We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall.
We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.
The best part about the invite was the dancing cartoon owl at the bottom of the page. It was speckled gray and black with golden eyes and hopped side to side, trailed by floating multicolored music notes. Akaashi was hopelessly endeared by it; he wondered how Bokuto had found an illustration so uncanny.
Earlier that afternoon, Akaashi received an email with the subject line PLEASE READ! Thinking it was spam, he nearly deleted it before making note of the sender. The body was a single link. The link led to an e-vite on shutterfly.co.jp, as if the year was 2005, and Bokuto was hosting his eleventh birthday party. The e-vite was flashy and tacky and unapologetic.
BOKUTO’S FAREWELL BASH! said the animated banner. It glittered gold and clashed with the bright yellow background. Surrounding it were photos of the celebrant, grinning or holding up a V sign or cradling a volleyball under his arm. The party was two Saturdays from now at Bokuto’s apartment. Akaashi assumed everyone in Bokuto’s large circle of friends was invited, including but not limited to the MSBY Black Jackals, the Fukurodani graduating class of 2013, some former members of the Nekoma High School Volleyball Club, and Akaashi himself. The party would not be anything less than extravagant, because Bokuto was not only leaving the Jackals, but the country.
Club Atletico Trentino, reigning champions of the FIVB Men's World Cup, wanted Bokuto Koutarou to play for them. Akaashi heard the news first, five days ago, from Kenma, who had heard from Hinata. Several hours later the old Fukurodani group chat received a notification from their old captain and was promptly flooded with congratulations. That’s wonderful news, Bokuto-san, Akaashi had typed, and never sent. Read receipts existed for a reason.
Akaashi stared at the page for two more minutes. Then he closed the window, opened a tab for the Modern Japanese Dictionary, and got back to work. His thoughts kept drifting out of his grasp. He did not leave the office until seven that evening.
Every weekend he was able, Akaashi went to Kenma’s house. Usually they played games or watched movies in Kenma’s giant personal theater and gorged themselves on snacks. Sometimes Kenma was busy streaming, so Akaashi just played Animal Crossing on Kenma’s old 3DS. Sometimes Akaashi lay down in the middle of Kenma’s living room and bemoaned his workload while the cats padded around his head.
When they both were fourteen, he was wary of Kenma. Talking to him felt a little too much like looking in a mirror that pointed out all of your flaws. They were about equally skilled at identifying others’ weaknesses, yet Kenma had a certain conviction to him that Akaashi lacked: a subdued self-assuredness that left no room for second-guessing.
One night at training camp, in the summer of their third year, Kenma had taken a seat next to him in the canteen. His Vita was in his hands, as always. He made fleeting eye contact with Akaashi through the curtain of his hair.
“Kozume,” Akaashi had said, surprised. “Where’s Hinata?” Or Yamamoto, or Fukunaga, or literally anyone else.
Kenma shrugged. “Lev challenged him to a contest again. They’re always too loud.”
Akaashi agreed, silently. He spooned some more rice into his mouth.
Kenma glanced at him again and pressed some buttons. “I’ve tried this level at least fifteen times and I still haven’t beat the boss,” he said. “Can you watch me and give me your thoughts?”
Akaashi blinked. “Of course.” Resting his arm on the bench between them, he leaned over Kenma’s shoulder. He watched Kenma’s avatar go through the motions, attack, and die. Kenma made an irritated sound.
“I think it takes more damage from subsequent fire and water attacks,” Akaashi said. “The plasmablasts won’t do much to it.”
Kenma nodded and restarted the level. He beat it in forty-five seconds flat.
Things shifted, somewhat, after that. They were drawn to each other by mutual, silent agreement. Neither of them had ever worn the title captain comfortably. Akaashi was a quiet person, Kenma was a quiet person, and they were often surrounded by very loud people. In Kenma, Akaashi had found the value of someone who would tell it to you straight—without reservation and without judgment.
Currently, Akaashi lay on his back wearing a sheet mask soaked in snail mucus or frog tears or something. A subscriber had preached about its wonders and Kenma didn’t want to try it alone, so there was a gooey mess on Akaashi’s face.
“What if I didn’t go,” Akaashi said, as best he could without jostling the mask.
“You’re going.” Somehow, even with a mask on, Kenma was still gaming. His arms were limp at his sides, joycons in his hands.
“I could tell him I have too much work on my plate.”
“Hm,” Kenma hummed.
“I could jam my finger in the paper cutter and accidentally cut it off. Bokuto-san wouldn’t want a nine-fingered person at his party.”
“Bokuto-san would find it incredibly cool and ask if they let you keep the severed bits.”
“I could run into traffic, get hit by a car, and lose all memory of the past ten years.”
“You’re going, Keiji.”
The last time he saw Bokuto was a month ago. It was late March. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
“I’m sorry we can’t see the sakura with you, Keiji,” his mother said through the phone. Akaashi was lying on his couch listening to bossa nova. “But your father hasn’t opted to take a vacation in forever! I couldn’t pass up this chance.”
His parents were in Fukushima for the weekend. When he was eight years old, they took him there to see Miharu Takizakura. Isn’t it beautiful, Keiji, his mother had asked. Yes, but isn’t it lonely, too? A single, weeping tree, alone for a millennium. For only one week every year it had company: hundreds of spectators gawking at it, only to leave after a few minutes.
“It’s alright. I’m a grown man, please don’t feel obligated to keep me company.”
“Keiji! I’ll always want to see you, no matter how old you get.” She sighed. “Alright, the bus is pulling up. Don’t stay cooped up in that shoebox. Go out, please.”
“Yes, okaasan. Have fun.”
“Bye-bye! I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The end tone beeped. His stomach grumbled. It was almost noon; he hadn’t had breakfast or lunch. He checked his fridge, which was empty. His only option was to go out to eat. He put on his glasses, wore a light jacket, and decided to bring his backpack, tossing a copy of Soseki in with his wallet.
Akaashi actually loved cherry blossom season. Though they bloomed every year, and Tokyo teemed with tourists even more than usual come late March, Akaashi loved the pink petals dotting the ground and their sweet aroma wafting through the air. Last year he went with Kenma and Kuroo to see the blossoms, but the two of them decided to go with Kenma’s parents this year. His former teammates all had girlfriends or boyfriends to spend the day with.
The train, as always, was packed. He got off at Ueno Station and followed the masses of people to Ueno Park, the most famous cherry blossom attraction in Tokyo. Thousands of people strolled the wide path, cooing in wonder. Students in uniform took photos together. Parents hefted toddlers onto their shoulders and the children’s pudgy hands reached high above their heads. Of course, couples strolled hand-in-hand under the pink branches. Akaashi was lost in the crowd, the cacophony of voices, the crisp smell of spring.
“Hey, hey, hey!”
His eyes snapped open. He whipped his head around, looking for the source of the voice. Bokuto-san. There, turned half-away from him—spiky gray-black hair, standing almost a head taller than everyone else. Akaashi’s throat closed up at the sight of that smile.
His teammates were with him. Sakusa wore a mask, had his hands in his pockets, and looked very disgruntled. Atsumu’s default expression was a smug smirk, but he seemed genuinely happy. Hinata was wearing a white bucket hat that Akaashi recognized from Bouncing Ball.
Akaashi opened his mouth to call out. The sea of people parted, just slightly, and the woman came into view. She had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss Bokuto on the cheek.
Akaashi snapped his mouth shut. His teeth rattled. He turned on his heel and walked back to the station. There was a Seven-Eleven a block away from his apartment, where he bought cup ramen for lunch and ate it in his living room.
Bokuto, during the off-season, lived in Ebisu, about a thirty-minute commute from Akaashi’s apartment. It was a fine May evening, not too cold or hot. Bokuto’s apartment was a brisk walk from the station. His grip on the parting gift bag was tremulous. Heavy-duty sunscreen wasn’t a conventional gift; then again, Bokuto had never complained about practical presents before. He’d always accepted every gift with innocent gratitude. Akaashi hoped the photo and card were enough to make up for all his own emotional shortcomings through the years.
He’d asked one of Udai’s acquaintances, who worked at a photography studio, to frame the photo: a selfie of him and Bokuto from Akaashi’s first year of high school. Inside the card, which depicted a great horned owl in majestic flight, he’d written in a neat and steady hand: Good luck, ace! Your friend, Akaashi Keiji.
Akaashi rang the doorbell. His hands balled around the handle of the gift bag. He refused to fiddle with them. The door opened and there were arms thick as trees lifting him. “Akaaaashi! You came!”
His heart lodged in his throat. “Good evening, Bokuto-san. It’s good to see you.”
Once his feet were on the ground, he stepped back to smile at Bokuto. A real smile, though it didn’t hold a candle to the light emanating from Bokuto’s grin. “You came!” he repeated.
Akaashi removed his shoes. “I said I would.”
Bokuto slapped a heavy hand on his shoulder, laughing heartily for no particular reason.
“Oh,” Akaashi said. He had to do this now, away from all the others, and before Konoha arrived to needle him about it. “This is for you,” he thrust the gift in front of Bokuto.
Bokuto took it almost gingerly, childlike awe on his face. There was no tissue paper to conceal its contents, so he took out the sunscreen first, glancing at the information on its packaging.
“You might get sunburnt in Los Angeles,” Akaashi said, to fill the silence. Bokuto nodded and put it back in the bag. The next item he was more nervous about. Bokuto stared at the frame for a long time.
After a while, he looked up, swallowed, and hugged him again. “Thank you, Akaashi. You didn’t have to.”
The words rumbled against him and irrational terror filled Akaashi’s stomach. Would this be the last time Bokuto ever hugged him like this? Akaashi wouldn’t let it. He squeezed back. “I wanted to.”
Too soon, Bokuto pulled away and went deeper into the apartment. In high school, he would have grabbed Akaashi’s forearm and tugged him along to whatever thing he wished to marvel at. Now he led the way, leaving Akaashi to stare at his back. “That’s right, you did. Come, come! Kuroo and Kozume and my teammates are here.” His shoulders, broad as a mountain, drooped. “I guess former teammates now.”
Akaashi nearly reached a hand out to comfort his friend. It was second nature to him, even after all these years. What do you need, Bokuto-san? Ask it of me and I'll give it to you. They had only played together for two years, yet he had habits to this day from being Bokuto’s teammate.
Bokuto, to his credit, straightened. He threw a smile over his shoulder. “We’re here to celebrate! I’m going to America, not Mars. And who knows, I might play with them again.”
There was no stopping the vines that wrapped around his ribcage. Teams lost and traded and gained players all the time at the professional level. There was a possibility Bokuto would play with Hinata or Sakusa or Tomas in the future. But he would never play with Akaashi again—not in the way it mattered. Tosses and spikes in a lamplit park were nothing to Bokuto now. It had been Akaashi’s choice, in the end, that things turned out this way.
He hummed in response and distracted himself with his surroundings. He had never been inside this apartment. In the past three years, their sporadic meetings had been at izakayas, Bokuto’s games, and on a handful of memorable occasions, the Kozume household. Bokuto’s apartment was a glimpse into his brain, which consisted of volleyball, his friends, and his family.
Trophies and medals and certificates covered every surface, some dating back even to grade school. It was physical, tangible proof of Bokuto’s talent, power, and hard work. Every space not dedicated to his accolades was reserved for photos of Bokuto’s friends and family. Some portraits of Bokuto’s mother Kiyama-san, whom Akaashi hadn’t seen in forever. A twelve-year-old Bokuto cradling his new baby sister. His university team. Some of Fukurodani. Akaashi’s heart panged at the sight of him and Bokuto with their arms around each other after Nationals. It was a bittersweet memory. He remembered most of all the smell of the loss—the salt of sweat and tears, the musk of the god-boy-man at his side, somehow crisp in the stadium.
