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with you, an eternity

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i. loved you once

 

There is a boy, who comes in the summertime.

 

Hajime sees the moving trucks, coming and going as they unload boxes and boxes into the once-empty house across his that had belonged to old Fujiwara-san before she had moved away to stay with her grandson in Kyoto.

The family arrives three days later, and Hajime knows this because they’re loud and distracting as they bumble out of their car. Or rather, he’s loud and distracting. Hajime peeks out of his window when he hears the frustrated grumbles and whines from below that carries into his room.

It’s a boy about his age, with tousled brown hair, skinny limbs and pale, pale skin. The boy has his arms crossed and he’s pouting and whining to a woman—his Okaa-san probably—about something.

Hajime thinks he’s a brat. There was no way, Hajime decides, that he’d be friends with someone as whiny as that.

 

It’s four days before they properly meet. Hajime’s Okaa-san had invited their new neighbours over. There’s that same woman Hajime had seen from his window, and a younger one, who’s probably around the same age as Hajime’s oldest cousin. And then there’s him.

The boy is staring at Hajime, an intense sort of curiosity in his eyes. Hajime thinks it’s almost akin to the intensity of the gaze of the tigers that he sees on the nature documentaries he watches sometimes—calculating and almost predatory. Hajime turns his gaze down as his Okaa-san introduces them as Oikawa-san, Keiko-chan and Tooru-kun, their new neighbours who had just moved from Tokyo.  

Hajime mumbles his greetings, and his Okaa-san laughs as she reassures Oikawa-san that Hajime isn’t usually that shy. “He just needs a little time getting to know people better,” she tells Oikawa-san before suggesting to Hajime, “Why don’t you go and play with Tooru-kun while Oikawa-san and I chat?”

Hajime wants to protest, because he doesn’t like the way the boy—Tooru—had stared at him, and also because Tooru was a brat and Hajime doesn’t want to be friends with someone like him, but he doesn’t want to upset his Okaa-san either. So instead he nods and grips Tooru’s arm and drags the shorter boy out of the door.

“Come on,” Hajime grumbles as he picks up his bug-catching net and jars that he’d left outside the door yesterday.

“Where are we going?” Tooru asks him, sounding genuinely curious. It sounds a lot different from the high-pitched, whiny complains that Hajime had heard four days ago. His voice now sounds like the tinkling of bells, light and melodic. Hajime thinks that he likes this Tooru better.

“Bug-catching,” Hajime tells Tooru, tugging at the brunet’s wrist, “C’mon, I’ll show you all the best spots.”

And he does. He leads Tooru to the forest near their houses, the same one that his Otou-san had brought him to the first time they’d gone bug-catching together. It’s the same one that leads to a meadow where Hajime’s family goes stargazing sometimes.

Hajime isn’t really sure why he’s bringing Tooru of all people to his special forest and showing him all the best spots to catch beetles and butterflies, but he thinks maybe he was being unfair when he’d called Tooru a brat, and this is an unofficial (and unspoken) apology. His Okaa-san had told him that it is rude to judge someone too quickly, and Hajime feels a little guilty for doing that to Tooru.

Hajime shows Tooru around the forest, pointing to the different species of trees and flowers and bugs. The younger boy is looking at him in awe and Hajime can’t help but puff out his chest a little more as he rambles on, recalling everything his Otou-san had taught him about the woods.

They catch their first bug at one of Hajime’s special spots, a fallen pine tree beside a cluster of rocks that lie close to the river that runs north.

It is a rhinoceros beetle, kabutomushi, sitting delicately on the tree’s trunk, its sleek shell shiny in the afternoon sun. It’s a sizeable one too, with a strong-looking horn and long, slender legs. Perfect. Hajime swipes at it with a practiced ease, holding the beetle out proudly to show Tooru once he’s caught it.

Tooru’s reaction is……unexpected. He screeches at the insect dangling in front of his face, his nose wrinkling up and tears starting to brim at his eyes.

“Get it away, Iwa-chan, it’s gross!” he yells, scrunching his eyes shut.

Iwa-ch—what?” Hajime frowns at the nickname and at Tooru’s reaction; he had thought that Tooru would like bugs, considering how excited the younger boy had been earlier on. He rolls his eyes as he deposits the beetle into one of his jars. “God, you’re so whiny. Stop crying.”

Tooru’s looking up at him now, bottom lip trembling as the tears threaten to spill from his eyes. Hajime sighs, and reaches forward to awkwardly brush Tooru’s tears away.

“Hey, Tooru, stop crying. ‘M Sorry, alright?” Hajime doesn’t really know why he’s apologising, but there’s something about the way Tooru is looking at him with his big, puppy-dog eyes and the pout on his face. It’s the very same pout Hajime had hated four days ago, but it’s different when he’s the recipient of it.

“C’mon, I’ll catch a butterfly for you. Those are pretty, right?” He holds his hand out to Tooru, and the younger boy sniffles, but doesn’t hesitate, before reaching to grip Hajime’s hand. They spend the rest of the afternoon looking for butterflies in the forest. Tooru’s hand stays in Hajime’s the entire time.

✧✧✧

Oikawa-san invites Hajime and his parents over for tea a week later, and Hajime finds himself in Tooru’s backyard, watching the boy bump a ball up and down. “What’s that?” Hajime asks Tooru, his eyes following the ball’s repeated motions.

“It’s a volleyball!” Tooru grins, eyes sparkling with excitement. “It’s really fun! Otou-san used to play together with me, and he taught me how to spike and serve.” There’s a lapse, and the smile drops from Tooru’s face. “He’s always so busy now though, and he never makes time for me anymore. Or Okaa-san. He’s always working and stuff. Okaa-san said we had to come here because of him and his job, or something.”

“Oh,” is all Hajime says, because he doesn’t really know how to respond to that. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Tooru shrugs nonchalantly, “I can play all by myself anyway. Don’t need him or anything.” The look in his eyes say otherwise, but Hajime doesn’t comment on it. A smile finds its way back onto the brunet’s face, although Hajime can’t help but feel like there is something different about this one. It doesn’t seem as genuine as the one before.

“Here, Iwa-chan, I’ll show you how to play, so you can play together with me instead. It’s really fun!” Tooru changes the topic quickly, and Hajime lets it slide.

The two of them spend the remainder of the Iwaizumis’ visit laughing as they toss the ball to each other, sweaty in the summer sun. Hajime forgets about the smile that does not reach Tooru’s eyes.

✧✧✧

The two of them make use of most of their vacation playing and hanging out together, spending their time at each other’s houses and the forest. Hajime’s special forest soon becomes Hajime’s and Tooru’s special forest, although he doesn’t bring Tooru to his meadow yet. Still, he shares almost everything else with the other boy. They become close friends soon enough. 

When summer vacation ends and school starts again for Hajime, he finds out on his first day back that Tooru is enrolled in the same elementary school as he is.

“Iwa-chan!” Tooru greets him excitedly from where he’s standing at their school gates, beaming wide. Hajime waves goodbye to his Okaa-san as he runs towards the other boy. They go to class together, and spend the rest of the day with each other. Hajime introduces Tooru to the rest of his friends, but the boys don’t seem to like Tooru very much for some reason. They don’t say anything about it though, and Hajime doesn’t really give it much thought. Until recess, that is.

During recess Hajime usually spends the break together with his group of friends to play soccer or tag, or whatever game the boys are feeling like that day. When the bell rings signalling the start of the free period, Hajime tugs at Tooru’s arm, inviting the younger boy to join him.

“We’re playing soccer today, you should join us,” Hajime urges as they step outside into the courtyard.

“Don’t wanna,” Tooru says, pulling his arm away, “I want to play volleyball instead.” Tooru’s looking over at where a couple of girls are passing a volleyball back and forth, and Hajime frowns at his friend.

“Soccer’s fun too, c’mon, the guys and I always play together,” he offers, but Tooru has his arms folded and is pouting petulantly.

“Iwaizumi!” one of his friends is calling from where their usual group hangs out and plays during break times. One of them comes over to hurry Hajime.

