"Absolutely not!" And, well, they’re both supposedly adults now, but Tooru still saves up plenty of expressions guaranteed to be annoying for when he comes to visit her, and he shoots one in her direction as she leans back against the counter to survey the sprawling mess his notes have become. "I have a very important paper to present next week at the annual Entomological Society of Japan conference," he says. "Because I am very important." She snorts, and he grins. "These fossil photographs represent a solid four years of dissertation research and two years of postdoctoral study, you know. Have some respect! They’re priceless! Academically significant!"
"But just how academically significant will they look covered in broth?" his sister asks dryly, raising one eyebrow. "Besides, I’m not eating while the creepy blank eyes of long-dead house-pests stare up at me like this."
Tooru looks down at them, considering, then plucks out one of his test photos of a genetically similar Japanese species of woodlouse, an unaffected male with an average wing and body length, and sets it on top of the stack. "There you go." He beams up at her winsomely. "Now it’s a non-mutated, living bug! These could even be crawling around in your walls right now, sis! Doesn’t that whet your appetite?"
"I hate you." She’s looking at him like she can’t decide whether to punch him or ruffle his hair, and he’s spared from both only by the sound of the front door, with his nephew Takeru’s clear "I’m home!" ringing from the foyer.
Leaning back in his chair, out of reach, Tooru wiggles his eyebrows. "That’s inherently impossible, as I am undeniably and incontrovertibly wonderful—"
"Oh, Takeru, sweetheart," his sister interrupts, saccharine sweet, "you’ve come home just in time to keep me from killing your uncle in cold blood!"
"It wouldn’t be in cold blood," Tooru replies, folding his hands together just in front of his laptop and giving her his best lecturer voice. "It would be in heated rage. Crimes of passion are much more defensible in court! You’d get a lighter sentence."
"Thanks for the advice," his sister says dryly, cracking her knuckles before returning her attention to the stew, dropping two massive handfuls of raw shrimp into it to cook quickly in the hot broth. "I’ll keep that in mind for the future. In my humble opinion, though, not a jury in the world would convict me for wringing your obnoxious neck."
Tooru pouts. "So mean, sis! You know I’m your favorite brother!"
"You’re my only brother. It’s like when you were still in primary school, and they were out of our favorite brand of croquette at the supermarket so we had to settle for the other kind. You remember, right? That off-brand with the blue label and the reduced price stickers." She points at him with the spoon, not even turning all the way around. "You’re the off-brand, Tooru. But you’re the only kind available, and I’ve settled."
"Liar," says Tooru, adjusting his glasses. "I’m top of the line! You’re lucky to have me!"
Takeru stomps his way into the kitchen before she can reply. He’s been stomping everywhere lately, and it makes Tooru feel so old, because it’s been years since he was a teenager, and the simmering determination in everything Takeru does now reminds Tooru of so many things he misses that his stomach aches.
Leaning over Tooru’s shoulder, Takeru spends about six seconds just staring at the pictures spread across the kitchen table, then he makes a retching sound. "Nasty," he announces, and then drops his backpack into the free chair next to Tooru, and his volleyball bag on the floor next to it. "I don’t get why you like this stuff so much, Uncle Tooru. You’re so weird."
"What happened to the good old days, when you looked up to me, Take-chan~?"
"When I was in primary school, you were cool," Takeru answers, rolling his eyes at the nickname he’ll never convince Tooru he’s grown out of. "You taught me how to play volleyball and stuff, and you liked super violent sci-fi movies, and you and Iwaizumi used to let me watch them with you on television until Mom figured out that’s why I was having horrible nightmares."
"So basically, world’s best uncle." Tooru pushes up on his reading glasses, and rubs his hands together like a villain as he grins at his disheveled nephew. "What’s changed?"
Huffing, Takeru wipes at his face with a towel and plops into the chair all the way on the other side of the table. "You don’t even watch volleyball on television anymore, even though Iwaizumi plays for F.C. Tokyo—"
"Who has the time?" Tooru cuts him off, waving a hand dismissively in Takeru’s direction as he starts to separate the photos into files to clean them up. "Taxonomy waits for no man, and I’ve got lice to identify!"
"High school you would be disgusted at every part of that statement." Takeru pokes gingerly at a particularly interesting photo of a moderately fossilized giant woodland louse dated to the fifth century. With its head so big in comparison, it looks like something straight out of The Twilight Zone. "Volleyball is important, and how can you be so busy waiting for bugs to reproduce that you don’t have time to watch your best friend kick ass on the court?"
"Language," his sister says, sounding so long-suffering that the tightness in Tooru’s chest at Takeru’s words almost loosens.
"I don’t always have to wait. Aphids are born pregnant, without ever having sex," replies Tooru, instead of answering the question. "They can actually give birth about ten days after they’re born."
"That’s gross," Takeru tells him, with all the grudging interest of a high schooler who prefers sports to classes. "I’m not sure what’s grosser, actually. You talking about bug sex, or you talking about sex at all. Can we go back to the alien movies?"
"My research is better than an alien movie," Tooru says. "They found calcified insects like these on Mars. They’re actual aliens."
"I mean, technically," Takeru says, accompanied by an extremely unimpressed look. "But I’m talking—" He spreads his arms wide, "outer space battles and stuff. That was moderately cool."
"Excuse you," Tooru replies, pouting slightly. "Actual, real-life aliens is the coolest. I challenge you to find something in the world cooler than aliens."
"They would be way better if they didn’t look like I could kill them with a fly-swatter." Takeru shrugs off his school team track jacket, letting it crumple on top of his volleyball bag. It gives Tooru a distinct feeling of deja vu, seeing a pile of volleyball gear here in his sister’s kitchen. Ten years have passed so fast. "You should have studied UFOs or something."
"You have no appreciation for how awesome what I do is!" Tooru presses up on his glasses again, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "Insects predate dinosaurs. A research team at Tufts found a fossil of a flying insect from the Carboniferous period, you know? Who’s to say that all insects on Earth didn’t come from outer space hundreds of millions of years ago?"
"Who cares?" Takeru retorts, with a smug little grin he definitely learned from Tooru at some point, and scowling, Tooru crosses his arms and sticks out his tongue.
"Tooru, give up," his sister says without turning around, "and put the creepy bug photos away. Takeru, go shower and stop antagonizing your uncle."
"You’re not my mother," says Tooru, pulling another obnoxious face at her back, as Takeru shuffles out of the kitchen like an oozing wasteland of teenage sulk.
"No, I was just your babysitter through my entire adolescence, so I already know you’re making a face right now. Do you want dinner or not?"
"Maybe you’re an alien." Tooru hums thoughtfully. "Eyes in the back of your head, that face—"
"What did I do in a past life to deserve a sibling like you?" She turns down the gas, and reaches up into the cabinets for bowls.
"Something incredible," is Tooru’s glib reply, as he puts the finally stacked photos back into the giant folder he’d brought from his university lab. "Anyone who knows me has been blessed, surely."
"Your fiancée is an actual saint, that’s for sure." Setting the empty bowls and three sets of chopsticks and metal spoons on the now-clear table, she meets his eyes. "How is Megumi doing, by the way?"
Tooru swallows, then averts his eyes. "Fine, I think," he replies, thinking back to the last time he’d seen her, three weeks ago. She’d been wearing red lipstick, and her legs had looked fantastic in her favorite pair of work high heels. "Busy with a huge tax law case, so I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks."
"A couple of weeks?"
"That’s not unusual. She’s busy, and I’m busy." Tooru grins lazily. "Besides, everyone else in the world would get jealous, if I spent all my time with Megumi-chan~"
"Don’t you… miss her?" His sister’s thumb wipes an invisible speck from the lip of the soup bowl she’d set down last.
Tooru runs his tongue along his teeth. "Oh, of course I do!" He waves his hand. "But you know, I only see some of my friends once a month, so in comparison…" He shrugs. "You’re always telling me to be less selfish! I’m just taking your advice!"
Megumi had been frowning at him. They’d been at a cafe, and she’d held her engagement ring between her index finger and thumb. He’d watched it catch the light. "But?"
"This close to your wedding, shouldn’t you be inseparable or something?" She clears her throat. "Have you decided on where you two will be going on your honeymoon?"
Loftily, Tooru undoes the top button of his dress shirt. "Are you this invested in my wedding because you never had one?"
"Don’t be an asshole, Tooru-chan. I know it’s hard for you, brat, but try your best." His sister hesitates, staring at him carefully, then puts a hand on his shoulder, like she’s afraid she’s going to spook him. "You’re not usually this prickly. Everything’s all right, isn’t it? You know you can always talk to me, if it’s not?"
"What could be possibly be wrong?" Tooru smiles at her, letting his gaze drop back to his folder. "I’m beautiful, I’ve got a great job where I’m given the accolades I rightfully deserve, I’m getting married in a few months." He taps his fingers on the top of the folder. "All the life milestones a man is supposed to hit at my age, right?"
"It’s not a checklist, Tooru. It’s your life." She tightens her grip. "It’s just you’ve looked a little…"
"The point is," Tooru interrupts, "is that my life couldn’t be better! Even my older sister is tolerable—" He whines as her resting hand starts to pinch. "Ow, ow, ow!"
"Tolerable?" his sister asks, full of false sweetness, and Tooru glowers up at her, lip stuck out to emphasize his unhappiness. "Wanna rephrase that, Oikawa Tooru?"
"No," Tooru replies, just as sweetly, before he ducks for cover. "I’m telling Mom you’re being mean!"
"Are you sure you’re twenty-nine?" She laughs evilly, hooking her arm around his neck in a hug, her hair tickling his cheeks. "Come over more often, Professor Oikawa. Bring my future sister-in-law."
"Yeah, yeah," Tooru says, leaning back into her warmth. "When we’ve got time."
"When you stop purposely making yourself too busy," she corrects. "You’re going to work yourself into exhaustion, you big idiot."
Tooru bites his lip, thinking she sounds an awful lot like Hajime used to. "Exhaustion’s often the price one pays to be the best," he tells her, switching off his tablet and sliding it and his folder of photographs into his bag.
"You’ve certainly always thought so." She lets go of him, and walks back over to the stew. "No one’s ever been able to convince you otherwise, so I won’t waste my time." She spoons some of the broth, blowing on it to cool it. "Come here and taste this, Tooru."
"Yes, ma’am," he says, and they bicker over how spicy it is until Takeru returns, hair still dripping wet from the shower, and it’s time to eat.
"You’ll have to fill out your future goals form for homeroom, you know," Hanamaki had said, two weeks before a game against the new, stronger Datekou that would determine their future in the tournament. "Life’s not all volleyball, Captain."
"Makki-chan, I’m trying to figure out how to make this obnoxious second-year leading the Iron Wall cry. I don’t have time to fill that stupid thing out!"
Hanamaki had given him a long stare. "Did you even complete your Center Test registration?"
Tooru had forced himself to grin, even as he rubbed bloodshot eyes. "I just erased Iwa-chan’s name on his," he jokes. "I’m all set. Iwa-chan’s probably screwed though~"
"Too bad 'evil cartoon villain' isn’t a job," Hanamaki had muttered, letting Tooru return his attention to watching tapes of Datekou’s last game, drawing crude stick figure notes of possible offensive tacks to take.
Tooru had ended up writing "trophy husband" on his form, earning himself a beleaguered glare from his homeroom teacher, but she hadn’t made him re-do it, probably thinking Tooru was planning to take up volleyball professionally. She wasn’t the only person to think so, and the whole idea of the future was something too distant in Tooru’s mind with the tournament looming so large and important right in front of his eyes.
"You know, you don’t have to play volleyball," Hajime had said one night, the both of them slumped together on the rug at the center of Hajime’s bedroom, their legs tangled at the ankle and their review notes for the Center Test encircling them like some horrible Stonehenge of advanced mathematics. It was a bit of a non-sequitur, since the last thing Iwaizumi had said, almost a half an hour ago, had been "shut the fuck up, Oikawa! I hope you choke on that milk bread!"
"I don’t have to do anything," Tooru’d replied. "Because no one is the boss of me~"
"I mean…" Hajime had bitten down on the fullest part of his lower lip, with his eyes glancing left to right and anywhere but at Tooru. "I mean, after high school. You’re really smart, and… well, you’ve got a shitty personality, but you’re pretty good at pretending you don’t when the stakes are high, so…"
Tooru had set down his pencil, and leaned into Hajime’s face, close enough that their noses were barely a centimeter from touching. He used a hand to balance himself, fingers catching on Hajime’s shoulder and collarbone, and his palm pressing just above his heart. It was beating quickly, and Hajime’s skin flushed dark at the invasion of personal space. "Eh? Did you just compliment me, Iwa-chan?~"
"Get off of me, Shittykawa!" Hajime had growled, spreading his hand out and covering the entirety of Tooru’s face with it, pushing back until Tooru was back over on his side of their academic demon summoning circle. He was the red of a fire engine, eyebrows knit together and lips curled down into a grumpy frown. "I’m just… I’m trying to tell you that you’ve got a whole world of stuff you might be good at, and you don’t have to impress anyone."
"Like what?" Tooru had drawled, twirling a piece of hair around his index finger. "Professional matchmaker?" He hummed. "No, my clients might be ugly like you, and all the girls would love me instead." Flexing his toes, he’d flopped back onto a pile of second-year statistics notes, sending papers scattering. "Cake tester, though, I might have a real future in that! Do you think I need to take the Center Test to be a culinary critic, Iwa-chan?"
"You could be an astronomer," Hajime had said then, quietly. "If you wanted. Anything, you know?"
"Why are you telling me this?" Crossing his arms, Tooru had stared up at the ceiling, watching Hajime pick up the papers Tooru had scattered one by one, making them into a fresh pile. "Do you think I’m not good enough to play professional volleyball? I am, you know. Scouts have visited to see both of us, not just you, Iwa-chan! Don’t be vain!"
"I’m not being— Oh my God, of course I think you’re good enough, dumbass!" Hajime crumpled the papers in his hands. "It’s just… Sometimes I look at you lately, and you look…"
"Devilishly handsome?" Tooru swallowed. "Exceedingly breathtaking?"
"Lost," Hajime’d replied. "Scared, okay?"
Tooru’s heart had stopped for a moment that felt like an eternity, then started again too fast, leaving him dizzy from the rush of blood. He’d made himself laugh wickedly, and then he’d settled his hand on Hajime’s thigh, just above the knee, thumb pressed to a scar Hajime’d earned rescuing him from a tree when they were seven, when Tooru’d climbed up too high and then had gotten too freaked out to climb back down.
"Of course I’m scared," Tooru’d replied, after too many beats of heavy silence. "I have to look at your horror-show face all the time! I’m in a constant state of terror, Iwa-chan, it’s really unfair. The sacrifices I make for our friendship—"
Hajime had whapped him in the face with a pillow from his bed, and Tooru’s laugh had become a bit more genuine.
That night, though, the both of them curled up on the futon Hajime’s mom had set out for just Tooru, all of the pillows and blankets shared between them, wrapping around too-long limbs, Tooru had stayed awake behind closed eyes and tried to untangle the knot of his guts that seemed to be formed of all sorts of unnamed fears, the muscles in his thighs burning from volleyball practice.
When he’d gotten back his abysmal marks on the Center Test, over a month later, he’d folded them back up and tucked them into the envelope they’d arrived in, leaving them on his desk.
"How did you do?" Tooru’s sister had asked, when she called him later that night. He could hear Takeru’s favorite show on in the background, with giant robots crunching buildings and lasers firing.
"Failed it, pretty much," Tooru had replied. "It’s fine, I didn’t really want to go to university, you know? Don’t need university to play pro-volleyball."
He’d picked up a volleyball and held it tightly with both his hands, enjoying the familiar weight even as his room seemed to shrink around him until it felt like he’d be crushed by the walls.
It’s not like he’d been all that interested in becoming an astronaut, anyway.
Hajime hadn’t asked about his results, and hadn’t shared his own. But he’d looked at Tooru like he’d known, somehow, and sprawled out at the center of the Aoba Jousai gym floor, volleyball net almost hanging low enough to brush his nose, he’d closed his eyes and waited for Tooru to lie down next to him.
"Which team?" Hajime’d asked, and Tooru had blinked.
Hajime grunted impatiently. "Which team do you want to play for?"
Tooru’s heart had pressed up on his sternum, swelling too big for his ribcage. "Aww, Iwa-chan, are you gonna follow me again?"
"Fuck you," Hajime’d replied. Tooru’d rolled over on his side to look at him then, taking in Hajime’s slightly too strong features and thin mouth and soft, sweaty hair. His skin had been lightly glazed with sweat, and despite it still being early in the spring, the sun had already kissed him tan. "Which team, Shittykawa?"
"Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, the only one that matters is the Japanese National Team."
"Olympics, huh?" Hajime’s mouth had quirked. "You’re pretty full of yourself, you know that, right?"
"The littlest member of Tobio’s team calls me ’The Grand King’." Tooru had grinned, propping himself up on one elbow so that he could look down on Hajime, who’d opened warm brown eyes to return Tooru’s stare. "I think it’s got a certain ring to it, don’t you, Iwa-chan?"
"One day you’re going to stop calling me that," Hajime’d replied, cracking his knuckles. But, Tooru had noted, he hadn’t disagreed.
"You love that I call you that," Tooru had replied, smugly.
Hajime had laughed, a short, frustrated bark, and before Tooru could read into it, he’d sat up, tangling his thick fingers in the net for leverage. "Let’s clean up and head out, then."
"Grand Kings don’t clean~" Tooru’d cheerfully sung, and Hajime just scoffed, and then aggressively threw volleyballs at Tooru so that he’d have to actually move to dodge them.
"You ready for the conference?" Sasada asks, interrupting his thoughts, looking up from her grading as Tooru leans back in his desk chair and stretches, arms extending up over his head to pull the knots out of his back. "You've barely left the office all week." She gives him a once over. "You've got to be exhausted, and I’m sure Megumi’s missing you."
"I've had a lot to do," Tooru replies. "It's not like my classes will teach themselves just because I have a big presentation coming up, and really, post-docs are like indentured servants to the department." He sighs dramatically, surveying the small office the two of them share. Uemura is leaving next term, and he'll get his own office, but until then, the two of them are stuck squashed in this small space. "Honestly, all of this preparation is going to give me dark circles. My adoring fans at the Entomological Society will be so disappointed!"
"Your adoring fans?" Sasada gives him a flat look. "Oh please, Oikawa. Do paleoecologists or entomologists or whatever you actually are have fans?"
"When they look like this, they do~" Tooru singsongs, fluttering his eyelashes. "Last month at that conference in Nanjing I was asked on thirteen dates, and I’m pretty sure that doctoral student from Lima was moments from crying when I told her I was taken." A flash of Megumi, sitting across from him in the cafe, holding her ring. "Do you even care?" she’d asked, and he’d wrapped his hand around her wrist, thumb at the bone. "Then there was Dr. Huang’s daughter. She actually did cry. Ahhh, I’m depriving the female population of the world! Honestly, me getting married is practically cruel!"
"I’m surprised you didn’t bottle their tears to drink later." She walks over to his desk. "That would have sustained you through these trying times without your beauty-sleep. I’m sure the bug nerds will forgive you for looking like your research is more important than your eye-bags."
"I do not have eye-bags," Tooru says, jutting his lower lip out. "You take that back, Sasada-chan!"
"Anyway, I looked through your slides this morning," she says, ignoring his whining in favor of the stapled rough draft of his PowerPoint printed in note-view. "It's really amazing, what you've managed to glean from the rover sample."
"It's inconclusive still," Tooru replies, easily switching gears. "Just theory. I’d be getting ahead of myself if I said I was sure that the samples were a real match. But if it were true..." He drops his arms, setting one hand on the edge of his desk so as to tap his fingers. "Well, it will certainly give the space program something to think about."
"Not even thirty and already doing work like this." A piece of her gray-streaked hair slips free of her ponytail elastic, falling into her face. Tooru's not sure exactly how old Sasada is, but he knows she's over forty, and she has two kids in primary school. She'd come back to university to finish her PhD after having her sons, and Tooru's kind of amazed by her time management skills, because he always feels like there isn't enough time in his day to do everything he has to do, and his only responsibility at home is to take care of his favorite plant. "I ought to hate you, Oikawa, but mostly I'm just impressed. They did a profile on you on the Tokyo University homepage. Did you see it?"
"They chose a terrible photo," Tooru says loftily, with a smug smile. "But I will say, the best thing about coming into work is that everyone recognizes how wonderful I am~ My nephew thinks my work is gross and boring, and my friends just think it's weird."
"They're all jocks, right?" She sits on the edge of his desk, careful not to crumple any of the loose papers. "Ew."
"Excuse you, I was a jock," Tooru says, raising one eyebrow. "There's nothing wrong with jocks." He pauses. "And not all my friends are jocks. Yachi-chan isn’t a jock, and neither is Megumi."
"Oh, right," she muses. "But Yachi’s the one who managed a volleyball team in high school, right?" Then she grins. "By the way, a few photos of you in your high school volleyball uniform were circulating through the undergrad girls in the biology department last term."
"What?!" Tooru sits up straight in his chair, narrowing his eyes at her. "Where did they get those?"
"The internet, I assume." Sasada shakes her head. "Nothing anyone puts on the web ever truly disappears, Oikawa. I thought your generation was the expert on that sort of thing." She laughs at his suspicious face. "Anyway, is it true you’re friends with Iwaizumi Hajime?"
Tooru drops his eyes to his computer screen, reflexively hitting the command and s keys to save his in-progress handout. "Yes," he says. "He was my next door neighbor until we graduated high school, and we lived together for a couple of years, after that."
"You were flatmates with the captain of the Japanese Olympic volleyball team?" She whistles. "At least you're friends with high-spec jocks."
"Don't you have work to be doing?" Tooru asks, fixing a spelling mistake in his most recent bullet point. "I know I do."
"I want to talk about Iwaizumi, though." She looks back over at her own desk in their shared office and sighs. "Is he coming to your wedding? One of your groomsmen, maybe? C’mon, Oikawa, he’s much more interesting than these awful research squibs my seminar students have turned in. And much better to look at."
"Then go to the convenience store and buy some yogurt with his face on it, and let me work," Tooru replies, cracking his knuckles and trying to focus on the screen. Still, an image of Hajime, wearing his national team uniform and smiling into a television camera with the gold medal hanging around his neck, lingers, superimposed over three-hundred words describing the problems with dating certain types of preserved insects. He shakes his head to clear it, not wanting to think about him at all.
He’s not sure if Hajime is coming to his wedding or not. He hasn’t returned the RSVP yet. There are still a couple weeks left, though, before they’re due.
There was a time when Hajime would have been his best man.
"Fine, fine," Sasada agrees, pushing off from Tooru’s desk and returning to her side of the room. "Have it your way, Oikawa. You’d better be fun again after this conference."
"I’m always fun," he says, before wetting his lips and beginning the next section of his handout.
He fishes his phone out of his pocket, quickly scrolling through his contacts to select Hanamaki, and bringing it up to his ear as it starts to ring.
"You're not dead?" Hanamaki asks when he answers, sounding like he couldn't care one way or the other. Tooru huffs into the phone as he sandwiches it between his cheek and his shoulder while trying to find the right set of keys in his bag to let himself into his building, shivering slightly when early spring wind cuts through the thin material of his dress shirt. "Pity."
"Makki, how could you say that?" He finally seizes the right keyring, and pulls it out triumphantly as the security guard watches from inside the glass doors, unimpressed. "Of course I'm not dead, what kind of question is that?!"
"Oh, it's just been two weeks since I called you to ask for your opinion about the groomsmen tuxes for your wedding, so since you didn't call back, I'd just assumed that something had gone wrong in your lab and you'd died. Like in the beginning of Jurassic Park." He pauses a moment. "I was already taking notes for things to include in your obituary."
"With friends like you, who needs enemies?" Tooru lets himself into his building, smiling sunnily at the security guard, who, in Tooru's opinion, could have let him in, and heading past him to the elevator. "You know I'm swamped this week with work."
"This is your wedding, Oikawa. You can take five minutes to chose pocket-square colors, especially since we both know if I choose them for you, you'll complain about what I pick for the rest of eternity."
Tooru adjusts his bag on his shoulder and then selects the fifth floor. "I would never, Makki. I trust my friends to do right by me."
"Yeah, right," replies Hanamaki. "We'd be eighty-five and you'd still be bitching at me about tie patterns." He sighs. "Besides, I'm not Iwaizumi. I can't read your mind."
"Iwa-chan can't read my mind either!" Tooru steps out of the elevator into the long corridor. The hardwood floor beneath his feet is smooth and unscuffed, as new as this building. "He'd have to be around to read my mind, don't you think?"
Hanamaki clears his throat, letting Tooru's comment pass without remark. "Well, now that you've deigned to return my call-"
"You're welcome," Tooru interjects, cutting off the scolding and fingering his key as he stops in front of the flat he and Megumi had picked out four months ago. "I'm glad you recognize the honor I'm bestowing."
"You're almost unbearable, Oikawa. Anyway, I need to put in an order for waistcoats, bowties, and pocket-squares for the Western part of the wedding by Friday. Did you even look at the e-mail I sent you?"
"Of course I did," Tooru replies. He stares at his front door, trying to recall the contents of Hanamaki's excruciatingly long missive from Monday. He'd scanned it for a few minutes, before one of his undergrads had popped in to ask him about grasshopper tracheal systems, and he'd gotten lost in a forty minute explanation about the holes in the thoraxes of most insects, and how that had created major plot flaws in the last season of Super Sentai, relegating wedding colors back to the deep, dark abyss they, in Tooru's opinion, belong in. "Um."
"Liar." This time, Hanamaki sounds amused. "You started reading it and then got distracted, right?"
"And you say you can't read my mind~!"
"I've just known you for over ten years, loser." Hanamaki laughs. "Was I right? If I was, Yahaba owes me a thousand yen." At Tooru’s strangled protest, his laugh gets louder. "Look over them tonight and reply to my e-mail, all right? Otherwise I’m sending Matsukawa over to stand at your door with a color chart until you submit."
"Makki-chan, that’s no way to treat your captain!" A pause, and Tooru’s hand tightens on his keyring. "Hey, don’t… order anything until I tell you so." He finally puts the key into the lock and turns it as Hanamaki makes a low sound in the back of his throat.
"Whatever," he says, then hangs up as Tooru pushes open his front door.
He tosses his bag and phone onto the floor of the genkan, and cradles his still barely warm coffee in both hands as he slips out of his shoes. The light from the living room is on, meaning Megumi is here.
She isn’t in the living room, when he wanders in further, or in the kitchen, where he stops to put his coffee cup onto the edge of the island Megumi had insisted on during their flat-search, out of reach of the overgrown Venus flytrap he’d insisted on keeping. "Megumi-chan?"
Dropping his keys on the side table next to the sofa and his bag next to his desk, he ventures deeper into the apartment in search of her. He hadn’t expected to see her tonight.
She’s in his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bedside table and looking at a scattered collection of her clothes. She looks up at his entrance, her eyeliner running under her eyes and her lashes clumped from crying. "I thought you’d be petty enough to change the locks," she says, and Tooru rests his weight against the doorframe. "But my key still works."
"I bought this place with you in mind," Tooru says, swallowing. "Why would I change the lock?"
She smiles at him, but it’s completely devoid of mirth. There’s a run in her stockings, he notes absently. She looks a mess, like she’s lost sleep. Tooru wonders what he looks like, to her.
She rubs at her left eye with the heel of her palm, smearing the black across her face like military war paint. "Like I said, I thought you’d be petty enough. I’m leaving you, after all, and we both know how you handle not getting your way."
I’m leaving you, Megumi’d said, setting the ring on the table between them, pursing red lips.
And there are hundreds upon hundreds of reasons that Tooru loves insects, ranging from the fact that cockroaches can live an entire week without a head to the absolute, amazing truth that Hercules beetles can lift up to eight-hundred-and-fifty times their own bodyweight, which is basically like a person casually lifting ten elephants.
Another thing about insects, Tooru thinks, remembering Megumi’s shaking lower lip, trembling then just like it is right now, is that they usually don’t mate for life. Sure, there are termite queens that take one male in their entire lifetime, and that termite king fathers the entire termite colony. There are also mosquitoes, of course, but mosquitos spend most of their lives as larvae and then, when they transform into their adult mosquito forms, they mate, and produce a single batch of eggs. It’s very easy, Tooru assumes, to find your life-mate when all one does is reproduce exactly once and then go out and die.
Tooru is pretty sure he could manage the mating habits of a mosquito. It’s the mating habits of people he can’t seem to get right, no matter how good he used to be at reading his opponents during a volleyball match. He looks at Megumi’s bare hand, and then reaches into his pocket to touch the ring he’s been carrying around with him all week. "Why?"
"I already told you," she says, dropping down to her knees to scoop up an armful of the clothing she’s already ripped off the hangers. "Because there’s nothing left for me."
"But I love you," Tooru says, and he hates the way it comes out as a question. He doesn’t mean it that way, really. Tooru loves everyone he’s ever dated, in a way, but Megumi had been the best match for him of them all. Beautiful, smart, refined, independent, and never hesitating about what she wants. Tooru admires her, first and foremost, and he likes her personality and her looks, too. "I—"
"Tooru, you don’t." She chokes back as sob, and Tooru’s own eyes feel wet. He blinks back tears, because he hasn’t cried while getting dumped in ten years, and even if he feels weighed down by more than a Hercules beetle can possibly lift, he’s grown up enough that he won’t now. "You love the idea of me, but it feels like you’re always measuring me against someone else."
"Who?" Tooru demands, running a hand through his hair, gripping the engagement ring tight enough that it’s cutting into his fingers. "You know all of my friends, and I’ve given so much of myself to my work that I don’t have the time—" His words catch in his frustration, and he takes a deep breath, feeling red climb his neck and settle in his cheeks. "What is this actually about? Am I not good enough for you?"
"Good enough?" She shakes her hair out of her face, and starts packing things into the suitcase he’d bought her for their trip to Beijing last fall, not bothering to fold anything. It’s unlike her. She’s neat in all the ways Tooru is sloppy. "It’s not— Do you remember when you introduced me to your friends?" She pauses, clutching a yellow sweatshirt of his he’d let her keep, and tosses it back onto the floor. "Iwaizumi told me, then, that I was going to have to forgive you a lot, because you were obsessive and single-minded, and sometimes you could only think about one thing at a time."
"Iwa-chan?" Tooru runs his tongue over his teeth.
Ignoring his question, she keeps packing. "If I thought that was all it was, I would be okay, you know? But that isn’t it. There’s something you’re looking for, and I don’t have it. I see it every time you try to talk to me about something you’re interested in, and I don’t know how to reply, or when you tell me some story from high school and I don’t get the joke." She shakily inhales. "There are too many ways I don’t understand you, Tooru."
Tooru reaches out for her, then changes his mind, letting his hand fall.
"You won’t let me close enough to get to know you." Her hands aren’t steady. "No matter how handsome you are, or how well you flirt, you can’t make up for the fact that—" She stops talking, just sighs, and then slams the suitcase closed. A sock gets caught in the zipper, and she rips a hole in it rather than bothering to reverse the path of the tongue back down the zip to free it. The zipper is probably ruined now, with all those pieces of cotton sock poking out between the shut black plastic teeth, Tooru notes vaguely. Then he realizes it probably doesn’t matter, because you don’t keep the matching suitcase you bought with someone you’re throwing away. "Never mind. You don’t get it. I… just call me, and we’ll split the costs of whatever we can’t cancel for the wedding."
"Right," he says, numbly, letting her push past him and into the hall. He hears her leave, the door slamming too hard, and sinks to his knees.
Alone in his bedroom, he holds up the engagement ring he gave to Megumi six months ago, almost exactly, with a single diamond in the center and with sapphires the color of Japanese dragonfly legs on either side. Adult dragonflies only live six months. He’d learned that knee deep in a rice field with his senior thesis advisor, exactly seven adult dragonfly life-cycles after he’d quit playing volleyball.
And since there’s no one here to see, he lets himself cry.
"How’d it go?" Hajime had asked, thrusting a plastic bag in Tooru’s general direction when Tooru sat down next to him on the bench, his jacket over one arm and his calculator in the other. Hajime’s shirt was rumpled and his eyes were sleepy; he looked, to Tooru, like he’d fallen asleep on the bench waiting, dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks and jaw unshaven. Hajime’d had practice until late in the night, and Tooru had gone to bed before he had even come home, and left before Hajime’d awoken to come for the exam.
"Child’s play," Tooru had said, feigning a dismissiveness he hadn’t really felt. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
Things between them had drifted, lately, like Tooru was caught up in a river current dragging him downstream and Hajime was only watching from the shore as he was carried away. He hadn’t even expected Hajime to be home when he returned to their shared apartment that afternoon. There were always F.C. Tokyo practices on Thursday afternoons. Tooru had hated them, because he’d always stayed late and missed the X-Files reruns that aired around nine in the evening.
"Because." Hajime’d pointed at the plastic bag, and when Tooru opened it, he’d found a bottle of juice and his favorite packaged bread. He’d looked up to see Hajime with his gaze on some unidentifiable object in the distance. "You didn’t eat breakfast, so…"
Tooru had smiled, then, the knot of tension in his chest that had been steadily growing larger over the past few days loosening, letting him breathe. "Aww, Iwa-chan, were you worried about me?" He’d leaned closer, until their shoulders had bumped, and his mouth was close enough to Hajime’s ear to make sure Hajime’d get annoyed. "You know, I already have a mom!"
And it was nothing Tooru hadn’t done a thousand times, or maybe a hundred thousand, even, but Hajime had tensed up, spreading one hand out across Tooru’s chest and pushing, not hard, but enough that Tooru had to catch himself, gripping the back of the bench in surprise as he stared at his friend.
A muscle in Hajime’s jaw twitched, and he pulled his hand away like touching Tooru burned. "Practice," he’d said, glaring fixedly at the ground, his brow furrowed.
"Iwa-chan?" Hajime had been physically close enough to touch, but Tooru had felt like maybe his best friend had never been further away. Drifting, he’d thought. Drifting.
"Eat the bread, idiot," Hajime’d replied gruffly, standing up and dusting off his tracksuit bottoms. "If you starve to death your sister might miss you."
Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tooru had opened the bread. The smell of it made his stomach grumble. "Not just her. It would be a national tragedy," he’d replied, somehow, forcing himself to laugh. "You’d miss me the most, though, Iwa-chan! Who would you nag if I weren’t around?"
Hajime’s mouth had twisted into something between a grimace and a grin, and he’d finally met Tooru’s eyes. The shadow in them was unreadable to Tooru, who’d always, until recently, known Hajime best. "I dunno," Hajime’d said, and Tooru had waited for him to say something else, but Hajime had just shrugged. "You should get some sleep, Shittykawa. You look exhausted."
"Lies. I am flawless and beautiful, and you are simply jealous because you’re swarthy and unshaven." He’d paused. "Thanks for breakfast."
"It’s lunch time, idiot," Hajime’d said, as he’d turned around to leave Tooru alone on the bench, watching other test-takers wander out of the building in an exam haze.
Tooru had watched him go, nibbling at the bread and wondering how much further away from him Hajime was going to get.
It’s easier, he decides, to dedicate his thoughts to Mars than what’s happening here on Earth. To focus on the part of his life that is going according to plan instead of the part that has suddenly, unexpectedly, gone off the rails.
He thinks he’s holding it together well enough until he meets Yachi for lunch on Friday, for the first time in a few months, and she looks at him with those wide, puppy-dog eyes of hers and asks him if something terrible has happened.
"Of course not," he says, grinning at her, but her expression doesn’t change, and he busies himself with the menu to keep from having to engage with her too-knowing stare. She won’t press him, he knows, because she’s sweet and kind and not nosey at all. (Not like Hanamaki, who stares at Tooru like Tooru is one of his own specimens on the glass under a microscope, or like Yahaba, who attempts to reason things out of him with good-natured smiles to disguise his secret dark thirst for knowledge.) But since Tooru had gotten to know Yachi during his first year of university, through a Miyagi Prefecture sports fundraising event of all things, he’s always found it hard not to spill his guts when she looks at him like that. "I have a very important presentation on Monday, as you know, that will probably impact my project funding for the next few years."
"You like giving presentations, Oikawa," Yachi replies, twiddling her thumbs as she watches him. He can feel her eyes on him even if he refuses to look. "Um, you like when everyone’s looking at you, and you’re confident about your research, so…" She picks up her menu, and then puts it back down again. "So something… else is bothering you?"
It’s so soft; a request for information, really, and Tooru really hates how good she is at making him tell her things. "I’m not getting married," he says.
It sounds better that way in his head. 'I’m not getting married' makes it sound like a choice, or like a decision, instead of like Tooru has been dumped three months before the ceremony.
Yachi’s mouth has formed a perfect 'O' of shock when he finally looks at her. "You’re… not?"
"No," Tooru replies. "I’m not." His hands, against his volition, are gripping the menu too tightly. "It’s going to be a real hassle dealing with all the cancellations. I’m a busy man, after all." His voice cracks, but just slightly. High school him wouldn’t have been able to keep everything this in check, and a part of him is glad he’s gotten so much better at handling misery that he can almost go about his normal life.
The server comes over, setting a glass of water in front of each of them, and Tooru orders the first thing on the menu after Yachi carefully selects some pasta with seafood.
They sit without speaking for a while, Yachi fiddling with her silverware, her napkin and the tablecloth, growing more agitated as the silence between them lengthens. It’s cute, he thinks idly. She’s always been cute, even when she was a bit player to him as a Karasuno manager, back before he’d gotten to know her as a person.
Eventually, she sighs, and leans forward, tentatively resting the tips of her fingers a few centimeters from where Tooru’s hand rests next to his water glass. "What happened?"
"Oh, you know how it is," Tooru says. "It’s just unfair to the world to tie myself down so early—"
"Oikawa-san," Yachi interrupts sternly, and then flushes when he gapes at her. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you! It’s just—" She waves both hands in front of herself, her whole face pink. "It’s just your face is so sad, and it doesn’t match what you’re saying, and it’s—!" She bites her lower lip.
Studying her for a long moment, Tooru digs into his pocket and pulls out the ring. "Megumi gave this back to me," he says, quietly. "I’m not sure why."
Yachi watches the ring catch the light in his hands. She and Yahaba had helped him pick it out, back when he had first decided to propose, because Matsukawa’s taste in jewelry is horrific and Hanamaki wouldn’t have taken the job seriously. And Hajime… well, Hajime’d been preparing for World’s, Tooru supposes. Too busy to answer calls, apparently, and it had left a bitter enough taste in the back of his mouth that he hadn’t bothered to try again.
"She didn’t tell you anything?" Yachi asks.
"She did. She told me I was measuring her against someone else, and there was nothing left of me for her." Tooru turns his head so he can look out the window. "I don’t know who I’d be measuring her against. I don’t…" He nibbles at his upper lip, letting the skin catch between his teeth, and returns his gaze to Yachi, who is watching him carefully. "And there’s plenty of me, obviously. I’ve been told I’m quite a catch." He winks at her, but his heart’s not in it, and with the way her face softens even more, she can tell. But she rewards him with a tiny grin for his efforts, at least.
