If Komori Motoya had to give his top predictions about the content of his second All-Japan Youth Training Camp, he would probably say (1) “Receiving,” (2) “Sweating,” and (3) “Conditioning.” Maybe he’d wedge the sweating above reception. Nowhere—and he means nowhere— on his hypothetical list would he write “My awkward, arrogant cousin getting asked out by an equally awkward, arrogant setter”—not as the last bullet point, not in the footnotes, not after the page break.
It’s a farce. It’s a reality where Kiyoomi doesn’t loathe the majority of people he meets. It’s a panel plucked from the pages of a shoujo manga, cross-hatching and all.
It happens nonetheless.
“... And I mean, I got no idea whether yer even into guys, but I figured fuck it, ya know? So how ‘bout it?” Miya Atsumu finishes with a grin that is bent at the wrong angles and a degree or two away from bashful.
Kiyoomi is averse to skin-to-skin contact, so physical violence is off the table. Instead, his narrowed eyes seem to needle the handprint directly onto Atsumu’s cheek.
“I don’t understand when,” Kiyoomi says, continuing his stick and poke. Not “No,” or “You’re blocking my path to the showers,” or “Please never speak to me again.” Just “I don’t understand when.”
“Well, unless ya wanna sneak out tonight,” Atsumu starts, raising his brow like he’s managed to pressurize lead into diamond, “I thought we could just exchange numbers for now.”
Motoya has seen his cousin asked out several times. Kiyoomi’s height and national title put him in the center of team photo shoots, and every award-winning club has their posters tacked around the school. On top of that, he’s a star student. Kiyoomi is no stranger to handing back rose-colored envelopes or handmade chocolates in ribbon-tied boxes. He is no stranger to rejecting people.
“Okay,” Kiyoomi responds, as if giving out his number is the easiest thing in the world.
It’s not. Motoya knows it’s not.
Kiyoomi’s personal life is kept decidedly separate from volleyball, but not because it’s sacred. His siblings are nine and eleven years older than him. Future-oriented to a fault, his parents began picking up extra hours when the two were in elementary school, and they never really stopped. There was always a seat for Kiyoomi at the Komori family table, but he was on his own more than he should have been.
Growing up alone means growing up guarded. Growing up alone means growing up with privacy as the norm.
Kiyoomi giving his number to Atsumu is effectively him saying, “Here. Maybe I’m willing to sacrifice normalcy for you. Maybe I think you’re worth it.”
Atsumu reaches for Kiyoomi’s phone. His hand is swatted away with a floppy jacket sleeve.
“I don’t need your grimy hands on my phone. Just tell me your number, and I’ll add it to my contacts myself.”
Motoya watches this entire exchange mesmerized, jaw hanging low and stupid. As far as he’s concerned, there’s a small chance that whatever this is lasts a day, a minuscule chance it fizzles out in a week, and a microscopic chance it survives a month.
But to be fair to Kiyoomi, pursuing something—even something that’s doomed to end quickly—might be a nice change of pace from pursuing nothing at all.
Call it new scenery. Call it hope.
The rest of the training camp passes in a whirlwind, and Motoya lets himself be swept along by the updraft. Before he knows it, they’re walking out of the Ajinomoto National Training Center and boarding the train home.
As he leans into a sanitized handrail, he wants to ask, “Hey, Ki, what did you think of camp?”
He doesn’t, for numerous reasons. The first is that Kiyoomi has already perfected the lifeless stare of a middle-aged businessman, and inquiring anything of him right now seems awfully unprofessional. Then there’s also the fact that they’re sandwiched between people, and talking aloud in a packed train car is not pleasant, nor is it polite. The final, harshest reason is zipped in the hidden pocket of Kiyoomi’s black backpack: a cell phone containing strings of arbitrary digits.
One of these strings is Miya Atsumu’s phone number. It was added with Kiyoomi’s conscious volition.
Motoya looks out the window.
The untoward confession is brushed under the rug of a new term. Spring nationals loom. The hours in a given practice double, Motoya’s sleep halves, and his bruises multiply exponentially.
It isn’t long before the Itachiyama Academy Boys Volleyball Team is standing on an orange court, stretching their quads as they prepare to play again. And what a gift it is to play.
Motoya remembers—as he receives spike after stinging spike—that this is what life is about: volleyball. Life is about six people expending more effort than seems humanly possible to keep a ball made of leather and dreams from hitting the floor. Life is about consistency, and it’s about putting in the work.
They win their first match.
Their second is coming up shortly, but Motoya’s not jumping out of his skin. He trusts his abilities; the tens of plaques on his bedroom wall back up this faith. But more importantly, he trusts his teammates.
Motoya’s cousin is only a few meters away from him, cracking his freaky wrists methodically. Motoya’s best friend is only a few meters away from him, and he always will be, because their friendship is etched into their bones, predestined by something bigger than the both of them.
Kiyoomi looks over his shoulder and offers a smile. It’s slight enough to be waved off as a spasm of the mouth.
Motoya knows better. Motoya knows Kiyoomi. So he beams back.
They’ve won their first match, and they’re going to win this next one, too, and all of the rest that follow it. Because life is about volleyball, and Motoya is ready to fight tooth and nail to keep living.
Greed for victory does not guarantee victory itself. Neither does effort.
It’s not one person’s fault, really. It’s not because their captain gets injured, or because their tallest middle blocker gets too cocky during the second set. Volleyball is a team sport; they lose together. This time around, their individual components culminate to a weaker totality than that of the team across the net. That’s all there is to it.
There is no time for mourning, and there is no need for it either.
But even so, Motoya’s bottom lip still snags between his teeth when he thinks about how they were supposed to go further than this. The blood curdling below the tough skin of his knees is proof of that much. The nude tape wound around Kiyoomi’s overexerted wrist is proof of that much.
On the sideline, Itachiyama Academy Boys Volleyball Team washes down their what-ifs with swigs from lukewarm water bottles.
Motoya drinks leisurely, listlessly. Post-match serenity isn’t typical of him, but their loss mutilated the fabric of time. When he’s done sucking out the last drop of water from his second bottle, he lets it fall to the ground. It’d be more eventful if it rolled out onto that orange court or split apart at the seam, but it does neither. So Motoya tilts his chin up and stares at those brilliant, blooming lights. And he stares, and stares, and stares.
Next year, maybe, he thinks to himself, as his eyes marble red below the glare. Then he tears his gaze away from the ceiling, picks up his forgotten bottle, and follows his team out of the gym.
And this is how it ends.
Coach gives a rundown of the match to a team of plugged ears and unseeing eyes. After that, they don’t talk about their defeat. They don’t need to. It’s covered on national television. It resides in the laces of their shoes and the embroidery of their warm ups and the tears that stream down Iizuna’s face on the bus ride home.
They’re given two days off. It’s the same amount of time they were given last year, and the year before that, according to the third years. After this forty-eight-hour interlude of existing without organized volleyball, they return to the gym. Within ten minutes, they’re practicing—practicing like they still have a first-place championship title to defend, practicing with an unshakeable awareness that they’ve fallen.
Motoya wipes the back of his hand across a slick left cheek.
This next month of practice is going to be grueling, but it’s going to be what counts. Monotonous hours soaked in unmerited regret may be the only thing that can rebuild fallen champions. So Motoya runs faster than he did during nationals prep season, and he flashes a genuine smile when receiving wicked spikes, and he practices until stars litter the sky. He figures out how to wear positivity like an overcoat, and he goes from there.
They don’t have practice on Thursdays. Coach says it’s to provide time for their muscles to repair. Motoya says it’s because they aren’t trusted to not flunk out of school.
It is, conveniently, a Thursday, which means Motoya is resting his elbows on the kitchen table, pretending to do math. Kiyoomi is sitting across from him, dragging a pencil along his textbook as he reads. He’s been coming over for after-school study sessions since they were twelve.
Motoya is far from affiliating with gariben. He’s in school so he can participate in school sports (and so that his mother doesn’t disown him). If a pro volleyball match is on at six, he’ll shrug off his essay until seven. If his eight-year-old sister needs someone to quiz her on the times tables, his social studies can wait.
He isn’t like his cousin, who blocks out windows for homework, and then seals himself behind the glass until he finishes. Jotting down kanji and memorizing English grammar structures probably doesn't evoke joy in Kiyoomi, but the repetition of it all might. Repetition means routine. Routine means stability.
Problem thirty-eight has been judging Motoya from the page for the past four and a half minutes, so he commits to judging back. What’s the point of doing this work? When in the future is he ever going to use derivatives? Is the opposing team going to hurl a calculus textbook at him in the middle of a set?
Roping Kiyoomi into a conversation is a far better way to pass the time than engaging in a staring competition with fine print numbers. Based on past experience, getting Kiyoomi to skulk schoolwork is a lost cause unless Motoya proposes a particularly interesting question. He sifts through his repertoire for something of the like.
Kiyoomi doesn’t look up from his reading.
“Are you still talking to that Atsumu guy?”
(I dare you not to answer.)
If Kiyoomi were a cat, his ears would be twitching. “I am.”
The admission itself isn’t that surprising, per se, because Motoya knows his cousin hates leaving things half-finished. But it is surprising when put in context. It’s surprising that Kiyoomi's philosophy of completion is carrying over to a person. Has it ever carried over to a person before?
Motoya retrieves his projected probabilities from training camp. So the odds weren’t in his favor.
“Well, what do you guys talk about?” he asks, propping his chin in his hand.
Kiyoomi’s pencil continues to trace each line of text. “Everything. Nothing.”
“That’s very deep.”
“Shove it,” Kiyoomi mutters, rolling his eyes, but he sets down his pencil.
Other than a dry analysis of Inarizaki's loss to Karasuno at nationals, the subject of Miya Atsumu has been left largely untouched. But a month has passed since then, and Kiyoomi is miraculously still talking to Atsumu.
Motoya is ready to grill.
“Do you care to elaborate at all?” he asks, digging the pads of his fingertips into the slanted symbols on his page.
Kiyoomi speaks slowly. “You know how sometimes when you talk to someone, they seem very funny, but you can tell they’re probably stupid?”
Motoya is prepared to tell his cousin he should be less of a dick, but his resolve soon fragments.
Kiyoomi is biting the inside of his cheek.
Of course. Of course his cousin is being serious. Of course Kiyoomi considers this a real dilemma that warrants contemplation.
“Well, uhm, I guess I get that,” Motoya answers dumbly.
Grappling with Kiyoomi’s baffling bluntness is way more intriguing than feigning to understand trig functions. Motoya abandons his pretense of studying.
“You know,” he says, a lighthearted frown marring his face, “I don’t get why you don’t call Atsumu by his first name. He’s got a twin, after all.”
“He hasn't earned that yet,” Kiyoomi intones.
“Dude.” The chuckle isn’t supposed to escape, but it does. “It’s not like you guys are strangers!” Motoya continues through hiccupy breaths. “You talk to him!”
(“You only talk to him.”)
Kiyoomi waves his hand as if to physically dismiss the implication. “I talk to him, but I don’t know him.”
Sakusa Kiyoomi likes knowing things inside out. He likes reading the rules of a game before he plays, or googling the menu to a restaurant an hour before he sets foot in it. But getting to know a person takes much longer than familiarizing oneself with a paper manual or the non-alcoholic drink selection.
“I’ll call him Atsumu eventually,” Kiyoomi says, voice void of commitment. “But not yet.”
Bewilderment slams Motoya’s math textbook shut for him. “You literally just used his first name!”
“Sure, I did. But I’m with you.” That spasm of the lips, a half-formed expression of amusement. “You’re you, Motoya.”
March ushers in the third years’ graduation and the promise of cherry blossoms. Iizuna hugs Motoya like he’ll disappear, tight enough to dislodge his ribs and conjure moisture in his eyes. Kiyoomi watches politely, separate from their affection, but not distant.
“You two are going to do great this next year,” their former captain promises through a nose full of snot. “I mean, the whole team will, but you guys especially.” He wipes the back of his hand across his splotchy face, sentimental. “It’s been good to see the cousins grow up.”
That evening, Motoya and Kiyoomi recline on the couch and pop Poifull. (It is probably ironic that they choose to snack on kiddy sweets hours after their upperclassmen were thrust into the adult world.)
“How did Iizuna graduate and leave us behind?” Motoya plucks a jelly bean from the curve of his palm. (Kiyoomi had berated him about the sanitary hazards of his makeshift cup, even after he washed his hands.) “What do we do without him?”
Kiyoomi bites a jelly bean in half. Weirdo. “You make it seem like he died or something.”
Laughter bubbles in Motoya’s stomach. “I’m going to miss him a lot, that’s all. He was our captain! And an awesome setter.”
“The shock factor wasn’t exactly there,” Kiyoomi says, flattening Motoya’s effervescence like warm soda. “Iizuna’s no longer with us. None of the third years are.”
“Oi!” Motoya huffs, jabbing an accusatory finger and consequently dropping a few of his jelly beans. “You come at me for talking like Iizuna passed away, and then you have the nerve to turn around and say stuff like ‘He’s no longer with us’?”
Kiyoomi neatly parries his question. “All I’m saying is that Iizuna-san isn’t the only setter out there, let alone on our team. Suzuki-kun will step up.”
First-year setter Suzuki Kaito isn’t a genius, but he is dedicated. They won’t need an elixir or a brocaded amulet to get the gears of their new team turning. All they’ll need is effort, and that’s the same thing they've always provided.
Maybe his heart is still pulpy from Iizuna’s hug, or maybe it’s sugar messing with his brain, but something about Kiyoomi’s mechanical answer rubs Motoya the wrong way. So he leans into immaturity. “Oooh, there sure are other setters out there, aren’t there?” he croons, dulcet enough to put the jelly beans to shame. “How’s yours doing?”
Kiyoomi blinks. “Do you mean Atsumu? He’s not mine, but he’s been fine.” He severs another jelly bean with his incisors. “I suppose his captain is graduating, too.”
Three months have passed since the All-Japan Youth Training Camp. Three months have passed, and Kiyoomi has finally exchanged “Miya” for “Atsumu.” Motoya stares.
“Is something wrong?” Kiyoomi’s mouth twitches.
The creeping smile makes Motoya feel slimy all over. “No, no, nothing’s wrong!” he insists. Positivity is an overcoat. He slips it on. “That’s good.”
March ushers in the third years’ graduation and the promise of cherry blossoms. It ushers in the use of Miya Atsumu’s first name, too.
They’re bumping a volleyball back and forth in Motoya’s front yard when Kiyoomi announces it.
“I’m hanging out with Atsumu on Saturday.”
Kiyoomi's pass is neither sloppy nor clean.
Muscle memory manages to brace Motoya’s legs and thrust his arms out. The receive is shaky, but he gets it up in the air. “What?”
Kiyoomi catches the ball, terminating the last of its flagging momentum. “I’m hanging out with Atsumu on Saturday,” he repeats, thumbing a stitch where navy blue meets gold.
There’s got to be information Motoya’s not privy with, some detail that’s being withheld from him. “But Atsumu lives, like, three hours away.”
“He’s coming up to visit.”
It’s weird—this thing that’s going on between his cousin and Atsumu. Aside from both being jerks and volleyball idiots, they don’t seem to share very many traits. Kiyoomi is quiet, prudent, and neat beyond comparison. Atsumu is loud, rash, and messy. (Motoya has no clue what Atsumu’s bedroom looks like, but he knows it’s messy.)
Kiyoomi rarely brings up Atsumu, so it’s easy to forget that they’re connected. But every once in a while he’ll say something—“Atsumu’s allergic to papayas” when Motoya’s mom appoints them to grocery shopping duty, and they’re stalking the produce section; or “Atsumu said that one was interesting” when they’re perusing the movie catalog—and Motoya will remember. He’ll remember that, for the past eight months and change, his cousin has been texting a boy who lives 500 kilometers away.