The largest photo of all was of Bokuto’s engagement eight months ago. It was taken at a beach in Enoshima. Maeda Momo was radiant in sunset glow, her long blond hair swirling around her, as Bokuto kissed her cheek.
The others were gathered in the living room. Sakusa was in the corner talking to Hinata, who kept inching closer. Miya Atsumu was on the couch with Kageyama and Kenma, probably singlehandedly carrying the conversation. Meian, Tomas, and Inunaki nursed beers by the hallway. Kuroo was nowhere to be found, but a Korean pop song filtered from Bokuto’s multicolored speakers, which meant he had to be somewhere.
“Everyone, Akaashi is here!” Bokuto announced. A chorus of greetings followed.
Akaashi made his way around the room. He accepted Hinata’s embrace, nodded at Sakusa. When he got to the couch Kenma squeezed his hand. “Hi, Keiji.”
“Hi, Kenma.” Akaashi gave him a small smile. Kenma’s catlike eyes softened, probably seeing the wistful tilt of his mouth.
Atsumu held a fist out. “‘Sup, ‘Kaashi-kun.”
“Hello, Atsumu-san. Hi, Kageyama.” He bumped the offered fist and shook Kageyama’s hand firmly.
“Akaashi!” The voice came from the kitchen. “Come greet me!”
Akaashi sighed. “Coming, Kuroo-san.”
When he passed the entryway to the kitchen, he gasped aloud. Spread out on the island was a splendid display of his second-favorite food: Onigiri Miya.
Kuroo was there, bursting into laughter. Miya Osamu was also there, eyebrows raised.
Kuroo came closer and threw an arm around Akaashi’s shoulders. Akaashi bristled, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the food. There were other dishes on the island: teriyaki and tamagoyaki and cha-han.
“I told you, Osamu-kun,” Kuroo said. “Like a kid in a candy store.”
Osamu was smiling as well. It was a kind smile. When he spoke, it was thick with Kansai-ben. “I’m flattered, ‘Kaashi-kun.”
“It’s good onigiri!” Akaashi spluttered, equal parts defensive and earnest. Miya’s onigiri was half the reason he still went to Jackals games.
Kuroo slapped his back. Akaashi glared. “Now, Akaashi, don’t ruin your appetite. Momo-chan made dessert for us, it’s still in the fridge.”
“Maeda-san is here?” Akaashi regretted saying them as soon as the words left his mouth. Of course she was here, she lived here.
Kuroo was horrible, he really was, for the look he sent Akaashi. “Of course she’s here, she lives here.”
Akaashi grimaced. “Ah… yes.”
Osamu wasn’t saying anything, just observing Kuroo embarrass him. Akaashi met his eyes. “You can have some,” Osamu said, gesturing to the onigiri. The lilt of his voice was gentle.
“Thank you.” There were several dozen in all, clustered and labeled by filling. Salmon, umeboshi, bonito, tuna. He grabbed a salmon one; likely it was his first of many. Someone materialized at Akaashi’s elbow. Kageyama stood there, his eyes practically sparkling.
Kuroo chortled, turning his face away. Osamu laughed. “Ah, I‘m glad ya enjoy ‘em too, Kageyama-kun.”
Akaashi bit into his onigiri, closing his eyes for a moment. Truthfully he couldn’t say why he loved it so much. It was just rice, seaweed, and some filling. But once he started eating he couldn’t stop himself, so for tonight he resolved to limit himself to no more than four.
“Geez, Miya, what do you put in them? Crack?” Kuroo said. Akaashi snapped his eyes open and fixed him with a hard stare.
Osamu laughed. He looked pleased by the praise, however offhandedly it was given. “All food’s good when it’s made with love.”
“Why can't I make decent tamagoyaki for Shouyou, then,” Kageyama said around a mouthful of rice.
Akaashi blinked. Had Kageyama just made a joke? And a passable one at that? Prolonged exposure to Hinata had done wonders for his social skills. Akaashi felt inadequate in comparison, as he often did with Kageyama.
“Takes practice, too,” Osamu said, smiling.
The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” Bokuto chirped from the other room.
Kuroo and Osamu started talking, likely resuming their conversation from earlier. Akaashi gathered it was about a popular romantic drama or anime, neither of which he had any time for these days. Kageyama piped up from time to time, so it seemed even he knew about it.
Akaashi was on his second salmon onigiri when his former teammates burst into the kitchen. Konoha tackled him with a hug, followed by Komi and Sarukui. “Senpai,” Akaashi said, startled. Over Konoha’s shoulder, Shirofuku and Suzumeda waved at him.
Konoha stepped away, his hands on Akaashi’s shoulders. “How’s my favorite kouhai? Still drowning in pages to edit?”
Akaashi saw it immediately. Identical expressions on all their faces: bittersweet and knowing, all towards him. His chest flared with indignant ferocity. They had all done this before. After Bokuto got engaged, he’d taken them out to drink. Their careful observance of Akaashi, the way they hovered as if he’d snap at any moment. That night Bokuto had been too tipsy and ecstatic to notice anything besides their joy for him.
“Yes,” Akaashi forced out. Konoha furrowed his brows. Komi tapped his bicep, prompting him to drop his hold on Akaashi’s shoulders.
“It’s been a while, Akaashi,” Komi said, diffusing the situation as best he could.
“Yes,” Akaashi repeated. “It has.” He hugged the rest of his senpai silently, mostly because he didn’t want to cause a scene more than he already had. The next step in his plan was to grab some onigiri and find Kenma as soon as possible.
Of course, Bokuto chose that exact moment to waddle into the kitchen, his fiancée wrapped in his arms and stepping with him. Akaashi froze, hating the ice that slid down the back of his neck. Without thinking he backed into the refrigerator, standing between Kuroo and Osamu.
“Yay, everyone’s here!” Bokuto said. “Everyone else, come in the kitchen!” He rested his chin on Maeda’s head. Maeda grinned back.
Bokuto’s fiancée was short, blond, and a model. She was also bubbly, skilled at singing and dancing, and a woman. All of these were things Akaashi was not. Akaashi could not even find it in himself to dislike her, because she was undoubtedly kind and brought out the sheer life in Bokuto in a way only volleyball had ever been able to.
The rest of the party flocked into the spacious kitchen. Bokuto stood, still holding Maeda, in the middle of the room, next to the barstools at the island. “Kuroo, turn on that sappy playlist you have.”
Kuroo pulled out his phone and tapped a few times. A romantic song started playing. Akaashi’s stomach fell to his feet.
“Okay, first of all, thank you everyone for coming to celebrate with me,” Bokuto began. “I’ve had the time of my life playing with you—all of you! I’m going to miss you all so much.” His eyes swiveled in Akaashi’s direction. “Even Myaa-sam and his rice balls.”
A chuckle sounded through the room. Akaashi was not smiling.
“Anyway, this isn’t just a going-away party. We’re celebrating something else.”
Across from him, Kenma locked gazes with Akaashi. His yellow eyes were deep and steady.
“Momo-yan, will you do the honors?” Bokuto said, smiling.
She nodded and, with a flourish, held their joined hands up. “Kou and I got married!”
The room erupted in noise, most of which belonged to Hinata, Kuroo, and Atsumu. Everyone orbited around the newlyweds, offering congratulations and fawning over their wedding rings. Past the sound of his rib cage cracking apart, Akaashi picked out parts of the conversation. You’ll have to call her Bokuto too, now, Bokuto was saying to Hinata. I’m sorry we didn’t invite you! It was a spur of the moment!
“Aren’t ya goin’ to greet them, Akaashi-kun?” a voice said from his left. Akaashi looked up at Osamu, still standing next to him. It appeared he hadn’t moved at all since the announcement.
“Are you?” he pushed past the lump in his throat.
Osamu shrugged. “Later. I’m just the caterer, I dunno Bokkun all that well.”
Akaashi swallowed. “They seem swamped right now. I’ll wait until everyone else has congratulated them.”
“Well, you should eat, then,” Osamu said, glancing at the platter. “I think onigiri’s best eaten warm.”
He tried to survive the rest of the party away from his senpai’s pitying eyes. He even avoided Kenma, because Kenma would pull no punches and that was more unbearable.
So Akaashi soldiered his way through the night with Osamu and Kageyama, arguably the two people at the party who knew Bokuto the least. If Kenma sent him a text saying :-|, no one else had to know.
They talked about onigiri first, but you could only talk so long about the different fillings before it became stale and awkward. They managed with the next thing they all had in common: volleyball. Akaashi asked Kageyama about setting, though the last time Akaashi had set for anyone was at a Fukurodani reunion game a year ago. Bokuto had missed it due to Jackals practice. Osamu and Kageyama discussed players’ stats and possibilities of trades, something Akaashi didn’t know much about because he only paid attention to the Jackals.
Sometime around eight-thirty Hinata came by and stole Kageyama for karaoke, which was in full swing in the living room. Akaashi sat alone with Osamu for about twenty seconds before suggesting they join the others. He didn’t want to put Osamu through the agony that was talking with a reclusive Akaashi Keiji.
Hinata and Kageyama were singing a Disney song together, rather impressively. Bokuto was still holding Maeda—no. His wife, Akaashi remembered. Bokuto Momo. He averted his eyes.
“Akaashi,” someone hissed. It was Sarukui, leaning over the back of the couch where Akaashi sat. “How are you holding up?”
How the hell do you think I’m holding up, Akaashi wanted to say, but he knew Saru was only concerned for him. That was the worst part. His friends only cared about him—it was Akaashi who couldn't stand the shame that they bore witness to his heartbreak.
“I’m fine. Please.” He wanted Saru to go away.
“Akaashi-kun,” Osamu said, probably louder than necessary. Akaashi looked up. Osamu’s face was stony before it smoothed. “I have good news. I’m openin’ a Tokyo branch.”
Akaashi brightened. He didn’t have to fake it. “Really?”
Osamu nodded. “Yep.” He glanced behind Akaashi, and there was a flash of something stern in his eyes.
Saru sighed and said, “Talk to you later,” before walking away.
The mic was in Kuroo’s possession; his warbly voice crooned city pop. Akaashi stared at his feet. Would it be better to address what Osamu had obviously done for him, or—
“It’s openin’ sometime in the next three months,” Osamu said. “I hafta work things out with the landlord, but it’s definitely happenin’.”
Akaashi was warm with gratitude. “That’s great! Where in Tokyo?”
“Here, in Ebisu.”
The thought of having an Onigiri Miya so close pleased him. “That’s really great,” Akaashi repeated. “I look forward to it.”
Someone else plopped down next to Akaashi before Osamu could continue. It was Kenma, looking both concerned and annoyed. “Keiji if you don’t go up to him right now—”
“Fine!” Akaashi sighed and pinched his nose under his glasses. “Sorry, Miya-kun.”
Osamu waved his hand. “‘S okay. I’m gonna show Tsumu up when we sing Bubble Pop.” With that, he stood and crossed the room to his brother, who was flipping through the song directory.
Akaashi resisted the urge to put his head in his hands and settled for dipping his chin to his chest. This was Bokuto’s party. He’d invited Akaashi here to celebrate with him. Akaashi felt ashamed at his own jealousy.
Akaashi blinked furiously. “I’m okay. I’m going.”
Bokuto and Momo were swaying together at the edge of the room. They were overjoyed—with each other, with the company, with the night. “Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, willing his voice to be steady.
“Akaashi!” Bokuto smiled.