“Let’s go, Iwaizumi, the rest of us are waiting,” he says, scowling at Tooru. Hajime shakes his head to tell the boy to wait before looking over at Tooru.

“I want to play volleyball, Iwa-chan,” Tooru insists, still pouting and staring grumpily at the ground.

“Volleyball?” Hajime’s friend scoffs, “Only the girls play that, weirdo. Iwaizumi, come on, or else we’re gonna start our soccer match without you.” Tooru’s biting his bottom lip now as he glares down, fists clenched and arms trembling.

“Hey,” Hajime snaps at the boy, “don’t call my friend a weirdo. You guys can start without me, I don’t care.” The boy looks like he wants to say something else, but the glare from Hajime shuts him up and he gives Tooru a scathing look instead.

“Whatever,” he sneers, waving a hand as he jogs back to the rest of the group.  

Tooru’s looking up at him, eyes still slightly glossy with unshed tears. “You didn’t have to do that, Iwa-chan,” Tooru mumbles, “‘S fine, they’re your friends and you should play with them.”

Hajime sighs, poking at Tooru’s forehead. “Dummy. You’re my friend too. He was being really mean anyway.” Tooru looks unconvinced, and Hajime sighs again (something that he’s been doing a lot since Tooru’s family had moved in, he realises), grabbing Tooru’s hand.

“Hey, you’re my best friend, alright? I’ll pick you first, always.”

Tooru rubs at his eyes, a small smile starting to tug at his lips. “You’re mine too, Iwa-chan,” Tooru murmurs, “I love you.”

Hajime has to duck his head to hide the blush blooming on his cheeks, and he hurries to find a volleyball for them to play with. The two of them spend the rest of recess together, passing the ball to each other, in a small corner of the school courtyard beside the garden with the sunflowers the teachers had planted for summer.

✧✧✧

There is a boy, who comes in the summertime, with eyes that sparkle with a thousand different emotions and smiles that mean a hundred different things. It’s fitting, Hajime thinks, because to him the boy is like the sun in summer, bright and warm.

Hajime sometimes feels like a tiny, insignificant star, just one of the millions that have been pulled into his orbit. Or a sunflower, in a field with so many others, turning to the sun like it was the most natural thing, bathing in the shared radiance of the sun’s light. It doesn’t matter to Hajime though, because he had already made his promise and his choice.

I’ll pick you first, always.

 

 

ii. love you still

 

Hajime and Tooru get into the same middle school together, and for a while everything is perfect. Kitagawa Daiichi has always been a powerhouse school known for its volleyball team, so now they get to practice volleyball together with a strong team and play in actual competitions.

Tooru makes starting lineup almost immediately because of his skill, and Hajime follows in the second year. The two of them continue to grow impossibly closer too, until they become known as a duo, never one without the other. It’s idyllic, and Hajime has nothing to worry about.

 

Their third year is when everything goes wrong.

 

Tooru has always been an overachiever and hard worker, striving to become the best. Hajime knows this, but there’s something about the arrival of the new club members when they’re in their final year that brings about a pivotal change and a Tooru that Hajime has never seen before. He starts to stay back later every day after practice, telling Hajime that it’d just be ten or fifteen more minutes of practice. But Tooru had always been a good liar, had he not? Ten and fifteen ends up becoming more like thirty or sixty each day, sometimes even more.

It’s a familiar routine for them now.

“You’ll overwork yourself and mess up your body, idiot,” Hajime will chastise as he pinches the brunet’s arm.

“Don’t be such a violent barbarian, Iwa-chan,” Tooru would bite back sarcastically, “And stop worrying so much, mom, I’m taking perfect care of my body.”

It’s always like this, back and forth, with Tooru always deflecting Hajime’s concerns and continuing to stay back and ruin his body. They’re not getting anywhere.

Hajime knows why Tooru feels the need to push himself; he catches the other boy glaring at Kageyama when the first year is practicing his tosses and his serves, the way he sneers at Kageyama in a voice thick with too much contempt, and sees the way Tooru’s shoulders stiffen whenever Kageyama scores a service ace or when their teammates praise Kageyama’s deadly accuracy.

Whenever Tooru looks at Kageyama there’s barely-concealed rage and disdain, but Hajime knows that a large part of it is just a façade, and beneath it all there’s fear. Fear that he’ll lose out, that he’ll never be good enough compared to Kageyama, fear of being second-best.

It’s like a feral cat when it is surrounded and threatened, hackles raised in self-defense to make itself look bigger.

Tooru has grown in so many ways over the years, and yet.

Somehow, he’s simultaneously managed to shrink and shrink, constantly beating himself down with his anxiety and fears. Hajime desperately wants to help, but he doesn’t know what to do, what his best friend needs. He knows that Tooru’s family is worried for him too, because Keiko had voiced her concerns to Hajime a few weeks after Tooru’s intense daily practice sessions had become routine.

 

Hajime had gone over to Tooru’s house to meet up with the brunet before walking to cram school together with him. Tooru wasn’t outside yet, and Keiko had greeted Hajime at the door instead and invited him into the house, telling him that Tooru was still taking a shower. “Tooru’s showers take forever, sorry about troubling you like that Hajime-kun,” Keiko had said, shaking her head in mock disappointment, as she set down two cups of chrysanthemum tea for them. “Have some tea, Okaa-san bought way too much chrysanthemum tea now that it’s in season, and God knows how long Tooru will take anyway.”

Hajime had let out a laugh, “Thanks onee-san, and it’s alright, I’m used to Tooru’s ridiculous habits. They’re always so extreme.”  

“Speaking of which, he’s been staying back to practice a lot more recently and Okaa-san has been really worried. I know volleyball’s important to Tooru but he shouldn’t be pushing himself like that,” Keiko had frowned as she looked straight at Hajime, with the same intensity that Hajime had seen from Tooru sometimes. “I hope this isn’t too much to ask of you, Hajime-kun, but could you make sure that he doesn’t overwork himself too much? I know you care about him too, and you’re the only one who seems to be able to get through to him, that problematic little brother of mine.”

Hajime had scowled—stupid Tooru, making his family worry—before nodding and promising to take care of Tooru. “Thanks, Hajime-kun, and don’t go too hard on him, alright?” Keiko had said then, a knowing look in her eyes as she gave him a cheeky smirk. Hajime had felt his cheeks grow warm, but hadn’t had the chance to reply because Tooru had came barrelling into the kitchen, dragging Hajime out of the door and yelling something to Keiko about not embarrassing him. The lingering touch of Tooru’s fingers on his arm didn’t help much either.

 

Thinking back, Hajime wishes that he’d done something sooner, maybe said something to Tooru that day, or the day after, or the day after. Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Hajime doesn’t see it until it plays out in front of his very eyes, and by then it’s too late. The pressure and stress and anxiety must have been building up inside Tooru, each incident with Kageyama adding more weight onto his shoulders as he takes it out on himself with more practices, more serves, more hours. Even then, for Tooru, it’s probably not enough; his anxiety won’t leave.

It’s after practice when it happens, when everyone else had gone home. Tooru is staying back for extra practice as usual, and Hajime is there to make sure that the setter doesn’t overwork himself. Only this time, Kageyama is there too. Hajime knows Kageyama isn’t the sole cause behind the way Tooru is acting, and most of the time the kid is genuine about wanting to learn more from his senpai, but he’s definitely a catalyst, and the one that sends everything tipping.

Hajime hears Kageyama asking Tooru to teach him how to do a jump serve, and Hajime turns around out of habit, in preparation to tell Tooru off just in case he starts acting like an asshole to Kageyama again. Hajime barely has time to register things as they’re happening, because everything suddenly seems like they’re occurring at a sped-up pace all at once.

Sometimes, when backed into a corner with nowhere else to go and running on instinct, feral cats scratch back.

Tooru snaps.

Hajime is thankful for his quick reflexes as he leaps in front of Tooru, grabbing the taller boy’s arm just as it is lashing out towards Kageyama.

Tooru’s eyes look wild and disoriented, so unlike the usually calm and collected Tooru that Hajime knows. Once he realises what had just happened, his arm goes limp in Hajime’s grip, shock and horror written all over his face.

