It's not pretty, but it'll do. Iwaizumi, holding a large box full of his things, glances up once at the decrepit apartment building and heads on inside. There are headphones over his ears, but no music. But the people are fooled anyway, and nobody talks to him as he takes the elevator up.
He squeezes the box, creasing the cardboard. He doesn't know what's worse—that he's gotten used to the silence or that he wishes someone will talk to him. His phone is dead silent, too, because he's muted the group chat. It's not indefinite.
Hanamaki and Matsukawa have gotten a lot quieter, too.
Iwaizumi is used to silence now.
A girl sidles up next to him, bespectacled and not sparing him a single glance, merely facing forward. From his peripheral, she looks vaguely—very vaguely—familiar. A girl from a world that used to be filled with noise and excitement and the smell of Salonpas and the squeak of volleyball shoes—
When she speaks to him, he realizes that she's no longer beside him, but in front of him, holding the door for him. Her face is covered by the box she's carrying. "Are you coming in?" she asks, her voice smooth and low and clear.
Iwaizumi startles. "Yes," he says, blandly as he can.
He gets in with her, and the door closes.
The elevator starts moving up.
Iwaizumi notices that they're going to the same floor. The girl realizes, too, and by the looks she's giving him, she seems to be debating whether or not it's worth making polite conversation with her new neighbor.
"Shimizu Kiyoko," she introduces herself in the end. "It's nice to meet you." Something in Shimizu's tone tells him that she recognizes him. Iwaizumi is not surprised, because he knows who she is, too.
"Iwa-chaaaann, I just don't get it! Why did she totally ignore me like that?!"
"Maybe she can see through your shitty charm and into your even shittier personality."
Iwaizumi swallows a lump in his throat, trying to ignore how his stomach clenched. "Iwaizumi Hajime," he replies. "Look's like we're neighbors, huh?"
Shimizu nods. "Yes. Are you...?"
"Ah. Me too."
And the conversation ends there.
Truly, Iwaizumi isn't even meant to be here. Tokyo is where Oikawa had wanted to go. Iwaizumi is meant to be content with attending a local university in Miyagi, but he isn't.
It turns out Shimizu's room is directly opposite Iwaizumi's, with only a narrow corridor to separate them. Iwaizumi spends the rest of the day blocking out the sound of cars racing by in the street with his headphones as he unpacks. He hasn't brought much from his home in Miyagi.
The last thing he puts up are pictures on the shelf, next to the television. Most of them are pictures of his high school volleyball team, Aobajosai, over the years, and it's amusing to see Matsukawa grow from some gangling teenager to a more filled-out version of himself. The latest picture of the team shows Kindaichi with a similar problem—he's more tall than wide.
Briefly, Iwaizumi wonders how they're doing right now. Wonders how Yahaba is taking to his new leadership role as captain of the team.
He hopes that Yahaba will not be blinded by the urge to become some kind of Oikawa-esque figure, though he probably will initially.
The picture at the front is different from the others. It has only two people captured in its frame—a child version of himself staring sullenly into the camera while a child version of Oikawa squishes his cheek against his, throwing out a peace sign and a wink toward the lens. It's a picture frozen in time, so Iwaizumi only has his memories to recall what happened next—they went to get ice cream, and Oikawa cried because his fell onto the sidewalk and melted in the span of ten seconds. Iwaizumi ended up giving his to Oikawa, because even though he spent most of his life aggressively denying their friendship, it always was hard for him to say no to Oikawa.
Iwaizumi rubs his eyes and slides his headphones off his ears, tossing them onto his unrolled futon. "You were always such a whiny brat," he mutters under his breath. But I loved you anyway.
His new apartment suddenly seems suffocating. Letting out a shuddering breath, Iwaizumi takes his jacket—it's blue with a grey hoodie—and heads out, only to bump right into Shimizu, who is also dressed to be out and about.
"Iwaizumi-san," she greets, giving him a slight nod.
They walk down together.
"Where are you going?" Iwaizumi inquires, unable to hold back his curiosity.
"Meeting some friends," Shimizu answers, because of course she has friends already. She may not look it, but she's like Oikawa, in a way. People are naturally drawn to her, and minimal reciprocation is needed in order to form friendships. He isn't sure how to feel about that. "What about you?"
Iwaizumi doesn't have an answer for her. "The convenience store," he lies through his teeth. But he might head there anyway, because he doesn't have any food in his cupboards.
Shimizu blinks in surprise. "I am, too." At first, Iwaizumi suspects he isn't the only liar in town tonight, but Shimizu lives up to her word. The cashier that serves Iwaizumi his cup noodles is a girl with reddish-brown hair and a fox-like grin that usually indicates trouble in the near future, and from the way she automatically looks less sleepy when she peers around his shoulder to see Shimizu, they know each other.
Her name is Shirofuku Yukie, and the unwitting duo become an unwitting trio. Iwaizumi makes sure to give them some space, but Shirofuku insists on walking in between them and toward him, so he ends up being pushed toward the road. It's too close for comfort, and he's glad when they say awkward goodbyes in front of the apartment and he gets to go home safely.
Iwaizumi has a week before the term starts, and he starts it off by eating, showering, and then going to bed. It's mundane and it's boring—and it's what his whole life would have consisted of if he had never met Oikawa.
Because he's sick of the quiet, he unmutes the group chat he has with Hanamaki and Matsukawa in hopes of hearing from them. It can be a sequence of memes and he will not care in the least.
But there is nothing but silence on their end, too, and he wishes the noise will return.
Shimizu is not in his class, but Shirofuku is, and she slides into the seat next to him when she sees that it's empty. "Yo," she says, greeting him easily. As if he is an old friend of hers. "We met the other night, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Shirofuku-san, right?" He smiles at her, but it drops quickly when she looks away because their professor has arrived. It's not like Iwaizumi doesn't like her. There are few people in the world that he dislikes. He feels strangely like Oikawa, giving fake smiles and fake laughs because people demand it from him. It doesn't last long, though. Shirofuku gets the hint that he hasn't come here to make friends, but Iwaizumi has a feeling that she hasn't given up on him yet. Whatever that means. He doesn't know. Maybe she just wants to be friends, or maybe she wants to be something more.
After class is a huge sigh of relief, especially when Hanamaki and Matsukawa start filling up the chat with color again. They are lacking with gifs and memes, but Iwaizumi doesn't mind it, even if it does make the chat look a little drier than he's used to.
[Mattsun]: did ya'll see the news
[Mattsun]: he's finally been charged
[Mattsun]: the guy who hit Oikawa
[Makki]: good fucking riddance
[Mattsun]: fucker was drunk and the judge ignored the bullshit mental health plea
Iwaizumi types back his response before tucking his phone back into his jeans pocket. It's just one line expressing how coldly delighted he is about the fate of Oikawa's killer. He doesn't really know what else to say. He knows he should be happy with the outcome of the trial, but...
His feet take him to the vending machines, but in his rush to get to class on time, he finds out that his wallet is probably still back in his apartment after digging through his pockets.
For a moment, Iwaizumi just stares at the drinks—hidden behind glass, untouchable—with muted ennui.
"Hey, Iwa-chan, look at me." Oikawa flattens his hair and scowls before pressing two buttons on the vending machine at the same time. "Guess who I am."
"A huge dumbass?"
"Correct! I'm Tobio-chan!"
And despite himself, Iwaizumi can't hold back a guffaw.
A hand appears in his peripheral, and Iwaizumi blinks in surprise when a slender finger presses on the button for the red bean drink. A can rolls down, and the person takes it out before giving it to him. It's Shirofuku. "Here," she says when he doesn't take it immediately. "It's for you." She's talking slowly, and for a second, Iwaizumi wonders if he's given her the impression that he's stupid. "Whenever Bokuto-san gets upset, food is his go to. Same for me."
Eventually, he takes it from her. "Thank you," he says honestly. "Ah shit—sorry. I was rude to you this morning. You didn't—"
Shirofuku holds up a hand, smiling comfortingly. "It's okay. Don't talk. Just drink, Iwaizumi-san."
He opens it. "How did you know I like this?"
"The other night, when you came into the store, you bought a cup ramen and the same drink."
Ah. He'd almost forgotten about their previous encounter.
His phone dings, but Shirofuku keeps talking, so Iwaizumi refrains from checking. It's probably more news about the man who murdered Oikawa, and he doesn't know if he wants to take in so much information at once. Especially this kind.
"Are you and Kiyoko-chan dating?" Shirofuku asks the inevitable question as they sit down on a bench, Iwaizumi still clutching his half-finished red bean drink.
"No. We're just neighbors." Iwaizumi takes another sip, and he can honestly say he's feeling somewhat better than before.
She pouts. "So it's really true. I asked her, but since she's so shy, I thought there was a possibility that she was lying. Ah, well, live and let live. Hey, Iwaizumi-san—you played volleyball in high school, right?"
He almost chokes on his beverage. "What?"
"Yeah—for Aobajosai if I remember correctly. You were the ace." Shirofuku hums thoughtfully. "Since Karasuno joined our training camp last year, I did some research on the top Miyagi teams aside from just Shiratorizawa, just in case Fukurodani ever had to face them. I remember making a profile for you. You and the captain—Oikawa-san, was it?—were a pretty wicked duo, hey?"
Iwaizumi doesn't hear most of what she says. There's just a white noise—a persistent buzzing that can barely classify as sound. His fingers dent the metal of the can. She doesn't know, he reminds himself. She doesn't know he's—
"Iwaizumi-san?" Shirofuku is staring at him with slight concern in her otherwise sleepy gaze. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing," Iwaizumi says, too hurriedly. "I—I just..."
They both trail off, staring at the ground awkwardly. Then Iwaizumi suddenly stands, finishing the rest of his drink. "Sorry," he apologizes gruffly, the second apology he's given to her today. "It's not your fault." He makes to walk away, but she speaks once more.
"It's probably not yours either."
Iwaizumi halts and turns, surprised.
"Looking at you," Shirofuku continues. "It's probably not your fault either."
She's sharper than Iwaizumi first pegged her for. Maybe she's used to dealing with people like him.
I know that, he wants to say. Wants to snarl. Wants to scream at the sky.
Because if that damned bastard of a driver hadn't come swerving onto the path, Oikawa would still be—
"I don't play volleyball anymore," Iwaizumi tells her instead, and he means it. "That's all."
They part ways.
Out of curiosity, Shirofuku searches up Iwaizumi's full name.
Little comes up.
The first result is a news article on a vehicle accident from last year.
She clicks on it, and her heart sinks.
"Oh," she murmurs, closing the tab. "So that's why."
There's a knock on his door just as he's about to tuck in for the night. Sighing, Iwaizumi kicks off his blanket and trudges toward the door. "Coming," he calls dully. When he opens the door, he's greeted with a surprise.
Namely, Shimizu with her brows furrowed and holding a red-stained cloth, which she presses against her left hand. "I'm sorry to bother you so late," she told him politely, sounding strained. "But do you have a bandage?"
He does, actually. Iwaizumi invites her inside and disappears into the bathroom. Guilt pulls at him when he realizes that Shimizu has nowhere to sit down, and he hurries up.
Thankfully, she seems okay when he gets back to her with bandages and a disinfecting powder, just slightly pained.
"Show me the cut," Iwaizumi coaxes her gently. Slowly, she unfurls the cloth to reveal quite a large wound on the fleshy outside of her hand. Thankfully, it's not deep enough to require stitches, but it's bleeding a lot. She stiffens when his hand curls around her wrist, but allows him to sprinkle the disinfecting powder on the injury before putting on the bandage.
"I really am sorry," Shimizu apologizes again. "You were about to sleep, weren't you?"
"Nah," Iwaizumi lies. "I was going to scroll through my phone, more like."
Her lips quirk up in a wobbly smile. "Is that so?" She checks her hand. "You're surprisingly calm about this." The last time she had gotten injured, Tanaka and Noya had circled around her the whole time, panicking and 'defending her from nasty germs', while Yachi was on the verge of fainting as she cleaned her wound.
"Yeah, well." Iwaizumi flushes, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "It's something you pick up when you have to clean up after Oikawa." Very rarely can he say his name without some sort of weight to it, but Shimizu's naturally tranquil personality allows him to.
Shimizu's smile grows a little sad, and Iwaizumi knows that she knows. It's only natural, he supposes, seeing as they come from the same prefecture. "I'm sorry." Shimizu apologizes once more, and it's as sincere as the first two times but for a vastly different reason.
"Me too," Iwaizumi replies, but he hears his own voice as an empty echo. He's gotten used to quiet, but he hates it. Shimizu isn't loud by any means, but she's better than nothing. "Hey," he says abruptly, recalling something. He never did bother to find out who had won the Spring Tournament last year. "Was it Karasuno who won?"
She looks taken aback by the question. "No, we lost to Kamomedai in the fourth round."
"I hope they get crushed," Oikawa declares, and Iwaizumi worries he's about to cry again. His eyes are still puffy from spending the whole of last night crying himself to sleep. It's a crisp morning, and they're watching clips from Aobajosai vs. Karasuno on a wet bench just because Oikawa likes seeing himself make god-like plays. Or so he says.
"You said the same thing about Shiratorizawa," Iwaizumi points out, amused.
"I know that! I hope they both get crushed!"
"Can't have your cake and eat it, too, Shittykawa."
Iwaizumi rolls his shoulders in a shrug. "I'm sure you played well," he says genuinely.
Shimizu's smile is happier again. "We did. We did awesome."
It's a little strange and surreal, hearing something like that coming from a girl he thought was ice cold. It puts a little fire in her—makes her warmer, like lighting a fire in an igloo.
They make a bit more idle talk before Shimizu decides that she's wasted enough of his time (her words, not his) and it's time for her to depart. "Thank you again," says Shimizu, bowing her head a little to him. "A few friends from Karasuno are joining me on Saturday for shabu-shabu. You should come."
"I don't want to impose—"
"You won't be. We'll be glad to have you."
Iwaizumi caves against his better judgement. "Alright then. I'll see you Saturday."
"Or before then," Shimizu adds with a small grin. "I'm just a few steps away. Goodnight, Iwaizumi-san."
He smiles back. It's not fake. He's not Oikawa tonight. "Night, Shimizu-san."
Iwaizumi turns off the lights after she leaves, with only a lamp in the corner to guide him through his small apartment. As he curls in his futon, his phone buzzes next to his pillow, and he unlocks it to see a new message on the group chat they'd shared with Oikawa.
They'd made a silent agreement not to post there anymore.
It's from Hanamaki.
[Makki]: i found this today
It's like the dreaded silence descends upon him once more when a selfie of Oikawa he's never seen before comes into view.
[Makki]: he must've stolen my phone before
[Makki]: I shouldn't hav
[Makki]: I di
Hanamaki deletes all of his recent messages except the photo.
The message above the photo comes back into view.
[Tooru]: Goodnight guys, I'll see you tomorrow~ ヽ(´▽｀)ノ
His absence is suddenly more pronounced than Iwaizumi remembers it being, and he feels his heart twist. Taking a deep breath, he forgives Hanamaki, turns off his phone, and tries to sleep.
