“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
Hey Iwa-chan, do you want to know something funny? About the end? Message failed to send.
With a snap of his fingers, he could be gone.
It takes precisely a second for the thumb to meet the pads of other digits, to disappear completely like all the others, but Hajime stays, keeps his hands still at his sides, and waits like everyone else. Hana, his so-called first real girlfriend, curls the ends of her hair with her own nervous fingers, leaving stray strands on the pink of her cheeks, staring up in fury and abandon. She has been crying, something Hajime knows because he was the one who caused it. At this, he prepares an apology and hopes to see no more of that soon.
"This can't continue. I'm really sorry."
Easier than he thought. When a train rushes past the platform, neither one of them take it.
"Why?" she asks.
“I’m sorry,” Hajime says to her again, under the rumble. They had been dating two weeks now, two people skirting the edges of I like you, or I don’t. He looks at that cheek of hers again, the light sheen of her peach blush, the stray hair, and thinks about how he should’ve wanted to kiss it by now. It is a perfectly good cheek, but he never has, not even once, and he doesn’t think he ever will. I don’t. When he tells her this, he disguises it in another sorry, just sorry, bows lightly, and says nothing more. Hana doesn’t say anything else, either. She leaves without taking the train, bobbing down the stairs with hands dancing along the railing. She doesn’t look back, because what’s done is done. Sorry.
Hajime can say he tried this time. He really did. Their dinners had been pleasant, he had learned her favorite color, and not every one of their silences had been uncomfortable. This could’ve been the time for all things to click for Hajime, to think, wow, I think I might like this girl, if it weren’t for the strenuous circumstances, this specific day. When he sees the timetable for the next train, the schedule for March tenth, 2025, he clicks his teeth at the long wait, the taunting numbers, and tells himself to pick up another case while he waits. Sometimes Shibuya is just too stifling with the people, the blinking, the breakups, when he remembers that distractions are there for a reason. At the promise of it, he goes into the public restroom, closes himself into a stall without locking the door, and closes his eyes. In memory, Hajime sees him. With the snap, he is gone.
This time, Hajime lands with his feet in the sand. When he digs into his pocket, his phone tells him he’s landed in nineteenth century Madagascar, 6:37PM their time. The last peek of sun has run up the sky, making fresh hues of pink, almost like a cheek never kissed.
In retaliation, Hajime slings off his spring jacket, kicks off his shoes, letting them fling far down the beach. Even the sky looks like same as that day two years ago. March tenth. He takes out his fold-up copper telescope, lengthens it, and peers through. On the horizon, he sees no one. Running his touch through the embossment, he reads the usual by the graze of his fingers: come and catch me when you can. He calls the dispatcher next, where it rings three times before anyone picks up.
“So, what do you have for me today?” he asks. On the other end, the operator sighs and Hajime hears him flip through his documents. Matsukawa Issei is eating something sticky this evening, from the sound of his incessant chewing.
“Just sent you a text,” he deadpans over the phone. “Another two bounty hunters got killed today, in Trinidad, so best be careful. Man, there have been a lot of those lately. Oh—and there’s been a new posting for Bustling Bokuto. That owl man is at it again.”
“Is he in Madagascar?” Hajime asks.
“No. Leads say eighteenth century Paris this time, so I’m not sure how you got there.” Glancing past the palms, Hajime looks up toward the clouds, at the universe hiding behind them, and shakes his head, annoyed. His jumps have always been hit or miss, with more emphasis on hit on good days, but he knows he’s been off his game lately. The other hunters like to call Hajime’s jumping innate, because he’s had a decent track record of predicting where criminals will land, but he wonders if he needs a break by now. Wriggling his fingers, Hajime keeps busy by cupping some sand with his free palm, letting it slide off his skin like the top side of an hourglass. Grain by grain, the sediments fall back into infinity, never to be seen again.
“You know, no one’s going to fault you if you take a break from missions. Heard you broke up with Hana today, and that can be hard on anyone.”
“What are you, tailing me?” Hajime spits out at him.
"Sorry to say, but it was obvious, my friend," Matsukawa tells him.
"I mean, I guess it wasn’t serious. I just feel bad, though. She was a nice girl.”
“So, what is it, then?”
Hajime lifts the phone off his ear and checks the date. It’s March tenth here, too, and the sky the same as that day. When he inhales, he doesn’t find what he is looking for, but takes the smell of seawater in with immense comfort. His tongue is tempted to answer with “today was the last day I saw him,” but he never, ever dares.
“Just tired, I think.”
“That’s not very convincing, but all right. Go hunting after class tomorrow. Rest up, because March tenth will be over before you know it.”
Hajime finds the will to laugh, even if it is listless. “I think I will.” He lifts his shoes from the sand, puts them back on, and crumples the jacket under his arm. He hangs up on Matsukawa, closes his eyes, and imagines the train platform back in Shinjuku. Hajime thinks he could use the lull of a train ride, even if he could just as easily snap back to his apartment in an instant.
When he lands back, Hajime is on the same platform with winter’s remaining chill on his skin. He glances around while he puts his jacket back on; everyone else is too absorbed in their phones and newspapers to even notice the pesky jumper, Hana is still gone, and the next JR Chuo train won’t be here for another six minutes. In a city too busy, too big, too fast, most people will forget the likes of March tenth by nightfall. It will be another twenty-four grains lost in the hourglass.
Way to be, Hajime.
Biting his lip back, Hajime tells himself to shut up. It’s been two years, and people go their separate ways all the time. Hajime knows his life should consist of the comfortable routine he’s built up for himself: eating, drinking (but only sparingly, and only if the beer isn’t too hoppy), bounty hunting, and going to class. He dates around and hangs out with new friends when he gets the chance. He has cared for the potted fern in his apartment and found the right television to watch in the evenings. On his missions, he has seen the mountain ranges in Kilimanjaro and fallen asleep to operas in Geneva. Because for all things big and small, he should’ve forgotten the likes of March tenth by now. By the snap of fingers, longer and more nimble than his coarse hands, his uneasy smile, and the smell of a certain perennial, he remembers anyway.
Hajime thinks back to it with closed eyes. It is never a smell he remembers right off the bat, because it feels like an endnote, something savory at the edge of a pervading flavor. When he thinks of lavender, it tastes like rain, something aromatic and erring on sweet. A clever almost-nothing. Hajime breathes it in, smiles even, before realizing that the sensation is vivider than he's ever remembered. Almost like it's here again.
Wait. When he knows he isn’t imagining things, he shoots his gaze down the platform, and takes the smell in again. Lavender. A woman holds a bouquet of daisies by the foot of the stairs. Lavender. A man’s cologne reeks of virility and bad decisions. Lavender. A little boy, alone and far down on the platform, holds a steaming cup of tea and blows on the lid. Lavender.
Darting past the rest of the world, Hajime knows he is here, in Tokyo.
A train rushes by again, halting at its next stop on the platform. When everyone’s eyes are directed to the opening doors, the call to watch your step before entering, Hajime steps back until he is invisible and takes the chance to disappear. Catching the scent, he lands over the tops of buildings, the middle of overpasses, in alleyways, and abandoned gardens. None of them may grow lavender, but the scent never wanes, and at its mere existence, Hajime will keep running.
Three months after Oikawa Tooru’s left the country, Hajime receives the strangest parcel in the mail.
It is June tenth, and he is supposed to be sharing a birthday cake with his friends inside, but he finds himself alone in the grass, hands pressed along the surprise instead. When he checks the ripped-off wrapping, Hajime finds a lack of a return address, or the notable absence of letters or notecards to come with it; still, he knows instantly what he’s uncovered, this precious contraband and who it’s from, and keeps wide eyes against a wavering sting. When Hajime unearths the telescope from pearly tissue paper, it is brand new and beautiful, and he is breathless.
“Hajime!” his mother yells from inside, interrupting him from awe. Hanamaki follows by saying he’ll eat the cake himself. At their calls, Hajime drops the fold-up telescope into his pocket, buries the box in a shallow grave of dirt, and runs back inside with dirtied hands. He blows out his candles without making a wish, breath huffy and barely able to handle the toil, and cuts through the vanilla cream with little strength. Matsukawa suggests that bounty hunters should be prouder on their birthdays, like hikers finding their summits. Hajime responds with nothing but a smile and a forced bite of cake, too queasy to stomach the rest of his slice.
“Thanks,” he tells everyone anyway, but there is no use hiding. They all look to the empty spot next to Hajime at the table and say nothing about it. ‘He should be here,’ they all probably want to suggest, with furrowed brows and wrinkled foreheads, but hindsight never does anyone good.
So much for a happy eighteenth.
Later that night, when everyone’s left and his mother’s gone to sleep, Hajime ties his gym shoes and goes out for a run. He keeps the telescope clenched in his hand without dropping it. He runs and runs and runs, up alleyways and through the park, never thinking to jump somewhere else. Sometimes, there’s just no where worth escaping.
He stops when he reaches the highest hill of the mountain pass, the night jarring before him. Brambles of forest lie dead in thickets and the stars hide behind clouds. When Hajime inhales deep, he closes his eyes, tries to remember lavender, their lavender, and comes up empty. He fights back tears in front of the watchful moon, partially successful.
“Where the fuck did you go?” Hajime mutters under his breath, before exhaling. He screams it out loud, waking the roosting birds under him, the hill-bound ghosts, and keeps going. Where the fuck did you go, where the fuck did you go, where the fuck did you go? When his throat is too ragged to continue, he holds the telescope above his head, thinks about losing it forever in forest below, and stops himself at the last second.
The pale light is scarce, but it helps Hajime anyway. Feeling the winding bumps under the pad of his thumb, he peers down at the pretty little thing, this taunting little thing, and makes out the words in the embossment. come and catch me when you can, it says, hidden amongst flower engravings.
The aroma taunts Hajime by sunrise, lulling him into the type of sleep he doesn’t think he deserves. It is 5:47AM when he comes back to his home by the high rises, the glint of sun peeking from behind his apartment complex in Shinjuku, energy skirting the edge after a wild goose chase around the city. Hungry, exhausted, and irritated beyond repair, Hajime thinks he might just fall into bed and sleep the rest of the day off at this point, forgoing the other bounty requests he has on his list for considering. Bustling Bokuto? Kyoutani the Killer? The demon decoy of the mountain pass? Hajime goes over these names in his head, realizes that Matsukawa’s right, he does need to rest, and resigns himself to lie down. He stares up at his apartment on the fifteenth floor, sighs at the thought of the broken elevator and the grimy flights of concrete stairs, and tells himself that cheating just this once is fine.
Hajime snaps his fingers, closes his eyes, and lands, with surprising precision, just five doors away from his own apartment. He thinks he might be getting better at aiming, considering the fact he has to work with prodigies like Kageyama Tobio or Ushiwaka from time to time; even Oikawa was getting good at it, last time Hajime checked, which isn’t surprising considering all the practice he put into his jumps. Hajime thinks about the flower fields where they landed as kids, their races along new, unfamiliar shores, and lets the thought of that drag him home, just a few meters away.
On his front door, pressed over his name plate, rests a purple sticky note, slightly crinkled in the corners, half-blown away from the breeze that comes through these parts in the morning. With a flick of the wrist, he takes it off the panel and makes out the simple command: turn around.
Hajime knows instantly.
“What am I, taking orders from a thief now?” Hajime asks in a grumble, taking the note into his hands and walking over to the ledge overlooking the streets below and the high rise complex just ahead, mostly level with the one Hajime moved into two years ago. He’s really not sure what Oikawa is asking him to do, since practically all of Tokyo is spread out around him, but he remembers his trusty telescope and unfolds it, swinging his view from the cars on the street and the harried salarymen just coming home from overwork. On the ground, a little boy too far to be clearly seen, points up at the emerging sky. Hajime even obliges the same view for a moment, capturing the early morning gradient in front of him, before realizing that he won't always find Oikawa up in the clouds.
“You fucker,” he sighs over the note, wondering why he's even going along with this charade, and lowers his telescope in giving up for good. He settles for just staring ahead, right at the row of apartments in front of him, blinking and sinking into something dreamy. Hajime refuses to call the grimace on his face forlorn.
Across the way, right on the fifteenth floor of a matching high rise, someone creaks open the door for the start of a new day. Hajime thinks he really might be dreaming. Chest thumping like he's hit some kind of nightmare, he dares to stare at the way Oikawa Tooru, the real Oikawa Tooru, swings on that jean jacket of his, like he's putting on his face for a day of something masqueraded. Hajime doesn't need a telescope to see this, and Oikawa doesn't use his binoculars, either. In silence, they just stare on ahead at each other, upper atmosphere of the city sifting right through them. Hajime shivers against it. Oikawa pretends it's pleasant.
In between them, the sun continues to rise over their two bodies, beckoning for a new day. Hajime's phone rings. He doesn't check the caller ID.
At the call of his name, Hajime feels himself lift up, burn in the stratosphere, and come clamoring all the way down in one instance. Hajime just offers a snarl of a smile, which Oikawa gladly accepts with one of his own.
"You've been gone for two years," Hajime says into the phone, never one to sugarcoat things for the likes of Oikawa. There's a laugh on the other end, one that Hajime might be able to hear without the aid of this phone call, but he'd rather get to hear all of Oikawa instead of guessing.
"I had some things to figure out," Oikawa says right back, blips of static impeding his voice. He almost doesn't sound real. "Did you like the gifts I sent you?" he asks, changing the subject.
"You do know I can just arrest you, right? Giving me all those stolen things—"
"Now, you can't prove that. You have to get me in the act." He laughs at this. "And you haven't yet."
Hajime clenches his fists on the side, loosens the forming knots in his back, and tries to pretend he isn't absolutely infuriated. Calmly, he asks, "why have you come back now?" Why have been gone so long? Why does it have to be you?
Across the way, Oikawa smiles almost like he wants to cry, but that never lasts long on his face. He assumes fearlessness, breathes in his boyish bravado, and stands tall. When he reaches out over the ledge, almost in a peace pact, Hajime almost obliges. He doesn't this time.
“Isn't the world around us more exciting than Miyagi?” Oikawa diverts. “You’ll have fun with me right, Iwa-chan?"
"Don't flirt with me like I'm one of your girls."
Oikawa laughs. "Who's flirting? Why would I ever flirt with you?"
"I'm coming over there right now," Hajime threatens, raising his other hand to snap his fingers, but Oikawa uses that split second to leap up over the ledge, take the plunge with a gleam of a smile, and snap his fingers first in disappearing. Hajime reaches downward at empty air, no longer tired, no longer dreaming, and pounds his fist against the high rise's edge. He merely remains, perched over the railing, shaking for the surreal.
On the ground, Hajime's telescope runs away from him too, right down the hallway in a clinking tune.
Carshalton, London, England
“Iwa-chan, do you know they say about lavender? In hanakotoba?” Oikawa asks, pressing flowers into a blank sketchbook he swears he’ll fill with memories. Shrugging, Hajime looks up from the petals in his hands, digs his face in between his palms, and takes in the smell of spring again. He looks around at the rows upon rows of lavender flowers ahead and behind them, how the two boys aren’t supposed to be trampling around in the gardens, and decide to keep at it anyway; after all, this is their first time jumping together unsupervised, and Hajime would like to remember this fondly as possible.
“Well, they say that it means something faithful,” Oikawa muses, fingers sifting through the empty pages. Pressed in between each one is an arrangement of petals, just lavender, all of them the perfect hue of purple and soft, just like the hazy, meandering day they’ve had in the suburbs of England. Carshalton was a good choice for their first time, and Hajime makes a mental note to come here again one day.
Oikawa claps his book closed again. Hajime coughs up at the rising dust, violet and deep, like magic powder. At eleven, he wouldn’t know much about flowers, or being faithful. “What am I, your wife?” he asks in turn, thinking of the first thing that comes to his mind.
Mashing his lips together in a frown, Oikawa shakes his head. “Ew, Iwa-chan, I don’t want to marry you.”
“But didn’t you make me when we were six? At the park?” Hajime remembers, clear as day, because it was very much like this one, except they were in a field of daisies and thistles, merely just dreaming of their first dimension jump together. Oikawa had been scared to jump again, since that time in the rain. With a shrug, Hajime told him he didn’t mind waiting.
Oikawa’s face goes red, always curiously starting off at the nose before making a full blush. “I didn’t think you’d remember something like that.”
“How could I not? When I said no back then, you cried and cried and cried. You know, you even said you were going to die if I didn’t marry you. I did it just to shut you up.”
“You're so mean! I’m just going to snap my fingers and go home.”
“I’m kidding, you idiot!” Hajime feels himself go red at this point, too. Oikawa holds his hand up, fingers about to ignite into a snap, like flicking one of those fancy cigarette lighters, but in a last ditch effort to get him to stay, Hajime holds his hand tight, forgets the urge to be disgusted about this, and finds that being like this is not so bad after all. In turn, Oikawa backs down too, hides their hands amongst the leaves and the petals, and kisses Hajime straight on the cheek, slow and shy, for once.
“I can’t believe you,” Hajime mumbles. He is too mortified to hit him.
Oikawa smiles out of his temerity, bright and clear and not at all feigned. “It’s my promise,” he says, “like lavender. We’ll always be together, right? Can I have faith in that?”
Hajime looks away, right up at the sky, blue without a single, voyaging cloud, and smiles in a mix of reluctance and a trickling of something fond.
“Yeah,” Hajime tells him. To seal the promise, they don’t link pinkies or sign any contracts or kiss again. He knows it is made, just as long as they are breathing and they have each other.
To the sound of droning, Hajime wakes up to the stifling heat of his sweater sleeve, keeping still before rising up in his seat. He groans, and Matsukawa just pokes him in the cheek with a pencil, signaling for him to turn to seventy-three to follow along with the textbook. Peering around the lecture hall, Hajime realizes he is still trapped in his mid-afternoon physics lecture with another hour to go, and at this he wonders if it's possible to die in class. He flips to the page anyway, finds nothing but blurry numbers and equations, and determines that school is a lost and hellbound cause today.
"You look sick, man," Hanamaki whispers from over Matsukawa's shoulder, twirling a mechanical pencil from his end. "I thought you were on break from hunting, not running an overnight jumping marathon."
With a wave of his hand, Hajime wards the both of them off and presses his face into his book. “You didn’t smell it last night?” he mutters, taking in the odor of fresh paper and a book hardly opened. He peers up from his makeshift pillow. “Because I did.”
“So you went chasing after him?”
Matsukawa and Hanamaki exchange glances and shake their heads. In the front, their professor scolds them to be quiet, pointed fingers and all.
“You’re the only one who ever senses it, Iwaizumi,” says Matsukawa. “So we wouldn’t know.”
“Does it mean he’s here, then?” Hanamaki asks on. Hajime shrugs, pretends he doesn’t feel something ache in his chest, and leans back in his seat, peering up at the ceiling with a blink and sigh.
“Not for good,” he answers, feeling venom rush his own mouth. “That’s all I know. The smell was gone when I woke up.”
Matsukawa scoffs, and Hajime feels the way he rests on the back of his chair, too. “That lavender thief bastard. Too busy to enjoy the city with us—and you know what? We never get big things from him in the mail, just bookmarks and seashells and used books I can’t read. It’s always just you, Iwaizumi, and you best be careful. A guy like me can get bitter about that, you know.”
“Don’t you think we should report that stuff as evidence?” Hanamaki suggests. “I heard some of those Nekoma guys in the next ward have contraband-sniffing cats. Leashes and everything. We could catch Oikawa that way, can’t we?"
“Best we keep intel on our thief under wraps,” Matsukawa shakes his head at the idea, looking over at Hajime. “Besides, no one wants to waste their time on someone who’ll never be caught. Did I tell you what Kuroo said to me last week? Hey, good luck on chasing nothing. Oikawa’s a fucking myth.” There’s a trace of a smile at that assertion, almost as if he’s proud of their elusive lavender thief, glad he hasn’t been foolish enough to be caught, and goes on to scribble his notes innocently. Hajime feels himself sink deeper into his chair, just before the point of falling off, and gives up a small grin, too.
“Hey! You three in the back! Quiet, or I’m kicking you out!”
“Well, when we do, we’ll give him two years worth of hell,” Hajime tells them, sitting back up in his seat like he’s had a rush of caffeine. “The kind that no one else can give him.”
At this, Hanamaki scoffs. “He won’t even know what’s coming,” he says.
Matsukawa hums out a sigh. “Speaking of knowing what’s coming, wouldn’t it be easier to find out just when he’ll get back to us? What’s the point of waiting around?”
“I’m not seeing into my own future—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s highly frowned upon, but sometimes you just have to make things easier for yourself,” Matsukawa lilts.
“Hm, I guess he’s got a point,” Hanamaki says, “but what do we know? Jumpers will be jumpers. Honor, by all roads linear.” He rolls his eyes and puts a hand over his chest. Matsukawa just snickers along, repeating the motions. Back in the front, their professor just snaps a glare at them.
Ignoring their taunts, Hajime thinks of the things they’ve lived through, and the things to come. Most jumpers don’t go to places in the beyond, and Hajime’s no exception; for all the jumping he’s ever done, he’s never really sought to do much in the future—he thinks about running into his own timeline by accident, seeing the events he’d like to experience on the straight path, and shivers at the thought of spoilers. Because even if it means uncertainty, he’ll wait and find things for himself.
