Akaashi looks up from the stack of dusty instrumental records sequestered away in the corner of the record shop. He’s squatting, his bottom grazing the cheap linoleum floor. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra record, the one he’s been searching for for the past thirty minutes, sits between his slender fingers.
He’s dressed plainly, like he always is. Black t-shirt, dark jeans, unembellished sneakers. He looks like he hasn’t aged a day, with the slant of his pink mouth and the slight angle of his hips.
“What are you doing here?” Osamu asks, still staring down at him blankly, as if he owned the place. Akaashi knew for a fact that he didn’t. His eyebrow twitches a bit at the confrontation. “I haven’t seen ya in what? Two years?
“I can see that.”
He knows Osamu is expecting him to continue, and a part of him doesn’t; a part of him just wants to stand up, pay, and go to the hotel bar for an overpriced cocktail then clock out for the rest of the night. But against his better judgement, he opens his mouth again, maybe just to prove something.
“Book tour,” he says, curtly.
“Ah,” Osamu huffs. They stare at each other. The back of Akaashi’s neck prickles with sweat, but he can’t be sure it’s sweat. It’s fall, and he’s dressed lightly. But it prickles nonetheless. “I’m just here for leisure.”
He walks past the taller man, nodding, and makes a beeline towards the cashier. “Well, Osamu. Hope you’re doing well. Goodbye.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Akaashi, then,” Osamu sighs. “Do you want to get a coffee? Just to catch up. Will ya still be here tomorrow mornin’?”
The deep blue of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra hits the dusty light coming from the window, casting a cool hue on Akaashi’s tan, smooth, face. Osamu thinks it makes him look younger and alert, no less piercing than the day they met years and years ago. He feels the writer’s intelligent eyes look through him.
Akaashi’s mouth does a weird thing: his chapped lips curl in what looks like disdain, maybe even disgust, then it schools itself into something flat and expressionless. And then the corner quirks up for a sliver of a millisecond – if Osamu weren’t watching him so keenly, he would’ve missed it.
“Nine, tomorrow. Please don’t say Starbucks. There’s a cafe down the road from here.”
The hotel is way nicer than what Akaashi had been expecting, with his publisher’s notorious skimpy budget. It’s in the center of what seems to be a city within a city, the grid-like layout sprawling until it’s cut short by imposing overpasses, gray, heavy, and drab. He’s been all over the world, and he thinks this one tries a bit too hard to be something. It’s like an amalgamation of Downtown Los Angeles with its walkability and heat, like Venice with the canals – although man made and filled with chlorine, like Brooklyn with the trendy but overpriced passion project restaurants. And then the rest of this pseudo-city was just like everywhere else in the world: the glossy office buildings underscored by slums and makeshift housing just below.
And the heat. Akaashi’s spent many a summer in Tokyo, sweating through his button ups, the sweat sticking grossly to his damp back. He remembers that one time, getting down from the Koenji station with Osamu. They were looking for that donut shop. He had still been working for the manga publisher and perpetually lugged around a briefcase full of manuscripts and notes.
But this heat is humid and heavy and suffocating. He feels out of breath just walking down the block, but that could also be blamed on other things. Namely, his mostly sedentary lifestyle. He’s outside his hotel, trying to hail a taxi to get to his next bad decision in time. It’s his fatal flaw, that one, always being on time.
“I’m not going to fuck you,” Akaashi says smoothly, over the rim of his whiskey. It’s okay whiskey, he’s had better. But his stomach feels warmed up and that’s enough; a more pleasant and welcome kind of warm than what waits for him outside. Even the evenings are muggy.
“We fucked on yer birthday in New York,” Osamu says into his ear, low. “Five times, in fact. Even if ya hated me, and said ya never wanted to see me again.” Almost like a large cat, circling him and growling. In this part of the city, nobody really bats an eye at two men seated way too close to each other to be considered ‘friendly’ or ‘platonic’. Well, Akaashi’s not entirely sure what they are. But definitely not friendly, definitely not platonic.
He shifts on the leather seat. Thank god they’re in a booth tucked away, because Akaashi already feels himself get hard in his pants. It feels good, even if his body is betraying him. Osamu always looks at him in such a way that makes him feel overexposed. There’s something sexy about that, he supposes.
“And that’s changed, how? I’m still not going to fuck you.” It bears repeating.
The taller man pulls back, getting back to his dinner. It’s grown cold. He gulps down his disappointment and desire. “I leave tomorrow evening.”
“I know,” Akaashi says, dryly. “I leave the day after next.”
“Your new book–”
“–My first book, is going okay. Just submitted the new draft to my editor this morning. I’m sick of being on a plane and away from a konbini. I just want to go home.”
Osamu laughs. “Did ya see? They have a Lawsons and Family Mart here.”
“Not the same.”
“They’re crazy about Japanese shit here, I swear. My onigiri sold out within hours of the fair, and it sucked having to turn everyone away. The organizers didn’t even let us pack up earlier, so we just kinda stood there for a few hours just to say no to a buncha people.”
Akaashi’s hardness dies between his legs, and he counts that as a personal win. He looks at Osamu again, his hair neat and trimmed. He’s had to start wearing glasses recently like Akaashi. The smart black frames sit precariously on the bridge of his straight nose. It suits him, and Osamu’s never really been one for fashion or trends, so Akaashi wonders if someone helped him pick them out. Choosing the right frames for your face is basically an artform.
He takes another sip and lets Osamu foot the bill.
Akaashi sits away from the rest of Fukurodani, on the steps near the water fountain. They had lost the practice match against Inarizaki. He feels a bit of shame, despite it being an unofficial game. His sets had been off the whole time. The rest of the third years shrugged the loss off after a while, deciding that the barbecue grill outside being manned by the adults was more worthy of his rapt attention.
He watches his team bicker over grilled meat. Suna, Onaga, and Atsumu stand by the grill like hawks, and the first years are a bit too intimidated to get any nearer.
Osamu comes up behind him, still in his sweaty uniform. Akaashi doesn’t hear him, too caught up in his own thoughts.
The shorter boy jumps a bit, startled. His head snaps up and around, watching Osamu hop down the steps to sit beside him. He has a plate full of meat and an extra set of wooden chopsticks.
