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“Want to have dinner at my place today?” Oikawa asks and immediately kicks off the ground, sending his swing creaking, his legs folded back so his feet won’t drag on the ground.

They happened upon each other at the crappy playground that’s about equidistant from both their houses by chance - well, by a definition of chance that accounts for the fact that they both tend to hang out here when they need to get out of the house and playing volleyball isn’t in the cards, which is almost exclusively on Sundays. They’re the only ones there, the ground still shimmering with frost and the chains stinging cold against their palms.

“Sure,” Hajime agrees, twisting the seat of his own swing to the left and right, and watching Oikawa when he swings into view.

Oikawa has been strange about his family, lately. Not the kind of strange anyone but Hajime would notice, all airy shrugs and a suspicious lightness in his voice, but still different from usual. It’s been going on since the acceptance letters for high school started trickling in, and then got worse on Friday, for some reason. Something's wrong. Hajime has been coming up with and dismissing plans on how to get back at Oikawa’s parents without harming him in the process for a while now.

“‘S been a while,” he adds after a moment, as Oikawa swooshes past.

He's met Oikawa's parents before, of course he has - they have been too close for too long for anything else. But while Oikawa was readily adopted into the Iwaizumi household, the same has never been true for Hajime with Oikawa's parents: He's always felt, distinctly, like he didn't belong in their home - too unpolished, too rugged, too uncouth. Now, nearing the tail end of fifteen, he's beginning to suspect it's not his fault at all - after all, his own parents have never blinked at Oikawa's odd charm, his mood swings, the altogether fake attitude that he's been assembling for two years now. It doesn't detract from the grudge against Oikawa’s parents that Hajime has been building in their absence.

“Mm,” Oikawa hums, noncommittal, heels skidding on the rubber ground as he slows himself to a gentle sway. “You should probably stop calling me Oikawa, then. I can call you Hajime, too, if you want. Just for today.”

And the thing is, Hajime has been trying to get Oikawa to stop calling him ‘Iwa-chan’ for literal years. There is no way that him offering to drop it now is a good thing, and Hajime hates that Oikawa gets like this about his parents, how ready he is to change himself for them. Of course, Oikawa acts fake all the time, but it's usually on his own terms. This - whatever it is - is so blatantly wrong that Hajime, abruptly, loses interest in even pretending to care for their opinion.

“Why would I do that?” he asks, gruff. “You're the only Oikawa worth knowing.”

Oikawa startles, at that. For a second, Hajime gets to watch his unguarded expression - wide-eyed, the corners of his mouth curling up into a delighted smile. Hajime savors it while he can, before Oikawa pulls up a scolding expression to cover it up. “Always so rude, Iwa-chan!” he says. The delight seeps through. 

If this is the only thing he can do - to be rude to Oikawa's parents in a way that won't reflect badly on Oikawa - then it's what he's doing, he decides.

*

So he shows up at their doorstep that evening, holding a last-minute gift, and doesn’t try all that hard to reciprocate when Oikawa’s mother opens and presents her splendid smile like a gift of her own. She’s a good deal shorter than him, but somehow manages to give off the impression of being tall all the same. Maybe it’s in the way she refuses to look up to anyone. “Hajime,” she greets brightly, “It’s so good to see you!”

“You, too, Mrs. Oikawa,” he says, and hands her the gift.

“Oh, what is this?” she asks, gearing up for delight even when what she’s holding probably just looks like a jar of dirt to her.

“Curry paste. Family recipe,” Hajime says, and, because the thought of the prim and proper Oikawas kneeling around their perfectly polished table trying hard not to sweat and cry into their meals had seemed funny to him a few hours ago as he was pestling the ingredients, he adds, “extra spicy.”

“How thoughtful!” There’s her delight, just in time. Hajime wonders if it’s as fake to anyone else, or if it’s just because he has watched Oikawa stumble over his own first attempts, seen him file and sharpen his expression into the same molds over the years. “Thank you very much, Hajime. Come in, sit down! It has been a while since you’ve seen my daughter, hasn’t it?”

And she’s off to get rid of his present, waving a hand for him to make his way to the dining table. Hajime feels a tentative hope that dinner won’t be as bad, if Oikawa’s sister is there - it’s been years, but he remembers her as lively, honest in a way the rest of her family isn’t, and, thankfully, for some reason, fond of him. 

He finds her at the table, opposite Oikawa’s father, looking thoroughly out of place with her bleached hair in a ponytail and bags under her eyes. Hajime does some mental math and concludes that Takeru must be about five now, not really young enough to still lose sleep over. 

“Hi,” he says awkwardly.

“Hajime! You’re here! I haven’t seen you in ages, you got so tall!”

Oikawa’s sister is grinning at him across the table, her tired face transformed in an instant with the genuine warmth of it, while his father is twisted around and appraising him with such forced neutrality that it has to be covering up something bad. He has always been imposing by his height alone, but the blank face accompanying his barely perceptible nod makes it worse. Hajime decides to focus on Oikawa’s sister.

“Not tall enough,” he mutters, and since he has a sixth sense for when Hajime complains about being shorter than him, of course Oikawa chooses that moment for his entrance.

“Iwa-chan! There you are!” He skips down the stairs, grabs Hajime by the elbow and guides him to the table, where he plops down next to his sister and expertly dodges her hand as she reaches out to mess up his hair. He stretches his right leg out in front of him until his father gives him a pointed look and he hurriedly tucks it underneath his body, kneeling upright.

“Aren’t you getting a little old to still be calling him by that nickname, Tooru?” Oikawa’s father asks, the sharpness of his tone just barely covered with a half-hearted chuckle.

Hajime sits cross-legged, meeting the disapproving look Oikawa’s father turns on him head-on as Oikawa gives a bland shrug, all traces of his smile gone. “He hasn’t complained so far.”

Hajime has complained, loudly, multiple times, but in the face of Mr. Oikawa’s distinct fatherly disapproval, he doesn’t feel the need to point this out. “I don’t mind,” he says instead, a truth he’s been guarding for reasons he doesn’t entirely grasp himself.

Oikawa fixes him with a look, a neutral expression that wants to be a smile. Hajime smiles back.

Next to him, his sister slips out of her formal pose as well, resting her feet next to her legs. When she catches him looking, she throws him a wink.

“So,” Oikawa’s mother says, all business, setting down a steaming pot of nikujaga. “Let’s eat.” 

Hajime eyes the thin cuts of meat in the pot. He’s used to picking around it, leaving it for Oikawa or one of his brothers to steal, but he has a feeling that might not be an option today. 

He’s about to open his mouth to request a serving without meat and no doubt offend the entire family in the process, when he sees that Oikawa, always one step ahead, is already sitting up on his haunches. As soon as his mother sets down the pot, he snags the ladle and raises his eyebrows at Hajime until he nudges his bowl closer. There’s almost no meat poking out from the vegetables in the portion Oikawa upends in his bowl, and he gratefully tugs it back towards himself, ignoring the quick sideways glance Oikawa’s father is giving him. 

As a child, Hajime used to dread the absolute silence that would descend on Oikawa’s family at dinner time, used to the chaos of his own home. Now, he’s almost grateful for the reprieve, muttering a quick thanks and keeping his focus on his food for the better part of the meal.

Only after she sets down her chopsticks does Oikawa’s mother dive into conversation.

“How are your brothers doing?” she asks while he is still picking at the last potato cubes in his bowl. “Did Tsugio settle into Kitagawa Daiichi nicely? He’ll be a second year soon, right?”

There’s no way they won’t find out anyway, so Hajime swallows his last bite and says, “He might have to repeat the grade. Mom’s trying to tutor him, but it might be best for him to get held back now so he can get back on track.”

He looks up into the shocked faces of Oikawa’s parents. Choke on it, he thinks grimly, helping himself to seconds when nobody moves to offer any, not even bothering to hide that he’s fishing around the meat in the pot. Over her parents’ embarrassed apologies, he catches Oikawa's sister smiling at him across the table, just barely, and it occurs to him that she might only like him because he diverts their attention from her.

It doesn't matter, he decides, and smiles back, all teeth and no restraint. If she wants to be his ally for whatever reason, she's welcome to it.

Into the awkward silence that follows, he finally asks after Takeru, managing to start a less excruciating conversation, and keeps it going as best he can. He calls Oikawa by his family name the whole time, through his father's raised eyebrows and his mother's affected laugh and his sister's knowing grin, and through Oikawa quietly watching him the entire time, growing increasingly fidgety as the conversation winds down. 

When Oikawa’s mother finally makes a move to clear the table, Hajime offers to help with the dishes, because he's sure that that'll somehow be construed as rude as well. And of course it is, Oikawa's mother laughing her goddamn tinkling laugh and telling him that he's a guest, of course he shouldn't bother washing the dishes like a servant . Hajime shrugs and follows Oikawa up the stairs to his room.

Wow ,” Oikawa says breathlessly, when the door has shut behind them, throwing himself onto his futon, where he lands in a sprawl. “How do you do that.”

“That's just how I talk,” Hajime snaps, and sits down on the one edge of it that’s still free, Oikawa's body immediately winding around his backside like a comma, in the way he's taken up lately. Hajime’s hand finds his right leg almost on autopilot, and he digs his fingers in below Oikawa’s kneecap, absently kneading the tissue where it must be stiff from kneeling for so long.

“No, I know, that's what I mean,” Oikawa says, looking up at him from his other side. He's so rarely honest that it startles Hajime every time. “My parents are so good at making people pretend, and you just refuse.” He prods his fingers into Hajime's side, and Hajime focuses on not twitching. “Like it's easy.”

“They just don't mean that much to me,” Hajime says, trying not to let on that Oikawa still knows exactly where he's ticklish. “They're not my parents. If they've been treating you shitty” - shittier than usual, he thinks darkly - “I couldn't care less about their good opinion.”

Oikawa laughs, genuine and grateful, and it's all Hajime can do to smile back at him helplessly. 

“You know, I’ve always been so ready to go along with whatever plan they had in mind for me,” Oikawa muses, detaching himself from Hajime and spreading out across his entire futon like a starfish again, foot nudging into Hajime’s backside. “Drop volleyball after school and go forth to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever they wanted for me.” 

And the thing is, Hajime can see Oikawa as a lawyer or a doctor. He’s ruthless, charming, can read people like a book and has an excellent memory and work ethic. He can make split-second decisions with pinpoint accuracy, and he performs well under pressure. But the face he pulls at the admission makes it clear that it’s the last thing he wants out of life. 

“And now?” Hajime asks, indulging him for once. Oikawa gives a mean little laugh that he usually reserves for making fun of Kageyama, and sits up on his elbows.

“I’m done carrying their baggage. I’ll get a sports scholarship after high school and move out, so they can’t control me anymore. I can make my own decisions. I already did, you’ll see. I could even play professionally. The Olympics, Iwa-chan! Imagine!”

Hajime, who has been imagining Oikawa playing in the Olympics for two years now, just shrugs. “Well, yeah.” For a second, he debates if he should ask what Oikawa means by ‘I already did’ , but then decides against it - Oikawa may be a schemer, but he is also in constant, desperate need for someone to recognize his genius, and that someone is usually Hajime. He’ll find out sooner or later.

Oikawa sits up properly and shakes his shoulder until Hajime turns to face him. There’s a strange nervous energy about him. “No, not just as a stupid dream, I mean for real. I think I could get there, if I tried hard enough!”

Hajime nods slowly. It’s not exactly news to him that Oikawa gets what he wants, but he’s slowly coming to the realization that it may be news to Oikawa.

“I think so too,” he says finally, as seriously as he can. He points at the “Best Setter” award that’s sitting on Oikawa’s desk, central enough that it has to bother him when he does his homework. “They don’t hand these out to just anyone, you know?”

Oikawa gives him a broad smile. “My biggest fan, Iwa-chan. My first supporter. How will you be my ace when I need you in the stands, cheering for me?”

Hajime snorts, shaking his head. “I’ll figure something out.”

Chapter Text

The full scope of what Oikawa meant when he said I’m done carrying their baggage doesn’t really hit Hajime until the next day. He knows something’s off as soon as they reach the school grounds; it's in the carefully orchestrated silence that greets them, people turning away as they approach. 

Usually, their classmates fall over themselves to chat with Oikawa in the mornings, to ask him about his weekend and tell him about theirs - inconsequential things, conversation that Oikawa invites and reciprocates with an ease Hajime doesn’t really get. Now, the only thing that shows their arrival doesn't go unnoticed is the badly hidden staring, all from a safe distance. It sets Hajime's teeth on edge.

“What’s their damage?” he asks, interrupting the steady stream of chatter that Oikawa has kept up since they passed the gate. Oikawa drops his insipid smile and tilts his head down to give him a sidelong glance.

“You haven't heard?” he asks back, somewhere between relief and trepidation.

Hajime frowns. “Heard what? Shittykawa, if you think people try to gossip with me about you, I've got some news for you.”

Oikawa laughs, sounding a fraction less strained. “Right,” he says. “I keep forgetting people are scared of you. I should tell them you still sleep with a night light.”

“You should tell them to mind their own business,” Hajime suggests, glaring at one of his underclassmen who just gave him a look of such badly hidden disgust that it turns Hajime's stomach. Whatever the rumors are, they must be bad, if it's enough to include Hajime just by sheer proxy. He takes half a step in the boy's direction, and he flees.

“Ah, what can I say? People care about what I do and think, I can't help that,” Oikawa replies lightly.

They get to their classroom just as the bell rings, too perfectly timed to be anything but careful consideration on Oikawa's part. 

Hajime remembers the cat Oikawa had insisted on chasing down several blocks on the way to school, despite the fact that he couldn’t give a damn about cats any other day of the week. The round-faced calico (“It’s a lucky cat, Iwa-chan!”) had been decidedly unimpressed for most of the journey, until Oikawa finally managed to convince it that he was friendly, smiling up at Hajime in something like triumph as it rubbed its head on his hand. Hajime had rolled his eyes at his antics even as he bent down to scritch between its ears because unlike Oikawa, Hajime actually likes cats.

Oikawa’s timing means that the hush that falls over the classroom at their arrival can't turn to whispers, because Ms Hayashi enters just a second later and calls them to attention.

Hajime plops down in his usual seat next to Oikawa and stares back at Shinoda to his left, who is busy scooting his chair all the way to the opposite edge of his table. 

By the time recess rolls around, Hajime is ready to punch a guy. Or, alternatively, a lot of guys. He can probably take most of them in a fight, but unfortunately not at the same time.

They make their way to the cafeteria without issue, what with everyone giving them a wide berth. Hajime tries his best to think of it as a good thing.

They get in line to get something to eat, Oikawa facing resolutely forward, nose high in the air. Hajime casts a glance at the people in line in front of them, but they don’t seem to be paying them any mind for once. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?,” he hisses.

Oikawa sighs, seemingly steeling himself for something - and then, right at the low point of his sigh, someone brushes past, sinking an elbow into his stomach and rushing on before Hajime can make out a face or even register anything beyond Oikawa’s pained grunt. 

Oikawa doesn’t double over, but he does stumble back a step, then another, eyes wide. Hajime automatically follows, reaching out to steady him with a hand on his shoulder. When he turns to see who’s the fucking coward who punched and ran, he only catches a glimpse of short, dark hair and medium height, which could mean about eighty percent of the guys in this school.

“I wouldn't touch him if I were you, Iwaizumi,” says someone from behind them just as he’s considering running after the guy and causing a scene. Hajime finishes spinning around, hand still on Oikawa's shoulder, to fix the boy in line behind them with a glare. Hajime has seen him around, not enough to remember his name. He's in basketball, he thinks.

“Why's that,” he asks flatly. 

In his peripheral vision, Oikawa rights himself, both feet planted firmly on the ground, a shoulder-length apart. Bracing himself as if for another punch.

“He's gay,” the guy sneers, and Hajime replies, right on top of it, a practiced receive: 

“And what do I care?”

Then he blinks. Turns around for confirmation. 

“Bi, actually,” Oikawa corrects flippantly. He's wearing his careless facade, but it's slipping. For once, Hajime doesn't want to wait long enough to find out what's underneath, so he keeps talking over his shoulder, one eye on Oikawa the whole time.

“What's it to you, anyway? Not like he's made a move on you, right? Leave him alone.”

Oikawa laughs. Takes a breath. Shrugs. “Don't worry, Kobayashi, you're not my type. I like attractive men, like Chris Hemsworth. He's hot.” He takes a step back, letting Hajime's hand fall off his shoulder. It's a preemptive move, the kind Hajime sees him pull all the time - getting distance between them before Hajime can do it himself. Hajime watches it happen as if in slow motion.

He has felt this way before, a couple of times: Like he's reached a fork in the path he's been following, and he can clearly see the decisions that will lead him down one path or another. 

He could leave it at that, get food, sit down and talk smack about that guy Kobayashi (and everyone else who has been whispering behind their backs, staring at them when they weren't looking, hissing insults under their breaths in passing). Get him through this, and keep his mouth shut. As shows of support go, it would be enough, probably. Oikawa is used to taking whatever sparse encouragement he has to offer and blowing it up until it’s barely recognizable.

Or. 

Somehow, he keeps seeing Oikawa’s wide eyes, his hand on his stomach, the surprise masking his pain. Hajime is reasonably sure that Oikawa has never once been punched in earnest, or at all by anyone other than Hajime.

Hajime thinks, it's going to happen at some point. He thinks, better get it over with. He thinks, like a bandaid.

He makes himself nod. “Yeah,” he says. “He’s hot.”

He watches as Oikawa takes it in. It takes him a second, and he fumbles his expressions once, but then he’s sporting a beaming smile, turning back to Kobayashi and slapping a hand on Hajime’s shoulder, just a little too close to his neck.

“See? This guy has taste.”

Kobayashi mutters something under his breath, but when Hajime takes a threatening step towards him and says, “What did you say?,” he just shakes his head and resorts to glaring at them.

Oikawa spins back around and takes Hajime with him, still with his hand on his shoulder, thumb brushing against his neck. He one-handedly grabs a tray and angles his perfect smile at the lunch lady, who, luckily, seems exempt from school gossip and smiles back, perfectly polite.

When they sit down, everyone else leaves them in peace. Even the tables around them stay empty, like they’re contagious. Oikawa looks around, and, inexplicably, starts laughing

Hajime, who has been trying to figure out the best way to ask him if he’s okay, settles for a weak “What the fuck, Oikawa,” instead.

“We’ll be alright,” Oikawa says, leaning towards him on his elbows, still smiling. 

Hajime has been on the receiving end of this look countless times. He knows its intensity covers up for bullshit fifty percent of the time. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less convincing. 

“Yeah?” he asks, hopeful despite himself. 

“Yeah. People are too afraid of you, and they like me too much.”

Not anymore, Hajime thinks, but he makes an executive decision to let it go. There is no convincing Oikawa when he gets like this, and if nothing else, they can use some optimism.

“The fuck did you do anyway, to get yourself outed?” he asks instead, jabbing at his food.

“Someone asked, and I didn’t lie.” Oikawa, when Hajime gives him a disbelieving look, is completely preoccupied with a single grain of rice that won’t cooperate.

“Why not?”

“Lying is bad, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa chides, finally managing to pick up the rice grain and lifting it to his mouth with a victorious smile.

“Lying is all you do,” Hajime points out.

“Well, I wanted to stop. You should be glad, you always tell me to.”

“I’m just surprised. This is a weird fucking place to sta--” Hajime cuts himself off when the realization hits. “Oikawa, tell me you didn’t come out to get back at your parents.”

Oikawa shrugs. “I could tell you that, but that would be counterproductive, what with me trying to cut down on lying.”

Hajime spends a good minute coming to terms with that revelation, trying and failing to come up with something to say to it that isn’t why. Oikawa graciously lets him work through it in silence, clicking through something on his phone and humming to himself.

“And anyway,” he finally continues after Hajime snaps his lunch box shut, like there was never a pause in their conversation at all, “ You don’t get to lecture me on stupid reasons to come out. Do you even know what Chris Hemsworth looks like?”

Hajime does not. 

“Show me,” he says tiredly. “Let’s see if he’s worth the trouble.”

*

Somehow, they get through the rest of the school day. There's no volleyball practice on Mondays, but they know an outdoor volleyball court just a few minutes from school that nobody else ever seems to use in winter, so if the weather permits, they usually end up practicing there. Most of the time, others from their team join them - never the same people, and some more often than others, but Oikawa's sheer determination is catching and nobody is immune to it (not even Kunimi, pretend though he may).

Needless to say, nobody else shows up today even though it’s almost warm, pale sunlight streaking the asphalt in the gaps between houses. 

There's a relief in being alone after all the open hostility they've had to face today, Hajime thinks, taking off his jacket and leaning into a stretch immediately, ignoring the initial shock of fresh air. Across from him, Oikawa mirrors him, his face completely blank. It looks a little bit like he used up all of his facial expressions for the day, and Hajime feels a stab of sympathy that he does his best to stretch out like he would a side stitch.

They fall into a routine almost wordlessly - Oikawa practices his jump serves, and Hajime tries to receive them. He doesn’t usually love this particular exercise, but today, there's a satisfaction in running after every single ball, dedicating the entirety of his brain capacity to following the trajectory of every serve Oikawa hits and returning them one by one.

There's a different kind of satisfaction in watching Oikawa spin the ball in his hand, in watching him toss, run up, and leap, and hearing the unmistakable, solid snap of his palm as it connects with the leather. His form, product of tireless exercise, would probably be perfect even if he did this half asleep or sick or distracted, but his serves still go out of bounds more often than not today. Hajime can’t say he’s surprised - it’s a delicate operation, bound to come apart at the slightest disturbance. Hajime is reasonably sure today qualifies as more than slight. 

Oikawa keeps at it, though, his face still impassive, working through the motions again and again, until he finds his rhythm and settles into it.

Hajime doesn't know how much time has passed when Oikawa finally catches the ball Hajime sends back over the net and doesn’t immediately launch into another serve. “Okay,” he calls out to him, “Let's strategise!”

They do that, sometimes, before important matches - Hajime is more present than he is actually helpful during those sessions, but he never complains. He tries to learn, at least, the way Oikawa dissects the other teams' strategies, how he comes up with ways to counteract them and cut them off.

There's no upcoming match now, with the Athletics Meet just behind them, but Hajime shrugs and makes for the bench in the short grass by the side of the court, shrugging his jacket back on before the cold can get to him. 

Oikawa sits down a safe distance away. Hajime has just enough time to wonder if this is the end of the casual touches Oikawa kept bestowing on him before Oikawa gets his feet up on the far end of the bench and flops down, head in Hajime's lap, smiling up at him.

Abruptly, Hajime doesn't know what to do with his hands. 

“So! Strategy,” Oikawa repeats, unperturbed. “We'll make them come crawling back by next week. You just keep glaring at anyone who tries to insult us, I think that's been working well.”

“That's just my face,” Hajime says automatically, then sits up straighter, because of course. Strategy. He remembers Oikawa’s look at lunch, full of determination. Of course he wouldn’t just hope for the best. Of course he’d turn it into a fucking game, clawing his way back to fame. 

“Well, keep using it, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says sweetly. “We'll talk to anyone who wants to talk to us, but we won't be grateful for anyone's attention. They're the ones who need to grovel.” He taps his chin, thoughtful. “Except for Shinoda and Kobayashi. We're not talking to them until they actually apologize.”

Hajime frowns. “What's wrong with Shinoda?” He doesn't know much about the guy, except that they sit next to each other in their homeroom and sometimes share a kind of silent agreement that vectors are the devil's work. Of course, today he was sitting with his stuff so close to the edge of the table that his textbook was constantly in danger of falling off, sure, but if that's their bar, they'll need to shun way more people than this.

“I need you to be ice cold, Iwa-chan. Can you do that for me?” Oikawa asks, not answering his question. He’s biting his lip, the way he does when he’s thinking hard. 

And of course Hajime knows, objectively, that Oikawa is the one with the people skills, but he's never stopped to consider it as an actual skill : It must have taken work Oikawa was willing to put in, the same way he was willing to practice his jump serve over and over until his palms were burning - watching people's reactions, their relationships among each other, dropping a word or a smile or a shrug and watching their effects ripple out like rings on the surface of a lake. 

“Sure,” Hajime finds himself saying. “I trust you.”

Oikawa blinks once, twice. Smiles again, more softly. If Hajime kept tabs on Oikawa's smiles, this would be a favorite. “And I know you have my back.”

Hajime rests a palm on Oikawa's stomach, careful not to put any pressure on it. “I should have had your front, too.”

“It doesn't even hurt anymore, Iwa-chan, stop fretting,” Oikawa says, and it's almost familiar territory, except he sounds a little breathless. He’s warm to the touch even through his jacket. “I've got my own front, starting today. He just caught me off-guard.”

“Mm,” Hajime says. “And what about practice?”

Oikawa purses his lips. “I’ve been thinking about that, and you’re not going to like it - why hello!”

Hajime watches Oikawa’s mask assemble in record time while he rights himself and gives a cheerful wave, Hajime’s hand falling to his side. When Hajime follows his line of sight, he’s very briefly surprised, and then wonders why.

He’s never met anyone who cares about anything that isn’t volleyball as little as Kageyama does. And here he is, awkward and lanky and very, very thirteen, making his way towards them in that stiff way he has, eyes on the ground. 

“Hello, Iwaizumi,” he greets. “Oikawa.”

“Tobio-chan!” Oikawa chirps. “Did you try to wait us out?”

Kageyama looks up. “Tutoring ran late.” He bends down to pick up the volleyball Oikawa left by the side of the bench, spinning it in his hands. When he does it, it looks almost compulsive, but it might still beat Oikawa’s fucking annoying showmanship. “Are you already done practicing?”

Oikawa gives Hajime a look that says, let’s ditch him.

Hajime raises his eyebrows in a way that hopefully relays, we can’t afford any more enemies.

“What did you want to practice?” he asks, half-rising. Kageyama is still staring at the ball in his hands. 

“Jump serves,” he says, Oikawa mouthing the words along with him with an eyeroll.

Hajime raises his eyebrows at Oikawa. 

Oikawa makes a face. “Do you want help?” he drones as if reading from a script, clearly unenthusiastic at the prospect.

Kageyama looks up at that, straight at Oikawa. “Yes, please,” he says, and Oikawa leans forward, raising a hand to his ear. 

“What was that last part?”

Kageyama stands up straight. “Yes, please, captain!” he repeats, louder.

“Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,” Oikawa says, getting up and spinning Kageyama around by his shoulder to face the court as he passes.

Kageyama seems to take it in stride. Hajime gets up and on the other side of the net; if he’s going to stick around, he might as well get in some more practice, too. He watches Kageyama get into position. Oikawa hovers half a meter to his side, then seems to make a decision and gets into Kageyama’s space to correct his footing, then the way he holds out his arms, then the line of his shoulders. 

Kageyama takes in all of his corrections, as serious as ever. 

Hajime breathes a secret sigh of relief, watching him take the run-up, jump, and serve. 

The ball soars over the net and connects solidly with his forearms, flying up again - the serve doesn’t have as much force as Oikawa’s yet, but Hajime can already tell that Kageyama is well on his way there, even after the patchy half-year of practice he’s given it and in spite of Oikawa’s initial refusal to teach him anything. 

“Nice serve!” Hajime calls out, running after his own receive and tossing it over the net for the next one.