Five minutes later, he throws his pillow against the wall and sobs loudly into his hands. He contemplates throwing his phone against the wall, but he knows he'll just regret it even more in the morning, even if he feels like he wants to just break everything right now.
It's too quiet.
It's a little anticlimactic, Iwaizumi thinks as he is met with friendly hello's and how are you's by Karasuno's former captain and the setter that Oikawa had dubbed Refreshing-kun. It's a little anticlimactic because, minus the guy with goatee, these are the exact people he'd expected to come.
They shake hands and take a seat at the table while Shimizu brings to the table the final basket of enoki mushrooms before joining them.
"So," Sawamura starts, friendly and open. "Are you studying at Todai with Shimizu?"
"Yeah," answers Iwaizumi, and they talk for a bit about their respective universities and classes. Sawamura and the light-haired setter—Sugawara—both decided to stay within the prefecture to study. Both of them are attending Tohoku University—the former is doing economics, while the other is studying pharmacy—the same university that Iwaizumi was going to go to before—
"You're doing law?" Sugawara says excitedly. "I know someone doing the same course—his name is Oujiyama Hideo. Do you know him?"
Actually, Iwaizumi didn't. He didn't know anyone in any of his classes besides Shirofuku.
"That guy?" Sawamura looks like he's seen much, as if he's remembering an unpleasant memory. "He's a bit... flamboyant, isn't he?"
"He's probably mellowed out a bit."
Iwaizumi chuckles. "Flamboyant, huh?" I'd know all about that.
Shimizu grabs her chopsticks. "Tofu skins should be ready by now."
"Thanks for the food!" they all chorus.
The ingredients Shimizu had bought and prepared are delicious, and Iwaizumi helps himself. This is the first real food he's eaten in days, and he can practically feel it nourishing his body.
"Iwaizumi-san," Sugawara asks at one point, "Why are you doing law anyway?"
His chopsticks, about to grab some steaming meat from his bowl, still. "It's a long story," he confesses after a pause. It's only long because he doesn't know how to tell it properly. How will he word it, anyway? That he's only doing it because it's what Oikawa wanted to do. Oikawa is supposed to be the one studying law, making friends, flirting with girls (hah!), and playing volleyball here. Compared to him, Iwaizumi feels like a cheap, washed-up imitation.
Sawamura and Sugawara exchange a glance with each other. Shimizu is taking a photo of her food and sending it to someone, her eyes hooded.
"You don't have to tell us," Sawamura says, Sugawara nodding in affirmation.
Iwaizumi's shoulders sag. "Thanks."
He's sure they can take a good guess anyway.
The conversation and chatter resumes, and Iwaizumi finds himself taking part more now that they're talking about things that aren't related to Oikawa. He finds out why the goatee guy, Azumane, can't attend tonight, and who the new captain of Karasuno is (it's someone Iwaizumi doesn't recall the face of, but his name is Ennoshita). Iwaizumi, in return, tells them about some of Aobajosai's exploits while somehow managing to avoid speaking of Oikawa. The antics of the new third and second years more than make up for it.
"Yahaba?" Shimizu echoes. She's not a big talker, so when she does say something, everybody pays attention. "I remember him. He's... crafty."
"He's creative when it comes to hitting on girls," Iwaizumi snorts, saying what she's really thinking. Shimizu smirks.
The night ends on a high note with Sawamura and Sugawara heading off to the station to catch the train home. The noise is sucked away, and Iwaizumi helps Shimizu clean up.
They don't talk much, but work in tandem with washing and drying the dishes.
"What do you eat?" Shimizu abruptly asks, turning to him. "Normally, that is."
"Just takeaway food or cup noodles."
She hums. "That's not good, especially for an athlete. We need to look after our bodies."
She's an athlete? Iwaizumi glances at her in surprise when she briefly returns her focus on scrubbing a stain from a plate. "I don't play volleyball anymore," Iwaizumi informs her. He sounds nonchalant, but the words weigh heavily on his shoulders. Ironic, because they should be feeling lighter after months of virtually no spiking. It's the same with his legs. They feel alright and at ease, but also stiff and not as powerful as before.
"Still. You should look after your body well. Iwaizumi-san, forgive me for asking, but do you even know how to cook? And I mean proper food."
Iwaizumi feels his face going red. He looks away. "No," he admits grudgingly. "Never learned."
"I see." Shimizu passes him the plate for him to dry. "Do you want me to teach you?"
"Yes. It's a good skill to have. You should come over every night so we can cook together." She looks him in the eye as she says this, and he knows she's being genuine. She's always struck him as the type to be hard to open up, but ever since he had helped her with her hand...
Iwaizumi smiles. "I'd love to." The dish he's rubbing suddenly slips out of his hands and shatters on the floor. "Oh, shit—I'm so sorry—"
Shimizu giggles as she reaches for the dust pan. "That's alright. Just be more careful."
It's a nice sound, her laugh.
Shirofuku has been giving him glances in class for a while now. They're never long, but she underestimates his awareness. Iwaizumi wonders what she wants. They haven't been talking a lot since the day she bought him a drink from the vending machine, even if they still sit together.
The professor dismisses them with an essay, and Shirofuku follows him out the door.
"Iwaizumi-san!" she calls as she power-walks after him, shouldering her bag. She doesn't bring much to class. Just a computer, some sparkly pens, and a notebook. Iwaizumi brings even less, but he has a proper backpack.
"Shirofuku-san?" He turns back.
"Yo." Shirofuku sidles up next to him at a respectable distance. "A new ramen place just opened up around the corner. You wanna go?"
"Just why are you ordering the super-spicy ramen?"
"'Cause the waitress is cute and I want to impress her~!"
"You'll regret it tomorrow, and so will your toilet."
"Sorry, I didn't bring my wallet," Iwaizumi bluffs. He hasn't eaten ramen since Aobajosai lost to Karasuno.
"That's okay, it's my treat."
There is little reason for him to refuse now, and Shirofuku is earnest and kind. Also, he suspects that she wants to talk to him about something.
As they walk down to the shop, Shirofuku's eyebrows raise at a text she receives. "Ohoho... So that's how he wants to play it, huh? Hmm..." She rubs her chin. "Iwaizumi-san, my friend might be joining us a bit later. Do you mind?"
He doesn't, and lets her know. "Who's your friend?"
"His name is Bokuto Koutarou, and he's in emo mode because someone at his uni made fun of him for not making the top three aces in Japan. Also, I owe him a favor, and he eats just about anything. Hold on, let me text him the location..."
The ramen shop she invites him to looks pretty clean and high class—it's not the standard ramen bar that can be found anywhere in Tokyo. It's moderately full, but the waitress manages to find them a diner booth next to the window. It's either the best or the worst seat depending on the kind of person sitting there—the best if enjoyment can be found from watching people walk past outside and the worst if displeasure is experienced due to stranger staring. Oikawa would have liked this seat.
"Here are the menus," the waitress offers with a smile that she probably practices in front of the mirror a lot if she wants to keep her job. She has a naturally sad and droopy face.
"Thank you~" Shirofuku opens it up and immediately hones in on a discount drink and meal lunch combo. After their orders are collected (he notices that the meal combo she orders is actually very large, and he will be amazed if she can finish it all), Shirofuku sighs and puts her hands in her lap. "I'm sorry about the other day," she blurts. "I didn't realize how insensitive I was being."
Iwaizumi takes in her words. "So," he says slowly, "You know then?"
"Yeah. I do. I'm so sorry, Iwaizumi-san."
"It's fine." He just wants to hurry past this topic. "When's your friend going to come?"
Shirofuku checks her phone. "He'll be here in around twenty minutes, he says."
Their ramen comes before Bokuto arrives, and both students pull out their phones and open up their messenging app cameras. Iwaizumi sends the picture of ramen to his group chat, and he assumes that Shirofuku is doing something similar. The response is almost instantaneous.
[Makki]: damn, why you gotta do this to me? i'm studying for a topic test and i haven't eaten since breakfast, you shithead
Iwaizumi grins and types back.
[Hajime]: not my problem
[Mattsun]: that looks expensive
[Mattsun]: aren't you a poor uni student like us
[Mattsun]: tsk tsk, not good to splurge on junk food
[Hajime]: if you must know, i'm being treated
Hajime: and don't make it sound like we're all roughing it on the streets
[Makki]: wait what
[Makki]: Who's treating you?
Iwaizumi glances up. "Mind if I take a photo of you?"
"Not at all~" Shirofuku is glad to be in a picture. She holds up a peace sign and wears a relaxed smile.
[Hajime]: a friend
[Makki]: can you get me her number
[Mattsun]: ^ you are actually shameless HAHAHA
[Makki]: As if you weren't thinking the same thing asshole
[Hajime]: you're just salty 'cause you have to study
[Makki]: I'm also very hungry, have some compassion
"Hey, hey, hey! Yukie!" a very loud voice draws the attention of Shirofuku and Iwaizumi to a tall guy with the oddest hair Iwaizumi has ever seen. This must be Bokuto.
"Wow, look who's here, the amazing ace himself." Shirofuku lays it on thick. "You're in a better mood than I expected."
"A cute girl gave me her number on the way here!"
Bokuto looks at Iwaizumi for the first time, blinking owlishly. Then he beams and holds his hand out. "I'm Bokuto Koutarou! You must be Yukie's uni buddy, Ocean Man!"
Shirofuku chokes on her narutomaki and reaches for her glass of water.
"... I'm Iwaizumi Hajime," Iwaizumi corrects him, slowly. He stares accusingly at Shirofuku. "What have you been telling him?"
The girl chugs more water before answering, "Is it better or worse that the answer is nothing? All I told him was your name, and it was through text just then."
Bokuto slides into the same booth as Yukie and flags down a waiter as Iwaizumi looks down at his phone again.
[Hajime]: What part of my name would get someone to call me Ocean Man?
[Mattsun]: Izumi, maybe? lol
Iwaizumi glances up momentarily to see Bokuto in the middle of bragging to Shirofuku that he once shoved ramen up his nose and slurped it from there when he was five years old. She looks content, as if she's used to this.
[Hajime]: that's a stretch, but I wouldn't put it past this guy
"Hey, Bokuto-san," Iwaizumi motions to him, "Mind if I take a photo of you—?" Before he can even finish, Bokuto's already next to him and invading his personal space by tapping on the messaging app camera.
"Say hey!" Bokuto cheers as he takes a selfie before Iwaizumi can get ready. The guy is like a whirlwind, but Iwaizumi finds himself not actually minding too much. He's loud and has no concept of privacy or personal space, but it's not too terrible of a thing.
The resulting photo, however, is. Only Bokuto looks good in it; Iwaizumi's eyes are half-closed and his mouth is open, having been in the middle of protesting. But Bokuto seems happy with it, and Iwaizumi can only deadpan, resigned to sending it off when he sees Shirofuku crossing her arms together and mouthing 'abort'.
[Mattsun]: you look like you need to be rescued
[Makki]: can someone rescue me instead?
[Mattsun]: go study, scrub
[Mattsun]: also, isn't that guy a top ace?
[Hajime]: Yeah, his name's Bokuto Koutarou
[Makki]: one, fuck you
[Makki]: two, isn't he infamous for having mood swings on the court?
[Makki]: probably why he never made top 3 aces in high school
[Mattsun]: wow, at least take me out to dinner first
"So," Bokuto is back in his seat now and looks invested in Iwaizumi, "You look like a strong guy. Do you do sports?" Proudly, he thumbs his chest. "I was one of the top four aces in Japan back in high school. Volleyball and all."
"Woo," Shirofuku adds from the side, twirling her finger in the air like it's a little flag.
"I did volleyball in high school, too," Iwaizumi says, and he swear that Bokuto's golden eyes practically light up like a Christmas tree. "We never went to Nationals, though, so don't get your hopes up." It's not like he means to talk down on his team. When he'd been a third year on the Aobajosai team, he knows they'd been good enough to get to Nationals. It's a team he's proud of, but it's also a reminder that shrouds him like an ancient sadness. A reminder that he'll never be able to spike one of Oikawa's sets again.
Bokuto isn't deterred, though. "What team?" he demands. "It can't be Nekoma, or Shinzen, or Ubugawa... and we've played most of the teams in the Kanto region..."
"That's 'cause I'm from Miyagi."
"Wait, Miyagi?! Like Karasuno? Do you know a guy called Tsukki? He's tall and looks angry most of the time. Well, not angry, but like he's eaten a really sour lemon."
"He's from Aobajosai," Shirofuku interjects through a mouthful of noodles. "It was a powerhouse school."
"It still is." It's strange, Iwaizumi thinks, how he's suddenly been pushed into defending his school. He supposes it's because the conversation is going to lead further into volleyball anyway, regardless of how much he downplays the subject. Bokuto seems like the type to eat and breathe volleyball. Kind of like Kageyama, but more excitable and open. "Oikawa's junior is captain this year, and we always get lots of promising first years from the surrounding middle schools." And the second years are nothing to sniff at either. Anyone who underestimates Kindaichi and Kunimi are in for a world of pain when they're playing on the court with them.
Bokuto leans across the table like a nosy first date, not that he realizes. "Ohoho? You're pretty spirited about your school. Way more than I pegged you for. Good for you, bro!" He clutches Iwaizumi's shoulder with a laugh before his jaw slackens slightly. "Damn! You pack some pretty big muscle underneath that hoodie. Must be from all the training you do! What are you—wing spiker? I am, too!"
"Sorry, he's a little handsy," Shirofuku apologizes. "Oh—Bokuto, your noodles are here."
"For real?! Thanks for the food!"
Iwaizumi is nearly done with his noodles (Shirofuku has completely vacuumed up all the soup by now, to his shock) and Bokuto is shoving char siu into his mouth when he asks, "Do you play for Todai?"
"Why not, bro? You'd be a hella good wing spiker! Didn't you say you come from a powerhouse school?"
"As I was saying, Bokuto-san," Iwaizumi's temper flares a little, his patience more worn than usual, "I don't. I stopped playing volleyball after high school."
Most people normally drop it at this point, especially when they hear the edge in his voice. Bokuto's oblivious, but he hears the unspoken warning, too, and frowns a little. Then, almost cautiously, he asks, "Why not?"
"Bokuto," Shirofuku says in disapproval. "Don't. It's none of your business."
"I just don't feel like it," Iwaizumi says at the same time, and they exchange a surprised look. "Listen, Bokuto-san—it's... it's not something I like to talk about."
Bokuto looks at his friend. "But you told Yukie."
"He didn't, I found out myself. Bokuto, just drop it, okay?"
They go their separate ways after the meal. As he slips on his headphones over his ears, Iwaizumi feels a little sick to the stomach, but he holds it together. It's probably just the ramen—it's a greasy food (no worse than the typical cup ramen, but he's not in the mood for reasoning). Not really his favorite.
"Man, Iwa-chan really likes ramen, huh? That's your second bowl. What are you, Naruto?"
"Shuddup, it's good."
