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One Court, Two Kings

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      “And he wins again! That’s Seijoh for you! Fantastic, simply fantastic!” The announcer’s going wild — but who can blame him? Seijoh had snatched victory so easily from a team that they’d lost to just months ago. With the help of a certain orange-haired middle blocker named Hinata Shouyou, victory had been inevitable.

      The other team, Ubugawa, looked dejected. They weren’t crying, but they might as well have been. Their fists were taut and toughened by their sides; their breathing was laboured. They’d put so much energy into this, so much effort, and they hadn’t even been able to snatch one set from Seijoh. Seijoh had taken all three sets with ease.

      “Alright, guys! We did it!” The captain of the team, Oikawa Tooru, was laughing and high-fiving his teammates. He seemed even more overjoyed than anyone else there, if that was even possible. His forehead was dripping with sweat; his thighs were shaking with fatigue, but he was still smiling. This was how a pro was; this is how a pro is.

      “Oikawa!” The captain’s boyfriend, Iwaizumi Hajime, was calling his name out loudly from the crowd, waving and cheering. He could usually be seen admonishing Oikawa for his silly antics, but right now, he looked prouder than anyone. “You played amazingly!” Amongst all the other people shouting, it was near impossible to hear his voice, but Oikawa somehow seemed to hear him. He turned to face the dark-haired man and shot a big grin at him. At the sight of Oikawa’s grin, the crowd became even more rowdy. They were all there to see Seijoh’s ‘freak quick’, the quick that Hinata and Oikawa had devised. Ubugawa had been powerless against it.

      The referee put his hand up. “Line!” The players lined up, the victors wearing big smiles while the losers looked resentful. “Bow!”

      “Thank you for the game!” It was Hinata’s voice that was the loudest, although nobody was surprised. He’d been a little ball of energy, darting around the court and jumping again and again. His stamina had increased ten-fold since his high school years. Now, he was practically unstoppable.

      “Thank you… for the game…” Ubugawa’s teeth were gritted. They were angry about the result, they really were. They didn’t want to thank these people. They’d destroyed Ubugawa without a second thought. How long had they lasted on this court again? A mere thirty-seven minutes? It’s not over.

      The crowd was calling out praise as both teams bowed to the audiences that had come to support them. The gymnasium was alight with joy; excitement. It was an amazing atmosphere. An atmosphere that Kageyama Tobio got to see day after day.

      “Man.” He sighed to himself as he got up from where he’d been sitting and walked out of the room. He didn’t want to see any more of it. He loved the court. That’s why he didn’t want to see anyone else standing on it. He was usually required to clean the court up once everyone had left, which meant he didn’t actually have to watch the match. He’d only come in because he was curious about Seijoh’s new ‘freak quick’. His friend, Tsukishima Kei, had insisted that he go to see the match.

      It was strange that Tsukishima and Kageyama had ended up being close friends. When they’d first met during high school, they’d hated each other more than anything. It’d gotten to the point where they’d go to extreme lengths just to hate on one another (nobody could forget the time where Kageyama sprinkled salt over Tsukishima’s head, called him ‘Saltyshima’ and told him to go back to the sea because he’d get along with all the ‘sea-whores’). But one day, they’d realised that they were a lot more similar than they’d originally thought. While they still have a hate/love relationship, they’re a lot closer than they used to be.

      The media was swarming past Kageyama, most likely planning to get some interviews with Seijoh before they left. Kageyama wasn’t too bothered. He just knew that he needed to get home before his cat starved to death. He’d forgotten to top up the cat food this morning and it had been eating at him throughout the entire match. Please be okay, Gun Gun. Please.

***

      Meanwhile, Oikawa was breezing his way through the media.

      “Yes. I’m satisfied with this victory; I don’t think there’s anything we could’ve done better. This time, we were the superior team. That’s all there is to it,” he said, adding his signature grin. The reporter, who was female, was too busy swooning to make notes on what the athlete was saying.