“Tough game,” he continues, prompted by Akaashi’s silence. “It’s ‘kay, though. I thought ya did real well. Better than last time we played! And yesterday, it was nice hitting yer tosses, too. Well, it’s nice playing with ya in general.”
“I think I was pretty clumsy today.”
“Eh. Don’t sweat it.”
Akaashi finds Osamu’s accent charming and a bit funny. He likes hearing him talk. Breaking the chopsticks, he grabs a slice of meat from the plate between them with a small, shy smile.
They’ve been texting on and off for awhile now. At first, it was purely professional: conversations between captains coordinating practice matches and training camps. Well, Atsumu is the official captain of Inarizaki now, with Osamu as the vice, but the darker haired twin does more of the dirty work.
But sometime halfway through the year, they began to text in a more casual manner. Osamu would say hi randomly, ask what he was up to, and Akaashi would always reply promptly. Then, he got bolder. On some nights, they even call to keep each other company while finishing up homework.
“How’s bein’ captain treatin’ ya, by the way?” Osamu asks with his mouth full.
“It’s… okay. I’m not as spirited as Bokuto-san, and most of our starting players from last year have graduated. Though I think I’ve told you that. So I’m not really expecting much, but I’d like to go to nationals,” Akaashi admits quietly. He spins the chopsticks around his fingers.
The taller man shrugs and leans back against the steps they’re sitting on. “Nah, Fukurodani always goes to nationals. I think yer bein’ too hard on yerself.”
He chews on another slice of beef, considering. Osamu always has this way of making things sound so easy, so mindless and straightforward. A strange wave of fondness washes over him, quietly thankful for this unexpected, last minute high school friendship. He had always thought that Osamu was a bit taciturn and aloof (much like himself, to be honest), not someone who would take an interest in his austerity. But he’s friendly, in a boyish way; a bit of a jerk in the typical manner a lot of highschoolers are.
Akaashi likes him. Maybe even has the tiniest crush on him.
They talk about a lot of things until the evening: volleyball, university, Atsumu, Bokuto. He learns that Osamu doesn’t have plans to go pro or go to university; instead, he wants to start working already. He already has a few odd jobs as a delivery boy for a local vegetable shop, and as a dishwasher at a ramen place on weekends. He also learns a lot about the older, blonder twin, who is already being courted by division teams across the country. That’s one thing Akaashi has in common with Osamu: being content with walking away and hanging up their jerseys. He listens to Osamu talk about how he fought really badly with his brother about it, for a few bitter weeks. Akaashi has nobody to fight with like that about his decision to quit, at that level of passion. But he does remember Bokuto’s sad little smile when he told him they would probably never play again in a way that bore any significance, with the other boy already signed on to a powerful pro team. And Akaashi was already all set to attend a good university in a speciality that had nothing to do with volleyball or with sports. He would forget about the feeling of a ball in his hands soon enough. Quicker than he thinks.
Osamu shows him around the gym later that night after their showers, and they do a few relaxed laps around the block with their coaches’ permission. He finds the other boy to be a great conversation partner – he’s surprisingly good at filling in Akaashi’s gaps and lulls.
They hear their teammates’ chatter from across the lot, from inside the building. Osamu inhales, quickly, then–
The way Akaashi is pushed against the criss-cross metal fence comes as a surprise, a pleasant and gripping surprise. Nobody had ever held him this way before, the way the taller boy’s calloused hand presses against his waist, the way their crotches press together. It feels both hot and cold at the same time.
Akaashi, his forehead a bit damp, sneaks a look towards the building where everyone else is. He doesn’t think anybody else is out to spot them. Akaashi closes his eyes, tips his heavy head back, and the fence rattles a bit.
“‘Samu,” he exhales shakily. His own hands rest against his partner’s strong shoulders.
“I like you, Keiji,” Osamu whispers against his cheek, hot. “I really like you. Push me off if this isn’t okay.”
“No, it’s okay, I like it. I like you.”
Akaashi feels his partner grow harder in his shorts, and so does he. So he slots their lips together, and their wet tongues slide against each other. Osamu tastes like barley tea. He doesn’t need to know that this is Akaashi’s first kiss, a bit pitiful considering he’s already in his third year of high school. But it feels so dizzyingly good, secretly being pressed against the fence in a dark corner of the Inarizaki schoolyard, getting kissed by a crush that he’s been nursing for months and months.
Akaashi feels the sizzle just underneath his skin, and clambers for his partner’s free hand to reach into and under his shirt, to try and pull it out of him.
2019, New York City
This must be some cruel trick, the way they keep running into each other in the most random places. Romantics would call something like this fate, or destiny, the way they can’t seem to outrun each other.
Osamu presses him into the bed, roughly and hungrily. Akaashi is so glad his roommate is out for the night.
“Shoulda told me yer here, Keiji,” the taller man growls. “We coulda done this way, way earlier, then. God, ya know how much I’ve needed you, needed this.”
Akaashi flinches at the feeling of cold, lube-slicked fingers at his entrance. “Don’t call me that. A-and I don’t know why I’m obligated to tell you, Osamu. We’ve danced this dance too many t-times, you know the drill.”
“You talk too much for someone about to get fucked all night.”
“Fat chance. Coming from the guy who told me I didn’t talk enough.”
“Where are your condoms?”
He shakes his head. Osamu groans desperately, his head falling onto Akaashi’s naked shoulder. “Ya sure? I’m clean, by the way.”
And he does get fucked all night. It’s a great birthday present, all things considered. He’s taken on the bed, of course, but also against the window and against the kitchen counter and on the couch and in the shower and between the…
Akaashi doesn’t remember if he’s even come this much, this hard, this many times, in his life. The sex is better now that they’ve broken up, because Osamu is surly and avaricious. When they were still together, back home in Kobe, their days were soaked in honey and sunlight. An idyllic relationship. But he shakes in pleasure and oversensitivity, now, as the taller man pulls out of him with a dirty squelch only to bury his face between Akaashi’s thighs like his life depended on it. He moans raggedly, a sound he didn’t know he was capable of.
“You taste so good, ‘Kaashi,” Osamu groans, sliding up so they’re face to face. He leans down so the shorter man can taste himself. “Fuck, I missed ya so much.”
Akaashi feels the pang shoot through him, first in his heart, then through his extremities. He pushes his partner off, suddenly. “Don’t.”
“No, don’t, Osamu.”
