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loving you was easy

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Sara remembers the day Kokomi broke up with her like it was yesterday.

She remembers everything more vividly than she’d like to admit — and she thinks about it even now, even when she’s wrapped up in Mei’s arms on the bus ride to Nagoya. This time, a year and two weeks ago, they were meant to be celebrating their anniversary.

Sara remembers the faded blue hair dye Kokomi smeared on her hair for the summer. She remembers the nervous look on her face right before their movie and it makes her want to throw up even just thinking about it because she realizes finally that the nerves were never from excitement. It’s hard to remember the last time she might’ve been excited about their relationship, honestly, because Sara’s spent the past 379 days in absolute shambles and now every good memory is clouded in dust.

Mei pulls her in tighter. It’s not meant to be romantic, and it doesn’t feel as soft as she wishes it was, but Sara appreciates the comfort all the same.

*

“Mine!”

Running quite literally across the court, Sara ignores the dirty look Mei shoots at her and lands with a thud on the linoleum floors of the gym; her hands outstretched, receiving the volleyball. It bounces up high enough for her setter to receive it, of course, and by the time she’s standing up again the Tokyo team has received their match point.

She’s tired now, but it’s Mei dragging her by her arm that gets Sara off of the court.

“Can you relax?” She slams her down on the bench, forces a towel into her hand. “Jesus. You don’t need to show off every time you start feeling stressed out, you know? You aren’t even our libero!”

Someone calls for their captain to come back on the court, but she just waves them off indifferently. Sara pretends she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and takes a sip of her Gatorade. Mei just squints.

“You’re sitting out until you stop trying to break a limb.”

On her way back, the gym doors open wide for the Osaka team’s entrance. Sara pretends her heart doesn’t squeeze itself to death when she sees the flash of blue bouncing from blonde tips.

*

Kokomi is loud, so even if Sara was actively trying to pretend she didn’t exist, it would be impossible.

A lunch table filled with the Kobe team is all that separates them from being together once again. Sara watches with disdain as she pokes and prods at the curry on her plate. Yoimiya nudges her and she immediately raises her fork, prepared to stab.

“My God, Kujou,” Yoimiya drawls on after a moment of initial disgust. She talks just like the country girl she was raised as. “You’re drooling and her friend is watching. Sorry for wanting to save you some embarrassment.”

Sara looks up through her eyelids and meets the gaze of some weird ginger kid, mumbling terribly behind an open palm. For a split second, she thinks about going up and stabbing him instead. Yoimiya’s the one that nudges her out of it.

*

Sara goes to the showers later that evening. She’s ready to get in and wash off the day when she sees the outworn Finding Nemo gym bag Kokomi’d always refused to get rid of lying beneath a closed shower door.

She leaves before the sounds of her humming can reach her ears, too.

*

Scratch that — the entire Osaka team is loud. Mei grumbles under her breath that night, Sara only able to hear her because of their shared sleeping bag. The numbers on her watch let her know that it’s nearing two in the morning, and Osaka are still giggling and cracking jokes even from their side of the gym.

Mei keeps grumbling, and Sara jabs her in the ribs. “They’re loud enough. I don’t need you moping and whining in my ear, too.”

A moment of silence from her.

“If that bruises in the morning, you’re dead.” Mei tightens her grip on Sara’s waist and settles against her back, taking a deep breath in preparation of sleeping.

Times like these, Sara wishes they could be something more. Mei’s already snoring against her ear and she smells faintly of lavender and even in her sleep, she’s pulling Sara closer. It makes her want to cry, because she knows that neither of them are happy about this situation.

Mei is sleeping soundly now, but they’ve spoken it over dozens of times. Mei likes their team manager, and Sara still fucking likes Kokomi.

After all this time, it’s still Kokomi.

Sara can just barely catch a glimpse of the Osaka team’s shadows illuminated through moonlight. She searches for the blunt bangs of who was once hers and lets her jaw clench when she finds them.

She counts the bounces of her hair like one counts sheep. She’s knocked out before long.

*

Day three of camp sees Teams Kyoto and Sapporo and Teams Tokyo versus Osaka on the court, the last before players started being mixed together.

