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They surprise Oikawa by coming to the airport to see him off, because they’re adorable.

He cries, just a bit, so Hanamaki takes a picture and tells him he’s going to send it to all his new Argentinian teammates, to the official CA San Juan twitter account, to Blanco, because he’s incorrigible.

They all laugh, like this is normal.

He hugs each of them in turn, Matsukawa first, with a thump on the back, and Iwaizumi last and longest, and Hanamaki in the middle. Oikawa’s hand closes around Hanamaki’s forearm, like he’s steadying— well, Hanamaki’s not actually sure which of them he’s steadying. Despite the earlier tears, he seems calm and focused, whilst Hanamaki is sort of shaky and can only talk in old jokes. And when his hand releases, he doesn’t push himself away or anything. There’s no force. His fingers just hinge away from Hanamaki’s arm, swinging open onto something new. He has let go.

And then they skulk off, to give him space to say goodbye to his actual family. Hanamaki must be feeling weird because he almost falls back on cliche, unable to shake the notion that one door opening closes another.

 

***

 

After that, knowing Oikawa becomes a little like knowing an astronaut.

(Hanamaki thinks, at least. It’s not like he’s actually met one, and out of all the people he does know, Oikawa was probably the best bet, only he had to go and do a different outrageous thing instead.)

Knowing Oikawa is good to drop into casual conversations, like, hey, guess what? My friend’s doing something cool. He’s whipping around the earth in a space station, at almost 30 thousand kilometres an hour. That's way too many kilometres an hour. If you drive far enough out of the city any city back towards where you grew up, you can see him tracking across the sky, fast enough to make a wish on.

Sometimes he puts a hand on each side of an airlock door, opened just for him, and he braces for just a moment before pushing himself out. Action begets reaction: he goes forth into void.

Anyway. Oikawa is not in space. He’s in Argentina, which is different because it’s somewhere you can get a postcard from. Hanamaki knows this, fundamentally, but he still can’t shake the image. Oikawa, about to spacewalk, paused in a doorframe before a forever night sky. He doesn’t even think about his hands. They are the only thing attaching him to what he knows, but his eyes are fixed forwards. It’s an expression Hanamaki can imagine perfectly.

 

***

 

Back down on earth, Hanamaki goes to university in Fukuoka, heading as far south through Japan as he can. He’s never lived outside Miyagi, and so it’s a stretching out that feels significant. He submitted his application with some sense of defiance: it’s his own private act of rebellion against, like, everything he knows and is used to. His insurrection has a limit though, and it’s the islands’ borders.

Compared to Oikawa, he’s kind of like a cat knocking a glass of water off a counter, whilst in the next room a bear has come smashing through the french windows and is tearing into the good furniture.

They call, sometimes. Not unoften. Somehow, it's always late evening in San Juan and the early morning in Fukuoka, even though Hanamaki’s terrible before noon and Oikawa always needs to be awake for the next day in some devastatingly short amount of time. It’s an unsustainable habit.

It means it’s always dark outside when Oikawa calls, and he’s always lit only by the white light of a lamp, so his room behind him is always in darkness too. Oikawa forgets that the sun sets sometimes, always has, that there's anything beyond his little island of desk. It means that Hanamaki’s main impression of Argentina is the always blackness behind Oikawa, a perfectly functional stand in for the yawn of space.

They keep it up, whilst Hanamaki studies, and graduates, and moves to Tokyo (a return north which feels like a concession to something, a retreat of sorts), and starts his first boring job. Whilst Oikawa continues forwards at a constant velocity, propelled through fields of stars forever, until he gets far enough away that the signal begins to cut out.

 

***

 

People start asking questions about Oikawa themselves, instead of just listening politely when Hanamaki mentions him, once he makes the Argentinian national team. He’s become a minor celebrity in Japan purely because he’s gone very far away in a generally interesting way, like the spaceman he is. Hanamaki digs around in the back of his wardrobe and unearths all his favourite unflattering stories.

The thing about going to space is that the missions are very long.

Hanamaki lives his own life, mostly. He works in an office, where he wears a tie and does something vague with accounts, but he has just enough idiosyncrasies to remember to be a person and not just an indistinct suit among the Metro crowds. Like, he’s always up for after-work karaoke, where he has a different favourite song every time, without fail. He orders delivery and then transfers the food into his own bowls, and eats with his own utensils, so it doesn’t even save on washing up. He knows a lot about horror films: most evenings, he flicks through channels until he finds one just bad enough that he doesn’t actually feel obliged to watch, and he can let his thoughts escape.

Hey, and he went to school with that volleyball player. Was on the same team, even.

When Hanamaki thinks about him, Oikawa is just a guy, sat on a bench in front of school, reading. No, not even reading, just intending to. Book split across his chest as he slides himself down the seat, getting himself as close to horizontal as he can without falling to the ground, and staring up at the arcing blue sky above them.

The first time he called Hanamaki Makki, three weeks after meeting, it had sounded so normal, so practiced out of his mouth that Hanamaki thinks Oikawa came up with it the moment he first introduced himself. It’s funny, imagining Oikawa hesitating like that. A whole three weeks; that’s very restrained. Cautious, in a way Oikawa soon gave up on. The quickest he ever gave someone a nickname was two weeks before meeting the guy. A setter for the first team they were facing at Interhigh qualifiers in their last year, who Oikawa had never seen before, except in the hours of game footage he'd watched. By that point, he was all preparation.

He always wore his school uniform beautifully, everything where it should be: tie knot sheltered by the crisp defence of his collar, shirt smoothly tucked into trousers, which matched the plaid scarf he always wore late into spring. It wasn’t a school scarf or anything; he just went out and bought his own, for coordination’s sake. They teased him for that. Did he buy a new scarf in Argentina, to go with his new uniform? Does it get cold enough for scarfs? Hanamaki doesn't know.

