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a flower that grows within

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"A man carries a flower for three reasons:

 

  1. He is in love
  2. He is in mourning
  3. He is a flower salesman

 

...I am not a flower salesman. that is the only thing I know."

- Picking flowers, Nate Marshall

 


 

 

Oikawa Tooru, as much as he hates to admit it, looks like shit today.

No amount of makeup can save the bags under his eyes, or the too-pale color of his skin this time, and the concerned looks he keeps on getting from Iwaizumi is a clear sign that he looks terrible. His fingers tap against his desk anxiously, in tune to the ticking clock of the classroom. His teacher’s words are more like background noise, barely processing in his mind, especially with the headache that pounds through his skull.

He wants to sleep — he needs to sleep, and he finds himself slipping until the sound of a pencil hitting the floor jolts him awake. It takes him a second to realize it was his — and while leaning down to pick it up, Iwaizumi whispers to him.

“You okay?”

A rhetorical question, of course. Tooru isn’t sure why he’s even asking. To humor him, Tooru simply shoots his Iwaizumi his typical smile, the one he usually reserves for his pushy fangirls or for rude strangers. “Just peachy.”

Iwaizumi’s eyes narrow at that, and he opens his mouth as if to say something, but then he takes a glance at their teacher and lets the matter go. It’s not like his best friend can give him a lecture about self-care in the middle of class, and this seems to frustrate him. He gives Tooru one last look before crossing his arms, turning his attention back to the teacher. 

After all, this isn’t the first time he’s come to school, fidgety for no apparent reason. One would expect Iwaizumi to let the matter go at this point (Tooru’s been like this on random days all throughout high school, although he’s been pulling all nighters more frequently as of late, which makes his jumpiness worse) but despite how often the situation crops up, he always manages to hear at least one lengthy lecture through his lunch. He looks to the clock with apprehension — speaking of lunchtime, there’s only a few minutes left until they’re dismissed for break. The thought of having to deal with his concerned-yet-aggressive friend, along with Matsukawa and Hanamaki’s usual antics makes him sigh with regret.

Maybe he can escape to the bathroom. As much as he hates the dirty, disgusting place, it’s the only way he can get rid of all this excess energy under his skin. Just thinking about it makes his legs bounce, makes his muscles strain with the effort of not running out immediately. His sweaty palms fumble with his pen as he tries to take some notes, even if he’s not entirely focused (it’s in vain, he knows, because when it gets like this he rarely absorbs enough lesson material to write down coherent sentences). 

His teacher is talking now, while looking at all of them rather than at the board. Something in Tooru’s mind says that he should really pay attention now, because this could be something important, but then the bell rings and his thoughts scatter like wildfire. Damn, has that always been that loud? He can barely hear anything as he stumbles to get up and out as fast as possible, to move move move – anything to get away from his teacher’s piercing gaze.

Iwaizumi isn’t that far behind him, grabbing his shoulder so that they don’t lose each other in the mass of crowding students. His grip is firm, guiding him through until he miraculously finds himself at the cafeteria. He can already see Hanamaki and Matsukawa sitting at their usual spots — they wave the two of them over.

Their cafeteria is rather huge, with long tables that stretch in rows, a line of students almost always crowding the entrance as they wait for their food. Tooru and his friends usually sit near the middle of the room, close to the wide windows that line up the wall opposite of the kitchen. Thankfully, today he has a packed lunch, and he saves himself from another migraine by skipping the line and heading straight to the other third years.

“Did you miss me?” he asks, trying to hide his exhaustion. He sits across from the two and resists the immediate urge to lay down on the open bench and fall asleep.

“Not at all,” Matsukawa responds a beat later. His hair is curly as always, chopsticks pointed at him with narrowed eyes. “It looks like you missed us, though. Don’t tell me it’s one of those days again.” 

“Oh, it’s one of those days,” Iwaizumi grumbles, taking a seat next to him. “Almost fell asleep in Sato-sensei’s class. Can you believe it? I swear I thought sensei was going to burn Oikawa with his glare.” 

Tooru just smiles weakly. “I though you were gonna burn me with a glare!” ‘Those days’ are when he, for some inexplicable reason he refuses to say, becomes jittery and anxious and exhausted. In his entire lifetime of knowing Iwaizumi, and in his 3 year friendships with Hanamaki and Matsukawa, they still haven’t been able to figure out why.

Iwaizumi thinks he’s just overworking himself with schoolwork. Matsukawa and Hanamaki think he’s still obsessed with conspiracy theories (which he isn’t, for the record, it was strictly a middle-school phase. Sort of.) and he’s only tired because he spent the night hunting for aliens.

“Damn,” Hanamaki says. He takes a bit of rice before continuing. “Like, no offense but, you look worse than you usually do on those days. You’re more… dead looking. Almost zombie-like.

Excuse me?” for their sake, and probably his own as well, he gives the three of them the most offended look he can make. Opening his lunch box, he swallows at the sight of milk bread — a sight that would usually energize him, but today he feels nothing. “There’s no way someone like me can look like anything but a perfect human being.”


“If you’re what a perfect human being is supposed to look like, I’m concerned for the entire human race,” Iwaizumi says. Tooru spots a cup of yoghurt in Iwaizumi’s lunch and instinctively tries to take it. The other easily swats his hand away, and everything seems normal for just a second, just a second.

Then his arm flops onto the table and Tooru slouches. “Iwa-chan, you’re so mean. I’m having a bad day today. You should be nice,” he whines. 

“Seriously though, what’s wrong?” he asks instead of responding. “You seemed fine yesterday, and it’s not like we have any upcoming tests or assignments you need to stay up for.” 

Tooru isn’t sure what to say to that — there’s a lot wrong, and he really doesn’t want to think about it, because yesterday he and his mother had a talk concerning all the things Tooru is trying to avoid, and then of course he woke up in the middle of the night because— because of that, and he only managed to get three hours of sleep in total because he was too anxious to go back to bed. 

“I’m telling you, Oikawa is just spending his nights going out to see if aliens will finally send him a message,” Matsukawa snickers.

Tooru throws up his hands. “That was one time Mattsun! I only asked to you guys to join me once! And it never happened again!”

Hanamaki lifts an eyebrow. “Really? You never went out again after that? Not even once?”

“W-Well,” he sputters, “I mean, only maybe two times more. But I stopped after middle school, I swear!”

The two aren’t listening, too busy laughing. Tooru glares into his food, which hasn’t gotten any more appetizing since the start of the lunch period. He thought it would be easier to handle out of class, but his shaking fingers say otherwise — he needs to move, get out, now.

He suddenly stands up, trying to hide the tremors going through his body. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he announces. He internally winces at how choppy his words come out.

“Did you drink milk at breakfast again?” Iwaizumi asks with a glare. “If you’re tired because of something stupid like that I’m going to hit you.”

“Mean, Iwa-chan! I can’t help that I’m lactose-intolerant, okay?!”

“Ah, so it’s just a bad case of the shits,” Hanamaki says, nodding sagely. “Why do you keep eating shit like milk bread if you know you’re going to suffer like this later anyways?”

I can’t stand still like this much longer. I need to get out, get out, get it out, now. Tooru manages to make a face, though, legs jumping up and down. “No matter what my body says, I will love milk bread forever. Even if it kills me. Even if I have to use the bathroom”

“Idiot,” Iwaizumi just mutters. They all know how much Tooru hates the school bathrooms, because he likes complaining about them all the time. The only time he ever uses it is when he eats lactate without eating his medication first, or when it’s one of those days (but nobody really knows the difference between the two, only he does).

Something pulses under his skin — he’s been standing still for too long, and that something is struggling to come out.

“Bathroom,” he says weakly, finally running off. He hears the knowing sighs of everyone, and someone whispers the words “when Is he gonna start taking care of himself? Someone remind him to take his meds next time—“ before he quickly heads towards where he needs to go. Today he can’t go outside — there were students, meaning he’ll be seen if he does.

The headache is back, amplified with each step.

When he opens the heavy bathroom door, it squeaks from the strain. Thankfully, no one is there, but the pungent smell that assaults his nose almost makes him turn around — almost.

(But there’s no way he can turn back, no way he will turn back, because if he doesn’t get rid of it right away the chances of him being found out increases to a dangerous percentage. He doesn’t like thinking about what’ll happen then).

Just to be safe, he enters a stall for privacy. Almost immediately after he locks the door, something in his body just lets go, and the control he was struggling to maintain throughout the day quickly dissipates.

Green vines sprout from his arms, curling around with budding leaves, draping green sheets as Tooru shakes from the strain. Petals grow from his hair, around his face, up his neck, painting his skin red with speckles of black and yellow. Roots twist through his veins as big, leafy plant-life emerges from his fingers, breaking through skin to wrap around Tooru like a living terrarium.

And in that moment, he’s glad — so, so glad because he’s lactose intolerant, because if it weren’t for that small fact he wouldn’t have a solid excuse as for why he needs so desperately to be alone when he goes away to the bathroom for long periods of time.

After all, lactose intolerance is normal. Lactose intolerance is something a human has, something he can act embarrassed about.

Magic — magic is something that isn’t any of those things. Magic is dangerous, magic is illegal, magic is… magic is what causes his shuddering as he tries to keep flowers and branches inside him whenever he gets too worked up. Magic is what causes his exhaustion, what causes him to be so tired on days he can’t control it very well. Magic is what wakes him up at night, choking him with thorns on his throat, along with nightmares of getting found out.

Magic is a part of Oikawa Tooru.

There’s no other explanation for how wrinkled petals find themselves sprouting from the lines of his palm, knees overrun with grass and wildflowers, every part of his body a living, breathing garden that turns the hairs on his scalp into tiny treetops that shade the blossoming fruit leaves that come from his collarbone.

He remembers when this first happened — he had been alone, thankfully, and smart enough not to mention it to anyone. He knew how magic-users were treated, understood the looks of terror and scorn people would get when it was brought up. 

He remembers learning about where this magic even came from.  He remembers learning about creatures from the Other side, a place of monsters from myths, living their own lives, separate from their own society. 

He remembers how horribly these monsters were depicted, how they were painted as killers and animals who thirsted for human blood.

 (He remembers trying to hide his powers, and getting bruises all over his body from the backlash). 

He’s gotten better at regulating his magic to leave only the smallest of marks, if any, but today he knows there’s going to be a bit more than just a small scratch, just judging from the soreness of his arms. It’s not that his hurts — despite the fact that things are literally protruding from under his skin, it doesn’t hurt, not at all. It never did (in fact, it feels better to let it out rather than keep it in).

But even if his body breaks and bruises, even if he can barely get through a day without wanting to collapse from the stress of having to keep everything in, he’s kept this secret for 11 years straight and doesn’t intend to break it anytime soon. He can’t allow himself to slip up in a world where magic is rejected. Especially in front of his best friends.

Especially in front of Iwaizumi.

As soon as the last of the flowers are drawn back in, skin closing up as if nothing happened, he finds himself able to breathe again. His headache is gone, sort of, and Tooru spends the next minute fixing himself up in the dirtied mirrors. 

I’m human, he tells himself, before going out again. I’m human, I’m normal, and there’s nothing wrong with me. Mom and Onee-chan is normal too, so why wouldn’t I be? I don’t know anything about magic, except that it exists and that I hate it. I just had a bad stomachache from eating too much milk bread and cereal in the morning.

(the lies itch, causes his fingers to tingle). 

With one last look in the mirror, Tooru puts on his mask, slips on a smile, and steps out with a spring in his step.

 


 

The night is silent, except for the sound of dripping water from a leaky faucet in the bathroom.

“Tooru?” his mother calls from the kitchen — the table is already set with breakfast. There’s a lunchbox there for him to take as well, neatly wrapped and ready to go. Tooru takes a seat and tiredly digs in, not quite fully awake.  

Every few minutes, he can also hear the sound of rustling wind. Cars never pass by his section of the neighborhood, especially this late, but the serene peace he usually feels right before dawn isn’t there, replaced by the feeling of suffocation.                                 

“Yeah, mom?” he asks, after a few bites.

There’s a breath, a moment of hesitation. Then, she speaks with caution in her voice. “I know you don’t like talking about this… but I got a call from your teacher.”  

Tooru freezes and almost chokes on his food, chest tight with sudden anxiety.

He’s been staring emptily at his ceiling for the past hour now. His eyelids are drooping, but for some reason, sleep doesn’t find him. His fingers twitch — is he dreaming? Or is he awake? Maybe he’s in between, he can’t tell.

“She says you still haven’t talked to your guidance counselor about university, and that your grades are dropping. Just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean you can slack off, you know. Your teacher is just trying to help, and you should take her advice while you can–“

“Mom,” he interrupts, putting his chopsticks down. “Mom. I don’t want to talk about this.  

“Then when do you want to talk about this? You’re running out of time, I hope you know.”

Suffocation. He can’t breathe.

He hasn’t finished his breakfast yet, but he gets up and starts getting ready anyways. “Trust me, mom. I have everything under control. I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

They both know Tooru isn’t going to do any talking, but he leaves before his mother can protest.

He knows what she’s thinking, knows what everyone thinks — that he doesn’t know what he wants to do, that he doesn’t care for his future. That he wants to spend the rest of his school year just relaxing. “Senoritis already, I guess you could say!” says his sister jokingly, trying to hide her concern.

How he wishes that were true.

Tooru clenches his fist and lets out a sigh, green buds popping out from his palms before detaching and fluttering to the sidewalk. The wind takes them away, leaving no evidence behind.  

It’s better like this, he tries to tell himself, it’s better to act like he doesn’t care at all. Because even if he tried, even if he were honest about his what he really wanted to do, to pursue, he’ll never make it past high school.

At a school where trained monster hunters and blood-checks are as common as students, there’s no way he’ll be able to have a normal life without getting caught. If the bloodwork they require at the start of semesters doesn’t give him away, the hundreds of cameras installed all over university campuses will surely catch him in the act of growing something or the other.

It makes sense — as unfair as it is for him, it makes sense. There have been too many ‘accidents,’ too many deaths and injuries from monsters disguised as students. Technically he can beg and explain his situation, but in reality, he really doesn’t have a chance.

If he goes to university, at best he’ll be put to jail.

Just for existing.

He hates it, he hates it, but it’s better that he pretends that he doesn’t care, it’s better that he doesn’t try, because no matter what he does he’ll be rejected.

But who’s ever heard of a half-human astrophysicst though? His dream seem so foolish. As if he could ever make it anywhere even if he did go to school. Skipping university altogether is the best option he has, because then he could at least hide a bit longer, stay out of sight for as long as possible…

…yet he… he—

—he wakes up to the sound of his own, heavy breathing.

There’s a blanket of autumn leaves all over his bed, the gnarly branches protruding from his forearms already blooming again. Flowers tickle his ears as they sprout from his hair, spilling over and fluttering past his eyes. Green buds pop from his palms, just like from his dream.

Although, it was less of a dream and more of a vivid replay of that horrible morning. Tooru checks his bedside clock, the numbers 5:13 glaring back at him in luminescent red. He feels more tired than usual, most likely do to the extra stress from trying to avoid his mom and his teacher and his friends all day.

(He wonders how long he can keep it up, wonders when he’ll have the strength to say the words I’m not applying to university even if he doesn’t want to.) 

Tooru looks out the window — as expected, Iwaizumi’s room is dark. A part of him wishes he could telepathically communicate to him to wake up, but his powers, unfortunately, seem to be related to only plants.

The clouds move and moonlight shines through his window, momentarily lighting up his arms. He has to admit the sight isn’t exactly pretty. Aside from the small bruises littered around, the dark stems jutting through his veins look like pulsing parasites. There’s a bit of blood from where the branch comes from, rough bark slightly tearing the skin around it. A part of him wonders what kind of tree it is that’s growing through him, but he quickly squishes the thought.

(He’s never bothered to learn the names of any of the things that grow from him, and it’s probably better he never does).

He can still hear the sound of the faucet. Tooru tries not to think about his dream too much as he settles back into bed—doing so will only cause more negative emotions, which’ll lead to more cleanup for tomorrow morning. Sure, his plants usually just retreat back into his body after a while, but the stray petals and leaves that fall out during the process don’t just disappear (although he wishes they could). He has to manually pick them up before either throwing them away or absorbing it back into his skin. 

The thought of someone finding his room, full of broken bark and fallen flowers, makes his skin crawl. 

But in the darkness, there’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to hide. In the day he lives in fear, but when the world goes to sleep this part of him wakes up, the part of him that doesn’t care if he’s using magic or not. There’s no one awake, no sound, nobody there to see his true nature. Spindly branches grow from his knees, his ankles, his chest, reaching up into the ceiling and revealing bright, yellow flowers that glisten in the night.

They are his stars, and Tooru doesn’t need a degree in astrophysics to know their orbit. He is, after all, their sun. A star himself.

 


 

The next night, Tooru finds himself unable to sleep, again.

School had been tiring as ever. Throughout the entire day, he had been on edge, and even going to the bathroom and releasing excess magic hadn’t helped his jittery mood. Somehow, he managed to hide his discomfort with well-timed jokes throughout the day.        

But even now, the fidgety feeling is still there, like an annoying itch that can’t quite be scratched.

He shifts in his bed, trying to get comfortable, but it isn’t easy. There are no stars painting his room tonight — there’s too much trying to come out at the moment, and if he lets go he might drown under the weight of his own flowers.

But he needs to move. Almost mechanically, he finds himself finally opening a window, the late-spring air a refreshing breeze. Through muscle memory he removes the wire mesh that separates his room and the outside world before carefully climbing out. Thankfully, Iwaizumi’s room is dark, meaning he’s sleeping and won’t know that Tooru is sneaking out. 