"I’m sorry," she says, gently.
"It’s just…" He swallows. "I’m almost thirty, and I’ve figured out everything else. After…" After volleyball, he thinks, but he doesn’t want to say that. He licks his lips. "After I had to change focus, I studied and I got into university. I’m respected in my field and I’m good at what I do, and I thought…" He lets it trail off, watching a bead of condensation from his cold water roll down the side of the glass. "With Megumi, I thought I’d figured out the last bit of the puzzle." Frowning, he watches the bead of water disappear into the white tablecloth.
"You know, the three tenants of a successful man," Tooru says, holding up three fingers and dropping them one by one. "Rewarding job, financial security, and a good marriage."
That’s what his mother had told him once, when he’d just turned twenty-one, before he’d decided to take the entrance exams. She’d been looking at his sister, who’d only managed one of the three, with a carefully neutral expression that made Tooru want to stand in between them so his mother couldn’t look at her like that. "A successful man gets married when he’s thirty," she’d said, and Tooru had kept the number in the back of his mind like a deadline.
"Um." Yachi squirms uncomfortably in her chair. "Don’t you think…" She shakes her head, biting back whatever she’s wanting to say with force. "Never mind." She laughs nervously.
"Don’t do that," Tooru says, reaching across the table to poke her forehead. "Just say whatever it is you’re thinking!"
She gives him a tentative smile. "It’s just… the way you said that…" She tugs at a long blond pigtail. "That’s the reason you want to get married. Not the reason you want to get married to Megumi-chan!"
Sucking his lower lip into his mouth, Tooru examines Yachi’s earnest expression. "The idea of her," he says, finally. "That was another one of the reasons she told me she wouldn’t marry me."
"If it were me," Yachi says, looking at him earnestly, "I wouldn’t be happy if someone wanted to marry me because they thought they were at the right age to get married."
Tooru looks again at the ring, still sitting between them on the table. "So you think she was right, to leave me?" He takes a shuddering breath. "I’ve been carrying this around, thinking she’ll call and say she’s changed her mind. But she’s not going to change her mind, is she?"
Yachi just looks at him with big, sappy eyes, and Tooru picks up the ring and shoves it back into his pocket.
Their food arrives, and Tooru picks at his, turning over their conversation as Yachi slurps at her noodles, watching him but giving him space to think.
As they’re leaving the restaurant, Tooru having footed the bill, he gets a text from Hanamaki.
Color choices for the groomsmen, it says, and Tooru ignores it, shoving his phone into his pocket as he heads back to campus for his office hours.
"I met this girl," he’d told Hajime and Matsukawa over drinks. "At the wedding." He tapped his nails on his beer glass, making it clink, because he loved the way Hajime’s eyebrow twitched in irritation at noises like that. "She’s interesting, so I’m going to ask her out."
He’d expected questions about her, but Matsukawa just took a sip of his beer, shooting a quick look at Hajime before setting his glass down with a heavy thump. The silence had been odd, and heavy, and Hajime had been the one who ultimately broke it. "Well, what’s she like?"
Tooru had pouted, put out by their lack of interest. "Now I don’t want to tell you," he’d said, crossing his arms petulantly. "Since you’re not appropriately enthusiastic!"
"You have a new girlfriend every week," Hajime had replied, staring down at the table. "Why, exactly, should we be enthusiastic?"
"Her name is Megumi." Tooru had steamrolled right over Hajime’s usual protestations about Tooru sharing the details of his active love life. Hajime had been a grumbly mess about anyone Tooru dated since they were sixteen, mostly, Tooru had always assumed, because Hajime was clearly incapable of getting a date. "She’s a lawyer, and she has very long legs."
"So ask her out, go on your usual one or two dates, and I’ll meet you back here next week to see what new girl you’re interested in," said Matsukawa, dismissively.
"I’m not sure she’ll agree to go out with me." Tooru sighed wistfully, resting his cheek on his palm. "Which means her worst quality might be her taste, honestly. She was mean like Iwa-chan~"
"I’m not mean, Trashykawa," Hajime had replied, reflexively, not looking up. Tooru’d gotten used to that, from Hajime. "You’d just try the patience of a saint."
"Don’t be jealous because I’m charming, Iwa-chan." Tooru had rested one hand on Hajime’s forearm, and ignored the way the muscles tightened under his fingertips. "A little effort and you wouldn’t be romantically hopeless, you know. I’m sure there’s a girl out there who would forgive your eyebrows~"
"Shut up," Hajime had said, picking Tooru’s hand up off his arm and setting it on the table. "There’s nothing wrong with my eyebrows."
"Oh, Iwa-chan," Tooru’d replied, "everything is wrong with your eyebrows," and Hajime had scowled at him, looking him directly in the eyes for the first time all night, lips curling down at the corners. "The rest of your face isn’t too bad though. I could find you a girl."
"Not interested," Hajime’d said shortly, and he’d pulled his wallet out of his pocket, tossing out a few bills to cover his portion of the check. "I should head out."
"Are you getting old, Iwa-chan? You’re always leaving first, these days," Tooru had said, having had enough to drink that instead of coming out playful it had spilled out more bitter than the beer they’d been drinking all night.
Hajime’d sighed, closing his eyes and leaning back in his seat. "Yeah," he’d said, his voice thick and Tooru hated so much that he couldn’t read the emotion in it; that he didn’t understand Hajime and that every metaphorical serve he sent him crashed un-hit to the gym floor. "Old and tired, Shittykawa."
Matsukawa had nudged Hajime with his knee, and Hajime had smiled crookedly.
"One more round, then," he’d said, but Tooru hadn’t felt like it was a victory, at all.
His presentation had gone perfectly, none of the post-presentation questions had stumped him, and he’d gotten a pretty loud clap at the end of it, as well as hearty congratulations from everyone in the department. He’d basked in the glow of his hard-earned accolades, and let everything else slip away for a while, but with one reminder Tooru is back firmly in the entirety of his life.
She laughs. "Most popular lecturer among the undergrads, successful personal life, and everyone’s been talking about your research today. What’s it like having your life so together?"
"It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it," Tooru replies, with a mega-watt grin to disguise the swift downturn in his mood. He catches Sasada’s eye, and she sidles up next to him with a brief inquisitive look before she smoothly inserts herself into the conversation, taking the pressure off him to respond.
"Worn out from today," he says to her. "It’s tough, being so popular!"
"I hate you," she says with a laugh, and takes it at face value, and Tooru floats through the rest of the evening on autopilot.
Hanamaki calls him as he’s walking toward the train station, heading back to his empty apartment. "It’s Monday," he says. "I distinctly recall telling you to reply to my e-mail before Friday, asshole."
Tooru stops outside the station, out of the rush of the stragglers heading home from after work drinks or overtime hours. "Oh, did you? Sorry, it’s just everything you write is so boring that I could barely get through it—"
"Now, I gave you some slack, because you had that conference or whatever today, but if you don’t tell me a color right now, so help me God, Oikawa, everything’s going to be fucking plaid—"
"No color," Tooru says, and it’s this moment, right now— not Megumi packing her things or admitting to Yachi that she wasn’t going to change her mind, but this moment, right now, with Hanamaki waiting patiently for him to choose suit colors on the other end of the line, that makes it all real for Tooru.
"Like… black?" Hanamaki says, after a few seconds.
Tooru takes a slow breath, watching a couple of high schoolers walk hand-in-hand down into the subway. "No, like don’t reserve anything, because I’m not getting married."
"What the fuck?" Hanamaki’s usually calm voice is agitated. "Since when?"
"Well," Tooru says, pulling at his tie, because all of a sudden it’s strangling him. "Since now, I guess."
"Where are you?" Hanamaki asks, and Tooru gives him the name of the subway station. "I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Buy yourself some curry bread and wait for me."
Sadness had been something Tooru had to wrestle with alone for a while, whenever it would creep up on him. Probably because feeling sad always made him feel guilty, too. Like it was stupid to be sad, when his life trudged ever forward on a good track and nothing was ever really wrong.
Hajime would always find him, eventually, on one of the two swings, rocking back and forth. "What are you moping about?"
"Do you ever think about how small we are, when the universe is so big?" Tooru had asked Hajime once, when they’d been sixteen and the insides of Tooru’s forearms had become nothing more than dark purple bruises from bad jump serves.
"You’re a dweeb." Hajime had pushed at Tooru’s swing. "This isn’t another one of your aliens are totally real, Iwa-chan, I mean it, I watched a documentary things, is it?"
Laughing despite the tightness in his chest, Tooru scrunched up his nose. "Not really. Just thinking about how our whole lives might be meaningless."
"It doesn’t really matter how big the universe is, does it?" Hajime had sat next to him, in the other swing, and kicked himself into motion. "It doesn’t matter if there really is a whole bunch of other worlds out there. This one matters to us."
Tooru had hummed softly, keeping his eyes fixed up on the sky, even though there was still too much light from the fading sun to see the stars yet. "Sometimes volleyball tournaments feel like everything, but then I remember that there are eight other planets…" Tooru pushed off, sending his swing a bit higher, "or seven, maybe, if you don’t count Pluto, I guess, but… That’s just our solar system. There are more, with their own planets, and… it feels like what does it matter? Does anything we do matter?"
"That’s the kind of shit you’re thinking about out here?" Hajime had rolled his eyes, and then pointed to the ground at the edge of the metal support of the swing set, where ants piled out of their anthill, moving toward a dropped sandwich crust just beyond the mulch. "Look at those ants. Are they wondering about how much bigger we are than them? No, Trashykawa, they’re not. They’re wondering how they’re going to break that crust into pieces to take back home, because that’s their goal, just like your goal is beating Ushijima."
"Iwa-chan, are you comparing me to an ant?" Tooru’s hands had tightened around the chains of the swing. "Does that mean Ushiwaka is a sandwich crust, in this analogy?"
"Sure, whatever," Hajime had said. "The point is, you don’t have to worry about stuff bigger than you. You can focus on the stuff you can see, for now, and there’s nothing silly about that."
"What if the stuff I can see is scarier than thinking about all the bigger things?" The sun dipped lower, and the sky slowly flooded purple. "What then?"
"Then you’ve got me," Hajime had replied, with a slow, crooked grin. "I’ll remind you that you’re doing all right, most of the time, for an ant." He pumped his legs, sending his swing higher, to match Tooru’s. "But if you’re late to practice again because you’re taking photos with the first year girls again, I’m going to squash you under my shoe, do you hear me?!"
"Yeah," Tooru had said, taking a deep breath as he let the swing slow. "I hear you."
They’d stayed that night until the sun was gone completely, and watched as the ants had taken nearly the entire crust away, tiny bit by tiny bit.
"You can't hide the ugly inside forever," replies Hanamaki, refilling Tooru's wine glass, all the way up to the brim. Empty bottles sit in front of Tooru at their small table, shimmering grimly with the promise of a truly spectacular hangover.
"That's helpful," slurs Tooru, tongue gone alcohol-thick from too many previous glasses to keep count. "I was counting on you guys to cheer me up, not make me feel even worse about myself. Take your job seriously!"
"You're being a little melodramatic, Captain." Matsukawa lifts one thick eyebrow when Tooru turns his tired, heavy eyes on his friend miserably. Tooru hasn't actually slept in a couple of days, too anxious at the thought of everything crumbling to fall asleep, and the alcohol isn't doing much to improve his mental acuity. "We're here, making sure you don't eventually pass out in your own vomit in public. On a Monday, no less. That's real friendship, considering some of us have work tomorrow at nine."
"It doesn't count if the reason I pass out is because you've kicked me while I'm down," Tooru replies, lifting his head from Hanamaki's shoulder and resting his cheek on the cool dark wood of the table, turned away from both his friends and out towards the packed Western style pub. Even for a Monday, the Aldgate is lively, packed with its usual combination of homesick foreigners and raucous salarymen, and old British rock music plays loud enough that they’re all yelling at each other to be heard. Two tweedy looking guys in deconstructed business suits, sweaty with beer glow, are doing push-up penalties for swearing in front of a sadistic looking bartender as a crowd gathers around them to laugh. It’s chaos, and that's why Tooru likes this place, really; he likes vivid, exciting places, even when he's sad. Maybe especially when he’s sad, because feeling sad leaves him hollow, and it’s the noise and the energy that fills him up enough to pretend at the contentment all the rest of his friends seem to find so easy. "Although, to be honest, there probably isn't much lower to go." He takes a gulp of wine.
"The wedding is in three months." Hanamaki lifts his own wine glass, swirling it around so it leaves a red film briefly along the sides of the glass, and with his free hand he pats Tooru on the back. "She probably... She hasn't really left, right? Maybe she's just angry?"
She hadn’t been angry. She’d been sad, and when Tooru hadn’t understood she’d looked at him like he was… like he didn’t work right. Tooru’s always been a little bit afraid that might be true.
"She left the necklace with our initials on it I gave her for Christmas next to the Venus flytrap by the fruit bowl, and wouldn’t take the engagement ring back when she came a week later to get her stuff from the apartment. She’s not coming back."
"Next to the Venus flytrap?" Matsukawa asks, surprised. "The one Iwaizumi gave you for graduation five years ago? That thing is still alive?"
"And you keep it in your kitchen?" Hanamaki tacks on, with what Tooru deems is unnecessary emphasis on location. Flytraps eat flies, and flies like ripe fruit. It’s the only thing that had made sense, in Tooru’s opinion, even if Megumi had always found it strange, and always hesitated to grab anything from the bowl.
"Of course it's still alive," Tooru replies. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of a plant!" He puts his hand over his eyes to block out some of the bar's dim lighting. "I am a scientist."
"You're obsessive and you never go home," says a smooth voice behind him, and familiar fingers slide up into his hair, nails scratching lightly into his scalp and tugging at forever unruly strands. "I never expected it to live more than a month through your negligence."
Tooru balefully looks up at Hajime, who is wearing clean, dressier-than-expected clothes, the sleeves rolled up almost to the elbow and the top three buttons undone at his neck, showing off a tanned throat, still sunkissed from South America. He hadn’t even known Hajime was going to the other side of the world, but Matsukawa had mentioned it offhand, when Tooru had quietly asked if Hajime was coming tonight after his first few glasses of wine. "You gave me a gift you thought I'd kill? You’re so cruel, Iwa-chan~"
Hajime snorts, narrowing his eyes as he studies Tooru closely, taking in the rumpled dress shirt that Tooru hadn’t gotten the chance to change out of, and maybe the dyed tips of Tooru’s fingers from his ill-fated adventure on Friday helping Sasada tag the new Fukushima Zizeeria butterflies.
"I gave you a gift I thought you'd like," he says, after a long moment. "You're more of a mess than usual, right now."
"My fiancée dumped me," Tooru replies. "I'm allowed to be a mess!" He sits up, dislodging Hajime's fingers. His head is spinning, and only Hanamaki's hand on his back is keeping him from falling off his chair. "And all my friends are just picking on me! You're the absolute worst friends."
"At least we’re buying you a lot of wine," Matsukawa adds.
"Maybe not the absolute worst friends," Tooru generously concedes. "But still pretty low in the general quality ranking of friends. You’re like the dung beetles of friendship. I mean, sure you have really great horns like a bull, but you’re also, you know, full of shit."
"No one is more full of shit than you," Hanamaki says, grimacing in Tooru's general direction. "Second of all, why did you have to become obsessed with bugs?"
"He thinks they look like aliens," Hajime says, sitting down across from Tooru, close enough that, in the cool bar, Tooru can feel the heat of him, but not close enough that their thighs might brush. "It's just wish fulfillment."
Hajime's hair is disheveled, grown out a bit longer than he used to like it. Tooru hasn't seen him in four months, despite the fact that they live in the same city. Hasn't seen him for longer than thirty minutes at a time since he'd proposed to Megumi.
"They pay you," Tooru says, running his tongue along his teeth, "much more to study bugs than they do to study UFOs, despite the fact that bugs are clear proof that there's life out there."
"And now Oikawa’s doing that research on the Mars rock samples," Matsukawa says. He's cradling the same beer he's been drinking since they walked in two hours ago. "Maybe he’s getting the last laugh."
"Or he reread Ender's Game one time too many," Hanamaki mutters, just loudly enough for Tooru to hear, and Tooru shoots him a betrayed look of shock. "Don't look at me like that! It's all you did the last two years of undergrad after you quit volleyball."
"He's got a point, Shittykawa," Hajime says, meeting eyes with a wandering server to order a drink. He asks for an aged whiskey, and the server, beautiful and flirtatious, grins at him and nods, taking her time jotting down what he wants on a thin notepad, leaning forward just enough to flash a large swath of her collarbones and for her hair to catch the light. Hajime doesn't seem to notice, just thanking her with that crooked, awkward, lost-boy grin he always scrounges up for girls, and rests his callused fingers around one of the stacked clean water glasses, filling it from the pitcher with the other hand. "I was your roommate, and that's definitely all you did."
Tooru takes another long gulp of his wine. They've finished a third bottle. He should probably stop, but he doesn't have work tomorrow thanks to the conference, and there's no one back at home to care if he stumbles in drunk or spends the night hugging the toilet. There's no one at home, because his fiancée has left him, and the apartment he'd signed the lease for ten weeks ago, with an extra bedroom for the kid he's never been sure he wants, has only one occupant, and that's Tooru.
"Hey now," Matsukawa says, leaning across the table to poke at Tooru's forehead. "Go back to being all pissy at us. It was better than the rain cloud look."
"All my looks are good," Tooru informs Matsukawa in return, crossing his eyes trying to glare at the finger touching right between his brows.
"Not the one you're making right now," Hanamaki says, before shooting a considering glance at the empty wine bottle, right as the server returns with Hajime's drink. "Do you want to order another bottle?"
Hajime takes a careful sip of his whiskey. It must past muster, because he follows it up with a longer pull, before setting it down on the table. Then he pushes his half-empty water glass at Tooru. "Drink this instead."
"I don't want water," Tooru says, leaning further into Hanamaki and stretching his legs out under the table until they bump Hajime's. Hajime quickly pulls his legs away, and Tooru's tempted to stretch even further and tangle their legs together, just to see Hajime try to casually run away from the touch. "Water is for people who want to feel their face."
"Or," Hajime says, "for people who don't want to die of alcohol poisoning."
"Why'd you bother to come if you were just going to nag me?" Tooru lifts his wine glass pointedly, and drains it. "It's not like you've bothered to be around lately, and I could have done without lectures."
Hanamaki shifts uncomfortably as Matsukawa averts his gaze, and Hajime bends forward, elbows on the edge of the table and hands folded around his tumbler. "I'm not lecturing you, dumbass." He spins the tumbler with his thumbs, tracing the outline of the inlaid square pattern. "If I were lecturing you, I'd use a volleyball."
"And your eyebrows would scrunch together like this," Tooru says, imitating Hajime's signature glare. Matsukawa, who's just taken a sip of water, chokes on it.
"I don't look like that!" Hajime says, his brows doing exactly that, and Hanamaki snickers quietly into Tooru's ear.
"Don't worry, Iwa-chan, that's not the worst part of your face." Tooru toys with the stem of his wine glass. "Or maybe you should worry, since my face is flawless and even I can't keep a girl." He laughs, and even drunk, he knows it probably sounds terrible.
The furrow between Hajime's brows deepens, and his mouth curls down at the edges in one of his neutral frowns. "Sometimes relationships don't work out the way we want them to," he says, eyes on the golden liquid in the tumbler he's still spinning in the circle of his large hands. "Your personality is shitty but it's not completely unlikeable."
"Every good professor is a little eccentric." Tooru arches one eyebrow, and quirks his almost numb mouth into a sly grin. "I'll have you know on my end of term reviews in January I received top marks for approachability and communication skills."
"It doesn't count if they only have to deal with your nonsense for three hours a week," says Hanamaki.
"I suppose you're right," Tooru says. "After all, it's only the people I hang out with the most that get tired of me." He barely keeps his grin from falling as his stomach lurches. "Right, Iwa-chan?"
Hajime doesn't reply. He just watches Tooru, his eyes darker than usual in the dim lighting of the bar. He's stopped spinning his tumbler, his thumbs settling for tracing the square ridges in the glass that make up the tumbler's pattern.
"Nothing to say?" Tooru closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. When he opens them again, Hanamaki and Matsukawa are sharing a glance, and Hajime is staring down at his whiskey.
Tooru extends an arm across the table and steals it from him. A little of it sloshes onto his fingers as he slides it toward himself, so he licks them before bringing the tumbler up to his lips and taking a long sip.
Hajime's frown deepens, and Tooru beams at him. "That's what you get for ignoring me, Iwa-chan!" He leans his head on Hanamaki's shoulder again at a wave of dizziness, the whiskey tumbler precariously close to the edge of the table where he's set it to rest, his hand still gripping it. "I hate being ignored." He nuzzles Hanamaki's soft cotton shirt. "I still feel sad. Makki-chan, more wine."
"All right," Hanamaki says, slowly, as Matsukawa shrugs and shoves a handful of beer nuts into his mouth, "I suppose at this point, one more bottle of wine won't hurt."
"Wine doesn't hurt," Tooru says. "Wine is fruit, and fruit is good for you."
Through barely open eyes, Tooru watches Hajime visibly bite back a protest. Tooru licks his lips, and tastes whiskey.
"Are you sure you're a scientist?" Matsukawa teases, and Tooru laughs, taking another sip of Hajime's drink.
Hajime makes no effort to reclaim it.
Another bottle of wine, along with the rest of the stolen whiskey, definitely hurts, and as last call brings the servers around with receipts notifying them of their closed tabs, glasses being picked up en masse as the bar prepares to close, Tooru barely makes it two steps from the table before he stumbles forward, narrowly avoiding crashing into a busboy laden down with a tray of stacked glasses. Hajime's arm comes around his stomach, pulling him back into a warm chest, and Tooru falls backwards instead of forwards. "Easy there, Oikawa," Hajime says, right into his ear, before he pulls away. He doesn't leave Tooru completely, though, his hand dragging across Tooru's belly and coming to a stop at the side of his waist.
Tooru rests against Hajime for balance as they make their way outside, and Hajime smells like volleyball, Tooru thinks. He smells like high school, too, fresh deodorant and gym soaps, but maybe for Tooru, those are the same thing, since that's what high school was for him. Tournaments and Iwa-chan and very little else in between.
Hajime's hand is hot, even through Tooru's shirt, and it feels even more so when they get outside, the wind blowing strongly enough that Tooru can feel it through the blanket of heavy intoxication.
Hanamaki is handing Matsukawa cash to pay for half the bill, since the entire thing had ended up on Matsukawa's credit card, and they keep elbowing each other by accident as they fumble with their wallets, both at least tipsy themselves.
"You're touching me," Tooru says, and Hajime withdraws, as if Tooru's drawing attention to it is the only reason he noticed. "Am I poisonous?"
"It's not that," Hajime says, far too sober. Tooru's never seen Hajime drunk; not the entire four years they lived in the same apartment, or any time after.
"Then what is it?" Tooru tilts forward, glaring down at Hajime, who'd never caught up to his height. "Am I contagious, then?" The word contagious is a garbled mess, but he thinks Hajime understands him anyway, because he sighs, quiet and slow, sound almost eaten up by the wind.
"Time to go home, Oikawa," he says, moving away completely when Tooru rests against a bare stretch of wall.
Tooru hiccups. "I don't want to go home," he says. "Home is far, and everything is spinning." Home is also empty, but that part's not for everyone else to hear, even if he's drunk. "Maybe I should sleep here."
"It's a bit cold for that," Matsukawa tells him, laughing a little.
"Should we put him in a cab or do you think he'll just throw up all over it?" Hanamaki asks, with the disgusted fascination Tooru often hears when he shows his students the aphid terrariums for the first time. "I've honestly never seen a human being this drunk and still walking before."
"'Still walking' is pretty generous," Matsukawa says, poking Tooru's cheek repeatedly. Tooru tries to slap it away, but misses, and only Hajime quickly grabbing onto him again keeps him from falling. "Man, should we have stopped him from having those last couple of glasses?"
"Since when has Shittykawa listened to anyone?" Hajime replies.
"True." Hanamaki clicks his tongue against the back of his teeth. "It's nearing midnight, and I've got to get home, so let's figure out what to do with him."
"He only lives ten minutes from here by bus," Matsukawa says. "Not very far."
Hajime's muscles are tense as Tooru lets Hajime take more of his weight. He must have had practice today, Tooru thinks disjointedly, and that's why his muscles are so tight. "You didn't stretch well," Tooru mumbles. "You'll pull something if you don't."
Hajime flinches. "I'll walk him home," he says. "I don't have to be at the gym until three tomorrow, and it'll help Oikawa out to walk it off."
"I think that's only when you're tipsy," Hanamaki replies doubtfully. "I think when you're drunk it's just asking to fall asleep on a park bench or lose your mobile phone down a street vent."
"I'm not that drunk," Tooru tries to say, but his tongue won't fit around the words, belying them. "I'll get myself home if I have to go there." He closes his eyes and leans even more heavily into Hajime as people push past them clearing out of the bar to head to another, their nights just beginning. It's probably cold out, but his body is so pleasantly numb. His chest doesn't hurt that much, anymore. Megumi, he thinks, as a test, and nothing aches. All there is for him right now is the uneasiness in his stomach and the buzz filling his head and Hajime strong and warm against him. "I can look out for myself."
"Uh huh," Matsukawa says. "You sure you've got this, Hajime?" There's something strange in Matsukawa's voice, and Tooru can't figure out what it is, because his brain feels like it's melting, and processing is working so much slower than it should. "I could... Well, if it's out of your way, I'd be able to get him there."
"I've been taking care of this guy since he was five," says Hajime, after a long pause. "I'm sure I've had enough practice."
"All right, then," Matsukawa says, and then he reaches out and pokes Tooru's face again, for good measure, Tooru guesses. "Don't die tonight, champ."
"Worst friend," Tooru grunts, not bothering to open his eyes or try again to swat the hand, and Matsukawa laughs.
He hears them walking away, and finally opens his eyes, forcing them to focus. "You don't have to walk me if you don't want to. Do you even know where I live?"
"It would be too much trouble if you really did die," replies Hajime, shortly, grabbing Tooru's arm below his bicep. "And yeah, I know where your new place is. Let's go, Oikawa."
"I'm almost thirty and you're still trying to pretend you're my mom." Despite his words, he lets Hajime pull him along, the two of them walking in what Tooru is pretty sure actually is the direction of his new apartment. "How do you know?"
Tooru hums. "My apartment. You've never been there."
Hajime hesitates. "It was the return address. On the wedding invitation."
"Right," Tooru says, and then he stops walking, his stomach rolling. "The one you never sent back." He blinks. "I think I'm going to throw up."
"Maybe not," Tooru says, starting to walk again. "I'll get back to you if the situation changes."
"You're such a moron," Hajime says. "I can't believe anyone awarded you a PhD. You're going to be sick as hell tomorrow and it'll be your own damn fault."
"Like you care if I'm sick tomorrow," Tooru slurs, and Hajime's hand tightens where he grips Tooru just above his elbow. "Like you care what happens to me at all anymore."
"Of course I care, you asshole," Hajime says, as gruffly as he used to tell Tooru to take better care of himself after practice, when they were just high school students. Hajime's voice is deeper now, and doesn't crack at the end of his insults. "Just because I don't see you all the time, doesn't mean I don't care."
"Could have fooled me," Tooru replies. The grounds swims as he watches his feet step one in front of the other. He really has had too much, and he'll pay for it, but at least his insides feel numb. "You totally threw me out, Iwa-chan, like I was just something you didn't need anymore. Too useless to take along with you."
"Don't be ridiculous," Hajime snaps. "You're the one who stopped coming to games, and started avoiding anything at all to do with volleyball!" He exhales. "Shit, I didn't mean to say that."
"As if I wanted to watch you play when I couldn't!" Tooru tries to glare at Hajime, only he's not sure which of the three of them he's seeing is the real one.
"You're the one," Hajime says, voice so quiet Tooru barely hears it, "who told me not to quit just because you couldn't play."
"Obviously," Tooru snaps. "But I'm not going to watch fucking Tobio-chan toss to you, when no one will ever toss to you as well as I can!" He grips his stomach. "That doesn't mean I don't want to see you at all, Iwa-chan."
"Yeah," Hajime says, so quietly Tooru almost misses it. "I know." He stops them there, in the middle of the sidewalk, and with the hand not holding Tooru up, he grabs Tooru's chin, turning his face so that he's looking at the Hajime in the center, presumably the real one. "I know, Shittykawa. But it hasn't exactly been easy for me, either, okay?"
"I'm sure being a famous Olympian is just super hard on your morale," Tooru says, attempting a smirk and managing what probably looks more like a grimace. "It must suck to be in sports drink commercials and on thousands of kids' walls as the famous captain of the Japanese National Team."
"That's not the part that's hard," replies Hajime, and Tooru swallows. "You get so caught up in yourself sometimes. You never notice--" Hajime stops. "It would be better, if I were playing with you, though."
"You have a funny way of showing you miss me." Tooru jerks his arm free. "I'm going to get home by myself."
"Sure you are," is Hajime's dry response. "You can barely stand, idiot."
"I've been getting home by myself from bars for years," Tooru says. "I go out drinking more without you than with you, you know. Despite how much you miss me."
"Why are we fighting about this tonight?" Hajime runs a hand through his hair, a frown etched so deep on his face that even through Tooru's bleary eyes he can make it out.
"Because Megumi left me," Tooru says. "And you left me before she even came into my life."
"I didn't leave you," Hajime says. "I just needed--"
Tooru ignores him, speaking over him. "So you showing up tonight, and hovering and walking me home and all that..." Tooru's thoughts trip and stumble over themselves, and he reaches out and grabs hold of Hajime's shirt, crumpling the material in his hands as he gathers them up again. "I hate it, Iwa-chan, cause maybe I'll forget, you know?"
Wrapping his fingers around Tooru's wrist, steadying him, Hajime sighs. "Forget what?"
"That there's something about me that made you not want to be around. It's better if you just stay away, if you're not going to be like this all the time. I have Makki and Mattsun and... and Yachi and Yahaba, too. I'm not..." Tooru's stomach twists up. "I'm not desperate, and you never said it, but it's obvious we're not best friends anymore. You don't want to be best friends with me. You stopped wanting that sometime in the past five or six years, and I can't figure out why. What did I do? I'd always been able to count on you before. Even when things were bad, I could count on you, and then you..." Tooru rolls his head back. "Poof! Bye, bye, Iwa-chan!"
"People grow apart for lots of reasons." Hajime pulls Tooru lightly, sending him stumbling forward. Tooru braces himself with his other hand on Hajime's shoulder, and Hajime slips his closer arm around Tooru's waist. "It's not always because someone did something wrong." His fingers are too tight, but too tight is better than not there, when Tooru's not sure his legs want to carry him anymore. "Besides, things are bad, and I'm here, aren't I?"
"What about tomorrow?" Tooru asks, his head falling to Hajime's shoulder as they start walking again, not wanting to waste the energy to hold it up. "Will you be here tomorrow?"
Hajime's thumb makes a circle just below Tooru's bottom rib, and it burns. "Let's get you home, Trashkawa."
"I'm sure my Venus flytrap is awfully lonely without me," Tooru mumbles into Hajime's neck, and Hajime laughs, shaking them both.
"You haven't changed at all, have you?" He pulls Tooru's hand free of his shirt, and for Hajime, who moves as brusquely as he speaks, it's gentle. "You're so vain."
"I have so changed," Tooru says, closing his eyes to fight dizziness and trusting Hajime not to lead him into a ditch. "You're the one still wearing the same deodorant brand you wore in high school."
"Why would you even notice that?" Hajime's voice is dry, cracking a bit as Tooru nuzzles in closer and takes another whiff of Hajime's scent.
"I've always liked the way you smell," Tooru says. His lips drag across the soft skin of Hajime's throat, and Hajime shivers. "I used to fall asleep best the days you slept over, or afterwards, when my pillows smelled like you."
"Oh," Hajime says, and then he's pulling away from Tooru, and Tooru stumbles back to rest against cool glass. "Where are your keys?"
"My keys?" Tooru licks his lips, realizing belatedly that the glass is the door to his apartment building. "My pocket," he says, after thinking it through, but he makes no effort to reach for them, his arms weighing a thousand kilos a piece.
Tooru takes a deep breath of evening air, which does nothing to slow the spinning in his head, and lets his eyes fall shut again. He can hear the quiet whirr of the first cicadas of the season, constant and machine-like. They're louder in the summer, when they breed en masse, but there've been a few really warm days this summer, and--
And Hajime's hand is sliding into his pocket, down the front of his thigh in search of his keys. "Tickles," he whispers, and Hajime huffs an exhale that's warm against his cheek.
"Need to get you into bed," Hajime says. He sounds unsteady, and Tooru can't figure out why, when he'd had barely a sip of his drink.
"I'll sleep out here. Listen to the cicadas."
"It's too early in the year for them," Hajime replies, sliding the keyring out and examining its contents, looking between it and the door before studying the two card-keys. "But they're already so loud. Does this card open the main door?"
"Male cicadas have a more developed abdominal cavity than female cicadas." Tooru squints. "That's why they're so much louder. It's a mating call." He taps the pale blue card. "That one opens the door."
"Is that why you're so loud?" Hajime grabs Tooru's hand and tugs him inside as the door slides open. "A mating call?"
"I'm more like a male butterfly," Tooru says, letting Hajme pull him into the lift. He presses the button, accidentally hitting the floors above and below his own before collapsing against the far wall. "Brightly colored to attract as much attention as possible. Natural selection gets rid of the boring ones."
Hajime makes a low laugh that echoes in the elevator. "You'll never be boring, Oikawa." The elevator stops, and Hajime moves to get out, but Tooru catches the back of his shirt.
"One more," he tells him. "I pressed too many buttons."
They get out on Tooru's floor, and Tooru makes it all the way to his door before he remembers that Hajime's got his keys. "I've got it," Hajime tells him, slipping the key into the lock and letting them into the apartment.
Tooru stumbles out of his shoes and through the living room, down the hall heading straight for his bedroom. He runs his hand along the wall for balance until he gets to his bedroom. As he pushes open the door, he imagines, for a moment, Megumi packing her bag, before it's replaced by the messy reality of his own clutter, a week's worth of work clothes scattered on the floor along with his pajamas. Ignoring them, he walks straight forward until his knees hit the bed, then collapses face down onto his soft quilt. Hajime's mother had made it for him, when he and Hajime had rented that first apartment in Tokyo, only a twenty minute walk from the F.C. Tokyo practice gym. It feels like forever ago, and as Tooru rubs his cheek against it, he realizes that over the years it's gotten so soft.
"Get into bed for real," Hajime says behind him. "Don't you ever put your clothes in the hamper?"
"What's the point?" Tooru says into the quilt, not caring if he's intelligible. "No one but me lives here."
"You were the same when we lived together." He moves Tooru up on the bed like Tooru weighs nothing at all, despite the fact that Tooru himself thinks every limb is too heavy to lift. Rolling him over, Hajime brushes Tooru's hair from his forehead. "So don't use that excuse."
"You don't count," Tooru says, not helping at all as Hajime drags the covers down, getting them from underneath to pull up over him, trapping him in the bed. "You're Iwa-chan."
"If I go to the kitchen and get you water, will you drink it?"
"No," Tooru says, feeling like he's fighting against a current to speak. "Don't go anywhere."
"It's just to the kitchen," Hajime says. "You're going to be so hungover tomorrow."
"Don't leave," Tooru says, eyes falling shut and knowing he won't be opening them again until morning. "I'm tired of you leaving me. I'm tired of everyone leaving me, but especially you."
"Stay," Tooru says, and he wants it to be firm, but he doesn't know if he manages as he falls asleep.
It had taken three beers on an empty stomach, sitting on the sofa in front of the outdated, boxy television in his and Hajime's shared apartment. The old Mothra movie he'd been watching had long gone off, replaced by the international news, but the remote was out of reach and Hajime hadn't come home yet, so there was no one to get the remote for him.
Tooru's sister had brought him the beer without him asking, sitting with him through the first one and laughing at his squashed up face at the taste.
"Why'd you bring me this?" Tooru'd asked her, and she'd smirked at him in a way very reminiscent of Tooru's own smirk.
"Don't tell Mom," she'd said, without directly answering. "She already thinks I'm a bad influence on you."
"You are." Tooru ran his thumb up and down the side of the can, smooth aluminum and condensation slippery against skin. "I'm such a sweet boy, and here you are, corrupting me--"
"Yeah right. I think you're the bad influence on me." She'd narrowed her eyes at him, then, looking him up and down. "You still seem like yourself."
"Who else would I be?"
"Hajime called," she'd admitted. "He was worried about you, and said you wouldn't talk about-- Well, I brought the beer in case you did want to talk."
"Bribery?" Tooru tapped his chin with his index finger. "Not a bad strategy with me. You should have also brought me snacks!"
"I am your sister." She pulled out a packaged sweet-cake from her brown leather purse and handed it to him. "Still, I don't know why I thought you'd tell me something you wouldn't tell your other half."
"My other half?" Tooru snorted. "If Iwa-chan and I were conjoined, I'd be two-thirds, since I'd be the looks and the personality." He sank back into the sofa, letting his back curl uncomfortably as he drained the can, having gotten used to the taste.
"I was hoping Hajime'd be the personality," she'd replied, standing up to leave. "I'd have an easier life." She'd ruffled his bangs, letting her fingers sink into the mess of them. "Don't drink all of them, or Hajime'll kill me."
"He's still not my mother," Tooru had replied, closing his eyes and savoring the touch. "He doesn't have a say about my alcohol intake."
Knowingly, his sister had just chuckled. "He'll be the one dragging you to the bathroom to throw it all up, though." Sliding her fingers free of his tangled, greasy hair, she'd bent down and kissed his forehead. "Feel better soon, Tooru. I'll bring Takeru by later this week to pester you."
When she'd left, Tooru had popped the tab on a second can.
Hajime'd come home, confiscating the rest before Tooru could open a fourth with unsteady and uncoordinated fingers. Tooru had opened and closed his hand on nothing, and then looked up with bleary eyes.
"That's mine," he said, eventually.
"You're drunk enough," said Hajime. "And these are warm. Your sister came by, I guess."
"You're late, Iwa-chan," he said, and Hajime scowled at him, pressing a cold hand to the back of Tooru's neck. "Late, late, late."
"You look like a moron," Hajime'd replied, before taking back his hand and sitting down next to him on the sofa. "With your mouth hanging open like that. You look like a seabass."
The foreign news had changed from English to Mandarin Chinese in the background as Tooru forced his eyes to focus on Hajime. He was sweaty and warm from practice despite the coolness of his fingers, which rested lightly on Tooru's thigh, just above the thick plastic of his new brace.
