I want to meet all sorts of people, he’d said, one day when they were sixteen. Osamu’d been filling in a circle on his geometry spreadsheet for no reason, tongue sticking out in concentration like he was the next Picasso. Wasting ink, pressing too hard on the nib, and letting blue bleed to the other side of the page. I want to know what it’s like to be in love with an artist and an engineer and a singer and a funny guy and a grumpy guy and an unknowable guy.
And then what, Osamu had asked without looking up. Come home and tell him all about them?
Yes, he’d replied. Always. Come home and tell him all about them.
There’s an unspeakable revolt to being in love with someone who wants away from the world. Well— maybe not the world, not all of it. Just this one.
Just this one. Every morning, at five, Atsumu blinks awake in his bed though his curtains let no light in and he doesn’t have to be up for two hours yet. He lays in the perfect dark for a few minutes, every morning, sleep still coursing through his veins but along with it something bluer, more open, like the sky sneaking in through a crack in the window.
Somewhere away from this world, where it’s still, somehow, five in the morning, Shinsuke is rising carefully. Turning onto his side, then leaning his weight on an elbow on the mattress, then sitting up, all in perfect dark, perfect quiet.
Atsumu, too, perfects the quiet. When his few minutes have passed he surrenders to separation, to sleep, and closes his eyes again.
Every year, the rice blooms in half-summer, half-monsoon, as if it’s always known.
Half-winter is when Atsumu always returns. He refuses to give their togetherness a name; names have a finite number of brushstrokes. But he always returns, forming a hundred arcs around the single fixed point that is Shinsuke. Like a bird, Atsumu’d laughed, once. Migrating south for the winter. Or, well, north. North, get it?
He refuses to give their togetherness a form; something that’s solid only occupies a fixed amount of space. But every morning at five, when it’s so dark outside that he wouldn’t be able to see his own hand if he held it before his eyes, they rise together. Then he lays there, half-asleep, half-not, and watches as Shinsuke reaches for the lamp, its paper shade diffusing the yellow-orange light like mist in the cold room.
He has a dozen, of which only one is reserved for these mornings. Duller than what he uses on the stalks, but still sharp enough to arrest Atsumu’s breath in his throat when Shinsuke twirls it, spins it, swings it.
Atsumu has given the ritual a name. It’s swing, swing, swing, Shinsuke with the scythe, ink on parchment. Eyes sharp and focused on invisible outlines in the air that his hands fit perfectly into without fail, morning after morning. The very tensing of his muscles follows those brushstrokes that only he can see, the way Atsumu knows how to angle his wrists so that the next hit means victory.
Shinsuke’s not looking for victory. Why he practices in the room when he knows what it does to Atsumu, is anyone’s guess.
Atsumu doesn’t get to learn what it’s like to be in love with an artist and an engineer and a doctor. He does meet Shouyou, and Kiyoomi, and loves every bit of not belonging to them as much as they don’t belong to him. Their compasses point elsewhere too, Shouyou’s needle a neat line across the net, and Kiyoomi’s perpendicular, towards the sky itself, or the ground.
He never tells either of them about it, because he’s never wanted to learn what it’s like to be loved by an artist or an engineer or a doctor. Only to love, so that he can tuck understanding after understanding away in his head, practice, perfect. Like saying to Shinsuke, now this is one less way in which you could catch me off-guard, even though Shinsuke’ll find a new one come morning.
He always does, because only he can see the lines in the air that he’s supposed to fit into. To Atsumu, they’re invisible and incredible, just like the rice that blooms from seedling to shoot to stalk and ends up on his plate.
Don’t you feel it too, he’d asked one day, when they were twenty-one and he was about to sign his contract. Osamu had been working his knife around the spine of a fish, gloved hands still as quick but surreal in that they weren’t doing what Atsumu’s were, anymore. Like he wants away from the world. Like I should’ve learned by now to leave him alone.
Wanting away from the world and wanting to be alone are two different things, Osamu’d replied. He could want away from the world with you.
I like it in the world, though. And he never stops me when I leave.
Then stay here.
I want him all the time. Head in his hands, suddenly, voice thick. I know it’s like— trying to take an appointment with God or something. I should be thankful for the time I’m getting instead of asking for more.
Kita-san’s not a god, don’t you let him hear you say that.
Shut up, ‘Samu, you know what I mean.
Yeah. Yeah, I do.
He does like it in this world. There are all sorts of people, and then all sorts of people trying to take an appointment with God.
The day Shouyou wins his first match, Atsumu finds him crying into his own shirt in the restaurant washroom, the fabric of it wet through all the way. What Atsumu manages to gather between Shouyou’s half-sobs and beer-hiccups has him laughing so hard he has to clutch the counter not to fall over, because he’s always known that Shouyou’s needle points elsewhere, but it’s somehow escaped him that nothing’s been done about it, so obvious is its pointing. That he’d choose to finally realise it in the middle of the night and the middle of a meal doesn’t surprise Atsumu in the least.
He hasn’t had a single drink; takes everyone’s leave and escorts Shouyou all the way to God’s doorstep, and is nice enough not to laugh when the door opens and Shouyou falls forward with a loud, stupid, earnest Tobio.
He isn’t nice enough not to laugh on his way downstairs, until suddenly it isn’t funny anymore. Suddenly it’s November, half-winter, and he hasn’t gone home yet. Suddenly the dark is scary. Suddenly he’s starving, about to cry, and too far from either world.
Shinsuke finds a new way, come morning. It’s a morning after, which Atsumu cherishes because they still get to wake at five and have the world to themselves before the sun comes up, but they don’t rise. On mornings after, Shinsuke stays in bed, warm, malleable, lineless. There’s no scythe, there’s no rice. There’s simply Shinsuke, and a new way.
Today it isn’t in the sandalwood of him that Atsumu can inhale when he presses his nose to a warm shoulder. It isn’t in their nameless togetherness, a world that doesn’t exist and hence has no in or out, that floats in the air like frost forgetting how to fall.
It isn’t even between the bruised-petal opening of Atsumu’s lips and the fertile field of Shinsuke’s back, where God could sneak in perfectly. It isn’t in the release, sudden and disarming, rolling down the invisible lines of Shinsuke’s body, from the touch on his back alone. Even though it makes Atsumu’s breath stop in his throat; Shinsuke, scythe, shudder; swing, swing, swing.
‘Lord have mercy on me.’ Even though Atsumu’s voice is frayed. I want to see every state of you.
It isn’t even when he straightens up to fetch water, and Shinsuke’s hand closes around his wrist, his arm still trembling. It isn’t when Shinsuke says stay, a word Atsumu never thought he’d hear from his mouth. It isn’t Shinsuke, lineless in the winter sunlight, as north as it gets.
It isn’t stay. It isn’t when Atsumu, knowing, suddenly, that it means more than an hour or a day, chokes out wish I could.
The new way Shinsuke finds is this. He opens his eyes and looks up, and says:
‘Then take me with you sometimes.’
Atsumu has never wanted to hear that from anybody else, in this world or the next. It follows, then, that he could’ve met a hundred thousand people, but he’d never have prepared for it. Now this is one more way in which I can catch you off-guard.
‘Yeah,’ he says, one foot on the floor, the other knee pressing into the soft give of the mattress. Sometimes has no real name or form. It can’t, then, have an end.
‘Yes?’ Shinsuke asks. ‘Sometimes?’
‘Yes,’ Atsumu answers. There must be a better word. It’s on the tip of his tongue.