If only his old rivals could see him now. Actually, no. Most of them were cool guys, even if he had considered them all both squirming worms and mountains too high to climb. They wouldn’t laugh. The rest of the guys he’d studied and worked with, on the other hand… Yes, they would love to see the amazing Oikawa Tooru’s hands tremble in quiet terror when facing a simple closed door. They would love it, indeed, and would never let him live it down.
Of course, he allowed some sour satisfaction to seep through, their girlfriends would be a different thing. He was almost tempted to leak something out, just a little, only to see the hatred on the faces of those peasants. True, calling his colleagues and classmates “peasants” was not the kindest thing he could do, but they had, and still kept acting like that, with their terrible fashion sense and their petty jealousy. Not his fault he knew how to colour coordinate and girls loved him.
None of this managed to really distract him from what he was supposed to be doing, though. He clenched his fists and then released them. Nothing. His hands were still shaking. Inhale…And then exhale. Yes, just like his matches, when he’d needed all his concentration and strength. This was the same thing. It was all in his head. There was no such thing as demons, no matter how much Sawamura’s creep of a boyfriend resembled one. He knew it was unfair to hold the man’s childhood actions against him, but there they were, all grown up and still petty. So. No such thing as demons. And no such thing as silly rituals that could bring out the most hidden parts of his own mind and then sic them against himself.
He didn’t believe in those things.
Now, if it were aliens…
He didn’t believe.
He was safe.
He knew he was safe.
Hajime had done it all for him. True, in front of Bokuto, whose house they were borrowing for this, he’d said it was because Tooru couldn’t be trusted with a mirror lest he spend the entire night marveling his own reflection, or with a bucket and water since he could drown in it, but Tooru knew the truth. His precious Iwa-chan simply knew him too well, him and his fears, both the normal ones and the strange, reasonless terrors that slept deep beneath his skin and crawled behind his eyelids when the darkness got too deep. Hajime knew it all. Which was why he’d volunteered, quite aggressively, to be the one taking part in that challenge. And Tooru appreciated it, but it had been one against…who knew how many did Bokuto count for when he set his mind on something. Which was why Hajime had huffed and then dragged him by the wrist to prepare the room.
The door wasn’t looking any friendlier.
Demons did not exist.
Of course, his biggest issue was that the game was not even supposed to summon demons. It was supposed to force his own mind to attack itself. And Tooru did have some idea what crawled in there. Not things he wanted to actually meet, that was for sure.
Checking his pocket for the last time, where an old, chipped keychain was dragging on his pants, he pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold.
Chairs, fan, bucket and mirrors. It looked like an intricate art project, like the ones he’d seen all over campus when the weather was good and the local youth wanted to pretend they understood all of Life’s greatest mysteries. Only, this was ominous. The lone window was already covered and the old chairs were…He didn’t like them. He could see the frames of the mirrors, but not the reflections, which was a small grace, and the low purr of the fan was reminding him of an irregular heartbeat. He shuddered. What had Kuroo said ? Leave the door open and leave ? He was more than happy to do so.
The beeping snapped him out of his head. He had been sleeping, right ? Was he ? Tooru shook his head. The non-existent demons wouldn’t be that picky. He hoped. Fumbling in the dark, he silenced the alarm and got up as carefully as possible. True, he knew he had a timer running, but he also knew the room was just down the hallway. So, he made sure to check everything down his path once more. It couldn’t hurt to be extra careful.
The alarm had beeped at exactly 3:30. Good. He forced the tiny bit about him being awake before than out of his mind. No need to cry over spilled milk. Or disturbed minds.
The door was open.
The fan was on.
His phone was fully charged.
The clock was ticking.
The candle he’d taken from his nightstand was trembling.
An hour. He could do it. He trusted Hajime more than he trusted himself. He could do it.
