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LIFETIME A, UNIVERSE #1 (APPENDIX).

His earliest death is in 1221, at Uji, near Kyoto. Head wound. Sixteen years old.

He’d been fighting on behalf of the Houjou shogunate, to defend their rule from the grasp of Japan’s disgraced emperors. He was even shorter then, even smaller—a young soul and an underfed body. He’d swung the weight of his sword with all his energy, but still, when a big guy landed a hit to his helmet, it was clang; and goodnight.

He’s never kicked it before, so even though dying young wasn’t uncommon back then, he freaks out a little when he wakes up in the Big White Place. The wound that killed him feels numb on the back of his head. The space gives him tremors of physical incompletion: every time one of his senses has latched on to something concrete—the solid floor, or smell of blossoms, the blurred human shapes at the edges of his vision—anything he could be certain of shakes free and darts away.

He stumbles and cries out for his mother, then for his sister. Only the echo answers.

He wonders if this is punishment for something, or a test, or if this is it. And it is nothing. What if he’s died, and now there’s just—nothing?

A caw splits the air, a noise so sharp and loud it has form of its own, he feels it ripple the space around him.

And there is a crow, jet black against the blurry white expanse. It doesn’t flap, but settles in before him, perched in mid-air.  Its eyes are dark and glossy and the reflection of his face in their surface is streaked, like the image’s ink has bled.

The crow opens its beak.

Kageyama will be here soon.

Like everything here, this utterance defies sensory logic. He hears it in his chest; it feels more like a jab in the ribs than a vibration in his eardrum.

“Who is Kageyama?”

But the crow’s shut up for now. It seems like they have to wait for this Kageyama person to show up. It strikes him as kind of rude to be late to someone’s death, but he supposes he does have time to kill.

He scuffs his shoe. He tries touching the wound on the back of his head, but it’s still numb and sucks on his hand, so he quickly decides to leave it alone. Not that he could make it any worse. Bouncing on his heels, he eyes the crow.

“So how did you learn to talk?”

He’s here.

“Who, Kageyama?” He turns to see a dark mist on the horizon (or, the thing that resembles a horizon). It drifts toward them and gradually takes human form. “It doesn’t seem like we waited that long,” Hinata says happily, surprised at his accomplished display of patience.

It has been twelve years.

“Oh, wow!”

The dark mist twists into black armor, black hair, a tall figure. A hand clamped over his side, probably covering a wound. The face stays streaky—like his was, when he saw his reflection—but he can make out pockets of blue. The eyes.

“What is this?” says Kageyama.

Kageyama’s voice doesn’t jab like the crow’s voice, nor does it blow any sensory fuses. It just sounds normal, like the most normal thing he’s heard since he got here, and he smiles.

“You’re dead! You died! Did you die in battle?”

Kageyama looks at the crow, then at him. His gaze is like the caw from earlier, it holds a power beyond its means. “Who,” Kageyama says, with venom, “are you?”

“I’m Hinata Shouyou.”

“Are you a spirit?” Kageyama sounds as though the idea of dealing with spirits were nerve-wracking to him.

“No, I’m dead too!”

“You’re wearing armor… but you’re only a little boy?”

“I’m sixteen.” Nevermind the fact that he is actually wearing children’s armor, because it’s all that would fit him.

“Don’t get fucking mad at me, it’s an honest mistake.”

“You’re using that kind of language in the afterlife—”

Be quiet.

This command has graduated from jab to smack. It smacks Hinata in the chest, and it must hit Kageyama the same way, because they both fall dead silent.

Both your deaths in this universe have failed.

“Failed…” Kageyama echoes. The word seems to hurt him.

“How can you fail at dying?” Hinata asks, incredulous.

Luckily you have an infinite selection of universes, with an extensive number of lifetimes, still remaining.

“Infinite?” Hinata doesn’t quite know what this means. (Yellow tulips, October rain, golden light?)

Look into each other’s faces.

He looks at Kageyama’s face. Pockets of blue. Kageyama looks back but, it’s hard to say what he’s seeing.

This is the future. Until you can save one another, you will never grow old. You will have no future.

Kageyama demands, “Save one another from what?”

You’ll die young as long as you refuse.

Refuse what?”

The future.

Kageyama throws up his arms, surrendering to confusion. “We don’t even know each other,” Hinata points out.

You do.

So it’s fate?”

Call it what you like, but you die until the other is there to save you.

“Stupid fucking crow wisdom,” Kageyama says, but in the middle of his sentence, the words—and the Big White Place around them—start to break apart, torn like fabric. Hinata catches the fragment of Kageyama saying, “I don’t understand!”

He shouts into the shards fanning around him. “Kageyama!” He’s compelled to call out to this stranger—they’re bound by the ultimatum, if nothing else.

The whiteness becomes sentient and crawls up his arms, and he screams, and screams again. His grip on the world sinks back, consciousness powering down, sleep swimming over him, until he lets go entirely, and resigns himself to fate.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3001.

“The thing about prophecies is, they don’t really make any sense.”

“How is that?”

“Well, okay.” Hinata flips on to his back, and stretches his legs up Kenma’s wall. Kenma doesn’t even question it, he’s flipping through some gamer magazine. “So like, in the movies, the hero always finds out about the prophecy, and then he goes to do the thing that was prophecy-ed… prophe…”

“Prophesied.”

“Yeah, that! He does the thing. So the prophecy never predicted the future, it just made it happen.”

“Yeah?” says Kenma, glancing at him over the magazine. He’s upside-down when Hinata looks at him from here. “Most prophecies are self-fulfilling…”

Hinata flips back on to his stomach, stunned. “Have you heard that before?”

“A lot of people say that.”

Really?” So this is why he’s not a public intellectual.

“Yeah.” Kenma flips a page. “It’s basically saying you make your own destiny.”

“Right!” Hinata nods along, pinching at his forearm. He had expected this conversation to feel more revolutionary than it does, but he always expects Kenma to finally be riled up by something he has to say, and he never gets more than the tiny crooked smile his friend is currently giving him. A subtle but effective defiance.

Defiance is cool, Hinata thinks. It’s more interesting that way.

“Why are you thinking about this?”

He sighs and rolls around on Kenma’s bed a little more, until he’s lying on his back again. Kenma’s pillow smells like plain soap. (There are universes where he and Kageyama never meet and he’s alone, but this is not one of them.) “I don’t know… I just woke up this morning and I was thinking about it, and I haven’t been able to stop.”

“Hmph,” says Kenma, either disinterested or cryptic. He lowers his magazine. “Want to go to Seven-Eleven?”

Hinata almost kills himself somersaulting off the bed (in another timeline, it’s no almost), and scrambles to his feet. “Yeah! Let’s go!”

They leave the apartment, waving to Kenma’s mother on the way out. The sun is shining and the neighborhood smells like drying laundry. Hinata extends his arms over his head, reaching for the light, letting it warm his elbows and wrists.

He walks the aisles of the Seven-Eleven and examines the plastic packaged food, feet scrapping the grubby floors. Kenma has busied himself looking for the latest issue of his magazine. The store feels conspicuously empty, but for the two of them and the employee working the register.

With a distant snap, he feels an invisible thumb press the back of his neck, and gets the strange idea that the employee has vanished—and when he turns to check, the outline of Kenma is gone too. But he’s not alone.

Standing at the end of the aisle is a boy, about the same age as him, tallish and dark-haired. He holds a shopping basket with both hands, thrust slightly in front of him, like a green soldier raising his shield. In the basket sits a bouquet of yellow flowers bound in brown paper.

In his conscious, logical front brain, he knows he’s never seen this boy before. This is a stranger.

But the part of him that’s older than his present self, older than this building, older than this city… An ancient voice speaks in his heart: Ah, there you are.

The stranger boy’s face jumps and blurs and flickers before he can focus, enough to make out the rise of his cheekbones and tip of his nose. In an image from an undersaturated memory, clicking over his vision like the picture from a stereoscope and making him see double, his hand strokes those cheeks, his finger taps that nose. He hears himself laughing. The flowers are for him.

(This isn’t the first time they’ve met in a store aisle.)

In the Seven-Eleven that day, Lifetime T, Universe #3001, it’s strong enough his stomach kicks.

“Hi.”

It takes a moment for him to discern whether he said this, or if it was said to him. Eventually he decides, on a whim, it must’ve been the latter. So he says, “Hello.”

The boy shifts where he stands. Hinata wonders what he’s going to do. The anticipation makes his heart race, the moment blooming into a singularity, swelling his chest with a taste of importance.

Then the boy says, “Can I get by?”

Hinata yelps and jumps out of the center aisle. He registers Kenma and the employee’s presences again. Underwhelming.

Their eyes meet while the boy is edging by, but he jerks his head away, choosing to glare at the bottled drink selection.

There’s no way he hadn’t felt it. Hinata could see him feeling it, the way his face blurred. Anger surges hot in his throat. It’s irresistible, the way the red runs into his eyes, how easy it is to turn his back and think, This time you deserve it. He doesn’t even know what that means—deserve what? But it feels good when he grits his teeth. You didn’t even try. You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIMES A-Z, UNIVERSES ∞.

This isn’t the first time they’ve met in a store aisle.

Once they’d passed by unnoticed.

Once Hinata knocked into him; he’d said something harsh and rude, Hinata scampered away. Never saw him again.

Once they started talking; they went home together, they were hurting in that life. Never saw him again.

Once, in a bookstore, they made rivals of each other. This was one of the better times, but they’d still died. It’s kind of comical, how well things can be going, and then you’re dead.

And there are others—as many places as exist, as many minutes as have passed, they’ve met in every one, they’ve had every variation on an encounter. He can’t always remember, he doesn’t always know. But this is all about the diversity of existence, isn’t it?

