers of paper that had gradually begun to fail.

Samu , he thought, I had fun today.  

And he let his tears get lost among the drops of water that slipped on his face, kissing his lips.

Atsumu had been tired for a long time. The kind of tiredness that weighs the soul down, makes it impossible to move, dampens the beats of the heart until you forget you have one.

But that day, Atsumu Miya had finally experienced that tiredness that breaks your flesh, makes your veins pulse, reminds you what it means to crave the flight.

Atsumu looked at his hands.

He could still feel the feeling of the ball settling down inside his fingers, the echo of life it left on his  fingertips, the redness on his forearms.

And for all that time, Atsumu had been afraid of shattering on the ground and losing his pieces, but only now did he understand that his muscles were still there, stubbornly supporting him, unaccustomed to the effort, but strong despite insecurity.

He smiled through his tears.

 

Putting clothes on was extremely difficult.

His arms seemed to scream every time they were lifted, so much so that Atsumu himself found himself groaning in pain several times as the light fabric of a simple white t-shirt caressed his torso, in a vain attempt to relieve his burning chills.

He collapsed on the couch once he was close enough. After all, falling is easier when you know someone is ready to catch you.

But Sakusa had other plans for him.

"Dry your hair" another order.

Atsumu didn’t think he had the strength to get up "Come on Omiii, it’s almost summer."

"It’s still damp"

"Mmh" he complained, but Sakusa’s tone left him no choice "Five more minutes"

"Now"

"Five minutes"

"Now"

"Four minutes"

"No"

"Three?"

"No"

"Six?" 

"Are you kidding me?"

"I needed to try"

"Are you getting up or not?"

"Omi-kun let a tired man breathe" he said, but he tried to lift himself up. He failed.

"I really need those five more minutes," he said hopelessly. He closed his eyes.

"Let’s go" 

When Atsumu opened his eyes, he noticed that Sakusa had reached out his hand to him.

He took it. It was soft, warm.

He groaned when Sakusa yanked him off the couch "You’re ruthless, Omi"

But he had to admit to himself that getting up was a lot easier when someone lent you a hand.

 

"Sit down"

Atsumu sat on a corner of Sakusa’s bed.

"Put your head down"

Atsumu lowered his head. Droplets vibrated on the tips of his wet hair. Atsumu thought about dyeing them again, but he put that thought aside. In that moment he didn’t have the mental ability to worry about his future efforts.

Atsumu heard a little noise, realized that Sakusa had attached a plug to the socket in the wall next to his bedside table.

"Now stand still"

Atsumu closed his eyes and waited for the heat of the hair dryer to collide with his head.

Sakusa was quick, methodical. Atsumu sighed every time his long, thin fingers ran between his ruffled locks, making his hair a mess of threads and softness. Atsumu leaned into the touch as much as he could.

He looked at his hands again.

And he realized he had touched Sakusa. Or rather, Sakusa had touched him. Willingly.

If Atsumu had been able to move without feeling piercing darts of pain, he would surely have lifted his head in a sudden gesture of shock.

What he was able to do was wait for Sakusa to finish, and enjoy every caress that brushed his hair and warmed his soul.

For someone who appeared to be so far away, Sakusa’s touch was unexpectedly delicate. It was everywhere.

Atsumu whispered "You’re kind, Sakusa Kiyoomi"

And he let the heat suffocate his words.

...

Only after making sure that Atsumu was sleeping did Sakusa allow himself to look at his hands.

He had done it.

He had touched Atsumu.

Atsumu had let him.

Atsumu had wanted it. Needed it.

Sakusa wondered if it would happen again. He realized he wouldn’t mind if it happened again. 

He wondered if Atsumu would ever do the same with him.

Is it possible for the same dream to come true more than once?

...

The thing about craving is that, once fed, it always comes back asking for more.

And if Sakusa Kiyoomi had wanted to meet touch through Atsumu’s hands, now he wanted to know it through his skin.

Sakusa had seen that skin illuminated by the dim artificial glow of a bedside lamp, had seen it shining in the morning sun, when the light played a game of catch among the faded locks of his hair, framing his face in a halo, symbol of holiness.

And Sakusa found himself wishing, once again, to be able to let his fingers run free between those locks, to caress those cheeks on which freckles had started blossoming due to the imminent arrival of summer. And he wanted...

