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chasing gold

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July, 2019. Tokyo, Japan.

Matsukawa is the first to call him about the news.

“So, the national team,” he drawls. “‘grats.” Hajime imagines him with his chin tucked into his palm, a beer likely in the other hand.

It’s 6:30PM on an arid summer afternoon, and he’s power-walking through Shinjuku station, trying to catch the Yamanote line to his shitty, temporary apartment outside the city hub. The commute to and from Ajinomoto was becoming tiresome quickly, but Hajime had hopped off a plane from California just a couple weeks ago and couldn’t afford anywhere closer to work at the moment. Bokuto had offered up his place should he need it and Hajime had already slept on his spare futon more than once, on the nights practices ran late, but his complex wasn’t exactly meant to house two grown men full-time.

Well, it was fine. There wasn’t much Hajime wasn’t willing to put up with for a chance to work with Japan’s national men’s volleyball team.

“Thanks, man.” After a brief pause, to tap his Pasmo against the ticket reader and hustle onto the waiting train, he lets a grin split across his face. “Sorry I ghosted after just getting here. Drinks on me next time.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” He takes a noisy glug of his drink. “Cheers to your success.”

Hanamaki is the next to call.

Hajime is halfway home by this point. The train cart is thinning out—not that it was ever brimming this far down the end of the line—but more than one dozing commuter shoots him a nasty look. He hopes his apologetic look is conveyed properly from behind his face mask, then answers the call.

“Congrats, maaan~” Hanamaki says. He sounds infinitely bored as per his usual state of existence, but Hajime knows not to take that personally. Hanamaki had been the one to help him apartment hunt when he was on the other side of the world.

“So,” he adds, conversationally. “I’m sure you saw who landed a starting position on the Argentinian team this year?”

Matsukawa had had the tact not to bring it up. Not that Hajime would have minded, exactly. A bundle of nerves had knotted his stomach when he’d first heard the news, but it had been replaced quickly with the heat of excitement. He remembers a lingering promise between them, now almost a decade old: When we compete, I’ll take you down. His chance was finally looming.

“Surprised it took him this long,” Hajime replies, honestly.

Hanamaki cackles. “You always were his harshest critic. After himself, of course.”

Hajime rolls his eyes. He definitely doesn’t need a reminder of those memories, and tells him as much.

Between the distance from the train station to his very rundown flat, he receives several more text messages and phone calls from old Seijou teammates, congratulating him on his new position.

“You guys do know I’ve had this job for two weeks now, right?” he asks Kindaichi, amused.

“They just put your picture up on the roster online,” Kindaichi supplies, sounding sheepish. “It just feels really official now. I’m sorry, senpai, I should have called earlier—”

Hajime waves aside the apology. “I was just joking. I appreciate the call, Kindaichi.”

He lets himself into the apartment and shucks his sneakers at the genkan, wiggling his aching, overworked feet. His keys and work ID get deposited onto a nearby table, before he digs into whatever leftovers he can find in his fridge. He’s watching an old tape of one of Kageyama’s practices on his poor, beaten up laptop when his phone lights up for the final time that night.

He glances at the contact name, then his clock. It was almost 8AM in San Juan. He’d likely just finished his morning jog and was commuting to practice. It wasn’t like him to be on his phone when trying to get into the zone.

Hajime swipes open his messages.

He’s met with a screenshot of the national team’s roster, zoomed in really close to his face, to the point that it’s become highly pixelated. the hell’s with this crappy smile?? says Oikawa’s attached message.

Hajime groans. don’t start. they took it on 2.

your face *always* looks like that iwachan

fuck off!! trashykawa

[laughing emoji] not any worse than tobiochan’s at least

Hajime rolls his eyes. leave the kid alone

he’s not a kid anymore!! [angry face emoji] he hardly needs you standing up for him

the whole damn world needs protection from YOU

He puts his phone face-down on the table, then goes back to his meal and his practice video, ignoring the successive buzzing from the device. It’s only after it’s quieted down that he picks it back up, unable to contain a smirk. That never not worked.

rude!!! Oikawa’s written, followed by, you’re SUCH a boor.

iwachan?

stop ignoring me!!

sooo mature iwachan [eye roll emoji]

Then, finally, ok ok fine! i just wanted to congratulate you.

thanks, he thumbs back. guess this means we’ll be seeing you soon.

*we??*

yeah. all of us. you know, me, kageyama, ushiwaka. i’m sure you know some others from the team too.

Oikawa doesn’t answer right away. Hajime watches the thought bubble materialize at the bottom of their message board, the ellipses suspended on loop. He’s just beginning to wonder whether Oikawa had gotten busy with practice, and whether he should return to studying practice videos for the evening, when Oikawa’s final text slides into the empty space.

ugh i don’t care about them iwachan. i only care about you.

Hajime’s video reaches its end and quietly fades into black, coating the room with a disconcerting silence, but he doesn’t move to put on the next one, not right away. Instead, he stares at the message with a low heat burning in his chest, his throat. He’ll admit it—he misses Oikawa. He misses his shitty jokes, and stupid petulance, and that one-ended smirk he always gets on his face when he and Hajime make eye contact. It’s a wholly different thing to see it through a blurred, glitching computer screen on opposite sides of the world.

Eventually he presses out of their conversation and puts his phone aside. He replays Kageyama’s video and watches it properly to the end, then switches to Hoshiumi’s and finishes that one, too. Then he retires to bed early, to rise early the next morning for a jog and his monster commute to the training center. Keeping busy, always busy. For now, he’s got some serious work to do.

But he’d be seeing Oikawa again real soon.

 

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July, 2021. Tokyo, Japan.

“C’mon, man,” pleads Atsumu, for perhaps the umpteenth time. “This ain’t just about me, it’s about national pride. What’re we gonna do if I collapse in the middle of a match?”

Bokuto, who up until then had been balancing a bar of gargantuan weights over his head, sets them down on the rack under Hajime’s careful supervision. Then he belts a laugh. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, Tsum Tsum, I can give you a nice massage tonight! I’m really good at those! Ask Akaashi!”

Hajime has a feeling any massage from Bokuto would likely result in a cracked spine rather than any form of relaxation. But he wisely chooses not to say a word on the matter.

“Yer the fuckin’ reason I can’t sleep, dude!” Atsumu snaps, rounding on him. “Ya snore like a truck engine. Get that shit checked out by a doctor ASAP.”

“Then why, pray tell,” Sakusa interjects, coolly, “are you asking me to switch rooms?”

He shrugs. “Ya always look like yer running on two hours of sleep anyway.”

This was the wrong thing to say. Any moron on the team—and there were many of them—would have been able to tell him that. Sakusa glares up at him with heat-scorched irises, having to peer through the bangs curled over his forehead; it looks extra terrifying when he’s got his wrists snapped backwards against the floor in his usual stretching technique. Even Atsumu has the sense to back up.

“I’d offer my room,” Hinata pipes up, “but Kageyama grinds his teeth real bad.”

The back of his tangerine head gets smacked by the passing setter, and he howls.

Hajime feels the need to pipe up, before things descended into complete madness. “My room is always an option. If you don’t mind sharing with the coach.”

Predictably, no one wants to take him up on that offer.

“Ah, forget it,” Atsumu sighs. A devious glint enters his eye. “Maybe if things get real bad, someone from the girls’ team wouldn’t mind lettin’ me cozy up fer the night.”

Sakusa releases a very undignified, very uncharacteristic snort in response.

And another argument is quickly underway.

Hajime sighs. Maybe it was the nerves. Maybe it was from lack of sleep. But trifling arguments like these were becoming more common among the boys these days—though Ushijima had informed him on his very first day that they weren’t uncommon to begin with. He wasn’t too, too worried; he knew they could put their differences aside on the court when needed. But his own peace of mind had suffered substantially at their hands.

But then, well, this was the exact kind of ruckus he had missed, all those years he spent alone in California.

The one-sided quarrel between the boys eventually fizzles and dies off, never having reached a final conclusion—unless Sakusa rolling his eyes and walking away midway through Atsumu’s rant counted as a conclusion. The team files out to the showers. Hajime stays behind to wipe down the equipment and benches, leave the room as immaculate as they had found it. His anxious gaze flicks occasionally towards the clock on the wall, which points to early evening quickly making the descent into night.

It’s been a long time since he didn’t have to automatically convert to San Juan time in his mind.

The team catches him unexpectedly outside the training center as he’s leaving.

“Yo, Iwa-kun,” Atsumu calls. Fresh out of his shower, his bangs sweep like a curtain over his forehead. He’s shaking water from his ear lazily. “We’re gettin’ chow. Ya comin’?”

Hajime falters. “I can’t. There’s someone, uh…”

His tongue suddenly sits dry and heavy in his mouth, not letting him even fumble through an explanation. It’s not that the team would fault him for anything, he knows. But it also certainly hadn’t been his intention to announce his plans with several pairs of eyes drilling into him.

His gaze makes contact with the crystal blue of his old junior. Kageyama is blandly watching the scene from his typical position at the back of the group. Hajime feels inexplicably like he’s been caught—doing what?—when understanding suddenly passes through the haze of cobalt eyes.

Kageyama fills in the blanks for him. “Oikawa-san?”

Hajime’s hand finds the back of his head in an old, sheepish habit. It’s not even the first time he’s hearing the name, least of all from Kageyama. But it somehow feels weighted, illicit even, suspended in the distance between him and his team.

“Uh. Yeah.”

Hinata, at least, perks up. “Oh, yeah! The Argentina team landed today, didn’t they!”

His smile practically glitters for how ecstatic he is at the thought; Hajime begins to feel himself physically soften around the edges, seeing it, seeing his excitement—that is, until at least three mouths from his various team members snap open, each with a comment of their own.

“‘Team?’” Hoshiumi looks interested. “As in, volleyball team?”

“Iwa Iwa, you know someone from Argentina’s team?!” Bokuto demands, eyes ablaze. “That’s so cool! D’you think he’d wanna practice with us sometime?! Is that even allowed?”

“Fraternizin’ with the enemy, are we?” Atsumu drawls. It looks like he’s only joking, but no one can even really be sure with him sometimes.

Sakusa is blissfully silent, if even mentally present for the conversation at all.

In the hollow space that follows their outbursts, it’s Ushijima’s deep baritone which holds the most substantial weight. He’s not wearing his jersey, but an imaginary #1 is suspended upon his back when he steps forward. His face is impassive, yet no less commanding. “Go,” he says to Hajime. “You wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.”

Hajime nods to him once, thankful, then quickly spins on his heel and stalks away, before the team can again interject with their opinions and questions and general ruckus. He can trust Ushijima to rein in peace, he knows.

He breaks into a quick jog, but only once the training center has become a speckle in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s approaching dusk by the time Hajime exits the train station.

For the first few years that he lived in California, this time of day had felt like a sharp edge digging into his stomach; it was maddeningly lonely, after years of walking home from volleyball practices with Oikawa, to no longer associate sunset with the smell of salonpas and shoyu ramen. But, like most things, he’d gotten used to it. Between completing his internship, studying for his BOC exam, and putting in job applications into all corners of the world, his last few years abroad had been a manic haze of future planning, with no time to look backwards.

It wasn’t until he’d stepped into the sticky heat of Tokyo’s summer two Junes ago that he’d allowed all the memories to wash over him; cherry popsicles from the FamilyMart at the end of their neighborhood; their favorite table at Chindozu’s, where his ramen order had been the usual; the athletic tape piling up on Oikawa’s fingers after serving practices; Call of Duty sessions with the third-years in his living room, before they’d propped open their homework and started doodling net formations along the margins. A flash of teal against white. His spike connecting effortlessly with a perfect set. A ball hitting the ground in slow motion. What kind of ace am I? Thank you for these three years. You are the partner I can boast about.

Hajime held no misconstructions about his prime. He knew that the era of all-nighters and cherry popsicles were behind him, that his high school days were something that would never come again. It had been a long, long time since Seijou had become a bittersweet memory, and Hajime had since learned how to keep pushing forward.

But there was one thing in his life that would always remain constant, a fixed orbit moving about his peripheral.

Hajime follows the tide of the dwindling crowd out of Shibuya’s Hachiko exit and into the bustling plaza, and there, standing just shy of the busy crossing, thumbing through his phone unawares, a pair of shades pulled back in his perfect hair, CA San Juan stamped in bold lettering on the back of his T-shirt—it was Oikawa.

It was the boy who had first discovered Hajime, age six and covered in plasters, scooping water beetles into jam jars at the local pond, and had thought he was so cool for the insect bites he had endured around the rims of his ankles.

It was the boy Hajime had once watched throw a tantrum in his backyard, screaming and crying and ripping at the grass, yelling “Why not me! Why not me!” because Kageyama had been picked as starting setter again, until Hajime had taken him aside, cleaned the dirt and blood from under his fingernails, and told him that a setter’s hands were precious.

It was the boy he had watched disappear into an airport terminal, his suitcase ladened with the weight of his expectations, sure of where he was going but unsure of where it would take him.

Maybe it wouldn’t be dramatic to say that the rest of the world falls away in that moment, or at least lags behind in way, way slow motion, leaving just him and Oikawa and the achingly miniscule gap between them.

He doesn’t even call out, just stares.

Oikawa looks up absentmindedly from his phone, his eyes doing a customary sweep of the plaza, before doubling back to latch onto Hajime. His mouth parts in surprise for a moment, but then curves at one end into his typical, lopsided smirk. Hajime’s stomach bottoms out at the sight, just shoots straight through him and lands at his feet.

“Iwa-chan!” Oikawa calls, pocketing his phone as he approaches.

He raises a fist, and Hajime raises one of his own, and it’s with ease of habit that they meet somewhere in the middle, warm knuckles resting against each other’s.

“Oikawa.” Hajime grins up at him.

When their fists begin to naturally fall away, he grabs the back of Oikawa’s neck, yanking him instead into a fierce hug. Oikawa startles at first, before quickly melting into the embrace. They linger, relearning each other’s crevices, the crooks of each other’s necks, the unyielding strength of the other’s clutch.

Oikawa is the first to pull back, just enough to see his face. “What’s with the lovefest, Iwa-chan?” he jokes. “Did you miss me that much?”

His giant, shit-eating grin gives away that he’s wholly, sincerely pleased. Hajime is acutely aware of warm hands still rested against his shoulder blades.

“As if,” he responds, grinning himself.

The absurdity of the claim when his hand still cups the nape of Oikawa’s neck makes them both break into laughter, and Hajime could stand here like this forever.

They eventually break away. Hajime takes the lead strolling down Shibuya’s bustling streets, while Oikawa somehow manages to chatter a mile per minute about his uneventful flight experience, as if Hajime hadn’t been getting text updates on the hour. It’s a wholly different view from anything Hajime remembers of the occasional field trips he took to Tokyo in his childhood; there are Olympic banners sprung about every shop, and every billboard or bus stop plastered with Miraitowa’s fierce, cartoonish face. A rerun of Kageyama’s shitty Colgate ad from last summer blares from a nearby TV in a display window, and Hajime swears he hears a child eke ‘high spirits bomb!’ from somewhere in the crowd.

They’re being seated in the basement level of an izakaya, encompassed by smoke rings of fried food and cheap cigars, when Hajime realizes.

He thinks of Kageyama in his tacky HOLLYWOOD cap, Komori with a hoodie bunched around the edges of his face, Sakusa buried in his face mask, trying to move about the city unrecognized. Atsumu’s face was on the front cover of Number this month after he’d been interviewed for a special editorial on the Olympic team. Hinata often spoke of how his hair flashed against muted subway terminals, and being hounded (rather willingly) by fans whenever he traveled to his family in Miyagi. The whole country’s eyes were on them, have been on them now for many years.

Oikawa doesn’t have that problem.

To Japan, to the streets of Tokyo, to the tired college student who seats them at their table and slaps menus before them, he was faceless. A nobody. It doesn’t matter that he’s been killing himself over his jump serves since the day he had picked up a volleyball, that he had chased his idol to far corners of the world just for a chance at breaking into the Argentinian League, that memories of him haunted no small percentage of Team Japan just as he carried the ghost of his past losses into every game.

That he’d done it. Against all the odds. It was fucking surreal, that Hajime was looking straight into the face of his childhood and it had become an Olympic-level setter, handpicked by Argentina.

The thought glitches and repeats itself again.

Oikawa Tooru. His best friend. The official setter for Argentina’s Olympic team.

Oikawa catches his burning gaze suddenly with a sideways glance, and raises a single brow. “Why are you looking at me like that, Iwa-chan?”

Deny, deny. “Like what?”

He leans close into Hajime’s face, and smiles prettily through his long, downturned lashes. A deviant glint spoils the look of practiced innocence. “Like I hung the moon.”

Hajime turns his face away with a hand to his burning neck, and mumbles “I’m not,” in a low voice that probably becomes lost in the surrounding cheer. Oikawa, shockingly, chooses not to press the matter. But he doesn’t stop smiling, all smug and bumptious as he leans back against the booth. Hajime scowls. Fuck him.

This is exactly how their friends find them.

Hanamaki is the first to arrive, but only by two paces. Matsukawa dawdles in behind him at a much slower bob, but with the same beaming smile at the sight of their old friend. Oikawa sits up bolt straight in his seat when the two slide into the bench across.

“Makki! Mattsun!”

“What’s up, asswipe?” Hanamaki greets him. His smirk broadens. “They really let that face through customs?”

All of Oikawa’s fervid excitement deflates from his shoulders at once. “Nice to see you haven’t changed,” he deadpans. “Mattsun, you work with death. Tell me, if I murder Makki and bring you the body, can you stage it to look like an accident?”

Matsukawa chuffs a laugh. “We’ll even take him out for you, for a couple thousand yen under the table. It’s called the Hanamaki Death Star Special.”

“Done!” he trills with delight.

“Wow, wow, hey.” Hanamaki looks less than enthused by this development. “If I recall, last we saw our heroes, mister ikemen over here was the butt of all our jokes. Since when did we decide we were changing up the dynamics of this group?”

Hajime raises a brow. “Since you got fired from your last job for mass-texting the company about your boss’s cone-shaped nipples?”

“Ugh. You classist assholes. I’ll have you know, us unemployed folk are a protected species.” After a pregnant pause, in which his exasperation with his eye-rolling friends builds, he insists, “All my coworkers high-fived me as I walked out of the office.”

Oikawa snorts. “Right.”

This devolves into a petty argument, which then further devolves into Hanamaki bolting out of his chair and exclaiming “Is it a crime not to have a job?! In this economy?” until two very drunk, giggly college girls from the next table give him serious side-eye. He sits back down, looking pained. Matsukawa thumps his back.

He’s in the midst of regaling them with every colorful, nonsensical job interview he’s been to in the past month when their same lukewarm server arrives to take their order. They order platters of sushi for the table and a couple jugs of beer, which quietly slip their way in between them while they’re caught up in remembering each other. The sushi is only as good as expected from a place picked out by their very unemployed friend, but they have memories of trying every trashy food stall they could find across Sendai when they were seventeen, and this is just another way that things have simply picked up where they left off.

Hajime and Oikawa both refuse firmly to take even one sip of beer.

“Ah, come on,” Hanamaki insists, pushing a jug towards them. Condensation slips down the cooled steel, courtesy of the quickly melting ice. “Not even a little? It’s gonna get watered down soon.”

“I’m an athletic trainer,” Hajime grunts.

Oikawa sniffs, nose turned up. “And I’m a professional athlete.”

“I have work in the morning.”

“And I have to work out with the team.”

“And the opening ceremonies are in two days.”

“Yeah, that, too!”

“Okay, okay. Geez.” Hanamaki drags the jug back over to himself, and pours himself another mug. “You two always were the health nuts. Guess that’s why we’ll be the ones watching you on TV.”

Matsukawa takes an enormous, frankly impressive glug of his beer, then smiles solemnly. “It’ll be weird, though, seeing you two on opposite sides of the net. Can’t imagine it.”

Oikawa’s face sours. “Well, I offered to take out a hit on our trainer, leave the job all shiny and open for Iwa-chan to swoop in. But since he’s all buddy-buddy with Ushiwaka now,” he practically sneers, “I guess I just wasn’t good enough.”

Hajime doesn’t dignify the petulant remark with even so much as an eye roll.

He owed very much to Ushijima, and his father. Takashi Utsui had been his mentor throughout most of his time in college. Upon graduation, his internship of several months with Utsui-san had extended into a two-year long apprenticeship as an assistant trainer at his clinic. Never mind all the advice and home-cooked meals he had provided Hajime while he trudged through his schoolwork. When the old trainer for Team Japan had retired, Ushijima had put in a good word for him, then passed the news along to Irvine, where Utsui-san had written him a very nice recommendation. Truly, he owed them so much.

The rest had happened so quickly that Hajime dared not believe it until he was standing center court at the Ajinomoto national training center, being sized up by the national team themselves. It had taken an impromptu arm-wrestling tournament, a bottle of industrial-sized hand sanitizer, and a humiliating night he’d rather forget at an open mic karaoke bar before he’d been officially-unofficially inducted into the team.

But now here he was, two years later.

And it was still goddamn surreal.

“What a touching story,” Oikawa comments, snidely. He chomps aggressively on a peanut from the complimentary bowl.

Hanamaki pretends to sniffle into a napkin. “Couldn’t agree more. When’s the documentary coming out? I hope Ushiwaka wins an Academy Award.”

A handful of peanuts make landing on his face.

“Tendou got one,” Matsukawa says, suddenly. Then he looks almost surprised with himself for speaking it, as if the thought had been dropped unexpectedly into his lap.

“I know!” Oikawa squawks in anguish, and from there, they quickly degenerate into a flurry of astonishment and overlapping words stacked on top one another, jumping from “His hair, I didn’t even recognize him without the anime do,” to “Best friends—shing!”  to “Nationals all the time?” (which was Oikawa, with immense disgust).

Then talk turns over naturally to Seijou.

Apparently Kyoutani’s last match had been a home-game that Matsukawa had gone to watch together with Yahaba, though their moral support had quickly turned into cutting shame when he’d gotten into more than one verbal dispute with the referee. At least the Frogs had managed to snare the victory.

“Shame we had to pretend we didn’t know him,” Matsukawa says, solemnly.

Watari had completed a degree in marine biology and was currently teaching dolphins to leap through hoops at Enoshima Aquarium. The team had gone once to watch, and Watari had taken them backstage after the show and persuaded a dolphin to peck Hanamaki’s lips.

“The most action I’ve had in months,” he sighs, around their noisy cackles.

Yahaba was teaching kiddos the basics of volleyball in Sendai’s community center. Kindaichi played middle blocker on a fairly strong division two team, though they hadn’t fared too well at the last Kurowashiki tournament. Kunimi had settled easily into his dull office job at Eleventh Bank’s Miyagi branch, but he still made it to all of Kindaichi’s games, if only to make him sweat a little after each of his misses.

“And Hanamaki’s unemployed,” Matsukawa reminds them, for the fifth time.

Hanamaki swats him. “We prefer the term ‘in between jobs,’” he says, forming quotation marks with his fingers.

“‘We?’” Hajime repeats, amused.

“Yeah. The support group. We meet every Sunday for group therapy, then go around slashing tires at rando office buildings for fun.”

“I want to believe you’re joking,” Oikawa scoffs, “but…”

He simply cracks down on a peanut with a straight face, shell and all.

From there, the night is grotesquely nostalgic. They end up getting a second round of food and drinks for the table, and try to take a selfie for the old Seijou group chat despite the crappy indoor lighting, and get more giggly looks from the adjacent college girls when they start to loudly sing along to an old SMAP song that had been popular when they were growing up. They split an obscenely gigantic slice of cake between them in belated honor of Oikawa’s birthday, and Hanamaki tries to knot a cherry stem with his tongue but almost chokes to death. Matsukawa picks up their remaining half jug of beer and downs the whole thing in one, giant chug, and Oikawa frets for all of two seconds whether the video was “too PG for my Instagram story” before posting it anyway.

Hajime thinks he could probably search the world for centuries, touch every corner of the earth and some more, and still never find the right words to explain how much he’d missed these incorrigible bastards.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not late by any of their standards when they decide to call it a night. They’ve got two workaholics in their midst—one more proudly self-destructive than the other—and two night owls who could be found bar-hopping across the must of Kabukicho on any normal day.

But this isn’t any normal day.

It’s one day and one hop, skip, jump away from opening up the Olympics, and Oikawa’s twenty-three hours of travel with some odd stolen naps on those uncomfortable plastic airport seats have started to catch up with him. Some time during the night, he flops his cheek on Hajime’s shoulder and doesn’t have the energy or the want to pick it back up, even when trading barbs with Hanamaki, which is when Hajime decides to foot the bill and usher them out of the booth.

They pick up the discarded peanuts around the perimeter of their table, bow sheepishly to their glaring server, and shuffle outside into the sultry, humid night.

“Fuck,” Hanamaki says, kicking down at the road. He’s got his head hung, half-lidded and just a little bit buzzed. “Can’t believe it. Next time we’ll be seeing you is on the TV, I guess.”

Matsukawa grins. “Give ‘em hell, Oikawa.”

Hajime snorts. “I am standing right here, you know.”

“Oh, don’t mind Iwa-chan. You know what he’s like. Can’t stand not to have the attention on him for even one second.” Amusement sparkles in his eyes. “And you know me. I didn’t come all this way to give ‘em anything lukewarm.”

He gets cuffed affectionately by their two friends, and Hajime stares at him. Oikawa’s honest to god beaming. It could be the night: the summer breeze rifling through, his old friends on either side of him, his belly warm with subpar food. But Hajime doesn’t think it’s something so transient, temporary. There’s something more potent shimmering beneath his irises, flickering flecks of happy gold into the warm, chocolate brown as it beams through.

Whatever it is, it licks at Hajime’s stomach, his chest, and fills him to the brim. Before he is fully aware, even of his own blatant stare, he discovers Oikawa’s smile reflected on his own mouth.

“So, tell me,” Hanamaki’s saying, when Hajime zones back into reality, “what’s security like over at the Olympic Village? I mean, like, is it tight tight? Or is there wiggle room there for two guys to Mission Impossible their way into Argentina’s suite?”

Oikawa rolls his eyes. “It’s tight tight. Took me two whole hours just to get through the security check and drop off my bags earlier. And they were very handsy, mind you. How rude.”

“That’s only the first time security check,” Hajime assures him. “After that, you just flash them your badge going in and out.”

Hanamaki smirks, rubbing his chin deviously with his forefinger and thumb. “So what you’re saying is, Mission Impossible is a go.”

Matsukawa’s large hand comes around to swat the back of his head, sending him pitching forward a couple steps. “Enough with the hair-brained schemes, dude,” he drawls, disregarding his yowl. “Can’t you tell Oikawa’s about ready to dig himself a ditch in the road to sleep in?”

Oikawa just presses his lips into a thin line, still smiling faintly.

Matsukawa drapes an arm over his best friend’s shoulders and begins to forcibly drag him away. “We’ll catch you two soon,” he calls back at them.

Hanamaki doesn’t wrestle the pushy maneuver, allowing himself to be led away literally by the neck. But he does glance at them from under Matsukawa’s arm, and mouths ‘keep me posted’ with a phone mimed against his ear. They eventually get swallowed by the crowds, still attached at the nape.

Hajime presses a hand to Oikawa’s arm and begins to shephard him along. “Let’s get going.”

Oikawa sags against him, the point of his chin on Hajime’s shoulder. “Are we taking the bus or the train, Iwa-chan?”

A quick Google Maps search—hindered by Oikawa’s repeated attempts to backseat search on Hajime’s phone from over his shoulder, despite getting smacked away—tells them they’re an hour out from Village Plaza. Hajime’s typically never bougie enough to hail a cab, especially not in the heart of Tokyo, but purple, sunken bruises have started to form under Oikawa’s eyes. His gaze lingers there.

When they’re zipping through districts in the narrow, unfamiliar space confined by the cab divider, Oikawa thrusts his phone in Hajime’s face and turns up the brightness by a thousand notches.

“Look at this,” he demands, ignoring Hajime’s wince.

Watari has written a response to his Instagram story. I hope you’re all being careful, senpai!

In complete juxtaposition, Kyoutani’s message reads, if he dies i call dibs on his height

“Should I tell him you have first dibs, Iwa-chan?” he coos, clearly to get a rise out of him.

But Hajime simply rolls his eyes; he’d stopped letting barbs like that get to him when he stopped playing volleyball competitively. “Yeah, yeah,” is all he says, and takes note of Oikawa’s surprise.

“Um, wow. When did you get all mature?”

