The body remembers
every wish one lives for or doesn’t
— Yusef Komunyakaa, The Body Remembers
Halfway through keying his number into Hinata’s phone the absurdity of the situation hits Oikawa full force like the errant volleyball to the flank he’d taken earlier. He slides a covert glance back towards Hinata, who is now chatting merrily to their opponents beside the net, apparently no longer perturbed by the frankly ridiculous coincidence of running into an old rival on this particular beach twenty thousand kilometres away from home. Of all the places in the world, of all the people in the world—
Whatever. Chalk it up to serendipity. He snaps a selfie for the contact picture, peace sign, tongue stuck out, reflexive mirror of his high school self, though it’s not like Hinata needs the reminder. Maybe it’s more for his own sake: some part of him is still the boy sizing up Karasuno’s #10 through the neat compartments of the net. Even now, after their spur-of-the-moment teamup, he can’t help weighing up the competitor Hinata’s grown into, mapping out points of comparison, habit he can’t kick.
Even before Oikawa opens his mouth to call, “All done,” Hinata is already turning around, just that little bit faster, just that little bit more closely aligned with instinct, and it looks like that hasn’t changed, either. Another thing he remembers of Hinata: that rare unsmiling intensity that reared its head at chokepoints in a match, and again five minutes ago when Hinata had said, I really like levelling up and Oikawa felt the inexplicable pressure to take a step back.
Obviously he hadn’t then, and he doesn’t now, dropping the phone back into Hinata’s outstretched hand. Hinata says, emitting lethal quantities of exuberance, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Oikawa-san!”
How maybe if I have time and I’m in the mood for it translates into tomorrow is beyond Oikawa. But, well, it’s impossible to not want to set to Hinata. That’s just the kind of spiker Hinata is. “Alright, then,” he says, like that’s what he’d said all along. As for what he’d meant—that turns on the flip of a coin. “Tomorrow it is.”
The thing is, Oikawa’s never had to battle the court itself before, opponent numbers traded in for a war of attrition against the wind and the sand and the sun. His first match last night had been in the dense, buzzing night but now he’s squinting against the dazzle of the afternoon sun as the perpetual motion machine of Hinata’s keyed-up energy hums beside him.
It’s been so long since he was bad at volleyball that the novelty outpaces the embarrassment. He misses serve after serve, makes a hatchet job out of tossing, fumes and shakes the ball clean and adjusts his grip in increments. It’s like he’s a child again, clumsy and slow, the game stripped down to its bare bones: whatever you do, don’t let the ball touch the ground. Back to instinct. Sweat in his eyes, sand on his palms. But every time his hand makes shoddy contact it knocks loose another layer of the accumulated tension of years, until, clearminded with adrenalin, what’s left is only that pure and shining core to the feeling that’s never wavered all this time. All this time! He hadn’t even realised that he’d started thinking of his history as a weight and not a bulwark until he watched Hinata rocket off the sand and hang midair and felt it again—that sheer unrestrained joy of his childhood. He hadn’t thought himself capable of it anymore. How unexpected, how splendid, to be proven wrong just this once.
Sand punishes hesitation, gives way without mercy under an uncertain step. Nothing like the foundations laid down stone by stone over a lifetime Oikawa’s used to resting his trust upon. You have to dig your heels in, see—Hinata is saying, and Oikawa does, cautious flutter of delight at his throat like a pulse. The unforgiving deceptive sand under his soles always shifting, but if there’s one thing Oikawa knows it’s adaptation. He slips. He gets back up. He tries again.
His turn to serve. He tilts his head, feeling the wind prickle from the left, and gauges the distance, throws the ball up, jumps. The ball whistles through the air like an arrow and thuds straight into the sand.
“That was perfect, Oikawa-san!” Hinata crows, and though Oikawa had known as soon as the ball touched his palm that this was a good one, a clean one, hearing it said out loud still sends a broad smile crawling across his face.
“Wasn’t it!” Oikawa agrees.
The trick to dealing with the sand is actually rather simple: you got back what you gave. If you put in enough faith you’d find it reciprocated. You just had to trust enough to give it that much first. That’s new to Oikawa, but twenty thousand kilometres away from home Hinata sets to him and he slams the ball down, gleeful at the reversal.