It also means it’s well past midnight. He doesn’t bother to check the time for specifics, though. As long as he can stay unnoticed, he’s okay.

There are no shoes to cover the bruises on his ankles and he winces every so often under the strain, but even so he continues to march forward. There’s something therapeutic about spontaneous late-night walks, and the little forested park he approaches brings comforting childhood memories.

This is where he goes when the nights get too long, when he can’t contain everything in just one room. It’s where he goes when he needs a breather, when he needs an entire forest to hide himself.

His feet lead him to a familiar hiking path. He used to frequent this place with Iwaizumi often during the summer of elementary school days. The dirt is well worn from the years upon years of sneakers and other shoes plodding through, and with his soles bare, he can feel much more than just what he steps on. Somehow, without even closing his eyes, Tooru can sense the thicket of roots that grow deep under, the small vein-like tendrils from the unkempt grass fields. He can feel seeds just barely pushing themselves to breathe in the air, the life that swarms under surface level, the life of the forest.

He walks through about half the trail, where the moonlight is the thinnest. Without hesitation this time, Tooru sighs and releases the heavy tension in his shoulders.

The earth trembles beneath him. The weeks and weeks of unhealthy built-up stress bursting from his body isn’t a pleasant sight. The sound of skin ripping and things tearing apart sounds harsh and jarring to his own ears — but at the same time, something about the cathartic moment feels as natural as breathing, almost feels relieving – and soon enough, Tooru is wrapped in his own garden.

Flowers, vines, roots, and other plant-life extends from his body. It would look mysteriously beautiful if it weren’t for the blood pooling at his feet, lightly dripping from his arms and legs as his body shudders, trying to adjust to the sudden outbreak. A part of him wonders if the bleeding is always supposed to happen, or if it’s a side effect from trying to repress his magic for so long.

Tooru isn’t sure how long he stands there — long enough for the plants to settle, he guesses — but soon, he finally starts feeling empty, refreshed, clean. His spine sags from the strained effort, suddenly tired and exhausted. The process of getting everything to reverse itself takes a while, and his bones begin to creak as his body structure tries to rearrange itself.

It’s when he begins to walk, palms enclosed around the last that he sees him. 

The moonlight illuminates the figure of a boy who looks no older than him, although he seems to be a bit taller. Messy, dark hair hides half a pair of glowing eyes that dilate in the light. His clothes are dark, moving, as if they were woven with the shadows of the night, melting into the air around him.

He smiles at Tooru, revealing sharp canines. “Quite an impressive show… you’ve got some powerful magic, kid.”

The words make his blood turn to ice. “Who are you?” He says, unable to keep the quivering fear out of his voice. And what are you doing here?  

“Me? I’m just a cat.”

Tooru blinks, and in the place of the stranger is, true to his word, a black cat, with the same piercing eyes and unnerving smile.

“Sorry, wrong question,” Tooru says with a nervous laugh. His legs tremble, ready to run at any moment despite the pain that comes from trying to move. “I meant to say, what are you?”

He can’t believe that there’s another magic user — another monster — out here. Had he been watching the entire time? His process hadn’t been a quiet one. While not loud enough to alert the neighborhood, it was certainly loud enough for this stranger to have heard. Was he someone Tooru knew?

Would he finally be found out?

The thought makes him want to bolt as fast as possible.

“How rude. I said I was a cat, already. A black cat if you want to be specific,” the stranger says. “Black cats are a sign of bad luck, but… I think you’ll get a nice surprise soon. Don’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, you’ll know soon enough. Sorry to cut our first meeting so short, but I’m running out of time. Catch you later?” 

And then, with a wink, he disappears.

He stands there for a few moments longer, waiting for something to happen, for someone to jump from behind and yell freeze! We know your secret! 

But nothing happens. The winds change course, signaling the start of a new day.

With shaky steps, Tooru makes his way back, the sun already about to rise, it’s golden rays peering out from the horizon. He rushes to get back into the safety of his room, away from any more prying eyes. 

Washing the blood from his body, Tooru decides that the cat-human thing had to be an illusion. A hallucination induced by his exhaustion. There’s no other explanation for it — if it were real, if there were truly another magical human around who knew his secret, Tooru would go crazy.

Better to pretend it never happened. Better to pretend it was all a dream.

(he reminds himself to take a different hiking path the next time he goes out).

 


 

Tooru is seven years old when he decides to tell Iwaizumi his secret.

It’s winter, the cold air making him shiver against his scarf, Iwaizumi sitting right next to him. Their noses are red from the weather, each holding a warm mug of hot chocolate. It’s quiet between the two of them as they rest, the snow-filled backyard full of mini forts, half-finished snowmen, and hundreds of footprints.

Tooru swings his feet back and forth, the back of his boots sending powdered snow flying from the staircase they’re on. The overcast clouds above them seem to hang ominously, as if promising rain, maybe even more snow.

He’s been wanting to share with Iwaizumi for a long time, and in the peacefulness of the situation he finally feels ready. It’s something he hasn’t even told his own sister or mother, and the thought of Iwaizumi being the only one with his secret makes him feel… excited. He’s tired of trying to hide this from his best friend. 

Magic is fun, amazing. He wants Iwaizumi to think the same too. 

“Oikawa?” Iwaizumi’s voice breaks him out of his thoughts. 

“Yeah, Iwa-chan?” He says immediately, looking up from his mug. Iwaizumi’s tone was —serious, and his expression is the same, with furrowed eyebrows.

“Theres… something I want to tell you,” he starts hesitantly. “Something I’ve wanted to share for a while. Dad said not to tell anyone, but I think you should know.”

He looks nervous, a strange expression withal the baby-fat still on his face.

Tooru’s eyes widen. ‘Me too,’ He wants to say, ‘I want to share something too,’ but he swallows the words, saving them for later. Instead, he asks, “What is it?”

He can’t believe his luck.

This is perfect. a secret for a secret. He can confess to Iwaizumi about his magic after, and then they’ll be even. They’ll both know something about each other that nobody else knows. Something only a best friend would know. He wonders what it is, speculates that it must be an incredibly important deal for Iwaizumi to go against what his dad’s words. 

It feels nice, to be trusted like this. 

But of all the things Iwaizumi could have said then, of all the possibilities Tooru could have imagined, nothing could have prepared him for the truth. For the first time in his life, Tooru would experience harsh reality. 

The words coming out of the other’s mouth is completely unexpected (but looking back, it’s nothing uncommon, nothing surprising, he should have seen it coming but still—)

“My mom… she’s… gone." 

He doesn’t get it at first. Iwaizumi shifts in his seat.

“…Gone?”

“Yeah.” His expression changes slightly. “Dad says the monsters took her.”

Something sinks in his stomach. He doesn’t like where this is going. “Monsters.” 

“You know—“ he pauses and makes some motions with his hands. “Magic. Scary things. The other side?”

“Right. Magic. Scary things. They…. Took your mom?” Tooru repeats a bit faintly. 

Iwaizumi looks behind him, as if someone is listening in, before leaning in close. “I’m telling you because I don’t want them to take you too.” In that moment, Iwaizumi looks scared, and angry. Tooru doesn’t know what to say in return. “I miss… I miss my mom. Promise you won’t disappear, okay? Promise you won’t let the monsters take you away. Dad says the monsters are even worse than bad people.”

(It’s so cruel, he thinks while looking back. Seven year olds shouldn’t be afraid of death, afraid of abandonment. Not the way Iwaizumi was).

Something unpleasant settles in Tooru’s chest, but he doesn’t quite understand the full gravity of the situation. He bites down questions like, is she gone forever? Do you think you can ask the monsters and ask them to give her back? Where did they take her too? And nods solemnly along, holding out his pinky finger to swear he wouldn’t the monsters take him, no way.

I have my own magic to protect myself! Watch! He wants to say.

But he looks at Iwazumi, at his anger and fear, and the words just don’t come out. 

He didn’t know it back then, but it wouldn’t be the first time he experienced bitter irony. The son of a monster, best friends with someone who’s parent was killed by a monster. A wielder of magic, closest to someone who despised it

(Seven year olds shouldn’t be afraid of rejection, of being alone. Not the way Tooru was.

But they were both afraid, seven year olds huddling in the cold, and maybe that’s where it all started.)

Tooru’s other hand closes around some blooming petals, white as the snow around them. They wrinkle and shrivel in his palms. 

“Did you want to say something?” Iwaizumi asks after a moment, tilting his head, as if sensing the hidden words at the back of Tooru’s throat.

He smiles at the other. “Nope! I’m good. But… thanks for telling me this, Iwa-chan. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

Iwaizumi smiles back, but for some reason the sinking feeling won’t go away. After a few more minutes the two of them head inside, and they never really speak of it again.

Tooru is seven years old when Iwaizumi tells him his secret.

Tooru never ends up sharing his own.

 


  

Tooru, somehow, actually ends up forgetting about the stranger he saw in the woods after passing it off as a trick on his mind. A few weeks pass without anything crazy happening (the first few days after the encounter, he had been on edge, wondering what the ‘nice surprise’ would be — but nothing had been out of the ordinary), but it’s when he’s at the local convience store to get some groceries that he sees him again.

The dark, messy hair and lean figure is unmistakeable. For a second, he’s frozen, and then Tooru quickly scrambles to hide behind the little aisle shelves, hoping the other doesn’t notice him.

The stranger notices him. 

And to his horror, he begins walking towards him.

“Hey!” he calls out before Tooru can run away. “Have we met before?” It’s a question, but looking at the other’s bright gaze, they both know that they definitely have met before. 

“I- I mean, I, uh,” Tooru starts eloquently. “I don’t really think th-”

The stranger grins. “Oh, we definitely have. You were jogging by near the park, the other day! Never caught your name.”

Tooru hesitates at that. This person doesn’t seem like he’s going to report him, like he first suspected, but maybe the fact that he can turn into a cat has something to do with that. Is it a thing for magical people to out each other? Probably not… right?

“What, not even a hello? Don’t be rude, I know you can see and hear me.”

Or maybe he’s crazy. Maybe he’s officially gone crazy, and the amount of stress he’s been experiencing lately has finally pushed him over the edge. Maybe he’s hallucinating this, cat-thing again, and if he tries hard enough he’ll disappear into smoke again.

He tries moving towards the cash registers, but the stranger grabs onto his wrist before he can move on.

Okay, maybe not a hallucination.

“Are we really gonna do this? Don’t be difficult, I just wanna have a friendly conversation. So… what’s your name?”

Nothing about this seems friendly, but Tooru manages to make a face. “O-Oikawa Tooru,” he squeaks out, voice shaky. He feels a few vines pules from his forearm, and he shudders trying to suppress the magic. Not here, not now, not in front of all these people.

“See, that wasn’t too hard, right?” he continues as if he doesn’t see Tooru’s discomfort. “I’m Kuroo Tetsurou. Do you need help with those?”

He points at Tooru’s basket, which is full of groceries. 

“N-no, I’m good! I was just about to check-out and leave, actually, so if you would excuse me…”

“Oh, that’s perfect! Do you have a moment to chat, then? There’s something I need to ask you.” Kuroo’s expression is coy as he smiles at him. He twitches back in annoyance. 

Tooru’s heart starts pounding. This isn’t good, this isn’t good, this isn’t good… what the hell does he want from me?

But Kuroo’s tone leaves no room for argument, and right now he really doesn’t want to upset the other. If things really get out of hand, Tooru’s sure he can protect himself, as long as they move to a more remote location. “Sure,” he tries to say as nonchalantly as possible.

“Great!” Kuroo cheers, pushing Tooru forward. “Then let’s hurry and check out. I don’t have much time left.”

 


  

At first, they don’t go very far, but they’re far enough from other people that for Tooru to relax a bit. Plastic bags bounce against his legs with each step. Kuroo looks straight ahead, never looking back to see if he’s following along, but there’s something about the way he moves that makes Tooru feel like he’s being carefully watched.

The overhanging threes soon become familiar, and Tooru realizes they’re at the local park, around where they first met. He rarely comes by during the day anymore, and the filtered light feels warm and strangely reassuring as they stomp through the dirt-trodden path. In the corner of his eye he sees the main path, which leads to the playgrounds and front entrance, but Kuroo walks in the opposite direction and soon enough they’re so far that Tooru can’t see it anymore.

They keep going - Tooru is too scared to say anything and stays silent. He doesn’t know how long they walk, and at one point he stops trying to count the minutes that pass. Finally, after what seems like forever, his legs aching, Kuroo stops and turns around with a bemused expression. They’re in a little clearing, the thicket of trees opening up to reveal a little meadow with grass and small wildflowers.

 “We’re here!” Kuroo says. 

“Where is… here, exactly? Why did you bring me here, anyways?”

“That’s a very good question… but well. It’s a bit of a long explanation.

Tooru bristles at that. Now that he thinks about it, he probably shouldn’t have let the creepy, magical stranger lead him far into the woods, away from any civilization. He wonders if anyone will find his body if he dies. He shakes away the morbid thought with a sigh. 

Kuroo, for a second, seems to melt into the ground. Tooru blinks, and just like last time, there’s a shadowy black cat in his place.

There’s silence. 

“I’m dreaming, right?” Tooru says to himself. “Please tell me I’m dreaming. Or at least tell me why you pressured me to come here. I don’t care if it’s a long explanation.”

“Why so surprised?” the cat says with a big yawn. “It’s not like this is your first time seeing magic.”

It’s then when Tooru notices the cat’s tail — the ends are split into two, like a long y.

“Please. Just tell me now. Am I crazy?” Tooru sits, feeling faint. He’s never had to deal with someone else’s magic and — having to talk to a talking cat is just a bit much. The day had started so well. How had he ended up like this? 

“I can assure you, you’re not crazy. Simply put, I’ve brought you here because I wanted to… offer my services to you.”

“Offer your services,” Tooru repeats blankly.

“Yep! Think of me like a… recruiter, or sorts. My job is to bring people like you to the Other Side.”

Tooru’s heart hammers against his chest. “Other side?” He laughs. “I-I don’t know why you would want to bring me there. I’m just a human anyway, so I think you have the wrong—“

“Are you sure about that?” Kuroo interrupts, eyes almost glowing in the fading sunlight. It’s dusk now, and Tooru just realizes the sky is no longer blue, but pink and orange with a strange haze around it. “Are you sure you’re just human?”

His head hurts. Tooru tries to swallow and winces at how dry his throat has become. “...My mother is a human,” he simply says, and the argument sounds weak even in his ears. “Doesn’t that mean I’m one too?”

 “Well, what about your dad?”

No answer.

“Well, see? You shouldn’t try to hide it.” Kuroo’s gaze arpens. “It’s not only dangerous to yourself, but also dangerous to others, when you try to suppress magic for that long. That’s why I’m here. I can bring you safely over. I can teach you how to control it. I can even help you submit a report to the police that won’t get you charged with anything.”

“But,” he hears himself say, because everything feel surreal and there must be a catch.

“But… well. You’re gonna have to stay in the Other Side for a bit.” Somehow, the cat shrugs.

“So, for forever.” There is no crossing between worlds, it’s not allowed at all — at least, that’s what they’re told in school. But that brings up the question, how did Kuroo end up in this world?

“Ah, not quite. Trust me, there are ways to legally pass between the border. How do you think I’m here?”

Tooru sighs. He doesn’t know what to say. “I’ve asked this before, but who… are you?"

The cat grins. “Who am I? Well, I’m just your friendly neighborhood Nekomata-Witch. And I sense a lot of trapped magic in you. Aren’t you tired of running away? I can help. Really.”

Kuroo puts a paw lightly to the ground — and Tooru can’t help but let out a little gasp when light spills from his body, the earth trembling slightly before opening up, revealing a swirling pool of sparkling dust a few feet wide.

“As long as you’re with me, you’re safe to enter through here without raising any alarms. Before things get out of hand, you should come through and at least get to see what it’s like over there.”

Something cold and disgusting writhes inside Tooru. It’s slithers like ice through his veins, causes his fingers to tremble and breath pause in his lungs. It’s fear, pooling at the bottom of his stomach, throwing all logic out the window.

“I can’t,” he whispers. “I don’t want to. I’m human. I… I don’t’ belong there.

“Deny it all you want, but the fact that you made it all the way here without getting lost is proof you’re not fully human. Did you know? This little portal area is accessible by creatures and holders of magic only. Let me say this from experience — living your life as a liar is only going to make things worse.”

Tooru doesn’t respond. Kuroo bites his lips, then briefly turns into a human to reach into his pocket and hand him a piece of paper. “Okay, fine. Be that way. But if you’re ever interested in reconsidering… just let me know okay? Don’t try coming through by yourself. You’ll get in serious trouble.”

It’s when Kuroo is knee deep in the light that Tooru finally realizes Kuroo is leaving.

“Wait!” he says, a little desperately. “How do I get back home from here?”

Kuroo only smiles slyly. “I’m sure you can figure it out.” With that, the light shoots up like bars, and for a brief second he sees his body fade into shadows, a two-pronged tail flicking upwards before disappearing into smoke, closing up the portal and leaving only smoke.

And Tooru finds himself all alone in the field, the groceries in his hand long forgotten.

The wind blows — it’ll be dark soon, but Tooru can’t bring himself to stand up. Not right away, at least.

He finds a slip of paper is a phone number, from where the portal was. It flies into his hands, as if the wind is magical itself. Call me, it says. The handwriting is surprisingly neat.

Aren’t you tired of running away? I can help.  