“Things will be okay,” Hajime says. “You just have to give it a little time.”
“Well, aren’t you wise, Iwaizumi-sensei,” Hanamaki teases, making the mistake of leering at a professor that’s already had enough. When the three of them get kicked out for disruptive behavior, Hanamaki and Matsukawa laugh it off, decide that class should be forbidden on Mondays, and decide to go for crêpes instead. Down the street, Hajime follows and gets himself one to eat too, but he’s too anxious to even more than three bites of it.
New York, New York
On a ferry to Ellis Island, fifteen year old Oikawa Tooru points his fingers into pistols, readjusts them like he’s making a picture frame, and creates a shot of the city behind them.
“Hey, Iwa-chan,” he calls.
“Do you think it’s possible to change things?”
Hajime gruffs at the question. “Way to be vague. What are you looking to change?”
“It’s not nothing, because it’s written all over your face,” Hajime tells him, swiping Oikawa over the nose. “So let me ask you again: what are you looking to change?”
Fifteen turns into eighty-four, like Oikawa’s seen not only the city, but the world ahead. Hajime’s stomach lurches at the thought, his hands itching to reach. They end up strangling the ledge bars below, and he finds no answer for this feeling.
Hajime’s senses go numb. “What?”
“Oikawa, wait, what do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it, Iwa-chan. Forget I even brought it up.”
Knowing eyes come over Oikawa, brilliant and dark. He lowers his finger-made camera, leans over too far off the railing, and lets himself fall with a yelp and a splash. In turn, Hajime curses out loud, sputtering after him, and catches the boy in the water. He makes Oikawa snap his fingers before anyone can notice them, urging him to land back in Miyagi, and when they do, choking and coughing, Hajime smacks him across the cheek. Oikawa just sits up, wrings out his shirt on the grass, and never explains himself further.
"Forget about it, Iwa-chan."
After that, Hajime doesn’t speak to Oikawa for a week. He only breaks his silence when Oikawa catches the worst fever of his life a day later, coughing up both lungs and burning past discomfort. “Fine,” he tells the other jumper, when Oikawa is half-asleep and apologetically silent; Hajime even tries to smile, before realizing how silly he feels. "Don't worry about it."
"Don’t worry about it,” he tells himself once more, to seal things for himself. “Don’t worry about it,” he chants, before falling asleep. “Don’t worry about it,” because the future is theirs, to keep and keep and keep.
"You don’t have to change a thing.”
When Hajime attends a memorial service in Kyoto the next following week, it is for a prolific Seijou sect hunter by the name of Mizoguchi Sadayuki. It is another clear day in March, winds picking up so fast on the hills the headstones might tip over, and Hajime muses that he should have brought a scarf. Disciplined enough to keep his hands crossed in prayer, he says a small blessing for the deceased, and winces when the man's wife falls into a little cry. He tries not to focus on the end of times, keeps a wandering eye focused on the crowd ahead, and realizes how colorful Mizoguchi's cohorts have all been.
Amongst the suits and mourning faces, he makes out some of the other prominent teams: Ukai Keishin, from Karasuno, around the same age, who had also been a "coach" like Mizoguchi for the younger cadets in his squad at some point; the literal owls of Fukurodani, cooing over the barren ginkgo trees, the customary funeral rite for their team; the Nekoma attendees with their cats pawing at their leashes—for all of the competition the sects have put into collecting the most bounty, there has never been a problem in terms of respect. In celebration, they are begrudging. On the field, they butt heads. During funerals, they bow and mean every single one of their condolences.
Hajime glances here and there, at the leashed cats and hooting owls, just before spotting two more curious attendants in the front. For all the strange that hunters seem to amass, Hajime usually turns a blind eye to all these little intricacies; but he can't help but stare at the duo with cracked Noh masks, so well hidden in the shadow of the ginkgo tree that their bodies might as well have sunken into the darkness. At this, he can't help but remember Oikawa's nightmares about such things as a kid, and how he could never go to art museums or theatre houses on account of such childish fears. Hajime only looks away when the couple turn to him in unison, masks much too disconcerting to keep eye contact for long, anyway.
After the services are said and done, the hunters jump away, one by one. Hajime thinks he might take his sweet time in leaving today, since he does have a great-uncle and a cousin buried here, too. He thinks about visiting their graves and asking about his father, too. Maybe they're all fishing up there, or playing mahjong. In a fleeting thought, Hajime wonders how boring heaven must be and—
"Hey, what are you—"
In the peace of the cemetery, a gunshot rings out at the bottom of the hill. Struck in the leg, Ukai Keishin barely has the time to snap away before the woman in the Noh mask comes after him again, frustrations taken out on the smoking cigarette he'd left behind. In small motions, she nods upward, to which Hajime rolls out of the way to avoid any sort of incoming attack. When he makes the brief glimpse of a knife stuck in the dirt, Hajime barely takes the time to snap away before another hits the ground like lightning.
That night, a bulletin is out for the duo in Noh masks. Hajime goes through the mandatory questioning by sect leaders, shows them the knick on the side of his snapping hand, and goes home for the evening. At Matsukawa's suggestion, Hajime puts his suit away and laces up his hunting boots, vying for a brief stay in Venice to avoid any potential run-ins with them. Over message boards and group texts, the sects start chattering that same night, beginning to wonder if they're connected to the string of recent hunter homicides.
Briefly, he remembers Oikawa's story under the jungle gym, all rain-soaked and miserable. This can't be the same story.
With his own made reassurances, Hajime decides not to get involved any further, calls his dispatcher up for any available missions, and hears the leads for the demon decoy of the mountain pass instead.
“Listen, you dumbass, just because you think you’re fast doesn’t mean you can just run around stealing whatever you want—”
“Kageyama-kun,” Hajime calls to the fellow hunter, holding a hand up to cease the commotion. Even the little thief in their possession goes quiet for a moment, after about five minutes of bickering with Kageyama Tobio, the genius cadet from the Karasuno sect.
“You don’t sense it?”
“Sense what?” Kageyama asks, incredulous.
Hajime is in the middle of apprehending the demon decoy of the mountain pass when he smells it again. Lavender wafts through like a tease, too strong along the currents to be ignored. In a rush, and afraid he might lose it again, he picks the tiny thief up by the collar, drops him on the cobblestone, and tells his collaborator to deal with the processing himself.
“I have to go.”
“I have to go! Sorry!”
“Are you serious?” Standing in the middle of the Ponte di Rialto, one of Venice’s most illustrious bridges, Kageyama goes agape, keeps the boy named Hinata Shouyou for himself, and tells Hajime he’s keeping his half of the bounty.
"Sorry!" Hajime feels like he's been saying that a lot lately.
“I have new kneepads to pay for, Iwaizumi-san! My tournament is next week, and I’m not risking myself out here for nothing!” Kageyama shouts at a distance, referring to the hunter killers at large.
"Ooh, are you talking about those weird Noh mask guys?" Hajime hears the culprit ask in excited echoes.
"Oh, shut up!" Kageyama yells back. "Iwaizumi-san! The commission!"
At the call, Hajime waves him off in an OK, runs off the bridge, and nearly crashes into a loose flock of chickens on the walkway. He doesn’t stop, turning corners of seventeenth century houses and flying down empty, narrow roads. The Venetians stare at him like he’s mad, dashing about with Oikawa’s name on his lips. (“Young man, dear time traveller, there are murderers on the loose!”) Hajime keeps on anyway. He snaps his fingers to cover more distance.
When he lands in another neighborhood in the city, it is already storming. Children rush back into their houses when it begins to thunder, and maids above pull the clotheslines to get their laundry back in. Hajime walks on regardless, pulling his hood on, and shivers in the downpour. Just keep going. He cannot stop at this point, because mixed in the scent of rain, the notes of lavender only get stronger, telling him that he’s getting close. From inside another townhouse, someone is playing an ill-tuned piano, urging him on with a dance of antsy notes.
Fwump. Hajime is forced to stop when something sopping hits him in the face, and he briefly flinches over the Noh masks again. Wiping a pair of soaked-through pantaloons off his head, he dodges an incoming shirt and a barrage of rolled up socks. Forgetting to be alert, he makes out the wave of Oikawa Tooru’s hand up above, how his head peeks out the window, and the threatening away he holds his fingers together in an almost-snap.
“Ya-hoo,” Oikawa calls, and Hajime charges forward, dashing into the empty home ahead of him. When he thrashes through the only door at the end of a spiral staircase, he finds Oikawa Tooru sitting on the sill in the attic, a gold pair of binoculars in hand and eyes out the city. He lowers them from his face like a mask, smiles at Hajime, and presents him with a spread of tea and biscuits at the nearby table.
“What is wrong with you? I thought you were—never mind,” Hajime stammers out, still out of breath. Oikawa hops off the window sill, pours them both a cup of tea, and sits down. Hajime stands over the other side, clears his side of the counter with a swipe of his hands, a hurricane in the house, and shakes his head repeatedly. Heavy lidded in gaze, Oikawa just sips, hides the frown on his face, and rises, chin up first, with a relentless smile.
“I thought it would be nice to see you, Iwa-chan,” he says, “because what else would you do on a rainy day?”
"Don't play games when there are murderers on the loose," Hajime warns him. "If it wasn't me, you could've gotten a bullet to the face."
Oikawa pretends not to be fazed, but Hajime can see some of the color drain from his face. He keeps the grin anyway. "Murderers, you say?" he asks.
"Yeah, they tried to get me yesterday," he says, showing him the small gash on the side of his hand. Oikawa's eyes, ever wide, only expand at the sight.
"I...I see," he says, before pouring himself some more tea. "You know, it's not polite to talk about things like homicide at a tea party. We should have a good time and—"
“Or I could catch you and haul your ass back to Tokyo. Matsukawa and Hanamaki have some words for you, too,” Hajime changes the subject. At the threat, Oikawa lowers his tea cup and raises his fingers to snap again, to which Hajime flinches forward, hand reaching out. He forgets about all things Noh once more.
“Oh, don’t rush me, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says gravely. “I can go there anytime, can’t I? You have better people to catch.” He rests his hand on the table, eyes facing front. At once, Hajime understands, sliding his hands back and unclenching his fists. He finds the upturned chair on his side, stands back up, and takes a seat. He hopes for something substantial, anything but the fake lilt of pleasant conversation, but he does not put much stock in senseless dreaming. When Hajime finds himself tongue-tied, eyes awkwardly tracing the river of spilt tea on the table, Oikawa sighs, takes in a deep breath, and takes another sip. Around his neck, partially tucked in the confines of a slightly-oversized jean jacket, his binoculars rest.
“Listen, I don’t want you snapping your fingers at me again, but I also don’t want to sit here if you’re not going to tell me anything,” Hajime says. “You just up and left that day, and you can’t just pretend that everything’s fine.”
Oikawa looks out the window, puts down his cup on the saucer, and lets his gaze fall into haze.
“But doesn’t this remind you more of the day we first met? It was raining like this, wasn’t it?”
“You said you wanted me to talk."
“Not about things I already know.”
Falling into silence, the two of them stare on and conduct their natural examinations. Hajime finds himself stiffening up, suddenly uncomfortable with the idea of growth, and the idea that they could miss each other’s extra inches and lengthened strides. When he first made his glances at a distance, peering across from the sky rise, Hajime had convinced himself that Oikawa Tooru, seventeen year old extraordinaire, was still in his sights. He lets his brain, like a crew tearing down old roads, strip the memory of him down. Broader shoulders, collarbones more defined, slices of baby fat cut right off his cheeks; hands, longer with nails chipped and clipped and bitten; hair, even wavier like a windblown sea—this is what Hajime allows himself to see, two years later, and he wonders, if Oikawa sees every change in him, too.
“It was raining harder than this,” Hajime corrects him eventually, almost too quiet to be heard. “I remember, because I could barely see your face back then.”
“Yeah? And what did you think of my face back then?” Oikawa laughs.
“It was a pain in my ass, as much as ever,” Hajime answers without a problem.
With a small laugh, the two of them throw off their disguises after a while—Oikawa with his smiles, and Hajime with his penchant to bark—and take each other in. Tracing the edge of his cup with his finger, the other jumper doesn’t take another sip; Oikawa just stares down at the mirror of the surface, and keeps his silence, and dares to glance up. Hajime meets him dead on, shakes his head as if to scold, because you’ve really been gone a long time, without a single fucking word, all at which Oikawa deflates by the smallest amount of air.
“Don’t make me chase you,” Hajime warns him, “because I won’t if I don’t have to. Everyone in Japan thinks you’re a myth, and no one’s had enough proof to reel you in.”
“That just means I’m good at what I do, right?”
“That just means you can come back without problems, before someone finds out who you are,” Hajime corrects him, letting his face burn up without abandon. Come back. He wonders, briefly, if humans have a natural aversion to asking for such things, and he decides to not put much thought into simple wants. Oikawa Tooru. Come back to us. That’s all there is to it.
“But Iwa-chan, all those gifts I’ve given you. Turn me in with those.”
“I have to catch you in the act, remember?”
Oikawa digs into his pocket, unearths a pair of spectacles, thick rimmed and ornamental and most likely expensive, priceless to someone, and sets them on the table next to the biscuits and the tipped vase. “My name is Oikawa Tooru, and I’m making an admission of guilt. I stole these opera glasses from a prominent French lord at one o'clock this afternoon, by the docks of the Arsenale. I demand that justice be swift.”
“Stop fucking with me, Oikawa."
“You don’t want to arrest me.”
“We just want you back, you dumbass!” Hajime shouts at him, chest tightening at the call, the honesty of it. “Do you think I want to bring you back in handcuffs? I’m just...I’m just trying to give you an out. I’m just trying to get to you before you blow up on the most wanted list, because I know you will one day. Because you’re too...you. You're going to get noticed, you idiot—you fucking idiot.” At that last part, he breaks down in a miserable little laugh, face scrunching up in trying not to show any more, but Oikawa’s already caught him. For all those years they spent together, living under the same roof, Hajime would be worried if he didn’t.
“What do you want to do, Oikawa?” Hajime asks, quiet as he can make it, ending the storm in his mouth.
Oikawa takes his hands off the table, sucks a breath in before sticking his teeth together, refraining to click, and offers a single, solitary nod. Hajime finds himself leaning over on the table, still dripping with rain, and lets Oikawa find his footing.
“I want to go out with a bang,” he says to Hajime, no fanfare, no bravado to be found. “Before it comes.”
“Before what?” Hajime asks. “Before what comes?”
Oikawa looks down on his lap, at the hands he’s hidden from Hajime.
“Don’t snap your fingers, Oikawa. Don’t you dare snap them them at me.”
“Iwa-chan,” he calls from across the table, goodbye already perched on his tongue. Hajime hears it better than anyone, like an echo calling from years and years ago, like a howl from years and years to come.
“Yes?” Hajime breathes out.
“I’d like to see you again, even if it’s only for a little while.”
Hajime sighs. “Well, you can’t see me whenever you want, but I’ll be here when you want to stop running.”
“That’s a nice thought,” Oikawa says with a chuckle, pushing the opera glasses back towards Hajime.
“Don’t bother me during a mission next time,” Hajime says, without looking him in the eye. “A guy’s gotta eat, and you took some good bounty away from me today.”
“No promises about that.”
“Noted,” Hajime answers him, rolling his eyes."
“‘Till next time, Iwa-chan. Wherever that is."
“Next time, wherever that is.”
With a snap of his fingers, dull and barely able to call itself a sound, Oikawa Tooru disappears from the city of Venice. Like a boy caught in a walking dream, Hajime allows himself to stay at the table, throat burning at the things unsaid, the words still not daring to surface from the deep end. He drowns in them, stows them away under the heavy rain for another day, and bites his own tongue to bring himself back to life. Past every instance of unexplained burning, a flooding and overfilled cavity, Hajime focuses on simple wants. A simple need.
Come back to us. That’s all there is to it.
Come back to me. Those are the things he cannot let himself say.
Hajime is five when he runs away for the tenth time, a picture of his father in his backpack and his socks wet and sopping from the rain. He never gets very far, because he knows his feet are too small to carry him out of this place and his mother’s bound to find him anyway, but he likes the sensation of keeping on the move without having anyone to tell him to stop. For escaping, Hajime likes the rain even better, because no one can see him cry, not even the ghosts and spirits in the clouded sky, and for that he will try to count the blessings he’s got left.
Pressing his fingers together, Hajime curses that he can’t just snap himself away. He tries and tries again, day in and day out. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to make the same click as his father did, and run off to far places like the bounty hunter he had been. Bones feeling brittle, hands too small to withstand achiness, Hajime scrunches them together and sucks in a deep breath to avoid crying even harder. Stopping at the neighborhood playground, he climbs up the ladder to the top of the slide, sits at the perch as if a tornado might sweep him away instead, and waits for nothing.
Before coming down on the slide, he surveys the rest of the yard, sees no one by the swings, and thinks to go there next. He blinks just once to clear the rain from his vision, letting his hands leave the safety bars at either side, and watches another boy appear, like a dream, at the swing Hajime planned to take for himself. “A jumper, another jumper!” he observes, as he makes haste down the slide and torpedoes himself towards the swingset.
“Hey!” Hajime shouts. “Hey, you! I saw that! You jumped!”
The other boy turns his head towards Hajime and gasps, falling back and knocking his head backwards on the seat of the swing. “It’s...you! It’s you!” he shouts.
"I...I have seen you before."
"What? Quit dreaming." Hajime leans forward to get a closer look at the other boy. "Are you...from the future? Or the past?"
The boy shakes his head. "I don't know. I can never tell!"
Hajime wipes the rain from his sight and sniffs back hard so no one can tell he’s been crying, but he steps back when he realizes the kid is doing much of the same. With wide eyes, the other boy gets up from the ground by the help of Hajime’s hand, threatens to snap his fingers, but doesn’t. Hands lower, and fingers disarm. He just stares at Hajime like he’s seen a ghost—or twenty with how he might scream—and shakes his head over and over.
“What’s your name?” Hajime asks him. “I’m Iwaizumi. Iwaizumi Hajime.”
The boy opens his mouth to speak, catches raindrops instead, and keeps his head to the ground. Overhead the storm gets worse and the winds kick up around them, torrential to the point where crybabies like them might just blow away.
“My name is Oikawa Tooru,” he finally tells Hajime.
“You’re not from here,” says Hajime. “Are you here alone?”
The boy named Oikawa Tooru clasps his hands together in a slow crawl of fingers, like every passed second weakens his will to jump. He nods before breaking down into tears again, red and splotchy and shivering from the cold.'What a strange kid,' Hajime thinks, because if he could jump at will like Oikawa, he’d just snap his fingers and run before anyone had a chance to see him bawl. But he doesn’t tell him such things. With a tough sigh, and because he doesn’t want to start up again too, Hajime just leads Oikawa under one of the jungle gyms with held hands, pushes him inside the makeshift shelter, and digs out a half-soaked pack of tissues from his backpack to clean him up.
“Listen,” Hajime tells him. “Once you stop crying your eyes out, call your parents. They must be worried about you, right?”
Oikawa sniffs hard into one of the tissues and lowers it from his face. “And what about you? You too, right?” He points to Hajime’s opened backpack, and the way the wooden picture frame peeks out against the zipper. His father is saying hello. Hajime shoves this away, seethes for a moment, and shakes his head with a gulp.
“I’ll go back soon,” Hajime says. “And you can come with me back to the house. My mom will know what to do with you. She’s one of those people that talks with other jumpers, um—dispatchers I think they’re called, and she might be able to help you get back home.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Iwa-chan, I can’t. I don’t have a home.” When Oikawa says those words, it looks like it takes all the energy out of him to muster them. His breathing quickens, like one of those documentary animals Hajime sees running as prey; in turn, he sucks up all the nerve not to come off like a hunter, comes closer without scaring Oikawa off, and remains at a safe distance.
“And why not?”
“I’ve had a really bad day, Iwa-chan.” Oikawa breaks down in tears again, beginning his tale. Through a mess of sobs, stopping and then rearing to go again, he tells Hajime about two masked killers with chameleon names, too busy too stick to one place, steps nimble and nonexistent and always on the run. The best in the universe. He hears how Oikawa learned to count by the seagulls over Mauritius, to read by a mean little magistrate in the Heian era, knowledge gained but never by a full family’s hands. “It’s always just pieces of them,” Oikawa explains, “and I want to lose them.”
Hajime shivers at the thought, remembers his own father and his bedtime stories, thinks of his mother back at home, waiting alone, and stifles the urge to break. He rips the tissues out of Oikawa’s hand when he’s about to talk about the other things he’s seen today, the future, and the horrible pull of things to come, and he never gets to finish. Hajime doesn’t want to hear it. Because he might not know things about African islands, or the fine skills of an aristocrat’s brush, but he does know that storms and rain make him tired and impatient. People like Oikawa Tooru do much of the same.
Still, Hajime takes his hand, reckons that Oikawa Tooru shouldn’t be alone, and drags him all the way home.
Where do you think we’re going? Read 5:04PM.
“So you two are just going to...go your separate ways, then?” Matsukawa asks one day when they’re all out getting okonomiyaki, overstaying their welcome past closing time. Hanamaki comes from the kitchen, untying his waiter’s apron, setting the bill on the table with an extra loud slap. Hajime glances at it, digs into his pockets for the money to pay for both meals, and gives a weak nod.
