Why is it that everything I eat when I’m with you is so delicious?
— Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
Firefly squid, made bright with a drizzle of yuzu miso. Butterbur and young pea, vibrant, alive. The jubilant curl of a pea shoot. The first green fingers of spring.
This is so boring, Atsumu’s groaning through a mouthful of dried squid. He’s perched on top of the counter, swinging his bandage-plastered legs so that his sneakers crash against the cabinet doors. His dangling shoelaces whip back and forth, quick sharp blurs of motion through the still, sun-warm air. You’re so boring, Samu. Bo-ring. Bo-ring. Boooo-ooo—
Shut it. Osamu pinches the soft boy-muscle of Atsumu’s calf when it swings within reach, twists it mean until Atsumu yelps and kicks away from him.
Sunlight’s pouring thick and gold like honey over the gleaming white countertops of their Baachan’s kitchen, dripping over the thick knobs of her knuckles, glinting off of the wet backs of her hands as she pulls them through the rice to wash it. The stool wobbles under the balls of Osamu’s feet as he tips forward to clutch at the edge of the counter, watching with rapt attention even as Atsumu starts to wail next to him.
It takes time, Baachan says, and her voice is slow like honey too. Tsumu-chan, you can go play, if you’d like. Samu-chan, would you get started on the peas, please.
And so he does, half-leaned into Baachan’s side where she’s swiftly chopping a green onion into neat little ribbons. Clumsy fingers tear stem from pod, eyes widening in wonder at the peas that tumble into his palms and go rolling across the counter. Bright, bright green, smelling like springtime.
Into the bowl, dear, comes Baachan’s voice, honey-laughter-sunshine. And so he does.
Then there’s onigiri to make—negitoro because Atsumu won’t eat any other kind—warm rice pressed between Osamu’s small, salt-coarse palms, enveloped in the bird-bones of Baachan’s fingers folded around his.
You’ve got all that fire in you, Osamu, she says, smiling down as he carefully folds it into a sheet of nori, only tearing it a little. All that love. They’ll be able to taste it.
Atsumu thunders back into the kitchen to lunge for the last fistful of dried squid before Baachan can pat Osamu’s hands dry and reach for the packet. Atsumu goes skidding into the counter; the bowl of carefully-shelled peas sails through the air. The bright bowl of spring goes scattering across the floor. Osamu sees green, then red.
He remembers finally settling into one of Baachan’s mismatched dining room chairs, a fresh plaster peeling off of his tear-streaked cheek, scowling fierce at Atsumu across the table. Atsumu, still sniffling, baring his teeth right back. The rich golden lines of the sun dripping slow across the table, Baachan sitting at the head with rice still clinging to her fingertips. An exasperated laugh, a clapping of palms together. All that fire. Eat up, you two. Itadakimasu.
Then, Atsumu, always, always first, greedy eager fingers reaching for the piled plate of onigiri. There’s a bright sound of delight, one that he only makes when he’s eating something delicious. His scowl slips away like the sunshine through the kitchen curtains.
The memory’s sharp, clear, rings like struck glass; all of Osamu’s breath leaving him in a heavy exhale, palms tingling—the way they still do, sometimes, after he’s fed someone with his own two hands.
Osamu’s not sure why it’s here, of all places, on the brightest of mid-March afternoons as he’s gently knocking knees with Akaashi Keiji under the counter of a rickety yatai (also, fifth date, but who’s counting, right?) that this memory fizzes up bright as the bubbles in the beer glass Akaashi’s lifting to his mouth.
Maybe, Osamu thinks, maybe it’s this: the smell of cooking okonomiyaki swirling around them, warm and nostalgic. Akaashi, an otherworldly thing beneath the pinwheeling pink ceiling of the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park. The way that he smiles when he takes the first bite.
Dashi broth, delicate and water-clear. Greening, caught fresh. A lacy-white sliver of lotus root. Simple, and clean,
and it’d better taste good or else I’m gonna dump it off the fucking roof.
“It looks exactly the same,” Osamu begins. He can’t quite keep the smile out of his voice. They’ve gone through this routine twice already this week—twice again the week before—and it’s starting to feel well-worn, familiar like the warm handful of rice Osamu’s distractedly rolling between his palms.
