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a flower that grows within

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"A man carries a flower for three reasons:

 

  1. He is in love
  2. He is in mourning
  3. He is a flower salesman

 

...I am not a flower salesman. that is the only thing I know."

- Picking flowers, Nate Marshall

 


 

 

Oikawa Tooru, as much as he hates to admit it, looks like shit today.

No amount of makeup can save the bags under his eyes, or the too-pale color of his skin this time, and the concerned looks he keeps on getting from Iwaizumi is a clear sign that he looks terrible. His fingers tap against his desk anxiously, in tune to the ticking clock of the classroom. His teacher’s words are more like background noise, barely processing in his mind, especially with the headache that pounds through his skull.

He wants to sleep — he needs to sleep, and he finds himself slipping until the sound of a pencil hitting the floor jolts him awake. It takes him a second to realize it was his — and while leaning down to pick it up, Iwaizumi whispers to him.

“You okay?”

A rhetorical question, of course. Tooru isn’t sure why he’s even asking. To humor him, Tooru simply shoots his Iwaizumi his typical smile, the one he usually reserves for his pushy fangirls or for rude strangers. “Just peachy.”

Iwaizumi’s eyes narrow at that, and he opens his mouth as if to say something, but then he takes a glance at their teacher and lets the matter go. It’s not like his best friend can give him a lecture about self-care in the middle of class, and this seems to frustrate him. He gives Tooru one last look before crossing his arms, turning his attention back to the teacher. 

After all, this isn’t the first time he’s come to school, fidgety for no apparent reason. One would expect Iwaizumi to let the matter go at this point (Tooru’s been like this on random days all throughout high school, although he’s been pulling all nighters more frequently as of late, which makes his jumpiness worse) but despite how often the situation crops up, he always manages to hear at least one lengthy lecture through his lunch. He looks to the clock with apprehension — speaking of lunchtime, there’s only a few minutes left until they’re dismissed for break. The thought of having to deal with his concerned-yet-aggressive friend, along with Matsukawa and Hanamaki’s usual antics makes him sigh with regret.

Maybe he can escape to the bathroom. As much as he hates the dirty, disgusting place, it’s the only way he can get rid of all this excess energy under his skin. Just thinking about it makes his legs bounce, makes his muscles strain with the effort of not running out immediately. His sweaty palms fumble with his pen as he tries to take some notes, even if he’s not entirely focused (it’s in vain, he knows, because when it gets like this he rarely absorbs enough lesson material to write down coherent sentences). 

His teacher is talking now, while looking at all of them rather than at the board. Something in Tooru’s mind says that he should really pay attention now, because this could be something important, but then the bell rings and his thoughts scatter like wildfire. Damn, has that always been that loud? He can barely hear anything as he stumbles to get up and out as fast as possible, to move move move – anything to get away from his teacher’s piercing gaze.

Iwaizumi isn’t that far behind him, grabbing his shoulder so that they don’t lose each other in the mass of crowding students. His grip is firm, guiding him through until he miraculously finds himself at the cafeteria. He can already see Hanamaki and Matsukawa sitting at their usual spots — they wave the two of them over.

Their cafeteria is rather huge, with long tables that stretch in rows, a line of students almost always crowding the entrance as they wait for their food. Tooru and his friends usually sit near the middle of the room, close to the wide windows that line up the wall opposite of the kitchen. Thankfully, today he has a packed lunch, and he saves himself from another migraine by skipping the line and heading straight to the other third years.

“Did you miss me?” he asks, trying to hide his exhaustion. He sits across from the two and resists the immediate urge to lay down on the open bench and fall asleep.

“Not at all,” Matsukawa responds a beat later. His hair is curly as always, chopsticks pointed at him with narrowed eyes. “It looks like you missed us, though. Don’t tell me it’s one of those days again.” 

“Oh, it’s one of those days,” Iwaizumi grumbles, taking a seat next to him. “Almost fell asleep in Sato-sensei’s class. Can you believe it? I swear I thought sensei was going to burn Oikawa with his glare.” 

Tooru just smiles weakly. “I though you were gonna burn me with a glare!” ‘Those days’ are when he, for some inexplicable reason he refuses to say, becomes jittery and anxious and exhausted. In his entire lifetime of knowing Iwaizumi, and in his 3 year friendships with Hanamaki and Matsukawa, they still haven’t been able to figure out why.

Iwaizumi thinks he’s just overworking himself with schoolwork. Matsukawa and Hanamaki think he’s still obsessed with conspiracy theories (which he isn’t, for the record, it was strictly a middle-school phase. Sort of.) and he’s only tired because he spent the night hunting for aliens.

“Damn,” Hanamaki says. He takes a bit of rice before continuing. “Like, no offense but, you look worse than you usually do on those days. You’re more… dead looking. Almost zombie-like.

Excuse me?” for their sake, and probably his own as well, he gives the three of them the most offended look he can make. Opening his lunch box, he swallows at the sight of milk bread — a sight that would usually energize him, but today he feels nothing. “There’s no way someone like me can look like anything but a perfect human being.”


“If you’re what a perfect human being is supposed to look like, I’m concerned for the entire human race,” Iwaizumi says. Tooru spots a cup of yoghurt in Iwaizumi’s lunch and instinctively tries to take it. The other easily swats his hand away, and everything seems normal for just a second, just a second.

Then his arm flops onto the table and Tooru slouches. “Iwa-chan, you’re so mean. I’m having a bad day today. You should be nice,” he whines. 

“Seriously though, what’s wrong?” he asks instead of responding. “You seemed fine yesterday, and it’s not like we have any upcoming tests or assignments you need to stay up for.” 

Tooru isn’t sure what to say to that — there’s a lot wrong, and he really doesn’t want to think about it, because yesterday he and his mother had a talk concerning all the things Tooru is trying to avoid, and then of course he woke up in the middle of the night because— because of that, and he only managed to get three hours of sleep in total because he was too anxious to go back to bed. 

“I’m telling you, Oikawa is just spending his nights going out to see if aliens will finally send him a message,” Matsukawa snickers.

Tooru throws up his hands. “That was one time Mattsun! I only asked to you guys to join me once! And it never happened again!”