Beside him, Momo did the same. “Akaashi-san, thanks for coming.”
“I’m very happy for you both.” Akaashi bowed. “I’m sorry. If I had known I would have brought a much better wedding gift.”
Momo took Akaashi’s hands and patted them. “Don’t worry about that. Your presence is enough.”
His chest ached. “Still…”
The ache left his body. Bokuto was hugging him again. A great bear hug. Akaashi reciprocated immediately.
“Thank you, Akaashi, really. I’ll always remember your tosses,” Bokuto said over the sound of his teammates singing. “Thank you for everything.”
“I should be thanking you, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said. He pulled away, smiled one last time, and returned to the party. He did not stay long after that.
Three days later, Akaashi sat on the train for his morning commute and stared at his phone. The Instagram post had over twenty-five thousand likes. Bokuto and Momo had their arms around each other, luggage at their feet. To new beginnings!
Akaashi barely got any editing done that day. He supposed he could work overtime for the rest of the week.
In February of Akaashi’s second year, he tried something he had never done before. He spent a whole weekend in the kitchen, testing different chocolate recipes. Anything he made would probably be okay for Bokuto, who ate nearly everything, but Akaashi wanted them to be flawless. Should he add nuts? If so, how many of them should have almonds? Would a caramel drizzle be appetizing or just overkill? When he couldn’t tell the difference between batches anymore, he asked his mother to try them.
“They’re delicious, Keiji,” she’d told him with a gracious smile, pretending not to know whom they were for.
Maybe he should have discussed his plan beforehand with Konoha or Komi. Maybe they could have talked him out of it, given him some magical third-year insight on Bokuto’s sexuality. Maybe if he’d taken a different train that morning a piece of the metal ceiling would have fallen on his head and smacked some sense into him.
But he’d had two years to mull it over by then. His feelings for Bokuto were like a stone, ever-present in his hand. He would turn it over and over between his fingers during practice, in the hallways, as they swayed in train cars on the way home together. The stone was heavier than a mountain and infinitely precious.
Valentine’s Day fell on a Tuesday that year. Akaashi had dreaded the holiday since middle school, when girls had discovered the art of the confession. Normally he hid from his admirers with the help of his teammates—a cowardly choice, but one that would preserve his sanity—or skipped school altogether.
That year he braved the jungle that was a high school on Valentine’s Day. He was even gentler in his rejections, conscientious of a small cellophane package that sat in his school bag. Call him a sap, or a romantic, but he was feeling particularly sentimental over his captain’s rapidly approaching graduation. He was blinded by love and had been since his first day of high school.
Though Nationals were over and exams loomed over them, the ace still came to practice some days. Technically he wasn’t supposed to be there at all, but Coach had a soft spot and let it happen. At the end of after-school practice, Akaashi pulled Bokuto aside. “Bokuto-san, there’s something I have to discuss with you.”
He waited until they were alone in the gym. Bokuto was quiet. Akaashi led them to the locker room, retrieved the bag with trembling hands. Bokuto accepted the confession wide-eyed. “You… made me chocolates.”
“Yes, Bokuto-san.” Akaashi thought his chest would implode it was beating so fast. He couldn’t look.
“They’re not obligation chocolates.” It wasn’t a question.
“No, they aren’t.” They weren’t chocolates at all. They were his heart in his captain’s palms. He had searched Bokuto’s face then. Golden eyes that Akaashi loved, soft at the edges. Not with joy, exactly, but—
Akaashi would have done anything for Bokuto to never look at him with pity again. Pity was for pigeons who flew into windows or finding out the Nutella taiyaki was sold out.
“You don’t have to…” he tried. “I just…” At that moment, he knew what answer he would receive.
Bokuto had hugged him gently, held him as one held a bird with broken wings. “You’re dear to me, Akaashi. I hope you know that. But I can’t return your feelings.” He sounded pained. Akaashi hadn’t meant for his feelings to be Bokuto’s cross to bear.
The words were knives. They sliced ribbons up his throat, coming out. “I know, Bokuto-san. I know.”
When Akaashi got off work, he texted Kenma, who was home alone and studying. Kuroo was at the university attending a seminar. Akaashi spent the train ride staring at the Instagram post. Sand slipping through his fingers.
He rang the doorbell, which opened almost immediately. Kenma’s hair was in a haphazard bun; his yellow eyes showed nothing but kind understanding. At the sight of his friend, something inside Akaashi crumbled. The stone skipped across dark water, then sank. He fell into Kenma’s arms, crying silent tears.
Kenma forced his shoes off and pulled him to the living room, where he cried some more. It was like clockwork at this point. He felt horrible for bringing this up again and forcing Kenma to deal with his problems. A couple of times Kuroo was there to watch his heartbreak, standing silent vigil.
Bokuto moved across the city. Bokuto got engaged. Bokuto didn’t need him anymore. Bokuto’s dreams were too large for him to even fathom. Bokuto would never love him back. Why did Akaashi love him so much, so long? It hurt. It wasn’t fair.
Later, Akaashi would go home to his empty apartment, lie on his futon, and stare at the ceiling for hours. Right now he was a dam breaking and all the water on earth rushed out of him.
Kenma rubbed his back. His kind, quiet, honest friend. “It’s over, Keiji,” he was saying. “It’s been eight years. It’s done. He hasn’t needed you for a long time. You don’t need him either.”
Akaashi was unhappy with several things in his life at the moment, but Kawanishi Plumbing and Heating was at the top of that list. He had called them every day for the past week, yet they still had not come by with the replacement air conditioning unit.
“Please understand. There are several of us in a single room, for many hours at a time, with deadlines to meet,” he said as calmly as he could. “We cannot get work done if we are busy keeping ourselves from getting heatstroke.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but as I said before, we have had a recent surge in client requests and simply don’t have the manpower to accomplish all of them on schedule.”
“We were aware we were due for a replacement three weeks ago. I called then to make sure it would be ready.”
“I’m very sorry. We’re trying our best to have it installed within the week.”
Try harder, Akaashi wanted to scream. He wanted to shout for a minute straight—a nice guttural yell that would diffuse the heat in the room like dandelion puffs. “Thank you,” he said through his teeth and slammed the phone into its dock.
The heat in the room was oppressive, blanketing the room like a kotatsu in the middle of July. Tokyo was having its hottest summer in decades. The two fans whirred and turned their metal faces side to side, but did little to alleviate anything. After the first two days without air conditioning, Akaashi finally gave in and wore a simple, breathable T-shirt and left his cardigan and button-up at home. Not that it mattered, since his shirt was nearly soaked through with sweat already. His shirt from this morning and an extra were stuffed inside his bag.
“No luck?” Saito sounded weak. Akaashi glanced at his colleague. Sweat coated her forehead. Her flyaway hair stuck out in every direction. Her face was flushed red.
“Saito-san, please have some more water. You should be drinking every few minutes, even a little bit.”
Saito sipped her Pocari Sweat and fanned herself. “Thanks for reminding me, Akaashi-san.”
“It’s no problem. And, no luck with the aircon either.” Akaashi drank some water of his own. “That company is full of dumbas— Ignoramuses. I told them weeks ago.”
“Wow, you almost cursed in front of us!” jeered Chidori from his cubicle. “One day I’ll get you to say ‘fuck’. Maybe after a couple of drinks.”
Akaashi bristled. His other co-worker was persistent and vulgar and smoked in the bathroom instead of the designated smoke balcony on the third floor. “I doubt I have time for that, Chidori-san.” He turned his chair away, just slightly.
Their office faced west. Unfortunately, that meant the sun hit the windows and made the room even hotter. They had blinds, but they were white and not very good at blocking out the light. Really, Akaashi was this close wearing a tank top to work. He had two dozen more pages to go through by the end of the day and it was already six. At the start of the week, he had managed to convince Udai to work from home, because of all the things that could go wrong, their mangaka collapsing of heatstroke when deadlines loomed over them was probably the worst. Akaashi volunteered to pick up the pages from Udai’s apartment as needed.
He hunched over his desk and got to work. His head swam with spreads and backgrounds and synonyms. One miserable hour and a half later, Saito spoke up.
“Akaashi-san, how many more pages do you have?”
He counted. “Eleven.”
“Erm… I would be willing to do five of them, if you do the other six and visit Udai-san for tomorrow’s batch.” She dabbed her temples with a handkerchief. “I wouldn’t want you to miss the last train and have to walk, like last time.”
Goody two-shoes, Akaashi heard Chidori mumble and did his best to ignore it. “Are you sure, Saito-san?” Akaashi said. “I’m worried the word choice might not be consistent…”
“We can proofread it for flow tomorrow if you’d like. I just think you should go to Udai-san before it gets too late. Besides,” she said, “you’re the one who’s been calling the HVAC company for us.”
He considered. “Alright.” He took the last five pages on his desk, grouped them with a paperclip, and passed them to Saito. He powered through the final six and finished them just as his concentration ran out.
The sun had set a little while ago and the room had cooled slightly. His back was sticky with hours-old sweat and the plastic where his glasses touched his nose was damp. He wiped his face with a handkerchief, had a sip of water, and packed up his things. “I’m heading off,” he said. “Good evening.”
“See you tomorrow, Akaashi.”
With the extra stop, Akaashi’s evening commute nearly doubled in length. Twenty minutes to Udai’s place, twenty minutes home. There was aircon on the train, but nothing could really combat the heat of bodies packed together in a closed space. Luckily he snagged a seat and hugged his bag to his chest. All over he felt gross and muggy like he hadn’t since high school. He felt hot and hollowed out.
His eyes slid shut. He listened to the muffled clangor of the tracks, the hushed conversations of students going home from cram school, the pleasant voice in the speakers announcing each stop.
The doors opened. People filed off, filed in. Their belongings and clothes rustled. The doors closed. The train started to move. Again. Again. The doors opened. People filed off, filed in.
“Shut yer trap, Tsumu, I didn’t steal yer stupid Gel Tactics.”
Akaashi opened his eyes. He knew only a handful of people from Kansai. Only one of them called their twin Tsumu.
Miya Osamu had a backpack slung over one shoulder and a duffel bag on the other. He wore a black cap and held a phone to his ear. The commuters around him politely averted their eyes and pretended not to eavesdrop. Akaashi did neither of those things, too shocked. Of all the cars on all the trains in Tokyo.
“Just look harder, dammit, use yer eyes, not yer mouth. Yer the one always stealin’ from me.” A pause. “I’m comin’, the bullet train was off-schedule.”
“Miya-kun.” Before his brain could think better of it, Akaashi’s mouth moved. His voice carried. Multiple pairs of eyes darted to him before flitting away. Osamu’s stayed pinned on him.
The world lurched for a moment. It was only the train bending around a curve.
“Tsumu gotta go. Cook some rice before I get there, if ya can even do that. Yeah yeah, bye.”
The train stopped. People filed off, filed in, and Osamu waded his way through the car, stopping right in front of Akaashi. He held onto the overhead handle and leaned boyishly. Akaashi stared up at him, unsure what to say, even though he’d called out first. Oh god he hoped he didn’t smell.
“Hi,” Osamu said. He wore a half-smile, like he was trying to stop himself from grinning all the way.
“Hello.” Akaashi couldn’t for the life of him figure out why Osamu had that expression looking at him. He remembered their last conversation. “You’re… here for the new branch?”
Osamu nodded, grinning wider. “Got here a coupl’a minutes ago. You goin’ home?”
“I have to get something from my colleague’s house first.” The train stopped. People filed off, filed in. Osamu stepped forward, making room for others to walk past. His knees brushed Akaashi’s. “Are you staying with your brother?”
