Development hasn’t reached this part of the forest yet, and there isn’t as much as a weathered path. Leaves have piled atop leaves in a thick blanket that masks the soil, and the trees are more golden than the sunlight.
A cold wind sifts through the trees and bites at Oikawa’s cheeks. His nose has already started running, and his handkerchief is at the bottom of his bag. He misses Starbucks, but not even coffee would make him go back to the city now.
The cities are all the same: tall buildings with cramped space and tiny kitchens. Barely any room on the sidewalks and the constant press against other people on the trains. Lunches at convenience stores that never close and flashing signs for products that he’ll never use. He used to be on one of those signs, showing off some shampoo with a glimmering smile, but that was long ago. Now people squint at him, trying to place his face, wondering if could it possibly be, but never saying anything.
There’s nobody in the forest to greet him. Nobody to recognize him. It’s peaceful, quiet, and untouched by humanity. The only wanderer is him, armed with a backpack full of supplies, a tent, and a shotgun.
Guns are a rarity in Japan, but Oikawa’s father has a hunting rifle, one of the only firearms in town. It’s clunky and heavy and awkward, and Oikawa is almost afraid to look at the muzzle. In action movies, guns would stop lives with ease. If he injures himself this deep in the forest, then he's done for.
At the same time, holding the gun aloft makes him feel secure. It was awkward for the first few days of camping, but he’s gotten used to the weight on his back. If he has some mastery over a weapon that could so easily swallow up life, then maybe he isn’t as powerless as he thought he was. Even if life will batter him this way and that, there’s some comfort in knowing that he has the power to destroy if he feels like it.
Catching movement, Oikawa slows his breath and stays still behind his tent. He’s heard the birds and he’s seen centipedes crawl underneath rocks, but he hasn’t seen any other animals.
Padding out into the downhill slope of trees is a deer, fitted with a chandelier of antlers. It isn’t anything like the pictures Oikawa has seen on the internet, or the live backgrounds that Oikawa has spotted during long drives. This one is whole, majestic, and real- the sunlight giving its coat a turquoise shimmer, and painting its hooves deeper than the darkest lacquer. It might be young, it might be old, but Oikawa instinctively knows just how powerful it is.
In the still of the woods, the safety unlocking sounds almost as loud as pulling the trigger. The deer pauses, and Oikawa refuses to breathe until he sees it relax again.
Hold the barrel steady. Prepare yourself.
“Guns are terrible things,” Oikawa’s father had said when he first taught Oikawa how to shoot. “They make everything so easy. You don’t need to feel the weight of people dying anymore, all you need to do is point and squeeze the trigger.”
“We can’t be using swords,” Oikawa, young and smart-tongued, had pointed out. Oikawa’s family didn’t have a samurai background, but it didn't matter if they did. The first thing the government did when they were dismantling the samurai class was confiscate their swords.
“That’s true. Those aren’t good for hunting. No serious hunter would swing a sword around like a fool.”
Young Oikawa looked at the rifle in his father’s hand. “Then if you don’t like them, why do you use them?”
A long sigh, and his father ruffled Oikawa’s hair. “Because they make things easier. You’ll see for yourself one day.”
He squeezes the trigger.
The sound is deafening, and the gun slams back into Oikawa’s shoulder. It knocks him back a step and he stumbles into his tent, bewildered from the noise and tangled up in the fabric. When he manages to free himself, a bloody hunk of meat on the rocks is all that remains.
At first he’s not sure whether he succeeded- succeeded? Can he succeed in killing so easily?
A loud gurgle of his stomach interrupts his thoughts. He brought supplies, but they’re mostly light things like vegetables. But now he has meat in front of him, and it would be a shame to waste it.
Kindling a fire, he warms his fingertips and heats up a small pot. He doesn’t have any broth packets, so water will have to do. He chops up potatoes and carrots and adds in some wild onions that were nearby his camp. The blast didn’t take off much, so he grinds up the meat, mashing the toughness out, and sprinkles it inside the stew. The rising steam smells heavenly. Once he spoons into his mouth, it sizzles. What flavor! He's never been one to shovel down his food, but he eats so fast that he's ashamed when it's all gone.
While he cleans up, Oikawa notices a splatter of bloodstains on the trees. It’s still going, is it? He thought it would have lay down and died by now.
How incredible. He has to hunt it down.
He has existed timelessly. From when the roots of these great trees were once sprouts, he existed. The forests needed a god and shaped him.
It would be nice to say that he has seen the forest grow, and he has- he’s seen buds become blooms, great trees thicken and topple, the descents of ferns grow larger than their ancestors could have ever dreamed of. The sprouts he saw when his antlers were just nubs are now powerful and towering. All had grown older with him.