Or, at least, it isn't now. Maybe he just hasn't eaten it for so long that it doesn't sit right with him anymore.
He holds his hand to his mouth and exhales deeply. He's been holding it together for months now, but it feels like nothing's changed sometimes. In the middle of the night, he'll just wake up and cry until he feels like throwing up because he can only ever see Oikawa in his dreams.
How can the world move on without him? he wondered at one point.
Iwaizumi still thinks about it now. The world is still rotating, but it feels like his is gone. There are pictures, but there is no sound. It all went away the night he held Oikawa for the last time, screaming into sky, half-covered by smoke and obscuring the stars.
He walks through an overpass, cars zooming beneath him. He can't hear them. If he does, it never registers.
For a brief moment, Iwaizumi stops and stares down at the road that stretches into the horizon, at all the cars driving below. It could be any one of them, he thinks. Another idiot on his way to kill someone who should have lived. He feels his throat tighten, and moves on. He has an assignment to do, even if it doesn't feel important. Even if he would drop it all just for a chance to hold him again.
"This is one of the first things my mother taught me," Shimizu says softly as she cracks an egg over a bowl, letting the white dribble into it while keeping the yolk in the bottom half of the shell. There is some fluffy white rice sitting on the counter as well. "Here," she hands the other egg to him, "You try." Awkwardly, Iwaizumi holds it over the lip of the bowl and taps it once, twice. There's a little spiderweb of a crack. Shimizu smiles. "Don't be afraid to do it a little harder."
Iwaizumi exerts more strength to it, and his eyes widen as the entire thing practically collapses within itself, and he drops the yolk along with the white into his bowl, along with some shards of eggshell. "This is harder than it looks," he deadpans. If Oikawa was here, he'd definitely be laughing.
"Nonsense," Shimizu scolds, primly. She hands him another egg. "Try again."
They go through three eggs before he finally gets it right, the yolk wobbling in one half of the shell. Following Shimizu's example, he puts the egg yolk into the same bowl as the rice. It looks like a gross yellow puddle, but he trusts Shimizu.
She talks him through it as she puts some oil into the same bowl and starts mixing the egg into the rice.
At the end of it all, they're sitting at her table with some delicious-smelling dinner of egg fried rice with shallots. There's some shrimp that Shimizu has added as well in the frying process, giving the food an exotic smell that makes Iwaizumi think of south-east Asia.
"Thanks for the food," they say together before digging it.
It tastes good, and Iwaizumi almost forgets his manners and shoves the whole thing in his maw. Almost.
Shimizu, for the most part, looks both delighted and amused. "Enjoying yourself?" she jokes.
"I didn't realize how hungry I was," Iwaizumi replies honestly. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."
"You didn't eat lunch? Iwaizumi-san, I must insist that you don't forget next time."
"I guess I just look forward to dinner too much."
There's a pause, and Shimizu tilts her head curiously. "Is that so?"
"Yeah." Iwaizumi's throat bobs. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting us to become friends. But... I'm glad."
Shimizu puts down her chopsticks on her bowl. "I am, too. I didn't have many friends in high school," she admitted. "But I'm glad I met you. You're a good friend, Iwaizumi-san."
"Just Iwaizumi is fine."
"Then call me Shimizu." She wipes her mouth with a tissue before smiling. "I will be honest with you, too—when we first moved in, I thought you didn't like me."
"Ah, well..." She's not totally wrong, which is what pulls at Iwaizumi the most. Before, he had only ever known her as Karasuno's icy manager who rejected Oikawa's advances almost brutally. "It's not that I didn't like you. You just..." He clears his throat. "Reminded me of something." Someone.
Shimizu looks down. "Is it Oikawa-san?" she ventures.
"... Yeah." Iwaizumi picks at the last few grains of his rice. He huffs. "Sorry, I'm probably bringing down the mood."
The reminders are everywhere.
"That's alright," Shimizu says quietly. "He meant a lot to you, didn't he?"
His throat feels tight, but he answers anyway. "The world. I loved him." A small smile creeps onto his face. "I should've said it to him more."
There are other things he wants to say, but his friendship with Shimizu isn't quite strong enough for him to do that yet. These are things he hasn't even said to Hanamaki and Matsukawa, because they're also grieving, and they don't need to hear all of his regrets, too.
I wish I held his hand more.
I wish I kissed him more.
I wish I told him I loved him so much that even he got sick of me saying it.
I wish that I figured it out earlier so we could have had more time together.
A siren wails in the distance.
He helps her clean up, and they say goodnight.
It's midnight and Shimizu is still sitting in her futon, staring silently at her phone. Her fingers twitch anxiously as she drafts out her nth text message before finally deciding to send it. It's not long, and she's a little embarrassed that it took so much time to put together. She wishes that she was better at talking sometimes, so that she can properly express her feelings.
[Kiyoko]: Yukie-chan, I hope that together we can be good friends for Iwaizumi. If you're free, we can go for yakiniku next Sunday. Please feel free to bring some friends along. I know Bokuto-san particularly enjoys barbecue.
She isn't sure whether to be surprised or not at Shirofuku responding quickly.
[Yukie]: Of course! I'm not sure if bringing Bokuto is a good idea, though. Things got slightly unpleasant the last time he and Iwaizumi-san were in the same room. Should I tell him about Oikawa? o(╥﹏╥)o
[Yukie]: I know it's not up to me to blab about Oikawa, but I feel like they'll never get along unless he knows, and I do kinda want them to be friends, y'know? (∩︵∩)
[Kiyoko]: Don't tell him completely. Just tell him that something tragic happened and that Iwaizumi is still suffering from it. He'll understand; Bokuto-san is a kind person.
[Yukie]: ok! ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ
Iwaizumi doesn't have any classes today. It's a cold Tuesday morning, and the skies are grey. He throws on his favorite jacket, the one Oikawa lovingly buried his face in during the Shiratorizawa vs. Karasuno match when an obsessive ex-girlfriend walked past the arena, and heads out to the florist. There's one nearby, he remembers, that's owned by a young woman with white hair. He's passed by a few times—she always wears a surgical mask to cover the bottom half of her face.
Before he steps inside, he looks up at the sign. It's called Oishi Florist. Oishi must be her family name.
The bell above the door rings when he enters, alerting the young owner to his presence.
"Welcome," the girl, Oishi, greets halfheartedly. "Can I help you with anything?"
Iwaizumi inquires, "Are you selling any bluebells?"
"We do have some, yes."
"Could I get them in a bouquet, please?"
"Of course. Just give me a moment."
He hears the bell ring but doesn't turn around.
A tall boy appears beside him, giving him a thoughtful glance before returning to facing forward, his posture relaxed. He has hair that reminds Iwaizumi of a rooster, though is demeanor is ultimately feline-like.
"Excuse me," the boy says. "Is Ryoka in?"
Iwaizumi raises a brow. "Ryoka?"
"Ah, sorry. I meant Oishi."
"She's in the back." This must be her boyfriend or something.
"I see, I see..." When Oishi doesn't come back within five minutes, the boy turns to Iwaizumi. "Hey, I think I've seen you around before. Do you go to Todai?"
"I do, actually. Law. Though I don't have class today."
"Cool. I'm Kuroo Tetsurou, by the way. I do chemistry."
"So, who are you buying flowers for?" A smirk slowly makes it way onto Kuroo's sly face. "A girl?"
Iwaizumi can't help but smile a little. "A boy, actually."
"Ah. Someone from school? If so, then I probably know them. Wait—is it that guy Oujiyama who won't shut up about tennis? He does law as well."
Iwaizumi shakes his head. "He's not around anymore."
Kuroo falters. "Oh. I'm sorry."
"Tell me one thing—is Oujiyama handsome?"
Oishi comes back with Iwaizumi's bouquet of bluebells, and he thanks her politely for it.
"Speaking as a guy who's very much into chicks, yes," Kuroo answers after some deliberation. "In a kind of obnoxious way though."
Iwaizumi smirks. "Then I'm sure Oikawa would appreciate it." With that, he leaves, not noticing how Kuroo startles.
"Wait," Kuroo mutters, earning a strange look from Oishi. "Oikawa?"
The train ride is surprisingly peaceful. There's not many people commuting from Tokyo to Sendai today. The only other people sharing Iwaizumi's car is an old man reading a newspaper and a mother and daughter that are talking quietly.
He's not wearing his headphones today, simply staring out the window and watching the scenery fly by.
One hand is clutching a bouquet of bluebells. His phone vibrates occasionally with messages from the group chat, but he doesn't check them. He's a little scared of what's going to be there, that he will readily admit to himself. After all, Hanamaki had sprung an unpleasant surprise for him the other week, sending that photo of Oikawa onto the old group chat.
Occasionally, he looks at it, and he still cries every time, overcome by the same tremendous sense of loss he has been feeling in spades since Oikawa died. And it's not the nice kind—it's loud, gross, and ugly.
Oddly enough, he finds it hard to remember what his life was like before Oikawa died sometimes, even if he remembers their moments together clearly. It's like life restarted for him at that point, even when his world stopped moving.
Iwaizumi blinks, and the scenery changes from buildings to a field.
"Iwa-chan," Oikawa is sobbing. There's a forming bruise on his cheek, and his hair has been ruffled aggressively by someone. He starts to cough, choking accidentally on his own mucus. He's such an ugly crier, but Iwaizumi doesn't mind. Usually. If it's about something stupid, he'll definitely hit him.
"Oi," Iwaizumi says, trying to sound gentle. But he's only eight years old, and it comes off a little more roughly than he intended. "Who did this to you, huh, Tooru?"
Oikawa perks up ever so slightly. He likes it when Iwaizumi uses his first name, which is why he reserves it for situations like these. "It was Takahashi," he sniffles. "'Cause I wouldn't share my volleyball with him."
"Where's the volleyball?"
"He took it before he hit me."
Iwaizumi sees red. "Where is he?" he demands.
He ends up having his first fistfight with a boy who is both broader and taller than him. Somehow, Iwaizumi manages to overpower him and scare him into submission, though he loses a tooth in the process. It hurts, but at least he gets Oikawa's volleyball back, and Takahashi won't be bothering him again anytime soon.
But when Oikawa realizes this, he cries even harder. Snot and tears are dribbling down his face, and he's hiccuping.
"What's wrong?" Iwaizumi asks desperately, not quite comprehending why he was still so upset, if even more so than before. "I got your ball back, and I nailed him in the nose, too!"
"Iwa-chan got hurt because of me!" Oikawa is bawling, rubbing his eyes. "I didn't want you to get hurt!"
The ball drops to the ground as Iwaizumi pats him on the back awkwardly. When he doesn't cease his crying, Iwaizumi leans into him and embraces him tightly. "Hey," he says fiercely. "It doesn't matter, okay? Nobody hits my best friend and gets away with it."
Oikawa is nodding slightly, and it's a little funny how his cheeks are puffed out as he tries to stop crying. "Okay. I love you, Iwa-chan."
"Yeah, yeah. Don't get all sappy on me now. Yuck, is that snot on my shirt?!"
Iwaizumi bites the inside of his cheek.
The train makes good time, and before he knows it, he's back in Sendai. He's meeting up with Hanamaki and Matsukawa for lunch at one o'clock—it's barely eleven o'clock, so there's a considerable amount of time in between.
He's almost out of the train station when he bumps into a girl who's also holding flowers.
"Sorry," he apologizes quickly before startling. He knows this girl. "... Makoshima-san?"
Makoshima stares up at him. "Iwaizumi-san."
Her name is Makoshima Naoko. One of Oikawa's exes. One of the nicer ones, thankfully. Oikawa had liked her more than she had liked him, though, which had automatically put her in his 'somewhat unlikable' books back in high school.
"I'll get out of your hair," Iwaizumi says, trying to skirt around her. But she seems to have the same idea, and they end up blocking each other's way.
They make it in the end, though, and Iwaizumi thinks he isn't going to see her again anytime soon when she suddenly asks, "Are those for Oikawa?"
Iwaizumi isn't sure how to feel about her using his first name so casually. "They are," he replies evenly.
"I see," Makoshima murmurs. She clutches her flowers tighter. "Goodbye, Iwaizumi-san." Briskly, she strides deeper into the station. Iwaizumi watches her leave until she's completely vanished into the crowd.
There's some sort of strange understanding between them, as well as a myriad of unspoken words. She knows who his flowers are for, and he knows who her flowers are for, too.
Maybe, in another world, they could have been friends. But in this one, she is just the ex-girlfriend, and he is the boy who took her place.
Iwaizumi wonders if she still cries over her parents.
(Does it ever stop hurting?)
Oikawa's family is well-off. His grave is in a more secluded area of the memorial park, where there's more privacy for his soul to rest. At first, Iwaizumi just stares at the headstone. It's surreal, even he's been here more than once.
1994 - 2012
There's a short epitaph on the stone, too, one that Iwaizumi has memorized by heart. He brushes his hand over it, feeling the bumps and indents of the inscription.
"Hey," he says. His voice is steadier than he expects as he lays the flowers on his grave. Iwaizumi takes a deep breath, and for a moment, he feels like he's been dunked underwater. It's ice cold. "I miss you... Tooru." He sits down. The ground is wet. It must have rained here last night.
Iwaizumi doesn't care.
He draws his legs to his chest. "I wouldn't mind, you know. If you came to visit sometime." He barks out a watery laugh. "I mean—sure, you'd scare the shit out of me if you did. But... the offer's still on the table."
I'd give anything to see you again.
"I know I always told you to shut up. Because you were always talking about something or another. I'm glad you never listened to me. It's too quiet when you don't talk."
It's too quiet now that you're not here anymore.
He doesn't know how long he sits there for. When he finally stands, his bones hurt from the cold, and his hands are numb. It's not quite one o'clock yet, so Iwaizumi lets his feet take him around.
Somehow, he ends up standing in front of Oikawa's house.
Or what used to be his house. What used to be the Oikawa household.
There's an old couple living there now.
According to his mother, the Oikawa family had moved to a different prefecture—somewhere far away—after Oikawa's funeral. She hadn't heard from them since.
A part of Iwaizumi wants to hate them for it. Because Oikawa is buried here. How could they just leave like that? Did they even love him? But he knows he's being unfair. The way Oikawa's sister had broken down at his funeral in raw grief is something Iwaizumi can never forget.
Remembering her shattered expression makes his legs wobble, and, briefly, he's worried that he'll sink down to his knees and just cry. But he doesn't. He pulls himself together and forces himself to look away and go somewhere else.
Two houses down the street is his house.
His mother will be happy to see him.
Nervously, he loiters outside for a minute before walking away.
Best not to disturb her. He... doesn't feel like seeing her anyway.
The next place he finds himself at is in front of a small, family-owned bakery. His gut wrenches like he's just been punched when he recognizes it for what it is.
"If you eat too much milk bread, your teeth will fall out," Iwaizumi warns.
"There's no such thing as too much milk bread," Oikawa retorts childishly, sticking his tongue out at him. "Come on, let's go in~!"
The bell jingles as they enter.