“How come you never tell me that, Iwa-chan?”

“Your ego doesn’t need feeding, Shittykawa!” he yells, getting into position. 

“My ego is starving!” Oikawa calls back, and hands Kageyama the ball again. “That was nice, Tobio-chan, but you’re going to want to have more force behind it. Look at Iwa-chan.” 

Kageyama narrows his eyes at Hajime across the field. 

“You want to fuck him up.

Hajime laughs. “Try,” he says. 

*

It’s almost dark by the time Hajime gets home. Sore and tired and with his forearms covered in scrapes from a particularly ill-advised dive, he feels almost normal again, if he doesn’t think too hard about the pinched smile Oikawa gave him when they parted ways at the 7-Eleven a block from home, as if to say, off to the next challenge.

Hajime lets himself in, kicking off his shoes by the door.

The entire house smells like agedashi tofu, and with the reminder that Monday is his father’s day off comes the realization that the world hasn’t ended, so of course he’s making dinner like he does every Monday, and of course sometimes dinner means his favorite.

Rooted to his spot in the genkan, Hajime listens to his father’s and brothers’ voices mingling in the kitchen, their laughter booming out into the hallway - and all of a sudden he’s choking on a lump in his throat, stumbling into the guest bathroom where the smell and the voices are muted when he closes the door behind himself, sucking in a few quick breaths to try and calm down.

“Okay, okay,” he tells himself in the near-dark of the bathroom, fumbling for the faucet to wash his face and wincing when the water runs down the raw skin of his arms. He takes the time to prick out most of the gravel and soaps them up, breathing through the sting. He’s okay, the year is almost up. High school will be a new start. Whatever happens, he still has Oikawa.

He rinses his arms and bends down to splash water on his face. Turns to face where his reflection would be, if he’d bothered to switch on the light. He gives it a salute, and immediately feels stupid about it.

“Hajime?” he hears his mother call from somewhere upstairs.

“I’m home,” he calls back belatedly, quickly drying off his face and arms and opening the door. 

“Welcome home! What were you doing in there, in the dark?” His mother is hanging over the banister to get a good look at him, her hair coming free of the braid and framing her face in frizzy strands.

Wordlessly, Hajime holds out his arms towards her, elbows first. He feels like a child, demanding pity for mild injuries from his mother, but if he can’t have her pity for his actual, horrible day, he’ll settle for this.

“Oh, love,” she sighs. “I keep telling you boys to take better care of yourselves. I’ll get the disinfectant, come up here.”

That’s how Hajime ends up on the edge of the bathtub while his mother fusses over him, her small, rough hands turning his arms, dabbing at them with a cotton pad and cleaning out the gravel he missed, letting out little scolding noises as she does. 

“What happened?” she asks finally, stowing away the disinfectant and giving him a glance over her shoulder. It’s several questions at once, and Hajime considers, for a second, giving a response to either.

“A dive,” he says after a moment. “I was out practicing with Oikawa and Kageyama, on that outside court. Forgot it wasn’t the gym for a second.”

“Mm,” she says, unimpressed, and comes back to ruffle his hair. “Well, let’s get downstairs before your brothers eat everything.”

“Like they’d manage,” Hajime snorts. There’s no hunger big enough for the portions his father cooks. 

Hajime slinks into the kitchen after his mother, calling out a general greeting and slumping down in his chair opposite his younger brothers.

Tsugio turns away from Keizo in a way that’s too slow to be anything but deliberate, and levels a flat look at Hajime.

Hajime sits up with a start. Of course - Tsugio goes to Kitagawa Daiichi. Tsugio is on the basketball team. He’s definitely heard - if not of Hajime, then at least of Oikawa. How had he not considered this? 

(Of course, he’s done his best to avoid thinking all day, leaving it all to Oikawa. Maybe he deserves this.)

“Shut your ugly face, or I’ll fucking kill you,” he hisses out of the corner of his mouth, racking his brain in an attempt to figure out if the basketball team practices on Mondays or not. 

Tsugio gives him a disdainful smile - he’s been doing that a lot, to the point where Hajime has asked him if he practices them in the mirror - and turns away and back to Keizo, who is reaching out towards Hajime across the table, demanding to see his wounds

Hajime leans across the table and lets him prod his arms with his sticky little fingers, watching Tsugio out of the corner of his eye, but he’s already seemingly absorbed in a discussion about how he’s totally on top of his schoolwork, and he doesn’t need extra tutoring at all, come on, it’s fine, mom.

“Did you have basketball today?” Hajime finally asks him, before their mother can press the issue. 

“Yeah,” Tsugio says, turning back to look at him, expression back to carefully neutral. “There’s a good chance I’ll be first string once Kobayashi leaves for high school.”

Something like dread settles in the pit of Hajime’s stomach. “I’m sure you’ll be a good replacement for him,” he gets out. “He seems like a pretty shit team player.”

“Yeah,” Tsugio agrees, kicking out his feet against the legs of Hajime’s chair. He slouches back on the low bench as their father sets down the steaming bowls. “He’s a prick.”

“Don’t insult other players just because you want their position, Tsugio,” his mother chides.

“No, he really is a prick,” Hajime jumps in, reaching for the serving spoon and starting to dish out the rice.  “It smells really good, dad.”

His father grins at him, folding himself into the far end of the bench. “I thought you’d appreciate it. It’s a celebratory dinner.”

Hajime can’t help staring. “What are we, um -” he turns to look at his mother, who freezes like she was definitely just frantically shaking her head at his dad, “--celebrating?”

“Nothing,” his dad says quickly. “The, uh--” he visibly racks his brain for a fake reason and visibly comes up empty, “-- oh, did Tooru not want to come today?”

Tsugio’s head snaps up, and Hajime barely stops himself from flinching. “No,” he says carefully. “I think he’s got some trouble with his parents,” he adds, because to an extent, that’s always true, and at least his mom knows what an awkward affair Sunday dinner was. Not that Tsugio seems to care, still watching him over his bowl. Hajime quickly mutters, “Thank you for the food,” inclining his head to break eye contact.

“Prick!” Keizo yells delightedly into everyone else’s obedient murmured thanks, little hands clasped together, and in the ensuing chaos of laughter and scolding and over the intermittent sharp looks Tsugio sends him, Hajime forgets to ask about his father’s weirdness.

*

 

After dinner, Hajime spends half an hour fidgeting in his room, lying down on his bed for a second, then pacing the length of his room, then emailing Oikawa a series of frog pictures all captioned with some variation of ur face, then managing to work on his homework for a few minutes.

iwa-chan how are u still so mean even when I’m the only one on ur side, Oikawa replies, and Hajime immediately finds the strength of will to shut off his computer, get up, and sneak back out into the hallway.

He hesitates for a few seconds in front of Tsugio’s door, then knocks twice.

They used to have a code, back when they still regularly played together, but Hajime isn’t sure if that’s going to help him right now.

It turns out to be a moot point, because even so, Tsugio doesn’t answer. Hajime knocks again, changes his mind, and doesn’t even wait for a response before opening the door a crack.

Tsugio is sitting hunched over his desk, a steady beat seeping out from the headphones covering his ears, pencil in hand. 

Hajime closes the door without bothering to push down the handle, and when that fails to call Tsugio’s attention, he marches over to him and pulls one earpiece cushion away from his ear, letting it snap back into place.

Tsugio scrambles up, screaming, and almost falls off his chair. 

An ugly snort-laugh escapes Hajime.

“What the fuck do you want, shithead?!” Tsugio yells, way too loudly. He shrugs off his headphones, something like a melody joining the tinny beat. It’s almost familiar in that way a piece of music gets when someone nearby is constantly singing snatches of it. Hajime softens his laughter.

“I don’t know, man, I was feeling kind of down, but I’m much better now, so I’ll just--” Hajime makes to leave, and Tsugio grabs him by the hood of his sweater and pulls him back. 

“Oh no no no. You don’t get to tell me to shut my ugly face and then pull this. I’m doing you a fucking favor. Explain.” He stops the music. 

“Okay,” Hajime says, because Tsugio is right, for once. He sits down at the foot of Tsugio’s bed, falling backwards and staring up at the ceiling. “What do you want to know?”

“Why are you doing this?”  Tsugio asks, immediately. “You were fine before, weren’t you?”

Hajime breathes out. Out of all the possible questions, this one is the hardest to answer. He doesn’t have a simple reason, but maybe - it’s worth a try - they are similar enough in mind that Tsugio might get it, anyway. “You know about Oikawa, right?”

“I’ve known about Oikawa since Friday, Kobayashi emailed the entire team.”

Hajime pulls a face, chancing a look at Tsugio. “Well, he’s - I don’t know if Kobayashi explained what happened exactly, but…”

“He had a pretty detailed story,” Tsugio says, making a face. “But I wanna hear it from you.”

“Right,” Hajime says, relieved. “Um, so, Oikawa and I were getting in line for lunch, and he was about to tell me what the hell was up because nobody bothered to tell me,” he rights himself to level a pointed glare at Tsugio, who raises his hands.

“Dude, last time I told you about Oikawa-related gossip, you yelled at me for like an hour. I got the message that time.”

Hajime drags a hand through his hair. So maybe he gets protective about Oikawa, even if Oikawa really doesn’t need it. “Right, sorry about that. Um, he was about to tell me, and then someone ran past and punched him in the stomach.”

Tsugio looks enraged on Oikawa’s behalf for all of a second, and then he realizes what Hajime is trying to tell him, and he shoots him such an exasperated look that Hajime almost laughs. “So you decided you really want to be punched as well, and now half my team is ignoring me.”

Hajime digs the heels of his hands into his eyes until he sees stars. “I thought maybe if we’re two people, there isn’t as much attention on him,” he explains weakly. “Sorry I pulled you into this. I wasn’t thinking about that.”

Tsugio nods, as if everything makes sense now. “Whatever, it’s just two more months before the year is up, and then I can ruin my own reputation.”

“I’m sure you’ll have no problems at all with that,” Hajime jabs half-heartedly. There’s a brief silence, and then he sighs. “Do you get it, though?”

Tsugio pulls up one shoulder in a lopsided shrug. “I guess. But it’s still really dumb.”

“I’m starting to realize,” Hajime agrees, voice tight.

“Are they gonna kick you off the team?”

Hajime laughs through the tight bundle of nerves that’s suddenly appeared in his stomach. Or maybe that’s been there all day. “They’d have to be real dumb to kick out their captain.”

“The tournaments are all over, right? I know you said there’s a first-year who plays his position really well.”

“Yeah, but they’re gonna want Oikawa to teach him everything he knows for as long as possible.” He remembers Oikawa’s expression when he asked about practice, tight around the eyes. Something like fear. I’ve been thinking about that, and you’re not going to like it.

“Okay. Good, then.”

“Anything else you wanted to know?”

Tsugio shrugs, looking down at his hands. “Are you--” he looks up again, right into Hajime’s scowl, and seems to change his mind. “--scared of what mom and dad will think?” he asks, finally. 

“No,” Hajime says, “Not - you don’t have to keep it a secret for long. Just give me like, two days. I had a really shitty day, and tomorrow is practice, and I still don’t know what’s going to happen there?” It comes out shaped like a question, and he tacks on a shrug as if that’s going to make it better. 

“Yeah, whatever. Take your time. I’m not gonna lie, though, if anyone asks me.”

“Course. I didn’t expect you to.”

“Yeah, well.” Tsugio turns back to his homework, a clear dismissal.

“Need help with anything?” Hajime asks, making to get up.

“I’ve got it covered.”

Hajime looks over Tsugio’s shoulder at his textbook, which is opened to a list of irregular English verbs. “Ugh, nevermind, can’t help you with that, anyway. Why do they even make verbs that don’t follow the rules, right?”

“It’s the dumbest shit, they could just make them right again, but apparently that’s not allowed. I’m doing these verbs a favor, straightening them out again.”

Hajime opens the door. “Well, good luck with that.”

Tsugio peeks up at him, then goes back to looking down at his homework. “I don’t think you need to be scared, either,” he says quickly. “I mean, they’re fine with Auntie Janya and everything.”

Hajime nods and closes the door between them, softly, this time.

Chapter Text

Tuesday is better mostly by virtue of them having something like a game plan and, in Hajime’s case, knowing what’s going on throughout the entire day. 

He meets Oikawa at their usual corner, where he’s slouching against the wall of the 7-Eleven, its short awning protecting him from the misty rain. He looks restless even from a distance, the loose S of his stance, hands curling and uncurling by his sides. When Hajime arrives, Oikawa fixes him with a look. Hajime decides to be grateful he doesn’t go for a fake smile immediately, even if it’s almost jarring to see him without.

They fall into step silently, Oikawa absently fraying the straps of his backpack as he crowds in under Hajime’s umbrella. Hajime casts around for things to say, but there’s absolutely nothing that’s going to make this any easier, so he keeps quiet.

As soon as the school gates come into view, Oikawa puts on a smile like he’s donning armor. Hajime, for lack of his own armor, grits his teeth and stands up a little straighter.

“Here we go,” Oikawa says, some portion of his smile seeping into his voice, sharp and bright.

They make their way to their classroom, and Hajime tries to keep track of who’s hastily averting their eyes as they approach, who’s turning to whisper as soon as they pass, and who keeps staring at them, not even bothering to hide their disgust. He doesn’t even know half of the people he notices, but he makes sure to glare at the ones he catches. Some look away, flustered, like they didn’t think he’d - what, notice, or care enough to react? Maybe like it didn’t occur to them that he’s also an actual person they’re treating like shit. 

Hajime takes a small amount of pleasure in the fact that he can make them react right back

Oikawa by his side is chattering again, and after they pass a particularly nasty group of second-years, Hajime decides to tune in. 

“--Take has grown so much since I last saw him, I really hope he’ll get to visit more often. You know, we should see if he gets along with Keizo, I can’t believe they’ve never met!”

Hajime shrugs. “I can ask my parents, I bet they’d love to set up a playdate.” He briefly thinks about the way Oikawa’s parents look at him, that mixture of lofty pity and mild shock, and then remembers his sister’s badly hidden glee at the way he kept inducing that look over and over again during dinner on Sunday. “They’ll probably get along with your sister.”

Oikawa laughs, then, a real one - barely more than an exhale, startlingly quiet compared to his fake laughs, which ring out like a bell. Hajime kicks open the door to the school building and holds it for him while trying to collapse his umbrella with the other hand.

“So gentlemanly, Iwa-chan," Oikawa chirps, nudging Hajime’s shoulder with his as he passes. “And yeah, I think my sister and your family would be a match made in heaven. How did we never think about this?”

Hajime catches a group of girls staring at them, huddled together right by the door. He recognizes Akiyama from their class, who likes to chat with him before school, never daring to approach Oikawa head-on but always skirting close. She doesn’t look disgusted so much as curious, and when he raises his eyebrows at the group, they all blush profusely and turn away.

“Because your sister’s never around,” he replies distractedly. “Why’s that, anyway?”

Oikawa shrugs, the gesture deliberately light in a way that immediately gives it away as anything but. “She gets into fights with my parents,” he says, like it doesn’t concern him in the slightest, but his voice is quiet enough to make sure nobody overhears. “We still text all the time, though. I’ll ask her.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing Takeru again.” Last time, he’d only gotten a glimpse of him, a tightly bundled-up baby, fast asleep in his mother’s arms. “Or, you know, your sister. She’s cool.”

Oikawa grins at him, opening the door to their classroom with a flourish. “You can just say you have a crush on her, you know, it’s okay. I won’t judge you for your terrible taste in women.”

Hajime rolls his eyes and walks past Oikawa, slumping into his chair and setting down his backpack in the same movement. When he straightens up, he notices that Shinoda must have not waited for his arrival, this time. His chair is already as far away as it gets, and he’s pointedly looking in the other direction. 

Hajime stares at the back of his neck until he turns around, and then he stares some more until Shinoda breaks eye contact, looking away deliberately to start a conversation with someone in the row behind them. 

When Hajime turns back to Oikawa, he’s giving him the slightest approving nod, making Hajime feel, for all it’s worth, like an undercover agent. It makes the situation instantly more bearable. “For the last time,” he says, not bothering to even fake annoyance, “I don’t have a crush on your sister. Unlike you, I’m capable of just thinking people are nice without immediately wanting to date them.”

“My sister isn’t nice , Iwa-chan, you just have a thing for delinquents.”

“She’s the only one in your family who doesn’t look at me like I’m some bug they found under a log, okay? If I latch onto her when I’m at your place, that’s why.”

Oikawa blinks three times in quick succession, fake surprise hiding something else that Hajime can’t pin down. He busies himself getting out his textbook and pencils, glancing at the clock. In two minutes, he can stop pretending like he doesn’t care about the way everyone is so pointedly ignoring them. (In two minutes, Ms. Ikeda is going to start the lesson with a vocabulary quiz, as she does, and Hajime can’t believe he’s looking forward to that. )

“I don’t look at you like that,” Oikawa finally says, sounding a little cross, and ah. 

Hajime could point out the countless times Oikawa has called him a brute, rude, mean, boorish. That he never misses an opportunity to comment on the way Hajime holds his chopsticks, or how he gets this mildly disgusted look whenever Hajime eats something without paying close attention to how or how fast. 

None of it matters enough for Hajime to want to pick a fight, or even cause more of that vaguely upset expression on Oikawa’s face.

“You don’t count, you’re the only reason I visit there in the first place,” he says instead, and Oikawa lights up instantly. 

“I’m so sorry you have to put up with people who value manners for my sake,” he lilts right into the sound of the bell, and Hajime wastes no time cuffing him upside the head in retaliation. Oikawa’s answering yelp cuts off clean in the middle when Ms. Ikeda opens the door, which Hajime is willing to admit is a very useful skill to have. Now silent and pouting, Oikawa raises his hands to his hair and tries to contain the damage Hajime inflicted. 

Hajime grins and leans away, accidentally catching Shinoda’s eye again in the process.

He lifts his chin, raising his eyebrows in the flattest expression of a wordless what he can manage, and doesn’t break eye contact once while they rise to greet Ms. Ikeda, until Shinoda lets out a scoff and turns the back of his chair as far towards Hajime as he can conceivably get away with.  

*

Hajime tries to ask about Oikawa’s practice strategy again at lunch, but as soon as they settle down with their food, Akiyama hones in on their table. She doesn’t seem hostile, but then, he’s never been good at reading faces, especially when it comes to girls. 

He watches her approach. She has cut her hair exactly to shoulder-length, so that the tips of it whisper across her shoulders and fall to cover the sides of her face when she bows her head. “Hey, Iwaizumi, Oikawa,” she says.

“Akkin,” Oikawa replies, smiling. Hajime watches his expression for a clue, but it’s carefully blank, so even it’s almost unsettling.

“Would you mind if we sat with you?”

Oikawa turns to Hajime. “Iwa-chan?” he asks, and he has never asked Hajime if he minds the company Oikawa tends to attract at school - he knows Hajime doesn’t mind or particularly care who they share their time with, that he’ll tune it out if he doesn’t care for the conversation. This must be part of their strategy, not to sound too eager. 

Hajime frees up the chair next to his and shifts his tray to make space on the table. “Sure,” he says. It comes out as more of a grunt, but Oikawa gives him a blinding smile.

“Thank you!” Akiyama sets her own tray next to his. She raises a hand in the air and gestures for her friends’ attention while pulling back the chair next to him with her other hand, and a moment later, the whole chattering and laughing and giggling crowd of them descends on their table, filling up the remaining seats and pulling up extra chairs and tables, talking all the while. Their topics range from choreographies to gossip to the vocabulary test everyone is still groaning about. It’s all Hajime can do to keep up and try to memorize everyone’s names - not all of them are in his class, and he spots a few second years, too. Opposite him, Oikawa sinks into their conversation like into a relaxing bath. 

He’s made up nicknames for everyone before the break is over, each of them welcomed with indulgent eyerolls and blushes. Hajime does his best to keep the ratio even. He doesn’t notice that he’s been picking at the scabs on his arm until Oikawa kicks him under the table and he surreptitiously drops his hands to his side.

“You know, I’m envious of you two,” Akiyama says as everyone is gathering up their trays. For some reason, she keeps addressing Hajime, even when Oikawa is right there , utterly approachable and friendly and clearly better at talking to girls than he is. 

Hajime makes a vaguely questioning sound, failing to come up with a single enviable thing about their situation.

“You’ve figured it all out. I’ve never even been on a date .”

“Neither have I,” Hajime replies, surprised. 

Akiyama falters briefly, then smiles. “Ah, I suppose it’s different if you’re friends first, right?”

Oikawa, who was just about to throw out his trash, freezes, then turns around slowly. “We’re not dating, Akkin,” he says with half a laugh, and everything falls into place. 

Akiyama’s eyes go round. “Oh,” she stutters, “I thought…”

She leaves it at that, which is just as well. 

“Still envious?” Hajime asks. He doesn’t know why he’s suddenly furious, but he’s at least vaguely aware his fury isn’t entirely directed at Akiyama, so he keeps it out of his voice as best he can.

“I’m sorry!” Akiyama squeaks, “I didn’t mean to presume - everyone just said…” She sets down her tray and makes to flee.

“Don’t worry about it,” Oikawa calls after her, still almost laughing.

Hajime balls up his napkin and chucks it into the trash, missing Oikawa by a few centimeters. 

“What’s got your knickers in a twist, Iwa-chan? I think that went well,” Oikawa says. He looks like he means it, face flushed in that way he gets when he just had his ego stroked. “Have you ever talked to that many girls at once? Oh that’s right , you’ve never talked to a girl , singular!”

“They all think we’re fucking,” Hajime states flatly, and whatever, he gets to be crude about this.

“So what? I corrected her, didn’t I?” Oikawa says blithely. 

“I’ve never even held anyone’s hand, and now everyone thinks we’re - fucking, just because we both like boys, like that’s the only prerequisite!” Hajime isn’t even sure himself how the two statements are linked, but they are, and it itches at him. Like it’s so easy for them, now, just a matter of falling into each other because they’re the only ones left. He takes a deep breath, and fails to calm down. “She thought it was more likely that we went straight from friends to fucking without going on any dates than that we aren’t fucking!”

Oikawa watches him, brows furrowed. Then he smooths out his face in a way that feels deliberate, and tugs Hajime’s tray out of his hands to gently slide it into the rack. “Iwa-chan, you should be flattered,” he lilts. “You know, I’m quite the catch.”

Hajime feels the fight drain out of him. “You’re a piece of shit,” he corrects flatly. “Let’s get going, I really don’t want to be late to biology.”

*

“Oikawa, wait,” Hajime calls, catching Oikawa by the strap of his backpack. “Oi, you gonna tell me what we’re doing at practice, or?”

Oikawa, who has been striding towards the clubroom with purpose, stumbles to a reluctant halt, and Hajime nods towards a slightly less frequented hallway, herding Oikawa in that direction. 

They round the corner, and Oikawa glances around to make sure nobody’s within hearing distance before leaning against the wall in a way that Hajime knows means he really just wants to lie down on the floor. 

“So what’s the plan?” Hajime asks.

Oikawa tilts his face up to the ceiling. “We need to trust them,” he says evenly.

There’s a beat. “Trust them,” Hajime repeats, incredulous. 

“Yes. It’s the only way this is going to work. We’re a team. If I don’t trust them, we’re right back to where we started at the beginning of the school year, six players trying to win on their own. Remember?”

And the thing is, Hajime does. He remembers yelling at Oikawa that he isn’t the only one on the court, and how for once Oikawa seemed to hear what he was saying. He can’t regret it, not when Oikawa has been playing more brilliantly ever since, but right now, with Oikawa standing before him looking sick to his stomach, Hajime wishes Oikawa had a setting between zero and a hundred when it comes to listening to his advice.

“That’s not my strategy, though,” he says.

Oikawa closes his eyes, face still tilted up. “That’s okay, I can probably do it alone.”

“I’ll just stick to making sure they don’t forget who’s their captain.” Hajime pushes himself off the wall, offering Oikawa a hand. “Let’s not be late, then.”

Oikawa opens his eyes slowly, a surprised smile spreading on his face, and he clasps Hajime’s hand. “Iwa-chan, I knew deep down you had respect for your captain . Where’d you hide it all this time?”

“This is just until this all blows over. I’ll be back to insults in no time, so don’t get used to it.” Hajime pulls Oikawa along to the clubroom, only to have his courage fail him as soon as they’re in front of the door. After a few seconds that Hajime spends trying to muster the strength of will to raise his hand to the knob, Oikawa takes a deep breath and whisks open the door with a smile at the ready.

Inside, their teammates freeze, all of them in various states of undress.

Oikawa gives a cheery little wave. “Yoo-hoo! How is everyone? I can’t believe you all missed out on extra practice yesterday!”

“Except Kageyama,” Hajime adds with a curt nod in the kid’s direction, because he’s making a hilariously indignant face at the misrepresentation. Kageyama accepts the correction with a serious nod. He’s the only one who’s already in his shorts and t-shirt, ready to go.

“Sorry, captain,” Kindaichi mumbles from where he seems to be stuck in his shirt. Hajime suspects it’s at least part stalling tactic.

“That’s alright,” Oikawa replies easily, shrugging off his jacket and starting to unbutton his shirt in the same fluid movement, “I know you’re going to work yourself to the bone perfecting your spikes this week, a day off isn’t a bad idea when you put in so much effort on the other four days.”

Kindaichi finally appears from the other end of his shirt, looking appropriately steamrolled. “Yes, captain,” he says.

Oikawa gives him a satisfied nod. Hajime feels the mood in the room shift minutely, like it tends to do, to accommodate Oikawa. It’s in the way everyone seems to relax a fraction, their attention on Oikawa not quite waning, but turning into something less unsettled and more familiar. 

Hajime realizes that he’s just been standing there, taking it all in, and he quickly yanks his shirt over his head and kicks off his shoes. The familiar sounds of Oikawa quickly changing into his sports gear next to him fade into the easy conversation he strikes up with the others - for all intents and purposes, sounding like he always does, if a little more focused.

By the time they’re changed and ready to go, Hajime is cautiously optimistic about Oikawa’s plan. At least the first and second years have been shocked back into routine, talking to Oikawa like they usually do - that is to say, is with grudging admiration. The only ones Hajime is still keeping an eye on are Sasaki and Nakano, the other third years, who slunk in at the last second and hadn’t started changing yet when Hajime left. 

They’re just two people, Hajime thinks with some relief. He can get them in line, should Oikawa’s strategy fail.

He tries to get a read on the two of them as everyone forms the usual half-circle around their coach. They’re huddled together by the wall, as far from Hajime and Oikawa as they can get. Neither of them are in Hajime’s class, but they always talk to him when they catch him in the hallways or in the canteen, so he feels like they’re at least somewhat friends. Were, maybe, he thinks, watching Sasaki whisper something that makes Nakano laugh.

“--warm up, then the three on three for the third years, Kindaichi and Kageyama, and spikes and receives for the rest. Off you go!” Coach Yoshino is saying, and here is something else Hajime has been dreading: warm-up stretches. Oikawa always uses the partnered exercises to make his rounds around the team, so unless he suddenly loses all his bravery and abandons his insane strategy, Hajime is on his own.

He chances a glance, and yes, here Oikawa is, already striding towards Kindaichi with a determined smile. It looks easy, but Hajime can’t even imagine walking up to someone with that kind of effortless calm right now. He wipes his hands on his shorts and pivots, trying to find anyone who’s willing to catch his eye.