“Yep. He’s bein’ a pain in the ass rushin’ me.” Osamu shuffled a little closer before the doors finally shut and the mass settled. He stepped back.
Akaashi frowned. “Does he still live in Ebisu?”
“This train is going in the opposite direction.”
Osamu froze. It was quite amusing. “Goddammit,” he muttered, closing his eyes.
“You can get off at the next stop and switch lines. It’ll be the train on the other side of the platform.”
Next stop, Komagome, said the pleasant voice in the speakers. “That’s me,” Akaashi said. He checked his bag, making sure he had everything. The train slowed to a stop. Wrapping a hand around the pole, he stood, joining the outflow of people leaving the car. His foot caught on someone else’s, and he stumbled.
A smooth hand wrapped around his wrist and steadied him. Osamu was beside him, still walking. The hand dropped when they were in the middle of the platform.
“Thank you.” Akaashi hadn’t meant for his voice to be so quiet. He cleared his throat. “Your train will come from over there.” He pointed.
“Akaashi-kun,” Osamu said. The stuffiness of the car had left his cheeks tinged pink. “I never got the chance to ask for yer number. At the party.”
“Oh.” Akaashi pulled his phone from his bag and held it out. They traded information just as the other train pulled up.
“You should come by the shop tomorrow,” Osamu said, backing away. “I’ll text ya the address.”
Akaashi’s cheeks were still warm from the car, too. “Okay.”
Osamu saluted, turned on his heel, and shouldered through the sliding doors. The wind of the leaving train tousled Akaashi’s hair. He made his way out of the station and to Udai’s house.
Miya Osamu [9:20am]
> 332-1191, Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
“Hot date tonight, Akaashi-san? You keep staring at your phone.”
Akaashi’s head snapped up and he shoved his phone away from him. Across the room, Chidori smirked. Akaashi wanted to smack it off his face. “No, Chidori-san. I’m sorry, I’ll get back to work.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m not your keeper,” Chidori grunted. He typed at his keyboard.
Akaashi’s face burned. He grabbed his water bottle and drank. Had he really been that distracted? He just wasn’t used to texting people. He barely texted Kenma, and Kenma was his best friend.
Thankfully there wasn’t much left to do today. The issue was done and ready to be sent to the higher-ups. Akaashi called Kawanishi Heating and Plumbing, who were just as incompetent as they were yesterday. He checked his email, skimmed over the plans for the next issue, and glanced up at his coworkers.
Akaashi Keiji [12:26pm]
i have maybe 30 minutes left here
> wow playing hooky?
no, the issue is finished so i have a half day
are you still at the shop?
> you down for lunch?
> see you soon
Hot date tonight?
Curse Chidori and his pointy face.
It wasn’t a date. Miya was just doing this for business, though Akaashi would have been the first in line whether or not he was invited. He was tempted to consult Kenma about it, but Kenma would descend like a hawk for details because, unlike everyone thought, he was a dirty rumormonger. Akaashi spoke from experience. He did not want to relive what had happened with Numai.
No, Osamu probably had a girlfriend back in Hyogo whom he made onigiri for every day. Akaashi was invited because he showed genuine interest in his business and Osamu wanted to express gratitude.
Besides, Akaashi felt… indebted to him, as well, because of what Osamu had done at the party. His feelings for Bokuto were an open secret, that night. It would have been humiliating to talk about them in the man’s own home. Osamu’s gestures were small—the lazy conversations in the kitchen, on the couch, his cool dismissal of everything—yet they meant a great deal to Akaashi.
Onigiri Miya was a small shop nestled between a café and a fabric store. The exterior was dark brown, unlike the rest of the building, and traditional tiled awning shaded the storefront. Through the window, a broad-shouldered man was painting the business’s logo on one of the white walls.
Akaashi tugged on the sleeves of his T-shirt, trying as discreetly as possible to sniff his armpits. He’d changed in the restroom before leaving work, but the city was still sweltering. Satisfied, he tried the door, which was unlocked.
A bell chimed. Osamu turned his head. There was a flat paintbrush in one hand and a small tray of black paint resting in the other. “Akaashi-kun,” he greeted brightly. “Lemme just finish touchin’ this up.”
“Of course.” Akaashi folded his hands behind his back and examined his surroundings. Long, continuous oak counters lined the perimeter of the space in lieu of tables. The food display perpendicular to the service counter also hosted a counter. Stools nestled snugly under the wood. A black curtain separated the backroom from the service area. Menu displays were mounted on the walls. “It looks great in here.”
“I know,” Osamu said. There was no small amount of pride in his voice. His arm curved deftly, and the outline of the onigiri on the wall shimmered black. He moved several paces backward and tilted his head left to right, checking the design, then nodded. “Okay, we’re good. One sec.” He disappeared into the back and returned empty-handed.
“Any onigiri today?” Akaashi said hopefully.
Osamu smiled, shaking his head. “Sorry, I only set up the equipment earlier.” He adjusted his black cap. “Just means you’ll hafta come back next time. Know anywhere good to eat? I’m starvin’.”
Akaashi did not know anywhere good to eat. For one, he lived in Takadanobaba, a college neighborhood on the other side of town. Second: these days he ate out either at Yoshinoya, Matsuya, or Seven-Eleven, and he didn’t want to make Osamu eat at a chain restaurant or convenience store.
Osamu looked thoroughly unimpressed. “Alrighty then, let’s just walk ‘til we find somewhere with good vibes.”
Akaashi, chagrined, let him lead the way. They walked for several blocks. The lunch rush was winding to a close, but the streets were nowhere near empty. Osamu peered into every restaurant, eyes alert, like a fox sniffing out somewhere to build its den. They weaved and turned left into a small alley when he suddenly stopped.
“Let’s eat here.”
Ichitaru Ramen, the establishment was called, so tiny it could be a stall. There was a counter with four seats and a small open-air kitchen manned by one employee. A young man was already seated. Akaashi settled into the leftmost seat and Osamu squeezed in next to him.
For Akaashi: miso ramen, please. For Osamu: tonkotsu ramen with extra chashu and egg and corn. And gyoza on the side. They paid upfront.
“Are ya sure that’ll be enough food for ya?” Osamu asked, sipping water from a styrofoam cup.
“It’s fine. I don’t have a big appetite right now,” Akaashi said. His hands were folded in his lap, clammy. He wiped them on his pants and reached into his bag for some hand sanitizer.
“Hm. Can't relate.” Osamu took off his cap and tugged the strap through one of his belt loops, letting it hang. There was a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead and his dark hair was flat on the top. “God, ‘s hot. Is it always this dang hot in the summer? I’ve only ever been here in the winter.”
“Oh, definitely not. This is the hottest summer in decades, according to the meteorologists.”
“Well shit. That's global warming for ya.”
“It's bad. The air conditioning unit in my office has been broken for the past week and we haven't gotten the replacement yet.”
“Well shit!” Osamu said again, just as the server placed bowls and plates in front of them. “Thank you.”
The food smelled delicious. Akaashi had not eaten ramen that didn't come from a plastic package for quite some time. The miso broth was almost opaque. The noodles were not too thick or thin, and instead of folding in on themselves like cup ramen, they were coiled smoothly. A healthy portion of chashu pork, a sheet of nori, bamboo shoots, fish cake, and green onions topped it off. Akaashi glanced over. Osamu's ramen was equally colorful and steaming hot. Five gyoza, cooked to golden brown on the bottom, rested on a small platter between them.
“Smells good,” Osamu said. His eyes were wide and dark and greedy. “Itadakimasu.”
“Itadakimasu,” Akaashi echoed. He broke his chopsticks and dug in.
Heavenly Miso was the official name on Ichitaru’s menu, which after one bite Akaashi decided was an accurate description. The noodles were firm. The broth was savory and rich with a sweet undertone, reminding him of gravy. The chashu was not gamey but soft and tender. Beside him, Osamu made a happy sound. Minutes slipped by as they slurped away.
“Oh, you can have some gyoza.” Osamu slid the platter closer. “Five’s actually a lot.”
Akaashi took one. It was juicy and salty, nicely textured. “Thank you.”
“I needa save room for ice cream.” Osamu put his chopsticks on his napkin. “Earlier, you said ‘the issue is finished,’ but I didn't really get what ya meant.”
“Oh.” Akaashi swallowed. “I work as an editor for a manga magazine. We work on a new issue every week.”
“Ah. Used to read that all the time, when I was younger.” Osamu chomped down another slice of chashu. “An issue a week sounds like a lotta work, though.”
“It does get quite stressful.” Udai-san had probably sent his storyboard by now. Most weekends Akaashi would be reviewing it at home, but he was here eating lunch in the middle of a hot summer day.
“I’m glad I get t'cook all day,” Osamu sighed. He slurped up more ramen. “Do you cook, Akaashi-kun?”
“Er… somewhat.” Akaashi cleared his throat. “I can fry eggs and sauté vegetables. Cooking rice goes without saying. I just don't really have time…”
Osamu nodded in approval, despite Akaashi’s ineptitude. “That’s okay. Ya know, I always loved food, but I didn’t know how to cook ‘til California.”
Akaashi’s confusion must have been evident on his face. Osamu continued, grinning. As he spoke Akaashi worked on his ramen.
“After high school I spent a few weeks there. I wanted to travel the world, but I also wanted t’go to school and start a business. And both of those cost shitloads of money. I’d been savin’ up since I was twelve, see.”
“I wanted to eat good food. Lots of it. Every kind of food on earth. And since I couldn’t do the real thing, I went to L.A., then up the coast, ‘coz you can find every kind of person in California.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
Osamu’s eyes lit up. “I did. Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Filipino, Mexican—well, you get the point. And it was all more or less authentic, ‘cause they’re all immigrants there. I musta gained, like, seven kilos. But by then I’d run outta funds, so I came back home.”
Akaashi spent several moments identifying the emotion in his belly. It was envy, he realized. “That sounds... amazing. You went all by yourself?”
Osamu nodded. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Probably not as scary as actually globe-trottin’, but Americans are very different.” His mouth curved in a smile; his eyes were far away. “I knew for sure after that, that goin’ into food was my calling.”
“Not volleyball?” Akaashi guessed.
“Volleyball was never an option for me,” Osamu said. “The injuries and politics and the fact that you retire before ya reach middle age—I think I woulda ended up hatin’ it.”
“Me too. I didn’t want that to happen to me.” Another thing he admired Bokuto and the others for. Their love for the sport was so deep and integral to their being that it was worth the risks.
“I think that’s the worst me and Tsumu ever fought. He told me I was abandonin’ him, that I was gonna end up miserable. He wanted me to play with him forever. But there was a flame inside him that didn’t burn in me, y’know?”
Akaashi knew. “I do.”
Osamu tilted his bowl into his mouth, drinking the last of the broth. He smacked his lips and grinned. “That was good. You done with yours?”
Akaashi nodded. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and drank the last of his water.
“Great,” said Osamu. “Let’s get some soft serve.”
Akaashi had never eaten soft serve this good. The ice cream was a dark green, swirled tall; its tip curled like a wink. The matcha flavor wasn’t overpowering nor too sweet. It was icy and smooth and the perfect item for a hot day.
He sat across from Osamu at a tiny table outside the parlor. Osamu was licking happily and watching the passersby. Akaashi was watching him. On the court, Akaashi’s impression was that Osamu was cold, calculated, unfazed. At the current moment he resembled his brother more than ever: overcome with childish smugness, if Akaashi had to be honest. All because he was eating ice cream.
“Hits the spot, doesn’t it?”