"Mean!" Tooru had ineffectually shoved at Hajime, palm pressed to the damp cotton of Hajime's T-shirt. "If I lived in the ocean, I'd definitely be a merman." Tooru hiccupped, tasting beer in the back of his throat. "I'd make all the people in Okinawa fall in love with me, and there would be folk songs in my honor, along with..." He pushed at Hajime again, just as uselessly. "Along with targeted advertising for tourists about the world's most attractive sea creature."
"You're so full of shit," Hajime'd said, grabbing Tooru's wrist with his other hand, turning towards him more on the sofa. Tooru let himself fall into Hajime's side, his head lolling against Hajime's shoulder.
"Or maybe I'd be a siren, luring fishermen to their deaths with my voice." Closing his eyes, Tooru let the shake of Hajime's shoulders in laughter move his head along with them.
"Your voice certainly does make me want to die."
The fingers around Tooru's wrist tightened slightly, before letting go. Hajime's other hand had skated along the edge of Tooru's brace, skimming the skin, enough to tickle and drag Tooru's attention back to the part of his body he'd been ignoring since his first few sips of beer.
"Mermen don't have knees," Tooru'd said, then, and Hajime had sharply inhaled, causing Tooru to open his eyes to see him. Tilting his head up enough to catch a blurry view of Hajime's mouth and jaw, Tooru had made himself laugh. "That wouldn't be so bad."
"Mermen don't play volleyball at all," Hajime had eventually replied. The hand on Tooru's thigh felt heavier with each word, like the weight of them was something real and present in Hajime's touch.
The news switched to Japanese, and Tooru let a story about a world record for the largest watermelon wash over him as he hiccupped again. The beer sloshed around in his stomach, and all the lightness the alcohol had brought him was almost gone, replaced by nausea and the emptiness he hadn't yet figured out how he was going to fill.
"I'm going to quit the team," he'd said, and Hajime's only noticeable reaction had been his cheek coming to rest against Tooru's temple, warm and steady.
The team's main physician had told Tooru, after all, that his chances of making the starting lineup with a recurring stress injury weren't very good, and that the knee he'd fucked up overworking himself in high school wasn't going to pull its weight.
"Yeah," Hajime'd said. "I know."
"You can't quit, though," Tooru had mumbled, words muffled by Hajime's shoulder. "I'm the captain, so you have to listen to me, Iwa-chan."
"I've never listened to you in my life, Shittykawa," had been Hajime's reply.
Tooru had taken a deep breath. "You always listen to me," he'd said. "Even when no one else does." He'd laughed. "I guess I can't be the captain if I can't play."
Suddenly, Tooru had found himself pulled into a half-hug, Hajime's arm heavy across his shoulders but carefully not pulling him in close enough to jar his knee. With the alcohol running through his veins, it took Tooru a few moments to register that his head had been neatly tucked under Hajime's chin.
"Hey," Hajime'd said, "don't forget you're not like Kageyama."
"What's..." Tooru had bit his lower lip. "What's that supposed to mean? Don't bully me, Iwa-chan."
"You're not a prodigy," Hajime continued. "You became one of the best setters in high school volleyball with hard work and perseverance, not because you were born to play volleyball or something like that. So..."
"So?" Tooru had reached up and grabbed a handful of shirt. "Are you trying to tell me it's no big deal that I can't play? Because--"
"No, you idiot," Hajime interrupted, voice taking on that quality of pissed-off concern. "I'm trying to tell you that..." He sighed. "That volleyball isn't the end for someone like you, since you're, well... kind of amazing." The last part was mumbled, but for Tooru, it was the clearest thing Hajime had said. "You'll be able to do anything you want, because that's the kind of person you are."
A part of Tooru had wanted to cry at Hajime's rare sentimentality, and to wrap the words around himself like a blanket, to ward off the chill of the fear that had gripped him for the previous two weeks.
The rest of him, though, couldn't resist pulling himself out of Hajime's hold and looking up at him through his eyelashes, letting his lips slide into a smug grin. "Iwa-chan," he'd cooed, "you think I'm amazing? I mean, obviously I am, but I never thought you'd admit it so openly! If you want lessons--"
"I totally hate you," Hajime'd snarled, lightly shoving him back, putting space between them again. He hadn't met Tooru's eyes, but he'd stretched forward and snagged the remote that had been out of Tooru's reach, turned the channel to an old Super Sentai repeat on TV Asahi, and then gotten up to bring Tooru a glass of room temperature water, muttering "don't die," as he pushed it into Tooru's hand.
"Kill me," he says, to his empty bedroom, and unfortunately, there's no lightning strike to put him out of his misery. He grudgingly cracks open his eyes, and they burn from the griminess of his contacts, which shouldn't have been left in overnight.
Sitting up, he rubs at his face, blinking repeatedly to clear his vision. When the world is mostly in focus, he turns to his bedside table to find a glass of water. "Drink," it says, in Hajime's angular, sharp handwriting, in the same form he uses to give commands to his mother's dog.
Hajime, Tooru remembers, as the night comes filtering back to him, brought him home last night. Had put Tooru to bed and tucked him in, then sat beside him until he'd either fallen asleep or passed out, dead to the world.
Tooru picks up the glass of water, and drinks it. He feels gross, the stickiness of yesterday's clothes and alcohol sweat just another terrible thing about his current state of awakeness. His phone buzzes loudly against his thigh, and, still sipping the water, he digs the tips of his fingers into his trouser pockets to slide it out and into his hand.
It's a text from Matsukawa. Did you make it through the night, or have you shed this mortal coil?
Squinting at the screen, he quickly replies with why are you and Makki-chan both trying to kill me off lately? Then, tossing his phone aside, Tooru wills himself to get out of bed and stumble into the bathroom to do some semblance of putting himself together.
He's much more aware of the world around him after a shower and a brush of his teeth. As he's spitting out the toothpaste, he sees Megumi's engagement ring sitting on the glass shelf beside his sink, where he left it after he had lunch with Yachi last week, finally taking it out of his pocket. "What am I supposed to do with it?" Maybe he's still drunk, but there's a numb acceptance in the center of his chest now, even though a little dread still lingers at the thought of calling his sister.
And his mom. Oh, God, his mom.
He rinses his mouth, and splashes his face again for good measure, before moving back out into his bedroom to grab a pair of sweatpants off the floor, as well as the Tokyo Disneyland T-shirt he sleeps in most nights. Hajime had bought him that the second week after high school graduation, when they came on invitation from a scout to see the F.C. Tokyo facilities.
("Aw, you bought me a gift!" Tooru had poked Hajime's bicep. "Is this a date, Iwa-chan~? You should have told me! I would have gotten you a cute pair of animal ears for all our selfies!"
"I figured if I got you this one, maybe I wouldn't be forced to look at the one with all the neon-colored Mickey Mouse faces for the next six years," Hajime had replied, his face all flushed and his eyebrows wiggling like angry caterpillars.)
Clothed, he wanders out of his bedroom in the direction of the kitchen, trying to recall if there's anything in his fridge. It's not like Tooru's home all that often, what with everything he's got going on in the lab, and recently, he'd been too busy to buy fresh vegetables or anything that might go bad if he forgot about it in all the kerfuffle about his presentation.
It's not until he's standing in the living room that he notices the tangy smell of konbu broth, and when he looks over into the kitchen, he sees Hajime, still dressed in last night's clothes, bent over his counter, face to face with Tooru's Venus flytrap.
"You're still here," Tooru blurts out, without thought, and then he bites down on his lip as Hajime looks up at him, lips twisting into a half-smile. He's got dark circles, and the shadow of a beard on his cheeks and the edge of his jaw, and his shirt is rumpled beyond redemption, clinging to his broad shoulders.
Sober, Tooru can really take in Hajime up close for the first time in months, and memorize all the tiny things about his friend's appearance that have changed. He'd noticed the longer hair, but not the new, thin scar up the back of his hand, or the fresh bruises lining his forearms from tough receives.
"You..." Hajime's voice crackles, and he clears his throat. "You asked me to stay, last night. So I did."
Walking all the way up to the other side of the island counter, Tooru leans against it. "So you did," he replies, before poking at one of the mouths of the Venus flytrap with his pointer finger. The thin, grapefruit-pink spines tickle as they close, sensing something small enough to eat, and Hajime reaches across the counter to smack his hand away.
"Don't do that," Hajime says. "Remember how bitter you used to get when Hanamaki dangled food in front of you as bait for paying attention during calculus?"
"Plants aren't a sensitive soul like me," Tooru replies, curling his hand up into a loose fist and not reaching for the plant again. "Especially not Hajime-chan, here. He's tough as nails."
Hajime raises both brows in surprise. "You named your Venus flytrap after me?"
"You gave him to me," Tooru says. "Besides, it was nice to have an Iwa-chan that couldn't talk back~!" Clicking his nails on the marble countertop, Tooru studies the easy way Hajime seems to fit in his kitchen. Even the paint on the walls sets off the glow of Hajime's tanned skin, spring sun already having left behind its mark on Hajime's cheeks and the bridge of his nose.
"I really am surprised it's still alive," Hajime says, giving it one last look before turning back to the bubbling pot on the stove. "You don't even keep enough food in your house to feed yourself, so I'm not sure how something that can't nag you to take care of it survived your custody."
"I did my requisite internet link-clicking," Tooru says, laughing, absently bringing a hand up to rub at his still slightly aching head. "Even if it does eat the subject of my professional research interests." He watches the muscles in Hajime's back move through the thin material of his shirt as he strains the kombu and bonito from the dashi broth. "It takes each of the traps a week to digest a single insect, you know, assuming the insect is of a moderate size, and Hajime-chan only has four right now. And you don't have to feed every trap as it reopens. Flytraps can survive months without being fed beyond what they catch for themselves." Tooru rests his face in both hands, his elbows digging into the counter, tracking the movement of Hajime's steady hands as he returns the dashi broth to the stove in a new pot, setting the konbu on a different burner with fresh water to boil again. "It's actually pretty delightful how resilient Hajime-chan is! He's a perfect pet!"
"Only you would think that a carnivorous plant was the perfect pet, Trashykawa."
"Only you would buy it for me, knowing I would!"
Hajime snorts, popping the lid on the brand new container of red miso paste, having opened drawer after drawer until he'd located Tooru's silverware. "You're predictable," he says, adding two heaping spoonfuls of the paste into the pot. He hesitates slightly as he stirs. "At least for me, since I'm the only person who knows you watched that scene in Alien 3 where one of the Xenomorphs eats that runner about thirty times in a row while taking notes on what kind of teeth it had."
"It's very important to know that sort of typological data," Tooru replies loftily, and moves around the counter to stand next to Hajime, and peer into the pot as Hajime pulls out the cutting board. "I had green onions?"
"One left," Hajime replies. "No tofu, so we'll have to live without. I made rice-" He gestures to the rice cooker, lit up and steaming, "-and you had a few eggs, but now your refrigerator is pretty much bare. Your cabinets are bare, too, actually." He taps the miso paste. "This, the dried konbu, and some vinegar is pretty much all you've got."
"You look awfully domestic right now, Iwa-chan," Tooru says, leaning into Hajime slightly. He expects Hajime to pull away, and he's a little surprised when Hajime doesn't, instead leaning slightly in himself, returning the pressure. Tooru's eyes dart up to scan Hajime's face, but it's unreadable, Hajime's eyes fixed on where he's carefully slicing the green onion up into thin circles.
"And you look awfully hungover, Oikawa." Hajime licks his lips. "I take it your fia-- Megumi didn't like to cook, either? Since you don't even have soy sauce around, let alone anything else."
"She..." Tooru slowly scratches at the curve of his neck, catching in the stretched out collar of his Disneyland shirt. "Well, sort of. She's busy too, really." Distracting himself by going to find the soup and rice bowls, Tooru crosses to the other side of the kitchen. "Besides, she hadn't really moved in yet. Just some clothes and toiletries. One suitcase's worth of things." His hands shake slightly as he sets the white bowls down too hard on the countertop. "Good that it was that easy to pack up and leave with, I suppose."
"It really is going to be okay, Oikawa," Hajime says, after a stretch of silence. "You'll move forward, like you always have."
Moving on from disappointment is something Tooru's done enough that he should put it on his damn résumé, right alongside didn't punch Kageyama or Ushijima in the face despite how often their faces were basically asking for it and once took a picture with Kyary Kyary Pamu.
"Of course I will," Tooru says, jutting his chin forward stubbornly. "Still, Iwa-chan, I don't need a pep talk about getting over heartbreak from someone who can't even get a date." Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Hajime freeze mid-stirring motion, a tiny piece of green onion clinging to the knuckle of his ring finger as the steam from the soup leaves a light sheen of moisture on his skin that glistens as sunlight comes in through the window. "What would you know about it?"
Hajime swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing, and Tooru tries not to notice the way his lashes fall dark and thick when he lowers the lids to half-mast. "You're still such a fucking brat," Hajime says, then, lowering the heat with his free hand as he resumes stirring with the other.
"You adore me and you want to feed me," Tooru reflexively replies, the cadence of an oft repeated conversation simple enough to fall into despite the time between now and the last time it was just the two of them alone in a room, doing a simple activity and just being... together. "Right, Iwa-chan?"
"I want to feed you, all right," Hajime says, holding out his hand for a bowl. Tooru picks one up and sets it in his large, callused palm. All of Tooru's volleyball calluses are gone, now, replaced by one from his favorite gel pen on the inside of his thumb and index finger. Hajime's are still tough and thick across the pads of his palm, where the ball impacts when he spikes. "I'll feed you to a crocodile!"
"Not a Venus flytrap?" Tooru asks lightly. "Maybe that was your terrible plan all along, Iwa-chan! You were trying to get rid of me!"
"Venus flytraps only eat bugs. You're a pest, for sure, but it's not exactly the same thing." He ladles soup into the bowl with care. "Besides, I don't have to off you. Clearly you were days away from starvation."
"First of all," Tooru says, exchanging the full bowl for an empty one, and taking it over to the edge of the kitchen, where a small table is nestled in by the window, "Venus flytraps can eat things besides insects. They also eat small frogs. Hajime-chan ate one of Takeru's when I left him over at my sister's house during the move." He crosses the kitchen again, this time to fill both rice bowls as Hajime caries the second soup bowl and two raw eggs over to the table. "And secondly, I wouldn't have starved. In that drawer right next to the refrigerator are all my takeout menus! That way, after the inevitable disappointment of opening the refrigerator, I don't even have to take a single step to figure out what I'll eat for dinner!" He grins, somewhere in the realm of triumphant and smug.
Hajime stares at him for a long moment, obviously caught between frustration and fondness. "How do you not have scurvy, Shittykawa?"
Tooru's heart clenches, painfully, at how rarely he's seen that expression over the past few years. He'd missed Hajime, even as he'd let them grow apart. He doesn't say that, though. He just lets his grin pull a little wider, and brings the rice, along with two white soup spoons, over to where the rest of their breakfast sits ready to eat on the table. "Occasionally my undergraduates feed me fruit. What's the point in minions if they don't bring you snacks?"
"They're not your minions, they're your students." Hajime's mouth has settled into the tiniest curve of a smile. "Eat before it gets cold."
"Yes, Mom," Tooru says, fluttering his eyelashes, and Hajime rolls his eyes, reaching into the cup full of clean chopsticks and pulling out two mismatched pairs, handing a set to Tooru and keeping a set for himself.
Tooru cracks his egg on the hot rice and stirs in the egg white, letting the rice cook it while the yellow yolk pools around the sides. When he notices Hajime hasn't moved, he looks up to see Hajime is just... watching him, the narrow end of his chopsticks resting on the edge of his rice bowl. "Iwa-chan?"
"I wasn't trying to get rid of you," Hajime says. "I would never... want to do that. Because you are important, and I do… want to be around you."
Tooru blinks, feeling the drag of his eyelid over the dry contacts he still hasn't taken out. His thoughts skip back to before, when he'd accused Hajime of just that, and then they skip back even further, to last night. There's something about me that made you not want to be around
"Iwa-chan..." Tooru starts, setting his chopsticks down and folding his hands together before leaning forward, so he can look right into Hajime's eyes. "Why are you being so mushy today? Are you dying? Is this like the plot of Kurosawa's Ikiru--"
"Oh my God," Hajime says, and Tooru gulps down the happy laugh that's trying to climb up out of him around his bitterness and regret and the steady, ever-present darkness that he barely keeps his head above. "No, you idiot, this is not like the plot of Ikiru, I don't have a terminal illness--"
Tooru plows on as if Hajime hasn't even spoken"--and as you're trying to make the most of your final days on Earth, you've suddenly realized you can't live without me?!" He dramatically throws his hand up to his forehead. "Wait, you've seen Ikiru? Who are you and where is my Iwa-chan?!"
Hajime drops his head to the table with a loud thump. "You've got to be," he says, muffled words nothing if not resigned, "the most ridiculous person I've ever met."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Tooru says, and takes a giant bite of his egg-coated rice.
Instead, Tooru had taken a liking to the eccentric lepidopterist named Miguchi who’d taught his intro zoology class, and who had, in between office hours and field work, imparted to him thousands of obscure facts about moths. Miguchi spent most of her time in a laboratory examining mutated butterflies from Fukushima, and paid Tooru 1000 yen-per-hour to help her analyze the truncated wing span of pale grass blue moths, or the sight degeneration found in over fifty per cent of the third generation males. When he asked her why she was so interested, she’d smiled up at him, staring into him, considering, through glasses as thick as the distance between Tooru’s last knuckle and the tip of his pinky. "Well," she’d said, "mostly because I was obsessed with Mothra as a child." She'd laughed. "But there’s also the fact that insects are pretty much the oldest complex living things on the planet, and that’s pretty damn neat."
Tooru's girlfriend at the time hadn't really liked all the doodles of ants that Tooru had left scattered around his and Hajime's shared flat, grimacing and making faces, but Hajime had only studied them with careful eyes and let Tooru ramble on about how much he liked this and that, just like he had for years of their childhood when Tooru had taught him the rules of volleyball or the makeup of every constellation in the sky.
"I’m thinking of majoring in Zoology," Tooru said one day, sitting on their couch, a slice of pizza in one hand and his biochemistry notebook in the other, smudging grease along the top of each page. Hajime was on the floor doing push-ups with one hand, the show-off, and Tooru took an extra large bite of pizza every time Hajime had looked up to make up for the fact that he was too busy eating to drape himself across the other's back to 'add resistance'. "Is that a terrible idea? Is it too weird?"
"You should study whatever interests you, Shittykawa," Hajime had said, gruff and refusing to meet Tooru’s eyes, fixing his gaze on the floor as he huffed and puffed his way through another set. "Even if it’s weird. You’re weird as fuck, anyway, and you’d never be happy if you were doing anything that made you bored."
"Hmm," Tooru'd said, and then doodled a Botswana Goliath Beetle in the margin of his notes, in enough detail that his girlfriend had screamed the next time she looked over his shoulder while he studied.
She'd broken up with him right after he decided to switch his major officially, too creeped out by the growing collection of insect models settling in with all the alien and Super Sentai action figures around his and Hajime's apartment.
Tooru'd ended up staying up late eating ice cream with Hajime, the night she ended things, explaining the difference between European earwigs and Chinese earwigs using toothpicks to draw pictures in the melting dessert, just like he used to draw volleyball strategies, and though it hadn't been a good day, by any means, what with getting dumped and filling out a ton of major-change paperwork, it had been the first time in a long time that Tooru had felt anything like himself, just sitting next to Hajime on the floor and sharing something he loved.
"Tooru, is that you?" She turns off her hose and puts a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. "You're so tall!"
"That's what you said last time I saw you!" Tooru offers up his most charming grin. He loves Hajime's mom. She's even-tempered, and she's patient in all the same ways Hajime secretly is. It's a pretty big contrast to Tooru's mom, who takes melodramatics to new levels on a frequent basis. "You know I haven't grown in five years, Mama."
"It's so rare you come back that I get surprised again every time!" She shakes her head. "You and Hajime both! We shouldn't have let you boys move to Tokyo if it meant we'd never see our sons again!"
"Maybe I come to Miyagi so infrequently because i want someone to praise me for being tall!" He pouts. "Now that I'm a scientist, there are fewer people to tell me how handsome I am on a regular basis!"
Patting his arm, she smiles at him. "I saw your mother walk home from the market about a half-hour ago. Does she know you're coming?"
"No," Tooru says, and grimaces. "I didn't call ahead. I've got to talk to them about something, though, so I drove out."
"You shouldn't have driven alone!" She frowns at him. "That's more than four hours, young man, and it's evening!"
"Yahaba, one of my Seijou underclassmen, is going back with me, since he's made plans to visit a friend in Tokyo. So it was just the trip down alone."
(Yahaba had heard from Hanamaki about Tooru's break-up at some point between Monday night and Wednesday morning, and had called Tooru during his lunch break on Wednesday to give Tooru something between the third-degree and a lecture about telling his friends things promptly.
"You've got no respect for my seniority anymore, Yahaba-chan," Tooru had whined into the phone, garnering a look of amusement from Sasada, who sat folded up in her desk chair with her shoes off, eating yogurt with an oversized spoon as she video-chatted with one of her kids. "I needed time to process!"
"You needed time to wallow, you mean," Yahaba had replied. "Iwaizumi always said, back when we were in high school, that left unattended you'd make yourself more miserable than necessary, and we all knew it was the truth.")
"Well then," Iwaizumi's mother says, and she looks up at the position of the sun in the sky, and then back at her flowers. "I've got to finish up with my gardening. I hope you have a good visit with your parents." She pauses. "You and Megumi aren't expecting a baby already are you?" She laughs. "You and your sister both putting the cart before the horse."
"No!" Tooru shakes his head vehemently. "Nothing like that, all right?" He looks over at the house. "I guess I'd better head in before they start eating."
"Tell my son to come visit me, Tooru," she says, with a gentle smile, turning her hose back on and returning to her flowers as he ascends the steps up to the front door of his parents' house.
He knocks, even though he has a key, and waits to hear his mother's shuffling footsteps approaching the door. The lock tumbles open, followed by the clink of the removal of the door chain from the wall to hang along the back of the door, and then his mother peeks out, eyes widening in surprise.
"Tooru!" She beams at him, and before he knows it he's been ushered into the living room, where his dad sits, in his undershirt and his sweatpants, legs folded as he sips a beer and peruses the financial pages of the newspaper, all while eating freshly chopped cantaloupe. Tooru sits down next to him, and grabs a piece of cantaloupe for himself, earning a raised eyebrow from his father over the edge of the newspaper.
"What brings you home on a Friday night without calling?" His father turns the page, and Tooru licks melon-sticky lips as his mom bangs around in the kitchen, probably still finishing up dinner.
"Some stuff came up," Tooru says. "Stuff I'll need to talk to you about."
("You can't put off talking to your mother," Hanamaki had told him on Tuesday, as he'd outlined the costs of the tuxedo rental cancellations and the fee the venue was levying for a late withdrawal of their reservation. "I know you don't want to do it, but you need to. As soon as possible. Before everything goes up in flames. You know how your mom is."
"Yeah," Tooru had replied. "I do.")
"That's fine," his dad says, licking his thumb and then reaching for another piece of cantaloupe. "After dinner."
Sitting next to his dad like this, with his mother cooking and the sound of the newspaper rustling, reminds Tooru of when he was in middle school, right after his sister had been transferred to Tokyo for work and moved out to get her own apartment with a barely walking Takeru and their mom's disapproval heavier than all of his sister's medical textbooks in the boxes Tooru'd carried out to the moving truck. The house had been quiet, after she left, and on the rare nights Tooru wasn't over at Hajime's house, or dragging Hajime into practicing volleyball late in the Kitadai gymnasium, he'd always ended up sitting next to his dad, both of them quiet.
Tooru's not quiet by nature. He likes to talk and fill silences, rather than letting them stand, and when he isn't given something to do he usually makes a mess finding something to do. With his dad, though, sometimes it's just moments like this. The only other person who Tooru is calm enough to be quiet around is Hajime, but Hajime doesn't like the quiet very much either, even if he's much less talkative than Tooru. It's probably why they'd worked so well as friends, even if he and Hajime are as different as night and day in most respects.
Tooru barely touches his food as his mother tells him all about the neighborhood gossip, spilling out various stories about the old couple that works at the market's youngest daughter, who apparently has a 'good-for-nothing' boyfriend who does 'something-with-computers', and Tooru asks questions at all the right times and laughs when he's supposed to. It's not all that hard, since his mother is good at telling stories. Most of the time, Tooru thinks he got at least sixty percent of his personality from her.
When dinner's been cleaned up, and Tooru has a cup of warm tea cradled in his hands, his dad finally sighs. "So, what's brought you out here tonight, Tooru?" He adjusts his glasses and smiles, and Tooru wanly smiles back.
"And why didn't you bring Megumi with you?" His mother has her own cup of tea. "Did she have too much work to do? I have some things to talk to her about for the wedding. I guess I can call her, but it would have been so much more convenient if she could have come down here and looked at the flowers herself!"
Tooru presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. "The wedding's off," he says, and the silence that follows is far different from the silence he had shared with his dad before dinner; terrible and thick, making it hard for Tooru to breathe. "I mean, Megumi and I are not getting married."
"That's absurd," his mother says. "Of course you're getting married. Call her now and apologize for whatever you've done, Tooru."
"It's not--" Tooru runs a hand through his hair. "It's just not going to work out, Mom."
His father hums, low in his throat, and nods, but his mother frowns at him. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Tooru says, and then he smiles grimly. "It's not like it happened yesterday, and even if I were to call and say whatever I thought she wanted, Megumi wouldn't change her mind."
His mother's face is crestfallen, and Tooru thinks it's unfair that he's the one who's been left, but it's his mother who's acting like she's been wronged.
"Oh, Tooru," she says, meeting his eyes. "I'm sure there's another girl for you. We'll set you up with a matchmaker, and maybe find you a girl a bit younger, without a busy career like Megumi had."
Bile rises in Tooru's throat at the very idea of dating anyone when he keeps seeing Megumi's smeared eyeliner and wet cheeks at night when he closes his eyes, her engagement ring still sitting as a constant reminder in his bathroom. It makes him think about what Yachi had said, over lunch last Friday, about wanting to marry Megumi or just wanting to get married. It makes him think about buying the ring, and thinking, "yes, she'll be a good wife for me," instead of "yes, I can't imagine not wanting to spend the rest of my life with her," and maybe that leaves him sickest of all.
"I doubt Tooru wants that," his father says, and his mother frowns.
"He's getting too old to be a bachelor, as good-looking and successful as he is. People are going to think there's something wrong with him!"
If Tooru were with his friends, he'd make a flippant joke about how the only thing wrong with perfection is that no one will ever be able to match him. If he were with his friends, he'd laugh and change the subject. But he's with his parents, so he digs around in his pocket and makes his phone ring, faking a call, and excuses himself to go take it, claiming it's someone important from work.
Outside in the backyard, he walks out to where he and Hajime used to spend long evenings spread out on the grass watching the stars, arms pressed together from shoulder to elbow and ankles tangled as they laughed louder than the screeching chirps of all the summer crickets that lived in the undergrowth of the hedges between their yards.
Without thinking he dials Hajime's number. It hasn't changed since high school, even though Tooru's has changed four times because he's always been too distracted to go through the hassle of saving his number when switching from service provider to service provider to get the exact phone he wants.
When it starts to ring, Tooru feels a brief moment of apprehension, unsure if Hajime staying for breakfast on Tuesday morning, laughing and dropping his arms elbow deep in dishwater as Tooru stood behind him and gave unnecessary directions, has shifted things closer to right-way-up in their friendship, or if Hajime will still ignore the call, responding with a text that says "busy, sry" after letting it go to voicemail.
"Hello?" Hajime sounds half asleep. "Oikawa?"
"Are you old now?" Tooru asks, unsure what to make of the warmth that drips down his spine at the timbre of Hajime's voice. He sinks down into the grass, legs criss-crossed, and starts pulling up the green blades one by one, dirt getting trapped under his nails. "It's like, nine at night. Going to bed now is practically geriatric."
"I had practice from six in the morning to one in the afternoon," Hajime replies. "Then I had an interview with NHK about the upcoming Asia conference."
"I taught two classes, read thirty-odd essays, and drove to Miyagi today, and you don't hear me groaning like someone's centenarian grandmother!"
"I was just dozing off on the couch, Trashykawa, give me a break." Hajime groans. "Wait, did you say you're in Miyagi?"
"Yep," Tooru says, lifting his hand up to catch a little moonlight when he feels something tickle up his finger. "Did you know there were armadillidiida in our back yards?" The insect curls up into a ball on the tip of his finger. "Armadillidium vulgare, to be specific."
"Did you just give me the Latin name of an insect?" He can hear the huff of breath as Hajime pulls himself up into a sitting position. "Are you in your backyard right now?"
"I saw your mom. She says you should come visit." Tooru flexes his finger, and the bug wiggles back toward his second knuckle. "Armadillidium vulgare is the common pill bug. They're a woodlouse family, but they're different from the others thanks to their two-segmented antennal flagellum. They've also got uropods." Hajime is quiet, still listening. "And they can roll up into a ball," Tooru adds. "Which is pretty awesome."
"Oh, those things," Hajime says. "Remember when we collected hundreds of them over the summer, back when we were in the fourth year of elementary school, and you took them all to give to that girl you liked in class 5C?"
"I was quite the Casanova, honestly," Tooru says, even as he remembered the horrified look on the girl's face. "It would have worked on me. A few hundred Armadillidium vulgare is more romantic than a thousand roses!"
Hajime laughs, full and deep, and Tooru closes his eyes and pretends Hajime is here, next to him, letting Tooru use his arm as a pillow as Tooru tries to pretend everything's fine, like when they were kids, like when they were teenagers, like when they were barely adults about to leave their hometown for the first time.
"I told my mom about Megumi," Tooru says, after Hajime's laugh has died off. "She... isn't taking it well."
"She loves you," Hajime says. "I think she's just still reeling from your sister."
"Takeru's in high school now," Tooru whines, flopping back into the grass, atop his pile of savaged blades. The little pill bug still clings to his finger. "It's been a long time. And I'm not my sister."
"I know," Hajime says. "I only meant... she probably doesn't mean to make you feel like your life isn't your own, or like you're racing the clock or something."
Tooru's stomach twists. "How is it that you can refuse to be around me for more than twenty minutes at a time for almost five years, and still understand me better than anyone else?"
"I didn't refuse to be around you," Hajime says.
Tooru laughs, crossing his eyes to focus in on the pill bug's two-segmented antennae. "I was Seijou's setter, known for being able to observe everyone on the court at all times." He bites his lower lip. "And you were my ace. Do you honestly think I don't always notice you and know exactly where you are? It's a habit, Iwa-chan!"
"You don't think that goes both ways?" Hajime coughs. "Are you staying in Miyagi long?"
"Just tonight," Tooru replies. "I'm driving back with Yahaba-chan tomorrow, since he wanted to come all the way to Tokyo to browbeat Mad-Dog-chan in person, I guess."
"Did you..." Tooru waits, and Hajime continues after false starting several times. "Would you want to get lunch some time? After you get back, I mean."
Tooru flicks the pill bug away, gently, enough to send it falling from his finger but not enough to hurt it. "Don't offer this if you don't mean it, Iwa-chan." Tooru sticks out his lip, knowing Hajime will hear it in his voice somehow. "You'd better be prepared to be my best friend again or don't even bother."
"It's always all or nothing with you," Hajime says. "Nothing... Nothing was no good, Oikawa. It'll have to be all."
"Good," Tooru says, and he feels a bit winded from the emotional whiplash. "Nothing was the worst, Iwa-chan."
"You're the worst," Hajime replies, and Tooru laughs, loud enough that he's sure Hajime's mother and his own both hear it from inside their houses. "What are you laughing at?"
"I don't know," Tooru says. "I'd say your face, but I can't see it right now..."
"I'm hanging up," Hajime says, and then he does, and Tooru keeps laughing until he knows he has to peel himself up off the ground and go back inside to talk to his mother.
He sends a string of unintelligible emojis to Hajime in a text message, though, right before he heads through the back door, and doesn't wait for a response, already knowing it'll be some variation of I hate you, and that makes him start laughing again, despite the conversation he doesn't want to continue waiting for him in the kitchen.
Just thinking of Hajime, willingly texting him back, leaves him feeling safe and warm.
"You'll play for the development team while we see what you've got," the scout had said, smiling. "F.C. Tokyo has a large development team, around seventy players, and we select twenty every year for the main team total. There's no guarantee that you'll make the main squad immediately, or ever."
Hajime had nodded seriously in understanding, his eyes on the contract, tracing along the words with his thumbnail to keep his place as Tooru had turned the F.C. Tokyo cap the scout had brought as a souvenir around in his hands. The thick, white embroidered letters had felt nice under his fingers, and the bright blue and red of the cap had looked so different from the soft Seijou teal.
"What do you think?" Hajime had asked, as they sat together in his room, a few hours later, knees touching as they both stared at the game on television, neither of them really watching it. "About F.C. Tokyo? They’re the worst team in the league."
"No one else asked for both of us," Tooru said. He was still holding the cap, unable to relinquish his hold on it, even as he shot a teasing glare in Hajime's direction. "I could go anywhere, of course, but you'd be bored without me~"
Snatching the cap from him, Hajime had put the cap on his head backwards, flattening his hair and digging into the skin of his forehead. "Bored, or relaxed?" Hajime had flicked Tooru's thigh, and Tooru had yelped, casting Hajime a betrayed look.
"You're so mean to me!" He'd reached over and turned Hajime's cap roughly in revenge, pulling the brim down to cover his eyes. Hajime had caught his wrist, then, pulling Tooru closer until they were falling back to the floor, Hajime trapped under Tooru's body as Hajime's fingers crept up his shirt, finding the most ticklish part of his ribs.
Tooru had collapsed in laughter, burying his face in the curve of Hajime's neck, and Hajime, acknowledging his own victory, had moved one of his hands from the skin of Tooru's sides to rest spread out along his back. "I guess," Hajime'd said, his words ruffling Tooru's hair and blowing warm on Tooru's ear, "working with you a little longer won't be too bad."
Levering himself up with one arm pressed to the ground beside Hajime's face, Tooru had looked down at his friend, with cap askew and face slightly pink, light from the television catching and reflecting in dark eyes.
"No one else can toss to you like I can," Tooru said confidently, straightening the cap with one hand as he pressed back into the warmth of Hajime's palm against his spine. "I'm the one doing you a favor."
"Whatever." Hajime’s lips quirked into a small smile. "If that's what helps you sleep at night, Oikawa."
"Besides," Tooru added, sitting back far enough that Hajime's hand was forced to fall away, leaving his back feeling cold, "you know drastic change makes my face break out, and that's a terrible thing to happen to the future face of F.C. Tokyo, especially after we turn the team around."
"You're so full of it," Hajime had groaned, smile growing. He'd looked good, Tooru had thought, in the F.C. Tokyo colors, and, well, Tooru looked good in everything, and he didn't mind red and blue. "If we end up living together, I'm not cleaning up after you. Keep your shitty sci-fi posters and action figure collection in your own damn room."
"My posters are amazing," Tooru'd replied, pompously.
Hajime had rolled his eyes. "Never mind, you can live alone in the garbage heap your apartment will inevitably turn into."
The hand next to Tooru that had been on his back rested lightly on his thigh, and he realized he was still straddling Hajime, legs on either side of his hips as he played with the hem of Hajime's tank shirt. That's all right, he'd thought, because Hajime was his best friend, and they'd shared beds and showers and dreams, and Hajime was comfortable, a solid weight beneath him that felt better than the hardwood floor.
"Don't be silly, Iwa-chan," Tooru'd said with a grin, toes curling in his socks. "We're definitely going to live together. You and me, in Tokyo. Naturally, everyone from the team will be jealous of you, so remember not to put your face in any of my selfies."
"I don't think that'll be an issue," Hajime had dryly replied, but his face had looked soft, and Tooru had known he wasn't the only one happy that they'd be sticking together.
It's a marked difference from sitting in the kitchen at his sister's house when she cooks, exchanging playful barbs, and Tooru can't help but wish he was there instead of here.
The thing is, Hajime is right when he tells Tooru that his mom doesn't mean any harm. She never has. She'd spoiled him rotten all through his childhood, and in return, he'd succeeded at pretty much everything he'd tried. He'd been popular, and done well enough with his grades, and become captain of the volleyball team, and his mother hadn't had to worry about him at all; not the way she'd had to worry about his sister. She's never wanted anything but what's best for him, and Tooru knows that. That's why he likes making her happy.
But sometimes, especially when he stumbles, veering off the path she thinks is the right one, he feels like her hands are wrapping around his neck and squeezing, leaving it impossible for him to breathe in the grip of her expectations.
He's having trouble breathing right now, as she drops the skillet into the sink a little too loudly, and he accidentally opens one of Kindaichi's chain letters when he jerks in surprise at the noise.
Quickly, he deletes it, leaving only a single unopened message from Mad-Dog-chan in his inbox, topic line filled with typos and excessive punctuation, no doubt containing his address for when Tooru drops Yahaba off later.
As his mother starts to set plates on the table, Tooru puts his phone away and stands to help her, making short work of bringing the rest of the dishes over from the counter as she gets the rice.
They eat in silence for a few minutes, Tooru on actual eggshells as he takes small bites of rolled egg. He's almost relieved when she finally clears her throat.
"I liked Megumi," his mother says.
Tooru swallows his mouthful and meets her eyes. "So did I," he replies.
Sighing, his mother pushes her hair out of her eyes. "Did she break up with you, or did you break up with her?"
"She broke up with me." It leaves a bitter taste in the back of his mouth.
"You were too good for her anyway, Tooru," his mother says, straightening her shoulders even as she looks down at her rice. Tooru wonders if she's trying to comfort him, somehow, after basically implying last night, in an overly heated conversation, that fiancées surely grow on trees, and that if Tooru were a good son he'd just pick one. "You'll find someone else. You've always been popular with girls. You always had a girlfriend in high school!"
Tooru shoves his rice around with his chopsticks, wondering if he should point out that it was a different girlfriend every week, because they always left him, claiming he was too fixated on volleyball to be dateable. Nothing's really changed about his personality since then; he's still obsessive and weird and prone to forgetting about people for weeks at a time when something particularly catches his interest, his mood shifting like the color of a chameleon moving from the stalk of a flower to the bright blossom.
Maybe Tooru isn't really cut out for dating. After all, the only person who'd ever really been able to handle him at every extreme had been Hajime, and... "Yes," Tooru says, carefully taking a bite, chewing and swallowing as he thinks about how to phrase his next statement. "But I've just broken up with Megumi, so I'll probably take some time off from that."
"Are you sure you don't want me to set you up with a matchmaker? You don't want to get left behind."
"None of my friends are dating seriously," Tooru protests.
