Hajime is 14 and sitting at his desk, hunched over countless papers and books as he writes out an equation before checking it with the answer key. It’s wrong and he grumbles to himself, low and aggravating and full of curse words he had heard some older kids saying. The swears make him feel a bit better but no less stupid because he’s gone over the work three times now and can’t seem to get even close to the correct answer.
Hajime was failing and it wasn’t something he was use to doing. He didn’t have any proper way to go about handling it besides hunching over even more, his nose nearly touching the book and almost going cross eyed as he wrote out the equation again. Slowly and carefully, as if that would somehow make maths any easier for him.
School didn’t come easy to Hajime but it was never difficult either. He knew that as long as he turned his work in on time and studied for tests than he would do well. He was just above the average line so he had never tried overtly hard in school before. There always just seemed better things to do with his time than spend his free moments ruining his eye sight alone in his room.
Oikawa Tooru, Hajime’s best friend since they were little, learned the best high school to go to if they wanted an easy acceptance into the Academy, which would fast track them to becoming full time members of a real Agency team. It wasn’t a requirement to go to the Academy before joining the Agency in Tokyo, but everyone knew that if you wanted strong magical training you went to the Academy. If Hajime didn’t go to the Academy then he’d have to wait until he was 21 until he could officially apply to the Agency.
The Agency handled magical problems throughout all of Japan, they were like the police but so much better in Hajime and Tooru’s eyes. People usually presented with powers about the same time they hit puberty, and both Hajime and Tooru had felt the magic buzzing underneath their skin for the past two years.
The Academy liked those who did a physical activity throughout school and Tooru figured out that volleyball was the best choice. It trained their endurance while giving them a boost in strength and speed but also it was a sport that required quick thinking and problem solving skills. Hajime was a natural athlete so volleyball was really no problem for him, receiving was still difficult but he was strong and fast. Tooru had a more difficult time, but he often over thought things.
Tooru would get into their top choice no problem. Even though he had a tough time with volleyball at first he had won an award for Best Setter in their last tournament, even though their team had lost. But mostly Tooru could pass the entrance exam with little to no problem.
“Hajime?” Hajime sat back as his parents entered his room, glad for the small distraction. He had already yelled at Tooru to leave him alone and for once his friend was actually listening to him.
“Do you want me to help with dinner?” Hajime asked, ready to stretch his legs but his parents shook their heads and took a seat across from him on his bed. Hajime felt unnerved though he wasn’t sure why.
“We wanted to talk to you about school.” His mother stared at him with the same eyes he saw whenever he looked in a mirror, though that’s the only thing he had in common with his mother look wise. His dark skin coloring, dark hair, and even the stocky build that he was still growing into at 14 was all his father's doing. Hajime just hoped he would get his mother's height, volleyball players were mostly all tall and Tooru was starting to catch up to him in height.
“I did better on my last practice test.” Hajime beamed, though it wasn’t good enough. It was the best he had ever scored, the hardest he had ever tried but it wouldn’t get him accepted into the high school he needed to go too.
“I know and we’re so proud.” His father had a gruff voice, that kind that made everything he said sound a bit rough. He knew a lot of people though his dad was mean, but really he was a big pushover. It was his mom people really had to look out for.
“Of course we are, so proud, we know you’re trying.” His mother continued and his father nodded in agreeance. Hajime shifted awkwardly in his chair, not sure where this was going but he felt immensely uncomfortable and he wasn’t sure why. “It’s just- we’re worried Hajime, if you do get accepted into this school you know that you’ll have to continue this strict studying, right?” Hajime hadn’t thought that far into the future. He knew the big picture, the main goal was to get into the Agency but he hadn’t thought about highschool life.
“And you want to be on the volleyball team, right?” His father asked and Hajime nodded, slowly. Of course he wanted to be on the volleyball team. “Your mother and I looked into the school and the team is- a lot of boys will be applying.” His father looked over at his wife.
“It’ll require a lot of work and effort to be on the team, and how are you suppose to give your all to the team while maintaining this level of concentration on your studies?” His mother asked and Hajime opened his mouth to reply but nothing came out.
Hajime hadn’t thought of any of that really, he kind of believed it’d all work itself out if he actually got into the school. He knew his parents were right and something hard and heavy seemed to settle against him, weighing him down. He was smart, he knew he wasn’t stupid and did well in school but this school, this prestigious school that spat out students ready for the Academy it was full of people who were more than just a little above average. He couldn’t even get a high enough score for the entrance exam, how did he expect to pass classes if he finally got in? He also knew he was a good volleyball player. Soccer or baseball or kendo would have suited him better but Tooru had said volleyball was their best option. He was good but was he good enough to be on a nationally ranked school team?
“Hajime, we don’t want you to think we don’t support you, we do and we always will but maybe-” His father shifted awkwardly on his bed, his leg bouncing into his wives.
“We don’t want to see you struggle for the next three years either.” His mother finished before pulling out a couple brochures and handing them to Hajime. “These are all very good schools and they all have good volleyball teams too. Please just give these a look.”
The Iwaizumi adults walked out of the room as their son stared down at the brochures in his hands. He felt suddenly ashamed of himself. He knew his parents hadn’t meant to be cruel in any way, they really just wanted the best for their son. But it was hard for Hajime to realize his parents didn’t believe he could be the best, that he was good but never great.
“Koushi!” The yelled name snapped Hajime to the present, though he wasn’t sure if he had actually passed out or not. He was on the rough ground and he hurt . He hurt so badly and all over it took him a long moment to realize that the pain was radiating from his arm. His mind felt sluggish and it took him a long time to remember where he was, let alone why he was on the ground and why he was in so much pain.
A warehouse in a long-abandoned part of Tokyo. The Agency has sent his team and four others to assess and deal with ancient creatures that had killed countless people spanning several centuries. They were highly dangerous and mostly unknown, which was why so many teams were sent in to deal with them.