“‘M sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he’s babbling non-stop, voice barely a whisper.

Hajime turns to Kageyama and tells the first year to pack up and go home. Kageyama, who’s probably still reeling from shock, nods numbly as he exits the gym.

“You idiot, what the fuck did you think you’re doing?” Hajime snarls, turning back to Tooru who’s staring at the ground with wide and unfocused eyes. Tooru’s trembling, Hajime can see it in his arms, although he’s trying to cover it by clenching and unclenching his fist. There’s the strangest sense of déjà vu, Hajime thinks, but does not dwell on it.

Let it out, let it out. It’s okay to let go and cry, Hajime wants to scream and shake his best friend, but instead he stares silently at the other boy, waiting for a reply.

“I—I have to win, Iwa-chan, I have to win and go to Nationals. But no matter what I do, I can’t beat Shiratorizawa or Ushiwaka-chan, and I can’t be as good as Tobio-chan because I’m not a fucking genius like he is and—” Tooru is shaking all over, but all Hajime can feel is rage.

He’s angry at himself for not being able to prevent this from happening, and angry at the fact that his best friend, the sharpest and most perceptive person Hajime knows, can’t see that the way that he sees himself is so, so wrong.

Hajime lunges forward, headbutting his friend in the face. Tooru screeches as he collapses onto the ground, holding his bloody nose.

Tooru bleeds, because he is human.

“Dumbass!” Hajime barks, “All you ever talk about is you, you, you. You’re not fighting this alone; there are six of us on the court. No matter who our opponent is, we’re here for you, a team of six is stronger, idiot.” Hajime sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. He helps Tooru up, and grabs his best friend’s shoulders. “I’m here for you, Stupidkawa, okay? We’re a team, and I’m right here beside you. And I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. You’re not alone.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then a smile begins to appear on Tooru’s face. “You’re right, Iwa-chan,” the setter turns to look directly at Hajime, and Hajime watches as the fire is rekindled in his eyes, “All of a sudden, I feel invincible.”

✧✧✧

Oikawa Tooru is not invincible.

They do not beat Shiratorizawa that year, and it seems like all their effort is for naught once again. It’s the same year that Tooru wins the best setter award though, and Hajime is insanely proud of his best friend, but he can tell that for Tooru it’s still not enough. It never seems to be.

They both graduate from Kitagawa Daiichi and go to Aoba Johsai together, despite Tooru receiving offers from Shiratorizawa High. Tooru tells Hajime that it’s because he’d “rather be strangled by a volleyball net” than go to Shiratorizawa with Ushijima, but Hajime lets himself dream that Tooru chose to go to Aoba Johsai because Hajime was going there too.

So throughout high school they remain as a duo, partners, a unified force to be reckoned with.

But Tooru is not invincible. Not even with Hajime around.

Tooru had always been one to want too much, reach too far, jump too high. Hit it till it breaks, put your all into it. Higher, higher, higher.

And then.

He falls, and it’s nothing like the gentle descent of orange maple leaves in the autumn when it happens. No, Tooru had always been reaching out further than he should, barely hanging by a thin, delicate thread. The tension builds and builds, and when it finally breaks, he plummets and crashes.

(You’ve always said to hit it till it breaks, but what if you’re the one who breaks instead?)  

They’re in their third year at Aoba Johsai when it happens (at this point, Hajime is starting to think that maybe the number three is cursed, or it’s just Tooru’s unlucky number).

It happens without warning, and Hajime doesn’t pick up on it until it’s too late once again. Hell, he probably wouldn’t even have picked up on how much Tooru was straining himself if not for Tooru’s slip-up that caused him his knee. He should have—could have—stopped it, he thinks angrily later on, but once again he was just so blind and so useless when Tooru needed him. Hajime hates it; wishes that he could do better, wishes that stupid prideful Tooru could just let him in and let him help.

Hajime is there when it happens.

It’s their daily routine, an arrangement that they have to make sure that Tooru doesn’t stay to train for too long; both of them stay back in the gym after regular practice hours, with Hajime bent over his homework while Tooru’s in the background practicing his jump serves. Hajime hears the repeated and familiar squeak of Tooru’s shoes against the gym floor, the slam of his palm against the ball, the sound of the ball bouncing against the floor as it makes contact.

A break in the routine, a crack in the wall, a chink in the armour.

There’s a crash, and Hajime immediately startles and whips around. Tooru’s lying on the floor, face twisted in agony, one hand hovering over his knee. Hajime leaps to his feet, and he’s by Tooru’s side in an instant.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Tooru is trembling as he lets out soft whimpers, “Iwa-chan, it hurts. I can’t move it.” The vulnerability in his voice is something that Hajime hasn’t heard in years, and the older boy feels his heart twinge.

“Shit, just—just wait here, alright. I’m gonna call for help.” Hajime’s panicking slightly now, because Tooru has never pushed himself so far before, and he can only hope that Tooru will be alright. He scrambles back to where their bags are lying, and fumbles for the phone. He dials for Keiko, thanking the gods when she picks up almost immediately.

“He sounds like he needs to go to the hospital, just to be safe. I’ll be there in ten,” she promises, and tells him not to worry before hanging up.

He slides down onto the floor beside Tooru, who’s biting his lip to hold back tears. Tooru, who’s always been so, so strong and so, so stupid to hold in all of his pain and emotions.

“Dumbass, I told you not to overdo it,” he mutters, rubbing Tooru’s back. He hears a stifled sob wrack Tooru’s body and Hajime sighs as he shifts to awkwardly wrap his arm around the taller boy. Tooru instinctively leans into his touch almost immediately. They stay that way until Keiko comes.

 

The injury is pretty bad, but luckily it’s not an ACL tear or worse. The doctor prescribes some pain medication, and instructs Tooru not to do any strenuous exercise for the next month or so, and he has to continue wearing a brace for precautionary measures after he’s given the OK to go back to practice too. Hajime promises the doctor that he’ll be there to make sure that Tooru takes proper care of his knee so that the injury can heal properly.

Hajime spends the night at Tooru’s, because he knows how devastating this news must be to the setter. Someone needs to be there for him.

They’re lying together in a bed too small for two growing teenage boys, but Hajime doesn’t mind. Tooru’s long stopped crying, tears having run dry and his body exhausted to the core. His face is buried in Hajime’s chest, while Hajime rubs comforting circles on his back. It feels like they’re kids again, with Hajime comforting Tooru after defending him from bullies.

“Iwa-chan,” Tooru murmurs sleepily, hugging Hajime tighter.

“Hm?”

“I—Why do you stay? All I do is make you worry, and cause you so much trouble and stress and make you deal with all of my moods and I...I’m the worst best friend ever. I’m sorry.”

“Stupid,” Hajime whispers, without any bite in his voice, “I promised you, remember? I’ll be here for you, no matter what. Even with your shitty moods and shittier personality.” Tooru lets out a whine of protest at that, but Hajime ignores him and continues, “You’re my best friend and partner, even if you’re the biggest idiot I know. I choose to stay because I care about you, and you’re not a burden or anything to me. I’m gonna stick by you forever regardless of what happens, got it?”

Tooru doesn’t say anything, but he presses closer to Hajime, and Hajime sighs as he holds his best friend in his arms. It is only after Tooru’s breathing becomes lighter and Hajime is certain that he’s asleep, that the dark-haired boy dares to press a shaky kiss to his best friend’s temple.

✧✧✧

At eighteen, Hajime thinks, Tooru is no longer the sun. Instead, he’s Icarus; a boy with too-thin wings and impossible dreams, always reaching higher, higher, higher for the sun and skies.

Tooru is eighteen when he flies too close to the sun and he burns and crashes, but the ocean below has always been ready to catch him.

I’ll be here for you, no matter what.

 

 

iii. always have

 

Tooru’s knee heals, and he’s back to playing in official matches in no time. Still, even with Tooru’s skill and determination and his unparalleled leadership, Seijou doesn’t manage to win against Shiratorizawa in the Interhigh, or Karasuno in the Spring High. Hajime’s crushed, they all are, but he knows there’s nothing else he can do. What’s done is done, and he can’t do anything to change it.