Another eye roll. “I’ve always been this way. Someone had to rein you in, didn’t they?”

“How rude. I did not need to be reined in.”

“You would have stomped on all of Kageyama’s toes if I didn’t roundhouse kick you into the wall first.”

Offense sours Oikawa’s face but, unable to counter, he reaches over to prod Hajime’s forehead in lieu of any real argument—childish as he’ll probably forever be. Hajime snatches him by the wrist, more amused than anything.

When his fingers press around the fine bone, he notes how they strain with the effort to stretch about the girth. There is immense power in even this sliver of Oikawa’s hand.

And he’s warm. Hajime’s always run hot so he doesn’t typically notice such things about other people. But a dull heat seeps gradually into the fine lines of his fingers, and he thinks the Argentine sun might have fused into Oikawa’s body like a nuclear reaction.

The first time he’d held Oikawa’s hand—gaunt and sticky as it was back then—they’d been fifteen and Oikawa had forcibly dragged him to Sendai’s Pageant of Starlight display in the ass-crack of winter. Hajime had been determined to be miserable as a small rebellion, but, fuck, Oikawa had looked so goddamn happy encircled by a whirlwind of fairy lights and bell tones, and Hajime wasn’t foolish enough to believe he wasn’t a damned weakling for it. There had been a different kind of power in his hand, then.

When he lets go of Oikawa’s wrist, he feels the loss.

Oikawa takes it back quietly and holds it in his other hand, a series of complex emotions passing through his face in rapid succession. An edge of panic skirts across Hajime’s chest. Fuck. How long had he been holding it for?

“Your jump serves must be killer these days,” he says, because volleyball’s always been a safe fallback option.

Oikawa’s gaze slides to his face, still a bit perplexed. But then it snaps into something sweet and nimble. He tuts, “Uh-uh, Iwa-chan. There’s no use trying to get secrets out of me!”

“That’s not—”

“But, of course, I am willing to tell you about my jump serves, only if you tell me which one of your team members you’ve been working with these days.” He bats his lashes, trying to make himself look as appealing as possible.

“Hard pass.”

“Aw, come on. We both know I’ll figure it out an-y-way~”

He probably would, the freak, Hajime is forced to concede. The team would need to be extra careful. One slight move, one second of hesitation, one instance of favoring right over left or left over right, and he’d figure out every weakness Hajime’s been working tirelessly to mend in these few months.

But all he says is, “Good luck with that, then,” in the flattest tone he can manage.

Oikawa puts on an extravagant show of raising his hackles, sticking his face out the half-rolled cab window to pretend Hajime’s not there. They’re not far now from the Village; if Hajime believed his best friend was capable of giving the silent treatment for more than five minutes before his compulsive need to jabber took control, he might actually be concerned.

Instead, a huge grin splits his face.

Fucking hell, he’d missed him. He hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed him until he realizes that he’d missed even his stupid, petulant cries for attention disguised as temper tantrums.

He’d missed his infuriatingly perfect hair, even the little ones that stood up on his arm when he was annoyed. He’d missed the nasal quality his voice took on when he was trying to be cute but failing spectacularly. He’d missed the way Hajime’s shoulder became his natural resting place whenever he was tired.

What an amazing thing it was, to be seeing Oikawa again, to be touching Oikawa again.

Hajime thinks of July in 2013, a summer that was too sticky and melancholic to bear, and not knowing then when the next time would be that they would see each other again. Oikawa had crooned some nonsense at him about “Don’t miss me too much!” and Hajime had intoned that his life would now finally know peace, and then the ride back from the airport still held the record for the longest hour of his life, a heavy weight bogging down his stomach, his heart, the entire bus ride home. There was an empty space where there was once Oikawa’s incessant chatter and inflated ego.

A month later, Hajime was standing in the neverending spiral of the customs line at LAX, his passport and crumpled boarding pass in hand. His dad had come with him, which he secretly appreciated; it was all he could do to keep from using whatever roaming data his garbage phone service provided him to Google the time difference from San Juan. But that would come later.

The next few days saw him breaking in his apartment, roaming the UCI campus, mentally mapping out his new city. California was big, spacious. There was space upon space upon space, and Hajime wasn’t used to so many gaps that served no purpose other than to be. There were no FamilyMarts but instead 7-11s stood on every street corner, and everything was overpriced by Hajime’s standards. Ritz and glamour oozed from each passerby, even this far out from Los Angeles; Gucci shades, $30 Sephora lip balms, flagrant eyelash extensions. It was all more Oikawa’s scene than his own, and so it couldn’t be helped that he missed that damn asshole so much every day that it made his bones physically ache.

Then his dad left. And it was only natural that he propped Skype open on his laptop that night, dialing up Shittykawa’s Toe Fungus for the first time since he’d gone international.

There were only four hours between them. That, to Hajime, was the most amazing thing about California.

Oikawa’s beaming smile flashed him from another continent, and Hajime knew peace.

“All settled, Iwa-chan?” he asked, like he hadn’t been cluttering up Hajime’s phone with recommendations of funky IKEA furniture.

Hajime shrugged. “Pretty much. How’re you?”

“Good, good.” He looked strangely flushed, his chin shaking with the struggle to bite back a smile. When he spoke again, he was practically breathless. “Really good, actually. Practice today went really well. And he was there, Iwa-chan. Blanco-san. He came and sat, and he watched me play. He said I was good.”

If he was maybe even five years younger, he would have swooned in dramatic fashion, knuckles fanning across his bangs. But, instead, a shiny afterglow oozed from his very pores. Oikawa’s beaming smile flashed him, and all at once, Hajime knew—he was happy.

Oikawa was happy in Argentina.

He was one step closer to his dreams, to his idol, even to all the revenge he had promised upon half of Sendai before his dramatic exit. It didn’t matter that he was ten-thousand miles from home and barely getting by on his subpar English. He was doing exactly what he had gone there to do. He was carving a place for himself into the margins of something great. He was getting ahead, inch by inch.

And like hell Hajime would let him.

“I saw my campus,” he told him. “It was big. Really green. There’s a good trainer program here, and the school said they’ll help me find a summer internship if I want.”

“That’s great, Iwa-chan! I’m really happy for you!”

“Yeah. Well. You shouldn’t be.” Then he smirked, challenge blazing in his eyes. “You should watch your back.”

Shock flickered across Oikawa’s face for a split second, before he returned the smirk tenfold. His voice lowered by several octaves. “Same to you, Iwa-chan.”

And that’s really what got him through it. That’s what got him through his first year in California, was this spirit of competition that pulsed between them, this compulsive need to best Oikawa and come out the victor, so that when they met again, they could flex their biceps and show off their shiny medals and share a hug that felt rightfully earned.

The next year he would find Ushijima in Irvine like some holy apparition, and Takashi Utsui would fall straight out of one of his many training modules to become part of Hajime’s life, and then he would be shuffling through Narita Airport at 4AM with his entire life in his suitcase, sleep-drunk and cranky, and would find Hanamaki waiting at the exit with a cardboard IWAIZUMI sign and a much-needed cup of black coffee.

And then, some odd years later, he would see Oikawa again.

He would see Oikawa again, and they would hug like they’d earned it as the world around them fell away, and Oikawa would smell heady like the ritzy cologne Hajime had given him as a high school graduation gift, and Hajime would notice. He’d sit next to Oikawa in the backseat of a quiet cab ride, and think about what an amazing thing it was, to only have a middle seat distance between them instead of oceans and continents and many, many years.

Just because he can, he reaches over and tweaks one of Oikawa’s ears.

Oikawa startles, and peels away from the wind lapping at his fringe to look at him, aghast. But he doesn’t move to cover his ear. “And what was that about?”

Hajime can’t contain his laugh. “Nothing.”

“Hm?” Oikawa softens despite himself. His silent treatment seems forgotten, not that it had ever been a real threat. He laughs, too. “You’ve turned into a weirdo while I was away, Iwa-chan.”

“Maybe I have,” he jokes.

Oikawa chuffs another laugh, before turning back to crack his window the rest of the way. When he leans out on folded arms, the wind surges about his face, pulling his bangs from his forehead and whipping something rogue onto the apples of his cheeks. He flutters his eyes shut and hums along happily to the quiet ballad on the radio, reveling in the moment.

He looks beautiful and free and goddamn happy, and Hajime’s fucking traitor chest starts to beat thunder into his ears. He swivels to stare determinedly out his own window, but seared atop the darkened scenery, all he can see is the face he’s making in his own reflection. He swallows, hard.

Maybe he really had.

 

 

 

 

 

Hajime wakes the next morning ahead of his alarm. That thing was more of a formality than anything; he can’t remember the last time in his life he wasn’t awake by six in the morning, and it’s become an easy, natural part of him.

He searches blearily for his phone on the bedside table, squinting when the blue light stings his eyes. Sliding open his messages, he shoots Oikawa a text: you up?

The reply comes within seconds. yup!

Hajime frowns. He wonders whether Oikawa ever outgrew his habit of staying up late into the night. He used to power through the day on minimal sleep, a smear of concealer under his eyes, and would avert Hajime’s hard, disapproving gaze. But he was a professional athlete now. He should know better.

meet me on the first floor. there’s a cafe down there that makes good preworkouts.

sounds like a plan! (∩ ڡ )

Hajime groans as he lifts himself from the stiff, cardboard beds provided by the Village. Coach Hibarida was already up; his side of the room was empty, the bed already made. Hajime takes a quick body shower and pulls on some workout gear from his vast arsenal of ASICS apparel, then semi-jogs down to the first floor.

Oikawa is already waiting, dressed in a CA San Juan standard-issue blue tracksuit. He pulls his fists from his pockets to wave. “Morning, Iwa-chan. Sleep well?”

“As well as anyone can, on those shitty beds,” he grunts. He doesn’t pause for even a step, just snatches Oikawa’s wrist mid-wave and begins to drag him along.

Team Japan had arrived at Village Plaza just within a few days of its opening. Hajime had gotten a good chance to explore when the halls were still cold and barren; there were cafes, a bank with international ATMs, a general store, and a gym just down the street which had begun to slowly teem with overeager athletes. Hajime didn’t have much use for the many coffee shops, but had quickly discovered that the smoothies weren’t half bad.

Each with an organic spinach-kale blend protein shake in hand, they choose to sit at a table outside by the decorated waterfront, where only a scant few Village residents have had the same idea.

Their limbs tangle beneath the surface, knees awkwardly bumping against each other, but neither of them pay it mind. Oikawa absentmindedly sucks from his straw, gnawing at the edge on the occasions in between, and Hajime grips his own cup with a steely hand.

It has been a very, very long time since Oikawa’s face was the first that Hajime saw in the morning. What a peculiar thought.

Oikawa notices his stare and tucks a curl behind one ear. “Something you want to say to me, Iwa-chan?”

Hajime finds it near impossible to peel his gaze away now that he’s seeing him like this, soft and sunlit, vibrant and sharp-edged and in the flesh, like he’s been pulled out from Hajime’s computer screen. The muted, rosy beams of the impending sunrise splash across the high points of his face, and Hajime realizes this is the first time he’s gotten a good and proper look at Oikawa since they were nineteen, wildly ambitious, and bitingly insecure.

He was still handsome, infuriatingly so. He’d probably convert a handful of Olympic spectators into Argentina fans, at the least.

His skin was still pale and clear like untouched porcelain. How he had avoided the kiss of the Argentinian sun was a testament to his will; Hajime could at least take solace in knowing all those Supergoop! sunscreens and GLAMGLOW mud masks and dozens of other obscenely expensive skincare crap he had been forced to purchase and mail off in care packages had been put to good use. (Hajime had been largely out of his element, standing in the skincare aisle of Sephora L.A. with a basket in hand, and the employees had been very eager to help but that had somehow made him more uncomfortable).

But that’s not all about him that’s untouched.

His jawline was still squared, but ridiculously attractive. The dark rims of his irises still caramelized under the slightest touch of sun, which was something Hajime had first discovered when he was six and this strange boy had come barreling into the pond to scoop beetles with him. His hair still curled effortlessly first thing in the morning, and he still had the habit of tucking curls behind his ear when self-conscious. His pout was still infuriating, and his smirk, devastating.

And the hollowed bags under his eyes seemed like they would forever remain a permanent part of his face.

Oikawa snaps up in surprise when Hajime’s hand quietly reaches across the table, to lay a gentle thumb over one of the bruises. He grazes it from one edge of his eye to the next, careful not to touch any firmer than a feather.

“What are you doing, Iwa-chan?” Oikawa asks—whispers.

Hajime’s answering voice is just as low. He’s frowning. “Did you sleep all right?”

Understanding quickly eclipses the surprise in Oikawa’s gaze. If Hajime thinks hard enough, he’s sure he can remember at least one time in their lives he’s done this before. Both of them knew, that the purple bruises under Oikawa’s eyes have always been like a fucking beacon to him, wringing his stomach sick with worry, guiding him straight to his best friend. But has he ever been this gentle? He can’t remember.

“It’s just jet lag,” Oikawa assures him, with another one of his lopsided smiles. “I’ll catch up with it by tomorrow.”

Then he does something that stuns Hajime down to his very bare bones. He slides his eyes shut, and gently presses his body forward, just enough that he’s leaning into the touch. A quiet hum seeps through his smile.

Hajime’s heartbeat shutters, if not arrests completely.

This was new.

He’s used to Oikawa flickering him one of those infuriating, plastic smiles, telling him, “Are you my mom, Iwa-chan?” and dancing out of the way of a jab. He’s used to texting Oikawa at all ungodly hours of the night, ordering him to GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP with enough skull emojis attached that the light in the bedroom across the street quickly goes out, and Oikawa Snapchats him a picture from inside his futon as proof.

He’s not used to—this.

Oikawa’s face is unchanged but still changed in enough ways that Hajime suddenly feels like he’s got a stranger under his thumb. If he knew how to handle this new maturity edged around Oikawa’s eyes, or the peace resting intimate on his smile, he’s sure he’d do more than try to lick through the sudden desert in his mouth, his stomach squirming sick with—something.

“Oikawa…” His thumbs traces back to the inner rim of his eye, and Oikawa smiles at the sensation. “You—”

Then two athletes at a faraway table erupt into a peal of laughter, speaking rapidly in French, and the spell—or whatever the fuck this was, whatever the fuck Hajime thought he was doing—shatters.

He stiffens, then quickly takes back his hand.

Oikawa’s eyes snap open, and he juts forward, to playfully snap a bite at Hajime’s thumb.

Hajime must look completely stunned; Oikawa takes one look at his face and collapses back with a peal of laughter of his own. He’s particularly bright, caught underneath a sunbeam.

Hajime’s mouth twitches. “You dumbass. Better not have rabies.”

He beams. “Don’t worry. The team made me get all my shots.”

“Obviously didn’t stop the flesh-eating virus that attacked your face.”

“Mean!”

This sets off another round of snickers, before they each take a long, drawn out sip of their smoothies. When Oikawa pulls back his cup, his expression is much softer.

“You started parting your hair at the side, Iwa-chan,” he notes. “It looks good.”

Hajime awkwardly runs a line down his scalp. “Uh. Yeah. Well, it started getting kinda long and I didn’t have time to get it cut. I barely have time to brush it most mornings, honestly. It just fell like this naturally.”

“You’re such a brute,” Oikawa teases, and makes it sound impossibly fond.

Hajime must suck down half his smoothie in the ringing silence that follows, before murmuring a wimpy “shut up…” that lacks any sort of real bite. When did it get so hard to raise his voice at Oikawa? Was it the closeness, the lack of space? That never mattered before. Why doesn’t it unsettle him more, to realize their whole dynamic was shifting—had shifted, probably?

Hajime doesn’t have any answers, so he sets his laser-focus on the smiling Miraitowa on his smoothie cup, and tries not to notice the golden speckles in Oikawa’s eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

“How's Oikawa-san?”

Hajime pauses with his hand halfway to a salonpas spray can, peering straight into Hinata’s sunny smile when he pins down the source of the chirpy question. The boy’s got a beaten volleyball rolling between his hands as he waits eagerly.

This, at least, Hajime can answer. “Insufferable.”

Hinata giggles. “I saw his Instagram story. It looked like you had fun!”

Him and the rest of the world, apparently. Hajime’s own mother had messaged him while he zoned out on the train that morning, three paragraph-long blocks of texts—something along the lines of, You didn’t TELL me Tooru was already back in Japan and I had to find out through his Instagram story like some STRANGER, Hajime! Shame on you! And I hope you were NOT drinking so close to the opening ceremony, young man!

mom i am 27yo and you should not be following my friends on insta, is what he’d wanted to say. Instead he’d said, Sorry.

The lingering grief from that entire conversation must have reflected on his face; Hinata looks downright concerned.

“Um. Iwaizumi-san? Is everything okay?” He puts a gentle hand on Hajime’s arm, physically shaking him from his reverie. “Is everything okay with Oikawa-san?”

“Hm?” He squints down at the boy, not fully comprehending him at first. “Oh. No, everything’s fine. Oikawa’s fine. He says hi, by the way.”

Hinata’s cheeks flush red with pleasure. He beams up at Hajime, a flash of white teeth set prettily against his sunny smile, with his volleyball now perched on his head. Once again, Hajime feels even his prickliest edges soften under the full brunt of that smile, which he’d realized quickly was the general reaction Hinata seemed to evoke in people—off the court, at least.

He decides not to tell Hinata about the pinched, lemon-sour face Oikawa had pulled when Hajime had suggested he swing by later to greet the team.

“Greet Kageyama?” he’d spat, as if Hajime had suggested he give the boy a kiss and his first-born. “Ushiwaka? Over my decomposing body! Maybe when I’m wiping the court with their faces, ha!”

Then he’d sweetened up in a flash, snapping into a chirpy smile that honestly gave Hajime whiplash. His eyelashes damn near fluttered. “Oh, but tell Shouyou I said hello, okay? Maybe I’ll catch him around the Village some time?”

Hajime shakes his head. He speaks of Brazil as if he and Hinata had danced hand in hand into the fading sunset and befriended God themselves. Hajime’s sure there’s some embellishment there—Oikawa never quite forgave him for his clandestine meeting with Ushijima in Irvine—but the two seem to have struck up a genuine friendship, against all the odds. Then again, he thinks it might be a genuine crime against humanity to dislike Hinata Shouyou by even a single drop.

“Owooh!” he crows, leaping into the air, taking Hajime’s heart with him. “I’m really excited to play Oikawa-san in a match again! We’ll have to watch out for the eyes on the back of his head, though.”

“...Oikawa?” comes an echo, before Hajime can even begin to ask, Eyes WHERE?

Ushijima materializes on his right, dabbing his stoic face with a towel. The only inclination that he’s interested in their chit-chat is the slight slant of his head. “Iwaizumi. I trust Oikawa arrived here well?”

“Uh. Yeah.” He awkwardly scratches his cheek. “He, um, says hi.”

Oikawa would throttle him for that. But Oikawa wasn’t here.

Ushijima nods once as acknowledgment of his words, and does not press for more.

“O’kawa?!” Bokuto chirps in, skidding to a halt right in between their awkward triangle. “That sounds familiar! Isn’t he, like, the Argentina guy? The name sounds kinda Japanese, though, doesn’t it?”

His blaring volume attracts the attention of several other teammates, most notably Kageyama, who comes tapping over to morph their small gathering into a disfigured circle. “Oikawa-san is Japanese,” he explains. “He moved to Argentina after high school.”

Bokuto looks intrigued. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yes. He’s an excellent setter. The Argentinian team has always been very strong, but we’ll have an even tougher time now that he’s joined their ranks.”

“He’s the Grand King!” Hinata boasts, setting off exclamations of awe from Bokuto.

A sigh rushes from Hajime’s mouth, but it’s softened by the fond smile that accompanies it. Hard to believe almost ten years had passed since his last high school match. Somewhere along the line—probably when his university degree was slotted into his hand, or possibly when his old rivals had become new allies on his side of the net—it had stopped being as bitter a memory as it once was. The dull, persistent ache had burnt up, and from its ashes, a new fervor had risen.

He would always be thankful for what volleyball had meant in his youth. But his dreams now were different.

But for Oikawa, it would never be enough. He wouldn’t be happy until he stood upon a throne atop the world stage, and who knew if even then. He would always be chasing something—a childhood promise he had made to himself, which even now defined every aspect of his personality, his dreams, his insecurities.

Hajime can’t remember the last time he’d heard Grand King, but there was truly no title out there better suited to his best friend. If anything, he’d grown into it even more strongly.

A single drop of pride splotches like ink in Hajime’s chest.

“But,” Bokuto says, brows furrowing, “I don’t think I remember this Oikawa guy in any of the matches we’ve played against Argentina before?”

“Oikawa-san was only recently bumped up to first string,” Kageyama supplies. “It’s not that he wasn’t capable. But they have two very capable setters.” He then launches into a quick, very rapid listing of Oikawa’s stats, matches, and achievements in recent years, all of which have question marks dancing around Bokuto’s head.

Hinata stares. “Wow, Kageyama. It sure sounds to me like you’ve seen an awful lot of Oikawa-san’s matches.”

His face pinches. He shifts his gaze away, visibly struggling to think of a retort. “...I haven’t. I Googled it.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“If I say I didn’t then I didn’t, dumbass!”

“You’re not fooling anyone, Kageyama-kun!”

Another sigh shakes Hajime as they start bickering. Peace never lasted long, with this team; if it wasn’t Kageyama and Hinata’s constant squabbles, then it was Atsumu purposely baiting Sakusa into a battle of wits, or Hoshiumi accidentally sending volleyballs at lethal speed into the rafters, or Bokuto almost breaking his neck trying out “super cool!” new moves he’d seen in previous tournaments. Hajime was starting to think Aran was the only normal one.

He leaves the oddball duo to their shenanigans, and signals for Bokuto to come along for their post-practice treatment. Their beam weapon follows on command, already having lost interest in the previous conversation and searching for the next new, exciting thing.

Around them, the team was winding down.

Aran had somehow wrangled Atsumu into helping with cleanup, and Yaku was watching this brand new development with clear amusement. Komori had joined Sakusa in a corner of the training room and was murmuring to his cousin as they completed their usual stretches; Sakusa was silent and focused, but didn’t seem to mind his chatter. Somewhere, Kageyama and Hinata continued to bicker, now over which one of them had won their morning push-up contest.

Hajime finishes stretching out Bokuto’s shoulder, then checks thoroughly on Yaku’s knee after it had suffered a minor fall during their practice. He then douses his hands in four dollops of sanitizer, snaps on a pair of Latex gloves, and massages out the joints of Sakusa’s hands and bendable wrists.

When they wipe down the benches and switch out the lights for the evening, tramping out of the training room in a large group, it feels just like the end of a typical practice day.

Hajime wonders when it would finally hit him.

All he feels now is a raging hunger that roils his stomach, and not much else.

“What’re we thinkin’ fer dinner?” Atsumu asks, scrolling through a list of quickly-Googled restaurants on his phone. “Yak’soba? Gyutan?”

As if they weren’t going to end up at Yaku’s friend Fukunaga’s restaurant, like always.

“I’ll pass,” Sakusa intones, snapping his mask into place. His eyes narrow above the covering. “Don’t come back too late. If you wake me up I’ll kill you.”

He begins to slouch in the opposite direction of the boardwalk without so much as a good-bye. Komori quickly makes to follow, left to sheepishly explain to the team, “We’re having dinner with the family.” With several bobs of his head, in apology for his taciturn cousin, he catches up to Sakusa’s looming figure in the distance.

“Aran-san was nice enough to switch rooms with Atsumu-san,” Hinata supplies, for Hajime’s benefit—likely a transaction he had missed from last night.

“So now he’s sharing with Sakusa?”

Hajime can’t see how that’s any better; judging by the lingering scowl on Atsumu’s face, he seems to agree.

“Whatever!” snaps their resident delinquent, now swiping through his phone with a vengeance. “Let’s hurry up an’ get dinner, since I gotta damn curfew now an’ all.”

“Go on ahead without me,” Hajime tells them. He takes a few steps back, to detach himself from the group. “Text me the place. Order anything. I’ll meet you guys there in an hour.”

Murmurs of general agreement ripple across the group, before they become quickly absorbed in comparing food places. Hajime takes the opportunity to quietly press a hand to Kageyama’s elbow and, when he inclines his head in question, juts his chin over his shoulder.

“Can I have the address to your sister’s place?” he asks, sweeping fingers through his fringe. It really was getting long.

Kageyama raises his brow, but texts it to him without contest. “She knows you,” he rumbles, which Hajime knows to mean, She’ll be more than happy to help anyone on the team. And she won’t let you pay her, so don’t even think about it.

He grins. “Thanks, Kageyama.”

Not too much later, Hajime finds himself squeezed into a salon chair and into Kageyama Miwa’s busy schedule. The salon was empty and quiet; she had clearly stayed open late for his benefit. She drapes him with a plastic cloak, and spritzes cool water along his neckline.

Their eyes meet in the mirror reflection, and she grins. “Wanna clean up for the opening ceremony, I presume?” she asks.

“Something like that.” His mother had certainly badgered him enough about it.

“I had Shouyou-kun and Morisuke-kun in here just the other day. You boys sure do like to wait until the last minute.”

Hajime can’t help but to wince, though she had said it with an amused chuckle.

Miwa takes a comb and a pair of hairstyling scissors to the back of his head, but then pauses. “This where you like your part?”

“Um…”

He isn’t too sure. Truthfully it’s never mattered much to him; his hair isn’t something he thinks about, least of all because it was usually ready for the day right upon him rolling out of bed. Hajime eyes the pair of scissors in his reflection, and thinks instead of green smoothies, rosy beams on cheekbones, golden speckles in chocolate-brown eyes, and ‘it looks good.’

“Yeah,” he says. “This is where I like my part.”

She nods once, and then snips.

 

 

 

 

 

Japan marches last this year, as the hosts.

Hajime doesn’t mind. If anything, he’d been fully prepared to watch his team soak up their glory from the sidelines of the opening ceremony rather than partake himself. It wasn’t all too common for trainers to march with their athletes, which was fine; Hajime hadn’t gone into his field for the glory of it all. He’d leave the excessive preening to his childhood friend.

But Japan was hosting this year, which meant Hajime got to put on the itchy, red sports coat and hold the little Japanese flag, and he got to stand in line with the rest of his team as they watched the other countries file into the Olympic Stadium under the harsh arena lights and the thunderous applause.

Hinata coos loudly from somewhere when Brazil gets announced, earning him an eye roll from Kageyama and a few amused titters from the French delegates up ahead.

“Now don’t go cheerin’ fer the wrong team, Shouyou-kun,” he hears Atsumu heckle him.

Hajime’s own heart had leapt nine yards when Argentina had been announced, some time early in the parade. Oikawa was out there somewhere, probably with one of his gleaming, model-esque smiles, winning himself fans on a global scale.

“I-I won’t!” Hinata responds, the blush translating in his voice. “I’m Team Japan!”

“Team Japan, YEAH!” Bokuto whoops, and goes flying past Hajime, a red-white blur with two mini Japan flags attached. Hoshiumi tails him, radiating the same feral energy.

“What are you two doing,” Sakusa snaps. He’s been exceptionally cranky since forced to dispose of his mask and squeeze into a mass of eleven-thousand athletes all vibrating from the same supercharged, volcanic buzz of excitement.

Inside the stadium, Team Belgium parades in to general fanfare.

“Aw, lighten up, Sakusa,” Aran laughs, perfectly jovial. “Let ‘em have their fun.”

“Omi-kun couldn’t lighten up if he had a lightbulb fallin’ outta his ass,” comes Atsumu’s jeer from three heads down.

Sakusa responds with a lethal calm, nothing in the marble slab of his face betraying emotion. “Excuse me,” he says, in the calmest, deadliest voice Hajime thinks he’s ever heard, and then honest to god glides over concrete to close the three-person gap separating him from his target.

“Oh—fuck—shit!”

Atsumu can be seen running circles, a deathly calm Sakusa at his heels, with poor Hinata caught in the middle of their ring-around.

Somewhere inside, Team Malaysia makes their Olympic debut.

Hajime wonders if it’s too late to hand his flag off to Aran, throw off the red blazer, and go sit faceless in the surging crowd of spectators—anything to avoid the stares of the French and American athletes he can sense burning his face at this very moment. They were rowdier than even the Americans. And Hajime had thought nothing would ever top the unbridled chaos of L.A. in peak Coachella season.

“Um, should we do something to stop them?” Hyakuzawa muses, gesturing to the two separate ruckuses happening on either side of them.