A creature had swooped down from the ceiling, aiming for Tooru who had been too busy protecting Takahiro and Issei to watch his own damn back. Hajime had moved quickly, it had only been two steps to stand behind Tooru and hand deflected the majority of the hit but he hadn’t seen the tail. It had sliced up his arm and Hajime had gone down, hard.
Hajime had broken bones and split open skin, he had just about every injury a person could survive from. He was a close-range fighter and his magical abilities mostly extended to help that. It meant he was mostly always on the front line and always the first to get hit. He had been injured enough to know his pain tolerance, until that moment.
It took Hajime too long to realize that Takahiro was bent over him, forehead pressed against his own and Issei was on his side, hand clutching Hajime’s limp one. Someone was speaking and Hajime forced himself to push past the confusion and pain and to listen.
Someone touched his right arm and Hajime almost blacked out from the pain of it. He gritted his teeth and pushed back the spots in his vision to look down, shifting his eyes and not moving his body to see a head of ash-blonde hair bent over his arm. The name came slow, lethargically to his pain-addled brain. Sugawara Koushi. If the med-mage was near him then it had to be bad, but it also meant he was safe.
Hajime felt something soft press against his forehead, again and again and realized belatedly that Takahiro was kissing him, over and over. It settled something inside of him and he clenched his hand around Issei’s, trying to let them both know he was okay and it was going to be fine.
“Daichi, your sword, can it heat up again?” Koushi’s voice broke the silence and Issei gripped Hajime’s hand tighter while Takahiro stopped moving above him. Hajime searched for Daichi, finding the man standing behind Koushi with a dark look and blood dripping down the left side of his face.
“You can’t cut- you can’t do that!” Tooru shouted and Hajime nearly jumped in surprise, he hadn’t even realized Tooru was down by his feet until Tooru wrapped his hands around Hajime’s ankles.
“Do you know what this is?” Hajime had never heard that tone of voice from the usually unflappable med-mage. “ To stop the spread of the infection I would need the bladder of a frog that exists only in the deepest parts of the Amazon rain forest. I don’t have that, Watari doesn’t either. Kiyoko might but it’s more than likely that it’s back in Miyagi and Hajime doesn’t have that kind of time. If the infection gets into his bloodstream it will kill him, very slowly and very painfully from the inside out.” Everyone was silent, Hajime wanted to scream. It was his dominant arm and he was a close range-
No. It didn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter. It was his arm or his life and since no one was willing to make that choice he had to do it himself.
“Do it.” Hajime’s voice sounded harsh even to his own ears, it hurt to speak but he continued anyways. “Cut the fucking thing off.” He grit out.
“Hold him down.” Koushi ordered without hesitation. Takahiro carefully moved his legs from beneath Hajime’s head and pressed his trembling hands down on Hajime’s shoulders while Issei laid across his chest. No movement came by his legs.
“Fucking grab my legs Tooru!” Hajime kicked but it was no where near his full strength, more of a spastic twitch than anything but it had its intended effect. Tooru put pressure against his legs.
“Cut it right here Daichi.” Koushi’s voice was hard as steel, Hajime stared up into the fabric of Takahiro’s black shirt. “Okay Hajime, I’m going to break the bone so the sword doesn’t get stuck. Deep breath in, and out-” Hajime’s body jerked as his bone snapped, he wasn’t sure he bit off the scream that burned his throat or not.
Hajime felt the superheated sword against his arm and he tried to twist away from the pain even though he knew what was happening, knew that needed to happen but every instinct was screaming to get away from the pain and the person taking away his arm. There was no biting back the scream now so he pressed his face against Takahiro’s chest and let it out.
Something wet landed on his face and Hajime was surprised he had enough awareness left to realize Takahiro was curled around Hajime’s head, sobbing. Hajime wasn’t sure what he said, hoped it was comforting to the other man, wished his consciousness wasn’t slowly slipping away. He wanted to reach up and hold Takahiro but he couldn’t move, his body felt so heavy and he was in so much pain but Takahiro was crying.
Takahiro cried a lot but never in public. It was almost an inside joke between the oldest members of their Agency team, Aoba Johsai. Hajime had never seen someone look as beautiful crying as Takahiro, Tooru and Hajime were both ugly-ass criers but Takahiro managed to do it with grace. There was no grace or beauty here, only pain and Hajime wanted to ease that.
“I can get one of those clay limbs that are so popular in Europe, Makki.” Hajime’s throat hurt though the pain was ebbing. His foggy brain thought it was something Koushi must be doing, but he was fully concentrated on Takahiro now.
Issei said something from his side, reaching over to comfort Takahiro as Tooru grunted something from where he was still pressed against Hajime’s legs.
Hajime found the effort of holding open his eyes too much and closed them, leaving Takahiro in Issei and Tooru’s hands for now.
Hajime does not like Matsukawa Issei or Hanamaki Takahiro, which is a damn shame because Tooru has latched onto them like he’s expecting them all to be the greatest friends. It’s never going to happen in Hajime’s mind and he’s thoroughly glad that he only has to do with the two other boys during volleyball practice.
Tooru gets into Class 6 immediately and Hajime doesn’t see that changing for the next three years. With Hajime’s poor, but still passing, entrance exam he manages to squeeze by in Class 1. It’s a hard, bitter disappointment to face because Hajime feels like he’s drowning and he’s nowhere near Tooru’s course load. The struggles his parents had worried about him facing are hitting him full force and the year had barely begun.
Hajime feels like he hasn’t slept properly in months and he spends every moment he can studying and working on his school work. He knows it’s sheer stubbornness and pride getting in the way of asking for a tutor. He can’t let anyone know that he is struggling, especially not only three months into his first year of high school.
The training schedules of a middle school volleyball team and a high school one are astronomical. The only reason Hajime hasn’t dropped yet is because he is a natural athlete. No matter his natural abilities they don’t help him with receiving or serving, which seem far worse when compared to everyone else on the team. Every practice Hajime walks away from makes him feel a little bit more defeated because he doesn’t seem to be improving while everyone else leaves him behind.