“No way,” he whispers to himself. “It’s just too good to be true. There’s no way.”

He laughs, then, and starts walking home. The sun is gone by the time he gets there. The very same night, he finally falls asleep peacefully.

The only thing he can remember from his dreams is a black cat.

 


 

At one point, he saves the number, but he can’t bring himself to do anything else about it.

Tooru has to admit — when the weather is terrible, and he’s exhausted, and his mother won’t stop nagging, Kuroo’s offer to help him control his magic is tempting. 

But he thinks back to the way his eyes glowed, the unnaturalness of the portal, and something about the entire thing feels so off that he can’t bring himself to do anything. He’s always suppressed his magic and identity, but now that there’s a theoretical way to actually, maybe, properly learn how to use magic, he finds himself feeling impatient and unsettled for no reason.

Magic used to be something he ignored, something he tricked himself into believing wasn’t real. A pressing matter pushed under the rug so deeply Tooru rarely thought about it conciously. But now, how can he ignore everything when there are so many unanswered questions running around in his head?

Like, how did he sense Tooru’s magic? How did he get to their world legally, anyways? Had that portal always been there? Were there more around the world? Is that how magical creatures came through from the other world? Then what made Kuroo different from those criminals?

 He can’t think, can’t focus, and Tooru mentally curses Kuroo for breaking the balance of his life. He had been determined to try to forget the entire ordeal, but he can’t help remembering every time he has to hide to release magic.

“Oikawa Tooru?”

He looks up from his desk, and with a jolt, realizes he’s in the middle of class. Everyone stares at him, a few students in the back even giggling.

Oops. He smiles sheepishly at his teacher, and stutters out some excuse. He can feel Iwaizumi almost breathing down his back with questions of his own, but once again Tooru uses the cover of class to escape his immediate wrath. Maybe, by the time they’re allowed to go out, Iwaizumi won’t be as intimidating.

Tooru finds out that he is very, very wrong.

As soon as they’re dismissed Iwaizumi grabs his shoulder and leads them out. 

“I-Iwa-chan, what’s wrong?” he says as nonchalantly as possible.

“Just get your stuff,” Iwaizumi grunts. “I’m tired of this. We need to talk.”

Tooru contemplates running away — then looks at Iwaizumi’s gaze and quickly packs his bag for they day. He waves Hanamaki and Matsukawa a quick goodbye, who only nod at Iwaizumi mysteriously, before he’s dragged out to the side of the school. 

It’s a nice day out, Tooru thinks absentmindedly. The days are becoming hotter now, but there are no cicadas to be heard. The sun is partially clouded by a few clouds, leaving half of the concrete scorching and the other half perfectly fine. 

“We need to talk,” Iwaizumi repeats after sitting down, back against brick walls, facing the school’s open field that’s full of fake grass.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry, Iwa-chan,” Tooru tries to say, sitting down next to Iwaizumi. 

“I’m not angry,” Iwaizumi says, brows furrowed. “I’m just — frustrated. You haven’t been yourself lately.”

“People can change!”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I mean—” he leans in, holding a hand to Tooru’s forehead. “—are you sick or something? If you are, I’ll kill you, shittykawa.”

He brushes away Iwaizumi’s hand. “I’m not sick, or anything. Just a little stressed, that’s all!” 

Iwaizumi merely cocks an eyebrow. “Is this the same kind of ‘stressed’ you were feeling two years ago, when you practiced volleyball to the point of almost dying from malnutrition? The same kind that fucked up your knee, you know, where you were just a little bit stressed, so you stayed until 2 AM that one night—”

“Okay, I got it! I’m a lot stressed. Happy?” Tooru pouts and crosses his arms.

Iwaizumi sighs. They’re silent for a while. “You know you can tell me if anything is wrong, right?”

 The wind blows, and Tooru catches a fresh leaf that flies by. In that moment, just in that moment, he pretends that all those times he had held something like this in his hand, it had been something he had plucked himself, something he had done on purpose.

Wouldn’t it be nice, if my magic just disappeared… 

“I’m just… tired, Iwa-chan,” he finds himself saying.

Iwaizumi stays silent, as if waiting for an explanation, but Tooru doesn’t say anything else. He really is tired, tired of everything, and he silently wonders how long he can keep this, this game of constantly bottling things up. 

Not for much longer, that’s for sure, he thinks to himself, especially if Iwaizumi keeps bugging me like this. I wish… I wish I could tell them. But… 

His thoughts trail off, and it’s too much, and in that moment a few spring flowers sprout from the palm of his hand, as if responding to his frustration. 

His heart jumps to his mouth as he immediately tries to crumble it up, hoping, praying, that Iwaizumi wasn’t looking. Damn it, damn it, damn it… I let myself get too worked up. If only I had been more careful…

He suddenly remembers Iwaizumi’s expression all those years ago when they had been sharing secrets after a day of playing in the snow. He remembers the pain, the anger. 

Of course, Iwaizumi never really directly talked about his mother again after that, but sometimes Tooru would catch him going to the town cemetery with a bouquet, and other trinkets, in hand. He would catch his empty expression whenever someone talked extensively about their family.

And he really didn’t want to know how much more devastated he would be if he found out about Tooru’s own magic. If he found out that his best friend had the very same thing that had killed his mother.

A shift. Tooru freezes, unable to hide a few buds peeking out from through the cracks of his fingers. Please don’t notice, please don’t notice…

“Oh?” Tooru winces, brances for impact— “You don’t see those around these days,” Iwaizumi says casually, gesturing to the flowers in his hand. Tooru cautiously examines the other ‘s face, looks for any trace of disgust or shock, but only finds open curiosity instead. He visibly relaxes — Iwaizumi must have been looking away when his magic had leaked. Thank goodness. “They usually only come out at the beginning of spring.” 

“Y-yeah! I know right? It’s really strange! I just found them! Right here, next to me. On the ground. They were just, growing from the concrete. Hahaha!” 

If Tooru is being weird (which he probably is), Iwaizumi doesn’t comment on it.

They stay silent again for a few minutes, then Iwaizumi gets up and offers a hand to Tooru. 

He hesitates, for a second. When he takes it, the other’s palm is warm, and his finger twitches in urge to grow something else.

Later that night, when they’ve walked home together and Tooru is attempting to do some homework, he chokes on his own breath as thorns make their way out of his throat and almost strangle him. He shoves bloodied rose petals into the trash and grabs his phone.

(He’s had enough of this, and earlier was too close of a call. He needs to do something. Kuroo’s word echo through his mind, over and over.

It’s not only dangerous to yourself, but also dangerous to others, when you try to suppress magic for that long. That’s why I’m here. I can bring you safely over. I can teach you how to control it

It sounds too good to be true, but he has to try).

 


 

New Message:

 

[12:33 AM]

 

Me: hey, it’s oikawa tooru

 Me: You said you could help me control my magic…?

 


 

[4:50 AM]

               

Unknown: glad you’ve come to your senses, at least a little bit.

Unknown: come by the portal this weekend.

Unknown: you can’t miss it ;)

 


 

When the next weekend comes by, Tooru realizes there wasn’t a time specified. He tries texting Kuroo again, he doesn’t get any responses, so sometime after lunch, he gives an apology to Iwaizumi for turning down his offer to study and heads out with unsure steps. It’s cloudy, unlike last time, the overhanging grey sheets making him more anxious.

He isn’t sure how he knows where to go, but while walking down the beaten path at the park he ends up straying at one point, and soon the sound of children’s voices screaming and screeching quickly fades. After a few minutes he finds himself in that same clearing from about a week ago, the same, strange atmosphere sending shivers up his spine.

“Hey!” Says a familiar voice from behind, and Tooru, embarrassingly enough, shrieks and whips his head around so fast that a few lilies burst from his neck, stabbing into his ears and hair.

Kuroo bursts into laughter.

“K-Kuroo!” he breathes out. The other is wearing a plain, dark T-shirt and jeans like last time, and Tooru is somewhat alarmed at how normal he looks. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Oh my god,” Kuroo huffs, mirth still in his voice, and he has to stop to let out a few giggles before continuing. He walks up so he can sling a shoulder around Tooru. “I’ll never get over that. Geez, didn’t know you were such a scaredy cat.”

Tooru pouts at that. “I am not.”

“Don’t lie to me, I can sense your fear.” A strange statement, but at this point, Tooru doesn’t doubt him. “You’re nervous — don’t be! The Other Side isn’t all bad.”

This time, it’s his time to laugh. Tooru thinks Kuroo is joking until he looks into his eyes.

“The other side is full of monsters,” he says, suddenly wanting to explain himself.

“And?” Kuroo raises an eyebrow.

 “And?!” Tooru repeats, almost shrill. “And monsters are just that — monsters.  I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

Ouch,” Kuroo says even if his expression shows no sign of hurt. “I know we monsters have a bad rep here but, I thought you might be a little more open minded at least. Come on, I’m not that bad, right?”

Tooru wears a dead-pan expression. “You’re literally the worst person I’ve met.”

“Oh, shut up. You should be thanking me for this opportunity.”

"Whatever,” Tooru retorts, but he doesn’t say anything else.

It’s true — if someone had told him a few weeks ago that he could have the chance to have someone teach him magic, without judging him for it, he would have laughed. In fact, he had laughed. And then he had been too afraid of the offer to do anything for a while. 

But after sending the first text to Kuroo, it was as if something in him had changed. The ‘I don’t trust you’s and I don’t believe this is true’s slowly changed as they started to communicate more and more. Tooru complained about homework and his friends bother him almost daily. Kuroo responded by talking about his friends, who he apparently owned a shop with. It was an apothecary of sorts, a strange concept to Tooru in itself, but that was the only information he had been able to glean from him.

You can see for yourself when you visit, Kuroo had said when Tooru asked for more details.

Right. The visit. The whole reason why you started to talk to him in the first place. He isn’t sure how to feel about it.

Going to the one place where nobody he knew could help him seemed like a bad idea, especially when he had been taught to hate the place all throughout his life while growing up.

Despite the countless stories he’s heard about the other side, Tooru has never heard of any account of what the place is actually like. It’s a truly mysterious place for humans, after all, and anything is possible. For most, magic is just another part of a fairy tale, something to fear, something that used to be a part of the norm when humans and creatures had lived together.

There are even some accounts of humans discovering a bit of magic in themselves, passed down from descendants from hundreds of years ago.

But those humans can barely do anything, in terms of actual magical ability. Perhaps lifting objects no heavier than a pen, or having slightly enhanced vision, was the extent of their abilities. In shorter terms, nothing when compared to what Tooru has.

 So, even if it feels as if common sense is telling him to turn away and pretend that he never met Kuroo, a part of him knows he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he really ran away.

He’s been running his entire life. And he’s tired. Before, he had run because there was nothing else to do, nothing else he could do.

But now that Kuroo has offered him an alternative, a chance to rest, he can’t help but become feverish at the thought of finally having some control over his life.

As much as he hates it, hates himself, his magic, as much as he fears it, an incessant voice whispers go, go, go. Maybe, just maybe, if he figures out how to control his magic, he can to university without being detected.

An unrealistic dream, but maybe he can even live his entire life undetected once he learns how to control his magic.

It sounds almost too good to be true.

“Are you ready?” Kuroo asks, breaking Tooru out of his thoughts.

Tooru simply nods.

Kuroo, much like last time in his cat form, bends down and touches the ground lightly. Tooru watches more closely now, notices how the light first spreads from his fingertips, before shimmering and darkening into the sight of the portal. It sparkles, but he gets an ominous feeling from it.

Tooru peers in. It seems like an endless void of nothingness, a giant hole full of unknowns and certain trouble. 

“It’s a bit strange, but you just need to melt into it. It doesn’t take long at all to be transported to the Other Side then.”

He looks at Kuroo with an incredulous expression. “Yeah, just melt into it, simple enough,” he says sarcastically. Tooru looks at the portal apprehensively again. “Are you… are you sure I won’t die from this?”

“Come on, trust me!”

“Kuroo, you’re the least trustworthy person I know.”

The other pouts at that. “But you’ll still go through, yeah?”

“Only because I have to. Don’t flatter yourself.” 

Kuroo laughs at that. “Okay, okay. I surrender. Hurry and jump through, I can’t keep this thing open forever.”

Tooru mumbles an affirmative and takes a deep breath — I’m really doing this. I’m actually going to the other side. Despite the reasoning he had done before coming here, he feels scared as he stands in front of the portal. Hesitantly, he touches it with his fingers. 

It’s cold to touch. He pushes his hand in deeper, and slowly his body begins to sink into the ground, and the strange sensation of tingling travels through him. Succulents begin to sprout all over him, wrapping around his arms and any available surface of skin, as if trying to protect him.

The last thing he sees is Kuroo’s mouth moving, saying something he can’t quite catch, before he’s quickly swallowed by darkness, and the sensation of falling. 

 

Chapter Text

The first thing he hears is the sound of voices. More specifically, he can discern laughter and footsteps and even hooves plodding down what sounds like a paved road, maybe stone, although it doesn’t sound very close. He’s sprawled eagle-spread over the ground, grass tickling his skin through his clothes.

His eyes are closed, and he’s met with the sight of lush, green topiaries as he squints against the sun. Groaning as he gets up, his limbs a bit stiff, Tooru is in the middle of stretching his arms, still sitting on the ground, when he hears a slight shimmer, not unlike wind chimes carrying in the wind, and right beside him materializes Kuroo, standing up.   

“Well, well, well,” Kuroo sighs, only slightly snickering at the sight of Tooru on the floor. Tooru only glares and begrudgingly takes the hand the other offers him. “I guess we’re finally here. I know it’s kinda tough for you, but—” he pats Tooru’s shoulder and leads him down a small path, “—I’m really glad you decided to do this.”

They don’t go very far. Tooru, upon looking around more closely, realizes they’re in a very small clearing, surrounded on tall trees on three sides, branches lifting high. There’s a barricade of leaves and branches on the fourth side with no trees, but Kuroo, after pushing Tooru in that direction, pushes aside the wall of greenery with a dramatic flourish and says, “Welcome to the Other Side.”

As much as he doesn’t want to be, Tooru can’t help but be, well, in awe.

They’re all the way at the end of a busy street — which was, in fact, made of stone — and the grey and muted red squares on the ground seem clean, much cleaner than the streets of the city. Little wildflowers grow in the crevices where the narrow street gives way to parallel sidewalks, and alongside those are little, colorful buildings with wooden signposts and bright lights.

But the thing that makes Tooru’s eyes widen and gasp is the sight of the people, or rather, creatures — he spots people with wings flying above, figures with long ears, even some monsters walking on two, four, up to six legs down the street. The amount of chatter is loud, and everyone seems to be talking, and with a start Tooru realizes the people are are more… humanoid than he thought they would be. There are animal ears and tails attached to normal looking heads and backs everywhere, although the presence of creatures that are clearly more similar to animals isn’t completely missing.

He shudders, but whether it’s in fear or in excitement, he doesn't know.

Kuroo beings walking forward, and with a start, Tooru grabs onto his arm desperately. “Wait! Where- Where are you going?”

If Kuroo is about to make a scathing remark he keeps it in, probably because of the panic that shows on his face and suddenly sets into Tooru’s bones. “Just a place I know,” he starts, vaguely enough. “I work there during the day with my friends. I promise, they’re really nice. And they should be able to help me come up with a plan on how to come up with a training regimen or something for you.”

Tooru looks at the massive crowd and decides the earlier shiver was in fear. This is enemy territory. And as much as magic is supposed to be a “part of him,” or whatever, he’s grown up in a world where creatures like this — creatures like him — are viewed so negatively that he can’t help but internally look at everything with skewed lenses.

How vile, he thinks, desperately pushing down any other thoughts.

Kuroo, thankfully, somehow manages stay in contact with Tooru as they enter the crowd, and truly, there are a lot of people. Despite being constantly pushed around (and despite his heart rate jumping at every time he touches someone else, silently wondering in panic if anybody can sense that he’s at least partly human) Kuroo’s constant pushes and pulls, somehow, gets him through it without any random branches or flowers stabbing a possibly aggressive creature in the eye.

But it’s stressful, and Tooru has never felt this much anxiety before, not even before a big game or a test, and the strain of trying to keep everything in and also move forward so he doesn’t lose the other is positively draining. He takes notes of the buildings around, and realizes they’re all little shops, similar to the downtown of certain districts in Japan, but filled with a hundred times more people (—people? Is that word even applicable?). There are some brands he even recognizes, little outlets with clothes and other accessories displayed through windows, cafes and small restaurants. There are strange things as well, things that if he saw back in his world could be described as occult, with different contraptions and other miscellaneous items Tooru has no idea what they could be perched on stands inside the little stores.

By the time Kuroo finally stops and pulls Tooru out of the thick of the crowd, to the slightly less dense sidewalk, he finds himself struggling to breathe properly with a tight chest. They’re in front of a store that seems smaller than the rest, the outside a simple wooden entrance that has a few vines growing from the side. There are circular windows that show the inside, although currently it’s covered by thin curtains, and an overhead sign reads NekoFukuro Apothecary and Charms (and Potions). The last part is added on a separate piece of wood that seems to have been added as an afterthought.

Kuroo gives Tooru a kind smile. “Breathe!” he encourages, “and try not to offend anyone too much.”

With that, he opens the door, which signals a little bell overhead, which jingles almost hauntingly.

Tooru, swallowing the taste of ferns struggling to push past his throat, heads in right after Kuroo. The door closes behind him with a startling, definitive boom, and before Tooru can even process anything a loud voice suddenly exclaims, “Hey, Welcome to— oh, It’s just you. Hey, new guy!”