“I really don’t get it,” remarks Hanamaki, who’s just sitting down to eat after another night shift. With a mouthful of fried noodle, he asks, “if Oikawa really wanted to see you, why doesn’t he just stay here in the city? There’s gotta be things he can steal here, right?”
“Ah yes, of course. Fight crime with more crime.” Matsukawa steals a mushroom from Hanamaki’s bowl, receiving a slapped hand for his transgression. Sauce ends up dripping over his suit, and Hanamaki looks much too pleased about this karmic payback.
“Lesser of two evils, at least. I’m just saying, there’s no use running around when he’s got three different homes to pick from. Shibuya, Kichijoji, Saitama...boy’s got his options.”
Hajime tries to laugh, finds that he can’t, and picks at the near-empty plate in front of him. “Well,” he continues, “it’s just going to be a matter of running into each other from now on, I guess.”
"That's just not going to happen," Matsukawa sighs out. "You guys have made each other what you are. Can't just live through all of that and expect the occasional run-in." He puts down his beer, twists his middle and index finger together, and shoves it in Hajime's face. "You guys are like this. Don't forget that."
"We're not weeds in a garden, you asshole," Hajime barks at him.
Matsukawa doesn't relent. Fingers stay crossed.
"He has a point, you know," Hanamaki nods along. "Just don't get mowed over."
At the intertwined fingers, a gesture both obscene and embarrassing, Hajime swats it away, steals a giant gulp of drink from Matsukawa, and washes away such thoughts. He lets the burn of cheap beer run down his throat like it'll erase the memory of them, but it only sets him ablaze, reminds him of what he has, and sends him spinning. He is only brought out of it when Hanamaki’s phone rings, and the notifications are put out: new criminal alert, preliminary research. One hundred and eighty-four centimeters, brown hair, jean jacket. Hajime’s stomach sinks, and the three of them mourn the end of their little secret.
“Bastard’s finally let himself be seen,” Matsukawa lilts. “Maybe we won’t have to be the ones to catch him, after all.”
Hajime shakes his head, slides the phone back to Hanamaki. “He won’t get caught that easily."
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not like he’s gotten that big or anything,” Hanamaki tries to say. “This isn’t Bonnie and Clyde.”
“What?” Matsukawa asks.
“You know, like cowboys and stuff. Like from the American stories,” Hanamaki explains. “All I’m sayin’ is that he won’t get as big as them.” Turning to Hajime, he points a chopstick at Hajime and holds a finger up to his lips. “You know, Iwaizumi, maybe it’s better if he lays low. Next time you see him, tell him to invest in a bungalow on Mars.”
Hajime massages the wrinkles forming on his forehead, lightens gritted teeth away with a sigh, and pretends that everything will be absolutely fine. “Bungalow on Mars,” he repeats to the both of them. “Noted.”
"I went to another funeral today, you know," Matsukawa says, loosening his tie and brushing his shoulders off. "Since all those elders died, my other dispatcher friends are saying that this Noh mask stuff is forming into a pretty big deal."
Hajime sighs. "Well, it's not like this job has ever been a safe haven," he says, trying not to get worked up about it.
"Let's just hope Oikawa doesn't get caught up in it, too."
In the silence of things, nothing more about Oikawa is said. Hanamaki stomachs his dinner, the ale goes flat, and the phone goes off for missions unfinished. Five more bounty hunters murdered this afternoon. Five more memorial services. He prays that Oikawa Tooru’s name never comes up. Let his face remain a blur to the rest of them, like the first sight of him under heavy rain. He drinks another beer to that, gulping it down until his throat runs ragged.
He’ll be all right. He tells himself this over and over that night, when he can’t sleep and he’s got missions under the burning sun and whole other worlds. He’ll be all right. Hajime chants it when he unearths an old shoebox at the back of his closet, all the small mementos he’s gotten from Oikawa in the past two years, and snaps to that lavender field in Carshalton. He goes through that box that night, right under the same patch where they sat together all those years ago, and revels in how some things stay so untouched.
Hajime is six when Oikawa Tooru tries running away from home for the first time. He knows something is amiss when the other boy isn’t there for bed, usually ready for the usual hour of bedtime stories and late-night conversation in the dark. When his mother flits about the house at the realization, terrified that her adopted son might’ve jumped again, Hajime just tugs on her hand, gentle as can be. He rolls his eyes, tells her that everything will be okay, and says he’ll find him. At this, they put on their shoes and makes a fuss through the neighborhood—or, well, Hajime’s mother does most of the fussing; because deep in his depths, Hajime knows that Oikawa is still here with them. People like Oikawa cannot bear to be so far.
“Okaa-san, let me handle this,” Hajime tells his mother like the big kids he sees on television. She nods, sits down on the park bench, and watches her son descend towards the open field. The sun rises over him, every daisy facing the new day, thistles blowing in the breath of wind, but Oikawa finds a way to cry despite it. Hajime’s never liked the sound of his weeping; his hiccups might be soft (always the tiniest of gulps whenever he’s excited or scared or surprised) but he whines like a wounded dog, and it takes Hajime forever to get him to stop. This time, Hajime just pats him on the back, and keeps it there before making his touch nothing.
“Go, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa sniffles out. “Just go.”
“No, because mom is afraid you’ll snap your fingers and leave.”
“I won’t. I just need some time by myself.”
Hajime nods. “I know, but you’re six. You can’t run away to have your alone time. Stay in our room and cry. It’s easier than running away.”
Oikawa wipes each eye one by one, looks up, and focuses hard on not crumbling again. “I just...didn’t want to tell anyone.”
“Tell anyone what?” Hajime asks.
“No one ever believes me, Iwa-chan. They never, ever do.”
“About what you saw?” Hajime asks. “Before you came here?”
Oikawa nods, forces himself to look up at his best friend. “My parents are bad people. They killed and left and didn’t feel anything about it. I don’t want to see them ever again.”
Hajime sighs, pads Oikawa’s cheek lightly with the back of his fist, and watches him burst into tears again. Oikawa leans into the touch, always cautious about it, but takes a deep breath and tries to smile anyway.
“Listen,” Hajime tells him, faces so close their foreheads might as well be touching. He takes Oikawa’s cheeks into his hands. “You won’t have to see them again. That’s over. You have my mom and the house now. If anyone else tries coming here, I’ll beat them myself, because I’ve been learning judo, remember?”
Oikawa nods, wide-eyed. “I know. I know, Iwa-chan."
“Then don’t worry about it, okay?” Hajime tells him. “What you saw back there—it’s not real anymore. A bad dream.”
When Oikawa blinks, he keeps his eyes shut for longer than he should. He shakes his head like he’s clearing the last of his troubles away, but even then, he still seems bothered. At this, he lets out the rest of his tears, rising up along the way, and feels lighter than ever in the cup of Hajime’s hands.
“Sometimes, you are the kindest person I know,” Oikawa says. “Kinder than all the rest.”
Hajime can’t help but laugh, squishing Oikawa’s cheeks together even more. “Don’t say that.”
“Really, Iwa-chan! We should get married, so no one else can have you.”
At the suggestion, Hajime loosens his hands, feels his ruddy face light up like the touch of a hot mug out of the microwave, and sticks his tongue out in complete and utter rejection. “Never!” he shouts back, even though he’s not entirely sure he means it. Gasping, Oikawa just begins to cry again, harder than before, and Hajime doesn’t seek to console him this time.
Still, Oikawa’s hand finds a way to Hajime’s again, crawling up the grass and demanding to be held. He holds back, wonders if people can be linked forever if they stay like this long enough, and finalizes such theories by tightening his grip.
The alarm clock rings for 7:15AM the next morning. When Hajime wakes up to it, he keeps his face pressed on the pillow, lets out a sigh like a god breathing over the endless plains, and brushes the sleep from his eyes to start the day. The alarm clock never stood a chance against Hajime’s swipes. In the silence, he remembers the small exercise routine taped to the back of his bedroom door, all the pushups, the tangled snake of a jump rope under his bed, the meters waiting to be run outside, and decides to forego it all for extra sleep. Under Hajime’s pillow, a phone vibrates from a group chat by Hanamaki and Matsukawa. Good job, Hajime! Good job! Buy us ramen now, hehe. He knows the drill. Peace is but an empty promise.
For all of the business he had with Oikawa Tooru five days ago, Hajime thinks about the chase for the demon decoy of the mountain pass in Venice, the oh-so dramatic manhunt for Bustling Bokuto in the Istanbul cistern, the preliminary clue-collecting done in the heart of Morocco’s Djmaa el Fna, and remembers that he has his own concerns to attend to. At the thought, Hajime scoffs, throws the covers back on him, and stretches out all his aches; let Oikawa run the world ragged, because he can definitely do the same if he decides to try.
Hajime reaches out for the opera glasses on the table, how brilliant they look in the morning light, all by the grace of gold, and holds them up over his face. He thinks of Venice and the rest of the world again, and pretends he is content with just running into Oikawa from time to time, a not-so fortunate happenstance, just another drop of sand amongst all the others he could care about, and takes a deep breath. It’s fine. At the thought, he thinks about Hana’s cheek again, how he’d never want to kiss that particular skin, how he should probably get out there again for blind dates and study sessions anyway, because it’s not wrong to try. Peach pink replaces itself with the purple dust from lavender petals. Oikawa waits at the other side of a table in Tokyo, mindmade, tailored for pleasantries. Smiling and twirling a fork in his fingers, the warmth on the other jumper’s cheeks feels nothing but tangible. Oikawa has cake on his face and knows it.
Meet him. Hajime jolts up in bed at the thought. Fuck serendipity. He throws on a sweater hanging from the doorknob, kicks on his slippers; he foregoes breakfast and flies out the door with limbs, light; leaning over the railing on the fifteenth floor, he waits for the possibility of Oikawa Tooru to appear.
“Oikawa!” Hajime shouts to the next complex over. No one answers, as expected. He stares ahead at the door where Oikawa first stood, how he had come out of thin air, and snaps his fingers with a place in mind.
“Who are you?” When Hajime opens his eyes, an old woman is sitting at the table, smells of natto and mackerel filling the air, her stereo plucking shamisen. She screams and Hajime disappears with a muttered curse. The next two snaps are much of the same, landing amongst still-sleepy salarymen (“damn jumpers!”) and kids faking sick from grade school (which he avoids profanities with). By the tenth attempt, Hajime is behind his usual morning schedule, no breakfast in him, no homework completed, but ready to keep trying anyway.
On the twenty-seventh try, Hajime thinks his fingers might snap in half. Breathless from the trip, he opens his eyes, ready to be scolded by grannies and uncles with fly swatters, and finds the emptiness of a sparsely made apartment instead.
"Oikawa?" Hajime calls out, much too meek. He wonders if he's turned into a house cat on his way here. When he takes his first steps, still careful as he can possibly muster, he nearly bumps into an electric fan in the corner and switches it off to tame its spin. On the ground, he makes out old books with hyper pink post-its stuck as placeholders. An interesting anachronism, Hajime thinks, if he doesn't count every jumper he's ever known or seen.
The rest of the apartment is clean but hardly settled in. In the hallway, Hajime finds empty moving boxes and various old treasures, obvious contraband from trips past, and observes how they're each marked with notes and tags—a genie's lamp for Hanamaki, set for June 2035, an authentic kintsugi bowl for Matsukawa, to be given Christmas 2030; Elvis Presley's autograph lies in wait for New Year's 2045 alongside a noh mask, unmarked; Hajime finds all sorts of trinkets, memorabilia big and small for years to come, holidays that have not arrived, and feels his chest cave in for things he cannot explain. He pretends he doesn't see the blood on the side of the mask's clay cheek.
At the very bottom of the box, Hajime unearths an errant gift tag, an old picture of them as children. Written on the back: I miss you everyday, Iwaizumi Hajime. June 10th, 2026. Next year.
Hajime coughs up from the rising dust, brings a brand new fold-up telescope into his hands, and drops it immediately when the scent hits his nose. The lavender comes in light, just a ghost’s conscious breath, but Hajime can taste it on his mouth all the same. Down the hall, the telescope rolls to a door barely ajar, sunlight piercing through in a single, sharp sliver. When a thud comes in next, like the drop of a knapsack on the floor or a body on a bed, Hajime hopes for the former.
Through the crack, channeling the house cat incarnate, Hajime holds his breath for the world he finds inside. Past the pallid wash of the walls, the postcards on the corkboard, comes Oikawa, hands reaching right over the faded wash of a denim-clad shoulder; he divests his jacket like a ritual, shoulder by shoulder, head trapped in the song coming through his headphones. His breath, huffy and just a tad strained, escapes upward like the slow smoke of a chimney. He is a house, hardly used for rest. The splendor of him, lavender, faint and almost-nothing, fills the city air.
A wince, a tch, seizes Oikawa next, when he presses a hand to his face. Lavender fades into something of a hint, a drop of an endnote. Blood drips off his chin, point of a cheek coated in crimson.
"Oikawa!" Hands reaching through that separate world, Hajime gives up anything covert. Oikawa lets out a small gasp when the other jumper comes charging at him, knees knocking, the both of them crashing to the ground below. Trying not to groan, Oikawa cranes away when Hajime gets a better look at the gash on the side of his head. The earbuds slip out on their own accord.
“What the fuck did you do?” Hajime asks, taking the sleeve of his own sweater and holding it up to stop the bleeding. “You’re...shit, you need to get patched up.”
"Hello to you too, Iwa-chan."
“It doesn’t hurt that much,” Oikawa tells him with another wince. “Someone threw a flower pot at me. It happens.”
“You weren’t being careful,” Hajime says, using the other hand to prop up Oikawa’s chin. “And I’ll bet my life that flower pots were not involved. What happened to you?" He doesn't wait for Oikawa to give an answer; instead, Hajime yanks him onto his feet, takes him by the hand, and finds the bathroom to do some further clean up. He sits Oikawa on the edge of his tub, ignores the petulant frown on his face, and dabs a wet washcloth to the gash.
"Almost got caught stealing before," Oikawa answers simply, snidely, "and that Shiratorizawa guy didn't take it so well. Accused me of killing other bounty hunters. He even had a falchion, Iwa-chan. Isn't that amazing?"
"Not when you could've had your head chopped off," Hajime says, dabbing some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. “And I saw that goddamned bulletin on the message boards last night. You’re officially on there.” Oikawa squeezes his eyes shut, groans when Hajime applies the sting, and instinctively takes solace by the form of a grabbed wrist. Instead of throwing him off, Hajime just remains, keeps an eye on Oikawa, and slaps an extra-large band-aid on him. Hajime even takes a thumb to the pit of Oikawa's eye, wipes away a sting-made tear (because antiseptic really does fucking suck sometimes) and hides a sigh when Oikawa lets a testy smirk spread across his face.
“May I live in infamy, then,” he jokes.
“That’s not funny. They shoot at serious offenders, don’t you know? And you’re not far from making that list.”
Oikawa’s smile almost falters, but he doesn’t let it die completely. “But you don’t, Iwa-chan. And that’s all that matters."
“If you don’t lie low, I won’t be the only one chasing you anymore.”
Rubbing his thumb against Hajime’s hand, Oikawa lets himself take a breather against his palm’s roughness. Upon closer inspection, faces so near their noses might as well be touching, Hajime makes out the dark circles under Oikawa’s eyes, the cracked nervousness of a bitten bottom lip.
"You're keeping something from me, thiefkawa," asserts Hajime, as faint as he can be.
"And why would I do something like that?" Oikawa answers, in the same volumes.
Hajime doesn't dignify that with an answer.
"Why did you even come back to Tokyo today?" he asks instead.
"Same reason you came jumping in here," Oikawa answers with a smile. "Because it gets lonely, Iwa-chan."
Hajime blinks up, notices their closeness, the hand wrapped around his wrist, and pulls back ever so slightly. Oikawa, judging by a twitch in his face, finds hurt in lost millimeters.
"You're all cleaned up," Hajime tells him, lifting his hand off his face. "So if you'll excuse me," he continues, turning away, "I'm going to get ready for class now."
Oikawa reaches for Hajime's hand again, but misses grabbing on. Still, Hajime stays at the very touch of him, dares not to move from the doorway, and steels his gaze on the floor. Down the hall, the telescope remains on the floor. Gifts stay in their boxes.
"Don't go," Hajime mimics. "That's what you mean to tell me, right? Because even if you don't want to say it, I know it's what you're thinking." Behind him, Hajime lifts his arm, letting his hand bloom into an outstretch. Oikawa's fingers grasp lightly before falling loose, sending nervous waves up Hajime's spine.
Oikawa tries holding onto Hajime's hand again.
"What do you want from me?" Hajime asks.
Silence again. Hajime’s mind flips to the peach pink gleam of a girl’s cheek. It instantly turns into Oikawa’s, blood running down, like rain on glass. Clenching the fists that grazed that very skin, Hajime grits his teeth until he feels sick.
"To stay as far from you as I can," Oikawa spits out, holding on harder. Hajime feels like throwing up at the possibility.
"Then why do you keep meeting me?" he forges on anyway.
Oikawa breathes in, slow and deep.
"Because I'd like to be with you, too, Iwa-chan."
At the call, Hajime pulls Oikawa forward without looking back. He almost expects the other boy to snap his fingers and leave right there, but he doesn't; Oikawa just lets himself get pulled into the hall, head bumping into Hajime's back along the way. Hands stay intertwined, all by the gentle pull of two grips trying to find their rightful place again, and Hajime thinks back to the way Matsukawa twisted his fingers together back in the restaurant. His face reddens, heats up like he might scream again, but he resolves to take the paradox of Oikawa Tooru for what it is. Near and far, and everything in between. Hajime tells himself that all of this is just so. Because I can take it. Just so, just so, just so, he keeps himself from saying outright, when his hand reaches up to graze Oikawa’s forehead again. Rough hands make a place of rest, when Oikawa nestles himself into the touch.
“You know, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says, breathing out, like he can hardly contain himself. “The weirdest thing happens, when I know you’re close.” Hajime laughs, incredulous, because he knows what he will say.
Oikawa nods. Just nods and nods again. “I smell lavender, and it’s never anywhere else. It’s only you. Always you.” He sucks in another inhale like he might cry, but he doesn’t, because Hajime knows that neither one of them want to lose that battle today. Because they’re no longer kids hiding under a jungle gym where discerning was just a fancy word that adults used, because Iwaizumi Hajime has better things to do, like fighting the urge to maybe kiss him. And yet, for all things careful, for all the tracks he’s buried for Oikawa, discerning is still not something he’s quite grown into.
Hajime thinks, past all the cheeks he could’ve kissed, the people he could’ve embraced, that Oikawa might be the only one he’ll ever, ever want to hold. Because this might be love, he thinks. Because it most definitely is. Because to him, love is not just a word, or a single space to be pressed upon. It is not just a first kiss, or held hands. Love is a living, breathing thing; it makes the tired hitches in his back, the cracks in reaching palms; they are the winds that sweep Hajime from one world into the next, knocking him on the knees and telling him to get the hell back up again.
So Hajime refrains from anything like kissing. He just stays close, lowers a hand from Oikawa’s head, and closes worn eyes. In turn, Oikawa doesn’t dare to come closer than the graze of foreheads, but the mere touch takes everything out of them.
“I’m sorry,” Oikawa tells Hajime next. “I should’ve gone to see you in that field.”
Hajime scoffs. “We did though. We were ten, remember? You were so excited about it, you had to run around the park five times to calm down.”
Oikawa stifles a laugh. “Yeah, I remember.” He separates himself from Hajime, bumping his head against the wall in the process. “But I don’t mean that time,” he clarifies.
A memory flashes by, and Hajime remembers the ashiness of purple-dusted palms. In Carshalton, he’s seventeen again, shoes off and tie loosened and picking lavender. He has a bundle of billows in his care, and he’s pacing back and forth, waiting for Oikawa Tooru to arrive.
He never does, and it is the last time he sees him for another two years.
“What’s done is done,” Hajime tells him, shutting out the memory and coming back in the apartment in Shibuya. He opens his mouth to say something else, anything else like I forgive you or don’t worry about it or I understand (even though he really, really doesn’t)—but he never gets the chance to. Hajime’s phone rings and their worlds rip apart. Frazzled, Oikawa leans back against the wall, chin preening up, while Hajime takes the call.
“Hello?” Hajime barely manages to answer, pressing the option for speakerphone.
“Hello. This is an automated message brought to you by the cosmic dispatch center. We are informing all bounty hunters of a mission opportunity. Today, at approximately 7:30AM Japanese Standard Time, it was discovered that thirty bounty hunters were murdered by two Noh-masked killers in their homes off duty and during missions. Leaders from the six prominent divisions—Shiratorizawa, Seijou, Karasuno, Fukurodani, Dateko, and Nekoma—are calling for the arrest of last night’s thief in connection with the crime. Please refer to the daily report for more information, and exercise caution, for all the suspects are extremely dangerous and probably well-armed."
"The thief connected to the crime, the now-named Oikawa Tooru, is said to be related to the heinous Noh mask duo, whom have been linked to other bounty hunter murders since the start of this year. With that said, it is advised that you collaborate on your hunts. For any more questions, feel free to contact the hunter's main bureau in Sendai. Otherwise, we thank you for your cooperation and happy hunting. Stay safe!”