Even when he does know, it’s a gut feeling. A concentrated moment of déjà vu, so potent it could make a person sick. A few times it has.

How many times have you died, and forgotten it?

Within the cell of a single universe, matter can’t be created or destroyed. It stays uniform, even paired in endless combinations imitating newness, under the variety of a thousand million universes. Souls are like that too, limited in number, unlimited in possibility, but—unlike the tangible forms of matter—they can transcend the body of a universe. Anything that could exist probably does, in another time and place; it’s only by the magnetic power of souls that these countless possible lives get clustered together in the expanse, close enough that sometimes you can feel yourself—another you, with another life—moving through a space just different enough to be eerie. It’s like the electric tendril arcing from one baton to another, static energy, not an echo as much as a whisper.

Sometimes they die together; they die happy.

Sometimes they are one another’s first, sometimes one another’s last. Sometimes both.

In many of these universes they don’t feel their mission’s extraordinary pull, even when they’re friends, or a couple. Others, Kageyama will wake in the night, sitting up in their bed, and say, “This is wrong… we’re doing something wrong.” Hinata will comfort him as best he can, try to understand what it is he’s so afraid of, but the panic is a radar blip, gone in a second.

And the next day, they die again.

They never live past thirty, together or apart. Each time it’s a spark and a sizzle. The dark always outpaces the light.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME X, UNIVERSE #435.

Offices in the 43rd century don’t look so different, except that they’re virtual.

Sawamura-san still catches him falling asleep at his desk. His virtual desk. How is he still getting caught goofing off, in a virtual office?

“Wake up, it’s your lucky day. We’ve got a job.” He adds, trying to sound sympathetic, “Since you’re so awful at desk work.” Virtual desk work.

“What kind of job?” he asks, rubbing his eyes (to no effect, he can’t reach them under the reality goggles).

“A Level-3 Clean Up,” says Sawamura happily. Hinata blanches.

“Level-3? Clean-up?” He’s never been called to a Level-3 Clean Up, but from what he saw in the training videos—and he had a big breakfast, too. Crap.

Sawamura ignores his stricken expression and gives him a thumbs up, like he’s sending him off to buy cake, and not… gah. “I’m sending the information to your bike. Meet Nishinoya and Tanaka there in half-an-hour, and check in with me at the office when you’re done.”

Hinata rips off his goggles before Sawamura even logs out, which is rude, but he’s distracted.

He shoves his goggles and his hazard suit into his bag and leaves the apartment. His bike waits under the apartment building’s exterior stairwell, scuffed but functional. He punches the code into the lockbox and watches the hover tires start to glow, lifting off the concrete, then calls up Sawamura’s message in the GPS on the handlebars.

After forty minutes of whizzing through back alleys and under bridges—it’s illegal to take his bike on the freeway, so he uses the GPS to find his own way around—he pulls up to a tall building made of black concrete, in what he recognizes as one of the wealthier sectors of Sendai’s downtown.

Noya is waiting outside with their equipment loaded onto a cart. He looks cool even in the plastic yellow jumpsuit.

“Hover bikes are for hover boys, Shouyou!” Noya waits with hands on hips while Hinata parks. “You gotta get a car.”

“I like my bike!” Hinata gives the seat a reassuring pat.

“No one’s gonna date a guy on a hover bike.”

“I wouldn’t want to date someone who didn’t like hover bikes,” Hinata replies, frowning. Noya laughs, a big booming noise that defies the size of his body. Hinata doesn’t dwell on the question of who would or wouldn’t date him—not now, not ever. Better not to think about stuff like that.

While they’re pushing the equipment inside, he overhears the security guard chatting with the doorman about his and Noya’s respective heights. “I said that there was a work shortage, didn’t I?” And he has to keep Noya from making a nasty gesture at them.

They wait for the elevator, looking out of place. The exterior wasn’t deceiving: this is definitely a luxury building, all dark tile and floating touch screens.  Hinata bites his lip. “Sawamura-san said it’s a Level-3.”

Noya glances sideways at him, eyebrow raised. “Yeah. We surveyed it before you got here. Not pretty.”

Hinata shuts his eyes. I won’t barf. I won’t barf. But as they’re flying up in the elevator, all the way to the 56th floor, his stomach is going crazy. When the doors open, Noya gives him a slap on the shoulder.

“Hey, it’s mostly just in the one room. I’ll see if I can find some smaller stuff for you to do around the rest of the place!”

“Thank you,” Hinata sighs.

“You know I like working with you, Shou,” Noya adds, in a lower voice. “But I gotta say, crime scene clean-up isn’t the best career choice for someone who can’t handle blood.”

(According to the basic premise of the multiverse theory, somewhere there must be a universe where Hinata Shouyou has an iron stomach, but it has to be tucked away in a less popular corner of creation, because he’s never felt so much as a twinge of evidence toward its existence.)

“I need this job,” he tells Noya miserably. His coworker shrugs, and holds open the door to the apartment.

When Hinata steps inside, it’s like running into a brick wall.

Being here—he realizes he’s forgotten something—what has he forgotten?—it’s something huge, unthinkable! The feeling is so pointed, he sways in place, nearly bowled over by the panic. It’s this place… he’s never stepped foot in this apartment before but now that he’s here, it’s like—shit, why didn’t I get here weeks ago? I’m late. It’s too late.

He supports himself against the kitchen counter, catching his breath, while Noya rolls the equipment into the next room—that must be the bad one. He’s explaining the situation over his shoulder. “It’s a nasty homicide. The guy was some kind of artistic recluse or something, and he lived alone all the way up here on the 56th floor, and somebody really did a number on him. Not a robbery since they left the art.” Noya kicks the starting switch on the wet vacc and it jerks to life, lifting off the cart. “But it’s one of those ones where you say to yourself, ‘I can’t believe that much blood could come out of one human body.’ Ah, hey, Ryuu!”

Their grinning coworker appears in the doorway, resting his hands on the back of his head. “Hey! Yo!” There’s a slick of red down one side of his suit and Hinata’s stomach lurches again, the blood aggravating his other… issue.

“You got it started?”

“Yeah, and I gotta call Kiyoko. Found some bits of the body the CSI people missed.”

Hinata clamps his hands over his ears. “Where’s the bathroom?”

Noya and Tanaka exchange a look, and Tanaka gestures to a hallway running off the opposite end of the apartment from the… Level-3. “There’s a guest bath that way.”

While he’s stumbling to safety—or at least, privacy—he hears Noya sigh behind him.

He finds the toilet as fast as he can, throws up for two or three minutes, then collapses back on the tile with his knees to his chest. It’s another while before he can drag himself to a standing position, with the help of the sink. His ears are ringing. He catches sight himself in the mirror.

It’s too late.

“Too late for what?” he blurts, desperate. His reflection has no answer. He splashes some cold water on his face, rinses his mouth, and (defeated in a game he can’t remember agreeing to play) goes back out into the hall.

He’d been in such a hurry to find the bathroom, he’d passed through this corridor without noticing the tall ceilings and darkened fixtures, lit by delicate pot lights, like a spooky gallery. Noya and Tanaka’s voices are barely audible on the other side of the apartment. He edges back toward them, slower than he came.

The door could have been closed.

The door could have been closed, or he could have passed by without looking in, or he could have glanced anywhere except one particular wall. (And a universe exists for each of these possibilities.)

But the door is open, to a room off the corridor; and he does look in, recognizing it immediately as an art studio, with its easels and messy floors; and his eyes do light on a huge wall, crowded with paintings, paintings…

He steps into the room as if dragged there by an invisible hand. Distantly he can hear Noya calling for him, his voice growing louder, but what he sees in the room drowns out the noise.

Now, Hinata wouldn’t know good art if it smacked him upside the head.

He’s not looking at these paintings and thinking, “Holy crap, it all makes sense now! I’ve unlocked the secret to appreciating art!”

He’s looking at these paintings because they are paintings of him.

Huge tapestries, little sketches, a stone bust. One is just the reddish orange blur of his hair and something resembling a torso, done in curving shapes; another shows his naked back, and the lines on that one look angrier than the others, black and rough; another he holds a bouquet of yellow flowers, tulips, their blossoms obscuring his features; one he looks like he’s made of raindrops.

It takes him a moment to realize, there’s not a single portrait where he faces out. He’s always looking away, and in some he has no eyes, no face at all.

But there’s one of him as he is right now, in the yellow plastic jumpsuit. Seeing it, he lays his hands protectively over his chest, which aches. Too late. Too late. Is this what that feeling means? Was he too late to—see all this? His throat is dry.

“Shouyou!… Oh, shit.”

He manages to pry his eyes away from the paintings, if only to stare helplessly at Noya and Tanaka, who stand in the door, glancing between him and the art with open mouths.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you knew him,” says Tanaka, sheepish.

“I didn’t.” His voice climbs higher in hysteria. “I didn’t know him, I don’t know who he was, this is—”

“Relax,” says Noya, coming into the room. Cool as a stubby cucumber, like usual. “Obviously you did know him from somewhere. Here, there’s got to be a photo in here somewhere.” He starts rooting through drawers right away, while Tanaka creeps in tentatively.

“Not sure you knowing him makes this any less creepy…” He spots the look on Hinata’s face, and forces a smile.

Noya whoops and waves something over his head. “Got it! Brochure from his last exhibit!”

The three of them cluster together over the little paper book. Hinata’s heart beats on his ribs, and when he looks down at the cover, it’s half expecting to see another picture of himself.

But it’s a photograph of the artist. He wears black and frowns into the camera. Stubbled jaw, blue eyes like deep water, the only color in the picture. Handsome.