He assumes that “new guy” is supposed to be him, but as soon as he takes one more step in, the world around him tilts dangerously (and Tooru belatedly realizes he really didn’t take Kuroo’s advice and his chest still feels tight and uncomfortable and he can’t breathe) before the world darkens around him for the second time that day.

 


 

He does not wake up in a peaceful clearing, where he can feel the grass underneath him with sunlight shining on his face again, but when his senses slowly start to reawaken he can feel the uncomfortable scratchiness he always feels when there’s trapped foliage underneath his clothes.

Blearily, he realizes, sometime in his sleep he had unconsciously grown grass and weeds all over the surface of the top of his body, as if he were some sort of lawn, the exception areas being his neck and face. The stuff tickles his skin as he shifts, little blades bended and peeking out from the openings of his clothes.

He frowns, because waking up covered neck down is an old habit he got rid of ages ago. With a tentative flick of his finger, eyes still closed, Tooru takes a deep breath and manages to bring his body back to normal.

Of course, someone notices, and Tooru suddenly remembers where he is.

Right. The other side, the store. He bolts awake and tries not to wince at the pain pounding behind his eyes. In panic, he takes in his surroundings and finds himself somewhat… calmed, by how quaint it looks.

The store is small, with wooden walls cut in the same way the exterior had been, overhead lanterns filling the space with yellow light. Immediately to the right of the entrance is a long counter that extends to about half the length to the wall, drawers and shelves stacked right behind and a old, rusted cash register sitting in a bed of messy papers and other things Tooru can’t quite place.

The other wall, opposite of the entrance has the same half-length counter as well, but instead of drawers behind there are little square holes dug into the wall, each pocket-like space showing various crystals and what Tooru assumes are charms. He finds himself sitting on a couch, surrounded by chairs made out of the same, faded salmon pink fabric, and a little table with a dark, birch base, books covering most of the surface. The corners are stuffed with various piles of more paper and scrolls, maybe?, and he even spots a cauldron with various glass vials and containers littering the floor. The wall furthest from the entrance doesn’t have a counter space, only a fireplace.

The space seems cramped with all this material and yet there are also plants everywhere, overhanging pots and little succulents lined up against the windows, spilling green and splashes of petals everywhere, almost choking the ambient air with its vibrant, yet soothing, presence.

And then, of course, there are people. He spots Kuroo lounging on the chair next to him, feet propped against the arm rests. Startled, he realizes Kuroo’s eyes are glowing yellow now, pupils dilated, a two-pronged tail coming up from somewhere behind him, and he smirks apologetically at him. His clothes are different too, but not by much, and this time he dons a black tank top and loose pants that seem more — traditional, maybe? He can’t tell. They’re grey and made out of a thick fabric.

Then there’s someone behind the counter with all the shelves, with wild hair more outrageous than Kuroo’s. Its white and grey, but with the way they’re tipped up like some sort of owl’s, the person himself wearing a bright expression, it doesn’t make him look old or aged in any way. This person too, wears a tank top, with similar pants to Kuroo, but there are wings folded neatly behind him, and oh, Tooru gulps at the sight of feathers strewn everywhere, the same color as his hair. He’s moving, and he already knows this stranger is the kind of person who’s always moving, adjusting things and pulling at handles and closing them shut with what seems like no rhyme or reason.

Tooru almost misses him, tucked away next to the cauldron, but there’s someone curled up and holding something close to his face as well, a long, stereotypical ‘witch’ hat on top of a head with an old dye job, black roots showing through faded yellow. His eyes are strange as well, stranger than Kuroo’s (although not as dilated) and the most he can see of his clothes are baggy sleeves.

And near the fireplace, leading against the wall silently, is someone else entirely. He stands with grace, examining his own nimble fingers with sharp-cut eyes and a mess of curly hair on top. His nose is thin, like the rest of his lithe body, and Tooru would not be able to differentiate him from a normal human if it it weren’t for the strange cuts along his neck and the paleness of his skin, which seems almost blue-ish.

“You’re finally awake!” Kuroo exclaims a beat later. Tooru tries to talk, but realizes his throat is dry and simply lets out a croak. When the other begins to giggle, he pouts and crosses his arms. “I’m sorry, I— I should have warned you earlier. Your body isn’t used to this place, and you’ve been stubbornly keeping your magic in for so long, you managed to pass out as soon as we stopped walking.”

Tooru just nods weakly, as the person with wings behind the counter whips his head around, and wow he really is like an owl. “Hey! Glad that you’re not dead, buddy! Sorry that Kuroo’s a bit of a dick, you must’ve been through a lot to get here, huh?” at the comment, Kuroo looks offended, but doesn't actually say anything. “I’m Bokuto Koutarou, nice to meet you! Let’s get along, yeah? The person sitting at the corner is Kenma— or well, eh, Kozume Kenma. And that’s Akaashi over there — uh, welcome to our store! We sell all kinds of things, like potions and charms and spells. You know, what every apothecary has.”

“Right,” Tooru says faintly. “What every apothecary has.”

Akaashi and Kenma don’t say anything else, although they give him a wave. Seems like Kuroo and Bokuto, mostly Bokuto, are the only ones who want to talk. “We, uh,” Bokuto says after an awkward pause, “We know why you’re here, and we’ll get to that soon, alright? We’ll have an official meeting of sorts to help you out after we close. Until then, don’t feel shy to ask any questions you have!”

“Thank you,” Tooru mumbles out, voice still raspy, and that’s that. Bokuto goes back to humming and going through the shelves, Kuroo grabs a book from the table, and Akaashi moves to do something or the other. Kenma gets up as well, and starts grabbing little vials and herbs from all around. The atmosphere is cozy, everybody somehow both in their own world and in each other’s, and Tooru looks down at his hands and realizes he feels out of place.

He feels strangely at peace and unsettled at the same time. His limbs still feel heavy, although his headache has receded into something more manageable, and with a bit of shuffling Tooru manages to move around so that he can sit more comfortably. The fireplace nearby crackles with energy, although Tooru doesn’t see any wood or smoke of the sort, he doesn’t even see a chimney. With wide eyes, Tooru can’t help but keep sneaking a peak at everyone — at Kuroo’s tail, which flicks back and forth languidly, Bokuto’s wings that shimmer and shift with powerful ripples, kenma’s nimble fingers and the floating objects around him (there are books and plants and other things he’s never seen before) and finally, Akaashi’s pale skin and dark eyes that are some shade of blue or black he can’t quite place.

If Iwaizumi were here (and a part of him wishes he were, because Iwaizumi is the person who grounds him, and in this strange world Tooru feels like he’s going to float away) he would probably smack him for staring so blatantly at everyone, the same way he watches other people and players if he’s trying to figure them out. But he isn’t here, and there is no smack to bring him to his senses, and Tooru bends his knees and sighs into his folded arms, feeling conflicted.

He startles when Kenma starts pouring something into a cup in front of him — it’s tea, or at least he hopes it is, steady hands holding a rather cute, simple teapot into a traditional-style cup.

“Your voice seemed dry, earlier,” Kenma explains. His voice is soft, and he keeps avoiding eye contact, but it also feels steady, and his body shows no sign of fear or disdain. “It’s just oolong tea.”

“Thank you,” Tooru breathes out, gratefully accepting the cup handed to him. The scalding water is refreshing, washing down the scratchiness of his throat, the fragrance of good tea clearing his head a bit. “Feeling much better now!”

“No problem,” is all Kenma says, before taking a seat on the same couch as Kuroo. Kuroo wordlessly moves his feet to make space, still engrossed in the book. The title is in a language that Tooru doesn’t recognize, but it doesn’t seem like a light read judging by the thickness of the spine.

Akaashi moves as well, taking the last available couch space, (which is right next to Tooru) giving him a nod in greeting. When the other shifts, a small glitter catches his eye — it’s scales, in spots somewhat covered by his clothes, shining in purples and blues.

He tries to look around, stay still, but his eyes are continuously drawn to the other. It's just so... (beautiful) strange. "Are those scales?" Tooru asks with a whisper, unable to control his impulses and also not wanting to disrupt the quiet. Akaashi looks up, and with slight hesitation, nods.

"Huh," Tooru responds eloquently. Akaashi goes back to what he was doing, and Tooru finds himself wishing otherwise. 

But he also feels the piercing gaze of the other when he thinks Tooru isn't looking. A flower begins to bud from his nervousness, but he quickly swallows it up. 

What... is he exactly supposed to do now? 

So Tooru, lacking any self control at the moment, and a little bored in all honesty, blurts out the question that has been on his mind since he woke up. “What— what are you guys?”

Surprisingly, it's Akaashi who laughs first. Bokuto follows, as if the question Tooru asked wasn't rude at all. “Curious, huh? Well? What do you think we are?”

The words are playful but Tooru suddenly gets the feeling that this, this is a test of sorts, that he’s being judged. Bokuto's bright eyes seem to see right through him, and Tooru gulps, wishing he never opened his mouth at all. “To be honest?" he starts out, after collecting his thoughts. "No idea. I don’t know anything about the Other World, never really wanted to,” he answers as genuinely as he can.

“Hm? Then why are you here?”

Tooru frowns into his hands. They’re nimble and thin, a bit pale, and really with a simple thought he can grow whatever he wants to. “Because as much as I hate it, I guess I have,” he pauses here, not quite used to saying it out loud, “magic. And it’s getting out of control.”

“And..?” Bokuto doesn’t elaborate, leaves the question open-ended for Tooru to fill in.

“And I’m here because Kuroo offered to teach me how to control… this.” He can’t help the bit of disgust and fear that crawls into his voice on that last word. This is something he doesn’t want, something he never wanted, but the threat of risking not only himself but the people around him is greater than that original reluctance.  

Bokuto makes a sound of acknowledgment, and his expression doesn’t show whether Tooru ‘passed’ or not, or if he was even being tested. But then Bokuto shrugs and asks the others, “did we have any other planned customers today?”

Kuroo, simply shrugs, and when did he put his book down? Akaashi moves his hands into different motions and Tooru belatedly realizes he’s talking to Bokuto — more specifically, signing. His motions are fluid and too quick for Tooru to try and figure out what the other is conveying, but Bokuto nods along as if understanding perfectly. Which, to be honest, he most likely does.

“Ah, forgot about Konoha. What did he order again?”

“Three ounces of wildberries and a temporary memory recall potion,” Kuroo drones out.

“They’re already wrapped in his drawer,” Kenma says, and those words seem to jumpstart Bokuto to move around in a flurry again, and after what seems like a lot of unnecessary movement the other slams a drawer shut with one final flourish.

He looks over to Tooru and smiles. “Well, we’re done with work for today. So let’s get this going, yeah? You wanted to know what we are?”

And that’s when Tooru looks around again — really thinks about where he is, what he’s gotten himself into. He realizes he’s on edge because he feels so comfortable. Because these creatures, well, seem like people, and they’re nothing like the monsters and alien-like he thought the Other World beings might be like. They’re like humans, with personalities and distinct speech patterns and other characteristics that makes him feel like he’s meeting a few strangers at his school, or someplace other normal, not while in some fantastical land.

And even if they’re a bit weird and eccentric, Tooru looks at Kuroo, the stranger who was either kind enough to extend a helping hand or sneaky enough to convince Tooru to come with him, looks at Kenma with his short and clipped vocabulary, at his small stature yet piercing eyes. There’s also Bokuto, the one who talks the most, the one Tooru can’t tell if he’s joking or serious, with toned arms and wings that look ethereal, almost something that might come from a dream. Finally, there’s Akaashi, who has barely really acknowledged Tooru in his short time here, but the way he moves, the way he holds himself is intriguing and mysterious.

And these four, somehow, are supposed friends and shop owners that have decided to work together to try and help Tooru, a stranger.

He thinks back to the day before, where everything had seemed so normal, when he had woken up in his simple room rather than this messy place, where a buzzing behind his eyes won’t go away, with so many unknown things, where he feels like an intruder looking into an entirely new country and culture.

But he doesn’t know how to really explain this, the strangeness and uncertainty and dream-like state of everything. Perhaps there isn’t even a word.

Either way, the most Tooru can bring himself to say in the end, is simply, “yes. I want to learn.”

And maybe, that’s the answer he’s silently been trying to answer this entire time.

 


 

They don’t tell him things, right away. In fact, they only give him five pieces of information before sending him home with an invite to come around next weekend.

  1. Kuroo is a half nekomata, half witch — something he’s admittedly been told before, but at that time the information had flown over his head, not quite sticking. But now it has, and he can’t unsee the other with cat ears and bright eyes
  2. Kenma is a witch with incredible magic, apparently, although he has yet to see anything besides a few floating objects
  3. Bokuto is an owl tengu and can actually fly. Which isn’t much of a surprise considering how big his wings are.
  4. Akaashi is a siren
  5. Akaashi does not talk


He supposes the last one makes sense, seeing fact number four. But out of all three, Akaashi is the one he has the littlest idea of what kind of person he is, what kind of person he might be. Akaashi is also the one he has the most facts on, ironically enough.

It’s dark, back at home, the light in Iwaizumi’s room already out. His limbs are tired, more tired than he ever remembers them being, and honestly he doesn’t even clearly recall his walk home with Kuroo, who whistled quietly after leading him through another portal jump.

He barely remembers taking a drink of what Kenma silently offered to him before leaving, a small vial that smelled sweet that was supposed to help his magic not react so strongly to his emotions. It wasn’t something permanent, and it wasn’t something that was recommended to be consumed often, but it would have to do until Tooru came by more often and picked up more skills that would help him control things himself. 

“Isn’t there a —potion or something? Some magic that can, I don’t know, make this go… away?” Tooru is desperate now, because he didn’t come here just to have to come back again, especially since it’s looking like they want him back for an indefinite amount of time.

Kuroo shakes his head at that, expression sad. “Nothing permanent, buddy. I”m telling you right now, there’s no other way then just letting us help you. And if you want our help, you’re going to have to drop by again. I mean, we aren’t so bad, right?” 

Tooru looks at Kuroo, who basically dragged him here, Bokuto, who seems loud and friendly, Kenma, who is quiet but has keen eyes, and Akaashi, who Tooru has no idea what he’s thinking, and realizes he really doesn’t know anything about these people, doesn’t have anything to judge whether they were “good” or “bad” company. 

Thinking about it now, though, they weren’t terrible, or anything. Just… confusing. And friendly. And completely against everything Tooru had expected. He really isn’t sure what to do.

The glaring red numbers on his digital clock remind him he can think about this later, and Tooru gladly slips into bed, letting his muscles relax.

He dreams that night, but it’s the first time he wakes up without feeling like he’s going to choke himself, a singular gardenia wrapped around his ring finger tightly.

 


 

It’s a while until Tooru decides to go back.

He has school and other friends after all. Hanamaki and Matsukawa threaten to tickle him to death for not sharing where he went that weekend, but Tooru manages to keep his mouth shut. Iwaizumi only stares, he’s always staring, asking silent questions and so on. They’ve known each other long enough to not need to say these things — are you okay? Are you hurt? Are you taking care of yourself? How have you been? — but the pressing attitude is there anyways.

So then, Tooru does what he does best.

He hides.

Behind smiles and excuses about school and studying and college (because they’re all stressed about that), it’s almost believable that his life is normal. But it’s at night, when he’s alone, with the potion from Kenma running low and succulents sprouting from the dry patches of skin, when Tooru tiredly realizes the reason why he’s still considering going back to the Other Side is because he’s tired of living like this, tired of pretending not to look when magic is involved.

After two weeks, Tooru sends Kuroo another text with shaky hands, after deleting his original message multiple times.

Me: Hey, can I drop by this weekend?

Its casual, as if Tooru just “drops by” all the time. Kuroo responds only a few seconds later.

Unknown: of course! Same place, same time.

After a second of hesitation, Tooru types in a few more words.

Contact name set to: Tettsun

 


 

“What is that, anyways?” 

Meeting with Kuroo and jumping through the portal was far easier to do than expected. Although still a bit dizzy, Tooru doesn’t feel faint as he walks alongside the other, trying not to get lost in the unfamiliar crowd.

“This? Ohoho. This is my travel license. A permit, if you will. With this bad boy I can travel freely between the worlds without setting off the alarm.”

Tooru tries to grab it to get a closer look — surprisingly, Kuroo swerves out of the way with over-exaggerated desperation. “Hey, don’t touch that! I worked hard for that license. I mean, everybody can get one — even you, if you get registered as a citizen here, but that’s a whole different story — but it’s not an easy task.”

“What happens if you go through without a permit?”

Kuroo pauses at that. “Well, that’s illegal, my friend. And it’s a very grave offense indeed. I recommend you try not to, no matter what.”

“Wait, they’ll kill you?! Tooru says, suddenly aghast.

“What? No! You’ll be put to jail, or maybe you’ll just do community service at a school. The latter is for people who only discovered their powers recently. Not only do they do service, but they also take classes so they can learn control.”

“Sounds like something I need…”

“Oh, come on,” Kuroo grins. “Who needs a class when you already have four amazing teachers? Come on in, we already have lesson plans for you.”

It’s then when he realizes they’ve arrived at their shop, and the other three co-owners of the shop are all already gathered at the table once they enter. The atmosphere is as calm and relaxing as the first time he was here, and nothing much has changed in terms of decor (although, strangely enough, there’s a giant plush doll of a cat now) .

True to Kuroo’s word, they have a “training regimen schedule” written up for him, (or as Bokuto heartily said, Operation Get Tooru’s Magic Under Control in 4 Easy Steps!!!)  although it’s less of a schedule and more of a list of activities he can do whenever he drops by.