But texting someone is one thing. Meeting them in person is another. Motoya is no expert on shinkansen ticket prices, but he is acutely aware that the average income of a high school athlete is a whopping zero.
The curiosity swallows him whole.
How long did Atsumu spend caching away crumpled bills to pay for his seat? Did his parents lend him money? Did he already have some special rail pass? At what point over the past eight months did he decide: “I’m so charmed that a phone call just won’t cut it anymore”? Was it a decision or a necessity?
Kiyoomi’s current… whatever with Atsumu is still in its embryonic stage, sure, and it’s more than a bit eccentric, yes, but it’s real. Kiyoomi’s gaining first-hand experience in something that could evolve into a real romance. Motoya’s romance knowledge, on the other hand, is derived from poorly-dubbed American rom coms and the diluted displays of affection between his parents before they split. And that’s about it.
What is it like to care that much about another person?
“Saturday’s only four days away,” Motoya says, once his thoughts stop careening. “Are you excited to see him?”
Kiyoomi sets the ball. During the second it’s suspended in the air, he gives a tiny nod. “I am, I think.”
The smack of leather against Motoya’s forearms is grounding. This is life. “That’s good.”
His cousin’s receive is smooth enough to give Motoya a run for his money. “It is, isn’t it?”
“How’s your throat been?
“I’m not sick, Motoya.”
“You have an itinerary, though, right?”
“He wanted to be in charge. Says he ‘knows places.’ Whatever that means.”
“What are you going to wear?”
“The same thing I always do.” Kiyoomi gives an impressively incandescent cock of the head. “All of your probing makes me wonder which one of us is actually going out.”
Motoya’s shoulders raise to his ears sheepishly. “Sorry. It’s just, you know. Yeah,” he finishes, clumsy.
“It’s nice” is what he’s really thinking. Seeing his cousin peel back a once immovable layer of his defenses is nice, and it makes exhilaration come alive in his gut.
The excitement is natural, he reasons. They’re cousins, best friends. They’ve played volleyball together for years, through the growth spurts and the voice cracks and the grim three months Kiyoomi flat-ironed his curls. Vicarious emotions are a given when you’ve grown up orbiting another person.
“I know it’s odd—that we’re hanging out, that he set aside the time and the money to come up and visit, that it’s him of all people. I know all of that.” Kiyoomi’s words shimmer in the air, blue-black like fear. He inhales, exhales. Once, twice. “But I’m okay. I’ve thought this through.”
Motoya takes one look at Kiyoomi’s determination—spread thick over his unease like paint in impasto—and resists the urge to ask: When did you change? He forces on a grin. “Well, I sure hope you have, considering he’s going to be here in less than an hour.”
Less than an hour melds into less than thirty minutes, and then into less than fifteen. Kiyoomi apologizes for the intrusion and departs for the train station.
Motoya shoots him a wink as he shuts the front door. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Yeah, see you.”
The standard prescription for killing time is volleyball. Motoya spends two hours wrenching his little sister away from her Pretty Cure dolls, and another hour listening to her lament the lack of glitter and magical girl transformations in bumping a ball to her brother.
“You’re not half-bad at volleyball, Aoi,” Motoya remarks, noting his sister’s receiving stance. “I was about your age when I started playing. You should consider it.”
(Aoi is one of those people who’s naturally skilled at sports. During her first week of preschool, she proclaimed that she was the star of PE class.)
The ball rebounds off of Aoi’s arms gracefully. She responds, “Did you know that a pink butterfly appears on Nozomi’s dress when she transforms into Cure Dream?”
Sticky with sweat, they head back inside. As Motoya fills two glasses with ice, Aoi informs him he has to watch her show now because they spent the three hours playing volleyball.
“What?” The ice cubes crackle as the mugicha hits them. “It was only one hour of volleyball, and the other two hours was me trying to get you away from your dolls!”
“Yeah, but it was still three hours of you trying to get me to do what you wanted,” Aoi shoots back, narrowing her eyes. The physical similarities between cousins are often slight, but she’s nailing Kiyoomi’s scowl right now.
In the kitchen, their mother is preparing dinner. It smells like vegetable stir fry. “You can’t argue with that logic, Motoya,” she says.
And she’s right. Motoya can’t convince his little sister—not when her perception of the world is still so black and white, not when she has yet to grasp the hours they spent practicing were a gift that shouldn’t demand reimbursement. To Aoi, volleyball is just an activity, no different from reading a book, or drawing a picture, or reciting the entirety of the Yes! Pretty Cure 5 movie. To Aoi, it’s time for Motoya to pay up.
“Fine, fine, I’ll watch your show. But we have to shower first.” In response to the droop in Aoi’s shoulders, Motoya adds, in a softer voice, “Kiyoomi’s coming over tonight. He won’t want to use the couch if we sat on it when we were all sweaty and gross.”
Aoi seems to consider this, fumbling with the strawberry barrette in her matted hair. “I guess you’re right,” she says after a minute of her twiddling. “I don’t want him to be sad.”
“Let’s go get washed up then.”
Motoya’s mother smiles approvingly over her wok. “Drink your mugicha first.”
Showers and dinner end up eating into their TV-watching time, which Motoya surreptitiously revels in. It’s seven PM when Aoi finally shoves her disc of choice into the DVD player.
“What are we watching?” Motoya has a sneaking suspicion of what tonight’s viewing pleasure will be, but there is a small, small chance he's wrong.
“You know what we’re watching,” Aoi answers ominously, just as a girl with outrageously fuschia hair and a dress adorned with butterflies appears on the screen.
Motoya tucks himself into the corner of the couch. Aoi plops on the floor in front of his feet. After maybe three minutes of exceptional silence, his sister spins around on her bottom and kicks his shin.
Aoi’s blows are weak at best, but Motoya still makes a show of wincing. “Ow! What was that for?”
“Needed to get your attention! Now can you put my hair up?” His sister is holding out two clear hair ties. They’re the cheap ones from the convenience store, the kind that snap in Motoya’s fingers if he stretches them a millimeter too far.
“You could have just said something to get my attention instead of resorting to violence,” he remarks, but he’s already grabbing the elastics from Aoi’s hand. “Is there a reason you want to get all dolled up? The only place we’re going to later is bed.”
“No, no reason.” His sister gives a toothy grin. “Just like it.”
Aoi does not put any of her avid viewing antics on pause. She oohs and aahs her head to the side, crooking the middle part Motoya creates with the tip of his pinkie. She screams character catchphrases at the top of her lungs. She flails her arms, knocking the hair ties out of Motoya’s hands. But by the end of the episode, her hair is in two half-braided pigtails. They’re not flawless, but they’ll do for tonight.
Motoya lets out a weighty sigh, closing his eyes. Withered pain blossoms in his shin. “Aoi, I thought we said no more kicking!” He looks down at his sister.
She’s brandishing two barrettes he swears were not in her hand a minute ago.
“You have to put these in, too, or else my hair isn’t done,” she declares.
Motoya clicks open the first barrette, shaking his head. “Gosh. You’re so right.”
They make it through five episodes, each one approximately twenty-four minutes long. That’s 120 minutes in total. 120 minutes of listening to the high-pitch squeaks that are an excuse for the casts’ voices. 120 minutes of listening to Aoi’s eight-year-old shrieking.
“Aoi, honey, it’s bedtime,” their mother chirps from the end of the hallway. She’s dressed in a nightgown, a hand on her hip and a halo of impatience around her head.
“Aww, but Mom, it’s summer!”
“And it’s also nine PM.” Komori Mayumi is a kind woman, but she isn’t easily defied. “You know you have to get lots of sleep if you want to grow nice and tall like your big brother.” She directs a discreet wink at Motoya.
A lightbulb seems to flicker above Aoi’s braids. “Okay, okay.” She turns to Motoya. “I guess I gotta go now. I’ll leave this on for you, though,” she says, nodding to the rainbow eyesore on the TV and affectionately patting the DVD case of DokiDoki! Pretty Cure: Volume 1. Her eyes are wide and serious.
“I appreciate that,” Motoya giggles, squishing her cheeks. “Now go brush your teeth, you goof!”
Aoi scurries to the restroom, stomping with each step.
His mother leans her shoulder against the wall. “Doing so much housework on my day off was draining, Motoya, so I’m going to bed within the next hour. I trust you can let Ki-kun in yourself?”
Now that she’s mentioned it, his mother does look tired. There are circles of discoloration below her eyes, striking against her pale complexion, like ink smudged on printer paper.
It’s interesting how there are some things you only notice after they’re pointed out. Were they really always there? Or do some things only exist once you acknowledge them?
Motoya nods. “That’s fine. Good night, Mom.”
He doesn’t intend to leave DokiDoki! Pretty Cure on, but there’s an autoplay function he doesn’t know how to disable, and the remote control seems keen on playing hide-and-seek. It blurs into white noise after an hour of lonesome watching, anyway.
The moon and stars arrive before his cousin does. At half past ten, Motoya has done all of the stretches in his mental inventory. At a quarter to eleven, he’s broken out the potato chips. Melting into the couch is the next logical progression in the sequence.
He doesn’t hear the front door unlock. He doesn’t hear Kiyoomi slip off his shoes, and he doesn’t hear the click of the kitchen trash can closing when Kiyoomi disposes of his mask. The first thing he does hear is a derisive laugh.
“How long have you been watching this?”
“For the past five hours, maybe,” Motoya answers reflexively. He bolts upright. “Woah, Ki, you’re back! And it’s only...” He wills his jaded brain to remember how to read the analog clock on the wall. “... 11:54 PM.” Trying to keep his voice even feels a lot like trying to draw a straight line while in a moving vehicle. “You’re really pushing curfew. I take it you had fun?”
“Hm.” His cousin raises his brow. “Probably not as much as you had while frying your brain to HeartCatch Pretty Cure.”
“It’s actually DokiDoki! Pretty Cure, but nice try,” Motoya snickers. “Now, have a seat, dude! I feel small talking to you when you’re standing up.”
Kiyoomi takes his time sitting down on the opposite end of the couch.
Motoya scarfs down a handful of pizza-flavored potato chips. “How was it?”
His cousin lours. “He’s an idiot. As I suspected.”
“That sucks.” There’s no need for half-baked shock or sympathy. Kiyoomi wouldn’t appreciate it, and besides: Atsumu’s decision to keep his piss-colored hair for the past two years doesn’t really indicate stellar intelligence.
“But he’s a good kisser.”
“That’s good,” Motoya nods, and then the chip he’s munching on is slipping down the wrong pipe. Through his choking fit, he manages to cough out, “Wait, what the fuck?”
“If he was a bad kisser, I wouldn’t hang out with him again,” Kiyoomi says, pragmatic. “But he wasn’t.”
Motoya is no longer itching for the Heimlich, but words are still caught in his throat. This is Kiyoomi. Kiyoomi, who ages thirty years each time he uses public transportation. Kiyoomi, who insists on fistbumps instead of high fives at practice. Kiyoomi, who spends thirty minutes each night lint rolling away invisible enemies from his sheets.
“Since when do you kiss people?”
“Since tonight, I guess.” Nonchalance is a facade Kiyoomi has perfected over the years, but his emotions are brought into relief by the pink staining his cheeks.
They pretend to watch TV for the next five minutes. There is no silence, what with the backtrack of reedy shoujo shrills, but if there were one, Motoya reckons it’d be pregnant. Like nine months, baby-carriage-in-tow pregnant.
Eventually, Kiyoomi nods toward the chips nuzzling Motoya’s left hip. “Do you have another bag of those?”
The chip Motoya throws hits his cousin square in the forehead.
After relishing his good aim, Motoya extracts himself from the couch. Questions about Kiyoomi’s night plague him as he rustles through the pantry for another black and red bag. They cross his mind without looking either way as he pours the Calbee Pizza Potato Chips into a bowl.
The solutions to questions are answers, and Motoya is determined to obtain them.
“So.” He sets the bowl of chips down in front of his cousin. “Why did you kiss him?”
Not the most tactful approach, but Kiyoomi has never been one for delicacy.
There are some instances when Motoya thinks it’d be sick to be a cartoon character. Like right now, for example, so that the question marks scampering around his mind could be projected above his head in bold font. “Ki. Dude. You already told me you kissed him. You can’t take it back now.”
Kiyoomi reaches for a chip. “I said he was a good kisser. I didn’t say I kissed him.”
“Oh my god, you are such a smartass!” Motoya tries to scoff, but the indignance is muted, like sunlight trying to shine through the paper doors of the tatami room. “Fine. Why did he kiss you?”
“I don’t know.” Kiyoomi shrugs. “It just happened.”
“No, no, it didn’t," Motoya interjects, and now he's wagging his pointer finger like he's preparing to lecture his little sister. “Rain just happens. What my mom cooks for dinner just happens. The convenience store being out of corn dogs just happens! Shit like kissing doesn’t ‘just happen.’”
“I understand that you’re searching for a grand reason why he kissed me, but there wasn’t one.”
“You know, I think I need the full picture.” Motoya wiggles onto his knees and just barely crowds into his cousin’s personal space bubble. “Walk me through it from the beginning.”
Kiyoomi bristles but obliges. “Fine. I met him outside the station. We went to Shouwa Park in Tachikawa. We biked there for three hours, and he pointed out a lot of flowers.”
“Flowers?” Motoya isn’t one to judge peoples’ hobbies, but he wouldn’t have pegged Atsumu as the type to spend very long in the garden.
“His mom worked at a flower shop in university, remember?”
Why would you ever expect me to remember that?
“I don’t think we were allowed to pick them,” Kiyoomi continues, “but he took a few anyway.”
“So you’re saying you went on a date with a delinquent?”
“I’m saying I hung out with a wannabe delinquent who happens to like flora.” Motoya chuckles, and Kiyoomi’s mouth twitches the slightest. “The flowers were pretty, though. I’m lucky I took my meds.”
Despite the many safety precautions Kiyoomi takes, the only thing he’s allergic to is pollen. If he stands in ankle-high grass or touches his face after dragging a hand through it, his eyes water like the falls, and the scratch of his throat rivals sandpaper. Since they were little, Motoya remembers his cousin pressing a white pill to his tongue before they ran outside in the fields.
It is a euphemism to say that Kiyoomi dislikes flowers.
Kiyoomi dislikes flowers, but he called them pretty. Kiyoomi dislikes flowers, but he spent three hours looking at them with Miya Atsumu. Kiyoomi dislikes flowers, but he’s dangling a sealable plastic bag containing one.
“He said I should keep it.”
The blossom is crinkled beyond comparison, but its importance is evident. There is none of that disgust reserved for when Kiyoomi holds onigiri wrappers or used masks or confession letters.
“That’s... kinda sweet,” Motoya stutters, because it is. “Where’d you guys go after the park?”
“Out to dinner. Street food. I thought it was good, but he said his brother could make something better. And then we walked.”
Motoya holds a splayed hand out. “Pause. You’re telling me all you did after dinner was walk?”
“But then you must have walked for like...” Motoya counts on his fingers. “... Four hours then!”
“We chatted too,” Kiyoomi says, crossing his arms impassively. “There was a lot to catch up on. Phone calls aren’t quite the same as talking in person. You know how it is.”
Yeah, sure, Motoya knows how it is. But his understanding of “how it is” is based on his few visits to Shizuoka to see his grandmother, and he has a feeling that those are maybe just the tiniest bit different from visiting a boyfriend.
Boyfriend. Boyfriend. If Motoya had been told twelve months ago that he’d be associating the word “boyfriend” with Kiyoomi, he might have passed out from guffawing too hard. But he’s twelve months older than before, and things don’t always go the way you expect them to.
The reality is this: Kiyoomi is talking to a boy, and that boy is talking to Kiyoomi, and after eight months of their talking, the boy blew his money to visit Kiyoomi in Tokyo.
“You didn’t mention where the kissing part comes in,” Motoya points out.
Kiyoomi blinks. “I assumed you were following the development of the evening well enough to infer.”