The coaches are already talking about making Tooru their starting setter and he’s done a couple practices with the starting team, blending in flawlessly with them. Hajime can see the fear in the third year setters eyes and while Hajime is proud of his best friend, he also feels for that third year who worked so hard only to have a first year replace him.
Tooru is also pulling ahead of Hajime in height. Hajime can’t help but think that if they were playing baseball or soccer like Hajime had wanted to in middle school, height wouldn’t matter. It’s not as if Hajime is even short, but Tooru’s new friends Issei and Takahiro even loom over Hajime, though they are more beanpoles than anything.
There are a lot of reasons to dislike Issei and Takahiro. They don’t take anything serious yet they manage to slide by on their parents names and very little effort. The Matsukawa’s are an extremely old family with deep roots in the community and even deeper pockets. The teachers treat Issei like he’s a god amongst mortals and people flock to be around him and it’s just so obvious to Hajime that he does not care at all. He doesn’t care about his grades or volleyball or anything and it pisses Hajime off to no end.
Takahiro comes from new money but both sides of his family tree are wide stretching on the globe. He was born in California and moved to Japan when he was 14, he’s a duel citizen and for some reason people find that fascinating. Hajime recognizes that Takahiro is also a natural athlete, but he seems to be doing so much better at volleyball than Hajime with no effort put forth. He looks like a strong wind could blow him over but Hajime is well aware that in a few years when Takahiro’s grown into that tall body of his he will be a fierce competitor. That doesn’t look good for Hajime since they both are wing spikers.
Hajime is drowning and he can’t talk to anyone about it. He doesn’t want to prove his parents right and despite the carefree smiles he knows Tooru is overworking himself too, he can’t expect his friend to take on Hajime’s workload also. So Hajime makes excuse after excuse as to why he can’t hang out or study with Tooru, which just means he spends that time with Issei and Takahiro.
The bell for lunch rings out and people are rushing out to get food or meet up with friends. Tooru always comes to Hajime’s class for lunch so the dark haired boy starts pulling out his lunch, glancing at the clock as the minutes roll by. He can feel annoyance bubble up and he lets it go with a long, drawn-out sigh.
Tooru had been popular in middle school but it had been mostly hushed whispers and giggling from a distance, most middle school kids too shy and awkward to actually approach Tooru. Almost the second they entered high school that changed. The older girls and boys took immediate notice of Tooru, pretty and smart and athletic Oikawa Tooru, and started to swarm him. Once the younger ones noticed that Tooru was completely approachable it was hard to catch a free moment with Tooru alone.
Mostly Hajime ignored it. Tooru had already accepted two confessions and they had broken up with him within two weeks. Yes Tooru was all the things he seemed to be, pretty and smart and athletic but he was also stubborn and single-minded and really, not all that romantic past first meetings. The break-ups were hard on Tooru and harder on everyone else around Tooru, but by the next week he’d have a flurry of cards and sweets and confessions, enough to make him temporarily forget that having a relationship was a bad idea in the first place.
Hajime was hungry and his day was shit so far so as time wore on, Hajime got more and more angry. He couldn’t start eating because if he did and when Tooru finally managed to show up he would pout and whine about Hajime not waiting for him.
Hajime stood up and stomped out of his classroom, glower fully in place to scare away any potential suitors so Tooru and he could finally sit down and eat. They were growing boys and volleyball practice took a lot out of them, they needed to eat proper meals. Tooru knew this but he was too damn nice, and he enjoyed the attention a little too much, to shake off his admirers so it was up to Hajime to do it for him.
Tooru was no where in the halls and peeking into Class 6 Hajime instantly knew why Tooru hadn’t come to Class 1 to eat with him. Issei and Takahiro were sitting around Tooru’s desk, which was covered with food. Tooru was laughing at something as he unwrapped a milk bread.
Hajime ducked away from the classroom before he could be noticed and walked quickly down the hall. He spent the remainder of lunch in a bathroom stall located in the boys bathroom that was hardly used because it was at the furthest end of the hall and was notorious for overflowing toilets.
Hajime knew he was being ridiculous, which made him feel even worse but he promised himself that he would get over this feeling tomorrow, he just needed a day to properly wallow in self misery and tomorrow he would be better. He knew it was stupid to feel like he was being abandoned, knew he was just feeling moody because the past couple months had been so rough on him but all the logic in the world wasn’t getting him out of that stall.
Tooru had been Hajime’s best friend since they were 7 year olds and Hajime was the one who had been there when Tooru nearly hurt himself the previous year after hours upon hours of uninterrupted volleyball practice. Hajime knew all of Tooru’s fears and hopes and dreams. Hajime knew Tooru’s fake laugh from his real one, knew when he was hiding behind that big, cheesy grin. Hajime was the only person that ever was allowed to see Tooru when he wasn’t his best, when he was lounging around after not showering for two days, glasses perched on his nose and forehead greasy.
Hajime knew that the bond he had with Tooru wouldn’t easily break, that both of them would hogtie the other if it came to it. The groups of admirers had never threatened Hajime, and Tooru had other friends before but Issei and Takahiro were obviously different. Hajime could see the instant connection they had with Tooru, that they didn’t have with Hajime. He could see how similar they all were, how it was only a matter of time before they all became starters.
Head bent in shame, Hajime knew he was letting his feelings get the better of him but he promised himself he would be better.
Tomorrow he wouldn’t let the darkness crawl into his skull like he was at that moment.
Tomorrow he would fight harder.
But today he let it take over. Today he let himself be weak.
Hajime wakes up in pain. It’s not the first time it has happened, but somehow this time feels different. Being an adventuress kid then an athletic teenager and finally working at the Agency meant Hajime was no stranger to pain. He’d broken a total of 13 different bones, had sprained and dislocated several other things, and was generally covered in different bruises and scrapes more often than not. He was fairly use to waking up with sore muscles and aching bones, nothing a hot shower and proper stretching couldn’t fix.