The forest has borders now, borders where humans have set up identical houses. They’ve grown stronger and more powerful with their machines. Before they had come as visitors, and took what they could. Now nobody comes into the forest unless they’re looking to destroy something else.
He bounds over the earth, faster than a hawk and slimmer than the breeze. All are the same: the earthworms that crawl out after the rain, the crests of foam at the end of the rapids, the fungi finding new homes between dead tree branches. All are the same, but things are getting thinner.
He doesn’t know when everything began to change, but change is here and he’s powerless to stop it.
The air feels fresher. Oikawa hasn’t climbed high enough that oxygen is thin, and there was no storm the night before, but he feels somehow rejuvenated. As he packs up his campsite, he finds himself more attentive to details he’d never noticed before. What was once muted is now notches in white mold on tree bark, mud beneath brown leaves, green ferns swaying next to fallen branches.
He can’t say he minds. It’s a beautiful place, and he’s ashamed that he was too stuck in his head to notice.
On a downed branch overcome by leaves, moss has made the dead wood its new home. Old, darker moss is slowly being overcome by a bright, fresh green.
There's always going to be someone younger. He knows that. There's always going to be new blood and fresh talent. He knows that too.
He shouldn’t be too mad. After all, he had a good, long career. He found teammates he could count on and communicate with, and saw the ball fly into perfect place. He walked the nighttime road of the Olympic stadium with his fellow countrymen, the jacket glimmering in the lights of the ceremony and the jersey a bold red in the court. He played as well as he could, until he couldn't quite run as fast as his younger teammates. He bowed out gracefully, and had a humble but fantastic farewell.
When the volleyball became a prop on his shelf, he became no longer a volleyball player but a nobody without a face. He would always be recognized as his younger self, shining brilliantly in photos and videos. The same young man that no longer matched the face in the mirror.
All grew stagnant. Life went on without him. He came home.
Now he's here, holding a gun.
In the woods, all is calm and nobody knows him. To the birds in the trees, he's nothing but another animal. He is no longer Oikawa Tooru, former volleyball star, but an intruding human. Being acknowledged as nothing feels so much better than being acknowledged as formerly something.
A rustle, and Oikawa freezes behind some red bushes. The leaves crunch before the deer comes into view. The wound from yesterday is still raw, and it limps around the pain. Bending down to chew on some grass, it stands poised between the trees. It hasn't noticed him.
Oikawa heaves up his gun and aims it above the bushes. Pushing it through would make noise, and that would scare the deer away. Something that swallowed a shot and fled regardless deserves his full attention. Through the scope he sees the rise and fall of the deer's breaths, hard and steady.
He waits. He knows patience. Biding time until the right moment for when the spikers are ready to kill is something he’s an expert at.
The deer pulls its head up and Oikawa knows it's no trick of the light, the deer is looking at him, him.
At the pull of the trigger, the deer's shoulder explodes. It shrieks, and bounds back into the woods, leaving nothing but a hunk of meat in the clearing. He wastes no time in snatching it up because now he can feel the curiosity piqued by the bugs below the layers of leaves.
Blood seeps into his nails and dribbles all over his fingers, and he feels a tinge of disgust and awe. It’s still warm, unlike the dull cold meat in the market freezer. It’s also a lot choppier than he expected it to be. It should've been much firmer, but maybe the bullets shredded it upon impact. A shame, all of the recipes he read involved a firm chunk of shoulder. He wonders how to cook it, but then sees some bamboo shoots peeking out from beneath the carpet of leaves. Another five minutes of searching and he finds some yamabudo and knows what to do.
He hates the city, but he misses the city in a way, or maybe he just misses the ease of stepping outside and walking to the corner store to get all the ingredients he wants. Here he has to find everything.
He cuts off some small but firm branches and shears them down until they're pointy. Chopping the meat into small shapes makes them easier to manipulate, and he pries them down the branches, along with the slices shoots and berries. They roast at different speeds over the fire, but that just gives the greens more of a smoky taste. The juices from the meat run down the skewers and flavor the greens as well, and the food melts in his mouth. Exquisite. Even without spices or utensils or a cup of iced coffee, this is the best meal he's had.
They've known each other across the centuries, the three of them growing from the need of the forest to shape its life. They’ve always been comrades and friends.
Matsukawa has always been as strong as the thick trunks of the pine trees, but he has grown gnarled and withered. The pine needles in his hair are wrapped up tight, ready to stay persistently green even through the coming snow. Hanamaki is vibrant and wanes with the petals that line his shoulders. He has always been unpredictable, and comes with a new display each time.