“You have plant growth magic, right?” Kenma says after giving him the list on an old scroll of parchment paper. “I’ve been developing a potion that might help you keep it under control for now… I’m not done yet, but come by often to check in on progress… or just ask Kuroo if you want.”

“A potion? Specially for me?” Tooru squeals, smiling at the thought of having something to keep his magic down. He imagines Kenma in a stereotypical witch costume brewing together something sinister in a cauldron and his excitement dies down a little (because honestly, what goes in a potion anyways?), but the risk of drinking something strange seems like nothing compared to the promise of a future with less magic.  “Thanks, Ken-chan!”

Kenma wrinkles his nose at the nickname, eyes sharp as if he had been reading his mind or at least aware of Tooru’s inner thoughts as he was told the news. It sends goosebumps down his arm but he doesn’t say anything otherwise. 

He takes the time to look over the training list, then…

… and squints at the contents.

“Uh, are you guys sure this is the… right list?”

Bokuto raises an eyebrow at that. “Of course it’s the right list! Why, what’s wrong about it?”

“Well I mean… it just, seems like a chores list.”

He takes another closer look and yep, this is definitely  just a list of chores. Going to the shop, gathering materials, finishing someone’s request to take care of a fairy infestation in a bathroom… it sounds exactly like the tedious work Tooru is familiar with (like studying, training for volleyball), but more… magical.

“I prefer to call it a training schedule but— I guess, you could look at it that way…?” Bokuto trails off at the end and Tooru realizes what the other is hinting at.

“So, I’m the errand boy.”

From the corner, he hears Akaashi try to stifle a laugh.

Bokuto’s eyes brighten. “Think of it this way — what you lack, is experience. And what better way to get experience and do a little work? It’ll be like your payment, to us!”

“Payment for…?”

“Payment for us taking you in without questions, despite the fact that you being an unregistered magic-user is a crime,” Kenma interrupts.

Tooru deflates a bit at that.

“What Kenma is trying to say,” Kuroo says, patting Tooru’s back reassuringly, “is that it’s not that bad of a deal! One of us will always be accompanying you, so you won’t be in any danger. Just try to drop in often, and we’ll go through the list one by one! By the end of it you should definitely be a master at magic. Or at least, close to one.”

“And after that…?" 

“Well, after that, things get a little tricky. As much as we all want to help, you can’t hide in the human world with magic forever.” For some reason, Kuroo’s tone changes to be somewhat accusatory (and Tooru ignores the jab), “But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!”

I’m really doing this, huh, Tooru thinks to himself. It almost feels like a dream… except everything’s also a bit too real. “Fine, then. I guess we start from the top of the list…?”

“Let’s see, let’s see, looks like it’s collecting some fireblossom that’s up first. Ooh, we’ll need to take a train to do that. Let’s see…”

“I’m busy,” Kenma immediately calls out. 

“I have to run the shop, yanno!” Bokuto says apologetically. “It’s my shift today.”

Akaashi simply shakes his head.

(Tooru is disappointed for some reason). 

“Well I guess I’m stuck with you for a little longer,” Kuroo says, no real hurt in his voice. “Come on, young grasshopper, we have much to learn.”

“Tettsun, please don’t call me that.”

“As much as I like that name, it's rude to talk to your sensei like that. Call me by the title of The great-

“Tettsun.”  

 


 

It feels surreal, walking out the door and through the streets. It’s almost as if he belongs here. 

(But he doesn’t, even if he wanted to be. There’s a culture beyond his understanding, a life he can’t quite grasp yet, and pretending he’s like everyone else feels strange, wrong, almost.) 

Nobody really bats them a second glance as they make their way through. If Tooru ignored all the details and little things, it would almost be exactly the same as walking through the streets in Sendai, heading to the train station. The mixture of familiar and unfamiliar things both comforts and disturbs him.

Kuroo, as if sensing this, says “Our world isn’t too different from yours.”

Tooru looks at the ground. “But there’s still a difference.” This still doesn’t feel right.  

“True, true. But I wonder — why are you so afraid?” For a second, Kuroo flickers, revealing a shadowy outline with bright, cat-like eyes, before returning to normal. Something like that would usually freak Tooru out but… he hadn’t seemed threatening. Just curious, in a strange way.

So Tooru snorts. “Afraid of what?”

“Do I really need to spell it out for you?” Tooru just gives a blank look, hoping Kuroo gets the hint of I don’t really want to talk about this. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to get it. “Afraid of this.”  

“‘This’ being…?”

“‘This’ being everything going on right now. Not just magic, but everything related to magic. I mean, sure, we have some criminals popping up in your world now and then, but… you have human bad guys too. Criminals. Mass murderers. But that isn’t everyone, is it? In that same way, we’re not all bloodthirsty monsters. You should know that by now, I know you’re not that close-minded. So, let me ask again — Why are you so afraid?”

A breeze runs through Tooru’s hair as they stop in front of what appears to be a normal train station. There are only a few creatures around, the bustle of the city streets long gone.

“It’s not that I think you’re all killers…” Tooru starts slowly. “It’s just. I’m more afraid of…” myself. The monster in me. “...getting hurt.”

Kuroo doesn’t look happy with the answer. Tooru tries to think of a more believable answer

“My best friend’s mom was killed by a monster. A chimera of some sort, to be exact. He never had a positive outlook on the Other Side, and that… didn’t help.” He was so angry. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was like them too. “I guess that kinda affected me too.”

Kuroo stares at him for along second, eyes glittering in the sun. “Well… Hm. Alright. Answer accepted.”

Tooru blinks, surprised. Then he tries to brush it off. “Hey, what is this, a test? I would have prepared my answer in advance if I had known I would be questioned and judged.”

Kuroo just rolls his eyes. “Oh, stop complaining and hurry up. Or else we’re going to miss the train,” Kuroo says while rolling his eyes, dragging Tooru along.

Tooru, surprisingly lets him.

 

Chapter Text

 

“So,” Tooru starts.

“So…?” Kuroo repeats, eyebrows raised.

The swaying of the train make Tooru bump shoulders with Kuroo. Flashing lights as they rush past fields of grass run across their faces. For the first ten minutes of the train ride, Tooru had strained to look outside and see the rest of the landscape. He wasn’t sure what to expect — purple trees? Weird animals? But disappointingly enough, there wasn’t much difference in scenery than there was back at home. With only a few others on the train (it was much less crowded than the bustling trains in Tokyo), the duo settled against cold, plastic seats quickly.

“Tell me about everyone.”

Kuroo looks over, eyebrows raised in question. The swaying of the train sends shadows across his face, making his eyes almost glow. “Mmm? What about them? I already told you what everyone is—”

“No, no. Like. I want to know more about them, besides all that technical stuff. If i’m going to work with them next time, I want to have an idea of what kind of person they are. And besides, how else do you want to pass the time?”

I usually try to figure things like this out myself, but I can’t quite put my finger on one of them.

He smiles at that. “Sure, sure. Who do you want to hear about first?”

Tooru pauses and thinks — thinks about how boisterous Bokuto is. Wonders how someone like him met and stayed with the others, wonders if he’s always been so bright and vibrant. His personality and good mood are almost infectious, and Tooru can tell he has a good heart. There’s also Kenma, how he tries to stay hidden and yet every time Tooru looks at him there seems to be something special about the way he moves. He’s an introvert for sure, but the occasional smiles and jabs he gives show that he’s not completely cold.

But he’s most curious about Akaashi. He’s even quieter than Kenma, but somehow to Tooru he’s the loudest of them all, graceful and mysterious in the way his eyes are always moving, glowing, body littered with shining scales. And he has no idea what he might be thinking, and it bothers him.

(And it makes him feel something else as well, although he doesn’t know what that is either).

“Akaashi. Akaashi Keiji.”

“Hmm? Ah, Akaashi. He’s a bit of an interesting character. Tragic backstory too, although that’s not my place to tell. I’m not sure where to start with him…” 

“Just tell me anything you can.” Anything to help me figure out what kind of a person he is.

“Weeellll…” Kuroo starts, dragging his syllables while in thought, “have you ever heard a siren sing?”

Tooru snorts at that. “Kuroo, I hope you realize you’re the first other magical creature I met that wasn’t me.”

“I don’t know, thought you might have heard it on the radio or something! There are a couple of part-siren singers in your world, so…”

“Wait, what?” Tooru flinches when the words come out too loudly, and they get a few stares. Oops.

“Yeah. Why do you think people are so drawn to some people? There’s more mixed magic than the government likes to admit.”

“Okay, whatever, i’ll have my existential crisis about this later. We were talking about Akaashi?”

“Oh yeah. Well, we told you Akaashi doesn’t talk, and to respect that, right?” Tooru nods.

“I’m sure you guessed it, but he really doesn’t like how his voice can affect people’s actions, even if it’s unintentional. His powers are… more powerful than your average siren, so he’s had cases where he’s not even singing and he puts people under a spell.”

Kuroo lets out a sigh. “But damn, when he sings it’s an experience. He only does it in emergencies, or to calm people down. If you ever get to know him better, you should ask. It’s something you have to hear yourself.”

“Why would I want to hear Akaashi sing?” Tooru wonders what it’s like, wonders if the rumors and stories are true — how their voices can make men drown, how they can make people do things they would never do against their own will. He remembers the scales, and wonders if he has a tail, wonders what he would look like under the moonlight.

Startled at his own thoughts, Tooru shakes them away when he sees Kuroo looking at him strangely.

“Exactly for that reason,” he says mysteriously.

“I didn’t even say anything.”

“Your face said all I needed to know.”

Tooru stays silent for a minute. Kuroo just keeps staring at him, as if searching, but for what Tooru will never know. “Is that all you have to tell me about him? That he’s a good singer? Seems kinda obvious, if you ask me," he says, rather than responding to Kuroo's weird jabs. 

“What else do you want me to say? That he prefers jam over butter on toast? Just go talk to him yourself if you’re that curious,” Kuroo says with a sneer.

“Oh, fine, shut up. How long until we get… to wherever we’re going?” Tooru says, crossing his arms and pouting.

“Five minutes. Any other questions you have?”

Tooru closes his eyes and thinks — sure, he has a lot of questions. So many he doesn't even know where to start, what to say.

So he prefers jam over butter…? The thought, the idea, that someone as mythical and strange as Akaashi has something so… normal about them has Tooru feeling all sorts of things.

But there’s no fear. He’s not sure when it faded — maybe when he first boarded the train, and sat next to Kuroo. Maybe when he became just another face in the crowd, saw that everyone else was just that: a stranger he doesn’t know. A stranger with a life of their own.

A stranger.

He cracks his eyes open, and looks at the people around him.

There, a humanoid figure with wings that are tucked neatly behind her, thin and translucent. To his right, a tall man with a rubbery cape draped over his shoulders. In front, a woman with a beak instead of a mouth, fiery-red feathers lining her hair and arms.

But also, he sees a mother calming her child. He sees a tired worker scrolling through his phone. A couple watching the rolling plains pass together.

And there’s also them. A cat-humanoid creature with glowing eyes and a hidden tail. A part human, part whatever who has daisies wrapping around his arm. And then, a smirk, coupled with a terrible sense of humor. His eye-rolls, a light shoves when the other tells a bad joke. 

Tooru blinks, and he realizes that he is no longer afraid. 

“Plenty more,” Tooru says to answer, shutting his eyes again.

He doesn’t elaborate, and Kuroo doesn’t ask him to either. The rest of the train ride is silent, and it seems almost too easy to pretend that he’s back home, back on his side of the world.

Or maybe, i’m not playing pretend anymore.

His thoughts stir around, jumping and fizzing until Tooru feels enveloped by warm grass.


While collecting these ‘fire blossoms,’ Tooru learns that Kuroo’s magic is exactly like its user.

Cunning. Playful. Full of tricks and quirks that could easily be used to annoy somebody.

 When they exit the train station, Tooru is met with the sight of what seems to a wide nature reserve, or something similar. The landscape is closer to a desert than a forest, and the unfamiliar, dry plants makes him feel like he’s entered another world (and he’s had recent experience of what that feels like).

“Didn’t know there was something like this so close to  your city…” Tooru says in awe as a tumbleweed passes by. He had been too enraptured by Kuroo’s story to look out the window for the latter half of the train ride, which is when the greenery must have faded away.

“Of course there is. Welcome to the desert!” Kuroo makes a gesture with his hands. “Where you can explore mother nature and most importantly, find rare herbs and ingredients that can’t be grown in other climates.”

“Like fire blossom?”

“Like fire blossom. Come on, I have a seasonal pass.”

Seasonal pass? Tooru isn’t sure whether to laugh or ask about it.

If Tooru could, he would spend an entire day here. Once they pass through a ticket booth, the expanse opens up to stone pathways that twist off, a large map with the typical you are here! message pasted onto a board at the center of a miniature field.

“Now if you go right this way, sire, we’ll take a short five minute walk to go to the public gardens,” Kuroo says in an exaggerated voice. “Hopefully, you’ll pick up a trick or two as well.”

Tooru sighs and crosses his arms, but doesn’t bother to reply. The walk truly feels short — there are so many things to look at that he can’t help want to walk around, but Kuroo always drags him back to the path.

There are purple cactuses. New life forms of flowers, brown vines growing out of the ground. Surprisingly, there are no animals around. Just plants and different flora that color the sandy earth.

But the little plants along the side of the road seem like mere weeds on the side of the road once he sees the public gardens.

A ginormous glass dome covers what seems to be fields and field of overflowing greenery, purples and oranges and blues popping as petals and leaves. Silvery ivy hangs from wooden beams overhead, mixing with other vines and roots. Succulents of all shapes and sizes line the floor like rocks making a pathway, and Tooru feels like he’s walked into some sort of botanist’s paradise.

All hand-picked flora can be paid for at the front of the park, reads a sign.

“Amazing, right?” Kuroo says softly, giving Tooru some time. “Fire blossoms this way.”

With a little push, and a few turns, the reach a part of the clearing that has Tooru’s jaw dropping.

Kuroo lets out a laugh. “They’re called fire blossoms for a reason, mate,” he says as he walks towards a patch of ignited flowers.

The actual petals are black, curled into tiny star-like shapes — the beautiful color that radiates from them are from the flames that dance around, vibrant blue that fades upwards into a pure white, constantly shifting and moving and never burning.

How,” Is all he manages to say.

“They’re not actually on fire. I wish I knew the magic behind these petals, but all I know is that it’s a different from mine.”

Tooru wrinkles his nose and gets on his knees to get close, not even caring that his pants are getting dirt over them. “Why would it even be similar to yours in the first place? 

At that, Kuroo looks hurt. “I’m offended . You ask about Akaashi this, Akaashi that, but don’t even know about my magic, the once you’ve interacted with the most!”

“What?! I’ve only asked about him, like, twice. And it’s your fault for not explaining your magic to me, other than you being half nekomata half witch. 

Kuroo looks as if he wants to argue more, but just crosses his arms and continues with an explanation. “Well you see, the combination of my genes give me… a sort of, illusion magic, if you will. Although it’s also kinda like shapeshifting, but not…? Because I’m not actually changing form, it just looks like I do.”

Tooru blinks. “I’m not sure I quite get you.”

Kuroo sighs. “Okay, here. Magic… is different for everyone.” Kuroo kneels down next to Oikawa and opens up his palms. Shadowy figures dance around until they form little human-shaped figures. “That means it can be connected to different aspects of a person. Think of it as a part of your body — you don’t learn how to think or breathe, right? It’s just programmed into you. The same way, magic can be programmed into different things, depending on the person. Like you, for example. Your magic is connected to your emotions.”

One of the figures changes, a bit of shadow clearing to show a heart-shaped hole on its chest.

“You channel your magic through how you feel. The more you feel, or maybe if you feel something specific, something grows. Right?”

“Right…”

“Me? My magic is connected to my being. My state of mind and body, I guess you could say. It’s hard to explain in words…? When I was younger, I had a hard time keeping my image consistent because I was constantly changing. If my physical and mental connection are in a good state, or a bad state, my magic reacts by changing my outer appearance to fit my current condition.

But after learning and training, I’ve not only managed to get almost-perfect control over my appearance when need-be, I’ve also learned how to change the appearance of outside objects, although those illusions don’t last for long, and work better on small objects.

“These flowers? They have their own magic, connected to something of their own. And apparently it creates the strange illusion that they’re on fire, but in reality…”

The shadowy figures on his palm vanish and Kuroo reaches into the flowerbed, but as his fingers lightly skim the petals the flames flicker, like a defective hologram, “... they’re not.”

“That’s—”

“—amazing?”

“Yeah,” Tooru says breathlessly, touching the flowers himself. The petals are cold against his fingers. “Well actually, I was going to say beautiful, but amazing works too.”

“Just shut up and start picking. You just grab them from the base — like that, just follow after me — and gently pull upwards. You want to keep the roots for these they have a lot of good value, and there. Just do that about a dozen more times and we can start heading back.”

For a while, they simply sit and pick, the terrarium almost silent, save for distant voices from other visitors far, far away. It’s peaceful, nice, calming, as the flames lick his skin, leaving nothing but a slight chill. Being so close to nature, in a natural way, makes him feel… good. Dare he even say... happy, happy that he found this little gem, in this forbidden world.

“Hey Oikawa,” Kuroo says after a while. “Do you think you could try growing one of these yourself?”

A pause. “I’ve… actually never tried to grow something specific. Usually, when i’m really stressed, random things start popping up. 