Akaashi startled. If Osamu had noticed his staring, he didn’t say. “It does. I’m surprised you managed to find another shop that sells quality food.”
“It’s my sixth sense.” There was a buzzing sound. Osamu shifted, phone appearing in hand. He examined it then rolled his eyes. “Sumu wants t’play. Wanna set some balls for me, ‘Kaashi-kun?”
Akaashi pursed his lips. “I doubt I’ll be setting much if your brother is there.” Being in an enclosed space with Miya Atsumu was not a situation he found appealing.
“Yer right about that. We should get goin’, anyway. I’ll walk ya to the station.”
They made their way through the city. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sidewalks were teeming with kids heading home from school. Akaashi for the most part walked behind Osamu. He watched the wide line of his shoulders, the slope of his waist, and felt a little bad in comparison. Akaashi had lost much of his own muscle mass from his volleyball days.
While they waited for the train Osamu spoke up. “I’m here one more day ‘til I head back to Kobe.” He glanced sidelong at Akaashi. “We should get dinner tomorrow.”
“Where?” The air swirled around them. Akaashi’s train was pulling in.
“Whatever yer in the mood for.”
The doors opened. People filed off. “Okay.” Akaashi gripped the handle of his bag and stepped into the car. He turned around to look at Osamu. “Tomorrow.” Was his voice even loud enough to carry?
“Tomorrow.” The doors shut just before the word slipped through. Osamu held his hand up in a wave. Akaashi did the same. The world lurched, and the train whisked him away.
When he got home, he checked his phone. There was a single message from Kenma: ?
Crap. They were supposed to meet today. Akaashi called him immediately.
“Keiji?” Kenma said when he picked up.
“I’m so sorry!” he cried. “It completely slipped my mind!”
“It’s okay. I had Kuro with me. Are you sick, Keiji?”
Akaashi trekked to his bedroom and put his bag in the corner. “No, I was eating out.”
Shocked silence on the other end. “You actually went out with your coworkers?”
“With your parents?”
“No. With Miya Osamu.”
This is why he was afraid of Kenma when they were young. Kenma wouldn’t ask for details or his thoughts. He would just know, even if Akaashi didn’t know himself. “Alright. That’s okay. Will you come over tomorrow?”
“I’m free in the morning…”
“I’m streaming. Next week, then, Keiji.”
The next evening, Akaashi met Osamu in Shinjuku. Yoko Ichibanya was punctuated by a vibrant glowing sign above its doors. At seven sharp Akaashi looked up from his phone. Osamu approached, hands in his pockets.
“Did I keep ya waiting long?”
Akaashi shook his head and led them inside. They were seated at a booth and grabbed the menus docked in the condiment holder. A waitress came by with a pitcher of water and two cups, then stood to wait for their order. For Akaashi: chicken katsu curry with egg, spice level 2. For Osamu: pork katsu curry with vegetable croquette, spice level 5. To share: corn cheese, Korean style.
“I haven’t been here since high school,” Akaashi said when the waitress left. He’d gone with his parents after Fukurodani won their spot at Interhigh, first year. “I hope it’s as good as I remember.”
“I hope it’s better.” Osamu opened the wrapper of his chopsticks and broke the wood apart. “You must've been so popular in high school, ‘Kaashi-kun.”
“Well, Fukurodani has always been a volleyball powerhouse. By our time, going to nationals was old news.”
“You didn’t deny it.”
No, he didn’t. In hindsight it was extremely embarrassing. “Well, I wasn’t popular in the friend sense, just well-known. They called me stupid nicknames. ‘The ice prince.’” He covered his face with his hands while Osamu laughed aloud. “And the confessions. I hated Valentine’s Day, but I hated White Day even more.”
“Oh man, that’s it, Tsumu’s dream,” Osamu cackled. “He wanted t’be confessed to so bad.”
Akaashi remembered adolescent girls in the stands holding fan signs. “I thought you two had your own fan club in high school, Miya?”
He snorted. “All those girls were, like, twelve. The girls at our school knew he was an asshole.” His eyes took on a devilish glint. “So they all confessed to me.”
“Ah. Lucky you.” Akaashi curled his hands around his cup and said nothing else, afraid of saying something else incriminating.
Osamu waved a hand. “Well, they all got rejected. I didn’t have time for a girlfriend, and I’ve never been interested in girls, anyway.”
His heart stuttered. Why did Akaashi feel relieved, it was years ago and six prefectures away and had not even happened to him. Never been interested in girls.
A bit of soul-baring in return was due payment. “Everyone thought I was some kind of mastermind, just because I knew how to deal with Bokuto-san,” he began carefully. To his senpai and kouhai alike, Bokuto was an enigma. To Akaashi, it wasn’t even hard to understand the nature of Bokuto's moods. One only needed compassion and patience.
“I was nothing special. My friend Kenma and Kageyama. Your brother,” Akaashi added pointedly, “they’re the geniuses.”
“Well, I dunno ‘bout the other two, but Tsumu is a moron,” Osamu said, a little airy and a little cheeky. “I wouldn’t call him a genius. He’s just a monster.”
Akaashi’s lips quirked. “I suppose you’d be the expert on that subject.” He sighed, clasping his fingers together in his lap. “I was never what they thought of me. I couldn’t even bring us past our first game at Nationals.”
That more than anything was his greatest shame. Fukurodani was second in the nation in 2013. The next spring, they lost their first match. His captain’s legacy—because Bokuto would always and forever be his captain—and Akaashi had gone and thrown it away. He hadn’t known, walking on that court, that it would be the last official match he ever played. That year Inarizaki had won them all.
“I think you needa cut yourself some slack, Akaashi-kun. First,” Osamu held up his pointer. “Yer really smart. I could tell even then. Second,” he raised another finger, “That happened t’me, too. Kita-san and Aran’s last game. They didn’t think we’d lose either.” A wistful, pensive look came over his face, before he held Akaashi’s gaze sternly. “You remember that no single person determines a win or a loss, right?”
“...I do,” Akaashi said. Still, he didn’t think he would ever get over the loss. Some games stuck with you forever. Long after your volleyball collected dust in the corner and your knee pads were thrown in the dumpster, some games stayed in your mind as vivid as a painting right in front of you.
“Cheer up!” Osamu clapped his shoulder across the table with a solid hand. “Thousands of high schoolers dream of makin’ it to Nationals and never do. You still led your team there. Besides, we had fun, didn’t we?”
Akaashi blinked. We? They had only ever been on opposite sides of the net. But he was starting to understand. “Yes. We did.”
The food came. Osamu’s eyes sparkled. Each plate was large and held a portion large enough for two young girls to share. The rice was fluffy, the katsu was crispy and golden, and the curry smelled like heaven. Kageyama and his advertisement came to mind; Akaashi stifled a smile. Across the table, his eyes met Osamu’s.
“Itadakimasu,” they said at the same time, and ate.
Akaashi Keiji [11:15pm]
thank you for inviting me
Miya Osamu [11:20pm]
> i got food out of it so it’s no problem
have a safe trip back
> by the way, what was that book you mentioned
> i want to prove i’m better than my brother by showing our parents that i'm literate
Like Water For Chocolate
you can probably find the translation online
> great, thanks
Monday. Two employees of Kawanishi Plumbing and Heating appeared at Akaashi’s office. An A/C unit and a toolbox sat in a cart behind them. By the end of the day, a blissful draft of cool air glided through the room. Akaashi’s productivity was higher than it’d been in weeks.
Miya Osamu [3:08pm]
> hey akaashi, what’s yer favorite movie
hm.. i can’t choose.
but i’ve probably seen Mononoke Hime at least 20 times
> that’s a good one
the animated children’s film about a rat chef?
> it taught me valuable lessons
> anyone can cook
> also i watched it so many times i picked up a good amount of English
> it helped me in Los Angeles
i might give it a watch one of these days
Abominable public health violations aside, Ratatouille was a solid film. Disney-Pixar tended to make solid films for all ages that were entertaining and heartwarming, if a little bizarre. Kenma grumbled and griped about Akaashi’s selection that weekend, but sat with him through it anyway. The cats watched from their perch with rapt attention.
The next day, Akaashi opened Google Maps and searched for the nearest international store. There was one right in Takadanobaba, three blocks away from Akaashi’s apartment building.
The store was not very large; it was slightly bigger than the average Lawson’s and was packed to the brim with multicultural goods. Most of the labels weren’t in Japanese. The other patrons were mostly ex-pats or students from abroad, probably seeking a piece of their motherland. Akaashi walked the aisles and noted the stock. He bought a bar of Italian dark chocolate and went home. Its slight bitterness was striking on the tongue.
Shopping List 7月21日
1 package vermicelli (international store?)
garlic already have
fish sauce - orange label
How to cook bún thịt nướng, demonstrated by Akaashi Keiji:
Consult the Internet for some refreshing Asian dishes. Ask which knife is best for slicing meat, then cut the pork shoulder thinly. Mince shallots and garlic. Add sugar, fish sauce, thick soy sauce, pepper, and neutral cooking oil for the marinade. Spend several seconds savoring the aroma before marinating the pork slices overnight. The next day, after running all over Tokyo searching, return home and cook your newly acquired vermicelli noodles in boiling water. Retrieve the pork and bake until 80% cooked, then broil in the oven until golden brown. Chop green leaf lettuce, Vietnamese perilla, cucumbers, carrots, and daikon. Assemble the bowl. Make sure it is so colorful and artful and beautiful you could cry. Itadakimasu!
Akaashi Keiji [1:12pm]
Miya Osamu [1:20pm]
this is delicious
> it looks delicious
> the pork could use a lil more time in the oven though
such a critic
> no more than you
> i haven’t had bún in years
> where didja find the vermicelli
i had a long and arduous journey across the city
my local store didn't have any
> how noble
> ok i hafta get back to work
don’t let me distract you
> that girl is starin’ at me
> the one who’s been here every day this week
wave at her
> eat well, akaashi
On the last day of July, the new branch of Onigiri Miya had its grand opening. Akaashi, at the end of a long day, stood in line behind two high schoolers who were so obviously on a date it hurt. Past the threshold of the door, he locked gazes with Osamu behind the counter. Brown eyes widened in surprise, and the lines of his face turned into something—soft. “Next customer,” he said, still looking at Akaashi.
When Akaashi reached the counter that secret smile was still plastered on Osamu’s face. “What can I get ya?”
Akaashi got one of each filling. He sat at the bar and ate, savoring each one. The best onigiri in Japan. Osamu tended to the line of customers. By the time Akaashi was full, the line dwindled given the late hour.
Osamu wiped down the counter. He glanced up at Akaashi, almost shy. “I’d like to eat with ya again this week, but with the grand openin’ I’m so busy...”
“It’s fine. I’m just glad your onigiri is so near now.” Akaashi gathered his trash and stood with a smile. “Thank you for the food, Miya-kun. Until next time.”
Shopping List 8月5日
angel hair pasta
ALREADY HAVE: garlic, green onions, butter, soy sauce
“Keiji! Send me the recipe for those noodles you brought over!”
“Sure. Is it alright if I email it to you?”
“You can send it as a message in a bottle as long as I get it. I’m so impressed! Your father was, too. You know how bad he is at compliments.”
“I do, okaasan.”
“Okay, I’ve got to go. Yoga class with Nakamura-sensei.”
“I will! Come visit more, Keiji! I love you. Bye-bye.”
“I love you too.”
New comment on “The Best Garlic Noodles You’ll Ever Make”!
owlsforever_no5 (2 minutes ago): The title does not lie. I’m new to cooking and this recipe was easy to follow. Its simple ingredients are easy to find at your local market. There’s just the right amount of garlic without being pungent, although you can adjust to taste, of course. It’s oily and smooth without being greasy. My mother approves. I am definitely making this again sometime soon.