Hanamaki lifts an eyebrow. “Really? You never went out again after that? Not even once?”

“W-Well,” he sputters, “I mean, only maybe two times more. But I stopped after middle school, I swear!”

The two aren’t listening, too busy laughing. Tooru glares into his food, which hasn’t gotten any more appetizing since the start of the lunch period. He thought it would be easier to handle out of class, but his shaking fingers say otherwise — he needs to move, get out, now.

He suddenly stands up, trying to hide the tremors going through his body. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he announces. He internally winces at how choppy his words come out.

“Did you drink milk at breakfast again?” Iwaizumi asks with a glare. “If you’re tired because of something stupid like that I’m going to hit you.”

“Mean, Iwa-chan! I can’t help that I’m lactose-intolerant, okay?!”

“Ah, so it’s just a bad case of the shits,” Hanamaki says, nodding sagely. “Why do you keep eating shit like milk bread if you know you’re going to suffer like this later anyways?”

I can’t stand still like this much longer. I need to get out, get out, get it out, now. Tooru manages to make a face, though, legs jumping up and down. “No matter what my body says, I will love milk bread forever. Even if it kills me. Even if I have to use the bathroom”

“Idiot,” Iwaizumi just mutters. They all know how much Tooru hates the school bathrooms, because he likes complaining about them all the time. The only time he ever uses it is when he eats lactate without eating his medication first, or when it’s one of those days (but nobody really knows the difference between the two, only he does).

Something pulses under his skin — he’s been standing still for too long, and that something is struggling to come out.

“Bathroom,” he says weakly, finally running off. He hears the knowing sighs of everyone, and someone whispers the words “when Is he gonna start taking care of himself? Someone remind him to take his meds next time—“ before he quickly heads towards where he needs to go. Today he can’t go outside — there were students, meaning he’ll be seen if he does.

The headache is back, amplified with each step.

When he opens the heavy bathroom door, it squeaks from the strain. Thankfully, no one is there, but the pungent smell that assaults his nose almost makes him turn around — almost.

(But there’s no way he can turn back, no way he will turn back, because if he doesn’t get rid of it right away the chances of him being found out increases to a dangerous percentage. He doesn’t like thinking about what’ll happen then).

Just to be safe, he enters a stall for privacy. Almost immediately after he locks the door, something in his body just lets go, and the control he was struggling to maintain throughout the day quickly dissipates.

Green vines sprout from his arms, curling around with budding leaves, draping green sheets as Tooru shakes from the strain. Petals grow from his hair, around his face, up his neck, painting his skin red with speckles of black and yellow. Roots twist through his veins as big, leafy plant-life emerges from his fingers, breaking through skin to wrap around Tooru like a living terrarium.

And in that moment, he’s glad — so, so glad because he’s lactose intolerant, because if it weren’t for that small fact he wouldn’t have a solid excuse as for why he needs so desperately to be alone when he goes away to the bathroom for long periods of time.

After all, lactose intolerance is normal. Lactose intolerance is something a human has, something he can act embarrassed about.

Magic — magic is something that isn’t any of those things. Magic is dangerous, magic is illegal, magic is… magic is what causes his shuddering as he tries to keep flowers and branches inside him whenever he gets too worked up. Magic is what causes his exhaustion, what causes him to be so tired on days he can’t control it very well. Magic is what wakes him up at night, choking him with thorns on his throat, along with nightmares of getting found out.

Magic is a part of Oikawa Tooru.

There’s no other explanation for how wrinkled petals find themselves sprouting from the lines of his palm, knees overrun with grass and wildflowers, every part of his body a living, breathing garden that turns the hairs on his scalp into tiny treetops that shade the blossoming fruit leaves that come from his collarbone.

He remembers when this first happened — he had been alone, thankfully, and smart enough not to mention it to anyone. He knew how magic-users were treated, understood the looks of terror and scorn people would get when it was brought up. 

He remembers learning about where this magic even came from.  He remembers learning about creatures from the Other side, a place of monsters from myths, living their own lives, separate from their own society. 

He remembers how horribly these monsters were depicted, how they were painted as killers and animals who thirsted for human blood.

 (He remembers trying to hide his powers, and getting bruises all over his body from the backlash). 

He’s gotten better at regulating his magic to leave only the smallest of marks, if any, but today he knows there’s going to be a bit more than just a small scratch, just judging from the soreness of his arms. It’s not that his hurts — despite the fact that things are literally protruding from under his skin, it doesn’t hurt, not at all. It never did (in fact, it feels better to let it out rather than keep it in).

But even if his body breaks and bruises, even if he can barely get through a day without wanting to collapse from the stress of having to keep everything in, he’s kept this secret for 11 years straight and doesn’t intend to break it anytime soon. He can’t allow himself to slip up in a world where magic is rejected. Especially in front of his best friends.

Especially in front of Iwaizumi.

As soon as the last of the flowers are drawn back in, skin closing up as if nothing happened, he finds himself able to breathe again. His headache is gone, sort of, and Tooru spends the next minute fixing himself up in the dirtied mirrors. 

I’m human, he tells himself, before going out again. I’m human, I’m normal, and there’s nothing wrong with me. Mom and Onee-chan is normal too, so why wouldn’t I be? I don’t know anything about magic, except that it exists and that I hate it. I just had a bad stomachache from eating too much milk bread and cereal in the morning.

(the lies itch, causes his fingers to tingle). 

With one last look in the mirror, Tooru puts on his mask, slips on a smile, and steps out with a spring in his step.

 


 

The night is silent, except for the sound of dripping water from a leaky faucet in the bathroom.

“Tooru?” his mother calls from the kitchen — the table is already set with breakfast. There’s a lunchbox there for him to take as well, neatly wrapped and ready to go. Tooru takes a seat and tiredly digs in, not quite fully awake.  

Every few minutes, he can also hear the sound of rustling wind. Cars never pass by his section of the neighborhood, especially this late, but the serene peace he usually feels right before dawn isn’t there, replaced by the feeling of suffocation.                                 

“Yeah, mom?” he asks, after a few bites.