Kuroo makes a tut tut sound. “Magic is never random. Try focusing on how you’re feeling right now — and really focus on just that emotion — and try to pull on it. Trust me, there’ll be something else there. Imagine the flower flowing and sprouting from your palms. You’ve been plucking for a while now, right? You know how the stem feels against your skin, how the petals are, how the fire dances.”

“So, what you’re trying to say is… just feel it out.”

“Basically, yeah.”

“Gee, thanks for the really clear instructions. I’m really feeling ready now.”

“Hey, hey, be nice. I did my best,” Kuroo pouts. “Magic is hard to explain. How would you explain something like thinking to someone else, huh? It’s like that. Just shut up and close your eyes or something. We’re not leaving until you get this down.”

Tooru grumbles, but does as Kuroo says, head tilted back, palms gathered on his lap.

He isn’t sure how he knows what to do — one minute he’s patiently just sitting there, trying not to let Kuroo’s stares bother him, and then the next minute, he just does. Maybe it’s because this is the first time he’s trying to call on his magic, rather than suppress it.

He imagines the flower first. The thin stem, and how it branches outward like a tree. The white roots that take firm hold of the soil around. The tiny five-petaled flowers that sprout, charcoal black with yellow pollen dotting the wrinkles of the petals. And of course, the flames that start near the branching, a deep ocean-blue that fades into a white close to nothingness.

He thinks of how he was feeling earlier while picking the flowers, how he’s feeling now. Serene, peaceful, surprisingly not afraid — the fear melted away with the beauty of the park, the place, the garden. The emotions pound from his chest, the emotions feel warm and full of life.

Tooru shudders as the warm feeling spreads, all around until it feels like his entire body is buzzing. He starts to shake a bit, a sudden breeze reveals the thought — what if this makes my magic worse? — but a comforting hand blows it away again.

Focus. Focus. Let it out. Let it out.

(Trapped, the magic is trapped under his skin, struggling to be set free. But not yet, not yet.)

He tries to direct the feeling to his cupped hands. Tries to envision the roots taking place along the veins in his palm, slowly spreading upwards.

“Holy shit Tooru, you’re doing it! You’re actually doing it!”

He opens his eyes, then. Tooru can’t help but watch in wonder as his body does the rest of the work — as a tiny stem goes upward and upward and suddenly starts to spread, spread until little dark buds begin to sprout and a small fire starts, dancing around the tips of his fingers. And sudden it’s there, his very own fire blossom, growing and peaceful and altogether beautiful. 

(It scares him, suddenly. Scares him to have this power in his hands, scares him that he’s actually enjoying it. He should hate it, right? He should hate it, but he doesn’t).

And then, the flower and flames disappear, and that’s when Tooru realizes how tired and sweaty he is. How cramped his legs feel for kneeling for so long.

“I did it,” he repeats weaky at Kuroo, giving a thumbs up.

“I’m proud of you, my young grasshopper.” Tooru protests weakly at the nickname, but Kuroo just laughs it off. “Anyways, we did a lot of work today. We should start heading back. Everyone will be thrilled to hear what I managed to teach you." 

And oh, Tooru wonders what this means for him. Will he be able to grow anything at his will, in the future? How much more can he do with himself? He feels dizzy with the idea of discovering a part of himself that was always kept in the dark. That's right. I should be terrified right now. 

But Tooru has always been somewhat of an egotistical person, and he can't help but feel delighted that he has some semblance of control — that a small portion of his forbidden life is full of something as wonderful as the fireblossoms. 

Kuroo extends his hand. The sun shines through the glass, through the foliage, and illuminates Kuroo's hair. It almost seems to go through him.  

“Ready?”

Tooru takes it.

“Ready.”

And it’s as simple as that.

Chapter Text

When Tooru skips another weekend hangout with his friends to go with Kuroo, he feels a little guilty. 

“What? Again?” Hanamaki whines one Friday. He stabs a cherry tomato with his chopsticks and glares at him. “You’re never free on weekends anymore. What gives?” 

Well, he thinks, I have started hanging out with two witches, a siren, and a tengu spirit who all co-own an apothecary store. They teach me how to deal with my magic and also sometimes invite me to dinner where we eat ramen. Oh, did I mention I'm not human?

"It's... complicated," Tooru settles on saying instead. 

"Is it really that complicated that you can't tell us?" Matsukawa says with a sigh. "We're your friends, right?"

Tooru tries not to feel too guilty as Hanamaki speaks up again. "You know, I bet it's something embarrassing, and that's why he's not saying. Hey, Oikawa, you know we would never make fun of you for anything, right?"

He snorts in response. "That's a lie, Makki. You'd make fun of me for anything." 

"Fuck, you're right," Hanamaki says sadly, "but still." 

"Ahaha, no." Tooru pouts, crossing his arms. "I don't trust you three with anything."

"Not even me? What are you trying to hide?" Iwaizumi says, expression threatening. 

Ah, he thinks distantly, there's no getting past Iwa-chan, huh?

Iwaizumi Hajime, aka the one who absolutely cannot know what Tooru has been doing. 

(Now that he thinks about it, it's been a while since his excursion with Kuroo, and despite the fact that he's gone back multiple times since then, he still hasn't done another activity on his 'training' list. 

I don't want to babysit you again, Kuroo says when Tooru asks about it. And besides, the time isn't right. Why don't you go help Kenma today? We have lots of potion orders so he's going to need a servant— ah, I mean, assistant to help out. 

Honestly, he'd be offended if he wasn't secretly relieved. He has yet to truly master the ability to grow plants from himself, and this period of doing menial tasks is giving him time to... well, breathe, he supposes. Besides, what could he do anyways? Refuse to man the cashier for a bit while Bokuto and Akaashi go grocery shopping? Stomp his foot and go back home when they ask him if he can organize their library? 

He ends up hanging out with Akaashi and the others in the end, so it’s that that bad—

—okay. Let’s stop here, focus on the conversation we have now.)

“Sorry, sorry!” he says, blinking to get the thoughts out of his head. Iwaizumi, of course, tilts his head in confusion (because, in honesty, Tooru normally doesn’t really have much to do on the weekends, and the fact that he’s refused them multiple times is both a concern and a mystery). "It's just well... it's just like that sometimes, you know?"

“Did you finally get a girlfriend? Matsukawa coos.

“Ah, no way, we’d have already known by now. Oikawa never shuts about his girlfriends,” Hanamaki snorts.

“Hey!”

“A boyfriend, then,” Matsukawa continues. Tooru just groans and slides a bit in his seat.

“We’ll stop bullying you like this if you just tell us what’s been going on,” Iwaizumi says. 

“Again, a lie. You three would bully me no matter what." Tooru slides further down his seat. "All of you are bad friends."

Iwaizumi's eyebrows raise. “I see you didn’t get my message. Spill or else i’m going to take away your milk bread privileges.”  

“Iwa-chan, don’t you dare.”

Hanamaki sighs. “Dude, why are all lactose intolerant people so masochistic? I swear, you guys will eat 2 cartons of ice cream with mac and cheese just to say ‘I can.’ Or, I guess in your case, It'd be milk bread instead of cheese."

“Absence makes the heart fonder,” Tooru quotes elegantly. 

“Uh-huh. And that’s why you have at least one dairy product every day. Geez.”

“False! I’ve gotten better. I only eat dairy like, once a week. And there’s not even that much milk in the milk bread I eat.”

“It’s literally called milk bread,” Iwaizumi interrupts.

Tooru opens his mouth to retort, then pauses. “True,” he relents, after a moment.

Everyone chuckles a bit, thankfully moving on from the topic. 

And this — hanging out with his friends without thinking about magic — he’s missed, because the others weren’t lying when they said that Tooru hasn’t been around often. Even when he is free, he finds himself making up excuses or lies to just… stay home, alone.

He’s isolating himself —  but why?

It’s a rhetorical question, Tooru knows. Because fear has always been his companion, and he recognizes the dull panic constantly spread throughout this veins. Maybe he's no longer afraid of the other world the way he used to be, but his mind seems to love thinking of more ways his situation can go awry. 

What if they see that i’ve changed? That i’ve gotten stronger?

That my opinions are different now?

He looks at the news of terrorist creature attacks, and flinches, but not for the same reason. Some moments, he thinks he is disgusted at monsterkind, and then remembers Kuroo’s flickering fire, Bokuto’s loud laughter, Kenma’s quiet brooding, and of course, Akaashi’s stunning grace, and he wonders how he could ever lump all magical creatures into one, narrow-minded group of killers.

And he gets a little more disgusted at the world (and himself) the more he thinks about it.  

But these thoughts are also new, fresh, and he hasn’t analyzed them, hasn’t let it settle. It’s more of a slow process, rather than a sudden realization. It isn’t from I hate them all, to, I love them all in a single day. It’s I hate them all, to maybe they’re okay, and now, I think of them as my friends.

It’s progress, and he’s half terrified half elated at what that means. 

Tooru is broken from his thoughts when the lunch bell rings, and like a switched turned on the world around them surges forward.

(And Tooru, for some reason, feels awkwardly left behind).

“We’ll talk later,” Iwaizumi mouths, before starting to clean up.

Tooru startles into reality a second later, ignoring the scathing gaze being burned into him.


He goes home before Iwaizumi can grill him.

Despite all of his best friend's mothering and complaining, they both know Tooru will never share what's bothering him until he's ready to. When they were younger, Iwaizumi used to take offense to it, but now he's used to his secretive nature. 

Tooru is grateful for it. 

That doesn't mean he's completely off the hook though, and when he gets home from school he notes that he has a multitude of messages from both his school group chat and Iwaizumi himself. He decides to check the private messages first.

Iwazilla:  Hey we're planning on going to the movies NEXT weekend, you going? 

Iwazilla: if you dont want to just say so instead of saying a bullshit excuse

Tooru sighs, thinking. Have I been spending too much time with Kuroo and everyone? Despite himself, each time he goes to the Other Side he finds it more and more... enjoyable. He likes meeting up with them, because even if Kuroo shifts in and out of the physical realm sometimes, and even if Bokuto has wings, and Kenma makes potions, and Akaashi can control people with his voice... sometimes, he forgets, and it's like hanging out with a different squad.  He especially enjoys his time Akaashi — he likes to think they've reached friend status. At the very least, last time Tooru met up with them he smiled a bit at one of Tooru's jokes. 

I need a break, Tooru realizes. I'm there just to learn more about my magic, nothing more. Even if you wanted, you can't have any long relationship with any of them. They're from a different world. I'm from a different world. 

(He tries not to think of the voice deep inside saying, maybe there's a way to be a part of both, because having hope like that is dangerous)

So, the next weekend, Tooru ends up going out with his school friends rather than his... mystical friends? Magical friends? He's not sure what to call them, or if they even count him as a 'friend,' but either way he doesn't want any more suspicion on him. They go watch a movie and it's all so strangely — normal, and he realizes he let himself get used to watching objects fly around the room and magical spells be cast at his time over at the Other Side. 

You've been there for only few months, he sullenly thinks to himself, and you're already letting your guard down. 

But it's hard to be concerned too much about it as time goes on, because he's slowly starting to realize that these are good people, not the monsters his brain has made them out to be. 

He's not sure if it's on purpose or not, but he's also started to learn more about the plants that grow from him, courtesy of Kenma. It's subtle — sometimes, Kenma will simply say something like, "Hey, Oikawa, can you pass me the forget-me-nots? they're the little blue flowers in the top shelf." Or, it's a little more obvious with things like, "Hey, since you sprouted those star lilies, can I use them? For the potion." And if these little comments were from everyone else, he would have simply brushed it off as nothing —  but if there's anything he's learned about Kenma, its that he is incredibly keen and thoughtful, and most likely is purposely calling Tooru's attention to these plants so he can remember. 

It takes another two weeks of this — of slowly learning how to juggle his two lives, of learning getting learning more about himself and the others whether he likes it or not, when Kuroo finally announces that he is going to go be checking off the next task on his to-do list. 

"This one is probably the hardest thing you'll have to do, so good luck to you on that," Kuroo drawls, lazily splayed out on the couch. "But I believe in you, and we need people working, so only one of us is going with you, 'kay?"

"Who is it?" He can't help but ask, secretly hoping it's Akaashi. He's terribly curious about his abilities, because all he knows is from Kuroo's first introduction. He's seen Bokuto flying, seen Kenma's potions in action, and he's very familiar with Kuroo's magic. Akaashi, though? I'm just curious, he tries to tell himself, it's nothing more. Nothing more.

A loud laugh breaks him out of his thoughts. 

"Hey, hey, hey!" Bokuto calls, suddenly appearing behind him and hitting Tooru's back with more force than necessary. "Don't worry about it. Today you'll be going with me to get rid of some pesky fairies. Have you ever done combat magic before?"

Tooru bristles. "No, and I don't plan on it."

"Ah, come on, It's not as violent as it sounds," Bokuto says, eyes shining. "Let me show you."


Apparently, fairies live very deep in the forest, and there seem to be even more bugs around here back at home.

Again, Tooru wonders why no one told him about this trip in advance. He could have at least brought some sunscreen and bug spray with him — he's not sure how he's going to explain how he got a tan and multiple bug bites over this weekend.

Speaking of Iwa-chan, this trip reminds Tooru of when they were younger. They used to explore their backyards, and the nearby park to a certain extent, to catch cicadas in the summer with tiny nets.

Except time they're not catching cicadas, they're catching fairies, and he's with Bokuto, not Iwaizumi. 

Tooru has a neutral opinion on Bokuto. So far, he's only ever seen him interact with Kuroo. The huge pair of wings attached to his back were intimidating at first, but after seeing him accidentally knock over way too many items and just generally act very clumsy with them, Tooru has seen them as more of an annoyance than a threat. Sometimes, he'll catch himself thinking they're quite beautiful — the soft grey and downy white of feathers reminds him of a majestic owl, or some other bird of prey. 

He honestly acts like one too, eyes bright and wide as he quickly swivels his head around to give Tooru a huge grin. 

"So...," he begins, wriggling his eyebrows, "fairies."

"...fairies," Tooru slowly repeats, not sure what else to say. 

"Do you know anything about them?"

Tooru snorts. "I only know the things you tell me, so... no, I don't even know what they look like. Or why we have to carry around these... butterfly nets."

"They're not butterfly nets," Bokuto says, confused. "They're fairy nets? Very different, if you ask me."

"Right. Of course, it was so obvious. I'm sorry I didn't realize earlier."

"Mhm!" There's a pause, then. "Wait, are you being sarcastic?"

"Yes," Tooru deadpans, because he's already Tired. "Can you just — tell me about these damn fairies. Why are we trying to get rid of them? What did they do wrong?"

"Hmm, well, according to our client they've been infesting an abandoned cottage, and while that would usually be fine, these fairies are causing a disturbance to the nearby residents. When kindly asked to cooperate they threw a fit and injured a few civilians. So we're going to try to remove them by force.  

Tooru does not like the sound of that."Force?" Does that mean we're going to... kill them? He swallows nervously at the thought. 

"Don't worry," Bokuto says lightly "we won't do anything too harmful to them. They just need a bit of, well, convincing, if you catch my drift?"

"This one is probably the hardest thing you'll have to do, so good luck to you on that," Kuroo had said. Tooru grimaces, already not looking forward to whatever is about to happen. Is it too late to back out now? He would rather go back to doing nothing much at the apothecary store. 

"And besides, they'll attack us, so think of this as an exercise in self defense." 

"Attack us?" Tooru really wants to go back home now, actually. How big are fairies anyways? He wonders if the net will be enough to fend one off. 

Bokuto laughs. "Don't worry. We're both plenty strong, and they can't kill us or anything. And we're not trying to kill them either. We just need to show them that we're serious about them being trouble, and teach them a little lesson." Bokuto's expression turns serious, then. "There may be lots of kind people in this world, but there are just as many who don't give a damn. Magic is dangerous, and can seriously hurt someone. Just like the weapons you have back in your world. It's important that you learn at least how to protect yourself — it'll also help you know how to protect others as well. That's the point of this mission."

"...I didn't realize that each task had a particular incentive behind it," Tooru admits sheepishly. "I thought you were just assigning me chores you didn't want to do."

At that, Bokuto lets out a laugh, feathers flaring behind him. "Do you really think that lowly of us? We care about your well-being, Oikawa. We'll damn make sure you're learning things correctly, from the pros. There's no better teachers than us around!"

"Sure, alright," Tooru says, and he hates how there's fondness seeping into his voice. 

"But enough talk. We're here," Bokuto starts, shushing Tooru. His eyes shine with bright excitement. "Here, follow my lead."


Tooru realizes a second too late that he has no idea what he should be doing.

He stumbles over his own feet as Bokuto basically drags him to hide behind a bush. The cottage in front of him seems... broken down. It's dilapidated walls look as if they can collapse at any moment, and there are cobwebs around the broken doors and windows.

"Geez," Bokuto harshly whispers, feathers ruffling as he tries to get a closer look. "You'd think fairies would take better care of the place they're living in, you know?"

"I don't know, actually. What do fairies even look like? And what can they do?" A pause. "What can we do?"

Bokuto blinks. "well, you know what they say! Experience is the best teacher... I think."

"I'd still like to —"

"Shh!" Bokuto suddenly interrupts, holding out a hand. 

Tooru pauses, heartbeat accelerating.

He hears them before he sees them — a slow buzzing that starts to crescendo. Then they burst out of the cottage, a massive swarm of blues and greens and blacks that scream in an unknown language. 

They're like gnats, he faintly thinks, but... worse. Just so much Worse.