Motoya's burn. “Right.” His hands itch to be occupied, but his bag of chips is now crushed crumbs. “Sorry.”
“I don’t mind," Kiyoomi ensures, in that blasé way of his. “It’s good to talk about it, actually.” He takes a chip from his bowl, and—peculiar as ever—pinches it between his middle and pointer finger like it's a cigarette. “It helps me remember that today was real. That he’s real.”
Motoya remembers the first date Kiyoomi went on. They were barely high schoolers.
The boy was a swimmer—long and lean and too smarmy for his own good, even if his team did have the prefecture record for the freestyle relay. He walked through the school like he was wading in the pool, with deliberate strides that parted the sea of students. But he wasn’t an overt douchebag, and he seemed nice enough when he'd nod his head at Kiyoomi in the mornings.
Eight PM. Streetlamps illuminated. Motoya and Kiyoomi were zipping up their jackets, ready to leave campus.
The boy swam out of the shadow. “There’s something I want to ask you, Sakusa-kun,” he said. “Or, something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while now.”
It was a cue for Motoya to make himself scarce. He grinned—starry-eyed and stupid—and promised to wait for Kiyoomi at the train station.
No more than five minutes later, his cousin appeared. Faltering feet. A knobbly hand grasped too tight around the strap of a school bag. And then: “I have a date on Saturday.”
To this day, Motoya doesn’t think Kiyoomi meant to say yes. His cousin isn’t a doormat. He’s stubborn and he’s blunt and he spikes the ball with little concern about who will be there to receive it, if anyone. (Motoya is there. He’s always been there.)
But on that night, maybe the inborn urge to accept overwhelmed the cultivated urge to deny. Or maybe Kiyoomi got nervous when he was confronted, so nervous that the only words he could wheeze out were, “Sure, I’ll go.”
The swimmer floated in with the breeze of Saturday night, and Kiyoomi left with the two of them.
Snooping would have been embarrassingly juvenile, so Motoya helped his mother cook dinner, and he watched a movie with Aoi, and he didn’t put off his algebra for once.
At nine PM, the doorbell rang. Motoya was seated at the kitchen table, watching an interview with the Japanese National Team’s libero. He paused his video to unlock the door. “Hey, K—”
Something was wrong.
“Hi, Motoya.” Kiyoomi's ever-fluffy hair was sagging. The glint in his obsidian eyes had drowned.
“You okay?” Motoya asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
His cousin replied, “Can I sleep here?”
“Uh, sure. Of course, man.” Motoya scooted to the side to allow Kiyoomi in, and then he smiled. “Bet your mom already texted mine anyways.”
“How was it?”
“It was fine.”
“How was the food?”
They no longer slept side by side, packed like sardines. The meter between their futons was a familiar obstacle to vault.
Motoya shimmied onto his side. His left shoulder was wearing a hole through the cushioning, but was closer to his cousin like this. “How are you, Ki? If you say ‘fine,’ I’ll pull off your sheets.”
Kiyoomi tucked his covers under his chin protectively. “I feel gross.”
“But you showered.” A statement more than a question, three words uttered only to span the impending silence.
“He touched me.”
Haphephobia (noun): The fear of touch. An anxiety disorder that can devastate interpersonal relationships—romantic or non-romantic. Often associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Effective treatment available.
Motoya googled it once. He spent hours pouring over pages, combing through websites with sapped eyes to try and understand why Kiyoomi was the way he was. He read research articles and personal experiences and self-help sites, but the concept was still difficult to grasp.
“After dinner, before I’d put on my mask, he cupped my cheek and leaned in like he was going to kiss me. So I told him to stop. And he did.” Kiyoomi’s mouth twisted. “But the feeling of his hand sliding against my face when he was pulling back made my skin crawl, so I said ‘stop’ again.” An incomprehensible mutter. “Or maybe I shouted it.”
“And then what?” Motoya prompted, because Kiyoomi was retreating into himself by the second.
“And then he called me a ‘fucking psycho,’ and I walked home.”
Motoya was, by nature, a touchy person. He was the teammate who gave high-fives like they were going out of style, the big brother who’d piggyback his sister in a heartbeat. He thought about all the times he’d accidentally brushed up against Kiyoomi, and then he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to be. I’m not.” The full moon cast a blade of bright light across Kiyoomi’s face. “That’s just how it goes for me.”
“That’s, that’s shitty though!”
Kiyoomi did not move. “Maybe.” After another minute: “But that doesn’t make it false.”
Motoya wanted to reach out and pat his cousin’s shoulder. He wiggled against his futon instead. “He just wasn’t the right guy for you, Ki. That’s why you pulled away.”
Rustling blankets beside Motoya indicated a shrug. “I think I’ll pull away from anyone who tries to kiss me.”
The room was steeped in spring.
“You know, Ki, I guarantee it’ll be different when you really, really like the person.”
“How can you know that?”
Guarantees were foolish things, so hope was all Motoya had to brave the world, and the wings of that were too frail to build futures upon.
“I just know,” he told Kiyoomi, even as the feathers were falling off into his hands. Then he scrambled up from his futon toward the doorway. “Now, there’s no way I’m falling asleep any time soon! Let’s go into the living room, put on that shitty new thriller that came out last week, and then stay up to watch the sunrise! You’ll forget about all of this by morning.”
They watched a Gundam rerun. They fell asleep at eleven.
Motoya doesn’t know if Kiyoomi forgot.
August passes. Practices pick up as prep for interhigh qualifiers begins. Motoya half expects to fall into some sort of a power trip now that he’s a third-year, but he’s too focused on not failing math to exploit his seniority.
Atsumu, understandably, doesn’t come up to visit again. He remains hundreds of kilometers away, and yet he still manages to be the center of attention on more than one occasion. Motoya will give it to him: that’s talent.
A Thursday night in October is one example. It is a run-of-the-mill, half-hearted study session on Motoya’s part, but this time Kiyoomi is distracted, too. He’s been turning an uneven rectangle over in his hands for the last fifteen minutes.
“What’s that?” Upon craning his neck, Motoya discerns it’s a card—granted, it’s made out of what looks like cheap origami paper. “Omi-kun” is scrawled across the front of it. The handwriting is loopy and warped, as though reflected in a funhouse mirror.
“Atsumu mailed it,” Kiyoomi says, shrugging. “It got here last night.”
“Handmade, I assume?”
His cousin turns the card over again, displaying the crude flowers drawn on the front. “Clearly.”
Motoya thinks about Atsumu’s mother, who worked in a flower shop during college. He ponders whether artistic ability is hereditary, then says, “You know, Aoi has better handwriting than that.” His little sister is sitting at the kotatsu in the other room, copying kanji with jouncing strokes. “If Atsumu couldn’t even write your name nicely, I can’t imagine how illegible the message inside is.”
“It’s a poem.”
“Well, then it’s chicken scratch in prose!” Mischief dances alongside the gunmetal blue of Motoya’s irises. “Do I, by any chance, get to hear it?”
“No,” Kiyoomi says flatly, and he’s now attempting to smooth out the most noticeable crease in the card, laying it on the table and dragging the heel of his palm across it.
“Aw, is it just too romantic and personal?”
Kiyoomi levels a stern stare at him. “No, it’s shit.”
And then they’re both chuckling, and Aoi is yapping from the tatami room for them to quiet down, and it is so, so good. There’s no need for an overcoat when the positivity is glazing Motoya’s skin. He glances over at his cousin.
Kiyoomi doesn’t laugh much. His physical expressions of amusement tend to be limited to that ephemeral spasm of the lips and a raised eyebrow. But right now, the dimple in his left cheek is making a rare appearance.
It’s wonderful that there is someone who can make Kiyoomi this happy without even being in the room. And it’s odd, too.
Motoya thinks that maybe both of these ideas can coexist.
Nationals come into view on the horizon. Motoya’s math grade hangs by a thread. Bruises flower on his forearms, taunting him to invest in sleeves. But even as he presses a bag of melted ice cubes to lavender swells, electricity crackles below his skin. Contusions are proof of his devotion to the sport, a mere byproduct of his love.
He wants to keep living. He wants to keep playing volleyball.
“Atsumu and I are going to Disneyland.”
It’s been almost a year since Atsumu asked for Kiyoomi’s number at the All-Japan Youth Training camp. It’s been almost four months since Atsumu came up to visit on a simmering summer afternoon.
Four months isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things. But four months is a long time to love someone when you’re young. Motoya doesn’t know much, but he’s sure of that.
“Cool,” he nods. “When?”
“Two weeks from now.” Kiyoomi pauses. “The place is really pretty at this time of year.”
Glittering tinsel, colorful lights, and dozens of Christmas trees inspire magical evenings at Tokyo Disneyland during the holiday season. It’s a popular date spot, which Motoya knows from the plethora of couples’ posts in his Instagram feed around this time of year.
“How do you feel about going?” he asks.
“Uncomfortable,” Kiyoomi admits. “But comfortable because I’ll be with someone I know.”
In eleven months, Atsumu has become associated with comfort. Atsumu, who’s obnoxious while pretending to be suave and deferential. Atsumu, who has the handwriting of an elementary schooler.
Is this how love goes? Does it really happen this fast?
“Well, I hope you have a better time than when we went together,” Motoya snorts. “Guess that was Disney Sea, though.”
They were thirteen when they went to Tokyo Disney Sea. It was a summer excursion that Motoya’s mother insisted her nephew accompany them on.
“So you’ll have a friend who's tall enough to go on the big rides with you, Motoya,” she had said, then patted a young Aoi’s head. “And one who doesn’t have to take a bathroom break every three minutes.”
The atmosphere was probably worse than the rides themselves. There was too much standing in line, and the sun felt close enough to steal out of the sky. At lunch, Kiyoomi prodded his Mickey Mouse-shaped burger with the dingy plastic spoon from his milkshake. He refused to eat either. He didn’t vomit on himself though—despite his many complaints about his curling stomach—which Motoya deems as a small mercy.
Their short evening concluded with Motoya’s favorite ride: Aquatopia, the water bumper cars. The train ride home was one of damp trousers and chattering teeth.
“I don’t think I like amusement parks,” Kiyoomi said that night, once they were lying on their futons.
“I know,” Motoya responded, snuggling into his sheets.
Kiyoomi said that it’d be comfortable going to Tokyo Disneyland because he’d be with Atsumu, who is someone he knows. Kiyoomi also said he wasn’t comfortable when he went to Tokyo Disney Sea with Motoya three years ago. Motoya blinks, and then he makes a decision: he will not connect the dots, and he will not think about the constellations they form.
“Christmas is a couples’ occasion,” he remarks. “Are you finally going to start calling Atsumu your boyfriend now?”
Kiyoomi wrinkles his nose. “No, thank you.”
Fifteen days later, his cousin comes home with a camera roll full of snapshots from the Christmas parade and Miya Atsumu’s frightful grin.
“Was it fun?” Motoya asks.
“It was comfortable,” Kiyoomi says.
Comfort is better than fun; it’s harder to come by, and it’s necessary.
Motoya smiles, sadly.
They’re in the tatami room of the Komori house, doing last-minute packing for their final All-Japan Youth Training Camp. (Kiyoomi arrived at an outrageously early five AM, bookended by a duffle bag Motoya knows was packed nights ago.)
Motoya sits down on top of his duffle, trying to compress his clothing so the zipper doesn’t bust when he closes it. It’s his third year at camp, and by this point, he knows he only needs one sweatshirt to survive the draft of the dorms, but it’s oh-so-tempting to pack two or three or ten, just to be safe. Call it Kiyoomi’s fanatic preparedness rubbing off on him.
“Are you excited to see Atsumu again?” he grunts, trying to force all of his weight into his bottom.
Kiyoomi is sorting through his compartmentalized bag for the sixth time. “It’s only been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen him, so I’m not particularly anxious.”
The duffle bag beneath Motoya finally sighs in relief, and he clambers off of it to zip it shut. “Sometimes, I wish I could record our conversations and play them back for you, just so that you could hear how weird you sound, dude.”
“I don’t think hearing my own words would convince me that I sound weird, Motoya.”
“Probably not, but I’d give commentary as we listened back, you know? Then you’d understand.”
Kiyoomi’s mouth tugs up at the corner. “We should go eat the breakfast your mom made. It’ll be nice to have something homemade before we leave.”
“Yeah, and my mom would be pissed if she got up early to cook food, and we let it go cold,” Motoya adds.
How can walking into a gym you’re already familiar with still feel like a revelation?
“Again with the dramatics,” Kiyoomi mutters, but he nods in thanks when Motoya holds the door open for him. “We’ll warm up, and you’ll feel normal again.”
His cousin is right.
They warm up. They play volleyball. They cool down. They eat.
They repeat the process twice.
It’s sublime to compete against such talented players without having to worry about upholding or wrenching a national title. Motoya isn’t off the hook to stop giving his all, though. During the last set of his third practice match, Kiyoomi aims a particularly sticky spike at him. The planes of Motoya’s chest kiss the floor as he dives to dig it, but when the ball goes back up in the air, it’s clean. They win the match, and Motoya feels like a star.
Water breaks breed graceless small talk like mosquitoes.
“I’ll give it to ya, Komori: that last dig out there was pretty badass. Ya didn’t even have to roll to get it, which I kinda expected ya to do.”
There aren’t many perks awarded for being Kiyoomi’s extended family. Motoya discovered this within five minutes of being assigned to the same team as Atsumu. The backhanded compliment is the first real acknowledgement the setter has given him.
“Uh, thanks, Atsumu. Your sets were good, too.”
“Course they were,” Atsumu responds. He begins to fan himself with his shirt, pulling the collar so far out it looks like he’s trying to tear it off.
In a battle between periodic water breaks and the honeyed heat from playing two matches in a row, it’s the heat that prevails. But there is absolutely zero need, Motoya reasons, for Atsumu to stretch out good dri-fit like that. He cringes distastefully.
Kiyoomi is playing on the opposite team. He watches Atsumu from afar. Atsumu watches back.
For the past five hours, the two of have been embroiled in… something. A tussle for top dog, maybe? Whatever it is, just standing next to one of them makes Motoya feel like he’s eavesdropping on a phone call, or peeking through a peephole, or doing something else objectively immoral.
Is it normal to feel like this? Motoya swishes a cap of water in his mouth. No, is it normal for couples to act like that in the first place?
The only people close enough to ask are Kageyama Tobio, who is retying his shoelaces, and Hoshiumi Kourai, who is bouncing in place for no reason other than to stoke the flames of his infinite energy. Neither of them seems to be aware of the staring contest spanning the court, so Motoya doesn’t voice his question.
Atsumu is still trying to shorten the lifespan of his t-shirt, but his fanning is slower now. He looks hopelessly, freakishly smug. (Motoya has the inexplicable urge to kick him but refrains.) Across the gym, Kiyoomi brushes his curls out of the way to reveal narrowed eyes. It’s a challenge.
“Atsumu likes a challenge,” Motoya recalls his cousin saying once.
Grinning deliriously, Atsumu lifts the hem of his shirt, exposing tan, washboard abs. He’s shameless and deliberate as he dabs each bead of sweat on his hairline. It takes all but ten seconds, and it’s probably the worst thing that’s happened to Motoya this entire year.
The flowchart of Motoya's thoughts goes like this: “What the hell was that?” followed by, “Why do I have to be alive right now, ” followed by, “You know what? Atsumu does deserve that kick.”
Resolution as close to unflinching as it’ll get, he rears his foot back to deliver a decisive blow to Atsumu’s leg.
“You know,” a voice calls, startling Motoya and freezing him in place, “even if you kick him, it probably won’t make much of a difference.” Hoshiumi Kourai is watching him, eyes impossibly wide. He has taken a break from his bouncing. “The guy’s in la-la land right now.”
