"Absolutely not!" And, well, they’re both supposedly adults now, but Tooru still saves up plenty of expressions guaranteed to be annoying for when he comes to visit her, and he shoots one in her direction as she leans back against the counter to survey the sprawling mess his notes have become. "I have a very important paper to present next week at the annual Entomological Society of Japan conference," he says. "Because I am very important." She snorts, and he grins. "These fossil photographs represent a solid four years of dissertation research and two years of postdoctoral study, you know. Have some respect! They’re priceless! Academically significant!"
"But just how academically significant will they look covered in broth?" his sister asks dryly, raising one eyebrow. "Besides, I’m not eating while the creepy blank eyes of long-dead house-pests stare up at me like this."
Tooru looks down at them, considering, then plucks out one of his test photos of a genetically similar Japanese species of woodlouse, an unaffected male with an average wing and body length, and sets it on top of the stack. "There you go." He beams up at her winsomely. "Now it’s a non-mutated, living bug! These could even be crawling around in your walls right now, sis! Doesn’t that whet your appetite?"
"I hate you." She’s looking at him like she can’t decide whether to punch him or ruffle his hair, and he’s spared from both only by the sound of the front door, with his nephew Takeru’s clear "I’m home!" ringing from the foyer.
Leaning back in his chair, out of reach, Tooru wiggles his eyebrows. "That’s inherently impossible, as I am undeniably and incontrovertibly wonderful—"
"Oh, Takeru, sweetheart," his sister interrupts, saccharine sweet, "you’ve come home just in time to keep me from killing your uncle in cold blood!"
"It wouldn’t be in cold blood," Tooru replies, folding his hands together just in front of his laptop and giving her his best lecturer voice. "It would be in heated rage. Crimes of passion are much more defensible in court! You’d get a lighter sentence."
"Thanks for the advice," his sister says dryly, cracking her knuckles before returning her attention to the stew, dropping two massive handfuls of raw shrimp into it to cook quickly in the hot broth. "I’ll keep that in mind for the future. In my humble opinion, though, not a jury in the world would convict me for wringing your obnoxious neck."
Tooru pouts. "So mean, sis! You know I’m your favorite brother!"
"You’re my only brother. It’s like when you were still in primary school, and they were out of our favorite brand of croquette at the supermarket so we had to settle for the other kind. You remember, right? That off-brand with the blue label and the reduced price stickers." She points at him with the spoon, not even turning all the way around. "You’re the off-brand, Tooru. But you’re the only kind available, and I’ve settled."
"Liar," says Tooru, adjusting his glasses. "I’m top of the line! You’re lucky to have me!"
Takeru stomps his way into the kitchen before she can reply. He’s been stomping everywhere lately, and it makes Tooru feel so old, because it’s been years since he was a teenager, and the simmering determination in everything Takeru does now reminds Tooru of so many things he misses that his stomach aches.
Leaning over Tooru’s shoulder, Takeru spends about six seconds just staring at the pictures spread across the kitchen table, then he makes a retching sound. "Nasty," he announces, and then drops his backpack into the free chair next to Tooru, and his volleyball bag on the floor next to it. "I don’t get why you like this stuff so much, Uncle Tooru. You’re so weird."
"What happened to the good old days, when you looked up to me, Take-chan~?"
"When I was in primary school, you were cool," Takeru answers, rolling his eyes at the nickname he’ll never convince Tooru he’s grown out of. "You taught me how to play volleyball and stuff, and you liked super violent sci-fi movies, and you and Iwaizumi used to let me watch them with you on television until Mom figured out that’s why I was having horrible nightmares."
"So basically, world’s best uncle." Tooru pushes up on his reading glasses, and rubs his hands together like a villain as he grins at his disheveled nephew. "What’s changed?"
Huffing, Takeru wipes at his face with a towel and plops into the chair all the way on the other side of the table. "You don’t even watch volleyball on television anymore, even though Iwaizumi plays for F.C. Tokyo—"
"Who has the time?" Tooru cuts him off, waving a hand dismissively in Takeru’s direction as he starts to separate the photos into files to clean them up. "Taxonomy waits for no man, and I’ve got lice to identify!"
"High school you would be disgusted at every part of that statement." Takeru pokes gingerly at a particularly interesting photo of a moderately fossilized giant woodland louse dated to the fifth century. With its head so big in comparison, it looks like something straight out of The Twilight Zone. "Volleyball is important, and how can you be so busy waiting for bugs to reproduce that you don’t have time to watch your best friend kick ass on the court?"
"Language," his sister says, sounding so long-suffering that the tightness in Tooru’s chest at Takeru’s words almost loosens.
"I don’t always have to wait. Aphids are born pregnant, without ever having sex," replies Tooru, instead of answering the question. "They can actually give birth about ten days after they’re born."
"That’s gross," Takeru tells him, with all the grudging interest of a high schooler who prefers sports to classes. "I’m not sure what’s grosser, actually. You talking about bug sex, or you talking about sex at all. Can we go back to the alien movies?"
"My research is better than an alien movie," Tooru says. "They found calcified insects like these on Mars. They’re actual aliens."
"I mean, technically," Takeru says, accompanied by an extremely unimpressed look. "But I’m talking—" He spreads his arms wide, "outer space battles and stuff. That was moderately cool."
"Excuse you," Tooru replies, pouting slightly. "Actual, real-life aliens is the coolest. I challenge you to find something in the world cooler than aliens."
"They would be way better if they didn’t look like I could kill them with a fly-swatter." Takeru shrugs off his school team track jacket, letting it crumple on top of his volleyball bag. It gives Tooru a distinct feeling of deja vu, seeing a pile of volleyball gear here in his sister’s kitchen. Ten years have passed so fast. "You should have studied UFOs or something."
"You have no appreciation for how awesome what I do is!" Tooru presses up on his glasses again, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "Insects predate dinosaurs. A research team at Tufts found a fossil of a flying insect from the Carboniferous period, you know? Who’s to say that all insects on Earth didn’t come from outer space hundreds of millions of years ago?"
"Who cares?" Takeru retorts, with a smug little grin he definitely learned from Tooru at some point, and scowling, Tooru crosses his arms and sticks out his tongue.
"Tooru, give up," his sister says without turning around, "and put the creepy bug photos away. Takeru, go shower and stop antagonizing your uncle."
"You’re not my mother," says Tooru, pulling another obnoxious face at her back, as Takeru shuffles out of the kitchen like an oozing wasteland of teenage sulk.
"No, I was just your babysitter through my entire adolescence, so I already know you’re making a face right now. Do you want dinner or not?"
"Maybe you’re an alien." Tooru hums thoughtfully. "Eyes in the back of your head, that face—"
"What did I do in a past life to deserve a sibling like you?" She turns down the gas, and reaches up into the cabinets for bowls.
"Something incredible," is Tooru’s glib reply, as he puts the finally stacked photos back into the giant folder he’d brought from his university lab. "Anyone who knows me has been blessed, surely."
"Your fiancée is an actual saint, that’s for sure." Setting the empty bowls and three sets of chopsticks and metal spoons on the now-clear table, she meets his eyes. "How is Megumi doing, by the way?"
Tooru swallows, then averts his eyes. "Fine, I think," he replies, thinking back to the last time he’d seen her, three weeks ago. She’d been wearing red lipstick, and her legs had looked fantastic in her favorite pair of work high heels. "Busy with a huge tax law case, so I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks."
"A couple of weeks?"
"That’s not unusual. She’s busy, and I’m busy." Tooru grins lazily. "Besides, everyone else in the world would get jealous, if I spent all my time with Megumi-chan~"
"Don’t you… miss her?" His sister’s thumb wipes an invisible speck from the lip of the soup bowl she’d set down last.
Tooru runs his tongue along his teeth. "Oh, of course I do!" He waves his hand. "But you know, I only see some of my friends once a month, so in comparison…" He shrugs. "You’re always telling me to be less selfish! I’m just taking your advice!"
Megumi had been frowning at him. They’d been at a cafe, and she’d held her engagement ring between her index finger and thumb. He’d watched it catch the light. "But?"
"This close to your wedding, shouldn’t you be inseparable or something?" She clears her throat. "Have you decided on where you two will be going on your honeymoon?"
Loftily, Tooru undoes the top button of his dress shirt. "Are you this invested in my wedding because you never had one?"
"Don’t be an asshole, Tooru-chan. I know it’s hard for you, brat, but try your best." His sister hesitates, staring at him carefully, then puts a hand on his shoulder, like she’s afraid she’s going to spook him. "You’re not usually this prickly. Everything’s all right, isn’t it? You know you can always talk to me, if it’s not?"
"What could be possibly be wrong?" Tooru smiles at her, letting his gaze drop back to his folder. "I’m beautiful, I’ve got a great job where I’m given the accolades I rightfully deserve, I’m getting married in a few months." He taps his fingers on the top of the folder. "All the life milestones a man is supposed to hit at my age, right?"
"It’s not a checklist, Tooru. It’s your life." She tightens her grip. "It’s just you’ve looked a little…"
"The point is," Tooru interrupts, "is that my life couldn’t be better! Even my older sister is tolerable—" He whines as her resting hand starts to pinch. "Ow, ow, ow!"
"Tolerable?" his sister asks, full of false sweetness, and Tooru glowers up at her, lip stuck out to emphasize his unhappiness. "Wanna rephrase that, Oikawa Tooru?"
"No," Tooru replies, just as sweetly, before he ducks for cover. "I’m telling Mom you’re being mean!"
"Are you sure you’re twenty-nine?" She laughs evilly, hooking her arm around his neck in a hug, her hair tickling his cheeks. "Come over more often, Professor Oikawa. Bring my future sister-in-law."
"Yeah, yeah," Tooru says, leaning back into her warmth. "When we’ve got time."
"When you stop purposely making yourself too busy," she corrects. "You’re going to work yourself into exhaustion, you big idiot."
Tooru bites his lip, thinking she sounds an awful lot like Hajime used to. "Exhaustion’s often the price one pays to be the best," he tells her, switching off his tablet and sliding it and his folder of photographs into his bag.
"You’ve certainly always thought so." She lets go of him, and walks back over to the stew. "No one’s ever been able to convince you otherwise, so I won’t waste my time." She spoons some of the broth, blowing on it to cool it. "Come here and taste this, Tooru."
"Yes, ma’am," he says, and they bicker over how spicy it is until Takeru returns, hair still dripping wet from the shower, and it’s time to eat.
"You’ll have to fill out your future goals form for homeroom, you know," Hanamaki had said, two weeks before a game against the new, stronger Datekou that would determine their future in the tournament. "Life’s not all volleyball, Captain."
"Makki-chan, I’m trying to figure out how to make this obnoxious second-year leading the Iron Wall cry. I don’t have time to fill that stupid thing out!"
Hanamaki had given him a long stare. "Did you even complete your Center Test registration?"
Tooru had forced himself to grin, even as he rubbed bloodshot eyes. "I just erased Iwa-chan’s name on his," he jokes. "I’m all set. Iwa-chan’s probably screwed though~"
"Too bad 'evil cartoon villain' isn’t a job," Hanamaki had muttered, letting Tooru return his attention to watching tapes of Datekou’s last game, drawing crude stick figure notes of possible offensive tacks to take.
Tooru had ended up writing "trophy husband" on his form, earning himself a beleaguered glare from his homeroom teacher, but she hadn’t made him re-do it, probably thinking Tooru was planning to take up volleyball professionally. She wasn’t the only person to think so, and the whole idea of the future was something too distant in Tooru’s mind with the tournament looming so large and important right in front of his eyes.
"You know, you don’t have to play volleyball," Hajime had said one night, the both of them slumped together on the rug at the center of Hajime’s bedroom, their legs tangled at the ankle and their review notes for the Center Test encircling them like some horrible Stonehenge of advanced mathematics. It was a bit of a non-sequitur, since the last thing Iwaizumi had said, almost a half an hour ago, had been "shut the fuck up, Oikawa! I hope you choke on that milk bread!"
"I don’t have to do anything," Tooru’d replied. "Because no one is the boss of me~"
"I mean…" Hajime had bitten down on the fullest part of his lower lip, with his eyes glancing left to right and anywhere but at Tooru. "I mean, after high school. You’re really smart, and… well, you’ve got a shitty personality, but you’re pretty good at pretending you don’t when the stakes are high, so…"
Tooru had set down his pencil, and leaned into Hajime’s face, close enough that their noses were barely a centimeter from touching. He used a hand to balance himself, fingers catching on Hajime’s shoulder and collarbone, and his palm pressing just above his heart. It was beating quickly, and Hajime’s skin flushed dark at the invasion of personal space. "Eh? Did you just compliment me, Iwa-chan?~"
"Get off of me, Shittykawa!" Hajime had growled, spreading his hand out and covering the entirety of Tooru’s face with it, pushing back until Tooru was back over on his side of their academic demon summoning circle. He was the red of a fire engine, eyebrows knit together and lips curled down into a grumpy frown. "I’m just… I’m trying to tell you that you’ve got a whole world of stuff you might be good at, and you don’t have to impress anyone."
"Like what?" Tooru had drawled, twirling a piece of hair around his index finger. "Professional matchmaker?" He hummed. "No, my clients might be ugly like you, and all the girls would love me instead." Flexing his toes, he’d flopped back onto a pile of second-year statistics notes, sending papers scattering. "Cake tester, though, I might have a real future in that! Do you think I need to take the Center Test to be a culinary critic, Iwa-chan?"
"You could be an astronomer," Hajime had said then, quietly. "If you wanted. Anything, you know?"
"Why are you telling me this?" Crossing his arms, Tooru had stared up at the ceiling, watching Hajime pick up the papers Tooru had scattered one by one, making them into a fresh pile. "Do you think I’m not good enough to play professional volleyball? I am, you know. Scouts have visited to see both of us, not just you, Iwa-chan! Don’t be vain!"