Apropos of nothing in particular Oikawa remembers Inarizaki’s benched captain and the steely, meticulous serenity he exuded during the brief times he was ever on the court, the way his team circled close to him like hungry feral animals, how gratefully they leaned into his quietude, though every single one of the Inarizaki regulars far outstripped him on the basis of skill. That unquantifiable something, that exacting care. There's none of that consideration in Hinata's bright unthinking magnetism but it strikes the same chord of recognition in him, watching what seems like the entire beach volleyball circuit in Rio gravitate towards Hinata, wanting his shine, a little bit of his secondhand warmth. With no small amount of irritation Oikawa realises he's been swept up in it too, but then the ball leaves his hands so beautifully he can't hold onto the chagrin.
Scalding blue sky. Sun on the back of his neck. The gym had inoculated him from the whims of the elements but also from all of this openness, the whole world rushing upwards to greet him as he swings his arm back and smashes the ball down.
Game after game, afternoon fraying into the violet dusk. They start winning, the finicky gears clicking into place. Their rematch with the duo from last night ends in victory and when Hinata turns to him for a celebratory high-five Oikawa’s seized by the wild urge to repurpose the contact and reel him in and—do something. Luckily he’s spared from interrogating this train of thought any further by the prospect of dinner.
After a brief struggle over the bill the other two guys agree to split it, and Oikawa covers Hinata’s portion again in a random fit of generosity. “You didn’t have to, I already found my wallet,” Hinata protests, but Oikawa bats the objection away.
“It’s fine. I’m only here for a week, plus, you’re like, my ex-kouhai-in-law, I can fork out a little extra.”
“Still! You already treated me yesterday.”
“Well, like I said, you can always treat me to dinner,” Oikawa says. Turns the words over in his mouth, assessing. “Next time.”
Hinata does take him out for dinner the day after, a tiny joint just off the beachfront welling over with patrons. Oikawa sears off half his tastebuds wolfing down bean fritters stuffed with spicy shrimp and has to chug huge gulps of beer to soothe his mouth while Hinata loyally pretends he isn’t choking back laughter. A couple years on Argentine spirits have fortified his liver, but the rounds do start adding up and before long alcohol’s softening the world into watercolour.
The light sticks to Hinata like clingwrap. He watches Hinata pop an orange segment into his mouth and lick his fingers clean. It’s harrowing. Oikawa is reasonably certain he is experiencing it in slow motion. He’s also reasonably certain Hinata knows exactly what he’s doing, and his suspicions are confirmed when they get outside and, in the shaky, glowing ellipse of yellow beneath a streetlight, Hinata sets a hand to the back of Oikawa’s neck and kisses him.
Somehow they manage to make it back to Oikawa’s hostel room. Oikawa blinks and then he’s flat on his back, the breath whooshing out of him in surprise. Hinata’s face hovers over his own, shining with intent. Smile like a meteor. What is Oikawa supposed to do, not kiss him?
Hinata's mouth at the tender point just above his collarbone, Hinata's hands pressing him down into the mattress. In response Oikawa slides a palm between Hinata’s shoulderblades, the thrill of the solid muscle underneath, incontrovertible proof of devotion. As Hinata’s fingers descend into his pants Oikawa retains just enough control over his higher order brain functions to think, despairingly, how the fuck is he so good at this. He hadn’t seen any of this coming, but never let it be said that Oikawa Tooru is not a fast learner.
Unfortunately Oikawa had indeed been lying when he told Hinata he didn’t watch Kageyama’s matches: he does still keep tabs on them. No longer wracked by the adolescent masochism that kept him up past midnight replaying video recordings in the cocoon of his room, he won’t battle the time difference to watch them live, but he’ll catch reruns in his spare time. It’s good to be reminded that everyone around him is growing, too. He isn’t entirely who he was in high school but he doesn’t have a monopoly on evolution, as much as he might wish otherwise.
The memory of his fifteen-year-old self, sick with misery, pulses like an unhealed bruise if he prods at it too hard but like everything else it’s been worn down around the edges by the slow tide of time and it’s distant, now. Only the shell of the feeling remaining. Leaving space for something new, or maybe something old but forgotten, to rush in.
Hanamaki calls one morning and lobs an appallingly loaded, “So shorty-pie, huh?” into the line as soon as Oikawa picks up. Oikawa can practically hear his horrible grin and contemplates the tantalising fantasy of hanging up on him.
“You don’t have to say it like that,” Oikawa complains. “How’d you even find out, who’s leaking my personal life to the presses?”