Motoya and Hoshiumi were at training camp together last year, and maybe even the year before that, but they haven’t exactly emerged from the woods of obligatory How are you’s. It’s only a little bit mortifying that their first non-volleyball-related interaction revolves around Motoya’s cousin getting thirst trapped.
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re probably right, Hoshiumi-kun,” Motoya says, kneading the back of his neck sheepishly. He lowers his foot. “Thanks for cooling me down.”
Hoshiumi’s nod is jagged, like a bird jerking its head. “NO PROBLEM! AND YOU CAN CALL ME KOURAI!”
Ah, there’s that infinite energy making itself known again.
“Uh, okay. Thanks, Kourai! You can call me Motoya, then, if you want.”
“SURE THING, MOTOYA!” Kourai bellows. Then he leans in and lowers his voice to a whisper. “But also, even if I am right, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kick Atsumu.”
“Yeah, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing to do,” Motoya answers, digging the toe of his shoe into the floor. “You said it yourself: it won’t change anything.”
“All the more reason to do it, then!”
“But what if a coach saw?”
“Nah, they’re all busy right now!” Kourai assures, and now he’s shifting his weight between his feet at the speed of light. “Besides: good, bad, right, wrong—it all mixes together in the end. You just gotta do things that make you happy, Motoya.”
Kourai’s earnestness is reassuring like a folding umbrella in your bag during the rainy season.
Is kicking his cousin’s boyfriend a surefire way to evoke happiness? Motoya does not know, but after one final nod from Kourai, he’s connecting the sole of his shoe with the back of Miya Atsumu’s knee. The setter stumbles out of his pompous posture and very narrowly avoids eating shit. He’s too busy spluttering at Kiyoomi—who is now smiling devilishly—to notice Motoya tip-toeing away from him and toward a whooping Kourai.
“Thanks for the encouragement,” Motoya tells his eager enabler. “You’re pretty cool.”
“NO PROBLEM!” Kourai responds, shoving out a thumbs-up to Motoya. “And thanks! I get that a lot.”
“OF COURSE! Have you seen how high I can jump?”
Motoya hums, for lack of a better response. He’s hit a nerve.
But Kourai’s vexation sinks as quickly as it surfaces. He slides on a cheeky grin. “But yeah, I choose to believe that that statement applies to all aspects of my personality.”
“That’s a good mentality.”
“If there’s one thing I’m certain of after living on this earth for eighteen and a half years, it’s that a good mentality is worth more than gold.” Kourai picks up his water bottle and raps his knuckles against the plastic.
“You’re kind of wise beyond your years; you know that?” Motoya tells Kourai, who is now trying to see how fast he can chug his water bottle.
Ten seconds later, Kourai warbles through a mouth of water, “You know, I get that one a lot, too.” Then he coughs up 750 milliliters of liquid onto the front of his shirt and races back onto the court.
Even though Motoya’s propensity for violence has surged, Kiyoomi and Atsumu seeing each other in person is healthy. The arguing and the staring contests and Atsumu’s repeated attempts to swat Kiyoomi's behind are all healthy. Probably.
They’re at dinner now, shoveling food into their mouths with chopsticks held by smarting hands. Time is a stranger while they’re on the court, so Motoya honestly isn’t sure how long they played. All he knows is that his quads are pulsing below the table as he chews a piece of rubbery broccoli.
“... And then Samu told me that I was just bein’ stupid, even though he was the one who started all of it!”
“But you were being stupid.”
“Omi-kun, yer supposed to take my side!”
“I never agreed to that.”
“Don’t you think they’re kind of weird for bickering like that?” Motoya mumbles to Kourai, who is seated beside him and prodding his food like he’s five years old.
“Nah, I think a lot of couples do that,” Kourai shrugs, removing the wispy bones of his fish. “Sachirou makes fun of me all the time.”
The broccoli in Motoya’s mouth sours. He swallows it down like a blood clot, then turns toward Kourai. “You’re, you’re dating someone?”
“YEAH, I AM! A middle blocker on my team!” Kourai smiles then, and now Motoya sees it. He has that same twinkle in his eyes, that color in the bridge of his nose. This is someone who’s in love.
“How long have you two been together?”
“Hmmm.” Kourai brings his thumb and pointer finger to his chin, strokes a few times, and then clenches a hand around his jaw to squish cheeks. “Maybe a year and a half? We've played together since middle school."
“That’s nice,” Motoya says, instead of “That’s a long time,” which is what he wants to say. He’s still high on volleyball, but now there’s an unfamiliar feeling whirling in the pit of his stomach.
“Yeah, that is nice!” Atsumu butts in. He taps his chopsticks against the edge of his plate. “Looks like yer the only single one at this table, Komori.”
A slap to the back of Atsumu’s head and the resulting whine occupy Motoya’s space to issue a response.
“You’re being annoying, Atsumu,” Kiyoomi mutters. He glances at Motoya then, and the eye contact is fleeting, but it still initiates a painful flush.
“I’m just pointin’ out the obvious! Ain’t like I said it was a bad thing...”
Motoya stops listening to the conversation then. Maybe that makes him a bad person, and maybe it’s the wrong thing to do, but does that really matter? Good, bad, right, wrong—it all mixes together in the end. He keeps a smile glued to his face for the rest of dinner, of course, but the positivity is an overcoat rather than a second skin, and it’s fucking heavy.
Motoya is groggy as he brushes his teeth the next morning. Keeping on the overcoat for so long yesterday has left him with a shoulder ache, and his receives are consequently mediocre during his first match. Kourai is on the other side of the gym during their first break, so Motoya can’t ask for his forceful encouragement. He has to take matters into his own hands.
He slaps clammy palms to warm cheeks. A harsh shudder follows, rolling all the way through his body. After that, his playing sharpens like a blade.
Volleyball, volleyball, volleyball. Motoya catalogues the thousands of sensations he gets to experience while he plays. The whistle as the ball hurtles through the air. The heady scent of muscle rub. Salt pooling in the indent of his cupid’s bow. An unmoving floor below to catch him. Volleyball, volleyball, volleyball.
Life is about volleyball—Motoya’s love for volleyball, which is pure and honest and unlike any other form of love.
He loves volleyball. He really does.
And as Tokyo winks by on the train ride home, Motoya tells his overworked muscles and his insulated water bottle and all of the effort he expelled into the universe over the past five days: I love you.
Motoya is pretty sure that each exam takes a year off of his lifespan. He’s definitely sure that he'd be failing if it weren’t for his cousin. Aside from pausing to use the restroom or eat the fruit Aunt Mayumi leaves in the doorway, Kiyoomi works non-stop. During exam season, Motoya is swamped with guilt if he doesn’t do the same. So for hours upon hours, the two of them study, chasing the sun down into the earth with their pencils and scratching away until it rises again.
At the end of the night and the beginning of the dawn, Kiyoomi will announce he’s going to walk home.
In turn, Motoya’s mother will maintain her nephew must stay the night. “You’re already half-asleep, Ki-kun,” she’ll say, smile gloomy. “We wouldn’t want you to pass out in the street.”
Kiyoomi’s parents don’t seem to care whether their son comes home or not. They don’t seem to care much at all.
It’s Friday. Motoya and Kiyoomi have just spent the better part of the evening flipping through notecards and copying answers into their workbooks. At long last, they are settling into bed.
Shallow conversation is the ideal way to decompress. Motoya selects a most common mundanity. “How’s Atsumu doing with exams?”
“He’s a good student, so probably fine.” Kiyoomi is adjusting the pillow beneath his head, trying to flatten the lumpy feathers.
Having a passion for a sport and remaining at the top of your class isn’t unheard of; Kiyoomi indicates that much. But for some reason or another, Motoya cannot wrap his head around the fact that Miya Atsumu is a good student. (Kiyoomi’s off-handed compliments about how much of an idiot he is might be the culprit of Motoya’s doubt.)
“Where does Atsumu want to go to school?”
The shuffling of the pillow stops. “Atsumu isn’t going to university.”
While some high school players go pro right after they turn eighteen, those with admirable grades normally go to university first. The human body is not invincible. Pro players are often forced into retirement sooner than anticipated. In the event of an untimely end to your career, it is useful to have a college diploma framed on your wall.
For the past few months, Division 1 teams have stuck to Kiyoomi like leeches. He remains adamant about going to college. When inquired about why, his reply was, “The rate of injury is disproportionate among those with hypermobility like myself, Motoya.” (Formal speech for “You know I’m double-jointed, dimwit.”)
Motoya’s undecided about if he’s going to university. His homeroom teacher has been kind enough to let this slide because of his focus on sports, but the end of the year is upon them. He knows that Kiyoomi is right in the respect that a college diploma is a safeguard, a financial investment in the event of a devastating injury. But Motoya’s never been one for scholarship, and during his thirteen years trapped in a regimented school system, he has yet to find a subject he’d be inclined to study for four more years.
“What’s going to happen to you two?” Motoya asks, because thinking about his own future makes his overcoat of positivity feel like chainmail. “Has Atsumu said anything?”
“He told me he wanted to keep this going.”
“But you told him you’re going to university before you go pro.”
“But I told him I’m going to university before I go pro.”
“And what did he say to that?”
“You know, I expected him to say we should give up. Or maybe I wanted him to say that so the pressure would be off.” Kiyoomi frowns, as if he's only considering the words now that they’ve flurried into the balmy air. “But all he said was that he ‘hoped we could still be together.’”
Motoya’s overcoat sheds a few kilos. “That’s very wholesome.”
“I told him hope was an indulgence.”
Of course you did. “Well,” Motoya starts, shaking his head softly, “what did he say to that?”
The left corner of Kiyoomi’s mouth quirks upward. “‘Then indulge.’”
(After all of these months, it’s the smile that gets to Motoya. Kiyoomi’s smiles are fleeting—they always have been, and they probably always will be. But their frequency has increased. Six days ago, Motoya’s mother pointed this out over her morning tea.
“Ki-kun’s been smiling more recently, hasn’t he?” A sip of chamomile from a ceramic mug. “I haven’t seen that boy smile like that since he was six.”
The kitchen smelled like potpourri.)
When you’re eighteen, you long for a lot of things.
Motoya longs for the time when grades were just numbers, when the hardest part of school was finishing the vegetables in his lunch. He longs for those lazy days that stretched longer than twenty-four hours, for a schedule free enough to permit summer visits down to his grandmother. But most of all, Motoya longs for the time before Kiyoomi needed the distance.
He doesn’t talk about this much, or long for it, or wish on any stars for it, because it’s been this way for so long that, sometimes, it’s hard to remember it was ever any different. And, plus, Motoya is still friends with Kiyoomi. They still study and practice and chat and watch bad movies together.
But it’s several ticks past midnight, and nostalgia is digging its claws into Motoya’s lats. He exhales.
Back when they were seven, there was no concern for germs. Motoya would shove their futons together after his mother laid them out far apart, and Kiyoomi wouldn’t complain. Then they’d nestle under the covers, and Motoya would whisper, “Ki, I hope you know that you’re my best, best friend in the whole wide world.”
This was a testimony to be given only when the moon was awake and the rest of the house was asleep. It felt sacred. And perhaps it was.
They’re not seven anymore. Motoya is eighteen—an adult by definition. He’s looking graduation in the eye, and he can drink in two years, and he would get his license if train lines didn’t crisscross the prefecture like lacework.
An adult by definition lies on a futon that now feels too stiff, meters apart from his best friend, and wonders what it really means to grow up.
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
are you going to university?
From: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
nah i’m going pro right away baby!!!
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
i’m leaning toward that too. i don’t know how good my grades are for getting into a nice university haha
From: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
you should totally go pro!!! i bet there are dozens of div one teams that want you!!!
do you know anyone else who’s going pro?!?!?!?!
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
miya atsumu from inarizaki. that’s it though.
do you know anyone who’s going pro?
From: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
your cousin’s still dating atsumu right?!
and no i don’t >:((
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
yeah, he is.
i take it your boyfriend is going to college then?
From hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
yeah!! he’s going to be a vet!!
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
don’t you think it’ll be hard for you to go pro while he’s in college?
won’t you miss him? won’t you guys get busy?
From: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
but i don’t want to go to college and he doesn’t want to keep playing volleyball, so this is how things work out. we’re best friends so i know we’ll be okay!!!!
and i can always talk to you about v.league stuff if he’s busy!!!!!
To: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
yeah, you’re right.
thanks kourai :) goodnight
From: hoshiumi kourai (^▽^)
you’re welcome!!!! and GOOD MORNING!!!!!
Motoya signs with the Eastern Japan Paper Mills Raijin. The logistics and crunched numbers go way over his head (and probably his jumping reach, too), but he knows that he’s getting to do what he loves: live. And what a gift it is to live.
They graduate during the second week of March. Motoya vainly endeavors to quell his fidgeting while diplomas are distributed to his classmates. When he’s finally bowing to receive his own, something like relief floods his chest, because this is it. This is the end of calculus and orals and exams, and the beginning of an entirely new journey.
(Or, is it really just a continuation? Has Motoya been walking along the same path since he first fit a volleyball in the curve of his palm ten years ago?)
His mother cries. “This means my baby boy is going to leave the nest,” she snivels. “What wil I do without you? What will I do with Aoi?”
“You’ll do all of the same things for her that you did for me,” Motoya says in complete confidence.
His mother will pump air into the tires of Aoi’s bicycle until she graduates elementary school and starts taking the train. Study sessions will have to be mandated in junior high, because Motoya knows that when his sister inevitably settles on a sport, she’ll shirk her homework to practice. And during Aoi’s last year of high school, his mother will scold her to eat so she can sustain her late-night cramming. And Aoi will sigh and take a break from picking at the seam of her math textbook to munch on lemon-soaked apple slices left in her doorway. And she will find that—against all odds—eating is a welcome respite.
And she will think: I am grateful for my mother.
“I mean, I didn’t turn out half bad, right?” Motoya tries to chuckle. His vision is blurring, but the image of that future is crystal clear. He pulls his mother into a hug. “Thank you. For everything.”
A hand snakes up to ruffle his hair. He feels eight again.
“Thank you, too, Motoya.”
The phone call comes ten days later. Motoya is brushing his teeth, with a hip bone hooked over the edge of the counter and a mouth full of artificial apple flavoring. (Aoi’s toothpaste. His own has mysteriously disappeared.)
Kiyoomi turned eighteen today. He and his parents came over for dinner, just as they've been doing for the past six years. While Kiyoomi himself isn’t one for celebration, Motoya’s mother relishes it. She relishes any excuse to cook up a meal for more than three people.
Dessert was strawberry shortcake, iced with thick ribbons of cream that melted when they hit the tongue. Kiyoomi and his parents each ate a slice. Motoya and his mother ate two. Aoi ate four and a half.
Even with just two slices, sugar has clung to the concaves of Motoya’s incisors. Scrubbing it away at half past midnight is a pain—a necessary one, but a pain nonetheless.
There’s a buzz in the pocket of his sweatpants. At first, Motoya ignores it. It’s spam, probably, given the time of night. But the vibration persists, so after another thirty seconds, Motoya reaches for his phone and slurs, “Moshi moshi!” around his toothbrush.
“Fuck that ‘moshi moshi’ bullshit!”
500 kilometers and a poor connection do not erase accented condescension. Motoya manages to tilt his head down in time to spit his toothpaste into the drain rather than at the mirror. “Atsumu? Why are you calling me at 12:36 AM?”
Miya Atsumu’s reply is a very inarticulate scream.
“You’re going to have to use your words, man.”
There’s another howl from Atsumu, and then a loud thwap, and then a “Shut the hell up, Tsumu.”
“Are you okay?” Motoya asks tentatively, turning the faucet on to rinse the sink.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just my brother bein’ a bigger dick than usual,” Atsumu grumbles. “Back of my head fuckin’ hurts now, though.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay, and I hope—”
“—I ain’t okay though! I fucked up everythin’ with Omi-kun!”
