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The Smoke in the Mirror

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The road is long and winding, a two lane highway twisting through dense trees and around hills. The asphalt ahead is wet. Hajime can see a dark cloud in the distance, and he knows soon enough he’ll catch up with the storm. He hopes it’s not a heavy rain. His windshield wipers are old, and if the rain is too torrential he won’t be able to see and will have to pull to the side of the road to wait it out.

Waiting is something he really doesn’t want to do, he thinks, glancing over at his passenger. He doesn’t want to spend any more time trapped in an enclosed space with the guy than necessary, and they’re about an hour away from the small town he asked him to drop him off in on his way to Tokyo.

From the passenger seat comes a heavy sigh. “No signal,” Oikawa complains at the phone in his hand. “The storm must be killing what little I can get out in the middle of nowhere.” He tosses the phone to the seat between them and reclines, putting his feet on the dashboard. “Couldn’t we change the radio station? This one is really dull, Iwa.”

Hajime’s eyes flicker to the knob of his radio. They lost about five other stations on the drive over and one of the few things he can pick up clearly right now is one that plays nothing but classical music. “It’s alright.”

“I dunno, I think the station with gossipy talk show hosts and deceiving advertisements would be more interesting.” Oikawa flashes him a grin. “Wouldn’t you?”

Not for the first time, Hajime thinks back to when they were kids. He remembers when he first saw him play the piano. Hajime told him he thought it was lame, which made Oikawa cry. He says, without thinking, “You used to love this kind of stuff.”

Oikawa’s smile becomes strained. “Did I?” he says, voice sounding distant.

Hajime doesn’t know what else to do but shrug.

There’s something wrong with Oikawa, and maybe four years ago he would be able to ask and push until he tells him what it is. There are bags under his eyes, his skin is pale, and he looks like he doesn’t eat regular meals. The Oikawa sitting in his truck doesn’t match up with the Oikawa he remembers from high school, strong and healthy and charming, and he wonders if maybe nostalgia has tainted his memories. But something in his gut tells him he’s not wrong, that the years they were best friends outweighs the years they spent apart.

There are brake lights up ahead, and Hajime taps his foot on the brake, taking his truck out of cruise control. Rain starts to fall heavily on the windshield. He spies an exit, and puts on his signal.

“Hm? But we’re not there yet, are we?” Oikawa shifts, crossing his legs, feet still on the dashboard.

“We’re getting lunch.”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little rain, Iwa. Your truck isn’t made of sugar.”

Hajime clicks his teeth. “Neither are you, Oikawa, no matter how many sweets you shovel into your mouth.”

Oikawa gapes at him, and then laughs, hands clutching his sides and practically doubled over. “Oh my god,” he says, “I forgot just how terrible your insults are.”

Hajime doesn’t particularly likes how pleased he feels to hear Oikawa actually laugh, and frowns as he pulls off the exit. The road he merges onto looks like every other one he’s taken a detour onto for food or gas during his entire lifetime. He spots a cafe fairly quickly, and parks. He tells Oikawa to go on in ahead of him, and he circles to the back of his truck, checking to make sure the bed cover is sealed properly. He doesn’t want to get to campus to find out that his belongings were completely soaked on the ride over.

When he’s finally satisfied that he won’t be screwed from the rain, he walks in the cafe, his hair a little damp. Oikawa is seated at a booth, examining a laminated menu, and Hajime slides into the seat across from him.

“This is a real classy place you picked out,” Oikawa says quietly, as if the waitresses will hear him and become so offended by his sarcasm they’ll spit in his food. “Absolutely one of a kind. You sure know how to show a guy a good time. I think there may be a second date in your future.”

Hajime kicks him as hard as he can under the table, and Oikawa yelps.

A waitress takes the opportunity to approach their table. She looks older than them and very tired, but her smile still looks kind when she says, “Can I get you two anything?”

“Just a coffee.” Oikawa says, sliding his menu across the table. “I’m not very hungry.”

Hajime picks up the menu and looks over it. “You still serving breakfast?” The waitress nods, and he quickly picks out a few things he knows he’ll like, mostly at random. She writes it down and walks away.

“That was a fairly big order, Iwa.” Oikawa says. He has his head resting on his hands, and he has a slightly amused smile on his lips. “Still a bottomless pit, I see.”

“Yeah, and you still eat like a bird.” He leans back in his seat. “And still think coffee counts as it’s own food group.”

Oikawa just shakes his head, and he stares out the window at the growing rain. He must feel just as weird as Hajime does, he realizes. They spent nearly their entire lives together, from when they were toddlers until they graduated high school. It seemed impossible to say no when Oikawa just showed up at his house at nine in the morning when he was loading his truck, demanding he take him with him and drop him off along the way, but ever since he wishes he had.