Except Hajime knew instantly that he would not be getting up anytime soon. His mind felt foggy, his head light while his body felt heavy. The contrasting feelings made him want to empty the contents of his stomach, though he was fairly sure there was nothing in there. It took him longer than he’d like to admit to force open his eyelids just the smallest bit.
It takes a long time, too long, for Hajime to recognize the medical unit located in Section Five of the Agency. The lights are dimmed, to which he is eternally grateful, but Watari Shinji is nowhere in sight. Shinji was a member of the Agency team Aoba Johsai, though it was in an unofficial capacity now since he mostly ran the medical unit of their Agency section. He had been the Guardian of Aoba Johsai, a Guardian being a person with astronomical defensive ability but very little offensive magic. Several years back he had been caught in a bad magic rebound that had left him in a wheelchair. Shinji took it all in stride, as he did most things, and had put all his focus onto learning modern medicine. He was the resident doctor and had patched up almost every single field member, no matter the team, at one point or another.
Hajime lets out a soft grunt that he strangles off before it turns into a whine because he hurts and he is so damn confused as to what is happening.
“Iwaizumi.” Shinji is by Hajime’s side within a split moment, carefully pushing his superior back down onto the bed. “Please be careful- um- it’s just me so you are connected to quite a few IV’s and wires.” The stumble surprises Hajime enough to not fight when he’s tucked back carefully under the covers. Hajime pretends not to notice the empty space where his right arm should be, his memory slowly coming back to him.
“Just you?” Hajime asks after a moment, catching onto the odd phrasing. There are usually other people in the medical unit, a university is close by and they always have a handful of those going into the medical field that study under Shinji. There had just been a major battle though, and that meant Koushi should be there too, helping Shinji with the injured.
Med-mages are few in numbers, Sugawara Koushi is the only one Hajime has ever known. Becoming a med mage is as difficult as becoming a doctor, people study for years the ins and outs of human anatomy only to be turned away. Med mages can do a hell of a lot of damage and have been known to kill hundreds if they go bad. Extensive psychological reviews are presented to them during their training. Koushi was the only med-mage in the building, though a handful of other people had the beginning grasp of medical magic. Hajime knew Koushi had been teaching Kageyama Tobio a few things, mostly how to locate injuries and how to ease pain.
Then Hajime remembered the battle they had been in. How many people had been injured? Killed?
“How long have I been out?” Hajime asked, his throat raw and dry.
“Three days.” Shinji looked immensely relieved as he fiddled with a couple machines before bringing a straw up to Hajime’s mouth. The water was cool and refreshing, it felt heavy in his empty stomach.
“Three-” Hajime’s arm twitched, as if he was about to rub his face with his hand but the blinding pain reminded him why exactly he was in that bed.
“There were some leftover toxins in your system, it was too risky to add any other drugs, I’m so sorry.” Shinji apologized, letting go of his professional air and looking much more like the young energetic 20 year old Hajime had first met. That had been over five years prior though.
“It’s fine.” No drugs meant nothing to dull the pain, which was why he was feeling every bit of the battle he had fought. “Is everyone- where-” Hajime couldn’t get the words out, caught in his throat because he had passed out after the battle. Something could have happened- he briefly remembered shouting.
“Everyone from Aoba Johsai is fine.” Shinji quickly assured him. The relief lasted only a minute before he recognized Shinji’s carefully stated answer. Clearly Shinji was spending too much time with Tooru.
“Cut the bullshit Watari, tell me what happened.” Hajime ordered, watching as Shinji squirmed in his chair before slumping with defeat. Hajime was partially proud that he could still have that effect even if he was at death's door flat on his back.
“There were a couple injuries but they were mostly minor,” Shinji took a deep breath. “There were- casualties.” Hajime knew that word probably tasted as sour on Shinji’s tongue as it sounded on his voice. When Agents died in the field that is what they were, casualties.
There was a boy from Nekoma who had been killed. Hajime could tell it bothered Shinji that he didn’t know the name of the boy, though it was understandable. Nekoma was from Section One, and none of the Five sections had much cross over. Nekoma had only been involved because their team leader, a tall man with a wicked smirk, had something going on with the leader of Karasuno, Sawamura Daichi.
Yamagata Hayato from Shiratorizawa had been killed too. He had been the Guardian of his team and died protecting one of the younger members of his team. Aoba Johsai had a fierce rivalry with Shiratorizawa, the two teams always battling it out for a number one spot amongst the Agency, but Hajime had always liked Hayato. He never fed into the rivalry and had spent the majority of his time with the junior members of Shiratorizawa, even those who it was obvious weren’t going to make a field position.
Moniwa Kaname from Datekou was a name that hit Hajime hard. Datekou was a team full of people with Giant blood in their lineages. Kaname had been one of the few on the field team that didn’t have any Giant blood, noticeable by his small stature made even smaller when compared to the others on his team. He was always trying to keep the peace between the members of his team and to stop the young troublemakers from challenging everyone they met. He seemed timid and embarrassed easy but he was always encouraging his team. A team most people feared because of their Giant blood, a team full of people use to being outcast despite their high scores amongst the Agency. Hajime remembered the previous Christmas how Moniwa’s team had bought him truly atrocious santa sweater and Moniwa had cried in gratitude.
From Karasuno was the death of Kinoshita Hisashi. Hajime knew that death hit Shinji hard, that the two men had been become close friends after Shinji’s accident. Hajime knew Hisashi as an anxious man, but one who had a great amount of faith in his team. He was a range fighter and Hajime knew Karasuno would struggle with the hole he left in their already small team.
Shinji hesitated for a long moment and Hajime knew he was saving the worst for last.
“Sawamura,” Shinji was staring down at his clenched fists in his lap as Hajime felt like the ground had opened up beneath him.
Sawamura Daichi was- had been, Hajime harshly corrected himself, the leader of Karasuno. He had also been a good friend to Hajime. They had met up often to eat food and share a few beers to go over all the troublemakers in their teams. Daichi had been one of the most solid people Hajime had ever had the pleasure of knowing, he was the backbone to Karasuno- he was unflappable and Hajime couldn’t accept that he was gone.