Everyone’s looking just past him, locking eyes with someone else over his shoulder or just plain turning away. One of the second-years actually looks up at the ceiling as Hajime turns in his direction, and that’s just it . Hajime waits until the kid has no choice but to look back down, and doesn’t avert his eyes until he is physically fidgeting under his glare.

“Excuse me,” says someone just behind him, and of course, how could he forget? 

“Kageyama,” Hajime breathes, spinning around. “Did you want to do the partnered exercises with me?”

Kageyama gives a nod, his usually so rigid posture sagging on an exhale. Hajime is dimly aware that Kageyama isn’t the most popular kid in his class, and how sometimes that must translate to a difficulty in finding a warm-up partner. 

Hajime sits down and gestures for Kageyama to follow suit, leaning forward into a stretch, eyes on where Oikawa is already extricating himself from Kindaichi again, ruffling his hair in passing and worming his way in between Kunimi and Sasaki with a laugh. He makes out their exasperated expressions at the familiar nuisance, and then Kageyama’s hands press into his back and he dutifully lowers his head until his forehead is almost touching the floor, ignoring the burning at the backs of his thighs.

When he looks up again, Oikawa is sitting cross-legged in front of Kunimi, who is pulling his arms towards him by his hands, one of his sneakers at each of Oikawa’s knees. Oikawa is chattering the whole time, Hajime can pick the friendly pitch and the rapid-fire pace of his voice out of the background noises of the gym without problem, even if he can’t make out any individual words.

Hajime wordlessly kneels down behind Kageyama and pushes him forward by the back, switching their positions. He tries to make out Kunimi’s expression, but he can only see about a quarter of his face. When his answering voice fills a pause in Oikawa’s speech, Hajime doesn’t hear more than the usual amount of vague irritation in it. Hajime breathes out.

As Kageyama leads him through the rest of the exercises, Hajime continues to watch Oikawa go from teammate to teammate, each interruption of two partners a new spike of anxiety and each grudging acceptance a new sigh of relief. Finally, sitting up, with Kageyama pulling his arms towards himself from behind him, Hajime allows himself a second to just watch

Oikawa has his legs stretched out, feet slotted to Nakano’s, who is lying on his back, their hands joined and shaking with the stretch of it, but Nakano is laughing a little, voice strained from exertion and nothing else. This time, they’re close enough for Oikawa to catch Hajime staring, and to give him a smug little smile, as if to say so there . Hajime briefly loses his hold and sags into Kageyama’s back, who grunts with the added weight. 

“Sorry,” Hajime says, bracing his feet against the floor again.

“Don’t mind,” Kageyama replies blandly, pushing them back upright.

Oikawa comes into sight just as they’re disentangling themselves and snatches Hajime’s arm. “Tobio-chan, I’m stealing your partner!” he announces, and Kageyama gets up, nodding. Everyone around them is dispersing to get the nets set up, he’s not going to find a partner for the last exercise, Hajime thinks, and finds himself saying, “You’ve already done the last exercise.”

“No wonder you’re lagging behind, if you keep sneaking glances,” Oikawa retorts, unfazed. “Hands,” he demands, and Hajime holds them out for him. Oikawa takes them, settling down on his back, feet up. “I just like the fetal position too much to pass up on the chance of doing this one twice,” he jokes. Hajime snorts incredulously, but slots the soles of his shoes to Oikawa’s, locking out his legs and leaning back. 

“I thought I’d rescue you from Tobio-chan,” Oikawa says more quietly, after a while. “He looks like his hands somehow manage to be ice-cold and sweaty at the same time.”

“Kageyama’s fine, leave him alone,” Hajime says automatically, even though Kageyama does have ice hands. Oikawa’s grip is warm and sure, a contrast Hajime tries his best not to pay too much attention to. “So what’s the verdict?,” he asks. “Everyone properly trusted back into obedience?”

“Keep an eye on Sasaki, I didn’t catch him this time,” Oikawa says immediately, like he had the order lined up and ready to go. “Shouldn’t be a problem, since he’ll be on your team for the three on three.”

Hajime does the mental math. Coach Yoshino had called up the third-years, Kindaichi and Kageyama, so if Oikawa isn’t setting for him, that means he’s getting - “Sasaki and Kageyama?” he asks, and Oikawa nods, nudging his legs into reversing their positions. Hajime lets the pressure roll him back and down onto the floor. “I can do that,” he says. “Anything else?”

Oikawa shakes his head. He’s wearing that tiny frown again that takes over his expression when he isn’t paying attention to it, and Hajime remembers how exhausting even finding one partner was, and how much worse it must have been for Oikawa. He squeezes Oikawa’s hand, and Oikawa squeezes back before letting go.

“Well!” he says, getting up and clapping his hands together. “Let’s get going on that three-on-three, then! Nakano! Kindaichi! We’ll wipe the floor with them, right?”

Kindaichi’s gaze sweeps over Hajime, Kageyama, and Sasaki. He gives Oikawa a dubious smile, and Oikawa skips over to clap a hand on his shoulder and whisper something that has him laughing in a second, looking infinitely more self-confident. 

“The only one who looks like a mop here is you, Oikawa,” Hajime calls back, and Sasaki laughs as Oikawa’s hand immediately goes up to his hair. 

“I can’t believe you’re this rude to your captain, Iwa-chan!”

Hajime grimaces. Oikawa asked him to keep an eye on Sasaki, and here he is, immediately undermining Oikawa’s authority in front of him. Maybe their usual banter has no place at practice for the time being, he decides. “Sorry,” he says, and Oikawa freezes for a split-second, then goes to pick out a ball from the basket, testing it between his palms. 

“You should be. Get ready, then!”

Hajime looks over Kageyama and Sasaki. He usually high-fives his teammates before a match, but Kageyama is notorious for not participating (or maybe just not getting what’s expected of him, he can be remarkably stupid about things like this) and high-fiving Sasaki now would feel like betraying Oikawa on a level he doesn’t even fully understand, so he just gets into position, slightly behind and to the right of Sasaki. "Ready to crush them?" he asks, and Kageyama gives a wordless nod, while Sasaki just crouches down, resolutely facing forward.

Oikawa on the other side gives him a smile full of teeth, spinning the ball in his hands. 

Hajime watches the familiar motions of his toss, run-up, and leap, but he knows something is off as soon as Oikawa tosses the ball, and the sound as his palm connects isn’t quite right either, like he doesn’t hit it where he was supposed to - the ball catches on the upper edge of the net, teetering for a second until it finally comes down on Oikawa’s side.

Kindaichi and Nakano call out, “Don’t mind!,” but Sasaki cackles, turning towards Kageyama.

Hajime watches him raise his arm and flip his wrist, hand flopping down in a mockery of a serve. 

Through the blood suddenly rushing in his ears, he doesn’t catch what Sasaki says to Kageyama. 

What he does see is the ugly grin stretching Sasaki’s upper lip, the disgust in it starkly visible even in profile. 

He catches the ball Kindaichi tosses over the net on autopilot and takes a step back, behind the service line. In his peripheral vision, Kageyama gives Sasaki a look that’s so thoroughly empty that it might actually be on purpose. 

It’s not enough.

Two years ago, when he kept getting into fights with his classmates, Hajime’s mother told him to deliberately recall all the little facts he knows about someone when he gets like this, so he tries. 

Sasaki has a cat. Sometimes he shows him pictures of it on his phone, it’s tiny and fluffy and almost unbearably cute. Sasaki took everyone out for pork buns last week and didn’t even complain when Hajime switched his order to a pizza bun. Whenever Sasaki sees him in the hallways, he yells his name at the top of his lungs and insists on a high five. 

Hajime bounces the ball once. 

Sasaki isn’t going to ask him for high fives anymore.

Hajime is alright with that.

He serves the ball into the back of Sasaki’s head with enough power to knock his head forward, chin slamming onto his chest. 

Sasaki turns around in time to see him catch the rebound, a hand flying up to his mouth.

An apology-shaped silence stretches out between them, and Hajime isn’t filling it.

Sasaki stares at him. Hajime silently holds his gaze.

“Sorry,” Sasaki finally says, letting his hand sink. His teeth are red. He must have bitten his lip, or his tongue. 

“You’re bleeding,” Hajime replies blandly. “Better let coach take a look at that.”

Sasaki leaves the court without another word. 

Hajime walks up to the net and wordlessly offers the ball back to Oikawa.

“You look awfully smug for someone who didn’t even make the point,” Oikawa says, taking it out of his hands. His eyebrows are raised in a silent question. Either he didn’t see, or he’s very good at hiding how he feels about Sasaki’s gesture.

“I think I made a point, alright,” Hajime replies flatly. On the other side of the net, Kindaichi flinches ever-so-slightly, wide eyes flitting between Hajime and Sasaki’s retreating back.

“Well!” Oikawa chirps, struggling to regain his cheerful tone. “Two on three. Now we’re definitely wiping the floor with them. Nakano,” He tosses the ball behind himself. “Nice serve!”

Hajime turns to Kageyama, who fixes him with an unimpressed look. “I’m sorry,” he says, meaning it. “We’ll show them we’re not going down that easily, right?”

Kageyama watches him for a second, seems to come to a decision, and gives a single nod, expression changing to something so earnestly determined that it almost makes Hajime smile.

Hajime manages to receive Nakano’s serve, and Kageyama tosses so precisely into the gap between Oikawa and Kindaichi that all Hajime has to do is slam it down onto the floor. 

He laughs, gripping Kageyama’s shoulder and shaking it. “See?,” he says. “We’re fighting. That was a nice toss.”

“Yes,” Kageyama agrees, taking the ball and getting into position to serve. 

They end up losing the set, with Sasaki looking on from the bench, a tissue pressed to his mouth, unmoving. Kageyama keeps sending increasingly incredulous glances his way. 

“He’s not coming back,” Hajime says eventually, wondering if he should go over and apologize. He’s struggling to find the regret necessary to do it.

“Coward,” Kageyama hisses, startlingly intense.

Kageyama’s pinpoint tosses are as good as ever, landing them a nice amount of points. They work well together, with Hajime not necessarily in the mood to steer the game, willing to hand over responsibility for the time being. Kageyama takes matters into his own hands. Hajime watches the gears turn in his head and thinks for a second about telling him that Hajime is on his team too, that he can share his strategies. 

It feels too close to what he told Oikawa at the beginning of the school year to not count as a betrayal. 

So he keeps his mouth shut and does his best to spike Kageyama’s tosses instead, even as they get increasingly faster, arcs flattening. 

Oikawa watches them with something like delight. Around him, Nakano and Kindaichi are taking the points that Hajime’s side is scoring with an untroubled calm. Their team moves as a unit within minutes, Oikawa calling out a word here and there, ruffling their hair or handing out high fives when they score. 

When they make the final point, Kageyama turns to Hajime and says, over their cries of victory, “You hit him on purpose.”

It’s not a question, but funnily enough, it doesn’t sound like an accusation either. “Yes,” Hajime confirms. 

Kageyama nods to himself for a few seconds, mulling it over. “He had it coming.”

Hajime blinks. He thinks back to yesterday, how he thought that Kageyama must just not care about anything beyond volleyball. 

Apparently he does have a single, additional opinion on bullies.

Hajime hums, noncommittal. “You played well. Let’s get them on the next one.”

“Yoo-hoo! You two, of the resting bitch faces!”

Hajime whirls around to glare at Oikawa, whose teasing smile immediately dissolves into ugly laughter as he points a shaking finger at them. When Hajime chances a look at Kageyama, he’s also scowling in Oikawa’s direction, eyes narrowed. Hajime takes a moment to imagine how their twin glares must have looked and feels his expression soften into a grin. He punches Kageyama in the shoulder. “Come on, let’s get on the other side.”

Kageyama stumbles, rights himself, and strides over without a word. Hajime shakes his head and looks over to the bench, where Sasaki is still giving him a belligerent glare. 

He sighs, signals Kageyama to wait on the other side, and goes over to him.

“Did it stop bleeding?” he asks, sitting down heavily next to Sasaki. Sasaki makes no move to lift the tissue.

“Iwaizumi, Sasaki here tells me you hit him in the back of the head on purpose?”

Hajime leans forward to find coach Yoshino a few meters down the bench, making eye contact past Sasaki. His stomach twists. Are they going to kick you off the team echoes in his mind.

“Did he also tell you what he said?” he asks. 

It’s a gamble. It’s also the only thing he can think of that could help him out right now. Next to him, Sasaki is staring intently at the floor, silent.

Coach Yoshino looks between them, beady black eyes narrowed. 

“Apologize to each other, and go back to the game. We don’t need players that are too hung up on their infighting to concentrate on the matches.”

As the oldest of three brothers, Hajime is used to being the bigger person. It still takes a lot of willpower to dreg up every last ounce of regret he can find, and muster a bow. “I’m sorry, Sasaki,” he says, and even manages to mean it to some degree.

Sasaki watches him, stone-faced, tissue still pressed to his mouth.

“Give me that, Sasaki. Don’t tell me it hasn’t stopped bleeding by now.” Coach Yoshino always sounds impatient to a degree, but it’s even more pronounced now. He doesn’t give off the impression of someone willing to deal with something that must sound like a pointless squabble to him even on a good day.

Sasaki hands over his tissue and folds into a sloppy bow. “Sorry,” he says tonelessly, righting himself again immediately. 

Hajime has half a mind to punch him in his stupid, bloody mouth right then and there, but he manages to turn on his heels instead, starting to march back to the court. “Iwaizumi,” Yoshino stops him, “A word.”

“Yes?” Hajime asks, turning back to face him as Sasaki brushes past to join Kageyama on the other side of the net.

“As long as you’re on court, anger will only cost you. It means you’re distracted, rash, and untrustworthy. Take a leaf out of Oikawa’s book and play it calm from now on.”

Hajime nods and leaves before he can say something that’ll get him in trouble, like, if you think Oikawa’s less angry on court than I am after watching him play for three years, then you’ve got another thing coming.

They proceed to lose the second set as well even with their third teammate, but Hajime is too frazzled and angry to really care, neither about the loss nor the resentful glances Sasaki keeps sending him throughout the match. 

When they shake hands after the game, Sasaki barely even touches Oikawa’s fingers before he heads straight for the clubroom, not bothering with cleanup duty. Oikawa watches him go.

“When I said to keep an eye on him,” he says out of the corner of his mouth, linking arms with Hajime, “I didn’t mean smack a ball into the back of his head. Just for the record.”

“Fuck off,” Hajime says. It’s more of an apology than what he told Sasaki half an hour ago. 

“That’s alright though, just tell me you like my tosses better than Kageyama’s and I’ll let it slide,” Oikawa continues blithely, bending down to pick up a stray volleyball and tossing it back into the cart.

“Kageyama’s tosses are exactly where he wants them,” Hajime says, both because it’s true and because they’re passing Kageyama where he’s rolling up the net. Kageyama seems to straighten up a little at the praise, going back to his task with renewed vigor.

“But are they where you want them?” Oikawa lilts, and that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it.

Hajime throws open the door to the supply closet, grabbing two mops and pushing one at Oikawa, who is giving him his best confident grin, the one Hajime always wants to wipe off his face as quickly as possible.

“You can say it, Iwa-chan. Say, Oikawa is my favorite setter . I miss Oikawa’s tosses terribly when I have to play on Kageyama’s team. I can’t win without Oikawa’s tosses.”

“In your fucking dreams, Shittykawa,” he says. When they step back out into the gym, everyone else is already in the last stages of tidying up. He belatedly realizes that by claiming floor cleaning duty, they will by default also be the last ones back in the clubroom. He glances at Oikawa sideways.

Oikawa catches his look and shrugs. “I thought we could use a break today. We can’t do this every day, though.”

Hajime breathes out, and out, and out. He gets to work, eyes trained on the floor. “Yeah,” he says.

Oikawa drags his mop over to the other side of the gym and follows suit, calling out the occasional goodbyes as their teammates filter out one by one. Most of them call back, or at least give a wave. As soon as the last of them leaves, Oikawa falls silent. When Hajime chances a look, it looks more like the mop is holding him up than the other way around.

By the time they’ve finished up and enter the clubroom, most everyone has left already, only a single shower still rushing. Hajime grabs his clothes and makes his way to the shower stall by the wall, Oikawa filing in next to him. 

They don’t speak, even when their other teammate leaves.

When Hajime finally emerges, already feeling mostly alright again, towelling off his hair, he finds out what has kept Oikawa quiet. He’s sitting on the floor, putting on his shoes and tying his laces slowly, like it’s taking all of his concentration. The small frown from before is back, and finally Hajime can place it.

“Headache?” he asks.

Oikawa gives him a look that is so absolutely, entirely blank that Hajime takes a few worried steps in his direction. Then Oikawa nods once and goes back to the task of tying his shoes, hair dripping onto the floor as he leans forward.

“You have a painkiller on you?” 

Oikawa gets like this on occasion, when he’s tired or tense or both. As far as Hajime is aware, the only thing that helps is a dark, quiet room and a good night of sleep, but painkillers stave off the worst of it for a while. 

After another few seconds that Oikawa apparently needs to process his question, he shakes his head. 

“Okay, come on.” Hajime holds out a hand, and Oikawa lets himself be pulled upright, but then he just stands there. Hajime sighs. “You want me to do your hair, or can you do it yourself? I could probably give you a mohawk, you know, I got this new gel that’s supposed to be super strong.”

Oikawa makes a small, angry sound, the threat of Hajime messing with his hair apparently enough to shake him out of his trance at least a little. 

“No, I can do it,” he gets out, picking up his bag and carrying it over to the sink with both hands, like it’s either very heavy or incredibly valuable. Hajime leans against the adjacent sink and watches him go through his routine, slowly.

“I’ll leave this team for dead, you know,” Oikawa says eventually, working product into his hair with his right hand and steadying himself on the sink with his left. His forehead is ridiculously high, which is probably why he has been styling his hair over it since he figured out how. It makes him look weirdly vulnerable like this, smoothing it back to distribute the gel.

“You want to quit?” Hajime asks.

“No, when the year is over. They’ll fall apart. I was going to spill all my secrets about keeping the team together and all that, you know. I was going to put work into it, too, but you know what? I don’t really care anymore.” He mimes an explosion with his left, swaying a little. “Après moi, le déluge.”

“Stop being such a pretentious ass,” Hajime says. He pauses. “Kageyama isn’t so bad.”

“I’m showing him all the setter techniques he can ask for,” Oikawa agrees, plugging in his hair dryer. The pressure he’s putting on the plug makes him sway back on his heels before he manages. “I’m practicing his jump serve with him until he drops. But he’s not hearing a single word from me about team spirit .” 

Then, he effectively prevents Hajime from replying by turning on the blow drier.

The thing is, Hajime gets it, to a point. Seeing everyone who was so full of praise for them up until now turn away, and over something like this - the work they’re having to put in just to be barely accepted now - it doesn’t exactly endear them to him.

“Sucks that Sasaki won’t be around for that,” he says eventually, into the noise. 

Oikawa shuts off the blow-drier. “What?” he asks, inspecting himself in the mirror, carding a hand through his hair.

“Nothing,” Hajime says, but at Oikawa’s annoyed look, he repeats, “I just said it sucks that Sasaki won’t be around for that.”

“What did he do, anyway?” Oikawa asks, and immediately turns on the blow drier again, so Hajime just flops his wrist the way Sasaki did by way of reply. 

Oikawa doesn’t react at first, if only because there is no way for him to tense up any further. Hajime watches his mouth slowly twist around what must be one of his rare swear words, and catches himself wishing he could hear it over the noise. He’s only ever seen Oikawa swear on court, with emotions running high and his competitive nature getting the better of him.

“Let’s get you home,” he says as soon as Oikawa shuts off the blow drier, and Oikawa follows him outside, tame as a lamb. At this point, the school grounds are almost completely empty. The drizzle from this morning has only picked up in iciness, and Hajime slows down so he can shake his umbrella free and open it up. When Oikawa falls into step beside him, his eyes are fixed on the ground in the way Hajime knows means he’s switched to autopilot. 

When they reach their crossing, Hajime asks, “You got anyone to make you dinner?” He follows Oikawa a few meters in the direction of his home to keep him under the umbrella, until Oikawa realizes he’s been asked a question and looks up slowly.

“No,” he says finally, then blinks. “Are you offering, Iwa-chan?”

Hajime knows he’s trying to sound teasing, but it comes across as pleading enough that he’s willing to look past that. “Yeah. I’ll call my parents.”

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says in a pale imitation of his usual lilt, “I already have a mom.”

And maybe it’s that he sounds so tired, exhausted even by their usual back-and-forth, but Hajime abruptly doesn’t feel like responding in kind. “Yeah, well,” he says, matter-of-fact, “She’s not doing her job.”

Oikawa makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat, and then doesn’t say anything for a long time. Only after Hajime is done with his phone call does he pick up the conversation again, asking in a small voice, “Do your parents know yet?”

Hajime looks up from his phone. Next to him, Oikawa is scuffing the soles of his shoes on the pavement, the corners of his mouth downturned.

“Not yet, Tsugio is keeping quiet,” Hajime says. “I was thinking tomorrow.” he grimaces. More for the sake of the conversation than anything else, he asks back, “Yours?”

Oikawa scoffs. “No. I’m not gonna tell them anything, but I’m counting on them hearing it through the grapevine.” At Hajime’s blank look, he adds, “That way they can’t bring it up with me.”

Hajime may not understand the way the Oikawa family works, but he knows very well that they have unspoken rules about what is and isn’t okay to address, and it sounds very much like Oikawa to exploit that. He huffs out a laugh, and Oikawa’s frown smoothes out for a second.

“Serves them right,” he says darkly. “How about your sister?” Oikawa just shakes his head, and Hajime decides not to press the issue, instead resting the palm of his hand between Oikawa’s shoulder blades to nudge him around a street corner. Oikawa’s eyelids flutter closed, and he follows the gentle pressure, letting himself be steered. By the time they reach Oikawa’s home, he looks marginally less tortured. 

Hajime still leads him up to his room, closing the blinds and turning off the lights as Oikawa lies down on his futon, not even bothering to cover himself with the blanket. 

“I’ll go make dinner,” he says quietly. “Anything I can’t use?”

“Just tell me what you took, I’ll tell them it was me,” Oikawa replies, muffled into his pillow.

Hajime picks his way around scattered magazines, toys and controllers to the door, and when he closes it behind himself, he realizes that the feeling of not belonging apparently isn’t just limited to the presence of Oikawa’s parents - it’s their house , too, that makes it impossible to feel at home, so carefully devoid of personality.

The Oikawa’s kitchen is exactly what he expected, all chrome and glass and dark tile, and the gigantic fridge, when he opens it, is nearly empty. He scavenges a lone carrot and some onions and potatoes, finds and starts up the rice cooker, and opens all cabinets to get a feeling for what’s where. 

He takes the feeling of being unwelcome, an intruder, and resolutely overwrites it with the image of Oikawa’s exhausted face, pinched in that unconscious frown. If Oikawa managed to live here for all fifteen years of his life, Hajime can cook in his kitchen just this once.

It’s the jar of homemade curry that does the trick, though: Hajime spots it, wedged into an overfull box of pristine-looking spices, no doubt to be forgotten and never used. Digging it out decisively, he gets to work.

Just as he has left the pot of curry to simmer on the stove to open the window before it can fog up, the front door opens and closes. 

“Sorry for intruding,” Hajime says quickly, belatedly, under his breath, and then a short, round woman walks past the doorway, freezing as she spots him. She is markedly not Oikawa’s mother, and stares at him like she feels much the same way about him. 

Neither of them say anything for a second, and then Hajime takes in her equipment - she’s carrying a mop and a bucket, and he finally makes the connection. The Oikawas have a cleaner. Because of course they do.

"I’m a friend of Oikawa Tooru’s," he says quickly. "I’ll, um, be out of your hair in a second." He jerks a thumb towards the pot on the stove. "Five minutes."

The woman smiles at him, her face scrunching up into a myriad of wrinkles. "No, no, not at all, take your time," she says, waving at him to go back to the kitchen, still holding the bucket and mop. The bucket looks to be filled with about five different bottles of cleaning agents. Hajime wonders distantly if Oikawa’s parents don’t own any. “Smells good,” the woman says, pointing at the stove as well. “You want to be a cook when you’re grown up?”

“Oh,” Hajime says, utterly disarmed. “No, but my dad is, he taught me. It’s curry. Do you want some?”

Her smile widens into sudden peals of laughter, ringing out loudly in the empty house. She’s missing a front tooth. Hajime stands there awkwardly, waiting for her to answer, but she just shakes her head, still chuckling, and disappears into the bathroom.

Hajime turns back to the stove, face burning.

He does his best to clean up after himself, stuffing the cutting board, pot and knife back into their respective cabinets and drawers after he’s divided the curry up into two generous helpings, and carries both upstairs.

Oikawa stays unmoving until Hajime sets down his bowl next to the futon, then he flops over to his side, eyes on him.

“Flirting with the cleaning lady, are we?” he asks lightly. 

Hajime gives a single, embarrassed bark of laughter. “Yeah, sure. I offered her some food and she laughed at me. She’ll probably ask to marry me next.” 

Oikawa gives him an incredulous look, and Hajime only just manages to stop himself from flicking his forehead. “What,” he says defensively, “I didn’t know that’s apparently not done, okay, we don’t have cleaners !”

“No, no,” Oikawa says, sitting up with his knees drawn up and reaching for the bowl, “I’m sure she got a kick out of it, don’t worry. Mmm.” He breathes in deeply through his nose. “Iwa-chan, that smells almost edible!”

“I sure fucking hope so,” Hajime says, pleased despite himself, settling in next to Oikawa.

Oikawa immediately tips towards him, leaning into his side and hooking his chin on his shoulder, even though it must make eating harder. 

Hajime relaxes into the sharp point of contact between them and tucks in, keeping half an eye on Oikawa taking his first bite, his chin digging in uncomfortably.

He only freezes for a half-second, quickly smoothing over his expression. Hajime has never bothered to tell him that doing that gives away that there’s something to be smoothed over in the first place. He bites back a laugh as Oikawa’s face slowly turns a blotchy red, visible even in the half-dark of his room.

Oikawa chews and swallows.

“Good?” Hajime asks.

“Perfectly fine,” Oikawa trills. He takes another bite. Hajime continues eating his portion with gusto, until Oikawa finally breaks and disentangles himself from Hajime to hunt for a tissue. 

Hajime watches him wipe his face and blow his nose, grinning. Oikawa glowers at him. “Some friend you are,” he mumbles through his tissue, “Poisoning me when I’m already weak!”

“Don’t be a baby,” Hajime says, “Chili is good for you.” Oikawa sticks out his tongue at him, but goes back to his food without further complaints.

“You should go to a doctor with those headaches,” Hajime says after a while, and Oikawa makes a single, unimpressed sound in the back of his throat, already sliding back down into his pillow. He shuffles over to press his face into the small of Hajime’s back where he’s sitting cross-legged on the edge of the futon.

Hajime makes an effort not to tense up. "You know, maybe it’s something that’s easy to fix, like that time you finally went to see someone about your knee."

“I don’t think they’ll have a brain brace,” Oikawa mumbles into the hem of Hajime’s shirt, leaving a warm spot where his breath hits.