Shopping List 8月19日
pastry for double-crust pie
ALREADY HAVE: butter, eggs, sugar (cane and brown)
Akaashi Keiji [3:02pm]
Kenma are you home
> yea i’m editing
ok i'm coming over
> Keiji oh my god
> this pie is insane
(￣ ‿ ￣)
> seriously it's so good who taught you how to make this
the Internet is a wonderful place
i'm sure you know that already
> i am going to dream about this pie tonight
♡( ◡‿◡ )
> Testu keeps trying to steal some
i can make more
for a price
> can you please
> i'll give you all the Bouncing Ball merch u want
> i’ll buy you a Switch for three more of these pies
i already play on yours
> i’ll tell Tetsu to never call you “jiji” again
if you can guarantee it
> i can i promise
we have a deal
By the end of August, Akaashi’s kitchen was stocked with enough food to feed a mid-sized army. He had made a list of all the dishes he’d tried: bún thịt nướng, chicken adobo, garlic noodles, calabacitas con queso, fettuccine alfredo, and tikka masala—in addition to the Japanese food he cooked. He received a call from his bank, concerned about identity theft due to his exotic purchases. Sometimes he sent photos of the food to Osamu, but only if he was confident in their presentation. In return, Osamu told him about his food travels in the States.
There was more food in his fridge than he could ever eat by himself, so he turned to those around him. His parents, Kenma, and Kuroo were the first to try his cooking. They were simultaneously confused and impressed. There was no doubt Kenma had figured out the catalyst for Akaashi’s new obsession, but he stayed quiet.
Then Akaashi turned to his neighbors. His floor was full of college students attending any of the several universities in the area. Kimura and Nakamoto, who lived next door, particularly enjoyed his food. They were… active, to say the least. Akaashi had lain awake many nights, kept up by their noises. On a Tuesday evening he’d given them a container of teriyaki chicken. Their praise the morning after was so glowing he almost forgave them.
Finally he invited his senpai to eat. Konoha believed he’d poisoned the food, but Komi took one bite of the tikka masala and hugged him. “Our kouhai is growing up. You’ll make a good husband one day,” Komi said through tears. Akaashi endured. Saru had three servings. That evening, they talked about Bokuto’s adventures both recent and long past. For the first time around his old friends, Akaashi’s heart and mind were clear as summer’s day. Nostalgia and fondness enveloped him with each of their stories. It didn’t hurt him to hear Bokuto’s name—not once.
Akaashi had become what one could call a regular at Onigiri Miya. His usual cashier was a high schooler with mousy brown pigtails that almost always blushed when he walked into the store. Her name was Hirano and she reminded him of Yamamoto’s younger sister.
“Akaashi-san!” she stammered. “Welcome!”
“Hi, Hirano-chan.” Her flush turned about 3 shades deeper. “Can I get one umeboshi, one smoked tuna, and one mixed rice? To go, please.”
Hirano packed the food with a nervous smile. “Enjoy!” she said, handing him the bag.
“Thank you, Hirano-chan. Tell Miya-kun I said hi, next time you talk.”
When he got back to the office, his editor-in-chief was there, looking frazzled.
“Fujiwara-san?” Akaashi said. “Are you alright?”
The man startled. “We have a problem. One of our mangakas broke both his legs.”
“Oh my, is he alright?” Akaashi said in alarm.
“He’s as fine as a person can be with two broken legs. That’s not the problem. His scanner is broken, and so is his computer, and the special anniversary volume is due by October, and we have no way of getting the pages.”
“Well, where does he live?”
That gave him pause. The original branch of Onigiri Miya was in Kobe. “I can go to him and pick the physical pages up,” Akaashi found himself saying. “I can bring work with me, too. It’ll take two days at most.”
The relief on Fujiwara’s face was palpable. “Would you really, Akaashi-san?”
“As long as I’m compensated for the travel fare…”
Fujiwara grasped Akaashi’s hand in both of his own. “Yes, of course, and the hotel stay. Thank you, thank you!”
“When do I go?”
“He said they’ll be ready by September 20.”
Akaashi looked at the ground. He swallowed. “Alright. That’s fine.”
“Thank you again, Akaashi-san. I’ll email you the details later.” Fujiwara shook his hand one last time before flitting away.
Akaashi walked to his desk and ate his lunch. The upright calendar beside his Post-Its was a hand-me-down gift from Kuroo. Each month featured a different girl group member. Miss September had blond hair. September 20, she sang.
Akaashi finished the umeboshi onigiri. The twentieth day of the ninth month.
He finished the tuna. You know, that person’s—
The mixed rice. He opened his Pocari Sweat and chugged it. September 20, the idol crooned. Akaashi made a note to ask Kuroo for her name.
“I’m going to Kobe next week. Work trip.” Coincidentally, as Akaashi said this, the Wii Fit Trainer flung herself off the map and lost her last life.
“You always lose when you play the Trainer.” Kenma popped a fruit gummy into his mouth. “Kobe?” The rest of his face was carefully blank, but those cat eyes hid nothing.
“Yes. I’m picking up some pages from one of our mangakas.”
“That’s great, Keiji.” Kenma stood, putting his controller on the couch beside him. He exited the room.
“Kenma, where are you going?”
No response. Akaashi huffed and took more of the peach ones. It was a shame they were so wasteful, or he’d buy them more often; one plastic wrapper per gummy was a bit much.
Kenma returned. He dropped something into Akaashi’s lap. Upon examination, it was two things. One was a tube about the size of a hand sanitizer, seal still intact. The other was a roll of condoms.
“Ahh! Get these away from me!” Akaashi shoved them onto the rug.
Kenma rolled his eyes. “Relax, they aren’t even used.”
“They better not be!” He didn’t want to know anything about what his friends got up to when he wasn’t around. “Why did you even give these to me.”
The face Kenma made was so thoroughly jaded that Akaashi dropped his gaze. He grabbed the items and shoved them to the bottom of his backpack.
“Let’s use the Moray Towers map this time,” Kenma said, eyes fixed on the screen.
“Fine, fine, whatever you want.” Akaashi picked up his controller and chose Isabelle instead of the Trainer. His blush didn’t fade for another hour.
Akaashi Keiji [8:33pm]
i’ll be in kobe on the 20th
Miya Osamu [10:09pm]
> courtesy of chef osamu
that sounds wonderful
> i’ll text u my address when ya get here
> see u next week
yes. next week
It was four hours from Tokyo to Kobe. Akaashi’s train left at ten AM. For the first hour, he shut his eyes, covered his ears with headphones, and listened to Ghibli soundtracks. Halfway through the second, he gave in and sent the message he’d been dying to all morning. Happy birthday, Bokuto-san. I hope you’re doing well. For the third, he pulled out some work he’d brought with him and pored over the pages.
As the fourth hour came to an end, Akaashi finished stress-eating the bento he’d packed. The stuff Kenma gave him was in his duffel bag, taunting him. The last half of the train ride, certain images kept popping up in his head and distracting him. Last night he’d dreamed of it. Not for the first time he wanted to club himself with a frying pan.
What was he doing?
Nothing wrong, that’s what. He was doing what his job required of him. And he maybe was going to get some free onigiri out of it.
He took a bus from the station to his hotel. Outside, the streets of Kobe passed by him in a blur. In the distance was the ancient face of Mount Rokko; to the other side lay the Port of Kobe, shimmering blue and yellow in the sunlight. Downtown wasn’t much different from any other city in Japan. Signs and shops and people walking. Yet after a certain point the buildings shifted from gray rectangles into something triangular and bordered, clearly European-influenced.
The hotel was a small nondescript building with three floors. The concierge gave him his keycard, directing him to the second floor. His lodgings were about the size of his childhood bedroom. In the middle of the room was a semi-double bed. Flying herons emblazoned the duvet. He arranged his belongings, washed his hands, and headed off to work.
The mangaka, Tsumugi, looked very haggard when Akaashi reached his house on the outskirts of the city. He was in a wheelchair. Two huge casts enclosed each of his legs. There was a hefty amount of hair on his upper lip and only a small dusting of fuzz on his jaw.
“Thank you for doing this, Akaashi-san,” he said, sounding more like a frog than a man. A sturdy folder sat on the kitchen table between them. “Tea?”
“Oh, it’s fine, I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” Akaashi watched Tsumugi struggle to wheel himself around the kitchen. “Forgive me if this is personal, but is there no one who can assist you with day-to-day tasks?”
“No. My family lives in Yokohama.”
Surely there was a neighbor or an acquaintance to whom Tsumugi could turn, but Akaashi held his tongue. He wanted to explore a little before dinner and this house smelled too strongly of herbal medicine.
They reviewed the contents of the folder. Sixty-four pages, lined and shaded, and four extra pages of the author's sketches, to be delivered to the office in Tokyo within two days. Everything appeared to be in order.
“Take care, Tsumugi-san,” Akaashi said on the porch, bowing. Tsumugi gave a tired nod and disappeared back into the house.
For the next two hours, Akaashi was free. He took the bus back to the heart of the city and got off in Kitano-cho. Originally he wanted to visit Nunobiki Falls, but he didn’t bring hiking shoes and the trip would have taken up the bulk of his free time. Instead, he strolled the streets of the so-called Western Village. It was distinctly European and full of old-world charm. He ducked into each boutique, musing the wares, and purchased a lucky cat phone charm for Kenma and a French-style fan for his mother. For himself, a tin of earl grey tea imported from Britain.
After that, he rode the train to Motomachi Station and walked to Meriken Park. The park overlooked the Port of Kobe; at Akaashi’s back were the geometric shapes of Kobe Port Tower and the Maritime Museum. He settled at a picnic table to proofread some pages but found himself distracted by the sounds around him. Children played tag in the grass, businessmen moved in packs across the walkway, tourists posed for photos by the sea. The sun was sinking in the sky, shimmering across the waves. The distant skyline started to light up orange, then blue, then every color imaginable.
There was so much of the city he wanted to explore. Next time, he resolved.
They agreed to meet at six at Osamu’s apartment, where he lived above his shop. Akaashi very nearly went inside the store to grab a quick bite, but decided that whatever Osamu was preparing was probably worth the wait. He circled around the building, found the entrance to the residences, and climbed the stairwell. Apartment B-2.
His hair curled at the ends, damp from the shower he’d taken at the hotel. The stuff Kenma gave him was currently burning a hole through his inner coat pocket. It was really too warm for a thick jacket, but Akaashi didn’t want to just walk in there holding condoms. Besides, that was probably wishful thinking. He closed his eyes, breathed in and out, and rang the doorbell. A terrible fifteen seconds later, the door opened.
Osamu was wearing an apron. It wasn’t the black of his work outfit, but a deep crimson. Across the front, black and white foxes chased one another through a field.
“I like your apron,” Akaashi said, stupidly. “Hi.”
Osamu brushed his hand across the design. The foxes were playing. “Thanks, my baa-chan made it for me. Wouldja like to come in?”
Akaashi followed Osamu inside, taking off his shoes and hanging his coat. The apartment was on the smaller side, not that Akaashi was complaining. The foyer led straight to the shared space of the living room and kitchen. There was a flat-screen TV in front of the kotatsu and a low couch. A bookcase leaned against the nearest wall, boasting family photos and cookbooks and manga alike. In the far left corner was a closed door, probably the bedroom. The kitchen table was white and sleek. On the stove sat a bright yellow pot. The counters were covered with various bowls and ingredients.