The waitress stops by again to drop off Oikawa’s coffee. He immediately dumps in two packets of sugar and a packet of creamer into his steaming coffee, stirs, and makes a face when he sips it. He reaches for more sugar packets, and Hajime finds himself watching his hands. Oikawa has always had long and slender fingers, and the way he moves his hands is nothing less than graceful. Hajime can easily picture those hands dancing over piano keys, and he finds himself asking, “Do you still play?”

Oikawa pauses, then returns to stirring his coffee slowly. He says, finally, “Yes, I do.”

And then the memory floods back to him: last year, when he was home for winter break and doing some last minute Christmas shopping, Hajime heard a piano in the crowded mall. He followed the sound and saw someone he swore could have been Oikawa sitting at a piano set up in the middle of a cheery holiday display. The man smiled as he played, but the sound was wrong, it lacked something, and Hajime turned around and walked away.

“In competitions, I mean.” he clarifies.

It takes even longer for Oikawa to answer this time, and by the time he does his lips are pursed. “No.” he says. “Not for a few years.”

“That’s a shame,” Hajime says, and he means it. “I always thought you were—”

“What the hell do you know, Iwaizumi?” Oikawa says. His hands are still and his eyes are poisonous.

Hajime freezes, but it’s not Oikawa’s glare or the lack of a childish nickname that gets to him, it’s the word hell. Oikawa never swears. When Hajime started swearing when they were young he used to scold him for it, swearing he would never defile his own language. Hajime could probably count the times he’s heard Oikawa swear on one hand. Most notably was when Oikawa suddenly started losing competition after competition in their third year of high school to a young first year everyone started calling a genius.

“Maybe I should just break them, Hajime,” Oikawa said, voice edging up with hysteria. He held his hands out in front of him. “That way when they don’t do what I want, no one will blame me. And maybe I won’t have to touch another fucking piano again. Wouldn’t that be great?”

Hajime had seen Oikawa go through low periods before, but it had never gotten this bad. He didn’t know what to do and didn’t want Oikawa to hurt himself, so he took his hands in his. “Don’t,” he said. His voice hitched in his throat. “You don’t have to play piano ever again, Tooru. Just—don’t.”

Then he took Oikawa’s hands and kissed each knuckle, each finger, he kissed them all over until Oikawa began to cry. He cried from years of frustration, because he would never be allowed to quit piano, because he had someone standing beside him, and Hajime swore he would never leave—

And that’s when Hajime realizes the reason Oikawa showed up at his doorstep with no warning is because he is running away.

“Nothing.” he answers, because he’s never known anything about him.

This seems to subdue Oikawa’s anger, and his face slips back into his vaguely amused mask. “Well, as long as you realize, it’s fine.” He sips his coffee.

Hajime’s food arrives on two plates, one loaded with a burger and fries, and the other with pancakes covered in whipped cream and strawberries. He shoves the pancakes over to Oikawa and says, “Eat.”

“I’m not hungry, Iwa.”

“Bullshit.” Hajime sighs. “I’m not going to eat it, so you might as well.”

Oikawa considers him for a long moment. He looks ready to say something else, but thinks better of it, and pulls the plate in front of him. Apparently he is hungry, because he immediately starts to pick off the strawberries one by one. By the time Hajime polishes off his own food, Oikawa has made it through maybe half of the pancakes, and is dipping his finger in the remaining whipped cream and licking it off.

“It was alright,” he says, which Hajime guesses is the closest to a thank you he’s going to get. “You ordered it, so you’re paying for it, right?”

Brief fantasies of leaving Oikawa on the side of the road flash through his mind. “Fine. I’ll pay.” He flags the waitress down and asks for the check. It’s still raining fairly heavily outside, but now Hajime can see the end of the cloud. He can outrun the rain, he thinks.

He’s signing the check when Oikawa says, “What about you? You’re off to grad school, aren’t you?”

Hajime hands the check back to the waitress before he answers. “Yeah. I am.”

“That’s surprising.” Oikawa doesn’t look eager to leave. “Little no-brain Iwa, a nerd.”

He sighs, and doesn’t take the bait. “C’mon, asshole. We’re leaving.” He stands, but Oikawa still doesn’t move. “Your hair looks like shit anyway, who cares, the rain won’t kill you.”

“Who are you to say my hair looks awful?” Oikawa grumbles, giving a pointed look to Hajime’s messy hair, but he finally gets out of the booth.