"I’m not being— Oh my God, of course I think you’re good enough, dumbass!" Hajime crumpled the papers in his hands. "It’s just… Sometimes I look at you lately, and you look…"
"Devilishly handsome?" Tooru swallowed. "Exceedingly breathtaking?"
"Lost," Hajime’d replied. "Scared, okay?"
Tooru’s heart had stopped for a moment that felt like an eternity, then started again too fast, leaving him dizzy from the rush of blood. He’d made himself laugh wickedly, and then he’d settled his hand on Hajime’s thigh, just above the knee, thumb pressed to a scar Hajime’d earned rescuing him from a tree when they were seven, when Tooru’d climbed up too high and then had gotten too freaked out to climb back down.
"Of course I’m scared," Tooru’d replied, after too many beats of heavy silence. "I have to look at your horror-show face all the time! I’m in a constant state of terror, Iwa-chan, it’s really unfair. The sacrifices I make for our friendship—"
Hajime had whapped him in the face with a pillow from his bed, and Tooru’s laugh had become a bit more genuine.
That night, though, the both of them curled up on the futon Hajime’s mom had set out for just Tooru, all of the pillows and blankets shared between them, wrapping around too-long limbs, Tooru had stayed awake behind closed eyes and tried to untangle the knot of his guts that seemed to be formed of all sorts of unnamed fears, the muscles in his thighs burning from volleyball practice.
When he’d gotten back his abysmal marks on the Center Test, over a month later, he’d folded them back up and tucked them into the envelope they’d arrived in, leaving them on his desk.
"How did you do?" Tooru’s sister had asked, when she called him later that night. He could hear Takeru’s favorite show on in the background, with giant robots crunching buildings and lasers firing.
"Failed it, pretty much," Tooru had replied. "It’s fine, I didn’t really want to go to university, you know? Don’t need university to play pro-volleyball."
He’d picked up a volleyball and held it tightly with both his hands, enjoying the familiar weight even as his room seemed to shrink around him until it felt like he’d be crushed by the walls.
It’s not like he’d been all that interested in becoming an astronaut, anyway.
Hajime hadn’t asked about his results, and hadn’t shared his own. But he’d looked at Tooru like he’d known, somehow, and sprawled out at the center of the Aoba Jousai gym floor, volleyball net almost hanging low enough to brush his nose, he’d closed his eyes and waited for Tooru to lie down next to him.
"Which team?" Hajime’d asked, and Tooru had blinked.
Hajime grunted impatiently. "Which team do you want to play for?"
Tooru’s heart had pressed up on his sternum, swelling too big for his ribcage. "Aww, Iwa-chan, are you gonna follow me again?"
"Fuck you," Hajime’d replied. Tooru’d rolled over on his side to look at him then, taking in Hajime’s slightly too strong features and thin mouth and soft, sweaty hair. His skin had been lightly glazed with sweat, and despite it still being early in the spring, the sun had already kissed him tan. "Which team, Shittykawa?"
"Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, the only one that matters is the Japanese National Team."
"Olympics, huh?" Hajime’s mouth had quirked. "You’re pretty full of yourself, you know that, right?"
"The littlest member of Tobio’s team calls me ’The Grand King’." Tooru had grinned, propping himself up on one elbow so that he could look down on Hajime, who’d opened warm brown eyes to return Tooru’s stare. "I think it’s got a certain ring to it, don’t you, Iwa-chan?"
"One day you’re going to stop calling me that," Hajime’d replied, cracking his knuckles. But, Tooru had noted, he hadn’t disagreed.
"You love that I call you that," Tooru had replied, smugly.
Hajime had laughed, a short, frustrated bark, and before Tooru could read into it, he’d sat up, tangling his thick fingers in the net for leverage. "Let’s clean up and head out, then."
"Grand Kings don’t clean~" Tooru’d cheerfully sung, and Hajime just scoffed, and then aggressively threw volleyballs at Tooru so that he’d have to actually move to dodge them.
"You ready for the conference?" Sasada asks, interrupting his thoughts, looking up from her grading as Tooru leans back in his desk chair and stretches, arms extending up over his head to pull the knots out of his back. "You've barely left the office all week." She gives him a once over. "You've got to be exhausted, and I’m sure Megumi’s missing you."
"I've had a lot to do," Tooru replies. "It's not like my classes will teach themselves just because I have a big presentation coming up, and really, post-docs are like indentured servants to the department." He sighs dramatically, surveying the small office the two of them share. Uemura is leaving next term, and he'll get his own office, but until then, the two of them are stuck squashed in this small space. "Honestly, all of this preparation is going to give me dark circles. My adoring fans at the Entomological Society will be so disappointed!"
"Your adoring fans?" Sasada gives him a flat look. "Oh please, Oikawa. Do paleoecologists or entomologists or whatever you actually are have fans?"
"When they look like this, they do~" Tooru singsongs, fluttering his eyelashes. "Last month at that conference in Nanjing I was asked on thirteen dates, and I’m pretty sure that doctoral student from Lima was moments from crying when I told her I was taken." A flash of Megumi, sitting across from him in the cafe, holding her ring. "Do you even care?" she’d asked, and he’d wrapped his hand around her wrist, thumb at the bone. "Then there was Dr. Huang’s daughter. She actually did cry. Ahhh, I’m depriving the female population of the world! Honestly, me getting married is practically cruel!"
"I’m surprised you didn’t bottle their tears to drink later." She walks over to his desk. "That would have sustained you through these trying times without your beauty-sleep. I’m sure the bug nerds will forgive you for looking like your research is more important than your eye-bags."
"I do not have eye-bags," Tooru says, jutting his lower lip out. "You take that back, Sasada-chan!"
"Anyway, I looked through your slides this morning," she says, ignoring his whining in favor of the stapled rough draft of his PowerPoint printed in note-view. "It's really amazing, what you've managed to glean from the rover sample."
"It's inconclusive still," Tooru replies, easily switching gears. "Just theory. I’d be getting ahead of myself if I said I was sure that the samples were a real match. But if it were true..." He drops his arms, setting one hand on the edge of his desk so as to tap his fingers. "Well, it will certainly give the space program something to think about."
"Not even thirty and already doing work like this." A piece of her gray-streaked hair slips free of her ponytail elastic, falling into her face. Tooru's not sure exactly how old Sasada is, but he knows she's over forty, and she has two kids in primary school. She'd come back to university to finish her PhD after having her sons, and Tooru's kind of amazed by her time management skills, because he always feels like there isn't enough time in his day to do everything he has to do, and his only responsibility at home is to take care of his favorite plant. "I ought to hate you, Oikawa, but mostly I'm just impressed. They did a profile on you on the Tokyo University homepage. Did you see it?"
"They chose a terrible photo," Tooru says loftily, with a smug smile. "But I will say, the best thing about coming into work is that everyone recognizes how wonderful I am~ My nephew thinks my work is gross and boring, and my friends just think it's weird."
"They're all jocks, right?" She sits on the edge of his desk, careful not to crumple any of the loose papers. "Ew."
"Excuse you, I was a jock," Tooru says, raising one eyebrow. "There's nothing wrong with jocks." He pauses. "And not all my friends are jocks. Yachi-chan isn’t a jock, and neither is Megumi."
"Oh, right," she muses. "But Yachi’s the one who managed a volleyball team in high school, right?" Then she grins. "By the way, a few photos of you in your high school volleyball uniform were circulating through the undergrad girls in the biology department last term."
"What?!" Tooru sits up straight in his chair, narrowing his eyes at her. "Where did they get those?"
"The internet, I assume." Sasada shakes her head. "Nothing anyone puts on the web ever truly disappears, Oikawa. I thought your generation was the expert on that sort of thing." She laughs at his suspicious face. "Anyway, is it true you’re friends with Iwaizumi Hajime?"
Tooru drops his eyes to his computer screen, reflexively hitting the command and s keys to save his in-progress handout. "Yes," he says. "He was my next door neighbor until we graduated high school, and we lived together for a couple of years, after that."
"You were flatmates with the captain of the Japanese Olympic volleyball team?" She whistles. "At least you're friends with high-spec jocks."
"Don't you have work to be doing?" Tooru asks, fixing a spelling mistake in his most recent bullet point. "I know I do."
"I want to talk about Iwaizumi, though." She looks back over at her own desk in their shared office and sighs. "Is he coming to your wedding? One of your groomsmen, maybe? C’mon, Oikawa, he’s much more interesting than these awful research squibs my seminar students have turned in. And much better to look at."
"Then go to the convenience store and buy some yogurt with his face on it, and let me work," Tooru replies, cracking his knuckles and trying to focus on the screen. Still, an image of Hajime, wearing his national team uniform and smiling into a television camera with the gold medal hanging around his neck, lingers, superimposed over three-hundred words describing the problems with dating certain types of preserved insects. He shakes his head to clear it, not wanting to think about him at all.
He’s not sure if Hajime is coming to his wedding or not. He hasn’t returned the RSVP yet. There are still a couple weeks left, though, before they’re due.
There was a time when Hajime would have been his best man.
"Fine, fine," Sasada agrees, pushing off from Tooru’s desk and returning to her side of the room. "Have it your way, Oikawa. You’d better be fun again after this conference."
"I’m always fun," he says, before wetting his lips and beginning the next section of his handout.
He fishes his phone out of his pocket, quickly scrolling through his contacts to select Hanamaki, and bringing it up to his ear as it starts to ring.
"You're not dead?" Hanamaki asks when he answers, sounding like he couldn't care one way or the other. Tooru huffs into the phone as he sandwiches it between his cheek and his shoulder while trying to find the right set of keys in his bag to let himself into his building, shivering slightly when early spring wind cuts through the thin material of his dress shirt. "Pity."
"Makki, how could you say that?" He finally seizes the right keyring, and pulls it out triumphantly as the security guard watches from inside the glass doors, unimpressed. "Of course I'm not dead, what kind of question is that?!"
"Oh, it's just been two weeks since I called you to ask for your opinion about the groomsmen tuxes for your wedding, so since you didn't call back, I'd just assumed that something had gone wrong in your lab and you'd died. Like in the beginning of Jurassic Park." He pauses a moment. "I was already taking notes for things to include in your obituary."
"With friends like you, who needs enemies?" Tooru lets himself into his building, smiling sunnily at the security guard, who, in Tooru's opinion, could have let him in, and heading past him to the elevator. "You know I'm swamped this week with work."
"This is your wedding, Oikawa. You can take five minutes to chose pocket-square colors, especially since we both know if I choose them for you, you'll complain about what I pick for the rest of eternity."
Tooru adjusts his bag on his shoulder and then selects the fifth floor. "I would never, Makki. I trust my friends to do right by me."
"Yeah, right," replies Hanamaki. "We'd be eighty-five and you'd still be bitching at me about tie patterns." He sighs. "Besides, I'm not Iwaizumi. I can't read your mind."
"Iwa-chan can't read my mind either!" Tooru steps out of the elevator into the long corridor. The hardwood floor beneath his feet is smooth and unscuffed, as new as this building. "He'd have to be around to read my mind, don't you think?"
Hanamaki clears his throat, letting Tooru's comment pass without remark. "Well, now that you've deigned to return my call-"
"You're welcome," Tooru interjects, cutting off the scolding and fingering his key as he stops in front of the flat he and Megumi had picked out four months ago. "I'm glad you recognize the honor I'm bestowing."
"You're almost unbearable, Oikawa. Anyway, I need to put in an order for waistcoats, bowties, and pocket-squares for the Western part of the wedding by Friday. Did you even look at the e-mail I sent you?"
"Of course I did," Tooru replies. He stares at his front door, trying to recall the contents of Hanamaki's excruciatingly long missive from Monday. He'd scanned it for a few minutes, before one of his undergrads had popped in to ask him about grasshopper tracheal systems, and he'd gotten lost in a forty minute explanation about the holes in the thoraxes of most insects, and how that had created major plot flaws in the last season of Super Sentai, relegating wedding colors back to the deep, dark abyss they, in Tooru's opinion, belong in. "Um."
"Liar." This time, Hanamaki sounds amused. "You started reading it and then got distracted, right?"
"And you say you can't read my mind~!"
"I've just known you for over ten years, loser." Hanamaki laughs. "Was I right? If I was, Yahaba owes me a thousand yen." At Tooru’s strangled protest, his laugh gets louder. "Look over them tonight and reply to my e-mail, all right? Otherwise I’m sending Matsukawa over to stand at your door with a color chart until you submit."
"Makki-chan, that’s no way to treat your captain!" A pause, and Tooru’s hand tightens on his keyring. "Hey, don’t… order anything until I tell you so." He finally puts the key into the lock and turns it as Hanamaki makes a low sound in the back of his throat.
"Whatever," he says, then hangs up as Tooru pushes open his front door.
He tosses his bag and phone onto the floor of the genkan, and cradles his still barely warm coffee in both hands as he slips out of his shoes. The light from the living room is on, meaning Megumi is here.
She isn’t in the living room, when he wanders in further, or in the kitchen, where he stops to put his coffee cup onto the edge of the island Megumi had insisted on during their flat-search, out of reach of the overgrown Venus flytrap he’d insisted on keeping. "Megumi-chan?"
Dropping his keys on the side table next to the sofa and his bag next to his desk, he ventures deeper into the apartment in search of her. He hadn’t expected to see her tonight.
She’s in his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bedside table and looking at a scattered collection of her clothes. She looks up at his entrance, her eyeliner running under her eyes and her lashes clumped from crying. "I thought you’d be petty enough to change the locks," she says, and Tooru rests his weight against the doorframe. "But my key still works."
"I bought this place with you in mind," Tooru says, swallowing. "Why would I change the lock?"
She smiles at him, but it’s completely devoid of mirth. There’s a run in her stockings, he notes absently. She looks a mess, like she’s lost sleep. Tooru wonders what he looks like, to her.
She rubs at her left eye with the heel of her palm, smearing the black across her face like military war paint. "Like I said, I thought you’d be petty enough. I’m leaving you, after all, and we both know how you handle not getting your way."