"One loaf of milk bread, please!"
"Oikawa! One of those loaves is enough to feed a family!"
"What are you, Iwa-chan, my mom?"
He punches Oikawa in the arm.
Iwaizumi's about to leave when the door opens, and he locks eyes with the old baker, Matsuo Daisuke. He looks older than Iwaizumi remembers, and it hasn't even been that long since they last saw each other. His crow's feet are more pronounced, and his face is a little sadder, too.
Recognition lights up Matsuo's eyes. "Iwaizumi-san?" He sounds disbelieving.
Iwaizumi swallows a lump in his throat. "Matsuo-san."
Slowly, as if he can barely comprehend his appearance, Matsuo holds open the door for him. "Why don't you come inside?"
And he doesn't know what the hell is wrong with him, but Iwaizumi leaves the store with a loaf of family-sized milk bread hugged against his chest. He doesn't even like milk bread. Not the way that Oikawa did. It's not Matsuo's fault. He didn't even try to sell him anything, Iwaizumi had just... snapped when he saw the plastic-wrapped milk bread on display.
It's almost one o'clock.
He starts heading down to the small cafe they've agreed to meet at.
The way there is longer than he can recall, and more lonely, too. People are at work, or at school, or at home. Iwaizumi reaches for his headphones, which he normally keeps slung around his neck, but they're not there.
His arm falls to his side.
When he arrives, Hanamaki and Matsukawa are both already there, their commute having been easier than his. As soon as they see him, they wave, smiling.
"Whoa, what's that you got there?" Matsukawa says as soon as Iwaizumi sits down, noticing the bread in his arms. He grows a little more somber when he realizes. "Is that...?"
Iwaizumi nods, then sighs in frustration. "Don't ask. It... It was an impulse buy, okay?"
They exchange a glance.
Then Hanamaki asks, "How're you holding up?"
Iwaizumi shrugs listlessly. "As well as I can be."
"At least you have friends in uni," points out Matsukawa, stirring his coffee. "You want any drinks?"
"Nah, I'm good." He's not a big fan of coffee anyway.
"Speaking of friends," Hanamaki starts. They're all eager to steer the subject of conversation away from what hurts most.
They talk. It's a bit of a dream. They talk about uni life, relationships, volleyball. They talk about everything except Oikawa. Iwaizumi learns that Matsukawa is now dating a cute girl called Aimi, and that Hanamaki actually takes his studies pretty seriously—more seriously than he did in high school, anyway. ("I'm not going to waste my life being held back in uni of all places. I have things to do, places to see.")
"How's law?" Matsukawa asks.
Iwaizumi groans. "Doing my head in."
"That's what you get for picking such an intensive subject," Hanamaki mock-scolds, wagging his finger in front of his face. Iwaizumi slaps his hand away, chuckling. "What? You know I'm right."
"So what? Oikawa always thought he was right, too, and that didn't stop me from doing anything." The words come out in a rush that he barely registers until he says it.
There's a rumbling sound from Matsukawa's chest—the beginnings of a laugh. "Never change, Iwaizumi. He probably would have floated into space if you weren't there to puncture his over-inflated head all the time." He pats Iwaizumi's shoulder. "We appreciate you, man."
"Knowing him, he would have liked that," jokes Hanamaki, Matsukawa nodding slightly.
"Yeah," Iwaizumi chimes. "Anything to kick-start his career in space exploration."
Slowly, the rowdy guffaws from before are reduced to tired chuckles. Matsukawa drinks slowly from his cup, savoring the taste of his coffee and seemingly at peace with the world.
"Hey, guys," Hanamaki abruptly says. There's a tremble in his voice that they barely catch. "I really miss him, y'know."
Iwaizumi drops his gaze. "We all do."
Matsukawa puts his cup back into its saucer. "Is it just me, or..." He looks out the window, where its starting to rain—just a few drops for now. "Does it get a little... quiet sometimes? Maybe I'm just not used to it. Is it because we're grown up now, or is it because...?"
"It's not just you." He doesn't say it, but Iwaizumi is secretly relieved. It's not just him. There are people who know what it's like to live in a world without Oikawa. "Shit. I didn't bring an umbrella."
"I'll walk you to the station," Hanamaki offers.
Matsukawa heads off in one direction ("Ma sent me to do errands after this. As long as I'm living under her roof, I'll always be a slave, eh?") while Hanamaki and Iwaizumi walk to the station, sharing a large black umbrella. It's such a minute detail, but Iwaizumi notices it anyway.
"What happened to that stupid yellow umbrella with the tangerine pattern on it?" he asks. "You used to carry it around all the time."
Hanamaki merely shrugs, weakly. "Dunno. Left it in the closet. Or something. Dunno. I just dunno."
Carefully, Iwaizumi treads, trying not to sound accusing and wincing when it comes out more pointed than intended. "It was a birthday present from Oikawa, wasn't it?"
Thunder rumbles, and lightning splits the sky as Hanamaki's grip on the handle tightens. "I know that," he grounds out bitterly. "You think I don't fucking know that?" His face scrunches up, and he hides his eyes behind his hand, almost guiltily. "God, I don't need to hear this from you. What do you want me to say? What do you want me to fucking say, Hajime?!"
The background fades into nothing, and Iwaizumi can only stand there in the rain helplessly as Hanamaki lowers himself into a squat, burying his face into his arms, his shoulders wracking occasionally. There's a small gap between the crook of his elbow and his temple—Iwaizumi can see the tears flowing out of his eyes, pooling at his chin and falling onto the path—a disguised raindrop.
"Sorry," Hanamaki wheezes at one point. "Just—just give me a moment. Fuck. Fuck."
Rain slides down his face, but Iwaizumi waits patiently, resting a hand on his friend's shaking bicep.
The rest of the walk is silent. At first, Hanamaki hovers his umbrella over Iwaizumi's head, but there's no point because he's already soaking wet. So, as if to join him in some sort of self-punishment, Hanamaki folds the umbrella away and lets the rain into his clothes, too. Iwaizumi calls him an idiot, but he doesn't mean it. He has a feeling that Hanamaki understands.
"It was hideous," Hanamaki opines when they're under cover. He's shaking the rain off his black umbrella, but doesn't make any motion to try to dry his clothes. He slicks back his hair—he can do that now; it's longer than it was in high school, but only by a bit. He laughs, but its mirthless. "Trust Oikawa to get a guy something like that for his eighteenth."
"You should've seen what he got me."
"Wasn't it that jack-in-the-box with an alien inside?"
"Hah! You remember?"
"Kind of unforgettable." Hanamaki secures his umbrella, smiling fondly. "He's a pretty unforgettable guy."
"That he is," Iwaizumi agrees quietly. Thunder rocks the clouds as he checks his phone, which is thankfully not damaged by the rain. "I should get going."
"Yeah. I'll see you around."
He doesn't realize that he's been crying until when Hanamaki is gone and he's in the train and catches a glimpse of his reflection—of his red, puffy eyes.
The last he sees of Sendai Station is the memorial set up for Makoshima's parents.
There are flowers.
Iwaizumi eats the milk bread for both lunch and dinner (cancelling Shimizu's cooking session) and ends up throwing up in the middle of the night from the overpowering flavors that still linger in his mouth.
In the dark, he glares wearily at the upright remainders of the loaf sitting on the table. "Piece of shit."
It sags almost apologetically, and something like guilt actually eats at him.
"No wonder Oikawa liked you."
His head lands on the pillow.
"You two deserve each other."
It's then he realizes that he's talking to bread of all things, and he wants to laugh, cry, and maybe both at the absurdity of it all. Things like this aren't supposed to happen. Between the two of them—him and Oikawa—he was always the grounded one. The one who pulled Oikawa back down to Earth when he flew too far into the sky in his insistent reaching for the stars.
But there is no more Oikawa for Iwaizumi to lay down the law of gravity on, and he knows this all too well as a punch in the gut and a weight on his shoulders that he cannot ignore every single day.
All he can do is grit his teeth and dig his heels into the earth, like he's always done.
Later in the week, Iwaizumi receives a text from the only neighbor he knows for the first time.
[? ? ?]: This is Shimizu. I was wondering if you're free this Sunday?
[Hajime]: I'm free. What's up?
[Shimizu]: I'm going to yakiniku for dinner with Shirofuku Yukie and a few others. You should join us.
Yakiniku? With a 'few others'?
[Hajime]: How many is a few?
[Shimizu]: It will be me, Yukie, you, and three others. Supposedly. Yukie has yet to confirm the details, but I doubt she'll invite any more people.
Iwaizumi, in the middle of a homework assignment, twirls his pen in his fingers. Three others... that's not a bad number. Not overwhelming, but not underwhelming either. It'll be like a mixer, almost.
Not that he's ever attended a mixer before.
[Hajime]: Alright, I'll come. Thanks for telling me.
[Shimizu]: You're welcome.
"Holy shit, he's annoying." Kuroo bites irritably into his taiyaki, which is unfortunately cold. He's lounging in the apartment he shares with Bokuto, curled up like a cat in the fluffy armchair with a blanket half-thrown over him. "What the fuck, microwave? Why would you do this to me?"
"Dude, who are you complaining about again?" Bokuto calls from the kitchen. "I kind of lost track after the first two hours."
"More like the first fifteen minutes! Don't think I didn't spot that glazed over look you get in your eyes when you're bored."
Bokuto appears, looking contemplative as he holds two bags of chips. "Lightly salted or barbecue?"
"Chuck me that barbecue shit, I'm pissy right now."
Bokuto does, then proceeds to practically jump into the sofa, stretching the entire length of his body out and yawning. His legs dangle over the armrest, but he doesn't seem bothered by it at all. "You gonna tell me what's wrong?" He opens his bag of lightly salted chips with a satisfying pop that makes him grin widely.
"I've been telling you what's wrong for the past two hours, bro."
"... Wanna do it again?"
Kuroo hurls a pillow at him, but guffaws when Bokuto all but spikes it down in a fit of panic. "Volleyball meathead!"
"Like you have any room to talk!"
"I've been talking for two fucking hours—okay, you know what? Let's just leave it at this," Kuroo inhales deeply before saying, "I want to shove Oujiyama Hideo's tennis racket so far up his ass that the handle comes out of his mouth just to get him to shut the fuck up. There. Two hours of ranting contained into a single sentence." As Bokuto laughs and tries to be understanding (he's not doing a very good job in Kuroo's opinion), Kuroo whips out his phone. He has a few texts he hasn't gotten back to yet, and Bokuto is currently occupied with trying to eat and chortle at the same time so now's a good time as any.
The first text is from his girlfriend, Oishi Ryoka, who he replies to with cutesy emojis that he otherwise won't be caught dead using with anybody else except maybe his little cousin who is eleven years old and likes to have tea parties with her dolls.
The second is from Shirofuku—an invitation to yakiniku this Sunday night. Kuroo already knows about this because Bokuto told him earlier, so he just sends a thumbs-up to her.
"Hey, Bo," Kuroo says without looking up from his phone. "Do you know who else is coming?"
"Huh? Well, there's Shimizu-san, Karasuno's old manager—oh yeah!" Bokuto deflates a little. "And... Iwaizumi Hajime." He turns around so that he's facing away from Kuroo. "Gurrph."
Iwaizumi Hajime? Kuroo's eyes widen as he remembers the flower shop and a head of spiky hair. Isn't he...? "You don't like him?"
"No, but I'm worried that he doesn't like me."
"Why? What did you do?"
Bokuto spins back around, looking monumentally more unhappy than he was just moments ago. "I kept asking when I shouldn't have. Even Yukie told me to stop, but I didn't 'cause I wanted to know. I thought he would be another Tsukki... or something..."
Kuroo has a sneaking suspicion what sore subject Bokuto pushed Iwaizumi about. It makes his heart sink a little.
"And then today," Bokuto continues. "Yukie sent me a text telling me why he doesn't play."
"She did?" Shirofuku isn't the type to dole out such sensitive information freely—she has too much heart and too much tact to do that.
"Yeah. She told me that something horrible happened to Iwaizumi and that volleyball reminds him of those bad times." He pushes his face into his pillow, as if he's trying to suffocate his regrets.
Ah. So he doesn't know about Oikawa. Briefly, Kuroo looks out the window, which is stained with raindrops. "I met him the other day. He was buying flowers at Ryoka's shop. It was for someone very dear to him that he lost." Those were bluebells, right? What do bluebells mean in the flower language? He's actually a little surprised that Bokuto is unaware of the death of Aobajosai's former captain. It was mentioned in every single volleyball magazine the month it happened (and in the following months, too), though he can't put it past Bokuto to skip all the sections that aren't relevant to him or Fukurodani.
"Flowers?" Bokuto sits up. "For what? Does it have something to do with the Incident?" Kuroo can practically hear the capitalization in Bokuto's voice, though he supposes that it's warranted in this case.
Kuroo shrugs, even if he knows the answer. "Regardless, you shouldn't avoid him just because of this. Just apologize and move on. Quick and easy, bro. You don't even have to be friends. Just don't leave it to stew, or it'll start to smell."
"What is this, food?"
"If you think about it, relationships and food are pretty similar. And good food is basically a door-opener for a good relationship. You've got this, Bo. I'd slap you on the back in encouragement but you're too far away." Kuroo holds a chip up. "Have a chip instead." He flicks it toward Bokuto, and it lands on his feet. The next five minutes constitute of his hyena-like laughter filling the room as Bokuto attempts to maneuver the chip to his mouth with as little movement as possible.
His world is loud, lively, and chaotic and he loves it.
Going into this, Iwaizumi isn't entirely sure what to expect. But whatever expectations he has are thrown out the window in a marvelous defenestration when he walks into the restaurant with Shirofuku to see Bokuto pretending to be a walrus by inserting his chopsticks into his mouth. The rooster-head guy from Oishi's is pointing and laughing at Bokuto's weird comedy act like it's the funniest thing in the world while the dark-haired waiter pouring them water has a look of long-suffering plastered on his face.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Bokuto wiggles the chopsticks in his mouth at the waiter. "Akaashi, look!"
"Bokuto-san, please, I am working."
"Guess what I am!"
"Bokuto-san, this is a public eating establishment, so please remove the eating utensils from your mouth before the family sitting at the next table over asks to speak to my manager."
Luckily, Kuroo decides to intervene, and Shirofuku is giggling as she and Iwaizumi get seated.
"Kuroo Tetsurou, right?" Iwaizumi says, sitting down next to him.
"That's right. Surprised you still remember."
It's hard to forget such atrocious hair, but Iwaizumi doesn't tell him that. He's more concerned about why Bokuto suddenly winks at Akaashi and tells him, "The usual."
It's clear from Kuroo's face that he doesn't know what Bokuto is talking about, but Shirofuku seems to be in the know considering how her face lights up. "Ohoho, we're doing that tonight, are we? Brave, brave."
"Something that you know that I don't?" Kuroo gasps. "Yukie-san, I'm shocked, surprised, and scared. Not necessarily in that order."
Iwaizumi's brows rise. "Do I want to know?"