"Not even Hajime?" His mother shakes her head. "Well, he has an excuse, I suppose, what with the media always watching him so closely. I saw an article about his teammate in Friday magazine just last week-- you know, the one with the messy hair and the sleepy eyes..."
"Kuroo," Tooru says, quietly, remembering the photo of them both side by side he'd seen on a billboard a couple of months ago, advertising sneakers or something. Hajime's hair had looked almost as messy as Kuroo's. Not that Tooru had looked for long, really, but it had been a large billboard, and the crosswalk light had been red. "Kuroo Tetsurou."
"That's right," his mother says, and then bites lightly on her lower lip. "Do you ever think about what it might have been like if you had kept playing?"
"No," Tooru says, sharply, and he's saved from having to continue by the sound of the doorbell, chiming a merry little tune that takes away his need to answer. "That'll be Yahaba-chan," he says, standing quickly, his mostly uneaten breakfast left on the table as he circles it to kiss his mother lightly on the cheek. "I'll see you later, Mom."
"You're leaving just like that?"
"Yahaba has to be in Tokyo by one," he lies, straightening back up and heading toward the genkan, where he's left his overnight bag next to his shoes. The doorbell rings again.
"Call me when you get back to Tokyo," she says, trailing him to the door, watching him as he slips into his shoes before straightening the collar of his soft button-down. "All right?"
"Give my love to your sister," she says, as Tooru turns the deadbolt, opening the door to a drowsy-looking Yahaba resting against the porch rail, his hands in his pockets as he waits.
"Bye, Mom," Tooru says, closing the door quickly because she's still in her house-robe.
The door locks behind him, and Tooru summons up his best grin for Yahaba. "Sorry to keep you waiting." He sighs dramatically. "You know how it is, Yahaba-chan! No one can ever get enough of me!"
With a small laugh, Yahaba rubs at tired-looking eyes. "Is there some reason you had me show up at the crack of dawn for our roadtrip, then?"
"Yahaba-chan, are you serious?" Tooru looks at him with feigned shock. "It's nearly nine in the morning! Where's your joie de vivre?!"
"It's in bed, where I should be." Yahaba peers closely at Tooru. "Senpai, you once told me that waking up before the numbers hit double-digits was an affront to humanity. Are you in that big a hurry to get back to Tokyo?"
"Things to do, people to see," Tooru answers dismissively, stepping past Yahaba to descend the stairs, unlocking his car with a push to his key fob. "Chop, chop, my little underclassman, it's time to get on the road~"
Yahaba yawns, jaw cracking, hair cutely mussed, and follows along easily.
Tooru relaxes incrementally the further they get from Miyagi, despite the pick-up of traffic heading in the direction of Tokyo. He puts on his favorite sunglasses and lets Yahaba mess with the radio at will until he puts it on slow classical music instead of anything fun.
"Do you want me to fall asleep and kill us both?" Tooru complains, punching in his favorite pop station without taking his eyes off the road. "I thought you were coming with me to keep me company, not be the most boring passenger on the planet!"
"Well, I didn't know you were going to be all weird and have me wake up so early when I told Hanamaki-senpai I'd drive back with you." Yahaba yawns again, but makes an effort to sit up in his seat, and then his words catch up with him. "I mean, when I decided to catch a ride to Tokyo with you to visit Kyoutani."
"Mmhmm," Tooru drawls, amused, smiling smugly at having been right at reading Yahaba's motivations, and then maybe a little at the fact that his friends really aren't so bad, in the grander scheme of things.
Tooru's phone buzzes, rattling against the plastic of the cupholder he dropped it into when he'd slid into the car.
"Do you want me to see who it is?" Yahaba picks up Tooru's phone without waiting for an answer, and out of the corner of Tooru’s eye he sees both of Yahaba's eyebrows lift. "It's... Iwaizumi."
"And what does Iwa-chan have to say on this lovely morning?" Tooru asks, his hands tightening on the wheel slightly, before he catches himself, loosening his grip again immediately.
"I don't know when you're leaving, so have a safe trip, Shittykawa," Yahaba reads aloud. He hesitates. "You told Iwaizumi-senpai you were coming home?"
"Not really," Tooru says, watching the car in front of him slow down, putting a blinker on to switch lanes. "I called him last night, though, and mentioned I was driving right back home today."
"You... called him?" Yahaba sets Tooru's phone back from where he picked it up.
"Is that really so strange?" Suddenly, the car is just a bit too warm, so Tooru reaches down with his left hand to crack his window. The cool air that rushes in feels like cold hands on his cheeks, and Tooru licks his lips, letting the wind sting them too.
Yahaba squirms uncomfortably, and Tooru wants to look at his face. "I just... got the impression that you two weren't that close anymore." He grabs at the chest strap of his seatbelt and pulls it. "From you, actually. I got that impression from you, since I don't really talk to Iwaizumi-senpai nearly as often as Kyoutani does. What with the hero-worship and all."
Tooru scowls. "I was the captain," he says. "Mad-Dog-chan should have worshipped me."
"At least he mostly listened to you," Yahaba soothes. "It's just that he has a... well, soft spot, I guess, for Iwaizumi." He laughs. "I used to think he had a crush on him!"
Tooru's suddenly glad he's wearing sunglasses, so Yahaba won't see the slight widening of his eyes. "A crush?" His voice sounds strange, even to his own ears, and Yahaba's laugh trails off.
"Well, you know," Yahaba says, floundering, hands gesticulating wildly in the periphery of Tooru's vision. "Liked him, or something...?"
Tooru's throat is tight, and he reaches out to turn the radio up a little louder, pressing on the volume until the music is louder than the beat of his heart. "Well, there's no accounting for taste," he says, finally, when he's able to get the words out.
Yahaba slumps, visibly relieved at Tooru's answer. "I don't know," he says, "Iwaizumi-senpai is handsome, I guess. He's pretty popular in those bachelor polls that show up in the train station newspapers."
Tooru taps his thumbs on the steering wheel in time with the beat of the song playing. It's a new one, he thinks. He might've heard it at the bar on Monday, but a lot of that night is something of a blur, nothing but the taste of wine and Hajime's hand around his waist to keep him from falling sticking out starkly in his memory. "I'm just too used to looking at my own face, I suppose," Tooru says. "After that, everything's a downgrade. Right, Yahaba-chan?" He grins sharkishly. "Remember, there's only one answer that won't get you left at the station when we stop for petrol~!"
"Yes, Oikawa-senpai, you're definitely the fairest of them all," Yahaba replies dutifully, chuckling lightly as he stretches his legs out in front of him as far as the space allows.
"You're my favorite underclassman," says Tooru, pleased, and he starts singing along loudly with the radio, hoping it'll drown out any thoughts of Hajime and crushes for the rest of the drive.
Everyone else had gone home already, leaving the two newest additions to the F.C. Tokyo development squad to keep practicing, as had become a tradition over the past few weeks.
"Why?" Hajime had offered him the ball then, and Tooru had taken it, spinning it in his hands as he walked backwards to the serve line.
"One of those girls thought you were cute," Tooru said, tossing the ball up into the air and doing his signature serve, twisting into it. It slammed with pinpoint accuracy just inside the line on the other side of the net.
"So?" Hajime lifted up the bottom of the T-shirt of his practice uniform and used it to wipe at his face, revealing the smooth, paler skin of his stomach and the lean line of his abs. Tooru cut his eyes away immediately, and dug into the basket to get another ball.
"So I was thinking that you never come over to talk to girls with me, and then I started wondering if you'd ever liked anyone."
"Those girls are not here to talk to me." Hajime had crossed his arms. "And one of us has to be focused during the actual practice, or we'll give Miyagi Prefecture a bad name."
"One girl was definitely here to talk to you today." Tooru had grinned. "Iwa-chan, are you shy?"
"Why are you so fixated on this?" Hajime ran a hand through his hair, and glared at the court, avoiding Tooru's gaze. "Who cares if I've had a crush or not?"
"I've told you about every single crush I've ever had," Tooru whined, gripping the ball tightly and shaking it in lieu of shaking Hajime. "It's only fair that you tell me about yours~!"
"No one asked you for your detailed-as-fuck dating life anecdotes. You volunteer those all on your own. I'm not obligated to do the same."
"Iwa-chan, you have!" Tooru threw the second ball up, and slammed it into the exact same spot as the one before. Rubbing his hands on his shorts, he shot Hajime his best seductive look. "Tell me?"
Hajime had flushed, a deep, dark pink, and scowled. "Hell no," he'd said. "It doesn't matter, anyway."
"It does so!" Tooru had picked up another ball. One more, he'd thought, right to that same spot. "It's my solemn duty as your best friend to know about your love life"
"Solemn my ass." Hajime had closed his eyes, then, right as Tooru tossed the ball up to serve, muscles in his thighs bunching in anticipation of the jump. "I... it wasn't worth talking about. Me liking someone. It still isn't."
Tooru served, and it was another perfect one. His breath came out of him in a whoosh as he settled back on his heels, satisfied. It was sharper and stronger, and if he'd served to Karasuno, just then, they wouldn't have been able to return it.
He'd grinned at Hajime, walking over to his hunched form and throwing an arm across his shoulders, getting up into Hajime's personal space. "Despite your absolutely incorrigible temper and average face, Iwa-chan, I'm sure it wasn't completely hopeless! I could have--" He'd stopped, mid-sentence, suddenly registering the look in Hajime's eyes as well as the proximity of their faces. Hajime'd smelled of sweat and deodorant, and his eyebrows were bunched together in the way that Tooru secretly always wanted to soothe by stroking his thumb along the wrinkled skin between them.
Hajime had ducked out from under Tooru's arm. "You’ve been serving well," he said, hoarsely, and Tooru's mouth had felt dry as he watched Hajime cross the court in long strides, heading to pick up the volleyballs.
"Sir," he says, scrambling down from Sasada's desk as Sasada snickers behind her hand, quickly pulling up a diligent expression when Tooru pouts at her.
"Oikawa," the department head says, adjusting his own tie as though trying to emphasize how underdressed Tooru is at the moment, "I've been wanting to congratulate you on your presentation two weeks ago."
"Thank you," Tooru says, bowing slightly. His shirt sticks to his back. It's not even hot outside, but the wind of the building where their offices are is poorly designed: an arctic tundra in the winter, and then, at the first shift of the season, an unbearable fall into the actual sun.
The department head coughs. "I'm sure you've heard that Miguchi is planning on retiring at the end of the year."
Surprised at the change in topic, Tooru shakes his head in the negative. Miguchi had been his thesis advisor, and then his dissertation advisor a few years later. Tooru's pretty sure she's approaching her hundred-year birthday soon, but she's still as sprightly as ever, chastising him and Sasada every time they sneak into the staff room for coffee about liver damage and caffeine as a life-shortening drug. "I sort of thought she'd be teaching forever," he replies, with a smile to soften his words. "Haunting the biology building as a ghost and making herself solid every Tuesday and Thursday for the intro students."
Laughing ruefully, Tooru's boss shakes his head. "I think we all did," he says. "Still, with Miguchi retiring, we're going to need to promote someone to lecturer in the fall, and with your performance at the conference, as well as your glowing reviews from your students, you're on the shortlist. Are you interested, or have you picked somewhere else to go after your fellowship ends this summer?"
"I haven't," Tooru says. "Of course I'm interested, sir." He grins crookedly. "Thank you."
"Oh, it's my pleasure," says the department head, turning to go now that his business is concluded. "I'll keep you updated on the process."
When he's gone, Sasada whistles low. "You bastard," she says, and Tooru's easygoing expression transforms into a teasing smirk.
"It's tough, being both intelligent and charismatic," he says, returning to his seat on Sasada's desk, squashing some of her papers. "Just think, I bear this burden for the both of us."
She groans, dropping her head down to the metal table. "Just thinking about next year is giving me hives, and you've already got a tentative offer?"
"I wasn't expecting it," Tooru says. "I've been mostly thinking about my research, lately." And his failed relationship, but he hasn't told Sasada about that yet, putting it off until he can't anymore.
Tooru doesn't think there's really some socially acceptable way to talk about one's failed relationships when you're straddling the line between co-worker and friend like he and Sasada do, and anyway, Tooru likes the way Sasada looks at him like he's great, sometimes, with that same sheen of admiration he used to get as the lynchpin of Seijou's volleyball team, and at those first few F.C. Tokyo practices.
Ignoring the clench in his gut, Tooru picks up his laptop from beside himself and resettles it on his lap as Sasada pokes mournfully at her empty glass of water. "To my complete dismay, you mostly thinking about your research has just paid off stupendously."
Pleased, Tooru wags his finger in her face. "Don't be jealous, Sasada-chan~" He winks. "I know I get to study aliens every day and am also beloved by my students, but that doesn't mean you aren't special too!"
"Get off my desk," she says, smiling up at him. "Some of us have better things to do than listen to you gloat."
"You mean one of us. Since there's just the two of us in here right now, and I'm perfectly happy to listen to myself gloat--"
"As usual," says a voice from the doorway, and Tooru looks up to see Hajime standing in the doorway. His hands are buried deep in the pockets of his jeans, and he’s wearing an old, faded white sweatshirt from the last Olympic Games, the blue and green rings washed out far more than the others, like Hajime had messed up with the bleach. His hair is definitely getting shaggy, but Tooru kind of likes the way it looks pushed back from Hajime’s face like that, waving slightly and still damp from a shower. "Gloating’s like your second favorite thing to do, Oikawa."
"What’s my first favorite, then?" Tooru asks, barely masking his surprise at seeing Hajime standing there in the doorway of his office. "If we’re making a list."
"Doing things worth gloating about," is Hajime’s reply, as he takes a step into the office, his eyes flitting from Tooru to the unorganized piles of stuff covering every available surface in the room, and to the wasteland of disposable paper coffee cups that overflow the wastebin next to his desk. "I’m not sure why I thought your office would be any neater than your bedroom." He shrugs.
"This isn’t my office," Tooru says, sliding down from the desk in a much more leisurely fashion than he'd done for the department head. He catalogues the look of Hajime amongst all of his work things, all bright lines in the dusty and beiged out space. "This is our office." He points at Sasada. "At least half of this is mess is hers."
"One-fifth," Sasada corrects, and then points to the sloppy, trembling pile of essays. "See? Those are yours, even if they're sitting on my desk."
"He's always been like this," Hajime says, smiling at Sasada. "I've known this guy longer than most, and I made the mistake of living with him."
"You're Iwaizumi, right?" Sasada says, finally recognizing him. "You mean Oikawa really is friends with you?" She laughs. "I thought he was exaggerating--"
Tooru lightly slaps her arm with the back of his hand. "Sasada-chan! How could you!"
She shrugs. "Well," she says, unrepentant, "now I know you were telling the truth!" She turns her attention to Hajime, then, her expression shifting into curiosity. "Oikawa didn't mention you were coming."
"I didn't call ahead," Hajime admits, moving toward Tooru's desk to pick up the two newest empty cups. He stacks them, as well as the ones that have fallen out of his small desk-side bin and onto the floor, and balances them neatly atop the rest of the garbage. Then he glances up at Tooru, almost sheepish. "I thought you might be here, though, since it's so early, and Hanamaki mentioned that you often stay too late at work."
"It's only too late if you're not being productive," Tooru replies. "How did you find my office?"
"I just kept asking until someone gave me good directions." His eyebrows push together as he scowls. "I should have known the best way to find you would be to ask the giggling teenage girls."
Sasada chokes on her coffee, and Tooru beams. "Ahh, my charm really is undeniable," he says, tugging at the neck of his undershirt. Hajime's eyes drop to his hand, and Tooru, for a reason he can't fathom, flushes in response, something more than the heat burning up his neck and up into his cheeks.
Hajime rubs at the back of his neck, averting his gaze to a model of the inside of a woodland tick one of Tooru's students had made for a term project last year, and clears his throat. "You have plans for dinner tonight?"
Rocking back on his heels, Tooru presses one hand to his stomach to calm the sudden flutter of nerves. It's just Hajime, he reminds himself, wrinkling his nose and looking up at his friend through his eyelashes. "Iwa-chan, how could you leave asking a popular man like myself out for dinner to the last minute like this?" He bats his lashes a few times, for good measure, and Hajime pulls a face. "Besides, didn't we agree on lunch?"
"Is that a no?" Hajime asks, as he stretches out the left cuff of his sweatshirt with his right index finger, an idle motion he doesn't seem aware of. He's still looking in the direction of the model, but Tooru gets the impression that it's more to avoid looking at Tooru than any sort of fascination.
"I suppose I could spare a spot on my busy social calendar if it's you," Tooru replies, sighing heavily, and he enjoys Hajime's involuntary annoyed scowl as he hums in the back of his throat. "I hope you appreciate this sacrifice. I'm forever in demand, Iwa-chan, and I wouldn't do this for just anyone."
Snorting, Hajime finally looks at Tooru again, one eyebrow up as he offers Tooru a skeptical look. "Sure, Trashy--" he pauses, eyes flicking briefly to Sasada, and then continues with "--Oikawa, I'm honored."
The beats of this conversation are all familiar; Tooru knows them as well as he knows the rules of volleyball, or all the scars that decorate Hajime's side from when he fell out of a tree when he was nine.
"As you should be," Tooru says, lightly, turning away because he can feel the softness of his expression on his face, and he doesn't want anyone to see it. Closing his laptop, he crosses the room, passing in front of Hajime to dig his laptop case out from under the haphazard collection of lab reports that had been dropped off this morning by straggling students under too many deadlines. Some of them spill into his chair, and Hajime huffs out a tiny, fond laugh, and comes up behind him, to pick them up and catch them.
"You're such a slob," he says, his arm brushing the outside of Tooru's as he sets the lab reports back on the desk.
Tooru swallows. "It's charity, really. In my heart, I knew you would be heartbroken if you ever stopped by and had nothing to nag me about." He zips his laptop into the case, and slides it into his bag, aware of how warm and solid Hajime is behind him, since he'd barely stepped back after catching the papers. "So where are you taking me to dinner, Iwa-chan?"
Tooru turns his head to look at Hajime over his shoulder, and Hajime does step back, then, as though he'd been previously unaware of their proximity. His cheeks are ruddy, and he frowns slightly before he slips his hands back into his pockets. "Wherever you want," Hajime replies.
"You should make it something special," Sasada says, and Tooru flinches, having momentarily forgotten she was still sitting at her desk. "Since Oikawa might be getting hired into a position with a lot more job-security."
"Yeah?" Hajime's eyes widen, and then he smiles. "Always knew you'd be good at anything you wanted to be good at," he says, voice quiet and dark. Tooru runs his tongue over his teeth, and then picks up his bag, ignoring the clench of his gut at Hajime's words.
He casts one last glance around his office, and then, finding nothing to distract him, lets his gaze wander back to Hajime's face. "So treat me," he says, grinning big and wide and hoping it covers up the rush of emotions that must be visible in his eyes.
"Don't I always?" Hajime turns around and walks toward the door. "Nice to meet you, Sasada," he says, as he walks out into the hall.
"I'll try to have enough fun for the both of us," Tooru vows to her in the place of a goodbye, and she mock-glares at him, cracking her knuckles as she spins her chair back to face her computer.
Hajime is waiting for him in the hall, looking around curiously like he's in a museum instead of a university, but when Tooru nudges him with an elbow, he scratches at his scalp and gives Tooru one of his tinier grins. "You look good here," he says, his hand falling down to his side as they start to walk toward the stairway, making their way to the exit. "In your office. In this place."
"I look good everywhere," Tooru replies, after an extended pause. "It's my natural good looks."
"I mean..." Hajime bumps him as they fit themselves side by side to descend the stairs, "I mean you look like you belong here."
"Why wouldn't I?" He turns himself sideways, stepping backwards down the stairs.
Hajime grabs the front of his shirt, knuckles digging into Tooru's chest. "You'll fall like that, you idiot."
"I have superior balance," Tooru replies haughtily, and Hajime doesn't let go, keeping Tooru from getting more than two steps ahead as he looks up at Hajime from his lower position. "Answer my question, Iwa-chan!"
"You look happy here," Hajime says. It's loud, and echoes in the empty stairway. "That's all. I just noticed that this place suits you, and you look happy, and I'm glad that... you found something you like, after all."
They reach the bottom of the stairs, and Hajime lets go of his shirt, allowing Tooru to skip a couple more backward steps away, nearing the wide front doors. "Iwa-chan," Tooru says, when he thinks he'll be able to hear his own voice over the loud drumming of his heart, "you're really a huge softy, aren't you~?" He taps his lips with a finger, tilting his face at an angle so he can watch Hajime blush out of the corner of his eye. "You have a few charms, after all~"
"Shut the fuck up," Hajime says, and then he quickly stomps forward and pushes Tooru out the doors and into the cool afternoon.
They end up getting dinner at a streetside donburi shop, squeezing side by side into the last two seats available, in between a bickering old couple and a high school girl hanging limp and exhausted over her bowl, moments from taking a nap in it.
"You're so cheap, Iwa-chan!" Tooru teases, as he peruses the menu fixed up on the wall with peeling masking tape. "I thought you were going to treat me to something special!"
"The donburi sauce is really good here," Hajime says. His thigh rubs along Tooru's as he leans forward to squint at the menu himself, pressing his lips together in a thin, grim line. "Besides, you love street food."
"Maybe I've changed," Tooru says, fishing his reading glasses out of the front pocket of his bag and unfolding the arms. He twists his back so that he can curve around Hajime, blocking Hajime's view of the menu with his face, and reaches up to push his glasses onto Hajime's face, his fingers pushing through soft, slightly damp hair and brushing the skin at Hajime's temples. Hajime shivers, and Tooru quickly pulls away. "Are you losing your twenty-twenty vision?" Hajime blinks at him owlishly from behind the glasses, the lenses magnifying them, and Tooru laughs. "You look so cute~"
"I absolutely do not," Hajime replies, but he doesn't take off the glasses, pushing them up at the bridge with his middle finger, his lashes catching on the glass. "I think the world has just decided to start using smaller print."
"No need to be ashamed," Tooru tells him, patting his hand and then fitting himself back into his own seat. "Even the best of us have to give in to the inevitable every once in a while."
"You've been wearing these since you were seventeen," says Hajime, but he's smiling, and his eyes don't narrow to make out the small kana on the menu.
They order the next time the server walks down to their side of the bar, and Tooru fills the time they wait for their food to come with stories about his students. Hajime doesn't talk about his team; he just listens and asks questions and curls in closer so he doesn't miss anything when a loud group of tourists walk by.
Tooru's all right with that, because there's never been anyone else in Tooru's life that listens to him the way Hajime does. Hajime treats Tooru's words like each one of them matters, even if he pretends to get exasperated or annoyed, or groans when Tooru starts talking about his favorite episode of Super Sentai again for the hundredth time. The difference between how Hajime listens and how everyone else listens isn't something Tooru can quantify, but he's always thought it had to do with how Hajime hears the words he says, but also all the words he can't say or won't say, too, and now, with Hajime's eyes on him and his arm pressed against Tooru's own, Tooru revels in having that attention again.
He's still not completely certain how he lost it.
When their bowls slide, piping hot, to their places in front of them, Tooru gapes at the smell of the donburi sauce, mirin and dashi broth mixing with several other things he can't quite identify. "This smells like magic," he announces, with certainty, and Hajime's thigh bumps his own.
"Told you so," Hajime says, as he pushes his big chunks of chicken out of the way to make room for Tooru's sliced carrots. "I've eaten here pretty often. It's... not far from the gym, and it's better to eat here than a restaurant with windows where I'm trapped inside."
Tooru picks them out carefully one by one and puts them in Hajime's bowl, pouting at them and then poking around at what's left in his bowl to make sure none of them have escaped his notice. "Why's that?" Tooru sneaks an arm up under Hajime's, stealing one of the long-stemmed mushrooms and giving Hajime a flirtatious grin. "Iwa-chan, why do you like eating outside? Do you get off on people watching you eat, these days?"
The drowsy schoolgirl next to them jolts awake, giving Tooru an incredulous look, and her eyes widen as she recognizes Hajime.
"Thanks for nothing, Shittykawa," Hajime says, with a growl, and Tooru laughs delightedly, taking another of Hajime's mushrooms.
"I'm just spicing up your image~!"
"My image is plenty spiced up," Hajime says, trapping Tooru's chopsticks with his own when Tooru ignores his own bowl again in favor of Hajime's mushrooms. "My agent's already worried about my getting involved in any dating scandals."
Tooru tugs his chopsticks free and sulkily eats his own prawns, dragging them through the rice and letting the sauce stick a few grains to the inside curve.
He'd seen a few of the rumors that follow Hajime around. His sister shows them to him sometimes, asking if they're true-- if Hajime really is dating that pop star, or if he actually did go to watch that women's volleyball team play because he was seeing the libero. Tooru had always brushed her off, not wanting to tell her he didn't know. "Have you become a ladies' man since you brought home a gold medal?" Tooru's hair is sticking to his forehead with the steam from the grill on the other side of the bar, and he blows up to get his bangs out of his eyes.
"I haven’t dated anyone since I joined the team," Hajime says, before shoving a giant bite of breaded chicken into his mouth. He's staring at his food, and his thigh pulls away. It leaves Tooru's feeling a little cold.
Tooru hums, resting his elbows on the table as he takes in Hajime's profile. He's grown into the slope of his nose and the breadth of his forehead, and on an adult man, the strong jaw that had made him look awkward in adolescence is handsome. "You should live a little," Tooru says. "Get in a little trouble. Iwa-chan is definitely in the running for most-boring-super-athlete. Kuroo is a lot more interesting than you are!"
"Kuroo gets into enough trouble for the both of us." Hajime takes another bite of chicken.
"And the team hasn't fallen apart, yet, has it?" With the toe of his shoe, he taps Hajime's ankle. "You could afford to get caught going on a date."
"I think it would be a lot more trouble if I got caught dating than Kuroo," Hajime says, and then he finally looks up from his food to glare at Tooru as Tooru makes another play for Hajime's last mushroom. "Eat your own dinner, asshole!"
"But other people's food just tastes better," Tooru says, pouting. "Besides, I gave you my carrots." He taps Hajime's ankle again, and Hajime slides in closer to him again just to keep Tooru from kicking. "And why would it be more trouble? You think you’re a sex symbol now or something?"
"You gave them to me because you hate them and you always forget to ask them not to include them. I like mushrooms." He curves a hand protectively around his bowl. "And no, shithead, I don't think I'm a sex symbol, what the fuck?"
Tooru sighs melodramatically, and then digs a piece of greenery out of his bowl and eats it, following it up with a big bite of rice.
They finish their meals amidst pseudo-arguments about everything from the weather to Hajime's lack of a haircut, and Tooru forgets, for a time, that he's no longer sixteen, and that they aren't lingering too late after a team practice with homework waiting for them at home.
Hajime takes out his wallet to pay when their bowls are empty. There's a cluster of people waiting for their seats, and though Tooru is the first to just let people wait, Hajime feels human emotions like guilt, and stacks their bowls to make it easier on the man behind the bar to clear away their dishes to make room for the next customer.
"Congratulations on the job offer, I guess," Hajime says, as the man hands him his change.
"So cheap," Tooru says, wagging his finger as Hajime slips the bills into his wallet and then pockets the coins. "Aren't you a well-paid professional athlete?"
"If you don't appreciate it, you can pay me back," Hajime threatens, keeping pace with Tooru as they weave through the evening crowds of people, most of them walking in the direction that they've come from.
"Ah~, Iwa-chan, it's so nice that you bought me dinner," Tooru singsongs, and Hajime blatantly ignores him, walking away from the booth without him in the direction of the subway. "Hey! Wait for me!"
Tooru expects to part ways with Hajime here, but to his surprise, Hajime accompanies him onto the subway. "You still live in Koto. That's in the other direction."
"I've got time to kill."
Instead of digging further, Tooru just teases Hajime about not having a social life, and Hajime tries his best not to laugh as Tooru does impersonations of some of their teachers from high school who'd been about the age he and Hajime are now, who hadn't had social lives either.
"You'll turn into Tanaka-sensei," Tooru says, as they walk out of the subway and in the direction of Tooru's apartment building. "You'll start losing your hair and talking about the Home Shopping Network. Iwa-chan, you can't let that happen to you!"
"Is the Home Shopping Network actually worse than those horrifying murder documentaries you watch about using bugs to identify the age and cause of death of decomposing bodies?" Hajime follows Tooru down a side-street that Tooru'd been too drunk to show him the last time Hajime had walked him home. "You watch those while you eat, and honestly, I don't think you have room to talk about Tanaka-sensei."
"Those documentaries are relevant to my career," Tooru informs him, pulling out his keys and letting them in.
"You keep telling yourself that," Hajime mutters, calling the elevator.
As the elevator climbs to Tooru's floor, Tooru invades Hajime's personal space, laying his head on Hajime's shoulder and waiting for Hajime to realize it's too much, and finally pull away. But Hajime just snags a finger in Tooru's belt-loop briefly and tugs in acknowledgement, then uses it to drag Tooru all the way to his door.
"Come in for coffee?" Tooru leans into Hajime as Hajime rests against the wall next to the door. His sweatshirt sleeves ride up his forearms, revealing tanned skin.
"I've got to go, Shittykawa," he says, gently, shoving Tooru lightly off him but not away with the hand at his hip. "But... I'll see you again soon."
"I don't believe you," Tooru says, peering at Hajime carefully through narrowed eyes. "So prove it to me."
"Demanding," Hajime says, leaving Tooru in front of his door and turning to leave. He waves over his shoulder without looking behind him, and Tooru thinks, as Hajime stands in front of the closed elevator, waiting for it to return to Tooru's floor, that Hajime hadn't said he wouldn't.
They'd been standing in the kitchen, Tooru pulling more beers out of the fridge as Hajime washed a few of the dishes left from dinner. Hanamaki and Matsukawa were teasing Yachi in their living room, and a few of Tooru's other exam prep class friends were playing a drinking game with cards that Tooru was so terrible at that they'd started taking pity on him and only making him drink for every other loss.
Tooru had been tipsy, wobbling a little on his feet, and Hajime had looked so sober, staring into the sink instead of meeting Tooru's eyes.
"Why would you want to do that?" Tooru had asked, setting the beers on the counter and then leaning against it for balance. "Stay here with me."
"I think you should move, too. You’re always whining about the commute, and it'll be worse when you have to head all the way to Tokyo's campus."
"You’re always telling me to suck it up because it’s not actually that bad!"
Hajime'd sighed, setting the clean plate in his hands onto the drainer, then turned his body towards Tooru, at least, even if he still wouldn't look at Tooru. "I just don't think this is good for us. We have different schedules, now, and it's been harder to--"
"This is because I don't play volleyball now?!" Tooru had pointed at him. "You don't get to leave me because I don't play volleyball, Iwa-chan!"
"That's not what I'm saying," Hajime had snapped. "I'm saying you stay up all night watching disaster movies and I have six AM practice, and I thought it might be nice--"
Tooru had stomped forward, pushing himself up into Hajime's face. "You don't get to be tired of me!" He'd curled both his hands into Hajime's T-shirt, holding onto him. "I've always stayed up all night, Iwa-chan, even when I was on the team!"
"I know," Hajime had said, deflating, "but that's not the only reason."
"Why else wouldn't you want to live with me?" Tooru had searched the lines of Hajime's face, looking for answers and only finding faint lines of sadness.
"We're getting older," Hajime had said, then. "Old enough that we don't need to be in each other's pockets anymore, Oikawa. Old enough that we should start thinking about the rest of our lives, you know? You're not going to want to live with me forever. You're going to want to get married, and all that, right?"
"Iwa-chan," Tooru had said, bumping his forehead against Hajime's, "are you getting married?"
"No, dumbass," Hajime had said, bumping Tooru's forehead right back. "I'm just saying that it's time for us to live our own lives, at least a little. Do you really want to bring a girl back to your place and have me sitting on the couch waiting for you when you open the door again?"
And Tooru had smiled, the tip of his nose brushing Hajime's. "I wouldn't mind that happening the other way around. Just imagine how delighted a girl would be if she went home with you and opened the door to find me."
"Asshole," Hajime had said, and he'd sounded... lost, and it had reminded Tooru of himself, back when he hadn't known what to write on his future plans sheet for his homeroom teacher in high school.
"I know we can't live together forever." Tooru had let go of Hajime's shirt, and grabbed the case of beer. "But Iwa-chan, you know you'd be miserable without me." The thought of coming home and not seeing four or five pairs of Hajime's shoes in the genkan, all neatly lined up underneath Tooru's disorganized ones, made Tooru's chest ache fiercely.
He’d loved that neighborhood, with its narrow streets filled with unchained bikes and wide, squat trees, and white houses and tan apartment buildings. He’d loved the cafes and and tofu shops and tiny art stalls that lined the path up toward the Koto Exhibition center, and the wind coming up from Tokyo Bay as he walked to the train station every morning to make his way to class.
He didn’t want to leave it, or come home to an empty apartment.
"You’d miss me too much," Tooru’d said. "I bring light and joy to your dim life."
"Do you?" Hajime had asked, but then Matsukawa had yelled from the living room, asking if Tooru had gotten stuck in the refrigerator and if someone should call for an ambulance, and Hajime had shooed him out, ending the conversation, though it had lingered in the back of Tooru's mind for the rest of the night.
It seems easier to let it in, sometimes; Tooru has a collection of magazines he's never read that he bought on the way home from work, just because there'd been a blurb in them about F.C. Tokyo or Hajime. He keeps them in an old moving box from when he'd left the apartment in Koto, with KITCHEN written on the side in thick black sharpie, so that he doesn't have to look at them all the time.
After Hajime leaves him at his door, though, Tooru goes into his messy bedroom, shoving aside jackets he should probably hang and shirts he needs to send to the dry cleaners, dragging the box out from under his bed.
He pulls out a stack of magazines, some his sister had tried to show him articles from, and pages through them, drinking in the sort of stories that Hajime hadn't told him over dinner, about the team and about World's and about the Olympic Games.
Tooru knows Hajime hadn't talked about volleyball because it's something they never really talked about after Tooru quit the development team. Tooru secretly thinks maybe that had been the final break between them; he’d told Hajime to keep playing even as he blocked that part of his life off with a wall of bricks and mortar higher than both their heads, too heavy for either of them to knock down.
It's still too heavy, now, because Tooru isn't a Hercules beetle, capable of great feats of strength. But Tooru is also stubborn, and there's more than one way through a wall. As he pages through the magazine, he imagines himself as something more like a Gypsum moth, capable of slowly making his way through the thickest sheetrock, eventually coming out on the other side of it.
He doesn't want to stay on the opposite side of a wall from Hajime, who had spent a lifetime close enough for Tooru to touch.
He pulls out his phone, and considers calling Hanamaki, but instead finds himself selecting Yachi's name from the list. The phone rings four times before she answers, her voice cheerful even as the click of keys in the background tells him she's still at work.
"It's me," Tooru says, knowing Yachi won't hang up on him for opening a conversation like that. "I was wondering if you'd like to go with me to see a volleyball match."
"Oh!" Yachi's scrunched up face of confusion is audible, and Tooru laughs even as he crumples the magazine he's holding with a grip that's too tight. "Why... me?"
"You like volleyball!" Tooru forces himself to set the magazine down so as not to give himself a paper cut. "And watching volleyball with me is a privilege not everyone is offered, especially not people from Karasuno."
"I just thought... Well, Hanamaki-san and Matsukawa-san both live in Tokyo as well, and they played on your team, so..."
"Ah," Tooru says, closing his eyes. He licks at his lips, considering, and then says: "Those two will make me explain myself, and I don't want to do that yet. With you, though, I can just... try it out."
Yachi makes an adorable humming sound of understanding. "You're not sure you'll be able to watch the whole match, and you know I won't tease you?"
"You make me sound like I'm afraid of being teased, Yachi-chan! It's tactics! Tactics."
More keyboard keys clacking in the background. "Is there a particular game you want to go to? It's not too busy at work right now, since we just finished a project. I could have this weekend free."
"I..." Tooru puts his phone on speaker, and pulls up upcoming games. "Well, I was thinking an F.C. Tokyo match, but..." He laughs, looking at how few seats are available, "they're not the worst team in the league anymore, huh?"
Yachi's silent on the other end of the line for a bit, and then she coughs. "I could get tickets," she says. "I mean, Hinata has season tickets, and he's not in town this weekend, so I could ask him."
"The shrimp?" Tooru rubs a hand on his chest. "That little guy still keeps up with Tobio-chan, huh?" He closes his eyes. "It's funny that Shrimpy not making a team didn't ruin their friendship."
"It didn't," Yachi says, and then, she adds cautiously, "it didn't ruin yours, either, did it?"
"I don't know," Tooru admits.
"Are you doing okay?" Her keyboard is quiet. "I mean, the last time I saw you, you were..."
"I was just still in shock," Tooru says, looking up at the ceiling, where he hasn't pasted a single poster or star sticker, because he'd thought getting married must mean having an adult bedroom, "that someone would willingly let a great guy like me slip through their fingers."
"R-right," says Yachi, because she is sweet and kind and lovely and not mean like Hanamaki. "I'll get the tickets, then?"
"Very good," Tooru says, eyes falling back to the messy pile of magazines. "See you Saturday, then."
She texts him right as he's crawling into bed with his laptop, preparing to rewatch as much as he can of the entire twelve hour run of The Universe with Japanese subs until he can't stay awake anymore.
Got the tickets! the text reads, with cute emojis of a volleyball and a smiley face.
Tooru plans to respond, but as he does, another new text notification appears at the top of his screen, from Hajime.
There are no words, just a picture: It's Tooru, eating the last of his dinner, rice stuck to the corners of his lips and eyes closed in bliss. It's embarrassing, and Tooru hadn't even realized Hajime had taken a photo at all.
Iwa-chan! Is this blackmail?! Tooru types in reply. Don't think this gets you out of hanging out with me again!
Hajime's answer comes back quickly. Whatever, it says, and Tooru pulls the picture back up, staring at it for a long time, wondering why Hajime had bothered taking it at all.
"Whatever," Tooru says, throwing his phone down by his feet on the bed, and rolling over onto his side to face his laptop.
"I'm not anxious," Tooru had replied, following Hajime's actions briefly before returning his attention to the television screen. "Why would you even think that?!"
Hajime kicked a box out of the way to set down the takeout. They'd barely unpacked, having moved into this apartment less than two weeks ago, and all their kitchen supplies were still stacked up in cardboard in the hall by the door, so they'd been living off nothing but what could be carried out.
"Because whenever you're worried about something, or nervous, or afraid, I inevitably find you learning about the cycles of a star's life in English again," said Hajime, sitting down next to Tooru, warm and sticky from the summer heat outside. "Even though you can't speak a word of English."
"I know at least twenty words in English," Tooru told him, dropping his feet to the floor.
"It doesn't count if they're volleyball plays or positions."
Tooru narrowed his eyes as Hajime looked back at him, amused. "I don't always watch this when I'm anxious."
