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Chou Chou

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One

As far as five year old Hajime was concerned, there was a way to how the world worked - spending time with his mother in the morning, then meeting Tooru to play after lunch until it is Nap Time and they have to sleep, then it will be dinner and they’ll have to go back to their respective homes for the night. 

Hajime has always thought that Nap Time is a waste of time and can be better spent on more play time. He tries not to complain too much though, because that makes his mother frown at him and he never wants to make her unhappy at him. Besides, Tooru probably whines enough for the both of them.  

Sometimes, they get to have sleepovers and do not have to go back to their respective homes at night. Hajime loves the games they play when they are supposed to be sleeping. They could get in serious trouble if they get caught though, so they have been very careful not to get found out. They have been playing Missions recently, building tunnels with the extra bedding to crawl through and almost got caught last week. They were only saved because Tooru had heard the creak the stairs made when someone was climbing them, which gave them enough warning to pull everything apart and pretend that they were sleeping. Hajime had never tried so hard not to giggle his whole life but they got away scot free in the end. 

That day, however, was not going how the world should. He wanted to go over to Tooru’s as he was meant to that day but his mother had said no. No amount of pleading and sulking would sway her, and when pressed, she only said, “Tooru-kun’s unwell. We need to let him rest. Now be a good boy and go play by yourself alright?”

Her tone was final and Hajime wanted to protest more, but he also wanted to be a good boy, so he took himself into the garden to hunt some bugs. 

In the meantime, in the Oikawa household, Oikawa Kyoko was rubbing her temples in exasperation, feeling utterly fed up with her son’s hysterics. Tooru had been in an awful mood the whole day with a stomach bug. He was exhausted but evidently unable to settle so kept falling asleep for brief snatches of time then waking in discomfort and crying with the frustration of it all. Nothing helped, even when she sat with him to lull him to sleep. He had already thrown a few tantrums, with a glass flung onto the floor being his latest victim. The glass had been smashed - no one was hurt, fortunately - but it gave her such a fright that she ended up being harsher than usual when admonishing him so that has not helped matters. 

On top of that, Tooru would not stop wailing about wanting to see Hajime as the two boys didn’t get to see each other over the weekend and they had promised to meet today, he wants to see his Hajime! So she was very much at her wit’s end. 

Hajime glanced at his best friend’s house from the garden. It was only across the road, and maybe he could just sneak over very quickly? But his mother had not let him go across by himself yet and she did say that Tooru needed to rest… Hajime huffed and continued creeping across the grass so that he could net the huge beetle sunning itself on a rock. 

Just as he was about to pounce with the net, the sound of smashing glass reverberated across the quiet neighbourhood. Hajime’s head snapped towards the sound. It had come from Tooru’s house. 

Before Hajime can remember his promise to be good, he had already taken off towards the house that was almost as familiar as his own. 

Hajime retrieved the key hidden under the welcome mat and let himself in by the back door. He tiptoed through the kitchen and peeked around the wall into the living room to see Auntie looking tiredly at a visibly upset Tooru who was wailing and shaking his head, “ No, no, no! I don’t want to!”

His heart squeezed at the sight of his friend’s tears, and Hajime rushed forward without a second thought.

“Tooru!” He gasped, reaching out to comfort his upset friend. Auntie’s shocked “Hajime-kun?” went unheard as he zeroed in on Tooru’s pathetic “Hajime-chan?” and the fresh spate of tears that followed.

“Don’t cry, Tooru,” Hajime embraced his best friend tightly, “‘kaasan said you were sick.” 

“Mmhmm,” Tooru sniffled, and tightened his grip on the other boy, “I feel bad. My tummy hurts.”

“‘Kaasan said you need to rest to feel better.” Hajime told him, “come on. Let’s nap.”

“I don’t want to nap!” Tooru snapped, trying to pull his hand back. “It hurts!”

Hajime held tight and said, “Come on, I’ll stay with you.”

“You will?”

“Yeah.”

“Until I’m better?”

“Yeah, as long as you need me. Let’s go, resting will help you feel better. Kaasan said so.”

Tooru calmed down at that and Hajime held on to his hand all the way to Tooru’s room before pulling him down on the futon. Hajime stretched himself out behind the other boy. 

“Here. My mother does it for me when I’m sick.” He fit himself around Tooru and rubbed circles gently on the other’s stomach with his tiny palm, “go to sleep, Tooru.”

“Feels nice.” Tooru yawned, relaxing into the warmth provided by Hajime and allowed himself to be lulled to sleep by the soothing motions on his stomach.