Biology has never been Motoya’s forte, but he can’t make sense of the science behind how his blood pressure has just elevated in a millisecond. He inhales preparatively. “What happened?”
Static spits on the other end of the line.
“I didn’t quite catch that, Atsumu.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Atsumu groans, and his voice is back to being thick like honey and grating like limestone.
“Well, I can’t help you unless you elaborate.”
Whatever bid at restraint uncoils, and Atsumu rampages at full force. “I forgot his fuckin’ birthday, ‘kay? I was so focused on congratulatin’ him on graduatin’ that I forgot all about him turnin’ eighteen! And birthdays are a big deal!”
Miya Atsumu has been dating his cousin for over a year now, and he’s never even bothered to text Motoya hello. Their interactions are limited to baiting grins during matches and the occasional wave through Kiyoomi’s front camera during Facetime calls. That’s all. And now it’s March twenty-first, and Atsumu is blowing every one of his fuses over shitty cell service, and Motoya is hearing it in real time.
He pads out of the bathroom. It is far too late at night to be awakening positivity, but he does so anyway, because he’s nice like that. “Ki-kun doesn’t care about birthdays all that much,” he offers, trying to diffuse the tension that has settled under the lapels of his overcoat. “And it’s easy to forget that he’s young, so don’t sweat it.”
“Nah, nah, ya got it all wrong,” Atsumu interjects. “Omi-kun’s a total baby.”
How can you sound so sad when you say something so fond?
Atsumu digresses before Motoya has a chance to ask. “Doesn’t matter anymore though, cus it’s over. Omi-kun hates me!”
There’s something both bittersweet and humorous about this call, because it’s simultaneously funny and heart-wrenching to witness Miya Atsumu overreact.
“I can tell you’re way too in over your head to listen to anything I’m going to say,” Motoya starts, stretching out across his futon, “but for what it’s worth, Kiyoomi doesn’t hate you.”
Love has no singular form. It’s a concept and an emotion and an experience far too ubiquitous to be defined as one thing. Love is the ricochet of a ball off Motoya’s knuckles and wrists and forearms. Love is the peeled fruit his mother leaves in the shadow of a door ajar. Love is the cheap elastics he uses to tie off Aoi's braids.
Love is a lot of things, and as Motoya deliberates, he concludes that it isn’t irrational to say love might also be the panic that’s sloshing in Atsumu’s stomach right now.
Motoya smiles, but his eyebrows are still drawn together. “Kiyoomi loves you, man.”
“Ya really think so?”
“I know so.”
Atsumu sounds quiet now, like there is something very small and very sad sitting in the center of his chest that is trying to whisper across a chasm of pride. “Then why doesn’t he show it more?”
Motoya doesn’t know much about Atsumu and Kiyoomi’s dynamic. Sure, there were the five days they toiled away at All-Japan together, but other than that, their relationship has been kept relatively private. This isn’t intentional; it’s just who Kiyoomi is. It’s the binary behind his brittle brevity, and it’s unwavering. He’s a smug asshole about volleyball, but he slouches when he’s off the court.
Atsumu, on the other hand, is a smug asshole during all hours of the day. He grows a centimeter when he’s around someone taller than him. He smiles like he’s charming. He makes incessantly flashy sets just to prove that he can, and he writes shitty poetry in shittier cards, and he thinks that birthdays are really something special.
But because Motoya knows his cousin, and because Atsumu flaunts himself like he’s the greatest thing since milk bread, inference is possible.
“I think that while your love is loud and open, his is quiet.” Motoya tries to keep his voice level. Being the mediator to a relationship is new to him. Atsumu and Kiyoomi have been dating for over a year now, but relationships themselves are still new to him. “Your love is the kind that demands attention, and Kiyoomi’s isn’t. But it doesn’t make his feelings any weaker than yours.”
“Just for shits and giggles, let’s say yer right,” Atsumu replies, because he’s an asshole. “I still feel bad ‘bout missin’ his birthday, though. How the hell do I make it up to him?”
“Buy a bouquet of roses, take the first train up here, and redeclare your undying love at his doorstep. Then run off into the sunset together.”
“Ya know, I don’t get how ya got so many people fooled into thinkin’ yer an angel or some shit, Komori. Yer words hurt.”
Motoya grins the slightest bit at that. “A phone call is enough, Atsumu. He’s probably still up now.”
“About a call being enough or him being awake? The answer to both things is yes.” Motoya fluffs the pillow beneath his head, the same way his cousin does. “Now, hang up and call Kiyoomi already.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m gettin’ to it. Still nervous he’s pissed though.”
A pause occurs, elapsing twenty seconds. Motoya imagines the room filling with water, the cool of it beneath his shoulder blades as he floats on his back. He thinks of the swimmer from their first year.
The waves of Motoya’s musing break. “Yeah?”
“When did ya become a relationship expert?”
Against his better judgment, Motoya laughs. “Tonight, I guess.” Then he ends the call.
The EJP Raijin are located in Hiroshima, four hours away from Tokyo by bullet train.
Motoya’s first time visiting Hiroshima was when he was nine. His mother had insisted he view the Genbaku Dome before he graduated from elementary school. “You’ll understand why when you’re older,” he recalls her saying as they left for the station.
There was something indisputably profound about standing in front of the Children’s Peace Memorial, staring up at the figure of Sasaki Sadako. Motoya is grateful that his mother took him. But now, when he thinks of the city he’s destined to move to in four days, all he can summon is strings of paper cranes and a distinct sense of misplaced nostalgia.
“That just means you can look forward to making new memories there!” his mother contests.
They’re sitting shoulder to shoulder on a park bench while Aoi gallivants across the play structure to her heart’s content.
“Were you scared when you moved to Tokyo?” Motoya asks.
“Of course I was!” his mother responds, crossing her arms. “But leaving my hometown wasn’t a bad thing. If I hadn’t, I never would have met your father.”
Motoya chooses not to point out that his relationship with his father is a biannual check—one during Golden Week and one for his birthday. (The latter always comes a week late.)
“And, sure, it took me a year to settle into the city,” his mother continues, “but eventually I made good friends. And I fell so in love with the prefecture that I ended up staying here!”
“You think I’ll have to wait an entire year to settle in?” A year wandering the streets without close friends. A year in a cramped studio apartment that will still manage to feel empty.
“Don’t look so sad!” his mother scolds, tugging his ear. “That’s just how growing up goes. That’s what it is. It takes time.”
Motoya rubs at the sore cartilage of his ear.
Across the park, Aoi has climbed to the top of the jungle gym. She is bellowing like a nine-year-old King Kong.
The sun is high in the sky.
It’s two hours before midnight, and Kiyoomi is over. They’re camping out in the living room. (Motoya’s bedroom has become curiously messy during the process of packing eighteen years away into three suitcases.) There is a historical drama droning on the TV and two bottles of ramune in front of them. Beer would have been better, but Motoya’s mother has an uncanny talent for sniffing out alcohol within a five-kilometer radius, and Aoi is snoozing a room over.
“Are you excited to move?”
Motoya leaves for Hiroshima in three days. “Not particularly,” he admits, thinking of rusted bronze and engraved marble. “Are you excited about university?”
“Not particularly,” Kiyoomi responds.
His cousin's term starts in seven days.
“You know, isn't it still kind of weird that we graduated?”
Motoya expects to receive a snarky comment about the process of evolution or a formal review of the education system. Kiyoomi agrees with him instead.
“It is kind of weird, but only because so much occurred during high school, and now we’re just done with that part of our lives. And we can’t go back.”
Thirty-six months. 1,095 days. 26,280 hours. Three years is a long time when you’re young.
Three years ago, Motoya didn’t know that he would claim two national titles—one individually, and one with the effort of his team. He didn’t know that defeat festers in your calluses long after you’ve washed your hands. He didn’t know that he’d be skipping university, and he didn’t know that he’d be skipping it to move to a city that smells a little bit like heartbreak.
All of a sudden, Motoya wants to know everything he has never gotten around to asking Kiyoomi. He wants to know Kiyoomi.
“What was your favorite part of high school?”
“Winning nationals our first year,” his cousin answers without missing a beat.
Motoya takes a swig from his ramune. The carbonation smolders in his throat. “What about Atsumu?”
“What about him?”
“Isn’t he one of your favorite parts of high school?”
The pinch in Kiyoomi’s brow returns like an old friend. It wasn’t Motoya’s intention to imply that Atsumu is entwined with high school, and therefore with high school alone, but now he wonders if his subconscious was just spilling out its guts.
The harsh truth is that there are few high school couples who survive the adult world without strangling each other. (There are even fewer who don’t slowly drift out of love like cherry blossoms in a spring wind.)
“It’s not as simple as that,” Kiyoomi says slowly, and he’s surveying the marble that rattles in the neck of his bottle. “That’s obvious, right?”
“You have to give me more to work with than ‘it’s not that simple.’ Single guy here, remember?” Motoya points a finger to his flimsy smile.
“I’m not exactly leaps and bounds ahead of you in relationship experience, Motoya. And you know it’s not a bad thing that you haven’t dated anyone, right?”
Kiyoomi’s question makes Motoya feel bare as a baby, so he does what he’s always done: he leans into positivity. He pulls on his overcoat, and he lets hysteria tinge his cheeks pink, and he laughs like it will keep him together.
“I don’t know why people say I’m the strange one,” Kiyoomi mutters distastefully, looking away.
Motoya pinches the sleeves of his overcoat; they cling to his skin like sweat. “Even if you’ve only been with one boy, that’s one boy more than me. So, what’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“You know.” He nudges his ramune bottle as if it’s his cousin’s shoulder. “Being in a relationship. Caring about someone in that way. That kinda stuff.”
Kiyoomi’s face takes on a far-away expression, as though some part of him has eloped in search of itself. “Do you remember when we were little, and we went to Kyoto?” he begins. “We visited the famous temple.”
Motoya squints to sharpen the materializing memory. Through his lashes, he thinks he can make out a large wooden stage and flourishing foliage. “Are you talking about Kiyomizudera?”
“Yes, that one.”
From there on out, silence prevails. Kiyoomi does this sometimes—gets trapped in the fortress of his mind, leaving company with no choice but to talk through the walls.
Motoya tries to thread his voice through the brick and mortar. “So. Uhm. Why did you bring that up?”
His cousin lowers the drawbridge, and Motoya is let inside those tall, tall walls. “When we were there, we did tainai meguri.”
Underneath Zuigu-do hall of Kiyomizudera is a pitch-black, sanctified complex said to be representative of a mother’s womb. Tainai meguri is a tour of this area. It costs a handful of hundred-yen coins and the sacrifice of comfort.
Kiyoomi had walked in front of Motoya, and Motoya had scurried in front of their parents. The only handrail provided during their descent into darkness was a beaded rope—worn from use and crusted with history. A very plucky eight-year-old Motoya had refused to hold it for the first few steps, but after realizing he was not, in fact, a nocturnal creature with night vision, he’d clutched it as if his life depended on it.
“Yeah, I remember doing that,” Motoya responds. “I couldn’t see anything down there.”
Kiyoomi nods his head. Once, twice, and then a dozen more times. “It feels a lot like that.”
The walls shiver against the words.
It takes a moment for Motoya to register what they’d been talking about: Atsumu. They’d been talking about Kiyoomi’s relationship with Atsumu.
The questions spin through Motoya’s head like wooden tops.
He thinks: “Why is love worth it if it feels like staggering through darkness?”
And: “Is there any rope for you to hold onto?”
And: “Do you still feel eight years old?”
And: “Why on earth did you use such an obscure metaphor?”
“Are you scared?” Motoya asks, and the words slither through his teeth before he can wire his jaw shut. “Or, were you scared back then? When we were walking in the dark?”
He doesn’t really understand why they’re speaking metaphorically, but talking to his cousin can require this kind of tact. It can require playing a part, and Motoya is willing to slate and recite lines if it means infiltrating his cousin’s thoughts.
“Not as scared as you were,” Kiyoomi smirks, “but yes, I was. At least a little bit.” He nods again. “I knew we’d reach the light, though.”
The only illuminated portion of the Zuigu-do basement is a large, spinning stone. Upon arriving, one is supposed to place their hand on it and make a brief wish. Motoya remembers that when he had touched the stone, it seemed to pulse below his palm, like a tiny heartbeat. The entire cavern had been alive.
“Did your wish from back then come true, Ki?” he asks.
The dimple in his cousin's left cheek flickers like a firefly. “It’s a work in progress.”
No matter how hard Motoya racks his brain, he can't remember what he wished for ten years ago. Probably something trivial, like a victory in an upcoming practice match or luck on his math test.
If tonight, Motoya somehow wound up on a bullet train rocketing to Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera, what would he wish for?
A lot can change in ten years. Maybe he’d wish for a better understanding of contracts and finances. Maybe he'd wish for a semi-swanky Hiroshima apartment, for an undeserving university diploma to hang on its wall.
Or, maybe he’d wish for something abstract. Maybe he’d wish for three-hour train rides and choppy FaceTime calls and dimples in his cheeks. Maybe he would be shameless and stupid and brave.
Kiyoomi thumbs at the blue lip of his frosted bottle. He’s finished his drink.
Motoya decides that if he had to press rough fingerpads to smooth, smooth stone again, he’d wish for success with the EJP Raijin. It’s more or less the same thing he’s been wishing for since he was ten, but it feels right. It’s attainable even without a blessing from the deities or a giant, symbolic rock.
There is something to be said about making wishes that have a sizable chance of coming true on their own. There may be some things in this world that are too immense for even the gods’ hands.
His mother ends up being right: settling into Hiroshima takes just shy of eleven months. It requires dismantling an identity rooted in Tokyo earth and dispersing it across nine-hundred new square kilometers. Motoya spends all of fall searching for corner shops and cafes to replace his old haunts back home. The work is grueling, but the places he does find are pockets of sunshine in a city otherwise rugged with the unknown.
While the diameter of a volleyball does not change, settling into the EJP Raijin is more or less a similar process. Joining a Division 1 team is adding an additional part to a well-oiled machine, introducing a new species to a thriving ecosystem. It’s being a beginner again. For the first three months, Motoya steps back in time as he recalibrates his playing style to compliment his team.
He isn’t the first-string libero during his first season. He might be for this next one, though, if he keeps working his ass off. The court is his solace, so Motoya doesn’t mind sweating buckets onto it for hours. It passes the time. It passes the eleven months.
A highlight during this hushed year is discovering the dog cafe thirty minutes away from his apartment by train. Motoya sends a photo of a puppy sleeping on his feet to Kiyoomi. In a daring display of affection, his cousin sends back a colon and parentheses.
Motoya stretches his calves on the sideline of a court polished like it’s made of silver. Today, the EJP Raijin are holding tryouts. Today, Motoya is serving as a baseline player for potential team members to be compared against. The coaches explain that all he should do is pull his weight in the receiving formation—nothing more, nothing less. That way, all focus can be on fresh faces. So Motoya plays the same way as usual, because volleyball has always been about pulling his weight, and he has always loved it too much to half-ass it.
After all three days of tryouts finish and the loose ends from negotiations are tied into a bow, the EJP Raijin end up with two new players on their team: Kashiwagi Taichi and Suna Rintarou.
Kashiwagi-san has been a Division 1 player for four years now. He went pro straight out of high school, and from what Motoya’s gathered, he shuffles between teams on little more than a whim. He’s an opposite hitter with a killer cut shot.
Suna is a middle blocker with an eerily flexible torso and a resultantly wide range of motion. Motoya doesn’t know what he’s been doing after high school. According to the basic profiles distributed by the coaches (and Motoya’s questionable mental math), Suna’s six months younger than him. With this in mind, he sets out to erect a friendship based on their shared existence as emerging twenty-somethings.
“Hey, Suna! Your blocks looked really good today!” It’s an honest compliment. Tonight was Suna’s first practice, and he’s already melted into the mold of their team.