Osamu sits up and pulls up his boxers, walking towards the window. It’s only the beginning of December, so it’s cold but there’s no snow yet. Akaashi rests his sweaty head against his pillow, watching the other man.
He had apparently heard from Iwaizumi, who heard from Oikawa, who heard from Hinata, who heard from Bokuto that Akaashi was semi-permanently living in the United States now while he attended a short creative writing course. After that summer of hurt, who could blame him? He had wanted to go far away, far, far away from Tokyo.
And yet, despite having found this new place to hide, Osamu uncovers him anyways. The rage feels like it’s boiling beneath his skin and behind his eyeballs.
“I didn’t actually want to sleep with you, you know,” Akaashi says flatly, in a rare moment of explicit cruelty.
“Then why did you?”
Isn’t it obvious? “I wanted to hurt you.”
Well, it’s a half truth. He wanted it to hurt, sure. He wanted to be crushed in the feeling, wanted it to envelope him. New York City is New York City, but Akaashi was bored, terrible, and lonely. Despite the short course and despite the publishing agents already reaching out to him. He also wanted to prove to himself that he could do this and still walk away the next morning.
One thing Akaashi always liked about Osamu was that like himself, he was always on time. He’s already sitting at a table for two by the window, and waves.
“I already got you yours. You still like the caramel type of stuff, right? Can’t say that I approve any less than I already do, y’know.”
“Ah, yes. Thanks Osamu.”
“How’s the tour goin’?” the taller man asks casually, leaning back into the plush chair. “I’m surprised you’re free. Ya always look like a busy man.”
Akaashi shows him some pictures of the signing, and some letters from fans he’s jammed into his planner. It’s a bit embarrassing, admitting that he has fans , but the fact that they showed up at all to see him is enough to override that embarrassment.
“There was this one lady, middle aged looking, that said she read the book while she was going through a divorce,” he laughs. “She said that it was, and I quote, a ‘cathartic experience’. She also said she couldn’t believe it was my debut.”
“What’s it about, anyways? Sorry, haven’t really had the time to keep up.”
Akaashi’s eyes light up behind his glasses. He pulls out a spare copy from his backpack. “Oh! It’s, like, this fictional autobiography of an athlete – well, a volleyball player specifically. About his conflicting thoughts on retirement and aging, feeling like glory is earned on credit, because he sustains this career-ending injury at the height of his career. Then he falls into obscurity. I mean, it’s a bit of a tragicomedy, with some meta commentary about the Autobiography as a genre or artform. I think I’m making it sound real boring it but the critics seem to like it, and it’s selling decently too.”
Osamu shakes his head. “No, yer perfectly fine. That sounds interestin’.”
“Here, I’ll give you your own autographed copy,” Akaashi says, pulling a pen out and quickly signing both the front and the inside cover. “Don’t lose it.”
The shorter man’s expression flattens after that into something more detached, similar to the one he was wearing yesterday at the record shop, offering nothing about the other things he’s up to. Like where he’s based now or what his plans are after the tour or where his next flight is headed to. Osamu wants to know, he wants to ask, but he can’t.
Osamu shuts the front door to their– well, Akaashi’s apartment quietly. His boxes are already sitting by the genkan, the past five or so years of his life in them.
The shorter man is calmly sitting on the couch when he walks in, sipping his tea. But then he gets up to go into the bedroom, and shuts the door.
Sighing, Osamu opens up the cupboard to gather the last of his belongings, which at this point are mostly plates and kitchenware. He and Akaashi fought bitterly over them a week ago, with Akaashi insisting they were now his because it was his apartment , but Osamu had pushed back. He had been the one to buy them in the first place. The writer had eventually relented (thanks to Bokuto, Tsukishima, and well, basically everyone telling him he was in the wrong) and passive-aggressively let Osamu take them. It was a nasty quarrel, one along a string of many this past month. Breaking up was logistically exhausting: he had to pack up, beg some friends to let him couchsurf for a bit, then do all the damn paperwork to officially change his billing address.
After securing the plates in one of the boxes, he pads quietly to Akaashi’s bedroom door, and knocks. At first there’s no response. So he knocks again.
“Keiji, I’m going.”
This is probably the last time they’ll be seeing each other for a long time, and the fact sinks to the bottom of Osamu’s gut.
Akaashi opens the door, swiftly. “Don’t call me that. Did you leave your keys by the counter?”
“Yeah,” he whispers.
He impulsively reaches his hand out to take the shorter man’s shoulder in his hand, as a last ditch effort to touch him. But it gets slapped away.
“Don’t, Osamu. Don’t,” he says quietly.
Through the window, Akaashi watches his ex carry the boxes to the pick up truck he was able to rent. Then the front door slams shut for the final time.
>> From: Miya Osamu
<< To: Miya Osamu
>> From: Miya Osamu
About last night
Sorry we got caught.
But at least it was just by Atsumu and not Coach
He won’t stop giving me shit about it tho
>> From: Miya Osamu
You’re on the way back to Tokyo now right
Sorry I didn’t catch ya this morning
<< To: Miya Osamu
it’s ok. yeah we’re on the way back
<< To: Miya Osamu
i enjoyed last night a lot too.
i like you a lot. i think you’re really easy to talk to
i feel like we have a lot in common
didnt get to say goodbye this morning because i was kind of embarrassed to be honest
>> From: Miya Osamu
Well that’s okay.
Have a safe trip back to Tokyo.
Good luck at nationals. I know you’ll make it
>> From: Miya Osamu
I really like you too by the way
I didn’t say that last night just because I was uh..
<< To: Miya Osamu
are we boyfriends?
>> From: Miya Osamu
If ya want to?
I want to, but it’s up to you
<< To: Miya Osamu
i want to :)
ok i’m going to sleep now
talk to you later
>> From: Miya Osamu
Can I call you babe?
Or just Keiji?
Have a good sleep!
<< To: Miya Osamu
i like keiji just fine
“I know I said I wasn’t going to fuck you but…”
Akaashi is silent. Osamu knows, and just wants him to say it.
He’s pulled into a nightclub, and the taller man’s hand is around his waist, possessive and hot. The writer feels his whole body seize up in goosebumps. It feels like a fever.