“They’ve got you setting now?” Yoimiya asks Kokomi as they bow at the net. Sara tries not to look, but she fails herself in the end. Kokomi’s shy at the question, looking anywhere but at team Tokyo — the team that was once hers. Yoimiya shrugs at her silence. “You were a really good libero. Shame they made you switch.”

This match is somehow more brutal than the others for Sara. She feels like she has something to prove going up against Kokomi and her new friends, especially since they seem to target her specifically with their spikes. If Kokomi’s disapproving of it, she sure doesn’t show it.

She blocks spikes several times with her chest, biting back just how badly it hurts every time. Mei tries to keep her eye on her, but Sara’s always a step ahead.

Kazari sets a ball meant very obviously for Mei, but Sara’s already stepped forward to spike. She gets there before Mei’s even halfway to where she was meant to jump, and she’s definitely already in the air before she can stop her.

All she can feel is the dull ache in her chest and how angry she is.

Her hand swings up to spike the ball. There’s a loud thud, an even louder gasp. Silence on the court, save for the sound of Sara’s shoes hitting the ground again and the white noise ringing incessantly in her ears.

“Kujou!”

It’s the first time Mei’s called her by her last name in a long time.

The taller girl rushes forward and grabs her by her jersey, jerking her over to the side of the court. Sara’s eyes are blurry from the tears that’d amassed during her spike, and she’s confused.

Over on Osaka’s side, everyone is huddled together. They release after a couple seconds to reveal Kokomi in the center, blood gushing through the fingers closing over her nose. Her face is bright red with a giant circle imprinted onto it and Sara realizes, then, that she’d gone and spiked her ex girlfriend in the face with a volleyball.

“Kujou, fuck, you moron!” Mei starts flicking and slapping at her skull. She shoves her forward after a couple more curses, hits her some more, shoves her again.

For the first time in a year, suddenly, Kokomi and Sara are side by side. She doesn’t know what to do now, so she kind of just… stands there.

“Take her to the infirmary, already!”

*

The walk shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.

Invisible fingers press down on Sara’s lungs and she doesn’t know if it’s from the constant blows she’d taken just moments prior or from the weight of Kokomi’s presence being so near but either way it hurts and she does not want to be there any longer.

Kokomi is still bleeding though. She still bleeds and as long as Sara knows that, then she knows her heart — Kokomi’s, Sara’s, whoever it belongs to — is still beating. She watches her hair bounce with each step, feeling the weight of a year of constant sorrow ebb away with each passing second and Sara thinks, for a split second, that maybe it can end here. Maybe all she needed was to release her frustrations once before she could move on with her life.

Suddenly, Kokomi stops walking.

“Kujou,” Sara stops too at the umpteenth blow to her chest. The last time Kokomi called her that, they were thirteen.

She may not be angry anymore, but it doesn’t hurt any less.

Kokomi’s voice is nasally from pinching at her nose. If Sara wasn’t suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to shrivel up into a hole and die, she might have found it funny. “Um. You don’t have to walk me any longer. I don’t blame you, and I’m not gonna, like. Hold this against you or anything, so you can just go back to practice… I can walk myself.”

“No, uh, it’s okay, really,” she licks away the dryness of her lips, stands up a little straighter.

She supposes this is all her fault, so the right thing to do is apologize. Kokomi starts walking again before she can speak. Sara stops her in the hallway, tapping her shoulder instead of grabbing it. She takes a deep breath.

“I’m sorry,” the anger is gone by now, leaving nothing but the dull drumming of her heart against bruised ribs. Kokomi just stares at her. She supposes that Kokomi knows how hard it is for her to apologize. She nods when Sara motions to look at her accident.

Tipping her head up, Sara suddenly feels like she’s been gut punched again.

Their hearts still beat the same.

*

It’s midnight and the gymnasium feels too crowded and Sara feels like ants are crawling all over her body and not even Mei can swat them off.

Would Mei even want to?

Sara takes another drag of the singular cigarette she found shoved beneath piles of homework, looks towards the gym. On her day off from practice (Nurse’s orders upon seeing her bruises) Mei had become significantly closer with Miko, leaving Sara alone once again for lunches and bedtimes as Mei’d gone off and chosen to spend all her time flirting with the manager.

She shakes off another round of ants, sits the cigarette in the corner of her mouth as she rubs at her arms.