He’s familiar but not in the way Hinata hopes—he’s familiar where you could’ve seen him in a magazine or television a few times, but you don’t know him personally.

The caption reads, KAGEYAMA TOBIO.

Noya and Tanaka stare at him but he just shakes his head.

“I don’t know him. How could he know me?”

Tanaka leans back, shrugs. “That’s fucking bizarre.”

“Does he have any family, or someone who might know why he would…” Hinata lifts his eyes over his coworkers, back to the wall. A smaller sketch shows him in profile, smiling brilliantly. It’s drawn—well? He doesn’t know anything about art but, it’s drawn the way he thinks you’d draw someone you love.

He glances back to the photograph on the brochure. Tobio.

“No family,” says Noya. “He’s got an assistant, who I’m pretty sure is the prime suspect.” He claps Hinata on the shoulder. “Listen! These don’t have to be you, maybe he was just into petite redhead guys.” But Hinata’s gut wouldn’t lie, he knows these are him. He groans into his hands.

“If we don’t get going in the other room, Sawamura’s gonna kill us,” Tanaka quietly points out. Noya nods and snaps into action.

“Come find us when you’re ready, Shouyou.”

He swallows and gives them a parting nod.

On the way out, Tanaka mutters, with a final glance at the paintings, “I heard he was a weird one, but this takes the cake.” They leave Hinata holding the exhibit brochure and staring at a hundred reflections.

How do you determine the requisite amount of time for studying creepy portraits of yourself? As long as it takes to forget how uncomfortable you are? But they aren’t really that creepy. Some of them are nice. All of them are nice. Kageyama Tobio, for his weirdness, made a nice picture.

“Sorry,” Hinata says, hoping maybe Tobio’s ghost will hear him. “For being late.”

A hundred reflections and not one is his to keep.

He talks to the brochure photograph like they’re having a regular old conversation. “I’m sure you’d let me have one, right?” He imagines the photo giving him a thumbs up, and returns the gesture, then starts climbing up the desk to reach the one he wants.

He picks the smiling portrait: it’s not in a frame, and small enough no one will notice it missing. Climbing down enough to sit on the desk, he carefully turns the art over in his hands, hoping to find a title or explanation or even a date inked somewhere on the back. But there’s only a single word written there, and it looks more like a scribble than anything, a note jotted down after a passing thought.

BOKE.

Hinata sits back, shocked. “Boke? Excuse me?”

But that’s definitely what it says. Things get weirder still. 

Trying not to pout—if you’re going to obsess over someone you’ve never met, you could stand not being vulgar, Tobio—he folds the sketch up and slips it in his backpack, then goes to join his coworkers.

He never gets a chance to investigate the paintings. He’s killed two weeks later, by a hit-and-run driver, riding home on that damn hover bike.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME M, UNIVERSE #2.

There’s a universe where they are teammates, and then friends. That universe is good—but it’s not the winning one.

On the day of their graduation from Karasuno High School, he’s walking to the car with his mother and Natsu when he remembers—suddenly, violently, how he always remembers things—that he’d left his gym bag in the club room, and he has to dash back to retrieve it.

Kageyama is leaning on balcony outside the room when he gets there. He’s looking away, off at the mountains, so he doesn’t see Hinata coming up.

Between exams and the last practices with their kouhai and university preparations, they haven’t had a chance to talk, just the two of them, in these final few weeks at Karasuno. The moment he lights on Kageyama like that, all alone, he’s like, oh. Now it’s going to happen. They’ve arrived at their goodbye.

He has all this on his shoulders when he asks, waving to get Kageyama’s attention, “Hey, is it unlocked?”

Kageyama doesn’t jump but flinches; the surprise crawls down his spine. “Shit—yeah, it’s unlocked.”

Hinata throws up his hands in a gestures of innocence. “Sorry!” He slips inside, grabs his bag, and then watches Kageyama from the door. It’s hard to say what his teammate is looking at, really, or if he’s just thinking.

It seems imperative to Hinata that he speak. This is their last day here, together. He has to do something. To say something. One of them should, just… because of everything.

Many things are lost on Hinata Shouyou, but even he has realized that Kageyama is the most important friend he made in high school. He isn’t someone who makes friends: you’re his friend or you’re not, and the latter only if you’re really nasty. Putting aside how well they work together, and their shared passions, and the way neither of them seems to get Tsukishima’s jokes, Kageyama is an important friend because he’s the only one Hinata has ever had to earn. And he’s proud of that, of what they became, on the court and off.

So, yeah. Someone needs to say something.

He tries, “Where are your parents?”

This time when Kageyama flinches it’s less dramatic, but still, Hinata’s voice hits him like a shock. “They already went home. I told them I was staying back to get my things.”

Hinata can’t see a bag anywhere on him. “Did you lie?” he asks, without any accusation in it.

Kageyama’s head turns an inch toward him, but it’s not enough for Hinata to catch the look on his face. “Isn’t your family waiting for you?”

Fuck you.

That’s what he thinks.

Words like fuck don’t come into Hinata’s head very often—not now, not as an eighteen year old. In most ways he’s still a child.

But that’s a dismissal, what Kageyama has just given him. And he can hear it in Kageyama’s voice, too, the dismissal; it makes his blood boil. He’s furious, it strikes him as violently as the memory of his bag had earlier, and he could throw himself at Kageyama with fists raised—he has done it before. This feeling comes from the same place.

Three years and this is what he gets. Dismissal.

He doesn’t stop to consider that maybe Kageyama doesn’t quite know what to say either, or that he avoids a sensitive topic because he doesn’t want to cry in front of his friend, or that he envies how Hinata’s family will always be waiting for him.

No, Hinata gets blinders on. He sees rage that’s impossible to circumvent.

The rage swims watery with tears when he says, “Bye, Kageyama.” Bye. He puts every ounce of bitter force he can muster into this word, hurls it right at Kageyama’s head. His former teammate finally turns, finally looks at him for real, and his mouth is a hard line. He doesn’t speak, and even if he had, Hinata doesn’t want to listen—he is already storming off, breathing hard.

That severs the connection. This is not the winning universe.

Never saw him again.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME C, UNIVERSE #14,660.

He’s a boy in this one, really. He just wants to listen to the radio.

It’s the only radio in town and today the world is changing.

He wakes up early, creeps past a sleeping Natsu. He will need to be in the fields at sun-up, but before then, he’s got time.

The streets of the village have yet to stir at this time of day. The most life you can catch is the sound of a yawn through a window—someone willing themselves a few more minutes of sleep.

He goes barefoot the whole way. He has a pair of sandals but he can’t wear them when he’s two feet deep in water, tending rice plants, so what’s the point?

He’s hungry. Nowadays everyone is hungry. It’s something you have to forget, or hold onto long enough that it makes you stronger.

The little storefront grows larger as he runs for it. His feet pound up dust from the dry road.

In the interior of the shop, Kageyama-kun already has the radio on. “Hurry up,” he says softly. “It’s already started.”

Hinata falls into a seat beside him. The man on the radio is in the middle of a sentence and it takes Hinata a moment to catch a few words.

…combat in Manchuria in this past evening of July 7 th , 1937. Fighting is ongoing. The city of Beijing is a crucial…

“What’s he saying?” asks Hinata, pulling his knees to his chest. Kageyama sits still, with his legs crossed and his head bowed.

“We’re at war again.”

“Again?” Hinata repeats, panic rising in his throat. The last one took his father. Back then he’d been a child, but now he’s nearly of age to fight himself. So is Kageyama.

Kageyama leans forward and snaps the dial on the radio, shutting it off. He’s glaring and his eyes seem darker. “This one’s going to be bad. Things are bad in the world.”

“But they won’t come here.” This is more of a hopeful suggestion than a statement of fact. Hinata doesn’t know—he doesn’t even know what bad things Kageyama is talking about.

Kageyama shakes his head. “How should I know?” And that makes the fear rise in Hinata. Kageyama always knows: he’s the kid with the radio.

“Do you think this time we’ll have to go, too?”

Kageyama shuts his eyes but he still looks like he’s glaring. “You sound scared. You’re not supposed to sound scared.” Hinata knows he’s right. He always listened to the stories about soldiers and honor and some days, he wanted to be one of them. He sighs and lowers his head to his knees.

“I just don’t want it to hurt.”

There are a lot of ways to die, in this life, it turns out. More than they could ever need. He was right to be afraid.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3001.

Kenma goes to university in Osaka, hours from the Tokyo suburb where he and Hinata grew up together.

Hinata smiles all through his friend’s decision-making, offers his enthusiasm, and doesn’t look him in the eye when they say their goodbyes. He’s never shied away from a confrontation (why are you leaving me?) but with Kenma, it’s different. He worries about scaring him away, and so ensures his leaving.

After a quiet third year, he scrapes by on the entrance exam to a university in Miyagi, and heads north. He befriends a girl, blonde and a little shorter than himself (thank goodness), who fills the void Kenma had left, in many ways.

But still, displacement haunts him. Stereoscopic images of alternate presents, the same kind of thing he’d seen that day in the Seven-Eleven with the blue-eyed man, regularly disturb his vision: sometimes he feels he knows Sendai like the back of his hand, as though he was born here; whenever he walks by the city gymnasium he stops and stares for a moment, even though he’d always played baseball back in high school.

(In Lifetime T, Universe #3001, the barriers between his memory and the truth are thinner. This one’s different—not dramatically, not enough to really stand out, but just enough to make a difference.)

Just before his second Christmas in Miyagi, it snows hard. He has a job in a little shop downtown, and that night he walks home in it—not because he has to, but because it’s nice and lovely and even in a life that’s not quite right he can appreciate that. If Yachi were here he’d coerce her into a snowball fight, but she’s visiting her mother for a couple weeks.