The DJ plays the typical rotation of nightclub songs: EDM, K-pop, and top 40 pop. But Akaashi doesn’t mind, because he’s immediately pressed against the wall and felt up. He feels a bit silly thinking about it now, but it reminds him of that one night in Kobe back when they were still high schoolers, practically babies in Akaashi’s eyes now. Osamu, clumsy but still wanting to look good, sliding his hands underneath his worn Fukurodani t-shirt against that metal fence. His mind floats away, wondering how many first kisses and secret rendezvouses happened in that same spot. He selfishly hopes that he and Osamu had been the only ones.
“So hot,” Osamu whispers now, against his sweaty and sticky collarbone. He almost doesn’t catch it against the bass that shakes the whole floor.
“How do we keep doing this,” Akaashi pants, hoping that the taller man doesn’t hear him. “How do we keep meeting up in the most arbitrary corners of the world? How is this a fucking coincidence, Osamu.”
It gets lost in the noise of the hooting crowd as the bass drops.
They spend the rest of the night like that, barely even making it to the dance floor. Akaashi drowns down a few more drinks, kisses his night partner’s mouth like he wants to crawl inside it. Osamu’s hands are practically anchored to his waist, and he doesn’t allow Akaashi to look anywhere else, at anyone else. And it’s not like it’s hard to; a part of him will always belong to Osamu, and he’ll go trekking all over the world just to see it for himself.
2023, Hong Kong
It’s early January, the last leg of his book tour, and he feels hollowed out and rubbed raw. He’s barely in the city for a day; he flew in early this morning, set up at the bookstore and did an interview, had the signing, then hopped back into the car to shuttle him to the airport.
Against his luggage, Akaashi’s head bobs drowsily. His flight isn’t for three more hours, and he had opted to just head straight to the airport as opposed to exploring the city. He’s so tired that he feels his bones ache.
Beside him, his publicist Emi is still on the phone with god knows who – probably the bookstores in Tokyo that had agreed to host the last few of his signings. She had begged Akaashi to say yes to a few more public appearances in Japan after the whole international stint, and to put it simply, he didn’t have the energy to say no or to argue.
His phone beeps, and it’s a text from Osamu.
By any chance , the message reads, are you still in Hong Kong?
Akaashi sighs. Right. They had re-exchanged numbers in Barcelona.
<< To: Miya Osamu
Yes, but I’m killing time at the airport.
The reply comes almost immediately, before he can even lock his phone.
>> From: Miya Osamu
Ok I found your gate.
Stay right where you are
Not more than ten minutes later, Osamu is standing in front of him, with a neck pillow ridiculously perched on his shoulders, his Onigiri Miya cap on his head, and what looks like an old MSBY Black Jackals lounge set probably stolen from Atsumu.
“What are you doing here?” Akaashi asks dumbly. He doesn’t find it with him to fix himself up or flatten down his hair. He probably smells like stale airplane air and smoke and rubbing alcohol.
“My flight back home had to take an emergency landing here, can you believe it,” he says, heaving a big old sigh. The man takes a seat next to Akaashi on the bench. “Somethin’ about gas? Then I remembered ya mentioned that yer next stop was Hong Kong, and then after that ya were going back home to Japan.”
“Congratulations, great memory,” Akaashi coughs, plonking his head back down against his folded arms on the luggage in front of him. “I’m jus’ really tired. Sorry.”
“No problem. Just wanted to say hi,” Osamu replies sincerely, a bit quietly. “I know you’ve had a rough couple of months.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“Do you think I could take ya out for dinner when we get back to Japan, Keiji?”
Akaashi’s not sure when he drifts off into an uncomfortable slumber, with his back arched unnaturally. He thinks he feels a large hand gently stroking his back.
“Hey, this is my sweatshirt,” the taller man continues, and he sounds far away.
He’s not sure how much of that Osamu actually says, and how much of that was just dream-Osamu whispering into his ear about future plans.
Three hours later when the PA calls for all passengers en route to Narita to prepare to board, his publicist shakes him awake. Her eyes are bloodshot, probably getting less sleep than he has. Akaashi makes a mental note to buy her an expensive gift for every occasion he’s able to. He glances to the seat beside him, where Osamu was (or where he at least thinks Osamu was), but of course he’s already gone.
“What time did he go?” Akaashi blearily asks his publicist with a wide yawn.
Emi’s thin eyebrows knot together in confusion. “Who?”
“Uh, the guy. In the cap and the neck pillow, a few hours ago. He sat next to me.”
She shrugs apologetically, and yawns herself. “Akaashi, sorry. Don’t know who you’re talking about. But I was on the phone almost the whole time so I might’ve just missed it.”
He looks down at his feet. “Ah. Okay then. Don’t worry about it.”
The two of them line up behind other sleepy travellers. Emi doesn’t drop the subject, though, clearly intrigued despite the dark shadows under her sleepy, droopy eyes. God, Akaashi is going to buy her so many gift baskets. “Why? Anyone important?
The innocent question makes him pause. It’s not a question he’s ever considered himself, well, ever, because there wasn’t ever a need to ask it. His lips quirk up a bit. “My ex-boyfriend.”
She gasps, as if Akaashi had just revealed a whole scandal to her. “I can’t believe I missed it then!”
“It was nothing,” he tries to push. “We run into each other all the time, so he just came to say hi. Somehow, I don’t even know why. I saw him in Halifax, Barcelona, Chicago, and London.”
“What does he do?”
“All sorts of things. Runs a successful restaurant selling onigiri, and gets invited to food fairs all over and everything. He also said he’s looking to expand in Asia, maybe Taiwan or Manila, because he already has a bunch of branches doing well in Japan,” Akaashi explains. “He’s all over.”
Emi hmms and hums. “Like you, then.”
“So you keep in touch?”
“Uh,” he stammers. That one’s a bit more complicated. They don’t text or call. They don’t even see each other, at least they don’t plan to. But they fuck, they kiss, they dance, they get coffee, then they do it again almost every time they accidentally find themselves in a new city. “Sure.”
He goes with that.
The city lights of Hong Kong disappear underneath the blanket of clouds. It’s a non-stop flight, thankfully, so it’s only a few more hours sitting in this godforsaken plane. Akaashi digs his dying phone out of his pocket to put it on airplane mode before they get too high. He opens the messaging app to stare at Osamu’s text from a few hours ago, but curiously, he scrolls through his inbox and doesn’t find it. There’s no text from him at all.