      “Oikawa-kun,” another male reporter said. The nametag on his jacket read ‘Moniwa Kaname’. “Right now, do you think that you’re the best setter in Japan?”

      “Does pizza taste like the best thing ever?” He shot another dazzling grin at Moniwa, so bright that it was enough to make the reporter look away for a few moments. The female reporter looked like she’d faint any second.

      “Hey! Ask me questions!” Hinata was jumping around, trying to grab the attention of the media. As much as he enjoyed being on the winning side like this, he hated how Oikawa was getting all of the attention. So what if he’s conventionally attractive? Hinata’s the reason they scored so many points…

      “Alright. Hinata-kun, what is it like to be on a team with Oikawa-kun?” Hinata fought the urge to face-palm himself. The questions were always about Oikawa. Always. If it wasn’t Oikawa, then it was Ushijima Wakatoshi, Seijoh’s explosive ace. They hardly ever gave any attention to Nishinoya Yuu, their libero. He’s the reason they hardly conceded any points during these three sets. And then there’s Tendou Satori and Kuroo Tetsurou, who managed to block nearly every spike that Ubugawa managed to make. And then there’s Bokuto Koutarou, who made all sorts of crazy plays during the game. They’d all played their hearts out. Yet, all the media cared about was Oikawa and Ushijima.

      “Moniwa-chan,” Oikawa began to say. “There’s other amazing people on our team too. There’s our other setter, Aka-chan. He might be on the bench, but he could be pretty close to beating me.” While Oikawa enjoyed the attention he got, he didn’t like how the media practically ignored everyone else in Seijoh. His teammates are the only reason he can perform so well, after all.

      “Yes, yes. Oikawa-kun, what’s your exercise regimen?”

      Oikawa grinned. “Well, it was Kuroo who made all of our exercise regimens, so you should ask him.” Kuroo appeared beside Oikawa, wearing that same cool smirk on his face.

      “Ah,” Kuroo began to say. “Well, for Oikawa’s exercise regimen, I—”

      “Never mind,” Moniwa said, shaking his head. Kuroo appeared slightly pissed by the action, but he didn’t say anything. He simply stepped to one side, allowing the reporters to get more angles of him. “Oikawa-kun, what’s the next step for Seijoh?”

      “We’re taking the world,” Oikawa began to say. “With all of my teammates. Chibi-chan. Kuroo. Yuu-chan. Sato-chan. Kou-chan. Our players on the bench, too. Dai-chan. Asahi-chan. Taka-chan. Terushima-chan. Oh, and Ushijima.” The last name sounded slightly harsh when it left his lips, something that Moniwa’s eager ears didn’t miss.

      “Oho,” Kuroo said, popping his head up again. He knew first-hand just how much Oikawa hated Ushijima. It had once gotten to the point where Oikawa didn’t toss to Ushijima for an entire game. That was how they’d lost last year’s match against Ubugawa. Oikawa had been sharply admonished by the coach and for the following matches, Akaashi had been playing as setter. This was Oikawa’s first match ever since the incident. It just so happened that it was with Ubugawa again. This time, Oikawa hadn’t neglected Ushijima, but he hadn’t over-prioritized the ace either. The setter had learnt to keep his emotions off the court when they were in a game, but there was nothing that could be done for his loathing of the ace.

      “Oho oho,” Bokuto said, looking over at Oikawa. Kuroo and Bokuto had exchanged many theories on why Oikawa hated Ushijima so much, since the latter didn’t seem to hold any sour feelings toward Oikawa. The conclusion they’d reached was that Ushijima had been a past lover of Iwaizumi’s, and that was why Oikawa hated him so much. They weren’t even sure if Ushijima was gay in the first place, but they knew how vicious Oikawa could be when it came to Iwaizumi. It was the only explanation.

      “Hey! Guys!” Ukai Keishin, Seijoh’s coach, stepped onto the scene, ushering the team members over with one hand. Ubugawa was getting interviewed by some other members of the media, but most of them were on Seijoh’s side of the court. “The coach is outside, let’s go!”