White string lights wind up the trees lining Sendai’s central avenue, and he takes a little detour to walk down the middle and admire the way it turns the snow to gold. The sidewalk is practically empty—late night, bad weather—except for a guy sitting hunched at a bench up the street. Because he’s alone, Hinata feels a blip of anxiety, so he edges to the other side of the walk and picks up the pace while he passes the man.

Then there’s a noise.

It’s loud enough at first he thinks maybe it was a car engine backfiring, but he hears a throaty sniffle behind him, and…

It was a sob. This realization is all kinds of uncomfortable.

Frozen in his tracks, he turns back an inch, to stare at the hunched man. His clothes are dark, and he holds his head in his hands, obscuring his face. The picture of him sitting there, untouched by the golden light from the trees, seems more impressionistic than real. He could be someone’s nightmare.

Hinata feels guilty, but he wants to run away.

He almost does. He can feel the spring bracing in his step.

But it would be distinctly unkind of him, wouldn’t it, to abandon a crying stranger? That’s not who he is. He always overcomes fear, where it counts.

The man, maybe sensing Hinata’s presence, lifts his head.

It’s been years but Hinata knows his face immediately. Pockets of blue.

And it comes back to him what he felt at the end of their last encounter, fresh as if not a day has passed: You deserve it.

That fear in his belly splits open and out climbs anger, again.

He’s not going to run away, as it turns out. He’s going to walk away, utterly decisive, with his head held high.

It’s not in his power to explain what happened that day at the Seven-Eleven, which left him certain he’d been spurned, but he knows he has his pride. The blue-eyed man will reap what he’s sowed.

And in a hundred other lives, Hinata does it. He walks away.

But this is Lifetime T, Universe #3001. By its nature, it is not quite like the others. In this universe, the strings attached to his elbows and legs are sometimes visible, when the light is right. He can see them stretching up into the sky. He can feel the earth stall beneath his feet, waiting for him to pick a path.

The fact is—it would be distinctly unkind of him to abandon a crying stranger.

He stays for all the other times he didn’t even hesitate to turn his back out of spite.

He speaks out, his voice softer than usual, maybe cushioned by the snow. “Do you need help?”

The man blinks at him, his eyes waterlogged. In the darkness Hinata can’t see their color, but he knows it’s there, encased in black and gold. The man sits up a little, wiping the glossy tracks from his cheeks, and glances around. But there’s no one else Hinata could have been talking to.

Hinata steps toward the bench. “What’s your name?”

The man’s mouth opens. He stares at Hinata, then gives a shake of his head. “I don’t need help.”

“You’re crying pretty hard.” Hinata takes another step toward the bench, but slows when the man ducks his head. “Why’s that?”

“Thanks,” says the man, waving a hand, like what he really means is no thanks. Hinata has to kick down another glimmer of annoyance. Keep pushing forward.

“You don’t seem like you’re okay. Can I buy you a cup of tea?” He grins hesitantly. “Or something stronger?”

The man looks up at him, now with his brow furrowed. Hinata can feel he’s being searched up and down, that the man hasn’t known kindness to come without strings attached. “Who are you?”

This is the first hint of interest, so Hinata takes it as an invitation to settle a little ways down the bench from the man, who leans away in surprise. “I’m Shouyou.” The snow has let up, but bits of him are starting to go numb.

The man pins him with a sideways stare. “Given name?”

“Yeah, my family name is Hinata.”

The man nods. “Kageyama.”

“Kageyama,” Hinata echoes. He can almost place that name, but it evades him. He reaches and his hand closes around air.

“Tobio.”

Hinata pulls his knees to his chest, wishing Kageyama had relented and let them go inside somewhere, but nothing can be easy. He shivers.“Kageyama-kun, why are you crying?”

Kageyama snorts dryly. “Nothing important.”

“It must be important if you’re crying over it.”

Kageyama’s lips twitch. Then he shrugs. “It’s my birthday.”

“Your birthday!” Hinata lets out a little laugh, surprised; he loves birthdays and wouldn’t think of crying over one. “Happy birthday, Kageyama-kun. So, wait, why are you crying, exactly?”

Kageyama throws him a dead-eyed look, very much not laughing. “Boke,” he mutters.

“What’s that?” Hinata asks sharply, though he knows what he heard.

“I’m crying because I’m alone, boke.”

A creature of instinct and impulse, Hinata doesn’t hesitate in saying the first thing that arrives on his tongue. “You’re not alone. I’m here.”

Kageyama’s frown deepens but his eyes—his eyes go a little wide around the edges, like he’s just seen a ghost. Hinata watches and waits and hears his own words echo in his ears. You’re not alone. I’m here. Saying that makes his tongue tingle. It’s weird, the way Kageyama stares at him is weird, this whole thing is weird.

But not bad weird. Not as hard as it was a minute ago.

Kageyama clears his throat and starts to stand. “You can buy me a drink or something.”

“Indoors?” Hinata squeaks, scrambling to his feet.

“Is that a serious question?”

“No.” Hinata reaches for Kageyama’s arm, intending to drag him along, but he pauses when he remembers—this is a stranger. His hand hangs in the space between them.

Kageyama stares at the outstretched hand, and then his eyes slide up to meet Hinata’s. “Do I know you from somewhere?” he asks in a low voice.

Hinata drops his hand. He’d wondered if Kageyama would… “A few years ago, at a Seven-Eleven in Tokyo. You were buying yellow flowers.” Hinata lifts his chin and his eyes flutter closed when he smiles. “I think they were tulips.”

Kageyama turns and starts up the sidewalk, Hinata matching his stride. “I’ve only been to Tokyo once.”

Hinata refuses to think too hard about that.

He throws up his hands. “Must be serendipity!”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME J, UNIVERSE #1,467,804 (APPENDIX).

Every time he dies, the ultimatum—prophecy—promise—whatever you want to call it, the memory of his death’s inevitability comes tumbling back.

He opens his eyes in the Big White Place and immediately thinks, Not again.

This time around, they were happy and together and talking about having a child. So when he wakes up dead, he’s pissed.

He rarely sees Kageyama in the Big White Place unless they’ve died at the same time, but the crow is always there. Typically Hinata will have his moment of not again, and then he’ll lie back and bounce his knees until the Big White Place crumbles around him and he bursts back into existence somewhere else, having forgotten most everything.

But not this time. This time he is pissed, and he climbs to his feet, squinting at the distorted space for a pinprick of black.

“Hey! Crow guy!”

Naturally, the crow doesn’t answer, but Hinata stomps toward it. He died at the beach so he’s in his swim trunks. The afterlife is a little chillier than comfortable.

“Why are you doing this!” He’s lost track of how many times he’s died, now. “In this one,” he says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “We were going to have a kid. How is that not ‘looking at each other and seeing the future’?”

You do not understand the purpose of this exercise.

Exercise,” Hinata repeats, flapping his arms wildly. “This isn’t an exercise, I’m dead! In my bathing suit!”

You must win the exercise.

“I don’t want to keep playing this game, it’s sick and twisted. When I’m alive I don’t even know I’m playing, so how am I supposed to win?”

How you win is up to you.

“What’s the point of this?” Hinata asks through his teeth.

This is about your refusal to acknowledge what you mean to each other.

“We were in love!”

It is not a test of your romantic compatibility. This is a larger concept.

Hinata wails into his hands. “I hate this. I’m dying.”

You’re already dead.

Thanks,” he spits, through his fingers. He makes eye contact with the crow for a second and immediately feels guilty for berating it. It’s just doing its creepy crow job, after all. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand how killing me and Kageyama over and over again is supposed to make us appreciate each other more.”

Creation has its way of smoothing out the kinks.

Sniffling, he wipes his nose on his arm. “So we’re a kink that needs to be smoothed out. That’s good.”

At the end of this, you will have earned each other.

He’s too tired to work out what this means; it’s a thousand lifetimes of exhaustion catching up with him. He leaves the crow and wanders off to lie down, and then bounces his knees until the next chance begins.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME C, UNIVERSE #80,559.

Sometimes it’s better not knowing too much.

Once he’s in Sendai Station, and he knows the moment he spots Kageyama across a crowd.

He starts shouting: “Hey! Hey, you! It’s me!” And he makes all kinds of ruckus and dives around suitcases and puzzled tourists to try and catch up. But when Kageyama sees him, he… he turns and walks in the opposite direction.

It usually goes the other way but, today, it’s unlucky that Hinata is no quitter.

He follows Kageyama. He’s not sure where he got that name from, Kageyama, but the instant he saw him it was like—wham! Kageyama! So he knows that, and he knows that whatever happens, he can’t let Kageyama get away from him.

At first, Kageyama tries the silent treatment and keep stubbornly heading for the street, but Hinata starts breaking through the swarms of people and catching up with him right away. And Kageyama gets the glint of fear in his eyes: he hauls his duffel bag on to his shoulder and makes a run for it.

Hinata chases him for ten city blocks.

He would’ve caught him sooner (not a lot of universes where Kageyama can outrun him), but Kageyama led them right into the middle of a street fair, then into a subway station, and finally Hinata catches sight of him round the corner into an alley. He books it and closes the gap, finds Kageyama facing a brick wall. Dead end.

They’re both heaving ragged breaths. “Why would you run?” Hinata shouts. “Why would you run from me, Kageyama?”

Kageyama wheels around, glaring. He talks through his teeth. “Why would you chase me?”

“You’re not asking how I know you, so you know what this is.” Kageyama’s lip curls. Hinata is more confused than angry, but damn if that doesn’t make him want to put a fist between this guy’s teeth.