Bokuto laughs, though, grabbing Tooru roughly by the shoulders before jumping up, wings flaring behind him. Tooru, although he will deny it later, screams as the fairies swoop in where he was only a second ago. They chatter angrily, obviously pissed as Bokuto's powerful wings create gust pushing them back.  

Oh no, Tooru thinks, I think my arm is dislocated. 

Adrenaline pumps through his blood as Bokuto quickly lands and jumps up again, constantly moving around. The fairies are always a second too late, though, and Tooru just feels like he's playing a very dangerous and intensive version of tag. 

"Okay, so I don't think we brought a big enough net! There's were more than I expected!" Bokuto yells over the wind. Tooru only looks down at the tiny net in his hands as the entire swarm of fairies get closer. 

"No shit, sherlock!"

 "They're weak to a special type of fiber!" Bokuto shouts over the noise, not responding to Tooru's panicked sarcasm "so if we can catch them in our nets, we should be okay!"

"Um," Tooru starts, staring at the tiny net miraculously still in his hands. "Again, I dont think this is big enough for... that." 

That being the very large amount of fairies that want them dead. 

Bokuto just laughs, as if this is normal. "It's okay! You can just make more with your magic, right?"

"I don't know what this special fabric is made out of!"

"Neither do I! But I believe in you, Oikawa. Kuroo said you had lots of potential, so I bet you can figure out a way...it's kinda like cotton, which is a type of plant, right? You can just grow — okay, fuck, hold on!"

Bokuto's grip on Tooru gets a little tighter as the mass of fairies split to try and corner them. Bokuto takes a deep breath, wings outstretched but otherwise not moving. For a moment, there is absolute silence, and Tooru can see the fairies up close. They seem like mini humans, except with pointed ears and teeth, and strangely colored hair. Their wings are translucent like an insects, and he takes a moment to appreciate them.

But even so, they are nothing compared to Bokuto's, and he crouches low before bursting into the sky, with a single, powerful flap that gives the approaching fairies no time to backpedal — they crash into each other and there are yells of pain as Tooru's stomach drops. Bokuto swoops higher and higher, before abruptly changing course and coming down to a little clearing a bit away from the abandoned cottage. 

Tooru likes to think of himself as a calm and collected man, even in high-stress situations... but he can't help but desperately hug the forest floor as he regains his sense of balance. 

He's so, so glad he had a light meal before all of this. 

"Okay, well... I'm going to distract them for a bit now. Try to get more of that fabric from the nets. We don't need that much more,  cause I can gather them really lightly with my magic. Is three minutes enough time for you to figure it out?"

"Bokuto, I really don't know what I'm doing—"

"Good luck, bye! Just remember I can't hold them off forever!"

For a solid minute, mind blank, all Tooru can do is watch as Bokuto jumps back into the fray and leads the fairies onto a frenzied chase. The faries send out their own magic — little bursts of flames or water or wind, but Bokuto's wings flap all of them away. There's something building up at the palm of his hands, Tooru realizes, and he belatedly notes that he actually has no idea what kind of magic the other has — yes, he has wings, but those are simply a part of him. 

Then, Bokuto laughs as a whirlwind explodes from his hands. 

The fairies scatter, but a few are caught up in the wind and flung away. Tooru watches with interest and Bokuto begins weaving his way in and out of the wind currents, most of them created by himself. He looks reckless as he flings himself about, but Tooru realizes that the way the wind moves and carries him around is carefully controlled to just barely miss the fairies attacks, constantly baiting them and dodging at the last moment. 

He can't help but stare in awe at Bokuto's power. 

Bokuto then takes the time to fly dangerously close to the hidden clearing, and for a brief second Tooru is terrifed that Bokuto is leading the fairies right to him. But Bokuto winks at him before letting loose a torrent of wind, pushing the horde the opposite direction, and Tooru realizes he's already wasted a third of the time Bokuto gave him. 

Right. He tries bringing magic to his fingertips, like Kuroo taught him to. He fibers of the net are surprisingly rough, and he focuses on the feeling of them, trying to recreate it. Just let this work, Tooru thinks, just let this work, please, I don't care if I dont understand how — just please work.

Ever since the incident with the fire blossoms, Tooru has only successfully purposely grown something from himself two more times. Kuroo says that's a lot of progress, but honestly, he doesn't feel like it. Every time he tries, though, there's a burning pulse that seems to come from his veins, and it's both uncomfortable and satisfying. 

He calls upon that same feeling now, desperately trying to hug the net, as if that will magically transfer the knowledge he needs to his head. 

For a few seconds, Tooru stands there, energy building up with nowhere to go. He wants to cry with frustration because he's running out of time and he still has no idea what to do and Bokuto is trusting him but he's just sitting there and holding the stupid net as if that will help him and —

— breathe, he suddenly hears Kuroo's voice say. Breathe. Let the magic flow through you, like the blood in your veins. Let your instincts guide you. 

And so, Tooru miraculously breathes. 

There's hot liquid just under his skin, and he feels as it flows down to his palms. He can't see it, but he knows that magic is spilling from his fingertips and wrapping around the fabric of the net, interlacing itself between its woven strings. Something deep within him shifts, and so instead of recoiling as he usually would, he tries to push harder, to spill more magic into the net, hoping that something helpful happens. 

He stares with wonder as the net begins to glow, sheets of spindly cotton growing from the fabric like a white waterfall. It sprouts like wildfire, overtaking his hands and Tooru distantly realizes this is the first time he's grown something that's not directly from his own body. 

Tooru feels dizzy with power. 

"OIKAWA, I'm COMING!" A voice suddenly shouts, snapping him out of his thoughts. He looks up to see Bokuto flying straight at him, showing no signs of stopping. 

Oh, fuck, is all Tooru has time to think before strong hands grab him again, and he's abruptly shot into the sky with Bokuto cheering wildly in his ear.

"YOU DID IT!" He says, and Tooru simply nods before Bokuto whoops loudly, dropping him off near the dilapidated house. "You did your part! Now it's my turn." 

Bokuto winks, before shooting off again. the net in his hand. This time, it merely takes seconds for him to gather more wind in his hands, and the scattered fairies are unfortunately no match to Bokuto's strong gusts. They tumble together as Bokuto's winds grow almost violet, ripping grass and dirt up together. It's almost flawless, Tooru thinks, the way they're so cleanly gathered up into one area, perfect for Bokuto's now enhanced net to capture them. 

As soon as the net hits the ground, the fairies quiet down considerably. They still tumble around each other, and Tooru realizes that Bokuto must have exerted so much control over his magic as to not seriously damage any of them. The fairies look a bit ruffled up at most, and they chatter unhappily as Bokuto lets out a tired sigh. 

"Bokuto," Tooru calls out from the ground, knees still shaky from the adrenaline. "What happens n—"

(a shadow falls over Oikawa, and he looks up to see) 

"OIKAWA, WATCH—"

But there's no time for Bokuto to finish saying those words. Too late, Tooru realizes the violent winds Bokuto created have pushed the old building the faries were inhabiting to its limit, and he looks to see the building is already falling, falling, and an entire chimney is going to fall on top of him —

(save me, he thinks desperately, please save me)

— something rips out from his outstretched forearms, and the whiplash has him grunting in pain. Thick bark, twisting and turning as it grows from beneath his skin, quickly wraps around itself to create a barrier between himself and the falling object, like a cage. His chest burns unpleasantly with the effort as the bark cracks and snap, cement and brick dangerously straining against the wood. 

For a second, Tooru is convinced his magic won't be enough, and he'll be crushed to death, but then a gentle breeze wraps itself around his waist before pulling him out. Startled, his slip on his magic falters, the extended branches from his arms snapping off, and a moment later the cage finally gives, creating debris and dust as the building completely collapses where Tooru had just been standing. 

For a while, all is silent. Even the fairies. 

"Oikawa," Bokuto starts, voice still thick with panic, "Are you okay?! I'm so sorry, I didn't realize that would happen and —"

"Please," Tooru breathes out, still shuddering. "I— I just need a moment. To collect myself."

It almost seems impossible, but somehow, Tooru manages to get his breathing and heart rate back to normal. He looks up to see Bokuto's piercing gaze watching him. 

"Stay there, and let me handle the rest," Bokuto merely says, before turning to the faries. Right. They still had to deal with them. 

Bokuto pulls out a little jar from his satchel. How it didn't break during that entire battle, Tooru has no idea. "We shall bribe them with this," he says, shaking a jar of what appears to be... rainbow glitter?  

The fairies chitter excitedly, then. Bokuto leans down to the net, expression stern. "You guys have learned your lesson, yeah?" And before even waiting for a response, he lifts the net up.  Tooru flinches as the fairies fly up — but instead of viciously attacking as he expected, they buzz excitedly around the dust, which shimmers as falls from Bokuto's outstretched hands. 

It's beautiful, is all Tooru can think, as the fairies dance around the falling sparkles. Their translucent wings glow from the reflecting light of the glitter.They hover for a moment, and give one last chittering laugh, before flying off in various directions. 

"What..the hell was that?" 

Bokuto grins. "Pixie dust. Faries love them. You good to finally walk back, or...?"

Tooru gets up from the ground, and purposely doesn't take Boktuo's outstretched hand. 

"Let's just get out of here. I think I'm done with any sort of magical activities for the next year." 


The walk back is blissfully silent. At least, it is, until Bokuto swivels his head back with a curious expression.  

"Hey. Can we play twenty questions?"

Tooru frowns. He's exhasuted, and he'll surely crash as soon as he gets home. He wants to decline, but he finds himself nodding anyways.

"Okay, I'll go first! Do you have a crush on Akaashi?"

Despite himself, Tooru ends up spluttering violently. Nope, he thinks, never mind, I don't want to play this anymore. "What the fuck, Bokuto? where did that come from?"

"I was just wondering. Am I wrong?" 

Tooru finds himself blushing. "I-Uh, Uhm. Well. I guess... I guess you could say...no."

"It's okay," Bokuto says, tilting his head in a definitely not-human like way. "I understand! Akaashi is really pretty, and super nice, and cares a lot about his friends. It's nothing to be ashamed of!"

"I'm not ashamed," Tooru hisses, crossing his arms. "I just..." 

I just don't know how this happened. 

How? How did I allow myself to... like something — someone I was so against only months ago? 

The worst thing might be is that he knew. Bokuto's words only confirm a thought that he's been fostering for a while now. He's not sure when it happened... but it did, slowly. Gradually. He started seeing this world, these people in a completely different light, and despite his instinct screaming at him to run away, run away, run away, he can't help but also think he's found something he's been missing his entire life. 

He's known from the very start that he was starting to fall — and despite this, despite all of the walls he put up, the mental barriers and pep talks he gave to himself to keep his interactions with this place at a bare minimum, he has still failed to stop himself from doing exactly what he feared the most. 

And right now, it's terrifying. 

"Hey," Bokuto says softly, stepping closer. Tooru tries not to flinch away, but fails anyways. He regrets it the moment he does, because he sees the flash of hurt on the other's eyes as he hastily pulls away. "Hey," he tries again, feathers low and ruffled. "I get it. This is all probably overwhelming for you. New world, and all that, right? Kuroo said you hated people like us when you first came here."

"I... do," Tooru interjects weakly, a pathetic attempt at pretending he hasn't changed, but they both know he doesn't mean it. 

"We've been trying to take it slow, you know. Get you used to... this. It took me a long time to learn about the human world. But I think, in the end, it's worth it." Bokuto gives him a dazzling smile. "Don't be afraid to be afraid. As long as you stay strong, and don't run away, you'll be fine! I haven't known you for a long time, but I think you're a good person, Tooru. I know Akaashi thinks so too! Give it time. Let yourself learn about us and this place naturally, at your own pace. I think that's the healthiest way to do it... probably. Ahaha, sorry I'm rambling..."

"No, no," he says, trying to reciprocate. "That was... surprisingly deep. Thank you. I think I needed to hear that."

"And like, I'm not saying you should talk to Akaashi if you're interested..." Bokuto gives him a grin that reminds him of Kuroo, then. "...but, Akaashi really likes discussing books. Just sayin'! Okay, your turn." 

Before Tooru can even ask anything, though, Bokuto starts running ahead. Tooru, blushing and tired and altogether done, finds himself running after him anyways. Ah, fuck this, he thinks, I don't want to get left behind. 

He does not notice the amaryllis flowers sprouting at the heels of his footsteps as he makes his way out of the forest. 

Chapter Text

Oikawa Tooru knew that this was going to happen, but it comes so soon he barely has time to prepare for it.

Iwaizumi stares at him with a strange expression as Tooru takes his teal hoodie off for the umpteenth time, wondering if he would look better with or without it. He’s decided to wear his glasses, at least, because Hanamaki once mentioned it made him look ‘sophisticated’ and Akaashi seems to be the kind of person who would appreciate it. Or at least, he hopes so.

“You’re overthinking this,” Iwaizumi mutters, shaking his head in silent judgement. Tooru just sighs, turning around in front of his mirror.

“I am not,” Tooru insists, even if Iwaizumi may be a little bit right — but he can’t help panicking. His original plan had been to spend the day with Iwa-chan. Around noon, though, he had gotten a text from Akaashi asking if he wanted to come by and complete another task for his ‘training regime.” It had been a month since he went out with Bokuto to deal with the fairies, and Tooru had taken his advice to heart. He couldn’t visit often due to the increasing suspicion of his friends (read: Iwa-chan), but he still made sure to be more active about texting the other four, especially Akaashi. At this point, they were friends. Hopefully.

“I can’t believe it was a boyfriend all this time,” Iwaizumi continues, incredulous. His face seems to be struggling to decide between amused and annoyed, making him look constipated. Normally, Tooru would laugh, but the butterflies in his stomach prevent him from doing anything but lightly scoff.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Tooru pouts, deciding to go without the sweater after a final look through. His simple button down and jeans will have to do. “He’s just… interesting to me, that’s all.”

Iwaizumi snorts. “Okay, so he’s not your boyfriend yet. My bad.”

Tooru crosses his arms. “If you’re going to keep making fun of me, I won’t tell you anything about him.”

“As if you tell me anything, these days,” Iwaizumi mutters, rolling his eyes.

The jab hurts more than he wants to admit, and judging from Iwaizumi’s gaze he knows it. He loves Iwaizumi as a friend, really, but recently his incessant pushing has just been exhausting. Living a double life for so long, and dealing with both his parents and friends trying to talk to him about a future he’s not sure can exist, along with this thing he has with Akaashi, and what’s going to happen after it all, is just — exhausting. He feels as if he’s on a bike steadily increasing in speed, but with no breaks, and a wall looming ahead that seems both out of reach and impossibly close.

“I’m going to ignore that,” Tooru manages to say, shaking away his thoughts with a pinch to his arm. As daunting as the future seems, right now, Tooru just wants to — pretend that everything is still normal, that this is just a normal crush on a normal guy. Who just so happens to have a magical voice and live in a completely different reality.

Honestly, Iwaizumi is lucky Tooru isn’t telling him anything.

Iwaizumi purses his lips, but doesn’t comment further. “Anyways, I’ve actually never seen you so smitten for someone. Who’s the lucky guy?”

“I am not smitten.” Tooru says, aghast. He’s grateful for the change of topic, falling into their familiar rhythm of fake-arguing. “Anyways, I haven’t even done anything except… talk to him! Like a normal person!”

“Exactly. You flirt around and act coy around the people you aren’t really invested in. But if you seriously like them, you become a stupid, romantic, sappy mess. And you won’t make a move until you know for sure that they reciprocate.”

“Jeez, when did you become my therapist?”

“It’s an unfortunate side effect of having known you for so long. Now, are you going to go, or leave your stupid crush waiting?”

“It’s not stupid,” Tooru mutters under his breath before quickly grabbing his keys. “And I promise I’ll make it up to you, Iwa-chan. Next weekend, lets hang out for sure.”

A pause. “I’ll hold you to that,” Iwaizumi says, surprisingly soft.

I’m sorry, he wants to say, I’m sorry but If you knew the truth you’d hate me. I don’t want to lose you. Not like this.

Instead, Tooru holds out a peace sign. “See you later?” He manages to say. 

Iwaizumi rolls his eyes. “See you. Have fun, idiot. And don’t think you’re getting out of telling me how the date goes.”

“Not a date, but okay,” Tooru sighs. “Now, get out of my house.”

“Nah, I’ll stay until I feel like it. You go on ahead. 

“Iwa-chan!”


On his way to the forest, Tooru tries not to think about what he’s actually doing.

Yes, he’s on his way to have some time with Akaashi — which he’s been secretly looking forward to — but it isn’t like they’re meeting for coffee or a movie. This trip is supposed to teach Tooru something about his magic, and help him get closer to — well, he’s not sure if he’s ready to think about it yet. 

Kuroo’s expression is apologetic, but cold. “I’m just saying — I know it’s hard to accept, but it’s the best we can do for you.”

“Isn’t there — anything else? Another solution? There has to be.” Tooru’s voice sounds as distant as he feels.

“I’m sorry. I tried looking more into it, but… yeah, nothing.”  

“I’m not going to leave behind my family and friends for this.”

“Look, just… keep it in mind. And please try to understand it really is the best option. The alternatives are much worse.”

(He’s not sure how to feel about it, how to decide on something so decisive, when his future is so unclear. It’s been weeks since that conversation and he’s been ignoring it, but there are reminders everywhere and it’s like he’s being choked by time, slowly but surely—)  

“Oikawa! Over here!”  