Yaku shrugs, watching with crossed arms. “Watching them kind of makes me feel calm in a way.”

“Kiyoomi’s bark is much worse than his bite,” Komori says, though he looks unsure of his own words.

“And let’s be honest,” Hajime grunts. “Atsumu’s asking for it.”

The others nod firmly in assent, and make no moves to stop the impending murder.

Eventually Coach Hibarida comes striding back over to join their lineup, and everyone suddenly stands pin-straight on their best behavior under his pleasant smile. The nations continue to parade out in rapid succession, the swell of noise rising and falling with each entrance. When it whittles down to the final bunch, time seems to fast forward. The Americans shuffle into the arena with a flurry of excitement and waving flags, followed by Team France.

And then, it’s their turn.

There’s a blinding flash of saturated grey light, stabbing Hajime’s eyes for a moment, and in the split-second it takes to adjust, the stadium bursts into view with an explosion of vibrant colors and hoards upon hoards of people jumping to their feet.

The noise crashes over them like a wave. The crowd roars loudest at their entrance, frantically waving a sea of miniature Japan flags for their home team.

Bokuto is quickest to adjust. “Team Japan!” he blares, cheerfully flapping both flags above his head. Before he can be stopped, he takes a running leap and executes a perfect backflip for the camera, rounding it out with a wonky heart and a stunning smile. “Hey, hey, heeey!”

The crowd melts instantly and unanimously for their beam weapon.

“I shoulda thought of that...” Hinata and Atsumu bemoan, in near perfect unison.

Hajime can’t help it. He throws his head back, and he laughs.

He laughs because it’s the fucking Olympics and the whole world is watching them and his team is a bunch of idiots and he loves them and this is one of the single greatest moments of his life. Several of his teammates shoot him bemused looks, but then, infected by his good mood, begin to chortle along. The camera is on him when he regrips his bearings, and he slides into an easy smile.

The Japanese delegates, one by one, troop into their little designated spot with the other nations.

The ceremonies shift onto the next, less exciting phase. There are speeches, long and drawn out. Their prime minister steps up to the podium to declare the opening of the XXXII Olympiad Games. The Olympic flag gets carried out and hoisted atop a flagpole, to fly for the remainder of the Games, and a rep from Japan’s track and field team brings the Torch to the cauldron on stage.

Hinata starts bouncing on his heels up front, and Hajime begins to feel the vibrations somewhere beneath his ribcage.

Then a firework whistles, and cracks like a shot, dousing everything in a hazy cyan hue.

And everyone is hugging.

Everyone around him is hugging and laughing and rubbing fingers into hair. A stream of blue fireworks shoot successively into the night sky like a colossal color fountain, and Hajime feels hands on his back, in his hair, around his neck, falling clumsily from one faceless embrace into the next.

The delegates had begun to slowly mingle halfway into the speeches, but it’s utter chaos now; Hajime endures a big, sloppy kiss on his forehead from a titanic American athlete, who moves on to pick up Hoshiumi Lion King-style while simultaneously bringing Kageyama into his side in a bone-crushing hug, crying loudly the whole time; Hinata speaks rapidly in Portugese with a Brazilian he had befriended on the fly; Yaku blushes crimson when a pretty German swimmer presses a kiss to his cheek; and Bokuto cheerily punches a Filipino gymnast in the stomach, not realizing he had knocked the wind out of the poor boy.

Hajime peels away from all of this chaos, searching blindly in the crowd.

Gold fireworks shimmer in the sky, eclipsing all other sound. He pushes aside athlete upon athlete, dodging stray hands and elbows and kisses, not even sure of where he’s going but determined to find who he’s looking for.

And after all this, it’s Oikawa who finds him first.

“Iwa-chan!” he hears, and snaps his neck around. They see each other across the rows of athletes, sea-green meeting honey-brown.

Hajime thinks that maybe just now, in this very moment, is when it finally starts to hit him—that they were here, they were at the Olympics, and the eyes of the entire world were on them—because his heart starts hammering wildly in his chest.

Another flash of color splits the sky, and Oikawa is running at him.

Hajime holds out his arms, and lets him collide into his chest with a fury, lets him laugh sweetly and uncontrollably into his ear. The force of it knocks them into spinning clumsily a few times, and Oikawa is still laughing as they spin without aim, connected by their arms and their chests and the hollows of their necks.

They knock into a German and Italian duo who were caught up in their own lovefest, and Hajime would have been embarrassed any other time but he can’t bring himself to care—they were at the fucking Olympics. Then they’re suddenly in a four-person group hug with the two athletes they’ve collided with, who laugh and join their embrace for a split second before moving on, looking for the next celebration.

But Hajime lingers, here, with Oikawa.

He hugs him tightly to his chest and breathes him in, breathes in everything about this moment.

More fireworks crackle and then fizz as they pull away, and pastel red shadows glimmer on Oikawa’s nose, his cheekbones, his perfect teeth. His heavy-lidded eyes and his model smile.

Oikawa beams at him, colored in the light. “We’re here, Iwa-chan,” he says, breathless.

Hajime puts a hand to his face, and thinks, You’re here.

 

 

 

 

 

Japan plays their first round-robin match against Venezuela, and scrapes out a win 3–2 with the last set going well into the twenties. The team is in high spirits but exhausted, and Hajime has his work cut out for him, assessing possible injuries and massaging the players into a puddle on their yoga mats.

Argentina plays the same day against Russia, and takes the win 3–0 like it’s absolutely nothing.

Hajime is too busy with his own team to catch much of the match, but he thinks he hears ‘number four in the world’ and feels another stab of pride.

The team walks like corpses on the trek back from Ariake Arena, and almost stumble to the ground when Hajime pats each of their backs upon arrival. Coach Hibarida orders them all a gluttonous amount of food, and warns them to eat and rest instead of go out for the night; there would be a strategy meeting in the morning and a short training session in the afternoon, and the team reacts to this news with about the same enthusiasm as a dying balloon.

Hajime’s phone lights up as he’s packing up a gym bag for the morning, and he doesn’t waste time running down to the first floor.

Oikawa is waiting for him, clearly dressed in his pyjamas. “Ya-ho, Iwa-chan,” he calls, wagging his fingers. Hajime notices the second and third are taped up.

“Idiot,” he grunts, “you should be resting.”

“Oh, but this match was a breeze,” Oikawa laughs, and Hajime would normally have called him a dumbass for this kind of behavior back in high school, but figures he’s earned the right to boast now.

They fall into step, wandering out into the summer night. They’re far from the only ones out; the cafes are packed with athletes and coaches, and a wave of others wander the plaza outside. Oikawa stops at the convenience store to buy them a handful of onigiri, and they sit cross-legged by a quieter section of the waterfront to devour them. It’s not anything close to the caliber of Onigiri Miya, but still pretty good. Hajime makes a mental note to ask Atsumu if his brother had a stall at the arena, and to take Oikawa around for a taste.

“Congrats on the win, by the way,” he says, licking his fingers clean.

“Thanks!” Oikawa flicks his bangs. “Did you see my killer dump shot at the end?”

“Unfortunately, no.” Oikawa looks aghast and like he’s prepared to be disproportionately obnoxious about the whole thing, but Hajime rolls his eyes. “I was kind of caught up, you know, doing my job? I’ll try to catch a little more of the next one.”

Oikawa gives him the stink eye, for no other reason than he hates letting go of grudges too quickly. “You’d better…”

Unbothered, Hajime sticks a straw into his pear juice and sucks down half the carton. Then he asks, “Did you have a good time with your folks last night?”

“Oh, yeah. I did.” He frowns. “You should have come. They asked about you.”

“Meh.” Hajime shrugs one shoulder. “You haven’t seen them in forever. S’good you got some alone time.”

The frown falls deeper, now pulling even at the bridge of his eyebrows. “You know you are most welcome, Iwa-chan.”

His features soften, remembering the slew of texts he’d received from Oikawa and his mother last night, assuring him that they wanted him there. They’d also sent him a fuzzy family group selfie at the night’s end, which he’d saved into his camera roll.

“Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

“Well, they’re back in Miyagi now. My dad couldn’t take off work, and mom wasn’t too keen on sticking around in a hotel alone. I offered to pull some strings and bring her to the Village with me, but she decided she’d rather go back.”

“Wha—idiot, why didn’t you tell me?” Hajime chides. “My apartment’s literally sitting empty right now. She could have stayed there.”

It’s only a given to him that he should offer at least this much. But Oikawa looks stunned by just how much he’s willing to give. A smirk unfurls slowly upon his mouth.

“Careful, Iwa-chan,” he coos. “You wouldn’t want my mother finding out all your dirty little secrets.”

He scoffs. “The only dirty secret I have is that I’m sitting here with you right now.”

“Hmph. Rude. Don’t let your lover, Ushijima Wakatoshi, hear you say that.”

“...You are actually the most insufferable turd I’ve ever met.”

Oikawa shoves him, but Hajime grabs his wrist, so Oikawa grabs his wrist, and they’re suddenly caught up in a bout of wrestling like they’re fucking teenagers not sitting inside the Olympic Village after the first round of preliminary tournaments. It occurs to Hajime again that Oikawa was strong; he used to be able to fist his collar and send him flying five feet into the air, but now, he puts a hand over his chest and tries to push, but barely manages to nudge him.

Oikawa seems to realize this, by the next infuriating smirk that curls his mouth. He leans in deviously close to Hajime’s face, and churrs, lashes fluttering, “What’s wrong, Iwa-chan? Are you struck dumb by my beautiful pecs?”

“—you little shit!”

Hajime grabs his collar as tightly as he’s able, pushes up off against the concrete, and uses every last ounce of his bodily strength to shove him. Just to prove that he still can.

It works, thank fuck.

He flops backwards like a starfish, and Hajime topples over him, pinning him down with a knee to his thigh and a gentle hand over his throat.

Oikawa blinks up at him in surprise, his hair fanning out in all directions.

“Who’s dumbstruck now?” Hajime goads him.

His gaze flicks down to the knee pressing into his inner thigh, then drags back up to Hajime’s eyes. His mouth parts slightly.

Hajime lets him up fairly quickly, quite pleased that he’d been able to prove his strength. Oikawa takes the offered hand and lets himself be yanked back up into a sitting position. His hand lingers delicately over his neck.

“Such a brute, Iwa-chan,” he says eventually.

“Yeah, well, you deserved it. Beautiful pecs, my ass.”

Oikawa continues to look at him closely.

“‘Sides, you think I’ve forgotten what happened the first time you ever tried to lift a bar of weights? They almost suffocated you to death. Remind me who had to save your life?”

“Ugh, we were fifteen!”

“And no less a dumbass,” he says, a touch of affection beneath the surface. Because that’s what Oikawa would always be, in his wonderful way.

Oikawa harrumphs. “You’re the worst, Iwa-chan. You’re a brute, and a caveman, and a—and the devil! Ooh, I hate you.”

He gets up and begins trudging away, his nose turned up so high he’d drown in the rain.

“Bit rich coming from you, don’t you think?” Hajime calls, and, chuckling quietly to himself, he sweeps up their discarded trash and quickly follows.

Oikawa scowls and bats him away when he knocks the side of his head, so Hajime prods his ribs instead, laughing quietly when it makes him jump. Oikawa tries to raise his hackles up and snap something mean, but one look into Hajime’s laughing face, and the fight clearly drains out of him.

“I take back what I said about you being mature,” he scoffs, clearly fighting his own smile. “You haven’t grown an inch.”

“They’re letting you give out lectures on maturity now? Someone help us poor souls.”

“You are very rude."

 

 

 

 

 

There’s another text from Oikawa waiting for him when he gets out of work the next day. Hajime figures the team wouldn’t mind him slipping away for the evening, so he changes into something more casual, hands off his gym bag to Ushijima with a thousand heartfelt thank-yous, and catches a bus leading away from the training center.

From his phone, he follows the small pin of Oikawa’s location into a quiet family restaurant—then almost walks right back out.

“Why, hello there, Iwa-chan!” Oikawa waves a flagrant hand from his corner table, urging him forward. He doesn’t seem to notice—or likely doesn’t care—the dozen or so patrons who turn to stare at him. “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

“You’re an idiot,” Hajime snaps, sliding into the seat across. “Keep it down. And what are you wearing?”

His infuriating best friend blinks at him innocently from behind the dark screen of his gaudy sunglasses, his face buried under the rim of his giant sun hat. “This?” He picks at the front of his T-shirt, which has Zacco Platypus stamped across the chest. “You gave this to me, remember?”

“That is not what I’m talking about and you know it, Trashykawa,” he hisses. “Take off those stupid glasses at least.”

“But, Iwa-chan, what if I get recognized? I was on TV just the other day. Even on the train here, you should have seen how many people turned to look at me!”

Hajime is going to throttle him. He’s going to murder his best friend and inject his ashes into a volleyball and spike him full-speed into the stratosphere. Maybe then he would know peace.

“You understand that’s because of the stupid get-up, don’t you?” he spits, rubbing wearily at his forehead. Living eight years migraine-free was at least better than nothing. “At least take them off while we’re in here. You’re being rude to the owners.”

Oikawa suppresses his smile into a thin line, and is surprisingly obedient. After the accessories have been shuffled off into the adjacent empty seat, he rests his chin on the back of his interlocked fingers, then beams cheerily across the table.

“You should really stop giving me such nice reactions, Iwa-chan~”

“Oh, you motherf—”

They both snap into polite smiles when the kind, elderly owner of the shop comes over to set down a cool jug of water between them and offer them menus. They order a large pot of nabe to share, and enough rice to sustain a small army. By the time he’s got something warm and solid in his stomach, and Oikawa is regaling him with tales of how he’d once dominated the beach volleyball scene on his first try, Hajime is much less inclined to shoot him into the sun.

“You know, I’ve never properly gotten to explore Tokyo,” Oikawa says, flapping a piece of tofu at the end of his chopsticks. “I mean, yeah, we had that field trip to Meiji Shrine back in third grade, and there was Tokyo Disney, but that’s really it.”

“So I’m here to be your tour guide or some shit,” grunts Hajime, around a mouthful.

“Well, since you’re offering so nicely!”

He rolls his eyes, but doesn’t contest the matter.

They drain their food down to the very bottom of the pot, then stroll back out into the thinning streets. Oikawa flops his hat back on, but tucks his sunglasses into the collar of his T-shirt and smiles toothily at Hajime; he looks infuriatingly cute, though Hajime would never give him the satisfaction.

“Show me around like a local, Iwa-chan!” he badgers him, steering him forward by the shoulders. “What do you and Makki do when you get together?”

“Well, we mostly throw darts at pictures of your face—”

“Your jealousy is so unbecoming.”

“—but if you’re not down for that,” Hajime is snickering by this point, “then it’s gotta be the arcades.”

“Oh, pummeling you will be so satisfying.”

“Ha! You’re on, flower boy.”

He takes them over to his usual Sega location, where he and Hanamaki have spent countless nights racing sports cars and shooting at NPCs. The current win-loss ratio is 205 to 198, in Hajime’s favor. He loves reminding him of that, almost as much as he loves poking fun at the hideous brown suit he wears to job interviews.

To his ire, Oikawa is good. He picks up on rules lightning fast and masters them even quicker, and Hajime only wins his favorite game by a hair’s width.

“You pushed me!” Oikawa accuses, aghast, furiously steering his little fake wheel as his virtual car swerves and makes impact with a virtual road sign.

“It’s a racing game, stupid, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Every man for himself.”

They play enough rounds to start earning them dirty looks from other patrons wanting a turn, then move on to battling Naruto characters, shooting at zombies, and beating taiko drums in horrible synchronization. The score climbs up and up and up, matching their perpetual energy. They could probably stay here all night, trying to outdo one another, and Hajime missed this; Hanamaki is great but no rival will ever outclass Oikawa, who lights a fire under Hajime’s belly he thought he’d outgrow after middle school but, much like volleyball and Godzilla and the thrumming of his heart in the face of his best friend, he’s realizing might be for forever.

Oikawa wastes a good twenty minutes trying to nab a small Kirby from a crane machine, and ends up feeding it the last of his coins with nothing to show for it. “This stupid thing is rigged!” he spits, and Hajime grabs him by the back of his neck and steers him away before his red face can erupt into a full blown tantrum.

They tramp into the Animate a couple blocks down and start flipping through stray manga, and Hajime for the life of him cannot figure out how to explain the outlandish plot of Zom’bish despite owning every volume.

“Just read it,” he grunts, after purchasing the first volume and thrusting it into Oikawa’s hands.

“But, okay, if this Zombie Knight is a zombie, and he lives in a land full of zombies,” Oikawa frowns, “then there’s really nothing special about him at all, is there? I mean, he’s basically an ordinary detective. They don’t even need to be zombies.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hajime snaps. “Zombies are friggin’ cool. Did you miss the part where they eat the brains of all the criminals?”

“Tsk, tsk. I find it mildly concerning that a healthcare professional loves gore so much.”

“Eat shit.”

He ushers Oikawa out, scowling, and down the way from where they had come. It’s only been a couple hours since dinner, but like hell Hajime’s gonna let his best friend play tomorrow in any condition less than perfect.

They’re approaching the part of the night when some of the tamer shops start closing down. Pretty girls in maid dresses coerce passersby with pink flyers, and street artists have lined up all along the boardwalk. They watch a young busker spin on his head to wild applause, then a prim violinist who was playing a funky Beethoven tune near the station.

Oikawa spots a Kirby doll in one of the street-side stalls by some miracle, and begs the owner to make the sale despite the hour. A couple flutters of his lashes gets the job done.

“It’s for one of my teammates,” he explains, happily carrying it back. “He’s got this weird obsession with Kirby, I swear.”

Hajime pushes his fists into his pockets. “Oh.”

They walk in silence for a short stretch of time, dodging hurried commuters in the emptying station halls. Their train would be arriving in seven minutes, and Hajime hopes there would miraculously be a place to sit, if not for him, then at least for Oikawa.

He doesn’t notice right away that Oikawa is eyeing him with a shrewd look, but shuffles his weight under the scrutiny. “What?”

“Don’t be jealous,” says Oikawa, taking him completely by surprise.

His shoulders bunch up next to his ears; they feel warm. “The fuck? I’m not.”

He looks unconvinced. “Sure you’re not.”

“I’m not, asshat. Keep dreaming.”

“Just because I bought a Kirby for someone else doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy one for you, too, Iwa-chan. If you’d just told me you wanted one—”

“I don’t want a goddamn Kirby,” he snaps.

“—then I would have been perfectly happy to get you one. You don’t have to make that boorish face and scare everyone on the platform. Not everyone’s used to your face like I am and—”

“I am going to throw you in front of a train,” he snarls, since he might as well say anything he wants in this one-sided conversation.

“—someone might just call security, and then where would we be?” At this point he’s waving a hand about with gusto, the other holding the plushie to his chest. “And anyway, Iwa-chan, I’m a setter. I’m your setter, which means it’s my job to notice everything about you. The intricacies, and things you don’t say. I know how much you like mascots. Remember the Rilakkuma obsession?”

If his ears weren’t warm before, they’re practically scalding now. “We were eight, damn it. There was a life-sized Rilakkuma at the mall and it was cool.”

He says this with a fist twisted into Oikawa’s collar, while physically dragging him onto a train carriage and plopping him down into the first available seat. Hajime parks himself in front of his legs and snatches the overhead handle for balance. Had it been Hinata or Kageyama or any of the other boys on his team, he might have needed to shield their face—but no one reacts to their presence.

As they embark for the next station, Hajime grunts, “‘Sides, you’re not even my setter anymore.”

“Well, technically,” he tuts, “I was the last person to set to you in the last official match you ever played. That means I’ll always be your setter.”

He’s all full of pride and hot air for that twist-around logic, smiling lopsided from under his ridiculous, wide-brimmed hat. Stop it, Hajime wants to tell him. You’re not fair.

Because what else is Hajime supposed to think, if not remember all those times he was trusted with Oikawa’s tosses in a pinch? Being pulled aside in the middle of practice and being told that he was precious and strong, an irreplaceable ace—fucking Oikawa always said the most embarrassing shit when they were heaving and sweaty.

Hajime remembers being eight and Oikawa going with him for the fiftieth time to the mall so he could stare some more at that life-sized Rilakkuma display. He remembers being ten and Oikawa sitting next to him when they watched Godzilla for the first time, being eleven and biting a smile as Oikawa attached a little Godzilla keychain to his backpack he had brought back for him from his family trip to Tokyo Disney. He remembers being fifteen and rolling his eyes when Oikawa wanted to model their new Seijou uniforms at their family dinner, being nineteen and finding the polaroid in Oikawa’s top drawer as he helped him pack up his life.

Hell, he even remembers the first time they ever pulled off an hour-long rally: their matching faces of starry-eyed wonder, Oikawa pelting across the garden and jumping at him, falling backwards into the wet grass and rolling into the cakey mud with their arms around each other, then hosing each other down before going right back at it.

“Let’s try for two hours this time!” Oikawa had said, like he could be full on volleyball alone.

And there was no way Hajime was ever going to sit down when Oikawa was still standing.

There would never quite ever be a setter again like what Oikawa was to him.

Aloud, he just says, “Wonder if it’s too late to go join the Red Falcons. Heard they've got a pretty decent setter these days.”

Oikawa doesn’t respond to that, but he’s smiling impishly like he knows exactly what Hajime’s been thinking. Like he knows all of Hajime’s intricacies, and all the things that he doesn’t say.

“...shut up,” huffs Hajime, glaring out the window.

They ride back to the Village like that, so much left unsaid between everything that they say.

 

 

 

 

 

The second day of the men’s tournaments, Hajime watches his team completely annihilate the Canadians in a landslide victory. The last rally sees the ball flying over the net enough times to completely wring out Hajime’s heart, but then Atsumu sends a smooth fake-out toss to Ushijima while the opponents are distracted by Bokuto’s wild presence, and his ears might just burst from the deafening screams of the crowd when the ball smashes into the ground.

Argentina manages to sneak out a win against Brazil in a surprise upset—Brazil, the volleyball powerhouse of the world—and add a modest two points to their ranking by the end of the night.

Hajime doesn’t completely manage to mask his fist pump with the awkward swatting motion he thinks up on the fly, and Yaku raises a brow at him.

He can’t even bring himself to care.

By the time they’ve completed their post-match stretches, discussed every moment in a play-by-play reenactment of the game, and scarfed down a light meal, it’s too late into the night to do much else other than sleep. The team splits like a starburst and drags their heels into their respective rooms, the odd groan or wheeze replacing any actual coherent words.

“Proud of you guys,” Hajime says, encouragingly, and is answered with a quiet “uuuurrghhhh” from Atsumu before the doors slice shut one after the other.

When Hajime finally collapses on his own cardboard-box-slash-bed, he feels like he’s taken a few tumbles in the washer and been hung out to dry. His bones ache, deep and seedy. His eyes sting with relief when they’ve been shut.

Behind his eyelids, he’s vaguely aware of the thrumming noise, the pulsing strobe lights several stories below his window. Some time after the kickoffs, someone somewhere had won some tournament and started up a celebration in the quads which had breathed in life and sucked a large portion of the Village into its vortex. At any point Hajime’s gotten used to sifting through racks of cheap booze, an astounding number of glow-in-the-dark sticks and jelly bracelets, and randomized, mix-and-match couples sucking face under the rows of fairy lights in the main foyer (and then usually another, more taciturn couple tucked away in the dubbed Makeout Corner behind the cafeteria, which isn’t really as private as everyone pretends it is). It’s never completely quiet in the Olympic Village; a low, beatific hum of energy throbs in every corner at all hours, and you learn to ignore it or you let it swallow you whole.

It’s also never completely quiet in Japan’s small little corner of the dormitories. Even now, Hajime is vaguely aware of their Unhinged Threesome, running on perpetual energy, making noises down the hall—he hears Bokuto yell “pillow fight!” and a loud cry from Hinata, followed by a muted thump, suggesting he’d been whacked over—and wonders whether there had been any purpose in Atsumu switching rooms at all.

But it’s only a vague, drifting thought at best. Hajime shuts his eyes, and is out within seconds.

A loud rapping noise on the door forces him awake.

His eyes snap open, unadjusted to the strong beam of sunlight warming his face. The knocking continues on the other side, upgraded to the pounding of an impatient fist.

He reaches blindly for his phone. It’s 7:30AM, and there are about fifty notifications waiting for his attention. The one on top is from Matsukawa, stamped one hour ago: fucking incredible, it reads.

Then he hears, around the incessant rattling, “Iwa-chan? Open up, you lazy bones!”

Oh, he is going to kill that giant turd.

“Are you insane?” he spits into Oikawa’s smug face, after wrenching the door open. Hajime might not care much about his height anymore, but oh, if it isn’t infuriating having to look up into that bastardly face.

“Were you planning to sleep all day?” he tuts, wrangling his way inside. “I didn’t realize the national team lived such cushy lives.”

“We agreed on a late start today, jackass.” Hajime shuts the door with more strength than necessary. “Why are you here? Who do I kill for telling you where I live?”

“A very tall man with a Kindaichi cut pointed the way,” he laughs, fluttering about the room. He looks idly between the two beds—Coach Hibarida’s pristine blankets against Hajime’s rumpled comforter that had just been tossed aside—and makes himself at home on Hajime’s bed without question. Then he holds up the pastry box in his hands, looking perfectly innocent. “I brought you some scones?”

Hajime looks between the baked olive branch and his saccharine smile, and makes a split second decision. He sighs. “Guess murdering Hyakuzawa can wait.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Oikawa is humming the entire time it takes Hajime to freshen up in the bathroom, then sneak down the hall into Bokuto’s room—who’s horizontal on his bed, more reminiscent of a corpse than anything, and Hajime would be worried if he didn’t think the guy would show up to practice in an hour with an insane amount of energy—and steal a pack of his lychee fruit juice. They push aside Hajime’s blanket and sit cross-legged with their makeshift breakfast.

Oikawa bites into a scone, then keens with delight. “This one’s strawberry, Iwa-chan, your favorite!” he says, which was Hajime’s most closely guarded secret.

He tears off a quarter piece and inclines over the box to hold it against Hajime’s mouth, his fingers slithering past teeth when Hajime opens up automatically and accepts the bite, a bit distracted by his phone.

There was an explosion of texts on the Seijou group chat, which he’d evidently missed while asleep. “What’s with all these damn monologues?” he asks, though he’s starting to get an idea by scrolling through the messages.

“They’re praising me, of course,” Oikawa coos, ever the braggart. “You did see how many service aces I got last night, didn’t you?”

“Uh…” Hajime’s mind freezes, unable to think of an excuse fast enough. “…Sorry. No.”

“What?” Oikawa looks positively aghast. His nose wrinkles—a persistent bad habit from his more turd-ish days. “You missed the last match, too! It’s like you don’t even care!”

“It’s like I have a damn full-time job, idiot. You know, the reason I’m here?”

He harrumphs. “The reason you’re here is to be my number one fan. As in, why you were put on this earth.”

“I’m sorry for whatever I did in my life that made you think that I was your fan.”

Oikawa blows a raspberry at him, and is still glaring when he picks up a scone with both hands and begins to chew angrily. Then he starts coughing, and Hajime rolls his eyes as he unscrews the cap of a juice bottle and hands it to him.

“If you die on my bed, idiot, they’re gonna think I murdered you for a gold medal.”

Oikawa smirks at him through downturned lashes. “They’re going to think you murdered me because you have the face of a serial killer, actually.”

“You are such a jackass.”

“The one and only.” His laugh tinkles.

Whatever scathing thing Hajime wants to say becomes lost to the knock on his door. A reluctant voice calls through the wooden barrier, and they both snap their heads around to it.

“Iwaizumi-san? Are you awake? Could I borrow some athletic tape from you? Stupid Hinata doesn’t know how to control his goddamn spikes.”

Kageyama.

Oikawa shoots up, almost catapulting off the bed and planking on the floor amongst Hajime’s things in an effort to be invisible. “I’m not here, I’m not here!” he hisses, like Hajime’s supposed to take any of this seriously. “Send him away!”

So Hajime says, “Come on in.”

Kageyama steps in cautiously, at first peering about the room to be sure their coach was out, then coming in with just two strides. Hajime’s not sure where he’s supposed to look, at the hand Kageyama’s cradling in his other, or at Oikawa furiously mouthing atrocities at him from his position on the floor.

He settles on some semblance of professionalism, and makes to spring off the bed. “You need me to take a look?”

“It’s fine. Nothing I can’t do myself.” He eyes the medicinal bag Hajime takes into work with him, which rests against the wall by the door. “Can I find some in here?”