"It's a secret~" trills Shirofuku, making a shushing motion with her finger. "I don't want to spoil the fun right now, but you'll find out soon enough."
"Really?" Akaashi sighs. "When I said I owed you a favor, I didn't mean I'd bend over backwards just to get it done."
"I didn't say no, so stop."
"My, Akaashi is getting bolder these days, isn't he?" Shirofuku wiggles her eyebrows as Akaashi ducks off to somewhere else. "Would you have anything to do with that, Bokuto?"
The door slides open, and Shimizu arrives in a casual ensemble with someone else behind her. The girl following her has long white hair impeccable makeup—it takes a second for Iwaizumi to realize that the supermodel is the tired girl from the other day, Oishi.
"Shimizu-san," Iwaizumi calls, lifting an arm. "Over here!"
"Ah, my cute girlfriend has arrived!" Kuroo adds, grinning. "Ryoka, you don't look like you've been sleeping at four in the morning!"
"Hello, everyone," Shimizu greets with a smile.
At the same time, Ryoka glares at her boyfriend. "Shut your trap, ingrate."
"What did I do to deserve you?"
"I should be asking myself that."
The night goes on. Iwaizumi doesn't interact much with the others, but he's perceptive enough to suspect that Bokuto wants to say something to him, even when it looks like all he's doing is staring intently at the meat sizzling on the grill as if it'll make it cook faster. The side glances Kuroo keeps throwing him is another tell, and the rooster-head isn't exactly conspicuous when he elbows Bokuto in the side multiple times.
It's when Kuroo snatches a fatty piece of meat for the grill and gives Bokuto a really charred one that the latter finally caves.
"Alright, alright! I just needed to psyche myself up!"
"For an apology?"
Bokuto twitches his fingers, trying to explain. "It's... y'know... geh!"
"Speak Japanese, you Horned Owl Bastard."
"Swap seats with me, bro."
They do, and Bokuto ends up squashed up next to Iwaizumi.
Iwaizumi blinks at him. "Hi."
Bokuto blinks back. "Hey. Um, I just wanted to apologize. For, y'know, the other day? Wasn't my best moment, bro. Honest."
"Wasn't my best moment either," he replies honestly. "Why don't we just leave in the past?"
"Sounds good! Hey, have you tried the beef tongue? How 'bout the marinated oyster blades?"
Iwaizumi's amusement grows, the corner of his lips quirking up, as Bokuto proceeds to pile cuts of meat after cuts of meat into his bowl while chattering relentlessly and describing the exquisite flavor and texture of each cut. It's his way of extending friendship toward him—by introducing him to his passion. He tried to do the same the first time they met, Iwaizumi realizes, when all Bokuto wanted to talk about was anything related to volleyball.
"Wait, seriously?!" Iwaizumi barely manages to hold in an ugly snort when Bokuto relays to him the time that he and Kuroo tried to ride pillion across Tokyo in order to watch an international volleyball match (which happened last week, funnily enough). The story ended with them falling headfirst into the Sumida River when a woman's skirt flying up in the wind distracted them, testament to why having two people on one bike was illegal. "Japan lost anyway, so you didn't miss much."
"Riding pillion?" Oishi cuts in icily, making Kuroo gulp. "Why is this the first I'm hearing of this?"
"I did not drag you out of a toxic industry just for you to catch hypothermia in a fucking river, Kuro."
"Someone's in trouble~!" Shirofuku sing-songs, making funny gestures with her fingers. "Kiyoko-chan, be sure to record if Oishi-san throws the mini cactus she keeps in her coat pocket at him."
Shimizu, otherwise expressionless, gave a thumbs-up.
Iwaizumi deadpans. "A mini what now?"
"Shh," hushes Shirofuku. "There are some things better left unsaid."
"Just like the pillion story," Kuroo bemoans.
"I thought it was funny!"
"Only you think that, you Horned Owl Bastard!"
"Not true! It's super funny! Right, Iwaizumi?"
Iwaizumi shrugs nonchalantly, but it's hard to fight off the smile on his face. "It was pretty funny."
Kuroo grumbles, "Why don't we ask Akaashi if he thinks its funny?"
Bokuto freezes. "You wouldn't—"
Akaashi appears as if he's been summoned. "What?" he says with all the enthusiasm of a person who works in customer service. Iwaizumi can't help but notice that he's carrying a tray of wine glasses on his head.
"Do... you need help with that?" Iwaizumi offers.
But Akaashi shakes his head. "I've had worse."
"I can attest to that," Shirofuku affirms. "It's a wonder how he even made it to his third year without any grey hairs."
Akaashi slowly raises his eyebrow at Bokuto's wilting, but overlooks it to give the table two bottles of what is undeniably alcohol. Iwaizumi almost jolts at the sight, sitting so blatantly out in the open on a table full of minors. Shiftily, Akaashi glances around. "Be responsible," he says crisply. "If you do get plastered—and why do I get the feeling that you will?—do it where nobody can see you. As in not in here, got it?"
"Dude," Kuroo emphasizes. "You're insane. Who are you and what have you done to Akaashi?"
"No one's actually considering this, right?" Iwaizumi demands. He stares extra hard and extra long at Bokuto. "Right?"
He doesn't realize Shimizu is gone from the table until she actually returns. She looks at the alcohol. "Count me out. I have class tomorrow, and I'm not going hungover."
"Come on, Iwaizumi!" Bokuto slaps him on the back. "Trust me, dude, you'll be safe with us! I've done this before, and so has Yukie. We won't let anything happen to you. Where's your sense of adventure?"
There's a little bridge that Oikawa likes to cross on the way home. Below is a river full of koi fish and lily pads. Sometimes, he just stands there for an hour or so, feeding the fish with bread. It's not milk bread, because he says that the sugar content is probably bad for them (also because he doesn't share his favorite food with anything or anyone except Iwaizumi).
Iwaizumi accompanies him there all the time.
Today, Oikawa is humming a song under his breath; Iwaizumi is beside him, sneaking glances at his side profile occasionally. It's the beginning of their third year in high school—their last year to head to Nationals.
"Don't lean so far over the railing," Iwaizumi scolds when Oikawa does just that. He's looking for something, but Iwaizumi doesn't know what. "Oi, what are you looking at?"
"There's a gold and white one," Oikawa says abruptly, a grin on his face. "Whenever I feed that one, something good happens to me."
"You sound like my grandmother."
Oikawa laughs before stopping and squinting in the distance. "There it is!" Iwaizumi sees gold glint under the sunlight. "Dammit, it's so far away... Why isn't coming here?" He looks down at the last chunk of bread in his hand. Then, without, warning, he throws it as far and hard as he can, his body falling forward as he does so.
Oikawa lands with a splash into the river. Cursing, Iwaizumi chucks his bag next to Oikawa's on the bridge and jumps in after him. What if he hit his head? What he snapped his neck? What if he drowned?
"Tooru, you idiot!" Iwaizumi shouts when the brown-haired boy resurfaces sheepishly. He's unharmed—just wet. When Oikawa begins to guffaw, a vein pops in Iwaizumi's cheek. "What were you thinking?! You could've died!"
"But I didn't!" Oikawa wades over to him, a grin stretched wide on his face. "I can't believe Iwa-chan jumped after me."
"Of course I jumped after you! Don't fucking scare me like that again."
"Alright, I'm sorry. Don't be so grumpy~ Where's your sense of adventure? Is it dead?" Teasingly, Oikawa lifts a finger to tap his temple. "Like your brain?"
Iwaizumi punches him in the shoulder, making him whine. His heart is still racing, pumping adrenaline. "You're the one who's about to be dead if you don't shut up. And my sense of adventure is perfectly fine, thank you. I'm sorry if I don't consider somersaulting over a bridge adventurous."
"Drinking underage and puking my guts up aren't exactly what I consider adventurous," Iwaizumi tells Bokuto, dryly. As if to make a point, he stares into Bokuto's golden eyes while taking a sip of his perfectly legal cup of water.
"Keep this one," Akaashi advises Bokuto. "He actually has more than three brain cells to rub together."
"Was that an indirect attack at me?" Kuroo huffs, pointing accusingly at Akaashi. "Because I have at least four brain cells, for your information."
Oishi slaps his hand down.
"Ow! What was that for? I'm right."
Chairs screech as they're pushed backward, everybody standing up. Oishi picks up the tab, easily dismissing everyone's protests ("You just want to show off how fat your wallet is, don't you?" Kuroo jabs), and they all leave the restaurant. Iwaizumi looks back one last time to see Akaashi staring after them before cleaning up their table.
"So, where to?" Shirofuku chirps. She's holding both bottles of alcohol with a mischievous grin on her face.
"I'm going home," Shimizu announces, turning around to leave.
Iwaizumi falters, unsure who to go with. Despite how thoroughly he rejected the notion earlier, there's a probing curiosity in his brain.
Where's your sense of adventure? Oikawa and Bokuto ask.
"Hey, hey," Bokuto calls to Iwaizumi. "You coming or not?"
"We won't die," Shirofuku adds. There's a pause. "Probably."
Grumbling resignedly, Iwaizumi trudges after them after saying goodbye to Shimizu. "No one's dying tonight. I'm making sure of it."
"You can play supervisor with me then," Oishi decides.
Kuroo looks at her. "I know for a fact that you can probably out-drink everyone here except Shirofuku."
Bokuto leads them through the city until they arrive at a hillside overlooking the Sumida River. The skyline is beautiful from here, Iwaizumi admits, especially when the moon shining down on the water. The only noise is the sound of lapping water and Kuroo cackling as Bokuto retells the story of how they rode pillion into the river to anyone who is willing to listen. Their voices fade to white noise as Iwaizumi sits on the grass, admiring the view. He's never been here before.
Shirofuku sits next to him, still holding the alcohol. They don't have glasses, so they're probably going to be drinking directly from the bottle. "Nice, ain't it?" she prompts with that fox-like grin of hers.
"It is," Iwaizumi agrees, glancing at her. "So you've done this before?"
"A couple of times. Don't worry, we won't be getting wasted tonight. A little buzzed, maybe, but hey."
"Yukie!" Bokuto says cheerfully, plopping down next her. "Pass!"
She does, and he unscrews the gap and starts drinking.
Kuroo and Oishi sit, too—surprisingly, the former seats himself next to Iwaizumi, and not Bokuto. Naturally, Oishi sits nearest to her boyfriend. "So," he drawls, giving Iwaizumi a shit-eating grin. "First time?"
He shakes his head. "There was another time—after graduation. Why?" Iwaizumi smirks. "Were you hoping to be my drinking senpai?"
"Got 'em," Oishi intones as Kuroo laughs.
"We did that, too," Kuroo recounts wistfully. "I taunted Yakkun into having a drinking competition with me. He got alcohol poisoning." When Iwaizumi arches a brow, Kuroo says, "What? Am I not allowed to be happy? I won. Anyway—if you're not new to this, why were you so adverse to this, hm?"
Iwaizumi grimaces. "The last time I drank, we ended up plastered and sobbing on the floor. But," he adds when Kuroo opens his mouth, "At least nobody got alcohol poisoned."
Kuroo considers him. "Touché."
"Ahh~!" Shirofuku sighs happily after chugging almost half the bottle. "That hit the spot!"
"Oi, Shirofuku, save some for the rest of us," Kuroo says, reaching out to grab it from her. But Bokuto grabs it first and passes it to Iwaizumi.
At first, he just stares at the green bottle with an inconspicuous white label on it. Then Iwaizumi sighs, snatching it from Bokuto. "Fuck it."
"That's the spirit!" Shirofuku and Bokuto cheer.
At the same time, Oishi turns to Kuroo with an unlit cigarette in her mouth. "You got a lighter?"
"You smoke and you're single," he retorts.
"You dirty bastard."
The moon shines down on them.
Iwaizumi wakes up in his apartment with a headache and a dry mouth. It's not quite a hangover, but almost there. Groaning, he rolls around in his futon, extending his hand outside of the warm bedroll to try and reach for the water canteen he keeps nearby.
Once he's hydrated himself, he glares sullenly at the ceiling.
"How unlike you, Iwa-chan," he can almost hear Oikawa teasing him while doing that infuriating wink and peace sign he loves so much.
Last night is a little blurry, but he remembers what they talked about. It was mostly bullshit until Bokuto, probably the most tipsy out of all of them, blurted out something about not knowing how to ask out Akaashi, the waiter from the yakiniku restaurant.
"What if I ruin everything?" Bokuto groans into his hands, his hair practically drooping. "What if he thinks I'm weird, bro?" He shakes Kuroo. "Bro!"
"Just do it anyway," Iwaizumi grumbles. "You'll regret it more if you say nothing."
"Why did I say that?" mutters Iwaizumi as he climbs out of his futon, yawning. A knock on the door has him waking up a little more. "Coming!" He's expecting Shimizu, forgetting that she has morning classes today, and is surprised when Kuroo's the one standing outside his door and leering at him. The rooster-head, wearing a dark grey tee and red shorts today, is taller than him by some considerable inches. Iwaizumi rubs his face, sighing exasperatedly. "How do you even know where I live?"
"It was me and Ryoka who carried you back here," Kuroo explains.
"Yep. I don't know if you remember, but Bokuto passed out after challenging you to an arm wrestle, so Shirofuku took him home. You won, by the way."
"Of course I did," Iwaizumi says wryly. Then he frowns. "Wait—why are you here again?"
"Boom." Kuroo lifts up a paper bag that smells delightful as well as a steaming cup. "I brought you doughnuts and coffee."
Iwaizumi stares at him in disbelief. "You didn't have to. Seriously. Do you have an ulterior motive?"
"What do you mean? I'm always this kind."
Iwaizumi invites him inside, and they sit at the table on pillows. Kuroo pushes the cup of coffee toward him while snatching a jelly doughnut for himself. Iwaizumi helps himself to a classic cinnamon one, blowing before biting into it. It's warm and fluffy and just what he needed after a night of drinking what was moderately concentrated alcohol.
"Why are you really here?" Iwaizumi asks after his finishes his doughnut.
Kuroo shrugs. It's rather listless, and it occurs to him that he's probably recovering from his own mini-hangover, too. "How much do you remember of last night?"
"Last night, huh? Hmm... Up to the point where Bokuto complained about dating Akaashi."
"Ah, got it." Kuroo waits for him to finish drinking his sip of coffee. "I guess you don't remember then."
"... Remember what?"
"Oikawa," Kuroo says simply, and Iwaizumi stiffens.
"What the hell—"
"It wasn't anything bad, per se."
Iwaizumi scowls. "Kuroo, what did I do?"
"Ehh... You sort of... cried? A lot. You're quite a sad drunk in any case. Almost didn't believe your graduation story until that happened."
For a moment, Iwaizumi just ogles at him. He doesn't even know how to react; the smaller part of him is offended by Kuroo's accusations of him being a sad drunk while the bigger part is ringing alarm bells in his head. "What did I say about him?" he asks cautiously.
"Don't know, bro. It was mostly just tears and you shaking Bokuto and encouraging him really aggressively to ask out Akaashi."