Hajime laughs. “Look, man, I’m just saying. It’s not all rocket science. We’re already trying to fix everything else on our own, maybe you can get some help with this, at least.”

Oikawa makes another sound, marginally less indignant, and Hajime knows this is as far as he gets to agreeing about these things.

He stays still for another few minutes, while Oikawa’s breath evens out and his fingers unclench around his shirt, and then he gets up and sneaks out of the room, feeling a little bit like a reverse burglar.

When he’s getting ready for bed, he gets a text that reads, thank you iwa-chan, devoid of punctuation or emojis. He can’t remember the last time Oikawa genuinely thanked him for something. It’s weirdly unsettling.

put the phone away and go back to sleep, idiotkawa, he texts back, slumps into bed, and tries to imagine Oikawa thanking him in person, what the pitch of his voice would be like, his expression. He can’t picture it until he remembers the warmth of Oikawa’s mouth through the fabric of his shirt, face hidden, tone free of its usual affectation. 

Hajime turns around to press his face into his pillow, groaning.

Chapter Text

Akiyama is sitting on Hajime’s desk when they get to the classroom the next day, making idle small-talk with Shinoda. Hajime’s stomach gives a weird lurch halfway between the fluttery anxiety he’s used to at the prospect of having to talk to a girl, and the sinking feeling of possibly having to interact with Shinoda.

Oikawa, ignoring his misfortune, waves at her cheerfully. “Good morning, Akkin!”

“Good morning, Oikawa, Iwaizumi,” she replies, smiling.

Shinoda, clearly trying to stay on her good side, mumbles a greeting as well.

“Good morning, Akiyama,” Hajime says pointedly, ignoring him and sitting down at his desk. It leaves him having to tip his head back to look at her. He tries to remember how to school his features into something friendly.

She looks between him and Shinoda a couple of times, quizzical, but he doesn’t even bother to follow her line of sight. In his peripheral vision, Shinoda is shifting like he wants to scoot away again but doesn’t dare while she’s looking. Hajime manages a pleasant smile with minimal effort, after that.

“Iwaizumi, I meant to apologize again for what I said yesterday,” Akiyama finally says, twisting the fabric of her skirt between her fingers and dipping into a half-bow, still sitting. “I shouldn’t have taken anything I heard at face value, I know how rumors tend to get out of hand.”

It’s a rehearsed apology, which means she must have spent time thinking about it. He shakes his head. “No, don’t worry about it. I don’t know why I got so annoyed.” 

Oikawa leans back into a stretch, extending his arms to both sides, and surreptitiously nudges Hajime between his shoulder blades. Hajime scowls, and then quickly tries to smooth out his expression. “It’s really fine.”

“You really don’t need to apologize, Akkin, it’s nowhere near the worst thing people have done to us this week,” Oikawa chirps, waving his hands in a dismissive gesture, his eyes wide and earnest. “Probably doesn’t even feature in the top hundred.”

Akiyama, for a split-second, looks over to Shinoda, then back at Oikawa, who inclines his head a fraction. 

Her expression clears. 

“Well!” she says, with something close to Oikawa’s affected cheer, “I’m glad we could clear that up. I hope you’ll sit with us again for lunch, it was so fun . I’ll get back to my seat, then. Good luck on the test, Oikawa, Iwaizumi!”

She hops off Hajime’s desk and stalks off without looking back into Shinoda’s direction once.

He follows her with his eyes until she’s reached her seat and Oikawa gives a pointed snicker. “You’re so clueless, Iwa-chan! It’s a good thing you have me.”

“Shut up,” Hajime mutters under his breath.

“Iwa-chan needs lessons in how to talk to girls,” Oikawa sing-songs, and Hajime aims a kick at his calf before Oikawa can twist his absurdly long legs out of range. “Ow! But she’s a smart girl,” he continues under his breath, “It’s gonna be so good, having her on our side.”

Hajime grunts. 

*

“So! Shinoda,” Akiyama says, dropping into the chair next to Hajime’s. She brought her own bento today. It’s so beautifully arranged that Hajime feels like he should be shielding his from view, thrown together in his half-awake state, nudging Tsugio away from the fridge. “What did he do, and what are we doing about it?”

Hajime chances a look at Oikawa, who is already waving his chopsticks in a gesture that Hajime knows means he’s not going to spill anything. “Oh, he just hasn’t apologized for something he did the other day,” he says, picking out a piece of carrot and chewing carefully before he continues. “You don’t need to get involved at all if you don’t want to, Akkin, we wouldn’t want to drag you into this.” He sounds considerate in that way he has that’s clearly a front but makes it hard to not want to help him out anyway.

Again, Hajime tries to think of anything Shinoda has done or said on Monday that would warrant some kind of special treatment, but comes up empty. Then again, Oikawa has been taking the brunt of the name-calling and malicious whispers. It’s possible that he missed something. He unclenches his hand around his chopsticks and keeps eating as Akiyama replies.

“Oh, I want to get involved. If you say he needs to apologize, he needs to apologize. What do we say, girls? Nobody talks to him until he breaks?” An excited titter goes through the group, and Akiyama points at a tall girl with a long braid. “And no help with homework either! I know you feel bad for him about his lack of essay writing skills, but he’ll just have to deal with it on his own.”

The girl nods, dead serious. “It’s such a shame, too, since he asked for help with this essay that’s due tomorrow!” Her tone is so far from actual regret it almost makes Hajime flinch. He has no clue why this group of classmates he never really exchanged words with until now is suddenly this invested in their lives, except that it’s perfectly in line with Oikawa’s freaky knack for making people care about things they previously didn’t give two shits about.

“I could always just punch him,” he finds himself offering. It feels a little weird, considering he doesn’t even know what it was Shinoda did , but if Oikawa says it was bad, he’s willing to take his word for it.

He looks up to find all eyes on him, and hastily stuffs more food in his mouth to tamp down on the desire to take it back immediately.

Oikawa is smiling at him like he’s flattered, which he only does when he’s about to turn someone down, and never to Hajime . He hates it with a passion. “No, no, Iwa-chan, don’t worry about it, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble over this at all.”

“I don’t mind. If he was a creep, it’s worth it. We can’t let them keep thinking they’ll get away with this kind of shit,” he says. Oikawa is still smiling, but it’s fading a little, like he forgot to keep track of it, something like surprise creeping into his expression instead. When Hajime refuses to look away, he doesn’t break eye contact either.

“Wow,” Akiyama finally breaks the silence, “you’re scary.”

That’s enough to make him look down and away, even though she sounds more excited than worried. He’s not about to take chances about this, so he quickly rectifies, “Not to you, though. I wouldn’t punch a girl, or anyone who can’t defend themselves.”

“Are you saying I can’t defend myself?” Akiyama says, playfully haughty.

“No, that’s why I said or . I know you’re terrifying,” and alright, he didn’t actually mean to say that out loud, but it’s too late now, and anyway, Akiyama is looking thrilled. 

“I wish I’d known you last year,” one of the second-years pipes up, which is not what he expected to hear. She’s hunched over her lunchbox, brown hair falling into her eyes, barely looking in his direction. He tries for an encouraging sound, but it comes out more like a grunt.

“People were pushing her around,” Akiyama explains, expression dark. “Boys, specifically. We took care of that then, but your solution might have been faster.”

“Who?” he asks. Oikawa snickers into his bento, but doesn’t otherwise contribute to the conversation, because he is a traitor and likes to see Hajime suffer. Like this entire conversation doesn’t leave him feeling off-kilter enough already. “Do you want me to, um--”

“Oh! No, no, no, that won’t be necessary! Um, thank you for the offer, though,” the second year squeaks, waving her arms emphatically. “They mostly stopped, anyway.” When she raises her head to give him a wobbly smile, her hair brushes out of her face to reveal a patch of perfectly white skin that stretches across one cheek and her chin, engulfing her mouth and feathering out at the edges. He must look at it for a second too long, because she abruptly looks down again, smile pinching into something painful. 

Hajime feels incredibly ill-suited for any kind of reassurance, but he’s also aware that he’s the only guy for the job, seeing as he’s the one who fucked up in the first place. “Sorry,” he starts, and she shakes her head mutely. “I didn’t mean to stare,” he adds, floundering. He glances at Oikawa, who just raises his eyebrows at him and nudges his shin in a vaguely encouraging way, “It’s just - pretty?”

It comes out more like a question, and the second year raises her hands to cover her cheeks in response. 

“Yeah,” Oikawa chimes in softly, “Your face is a work of art, Izumiko. Nothing to hide about it.” He’s infinitely better than Hajime at sounding kind when he sets his mind to it, and Hajime slumps against the backrest of his chair with relief as Koizumi (Hajime remembers Oikawa’s smug look as he came up with her nickname now) lets her hands sink again, cheeks burning from the compliment. 

Akiyama giggles around a mouthful of her perfect lunch, nudging her shoulder into Hajime’s. “You’re so careful, Iwaizumi. We’re not going to break, you know?”

He shrugs. “I’m just no good at this stuff,” he says, gruff. “The offer stands, though. Give me the names anytime. Any of you.”

“We’ll keep it in mind,” Akiyama says, smiling serenely.

When the warning bell rings, Oikawa jumps up, feigning a need to finish his homework before the lesson starts, and Hajime follows him gladly while everyone else takes their time getting to their next lesson. 

“Please kill me now,” Hajime says under his breath when he catches up to Oikawa.

Oikawa laughs, bright and clear. “Two days of name-calling are fine, but the second you have to spend your lunch time with a few members of the dance club you're wishing for death?”

“Just don’t let me say anything ever again,” Hajime groans, then frowns and digs in his memories for the time they introduced themselves as part of the dance club. Nothing specific comes to mind, but now that he thinks about it, they do spend a lot of time at lunch discussing dance routines. Hajime just assumed it’s one of those small talk topics he knows nothing about. 

“That’s a very achievable goal, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa interrupts his thoughts, “I’ll just have to fill all your silences with the things you should be saying.” He pauses briefly, then continues in a slightly lower voice, “Yes, Oikawa, that’s a brilliant idea, one of many, you are such a genius, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” 

Now slightly breathless, still walking at a brisk pace, he goes back to his normal voice. “Why thank you, Iwa-chan, that has to be the nicest thing you have ever said to me! You must be finally growing out of your bruteness, that is so fortunate!”

Hajime groans again, hitting Oikawa’s shoulder. “Shut the fuck up, Shittykawa.” 

Oikawa giggles, clearly finding himself hilarious. “Honestly, Iwa-chan, I think only talking will help you out here. How else do you think you’ll learn how to say the right thing? Also, Akkin has had a crush on you forever, so she's clearly into the caveman type.”

Hajime narrows his eyes. “Stop fucking with me.”

Oikawa throws his hands in the air in a gesture of exasperated innocence. “I am not! She looks at you all starstruck. I can promise you it’s not because she wants to arm-wrestle .”

Hajime watches his expression, but there’s nothing insincere in it, just a fair bit of annoyance. 

He gives the idea some thought - the way she claimed the spot next to him during both of their joint lunch breaks, even when the one next to Oikawa was still free, how she tends to address him first. Her strange nervousness this morning. He even recalls the times she tried to strike up a conversation with him, that he chalked up to her nervousness around Oikawa. Come to think of, that doesn’t even make any sense. It’s usually Hajime that people steer clear of.

Oikawa watches him figure it out. He’s wearing his scheming face, half pensive and half gleeful anticipation. Hajime points at him. “No.” 

“What?” Oikawa asks innocently.

“You’re not gonna fucking set us up. ” He rubs the bridge of his nose. “God, I hope she doesn’t do anything about it.” 

His hand already on the door handle to the chemistry room, Oikawa spins around, causing Hajime to stumble to a halt a few centimeters in front of him. Oikawa looks incredulous, brow furrowed. “Iwa-chan, you should be thrilled?” His voice ticks up in the end like he’s asking a question, and he shakes his head and tries again. “This is an opportunity! It won’t be often that a girl will be able to look past your unfortunate face! You should--” He falters. “Unless you don’t like girls at all? I just assumed.”

“I’ll give you an unfortunate face if you aren’t careful,” Hajime says, jaw clenched. He checks behind himself, but their classmates are slow to approach, still out of earshot if he keeps his voice down. 

“No, I like girls, I’m just - they’re terrifying, okay? Boys are easier.” It’s not even the truth he’s most afraid of admitting, and still his palms are sweaty enough that he has to wipe them off on his pants. “God, can you just leave it? This is shitty enough as it is.” With a sweeping gesture, he encompasses their approaching classmates and the door to their classroom. “I just want to get through the rest of this year.”

Oikawa gives him a long, appraising look. Hajime takes deep breaths in and out until his heartbeat steadies, and Oikawa finally inclines his head, pushing the door handle that is still wedged behind his back and stumbling into the classroom.

They sit front row in chemistry, owed to it being Oikawa’s weakest subject - Hajime doesn’t get his need to be the best in absolutely everything, but he was willing to indulge it at the start of the year. 

Now, it means Hajime can’t glare back at anyone, and when someone throws a spitball that bounces off his cheek and leaves a disgustingly damp spot in its wake, he has no way of telling who it was. 

He knows glaring at everyone indiscriminately will only serve to make him feel more unsettled, so he just picks it up from the floor and chucks it into the trash without turning around. 

Oikawa gasps, loud enough to be heard by whoever threw it. “Iwa-chan, that was an indirect kiss! I’m sure you wouldn’t toss it if you had a way of knowing who it’s from!”

“I’m sure enough for both of us,” Hajime growls, wiping his cheek with the back of his hand, but he hears some stifled giggles from behind them, and a girl a few rows back asks someone else, voice fake-sweet and fake-quiet, “Aw, you wanted to kiss Iwaizumi? You should have just said so, I'm sure that would have worked better!” The spitballs stop, after that, even though their teacher spends half of the lesson with her back to the class, trying to get her experiment to work.

As they’re packing up to get back to their classroom, Akiyama brushes past Hajime and whispers the name of the culprit in his ear, and Hajime makes sure to shoulder him into a desk in passing later that day.

Even though the way Akiyama moved in close enough to smell her perfume, sweet and floral, doesn’t do anything for his nerves, it’s good to have allies in this; Hajime is reasonably sure he wouldn’t be able to keep up focus throughout the day and also have enough left for practice, but like this, he can leave some of it to them and pay attention to the actual lesson. He finds himself actually taking notes in geography, which as far as he is concerned is an actual miracle.

Even so, by the time the last lesson is over, Hajime is ready to go home (except at home, he’ll have to talk to his mom, and nevermind, he can make it through practice if it means an extra few hours of reprieve from that). Oikawa looks similarly tired, trudging towards the clubroom next to him. He’s wearing that same pinched expression from yesterday again.

“You should really go to a doctor with that,” Hajime says.

“I’m going after practice today,” Oikawa replies, tracing a finger along the dull white of the wall as he walks. “Mom said it’s unacceptable that I’m missing homework because of this when she came home yesterday and I was already in bed.”

He keeps his tone carefully neutral. It’s a token effort. 

“Wow,” Hajime says, “That’s a really fucking shitty reason to take your pain seriously.”

Oikawa gives a single nod. 

“I’m glad you’re going,” Hajime adds, and when Oikawa pointedly doesn’t reply, he decides to change the topic. “Any strategies I can help with, today?”

“Keep Nakano away from Sasaki as much as you can,” Oikawa fires off in a low voice. “Nakano’s a good guy, but I think after yesterday Sasaki has a little grudge.”

Hajime rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Iwa-chan, he was a lost cause,” Oikawa says airily. He raises his arms and lets his hands flop down, giving him a flat look that clashes hilariously with the gesture. “I would have supported you giving him a concussion, but I’m not sure how we could have pulled that off without getting you in trouble.”

“I’ll just stick to talking to Nakano today,” Hajime decides. “No violence.”

Oikawa laughs. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Iwa-chan, you’re ninety percent violence at all times.”

“No hostile violence,” Hajime amends, shoving Oikawa into the wall just as they arrive at the clubroom. 

While Oikawa squawks indignantly and brushes imaginary dirt off his school uniform, Hajime steels himself and opens the door. 

This time, the hesitation is less notable. Nobody outright freezes or stares, but there’s a shift in the atmosphere nonetheless. Sasaki isn’t there yet, but Nakano is already almost done changing, Hajime notes with some relief.

“Hi,” he says, shuffling inside and plopping his bag down next to Nakano. A murmur of greetings goes through his teammates, indistinguishable in both content and source. 

Oikawa enters a second later, waving and calling out his usual greeting. He gets a second, slightly more committed murmur as he wedges himself in between Kageyama and Hajime and shrugs off his shirt. 

In a search for something to say to keep Nakano occupied, Hajime scans the clubroom. His gaze snags on the open door to the shower stalls, catching the chattering voices coming from inside. He frowns. “Did someone take a shower before practice?”

Nakano is keeping his back turned as he changes into his shorts. “No,” he says, giving Hajime a brief, mildly incredulous look over his shoulder, and suddenly Hajime feels incredibly stupid, watching two of the second-years emerge from the showers bone dry and already in their training gear. They’re avoiding Hajime’s gaze, the same way everyone did when he tried to find someone to partner with yesterday. 

Swallowing, Hajime hurries through changing fast enough to stay close when Nakano makes his way into the gym. Next to him, Oikawa talks up a storm, about upcoming and past matches, graduation, high schools. 

“Which one are you going to?” Hajime thinks to ask in Nakano’s direction to keep him in the room while Hajime ties his laces. 

Nakano stops in his tracks, giving Oikawa a careful sideways look. “Shiratorizawa,” he says.

Oikawa freezes for a second, then gives him a beaming smile and waves his congratulations with the shoe he’s holding. “You must have studied hard to get in!”

Nakano shrugs, but he’s smiling despite himself. “Yeah,” he admits, “I don’t expect to get to play on the volleyball team, but the school is really good. I want to go into law.”

“You’ve got the discipline,” Hajime throws in, straightening up. “For law.”

“Thanks,” Nakano says. “Hey, Oikawa, there’s no way they didn’t invite you too, right?”

“Sure,” Oikawa says lightly. He’s looking anywhere but at Hajime. “But I don’t like the coach on their volleyball team, he’s very unimaginative. I’m going to Aoba Johsai.”

“How about you, Iwaizumi?” Nakano asks as Hajime falls into step with him. Just as they leave the changing room, he hears the door open. When he turns around, he catches Sasaki entering, then the gym door clicks shut between them. 

“Me too,” Hajime replies. “Aoba Johsai.”

Nakano gives him a sharp look. Hajime shrugs. “I didn’t get into Shiratorizawa.” 

It hadn't really come as a surprise at the time, and Oikawa had dropped the topic of the prestigious high school as soon as he’d found out, talking instead about how of course he wasn’t about to go fraternizing with the enemy, Iwa-chan we still need to beat them, you hear?  

It’s a weird thought, Oikawa for once not following his ambitions, but instead him , at least to a degree - flattering, too, though Hajime only allows that line of thought in private. Neither of them has touched on the issue since, and Hajime isn’t planning on changing that.

He falls into a crouch next to Nakano. The only others who are already there are the two second years and Kageyama, who is sitting a safe distance away from everyone else with his back to a wall, knees drawn. He’s staring straight ahead, although Hajime could bet that he’s not actually looking at anything.

“Where’s Sasaki going?” He asks, mostly just to say something. 

Nakano shrugs. “I don’t know, we haven’t really talked about it. Maybe he hasn’t decided yet.”

Hajime wonders what they talk about, if not what high school they’re planning on attending. He sees them together all the time.

“We’re not all that close,” Nakano elaborates after a moment of silence. “We’re not in the same class or anything. We’re just the other two third-years.”

It sounds a little pointed. Hajime gives him an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” he says. “Hey, if you want to do the warm-ups together today…”

Nakano gives him a weird look. Hajime manages not to break eye contact with him through sheer force of will. 

“Sure,” Nakano finally says, reluctant. 

They must have gone through the warmups together a hundred times. It’s never been weird. It’s definitely going to be weird now.

“Good,” he says, with emphasis.

Nakano looks away.

The spot on Hajime’s cheek still feels icky. There’s nothing he’d like more than to stick his head under cold water for a second, but it’s not like he can just let Nakano get away and risk him teaming up with Sasaki. He rubs the back of his hand over it again, but all that does is irritate his already inflamed skin. Hajime wants to punch something.

Anger is a secondary emotion , Hajime’s mother keeps telling him. It feels primary enough to him, though, every time: A tremendous effort to divert the flow of his thoughts away from the boiling heat of it, and then there’s nowhere for any of them to go , how does Oikawa even do it? How do you sit out an awkward silence like this without snapping? 

Hajime watches Nakano look anywhere but at him for a few seconds and decides, fuck it--

Oikawa’s knuckles dig in between his shoulder blades one by one as he drops down next to him, legs crossed. There is enough space between them that Oikawa needs to lean over slightly to reach his back.

Hajime lets out the breath he meant to turn into a sharp question in a rush. When he turns his head, Oikawa isn’t even looking in his direction. But he keeps his knuckles pressed into his spine the entire time they spend waiting for the coach to show up, striking up conversations as their teammates trickle in. How he never runs out of things to say, Hajime will never know. Every time he comes up with another conversation starter it seems painfully obvious as a topic to choose, but Hajime can’t for the life of him think of any of them before Oikawa opens his mouth. Hajime feels four steps behind, immature and stupid.

For lack of anything else to do, he focuses on the four dull points of contact on his back. Oikawa drops his hand when coach Yoshino starts talking, but then Hajime can concentrate on strategies and exercise setups, and it’s alright. 

Hajime decides that he doesn’t have to talk during practice. It’s not what he’s here for, anyway. It’s not what he’s known for, either.

Warm-ups are almost grounding without the pressure to talk, Nakano’s hands steady on his back or clasping his hands or wrapped around his ankles, only a hint of hesitation in the way he maneuvers them while Oikawa skips from partner to partner in their periphery as he tends to. 

Hajime is still ready to throw himself into spiking practice when they’re done, to spend the rest of practice with the sting in the palm of his hand, forcing his burning thighs to squat and jump again and again and again, sweat beading down his neck and collecting between his shoulder blades. 

He tries bending his back as he jumps up, the way coach Yoshino keeps suggesting, folding his entire torso forward to channel more force into the hit like a mouse trap snapping shut. 

At first, too much of Hajime’s focus is on his form to actually hit the ball, the additional power fizzling out into nothing as his hand whizzes through the air or just barely brushes the ball, only just enough for a feint. Sasaki, who is practicing his receives alongside two second-years, watches him through the net with the edges of his mouth curled up, barely even getting into position whenever Hajime’s turn rolls around. It’s the kind of disrespect that tends to get Hajime riled up in absolutely no time, but he tries his best to channel his fury into the exercise instead.

So he collects himself and tries again, and again, and again, Kageyama’s robotic precision tosses perfect for a repetitive exercise like this. Finally, after what feels like hours, his hand connects with a snap as his back unbends, then folds inwards, smashing the ball into the ground on the other side of the court with a speed Sasaki has no hope of matching. Good, Hajime thinks, seeing Sasaki's joined hands slide to a stop centimeters from the point of impact after the ball has already bounced off to the side. He chances a glance over to where Oikawa is practicing his tosses with Kunimi at the other end of the gym, a faint smile on his face that looks like maybe he forgot it there, too focused on the exercise. He isn’t looking, because why would he? Hajime snaps himself out of it and gets back in line for the next toss.

By the time cooldown exercises come around, he may have the sharp tang of blood in his mouth, chest heaving and thighs shaking, but he can see the endless possibility of insanely powerful spikes stretching out before him, and it’s almost enough. He’s beginning to feel like maybe words are an option again, as soon as he can breathe enough to form them. Through the black spots obscuring his vision, he thinks he sees Sasaki slink out of the gym at some point, shirking clean-up duty again. 

Coach makes an attempt to end practice, but Oikawa sidles up next to him before he can, waving his arms for everyone’s attention. “Hey,” he calls out, “I’m so sorry, I won’t keep you for long, but I just wanted to say something.” He’s smiling, pushing his hair out of his eyes. Hajime knows for a fact that he gives every practice his all, but where Hajime must be blotchy and sweaty, he just looks flushed and loose-limbed. And then he beckons Hajime over, and Hajime hopes against hope that he won’t make him say anything, stumbling to join him next to coach Yoshino, who is giving him a glare like he knows what’s going on and doesn’t like it one bit.

Oikawa dips into a full bow. It takes Hajime a bewildered second to follow his lead, keeping his own bow shallow enough to keep an eye on his teammates as Oikawa starts talking. “As you all know, your vice-captain and I have had a difficult few days, and I just wanted to take this time to thank you all for having our backs. I am so glad that we can trust you, and I promise that as long as we are the captain and vice-captain of this team, we will do our best to lead you.”

Hajime can’t see Oikawa’s expression, which might be why he's bowing, but his words are bright, sharp. They leave no doubt that nothing about this is a miscalculation, or a sign of weakness. Still, there is enough sincerity in his words to know that Oikawa means them: this is not a promise he intends to break.

There’s a half-hearted murmur of modest denial, the team shuffling around uneasily like they know they still have to earn this speech, as is the case with most of Oikawa’s compliments. Kageyama, when Hajime catches his eye, is the only one who doesn’t seem uncomfortable, just coming out of his own shallow bow.

“And of course,” Oikawa continues serenely, still directed towards his sneakers, “We will be here to answer any questions you might have, or to help you out with any problems. Just because we’re having a hard time does not mean we will be slacking off.”

He rights himself again, cheeks red from the bow or the vulnerability. “Right!” he says brightly, claps once, and flashes a peace sign. “That was all, sorry for keeping you, let’s get the gym in order!”

The crowd disperses slowly, quietly, as if reluctant to pick their own conversations back up. Oikawa turns towards Hajime, smile faded but still there, and knocks into his shoulder. “Come on, Iwa-chan, don’t set a bad example. You spiked at least half of these.”

Hajime huffs, but bends down to collect a few stray balls, chucking them back into the cart from a respectable distance. 

It takes him a while to notice Kindaichi hanging around just a little to his side, too close to be unintentional, but when he straightens up to come almost face to face with him, he raises his eyebrows. Kindaichi quickly averts his gaze.

“Yeah?” Hajime asks, trying for a neutral tone of voice. It comes out mostly exhausted.

Kindaichi picks up another ball, turning it over in his hands. “I saw your spikes today. They got really cool in the end.”

“Thanks,” Hajime replies, equal parts surprised and relieved. “I tried to bend my back the way coach Yoshino said, to give it extra power. It takes a while to get it right, but it’s a really good feeling when you do. You should try them too sometime.”

“Yeah.” Kindaichi leaves to drop the ball into the cart, hovers there for a moment, and comes back. “Hey, Iwaizumi Tsugio is your brother, right?”

“Is the basketball team still giving him trouble?” Hajime asks, frowning. “They should mind their fucking business, he’s not even the one who’s --” he stutters to a halt, Kindaichi looking too far off to the side to be anything but embarrassed on his behalf. “You know. Bi,” he ends lamely. It’s the first time he’s said the word to anyone. It’s not exactly what he’d pictured, but it could be worse.

“Nah, he’s fine. Been telling people to fuck off when they talk about you.” Kindaichi picks at the hem of his shirt. 