“I have my sources,” Hanamaki says loftily, which means the information’s definitely disseminated through the complex web of the Japanese ex-high school volleyball scene, so now everyone knows. Probably even Johzenji’s old manager with the short bangs knows. “What a coincidence, though. Small world.”
“Must be fate,” Oikawa says. “Or volleyball! Which is the same thing if you really think about it.”
“To you,” Hanamaki says. Oikawa laughs and tugs the curtains to his room open with his free hand, letting in the sun.
“Well, it was volleyball that brought us together, isn't that a bit like fate?”
“Beach volleyball, though,” Hanamaki continues, cruelly ignoring the words of Oikawa’s heart like usual. “Definitely didn’t expect that out of him.”
“It’s awful,” Oikawa says. “The sand gets everywhere and I fell on my face three times in the first ten minutes. Don’t laugh at me!” Hanamaki is laughing at him. “Shouyou is crazy. I thought I was pushing it, but he’s on a whole new level. He says he’s coming back to normal volleyball in a couple years, though, so that’ll be something to watch.”
“Shouyou,” Hanamaki repeats, with gleeful emphasis.
“Oh my god, shut up.”
“I’m scandalised,” Hanamaki says. “Crossing the net like that! Do you know, I think Yahaba had a mental breakdown when he heard. He might snap and put a hit out on Hinata Shouyou’s head, tell him to watch out.”
“I’m in Rio for one week, not getting married.” Oikawa rolls his eyes. “I’m rolling my eyes, just so you know,” he tells Hanamaki. “So what’s your life looking like?”
“Same old, same old,” Hanamaki says. “No encounters with ex-high school rivals in sight, very tragic, have been sighing fitfully at the moon lately wondering why Tendou Satori won’t call me back… Well, food retail may be crushing my soul, but—actually there’s no but. I’m thinking of quitting soon.”
“What are you going to do instead?”
“Don’t know,” Hanamaki says cheerfully. “I’ve got this coworker who’s, like, a karuta pro or something on the side, keeps inviting me to his local association—maybe that’ll be my next gig. I’ll spike those cards right through the tatami.”
He’s done his fair share of new year’s games at home, but professionally? Oikawa can only conjure up a hazy mental image of traditionally-clad individuals slapping at cards in a temple while someone chants poetry at them. He hazards a guess at the demographic: “You’ll give all those senior citizens instant heart attacks.”
“Drumming up business for Issei. I’m just such a good friend.”
“Sometimes when we’re really missing your effervescent presence I’ll even call him Mattsun, how’s that?”
“Can you at least have the decency to act embarr—aww! You miss me?”
“Of course,” Hanamaki says patiently. “Life just isn’t the same without someone to test out my epic jokes on. I guess the reverse is true, too—must have been weird for you, suddenly seeing a familiar face after so long, right?”
It’s hard to shake the theatrics, that comfortable groove of call-and-response they’ve all settled into and are mostly content to replay, but every now and again Hanamaki will catapult some question with relentless, uncanny precision directly into a crack in Oikawa’s armour like a goddamn heat-seeking missile. When he first moved to Argentina, insomniac with secret homesickness: wow, you sound like a zombie, are you even sleeping? Last year, when he and Iwaizumi weren’t not speaking but also weren’t exactly experiencing a torrential downpour in the message notification department: how long’s it been since you called Iwaizumi? For all Iwaizumi knows him best and clearest out of any other person in this world there are times the wordless ease of that understanding stoppers their throats instead. But Hanamaki, his old razor-eyed left hand who has the benefit of a little more distance, insists on the honesty of plain articulation, without judgement. Oikawa probably won’t ever tell him he’s grateful for it; just pays him back with truth.
“It was like I was eighteen again,” Oikawa says. “I haven't been homesick in years but I felt like… the opposite of homesick, you know? I thought seeing someone I used to know might throw me off. But it was so easy. Or maybe that’s just Shouyou, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have done something drastic if I’d met—Ushiwaka, or Tobio-chan, or… ”
Hanamaki in Tokyo, Iwaizumi in California, Oikawa in San Juan, Hinata Shouyou in Rio de Janeiro. The astonishing new shapes of their lives leaving contrails crisscrossing the world, intersecting for briefly brilliant moments like these, a phone call spanning a twelve-hour difference, a week on a beach. You can move on but the history remains, and it’ll resurface at the strangest moments. Already he’s thinking of the day ahead, the prospect of another round on the sand. Digging his heels in, tossing up the ball. How satisfying it will feel to get it right. To look over and see that exultance mirrored on the face of the only other person on his side of the net.