The memories start to hit him, and Iwaizumi leans into the table, grumbling. "Fuck. Just... fuck. Did I do anything else stupid?"
"Hey, it wasn't stupid," Kuroo rebukes. "Honestly, it was kind of super manly. In a way that only you could pull off. Even Bokuto got so moved that he cried, too."
Iwaizumi gives him a withering stare.
"I'm serious! Don't look at me like that."
"Can we talk about something else then?" Iwaizumi waves a doughnut at his face, sprinkles of cinnamon raining down on his tabletop unnoticed.
Kuroo stands. "I've got an even better idea." He checks his watch. "It's afternoon, too—"
"Shit, is it?"
"—so they should be setting up by now."
There's a knock on the door. "Come in!" Iwaizumi shouts, briefly distracted from Kuroo, who stood relaxed with his hands in his pockets. "It's unlocked!"
The door creaks open, revealing Shimizu. Her classes are over by now. "I just came to ask Iwaizumi a question," she says, a little mysteriously.
Kuroo looks between the two of them. "Should I leave then?"
Shimizu nods. "Yes please."
Wondering what she wants, Iwaizumi's eyes follow her as she sits down opposite him, where Kuroo was sitting just moments ago. The door to his apartment closes behind them as Kuroo leaves. She's nervous, he notices. She's tapping her index finger on the tabletop and her brows are knitted in a small frown. "Shimizu," he prompts gently, pushing the bag of remaining doughnuts toward her. She doesn't take one, but seems to appreciate the gesture anyway.
"Iwaizumi," Shimizu says. "Do you still like volleyball?"
The question makes him pause. Nobody's ever asked him this before. People have asked why he no longer plays, but not if he still enjoys playing the sport. If he's honest with himself, he's not entirely sure. Because volleyball has always come with Oikawa, and Oikawa is no longer here. Contemplating, Iwaizumi bites the inside of his cheek. Silence emerges between them, and Shimizu is about to take a doughnut just to have something to do when Iwaizumi finally answers, "I don't know. I haven't played since... I haven't played for a long time."
Shimizu stares down at her lap. "I see."
"Why're you asking anyway?" His tone is curious.
"I—no reason. I just wanted to know." Shimizu blushes, flustering. Then she stands. "I won't keep you for long. Besides," she glances at the door, "I think Kuroo-san is waiting for you."
Shimizu turns out to be correct. The bed-head boy is leaning on the wall, tapping away on his phone when Iwaizumi escorts Shimizu to the door. She disappears into her own apartment while Kuroo looks up from his phone. "Hey, Iwaizumi, get dressed."
He doesn't, crossing his arms instead. "Tell me where we're going first."
And Kuroo smirks. "Where else? School."
Salonpas and sweat. The gym smells like Salonpas and sweat and Iwaizumi can hear the squeak of volleyball shoes as Todai's libero dives forward to receive a tip. His grip tightens on his bag. I knew it. He casts Kuroo, who is changing his shoes, a wary look. "Volleyball?" he says when he finally finds his voice again. Kuroo is doing the shoelaces of his volleyball shoes now. "You brought me here to watch volleyball?"
"Yep," the other boy answers nonchalantly, doing the final loop of his shoelace before standing and arching his back in a feline-like stretch. "We're playing against Bokuto's varsity team today, so I thought I'd invite you along."
He strips, swapping his plain shirt for a Todai jersey. It's funny, because his pants don't match. Kuroo told him earlier that they were in the wash after Bokuto spilled chocolate pudding on them.
There's definitely an ulterior motive here, Iwaizumi thinks as he reluctantly sits down on the bleachers. He pulls out his phone for a bit to scroll through all of his social media feeds and texts, but only does so for about two minutes before his eyes are drawn to the players warming up on the court. Todai has an impressive opposite hitter who can crush through triple-blocks. His fingers twitch when Kuroo spikes a set—a delayed spike, as if he's foolishly imagining himself on the court, too.
Iwaizumi tries to glue himself to his phone again.
It doesn't work.
Sighing, he puts away his device and folds his arms over his chest.
Kuroo is a schemer alright.
Todai do their warm-ups for almost twenty minutes before Bokuto's team arrives. Bokuto is walking near the tail end of the group, making conversation with some of his teammates. They're probably first years like him.
The whistle blows, and it's Todai's serve.
Shimizu's question floats to the forefront of his mind. "Do you still like volleyball?"
Slowly, Iwaizumi exhales, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"C'mon, Hajime! Cheer up!" Yuda exclaims. "Glare any harder and things might start to burn."
"I know," Iwaizumi bites out, but it's just so damn frustrating.
Then Oikawa murmurs, "Sawamura-kun's bump. Baldy's follow-up. Man-bun's spike. Watacchi's dig. Mad-Dog's follow-up. Tobio-chan's hit. Kindaichi's block. Absolutely everybody was giving it one-hundred and twenty percent." He gives them all an appraising look before frowning. "It's just when you add everyone's one-hundred and twenty percent together, at that one moment, Karasuno came out just a little ahead." He turns to Iwaizumi. "Personally, rather than getting down about that, you should really be proud of how perfectly you were there for that one set."
Iwaizumi stares at him. Then he explodes. "The fact that I couldn't punch through a perfect set with perfect timing just makes it even worse!"
Oikawa squawks, apparently not having considered that. "Good point!" But then he places a hand on his chest and declares, "I was in the perfect spot and was able to react to Shrimpy's last hit, but I didn't make it! So I have even more of a right to be depressed!"
Growling, Iwaizumi throws Oikawa with all of his strength.
"What're they competing about now?" Matsukawa asks.
"Look's like they're back to normal," says Hanamaki.
Matsukawa looks up at the gym just as Iwaizumi chases Oikawa back to the group. "Though y'know..." They all follow his gaze. "Weren't we going home?"
All of them exchange glances.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Oikawa says, pushing through the gathering and opening the doors.
Iwaizumi frowns and simply stares at the looming building as his teammates go around him like the flow of a river around a stone. Hanamaki looks back at him once, but it's Oikawa who reaches out toward him expectantly. "What?" Iwaizumu deadpans. The sting of defeat is still fresh, and he's replaying his unsuccessful spike in his head over and over again.
"You did well."
Iwaizumi bites his lip, feeling like Oikawa had just pulled the rug from under him. "Damn you," he says before grabbing Oikawa by the hand and leading him into the gym. He ignores the smug look he's getting.
They play, and it's a reminder how much he loves volleyball, especially when he plays with Oikawa.
At some point, Hanamaki complains about wanting to vomit up his dinner. As soon as Iwaizumi laughs at his friend's predicament, he gets a stitch in his side which makes him keel over.
"Dammit, Oikawa, don't serve for real!" Matsukawa yells when the captain's serve descends upon his arms.
By the time they stop, it's already late into the night. "We'd better start cleaning up before a teacher comes around," Iwaizumi suggests, and they take his advice with nods. He's taking down the net, Yuda coming over to help, when Oikawa clears his throat.
"Hey, guys? Do you have a sec?"
Hanamaki's eyes bulge, realizing something at the same time as Iwaizumi that nobody else has. "Whoa, hold it!" he protests. "Don't! Everything finally settled down! Let's wrap this up on a happy-ish note, okay?"
Oikawa takes a deep breath as tears start pricking the corners of his eyes. Iwaizumi chokes at the sight of his scrunched up face, feeling the back of his eyes burning. "Thank you for the last three years!" He's crying unashamedly now, even as he smiles at them with pride.
"Dammit...!" Iwaizumi hears Hanamaki sob. "I told you!"
They're all unwound, and Iwaizumi cries with his team, glaring at the floor as he does so. Someone's Aobajosai jacket catches his eye, and the tears run down faster than ever.
This is it.
It's the end of an era.
Iwaizumi loves volleyball.
That's why it hurts so much.
Later that night, he and Oikawa walk home. They walk past a bridge, crossing safely. A truck with a sleepy-looking driver passes by before disappearing around a corner. They're both spent, and little words are exchanged.
They're almost home when Iwaizumi finally says, "I doubt you'll ever be happy, even if you live to be a hundred years old."
"Huh?!" Oikawa flinches. "Hey! What kind of curse is that?!"
"Even if you win all the biggest tournaments out there... I can't see you ever being satisfied with perfection. Instead, you'll devote your whole life and soul to the pursuit of volleyball. You're just a creepy, obsessed, pain-in-the-ass jerk like that."
"You didn't need to add that last part!"
Iwaizumi smirks. "Do it, though." Oikawa glances at him. "And don't look back." He turns to him. "You're the greatest partner I've ever had... and the greatest setter I've ever known. Even if we're never on the same team again... that will never change." Oikawa's eyes are wide and slowly filling with tears. Iwaizumi doesn't want him to cry again. Because if he does, Iwaizumi will cry, too. "Oh," he adds swiftly, "But if we play against each other, I'll grind you into the dirt."
Oikawa chuckles before returning his smirk. "Back at you."
Iwaizumi loves volleyball.
It's been with him as long as he has known, just like Oikawa.
He loves Oikawa, too. He doesn't know when he started loving him—he just knows he loves volleyball and he loves Oikawa.
Fists meeting in a bump, t heir eyes lock.
Then Iwaizumi pulls him into a tight hug, and Oikawa laughs.
It's a beautiful sound.
"Super Special Smash Attack!" Bokuto yells as he spikes a really sharp cross. It's a ringer, and their team gets a point.
"Stop yelling out your moves!" someone on his team scolds as Kuroo laughs like a hyena, clutching his sides.
"If I yell, it's stronger!"
Iwaizumi can't help but smirk as Bokuto and his teammate get into some petty argument over yelling attack moves. On the Todai side, Kuroo and his teammates are already scheming for a counterattack.
The door above the seating area swings open, and Iwaizumi looks upward to see none other than Shirofuku descending the stairs to join him on the bleachers. "Hey there," she greets. "Who's winning?"
"Bokuto's team," Iwaizumi answers as her phone pings.
As she looks down at her device, this prompts Iwaizumi to do the same with his phone, looking away from the game in front of him for a while. There are messages from the group chat. Scrolling past the obligatory memes, Iwaizumi arrives at the latest message that's relevant to him.
[Makki]: Yo Hajime you free this Fri?
[Hajime]: yeah should be
[Makki]: you should come down and visit
[Mattsun]: we're visiting Aobajosai
[Mattsun]: giving the newbies tips and all that jazz
[Hajime]: okay, I'll be there
"Oi, Iwaizumi!" Kuroo calls as their team makes a substitution. "Eyes over here, bud!"
"Be with you in a minute," Iwaizumi responds halfheartedly, making Kuroo huff.
"I bet if you were a call operator, you'd play the worst 'on hold' music—"
"Kuroo, the ball's coming your way!"
"Hey, Iwaizumi-san?" Shirofuku suddenly says.
"Just call me Iwaizumi," he immediately replies, more out of reflex than anything else.
"Sure, if you call me Shirofuku. Anyway, are you free this Friday?"
Friday again? "Sorry, but no. I'm going back to Miyagi to visit."
"Ah, alright. Just checking." She types something on her phone, looking satisfied.
Between Kuroo and Shirofuku, Iwaizumi just knows he's surrounded by schemers. They're everywhere. And then Shimizu had asked him that question earlier this afternoon.
He can't help but suspect that something's afoot. But for now, he'll just have to stay on guard.
The question has been bothering him to no end though.
"Do you still like volleyball?"
Maybe once upon a time, he wouldn't have hesitated.
Perhaps it's the thought of Oikawa's disappointment that makes him think of her question as he watches Kuroo and Bokuto face off. The former wins, stuffing Bokuto's spike with a terrifyingly accurate and sturdy block.
"Still so easy to predict," Kuroo goads.
"Hrrgh! That was just luck!"
"That's a strange way to pronounce skill."
In his mind's eye, Shimizu stares at him, as if she's condemning him. "Do you still like volleyball?"
Oikawa wouldn't want this, Iwaizumi knows. He knows it better than anyone, because he knows that the only thing that eclipsed Oikawa's love for volleyball was his love for him. He would never want Iwaizumi to stop playing just because of him, and his gut wrenches just thinking about it.
Iwaizumi misses volleyball.
He misses Oikawa.
He doesn't know when he started equating the two of them, thinking one cannot exist without the other.
But Iwaizumi knows one thing for sure. It's that volleyball will never be the same without Oikawa. And he had been okay with that, until he was actually gone forever.
So what is it actually like then? he asks himself as Todai's captain smashes a jump-serve into the opponent's court.
Maybe he'll be better off not knowing.
"Well?" Kuroo says after he drinks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "How was it?"
"It was a good game," Iwaizumi says honestly.
"What, that's it? Where's the fire? The passion?"
"The passion!" Bokuto echoes, popping out of nowhere. Kuroo jumps like a cat at his sudden entrance.
Kuroo turns back to Iwaizumi. "Was I wrong then? I thought you loved volleyball."
Iwaizumi cocks an eyebrow. "Who'd you hear that from?"
"It was you!" Bokuto answers for Kuroo. "You said it yourself last night—that you love volleyball."
"Wha—you mean when I was drunk?"
"You weren't drunk. Well, not completely anyway," says Kuroo.
"That doesn't count then," Iwaizumi argues. "I said it when I was drunk, so it doesn't mean anything."
Kuroo tuts him, wagging a finger in his face. Scowling, Iwaizumi slaps his hand down. It's more of a reflex than anything else. "Incorrect, young grasshopper. Alcohol only loosens the tongue. You say what you wouldn't normally say but you still mean it."
"That sounded really wise, bro," Bokuto whispers loudly to him.
"Thanks, bro. But hey, Iwaizumi." Kuroo looks at him seriously. "If you find volleyball fun, you don't need to hide it. If you like it, then why not enjoy it?" His voice drops a little, and what he says next makes Iwaizumi jerk his chin up a little. "I know that you're hurting. I'm not gonna pretend that I know what it's like, 'cause I don't." Even Bokuto is silent at this point, looking mildly uncomfortable at the direction the exchange has taken. "I thought that it might spark something in you if you watched a match. Because I love volleyball, and from the looks of it, you do, too. Or did. And it'd be a damn shame if you lose that."
A taut silence emerges between the trio. Iwaizumi is glaring, but Kuroo meets his gaze evenly.
Then the tension eases out of Iwaizumi's face. "You know, you really piss me off," he says coldly.
Kuroo's shoulders roll in a shrug. A retort is on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn't feel like being the Master of Provocation for much longer today. Because this isn't like Tsukishima. Or Yaku. Or anyone he's ever had to poke to pull the fire out of. Provoking him any further... the thought of it sickens him to the core.
Iwaizumi steps forward, and for a moment, Kuroo thinks he's about to get punched. Iwaizumi packs a lot of muscle, and he looks like he knows how to use it. But he doesn't, merely grabbing his bag and brushing past him.
"Bro," Bokuto starts, looking to Kuroo.
"It was a gamble," Kuroo says, staring after the direction Iwaizumi went.