Hajime gets up anyway, and begins rummaging through the many zippers to pull out a fresh roll of tape. Kageyama reluctantly allows him to assess his hand, and he makes quick work fixing up his bruised third finger. Once he’s satisfied no serious injury would befall his athlete, he lets him tramp back out into the hall.

“Getting in some extra practice?” he assumes.

“Yes. Me and Hinata. Out in the back.” His weight shuffles awkwardly between his feet, before he ducks his head into a stiff bow. “Thank you, Iwaizumi-san. See you at practice.”

Hajime has to smile as he walks away. The kid might never get used to having his old senior back on his side of the net, this time fussing over his well-being and cheering on his matches. Even Hajime’s not sure when he got over it, if he ever did.

When he turns back to the room, there’s an Oikawa-shaped mop of hair peeking from behind his mattress. An icy glare peers over the rim.

“You’re the worst,” says Oikawa. “I brought you scones, you monster.”

Hajime drops back onto the bed, pulling his legs back into himself. He picks up a powdered scone, scrutinizes it carefully from all angles, then takes a bite of the gooey apple jam center.

“Are you listening to me, Iwa-chan?” squawks the six-foot-tall overgrown child in the room. He clambers back up onto the bed, on Hajime’s side of the pastry box, who stares flatly at the boy who’s all but sitting in his lap at this point.

“You’re holding on to fifteen-year-old grudges and I’m the worst?”

Oikawa fists his collar like he’s going to shake him down for money or answers, though he does no more than frown. “I hate Tobio-chan,” he declares. “I hated him in middle school, I hated him when he made it to the national team at nineteen, and now I hate him because he has you.”

Hajime rolls his eyes, unbothered by the fist on his shirt. “He’s an all right kid. And it’s a damn job, idiot. You didn’t see me making a fuss when you decided to forfeit your citizenship.”

“Well, you should have. Then maybe I wouldn’t have done it.”

Their eyes meet squarely, each burning with challenge. A heavy inferno materializes between them.

Then Hajime says, “Yes, you would have.”

And isn’t that exactly what he loves about Oikawa? That his pride and his ambition always come first, the last thing to ever be sacrificed. That when Jose Blanco had flown off for Argentina after winning his heart their third year, there wasn’t anything left for him to do but follow. That no matter who had tried to talk him out of it—their school counselors insisting he focus on college, or even Hanamaki and Matsukawa exchanging concerned looks at the news—he held on fast to his end goal, and what it would take to get there.

Hajime knows where he stands in Oikawa’s life. He also knows where he stands in relation to that ever present ambition. He knows Oikawa would never, ever have stayed in Japan, even if he’d asked, just like he knows he would never have asked in the first place.

It’s not about asking Oikawa to give up on his pride.

It’s about accepting that he’s just equally important.

Oikawa knows this just about as well as he does, clearly; the fight drains out of him like a pressure cooker being released, all the steam billowed away. With a groan, he falls forward and presses his forehead into Hajime’s chest, and Hajime lets him.

“I missed you,” he speaks, muffled by the fabric.

Hajime puts a hand on his back. “Yeah, yeah. Missed you, too.”

“No, Iwa-chan.” He looks up. His nose bumps Hajime’s jaw. His eyelashes are long and brown and wonderful; they flutter a little, and Hajime realizes that if he leans forward just a bit, his mouth would be on Oikawa’s forehead. “I missed you,” he says, his breath on Hajime’s neck.

Hajime feels heat rise up his chest. He must be red in the face.

What the hell.

“You have some powdered sugar on your mouth,” notes Oikawa, fondly, and thumbs at it.

Automatically, Hajime’s tongue swipes along his mouth in a thoughtless move, licking up the last of any sugary jam residue. Oikawa’s glaze flits down to watch the movement, then yanks back up just as quickly. His eyes look dark and endless.

Oh.

“Iwa-chan,” he struggles to say. “I—”

There’s another knock on the door. Kageyama’s voice cuts through it. “Iwaizumi-san? Could I just take the roll of tape down with me? I can give it back at practice.”

“Oh, he is going to ruin me,” Oikawa groans, and rolls right back off the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

Their next day off, Oikawa materializes once again at his door and drags him out by the wrist, jabbering at rapid speed about his morning practice and the miserable state of the empanadas in the cafeteria at lunch and “you missed my match again, didn’t you, I’m revoking your best friend privileges!’”

Hajime’s pretty darn exhausted from working on Bokuto’s bad shoulder for hours upon hours at practice, then barely scarfing down half a lunch before Hoshiumi had started complaining about a pain in his back. But he jams his fists into his pockets, and quietly allows Oikawa to tow him along on his misadventures.

They spend an hour moving between stacks of clothing stores in the cramped little streets of Harajuku. Oikawa tries on a gross volume of items considering he has no fashion sense to speak of; Hajime just grunts “fine” every time he parades around in yet another crop top, and almost gets brained by the foot-end of a mannequin by his best friend.

He even lets himself be dragged, however begrudgingly, into a streetside purikura to take one of those horrible “kawaii anime bullshit” photo strips.

“Well, I’m going to put it up in my locker back home,” Oikawa sneers, “and tell everyone on the team that it’s my super cute girlfriend!”

It’s late evening. They’re sitting inside a bakery on one of the corner streets, known for their very non-team-diet-sanctioned fluffy pancakes (and the ten-foot tall set of angel wings on the back wall, judging by all the teenage girls queued up to take pictures with it). Hajime’s cramped into a chair that’s not nearly big enough for his thighs, and a plant vine from the nearby shelf keeps brushing the top of his head, courtesy of his height. But it’s nice, sitting inside of a cozy cafe with Oikawa, a steaming pot of tea between them. He’d do it again.

Hajime snorts. “First they have to believe there’s someone out there who can tolerate your ass.”

“You tolerate me,” Oikawa points out, with the same air of someone going, Na na na, I told you so.

“Just barely.”

“Barely still counts.”

Hajime can’t even argue, because yeah, he tolerates this ass and his ass. Likes him, even. “I think this counts as Stockholm Syndrome or something,” he muses.

“Ooh, I like that. You can be my captive!”

“It’s not a good thing, y’know, idiot.”

“Well, I think it sounds wonderful. I get to have you all for myself.” His eyes alight when he perks up. Poking his fork about, he pulls a bright red strawberry from underneath a fat dollop of whipped cream on his plate, and shuffles it over to Hajime’s plate instead. “For you,” he coos. “You’ve been very obedient today.”

“What’re you, conditioning me?”

“I’m rewarding you, dear Iwa-chan. Don’t make it sound so ugly!”

“You’re ugly,” Hajime snaps, and pops the damn strawberry into his mouth whole. It’s as sweet as Oikawa is good-looking, and that pisses him right the hell off.

Oikawa makes a very obnoxious show of ignoring the remark. He looks over his shoulder, and gasps. “No line for the angel wings—lucky! Let’s go, quick, before it gets busy again!”

“Like hell I’m gonna—”

He ends up taking a thousand-and-one photos of Oikawa posing in front of the wall, whose model smile puts Kageyama’s awkward, team-mandated Instagram selfies to shame. They even take one begrudging self-timed shot of the two of them; Hajime’s snarling into the face of his evil, other half, and Oikawa couldn't look more radiant if he tried. It doesn’t even make sense because two people aren’t meant to share one pair of wings, but that’s the one Oikawa chooses to post to his Instagram.

“I haven’t posted a photo with you in…” He flicks quickly through his feed, passing many early morning practice selfies and various street foods and that one infamous photoshoot with Hinata on a beach in Rio. “...eight years. Eight years, Iwa-chan.”

Hajime folds his arms. “Yeah, that’s what tends to happen when you live on different continents.”

“It didn’t have to be!” He frowns. “You could have come visit. Geez. I have plenty of space for both of us.”

“With what time and what money was I supposed to do that?”

Hajime had been the definition of a broke, bumbling college student back in those days; everything he made from working part-time at the campus health center went into funding his overpriced textbooks. If he sees another knock-off cup ramen or instant mix mac-and-cheese box, he’ll honestly hurl. He does kind of miss Chick-fil-A, though.

Oikawa blinks. “Well, if that was the issue, then you should have just said. I could have sent…”

This seems to dawn on him only now; he snaps his mouth shut, a slew of mental calculations passing through his eyes. How long has it been since Hajime’s seen this look off of a court?

About as long as the last time they were in a photo together, probably.

That was a strange, electrifying memory of its own. In the last two weeks leading up to their graduation, Oikawa had taken him to Yagiyama zoo for the special Komodo dragon exhibit, and hadn’t even made fun of him for standing in front of the habitat for over an hour. Vibrant cherry blossoms had been fluttering about, and he’d then dragged them to the nearby Ferris wheel, so they could catch a nice, pink view of the entire park. They took the photo there, at the top of the Ferris wheel.

It had been their warped, two-bit version of a date, probably.

Oikawa kept putting on those cheap, plastic smiles that he knew Hajime could see through, and tapering off into long, cryptic silences he knew Hajime would notice—and, well, Hajime had enough practice to fill in the blanks between everything that wasn’t said.

In the end, he was the one to bring it up. They were drinking slushies by the rest stop when he looked down at his sneakers and said, “You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?”

Oikawa stiffened at first, but then nodded.

Yeah. He figured.

“Overseas?” he ventured, like casually remarking on his favorite slushie flavor. “It’s Blanco-san, isn’t it? Because he’s leaving.”

Another pause, then another nod.

Hajime also nodded, as if everything was falling into place according to some plan and he’d been waiting for this final piece to fit. Everything started to make sense; the reignited fury in Oikawa’s eyes, his feverish resolve to ace their English final, all his spring cleaning with the almost manic intensity.

How he had started to, sometimes, lean into Hajime’s face, to Hajime’s mouth—heavy lids, his lip caught under his teeth, a slew of calculations passing across his eyes—before yanking himself back.

He’d been practicing the distance.

Hajime leaned back, toying with his straw as he mulled over the news. He could have said any number of things, the most pressing of which were when? and how long? He could have even said keep in touch, or I’ll miss you, or I’ve never lived a day when you weren’t beside me.

In the end, all he said was, “You’d better not come back with any regrets.”

He thinks maybe it’s the first time in their lives Oikawa ever listened to him.

Hajime phases back to the present, and realizes belatedly that Oikawa is speaking to him.

“—okay, okay!” he’s saying, arms gesticulating wildly. He’s all perked up, obviously having come to some decision. Stars glimmer in his eyes. His voice cracks at some parts in his excitement. “Forget you heard anything! Now it’s gonna be a surprise!”

Hajime flattens his features. “Real subtle there.”

“Ugh, Iwa-chan! It is going to be a surprise and you are going to be surprised, got it?!” he commands, jostling him by the shoulders.

Hajime refuses to say “got it,” and the shaking goes on for a disproportionate amount of time, at least until an army of teenage girls with cameras glare holes into their heads. Hajime notes how their eyes pass over Oikawa’s face without any flicker of recognition, though one does blush a little under Hajime’s hard stare.

They’re back at their table and finishing up the last of their pancakes, the deep-seated exhaustion of the day beginning to catch up to them, when Hajime looks his best friend square in the eye and asks him, “Hey. Oikawa. You don’t have any regrets, do you?”

Oikawa forcibly swallows his mouthful of cream. “Hm? Is this the part of the date when we get philosophical and share our life stories? You already know my life story, though, Iwa-chan.”

His teasing doesn’t inspire a remark, only an age-old look of irritation so familiar they could probably bottle it up and market it as the very essence of their relationship.

Oikawa is grossly unbothered by The Look; he simply beams across the table. “Nope. Can’t say that I do, Iwa-chan.”

“Not even one?”

His smile is flawless. “Not a one. Even you...”

His eyes open comically wide, the slip up almost a tangible thing on the table between them. Hajime could pick it up and stir it into his tea, drink it and then regurgitate it back to him.

Instead he crams the last of his pancake into his mouth, when Oikawa’s clamps shut.

“Good,” he says, once he’s swallowed. “If you’d come back with any regrets I would have punted you into the sun.”

Slowly, Oikawa sinks into a pout. “Make the punishment fit the crime, at least.”

“Fits perfectly well, asshole. You made a whole goddamn movie scene about you leaving. Yahaba really thought you had terminal cancer or some shit at first. And don’t forget that god awful slideshow you made us sit through.”

“It was sweet, and it was touching, and—”

“It was repulsive.”

“Ooh, big word for such a little man.”

“I am going to stab you in the eye with this fork.”

Ten minutes later, when their plates have been wiped clean and their bill has been settled, they’re still bickering halfway down the street. If Hajime thinks back, he’s pretty sure their warped zoo date eight years ago had ended the exact same way. There’s something comforting in that.

When their argument begins to toe the line into something completely ridiculous, they start laughing instead, and then it’s hard to stop.

It’s another twenty-minute walk from Kachidoki station back to the Village, but they don’t mind. The summer air is balmy, almost spring-like. They’re talking about all the Sendai Frogs merch they’re sure Yahaba has hidden somewhere in his closet, and they’re still laughing.

When they’ve largely left behind civilization and it’s just the two of them, bumping elbows on the empty sidewalk, Oikawa takes one of Hajime’s hands, slips his fingers between the crevices. And Hajime lets him. Like that day eight years ago.

Yeah, Hajime thinks. There’s something comforting in this.

 

 

 

 

 

Match four, Japan sends Poland packing, and Argentina isn’t too far behind with their squeaky clean victory over Tunisia, who unfortunately lose their captain to a rolled ankle partway through the second set and never quite recover. Hajime sees Oikawa’s blurred face projected on the giant arena screen, the smothered triumph in his smirk, not unlike all those flashy interviews he used to do for the local news teams back home in high school, and knows he’s never, ever going to change.

Next day, they sit together in the cafeteria for lunch and watch the women’s team's last match against Brazil on Hajime’s tiny, outdated phone screen.

Oikawa scowls when Amanai Kanoka pulls off a particularly nasty dig. “You know, the captain of Niiyama totally blew me off back in third year.”

Hajime snorts. “I know. Matsukawa got the whole thing on film.”

“He was there?” Oikawa looks stricken, as if it hadn’t been an extremely common thing for their team, the third years in particular, to hassle him about the girls at Seijou losing interest in the dreamy volleyball captain when they became intimate with his personality.

“You were in front of the gym with half the prefecture going in and out, dumbass. What did you expect?”

Oikawa harrumphs very loudly in lieu of any real defense. On the screen, Amanai secures the set point for her team with a killer spike and finds herself at the bottom of a hearty dog-pile, and he scowls as if he’s somehow been publicly humiliated all over again. Hajime would have to dig out that old video and show it to him, just to watch his head explode.

They end up skipping the 90-minute match in favor of watching the highlight reel, as the cafeteria clears out around them.

At one point Ushijima wanders by with his phone in the air, probably looking for better signal for his usual FaceTime call with Tendou, and Oikawa throws himself under the table with an obnoxious squawking noise.

“Is he gone?”

“Not yet,” says Hajime, watching his back get farther away. “Why don’t you suck my dick while you’re waiting down there?”

Oikawa emerges with a glare. “Ha ha, very funny.”

Hajime goes off to afternoon practice with a featherlight heart, still chuckling to himself. His phone’s going off a mile per minute with useless text updates from Oikawa, who was on the phone with Hajime’s mother (“My favorite Iwaizumi,” he had snapped, before reeling back with a “No, no, I didn’t mean it!” when Hajime got up to leave).

Sakusa eyes him when his phone vibrates for the fifth consecutive time, but says nothing; he usually saved his scorn for the more untamed members of their team.

“Iwa Iwa, you sure are popular!” Bokuto laughs, coming up behind him.

He quickly switches off his phone, embarrassed. The last thing he sees is ‘how can a beauty give birth to such a beast?’ and makes a mental note to give Oikawa a noogie later.

“Sorry, my bad. Should we stretch out your shoulder a little before practice?”

When he’s got Bokuto laid out on a yoga mat, gently maneuvering his shoulder to its limits, the boy cranes back his neck and squints at him with knowing, honey-lit eyes.

“Is this Oikawa guy special? You were talking to him again, amirite?”

“Uh…” Special is just the tip of the iceberg to describe where he stands in Hajime’s life. How did one just sum up the lifetime they had spent with Oikawa Tooru? “He’s an old teammate,” he says ultimately, though it tastes sour in his mouth.

Bokuto nods, understanding. “I gotcha. Teammates are real important, even when they’re old. I had this one teammate, his name was Akaashi—well, not was, is, ‘cause he’s still alive, thank god—and he…”

Hajime lets him monologue about his old teammate for most of their session, only half his mind present; Bokuto’s clearly forgotten that he’d heard this whole spiel back when he first learned Bokuto was friends with both the creator and the editor of Zom’bish, or when Bokuto got him hooked on the manga in the first place, or each time he brings up his old Fukurodani days, or every other time in between.

Something prickles at Hajime: respect, or some form of distant jealousy.

It’s never been so easy for him and Oikawa—to define themselves. Part of him wishes he could carry around photos of Oikawa, boast about him openly to those who asked and even those who didn’t, tell people ‘hey, look at this guy, look how much he means to me.’

Twenty-one years and some change down the line, and he’s still struggling to explain what makes Oikawa special; an old teammate; his best friend; the boy who owns one-half of Hajime’s entire existence.

“Stop boring him, dude,” says Yaku, coming up to them. He’s grinning something fond. “At least your old teammates were, like, semi-normal. Mine could have passed for a circus group.”

Hinata bounces over, not to be outdone, towing a reluctant Kageyama along by the bicep. “No one was more circus-y than Karasuno! Right, Kageyama? Remember Noya-san’s parties?”

“How is that possible without Miya on your team?” sneers Sakusa.

Unperturbed, Atsumu blows bangs from his face with a rush of hot air. His grin is cocky and sure, his arms, splayed widely. “It’s true what they say. The party don’t start ‘til I walk in.”

“That was not a compliment, you imbecile.”

“Be a jackass all ya want, Omi-nom-nom, it just makes me stronger.”

“Nom-nom!” Bokuto echoes, cackling with glee at the newfound pet-name.

Sakusa looks up to the ceiling, his face the poster picture for ‘what did I do to end up with these idiots?’ disease, and goes sulking to the opposite end of the court to stretch in peace. Unfortunately for him, he ends up in Hoshiumi’s direct line of vision, and they watch his soul physically detach as he’s subjected to mindless chatter at terminal velocity.

Hajime relates, but is no less amused.

Practice goes about as well as any other—a few mishaps, and some trifle arguments here and there, nothing a good scolding can’t fix—and Hajime sits in the changing room after, waiting on the rest of the team. He restarts his phone to an explosion of texts, and reads through an entire spiraling meltdown, starting from ‘i think your mom wants to officially adopt me as her son hehe’ and ending up at ‘oh god your mom just lowkey implied she wants to kidnap me and tie me up in her closet so i can’t go back to argentina help??’

“Ooh, is that Oikawa-san?” Hinata asks, exiting the shower in time to catch the tail end of Hajime’s smile. “Tell him I said hi!”

Atsumu is the next to appear from behind the curtain of steam, naked as sin but more concerned with toweling his hair. “When’re we gonna meet this dude?”

The locker room has begun to teem with the athletes, and more than one waits for his answer with keen interest.

“Uh…” Hajime scratches his neck. “He’s shy?”

Hinata stares and Kageyama stares and Ushijima stares, because that’s the most ridiculous thing Hajime’s said in his life. A more accurate statement would have been ‘he’s petty as fuck.’ But he doesn’t think certain teammates would appreciate his honesty.

Hajime looks out into the many faces of Team Japan, who stood strong and impressive despite the humbling aura of a dingy, steaming locker room.

“You’ll meet him at the quarterfinals,” he says.

A bout of high energy, peacock-esque feather ruffling surges about the room at his words.

A smirk threatens to split Atsumu’s face. “Hell yeah!”

“Team Argentina won’t know what hit ‘em!” Bokuto whoops, whipping a towel in circles and nailing Gao in the eye.

“Atsumu. Bokuto. Put on some fucking clothes—”

Japan breezes through their final preliminary round with almost comical ease; Hajime wonders if Bokuto and Hoshiumi smacking asses in the locker room with rolled-up towels counts as some bizarre form of training.

Hoshiumi lands the final shot, then goes jumping onto Ushijima’s back, demanding to be carried around like some jockey as he waves to the roaring crowds—brave or stupid, Hajime’s undecided.

The Pool B match going on at the same time continues to trudge on: Argentina versus U.S.A.

The Americans finish out the set with three service aces, and the match drags its heels into a fifth and final round. Too close for comfort, the game has the crowd collectively biting its nails. Even Hajime feels a cold sweat going down his neck, catching glimpses of the action on the projected screen.

Through it all, Oikawa looks perfectly composed. The camera catches him speaking with his team in between sets, directing them with an eerie calm.

The fifth set blasts through like a cannon. There are no exciting rallies, no show-stopping receives; each point is a full-on carnivorous attack with the velocity to sever limbs. There’s no patience, no grace. It’s a fucking bloodbath.

Hajime isn’t the only one from Japan watching now. He’s pillared on either side by all forms of teammates, oohing and aahing and wincing and making dumb commentary about how “that one American blondie kinda looks like a girl if ya squint ‘nough—shut up, Atsumu.”

Hajime’s not listening. His eyes are only for Argentina’s setter.

Which is why he realizes it seconds before the rest of the world. He sees the telltale twitch at the corner of Oikawa’s mouth, a sneer threatening to burst, and knows that Oikawa knows he’s got them: a fake-out gesture towards his outside hitter sends blockers tumbling to the edge of the net, cleaning up the path for a back attack with his ace, who spikes with the ferocity of a bullet train.

Hajime’s hand twitches, spurred by muscle memory.

The ball collides with the ground in a thunderous spiral, ricocheting off into unknown corners.

And it’s Argentina for the win.

Hinata beside him is going out of his mind, hoarse from the cheering. Bokuto yells “YOOOO” and beats his own chest like an ape, already raring to go for another match after that display. “I coulda done that,” Atsumu mutters to Kageyama, who nods along vigorously. There’s no inflection at all on Ushijima’s face.

Hajime releases a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Reporters flock the court. The libero from Team U.S.A is crying, and a couple of his teammates bat away cameras for his sake.

Team Argentina soaks in the attention; there’s a journalist speaking with Coach Blanco, another following their expired captain, and several cameras keeping track of the players in between.

Oikawa accepts a stray microphone, peeling damp bangs from his forehead. He’s smiling. His eyes do a sweep of the stadium, and Hajime knows it’s impossible for Oikawa to spot him past this much distance, for their eyes to make contact, when he’s barely a pinprick himself. But he gets the distinct feeling he’s the one being spoken to, when Oikawa declares to the entire nation, “Team Japan. We’re coming for you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hajime squints at his phone screen.

Just turn left and then turn right, says the screen. Well, Hajime had turned left, and then he had turned right, and all he got for it was a very awkward encounter with a girls’ team from Portugal who didn’t understand his English and probably thought he was some perv trying to pick up chicks.

He was going to kill Oikawa.

After stopping a few stray athletes in the hall, he finally finds his luck in the broad, goateed form of Team Argentina’s ace.

“You’re looking for our Tooru?” he repeats in accented English. Hajime breathes a sigh of relief. “Just down the end of this hall, man. Not far now.”

“Thanks,” says Hajime. “Uh, congrats on last night’s win, by the way. That last back attack was really…”

He trails off, feeling embarrassed for some inexplicable reason, encountering Oikawa’s new ace in such modest circumstances. But the man seems to get the gist. With a sunny smile, he pats the back of Hajime’s neck before going on about his way.

Hajime finds Oikawa’s room quickly after that. It’s the one with the sock on the door.

He had said he was going to put out a discreet signal.

Hajime isn’t convinced he’s not going to murder him in cold blood before the end of the night.

The door opens at his knock, revealing yet another member of Team Argentina: the heavy-lidded beanpole of an opposite hitter who had acted as decoy last night. He looks down at Hajime, unsurprised by his appearance on their doorstep.

“You must be Hajime?” he hazards a guess, allowing him entry. “Tooru’s in the shower. He said to let you in. I’m Gabriel, his roommate.”

The inside of Argentina’s suites are an exact replica of Hajime’s own. Two flimsy beds, two cupboards, and an array of sports equipment scattered about. The only severe distinction was the sky-blue #11 and #13 jerseys hanging on a nearby rack. Hajime also makes note of the Kirby doll posed on the closest bed.

“Good game last night, Gabriel,” he says, earning him a small, appreciative smile.

The bathroom door pulls open, allowing for a thick layer of steam to spew from within. The smell of floral body wash condenses in the room, dizzying almost. Oikawa emerges from a cloud of his own making, wearing UFO pyjamas, his glasses perched on his nose—stupidly cute.

His eyes light up when he spots Hajime. “Iwa-chan, you’re here!”

Hajime is less enthused. “Your directions weren’t good for shit,” he snaps.

“Oh, no, they were perfect. Did you meet the swim team from Portugal? Aren’t they such lovely ladies?”

“You’re dead, you little shit—!”

Gabriel watches the bizarre scene unfold—Hajime, red in the face, shaking Oikawa by the collar as he laughs merrily—and chuckles to himself despite not understanding a word. It begs the question how much of a little shit he was with his new teammates. Knowing Oikawa, the moments of sobriety were probably few and far in between.

“Tooru, I’m going down to the party. The gymnast from last night said she would look for me. Don’t want to keep her waiting.” Gabriel pauses at the door, pointing at the sock dangling over the handle. “Do you want me to…?”

“Leave it,” laughs Oikawa, still in the midst of being strangled. “Thanks, Gabriel.”

Gabriel pulls the door shut softly, an amused gleam in his eye.

“Iwa-chan, if I die right here, they’re going to think you murdered me for a gold medal.”

“Some people deserve to die,” seethes Hajime, but releases him with a flick of his wrists.

Oikawa rubs his chest over the wrinkled fabric of his nightshirt, positively beaming.

While Oikawa tinkers with his many bottles and jars and tubes of skincare gunk, finishing up his routine for the night, Hajime drifts towards the window. The Village-wide shindig was in its full state of perpetual swing; a central light projector bounced vivid colors off the walls, discarded Asahi beer bottles littered the tables and nearby bushes, and there was enough slithering and grinding going on to put every night club in near vicinity out of business. The noise was bottled up past the thick, laminated glass, but each pulse of music rattled through.

Hajime was fairly certain half his team was down there somewhere. He figures they’ve earned it after the day’s grueling practice, but hopes they were smart enough not to get wasted (or were chaperoned by someone who was).

“If you’re done with your anime villain roleplay,” comes Oikawa's voice, half-joke, half-sneer, “my laptop is on the bed.”

Hajime peels himself away from the hypnotizing sight of watching a bunch of foreign acrobats backflip off the roof onto a definitely nicked batch of safety nets below.

“You have no idea how much of an anime villain I can be,” he says, darkly. “But keep talking and you’ll find out.”

“Ooh, I’m so scared.”

Yeah. Fuck. The day Hajime’s life ended was the day Oikawa became immune to his threats. Too many vague, dark promises with no actual follow up. Hajime had gotten too soft with age.

He kicks off his shoes and sinks onto the bed, yanking Oikawa’s laptop forward. It’s an old MacBook with stickers all over the plastic cover: volleyballs, UFOs, various Pokemon, some brand names he knows have sponsorships with Oikawa, and, embarrassingly enough, the purikura photo they had snapped the other day. He’d peel it off if he didn’t know Oikawa would just stick on two more as retaliation.

Yanking open the screen, he peruses through icons before clicking open the browser. There’s already a YouTube video pulled up on full-screen display, clearly forgotten.

Hajime stares. “What the hell is this?”

“Hm?” Oikawa looks over his shoulder, a white smear of moisturizer on his cheek. “What is it?”

He comes tapping over, and has to squint at the screen since he’s not wearing his glasses. Upon recognition, he freezes. His face pales mildly with dread.

“It’s me,” Hajime points out, dumbly.

It’s a full scale, blown-up shot of Hajime’s face, clearly coming off of a laugh, smiling warm and easy at the camera. Various members of Team Japan litter the background, but they’re blurred in comparison; he’s clearly the main focus. A giant pause sign is suspended over his nose.

“I-I was just watching the stream for the opening ceremonies!” Oikawa explains, furiously clicking out of the video with unfathomable speed. A pink color rests high on his cheekbones.

Hajime contemplates it: the flush rapidly creeping over his nose, or the insecure tug of his mouth. He doesn’t really want to make anything between them awkward.

“Okay,” he replies, prepared to leave it at that.