“I don’t- the whole story isn’t- I heard he sacrificed himself.” Shinji admitted quietly, not wanting to gossip but Hajime needed to know this because the last thing he remembered before waking up in the Agency building was Daichi standing strong and opposing above him, looking out for everyone so they could take their time to grieve. So Issie, Takahiro, and Tooru could comfort Hajime.
“Sacrificed himself?” Hajime repeated in confusion. Magic didn’t need things like blood or sacrifices to be powerful, mostly those things just made magic turn black and black magic, death or blood magic was strictly forbidden in Japan. Daichi himself had used death magic once, and a curse had been carved into his back for his usage. He hadn’t had a choice, the spell had been weaved and cast by someone else and Daichi had taken it into himself and turned it against the caster. The only reason he wasn’t thrown out of the Agency for his use of death magic was because he had friends in high places who protected him.
Daichi had been the one who placed the barrier around the ancient, dark creatures. Trapping them inside, or at least that’s the last thing Hajime had remembered.
“He went into the barrier and he unleashed his curse.” Death magic left signs on the user, Daichi had been marked with a curse on his back. “The barrier is still up, it’s holding in the toxins left from the death curse but the reports are that nothing is alive inside the barrier.”
Death magic left an ugly mark where it was used, not just on the caster but on the Earth itself. If left alone the area attracted dark creatures and became a petri dish of death and despair. Those areas had to be routinely purified but even then nothing ever grew on them and nothing lived there. The area where Daichi had let loose his death curse would be quarantined off and they would most likely be putting much extra barriers for when the one Daichi had put up failed.
“You should rest.” Shinji recommended softly, but there was a hard undertone to his voice. Hajime knew he was right, despite the aching pain through his body and the wash of grief threatening to drown him Hajime was exhausted, not just physically but mentally too.
Hajime fell into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
“Iwaizumi Hajime?” The counselor called, leaning out of the door frame as he looked over at the five boys lined up by the wall. Hajime stepped forward and followed the short woman into her office.
Honestly Hajime thought this meeting was a waste of time where he could be at practice with the rest of his team, but it was mandatory for all third years to meet with a counselor to discuss future plans and goals. Hajime already knew what he was going to do with his future, and most of these meetings were for those students who were planning to go onto college after high school. Hajime had no such plans, he was going to the Academy and was sticking with the volleyball club until then.
Classes hadn’t gotten any easier but Hajime learned how to focus his energy properly, learned how to schedule his time better. He had a stack of self-help books on studying shoved deep beneath his bed. He would never admit to using them but they had been helpful and he even managed to get into Class 3 in his second year and then Class 5 in his third.
Hajime even managed to become a starter in the middle of his second year, and was now the team's ace. He knew that he owed a lot of that to Tooru, who had used his own special brand of persuasion to talk to the coaches into letting Hajime start the previous year, but Hajime worked hard. He always stayed for extra practices and never complained about running extra laps, he helped his juniors in any way he could and he was proud of the title of ace and vice captain.
Issei and Takahiro had even wormed their way under Hajime’s mental armor. They were still sarcastic bastards who cared very little about school, which still ticked Hajime off since he continually had to work twice as hard to get the same grades as the other two, but they proved themselves to be good teammates and even better friends.
“Iwaizumi, you wrote that you won’t be attending college?” The counselor asked, looking down at the small survey they had made all the third years fill out.
“No ma’am, I am going to be applying to the Academy in the summer.” Hajime answered, though he had written that down also. The Academy’s applications were due after they graduated high school, during summer and if they were accepted into the programme than they would start attending at the end of summer.
“That’s very ambitious of you, I know that a lot of young people see the Academy as a shortcut to the Agency but they aren’t made aware that very few people actually graduate the Academy. Less than 50%.” The counselor stapled her fingers over the papers spread on her desk. Hajime’s heartbeat a little faster, a familiar tingle of fear running through his system even though he had told himself to prepare for this.
“I am aware of that.” Hajime stopped himself from squirming under the intense stare of the older woman.
“The Agency is much more likely to acceptance an applicant after they have gotten a degree from university.” The counselor continued on, all of which Hajime was aware of but he didn’t interrupt. “Your grades are very good Iwaizumi, and with your athletic abilities you could have an easy acceptance into many good colleges. I have even heard that you were approached by several scouts from three different universities.” Hajime swallowed down the lump in his throat, not sure how the councelor knew about that. He hadn’t even told Tooru or his parents because his plans were set.
“I understand I am very lucky for the offers, but if I go to university that’s two to six years until I graduate, depending on what degree I would like to obtain, which I haven’t given any thought to. Then I have to apply to the Agency and would have to go through three interviews, which could take up to a year to process. Two years of training if I get accepted and by then I’m in my mid to late twenties before I even make it onto a proper Agency team. The Academy is only two years and then I would be placed into a small unit for no more than a year before becoming part of an Agency team.” Hajime explained as calmly as he could but his hands felt clammy and his heartbeat wouldn’t slow down.
“I understand all of that but- and I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, you applied for the extra magical training classes here and you weren’t accepted because your skill level is too low.” The counselor looked at him with imploring eyes, trying to tell him what she was meaning without actually saying it.
It was what Hajime had been waiting for. Hajime didn’t have great magical abilities, he could barely project his power beyond himself. Even that took a great deal of concentration.
“Those who go to the Academy have a great deal of magical ability, with the research you’ve clearly done you must know that too.” She looked down at her papers briefly before looking back up at Hajime. “Many of the classes that are required demand that magic ability to be able to pass. I see you’ve also marked down you wish to be a field agent, which is a very dangerous job. Especially to someone with your caliber of magic. To put it bluntly Iwaizumi, how are you suppose to protect civilians if you cannot protect yourself from magical threats? The Agency is a wonderful career goal for some people, and if your desire is to help people then perhaps you should consider the police force or working at a fire station?”