“Hey Akaashi, gimme your phone number,” Osamu says from the bathroom with his mouth full of toothpaste bubbles.
“Why? What for?”
“To text ya, of course.”
Akaashi meets his gaze through the mirror, and narrows his eyes dubiously. “Why?”
The taller man gargles grossly and spits it out into the sink. He rolls his eyes, and it’s one of those things that even after all these years, Akaashi can’t figure out if it’s sarcastic or genuine. “To text ya,” Osamu repeats.
He wordlessly hands the man his phone, deciding not to fight it.
“So, where are ya heading to next after here?”
Akaashi steps out of the bathroom to continue packing. It’s his least favorite part of travelling. He’s already lost a bunch of shirts and sweaters in the flurry of flights one after the other. But the Penguin Cafe Orchestra record is sandwiched, safe between the few cardigans he has left and his toiletries. He smiles down at the blue cover. “Hong Kong. Then home.”
“Hmm. Say. Did ya wanna get hit the Christmas market before ya go? I wanted to get the contacts of some of the sellers, especially those hot wine ones…”
“Sure,” the writer says without thinking.
The market is chock full of couples walking arm in arm, and it makes Akaashi feel a bit self conscious and irritated. He walks a few strides away from Osamu, but not far enough to make the other man think he’s avoiding him. Akaashi doesn’t say much or start any kind of conversation, he just hides his chin beneath his thick scarf. Upon closer inspection, it’s a scarf Osamu had gifted to him, in the third year of their five-year relationship. For Christmas too, Akaashi tries to remember, but it might’ve just been one of those random gifts bearing no occasion. It’s a well-loved and woolen thing, the edges a bit frayed, but it’s always been his favorite.
Osamu makes him taste the hot wine, and Akaashi tells him that the jury’s still out. It’s not unpleasant, given the cold temperature, but it’s definitely not something he thinks he’ll seek out.
“Nice, isn’t it,” the taller man chuckles, pulling his beanie down past his pink ears.
“Not so sure about the wine,” Akaashi hums.
“I mean the market. It’s nice.”
It’s strange, being like this with Osamu. Them crashing into each other usually ends up with them together in bed, usually with Akaashi getting pressed down into an unfamiliar hotel mattress by the other man’s strong arms. If not that, they’re angrily wedging their hot, feverish bodies together in some club or alleyway or bar. If not that, he’s groggily waking up to the shrill sound of his alarm, telling Osamu that he needs to go, yes now, I mean it, I’m going to miss my flight.
But Halifax was different. And Barcelona is different.
He steps a bit closer to Osamu, and the latter tentatively puts his hand in Akaashi’s coat side pocket.
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
They walk around a bit more, and have delicious tapas in some hole in the wall. Osamu has always had this incredible talent for finding great places to eat with nothing more than his eyes and nose, scoffing at stuff like Time Out or other online listicle blogs.
When Akaashi was in his second year of university, Osamu had just opened Onigiri Miya. Neither of them had a lot of money in their personal bank accounts; they both mostly subsisted on convenience store food or chain restaurants to fill their stomachs. To Akaashi this was unideal but okay, but to Osamu, he couldn’t deal. He wanted more. In that year, there was a time where they took a totally irresponsible weekend off to Hokkaido. They had even splurged on plane tickets they definitely couldn’t afford, instead of settling for the grueling slog of night buses.
There was this food fair that Osamu had wanted to go to, a once a year thing in Sapporo. Akaashi didn’t even tell his parents that he was taking an out of town trip with his boyfriend for a whole weekend and a few days, and the whole experience made him feel wayward, but free.
It was their first trip together anywhere, their first time having their own private room that wasn’t some love hotel. Akaashi remembers it fondly, despite everything, how they fell asleep tangled up together, sated, after roaming the food fair the whole day gorging on fresh seafood.
“What are you thinkin’ about?” Osamu asks, now. His voice is lower, lacking the awkward lilt it used to have as a teenager. His hand still rests in Akaashi’s coat pocket.
“Hokkaido,” the writer says. “About that time we went to the food fair, we ate crab and lobster and other things. And then my parents found out because they saw the boarding pass fall out of my wallet like, months later. They almost killed me. Do you remember?”
The taller man stares at him, eyes wide, then laughs. “I remember. Of course I remember that too, Keiji. That’s when I first told you I loved you.”
2019, New York City
Surprisingly, Osamu doesn’t slither out during the night.
Akaashi’s alarm goes off at seven fifteen in the morning, and he groans, already feeling the onset of a migraine coming on.
The other man is already up, though, gathering his things. Which really, is just his wallet and jacket.
“You’re going?” Akaashi asks, his hoarse voice muffled by the duvet.
Osamu is almost out the door when the writer stumbles out of bed to stop him. “Stay for breakfast,” he says.
“So you’re just going to fuck me, say you miss me and need me, and when I do invite you to stay that’s when you refuse,” the shorter man spits. Akaashi spins on his bare heels and stomps back to his room. It’s humiliating, because he’s only in his boxers and his neck, chest, and hips are covered in bites, in bruises. He was eaten alive, and he’s asking the predator to stay.
Osamu sighs and makes an attempt to follow his ex back to the room. “It’s not like that, Akaashi.”
“What’s it like then?” he hears the shorter man call out from behind the door.
“I want to make things work with you, I want to try again.”
“You don’t love me?” Osamu can’t help but ask.
“No, I don’t.”
“I’m sorry for the things I said a year ago, then.”
Osamu had a difficult time understanding Akaashi’s predisposition to overthink and talk himself into being perpetually high-strung and on-edge, and Akaashi had grown to see that Osamu was superficial, callous, and selfish. It was a resentment that had blossomed like mold, across years.
Akaashi laughs, and it’s cruel, humorless. “I quit my job for you, Osamu. I hated that job but I did that for you. And you couldn’t even take time to leave the shop a bit earlier, or take the goddamn weekends off for me.
“You said I was doing all that to myself, that I was choosing to be anxious and on the verge of a breakdown all the time. So I walked away, I did that because I was stupid and naive to think it would change things!”
The door is locked, so there’s no chance of Osamu getting in. He exhales and sits down with his back against it, instead. “I’m sorry, Akaashi.”