But this seems to trigger some sort of fight response in Oikawa. He snaps, waspish, “I mean, I just wanted to check how I looked, okay? That’s not a crime. It’s not enough just to have the words of my adoring fans gushing over me. And, anyway, I saw Tobio-chan’s face and it totally killed my mood, so I couldn’t even finish. So then I paused it. That’s all.”

“All right, geez. I didn’t even say anything.” Hajime yanks the laptop out of his hands, settling it over his own legs. He bats him away. “Go finish your beauty routine or whatever. I don’t have all night.”

“You have all night if I say you have all night.” But he obediently returns to the array of products he has set up around his travel-sized mirror, still mildly pink in the face.

Hajime swipes at his ass as he walks away. “Brat,” he says, affectionately.

When Oikawa is properly dewy and his forehead has acquired just the right amount of shine to send signals into space, he climbs into bed with Hajime. 

“This is the first match, right?” he demands, peering at the video title. “Okay, good. This was probably my coolest one, Iwa-chan, so pay attention.”

As if that wasn’t his entire reason for being here.

“You didn’t even watch any of my matches,” Oikawa had whined, and, “It’s like I’m not even your best friend,” Oikawa had scoffed, and Hajime had melted like putty in his well-groomed, manipulative little hands.

Well, he had been wanting to see the matches anyway, not least because of how the Seijou group chat exploded over them every other day.

That’s not to say Team Japan hadn’t fried their brains dissecting every single one of Argentina’s matches, because they’d done just that at the morning’s strategy meeting. But Hajime had run out to restock up on supplies since he didn’t really need to be there. Either way, Hajime wouldn’t tell him anything; Oikawa could pick apart a hundred-and-one strategies with just one misspoken sentence.

But he thinks he finally gets what Hinata's “OWOH, he’s so COOL!” from the other side of the gym had meant, when the Oikawa on screen molds his fingers to the ball and sends it toppling gracefully over the net. Several players skid for the ball to no avail, and simply lose their will to get back up.

“Fuck!” Hajime yells, almost strangling the real-life Oikawa to bits. “That was—you! Fuckin’ awesome!”

“I’m dying, Iwa-chan,” he points out helpfully, trying to extract the hand crushing his windpipe. But he’s glowing under the praise.

The tiny Oikawa on the screen is also smiling as he shakes his opponent’s hand under the net, though Hajime’s ninety percent sure if this wasn’t a globally televised event that would be archived on the Internet forever, he would have sneered his little goblin sneer that tended to devastate everyone in its path.

“The next one’s Brazil, and that one’s fine and all, but we should watch v.s. France. We totally crushed them. I’m talking complete annihilation.”

Hajime dislodges his elbow from Oikawa’s spleen, but only so he can hurriedly type out argentina vs france olympic match in the little YouTube search bar.

“Three million views. It must be good,” he says, proudly, rounding on his friend.

Oikawa is still boring into the side of his face, still glowing exceptionally bright; his eyes glimmer fondly, watching him get all swept up in Oikawa’s success. Despite the little jump start of his own heartbeat, Hajime returns the smile, if a little unsurely.

“Are you going to press play, Iwa-chan?”

“Uh… yeah.” He whips back around to the screen, ears burning.

Five minutes into the match, an arm slithers quietly across Hajime’s chest. He stiffens, tension sinking into his body. It’s not about the intimacy—the bed’s barely big enough for two men of their height and muscle mass, and they’ve been smushed into one giant lump all night—but more about the deliberate way Oikawa ghosts his upper lip along the shell of Hajime’s ear.

“Is this all right, Iwa-chan?” he murmurs, pointedly wiggling closer.

Hajime forces himself to relax. “‘S fine,” he grunts, focusing on the match.

He watches Argentina’s libero barrel roll across the court to save a particularly tricky shot from France’s pinch server, and ignores the knee that wedges itself between his thighs, so Oikawa can more comfortably drape himself over half of Hajime’s body. Now there’s less danger of either of them falling off the bed. It’s great, fine.

“That was a nasty one, oof,” says Oikawa from the general vicinity of Hajime’s throat, as his virtual duplicate is forced to receive a jump serve. The top of his head is under Hajime’s nose and his hair smells like his stupid fucking shampoo—the audacity.

He sniffs. “People think they can jump serve better than me, but they’re wrong.”

Hajime rolls his eyes. “I’m sure that France’s setter was thinking about you, personally, when he decided to practice his jump serves, because he wanted to beat you, specifically.”

“Oh, yes! I’m sure, too.”

Ugh. Hajime doesn’t know why he bothers with sarcasm still, when Oikawa just rinses his mouth with it and spits it back out, after deciding it’s not to his taste.

“I evoke some very strong emotions in people, don’t you know, Iwa-chan?” Oikawa tells him, very matter-of-fact. “Just look at your own team.”

He snorts. “My team’s fine. Worry about yourself, loser.”

“Tsk. What confidence. As if I don’t know you’re here on some recon mission. Well, I’m not telling you anything, so you can tell Tobio-chan to suck it.”

“You’re the one who bothered me to come!”

“Agreed pretty quick, though, didn’t you?”

“You insufferable little turd.”

“Ooh, big word for such a—”

“—little man. Yeah, yeah, I know. Asshole.”

Oikawa laughs up at him, his nose pressed to Hajime’s jaw.

Oh, hell. This was so old and familiar, how can Hajime not let his guard down? He finally lets himself get comfortable, sliding a few inches down on the bed; Oikawa adjusts accordingly. He winds a hand under his friend, coming around to rest neatly on his shoulder. They’re boneless, one on top of the other.

Minutes pass like this, just the sounds of the match and the surging party a dozen or so stories below. Just the heat of Oikawa’s palm, bleeding into his chest through his shirt. The smell of his night shampoo under Hajime’s nose. A lull, peaceful.

They watch France lose the first set, and the Oikawa on screen makes peace signs at the camera, exceptionally bright.

Hajime can’t help but to chuckle, enamored with his happiness.

He turns to smile at him or laugh with him, maybe rib his forehead or muss his hair. But these are only half-formed thoughts, half-formed affections, never to see reality. He’s only just pressed his nose to soft, floral hair when Oikawa—the real one, the one making a nest of his body, warm and solid—snakes a hand away from his chest, and snaps the laptop shut. Once there is the sound of thunderous applause, and then, there’s nothing.

Hajime blanches, off guard. “Um…?”

Oikawa shoves the laptop off his lap and, in one fluid, inconceivable move, swings a leg over Hajime’s lap to take its place. His hands plant on either side of Hajime’s head when he topples forward. Like this, he hovers, backlit by the room’s starchy white lights, his expression unreadable.

Hajime isn’t sure what sort of face he’s making himself, when he blinks up into the face of his childhood friend. But he’s hyper-aware of the shot of arousal that bolts through his spine.

“Oikawa? The hell are you—?”

“Shh,” breathes Oikawa, and settles a thumb over his lips, effectively stamping all ability for him to speak, on every level. He drags it along the curve of his mouth, and watches with careful precision as Hajime’s Adam’s apple bobs from the action. The bottled noise of party music is still trying to shatter through their window.

“You’re not fair, Iwa-chan,” he speaks through his teeth. His jaw unclicks to let him speak. “I decided not to have any regrets. But you... you make it so hard.”

This—this can’t be real, Hajime thinks. He’s insane, or he fell asleep watching the match, this is another heinous wet dream about his best friend, or—

The inside of Oikawa’s knees fit snugly against Hajime’s hips, the hard press keeping him rooted in reality.

“I watched the opening ceremonies for you, you know,” he says, still staring at Hajime’s throat. “I paused the video there on purpose. You looked very handsome.”

Hajime swallows, dry and lumpish, and watches Oikawa watch the movement. He is astutely aware that this is a cosmically significant moment, happening right here on top of him, but all he can think is, please, please, don’t let Oikawa sit down where he’s half-hard inside his shorts.

“You look good in red,” says Oikawa, rubbing at his bottom lip now with some fervor. His canines flash. “It makes me want to paint you blue.”

Without warning, he applies soft pressure and sinks his thumb into Hajime’s mouth, past the knuckle, as far back as it’ll go. His eyes are hard.

Hajime accepts him automatically, clamping his lips around the base of Oikawa’s thumb like this was normal fucking behavior. The pad of Oikawa’s thumb presses against his tongue, and he pushes back up against it, hot muscle slithering against skin. Something seedy sinks into his bones. Hajime would close his eyes, if he wasn’t so completely hypnotized by the way Oikawa’s eyes melt into molten honey.

“Easy there, Iwa-chan,” he coos, and swirls the digit around one final time before easing back.

His thumb pulls out of Hajime’s mouth with a horrifyingly wet noise. A wave of embarrassment crashes into the pit his stomach, and Hajime’s first instinct is to strangle him to bits with his hands or maybe with the blanket bunched up at their feet. His second is to yank him in by the back of his neck and kiss his stupid face.

“What the fuck, Oikawa,” he hisses instead. His voice sounds shallow to his own ears, no real heat behind the words.

Oikawa’s fingers move up his face to tease his fringe, ghosting, featherlight, across his forehead. “What,” he says, innocently.

Hajime glares. “You know what.”

“No, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me?”

“You know.”

Oikawa does know; it’s all there, in the tense cord of his neck, the twist of something defiant on his face, the rolls of fat wrinkles running up the bridge of his nose. Everything said between the things that weren’t. He knows just about as well as Hajime does, what he’s doing and why he can’t be.

Even so, he puts a dark force behind the question. “What did you think would happen when I invited you to my room, Iwa-chan?”

It’s never completely quiet in the Olympic Village. But the ring of silence in their room in this one moment is loud enough to drown out any noise.

Heat permeates into Hajime’s face, the implications wringing his stomach bone-dry. He lowers his gaze. Yeah. Hajime knew exactly what might happen when he came to Oikawa’s room, and he came anyway. He cuddled with him anyway. He’s a fucking idiot.

Oikawa’s narrowed gaze escalates briefly into a fierce glare. His nose wrinkles.

Then he sighs loudly, unpleasantly, tension releasing all at once. He swings his leg back over to reclaim it from Hajime’s hip bone, and collapses next to him in defeat. It’s over, just like that. Hajime can fucking breathe again.

“Okay, fine,” he snaps. “Whatever. It’s fine. Forget it.”

“Oikawa…” Hajime begins, awkwardly. “Sorry, it’s not.... It’s just, the game’s tomorrow and—”

“I said it’s fine. I know my mother hen Iwa-chan is only ever, like, looking out for my best interests and all. What a sweetheart.

He reaches down to snatch the laptop and deposit it back onto Hajime’s lap, yanking open the cover with enough force to snap it in two. His peevish face glares at Hajime through the screen in the split second it takes for the picture to load. The France game is still paused exactly where they had left it, and he smashes the play button.

Hajime winces and, as consolation, doesn’t smack him for the mother hen comment like he normally would have. Cautiously, he holds out an arm in silent invitation. Despite his obvious bristling, Oikawa is quick to snuggle back into his side for the rest of the game.

They watch in stiff silence, the second set dragging into the third. The Oikawa on screen is sweaty and lucent and beautiful.

After a moment, Hajime speaks. “We’re still gonna beat your ass tomorrow, though.”

Oikawa sneers against his chin. “Ha! It’s good to dream big, I guess.”

“We don’t need to dream. We’ve got Japan’s miracle boy Ushiwaka on the team. And Kageyama’s number one setter in the V-League right now, though I’m sure you know.”

The look he receives is nothing short of murderous; Oikawa looks like he actually wants to scalp him. “Get out of my bed,” he hisses, and they do a bang-up job ignoring the layer of heat beneath the bawdy line. “Get out, get out!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Hajime snorts, and grips the edge of the mattress.

Another glare, deeper. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Oikawa says, darkly.

I’ve never made any promises, Hajime wants to say. And neither have you.

But they’re all right, they’re doing all right again, and he really doesn’t want to make anything awkward with Oikawa. He wants to watch his best friend devastate nations on the court and control the stupid half-boner still popped up in his shorts, try to get the mild taste of Oikawa’s rose moisturizer out of his mouth.

The game’s tomorrow, the same one they’ve been prepping for as long as they’ve been apart. And Hajime’s not going to ruin that. If he can help it, he’s not going to ruin anything with Oikawa.

 

 

 

 

 

It was July of 2013, a summer of record-breaking heat, corner store slushies, Assassin’s Creed, and mountains of packing tape. Aoba Johsai lost to Date Tech in their semifinals match at the Interhigh Qualifiers. Ushijima Wakatoshi signed on with the Schweiden Adlers after months of debating V-League offers. Hajime packed up his life into one twenty-six by eighteen inch suitcase, then went across the street and packed up his best friend’s life, too.

And Oikawa kissed him.

They were standing inside Sendai Airport, 10:36AM, only an hour before Oikawa’s flight, when he took Hajime’s face into his hands, and he slanted their mouths together, soft and slow.

Right there, in the bustling crowds of the international terminal. Right there, in front of their parents.

Hajime’s mother smiled crookedly, looking upon them and their rom-com good-bye with fondness, and Hajime got the sense their parents thought they must have done this hundreds of times already, maybe that they had always been together. But they were wrong. It was the first, and only.

Hajime gripped his best friend’s wrists, keeping his hands on his face, and kissed him back.

And when they pulled back, Oikawa didn’t say I love you, or wait for me, or I’ll come back for you and then we can be together.

He said, all silly, curly smiles, “Don’t miss me too much!”

Hajime intoned, his gaze flat, “As if. Now my life will finally know peace.”

And then Oikawa left.

Hajime would leave too, in the coming month, chasing his own idol and his own dreams to far corners. He had a concrete plan: survive four years of university, pass his BOC exam, woo Takashi Utsui into a mentorship, maybe rack up some experience in the States for a few months, then, hopefully, come back to Japan.

But Oikawa left with no plans to come back anytime soon, if ever.

He left with his too-big dreams and his half-fledged feelings for his best friend.

And they buried that kiss under the sticky July heat, ten-thousand miles, and the occasional glitch of Hajime’s computer screen.

Nothing changed.

He would still badger Hajime every Saturday on the dot during their ritual Skype calls, and Hajime would text him when he got home from his 6PM lab on Tuesdays so he wouldn’t worry. They still had their CoD troupe with the other Seijou boys, which, after the creation of Discord, became more of a stupid-meme server.

Hajime would send him care packages, and he would send back souvenirs. They collected each other’s postcards and polaroids. They took ugly screenshots of their FaceTime calls and shared them on the LINE group chat.

Hajime watched every one of his matches, even the ones narrated in rapid Spanish with no English subtitles, and joined every Oikawa fan page out there he could find so he wouldn’t miss any news, as if he didn’t have the main source himself lighting up every single messaging app on his phone.

So nothing changed.

They were still best friends.

They were still—whatever the fuck word it was, which explained their relationship. Hajime’s never been able to find one, and twenty-one years down the road, he’s still looking.

But that summer, that July, when Oikawa left for Argentina and Hajime was still biding his time in Japan for another month, was the longest of Hajime’s youth. Never-ending. Hajime looked across the street and he ached down to the bone, to the roots of his teeth, because there was no reason to look, anymore. The house was still. The curtains were drawn in Oikawa’s window, and the light didn’t come on in the late hours of the night.

Hajime thought about him, and about their kiss, and about how that was all they could be, right now. Maybe ever. Maybe they would always move through life, together, never able to define who they were to each other.

Because that’s what came with it; that’s what came along with the unbridled mess of having complicated feelings for Oikawa Tooru—the phantom boy who had vanished behind the clouds, who had always been a wisp of smoke, ready to faze away at first opportunity.

He’d learned to be okay with that.

Hajime remembered being young and reckless and rolling around in the mud with Oikawa, and thinking that he could do this forever and ever.

He remembered holding Oikawa’s hand in the dead set of Sendai’s winter when they were fifteen, and seeing him smile proper for the first time since Kageyama joined the team, and knowing then that he loved him, in any way that he was allowed to, just like he knew he would never do anything to jeopardize those too-big dreams of his.

Yeah, Hajime decided, stuck in his perpetual summer. This was okay. It was okay.

The Sendai heat continued to simmer, and Hajime left.

 

 

 

 

 

Hajime thinks he should feel nervous, but he doesn’t. Only a stagnant calm overcomes him, standing on the outskirts of the court, the arena lights flaring a saturated beam of white heat onto the back of his neck.

Somewhere in his peripheral, he’s aware of Kageyama and Hinata having their usual bickering match as they warm up. Sakusa was likely off stretching in a quiet corner, and Bokuto was doing jumping jacks to pump himself up in his own not-so-quiet space. All seems normal, calming even.

Reporters flutter about the sidelines, trying to capture all of the pregame ruckus on their shiny, million-yen cameras. Hajime picks up on multiple stray reports as they wade him by, his ears fine-tuning to settle on just one frequency.

“The Japan men’s team has been firing on all cylinders so far this tournament. Today…”

On the far end of the court, the massive double doors pull open with a clunky, metallic noise.

“...they will take on Argentina, a team that has been riding a hot streak.”

Team Argentina strides into the arena as one burly, titanic mass of intimidation. Gone is the friendly bunch of guys Hajime had met just last night; in their place, Argentina’s ace is a wide set of shoulders and a poker face, and Gabriel eyes the crowds with a sort of lazy detachment, not to be distracted by the glamour. And, up front, leading their charge—

“The biggest topic coming into this game has to be Argentina’s starting setter, Tooru Oikawa. Born in Japan, he followed his mentor, Coach Blanco, to Argentina after graduation, and eventually became a naturalized Argentinian citizen.”

Their eyes meet, an illicit encounter as they stand on opposite ends of a court, sandwiched between their teams.

Hajime senses more than wills his mouth, when it curls at one end into a smirk.

Oikawa, a vision of blue skies, matches it perfectly.

“Oikawa was a virtually unknown player during his school years in Japan, having never made it to a national tournament in either middle or high school.”

Hajime wants to be annoyed by that, the gross oversimplification of what volleyball had meant to Oikawa and to him and to Seijou, all those years ago. But he can’t be.

Because how can just anyone else understand, just what it’s taken for Oikawa Tooru to stand on the world stage?

That he’d been only a fresh fawn when he’d realized he wasn’t talented, only driven, and the rest of his life would be a race to a finish line that only edged farther away. That Kageyama Tobio would appear in his life with his perfect sets and his wide-eyed love for the game, and he would never be able to stop looking over his shoulder. That Ushijima Wakatoshi would barrel over him with just his left hand and his too-blunt words. That Karasuno would appear from the sidelines like a whisper of all that he feared. And that his mentor would leave for the other side of the world, whisking him away to foreign lands where he didn’t speak the language and he couldn’t sync with his teammates, and Hajime would stay up through ungodly Skype calls listening to him panic about his future.

Oikawa Tooru never made it to Nationals.

His greatest achievement in school had been the Best Setter award he had won in his third year of middle school.

After that, it had all been word of mouth; his jump serves, his godly sets, his frightening game sense. People expected greatness from him, and were sorely disappointed all through his high school run.

But that didn’t fucking matter anymore.

Because he’d made it to the Tokyo 2020 fucking Olympics.

Hajime grins, a few stray chuckles escaping him. Oikawa Tooru. His best friend. The official setter for Argentina’s Olympic team.

At this point, he’s not the only one who’s honed in on Oikawa. Kageyama and Ushijima stare at his approaching form, each with their own complicated history reflected on their faces. Hinata goes careening towards Argentina’s side of the gym, squealing “Oikawa-san!” and getting an affectionate “Shouyou!” in return as they fall into an easy embrace.

“Hey, hey, that’s your guy!” Bokuto hoots, coming up to him.

Hajime looks across the way, recapturing Oikawa’s gaze when he surfaces from Hinata’s shoulder. He can’t help but to flash his teeth in a predatory smile, burning up with a challenge that he finds mirrored back at him in every line of his best friend’s face.

“Yeah,” he replies, never looking away. “That’s my guy.”

There’s no time to talk to Oikawa, or to heckle him. The Japan team convenes to form one big circle, listening closely to Coach Hibarida’s motivational speech. Hinata in particular is a bouncing ball of energy, ready to show the world and the Grand King just how far he’s come.

They bring their fists into a circle, chests high.

“Get out there, everyone,” says Hibarida. “Let’s once again prove to the world that volleyball is fun.”

The match gets underway quickly. There’s no need to dally when they all know why they’re here. When they’re eager for the taste of victory.

Reporters are still flapping about, commentating on everything and nothing, but they’re now an endless buzz somewhere in the back of Hajime’s mind. The court demands his attention.

It’s Oikawa up to serve first, and Hajime thinks of how long it’s been since the last time he saw one of his jumps serves up close and personal—eight years.

Eight years and, when the whistle shrieks, Oikawa is still a beast whose serves shred the court with force enough to leave carnage in their wake.

The ball blasts through to the opposite side. Sakusa manages to save that one, if only by a nanometer—Hajime sees Oikawa’s face contort into something ugly, and Sakusa’s is not much better—and then Hinata is flying over the court with his partner only heels behind. The ball connects.

First point goes to Japan, and the crowd shakes the stadium with their screams.

The only thing louder is Hajime’s own heartbeat, battering the inside of his ribcage.

“OOH, not bad!” crows Hoshiumi, teetering on his toes to get a better look.

“I know we saw that serve in the match videos,” mutters Gao, “but it’s still scary up close.”

Hajime feels eyes on the back of his head, but ignores them.

Argentina gets back the second point, and the third. Oikawa leans close to the net and sneers something at Kageyama that makes his face glow red, and Hajime resists the urge to march onto the court and smack his asshole of a best friend. Not to be deterred, Kageyama arches a ball right into one of Sakusa’s freaky hands, who puts his beautiful spin on it and shocks the entire Argentinian team into fumbling with the receive. Oikawa snarls first at Kageyama, then flits his glare over his shoulder to Hajime, who pulls down the skin under one eye in a silent taunt; now it’s Oikawa’s turn to flush red.

“That dude better not be botherin’ our precious Tobio-kun,” Atsumu bristles. “That’s my job.”

“I don’t think Kageyama even realizes you’re trying to bother him,” Gao says with a snort, and Hajime’s inclined to agree.

The set creeps slowly into a deuce. They’ve just pulled ahead, 26–25, when the game gets suspended into a dizzying rally. A chance ball flutters over to Argentina’s side, who fail to garner a point when Yaku pulls an amazing Spiderman-eque stunt to get it back into the air.

From there, it’s a simple one, two, three step process. Receive, set, spike. Yaku to Kageyama to Bokuto, who slams the ball into the ground with a cackling laugh.

Just like that, Japan takes the first set.

“Phew!” breathes Hinata, after taking a large gulp from his water bottle. They’re huddled by the benches, while Bokuto is off running across the court, “hey hey heyyy!”-ing the crowd. “It’s so fun to play against Oikawa-san again! I’ve missed it!”

Hajime lets himself feel the sensation of loss that wells up in his chest, before trampling it back down into something more manageable.

He turns away from checking Sakusa’s wrist to clap Kageyama’s shoulder. “Hey. If Oikawa is a turd to you again, just tell him he’s got some dandruff on his shoulder. That should inflict some damage.”

Kageyama’s face twists into a complicated expression, as if he’s trying to decipher whether Hajime was joking or not. He doesn’t quite seem to figure it out, but settles on a curt, “Thank you, Iwaizumi-san.”

Hajime grins encouragingly.

Second set ups the intensity by a thousand notches. Argentina is out for revenge, or for blood, or both. Hinata almost loses an arm trying to receive a spike off of Argentina’s ace, and they lose that point, and then, ultimately, the entire set.

They lose the next one, too, draping the entire stadium in a sheet of iced anxiety, the spectators glued to the edges of their seats.

Argentina charges forward, full-steam, victory so close it sits in their mouths. Oikawa’s serves only become more lethal as the game progresses, no longer pulling any punches now that they’ve inched into the high stakes.

But Japan won’t take anything lying down. Their uniforms cling to sweat and they’ll probably never catch their breaths again, but there’s no breathing room to play at any capacity below one-hundred. Hinata flies across the court, an orange blur, and racks up points at the speed of light.

It comes down to the fifth, and final, set.

Hajime would have been surprised if it happened any other way.

“Damn, they really gonna make us work for it,” Atsumu snaps, trying to fan off a red-faced Hinata.

Hajime looks across the way, but Oikawa is laser-focused on his team and their brief strategy meeting. The other players are listening raptly as he speaks. Hajime remembers when he was a part of that circle—just a distant memory now.

“I’m sure they’re over there sayin’ the same thing about us,” laughs Aran, good-naturedly.

A quick meeting of their own ensues, in which positions are changed and plans are made anew. They spritz water, down their throats, over their faces. Hajime ruffles Hinata’s hair, their show-stopping star, and tells him to go kick some butt.

And they’re back on the court.

The broiling heat of the match snaps back into place, sending a wave of hot air and determination blasting into the sidelines.

This is it, this is it.

The tension is so tangible that Hajime tastes it in the back of his mouth, feels it dripping down the back of his neck. His palm swipes his forehead and comes back drenched. Hajime’s skin feels raw everywhere it touches fabric, his fingers feel heavy like there’s lead under the skin.

He stares at Oikawa, who opens the set.

Oikawa, the little shit, goes in for a jump serve but ends up with a jump floater, and the fake-out is enough to kilter even Sakusa off balance.

First point goes to Argentina.

Beside him, Atsumu tsks loudly, and the very earth seems to shake from the force of it.

It sets a precedence for the entire fifth set, which is a dizzying rally of its own. They teeter to and fro, yanking back the advantage with the skin of their teeth. Point to Argentina. Point to Japan. The screams of the crowd, followed by a tight hush over the stadium.

Bokuto plants his feet, goes sailing for the ball. Misses.

Argentina’s number twenty-five wrangles one through, overpowering Hyakuzawa over the net.

Oikawa tries another feint, seen through by Kageyama. They scowl at one another through the net, electricity sparking between them.

Hajime watches with his heart clawing up his throat, hardly able to stand still. There’s sweat drenching the back of his uniform shirt, not all of it from the high-beam arena lights. His chest constricts. Somehow, somehow, he’s got to survive this.

Which is why, when Ushijima slides in next to him and says, “You must be anxious,” in his rich, calm, baritone, like he’s remarking on the weather, he doesn’t know whether he should laugh or just bury his face in his hands.

“Well, of course,” he replies, trying to sound like he’s in control of his own heartbeat. Out on the court, Sakusa sends his own monster serve over the net, strong enough to assassinate. “We’re so close.”

Argentina’s number ten receives the ball effortlessly.

Ushijima frowns. “I was under the impression you might be rooting for Oikawa to win.”

Hyakuzawa blocks a sharp spike, and the entire Japanese bench leans forward—but it ricochets straight into the hands of the libero. The ball’s still in play.

“Oh. It’s not...” Hajime frowns, too, and now looks away from the court to peer instead at Ushijima. He can’t even be offended by the assumption. “It’s not really like that. Me and Oikawa, we swore we’d beat each other if we were ever rivals. And I really don’t need him to have new gloating material for the next three years, he’s already insufferable enough. I want us to win.”

“I see.”

The crowd gasps as the ball exchanges court sides again, but Hajime’s not watching it too closely now.

“I mean,” he continues, awkwardly, honestly, “I wouldn’t really mind if he won either, though.”

Another gasp, a loud noise from the court. Ushijima rumbles, “I assumed. Though I doubt he would be so gracious if he were to lose.”

Oikawa angles the perfect toss just a width above the net, and one of his spikers jumps to meet it. He’s smirking like he knows the point is his, the win is his.

“Yeah, I know.” Hajime resists the urge to roll his eyes. “He’s an ass like that. He didn’t talk to me for a whole day the first time I ever beat him at the vertical jump, the idiot. Never mind that he always won our height contests and I never threw a hissy fit about it.”

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s why Oikawa’s out there—because he’s the sorest loser of the bunch, because he lost too many times in his life to be considered karmically fair in any way.

Hajime always puts forth his best effort in everything he does, and he loves to win, too, but at the end of the day, he knows his own breaking point; he knows when it’s time to put the volleyballs to rest, to pause the match videos and turn off the switch. But Oikawa’s never been like that, not since day one. He could be writhing on the floor, he could be bruised and battered and wrung out to dry, and still be convinced he had yet to reach his breaking point.

He’d do anything to win, to push his own limits. More than that, he would do anything just to stand on the court for even a little bit longer, full to the brim with his love for the game.

And as someone who’s grown up with a front row seat to all of his losses, his meltdowns, his reckless training, his unbridled love, Hajime thinks he wouldn’t mind if Oikawa finally gets what he deserves.