Something he wasn’t ready to want.

Something he wasn’t sure he deserved.

So Sakusa Kiyoomi was content with what he could have: photos of sunrise that Atsumu kept sending him every morning during his run, the tangled wire of Atsumu’s headphones (he kept forgetting them in an apartment that was not his), the out-of-tune lyrics Atsumu sang in the shower.

For some reason Sakusa often found himself standing in front of that closet where he had hidden part of his soul. He wondered what would happen if he dared to open it again, to recover the childhood of his, eternally lost among the streets that connected his house and all the hospitals he visited.

Could he really play again?

It was on a rainy mid-April evening that Sakusa Kiyoomi faced his fear of dust, picking up a violin that had existed without a voice for so many years.

Sakusa tuned it. He gave it new life.

He wanted to feel, feel, feel.

Because what is art if not the song of the soul?

Sakusa’s back vibrated together with the first string his bow pinched, a shiver of empathy, a whisper of color.

It took him several attempts to remember the steps to that dance of notes.

The first sounds he managed to get out of his instrument were out-of-tune shrieks that belonged to a lonely past. But as his fingers readjusted to a pace that he had left behind long ago, Sakusa was able to feel new harmonies flowing through the skin paths of his arms, accompanying his movements.

He was playing a song about storms, the way lightning strikes on the horizon, leaving behind trails of lights and reflections that carve themselves on the eyelids, visible even when the eyes close.

And that’s exactly what Sakusa did: close his eyes.

And he played a melody about rain, about the way it fell against his window, cold drops slipping on glass like tears on mirrors. He played an ode to knots, warm fingers intertwining threads in which the essence of the cosmos circulated. Galaxies collapsing on themselves, celestial explosions shaking the universe, stars falling down, shattering those same desires that people wish upon them.

And then a quiet moon, projecting diaphanous streaks on the calm water body of the ocean, slightly moved by the currents shaking underneath, by the breezes of the world. A wind that began to blow when time began to flow.

And then he played his soul: a sad but gentle whisper like the salty drops that at that moment crossed the surfaces of his face. Sakusa ignored the lonely tear that fell on the soundboard of his violin, determined to crash to the ground, to distort the order of things. He continued to caress the strings, creating whirlpools of notes that told the story of a lost future, of unravelling knots, of flowers that wither, cruelly choked by a deadly fog.

And then, finally, halfway between being and not being, Sakusa Kiyoomi met life. It was made of shaky notes, uncertain paths, waves crashing against cliffs. 

Vibrations colliding, colors that open their arms mingling in combinations that were only  possible to see with eyes closed.

Sakusa let himself feel everything.

Because art is the way the body adjusts to accommodate music.

And a fleeting thought crossed his mind: Atsumu played volleyball in the same way he played the violin.

This. This is how he feels things.

The bow fell from his hands.

The noise it produced when it hit the floor was mixed with the last echoes of the song Sakusa had been playing.

The doctors had warned him about spasms.

He fell to his knees.

He was out of breath.

His fingers vibrated in all the right places to make him feel alive.

His lips trembled, unable to give voice to the soul in the same way music had.

And when Sakusa opened his eyes, Atsumu stood before him, also on his knees, tears on his cheeks. 

He was holding his bow in his hands, offering it to him. A silent invitation to continue.

Sakusa smiled when he took it, letting his fingers touch Atsumu’s, making sure he was really there with him, and not the umpteenth symptom of his illness.

"You’re here?"

Atsumu smiled back "I heard the music and...I felt...I knew it was you"

And can we really consider ourselves alone if there’s someone out there, even just one person, capable of understanding our music?

The story of Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi was a story about mirrors.

Glass fragments twirling in the air before breaking to the ground, reflecting tears of the past, breaths of the present, blurred images of the future. They were cracked pieces, so fragile that they broke at the slightest touch.

And once they fell, there were only two options left: get used to living with the splinters on the floor, or clean up and replace the broken mirror with a new certainty.

And that was how the two had decided to live, following a path that allowed them to be more than what they were not.

It was a story about reflections.

And that’s what they were observing: the reflection of the early afternoon sun on the mirror of the sea.