Hajime nods. He keeps nodding until he thinks it’s safe to speak again. “Yeah. He’s a cool dude. Thanks for telling me.”

For a moment, Kindaichi looks like he wants to say something else, but then he seems to change his mind and bolts for the changing room instead.

“Look at you, picking up all the first-years,” Oikawa chirps, suddenly appearing by his side, and Hajime jumps. “Is it because you can’t get the third-years to respect you?”

“I don’t need anyone’s fucking respect,” Hajime says, scuffing the edge of his sole against the floor until it gives a satisfying squeak. “If they’ve got a problem, they can fuck off and die for all I care.”

“Ah, Iwa-chan, still so unrefined! Aren’t you glad you’ve got me to give the speeches?” Oikawa asks, self-satisfied.

Hajime tries to imagine coming up with a speech like Oikawa’s, carefully constructed to be vulnerable in the exact right way without seeming like an invitation to tease at the same time, writing down the words and testing out the sound of them in front of the bathroom mirror at night and then actually saying them in front of everyone , voice never breaking.

“Yeah,” Hajime agrees. “I am.”

He nudges Oikawa with his elbow before he can respond. “Let’s go before we’re the last ones again.”

Oikawa stumbles into motion, mouth slack with exaggerated surprise. “Iwa-chan! That was almost nice! Are you losing your touch?”

“Don’t get used to it.”

Oikawa laughs, high and unheeding of the glances it attracts, head thrown back, swinging his arms by his side like he doesn’t have a care in the world. As far as acts go, it’s a damn fucking good one. Hajime keeps looking ahead, resolute. 

They’re not the last ones in the changing rooms, and when they enter, most everyone’s heads turn in their direction. Hajime tries not to bristle. It’s beginning to feel like a routine, just like gathering his clothes and starting towards a set of showers a little off from the ones that are already occupied, the familiar sound of Oikawa’s footsteps on the tiled floor behind him. 

“Good practice today,” Oikawa calls out in the shower room, his voice echoing off the tiles. “You all worked so hard, don’t forget to rest properly, too!” 

“You’re the only one who needs that advice, Shittykawa,” Hajime can’t stop himself from saying, and the good-natured laughter that rings out from the other shower stalls helps cut the worry that he’s setting Oikawa up for ridicule again short.

“I’ll have you know I am excellent at taking breaks. A true natural, like with most things,” Oikawa says over the rush of his shower, indignant. 

“Keep lying to yourself,” Hajime mutters, not actually loud enough to be heard. 

Hajime doesn’t come out of the shower until he hears the telltale noise of Oikawa’s blow drier, legs feeling like jelly and skin glowing red. Oikawa catches his eyes in the mirror above the sink as he emerges, smiling. Hajime rubs at his cheek again, unconscious of the action until his skin burns with it and he forces himself to drop his hand.

“You go ahead, Iwa-chan, I’ve got that doctor’s appointment to get to,” Oikawa calls out, loud enough to be heard over the blow drier without having to turn it off. 

Hajime towels off his hair and steps next to him, slinging the towel across his neck. “Where’s the doctor?” He squirts some gel into his hand and works his hair up into spikes, ready to go within moments.

“Downtown, I’m taking the bus,” Oikawa says.

“I’ll walk you to the stop.”

Oikawa raises his eyebrows, but he’s also still smiling, so Hajime doesn’t feel too weird about it. He washes off his hands, steps back into his clothes, and sits down on the edge of the sink again as their teammates quickly filter out, some giving them weird looks as they leave. Kindaichi waves a hasty goodbye to them before beating a red-faced retreat. Oikawa smiles back at him sweetly, which only seems to accelerate his exit.

“What’s with him?” Hajime asks as soon as they’re alone. “He was fine just a few minutes ago.”

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Oikawa asks, crouching down to tie his shoes. “We did it in the club room yesterday after everyone left! Some mystery person went back and saw us , apparently.”

He sounds utterly unfazed as he says it, even close to laughter, like the idea of sex with Hajime is hilariously entertaining. Hajime slams the door of his locker shut with more force than intended. “Fuck,” He grits out. “ Fuck.” He punches the door once, for good measure. When he pulls back his aching knuckles, the thin blue metal is slightly dented.

“You should work on that anger management of yours, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says mildly, straightening and sidling up next to him to assess the damage. “You’d think all our sweaty, steamy locker room sex would be enough to release all this ten-- ow!”

Hajime tightens his grip on Oikawa’s ear and twists. 

“Ah! I’m sorry, Iwa-chan! I concede defeat! No more sex jokes, I promise!” Oikawa is nearly doubled over in an effort to ease the strain Hajime is putting on his ear when Hajime finally lets go. Oikawa slides down his own locker door, clutching the side of his head and giving Hajime a wounded look. 

Hajime sighs. “Where do you even get that information.”

“Not everyone is as unpopular and boorish as Iwa-chan, you know! Many people want to share their information with m-- it was Akkin! She told me after English today! You know, if you only stayed to threaten and hurt me, you don’t need to walk me.” 

“I didn’t say anything,” Hajime says, taking a step back regardless. Oikawa quickly gets up and starts gathering his things.

“You didn’t need to. I know what that look means,” Oikawa says lightly, hoisting his backpack and spinning around towards Hajime with the momentum of it. 

“Let’s go before they come up with another stupid rumor,” Hajime says. He doesn’t realize he’s going to rub his cheek again until Oikawa catches his hand out of the air, squeezing his aching knuckles a little too tightly. 

“Just a second,” he says.

Oikawa cups Hajime’s chin in a hand and presses his thumb into his cheek where the spitball hit earlier that day, blunt nail digging in until the pain of it is grounding rather than annoying.

“We’re going to be okay,” he says, enunciating every word. As promises go, it almost sounds a little threatening. 

“Yeah,” Hajime says, dumbly, staring back at him. Oikawa’s eyes are dark, serious the way they get before an important match. Determined.

Oikawa lets go. Hajime can’t hide his wince at the sting of their skin separating, and Oikawa’s eyes narrow, flicking across his face. “Did that hurt?” he asks, and Hajime laughs loudly enough to make Oikawa take a step back.

“My entire face is an open wound,” Hajime says, marching towards the door. “Take a wild guess.”

“Ah, Iwa-chan, I’m sorry you have such an unfortunate face,” Oikawa lilts, rushing outside after him. “Maybe you should try washing it with something other than soap!”

“Sure,” Hajime says tiredly. He hasn’t let anything other than water touch his unfortunate face in weeks. On some level, he hates Oikawa for the fact that puberty gave him a growth spurt and absolutely nothing else, whereas Hajime got a perpetually aching face and anger management issues. “Bring it, teach me your skin care routine or whatever. I’m ready to try anything.”

Oikawa lets out a happy squeal and drapes himself across Hajime’s shoulders, even though it must be uncomfortable to mold himself around the backpack. Hajime, used to his antics, just holds onto his forearm where it’s slung across his chest, and starts dragging him across the schoolyard.

Oikawa seems content to let his feet skid behind himself until they reach the gate, at which point he rights himself and starts walking normally. “We’ll have a sleepover with facials on Friday,” he decides. “It’ll be good for morale, and we can strategize some more.”

“Okay,” Hajime agrees, trying not to sound too eager. He’s always loved sleepovers with Oikawa; something about the way he opens up late at night, spinning stories or sharing fears or developing ridiculous theories. “Your place or mine?”

“Yours?” Oikawa asks, ducking his head. “As hilarious as it would be to see my parents give themselves an aneurysm trying to come up with a reason to forbid you from sleeping in my room, or to tell me to leave the door open.”

“They already know?” 

“Pretty sure. Unless they had a different reason to be ten times as insistent I do well in school yesterday as usual.” Oikawa sidesteps a lamppost, slinging his arm around it and swinging around until he’s right up in Hajime’s face, grinning. “Like doubling my dating pool will make me a worse student.”

The statement is so ridiculous on so many levels that Hajime doesn’t know where to start. Oikawa has been a model student all through elementary and junior high, and whatever happened to his dating pool , mathematically, sure isn’t that. He keeps walking towards the bus stop, and Oikawa releases the lamppost and slings his arm around Hajime’s shoulder instead.

“It’s the only way they can control me now,” Oikawa says, self-satisfied. “I boxed them in. The only thing they can do now is also the thing that’ll lead me to independence. Tell me I’m a genius.”

“You’re full of yourself.” Hajime gets in line for the bus next to him, glancing up at the LED board declaring the bus’s arrival in one minute. “But I can see it working out. The scholarship.”

“Of course it will,” Oikawa says confidently, but he has that pleased look he gets when Hajime compliments him on something he’s secretly insecure about.

The bus rolls to a stop in front of them, and Oikawa gives Hajime an obnoxious wave even though he is still right next to him, skipping off with a cheerful, “Well! This is me, I’ll see you tomorrow!” 

Dramatically swinging around one of the grabpoles, he disappears into the back of the bus, out of sight. Hajime turns on his heels as soon as the doors close, marching off in the vague direction of home. 

He runs into the calico from Monday again, in one of the parallel streets to their usual route. It’s crossing the street, heading away from him, but when he crouches down and clicks his tongue, it stops to fix him with an unimpressed look.

It’s his turn to cook today, he’s not going to be exactly popular with his family if he gets home late. He doesn’t even really believe that calicos are lucky cats. But once he manages to coax the cat off the street and has it curling around his legs, he feels a faint sense of accomplishment all the same. He wonders if this is how Oikawa felt on Monday, stalling the moment he’d have to face his classmates.

He sits down on the cold sidewalk, cross-legged, and the cat immediately climbs into his lap, enduring his scritches more than enjoying them. It probably just doesn’t like the cold, Hajime reasons, but he stays sitting for an inadvisably long time anyway, hands buried in its fur. He closes his eyes and thinks as hard as he can about how in five years, none of this will matter. Oikawa will be on the Olympic team and Hajime will be in college and nobody will care. It’s just these two months.

Eventually, the calico gets up and stalks off, giving him one last judgmental stare before disappearing around a corner. 

“I’m going, I’m going,” he says and gets up, brushing off as much of the cat hair as he can. 

*

“You’re late,” his mother greets him at the door, and he gives her his best apologetic smile. 

“I found a cat.”

She gives him a once-over as he steps inside, and laughs. “I can see that. Wash your hands, I’ll help you with dinner.”

“Thanks,” Hajime says, surprised. Then, before he can talk himself out of it, he adds, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

She gives a thoughtful hum. “Me too.” 

Neither of them bring it up until they’re both bent over their respective chopping boards, Keizo occupied with the occasional vegetable slice and tales of Hajime’s new extra powerful spike (Hajime embellishes a little, for his sake). 

“So,” she says, punctuating the word with a particularly loud chop. “What did you want to talk about?”

Hajime looks over at Keizo, who is happily chewing on a well-timed piece of carrot, and back to his mother, who raises her eyebrows at him. His band-aid analogy isn’t holding up too well, unless it’s a band-aid that keeps reattaching itself when he isn’t looking.

“I’m bisexual,” he gets out. It’s not easier the second time, and he’s momentarily glad to be sitting down. He releases his iron grip around his knife, and it clatters onto the table. His mother is staring at him, wide-eyed, her hand hovering in the air.

“What’s that mean?” Keizo slurs around a mouthful of carrot. 

Hajime waits a beat. His mother isn’t moving. “It means I like boys and girls.”

“That’s gross,” Keizo declares, pulling a face, and Hajime is not getting into a fight about this with his three-year-old brother, he is not. He picks up his knife and goes back to chopping, big, uneven cubes.

“No, it’s not,” his mother says finally, turning towards Keizo. “Where did you hear that?” She sounds shocked, but Hajime can’t tell if it’s about his declaration or Keizo’s reaction. He keeps chopping the mushrooms into smaller pieces.

Keizo shrugs his shoulders, shrinking into the corner of the bench.

“Who told you that?” his mom asks again, gentler. “That’s not true at all, people can like whoever they want. You know your auntie, my sister? She married a girl, and she’s not gross at all. She’s the coolest person I know.”

Keizo, of course, doesn’t remember his aunt, seeing as he was all of one year old when she last (first) visited with her wife, and he’s too young to appreciate her frankly hilarious birthday- and new year’s emails, so he remains predictably unimpressed by this news about a relative he doesn’t know.

Hajime tips his mushrooms into the bowl between them, scraping the knife against the cutting board to get off the sticky pieces, pressing harder than necessary to hide his shaking hands.

“And your big brother is also really cool, right?” His mother presses on. “He can even do those cool slam attacks that he was telling you about, now!”

Keizo nods. He puts the bitten-off piece of carrot on the table, pushing it around with his fingers. 

His mother looks between both of them. 

“Keizo,” she says. “Go and join your brother upstairs, okay?”

Hajime tunes out the inevitable negotiations that follow, getting up to grab a pan and haphazardly heap the vegetables into it. He doesn’t really have the necessary focus for cooking, but he appreciates the distraction nonetheless. He doesn’t look at his mother again until he hears the door slam and Keizo’s mutinous footsteps making their way up the stairs.

“So,” she says. 

“So,” he repeats, failing to sound nonchalant. He realizes belatedly that he forgot to turn on the hotplate, and twists around to do just that.

“What brought this on?”

Hajime sighs. “Oikawa got-- well, Oikawa outed himself, and then I guess I did the same to keep the focus off of him or whatever, and Tsugio got wind of it, and now I’m telling you so he doesn’t have to.”

He uses the spatula to split one of his uneven cubes. He did a sloppy job earlier, some of them are really too big to be considered bite-sized. 

“Tooru, too?” There’s something off about her tone that he can’t quite pin down. He decides to try for full pity points.

“I didn’t know until Monday. He’s - people are giving him a hard time about it, okay? His parents are being dicks, too. I thought it would at least help a little if he wasn’t the only one. I mean, if people knew he isn’t.”

He finally turns around to face his mother where she’s perched on the bench, hands folded on top of her knees. Her eyebrows draw together at the mention of Oikawa’s parents. “And did it?” she asks. “Help?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know how bad it would’ve been otherwise, but I think he’s glad he’s not in it alone.”

“Are people giving you a hard time?” she asks immediately, as if not even registering his answer. She’s still frowning.

He rubs at his cheek. “Some people have tried,” he ventures, trying to find a balance between reassuring and dismissive. Of course, there’s no use. She’s his mother, she knows how he works.

“Don’t get into any trouble, alright? It’s not worth it.”

Hajime barks a laugh. His voice breaks in the middle of it, ending it almost in a squeak. He grimaces and turns back around to tend to the vegetables. He should probably start in on that sauce.

“Then tell me what to do about the people who throw spitballs at us in class,” he starts, realizing with horror that he’s about to start crying. He tries to swallow it down. “Or the ones that say Oikawa didn’t manage that service ace because of his limp wrist or whatever. To the guy who punched him in the stomach at lunch break. What do I do about them that doesn’t get me in trouble?” He grits his teeth against the tears threatening to form, rips open the door of the fridge and stares inside, blinking fast. Sauce, he needs a sauce. He blindly grabs a few bottles out of the door, hoping they’ll be vaguely helpful, and slams the door shut.

“Have you tried talking to your homeroom teacher?” His mother asks, tentative.

Hajime freezes. “Mom, if you make me come out to Ms. Hayashi, I’m moving out.” 

“Is she so bad?”

“She’s a teacher. ” He gets a bowl out of the cabinet and starts mixing ingredients that look like they could go with the vegetables. “She’s - I guess she’s okay at teaching, but I can’t tell her about that.”

When he turns around to hunt for something sour to balance out the spice, his mother is holding out a lime, head cocked. He grabs it, halves it, and squeezes one half into the bowl, waiting for her to figure out whatever it is that has her looking so thoughtful.

“Okay,” she says at last. “Then at least try to use your words before you use your fists, alright? And this is not just a lame way of saying don’t defend yourself. Words can be plenty hurtful.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Hajime asks, rolling his eyes. “Words are more Oikawa’s thing. But I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask.” His mother waits until he’s looking at her again, and then holds out her arms. “Come here. I’m sorry people suck.”

Hajime dries his hands on his pants and sinks down on the bench next to her, tipping over to rest his head on her shoulder. He has to slouch so much he’s almost teetering on the edge of the bench to fit, but it’s still a comfort. “It’s fine.”

She ruffles his hair. “Aoba Johsai will be better. Just find all the other gays, it’s what my sister did. They’ll probably all be your upperclassmen, too, so they’ll have to take care of you.”

“I don’t need anyone to take care of me,” Hajime huffs, and she laughs, poking him in the cheek.

“Need or not, it can be nice.”

Hajime shrugs and gets up to finally add the sauce and set the table. “Wait,” he remembers, “what did you want to talk about?”

“Ah!” she jumps up. “Wait here, I made something! Well, your dad and I both did. Go wash your hands.”

He does as instructed - his mother’s handiwork can be fragile or difficult to clean, although if his father was involved, she probably isn’t intending on selling it to anyone. 

When she returns, carrying something wrapped in a cloth, he grabs a chair and sits down. She carefully unwraps the cloth and places a wooden figurine in his outstretched hands, painted a glossy red and black and white. 

He studies it, recognizing the features as those of a woman with a tiny, red mouth, black hair messily falling into her face and tumbling past her shoulders. Turning the figure, he finds that it ends in a loose braid between her shoulder blades. His father’s painting isn’t good enough to recognize features by a long shot, but he has seen this hairstyle often enough. “It’s - you?” he asks, smiling. When he turns the figure in his hands again, something rattles inside, and he spots a minuscule groove running along the middle of the figure. He wedges a nail into it. “You made a nesting doll?”

“Open it,” she says, sitting down opposite him and leaning across the table with an eager expression she reserves for her best tricks. 

He twists the two halves and pulls the top off, setting it in her waiting hands, and - laughs. The features are no more recognizable than those of the first doll, but his father colored this one in the distinct white-and-blue of his volleyball tracksuit, even painted the little number two on the back. He also made an effort to give his hair spikes and color his eyes green. Hajime takes the figure out entirely, setting the bottom of the first doll down on the table, and turns it around in his hands. It’s not completely round, but there’s obviously so much love in it, he finds himself thinking that it’s better like this. 

“I didn’t know you could make things like this.”

“It was a first try. A prototype,” his mother says, smiling. “Open it.”

He pulls off the top part, placing it inside the bottom one standing on the table. This time, he’s not surprised to be greeted by what’s clearly meant to be Tsugio’s face, his slightly longer haircut with the fringe that flops almost into his eyes. His doll is holding a basketball, probably to make it recognizable at this size. He finds another ridge, and twists again. 

Keizo’s doll is no bigger than an egg, sporting a round face and a green top that Hajime knows is supposed to be his favorite sweater. He’s holding his toy truck in his fist, recognizable only by its bold red color. 

“One more,” his mother says, and Hajime shakes the doll to hear the telltale rattling of another figure inside. 

“Mom?”

She doesn’t answer, just motions for him to go on, watching him slowly take apart Keizo’s doll, to find - “A baby,” Hajime says. He’s not sure why he says it, it’s not exactly a surprise at this point. But there’s something about the tiny doll’s pink, glossy face, its closed eyes the finest lines of black, that makes it instantly real. He shakes the figurine into his hand, barely bigger than his thumb, and loosely closes his fist around it. It’s solid and smooth against his palm.

“This is the last one, I promise,” his mother says, laughing a little. Hajime carefully sets the doll back into Keizo’s figure to make sure it doesn’t roll off the table, and stumbles around the table to throw his arms around his mother, who squeezes him back.

He nods slowly, sitting up. “You’d run out of names.”

“Never. Numerals are endless,” she retorts.

“It’s - when?” he asks, pointing at the doll like that’ll clear up his question.

“I’m due in October,” she supplies, deftly sliding the figurines back together. “And I started working on the doll as soon as I knew. Your father had a hard time keeping it secret, you know,” she adds conspiratorially, and Hajime laughs. His father barely manages to not spoil birthday presents in advance, this must have been hard.

“Alright,” she says, making a shooing motion. “Call your brothers downstairs, unless you’ve got any other revelations?”

Hajime gets up, then sits back down again. “Oh, uh, not a revelation. But Oikawa was going to stay over on Friday.”

She freezes, half-wrapped doll in her hands. Hajime gives her his best innocent look, which isn’t very good. She narrows her eyes.

“Can I trust you, or do I have to tell you to leave the door open?”

“You can trust me,” Hajime says, all in one relieved exhale. He knows which truths to pick to get out of this one. “Nothing’s happening. We’re just friends.”

Good, ” his mother says, sounding just as relieved. Hajime scowls at her on principle.

“What, so you’re only okay with it as long as I don’t have a,” and he hates that he has to steel himself to say it, hates the audible pause it leaves in the middle of his sentence, “Boyfriend?”

“No! No, it’s not that.” She twists her hands, frowning down at the table in search for words. 

“Then you just don’t want it to be Oikawa,” he states flatly.

“Look,” she starts, holding out the palms of her hands to him imploringly. “Tooru is a sweet boy, you know I love him like a son. You know I love how close you are. But for him to be your,” and Hajime grits his teeth as he hears his own pause reflected right back at him, “Boyfriend, too? You would both be carrying too much weight for each other. Look, there will be things you’ll want to talk about with your friends, rather than your partner, right? If he fills up both of those categories, what will you do? Who are you going to come to, yelling about your first kiss? What if you two have a fight, who are you going to ask for advice? I’m not saying your best friend can never also be your partner. But would you have someone else you’d trust with something like this?”

It’s funny, Hajime thinks, that his mother would assume he’d come to Oikawa with these things if he were dating someone else , when in truth that feels just as absurd as confiding to - Akiyama, maybe, or Nakano, or Kageyama about Oikawa. His mother seems to interpret the face he makes at that thought as the no that it really is.

“And even worse, if Tooru’s parents aren’t supportive, you’re also - I know you, don’t look at me like that - taking on that role for him at least a little bit, right? And I know you’re strong, but that’s too much for one person, okay? I wouldn’t want that for you.”

And there’s a part of Hajime that has always wanted to be everything to Oikawa, that selfishly wants to be the only one he trusts with his secrets, indiscriminately, the one he comes to with all his problems, the only one he smiles at with any degree of honesty. It’s never been a part of himself he was particularly proud of.

He gives a single nod, and his mother pats his head. “That’s all hypothetical, of course, I know you wouldn’t lie to me about something like this.” There’s a certain sharpness in her tone that he knows well.

“I wasn’t lying,” he says, locking eyes with her. “You know I don’t lie. We’re just friends.”

“There’s nothing just about friends, Hajime,” his mother scolds, but she’s smiling. “Broaden your support system anyway, okay? It can’t hurt, especially now.”

Hajime nods again. The anticipation of high school has had make friends scribbled all over it in his mind since Monday.

“Whew. That was more than enough motherly warnings for one day. Call your brothers down, will you?” 

Hajime gladly escapes the kitchen.

Chapter Text

“What’s wrong?” Hajime asks, jogging the last few meters to their meetup point. “Did the doctor's visit go okay?”

He spotted Oikawa's flashy smile as soon as he rounded the corner. Based on Hajime's own experiences, it's safe to assume that they don't have some kind of best friend telepathy, which means Oikawa must have been smiling before Hajime even came into view. The mental image of him waiting at the crossing on his own, grinning at nothing, gives Hajime goosebumps. Oikawa’s smiles always serve a purpose, seeing one that doesn’t seem to is unsettling, especially one this fake.

“What would be wrong?” Oikawa asks sunnily, linking arms with him. “Let’s see if we can find that lucky cat again.”

Hajime lets himself be steered through several side streets before he speaks up, shoulders tense with worry. “I don’t know. You’re all weird and fake. It’s just me.”

Oikawa heaves a showy, put-upon sigh. “Iwa-chan, I know you’re an uncivilized brute, but you have to know what day it is.”

Hajime surreptitiously checks his phone. “It’s February 14? Why-- oh.”

Oikawa untangles his arm from Hajime’s, swinging it back and forth and looking up at the steel grey sky. “Yeah, oh. ” 

Last year, Oikawa found two confession letters in his locker and got a virtual mountain of chocolates (it was five bags, but that was still more than anyone else got) and he would not shut up about it the entire week. He let the girls down gently, citing his busy schedule, and hoarded the chocolate jealously, not even sharing a tiny piece of it with Hajime, because he is a shit. 

Hajime has no idea what will happen today, but he is relatively certain that it won’t be this.

“What are you expecting?” he asks.

Oikawa shrugs. “I’ll just play it by ear,” he replies, smile stretching worryingly. “Here, kitty! Here, kitty, kitty!”

Hajime looks around, but there’s no cat in sight. Oikawa proceeds to make increasingly obnoxious kissy noises, as if that will lure it out of wherever it’s hiding. 

“Leave it,” Hajime says, giving Oikawa’s shoulder a gentle shove. “It’s not here. Let’s go to school. You don’t need any luck, okay? We’ve managed fine so far.”

Oikawa gives a bright laugh at that, eyelids crinkling amusedly. “You’ve got a funny definition of fine , Iwa-chan.”

Hajime shrugs. “I talked to my mom yesterday, and she’s cool with it. You can come over on Friday. I’m sure Tsugio will get a kick out of seeing us with facials.” He doesn’t mention that he also technically saw the calico before that happened, because Oikawa is stupidly superstitious and will assign way too much meaning to it.

Oikawa angles his unchanged smile at him. “That’s great, Iwa-chan,” he says, like he’s giving one of his pep talks. 

There’s something irritating about the way he treats the entire situation. Like Hajime is the one in need of cheering up, like Oikawa is the one doing him a favor. Hajime can’t put it into good enough words to get it past Oikawa’s defenses, so he decides to just drop it instead. “Mom also told me she’s pregnant again.”

“She’s what?” Oikawa shrieks, close enough to Hajime’s ear to make him jump. “Another Iwaizumi! That’s so cute, Iwa-chan! Aren’t you excited?”

Hajime can’t help the tiny smile that escapes him at the prospect. “Yeah,” he admits.

“What do you think it’ll be, a little brother or sister? Probably a sister, right? After so many boys!”

“That’s not how statistics work, Oikawa.” 

“It’s how real life works, Iwa-chan! Oh, I have to bring a present on Friday,” Oikawa prattles on. “What do you give to pregnant people? I can’t wait to see her, does she already have a belly?”

“Don’t ask her that. And I don’t know? Last time, she started really liking this one brand of white chocolate, and then she hated it again as soon as Keizo was born, so maybe that?”

“Chocolate is good! Oh, but what if she takes it badly, like I’m implying she’s getting fat anyway?” Oikawa starts walking backwards in front of Hajime as the school gates come into view, arms swinging out to his sides carelessly. 

“It’s my mom. As long as you don’t call her fat, you’re fine. Step,” Hajime instructs, and Oikawa carefully steps over the slightly raised paving blocks of the school gate without looking down. 

“That’s such good news, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa sighs. It makes Hajime wonder what about a new baby in a family that isn’t even his own is so much better than an indeterminate amount of future sleepovers being okayed with minimal guaranteed awkwardness. He decides to just take what he can get and roll with it. 

“When is the baby due?” Oikawa asks when they reach their lockers, hands fluttering around the lock of his as if he’s afraid it’ll burn him. 

“October,” Hajime relays, briskly opening his and stuffing his Japanese and math textbooks into his backpack. He gives the inside a brief scan, but there doesn't seem to be anything amiss. Not that he’d expected any confessions. He clicks it shut and locks it again, then chances a look at Oikawa, who has stilled in his peripheral vision. 