“I know, and I don’t give a fuck.”

“How could you—”

“I just don’t,” roars Kageyama. “How are you not fucking sick of this?” (Hinata isn’t sure what this is, and he realizes that Kageyama might know even more than him.) “Any way you look at this, you’re the reason I die. So maybe if I get far enough away from you I’ll be free.”

You’re the reason I die. Another remark that goes over his head, but Hinata lets instinct speak for him; he feels it coming from the oldest part of him. “That won’t work.”

“You don’t know that!”

“I know,” says Hinata sadly. “I’m sure of it.”

Kageyama eyes him, then his shoulders drop and he sighs. “This isn’t the winning universe.” The winning universe. “Just let me go.”

The gentle authority in Kageyama’s voice is enough to persuade Hinata, and he steps aside, letting Kageyama pass back into the sidewalk. He suddenly becomes afraid—not that they won’t see each other again, but that they won’t get to talk like this when they do. “Kageyama,” he says quickly, before he loses sight of the other man’s back.

He seems to struggle with it for a moment, but Kageyama does pause, giving him the chance to speak.

“How long have we been doing this?”

Kageyama grins crookedly. “Technically, forever.”

“Do you think we’ll ever win?”

He turns his back on Hinata again. “I don’t see what other choice we have.”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3001.

The next time they meet in Lifetime T, Universe #3001, Hinata is 26 and dozing off in the economy car of a little train running up through northern Honshu. His otherwise boring career allows him frequent travel, suiting the restless streak that’s especially pronounced in this version of him.

The train is a late night one, and the region isn’t popular: Hinata has this corner of the car all to himself, and he pulls his jacket over his head to block out the last of the light. Out the window the world looks black and nothing else, but having been this way before he knows the land out here is rough, full of cracks and rivets, and they’re speeding over rickety steel bridges with crevices plunging hundreds of feet down into the earth. So it’s good that his view is buried by the night.

He feels Kageyama before he sees him, the presence of the other passengers swallowed by his aura, like how Kenma had vanished for a moment that day in the Seven-Eleven.

Hinata lowers the jacket from his face and peeks out into the dim aisle. There’s his figure, bag slung over one shoulder, in shadow but for the emergency lighting catching his eyes.

“Kageyama-kun?” he asks, though he doesn’t need the confirmation.

“Hey.”

At this point, neither of them is surprised they’ve run into each other a world away from their past meeting places. Par for the course, in this life.

Kageyama gestures to the seats adjacent to Hinata’s. “Can I sit?” Hinata nods, tiny, still mostly hidden behind his jacket. Careful to step over Hinata’s knees, Kageyama plops into the aisle seat, leaving one between him and Hinata, who’s at the window. He wears fitted sweats and a hoodie and looks bigger than Hinata remembers him. Their last meeting, when they’d shared a beer in the darkest corner of a Sendai izakaya, left Hinata feeling like they would surely see each other again—would Kageyama have told him all that if he were just a stranger?

But the phone never rang. So Hinata stayed like that, a little more than a stranger, a little less than a friend.

The train hits a dink in the tracks and jolts forward, and they jolt with it.

“How have you been?” Kageyama asks.

“I’ve been okay.”

“It’s been…”

“Five or six years, I think?”

Kageyama nods, his eyes fixed on the seat in front of him. It makes Hinata wonder.

“How have you been?”

Kageyama turns his head slightly, so Hinata catches the glint in his eyes again. “Better.” Hinata grins.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I have.”

“That’s great! I’m so glad to hear it.”

Another shy nod from Kageyama. He massages the palm of one hand with the other, and Hinata sinks back in his seat, still smiling. Kageyama’s improvement gives him a feeling of satisfaction beyond words. Beyond what he should rationally feel, maybe.

“I suppose,” Kageyama says after a lull, “you’re wondering why I never reached out to you again.”

Hinata’s smile shrinks. “I guess… I did wonder.” He’s never had anyone refuse his offer of friendship before, and the thought of an explanation frightens him. Would he learn he had done something wrong? Kageyama is capable of meanness, he thinks. Hinata has never seen it, but Kageyama’s got the kind of clueless honesty that could quickly turn mean. It’s just a feeling Hinata has about him.

The train car rattles on forward into the night, twitching against the tracks. Kageyama exhales and slips his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “What you said to me that night. The fact that you said anything at all. I think it saved my life.” He glances sidelong at Hinata, whose lips have parted. “You saved my life.”

He must feel Hinata’s shock and confusion.

“I don’t mean literally.” Does it matter, if he meant it literally? Hinata doesn’t think that makes it any less… “But I felt—this weight lifting. I’d forgotten how much of being alone was my own decision. I remembered I could always go back.” Kageyama swallows and the apple of his throat bobs. “That there’d always be a chance, to have somebody worth keeping by my side.”

“I don’t understand,” says Hinata, his voice suddenly clogged. “Somebody worth keeping by your side, but you didn’t—”

“It was a reminder.” Kageyama leans over the armrest, into the seat between them; without thinking, Hinata pulls his legs up and twists to face him. “I had stuff I had to deal with on my own. Stuff I didn’t want to… make someone else a part of. It just wouldn’t have been right, making it your responsibility.”

The train jerks again and Hinata slides a ways into the middle seat, his nose bobbing toward Kageyama’s. “But you dealt with it?”

Kageyama nods. He talks even lower, now that they’re close together. “I thought about you a lot. Every day.”

“Every day?” Hinata’s mouth wobbles with the start of a smile. “What if I don’t believe that?”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.”

“But, Kageyama-kun, if a tree falls in the—”

“You’re messing with me,” Kageyama realizes, brow furrowing. Hinata taps his pointer finger to his thumb: a little. “Is it stupid I knew I’d see you again?”

A giggle, delighted surprise; Hinata is shaking his head. He gives in. “No, it’s not stupid. I thought so too.”

The corners of Kageyama’s lips flutter up, and then settle on higher ground, a smile to match Hinata’s. He lifts his hand toward Hinata’s chin but pauses, just before the touch. His tongue has gone leaden but Hinata hopes Kageyama can hear it in the thump of his heartbeat or the shallowness of his breath, the yes, the please, do. They’re illuminated in skittish stripes from the emergency lights lining the aisle, and the glow of a distant town pecking in from the outside, but it might as well be daytime, he sees everything with such clarity.

Kageyama presses his thumb to Hinata’s lower lip, and his palm along his jaw, cradling it. He seems interested in the elasticity of a lip, its roundness and give under the pad of his finger. And if that’s amazing to him—well, they have much left to discover. Together. Hinata wraps his hand around Kageyama’s wrist, tugging it away from his mouth, so as not to let it obstruct their kiss.

Kageyama gasps in surprise, finding Hinata’s lips on his, and Hinata grins into it. Their noses bump uncomfortably at the angle and their positions and the lurching of the train, their breathing stays rushed and unsteady, Kageyama barely knows how to move his mouth.

But it’s the best kiss Hinata has had in his life, in a thousand lives. It sneaks past the realm of the tactile, the skin and the saliva and the skin, to embrace him spiritually. His soul lets out a sigh of relief. This is the closest he has ever been to… what is it? What’s that thing that feels just a leap and a kick away?

They pull apart. His hand slips from Kageyama’s wrist to wrap around his fingers. There is something about the texture of Kageyama’s skin, and the shape of his knuckles, all their hills and valleys. Hands that make you want to touch, eyes that make you want to look.

“What are you doing when we get to Ikawa?” Hinata asks him, though he wishes they could stay on this train forever. It is, far and away, an improvement on most train rides he’s taken.

Kageyama shrugs, and dips forward. He presses his forehead to Hinata’s and says, in an exhale, “Whatever you want.”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME E, UNIVERSE #19.

(In the flower language, yellow tulips stand for HOPELESS LOVE.)

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME L, UNIVERSE #779.

“I’m not getting out of bed.”

“What, never again?”

Their bedroom is whiter in the morning light: the linens glow with it; the plain cotton of Kageyama’s shirt warms the look of his skin. He lies on his side, back to Hinata, hair a little messy, eyes still shut.

“Maybe never,” he mumbles.

Hinata sucks his lip, and tries to drag Kageyama up by his arm. “Guh! You’re like a big brick.”

“Then stop trying to move me.”

Hinata flops back, defeated, instead studying the shape of Kageyama lying there. There’s some quality to the image—the dust caught in the light above their bed, maybe—that makes his throat tighten. The moment seems bigger than today, bigger than a Sunday morning, bigger than a bed or an apartment. It’s a moment that arrives from another direction, not growing out of the past, but trickling in from the side. Which begs the question, where did it come from? Does it even belong to them? 

“Kageyama, do you remember how we met?”

Kageyama rolls on to his back, squinting at him with tired eyes. “Of course I remember.” Hinata smiles expectantly. “Ugh. Boke,” he sighs. “I was running late, and my watch stopped working, so I asked you the time. And you didn’t have a watch either.” Hinata laughs. He’d had his cellphone on him, but in the rush of the moment, blanked on its existence. “So we spent ten minutes running around trying to figure out the time. Which made absolutely sure that I missed my train.”

“Mmhmm, and then what happened?”

“Then you said you were sorry and offered to buy me something to eat.” Kageyama lifts his hand, fingers spread, and Hinata links them with his own, pressing their palms together. “Did I pass?” Kageyama asks, deadpan.

“Yeah! With flying colors!” Kageyama snorts softly, and closes his eyes again. Hinata swallows. “But what if we met before?”

Kageyama cracks one eye. “We met then.”

“But—what if we met some other time? Like, what if your watch hadn’t been broken that day? Or—if I hadn’t been walking by.”