The silence was pressing onto him and his only threat to sanity was the fan. The sound of it, and the soft tremble of the candle light, were heling him stay grounded. Kind of. He did love the night, he truly did, but his soul chased the stars and the endless sky. This ? This tiny cramped room with it’s choking walls and whispering shadows, this he hated. With passion.
What was the time ? He didn’t dare to check. There were no demons.
Demons did not exist.
Demons did not exist.
He was alone in this room.
He was alone in his head.
He was alone.
In his head.
The whispers staring to make sense didn’t surprise him. Nor did the shapes he could almost but not quite see in the mirrors. It was all in his head. He was going to be a doctor, he knew how stupid the human brain was. How much it loved to confuse itself and run in circles. How much it loved to scare itself and poison itself and burn and scream and…
Whoa, talk about happy thoughts. What are you going to do next, cry ? Oh, wait you already did that.
No, he hadn’t. He hadn’t. It was just exams, and most of his old friends being away, and everyone in his new group hated him. True, with a reason but still...
Is it ? Is it true ? Your teammates never hated you. Not even Kyotani. Not even when you insulted him.
Because they had to, though. You were their captain, weren’t you ? They didn’t have a choice. They had to follow the captain or get kicked out of the team.
They chose to follow strength. To be inspired. To allow you to lead them.
You had actual awards. The school wouldn’t allow anyone to complain about you. It was volleyball and you, or nothing. For them all.
The coaches were paid by the school based on results ! You fucking know they were, so they had to stand there while you whined and complained and kept taking yourself out of the game again and again, and for what ? To win ? Over who ?
Dedication. It was the captain’s role to be the first, to be hardest worker, to try his best.
And keep leaving his team weak and trembling because he couldn’t follow simple instructions and had to fuck his leg up right before all the important games ? Very hardworking.
I swear, if you don’t shut up, you little brat…
Who are you calling a…
He snapped. The silence was still just as deep, the darkness sill falling like black snow, but his head was slightly clearer. He could think. Again. He hoped. What was the time…
Why are you worried ? You trust him. You know he will come. He has come every single time before, why would that change now ?
Of course. Of course Hajime would come. He trusted him. He did. He. Did.
Demons did not exist.
He was alone.
In this room.
And in his own head.
Oh, poor little Hajime, always running after you, cleaning your messes. When are you going to let him live outside of your shadow ?
He made the choice again and again. And again. He loves you and will always come to save you.
But not how you want, does he ? He rejected you. Again and again. Even your fake dramatic tears couldn’t sway him. And he’s the nicest person around. Nice enough not to ditch your whiny ass when you kept clinging to him for decades. When do you think the pity started ? When you confessed in high school ? Which time ? Or when you tried to kiss him when you were drunk ? Or when…
He would never hold it against you. He will always be there, he adores you like a brother…
Or when you tried to kiss him while pretending to be drunk ? And don’t get me started on the whole “loving like a brother” you useless…
Does it matter ? He will come. You know he will. He has his own life. You know he does. And yet he will come. You know he will. Why does it matter ?
He wouldn’t…He would come. He would. Tooru swallowed, vision going hazy around the edges. He couldn’t even see the mirrors anymore. Or the candle. It was suffocating him, the heat, the silence, the darkness, it was all pressing down on his chest and he was trying, he really was, but it was starting to hurt and he couldn’t breathe. He needed to snap out of it again. Having a panic attack in an empty dark room was a recipe for a disaster. He had to do it.
And Tobio, sweet little Tobio, what did you do to him ?
Work after staying up all night sucked. He pushed his glasses up his nose for the millionth time in the last couple of hours. It was early evening during exam session and the café was mostly empty, students too busy being holed up in their dorms and agonizing over textbooks to go out and socialise. It was a small grace that his grades and understanding professors had allowed him to take his exams early so all he had left to do was dissertation, and he had months for that. Which was why he was trying not to fall asleep behind the counter in a sleepy warm café with the scent of cinnamon perfuming the soft air.