“I came to this school because I knew the Academy looked at graduates from here more closely than any other school.” Hajime said, trying to find some sort of inner peace he had never had before. He just felt crushed all over again.
“Yes and as someone who has worked at this school for 15 years, I have to tell you that your chances of being accepted into the Academy, let alone graduating from it are very slim.” The counselor shifted, sighing softly. “It is clear how much of a hard worker you are from your files alone, but I have seen a couple of your games too and you have a clear focus and you don’t crumble in the face of three blockers with many centimeters on you so that is why I’m being perfectly honest right now. If your goal is truly to be apart of the Agency then here is what I recommend. You go to college and continue to play volleyball, you graduate and apply to the Agency and go through all the steps you’ve mentioned before. If it fails then you will have a cushion to fall back on.”
She handed over several brochures to colleges, explaining which one had the best in which programs and even mentioning things about their various athletic scholarships and abilities. Hajime nodded along, no longer fighting back as he took the papers and left with his shoulders hunched.
Hajime headed home instead of practice, skipping for the first time in over two years. There was only half an hour left and he wasn’t in the mood to be drilled by any of his friends or teammates over what happened. He could brush off most people but Tooru, Issei, and Takahiro would clearly read his face and posture. He had never been good at hiding what he was feeling like Issei or lying with his motions and body like Tooru and Takahiro. If he was upset it read in everything about him, and he was upset.
Hajime tried to tell himself that he had faced adversity before. His own parents hadn’t believed he would be able to survive this high school and he had not only survived but he had done well. He would do it again, prove everyone wrong once again if he had too.
But Hajime didn’t want to. He wanted someone to be in his corner for once, blindly faithful in his abilities instead of trying to make him face a harsh possibility of future failures. Tooru believed in him but it wasn’t what he needed right now.
Despite Tooru’s disbelief in his own abilities he was powerful, in every sense of the word. Tooru had been adopted when he was five and he had been born a demon with two demon parents that should never have been allowed to be parents. Tooru didn’t mention them often but Hajime got the sense that they never abused their son, they just paid him no mind. They lacked the inherent selflessness that parents should have when it came to their children. The Oikawa’s, Tooru’s adoptive parents, were wonderful and loving but the damage done to Tooru in the first five years of his life had left an ugly mark on Tooru.
It didn’t help that the Oikawa’s had no idea that they had adopted a demon child. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, inside and out Tooru appeared human. Sometimes when he got extremely angry black covered the whites of his eyes but it had only happened a couple times in the many years Hajime had known the other boy. The demon community seemed to be keeping completely quiet, staying far under the radar because they were well aware of the prejudices they would face if they were brought out publically.
Tooru possessed a great deal of magical power and unlike regular humans whose magical ability presented itself around the same time as puberty, Tooru had his magic for as long as he could remember. It grew with him, but it was always there. It meant that Tooru was leaps and bounds ahead of Hajime in the magical department. But Tooru was also naturally intelligent, almost to the same level of genius. Of course he studied and paid attention in class but he easily maintained his Class 6 level while being the Captain and setter of the volleyball club and attending extra magical lessons the school offered to those with enough skill to get in.
No one could say that Tooru did not work hard, but in most aspects he didn’t have to. He wouldn’t understand the crushed feeling Hajime carried around with him.
His parents were surprised when he came home early and he told them what the counselor had said. They listened in silence before hesitantly adding their own comments, which boiled down to mostly agreeing with the counselor. It was another crushing blow.
Hajime knew that his parents were just trying to look out for him, that they wanted the best for him. Mostly they did not want him to be a field agent, where the turnover rate due to death and injury was quick. He knew they weren’t meaning to be cruel or unkind, but he couldn’t seem to pull himself out of the dark space he was in.
The phone rang and Hajime knew it was Tooru but he feigned sleep when his mother came to tell him. Tomorrow he would pull himself together and he would reassure Tooru and apologize to the coaches for missing out on practice. Tomorrow he would continue with his studies and work harder to improve his magic. Tomorrow would be better but today, under the comfort of his bedding and alone in his dark bedroom, he let himself fall apart.
“I am very sorry about this Iwaizumi,” Irihata began, arms crossed over his wide chest as he leaned back in his chair and stared at Hajime from across his desk. Irihata was the head of the Aoba Johsai team, all their orders and missions came from him and all their reports went to him. He was one of the more laidback people in his position, trusting and allowing his team to make their own decisions. Hajime had always had a great deal of respect for him, for anyone in his position who had to continually watch as new field agents were brought in as old ones were brought out in body bags.
Hajime wasn’t in a body bag but he might as well be to the Agency because as he was, he was useless.
“It’s alright, I understand.” Hajime forced himself not to shift awkwardly in his seat.
“The Agency will cover any cost for rehabilitation.” They would not cover the cost for a new arm made in Europe, Hajime had looked into the prices and found them far beyond anything he could ever even hope to afford. The magic and science behind them were too new, too experimental for the Agency to put any real hope behind.
“Thank you for everything.” Hajime stood up and bowed, ending the meeting to avoid further awkwardness with his now-former superior. Irihata stood up and bowed even deeper.
“It is us who should be thanking you Iwaizumi, you have always been an explimary agent and now-” Irihata looked heated for a moment, anger flashing vividly across his face. It was a surprise to Hajime but really it shouldn’t have been. Hajime had been on the Aoba Johsai team for nearly a decade and he had done everything the Agency had asked of him. To Irihata, to Tooru and a few others, it seemed like the Agency was treating him like a child would treat a broken toy, tossing it out without much thought to it.
“Thank you.” Hajime left quickly. His throat felt tight and his eyes burned but he refused to allow himself to show such a reaction in front of Irihata who was clearly battling his own feelings on the matter.
Mizoguchi was waiting outside the office. He was next in line to take over Irihata’s role and was only a couple years older than Hajime. He was more on the serious side than Irihata, often times sitting in on their training or group meetings and scolding Tooru for being too flippant. In one hand was several manilla folders, new jobs and missions to be doled out to the team.