Kageyama blinks. “What are you trying to ask?”

“I don’t know.” Hinata pulls his hand free, and crosses his legs. “Sometimes… I think if it hadn’t happened one way, it would have happened another.”

“Hmm,” says Kageyama, expression unchanging.

“I feel sure about it. It’s like this… nice solid weight. Right here.” Hinata points to the center of his chest, somewhere between his heart and his gut.

Another little noise of consideration, and Kageyama shifts again, this time curling against Hinata’s leg. “You think it’s meant to be.”

“Meant to be,” Hinata laughs, and pulls a face at Kageyama’s raised eyebrow. “I didn’t mean it that way. Just… we’d end up like this, one way or another. It’s, um—” He lifts his fingers, moving them toward each other right in front of his nose until they blur and double in his vision, as he struggles to think of a word that illustrates the concept. “Like a pull. Like magnets?”

“Like gravity,” Kageyama mutters. “How planets rotate around each other.”

“What a dork.” Even though it does sound like what he’s trying to describe. There’s no fighting gravity. “The point is, we’d have to come together eventually.”

“You’re describing fate.”

Hinata isn’t sure he dislikes the idea of fate as much as he did a minute ago, so he shrugs. “Sure, then. It’s fate.”

Kageyama lifts his head from Hinata’s knee. He seems more awake, but still, his hair has that sweet early messiness to it. “Fate is like we have to be together. I would never make you do anything.” Hinata pushes his bangs off his forehead, wanting to see the blue of his eyes. “But, I know you’d be there if I needed you. When the ball drops, you’re there. You don’t have to be, you just are.” Kageyama’s voice has the lightness of absolute honesty. “You’d probably be there if the world ended, too.”

Hinata smiles down at him. “So I’m loyal. That doesn’t mean it’s not fate.”

“You’re not loyal because you have to be.”

“No…”

“There’s a reason for it.”

“Yeah, because I trust you.”

“For a reason.”

Kageyama is getting involved in this conversation, all lit up with focus, and Hinata has to bite his lip to keep from smiling too hard and embarrassing him. “I trust you because you’re really… you’re always there.”

Kageyama frowns and rolls away, on to his back again. “That’s not because of fate either. That’s because I care about you.”

“That could just be the reasoning behind our fates being all looped together.”

“Since when does fate get to have reasoning?” Kageyama snorts. He reaches for Hinata’s hand, and Hinata runs fingers over his palm. “Why do we have to be fate? Why can’t we just be fact?”

“Oh, that’s smooth,” Hinata laughs. “Where’d you get that from?” Kageyama grunts and slings his arm over his face, shielding it.

“From my brain.”

Hinata leans down, and giggles into his ear. “If we don’t have to be fate, we can be whatever we want.”

“Then I want to be with you.”

“You’re pretty sappy,” Hinata informs him, but he keeps his beaming grin. Kageyama doesn’t take the insult to heart: he meant what he said about wanting, and he drags Hinata down into the sheets with him, intent on taking charge of this particular destiny. Hinata laughs, wrestles him; when they’re tired of that they collapse side-by-side and Hinata leans over to kiss his cheek. “Are you ready to get out of bed now?” he whispers against Kageyama’s skin. There’s a tiny laugh before he gets his answer.

“Never again.”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3001.

“What are you going to do when we get to Ikawa?”

“Whatever you want.”

There’s a moment where they sit there, foreheads together, noses bumping. They sit in silence but for the rush of the train under them, ever tremulous and unsteady.

He should have known, maybe, that it wouldn’t be as easy as a kind word and a kiss: you don’t spend eternity struggling toward a kind word and a kiss, as meaningful as they might come. But he, Hinata Shouyou, ever the optimist—and shielded by the ignorance of an incomplete memory—had not thought to look past their reunion.

Until the world falls out from under him, quite literally.

It happens in the span of a violent ten seconds—violent independently, and even starker against the peacefulness of the mountains and his moment with Kageyama, a burst of fire in total darkness.

He finds out later that the first car had derailed coming off a bridge over a mountain pass; the other cars piled up behind it in a zig-zag, increasingly unstable, the last two tumbling off the bridge and almost taking the rest of the train with them.

He learns he was in the third car from the back, because this was the car that dangled from the edge of the bridge. The force of the other cars falling had ripped off the last couple feet of the carriage, it opened on the deep valley below.

The worst part of it, the thing he never forgets, is the sound.

What it sounds like to have 300 tons of steel and cable screaming around you, everything going so wrong in ways you had never considered it could. He could feel every terrible groan of pain the machine made under their feet.

He reaches for Kageyama and he isn’t there—not his body, anyway, but his hand appears to grasp Hinata’s—he is trying to drag him out of their seats, up the car.

“Come on!”

A chorus of metal screeches issues from behind, and the train car careens to the side—the two back cars falling away, trying to drag them along—succeeding in dragging them along.

The sound when the back of the car tears off: a squeal and snap and a whistle. Kageyama had made it to the door at the front of the car and hangs on there—Hinata gets his arms around a seat just in time to keep himself from being sucked into the dark void below, where the back of the train whistles and whistles until there’s a distant thundering crash just audible over the crying steel around them.

It has to be quite the fall. Hundreds of meters, probably. Not that you can tell, with it being the middle of the night. No, when he dares to peek around his arm, he just sees sucking darkness. The rush of wind creeps under his clothes but he’s too numb to feel the cold. He thinks he must have started crying at some point, since his face is wet.

The car lurches another foot down. It’s going to fall. His legs are dangling off the ragged open end of the car. I’m going to die.

Kageyama’s voice rings out above him. “Can you climb up? Hinata!”

He squints up the car, trying to make out a route to the top—they could make it out on to the bridge away from the train, they could be okay—but he can’t see a clear path, and when he tries to swing himself up, he loses his grasp on the seat back that’s keeping him alive and has to scramble to recover it, screaming.

“I’m coming down to get you,” Kageyama shouts. Hinata thinks he sees the blurry shape at the top of the car start to move.

“Kageyama, are you stupid?” Kageyama is stupid—so fucking stupid—Hinata is angry at him again, in a different way, even deeper than what he used to feel. Bakageyama. He can see the shape picking down the car, using the rows like rungs on a ladder. The car lurches down another foot and a frightened noise strangles out of Hinata. “Now we’re both going to die.” Kageyama’s foot finds the last row, the seat Hinata’s clinging to. “You’re so stupid,” he says, an angry sob.

Kageyama reaches down to him. Strangely there’s not a tremor in his voice, nothing. “Take my hand.”

“Are you sure? Can you support—”

“You’re tiny,” Kageyama barks—the first hint of panic in him, but it has the opposite effect it should on Hinata, who laughs to himself, through the crying. “Stop laughing, boke, take my hand! Trust me!”

Hinata sucks in air through his nose and his lungs burn at the cold, but he lifts his arm toward Kageyama’s, pulling his body up as far as he can manage. Their fingers brush and Hinata gasps—I’m going to die.

“Shit!” Kageyama crouches just enough to grab him by the elbow. At the contact, another terrified sob escapes Hinata. He thought he might never get to touch another person again.

Kageyama roars while pulling him up, but fuck, it doesn’t seem so hard for him, adrenaline supercharging the straining muscles in his arm.

The car swings slightly with all their movement. It’ll snap off soon. They need to hurry.

Hinata gets his footing in the row above Kageyama. “Climb up above me,” Kageyama shouts.

“No, you go first!”

“No, I’ll follow you and watch to make sure you don’t slip.”

“And what if you slip,” Hinata shoots back.

He’s in no position to read Kageyama’s expression, but he doesn’t like the pause before he replies, “I won’t slip.”

Hinata listens anyway, swallowing his uncertainty for lack of another option: he maneuvers himself on to the row above Kageyama’s head and climbs up the same way Kageyama climbed down, using the seats like rungs.

“Are you coming?” he calls down, unable to see Kageyama’s progress below him.

“I’m coming.”

We’re not going to die. Hinata breathes in. He keeps going.

He’s made it halfway up the car when the whole thing lurches again, sinking another foot off the bridge, but—but this time there’s a snap somewhere above them. A cable from bridge, lashing the car. It swings this time, Hinata cries out and he hears a yell from beneath him—

He twists dangerously to see Kageyama lose his grip and slide down the center aisle, right for the gaping valley.

No!”

Just as he’s about to go over, he gets a hand around the leg of the last row, but it sends him bouncing against the ragged edge of the car, and there is another noise Hinata will never forget: Kageyama screaming through his teeth.

“Kageyama!” He doesn’t even think, he starts climbing back down right away.

“Don’t come down here! Fuck!”

“I’ll pull you up,” he pleads, but Kageyama screams again and he can’t bring himself to put his foot on the next row down.

“I can’t climb up, with or without your help.” The pain strangles his voice. Hinata can see him gripping his side with his free hand. “If you come down here we’re both dead.”

“I’m not leaving you!”

“You need to climb up and get out of the car. Get onto the bridge if you can.”

“I said, I’m not leaving you!”

“If you don’t start climbing up right now, I fucking swear, I’ll kill you myself.”

At a loss, Hinata chokes on a sob and starts hauling himself back up the car. Every move he makes is weighed down with the thought that he’s killing Kageyama, that he did this, that Kageyama is going to die for him.

He makes it to the first row. The door to the next car up hangs open: he’ll have to leap for it, but it’s doable. He can escape. He can survive.

“Get out of here!” comes Kageyama’s voice from below.

He crouches for a moment and peeks over the edge of the seat to see Kageyama dangling, the wind muffling agonized groans.

I should stay here and die with him. His throat hurts from sobbing and shouting over the wind.