There’s a soft scoff from somewhere on the other side of the counter. The smile breaks through, then, and Osamu laughs, the sound bouncing bright off of the bare walls. The echo’s just ridiculous enough to set Keiji off laughing, too, tousled head emerging as he unfolds himself from where he’d been crouched low.
It’s a new kitchen in a new restaurant—his new kitchen in his new restaurant, a thought that drives Osamu to near-hysteria every time he begins to approach it—and the counter before him is a smooth, sweeping expanse of honeyed gold wood. It’s the finest surface he’s ever made onigiri on, and though there wasn’t a place for it on the new menu between the marbled slivers of A5 Kobe-gyu and the fucking soup cheerfully bubbling away on the stovetop, it’s the only thing his hands want to make right now. The only thing Osamu can count on them to make, even if he’s blindfolded with a hand tied behind his back, like he’d done for the MSBY Black Jackals YouTube channel one time; or with both hands in front of him, like they are right now, but shaking so badly that he’s spilled the furikake twice already. And though the rhythm—water, salt, rice; press, fill, shape—usually settles Osamu all the way down to his bones, it's not quite enough to quell the tremors in his fingers that'd started immediately after the announcement of Nihonryori Miya’s opening and hadn’t quit since.
It’s the newness of it all, Osamu thinks, the unknown variables stacking higher than the tower of Keiji’s old Jump Giga issues serving as the rice cooker’s temporary home in the new kitchen. It’s a sharp upward tug from the deepest pit of his stomach, the kind of feeling Osamu’s learned accompanies the biggest shifts in the plates under his feet: quitting volleyball. Opening Onigiri Miya I, then II. Locking eyes with Akaashi Keiji for the first time, long ago, across a different counter.
Here, now, in a bright space filled with the clean smell of fresh-hewn wood and just-cooked rice, a rack of gleaming new pots and pans winking over his head like a sky full of stars, Osamu finds himself at the beginning again. It’s all new. It’s all new, and it’s all unfamiliar, and it’s not home, yet, but it can be.
It will be, once Keiji settles on a damn paint color.
Osamu takes a moment to look at him against the backdrop of the dining room’s sun-bright blond wood, paint-splattered jeans sagging off of his hips (they’re Osamu’s), sweater pushed up over his elbows (it’s Osamu’s, too).
“Exactly the same,” Osamu says again, because he wants to hear that laugh one more time, wants to watch the way that it lights up Keiji’s face like the sunbeams shattering through the windows.
And it doesn’t look the same, not really; it’s like the light’s somehow taken a new shape as it bends across the counters and walls and floor—but maybe that’s just because of who’s standing in the middle of it all. There’s a stripe of white paint across the bridge of Keiji’s nose. Osamu wants to kiss him very, very badly.
“I disagree,” Keiji says in his displeased-but-trying-to-be-diplomatic-about-it-editor’s voice, but the paint stripe’s crinkling as he fights a smile. “That was Swiss Coffee. This is Chantilly Lace. If you can’t tell the difference, perhaps you should get your eyes checked.”
“Maybe you should,” Osamu shoots back. “Isn’t that my sweater?”
That does it; Keiji’s half-over the counter in a second, elbows resting on the gleaming wood. There’s definitely paint on the hand that he hooks around the back of Osamu’s neck as he tugs him forward for a kiss, but Osamu’s never minded a little mess.
“The soup,” Keiji says, lips moving against Osamu’s. Pulls away to give him a serious, considering look over the perpetually-crooked top of his glasses. “How are we feeling about the soup.”
It’s barely a question, and Osamu can see Keiji’s already holding a gentle reassurance in his mouth: a murmured no, no, it will taste delicious, I’m sure of it. The unspoken I’m sure of you that perpetually lingers in the air between them, there whenever either of them needs to reach for it.
Keiji’s asking because he knows that it’s the most important course on the menu, and the only one Osamu’s not keeping a secret from him. Knows that it’s been a perpetual bug up Osamu’s ass because he hasn’t been able to get it exactly, perfectly right.
Until he’d watched as Keiji sneaked a sip from this morning’s pot, eyes fluttering shut, smiling around the spoon still raised to his lips, and so Osamu thinks that this might be the one.