Ushijima’s watching him in wait and Hajime opens his mouth to verbalize in some way all the complicated mess of feelings he has regarding Oikawa’s volleyball career, observations he’s picked up over a lifetime together and doesn’t even know where to begin to unravel.

But they don’t make it that far.

Suddenly the arena explodes with noise, and Hajime snaps his neck towards the court.

The rally’s been won, though he can’t say who or how, tipping the balance in Argentina’s favor.

It’s match point. Argentina, 19–18.

No one’s gloating, or sneering. A hush overcomes the court, unhindered by the mass of noise from the sidelines. The players are out there waiting impatiently for the next rally to begin. Hinata’s doubled over to his knees trying to catch his breath, and Bokuto’s trying to shake off the lost point, trying to pump himself back up for the next. They look like they live for it.

And Oikawa, he steps up to the serving line, a vision of blue skies. Impossibly ethereal in this moment, even as he carries the weight of an Olympic match on his shoulders.

“It’s just…” Hajime tries, watching Oikawa spin the volleyball between his wonderful fingers, his smirk forever cocksure. He is a Grand King, through and through. “He just belongs out there, you know?”

On the world stage.

If Ushijima nods, or hums, or gives any sort of response, Hajime’s not paying attention. He’s watching his childhood friend—the same one whose snot he used to wipe, who used to fear the space under his bed, who once came to practice with a hanger tucked under his shirt—shatter boundaries with the jump serve he’s spent decades perfecting.

It almost takes off Yaku’s arm, who manages to get it back in the air if only by a hair’s width of distance, his tiny body rolling haphazardly into the sidelines.

Everyone moves at once.

Kageyama follows the ball, getting right under for a toss. Bokuto leaps, setting himself up for a back attack. Hinata flies out to the edge, where the space is free of blockers, yelling “I’m here!” loud enough to wreck his throat.

Everything happens really fast, after that. Kageyama gets the ball into his hands, sets it. It fires like a shot, right into Hinata’s hand, meets it perfectly in the middle. A freak quick to go down in history.

Hinata swings with everything he has. Argentina’s in a scramble, setting themselves up for the receive. Number nine fails to block; it misses his fingers by a crack. Number ten jumps, but he’s off. The ball cuts through.

And Hajime flashes back.

A split second, like the shutter of a camera lens. He sees a flash of teal. A modest court in a modest gymnasium. Karasuno versus Aoba Johsai, semifinals.

Players in perfect position. A spike that failed to go through. A receive that went amiss.

And Oikawa is there, again, this time.

In the back row, he’s waiting for it, waiting for his revenge.

The ball ricochets at the perfect angle off his wrist, and, this time, he maneuvers it with obvious difficulty, but it’s good. It’s good, this time. He sends it flying off towards the net. It’s mentally calculated and precise and perfect, in the way only Oikawa’s sets can be. Not too high, not too close. Only one blocker in the way, Hinata pelting as fast as he can across the width of the net.

“Samuel!” he gasps, tumbling onto his knees.

His ace comes charging forward, something carnivorous in his eye. He leaps for the ball like he’s been shot from a cannon, impossibly fast. Hinata won’t make it in time. There’s only one blocker, and Hyakuzawa won’t nearly be enough.

The ball blasts over the net, taking Hyakuzawa’s hand back with it. Yaku leaps, misses. It flattens itself just shy of the thin white border, then fires into the sidelines, before eventually tapering off into a quiet roll. And a stillness overcomes the court, because it’s over, just like that. It’s over.

The scoreboard changes.

The crowd is silent, for a beat.

And Oikawa pulls off of his knees, straightens himself into a sea of reporters, cameras, spectators, opponents, and Hajime, and smiles like the golden sunlight shone from within him. Exceptionally bright.

On that day, all of Japan comes to learn of Oikawa Tooru.

 

 

 

 

 

Japan’s dormitories are quiet for once, following the loss.

The rooms had emptied out, at least partly. Sakusa had packed up his things that same night and left for his parents’ house, his face unmovable. Komori had been not too far behind, rubbing snot off his face as he wept. Bokuto left the next morning, off to galavant about with his Tokyo friends, taking most of the noise with him. Yaku disappeared unnoticed not too soon after.

Hajime had considered leaving, going back to his own apartment. But it had only been a fleeting thought. He wouldn’t leave while Oikawa was still here, still playing through matches.

Four more days until the closing ceremony. One more match until the men’s final. Japan had lost, but Hajime would see everything else to the end.

Oikawa comes knocking on his door that night, lucent as the night sky. Beautiful, the idiot.

“Come on, Iwa-chan,” he whines, latched onto his arm. “I want to celebrate! You have to come with me, as the best friend!”

Vaguely Hajime can hear the noises of Kageyama and Hinata bickering somewhere in their room; they were probably replaying the match stream, as they had last night. Hajime thought his boys had done great, and had told them so enough times to expire his lungs. But the loss had sunk in its claws bone-deep.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” mocks Oikawa, noting his pause. “Were you in here, like, crying or something?”

“You’re a shithead,” Hajime snaps, shaking him off. And then, a curt, “Let’s go. What d’you wanna do?”

Oikawa beams, like he hadn’t always known he would get his way.

They run into Kageyama in the hall, who peers out with narrowed eyes to check on the ruckus Oikawa was making, trying to latch back onto Hajime while he attempted with great difficulty to lock his door. His eyes almost pop out of their sockets to see his old senpai standing there, who does no more than wag his fingers.

“Hello there, Tobio-chan! Good game yesterday. Sorry we had to crush you so bad, but at least we had fun doing it—oof!”

Hajime jams an elbow into his stomach, knocking the breath out of him.

“Shut up. You’re a menace. Kageyama, you should know this guy was crawling around in the filth trying to avoid you the other day.”

“I-Iwa-chan!”

They barrell out of the Japan hallways, with Oikawa squeaking “how could you!” at him every few seconds, and leave behind a very bemused Kageyama. When they come out the other side of a very cramped elevator ride, Oikawa has his grabby little fingers around Hajime’s wrist, and he’s laughing again.

“C’mon, c’mon,” he urges, shuffling him along. They stutter every few steps, because Hajime’s gone pale at the thought of just what Oikawa wants him to do. “Channel your inner Californian or something!”

“My inner Californian would be wearing flip flops and an ugly stud piercing.”

Hajime shudders at those memories; in his defense, he’d been dared by one of his lab partners, and he’d been drunk off his first time drinking hard liquor. He’d woken up the next morning to a pounding headache and an incoming FaceTime call from Hanamaki, who had laughed so hard at the sight he’d been in real danger of popping a blood vessel. Hajime had taken it right off, but a faint remnant of the hole still remained.

Oikawa’s smile glitters. “He sounds fun! When do I get to meet that Iwa-chan?”

“You don’t want to, trust me. He threw up in his roommate’s slipper.” Hajime groans. “Do we really have to do this?”

Oikawa squeezes his wrist and pulls him closer, and they go tapping across the lobby as one joined person, where the double doors at the end part at their mercy. A wave of noise thrashes into them like the surge of a tide, drenching them from their head down to their feet.

“Just for a little bit!” Oikawa laughs, over the raging disco-pop music. He drags them further into the belly. “C’mon, Iwa-chan, it’s a celebration!”

Immediately they find themselves inside a mass of sweaty, thrashing bodies—a mound of gorgeous foreign athletes all in their physical prime, the likes of which the world only saw every four years. Hajime’s familiar with sweat, but he doesn’t think that’s the only stench in the air (booze? sex? maybe it was the smell of victory overlapped with that of crushing defeat).

Oikawa thrusts them into a small gap, leaving no exits or chances to escape, and winds his arms loosely around Hajime’s neck.

Hajime feels stiff. He’s not exactly graceful in any capacity that doesn’t involve hitting or kicking a ball in some way, and he’d been to enough parties in college—which was to say, only a handful—to know he couldn’t make a career out of his dancing ability. The music’s loud enough to shatter his ears, and he’s intimately aware of the one-night couples on all sides of them, wasted or sucking face or both. He’s intimately aware of Oikawa’s thumbs pressed against the nape of his neck.

But Oikawa looks so goddamn fucking happy, so what’s Hajime supposed to do. There are cream-colored shadows across his face from the strings of fairy lights, and they’re fifteen, he’s fifteen again and there’s something magical in the palm of Oikawa’s hand that makes Hajime want to give him everything he loves.

“For a little bit!” he yields, yelled over the music.

Oikawa beams, and twirls him and twirls him, and Hajime’s proud of him, for exacting his revenge, for finding his happiness. The fairy lights melt his features into a soft haze, and he’s beautiful in ways only he can be.

They dance for as long as Hajime’s able to stand it, which isn’t much. Once his introverted need for peace and some serenity overwhelms his ability to withstand the massive romp, it’s hard to keep the scowl from his face.

Oikawa notices his shift in mood, and his smile snaps into something more tamed. “Let’s get out of here?” he suggests, already sifting through the tidal swarm, parting pools of athletes as needed.

Hajime follows in the spaces he leaves behind.

“Ahh, that was fun!” sings Oikawa, once they’re a bearable distance away. He stretches his arms over his head, and he’s lithe and impressive. “What now, Iwa-chan? We can do something you like to do.”

“How gracious,” snips Hajime, but they’re both moving without communication towards the south exit, because Hajime already has an idea of what he’d like to do.

They’re approaching the final few days of the Games, and the Village is a wreck of a sight. Never has it been more apparent than when moving through it like this, in the dim lights: beer bottles in the bushes, food packages scattered about, and what Hajime hopes for his dear life was not a used condom floating in the fountain.

They pass a horizontal couple of bodies laid out in the shrubbery next to the south exit, and Hajime peers closer with building concern, until he realizes they’re not wearing clothes; he yelps, and Oikawa wrecks himself laughing.

“Stupid fucking horny toads,” he grumbles, stomping past the bemused guards.

Oikawa flashes his badge and follows. “It’s the Olympic Village, Iwa-chan.” He’s entirely too gleeful. “And, anyway, not everyone wants to be a virgin saint in their thirties.”

“I’m twenty-seven,” growls Hajime, because it’s the safest thing in that entire sentence to touch upon. The last thing he wants is to have a conversation with Oikawa where they’re volleying the word ‘virgin’ between them one too many times.

Oikawa clearly senses his line of thinking; his grin is Cheshire-like. “You can’t tell me you lived in California and didn’t get used to seeing sex everywhere. I hear people over there kiss each other as a greeting.”

“That’s just some made-up TV shit.”

But Hajime gets his point. He saw lingerie ads on billboards and an uncountable number of sex shops during his stint in America. He even went to parties and watched drunk college students kissing up on each other, moving from one stranger to the next. Doesn’t mean he ever got used to it.

Oikawa considers him, and could have said any number of heinous, embarrassing things.

“We’re not in small-town Sendai anymore,” is all he says, in the end. His voice was strangely hollow.

Hajime doesn’t respond to that.

They end up eventually at a batting cage. It’s a little hole in the wall place, not one Hajime’s been to before, but has passed enough times during his commute to work in the past two weeks. A couple of the cages are in use. Hajime takes them to the last one, putting some distance between them and the next party when he notices a couple of boys stare at Oikawa with a twisted expression, probably trying to place him.

“This is so you,” scoffs Oikawa, considering helmets like he was considering League offers. “If you wanted to celebrate in some normal, non-macho man way, I would have been shocked.”

Hajime shoves a bat into his hand. “I danced. You play baseball.”

Oikawa accepts it gingerly. “Every day you degenerate further into caveman status.”

Hajime picks up his own bat and just stands there, looking murderous, until Oikawa gets the hint and goes innocently prancing towards the machine to start it up.

The infuriating thing is, Oikawa’s good at baseball. Always has been. He’s good at a myriad of things, actually, in a way that’s so cosmically unfair that Hanamaki used to get genuinely angry over it. It takes a few practice swings, but by the time Hajime comes back from the convenience store with their beer—non-alcoholic, for Oikawa—he’s hitting home runs against the far end of the cage.

“That one felt good!” he whoops, and laughs, and Hajime thinks he must have imagined the little kid whose runny nose he used to wipe on his sleeve, because that kid’s somehow managed to morph into a god-like being.

Hajime leans back against the fence, sips from his bottle, and watches.

It makes sense, that Oikawa’s good. He’s got the reflexes of a professional athlete, and if hand eye coordination were a prize, he must have won some contest in the womb. Back in the day, at Seijou, Hajime used to win all the baseball games for his class at the sports festival, but he knew if Oikawa had actually applied himself at the game and put himself forward as a worthy adversary, then it wouldn’t have been so easy.

Oikawa didn’t like baseball. It bored him, unlike volleyball. He sat through games on TV with Hajime when they were kids, at least until volleyball tipped over the scale for Hajime as well. Hell, if he put in the ridiculous hours like he did with his jump serves, he probably could have gone pro. But he just didn’t care.

“Besides, someone like me would play billiards,” Oikawa had bragged once, when they had talked about it. A ‘what if we lived in an upside-down world?’ scenario. “Billiards is all about the math, I hear. And it’s sexy. I’ve got the face, and the body, for it.”

But that hadn’t been serious either.

Then there were the space documentaries he used to watch, as a kid. He watched them to the point of memorization, and his sister had laughed, “Why don’t you go be an astronaut?”

Oikawa had frowned, solemn, a beaten up volleyball rolling in his hands. “Then when would I have time to practice volleyball?” he asked, and all the adults laughed, but Hajime didn’t because he knew his best friend meant it.

He used to think, sometimes, that Oikawa must have been born only ever able to feel two things: everything, or nothing.

He loved things and he hated things, or he was apathetic. He was good at baseball. He was good at billiards, and space stuff, and catching water beetles, and kissing girls. But he didn’t care for them. They were transient. Some time when they were very young, Oikawa had picked up a volleyball, and the world shifted, and everything else there ever was had become just a temporary visitor between the spaces he spent chasing volleyballs. 

Hajime knew that. Better than anyone. Better than Oikawa’s parents, even, who could never understand why he couldn’t make a girlfriend last.

Hajime also knew that Oikawa lost interest in water beetles and in chasing insects by the age of seven, but he would still sit knee-deep in the pond and watch Hajime as he waded by with his net. He knew Oikawa thought baseball was just a notch above biology homework on the list of things he found interesting, but he still went to batting cages with Hajime and stayed up until 1AM to watch the World Series together with Hajime. Oikawa didn’t particularly care for mascots or Komodo dragons, but he stood next to Hajime at the mall or at the zoo for as long as he asked, as many times as he asked.

And the winter when they were fifteen, they stood on Hajime’s porch after the Pageant of Starlight, feeling awkward for the first time as they tried to muster up the right words for a fitting good-night. Oikawa’s eyes must have absorbed the beams of the fairy lights, for they were bright and caramelized in a way Hajime had only ever seen under the sun.

That was the first time Oikawa ever leaned into him, fluttering his wonderful lashes, breathing a smoke of cold air onto Hajime’s face. He yanked himself back just as quickly, the rise of pink on his cheekbones perhaps from the cold wind.

But Hajime knew then, that whatever it was Oikawa felt for him—it was everything.

That whatever it was, Oikawa felt it like how he felt for volleyball: with his entire being. Volleyball was his whole world, but it was a world he had built around having Hajime beside him, near him.

And Hajime decided then, there, that he would never have to choose between the two.

“Did you see that one, Iwa-chan!” calls Oikawa, and Hajime looks up in time to see a baseball go sailing into the edge of the ceiling, still spinning from the momentum. “I did pretty good actually, after the first couple. Try to beat that.”

Oikawa turns to him, and rips off his helmet. His hair is a lovely, curly mess on his head, and he’s sinked into one of his lopsided smirks. The scratchy white lights of the batting cage backlight his figure, forming a halo around the outline of his body.

Hajime’s throat burns, looking at him.

He wants to throw him to the ground and hold him by the fine bones of his wrists and kiss him until they both forget their names. He wants to press his back to the cage, to hook fingers into the loops of the fence and cage him by the chest, suckle on his neck until he’s flushed and hard and positively begging Hajime for more, more.

This used to be so much easier when they were ten-thousand miles apart.

“Uhh, hello? Earth to Iwa-chan?”

“Oh. Um, you did good.” Hajime puts down his beer bottle at his feet and accepts the bat Oikawa’s holding out to him.

“Are you feeling alright?” Oikawa looks at him strangely. “You’re not, like, really sad about the match, are you? You didn’t say anything, before.”

“No, no, I’m not. Just thinking about how many home runs I’ll need to beat your score.”

Oikawa doesn’t look like he believes him, even when he smirks and it’s partway genuine, but he doesn’t push the issue.

Hajime plays his round, while Oikawa hangs back and drinks his non-alcoholic beer and makes snide commentary, and by the time Hajime’s laughing it all feels okay again. It feels good enough to play a couple more rounds each, until the boys from the few cages over seem to remember Oikawa and come by, faces flushed, to ask for his autograph. Hajime watches him beam and sign baseballs for his new fans, and thinks of how this is everything Oikawa has ever wanted, everything Hajime has ever wanted for him. He thinks if some kid asked him to sign their jockstrap he might just float away into the clouds.

“What?” Oikawa asks on the walk back. His eyes have narrowed.

“What?”

“Why’re you smiling like that?”

“Nothing. Just—” Hajime lets their shoulders purposely bump. “Proud of you.”

“Oh.” Oikawa looks stunned and pleased and fluttery and oh, so lovely, all at once. His big, big eyes are like gems in the moonlight. “Oh.”

Hajime wants to cup his jaw with both hands and kiss his face. His stupid, beautiful face. Instead, he cuffs his arm. “Go out there and win gold, you hear me?” he rumbles.

Oikawa snaps into a salute, and he’s very bright. “Aye, aye, Iwa-chan.”

 

 

 

 

 

Day fourteen of the Games, the semifinals match, Argentina loses to Brazil after a fierce, beastly war of a revenge match against the volleyball giant.

Hajime’s not authorized entry into the arena anymore, so he watches the match live on TV at Hanamaki’s tiny apartment. Matsukawa’s there too, having given some bullshit excuse to his work so he could spend a long weekend in Tokyo for the end of the Olympics. All three of them sit there in dour silence, watching Oikawa stride off the court with false bravado.

That night, Hajime wanders into Argentina’s corner of the Village, unnerved by the eerie silence in the corridors, the same one that had befallen his own team just two days prior.

He knocks on Oikawa’s door. After a brief, silent pause, it cracks open by a small width. A hand shoots out to grab him by the front of his T-shirt and yank him inside. The world spins off-balance, and before Hajime is aware of what’s happening, he’s got two arms wrapped around him like unmovable shackles.

Oikawa buries his nose into his neck, not speaking a word.

Hajime eventually returns the embrace, holding him with equal strength. They simply stand by the door in heavy silence, wrapped up in each other like that, and Gabriel is on his bed just as solemn and quiet.

Team Argentina spends the next day practicing from sun up until sun down, now that the stakes have been upped to red-alert levels. Hajime doesn’t get to see Oikawa at all, and only exchanges a few texts in snatches of conversation. He feels sick with the want to help him, but this is Oikawa’s victory to seize on his own; Hajime can only watch, and believe.

The morning of his last match, Hajime is over at Hanamaki’s again. They’re surrounded by vivid Argentina flags from all corners that Hanamaki had printed out for the celebratory party.

“So he better fucking medal,” grouses Hanamaki. “These cost me fifty yen each.”

“If Oikawa doesn’t medal I am personally boycotting the next Games,” swears Matsukawa.

Hajime snorts. “I’m sure that’s gonna make a real dent in their revenue.”

They banter and ignore the sick buzz of nerves in the pits of their stomachs, and Oikawa is on the TV practicing his receives with streamline focus.

Hanamaki orders them pork cutlets because he’s heard from his mom that “they’re lucky or some shit like that.” They throw salt over their shoulders, rearrange furniture to bring some good feng shui into the apartment, fail to attract the neighbor’s cat with a can of expired tuna, and light incense in front of the TV, where players have begun to line the court.

“Oh, great volleyball gods,” chants Hanamaki, fanning the single stick of incense. The other two clap their hands together in prayer. “We don’t ask for much. Please let our Hanger Tooru win this match.”

“A wide margin would be nice, too,” adds Hajime, since he knows his best friend all too well.

“A big, fat margin and a bronze medal is all we ask,” agrees Hanamaki, furiously fanning plumes of scented smoke into his tiny living room.

Argentina’s captain is shaking hands with Italy’s. Oikawa spins a volleyball in his hands, typical of his pre-serve routine, awaiting the shriek of the whistle. He’s not one to waste a second, anymore; when it keens, he’s already taking a running leap and wrecking Team Italy’s day.

“I don’t miss receiving those serves one bit,” Matsukawa groans.

“Fucking Oikawa never held back, even with us.”

Oikawa lands two service aces, and their delivery boy arrives with their food. While Hajime’s paying him off, he’s intrigued by the noisy exclamations from inside and peers around the corner.

“Watching the Olympics?” he asks, taking in first the TV, then the many Argentina flags about the room.

Hanamaki jabs a finger over Oikawa’s pixelated nose. “Yeah. We’re rooting for this guy. He’s a friend.”

“Oh, that’s sick.”

The delivery boy—he’s got green hair and droopy eyes, smells of weed, but has a kind face—hovers at the door despite having completed the transaction, staring transfixed at the match. Hajime lets him, and when Oikawa lands his third serve, he joins in with their noisy hollers of celebration.

Their ruckus attracts one of the neighbors, who strides in through the front door that’s been left ajar and obviously isn’t filtering any bit of noise. Hanamaki waves him in impatiently, eyes never leaving the TV.

“Yo, yo, we’re watching the Olympics. Get on Argentina’s side or get out.”

The next serve is out. They groan in a loud chorus, and neighbor-san sinks into one of the couches, obviously planning to stay; he even accepts the little Argentina flag Matsukawa hands him to wave about. Their delivery boy continues to hover.

The game trudges on, and random passersby continue to filter in, drawn by the allure of an open door and an obvious gathering within; the sweet granny down the hall who brings her home-grown cherries to share; the college student next door and her black cat, the same one they had tried to kidnap; the couple one floor down, who are good-natured about all the noise falling through their ceiling; and the little boy Hanamaki babysits sometimes and teaches volleyball on the weekends.

With each new person who falls in, someone will sit them down, hand them a flag. “We’re rooting for Argentina,” they’ll instruct, as if the gaudy, sky-blue decorations about the room weren’t telling enough.

The first set ends in Argentina’s win, and the room erupts into a swell of screaming, hollering, hooting, happy cheering, the force of which shakes the apartment floor.

Hajime blinks, then looks around him. The living room is packed. All of a sudden, he’s surrounded by strangers, holding the flag of a country they’ve got no ties to. People he doesn’t know and people who don’t know him. People who don’t even know whose apartment they’re in, but who’ve edged themselves into the first available space to watch the match, to cheer for the team that’s painted like the blue skies, for the Japanese boy in their midst who’s exceptionally pretty and so, so talented.

Emotion wells up in Hajime’s chest, fills him up to the brim. Stabs his eyes. God, god. He wishes Oikawa were here right now. Look at this, he wants to tell him. Look how many people have fallen for you.

Oikawa’s no stranger to fans and fangirls, but this—this is different. This is fans on a mightier, global scale. This is karmic reward, for all those years he tried and tried and tried, and always fell one step short of greatness. This is getting on a plane at the age of nineteen, flying continents away from home, relearning everything he thought he knew about his own talent, his own worth, and coming back to carve a place for himself into the margins of something great.

Somewhere in the throngs of people they’ve collected, Hajime meets eyes with Hanamaki, then Matsukawa, and knows they’re thinking the same thing.

This is Oikawa. Seijou’s very own golden boy.

 

 

 

 

 

There are fireworks going off outside his window. Vibrant, loud.

He doesn’t know who’s celebrating, which country or which event. Men’s volleyball isn’t the only sport that ended today. Hell, it could have even been Brazil, gloating over their shiny gold medals and their post as number one in the world.

Oikawa had gone out to dinner with his team, and Hajime hadn’t wanted to bother him, so he’s lying in his cardboard bed and failing to sleep.

Back at Hanamaki’s, they had watched the bronze match, then the finals, and finally, the medal ceremony which signified the bookend of this chapter of their life.

How regal Oikawa had looked, hazy and bright on the TV, a bronze medal around his neck.

“Thank you, volleyball gods,” Hanamaki had said, putting out his incense stick with a flourish. “Now I can put these expensive ass decorations to good use.”

“We’ll count on you to get him here,” Matsukawa told him. “Try to keep it a surprise, won’t you?”

Hajime hadn’t made any promises, because for everything Oikawa’s good at, his most secret talent is reading Hajime’s mind, or maybe just the minute changes of his face.

Another firework cracks outside his window, and Hajime sighs. He’s not going to sleep like this.

The air outside is pleasant despite the season. Somehow, without Hajime realizing it, they’re already well into August. Summer would end soon, giving way to fall and the start of another V-League season. But before even that, the Olympics would march to a close tomorrow, and the athletes, all of them, would be heading off to faraway places. Even within Team Japan, Hajime can think of a handful of the boys who’re planning to have gone international by the year’s end.

And Oikawa…

He physically shakes the budding thought out of his head.

The Olympic Village felt sometimes like some fantasy realm. This mystical place where the rules didn’t apply, where couples fucked against windows without repercussions and foreign countrymen sang loudly to songs in languages they didn’t know. Where he and Oikawa could exist, together, in the same space.

But this place would be pieced apart within the week, torn down and recycled.

Oikawa would return to Argentina, and things would go back just the way they used to be.

Hajime can hear loud celebrations in the distance, the sound of sparklers and loud music and intoxication. He’s not really in the mood for any of that glamour, not tonight. Asphalt grinds under his heel, when he spins and stalks off around the perimeter of the building, seeking peace in a place that had none.

Behind the dormitories, where the bottled noise bleeds slowly into silence, he becomes aware of an all-familiar sound.

Thump, thump. Thump.

Hajime doesn’t have the right to call volleyball his entire youth if he couldn’t recognize the sound of a wall drill.

“Oikawa?”

The volleyball ricochets off the wall, spinning beautifully in a swirl of blue and yellow, and arches straight into Oikawa’s miraculous fingers. He’s dressed in something casual, angling his neck in search of his name.

“Oh, Iwa-chan.” He pushes bangs from his forehead; his hair’s not sweaty, but definitely a little rumpled. Clearly he’s been here a while. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Nah.” Hajime steps closer. “Weren’t you at dinner?”

Another firework whistles somewhere in the near distance, and his face reflects the dull blue. He looks tired. “I was. But they all wanted to get drunk and I wasn’t really in the mood, so I came back.”

“Ahh.”

Hajime steps closer, again, then closer still, not consciously aware of his footsteps but aware that Oikawa’s just an arm’s length away, a hand, his fingers, if he just reaches out…

He grabs onto the front of Oikawa’s shirt and yanks, toppling him into a fierce hug.

The ball slips from Oikawa’s fingers, rolling away to unknown places. He moves, after drumming his fingers atop Hajime’s shoulder blades for a moment, to return the embrace. Hajime feels the fabric of his own T-shirt bunch with how tightly he’s holding on. They stand there, fireworks shimmering in the distance.

“Proud of you,” Hajime tells him, and doesn’t think he can say more than that.

He’s so fucking proud, he wants to declare it from the rafters, shake every stranger he meets. His old partner, the most amazing setter he knows, ‘look, isn’t he incredible?’

When they peel back, Oikawa’s eyes have glassed over. He inhales—a wet, shaky sound—and tries his best to blink away the unshed globs of tears. A lifetime of frustrations threatening to burst, to slip away.

Hajime can’t bear to look away from his face.

He hadn’t even cried when he lost.

“I did it,” he says, because he’s never been modest a day in his life. Well, fuck it, he deserves this.

“Yeah,” Hajime grunts. “How’re you feeling?”

He can’t shake this strange feeling, because Oikawa’s being all quiet instead of the three-hundred shades of obnoxious he normally would be. The tears are happy, he’s sure about that; Oikawa only tried to hide his tears if there was genuine, sappy emotion behind them, otherwise he just let the rivers flow. He’d cried, real big and ugly, when they’d graduated from Kitagawa Daiichi, even though they would see each other all break and then move onto Aoba Johsai together by the next month.

Hajime remembers the last time he watched him cry, because they’d been together: in the Aoba Johsai gymnasium, after their final loss, knowing that this was it. That had been the wretched, all-encompassing kind of sadness. He’d tried to stop the tears but couldn’t, so he’d just let them consume him instead.