So instead he throws himself into his studies, because he knows that he won’t be able to get a sports scholarship for volleyball, unlike Tooru who’s already been scouted by multiple universities, with more and more letters of offers piling up on his desk every time Hajime goes over to his house.

He ends up getting exemplary scores for his examinations, enough to get into the University of Tokyo, but chooses eventually to stay and enrol in Tohoku University for medicine, because it’s closer to home. Tooru accepts a volleyball scholarship to go to Todai.

Hajime goes with Tooru to the train station to see his best friend off on the day that he leaves for Tokyo.

“It feels kind of weird,” Tooru tells him as they’re waiting for his train to arrive, watching as his breath rises into the cold winter air. “We’ve been with each other for all our lives and now we’re all grown up, ready to take on the world on our own.”

“Yeah, imagine being stuck with your dumb ass for thirteen whole years. I’m glad to finally be rid of this nightmare,” Hajime quips, rolling his eyes fondly.

Mean, Iwa-chan!” Tooru whines, “Don’t lie, I was an absolute blessing to your boring life. There’s no one else who can compare to me.”

Hajime lets out a short bark of laughter. “Yeah, yeah, keep telling yourself that, Loserkawa.”

It’s true, what Tooru said, but Hajime doesn’t say that out loud.

(There are a lot of things he hasn’t allowed himself to say out loud, as of late.)

Tooru gives Hajime another whine of complaint at his reply as he elbows Hajime, and Hajime pinches Tooru back. It’s so familiar, their bickering and ribbing. Hajime wonders whether he’ll be able to live without it. Without Tooru.

Tooru leans against him, and Hajime turns to look at the taller boy, who looks completely serious now with all the laughter gone from his face. “I’ll miss you, you know?” Tooru whispers, “You’re my best friend and it’s just, I’ve just never entertained the thought of us ever being separate, I think. I wish you could be with me.”

I want to be with you.

Hajime knows Tooru doesn’t mean it in that way, but it doesn’t stop the blush growing on his cheeks anyway. It’s just the cold, he tells himself as he fights to keep it down while nudging Tooru, “Hey, Stupidkawa, we can still Skype and call and message each other. That’s what technology is for, gramps. Plus, we’ll see each other at matches when I kick your ass.”

“Hey! Don’t go talking all big when we both know that my team is going to best yours.” Tooru lets out a soft huff, “Anyway, I know we can, and we will, but it’s just not the same without you beside me. We’re like, two halves of one whole, Okaa-san said.”

Soulmates.

“You’re so cheesy, dumbass. You’ve been watching too many romance dramas,” Hajime replies, a beat too late because he doesn’t really know what to say to a comment like that.

I love you.

Tooru just hums in agreement, lost in his thoughts. It effectively ends the conversation, and the two of them fall into comfortable silence for the remainder of the wait. The train arrives, and Hajime wraps Tooru in his arms, breathing in the other boy’s scent and imprinting it in his memory. It’ll be some time before he can do this again. He wants to say something, wants to do something but he feels his throat constrict and he can’t bring himself to say what he wants to, so instead he bites his lip until he feels the metallic taste of blood on his tongue.

Coward.

He waves goodbye to Tooru as he watches the train pull away from the station. He’s shaking, but it’s not because of the cold.

✧✧✧

University life is, for the most part, alright. There’s the ridiculous stacks of assignments upon assignments and lectures and meagre hours of sleep that comes along with it, but other than that it isn’t that bad. Hajime signs up for the volleyball club (somehow managing to fit extracurricular activities into his already tight schedule), and although he doesn’t make starting lineup in the first year, he can tell that he has a pretty good chance of it next year as long as he continues putting in his all. They’ve only played against Todai once, and Hajime had felt a rush of pride when he saw that Tooru had made starting lineup for the University of Tokyo.

He was upset that he wasn’t able to play against Tooru, of course, but it was quickly forgotten when the two of them were able to spend the short ten minutes post-match catching up. That, and the hug Tooru had given him before Hajime’s team boarded their bus back to Miyagi (it was kind of gross because Tooru was sweaty all over, but Hajime hadn’t really minded). Hajime hadn’t realised how much he’d missed Tooru’s touch until the taller boy was engulfing Hajime in his long, slender arms, burying his face in Hajime’s neck.

He’d give anything to feel Tooru’s touch on his skin again.

If only, if only.

 

“You’re brooding,” a voice cuts into Hajime’s thoughts, and he stares up to see Koushi walking over towards where he was seated in the café with a coffee in hand. Sugawara Koushi had enrolled in Tohoku University too for the same reason as Hajime, and was studying to become a paediatrician. Hajime’s glad that he’s in the same university as the former setter, because Koushi was a familiar face who also happened to be extremely studious and smart too, so the two of them met up regularly to study and helped each other a lot with assignments whenever they could.

“No, I’m not. Don’t drink too much coffee or you’ll start hallucinating from caffeine overdose, Sugawara,” he retorts, turning back to his laptop where he’s midway through a report.

Koushi lets out vague noise of mock assent as he sets down his drink and slides into the seat across Hajime, and Hajime looks back up to shoot the other boy a glare. “Sorry, sorry,” Koushi holds up his hands in surrender, letting out a light laugh that tells Hajime he isn’t really that apologetic.

“For real though, if there’s anything bothering you, you can tell me.”

Hajime turns back up to the other boy, who’s looking at him earnestly. There’s something about Koushi, the sincerity and concern in his eyes, and his overall vibe that makes people want to talk to him about their problems.

God damn it.

“What if,” Hajime begins, causing Koushi to perk up, “hypothetically, you’re in love with someone really close to you, like your best friend. Like, someone you’ve known for ages, since you were six. And you’ve been in love with him since—fuck, I don’t know—forever? Hypothetically.”

“Sounds oddly specific to be hypothetical,” Koushi teases, giving him a knowing smirk. “This is about Oikawa, isn’t it.”

It’s not a question, it’s a statement. Damn those stupid setters and their perceptiveness.

Hajime groans, running his hands through his hair in frustration. He’s too far gone at this point.

“It’s just, at this point I can’t imagine myself with anyone else anymore and it’s so frustrating because I don’t even know if he likes guys? Sure he hasn’t had a girlfriend since middle school, but he hasn’t had a boyfriend either. And he’s always so flirty with his stupid fangirls back when we were in Seijou.” Hajime lets out a growl (it’s not because he’s jealous, he tells himself). “And even if he does like guys I don’t know if he’d like me in that way. Seeing as we’re childhood friends and all. I haven’t confessed to him because I don’t want it to ruin our relationship and make things awkward, and I don’t know what to do.”

Koushi’s staring at him now, and Hajime worries that he’s maybe let out too much at once, but the other boy just shakes his head before replying carefully, “Well, I don’t know much about your relationship with Oikawa, seeing as I wasn’t from Seijou. But from what I’ve seen from our matches back in high school, you two were always really close, closer than even best friends, really. The bond between the two of you is something special.” He takes a sip of his drink, before offering Hajime a small smile. “Go for it, Iwaizumi. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oikawa loves you back.”

✧✧✧

Go for it, Iwaizumi. Koushi’s voice rings in Hajime’s head as he stands shivering at the train station, waiting for Tooru’s train to arrive. It’s the winter break after their first year at university, and Tooru was coming back to Miyagi to celebrate New Year’s with his family.  He’d called earlier telling Hajime that the train was going to be late because of the incessant heavy snowfall, and that Hajime didn’t have to wait for him at the station, but here Hajime was regardless.

Stupid, Hajime curses under his breath, wondering why he was sacrificing the warmth of his own home and choosing instead to stand in the freezing weather waiting for his best friend.

(He knows why though, because he’d always wait for Tooru, no matter what.)

He lets out a sigh, shuffling over to one of the benches, closing his eyes as he sits down gingerly. He lets his mind drift off, wondering what it would be like if he could confess, if he and Tooru could be together. As boyfriends, as lovers.