Karasuno was inoperable at the moment, still dealing with the death of not only a team member but their leader had left them unable to work two weeks after their deaths. Datekou was suffering the same, some of the older members of the team stepping down after the death of their own leader and leaving a hole in their wake. It meant that the jobs that would have gone to Karasuno and Datekou now had to be picked up by the other teams. Aoba Johsai was busier than ever.
Mizoguchi gave a tight squeeze to Hajime’s left shoulder, his light brown eyes piercing Hajime before he was striding into Irihata’s office to deliver the folders. Hajime walked robotically down the hall and to the elevator. He punched a higher number on the buttons instead of the ground floor, his intentions obvious to himself where he was going.
The smaller teams of Section Five shared the top two floors and Karasuno had the smallest corner on the very top floor. They shared lockers and training rooms with many other teams while teams like Aoba Johsai, Shiratorizawa, and Datekou occupied their own floors with separate training rooms and lockers. Hajime had never seen anyone from Karasuno gripe about the unfair treatment of their team.
Karasuno had been a dead team before it was resurrected a couple years prior and given to Sawamura Daichi as a punishment for how he handled a high profile case involving a very rich and powerful family. Many people agreed with the way he handled it, which was why he was only punished instead of fired. His team was the smallest one at the Agency in any of the Five Sections, his field team and his office team the same people. Daichi was also given most of the troublemakers from the Academy, those who did not fit in anywhere else but whose scores were too good to not allow into the Agency.
Daichi had taken a team no one believed in and made it strong and a formidable opponent. He had taken a group of misfits and troublemakers and made them real Agency members. Daichi had made Karasuno what it was, had resurrected it from disgrace and death to be a real team.
Hajime stepped into Daichi’s old office, only a quarter of the size of Tooru’s and half the size of Hajime’s own- his old office that was. They didn’t even have a proper meeting room where they could discuss their jobs and missions. Hajime had seen them all pile into Daichi’s small office, occupying every spare inch of the room and eating meat buns or various sweets Daichi had brought in as they talked.
There were papers spread out on the floor and the desk, a blanket crumpled at the end of the small couch, and a jacket tossed over the back of the desk chair. Besides the fine layer of dust that had settled over everything it appeared as if it’s occupant had rushed out in the middle of research, as if he would be right back and not gone forever.
Hajime wasn’t sure why he had come here, wasn’t sure what would happen to Karasuno now.
The door creaked behind Hajime and he turned around to see Tooru standing in the door frame, frowning around at the small office.
“It’s so cramped in here, it’s a wonder Sawamura got anything done.” Tooru spoke up, voice sounding rusty as they both looked over at one of the bookcases. Full of ancient tombs along with modern anatomy books. There was several picture frames. One of a young couple sitting on a couch, bent over a small baby that must have been Daichi’s parents. Hajime didn’t know much about them except they had died with Daichi had been fairly young. There was a black and white photo of a handsome couple, the man looking stern while the woman beamed happily up at him. Hajime assumed that was Daichi’s grandparents who had taken care of him and had died around the time he had entered the Academy.
There was a group shot of Karasuno, a clearly candid picture as they were all resting in the corner of a training room, covered in workout gear and sweat. Most were laughing and a couple looked exasperated. Koushi was missing so it was most likely him taking the photo. Daichi had his hands on his hips, his head tilted down as he tried to hide his smile. The team was loosely gathered but it was clear they centered around their leader, bodies leaning unconsciously toward him, heads tilted in his direction.
Another must have been from his high school graduation. Daichi, Koushi, and Asahi had all attended the same high school and they were wearing all black military uniforms would have made them look old and harsh if it weren’t for their big grins.
“Have you seen any of them?” Hajime asked, turning fully to look over at Tooru. The other man looked exhausted, which was understandable with his bigger workload and now he was out of a second in command.
“Yes, they- most of them are crashing at Suga’s.” Hajime knew his best friend must be truly tired if he wasn’t attaching ridiculous nicknames to anyone, but something about the way he said Koushi’s name made the old warning bells go off in Hajime’s head.
“What is it?” Hajime demanded. Tooru gave him a half hearted smile but Hajime was wholly unamused. “Spit it out Shittykawa.”
“Don’t make me say it twice.” Hajime threatened and Tooru huffed out a laugh that was only half forced.
“He blames me for what happened to Sawamura.” Tooru looked away which revealed that Tooru also blamed himself for what happened to the Karasuno leader. Hajime hadn’t been awake for what happened, had only heard stories that were heard from various sources but no one seemed to blame anyone but Daichi for how things ended.
“How is that even possible?” Hajime asked, his left arm falling short when he went to cross his arms across his chest. Tooru didn’t miss the aborted motion and he stood up a little taller.
“That’s not really important-”
“Oikawa I swear to every god and spirit listening I will kick you through a wall if you don’t start speaking.” Hajime was tired, exhausted down to his very soul and did not have the usual fight in himself that it took to pull information out of Tooru. Too many people had been walking on eggshells around him lately, he couldn’t handle it if his best friend started treating him differently too.
“When Sawamura stepped through the barrier Karasuno tried to break it.” This was new to Hajime, no one had mentioned that yet. “Honestly it was one of his own barriers so we didn’t think they could break it but- but if they did it would have released the death curse and everyone would have been dead. We all- the rest of the teams had to hold them back, hold them physically down. I always thought their giant, the bearded Azumane was a weak excuse for a giant but it took three members of Datekou to hold him down and even then they were struggling with it. Suga broke his hand trying to break through the barrier, I held him back and he- he warned me, he told me if I didn’t let him go he would never forgive me.” Tooru shrugged weakly.
Tooru had dated a lot of people, he had even liked most of them but most people didn’t realize that a romantic relationship for Tooru would always come second to his work. They believed they could change him but Tooru had no intention of ever changing and eventually, they all worked that out for themselves.