A door is closing. Sara turns and sees Kokomi coming out of the bathroom, yawning and rubbing at her eyes. They lock eyes mid-yawn and it dies on the girl’s lips. Sara looks at the huge band aid covering her nose, then at her school hoodie she was wearing to bed.

She thinks for a moment.

“You suit blue.”

Call it a peace offering.

Kokomi’s silent save for a small “thank you” so quiet, Sara thinks that she might’ve just imagined it. She turns around after an awkward few moments of watching each other.

Her next drag burns a little less.

*

As if by chance, they’re placed on the same team their first day back on court.

This is good, Sara thinks to herself. After the other night, she almost feels like they can patch things up. She tells this to Mei during a water break, and gets a smile and shoulder pat in response.

“I’m proud of you,” a whistle blows from behind them and Sara goes back to the court.

Kokomi still has the ginormous bandaid on her nose, but her spirits seem higher today. She’s floating around the court, talking to everyone that she comes across. At one point, she even talks to Sara.

They have a good game after, winning 3 points ahead of the other team and eventually winning in the final game itself. Kokomi rewards her with an ecstatic high five. Sara isn’t sure of just why she’s so excited but it feels infectious and soon enough, Sara’s laughing and high-fiving everyone, too.

*

They get a pizza party as a reward for winning.

Sara spends the evening talking to some of the other teammates she’d played with. Kamisato is nice enough if not a little strange, and she seems like the only member of Team Osaka that’s willing to speak with Sara before Kokomi’s blessing is given. Sara doesn’t mind though, she thinks it’s entertaining.

“You seriously don’t remember me?” She takes a big bite of Hawaiian pizza, covering her mouth as she speaks. Sara just shrugs. This has been Kamisato’s bit for the part twenty minutes — convincing her that they’ve met before. “My gosh. Koko! Come here!”

Kokomi comes skipping over, a couple pieces of garlic bread on her own plate.

“Koko, we met before, right?” Her eyes light up.

“Oh, oh! Kujou was there! Kujou, remember that volleyball camp we met at when we were twelve? Aya was there!” Sara hides her wince at the sound of her surname. She does remember the volleyball camp, but only Kokomi. She chooses to be nice and fakes a gasp.

Kokomi skips off before they can continue the conversation with her, and Kamisato just returns to happily eating her dinner. After a couple moments of silence, she speaks again.

“You should talk to her,”

Sara thinks about it. “Maybe,” hesitates. “I don’t wanna start anything, though. She seems alright with you guys, don’t know how much me talking to her will benefit things on her side.”

“And your side?” Another hesitation. She hopes Kamisato can’t tell. “Will it benefit yours?”

*

Sara finds Kokomi at some point and asks to accompany her on a walk throughout the campus. It’s Thursday now and the camp ends on Sunday, a week flying by in a moment. Time was strange like that. How was it that the past year felt so lonely in comparison to this?

Kokomi walks without purpose. She kicks the rocks in her way, inhales every gust of wind deeply, laughs when Sara makes the occasional joke behind her. Guilt starts to pile in her chest the more she enjoys her time on their walk.

“I’m sorry again,” she says it randomly in the middle of a conversation she was tuned out of. “For the nose situation. Uh, I really wasn’t aiming the spike at you. And we go home soon, so I just didn’t want the guilt to like… weigh on me.”

Kokomi just laughs. There’s a bench a ways ahead of them beneath a tree, so she takes them there.

“No. I mean,” they sit down beneath the tree. It is hot, and the summer sun is just beginning to settle across the horizon. “Thank you for apologizing. But it was my fault, kind of. I’m still not fully used to setting and just… didn’t get my hands up fast enough to redirect it.”

“Oh,” she wonders why she hadn’t said that sooner, but lets it rest between them. “Why do you call me Kujou these days?”

Kokomi grows silent all over again. She unclasps her hair, twists some of it between her fingers the way she always does when she’s nervous. Some habits die hard, Sara supposes.

“I didn’t know if I was still qualified to call you anything else.”

Sara exhales a laugh.

“I guess, yeah. I mean, we did date for two years. Break up or not, I don’t think I would’ve revoked your Sara card at any point.”

She starts to grow tired of the quiet pauses in between replies, but reminds herself that things take time. After a year and some of radio silence from Kokomi, this moment is a blessing.