"That's true. If you're nervous about a game, you're up watching tapes of the team you'll be playing, over and over again, on repeat." Hajime slid an arm along the back of the sofa, not touching Tooru's back, but Tooru could feel it anyway.
"Stop pretending you find me predictable!" Tooru leaned back against Hajime's arm, his neck resting against the swell of Hajime's bicep.
"I don't have to pretend. I just know you too well. It's kind of annoying, actually, because it means I know you're worried about something right now." Hajime jostled Tooru slightly. "So what is it?"
"Tomorrow's our first practice." Tooru pulled at a loose thread along the hem of his Tokyo Disneyland shirt. It had been new, but he'd already started taking it apart, collar stretched out from him chewing on it in his sleep. "I wouldn't want to make a bad impression, is all."
"F.C. Tokyo's been at the bottom of the league since 2009," Hajime said, leaning in and resting his head against Tooru's. His lips brushed Tooru's hair, and his breath was hot on Tooru's scalp. "They've been dying to get someone like you in development."
"Careful there, Iwa-chan! It sounds like you're praising me!"
"I'm not," Hajime denied, but his hand had left its position on the couch cushion and curled around Tooru's arm. "I don't need to. I just needed to remind your ego that it exists." He pressed his nose into Tooru's hair, and Tooru had inhaled, smelling fresh deodorant and summer. "You're so vain it barely takes any effort."
"Self-confidence isn't vanity," Tooru said, and then he sat up straight. "I am very good at volleyball!"
"Yeah," Hajime said bluntly, "so what's the use in worrying? Aren't you the former captain of one of the best high school teams in Miyagi?"
Leaning forward to grab his takeout off the table, Tooru shot Hajime a sly look. "Now it definitely sounds you're praising me!"
"Can we watch something else?" Hajime said, looking away as pink rose up into his cheeks. "I can only watch a black hole spin in place so many times, Shittykawa."
"Sure we can," Tooru'd said, sweetly, because it had been a little after seven, and Ultraman would have just started.
Tooru's antsy after they locate their seats, unable to sit still as they wait for the game. His eyes keep straying toward the bench, where the players stand huddled around the coach, talking strategy. They're close enough that Tooru can read the names in white on the backs of the jerseys without his reading glasses.
"There's Kageyama!" Yachi says, pointing to a man with a utilitarian haircut drinking milk from a box on the edge of the huddle, and if Tooru squints, he can see the boy he used to know in the man, sort of, especially since he seems as anti-social as usual and he's definitely scowling.
Tooru starts to laugh, but then his eyes catch on a pair of familiar broad shoulders as one player breaks off from the group to go stand with Kageyama, and it's Hajime, his own hair pushed back from his face with a thick, nondescript headband and a small smile on his face. He claps Kageyama on the shoulder, and Kageyama's frown fades a little.
They look like teammates, Tooru thinks, licking a bit of pastry from the corner of his mouth.
And Tooru suddenly recalls why he has avoided this for so long; it had never completely been about the volleyball, really; it had been about twenty years of being on the same team, and then having to face a future where they were pulled apart. And that, more than volleyball slipping through Tooru's fingers, more than having to figure out what to do with the rest of his life, had scared Tooru so much he hadn't wanted to think about it at all.
Blinking, he turns to look at Yachi, who is holding out another pastry to him, a soft look in her eyes. "Oh," he says, "thanks."
"Iwaizumi-san looks different," Yachi says, "than he looked in high school."
"Yes," Tooru says, but when he takes that idea and turns it around, gazing at it from all angles, he comes to a realization. "He's not, though. Different. He's still..." He takes the pastry, dropping his gaze back to the players spreading across the court. Hajime takes his spot at the front right, where Tooru used to love sending tosses at the beginning of the game. "He's still Iwa-chan."
"That’s good," Yachi says, taking a bite of something buttery and filled with sugary blueberry filling, waiting for the whistle.
The first set is brutal. Kageyama’s serves have the other team squarely on the defensive, and F.C. Tokyo gets nine points before the other team manages a single solid return. Even when Toray finally has their first serves, the strong front line blocks ruthlessly, and Tooru doesn’t think Hajime used to jump that high, to spike, but he does now, taking the balls Kageyama feeds him, those pinpoint tosses that made him famous as a third year in high school, and slamming them down right between the reaching hands of Toray’s blockers.
As Tooru’s eyes flit between players, he can almost feel the sting of the ball on the palm of his hands, remembering the weight of it, and the ache of his thighs, and the slow trickle of sweat down the back of his neck.
"Do you still miss playing?" Yachi asks, quietly, at the close of the set, F.C. Tokyo having taken it by a landslide.
"Occasionally," Tooru says, pressing the tip of his tongue against his palate and folding his hands together casually in his lap. The crowds shout and scream team chants as the players swarm back out onto the court, returning to their positions for the second set. Tooru used to hear cheering crowds and the squeak of volleyballs hitting the court in his dreams. Now, though, when he closes his eyes to sleep, he only hears the resonant chirp of countless summer cicadas. He’s surprised to realize that what he misses most isn't the adulation, or even the texture of the ball in his hand; instead, it's the sound of Hajime, his rich low voice cutting through all of the noise, to ask Tooru for one more toss. "Volleyball misses me more than I miss it, of course."
Yachi laughs, like he’d intended her to, and Tooru lets himself enjoy the game, even if his gaze lands on Hajime time and time again, even when Hajime doesn’t have possession of the ball.
When it ends, F.C. Tokyo taking the match three sets to one, a sloppy fourth set performance by their libero costing them a perfect victory, Tooru stands, brushing the crumbs off his black sweatshirt, and prepares to leave in the rush of the crowd. Yachi, though, grabs ahold of his sleeve, and tugs him back down. "If we wait," she says, "we can go say hi to them. I usually say hello, when I come." She blinks up at him, and then flicks her gaze back to the court. Tooru follows her gaze, to find she’s looking at Hajime, who is toweling his hair dry, leaving it sweaty and in complete disarray, dark strands sticking to his cheeks and forehead and neck. Tooru gulps. "Unless you really didn’t want to?"
"No, that’s…" Tooru runs a hand through his own hair, fingers tangling slightly in the curl, and then slumps back into his seat. "That’s fine. I’ve got a few things to tell Tobio-chan about his truly appalling awareness of his tallest spiker, I suppose."
Giggling, Yachi’s shoulders relax in relief. "You made it through the game, Oikawa." She bites her lip, her eyes sparkling with what, if Tooru didn’t know better, he’d think was mischief. "I guess there wouldn’t have been anything for Hanamaki and Matsukawa to tease you about, after all."
"I’m a terrible influence on you," Tooru says. "I am full of regret about it. I should never have adopted you at that fundraiser."
Yachi gives him a secretive smile. "I’m the manager," she says. "I think I adopted you."
Tooru makes an affronted gasp. "That’s no way to think of an upperclassman, Yachi-chan~!"
She just giggles again, and then looks around them, gauging the thickness of the crowd. "Let’s make our way down toward the hall by the lockers."
She greets the security officer with a wave, and he seems to recognize her, letting her past after giving Tooru a once over. Tooru hasn’t been down these halls in around nine years, but aside from a fresh coat of peach paint, everything still looks the same, player signatures bunched together just above the waist-high white and blue stripe that leads out to the stadium seating and the main court.
"I think the security guys who work weekend games think Kageyama is my boyfriend," Yachi tells him, as she leans against the wall opposite the main locker room door for the home team.
"As if your taste would be so terrible," Tooru replies. "Maybe that’s why he was looking me up and down. Perhaps protecting Tobio-chan’s girl from a total upgrade?"
"An upgrade in bullshit levels," Hajime says, and Tooru’s head jerks around to see Hajime standing in the locker room doorway. His hair is still messy, flying in every direction, and up close, his skin is dewy with sweat, leaving a shine that trails down his neck to his bare chest. "You’re here."
"It’s so nice to see that you’re still capable of the cognitive recognition of existence after you took that ball to the face in the third set, Iwa-chan!" Tooru replies, not allowing his eyes to follow a bead of sweat that slides down between Hajime’s pectoral muscles toward the waist of his uniform shorts. "That puts you on par with the parasitic wasp!"
"I meant…" He shifts his weight, throwing the towel in his hand around his neck. "You’ve never come to a game."
Tooru waves a hand at him, ignoring the way his stomach knots up. "You’ve never asked," he replies, and Hajime starts to reply, but then Kageyama is peeking out around them, his ornery face breaking into a grimace Tooru suspects is the best he can do for a smile.
"Thought I saw you earlier," he says to Yachi, and then his face twitches when he sees Oikawa standing next to her. "It really was you," he says. He looks down at Hajime, who is a few centimeters shorter. "Told you."
Hajime frowns. "I just wasn’t expecting this guy to show up out of nowhere after nine years of being uninterested," he mutters, shaking his hair out of his eyes.
An arm comes around both his and Kageyama’s shoulders, and Kuroo pushes them both out of the doorway, fitting himself between them. "Well, well, well," he says, "if it isn’t Oikawa Tooru!" He winks at Yachi. "And of course, the adorable Hitoka-chan. Where’s the little guy?"
"He’s visiting his little sister at university," Yachi says, and Kageyama grunts in acknowledgement, shoving Kuroo’s arm off him without any hesitation.
Hajime doesn’t bother, letting it sit there, and Tooru wants to push his arm away, because…
Because Tooru is silly, possibly, and naturally Hajime’s made friends with his teammates. It’s not like time has stopped for either of them, really.
"What are you staring at?" Kuroo asks, leaning forward and resting more of his weight on Hajime as he examines Tooru’s face.
"You didn’t play today," Tooru replies, and Kuroo raises one eyebrow before pointing down at his leg.
"Sprained an ankle, no play for two weeks!" He gives Tooru a cat-like grin. "Sure that’s what you were staring for?" His thumb slides down Hajime’s bare arm, and Tooru doesn’t follow its movement back up, instead pulling out his phone and checking his messages.
"What else would I be staring at?" Tooru asks, looking back up and meeting Kuroo’s gaze head on.
"Ah, who knows?" Kuroo’s gaze is piercing, knowing, and Tooru has made an art of being inscrutable to most; he has no interest in letting someone who doesn’t even know him try to read into his actions.
He swallows, glancing again at his phone. "It’s getting late," Tooru says. "I should be heading back." He looks at Hajime. "Before I leave, though, Tobio-chan, your awareness of Mr. Super Tall who starts at middle blocker is shameful!" Kageyama glowers at him, but then narrows his eyes thoughtfully, and Tooru gives him his smuggest grin. "Isn’t it kind of me to help you out like this? Call me senpai."
"Your personality is just so bad," Hajime says, incredulously. "Do you practice being as obnoxious as possible in the mirror, Oikawa?"
"You played well, Iwa-chan~," Tooru offers generously, looking away from Kageyama, who has started mumbling to himself as Yachi starts quickly reassuring Kageyama about his performance like a good little manager. "You were almost worth coming to see!"
"Thanks, asshole," Hajime replies, but he’s grinning, and he steps forward, out of Kuroo’s half-hug, to clap a warm hand on the back of Tooru’s neck. "Glad you could make it, even if you’re a few years late."
"Fashionably late," Tooru replies, the pads of Hajime’s fingers brushing Tooru’s earlobe as he slides his hand away.
"You should come to a game when I get to play," says Kuroo. "I hear you’ve got good eyes."
"I might not have them anymore," Tooru replies. "I don’t deal much with volleyball these days, I’m afraid." He smiles thinly. "I’ll see you later, Iwa-chan, Iwa-chan’s teammate."
"You know my name," Kuroo complains, as Tooru turns around and starts to walk back up the hall. Yachi’s heels clack on the floor as she hurries after him.
Gazing over his shoulder, Tooru looks at Hajime one more time. He’s fully in the hallway now, tall and all muscle, a hand on each end of the towel around his neck and his eyes on Tooru. "And don’t think I won’t get revenge for that picture, Iwa-chan!"
Hajime’s laugh, surprised out of him, echoes in the hallway, and the sound of it rings in Tooru’s ears as the touch of Hajime’s palm on his neck lingers, tingling down his spine even when they walk out into the main entryway of the gym, where the air conditioner is on full blast.
"Did you have fun?" Yachi asks, as they pass the long line of people still waiting to use the restroom. "I know you weren’t sure that you would."
"It was… better than I expected." He laughs. "It’s odd, when you’ve built something up in your head, and in the end, it’s just… a tiny thing you shouldn’t have been so worried about." He sighs. "Iwa-chan didn’t even want to join the volleyball team, when we’d just started middle school. He thought it would take too much time, but when I said I was going to do it anyway, he signed up too. I asked him about it, and he said 'I might as well, since it’s all you’re going to talk about.'"
Yachi’s lips curve up. "You’ve known Iwaizumi your whole life, right?"
"One of my very first memories is of Iwa-chan," Tooru says, putting a hand in front of him and wiggling his fingers to activate the automatic door. "He’s feeding me a piece of strawberry and telling me to stop crying." He laughs. "I think, sometimes, that moment set the tone for the rest of our lives."
Yachi’s a quiet presence beside him, and Tooru keeps talking, just because the silence makes him uncomfortable.
"We picked F.C. Tokyo together. It was the only team that wanted us both. After…" He touches his thigh, right at the top of where his knee-brace reached. "After, it was like everything we had in common started to disappear, just like my plan for the future." He laughs, making himself smile. "I wonder if we stayed friends so long because we had volleyball together?"
"I don’t think so," Yachi tells him. "I think Iwaizumi is important to you. Whenever you talk about him, to tell me stories from high school or when you were little, you smile, even if there isn’t any volleyball involved."
"Well, we were best friends!" He forms a 'V' with his index and middle finger. "Of course it couldn’t be all volleyball."
She studies him, looking like she wants to say something else, but then she just shakes her bangs out of her eyes and digs into her bunny purse for her train card, as they approach the station entrance.
Right as they approach the turnstiles, though, she pauses, looking up at him seriously. "I think I know what Megumi meant, when she said you were comparing her to someone else," Yachi tells him, and Tooru’s breath catches in his throat. "And I think…" She hesitates again. "I think you did too."
"If I’d known, I wouldn’t have done it," Tooru says lightly, crossing through the turnstile and automatically turning toward the correct platform to take them back toward Yachi’s. He doesn’t look at her, worried that she’ll see something written on his face that he doesn’t want her to.
"All right," Yachi says, and then she takes two quick small steps to match his accidentally too-large one. "He was happy to see you. Iwaizumi, I mean."
"Well, honestly, Yachi-chan, who wouldn’t be?" Tooru says with a grin, but a horrible part of him, pushed down by guilt and a hundred other things, thinks losing Megumi to get Hajime back like this is a trade he would have made willingly, no matter how many times it was offered.
That same part of him acknowledges that’s what Yachi probably meant; that it’s probably why Megumi left him in the first place, but thinking about it is something Tooru doesn’t want to do, and so he pushes that thought down too, buries it, and follows Yachi down the stairs, the burn of Hajime’s hand at the curve of his neck lingering long after they’ve boarded the train and begun the half-an-hour trip back to Komagome, leaving Koto behind.
One bad twist, a misplaced foot, was all it had taken for Tooru to collapse.
"Shit," he’d heard Hajime swear, and then the team physician was there, dragging down the light brace he wore in the place of a regular kneepad and palpating lightly. It was swelling in front of Tooru’s eyes, just like it had in second year of high school, and Tooru tore his gaze away, to where Hajime had been squatting down beside him, a hand at the dip between Tooru’s shoulder blades as he tersely asked the physician if anything was torn.
"It shouldn’t have come out of nowhere," the physician had said, then, brow furrowed. "It should have been hurting, or something. Our bodies give us a clue, when things are going wrong."
"It always hurts," Tooru had replied. "I’ve just gotten used to it."
"Idiot," Hajime had said, his hand balling up a handful of Tooru’s shirt in the back, his knuckles digging into Tooru’s spine as the shirt pulled taut against his chest. "You should have said! You know you’re not superhuman, Shittykawa!"
Tooru had taken one look at the physician’s face— at the set of his jaw and the grim resignation in his eyes, and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, wishing he were outside so he could look at the stars. "I needed to practice. Not everyone makes it out of the development team, Iwa-chan." He’d curled his hands into fists, nails cutting into the pads of his palm.
Hajime had just buried his other hand in Tooru’s hair, his fingers catching in the sweaty tangles, and pulled Tooru’s face to rest in the curve of his shoulder. "Don’t look," he’d said, as the physician called to his assistant for ice and bandages. "You’re squeamish about real life injuries."
So Tooru had breathed in, deodorant and sweat, and he hadn’t looked.
Even when Tooru had been still engaged, he’d never made plans to see Megumi all the time, preferring to plan more careful and less frequent dates, so that he could show her the best sides of himself. Most of his evenings had been his own, occasionally given over to going out for drinks with Hanamaki, Matsukawa and sometimes Hajime, or heading over to his sister’s house for a dinner that didn’t come out of a convenience store bento or an instant noodle package.
Now, though, Tooru texts Hajime on the train home more nights than he doesn’t, meeting him out for meals or just inviting him around to Tooru’s too big, empty apartment. He often brings ingredients, and Tooru’s cabinets are slowly being stocked with them— giant containers of dried mushrooms and vinegars and panko bread crumbs, salt and pepper and bonito flakes. They’re filling up, just like Tooru’s nights, and Tooru looks forward, now, to leaving work on time, most days, because even when he’s tired and cranky with a zit along the line of his jaw, he knows he can invite Hajime by anyway, because Hajime’s seen him at his very worst already.
And by the end of April, Tooru can almost forget that there was a yawning chasm of years where there hadn’t been this constant connection; that he’d ever really spent that much time without Hajime as an anchor. It’s like he’s a bumble bee with dead-reckoning, who forgets everywhere he’s been but can always, always find his way home.
He thinks, one morning, as he washes his hair in the shower, that it’s probably because the sum of the years they’ve spent together is so much greater than the sum of those they spent drifting out of each other’s lives, barely held together by the thin thread of all their mutual friends and Tooru’s anxious, violent, stubbornness. Watching the shampoo swirl down the drain, he wonders if Hajime had spent these years with that thread wrapped around his fingers, too, not wanting to let Tooru go either.
"Stayed up too late last night," Tooru says, "even though I knew I would have a busy day today."
"Were you watching the science fiction channel, or some kind of gross natural world documentary?" Matsukawa asks, gesturing to their usual waitress to bring Tooru a glass of sparkling water.
"Neither," Tooru whines, resettling himself into a more comfortable slump in his chair. "Iwa-chan made me watch the news."
"Iwaizumi?" Matsukawa sets down his soda cup and blinks. "Iwaizumi was at your apartment?"
Tooru smiles lazily at Matsukawa, his eyes falling half-closed as he contemplates the sudden closing of Matuskawa’s expression. "Sure," Tooru says, negligently, like it isn’t something that would have been unheard of a couple of months ago. "He stops by a few times a week, bringing vegetables and telling me I’m going to die if I don’t eat them." He crosses his arms across his chest. "I’m the picture of health, so I don’t know what he’s talking about." He punctuates it with an even bigger yawn.
"A couple of times a week, huh?" Matsukawa is frowning in earnest now, swirling his soda around in his glass. "Really? That often?"
"There’s no need to be jealous, Mattsun!" Tooru wags a finger. "I can’t help it if my company is far more delightful than yours is~"
"That’s not it," Matsukawa replies. "I just… It feels like you and Iwaizumi were barely spending any time together, and now you’re attached at the hip again?"
"I guess he just missed me too much and he finally gave in to my overpowering charm!"
"Hah!" Matsukawa tilts his head, studying Tooru’s face carefully, and Tooru raises both of his brows at him, until Matsukawa sighs and shrugs. "I’m just impressed by Iwaizumi’s fortitude. I think I’d turn to arson if I had to spend that much time with you again." He follows it up with another laugh, but it rings false.
Tooru frowns, puzzled by Matsukawa’s reaction. He’d sort of thought he and Hanamaki would be pleased, that Hajime and Tooru had started falling back together, but Matsukawa doesn’t look pleased. If anything, he looks worried, and Tooru can’t understand it.
His frown deepens, but then he transforms it into a flirtatious grin when the waitress comes by with his drink, setting it in front of him with a flourish.
She blushes prettily, and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "Your usual for food?" she asks, and Tooru nods at her, staring up at her through his eyelashes until she blushes even harder. The pink fades, retreating down to her neck, when she turns to Matsukawa, who always orders something different.
"That poor girl," Matsukawa says, "you’re going to break her heart."
"All in a day’s work," Tooru replies, taking a long sip of his sparkling water through his straw. He flutters his lashes at Matsukawa, but the smile he gets in return for his efforts is lukewarm at best.
"Yeah," says Matsukawa, resting an elbow on the table and then cradling his face in his hand, "I guess you’re used to doing that."
The sharpness of it, from his most laid-back friend, slices at Tooru, but he just clicks his nails on the table and shows Matsukawa all of his teeth. "None of you really understand what it’s like to be this devastatingly attractive," he says. "It’s a blessing and a curse!"
Matsukawa finally laughs for real, cracking a grin. "You’re something else, Oikawa," he says, turning to look out the window. "I guess it’s nice that you and Iwaizumi are getting back to something resembling normal. Or at least as close as you two can get to it."
"Yeah," Tooru says, and his voice trembles a bit more than he means it to. Matsukawa catches it, and turns to look at him carefully. "It is."
Sighing, Matsukawa picks up a packet of sugar, and pours it into his soda, watching it fizz like it’s been shaken for a bit before lifting his gaze back to Tooru. "You must have missed him more than anything, huh?"
"I wouldn’t go that far," Tooru says, but they both know he doesn’t mean it.
"No," Tooru had replied, "this one’s for Iwa-chan. Naoko-chan will only receive beautiful pictures of me."
"Lucky Naoko," his sister had joked. "How long are you going to date her?"
"You make it sound like I start dating girls to break up with them!" Tooru had pouted up at her. "They always break up with me!"
"That’s because they know they don’t stand a chance. But you agree to date them anyway, so they give it a try. That’s what makes you a heartbreaker."
"They do so stand a chance!" Tooru had set his phone down on the table to give his sister his full attention. "One girl broke up with me because I was 'too into volleyball'," he added, making air quotes with his fingers, and then sighing.
"More like too into Hajime," she’d said, moving away from him and over toward the refrigerator, opening it to pull out one of Takeru’s juice boxes.
Tooru had frozen involuntarily, before he’d relaxed his muscles one by one, hiding his clenched hands inside the pocket of his Seijou jacket. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
His sister had set the juice on the counter before facing him again. "Any girl that takes away from your time with Hajime is going to get ignored," she’d said matter-of-factly, lips twitching in amusement. "You’re already someone’s boyfriend, so you should stop wasting those poor girls’ time."
Tooru had tried to take a breath, but it was hard to inhale. His lungs were still frozen, maybe, and his tongue felt like it might have been frozen, too. Finally, he’d forced it to wrap around words. "You haven’t said anything like that to Mom, right?" Tooru’d hated the icy layer of panic coating the insides of his ribs.
"Something like what?" His sister had given him a funny look. "I’m just teasing! I know you and Hajime are best friends." She picked up the juice box and started walking back toward the living room, where Takeru was putting together a one-hundred piece puzzle of Mickey Mouse on the floor. "Still, if you want to date a girl, you should like her at least as much as you like Hajime, or it’s not going to work out."
Tooru’s phone had buzzed on the table as she walked out of the kitchen, and Tooru picked it up to find a reply from his girlfriend. You’re so handsome! it read, and Tooru had smiled, ice retreating.
Then his phone had buzzed again, with a reply from Hajime. You look like one of the aliens from Mars Attacks, Hajime’s text read, and Tooru had laughed, taking another picture and using a morpher to make his eyes bug out.
If you want to date a girl, you should like her at least as much as you like Hajime, his sister’s voice had echoed in his head, and his smile had fallen, bile rising up in the back of his throat.
He meets Hajime at the cinema on a Friday afternoon, leaving work at four and walking to the theater, enjoying the moderate weather after a surprisingly chilly spring. He considers composing a long e-mail on his phone to his students about how if climate change is affecting humans, it’s definitely affecting insects, but he thinks better of it, deciding to wait until Monday when he goes back into the office, so he can reference certain sections of their reading packet by page number.
He almost rubs his hands together gleefully, but he’s distracted by Hajime waiting for him outside the theater, dressed in an old, tight, faded pair of jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and a warm-looking red F.C. Tokyo windbreaker.
"Yoo hoo, Iwa-chan!" Hajime looks up, and smiles, and Tooru’s mouth goes dry at how happy Hajime looks to see him. Licking his lips, Tooru quickens his step until he’s standing in front of Hajime. "So excited for Alien Destruction 2040 that you got here early?"
"I think you’re excited enough for the both of us." He laughs. "And no, I just took a cab. I thought there’d be more traffic on a Friday."
"This isn’t a big neighborhood at night," Tooru replies. "It’s easier to get good seats here, because of that, plus the theater’s really nice since it’s so new."
Hajime shrugs. "I’m sure you wouldn’t pick a sub-standard theater for your outer space disaster flick," he says. "Should we buy tickets, then?"
Tooru pulls a receipt out of his trousers, waving it in front of Hajime’s face. "Already bought them! You didn’t think I’d leave something like this to chance, did you, Iwa-chan?"
"Should’ve known," Hajime replies, with a voice of long-suffering, but he smiles a little, and follows Tooru inside, insisting on paying for the popcorn.
After the movie, they wander out of the theater, bickering playfully about the plot.
"What plot?" Hajime complains, licking butter off his fingers as they step into the theater lobby. "Aliens came to Earth, tried to take over the planet, and were ultimately repelled by a drunk Liam Neeson. That is not a plot."
"There were a lot of subplots!" Tooru elbows Hajime in the side. "Some of the aliens were peaceful by nature, and they only resorted to violence because humans attacked them first!" Tooru presses his hand to his chest, over his heart. "And there was that moving romance between the non-binary alien and that sweet girl with the abysmal haircut—"
"Her hair wasn’t that bad," Hajime retorts. "And of course the humans attacked, some aliens with a giant weaponized ship landed in Tokyo! We’ve lived through the Godzilla movie, do you think we trust anyone anymore?"
"Godzilla only wanted to protect the humans from other, evil aliens," Tooru says, slipping into lecture mode. "It’s like you never lived with me, Iwa-chan."
Laughing, Hajime wipes his hands on his jeans, and then pushes open the door, gesturing for Tooru to go ahead of him. "Godzilla still destroyed a huge number of buildings and killed thousands, Oikawa."
"What’s a few thousand lives between intergalactic buddies?" As soon as he steps outside, Tooru starts to shiver, clutching at his arms, rubbing up and down to generate friction. "Why is it so cold?"
"Why don’t you ever remember a coat, Shittykawa?" Hajime replies, unzipping his windbreaker and peeling it off. He drapes it over Tooru’s shoulders. "I should have learned in high school to start wearing two, but I always thought you’d learn your lesson."
The windbreaker is as warm as Tooru had thought it looked, earlier, and he pushes his arms into the sleeves. "This clashes with my outfit."
Hajime snorts, and then reaches over to zip it up, his index finger tickling the underside of Tooru’s chin when he reaches the top. "You can always give it back," Hajime says, with a crooked smile, his hand lingering on the zipper tab as Tooru presses his nose into the soft lining of the jacket.
"Smells like you," Tooru says, and Hajime swallows.
"You really do use the same deodorant," Tooru says, amused. "I thought…"
Hajime tilts his head. "You thought what?"
"I kind of thought I’d dreamed it, that night you walked me home drunk. After Megumi left me, I mean." Tooru grins, shoving his hands into the pockets of the windbreaker, finding only a package of gum. "Conjured it out of my memory or something."
"Why would you bother remembering how I smell?" Hajime asks. He’s staring at Tooru’s chest, and Tooru looks down to see his gaze is actually fixed on the F.C. Tokyo patch across the right breast. Tooru wonders if Hajime is imagining a world where Tooru might have had his own jacket. Studying the color against his hand, though, he thinks, secretly, that the orange-red color suits Hajime better than it suits him. "Is it because you’ve stolen my coat so often?"
"It’s not stealing if you give it to me," Tooru replies, and Hajime reaches out and pushes Tooru’s hair out of his face, his hand holding the bangs out of Tooru’s eyes. "Iwa-chan?"
Hajime bends forward, slightly, and drops a kiss to Tooru’s forehead, the briefest press of lips to brow. Pulling back, Hajime looks embarrassed, but he smiles anyway, his smile going crooked. "Thanks for buying the tickets, Oikawa."
"You bought the popcorn," Tooru says, faintly. "What was that for?"
"No reason," Hajime says. "I can’t walk you home tonight, sorry. Early practice tomorrow, and it’s a thirty minute trip back to Koto from here, and fifty from yours."
"What about your jacket?" Tooru looks down at it, and back up at Hajime.
"I’ll get it from you later." Hajime flags down a cab as Tooru watches, and when one pulls up and stops, he gives Tooru another little grin. "See you later, Oikawa."
"If I deign to return your calls, Iwa-chan. You’re awfully presumptuous."
"I have to get my jacket back, don’t I? It’s one of a kind." He climbs into the cab, and Tooru stuffs his hands up into the sleeves of the windbreaker and starts walking home.
After he gets home, he throws Hajime’s windbreaker over the back of a kitchen chair, letting it hang from the one Hajime always sits on when he comes over. He runs his hand along the fabric one last time, and then he goes to bed, and doesn’t think about Hajime’s hand in his hair, or his mouth touching the smooth skin between Tooru’s eyebrows, because he isn’t supposed to think anything of it, and he knows that.
Hajime had taken off his coat and thrown it over Tooru’s shoulders. "I’m wearing a sweatshirt and you’ve only got a thin T-shirt on," Hajime had mumbled, when Tooru had looked up at him in surprise. "Idiot."
"Aww, Iwa-chan is the best date!" Tooru had replied, thankfully slipping his arms into the sleeves.
Almost home, Tooru burrowed deeper into Hajime’s coat and laughed. "It was nice when we left the house!"
"It’s still spring. You know the weather is weird!"
"You’re weird!" Tooru cackled, and then reached out for Hajime’s hand, lacing their fingers together. "Let’s run home so Iwa-chan doesn’t turn into an Iwa-popsicle!"
Hajime rolled his eyes, but didn’t pull away, picking up the pace until the both of them had sped into a full out run, their hands swinging between them as they laughed their way down the narrow streets to their houses.
Tooru tried to give Hajime back his coat at the door, but Hajime had just shaken his head. "I’ll get it back tomorrow," he said, as they stood on the stretch of sidewalk between their two homes. "I know you’ll just start shivering if you take it off outside."
He let go of Tooru’s hand, then, taking a step back, and Tooru had been struck, suddenly, by how nice Hajime’s eyes looked in the light of the full spring moon. "Iwa-chan, aren’t you supposed to give me a kiss? We did just end a date, you know."
"This wasn’t a date, dumbass," Hajime’d replied, scowling and flushing, Tooru’s favorite combination. "You just recruited me because you got ditched at the last minute!"
"I still paid for the tickets! You owe me a kiss!" Hajime grew even redder, and even in the dark, Tooru could gleefully see his overwhelming embarrassment. "I know you don’t have much experience with dates… Oh wait, Iwa-chan, are you being shy again?!"
"Shut the hell up," Hajime had muttered, and then in two quick steps, he closed the distance between them, pressing his lips softly to Tooru’s forehead. "Happy now?" He’d whispered it against the skin, and Tooru’s heart had done an odd jump, almost up to rest in his throat.
"A little amateur, but it’ll do," Tooru replied breathlessly, and then he’d backed away, waving jauntily over his shoulder as he raced up the steps to his front door, taking them two at a time. "See you tomorrow, Iwa-chan!"
He pressed his back up against the door once he got inside, breathing deeply as he toed off his shoes. Then, when his heart stopped doing whatever weird thing it was doing, Tooru moved toward the living room, where his mother usually sat in the evenings, waiting for his father to get home from work.
She sat there, reading. "How did your date with… what was her name again, Tooru? Hanako? How did your date with Hanako go?"
"She dumped me," Tooru had told his mom, taking another deep whiff of the collar of Hajime’s coat. It smelled like him— of that fresh deodorant smell that clung to Hajime after practices that Tooru had associated with him for years. "But since I’d already bought the tickets, I just took Hajime. It was probably better, anyway, since Hajime’s not scared of anything and the show ended up being pretty scary!" Tooru’d come into the living room, still wearing the coat since the chill hadn’t quite left his bones yet. "And he gave me his coat on the way home!"
His mother had looked up from her book, and stared at him, starting at his face and letting her eyes drop down to take in the rest of him. Her gaze had lingered on the exposed skin of his wrists, where Hajime’s coat hadn’t been long enough for Tooru’s arms, and she’d frowned.
"Don’t you think it’s childish," his mother had asked, "for a boy your age to be wearing another boy’s coat? What did Hajime wear on the way home?"
"He said he wasn’t that cold," Tooru complained. "And who cares if I wear Hajime’s coat? It’s warm and it smells like him." He shrugged. "I just hugged him on the subway so he wouldn’t freeze, and we ran home." Tooru’s hand still felt warm, from the press of Hajime’s palm against his.
His mother had closed her book then, staring down at the cover. "You’re getting a bit old for that sort of thing, Tooru.”
"Running?" Tooru had curled his toes in his socks, trying to work out his mother’s expression.
"No," she said. "Hugging Hajime on the subway, and wearing his coat home when it’s obviously not yours." She’d looked at him out of the side of her eye. "Someone could get the wrong idea, and then where would we be?"
"The wrong…" Tooru widened his eyes, a sinking feeling in his gut. "The wrong idea?"
"Mrs. Honda’s son at the book store is like that," his mother had continued. "You don’t want people to think that about you, Tooru."
"Right," Tooru’d said, and the heady feeling of happiness that had been filling up his chest all evening popped like a balloon. He slipped out of Hajime’s coat, draping it over his arm. "I’m going to go take a bath and get ready for bed," he said, and his mother had nodded, relaxing back into her chair.
"Good night, Tooru."
He took a bath, rinsing the smell of Hajime off his skin, rubbing at the spot on his forehead with his washcloth for longer than necessary. Like that, his mother had said, and Tooru hated the knot in his stomach.
"Was the show that bad?" His sister was closing the door to Takeru’s room quietly, and she whispered, not wanting to wake him up.
"No, it was great."
"Then why do you look so miserable?"
"Before," Tooru said, rubbing at his damp hair, "you told me… you told me I was already someone’s boyfriend."
"I was just kidding," she said in reply. "I didn’t know you were going to angst about it. I’m not implying anything terrible about you, Tooru."
"It would be terrible?" Tooru looked away as his sister peered at him more closely in the dim hall. "I mean, Mom just told me… that I’m too old, to be friends with Hajime the way I am."
His sister just gave him a soft smile. "You and Hajime grew up together. Of course you’re closer than most friends. It doesn’t have to be anything, you know, weird, just because Mom’s making it weird. You know how she is."
"Yeah," Tooru said. "Right."
And then he’d gone to his room and gotten into bed, lying with his head under the covers and trying to forget how much he’d liked the feel of Hajime’s lips on his skin.
If you want to date a girl, you should like her at least as much as you like Hajime, echoed in his head for hours, and he didn’t manage to sleep until the sun came up the next morning.
It's an exhibition match between the Japanese National Team and Belgium, as part of the ramp up for World's, and watching Hajime play with this team-- with Ushiwaka, and Datekou's No-Eyebrows, and the owl-faced man who'd played for Fukurodani, and Kuroo Tetsurou, is an altogether different experience than watching F.C. Tokyo play an easy opponent. The energy is much higher, tonight, as Tooru sits with Hanamaki in a seat so close to the court it feels like he could reach out and touch fingers to the ball when it's sent spiked to the sideline.
After an eked out victory, Tooru and Hanamaki wait outside for Hajime to emerge from the large national stadium, drinking iced coffees from the vending machines, while kids, still amped up from the match, run around the large open concrete space burning off their extra energy from adrenaline.
Hanamaki sighs, crumpling the can in his hand. "Okay, Oikawa, I gotta admit, this is strange."
"You, here, at a match," Hanamaki says, holding up a finger. "You break up with your fiancée--"
"She broke up with me," Tooru corrects.
Hanamaki keeps the finger up, and adds a second one. "Then you somehow manage to convince Iwaizumi to spend all his time with you again--"
"I didn't convince him," Tooru interrupts again. "Convincing means making an active effort to--"
Hanamaki puts up a third finger. "And now you're showing interest in volleyball again, which everyone has been half-afraid to even mention in your presence for the past, like, nine to ten years." He tosses the can up in the air and catches it with a snatching motion. "Have you switched bodies with your nineteen-year-old self?"
"No," Tooru says. "Nineteen-year-old me was pretty great, but didn't know nearly as much about the gestational period of aphids."
"True," Hanamaki admits. "I'm just... confused about why everything is changing now."
"I think it started with Megumi. Because until then, everything seemed like it was going well. My research was going to plan, and my personal life was too." Shrugging, Tooru squints at the nearest recycle bin and takes aim with the can, sending it in a perfect arc right into the mouth of it. "Megumi sort of... made me realize that maybe there were some things that weren't right, exactly." He gestures to the stadium. "I think this was one of them."
"Iwaizumi, or watching matches?"
"I don't know," Tooru replies. "Maybe both." He wrinkles up his nose. "My mom thinks I'd be better off marrying Megumi next month instead of rediscovering a love of volleyball."
"We all know your mom has a lot of opinions about your personal life," Hanamaki replies. "It's like she needs to marry you off, which is weird. My mom doesn't seem like she's in a huge hurry."
That's probably, Tooru thinks, because Hanamaki's mom isn't afraid her son is like that, but he bites that back, and ends up just smiling. "She's always wanted one of her kids to have a wedding," he says. "I think she's just getting impatient because she's nearing sixty and her eldest doesn't even want to get married."
Tooru wishes he still had the can, just so he'd have something to do with his hands. He settles for adjusting the strap of his bag, wiggling the buckle around to free it from the groove it’s been in for weeks, and bring the bag up a little shorter.
"Your sister doesn't want to get married?"
"She says she already has one child to take care of, and she doesn't need another." Tooru turns to look at the doors of the stadium. The crowd has thinned considerably, the last few stragglers venturing out into the night air. "Can you believe Takeru is sixteen?"
"No," Hanamaki says. "I refuse to contemplate it, because I am not that old." He checks his watch. "Should we even wait?"
"Iwa-chan owes me dinner," Tooru says. "So I'm going to stay."
Hanamaki checks his watch again. "I’ve got some work I brought home from the office, so I'm going to head back to my place. Tell Iwaizumi I said congrats on the good match?"
"I might," Tooru replies. "Or I might tell him you were cheering for Belgium. It's a toss-up, really. Depends on my mood."
Hanamaki punches him lightly in the shoulder. "This is why people are mean to you, Oikawa. Because you're purposefully trying."
"So you admit that you're mean to me, Makki-chan?" Tooru grins. "I thought you said I was being melodramatic?"