The line goes dead after the call, dial tone stretching into a digital void. When Hajime hangs up for good, Oikawa’s whole body goes stiff, gaze resembling clouded day, and all goes quiet between the two of them. His phone blows up with more information, reiterated, brand new. Thirty bounty hunters dead. Oikawa Tooru, suspected of murder. A picture of him shows up in the next message, blurry from running, side of the face grazed by blood. Nineteen years old. Oikawa Tooru, the thief, the boy, the crybaby under the jungle gym, the one about to break down, even now. Hajime decides he is no killer. He knows this, just as much as he knows that faith is an innate and contagious thing. For that very same reason, Oikawa doesn’t snap his fingers this time.
“So, what exactly are we going to do about this?” asks Hajime, and Oikawa knows he has a world of explaining to do.
He’s sulking. This is the first thought that comes to mind when Hajime sees Oikawa across the courtyard at their high school graduation, surrounded by the girls that will miss him, the underclassmen jumpers that ask for their last tidbits of advice, the other classmates who stick to him on the edges. Although Hajime keeps himself afar, opting to listen to Matsukawa complain about the moving they’ll be doing by the end of summer instead, the peskiness of nosy aunts at family dinners, he keeps watch over Oikawa, anyway. Even at a distance, eyes not quite in focus, Hajime knows the difference between candid and the shows he puts on.
When his hands move with him to speak, they fold and open with the wind, as if orchestrating the right amount of calm. Casting charms. Oikawa is careful with the way he shifts his hands through the air, the delicate way he nudges the tip of his nose when he pretends to gush. Behind the back of his palm, he hides an insincere laugh.
The crowd thins out sooner rather than later. Hajime’s mother is back at home, probably cooking up their favorites and welcoming all of their distant relatives for a celebration. When they come through the door, they probably ask about the both of them. “How’s Hajime-kun doing? Is Tooru-kun well, too?”
Oikawa waits under a tree with all of this gifts, the love notes and knitted hats and other small trinkets. He keeps them all in a bag, tucked away, save for the binoculars around his neck. He’s busy peering through them when Hajime comes up to him, ready to go home for the rest of the evening, and he barely mouths a “hello” in his wake.
“What’s wrong?” Hajime asks, sitting down next to him, nuzzling the head of a forlorn teddy bear with one eye. When he finds the black marble of it just a couple of inches away, he resists the urge to laugh. Oikawa really must be in a bad mood today. At the thought, Hajime shifts closer, bumps him the shoulder with his own, and peers up at the shadow of the overhead brush. Through it, he peers at the oddity of a hyper pink sky and points up for Oikawa to see too.
“Hm,” Oikawa hums out. “Nice, I guess,” he says, eyes glazing over the sight.
“Okay. What’s wrong?” Hajime asks. “You’ve been off all day.”
“Nothing’s the matter,” Oikawa tells him, plastering his smiles on. A hand goes up to wave through tufts of hair, and a laugh comes for the sky, but his eyes stay sharp and resentful, mad at himself for getting caught. Reveling in defeat, he leans against the bark and plays with his restless fingers.
“Why can’t a guy be a little sad at graduation? It happens,” he pouts. “Tokyo is so far, and I haven’t even thought about packing yet.”
Hajime smiles, shrugging. He gets it maybe, but he’s always been about moving forward. There's always more ahead, and sometimes Oikawa has this habit of seeing the horizon as nothing but a vanishing point.
“I mean,” he tells Oikawa, “it’s not like we’re saying goodbye to this city just yet. We have a whole summer to go, so don’t worry about it.” When he says this, Oikawa trembles in the slightest, a single chill erupting across the surface of his skin. He rubs at his forearm, at apparent goosebumps, and tries to smile. Ever more, Hajime feels it, too, but tries the same. He lets a grin emerge. He falls for his charms, looks past the aching in his belly. Hell, it almost feels like speaking to a mirage, but Hajime doesn’t try to stop it; he doesn’t, because this day has been too good to ruin with worry. This March tenth will never beat any other March tenth, he tells himself, with the bounty hunting to come and graduation under their belts. Hajime burns the date into his memory. He wonders if his father would be proud.
“Hey, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa calls after him. “After dinner, will you go to Carshalton with me? To see the lavender fields?”
Hajime nods. “Yeah, we can do that. We haven’t been there in a while.”
“Good,” he says right back to Hajime, a little more genuine in his answer. It is a real gush, and a bounce out of the slump. Oikawa’s always liked getting the purple dust on his fingers, anyway. Maybe that will cheer him up.
“Okay, but just to let you know, I’m not marrying you there again,” Hajime gruffs out as a joke.
At the sound of it, Oikawa smiles harder.
At the sight of him, Hajime feels better about things.
Together, they get up from the tree, gather their gifts and given flower bouquets, and walk home. The trek back to the house is quiet, without a hint of chirp, and the air hangs still but not necessarily stifling. For dinner, Hajime’s mother makes agedashi tofu and brings out a milk-flavored cake for dessert. When relatives bring out albums, Hajime laughs at the old family pictures, while Oikawa holds on like he wants to keep them forever. He does just so, tucking an old picture of them in his pocket for safekeeping. A nosy uncle guffaws, claiming Oikawa must be homesick already.
Eyes meet from across the table. Oikawa blinks back, as if to say, “I’ll tell you everything in Carshalton.”
And so this is where Hajime goes. Oikawa tells him to leave first, because he still needs to wash up and put some things away in his room. Recoiling his hand, Hajime obliges, but reluctantly.
“Carshalton?” Hajime asks one more time.
The last streak of pink seems to disappear from the sky as soon as Oikawa slides the door behind him on the porch. In the darkness, Hajime takes in the sight of his light jean jacket, the easiness of a plain white t-shirt, the straight face worn above it all. Oikawa nods, trace of a grin spreading across his face, and looks down.
“Pick a bouquet of them for me, why don’t you? I'll be there soon.”
Hajime rolls his eyes, raises his hand in the air, and with a snap, he is gone. With that last glimpse of him, he watches Oikawa crane up to the sky, like he’ll do anything to keep him at his side.
When Hajime lands amongst the lavender a few seconds later, he kicks off his house slippers and starts picking as requested. Along the way, with magic dust on his fingers, dirt on his hard-worked palms, he dreams of hunting, hunting, hunting, and having Oikawa beside him.
“I figured it out about a month before graduation.”
When Oikawa explains this, they are sitting together in a wooden boat in the middle of Lake Pichola, India, hiding at the end of the fourteenth century with no one to bother them. Hajime sifts his hand through the water to cool his face while Oikawa pauses to collect himself, sights fixed on the royal blue of an emerging night sky. He holds two fingers up to the yellowed moon, pinches it into forced perspective, and covers it completely to force the light out of his eye. At the view, he smiles like he’s defeated all the knowing gods, the fates and their fickle futures, and humbles himself from the stratosphere.
“You know the story, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa tells him, back on earth. “Boy jumps to Miyagi in attempt to run away. It is raining, when he meets another, and they are both five years old. Neither of them can decide if he is from years past, or years to come. Hell, he could be a monster, for all they know.”
Hajime nods along, keeping his body slung along the side. He is too tired to raise himself up, feet weary and head dizzy from jumping with Oikawa all day.
“But the other boy, Iwa-chan, takes this boy into his home anyway. Said boy is eternally grateful, and hopes he isn’t a monster. Said boy, by the force of will, is determined to forget the things he’s seen, to live well with the kind Iwa-chan. It was all a bad dream, he tells himself over the years, because some are scary enough to stay with you over the years. They need to be warded off. The boy thinks he’s done a good job of that, and he grows up in the process. He plans on being a bounty hunter, too. Honor, by all roads linear. That’s the part you know.”
When Hajime raises himself up from the side of the boat, Oikawa offers him help with the yank of a hand. He forgets how flirtatious Oikawa can be, how this is just a teasing excuse to keep their hands together, and thinks about kicking him. He flushes instead and resists the urge to throw Oikawa overboard, keeping the grasp tight. At this, the other jumper laughs half-heartedly before settling back into his story.
“But like I’ve said, the dreams stay. This is what happens with the boy over the years; he sees two ghosts in Noh masks, the slash and burn they make, because it is an unforgettable memory. It is a telling of things to come, and he sees it everywhere he goes, every place he jumps. New York and Ghana. Shanghai to Alaska. The boy understands, one night, that he is headed towards the worst to come. The killing of all those bounty hunters in Tokyo—that is in his future.” When he says this, future, he dares to look up at Hajime again, grip loosening on his hand once more. Hajime tries so hard to not hate the sensation.
Oikawa shakes his head. “He should’ve—I should’ve known.”
“Your folks aren’t exactly making the front page news,” Hajime answers with the shake of his head. “They’re just too good at hiding themselves. Kind of like you, sneakykawa,” he retorts further, going to flick Oikawa on the forehead.
“Stop being so hard on yourself."
“How can I not?” Oikawa asks, steeling himself by stiff shoulders and shaking his head, “when they’re probably going to come after you, too, Iwa-chan?”
“Yeah? And how do you know that?”
“Because you’re not so bad a hunter yourself,” Oikawa remarks, keeping eyes averted this time. “I know because I’ve kept tabs these past two years. A rising star, one of the best in your age range.”
Hajime forces out a laugh. "Well, you’re not wrong about that, even if I do have some work to do with my jumps," he tells him, putting on some of that bravado. He feels his shoulders loosen, lighten, even if it’s only for that single moment in time.
"But all of this does make me wonder,” Hajime continues, brave enough to keep going. Bravado is never something he carries well, anyway, because it is there, or it is not. There is never any in-between, and Hajime does not want to start pretending.
"When you knew, why didn't you just warn the hunters beforehand? Prevent any of this from happening?"
Oikawa shrugs. "That was one of the first things I tried. You know what a room full of elders are going to tell you? They’re going to drag you into a room and say, well, some fate: it’s fixed. That it's unfortunate, but it happens. We will try our best to stop them when the time comes, but we cannot stop such historic events if they unfold. They're unmovable milestones, building blocks for the future to come. A future bigger than us. Hell, you know all those elders that listened to me then? Those venerable hunters?”
Hajime nods. He remembers Matsukawa's black suit and the memorial services he's skipped. “They’re all dead," he answers, "so no one can even clear your name."
“That’s not the important part, though.” Shaking his head, Oikawa just looks sorrier than ever for something else. “It’s that idea of milestone. Speaking of milestones, there’s—" he interrupts himself, as just Hajime lifts his finger off his forehead. His sigh is deep and shaky. "I...I don't know."
"What is it?"
"I didn't really want to mess around with things like that anyway. Going that far back, it might changethethings I wouldn't dare to touch in a million years," Oikawa tells Hajime, staring back out at the water, intentionally keeping his gaze away. He shakes his head again, hopeless, furrowed in resolve before weakening. "Because even if history won't consider them milestones, I will."
Hajime slides himself forward on the boat. "What do you mean by that?"
With a small and miserable laugh, Oikawa tosses his head up to the sky. "You know how to be cruel, don't you?"
"I don't understand,” Hajime says, with the shake of his head. Under them the waves ripple despite the air’s stillness, sending worry down tired but vigilant spines. Hajime perks up, smells the vague singe of burnt paper over Oikawa’s lavender, and tells himself to relax. The hunters can’t trace them to every end of the universe. Not everyone can be on his tail.
"Are you really going to make me say it, Iwa-chan?"
Hajime stops mid-nod when a boom sounds off the water. When a fire rises on the shore, and a commotion wreaks havoc by the landside, the two of them look to each other with their hands ready to snap. Oikawa turns his head back up to the sky. Hajime hates running, hates it more than anything, but he refuses to let Oikawa go by himself. Boom, and another crash. Pieces of a boat go up in the air at the harbor, like a declaration of battle. Hajime holds onto Oikawa’s hand again, lets him pick their next course of action, and feels himself transcend time and space and everything in between. Because for Oikawa, he will forsake the potted ferns and blind dates and the life of routine. When they run through the streets of Udaipur, their feet almost tangle together on the path, but never dare to trip up.
That night, they never stop running. From Udaipurto New Amsterdamto Seychelles, a jean jacket is thrown off, and knicks are made. Cuts turn into tally marks for the places they’ve been, and phones calls are endlessly ignored. Sorry, Matsukawa. Sorry, Hanamaki. Through rain and winter and the the dead of summer, Hajime chokes out the words through harried breath, never to be heard, not in a million years, but surely meant by his heart’s hard work. He almost even wants to laugh through the toil, just at how stuck their hands have stayed the entire time.
Crashing through Venice once more, Oikawa turns back to face Hajime on the path. He doesn’t smile, but he doesn’t fake one, either, as his mouth trickles out the name. Hajime. He faces forward. This isn’t how I wanted us to be together again. He imagines that this is what Oikawa wants to say, right before he snaps and sweeps the both of them away.
By the time Hajime marks his first anniversary as a bounty hunter for the Seijou division, he is heralded as one of Japan’s Rising Jumpers, and a young star certainly in the making. With commissions rolling in like none other, the coursework piling up at his desk, the phone ringing off the hook for both, he’s convinced he’s found a good way to distract himself from a previous year's worth of trouble. In the mornings, in his brand new apartment in the heart of Shibuya, he might admit that he still thinks about Oikawa; but the dreams of him are passing, and he thinks them vague enough to put away. I like you, or I don’t.
I don’t, Hajime repeats in the mirror. And I don’t miss you, either.
The day carries on like this, until the conversations with himself turn into passing chit chat with others. (Good weather we're having, huh? No, I didn't go to karaoke last night. Hm? Oh. Hana? She's interested in me? Maybe I should call her for dinner.) When he goes to class, he mostly focuses on the lectures, and when he hunts, he lets his fists talk for him. When he collects his mail in the lobby, he seethes at another gift with no return address.
In the evenings, Hajime lets himself waste time. No homework, no hunts, no stress. This usually means finding good things to eat with Matsukawa and Hanamaki, watching movies he's seen a thousand times before, or getting lost in the city on purpose. On a particular night he picks all three, he tries Asahi beer for the first time at Hanamaki's in Kichijoji. When he decides he doesn’t quite like the taste after eleven of them, he foregoes it with his umpteenth viewing of Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai and says he’ll go home right after. Hanamaki insists on calling him a cab. Hajime insists he’s fine and stumbles down the duplex staircase to prove it. Smarting like none other, and still possessing enough of his senses, he snaps away before the other two can catch him.
Hajime knows what he's doing. Of course he does, because someone who doesn't know what he's doing wouldn't be considered one of Tokyo's top hunters. He wouldn't have his own apartment in Shibuya with a solid slew of B's in all of his college courses, or enough money in his bank account to help his mother out at home. Surely, he must know what he's doing.
"Fuck," he says out loud anyway, rubbing his temples and trying to figure out where he's landed. He opens his eyes, finds his vision still blurred, the lights of Tokyo still blaring past the park shrubs. At least he's kept himself in the city. He's not sure about anything else.
Inhale, exhale. Hajime breathes in and out, wiping the blood from his nose. In disorientation, he tricks himself into thinking he can smell lavender. When he lowers himself on the park bench, he dozes off almost instantly.
"Hello?" someone calls, not ta handful of seconds later.
Hajime smashes his lips tight and peers up between the spaces in his fingers. He hiccups, sick to his stomach. It would be just his luck tonight, to curse in front of a kid. Fuck. Drowsy (and definitely still drunk), he lowers his palms from his face and sees a boy of about five, barely keeping on his feet in front of him. He smiles uneasily, the stretch of it like someone Hajime's known before, and tells himself that this can't be real.
The ghost of Oikawa Tooru stands in front of him, a kid again, trying to step forward. Hajime resigns himself to this dreams and stares on, vision blurry and stinging from haze.
"It always has to be you, doesn't it?" Hajime asks, burying his face in his hands. "Even when I'm imagining things."
"I'm real, though."
"Sure you are," Hajime quips back.
The child comes closer and finds a seat next to Hajime, dangling his legs over the bench. Hajime peeks over at him, sees the same ruddy way he looks at someone when he's curious, and can't help but laugh. The boy does too, just a little bit, and shifts away shyly on the bench.
"What's your name kid?" Hajime can't believe he's talking to a mirage. The boy shakes his head.
"I don't want to say. My parents say I should never tell my name to anyone. Secrets stay secret, and you're a stranger."
Hajime scoffs, lets himself look the kid in the eye. Cheeky little brat. It warms his chest and reminds him of home.
"Well, why are you even out by yourself then? You should be in bed."
The boy shrugs. "My mother and father are never around. They work a lot, and they taught me how to do this thing with my fingers, so I practice that while they're gone. Oh, and math, but I don't really like that."
Hajime forces himself to sit up so he doesn't feel so pathetic. "You might like math, if you make it fun for yourself. Count birds or something."
"Birds are mean, though," the little boy refutes.
"I didn't say you had to get close to them. Watch them from the sky."
Silence hits and Hajime still doesn't feel any better. He might even vomit if he’s not careful. He sighs out instead, presses his head into his hands again, and wishes this ghost would just leave him already. Briefly, he wonders why some people are better at having good dreams than others, and thinks he's due for one right about now.
"Hey, are you okay?" the boy asks, nosy.
"You don't look fine."
"I just feel a little sick, is all. I'll be okay."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Hajime asserts, as gently as he can. "And I'm sorry, but do you mind leaving me alone, now? I've had a bad day."
The boy slides a tiny hand over on the bench, inching closer until he's got one of Hajime's fingers held. When Hajime lifts himself up again, he sees the saddest smile on his face. Briefly, he wonders if Oikawa ever looks like this still, with all the adventures he's having out there. Sorely, Hajime hopes that he never does.
"Sometimes, I have those too," he says. "They don't feel good, huh?"
Hajime laughs. He sort of means it. "They never do."
The boy looks on, past the brush blocking his view of the city, the world ahead, and loosens his grip. "Does it ever get better?"
Hajime opens his mouth to say something, but catches empty air instead. When he tries to answer that question, he finds that the answer is harder than it should be. He thinks about every good day and bad day he's ever had, the days in between that don't know what to be, and finds that there are none. He knows he has to say something, though. Anything. Even ghosts deserve their small talk, and more than anything, he owes the answer to himself.
"Eventually," Hajime answers candidly, half-hoping. A smile creeps through. "I think one day, when you'll find what you're looking for, that bad day won't seem so bad anymore, and you'll be able to move on."
"Really?" the boy asks.
"Really." He feels a little more conviction with that one.
The boy straightens up in his seat. "And have you found what you're looking for?"
Hajime barely has to think. He knows, even in drunkenness.
"Well, I hope you do soon. That'd be nice."
"Thanks. It really would be."
"I'm going to go now," the boy says. "Maybe I’ll count some birds."
"Well, good luck, then."
"Thank you—oh, and you should get some rest, stranger-san." Hajime watches the boy hop off the bench and back away once more.
“I’ll consider it.” Dizzy, Hajime lies back down on the bench, taking up his suggestion. With a snap of his fingers, the child vanishes like the ghost he's been, leaving Hajime alone with nothing more than a smile for the road and a wave of small hand; even for the ghost of Oikawa Tooru, the gestures are insincere, feigned well enough to drive away suspicion and cast a tide of calm. For Hajime, it is something he will never believe, even if his mind is the one making the vision. You can't be real, he tells himself again with something solemn. Forget him. With this, he still drifts to sleep thinking of him, wondering if the real Oikawa's still the same way, all feints and masquerades, and dreams of him until Matsukawa comes to collect him the next morning.
The boy, on the other hand, continues to jump the city like it's his, transient against the tide of a metropolis that never notices him. Ever the optimist, as most children tend to be, he has no idea about the future to come or the bad days ahead. Put at ease by a drunk man’s words, he just counts the birds like the stranger suggested, keeps his heart open when he walks, and tells himself, against all odds, that things will get better.
They have to, when he has so much left to see, and things he needs to find.
Paris, Shanghai, and then Johannesburg come in succession. With hands held all through the night, they follow each other through the shadows. The catacombs become their refuge and the streetlights burn like none other, and every lit window brings the possibility of a watchful eye. Over rooftops and atop telephone poles, other hunters watch and shoot and shoot some more. Gotcha! Not. Hajime can’t quite remember the last time he’s had daggers thrown at him.
“Fuck the way these scrapes burn!”
His phone rings in Buenos Aires. It is a text message from Nekoma’s Kuroo. Hey, you trained with that Oikawa kid, right? Got any tips for us? Read 12:08AM. Hajime doesn’t answer back and greets a slew of new messages instead. Then comes Shiratorizawa’s Ushiwaka and Ennoshita from Karasuno. Read 12:10AM. Read 12:11AM. Read 12:14AM. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. He backtracks on the keyboard and ends up saying nothing. Hajime winces when he knows he looks worse by the second. With a glance up at Oikawa’s back, he knows he can take it.
Are you really running with that murderer, Iwaizumi-san? Read 12:45AM.
They dart from Los Angeles, then Moscow, then Dubai. No one’s chased them for three hours. They keep going anyway, because neither one of them have never been the type to stop. The messages pile on, and the voicemails mount into a chorus of demands. Iwaizumi Hajime, please kindly return to Tokyo, where we have some questions to ask you about Oikawa Tooru. Hajime imagines his apartment, ransacked, Hanamaki and Matsukawa, interrogated. He prays for their safety. Iwaizumi Hajime, please kindly return to Tokyo, where we will formally revoke your bounty hunter’s license.