      Hinata blinked at the coach. “But you’re here.”

      “He means the vehicle coach, Shou,” Nishinoya said, looking over to the exit of the gymnasium. “We must advance. And celebrate this victory!”

      “Wait, wait,” Moniwa said, “We’d like to ask a few more questions—”

      “Sorry. You guys will get your answers soon,” Ukai said, already beginning to walk towards the exit. The rest of the team was following behind him, still covered in the afterglow of victory. It felt amazing, like they were basking in liquid gold and soaking it in. They truly felt like victors. Finally, they were one step closer to becoming number one in Japan. Now, it was time to take over the world.

***

      It was almost one in the morning when Oikawa stumbled in through the front door, drunk off his feet. He’d been driven home by the ever-responsible Daichi, who had been accommodating enough to help all his teammates that had decided to drink themselves into the ground.

      “Aren’t you meant to get drunk when you lose?” Daichi had asked. He’d been met with the sound of Oikawa vomiting. That was an unpleasant sound, one which Daichi didn’t want to hear again. Especially in the backseat of his brand new car.

      And now, Oikawa was at home, stumbling over to the living room. It was too much effort to try and make his way up the stairs. He just knew he’d fall down if he even tried, so he didn’t bother.

      “Oikawa.” Iwaizumi was sitting in the living room. From the looks of it, he’d been waiting quite a while for the setter to come home. There was a cake on the table, one which read ‘Well Done’ and a small gift box from Iwaizumi himself. “You said you’d come home at seven. It’s one in the morning.”

      Oh shit. Oikawa was trying to mentally sober himself up, but it didn’t seem to be working. He knew that Iwaizumi had been waiting for him, but he’d convinced himself he’d be able to go home after a little bit of sake. He’d ended up downing three pitchers with the help of Bokuto, who was just as much of a drunkard as he was. He’d also eaten a lot of crisps and nuts. His stomach was just swilling with nuts and alcohol. No wonder he feels so sick.

      “I… I’m sorry, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa slurred. “I’ll make it up to you.”

      Iwaizumi sighed. It was always like this with Oikawa. The athlete seemed to forget about him most days. Even though they lived together, it felt more like Oikawa was with him so that he could proudly proclaim that he was the first openly gay athlete in Japan, not because Oikawa genuinely loved him. He was never sure how to feel about the setter. Iwaizumi himself worked for a publishing house, regularly reviewing novels and documents for aspiring authors. He loved literature, practically breathed in it. He’d taken a day off so that he could go to watch Oikawa’s match and celebrate the win with him. But Oikawa hadn’t come home all day. The cake had gone cold and Iwaizumi’s mood had dampened along with it. Seijoh won, but Iwaizumi feels like he somehow lost.

      “Whatever. Sleep it off,” Iwaizumi ordered, getting off the couch so that Oikawa could get on. The setter flopped onto the couch, falling asleep in less than three minutes. His body was twisted awkwardly, he had a leg sticking right off the couch and his arm was hanging off the edge of the couch. Iwaizumi arranged his position so that he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit while sleeping and draped a blanket over his boyfriend, letting out a deep sigh as he did so. Is this working?

      Meanwhile, Kageyama was back at Tokyo’s gymnasium. The last match of the day had been at ten p.m., lasting a whole two hours. Matches usually didn’t go on for so long, but it had been inevitable. The two teams had been strong, so the match had been pretty close. Either way, it was Kageyama’s job to clean the court. He’d already scrubbed them until they were squeaky clean and polished them, but he couldn’t help but play a small game to himself every now and again. He’d toss the ball somewhere and dash to that position so that he could spike it. He’d also practice serving, those same monster serves he’d seen Oikawa do.