Because at some point, like the world’s worst werewolf, Oikawa transformed before Hanamaki’s eyes, from a guy he can describe straightfowardly, truthfully, someone he knows, to someone so far out of Hanamaki’s life that he has to rely on stupid, inconsistent metaphors to explain him.

The stages of transformation are thus: 1) constant presence 2) face on a laptop screen 3) blurry figure on a foreign club’s YouTube channel 4) someone he overhears strangers talking about in a Metro station. That’s it for now, but Hanamaki worries Oikawa's final monster form will be someone Hanamaki has to ask others about.

For now, the horror film Hanamaki wasn't watching ends. He changes to the sports news, and then he clicks on, finding something tense and sci-fi about a bunch of people trapped on a spaceship. People in movies, when they manage to come back from their missions away from earth, are always different to how they left, hardened or shaky or enlightened. But it’s not really space doing that, is it? It’s time and distance. Hanamaki feels like he hasn’t managed to find either.

 

***

 

He and Matsukawa meet up for drinks and old times’ sake, two days after the Argentinian 2020 Olympics squad is announced. They arranged it weeks ago; like most of Hanamaki’s life these days, it doesn’t have anything to do with Oikawa.

“I’m quitting my job,” Hanamaki starts, because he is.

“Exciting,” replies Matsukawa. He couldn’t sound less bothered. “What are you going to do next?”

“I don’t know,” Hanamaki states, because he doesn’t.

“Huh.” 

From behind his beer, Hanamaki shrugs, smirks. All his old habits of indifference, leftover teenage apathy. Matsukawa smirks too. “Well, there’s always a demand for my services, if you want a dead end job.”

“Ew,” Hanamaki shakes his head performatively. “I’d have to die for you to get me in there.”

They’re very funny, even if only to each other. Most of the conversation is being conducted silently, in old references and familiar mannerisms and the ease of a long time spent knowing each other. Except, sometimes, Hanamaki has realised, you have to speak frankly, in order to push yourself off, towards somewhere other than your head.

Like, I’m going to do it, for real. (And Hanamaki, looking at Oikawa’s hands, not saying anything. And Oikawa, looking forward, which happens to be where Hanamaki is standing.)

“Something fun,” Hanamaki says to Matsukawa. “I’m going to do something fun. Something I actually want to do, for once. I just have to work out what that is.”

“Cool,” says Matsukawa. “Do you want some help?” Before Hanamaki can respond he starts reeling off job titles with all the passion of, well, someone who works in a funeral home. “Teacher. Doctor. Food truck driver. Bounty hunter. Youtuber. Chemist. Artist. Journalist. Philanthropist. Dog walker. Astronaut—”

“I don’t think that’s for me,” Hanamaki interjects.

"That’s the one which isn’t for you?” Matsukawa raises an eyebrow, “You can really see yourself as a Kodzuken type, huh?” and Hanamaki rolls his eyes, and then they’re standing on solid ground again; Hanamaki hadn’t even realised they’d left.

 

***

 

Hanamaki gets a ticket to one Olympics match. It’s the first round, the third day. Argentina are playing, obviously.

Ariake Arena is a weird building, with its roof curving upwards like a grin or a wink. Something cheeky and knowing. Inside, there are a lot of Japanese flags jolting around, even though they’re not playing. Hanamaki scoffs at them. He’s wearing light blue. Sky blue, really.

It turns out that an Olympics match is a tight core of time in the middle of a vast sea of everything-but-playing. There's a lot of waiting around beforehand, but the court’s never empty, not once. Mascots wander intermittently in and out, Vabo-chan and Miraitowa jostling for attention. Men in official Olympics polo shirts talk into earpieces and point authoritatively to nothing. A couple of kids lean on mops, chatting, eyeing the crowd. Above it all, painfully cheery pop plays, occasionally broken up by commentators promising that it won’t be much longer, honest. Hanamaki spent a lot of his teens around volleyball courts, but it’s never been like this: so loud and bright and alien.

When Oikawa finally bothers to emerge, which is to say, the Argentinian team march impressively in, to a victorious swell of music (“About time,” Hanamaki mutters to himself), he looks unbothered. He looks confident, as he proudly sings a national anthem Hanamaki has never heard before. It's visible in the set of his shoulders, but also in the fierceness on his face, momentarily made huge on the screen opposite Hanamaki’s seat in the stands. It’s too far away to actually see Oikawa himself in anything except the broadest generalities.

Still, though. You don’t spend three years on a court with Oikawa Tōru without some of it staying with you. Hanamaki can see the moment he switches from adored, waving star, to focused and controlled, and can imagine the way his eyes shutter and harden. There’s a point just before the game begins, when he turns to the other five on court and says something, and Hanamaki knows, can almost hear, that he’s saying he’s counting on them, however that translates.

It’s funny, being here, in the same room as Oikawa playing volleyball. Obviously. Obviously it’s completely bizarre. Hanamaki doesn’t know what to do with his hands; they remember when it wasn't, and they itch.

Oikawa uses his. Hanamaki watches, as he stops under a pass and the ball descends perfectly to his outstretched fingers. Then, he sets it back into the waiting air again. The ball reaches the spiker, who slams it into a straight, a textbook play. But Oikawa— Oikawa, having pushed against the ball, against the airlock door, has succumbed to the laws of physics and is spinning out through space. Each action has its equal and opposite reaction, and so each set puts Oikawa in motion, pushing him away from where he started, where Hanamaki has been grounded.

Hanamaki watches from the stands as he gets further and further away. To be here for this fills him with awe.