“I’m getting more and more tired,” Hanamaki says, even though they have no need for sleep. “Seasons come and go, but the flowers seem less important.”
“Don’t say that,” he says. “We’re not dead yet.”
Matsukawa looks at him, and though he’s always had a sort of sleepiness in his eyes that match the patience of his crawling roots, he’s never looked so old before. “We aren’t neighbors to the humans anymore. We’re just nusicances.”
“We have just as much of a right to live as the rest of them.”
“Iwaizumi, you’re a good guy.” Hanamaki sighs, and he doesn’t seem upset, just the sensation that the sign they’ve seen coming for years has finally come crashing down. He’s not surprised. None of them are. “You’ve got more guts than us.”
The next segment of the forest falls, and when Iwaizumi waits in the clearing for their next meetup, he waits and waits and waits.
Nobody else shows up.
Oikawa set up camp last night on a hill, resting his tent against a cage of downed branches. He wakes up frantic, feeling a thousand things at once. Counting the breaths that come into his lungs- one, two, three- he gathers himself and slowly sorts through the torrent coming through at once.
Whatever he felt yesterday had been intensified tenfold. The uphill segment has no beaten path and is fitted with a makeshift stairway of uneven rocks and tree roots. He’s stumbled more than once from where the fallen leaves have masked the slope, but now he knows every rock before his foot touches it. The distant mountains are muted, but the many colors form a patchwork quilt down their slopes. He prods a mushroom and watches the spores explode out of the cap, but he can’t just see them, he can smell them. He smells the wildflowers by the small brook, and knows when a leaf drops into the stagnant pool.
He senses the deer coming his way before he sees it.
Athletic instincts have been drilled so firmly into him that he leaps out of the way of the charging deer. Padded jacket or not, there’s no way he’ll come out safely if he gets pricked by that crown of antlers. The deer turns around, and Oikawa reaches for his gun. The second charge nicks Oikawa’s side, and he stumbles down the slope. He sees the deer leaping his way, and he shoves his gun upright, pulling the trigger. A bang rocks Oikawa’s ears, and something warm splatters on his face. He’s still breathing heavily when he stumbles to his feet and hears the crunch of leaves as the deer flees once again.
Folded on an exposed tree root is one of the deer’s hind legs.
Oikawa picks up the leg, and it flops over at the joint. It’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so gruesome. The stench of blood is overpowering, and it trickles down from the exposed meat into Oikawa’s sleeve.
Thoughts of action movies feel so far away. Well, a shotgun shoots an explosion of pellets, each with more than enough stopping power to snuff out a life. Unlike a regular gun, which is one concentrated shot, a shotgun blast is a spray, each deadlier than the last. He didn’t think a shotgun could blow through bone, but at point-blank range...
A terror grips him hard, for chunks of flesh is nothing compared to a limb, but so comes the thrill of victory. Blood, blood, blood, he’s alive, like how the meat steams in the cool air.
He skins the limb and hangs the meat over the fire. Now that his senses are all over the air, he can easily find the leeks huddling under a slab of wood and the violets scattered across one of the fields. He chops them up and massages them into the meat before he throws them all over the fire. The meat is tough but edible. It takes a couple of chews to get through a small sliver, so eating through the whole leg takes a long time. Even so, his stomach is perfectly full, and he’s never been more satisfied.
Only once he’s picked the bone clean does he see that the blood has also splattered all over his jacket. With a sigh, he pulls off his clothes, ready to go fish some handkerchiefs out of his bag.
A chill overtakes him. He thought he’d only been grazed by the second charge, but his jacket was split clean open. The smooth curve of his waist has a deep gouge on the left side, shredding muscle down to his lowest rib.
Even though blood is falling from his open cavity and the pink of his guts are peeking out, he’s still moving just fine, and he doesn’t feel anything.
Every year the woods thin. Every year the people forget its importance. Every year the people tear their fingers into the land and leave it emptier than before.
All has life, but some lives are more important.
He knows he’s slowly dying. He’s going, soon. He’s going to be killed, just like the rest of the land, through apathy, through capital, through ignorance. The storm rages inside him and he hates it but maybe he’s become old. Maybe he’s become so old that he’s been abandoned by time. The world goes on without him. The world will not care when he leaves.
A glint of sunlight hits the side of his eyes and ah- there’s a human.
Brown hair, sharp eyes with a viciousness in his stare.
Oikawa frees himself from his dream, screaming. He crawls away from camp and shoves a finger down his throat. He tries over and over again, but only dry heaves saliva into the brook. He’s already digested it. It’s already a part of him.
He feels the flow of the stream and how that connects to the rushing river, into the foam cresting on the rapids, through the fish swimming far far downstream--
He sees his reflection in the water, but it’s unclear whether that's still entirely him that's looking back.