"You usually are being melodramatic." Hanamaki quirks a brow. "You can be melodramatic and still a little bit right." He waves, leaving Tooru to wait by himself. Tooru takes a seat on one of the long benches near the door, crossing his legs to wait.
Hajime is alone when he comes out of the door, and he spots Tooru immediately.
"You stuck around," he says.
"Hanamaki told me to tell you that he hates you and that he's emigrating to Belgium," Tooru replies. "I hope you weren't too attached."
"He told you to say 'nice match', didn't he?"
"Maybe." Tooru smiles up at Hajime, who holds out a hand to help him up. "You'll never know, because he left and I stayed."
"History is written by the loiterers?" Hajime shifts the weight of his backpack on his shoulders, and Tooru reaches up and untwists the strap.
"That's not how that goes," Tooru says, "but I approve the sentiment."
"Of course you do. Are we getting something to eat?"
"Why do you think I waited?"
Hajime scratches at his neck. "How do you feel about udon?"
"I feel wonderful about udon." Tooru, without thinking about it, slips his fingers into the hair at Hajime's neck, knocking Hajime's hand out of the way. "You're going to have the same style as the girl from Alien Destruction 2040 soon, I hope you're aware."
Hajime swats at Tooru's hand. "It's not that long," he says, gruffly. "Or that mullet-y."
"Says you. But which one of us is charming, beautiful, and popular with both single and married women? Spoiler alert: It's me."
"Sometimes I don't know how I keep myself from punching you," Hajime says, but he's laughing, and shifting the weight of his bag, he starts walking across the vast concrete area, toward the sidewalk that leads down back into the city.
After their early dinner, Tooru convinces Hajime to go for a stroll with him. There's a nearby park Tooru used to like visiting, back when he was in cram school, prepping for his university exams. His knee had still hurt pretty often, back then, and the park had been the perfect place to get exercise with plenty of benches around in case he needed to stop and take a break.
It's prettiest, though, in Tooru's opinion, when the sun's about to set, and the faintest bit of gold and orange in the sky hints at a nice, clear sunset on its way.
"It was nice looking at the sidelines and seeing you there." Hajime says, out of nowhere, as he stretches his arms up over his head, the muscles in them flexing under the skin. "I never thought I'd see you at another volleyball game, after you decided to forget about it."
"I didn't want to forget about volleyball, exactly," Tooru says. "I wanted to forget that things were going to change. I wanted to pretend that I didn't have to rethink my life, and that we were going to be doing things separately for the first time."
"That's part of growing up, isn't it?" Hajime laughs. "Not that I feel grown up, even though we're nearing thirty."
"It wasn't scary to grow up if I had you," Tooru says then, eyes catching a wandering yellow butterfly that flits across their path and hovers in the bushes next to them. He stops, abruptly, and Hajime follows his lead, stepping off the path with him, even though they're alone in the park and not in anyone else's way. "Looking at that form in high school, all I could think was, I want to stay here, with Iwa-chan, and I knew I couldn't write that. When you said that if I wanted to play pro, you would come with me, I felt like I could breathe again."
"So when you re-injured your knee..."
"I was right back in high school, staring at that damn form. What do you want to do with your life?" Tooru narrows his eyes at the butterfly. It's a Hyomon, or a Brenthis daphne. Professor Miguchi has one from Nagano pinned to a canvas in a case on her wall.
"I never expected you to choose academia," Hajime admits. "You never really loved your classes in high school."
"High school classes were boring," Tooru admits. "Read, memorize, regurgitate for the test. Anything interesting chewed up into barely digestible mush."
He bends down to get a better view of the butterfly when it alights on the bush closest to Tooru.
"You found yourself in university, though," Hajime says. "Without me."
"Did you know that caterpillars remember everything?" Tooru asks, leaning down to get a closer look at the butterfly. "Or, butterflies remember what they learned as caterpillars. They build that cocoon around themselves, right? And then they completely turn to goo— the ecdysone hormone mixes with the juvenile hormone, and the caspases enzymes activate, causing the caterpillar’s body to start digesting itself for energy, until it’s disintegrated all its body tissues except for a few disks filled with about fifty cells’ worth of data."
"Do you save up horrible insect facts for when we’re together?" Hajime asks, but he tilts his head, obviously listening, knowing that Tooru probably has a point.
"After that, what’s left of the caterpillar builds a completely new body out of all that protein goo, and becomes a beautiful butterfly." Tooru sticks out a finger, slowly, hoping the butterfly will mistake him for a branch. "They remember all of it. Isn’t that amazing? If there was a smell they learned to associate with danger as a caterpillar, they associate it with danger as a butterfly." He looks up at Hajime. "They’re like people, in that. They grow and they change but they still remember the stuff they learned when they were young and incomplete. They remember safety and fear and all those things, despite completely remaking themselves."
"That is pretty amazing," Hajime says.
"I remade myself into a professor. From potential pro-athlete to academic, but I still remember everything we did together, as volleyball players." Tooru looks up. "I was a great setter."
The sun is setting, and the purple glow of dusk has fallen across the park. He’d taken Megumi here, once, and she'd loved the roses in the back. Tooru's never cared much one way or the other about flowers, that don't move or eat things or dig holes in the soil on Mars.
"You probably still are," Hajime says.
Their hands brush, Hajime’s bruised knuckles against Tooru’s, and Tooru hadn’t realized they were walking that close. He opens his mouth to ask Hajime if he wants something, now distracted from the butterfly and preparing to tease, but his words get stolen right out of his mouth when he feels Hajime’s hand curl around his.
It’s warm, and Tooru wonders if the only way he’ll ever feel warm is if he stays this close to Hajime, who has always fended off the cold for him.
"Just like when we were kids," Hajime says. "What I remember is that you were always wandering off. You couldn’t even cross the street by yourself. You never waited for the crossing man to turn blue, and I always kind of thought if I didn’t hold onto you you’d get yourself hit by a car."
Licking his lips, Tooru looks over at Hajime. He’s staring straight ahead, but his cheeks are pink, and Tooru notices the sharp, straight angle of Hajime’s eyelashes, and the squareness of his jaw. "No streets to cross right now," says Tooru, flippantly, even though his heart is hammering in his chest, his breaths coming quick as Hajime just keeps holding on to his hand.
"I’m still worried you’ll wander off," Hajime says, eyes flicking over to meet Tooru’s for the briefest second, before returning straight. "It’s not like your attention span is any longer than it used to be." His fingers shift, sliding in between Tooru’s, lacing their hands together palm to palm. "So maybe, even though I've remade myself into an adult who knows how to do things without you, I still remember to worry."
"You know," Tooru says, "My attention span isn't always short. I’ve been paying attention to you for almost thirty years." He thinks of all the magazine articles he’s saved even if he didn't read them, and all the memories he’s kept tucked away in the spaces closest to his heart. "Surely that counts for something?"
Hajime exhales, long and loud in the quiet evening. "Yeah," he says, letting their hands fall apart as they exit the park. "Me and aliens, Oikawa's Tooru's most constant interests."
"Don't forget aesthetics," Tooru replies. "Speaking of aesthetics, why don't you stop by my place tonight?"
"Why?" Hajime asks, the hand that had been holding Tooru's curled into a loose fist. "I've fed you and walked you. What more does pet care involve?"
"How dare you, Iwa-chan!" Tooru knocks into him, sending Hajime shuffling sideways at the hit. "And here I was, about to offer to fix your mullet out of the goodness of my heart!"
"It's not a mullet," Hajime says, lifting a hand to touch the strands. "You can cut it if you want, though."
They take the bus back to Tooru's house, and Hajime makes tea in the kitchen while Tooru sets things up in his bathroom to cut Hajime's hair.
When he goes back to the kitchen to get him, he stops in the living room and just looks into the kitchen, watching Hajime navigate his cabinets like he lives here, pulling out the tea Tooru likes best from the selection of five or six he's been given over the years. Hajime is wearing a pair of soft cotton trousers and a loose button down shirt, the top few buttons undone, and his sleeves are rolled up. There are creases in the shoulders of his shirt from where his backpack had hung, and a bruise on his neck from where a failed receive had glanced him. Tooru thinks he looks a little bit perfect, messy hair and all.
When he cuts Hajime's hair, Tooru thinks about the first time he'd done it, when they were seventeen and Hajime had just been too lazy to go and get an actual haircut. "If it bothers you so much," he'd told Tooru, "cut it yourself."
So Tooru had taken the scissors out of the first aid kit in his sister's bathroom, sat Hajime down in the center of his bedroom floor, and hacked it all off. It had been a little uneven, but Hajime hadn't seemed to care. "You'll get it next time," he'd said, as though it were a given that Tooru would be cutting it again.
Now, Hajime's hair is familiar between his fingers, coarse and thick as Tooru eyes the length, snipping off the chunks falling too long down Hajime's neck first before moving up to take some of the length out through the top.
He shakes out the loose cut bits when he's finished, and Hajime stands up to inspect it in the bathroom mirror. "You didn't make it short," he says, and Tooru meets Hajime's eyes in the mirror.
"No," Tooru says. "It looks nice, a little longer."
"Oh," Hajime says, licking his lips. "Okay."
Tooru sweeps up the hair, and when he emerges from the bathroom, he finds a fresh cup of tea on the edge of the counter and Hajime, curled up in the fetal position and half-asleep on his couch.
He takes a moment to just take in Hajime, his face lax in drowsy almost-slumber, here in this apartment that Tooru had bought for himself and Megumi, belonging more than Megumi ever really had. Maybe Hajime just belongs more with Tooru than Megumi ever had.
Tooru fits himself into the space left by Hajime, pressing his chest to Hajime's back and dropping an arm across Hajime's stomach to keep him from falling off the sofa. He feels warm everywhere they touch, and Hajime's hair, freshly cut, is so soft against Tooru's face.
Hajime, Tooru thinks, as he too drifts off to sleep, fits against him, too, and it should worry him, but tonight, Tooru will let himself be too sleepy to care.
Hajime is gone when Tooru wakes up in the morning, but there is a blanket draped over him, from the foot of his bed, and a fresh pot of miso soup on the stove, the rice minutes from beeping, and despite the morning chill, Tooru feels so warm he's afraid he might melt.
He feeds one of Hajime-chan's open traps as he drinks the soup, ticking underneath the trap with one finger after it's closed around the frozen fly, and leans down until he's face to face with his Venus flytrap. "Hajime-chan," he says, "do you think it's all right for one person to be more important to you than anyone else?"
Tooru's pet plant can't answer, and a part of Tooru is glad, because either way, he isn't sure he's ready to think about it.
"Your bed is warmer than the futon," Tooru had replied. "Plus Iwa-chan is soft, like a teddy bear."
"When I wake up, I’m gonna strangle you."
"No you aren’t," Tooru’d shot back, sliding an arm over Hajime’s belly, feeling it rise and fall with every one of Hajime’s breaths. "Because you like sleeping with me, too!"
Hajime hadn’t opened his eyes, but he’d visibly swallowed, and put his hand on top of Tooru’s, trapping it there on his stomach. "It’s not the worst," he’d said, and Tooru had laughed, then, into the sleep-warm skin of Hajime’s cheek.
"I got this in the mail," she says, waving a thin beige envelope at him, addressed in Megumi’s gorgeous calligraphy-esque handwriting.
Tooru takes it from her, pushing the flap open with his hand and pulling out the apology note. "Oh," he says. "I didn’t know she was sending these out."
"Why didn’t you say anything?" She takes the envelope from his hand, and he realizes it had been shaking. "Were you going to wait until the day before the wedding before you offhandedly mentioned it?" Sasada lifts her voice up into a higher register to mimic Tooru’s usual cadence. "Oh, by the way, Sasada-chan, the wedding’s off, and I’ve just been secretly hiding my heartbreak around the office for weeks!"
"Months," Tooru says, going over to his desk and sifting through the papers, looking for the papers the department head had sent over last week regarding his official application for the lecturer position. "She left me in March."
"March?" She comes over to his desk, and puts her hands on his shoulders. "I'm sorry to hear that, Oikawa."
"Oh, it's probably for the best," Tooru replied, not reacting to her attempt to comfort him. "There's only so much room on my bookshelf for the bottled tears of disappointed paleoecologist-fetishists, after all."
She laughs, her hands dropping. "You seem okay," she says.
"I am," Tooru replies. "It's not the end of the world, even if it did feel like it for a couple of days here and there." He finally finds the application, and sets it on the top of the pile before digging into his bag to find his inkan, pulling out the tiny silk case and the pad of red ink he always has in the front pocket. He puts his official stamp in the box for it at the top left of the application, rolling the ink out evenly on each page. "I've got to take this to the department head's office."
"I'll be here when you get back," Sasada says, "angsting over these horrific lab reports about plankton that read like they were written by plankton."
"I've got wasp life cycles," Tooru replies, with a slow, easy smile. "We can angst together."
The department head is on the phone when Tooru knocks on the doorframe of his open office, and he gestures Tooru in as he wraps up the call.
"Oh, good, you brought that by," he says. "You're our top candidate for the position, really."
"I thought that post-doc from Waseda was in the running?" Tooru hands the application to the department head, watching him flip through the papers, giving each one a cursory glance. "The one with two more years' experience? He has a good reputation with regards to his research, right?" He's also in the field of zoology, Tooru knows, although his interest is in bird typology.
"Yes," the department head says, "but between you and me, Goto probably won't get hired here or at Waseda." Looking up from Tooru's application, he smiles. "He wouldn't be as good for our image as you are, with your international grants and all that. Besides, he's a bit wild in his personal life, and that won't do."
Tooru doesn't know what 'wild' might mean, in this context, but it does raise a question. "Why does his personal life matter, if he's a good researcher and a good teacher?"
"Well..." The department head slides Tooru's application into a file on his neatly organized desk, which Tooru doesn't even aspire to, and then puts his hands on the stretch of bare table in front of him. "Most of our surplus funding comes from the donations of our conservative alumni, and they have opinions."
"I see," Tooru replies, running his tongue along his teeth. "If that's all, sir?"
"Oh, no, there's one more thing." He spins his chair around to face the large monitor of his computer. "Kurokawa from the geosciences department wanted me to invite you to a conference in Okinawa. Apparently a professor from Cal-Tech is doing a presentation on the soil composition of Mars, in conjunction with the NASA Mars Science Laboratory, and she thought you might be interested in attending."
Tooru's heard about it, of course. It had been mentioned several times at the zoology conference in March in response to his own presentation, and Tooru's been itching to get his hands on the data that NASA's been keeping locked up tighter than the Emperor's inner palace. If the soil reports suggest certain levels of carbon and nitrogen, it might support the theory that the fossils that he's been examining really are some kind of self-contained insect, which is an exciting prospect, in general.
"I did receive an e-mail about it, but it's during the incoming student orientations in July," Tooru says aloud, shifting in place. "I'm on shift for the biology department, and since it's not quite my field..."
"I can find someone to fill in for you," the department chair says. "Take a few extra days, if you want. Make a vacation out of it. You've got a fiancée, right? It might be a nice vacation. Okinawa's nice and cool during July. It'll be a nice break from Tokyo's sweltering heat."
"Right," Tooru says. "I'll... register for the conference, then."
"Good, good," his department head says. "You should be hearing back in a few weeks about the position."
"Thank you," Tooru says, leaving the office and wandering down the hall. He passes by Miguchi's office on his way back to his own, and when he looks in, he sees her standing on a chair trying to reach a book on the top level of her floor to ceiling bookcase.
He enters her office and pushes up onto his tiptoes, taking the book down and handing it to her with a smile. "Is this the right one?"
She steps carefully down from the chair, waving away Tooru's hand. "I'm not so old I can't step down by myself, Oikawa."
"You barely look a day over eighty," Tooru reassures her, and she swats at his arm before she crosses around to sit behind her desk.
"You can't flirt me into submission, kid," she says, opening the thick reference book immediately to a page near the back. "Come here and make yourself useful." She gestures to an open glass case beside the book, the pinboard open to the air. Next to it are three smaller glass boxes, each with a mutated butterfly inside. "Pin those neatly for me, would you? My fingers aren't as dextrous as they used to be."
Tooru had done the same thing countless times back when he'd been her lab assistant, and stands next to her to follow instructions. "Any particular order?"
"Put the two males next to each other on the top line, and the female below. It'll help with the comparison." She skims her finger down the page, stopping on an entry about antennae length. "I hear you might be getting my job."
"It's a possibility," Tooru says. "Unless I do something to tarnish my image in the next few months."
"Goto from Waseda got caught having an illicit affair with his dissertation advisor," Miguchi says. "Lots of staff changes at Waseda because of it last fall. I doubt you'll be doing the same thing, even if I did just get notice that you're not getting married."
"You got one of those, too, huh?" He smoothes the shortened wing of the first specimen carefully with his thumb, the preservation wax only a little tacky against the pad of it. "I'd wondered what the department head was talking around."
"You're a flirt, but you're all talk. You're using the same charm on every student you talk to that you use on me, because you don't actually want anything. I knew plenty of men like you when I was your age." She peeks over at his work. "Re-pin the torso; I can see the head of the pin."
Tooru does as she asks, using the nail on his pinky finger to catch the head and lift it, and then nudges it a little further down before pushing it in again. "I'm not all talk," he says. "I'd go out with you in a heartbeat, professor."
"Shameless," she replies. "But you're a good boy. Your students like you."
"I wouldn't have studied insects if it weren't for you," he says. "It's sad to see you retire."
"You were looking for something to be interested in, back then." She looks over to check his work again, and nods. "This might even be your office."
"If it is, you don't need to take anything down that you don't want to keep," Tooru says. "I always thought if I became a professor, I'd want an office just like this."
"Only with more crickets and ants. I know you, Oikawa."
"I might bring in my Venus flytrap from home. See if it freaks out any of my students."
"That's the spirit," Miguchi says. "Do those antennae look longer than three centimeters to you?"
"No," Tooru says. "Definitely shorter." He rubs his fingers together to clear them of the wax, and then fits the glass top onto the case. "All finished."
"You've got steady hands," Miguchi says. "Even when I was young, my hands weren't that steady." She closes the reference book. "You were one of my favorite students, Oikawa. I'm glad you found your way into studying bugs."
"Me too," Tooru says. "Couldn't have had a better advisor, either." He watches her slide the glass case in front of her, holding it back and looking from one of the male specimens to the other. "Who was Goto's dissertation advisor?"
"Miyamoto," Miguchi says, and Tooru remembers a paper in one of the major Japanese Zoology journals, about the microbial environment best for supporting the digestive systems of larger mammals, which Tooru had referenced in a conference abstract on mammal-insect symbioses back in grad school. "Got fired for it too, even though adultery isn't prosecutable anymore, and Goto wasn't his student anymore, either." She sounds disapproving. "Don't you have your own work to do instead of bothering me?"
"The second years just did the life-cycle lab," Tooru admits. "I'm procrastinating."
"Get out," Miguchi says, and Tooru laughs, waving goodbye to her and walking back out into the hall, in the direction of his and Sasada's little office.
It's not until he's almost at his own door that it comes to him that Miyamoto, Goto's dissertation advisor, is a man, and he stops, leaning back against the wall in the empty hallways, and takes a moment to wonder if the black mark on Goto's reputation has anything to do with the idea of an affair at all.
Tooru had remembered his kindness, first and foremost, when on a visit back to Miyagi during their long first summer in Tokyo, he heard people still whispering about him down by the vegetable stands. "I hear he ran off with a man," Old Harada had said, picking up radishes in her hand and feeling for bruises as she talked to the stall-keeper. "Poor Mrs. Honda, her son shaming her like that. It was bad enough when all those rumors started last year."
Tooru had been with Hajime, picking up a head of lettuce for Hajime's mom, and he'd chosen one quickly, handing the money for it to the stall-keeper and pushing it into the cloth bag Hajime's mom had sent them off with.
"Why does it matter?" Hajime'd growled, once they were far enough away from the crowded stretch of street that no one would listen to them. "I like him. There's nothing wrong with him. Does... Is it so terrible, that he found someone he likes? That the person he likes is a man?"
Tooru had clutched at the bag, the head of lettuce and the apples feeling more like they weighed ten kilograms apiece. "I don't know," Tooru had said, thinking of Hajime's coat and Hajime's mouth and long evenings spent side by side in their apartment, watching shows Tooru liked and eating takeout, worn out from practice. Thinking about his mother, talking about not wanting people to think Tooru was like that. "Never really considered it. It's a little unnatural, right?"
Hajime had shrugged. "Maybe," he'd said, tightly, and then he'd dropped his gaze to the bag of vegetables. "We better get those home before my mom starts blowing up my phone."
"Race you!" Tooru had taken off running without waiting for Hajime's answer, and by the time they arrived at Hajime's parents' house, out of breath and laughing, the conversation had been tucked away, along with so many other things, for Tooru to try and forget.
The idea of inviting someone to come with him, though, is what's sticking the entire topic at the forefront of his mind.
"Do you get vacation days?"
"What?" Hajime pulls the car into the garage underneath Matsukawa's building, navigating automatically to one of the lower levels, not bothering to look for anything on one of the upper floors on a weekend.
"Vacation days. Like if you wanted to go on a trip."
"Why are you asking?" Hajime spies a space and pulls in, and then turns off the car to look at Tooru. "I'd have more days of off-season time if I didn't have National Team practice in the summer, but I generally have plenty of time to myself, even with all the games and practices."
"So your time off," Tooru says, opening the car door and stepping out of the car. He adjusts the fall of his gray shorts, and runs a hand through his hair, which is curling up even more than usual in the day's humidity. "Is any of it in July?"
"Probably," Hajime says, walking to the elevator at the end of the garage, not bothering to pull the wrinkles out of his own thin white shirt. "I haven't checked next month's schedule."
Tooru keeps pace with him, skipping a couple of steps ahead to press the up button before Hajime gets the chance. The doors open immediately, and Tooru selects the ninth floor as Hajime sedately gets into the elevator with him, watching him with an adorably perplexed look on his face.
"Have you ever been to Okinawa?"
"Of course I have," Hajime says. "We play down there, sometimes. Never really had a chance to explore, though."
"I have a conference I'm attending in mid-July, and my boss-type-person told me I should take someone with me, stay a couple of days, and make a vacation out of it." Tooru shrugs. "I wasn't going to, but I haven't been on vacation in a long time, not since we were in middle school, really, and..." He watches the number above their heads climb. 5. 6. 7. 8. "And I guess I'm not going on a honeymoon, so."
"So you want me to go with you to Okinawa?" Hajime's lips curve down, highlighting the dimple in his chin.
"It would be fun!" Tooru gives him a peace sign. "It’ll pay for it, since it’s almost your birthday. What could be a better present than me, moderate weather, and a new place to explore?"
"Two out of three sound appealing," Hajime says, and then, as the elevator dings, he lowers his eyes, like the floor has the answer to a question Tooru hasn't heard being asked. "Text me the dates later, and I'll check my schedule."
"Is that a yes?" Tooru with both hands on Hajime's back, pushes him lightly out into the hallway. "It's a yes, right?"
"You know it is," Hajime replies, with a laugh, and Tooru grins at him, before stopping him right before he rings Matsukawa's doorbell to run fingers through the front of his hair. "I even let you cut it, and you're still not satisfied?"
"It was hanging over your eyebrows," Tooru says.
"You hate my eyebrows." Hajime rolls his eyes and rings the bell. "Shouldn't you be pleased?"
"Your eyebrows are the most expressive part of your face, Mr. Grumpy. It's the only way to tell if you're smiling."
Hajime's mouth lifts at the very corner. "That's bullshit, Oikawa."
"I'm the Iwa-chan expert here," Tooru says. "Don't doubt my judgement."
Hanamaki answers Matsukawa's door, cutting off whatever reply Hajime might have made, and they're ushered in for quick drinks of water before the four of them head back out again, this time on foot, down in the direction of Yasukuni shrine, where the Sanno festival passes by every year, full of people in traditional imperial dress, laden down by the three famous mikoshi and sweating in the summer heat.
They watch the parade file by for a while, before making past the steps up to the shrine, buying red-bean waffles and paper cones full of nuts from a street vendor. Then they take spots along the temporary safety wall, their legs just shy of the road, so they can watch the tail end of the parade make its way toward the Imperial palace from a better vantage point.
"Not sure why they still have this festival," Hanamaki says, passing down fresh bottles of water. His face is sun-red and flush. "It's not like we're still building Edo castle. Tokyo's not even called Edo anymore."
"You complain about this every year," Matsukawa says. "Every year. You're just mad because you hate the outdoors."
"It just doesn't make sense," Hanamaki says, taking a long gulp of water. "The initial parade was formed to pray for good fortune during a construction project in the 1400s. What are we praying for now? The original compound is part of the palace gardens now, all that's left of it is the stone foundation, so clearly not its safety."
Tooru takes a sip of his own water, even though his bladder is full. "It's a nice tradition anyway," he says. "And isn't the real joy of going to a festival spending time with me?"
"We do enough of that anyway," Hajime says, holding out his paper cone for Tooru to take a handful of the nuts. Tooru cups his free palm, and Hajime pours until a couple spill over the edge and fall between Tooru's thighs to the street.
"And it's so much more unbearable without air-conditioning," Hanamaki adds, as Tooru shoves all the nuts in his mouth at once.
"Liar," Matsukawa said. "You were just saying you wanted to maybe go on a road trip this summer."
"Oikawa and Iwaizumi both have air-conditioning in their car," says Hanamaki. "Iwaizumi, you've got a couple of weeks with no games or practices in July, right?" He pours the rest of his water into his hair, then pushes it off his forehead.
"He's busy~" Tooru says, swallowing down the nuts and taking a swig of water to clear the sugar from his mouth. "Iwa-chan's holiday has already rightfully been turned over to me!"
Hanamaki screws the cap onto his empty water bottle, and sets it down between his feet. "Oh yeah?" He's looking at Hajime, though, which Tooru finds strange.
Hajime just shrugs. "Oikawa asked me to go with him to some conference in Okinawa."
"I'm only going to one presentation at the conference," Tooru says. "The rest of the time we can go on adventures!"
"The two of you are going on an island vacation?" Matsukawa steals one of the red-bean waffles from the paper bag balanced precariously between himself and Hajime on the wall. "That's... interesting."
"I had to go to Okinawa anyway," Tooru says, taking one last sip of water and then wincing as his bladder starts to really complain. "Might as well make it fun!" He stands up, scattering stray nuts, and drops his bag into Hajime's lap. "Going to find a restroom! I'll be right back."
"Hurry up," Hanamaki replies. "Wouldn't want you to miss too much of this riveting parade for a non-existent building."
"You have no culture," Tooru replies, before he ventures into the crowd in search of a restroom. When he finds one, the line isn't as bad as he'd expected, and he's in and out, shaking the water from his freshly washed hands as he makes his way back toward his friends. He spots them right where he left them, and he's about to call out to them, but he stops abruptly when he hears Hanamaki's voice cut through the crowd.
"I don't understand why you're doing this to yourself," Hanamaki is saying, his free hand waving agitatedly. "He doesn't do it on purpose, but he's walking all over you because he doesn't know anything. Again."
"I know it's stupid," Hajime replies. "But it's impossible to tell Oikawa no when he's excited about things."
"I just don't want you to keep getting hurt," Hanamaki says. "I've been watching it for fourteen years, almost, and you're still walking straight into the path of the Oikawa Tooru Express Train."
Tooru doesn’t want to hear anything more, so he pastes a smile on his face and walks over to them, sliding back into his seat next to Hajime. "Did you miss me?"
"You were gone for five minutes," says Hanamaki, pasting a smile on his face, even as his gaze lingers on a too-quiet Hajime. "How on Earth would we have time to miss you?"
"Five minutes can feel like eternity when the sun is completely gone," Tooru replies, batting his lashes, and Matsukawa, who looks a little anxious too, flicks one of the nuts from his paper cone still full of them right at Tooru’s face. "I was worried you’d suffered through a miniature ice age."
"Ice," Hanamaki moans, mournfully, and it breaks the tension, at least, and Tooru laughs and ignores the confusion as heavy as a boulder sitting in the pit of his stomach as they pass the rest of the day, getting fresh ramen from a stall on the walk home and drinking sodas from a vending machine to wash it down.
They end up back at Matsukawa’s after the festival ends. It’s getting dark, and Tooru’s so tired from being out in the sun that he can feel himself wilting.
"Time to go home, Shittykawa," Hajime says, when Tooru falls asleep mid-conversation sitting completely upright on Matsukawa's couch. "Let's go."
He leads Tooru like a puppy on a leash down to the car with a hand around Tooru's wrist, and then starts to buckle him into the passenger seat even though Tooru's woken up almost completely.
"Are you my mom?" Tooru asks, pushing away Hajime's hands when they skim across his lower belly, spreading a tingling heat in their wake.
"I'm your vice-captain. It's all part of delegating, remember? I'm supposed to handle the menial tasks."
"Do you remember everything I say, Iwa-chan?" Tooru smiles up at him, and Hajime's playful smile slips slightly.
"Only the important things," answers Hajime, shutting the door gently and crossing around to the driver's side.
Hajime drives Tooru back to his apartment from Matsukawa’s place in almost silence. Tooru rests his head on the window, watching the streetlights flicker by as Hanamaki’s words ring in his head.
"You don’t have to come to Okinawa," he says, not lifting his head from the cool glass. "Not if you don’t want to."
"I want to." Hajime’s hands tap on the steering wheel, and Tooru turns his head slightly to glance at him. He’s got his eyes fixedly on the road in front of him, despite the late-night lack of almost any other cars.
Tooru rubs at his eyes with the heel of his palm. "I heard you talking to Makki-chan," he says.
"If I didn’t know you were born nosey, I’d be upset about you eavesdropping." Hajime’s lips curl down. "What did you hear, exactly?"
"You told him that you couldn’t tell me no." Tooru closes his eyes, thinking about the weight of such a simple statement, so heavy in his gut. "I’m offering you a get out of jail free card, just this once, Iwa-chan. You can say no."
"It’s not really that I can’t say no to you," Hajime mutters, when the car rolls to a stop at a traffic light. "It’s more that I don’t want to say no to you." He looks embarrassed, and when a car pulls up behind them, the headlights illuminate Hajime’s features enough for Tooru to make out the familiar chagrin on his friend’s face. It’s an expression Hajime used to get when Tooru cajoled him into buying him his favorite kind of stuffed bread, or into watching another episode of Super Sentai when they had practice the next morning. Like Tooru is the biggest pain in the ass Hajime’s ever met, but Hajime adores him anyway.
Tooru grins wide, something loosening in his chest, spreading out to fill it with warmth. "How convenient. I don’t want you to say no to me, either! I think this is a perfect arrangement!"
"You would, since you’re a control freak," Hajime says, relaxing back into his seat. Tooru hadn’t known he was tense, but now it’s obvious.
"Says the man who never lets me drive when we go anywhere!" Tooru straightens up in his seat. "I have a nice car too, Iwa-chan! But you like being in charge too much!"
"Not really. I’ve just seen your driving. Don’t forget who did all your practice hours with you."
"A lot has changed since I was twenty!" Tooru grins, and Hajime’s eyes leave the road briefly to drop to Tooru’s mouth, before he returns to looking straight ahead. They’re weaving their way into Tooru’s neighborhood now, down narrow streets lined with double-parked family cars.
"That’s true enough," Hajime agrees. "But I’m sure your ability to see something interesting by the side of the road and ignore it is still about the same. That is to say, nonexistent."
"Yahaba-chan may have mentioned that once or twice the last time we were in a car together," Tooru admits, just to make Hajime laugh, committing the lopsided curve of Hajime’s grin to memory.
"Maybe my real birthday present can be you never volunteering to drive again," Hajime says.
"Maybe I shouldn’t give you a birthday present at all!" Tooru puts his cheek back against the window. "Do people really celebrate turning thirty?"
"Sure they do," Hajime says. "Especially me, because I’ve survived thirty years with you."
"You say the sweetest things," Tooru replies, and enjoys the way Hajime’s chuckle fills up the car, thinking he wouldn’t mind if the world stopped right now, and left him in this moment forever.
"My knee brace is off now," Tooru'd said, slowly, in response, because he didn't really understand what Hajime was failing to grasp. He pushed up again on his reading glasses, unsure if he really needed them to drive. "I'm allowed to do my practical driving hours, and I need to practice for the test, which I need to pass so that I can cut down the amount of time I spend traveling to and from school."
"I understand all that," Hajime had replied. "What I don't understand is what this all has to do with me. And my car."
"You're my best friend!" Tooru had whined back. "It's your best friend duty to make sure I don't cause harm to myself or others on the road." He'd laughed. "Besides, you've seen how my sister drives. Do you really want me to learn from her?"
"Point taken," Hajime had said, climbing into the passenger seat of the car with a laugh, waiting for Tooru to get into the driver's seat and leaning over to buss his hair. "I'm trusting you with my life, here, Shittykawa. Against my better judgement."
"I thought you said I could be good at anything."
"I may have been hasty," Hajime had shot back, and then he'd laughed again, fastening his seatbelt and leaning back, looking relaxed in a way Tooru hadn’t seen in so long he'd almost forgotten how Hajime looked relaxed when it was just been the two of them, doing something together, with no volleyball between them and no empty conversations where they avoided talking too much about what they'd done apart. "Give me your worst, then."
"I'll have you know I'm shaping up to be an excellent driver," Tooru'd said, starting the engine. "I just need, um, some practice.”
Hajime had groaned.
An hour later had found them pulled off on the side of the road on the outskirts of Koto, no other cars around in either direction, with a flat tire from Tooru getting distracted by a rare species of bird flying over the bay and popping it on the guard rail.
Hajime was glowering, muttering something about the axle after an inspection, and he got back into the car to call for a service truck, so Tooru got out to take his own look at the damage. The paint had been scratched, a long set of three white lines like the trail of a cat's claw dragging down the entire body of the car, and Tooru touched them with his fingertips before he got back into the car.
It was getting dark, leaving the abandoned section of road looking like something gloomy out of a horror film, and when Hajime hung up the phone, Tooru had rested his hands lightly on the steering wheel and turned to him with a thin, mischievous smile.
"This is the part where the serial killer shows up, right?"
Hajime had stared at him, and then laughed, a full, throaty one, his broad shoulders shaking and his white teeth flashing in the dark of a car. "Oh my God," he'd wheezed. "Only you would fuck up my car and then make jokes about it, Oikawa!"
"Maybe we're not to that part yet," Tooru had said, stretching himself out at a weird angle so he could rest his head on Hajime's shoulder. "It could be like an American horror movie, where some teenage couple starts making out in the backseat and that's when the killer comes. Should we make out in the back seat, Iwa-chan?"
"When the service truck comes, you can walk home," said Hajime flatly, before pushing at Tooru's head. "Get off me, your fat head is too heavy."
"Each of your biceps is easily twice the size of my head," Tooru said, nestling even closer, even though the stick shift was digging into his side just under his ribs, and resting a hand on Hajime's arm. "And I'm scared, Iwa-chan! I don’t want to die like this. You have to protect me!"
"Then next time you’ll stay on the road instead of thinking about birds." Hajime didn't shrug him off again, and a warm contentment settled over him, thicker than the humidity outside. "Even if I did want to protect you, we're out here practicing so you can drive yourself places. Don't get flat tires that damage the frame of the car when you’re out here by yourself."
"It was a Northern Wintail!" Tooru scoffed. "Do you know how hard those are to spot in the wild?" He hummed, letting the material of Hajime's practice shirt wrinkle under his cheek, which would no doubt leave an impression in the skin. "Maybe I shouldn't learn to drive. You’ll just have to drive me everywhere. Be my personal chauffeur or something."
Hajime had rested his hand in Tooru's hair, nails scratching at the scalp. "And what about in ten years? Who’s going to drive you then?"
Tooru had closed his eyes. "Still you."
"What if I'm not around?" Hajime's voice was deep, and in the dark car, it felt intimate, wrapping around his heart with shadowy fingers.
"Where else would you be?" Tooru had asked. "You belong with me, Iwa-chan."
He could feel Hajime staring at him. "Who says I plan on still hanging out with your high-maintenance ass for the next ten years, Shittykawa?"
"You’d be miserable without me," Tooru had replied, eyes flying open as the bright headlights of the service truck shone in through the back window of Hajime's car. "I’m the light of your life."
"You're the flat tire on my car," Hajime had replied, pushing Tooru up again, and this time Tooru let himself be pushed. "You're paying for the repairs if you ever damage it again."
"Does that mean you'll keep taking me out to practice?"
"Yeah," Hajime had said. "You know I will." He grinned. "Somehow I always get suckered into doing what you want."
"It's because you love me," Tooru had said, carelessly, as Hajime opened the passenger-side door to get out and greet the service truck driver, and Hajime had paused, momentarily, and gotten out of the car without replying.
"I don't understand how you can be so useless in the morning when you used to pull all-nighters before games," Hajime says, giving the smiling woman at the desk both their tickets before picking up both his own and Tooru's duffle bags. Tooru, holding onto the straps of his backpack like they're helping to keep him upright, glares at Hajime blearily.
"This is not morning," Tooru replies. "This is some unidentifiable hour between Hell freezing over and Hell burning to ashes." He rubs at his face. "Also, some of us aren't Grandpa Iwa-chan, going to bed when the sun sets and waking up when the sun rises like some kind of dairy farmer--"
"Fuck you," Hajime says. "Eleven is not that early. It's a perfectly reasonable time to go to bed."
"That's practically still the afternoon," says Tooru around a yawn as they walk down the ramp to the plane. "I shouldn't have let you buy the tickets."
"You reserved the hotel room. It's only fair if I get the tickets, even if it is my birthday present." Hajime grabs a handful of Tooru's shirt and pulls. "Let's go find our seats, Sleepykawa."
"That one's cute," Tooru says. "You're being nice today. Are you my Iwa-chan, or is this real-life evidence of body-snatching?"
"I'm always nice to you." Hajime grins at him over his shoulder. "Except when you're being an idiot." His eyelids lower to half-mast, amused. "Hmm, I guess that would make it seem like I'm never nice, since the percentage of time you spend not being an idiot is so low..."
"Don't get witty with me before Hell-Freezes-Over o'clock!" Tooru balls up his fist and socks Hajime lightly in the arm. "It's not even fair; I'm not at my most brilliant and witty until at least ten!"
"Just for that, I'm going to wake you up at nine in the morning every day, and make you go running with me," Hajime warns him, stopping as he reaches their seats. He puts both their bags in the overhead compartment, and then takes the middle seat, leaving the one on the aisle for Tooru.
"What do you have to go running for?" Tooru says, sliding his backpack to the floor and sinking down next to Hajime, immediately pillowing his face in the crook of Hajime's neck and breathing in. "Are you trying to build calf muscles on top of your calf muscles? You know, grasshoppers can do that, if they overproduce certain enzymes. A lot of the mutated ones where the nuclear plant exploded have calves on both sides of their legs, and have developed the ability to run in any direction." He snuggles in when Hajime slumps down in his seat to make his shoulder at a slightly more comfortable height. "It's too bad most of them have underdeveloped thoraxes because that would definitely be an evolutionary advantage worth keeping for the modern Japanese grasshopper."