Oikawa is holding a red envelope, looking down at it with a carefully neutral expression. 

“What’s that?” Hajime asks, feeling stupid for asking but unable to reconcile Oikawa’s guardedness with the fact of the letter. It has to be a confession letter - Oikawa has shown him his last ones dozens of times and then put them on display in his room afterwards, and they all looked like this. This one is even sealed with a little heart sticker.

With one quick, decisive motion, Oikawa tears right through the sticker and shakes the contents of the envelope out into his hand. A single white page slides out, with just one word written on it in black marker so thick it bleeds right through. Hajime reads it from the backside, back to front, heart sinking: Pervert.

“It’s a fake confession letter,” Oikawa replies smoothly, nothing about his face betraying surprise. He carefully slides the page back into the envelope, closes it and tucks it neatly into his backpack between two books. When he closes his locker, Hajime is sure he is the only one who is close enough to notice the tremor in his hands. 

Hajime grits his teeth against the directionless anger welling up in his gut. He takes a tentative step towards Oikawa, raising a hand to rest on his shoulder.

Oikawa’s mouth twists for a split second like he wants to cry, then he shrugs Hajime off and starts toward their homeroom. 

Hajime stays behind, glaring at the majority of class 3-A for watching Oikawa leave. He knows they’re probably just waiting for someone to unlock their classroom, and it’s not their fault it’s right next to the lockers, but it’s not like anyone’s made an effort to be fair to them , either.

The bigger part of the double lesson passes between trying to hide the fact that Hajime forgot about the essay they had due, and composing a list of everyone he remembers lingering in the hallway. Every time he chances a look at Oikawa, his face is impassive, focused on the board. When he’s called on to read out his essay, his voice is steady and clear. 

There is no way for Hajime to show his support that won’t invite more ridicule here, so he settles for kicking Oikawa’s chair once, hard. Voice hitching on the impact, Oikawa turns toward him in the middle of his sentence, his eyebrows drawing together for the betrayed look Hajime knows doesn’t hold any actual hurt. Hajime frowns back at him like he’s annoyed, and Oikawa’s expression smooths out at once before he goes back to reading the rest of his essay with a faint smile. 

When the teacher makes the rounds to collect their homework after the lesson, all Hajime has to offer is a half-finished list of names. 

“I’m sorry, Ms Takahashi,” he mumbles. “I forgot.”

She fixes him with an unimpressed look. “Hand it in tomorrow,” she says. “I know the admission exams are over, but that is no excuse to slack off, Iwaizumi.” 

He mutters another apology and sees that he gets the hell out of there before she can think to ban him from practice. The last thing he needs is to be forced to leave Oikawa to his own devices this afternoon. 

Before he can reach the door, Oikawa manages to catch his sleeve and spin him around so he’s facing back into the classroom, where Shinoda is apparently getting the same talk. 

“Looks like Shinoda is just as clueless as you without his precious lady friend’s help,” Oikawa chirps into his ear, and Hajime snorts. 

“You’re so petty, it’s awful. Let’s go.” He turns back, startling a little when he finds Oikawa’s face right up in his space, smug and a little twisted in that way it gets when he thinks ugly thoughts. Hajime walks him out of the classroom backwards, hands on his shoulders. 

“I have reason to be,” Oikawa says haughtily, but he lets himself be steered outside without kicking up a fuss.

*

When they make it to the cafeteria for lunch break, the huddle of girls around Akiyama is already there, looking particularly conspiratorial and exclusive. Hajime has trouble imagining they could possibly want them to join, but apparently Oikawa has no such qualms, plopping down in one of the free chairs and smiling at everyone and no one in particular. 

The girls immediately break apart, giggling and blushing. Hajime hates the way their gazes skitter around Oikawa and him, like they were clearly talking about them and aren’t even trying to hide it. He sinks into the chair next to Oikawa, not even trying to hide his scowl.

Akiyama claps her hands together as soon as he sits down, a sharp sound that startles everyone else into stiff, polite poses, eyes downcast. “Iwaizumi, Oikawa,” she starts. Oikawa looks back at her steadily. “A few of us wanted to give you something for Valentine’s Day, as a gesture of support,” she continues, now smiling at Hajime directly. Hajime picks at the edge of the table with a fingernail. “We decided to make it a team effort, so we wouldn’t try to outdo each other.” She laughs, making a nervous little what can you do? gesture and bends down to reach into her bag.

When she resurfaces, she’s holding two cellophane packages. She hands the first one to Hajime, who carefully takes it with both hands, like it might explode.

He’s never gotten chocolates before, and as hard as he tries to remember how Oikawa reacted last year, it’s buried underneath a year’s worth of annoyance at his smugness. He’s on his own.

“Thank you so much,” he gets out, while Oikawa in his peripheral vision receives his own chocolates with the same reverence. 

Through the cellophane, he spots familiar shapes in the black-and-white swirls, and he can’t help the grin that’s spreading across his face. 

“They’re volleyball-shaped,” he says stupidly. 

Oikawa gasps and leans over to look, like he doesn’t have his own bag. “They’re beautiful!” He exclaims earnestly, putting a hand to his heart. “Thank you so much for all your support. It means a lot, especially today.”

Akiyama leans forward. “What's today? Has anyone been giving you trouble? More than usual, I mean.”

Oikawa huffs a sad little sigh, an entirely calculated sound. “I don’t know,” he starts. “I don’t want to bother you with this. You gave us chocolates! We can focus on that!” He holds up his little bag with a smile, shaking it a little as if for emphasis.

“Bullshit,” Akiyama dismisses. “Give us the story. If it’s anything we can help with, we’ll help.”

Oikawa looks unconvinced, like he wants to dither some more, so Hajime rolls his eyes and cuts to the chase. “He found a fake confession in his locker.”

Akiyama frowns. “A fake? How do you know it’s fake?”

Oikawa leans down to tug the envelope out of his backpack, setting it down on the table between them gingerly. “See for yourselves. I’d love to get back to them, but it didn’t happen to be signed.”

Akiyama takes the envelope and turns it around, starting a little at the torn-through heart sticker. 

Oikawa makes a go-ahead gesture, and she tugs out the card, laying it out on the table for everyone to see. The bold writing is somehow even more vulgar like this, between all of them, flinching back with different levels of shock on their faces. Hajime takes the list he was working on out of his pocket and smooths it out next to the card.

“This is everyone who was waiting around by the lockers, in case they stuck around to see his reaction,” he explains, catching and holding Oikawa’s startled gaze until it melts into something less brittle. 

Akiyama pulls it towards herself, skimming the names. About a third through, she halts and taps the paper. “I saw this guy lingering by your lockers after club activities yesterday. He left when I came closer.”

Hajime frowns, leaning in to see which name she’s pointing out. “Wait, how do you know where our lockers - oh, I’ll fucking kill him .” He gets up, chair scraping across the floor, but Oikawa’s hand flies out to tug him back down. 

“Sasaki?” a short girl with a pixie cut asks like nothing happened. “He sits next to me in physics, let me see.” She picks up the card, scrutinizing the harsh lines of the kanji. “Yeah, could be his handwriting,” she decides after a moment, shrugging. “I mean, it’s just one word, so I’m not too sure.”

“It was definitely him,” Hajime says darkly. He straightens up, trying to find Sasaki over the heads of everyone in the cafeteria, bent over their lunches.

“Okay, I’ll take it from here,” Oikawa pipes up suddenly, standing up. “Thank you for your help!” He must have picked up the envelope and stuffed the card back into it while Hajime wasn’t looking. His thumb smooths over the sticker slowly, as if trying to reseal it. 

“What are you doing?” Akiyama asks, looking between Hajime and Oikawa with something like guarded anticipation. 

Oikawa smiles, all teeth. “The right thing to do when you receive a confession from someone you don’t like is to reject them gently.” He gives the lunch crowd a quick scan, spinning his chair out of the way with one hand. “My mother raised me well. Just because I didn’t like the content of this one doesn’t mean I can just ignore it.” 

His eyes lock on something halfway across the room, and he raises the envelope over his head in goodbye, already starting to make his way there.

Akiyama watches him go, something like awe in her eyes. “I want to be there for that,” she says, just loud enough for Oikawa to still catch.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Oikawa calls back over his shoulder. “You’ll hear.”

Stunned, Hajime stays where he is while Oikawa weaves his way between chairs and tables, drawing a solid amount of attention in the process.

At their table, nobody is even making an attempt to hide that they’re watching Oikawa, scrambling to get a better viewpoint. Hajime, who has to stretch to see over the heads of three girls shamelessly getting up on their knees, remembers the uneasy feeling of being the center of their attention earlier, and viciously hopes Sasaki will feel the same. 

Oikawa comes to a halt in front of the table Sasaki shares with a few of his friends, all of whom are sneering at him. Sasaki refuses to look up from his meal, even when Oikawa gently sets down the envelope on the table in front of him, flap sticking up into the air. 

“Sasaki,” Oikawa starts sweetly, pitching his voice to carry. About half of the pupils in the cafeteria are turned towards them, now, listening. Oikawa inclines his head, just enough for anyone to infer, this is where a bow would go . “I am very sorry, but I can’t return your feelings.”

“What the fuck,” Sasaki snarls, looking down at the table and then finally in Oikawa’s general direction, “That isn’t mine, why would--”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Oikawa cuts him off, even more loudly. “Don’t worry, Sasaki, just because I am not the right one for you doesn’t mean you won’t find anyone.” 

Sasaki flushes a blotchy red, visible even from their distance. “You disgusting piece of shit, I didn’t--”

“There’s no reason to get defensive,” Oikawa calls out over him, and Hajime can hear the placating smile in his voice. “There is nothing wrong with who you love , and you deserve someone who is just as devoted to you as you are to them .”

Akiyama stifles a giggle with her hand. Around her, her friends are less successful trying to keep their laughter down.

Sasaki seems to have realized that the louder he gets, the louder Oikawa gets, and the more people hear him. He gets up instead, crowding into Oikawa’s space.

Oikawa backs up a few polite steps. “Ah,” he says, still loud enough for most of the room to be heard over the hush that has fallen over the cafeteria, “Please respect my boundaries. I understand that you want to be close to me, but I think it would be better if we kept a little distance for the time being. It’ll make it easier for you, too, to get over me.”

By now, the giggles have spread throughout the entire room, and Sasaki is standing across from Oikawa, chest heaving and fists clenching at his sides. Hajime realizes with a start that there is nobody around to stop him from punching Oikawa.

“How can you say we are terrifying,” Akiyama whispers to him, “When you’re best friends with this guy.

Hajime shakes his head, eyes still glued to Sasaki. "That's different, I've known him since we were five, I know he's an idiot." He exhales a sigh of relief when he spots a teacher moving in on Oikawa and Sasaki, directly in Sasaki's line of sight.

After what feels like an eternity in which Oikawa stands his ground, smiling his polite smile, Sasaki finally breaks, hissing something at Oikawa and packing up his lunch to flee the room. 

Oikawa shrugs and makes his way back through the absolute silence of the cafeteria, until he reaches their table and everyone at it breaks out in whoops and giggles. Akiyama welcomes him back with a slap on his back, and he sinks into his chair with a wide grin that’s wobbly from adrenaline. 

“Good show,” the girl with the pixie cut says, appreciative. Oikawa gives her a mock-bow, which earns him a round of belated applause. When he comes back up, his eyes are on Hajime, bright and expectant.

“You better not go anywhere alone after this,” Hajime manages.

Oikawa scrunches up his face. “Iwa-chan, at least let me revel in my victory for a few minutes!”

*

When they arrive in the club room after school, Sasaki isn’t there, but the news must still have reached everyone else, all of them eyeing Oikawa with a mixture of awe and fear as he strides in.

“If you try to pull this shit on me, I’ll hire a hitman, so don’t get any ideas,” Nakano finally breaks the silence. His eyes are narrowed like he’s only half joking.

“I won’t reject anyone who didn’t confess,” Oikawa replies evenly, “So unless you were planning on doing that, there’s no reason to worry.”

There’s a flurry of whispers and incredulous looks exchanged, and one of the second years asks, “He really confessed to you?”

Well,” Oikawa starts, “he definitely snuck a red envelope into my locker. I might have been a little nicer in my rejection, had the content been less rude .”

It’s a warning, and everyone receives it as such, that much is evident in the brief silence that follows. Hajime catches Kunimi giving Oikawa an impressed look before he goes back to changing, which is definitely worth noting, since Hajime hadn’t thought Kunimi capable of that kind of expression before.

When Sasaki hasn’t shown up by the time they're warming up, Hajime lets himself relax a fraction. Without Sasaki there, he doesn’t need to worry about Nakano, which means he can almost have a normal practice session. 

He works on his new mouse trap spike, trying and mostly failing to give it any kind of accuracy, then grudgingly practices his receives alongside the second years, and finally ends up giving Kindaichi some tips on his form. Kindaichi, as per usual, is a quick study, eager to please and excited, and Hajime notes with some relief that his discomfort from yesterday seems to have evaporated over night. 

He catches glimpses of Oikawa flitting about throughout practice, his gestures and smiles and plays as showy as ever. Hajime doesn’t sense any hostility from the people he talks to at any point, so he cautiously marks the practice down as a success. Oikawa seems to feel the same way, even allowing himself to fall back into bad habits like telling Kageyama to refold the net five separate times, until Hajime smacks him between the shoulder blades with a well-aimed volleyball.

“Cut the crap, Trashykawa. Kageyama, the net is fine, he’s just torturing you.”

Clutching the ball he’s managed to catch after impact either because he has freaky reflexes or because he just knows Hajime that well, Oikawa sticks out his tongue at him. “Just because a brute like you can’t see a difference doesn’t mean there isn’t one, Iwa-chan! And besides, it’s a learning experience. First-years should have a certain amount of humility.”

Kageyama, wisely, flees the scene while Oikawa’s back is turned. 

“Then you're the one who needs to start practicing, right? We’re gonna to be first-years again in like, two months.”

It’s been on his mind for a while now, the half-fear of how things might be if the people whispering behind their backs weren’t their peers or underclassmen, but older students, people who know more than them and have more friends. People who are bigger and stronger than them. Oikawa doesn’t seem to share this fear, because he just smiles like he always does when Hajime brings up the prospect of high school.

“Can you believe it?” he asks almost longingly as he brushes past Hajime, leaving the net in its allegedly rumpled state. “I can’t wait to shed all this responsibility and have people pay for my meals again.”

Hajime snorts a laugh. “God, your personality is so shitty. Don’t you think our upperclassmen will notice?”

“Don’t worry about me, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says over his shoulder with a genial smile, laying a hand on his own chest. “Humility comes easy to me. Unlike some people I know.”

Hajime kicks him in the back of his good knee and beats him to the clubroom, letting the door slam shut in his indignant face for good measure. Everyone startles at the sudden noise, falling silent until Oikawa whisks the door open again to berate Hajime for his bad manners, and their teammates go back to their own conversations, used to tuning them out.

It’s a routine Hajime hasn’t realized he missed until now, when the relief of having it back leaves him almost weak-kneed, smiling at Oikawa like an idiot.

It’s completely out of context, Oikawa shouldn’t know what he’s smiling about, he shouldn’t be able to hear the implied we did it , but he only raises his eyebrows as if to say I told you so , and somehow, Hajime knows he feels the same way.

*

Since neither of them is very good at restraint, they open their chocolates on the way home - well, they open Hajime’s chocolates and share them.

“It doesn’t make any sense opening both at once,” Oikawa wheedles even as Hajime is already undoing the bright blue bow and holding the bag out for him to take one, his hand striking out lightning-fast as if Hajime will change his mind. 

Hajime picks one with only the faintest white swirls. Up close, the seam between the two halves is visible, and he bites along it, splitting the chocolate in half in his mouth. The filling melts on his tongue, sweet and creamy, and he hums his approval at Oikawa, who has his head tipped back in apparent pleasure.

“We owe them so many gifts for White Day,” Oikawa says after the frankly indecent amount of time it takes him to finish the one chocolate, and Hajime nods his assent, licking his fingers clean of his forth one.

When Oikawa meanders off course again, Hajime assumes he’s looking for the cat and follows along with only a few token protests. 

But then Oikawa stops at the display window of an optician, scanning the glasses laid out among the (weirdly, nautical themed) decor, and Hajime abandons his search in favor of shoulder-checking him away from the shop. 

“Get a move on, dumbass, I still have an essay to finish!”

Oikawa doesn’t look up from the display, only stumbling a few steps to the side. “Well, Iwa-chan, if you’d done your homework when you were supposed to, you could have gone shopping for glasses with me!” 

Hajime blinks. “Since when do you need glasses?” he asks.

Oikawa makes a show of checking his non-existent watch. “About twenty-four hours?” He shrugs, somehow managing to make the gesture look sheepish and careless at the same time. “Turns out you get headaches when your brain tries to compensate for your weak eyesight all day. Now I just need Iwa-chan to help me find the cutest pair of glasses in the shop and I’m good to go!” He flashes a peace sign, angling a winning smile at Hajime.

“That was the only problem?” Hajime asks, incredulous. “You had these headaches for like a year, and you could have just - not, the entire time?” 

In response, Oikawa only pushes open the door, stepping inside to the jaunty jingle of a bell. Hajime only notices then that he’s been following him towards the entrance as they were talking, so he wipes his sticky fingers on his uniform and takes the single step leading into the shop, unwilling to leave the conversation there.

Unfortunately, Oikawa is in the optician’s clutches as soon as he sets foot inside, and it’s all Hajime can do to sit down in one of the chairs lined up along the wall as Oikawa recounts his tale of woe to her professional sympathy.

He flirts with her the entire time, the way he seems incapable of not doing when he’s around young women. The optician seems more amused than enticed by his advances, and Hajime realizes that of course, at the bottom of it all, Oikawa is still a fifteen-year-old boy, and probably sounds ridiculous to adults no matter how hard he tries. It’s weirdly eye-opening, for something this simple: of course, Oikawa isn’t ageless. Hajime was there when he was five and lost and crying for his mom, nine and babbling on about aliens, twelve and afraid of losing their first official junior high match. He’s here now, with Oikawa trying to act smooth and failing. It’s almost reassuring.

The optician beckons Oikawa into a different room to measure his eyesight again, and Hajime settles in for a long wait with a sigh, sending off a text to his mother so she won’t worry. 

He’s just gotten started on his essay, notebook poised awkwardly in his lap, when they emerge again, Oikawa giving him a broad smile.

 

“Iwa-chan, I’m going to look so good with glasses! Ms Shimada says so, too!”

It’s her job , Hajime doesn’t say, settling instead for a nod and scrawling another sentence. He doesn’t particularly care at this point, and it’s not like Ms Takahashi can give him detention for not giving enough of a shit. 

When he looks up again, Oikawa is sporting a ridiculous pair of thick-rimmed angular glasses, and Hajime can’t stop himself from snorting. 

“So mean, Iwa-chan, at least try to be nice about it!” Oikawa seems to agree with his opinion, though, because he takes them off again immediately, trying a thin gold frame with round glasses instead. 

Hajime blinks at him. The glasses make him look years older - not in a bad way, just a sneak preview of the man he might become, and Hajime abruptly has trouble focusing on his homework. 

Thankfully, Oikawa decides against this pair as well without consulting Hajime’s opinion, muttering something under his breath as he sets them down and picks up a different pair, this one completely frameless. Hajime ducks his head into his notebook and manages to scribble down two more sentences before Oikawa taps his foot loudly enough for him to give in and look up again.

With the wireless glasses, he looks distinctly more nerdy, even when he strikes one of his poses and winks at Hajime. 

“You look like I should be taking your lunch money,” Hajime says, biting down on a fond smile. 

“You’re already bullying me all the time, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa complains, checking his reflection again and shaking his head at himself. 

The bell jingles again as an older lady comes in, and the optician leaves them to it with an apologetic smile, hurrying to her side. Oikawa ends up trying out nearly all the frames that are on display, even the ridiculous ones that Hajime is sure he only puts on to get a laugh out of him, and very nearly ends Hajime in the process.

With glasses, Oikawa looks less like a weapon and more honest, softer, kinder, or more refined by turns. The sight whittles away at Hajime’s defenses until he’s left giving away snatches of a truth he didn’t mean to share. 

Which is how, when Oikawa turns to him sporting a half-frame model, the angular upper rim giving him more of a serious look while the rounded edge of the glasses beneath his eyes adds something playful, he finds himself saying, “That one brings out your cheekbones,” and promptly wishing he could somehow take it back.

Oikawa, whose personality has not miraculously been cured by the addition of a pair of glasses, pounces immediately. 

“Oh, Iwa-chan? You think about my cheekbones?” he prods, plopping down next to him and bringing his face in close. “Tell me more! Do you think I have a pretty face? You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to compliment me more, it leaves me all parched for validation and I have to resort to asking other people!”

Hajime drags a hand through the stiff spikes of his hair. “I will literally stab you in the eye with that tiny anchor from the display if you don’t shut up right now.”

Oikawa sticks out his lower lip, glasses sliding down his nose until he’s looking at Hajime over the rim. It should look ridiculous, but unfortunately doesn’t. “You know,” he says, sounding a little hurt, “After a week like that, I could really use a compliment. Don’t you think so?”

“I’ve had the same week,” Hajime snaps. Oikawa doesn’t let up on the pout until Hajime finally adds, “Your face almost makes up for your personality. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Embarrassed, he immediately looks down at his essay again, rereading his last sentence and deciding that it doesn’t make enough sense even for a half-hearted attempt. He crosses it out, pen almost poking through the paper. 

“Alright, I’ll graciously ignore the insult, because I am easygoing as well as beautiful, and since I am also magnanimous, I’ll even add a compliment of my own! After all, you had the same week as I did, as you pointed out,” Oikawa drawls, still close enough for Hajime to feel his breath on his cheek as he desperately tries to come up with a sentence that makes more sense. Oikawa, impossibly, gets even closer, like he’s about to tell him some kind of secret, and pitches his voice low to match.

“That thing you have where you get really protective of your friends is cute. Misguided, but cute.”

Hajime abruptly sits up, staring straight ahead and accidentally catching the eye of the optician, who must see something like despair in his expression and immediately swoops in.

“Oh! These look very good on you. Very flattering, a good choice!” 

Oikawa jerks back in surprise, hands flying up to the temples of his glasses as if he’s only just remembering he’s wearing them. Hajime busies himself packing away his notebook, but he thinks he can spot a blush on Oikawa’s cheeks when he looks back up to where he’s negotiating the details of his order with Ms Shimada.

*

 

Only when he turns into his home street does Hajime think to question why Oikawa chose him of all people to go pick out glasses with. Oikawa knows he hates shopping, he was there when Hajime was told to hand in his essay tomorrow, and he constantly teases Hajime for his lack of fashion sense. He could have asked literally anyone else - anyone from Akiyama’s friend group, his mother, his sister - and gotten better advice with less effort. 

But he didn’t. He asked Hajime, even after spending the better part of the week with him by circumstance, even though he’s going to sleep over at Hajime’s place tomorrow. He asked him for his opinion, and then he picked a pair of glasses Hajime told him he thought made him look good.

He told him he likes it when Hajime gets protective with only the barest hint of a prompt.

Hajime knows his mother was right when she said that it’s not a good thing Oikawa is relying on him so much, but a guilty little part of his brain still feels good at the realization. He smothers a stupid little smile in his fist, and fishes out his keys to let himself in.

Chapter Text

Oikawa clicks his tongue at the cat. “Fat help you’ve been yesterday,” he scolds, turning his nose up at it as he walks past.

Hajime snorts, stooping down and letting it sniff at his hand before it wanders off. “Yesterday went fine, didn’t it?” he asks.

“No thanks to the self-proclaimed lucky cat ,” Oikawa sniffs, and Hajime doesn’t point out that the cat, in all probability, never proclaimed to be anything.

“Yeah, it was all you,” he says instead. “Like usual.”

Oikawa slows down until Hajime has caught up enough for him to study his expression, eyes narrowing suspiciously. Hajime half-shrugs through the familiar thrill of surprising Oikawa, of getting him to drop his act. He wants to keep doing it, see how far he can take it, even as part of him longs for the comfortable ease of their usual banter. “What? It’s true. You’ve worked hard for everything you’ve achieved. This is the same.”

Oikawa’s mouth twitches up into a tentative smile, like he’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop. “You helped.”

Hajime shrugs again. “That’s not news either.”

It’s almost a promise, and Oikawa knows Hajime doesn’t take those lightly. He keeps their eyes locked, until Hajime breaks and jostles his shoulder. “Eyes forward, dumbass.”

Getting two, three comfortable strides of space between them under the guise of stumbling to the side, Oikawa, weirdly, complies - then, gaze settling on something further down the road, he quickly fixes a smile on his face. He’s getting better at the transition between genuine and fake expressions - this one would have barely registered, if it weren’t for the weird timing.

Hajime follows his line of sight, and finds Shinoda leaning back against the wall that surrounds the school grounds and looking ten kinds of uncomfortable with his fists stuffed into his pockets. Hajime knows for a fact that Shinoda takes the bus to school like most of their classmates, and that this is not part of his usual route.

It’s odd, he thinks distantly, how just seeing the guy is enough to rile him up now, even though he still has no idea what he did. He makes an effort to straighten up. Shinoda is a few centimeters shorter than him, but it won’t show if he’s slouching. 

“Did you study for history?” Oikawa asks, crowding close enough that his entire field of vision must consist of Hajime in an effort to ignore their classmate, who is trying to pretend not to stare at them. “I stayed up late to get all those dates right, it’s so stupid that they’re just having us memorize all these useless things, don’t you think?” 

The voice he’s using says unimportant chatter so clearly that even Hajime, who knows exactly what’s going on, has trouble paying attention to his actual words.

“No,” he replies after a moment, keeping an eye on Shinoda as they approach. “I was writing the dumb essay. Was there going to be a test?”

Oikawa winks. “Ms Nakamura didn’t say , but I think I hacked her system for surprise tests.” He turns fully towards Hajime just as they pass Shinoda. “Do you want my notes for the first break?”

“Hey, Oikawa.” 

Hajime watches Oikawa’s expression transform into one of carefully crafted surprise before he spins around. “Shinoda. Didn’t see you there,” he greets, and makes to move on.

“I wanted to apologize,” Shinoda gets out, clearly struggling. Hajime would almost feel bad for him, if Shinoda wasn’t obviously lying. He’s still shrinking away from them like they’re contagious, and everything about his expression projects loathing. 

Oikawa slows to a stop, arching his eyebrows. “Oh?” he asks, “For what, exactly?”

“Monday, at lunch break,” Shinoda says. He swallows, probably at whatever Hajime’s face is doing when realization hits him. “I didn’t mean to - I mean, I didn’t mean for it to hurt --

It’s not until he has an arm across Shinoda’s chest, pinning him to the wall, that Hajime realizes he moved. “You didn’t mean for it to hurt ,” he repeats, low.

Shinoda struggles against his hold, but Hajime has a few centimeters and several pounds of muscle mass on him, and the benefit of cold rage on his side. He grinds the back of Shinoda's head into the wall and catches himself hoping it’s fucking painful.  