“You’re nothing like the guy I fell in love with in high school,” Akaashi snarls. It sounds like he’s closer to the door, now. “People always said you were the shittier twin, you know. It took me five years to realize. Now I’ve picked myself up, walked away, moved out of the country to do my own thing by myself, and you think it’s fair for you to come waltzing back into my life just because I let you fuck me. Just because I let you come inside me, or whatever.”
“It’s not like that,” Osamu repeats, every word tearing at his heart. “Akaashi, I– I love ya, I think I always will, and I–”
Akaashi opens the door, and looks down at the other man with a piercing expression. He looks like a wounded animal, like a feral cat trying to make itself appear larger.
“Osamu, get out. I need you to leave and not talk to me again.”
When Osamu gets up, he’s genuinely surprised to see Akaashi still fast asleep next to him on the shitty Airbnb bed. Actually, he’s more surprised to see they actually made it back to his place at all.
The sleeping man is still wearing his button up from last night, so at least they were true to their words of not sleeping together – at least in the salacious way. He kind of feels a bit of pity for Akaashi, because he knows the hotel he’s staying at is much nicer and has room service and an actual duvet. But now he’s at Osamu’s last minute booking, one of the cheapest private rentals he could find because he left his accommodations to the last minute as usual.
They both still smell like sweat and alcohol, and Osamu’s nose scrunches up a bit. At least his place has a private shower.
After they both take their showers – Osamu’s quick and energized, Akaashi’s sluggish and hungover – the writer is hurriedly cursing not having a change of clothes, rushing to catch a taxi to do an interview with some local digital publication about a few essays he had put out that are gaining traction online.
“We didn’t sleep together last night, did we?” he asks, sniffing his shirt and grumbling. Yeah, still smells like stale beer.
“Nah,” Osamu confirms. “Ya told me you didn’t want to, at the restaurant.”
He watches Akaashi struggle to pull his jeans on, and a sense of commiseration runs through him. Reaching for his own suitcase, he pulls out a clean sweatshirt and tosses it to his ex.
“Here, at least change your shirt. It’s the least I can do for not thinking to bring ya back to yer hotel,” Osamu offers with a shrug. “You can just leave the dirty shirt behind if yer okay with partin’ with it.”
“God, thank you, thank you,” the writer sighs heavily, throwing the soiled shirt off and sliding himself into the sweatshirt. It’s big for him, with the sleeves a bit too long and the shoulders a bit too wide, but Akaashi makes it look fashionable, at least. “It’s going to be hell wearing this thing out in the heat but it’s better than getting to an interview smelling like a nightclub. God, if my mother could see me right now.”
Akaashi is running out the door a few minutes later without so much as a goodbye or a cursory glance back, and Osamu folds up the dirty shirt, tucking it away into his suitcase. When he gets back home to Kobe, he tucks it under his pillow.
“I thought ya were sick of planes and packing,” Osamu says, walking down the sidewalk beside him.
“It’s different when you’re on vacation, I suppose.”
They hadn’t seen each other in a year. Ironically, they never run into each other in Japan.
What Akaashi considers to be a vacation is strange, to say the least. He’s really technically here for work to receive some important literary award, but his publisher and manager were both kind enough to not book any public appearances or interviews outside of the ones required by the committee giving the prize.
And Berlin is his favorite city, outside of Tokyo (because he grew up there) and Kobe (because, well). He’s in a great mood, the weather is nice, and the coffee he had this morning was at the perfect temperature.
“I still can’t believe you followed me here,” Akaashi teases lightly, unable to find it within himself to be annoyed, or bothered. “At this point we’re going to travel the whole world, visit every single country together.”
The auditorium is a bit small, and he doesn’t know anyone here, at least personally. Osamu takes a bunch of pictures of Akaashi next to the poster and by the entrance, which he actually poses and smiles for.
He feels a bit out of place with his leather jacket, cap, and distressed jeans, while the shorter man is in a smart tweed coat and turtleneck. All the other writers receiving an award look exactly how Osamu always imagined stereotypical writers to look like: a bit nerdy-cool and introverted, with their messenger bags swung around their shoulders. He thinks that Akaashi fits right in.
“What award are ya receivin’’ again?” he asks, nudging his ex, who’s quietly seated beside him in the third row. The emcee is a bit dry but charming, as he introduces each writer and publishing house as the program starts.
“Best debut fiction novel,” Akaashi whispers, leaning closer. Osamu can smell him: smoke and mint. “Only one of these goes out a year by this committee.”
“So it’s a big deal? This award?”
The writer nods, a bit giddy. “Yeah. Considering I’m with an indie publisher.”
When Akaashi is called on stage, Osamu can see his hands tremble a bit. The writer is a bit stiff and awkward walking up the stairs; he needs to suppress a fond chuckle from where he’s seated. It reminds him of when he snuck in to attend Fukurodani’s high school graduation to see his then-boyfriend receive his diploma from the principal. Osamu had taken a bullet train to Tokyo, a ticket he had been saving up for for months, to surprise him.
“Ya looked so stiff, like you were about ‘ta piss yerself!” the taller boy had teased, swinging his arm over Akaashi’s shoulder. Osamu’s own graduation was only a few days ago, and this whole week was a flurry; Atsumu had moved out the day before to Osaka to join the MSBY Black Jackals. And as for himself, he had just started to work as an actual line cook at the ramen place, being promoted from just being a weekend dishwasher.
Shaking his surprise off from seeing his boyfriend here, in Tokyo miles away from home, just for him , Akaashi laughs. “It’s weird. I hate it, all that attention!”
“Yer literally a star player of a powerhouse volleyball team.”
“I was. I’ve retired already. And you literally just saw me graduate, ‘Samu.”
Osamu rolls his eyes. Akaashi can tell it’s just him being playfully sardonic. They’re walking down the road towards the busier part of the city, bumping shoulders. He’s carrying his boyfriend’s diploma under his arm, ever the gentleman. Their pinkies are secretly intertwined, hidden by the long sleeves of their jackets. “I have a fake ID,” Osamu whispers conspiratorially. “I’ll buy ya a beer.”
Akaashi balks, his pink lips agape. It’s cute. “No way. ‘Samu, I’ll get in so much trouble if I’m caught.”
“Just one! C’mon. Are ya saying just one beer will get ya drunk?”