"Is it possible for you to be interested in things without being obsessed with them?" Hajime asks, quietly, so as not to disturb the old woman Tooru thinks he saw in the window seat, and Tooru chuckles lowly, picking up Hajime's arm by the wrist and lazily running his thumb up and down the blue-purple vein, feeling goosebumps rise up under his soft touch.
"No. What's the use in liking something half-heartedly?"
"Most people call that a hobby." Hajime shakes his hand free. "Though I guess you study insects for a living, so it's a good thing you’re that into it, I suppose."
Tooru nods, and feels his hair scrape Hajime's chin. "Wake me up when we get there, Iwa-chan."
"Sure." Hajime pushes Tooru's hair away from his mouth. "I won't leave you on the plane."
"Don't leave me anywhere," Tooru replies, or at least thinks he does, as he drifts to sleep.
He's still in a drowsy fog for much of the rest of the morning, and it isn't until about noon that he really wakes up and realizes he's actually in Okinawa.
"Iwa-chan! Let's go to the beach!" He pushes out the glass door of their simple two bed hotel room to the narrow balcony, where Hajime is leaning on the rail, face tilted toward the sun.
Hajime turns around at the opening of the door, and smiles over a golden tanned shoulder. "Finally awake?" He pulls his phone out of his pocket. "A little after twelve. Earlier than I thought!"
"The beach!" Tooru insists, reaching out to grab Hajime's shirt before finally processing that Hajime isn't wearing one. Instead his hand lands flat on sun-warm skin, sliding down the lean, muscled lines of Hajime's abs until he reaches the elastic of Hajime's underwear, and Hajime's breath audibly catches, the muscles tightening and releasing under Tooru's fingers until Tooru grabs the waistband of Hajime's denim shorts instead, pulling as he averts his eyes. "Come on, slow poke!"
Hajime allows himself to be pulled into the room and when Tooru thinks it won't be weird, he lets go, turning around to strip out of his own shirt before rooting around in his duffle bag for his swimming shorts, the tips of his fingers tingling from the softness of Hajime's skin.
They walk down to the beach from the hotel carrying nothing but sunscreen, water and towels. They find a patch of unclaimed beach next to two women in their forties with a couple of kids, who give both of them once-overs behind their sunglasses until Tooru cheekily grins at them.
Hajime just looks embarrassed, so Tooru teases him as they lay out their towels in the sand, asking him what it's like to be good-looking enough to get attention from hot moms.
"Shut up," Hajime says, red like he's already sunburnt as he pushes the sunscreen bottle into Tooru's hands. "I can't take you anywhere."
They both slather on the sunscreen, Tooru doing a sloppy job until Hajime snorts at him and squirts more onto his hands, rubbing them together to warm the lotion before putting his hands on Tooru's shoulders and sliding them down the outsides of his arms, applying an even coat of it before moving to Tooru's neck. He rubs the rest of the lotion on his hands in a steady, circular motion across Tooru's skin, dipping the pads of his fingers up under Tooru's shoulders, where he must be able to feel the erratic beating of Tooru's heart, and then skating his palms down along the sides of his ribs before finally coming back to rub the thick layer of sunscreen into Tooru's still winter-pale arms.
"Always taking care of me," Tooru says, with a reedy smile that he exaggerates with batted lashes.
"You'll get whiny if you burn," Hajime says, gruffly, when he's finished. "I did it for myself, really." He takes a step away, enough for Tooru's heart to stop feeling like it's moments from making a break for it and ripping itself out of his chest to head for the horizon line. "Ready to get in the water?"
"I'll let you go first," Tooru says, eying the chilly looking waves dubiously. "Since you're my guest, and all."
"Chicken," Hajime replies, and shoves Tooru into the sand between their carefully stretched towels.
Tooru pouts up at him. "Self-preservation is an important part of human survival."
Hajime just raises both brows and walks backward tauntingly until he gets into the water. "Says the man who didn't eat vegetables for years!"
"I'm still alive, aren't I?!" Tooru yells back, cupping his hands around his mouth in the shape of a megaphone to make sure his voice carries.
Hajime shakes his head at him, and then Tooru watches him dive under the foaming waves, disappearing for a few moments before surfacing again completely wet with his back to Tooru and his face tilted up toward the warm summer sun.
The sea water runs down from Hajime's hair along the line of his spine, pooling briefly in the dip at the small of his back, and Tooru can hear a buzzing in his ears, louder than summer cicadas, and louder than the ocean, when he is unable to tear his eyes away.
Hajime turns around, light catching wherever ocean water sits atop the golden brown of his skin, and his smile is easy and carefree, like the Iwa-chan Tooru recalls from middle school summer vacations, back when they were still young enough that being outside with no obligations was the best thing in the world. It's the Iwa-chan Tooru had been miserable without, and Tooru is so--
"You coming in?!" Hajime shouts, and Tooru beams at him, standing up from his towel and sweeping off as much of the sand as he can.
"Only if you promise not to pick me up and dunk me, you barbarian!" Tooru calls back, and Hajime laughs, shaking his hair like a wet dog.
"I absolutely do not promise," he replies, but Tooru wades out to him in the water anyway, stinging cold salt water sloshing and slapping at his knees.
Tooru goes to see the presentation on Friday. It's fascinating, and Tooru forgets about the beach for a solid hour as the scientist from Cal-Tech goes into the work she's been doing with NASA researching the composition of the Mars soil, and he's cataloguing the implications already as he listens to the question and answer portion with half an ear.
He escapes the room before the next presentation begins, something about Hawaiian volcanic rock degradation, and runs into Kurokawa, who had made sure to pass along the invite to him through the department head, in the hall outside the lecture room.
"You've been spending time at the beach," says Kurokawa, gesturing to his tan. "You weren't so golden last week! I guess you're making the most out of having to come to a geoscience convention for one presentation?"
"I'm staying until Tuesday," Tooru says, with an unrepentant grin, and Kurokawa laughs.
"I wish," she replies. "I've got at least five more presentations to watch today, and I haven't had a moment to even glance at the beach. I'm also in the middle of running a time-lapse experiment back on campus, so I'm heading back Saturday night."
"Too bad," Tooru says. "I'll enjoy myself enough for the both of us!"
"Too cruel," she says, before opening the door to sneak into the just started presentation.
Tooru heads back to the hotel, undoing his dress shirt before he even gets to the room. He opens the door to see Hajime on the floor doing sit-ups, a thin layer of sweat on his skin and his face scrunched in concentration as he whispers an inaudible count to himself.
Tooru watches the muscles in Hajime's stomach for a few seconds before he looks away, going into the bathroom to rinse his face and change into more comfortable clothes. He tosses his nice trousers and dress shirt onto the floor when he emerges, and Hajime, who is sitting on the edge of his bed, having apparently finished up his exercises, sighs and stares at them mournfully.
"How was the presentation?" he asks, meeting Tooru's eyes.
Tooru bites his lower lip thoughtfully, and flops down on his own bed, crossing his arms behind his head. "You know, five years ago, people were amazed when the Mars rover brought back evidence that there was once microbial life on Mars, and now, I feel like we're a few steps away from proving that both Mars and Earth had similar forms of life on them a billion years ago. How amazing is that?" He rolls over onto his side to face Hajime. "When it turns out Ender's Game got the closest to what actual aliens look like of all the popular science fiction books of its generation, I'm going to be the one who gets the last laugh!"
He expects one of Hajime's usual responses; an amused eye roll, or a frown hiding a fond smile, or even a grimace of annoyance. What he finds instead is Hajime looking at him with a slightly furrowed brow and a helpless smile on his face, his hair sticking to his cheeks and ears, and his lips dry and chapped.
"What are you looking at me like that for?" Tooru asks, plucking at the duvet on the bed until the small red flower is hidden in a fold.
"You looked so excited, just then," Hajime says. "Like the first time we won a volleyball game in middle school with you as starting setter. I'm... glad you're happy, is all, since I don't get to see you look like that as much as I did when we were kids, and for a few years I didn't see it at all." He closes his eyes, the furrow gone but the smile lingering. "It's one of my favorites, out of all the faces you make."
"Oh," Tooru says, and then he grins. "You have other favorites? Tell me, Iwa-chan, which of my expressions you like best~"
"Fuck, I hate you so much," Hajime grumbles, picking up one of his pillows and throwing it right at Tooru's face.
It devolves into a pillow fight, and ends with all their blankets and pillows on the floor between their beds, Tooru trapped underneath Hajime's heavy bulk as Hajime pins his hands on either side of his head. Hajime's knees dig in on either side of Tooru's hips, and the warmth of his calves bleeds through Tooru's shorts to his thighs.
The way Hajime is laughing, tiny huffs of breath that tickle Tooru's lashes like butterflies, reminds Tooru of being three, of being thirteen, and of being twenty-three, and thinking how could he ever like someone else more than this?
Without thinking anything beyond that, Tooru lifts his head and presses his mouth to Hajime's in a soft, open-mouthed kiss.
At first, it's just Tooru's lips against Hajime's still parted in a laugh, and a puff of toothpaste scented air along the roof of Tooru's mouth.
Then Hajime's hands go lax in surprise, and Tooru takes advantage, slipping his right wrist free and reaching up to tangle his hand in Hajime's hair, yanking him down to spare Tooru's neck. Tilting his head for a better angle, he starts to kiss him more carefully, matching his top lip to Hajime's bottom one, his own lower lip skimming the stubble on Hajime's chin.
One second passes, and then two, before Hajime groans and then kisses him back, crushing his body into Tooru's as his tongue licks along the inside of Tooru's lower lip, then slipping into Tooru's mouth to tease out a whimper that Tooru's almost embarrassed to have let escape.
Hajime's free hand cups Tooru's cheek, thumb stroking the bone, and for all that Hajime hasn't dated, he must have kissed, because the way he licks deeper into Tooru's mouth, tongue curling around Tooru's before skimming the back of Tooru's teeth, is more deft and sure than Tooru's ever experienced before.
Hajime kisses like he does everything else; deliberately, thoroughly, mapping out the texture of the inside of Tooru's cheeks even as he roughly clutches the curls at the nape of Tooru's neck.
Tooru can feel Hajime's heartbeat against his sternum, and he tightens his hand in Hajime's hair, pulling a little as he sucks Hajime's upper lip between his teeth. Hajime hisses, his other hand dropping Tooru's wrist to cup the back of his neck and bring them impossibly closer together until Tooru's not sure whose pulse it is he feels racing, or whose moan he's swallowing down. Heat burns through him, tension coiling in his thighs as he grinds up into the hard muscle of Hajime's abs, smelling fresh deodorant and sweat and sea salt, and it's...
...Almost like their first kiss had been, years ago, with Tooru pressed up against a mirror and tipsily thinking about what a mistake he was making, giving in to something like this that could cost him so much, and--
And that thought is enough; enough to break the moment, reality coming back to Tooru in a rush and making a home for itself alongside guilt and regret in his chest. He untangles his hand from Hajime's hair and pushes on his shoulders, their mouths coming apart with a wet sound that adds to the heat in Tooru's belly even as his mind races with horror.
He feels Hajime's hands leave his neck and fall away from his face, and opens his eyes to see them resting on Hajime's own thighs. He looks up, to find that Hajime is looking down at him, eyes wide and thin lips puffy and red. He's breathing harshly, each inhale looking like it costs him and every exhale warm on Tooru's face. "Oikawa," he says, hoarsely.
"Shit," Tooru says. "I didn't mean to... I don't want--"
"Of course you didn't mean it." Hajime's face shutters completely, his face going totally still even as his breaths continue to come quickly. "You..." The red fades from his face as he looks down at Tooru. "I thought I could do this, Oikawa, but I can't."
Tooru suddenly feels like if he doesn't manage to say anything, if he doesn't even ask what Hajime means, then Hajime is going to get up and leave and walk right back out of Tooru's life again, existing only at the fringes of it, and Tooru will be empty and cold, a big piece of his heart missing and trying to fill it with people like Megumi who, if Tooru's honest with himself, probably never stood a chance. "Iwa-chan," Tooru says, searching for something, anything to say, and grabbing Hajime's forearm as Hajime sits back on his heels. "Iwa-chan, don't--"
"Haven't you always known I was in love with you?" Hajime asks, and Tooru hides from the memory of the way Hajime had kissed him, that night after the play, lips so warm against Tooru's cold forehead.
"There's only so long we can both pretend that you don't know, and I think this is about the limit," Hajime continues, running a hand through his hair. He licks his lips, and for a moment, all Tooru can think about is how they taste, before he hears a hundred voices in his head telling him he's not supposed to feel this way, and there's nothing he can do about it. "I should have listened to Hanamaki, huh?"
Hajime climbs off Tooru, then, and standing up like that, looking down on him, Hajime looks so big, and Tooru feels infinitesimally small, like a carpenter ant with a broken antenna that can no longer find its way back home. "Don't be angry at me, Iwa-chan," he chokes out, because it's the only thing he's thinking about clearly, in the mess that is his head right now.
Hajime shakes his head, walking over to where his clothes are neatly folded, and shoving them into his duffle as messily as Megumi had, when she'd cleaned her things out of Tooru's closet at the apartment, leaving her engagement ring and Tooru's sweatshirt behind. "How can I be angry at you, Oikawa? I knew better than..."
Hajime closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath, and that look... it's what Hajime had looked like, when Tooru moved out of their Koto apartment, or whenever Tooru introduced him to a new girlfriend after that. Tooru hadn't wanted to know that look meant that Hajime was hurting. It was better if he pretended not to recognize it all.
"I'm not angry at you," Hajime says, with finality, zipping up his duffle and not seeming to mind that all his toiletries are still in the bathroom. "I'm angry at myself."
And with that, Hajime pulls on a T-shirt, picks up his bag, and walks out the door, leaving Tooru lying in a pile of pillow and blankets and wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him whole.
Hajime had even deigned to have a couple of beers, alcohol-red as he messed with Kyoutani's sound system, turning the volume up and down and swearing when it refused to land on the exact value he wanted.
"And you think I'm finicky," Tooru had said, draping himself along Hajime's back, his lips brushing the nape of Hajime's neck and making him shiver. "Who cares if it's on twenty-seven exactly, Iwa-chan! Twenty-six or twenty-eight will do!"
Hajime had let his hand drop from the volume dial and turned around, and Tooru had been temporarily dislodged until he settled his arms around Hajime's neck instead. He'd wobbled, a little, and Hajime had gripped his hips with both hands to steady him. "Woah there," he'd said, laughing. "Had too much to drink?"
"No." Tooru had laughed, rubbing his nose lightly against Hajime's before stepping back out of his grip. "Half a bottle of a weak red is nothing for me~"
"I don't know, Trashykawa," Hajime had replied, crossing his arms and smiling, "you look pretty tipsy to me."
"I'm not," Tooru'd denied, swaying to the music to hide the unsteadiness of his steps.
"Sure, sure," Hajime had said, and then Kyoutani had stolen his attention again, and the two had gotten caught up in a deep conversation leaving Tooru to his own devices. He'd ended up sitting in Matsukawa's lap in an armchair and pouring himself another glass of wine as Yahaba and Hanamaki schemed about something with a scandalized Kindaichi sitting between them on the sofa.
"Hey, go easy on Iwaizumi," Matsukawa had said, words slurring from too many shots of vodka.
"Go easy on Iwa-chan? Why would I do a silly thing like that?"
"You know it's not nice of you to flirt with him so much when you don't mean it."
Tooru hadn't known if Matsukawa was really aware of what he was saying, but the words came dangerously close to the only conversations he and Hajime had never had; close to conversations about Mrs. Honda's son and what it meant to be too grown up to share a bed anymore.
Tooru had been twenty-five, and still afraid to open that door and see what kind of monsters would crawl out from behind it, even as a tiny piece of him had been sure the door had been cracked for years, and Tooru had just been ignoring the tiny, dangerous shadows collecting in the corners of their Koto apartment.
Another glass of wine, and then Hajime had come and gotten him from Matsukawa's lap, picking him up like he didn't weigh anything and setting him on his own two feet. "Time to go," he'd said, leading Tooru to the exit. Kyoutani had filled a pitcher of cold water in the kitchen at Yahaba's direction, and Yahaba had looked delighted at the prospect of pouring it on Matsukawa to wake him up instead of giving it to him in a glass to drink.
They'd walked home hand in hand, Tooru skipping ahead as far as the breadth of their clasped arms would allow before drifting back, giggling, to Hajime's side. "We used to walk home from school like this," Tooru had said. "Back when we were eight!"
"You were less drunk," Hajime'd replied, laughing. "I think our elementary school teachers would have been even more scandalized by you if you'd been drunk."
"They just couldn't handle my creativity." Tooru had let go of Hajime's hand to spin in a circle, before reclaiming it. "I would have been an absolute angel with a slightly more understanding teacher."
"You kept putting spiders in Fujita's desk," Hajime said, laughing. "You just wanted to cause trouble."
"No," Tooru said, grinning widely, the night air stinging his cheeks, "I just liked spiders. I was destined to be an entomologist!"
"You were destined to be lots of things, back then." Hajime let them into their first floor apartment, pushing Tooru in and locking up behind him. "What were you and Matsukawa talking about so seriously?"
"Hmm?" Tooru had asked, dragging Hajime with him to the bathroom, and then using him for balance while he dug around for his toothbrush.
"When you were sitting with him, he was saying something to you and you were listening really carefully."
"Oh, that," Tooru'd said, hesitating. "He told me to be careful with you, if I didn't mean it." He put a thick blob of toothpaste on his brush, and started scrubbing away at his teeth haphazardly as Hajime had watched him in the mirror. Tooru had wanted to look away, but he couldn't look away from the intensity in Hajime's eyes. "But with Iwa-chan, I always mean it~" His words were muffled by foam, but Tooru knew that to Hajime, they'd be perfectly intelligible, since Tooru used to talk to Hajime on the phone while he was brushing his teeth in middle school, back when he was always supposed to be in bed by ten and every minute after finishing his homework was precious phone time.
Hajime had ruffled his hair as Tooru spit the toothpaste out into the sink. "Do you really?"
Tooru had rinsed, and then turned around, his back to the mirror as he looked Hajime in the eyes for real. "Would I lie to you, Iwa-chan?"
"It's not me you lie to," Hajime had said. "It's yourself."
"And you don't?"
"No," Hajime had replied, easily, honestly. "I've never been able to do that very well." He'd brought his hand up to the curve of Tooru's neck, right where it met his shoulder, and rested it on the bare skin. "It would be better, if I could." His eyes had flicked down to Tooru's mouth, and he'd bitten his own lip.
And all Tooru could think, then, in the fog of wine, with the mint taste clinging to his tongue, was that one of Hajime's best qualities had always been his honesty, his honesty to Tooru, and that it made him, really, too much for Tooru to look away from, because there would never be someone who suited him like this.
Tooru had reached out and hooked his fingers in the neck of Hajime's sweater, curling them down and pulling, and Hajime had stumbled forward, into him, pushing Tooru back into the sink with his heavy frame, gripping the edge of it with both hands for balance on either side of Tooru's hips. "You're pretty amazing too, sometimes, Iwa-chan," Tooru had said, and Hajime had managed half a surprised laugh before Tooru had kissed him, sloppy and wet, missing the center of his mouth but catching the corner.
Hajime had gasped in surprise, and Tooru had kissed him again, this time at the bow of his upper lip, and Hajime had cupped Tooru's hips with both hands and picked him up, setting him on the edge of the sink. Then he’d kissed him back in earnest, curving into Tooru with so much concentration that Tooru had been overwhelmed, brain short-circuiting from the lips and tongue slipping against his own to the hands on his hips to the smell of beer on Hajime's skin to the firmness of Hajime's thighs in between his knees as Hajime pushed him back.
He could feel the water from the sink bowl soaking into the thighs of his jeans, and the faucet digging into his back, and the mirror cold against his neck, his hair sliding on the glass.
It was better, Tooru had thought, than any kiss he'd shared with a girlfriend, and it reminded him of a conversation in the kitchen with his sister, when she'd told him none of those girls really had a shot.
At that moment, Tooru had finally believed her, and he could feel something inside of him lurch.
Hajime had pulled away the moment Tooru had gone still in his arms, and staring at him, disbelieving and angry and bewildered, Tooru had thought, Iwa-chan grew up handsome, before he'd forced the thought away.
"No, I can't think about this," Tooru had said, his hand still covering Hajime's mouth, like hiding his lips would make the whole memory of the kiss disappear. "I don't want this. I'm not like Mrs. Honda's son."
"I am," Hajime had said, and Tooru had stared at the bathroom ceiling, swaying slightly. Hajime had pressed his palms flat on Tooru's thighs to keep him from falling, and Tooru had thought, even as rejection and denial of what Hajime'd just said bubbled up from his stomach like vomit, waiting to crawl out of his throat, that he never wanted for Hajime to lift his hands away. "You knew that, though."
"Did I?" Tooru had asked, and Hajime had been so quiet that Tooru could hear the shift of furniture in the apartment above them, and the sound of wine sloshing around in his stomach.
He'd pushed himself off from the sink, freeing himself from Hajime's hold and pushing past him out of the bathroom. "I'm going to bed, Iwa-chan."
"Bed!" Tooru had said, and then closed the door of his bedroom, before pressing his back up against it and sliding down to the floor, hiding his face in his hands as he brought his legs up to his chest. "Fuck," he'd said. "Fuck."
He'd sat there for most of the night, his mouth tasting of toothpaste and Hajime, and his heart hollowed out like termites had eaten the whole thing away in the space of minutes, or maybe the termites had been eating away at the inside for years, and it had been the kiss in the bathroom that had broken through the outer shell.
"About last night," Hajime had said the next morning, when Tooru, clean and showered, had ventured into the kitchen. Hajime's hand was gripping the handle of the skillet so tight his knuckles had gone white. "I..."
"What are you talking about?" Tooru had asked, just like he'd practiced twenty times this morning at a whisper, staring into the bathroom mirror trying not to think about how it had felt against his back, as cool and unmoving as Hajime had been warm and writhing, pressed up in between Tooru's spread legs, breathing into his mouth. "Ah, Iwa-chan, I don't remember much of last night, and I've got a terrible hangover! When did we get home?"
Hajime had looked at him, and licked his lips, slowly, carefully, and then he'd closed off, turning back to the skillet to make sure the egg wasn't burning. "After midnight," he'd said. "There's ibuprofen in the living room, if you need it."
"Thanks!" Tooru said, waiting until he was out of Hajime's sight to start to shake. "It's fine," he whispered to himself. "It'll be fine."
Then he had pressed fingers to his mouth for the hundredth time that morning, and tried to breathe.
He goes down to the beach, sitting in almost the same spot he and Hajime had laid their towels on Thursday, and he gets sunburned in odd patches along his shoulders and the undersides of his arms. It’s fitting, he decides later, examining the uneven skin in the shower late that afternoon, that his outsides be as raw in parts as his insides.
He returns to Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon. He has a crick in his neck from the plane, because he fell asleep at such an odd angle, almost like he’d wanted to…
"How did the conference go?" Sasada asks, when he reports in to work on Wednesday.
"Well," Tooru says, but it’s as though he’s seeing the world through a thick fog, and the only thing clear at all is the memory of Hajime’s mouth hot on his own and the way his heart had felt like it was breaking when Hajime walked out the door.
"That’s a nasty burn," she says, gesturing to what she can see past the collar of his dress shirt. Tooru pulls at his collar to hide it away.
"Ah, this?" Tooru smiles, letting it stretch across his whole face. "I’m just evening out the playing field with the new students. I wouldn’t want them all to sign up for my class in the fall and leave everyone else with an empty classroom~"
"I wonder what it’s like, to love yourself that much?" Sasada muses, giving Tooru an evil eye.
I wonder too, Tooru almost says, but instead, he laughs, and winks at her, and whistles on his way to the staff meeting room to get himself a cup of instant coffee.
That night, he meets Hanamaki and Matsukawa for dinner. It’s uncomfortably quiet as they eat, and Tooru picks at his meal, even as he struggles to keep anything from showing in his face.
"Stop pretending," Hanamaki says finally. "It’s disgusting. I’m not Iwaizumi, but you’re also not an award winning actor, Oikawa, and it’s obvious you’re miserable, no matter how much you grin at your chicken because you can’t meet anyone’s eyes."
"Is Iwa-chan… Is he…" Tooru stabs at his chicken. "He likes men, right?"
"Duh," Matsukawa says.
"You can’t tell me you never even suspected," Hanamaki says, eyes narrowed. "You’re anything but oblivious, Oikawa."
"That’s what Iwa-chan said to me," Tooru replies, and then he sighs. "I did, really. Probably."
A part of Tooru had been aware of it since the beginning, or maybe since when they were fourteen and Hajime rarely looked twice at any girl. Tooru thinks again about the long looks that Hajime had given him, during late night practices, when he stayed to make sure Tooru didn’t tire himself out. He thinks about all the crushes Hajime would never admit to, and the protective spread of Hajime’s hand along his spine. He thinks of that kiss, hot, lingering, fierce, in the bathroom, that he’d pretended not to remember for more than five years, and the look on Hajime’s face that next day, eyes shuttered and shoulders tense and feelings locked away from Tooru, the moment Tooru’s decision had crystalized for the both of them.
But it had never been just about Hajime, for Tooru. There’d always been his own feelings, nebulous and undefined and too bound up in things like his mother telling him he’s too old to wear Hajime’s jacket, no matter how much Tooru liked the scent of Hajime’s deodorant, or in his sister telling him she was sure that he and Hajime weren’t up to anything weird. The old women buying vegetables, and Goto, who might never get an academic job and no one will ever say it’s because he screws men and had the sheer nerve to get caught with so shameful a proclivity.
"You just didn’t want to know," Hanamaki says forcefully. "Is that it?"
Matsukawa kicks him under the table, and Hanamaki ignores it.
"Did you know that most insects find their mates by smell?" Tooru asks, after a few moments, giving up on his chicken and swirling his fruit juice around in his glass to mix the pulp back into it. "There’s a certain type of male wasp in the Amazon that emits three different scents at once, and to attract a good mate they have to have just the right balance between the smells."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Matsukawa taps his spoon on the edge of his bowl impatiently.
"It’s just that…" Tooru stares at his hands. They’re shaking again, so Tooru lets go of his glass and hides them in his lap. "It’s just that even when I was little, I loved the way Hajime smelled. The way my pillows smelled like him after he spent the night. It’s this clean scent, you know. Like the way grass smells during rainy season, mixed with that deodorant he’s worn since we were ten. I used to think I always want my pillows to smell like this in the morning."
"Oikawa," Hanamaki says, deliberately, "did you…" He seems to rethink his question. "Are you saying what I think you’re saying?"
"I kissed him once," Tooru replies. "Before, I mean. That night we were all at Kyoutani’s, when Mattsun told me I was being cruel. That I shouldn’t flirt if I didn’t mean it."
Matsukawa drops his chopsticks to the floor. They clatter loudly, and a few people turn to stare. He picks them up with a sheepish apologetic grin, before turning back to pin Tooru with a stare. "What?"
"I didn’t think it through." Tooru looks up at the ceiling, meagre appetite completely gone. "Good sons probably don’t kiss boys, and my mother really wanted to have a kid come out right." He’d thought a lot about how much heavier Hajime’s coat had felt across his shoulders, that night of the play, with the added weight of his mother’s thinly sugar-coated suspicion. "So I thought it might be better if I didn’t remember it."
"And then you moved out," Hanamaki concludes, and Tooru tilts his chin back down, catching Hanamaki’s gaze. Whatever Hanamaki sees in Tooru’s eyes has him setting down his water and biting his lip. "Oikawa…"
"Mmm?" Tooru’s hands are still shaking too much to make a grab for his chopsticks and take a bite, and he’s left with nothing to do to distract himself from the thrumming beat of his heart in his ears.
"It’s never been one-sided at all, has it?" Hanamaki asks quietly, as Matsukawa leans in to hear better, his broad shoulders blocking the rest of the restaurant from view, leaving Tooru feeling alone and cornered.
"Iwa-chan and I always have done everything together," Tooru manages to say, around a lump in his throat. "Why should this have been any different?" Saying it aloud is as terrible as Tooru had thought it would be, even if he does manage to make it come off nonchalant, like it’s the weather he’s talking about, and not the span of almost thirty years that encompass the beginning and the end of all he and Hajime are.
"Oh," Matsukawa says, at a loss for words.
Hanamaki continues to watch him carefully, all of his anger gone, replaced by something else Tooru doesn’t quite understand. "Why haven’t you told him that?"
Tooru summons up a smile, light and flippant. "Because it doesn’t matter," he says, showing all of his teeth. "It doesn’t change anything. It’s not… I’m still going to end up marrying someone my mother likes and having two kids for her to spoil worse than she spoiled me, and that’s the way it has to be."
"No it isn’t!" Matsukawa stabs Tooru lightly in the forehead with the tips of chopsticks he dropped on the floor. "Stop making that ugly face and think about this!"
"None of my faces are ugly," Tooru says, whacking them away, and then, softly, he adds: "and I’ve been doing my best not to think about this for so long that I’ve become an expert."
"Finish your dinner," Hanamaki says, after the silence at the table begins to stifle. "We can go out for drinks."
Tooru takes a long sip of his fruit juice. "I might have been wrong before, Makki-chan," Tooru says, smiling slightly around the bitterness of the grapefruit at the back of his tongue. "You’re definitely not the worst friends."
"Obviously," says Hanamaki. "We’re practically saints, dealing with you all the time."
Tooru takes a bite of rice that is ash on his tongue, and keeps smiling.
He’d knocked on Hajime’s back door, and Hajime had opened the door and stared at him with a curious expression. "Bit early for you to be up."
"Just wanted to give this back," he’d said, holding out the coat.
"There was no hurry," Hajime had replied, reaching out to take it. Their fingers had brushed, and Tooru had pulled away like the touch had burned.
"Thanks," he’d said. "For letting me borrow it."
Hajime had stared again. "I’m going back to bed," he said eventually. "You want to come with?"
Tooru had licked his chapped lips, and shook his head. "No. Not today, Iwa-chan."
And something in Hajime’s face fell, subtle enough that probably only Tooru would ever even notice, and a thousand words passed between them.
Hajime nodded. "All right, Oikawa," he’d said. "All right."
He thinks about Hajime when he wakes up, and when he goes to work, and when he cooks dinner alone in his apartment, wearing his stretched-out, faded, Tokyo Disneyland shirt and opening the cabinets to find seasonings he didn’t buy where there used to be nothing but empty space.
He goes about his life like a worker ant— no independent actions or unnecessary motions, just the most fundamental of tasks, the open chasm in his chest far worse than what he’d felt months ago when things had ended with Megumi, and Tooru knows what that means, unable to lie to himself about it anymore, despite his skill at the art.
He puts posters of the universe and his favorite Super Sentai cast up on his ceiling, taping them carefully with an adhesive that will definitely strip the paint from the ceiling if he ever has to take them down, and spends a lot of time staring up at the stars, letting them make him feel small.
He wishes, sometimes, when he’s sitting next to Hanamaki at a bar or talking to Yachi over a croissant at the bakery at Komagome station, that maybe humans were a little less like butterflies, and that this melting inside of him, turning him into nothing inside a hard cocoon of loneliness, meant that when he eventually put himself back together again, he would be different, that he would be new, but he knows it won’t work like that, and that even if he manages to build wings out of nothing he’ll still associate the warmth of Hajime’s hand on his neck with safety, because caterpillars remember everything they’ve ever learned.
He gets the promotion to lecturer two days before his birthday.
"That’s amazing," Sasada tells him. "You must be thrilled!"
"It’s only as expected," Tooru replies, tilting back cockily in his chair even as he searches inside himself for triumph, finding it mixed up with thoughts of Goto from Waseda and the shuttered look on Hajime’s face that won’t seem to drift far from the forefront of his mind.
"Still," she says, "congratulations, Oikawa."
"Thank you," Tooru says, and when Sasada turns away again, he slumps down in his seat, picks up the paper he was reading before the e-mail had come, and tries to find his place in it again.
July 20th is the hottest day of the year thus far, and Tooru ducks into the cafe just to escape the heat, really, only to bump right into the woman he'd almost spent the rest of his life with.
"Oh!" Megumi says, and Tooru's fast reflexes save her ice-coffee from dropping as he catches it with one hand and steadies her with the other. "Tooru?"
She looks good, with her long hair pulled up in a ponytail and her lips stained a pretty pink. She’s carrying a new handbag, and she's cut her bangs shorter, and in her pretty floral dress, she looks like an advertisement for summer.
"Megumi-chan, you look awfully lovely today~" he tells her, the same way he always did when he saw her after a long time, and Megumi gives him a small grin, adjusting her grip on her coffee and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"I've... I've been meaning to call you," she says. "Just to check on you. And to talk, too. About everything." She looks down at her watch. "You wouldn't happen to have an hour, would you?"
"Sure," Tooru replies. "Let me get a cup of coffee, and we can go for a walk."
They end up sitting side by side on a bench just outside an elementary school.
"Thank you for sending out the cancellation notices," Tooru says, shaking his plastic cup to mix the contents. The ice in his coffee had melted as they strolled, watering it down enough to dilute the sweetness of it. "It didn't really occur to me."
Megumi sucks her lower lip into her mouth, chewing on it, getting pink lipstain on the edges of her teeth. "Truthfully, I ordered them weeks before I broke up with you."
Looking down at his hands, Tooru exhales slowly. "Did you?"
"It wasn't easy, you know, to leave you. You're... smart, Tooru, and handsome, and funny, and kind when you think no one will notice, or if you can pass it off as something else. You're a good guy."
"No good enough to marry, though?"
Megumi sets her cup down on the bench next to her and turns to face him, reaching out and tilting his face toward hers with the tips of her fingers. "That's not how it's supposed to work," she says. "It wasn't about you being good enough, and you already know that. It was about us being right for each other."
"I do know," Tooru says. "I thought about what you said, Megumi-chan. For weeks, I thought about it, and..." He looks up at her through his lashes. "Well, you weren't entirely wrong."
"From you, that's practically an apology," Megumi murmurs, the left corner of her lips twitching. "It really did feel like you were wishing I was someone else, Tooru. That you expected me to already understand you in ways I couldn't."
"You might not have been entirely wrong about that either." Tooru grabs her hand, pulling it away from his face, and laces their fingers together. "It was probably selfish of me to want to marry you, knowing that, but I've always been a little selfish."
"It's usually a childish kind of selfishness," says Megumi. "Harmless, and forgivable since you're so pretty."
"I am really pretty," Tooru says, squeezing her hand one more time before letting go. "One of my best qualities."
"No it isn't," Megumi says. "You have plenty of other great qualities that are more important than that."
"You know, I don't think you're supposed to talk about how great the guy you're leaving is," Tooru says. "Even if it's true. It makes you sound like you're making a huge mistake."
"I might be," Megumi says. "But I couldn't do it." She smooths the wrinkles out of the skirt of her dress, the golden-yellow roses unwrinkling under her fingertips.
I couldn't do it sounds a lot like Hajime's I don't think I can do this, and Tooru should be used to hurting the people he loves, like a praying mantis that devours its mates. "Right."
"I won't settle," she continues, and she stares at him squarely, with determination. "You shouldn't be settling either, Tooru." The piece of hair she'd tucked behind her ear earlier falls forward and curves around her face. "Is she already married, or something?"
"Who?" Tooru asks, taking a sip of the watery coffee. It doesn't taste like much of anything, anymore, but it's cool at least, as the humidity bears down on him.
"The woman you wanted me to be." Megumi falls back, to rest against the back of the bench. "Did I meet her at some point? Is she one of your friends?"
The school bell rings, and the rushing of children pouring out of the building and into the open yard for play time is loud right when Tooru needs it to be, and he looks through the fence at the six and seven year olds chasing each other, and remembers a hundred times, a thousand times, he'd stolen Hajime's notebooks and goaded him into running after him. He'd held onto Hajime's things a lot, back then, as if they were insurance, and as long as he had something Hajime needed Hajime would stick around to get it back.
Then he'd gotten older, and instead of pencils or textbooks or a favorite pair of gloves, he'd taken a piece of Hajime's heart and kept it even when he knew it would be kinder to give it back.
And yeah, Tooru's always been selfish.
"There is no her," Tooru says.
Megumi swallows, and Tooru knows she's watching him, evaluating him. Her gaze is heavy, and Tooru feels trapped by it, but at the same time, he's never really felt any freer than this.
"There isn't a her," Megumi says, no question in her voice. Her hand comes to rest lightly on his knee, pink nails pretty against the light brown of his slacks. It's not as comforting as Hajime's hand, calloused and warm and just the right weight, but it's nice all the same.
"Yeah," Tooru says. He expects to feel something: fear, anxiety, anger. All that's left, though, is a sort of hollow relief.
Megumi leans into him, her head falling to his shoulder. "We'll both be okay," she says. She remains there for a few moments, before looking down at her watch again. "I've got to get back to work." She stands up, brushing away imaginary dirt from her dress, and then clears her throat. "I'll be in touch about everything else. The venue and all that."
Tooru nods, looking up at her. The sun, high in the sky, frames her just right. "Take your time," he says. "I'm making Hanamaki deal with it, anyway."
She laughs, lightly, and then bends down to kiss his cheek. "Happy birthday, by the way."
"Is it?" Tooru asks, but he grins to soften it, not letting his smile fall until she's walked away.
He goes to his sister's for dinner that evening.
"No creepy bug pictures to decorate with tonight?" she asks, as she sits beside him at the table, both of them peeling potatoes.
"Thank goodness," Takeru mutters, as he passes through the kitchen, opening the refrigerator to grab a bottle of sports water on his way out to extra practice.
"Takeru-chan, I know you'll come to see the joy in fossilized flies someday," Tooru says.
"Maybe when your Mars insects launch an invasion," is Takeru's reply. He drops a kiss to the top of his mother's head, and swats away Tooru's attempts to ruffle his hair. "I'm too old for that, Uncle!"
"You'll never be too old," Tooru replies, delighted when Takeru groans in annoyance, making his way out to the front door. The door opens and closes, and then it's just Tooru and his sister, a bowl of peeled potatoes between them with a few left to go. "Ah, teenagers."
"You were a handful as a teenager yourself," his sister says. "I was thankful to be so much older than you back then." She looks over toward the front door. "Takeru's a lot more like Hajime than you, though. He's straightforward. You were all half-truths and fragile ego."
"What a glowing description of my adolescence," Tooru says, dropping a skinned potato into the bowl.
"Not much has changed, you realize." She smirks at him. "You're still obnoxious, too, birthday boy."
"No wonder my ego is fragile." Tooru picks up the last potato, but his sister takes it from him and starts peeling it herself.