Suna glances up from where he’s tying the shoelaces of battered black Converse. “Oh, thanks, Komori. You played well, too.”
“Nah, you’re just being nice! My receives were a little sloppy toward the end,” he responds, pulling on a smile with his overcoat. A friendly demeanor makes friends. A friendly demeanor makes friends. “We’re both around the same age, right?”
“I’d assume so,” Suna nods, “since we saw each other all the time during high school.” He looks drained after the full five-hour practice but bored, too.
Sweat begins to bead at Motoya’s temple. “Did we? See each other often, I mean.” His head spins as he tries to recall middle-parted bangs and nonchalant shrugs. He checks on the shelves and under the table and in the sunken garden. At the end of his mental sweep, he arrives at an awful, awful conclusion: he does not know Suna Rintarou.
“Uh, yeah, of course,” Suna continues, double-knotting his laces. “Plus, I heard a bunch about you from Atsumu. Don’t you remember me?” The yellow of his eyes is a cocktail of disappointment and offense.
Motoya has never been the best at lying. It’s not a skill he can improve in a matter of seconds.
“No, I don’t really remember you,” he admits, ingloriously hoarse. “I’m sorry, Suna. Honestly."
Forgetting names and first meetings evokes a specific type of shame. Motoya wants to buy a shovel, dig a hole in the sparse grass outside the gym, and live out the rest of his life as a hermit in the ground.
Suna’s lour remains frozen for a dreadful five seconds, and then his shoulders start to shake marginally. “I’m just kidding, man! I don’t remember you either, so no hard feelings. I mean, we only played against each other… damn, I can’t even remember how many times.” His face splinters into a crooked grin. “Must not have been a lot.”
Motoya is both pissed and furiously amused. He’s also still trying to ward off his symptoms of a heart attack. “I totally thought you were being serious!” He swats Suna’s shoulder. “You made me feel like shit, asshole!"
“It’s only my first day on the team, and you’re already giving me a nickname? Aw, I’m honored, Komori, really.” The shit-eating grin on Suna’s face doesn’t falter. He still seems tired, but no longer bored.
It takes eleven months for Motoya to settle into the EJP Raijin, and it takes Suna Rintarou one day. It takes one day for Motoya to settle into Suna Rintarou.
“You know, I think we’ll be good friends, Suna.”
Suna’s eyes twinkle the slightest. “I think so too.”
“How’s Aoi doing?”
Motoya is calling his mother for the first time in the past month. During the heat of the season, his conversations with her are few and far between. It’s probably sweet that he looks forward to them, and it’s probably embarrassing, too.
“She’s good, honey! Although her grades leave something to be desired.” A fuzzy beat passes. “You can’t tell, but I’m shaking my head, Motoya.”
“I can imagine.”
“She joined her school’s volleyball team last month, so she focuses on her setting more than her studying.”
This is a new development for Motoya. “She didn’t tell me she was playing. No wonder she’s kept her hair short for so long!”
“Don’t take it personally; she’s at that age where she thinks it’s cool not to talk to her big brother.”
Motoya tries to picture his little sister in knit black knee pads, with a ball skimming her fingertips and two braided pigtails hugging the top of her head. She does her own hair now.
“After all of that insistence that she didn’t want to play volleyball, look where she ended up.”
“Well, sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you want.” Motoya can hear his mother smile into the words. They’re light and airy like strawberry sponge cake. “Also, I have a feeling that admitting her nagging older brother was right probably wasn’t much fun.”
Motoya taps a knuckle against his phone screen. “Can you hear me?”
“Your video is glitchy, but yes, I can.”
“Good, good.” Motoya’s lying on his stomach, with his comforter draped over him so that only his head pokes out. “Sorry, I tried to fix my WiFi again last night, and stuff’s still acting up.”
Kiyoomi’s front camera points at a bare wall. “Haven’t you had internet problems for a few months now?”
“More like a year. Should be getting better, though.”
Should be and will be are two different things. Motoya is pretty sure he’s cursed to have terrible WiFi. (It’s been by the good grace of an unlimited data plan that he has managed to survive in the modern age of instant messaging.) Over the past twelve months, he’s gone through three WiFi extenders—neither of which extended anything, really. He doesn’t have very high hopes for the fourth.
“So, how’s stuff with your team?” he asks before Kiyoomi can interrogate him about his perpetually poor connection.
“We’re strong,” his cousin answers vaguely.
“I can know that much without you telling me!” Motoya clucks his tongue toward the TV to his right. “I watch your games! Give me some real meat.”
There’s a sigh on the other end, and then gulping of a beverage (ice water, probably), heralding reluctant divulgence.
“Shigeyuki-kun needs to get better at receiving,” is what Kiyoomi opens with. The dam breaks. “He’s the one with the close-cropped hair. He follows you on Instagram, I think, or maybe Twitter.” Silence spans a second. “I checked. It’s Instagram. Anyway. His skill is there, but his effort isn’t. It makes me wonder, sometimes, if he really loves volleyball.” Another pause. “No, I suppose he must if he’s going to school for it. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is I wonder how much he loves volleyball.” A third pause. “Maybe love is hard to quantify, though.”
Motoya is a man on a mission, humming along and interjecting questions when Kiyoomi slows like he’s expecting them.
When Kiyoomi finally finishes his essay-length dissection of Shigeyuki’s faults, he huffs. “Sorry, I’ve been needing to get a lot off of my chest, I guess.”
“Don’t be sorry! I’m all ears,” Motoya sings, propping his chin in his hand. It’s always good to hear Kiyoomi talk. It’s a reminder that he still knows his cousin. They’re still each other's best friends. “Is there anything else on your mind?”
“Other than Atsumu being an idiot, per usual, not really.”
After graduating high school, Kiyoomi entered university and Atsumu joined the MSBY Black Jackals, a Division 1 team located in Osaka. Based on his cousin’s offhand text complaints, the two of them bicker constantly. They are long out of the honeymoon phase, and they have no intention of breaking up. This, as one can imagine, makes Motoya’s life a special kind of hell.
“What did he do this time?” Motoya has gotten used to the hellfire. He fluffs his blanket and burrows into the flames.
Kiyoomi makes a noise like he’s hissing through his teeth. (It’s a habit from Atsumu, Motoya knows. Kiyoomi’s composed of Atsumu in a million little ways.) “We were talking about meal plans, and the conversation wandered toward our favorite foods.”
“Don’t you already know each other’s favorite foods?”
“Of course, so we started talking about specific food groups.” Gentle pacing thuds from Kiyoomi’s end. Motoya imagines he’s leaving fresh prints in silver snow. “When we got to the fruits, he said he’s always enjoyed melon.”
“So I said ‘Me too.’” Kiyoomi’s voice has been crescendoing over the past few minutes, but now it has reached critical volume.
“And then he proclaimed that, in fact, his favorite sweet growing up was melon pan!”
“Huh?” Motoya isn’t sure where he expected this story to be going, but it definitely wasn’t there. He snorts. “There’s no way he said that.”
“He did!” Kiyoomi shoots back.
The laughter comes in waves, undulating Motoya’s rib cage. His chest is chest filled with light. “Isn’t his brother, like, studying to be a chef or something?”
“Yes, yes, he is!” Kiyoomi’s pacing has ceased, probably in favor of pressing two fingers to his right eyebrow or picking at the fine hairs of it. “He’s been cooking and baking for Atsumu for years. But culinary common sense doesn’t seem to run in the family.”
“More like common sense in general, ” Motoya mumbles as he slides up from his stomach and onto his bottom, shaking off his comforter. He clasps his hands behind his head and falls onto his back with a thump. “Miya Atsumu. What a guy.”
What a guy to have been able to make his wary cousin fall in love. What a guy to have, then, kept him there too.
“He’s an idiot.” (Kiyoomi has grown increasingly attached to this phrase over the past two years.) “He’s needlessly rude. And he slurs his words, and he writes too big, and he spent twenty years thinking there was actual melon in melon pan. Twenty years!”
“But you still love him,” Motoya says to the stucco ceiling of his apartment. How many times has he contemplated buying a ladder and sanding down the popcorning surface himself? Maybe he could also put a new coat of white on top. The paint is yellowing around the danker areas.
Motoya is still thinking of pursuing amateur interior design when Kiyoomi repeats the phrase back to him.
“But I still love him.”
The video on Motoya's phone jolts, and then Kiyoomi’s face comes into view. He’s curling his lip like he's misspoken.
Introducing the word “love” into his cousin’s vocabulary wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It was supposed to happen during a distant, twilight-soaked night, when the wind would sweep up some of Motoya’s vulnerability and deposit it in Kiyoomi’s room hundreds of kilometers away. But the universe pays no respect to “supposed to.” So instead, their conversation around love is carved by Motoya’s dislike for stippled paint.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say you’re in love with him, Ki,” Motoya sighs. “You guys have been dating since our second year of high school.”
It feels a little bit like they’re fifteen again, whispering questions about the future into the universe, walking down city streets that wind too much.
“It was the beginning of third year, technically,” Kiyoomi mutters off camera. He cracks one knuckle, and then a second. “And no, it’s not a bad thing to admit. It’s just scary.”
“Scary is good. Fear means you want it to work out.”
“I guess.” Kiyoomi inhales sharply. “I’m sorry I make you listen to this sort of thing all of the time.”
“First off, it’s not all of the time.” He and Kiyoomi text almost daily, but they call twice a week at best and twice a month at worst. “And second, it’s interesting to hear about what being in love is like.”
“About that—how did your blind date the other week go?”
Two and a half weeks ago, Motoya went on a date with a friend of a friend of a teammate. The girl—or woman, he supposes—was a year older than him. A college gymnast forced into early retirement by a twice-torn ACL, Muramoto Juri stood at about 150 centimeters and was muscular enough to make Motoya feel scrawny again.
She was chipper. Their dinner was fine.
“It was good. Muramoto-san was really kind.”
Motoya’s WiFi crackles, and Kiyoomi’s wall pales behind an “Unstable Connection” warning.
“...wasn’t right, was it?”
“Wait, my connection cut out for a second,” Motoya says, reaching down under his bed for the spare decorative pillow collecting dust. He slides it below his lower back. He’s sore from practice. “Sorry. Could you repeat the question?”
“But it wasn’t right, was it,” Kiyoomi reiterates stiltedly, like he’s confirming an inference. “Both her and the date.”
“It’s only a little bit creepy that you gauged that from two sentences. But no, it wasn’t.”
Kiyoomi doesn’t offer pleasantries or platitudes or pity. He hums.
Their FaceTime call sputters for the next ten minutes. They make noncommittal plans to chat again soon. They tell each other to sleep well. (It’s nine PM, and neither of them has the luxury of knocking out before midnight.) Then they hang up.
Motoya plays in more matches, and then more matches, and then more matches. At the start of his third season, he dethrones the first-string libero of two years and officially shrugs off his title as a rookie bench-warmer.
He announces this to Hoshiumi Kourai while they’re in line for giant cotton candy from Totti Candy Factory in Harajuku. Kourai’s team is only an hour away from Kiyoomi’s campus, so Motoya decided to squeeze in a visit with his most exuberant friend. It’s good to see Kourai in person again, and not from behind a black net that dissolves his face into gingham.
“Took you long enough!” crows Kourai. (He’s been a starter for the Schweiden Adlers since he was nineteen.) “But welcome to the club! I can’t wait to crush you the next time we play against your team!” He bows his head as the employee behind the counter hands him his cotton candy. “Thank you, ma’am! This looks incredible!”
“We’ll see who’ll be doing the crushing,” Motoya replies, crossing his arms, even though the Schweiden Adlers are ranked first in the league.
Kourai cackles from behind a cone of pastel cotton candy larger than his head. “Sure, we will.”
Kiyoomi graduates a year and a half later, a diploma in one hand and a contract with the MSBY Black Jackals in the other. Motoya and his family attend the ceremony, as do Kiyoomi’s parents. It is brief and poignant. It is growing up.
“Is there any reason you signed with the Jackals in particular, Ki?”
Motoya’s mother asks the question over dinner. They’re out at a sushi restaurant per Aoi’s request. Kiyoomi insisted that he couldn’t care less about what they ate.
“A certain someone kept pestering me to join,” Kiyoomi mutters.
Motoya's sister clasps two hands together. Her sigh is dreamy. “Was it your boyfriend?”
Aoi is fourteen now, at the tail end of her middle school career and the beginning of her love life. She loves Korean dramas and YouTube couples, and she boasts an impressive collection of romance manga. Every so often, she'll call Motoya to list off the boys who have asked her out over the past month. (She has yet to accept any of them.)
Kiyoomi’s grip around his chopsticks tightens, but there’s a dimple in his left cheek as he speaks. “Yes, it was him.”
Aoi squeals. Motoya and his mother smile softly. Kiyoomi’s parents swathe tuna in soy sauce.
The rest of the dinner passes over a century.
On November twenty-eighth, the EJP Raijin play against the MSBY Black Jackals and win. Victory is a savory thing, one that has Motoya begging for water and panting like a dog. During the last set, he received spikes that had his heart threatening to jump out of his throat. He loved it.
“It was a pleasure to play against you, Ki,” he tells his cousin when they shake hands under the net.
“It was not a pleasure to play against you,” he says as he approaches Miya Atsumu.
The setter grabs his hand like he’s crushing a lightning bug, and then proceeds to shake it like he wants to see if the poor fellow will still light up. “Likewise, Komori-kun,” Atsumu smirks. “Looks like we gave ya a run for yer money in that last set.”
“Not at all,” Motoya volleys.
“Well. Hm.” Atsumu snatches his hand away then, as if touching someone from a rival team for more than ten seconds inflicts physical damage upon him.
What a guy. Motoya grins.
A team dinner is a must, so by eight PM, the EJP Raijin are crammed into the nearest Izakaya. Motoya pities the staff members who have to serve them. They're nothing more than overgrown children after a solid win.
“If it’s making the people money,” Kashiwagi-san yawns, “then who cares?” (Alcohol makes him ruthlessly sleepy. The team discovered this about a year ago, when the opposite hitter lurched while standing up to use the restroom, put his hand on top of Washio’s head in an attempt to regain balance, and then passed out flat on his back.)
“'Who cares?' People with basic decency,” Suna drawls. “Maybe you don’t fit into that category though, Kashiwagi-san.” He runs his tongue across a pointed canine. Beside him, Kashiwagi rolls his eyes.
“Komori is just being considerate,” Washio says with next to no inflection. He’s only on his first beer, but even if he’d had more, Motoya doubts he’d be spouting any secrets. The guy is the strong and silent type, and based on the words of Kiyoomi’s teammate—the old Fukurodani Volleyball captain—he’s been this way since high school. “If the staff was truly bothered, they would tell us.”
“Washio, always with his head on straight.”
“And a stick up his ass.”
Laughter rings in Motoya's ears.
They continue to pick at round after round of chicken. They tell bad jokes, and they talk about the same snapshots from the match over and over again, and they toss around the idea of going to karaoke, too. It’s enough sensory overload to make Motoya wince.
Eventually, the team begins to file out one by one, for one reason or another: Kashiwagi being dragged out by their captain, Washio smiling briefly and saying he has to tend to his Shiba Inu. Soon enough, it’s just Motoya and Suna lazing around the table, an embarrassing number of empty bottles between them. They often end up alone together.
“Want to head on out?” Suna asks. He’s holding his bottle by the neck, swirling the remaining liquor in circles.
Motoya is reminded of the numberless nights he spent drinking ramune with Kiyoomi, high on sugar and high school. The foolish part of him laments going out with his team tonight instead of his cousin. But doing anything else would have broken an unspoken rule of team etiquette. And besides, Kiyoomi is likely preoccupied with croaking old love songs at karaoke, if the location pinned in Atsumu’s Instagram story is indicative of anything.
“Nah, I think I’m going to stay here for a little bit longer,” Motoya answers wanly.