“We’re… cooking together?” Akaashi asked.
“‘Course we are. I wanna see what you’ve learned.” Osamu reached into a cupboard, pulling out some folded blue fabric. “Wanna put ya to the test. Turn around.”
Akaashi did. An apron appeared in front of him. Osamu helped his head through the top and tied the string at the waist. “Am I on Iron Chef?”
“I won’t go that easy on ya, Akaashi.”
Akaashi waited for his blush to fade before he turned around. Osamu was lifting the lid of the pot. “Rice is lookin’ good. Oh, wash yer hands.”
Obediently, he went to the sink. “What are we making?”
“The menu for tonight: salmon and tuna onigiri, karaage chicken, and nanohana with karashi dressing.”
Akaashi’s hands froze in the middle of drying. “Nanohana? Did— did you know that’s my favorite?”
Osamu had that shy look again, the same one as when Akaashi saw him in Tokyo on that summer’s evening. “Ah… I asked Tsumu to ask Hinata to ask Kozume. I know it ain’t peak season for it, but—”
“It’s fine!” Akaashi interrupted. He was once again stunned by Osamu’s thoughtfulness. He pushed his glasses up with a knuckle. “What do you need me to do?”
How to redefine desire, demonstrated by Akaashi Keiji.
Watch him. Watch the deft posture of his hands, the breadth of his shoulders, the corded muscle of his forearms. This recipe requires no knives, so don’t worry about cutting yourself in your distraction. There is only the open flame, the steam rising from the pot. He’s in his element in this kitchen, lit up like the heroes in the manga you edit. Each movement is mesmerizing. A geisha’s wrist flashing before retreating into her sleeve. Watch him, and wonder if he smiles when he kisses.
Help him make your favorite food. The nanohana is boiling. It smells like your fondest childhood memories. Help him cut the nori, break the salmon with your chopsticks, fry the chicken. Time to make onigiri. The rice is warm in your hands. You think you can feel it pulse, though the rhythm might be your own heart when he says, “Don't go sellin’ my secrets, Akaashi,” and folds his hands over yours. Your onigiri is lumpy and plain next to his, which is triangular and pristine. Years ago you made chocolate for two days straight and from then on denied yourself this simple joy. Years ago someone broke your heart. You had no reason to mend it, until now.
Assemble the meal. Bring his mismatched plates to the kitchen table and arrange them into a splendid display. Sit across from him. Let your calf brush against his, just barely, under the table. Look past the shade of your eyelashes, the veneer of your glasses, into his eyes.
The cool light from the kitchen spilled into the living room. Osamu rested on his side, head in his hand, nibbling on store-bought daifuku. Akaashi sat cross-legged on the other side of the kotatsu and bit into his own, sticky-sweet. Nu jazz drifted from a bluetooth speaker on the TV stand. They were silent, full from the meal, basking in contentment.
Akaashi hoped the light behind him shrouded his face in shadow, hiding his blush. Osamu just… looked so handsome lying like that. His hair looked feather-soft; his cheeks and jaw were lax and lazy. The line of his body stretched out like a cat’s.
The stirring in Akaashi’s belly wasn’t foreign, just neglected. He’d done his fair share of wanting. Certainly his eyes had wandered. Men drew his attention on the street, at bars, on the train—but almost always, something had stayed his hand. A burden. Maybe he’d thought that if by chance he stumbled across someone better than Bokuto, it’d be a betrayal somehow. Aside from Numai, his other encounters were one night stands, which eighty percent of him regretted. He hadn’t been with anyone for over a year now. He’d loved only one person for eight.
Was it possible to be in love with someone after cooking one meal with them?
Akaashi stared. Luckily Osamu’s eyes were closed. He wanted to know if Osamu’s body had retained the mass earned from years of volleyball. He wanted to watch his biceps ripple with effort, to knead his ass and hear him moan. He wanted Osamu inside of him.
His face burned. He shoved the rest of the dessert into his mouth and chewed. God, what kind of pervert was he? Had they added an aphrodisiac to their food by accident? He didn’t believe in the dangers of dry spells, but clearly he was deprived of something—
“Didja like Kobe?”
Akaashi sat ramrod straight. His eyes darted to Osamu’s. He looked amused.
“Well, I know I kept ya cooped up for dinner, but d’you like the city?”
“I love it.” It was beautiful. In truth, most cities had to try hard not to be beautiful, but Kobe overlooked a sparkling bay. There was still so much Akaashi wanted to discover. “It’s different from Tokyo.”
“Yeah, it sure is.” Osamu had a soft little smile. It made Akaashi’s heart skip. “Did I scare ya? What’s on yer mind?”
You fucking me. “Nothing, really.”
Osamu licked his fingertips free of rice flour. “When d’you leave tomorrow?”
“Oh. At eleven.” Did Osamu want him to go? He made a decision. “Miya. I know it was months ago, but… at the party. Thank you. For—defending me, I suppose. You didn’t have to.”
Silence. Akaashi feared he’d said the wrong thing. His stomach twisted. Slowly, Osamu pushed himself off the ground and sat upright, one leg bent close to his chest. There was an edge to his gaze that Akaashi remembered from high school: assessing. “It was nothin’.”
“It wasn’t. I probably would’ve had a breakdown in Bokuto-san’s bathroom if they kept badgering me.”
This was maybe Akaashi’s most foolish decision yet. Bringing up an—ex-something—with the man he wanted to sleep with. Something in the food had definitely impaired his decision-making.
“...I don’t think I’m the person ya think I am, Akaashi.”
“What do you mean?” Did he have a girlfriend? Or boyfriend?
“I’m not selfless, or chivalrous, or noble.” Osamu turned his face away, leaning back on one of his hands.
Akaashi was confused, because so far Osamu had only been those three things. “But you are.”
“Suna says I’m the meaner twin.”
“You’re not mean to me,” Akaashi reasoned. “I’ve really only seen you be mean to your brother.”
Osamu’s lips quirked, only for a second, then hardened into a line. “I’m greedy.”
Osamu lifted his head. Akaashi felt the full force of that gaze, something unreadable. He wanted to learn its language.
“Do you love Bokuto?” Osamu asked.
The age-old question. The air in the room trembled. Akaashi’s fingers furled together. He kept his eyes on the daifuku between them. “Part of me does. But I don’t want him anymore.”
“What do you want?”
They stared at each other. Wordlessly, Akaashi stood. He walked to the genkan and glanced back. Osamu had moved to sit on the couch. He looked like the wind had been punched out of him. Akaashi reached into the pocket of his coat, pulled out the roll of foil wrappers and the plastic bottle, and returned to the kotatsu. He set them down, next to the daifuku, and stared at Osamu, who stared back. He still looked like the wind had been punched out of him, but for a different reason.
“Come here, then,” Osamu said, barely a whisper.
Akaashi had never moved so fast in his life. He clambered into Osamu’s lap as Osamu grabbed his waist and tugged him so they were chest-to-chest. Akaashi held onto his shoulders and kissed him. A bolt of lightning arced down his spine. Their lips smacked together chastely for about two seconds before they’d both had enough of that and Akaashi’s mouth opened with a gasp. Osamu’s hands flew up to cup his jaw and coax his mouth open wider. It thrilled him whenever their tongues slid together, fat and wet. Osamu tasted like anko and the Calpico they drank after dinner.
“I want you,” Akaashi said, pulling away just enough to speak. “I want you.”
The grip on his jaw tightened. Akaashi rocked on his knees, dragging their fronts against each other. They kissed and kissed and kissed. He felt like a well had opened up inside him, ready to pour out every secret thing he’d stored for years.
Osamu slid his hands down and squeezed Akaashi’s ass and slotted their hips together, starting a slow grind, harder and hotter and impatient. “Osamu,” Akaashi whispered, and Osamu cursed under his breath.
“Akaashi. Shit, baby. Want you so bad. Keiji.”
Akaashi’s eyes almost rolled into his skull. He threw his head back and arched. Osamu trailed his eager mouth across Akaashi’s jaw, down his neck. The friction was delicious. It wasn’t enough.
“Come on, bed, bedroom,” Akaashi said, climbing off. He took off his glasses and placed them on the kotatsu. He pulled Osamu up by his neck, kissing him again. Their faces were so close. Osamu stared into his eyes. Akaashi was only an inch shorter but it might as well have been a meter, he felt so small under that gaze.
Osamu grabbed the condoms and lube and backed Akaashi into the closed door, pawed the backs of his thighs, lifted him with ease. Akaashi flushed as he wrapped his legs around Osamu’s waist. Heat stirred in his belly at the simple display of strength.
The door opened behind his back and in the next moment Osamu laid him onto the bed. He tossed the stuff to the side and turned on the bedside lamp, bathing the room in a dim buttery glow. He peeled his clothes off like he was giving Akaashi a private show. Akaashi stared at the man before him: a visual feast. Miles of bare skin, the dormant muscle beneath. His cock was perfect and stiffening under Akaashi’s molten gaze.
“How are you so fit when you eat so much,” Akaashi grumbled. He reached out to touch, but Osamu caught his wrist and bent down for a searing kiss.
He tugged Akaashi’s sweater off. His jeans, his socks, his briefs. There wasn’t anything special to look at, yet Osamu’s eyes raked over him. He took his time.
Akaashi squirmed. “Are you going to fuck me or not,” he said. His own boldness surprised him.
“Patience,” Osamu said, and pushed him onto his back.
Kisses on his neck and chest; the electrifying swirl of Osamu’s tongue around his nipples. The noises Akaashi made were undignified. Osamu teased a bare finger around his hole without warning and covered Akaashi’s squawk with his smiling mouth. All Akaashi could do in return was wrap a shaking hand around Osamu’s erection like hot iron and stroke. “Come on, come on,” Akaashi hissed.
Osamu kissed his temple, reaching for the lube. “Relax, Keiji.”
Cool fingertips at his entrance. He tensed in anticipation. Osamu descended. Wet heat enveloped his cock. He moaned, long and low, ran his fingers through Osamu’s soft hair, held on for dear life as a finger slipped inside him.
Osamu’s hands. Careful and skilled, wrapped like a brand around his thigh, pistoning hot inside him. His whole body was river water cupped between Osamu’s palms, saved from being lost to the sea. Osamu probed and sucked and found his prostate in record time. “Found it,” Osamu gloated, and pushed another finger past the rim.
Akaashi keened. He rocked back onto that hand—more, more. It hadn’t been like this with anyone. There was no way he could conjure this in a dream. He was feverish, delirious, hungry.
Osamu released his cock and stood over him, gripping him at the base in lieu of blowing him. “D’you think you can come twice?”
For Osamu he’d come until he blacked out.
Osamu laughed at his murmuring and kissed him. “Not yet. Want us t’come together, the first time.”
“Shit,” Akaashi exhaled. He scrambled for the lube and dribbled some more over his hole. “More, please.”
Osamu added a third finger and rubbed at Akaashi’s walls. God, he was so full, fuller than the ocean. He blinked up at Osamu and jerked him off choppily. It couldn’t have been that good, but Osamu’s hips bucked forward, his eyes dark with promise.
Akaashi thrashed. “Please,” he begged, “please, Osamu, now.”
The fingers eased out of him and there was the telltale crinkle of foil. Osamu kissed him deep. Akaashi pushed at his shoulders and sat up. He rolled the condom on for Osamu, squeezed lube onto the length, and turned over to lie on his stomach, not breaking eye contact.
The breath left Osamu in a rush. He reached for Akaashi’s hips and tugged him backwards, lining himself up. “How bad d’you want it.”
“Just fuck me, please,” Akaashi growled, fisting his hands into the comforter.