That morning Atsumu had continued to walk from a post-it to the other. Sakusa had seen him go from watching the ones hanging on the fridge to the ones on the bathroom cabinet, then the ones on the counter, on Sakusa’s desk. Finally he had decided to contemplate one with the lyrics of a song. Several minutes had passed silently as Atsumu kept twisting it between his fingers, but he’d finally turned around and said "There’s a place...I want to take you there" a pause "But it’s a bit far. And maybe we’ll have to walk a little"

Sakusa understood the concern: less than a month until the arrival of summer, Sakusa had less than a month, they had less than a month.

Sakusa had agreed anyway. No matter how pale his skin was starting to be, how many bruises adorned it, how heavy his eyes felt. It had occurred that Atsumu had to accompany him to the bathroom and hold his head while Sakusa threw up the few things he had gotten to eat.

At some point Atsumu had unofficially moved into Sakusa’s apartment. They both knew why. They had both woken up in the middle of the night that time Sakusa screamed.

And they were both trying to leave that echo behind.

 

Atsumu took him to a beach. 

There were people walking here and there, others trying to get a tan, someone was reading, but overall it was a fairly quiet place, where the only sound was that of the waves lapping at the shore.

They were walking bare feet, playing a game of not letting the salt water wet their calves. Atsumu occasionally stopped with the pretext he had to take a sip of water or wanted to observe the view, but Sakusa knew it was an attempt to let him rest for a few more minutes, even if their path had no destination.

They stopped about fifteen minutes later when they reached a quieter corner of the beach. They placed their umbrella and stretched out their towels. Atsumu had offered to carry both their backpacks. Sakusa smiled when he saw him get rid of all the weight on his shoulders.

Atsumu had also been driving for about an hour. Sakusa could only be happy to see him finally take a breath.

"Ya like it here?"

Sakusa nodded. He finally took the time to take a look at his surroundings: crystal clear water, thin sand and, in the distance, there was a hill with green spots. A light wind whispered content words in his ear, an abysmal peace made him want to lie down and enjoy the warmth that enveloped him.

Atsumu offered him one of his headphones. They were close enough to share the music.

And Sakusa let the sounds of the beach and the notes fill his soul with sweet serenity.

Atsumu closed his eyes. Sakusa took the opportunity to observe him too. He had recently dyed his hair again, now it was light blond, and it fell on his forehead in the form of small waves that had nothing to envy to those that belonged to the sea next to them. His eyelashes were brown and long enough to cast a gentle shadow on his cheeks, full of tiny dots that Sakusa couldn’t help comparing to the stars they had looked at just a few days ago. His face was relaxed and there was art in the way the sun kissed his eyelids, in the way his lips mouthed invisible words, in the way Sakusa craved silently.

And, in a moment like that, it was difficult to realize that time was still flowing. Not until Sakusa noticed that Atsumu’s chest had begun to move up and down regularly, his breaths imperceptible, a new kind of tranquility had settled over his body like a delicate veil. He had fallen asleep.

And the realization struck Sakusa: Atsumu was beautiful.

Bathed in sunlight, covered in life. He was beautiful.

He almost didn’t realize that he had reached out a hand towards him, that he was caressing the skin of his arm, so lightly that his touch could be mistaken for the touch of the breeze. He was avoiding his face. Sakusa knew that if he touched him there would be no going back. Sakusa knew it. But...

His fingertips grazed the freckles at the base of his cheek. 

The slow music whispered colorful words inside his ear. And Sakusa Kiyoomi’s skin existed on Miya Atsumu’s one. 

He sighed. 

It was warm. Cozy. Sakusa didn't know if he wanted less or more. 

More time. 

Less space between them.

"I think I’m falling in love with you" he whispered so softly he could barely hear himself "But I can’t do this to you, can I?" 

The smile he gave to that sleeping figure in front of him tasted like tears that should never be shed.

Then why was a hot trail of water splitting his cheek in two in the same way cracks split glass?

And why did Atsumu’s eyes open at that very moment?

Sakusa contemplated the sun’s rays melting the colors of its irises, making it a mixture of opaque greens and bright browns and distant greys. 

"Omi-kun, are ya crying?"

Sakusa could no longer hear the music. The headphone must have fallen out of his ear.

"I’m sorry" he whispered.

"For what?" Atsumu laughed softly.

Sakusa couldn’t...he wouldn’t...he didn’t know.

All the words he wasn’t going to say suddenly stuck in his throat when Asumu’s thumb caressed his tear away. The contact was soft, Atsumu’s fingers were gentle as they sank into his skin.