Maybe Tooru would be a really romantic boyfriend, and they’d go out on dates together and he’d buy Hajime gifts for Valentine’s Day, and Tooru would insist that they’d hold hands in public so he could brag about being in a relationship, and kiss Hajime whenever he felt like it. And Hajime would protest and laugh because it’s so unlike Tooru, but at the end of the day, Hajime would kiss him and let him anyway.

Maybe Tooru would be a really clingy boyfriend, demanding constant attention from Hajime (it wouldn’t be anything new, really), only this time in the form of kisses and sex. And maybe he’d come over daily to cuddle with Hajime, and the two of them would them would lie together in bed the same way they did when they were kids, only this time they’d have their fingers laced together, with Tooru peppering Hajime’s face with kisses nonstop, and—

“Iwa-chan!”

Tooru’s voice snaps Hajime from his daydream and he jolts, looking up to where the voice had come from. Tooru had already alighted from the train and was rushing towards Hajime, one arm waving animatedly while the other struggled to drag his luggage along.

Hajime feels his cheeks flush as he stands up, turning his gaze away because he was definitely not thinking about kissing the boy in front of him right now.

“Cold, Iwa-chan?” Tooru smirks, poking at Hajime’s cheek which he’s sure is coloured vermillion right now.

“No thanks to you, Trashykawa, making me wait out here,” he grouses, pulling his head away from Tooru’s finger.

Tooru laughs, before taking full advantage of his height as he engulfs Hajime in a hug. “I missed you,” he mumbles into Hajime’s hair. Tooru’s way too close, and it feels awfully intimate, but Hajime doesn’t pull away.

“Sappykawa,” he teases back, wrapping his arms around Tooru. It feels familiar, to hold Tooru in his arms like this.

Tooru breaks their hug to pout at Hajime dramatically, bottom lip jutting out invitingly. It’s frustrating, how every little thing that Tooru does is so attractive and tantalising. Hajime wishes that he could kiss him.

Instead, he reaches to grab Tooru’s suitcase for him. “Come on, Auntie has been dying for you to arrive home.”

✧✧✧

“We’re home!” Tooru calls from where he and Hajime are standing at his front door, slipping off their shoes.

Tooru’s Okaa-san pops her head out of the kitchen, beaming and walking over to hug the two boys once she sees them. “Tooru! Hajime-kun! You’re finally back. Welcome home.”

Hajime laughs quietly as she continues to fuss over Tooru once she breaks the hug, Tooru whining about how he’s an adult now and doesn’t need her to worry about him like that. She tugs at his ear gently, rolling her eyes. “You always need someone to worry about you, Tooru, or else you’ll work yourself to death. I hope you haven’t been bothering Hajime-kun or any of your other friends to take care of you like that.”

“It’s alright Auntie, I don’t mind it,” Hajime reassures her. “I’ve been doing it for so many years now it’s practically my permanent part-time job,” he adds, and Tooru smacks his arm as he lets out another complaint about how it was unfair that everyone was ganging up against him. Hajime sticks out his tongue back at Tooru, causing Oikawa-san to laugh too.

Hajime feels his heart flutter; a bird entrapped in a too-small cage. This—standing in Tooru’s house and laughing and teasing his best friend—feels familiar and domestic, it feels right.

“Hajime-kun, are you staying for dinner?” Tooru’s Okaa-san asks once the three of them have stopped laughing and calmed down relatively. “I made curry, and there’s more than enough for all of us, since Tooru’s Otou-san is busy today.”

Hajime catches Tooru’s face fall slightly at the last part of her sentence, although he’s quick to put a smile back on his face. Hajime’s hand unconsciously reaches out to touch Tooru’s arm, comforting and unexpectedly gentle.

“Yeah,” he says, smiling at Oikawa-san, “Of course, Auntie.”

 

Tooru’s sister joins them for dinner, and Tooru’s Okaa-san spends most of dinnertime grilling Tooru about his life, much to Hajime and Keiko’s amusement and Tooru’s indignation.

“So, Tooru, anyone you’re seeing right now?” Keiko butts into the interrogation, waggling her eyebrows as she shoots her brother a suggestive smirk. She’s having way too much fun watching Tooru flush red and splutter at the question.

“Wha—no, I’m—you can’t ask me questions like that, nee-chan. It’s an invasion of privacy,” Tooru protests, pouting at Keiko, who sticks out her tongue at him in response.

“Do you, Tooru? I want to know whether I’ll be having grandchildren anytime soon,” Oikawa-san joins in, although the mirth in her tone betrays the fact that she’s probably joking and teasing Tooru too.

Okaa-san!” Tooru whines, looking betrayed. He turns his gaze down, his face colouring deeper. His cheeks are dusted a pretty pink, like the ume flowers that are soon to bloom, Hajime thinks absently. “Since you guys are so nosy, no, I’m not seeing anyone at the moment.”

Keiko looks at him questioningly. “If there’s no one then why are you so defensive— oh.” Her grin widens, and she looks at her younger brother smugly, “There’s someone you like now, isn’t there, Tooru?”

“This is bullying and I’m not answering that question,” Tooru grumbles, before turning to Hajime. “You’re supposed to defend my honour, Iwa-chan.”

“Why would I do that when it’s so entertaining to see you flustered and speechless? You’re as red as Shiratorizawa’s middle blocker’s hair.”

Mean, Iwa-chan!”

✧✧✧

Hajime and Tooru meet up with Issei and Takahiro the following night, at an izakaya near Hajime’s university. 

“Captain! Vice cap!” Takahiro greets them enthusiastically, ruffling Tooru’s hair before slinging an arm around Hajime’s shoulder. Issei shoots them both a grin, bumping fists with Hajime and clapping Tooru on the back. Tooru complains about being the only one being manhandled, but Takahiro only smirks at him and reaches to mess with his hair more as he laughs, “Come on, I’m starving.”

They fall into easy conversation once they’re seated at their table, knocking back beers as they gossip and catch up, joking about their university lives. Hajime doesn’t drink as much as the rest of them, because he knows how much of a lightweight Tooru is and it’s his unspoken responsibility to bring the other boy back home once the night ends.

“It’s crazy,” Takahiro is commenting through a mouthful of karaage, “everyone seems to be dating everyone. There’s a guy on our team—Bokuto Koutarou, he’s one of the top five aces—and he’s dating his former vice captain who used to be his setter and all he does all day is talk about him.” Takahiro groans, jabbing at another piece of chicken in annoyance. “I mean, I’m happy for the guy but it’s always Akaashi this and Akaashi that.”

“It’s always the captains, isn’t it?” Issei chuckles. “We have Kuroo from Nekoma on ours and he spends at least half of practice sending selfies to his boyfriend. Some guy named Kozume, I think. It’s kind of cute though, although the poor guy’s so smitten.”

Takahiro hums in agreement at Issei’s sentence, sending Hajime a curious look that he can’t decipher before turning to look at Tooru slyly. “Hey Captain, what about you? Where’s your hot partner?”

Tooru, who is already slightly inebriated, lifts his head up from where it had been resting against Hajime’s shoulder tiredly, and the brunet sends Takahiro a weak glare as he attempts to flick a beer tab at the other boy’s face. It misses and lands beside a plate of yakitori instead. Tooru growls in annoyance before letting his head flop back onto Hajime’s shoulder.

“Don’t have one,” Tooru says, letting out an exaggerated sigh. “I’m still waiting for my prince charming to come and sweep me off my feet.”

“Yeah, because you’re such a princess, Oikawa.”

Tooru sends another beer tab flying, and this time it hits Takahiro’s chest.

“Ouch, Oikawa, shot me straight in the heart,” Takahiro jokes. “Maybe you should try that move on your crush, I’m sure he’ll— mmpf!” Takahiro’s sentence is cut short by Issei slapping a hand over his mouth, but the other boy is snickering too.

Hajime’s eyes dart between Takahiro and Issei, who are trying (and failing) to stifle their giggles, and Tooru, whose cheeks are red either from the beer or embarrassment, or both. Hajime frowns, brows furrowed in confusion.

There’s someone you like now, isn’t there, Tooru?

You should try that move on your crush.

I’m still waiting for my prince charming to come.

Tooru has a crush. On a guy.