"I'm faster," she explains, and Tooru huffs, setting down the knife. "You're going out with your friends tonight?"
"We're meeting at nine at Makki's." He starts to pick at his nails, getting trapped pieces of potato skin out from under them. "It's just Hanamaki, Matsukawa, and Yachi-chan." He pauses. "Mad-Dog-chan. Maybe Iwa-chan."
"He has a match tonight," Tooru says, even though Hajime's match ends at seven. "I don't know if he'll make it."
"He'll try his best, I'm sure," his sister says, setting the last potato in the bowl then picking it up and carrying it over to the sink. "He always does his best for you."
"I don't always do my best for him, though," Tooru blurts out, and his sister, who had just turned on the tap, turns it off again. She doesn't turn around, but Tooru can tell she's listening. "Iwa-chan is straightforward, and I'm..."
"Tooru," she says, "is everything all right?"
It's the same question she'd asked before, right after Megumi had given him back her engagement ring, and he'd kept it in his pocket planning to return it to her. It's the same question, and Tooru wants to give her the same answer, but he can't seem to force it out.
"I don't think so," he says, watching his sister's back tense. "No."
"What's wrong?" She turns around to face him, and as she scans his face her eyes widen in alarm. "Tooru, what's wrong?"
"Nothing I can fix," he says. "I saw Megumi today."
"Was it terrible?" His sister crosses the kitchen to hug him from behind, pressing her face into his hair.
"It was nice," Tooru says. "She was nice. It was all nice. But it didn't... It didn't hurt."
"Isn't that a good thing?"
"No," Tooru replies. "Because it means she was right, and maybe I didn't love her enough."
"Oh, Tooru, it's okay to move on." She nuzzles his hair, and her arms are strong around him, like when he was small and came to her room to get hugs after nightmares, before he'd started keeping his nightmares to himself. "That's normal!"
Tooru shakes his head. "I was more upset about Megumi leaving me than I was about losing Megumi."
"Then maybe it's a good thing you aren't marrying her." His sister lets go, and sits down next to him, their knees bumping under the table. "No matter what Mom says, getting married isn't all that important, Tooru. I don't know why she's so worried about it, honestly." She laughs, nudging at his bare ankle with her toe. "My life's fine, and I never got married, and I don't even want to."
"Mom wants me to get married because she thinks I'm..." Tooru swallows, covering his eyes with his hand. "She wants me to get married because she thinks I'm gay."
His sister stills, and Tooru keeps his hand in front of his face so he won't have to look at her. There are a thousand yellow jackets in his stomach.
"Dating Megumi was just like dating in high school," Tooru says. "And like in university. Like being in every other relationship I've ever had." He takes a shuddering breath. "I could only show her the good parts. The parts that everyone is allowed to see, because I've examined them from every angle, and know how they look." He smiles at nothing, feeling his skin pull under the press of his hand. The darkness helps. "Like selfies. I took the pictures, then chose the best ones to share."
Not with Hajime, though. Never with Hajime, who has seen him ugly-cry and held his hair while he vomited from drinking too much and let Tooru drool on his shoulder when he passed out from exhaustion on their way home from tournament games.
And his sister is so quiet, and Tooru hates it; hates that he always has to fill silences and hates that all of these things are spilling out of him. He guesses he's been holding them in so many years that even letting out a few opened the door for the rest of them.
"Do you remember," he asks, voice trembling, "when you called me a heartbreaker?"
"I'm sure I did that plenty of times," his sister says, and her own voice isn't that steady. "You were, Tooru. You left a swath of besotted teenage girls in your wake!" She laughs, but it falls flat.
"We took a selfie to send to Iwa-chan, and you told me..." He drops his hand, and finally opens his eyes to look at his sister. Her mouth is pressed into a thin, firm line, and she's looking at him with such surprised eyes that his words almost retreat back down his throat.
But then she reaches out and grabs his shirt, holding on to him lightly, and says, gently, "told you what?"
"You said 'if you want to date a girl, you should like her at least as much as you like Hajime, or it’s not going to work out'," Tooru finishes. "And I thought..." He blinks to clear his eyes, because his vision is blurry all of a sudden. "I thought, how am I ever going meet a girl I like more than Iwa-chan?"
His sister's hand tightens in his shirt, and her breath sounds so harsh to Tooru, even if not as harsh as his own. His heart is thundering, and the yellow jackets in his stomach are buzzing, and he hopes they don't decide to sting, because it takes the venom of over a thousand female yellow jackets to kill a man, but Tooru thinks he must have a million inside of him right now, for them to be so angry and loud.
"Oh, Tooru," she says. "I was only teasing you. I never meant..."
"And Mom used to give us strange looks," Tooru says. "For years, I didn't understand why, because it was just Iwa-chan, and there wasn't anything strange about us sleeping in the same bed, or me sitting with my legs in his lap to watch volleyball matches on television. It wasn't weird that he makes space on his plate for my carrots or--" He chokes on it, thinking of Hajime four months ago, letting Tooru steal most of his mushrooms because he doesn't think Tooru eats enough vegetables, or holding his hand in the park when it's dark and no one will see. "Then one night I came in wearing Iwa-chan's coat, and she said people would get the wrong idea, that they might think I was wrong, and then you said--"
"I said 'it doesn't have to be anything weird'," she says, cutting Tooru off. "Or something like that. I thought about it a lot, after you'd gone to bed. I thought about why I'd said it like that, when what I wanted to tell you was that you didn't have to feel weird about it. That you and Hajime were just... you and Hajime, and no one else's opinion really mattered, not even Mom's." She pulls on his shirt, dragging his chair squeaking across the linoleum. "It never even occurred to me that you were even..."
"I'm not," Tooru says, too loudly, and it echoes in the kitchen. "I'm not anything." He lets his sister pull him into a hug.
"Oh you're something," his sister says. "You're definitely my annoying, asshole little brother."
Incredulously, Tooru laughs, his forehead falling to his sister's sternum as she starts to pet his hair. "That's all you've got to say?"
"And I don't know about Mom," she says, combing through tangles in his hair, "but even if you were, say, to live with Hajime forever because you've been head-over-heels for him your entire life--"
"I never said that," Tooru rasps, his whole body shivering uncontrollably in her light hold.
"Even then," she says, as though he hadn't spoken, "you'll still be my annoying, asshole little brother."
"I am not annoying," Tooru says, when he thinks his voice won't come out all wobbly. He wipes his wet face on his sister's shirt.
"I notice you're not correcting the bit about being an asshole," she says, the hand in his hair dragging down to start comforting circles on his back.
"Being an asshole adds to my mystique," Tooru manages. He lifts his head. "It's my birthday. Aren't you supposed to make me dinner?"
She grins at him, her own eyes soft and wet as she reaches out to clear the tears from his cheeks with her thumb. "You're a brat. Now that's something you and Takeru definitely have in common."
Tooru laughs, and pushes her lightly, pulling a silly face, and exhales. "Well, I was his role model for many years."
"We're all glad that phase is over. Now help me cut these potatoes."
Takeru comes home to them throwing soap suds at each other in the kitchen, sweaty from practice, and gives them an exasperated, amused look. "Are you sure I'm the child?"
Tooru sidles up next to him, showing off his superior height, and smears dish suds on Takeru's cheek, making him release a surprised, puberty-crackling squawk. "Absolutely."
"Why are you in such a good mood suddenly?" Takeru asks, scrubbing at his cheek with the sleeve of his volleyball jacket.
"It is my birthday," Tooru says, smearing soap on Takeru's other cheek.
After dinner, all three of them clean up, and Takeru keeps glancing anxiously at his cell phone screen as they put the dishes away.
"Got a hot date?" Tooru asks, and Takeru shakes his head.
"No, just waiting for the game to start. It's Japan against Korea tonight, and it determines the seeding for World's." Takeru shoves his phone back into his pocket. "You..." He hesitates, and then shuffles around in an anxious, teenage way. "You can watch it with me, if you want."
He sees his sister react by almost dropping the dish in her hands, out of the corner of his eye, but Tooru just fiddles with the hem of his shirt, and nods.
"Yeah," Tooru says, "Sure." And he follows Takeru into the living room, curling up on the couch, a pillow clutched to his chest as Takeru surfs for the channel.
Hajime looks tired, Tooru thinks, when the camera zooms in close on him. Sweat clings to his skin and to the ends of his eyebrows, and the collar of his uniform is damp with perspiration, too. Tooru misses him, more than he's ever missed him before. He wonders if Hajime is thinking about Tooru, as he plays tonight. About all the birthdays they've spent together, and all the matches they've played.
Tooru can't think about anything else.
Closing his eyes, Tooru wonders if it really would be all right to let himself love Hajime. If he could let himself, after all this time, admit the truth of the whole thing, and slip his arms into the coat Hajime's been offering to let him wear for years.
Once, when he was six, his parents had taken him and his sister to the beach, and Tooru had cried the whole way there, fat tears rolling down his cheeks as he looked out the back window.
"Why are you making such a fuss, Tooru?" His mother had turned around in her seat to look at him in exasperation. "I thought you liked riding in the car!"
"We forgot Iwa-chan!" Tooru had said, between sobs, and his sister had muttered an infuriated "Oh my God," from behind her fashion magazine, as Tooru looked at his mother with watery eyes, wondering why she still looked confused.
"This is a family trip," his mother had said. "Hajime is at home with his own family, Tooru."
"Iwa-chan's my family," Tooru'd replied, scrubbing at his face. "How can I go on a family trip without him?"
"Hajime's your best friend," his mother had corrected. "You can't take Hajime with you every single place you go, Tooru."
"I never want to go someplace where Iwa-chan can't come too," Tooru had replied, blinking watery eyes. "Never."
"What about when you're old and married, Tooru-chan?" his sister had teased. "You want Hajime to come with you on your honeymoon?"
She’d snickered as their mom had hissed "he's six!" at her, and Tooru had looked over at her defiantly.
"Yes," he'd answered, even though he hadn't been quite sure what a honeymoon even was. He'd curled his toes in his shoes, feeling the urge to stomp his feet, or maybe get out of the car and walk back home, and maybe make Hajime build a fort of pillows and towels and sheets in the upstairs hallway where they could hide away from everyone else.
"You won't feel that way forever," his mother had said, reaching back to hand him a tissue for his face. "You'll both grow up and grow apart, and I'll tell you this story when you're a teenager to embarrass you. Blow your nose, okay?"
And Tooru had taken the tissue and wiped carelessly at his face, and thought, in the uncomplicated way of six year olds, that if growing up meant not wanting to be with Hajime all the time, he didn't want to grow up.
Calling it a party is something of a stretch, when really it's just Tooru's few close friends, sitting around in Hanamaki's living room playing a game of Snakes and Ladders Matsukawa had picked up as a joke gift from the hundred-yen store, with everyone taking shots any time a roll of the die had anyone landing on a snake. Kyoutani is particularly competitive, slamming his piece down on the board angrily with every set-back, sloshing tequila out of everyone's shotglasses and onto the table, leaving behind a sticky film on the glass that Tooru's already started to draw tiny lewd stick-figures in with his nail.
"You know," Hanamaki says, refilling his and Matsukawa's glasses as Yachi slides her pale blue figurine down a snake, looking mournfully at her position on the board as Kyoutani sulkily grabs the die, still in last place, "if it weren't for the tequila, I'd think this was your tenth birthday party."
"I had a lot more candy at my tenth birthday," Tooru said, taking a gulp of water from the bottle of it at his side. "And how do you know? Maybe I was knocking back shots like a pro when I was ten!"
"What a horrible image," Hanamaki drawls. "That's nightmare fuel, Oikawa. Even fifteen year old you knocking back shots sounds like a horror film."
"Maybe we should have hired a stripper," says Matsukawa, and Tooru shakes his head, watching Yachi pat Kyoutani gingerly on the back as he rolls a three.
"Think of Yachi-chan!" Tooru wags his finger in Hanamaki's face. "Besides, if I wanted to look at someone beautiful and sexy, I'd just go look in the mirror~"
"You disgust me," Hanamaki says, drinking the freshly poured shot, and then standing up on unsteady legs. "Who wants cake?"
"Is there a stripper in the cake?" Matsukawa asks hopefully, and Hanamaki picks up his bottle of water and squirts it twice on Matsukawa's face.
"Why are you so invested--" The doorbell rings, and Hanamaki stops speaking, looking toward the door with pursed lips, before glancing obliquely in Tooru's direction. "I'll get that first," he says.
Tooru hears Hajime's voice soon after Hanamaki's door opens, low and tired, and Tooru's heart races as he slowly looks over his shoulder to look at the entrance to the living room.
Hajime doesn't look all that different than he looked a couple of weeks ago. His hair hasn't gotten any longer, and his tan hasn't faded. To Tooru, though, who hadn't expected Hajime to come at all, he looks a little perfect, standing there with a medium-sized wrapped package with the tiniest of smiles on his face as he looks around the room.
"Whose idea was the Snakes and Ladders drinking game?" Hajime asks, and Kyoutani growls profanities under his breath as Matsukawa raises his hand like a proud primary-schooler.
"Iwa-chan," Tooru says, a wide smile across his face that he knows can't possibly look real, "I didn't think you'd make it!"
"I have never missed a single one of your birthdays, Shittykawa," Hajime replies, crossing the living room to squat down in front of Tooru. He holds out the present, and Tooru takes it. "Open it later, when you get home." He narrows his eyes. "And don't shake it.”
Actually about to rattle it to see what sound it makes, Tooru stops himself just in time. "Is it an explosive?" He wiggles his eyebrows, and Hajime frowns at him. "Is that why you want me to wait?"
"No," Hajime says. "It'll just be easier, if you do." He looks around the room, making eye contact with everyone there. "Don't let him open it, okay?"
"You can count on us," Matsukawa says. He's looking between Tooru and Hajime uncertainly. "You staying?"
"Oh, should we restart the game, Iwaizumi?" Yachi asks, politely, and Kyoutani looks briefly hopeful, but Hajime just shakes his head.
"I just wanted to drop by and leave Oikawa his present," Hajime replies. "He got pissy the last time I was late." He stands again, calves flexing as he rises from his squat, right as Hanamaki returns with the cake. "He wrote me a really passive-aggressive letter and taped it to my desk with E.T. stickers."
"I was nine," Tooru says, faintly. "You can't hold something against me from when I was nine!"
Hajime snorts, and Hanamaki sets the cake down on the table, forestalling Tooru's impassioned defense. "Blow out your candles before Iwaizumi leaves," he says.
Tooru looks at the chocolate cake in front of him, with a three and a zero shaped candle, and then closes his eyes.
"Don't forget to make a wish, Trashykawa," Hajime says, voice as warm as a caress, and Tooru fills his lungs and blows.
He opens his eyes to thin trails of smoke.
"Would you like to take a piece with you?" Hanamaki asks Hajime.
"No, thank you," he says. He looks down at Tooru again, and his smile slips a little. "I should be going. It's World's, so I've got morning practice at five." He laughs lightly. "Or as Oikawa calls it, Hell-Freezing-Over o'clock."
"I'll see you to the door," Tooru says, scrambling up from his seat and almost knocking over his shot glass.
"I've been here as often as you have," Hajime says, but Tooru ignores him, walking past him to stand at the edge of the genkan, leaning against the wall as Hajime moves past him to put on his sneakers.
He bends over to tie them, and Tooru clenches his hands into fists. "Thank you," he says, too loud, and too fast. "For coming, I mean. I didn't expect..."
Finished with his shoes, Hajime uncurls his back, looking up slightly at Tooru, who stands taller than him thanks to the step down to the foyer. "Like I said, I've never missed your birthday, and I didn't intend to start today."
"I never meant to fuck everything up," Tooru says. "All I've ever wanted is to keep you close."
"Oikawa..." Hajime reaches out toward Tooru, almost touching him, and stopping just shy of grasping his arm, flexing his fingers slightly before he sighs out: "It was already fucked up. It's been fucked up for years."
"If it's been fucked up for years, won't you stay a little longer?" Tooru asks, and Hajime’s fingers end up barely brushing the inside of Tooru’s elbow as he pulls away, stepping backwards.
He straightens his shoulders and looks at Tooru for a spell, gaze flitting from Tooru’s eyes to his nose and finally to his mouth. He smiles, small but genuine. "No," he says, and then he takes another step back, turns around, and walks out, leaving Tooru standing in the genkan staring at a closed door.
He stays there until a tipsy Yachi comes and finds him, her small hand clasping his bigger one and tugging gently. "Oikawa?"
"He said no," Tooru tells her, knowing that she won’t understand what he means, what the word had meant in the moment, the significance of it, but needing to say it anyway.
"Come back to the living room," she says, "before Kyoutani eats the entire cake."
"Fine," he says, and he returns to his friends, and smiles and laughs and means none of it at all as his birthday comes to a close.
When he gets home, it's two in the morning. He sits at the kitchen table with Hajime's present in front of him, examining the neatly wrapped corners and the bright bow in Seijou sea-blue.
He unwraps it slowly, peeling back the paper and opening the cardboard box inside carefully. Inside is a plant, barely budding, in a ceramic pot just like the one he keeps Hajime-chan in. There's a note, too, scribbled in Hajime's practical, even hand.
Shittykawa, it says, and Tooru traces the kana with his thumb, imagining Hajime deciding on whether to use that awful nickname or not, "This is a cobra lily. It's kind of like you: It'll sleep all winter, because it gets cold way too easily, and it really loves bugs, especially butterflies. (As a warning, though, it'll try to eat anything that gets close enough to its mouth if you let it get hungry enough.) It's one of the prettiest of the carnivorous plants, but it's also extremely high-maintenance. It'll demand lots more attention than a Venus flytrap, but if you take care of it well, it'll bloom-- bright red and showy. See? Just like you, really. You should name it Tooru-chan."
He hears the words of the note in Hajime's voice, alternating between teasing and serious, and Tooru tries to read it again but the words blur, making him angrily blink to clear the wetness from his eyes.
It's perfect, Tooru decides, looking at the little plant poking out of damp soil. It's the perfect present, just like the flytrap had been, and Tooru already loves it so much, and...
And the thing is, the thing is, it's no surprise that Hajime knows Tooru. Hajime has always known Tooru, in the same instinctual way a dragonfly knows how close it can skim the water without getting its wings wet.
Hajime knows him, inside and out, in a way no one else ever will, and he still thinks Tooru is someone worth knowing, even after seeing pieces of Tooru better left in the dark.
It's scary to sit here at the kitchen table and know that he is at a fork in the road, one path leading to where Tooru's always been supposed to go, and the other leading to the only place Tooru's ever really going to belong. It's scary because Tooru's been telling himself for years and years that Hajime isn't what he should want, isn't what he should need, not like this. It's scary because Tooru's heart feels too heavy and full to carry down that first path all by himself, even if it’s safer, and it's scary because he knows Hajime has the strength of a Hercules beetle, capable of carrying a heart that is a hundred times his own weight.
Looking around at his empty kitchen, at his whole empty apartment, that had only felt like home when little pieces of Hajime had started to trickle in, Tooru thinks it is inevitable that he would end up here.
He reaches out and pulls the pot closer, smoothing down the top layer of soil with his fingertips. "High-maintenance, huh?"
He looks down at the soil sticking to his fingers, and smiles, his stomach in a thousand knots and his heart in his throat.
Really, he made this choice a long time ago. He made it that night in the bathroom, when he'd pulled Hajime in by the collar and kissed him. He made it again weeks ago, pinned under Hajime on the hotel floor in Okinawa. He made it a hundred times between.
In the end, Tooru will always choose Hajime, thrusting aside anything else, no matter how enormous and frightening. Maybe, Tooru thinks, he too has the strength of a Hercules beetle, when push comes to shove.
He slides back from the table, and goes into his recycling to find a jar.
Tooru had remained undaunted, though, crawling around on his knees in their backyards under the gentler late afternoon sun, pushing aside the grass with one hand and holding on to a pickling jar with his other arm, a piece of cheesecloth left back on the back steps for later to seal it off.
"What are you even doing?" Hajime had asked, startling him into almost dropping the jar.
"Collecting," Tooru had replied, returning to his task and cheerfully shouting "Aha!" as he spotted a tiny pill bug clinging to a blade of grass for shade. He scooped his nail underneath it, easing it onto the tip of his finger, and then held it up for Hajime to examine.
Hajime had crossed his eyes, peering at it. "Why are you collecting them?"
"Ami in class 5C says she likes cute things," Tooru had replied. "Pill bugs are cute."
"Are they?" Hajime had sat down next to him and started half-heartedly looking too, separating the blades of grass by combing his fingers through them. "Why do you care what Ami in class 5C likes?"
"She's cool," Tooru had replied, thinking back to when Ami had told off a few boys who'd tried to steal Hajime's favorite coloring book last week while Hajime had been in the bathroom, interceding before Tooru had even gotten the chance. "And tall."
"She is tall," said Hajime, sounding unsure about the whole business. "So since you like her, you want to give her a bunch of pill bugs. Because they're cute."
"Yep!" Tooru took the one steadily climbing along the edge of his finger and gently eased it into the jar.
He'd looked over at Hajime to see his face, but Hajime had found one, and he was staring at it with fixed concentration, his eyebrows gathered tightly. "I guess you're right," he'd said, reaching for the jar.
"About what?" Tooru had asked.
Hajime had grinned at him. "Pill bugs are kind of cute."
Tooru has always thought so. When they'd bought their first apartment, Tooru had looked out the kitchen window and seen Tokyo Bay, and he'd thought I could live here forever.
Driving down streets he'd seen plenty of on foot his first four years living in Tokyo, he still thinks he could've.
Hajime's new apartment is not too far from the one they'd shared. It's bigger, and in a newer building, with a revolving door and a security guard behind a desk.
Tooru's only been here twice. Once, when Hajime had a housewarming party, only a few months after Tooru himself had moved out of their old place, and again when Tooru had driven over with his sister there so they could drop off a package from Hajime's mom they'd picked up while visiting home.
He leaves everything in the car outside save for his keys and the plastic bag in the passenger seat, which he's careful not to swing as he picks it up.
Hajime'd had a match this afternoon. Japan had won, securing a berth in the semi-finals. Tooru had watched the game sprawled out on the couch, sleepy from staying awake all night, watching as Hajime slammed the ball down just inside the line in the third set, taking it home for the team in a straight.
That had been hours ago, though, and Tooru is sure that even if Hajime and his teammates had gone out for drinks, he'll be home now, because Hajime is like an old man and sleeps before midnight.
The security guard looks up as he walks in, and Tooru walks up to the desk with his fingers tightening around the handle of his plastic bag.
"Iwaizumi Hajime," Tooru says, when the guard asks him whose room he's headed up to. "I'm Oikawa Tooru."
The guard nods, and picks up the phone, dialing 603, Hajime's room number. It rings twice, and then Hajime answers, and even from the other side of his desk he can hear Hajime's sleepy voice. "There's an Oikawa Tooru here for you. Can I send him up?"
Tooru thinks, maybe, that this is it. If Hajime doesn't want to see him, Tooru will get back in his car, and that will give him too much time to think. Too much time to reconsider. If Hajime doesn't want to see him--
"You can go up," the guard tells him, hanging up the phone. "He's in six-oh-"
"Three," Tooru finishes. "I remember."
The guard nods, and returns his attention to the open book in front of him, and Tooru heads toward the elevator.
When he exits on Hajime's floor, he takes the last few steps down the hall in time with his heartbeat, and when he stops in front of Hajime's door, it takes him a few moments to lift his hand and ring the bell.
Hajime answers the door sleep-rumpled and gorgeous, in a thin white T-shirt worn threadbare at the armpits and a pair of loose pajama pants that he's had since high school, too taut at the thigh and short at the ankles. His hair is a ruffled disaster and his face is creased with lines from his pillow, and he smells like fresh deodorant and summer and childhood and happiness.
"It's late, Oikawa," Hajime says. "Ordinary people are going to sleep."
"I've never been ordinary, Iwa-chan," Tooru replies, licking his lips. "I'm extraordinary."
"Extraordinarily rude." Hajime moves aside. "Come in, already."
Tooru enters, leaving his shoes and padding barefoot into Hajime's living room. Everything is in its place, and even Hajime's throw blanket is folded up on the back of his sofa neatly. "Do you even live here?"
"You're just not used to what it looks like when people pick up after themselves." Hajime turns on another light, brightening up the room, and gestures for Tooru to sit down. Tooru doesn't, though, and Hajime patiently stares Tooru down for a while as Tooru tries to gather the frayed threads of his thoughts into something coherent. Eventually, though, Hajime exhales, sits down on the arm of the sofa, and asks: "What are you doing here, Oikawa?"
"Tooru-chan is really adorable," Tooru says, and Hajime's brows furrow. "Not big enough to eat flies yet, let alone butterflies, but he does tilt toward them when they buzz around."
"Ah," Hajime says, looking away, toward the far wall. Tooru doesn't follow his gaze, instead watching the slight twitch of the muscle in Hajime's jaw, and the way his hands fumble nervously with each other in his lap. "You like him?"
"Only you would know exactly the right thing to get me," Tooru replies. "How did you know I was worried about Hajime-chan being lonely?" Hajime's eyes dart over to Tooru, and Tooru shifts the plastic bag from his left hand into his right. "It made me realize that I owed you a birthday present too, though, since..." Tooru shifts his weight, "...Since I ruined the other one."
He holds out the bag, and Hajime just looks at it for a while, making no move to take it.
Shuffling forward, Tooru keeps his arm extended, letting the bag hang right in front of Hajime's face, so he has no choice but to accept it.
"What’s this?" he asks, finally lifting the plastic bag from Tooru's fingers, careful not to let their fingers brush.
"It’s for you," Tooru replies. He can feel himself going numb. "I… it’s for you."
"Obviously, Shittykawa," Hajime says, his face going full-grump even as his hands shake.
Seeing a man as solid and sure as Hajime looking so uncertain has Tooru wanting to touch him and reassure him the way he himself has been so many times reassured, but Tooru just stands there, and waits.
Hajime sets the bag down on the downward slope of his thigh, and opens it. "A… jar?" He reaches in and takes it out, and when he sees what’s inside it, he almost lets it fall, shock written along every millimeter of his face. Instead, though, it's the bag he lets fall, gripping the jar with both hands and holding it up so that he can see its contents in the light.
"It takes a lot longer to catch them by myself," Tooru says, as Hajime looks at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. "And they're harder to see at night. I went to that park near my place." He rubs his hands on his jeans. "It took hours, but I wanted to catch at least a hundred of them." He takes a shuddering breath. "And we should probably let them free soon, because I put a wet paper towel in there for them, but Armadillidium vulgare need more moisture to survive, and they shouldn't really be kept as pets."
Hajime swallows, and sets the jar down on his coffee table, fingers lingering on the cheesecloth cover as he stares at it, and then turns back to Tooru, his lips parted and his dark eyes shining in the light.
"I considered flowers," Tooru says, "but I figured you already know that I think killing flowers like that is a waste, and I figured that you would understand this--" He gestures to the pill bugs. "More clearly than flowers, because you understand me even when I don't understand myself."
"Oikawa," Hajime says.
"You always have," Tooru says. "Understood me, I mean, so I hope that you realize--"
Tooru stops, biting his lip, and braves the silence.
"Do you mean it?" Hajime asks, then, so slowly and deliberately that Tooru is sure he's hearing it from kilometers away instead of scarcely a meter. "Oikawa Tooru, do you mean it."
"Iwa-chan," Tooru replies, lifting up his heart with all the strength he has and holding it out for Hajime to take, "I've always meant it."
"I hate you," Hajime says, and he stands up from his perch on the arm of the sofa, reaches out to cup Tooru's face with both hands, and kisses him.
Tooru grabs on to Hajime's forearms to anchor himself and opens for him, letting Hajime press in as close as he wants and take. Everything else in the world fades out to nothing as Hajime crowds him backwards until Tooru's back hits the wall, Hajime's thigh sliding up between his as one of his hands moves to tangle in Tooru's hair and the other slips down to cradle his neck, thumb pressed roughly to Tooru's pulse point as Tooru tilts his head back for more.
Hajime groans as Tooru grinds down on his thigh and slips his hands up under that too thin tee, running his hands along hard muscle and soft skin as he tries to pull Hajime in closer, as close as he can get, as close as they are in every other way that counts.
"For the record, Oikawa," Hajime says, pulling away from Tooru to steal a few quick breaths, a hand sliding down Tooru's back and then up Tooru's shirt to press warm and callused to the curve at the end of his spine, "hundreds of tiny roly-poly bugs are not more romantic than a thousand flowers." He laughs, and it tickles Tooru's chin. "You're so fucking weird."
"I'm amazing," Tooru replies breathlessly. "It's the most romantic thing ever, and you know it."
"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Hajime murmurs again, swallowing Tooru's protests with another searing kiss, his tongue slipping past Tooru's teeth. Tooru whimpers, his own fingers traversing the expanse of Hajime's chest before dragging down his abs, palm crossing the thin line of hair that leads down to the waist of Hajime's shorts.
Every centimeter of Hajime is familiar, and at the same time, under Tooru's hands and lips and tongue, he's also new. This time, Tooru doesn't pull back, doesn't let fear and guilt rise up between them like another goddamn wall, and relearns the feel of Hajime's hands lingering on his hipbones, and the way his hand feels in his hair. He savors how Hajime finds each and every place Tooru likes to be touched and avoids the ticklish spots without errors as he relearns Tooru, too.
"You," Tooru says, when Hajime lightens his kisses to nips at Tooru's lower lip and soft licks to the corners of his mouth. Tooru peppers kisses to Hajime's chin and cheeks and the dip between his upper lip and his nose, before tucking his face into the curve of Hajime's neck.
"Me what?" Hajime asks, and that voice is new, husky and rich with want, and Tooru wonders if he'll ever run out of things about Hajime to like.
"What helps me sleep at night," Tooru says, letting his weight rest against the wall as Hajime presses their foreheads together, looking straight into Tooru's eyes. "It's you." Tooru smirks. "And wine, sometimes. I have to give credit where credit is due--"
"Shut up, Oikawa," Hajime says, laughter edging in around the desire, and Tooru thinks he could conquer the world.
"Make me," Tooru replies, and Hajime uses his index finger to tilt his chin up, and kisses him again.
"I don’t know why I gave you a key to my office," Tooru says.
"I was lonely in our old dungeon without you," she replies. "No, but seriously, you look different."
Tooru touches his face as he circles her chair to sit behind his desk in the oversized comfortable chair Miguchi had bought years ago, pressing his fingers to his nose, cheeks and chin. "I don’t have a zit, do I?" He groans dramatically. "If I do, I’m going home!"
Sasada laughs at his antics, but something lingers in her eyes as she studies him over the edge of her laptop. "No zits, I promise."
Tooru wonders if waking up this morning, and every morning for that past few weeks, body curled into Hajime’s, their limbs interlaced and his face pressed into the warm curve of Hajime’s neck, has left a visible mark on him, something other people can see and know what it means. He wonders, and his stomach twists.
Finally, though, Sasada leans back in her seat, satisfied, and says: "I think you just seem happier."
"Happier?" Tooru runs a hand through his hair, and smiles at her, tension unspooling. "What does happier look like? I hope it includes smaller pores on my nose."
Sasada gives him an arch look. "Get to work, Oikawa. I know you’ve got syllabi to write." Tooru opens his mouth to make a joke about how he’s waiting for solitude in his own office to compose, but Sasada continues before he even starts. "And whatever it is that’s made you happier… I’m glad you have it."
"Me too," Tooru says quietly, thinking of the scent of deodorant and summer. He looks at the window-sill, where Hajime-chan and Tooru-chan have made a comfortable home where the light of day streams in the longest, and notices that Tooru-chan has started to grow, curving stalk leaning naturally toward Hajime-chan’s lowest two traps, like the distance between their pots is too far. Tooru bites his lip. "Me too."
"They used to share a brain on the court," Yahaba corrects, helping Yachi to carry the score-card from the gym closet onto the court. "Are you sure it’s okay to use this place, Oikawa-senpai?"
"Yeah, yeah!" Tooru dismissively waves a hand, shaking out his legs to get used to the feeling of kneepads again. "I already checked and there’s no practice today, and staff are allowed to use the facilities." He buffs his nails on the breast of his T-shirt. "Besides, if any of my students wander in, they’ll be delighted to see their favorite professor in a pair of shorts!"
"Gross," Kyoutani says, on the other side of the net, where he’s doing push-ups as he waits for Yahaba to finish with the sign.
"Really," Hanamaki says, "Having Iwaizumi alone on your team is a complete disadvantage for us. He should sit out. Hitoka-chan should play."
"Please don’t drag me into this," Yachi replies, blushing. "I’ll just do the scoring, all right?"
"I promise to take it easy on you," Hajime says, and Tooru elbows him.
"We don’t take it easy on anyone, Iwa-chan! That is not how you approach a competition!" Hajime laughs at him, and Tooru pokes his arm. "Honestly, there are no true friends in war."
"It’s a pick-up game, Shittykawa, not the Inter-highs."
"Best of three sets?" Matsukawa asks. He’s got a ball under each arm, and he rolls one across the court to Yachi, who taps it with her foot to stop its progress. "Like high school?"
"Sounds good," Yahaba agrees, stretching his arms over his head, bending down to cross under the net to Hanamaki and Kyoutani’s side. Kyoutani glares at him, still looking a little bitter that Hajime isn’t on his team, but they’d drawn lots and Tooru had been smugly pleased that even fate wanted Tooru and Hajime playing with each other again. "After all, we wouldn’t want to wear Oikawa-senpai out completely."
"You traitor!" Tooru puts a hand to his chest. "I taught you everything you know, and you turn on me like this?"
Yahaba just grins.
"Are we starting some time today?" Kyoutani asks, and Tooru accepts the second ball from Matsukawa, heading back toward the service line.
It’s a three-on-three match, just something casual Hajime had set up because Tooru had mentioned offhand that he wondered if he could even still serve. Even so, Tooru’s eyes scan the court, dissecting the immediately visible holes in their defense, and the tension in Kyoutani’s right leg from impatience that’ll having him moving slowly to block in that direction.
"Shall we begin?"
"Oh yes, Great King," Hanamaki says, and Yahaba snickers.
When the ball goes up, Tooru can feel the rush of excitement, energy coming up from his toes and lancing up through his calves and thighs as he springs into a jump to complete the serve. The ball hits soundly against his palm and flies rapidly over the net, right past Hanamaki and Kyoutani.
It’s not as strong as it used to be, Tooru realizes, as Yahaba dives for the save, managing to set up a slightly wonky spike for Kyoutani to send back over the net.
Matsukawa digs it up before it can hit the court, sending it right to Tooru, who forms a triangle with his index fingers and thumbs as he squats right below the ball, tossing right to the high point of Hajime’s pre-emptive jump.
Hajime spikes it down hard along the sideline for a point, and Matsukawa whoops excitedly and Kyoutani agitatedly cracks his knuckles.
Hajime grins at him, grinning from a solid point like he doesn’t play for more high stakes every week on a national stage, and he turns to Tooru, holding up both hands for high fives. "Nice toss," he says, as Tooru's palms slap his. Tooru goes to drop his hands, but Hajime laces their fingers together instead.
Tooru's heart races, from adrenaline and affection and the feel of Hajime's hands linked with his own. "Nice spike, too," Tooru replies. "You ever think about going pro?"
"I've considered it a time or two," Hajime says, with a laugh.
"You're almost as good as I am," Tooru says. "It's worth thinking about."
"Almost?" Shaking his hair out of his face, Hajime shuffles a bit closer, until the toes of his sneakers bump Tooru’s. "I guess I'll keep in in mind, then."
"Man like you could medal in the Olympics some day."
"Hey!" Tooru looks over to the other side of the net, where Hanamaki is impatiently spinning a volleyball. He looks amused though, and happy. "You gonna just hold hands all day, or are we going to get this show on the road?"
"In that much of a hurry to get your ass handed to you, Makki-chan?"
Hanamaki raises his eyebrows. "You're awfully confident for a man who hasn't played a match in fifteen years. Though you do have Iwaizumi."
"I might be a bit rusty," Tooru says loftily, "but it'll be more than enough to beat you, Yahaba-chan, and Mad-Dog-chan. You mustn't forget I was your captain and setter-- I still know all of your weaknesses."
"Your personality is so bad," Hajime says, untangling their fingers and holding out his hands for Kyoutani to pass him the ball under the net.
Tooru chuckles, fluttering his eyelashes when Hajime looks back at him. "I’m your favorite," he says, and wiggles his fingers to ask for the ball. He catches it easily, and rolls it in his hands, feeling the seams. "You’re not fooling anyone, Iwa-chan~ You adore me! I am the sugar to your Papilio machaon, the flame to your moth—"
"The pain in my ass…"
"Only if you ask really nicely," Tooru replies, letting Hajime sputter in embarrassment as Matsukawa groans in misery, and then he sends the ball up above him, and prepares to serve again.
Later, Tooru knows, they’ll go to his sister’s house for dinner, and his sister will tease them both, acceptance written in every gesture as Tooru holds Hajime’s hand under the table. Later than that, they’ll go back to Tooru’s apartment and put a few more things into boxes in preparation for his next move, and then smush together on the sofa despite the sticky heat and watch reruns of The X-files on television until Hajime falls asleep, turning from handsome boyfriend to slumbering pumpkin at midnight. Even later, Tooru will rest his ear on Hajime’s chest, and listen to his heartbeat as he lies awake, thinking that even if in the vastness of the universe, Tooru and Hajime are nothing but ants, Tooru’s world is much smaller than that, and Hajime has always been the center of it.
It’s not that Tooru isn’t still scared. It’s not that he doesn’t hesitate. He can’t stop doing those things just because he’s chosen this, just because he doesn’t regret it, because he, like a butterfly, remembers every sign of danger he learned as a caterpillar, and life isn’t something anyone can ever really start over from scratch.
As his palm hits the ball with a satisfying smack, sending it spiraling through the air with perfect precision just the way he used to in high school, lactic acid burning in his calves and the court spread out below him like a kingdom waiting for him to conquer it, Tooru thinks that also, maybe, like a butterfly, he has emerged from the cocoon of the past ten years with a strong and beautiful pair of wings.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
endless 'thank you's to my plot-beta team, the incomparable annie and threewalls, whose tireless plot reads mid-scene, encouragement, enabling, and enthusiasm for how much i enjoy making my protagonists suffer is all that allows me to finish fics of any length. a relieved and grateful thank you to mec, who trawls through hundreds and hundreds of thousands of my words a year and forgives me for my horrible grammar mistakes, and more importantly, fixes them. thanks, additionally, to my hand-holders that held me accountable for writing: especially, this time, tiantian, junebugs, bluedreaming, winny, and kflawless, who yelled at me every time they saw me on twitter talking about the raven cycle instead of writing, completely and agonizingly aware that i was attempting to write almost 70000 words in an exchange with a 31 day writing period.
and of course, thank you to anyone who bothered to read this whole thing! i hope you enjoyed it!