“I still call you Kokomi, if you’re wondering. But I can stop.”

“You don’t have to! I don’t mind,” through her peripheral vision, Sara watches her braid and unbraid the same three strands over and over again. “Um. I guess I should apologize for how I ended things, though. Since we are talking now.”

Sara thinks she should have apologized a long time ago. The anger dies out just as quickly as it forms. Sara’s tired of being angry.

“This is really awkward, isn’t it?”

The confrontation drives a wedge between them that had only recently been removed. It sucks, it sucks so bad but this time Sara’s not as willing to let it grow.

“Why’d you leave?”

A sharp inhale. “My mom got a new job. Her and my dad split, as you know, and, um. I just felt out of place there. In Tokyo.”

“With me?”

“No,” Kokomi’s quick with her words and Sara’s reminded of how much she meant to her once. She thinks of summer days where Kokomi fed her ice cream to keep her cool and Christmases spent at the Sangonomiya household. She doesn’t think she can handle learning that it was all a lie. “Never with you, Sara.”

“I missed you everyday,”

She hates how uprooted she feels. For years, Sara prided herself in her lack of vulnerability. She was the tree everyone could rely on, with her roots so deep into the earth no one knew where to even begin chopping. And yet, somehow, some way, Kokomi did.

“I’m sorry,” the girl repeats again. Her braid lies forgotten on her shoulder. Sara looks at her through blurry eyes. The imprint of the volleyball is still vaguely there.

“Did she know about us?”

“No,” Kokomi’s quick again, but this time it hurts. “I’m sorry, Sara, I-” she stands abruptly and faces away from her. “That step was- I mean, I tried, I did,” it hurts to see Kokomi’s face when she tries to change her wording. “She didn’t like it. She thought it was a joke and...” she swallows harshly and Sara is flooded with guilt again because she’s somehow managed to ruin something that was almost good again.

The wedge has grown.

“I just don’t want to hurt anymore, Kokomi.”

The sun has set and the cicadas are out. Sara sits firmly on the bench, thinking to herself how she could easily just sleep there for the night — under the stars, in hopes of some kind of freak accident to take her out.

Kokomi shakes before her. She sits down after a moment of horror.

“I didn’t think I was hurting you,”

*

The next days are awkward and quiet between them.

Sara mopes in her own despair. She asks Mei one day from beneath her sleeping bag covers if she’s hard to understand emotionally.

“You expect me to know? We’re one and the same, I get you perfectly,”

“Okay,”

“Just a little stoic, we are.”

*

It’s Sunday before it’s confrontation day again. Sara’s taken too long to find her; the buses back home are beginning to fill. She throws her bags onto Mei and starts looking for the Osaka bus — hopefully, if following the arrival schedule, should be the last to leave.

She finds Kamisato and Kokomi together and politely steals Kokomi from her, dragging her to the nearest alleyway. Kokomi fumbles in her grip, but follows without complaint.

Sara’s gut screams at her to be civil here, to say what she has to and then leave. Her body screams at her that Kokomi doesn’t care, and the ants are back and her lungs squeeze themselves half to death all at once. She feels like a ghost of a person here, like more than a ghost — like some kind of disgusting, weird, lesbian ghost who preys on women and forces them to love her.

She wants Kokomi to love her again. She wants it more than anything else.

In the alleyway, Sara’s about to speak when Kokomi’s pushing her back against the wall, kissing her square on the mouth for the first time in 388 days. She tastes like peaches. Sara pushes into her kiss, feeling the salty tears of hers tumble down her cheeks and between their lips. It's all too much but not enough at the same time.

“I’m sorry,” Kokomi breathes new life into Sara’s lungs when they part, her mouth less than an inch away. “I’m sorry,” she kisses her again. “I’m sorry,” and again. “I’m so, so, sorry,”

Sara cries. She wraps an arm around Kokomi’s waist, clenches her jaw, and tries to stifle the sobs against her neck.

Kokomi holds her closely, inhales the smell of her hair. She mumbles promises to her over and over until Mei finds them half an hour later, wrapped up in each other.

*

On the bus ride home, Mei doesn’t speak about the bruising on Sara’s lips. If she sees Sara smiling a little extra at her phone, she doesn't speak about that, either.