Osamu stares down at the half-formed onigiri he’s still cupping in his palms. “It’s perfect,” he says. “This is the one.”
Sakuradai, shimmering scales pink as new love. Fukinoto, clean, green springtime. A burst of color on the clean white center of a plate. I just came up with this. It’s 2 AM. I’m thinking about Akaashi Keiji. Everything’s singing, singing.
“Miya-san, I believe I may be holding up the line.”
They can wait, Osamu wants to say. Stay, stay, stay.
Onigiri Miya’s thrumming, alive with the lunch rush. Sato’s diligently whipping through takeout orders at the little street-facing window at the front of the shop, even as the blustery February winds rake cold fingers through the inside of the shop. Kodama’s got her pointy elbow lodged firmly in Osamu’s ribs, trying to nudge him aside to tap a long acrylic nail against the tablet register. He’s frozen, and not from the chill in the air.
Stay, stay, stay. It’s like every other word has dripped out of his ears and puddled on the floor. Akaashi Keiji’s left eyebrow is steadily rising over the charmingly crooked frames of his glasses. His eyes are very, very blue.
The long acrylic nails curl around Osamu’s arm, not-so-gently shepherding him over to the side counter to start preparing Akaashi’s order. Akaashi shuffles alongside them, looking—perplexed. Amused, or maybe that’s just a trick of the light.
“Oh my god,” Kodama’s voice is a hissing whisper, just ferocious enough to start the synapses firing in Osamu’s brain again. The nails dig in a little, then release him. “Please. Do something.”
Mechanically, Osamu paddles some rice into a gloved hand. Akaashi’s sliding his fingers along the briefcase strap straining at his shoulder. His green sweater is almost certainly on backwards. The silence is hanging between them, thicker than the steam belching out of the chiming rice cooker and straight up the back of Osamu’s shirt. Sweat pricks at his neck.
Three—no, four umeboshi, please. And four spicy cucumber. The rest of the dozen I’ll leave up to you, Akaashi’d said. You haven’t steered me wrong yet, Miya-san.
Akaashi does things like this. Says things like that—things that make Osamu feel hot all over, like he’s burning. Akaashi visits the shop so often that Osamu ought to be used to it, by now, but his eyes are very, very blue, and it always feels like they’re peering straight into the center of Osamu. Like Akaashi wants to know him. Like he’s trying to figure something out.
Akaashi comes to Onigiri Miya nearly every day—because he has a crush on you, Miya-san, Kodama’d told him matter-of-factly one day, pausing in the middle of counting out the register to wave a stack of bills at him like an accusatory finger. It’s painful to watch the two of you.
And maybe Kodama’s on to something; Akaashi always lingers. Never for long, but just long enough to say—well. Things like that. Each careful, quiet word a green root through the soft earth of Osamu’s heart. Each smile a tight springtime bud exploding into bloom. No one’s ever given Osamu flowers before.
Yesterday, it was you’re very generous to me, when Osamu’d topped up his thermos of barley tea on the house. The week before: the usual, please—goodness, I must come here too often, to already have a “usual.” I suppose that I can’t help myself.
A month ago, when he was third in line on opening day, even as snow drifted up the side of the building and the snowflakes caught in his hair: Miya-san, I’m glad to see you. A Tokyo branch at long last. I’ve been looking forward to it.
He’s partial to umeboshi. There’s a MSBY Black Jackals keychain clipped onto his lanyard; Osamu’s got the same one. The tip of his index finger is perpetually stained dark—his mangaka can be a bit heavy on the ink, Akaashi explains. Each new discovery a delicate paper-thin bloom in spring. Akaashi’s eyes are very, very blue.
They’re very, very blue, and right now they’re watching Osamu fumble his way through the plastic to-go wrapping. There’s a thread of a laugh glittering through them. The plastic wrap’s giving Osamu trouble.
He passes the wrapped package over the counter, and before he can stop himself, Osamu’s reaching a little farther forward to tug at the tag hanging out of Akaashi’s collar with his clean hand. “Think you’ve got this on backwards, Akaashi-san.”