Downstairs, Kyoko watched in amazement as Hajime, brash little Hajime, talked softly to her son until he quieted and allowed himself to be led to his room. It was the most docile he had been the whole day. She sighed contemplatively before snapping herself out of the trance she had fallen into, suddenly wondering if Hajime’s mother knew he was here.

When both mothers peeked into Tooru’s room later, they found their sons curled around each other as they always had, squeezed onto one half of the futon as they snoozed the afternoon away.

(Hajime caught the same stomach bug later, but was more stoic and thus easier to handle than Tooru, much to his mother’s relief.)

 

***

 

Two

Hajime scolded himself as he dug his holiday homework out of his bag. He had procrastinated thinking that he’d have plenty of time to finish his work. Except that today was the last day of the holiday and of the training camp at Kitagawa Daiichi and his undone homework still sat untouched in his duffle. 

A loud cheer sounded from the next room where his teammates were celebrating the end of the training camp. Hajime glanced in the direction of the party, then at his homework. The uncompleted work book mocked him from where it laid on the futon and Hajime frowned severely at it in an attempt to cow it into submission. Then, resigning himself to his fate, he picked up his pen and started writing.  

BANG !

Hajime startled badly and scored a line across the paper with his pen. He whipped around to find his best friend standing in the doorway, hand on the door that he had just slammed unceremoniously into the wall. 

“Ah hah!” Oikawa pointed, triumph suffusing his features, “caught you slacking!”

Hajime rolled his eyes and turned back to his work. “What are you doing here Shittykawa?”

“I’m here to make sure that Iwa-chan doesn’t slack off!” He flopped next to Hajime and leaned into his personal space to peer at his writing, jostling him in the process. 

Hajime growled and shoved him away. “What? No, you are annoying, go away.”

Oikawa bounced back unrepentantly and caused Hajime to draw another stray line on his work. 

“Mean, Iwa-chan, mean! See if I stay to keep you company!” He declared over Hajime's irritated snarl. 

“Good, leave me in peace!” 

Oikawa huffed in offense and sat back, dropping his head to stare up at the ceiling. He stayed like that momentarily, eyes slipping shut and an almost inaudible sigh escaped him. Hajime side eyed him when he remained quiet at length, noting the larger than usual dark circles, the increased sluggishness to his movements that had become more apparent over the past couple of days. Knowing Oikawa's inability to sleep properly in unfamiliar places, combined with the stress of having to keep up the perfect appearance, Hajime realised that he must be getting pretty rundown by now.

Hajime had wondered how long it’d take Oikawa to crack.

“You could’ve just said that you were tired you know.” Hajime muttered, knowing full well why Oikawa had sought him out. They had shared a bed often during countless shared nap times and sleepovers as they grew up together and he supposed that Oikawa must be hoping that the familiarity might help him catch some shut eye.

“Eh? I’m here to make sure that Iwa-chan does his work!”

“I’m not going to slack off.”

“Well, then I’m here to make sure that Iwa-chan isn’t lonely!”

Hajime groaned in annoyance and gave up trying to make his friend confess the truth. “Just, just sit there and be quiet then.”

Oikawa snickered, then started rambling about something from the day. Hajime sighed internally and let him, hmm-ing at all the right places as he’s always done. Oikawa lost steam pretty quickly though, and soon the only sound in the room was the susurrus of pen against paper and the rub of fabric as either of them shifted periodically. 

They stayed like that, soaking in the comfortable silence. Their teammates in the other room felt a world away then and it was just the two of them shrouded them in their own little bubble. For just a while, it was okay just to be

Then with a small huff, Oikawa slumped down on his shoulder, leaning his weight on Hajime’s right arm and forcing him to stop writing.

“Hey, lie down, you’ll get a crick in your neck like that.” Hajime murmured, rolling his shoulder backwards to nudge the other boy down. With a soft, “-my mother, Iwa-chan?” Oikawa allowed himself to be nudged and dropped to lie on the futon. Hajime felt a little tug on the bottom hem of his shirt as Oikawa clutched it and snuggled close so that his body hugged Hajime's sitting form from behind, his head resting on the pillow just to the left of the other boy’s knee. 

Hajime found himself smiling minutely at Oikawa’s wordless demand to stay with fond amusement. Oikawa will not ask - not when he knows that Hajime’s answer will always be the same as they have always been:

As long as you need me. 

Hajime started sifting his hand through the other boy’s hair, knowing that the light touch usually lulls him to sleep faster. Soon enough, Oikawa's breaths started coming slower and deeper and Hajime removed his hand slowly, turning his full attention to his work.