“N-no. Okay. Fine. But if my parents find out–”
The emcee’s mic gives a little bit of awkward feedback, and he chuckles an apology. “2024’s Best Debut Fiction Novel – ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ by Keiji Akaashi. Published by…”
Now, Osamu stands to clap, watching Akaashi receive the award. He finds that he’s the only one standing in the crowd, with everyone else being too cool for that, apparently, but he can’t really bring himself to care. It’s an actual trophy, not just a piece of nice paper, a sleek glass and concrete thing that looks a bit like the Tschechische Botschaft. The cameras flash, and he takes out his own phone to take his own secret ones, hidden away from the floor ushers’ eyes.
Akaashi finds him in the crowd and smiles, holding up the trophy up against his red face.
They’re obligated to stay until the end of the program, which isn’t a lot. The rest of the awards are the rest of the big ones: 2024 Novel of the Year, Best Non-Fiction, Best Collection, but Osamu’s not listening. His eyes continuously watch Akaashi’s deft fingers reverently stroke over his own award, under the warm dim lights of the auditorium.
It’s already dark out when they’re outside. Akaashi tips his head back, his dark wavy hair sticking up, bangs falling over his forehead. The warm light of the streetlamp casts dark shadows on his face, underneath his glasses and black eyelashes. Osamu thinks of Halifax two years ago, in the record shop.
“‘Samu, I feel like a beer. We’re in Germany, after all.”
2025, Kobe, again
<< To: Miya Osamu
Are you in Kobe right now?
>> From: Miya Osamu
Not like you to text all of a sudden, what’s up?
<< To: Miya Osamu
I’ve actually moved here for the time being to work on my next book, since it’s set in Kansai sorry I didn’t tell you. Anyways
my moving company screwed up,
So now I have nothing on me, my place is unfurnished
>> From: Miya Osamu
[Miya Osamu has shared their location]
^ My address.
“It was nice catching up with you, Akaashi,” Osamu says, stepping out of the coffeeshop behind the shorter man. “I’ll read yer book. I’m not much of a reader, but y’know. If it’s by you…”
Akaashi spins around, “I appreciate it.”
“Yer in Canada just ‘til tonight, right?”
They fall into step, even if Osamu’s meant to be going in the opposite direction. “Yeah. I fly out tonight, to Boston.”
“Well, looks like we won’t be runnin’ into each other again soon. I’ll be in Quebec by tomorrow, then Toronto.”
Osamu stops, and a few pedestrians bump into him, disgruntled. Akaashi looks at him, and tilts his beautiful head.
“Hey, Akaashi. Are we good?”
The writer turns around fully. “Are you asking me if I forgive you?”
“If that’s what ya want me to be askin’,” Osamu offers. “Because I’m sorry.”
Akaashi’s drunk, giggling into Osamu’s side. They’ve stumbled into a record shop, and the cashier swears at them in German neither of them understand because, apparently, it’s just fifteen minutes before closing. But swears and anger transcends language, and Osamu instinctively bows in half-hearted apology even if they’re thousands of miles away from Japan where that gesture is customary.
He follows Akaashi wherever he’s heading, zigzagging through the aisles, stepping on the dank carpeted floor. They find themselves between the instrumentals and classical sections, and the shorter man seems to be intently searching for something. He’s muttering to himself, struggling to not sway in place. Osamu has to hold him closely, by the elbow.
Then, like a magician pulling out a white rabbit from his top hat, he procures a record with a deep blue cover. There’s a silly (if not a bit surreal) illustration of two emperor penguins, who look like they’re in deep conversation under a beach umbrella. Well, one of the emperor penguins actually just looks like some guy wearing a large penguin mask. “Aha! I found you, finally!”
Osamu’s eyebrows knit together. He swears he’s seen this one before, between Akaashi’s fingers in Halifax, and between some cardigans in a suitcase in Barcelona. “Don’t ya already own that? Ya bought it in Halifax.”
Akaashi shakes his head passionately. “How do you remember that stuff? I don’t have this one yet.”
“Ya do, Keiji.”
“Whatever. I’m buying it.”
“Well, don’t blame me if you end up with two copies.”
To the cashier’s extreme annoyance, the writer drunkenly requests they put the record on so he can hear it on the speakers. Osamu tries to listen closely, and barely hears anything for the first few seconds. Nobody else is in the shop, so it’s easy to focus on the music.
“What’s this one called?” he asks, walking up to stand next to Akaashi near the record player. He hears the delicate plucking of guitar, and a bit of violin. There are no lyrics.
“The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away and It Doesn't Matter.”
Akaashi scoffs and meets his eyes, full of exasperated humor, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “That’s the name of the song!”
“Yer so pretentious,” Osamu teases. He looks at his ex, who has his eyes closed, swaying softly to the music. The cashier is loudly and conspicuously locking up the back, switching off some of the lights, but the taller man can’t look away, can’t tell the other man that it’s about time they go.
“I’m sorry, too ‘Samu,” Akaashi mumbles. “I’ve forgiven you for a long time now. I just thought you should know.”
The song ends, and he delicately lifts the needle from the record. There’s a soft, muffled crunchy sound over the speakers as he does this. The record is slipped back into its sleeve, into the bag, and under his arm.
Almost all the lights are off now, and the displeased cashier quickly ushers them out of the store. Osamu bows one last time, uselessly, in quick apology.
He presses Akaashi against the wall of a semi-lit alleyway. Nobody glances their way – it’s Berlin. The other man has maybe four, five beers in him, which for Osamu isn’t really much. He himself held back a bit, not wanting to spend the rest of this night with Akaashi inebriated and distracted.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Keiji,” he whispers against the writer’s hot cheek. “Push me off if this isn’t okay.”
“It’s okay,” Akaashi gasps wetly.
“I’m still in love with you.”
“I want to try again.”
Akaashi tugs Osamu’s head back by the hair, and their lips fit together. He runs his plump tongue over the ridge of the taller man’s delightful mouth, and it tastes bitter like beer. The 2024 Best Debut Novel trophy’s edges dig into the writer’s back from where it’s stuffed, deep into his heavy bag. He rakes his clammy hands up and down Osamu’s torso and chest, feeling strong muscle hiding behind a slight layer of plushness. His breath hitches when the man does the same to him.
“I love you, Keiji,” Osamu confesses, forehead to forehead, chest to chest, groin to groin.
“I– I think I’ll be able to too, soon,” Akaashi hoarsely whispers back.