“If you don’t get out of here, I’m dying for nothing.”

“You saved me. I can at least try to—I want to—”

“You already did, boke!”

The train drops another foot. The window for safety narrows. He starts crying all over again. “This isn’t fair!”

Half an hour ago he was the luckiest person alive.

“Yeah.” He sees Kageyama’s head droop. “I was looking forward to spending some time with you.”

A little more than a stranger.

A little less than a friend.

Another lurch, Hinata shudders. He has seconds now.

Kageyama shouts, the whole strength of his hurting body in it, “Please, Hinata!

Hinata leaps for the doorway, and climbs out of the car. He makes an improbable jump from the link between the two cars to the bridge, and survives with just a broken wrist—but he always could jump.

He watches the third car from the back break off and plummet into the mountain pass below. The rescue crew finds him on the bridge at sunrise, still crying his eyes out.

He wishes he had a better last image to hold onto—he wishes he didn’t have to spend the rest of his life knowing what came after that dark, fumbling kiss. He wishes a lot of things. Spite and bitterness mar the rest of his days in that universe.

And there are many of them. He lives to be an old man.

It doesn’t feel like winning.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3001 (APPENDIX).

He’s surprised to find himself young again when he wakes up in the Big White Place. The skin on his hands is tight and smooth and clear; he touches his face, no wrinkles. He must be in his mid-twenties, physically. About the age he was when Kageyama died.

He pulls himself up and sits, elbows on his knees, head hanging low. He still feels old, as old as the Earth.

A caw splits the thick air. His eyes flutter closed for a moment before he can look at the crow.

Congratulations.

It has fluttered down to rest on the ground near him.

He throws a kick at the bird and it quickly reappears a few feet to the right.

“Congratulations?”

He takes another swing, this time trying to grab it. The crow vanishes and reappears.

Congratulations!” He climbs to his feet with a clenched jaw, so he can chase the crow some more. It pops in and out of visibility, always just out of range. “You’re going to congratulate me for that?”

The moment he stops giving chase, the crow reappears a few feet in front of him, hovering around eye level. He has to resist the urge for another hopeless swipe.

You defeated the exercise.

He steps back. He shakes his head, briskly, and his vision blurs. “You didn’t tell me he would have to die.” It’s been a long time since he cried over that night, but when he thinks about it—when he thinks about all the hours he had to pass that they could have spent together—it’s hard to will his eyes dry. “The whole point of this—I thought—it’s supposed to keep us from dying.”

Kageyama chose his own path.

“But don’t you see how stupid that is? That all I had to do was say one thing to him, and he had to die?”

Have you considered that choosing to save you was, for Kageyama, equally difficult as a moment of selflessness over pride for you?

“I don’t want to consider that,” Hinata says, biting his lip. “I don’t want to think he’d give himself up for me.”

That is not giving up.

He turns away from the crow’s nearly inanimate calm. His fists ball at his sides.

You underestimate the value of your kindness to someone who has had none.

He has never thought deeply about it, the value of kindness. It was always something that came easily, poured from his fingertips. He is nice—good—an easy person to know. Kind. Full of trust.

Until you understand the consequences of your actions, you can never know what you mean to Kageyama.

The crow’s voice rattles his chest. He swallows with difficulty. His head feels full of static noise.

You were aching from a certain kind of loneliness. You wanted a partner. Do you still feel incomplete, knowing there’s someone who’d risk his life to save yours?

“I’m incomplete if he dies. He’s not there, it’s like he never meant anything at all.”

Can’t you feel it?

“Feel what,” he croaks.

The other universes. They’re shifting.

And the static noise in his head crescendoes to shouting voices he knows, and pictures are spilling in from every side, vivid and splintered images of other lives. He sees them, over and over again. If he were living, he might go mad; this is why their memories are kept incomplete.

The impact of what you did for one another in this universe ripples through the others, even to the far reaches of creation. Fate is reorienting itself to you.

He twists his hands into his hair, wanting the noise to stop, it’s too much. “What does that mean?” he cries. “I just wanted him to stay alive! I don’t know what that means!”

All those other times you’ve died… now you both survive in them. You have long lives.

I don’t care,” he decides, clamping his hands over his ears. “I don’t care about the other lives, I wanted this life!”

The crow, that master of quick comebacks, says nothing for a while.

You will have many other lives.

“And what if there’s a part of me that will always insist on this one? What if I’m never satisfied with another life, no matter how many you give me?”

The crow pauses again. Has he surprised it? Does it not understand, or has it just never seen this before?

Then you will always be looking for Kageyama.

“I will,” he says, feeling it to be the truth.

No matter how many times you see him grow old—

“It’ll never be enough! Never. Even if I see it a thousand times, I’ll still want more. So I’ll always be complete.”

You won’t know this pain anymore, you know. It won’t be enough to keep you going.

Hinata smiles, shakily, but discovering his lips still can move that way. “I don’t need pain. I’ll keep going, knowing he’s there.”

Most people are content to trade one lonely life in exchange for an infinity of happy ones.

Hinata’s smile broadens. He shuts his eyes. He’s ready to go back, almost. “If I keep living long enough—if I exist over and over…” He can sense the crow is listening, bewildered and intrigued. “Eventually I’ll find a universe where Kageyama survived the train derailing, right?”

I suppose it could exist. But I cannot see it.

“That doesn’t matter,” he says, starting to slap his thighs, to wake himself up. “As long as it’s possible, I’ll look for it.” He bounces back toward the spot where he woke up. It is amazing how his anger has grown into determination. No compromises. “Come on,” he shouts over his shoulder, at the crow. “I’m ready to go! Send me somewhere, I want to get started.”

He lays back over the trembling white floor, and it starts to entomb his limbs, putting him to sleep in this world, only to wake him in another.

“Sorry I messed up your system.”

The change is not entirely unwelcome.

He laughs. He comes into life laughing.

Good luck, Hinata-kun.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3002 (REVISED).

“I don’t mind it. I don’t think it’s such a big deal.”

“But, Hinata-kun,” says Yamaguchi intently. “Don’t you want to try?”

“You can’t try at that! It just happens.” Hinata traces words in the countertop. Try. Happen.

Tsukishima’s voice floats in, dry and implacable, from the first aisle of the store, where he’s shelving pink running socks. “He’s a thirty-one year old man who’s still getting tattoos. Do you think he thinks like an adult, Yamaguchi?”

Yamaguchi sighs and shrugs. At the mention of tattoos, Hinata has started grabbing at his left bicep. “This looks awesome, I don’t know what you’re saying!” His gift to himself for his thirty-first birthday has just healed enough to look presentable.

“It’s a dragon,” says Tsukishima, blinking at him over the display. Even his neutral expression has a sort of built-in disdain. “What are you going to get for your fortieth? Kitty-chan?”

“Shut up!”

“Did you cry when you got it?”

No,” says Hinata. Tsukishima raises an eyebrow. “Okay, a little.” More out of fear than pain, honestly.

Yamaguchi peeks at Hinata’s arm. The dragon is yellowish gold, wrapping around his arm, her eyes closed sleepily and her teeth bared in a grin. “It is beautiful,” Yamaguchi says, and Hinata beams victoriously at Tsukishima, whose gaze drifts toward the ceiling.

“I was only saying that some people don’t see the problem with not looking to settle down into your thirties.”

“I will when I meet the right person!”

The corner of Tsukishima’s mouth turns up. “Right. You would have to start by not being single.”

Hinata flops forward over the counter, groaning. “Ugh, you’re the worst.”

“Is it like this every time you work together?” asks Yamaguchi, glancing between the two of them. Tsukishima has finished his shelving and comes out from behind the display, breaking down a box.

“Every time.”

“I don’t know why Sugawara-san gives us shifts together,” Hinata sighs.

Yamaguchi giggles. Then he eyes Hinata’s tattoo again. “Does your dragon have a name?”

“Hm? Oh, yeah, she’s—”

The bell rings on the shop door. The three of them start, Yamaguchi especially.

“Ah,” he says. “I should let you guys take care of the customers.” Easier said than done: their customer has already taken off into the depths of the store, and keeps the hood up on his red-and-white jacket.

“Welcome to Oshoman’s!” Hinata shouts at the man’s back, just before he disappears into an aisle. Hinata leans across the counter toward Yamaguchi. “It’s all right, you can stay.” He says this mainly because he doesn’t want to be left alone with only Tsukishima to talk to, but Yamaguchi is shaking his head.

“No, no! I’ve got to get back to work. Tsukki, I’ll see you at home.” And then he forces a cheek kiss on a humiliated Tsukishima, who grimaces at Hinata’s subsequent giggling.

“Your boyfriend is way cooler than you,” Hinata tells him once Yamaguchi has left. Tsukishima flaps a dismissive hand and heads for the back room.

“I’m going to see if there’s more stock to put out.”

Hinata blows raspberries at the back of his head, then settles back behind the counter to wait for the customer to grab his stuff. Hinata catches the occasional glimpse of the hoodie when the guy moves from one aisle to another. It only takes a few minutes before he arrives at the counter, and pushes a shoebox and a packed compression sleeve toward Hinata. He wears sunglasses and keeps his hood up, but his face seems instantly familiar to Hinata. It’s distracting, it takes him a little extra work to find the barcode on the items because he keeps staring at that face. Trying to figure it out.

The man pushes his sunglasses off his face and his hood falls back. Pockets of blue.

Hinata’s eyes widen.

“You’re Kageyama Tobio?”

He seems a little flustered at being recognized, his brow knitting, and he glances away. “Yeah.” Good thing Hinata has no reservations about embarrassing anyone, ever.