The rest of the boys came trooping in some time later, still raucously chattering away and found them like that: Hajime frowning at them for their rowdiness, a book open on the futon in front of him and Oikawa a bracket around him, completely dead to the world. 

“Making sure you don’t slack off huh?” One of the boys sniggered, even as they all lowered their voices.

Hajime shrugged, pulled a blanket over Oikawa and crawled into Oikawa’s abandoned futon next to his own as the light was turned off for the night. 

 

***

 

Three

“Iwa-ch-” The singsong call of his name cut out abruptly and Hajime looked up from where he was deep in conversation with a first year to see Oikawa frozen on the aisle of the bus with a hand resting on the head rest diagonally in front of him. He was staring at Hajime with a slightly hurt-no, betrayed- look on his face. Then he plastered on a wide grin and turned his attention to the kouhai that Hajime was explaining blocking tactics to.

Hajime is suddenly reminded that while the first years have all witnessed Oikawa as an amazing player and attentive mentor, they've not had the chance to find out just how petty and obsessive he can get yet.

Sanada-kun, ” Oikawa smirked, lifting his chin so that he was looking down his nose at the younger boy. The first year cringed away at his abnormally saccharine tone.

Hajime facepalmed internally at Oikawa's antics, already sussing out what got his hackles up. He decided to interject before Oikawa embarrassed himself any further. 

“Stop scaring the first years, Trashykawa.” He said, successfully tearing Oikawa’s attention away from his victim. 

"I'm not scaring him!" Oikawa yelped indignantly. 

Hajime ignored him and turned to the confused kouhai. “You should talk to Matsukawa, he can teach you more about blocking.” 

He indicated the lazy eyed teen coming up behind Oikawa and Sanada looked up just as Matsukawa leaned forward to speak directly into Oikawa's ear. “Oiii, Oikawa, you are holding up the entire bus.”

Oikawa squealed, clapping a hand over his ear and jerked abruptly away from the other boy. 

“Mattsun!” He whined as Matsukawa cackled.

“Go on,” Hajime ushered the first year boy out of the seat, watching Oikawa’s eyes light up before he claimed the now empty seat beside him.

"Byeee, Sanada-chan." Oikawa sang smugly. Hajime whupped him on the head, eliciting a petulant whine. "He wasn't even competing with you, Idiotkawa."

Behind him, Hajime heard Matsukawa say as they moved further back down the bus, “alright kiddo, first rule of Bus Club, we don't sit next to Iwaizumi...”

He couldn’t hear anything after that but caught Oikawa’s mulishly muttered “damn right” as the taller boy shuffled lower down the seat and commandeered Hajime’s shoulder to rest his head on. 

“Oi, I’m not your pillow.” Hajime grumbled even as he sat up straighter so that Oikawa would not have to slouch as much. “You’ll be more comfortable if you sleep on someone taller you know. Like Matsukawa or Hanamaki.”

“Iwa-chan is the best pillow.” Oikawa nuzzled more firmly into Hajime’s shoulder and went boneless against him. His brown hair tickled Hajime’s jaw. 

Hajime has gotten used to Oikawa using him as a glorified pillow and has long given up trying to wiggle out of his ‘duty’. The effort was just not worth the fuss Oikawa would kick up and Hajime, embarrassingly, has never had much defense against the puppy dog eyes Oikawa would inevitably summon to get his way. He has learnt to count his losses by now. 

Besides, and this is not something he'll ever say out loud, the weight of Oikawa's head on his shoulder isn't that bad and maybe he likes the warmth pressed against his side. Just a little, maybe. 

Being able to curl up against each other, leaching comfort and warmth from each other always reminded Hajime of the first time (and the many times after) he made the promise to stay with Oikawa for “as long as you need me”. Briefly, he wondered how much time they will have, how many more chances they have left to do this as they grow. 

Hajime sighed, then gently so as to not jostle his friend, let himself rest his head on Oikawa’s, dozing off to the rumble of the bus as it brought them home.

 

***

 

Four

“Oh? Is Sleeping Beauty napping again?” Hanamaki commented as he made his way towards the pair sitting in the corner of the rooftop away from the other students, Matsukawa in tow. Oikawa was wedged between Hajime and the wall, sitting curled in on himself with his back plastered against Hajime’s side, arms on his drawn up knees. His head nodded forward as he snoozed. 

“Yeah,” Hajime said, pitching his voice low. He lifted his chopsticks in greeting, the side that Oikawa is leaning on stayed stalwartly still.

“That doesn’t look comfortable,” Matsukawa settled next to Hajime and started in on his lunch. He eyed Oikawa doubtfully. 