And something broke inside his chest. The knot holding  his heart’s fibers together gave up and an explosion of ropes hit his ribcage.

"I’m so sorry"

"Kiyoomi" Atsumu tucked a dark curl behind Sakusa’s ear.

And if everything they had built between them was rooted on selfishness, why couldn’t Sakusa just lean in and place his lips on Atsumu’s? 

"I can’t" he shook his head "I can’t"

And Atsumu’s hand was warm, warm, warm.

"Kiyoomi" he repeated "It’s okay. Everything’s alright."

"No" he breathed.

Atsumu smiled "It doesn’t have to mean anything. We don’t have to be anything."

Sakusa looked at him as if he had just revealed a secret.

"What do you want, Kiyoomi?"

Sakusa cupped both sides of Atsumu’s face and kissed him.

And Atsumu’s hands ran to his hair, drawing Sakusa even closer than he already was. And the sun danced on the bridge that united their greedy lips, the sea dictated the rhythm, and Atsumu was kissing him as if the mysteries of life were all hidden in the curve of Sakusa’s mouth.

Atsumu was kissing him back.

Atsumu wanted it too.

Atsumu was there.

They were kissing.

And time kept moving in a world where they didn’t feel like belonging, but neither of them seemed to care.

The colors of sunset began to mix up with the afternoon sky’s blues.

And Sakusa Kiyoomi and Miya Atsumu walked.

They were on their way home.

The footsteps they left behind were erased by the evening waves. And Atsumu was thinking about memories.

He regretted not bringing a camera to capture their day. It would have made it easier to remember. He didn’t want to forget how the breeze touched the surface of water, it ruffled Sakusa’s black curls; the dark color of his eyes, the eclipse of the iris that occurred when the sun’s rays reflected on his eyelashes; the smile he gave him after their first kiss, the same one he gave him after the second, and the third, and the sixth and...Atsumu had lost count.

But Atsumu knew that not even the most modern camera would be able to capture the way sand crept into Sakusa’s hair, clinging to them as humans cling to life, it wouldn't have been able to reproduce the joy in Atsumu’s chest when he’d brushed his lips on Sakusa’s moles (a little one under the left eyelid, one behind the right ear, one right above the clavicle).

"Omi-kun" he called his name to draw his attention, unaware that it was already on him. Sakusa’s hand tightened in his, a quiet I’m listening "Soon ya won’t be with me anymore, and I’ll probably end up forgetting about this day..."

Sakusa smiled. Atsumu understood why. After all, Sakusa had never heard Atsumu talk about his future.

"I’ll forget about the exact spot where we sat, what we ate, the songs we listened to."

He observed the sun bathing the horizon in red and orange and pastel purple shades. The clouds avidly absorbed the light as they moved slowly to frame the last rays.

"What do you do when memories aren’t enough?"

Sakusa’s thumb caressed the back of his hand "You let them go"

"People like you, Atsumu" he continued, "They don’t need things like memories"

Atsumu drew him in and kissed him again. And the sun set beyond a world in which Miya Atsumu and Sakusa Kiyoomi had decided to live.

And they were happy.

But with someone else’s lips on yours, you tend to forget about the cruelties of fate.

Ten minutes before they reached their car, Sakusa collapsed on his knees.

"I’m just tired" he tried to calm Atsumu’s nerves down when he saw his eyes go wide.

Atsumu should’ve gotten used to it, he really should’ve. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.

He sighed.

"Let’s get up" Atsumu offered him a hand.

Once Sakusa was back on his feet, Atsumu strictly forbade him from attempting to walk more. He took off a backpack and gave it to Sakusa, telling him to wear it. Then he bent his knees and invited Sakusa to climb on his back. Sakusa refused to put more weight on his shoulders than he already had. Atsumu almost threatened him. Sakusa accepted.

Sakusa placed his arms around Atsumu’s shoulders and let himself be lifted. Atsumu made a choked verse, but said nothing more than "See? You’re light"

Sakusa let his head fall into the hollow of Atsumu’s neck. 

"I’ve been holding you for less than a minute and you’re already trying to distract me, huh?" Atsumu smiled, leaning his head toward Sakusa’s.

"Is it working?" Sakusa kissed warm skin, feeling Atsumu’s heartbeats through the veins.