Hajime feels betrayed all of a sudden, not because it’s not him that Tooru likes, but because it seems that he’s the only one out of the loop. Takahiro definitely knows about Tooru’s crush, and from the way Issei had reacted to him letting the fact slip, it’s most likely that the middle blocker knew as well.

He’s not sure why Tooru didn’t tell him, his best friend, of all people. Hajime’s frown deepens. He really doesn’t want to pry, because Tooru’s life was his own and which secrets his chose to keep and which he chose to share with Hajime was up to him to decide. But still.

Just this once, he decides, he can be selfish. He makes a mental note to ask Tooru about it later on, when the other boy is significantly less intoxicated.

Hajime sighs. Right now though, he has his hands full with the boy beside him who’s busy collecting an arsenal of beer tabs to launch at the duo sitting opposite them.

✧✧✧

“You should have ordered more beers so I could show Makki and Mattsun who’s boss,” Tooru hiccups grumpily as Hajime inserts the key into the slot of the door to Tooru’s house. 

“You’re already drunk off your ass and barely functioning as you are, Oikawa,” Hajime points out, wrapping an arm around the brunet to steady him as he opens the door.

Hajime, Issei and Takahiro had unanimously declared their beer tab battle to be over once Tooru had started to flick the tabs at everywhere but the table, and Hajime had decided that Tooru was probably too drunk to continue on the rest of the night anyway. Issei and Takahiro had agreed, and once they had paid for the bill the four of them parted ways, Hajime left with the solo job of carrying one very inebriated, very disoriented Oikawa Tooru back home.

They make it back to his place in one piece, and Tooru is carried unceremoniously up the stairs and dumped into his room by Hajime. Hajime is thankful that Tooru isn’t too loud, and they manage to slip past all the other rooms without waking anyone up.

“Come on, idiot, take off your shirt and change into something clean,” Hajime instructs, folding his arms.

Tooru lets out a muffled groan of protest, burying his face deeper into his pillow.

“Stop being a shit, Oikawa, you stink right now,” Hajime snaps, leaning forward to grab the brunet’s collar. In one swift motion, Tooru (with surprising dexterity for someone who had zero control over his limbs ten minutes ago) flips over and grabs Hajime by his tie, tugging the other boy down.

If they had been in a romance film, or a shoujo manga, this was the part of the piece where he would’ve fallen dramatically into Tooru’s waiting arms, and there’d be angels singing in the background or something, Hajime thinks.

There isn’t any of that.

Hajime growls in surprise as his body is jerked by his tie, tumbling down ungracefully. He feels his body slam against Tooru’s, and a sharp burst of pain from his sternum as he topples onto Tooru, eliciting a yelp of surprise and pain from the taller boy.

Tooru’s dazed state doesn’t last very long though, because he quickly recovers from it and hooks his limbs around Hajime to trap the other boy.

Tooru is far too intoxicated to be thinking straight right now. Hajime is far too sober to be forced into a situation like this without it being sexual right now.

Hajime’s arms are bent awkwardly, palms pressing against Tooru’s chest in an attempt to put as much distance between their bodies as possible but it’s not working. He’s lying flush against Tooru and they’re way too close for Hajime’s comfort.

“Let me go, Trashykawa,” he snarls, shifting his body in an attempt to free himself from Tooru’s vice-like grip.

“Don’t wanna,” Tooru singsongs, increasing his grip on Hajime just to spite the older boy. “You’re so dirty, Iwa-chan, wanting to see me half naked.”

Hajime scoffs. He’s really tempted to take advantage of his current proximity to Tooru and headbutt the brunet to give him a piece of his mind.

“Let me go,” he repeats, digging his nails into Tooru’s shirt. “Go try that shitty line on your crush or something.”

Tooru pulls his head away from Hajime’s as much as he can, puzzlement showing on his face.

“Again?”

“What?”

His confused look quickly morphs into disbelief, and Tooru starts giggling uncontrollably. Hajime is busy weighing the pros and cons of headbutting his intoxicated best friend when Tooru’s voice interrupts his thoughts, “For such a clever person, Hajime, you really are the biggest idiot sometimes.”

“What?” Hajime says again, barely registering the fact that Tooru had called him by his given name. His mind is a running at a million miles per minute right now, because he is so lost.

“God,” Tooru groans, and that’s all the warning Hajime gets before the brunet jerks his head up and his lips meet with Hajime's.

In the whirlwind of his thoughts, Hajime can only focus on the eye of the storm; a quiet, calm presence at the centre of it all.

Tooru.

His best friend presses their lips together, their noses bumping awkwardly as he lets out a soft pleading whine, his tongue sliding out to poke at Hajime’s bottom lip. Almost instinctively, Hajime’s body reacts to Tooru’s actions and his lips part, letting Tooru slip his tongue in. Tooru’s arms move up from where they were locked around Hajime’s upper back to his neck instead, as he continues to kiss Hajime softly.

It’s not a bad feeling, kissing Tooru, but it’s just that kissing him now, like this, feels wrong. Tooru tastes like the beer he had drank at the izakaya earlier, and the umeboshi onigiri the two of them had eaten for dinner, when Tooru had dragged him out shopping (it had ended up with them buying matching keychains upon Tooru’s insistence). It still tastes like him, but it also tastes bitter and sour at the same time.

Hajime wants to taste the sweetness of him instead.

“Idiot,” Tooru repeats after they break apart, breathless from the kiss. His eyes dart around, studying Hajime’s face intently, all of his previous tipsiness seemingly gone. In the darkness of his room, illuminated by the silver moonlight, his eyes shine, like a million stars trapped within a single galaxy.

Hajime doesn’t say anything. He’s still in shock, his mind overriding with thoughts of the boy lying underneath him.

“I like—no, love, you, idiot.” Tooru whispers. “I love you.”

His voice is quiet now, not from lack of oxygen, but from uncertainty. He’s scared, Hajime realises, and vulnerable.

Hajime pulls away slowly, and watches as the other boy’s eyes widen, resignation slowly creeping onto his face as he loosens his grip and lets his limbs fall to the side. Hajime moves to sit beside Tooru, and the taller boy shifts up until he’s sitting directly opposite Hajime too.

“Oikawa, hey,” he murmurs, cupping the other boy’s cheek. Tooru averts his gaze, refusing to look at Hajime. The older boy sighs as his thumb moves unconsciously to stroke Tooru’s cheek.

“I love you too, Stupidkawa,” he says, “But I want you to confess when you’re sober. Not when you’re drunk and ninety percent beer.”

Not when you aren’t even aware of your own actions. Not when you probably won’t even remember this. He adds to himself.  

“You love me too?” Tooru asks, gaze flickering back up so they’re looking at each other again. Of course he’d only focus on part of the sentence.

Hajime sighs, offering the other boy a small, but fond smile. “Yeah, dummy, what did I say?” It feels almost nostalgic, using such a childish insult. Tooru is looking at Hajime with his puppy-dog eyes, the very same one he gave the older boy all those years ago on the first day they met, the very same one he’s used on his best friend throughout their years together. Hajime realises that he had probably been a goner right from the start.

Tooru hums softly, lips curving into a gentle smile as he reaches forward to wrap his arms around Hajime again, pressing himself against the other’s chest.

Hajime lets out another sigh, this time in defeat. He holds Tooru, stroking his back as he listens to the other boy’s quiet murmurs of “I love you” fade into gentle, rhythmic snores.

✧✧✧

They don’t bring it up the next morning.

Hajime tries to pretend that he does not feel an ache in his chest.

✧✧✧

As it turns out, second time’s the charm (because three is Tooru’s unlucky number).

✧✧✧

Tooru asks Hajime to join him to visit the science museum a few days later.  

“Iwa-chan! Okaa-san got tickets for us to go to the museum, look!” he exclaims, thrusting a pair of tickets in Hajime’s face when the dark-haired boy opens the door.

“Shut up, Asskawa, it’s too early for this. You’re killing my ears,” he grumbles, shoving the slips of paper away from his face.

Tooru pouts, folding his arms as he replies haughtily, “First of all, you technically can’t kill an individual body part. Secondly, it’s ten in the morning, you senior citizen.”