“Okay. That’s fine.” Suna eyes the bottle in Motoya's hand. “I’m going to stay here with you, though, because you look about fifty milliliters away from an emotional breakdown.”
A nostalgic breakdown would be a more accurate description of what Motoya is currently hurtling toward. There’s something about sitting in a mostly empty Izakaya while holding a mostly empty bottle that makes Motoya feel loose around the edges.
When he salvages the stability to speak, his words are wobbly. “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?”
Suna taps his bottle to his chin. “How young are we talking? High school? Junior high?”
“Any age,” Motoya mumbles because remembering the order of the grades doesn’t feel very important right now. “Any age you want.”
“Well, I think that if I were talking to elementary school Rintarou,” Suna begins steadily, “I’d tell him to appreciate his city. Smaller cities are really pretty—in a special way, in a different way than bigger places. I never paid much attention to that when I was younger.”
Motoya struggles to place whether Suna’s solemnity is a veneer and blurts, “Amagasaki isn’t all that small!” before he can come to a conclusion.
Suna raises a curious eyebrow, then juts his jaw to the right in remembrance. “I always forget you know about Amagasaki because of Atsumu.”
“I don’t know much,” Motoya concedes, scrunching his nose into what he hopes resembles a half-smile. “Just enough to recognize you’re shitting me when you call it a ‘small city.’”
“You know your population densities, Komori; I’ll give you that much. But I didn’t grow up in Amagasaki.”
Of course he didn’t. The drawl of Kansai-ben is missing from his ash-toned voice.
Inebriated Komori Motoya let this fact escape his mind.
“I’m from Nisshin,” Suna continues. “Most of my extended family is still in Aichi.”
There is an infinite number of responses Motoya could give. “That’s cool,” or “My cousin’s old roommate was from Aichi,” or “When did you move to Amagasaki?” or “Nisshin still isn’t really a small city, you know.”
He asks, “Do you miss it?”
“Sometimes.” Sentimentality comes alive in Suna now, too. “When I was little, my mom used to take my sister and me grocery shopping during the summers.” His cheeks stretch into a smile. “We’d always go in the evenings, so all of the pastries and stuff would be marked down. I’d grab as many of those packaged carbs as I could and shove them in my basket.”
“That sounds nice.”
“It was.” Suna sighs. The sound is strained, like there’s a weight on his chest impairing his breathing. “I mean, that was more of a kid experience than it was a Nisshin experience, though. But I guess, in a way, my time as a kid is kind of the same as my time in Nisshin, you know? I can’t really go back to either thing.”
The words feel like a confession and a revelation at the same time, like hand-blown glass, like something delicate. Some moments cannot be sealed in a box and put in storage until a rainy day. Some moments are not meant to be returned to.
There is no time for mourning, and there is no need for it either. But on nights dappled by warm, artificial light, it is easy for faded grief to eddy in your drink.
“What would you tell your younger self, Komori?”
Suna does not stink of sorrow. He smells like cinnamon and composure, even after drinking far too much and whispering a story of long ago. If Motoya were in his right mind, maybe he would have leaned into him and told him as much.
Instead, he lets his eyes trail up the wall, past the banners and paper lanterns, all the way until they settle on the wooden ceiling. Motoya inhales.
“That life is about a lot of things.”
From: miya atsumu
2 missed calls - 5:19 AM
i need to call u
To: miya atsumu
not everyone gets up at 5 am on their days off, atsumu
At 6:35 AM, Motoya’s phone starts having a small seizure on the bedside table. It is both very in character and very annoying that Atsumu calls him before answering his text.
He rubs the heel of his palm into gummy eyes and stands up to crack his back. It’s too early for his overcoat, but he shrugs it on anyways, coughing until trademark cheer drenches the low rasp of morning in his voice.
“Yeah, good mornin’ or whatever,” Atsumu mutters, because he is an absolute nightmare before eight AM, even though he consistently wakes up at the crack of dawn to run beside the morning dew. (Motoya has endured several of Kiyoomi’s tangents about how inflated Atsumu’s asshole tendencies are before he jogs the sleep out of his system.)
“So.” Motoya yawns. “Why did you call?”
Even though he's committed to being cordial, it's best not to drag things out. The EJP Raijin don't practice today, and Motoya would much rather be relaxing on his crummy balcony than listening to Atsumu’s circadian bitchiness.
“I’m thinkin’ ‘bout Omi-kun.”
“I really don’t want to hear about your weird fantasies about my cousin,” Motoya demurs. “Especially not when I’m still half asleep.”
“Don’t ya worry. My fantasies ‘bout yer cousin are for me, myself, and I.” Atsumu snorts. “Unless Omi-Omi wants to help make ‘em a reality, that is.”
It is a good thing Motoya has yet to eat breakfast because he’s pretty sure he would have vomited on his carpet by now if there were any food in his stomach. His gag reflex working its hardest to keep the sleep-soaked stomach acids down. “I said I didn’t need to hear about that, Atsumu.”
“I didn’t even give any details,” Atsumu grouses. He’s probably carding a hand through his tacky blond hair. “I don’t get why yer such a baby.”
“If you’re just calling to torture me, you can hang up now. I’ve already been through enough in the last three minutes to make breakfast seem unappealing.” Motoya draws his phone back from his ear to end the call.
“Wait, wait!” Atsumu stammers. He hisses through his teeth. “Ikindareallywannaaskhimtomoveinwithme.”
The sentence is incoherent. In fact, Motoya isn’t even sure it was a full sentence. “What?”
Atsumu exhales. The sound wavers. “I wanna ask Omi-kun to move in with me.”
“Oh. Uhm. Do you have a place in mind?”
“Yeah, I’ve been lookin’ at this one apartment for a while now, actually,” Atsumu starts, and he sounds considerably less feral now. “It’s got these nice big windows that I know he’d like, and the complex was built recently so there’s nothin’ rottin’ in there yet, and they keep the area ‘round the buildin’ real nice and trim.”
He continues to speak for some time. The description is crisp and otherworldly, and Motoya is struck by the realization that Atsumu isn’t talking about a place he wants to move into. He’s talking about a life he wants to move into.
Motoya’s first time moving was after his parents split. He was nine years old. Aoi was still a baby. While the demise of his parents’ marriage was relatively painless—after all, he was leaving behind a man who’d essentially left them years earlier—moving out of his childhood home felt like tearing off a limb.
The new house was smaller. Confining, almost.
His mother got to work immediately. She hung origami flowers on the walls, and shined the chipped countertops, and baked love into every meal, all while working ridiculous hours. Within six months, the house was no longer stifling. It was cool in the mornings and the kotatsu was always warm in the afternoons. But the house itself hadn’t transformed. No alchemy turned its creaking floorboards into plates of gold. There was only his mother, pouring out her own light to illuminate the rooms where the bulbs had blown out.
“Home” isn’t strictly defined as a location—an address to type into a GPS or a set of coordinates on Google Earth. Home is a feeling, and it can be evoked by or found within another soul.
A bizarre, stirring joy inundates Motoya as he realizes Kiyoomi is someone’s home. Even if that someone is Atsumu.
“I think you already know what you want to do.” Motoya means to say it carefully, but the opinion embosses itself upon his relative quiet up until then.
“Maybe,” Atsumu acknowledges, “but I wanna hear ya tell me it’s a good idea.”
“Why? You never care about anyone else’s opinion.”
“Oh, shut up!” Atsumu barks, and then he seems to remember he’s trying to be affable. He clears his throat awkwardly. “I’m askin’ ya cus ya know Omi-Omi better than I do.”
“Atsumu lies compulsively,” Motoya recalls Kiyoomi saying back in their third year. The lying habit hasn’t broken in the five years Atsumu has been more than their opponent in volleyball; it’s an integral part of him, just as much as his accent, and his smirks, and his excessive whining. It’s not something that should concern Motoya. But the lie is still viscous and goopy, dripping off the telephone lines connecting them across kilometers.
Motoya doesn’t call out Atsumu’s lie, but he does correct it. “I don’t know him better than you do. I know him differently.”
And it’s true. Maybe when they were kids, Motoya would have considered himself the expert on Sakusa Kiyoomi. But they’ve grown up since then. They’ve changed—not for better or for worse, but just because time said they had to. And now, Miya Atsumu is a person whose understanding of Kiyoomi transcends Motoya’s in many ways. Not all, but some, and that has to mean something.
Motoya adapts to Kiyoomi’s idiosyncrasies. And while Atsumu does too, he also challenges them. Twenty-three years of friendship and Motoya can’t recall a time he’s ever tried challenging Kiyoomi’s habits. That always felt far beyond the scope of his cousin privileges. It felt like taking advantage of their friendship, like trying to sculpt Kiyoomi into someone he wasn’t.
But Atsumu does just that. He does just that, and Kiyoomi doesn’t mind. Kiyoomi appreciates it, if anything, even though he’d rather commit a felony or move out of the country than admit it.
“If ya start waxin’ some poetic bullshit about how I know the curves of his body and the veins in his heart or somethin’, I’ll deck ya right through the phone.”
Atsumu’s started being a jerk again, so Motoya shouldn't be laughing, but he can't smother his chuckle. Because this is Atsumu, and some things don’t change. “You know, this is why people say you’re an ass.”
Snickering. “Yer cousin likes this ass.”
“I’d advise you to shut up before I catch a train to Osaka and shove my foot up that ass.”
“That a threat?”
“It’s a promise if you don’t hang up now so I can have the rest of my morning in peace.”
(This is an objective lie. Motoya’s morning has already been distressed by five minutes of conversation with Atsumu.)
“All right, all right." A whistle. "But, like, what if Omi-kun says no because he don’t want a roommate?”
“Atsumu, he had a roommate all four years of college. Please let me have my morning now.”
“Yeah, okay. Whatever. Fine.” Motoya pictures Atsumu physically brushing off his shoulders. “Later, Komori. And thanks.”
“Ugh, don’t thank me, dude,” Motoya groans. “It’s so unlike you, it’s making my skin crawl.” (He provides some very convincing shuddering for emphasis.)
Atsumu makes a sound like he’s blowing a raspberry into his phone.
Motoya attempts to respond in kind but ends up spitting at a dead line. He shakes out his legs, then shambles out of his room. His destination is the communal kitchen, and his aim is caffeine.
Suna Rintarou is hunched over a mug at the kitchen island. The smell of oolong wafts in the air, along with the draft from the open window. He flicks his gaze toward Motoya. “Tiring morning?”
“You could say that much,” Motoya mutters. “Had to reassure my cousin’s emotionally constipated boyfriend that his next big step in the relationship was okay—no, not just okay, but good. Really good. Great, even!” he exclaims, gesticulating wildly. “The guy always wants everything to be great. Who knew that was so draining?”
“Ah, well. That’ll do it to you.” Suna raises his mug in acknowledgment, then takes a contemplative sip.
Motoya lifts the electric kettle on the counter. It’s still half full. He turns it on, then begins to reach for the container of loose oolong tea leaves.
Suna grabs his wrist, halting his path. “If you wanted oolong tea this fine morning,” he says, peeling his hand away and grinning cheekily, “you’re out of luck, my friend. I used the last of it.” He then cups his mug close to his nose and inhales dramatically.
It’s early enough that Suna hasn’t combed his hair yet. His bangs are messy. Motoya parts them with his nail the way he’s done for Aoi countless times, then flicks the window of space he creates. “You’re a bastard; you know that?”
Suna puts a hand over the top of his mug to prevent it from sloshing as he accepts his punishment. It’s an uncomplicated consequence that he doesn’t bother fighting.
“How about I make it up to you?” Suna asks, setting down his mug. “We can go out for breakfast. Say screw it to our meal plans for the morning and eat a bunch of sweet shit. I know this one place that has amazing strawberry waffles, and they open really early.”
While Motoya is an avid supporter of strawberry waffles, he also believes in the necessity of listening to his body. And right now, his body is telling him to take it easy, to sit on the balcony with his cellphone and a mug of steaming tea.
“Nah, I’d probably pass out on the way there,” he sighs, waving a hand. “But how about this instead: you give me the rest of your tea, and we call it even.”
“Suit yourself.” Suna slides the mug toward him. Motoya catches the handle and lifts the rim to his lips. The tea is toasty and rich, and Motoya thinks that if warmth had a taste, it would be this. He closes his eyes. “Thank you, Suna,” he breathes.
Motoya cracks an eye open to find Suna watching him, a gentle, knowing smile on his face. It’s a nice contrast to the wry grins or bored stares he usually dons.
If warmth had a taste, it would be this. Motoya takes another sip.
From: sakusa kiyoomi
he asked me to move in with him.
To: sakusa kiyoomi
and you said yes, right?
From: sakusa kiyoomi
he asked you for your opinion first, didn’t he
To: sakusa kiyoomi
Winter freezes over into spring. Aoi starts high school and continues volleyball. She’s got a national title of her own now: one of the top four high school girls volleyball setters in the nation.
“It should be top three, at least,” she laments to Motoya in September, when autumn is dipping the leaves of the trees lining the EJP practice facility in marmalade and vermillion.
“You’ll get there,” Motoya assures her, using his elbow to open the door to the gym. “And if you ever need any tips, you can always Ki for Atsumu’s number. You know he loves helping people.”
Aoi lets out a titter. “More like he loves flexing on people.” She is finally old enough to comprehend why Atsumu makes her brother grind his teeth.
Motoya mirrors his sister’s giggle, then lets her know that he has to practice. He hangs up, and he enters the locker room.
He plays more volleyball, and he shoots more texts to his mother, and he spends more nights than he should stalking the Hiroshima skyline, thinking about the ways people grow up and out.
The number of FaceTime calls Motoya can squeeze into his segmented schedule drops drastically. It’s a shame since he craves contact with his family, but that’s another part of adulting, he supposes: time slipping through his fingertips. But even during the remarkable instances he and his cousin’s calendars align, Kiyoomi refuses to put his face in view of the camera.
“I want to visit you!” Motoya tells the poof of inky curls he’s been talking to for the past twenty minutes. “It’s been two months now, hasn’t it?”
Kiyoomi lowers his phone just enough for Motoya to see him raise a condescending eyebrow. “That’s not that long. Most cousins don’t see each other for years at a time.”
“But we’re not most cousins,” Motoya points out, to which Kiyoomi lowers his brow and gives a begrudging sigh. He can’t debate the fact. “I'll take the train up to you in three weeks, just for a day. We’ll go out to lunch or something, and I’ll be gone before midnight.”
“That sounds like a terrible waste of money.”
There’s some scuffling on the other end of the line, a string of mumbled swears, and then Miya Atsumu is jabbering into Kiyoomi’s phone. “Heya, Komori! I know a real tasty lunch place we can go to.”
When Motoya is on the phone with Kiyoomi, there is always some portion of their call that is interrupted by Atsumu—whether it be shouting, swearing, or trying to wave hello. This probably isn’t because he’s particularly interested in Motoya’s existence, but more so because he’s incapable of allowing a conversation to occur without somehow injecting himself into it. An overzealous bystander, some might say. A nuisance, Motoya would argue.
But on the rare occasion that Atsumu has dampened the douchebag aspect of his personality, his meddlesome nature can be helpful. Now is one of these rare occasions.
“See, Ki! Even Atsumu agrees with me. We’ll go out to eat where he’s talking about, okay?”
Kiyoomi manages to wrest his phone back from Atsumu’s grasp. “Fine. Text me details when you sort out your ticket and schedule.”
Motoya grins from ear to ear. Positivity emanates from him; his overcoat is nowhere in sight. “Yes, sir!”
The shinkansen ticket takes a substantial bite out of his bank account. Motoya takes thirty seconds to pat his leather wallet dolefully, then texts Kiyoomi the information. While he’s in the middle of deciding which emojis to send back to his cousin’s plain “thanks,” a push notification from Aoi snatches his attention. He slides his thumb down the screen to open the message.