Hajime shrugged one shoulder, “I told him that he would get a sore neck. His problem.”

“He would whine at you if he does wake up with a sore neck though.” Hanamaki quipped, chuckling at Hajime when the other boy groaned.

Hajime chewed on a piece of meat almost thoughtfully, “he fell asleep really fast today, idiot needs to take better care of himself if he is dozing during the day like that.”

Hanamaki snickered, "well, maybe you are boring him to sleep." Hajime glared and kicked at Hanamaki with an outstretched foot. Hanamaki dodged and evaded his foot successfully, seeing as Hajime was effectively pinned to a spot.

“Is he alright though?” Matsukawa asked as Hanamaki stuck his tongue out at a fuming Hajime tauntingly. He is digging at his lunch with his chopsticks, picking out the choice morsels to eat but Hajime heard the concern in his voice anyway. 

They all know that Oikawa is tactile and communicates camaraderie with touch - clapping a hand on his friends’ backs or slinging a careless arm across their shoulder to lean his full weight on them. He’s even tried glomping Kyoutani before and almost got an irate fist to his nose for his trouble when Kyoutani spooked badly at the sudden contact. 

In return, most of them indulge his whims, accommodating for his weight when he plasters himself all over him, or nudging him gamely to tell him, yes, I am your friend, I am here for you, too. 

However - and it took a while for Hajime to realise - when he’s tired or needing comfort, he invariably seeks Hajime out to curl up against him. Hanamaki has pointed out some time ago, tongue in cheek, that Oikawa uses him as a security blanket. Something he can hold onto to shield himself for the world when he is too worn down to keep his own walls up, something that is, above all, familiar and makes him feel safe.

Hajime knows that Oikawa is often too much for his own good. Too driven, too hungry for success. In public, he is a maelstrom of frenetic energy encased in a perfect shell - showing only a flawless facade as he battles a deep seated anxiety that invokes him to never, ever show weakness.

But with Hajime, Oikawa has never bothered. Hajime has witnessed the many times Oikawa sheds his public armour when they are alone and just settles . When they were younger, when Oikawa’s just gotten into his head that he needs to get along with everyone, Hajime used to get jealous of how everyone gets ideal, put-together Oikawa while he has to deal with Oikawa-who-is-really-a-selfish-crybaby. But then he saw it for the front it was and just learnt to deal with how the loud, obnoxious “Iwa-chan!”s he gets in public gets dialed down to softer muttered “Iwa-chan”s when they are alone; the way the tension in Oikawa’s shoulders dissipate when they lean on him.

Hajime thought that it must be exhausting to be Oikawa, and if Hajime can be the harbour in the storms of his own mind, as long as he needs him, Hajime will gladly accept that responsibility.

“Mmyeah,” Hajime hummed in answer. He kicked out again, foot finally catching Hanamaki’s shin and earning himself a satisfying yelp. “He will be.”

 

***

 

Five

“Shittykawa, shouldn’t you be asleep by now?” Hajime said in lieu of a greeting when he picked up the call and realised that it would be close to 2am in Puerto Rico by now.  “Don’t you have a game tomorrow?” 

“Mmhm, the first game of the league!” Light from the screen illuminated Oikawa’s features in the darkness of his room, making him look more washed out and strained. The image shook when he rolled over on the bed to lie on his side and settled on a close up shot of the right side of his face. A big portion of the screen was taken up by his pillow. “I’m starting setter.”

“Yeah, you said. Sounds like more of a reason for you to be asleep right now.” Hajime adjusted his earphones and mic and put his phone down so that he could continue working on his report. 

“Are you my mum Iwa-chan?” 

“I’ll hit you, I swear.”

“What, are you going to come over? Or are you trying from all the way over there?”

“Hmph, don’t think I won’t.”

Oikawa snorted and a contemplative silence fell between them. The thing that they both recognised was that given the distance, limited funds and their own hectic schedules, it would be nigh impossible for them to meet in the near future. They have been calling or texting each other regularly, but that just doesn’t make up for the proximity that they are used to, even taken for granted. 

Hajime has found himself worrying about Oikawa from time to time. Wondered if he was recognising his own limits, if he was able to find shelter from his potentially crippling need to achieve perfection. If he even still needs to. He had tried to help when he thought that Oikawa needed it, but the distance, that stretching expanse between them, made his heartfelt attempts feel like mere lip service. 

“Iwa-chan, prop your phone up. I don’t want to look at the ceiling, it’s boring.” 

“Don’t look at it then. Go to sleep.” 