“You know what you don’t do when you don’t want a punch to the stomach to hurt?” he asks, getting right up in Shinoda’s space. There’s no scooting back for him now, even though he clearly wants to. Hajime leans in closer still, until his breath hits Shinoda’s face. “Wait until the other guy is relaxed. Like when he’s talking, or fucking sighing.

Oikawa sidles up to them, leans against the wall and looks up at the sky, smiling like he has all the time in the world. “You know, Shinoda. You said you wanted to apologize, right? Let’s hear it.”

Shinoda is clearly trying to keep from being too much of a target, rigid and silent, head turned as far as it gets to avoid eye contact. Hajime settles in for the wait.

“Apologize, and we’re even,” Oikawa chirps. “You’ve got my word that I’ll tell Akkin, too, and that I won’t make a scene.”

Shinoda’s face twists up in a cross between disgust and resignation, and Hajime makes a go-ahead gesture with the arm that isn’t busy pinning him.

Shinoda sucks in a quick breath. 

“I’m sor--” Hajime sinks his fist into his stomach, letting go as Shinoda doubles over, gasping. He backs up three steps immediately, to stop himself from punching him again for good measure.

“Right,” Oikawa says, still impossibly chipper. “I appreciate your apology. Let’s get going, Shinoda, you don’t want to be late for class.” 

*

School passes fast enough - between last-minute cramming for the surprise history test that of course Oikawa was right about, and updating their friends from the dance club on the Shinoda situation, Hajime barely has the brainspace to catalogue the glances and whispers like he’s been trying to do all week.

Hajime has always been good at getting used to new situations, and he finds himself starting to set the ground rules for a new normal, allowing for longer pauses before people reply when he talks to them, for curious sidelong glances between Oikawa and him. Gradually, he relaxes into their new routine, already accepting the updated version of their various friendships in class.

It’s not until practice that he remembers he should be watching out for Sasaki, and then it turns out to be unnecessary. 

“Sasaki informed me that he will be retiring from club activities for the rest of the year,” Coach Yoshino lets them know curtly before practice, which of course starts a bout of whispers among the first- and second-years.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Hajime catches Kindaichi saying out of the corner of his mouth in Kunimi’s direction, wide eyed. “I thought the deadline for retiring from club activities passed!”

“It’s not like they can force him to participate,” Kunimi replies, sounding bored. “They’re extracurricular activities , the whole point is that they’re voluntary .” He emphasizes the last word, like he thinks Kindaichi and possibly everyone else is taking the sport too seriously. Hajime turns around to frown at him disapprovingly, but Kunimi just meets his gaze, unbothered.

“Enough with the private conversations now, get to it,” coach Yoshino snaps, clapping his hands once, and everyone hurries to their feet, finding partners for the warm-up exercise. Oikawa immediately catches Nakano’s gaze, so Hajime picks out Kageyama again, waving at him across the rapidly dissolving half-circle around their coach. 

Kageyama quickly shuffles his way over to him, and they wordlessly go through half of the exercises together until, inevitably, Oikawa shows up to steal Hajime away.

“Why do you keep doing this to yourself,” Oikawa hisses, letting Hajime pull him forward into a stretch, “let someone else touch his icy hands, Iwa-chan, I’m sure you could do better!”

“It’s not his fault he has bad circulation,” Hajime replies, but there’s something about Oikawa’s expression that strikes him as weird. He’s always had trouble keeping a snarl off his face where Kageyama was concerned, but there’s something else to it now. He parses it for a second, comes to a conclusion, and dismisses it again.

“That doesn’t mean you have to hold his clammy hands for him, you know. He’ll find someone,” Oikawa says petulantly after they’ve reversed their positions.

Huh, Hajime thinks to himself. The thought doesn’t progress past huh for the rest of the warm-up, but something like anticipation joins it towards the end of practice, jittery and pleased.

*

Hajime doesn’t go back to his conclusion until they filter out of the club room, for once not the last to leave. He finds Tsugio leaning against the wall next to the door, pushing off as he spots them.

“Everything alright?” Hajime asks, putting him in a friendly headlock in passing. He doesn't even have to strain to reach, with how much Tsugio is slouching.

Tsugio squirms out of his hold immediately. “Leave me alone, you piece of shit,” he grumbles. 

“You’re the one who was waiting for me after practice. What’s up, did they let you out early?”

“They’re not letting me practice until my grades get better,” Tsugio lets out in a rush. 

Kageyama, who has been walking slightly to the right and in front of them, stops dead. “They can do that?” he asks, horrified. He’s not even facing them, just staring ahead, seemingly unseeing. 

Tsugio falters to a stop as well, and Hajime and Oikawa, who’s still deep in conversation with Nakano, slows down as well. “Uh, yeah?” Tsugio ventures, as if unsure if Kageyama is really addressing him.

When Kageyama finally turns around, his face is so full of horror that Hajime has trouble keeping back a snicker. “That’s - why.

“Right?” Tsugio asks, kicking at a pebble with enough vigor to send it skidding clean through the school gates. “So I guess I’ll go study fucking - irregular verbs until Monday. If you’ve got any tips...”

All Hajime can offer is a helpless shrug, but out of the corner of his eyes he sees Kageyama fall into a series of aborted movements he immediately recognizes as meaning that he wants to say something, but doesn’t really know how. He keeps his mouth shut, not facing him directly, but allowing enough of a pause in the conversation for him to finally collect himself and offer, haltingly: “I’ve got a tutor who showed me a bunch of ways to remember them. If you want.”

“Oh, neat,” Tsugio says, looking at Hajime, who gives him an exaggerated smile just to annoy him, and then, more in Kageyama’s direction, “Like, now?”

Kageyama gives a jerky nod, slowing as they reach the school gate, where they usually part ways. “If you want.”

“Cool!” Tsugio says, “Damn, thanks. Hang on, I’ll just call mom.” And he turns away, pulling out his phone. 

Hajime waves a distracted goodbye to Nakano when he splits off from the group, then claps a hand on Kageyama’s shoulder, smiling. “Hey, thanks, Kageyama,” he says. “It means a lot, he really loves playing.”

“I don’t know what I would do if they banned me from club activities,” Kageyama replies, earnest. “He should get to play.”

Hajime unthinkingly sweeps his hand up to ruffle Kageyama’s hair. “You’re a good kid,” he manages to say, before Oikawa yanks him away by the elbow. 

“So sorry, Tobio-chan, but we have to get going now!” he chirps. 

Hajime calls out a goodbye to Kageyama and Tsugio as he lets Oikawa drag him off, and doesn’t allow himself to grin until they’ve cleared a corner. Only then, after he’s double-checked that they are definitely, absolutely out of sight and earshot, he asks. 

“What, are you jealous or something?”

Oikawa immediately lets go of him, Hajime’s arm falling back to his side. When Hajime checks, he’s not looking anywhere near him, keeping his face carefully angled away. Hajime’s grin widens.

“What are you talking about, Iwa-chan, I’m just concerned for your status, people will start talking,” Oikawa mumbles finally, without much conviction. “Tobio-chan is unfortunately a weirdo, you don’t want to be asso--”

“You don’t need to worry, you know,” Hajime cuts him off. For just a second, he can imagine what it must be like to be able to read people like books all the time, the feeling of power that comes with it. He wonders if this is why Oikawa is always such a smug asshole. “I’m not into thirteen-year-olds.”

“Oh?” Oikawa asks, immediately back to his usual sly self. “Who’re you into, then?”

“Chris Hemsworth, who else,” Hajime retorts, feeling like he’s finally starting to get the hang of this stupid game of chicken Oikawa has been playing with him since the start of the week.

Oikawa’s startled laughter rings out brightly. It sounds like he feels it too, the lightness of last night’s realization that’s only grown over the course of the day until Hajime is almost giddy with it. “You know, I put up a poster of him in my room, you should have seen my dad’s face.”

Hajime snorts. “How did you explain your sudden interest in American actors?”

“He’s an Australian, Iwa-chan, pay attention!” Oikawa hums a little, stretching his arms above his head. “And he’s just very good at his job, of course! Have you seen him in Thor? How was I supposed not to notice an excellent actor like that?”

He takes a sharp left into the 7-Eleven on the crossing where they usually part ways, momentarily leaving Hajime alone on the street. His momentum carries him another few steps before he catches himself and follows, so that by the time he reaches him, Oikawa is already browsing the facial masks on offer, humming to himself. “Do you know your skin type?” he asks absently. 

One of the masks says mochi , Hajime notes. He’s not sure if it’s meant to smell or taste like mochi, or give you skin that feels like mochi. “Uh, what?”

“You know, do you have oily skin, or dry skin, or normal skin?”

Stupidly, Hajime raises a hand to touch his face. “I have - I don’t know, it hurts? Is there one for skin that hurts?”

“Sensitive skin, we can work with that,” Oikawa says brightly, plucking off one that is a light green and has an avocado on it. “You’ll look like an alien, it’ll be fun! Now pick mine!”

“Uh,” Hajime says. “What’s yours? Skin type?” He scans the masks for where the hell they say what skin type they’re for, taking the mochi one off the shelf in the process.

“Combination skin,” Oikawa supplies, and then, at Hajime’s dumbfounded look, patiently explains, “It means my forehead and nose are oily but my cheeks are dry.”

“Oh,” Hajime says, frowning. “I’ve got that too, I guess? I thought that’s just how skin works.” The mochi one claims to be for dry skin, so he puts that back. 

“Well, it’s really common,” Oikawa admits. 

“Then what the fuck is normal skin supposed to be?” Hajime mutters, discarding a black one that says charcoal in favor of a light pink one with coconuts on it. When he finds the little bubble on the back that says combination skin , he hands the packet over to Oikawa triumphantly. 

“Such a gentleman, Iwa-chan, seriously,” Oikawa grumps, but he goes to pay for both masks without further protest.

Hajime follows him to the register, unconcerned. Oikawa gets ludicrous amounts of pocket money from his parents, and despite the fuss he always kicks up Hajime knows he doesn’t actually mind paying for all the shit they buy. They’ve got a whole system: Hajime calls it reimbursement for all the trouble Oikawa gets them into, Oikawa pretends like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about but pays anyway, and then they forget about the whole thing.

“It was your idea,” Hajime says, leaning up against the counter while Oikawa counts out the money.

Oikawa puffs out his chest as if only just remembering that he did indeed suggest this in the first place. “That’s right, leave it to the great Oikawa to show you how to properly relax.”

The cashier’s eyes linger on Hajime’s face as he bags the masks for them, and it’s not like Hajime hasn’t gotten his fair share of pitying glances over the last few months, but he still doesn’t exactly know what to do with them. When he catches the faint indentations of acne scars on the cashier’s cheeks, he unballs his fists, turning away and towards Oikawa again.

“I know how to relax, dumbass. You’re the one who strained his knee because he has no idea how to leave well enough alone.”

“I can’t hear you over the sound of how ungrateful you are!” Oikawa says loudly, right on the heels of his words, and spins away to stride out of the store, plastic bag swinging wildly on his wrist. “You’ll have to repeat that with more gratitude, or I won’t be able to catch it!”

Hajime bolts after him. The strange elation from before is back, and he lets it out in a shout. “I said, you couldn’t relax if someone knocked you out! You wouldn’t know how! You probably practice jump serves in your dreams!”

“Nope,” Oikawa says, one hand cupping his ear as if straining to hear him. “Still nothing. So sorry, maybe you mistook gratitude for belligerence again?”

Hajime shoves him off the sidewalk, and Oikawa goes with a gasp. “Definitely belligerence,” he says, smiling despite himself. “You should work on that, you know? Try again.”

“Okay then, here’s some gratitude for you,” Hajime says, and then lowers his voice into something more earnest. “Thanks for having my back this week.”

Oikawa turns towards him, his smile fading. “Of course,” he replies, just as serious. “We’re a team, right?”

Hajime swallows. It’s been - for lack of a better word - fun, shutting Oikawa down by saying something heartfelt every so often, knowing that Oikawa has no idea how to deal with it. Now that he’s dealing with it, Hajime isn’t sure if he can. “Right.”

“We need to stop by my place,” Oikawa announces, and Hajime silently thanks the Gods that he decided to let it go just this once, “I’ll drop off my sport stuff and pick up the sleepover bag. And you, ” he adds graciously, “Can ogle Chris Hemsworth as much as you want.”

*

“What the fuck,” Hajime says, staring at the poster. “Your parents let you put up this?”  

“I told them it’s good motivation ,” Oikawa replies, grinning. “Waking up to it just gives me a boost.”

Hajime resolves to do a hundred crunches a day from now on to give Oikawa something to wake up to, and immediately dismisses the resolution again, ears burning. “Right. Yeah. Good motivational poster.” He clears his throat, averting his gaze from Chris Hemsworth’s considerable six pack.

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa sings, picking a shirt off the floor seemingly at random and tossing it towards the bag in the middle of the room, “What are you, a prude? You see half-naked boys every day.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Hajime shoots back weakly, still firmly facing away from the poster. “Where did you even get this?”

“Ordered it off the internet,” Oikawa says proudly. “They didn’t even see when it arrived, they’re always home so late.”

And it’s not like Hajime didn’t know this, but his face still does something weird at the thought of Oikawa at home alone every day after school. Oikawa isn’t meant to be alone, he needs to be constantly surrounded by people, else he tends to produce stupid ideas by the dozen and hurt himself carrying them out.

Being who he is, of course Oikawa notices. “Aw, come on, Iwa-chan, you know I’m at your place nine times out of ten anyway,” he says with an odd half-smile. He doesn’t usually mind pity - shamelessly asks for it whenever he thinks he has a chance, in fact - but this time, he looks almost annoyed.

“You better,” Hajime says, which makes no sense at all except when he knocks their shoulders together Oikawa tilts his head like he gets it anyway. “Let’s go, mom’s gonna be pissed if we’re late for dinner.”

*

“Tooru!” His mother croons seconds after Hajime steps through the door. Oikawa unpeels himself from behind him and stoops down to allow her to throw her arms around him, squeezing tight. “You haven’t been by all week, I was starting to miss you!” 

“Oh, no need to miss me, Mrs. Iwaizumi,” he smiles, producing his gift from his bag and holding it out to her. “I heard congratulations were in order, so I brought you this.”

“I know Hajime can’t keep secrets from you,” she says. “Thank you, but you know you don’t need to bring gifts every time, Tooru. You’re welcome whenever.”

Uncharacteristically, Oikawa folds into a bow at that. Hajime suspects it’s to hide his face. He has half a mind to drag him up and out of it to get a good look at whatever expression he doesn't want them to see, when his mother lays her hand on his shoulder, effectively stopping him from putting his plan to action.

“And Tsugio said you knew the boy he’s going to spend the evening with? Is he alright?”

Hajime rolls his eyes through Oikawa’s expected snort. “Kageyama’s like, the most serious guy on the team. Tsugio’s fine.”

“Good.” She waves them out of her sight. “Alright, boys! Upstairs with both of you until I’m done with dinner.” 

Oikawa wastes no time grabbing his bag and bolting up the stairs, Hajime on his heels. He doesn’t catch up until they’ve reached his room and finds Oikawa looking around like he’s never been there before, curious. 

“Nothing’s changed?” he says, sounding almost disappointed.

Hajime checks his expression for traces of whatever he was trying to hide before, but there’s nothing. He walks over to his bed, sitting down on it cross-legged. “What did you expect? I’m not the one who ordered a Hemsworth poster specifically to piss off my parents.”

“I don’t think there’s a Hemsworth poster that would piss off your parents,” Oikawa muses. “I mean, maybe if he was completely naked. But how would you even survive that, Iwa-chan, your head would just explode!” 

Hajime breathes through the urge to respond to the thinly veiled attempt at a distraction and decides to go for a direct approach. “Is that why you’re so weird? They’re what, too nice about this?”

The corners of Oikawa’s mouth turn down, and Hajime realizes, almost startled, that this is actually it , the same stupid thing that was bothering Oikawa last morning, too. It annoys him more than it probably should.

Oikawa slumps into Hajime’s wheely chair, promptly pushing himself off at his desk and rolling a good three meters towards the door. “You’re not my therapist, Iwa-chan.”

“No,” Hajime agrees, feeling oddly calm for once. “I’m your friend, that's why I thought you’d be happy for me.” 

Oikawa looks away and out of the window abruptly, the angle of his head too sharp to be comfortable, then belatedly spins the chair to compensate. When he turns back, the smile on his face is almost fake enough to physically hurt. “I am,” he says. “I’m glad you have parents who love you, and that you don’t have to come up with elaborate plans to trick them into letting you be yourself.”

Hajime is familiar with this point in their more serious discussions, it’s the crossroads where he decides to be the bigger person instead of tearing Oikawa a new one. This time, he doesn’t feel like being the bigger person. He gets up off the bed and crosses the room in two strides, spinning the chair until Oikawa has no choice but to look at him, already cringing away from him in preparation for a headbutt or whatever physical violence takes Hajime’s fancy.

“Good,” Hajime says through his teeth. “Because I’m really fucking sorry your parents suck so hard, and it would’ve been pretty sad if it turned out you weren’t even rooting for me at all.”

And then, because he may be pissed off but he’s not cruel enough to make him actually apologize, he smacks Oikawa’s chin up so hard his teeth clack.

Oikawa takes it for the out it’s meant to be, cradling his chin and shooting him a fake-wounded look. “Ow, Iwa-chan, what if I bit my tongue because of you?”

“You’d deserve it,” Hajime mutters.

That’s the moment his mother chooses to call up the stairs, “Dinner is ready!”, and Oikawa jumps up with an eager smile, already looking like he’s forgotten their conversation.

It certainly looks like it at dinner; he chats amicably with Hajime’s mother and patiently answers all of Keizo’s questions, not even complaining when he refuses to let go of Oikawa’s arm throughout dinner, forcing Oikawa to go through his omurice left-handed. 

But after dinner, when his mother leaves them to the dishes, taking Keizo with her, Oikawa crowds closer than usual. He has a towel slung across the shoulder he’s nudging Hajime with, pointedly companionable in that way he gets when he wants something.

“What,” Hajime finally asks flatly, staring down at the pan in his sudsy hands.

“Nothing,” Oikawa replies with a smile big enough to be heard in his voice. “I’m just glad to be here.”

“Yeah,” Hajime says, and hands him the pan. “Me too.”

*

“No, you’ve got to apply it evenly - here, let me.” 

They’re crowding in front of the bathroom mirror, Oikawa’s face already covered in a thin layer of pink paste, while the green slime of Hajime’s mask is patchy and uneven despite his best efforts. He makes a face at himself in the mirror just as Oikawa catches him by the chin and smoothes out the worst of it with a careful index finger.

Hajime fixes his gaze on Oikawa’s hair where it’s swept out of his face and held in place by a ridiculous headband with a little bow that must have belonged to his sister once, and holds still. Oikawa’s grip is gentle, this time, fingers still cool from the tap water. If he focuses on them, he can feel the calluses on his fingertips. 

“All done,” Oikawa says quietly after a moment, letting go.

“Thanks,” Hajime replies gruffly, and checks the mirror again while Oikawa rinses his hands.

They look stupid, both of them, pink and green, the skin around their eyes pale in comparison. Hajime lets out a little snort at the sight, but a bigger part of him is glad that Oikawa lets him see him like this - that he’s able to concede to Hajime that none of his looks are as effortlessly perfect as he pretends.

“And now what?” he asks. The mask feels cool and wet on his face, not unpleasant but not necessarily pleasant, either.

“Now we let it sit for ten minutes, and then rinse it off.”

“Great.” Hajime makes for his room, Oikawa following on his heels. Just as Oikawa is pulling the bathroom door closed behind himself, Hajime hears the telltale sound of Tsugio racing up the stairs, his backpack smacking into the wall as he rounds the corner. Hajime doesn’t even try to turn away, half curious for his reaction, half resigned to the inevitable ridicule. Tsugio does not disappoint, skidding to a halt on the landing and clearly not trying all that hard to contain a snort.

“Yeah, laugh it up,” Hajime mutters, “See if I give you any tips when you get acne next year.”

“Like you have anything to teach me,” Tsugio shoots back. “Clearly, nothing has worked so far.”

Hajime scowls. “Watch it, asshole, or I’ll put green slime on your face, too.”

Tsugio acts unconcerned until Hajime dips a finger into his mask and threateningly advances on him, at which point he lets out an undignified squeak and bolts for his room.

“Oi!” Hajime calls after him, “How was your study session!”

Tsugio reappears in the doorframe, grimacing. “Weird? Kageyama is weird.” 

Hajime expects a triumphant comment from Oikawa at that, but when he turns to look, he’s nowhere to be seen. Probably fled into Hajime’s room at the prospect of Tsugio seeing him in less than perfect condition. “He’s a good kid,” Hajime says.

“Yeah, I know. Still weird, though.”

Hajime shrugs, not really able to refute that. “At least you learned something?” He tries.

Tsugio rolls his eyes and shuts the door in his face at that, and on an impulse, Hajime wipes his finger on the door handle before turning for his own room.

He finds Oikawa on his bed, knees drawn to his chest. Hajime can’t make out much of his expression, but he has a suspicion. “What,” he asks. 

“Nothing!” Oikawa raises both hands in a gesture of innocence. “I was just wondering - does it run in your family, the--” he gestures at Hajime’s face, and Hajime gives an irritated huff.

“My mom’s side,” he says curtly. “She says it got better at seventeen.” It’s hard to imagine another two years of his face hurting when he barely touches it, but he’s been trying to avoid that line of thought.

“Maybe you should go to a doctor with that,” Oikawa says gently. They’re the same words Hajime has told him countless times, enough of a reminder for Hajime to suppress the annoyed response that immediately springs to mind.

“You think they can do anything?” he asks instead, sitting down at the head of his bed.

“I don't know, I’m just saying, we’re already trying to fix everything else on our own, maybe you can get some help with this, at least,” Oikawa goes on, Hajime’s words sounding weirdly careful in his voice.

Hajime only realizes he’s touching his cheek again when his fingers come away wet. He makes a face and wipes his hand on his pants. “That’d be fucking great,” he mutters.

“I didn’t know it bothered you this much.” There’s something uncomfortably close to an apology in Oikawa’s admission. He’s shifting on the sheets, still stupidly pink-faced, and Hajime briefly curses the goddamn face masks because he can’t read his expression at all.

After a moment, he decides to go the blunt route. “My face hurts whenever I touch it. When I change out of a t-shirt and when I try to sleep on it and when I shower and sometimes when I fucking sweat too much. How would it not bother me.”

“I didn’t know it hurt,” Oikawa admits, “Until Wednesday, I guess. I thought it was just a cosmetic issue, and Iwa-chan doesn’t care about how he looks.”

“Of course I care about how I look,” Hajime says, maybe to obfuscate Oikawa’s almost-apology with a vulnerable truth of his own. Maybe just because he just likes to suffer.

He may not be able to see Oikawa’s expression, but he knows he must bite back several sweetly condescending remarks before he settles on his reply, which is a surprisingly contrite, “You know I don’t mean it when I say you’re ugly, right?”

He’s looking down at his hands in his lap as he says it, and Hajime immediately changes his opinion on the face masks, because he is undeniably blushing. “‘Course,” he grunts. 

Hajime is saved from having to hear the (obnoxious, by the look on his face) next thing Oikawa is gearing up to say by the timer on his phone going off, and they make the trek back to the bathroom unseen, this time.

“I’ll get you some concealer,” Oikawa decides, hanging over the sink as he scrubs at his face with both hands. Then he laughs suddenly, as if just remembering something.

“Hard pass,” Hajime interrupts him quickly, because he knows how fast Oikawa’s ideas settle and fossilize. Oikawa waves away his objections, clearly already moved on to a different thought.

“Do you know, Kindaichi asked me if I wear makeup!”

Hajime gapes. “He what? What did you tell him?”

“That I don’t. He honestly seemed a little disappointed! We should get him some before graduation, as a parting gift.” Oikawa is still laughing at the memory or at his own idea, voice shaking with it as he dries his face with the towel Hajime holds out to him. When he emerges, his skin looks impossibly soft. Hajime has to actively stop himself from reaching out, and forces his focus back on the conversation.

“He’d probably just die from embarrassment. I’m surprised he managed to ask.” He turns on the water again to wash off his own mask, wincing when the green goo sticks to his skin in places. Oikawa raises his voice to be heard over the rush of the water.

“He was so red, Iwa-chan! It must have been on his mind a lot.” Then he adds, more serious, “I’m glad I told them we’d answer their questions, you know.”

Hajime lightly dabs at his face with a towel, hiding his frown. “Did you get more questions? Nobody came to me?” He checks his own reflection, and bites back a sigh. Where Oikawa’s skin looks smoother and softer than before, Hajime’s just looks inflamed, angry and blotchy red. Well, he supposes it was worth a try.

“Because you look scary,” Oikawa points out, matter-of-fact. “ I am approachable.”

The logic holds in the context of everything but volleyball. While it’s true that a lot of people at school are afraid of him, the team knows that Hajime will do his best to answer their questions, and he has never felt like any of his teammates have ever hesitated to ask him anything before. 

“I don’t think that’s it.” 

Oikawa gives an exaggerated sigh. “It’s because I look gay and you don’t, Iwa-chan. I mean, can you imagine anyone asking you with a straight face if you wear makeup?”

Hajime, who may have spent an uncomfortably long time contemplating one of his mother’s lipsticks at some point in his life, flushes bright red. “That’s not fair,” he says, as if that will make it better. He winces at the flat look Oikawa levels him with. “Sorry. What else did they ask?”

“You know,” Oikawa says vaguely, looking up at the ceiling. “Stuff.” 

“What stuff?”

Oikawa leaves the bathroom, pretending not to hear Hajime’s question, but he’s pink in a way that can’t just be from the scrubbing, two spots of color on his cheeks.

“What stuff?” Hajime repeats when they’re back in his room, Oikawa sprawling out on Hajime’s bed like it’s his own, leaving a tiny spot for him to sit on.

“Stupid stuff!” Oikawa stares straight up, not meeting Hajime’s eyes. “You know! All the questions we had, when we were thirteen and your aunt came to visit with her - with her wife.”

Hajime remembers their visit vividly, as well as the stern briefing his mother gave him and Tsugio before, explaining what questions were off-limits and fielding the others in advance, answering as well as she could. He remembers the enticing horror of possibility opening up in front of him, the quiet wonder of seeing his aunts interact with such open warmth. They were newlyweds, back then, his mother had explained, and they acted the part, too.

The giddiness came after. It made him sneak out at night to google everything he didn’t dare ask, to excitedly explain to an initially skeptical Oikawa. In hindsight, he’d been embarrassingly obvious. 

But he also, with a guilty twinge, remembers some of the questions he had, and grimaces at the thought of Oikawa being exposed to all of them, without anyone to sort or filter them beforehand. He can just picture him flitting from warm-up partner to warm-up partner, answering all their insensitive and hurtful questions to the best of his ability, hands tied by his own stupid strategy of relentless trust. 

“That sucks,” he says. “You could’ve told them to come to me, too, you know.”

Oikawa waves him off. “It’s fine. I got to teach my adorable underclassmen some manners, and if anyone realized - you know - anything about themselves, it was probably worth it.”

Hajime, with startling predictability, forgets that Oikawa can be magnanimous, even selfless. It happens in the most unexpected moments, steamrolling past Hajime’s defenses and leaving him helplessly fond.

“You’re a good captain,” he says, biting back any other words that try to worm out. 