“Oh.” Akaashi looks down at himself. The tips of his ears are pink; a trick of the light. “It’s been quite a day. Udai-san’s deadline is tomorrow. These”—he raises the to-go bag—“are dinner, and probably a midnight snack, too, and, well. All-nighter, you know.” Akaashi’s fingers are twisting along the strap of his briefcase again. “I should be going, actually—”
“I’ll bring you more,” Osamu blurts. Kodama’s head swivels around so fast that her Onigiri Miya beanie nearly goes flying off, sleek black bob whipping against her chin. “Tonight. Whatever you want. We, uh, deliver.”
Akaashi is looking pointedly at the scrawled NO DELIVERY!!!!! on the chalkboard menu that Osamu’d added one hectic afternoon in a fit of rage. Kodama is looking at him like he’s insane, which, fair.
“I’ll deliver them,” Osamu amends. His heart is right behind his teeth. “To you.”
It’s half past one in the morning when Osamu stumbles through the front door of his apartment, exhausted, smiling so wide his cheeks ache with it. He paces the length of his apartment in his underwear for half an hour, and then turns on the stove.
A small, perfect square of crispy grilled mackerel. Simmered bamboo shoot atop a bright smear of miso wasabi. Smoky-sweet like the air of a summer festival.
Spring slides slow and molasses-sticky all the way into the tail end of June, into the beginnings of summer, the heat hanging low and heavy over the flickering festival streets. Osamu made the grueling four-hour journey to Osaka with every intention of keeping a watchful eye over this year’s MSBY Black Jackals x Onigiri Miya promotional booth, but Atsumu, swinging his feet impatiently from one of the counter stools and clutching a spare blue yukata—matching his own, because he’s the most embarrassing fucking person on the planet—had dragged Osamu away before he could tie an apron on. He does it every year.
From behind the counter, Kodama flips him off. Her nails are black and gold today.
They fall into step with the churning crowd somewhere around the choco banana stand, Atsumu trying his hardest to stomp on Osamu’s trailing hem as they go. He talks, and talks, and talks, and Osamu lets him, because he does it every year.
Atsumu tells him that he wants to try out another serve, this one courtesy of Poland’s pinch server during the Poland vs. Slovenia match last weekend, and it was so cool, Samu, you shoulda seen it. The angle of the footage was bad, though, hard to study from, so he’s tryin’ a modified version that he came up with on his own, and wouldn’t you know that the Polish player is actually a scrub and his version is better. Probably. Baachan’s mailed him so many omiai booklets this month that he’s started taping Ushijima Wakatoshi’s Volleyball Monthly spreads into the fanciest ones and slidin’ them under Sakusa Kiyoomi’s door and it’s so funny, Hinata laughed, no, really, he did. Oh, and the special Spam MSBY onigiri flavor—and you ain’t clever, Samu, that’s so fuckin’ dumb—at this year’s booth tastes like total dogshit, when are they gonna make negitoro a year-round flavor instead of just a seasonal one, it’s the only edible thing on the menu—
Osamu shoves his brother into the side of the ring-toss stand for that one, and then buys him saba shioyaki in silent apology.
Me [03:20 PM]
Akaashi Keiji [03:47 PM]
Blue is a nice color on you.
“Gross,” Atsumu says after one long look at Osamu’s face.
“I didn’t even say nothin’ yet.”
“Good.” Atsumu rips a savage bite out of his grilled mackerel, the crispy skin crackling loudly between his teeth. “Don’t.”
“Fine. I won’t. Wasn’t gonna,” Osamu snipes back.
When night falls, they sprawl at the top of the hill to watch the fireworks. The long green grass whispers against Osamu’s hands and neck and sweat-damp cheek where he’s turned to press it into the cool, sweet-smelling earth.
The fireworks bloom across the night sky, across Atsumu’s upturned face, blue-red-green-shimmering white shining off of the smear of ponzu sauce he’s somehow still got on his chin.
“Tell me about him.”
White-marbled A5 Kobe-gyu. Fuki, broad beans, walnuts. Grilled asparagus and kinome, for smoke and heat that lingers. Hearty. Heartful. Full of heart.
Summer drapes itself over Osamu’s back; the ferocious, relentless kind of heat that settles like a muffling blanket over the bubbling pavement of Tokyo. It’s August.