There’s a breath, a moment of hesitation. Then, she speaks with caution in her voice. “I know you don’t like talking about this… but I got a call from your teacher.”  

Tooru freezes and almost chokes on his food, chest tight with sudden anxiety.

He’s been staring emptily at his ceiling for the past hour now. His eyelids are drooping, but for some reason, sleep doesn’t find him. His fingers twitch — is he dreaming? Or is he awake? Maybe he’s in between, he can’t tell.

“She says you still haven’t talked to your guidance counselor about university, and that your grades are dropping. Just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean you can slack off, you know. Your teacher is just trying to help, and you should take her advice while you can–“

“Mom,” he interrupts, putting his chopsticks down. “Mom. I don’t want to talk about this.  

“Then when do you want to talk about this? You’re running out of time, I hope you know.”

Suffocation. He can’t breathe.

He hasn’t finished his breakfast yet, but he gets up and starts getting ready anyways. “Trust me, mom. I have everything under control. I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

They both know Tooru isn’t going to do any talking, but he leaves before his mother can protest.

He knows what she’s thinking, knows what everyone thinks — that he doesn’t know what he wants to do, that he doesn’t care for his future. That he wants to spend the rest of his school year just relaxing. “Senoritis already, I guess you could say!” says his sister jokingly, trying to hide her concern.

How he wishes that were true.

Tooru clenches his fist and lets out a sigh, green buds popping out from his palms before detaching and fluttering to the sidewalk. The wind takes them away, leaving no evidence behind.  

It’s better like this, he tries to tell himself, it’s better to act like he doesn’t care at all. Because even if he tried, even if he were honest about his what he really wanted to do, to pursue, he’ll never make it past high school.

At a school where trained monster hunters and blood-checks are as common as students, there’s no way he’ll be able to have a normal life without getting caught. If the bloodwork they require at the start of semesters doesn’t give him away, the hundreds of cameras installed all over university campuses will surely catch him in the act of growing something or the other.

It makes sense — as unfair as it is for him, it makes sense. There have been too many ‘accidents,’ too many deaths and injuries from monsters disguised as students. Technically he can beg and explain his situation, but in reality, he really doesn’t have a chance.

If he goes to university, at best he’ll be put to jail.

Just for existing.

He hates it, he hates it, but it’s better that he pretends that he doesn’t care, it’s better that he doesn’t try, because no matter what he does he’ll be rejected.

But who’s ever heard of a half-human astrophysicst though? His dream seem so foolish. As if he could ever make it anywhere even if he did go to school. Skipping university altogether is the best option he has, because then he could at least hide a bit longer, stay out of sight for as long as possible…

…yet he… he—

—he wakes up to the sound of his own, heavy breathing.

There’s a blanket of autumn leaves all over his bed, the gnarly branches protruding from his forearms already blooming again. Flowers tickle his ears as they sprout from his hair, spilling over and fluttering past his eyes. Green buds pop from his palms, just like from his dream.

Although, it was less of a dream and more of a vivid replay of that horrible morning. Tooru checks his bedside clock, the numbers 5:13 glaring back at him in luminescent red. He feels more tired than usual, most likely do to the extra stress from trying to avoid his mom and his teacher and his friends all day.

(He wonders how long he can keep it up, wonders when he’ll have the strength to say the words I’m not applying to university even if he doesn’t want to.) 

Tooru looks out the window — as expected, Iwaizumi’s room is dark. A part of him wishes he could telepathically communicate to him to wake up, but his powers, unfortunately, seem to be related to only plants.

The clouds move and moonlight shines through his window, momentarily lighting up his arms. He has to admit the sight isn’t exactly pretty. Aside from the small bruises littered around, the dark stems jutting through his veins look like pulsing parasites. There’s a bit of blood from where the branch comes from, rough bark slightly tearing the skin around it. A part of him wonders what kind of tree it is that’s growing through him, but he quickly squishes the thought.

(He’s never bothered to learn the names of any of the things that grow from him, and it’s probably better he never does).

He can still hear the sound of the faucet. Tooru tries not to think about his dream too much as he settles back into bed—doing so will only cause more negative emotions, which’ll lead to more cleanup for tomorrow morning. Sure, his plants usually just retreat back into his body after a while, but the stray petals and leaves that fall out during the process don’t just disappear (although he wishes they could). He has to manually pick them up before either throwing them away or absorbing it back into his skin. 

The thought of someone finding his room, full of broken bark and fallen flowers, makes his skin crawl. 

But in the darkness, there’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to hide. In the day he lives in fear, but when the world goes to sleep this part of him wakes up, the part of him that doesn’t care if he’s using magic or not. There’s no one awake, no sound, nobody there to see his true nature. Spindly branches grow from his knees, his ankles, his chest, reaching up into the ceiling and revealing bright, yellow flowers that glisten in the night.

They are his stars, and Tooru doesn’t need a degree in astrophysics to know their orbit. He is, after all, their sun. A star himself.

 


 

The next night, Tooru finds himself unable to sleep, again.

School had been tiring as ever. Throughout the entire day, he had been on edge, and even going to the bathroom and releasing excess magic hadn’t helped his jittery mood. Somehow, he managed to hide his discomfort with well-timed jokes throughout the day.        

But even now, the fidgety feeling is still there, like an annoying itch that can’t quite be scratched.

He shifts in his bed, trying to get comfortable, but it isn’t easy. There are no stars painting his room tonight — there’s too much trying to come out at the moment, and if he lets go he might drown under the weight of his own flowers.

But he needs to move. Almost mechanically, he finds himself finally opening a window, the late-spring air a refreshing breeze. Through muscle memory he removes the wire mesh that separates his room and the outside world before carefully climbing out. Thankfully, Iwaizumi’s room is dark, meaning he’s sleeping and won’t know that Tooru is sneaking out. 

It also means it’s well past midnight. He doesn’t bother to check the time for specifics, though. As long as he can stay unnoticed, he’s okay.

There are no shoes to cover the bruises on his ankles and he winces every so often under the strain, but even so he continues to march forward. There’s something therapeutic about spontaneous late-night walks, and the little forested park he approaches brings comforting childhood memories.