Tooru blinks back to reality at the familiar voice. Kuroo and Akaashi are already there, waiting for him. He tries not to blush as soon as he sees the latter because holy shit does he look nice today, but judging from Kuroo’s snicker he doesn’t think he’s doing a very good job.

“I didn’t know you wore glasses,” Kuroo comments, raising an eyebrow as Tooru approaches.

“I usually wear contacts,” he admits, nervously scratching his hair. Oh god, was it a mistake wearing these today? I should’ve just — been normal, fuck, who am I kidding?

A breath. Then, “It looks good,” Akaashi murmurs, so quiet he can barely hear him. 

Tooru chokes on his next inhale. 

It was barely a whisper, but even so Tooru thinks no amount of warning could have prepared him for Akaashi’s voice. Akaashi, he knows, only talks to the people he’s comfortable with, but — Tooru has never even considered himself as someone who fit in that category. He’s simultaneously honored and intimidated.

(It looks good. Those three, simple words are still echoing in his mind).

“T-thanks,” Tooru wheezes, already feeling unbalanced. He hates how much power Akaashi seems to have over him. It makes him feel… clumsy.  “Let’s — let’s just get on with it. Somebody wouldn’t tell me what was happening today, so I didn’t pack anything.” He glares at Akaashi without actually meeting his eyes.

“That’s fine,” Kuroo says easily. “Akaashi will help you with everything you need. Isn’t that right, Akaashi?”

Akaashi gives Kuroo a deadpan stare.

“Okay, jeez. Sorry, you two are too easy,” Kuroo chuckles, before taking both their hands and jumping through the portal. 

And if Tooru secretly wishes it was Akaashi’s hand he was holding, then it’s nobody’s business.


Akaashi quickly stops by the apothecary to pick up a mysterious bag. He won’t share what’s inside, only giving him a sly shrug of the shoulders when Tooru asks about it.

Honestly, a part of him feels vaguely threatened.

“You two have a good time, okay?” Kuroo says, reclining on the couch inside the shop. Kenma and Bokuto are both working on charms somewhere in the back, so Tooru is told not to disturb them. 

Tooru just nods, too wired to come up with a witty comeback. He can’t function, not when Akaashi is so close to him. He had talked to him fine over the phone but in person, Tooru can’t help but feel like he’s in over his head.

This is so stupid, he tells himself, trying to calm down the beating of his heart as Akaashi leads out to god knows where. You’re friends, you talk like normal all the time online. This is just like that. Nothing is different. Calm down.  

He makes the mistake of looking at Akaashi while walking, then. Under the clear sunlight, he can see the glittery scales that line his cheeks and neck. He’s wearing a grey sweater that matches with his eyes and dark skinny jeans. His hair, as always, looks way too soft.

Akaashi turns around, then, catching Tooru’s stare. He smiles, eyes crinkling, and Tooru has to suppress the sudden multitude of flowers under his skin, struggling to burst through in tandem with his heart.

“Is there something on my face?” Akaashi says, smile still on his face.

“I — no. It's just, I'm a little... confused? I thought... well, Kuroo said you don't like to talk and you usually don't but suddenly today you are and its — well. I don't know. Sorry, I'm making it weird," Tooru trails off, feeling like an idiot for rambling. His voice breaks on the last few words and he wishes the ground could swallow him up whole. 

To his delight, Akaashi laughs at that. He thinks it sounds a bit like wind chimes, small and subtle but still beautiful and just plain pretty. The wind runs by, rustling his hair, and it’s at this moment that Tooru comes to the alarming conclusion that he undeniably has a crush on Akaashi Keiji. 

“I can talk for today,” Akaashi answers, completely oblivious to Tooru’s overworked heart. “I just wanted to converse with you normally, at least once. It’s different in person.”

He isn’t really sure what that answer means, but he also doesn’t want to push too hard for information — he’s not sure where the boundaries are, and the fact that Akaashi is trusting him must already be a lot. So, he just shuts his mouth, tries to quiet his brain, and lets Akaashi lead him to wherever they’re going. After a few minutes of walking, he finds himself approaching a sign labeled Trinity Highwoods Park.

Akaashi tugs him along hurriedly, passing through hordes of children running around the playgrounds, their parents watching over from the sides.  The scene is eerily similar to the parks back at home, but before he can dwell too much on it Akaashi pulls him further into what appears to be a hiking path. He must come here often, because he doesn’t slow down once, taking confident steps towards their destination.

It doesn’t take long to reach the end of the path, which opens up into an open field with a few trees with silver leaves dotting the view. Wildflowers seem to be growing here and there in sparse patches, but most of the view is a great, grassy plain and the calm sky above them.

“We,” Akaashi finally says, speaking up, “are going to meditate.”

Oikawa hums, finally collecting himself. Enjoy this now, overthink everything later. “Meditate? You really couldn’t have told me that earlier?”

“It was fun watching you trying to guess ,” Akaashi says, completely deadpan. If it weren’t for the hint of a smile on his lips, or the friendly banter they always had over text, Tooru would have been offended. 

“So rude, Aka-chan.” Tooru pouts. “So, what’s in that mystery bag? Can I finally know, or are you still withholding information from me?” 

“It’s just a blanket to sit on.”

Tooru crosses his arms. “Really? A blanket? Is this your idea of a prank? Pretending all of this was some sort of top-secret spy mission only to reveal it was just… nothing special?”

Akaashi’s definitely smiling now. “You seem to have a certain image of our kind in mind. Not everything has to be magical, you know.”

Tooru instantly feels bad for his assumptions. “Ah, right. Sorry.”

“Don’t be, I understand. Now, can you help me lay this out…?" 

Tooru silently helps, trying not to stare at Akaashi. He feels as if he’s in the deep end, already sinking to the point of drowning, and he wonders how it took him so long to notice how far he’s gone. It might be his siren charm, it might not, but at this point he finds himself unable to care.  

(That’s what’s starting to scare him, how strongly he feels for the other only after a few months, how much he would give up for the other, how much happier he feels. There are still too many uncertainties for him to even go for anything concrete, in this world where he only half belongs, where he’s on the verge of leaving completely. And as much as he’s started to appreciate this place, it still is far from home, from his friends, and if he had to choose, he’s not sure if he’d be able to, and —)

 “Oikawa? Are you okay?” Akaashi’s voice calls out, breaking him from his thoughts. He’s smiling, but there’s a worried edge to it. “You spaced out for a brief moment.” 

Tooru lets out a strained laugh. “I’m just peachy. Sorry, uh — got distracted.”

Akaashi purses his lips but doesn’t push it, taking a seat on the blanket. Tooru quickly follows suit, staring at the sky above him. The summer is slowly coming to an end, and the sight of a few leaves fluttering through the air is a refreshing reminder. The clouds move slowly, spread thin like whisps rather than cotton. For a moment, he can pretend that he’s back home, and that everything is normal and he doesn’t need to worry about hiding anymore. 

Only for a moment, though. 

“So, why’d you bring me all the way here to meditate?” Tooru finally says.

A pause. “Well. It’s quiet, for one. Also, you have nature magic, so I thought the outdoors would be a good place to start. I hoped you would like it…” Akaashi’s voice wavers a bit at the end, as if he’s uncertain. Tooru immediately gets up.

“Of course I like it! I love it!” He says a little bit too loudly. He bites his cheek before he say something stupid, like I like you can you please go out with me. 

Looking bewildered, Akaashi just blinks. “Um… I’m glad. It’s important to mediate where you feel comfortable and safe.” A breath, and his expression settles back into its neutral position. “For us magic users who have our powers connected to our emotions, keeping calm enough to maintain control in stressful situations is important. Meditation helps us become more attuned to our emotional state, and our magic levels. I recommend meditating for at least ten minutes daily. Things like suppressing our magic and not telling anyone about it will only hinder your work. ”

Tooru wrinkles his nose. “I feel like you’re calling me out. ”

Akaashi raises an eyebrow. “That’s because I am.”

“Are you trying to offend me?” Tooru snorts, holding a hand to his chest in mock offense. 

Akaashi just shrugs, but there’s a hint of a smile on his face. “What can I say? You’re very easy to provoke.” 

“Mean. You sound just like Iwa-chan, but more polite.” 

“Whoever this ‘Iwa-chan’ is, I give them my respect.” 

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Tooru says hotly, “aren’t we supposed to be meditating?”

“Right,” Akaashi says calmly. “Meditating. Well, it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to connect to your magic deep within...”

Akaashi’s voice washes over Tooru, leading him through the task. Soon, the gentle wind, the chirping birds, even his own breathing becomes like background noise as he falls into deep concentration. He’s not sure how long he sits there, but after a while he starts to feel a hint of — something. Something under his skin, pulsing and writhing and somehow his, locked under layers and layers, but if he could only reach it...

Tooru almost gasps out loud as he lets his magic flow through his body. He’s never felt it as strongly as he does now, even when he was fighting fairies with Bokuto or growing flowers with Kuroo. He feels erratic, full of energy and and enough power to grow entire forests if he wanted. 

But instead, he takes a deep breath, in and out… slowly, but surely, the unsettled feelings seem to subside. He doesn’t even realize his magic is leaking from him, until Akaashi urgently breaks him from his trance. 

“Oikawa,” Akaashi hisses, “control yourself.” 

Tooru blinks his eyes open, and this time does gasp out loud. All around them are flowers, growing through the grass fields and replacing green with white. He recognizes them after a moment, carefully examining the outstretched petals. He’s researched more about plants, at Kenma’s insistence, and if he’s recalling correctly they’re—

“—Gardenias,” Akaashi murmurs, gently plucking one from the ground. Tooru winces slightly, as if he were pricked lightly on the skin by the act.

“I — oh my god, I’m sorry,” Tooru squeaks. “I don’t know how to undo this stuff yet, I mean, I can try but…”

“It’s fine,” Akaashi interrupts again. “They’re just flowers. No need to worry so much about it.”

And then, well — Tooru isn’t sure how to explain what happens next. One moment, he’s sitting there wondering how the hell this happened, and next, Akaashi is leaning in close, hand with the flower outstretched, and his brain short circuits. For a brief moment, Tooru wonders if they’ll kiss.

What happens instead is that Akaashi tucks the flower against his ear, fingers unbearably soft against his skin. As if responding to his own magic, the flower stem grows a bit and attaches itself to his hair.

Their faces are so close to each other, but Tooru doesn’t want to look away. From here, he can see that Akaashi’s grey eyes are dotted with deep blues and greens, like traces of the sea. His heart is beating so wildly he’s sure the other can hear it, and to his horror Tooru feels more gardiena flowers bursting from his skin, wrapping themselves around his arms and chest.

“Beautiful,” Akaashi whispers, smiling.

Time seems to stand still. He can feel Akaashi’s hot breath and his lips are so close, it would only take a small tilt of his head…

Akaashi abruptly pulls back, breaking the moment. It couldn’t have been for longer than a few seconds, but Tooru feels as if eternities have passed. They’re both blushing like crazy, and normally Tooru would crack a joke about being irresistable, but for once he doesn’t have the strength to make a joke out of the situation. 

“I — sorry.” Akaashi suddenly splutters, as if coming back to reality. A pause, then he sighs. “… We should probably go. You did a great job meditating.”

The flowers on his skin slowly fade, but the one on his ear seems stuck. Tooru blinks rapidly, trying to process what the hell just happened. It’s a good thing that Akaashi pulled back, he thinks, because he’s not sure if he’s ready to take this further at the moment. But then why does he feel so disappointed?

Oikawa?” Akaashi reaches out his hand again, but hesitates. His expression is carefully guarded, hiding whatever he’s really feeling. “Again, I’m sorry. I, uh, wasn’t thinking.”

Tooru stiffly nods. “Me… me neither.” A sigh. “I’m sorry too.” 

“Should we go back?” Akaashi awkwardly offers. 

“Yeah…  that sounds like a good idea.” Before I try to do something even stupider. 

 Tooru is afraid that the rest of the trip will be awkward, but to his surprise Akaashi offers his hand out before they go back to the main playground area.

 “So that you don’t get lost,” he says, blushing again. “There’s a huge crowd around this time of day, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to find you if you wander off.”

Tooru scoffs, trying to hide his nervousness. “And why would I wander in the first place?”

Akaashi smiles thinly. “You strike me as somewhat of an airhead.” His hand still hangs, waiting. Looking at the other’s eyes, though, Tooru knows he can refuse if he wants. That he won’t be offended. And everything in him is screaming, yelling not to take the offer, to end this — whatever this is — before it can get out of hand... 

...but he can’t resist Akaashi’s kind smile. 

Akaashi, who was a mystery who Tooru couldn’t solve right away. Akaashi, who welcomed him into this new world and walked him through all the stupid questions he had. Akaashi, who despite refusing to speak, still made sure to spend time texting Tooru and interacting with him, and made him feel special. 

Akaashi, who Tooru has inexplicably fallen for. 

He takes the hand, and he feels shivers at how nicely their palms fit together. Let me have this, just for this moment, he tells himself again. It’s just for today. 

As they make their way out of the park, Tooru does his best to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.


Bokuto and Kuroo will not stop laughing at the flower in Tooru’s hair, which has yet to go away by the time they walk back to the apothecary shop. Kenma only rolls his eyes from his corner of the room. They settle back in before Akaashi quietly excuses himself, having gone back to silence halfway through the trip. The other quickly squeezes Tooru’s hand before he goes, though, sending a soft smile before retreating to what Tooru assumes is his room. 

“Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Kuroo says, before Tooru can open his mouth. “He’s just tired. Judging by the way you were holding hands and smiling like love-stuck idiots, I would say the trip went well.” 

Tooru huffs. “We were only holding hands so I wouldn’t get lost. I wander very easily, you see.”

“Mhm,” Kenma interrupts, monotone. “Sure, sounds like a valid enough excuse.”

Bokuto giggles at that. All of you are traitors, he thinks sullenly. 

“I’m surprised Akaashi lasted that long,” Kenma mutters, finally looking up from his work. “When did he stop talking again?”

“Um, on our way back… like maybe ten minutes into it?”

Bokuto whistles at that. “Impressive!”

“I still don’t understand,” Tooru sighs, shaking his head. “He said he could only talk for today, which makes no sense… but you were right, Tetsu-chan. His voice is — it’s just amazing.” 

Kuroo looks over at Tooru, amused. “Akaashi took a suppressant potion from Kenma this morning, so he could talk to you normally. That’s how he would sound without the magic. He doesn’t take it often, though, cause it usually makes him very sick and only lasts for a short while.” 

Tooru blinks. “...Oh.”

Oh, indeed.” Kenma says dryly. 

As all three of them begin to laugh, Tooru realizes that maybe — just maybe — he’s gotten himself in over his head. 

Fuck, Tooru thinks, I’m just so fucked.


They’re something, after that, but Tooru still hesitates to call Akaashi his boyfriend.

They text. They send each other funny pictures. Tooru misses him terribly on the weekdays when he can’t visit, and has now complained about it to Iwaizumi in detail (without giving away the whole magical thing, of course). He can’t help but want to tell Akaashi about all the stupid and funny things that happen in his life, even if it’s an old story he’s told a hundred times. At this point, he’d be willing to share anything, as long as they’re talking.

But that’s the main issue — that Akaashi is far away, and he can’t even tell these kinds of stories without having to explain a few human customs. It’s not as if Akaashi is completely uneducated on this world, but as time progresses there are more and more signs that he’s simply not from the same background. And it would all be okay if Akaashi could somehow move here…

or if Tooru moved there.

Theoretically, someone needs to make the change. They can’t keep doing this through long distance, and he doesn’t want to bother Kuroo every time they meet up for something outside of the magic business.

He wishes he could tell Iwaizumi about this — about everything. Until now, he’s turned to his best friend for all sorts of support and advice, and he’s sure he would have said something deep and hit him in the head, or something, by now. He thinks about it more than he’d like to admit. But just as he’s gathered the courage to speak up, he thinks back to Iwaizumi, so afraid at seven. The hurt and fear that never went away, only grew with him.

And Tooru stays silent. Time is ticking, he knows. The next time he’s called to the Other Side, it’ll be to finish his last quest with Kenma, whatever that entails. He’s already advanced so much in his magic, but he can feel his power growing along with his control. It’s like he’s unleashed everything that he built up over his life, and with each practice session his body is becoming more accustomed to letting things go, rather than keeping it in.

Soon, Kuroo’s words will come true, and he’ll have to make a choice.

Does he take a monster’s advice, and leave behind the human world? If he confesses the truth to authorities, he will be required to live in the Other World. He’ll probably have to go to university there, and meeting the requirements to get the permit Kuroo has takes two years in itself. And it’s simply not guaranteed. He’ll be completely cut off from his family, his friends, his home that he’s grown to know and love, for possibly forever.

Or he could lie. Continue pretending to be human, until he’s caught. With technology advancing even without magic, he’d surely be exposed at one point. And getting caught could lead to suffering and pain. But if he were careful he could continue, could keep up his façade and somehow perfect the art of illusion. If his friends knew the truth and somehow understood, he could have both worlds. 

Trying to think about it hurts his brain. There’s too much at stake, too much he doesn’t know, to say what he wants for sure. 

Lying in his bed late at night, he watches as he lets spindly branches grow from his wrists. Unlike months ago, Tooru doesn’t struggle to keep the flowers in. They flow naturally, and he lets them. Through the moonlight, they look like shadowy tendrils, dripping with snow-white petals. Gardenias. They haven’t stopped growing since that day. He’s sure they mean something.

He’s too afraid to know what that meaning is. 

And so Tooru falls asleep to the sound of Akaashi’s laughter ringing in his head, blending in with the wind chimes in the darkness.