He heard them before he saw them. Standing straighter, Tooru pushed the magazine under the counter and pulled the milk jugs close. The café was mostly empty,just the odd lazy couple flirting over whipped cream. The newcomers were definitely not that.
Three men, he placed them around his own age, and the surprising thing was two of them were obviously twins. The third man, slightly shorter, headed straight for the counter while his friends bickered quietly over something and draped themselves over one of the low couches in the corner.
The man pausing to check out the pastry case was relaxed, body loose and the physician in training in him appreciated the guy’s casually straight back and proper shoulder position. Someone had probably played a sport or three, maybe even dancing, to be able to keep his body in check like that. He was honestly impressed.
- Three caramel macchiatos, Starbucks style. One without whipped cream. Please. – Tooru raised his chin. The guy was shorter than him, but his quiet confidence was rubbing him the wrong way just a little bit.
- Of course. Anything else ? – The man hummed while Tooru clicked on the till. He seemed to consider the menu of the wall for a moment and then turned startingly grey eyes back on him. The calm reminded him a little of one Akaashi Keiji and his light blue eyes. Though even he didn’t have anything on the stranger’s disposition.
- Can I buy you a cupcake ? As an apology ? - Could he do what ?
- I beg your pardon, sir ? – True, the smile on the last word would make the owner rather upset but what Mizoguchi didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.
- My friends overstepped the line and I would like to apologise on their behalf.
- I think you have the wrong person. I’ve never met them. – He would had remembered the twins currently glaring at him. Well, one was glaring, the other seemed to be sulking and spacing out in his general direction.
- No ? Tooru, a big closet, last night ? – He shook his fringe out of his eyes. – Or do I really have the wrong man ?
He knew he was staring but still. He had to be Bokuto’s friend. Or Kuroo’s, Tooru had always known they were shady and shifty and every other words starting with an “S” he could think of. But to run around and ramble to random strangers, even if said random strangers were friends…Disappointing.
- Who told you ? Kuroo, Bokuto, who was it ? I know it wasn’t Sawamura, but…
- You did. – He placed the huge mug on the saucer and rested his palms on the marble counter so the man would not see them shake.
- I did. And, care to explain, when did I do that ? Because I think – He leaned forward, hissing in the man’s calm face. – I would fucking remember you. Or your buddies.
The guy shrugged lightly, still looking him straight in the eyes.
- They overstepped last night. We tend to dig in the past a little, but that was too much. Even if you are the one who has chained himself to his high school self with such heavy locks. – Another little headshake. – It isn’t healthy.
- You a psychiatrist now ? – A lapse in his image but he was genuinely confused and he did not like it. Who was that guy ? Because, now that he thought about it, he sounded kind of familiar but…
- Final year. Thought it could only help. If you ever want to talk… - And then the man pulled some colourful business card from his pocket and scribbled something on the back. – Here.
- Don’t you think looking for guinea pigs in cafes is a bit too much, though ? You can do your final project or whatever it is without stalking strangers on their workplaces.
The man smiled. Kind of. His expression changed slightly and the corners of his lips twisted upwards.
- Not what I am doing. And you are the one still hung up on some kid you almost slapped a decade ago, who you haven’t seen in, well, almost a decade. It won’t be a consultation. Sometimes, it’s just easier to tell a stranger.
- A demonic stranger. – There. He’d said it. Thrown it out there for everyone to hear. Now all he had to wait was for the man to laugh in his face.
- I try not to let my nature define who I am. Try doing it, too, you’ll be surprised. – The bastard had dared not to be affected…
- Maybe I will. – He looked down. What the hell he had to lose ? The weird stranger already knew more than he should had, and was odd enough to warrant some strange kind of calm and trust, so he could have a cup of coffee sometime, right ? – You got a name ? I like to know who I am spilling my secrets to.
Another tiny smile and the stranger leaned on the counter a touch more. This was going to be such a massive mistake, he just knew it. Oh, well.