This is where he goes when the nights get too long, when he can’t contain everything in just one room. It’s where he goes when he needs a breather, when he needs an entire forest to hide himself.

His feet lead him to a familiar hiking path. He used to frequent this place with Iwaizumi often during the summer of elementary school days. The dirt is well worn from the years upon years of sneakers and other shoes plodding through, and with his soles bare, he can feel much more than just what he steps on. Somehow, without even closing his eyes, Tooru can sense the thicket of roots that grow deep under, the small vein-like tendrils from the unkempt grass fields. He can feel seeds just barely pushing themselves to breathe in the air, the life that swarms under surface level, the life of the forest.

He walks through about half the trail, where the moonlight is the thinnest. Without hesitation this time, Tooru sighs and releases the heavy tension in his shoulders.

The earth trembles beneath him. The weeks and weeks of unhealthy built-up stress bursting from his body isn’t a pleasant sight. The sound of skin ripping and things tearing apart sounds harsh and jarring to his own ears — but at the same time, something about the cathartic moment feels as natural as breathing, almost feels relieving – and soon enough, Tooru is wrapped in his own garden.

Flowers, vines, roots, and other plant-life extends from his body. It would look mysteriously beautiful if it weren’t for the blood pooling at his feet, lightly dripping from his arms and legs as his body shudders, trying to adjust to the sudden outbreak. A part of him wonders if the bleeding is always supposed to happen, or if it’s a side effect from trying to repress his magic for so long.

Tooru isn’t sure how long he stands there — long enough for the plants to settle, he guesses — but soon, he finally starts feeling empty, refreshed, clean. His spine sags from the strained effort, suddenly tired and exhausted. The process of getting everything to reverse itself takes a while, and his bones begin to creak as his body structure tries to rearrange itself.

It’s when he begins to walk, palms enclosed around the last that he sees him. 

The moonlight illuminates the figure of a boy who looks no older than him, although he seems to be a bit taller. Messy, dark hair hides half a pair of glowing eyes that dilate in the light. His clothes are dark, moving, as if they were woven with the shadows of the night, melting into the air around him.

He smiles at Tooru, revealing sharp canines. “Quite an impressive show… you’ve got some powerful magic, kid.”

The words make his blood turn to ice. “Who are you?” He says, unable to keep the quivering fear out of his voice. And what are you doing here?  

“Me? I’m just a cat.”

Tooru blinks, and in the place of the stranger is, true to his word, a black cat, with the same piercing eyes and unnerving smile.

“Sorry, wrong question,” Tooru says with a nervous laugh. His legs tremble, ready to run at any moment despite the pain that comes from trying to move. “I meant to say, what are you?”

He can’t believe that there’s another magic user — another monster — out here. Had he been watching the entire time? His process hadn’t been a quiet one. While not loud enough to alert the neighborhood, it was certainly loud enough for this stranger to have heard. Was he someone Tooru knew?

Would he finally be found out?

The thought makes him want to bolt as fast as possible.

“How rude. I said I was a cat, already. A black cat if you want to be specific,” the stranger says. “Black cats are a sign of bad luck, but… I think you’ll get a nice surprise soon. Don’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, you’ll know soon enough. Sorry to cut our first meeting so short, but I’m running out of time. Catch you later?” 

And then, with a wink, he disappears.

He stands there for a few moments longer, waiting for something to happen, for someone to jump from behind and yell freeze! We know your secret! 

But nothing happens. The winds change course, signaling the start of a new day.

With shaky steps, Tooru makes his way back, the sun already about to rise, it’s golden rays peering out from the horizon. He rushes to get back into the safety of his room, away from any more prying eyes. 

Washing the blood from his body, Tooru decides that the cat-human thing had to be an illusion. A hallucination induced by his exhaustion. There’s no other explanation for it — if it were real, if there were truly another magical human around who knew his secret, Tooru would go crazy.

Better to pretend it never happened. Better to pretend it was all a dream.

(he reminds himself to take a different hiking path the next time he goes out).

 


 

Tooru is seven years old when he decides to tell Iwaizumi his secret.

It’s winter, the cold air making him shiver against his scarf, Iwaizumi sitting right next to him. Their noses are red from the weather, each holding a warm mug of hot chocolate. It’s quiet between the two of them as they rest, the snow-filled backyard full of mini forts, half-finished snowmen, and hundreds of footprints.

Tooru swings his feet back and forth, the back of his boots sending powdered snow flying from the staircase they’re on. The overcast clouds above them seem to hang ominously, as if promising rain, maybe even more snow.

He’s been wanting to share with Iwaizumi for a long time, and in the peacefulness of the situation he finally feels ready. It’s something he hasn’t even told his own sister or mother, and the thought of Iwaizumi being the only one with his secret makes him feel… excited. He’s tired of trying to hide this from his best friend. 

Magic is fun, amazing. He wants Iwaizumi to think the same too. 

“Oikawa?” Iwaizumi’s voice breaks him out of his thoughts. 

“Yeah, Iwa-chan?” He says immediately, looking up from his mug. Iwaizumi’s tone was —serious, and his expression is the same, with furrowed eyebrows.

“Theres… something I want to tell you,” he starts hesitantly. “Something I’ve wanted to share for a while. Dad said not to tell anyone, but I think you should know.”

He looks nervous, a strange expression withal the baby-fat still on his face.

Tooru’s eyes widen. ‘Me too,’ He wants to say, ‘I want to share something too,’ but he swallows the words, saving them for later. Instead, he asks, “What is it?”

He can’t believe his luck.

This is perfect. a secret for a secret. He can confess to Iwaizumi about his magic after, and then they’ll be even. They’ll both know something about each other that nobody else knows. Something only a best friend would know. He wonders what it is, speculates that it must be an incredibly important deal for Iwaizumi to go against what his dad’s words. 

It feels nice, to be trusted like this. 

But of all the things Iwaizumi could have said then, of all the possibilities Tooru could have imagined, nothing could have prepared him for the truth. For the first time in his life, Tooru would experience harsh reality. 