I’m leaving you, Megumi’d said, setting the ring on the table between them, pursing red lips.
And there are hundreds upon hundreds of reasons that Tooru loves insects, ranging from the fact that cockroaches can live an entire week without a head to the absolute, amazing truth that Hercules beetles can lift up to eight-hundred-and-fifty times their own bodyweight, which is basically like a person casually lifting ten elephants.
Another thing about insects, Tooru thinks, remembering Megumi’s shaking lower lip, trembling then just like it is right now, is that they usually don’t mate for life. Sure, there are termite queens that take one male in their entire lifetime, and that termite king fathers the entire termite colony. There are also mosquitoes, of course, but mosquitos spend most of their lives as larvae and then, when they transform into their adult mosquito forms, they mate, and produce a single batch of eggs. It’s very easy, Tooru assumes, to find your life-mate when all one does is reproduce exactly once and then go out and die.
Tooru is pretty sure he could manage the mating habits of a mosquito. It’s the mating habits of people he can’t seem to get right, no matter how good he used to be at reading his opponents during a volleyball match. He looks at Megumi’s bare hand, and then reaches into his pocket to touch the ring he’s been carrying around with him all week. "Why?"
"I already told you," she says, dropping down to her knees to scoop up an armful of the clothing she’s already ripped off the hangers. "Because there’s nothing left for me."
"But I love you," Tooru says, and he hates the way it comes out as a question. He doesn’t mean it that way, really. Tooru loves everyone he’s ever dated, in a way, but Megumi had been the best match for him of them all. Beautiful, smart, refined, independent, and never hesitating about what she wants. Tooru admires her, first and foremost, and he likes her personality and her looks, too. "I—"
"Tooru, you don’t." She chokes back as sob, and Tooru’s own eyes feel wet. He blinks back tears, because he hasn’t cried while getting dumped in ten years, and even if he feels weighed down by more than a Hercules beetle can possibly lift, he’s grown up enough that he won’t now. "You love the idea of me, but it feels like you’re always measuring me against someone else."
"Who?" Tooru demands, running a hand through his hair, gripping the engagement ring tight enough that it’s cutting into his fingers. "You know all of my friends, and I’ve given so much of myself to my work that I don’t have the time—" His words catch in his frustration, and he takes a deep breath, feeling red climb his neck and settle in his cheeks. "What is this actually about? Am I not good enough for you?"
"Good enough?" She shakes her hair out of her face, and starts packing things into the suitcase he’d bought her for their trip to Beijing last fall, not bothering to fold anything. It’s unlike her. She’s neat in all the ways Tooru is sloppy. "It’s not— Do you remember when you introduced me to your friends?" She pauses, clutching a yellow sweatshirt of his he’d let her keep, and tosses it back onto the floor. "Iwaizumi told me, then, that I was going to have to forgive you a lot, because you were obsessive and single-minded, and sometimes you could only think about one thing at a time."
"Iwa-chan?" Tooru runs his tongue over his teeth.
Ignoring his question, she keeps packing. "If I thought that was all it was, I would be okay, you know? But that isn’t it. There’s something you’re looking for, and I don’t have it. I see it every time you try to talk to me about something you’re interested in, and I don’t know how to reply, or when you tell me some story from high school and I don’t get the joke." She shakily inhales. "There are too many ways I don’t understand you, Tooru."
Tooru reaches out for her, then changes his mind, letting his hand fall.
"You won’t let me close enough to get to know you." Her hands aren’t steady. "No matter how handsome you are, or how well you flirt, you can’t make up for the fact that—" She stops talking, just sighs, and then slams the suitcase closed. A sock gets caught in the zipper, and she rips a hole in it rather than bothering to reverse the path of the tongue back down the zip to free it. The zipper is probably ruined now, with all those pieces of cotton sock poking out between the shut black plastic teeth, Tooru notes vaguely. Then he realizes it probably doesn’t matter, because you don’t keep the matching suitcase you bought with someone you’re throwing away. "Never mind. You don’t get it. I… just call me, and we’ll split the costs of whatever we can’t cancel for the wedding."
"Right," he says, numbly, letting her push past him and into the hall. He hears her leave, the door slamming too hard, and sinks to his knees.
Alone in his bedroom, he holds up the engagement ring he gave to Megumi six months ago, almost exactly, with a single diamond in the center and with sapphires the color of Japanese dragonfly legs on either side. Adult dragonflies only live six months. He’d learned that knee deep in a rice field with his senior thesis advisor, exactly seven adult dragonfly life-cycles after he’d quit playing volleyball.
And since there’s no one here to see, he lets himself cry.
"How’d it go?" Hajime had asked, thrusting a plastic bag in Tooru’s general direction when Tooru sat down next to him on the bench, his jacket over one arm and his calculator in the other. Hajime’s shirt was rumpled and his eyes were sleepy; he looked, to Tooru, like he’d fallen asleep on the bench waiting, dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks and jaw unshaven. Hajime’d had practice until late in the night, and Tooru had gone to bed before he had even come home, and left before Hajime’d awoken to come for the exam.
"Child’s play," Tooru had said, feigning a dismissiveness he hadn’t really felt. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
Things between them had drifted, lately, like Tooru was caught up in a river current dragging him downstream and Hajime was only watching from the shore as he was carried away. He hadn’t even expected Hajime to be home when he returned to their shared apartment that afternoon. There were always F.C. Tokyo practices on Thursday afternoons. Tooru had hated them, because he’d always stayed late and missed the X-Files reruns that aired around nine in the evening.
"Because." Hajime’d pointed at the plastic bag, and when Tooru opened it, he’d found a bottle of juice and his favorite packaged bread. He’d looked up to see Hajime with his gaze on some unidentifiable object in the distance. "You didn’t eat breakfast, so…"
Tooru had smiled, then, the knot of tension in his chest that had been steadily growing larger over the past few days loosening, letting him breathe. "Aww, Iwa-chan, were you worried about me?" He’d leaned closer, until their shoulders had bumped, and his mouth was close enough to Hajime’s ear to make sure Hajime’d get annoyed. "You know, I already have a mom!"
And it was nothing Tooru hadn’t done a thousand times, or maybe a hundred thousand, even, but Hajime had tensed up, spreading one hand out across Tooru’s chest and pushing, not hard, but enough that Tooru had to catch himself, gripping the back of the bench in surprise as he stared at his friend.
A muscle in Hajime’s jaw twitched, and he pulled his hand away like touching Tooru burned. "Practice," he’d said, glaring fixedly at the ground, his brow furrowed.
"Iwa-chan?" Hajime had been physically close enough to touch, but Tooru had felt like maybe his best friend had never been further away. Drifting, he’d thought. Drifting.
"Eat the bread, idiot," Hajime’d replied gruffly, standing up and dusting off his tracksuit bottoms. "If you starve to death your sister might miss you."
Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Tooru had opened the bread. The smell of it made his stomach grumble. "Not just her. It would be a national tragedy," he’d replied, somehow, forcing himself to laugh. "You’d miss me the most, though, Iwa-chan! Who would you nag if I weren’t around?"
Hajime’s mouth had twisted into something between a grimace and a grin, and he’d finally met Tooru’s eyes. The shadow in them was unreadable to Tooru, who’d always, until recently, known Hajime best. "I dunno," Hajime’d said, and Tooru had waited for him to say something else, but Hajime had just shrugged. "You should get some sleep, Shittykawa. You look exhausted."
"Lies. I am flawless and beautiful, and you are simply jealous because you’re swarthy and unshaven." He’d paused. "Thanks for breakfast."
"It’s lunch time, idiot," Hajime’d said, as he’d turned around to leave Tooru alone on the bench, watching other test-takers wander out of the building in an exam haze.
Tooru had watched him go, nibbling at the bread and wondering how much further away from him Hajime was going to get.
It’s easier, he decides, to dedicate his thoughts to Mars than what’s happening here on Earth. To focus on the part of his life that is going according to plan instead of the part that has suddenly, unexpectedly, gone off the rails.
He thinks he’s holding it together well enough until he meets Yachi for lunch on Friday, for the first time in a few months, and she looks at him with those wide, puppy-dog eyes of hers and asks him if something terrible has happened.
"Of course not," he says, grinning at her, but her expression doesn’t change, and he busies himself with the menu to keep from having to engage with her too-knowing stare. She won’t press him, he knows, because she’s sweet and kind and not nosey at all. (Not like Hanamaki, who stares at Tooru like Tooru is one of his own specimens on the glass under a microscope, or like Yahaba, who attempts to reason things out of him with good-natured smiles to disguise his secret dark thirst for knowledge.) But since Tooru had gotten to know Yachi during his first year of university, through a Miyagi Prefecture sports fundraising event of all things, he’s always found it hard not to spill his guts when she looks at him like that. "I have a very important presentation on Monday, as you know, that will probably impact my project funding for the next few years."
"You like giving presentations, Oikawa," Yachi replies, twiddling her thumbs as she watches him. He can feel her eyes on him even if he refuses to look. "Um, you like when everyone’s looking at you, and you’re confident about your research, so…" She picks up her menu, and then puts it back down again. "So something… else is bothering you?"
It’s so soft; a request for information, really, and Tooru really hates how good she is at making him tell her things. "I’m not getting married," he says.
It sounds better that way in his head. 'I’m not getting married' makes it sound like a choice, or like a decision, instead of like Tooru has been dumped three months before the ceremony.
Yachi’s mouth has formed a perfect 'O' of shock when he finally looks at her. "You’re… not?"
"No," Tooru replies. "I’m not." His hands, against his volition, are gripping the menu too tightly. "It’s going to be a real hassle dealing with all the cancellations. I’m a busy man, after all." His voice cracks, but just slightly. High school him wouldn’t have been able to keep everything this in check, and a part of him is glad he’s gotten so much better at handling misery that he can almost go about his normal life.
The server comes over, setting a glass of water in front of each of them, and Tooru orders the first thing on the menu after Yachi carefully selects some pasta with seafood.
They sit without speaking for a while, Yachi fiddling with her silverware, her napkin and the tablecloth, growing more agitated as the silence between them lengthens. It’s cute, he thinks idly. She’s always been cute, even when she was a bit player to him as a Karasuno manager, back before he’d gotten to know her as a person.
Eventually, she sighs, and leans forward, tentatively resting the tips of her fingers a few centimeters from where Tooru’s hand rests next to his water glass. "What happened?"
"Oh, you know how it is," Tooru says. "It’s just unfair to the world to tie myself down so early—"
"Oikawa-san," Yachi interrupts sternly, and then flushes when he gapes at her. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you! It’s just—" She waves both hands in front of herself, her whole face pink. "It’s just your face is so sad, and it doesn’t match what you’re saying, and it’s—!" She bites her lower lip.
Studying her for a long moment, Tooru digs into his pocket and pulls out the ring. "Megumi gave this back to me," he says, quietly. "I’m not sure why."
Yachi watches the ring catch the light in his hands. She and Yahaba had helped him pick it out, back when he had first decided to propose, because Matsukawa’s taste in jewelry is horrific and Hanamaki wouldn’t have taken the job seriously. And Hajime… well, Hajime’d been preparing for World’s, Tooru supposes. Too busy to answer calls, apparently, and it had left a bitter enough taste in the back of his mouth that he hadn’t bothered to try again.
"She didn’t tell you anything?" Yachi asks.
"She did. She told me I was measuring her against someone else, and there was nothing left of me for her." Tooru turns his head so he can look out the window. "I don’t know who I’d be measuring her against. I don’t…" He nibbles at his upper lip, letting the skin catch between his teeth, and returns his gaze to Yachi, who is watching him carefully. "And there’s plenty of me, obviously. I’ve been told I’m quite a catch." He winks at her, but his heart’s not in it, and with the way her face softens even more, she can tell. But she rewards him with a tiny grin for his efforts, at least.
"I’m sorry," she says, gently.
"It’s just…" He swallows. "I’m almost thirty, and I’ve figured out everything else. After…" After volleyball, he thinks, but he doesn’t want to say that. He licks his lips. "After I had to change focus, I studied and I got into university. I’m respected in my field and I’m good at what I do, and I thought…" He lets it trail off, watching a bead of condensation from his cold water roll down the side of the glass. "With Megumi, I thought I’d figured out the last bit of the puzzle." Frowning, he watches the bead of water disappear into the white tablecloth.
"You know, the three tenants of a successful man," Tooru says, holding up three fingers and dropping them one by one. "Rewarding job, financial security, and a good marriage."
That’s what his mother had told him once, when he’d just turned twenty-one, before he’d decided to take the entrance exams. She’d been looking at his sister, who’d only managed one of the three, with a carefully neutral expression that made Tooru want to stand in between them so his mother couldn’t look at her like that. "A successful man gets married when he’s thirty," she’d said, and Tooru had kept the number in the back of his mind like a deadline.
"Um." Yachi squirms uncomfortably in her chair. "Don’t you think…" She shakes her head, biting back whatever she’s wanting to say with force. "Never mind." She laughs nervously.
"Don’t do that," Tooru says, reaching across the table to poke her forehead. "Just say whatever it is you’re thinking!"
She gives him a tentative smile. "It’s just… the way you said that…" She tugs at a long blond pigtail. "That’s the reason you want to get married. Not the reason you want to get married to Megumi-chan!"
Sucking his lower lip into his mouth, Tooru examines Yachi’s earnest expression. "The idea of her," he says, finally. "That was another one of the reasons she told me she wouldn’t marry me."
"If it were me," Yachi says, looking at him earnestly, "I wouldn’t be happy if someone wanted to marry me because they thought they were at the right age to get married."
Tooru looks again at the ring, still sitting between them on the table. "So you think she was right, to leave me?" He takes a shuddering breath. "I’ve been carrying this around, thinking she’ll call and say she’s changed her mind. But she’s not going to change her mind, is she?"
Yachi just looks at him with big, sappy eyes, and Tooru picks up the ring and shoves it back into his pocket.