“What? What?” He laughs and hops forward, leaning to examine Kageyama’s face, he knew that was a familiar face! “Tokyo 2020! Bronze medal! You’re a national hero, wow, guh—” He suddenly realizes he’s about to ask Kageyama Tobio for twenty-five thousand yen, and shoves the shoebox back across the counter. “No charge! No, no, no.” His face is so warm. Oh, it’s so warm, and he’s shaking a little.

Kageyama, wallet out and credit card poised to swipe, stares at him. For all Hinata’s blushing and gushing, he’s either unfazed or has totally clammed up—unfazed, probably, Hinata bets he gets people fawning over him every day, and like—free shampoos, probably!

“Kageyama-san,” he insists, dipping into a bow—and smacking his forehead into the counter. He straightens up rubbing the affected spot.

“I want… to pay,” says Kageyama, still with his card hanging in his hand, like he doesn’t know what else to do with himself.

Hinata freezes. He nods once, shortly. “Whatever you want, Kageyama-san.” Kageyama clears his throat and turns away, and Hinata manages to struggle through the rest of the transaction. “I played all through college,” he says, with too much shaky energy still in his voice. “I used to see pictures of you in the magazines and be like, ‘gah, I would kill to hit one of his tosses!’ You were so cool, wow.” He slides the shoes and compression sleeve into a bag, then straightens up in alarm. “Not that you’re not still cool! It’s just—not the Olympics right now, you know.” His filter reduced to nothing, he adds, “You look even better in person.” A hysterical giggle hiccups out of him.

Kageyama accepts the bag when he slides it across the counter. He’s quiet but his eyes glide over Hinata’s outstretched arms. “What’s your tattoo?” he asks, quickly, his attention nabbed. Hinata beams and pushes up the sleeve to show him.

“A dragon! My dragon. It’s cool, right?” He watches Kageyama’s expression for any kind of reaction. Imagine, getting approval on his tattoo from Kageyama Tobio—Tsukishima wouldn’t be able to make fun of him, then! Ha!

But the look on Kageyama’s face doesn’t exactly scream excitement or interest; it’s more vague puzzlement, and after leaning down to examine the tattoo he pulls up and shakes his head. “Yeah. Very cool.” Well. That’s enough for bragging rights, isn’t it?

Kageyama grabs the bag and marches for the door wordlessly. “Bye, Kageyama-san! Bye!” Hinata calls after. “Come back whenever you like! Thanks for coming!” When he hears the bell on the front door ring again, meaning he’s alone, he squeals and collapses into a heap behind the front counter.

This is where Tsukishima finds him ten minutes later. “What the fuck.”

“Tsukishima,” he gasps, clawing his way up the counter in order to stand. “You’ll never guess who was just in here. Gwuhhhh.

“Who?” asks Tsukishima tiredly.

“Kageyama Tobio! Kageyama Tobio.”

“… Who?”

“The volleyball star!” Hinata flaps his arms. “He’s the setter for the national team, he has an Olympic medal, he’s—he’s a genius, incredible!”

“Wow,” says Tsukishima mildly. “I hope he didn’t see your boner. You could be arrested.”

Hinata shrieks angrily, but not before glancing down to check the front of his jeans (okay, he knew he didn’t, but it couldn’t hurt to check). He spends the rest of his shift giving his coworker dagger eyes, and hoping Kageyama didn’t notice what Tsukishima had gleaned in a second.

About a week later, he’s working a close and the store is a bit busier, so he doesn’t notice Kageyama until he’s singing, “Next customer!” And looks up and, there he is, in all his Olympic glory. “Kageyama-san,” he squeaks. No sunglasses this time, but the same hoodie. A national team hoodie, Hinata has since realized.

Kageyama gives him a nod. He slides a pair of kneepads across the counter and Hinata goes about ringing him up with shaky hands.

“I hope you’re having a good night, Kageyama-san,” he says, in his best polite customer-service-y voice. Tsukishima’s teasing had sufficiently embarrassed him out of overstated enthusiasm. He’s playing it cool, this time. Yeah. Really super cool.

Kageyama’s quiet while he swipes his card. And when he finally speaks, the question he asks throws Hinata for a loop. “You were a wing spiker?”

He’s asking about me. Why. He remembers what I said about wanting to hit one of his spikes? “Uh, uh.” Hinata struggles to get the kneepads into a bag. “No, I—I was a middle blocker. I, um, wanted to be a wing spiker. But you’ve got to have lots of offensive power and I’m kind of…” He gestures to the top of his head, his height. “I can jump, though! And I’m fast. So I got to hit spikes sometimes.”

Kageyama accepts the bag from him. “Why not be a libero?”

Hinata pulls a face. He’s heard that so many times, it doesn’t matter that it’s coming from a member of the national team. Liberos are cool, everything about volleyball is cool, but… “They don’t score.”

At first he thinks Kageyama might be wincing, but then it registers: he’s smiling. That’s a grin. “They don’t,” he agrees, and heads out, leaving Hinata to handle the line of customers behind him, and he does, in a daze.

It’s like that a couple times a week, for the next two months.

He starts to wonder how many times Kageyama has come in when he wasn’t working. It seems presumptuous to assume that Kageyama comes to see him specifically, but after the fifth or sixth visit, he thinks to ask, “Why do you need all this equipment? Don’t they give you everything through the team? Like custom stuff?” In reply to this, Kageyama only mutters something about needing back-ups, while staring at the floor. And even then, Hinata doesn’t get really suspicious until Kageyama starts showing up just to buy energy bars and a sports drink and exchange a few sentences about matches and stats.

That’s the weird thing—Kageyama doesn’t talk much. He doesn’t hang around to chat. He comes back over and over just to piece together one long conversation with Hinata. But every conversation has to end.

Kageyama comes up to the checkout with an issue of Volleyball Monthly and an energy bar.

“I was thinking about what you said, about not having offensive power. But being able to jump.” He flips a page in the magazine. “A really good setter would know that jumping and speed are offensive powers. Every spiker is different, the setter’s job is to weaponize individual talents.” He looks up at Hinata, and slides the magazine and bar across the counter.

“Our setter was pretty good,” Hinata offers, scanning the items. “Maybe not that good, though.”

“Would you like me to toss for you sometime?”

It’s not possible to trip while you’re standing still—for most people. Not for Hinata Shouyou.

He trips behind the counter, and Kageyama’s energy bar flies out of his hand, and he has to lunge to catch it.

An Olympic setter, offering to toss for him.

Kageyama Tobio, offering to toss for him.

“I haven’t played seriously in years,” he breathes.

Kageyama shrugs, and smiles—at first Hinata had been started by that gesture, but now that he’s seen it a few times, he doesn’t mind. Nobody smiles quite like Kageyama. “You’re never too old for a new combination.”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3002 (REVISED).

How weird, he thinks, when Kageyama shows up to their practice with yellow tulips.

It takes him a shameful amount of time to wise up to the fact that he’s not at practice: he’s on a date.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME X, UNIVERSE #435 (REVISED).

He’s zipping along the sidewalk on his hoverbike one night and he sees something through the large glass windows of an art gallery that makes him slow down.

Mouth hanging open, he dismounts and abandons his bike on the sidewalk, stumbling toward the door. He reads the sign in the window aloud to himself. “Jump by Kageyama Tobio.” Jump. He sees black-clad figures moving around the paintings—paintings he can’t help but recognize.

Moving like a zombie, he pushes open the gallery door, and glides inside, not really knowing what he’ll find.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME M, UNIVERSE #2 (REVISED).

So they do see each other again, at a team reunion, eight years later.

There’s a hug and an apology. (Stranger things have happened.)

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME C, UNIVERSE #80,559 (REVISED).

“Hey! Hey, you! It’s me!”

And Kageyama stops there, in the middle of Sendai Station. He smiles.

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME L, UNIVERSE #779 (REVISED).

“I have loved getting old with you.”

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #3002 (REVISED).

(A DATE. WITH KAGEYAMA TOBIO?)

 

 

 

 

LIFETIME T, UNIVERSE #8,671,445,860,175 (REVISED).

The next day, the headlines will read, “MIRACLE MAN SURVIVES FALL FROM DERAILING TRAIN.”

The rescue crew finds Hinata on the bridge at sunrise, still crying his eyes out.

They help him back across, and a helicopter takes him to the emergency response site at the base of the mountain. Everything around him is movement and noise but it strikes him, strangely, as muffled. He cannot hear quite as sharply, nor see quite as clear.

Except one thing, one thing he sees from two hundred feet away. A stretcher being loaded into an ambulance.

He knows in the same way he’s always known, every time, in the Seven-Eleven and the street in Sendai and on the train car, hours ago. He breaks away from his escort and runs for the ambulance, determined to catch up before it drives away, the blanket falling from his shoulders as he goes. He can feel in his throat that he’s shouting, he’s not sure what. Maybe Kageyama’s name.

Totally unconscious but, that’s him. His leg looks like it might be broken and there are cuts and scratches and dirt all over, and they’ve got him on a breathing machine or something, which means—his chest rises and falls. Alive.

Hinata grabs one of the ambulance workers by the arm. “Is he going to be all right?”

The EMT looks startled. “He—he’s in a coma. But he’ll probably—”

“What hospital are you taking him to? Can I come in the ambulance?” There are people behind them calling his name, reminding him that he’s due for his own ambulance. “Please, he’s my friend!”

The stretcher disappears into the vehicle. “I’ll make sure you can find him,” says the EMT, and she smiles hesitantly at him. He smiles back.

Alive.

He watches them drive Kageyama away. They’ll see each other again soon. He’s sure of it.

The sun is fresh in the morning sky, and he reaches for it, fingers splayed wide.