“Of course I am, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa agrees softly, still not looking at him. “The very best. Ushiwaka can’t hold a candle to me.”

The mention of Ushijima is enough to tip Hajime’s expression into a scowl. “Ushiwaka’s idea of a pep talk is to threaten everyone with extra practice, of course you’re better than him.”

Oikawa’s eyes flit across his face at that, always startled at any reminder that Hajime dislikes Ushijima just as much as Oikawa does. 

And he gets it, in a way: Ushijima has always picked Oikawa to talk down to, to rile up in this infuriatingly calm way. It's always been Oikawa he told could do better, that he should have been in Shiratorizawa, that the team he chose doesn’t work well enough for him. It's always been the two of them. Hajime has never been part of the equation; he’s not even sure Ushijima knows his name. 

And, stupidly enough, that’s exactly what makes his face burn with anger and shame every time they’re facing off on court: Ushijima’s easy dismissal of his entire existence. They are the aces of their respective teams, they should be rivals, but instead, Ushijima never bothered to familiarize himself with Hajime’s playing style, or with the way he leads the team alongside Oikawa. And the most humiliating truth, the one that has hot tears burning behind his eyes at the memory - he doesn’t need to. He always wins, regardless.

It’s a childish enough reason that Hajime has never said it out loud, but he’s so used to Oikawa looking right through him that it’s still odd to see him puzzling over it.

“I can’t wait to make him eat his words in high school,” Hajime growls, pushing past the tears to the resolution that comes after. “Prove him wrong.”

Oikawa smiles, thin and dangerous. “We’ll show him.”

*

At Oikawa’s insistence, they end up doing a little bit of late-night homework, prone on the floor of Hajime’s room. They’re lying perpendicular, heads bent together over Kanji, then if-clauses, then chemical equations. It’s almost familiar, but a part of Hajime is waiting for something else to happen, oddly tense whenever their shoulders brush. 

And of course, Oikawa picks up on it. 

“What’s wrong, Iwa-chan?” he asks, dangerously light, “are you worried you’ll fail all your exams and end up homeless? I’d let you stay at my house, you know!”

“You’re the one who’s struggling with this,” Hajime snaps, pointing to where Oikawa is still missing a hydrogen on the right side of his equation with no solution in sight. 

Oikawa, unexpectedly, does not defend himself, instead pinning Hajime with a look. He’s forgotten to take off his headband, and again Hajime makes eye contact with the bow above his stupidly high forehead instead of him. Oikawa leans forward, unbothered. “Tell the great Mr. Oikawa about your troubles, Iwa-chan.”

It’s easy to forget that to the extent Oikawa relies on him, he also relies on Oikawa. Usually, Oikawa’s methods are more subtle than this - he knows how to ground him when Hajime threatens to blow up in someone’s face, he lies for both of them so Hajime won’t have to, and he prods and needles at him until Hajime has no choice but to come out of the occasional self-induced funk. For him to ask so bluntly, Hajime must have been acting off for much longer than he’s noticed.

The thing is, there are so many things on his mind, he doesn’t even know which one is the culprit. He shrugs and picks the one Oikawa is most likely to be able to help with. “I’m worried about high school. I can deal with people our age being shitheads, but if they’re older--”

Oikawa smiles wide. “Say no more, Iwa-chan. I’ve had the same thought, but I mean,” he sits up just so he can spread out his arms, all-encompassing, “There are bound to be more - uh, queer people at high school. It’ll be old news before it’s even news, Iwa-chan! Don’t worry your little head about it, you’ll end up hurting yourself.”

Hajime half-heartedly whacks him over the head with his notebook at the insult, and Oikawa predictably shrieks and ducks out underneath it, hands reaching up to fix his hair. When they touch the bow, his eyes go comically wide, then he abruptly presses his mouth into a thin line and yanks the hairband off. “Violence is not the answer, Iwa-chan,” he mutters, furiously finger-combing his hair back into its usual state, and Hajime can’t help but laugh; he’s never seen Oikawa too embarrassed to properly play it off before.

Oikawa abruptly turns back to his homework, the corners of his mouth turned down, and adds a hydrogen to his equation at random just so he can move on to the next problem.

“No, you gotta double both sides,” Hajime starts, but Oikawa pointedly copies down the next exercise. 

Hajime sighs and wrenches the pencil out of his hand. “Oikawa,” he says when Oikawa dives for his pencil case just so he won’t have to look at him. “Oh my God, Oikawa, what’s up with you, it’s just me!” 

Oikawa looks up then, still red-faced, jaw set stubbornly as if to say, there’s nothing just about you, and oh .

As realizations go, it’s one of the smaller ones; Hajime has had time to work his way up to it. He’s already aware that Oikawa relies on him more than anyone else, even that he gets jealous if Hajime spends too much time with other people.

But really, there’s no gentle way into the realization that your best friend likes you back. 

Hajime’s grip on the pencil slackens, and Oikawa quickly snatches it back. “You know,” he says, voice wobbling on the first words, “The least you could do is explain it properly , if you’re gonna comment when I get it wrong.”

“Right,” Hajime says, clearing his throat. He can do this. He pushes the realization as far away as it will go and sets out to explain. “Hydrogen atoms don’t exist on their own, they’re always bonded together in pairs. So you can’t just have a single hydrogen atom in your equation.”

“How romantic,” Oikawa says and flutters his eyelashes at Hajime before dutifully doubling his equation. 

Back on solid ground, Hajime rolls his eyes and flicks an eraser at Oikawa’s nose, where it bounces off and elicits an indignant noise.

He should probably bring it up, he thinks distantly while they work their way through the rest of the exercises together, but every time he starts to gather his courage, he remembers the way his mother said “I wouldn’t want that for you,” so earnest and concerned, and he leaves it.

By the last exercise, he has decided that if Oikawa doesn’t bring it up, he won’t either. But it’s not like he can stop Oikawa from confessing, if that’s what he wants, and he certainly won’t start lying, if that happens.

It’s an uneasy compromise, too close to a lie to both himself and his mother, but it’s the only thing he can think of that doesn’t feel like a complete betrayal to either. 

If Oikawa notices that he’s acting off, he doesn’t bring it up this time. They pack up their things in relative silence, and Hajime leaves to dig up the guest futon to set up between Hajime’s desk and bed, because Oikawa refuses to sleep further away from him.

When he comes back, Oikawa has dug out Hajime's volleyball from under his bed and is lazily bouncing it in his palm. He's still hanging halfway off the bed, giving Hajime a goofy, upside down grin, his hair all fluffed out and almost touching the floor. Hajime rolls his eyes and lets the futon flop to the floor, but he can’t help tracking the movement of Oikawa’s Adam's apple where it’s working against gravity, and then further down. The underside of his jaw looks soft where it meets his throat. It makes Hajime want to push his thumbs into it for some stupid reason. 

“My eyes are down here,” Oikawa mocks softly, and Hajime kicks the futon into place harder than probably necessary, making the tips of Oikawa’s hair sway in the whiff it whirls up. “Were you staring at my mouth, Iwa-chan?”

“No,” Hajime says with some force, and immediately realizes how lame it sounds without an explanation. Instead, he follows it up with an equally weak, “Fuck off and get changed.” 

To his surprise, Oikawa actually complies, albeit laughingly. He tosses Hajime the volleyball, collects his limbs one by one and shuffles out of the room with one last, almost fond look. 

It’s not even the first time Oikawa caught him looking, because Oikawa is stupidly perceptive and Hajime is just one person, but it’s definitely the first time he’s been even remotely gentle about it. Almost like he’s trying to pave a way for Hajime to be honest with him. Maybe - if he squints - it could count as a confession if he’s obviously making it easier for him - Hajime’s resolve wobbles, but ultimately holds. He drops the ball and sets to fluffing up Oikawa’s blanket with jerky, angry movements, then spreads it out as evenly as he can because Oikawa is an ungrateful brat who will absolutely make a comment if it’s crumpled.

Once he joins him in the bathroom, Oikawa catches his gaze through the mirror, toothbrush dangling from his mouth. He holds it for what should be an uncomfortably long time, but oddly enough, it settles something in Hajime, instead.

He takes his place next to Oikawa, picking up his own toothbrush, and when he looks up, Oikawa is back to normal, talking with his toothbrush still in his mouth, and Hajime, as per usual, pretends he doesn’t understand a word he’s saying.

By the time they crawl into bed (Oikawa tries to convince him to stay up until his father comes home, which Hajime resolutely nixes - he doesn’t know if his mother told him, at this point, and he really doesn’t want to find out while Oikawa is watching) he feels almost calm enough to sleep. “Good night, Oikawa,” he mutters, curling up on his side.

“Night-night, Iwa-chan,” comes Oikawa’s soft reply.

Chapter Text

“Iwa-chan,” Oikawa whispers as soon as Hajime starts turning over, like he’s been waiting for him to give any sign of wakefulness, “Are you awake?”

Hajime groans. “What, Shittykawa? It's like three a.m., go to fucking sleep.”

Oikawa turns to face him, more audible by the creak of his futon than visible in the almost-dark. “I'm cold,” he says, now a shade above a whisper, so that Hajime can hear the plaintive note in his voice. Hajime is willing to bet it's on purpose. “The cold is seeping in from the floor, I can't sleep like this.”

“That sucks,” Hajime says flatly. “Try lying on your blanket?”

“It's too small! Iwa-chan…” Oikawa sits up, a rumpled silhouette wrapped in his blanket. “Come on, it's not like we haven't shared the bed before, right?”

It's been almost six years since that last happened, huddling together under the blanket after they'd snuck into the living room at night to watch Godzilla , and even then Hajime had felt something almost like a counterpart to the guilt of watching a movie they knew they were too young for. He'd argued with himself then that it was only fair, to cancel it out by doing something they knew they were too old for.

Hajime hasn't gotten any better at lying to himself in the last six years, or at denying Oikawa. He holds out the edge of his blanket. “Fine. Get in here,” he mutters.

Oikawa ignores his gesture in favor of scrambling across him and slotting himself in between Hajime and the wall like the little shit that he is, pillow and all. Hajime yanks his own blanket out from underneath him, causing a satisfying yelp, and turns onto his side, away from Oikawa.

The bed was a tight fit for them at age nine, so it's no wonder they end up pressed together chest to back now, but that's hardly an excuse for Oikawa to worm his arm underneath Hajime's blanket and curl it around his waist. 

Hajime tries his best not to freeze, to keep breathing slowly and deeply, and to calm his heartbeat. He fails spectacularly on the last account, staring out into the room that's only barely illuminated by his night light, heart hammering so hard he can feel his pulse in the roof of his mouth. Oikawa curls forward until his forehead is resting between Hajime's shoulder blades. 

Hajime lets out a shuddery breath. For the first time in his life, he considers willingly breaking a promise he made to his mother. Oikawa's hand is like a brand on his waist, radiating heat as it inches forward.

When it reaches the hem of Hajime's shirt, tracing hesitant shapes into the skin of his stomach, the wordless tension of it abruptly becomes too much to bear.

“Oikawa,” Hajime says quietly. Oikawa dances his fingertips up his chest, and Hajime has to clear his throat before he can keep talking, trying to sound annoyed and coming out strained instead. “Oikawa, if you want something, say it.”

Oikawa freezes in place, his hand curling into a loose fist where it’s resting on Hajime's ribs. 

Hajime waits, counting Oikawa's exhales by the warm puffs of air on his skin. Three, four, five, and Oikawa lifts his head off Hajime's back. “I guess I was waiting for you to stop me,” he whispers, and of course.

For all his brilliance and talent, stopping has never been something Oikawa was good at. It's always been Hajime's job to drag him home after hours of extra practice, to catch his fist before it could connect, to send him to bed at three a.m. after watching the same video for the five hundredth time. To push him away when he forgot the concept of personal space.

Stopping Oikawa now is not a responsibility Hajime can shoulder on his own.

“Do you want me to?" he asks into the room, almost toneless, almost calm.

Oikawa doesn't answer, not after one breath and not after five, his fist clenching and unclenching around nothing. 

After another three breaths, Hajime feels irritation bubbling up in his gut. Trust Oikawa to leave him hanging the one time he needs his help. He should have known - Oikawa said so himself at the beginning of the week: What he doesn't want to carry, he doesn't. Not for his parents and not for Hajime.

The blanket gets tangled between them as Hajime twists around, knocking their knees together, the hiss of an inhale that's waiting to become a tirade stuttering to a halt at the sight of Oikawa's face: His eyes are wide, his mouth a flat, anxious line.

Hajime breathes out. It's one thing to know that his mother is right, that Oikawa doesn't have anyone else to ask about any of this, nobody he can trust with it. It's another thing to see it spelled out on his face, indisputably: Oikawa has no idea what he's doing. 

Somehow, that makes it easier. He untangles a hand from underneath his blanket and splays it on Oikawa’s face, pushing him backwards with some force. Oikawa goes, sputtering and flailing, untucking the blanket in the process. “So mean, Iwa-chan,” he complains muffledly, the relief mixed in with his indignation almost palpable in the dissolving tension between them. Hajime would be annoyed, or hurt, if he didn’t feel the same.

“If you’re gonna share the bed, at least let me have half , Shittykawa.”

*

Hajime wakes up - well. Hajime doesn’t really go to sleep in the first place, too wound up and painfully aware of the thin line he has created for both of them to walk: If he kicks Oikawa out now, there is no way their friendship won’t suffer for it, but they also absolutely cannot go back to the kind of almost-cuddling the width of the bed dictates. After some quiet shuffling, they settle back to back, Hajime almost teetering on the edge of the bed. 

He drifts off in fits, never long enough to really rest. Every time he wakes, Oikawa seems similarly motionless, his rigid back pressed up against Hajime’s. When the muted grays of dawn finally begin to illuminate the room, Hajime kicks off his blanket and sits up, half relieved and half too tired to feel much of anything.

Behind him, Oikawa immediately backs into the freed up space, not even turning around. Hajime watches the familiar form of his curled up friend for a moment, bedhead only just sticking out, and tries to sort through his feelings. Mostly, there’s a lingering aftertaste of the night’s weirdness, superimposed on the exasperated fondness he’s felt for Oikawa for most of his life. It’s nothing they can’t deal with, he decides, and gets up to take the world’s longest and groggiest shower before his dad gets the idea to make breakfast.

It helps a little, enough that by the time he comes back to his room, he is ready to face whatever the day may bring. 

Oikawa is still dead to the world, snoring lightly in Hajime’s bed, so Hajime props the futon up against the wall and boots up the whirring desktop he managed to wheedle out of his parents last year. Settling down in his chair, he opens up the browser, unsure on what to do but knowing that he doesn’t want to join his dad in the kitchen, where he can already hear the clatter of dishes and intermittent humming.

More out of habit than anything else, he checks his emails. After logging in, the little number one pops up, announcing an unread one. Sitting up straighter and looking over his shoulder one more time to make sure Oikawa is really, one hundred percent sleeping, he clicks it. 

It’s not like he gets a lot of emails. Most of the ones he does get are from Oikawa, and then he gets the twice-yearly ones from his aunts on his birthday and on New Year’s. 

He steels himself for a prank, maybe someone who got his address from his teammates posing as a guy who likes him so they can gather blackmail material, and clicks on it.

When the email loads, he recognizes the joint address of his aunts, then frowns at the subject line that simply reads Welcome in English.

And just like that, his heart is in his throat again, because of course his mother would tell her sister, and of course now is a good time to realize how much he cares about his aunts’ approval and opinion for some stupid reason. He turns around to check - Oikawa still appears fast asleep under his blanket huddle - and starts reading.

Hey Hajime,

What’s up?, it starts out, and Hajime is pleasantly surprised at the short form every time, casual and familiar like they’re close, and managing to will that closeness into existence for the span of an email through sheer force of character. He knows his aunt speaks four languages at the cost of speaking none of them well , as his mother likes to tease, but to him, it feels like a deliberate gesture: stepping over any and all boundaries to spread her arms and say, we’re equal and I care for you . He catches himself in the middle of a smile.

It’s been brought to our attention that we’re not the only queer ones in this family anymore, and I hope you’re willing to share the limelight because boy have we gotten used to it at this point. 

We wanted to welcome you into the family a second time - and Hajime remembers the first time only because his mother tucked the card they sent into his first photo album: A picture of his aunts standing arm in arm on a grassy slope, free arms stretched wide as if to hug the entire world, the pale blue of the ocean melting into the paler blue of the sky in the far distance. The text on it says, welcome to the family, little bundle of joy!! 

Hajime scrolls down to the picture below the line so here’s a redo:

It’s another one of the two of them, again arm in arm, on the same grassy slope as far as he can tell, this time holding an edge of a bi flag each (where did they get that on such short notice, Hajime wonders) so that it's fluttering out behind them. In the photo, his aunt’s sloppy kanji spell out in silver: Welcome again, you big bundle of joy. A heart is doodled below, slightly less sloppy. It looks like they printed out the picture, wrote on it and scanned it because they couldn’t figure out how to write on a digital picture, which is exactly the kind of embarrassing thing he expects of them. Hajime clears his throat and reads on. 

We know visiting isn’t always easy or even feasible, but please know that you have a standing invitation to Cape Town Pride, any year you want. I promise it is a riot in the best sense of the word. 

There’s another picture of them decked out in rainbow gear, presumably at the parade, arms around shoulders, in a huddle with four other women, hair wild and smiles wilder. Hajime decides then and there to never take them up on the offer, feeling left out just looking at them like this.

The email seemingly ends there, proclaiming Love, Aunties Amahle & Janya, but when he scrolls further, another few paragraphs appear.

It’s just me now, because I know I wouldn’t want two people talking to me about this if I were you. Hell, I’d barely want one, but I also have to try. So here goes -

Your mother told me a little bit about people at school being difficult at the moment. 

It’s concerning, hearing that so little has changed in all the time that passed, and believe me, if I could come over and beat up anyone who’s giving you any trouble, I would. (Not that I don’t think you’re capable of beating up anyone who needs beating up by yourself, I know you are a strong boy and I’m sure my sister taught you well.)

I’m sure your experience is a little different from mine, but if it is even a tiny bit similar, people will want you to go back into the closet at some point. They might make it look like they’re asking out of concern, or they might not say anything about it at all, but simply ‘forget’ about your queerness and then ignore you when you correct them. 

Here is my auntly advice: Don’t listen to those people. If the closet wasn’t fun the first time around, it’s gonna be downright suffocating the next. You’re fine where you are. Find your people. Breathe.

Sucking in a shaky breath, Hajime tries and fails to blink back the tears that have been intermittently threatening for days now. It’s hard, trying to picture the far future when he’s having trouble even just imagining how next week may play out, but he also knows with some certainty that this is advice he will follow, whatever the cost.

He scrubs a hand over his face and tries to locate tissues nearby. He blinks a few times and goes back to the email when the screen has lost some of its blurriness.

I would also like to point out that some things do get better - At your age, I would never in a million years have dreamed that I could one day have a wife, and now look at me! Married for almost three years, can you believe it? 

So just remember that change is possible if people make it happen, and more change than you can probably imagine right now, at that. 

And if you ever need to escape Japan - or anyone in particular, or if you just need a timeout in general, please know that you have a safe place to come to with us. No questions asked. 

Imagining that is a little easier, even though he doesn’t have the first idea what their home looks like. He can picture himself there just fine, though, the two of them puttering around him and speaking that funny, lilting mix of Japanese and English they use with each other, booming with laughter every now and then. They’re not quiet, either of them, seamlessly fitting into the Iwaizumi household the same way Hajime can imagine himself fitting into theirs. He scrolls down to the last paragraph.

That said! Let’s talk on the phone sometime. I know time zones are difficult, but we can make it happen. You know your old gay aunt is dying to hear all your gossip. Are there any boys? Girls? Anyone? You can tell me all about it. I might not give great advice when it comes to boys, but I’ve been told I’m a good listener. Just let me know when you’re free. 

Love,

Janya

Hajime remembers his mother asking who he would come to with his first kiss if not Oikawa, and he briefly tries to imagine telling his aunt about whatever the fuck happened yesterday, or well, today, but - however warm and young she sounds, she’s still his aunt , and the thought of telling her about something this personal after exchanging nothing but birthday messages before makes his toes curl. 

Still. It’s nice. She didn’t have to say any of this, and it’s - it’s nice. It’s good to hear.

He drags his arm across his face one more time and exits out of the browser, leaving the reply to his nebulous future self.

Which is just as good, since when he spins his chair around to get up, Oikawa is awake and sitting up in his bed, uselessly dragging a hand through his hair and giving Hajime an indecipherable look. If he can tell that Hajime has been crying, he doesn’t mention it. “Good morning, Iwaizumi,” he says instead, bland. 

It’s the first time he’s ever called him that, it must be, with the way it stings. Hajime keeps staring at Oikawa, the hopeless, fluffy mop of his hair and his unfocused gaze, and tries to connect the visual with the audio. 

“What the fuck,” is what he finally decides on, impatient and annoyed. If there’s anything he wants less right now than to deal with another one of Oikawa’s bullshit-wrapped crises before he’s even had breakfast, it fails to come to mind.

“What?” Oikawa asks, but his belligerence sounds brittle, prepared to yield at the slightest touch.

Skipping all slighter touches altogether, Hajime rolls closer to kick him in the shin none-too-gently. “Don’t call me that, Asskawa.”

“Ow!” Oikawa bends down to rub at his leg, face settling into a pout the way other people’s expressions bloom into relief. “You’re so mean,” he wails. “You told me to stop calling you Iwa-chan, and then when I do, you kick me!”

“I told you it doesn’t bother me,” Hajime corrects him, exasperated, rolling back to hold down the power button of his computer until it gurgles into silence. He has no trouble at all seeing himself punching and shoving Oikawa out of crisis after crisis until they’re both old and wrinkly. It’s the only kind of far future he can picture clearly: Of course it’ll be up to him to kick, and prod, and reassure Oikawa. It’s always been up to him because nobody else is fit for the job, least of all Oikawa . “Get a move on, I’m hungry.”

“I’m still in my pajamas!” Oikawa complains loudly. Hajime has half a mind to kick him again, but he settles for rolling his eyes instead.

“Whose fault is that?”

Oikawa scowls at him - a sight that is as unexpected as it is hilarious with his hair in a dense cloud around his face like this - but slinks off into the bathroom with a change of clothes, leaving the door of Hajime’s room wide open out of what must be spite.

The faint humming from the kitchen is more audible like this, interspersed with the staccato sound of a ladle hitting the rim of a pan to get rid of anything stuck to it. Hajime sighs out a breath and makes his way towards his third confrontation of the day before breakfast, feeling less at sea and more at ease and somehow, mystifyingly, like he can do this.

When he opens the door, his father freezes like a man caught at a crime scene, turning around slowly enough that Hajime is almost sure he’s emphasizing his dread for comic relief. 

“Good morning, Ha- oh no, what’s wrong?” he asks, anticipation melting into concern in no time, and he abandons his eggs in favor of hurrying over. The way he hovers in front of him, uncertain and worried, spells it out clear as day: he definitely knows.

Somehow, that confirmation is less terrifying than Hajime imagined. He scrubs at his eyes again, ineffective. “Auntie Janya sent an email,” he says by way of explanation.

“Ah,” his father nods sagely, “That’ll do it. She sent me a letter, you know, when she first heard your mother was pregnant with you. She has a terrifying way of making you feel welcome, that woman.”

“Yeah,” Hajime agrees vaguely, making his way over to check on the tamagoyaki and the miso soup on the stove. “So mom told you,” he adds, trying to sound stern and only managing something like petulant instead.

“Wasn’t she supposed to?” His father steps behind him to rest his hands on Hajime’s shoulders. Hajime shrugs against their weight, but not hard enough to dislodge them. “You knew I wouldn’t mind, right?” 

The truth of the matter is, Hajime has never thought past the embarrassing ordeal of coming out to his parents. He hasn’t spun any scenarios of how they’d react beyond the immediate shock and awkwardness he knew to brace himself for. There hasn’t been any fear they’d be distant, or weird, or angry. It’s possible, in hindsight, that he trusts them enough to know that it was never going to be a big deal beyond that initial hurdle.

Hajime shrugs again, picking up a pair of chopsticks to roll up the tamagoyaki forming in the pan. When he leans forward to get a better grip, his father follows a half-step, just enough to keep his hands on Hajime’s shoulders and give them a squeeze before letting go to set the table. 

They spend a few minutes in companionable silence, Hajime tending to the tamagoyaki and his father puttering around and checking on the miso, but as soon as he clears his throat, Hajime knows what’s coming is going to be embarrassing.

“I’m proud of you, Hajime.”

Hajime scowls at the slightly lopsided second tamagoyaki in the pan. “Dad,” he says pleadingly. 

“No, you’re not getting out of this one. Your mom told me what you did, that was brave of you,” his father continues, unfazed. 

Unwilling to turn around and face him, Hajime grabs the bowl of egg mix next to the stove and pours a generous helping into the pan, tilting it so the mix covers the entire base. 

His father doesn’t seem to notice his lack of reply, clearly picking up steam for one of his monologues. “You stood up for your friend, Hajime. I’m sorry you got in trouble for it, but that was a brave thing to do.”

“Thanks,” Hajime mutters quickly, trying to stop him in his tracks.

His father takes a breath, but Oikawa’s breathless voice rings out from the direction of the doorway before he can get out another word. “Aw, that’s your embarrassed voice, are we making fun of Iwa-chan? Mr. Iwaizumi, I can’t believe you’d start without me!”

“Tooru!” his father calls, and Hajime lets out a relieved breath. “It’s good to have you again, it’s been too long. Did you get even taller?”

“It’s been a week,” Oikawa replies, sounding pleased all the same.

By the time Hajime finishes the second roll and turns around, Oikawa is already engrossed in conversation, settling into a chair with his hair dripping all over the place. He looks rumpled, like he got dressed in a rush so he could run back to Hajime’s side as fast as possible. Like he needs the constant physical reminder that Hajime is there, and still friends with him, and won’t go anywhere. 

Hajime’s gaze catches on the curling ends of his dark hair, on the curling corners of his mouth, on his fingers curling around his too-long sleeves. He wordlessly goes back to tending to the eggs, because there’s nothing to say. ‘I will never leave you’ is not really a promise you make so much as one that you keep . 

The photo his aunts sent pops up in his mind unbidden, their smiling faces pressed up against each other. He remembers the warmth in their expressions and the crow’s feet in the corners of Janya’s eyes, her insistence that some things do get better. 

Hajime picks the chopsticks back up and realizes that, maybe for the first time this week, he’s not worried.

Still with his back turned while he piles roll after roll of wobbly tamagoyaki on a plate, Hajime listens to Oikawa trying to convince his father to let him taste the miso soup, to the avalanche of his brothers’ footsteps on the stairs and the crush of noise they bring to the kitchen as Keizo barrels into the backs of his legs for a hug and Tsugio launches into a retelling of a dream he had, to his mother’s more tempered arrival and the flood of greetings that comes with it.

Most of the time, having all of them in the same room together is tiring at best and headache-inducing at worst, but right now, with all their voices mingling and overlapping as they clamor for food and drink with differing levels of urgency and sleepiness, it’s exactly what he needs: a reminder that whatever may come, he’s not alone with it.

In the wonky privacy that facing away from everyone allows him, Hajime lets himself smile.