Their food arrives, and Tooru picks at his, turning over their conversation as Yachi slurps at her noodles, watching him but giving him space to think.
As they’re leaving the restaurant, Tooru having footed the bill, he gets a text from Hanamaki.
Color choices for the groomsmen, it says, and Tooru ignores it, shoving his phone into his pocket as he heads back to campus for his office hours.
"I met this girl," he’d told Hajime and Matsukawa over drinks. "At the wedding." He tapped his nails on his beer glass, making it clink, because he loved the way Hajime’s eyebrow twitched in irritation at noises like that. "She’s interesting, so I’m going to ask her out."
He’d expected questions about her, but Matsukawa just took a sip of his beer, shooting a quick look at Hajime before setting his glass down with a heavy thump. The silence had been odd, and heavy, and Hajime had been the one who ultimately broke it. "Well, what’s she like?"
Tooru had pouted, put out by their lack of interest. "Now I don’t want to tell you," he’d said, crossing his arms petulantly. "Since you’re not appropriately enthusiastic!"
"You have a new girlfriend every week," Hajime had replied, staring down at the table. "Why, exactly, should we be enthusiastic?"
"Her name is Megumi." Tooru had steamrolled right over Hajime’s usual protestations about Tooru sharing the details of his active love life. Hajime had been a grumbly mess about anyone Tooru dated since they were sixteen, mostly, Tooru had always assumed, because Hajime was clearly incapable of getting a date. "She’s a lawyer, and she has very long legs."
"So ask her out, go on your usual one or two dates, and I’ll meet you back here next week to see what new girl you’re interested in," said Matsukawa, dismissively.
"I’m not sure she’ll agree to go out with me." Tooru sighed wistfully, resting his cheek on his palm. "Which means her worst quality might be her taste, honestly. She was mean like Iwa-chan~"
"I’m not mean, Trashykawa," Hajime had replied, reflexively, not looking up. Tooru’d gotten used to that, from Hajime. "You’d just try the patience of a saint."
"Don’t be jealous because I’m charming, Iwa-chan." Tooru had rested one hand on Hajime’s forearm, and ignored the way the muscles tightened under his fingertips. "A little effort and you wouldn’t be romantically hopeless, you know. I’m sure there’s a girl out there who would forgive your eyebrows~"
"Shut up," Hajime had said, picking Tooru’s hand up off his arm and setting it on the table. "There’s nothing wrong with my eyebrows."
"Oh, Iwa-chan," Tooru’d replied, "everything is wrong with your eyebrows," and Hajime had scowled at him, looking him directly in the eyes for the first time all night, lips curling down at the corners. "The rest of your face isn’t too bad though. I could find you a girl."
"Not interested," Hajime’d said shortly, and he’d pulled his wallet out of his pocket, tossing out a few bills to cover his portion of the check. "I should head out."
"Are you getting old, Iwa-chan? You’re always leaving first, these days," Tooru had said, having had enough to drink that instead of coming out playful it had spilled out more bitter than the beer they’d been drinking all night.
Hajime’d sighed, closing his eyes and leaning back in his seat. "Yeah," he’d said, his voice thick and Tooru hated so much that he couldn’t read the emotion in it; that he didn’t understand Hajime and that every metaphorical serve he sent him crashed un-hit to the gym floor. "Old and tired, Shittykawa."
Matsukawa had nudged Hajime with his knee, and Hajime had smiled crookedly.
"One more round, then," he’d said, but Tooru hadn’t felt like it was a victory, at all.
His presentation had gone perfectly, none of the post-presentation questions had stumped him, and he’d gotten a pretty loud clap at the end of it, as well as hearty congratulations from everyone in the department. He’d basked in the glow of his hard-earned accolades, and let everything else slip away for a while, but with one reminder Tooru is back firmly in the entirety of his life.
She laughs. "Most popular lecturer among the undergrads, successful personal life, and everyone’s been talking about your research today. What’s it like having your life so together?"
"It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it," Tooru replies, with a mega-watt grin to disguise the swift downturn in his mood. He catches Sasada’s eye, and she sidles up next to him with a brief inquisitive look before she smoothly inserts herself into the conversation, taking the pressure off him to respond.
"Worn out from today," he says to her. "It’s tough, being so popular!"
"I hate you," she says with a laugh, and takes it at face value, and Tooru floats through the rest of the evening on autopilot.
Hanamaki calls him as he’s walking toward the train station, heading back to his empty apartment. "It’s Monday," he says. "I distinctly recall telling you to reply to my e-mail before Friday, asshole."
Tooru stops outside the station, out of the rush of the stragglers heading home from after work drinks or overtime hours. "Oh, did you? Sorry, it’s just everything you write is so boring that I could barely get through it—"
"Now, I gave you some slack, because you had that conference or whatever today, but if you don’t tell me a color right now, so help me God, Oikawa, everything’s going to be fucking plaid—"
"No color," Tooru says, and it’s this moment, right now— not Megumi packing her things or admitting to Yachi that she wasn’t going to change her mind, but this moment, right now, with Hanamaki waiting patiently for him to choose suit colors on the other end of the line, that makes it all real for Tooru.
"Like… black?" Hanamaki says, after a few seconds.
Tooru takes a slow breath, watching a couple of high schoolers walk hand-in-hand down into the subway. "No, like don’t reserve anything, because I’m not getting married."
"What the fuck?" Hanamaki’s usually calm voice is agitated. "Since when?"
"Well," Tooru says, pulling at his tie, because all of a sudden it’s strangling him. "Since now, I guess."
"Where are you?" Hanamaki asks, and Tooru gives him the name of the subway station. "I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Buy yourself some curry bread and wait for me."
Sadness had been something Tooru had to wrestle with alone for a while, whenever it would creep up on him. Probably because feeling sad always made him feel guilty, too. Like it was stupid to be sad, when his life trudged ever forward on a good track and nothing was ever really wrong.
Hajime would always find him, eventually, on one of the two swings, rocking back and forth. "What are you moping about?"
"Do you ever think about how small we are, when the universe is so big?" Tooru had asked Hajime once, when they’d been sixteen and the insides of Tooru’s forearms had become nothing more than dark purple bruises from bad jump serves.
"You’re a dweeb." Hajime had pushed at Tooru’s swing. "This isn’t another one of your aliens are totally real, Iwa-chan, I mean it, I watched a documentary things, is it?"
Laughing despite the tightness in his chest, Tooru scrunched up his nose. "Not really. Just thinking about how our whole lives might be meaningless."
"It doesn’t really matter how big the universe is, does it?" Hajime had sat next to him, in the other swing, and kicked himself into motion. "It doesn’t matter if there really is a whole bunch of other worlds out there. This one matters to us."
Tooru had hummed softly, keeping his eyes fixed up on the sky, even though there was still too much light from the fading sun to see the stars yet. "Sometimes volleyball tournaments feel like everything, but then I remember that there are eight other planets…" Tooru pushed off, sending his swing a bit higher, "or seven, maybe, if you don’t count Pluto, I guess, but… That’s just our solar system. There are more, with their own planets, and… it feels like what does it matter? Does anything we do matter?"
"That’s the kind of shit you’re thinking about out here?" Hajime had rolled his eyes, and then pointed to the ground at the edge of the metal support of the swing set, where ants piled out of their anthill, moving toward a dropped sandwich crust just beyond the mulch. "Look at those ants. Are they wondering about how much bigger we are than them? No, Trashykawa, they’re not. They’re wondering how they’re going to break that crust into pieces to take back home, because that’s their goal, just like your goal is beating Ushijima."
"Iwa-chan, are you comparing me to an ant?" Tooru’s hands had tightened around the chains of the swing. "Does that mean Ushiwaka is a sandwich crust, in this analogy?"
"Sure, whatever," Hajime had said. "The point is, you don’t have to worry about stuff bigger than you. You can focus on the stuff you can see, for now, and there’s nothing silly about that."
"What if the stuff I can see is scarier than thinking about all the bigger things?" The sun dipped lower, and the sky slowly flooded purple. "What then?"
"Then you’ve got me," Hajime had replied, with a slow, crooked grin. "I’ll remind you that you’re doing all right, most of the time, for an ant." He pumped his legs, sending his swing higher, to match Tooru’s. "But if you’re late to practice again because you’re taking photos with the first year girls again, I’m going to squash you under my shoe, do you hear me?!"
"Yeah," Tooru had said, taking a deep breath as he let the swing slow. "I hear you."
They’d stayed that night until the sun was gone completely, and watched as the ants had taken nearly the entire crust away, tiny bit by tiny bit.
"You can't hide the ugly inside forever," replies Hanamaki, refilling Tooru's wine glass, all the way up to the brim. Empty bottles sit in front of Tooru at their small table, shimmering grimly with the promise of a truly spectacular hangover.
"That's helpful," slurs Tooru, tongue gone alcohol-thick from too many previous glasses to keep count. "I was counting on you guys to cheer me up, not make me feel even worse about myself. Take your job seriously!"
"You're being a little melodramatic, Captain." Matsukawa lifts one thick eyebrow when Tooru turns his tired, heavy eyes on his friend miserably. Tooru hasn't actually slept in a couple of days, too anxious at the thought of everything crumbling to fall asleep, and the alcohol isn't doing much to improve his mental acuity. "We're here, making sure you don't eventually pass out in your own vomit in public. On a Monday, no less. That's real friendship, considering some of us have work tomorrow at nine."
"It doesn't count if the reason I pass out is because you've kicked me while I'm down," Tooru replies, lifting his head from Hanamaki's shoulder and resting his cheek on the cool dark wood of the table, turned away from both his friends and out towards the packed Western style pub. Even for a Monday, the Aldgate is lively, packed with its usual combination of homesick foreigners and raucous salarymen, and old British rock music plays loud enough that they’re all yelling at each other to be heard. Two tweedy looking guys in deconstructed business suits, sweaty with beer glow, are doing push-up penalties for swearing in front of a sadistic looking bartender as a crowd gathers around them to laugh. It’s chaos, and that's why Tooru likes this place, really; he likes vivid, exciting places, even when he's sad. Maybe especially when he’s sad, because feeling sad leaves him hollow, and it’s the noise and the energy that fills him up enough to pretend at the contentment all the rest of his friends seem to find so easy. "Although, to be honest, there probably isn't much lower to go." He takes a gulp of wine.
"The wedding is in three months." Hanamaki lifts his own wine glass, swirling it around so it leaves a red film briefly along the sides of the glass, and with his free hand he pats Tooru on the back. "She probably... She hasn't really left, right? Maybe she's just angry?"
She hadn’t been angry. She’d been sad, and when Tooru hadn’t understood she’d looked at him like he was… like he didn’t work right. Tooru’s always been a little bit afraid that might be true.
"She left the necklace with our initials on it I gave her for Christmas next to the Venus flytrap by the fruit bowl, and wouldn’t take the engagement ring back when she came a week later to get her stuff from the apartment. She’s not coming back."
"Next to the Venus flytrap?" Matsukawa asks, surprised. "The one Iwaizumi gave you for graduation five years ago? That thing is still alive?"
"And you keep it in your kitchen?" Hanamaki tacks on, with what Tooru deems is unnecessary emphasis on location. Flytraps eat flies, and flies like ripe fruit. It’s the only thing that had made sense, in Tooru’s opinion, even if Megumi had always found it strange, and always hesitated to grab anything from the bowl.
"Of course it's still alive," Tooru replies. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of a plant!" He puts his hand over his eyes to block out some of the bar's dim lighting. "I am a scientist."
"You're obsessive and you never go home," says a smooth voice behind him, and familiar fingers slide up into his hair, nails scratching lightly into his scalp and tugging at forever unruly strands. "I never expected it to live more than a month through your negligence."
Tooru balefully looks up at Hajime, who is wearing clean, dressier-than-expected clothes, the sleeves rolled up almost to the elbow and the top three buttons undone at his neck, showing off a tanned throat, still sunkissed from South America. He hadn’t even known Hajime was going to the other side of the world, but Matsukawa had mentioned it offhand, when Tooru had quietly asked if Hajime was coming tonight after his first few glasses of wine. "You gave me a gift you thought I'd kill? You’re so cruel, Iwa-chan~"
Hajime snorts, narrowing his eyes as he studies Tooru closely, taking in the rumpled dress shirt that Tooru hadn’t gotten the chance to change out of, and maybe the dyed tips of Tooru’s fingers from his ill-fated adventure on Friday helping Sasada tag the new Fukushima Zizeeria butterflies.
"I gave you a gift I thought you'd like," he says, after a long moment. "You're more of a mess than usual, right now."
"My fiancée dumped me," Tooru replies. "I'm allowed to be a mess!" He sits up, dislodging Hajime's fingers. His head is spinning, and only Hanamaki's hand on his back is keeping him from falling off his chair. "And all my friends are just picking on me! You're the absolute worst friends."
"At least we’re buying you a lot of wine," Matsukawa adds.
"Maybe not the absolute worst friends," Tooru generously concedes. "But still pretty low in the general quality ranking of friends. You’re like the dung beetles of friendship. I mean, sure you have really great horns like a bull, but you’re also, you know, full of shit."
"No one is more full of shit than you," Hanamaki says, grimacing in Tooru's general direction. "Second of all, why did you have to become obsessed with bugs?"
"He thinks they look like aliens," Hajime says, sitting down across from Tooru, close enough that, in the cool bar, Tooru can feel the heat of him, but not close enough that their thighs might brush. "It's just wish fulfillment."
Hajime's hair is disheveled, grown out a bit longer than he used to like it. Tooru hasn't seen him in four months, despite the fact that they live in the same city. Hasn't seen him for longer than thirty minutes at a time since he'd proposed to Megumi.
"They pay you," Tooru says, running his tongue along his teeth, "much more to study bugs than they do to study UFOs, despite the fact that bugs are clear proof that there's life out there."
"And now Oikawa’s doing that research on the Mars rock samples," Matsukawa says. He's cradling the same beer he's been drinking since they walked in two hours ago. "Maybe he’s getting the last laugh."