But that wasn’t—this.

“You upset?” he asks.

Oikawa blinks at him, looking genuinely surprised by the question. “No, of course I’m not upset. Why would I be? I’m really, really happy, Iwa-chan! I’m an Olympic medalist.”

Hajime waits, knowing there must be more—with Oikawa, there was always more. A balloon of silence expands between them, waiting to be released.

“I’m not upset,” he repeats, eyes flickering down, “but I’m not satisfied either.”

Hajime sighs. This, he expected.

If Oikawa could have been happy with third place, Argentina would never have been a viable option. If he had been meant for third place, then Argentina would never have fallen into his lap, right at the most opportune moment, right into the hands of a greedy, sore loser with nothing to lose and everything to prove.

Oikawa could spend his entire life chasing gold and never be satisfied with the trail of trophies he left in his wake.

“You fucking psycho,” Hajime scoffs at him. “You can be a stupid, greedy, self-destructive, masochistic, insufferable—”

“That’s too many insults, Iwa-chan!”

“—dumbass tomorrow. But can’t you just be happy tonight?” Hajime grabs him by the shoulders. “C’mon, Oikawa. You just won a fucking medal at the fucking Olympics. Today. Be fucking happy about it or I’ll headbutt you.”

“That’s not how that works,” he replies automatically. But the attempt at hot air is clearly a farce; he fights the twitch of a smile threatening to burst.

Hajime yanks him into another brief, sloppy hug before pulling back.

Oikawa’s grinning his typical, megawatt smile now, and he drinks it in, burns it to his retinas, reminded again that soon it would be behind a computer screen. Hajime thinks of how much the last eight years must have warped him; existing in the same space as Oikawa never used to feel like a miracle. It used to feel like a cosmic balance, simply right.

“And what about you?” Oikawa asks, raising a brow. “Why are you out on this very late, very significant night?”

“Ah. Couldn’t sleep. The fireworks and all.” He waves a hand aimlessly, as if that signified the fireworks. After a brief debate with himself over whether he wanted to say the next bit, he decides, to hell with it. “Also been thinking a lot, about how… it’s all about to end.”

Oikawa smiles, teasing. “Iwa-chan always was the worrier of the team.”

“One of us had to be, didn’t they? Since you were tragically born with half a brain.”

There was something Oikawa’s sister used to say to them, when they were young. She had probably said it simply to tease, but Hajime actually took it seriously for some time, at least until he hit the double digits and was forced to admit that the supernatural wasn’t real and that’s why their little toy scanner never picked up on any ghost waves.

She used to say that there must have been some mix-up in the human-making factory, and Tooru had accidentally been born with half the brains, half the empathy, half the common sense, because it had been injected instead into Hajime. So then God, Buddha, whatever higher power was out there, they had stuck the two boys together as some form of repentance for their mistake. Two halves of a whole type shit.

“Wow, cool, d’you think we can read minds?” Hajime had asked, and they had spent an entire summer trying to do so before admitting, with sore disappointment, that it just wasn’t possible.

At least until they reached Seijou. It was one of their very first practices, and first-year Hanamaki looked between them, seeming perturbed. “Can you two stop with that whole communicating with just your eyes crap? It’s creeping me out.”

“Use your words, people,” Matsukawa nodded along.

Well, so, maybe it was stupid to say they could read minds, or had some form of supernatural bond, or were the one-half of each other’s whole.

But it doesn’t feel wrong, sometimes.

Especially when Oikawa—who graciously ignores the insult, so unlike him—considers him from behind a shrewd look. “Are you sad that I’m leaving?” he asks.

Hajime shrugs. “Something like that?”

Everything like that, actually.

All this time later, and they’re still leaving blanks for the other to fill in.

Oikawa folds his arm, still with that astute gaze. “Well, you know, I’m sticking around for a bit. I was planning to be in Japan for another week. See my family, and Makki and Mattsun. The team already figured, so they’re going ahead without me.”

Hajime knows all this already, so he doesn’t say anything.

“What’s wrong, Iwa-chan?” He raises his brows. “It’s not like you to be so cryptic and emotional. That’s more my thing. Stop stealing my things, please.”

His attempt at humor falls flat in the condensed silence between them, and he tapers off, sucking on his bottom lip in search of something else to say. “Um…”

Hajime teases his own fringe, shuffles his weight, feeling—what? Awkward? In front of Oikawa?

He hasn’t felt this way since he was fifteen, sixteen. And now here he is, pushing goddamn thirty, but they’re standing on his doorstep in the dead set of Sendai’s winter, each with their half-formed thoughts of fairy lights and kisses, trying to understand the rush of heat simmering beneath their belts while they navigate their way through an awkward good-bye.

Here he is—six, and he’s scooping water beetles into Oikawa’s little hands, watching golden stars alight in his eyes for the first time. Fifteen, and he’s teetering on the brink of falling in love with Oikawa, afraid to his wit’s end to take too much even as he yearns for his everything.

Nineteen, and he’s standing outside a busy terminal at Sendai Airport, kissing, kissing. And because they’re mind readers, or they’re two halves of each other’s whole, or they learned to say everything between the things they didn’t, they understand, that this is all they can be right now. Because Oikawa was leaving, and Hajime was leaving, and Hajime would come back but who knew if Oikawa ever would. Because Oikawa had dreams and ambitions and a vision to stand atop the world stage, and they weren’t worth any more or less than Hajime.

Eight years, twelve years, twenty-one years later, nothing much has changed.

Except that Oikawa stands before him now, only a phantom of the boy from his past. He’s standing on top of the world stage, tied up in ribbons and medals and so many of the things he’s ever wished for, and Hajime is so fucking proud of him he feels it down to the soles of his feet, to the branches of his fingerprints.

So what’s stopping him, then? What is it?

Oikawa looks at him unsurely from beneath his feathered lashes, and Hajime wants to kiss him. To cup his stupid, beautiful face and kiss him senseless. To see his eyes alight, like when they were kids. To not have to yank back anymore.

But he’s just so used to holding himself back, when it comes to Oikawa.

Does he even know how to let go?

“Iwa-chan?”

When he looks up from his toiling thoughts, Oikawa has stepped a little closer. He’s got this wonderfully open look on his face, like question marks dancing in his eyes, and Hajime has to stop thinking about him with such moony adjectives attached but he doesn’t think he can. Oikawa is wonderful.

“Iwa-chan,” he says, “don’t think so hard that you pop a blood vessel, now!”

He’s wonderful until he opens his goddamn mouth.

Hajime scowls. “You’re an idiot,” he snaps.

“Oops, sorry!” His laugh tinkles like he’s not sorry at all. “Did I interrupt some sort of precious internal monologue? You looked like you were trying very hard to string two thoughts together. I was concerned for you!”

“I can’t believe it,” Hajime growls. “I can’t believe I wasted brain power on this dumbass.”

“Oh? Thinking about me, were you? Something pervy, I hope!”

Hajime stills, remnant thoughts of Oikawa’s mouth and his hands on Oikawa’s stupidly fit body taunting him from out of reach. Fuck, fuck.

He glances up, suddenly feeling sick and helpless and without any fight left in him. Something must be in his gaze, probably something forthright and embarrassing. He watches Oikawa’s sneer melt slowly into a look of surprise, sees dim understanding unfold somewhere beneath the question in his eyes, and feels heat seeping into his cheeks. Was he so easy to read? Would Oikawa always know when he was having such thoughts?

“Oh,” says Oikawa.

Yeah, Hajime thinks. Oh.

Somewhere behind him, another firework cracks loudly. Oikawa’s face absorbs the gold shimmers, reflected in his eyes, his cheeks, in the waves of his perfect hair. Hajime feels sick with the want to kiss him.

“Iwa-chan.” Oikawa’s eyes flicker down to Hajime’s mouth in a way that makes his stomach clench, then quickly back up. “Whatever you’re thinking of doing right now—do it.”

Hajime knows he’s turning red and absolutely hates it. He hates this. “I’m not thinking of doing anything,” he lies. His voice sounds false to his own ears.

Oikawa makes a noise of disbelief. “You’re a terrible, terrible liar, Iwa-chan. But that’s one of the things I always liked about you.”

That’s just another way they’re two halves; Oikawa could lie with the most beatific smile on his face, the same way he liked to dole out insults. It’s always Hajime who’s been the straightforward one, as laughable as that seems lately.

And so unlike Hajime’s tendency to charge into things, full steam ahead, Oikawa never did anything before running through a slew of mental calculations first. His tosses were infamous for their precision and control. Seijou had been a calculated move. Argentina had been a calculated move. And all those years, all those times he leaned into Hajime’s face and almost kissed him, but didn’t—those were calculated too.

He doesn’t even know how much courage it must have taken him—the day he flew off to Argentina, the night before the quarterfinals, even now—to make his feelings known.

Maybe it’s Hajime’s turn to stop being a coward.

Hajime steps forward, almost unaware. He cups Oikawa’s chin in one firm hand, presses a thumb to the corner of his lips. An innocent touch in the grand scheme of things, but which sears them both. It leaves Oikawa gaping, stunned. Stunning.

They both wait impatiently for his next move.

Oikawa was happy in Argentina and Hajime never wanted to ruin that. He was flourishing, dancing on pedestals with his idol. He’d made something great for himself. And this day, this night, was Oikawa’s night, Oikawa’s day. But—

“Can I be selfish?” he asks, his voice low.

Does he have it in him to be selfish? To change this night into something else entirely?

Oikawa nods quickly, stupidly. A piece of his perfect hair dislodges over his forehead but he doesn’t move to fix it. “You can always be selfish with me, Iwa-chan,” he says. He sounds breathless. “Take anything from me.”

That used to scare Hajime, how much Oikawa was willing to give.

But he doesn’t—he’s not scared anymore. He just wants. He’s wanted it for so long, he doesn’t think he knows anything else. He doesn’t think his body remembers how to be in any state besides this constant ache for his best friend.

Hajime steps closer, puts his other hand on Oikawa’s neck. He’s warm; maybe it’s the flush running down his face, to his collarbones. He won’t dare look away from Hajime’s face.

“I’m serious.” His voice comes out gruff; it matches the low growl surging through his blood. “I’m about to be a selfish ass. You have one chance to stop me, I won’t—”

“Oh, Iwa-chan,” sighs Oikawa. “Just kiss me.”

Hajime’s stomach clenches, falls into a low region somewhere below his belt. He can’t, he can’t wait anymore. Hajime pulls him in, and he kisses him. He kisses him so deeply he might never find himself again. He kisses him, and kisses him. He slides his hands to the nape of his neck, and kisses him. Drags them down the slope of his shoulders, and kisses him.

When they were nineteen, they kissed like they were afraid; brief, and close-mouthed.

This is nothing like that.

This is the first taste after a life of self-inflicted starvation. This is the flood gates bursting open after a lifetime of suppressed desire and noble idiocy and, just, longing. Longing so deep that it struck to the bone, that would take a dozen more lifetimes to uproot.

Hajime wants him with everything he has and he knows Oikawa can feel that want pressing into his thigh, but he doesn’t fucking care. He slams Oikawa’s back against the wall and digs into him harder, his tongue reaching new depths in this blinding state of his arousal.

Oikawa eagerly opens his mouth and takes him in, slides his tongue hot against the roof of Hajime’s mouth. They claw at each other’s shoulders, scrambling to meld together every inch of their bodies.

When they separate, it’s with great reluctance and only for a need to breathe.

Hajime’s chest heaves. His jaw hardens, trying to tamper down the next surge of arousal at Oikawa’s half-lidded stare, his mouth that’s been battered by his kiss.

How did he ever hold himself back?

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa laughs, “such a brute.”

“You weren’t complaining a second ago.”

“Well, of course not.” His smile takes on a sultry quality. “I’m real hot for you.”

Hajime growls and has to kiss him again, suddenly, fiercely. It’s not as bruising as the first, but he takes his time with it. He puts his hand on Oikawa’s neck, his thumb brushing the pulsing cord along the side of his throat. His other hand snakes down between them, sliding surely between his legs to palm him through his sweatpants.

Oikawa jolts, breaking the kiss. “Oh!”

Hajime immediately pulls off his hand, just hovering close enough to not touch. He pries his mouth away to look at Oikawa seriously, his voice coming out rough. “You’re shy? Or, you don’t want to?”

It takes Oikawa a second to regrip his bearings, and then he looks back at him, absolutely stupefied, like the words he’d said didn’t make any sense. “Are you crazy?” he squawks. “Of course I want to—!”

That’s all Hajime needs to kiss him again, to touch him again. Soon he’s got Oikawa writhing under his hand, moaning desperately into his mouth, and this just about strikes every teenage fantasy he ever had out of the fucking park.

“I-Iwa-chan?” he struggles to say. “What do you say we—ah! Move this somewhere, hmm, private?”

“My room?” Hajime pops off his neck long enough to say. Amazing, that his voice can sound so sure when his head’s swimming erratically. Like they’re not talking about what Hajime’s been thinking about since he was old enough to even think it.

“Ugh. I’d rather not have my two lifelong rivals and the rest of Team Japan hear us, thanks.”

“So…?”

“My room,” he decides, not leaving any room to argue. Not that Hajime would argue with anything right now, he’s so focused on his task of pressing against Oikawa’s crotch, rewarded with cute little mewls in return. “My roommate, hah, will be out for the night.”

He nods, meeting Oikawa square in the eyes. “Take me.”

Then he spends another several minutes worshipping his mouth, each kiss deeper, more languid than the last. Oikawa has to wait for some semblance of sense to return to him before forcibly peeling off the wall.

Suddenly, they just can’t wait any longer.

Oikawa skitters off to the dormitories, and Hajime follows at his heels. They smile nervously at each other, occasionally bumping limbs in their haste, or brushing exposed skin wherever possible in their moments of building desire. It feels sacred, this moment, even in this place where nothing really was.

Another firework shimmers in the distance.

The volleyball lays somewhere, forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Hajime turns over in bed the next morning, greeted slowly by the sight of Oikawa’s slumbering face. He’s sleeping on his stomach, an arm pillowing his head above the actual pillow; the other had shifted off Hajime’s chest when he turned. He’s older, peaceful. Sunlight cuts through the window, makes him look fuzzy and golden and warm, and Hajime’s in love with him.

Hajime gets up with some reluctance. He swings his legs over the side of the bed, shuffles on his boxers. Then he sits there, taking inventory of the bruises on his thighs, his hips, his chest, probably his neck, too.

Oikawa’s body is similarly marked, the purple grotesque and arousing on top of his pale skin. He looks like a goddamn Michelangelo painting, stretched naked on the bed, the blanket settled low on his hips. A defiled piece of artwork.

They’d been too eager last night, quick and forceful in shedding clothes, tumbling backwards, kissing, biting, fucking against the headboard and into the mattress, laughing, kissing, grinding, coming together with a forceful shake. Then Hajime had thrown the blanket over their heads, and mouthed at Oikawa’s neck until they drifted asleep.

Hajime stares down at his hands. There wasn’t a single part of Oikawa he had left untouched. He still can’t fucking believe it.

He bites down on a smile.

“Mm… Iwa-chan?”

Behind him, he hears the sounds of Oikawa, half-asleep, stretching languidly against the mattress, sitting up, rousing himself awake. Dragging himself closer. Bruised legs slink out on either side of Hajime, and Oikawa’s arms come around his middle to pull them flush against each other in a tight back hug.

“Morning.” Hajime’s voice is rough from sleep. “You sleep alright?”

Oikawa yawns, drops his head on Hajime’s back. “Fine.”

They sit there like that for a comfy stretch of silence, Hajime rubbing up and down, up and down Oikawa’s arm. He likes this—the closeness, the nakedness. He likes Oikawa’s fluffed hair on his back, his manicured nails on his chest.

“I can’t believe it,” Oikawa murmurs, after a moment. “Iwa-chan made me come. I’ve been fantasizing about that since we were fifteen.”

Hajime feels heat creep up his neck, and does his best to stamp it down. He smirks playfully. “You know it’s illegal to have sexual thoughts about fifteen-year-olds.”

A huff from somewhere behind. “You idiot! I was also fifteen!”

Oikawa detaches himself with some grumbling, and Hajime lets him, though not without flicking his forehead and laughing in his face. They rub elbows to get into the bathroom for no reason other than to wrestle, since they don’t actually mind sharing the sink. Hajime takes the travel toothbrush Oikawa always keeps in his suitcase, in case he ever forgets to pack his own, and they brush their teeth side-by-side.

Hajime had pulled on his boxers but Oikawa stands there naked from head to toe, unbothered by his indecency. Hajime pinches his ass, and laughs a happy, foamy laugh when it makes him jump.

“You are such a weirdo,” Oikawa grumbles around his toothbrush, not taking kindly to the early morning attack.

“Someone’s grumpy,” Hajime notes. He catches his own reflection in the mirror and his eyes are honest to god twinkling with mischief. He’s never seen them twinkle. Is this what he looks like when he’s happy?

“Ha! Look who’s talking.”

Oikawa bends to spit, and Hajime follows not too soon after. Oikawa’s hair is a fluffy, curly, half-flattened mess atop his head, and he fights the impulse to rub fingers into it by retreating back into the room. In the time it takes Oikawa to put in his contacts, he’s looking about the floor in search of his discarded clothes.

He freezes, however, when wandering hands suddenly ghost over his back, his hips. He hadn’t heard him reenter the room.

“Mm. Iwa-chan.” Oikawa’s low voice, next to his ear. “Have I ever told you how sexy you are?”

Hajime smiles. “Hmm. You could stand to mention it more.”

Is this really him? He didn’t even know he knew how to flirt.

A warm mouth presses more firmly against his ear, causing his stomach to clench. “Well, you are. Your back is really sexy, especially. And… this part.” Hajime gets spun and pushed forcefully onto the bed, all of his weight slanted on his hands. Oikawa dips between his knees, fingering the half-formed tent in the front of his boxers. “This part of you is really sexy,” he purrs.

“Is that all you think about?” Hajime asks, a self-aware hypocrite.

But Oikawa’s gaze never pulls away from his quickly building erection, behind the stretch of his boxers. His hands on the inside of Hajime’s knees, he pries them apart and slots himself closer.

“Iwa-chan’s hard for me,” he coos, nosing against the fabric. “I just can’t help myself.”

The picture he makes, sitting between his legs, nude, nuzzling his crotch, is the single most erotic thing Hajime’s ever seen. Hajime wants to shoot himself into the sun or maybe just spontaneously combust where he sits, but he can’t help the way his dick twitches at the close attention, straining quickly against the fabric of his underwear. A bead of precum smears through, and Oikawa delights at the sight, his mouth falling open to watch.

He puts his stupid, pretty mouth on the bulge, taking in Hajime through the layer of fabric.

“Ungh—!”

His hips thrust up without his control, seeking to go deeper. A fist darts into Oikawa’s hair, the other bunching up the bedsheets.

“Oikawa…” he warns, but there’s no real heat behind the name.

Oikawa, for his part, ignores him. He mouths at him with slow, languid attention, his tongue striping up and down the outline of his cock. He likes making Hajime’s thighs shake; he’d said as much last night. Soon there’s a giant wet spot at the front of Hajime’s boxers, a mix of saliva and precum, heat permeating through.

Pleasure shoots up and down Hajime’s spine, bolting down even into his feet. "Fuck." Teeth grinding together, he grits out, “How the fuck are you so good at this?”

Oikawa hums against him, making him shiver. Then he pulls back with a particularly rough suck, popping off with an obscene noise that was likely for his benefit. It leaves a damp mess in place of his mouth, bigger than before. “I’ve just imagined it so many times,” he admits, unabashed, grinning up at him. “Pervy, right?”

Then he puts a finger over the wet spot, considering it more seriously. “The first few months in Argentina were hard. I thought about your penis a lot.”

Hajime groans, a wretched, wrecked noise ripping from his throat. He grabs Oikawa by the shoulders and flings him onto the bed, climbing him in one fluid move. Oikawa’s already naked, all his beautiful, beautiful skin on display, his half-formed erection tucked between his thighs.

“My, my, Iwa-chan,” he churrs, hooking his hands around Hajime’s neck. He’s half-lidded and absolutely gorgeous. “You’ve got quite the lustful gleam in your eyes.”

Hajime growls, a low rumble in his chest. “That’s ‘cause I’m feeling lusty.”

His hips drop down, grinding against Oikawa’s thigh like he was some rabid, horny teenager. His mouth catches Oikawa’s in a furious kiss, deep and seedy, bruising. Fuck, fuck. Suddenly it’s not enough, the measly thin layer of his boxers feeling like a steel barrier. Their mouths still attached, Hajime reaches down blindly to yank at his waistband, kicking off his underwear with a wild buck of his hips.

Now he’s gloriously, wonderfully naked with Oikawa. Again. Memories of last night’s filthy romp flood his mind, his cock. He’s hard enough to border on painful.

Hajime unsticks himself from the kiss with a wet noise, just long enough to slick up his palm with spit before diving back on Oikawa’s mouth again. He reaches between them, takes Oikawa’s dick into his hand. Rolls it around then jerks it furiously, graceless.

“Oh!” Oikawa keens against his mouth, swallowed into the kiss. “Oh! Iwa-chan.”

Hajime’s answer is a snarl, only a half-conscious response. He pulls his hand off to slot their hips together in its place, dragging their cocks against each other. The friction feels blindingly good, and white creeps into the ends of Hajime’s vision. He drags a bit harder, almost buckling over from how good that feels.

“Wait,” Oikawa breathes, but Hajime growls and humps more frantically, kissing him hard enough that he can’t speak.

Oikawa moves an arm from his neck to pat at the bedsheets, reaching blindly for something. Moaning the entire time. It takes a moment for Hajime to think of anything beyond the sex to realize: lube. There’s a bottle of lube on the bedside table from last night, now half empty.

He peels himself off Oikawa in every sense of the word, hating each second they’re not attached. Snatching the bottle, he douses himself with just one harsh pump, not an ounce of patience.

Oikawa’s still stretched out on the bed, flushed down to his chest. His limbs are splayed wide open to await his return, and fuck, fuck, Hajime loves him so goddamn much. Wants every last inch of him, wants to make him feel good.

Oikawa makes a desperate noise. “Hurry, Iwa-chan, hurry—”

He falls down as Oikawa surges up, colliding together. This time when they scramble against each other, it’s with the understanding that they’re not going to last much longer. The slide is slick hot, and they buck with an added intensity, prisoners to the filthy rutting and the heat of each other’s naked skin. Oikawa’s making beautiful, wonderful obscene noises into the back of his mouth, holding him tight by the arms around his neck, by the legs clamped around his waist.

Hajime kisses him and fucks against him and loves him. Reaches down between them and touches them both, and he's a goner.

A dazzling white invades his vision, and Hajime comes with a shake of his hips. Oikawa is not much farther behind, and they come like that, together, spurting ribbons over Oikawa’s perfect stomach.

Hajime kisses him through it, the suffocating thrash of tongues downgraded to soft sucking on his bottom lip, even as he struggles to catch his own breath.

“Wow,” Oikawa breathes, eyes shut. His legs slide off first, followed by his arms. All limp jelly. Sweat beads along his hairline, and he’s somehow even cuter with bangs caked against his forehead. “Iwa-chan, I—wow.”

Hajime chuckles, kissing his face, his neck, his chest, his mouth again. “You got that right.”

“Right, so. Um. Let’s file that one away for next time.” His voice sounds weak.

“Next time?” Hajime pulls off his neck from where he’s adding to the arsenal of bruises, dragging up his nose along Oikawa’s jaw, his cheek. He growls softly against his face. “I hope you’re not thinking that we’re done here.”

Oikawa makes the loveliest face of surprise, mouth falling open to form an oh! His pupils are still blown wide open from everything they’ve just done. Hajime has the sudden urge to kiss his eyelashes, so he does.

Hands slither around his neck, this time more loosely. “What did you have in mind?” asks Oikawa, eyes twinkling.

Hajime swoops to kiss his swollen mouth, taking his time to properly work him into a daze of stars. Satisfied that Oikawa’s been kissed senseless, he buries himself into the crook of his neck, then lower still, peppering kisses on his chest. Now Oikawa’s breathing faster, stuttering every so often to squirm under him. Hajime likes making him squirm; he looks especially edible in those moments.

Before long, they’re stretched out proper on the bed, fucking messily. Hajime slides fingers between Oikawa’s, palm against palm, and holds him to the mattress. Watches his face when he comes loudly.

The morning passes like this, in this haze of lazy kissing, grinding, sex. They fuck in between the cooling off periods, kiss in between the fucking. At some point they roll off the bed and don’t care enough to stop to get back on, so they just remain on the floor, a tangled mess of sex and sweat and bedsheets. Every moment in between, Hajime holds his face in his hands, tells him of each time he dreamed of doing this when they were growing up. It’s like being unwound, wholly and completely—letting everything go.

“We’re going to be late for lunch,” Hajime murmurs, later.

They’re standing under the stream of the shower, slick bodies pressed together. The cool tile of the shower wall keeps Hajime upright, as he lets his neck get ravished with attention.

Oikawa gives his cock another long, slow stroke, then laughs. “You mean the lunch that’s so clearly a surprise party?”

Hajime’s not even thinking straight. He’s not thinking at all, honestly, when Oikawa palms him. “Yeah, that,” he grits out.

“Makki and Mattsun will kill us if we show up looking like we got attacked by rabid animals.”

“No, they won’t. They’ll just bother us about how long we took to get together.” They did enough of that already anyway.

Hajime unscrews his eyes, takes careful consideration of the ugly, purple splotches trailing up and down Oikawa’s body. “Well,” he amends, “maybe wear a high-collared shirt. Wouldn’t want Yahaba passing out.”

Oikawa laughs again, and finishes him off.

Hajime goes back to his own room after, to shuffle on something appropriate for a celebration, or at least something nicer than his usual pair of Nike shorts. Oikawa arrives to pick him up, a vision in his cream button-up. Hajime realizes with a start that he doesn’t have to filter thoughts like these anymore, and tells him as much.

Oikawa fiddles with his collar, clearly pleased. He scoffs, “I always look this good.”

“Yeah,” Hajime agrees. “You do.”

“You—!” Crimson floods his cheeks, which he downplays by giving him the stink eye. “You brute! Beast! You, you…”

“Me?” Hajime prods, now outright teasing. He takes a bristling Oikawa by the elbow, leads him out of the room and down the Japan hallway. If any of the boys hear the ruckus they don’t come to investigate, which borders a miracle.

“You smooth criminal,” Oikawa eventually spits, as if he were accusing him of something.

“You turned into a real doofus while you were away,” Hajime somehow manages to say with a straight face, and has the pleasure of watching him howl with affront. The stupid, petulant love of his life.

And because it’s the Olympic Village, and everyone is either always sloshed or doesn’t give a fuck what anyone else is doing, Hajime gets to kiss that scowl off his face in front of a colossal water fountain like some Disney rom-com type of affair.

And then again, on Hanamaki’s awful, lumpy couch, confined between bundles of their old Seijou teammates, as they replay again and again the moment Oikawa stood upon a podium, a medal strung from his neck, finally released from the thorny past which had carried him continents away.

And then again, just because he can.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s drawing close to midnight when Hajime drags Oikawa into the international bar that’s just down the street from Takeshiba station, a short spurt away from the Village. He has to double check the address Atsumu had texted on the chat, since the place looks much too elegant for him to imagine their belligerent, bleach-blond, tongue-wagging setter inside of it. There’s no need for that, though; Hinata spies them from a distance and waves them over cheerily.

“Iwaizumi-san!” His gaze slides over Hajime’s shoulder, and lights up. “And Oikawa-san, too!”

Oikawa detaches from Hajime’s firm grip, strutting forward like he hadn’t been dragged two kilometers and a train ride leading up to the place. “Shouyou! How are you, my dear friend? We’ve hardly had a chance to catch up.”

He slides into the booth across from the boy, and they quickly bend their heads together, lost in conversation.

Hajime shakes his own head, smiling, and looks about the bar. The members of Team Japan litter the whole place, each with varying drinks in their hands. Weaved between them was an array of foreign athletes from different Olympic teams, some even Hajime doesn’t recognize.

Kageyama catches his eye from his nearby bar stool. He looks mighty uncomfortable in the rowdy atmosphere, and nurses a half-glass of what looks like hard liquor between his palms. Hajime has half a mind to demand who gave him such a thing, but has to remind himself, with the same old shock that always accompanied the realization, that Kageyama was an adult now.