“I’m sorry,” Oikawa seems to keep on his mouth, ready to say with every call and text. Hajime doesn’t let him.
“Don’t let go of me, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa whispers back instead. Blinking back into reality, Hajime thinks he’s halfway in a dream, the kind where you already find yourself in very thick of things, no beginning, only an end.
"Don't let go of me, Iwa-chan."
Hajime breathes. He knows. He breathes again. Next comes Cape Town, Osaka, then Belarus.
And like that, because it is there’s, a hiding place in a universe full of limitless open space, Carshalton sweeps under them, but only in glimpses. They dare not ruin any more of their holy ground. They dare not pick any lavender today.
“Promise?” Oikawa asks, because he is a creature of worry sometimes, of needed reassurance. Because he cannot live on the certainty of being alone. The line of his mouth is too wobbly to smile. Hajime wants to kiss him better. He doesn’t this time.
“I promise.” Hajime’s fingers feel numb, and his legs as sore as sore can be.The lavender fields disappear under them with another snap of their fingers, and Hajime prays for rest.
It’s not too late to turn him in, Iwaizumi-san. Read 1:21AM.
There’s no where you can hide...why even bother? Read 1:34AM.
Hey, Iwaizumi—come home, already. The whole city’s talking about you, don’t you know? Read 1:40AM.
“What do you think of the Swiss Alps, next, Iwa-chan?”
“That’s fine, but you should take it easy on your jumps. How’s your accuracy?”
“Fine, just fine.”
“Do you want me to take over?” Hajime asks, raising his fingers, hands still held.
Oikawa shakes his head, raises an eyebrow up, and mashes his lips together in a bemused frown. He mumbles something, looks over at Hajime in teasing, and makes him lower his fingers. Tempted to kick Oikawa in the shin, he just pinches his cheek instead, pulling on the skin until it is red with blush.
“What’s wrong with my jumps, huh, sneakykawa?”
“No offense, Iwa-chan, but I’ve seen you aim,” says Oikawa. “Remember that one time I explicitly said, “hey, let’s go to Alaska? And you landed in Albania instead? It took me all day to find you.”
“I was fourteen.”
“Well, I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?” Hajime mumbles out, feet skirting the edges of the canyon under him. He looks under, ponders how someone can feel so calm looking down at the abyss, and pretends there is no bottom at the end of falling. Randomly, he remembers his physics lectures, the theories over the other side of black holes; he imagines the people living whole other lives, the dimensions where he’d play an infinite game of spot-the-difference with the other versions of themselves—would they be happy in this new place? Better off? Worse? Would they find each other at all? Hajime gulps this all down, and decides, tentatively, with hope rising and sinking and rising again, that they’d have it all. He tells himself, voracious, that they still can.
When Oikawa smooths his hair back, his eyes sink into near-closing. He looks as worn out Hajime feels at this point, with bandaged hands shaking, half pulling at the tufts on his head. “Well, I’d say that your jumps have gotten a little more decent by now,” Oikawa continues on, in musing. “They don’t call you a top hunter because you’re sitting pretty, or anything—”
“That’s not what I mean,” Hajime tells him, looking out at the expanse before them. “When I say I’ve made it this far.”
Step by goddamned step—
“Then what do you mean, Iwa-chan?”
—I found you, didn’t I?
Hajime laughs. “Are you really going to make me say it out loud?” he asks in mimicking, and Oikawa understands the sentiments of things unsaid. As a result, he saunters over to Hajime on the edge, takes his hand with the utmost care, and holds on. Shaking his head free from the heat, stilling the way his whole body beats, he nods himself free of things he can always tell Oikawa later.
“Ready to go?” the other hunter asks, changing the subject. Seeing the way Oikawa’s fingers raise, scrunched in the air, Hajime nods and lets Oikawa take them away once more.
Stop running, Iwaizumi-san. This isn’t going to end well, and you know that. Read 2:01AM.
You’re fucked, and you know it. Why are you making this so hard for yourself? Read 2:12AM.
Come home, Iwaizumi. We’re begging you. Read 2:25AM.
When they land, Paris gleaming under them instead, Hajime receives no comfort like rest. The city is crawling with hunters at all major points, and Oikawa can barely move his hand from fatigue by the time they’ve landed in the middle of the Arc de Triomphe with two sniper-armed hunters perched on both sides of the arch.
“Move!” Hajime shouts, dragging Oikawa under shelter, snapping when he gets the chance. Out of breath, he slams a brick wall next to him when he reads the French street signs, spots the line of yellow cabs. Still in Paris. More gunfire sprays at them, whittling past them because some of these newer cadets cannot shoot to save their lives. Hajime snaps again. Take us out of Paris. When they land, Paris remains.
“Iwa-chan, Iwa-chan, let me try—”
Are you ready to throw your life away for this boy? Delivered 2:31AM.
Gunfire comes again, a throttle of falling sparks. When the bullet grazes the side of his head, ripping like a comet on the surface of a planet's atmosphere, Hajime falls, hears Oikawa snap with nothing but hurried gutturals leaving his mouth. Take us out of Paris, he pleads once more, when he feels his body freeze from the shock, the sear.
Hajime knows they aren’t perfect. This is something he comes to realize on a daily basis, when the two of them find each other at odds over one thing or another, like collecting bugs or lying to adults to get more sweets out of them. At seven years old, Hajime has already come to learn that Oikawa and he are vastly, vastly different people in infinite regards, and sometimes, when they’re really butting heads over something, he wonders why they both stay.
This time, they’re at odds over the act of jumping. They aren’t allowed to travel out of their current time or town, but Hajime’s mother usually encourages jumps to the supermarket or school, if they’re running late, or even the park to play, but the neither of them really take advantage of it. Oikawa, who’s about seen the world already, fingers already adept at snapping and making crisp, clear sounds, doesn’t like doing it at all. Hajime, on the other hand, just doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to produce any real effects; he thinks of that one time he jumped from one end of the block to the other, how ridiculously excited he got about doing just that, and sighs about his inability to snap.
But it’s not like they actively fight about things like jumping. They might argue regularly about other matters, like stolen house slippers or the best breed of dog (Hajime’s mother had been thinking about getting one for the house) but they’ve never breached the topic of something so touchy. It is a quiet sort of specter, looming on the horizon past the jungle gym and the roof of their three-person house. In the silence of it, Hajime thinks about asking Oikawa to teach him sometimes, but he sees the way the other boy stares blankly at the wall, or barely touches his dinner in flashback, his jumping fingers rolled into locked fist. With enough sense to know that some things must be approached differently, or not at all, Hajime swallows his requests and bothers his mother instead.
“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa calls to Hajime one night, when they’re both trying to get to sleep.
“Yeah?” Hajime asks, not bothering to pretend that he’s asleep this time. He knows he’s been caught.
“I can hear you trying to snap,” Oikawa tells him. “The crickets are quiet tonight, so I know it’s not them.”
Digging his hand under the covers, Hajime rolls away, embarrassed, and he hates getting like this with the likes of Oikawa Tooru. “I’ll stop,” he tells him, but he knows it’s too late when he can hear the other boy rise out of his bed and shuffle towards him. Just great.
“Iwa-chan, how come you never ask me to teach you?” Oikawa asks.
“You know I know how to snap, better than you or okaa-san.”
Hajime rises out of bed, sitting up against the wall, and leans over to turn on his table lamp. This is another thing that marks their differences, their apparent lack of symmetry: for every time Hajime squints at Oikawa in disbelief or annoyance or a mix of the two, Oikawa looks back at him, glassy-eyed, gaping. This time is no exception, as Oikawa takes Hajime’s hand and stretches his thumb over his ring finger, concealing a small smile along the way. He glances back up like he’s shared the world’s greatest secrets, and even coos at him with a soft, “shh.”
“It’s weird, if I ask you,” Hajime tells him, trying it out for himself. When he notices how much clearer the sound of it is, when he flicks his thumb from his ring finger to his middle finger. It’s not quite there, but he thinks how much better it is than nearly breaking his bones from all the other ways he’s tried this.
“Why would it be weird?” Oikawa asks, knowing full well what he’s asking. At this, Hajime grumbles and shakes his head, refusing to elaborate. For all the things he’s known to yell at Oikawa about, he never even mentions his parents, or give him gentle reminders of that day in the rain; but this time, Oikawa nods back like he knows full well what he’s getting into, far too composed for someone at six and a half.
“Because you came here by snapping, and you were a mess about it back then. Why would I want to remind you of things that were messes to you?” Hajime explains himself. He puts on the most serious face about it, like he might start crying himself, but he holds back. “Sometimes, you aren’t even cleaned up all the way.” With a thumb, he wipes at Oikawa’s face like he might have a smidge of dirt on his cheek.
Hajime gets a laugh out of him that is hiccuping and shy. Oddly, in that moment, he thinks of blooming flowers, but he tells himself that Oikawa’s eyes look dewy enough to warrant the comparison anyway.
“I don’t always want to be afraid of jumping, Iwa-chan. You even told me once, right at the start of spring, that it’s all behind me now. Just a bad dream. That I can do what I want to, now.”
Hajime nods, offers a grin. “I’m sure of it.”
“Well, that means you shouldn’t have to protect me from bad stuff all the time, either,” Oikawa tells him. “You give me things, and I want to do the same for you. Let me teach you how to jump, and we’ll travel the world together. You can be a bounty hunter like otou-san.”
Steeling himself once more, Hajime climbs out of his bed, stomps over to his closet, and digs around inside. It has to be around here somewhere.
There are some things in this world that Hajime is certain of, whether it’s June’s clockwork rainy season, or that he’ll always prefer bug collecting to stargazing, and this might be another one of those things. Because as much as he knows that he and Oikawa Tooru will never find sameness, or anything close to it, he understands, deep down, that that isn’t what they need. Because if Hajime had to say he was one hundred percent sure of anything, he’d have to tell the fates about his best friend, and how he likes the sound of the word ‘together.’
Hajime says hello to the fates with a pair of chained golden binoculars, gleaming for the rest of the night to see. They used to be his father’s, a companion on all of his travels, forgotten at home on the day of his death. Just so—he thinks about how well they’ll wrap around Oikawa’s hands, and how they’ll belong to him like none other. When Hajime places the necklace around Oikawa’s neck, he holds his breath like he’s crowning his king. Oh, the adventures they could have.
“Iwa-chan?” Oikawa asks, taking the binoculars into his possession. “These are—”
“Yours now,” Hajime tells him quite simply, sitting next to him on the bed. “In case you ever get lost, and you need to find me.” When he tells Oikawa the last part, he looks away, more embarrassed than ever before.
“But—Iwa-chan!” Oikawa offers them back to Hajime, disbelieving.
“It’s rude to give presents back, so I don’t want it,” he tells Oikawa. “Just treat them well.” At this, he crawls back into bed, throws the covers over himself, and says nothing more to him. Oikawa stays for a moment before going back to his own bed at the other side of the room, blankets shuffling in the silence of a promise made.
Isn’t it better to just give up? Delivered 2:40AM.
Oh, don’t you realize this by now? Your time is running out, Iwaizumi-san.
Deep down, you must know this. Delivered 2:45AM.
Landing, Hajime feels the rush of blood's warmth on the sudden mattress below him. He feels around on the sheets around him, the familiar sensation of five-hundred thread count sheets on his hands, the smell of the same chipped white paint. Home, maybe. Wait. Hajime peels his eyes open. In a flash, Oikawa has brought them back to Shibuya.
“S-sorry, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says, too loud to remain hidden for long. When steps shuffle outside the apartment and neighbors speak through the walls, and Hajime knows they have to stay quiet.
“I didn’t have enough in me to steer us to somewhere less busy,” Oikawa babbles on, as if he’s just trying to keep from completely collapsing in on himself. He paces around the darkness in the apartment, feet too loud to remain conspicuous, hands fumbling for anything to stop the bleeding. “I could’ve...should’ve thought of somewhere else...a desert, a village, or something. I just. I just found myself thinking of good things, things I wanted to do with you, Iwa-chan. Visit the louvre without stealing anything. The Eiffel tower.”
“Oikawa, it’s fine, just keep quiet—”
“I thought about kissing you, just kissing you in a city we should’ve gone to together, when I should've focused on putting everything into my jump and—”
“Oikawa,” Hajime shushs him, half-coherent. “Please. I know.”
“Okay. Okay. I’m sorry,” Oikawa continues on. “Sorry.”
Hajime just nods in a daze, and hears Oikawa thrash around the apartment for medical supplies anyway. When he peers up, Hajime sees a silhouette of moving boxes, the shadow of a fern-less pot on the windowsill, and deduces they’ve landed somewhere at the start of 2024, one year before Oikawa’s return. The era of the empty apartment. Nights of sleeping everywhere but Tokyo. He wonders if 2024 him is watching Seven Samurai again. He hopes he isn’t falling down stairs again.
At the thought, the drop, Hajime groans, chin lingering up to the ceiling. He begs for his head not to split open. He wills for it not to.
“You’re more squeamish than you let on,” Hajime tries to joke through the ache. He knows how unconvincing he sounds.
“Iwa-chan, please hold still,” says Oikawa, breezing right past him.
Hajime feels Oikawa’s thumb rub up against his temple, stinging. He dares not to scream when the alcohol wills him partially back to life. Drifting in and out, sight a blur, head pounding with thunder, he hears Oikawa call after him three times, mouth open and gaping and ugly. It must pain him, to keep so quiet. In low volumes, a howl, a plea, and a cry echo through his small apartment in Shibuya, and Hajime stays awake at the sound of him. Like a spell, a command not to die—because he probably wouldn’t anyway, not from from something so small—he takes comfort at the sound of his name. Hajime, in tones he thinks the neither of them can hear. When Oikawa presses the bandage to his head, Hajime lets his eyes flutter closed.
“Iwa-chan, Iwa-chan, please—”
“I’m not going to die, you idiot,” Hajime insists, voice hushed, “so calm down before you get the both of us caught. Calm down,” he pleads, when it’s apparent that Oikawa’s barely keeping himself together. Lying over him, Oikawa just nods into Hajime’s chest, over and over. He might be crying, quietly this time, but Hajime lets him. When he grants himself the chance to place a hand over Oikawa’s shaking back, he feels the tremble along his fault lines.
“You’re not going to die,” Oikawa whispers, shaking his head, like he’s trying to convince himself more than anything. “You’re not going to die.” He drags the words towards Hajime’s stomach and remains, whole body shuddering like he might be the one to keel over at this point. What’s wrong, he wants to ask. What’s wrong, Oikawa? I’m here, aren’t I? I’m fine. When Hajime takes the liberty of running his hand through Oikawa’s hair, the other boy sinks back down again, still mouthing the words, taking him in. Still trying to convince himself, “you’re not going to die.”
“I’m fine, Oikawa,” Hajime whispers against his temple, fingers still sifting, finding.
“I know.” Oikawa’s voice cracks like stepping on broken glass. “I know, I just, give me a couple of minutes, and—” He stops himself right there and and gulps down another deep breath. It doesn't seem to work. When he stays close anyway, Hajime secretly wonders, past all the haze of nearly getting shot in the head, how easily people erase time spent apart and the matter of distance when they’re scared.
“Oikawa. What’s...what’s wrong—”
“Don’t ask! Please. Iwa-chan, please.”
At the call, he turns his head over on Hajime’s chest, cheek against ribcage. Oikawa hasn’t been crying, but there’s something about a face on the verge that just seems a thousand times worse than the release.
“Wait—were you really afraid I was going to...?” Hajime asks. The trip home from a hiding place is never a pretty one; and he realizes that it’s been a long time since Oikawa’s seen the light of day. He watches Oikawa’s body twitch up, breath leaving in a wince, and knows it’s more than a matter of cleaning up blood or adrenaline or the sudden jump home. Hajime knows something is amiss—terribly amiss—when he reaches up to touch the matching set of bandages on the side of Oikawa’s head; because as much as he worries about him too, he can rest easier knowing that things like this can patched up. Hajime thumbs the gauze with a sure hand. Things will be okay. Oikawa’s got the years and years in his eyes to say otherwise.
Years. A future not yet seen. Hajime bolts up in bed, bringing Oikawa up with him like a startled cat. Legs kick up from the momentum and nearly send the both of them back down on the futon.
“You’re from around here. This time period,” Hajime sorts out, just as the words hit his tongue.
Oikawa nods, picks at his bandaged hands, head down. “Yes,” he answers, barely there.
“And you’ve seen things, all of this hunter trouble,” Hajime pieces together. “And you’ve been running these two years from it—”
“I haven’t been running, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa interrupts him, hurt, actually fucking hurt, voice raising to the edge of breaking. “It wasn’t that.” He keeps picking at his bandages until they start to unravel. His whole body scrunches forward, revealing the scoop underneath the neck of his t-shirt, and when Hajime makes his glances, he sees. He knows. The cut lines of his collarbone aren’t just the matter of shed baby fat, but scars. Venice was but a pretty illusion for the people they've grown into. When someone grows up, they start to count their scrapes as tally marks; they are the markers of toil and effort and all things determined.
“You didn’t stop at just warning the hunters, then. There’s something else.”
Oikawa doesn’t say anything.
“You’ve spent the last two years trying...what?” Hajime comes closer, yanks a swath of cotton out of the way as if he can heal every scar himself. “Fighting them yourself? Trying to prevent the future from happening?” When he asks this, Oikawa nods, motions small enough for anyone else not to register, but Hajime knows. He’ll always know. Because honesty for Oikawa is a quiet thing, a grave thing. It demands close attention, or face fleeting.
“By yourself, then?” Hajime dares to ask.
Small motions. Another nod. A purse of lips.
“And you never thought to come get me?” At the question, Hajime reminds himself to keep calm. He might’ve yelled at Oikawa all those years ago, but he knows he must have patience. He must not fume. This is what he reminds himself, when a bitter smile forms on Oikawa’s face, almost too teasing for a time like this. From his spot on the sheets, the other jumper reaches up and tucks his touch behind Hajime’s ear, fingers skimming the new bandages along the way. The graze is dipped with all things gravity, and Hajime feels his face heat up for the millionth time.
“You’ve never been one to take sneak peaks, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa tries to laugh. “You used to yell at me when I talked about movie endings, or season finales. Don’t ruin it for me, you’d always yell, so why would I ever come to you?”
Hajime looms closer, still weak, always weak at times like this, and shakes his head. He still has a million questions, but the words don’t come to aid him. He curses himself for this, takes the silence, and wonders if it’s possible to fold into himself; he’s never been apt to hide, or been very good at it, but he wishes he was, just this once.
“What happens to me in the future, Oikawa?”
They both turn their heads when they hear the sirens call outside, but settle back down in no time. Oikawa shifts closer.
“Do you want to hear more of my story?” he asks right back. “The one I started to tell on Lake Pichola?”
“Will it help you get to the point?” Hajime asks in return, trying not to jump out of his skin.
“Go on, then,” Hajime gives him in reply. “I’ll listen.”
When Oikawa inhales, he is the first wind before a summer downpour. Hajime shivers like a cold rain in July.
"The boy never forgot, not even once," he starts, and the words come to life. "For every memory he tried to bury away as a bad dream, he could never throw away the ones he made with Iwaizumi Hajime. On the nights alone, tailing his parents to the ends of the world, he'd call out to the rest of it, hoping not to be heard along the way. Iwa-chan. He remembered anything and everything, from the way he nagged, or the bristly way he kept his hair. The smell of lavender. His laugh.”
In the split second Oikawa lightens, shy but rising out of himself, he finds a way to darken once more. Hajime wonders if he's rehearsed this story to tell before.
"He remembered everything. The good and the bad. When he realized he could not forget any of it, he set out to protect him. To protect that memory of him, the possibility of everything he could be, the boy set out to change the future," Oikawa continues on, “because he realized that trying to convince his parents to stop wouldn’t help anything. They won’t stop for anybody. So over and over, twenty times, fifty times, a thousand, he tried to prevent that day from happening himself. But without fail, no matter how hard he tried to prevent it, it always came a thousand different ways. The boy lost him, every single time, for the next two years.”
Hajime’s head begins to pound in demolition. Oikawa stops with his mouth left agape, words unable to arrive for delivery, but he doesn’t need to say any more.
“It’s a good story, isn’t it?” Oikawa chokes out. “I mean, that’s just how life works out, and you just have to roll with it. You can’t save everybody, and maybe limitations that hold you back for a reason and—”
Hajime doesn’t let Oikawa finish. He wrings an arm around him, a definite plea to stop. He gets it. Deep down, he thinks he might’ve always understood, because Oikawa doesn’t stop for just anyone, not a hundred of the world’s best bounty hunters, not even a thousand, and Hajime knows—now, at least, if it wasn’t clear before—that he might be anything but just anyone. I am something to you, he thinks, in this strange discord of relief and god I am going to be so fucking sick.
“Hey,” Hajime calls after him, against the shell of his ear. When his hands scrunch up the fabric on the back of Oikawa’s shirt, he holds on like it’s a tether. “It’s okay,” he says, even though it’s not. He lets the future weigh him down. “You tried,” he tells him next, keeping calm anyway, but battle-worn and ready to keel over. “It’s going to be fine,” he whispers finally, even though saying it feels like driving another nail into his own coffin.