"Or he reread Ender's Game one time too many," Hanamaki mutters, just loudly enough for Tooru to hear, and Tooru shoots him a betrayed look of shock. "Don't look at me like that! It's all you did the last two years of undergrad after you quit volleyball."
"He's got a point, Shittykawa," Hajime says, meeting eyes with a wandering server to order a drink. He asks for an aged whiskey, and the server, beautiful and flirtatious, grins at him and nods, taking her time jotting down what he wants on a thin notepad, leaning forward just enough to flash a large swath of her collarbones and for her hair to catch the light. Hajime doesn't seem to notice, just thanking her with that crooked, awkward, lost-boy grin he always scrounges up for girls, and rests his callused fingers around one of the stacked clean water glasses, filling it from the pitcher with the other hand. "I was your roommate, and that's definitely all you did."
Tooru takes another long gulp of his wine. They've finished a third bottle. He should probably stop, but he doesn't have work tomorrow thanks to the conference, and there's no one back at home to care if he stumbles in drunk or spends the night hugging the toilet. There's no one at home, because his fiancée has left him, and the apartment he'd signed the lease for ten weeks ago, with an extra bedroom for the kid he's never been sure he wants, has only one occupant, and that's Tooru.
"Hey now," Matsukawa says, leaning across the table to poke at Tooru's forehead. "Go back to being all pissy at us. It was better than the rain cloud look."
"All my looks are good," Tooru informs Matsukawa in return, crossing his eyes trying to glare at the finger touching right between his brows.
"Not the one you're making right now," Hanamaki says, before shooting a considering glance at the empty wine bottle, right as the server returns with Hajime's drink. "Do you want to order another bottle?"
Hajime takes a careful sip of his whiskey. It must past muster, because he follows it up with a longer pull, before setting it down on the table. Then he pushes his half-empty water glass at Tooru. "Drink this instead."
"I don't want water," Tooru says, leaning further into Hanamaki and stretching his legs out under the table until they bump Hajime's. Hajime quickly pulls his legs away, and Tooru's tempted to stretch even further and tangle their legs together, just to see Hajime try to casually run away from the touch. "Water is for people who want to feel their face."
"Or," Hajime says, "for people who don't want to die of alcohol poisoning."
"Why'd you bother to come if you were just going to nag me?" Tooru lifts his wine glass pointedly, and drains it. "It's not like you've bothered to be around lately, and I could have done without lectures."
Hanamaki shifts uncomfortably as Matsukawa averts his gaze, and Hajime bends forward, elbows on the edge of the table and hands folded around his tumbler. "I'm not lecturing you, dumbass." He spins the tumbler with his thumbs, tracing the outline of the inlaid square pattern. "If I were lecturing you, I'd use a volleyball."
"And your eyebrows would scrunch together like this," Tooru says, imitating Hajime's signature glare. Matsukawa, who's just taken a sip of water, chokes on it.
"I don't look like that!" Hajime says, his brows doing exactly that, and Hanamaki snickers quietly into Tooru's ear.
"Don't worry, Iwa-chan, that's not the worst part of your face." Tooru toys with the stem of his wine glass. "Or maybe you should worry, since my face is flawless and even I can't keep a girl." He laughs, and even drunk, he knows it probably sounds terrible.
The furrow between Hajime's brows deepens, and his mouth curls down at the edges in one of his neutral frowns. "Sometimes relationships don't work out the way we want them to," he says, eyes on the golden liquid in the tumbler he's still spinning in the circle of his large hands. "Your personality is shitty but it's not completely unlikeable."
"Every good professor is a little eccentric." Tooru arches one eyebrow, and quirks his almost numb mouth into a sly grin. "I'll have you know on my end of term reviews in January I received top marks for approachability and communication skills."
"It doesn't count if they only have to deal with your nonsense for three hours a week," says Hanamaki.
"I suppose you're right," Tooru says. "After all, it's only the people I hang out with the most that get tired of me." He barely keeps his grin from falling as his stomach lurches. "Right, Iwa-chan?"
Hajime doesn't reply. He just watches Tooru, his eyes darker than usual in the dim lighting of the bar. He's stopped spinning his tumbler, his thumbs settling for tracing the square ridges in the glass that make up the tumbler's pattern.
"Nothing to say?" Tooru closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. When he opens them again, Hanamaki and Matsukawa are sharing a glance, and Hajime is staring down at his whiskey.
Tooru extends an arm across the table and steals it from him. A little of it sloshes onto his fingers as he slides it toward himself, so he licks them before bringing the tumbler up to his lips and taking a long sip.
Hajime's frown deepens, and Tooru beams at him. "That's what you get for ignoring me, Iwa-chan!" He leans his head on Hanamaki's shoulder again at a wave of dizziness, the whiskey tumbler precariously close to the edge of the table where he's set it to rest, his hand still gripping it. "I hate being ignored." He nuzzles Hanamaki's soft cotton shirt. "I still feel sad. Makki-chan, more wine."
"All right," Hanamaki says, slowly, as Matsukawa shrugs and shoves a handful of beer nuts into his mouth, "I suppose at this point, one more bottle of wine won't hurt."
"Wine doesn't hurt," Tooru says. "Wine is fruit, and fruit is good for you."
Through barely open eyes, Tooru watches Hajime visibly bite back a protest. Tooru licks his lips, and tastes whiskey.
"Are you sure you're a scientist?" Matsukawa teases, and Tooru laughs, taking another sip of Hajime's drink.
Hajime makes no effort to reclaim it.
Another bottle of wine, along with the rest of the stolen whiskey, definitely hurts, and as last call brings the servers around with receipts notifying them of their closed tabs, glasses being picked up en masse as the bar prepares to close, Tooru barely makes it two steps from the table before he stumbles forward, narrowly avoiding crashing into a busboy laden down with a tray of stacked glasses. Hajime's arm comes around his stomach, pulling him back into a warm chest, and Tooru falls backwards instead of forwards. "Easy there, Oikawa," Hajime says, right into his ear, before he pulls away. He doesn't leave Tooru completely, though, his hand dragging across Tooru's belly and coming to a stop at the side of his waist.
Tooru rests against Hajime for balance as they make their way outside, and Hajime smells like volleyball, Tooru thinks. He smells like high school, too, fresh deodorant and gym soaps, but maybe for Tooru, those are the same thing, since that's what high school was for him. Tournaments and Iwa-chan and very little else in between.
Hajime's hand is hot, even through Tooru's shirt, and it feels even more so when they get outside, the wind blowing strongly enough that Tooru can feel it through the blanket of heavy intoxication.
Hanamaki is handing Matsukawa cash to pay for half the bill, since the entire thing had ended up on Matsukawa's credit card, and they keep elbowing each other by accident as they fumble with their wallets, both at least tipsy themselves.
"You're touching me," Tooru says, and Hajime withdraws, as if Tooru's drawing attention to it is the only reason he noticed. "Am I poisonous?"
"It's not that," Hajime says, far too sober. Tooru's never seen Hajime drunk; not the entire four years they lived in the same apartment, or any time after.
"Then what is it?" Tooru tilts forward, glaring down at Hajime, who'd never caught up to his height. "Am I contagious, then?" The word contagious is a garbled mess, but he thinks Hajime understands him anyway, because he sighs, quiet and slow, sound almost eaten up by the wind.
"Time to go home, Oikawa," he says, moving away completely when Tooru rests against a bare stretch of wall.
Tooru hiccups. "I don't want to go home," he says. "Home is far, and everything is spinning." Home is also empty, but that part's not for everyone else to hear, even if he's drunk. "Maybe I should sleep here."
"It's a bit cold for that," Matsukawa tells him, laughing a little.
"Should we put him in a cab or do you think he'll just throw up all over it?" Hanamaki asks, with the disgusted fascination Tooru often hears when he shows his students the aphid terrariums for the first time. "I've honestly never seen a human being this drunk and still walking before."
"'Still walking' is pretty generous," Matsukawa says, poking Tooru's cheek repeatedly. Tooru tries to slap it away, but misses, and only Hajime quickly grabbing onto him again keeps him from falling. "Man, should we have stopped him from having those last couple of glasses?"
"Since when has Shittykawa listened to anyone?" Hajime replies.
"True." Hanamaki clicks his tongue against the back of his teeth. "It's nearing midnight, and I've got to get home, so let's figure out what to do with him."
"He only lives ten minutes from here by bus," Matsukawa says. "Not very far."
Hajime's muscles are tense as Tooru lets Hajime take more of his weight. He must have had practice today, Tooru thinks disjointedly, and that's why his muscles are so tight. "You didn't stretch well," Tooru mumbles. "You'll pull something if you don't."
Hajime flinches. "I'll walk him home," he says. "I don't have to be at the gym until three tomorrow, and it'll help Oikawa out to walk it off."
"I think that's only when you're tipsy," Hanamaki replies doubtfully. "I think when you're drunk it's just asking to fall asleep on a park bench or lose your mobile phone down a street vent."
"I'm not that drunk," Tooru tries to say, but his tongue won't fit around the words, belying them. "I'll get myself home if I have to go there." He closes his eyes and leans even more heavily into Hajime as people push past them clearing out of the bar to head to another, their nights just beginning. It's probably cold out, but his body is so pleasantly numb. His chest doesn't hurt that much, anymore. Megumi, he thinks, as a test, and nothing aches. All there is for him right now is the uneasiness in his stomach and the buzz filling his head and Hajime strong and warm against him. "I can look out for myself."
"Uh huh," Matsukawa says. "You sure you've got this, Hajime?" There's something strange in Matsukawa's voice, and Tooru can't figure out what it is, because his brain feels like it's melting, and processing is working so much slower than it should. "I could... Well, if it's out of your way, I'd be able to get him there."
"I've been taking care of this guy since he was five," says Hajime, after a long pause. "I'm sure I've had enough practice."
"All right, then," Matsukawa says, and then he reaches out and pokes Tooru's face again, for good measure, Tooru guesses. "Don't die tonight, champ."
"Worst friend," Tooru grunts, not bothering to open his eyes or try again to swat the hand, and Matsukawa laughs.
He hears them walking away, and finally opens his eyes, forcing them to focus. "You don't have to walk me if you don't want to. Do you even know where I live?"
"It would be too much trouble if you really did die," replies Hajime, shortly, grabbing Tooru's arm below his bicep. "And yeah, I know where your new place is. Let's go, Oikawa."
"I'm almost thirty and you're still trying to pretend you're my mom." Despite his words, he lets Hajime pull him along, the two of them walking in what Tooru is pretty sure actually is the direction of his new apartment. "How do you know?"
Tooru hums. "My apartment. You've never been there."
Hajime hesitates. "It was the return address. On the wedding invitation."
"Right," Tooru says, and then he stops walking, his stomach rolling. "The one you never sent back." He blinks. "I think I'm going to throw up."
"Maybe not," Tooru says, starting to walk again. "I'll get back to you if the situation changes."
"You're such a moron," Hajime says. "I can't believe anyone awarded you a PhD. You're going to be sick as hell tomorrow and it'll be your own damn fault."
"Like you care if I'm sick tomorrow," Tooru slurs, and Hajime's hand tightens where he grips Tooru just above his elbow. "Like you care what happens to me at all anymore."
"Of course I care, you asshole," Hajime says, as gruffly as he used to tell Tooru to take better care of himself after practice, when they were just high school students. Hajime's voice is deeper now, and doesn't crack at the end of his insults. "Just because I don't see you all the time, doesn't mean I don't care."
"Could have fooled me," Tooru replies. The grounds swims as he watches his feet step one in front of the other. He really has had too much, and he'll pay for it, but at least his insides feel numb. "You totally threw me out, Iwa-chan, like I was just something you didn't need anymore. Too useless to take along with you."
"Don't be ridiculous," Hajime snaps. "You're the one who stopped coming to games, and started avoiding anything at all to do with volleyball!" He exhales. "Shit, I didn't mean to say that."
"As if I wanted to watch you play when I couldn't!" Tooru tries to glare at Hajime, only he's not sure which of the three of them he's seeing is the real one.
"You're the one," Hajime says, voice so quiet Tooru barely hears it, "who told me not to quit just because you couldn't play."
"Obviously," Tooru snaps. "But I'm not going to watch fucking Tobio-chan toss to you, when no one will ever toss to you as well as I can!" He grips his stomach. "That doesn't mean I don't want to see you at all, Iwa-chan."
"Yeah," Hajime says, so quietly Tooru almost misses it. "I know." He stops them there, in the middle of the sidewalk, and with the hand not holding Tooru up, he grabs Tooru's chin, turning his face so that he's looking at the Hajime in the center, presumably the real one. "I know, Shittykawa. But it hasn't exactly been easy for me, either, okay?"
"I'm sure being a famous Olympian is just super hard on your morale," Tooru says, attempting a smirk and managing what probably looks more like a grimace. "It must suck to be in sports drink commercials and on thousands of kids' walls as the famous captain of the Japanese National Team."
"That's not the part that's hard," replies Hajime, and Tooru swallows. "You get so caught up in yourself sometimes. You never notice--" Hajime stops. "It would be better, if I were playing with you, though."
"You have a funny way of showing you miss me." Tooru jerks his arm free. "I'm going to get home by myself."
"Sure you are," is Hajime's dry response. "You can barely stand, idiot."
"I've been getting home by myself from bars for years," Tooru says. "I go out drinking more without you than with you, you know. Despite how much you miss me."
"Why are we fighting about this tonight?" Hajime runs a hand through his hair, a frown etched so deep on his face that even through Tooru's bleary eyes he can make it out.
"Because Megumi left me," Tooru says. "And you left me before she even came into my life."
"I didn't leave you," Hajime says. "I just needed--"
Tooru ignores him, speaking over him. "So you showing up tonight, and hovering and walking me home and all that..." Tooru's thoughts trip and stumble over themselves, and he reaches out and grabs hold of Hajime's shirt, crumpling the material in his hands as he gathers them up again. "I hate it, Iwa-chan, cause maybe I'll forget, you know?"