"You know, you really piss me off."
Iwaizumi exhales sharply.
"Because it's exactly what he would say."
Kageyama isn't sure if he should be here. After all, Oikawa has always made it known to him that they'll never get along. He feels numb and out of place as he stands with Oikawa's relatives. In the crowd, he spots Iwaizumi. His eyes are red-rimmed and swollen, as if he's being crying since the sun rose over Miyagi. It scares him. Kageyama hasn't never seen Iwaizumi so frazzled, so utterly defeated.
It gets worse when Oikawa's sister begins to howl with grief, breaking down into uncontrollable tears as she mourns the death of her little brother. She has a son—Kageyama doesn't know his name but he remembers his face and remembers thinking that the little boy looked like a miniature version of Tanaka. He struggles to connect the face of the cheeky little boy with his uncle to the wailing child clutching his grandmother's—Oikawa's mother, Kageyama realizes with no small amount of horror—arm.
Eventually, the crowd begins to disperse. But Kageyama stands, frozen in front of the newly erected headstone.
"Kageyama?" It's Hinata. Kageyama has almost forgotten that the orange-haired boy had accompanied him here.
"Yeah?" he replies gruffly. "What?"
Hinata looks down. "Nothing. It's just... he should've become great."
It's funny hearing that from Hinata. He is the one who gave Oikawa the moniker of 'Grand King'.
"Let's go home," Kageyama grounds out. He can't stand being here any longer. This is a nightmare. It has to be.
The only person remaining at Oikawa's grave Iwaizumi.
Kageyama looks back, but Iwaizumi is growing further and further away—
Gasping, Kageyama's eyes snap open. His left hand is grasping his pillow tightly. Turning around, he checks his clock. It's just a little past five o'clock in the morning. Letting out a shuddering breath, he sits up and reaches for his water flask, which he keeps on his nightstand.
It's just a nightmare, he tells himself. It's not real.
But it is real.
It's a nightmare, but it's not a dream. It's a memory.
Kageyama wants to grab it and throw it away.
It's been months, but he still keeps dreaming about it.
Before he knows it, the sun is up and he's walking to school in his sports uniform. Every so often, he turns around, checking for the sight of Hinata biking frantically toward him. There's no sign of him.
He finds it strange, because Hinata is normally quite the annoying pest at dawn, but Kageyama misses his presence. It's less lonely with him. Less quiet and more noisy.
He gets a text. Kageyama's eyes widen. It's from Sugawara.
[Suga]: Hey, Kageyama, long time no see! I was wondering if you're free after school this Friday?
Sugawara doesn't respond straight away, so Kageyama puts his phone back into his bag.
He wonders what Sugawara wants. He's kept in contact with all of his upperclassmen after their graduation, but they don't often text him. More frequently, they talk face-to-face when they come down to visit Karasuno to check on their juniors.
He pretty much tunes out everything after volleyball practice, including his classes. It's only after school that he checks his phone again.
[Suga]: Great! If everything works out accordingly, we'll need you to play setter for a 4v4 match on Friday.
"A four on four match...?" Why?
[Tobio]: Okay. I'm in.
[Tobio]: Who else is playing?
[Suga]: Daichi and Asahi
[Suga]: Matsukawa-san and Hanamaki-san are coming too, and they're bringing someone called Yuda-san
What?! Kageyama blinks, wondering if his eyes are playing tricks on him. Matsukawa and Hanamaki... from Aobajosai? He has vague recollections of their faces—scrunched up in disappointment, grief, anger. He remembers crossing paths with them at Oikawa's funeral. Yuda is a less familiar name, and Kageyama can't match a face to it. But if Matsukawa and Hanamaki are bringing him along, he's probably from Aobajosai, too. Those guys... But why?
He does a quick head count—including himself and Sugawara, that's only seven people. Who is the last player?
He asks Sugawara as much.
"Oi, Bakageyama!" Hinata yells from across the gym before he can get a reply from his silver-haired senpai. "Stop staring at your phone and come practice already!"
"Hinata dumbass!" The response is automatic as Kageyama throws his phone into his sports bag and stalks over to where the rest of the team are practicing.
"Uwoh!" Chidorigawa, just one of many of Karasuno's new first years, exclaimed. "Only Hinata-senpai can get Kageyama-senpai to listen to him!"
"It's like watching one wild animal lead another wild animal," Tsukishima remarks as he stretches with Yamaguchi.
Kageyama is a bit off his game today, and the team notices. Or, at least, the third and second years do. The first years aren't yet well enough acquainted with Kageyama to pick up on his mood.
The team splits up after buying meat buns at Sakanoshita Store. Kageyama is walking with Hinata, who is rolling his bike along and humming a tune under his breath. They don't talk much today, because Kageyama is busy boring holes into his phone, waiting for Sugawara to text back and tell him just who is the final player coming on Friday.
Hinata narrows his eyes suspiciously. "... Do you need to go to the bathroom?"
"Hah?" Kageyama glares at him.
"Yeah, that face! It just screams 'I'm constipated'!"
"If you don't shut up, I'll give you something to be constipated about—"
His phone dings, and he almost drops it. Hurriedly, Kageyama returns to his conversation with Sugawara.
Hinata gives him a curious look. "Who are you talking to? Is this why you've been off all day?"
Kageyama ignores him.
[Suga]: Iwaizumi Hajime
He feels his gut twist at the name. He's known Iwaizumi since his first year of middle school—the strong, unshakable senpai who always has his teammates' backs. This is the image that Kageyama has spent years cultivating—and it left him shaken when the pedastal he put Iwaizumi on completely shattered at Oikawa's funeral. It's not Iwaizumi's fault, of course, but the whole thing just leaves an even more bitter taste in his mouth—Oikawa wasn't supposed to die, Oikawa is supposed to be alive, he's supposed to be playing volleyball and teasing Iwaizumi and pulling out the maximum potential of each player on his varsity team; this is just a nightmare that he can't seem to wake up from (does Iwaizumi think the same thing?) but it's real—
"Kageyama?" Hinata's voice breaks him out of his reverie. "Is everything okay?"
"I—" Kageyama's hand shakes, and he nearly drops his phone again. He let's out a small sigh when Hinata's hand closes over his, steadying him. "Suga-senpai wants me to play setter for a four-on-four match on Friday."
Hinata is perplexed. "So? What's the big deal? That means you probably get to play with the rest of our upperclassmen again."
"There are Aobajosai alumni coming, too. Oikawa's teammates."
"I heard that Iwaizumi-senpai doesn't play volleyball anymore," Kageyama blurts, making Hinata's eyes widen. "He's never been spotted once playing for Todai, and I know he's not the type to just do it as a hobby."
"But why? Volleyball," Hinata wiggles his fingers, struggling to find the words, "Volleyball... is the best!" A troubled look crosses his features. "Is it... because Oikawa died?"
"... Probably." Kageyama drops his gaze. "Even if you died, I wouldn't stop playing."
"Maybe it'll hurt too much at first, but I'd like to think that—eventually—I'll start playing again." He glances to Hinata. "Because I love volleyball."
There's a companionable silence between them before Hinata says, "Are you gonna help him, then?"
"Iwaizumi-san." Hinata stops rolling his bike to look Kageyama in the eye. "Are you gonna help him love volleyball again?"
"He doesn't need to be helped," Kageyama says, a quiet confidence in his voice. "Just reminded."
It's a sunny afternoon when Iwaizumi arrives at Tokyo Station. His train is in ten minutes, leaving him with some time to kill. He's about to start looking for a food shop (because he woke up to bare cupboards this morning) when he runs into the last person he expects.
"What," Iwaizumi deadpans when he sees Kuroo holding a paper bag and a coffee, just like the other day at his apartment.
"For you, Iwaizumi-sama," Kuroo says with an exaggerated bow, holding out the food items toward him as if he is offering treasures to a king. When he feels Iwaizumi's baffled gaze boring holes into his bed-head hair, he sighs and straightens. "Sorry," he says honestly. "I was out of line the other day. I don't know if you've eaten already or not, but take it. You can have it on the train or something."
Warily, Iwaizumi takes it from it. "It's fine," he answers slowly. Thoughtfully, he adds, "Did you mean what you said?"
"Yes." Kuroo's answer is immediate and not at all remorseful. "I could have gone around it better, but at the end of the day, absolutely."
Iwaizumi hums. "I see. How did you find me anyway?"
"Shirofuku told me you were going to Miyagi today. Since I don't have morning classes today, well." Kuroo shrugs. "Thought I might drop by."
"You have a strange idea of what dropping by is."
Kuroo gives him a smarmy grin. "Semantics, right? I—" He cuts himself off, expression suddenly souring into something very ugly as he spots something over Iwaizumi's shoulder. "Oh, gross."
"What?" Iwaizumi turns. There's a blond guy chatting on his phone and laughing loudly. The guy is practically sparkling, and Iwaizumi feels his own mouth downturn in displeasure until he's matching Kuroo in terms of expression. "I don't know why, but I feel like I really need to punch him." He's almost like Oikawa, but—maybe he's biased—ten times more obnoxious than Oikawa ever was.
"Oujiyama Hideo," Kuroo hisses. "Todai's precious tennis star. I swear, the last time I talked to him, I thought I was going to vomit tennis balls."
"Oddly specific, but I can sort of see why."
The train pulls into the station then, and Kuroo waves goodbye to Iwaizumi.
And as the fates will have it, Oujiyama sits down next to Iwaizumi. Iwaizumi frowns, but says nothing, reaching into his backpack for his headphones. But they're not there, and he mutters crossly under his breath.
They're on their way to Miyagi when Oujiyama talks to him. "Hey there. Are you heading over to Miyagi too?"
Iwaizumi can't help it. There's something about him that makes him want to turn up his sarcasm by a hundred. "No, I'm just riding the train to Sendai for fun," he says dryly. He's expecting Oujiyama to get annoyed, or angry, or perhaps mock-hurt like Oikawa used to. Because to him, that's all this guy is. Just a rip-off Oikawa.
But to his surprise, Oujiyama laughs. "At least look like you're having fun there. Glare any harder and the train might burst into flames."
A vein makes itself known on Iwaizumi's temple. "Hah?"
"You heard me. Loosen up a bit, pal."
"I'll loosen up when you tighten up your obnoxious tongue."
"Maaan, you really got something against me, don't you, Iwaizumi-chan? Can I call you that? Iwaizumi-chan, that is. We're in the same class—that's why I sat next to you in the first place."
"Don't call me that, Oujiyama."
"You can call me Ouji-chan if you want."
"That's fucking weird."
Iwaizumi's eye twitches. Not only is he annoying, but... He feels slightly sick listening to him talk. The resemblance is too uncanny—he can only hear Oikawa in Oujiyama, someone he hasn't heard for too long. The buzz of the other commuters fade into almost nothing, and he hears only Oujiyama running his mouth. For a second, Iwaizumi thinks he's going to punch him.
"Iwaizumi-san?" There's the slightest hint of concern in Oujiyama's voice, and it sounds terrible and unnatural coming from him. Deep down inside, Iwaizumi knows its wrong of him to hate him, but he can't help but do so anyway. It's not even because Kuroo seems to loathe him, too. Oujiyama has made himself a painful reminder, and he's worried he's going to lose the composure he's been keeping up for weeks now.
Iwaizumi palms his face, taking in a deep breath unnoticed. "Don't talk to me, Oujiyama."
It's when they're almost to Sendai and after Iwaizumi has finished his doughnuts and coffee that Oujiyama starts to speak to him again. Or to himself. But he wants Iwaizumi to hear, it seems. "One day, I'm gonna become the world champion at tennis. I'm not the most gifted athlete, but I've been playing since I was a kid, so that's something."
"What are you doing?" Iwaizumi asks wearily.
"Nothing. Just filling the empty space. If you won't talk to me, then I'll talk to myself."
"Talk to yourself about yourself?"
Oujiyama smirks. "What? It's my favorite topic."
Iwaizumi rolls his eyes. "Evidently." Then he gets back to ignoring him, trying to tune Todai's tennis ace out. But he finds that he can't—Oujiyama is too much of a presence to him, and he wishes more than ever that he had remembered to pack his headphones.
"The fans will lap it all up. I'll write myself as the classic underdog who built himself up out of nothing. I mean, the fame and the adoration is gonna be great."
Cue another eye-roll from Iwaizumi. He's starting to get worried that his eyes will be stuck facing the back of his head by the time this train journey is over.
"Yes, it will be nice, wouldn't it?" Oujiyama continues to muse to himself, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "The kyah kyah kyah of my female fans will get me pumped for every match."
Iwaizumi can't help but interject, "Those will come and go."
"True, true, but at least there's one thing that will stay strong."
"No." Oujiyama smirks—no, he smiles, Iwaizumi realizes. It's a genuine smile that he has seen Oikawa wear before, and it almost breaks him in half for a split second. "I don't just play tennis for fan girls and clout. I play... because I love tennis. And what other reason do I need to keep going?" He teases his hair a little, checking his appearance in his phone. "Do I look dashing?"
"Shut up before I get charged for assault." There's not as much bite in his tone as before. Instead, Oujiyama finally disappears from his radar, and the question that has been pestering him for the past few days comes up again.
"Do you still like volleyball?"
The train arrives at Sendai Station, and Iwaizumi leaves before Oujiyama can even stand.
"Sorry," Iwaizumi apologizes to Oikawa's grave. "I didn't bring any flowers today. I've been thinking... of other things." He smiles weakly. "You're complaining, aren't you? Dumbass. As if I could actually forget you." He sinks into the grass, sitting in front of the headstone. "What's it like up there, Tooru? Are you playing volleyball every day?"
"Do you still like volleyball?"
"Because I'm not. I haven't played volleyball since..." His throat bobs. "You'd know. Sometimes it feels like I've let you down." Iwaizumi frowns. "Sorry. I'm not as strong as you thought I was."
A bird chirps in the distance.
"But," Iwaizumi says quietly. "I don't want to be done with it. At least, I don't think I do."
"Do you still like volleyball?"
He takes a deep breath before exhaling. "I'll see you later, Tooru."
Hanamaki and Matsukawa are waiting for him outside Aobajosai's gym. It's funny, Iwaizumi muses as he's thrown back to the night they had lost to Karasuno. It's funny how he finds himself here again just months later. There have been other times where he's returned—whether it's to see the old team or for some other reason—but that night sticks out to him the most.
"You're late!" Hanamaki calls as he waves to Iwaizumi.
"I'm not late," Iwaizumi retorts. "You guys are just early."
"A wizard is never late," quotes Matsukawa, "nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to."
Sometimes it's hard to remember that Matsukawa's love for fantasy is almost as big as Oikawa's love for aliens.
"Yeah, yeah." Hanamaki pushes his friend up the stairs. "Come on, they're waiting."
"The team?" says Iwaizumi.
If Iwaizumi thinks today's encounter with Kuroo and Oujiyama is strange, then what he sees next is even stranger—so much so that he thinks he's dreaming. He falters, pausing at the doorway. "What... What is this?"