"Depends, do you really want to fall again?"

"Only if I can get you down with me."

Atsumu’s nails pinched the back of Sakusa’s thighs. They both knew they would leave a small bruise. He said nothing. And the two proceeded in silence.

Once they got to the car, Sakusa had fallen asleep. Atsumu did his best not to wake him up as he placed him in the passenger seat and fastened his seat belt.

He stared at him for a few moments.

"Let’s go home" he whispered.

...

At some point they started sleeping together.

During the night, Sakusa was shaken by tremors. He fell asleep. Woke up in a cold sweat. Tried to fall asleep again. And his nights often ended kneeling in the bathroom.

That was until he fell.

One of the symptoms of his illness was a sense of dizziness with the possibility of losing balance. He believed he could get up, but every effort had been in vain. Atsumu must have felt the thud, because in a few seconds he appeared in front of him, hooked his arms under Sakusa’s armpits and lifted him up. Then he helped him change and offered to stay with him.

It didn’t take long for Sakusa to stop associating the night with every shade of his fears and started considering it as a moment of warmth. 

How could he fear anything when Atsumu’s heartbeat serenely against his back? When his breath caressed his hair? When his fingers drew shapeless lines on his stomach?

Atsumu never lied. He never said things like "Everything will be fine". All Atsumu had to offer was his presence.

“I’m here” he said when Sakusa closed his eyes.

"I’ve got you" he whispered when Sakusa was starting to tremble.

"I’m with you" he murmured just before sleep took him away.

And Sakusa followed shortly after.

Sakusa was cold.

Atsumu could feel it through his own arms when he wrapped them around him.

It was evening. The two were lying in bed. Sakusa was too tired to even watch a movie. He also talked about a light headache. Atsumu suspected it was more than light.

He kissed his temple.

He kept his touch soft, let his lips linger, his breath tickle Sakusa’s pale skin.

"I’ll miss you" he whispered "I’ll miss you so much"

Atsumu felt like the jolt that shook Sakusa wasn’t completely a product of his condition.

Atsumu gave him a sad laugh "I really don’t know what to say, Omi-kun"

"You don’t have to say anything" his voice was feeble, a thread ready to break.

Atsumu closed his eyes tight, trying in vain to chase back the tears that threatened to fall. He tried to find the right words, the most appropriate way to say thank you.

"All of this" he whispered "It never had anything to do with death, did it?"

Sakusa shook his head, letting it gently slam against Atsumu’s lips, stealing another kiss for his temple.

And Atsumu was unable to do anything but cry his tears. Hold Sakusa as gently as possible. Keep him close.

And then he lifted a hand, placed it on Sakusa’s heart.

His pulse was weak but steady, somehow warm under his fingers. Stubborn despite the threats of death, beating a rhythm of life.

Atsumu moved so that he could rest his head over his chest.

And the tears kept falling down, staining Sakusa’s shirt, creating a puddle of eternal pain.

And Atsumu was crying.

Crying.

Crying.

At some point Sakusa must have brought a hand on his hair, because Atsumu suddenly realized that those fragile, thin fingers whose weight was now familiar were caressing him.

Atsumu squeezed his fingers around the warm spot where Sakusa’s heart existed, persisted, it beat and beat and beat.

"I need to hear it" he said through sobs "I need to feel it. I...I...I want to feel it for as long as I can”

Atsumu brought their bodies as close as possible, putting one of his thighs around Sakusa’s waist.

Stay with me, stay with me, please stay with me.

"Atsumu" a whisper.

The fingers that had previously caressed him now tightened around his hair. And if it hurt Atsumu did not say anything.

“You feel so much” his voice broke “You love so much you’re overflowing”

Atsumu tried to wipe away the tears, he tried, but there were too many.

He was overflowing.

"I don’t want to die" Sakusa sobbed "I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I’m afraid"

Atsumu closed his hand in a fist, lightly slamming it against Sakusa’s chest.

Then Sakusa hugged him.

"I want to live. I want to keep living. With you" his lips trembled on Atsumu’s forehead. 

And Atsumu cried his soul. He cried everything he had.

He cried for all the sunsets they had witnessed, for the steps they had taken, for the smiles they had managed to pull out of each other.

He cried remembering a distrant violin music, remembering the way a mirror had broken many years ago.