Wrapping his fingers around Tooru's wrist, steadying him, Hajime sighs. "Forget what?"
"That there's something about me that made you not want to be around. It's better if you just stay away, if you're not going to be like this all the time. I have Makki and Mattsun and... and Yachi and Yahaba, too. I'm not..." Tooru's stomach twists up. "I'm not desperate, and you never said it, but it's obvious we're not best friends anymore. You don't want to be best friends with me. You stopped wanting that sometime in the past five or six years, and I can't figure out why. What did I do? I'd always been able to count on you before. Even when things were bad, I could count on you, and then you..." Tooru rolls his head back. "Poof! Bye, bye, Iwa-chan!"
"People grow apart for lots of reasons." Hajime pulls Tooru lightly, sending him stumbling forward. Tooru braces himself with his other hand on Hajime's shoulder, and Hajime slips his closer arm around Tooru's waist. "It's not always because someone did something wrong." His fingers are too tight, but too tight is better than not there, when Tooru's not sure his legs want to carry him anymore. "Besides, things are bad, and I'm here, aren't I?"
"What about tomorrow?" Tooru asks, his head falling to Hajime's shoulder as they start walking again, not wanting to waste the energy to hold it up. "Will you be here tomorrow?"
Hajime's thumb makes a circle just below Tooru's bottom rib, and it burns. "Let's get you home, Trashkawa."
"I'm sure my Venus flytrap is awfully lonely without me," Tooru mumbles into Hajime's neck, and Hajime laughs, shaking them both.
"You haven't changed at all, have you?" He pulls Tooru's hand free of his shirt, and for Hajime, who moves as brusquely as he speaks, it's gentle. "You're so vain."
"I have so changed," Tooru says, closing his eyes to fight dizziness and trusting Hajime not to lead him into a ditch. "You're the one still wearing the same deodorant brand you wore in high school."
"Why would you even notice that?" Hajime's voice is dry, cracking a bit as Tooru nuzzles in closer and takes another whiff of Hajime's scent.
"I've always liked the way you smell," Tooru says. His lips drag across the soft skin of Hajime's throat, and Hajime shivers. "I used to fall asleep best the days you slept over, or afterwards, when my pillows smelled like you."
"Oh," Hajime says, and then he's pulling away from Tooru, and Tooru stumbles back to rest against cool glass. "Where are your keys?"
"My keys?" Tooru licks his lips, realizing belatedly that the glass is the door to his apartment building. "My pocket," he says, after thinking it through, but he makes no effort to reach for them, his arms weighing a thousand kilos a piece.
Tooru takes a deep breath of evening air, which does nothing to slow the spinning in his head, and lets his eyes fall shut again. He can hear the quiet whirr of the first cicadas of the season, constant and machine-like. They're louder in the summer, when they breed en masse, but there've been a few really warm days this summer, and--
And Hajime's hand is sliding into his pocket, down the front of his thigh in search of his keys. "Tickles," he whispers, and Hajime huffs an exhale that's warm against his cheek.
"Need to get you into bed," Hajime says. He sounds unsteady, and Tooru can't figure out why, when he'd had barely a sip of his drink.
"I'll sleep out here. Listen to the cicadas."
"It's too early in the year for them," Hajime replies, sliding the keyring out and examining its contents, looking between it and the door before studying the two card-keys. "But they're already so loud. Does this card open the main door?"
"Male cicadas have a more developed abdominal cavity than female cicadas." Tooru squints. "That's why they're so much louder. It's a mating call." He taps the pale blue card. "That one opens the door."
"Is that why you're so loud?" Hajime grabs Tooru's hand and tugs him inside as the door slides open. "A mating call?"
"I'm more like a male butterfly," Tooru says, letting Hajme pull him into the lift. He presses the button, accidentally hitting the floors above and below his own before collapsing against the far wall. "Brightly colored to attract as much attention as possible. Natural selection gets rid of the boring ones."
Hajime makes a low laugh that echoes in the elevator. "You'll never be boring, Oikawa." The elevator stops, and Hajime moves to get out, but Tooru catches the back of his shirt.
"One more," he tells him. "I pressed too many buttons."
They get out on Tooru's floor, and Tooru makes it all the way to his door before he remembers that Hajime's got his keys. "I've got it," Hajime tells him, slipping the key into the lock and letting them into the apartment.
Tooru stumbles out of his shoes and through the living room, down the hall heading straight for his bedroom. He runs his hand along the wall for balance until he gets to his bedroom. As he pushes open the door, he imagines, for a moment, Megumi packing her bag, before it's replaced by the messy reality of his own clutter, a week's worth of work clothes scattered on the floor along with his pajamas. Ignoring them, he walks straight forward until his knees hit the bed, then collapses face down onto his soft quilt. Hajime's mother had made it for him, when he and Hajime had rented that first apartment in Tokyo, only a twenty minute walk from the F.C. Tokyo practice gym. It feels like forever ago, and as Tooru rubs his cheek against it, he realizes that over the years it's gotten so soft.
"Get into bed for real," Hajime says behind him. "Don't you ever put your clothes in the hamper?"
"What's the point?" Tooru says into the quilt, not caring if he's intelligible. "No one but me lives here."
"You were the same when we lived together." He moves Tooru up on the bed like Tooru weighs nothing at all, despite the fact that Tooru himself thinks every limb is too heavy to lift. Rolling him over, Hajime brushes Tooru's hair from his forehead. "So don't use that excuse."
"You don't count," Tooru says, not helping at all as Hajime drags the covers down, getting them from underneath to pull up over him, trapping him in the bed. "You're Iwa-chan."
"If I go to the kitchen and get you water, will you drink it?"
"No," Tooru says, feeling like he's fighting against a current to speak. "Don't go anywhere."
"It's just to the kitchen," Hajime says. "You're going to be so hungover tomorrow."
"Don't leave," Tooru says, eyes falling shut and knowing he won't be opening them again until morning. "I'm tired of you leaving me. I'm tired of everyone leaving me, but especially you."
"Stay," Tooru says, and he wants it to be firm, but he doesn't know if he manages as he falls asleep.
It had taken three beers on an empty stomach, sitting on the sofa in front of the outdated, boxy television in his and Hajime's shared apartment. The old Mothra movie he'd been watching had long gone off, replaced by the international news, but the remote was out of reach and Hajime hadn't come home yet, so there was no one to get the remote for him.
Tooru's sister had brought him the beer without him asking, sitting with him through the first one and laughing at his squashed up face at the taste.
"Why'd you bring me this?" Tooru'd asked her, and she'd smirked at him in a way very reminiscent of Tooru's own smirk.
"Don't tell Mom," she'd said, without directly answering. "She already thinks I'm a bad influence on you."
"You are." Tooru ran his thumb up and down the side of the can, smooth aluminum and condensation slippery against skin. "I'm such a sweet boy, and here you are, corrupting me--"
"Yeah right. I think you're the bad influence on me." She'd narrowed her eyes at him, then, looking him up and down. "You still seem like yourself."
"Who else would I be?"
"Hajime called," she'd admitted. "He was worried about you, and said you wouldn't talk about-- Well, I brought the beer in case you did want to talk."
"Bribery?" Tooru tapped his chin with his index finger. "Not a bad strategy with me. You should have also brought me snacks!"
"I am your sister." She pulled out a packaged sweet-cake from her brown leather purse and handed it to him. "Still, I don't know why I thought you'd tell me something you wouldn't tell your other half."
"My other half?" Tooru snorted. "If Iwa-chan and I were conjoined, I'd be two-thirds, since I'd be the looks and the personality." He sank back into the sofa, letting his back curl uncomfortably as he drained the can, having gotten used to the taste.
"I was hoping Hajime'd be the personality," she'd replied, standing up to leave. "I'd have an easier life." She'd ruffled his bangs, letting her fingers sink into the mess of them. "Don't drink all of them, or Hajime'll kill me."
"He's still not my mother," Tooru had replied, closing his eyes and savoring the touch. "He doesn't have a say about my alcohol intake."
Knowingly, his sister had just chuckled. "He'll be the one dragging you to the bathroom to throw it all up, though." Sliding her fingers free of his tangled, greasy hair, she'd bent down and kissed his forehead. "Feel better soon, Tooru. I'll bring Takeru by later this week to pester you."
When she'd left, Tooru had popped the tab on a second can.
Hajime'd come home, confiscating the rest before Tooru could open a fourth with unsteady and uncoordinated fingers. Tooru had opened and closed his hand on nothing, and then looked up with bleary eyes.
"That's mine," he said, eventually.
"You're drunk enough," said Hajime. "And these are warm. Your sister came by, I guess."
"You're late, Iwa-chan," he said, and Hajime scowled at him, pressing a cold hand to the back of Tooru's neck. "Late, late, late."
"You look like a moron," Hajime'd replied, before taking back his hand and sitting down next to him on the sofa. "With your mouth hanging open like that. You look like a seabass."
The foreign news had changed from English to Mandarin Chinese in the background as Tooru forced his eyes to focus on Hajime. He was sweaty and warm from practice despite the coolness of his fingers, which rested lightly on Tooru's thigh, just above the thick plastic of his new brace.
"Mean!" Tooru had ineffectually shoved at Hajime, palm pressed to the damp cotton of Hajime's T-shirt. "If I lived in the ocean, I'd definitely be a merman." Tooru hiccupped, tasting beer in the back of his throat. "I'd make all the people in Okinawa fall in love with me, and there would be folk songs in my honor, along with..." He pushed at Hajime again, just as uselessly. "Along with targeted advertising for tourists about the world's most attractive sea creature."
"You're so full of shit," Hajime'd said, grabbing Tooru's wrist with his other hand, turning towards him more on the sofa. Tooru let himself fall into Hajime's side, his head lolling against Hajime's shoulder.
"Or maybe I'd be a siren, luring fishermen to their deaths with my voice." Closing his eyes, Tooru let the shake of Hajime's shoulders in laughter move his head along with them.
"Your voice certainly does make me want to die."
The fingers around Tooru's wrist tightened slightly, before letting go. Hajime's other hand had skated along the edge of Tooru's brace, skimming the skin, enough to tickle and drag Tooru's attention back to the part of his body he'd been ignoring since his first few sips of beer.
"Mermen don't have knees," Tooru'd said, then, and Hajime had sharply inhaled, causing Tooru to open his eyes to see him. Tilting his head up enough to catch a blurry view of Hajime's mouth and jaw, Tooru had made himself laugh. "That wouldn't be so bad."
"Mermen don't play volleyball at all," Hajime had eventually replied. The hand on Tooru's thigh felt heavier with each word, like the weight of them was something real and present in Hajime's touch.
The news switched to Japanese, and Tooru let a story about a world record for the largest watermelon wash over him as he hiccupped again. The beer sloshed around in his stomach, and all the lightness the alcohol had brought him was almost gone, replaced by nausea and the emptiness he hadn't yet figured out how he was going to fill.
"I'm going to quit the team," he'd said, and Hajime's only noticeable reaction had been his cheek coming to rest against Tooru's temple, warm and steady.
The team's main physician had told Tooru, after all, that his chances of making the starting lineup with a recurring stress injury weren't very good, and that the knee he'd fucked up overworking himself in high school wasn't going to pull its weight.
"Yeah," Hajime'd said. "I know."
"You can't quit, though," Tooru had mumbled, words muffled by Hajime's shoulder. "I'm the captain, so you have to listen to me, Iwa-chan."
"I've never listened to you in my life, Shittykawa," had been Hajime's reply.
Tooru had taken a deep breath. "You always listen to me," he'd said. "Even when no one else does." He'd laughed. "I guess I can't be the captain if I can't play."
Suddenly, Tooru had found himself pulled into a half-hug, Hajime's arm heavy across his shoulders but carefully not pulling him in close enough to jar his knee. With the alcohol running through his veins, it took Tooru a few moments to register that his head had been neatly tucked under Hajime's chin.
"Hey," Hajime'd said, "don't forget you're not like Kageyama."
"What's..." Tooru had bit his lower lip. "What's that supposed to mean? Don't bully me, Iwa-chan."
"You're not a prodigy," Hajime continued. "You became one of the best setters in high school volleyball with hard work and perseverance, not because you were born to play volleyball or something like that. So..."
"So?" Tooru had reached up and grabbed a handful of shirt. "Are you trying to tell me it's no big deal that I can't play? Because--"
"No, you idiot," Hajime interrupted, voice taking on that quality of pissed-off concern. "I'm trying to tell you that..." He sighed. "That volleyball isn't the end for someone like you, since you're, well... kind of amazing." The last part was mumbled, but for Tooru, it was the clearest thing Hajime had said. "You'll be able to do anything you want, because that's the kind of person you are."
A part of Tooru had wanted to cry at Hajime's rare sentimentality, and to wrap the words around himself like a blanket, to ward off the chill of the fear that had gripped him for the previous two weeks.
The rest of him, though, couldn't resist pulling himself out of Hajime's hold and looking up at him through his eyelashes, letting his lips slide into a smug grin. "Iwa-chan," he'd cooed, "you think I'm amazing? I mean, obviously I am, but I never thought you'd admit it so openly! If you want lessons--"
"I totally hate you," Hajime'd snarled, lightly shoving him back, putting space between them again. He hadn't met Tooru's eyes, but he'd stretched forward and snagged the remote that had been out of Tooru's reach, turned the channel to an old Super Sentai repeat on TV Asahi, and then gotten up to bring Tooru a glass of room temperature water, muttering "don't die," as he pushed it into Tooru's hand.
"Kill me," he says, to his empty bedroom, and unfortunately, there's no lightning strike to put him out of his misery. He grudgingly cracks open his eyes, and they burn from the griminess of his contacts, which shouldn't have been left in overnight.
Sitting up, he rubs at his face, blinking repeatedly to clear his vision. When the world is mostly in focus, he turns to his bedside table to find a glass of water. "Drink," it says, in Hajime's angular, sharp handwriting, in the same form he uses to give commands to his mother's dog.