It’s fucking August, and yet Osamu is here: out on the tiny, grimy balcony of Kuroo Tetsurou’s apartment, sweating over the blazing flame of a charcoal grill. The air wobbles in front of his eyes. Osamu wonders if an escape over the side of the sixth floor balcony would kill him (yes), and even if it would (it would), at least the breeze would probably be delightful on the way down.
We thought you wouldn’t mind grilling, Kuroo had said, in that way of his. Apologetic, and somehow not at all.
It’s fucking August, and the MSBY Black Jackals have just won some preliminary or another, Osamu doesn’t know, it’s too hot to think. The party inside has been going on for too long, and everyone’s drunk except for Osamu, who’s sweating out his Suntories as fast as he can down them.
There is another problem.
There’s nothing else in here. Osamu, incredulous, had slammed the refrigerator door shut, then opened it again, as if that would somehow make it less piteously empty. Nothing—Bokuto is an athlete—what do you two eat—
Kou forgot to get snacks. Kuroo’d twisted a fist into his wild hair, pulling a face. He just bought the fucking—the fucking steak. And the—you know, the— Made a vague gesture at the groaning card table serving as a makeshift bar.
We’re so hungry.
And—Osamu turns over the skewers, wincing at the flash of flame through the grate, fresh heat licking over his face—the worst part is that Kuroo knew what he was doing. Knew that hungry is the magic word, and that Osamu’d rather swan dive off the balcony than let anyone starve, so he’s grilling the steak. In August. Like an asshole.
The glass door slides open, bringing with it a blessed rolling wave of air conditioning and a pair of blue blue eyes.
Hair rumpled, cheeks pinked, eyeliner smeared so artfully that Osamu’s not sure if it’s on purpose or not—Akaashi is a dream. A dream that’s clutching two sweating cans of beer and leaning heavily on the fingerprint-smeared door. He blinks blearily at Osamu through the wavering heat and the lines of warm light leaking through the windows. He’s lost his glasses somewhere. “Hello.”
“Hi.” The tight thing in Osamu’s chest unspools a little.
Akaashi’s fingers are numbingly, blissfully cold when they brush Osamu’s to pass him one of the cans. He presses them to the back of Osamu’s sweating neck, then his palm, then the back of his hand. “It’s so hot,” he murmurs. “I’m sorry.”
Osamu almost wants to complain just to keep Akaashi’s fingers where they are, gently skimming the column of his throat. Stay, stay, stay. “Nothin’ to be sorry about,” he says instead. “I’m flattered that they’d trust me with the only edible thing in their apartment.”
It makes Akaashi laugh, another bright-petaled bloom in Osamu’s chest. The low orange light bends over his smiling mouth, his fingers where they’re hesitantly dancing along Osamu’s jawline.
They’re still learning how to touch each other like this. They’re still learning.
Behind Akaashi, the apartment’s slowly emptying itself, the party trickling down to its dregs—Osamu’s eyes automatically seek out his brother first, slumped over the coffee table and asleep atop his folded arms—and the music’s shifted to something sweeter, slower, which means that Kenma’s hijacked the playlist and is trying to get everyone to leave.
They sip at their beers, quiet, staring at each other. The balcony is small, and Akaashi’s cupping Osamu’s burning cheek in the cool curve of his palm, but he’s still too far away.
“Hey, dance with me,” Osamu says suddenly into the stifling red near-dark. The food’s nearly done, anyway; he sets down his beer and twists away from the grill to move Akaashi’s hand from cheek to shoulder. Kenma’s playing Faye Wong. “I like this song.”
Akaashi’s mouth twists. “I don’t dance—” he strains against the arm Osamu curls low around his waist, but only for a moment, “—no, really, I don’t—” then he’s going limp against Osamu, laughing helplessly into his shoulder as he sways them in a tight circle in time to the low trickle of music from the living room. “Honestly.”
The night is heavy and velvet around them, and Akaashi is a dream at the center of it, one that Osamu isn’t quite ready to wake up from. Both of their faces are brilliantly, brilliantly red, and they’re still learning. Osamu leans in to kiss him anyway.
When Akaashi pulls away, he’s got his displeased-editor’s face on, but it’s a little too soft around the edges. “Honestly,” he says again, but he lets Osamu’s hands linger on his hips, rocking them gently from foot to foot. “You smell like a barbecue.”