The words coming out of the other’s mouth is completely unexpected (but looking back, it’s nothing uncommon, nothing surprising, he should have seen it coming but still—)

“My mom… she’s… gone." 

He doesn’t get it at first. Iwaizumi shifts in his seat.

“…Gone?”

“Yeah.” His expression changes slightly. “Dad says the monsters took her.”

Something sinks in his stomach. He doesn’t like where this is going. “Monsters.” 

“You know—“ he pauses and makes some motions with his hands. “Magic. Scary things. The other side?”

“Right. Magic. Scary things. They…. Took your mom?” Tooru repeats a bit faintly. 

Iwaizumi looks behind him, as if someone is listening in, before leaning in close. “I’m telling you because I don’t want them to take you too.” In that moment, Iwaizumi looks scared, and angry. Tooru doesn’t know what to say in return. “I miss… I miss my mom. Promise you won’t disappear, okay? Promise you won’t let the monsters take you away. Dad says the monsters are even worse than bad people.”

(It’s so cruel, he thinks while looking back. Seven year olds shouldn’t be afraid of death, afraid of abandonment. Not the way Iwaizumi was).

Something unpleasant settles in Tooru’s chest, but he doesn’t quite understand the full gravity of the situation. He bites down questions like, is she gone forever? Do you think you can ask the monsters and ask them to give her back? Where did they take her too? And nods solemnly along, holding out his pinky finger to swear he wouldn’t the monsters take him, no way.

I have my own magic to protect myself! Watch! He wants to say.

But he looks at Iwazumi, at his anger and fear, and the words just don’t come out. 

He didn’t know it back then, but it wouldn’t be the first time he experienced bitter irony. The son of a monster, best friends with someone who’s parent was killed by a monster. A wielder of magic, closest to someone who despised it

(Seven year olds shouldn’t be afraid of rejection, of being alone. Not the way Tooru was.

But they were both afraid, seven year olds huddling in the cold, and maybe that’s where it all started.)

Tooru’s other hand closes around some blooming petals, white as the snow around them. They wrinkle and shrivel in his palms. 

“Did you want to say something?” Iwaizumi asks after a moment, tilting his head, as if sensing the hidden words at the back of Tooru’s throat.

He smiles at the other. “Nope! I’m good. But… thanks for telling me this, Iwa-chan. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

Iwaizumi smiles back, but for some reason the sinking feeling won’t go away. After a few more minutes the two of them head inside, and they never really speak of it again.

Tooru is seven years old when Iwaizumi tells him his secret.

Tooru never ends up sharing his own.

 


  

Tooru, somehow, actually ends up forgetting about the stranger he saw in the woods after passing it off as a trick on his mind. A few weeks pass without anything crazy happening (the first few days after the encounter, he had been on edge, wondering what the ‘nice surprise’ would be — but nothing had been out of the ordinary), but it’s when he’s at the local convience store to get some groceries that he sees him again.

The dark, messy hair and lean figure is unmistakeable. For a second, he’s frozen, and then Tooru quickly scrambles to hide behind the little aisle shelves, hoping the other doesn’t notice him.

The stranger notices him. 

And to his horror, he begins walking towards him.

“Hey!” he calls out before Tooru can run away. “Have we met before?” It’s a question, but looking at the other’s bright gaze, they both know that they definitely have met before. 

“I- I mean, I, uh,” Tooru starts eloquently. “I don’t really think th-”

The stranger grins. “Oh, we definitely have. You were jogging by near the park, the other day! Never caught your name.”

Tooru hesitates at that. This person doesn’t seem like he’s going to report him, like he first suspected, but maybe the fact that he can turn into a cat has something to do with that. Is it a thing for magical people to out each other? Probably not… right?

“What, not even a hello? Don’t be rude, I know you can see and hear me.”

Or maybe he’s crazy. Maybe he’s officially gone crazy, and the amount of stress he’s been experiencing lately has finally pushed him over the edge. Maybe he’s hallucinating this, cat-thing again, and if he tries hard enough he’ll disappear into smoke again.

He tries moving towards the cash registers, but the stranger grabs onto his wrist before he can move on.

Okay, maybe not a hallucination.

“Are we really gonna do this? Don’t be difficult, I just wanna have a friendly conversation. So… what’s your name?”

Nothing about this seems friendly, but Tooru manages to make a face. “O-Oikawa Tooru,” he squeaks out, voice shaky. He feels a few vines pules from his forearm, and he shudders trying to suppress the magic. Not here, not now, not in front of all these people.

“See, that wasn’t too hard, right?” he continues as if he doesn’t see Tooru’s discomfort. “I’m Kuroo Tetsurou. Do you need help with those?”

He points at Tooru’s basket, which is full of groceries. 

“N-no, I’m good! I was just about to check-out and leave, actually, so if you would excuse me…”

“Oh, that’s perfect! Do you have a moment to chat, then? There’s something I need to ask you.” Kuroo’s expression is coy as he smiles at him. He twitches back in annoyance. 

Tooru’s heart starts pounding. This isn’t good, this isn’t good, this isn’t good… what the hell does he want from me?

But Kuroo’s tone leaves no room for argument, and right now he really doesn’t want to upset the other. If things really get out of hand, Tooru’s sure he can protect himself, as long as they move to a more remote location. “Sure,” he tries to say as nonchalantly as possible.

“Great!” Kuroo cheers, pushing Tooru forward. “Then let’s hurry and check out. I don’t have much time left.”

 


  

At first, they don’t go very far, but they’re far enough from other people that for Tooru to relax a bit. Plastic bags bounce against his legs with each step. Kuroo looks straight ahead, never looking back to see if he’s following along, but there’s something about the way he moves that makes Tooru feel like he’s being carefully watched.

The overhanging threes soon become familiar, and Tooru realizes they’re at the local park, around where they first met. He rarely comes by during the day anymore, and the filtered light feels warm and strangely reassuring as they stomp through the dirt-trodden path. In the corner of his eye he sees the main path, which leads to the playgrounds and front entrance, but Kuroo walks in the opposite direction and soon enough they’re so far that Tooru can’t see it anymore.