They don’t get soaked before they make it back into his truck, but from the way Oikawa starts complaining when he has to wait for Hajime to unlock the doors one would think they got stuck outside during a hurricane. “Ugh,” he says after he’s safely in the passenger seat, “Ugh. Disgusting.”

“It’s just water.”

“Well I feel gross because of this just water you keep talking about. And can we please change the station already?”

Hajime considers, then turns off the radio. Now they can drive in complete awkward silence, instead of the kind of awkward silence set to a backdrop of classical music. He turns on his lights, pulls out of the parking lot and back onto the road, and merges back on the highway.

Oikawa fools around on his phone for a little longer, but eventually he sets it down and rests his head against the window. He’s still for so long that Hajime thinks he may have fallen asleep, but then he says, barely above a whisper, “Why did you stop calling?”

They both knew for months before graduation that Hajime would be going away to college and Oikawa would be staying in Miyagi, but it didn’t really sink in until a week before he had to leave. Oikawa called him in the middle of the night, telling him to let him in his house. He stood in Hajime’s room, looking lost and like he hadn’t slept in days, and he said, “Please don’t leave.”

Hajime said, “I have to.”

Oikawa didn’t cry, not this time, but he kissed Hajime long and hard, made him swear to call him every night, and then crawled into his bed and pretended to be asleep. He was gone in the morning and refused to see Hajime off when he finally left.

Hajime says, “Why did you stop picking up?

He chuckles, the sound low. “Fair enough,” he says, and then he’s silent.

The sky is still overcast on the other side of the storm cloud, but the road is dry, and the scenery starts changing. Another lane is added to the road and the trees gradually get lower and lower. The minutes tick by in complete silence until Hajime looks at the clock and finds that half an hour has passed.

“Oikawa,” he says, keeping his voice low because he isn’t sure if he’s actually fallen asleep or not.

Oikawa inhales slowly and his eyelids flutter, which makes Hajime think he must have been on the precipice of sleep. “Yeah?”

He pauses, licks his lips, and says, “When we were kids, and you dragged me along to one of your competitions for the first time...” He trails off.

“Mm, I remember. You were a brat about it.”

“Yeah, well, I only acted that way because I didn’t want you to know how impressed I was.” Oikawa sits up in his seat and looks at him, which Hajime takes as encouragement to keep talking. “The way you were up on stage—it was completely different from when you played at home. You were so...” He takes a second to think of the words. “Self assured. You were in control. You knew how good you were and you knew you were going to win. And I—” He takes a second to gather his courage. “I always loved hearing you play, ever since.”

Oikawa stares at him. “Why are you telling me this now?”

Hajime looks in his rearview and he can see the two bags Oikawa dumped in the backseat that morning. He thinks about how the materialistic Oikawa must have condensed his life to fit into only two bags, and he says, “Because I’m not sure we’ll ever see each other again.”

Another silence falls over the cab, but it’s heavier now that Oikawa isn’t pretending to sleep. He stares out the window and Hajime drives on and on until he sees a sign for the town Oikawa wants.

“Five kilometers,” he announces.

“Yes, I saw.” Oikawa says. “I can read too, you know.”

“Right. I forgot.”

At the three kilometer sign, Oikawa says, “Iwa, I’ve been thinking.”

At the two kilometer sign he hasn’t elaborated, so Hajime says, “About what?”

Another half of a kilometer passes before Oikawa continues. “Maybe I don’t want to live in some backwater town. I have a job lined up, but I can take my skills anywhere. Why not a city?”

“Of course, because pianists are in high demand everywhere.” Hajime says, keeping his voice measured even though his pulse has picked up.

“Exactly! I’m glad you understand what a commodity I am.” It’s not until the exit is in view and Hajime puts on his signal that he finally completes his thought. “So, I was thinking. Maybe I’d much rather tag along with you for a little longer. Your university’s in Tokyo, right? I’d have much better opportunities in Tokyo.”

There are a lot of problems attached to Oikawa following him to Tokyo. He isn’t supposed to have roommates in his apartment, for one, and he has no idea how long Oikawa will have to stay with him. There’s also their strained relationship from being estranged for so long and how likely it is to implode once more.

Despite how hard his brain tries to talk him out of it, Hajime turns off his signal and drives past the exist. “Don’t make me regret this, Oikawa.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be the perfect guest.” Oikawa settles down in his seat, smiling.

(Six months later he’ll drag Hajime along with him to the university’s practice hall, where he’s allowed to use their grand piano, and say, “I wrote a song, I want you to listen to it.” Oikawa won’t add that he wrote it for him, but Hajime will know anyway. And after he’s done his performance for one, Hajime will kiss him for the first time since they were teenagers.

Things will never go back to the way they were, but they will be better.)