The grill spits another long orange curl of flame into the night; the charcoal’s dying. They slip back inside as the song’s ending, and the air conditioning raises a trail of gooseflesh over Osamu’s arms. Akaashi’s still got his fingers curled loosely around his wrist.
In the kitchen, Osamu frowns down at the small plate of gyu-kushi. And—Osamu is many things, but he’s never claimed to be humble—they’re perfect, crispy-seared and glistening with sauce. He can practically hear Bokuto salivating from the living room. “This isn’t gonna be enough for everyone.”
The silence stretches long between them. Snaps.
“I just went grocery shopping,” Akaashi says, and his voice is quiet, but it roars through Osamu’s head like he’s screaming right into his ear. “If you’d like to come by for dinner.”
So he goes; not into Akaashi’s kitchen but instead the hushed blue dark of his bedroom, Akaashi a dream in the center of it. But he’s warm and real beneath Osamu’s hands as they wander the soft plane of Akaashi’s stomach beneath his shirt, skin burning against Osamu’s mouth as it traces the aureate line of Akaashi’s back, and they’re still learning how to touch each other like this.
For the first time in his life, Osamu skips dinner.
In the morning, Akaashi—Keiji, all beautiful bare legs and truly outrageous bedhead and I’d like it very much if you called me Keiji, Osamu—peels an orange. Settled atop Osamu’s thighs in a pool of sunlight spilling pierced-yolk yellow across the bed, Keiji presses a sliver to Osamu’s mouth.
There are more skipped dinners. They do learn.
(Osamu’s still learning. He never did find out why Keiji doesn’t dance.)
The sun’s setting, fiery pink-red light pouring through the windows of Nihonryori Miya as their friends start tumbling through the doors in a whirlwind of I got beef and pork for the hotpot and oh my god, we’re having hotpot?! and Samu that had better not be my fucking jacket that makes Osamu feel so warm and overfull that it he has to squeeze his eyes shut against the enormity of it. His fingers have stopped trembling.
Keiji’s changed back into his own clothes, free of paint: slim dark pants and a striped shirt that billows when Bokuto twirls him around in the middle of the bare dining room floor. He’s laughing and laughing and laughing, teeth flashing in the low gold lamplight.
Osamu feels the weight of his love like a physical thing. His heart’s a gripping fist in his chest.
Bokuto’s alight, too, a gold bolt of flame drunk on nothing more than the atmosphere. He’s got one arm looped around Kuroo’s waist and the other around Keiji’s. He tries to dip them both in time with the weird disco song Suna’s pumping through the ceiling speakers—shrieks when Kuroo’s polished shoe slips on the gleaming floor and they all go crashing down.
“That,” Keiji says, after he’s freed himself from the tangle of limbs and ridiculous hair and retreated to press a gentle champagne kiss to Osamu’s cheek, “is why I don’t dance.”
香の物 kō no mono
Pickled vegetables. A tart kiss. The kind that lingers on the tongue long after everyone’s gone home.
Akaashi Keiji kisses Osamu for the first time at the threshold of Onigiri Miya, the white noren fluttering over his shoulders like angel wings.
It’s April; four months almost to the day since Osamu’d first thrown open the doors of the Tokyo location. No place had ever felt quite as close to home as this one, until Akaashi curls his fingers into the front of Osamu’s shirt. A green root clean through the center of his heart.
Akaashi tastes like spicy cucumber onigiri—a little too much ume iichiko shochu—something else Osamu’ll never be able to put onto a plate. He’ll spend the rest of his life trying anyway.
Rice. Miso soup. Done properly.
All that green. It catches Osamu’s breath in his throat, every time; all that green of the paddy fields, and the gleaming stillness of the water beneath, full of sky somehow. Kita Shinsuke in the middle of it all, muddy-gloved hand raised in greeting, the cracked-open smile on his face full of sky somehow too.
The truck wheezes into the driveway and Osamu kills the engine. It’s not often that Osamu makes the journey—s’not like I don’t know how to ship my own product, Kita’d gently chided him more than once—but every so often there’s an insistent tug in his gut that Osamu is helpless to follow. It always leads him here, a deep, primitive thing, like he’s a migrating bird. It always leads him here.