“It’s good, I think,” Oikawa finishes. “That I got to see him here. It—settled me.”
“Mmhm. You happy?”
“Actually, yeah,” Oikawa says, looking out over the lush and teeming street, the blistering sky, summer sticking its fingers into every corner. “Yeah, I am.”
They spend a day hiking up Corcovado, eschewing the trains for the more sparsely populated walking trail, breathing in the clean, woody air and peering back at curious marmosets. Something meditative about the simplicity of exertion to climb to a higher elevation. A couple of near-death experiences with the vans hurtling around bends in the road later and they’re gamely battling the crush of tourists for a glimpse of the glittering panorama of the entire city stretching out at their feet, then the obligatory selfie with Cristo Redentor looming in the background, too tall to fit entirely within the frame alongside their faces but that’s the price of getting so close to a colossus.
It’s late afternoon by the time they get back down, golden glow like sap encasing the city in amber. Hinata leans close, touches Oikawa’s forearm, says, “My roommate’s out at evening classes today, wanna come over?” and Oikawa can hardly say no to an offer like that.
Things are progressing pretty swimmingly until Oikawa’s elbow knocks over a stack of Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards mystifyingly perched on the counter Hinata’s got him pressed up against and they have to pause to spend a frantic half-minute gathering them back up—“My roommate’s,” Hinata explains, then, ruefully, “Maybe we should move to the bedroom.”
Afterwards, once Oikawa’s finished coming down after possibly one of the best orgasms of his life—seriously, what the fuck—he smooths a hand down the valley of Hinata’s well-defined back, watches Hinata stir, turn to face him, inquisitive.
“I’ll be honest,” Oikawa says. “I still don’t get why you moved here. Like, you don’t strike me as the type who’s ever been outside of Honshu.”
“I hadn’t even been outside of Miyagi until my first volleyball training camp in Tokyo,” Hinata says, eyes crinkling up.
“Rio’s a long way from Miyagi.”
“I was pretty homesick at first,” Hinata confides. “It was really lonely. Being on the other side of the world to everything I grew up with… but—you know! I wanted to get better. It was just so hard. Not knowing if I'd made the right choice.”
Those early sleepless nights in Oikawa’s tiny flat in San Juan, watching the fluorescent digits on the face of his chemical-green alarm clock tick over, counterpoint to the quiet rhythm of his roommate’s breathing. The clock had been Matsukawa's going-away gift to him; he’d fallen in love immediately and now whenever he checked the time he was struck anew by a sharp pang of longing. How big the world was. How lonely it could be. He was good with self-discipline but sometimes he still caught himself turning over his shoulder with some glib half-formed phrase in his mouth for the audience of a familiar scowl. Habit he couldn’t kick.
“So was it?” Oikawa says. “The right choice?”
Oikawa chuckles, a small huff of breath. “Yeah, I get it. You didn’t come here because you thought it’d be easy.”
“But I don’t know if I would have answered the same way if we hadn’t run into each other,” Hinata says. “So I’m really glad we did! Can’t believe I’ve hit the Grand King’s tosses now, wow. High school me would be so jealous.”
“Even with Tobio-chan on the court?” he can’t resist asking.
Hinata shrugs. “I knew I wasn’t much good without him there,” he says, scrunching his face up. “It sucks, but it’s true. So I always wanted to see if I could pull off our quick with anyone else. Miya-san from Inarizaki—the setter one. You.”
“I watched your Nationals matches,” Oikawa says. “That first year. You caught a fever.”
“I’m better now,” Hinata says. “Well, duh, it’s been years and years, but I mean—at taking care of myself.” And he shifts, flash of that preternatural instinct like light catching on the edge of a coin as it flips through the air, and presses the flat of his palm to Oikawa’s knee. Oikawa exhales. The injury’s long healed over but there’s a twinge of something, some psychosomatic sympathy that responds to that plain contact, the warmth of Hinata’s hand drawing up old muscle memory like water from a well. “Oikawa-san is too, I think.”
“I'm a professional, after all,” Oikawa says, suddenly aware of his heartbeat. How faithfully it’s carried him through all these years.
Bodies are long-term investments, he understands this now. He hadn’t had a field of vision wide enough before, convinced that his life would be over at the end of his high school career and every wrung-out hour he spent in the gym was merely prolonging the steady march to the inevitable, those three short years closing in on him like a tightening net. Of course, once he got there, turns out it hadn’t been the end at all. It’s all just beginning. This is the rest of his life billowing outwards and upwards.