This time, the deer doesn't run. It sits by the roots of long-fallen tree, breathing heavily, wounded but defiant. It looks at him, green all the way through, and Oikawa knows he's being frowned at.
Its form ripples, as it were water reeling from a stone, and a bestial head becomes human. Oikawa's heard of beings half-human half-mystery, but he never thought he'd see it in front of him. The torso up has become a man while from the waist down remains a deer, still with three legs bruised and the last missing. The quality of his robes echo ancient power, and the crown of antlers remain on his head but oh, he is handsome. Oikawa is transfixed by how, but he also feels a hunger surging through him at the thought.
“Here you are,” the deer coughs, gruff and hoarse. “You’ve come to kill me?”
Has he? Oikawa thought of once, surely, isn’t that why he came to this forest? But beneath that hums the satisfaction in his stomach, because now he knows- he knows all about this being before him,
Iwaizumi narrows his eyes, and they’re more brilliant than the oldest moss. "How could you possibly know about me?"
"You were my dinner for the past few nights. And I kept having these strange, vivid dreams. Somewhere down the line, I knew they were yours."
Iwaizumi's body ripples, trying to rear up but the pain stopping him. "You dared eat the meat of a kami?"
"I didn't know what you are." Oikawa rolls up his sleeve, exposing his skin beneath. His knife creases his skin with a slash of red and his wrist breaks open but it doesn’t as much as sting. "Do you want to know what I am?"
Blood drips into Iwaizumi's lips and as the bloodflow stems, Iwaizumi stops looking at him less as a stranger and more familiar.
"We're irrelevant." Oikawa knew the words in his head, but they're so different out of his mouth. "The world doesn't need us anymore." He drops his head to Iwaizumi's side, and the short strands of his fur brush softly against Oikawa's cheek. Here is warm and comfort, away from an uncaring world. Here is something that could possibly understand the pain that’s been tormenting him for so, so long...
It might be a second and it might be minutes, but Oikawa collapses.
When he wakes up, Iwaizumi is still there.
"You stayed." He rubs the dust from his eyes. "You didn't have to."
"I'm still injured. Not even I can heal that quickly. Also, you're heavy."
"Am not." Oikawa goes to the wound on his side, and even if blood isn’t dropping from it anymore, he still feels the arc of his lower ribs. “You got me good,” he grumbles. “I’m not twenty anymore, you know? And here I am with a hole in my side.”
“Shut up. You blew my fucking leg off.”
“What a rude kami!” Oikawa laughs, but it simmers down. He doesn’t remember the last time he talked to someone without ten layers between them. “You’ve been here a long time, right? Is that why you had your guard down? Did you want it to end?”
“You have that tool, don’t you? Why did you come in here when you don’t know the first thing about living away from people?”
“I’m never pulling the trigger on myself.”
“And I won’t let myself die in my sleep.”
There is no going peacefully. There is only going fighting, raging against the world that rejected them.
Oikawa drops his head onto Iwaizumi’s shoulder and gets a hoof to the knee. “Don’t lean on my wounds!”
“Come on, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa hums, pinching the wriggling open flesh.
“Who’s an Iwa-chan!”
“I know it doesn’t hurt.” Oikawa guides Iwaizumi’s hand beneath his shirt to the broken skin around his open wound. “This doesn’t hurt either, you know?”
"It’s your fault that you’re like that!"
"If I didn't eat, then I wouldn't have known. You'd be just another dead deer." Oikawa feels Iwaizumi’s fingers tracing the ridges of his guts. "And I'd be just another dumb human."
Oikawa rubs his hand along Iwaizumi's side, feeling where the fur thins out and human skin begins. Hard muscle everywhere, unquestionably firm, a powerful chest beneath the split of his green robes. Maybe he has no concept of the demeanor of gods, but Iwaizumi has a handsome face, from the crease of his brow to the short cut of his hair flaring out beneath his ivory antlers.
Oikawa takes Iwaizumi's face in his hands and kisses him. It burns so fiercely, like he's trying to capture a sunbeam with his lips, but it's also cool like a brush of fresh moss. When he grapples, he finds the hem of Iwaizumi's robes and the soft touch of his fur, and he's filled up with such delight and confusion that a shudder rolls through him. Iwaizumi is kissing him back, hooves straining in the dirt as his hands slide down his sides and find the bend of Oikawa's back.
He's not sure who falls first, but they’re drawn so strongly together that it feels so madly impossible that they hadn't known each other before. Iwaizumi is so, so heavy but Oikawa allows the kami to fall all over him. They tangle together and it's hard to tell where human ends and god begins.