Hajime, Tooru remembers, as the night comes filtering back to him, brought him home last night. Had put Tooru to bed and tucked him in, then sat beside him until he'd either fallen asleep or passed out, dead to the world.
Tooru picks up the glass of water, and drinks it. He feels gross, the stickiness of yesterday's clothes and alcohol sweat just another terrible thing about his current state of awakeness. His phone buzzes loudly against his thigh, and, still sipping the water, he digs the tips of his fingers into his trouser pockets to slide it out and into his hand.
It's a text from Matsukawa. Did you make it through the night, or have you shed this mortal coil?
Squinting at the screen, he quickly replies with why are you and Makki-chan both trying to kill me off lately? Then, tossing his phone aside, Tooru wills himself to get out of bed and stumble into the bathroom to do some semblance of putting himself together.
He's much more aware of the world around him after a shower and a brush of his teeth. As he's spitting out the toothpaste, he sees Megumi's engagement ring sitting on the glass shelf beside his sink, where he left it after he had lunch with Yachi last week, finally taking it out of his pocket. "What am I supposed to do with it?" Maybe he's still drunk, but there's a numb acceptance in the center of his chest now, even though a little dread still lingers at the thought of calling his sister.
And his mom. Oh, God, his mom.
He rinses his mouth, and splashes his face again for good measure, before moving back out into his bedroom to grab a pair of sweatpants off the floor, as well as the Tokyo Disneyland T-shirt he sleeps in most nights. Hajime had bought him that the second week after high school graduation, when they came on invitation from a scout to see the F.C. Tokyo facilities.
("Aw, you bought me a gift!" Tooru had poked Hajime's bicep. "Is this a date, Iwa-chan~? You should have told me! I would have gotten you a cute pair of animal ears for all our selfies!"
"I figured if I got you this one, maybe I wouldn't be forced to look at the one with all the neon-colored Mickey Mouse faces for the next six years," Hajime had replied, his face all flushed and his eyebrows wiggling like angry caterpillars.)
Clothed, he wanders out of his bedroom in the direction of the kitchen, trying to recall if there's anything in his fridge. It's not like Tooru's home all that often, what with everything he's got going on in the lab, and recently, he'd been too busy to buy fresh vegetables or anything that might go bad if he forgot about it in all the kerfuffle about his presentation.
It's not until he's standing in the living room that he notices the tangy smell of konbu broth, and when he looks over into the kitchen, he sees Hajime, still dressed in last night's clothes, bent over his counter, face to face with Tooru's Venus flytrap.
"You're still here," Tooru blurts out, without thought, and then he bites down on his lip as Hajime looks up at him, lips twisting into a half-smile. He's got dark circles, and the shadow of a beard on his cheeks and the edge of his jaw, and his shirt is rumpled beyond redemption, clinging to his broad shoulders.
Sober, Tooru can really take in Hajime up close for the first time in months, and memorize all the tiny things about his friend's appearance that have changed. He'd noticed the longer hair, but not the new, thin scar up the back of his hand, or the fresh bruises lining his forearms from tough receives.
"You..." Hajime's voice crackles, and he clears his throat. "You asked me to stay, last night. So I did."
Walking all the way up to the other side of the island counter, Tooru leans against it. "So you did," he replies, before poking at one of the mouths of the Venus flytrap with his pointer finger. The thin, grapefruit-pink spines tickle as they close, sensing something small enough to eat, and Hajime reaches across the counter to smack his hand away.
"Don't do that," Hajime says. "Remember how bitter you used to get when Hanamaki dangled food in front of you as bait for paying attention during calculus?"
"Plants aren't a sensitive soul like me," Tooru replies, curling his hand up into a loose fist and not reaching for the plant again. "Especially not Hajime-chan, here. He's tough as nails."
Hajime raises both brows in surprise. "You named your Venus flytrap after me?"
"You gave him to me," Tooru says. "Besides, it was nice to have an Iwa-chan that couldn't talk back~!" Clicking his nails on the marble countertop, Tooru studies the easy way Hajime seems to fit in his kitchen. Even the paint on the walls sets off the glow of Hajime's tanned skin, spring sun already having left behind its mark on Hajime's cheeks and the bridge of his nose.
"I really am surprised it's still alive," Hajime says, giving it one last look before turning back to the bubbling pot on the stove. "You don't even keep enough food in your house to feed yourself, so I'm not sure how something that can't nag you to take care of it survived your custody."
"I did my requisite internet link-clicking," Tooru says, laughing, absently bringing a hand up to rub at his still slightly aching head. "Even if it does eat the subject of my professional research interests." He watches the muscles in Hajime's back move through the thin material of his shirt as he strains the kombu and bonito from the dashi broth. "It takes each of the traps a week to digest a single insect, you know, assuming the insect is of a moderate size, and Hajime-chan only has four right now. And you don't have to feed every trap as it reopens. Flytraps can survive months without being fed beyond what they catch for themselves." Tooru rests his face in both hands, his elbows digging into the counter, tracking the movement of Hajime's steady hands as he returns the dashi broth to the stove in a new pot, setting the konbu on a different burner with fresh water to boil again. "It's actually pretty delightful how resilient Hajime-chan is! He's a perfect pet!"
"Only you would think that a carnivorous plant was the perfect pet, Trashykawa."
"Only you would buy it for me, knowing I would!"
Hajime snorts, popping the lid on the brand new container of red miso paste, having opened drawer after drawer until he'd located Tooru's silverware. "You're predictable," he says, adding two heaping spoonfuls of the paste into the pot. He hesitates slightly as he stirs. "At least for me, since I'm the only person who knows you watched that scene in Alien 3 where one of the Xenomorphs eats that runner about thirty times in a row while taking notes on what kind of teeth it had."
"It's very important to know that sort of typological data," Tooru replies loftily, and moves around the counter to stand next to Hajime, and peer into the pot as Hajime pulls out the cutting board. "I had green onions?"
"One left," Hajime replies. "No tofu, so we'll have to live without. I made rice-" He gestures to the rice cooker, lit up and steaming, "-and you had a few eggs, but now your refrigerator is pretty much bare. Your cabinets are bare, too, actually." He taps the miso paste. "This, the dried konbu, and some vinegar is pretty much all you've got."
"You look awfully domestic right now, Iwa-chan," Tooru says, leaning into Hajime slightly. He expects Hajime to pull away, and he's a little surprised when Hajime doesn't, instead leaning slightly in himself, returning the pressure. Tooru's eyes dart up to scan Hajime's face, but it's unreadable, Hajime's eyes fixed on where he's carefully slicing the green onion up into thin circles.
"And you look awfully hungover, Oikawa." Hajime licks his lips. "I take it your fia-- Megumi didn't like to cook, either? Since you don't even have soy sauce around, let alone anything else."
"She..." Tooru slowly scratches at the curve of his neck, catching in the stretched out collar of his Disneyland shirt. "Well, sort of. She's busy too, really." Distracting himself by going to find the soup and rice bowls, Tooru crosses to the other side of the kitchen. "Besides, she hadn't really moved in yet. Just some clothes and toiletries. One suitcase's worth of things." His hands shake slightly as he sets the white bowls down too hard on the countertop. "Good that it was that easy to pack up and leave with, I suppose."
"It really is going to be okay, Oikawa," Hajime says, after a stretch of silence. "You'll move forward, like you always have."
Moving on from disappointment is something Tooru's done enough that he should put it on his damn résumé, right alongside didn't punch Kageyama or Ushijima in the face despite how often their faces were basically asking for it and once took a picture with Kyary Kyary Pamu.
"Of course I will," Tooru says, jutting his chin forward stubbornly. "Still, Iwa-chan, I don't need a pep talk about getting over heartbreak from someone who can't even get a date." Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Hajime freeze mid-stirring motion, a tiny piece of green onion clinging to the knuckle of his ring finger as the steam from the soup leaves a light sheen of moisture on his skin that glistens as sunlight comes in through the window. "What would you know about it?"
Hajime swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing, and Tooru tries not to notice the way his lashes fall dark and thick when he lowers the lids to half-mast. "You're still such a fucking brat," Hajime says, then, lowering the heat with his free hand as he resumes stirring with the other.
"You adore me and you want to feed me," Tooru reflexively replies, the cadence of an oft repeated conversation simple enough to fall into despite the time between now and the last time it was just the two of them alone in a room, doing a simple activity and just being... together. "Right, Iwa-chan?"
"I want to feed you, all right," Hajime says, holding out his hand for a bowl. Tooru picks one up and sets it in his large, callused palm. All of Tooru's volleyball calluses are gone, now, replaced by one from his favorite gel pen on the inside of his thumb and index finger. Hajime's are still tough and thick across the pads of his palm, where the ball impacts when he spikes. "I'll feed you to a crocodile!"
"Not a Venus flytrap?" Tooru asks lightly. "Maybe that was your terrible plan all along, Iwa-chan! You were trying to get rid of me!"
"Venus flytraps only eat bugs. You're a pest, for sure, but it's not exactly the same thing." He ladles soup into the bowl with care. "Besides, I don't have to off you. Clearly you were days away from starvation."
"First of all," Tooru says, exchanging the full bowl for an empty one, and taking it over to the edge of the kitchen, where a small table is nestled in by the window, "Venus flytraps can eat things besides insects. They also eat small frogs. Hajime-chan ate one of Takeru's when I left him over at my sister's house during the move." He crosses the kitchen again, this time to fill both rice bowls as Hajime caries the second soup bowl and two raw eggs over to the table. "And secondly, I wouldn't have starved. In that drawer right next to the refrigerator are all my takeout menus! That way, after the inevitable disappointment of opening the refrigerator, I don't even have to take a single step to figure out what I'll eat for dinner!" He grins, somewhere in the realm of triumphant and smug.
Hajime stares at him for a long moment, obviously caught between frustration and fondness. "How do you not have scurvy, Shittykawa?"
Tooru's heart clenches, painfully, at how rarely he's seen that expression over the past few years. He'd missed Hajime, even as he'd let them grow apart. He doesn't say that, though. He just lets his grin pull a little wider, and brings the rice, along with two white soup spoons, over to where the rest of their breakfast sits ready to eat on the table. "Occasionally my undergraduates feed me fruit. What's the point in minions if they don't bring you snacks?"
"They're not your minions, they're your students." Hajime's mouth has settled into the tiniest curve of a smile. "Eat before it gets cold."
"Yes, Mom," Tooru says, fluttering his eyelashes, and Hajime rolls his eyes, reaching into the cup full of clean chopsticks and pulling out two mismatched pairs, handing a set to Tooru and keeping a set for himself.
Tooru cracks his egg on the hot rice and stirs in the egg white, letting the rice cook it while the yellow yolk pools around the sides. When he notices Hajime hasn't moved, he looks up to see Hajime is just... watching him, the narrow end of his chopsticks resting on the edge of his rice bowl. "Iwa-chan?"
"I wasn't trying to get rid of you," Hajime says. "I would never... want to do that. Because you are important, and I do… want to be around you."
Tooru blinks, feeling the drag of his eyelid over the dry contacts he still hasn't taken out. His thoughts skip back to before, when he'd accused Hajime of just that, and then they skip back even further, to last night. There's something about me that made you not want to be around
"Iwa-chan..." Tooru starts, setting his chopsticks down and folding his hands together before leaning forward, so he can look right into Hajime's eyes. "Why are you being so mushy today? Are you dying? Is this like the plot of Kurosawa's Ikiru--"
"Oh my God," Hajime says, and Tooru gulps down the happy laugh that's trying to climb up out of him around his bitterness and regret and the steady, ever-present darkness that he barely keeps his head above. "No, you idiot, this is not like the plot of Ikiru, I don't have a terminal illness--"
Tooru plows on as if Hajime hasn't even spoken"--and as you're trying to make the most of your final days on Earth, you've suddenly realized you can't live without me?!" He dramatically throws his hand up to his forehead. "Wait, you've seen Ikiru? Who are you and where is my Iwa-chan?!"
Hajime drops his head to the table with a loud thump. "You've got to be," he says, muffled words nothing if not resigned, "the most ridiculous person I've ever met."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Tooru says, and takes a giant bite of his egg-coated rice.
Instead, Tooru had taken a liking to the eccentric lepidopterist named Miguchi who’d taught his intro zoology class, and who had, in between office hours and field work, imparted to him thousands of obscure facts about moths. Miguchi spent most of her time in a laboratory examining mutated butterflies from Fukushima, and paid Tooru 1000 yen-per-hour to help her analyze the truncated wing span of pale grass blue moths, or the sight degeneration found in over fifty per cent of the third generation males. When he asked her why she was so interested, she’d smiled up at him, staring into him, considering, through glasses as thick as the distance between Tooru’s last knuckle and the tip of his pinky. "Well," she’d said, "mostly because I was obsessed with Mothra as a child." She'd laughed. "But there’s also the fact that insects are pretty much the oldest complex living things on the planet, and that’s pretty damn neat."
Tooru's girlfriend at the time hadn't really liked all the doodles of ants that Tooru had left scattered around his and Hajime's shared flat, grimacing and making faces, but Hajime had only studied them with careful eyes and let Tooru ramble on about how much he liked this and that, just like he had for years of their childhood when Tooru had taught him the rules of volleyball or the makeup of every constellation in the sky.
"I’m thinking of majoring in Zoology," Tooru said one day, sitting on their couch, a slice of pizza in one hand and his biochemistry notebook in the other, smudging grease along the top of each page. Hajime was on the floor doing push-ups with one hand, the show-off, and Tooru took an extra large bite of pizza every time Hajime had looked up to make up for the fact that he was too busy eating to drape himself across the other's back to 'add resistance'. "Is that a terrible idea? Is it too weird?"
"You should study whatever interests you, Shittykawa," Hajime had said, gruff and refusing to meet Tooru’s eyes, fixing his gaze on the floor as he huffed and puffed his way through another set. "Even if it’s weird. You’re weird as fuck, anyway, and you’d never be happy if you were doing anything that made you bored."