They keep going - Tooru is too scared to say anything and stays silent. He doesn’t know how long they walk, and at one point he stops trying to count the minutes that pass. Finally, after what seems like forever, his legs aching, Kuroo stops and turns around with a bemused expression. They’re in a little clearing, the thicket of trees opening up to reveal a little meadow with grass and small wildflowers.

 “We’re here!” Kuroo says. 

“Where is… here, exactly? Why did you bring me here, anyways?”

“That’s a very good question… but well. It’s a bit of a long explanation.

Tooru bristles at that. Now that he thinks about it, he probably shouldn’t have let the creepy, magical stranger lead him far into the woods, away from any civilization. He wonders if anyone will find his body if he dies. He shakes away the morbid thought with a sigh. 

Kuroo, for a second, seems to melt into the ground. Tooru blinks, and just like last time, there’s a shadowy black cat in his place.

There’s silence. 

“I’m dreaming, right?” Tooru says to himself. “Please tell me I’m dreaming. Or at least tell me why you pressured me to come here. I don’t care if it’s a long explanation.”

“Why so surprised?” the cat says with a big yawn. “It’s not like this is your first time seeing magic.”

It’s then when Tooru notices the cat’s tail — the ends are split into two, like a long y.

“Please. Just tell me now. Am I crazy?” Tooru sits, feeling faint. He’s never had to deal with someone else’s magic and — having to talk to a talking cat is just a bit much. The day had started so well. How had he ended up like this? 

“I can assure you, you’re not crazy. Simply put, I’ve brought you here because I wanted to… offer my services to you.”

“Offer your services,” Tooru repeats blankly.

“Yep! Think of me like a… recruiter, or sorts. My job is to bring people like you to the Other Side.”

Tooru’s heart hammers against his chest. “Other side?” He laughs. “I-I don’t know why you would want to bring me there. I’m just a human anyway, so I think you have the wrong—“

“Are you sure about that?” Kuroo interrupts, eyes almost glowing in the fading sunlight. It’s dusk now, and Tooru just realizes the sky is no longer blue, but pink and orange with a strange haze around it. “Are you sure you’re just human?”

His head hurts. Tooru tries to swallow and winces at how dry his throat has become. “...My mother is a human,” he simply says, and the argument sounds weak even in his ears. “Doesn’t that mean I’m one too?”

 “Well, what about your dad?”

No answer.

“Well, see? You shouldn’t try to hide it.” Kuroo’s gaze arpens. “It’s not only dangerous to yourself, but also dangerous to others, when you try to suppress magic for that long. That’s why I’m here. I can bring you safely over. I can teach you how to control it. I can even help you submit a report to the police that won’t get you charged with anything.”

“But,” he hears himself say, because everything feel surreal and there must be a catch.

“But… well. You’re gonna have to stay in the Other Side for a bit.” Somehow, the cat shrugs.

“So, for forever.” There is no crossing between worlds, it’s not allowed at all — at least, that’s what they’re told in school. But that brings up the question, how did Kuroo end up in this world?

“Ah, not quite. Trust me, there are ways to legally pass between the border. How do you think I’m here?”

Tooru sighs. He doesn’t know what to say. “I’ve asked this before, but who… are you?"

The cat grins. “Who am I? Well, I’m just your friendly neighborhood Nekomata-Witch. And I sense a lot of trapped magic in you. Aren’t you tired of running away? I can help. Really.”

Kuroo puts a paw lightly to the ground — and Tooru can’t help but let out a little gasp when light spills from his body, the earth trembling slightly before opening up, revealing a swirling pool of sparkling dust a few feet wide.

“As long as you’re with me, you’re safe to enter through here without raising any alarms. Before things get out of hand, you should come through and at least get to see what it’s like over there.”

Something cold and disgusting writhes inside Tooru. It’s slithers like ice through his veins, causes his fingers to tremble and breath pause in his lungs. It’s fear, pooling at the bottom of his stomach, throwing all logic out the window.

“I can’t,” he whispers. “I don’t want to. I’m human. I… I don’t’ belong there.

“Deny it all you want, but the fact that you made it all the way here without getting lost is proof you’re not fully human. Did you know? This little portal area is accessible by creatures and holders of magic only. Let me say this from experience — living your life as a liar is only going to make things worse.”

Tooru doesn’t respond. Kuroo bites his lips, then briefly turns into a human to reach into his pocket and hand him a piece of paper. “Okay, fine. Be that way. But if you’re ever interested in reconsidering… just let me know okay? Don’t try coming through by yourself. You’ll get in serious trouble.”

It’s when Kuroo is knee deep in the light that Tooru finally realizes Kuroo is leaving.

“Wait!” he says, a little desperately. “How do I get back home from here?”

Kuroo only smiles slyly. “I’m sure you can figure it out.” With that, the light shoots up like bars, and for a brief second he sees his body fade into shadows, a two-pronged tail flicking upwards before disappearing into smoke, closing up the portal and leaving only smoke.

And Tooru finds himself all alone in the field, the groceries in his hand long forgotten.

The wind blows — it’ll be dark soon, but Tooru can’t bring himself to stand up. Not right away, at least.

He finds a slip of paper is a phone number, from where the portal was. It flies into his hands, as if the wind is magical itself. Call me, it says. The handwriting is surprisingly neat.

Aren’t you tired of running away? I can help.  

“No way,” he whispers to himself. “It’s just too good to be true. There’s no way.”

He laughs, then, and starts walking home. The sun is gone by the time he gets there. The very same night, he finally falls asleep peacefully.

The only thing he can remember from his dreams is a black cat.

 


 

At one point, he saves the number, but he can’t bring himself to do anything else about it.

Tooru has to admit — when the weather is terrible, and he’s exhausted, and his mother won’t stop nagging, Kuroo’s offer to help him control his magic is tempting. 

But he thinks back to the way his eyes glowed, the unnaturalness of the portal, and something about the entire thing feels so off that he can’t bring himself to do anything. He’s always suppressed his magic and identity, but now that there’s a theoretical way to actually, maybe, properly learn how to use magic, he finds himself feeling impatient and unsettled for no reason.