Some part of him will always be the bitterly desperate middleschooler in the airless Kitagawa Daiichi gym, but in the exact same way some part of him will always be the child watching wide-eyed with awe as José Blanco steadied the ball, reveling in the triumph of someone else’s expertise. The capacity for wonder. It never left him. For a moment he catches his breath, bracing himself against the rush of acidity, the old terror of lack, but it recedes like a low tide. Leaving in its wake only a seafoam lightness.
“But I guess you do have a Nationals appearance on me,” and Oikawa’s unable to help the twist to his mouth as the words leave. The reason he didn’t make it in his final year blinks at him, clear-eyed and unapologetic for his competing claim to the title, but if it hadn’t been Hinata it might have been Ushijima, might have been any other player on the court. All those dreams, and Oikawa had thought his unique. Foolish, maybe, but he’s still here, and that has to count for something.
“You were never gonna stop at just Nationals, though,” Hinata says. Hand gentle on Oikawa’s knee. No questioning lilt to the words. This is one expectation which is weightless as air.
“No,” Oikawa says, a marvel. “I wasn’t.”
The end of Oikawa’s last day in Rio finds them ankle-deep in the surf with their shoes hooked on their fingers, wind skimming off the surface of the waves and ushering in a cooler evening. The punctured orange yolk of the sun dripping across the horizon. Earlier they waded out further and Oikawa slid his hands sneakily up the back of Hinata’s shirt and Hinata spun around and tugged him down and kissed the salt out of his mouth and the sun swept over their shoulders like a mantle.
Underfoot the damp sand bears his weight uncomplainingly. The misleading constancy of the sand and the sea, unchanging on the grand scale but furious with metamorphosis in miniature, tides rushing in and out, sand tumbling itself smooth, so much motion beneath the veneer of stillness. Shielding his eyes and looking out over the ocean, his focus telescopes down to the smallest shards of reflected light and shunts wide again over and over; he can’t help it, the little shock of appreciation in reconsidering what he’d taken for granted.
Now Hinata stoops over and scoops up a pebble from the shore. “A souvenir,” he says, dropping the stone into Oikawa’s open and waiting palm.
Oikawa closes his fingers around it, gritty with sand, licked smooth by the ocean underneath, and laughs. “What, like this is Koushien?” he says. In his hand the stone is still faintly warm with stored heat, ordinary memory of an extraordinary week.
And Hinata grins, backlit by the dissipating sun, and says, “Why can’t it be?”
Hinata sees him off midmorning, and Oikawa waves for his teammates to go on first without him. Delivery bag strapped to Hinata’s back, suitcase in Oikawa’s hand, both of them standing in front of a crosswalk, in preparation for a parting of ways. The week that’s passed already feels like a sundrenched mirage, snatches of sense memory tangled around the small, startling figure standing poised on the balls of his feet before him, like at any moment he might take flight.
So in the end Oikawa never managed to get to the Nationals court, his Koushien, but Hinata was right—he’d never planned to stop there, anyway. The entire world flaring out around him like the flurry of glitter in a snowglobe probably no tourist trap in Rio will sell. On the sand he’d intuited what Hinata wanted from him: a perfect toss, an unfurled hand, a tiny reassurance that the world may be unimaginably vast but this sport they’ve both chosen to inhabit will always bring them back together. Upwards arc to contact to downslam, and then again, and again, and again. As many times as it takes to get it right.
I’d forgotten how it felt, he could say. You gave it back to me. But of course Hinata already knows. What they’ve done for one another a delicate crosshatch between them. They are watching each other watch each other. They know what they see.
“I’m going to beat everyone,” Oikawa calls, the shape of a promise. In this richness of light anything could be just as sacred as a childhood dream. It's still the same dream, in the end, and Hinata beams and chirps agreement, alive in the face of a challenge like nothing else. “That includes you as well, you could act a little more scared.” Hinata beams brighter. Oikawa shakes his head, but the expression’s infectious, Hinata a step ahead of him but only for now.
Stone in his pocket, light in his heart, every small thing Hinata has given him: he’ll carry them the whole way back, as though returning home. It's alright, though; they’ll see each other again soon. Oikawa doesn’t break his promises, and neither does Hinata. He throws up a peace sign in farewell. V for victory. When he turns away, he doesn’t look back.