"Hmm," Tooru'd said, and then doodled a Botswana Goliath Beetle in the margin of his notes, in enough detail that his girlfriend had screamed the next time she looked over his shoulder while he studied.
She'd broken up with him right after he decided to switch his major officially, too creeped out by the growing collection of insect models settling in with all the alien and Super Sentai action figures around his and Hajime's apartment.
Tooru'd ended up staying up late eating ice cream with Hajime, the night she ended things, explaining the difference between European earwigs and Chinese earwigs using toothpicks to draw pictures in the melting dessert, just like he used to draw volleyball strategies, and though it hadn't been a good day, by any means, what with getting dumped and filling out a ton of major-change paperwork, it had been the first time in a long time that Tooru had felt anything like himself, just sitting next to Hajime on the floor and sharing something he loved.
"Tooru, is that you?" She turns off her hose and puts a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. "You're so tall!"
"That's what you said last time I saw you!" Tooru offers up his most charming grin. He loves Hajime's mom. She's even-tempered, and she's patient in all the same ways Hajime secretly is. It's a pretty big contrast to Tooru's mom, who takes melodramatics to new levels on a frequent basis. "You know I haven't grown in five years, Mama."
"It's so rare you come back that I get surprised again every time!" She shakes her head. "You and Hajime both! We shouldn't have let you boys move to Tokyo if it meant we'd never see our sons again!"
"Maybe I come to Miyagi so infrequently because i want someone to praise me for being tall!" He pouts. "Now that I'm a scientist, there are fewer people to tell me how handsome I am on a regular basis!"
Patting his arm, she smiles at him. "I saw your mother walk home from the market about a half-hour ago. Does she know you're coming?"
"No," Tooru says, and grimaces. "I didn't call ahead. I've got to talk to them about something, though, so I drove out."
"You shouldn't have driven alone!" She frowns at him. "That's more than four hours, young man, and it's evening!"
"Yahaba, one of my Seijou underclassmen, is going back with me, since he's made plans to visit a friend in Tokyo. So it was just the trip down alone."
(Yahaba had heard from Hanamaki about Tooru's break-up at some point between Monday night and Wednesday morning, and had called Tooru during his lunch break on Wednesday to give Tooru something between the third-degree and a lecture about telling his friends things promptly.
"You've got no respect for my seniority anymore, Yahaba-chan," Tooru had whined into the phone, garnering a look of amusement from Sasada, who sat folded up in her desk chair with her shoes off, eating yogurt with an oversized spoon as she video-chatted with one of her kids. "I needed time to process!"
"You needed time to wallow, you mean," Yahaba had replied. "Iwaizumi always said, back when we were in high school, that left unattended you'd make yourself more miserable than necessary, and we all knew it was the truth.")
"Well then," Iwaizumi's mother says, and she looks up at the position of the sun in the sky, and then back at her flowers. "I've got to finish up with my gardening. I hope you have a good visit with your parents." She pauses. "You and Megumi aren't expecting a baby already are you?" She laughs. "You and your sister both putting the cart before the horse."
"No!" Tooru shakes his head vehemently. "Nothing like that, all right?" He looks over at the house. "I guess I'd better head in before they start eating."
"Tell my son to come visit me, Tooru," she says, with a gentle smile, turning her hose back on and returning to her flowers as he ascends the steps up to the front door of his parents' house.
He knocks, even though he has a key, and waits to hear his mother's shuffling footsteps approaching the door. The lock tumbles open, followed by the clink of the removal of the door chain from the wall to hang along the back of the door, and then his mother peeks out, eyes widening in surprise.
"Tooru!" She beams at him, and before he knows it he's been ushered into the living room, where his dad sits, in his undershirt and his sweatpants, legs folded as he sips a beer and peruses the financial pages of the newspaper, all while eating freshly chopped cantaloupe. Tooru sits down next to him, and grabs a piece of cantaloupe for himself, earning a raised eyebrow from his father over the edge of the newspaper.
"What brings you home on a Friday night without calling?" His father turns the page, and Tooru licks melon-sticky lips as his mom bangs around in the kitchen, probably still finishing up dinner.
"Some stuff came up," Tooru says. "Stuff I'll need to talk to you about."
("You can't put off talking to your mother," Hanamaki had told him on Tuesday, as he'd outlined the costs of the tuxedo rental cancellations and the fee the venue was levying for a late withdrawal of their reservation. "I know you don't want to do it, but you need to. As soon as possible. Before everything goes up in flames. You know how your mom is."
"Yeah," Tooru had replied. "I do.")
"That's fine," his dad says, licking his thumb and then reaching for another piece of cantaloupe. "After dinner."
Sitting next to his dad like this, with his mother cooking and the sound of the newspaper rustling, reminds Tooru of when he was in middle school, right after his sister had been transferred to Tokyo for work and moved out to get her own apartment with a barely walking Takeru and their mom's disapproval heavier than all of his sister's medical textbooks in the boxes Tooru'd carried out to the moving truck. The house had been quiet, after she left, and on the rare nights Tooru wasn't over at Hajime's house, or dragging Hajime into practicing volleyball late in the Kitadai gymnasium, he'd always ended up sitting next to his dad, both of them quiet.
Tooru's not quiet by nature. He likes to talk and fill silences, rather than letting them stand, and when he isn't given something to do he usually makes a mess finding something to do. With his dad, though, sometimes it's just moments like this. The only other person who Tooru is calm enough to be quiet around is Hajime, but Hajime doesn't like the quiet very much either, even if he's much less talkative than Tooru. It's probably why they'd worked so well as friends, even if he and Hajime are as different as night and day in most respects.
Tooru barely touches his food as his mother tells him all about the neighborhood gossip, spilling out various stories about the old couple that works at the market's youngest daughter, who apparently has a 'good-for-nothing' boyfriend who does 'something-with-computers', and Tooru asks questions at all the right times and laughs when he's supposed to. It's not all that hard, since his mother is good at telling stories. Most of the time, Tooru thinks he got at least sixty percent of his personality from her.
When dinner's been cleaned up, and Tooru has a cup of warm tea cradled in his hands, his dad finally sighs. "So, what's brought you out here tonight, Tooru?" He adjusts his glasses and smiles, and Tooru wanly smiles back.
"And why didn't you bring Megumi with you?" His mother has her own cup of tea. "Did she have too much work to do? I have some things to talk to her about for the wedding. I guess I can call her, but it would have been so much more convenient if she could have come down here and looked at the flowers herself!"
Tooru presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. "The wedding's off," he says, and the silence that follows is far different from the silence he had shared with his dad before dinner; terrible and thick, making it hard for Tooru to breathe. "I mean, Megumi and I are not getting married."
"That's absurd," his mother says. "Of course you're getting married. Call her now and apologize for whatever you've done, Tooru."
"It's not--" Tooru runs a hand through his hair. "It's just not going to work out, Mom."
His father hums, low in his throat, and nods, but his mother frowns at him. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Tooru says, and then he smiles grimly. "It's not like it happened yesterday, and even if I were to call and say whatever I thought she wanted, Megumi wouldn't change her mind."
His mother's face is crestfallen, and Tooru thinks it's unfair that he's the one who's been left, but it's his mother who's acting like she's been wronged.
"Oh, Tooru," she says, meeting his eyes. "I'm sure there's another girl for you. We'll set you up with a matchmaker, and maybe find you a girl a bit younger, without a busy career like Megumi had."
Bile rises in Tooru's throat at the very idea of dating anyone when he keeps seeing Megumi's smeared eyeliner and wet cheeks at night when he closes his eyes, her engagement ring still sitting as a constant reminder in his bathroom. It makes him think about what Yachi had said, over lunch last Friday, about wanting to marry Megumi or just wanting to get married. It makes him think about buying the ring, and thinking, "yes, she'll be a good wife for me," instead of "yes, I can't imagine not wanting to spend the rest of my life with her," and maybe that leaves him sickest of all.
"I doubt Tooru wants that," his father says, and his mother frowns.
"He's getting too old to be a bachelor, as good-looking and successful as he is. People are going to think there's something wrong with him!"
If Tooru were with his friends, he'd make a flippant joke about how the only thing wrong with perfection is that no one will ever be able to match him. If he were with his friends, he'd laugh and change the subject. But he's with his parents, so he digs around in his pocket and makes his phone ring, faking a call, and excuses himself to go take it, claiming it's someone important from work.
Outside in the backyard, he walks out to where he and Hajime used to spend long evenings spread out on the grass watching the stars, arms pressed together from shoulder to elbow and ankles tangled as they laughed louder than the screeching chirps of all the summer crickets that lived in the undergrowth of the hedges between their yards.
Without thinking he dials Hajime's number. It hasn't changed since high school, even though Tooru's has changed four times because he's always been too distracted to go through the hassle of saving his number when switching from service provider to service provider to get the exact phone he wants.
When it starts to ring, Tooru feels a brief moment of apprehension, unsure if Hajime staying for breakfast on Tuesday morning, laughing and dropping his arms elbow deep in dishwater as Tooru stood behind him and gave unnecessary directions, has shifted things closer to right-way-up in their friendship, or if Hajime will still ignore the call, responding with a text that says "busy, sry" after letting it go to voicemail.
"Hello?" Hajime sounds half asleep. "Oikawa?"
"Are you old now?" Tooru asks, unsure what to make of the warmth that drips down his spine at the timbre of Hajime's voice. He sinks down into the grass, legs criss-crossed, and starts pulling up the green blades one by one, dirt getting trapped under his nails. "It's like, nine at night. Going to bed now is practically geriatric."
"I had practice from six in the morning to one in the afternoon," Hajime replies. "Then I had an interview with NHK about the upcoming Asia conference."
"I taught two classes, read thirty-odd essays, and drove to Miyagi today, and you don't hear me groaning like someone's centenarian grandmother!"
"I was just dozing off on the couch, Trashykawa, give me a break." Hajime groans. "Wait, did you say you're in Miyagi?"
"Yep," Tooru says, lifting his hand up to catch a little moonlight when he feels something tickle up his finger. "Did you know there were armadillidiida in our back yards?" The insect curls up into a ball on the tip of his finger. "Armadillidium vulgare, to be specific."
"Did you just give me the Latin name of an insect?" He can hear the huff of breath as Hajime pulls himself up into a sitting position. "Are you in your backyard right now?"
"I saw your mom. She says you should come visit." Tooru flexes his finger, and the bug wiggles back toward his second knuckle. "Armadillidium vulgare is the common pill bug. They're a woodlouse family, but they're different from the others thanks to their two-segmented antennal flagellum. They've also got uropods." Hajime is quiet, still listening. "And they can roll up into a ball," Tooru adds. "Which is pretty awesome."
"Oh, those things," Hajime says. "Remember when we collected hundreds of them over the summer, back when we were in the fourth year of elementary school, and you took them all to give to that girl you liked in class 5C?"
"I was quite the Casanova, honestly," Tooru says, even as he remembered the horrified look on the girl's face. "It would have worked on me. A few hundred Armadillidium vulgare is more romantic than a thousand roses!"
Hajime laughs, full and deep, and Tooru closes his eyes and pretends Hajime is here, next to him, letting Tooru use his arm as a pillow as Tooru tries to pretend everything's fine, like when they were kids, like when they were teenagers, like when they were barely adults about to leave their hometown for the first time.
"I told my mom about Megumi," Tooru says, after Hajime's laugh has died off. "She... isn't taking it well."
"She loves you," Hajime says. "I think she's just still reeling from your sister."
"Takeru's in high school now," Tooru whines, flopping back into the grass, atop his pile of savaged blades. The little pill bug still clings to his finger. "It's been a long time. And I'm not my sister."
"I know," Hajime says. "I only meant... she probably doesn't mean to make you feel like your life isn't your own, or like you're racing the clock or something."
Tooru's stomach twists. "How is it that you can refuse to be around me for more than twenty minutes at a time for almost five years, and still understand me better than anyone else?"
"I didn't refuse to be around you," Hajime says.
Tooru laughs, crossing his eyes to focus in on the pill bug's two-segmented antennae. "I was Seijou's setter, known for being able to observe everyone on the court at all times." He bites his lower lip. "And you were my ace. Do you honestly think I don't always notice you and know exactly where you are? It's a habit, Iwa-chan!"
"You don't think that goes both ways?" Hajime coughs. "Are you staying in Miyagi long?"
"Just tonight," Tooru replies. "I'm driving back with Yahaba-chan tomorrow, since he wanted to come all the way to Tokyo to browbeat Mad-Dog-chan in person, I guess."
"Did you..." Tooru waits, and Hajime continues after false starting several times. "Would you want to get lunch some time? After you get back, I mean."
Tooru flicks the pill bug away, gently, enough to send it falling from his finger but not enough to hurt it. "Don't offer this if you don't mean it, Iwa-chan." Tooru sticks out his lip, knowing Hajime will hear it in his voice somehow. "You'd better be prepared to be my best friend again or don't even bother."
"It's always all or nothing with you," Hajime says. "Nothing... Nothing was no good, Oikawa. It'll have to be all."
"Good," Tooru says, and he feels a bit winded from the emotional whiplash. "Nothing was the worst, Iwa-chan."
"You're the worst," Hajime replies, and Tooru laughs, loud enough that he's sure Hajime's mother and his own both hear it from inside their houses. "What are you laughing at?"
"I don't know," Tooru says. "I'd say your face, but I can't see it right now..."
"I'm hanging up," Hajime says, and then he does, and Tooru keeps laughing until he knows he has to peel himself up off the ground and go back inside to talk to his mother.
He sends a string of unintelligible emojis to Hajime in a text message, though, right before he heads through the back door, and doesn't wait for a response, already knowing it'll be some variation of I hate you, and that makes him start laughing again, despite the conversation he doesn't want to continue waiting for him in the kitchen.
Just thinking of Hajime, willingly texting him back, leaves him feeling safe and warm.