“Exactly, it’s too early.”

“Iwa-chan,” Tooru whines, pushing the tickets towards Hajime again, this time against his chest. “Please?”

“Fine, give me five minutes.” Hajime curses inwardly at how his resolve is always so weak around Tooru. He does not think about the feeling of Tooru’s slender fingers pressed against his chest, right above his rapidly thrumming heart.

 

The museum is surprisingly empty for a Saturday morning.

There are only a few people in the museum when they arrive, mostly families with young children. Tooru drags Hajime around excitedly, and Hajime realises that they’re probably not that different from the other visitors, given how Tooru is acting.

He listens as Tooru babbles on enthusiastically about the flora and fauna found in Sendai, tugging on his arm occasionally to point something out to the older boy. There are models of animals from other regions displayed in the museum too, like the red-crowned cranes and Steller’s sea eagles.

“We should go to Hokkaido next winter for birdwatching, Iwa-chan!” Tooru suggests, peering with interest at the stuffed model of a sea eagle in flight, wings spread out majestically and talons stretched outwards to catch its prey.

Hajime hums in agreement, eyes flitting over the information plaque with facts on the bird of prey. He’s barely halfway through reading it when Tooru grabs his arm again.

“Come on, Iwa-chan, it’s the space exhibition next!” the brunet exclaims, dragging Hajime impatiently towards the next gallery. Hajime sighs, and follows.

There’s a mini planetarium that’s part of the space exhibition, and Hajime can tell that Tooru is dying to go, although the taller boy insists that it’s alright, that they’d go through the exhibition in order.

“Gotta save the best for the last, Iwa-chan!” he chirps as he tugs Hajime along. “Now hurry up, we’re wasting precious time that can be better spent learning about Mars.”

They finish exploring the gallery eventually (which takes longer than the others, because Tooru spends a good five minutes explaining everything in detail to Hajime; not that he really minds), and Tooru grabs Hajime—by the hand this time—as he leads the older boy into the planetarium.

The planetarium is a small, dome-shaped room tucked into a corner of the space gallery, which plays the same video repeatedly in twenty minute intervals. Hajime knows this because Tooru has brought him to the museum more times than he can count, and they’ve spent visits upon visits sitting together in the planetarium as the tiny worn-out projector in the middle of the room casts stellar projects onto the ceilings and walls.

The film starts just as Tooru and Hajime enter the room, and Tooru hurries Hajime along, pulling the other boy down to sit on one of the beanbags.

It’s still the same film that the museum has been using ever since they’d first came here as kids. It starts with a projection of the Sun, before moving on to each of the planets in the Solar System in order, ending with Pluto even though technically the tiny dwarf planet was no longer considered to be a planet. A woman narrates the video, providing facts and did-you-knows about each of the stars, her voice a gentle and soothing lilt. The film ends with a five minute projection of the night sky, dotted with countless twinkling stars and constellations.

Hajime watches the way Tooru gazes up at the galaxy painted on the ceiling as the film rolls on, feeling a warmth in his chest that feels like a neutron star ablaze.

(He knows what a neutron star is because Tooru had told him before; “It’s a small but compact core of a star that has burned out, Iwa-chan, forming a celestial object with so much energy that can continue burning almost infinitely. Isn’t that cool?”)

“Iwa-chan,” Tooru breathes, soft and mellifluous, “Have you heard of Polaris? It’s the North Star, one that is the brightest out of all the stars near the North Celestial Pole.” Tooru casts a quick glance to his side, finding that Hajime is looking at him with interest. He continues, “It’s the star that travellers use for navigation to find their bearings when they’re lost, because it remains a constant in the night sky.”

He pauses, searching Hajime’s face for approval. Hajime hums in acknowledgement, wordlessly prompting his best friend to carry on.

“And I—you’re my North Star, Iwa-chan. You’ve always been there for me and you’re always ready to get me back on track whenever I lose myself. And like Polaris, you’ve always been burning brighter and brighter, shining brighter.”

Tooru’s voice goes an octave higher as he starts to stutter, and although Hajime can’t see it for himself he’s sure that the other boy’s cheeks are flushed red right now.

“You’re the brightest, most sublime star I’ve ever seen. The most important one in my life. And I want you to continue to be, forever.”

Hajime has to hold in his laughter at Tooru’s fumbling because he knows Tooru is being one hundred percent serious right now. It’s cute though, the way the other boy is biting his lip shyly while his face is splattered with the projection of a million shining stars that match the freckles on his cheeks. There are stars reflected in his eyes again, twinkling fiercely, like the first night he’d confessed.

“Is this your way of confessing?”

“You’re making fun of me?” Tooru whines, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment as he drops his gaze.

“I would never,” Hajime smirks, his voice softening as he continues, “I love you, stupid. I’ve always loved you.”

“You have?”

“Yeah. Every single day, fourteen years.”

Tooru looks up at him incredulously. “All this time?”

Hajime says nothing as he moves closer instead, hand sliding up to cup the back of Tooru’s neck. He tilts his head up to close the distance between their lips.

(“Hey Iwa-chan, did you know that when two neutron stars collide, they sometimes merge to form a bigger neutron star? One that burns bigger and brighter than before.”)

The kiss tastes sweet, a mix of the chocolate milk bread that Hajime had bought for Tooru on their way here, and the sweet peach tea they’d shared at the museum café. It tastes sweet, but it tastes like so much more too. It tastes like the summers they’d spent together, like the sweat and tears they’d shed together, like the laughs they’d shared together.

The kiss tastes like Tooru.

Hajime breaks their kiss, and presses his forehead against the taller boy’s. “All this time,” he affirms.

“I can’t believe you never told me,” Tooru laughs, stealing another quick kiss. Hajime doesn’t object.

“I can’t believe you never told me,” he parrots as he leans back in to nip at Tooru’s bottom lip.

“I did confess to you two minutes ago.” Tooru points out, looking way too smug for his own good.

Hajime groans. “I know. And to think, I wanted to confess first. I even went to Sugawara for advice.”

“You told Refreshing-kun about me?”

“He is a better listener than you, Shittykawa.”

“Alright, stop bullying me and just kiss me,” Tooru huffs, “You have plenty of lost time to make up for, Hajime.”

“You’re so bossy,” Hajime grins as he obliges, lacing their fingers together and pressing kisses along Tooru’s jaw before he moves to kiss Tooru on the mouth again. Tooru makes a soft noise of assent as he lets Hajime, kissing him languidly.

He could do this forever, Hajime realises, sitting in the dark planetarium with his fingers intertwined in Tooru’s, kissing his best friend and the love of his life. He wants to do this forever, with Tooru.

✧✧✧

Tooru isn’t just the Sun, Hajime realises. Tooru was more than that; he was the universe, vast and endless and waiting to be explored. He was Hajime’s universe.

Tooru is an entire galaxy, he thinks, made up of a million supernovas and scintillating stars that burned brighter than everything else. Tooru is an infinite sky full of stars, and his North Star too, a constant in Hajime’s life; one that has always been there, one that will always be there.

All this time.

 

 

iv. always will

 

“How come you’ve never taken me here?” Tooru says, awestruck, as he takes in the vast expanse of grass and wildflowers under the stars. They’re standing in the meadow behind Hajime’s—no, their—special forest.  

Hajime shrugs as he sets the mat down. “Dunno. It was my secret place when I was a kid, saved only for those special to me. It was an Iwaizumi family thing, I guess, since only Otou-san, Okaa-san and I knew about this place as far as I know.”

Tooru gives him an indignant gasp, slapping his arm lightly. “I wasn’t special enough? Rude.”

“You were a brat when you were a kid,” Hajime says bluntly as he sits down beside Tooru. “You still are.”

“Maybe, but you’re the one who’s been dating me for four whole years now.”

“Unfortunately,” Hajime hums, smirking as he turns to give Tooru a quick, chaste kiss.

Tooru whines at the brief kiss, grabbing Hajime and pushing gently at the other boy’s shoulders until Hajime is lying down on the mat, with Tooru hovering over him, arms caging him in. He dips down, mouth hot against Hajime’s as he slides his tongue against Hajime’s lips and into his mouth. Hajime kisses the other boy back with fervour, pulling away only when he feels his lungs running out of air.