2025, Kobe, again
“Hi,” Akaashi says, standing in the genkan of Osamu’s studio apartment in downtown Kobe, the space above Onigiri Miya. He just has a backpack and a small rolling suitcase on him.
“Hello,” Osamu greets back, wearing his apron. He was just in the middle of cooking dinner; good thing he always cooks large servings. “I’m makin’ sukiyaki, go sit down.”
The table is already set. The apartment is simply decorated, like the way Osamu always likes to dress. Understated. Unadorned, clean. “Sorry about all this. The movers said they should be here by tomorrow morning, so if I could maybe stay the night…”
“Of course, Akaashi. No need to ask. I already set up the bath and the couch for ya because I thought that might be the case,” the taller man says, bringing the large steaming pot to the table. It smells amazing, but it’s no surprise of course. The writer’s stomach rumbles loudly.
He piles on the noodles and beef into his bowl, scarfs it down, and gets seconds, thirds. Osamu watches him with a small, amused smile. He calmly blows at the noodles between his own chopsticks.
“What are you staring at?”
“Oh nothing. I’ve just always liked watching you eat.”
“Weirdo,” Akaashi mumbles, garbled, around the food he’s chewing.
“So ya live in Kobe now? If I didn’t know any better I would’ve gotten the idea that you’re chasing after me. Not that I’m complainin’, of course,” Osamu chuckles flippantly.
The shorter man has the nerve to blush, cutely, his ears and cheeks turning red. His hair is even longer now, the ends curling against his earlobe and eyelid. It suits him.
“It’s technically research for a new book. I know you’re going to call me out on it but Kobe’s the only place I know anyone in Kansai – yes you – since Bokuto-san moved away from Osaka when he left the Jackals a year ago,” he says. “Besides, I’ve always thought this city was nicer.”
The rest of dinner is a quiet affair. They don’t talk much, despite having a year’s worth of stories and experiences from the last time they saw each other in Berlin. But neither of them mind. Osamu still finds it incredibly ironic how they never seem to cross paths in Japan.
He’s fluffing up the pillow on the couch when Akaashi steps out of the shower. He looks more relaxed and at ease now, probably having washed off the stress of moving and commuting. The man putters about, pulling his laptop and a cardigan out of his suitcase and plops down on the couch with a sigh. “Well, don’t mind me. I’m just going to continue working.”
“Yer not sleepin’ yet? It’s almost midnight.”
“I’m a night owl,” Akaashi grins and winks. “Pun intended. But yeah. I’ll just be here. Thank you again, Osamu, you really saved me tonight. If not for you I would’ve booked a night at a manga cafe, which I haven’t done since like. College.”
Osamu yawns, and does a great big motion with his hands, stretching. His joints pop a bit. “Fuck, I’m gettin’ old. Midnight’s already too late for me to be up.”
Their gazes meet, and Osamu doesn’t catch the ancient nickname, dormant for more than five years now, in time. But he doesn’t make any effort to backtrack and correct himself either. It hangs in the air.
“Ji…” Akaashi mutters, testing out how it feels on his tongue. He still doesn’t look away. “You haven’t called me that in a very long time.”
“I guess not.”
He can’t read the shorter man’s expression: it’s both open and not, sincere and guarded at the same time. His lower lip juts out a bit. Osamu’s favorite puzzle.
Finally, Akaashi looks away, and the lenses of his glasses shine white against reflection of the unfinished word doc. “Have a good sleep.”
With that, Osamu swallows down his lust and the anticlimax, and pads towards his bedroom.
He’s hard in his sweatpants when he stumbles into bed, shoving down the elastic haphazardly to grip his cock. It’s dry, too dry, so he blindly reaches for the lube in his bedside drawer. It’s wet and cold and exciting, even if it’s just his hand. Osamu gasps and shivers.
Akaashi in his bath, on his couch, sitting at the dinner table like he’s always belonged there – it’s almost too much for him. He imagines Akaashi’s bare, unblemished back, reflected in the foggy bathroom mirror, and his glasses perched on the tip of his upturned nose. He imagines Akaashi’s deft, talented fingers flying across the keyboard with confidence and genius, fingers that have taken him across the globe and have won him trophies. He thinks he can even hear the clack clack clack of the keyboard from here.
He imagines that time, more than ten years ago at Inarizaki, against the metal fence. Then in New York City against the unchanged sheets, angry, in Manila against the nightclub’s sweaty wall, in Berlin against the brick of the alleyway. He’s pressed against Akaashi all over the world.
Osamu comes hard, tension leaving his body. His hand is gross and sticky, so are his briefs and his sweatpants, but it doesn’t matter. He lets himself bask in the feeling.
He changes out of his dirty clothes eventually when his breathing evens out. The light is still on outside, spilling through his room through the crack of the door.
The old button up from Manila is crumpled up under his pillow, and he sneaks his hand under it to feel the fabric. He had to wash it eventually, of course, but it’s still nice to have there.
Osamu is almost half asleep, in a blank dreamless slumber, when there’s a tentative knock on his door. He doesn’t answer at first, but it happens again.
“‘Samu?” asks Akaashi.
“Hmm?” he replies, not sure if he’s dreaming.
“Can I come in?”
Akaashi lets himself in anyway, because the door was left unlocked. His glasses are off and his shirt is a bit crumpled.
“Am I dreaming?” Osamu mumbles, squinting at the shorter man walking carefully towards the bed, then taking a seat.
The man chuckles, brushing off imaginary lint from his thighs. “No, I’m here. I couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh. Did you want another blanket, or a better pillow?”
Akaashi shakes his head. “I was wondering if I could stay here.”
“Yes,” Osamu says immediately, already scooting over to make some space. “Of course you can.”
They both get settled in under the sheets, and Akaashi wriggles up to wedge himself in the space between Osamu’s head and shoulders. They wrap their arms against each other.
“Call me Ji, again.”
“Hmm. Sounds nice.”
“I love you,” Osamu mutters into his hair.
Akaashi nods. “Me too. I didn’t for a bit, though.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
“But I do again. I want to try again.”
Osamu looks down at him, peering into his damp, dark eyes. There is no other place or moment outside of this one right here. He feels stretched out over time and place, over layovers and taxi rides and hotels. But the circle has looped back into itself. Akaashi peers back at him.