“I don’t want you to die, Hajime,” Oikawa confesses. His voice is quiet and steady.
Fuck, Hajime almost breathes out. Fuck. This is why he’s always hated looking into his own future. Nothing good ever comes out of it, and Oikawa knows this as well as he does. At their telepathy, Oikawa raises himself out of Hajime’s warmth, proximity’s wildfire, but seeks to remain close. The bandages on his fingers have completely unraveled. I’m sorry comes by the shortness of breath. I’m sorry comes by the tears that finally fall.
Hajime gulps down, feels heaviness claw at the back of his throat. He shakes his head, fighting tooth and nail to brush the sting out of his eyes. This time, he’s only partially successful, downpour stifled into drizzle, but he’ll take what he can get.
“Why do always find you at the end?” Oikawa continues, eyes already bleary and red. He has always been a terribly ugly crier, and the thought of it, the memory of their previous times, only inspires a miserable laugh out of Hajime. Oikawa wipes at his own eyes, forcing the friction and leaving his face a ruddier mess than before.
“The end? When did you first see the end?”
Oikawa shakes his head, takes his time in answering. “Before I even got to the beginning with you.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Try me,” Hajime tells him, even though he’s not so sure he wants to hear it.
“I was a kid, and you bled out.” When Oikawa admits this, he recoils like Hajime might yell at him. But Hajime does no such thing like yell, or bark: he just reaches over to Oikawa once more, his rough hands learning to be small, and wraps them around Oikawa's fingers. Anger, through it all, to be expected, rests, rearing, at the bottom of his belly. For Oikawa, just this once, Hajime seeks to keep it quiet.
Keep calm, he tells himself. You’re not dead yet.
In memory, Hajime imagines a small boy under the rain, the sight of him soaked and blurry. Oh, the things he must've seen before landing. Oh, how Hajime should’ve looked closer at him then. Did the blood on his hands wash away with the storm that day? Had he known it was Hajime from the beginning? These are the things Hajime dares to wonder, before realizing these are not the questions he should be asking. He knows Oikawa's intentions were never the cruel sort. He was innocent back then, compounded with someone who tries too hard now, and Hajime just cannot loathe his efforts either way. With mouth ready to shout, brain ready to run wild, heart too squeamish to do either, Hajime leans forward once more to find the answer.
'Have you found what you're looking for?' someone had once asked him on a park bench in Tokyo, when he was drunk and miserable and ready to give up. Yes, is what Hajime would like to say now, whether it's rain-soaked or right here or down the end of the road to follow. Yes, because fuck all the fates and the milestones they make. Yes, because they'll always come back to each other, whether it's by the linear path or the places they'll jump. Because it's Oikawa. It's Tooru.
You’re not dead yet.
At this, at him, Hajime decides. He can't die just yet. He will keep walking on, straight up the path, despite the future he's seen and the ease of giving up in the face of it. For if his father's taught him anything, it's to keep fighting and fighting until you can't anymore. It's something you give your all for. Let the tally marks turn into a testament of will, because Oikawa shouldn't have to face the day alone.
You’re not dead yet.
Hajime stiffens up, wraps hands around Oikawa's once more in firm resolve, and nods just once. "We're going to beat this," he says to him, and the words just make Oikawa rise by the slightest. Cautious, the thief peers up with wide eyes, like he's seen a thousand different versions of this pact before. We're going to beat this, he mouths again. Maybe the Hajimes he's seen have made him the same promise, but the one in the present starts to believe otherwise; no—he knows this is the first time he's ever come to Hajime for help, when Oikawa stares on at him for the next million years, all wonder and disbelief. His face contorts, distortions from wanting to smile and cry and die a little on the inside. It is the realization that he's never had to do this alone. He breaks and rises and breaks again at this, and every sign of strain just makes Hajime want to kiss him all better.
He does this time, even if it’s the only one he’ll ever get to place. Small and a single breath against skin, it comes against Oikawa’s forehead, a seal for something endless.
Iwa-chan? Do you understand—
that sometimes, you are the kindest person I know? the most spectacular person I know? Delivered 5:59AM.
And for that, I want to protect you, just like you have always protected me? Delivered 6:00AM.
Iwa-chan? Delivered 6:00AM.
Hajime? Delivered 6:00AM.
I think I've got one more shot at this, to keep you safe. Delivered 6:02AM.
I’m just sorry I have to leave you again, like this. Delivered 6:05AM.
When Hajime wakes up in the morning, body heavy with the urge to sleep more, he drags an arm to the other side of the futon, breathes a soft ‘Tooru,’ and finds no one on the other side. At the realization, he falls out of bed—not his futon, not 2024, but back to 2025 again—and peers around his room and all the details he’s known before. He makes out the potted fern on the windowsill, grown like it’s supposed to be, the mountain of moving boxes now all gone and packed away, the alarm clock, set to ring for 7:00AM in precisely three minutes, and the tan terry-cloth slippers he’s always kept in the apartment; it’s all here, where it’s supposed to be, where he’s supposed to be, but Hajime knows that everything is wrong. Getting off the ground, knees shaking under him, he makes out the calendar date on his wall. March tenth, 2025.
Wiping the tears with the back of his wrist, Hajime stiffens up and wonders if he’s living in a dream. He licks the corner of his lips, still tasting Oikawa on him, the promise of him, and feels the bandages, pressed to the side of his head. His feet still ache from the running he did last night, and the knots on his back demand to be felt. When he digs for his phone, lost in the sea of covers below, he finds five unread text messages, all from the lavender thief. Every single message is a goodbye, in their own right.
Hajime hardly has the the time to mourn when he hears the front door click open from the hallway. Where was he that previous night? Ah. He remembers spending the night at Matsukawa’s before the morning of March tenth, a groggy mess from an all-night Ghibli movie marathon and an overdose of the season’s last oden session. That version of Hajime is on the phone, complaining he’ll never, ever do that again, but he knows he will soon. Subconsciously, he’s thinking of going to Madagascar for his next mission. Obviously, he’s thinking of March tenth.
Taking his phone and grabbing his shoes from the ground, Hajime snaps away before the other him can notice, landing in the first place he can conjure. All around him, Tokyo still remains, and he is in a subway station this time, waiting for the next JR Chuo line train. He looks up and down the stretch of the platform, the slew of random high school students, the stragglers, he knows that rush hour is near. Hana, bobbing up and down on her toes on the concrete, waits for her Hajime on the farther end near the stairs, to hear the bad news to come. “Sorry, Hana,” he mutters to her once more, like some ghost of breakups past, because he might know what it’s like to be left behind.
To upend the risk of being seen, Hajime steals away to an empty seat in the middle of a bench, hides behind a giant man with an unfurled newspaper, and nearly elbows a schoolboy next to him with a cup of hot tea in his hands. In return, the boy gets up on the platform and clicks his tongue. Down on the platform, Hajime watches himself break up with Hana for the second time, and how she skips down the stairs, never looking back. Lavender hits his nose in the next draft, keen on persisting.
“Hey, watch where you’re—oh, it’s you,” the boy gasps like a pleasantry, if gasps can even be such things.
Hajime looks up from down the station, meets Oikawa Tooru, aged five and in the flesh, and nearly faints at the sight of him.
“Fuck,” Hajime accidentally curses out loud.
“Excuse me?” the boy asks.
Without another thought, he takes the boy’s hand and snaps the both of them away. The last thing Hajime hears from the platform is the man with the newspaper, screaming about the spilled tea on his lap, cursing at the damned jumpers on their way out. When they land, right in between two high rises, still in Japan, the morning has come by the way of early-day breezes and a delicate sky. In the distance, he sees himself again, trudging his way towards the complex, and debating whether or not he should take the stairs or jump to the front door. Ducking behind a tree, Hajime beckons for Oikawa to join him, too, but he just ends up staring ahead, feet firmly planted in observance.
“I don’t think he’s going to see you,” Oikawa lilts casually.
Hajime frowns. “No?”
Oikawa shakes his head. “No, because he’s looking for someone else.”
“And how do you know that?"
“Because I’ve seen him around a couple of times. I mean, it’s you, right? You don’t know yourself?”
Hajime shrugs. “I’ve never jumped into my own timeline before.”
“You know, I don’t even have math down pat yet and I know that’s a bad thing to get into,” Oikawa tells him. “I’ve been watching this city, and I’ve seen a lot of that lately.”
Down the road, Hajime hears the snap of someone’s fingers. The sound of it brings him to the recollection, and at the memory, he looks up. He remembers the clouds, and how he thought Oikawa Tooru wouldn’t always be with them, still feels the fatigue setting everywhere from his shins to the tips of his fingers. That Hajime is about to see Oikawa for the first time in two years. The one on the ground doesn’t even know where to start anymore.
“He’s lost,” Hajime breathes out, watching himself lean over the balcony.
“Is he?” Oikawa asks, more curious than anything.
“I think so,” he says back. “No—I know he is.”
Like a small mercy, Hajime watches Oikawa raise a pointed finger up to the sky for the boy on the balcony to catch. Hajime hides further behind the tree, lets himself catch just a glimpse, and watch the silhouette of him raise his chin up to the stratosphere. He stares on, before giving up, and Hajime wishes he could tell himself not to.
“He’s going to see him soon,” Hajime mutters, facing the fifteenth floor on the complex opposite. Oikawa follows his line of vision, ever curious before joining Hajime behind the tree. He crouches down, inches forward with the tiniest steps, and dares to take a finger by his grasp.
“Have you found what you’re looking for, um—I’m sorry, what’s your name?” Oikawa asks. “I always forget to ask.”
“Iwaizumi Hajime,” Hajime tells him, looking at Oikawa up and down. “Not Iwa-chan,” he gruffs out next, feeling a silly sense of satisfaction rise up his back.
“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa giggles out, and Hajime forces a smile down his throat.
Down the path, Hajime hears a door slam, echoing through the courtyard. A glimpse of a denim jacket comes peeking through the door, swinging for all of the city to see before settling on the lavender thief’s shoulders, and he does a fine job of pretending he’s invincible. At this, Hajime scoffs at the meaning of new perspectives. Hell, even when the older Oikawa smiles, a breeze comes through like he’s the one that conjured it, and the sun hits him in a way where it looks like it’s giving itself to him, but Hajime knows better than to believe such pretense. Of course he knows, like a stab in the goddamned gut.
Up above, Oikawa pretends the world is still his. The one on the ground takes the whole of Hajime’s hand and hides in his care.
"What's the matter?" Hajime asks.
"I hate him," Oikawa tells him. "That older me."
"You know it's you?"
"Of course I do," Oikawa explains. "We smile the same, except I'm better at fooling people with mine." Hajime almost wants to laugh at how candid children can be, and how unexpectedly clever their tongues are. He just remembers collecting bugs and struggling to snap his fingers.
"Well, why do you hate him?" he asks next.
The both of them look back at the high rises and watch Oikawa disappear over the railing. For a second time, Hajime feels his chest tighten, with hand ready to reach out, but he resists this time. Five year old Oikawa looks relieved as all hell when land, skipping right back to the night.
"He doesn't belong here," the child answers him. "Every time I see him, he's up to something and I don't like it. I'm a good kid. He isn't."
Hajime gets up, offers his hand to keep holding, and snaps away from the scene. He knows he cannot stay in one place for long, lest be a still target for other hunters. Well, no—he’s begun to wonder why no one's chased him all day, and why his phone's been free of any text-related barrages. At this, he turns his phone back on, finds nothing but a blank screen, and keeps it on as a makeshift flashlight. Out the window, he spots the other decommissioned trains in the yard, the eerie way their handlebars hang like gallows, and the pale overhead of the street lights over them. Calmly, Oikawa dawdles over a seat too high for him and leans his head back against a poster advertising for reopened Thunder Dolphin in Tokyo Dome City.
“Where is he now?” Hajime asks him. “I mean, if you keep seeing him around?” He realizes he really hasn’t the time to worry about Oikawa since waking up less than hour ago, and he often forgets how time warps itself if he doesn’t keep it on the linear path. To watch the morning fly by to rush hour and then to the very dead of night—Hajime realizes the past forty-eight hours or so have been nothing but this running around and chasing. He remembers to seek even the smallest space of rest when his brain says to keep going. In glimpses, in heavy blinks that want to call themselves sleep, he thinks about Venice and his words: don’t make me chase you, because I won’t if I don’t have to. He laughs at the bark of empty threats.
At the question, Oikawa takes Hajime’s hand and holds on again. It is not quite the same warmth of the Oikawa he’s come to know, but he thinks about how all things come to bloom when the time comes.
“Sometimes, he jumps so fast that I hardly get to see him,” Oikawa continues from the high rises. “But when I have, he’s got blood on his fingertips. That’s a new thing, red and red and red. Sometimes I hear my parents talk about it, too. Like last night, when they got back with blood on their hands too, I heard them. Maybe we should keep him this time, they said. Let’s take his offer. And then they wiped their hands clean like nothing.”
“We should keep him?” Hajime repeats back.
Oikawa nods. “Well, when he used to come to us, he was annoying, like a fly. He’d try to fight either one of them, or leave poison to do bad things to them. Or he’d call the police, and then we’d have to move again. Sometimes, it was tough to fight him—I mean, I guess that’s what my parents say. He never gives up.”
Hopping off his seat, Oikawa paces up the aisle of the subway car. Under the faded moon, the sick hue of the yellow street light, Hajime sees a shadow elongate under the child’s feet. He pretends, briefly, that Oikawa, his Oikawa, is here with him. His hands form into a snap, feeling the need to reach out, and his mind flashes back to last night, in 2024. Sifting, finding. I need to find you. Hajime stays still despite the call. He calms his tapping feet.
“But I think he did last night, and that was kind of sad to watch,” Oikawa muses on, “because when you think about your older self, what you might be like...you want him to be better. But he didn’t look better.” Peering back at Hajime, he pats the side of his own head with the pad of his fingers. “He was hurt, like you, and he had no tricks left.”
Hajime raises himself out of the seat and follows Oikawa down the aisle. The two of them meander up the cart, up the clearing of hanging nooses and empty seats. Breath sucked in, profanities held on his tongue, he waits for this version of Oikawa to finish his story, too.
The thing is, Hajime is tired of waiting on stories. They make it to the next train car anyway.
“He said to them, I’m strong, so let me join you. Just let him go. Let Iwa-chan go, and I’ll follow you and do whatever you want.”
At this, Hajime stops right in tracks. Oikawa remains, back to him at the end of the next car, before turning over his shoulder. His sights turn hollow over a lack of understanding, but Hajime thinks it’s okay to let children keep their ignorance. At the command, Oikawa softens nonetheless, like he might want to comprehend things anyway.
“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa calls out, and Hajime winces because it’s not him. Not yet.
“Yeah?” he dares to ask.
“You must mean a lot to me, don’t you?” Oikawa asks, almost too offhandedly, but Hajime doesn’t blame him for it.
When people come to a point in the night—whether it be on the linear or nonlinear path—they arrive at a sort of crossroads; dinner dates will go their separate ways, as will the partygoers or passengers leaving fare for the cab. Hajime watches the lights dim outside, sending the shadows into a deeper shade of dark, and he wonders if it's time for him to say goodbye here, too. Again, he thinks of those dragging feet against the asphalt, the tired masses ready to go home, sleeping on each other in train cars and friend’s apartment floors. Hajime’s night’s just getting started. He couldn’t be anymore restless.
Oikawa turns to Hajime, face softening into something of understanding—
“I’ll get it, one day.”
—or maybe it’s just the start of it. Hajime will take what he can get.
“Maybe,” Hajime tells him. “But no pressure.”
“So, are you going to leave now?”
“I think I have to,” Hajime says, “to find what I’m looking for.”
Oikawa gives up a smile, petulant and on the verge of a smirk. It turns into something real when Hajime grins back at him. “I hope you find him,” the child whispers, with hands about to snap. When he does without another word, Hajime takes his leave, too. When he leaves the wind in his wake, the handlebars shake above him, a come hither for trouble on the horizon.
Hajime jumps and jumps and jumps. Saitama to Asakusa to Kichijoji to Shibuya. To alleys, to bridges, the tops of the highest sky rises and hellbound to the sewers. Everywhere to everywhere to everywhere. The death toll rises for bounty hunters across the metropolitan area. When Hajime hears gunfire, it is never aimed at him.
Lavender pervades, ever the same wherever he goes—the utmost oddity, an impossibility, a reassurance.
Hey Iwa-chan, do you want to know something funny? About the end? Message not delivered.
If you sacrifice enough, try hard enough, you can change things for the better. Message not delivered.
And I think I’m prepared to live with that. Message not delivered.
Oikawa Tooru has been named the chief suspect in every single one of the bounty hunters’ killings. This is what Hajime comes to find when he jumps back to the most current month in 2025, standing, rain-soaked, in the doorway of Matsukawa’s apartment. Matsukawa and Hanamaki look at Hajime like he’s just become one of the seven world wonders, all skepticism, frowns embedded on their faces without trying to keep them. Looking to remain calm, he shakes his head free from a timeline he knows is correcting himself. A butterfly effect, times a hundred. It doesn't really work.
The milestone, all those dead hunters—that’s still happening, because milestones will remain milestones; it’s just that Oikawa’s gone back to take the blame instead. Hajime bites his tongue to stop the memories from changing. Oikawa Tooru is not a murderer. Oikawa Tooru hasn’t killed.
Oh, but he has. For your sake, his memory, his conscience says. Lavender remains, because Oikawa is still somewhere in this city, hands covered in red. Like a mist over Tokyo, Hajime wonders how far he’s casted his spells.
I want to go out with a bang.
“This is all wrong,” Hajime breathes out, handing the phone back to Matsukawa. "What about the Noh masks?"
About to snap again, Hanamaki takes a hold of his hand before he has the chance.
"The Noh masks? Opera?" he asks.
Taking his chance to swoop in, Matsukawa leans to take a better look at the wound on Hajime’s head, and the both of them peer past any potential lie about it. When it stings to the touch, Hajime pretends it doesn’t hurt at all.
“Say, Iwaizumi, care to explain this?” Matsukawa asks in teasing. “What in the hell happened to you after dinner last night? Did the beer hit you too hard? Too much okonomiyaki?”
Hajime swats the hand away, in no mood for joking. “What do you mean? I was with Oikawa, and we ran. I got shot in the head, and hell, you even texted me about coming back before it was too late, I mean, see—”
When he goes to sort through the phone, no such text messages remain. When he goes back to Oikawa’s messages, he watches the fates press backspace on the keyboard themselves. The goodbyes turn into blank space and chat bubbles blip off the screen altogether. Nothing remains. No. The timeline is morphing too fast. Hajime lets the phone slip out of his hands, when he realizes that everything will change.
Hanamaki and Matsukawa try to steady Hajime when they think he might just fall over. Memory after memory after memory of the past couple of months all surface, only to fade like exposed film: looking over the gifts in Carshalton, hearing Oikawa’s stories on Lake Pichola, Venice and the reunion at the skyrise and kissing him in 2024—Hajime watches each scene fade until he hits the precipice between dreaming and remembering. Fate wants to rewrite them, like a passing wisp of sky amongst the unbudging earth, but Hajime’s not sure if he can give any of it away.
“Hey, do you need to lie down?” Hanamaki asks. “You don’t look so good—”
“N-no, it’s not...stop. Guys, you know I’ve been looking for him and…” he trails off, shaking his head. “You know I’ve been running after him these past couple of months!” He gulps down, trying to catch his breath, wiping the rain off his face. Matsukawa lifts his hands off of Hajime, concerned probably not enough to describe it, but Hajime can’t stop now. Oikawa might’ve saved his life, but at the cost of unraveling the one they could’ve had together.
He had found him. He had fucking found him. Hajime thinks there might be no winning as jumpers, how they might never, ever find the perfect timeline to settle. And just like that, because the fates might be letting go of them too, Hajime feels each memory fall back like grains of sand, lost like all the others.
“Fight this timeline!” Hajime finally finds the words. “Fight it—”
When their phones go off like sirens, he doesn’t even have to check his messages. Hajime doesn’t want to know. The worst part is, he already does.
Matsukawa presses the speakerphone option with all the trepidation in the world.
“Hello. This is an automated message brought to you by the cosmic dispatch center. We are reminding all bounty hunters of a mandatory mission, with formations to deploy in forty five minutes time."
"As you may know, one hundred and fifty-three bounty hunters have been killed since the beginning of 2025, and pressures are mounting to catch the murderer responsible. Leaders from the six prominent divisions—Shiratorizawa, Seijou, Karasuno, Fukurodani, Dateko, and Nekoma—are calling for the complete elimination of Oikawa Tooru, the alleged man responsible. It is said that his snapping hand was injured in an earlier crossfire today, so his jumping options have been limited to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. For any more questions, feel free to contact the hunter's main bureau in Sendai. Otherwise, we thank you for your cooperation and happy hunting. Stay safe!"
The phone clicks off and the trio stand in silence.
“A citywide manhunt,” Hanamaki breathes out after peering down at Matsukawa’s screen, going white in the face. Again, the both of them peer up at Hajime, loss already written across forming laughter lines, and prepare to offer their condolences. For all the urges to keep going, Hajime doesn't even know how to take the first step.