“What is this, The Lion King?” Hajime breathes, savouring the lingering taste of Tooru in his mouth.

“Way to kill the mood, you barbarian,” Tooru snickers, pressing his nose against Hajime’s cheek gently, soft brown hair tickling the other boy’s face. He smells nice, like the seasonal sakura shampoo that he’d brought back from Tokyo.

“Alright, loser, get off me,” Hajime laughs, although he indulges Tooru by leaning up to give the brunet another soft peck to his lips. Tooru does as he’s told, shifting off Hajime and flopping down to lie beside the shorter boy.

Their hands find each other’s as they lie next to each other underneath the starry twilight sky. The forest behind them is silent, the two boys surrounded only by the soft clicking and humming of the fireflies as they flit around, glowing like tiny stars, and the occasional rustle of the wildflowers as a gentle spring breeze passes through them.

In the quiet, Hajime can hear his own heart beating quicker in nervousness and anticipation, hammering against the confines of his ribcage. In spite of its accelerated pace, his heartbeat still matches the steady, calming tempo of Tooru’s pulse, somehow.

(A beetle in a glass jar, a bird trapped in a tiny cage; they are happier when they're set free.)

He slides his other hand into the pocket of his jeans subtly, pulling out a small black box.

“Oikawa,” he murmurs, catching the attention of the other boy. “Do you remember when you first asked me out, in the science museum four years ago?”

“Of course I’d remember, Iwa-chan, not all of us are as unromantic as you.” Tooru teases, but he squeezes Hajime’s hand gently before adding, “I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the happiest day in my life.”

“There were these eagles, in the exhibition before the space gallery,” Hajime continues, focusing on a single twinkling star in the sky. Polaris. “Steller’s sea eagles. You told me that you wanted us to go to Hokkaido to watch them come winter.”

His heart is leaping now, like the model salmon that the stuffed sea eagle had been reaching out to catch.

“And then you confessed to me in the planetarium, saying that you wanted me to be your North Star forever. And I thought, back then—and I still do now—that I want that too. I want to go to Hokkaido with you every winter for years to come, to watch the birds with you. I want to spend every winter, and spring, and summer, and autumn, with you, Oikawa. Forever.”

“Iwa-chan—”

“Hey, Shittykawa, did you know? Steller’s sea eagles mate for life. Once they find a partner, the one that they choose, they’ll continue to stay with them, for the rest of their lives.”

“Iwa-chan, what are you—”

Hajime turns to look at Tooru, stroking his thumb over the other boy’s trembling hand. Tooru’s eyes are wide open, a mixture of emotions reflected in the stars that they contain. Hajime focuses on the single emotion at the centre of it all.

“You know why I brought you to the meadow tonight, Tooru?” He’s whispering now; this was like a secret, a promise to be shared just between the two of them. “This was where my Otou-san proposed. That’s why it’s their special meadow.”

Hajime grips the box in his hand, before holding it out so it’s now clasped between his left palm, and his and Tooru’s joined hands.

“I want it to be our special meadow too. I want to share it with you; I want to share everything with you,” he says. He bites his lip, ducking his head down as he feels his cheeks growing warmer. “My meadow, my life, my last name.”

He opens the box slowly, revealing the ring that’s nestled in the plush velvet in the center of the box. It’s a simple, gold band, without any sparkly gemstones or fancy embellishments. Hajime knows that it’ll be enough for Tooru though, because for all his flamboyance around others, there’s no need for that when it’s just Hajime.

He turns back up to look at Tooru, who has tears brimming in his eyes. Tooru, who looks perfect, even like this. Tooru, who is perfect, Hajime thinks, perfect in every single way, perfect for him.

“Oikawa Tooru, will you marry me?”

(If they had been in a romance film, or a shoujo manga, this was the part of the piece where Tooru would squeal and say yes and there’d be angels singing in the background. There isn’t any of that. Hajime doesn’t care.)

Tooru’s tears start flowing freely as he lets out an awkward sound, a mix between a laugh and a sob.

“I can’t believe you,” he chokes out, releasing their clasped hands to grip Hajime by his shirt. He presses a sloppy kiss to Hajime’s lips, and Hajime can taste the other boy’s salty tears in his mouth. Tooru rests his forehead against Hajime’s, their gazes locking.

“I can’t believe you, idiot Iwa-chan,” he repeats, still sniffling, “I wanted to propose first, you know. It was going to be so much cooler than your nerdy, adorable, perfect proposal.”

Hajime chuckles, feeling tears start to prick his own eyes too. He places a gentle kiss at the edge of Tooru’s lips. “Sorry you couldn’t be number one this time, Loserkawa.” With one hand, he carefully pries Tooru’s left hand away from where it was clutching the soft material of his shirt. With the other, he moves to remove the engagement ring from its box.

He grins, kissing Tooru softly again as he slides the ring onto his lover’s finger.

“But I can still try my best to give you gold.”

✧✧✧

(Hajime has wished, more than once, that he and Tooru can be legally married, to make it official, but he knows it’s not possible. For now, at least. 

“Don’t worry, Iwa-chan,” Tooru tells him, more than once, “One day.”

A silent promise. It is enough.

One day.)

✧✧✧

Their wedding ceremony is held the next spring, and it’s a small and simple affair. They each invite their family members and a few friends, mostly from high school, university and their respective volleyball teams.

Takahiro is, to Tooru’s absolute horror and Hajime’s amusement, unanimously voted as the person to officiate the wedding, and he assures them that he’s completely certified to solemnize a marriage.  

“The romance dramas I’ve watched with you do not count, Makki,” Tooru groans, rubbing his forehead in frustration. “Aren’t there adults who are way more qualified than you to do it?”

“I am an adult, Oikawa,” Takahiro shoots back cheekily, waving a hand airily. “Now let me do my job and work on the prep. Go busy yourself with Groom Number Two or something.”

 

Takahiro is surprisingly okay at officiating weddings. Not the best, but Hajime finds that he doesn’t really mind.

To him, it’s perfect. It’s cliché, maybe, he thinks, but it seems that everything is perfect, because it’s with Tooru.

If someone had asked him what his perfect wedding was like, years ago, he would’ve told them that he had no idea. He had never really thought about what colours his suit would be (whatever complemented Tooru’s), what flowers he would have in the bouquets (red camellias, because they were Tooru’s favourite), what flavour of cake they would have (chocolate, because it was the best compromise since chocolate milk bread was not a viable wedding-friendly option). The only thing he was certain of that his perfect wedding would need was Tooru.

And here he was, standing in front of Hajime, the burning galaxy in his eyes mellowed out, replaced with a soft, fond look. I love you, he mouths, eyes twinkling as his lips quirk up in a small smile. Hajime grins, and mouths it back.

When they say their “I do’s” and he slides the wedding ring onto Tooru’s finger, and feels Tooru hold his hand as the brunet does the same, Hajime feels something bloom in his chest. It feels warm, but not like the burn of the summer sun, or the blazing of the stars in galaxies light years away. When he kisses Tooru sweetly later on, he feels it again. There are still sparks and electricity to Tooru’s kisses, but there is also something else. Something calmer, gentler, with a familiarity that grounds him. It feels like a comforting flame that burns on a hearth, or the soothing promise of warmer spring days that will coax new flowers to bloom.

Tooru was so many things, all at once, Hajime thinks. But now, as he stands with his lips pressed to Tooru’s neck and arms wrapped around his lover, feeling Tooru’s around him the same way while he breathes in Tooru’s familiar, intoxicating scent, he thinks none of that matters, really.

“Hey, Hajime?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you. I love you, so much.”

Tooru had been so many things, but it doesn’t matter to Hajime, not anymore. He had spent so many years trying to figure this boy out, and Tooru had felt like the Sun, an untouchable myth, and an entire galaxy, all at once.

It doesn’t matter anymore, Hajime thinks, because he’s finally figured it out.

“I love you too. Forever,” he says, as Tooru pulls their bodies closer, dipping his head down for another kiss again.

He feels like home.