Magic used to be something he ignored, something he tricked himself into believing wasn’t real. A pressing matter pushed under the rug so deeply Tooru rarely thought about it conciously. But now, how can he ignore everything when there are so many unanswered questions running around in his head?

Like, how did he sense Tooru’s magic? How did he get to their world legally, anyways? Had that portal always been there? Were there more around the world? Is that how magical creatures came through from the other world? Then what made Kuroo different from those criminals?

 He can’t think, can’t focus, and Tooru mentally curses Kuroo for breaking the balance of his life. He had been determined to try to forget the entire ordeal, but he can’t help remembering every time he has to hide to release magic.

“Oikawa Tooru?”

He looks up from his desk, and with a jolt, realizes he’s in the middle of class. Everyone stares at him, a few students in the back even giggling.

Oops. He smiles sheepishly at his teacher, and stutters out some excuse. He can feel Iwaizumi almost breathing down his back with questions of his own, but once again Tooru uses the cover of class to escape his immediate wrath. Maybe, by the time they’re allowed to go out, Iwaizumi won’t be as intimidating.

Tooru finds out that he is very, very wrong.

As soon as they’re dismissed Iwaizumi grabs his shoulder and leads them out. 

“I-Iwa-chan, what’s wrong?” he says as nonchalantly as possible.

“Just get your stuff,” Iwaizumi grunts. “I’m tired of this. We need to talk.”

Tooru contemplates running away — then looks at Iwaizumi’s gaze and quickly packs his bag for they day. He waves Hanamaki and Matsukawa a quick goodbye, who only nod at Iwaizumi mysteriously, before he’s dragged out to the side of the school. 

It’s a nice day out, Tooru thinks absentmindedly. The days are becoming hotter now, but there are no cicadas to be heard. The sun is partially clouded by a few clouds, leaving half of the concrete scorching and the other half perfectly fine. 

“We need to talk,” Iwaizumi repeats after sitting down, back against brick walls, facing the school’s open field that’s full of fake grass.

“I don’t know why you’re so angry, Iwa-chan,” Tooru tries to say, sitting down next to Iwaizumi. 

“I’m not angry,” Iwaizumi says, brows furrowed. “I’m just — frustrated. You haven’t been yourself lately.”

“People can change!”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I mean—” he leans in, holding a hand to Tooru’s forehead. “—are you sick or something? If you are, I’ll kill you, shittykawa.”

He brushes away Iwaizumi’s hand. “I’m not sick, or anything. Just a little stressed, that’s all!” 

Iwaizumi merely cocks an eyebrow. “Is this the same kind of ‘stressed’ you were feeling two years ago, when you practiced volleyball to the point of almost dying from malnutrition? The same kind that fucked up your knee, you know, where you were just a little bit stressed, so you stayed until 2 AM that one night—”

“Okay, I got it! I’m a lot stressed. Happy?” Tooru pouts and crosses his arms.

Iwaizumi sighs. They’re silent for a while. “You know you can tell me if anything is wrong, right?”

 The wind blows, and Tooru catches a fresh leaf that flies by. In that moment, just in that moment, he pretends that all those times he had held something like this in his hand, it had been something he had plucked himself, something he had done on purpose.

Wouldn’t it be nice, if my magic just disappeared… 

“I’m just… tired, Iwa-chan,” he finds himself saying.

Iwaizumi stays silent, as if waiting for an explanation, but Tooru doesn’t say anything else. He really is tired, tired of everything, and he silently wonders how long he can keep this, this game of constantly bottling things up. 

Not for much longer, that’s for sure, he thinks to himself, especially if Iwaizumi keeps bugging me like this. I wish… I wish I could tell them. But… 

His thoughts trail off, and it’s too much, and in that moment a few spring flowers sprout from the palm of his hand, as if responding to his frustration. 

His heart jumps to his mouth as he immediately tries to crumble it up, hoping, praying, that Iwaizumi wasn’t looking. Damn it, damn it, damn it… I let myself get too worked up. If only I had been more careful…

He suddenly remembers Iwaizumi’s expression all those years ago when they had been sharing secrets after a day of playing in the snow. He remembers the pain, the anger. 

Of course, Iwaizumi never really directly talked about his mother again after that, but sometimes Tooru would catch him going to the town cemetery with a bouquet, and other trinkets, in hand. He would catch his empty expression whenever someone talked extensively about their family.

And he really didn’t want to know how much more devastated he would be if he found out about Tooru’s own magic. If he found out that his best friend had the very same thing that had killed his mother.

A shift. Tooru freezes, unable to hide a few buds peeking out from through the cracks of his fingers. Please don’t notice, please don’t notice…

“Oh?” Tooru winces, brances for impact— “You don’t see those around these days,” Iwaizumi says casually, gesturing to the flowers in his hand. Tooru cautiously examines the other ‘s face, looks for any trace of disgust or shock, but only finds open curiosity instead. He visibly relaxes — Iwaizumi must have been looking away when his magic had leaked. Thank goodness. “They usually only come out at the beginning of spring.” 

“Y-yeah! I know right? It’s really strange! I just found them! Right here, next to me. On the ground. They were just, growing from the concrete. Hahaha!” 

If Tooru is being weird (which he probably is), Iwaizumi doesn’t comment on it.

They stay silent again for a few minutes, then Iwaizumi gets up and offers a hand to Tooru. 

He hesitates, for a second. When he takes it, the other’s palm is warm, and his finger twitches in urge to grow something else.

Later that night, when they’ve walked home together and Tooru is attempting to do some homework, he chokes on his own breath as thorns make their way out of his throat and almost strangle him. He shoves bloodied rose petals into the trash and grabs his phone.

(He’s had enough of this, and earlier was too close of a call. He needs to do something. Kuroo’s word echo through his mind, over and over.

It’s not only dangerous to yourself, but also dangerous to others, when you try to suppress magic for that long. That’s why I’m here. I can bring you safely over. I can teach you how to control it

It sounds too good to be true, but he has to try).

 


 

New Message:

 

[12:33 AM]

 

Me: hey, it’s oikawa tooru

 Me: You said you could help me control my magic…?