From: komori aoi (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
disneyland with masamichi!
i already know how photogenic i am. you don’t have to mention it -_-b
(A month ago, Aoi finally accepted one of her many suitors.
“So who’s the unlucky guy?” Motoya had asked, much to Aoi’s chagrin. “You know I’m just kidding! But seriously: who is he?”
“His name’s Masamichi Kento! He’s tall, and he plays baseball, and he’s way better than me at math, and he smells like fresh laundry, and…”
She’d gushed for the next three minutes. It made Motoya’s heart sore.)
Attached is a photo of Aoi under the arm of a lanky boy with spiky black hair. The wind is knocking their matching Mickey Mouse ears to one side and blowing all of Aoi’s chin-length hair into her mouth. His sister’s eyes are squeezed shut, but Masamichi’s are blown wide. Motoya thinks he can see the stars in them.
To: komori aoi (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
is that the boyfriend?
From: komori aoi (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
To: komori aoi (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
you look happy
From: komori aoi (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)
i am :)
Motoya does not count down the days until he gets to see Kiyoomi. He does not check his ticket confirmation every six hours, and he does not google the local restaurants in Higashiosaka to guess which one Atsumu will take them to.
He wants to. He really, really wants to. Motoya likes talking to his cousin, after all, and he’s excited to see him in person again. But he’s also an adult, and he’s learned that patience and positivity are not abundant. This trip will require a reservoir of both, so Motoya folds his overcoat flat and stores it on the shelf of his closet. And when it’s thirty minutes before his train leaves, and he’s in the middle of his frantic, last-minute packing, he slips it back on. It feels like a second skin.
The train ride elapses in blinks. The world behind the window blurs like oil pastel—soft and blocky.
After walking out of the Osaka station, Motoya spots Kiyoomi and Atsumu. They're holding hands. Kiyoomi's spine is curved like a street light. Atsumu is waving his free hand in the air like he's trying to swat a fly, carping, “Omi-kun, stop bein’ such a baby!”
They don't seem to be aware of Motoya, or the fact that they’re causing enough of a scene to be cast in one of Aoi’s treasured dramas. They're the same as always.
“I see you’re still as kind as ever, Atsumu,” Motoya comments as he approaches the couple.
Atsumu stops his performance of being a human fly swatter and grins. “Course I am, Komori-kun!”
Kiyoomi squeezes Atsumu’s hand then, hard enough that Motoya thinks he hears the fine bones crack. (He gives a small smile at the wounded yelp.) “It’s good to see you, Motoya,” his cousin says.
“It’s good to see you too, Ki.”
There’s a mellow sort of quiet that follows. The cars, and the passersby, and the whimsical music pouring out from the corner cafe have faded into a tender thrum. Kiyoomi has stopped balling and opening his hand in his jacket pocket, and Motoya knows why, because Motoya knows Kiyoomi. It’s just the two of them right now, best friends since anything mattered.
Suddenly, four knuckles are connecting with Motoya’s right shoulder. The punch is more unanticipated than it is strong. It sends Motoya tripping over his own feet, sending him dangerously close to getting intimate with the sidewalk.
Atsumu is baring his teeth in a primal beam and shaking out his fist. “I’m starvin’!” he whines. “Can we get a move on and go eat somethin’ already?”
Right. It’s the two of them and Miya Atsumu.
Positivity and patience are not abundant, but Motoya stored his overcoat over the past month for a reason: to wear it today. He pulls down the hem of it for good measure. “I’m hungry too. Lead the way, Atsumu!”
They end up at an Italian restaurant with a name that sounds suspiciously un-Italian. Atsumu says to pay no mind to that. He does, however, instruct them to pay mind to the menu, raving about the gourmet seasonal pasta as the hostess shows them to their table.
(Outdoor seating has been Kiyoomi’s preference since he was old enough to have a seating location preference. The unbridled airflow soothes some of his qualms about eating out.)
Motoya stands a ways away from the table. He knows what has to come before he can sit without judgment, before his cousin can sit without apprehension.
From his jacket pocket, Atsumu pulls out a pack of disposable wipes and begins to disinfect the table. Any signs of irritation are absent from his diligent motions. He has practiced to the point of perfection.
Seeing Atsumu take cleaning precautions to sate Kiyoomi’s paranoia is touching, but it’s not stunning. In seven years' time, it’s only reasonable that he’d do so. It’s the wipes themselves that are throwing Motoya off. They're the same brand Kiyoomi has been using since high school, but cartoon lemons decorate the minimalistic packaging. They're scented.
Motoya sniffs the air. Atsumu notices and makes an unwarranted comment, because of course he would.
“Smell pretty sweet, right? They’re Omi-kun’s favorite.”
“Oh,” Motoya responds.
(“When did you start liking scented products, Ki?”
The question cakes in his throat.)
“And there we go. All germ-free, baby.” Atsumu pats the table twice with the used wipe. “I’m gonna go look for somewhere to toss this.” He pulls out Kiyoomi’s chair for him, then saunters away.
Motoya resists the urge to press his nose to the table or seize the pack of wipes and wave them in the air like a wad of cash. He sits across from Kiyoomi slowly. They don’t speak.
The silence is cold. It’s not glacial, or rimy, or any other fancy word Motoya hasn’t used since he shut his high school lit textbook. It’s just cold.
“He showed them to me,” Kiyoomi says—no, interrupts. He’s looking at the one piece of caramel hair on Motoya’s head that never lies flat. “The wipes, I mean. His brother uses them in the shop.”
Motoya nods. “I figured as much. How’s Osamu’s cooking going?”
“Well, it’s still much better than Atsumu’s, that’s for sure.”
And all at once, the ice breaks. Motoya and Kiyoomi fall through the cracks and end up on the Komori family couch. They’re seventeen again, holed up in the living room, throwing chips at each other and watching reruns of the shows their parents grew up on. They’re seventeen again, so they laugh like they’re seventeen, and they share a knowing look when Atsumu comes back and crosses his arms, disappointed he’s been left out.
A few minutes later, they waive over a waitress and order their beverages.
Atsumu orders a sprite. Motoya orders a coke. Kiyoomi orders water with extra ice and a straw, please.
Motoya sighs. “Damn, Ki. You’re boring.”
He and his cousin chuckle to the sky.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re so very fuckin’ funny, Komori!” Atsumu sneers. “Did ya major in stand-up comedy or somethin’?”
The waitress awkwardly backs away.
Motoya answers as if he's speaking to a small child. “No, I went pro right away with you, remember?” He puckers his lips as if in thought. “Was a waste of my real talent, though, I agree.”
Kiyoomu smiles. Atsumu pokes a finger in the dimple that appears and huffs.
The waitress zips back in, trading them three drinks and one straw in exchange for their laminated menus.
Atsumu slides the sprite toward himself and the water toward Kiyoomi. Then he reaches for the straw. He tears one end of the wrapper open and lets gravity deposit the straw in Kiyooomi’s glass. His fingers never make contact with the plastic. Miya Atsumu is acting like he’s done this a thousand times, the same way it seemed as though he’d wiped restaurant tables a thousand times. And he probably has.
Kiyoomi’s lips twitch into a smile. He murmurs, “I could have done that myself, Atsumu.”
There is nothing inherently romantic about putting a straw in a person's drink for them. Motoya still feels warm and fuzzy all over. This is Kiyoomi and Atsumu. This is Atsumu and Kiyoomi. This is them—the culmination of seven years of bickering, of falling down, of dusting off each other’s knees and then standing back up.
Motoya’s been out to eat with them countless times, but only now does he notice it: the two are in love, sure, but they also are love.
The rest of their lunch goes like this: they order their meals. The waitress drops three heaping plates of pasta in front of them. They use up what Motoya estimates to be about three-quarters of Kiyoomi’s pocket-sized hand sanitizer. Atsumu gets flicked in the forehead for talking with his mouth full.
They sip their drinks too quickly, and they make small talk like they’re artisans, and all the while, the buzz from sitting beside love does not leave Motoya’s body.
They split the bill and wipe the table before they leave. (Kiyoomi has always done this. He attributes it to cleanliness. Motoya attributes it to that and kindness, probably, but keeps this thought to himself.)
Their itinerary is lax. They view Kiyoomi’s favorite area of the city, where the architecture is a fusion of modern and traditional elements, as though two decades are colliding on the same plot of land. Motoya snaps a pic and sends it to sister. For dinner, they pick up bits and pieces here and there from the dozens of street vendors in the market. The takoyaki is decadent. The broccoli has just enough chew to it.
As Motoya approaches his final hours in the city, Atsumu suggests they head to a park. They hug sidewalks and weave through narrow alleys before arriving at the entrance. Painted white arrows indicate there are two different directions one can walk.
“Motoya, you only have a few hours left before your train, right?”
Two hours and fifteen minutes, to be exact. The wiser, more economical choice would have been to lug along an overnight bag and crash at his cousin’s apartment. But something about calling Kiyoomi and saying, “Hey, I need to stay the night so I can save some cash,” didn’t seem all that charming. (The prospect of sleeping a room over from Atsumu seemed even less charming.)
He nods to his cousin.
“Well, then.” Kiyoomi purses his lips and directs his words to Atsumu. “I’m talking to him alone.”
“Omi-kun!” Atsumu brings a hand to his heart and holds it there for a total of four seconds. Then he sags his shoulders and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. I ain’t wanted here.” He presses a kiss to Kiyoomi’s cheek, then steps onto the left-veering path. His only farewell to Motoya is a salute of two fingers to the lilac sky.
Motoya and Kiyoomi start toward the right. According to the map beside the entrance sign, they’re just making a large circle, but there are several veins along the loop that shoot off toward scenic viewpoints and picnic areas.
“I didn’t realize how much I’d missed talking to you in person until you were actually sitting across from me, cracking your terrible jokes.”
Motoya smiles down at his shoelaces. “You laughed at all of my terrible jokes, so they couldn’t have been that bad.”
“They were a nice intermission from Atsumu’s whining.”
“I’ll second that.”
They chuckle to the stars. They walk in comfortable silence for some time.
“I’m glad you were here.”
“Me too! I'm happy my general unfunniness was able to save you from some of Atsumu’s bitching.” Motoya shimmies his shoulders. “And see? I told you it’d be a good idea for me to come up and visit!”
Kiyoomi stops walking. “That’s not what I was talking about.” He digs the toe of his shoe into the pavement, a frown bisecting his speech. “Well, it was, but I meant before tonight, too, I’m glad you were here. For all of the years leading up to today, I’m glad you've been here. Really.”
Motoya allows himself to look at Kiyoomi. His cousin still has the same posture and squiggle in his brow of a seventy-four-year-old man. He’s still stubborn and blunt, and he still spikes the ball with little concern about who will receive it.
But he’s different, too. He accepts sloppy kisses on the cheek. He uses lemon-scented wipes. It is now common knowledge that he has a dimple. All of these things seemed impossible in high school.
Motoya smiles, sadly. “It’s been good to see you happy, Ki.”
At half past eleven, Motoya steps out onto a Hiroshima street and is greeted by a freezing air a dozen times more bruising than Atsumu’s afternoon punch. It’s familiar. He inhales deeply, charring his lungs with the cold, then begins to trudge to his apartment.
His calves ache as he punches in his building code. During the grand walk up two-flights of stairs, his legs are close to giving out. By the time metal doors part to reveal the narrow hall he’s come to associate with home, Motoya is eighty-five percent sure he’s no longer alive. He slumps against the nearest wall and sinks to his bottom. Emotional fatigue truly is a different phenomenon.
“Woah, dude. You okay?”
Suna Rintarou is standing at the end of the hall, a toothbrush in hand, navy blue sweatpants slung low around his hips.
Great. It’s just great that the one person Motoya’s closest with—the one person on the entire floor who cares enough to probe—has stumbled upon him.
He forces out a terse laugh. “I’m fine.” His overcoat grew heavy by the end of his walk with Kiyoomi, and he hasn’t bothered to put it on since. “Just tired.”
“I feel you,” Suna calls. Then he shoves his toothbrush in the pocket of his sweats, moseys across the hallway, and sinks down beside Motoya. Because Suna cares like that. “You just got back from visiting your cousin and Atsumu, right?”
Motoya nods his chin between his knees.
“So what happened to make you look like your cat got hit by a bus?”
It’s always the deadpan that gets Motoya. A smile flutters across his features. “Nothing that dramatic. Nothing at all, actually.”
It’s just that hanging out with my cousin and his boyfriend shined the light of a thousand goddamn suns on my nonexistent romantic relationship. And I feel like I’m a side character in my cousin’s love life because I don’t have my own to be the main character in. And also, my calves really fucking hurt.
“Okay.” Suna places his hands in his lap. “Well, if nothing happened earlier, what’s on your mind now?”
Motoya lets his puffed cheeks deflate like a balloon. “You’re single, right?”
“And you’ve been single for a while now, right?”
“Since my third year of high school. Why?”
“It’s—isn’t it a bit weird to watch everyone around you fall in love?”
A sigh escapes Suna’s bowed lips. “So that’s what this is about, huh?”
“Sorry,” Motoya mumbles.
“Nah, I don’t mind. Not when it’s you.” Suna winks. “But yeah, it is. I remember it was pretty jarring when my sister got engaged, especially since she’s younger than me.” After a few rhythmic clacks of Suna's thumbnail, a phone is being thrust in front of Motoya’s face. “Here’s a photo of her from the wedding.”
Suna's sister's kimono is black and luxurious, with scarlet accents that compliment the red staining her cheeks. Her hair is pulled into a stylish bun, a large white flower pinned to the side of her head. She is ethereal.
“Your sister’s really pretty,” Motoya remarks. “You guys look similar.”
The tips of Suna’s ears bloom pink. He clears his throat. “But, uh, I was happy for her.”
“And proud, too.”
“But it was still weird for me, yeah.”
Motoya isn’t sure where the urge to speak has arisen from, but he figures he should pursue it. It’s Suna he’s talking to. He’s safe to be selfish and greedy and raw. He clasps his hands around his ankles to steel himself. “You want to know something funny?”
“When I was younger, seeing Kiyoomi fall in love made me kind of jealous.” Motoya chuckles. It feels wrong to say aloud, and good, too. “I didn’t understand why he had something I didn’t when we’d done everything together since elementary school.”
“And then when his completely random relationship with the Miya fucking Atsumu just kept working out, it felt so, so... odd. It was like I was being left behind, you know?” Motoya digs his nails into his ankles. “It still kind of feels that way.”
Suna’s gaze is distant. He’s analyzing the information.
“So sometimes I think I’m just not meant to fall in love,” Motoya finishes lamely, dropping his hands to the floor. “And sure, I know self-love is the most important thing, and I know that there’s nothing wrong with being on your own; I’ve done it for years. But it just makes me wonder sometimes.” He turns away from Suna, looks down the rest of the low-lit hallway. “I mean, I’m already twenty-four, and I've never been in love like that.” Like them. “Maybe there’s just something wrong with me.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you.”
Motoya knocks his head back against the wall, glancing at Suna from the corner of his eye. “Do you care to elaborate?”
Beside him, Suna laughs, full enough that his shoulders shake. The sound is low and bluesy and somewhat beautiful. “I don’t think there’s something wrong with you just because you haven’t fallen in love yet,” he says, and the side of his hand is pressing against Motoya’s.
Suna is warm. He is always so, so warm.
“Love has no set deadline, Komori,” he continues, “and your life doesn’t end when you turn twenty-five.” Suna shrugs then, interlocking his pinky with Motoya’s as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. And perhaps it is. “But if you want some reassurance, I’m willing to bet there’s someone out there who’ll love you.”
He’s pushing it, so Motoya pushes back. “And how do you know that?”
Suna doesn’t mind pushing. Suna crooks a grin, mischievous as ever, and leans in, close enough that his breath ghosts across Motoya’s brow bone.
“Hmm. Well. Let’s just call it a hunch.”