The team isn't here.
But the people that are—
Sawamura and Sugawara greet him along with their friend with the goatee—Azumane. Standing awkwardly to the side is Kageyama; he's holding a volleyball protectively to his chest and looking anywhere except at Iwaizumi.
"Sorry for lying," Matsukawa apologizes before Iwaizumi can say anything, putting his hand on his shoulder. "But we didn't think you'd come if we told you the truth."
"Let me get this straight." Iwaizumi's voice is calmer than he expects. Inside, he feels like his heart is about to burst with emotion, even as his stomach clenches in uncertainty. "You called me all the way out here... to play volleyball?"
"Well, yeah. Pretty much."
"Don't be mad!" A new voice makes everybody look to the door, where Yuda is hopping in one one foot. His other foot is half out of his shoe.
"I'm not mad," Iwaizumi tells him, but Yuda doesn't seem to believe him.
"Please don't be mad!"
"I told you, I'm not—"
It's then Kageyama finally speaks, surprising Azumane by suddenly bowing to Iwaizumi. "Please! Just... give volleyball another chance!" His eyes flash. "I've seen how much you love it!"
For a moment, Iwaizumi is taken back in time—to junior high, when Kageyama padded after Oikawa like a shadow.
"Oikawa-san, please teach me how to serve!"
"Nyaah! Don't wanna!"
"Oikawa, don't bully the first years."
Iwaizumi swallows before laughing feebly. "Kageyama... you're still the same. And yet," he adds when Kageyama opens his mouth to protest, "more grown up than I remember. Fine." He looks around the court before smiling tentatively. "Let's play."
The teams are a bit mixed. Hanamaki, Iwaizumi, Kageyama, and Yuda are on one side, while Sawamura, Sugawara, Azumane, and Matsukawa are on the other. It's the opponents serve, and Iwaizumi leans forward in a familiar position, ready to receive Sawamura's serve.
"Mine!" Hanamaki calls as he receives it. It flies perfectly to setter position, where Kageyama is ready.
Automatically, before he can even realize what he's doing, Iwaizumi is doing a run-up and calling for the ball. At the same time, Yuda does so, too, and it's up to Kageyama to decide who to toss to.
The toss goes to him, and Iwaizumi zeroes in on the ball. Vaguely, he's aware of a triple-block by Azumane, Daichi, and Matsukawa ganging up on him. He spikes down, but Matsukawa—on the edge of the block—manages to stuff him.
"Sorry!" Kageyama apologizes.
"It's okay!" The words rush out of Iwaizumi's mouth as he turns to Kageyama, fire running through his veins. "That... was great."
Matsukawa blinks from across the net. "You liked being stuffed?"
"Of course not, dumbass." Iwaizumi clenches his fist. "Don't get used to it."
Matsukawa smirks. "Bring it on."
True to his word, Iwaizumi wins the team a point not long after, Matsukawa swearing.
"Nice kill!" Hanamaki holds up his hands for a double high-five that Iwaizumi gladly gives. "You haven't lost your touch it seems."
Iwaizumi doesn't know how long they play. But by the time they're done, the sun is beginning to set, painting the sky an assortment of pinks and oranges. Hanamaki is groaning on the floor, squishing his cheek against the cool wood. "Really," he wheezes, "Should not have eaten before coming."
"Get up, lazy-bones." Matsukawa pokes him in the ribs with his foot. "We have to take down the net."
"Here." Sawamura hands Iwaizumi a towel to dry his sweat. "Good game." He holds out a hand.
Iwaizumi doesn't hesitate in taking it. "Yeah," he agrees. "Good game."
His team is the overall winner.
As they pack up, all the boys are noisy. They may have graduated from high school, but they're still in their teens, and it's not hard to tell from their laughter and joking about. Iwaizumi is carrying the folded up net to the store room when he notices a lone figure sitting on the bleachers. Shimizu? She smiles at him—it's soft and gentle sunshine.
Before he can question her presence or when she got here, Kageyama joins him in the store room, pulling a volleyball cart behind him.
"Nice setting," Iwaizumi compliments as he puts away the net.
Kageyama smiles. "Nice spiking," he returns. Then he says, "Did... you have fun?"
"... Yeah. I did." Kageyama lurches forward when Iwaizumi slaps him on the back. "Thanks."
The unspoken question hangs in the air before Kageyama finally asks it.
"Do you still like volleyball?"
They are five years old when they meet.
"Hajime, this is Oikawa Tooru-kun." Iwaizumi tilts his head back to stare up at his mother before looking at the brown-haired boy in front of him. "His family just moved here. Go play outside with him, okay?"
Oikawa is a weird kid, Iwaizumi thinks. He's dressed too smartly for a child his age and his hair is neat and combed. A far cry from Iwaizumi's messy bedhead hair.
"What's your name?" Oikawa asks him as they walk to the park languidly. "I'm Tooru."
"I know that. My name's Hajime. Didn't you hear my mom say it?"
But Oikawa just shrugs. "What if she was lying?"
"What? Why would she lie?"
The boy does a strange wriggling motion with his hand. "Maybe aliens brainwashed her."
Iwaizumi deadpans and turns around. "You're an idiot. I don't wanna play with you."
"Wait!" Oikawa grabs his hand. "I don't know anyone else."
"You're so mean!"
"If I'm so mean, then go play with someone else!"
"I just told you, I don't know anyone else!"
They glare at each other. Then they relax, giggling.
"Your face looks funny," Oikawa claims.
"So does yours."
They are seven years old when they walk past a television store. It's showing an official match between Japan and Canada, and Japan's ace runs up along the court and spikes the ball down into the opponent's court before Canada can even think of blocking.
Oikawa's eyes are shining. "That was awesome!"
Iwaizumi is inclined to agree.
Then the channel airs an ad, and they both groan in disappointment.
"Let's watch the rest at my house!" Oikawa urges.
They do, and they love it.
Not long after, they join a volleyball club outside of school. Iwaizumi doesn't know exactly what position does what, so Oikawa tells him excitedly. Knowing him, he's probably staying up late every day reading up on volleyball.
"I'm gonna be setter," Oikawa tells him determinedly.
"What should I be then? Libero? I like receiving."
"What? No way! Then you wouldn't be able to spike my sets!"
So Iwaizumi becomes an aspiring wing spiker. The position fits him seamlessly, and he's silently thankful to Oikawa for changing his mind.
When they win their first game at nine years old, it's exhilarating. Oikawa lifts up a fist, and Iwaizumi just knows. Grinning, he bumps his fist, just like how the players on television do it whenever they get a point after a long rally or win a hard match.
When they are twelve years old, they go to Kamei Arena Sendai to watch Japan face off against Argentina in the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship. Oikawa is wearing his Vabo-chan hoodie and Iwaizumi is holding cheering sticks that have GO! GO! JAPAN! emblazoned on it.
"Iwa-chan!" Oikawa whines as he all but sprints through the crowd. "Hurry up! Make it fast!"
"Don't run, Oikawa!" Iwaizumi shouts back.
"I'm just speed-walking!"
They arrive on time. The game is as wonderful as Iwaizumi expects. From his peripheral, he can see the moment Oikawa really gets hooked on the setter position. There's nothing but pure love, admiration, and determination in his expressive eyes. Argentina's ace is slipping, but that veteran setter—Blanco—is slowly pulling him back. Iwaizumi doesn't notice until Oikawa tells him afterward.
When the match is over, Oikawa asks Blanco for his autograph, only to find Iwaizumi has already used the paper they bought together for Handa's autograph.
"That was my paper!" Oikawa accuses.
"Ours. We both put in fifty yen for it."
Blanco ends up signing Oikawa's jockstrap—a clean, fresh one.
"Do your best!" Blanco declares in broken Japanese, and Iwaizumi's love for the sport is also sealed, too.
Throughout junior high, Oikawa and Iwaizumi work hard. Their first year is the easiest, and it's not until their third year that Iwaizumi sees Oikawa starting to suffer from a multitude of factors—the arrival of a genius setter, Kageyama, Ushijima's unrelenting force, and Oikawa's tendency to overwork himself becoming a real problem. He doesn't show it, but Oikawa has his own insecurities, and they're creeping up on him and strangling him.
"You're overdoing things!" Iwaizumi shouts. "Yesterday, even the coach noticed it!" When Oikawa tries to slink away, he grabs him by the shirt and pulls him back. "If you get injured, it'll all amount to nothing, dumbass! C'mon, you're done. Go stretch!"
Oikawa is in a furious rush for evolution, and Iwaizumi is not blind to it.
It's when Oikawa tries to hit Kageyama after the latter asks him to serve, Iwaizumi finally snaps. He stops it from happening, and sends Kageyama away.
"That substitution today was to let you clear your head," he says, palming his face. It's so obvious—why is Oikawa so stubborn? "Just take some time and—"
Something in Oikawa just breaks. "There's no way I can do that when I can't possibly win against Shiratorizawa the way I am now! I want to win and go on to Nationals! In order to win, I have to—!"
Each word he says only serves to make Iwaizumi angrier. A vein pops in his head, and he headbutts Oikawa right in the face. "All of that 'I' crap is annoying!" Oikawa looks hurt and confused, but Iwaizumi isn't done. He won't let his best friend destroy himself any longer. "Are you planning to fight by yourself? This isn't some joke, you dumbass!" He grabs Oikawa by the shirt—his collar is stained red by a bleeding nose, and Iwaizumi's forehead is quite sore. "Your results and the team's results are the same! If you're gonna get all conceited, I'll sock you one!"
"You already did!"
"We've got nobody who could win against Ushiwaka one on one! But volleyball's got six people on the court for a reason!" Oikawa stares at him, and he keeps going. "Whether the opponent's a genius first year or Ushiwaka, with six people, the strong are even stronger, you dumbass!"
He's panting heavily by the end of it, and his fist unfurls. Oikawa slumps to the ground.
"With six people, the strong are even stronger," Oikawa muses quietly. "Fu... fufufu... ahh..."
It's then Iwaizumi notices the blood. He winces. "Sorry, did I headbutt you too hard? You alright?!"
"Haaah... Yeah... I don't know why, but..." He looks up at Iwaizumi and smiles. "All of a sudden, I feel invincible."
Looking at him, Iwaizumi feels his face get heated. It's probably the adrenaline at work, but... He wants to reach out to Oikawa and hug him tightly. Of course, though, Oikawa ruins it.
"By the way, Iwa-chan, is 'dumbass' the only insult you know?"
"How about I make your other nostril bleed, too?"
Iwaizumi doesn't know when he falls in love with Oikawa. He just knows that he loves him in their third year of high school, and that he always has. Their high school years are like a dream—filled with highs and lows; sweet victories and bitter defeats.
Perhaps the most bitter is not against Shiratorizawa, but against Karasuno of all teams. Kageyama's team.
The days following that, Iwaizumi takes Oikawa out.
They go on dates.
They don't have sex. Iwaizumi isn't ready for that yet.
Iwaizumi loves him so much that it hurts. He wants to hold Oikawa tight so that he can never be snatched away.
But he's not strong enough, and Oikawa is ripped away from him anyway.
It's a regular school night. Graduation is soon, and Iwaizumi can't wait to get out of high school and live the rest of his life with Oikawa. He's known him his whole life and wants to spend the rest of his days with him, eating red bean buns and playing volleyball. Volleyball—it's a sport that they've built their lives around, and Iwaizumi loves it. He can't imagine his life being any different.
They're taking the road home, crossing the same bridge they've been crossing for the past three years. There are few cars on the road, and their hands are brushing as they walk.
Oikawa notices the truck before Iwaizumi does. Before Iwaizumi can even register what's happening, Oikawa shoves him out of the way, and the last thing Iwaizumi sees before he rolls across the road, safe, is Oikawa's terrified, resigned expression.
Iwaizumi hits his head—the wound bleeds, but he's still conscious, and the smell of smoke and blood fills his senses. "Oikawa?" he croaks, his entire body trembling. He picks himself up with a spinning head, stumbling to where Oikawa is lying, broken. "Oh god, Oikawa—Tooru." Oikawa loves it when he calls him by his first name. He'll wake up and hug Iwaizumi and laugh that it's just a prank. But he doesn't. A sob breaks from his throat, and he knows his face is a mess of tears and snot. "Tooru, fuck, hang on, just hang on."
That's all he needs.
He needs to call an ambulance.
He does—why do they take so long? Why? Oikawa is fading, he's fading right in front of him—
"Tooru. Tooru, you're going to be okay." Oikawa's eyes flutter briefly, and Iwaizumi howls, sliding their hands together—slick and sticky with blood. "The ambulance is coming," he sobs, his words barely coherent as tears slide down his face uncontrollably. "Oh god, don't leave me. Stay awake, you've got to stay awake."
Oikawa's mouth start to move. Iwa-chan. Iwa-chan. What? What?
Then his lips are graced by a watery smile and he stills, his head draped over Iwaizumi's arms.
This isn't real.
This isn't happening.
Iwaizumi's head hangs; his face scrunches up, and he's crying so hard that he feels like he's going to pass out. "TOORU!" he screams hoarsely. "I love you IloveyouIloveyou—" His voice pitches as he hugs Oikawa to his chest, kissing his forehead, his cheeks, his lips, and begging for him to wake up. "Please don't go, oh my god, please don't go—TOORU!"
Sirens wail in the distance, and his back aches, his legs ache, and his head is heavy—but he doesn't let go of Oikawa.
The sky is covered with smoke, and the stars are gone.
"Do you still like volleyball?"
Iwaizumi turns away from Kageyama, rubbing at his eyes. "Yeah," he croaks out finally. "Yeah, I love it."
When they pass through the gym doors, Matsukawa and Hanamaki, flanking him on either side, slap him on the back.
"Good game," Hanamaki says through tears. "Good game, guys."
Iwaizumi nods firmly, and the chatter around them reaches his ears.
Before Iwaizumi leaves Sendai, there's a fresh bouquet of bluebells on Oikawa's grave.
1994 - 2012
He reads the epitaph one more time.
[Hinata]: How was the match?
[Tobio]: We won.
[Hinata]: how was Iwaizumi-san?
[Hinata]: did it work?
[Tobio]: I think it did.
[Hinata]: well, goodnight, Kageyama
[Tobio]: Yeah, goodnight.
For the first time in months, Kageyama doesn't dream.
It's late autumn when Shirofuku and Shimizu walk to the gym.
Inside is a familiar scene. There are people watching today, because it's an official match. The stands are filled to the brim, and the energy of the spectators and the players permeate the air, mixing with the smell of sweat and Salonpas.
"Where's Iwaizumi?" Shirofuku asks, looking around.
Shimizu spots him first, talking to Kuroo. "Ah, there!"
Volleyball shoes squeak against the floor as they get into position, Iwaizumi backpedaling to behind the end line. He bounces the ball once. Twice.
His heart is thudding along with the stamping of feet from the bleachers.
"Nice serve!" Kuroo calls, linking his hands behind his head.
The whistle blows, and Iwaizumi grins and throws the ball into the air.