He’s got so much to tell Kita that he lingers in the truck’s cabin, sifting through his thoughts, until Kita’s almost all the way down the driveway.
Kita’s quiet is a simple bone-deep thing—different, Osamu thinks, than Keiji’s measured, careful sort of quiet—and it bleeds into the air around him until Osamu feels the tight line of his shoulders relax as they walk together toward the storehouse. As they start to load the heavy, coarse sacks of rice onto the truck bed, Osamu talks, and talks, and talks until the tugging thing in his gut stills.
Osamu tells him that Nihonryori Miya’s due to open in a month. It’s small, but the ceiling soars. The location is good—far from their apartment in Jimbocho, but in one of those trendy neighborhoods, you know the sort, Kita-san, or maybe you don’t, on a cheerful sun-streaked corner. Keiji says that we shouldn’t decorate too much inside, simple light wood he says, and white walls to hold all of that beautiful light. When you stand outside of it at night, the windows spill gold all over the street.
Kaiseki is fussy and complicated and traditional, and Atsumu said he’d sooner die than sit through an eight course meal, but it ain’t for him and his opinion don’t mean shit, so. Sorry for swearing, Kita-san.
Comin’ up with a menu was so hard, kept him up some nights straight through to the first pink light of dawn, but it got easier once he realized. It’s Keiji. Well, it’s you, Kita-san, and it’s Tsumu and Baachan and Keiji’s friends with the hair and, you know, all of it, everyone, a little. But it’s Keiji at the center of it all, things that make him smile when he eats them, things that we ate together. It’ll all be worth it to see his face when he realizes, oh god, c’mon, don’t make fun, Kita-san, this is embarrasin’ enough already.
It’s hard work, cruel and grueling and so easy to fail, and thinking about it makes his heart race and his palms tingle like it’s something that he wants to chase. So he’s gonna.
Kita nods appreciatively. “It all sounds brilliant, Osamu. You’ll do it right. I know you will.”
He brought Keiji here, once, a year after they’d started dating. Osamu looks to the sun-bleached veranda where Keiji’d sat with Kita’s granny, their murmuring voices curling up like thin smoke into the blue air.
What were you talking about? Osamu’d asked on the drive back.
Oh, this and that. Keiji had rolled his forehead against the window, the sun glinting off of his hair like fire. She said that Kita-san talks about the both of you, constantly. Brags, really. He’s so proud. He can’t wait to see where you’ll go next.
“Kita-san,” Osamu says, once they’ve shucked their muddy boots in the genkan and settled at the low table in the center of the living room. His voice feels too loud as it cuts through the warm, serene air.
“Can I show you the ring?”
Single scoop of strawberry sorbet. Red like fire, red like sunset. Red like love.
They set up the hotpot in the middle of the dining room, atop the gigantic Franken-table they’d made by pushing together all of the two-tops. Keiji a dream in the center of it all, leaning into the fragrant column of steam to smile at Osamu across the table, flash-eyed and breathless from laughter, lips puffy and red with salt.
The ring in Osamu’s apron pocket weighs a thousand pounds. He’s been twisting it around and around on the tip of his little finger for an hour. It’s so small and thin it looks ridiculous in Osamu’s hand, like it was made for a doll. Keiji’s got slender setter’s hands, with pretty, slim fingers; Udai Tenma draws them long and creepy like Nosferatu. The ring is simple and silver and it weighs two thousand pounds.
Wedged between Atsumu and Kuroo’s jostling shoulders, Kita’s smiling at him, too, Buddha-serene. The ring weighs three thousand pounds. Ten thousand. It’s pulling him through the floor.
Osamu checks that there’s enough beef in the hotpot. Excuses himself.
The alley behind Nihonryori Miya is just wide enough to fit Osamu, a narrow spill of golden lamplight, and a carton of the strawberry sorbet he’d pre-prepped for tomorrow’s dinner service. He scoops out a generous spoonful and presses it between his lips, holds it there until his teeth ache with the cold of it.
Holds it there until Atsumu ducks through the back door, blinking against the shift in the light. Atsumu’s known since that day at the festival; had laughed, then, rolling around in the grass and clutching his stomach at the way Osamu’d mumbled this is it for me, he’s it for me into the sleeve of his yukata, red-faced and mortified. It’s probably the only secret Atsumu’s ever kept.