It wasn’t as if Tooru was unromantic or didn’t believe in love, quite the opposite really. But Tooru’s number one focus would always be the Agency, he wouldn’t slow down until he made it to the top and even then he would still put all his attention into maintaining new goals of running the Agency. Maybe it was unfair of Tooru to expect his partners to understand that, to be willing to come second.
Hajime thought it would always be like that, until Tooru had stumbled into feelings for Sugawara Koushi. Tooru had tried all his old tricks to get into Koushi’s good graces, for over a year he had flirted and tried to impress the med-mage but nothing had worked. Actually it seemed to do the opposite and only annoyed Koushi the longer it went on, especially when Tooru had tried to get Koushi to switch to Aoba Johsai.
It wasn’t until Daichi had stepped in to help that Tooru actually got somewhere. It wasn’t very far but he had gotten a future date out of it. Hajime didn’t know what possessed Daichi to help out Tooru. Tooru who had a tendency to take out his romantic frustrations on the Karasuno leader at least once a month, unwilling to apologize but trying to make up for his blow up with food.
It was obvious to everyone that Koushi had been in love with Daichi for a long time, most likely since high school. Daichi had once told Hajime that he knew about his best friends feelings for him, that they had discussed it and Koushi had been fine that Daichi did not feel the same way. A relationship between Daichi and Koushi was not in their future, but Tooru still believed that Daichi was standing in his way of getting to Koushi. In reality it had been Tooru’s fake personality that had been in the way, his old way of flirting did not work with a person who saw right through it.
“He’s just looking for someone to blame and since Daichi- since Daichi’s not around, the blame has fallen on you.” Hajime stumbled over the sentence a little. It was hard to believe Daichi was really gone, even harder to admit out loud. “He just needs some time, they were friends for a long time.”
Being a med-mage and being as intelligent as Koushi is there were several teams who would do almost anything to get him on their team. Section One of the Agency, the one based in the middle of Tokyo and was composed of the top teams in the country, was always trying to win favor with Koushi. He had his pick of any team in any section but he had chosen to follow Daichi to Karasuno.
“You didn’t hear what he said.” Tooru admitted softly, staring hard at the ground. Hajime straightened at that, frowning slightly. Hajime had never heard a mean word from Koushi from the years of knowing the med-mage, but anyone was capable of great cruelty when wounded enough. Knowing Tooru as Hajime did he knew the other man had a habit of pushing when he should back off, knew he had most likely tried to push his way into being there for Koushi and the usually kind man had gone on the defensive. Knowing the reason didn’t make Hajime feel any less protective over his friend.
Tooru was strangely fragile for someone so strong and powerful. Hajime had gotten into the habit of protecting him since they were small and the instinct was always there. Mostly he let Tooru handle himself, they were fully grown adults now and Hajime couldn’t baby Tooru too much but Hajime wouldn’t add to Tooru’s problems.
It meant shoving down his own feelings of inadequacy and disappointment to put on a strong facade. Hajime wasn’t a good liar, not with his words or his body and Tooru would be able to see through him the second he pulled himself out of his own little pity party. It meant that Hajime had to leave because if Tooru realized how bad of a spot Hajime was in then he would stop caring for himself to care for Hajime.
“I’m going to my parents for a while.” Hajime announced, causing Tooru’s head to snap up and stare at him. “There’s a good rehabilitation center in Sendai that I want to check out, but my appointment isn’t for another two weeks.”
“What about the clay limb?” Tooru asked, brow furrowed.
“That was just- I was only trying to make Hiro feel better, there’s no way I can afford that.” Hajime shrugged, trying to pretend like it didn’t matter at all to him. Losing his dominant arm affected every aspect of his life but the fact was he was still alive. He felt like he couldn’t mourn over a lost limb when so many other people had lost their lives in the battle.
“Even if we pulled our money I still wouldn’t be able to afford it.” The procedure itself was expensive, it would drain both of them of their savings and future paychecks but it took several months. That would mean living in London for three to five months. Hajime thought his English was decent enough, but there was no way he could get a job to support himself there.
“Have you asked Mattsun and Makki?” Tooru asked, causing Hajime to frown deeply at him.
“I’m not going to ask the people I’ve been dating for two months for money.” Hajime ground out between clenched teeth. He didn’t even know why Tooru had suggested it. Takahiro was well off with Issei being moreso, but how often had Hajime watched them both being used for their family names and their money? It had caused them both to be closed off to most people, using sarcasm and unimpressed expressions to create a barrier between themselves and the world. Hajime wouldn’t breach the trust he had gained from them, wouldn’t hit them up for money like the people he had so dispised.
“We have all been friends since high school.” Tooru reminded him as if Hajime had forgotten.
“And that gives me the right to their money?” This conversation was getting out of hand, Hajime could feel real anger boiling up inside of him and he wasn’t going to take it out on Tooru the same way Koushi had.
“You didn’t hesitate when I offered.” Tooru’s arms were crossed and he had that look about him that said he wouldn’t stop until he got his way. This was one fight Hajime wasn’t willing to back down from with Tooru.
“That’s different and you know it.” Hajime had never been good at controlling his emotions. If he was angry then he was angry, it showed all over his face and his body posture.
“How? Mattsun and Makki aren’t going to think you’re only dating them for their money, they would want to help and-”
“No Oikawa! Listen to me just this once, I said no and I mean it. Do not talk about this with them, I’ve made up my mind.” Hajime walked past Tooru into the hall, feeling disrespectful about having such an argument in Daichi’s office. “You should go, I know you have a meeting. Too many teams are out of commission right now and your workload has tripled. I will be fine.” Hajime didn’t turn around as he headed towards the elevator, feeling worse now than when he had with his conversation with Irihata.
Hajime called his parents when he got back to his apartment. It was a mess, he had been spending most nights at Takahiro’s for the past couple months and had only really come back to grab clean clothes. His parents hid their happiness about him coming back home poorly. They were proud of him, of course they were, but they were also terrified of losing him. They were happy the Agency had let him go, that he was no longer in danger of being a field agent.
Hajime rested on his bed and tried to ignore the heaviness in his heart and the phantom feeling of a missing limb.