      Once he’d tired himself out by missing the serves, again, again and again, Kageyama took another trek across the gym while pushing the trolley in front of him, leaning down every now and again to catch a stray ball in the curve of his palm before slinging it upward so that it fell in with the others. It was late. Too late, really. Last time he’d checked the clock, it had just hit twelve. Chances were that maybe an hour or two had passed since then. He’d have to come into work tomorrow; he’d have to be on time. But he couldn’t resist the temptation to walk up to the net; the temptation to let his fingers graze along the white netting.

      There was no air conditioning in the gym at this time of night since he was the only one left in the entire building. He wasn’t exactly standing still, so he had sweat pouring down his face. He was pretty sure that he was looking like a tomato — his face always got quite red whenever he ran around a few seconds too long. Then again, many people have described Kageyama as a blank canvas. People have described him as many things, but they’ve never described him as what he felt.

      There were times when Kageyama felt like a bird with clipped wings. Being in the crowd, watching all those players touch the sky while scoring points… he was envious. When Oikawa swaggered around the court, proudly proclaiming “This is my court!” with his eyes, he felt envy burning deep inside his heart. He scrubs the court with nothing but a cloth and some polish, the repetitive action often rubbing his fingers raw. He would’ve rather had his hands raw by spiking, setting, tossing. Anything but preparing the court for the victors. Just like how everyone in basketball envies the guys who can slam dunk, Kageyama has started to envy the birds who can fly. Or, well, the guys who can jump.

      His heart is beating faster now. He’s gripping the net so tightly it feels like he’s gripping at his own heart. It feels just as fragile as this net. It’s securely tightened, but at the same time, it wouldn’t take much to tear it down. He’s frustrated that he can’t be as great as Oikawa. He tries to serve like him, to set like him, but it never goes right. He’ll have the image clear in his mind when he throws the ball up in the air, his high school number nine emblazoned in his mind as he jumps up and taps the ball with his hand. He’s completely off, as he expected. The ball hits the ground, gently patters off someplace else.

      It’s been too long. He doesn’t have what it takes to be a setter anymore.

      Why does he keep coming here every night? It only means he has to scrub the court twice as hard; that he has to get less sleep than usual.

      Why?

      One of the lights on the far side of the court flickers. Kageyama swipes the back of his hand against his forehead, wiping away the sweat again and again. Even when it’s gone, he keeps swiping. Hoping that something will change, that this magic ritual will somehow make him get better. It never does. After these two years he’s spent coming back every night and trying to become the setter he’s always dreamed of being, he's still not quite ready to give up.

      As much as it sucks, really just sucks, to miss every great shot that he can visualize, he's not ready to give it up; this feeling. Because flying through the air like this, imagining that one day he’ll have a crowd watching him as he touches the sky… it’s pretty amazing. But it won't happen. He's nothing but a cleaner. He’s made no big accomplishments in life. His high school grades were average and he never went to university. He was more focused on making some income and helping his parents out. And now, he’s twenty-three years old, standing in a court that he’ll never get to play a real match on. It’s way too late for him to become a pro now; he knows that.

      But it's fun to pretend, even if only for a night.

      “Alright. Kageyama, nice serve,” he whispers to himself, standing at the back of the court with the ball in his hands. He tosses it up, takes three calculated steps and jumps on the fourth. The ball makes perfect contact with his hand. It shoots across the court, landing just before the ‘Out’ line. It went so quickly that Kageyama wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it or not. But then, he looked at his hand. It was a little red, aching a little from all the balls he’d handled. It happened, alright.

      “Nice serve. Again.”

      Yet another perfect serve. Is it because he’s putting his feelings into the ball? His regrets; his sorrows?

      “And again.” The ball makes it over. Kageyama could’ve sworn that it had just as much power as Oikawa’s, although he couldn’t control where it landed. Right now, it was still hit or miss.

      The fun thing about pretending is that when you’re done, you can go back to living your normal life like nothing happened. Kageyama can see himself in a match right now, but then he’ll go to the home he shares with his parents and talk to his cat a little.

      Then, he’ll go to sleep and dream about the same thing all over again. Volleyball. If only he hadn’t given it up.