"You're going to sit this one out, right?" Matsukawa mutters darkly. "I mean, this one's tricky, since you never go out armed and—"
"Oikawa isn't going to hurt me," Hajime tells them. "He's not who you think he is—"
"We know, Iwaizumi," Hanamaki says. "But we're not worried about him doing damage. I mean, just look at you." He flicks a finger against the wound. "This isn't a matter of you getting drunk and falling down the stairs again. If you've really been jumping around with him, you're going to get caught in the crossfire."
“Crossfire,” Matsukawa repeats back. He rolls his eyes and walks over to his bedroom down the hallway. "Damn jumpers. You guys just never know how to stay in one place. Do you know what that does to the rest of us?" he asks, rummaging around and making a huge commotion from the other room. Hanamaki just offers a sour look and stays with Hajime.
"Hey, you have to hand it to Oikawa, though. Warped memories or not, or messed up timelines are whatever it is you want to call it, because I'm assuming that this is what this is from how confused we all are," he continues on, twirling a finger in the air, "the guy knows how to retain the important stuff." At this, Hanamaki leans against the wall and crosses his arms and offers something serene in the face of just the opposite.
Hajime blinks, finds the will to move again, and goes to stand next to him. Outside, the rain falls harder, much like that first day with Oikawa Tooru. It is the type of storm that drudges up the dirt and instead of making things clean.
"The important stuff," Hajime repeats back.
Hanamaki sighs. "For all the times I've gotten déjà vu from timelines people have messed with, feel my life glitch before my goddamned eyes, you know what always stays?"
Hajime puffs out a soundless laugh. "The four of us, in Miyagi." Of course he knows. For all of the muddling of recent timelines, those memories remain like a golden age. They are the memories Oikawa never dares to touch.
"He's never going to mess with that, is he?"
Hajime shakes his head, feels his chest swell. "No."
No, he wouldn't.
Never in a thousand timelines, never in a million years—
come and catch me when you can
"Going that far back, it might change the things I wouldn't dare to touch in a million years."
come and catch me when you can
Oikawa’s face flashes by like a flipbook. Rain soaked, then smiling amongst the lavender, then preening up against the sky at Lake Pichola. Every inch, a monument, every second, a forever.
But sometimes, it’s all just a matter of letting go of it. You must make way for new things to grow.
come and catch me when you can,
And let the rest fall into place.
“Huh?” Hanamaki asks.
“I know what to do,” Hajime whispers, peeling himself off the wall, rising. “I...I understand now!” he urges on, yanking on Hanamaki’s arm in the excitement of things. He crouches down to tie his shoes, throw off his dampened jacket, and stretch out his weary fingers. On the clock hanging over the window, the time reads thirty minutes until hunting time. Hopping back up, he swallows hard and stares Hanamaki right on the eye, hard line of lips almost daring to be a smile. The other boy just winces back and offers a queasy thumbs up in return. Hajime raises his hands to snap away, ready and rearing and—
“Hold on,” Matsukawa calls from his room, steps creaking under him. Hajime pauses, sees Oikawa’s jean jacket perched on the hook of an index finger, and goes to take it. Hidden under the light wear of grass stains and scuff marks, it still smells like him. A clever almost-nothing.
“We lost this while running, before the timeline got messed up,” Hajime tries not to gush, holding it close. “How did you…?”
Hanamaki shrugs. “It was left behind in the shop yesterday,” he says. “I knew it was his when I...well, just look in the pocket.” Hajime does what he's told, digging out a pair of golden binoculars, as bright as the first day he ever gave them them to Oikawa.
Another goodbye right in front of his eyes, a knockout punch for the road.
“That fucker,” Hajime just tells the other two without a beat, wrapping the binocular chain around his neck and donning the jean jacket himself. Something’s got to keep him warm when he chases him, so let it be the thought of him.
At this, Hanamaki and Matsukawa just grin back at Hajime, teeth bared, family still waiting to be complete again, willing to wait a little while longer.
We're going to be okay, Hajime thinks. We're not dead yet.
Matsukawa is the first to pinch Hajime’s ear, setting off the fury of a clicked tongue. “You bring him back safe and sound, all right? That way, we can be the one to show him what’s coming.”
“And if you change things up, you know, alternate timeline style, make it a good one,” Hanamaki says with a nod of his head, knowing, the two of them always knowing. “I want to own the okonomiyaki place, got it? Not serve in it.”
“Oh, shut up,” Matsukawa nudges him to have a little more tact. Hajime only laughs and bumps each of their fists, ready to keep his promises. Because even if the world does end up changing under their feet, shifting by skies and antsy tectonic plates, he'll make sure to find all of them again. Matsukawa, Hanamaki, and Oikawa, the four of them together. That's the way it should be. Never anything else.
"Go on, you damn jumper."
Hajime smiles, and with a snap of his fingers, he is gone. A strange calm descends over him, like the mist at end of rain, and he decides that tempting the fates might not be so hard anymore.
Hajime knows they aren't perfect. With two years (or whatever the timeline calls for now) he has missed his chances to see Oikawa grow up, grow into himself, and understands the gaps he's yet to cross. Shoulders have filled in while the extra centimeters have made great height, and the scars have faded to relics of their former wounds. I will get to know you again, he thinks, but when Hajime jumps across the spectrum of the city before him, blips and pieces of the hunters doing the same to find him too, he makes sure to keep the parts of Oikawa he knows like muscle memory.
In Kichijoji, Hajime hears him gasp and the gunshots ring. In Saitama, it's the call of his snapping fingers, ring-to-middle. In Meguro, the call of "Iwa-chan?" rings like none other. In Adachi, his plea of "please don't come after me" haunts the alleys. On a wall outside his apartment complex in Shibuya, Oikawa's left him a message on a post-it: really, please don't go through with this. Hajime doesn't feel like listening. He runs on and runs on and runs on. He'll chase him to the ends of the earth, if he'll have to.
On one of his jumps, he runs into Nekoma's Kuroo in Asakusa, a veteran with a mean set of pistols and a slew of blades on his belt holster. At the sight, and with a sorry, he punches him in the face when he least expects it. He puts a bunch of other hunters out of commission this way, never discriminating amongst sects. (He just has to make finding Oikawa simpler for himself somehow, even if it means living with a few angry hunters on his trail and the guarantee of sore knuckles.) Come back to me, he pleads, when he drop kicks an unsuspecting Tanaka from Karasuno. Come back to me, he urges, when he dares to steal a sniper rifle from a resting Akaashi in Toshima.
When he dumps the gun in the Tama River one jump later, he kicks up the dirt on the bank, wipes the sweat from his brow, and continues. Come back to me, come back to me, come back to me, he prays by all the jumps he's got left, legs heavy under him, fight songs on his tongue. The smell of lavender, lingering, means he’s still around somewhere.
("Haven't your jumps always been really innate, Iwaizumi-san? They always lead you to where you need to go, right?"
"Yeah, I guess, but I've been off my game lately. I guess I haven't really been needed anywhere."
"How existential of you."
"Trust me, it's anything but that.")
Hajime pulls the denim closer over himself, steels himself against the murmur of hunters on his back, and reaches his hand out for Oikawa to take. He closes his eyes when he thinks it might never come, that he might've lost him for good this time, but when he feels it, curve of invisible fingertips reaching over his, he lets himself jump once more. He pictures all the places of muddled memory, the erased timelines across the stretch of his psyche, and tries to remember it all. Hajime, it calls, and the voice is sweet.
When Hajime lands at the apartments once more, it is early morning and fifteen floors rest under him. Across the way, Oikawa Tooru is standing at his ledge too, defenseless without the jacket on his back. He looks happy that Hajime's wearing it though, like it's all he ever wanted, and he just laughs, all gentle, at the sight. Hajime, in no mood to humor him today, merely picks up his phone and dials a familiar number. Oikawa answers without checking the caller ID.
"You're not the Oikawa I'm looking for," Hajime tells him. He knows because every calm before a storm looks the same on the outside, with pastel skies and the people pretending not to break. This Oikawa has just run away from Hajime in the era of the empty apartment in 2024. This Oikawa is planning. This Oikawa is about to ruin any chances of ever coming back for good.
"You got the jacket back. And the binoculars," he says in diversion. "I'm glad."
"It's rude to give presents back," Hajime tells him, holding up the spectacles, "but I can forgive you if you don't go through with this.” He lets himself sink at the plead. “Don't go with them,” he continues, “and don't take the blame for all those murders. Because I've seen the city chase you, and you shouldn't have to run anymore."
Oikawa doesn't say a thing back to him. He just does his best to keep his facades, leaning over the railing and breathing out a sigh at the ground below. Into the receiver, he laughs again, but it sounds like he can barely breathe.
"Please," Hajime forges on. "Think about everything you're throwing away for me—"
“Yeah? And what do you think things will look like without you, then?” Oikawa asks back, defiant. From his side, he peers back up, eyes on fire, the rest of him trying to snarl up a smile. “You think that’s something I want?”
Hajime knows the answer, but he hangs his phone up anyway. He snaps his fingers again, trying a few times before landing, finding the sixth floor, then the twenty-third, and finally the fifteenth. Just a few doors away from Oikawa, the other jumper continues to stare off like Hajime’s not even there, bitter written across his face, arms crossed over the ledge. Slowly, Oikawa peeks up, eyes all sharp. Still heavy-lidded. Even in the face such gentle deception, it is still the kind that Hajime can’t disarm himself to.
“You messed up,” Hajime tells him. This gets Oikawa’s attention more than anything, and he has the nerve to pout at a time like this. Crossing his own arms, leaning into them for the rest—because hell knows he needs it, even just a little—Hajime slides next to him and faces out at the currents, too. He tells himself the breeze feels good this morning. Oikawa lets himself shiver.
“Well, sorry,” Oikawa tells him in indignance, sights flashing up to the sky, trying to find distraction.
“You messed up when you didn’t think about what this would do to me, too,” Hajime tells him. “Do you think I want you to run from every hunter in the city? All because your parents are too chicken shit to take the blame themselves?”
“Ah, yes, I’m saving you from them so you can scold me from now to the rest of eternity—”
Oikawa looks on. “I am," he asserts, no hint of cheer in his voice.
Hajime takes a deep breath. “Okay, then. Tell me, what is the point of me scolding you at your grave? You think I want to talk to a headstone for the rest of my life?”
“And what makes you so sure I’m going to die?”
At this, Hajime remembers the call from later that night, about the hand shot through, unable to snap far. Over the ledge, he makes out how pristine Oikawa’s still is, untouched by the hunters that want him dead. When Hajime goes to hold it, the other jumper doesn’t try to stop him.
“They’re going to shoot you at some point today, and they’re going to clip you in your snapping hand real bad,” Hajime explains, gripping hard, “so you won’t be able to jump very far.” He rolls his eyes after this, still beside himself over speaking of the future so blatantly, because this is so wrong, because all of this is really fucking wrong, but he’s already followed Oikawa in and out of timelines, crossed arrows back and forth on their chronologies; Hajime knows he can’t just abide by all roads linear anymore. Breathing in deep, he prepares his apologies.
(Sorry, otou-san. I’m actually going through with this.)
“I want to go back and change everything,” says Hajime. Oikawa perks up, but only in the worst way, something wild caught in the headlights, the shakes of his head all hollow and withered. He raises his fingers, ready to snap, ready to run away again, but Hajime is unfazed by such threats.
"No,” Oikawa starts off, more in a whisper than anything. “No, you are not doing that, Iwa-chan!” he ends up barking.
Hajime looks on. If he had to use a word to describe anything he was feeling right now, he might call it serene. Maybe it’s just a matter of forming faith. This could work, he thinks. This could really work.
“Listen, I might’ve gone back and changed some things from recent times, but I’ve never thought about touching any of..." he trails off, peering at the binoculars around Hajime’s neck. “You can’t. Growing up with you and Carshalton and—and all that time together.”
Hajime nods. He knows. Of course he knows, because it might be the most precious thing he has left. Nevermind about his commissions, or the apartment in Shibuya, the potted fern in his windowsill.
“Don’t you care about the time we’ve spent?” Oikawa entreats. “It wasn’t special to you?”
“It was,” Hajime snaps back, “but that’s why this’ll work. I swear it will. Because you care about it, too, right? Did you cherish that time together?”
At such questions, Oikawa softens and shakes his head, not in a no, but because Hajime’s asked such a ridiculous question. He dares to peer up at him, hands still held, wars about to be waged, and changes into soft nods. Hajime knows he needs no further answers. He needs no reassurances.
Hajime bears himself down by the hatches.
"If we give up enough, try hard enough, we'll be able to get what we want, right?" Hajime asks, hoping more than anything. "We'll get out of this goddamned mess."
"By paying the right price?" Oikawa asks bitterly. "Those memories we've kept for so long?"
Hajime nods. "The fates will eat them right up. Our moments are too good not to." At this, he dares to smile. Proud is definitely the word for it.
Over the currents, quiet looms over them once more. Through it, Oikawa loosens his grip before tightening again, always wavering between coming and going, leaving, staying. For this, Hajime doesn't blame him. He sorts through all of his favorites—finding Oikawa in the rain, sneaking stories to him at night, meeting Hanamaki and Matsukawa, Carshalton—and knows this isn't a matter of just erasing a few months or years off their timeline. It's the whole damned thing, and Hajime's banking on it to make all the difference. He will let it all go, like sand back on the beach, if it can mean starting anew. If it means they can do better.
"But what if starting over means I never get to see you again?" Oikawa asks. Hajime has considered this on the way here, but such thoughts don't scare him. Tipped to the skies, he eats up the burning in his throat and swallows any instance of scared.
Because a boy once said to him, with lavender dust on his palms, that the union of them meant something faithful. This is what Hajime must keep in his hands.
"Don't worry about that," Hajime says right back to Oikawa. "Because I will always, always find you."
This is when Oikawa finally lets go.
"I'm sorry, Iwa-chan," he says, defenses raised again, smiles an anachronism in a dark and wandering age. He shakes his head and goes his own way for the umpteenth instance, hopping right over the edge of the complex. Reaching after him, Hajime finds Oikawa's hand to hold this time, once more, falling, falling, falling.
come and catch me when you can
come and catch me when you can
come and catch me when you can
When a click echoes through the currents, Oikawa's eyes go wide and all sound falls mute. Like slow motion, a dance only made by the two most daring jumpers, Oikawa pushes Hajime out of the way mid-air, takes a sniper's shot right through his snapping hand, and yelps of broken promises. A glimpse of a Noh mask, snickering, fires again. When he tells Hajime to get away, to snap out of there before they get him, those goddamned traitors, he does what he's told this time.
"Go, you go too! I'll find—I'll—" Hajime doesn't have a chance to finish when he's swept away again, gunshots piercing once more, system searing in the transfer.
There's no time to stop. Keep going, keep going, keep going.
I'll find—I'll—I'll find you again—
Back on the battleground, Tokyo in linear time, he hears fireworks whizzle and pop overhead. Air heavy with the call of his name, winds wild and swept up by the smell of him, howls of Iwa-chan please don't go through this Iwa-chan, Hajime forces his way through, anyway. He barely even registers how much his shoulder hurts from the gunshot wound. At the sting that he insists he barely feels, Hajime chides the Noh mask duo, as proud as a hunter can be, teasing against the tides that have had him pinned down for so long now. Best in the universe, my ass.
I'll show you ten times worse.
Hajime isn't dead yet.
Resuming his jumps across the cityscape, he hears the other sects call his name. A hearty come back you bastard rings true from the Nekoma squad, their messenger cats hissing along the way, as the crows from Karasuno squawk overhead, too. He's trying to get the bounty before us! Get him! the rest of the Fukurodani team cries, when he makes his appearances in the Roppongi Hills, sparring with the newly acclimated Bustling Bokuto, already their best hunter. He even has the misfortune of sparring with upstarts Kindaichi and Kunimi, two recent cadets in the Seijou division, and he knows Matsukawa and Hanamaki won't be happy about stunning them with their own tasers.
So onward he goes, dodging kill shots from the Noh masks and eating up K.O.'s from ward to ward. Along the way, he keeps the smell of lavender on his nose, never letting out of his senses. Hajime tries not to panic when he knows it's getting weaker, wind picking up the overtones of blood on the scent. That clever almost-nothing, hiding somewhere. Dying, disguised as pretty. Hajime gulps down such thoughts and follows the trail. You're not dying on me.
From Kabukichō to Rikugi-en to Odaiba, the lavender wanes and wanes and wanes. When Oikawa calls out, a scattered voice between half-hearted jumps, already a partial ghost, Hajime hears him anyway: I'm sorry Hajime please don't come after me you're better off please don't. Hajime only hears a certain string of words amongst the mess. You and I and together. He lets his jumps guide him once more, to where he needs to go.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When Hajime meets up with three other jumpers on the shores of the Barra da Tijuca beach, he hears the same old questions and the same old stories over a night’s forming bonfire. It is the summer of 2024, a 1920’s swelter here in Brazil, and they’ve all gotten enough commissions to kick back and spend their nights on food and other fun. Ever exhausted, certain he’s sunburnt on the tip of his nose and along his aching back, Hajime just sips from his plastic water bottle and nods along to their exaggerated accounts. When the other jumpers talk about accidental landings in chicken coops and dressing rooms, Hajime is content with pretending to listen.
“Haven't your jumps always been really innate, Iwaizumi-san? They always lead you to where you need to go, right?"
“Huh?” Hajime stumbles, flicking himself out his haze. When the rush of water comes to invade their space on the shore, the other jumpers get up and kick up the sand with all the energy in the world. Hajime remains, stares out at the black stretch of sea, and smells the embers of a dying fire behind him.
“You know, like the universe is trying to bring you somewhere good! All I get are bank robbers in Kyoto. It’s really no fun.”
Hajime hums at the thought, troubled in trying to conjure up the thought. "Yeah, I guess, but I've been off my game lately,” he tells one of them. “I guess I haven't really been needed anywhere." He hates thinking like this, but it’s true; all of his missions have been on whims or whatever the bulletins have posted lately, and he wonders if hunting is supposed to feel this hollow. Hands mostly clean, clothes scuffed but hardly ever ripped, he thinks back to the earth on his father’s shoulders, the way his mother used to dress his wounds. Hajime thought he’d find the meaning in his jumps, too. Like a bad habit, his mind races to the only person he’d like to snap to right now.
"How existential of you,” one of the Nekoma guys remark, ditching his efforts at saving the bonfire.
Hajime flops down on the sand, dust rising up around him. "Trust me, it's anything but that,” he tells the rest of them, and he forgets about trying to find him once more. Whether it be on the dark, dark sea, or the living light of day, Hajime tells himself he doesn’t care where Oikawa Tooru is.
When everyone else races up the beach to build new fires, the night still young, Hajime trudges behind them, musings heavy with ultimatum.
“Don’t make me chase you,” he sighs, “because I won’t if I don’t have to.”
Hey Iwa-chan, do you want to know something funny? About the end? Read 9:41PM.
No matter how much you prepare for it, it’ll always find a way to scare you. Read 9:41PM.
I’m scared, Hajime. Read 9:42PM.
I won’t be able to fix this one. Read 9:42AM.
When Hajime lands this time, hunters hopefully lost on his trail, he stumbles onto the concrete below him, holds his shoulder together, and resists the urge to vomit from the dizziness. Double-visioned, he finds the will to get up, realizing he's lost more blood than expected; that Bustling Bokuto is good with a knife and Hajime thinks he might’ve slashed him deeper than first thought, while a few more bullet grazes have never done the soul good. He wipes at the corner of his mouth, brushing the dried blood off the fringes, and speeds up into a run again. Lavender wafts in through two complexes, desperate and wavering, strong one second and ready to dissipate in the next. Window grids, all eerily lit for the night, all yellow and inviting and open for Hajime to see like little worlds themselves, all blow out one by one by one in supernovas. It is a countdown, a warning for eternal sleep. You better find him fast.
“Iwa-chan, stop—” Oikawa’s voice resounds through the currents.
“Oikawa,” he calls, throat hoarse, past all the jumpers whispering in the wind, too. “Oikawa!”
Hajime stops when an explosion rings out just below him, and he hears someone fall to their death below. When he dares to peer down, he sees no bodies, or blood. It’s just dark past that gradient of fading yellow light, like he’s come to hell itself, and he lets himself shiver against the shelter of Oikawa’s jean jacket. When the lavender vanishes from right under his nose, he snaps to make sure he can find a place with the scent again. We’re not dead yet, we’re not dead yet, we’re not dead yet—he says with every snap, bounding past the train yard and park benches and train platforms. When he hears footfalls creep behind him, he jumps without another thought, bullets missing but not by much.
The night wears on like this when the rest of the city realizes Oikawa Tooru isn't the only one killing hunters. When cries of two killers, two Noh masks come ringing through the air in Harajuku, Hajime feels the knives come out of his back and his breathing come a little easier. In Shinagawa, a hunter gloats she's clipped a part of their disguise. In Minato, when they claim they've got one of them shot down, another jumper warns that there's nothing but shadows under their masks.
When the sun begins to rise in the east, the call of his name breaks from far away. At this, Hajime clutches on to it and keeps going. Ever innate, he jumps.
"Like the universe is trying to bring you somewhere good." Blipping into a time and place unknown, he watches past Oikawa Tooru pick up a fold-up telescope in a street market, hands running along the exquisite chrome body. Eyes about two years younger, dissatisfied, he asks the vendor if they do engravings. He tells her it's for someone special, and Hajime jumps before he can hear anymore.