They stand there for a while in the puddle of gold light, silently passing the spoon back and forth.
“Do you ever think about how,” Atsumu says, hush-voiced and staring at his sneakers as they scuff along the asphalt, pointedly looking anywhere but Osamu’s face. “That’s a whole room of people you fed. You and Kita-san,” His eyes slide over to meet Osamu’s, just for the smallest second. “You built all of us.”
Osamu swallows around the bright strawberry spoonful still melting on his tongue, salt welling in his throat, flooding his mouth. “Please shut up,” he manages, but his voice breaks on every word. His palms are tingling as he scrubs them hard against the front of his jeans.
Atsumu laughs; a familiar, bright, mean sound that’s always lanced through Osamu’s whole body like sunshine.
The alleyway lapses back into quiet, and after a while Atsumu’s stopped passing the carton and spoon back to Osamu, instead shoveling it into his mouth in great heaping spoonfuls. Greedy, eager fingers, always reaching first. He makes a bright sound of delight, one that he only makes when he’s eating something delicious.
Osamu’s built him, with his hands and his food and his heart. Atsumu’s built Osamu, too, always right beside him even when the rest of the world’s fallen away behind them. It’s bliss—a blinding, nauseating feeling that shivers straight down to the oldest and deepest part of him—to know that he’s pulling ahead, if only for a little while. Until Atsumu catches up again.
“I’m gonna win,” Osamu says. He turns to look Atsumu full in the face. There’s a smear of strawberry sorbet on his chin.
The carton and spoon clatter to the ground. Atsumu lunges forward to grab Osamu by the ears, the way he hasn’t done since they were children, and bashes their foreheads together until they’re sharing a strawberry-flavored breath. It fucking hurts, but it’s so familiar an ache that Osamu feels the tears start to sting at the backs of his eyes again.
“You ain’t,” Atsumu says.
It’s all too much for either of them, then, hearts flayed open and bare on the asphalt between them, Osamu choking and gasping around a sound that he won’t let escape from where it’s pounding through his chest in rolling waves. Between the two of them, Atsumu’s always been the crybaby. The bigger, bloodier heart.
It’s too much, so Atsumu knocks their foreheads together again, gentler this time, and then shoves Osamu so that his back hits the brick wall. He bares his teeth in a sort-of smile as he ducks back into the kitchen. He never goes too far.
There’s a strawberry cake on the counter.
Osamu can see it when the kitchen door swings back in on itself: enormous, summer-swollen red jewels of strawberries atop a swirling froth of icing. The cake is gigantic, with two wide, squat, clumsily-frosted tiers. OSAMU!! OMEDETOU!! in sloppy looping script. The whole thing is leaning violently to the left. Absurdly—absurdly, absurdly, he’s pressing his fists into his eyes, absurdly—it‘s what finally looses the sound from his chest. It’s very, very small, but his whole body shudders with it, and he’s glad that no one’s around to hear.
The kitchen door swings again: blue blue eyes.
“If you’ve finished spoiling your dessert,” Keiji says, voice light, “I’d like to see the new menu sometime this century.”
“I love you,” Osamu says, and the words burn up his throat like he’s torn them straight out of his soul. “So much.”
Keiji’s mouth presses into a line, but his eyes are soft as he takes Osamu’s face in his hands, thumbs gliding over the rubbed-raw skin below Osamu’s eyes.
“You’re ridiculous. Oh, don’t make that face. I love you, too. Will you let me see the menu now?”
The ring in his pocket weighs nothing, suddenly; there’s a burst of lightness in his chest, a spiraling shower of petals on the brightest of mid-March afternoons. “Yeah, I will. But I’m gonna make a real big deal out of it. In front of everyone.”
Keiji’s expression shifts a little, eyes widening; or maybe it’s a trick of the light.
“If that’s okay with you, Keiji.” He’s smiling, oh, he’s beautiful.
Keiji hums, head leaned against the doorframe. “All right,” he decides. When he tucks his hair behind his ear, it’s red. “But we should cut the cake, first. Everyone’s hungry.”
“Well, then,” Osamu says. “Let’s eat.”