When Oikawa’s visible eyebrow scrunched inward in wilful defiance, Hajime sighed in exasperation and stacked a couple of books to lean his phone on so that his face was visible. 

Then because Hajime knows Oikawa’s pregame habits, he asked, “so, how’s the other team like?”

Oikawa brightened and launched into a detailed analysis of the team that his team would be playing tomorrow. Hajime chipped in with questions now and then, prompting Oikawa so that he can organise the information in his mind. Hajime is familiar with how Oikawa drives himself close to exhaustion studying the rival teams, filing away each observation, each tidbit of information away in his mind. Back when they were in Seijou, Oikawa would often talk at him, explaining the opponents’ plays, strengths and weaknesses until he was confident that he had gotten the information down right. 

Hajime figured that it would be cathartic; recognising that without being able to talk about it, Oikawa will end up constantly running through potential scenarios and strategies in a vicious cycle until he has exhausted himself like a dog chasing its own tail. From the looks of things, Oikawa had probably been driving himself up the wall with his own pervasive thoughts before he called.

“Sounds like you’ve researched them pretty well huh.” Hajime commented when Oikawa’s words started coming slower. 

“Uh huh. Can’t go into these games casually you know. It’s-” Oikawa cut himself off with a big yawn and nuzzled into the pillow briefly. “It's-it's the big leagues now.” He peered at Hajime blearily with a half lidded eye through the brown hair mussed across his face.

Hajime felt his lips tick up at the sight and Oikawa mirrored it, small and genuine.

“I’m sure you’ll do well tomorrow, quit worrying.” Hajime soothed as Oikawa’s eyelids fluttered, fighting sleep even as it tried to drag him down. That stubborn idiot.

“Thanks, Iwa-chan.” His name was breathed out in a soft exhale and Hajime felt his heart clench.

“As long as you need me.” He murmured by rote, even though he’s sure that Oikawa was not listening anymore. 

“Goodnight.” Hajime said aloud into the night when Oikawa's features relaxed in sleep. He only ended the call when the image on the screen slowly slid away from Oikawa’s face to turn black.

 

***

 

Minus One 

Hajime trudged up familiar stairs and stumbled into the room without so much as a knock or greeting. The boy slouching lazily against the headboard jumped violently at his sudden appearance and dropped the book he was reading.

“Iwa-chan?” Oikawa removed his noise cancelling headphones and set them around his neck.

“Hey, what’s up?” He said when Hajime just crawled silently onto the bed between him and the wall. He shuffled to the side begrudgingly when the other boy shoved at him to get himself some space.

“Tired.” Hajime muttered. And annoyed, and restless and he's not been able to catch a break and he wants to scream. 

He flopped down almost forcefully on his side with his forehead pressing flush against Oikawa’s thigh, burying his nose in the soft material of the old volleyball shorts he wore. Hajime resisted the urge to yell and instead breathed in deeply, taking in the familiar scent of laundry detergent and Oikawa. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, grounding himself with the feel of Oikawa against himself. Oikawa stayed quiet and Hajime pulled the feeling of calm and security he exuded over himself like a thick duvet. Finally, gradually, the gnarled knot in his chest unfurled and the mad buzzing of thoughts in his mind quietened down.

Hajime released a breath he didn't know he was holding as his earlier frustration ebbed away. Heavy, warm contentment smothered in his chest in their place. He pressed into the warmth radiating from Oikawa and allowed himself to relax fully. 

It felt like coming home. 

Is this how Oikawa feels every time he falls asleep on him?

Does Oikawa feel that all encompassing sense of security every time he presses up against Hajime? That security that allows him to shed his layers, that tells him he’s found a sanctuary?

“Long day?” Oikawa reached down to card his fingers through the deceptively spikey strands languidly. He trailed his fingers down to Hajime's nape and scratched at the shorter hairs there lightly before rubbing down the back of his neck, squeezing firmly as he went. Hajime felt all the tension ooze out of his muscles, leaving him in a muted sigh as his body melted further into the mattress.

“Mmm,” Hajime hummed, and then slurred, “no talk.”

“My sleepy, caveman Iwa-chan.”

“Sh’up.” A fist flailed up to punch Oikawa in the leg but stayed on his knee after making contact, fingers gradually relaxing from the fist to curl loosely around the knee instead. 

Then, muffled against the fabric of his shorts, “stay?”

“As long as you need me.” Oikawa smiled and put his headphones back on, picking up his book to continue reading with one hand. 

If Hajime hugged the knee closer to himself before dozing off then well, that’s just for the two of them to know.