 


 

[4:50 AM]

               

Unknown: glad you’ve come to your senses, at least a little bit.

Unknown: come by the portal this weekend.

Unknown: you can’t miss it ;)

 


 

When the next weekend comes by, Tooru realizes there wasn’t a time specified. He tries texting Kuroo again, he doesn’t get any responses, so sometime after lunch, he gives an apology to Iwaizumi for turning down his offer to study and heads out with unsure steps. It’s cloudy, unlike last time, the overhanging grey sheets making him more anxious.

He isn’t sure how he knows where to go, but while walking down the beaten path at the park he ends up straying at one point, and soon the sound of children’s voices screaming and screeching quickly fades. After a few minutes he finds himself in that same clearing from about a week ago, the same, strange atmosphere sending shivers up his spine.

“Hey!” Says a familiar voice from behind, and Tooru, embarrassingly enough, shrieks and whips his head around so fast that a few lilies burst from his neck, stabbing into his ears and hair.

Kuroo bursts into laughter.

“K-Kuroo!” he breathes out. The other is wearing a plain, dark T-shirt and jeans like last time, and Tooru is somewhat alarmed at how normal he looks. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Oh my god,” Kuroo huffs, mirth still in his voice, and he has to stop to let out a few giggles before continuing. He walks up so he can sling a shoulder around Tooru. “I’ll never get over that. Geez, didn’t know you were such a scaredy cat.”

Tooru pouts at that. “I am not.”

“Don’t lie to me, I can sense your fear.” A strange statement, but at this point, Tooru doesn’t doubt him. “You’re nervous — don’t be! The Other Side isn’t all bad.”

This time, it’s his time to laugh. Tooru thinks Kuroo is joking until he looks into his eyes.

“The other side is full of monsters,” he says, suddenly wanting to explain himself.

“And?” Kuroo raises an eyebrow.

 “And?!” Tooru repeats, almost shrill. “And monsters are just that — monsters.  I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

Ouch,” Kuroo says even if his expression shows no sign of hurt. “I know we monsters have a bad rep here but, I thought you might be a little more open minded at least. Come on, I’m not that bad, right?”

Tooru wears a dead-pan expression. “You’re literally the worst person I’ve met.”

“Oh, shut up. You should be thanking me for this opportunity.”

"Whatever,” Tooru retorts, but he doesn’t say anything else.

It’s true — if someone had told him a few weeks ago that he could have the chance to have someone teach him magic, without judging him for it, he would have laughed. In fact, he had laughed. And then he had been too afraid of the offer to do anything for a while. 

But after sending the first text to Kuroo, it was as if something in him had changed. The ‘I don’t trust you’s and I don’t believe this is true’s slowly changed as they started to communicate more and more. Tooru complained about homework and his friends bother him almost daily. Kuroo responded by talking about his friends, who he apparently owned a shop with. It was an apothecary of sorts, a strange concept to Tooru in itself, but that was the only information he had been able to glean from him.

You can see for yourself when you visit, Kuroo had said when Tooru asked for more details.

Right. The visit. The whole reason why you started to talk to him in the first place. He isn’t sure how to feel about it.

Going to the one place where nobody he knew could help him seemed like a bad idea, especially when he had been taught to hate the place all throughout his life while growing up.

Despite the countless stories he’s heard about the other side, Tooru has never heard of any account of what the place is actually like. It’s a truly mysterious place for humans, after all, and anything is possible. For most, magic is just another part of a fairy tale, something to fear, something that used to be a part of the norm when humans and creatures had lived together.

There are even some accounts of humans discovering a bit of magic in themselves, passed down from descendants from hundreds of years ago.

But those humans can barely do anything, in terms of actual magical ability. Perhaps lifting objects no heavier than a pen, or having slightly enhanced vision, was the extent of their abilities. In shorter terms, nothing when compared to what Tooru has.

 So, even if it feels as if common sense is telling him to turn away and pretend that he never met Kuroo, a part of him knows he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he really ran away.

He’s been running his entire life. And he’s tired. Before, he had run because there was nothing else to do, nothing else he could do.

But now that Kuroo has offered him an alternative, a chance to rest, he can’t help but become feverish at the thought of finally having some control over his life.

As much as he hates it, hates himself, his magic, as much as he fears it, an incessant voice whispers go, go, go. Maybe, just maybe, if he figures out how to control his magic, he can to university without being detected.

An unrealistic dream, but maybe he can even live his entire life undetected once he learns how to control his magic.

It sounds almost too good to be true.

“Are you ready?” Kuroo asks, breaking Tooru out of his thoughts.

Tooru simply nods.

Kuroo, much like last time in his cat form, bends down and touches the ground lightly. Tooru watches more closely now, notices how the light first spreads from his fingertips, before shimmering and darkening into the sight of the portal. It sparkles, but he gets an ominous feeling from it.

Tooru peers in. It seems like an endless void of nothingness, a giant hole full of unknowns and certain trouble. 

“It’s a bit strange, but you just need to melt into it. It doesn’t take long at all to be transported to the Other Side then.”

He looks at Kuroo with an incredulous expression. “Yeah, just melt into it, simple enough,” he says sarcastically. Tooru looks at the portal apprehensively again. “Are you… are you sure I won’t die from this?”

“Come on, trust me!”

“Kuroo, you’re the least trustworthy person I know.”

The other pouts at that. “But you’ll still go through, yeah?”

“Only because I have to. Don’t flatter yourself.” 

Kuroo laughs at that. “Okay, okay. I surrender. Hurry and jump through, I can’t keep this thing open forever.”

Tooru mumbles an affirmative and takes a deep breath — I’m really doing this. I’m actually going to the other side. Despite the reasoning he had done before coming here, he feels scared as he stands in front of the portal. Hesitantly, he touches it with his fingers. 

It’s cold to touch. He pushes his hand in deeper, and slowly his body begins to sink into the ground, and the strange sensation of tingling travels through him. Succulents begin to sprout all over him, wrapping around his arms and any available surface of skin, as if trying to protect him.

The last thing he sees is Kuroo’s mouth moving, saying something he can’t quite catch, before he’s quickly swallowed by darkness, and the sensation of falling.