“You’ll have fun with me right, Iwa-chan?" The universe brings Hajime to Heian Japan next, where past Oikawa Tooru sits under a kawara roof in the rain. He's crying, small sniffles hidden under smothering robes, and a handmaiden asks him if there's something wrong. To this, Oikawa replies, "I just can't seem to get this one thing right, and I can't see a good friend of mine until I do." Hajime decides he cannot hear any more.
"Iwa-chan." Seventeen year old Oikawa sits alone in a field of wild flowers, but this isn't Carshalton and there is no lavender. He's got his uniform on, blazer off, and he's got his back turned towards the sun. He might've been up all night to see the morning rise. Hajime wonders if he is in love as much as Hajime was at this point, but he gets his answer when Oikawa starts ripping petals off daisies. Love him, love him not. Love him, love him not. Love him, love him a lot.
"Iwa-chan!" Hajime watches himself die the first time, the first of many in warped and forgotten timelines. The apartment complex is burning down around them, but Oikawa is too busy mourning to get himself out. All Hajime sees of himself is an outstretched hand, limp with the telescope resting in his palm. Oikawa is another story. Hajime feels his entire world ending, every sense brought to the brink.
"Don't let go of me, Iwa-chan." Hajime winces when he watches Oikawa fish out a picture of them from his pocket. When it is blown out of his hands from the fate's winds, he chases after it.
"I won't," Hajime reaffirms, when Oikawa catches it back between the grasp of his fingers. "I promise I won't."
Hajime finally lands, face down, back on the fifteenth floor during daybreak, always back on the ledges, it seems, for the rest of the world to see. Peeling himself off the ground, he spits up blood, catches his breath, and wobbles, unguarded, at the morning to come. When looks out the pink sky, the aftermath of a night of hunting, this new day and another chance to win, Hajime feels his sight blur with sting and an urge to cry. He wipes the sentiment away with his jacket sleeve and makes himself stay, because lavender hangs in the air here, weak but always willing.
"Hajime." The voice is sweet again, but really almost-nothing, choking away at the life it's got left.
"Oikawa—hey, Oika—" Hajime stops himself and snaps himself out of his haze when he sees it: Oikawa, held by the neck, gun to his chin, by a man in a Noh mask, just a ghost ready to keel over, too. In the instant they make eye contact, the mask's face changes into a smile, desperate for the last hurrah. Ever cheeky, even in the face of death, Oikawa makes a face that says, I finally fucking got you. Daring to raise a bloodied hand in the air, he points at the snipers perched overhead, the hunters ready to make their kill, and watches his own father let go of him. And like a meteor falling to its cataclysm, too tired to snap away anymore, too tired to fight, Oikawa lets himself fall.
"Don't let go of me, Iwa-chan."
In that moment, a millisecond, Hajime remembers one thing more innate than his jumping. When he sees the hands stretched over to the sky, still trying to reach, Hajime knows that it is Oikawa he was meant to catch all along. So he snaps, watches the man in the Noh mask point the gun down before reappearing under Oikawa, and hears bullet leave his chamber. When it hits Hajime in the side, rush of warmth, the worst kind, he thinks of it as a price for keeping Oikawa in his grasp. I finally fucking got you. With another snap, barely one at all, he takes the both of them away from this place.
Overhead, like a beast hit in the eye, a man in a Noh mask howls when he meets his end.
"Hey, Iwa-chan. Hajime."
“Where do you want to go next?”
“Well, I doubt we have many places left in us.”
Oikawa laughs, all of time and space streaming past their bullet grazes.
“So, we have to make it special then, huh?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Then I think I know just the place.”
When the two of them make it back to Carshalton, they take turns dragging each other through the dirt, feet forcing themselves to stand. Along the way, Oikawa tries picking a bouquet for Hajime with shaking hands, watches the way the petals escape between his fingertips, and settles for tucking a loose stem of lavender behind his ear. Hajime accepts it with something serene, just the moment he thinks he can’t go on anymore, and keels to the ground with Oikawa to follow. They both lie amongst the flowers, sky on the verge of dusk, and find peace in just staying quiet for the time being.
Hajime throws off his jean jacket, too hot to wear it, too sentimental to get anymore bloodstains on it. With the kindest smile he’s ever shown, Oikawa takes Hajime’s hand once more and holds it, hard. On the white cotton of his shirt, he’s got gaping red space, spreading ever more like sea looking to expand. Hajime knows he isn’t faring any better too, with enough grazes and gunshots and stab wounds to run into something critical.
“We should get married,” Oikawa insists, past their damages, voice so small Hajime can barely hear it.
“Gross,” Hajime jokes. Too tired to tease further, Oikawa accepts the answer and shifts closer, so near he’s got a chin tucked on Hajime’s shoulder. He pretends to laugh along with the forming breeze. Hajime just wants to sleep to the lull of it. When he closes his eyes, he feels Oikawa bound up next to him in an almost-gasp, begging him to not to
“I’m not going to die,” Hajime continues in a whisper, close to his ear. “Not yet at least.” To this, Oikawa grows silent once more.
Hajime turns over, accidentally pressing his nose against Oikawa’s cheek. “Yeah?” he asks, half-asleep. When the next draft blows through, lavender smells as it should, ready to begin again, to bloom out of that almost-nothing, and he dreams of a world where they'd have it all.
“I think you might be right about things,” Oikawa finally admits, taking everything in him to say. When Hajime lets himself peek at the other jumper, his best friend, Oikawa’s back to looking through all of their years together, hollow by searching eyes. At once, he closes them his this time, squeezing them shut and letting tears run. Ever brave, brave in the only way Oikawa knows how to be, he nods once more. "Hurry," he urges on, "before neither of us has a chance to see through this."
Hajime holds onto Oikawa's hand. Sitting up, he looks over the horizon, more than just a vanishing point, and tells himself to run forward.
"Is this what you really want, Tooru?" Hajime asks, peering back down. "Because I'll keep my word on this. I'll make sure we start new."
Oikawa shakes his head, getting petals stuck in his hair. Hajime's never seen anything more spectacular.
"No," answers Oikawa, "but we have to try, right?"
Hajime tucks himself into another nod, squeezing out his own urges to cry about this. He knows he can't now, when he's barely got the energy even stand up, much less make another jump.
"Yeah, we have to try. We can do better than this."
"Better," Oikawa repeats back to him. Opening his eyes back up, soft and already half-gone, he breathes at the sound of better. It is a goodbye in other words, but painted in I'll see you again. It is a promise to meet once more, when they take back to the start and things are just right. Come and catch me when you can, written across the fates they'll rewrite.
Tucking the binoculars back into the pocket, Hajime raises the jean jacket out of the dirt, brushes the petals off of it, and drapes it delicately over a bent arm. He takes one look at the binoculars, still pristine after all this time, and smiles at them fondly. When he thinks about his father, up in heaven and probably sighing all a spirit can sigh, he hopes he's made him proud, anyway. And like all those years ago, in a shared bedroom in Miyagi, Hajime seeks to keep trying, to make promises he knows he'll keep no matter what timeline. This is what he tells himself when he offers those binoculars back to Oikawa, chain still unbroken, world ready to be seen through them. At the sight, Oikawa smiles back and tells him, "no."
"You're going to see me, right?" Oikawa says to him. "The younger me?"
Hajime nods, always forgetting how in-tune the two of them can be. "Yeah, I am."
"Then give them to him," Oikawa insists, miserable but bearing through it. Honest enough to keep crying. "He'll need them, I think, if he won't get to have you."
At this, Hajime has to bite on his bottom lip so hard he might start bleeding more than he needs to. Realizing he can't stop himself from tearing up anyway, he nods and tucks the binoculars away. Oikawa breathes a sigh of relief, preening his head up amongst the petals. Every breath from him looks arduous, a marathon, at this point.
"Okay," Hajime agrees. "I will. I promise."
Oikawa smiles back. "Good," he insists. "And just one more thing, before you go."
Hajime nods. "Yeah? What could you possibly want from me now?"
"If the other me gets to have the binoculars, I want a kiss. A real and proper kiss," he edges out, daring as ever.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Hajime says, already on his way.
“And why would I joke about something like that?”
“I’m going to kill you.”
Shaking his head, Hajime kneels back down, almost stumbling on his way to meet Oikawa, and just lets him steady him back up. They laugh, because there's almost nothing left but that at a time like this, and come closer and closer for the kiss. All those times he could've been with other people, watched other cheeks light up in blush, gotten his first over and done with at parties or park benches, he's glad he could have this with Oikawa, too. Because if they’re about to put an end to this timeline, let it be this way, hands intertwined and together for all time. When they kiss, lips barely even touching at first, pressing closer when they know it’s the last, Hajime just feels like dying right then and there. I finally caught you, he thinks, as Oikawa flashes up in the same exact sentiment.
When they separate, Oikawa reaches back up, fingers on the back of his neck. A tiny gasp takes hold, like he wants to take it all back. Don’t go, he mouths out. Hajime understands. He gets up anyway, and at once Oikawa settles back into himself.
“Promise me we’ll meet again,” Oikawa finally says to him, past every ruse and penchant to keep cool. “Promise we’ll find each other.”
Hajime has a hard time letting go of his hand. Knowing this, and like every other time in their history, Oikawa is the one to let go first. He wonders why it never hurts any less.
“Until next time, Hajime,” Oikawa tells him, so weak he can barely move from his place amongst the flowers. Seeing him is the only thing keeping Hajime standing.
“Until next time, Tooru.”
And with a snap of his fingers, Hajime is gone. When he feels the wind pick him up again, lavender remains under his nose, stronger than every other time. It lifts him, tells him to keep going, and change everything for the better.
“I think I love you, Hajime.”
When Hajime meets this Oikawa Tooru for the last time, it is by the shadow of the train yard, sun about to set and life on the brink. He watches the child tear up from the sight of him, face ruddy from disbelief and words choking out, feet backing away with tripping feet. After a while, he stops himself despite the call to run, feet still but knees shaking in place.
“Iwa-chan,” the child cries out, voice almost lost under city wide sirens. “They got you, too.”
Hajime keeps forward, shaking his head in disarmament, hands reaching. “It’s fine. Tooru, I’m telling you, it’s all fine.”
“It’s not,” he cries out. “They messed up the whole city, and now they’re gone, too. I have no one.”
Hajime comes forward, the worst of his pain jutting out from his chest. He knows he has but the barest time left. Draping the jean jacket over Oikawa to keep him warm, he watches the way giant tears plop down from those wide-set eyes, the way he bites at already-mangled lips. At the sight, he really can’t help but remember how ugly of a crier he’s always been, and he lets himself laugh even when it hurts. Oikawa just bawls harder, hardly consoled.
"I'm sorry this had to happen you," Hajime tells him in a whisper, because he's not so sure he can muster much else. He had banked on more time, just to instill some of his own collected wisdoms: in the future, don't call your best friend Iwa-chan, or eat too much milk bread. Don't jump off ferries in New York, or steal from bazaars in Turkey just to tease the people you like. Cry, if you need to, and run to loved ones about your nightmares. Don't hide or think if you have to go at anything alone. Don't run away, because the silly boy who likes you will come chasing after you, anyway.
But it is not for him to impart this advice. They will find their way back to each other. Hajime just smiles, thinks about the prices he's already paid to the fickle, fucking fates, and wrings a golden chain around Oikawa Tooru's neck. The child takes the binoculars into his shaking hands, forcing a smile, but Hajime thinks he might see something real in it to keep.
"What if I could promise you a better future?" Hajime dares to ask him, forever off the linear path. Oikawa looks up, dares to nod back. Like before, he takes Hajime's hand from under his jacket sleeve.
Oikawa holds his hands up to snap. He doesn't, but Hajime keeps his eyes on the threat. "I was going to find that for myself anyway," Oikawa says. Hajime wonders if this is the snap that would've lead him to Miyagi.
"I can lead you to that," Hajime tells him, ever sincere, tears welling up once more. He wipes them away this time, because one of them has to be strong. One of them has to be able to steer their ship forward, to lead, just by millimeters, with hands held up the road.
"Do you promise?" Oikawa asks like the other.
Hajime nods, nods, and then nods some more. "Yes."
"Promise me I'll find what I'm looking for?" The boy asks again, persistent like children are meant to be, with voice raised to let the fates hear their pact. He has fury in that face of his, the quiet kind that says, we can do better.
"I promise," Hajime breathes out once more. "I do."
And just as sirens die down, the hunters stop running, and crying children dry their eyes, Oikawa finds peace, realizes that maybe he doesn't have to be alone, and reaches forward to find Hajime's hand. By the smallest grip, because Hajime's really got nothing left but the snap for his fingers, he holds back, and leaves all of Tokyo in their dust.
And when Hajime watches Oikawa find his new family, the new fate he's worked so hard to make, he sees the way their faces light up at the son thought lost; Hajime watches how they wrangle him in like this new and wild timeline, and how they offer him the most infinite and deciding warmth.
"I'll see you again, Tooru," he tells himself.
Hajime breathes it all in, an almost-last, and snaps away before they can see him. In a dream, one before disappearing into the currents, the infinity below, he watches every memory of Tooru, his Tooru, flash by in the things he could not keep. Let the fates keep such cherished things. Closing his eyes, a definite last, he knows not to fret, or cry any longer. Because like the rise of a new day, or lavender in Carshalton, or a boy coming home against the impossible odds, that they will always find a way to bloom right back.
"Well, I guess I love you too, Tooru."
With a snap of his fingers, he could be gone.
This is what Iwaizumi Hajime tells himself when Matsukawa and Hanamaki have dragged him all the way to the likes of Carshalton, London during golden week, doomed to rot in a field of endless lavender for the likes of leaving Japan for the first time. As a second-year college student at Tokyo, erring on the age of twenty in a couple of months to come, he’s never had the chance to leave the confines of home, preferring the comforts of recreational volleyball and movie marathons on his spare time instead. He spots another jumper blip in and out of the garden up ahead, snaps a picture of them rather unsuccessfully, and breathes out a sigh. Damn jumpers. Not jealous at all, because he would never, ever be envious over such trivial matters, Hajime waits until Matsukawa and Hanamaki are up far enough on the road before trying once. With a snap of his fingers, he finds nothing as usual, and shakes his hands free from disappointment.
“Sorry, otou-san,” he mutters up to the clouds, thinking it might work out one day, when the time is right.
With a buzz, a polaroid slips out of his camera and falls to the ground. He finds it a place in his pocket to develop, safekeeping for the photo albums Matsukawa will probably try to make later. Hajime catches up to his friends up on the road, seeks to scold them for bringing him to the middle of goddamned nowhere for vacation, and stops right in his tracks when a certain scent overtakes him. The wind picks up, teasing right over the tips of reaching lavender plants, and makes Hajime freeze all the more. When he forgets to say anything, much too mesmerized, Hanamaki is the first to hum out at the comfort.
“A guy could fall in love here, you know,” he says, and Hajime feels a warmth hit his chest. It feels like a bullet at first, seething and a punch to the gut, but it’s not like he’d know how any of that felt, anyway. He bends down to pick a stem, brushing the petals against his fingers. On the tips, purple dust grazes his prints.
Matsukawa laughs. “Way to be sappy. Look, you’ve even got Iwaizumi all petrified.”
“Oh, shut it.”
Hajime finds a way to mix a nod and a shake of his head, gulping down the lob in his throat. He opens his mouth to say something before another gust picks up in the field, kicking up petals into the atmosphere. He tries to hold his breath against it, wondering if he might be allergic, but that isn’t it. He knows it isn’t. When the gale demands to be felt, like the gods testing him up above, he takes the scent in like an old friend he’s never met before. He gives into it, before the other two give him hell.
“Aw, looks like he’s already there,” Hanamaki teases, bumping Hajime on the shoulder. “What? Planning on bringing a date here now, huh?"
“It’s not that,” Hajime says, head still caught in another place, somewhere far away. “I just feel like I’ve been here before.”
Matsukawa laughs. “Please, it took me forever to even get you to agree to this trip. We would’ve known if you’ve been here before.”
Hanamaki clicks his teeth. “Come on now. It could just be a matter of déjà vu. Nothing wrong with that! Heck, it happens to me a lot, too. Like, the other day, I had the strange sense that I should be working in the okonomiyaki place, not owning it.”
“What? Because it’s totally not weird for a nineteen year old to own Tokyo’s favorite okonomiyaki joint of 2025? You really ought to thank your mother. You’d be nothing without that secret sauce she uses.”
“Shh!” Hanamaki brings a finger to his lips. “You’ll ruin me.”
Hajime forces a laugh, still bothered. Down the path, the three of them stand at the fringe of the lavender fields, to say goodbye for the day, sun ready to dig under the horizon. A last breeze rushes through the thistles, heavy with sweetness, and makes Hajime wince before settling on stillness. He grazes the space behind his ear, expecting a certain touch and a carefully-placed flower stem, and wishes for a place beyond nothing. On the bus ride back to the hotel, this becomes a habit he can’t break.
“Say, what was on the polaroid you took?” Matsukawa asks during the trip, awkwardly clamoring from the seat behind him, Hanamaki following along. When Hajime digs out the developed photo, he makes out the blur of purple and the expanse of sky before them.
“Move your thumb,” Hanamaki says, but Hajime shrugs, knowing there won’t be anything there.
“Who the hell is that?”
“Damn jumpers,” Matsukawa muses, sitting back and saying nothing more. Hanamaki follows, asking for a shoulder to sleep on for the rest of the trip.
After a day of trekking around the town, Hajime knows he should get some rest, too. Instead, his mind goes to the boy in the picture, the slight way he’s turned to the lens, eyes bright and wild and not ready to be seen. His hair belongs to the wind, wavy as all hell, and Hajime thinks the jean jacket tied around his waist has probably seen better days. At the stranger, this damn jumper, he continues to stare, finding every little detail, mysteries already half-solved. He looks scared to be in Carshalton, too, maybe, toes raised for the relentless gust and the impossibility of perennials.
You should forget it, Hajime tells himself, chasing away such wild thoughts. You should forget him.
(He doesn’t of course, because the fates have other things in store.)
Back at home, a small run-down apartment right over one of Tokyo’s oldest known flower shops, Hajime wakes up every morning and goes through the usual motions. He gets up at 7:00AM, slips on his terry cloth slippers, and brushes his teeth. After a shower, brief and just the right amount of scalding, he makes breakfast and watches the news. Bustling Bokuto has been named captain of the Fukurodani sect. Hinata Shouyou, rising star in the Karasuno squad, shows off his decoy abilities in Venice. Matsukawa Issei claims head chair for the Seijou dispatcher position. With a sigh, he thinks that all might be right with the world today, for once, and seeks to keep up his good fortunes. The moving truck outside, beeping relentlessly in loading, might have other plans; when Hajime hears another clay pot smash against the concrete, he wonders who on earth is running things downstairs today.
Sticking his head out the window, Hajime airs his grievances to the shopkeeper holding a curiously tall palm tree in his stead.
“Keep it down, would you?” Hajime barks. Startled, the clerk loses his grip on the pot and sends another plant to its death. With a roll of his eyes, really not worth another sight, Hajime just shuts his window closed and goes back to pack his things for school. He groans when he thinks about lecture, thinks how he could be jumping instead.
Because the fates might hate him (they don’t), he finds is a knock at the door. Hajime ignores it.
At this point, he knows his life should consist of the comfortable routine he’s built up for himself: eating, drinking (but only sparingly, and only if the beer is good and extra hoppy), and going to class. He dates around and hangs out with new friends when he gets the chance. He has made peace with the dead fern in his apartment and found the right television to watch in the mornings. Hell, Hajime shouldn’t be concerned with things like other jumpers, or the fact that they might invade his polaroids from time to time.
He shouldn’t think back to the boy with the jean jacket. He shouldn’t want to jump with him, too.
By the snap of fingers, longer and more nimble than his coarse hands, an uneasy smile, and the smell of a certain flower, Hajime seeks to find the sensation, anyway. He knows he’s felt it before, seen it in glimpses of a life maybe past. At the front, the knocks don’t persist, annoying and rhythmic and teasing. Hajime interrupts himself from his dreaming, going to the door before he has the chance to kick a hole through it instead.
“Hold on, hold on!”
When Hajime turns the knob, the first thing he sees, in the grasp of bandaged hands, is a small potted lavender plant, just beginning to grow.
Denim, patched and faded, rests on nervous, rising shoulders. Binoculars accompany him, as golden as the age they might be starting.
And when their eyes meet for the first time—because the fates really don't hate Iwaizumi Hajime—it is nothing but innate.
“Um, I just wanted to apologize about the noise downstairs—um, I just moved to the city and all, so I thought I’d try working at a flower shop for little awhile, but it’s a lot harder than I expected.” The stranger offers Hajime the plant and a nervous laugh. “Anyway, please take this.”
Hajime does just so, lavender filling his nose instantly, but he’s too stunned to even tell him his own name. The boy at his door isn’t much better, suppressing smiles like he’s waited all this time to greet him, find him; he too, might be too caught up to say anything else, by the way his feet shuffle and in out over the doorway, but he doesn’t let the either of them end there.
Instead, his hands come over Hajime’s on the pot, small and gentle in grip, but there nonetheless.
The start of something new.
“My name is Oikawa Tooru, and it’s really nice to meet you.”