“Look who finally made it,” drawls Atsumu, appearing from nowhere. He’s empty-handed, but Hajime’s not naive enough to believe he hasn’t been drinking.

“Atsumu. Had to double-check the place three times. No offense, but it doesn’t look like the kind of place you’d choose.”

“That’s ‘cause I di’n’t choose it.” He juts his chin over his shoulder. “Omi-kun did. It’s the only way he would come. He said my place was ‘not fit fer humans.’” He puts sarcastic air quotes around the words, but doesn’t seem genuinely bothered; Hajime figures he’s used to Sakusa’s peculiar idiosyncrasies by now, having played so long on the same team.

Sakusa himself is tucked away in a corner booth, looking less than thrilled to be in a bar that was teeming with people. His mask rests below his chin, allowing him to sip delicately from his chardonnay glass. Around him, Yaku, Aran, and Komori laugh loudly at something Bokuto was telling them, or maybe just at his increasingly wild hand movements.

“I’m surprised he came either way,” Hajime says, honestly.

“Yeah. Well.” Atsumu shrugs. “Everyone’s leavin’ tomorrow, ya know?”

Hajime’s well aware.

The Olympics had officially trudged to a close last night, in a blaze of lights and dance and fireworks. Hajime marched in next to Oikawa, stood next to him as the festivities raged on, and no one in the world batted an eye. It was an incredible moment.

Some of the athletes had departed, some would leave by tomorrow. The members of Team Japan would disperse, each returning home to their families, and then, eventually, to all corners of the world. Hajime’s heard dreams of Brazil, Italy, Poland, Russia, even the far ends of Japan itself.

Hajime would be on the road to Miyagi with Oikawa by tomorrow.

There’s a week, still, for them to chase memories of the street on which they grew up, to obscure the boundaries between Oikawa’s family and Hajime’s own, to kiss indefinitely on Hajime’s childhood bed like he dreamed of when he was sixteen.

And then Oikawa would leave.

But he’s trying not to think about that, not tonight.

“Hey, hey, Iwa Iwa!” Bokuto appears next to him with a burst of noise, as usual, and shoves some unidentifiable beverage into his hand. “You look like you could use a drink, dude! Now introduce me to your guy. That’s him over there, right?”

“Uh. Yeah.” Hajime rubs his neck. “You can just call him Oikawa.”

“O’kawa!” Bokuto booms, eliciting looks from several party-goers and a startle reaction from Oikawa himself, who looks around wildly for his name.

With a chuckle, Hajime leads him over to his best friend for an introduction.

All things considered, it goes okay. Oikawa is, if not charmed by Bokuto, then certainly at least amused by his whirlwind personality. And Hinata is there as a buffer, an avid fan of both men.

“Doesn’t Argentina get, like, really hot? Is it worse than Japan? Nothing feels worse than having to do diving drills here in the summer, does it feel like that all the time over there? Are there palm trees in Argentina? What about coconuts? I heard they’re dangerous, though, like if a coconut falls on your head it can crack your skull in two! Isn’t that cool?! Oh, but then I guess you couldn't play volleyball—”

“Take a breath, Bokkun,” teases Oikawa, his eyes sparkling.

“So is it true?” Kageyama blurts out, apparently done pretending that he’s not been listening. He’s teetering forward on his stool, though when all eyes turn on him, he slouches back, embarrassed. “The coconut thing, I mean.”

Hajime looks warningly at Oikawa, ready to dole out a physical punishment for anything less than polite. But it seems he worried for no reason. Oikawa is decidedly cooler towards his old junior, but not outright rude.

“Unfortunately, I’ve never witnessed a coconut-related fatality,” he replies, staring into his swirling drink so he won’t have to meet Kageyama’s eyes. “Sorry to disappoint.”

Middle school, third year, he would have ignored him outright, or stuck out his tongue, or something equally shitty. Baby steps, baby steps.

“Kageyama’s head is thick enough to withstand a coconut attack,” Hinata snorts, and then, when the setter advances on him with a vengeance, “I-It was a compliment!”

He shrinks back into the booth as Kageyama charges forward.

“I just remembered all your shitty serves to the back of my head, you little dipshit.”

“High school was ages ago!”

“C’mon, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa murmurs into his ear, pulling him out of the booth by the elbow. They leave behind the oddball duo and a laughing Bokuto, though the noise is impossible to escape. “Introduce me to the rest of the team! Isn’t that why you brought me here? Don’t be lazy now.”

“Any requests, Your Highness?” Hajime asks, blandly.

“Mm. Start with the ones who are most like Shouyou and Bokkun. We’ll work our way down to Ushiwaka-like.”

Hajime introduces him first to Hoshiumi, which, he realizes fairly quickly, was a miscalculation on his part; apparently there was a spectrum of ‘unhinged’ he was not aware of, and as it turned out, Hoshiumi was nothing like Hinata or Bokuto. He’d also forgotten, after two years on the same team and apparent desensitization, that the boy was sort of an acquired taste.

Luckily Yaku is within arm’s reach to cleanse their palates of that first encounter. He’s downright pleasant, and he’s even heard Oikawa’s name before through the grapevine of international athletes. Oikawa takes very kindly to that.

“And your serves are hella awesome,” Yaku tells him, grinning. “I’d love to try and receive them again some time.”

Oikawa preens. “I think you and I will get along very well, Yakkun!”

Aran is polite. Komori is friendly. Hyakuzawa is a bit reserved, and therefore, by Oikawa's logic, very fun to tease.

Before long he has Japan’s national men’s team gathered around him, hanging on to his every word as he regales them with tales of his bronze medal match, every excruciating minute leading up to it, and every moment after. Because that’s what’s wonderful about Oikawa, isn’t it? A natural charmer.

“And so this reporter, twerpy little man, right? He says to me, ‘It must be good news to you that Brazil won gold. I’m sure you feel much better about losing to them now.’ Ooh, I wanted to punch him in the mouth.”

“I would’ve,” Atsumu growls. Because that’s exactly what the world needs: for these two to get along, and encourage each other’s abrasive personalities.

“Atsumu, you can barely stutter on camera without wantin’ to hide in a li’l hole. Ya ain’t gonna punch a reporter.”

“Aran-kun, how could ya!”

A round of laughter erupts and Oikawa is laughing too, and Hajime thinks that this is nice. It’s nice to have Oikawa here, and his team, in the same space. To see Oikawa fitted next to the rest of the boys, like it’s natural, easy. It’s almost worth it—how long they took to get here—if things with him would always, always be this way.

“Hm? Iwa-chan?” Oikawa leans into him, all flickering lashes and hazy smile. A flush of pink rests high on his cheeks. “What’s with that mushy face you’re making?”

“You’re mushy…” Hajime murmurs, without heat.

He slings an arm over Oikawa’s shoulders and sips the mystery drink Bokuto had handed him, and they settle in like that.

The team is loud and drunk and a total blast, as always. There’s a dart board on the far wall which quickly becomes grounds for a competition. The bar’s karaoke machine sits silent for the night, until Hinata turns his puppy eyes on the bartender and gets him to turn it on. They shuffle from place to place, between teammates. Hajime will miss them.

Couple hours later, they’re in a more private booth, just the two of them, and Oikawa is tonguing one of his very red ears.

“Okay,” he grunts, “I think you’re drunk.”

“Definitely getting there,” Oikawa agrees, still pressing feverish kisses.

Hajime decides to call it a night fairly soon after that; he’s certainly not ready for the team to see this side of them. He does a full round of the bar, saying lengthy good-byes to each of the boys, and has to pry a very drunk and very blubbery Bokuto off of himself before he can leave.

When he finally makes it back to their booth, Oikawa isn’t sitting in it anymore. He’s drawn himself up to his full height, and seems to be locked in some sort of face-off with Ushijima. A scowl is prominent on his face.

“What are you two doing?” Hajime demands, joining the fray. He snatches Oikawa by the arm—the most likely instigator.

Oikawa’s steel glare descends quickly into a pathetic, mopey look. “We were just saying a little good-bye,” he insists. “You don’t have to be so harsh! You have such a terrible opinion of me, Iwa-chan.”

Hajime looks at Ushijima, trying to read in his unreadable face whether this was true, but his marble slab of a face gives nothing away. “That’s because you have a terrible personality,” he tells Oikawa.

How could you say that! You, of all people. Just admit it, Iwa-chan. You love me and my personality. You think I’m sexy.”

“Thinking you’re sexy and liking your personality are two different things, idiot.”

“Oho! So you do think I’m sexy.”

“D-dumbass!”

Ushijima watches their entire stupid exchange with a neutral expression. Hajime doesn’t know if he doesn’t care, or if he always figured they’d end up here, or maybe even thought they always were. Either way, he feels himself heating up, and all but prods Oikawa towards the door.

Hajime takes one single step to follow, then hesitates. He turns back, looks Ushijima in the eye. The boy who was once his forever-rival.

“Hey.” He rests a fist against his chest. “Thanks for everything.”

Ushijima’s face softens a tad. “Take care.”

With a nod, Hajime pulls away and follows an impatient Oikawa into the street. The silence out here is exponential compared to the energy inside the bar. Hajime lets the muggy air wash over him, soothe him down.

“So,” he brings up, “did you let go of some grudges? You were almost civil in there.”

Oikawa harrumphs a little, but is otherwise placid. “Well, don’t go making us best friend medals or anything. It’s just a little easier to tolerate those two once you’ve crushed them on an international level. Ha!”

Hajime shakes his head. “Like I said. Terrible personality.”

But that’s okay, he thinks. Oikawa’s trying. He tried. He didn’t get everything he ever wished for, but he’s come pretty darn close. And he might put on this show, but Hajime can tell that he’s let go of—something.

Who knew, when they were fifteen, eighteen, nineteen, that this day would come.

By the time they come out the other side of the train station, the conversation’s been put behind them, which is just fine with Hajime. He’s worried enough for a lifetime.

As they get closer to Village Plaza, Oikawa perks up, pulling his hands from his pockets to latch instead onto Hajime’s arm.

“Hurry, Iwa-chan!” he urges, pulling them forward. “Let’s go see if Makeout Corner’s free! We have to get there before it gets taken again, you know everyone’s always fighting over it!”

Hajime would recoil if not for the hand clamped around his arm. “We are not going there.”

“Sure we are! My whole team’s already been. I can’t be the only one. I’ll be a laughing stock!”

“That thing is like a fucking stage, idiot,” Hajime growls. “Everyone’s always trying to sneak a peek at who’s using it. We’d literally have more privacy if we made out in front of the whole fucking building.”

Oikawa gasps, covering his mouth with a positively devious look. “Oh my! So naughty, Iwa-chan. Well, if that’s what you want, then I am totally down.”

Hajime responds with a withering glare.

Oikawa continues to badger him, every so often nuzzling him with his nose or blowing on his ear, trying to get a rise out of him. They close the twenty-minute distance from the station attached in that way. 

He eventually sighs, exasperated. “Okay, then, what do you want to do?”

Hajime checks the time. It’s a couple hours after midnight. They should really sleep if they want to be on the road tomorrow by a good time, refreshed for the drive.

Then his gaze drags to Oikawa’s mouth.

“...Let’s go back to the batting cage,” he suggests.

Oikawa pouts, his pretty, pretty mouth rolling in an attractive way. “The batting cage? Again?”

“Yeah.” Hajime grabs his chin, thumb pressing against his jutted bottom lip. Something sears in his eyes, as his gaze burns everything about Oikawa’s mouth to memory. “There’s something there I want to try.”

Oikawa swallows audibly, staring at his face as something devastatingly carnal passes through it. After a moment, he does no more than bob his head in dumb silence.

“Let’s go, then,” Hajime growls.

He leads them away, still attached.

Behind them, the Olympic Village becomes a small point in the distance, and soon after, only a memory.

 

 

 

 

 

They’re lying in Hajime’s childhood bed, staring up at his darkened ceiling, when Oikawa brings it up.

Dinner had been a quiet affair with both of their families. Takeru has supplementary classes in the morning and left first with Oikawa’s sister. The rest of them sat in the living room, flipping channels on the TV, sipping oolong tea, and not really talking about anything. When Oikawa’s parents decided it was time to return across the street, he had chosen to stay behind.

Hajime doesn’t remember his bed being so small. He also doesn’t remember a time he has ever slept in it with Oikawa, who would take the guest futon when he slept over growing up, despite both of them aching to suggest otherwise.

But once they’ve changed for the night, Hajime climbs into his bed, and Oikawa climbs in next to him. Their arms press from top to bottom. The bed is smaller than he ever remembers it being.

Hajime’s room hasn’t grown any, but they certainly have. And some part of him wishes they got to do this when they were fifteen, or eighteen, because now they’ll never know, what it could have been.

This is what he’s trying not to think about when Oikawa tears his gaze away from the ceiling, looks up at him. His nose touches Hajime’s jaw.

“Is this just a for-now thing?” he asks.

Hajime looks at him, too. “What?”

A flicker of irritation phases through his eyes. “Don’t play dumb with me, Iwa-chan. You know what I’m talking about.” He turns over on the bed, propping up on his elbows so he can hover above Hajime’s face. Like this, his frown is less prominent, more pensive. “Are we breaking up when I leave?”

Hajime pulls a hand from under his head. Because he can, he slips it under Oikawa’s shirt, runs it up his back to rest between his shoulder blades. “Is that what you want?” he asks.

“I asked first.”

They dissolve into a burning silence.

The simple truth is, Hajime wants him forever and ever. There’s only ever been Oikawa, since he was a lonesome boy wading in the ponds, since puberty began to make him sweat and elevated Oikawa into a god-like being, since he first learned what love was. There’s no one else in this world whose life, whose dreams, and goals, and future, and health, and everything, he’s invested in.

Yeah, Hajime thinks. He’s pretty fucking far gone.

But to Oikawa, he says, “It’s more important what you want.”

“And how do you figure that, exactly?”

Hajime shrugs. “I mean, you’ll be the one gallivanting around the world. Aiming for gold. You can’t afford to be distracted—”

“Who told you you were a distraction?” Oikawa snaps. Now he looks especially annoyed.

“I never said, you know,” he adds. His eyes narrow. “Ever. When we were growing up, or even when I left. I never said. It was always you who just assumed you’d be in the way.”

Hajime grimaces, but doesn’t say anything. It’s pointless arguing about this now, so many years later. It won’t change anything, especially not the past.

“Oikawa.” He sighs, instead. “I’m not planning to leave Japan any time soon.”

“So what?”

So the distance between them would be phenomenal. So the time, the money, the will it would take to see each other could be better spent. So he couldn’t be there, to hold Oikawa on the nights he felt insecure, or to make him breakfast when he started skipping meals. So it would be really, really hard.

But Oikawa says, “We don’t live here anymore, Iwa-chan.”

Small-town Sendai, Hajime remembers him saying, with that hard look in his eyes.

“We’re not teenagers in high school anymore,” he continues. “This isn’t some backwater school qualifier, or some nationals tournament we didn’t get to. We can—” He gestures out into Hajime’s tiny, tiny childhood bedroom, which once upon a time used to be the backdrop of all their fantasies. “We can dream bigger than this.”

Hajime swallows the sudden burn in his throat, and has to look away.

But Oikawa cups his face, not letting him escape. Eyes impossibly kind, kinder than Hajime’s ever seen, he leans in to press a sweet kiss to Hajime’s mouth. “Tell me what you want, Iwa-chan,” he breathes against his lips. “Tell me you want me.”

And god, god. What can Hajime do, if not scramble to hold on to his shoulder blades, to deepen the kiss by oceans. Enough to drown in it, to mark himself with it.

Who else could there be, when there was Oikawa?

“Okay,” he croaks, when they pull back. “Okay.”

Oikawa beams at him, and there’s golden sunlight in his eyes.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

May, 2023. San Juan, Argentina.

“I am actually, actually going to kill you.”

“Hm, I think not. You’d miss me so much you’d die of the heartbreak.”

Hajime growls. “You think there aren’t any other shitty, overgrown, six-feet-tall pretty boys out there in the world for me to find?”

Oikawa’s answer is to grin magnificently. “None as dazzling as me, of course!”

Hajime questions all of his life choices in the split second that follows, starting first with three months ago, when he’d been overcome with affection upon opening his mail to find a first-class ticket to Argentina for two weeks, over his Golden Week vacation. Oikawa had sent it early enough that he could save the date, but late enough that Hajime actually forgot about all the sudden hints he’d been dropping lately.

“Were you surprised?” Oikawa had asked, beaming at him through the computer screen.

“Honestly? Yeah.” Hajime grinned. “Guess I’ll be seeing you soon.”

Oikawa had been there, waiting for him, when he’d emerged from the baggage claim at the international airport, 2AM in San Juan. They ran at each other, meeting in the middle for an embrace that was strong enough to make noise; Hajime shook a little, from the impact, but didn’t let go.

Oikawa had rented a car for his visit—bright red, with a retractable roof, because of course—and the hour drive to his apartment, they held hands over the gear shift any second they were able. Just touching, touching, any way they could, like two beacons in the night.

They spent the first three days in bed, only slipping out from under the sheets for sustenance and the occasional bathroom break, before jumping right back in. Usually falling in together. Cyber sex was great, and had certainly gotten easier for Hajime over time, but nothing beat the thrill of open-mouthed kisses, roaming hands, skin against skin.

“And,” Oikawa purred, completely out of breath, “I love it when you manhandle me.”

Hajime had thrown him to the floor and kissed the sense out of him.

When they finally ventured out into the city, it was day four of Hajime’s vacation.

That first day they spent at the nearest beach; it was a thirty minute drive out from San Juan and they had to check in at the hotel, but Oikawa had spared no expense. The last time Hajime saw the beach was during his stint in California, so, admittedly, he spent more time focused on the water than he did his boyfriend. But by evening, they were kissing over a bottle of sweet Argentine wine in a secluded area of the beach.

They tried empanadas at Oikawa’s favorite cafe, down the street from his apartment. Sipped maté while strolling down the lush trails of Parque de Mayo, watching performers and the cool bugs at the pond. Hopped between pretty wineries just for the views. Ate steak dinner with Oikawa’s team at a black-tie restaurant, where Hajime gave up trying to do mental currency conversions after Oikawa threatened, very sweetly, into his ear, to shred his wallet.

Hajime stalled in the city’s wide, stone plaza, so he could snap pictures of palm trees to send to Bokuto. They ended up taking a bench, watching the sunset and the people and the lights flicker on. It was nowhere near the splendor of Sendai’s Pageant of Starlight, but Oikawa held his hand and to Hajime it felt the same.

And today, they woke up at the strike of 4AM and took the three-hour drive over to Barreal, getting swallowed by the shadows of the Andes, braving the white-hot Argentinian heat for what Oikawa called “orgasmically scenic views, you just have to see it, Hajime,” only to get lost halfway up their hiking trail after Hajime trusted him with the directions like a fucking idiot.

“Do you even know where we’re going?” he demands for the fifth time.

The weather had decided to be lovely, the lush breeze a small mercy in their misadventure.

Oikawa squints at the map. “Maybe? Possibly.”

A very small mercy.

“Oh my god, I am going to kill you with my bare hands. No, I’m going to punt you over the side of a cliff and watch you pinball down. No, I’m going to leave you here to burn up under the sun.”

“I’m a little disturbed by how much fun you’re having thinking up these scenarios…”

“How can anyone have fun when they’re with you?” Hajime snaps. He marches forward and snatches the map from Oikawa’s hand, ignoring his wince.

There’s a trail marked in red, though it’s fairly pointless when they can’t tell at all where they are in relation to it. He turns the map, then again, trying to correlate the land markings on the paper to anything he can see in the stagnant view. The Spanish on the paper might as well be gibberish to him.

Finally, after turning the damn thing in a full circle, he stomps up the path. Oikawa innocently follows behind.

The silence stretches between them for too long.

“Are you really mad?” Oikawa eventually asks. He doesn’t even sound sorry, the toad.

Hajime ignores him.

Unfortunately, he takes this to mean he’s welcome to fill the silence.

“Oh, come on. It’s not all bad.”

“I got us up pretty far! Doesn’t that count for something?”

“The silent treatment? So mature.”

“Ugh. You’re so hot when you’re mad, Hajime.”

“I love it when you look like you want to choke me.”

“I wanna suck your dick so bad.”

Hajime stutters to a stop. He knows he’s giving his ridiculous boyfriend the pleasure of a reaction which he so adores, but he can’t help it. Rounding on him, he snaps, “What?”

Oikawa’s face phases between emotions very rapidly: delight, followed by a heavy, lustful gleam. Half-lidded, he gets right into Hajime’s face, purrs at him. “I want to,” he repeats, running a gentle finger down one of Hajime’s flushed cheeks, “suck your dick. Can’t I?”

A surge of arousal shoots through Hajime, so strong it makes his stomach clench to the point of pain. He fucked himself over falling in love with such a manipulative pretty, pretty boy, with the goddamn prettiest, filthiest mouth he’s ever seen.

Oikawa clearly recognizes the effect he’s having; he leans ever closer and flutters his lashes, just like he knows Hajime likes.

“Oh, please, Hajime. Can’t I?”

Hajime forces himself to unhinge his jaw. “You’re an idiot,” he snarls.

Then he lets Oikawa press his back to the trunk of a century-aged ancient tree, snap his shorts down his thighs, and suck him off while they’re halfway up some abandoned path on a goddamn Argentine mountain. Hajime grabs him by the hair and fucks into his mouth roughly, spills down his throat, and there isn’t even the sticky heat of shame he thought would follow his climax.

Oikawa pops off with an obscene noise, then grins up at him, flushed like a peach. And Hajime’s inclined to forgive him for this whole mess.

“Head so rad, you can’t stay mad,” Oikawa laughs, once they’ve resumed their trek.

Hajime doesn’t even snap at him, still running on his high.

They do eventually make it to the top. The view is as nice as Oikawa had promised; up here, the sky is wide and crystal blue, like the oceans Hajime traveled to get here. Endless, like their lifetime together.

Hajime lets him kiss his cheek, the grumbling a faint act, then post the photo on his private finsta for Hanamaki and Matsukawa to rip into.

what are you, some kinda goddamn happy married couple? writes Hanamaki, which, admittedly, is not one of his greatest barbs. But it still gets the job done in coloring Hajime a fierce shade of plum-red.

“Iwa-chan, you are so cute!” coos Oikawa, pinching his cheek, and almost gets his fingers chewed off. He’s gotten into the bad habit of reverting to “Iwa-chan!” when he’s out to annoy his volatile boyfriend, which, unfortunately, was very often.

“Your ears are so cute,” he sighs, much more genuine, pinching the red tip of Hajime’s ear in an affectionate move.

Hajime doesn’t push him off this time.

The sunset is pretty in muted tones, and they manage not to get lost on the way down, so overall, Hajime considers it a good day.

He drives them home so Oikawa can doze in the passenger seat. The night is still, their quiet mountain path illuminated only by the beam of their headlights. Where their hands are clasped in the middle, Hajime rubs his thumb over the back of Oikawa’s hand, listening to his soft snoring in between the flickering Spanish ballads on the radio.

His last night in Argentina, they sit together in the bathtub.

Oikawa’s tub is large, porcelain, with imported faucets. They sit facing each other. Rose petals drift atop the soapy water, clinging in places to Oikawa’s fair skin, as if the scent of them alone wasn’t intoxicating enough.

Large ripples cascade out to the edge of the tub, every time Oikawa slants forward, presses sweet, rose-scented kisses to his mouth.

Hajime doesn’t want to say, “I wish I didn’t have to go,” as if they’re in some soapy drama finale like those telenovelas Oikawa makes him watch. But he’ll miss this.

He’ll miss Oikawa’s gaudy apartment with the tacky curtains and his model headshots framed on the wall, the teal blue of his bedroom, the faint scent of his cologne seeped into the walls. He’ll miss the woodsy smell of his kitchenette, the news droning in a language he doesn’t understand, cooking up his favorite spicy curry that Oikawa never learned to make. Lounging together on the balcony with their beer, watching the cyclists, the people, the stray cats, the wind rush past. The paella from the small bistro on the plaza they had carried out three nights in a row. The tuna can Oikawa leaves out for the neighbor’s cat, who hates him discriminately. The cactus he keeps on the windowsill, overwatered, a bow tied around the pot.

He’ll miss Oikawa stretching him out over his bedsheets—silk, soft like the insides of his palms, which graze Hajime’s thighs, his stomach—and kissing him, kissing him, touching him. The imperfect fall of Oikawa’s hair in those moments. The golden speckles in his eyes. Murmurs of “te amo” pressed against his throat in the night.

“I’ll miss this,” sighs Oikawa, reading his mind. He’s frowning. “Do you have to go?”

Hajime doesn’t answer since they both know very well it’s a pointless question. “Make sure you don’t skip out on breakfast while I’m gone,” he grunts instead. “I’m gonna ask.”

Oikawa rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to mother me so much. I’m not like that anymore. I eat all my fruits and veggies like a good boy. I sleep… fairly well.”

Hajime notices the pause and gives him a crude look, but doesn’t push the issue; he’s seen for himself the shifting change in Oikawa, who is, if not quite at the pinnacle of self-care, then certainly getting there. And, as he likes to say it, he owes it to his athletic trainer boyfriend to take care of himself.

“Take care of yourself for yourself, idiot,” Hajime had told him, secretly pleased.

“Mm. I’d rather do it for love,” he’d mused, and Hajime hadn’t even scowled because it was the first time ‘love’ had ever come to play between them.

Now, as they suddenly deepen their kiss, surging forward in the water to press more searing flesh together, Hajime thinks about loving Oikawa. He thinks about slipping into bed next to him, Oikawa in his dweeby glasses, leafing through a book as the lamplight glints in his eyes. He thinks about swallowing his awful attempts at spicy curry, or watering his crusted plants for him because he’ll always forget. Taping all of his matches. Phone calls in the early mornings. Airport reunions. Family dinners. Old team shenanigans. Holding hands under the table.

He thinks about one day moving to Argentina, or maybe Oikawa quietly settling back in Japan, or maybe, even, leaving together for someplace new and far away, the destination only ever a notch below their lifetime together.

This is forever, Hajime thinks. It’s forever.

 

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July, 2024. Paris, France.

Hajime’s had better days, honestly.

Wrestling his way out of the Olympic Village is just as much of a hassle as it had been to get inside; Hajime’s already running behind schedule without getting lost somewhere between the guarded exit and the Seine river, struggling to find his trail, and there’s only so far his now unpracticed English can get him.

Luckily he’s not the only foreign delegate out for a bit of sight-seeing. He manages to pinpoint a number of athletes he’s sure had arrived at the Village same time as them, only because they had waved furiously at Hinata while in the check-in line. Hajime follows discreetly, and eventually finds his way.

It’s a bit of a walk, but the weather’s nice and Hajime enjoys the exercise, and if he ignores the successive buzz of his phone, it’s almost pleasant.

It was probably Oikawa, again, who had arrived in Paris days before Team Japan and had more chances to explore the city, yet still somehow expected Hajime to find the illustrious Eiffel Tower right upon arrival.

we HAVE to meet there, he had insisted. it’ll be like right out of a movie!

Hajime wanted to roll his eyes. But he still remembers, with stark clarity, this time three years ago, walking out of Shibuya station to find Oikawa in the near distance, and feeling like the world had slowed to a crawl around him. Just like out of a movie. So maybe it’s not so silly.

It feels even less so when Hajime stands beneath the towering structure, so much larger and more grandiose than anything he’s seen of it on TV. Families and tourists and couples mill about around him, caught up in their own memories.

And Hajime stiffens when strong arms circle him from behind.

“Hello again, mon amour,” breathes Oikawa, lips pressed to his ear.

Hajime rolls his eyes as he turns in the embrace. “That’s the only French you know.”

“The only French I need to know,” he laughs, then swoops to kiss him.

Hajime lets him, deepens it even, and the kiss is fierce even though it lasts for only a few seconds. When they pull back, Hajime is left looking up into the face of his childhood friend, his boyfriend, his other half.

Oikawa is brilliant in ways only he can be. His skin glows, and his hair is perfectly windswept. But it’s more than that. It’s the edge of peace in his lopsided smile, or the rosy beam on his cheekbones. The faint sparkle of mischief, which his face was often not without. The sure way he holds himself, convinced of his own impending victory. The childhood promise he never, ever abandoned, which even now defines every aspect of his personality, his dreams, his insecurities.

It’s the golden speckles which gleam in his eyes, warm and caramelized under the sun. His eyes are brown and sun-lit like honey, as if the golden sunlight itself shone from within him.

Hajime smiles up at him.

His very own golden boy.

 

fin.