He cried for Sakusa, for his brother, for himself.

He cried until there was nothing left of him but the flesh.

...

Summer danced between the semi-closed curtains of the window that guarded two sleeping figures.

They opened their eyes.

Somehow, they both understood: that was the last day.

It had been a while since Sakusa was able to get out of bed. Summer wouldn’t make any exception.

Death was silent. And silent were the sheets that covered them, the air they breathed, the words they whispered in each other’s ears.

They weren’t talking about the future. After all, it was human to forget about dreams.

They didn’t talk about the past. There was poetry in the way dust haunted houses that everyone thought abandoned.

And, in that moment, Sakusa Kiyoomi thought he understood art.

It was music that allowed you to see the sky even when the only thing above you is a ceiling.

Art was in the way the ending hurts.

It was Atsumu’s hands everywhere on his skin, Atsumu’s love filling the cracks of his soul. Love on death. Love on life. 

Art, dear Atsumu, is how you exist, how you live, how you feel.

Because in the end, to make art means to feel and to feel means to be able to make art.

Sakusa was satisfied with that.

It was during the evening that Sakusa uttered a word. Only one. Enough for Atsumu to understand.

He didn’t know how safe it was to try to lift Sakusa out of bed, but Sakusa didn’t seem to care. Even Atsumu would have preferred to take his last breath en plein air.

Once again, Sakusa was light on his shoulders. As if part of his body had already abandoned him. It was only a matter of minutes before the rest followed.

Atsumu reached the roof. He walked to the edge. Accompanied Sakusa down as slowly as possible. He grazed his wrist. He was still there.

Atsumu sat next to him, letting him rest his head on his shoulder. His eyes had seemed closed the last time he looked at them, but he secretly hoped that Sakusa was looking up at the sky with him.

It was only right for everything to end up there.

Or maybe not everything. Maybe that was a place for beginnings.

"It’s a nice place" he whispered.

And maybe it really was a story about endings, how we learn to say goodbye.

It was a story about threads, how they come together in the most unlikely combinations.

It was a story about knots, fingers intertwining and refusing to let go.

"I’ve always liked its colors"

And maybe it was really a story about mirrors, about how Sakusa Kiyoomi had taught Miya Atsumu not to despise his own reflection, about the way he kissed him as if he wasn’t afraid of the glass shards around his heart.

"Thank you, Kiyoomi"

For reaching out a hand, for giving me another chance, for teaching me something about life.

The tears returned to dance in his eyes just when he thought he had run out.

For the music, the walks, the warmth

Atsumu turned to Sakusa.

And his expression was serene.

He caressed his head.

And it was silent, the moment  life abandoned Sakusa Kiyoomi.

But there were two things Atsumu Miya would always be sure of:

Sakusa Kiyoomi died at sunset.

And he died with a smile on his face






Atsumu Miya was alone on a roof he knew too well.

He observed the way the plaster was breaking down in that spot close to the edge, next to the place where he used to sit (the same place where he had been standing a long time ago, hesitating).

He watched the city beneath him. People coming home, others going out to start working, children screaming in the distance, a laugh.

And he thought there was still so much to see.

Little by little he had begun to re-discover rhythms he had left in a little too abrupt way. There were things he had to learn from scratch, but he thought he’s started to finally get the hang of it.

He whispered "Samu"

What can you say when the only truth you have to offer tastes like a lie on your mouth?

Atsumu Miya had gone back to attending the lessons of honesty that he had abandoned long ago, and had done it when he entered again the door of a gym that used to recognize his steps, he had done it when his friends smiled at him and welcomed him back with several pats on the back (Atsumu appreciated the way those light hits were able to shook his bones), he had done it when he had held a ball in his hands, observing the way his fingers still closed perfectly around it.

Atsumu Miya was starting to get rid of that heavy armor made of paper and ink: he had managed to look in the eyes people he had lost the courage to look at, he had cleaned Sakusa’s apartment up, he had took the post-its off one by one, putting them in that old shoebox of theirs.

People like you, Atsumu...they don’t need things like memories.

He wanted to live. Even if, at times, it would hurt.

He thought back to words that had been spoken so many years ago by someone who had always been running beside him.

When you’re hungry, and you eat a small mouthful of something...it makes you even hungrier.

He smiled. He was ready to move forward.

"Hey Samu...I’m starting to get hungry."