“So polite, Keiji,” Osamu said, and pressed forward.
Secretly, this was Akaashi’s favorite position. He found it both elegant and obscene: Osamu’s powerful body suspended behind him, the curve of his back as he twisted to watch Osamu enter him. The stretch was good. It’d been a long time since he’d had a cock inside him. The way Osamu looked at them joined together was crippling and lewd. He slid deeper, exquisite, and Akaashi clawed at the sheet. They groaned in unison when Osamu bottomed out.
Osamu took him fast and hard, just the way he wanted. He palmed Akaashi’s ass with one hand and propped himself up with the other. Akaashi’s cock scraped against the comforter. He held himself on his elbows, straining to watch Osamu at work. The smack smack smack of their hips slapping together, the wet squelch of lubricant, their rising moans were beyond erotic. He could probably get off to the sounds of their fucking alone.
“Fuck yeah,” above him, in his ear. “Jus’ like that, so fuckin’ tight, mmm, wanna fuck ya all night, baby.”
Akaashi gasped. “Osamu.”
“Ah, shit, wanted this so bad,” Osamu groaned. It was good, it was amazing, every thrust shoved the air out of Akaashi’s lungs, but it wasn’t quite—
Osamu shifted, just a little, and Akaashi’s whole body seized at the pleasure that raced up to his scalp. He grabbed at the covers. How?
“Right there,” Akaashi choked, twisting to kiss Osamu and hook an arm around his neck. “Don’t stop.”
Osamu’s grin was wolfish and triumphant. Akaashi ground back against him, arching his spine. It felt too good, nothing on earth had ever felt this good. His breath was coming in clipped, desperate whimpers. Osamu inside him was a molten rod, burning, burning. He wouldn't last much longer.
“A-ah— I’m close,” Akaashi said.
Osamu pulled out. It left Akaashi winded, emptied so suddenly, then hands coaxed him onto his back. Osamu hitched his thighs up, positioned himself, and thrust home, resuming his brutal pace. Akaashi made a strangled noise at the change of position.
“You’re so beautiful, Keiji,” Osamu whispered. His tone was so different from the rhythm he’d set that it made Akaashi’s head swim. His eyes were so dark and lovely. “Keiji,” he repeated.
Akaashi kissed him. He poured everything into that kiss, everything he had to give. He wanted Osamu to take his fill and come back for more, when it was all over. Inside him was a stream that would never run dry.
He took himself in hand and started to jerk. “Please,” he said trembling. “Come on, make me come, Osamu.”
Osamu dipped his head and slammed his hips into Akaashi’s once, twice, hitting his prostate dead on. “Ah— ah—” Akaashi moaned, jerking fast, scrambling to hold the nape of Osamu’s neck with his other hand. Osamu lifted his head to watch, slowing.
His whole body tensed, snapped, and he came, spurting onto his chest and stomach, legs shaking. He stuttered out a long, low moan. His scalp tingled.
Osamu made a few uneven thrusts before he shuddered, screwing his eyes shut. He pulsed inside Akaashi and gasped, eyes flying open. They looked at each other for a long time, chests heaving.
Finally, Akaashi guided Osamu’s face to his and pressed a trembling kiss to his lips. He exhaled through his nose. Osamu pulled out gently, disposed of the condom, then leaned back to assess the fruits of his labor.
“So damn pretty,” he said. He bowed forward and started to lick Akaashi’s cum from his stomach.
God. Akaashi threaded his hands through Osamu’s hair, jolting. Osamu lapped up every drop and held eye contact the whole time. When he was done he darted back up and kissed him. “Tastes good,” Osamu said.
“Liar.” Cum tasted horrible. But Akaashi pressed his tongue into Osamu’s mouth anyway, tilting his hips up. “Again,” he murmured. “Just give me five minutes.”
Osamu smiled against his lips. “Yer insatiable.”
He couldn’t even argue. He’d had a taste, not nearly enough. “Again.”
Osamu cupped his face and pressed their foreheads together. “Next time. You hafta go back to yer hotel before you leave.”
Akaashi sighed, nodding. Next time. He lay boneless, freer than he’d ever been in his life, as Osamu padded around. Osamu ran a damp washcloth over his torso, between his legs, before guiding a pair of boxers onto him. He rolled over and let Osamu fold up the soiled bedsheet and chuck it at the hamper. Osamu left the room and reappeared with a glass of water, tilting it into Akaashi’s mouth. He turned off the lamp. They settled into bed together, Osamu curled around him. Akaashi twisted his neck back for one last kiss.
“Goodnight, Osamu,” he whispered.
Akaashi slept, sweet and dreamless.
When he woke the next morning, the sun was filtering through the window. An alarm was blaring obnoxiously. “What time is it,” he mumbled.
Osamu was beside him, rubbing his eye and tapping blindly at his phone on the side table. “S’rry, forgot t’turn off my alarm.” His accent was thicker in the morning, voice like molasses. He yawned and stretched his arms out. “Like, six.”
Akaashi ran a hand over his face. “I need to use the bathroom.” He left the bed and went to pee. There was a soreness between his legs he hadn’t felt in a while.
When he came back Osamu was in the same position, his eyes more alert. There was a smirk on his face. “Yer walkin’ funny, Akaashi.”
Akaashi huffed. He settled against the headboard. “That’s your doing.”
He’d grabbed his phone from the kitchen before returning, and checked his notifications. He glanced to the side. Osamu looked devastatingly handsome, resting his head against his bent arm. He was just staring.
Akaashi raised a brow to mask his bashfulness. “What is it?”
Osamu grinned. “Ya know, in high school I thought y’were real stoic. But now it’s fun figurin’ out what every tiny difference in your expression means.” He raised a hand and brushed the furrow between Akaashi’s brows with a featherlight touch. “This face means yer heart is flutterin’.”
Warmth flooded his cheeks. He pushed the hand away out of habit and embarrassment. Osamu laughed and wrapped his strong arms around Akaashi, tugging him close. They were back to front, skin-on-skin, and shaking with joy. Somehow he felt more exposed than when Osamu was inside of him.
He leaned back into the embrace and twined their fingers together. Osamu nuzzled Akaashi’s shoulder and brought his face closer so they were cheek-to-cheek. “Are ya my boyfriend now, Akaashi?” The words rumbled.
“If you’ll let me.” Akaashi hadn’t been someone’s boyfriend since he was nineteen. Surely the rules and regulations of being one had changed. He supposed it wouldn’t be that bad to learn them, with Osamu.
“If I’ll let ya!” Osamu held him tighter. “‘Course I will.”
“Your birthday is coming soon,” Akaashi said. Over dinner he’d learned that Osamu was exactly two months older than him. “Will you…” Will you spend it with me. “Will you be in Tokyo?”
“I could be. If ya wanted me to.”
“I do.” He kissed Osamu’s knuckles. “What do you want for your birthday dinner? I’ll make it for you.”
Osamu sighed. It was a light, rosy sound. “Anythin’. I’m not picky. As long as we make it together.”
“Okay.” Already he was formulating a menu. Osamu had told him he missed Mexican food. They could make tacos al pastor, and elote, and horchata. It might take him a while to find cotija cheese, but he had two weeks to search.
A kiss, delicate as a puff of air, brushed against the nape of his neck. “Wanna shower together?”
He considered. “Sure.”
Osamu rolled over him and off the bed, grinning. He held out a hand as he stood. Akaashi smiled back, wider than he had in months, and let himself be tugged away, laughing for no reason at all.
Osamu didn’t kiss him on the platform, but he did rub his thumb against the back of Akaashi’s hand. “See ya soon,” he said.
Akaashi stepped as close as he dared and held on tight. “See you soon.” For the second time, he boarded a train while Osamu stayed on the cement, behind the yellow line. Akaashi studied him, the joy plain and open on his face, and committed it to memory. Osamu waved, Akaashi waved back, and the door slid shut.
He made his way to his row, put his bags in the overhead cabin, and settled into the plush seat. Outside, the world lurched. Akaashi’s heart flapped its wings.
Kozume Kenma [2:39pm]
> are you back yet?
almost, i’m about 10 minutes out
> if you can please stop by after you go to work
> i have a new houseplant and need help christening it
> did you have a good trip?
> ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
> what do you say
… thank you Kenma
“Akaashi-san, I love your new place!”
Hinata had never been to the old place, and was barely past the threshold of the new one, but Akaashi appreciated the sentiment. “Thank you, Hinata. Please, come in.”
He opened the door wider for the three of them to enter. Hinata took off his shoes, then Kageyama, then Atsumu, who gave Akaashi a long-suffering look.
“Samu!” Atsumu called. “Where’s the bathroom!”
“Find it yerself!” Osamu was still in the kitchen, washing the abundance of dishes they’d used earlier.
“Happy birthday, Keiji-kun,” Atsumu said, and hurried into the apartment.
“Happy birthday, Akaashi-san!” Hinata hugged him and pressed a wrapped box into his hands. Hinata’s brightness, after all these years, remained unchanged from when he was fifteen. It filled Akaashi’s heart with fondness.
“Happy birthday, Akaashi-san,” Kageyama echoed, and hugged Akaashi as well, much less forceful but just as genuine.
“Thank you.” Akaashi walked them to the living room, where the others were already on the karaoke machine. Hinata bounded over to Kenma immediately and chattered away. Akaashi slipped away to the bedroom and put the gift with the rest. There were still some boxes they needed to unpack, mostly full of summer clothing they wouldn’t need for a while. Akaashi knew one of them had the lighter, though, so he knelt and opened them one-by-one, as his friends sang twenty feet away. He finally found the lighter in a box with Osamu’s old copies of Hunter x Hunter, which was incredibly dangerous. He could berate him about it later.
Atsumu, in the living room, was shrieking an Ariana Grande song while Hinata cawed his encouragement. His back pocket buzzed. Akaashi pulled his phone out.
Bokuto Koutarou [7:19pm]
> HAPPY BIRTHDAY AKAASHI!!!!!! ＼(*o*)／
> i swear i know when your birthday is but this year i forgot about timezones and i missed midnight i’m sorry!
> but i remembered just now
> i miss you!! i’m coming home for Christmas!!!
> happy birthday again!!! (^ヮ^)
He stared at the message. There were way more exclamation marks than necessary. Bokuto tended to neglect contacting people and then infodump them at specific intervals.
It was the first time Akaashi had thought about him all day.
Months ago, the revelation would have sliced him down the middle and formed a chasm. Now, he only felt a little sheepish.
He looked up. Osamu was in the doorway, sleeves pushed up to his elbows. “Kozume wants t’start eating already so he can have the apple pie without bein’ rude.”
Akaashi smiled. “We made that pie just for him, he can have it whenever he wants.”
“He wants you t’be there, though.”
Akaashi glanced at his phone and typed out a message. That’s alright, Bokuto-san. Thank you for your well wishes. I’ll see you soon.
He slid it into his back pocket. He went to Osamu and pressed up against him, brushed his fingertips under the hem of Osamu’s sweater.
“Everythin’ okay?” Osamu cupped his face.
Akaashi melted into the touch, nuzzling his palm. His eyes fell shut. “I’m happy.”
In the other room, Kuroo was singing a ballad by one of those Korean idols he liked so much. The others clapped to the somber beat. Atsumu was fake crying.
“I’m happy too.” Osamu kissed him like moonlight. Akaashi felt lit up from inside.
He pulled away and pressed their foreheads together. He was happy. His belly was warm and waiting.
“Come on,” Akaashi said. “Let’s eat.”
I love you. I want us both to eat well.
— Christopher Citro