He could feel a pair of eyes staring at him and he knew exactly whom they belonged to. He didn’t even need to look back. Oikawa knew exactly and he feared it. Those eyes had always given him a discomfort he couldn’t describe as if they were able to tell everything he was thinking at once.
From his first year in middle school, Tobio had always stared at him like this. What a brat, Oikawa used to think back then. He stared without saying anything as if he was observing any move Oikawa was doing. And he was right about just that. Whenever Oikawa had a new move to show, Tobio would be able to do it too. Considerably later, but eventually he always managed to catch up even though he was two years younger than him. It irked Oikawa. It always had. Yet it wasn’t upsetting Oikawa that Tobio tried to copy him. That flattered him in the best way.
No. He remembered how he locked himself up in the locker room after supposedly everyone was gone. He was the captain of a great middle school team. He would be able to compete against a player such as Ushijima, a thing he should have taken pride in. He did but also didn’t. Pressure and stress were more present in his head than pride was. But Oikawa needed to be strong. He knew that so he never showed anyone those kind of feelings that were eating away the sleep he earned himself at night.
He remembered how he had started bawling. How he couldn’t control it, how he knew that the match next day would be so incredibly important, not only to him but to the entire team. How that thought resulted in him kneeling on the cold ground of the locker room, leaning his forehead against the cold metal and crying his eyes out. And how a sudden shudder running down his spine made clear that he was not alone in that room. When he lifted his head, a pair of eyes was staring at him. The same pair it always was.
Oddly enough even though that very moment had been burnt into his mind, he couldn’t recall what happened afterwards. What Tobio did or said, if he said anything at all, Oikawa could not remember any of that. His memory only started again on the morning of the match itself and the defeat on the same day; of more tears he shed but for different reasons.
His legs started moving on their own accord, he needed to find someplace quiet and lonely to concentrate before the match. It was not against Karasuno yet, they were just playing on opposite courts but that alone was enough. Oikawa knew that they wouldn’t lose that match; that the next day he would really stand against them and against Tobio once more.
“Where are you going, the match starts in 10 minutes,” Iwaizumi growled from next to him. What a bad mood. Maybe he could tell what was going on? No, most likely not.
“Oh just checking out the area for some girls. Come and pick me up when it starts,” Oikawa giggled and left for the hallway before Iwaizumi could get angry at him. He was grateful for someone like Iwaizumi who accompanied him for the longest time in a team but he was also rather unnerving at times.
Walking around the hallway, there was no one there. They all were probably already seated or whatever, it didn’t matter. It was perfect how quiet it was. He would certainly manage to calm down here. He sat down on the step of a staircase and stretched his limbs. He had already warmed up and he felt ready for whatever team he was facing. Physically at least. If only Tobio didn’t have that forsaken glare. He leant his head against the handrail and exhaled deeply.
No reason to be upset. No matter how much of a genius Tobio was, he lacked certain things to surpass him. What a joke. No, if he started to think like that it would be no good. Tobio had some weaknesses that Oikawa could use for his advantage. No matter how much he’d try, Tobio wouldn’t be able to play the same as him anyway. Plus—
There it was again. Footsteps walking down the hall, a shiver running down Oikawa’s spine. He clenched the fabric of his shorts. They were heavier now but he still recognized them. He didn’t look up; maybe he’d just pass by and leave him be. Tobio was the last person he wanted to see now.
A work of milliseconds, Oikawa thought. It wouldn’t be difficult to fool someone like Tobio who didn’t have the slightest idea how to deal with people properly. A smile creeped up Oikawa’s face more automatically than he thought as he turned his head towards Tobio.
“Toooo-bi-oooooo. Is my kouhai missing me so bad? How lovely,” he said, his voice dripping with sweetness. Perhaps also with some sarcasm but it was impossible for Tobio to notice who grimaced at how he was welcomed. Like a child who feels like a grown-up, huh. Ridiculous.
“…No. Not really. I came here to thank you.”
Well, he was sort of grown-up now. He wasn’t the same like back then. Three long years that changed him, that brat. Oikawa still couldn’t remember what happened after Tobio saw him crying. It was unnerving. The more he tried to remember, the more it slipped through his fingers. Why?
“Thank me? What for? For the incredibly miraculous guidance I provided you with as your senpai? Oh, Tobio, there is no need to thank me for that,” he replied, his voice still as sleazy as before.
“…Actually something like that. Your… advice… back then when we met coincidentally… thanks to that I am still able to play. It’s not perfect yet but…”
“Oh, whatever. Do you seriously think I care for that? Don’t be stupid.”
He slipped. Oikawa slipped out of his role and terror came back to his thoughts. He had always been able to control himself. Most of the times at least. But when it came to Tobio, things were always different, weren’t they?
“No. But I still wanted to tell you. Since you were the one who made me think about how I played.”
Oikawa couldn’t even tell how Tobio’s voice sounded like. Not whether it was honest or meant to throw him into disarray. No, no, Tobio wouldn’t do such a thing. But he still wasn’t able to tell why he stood before him right now. Before he opened his mouth again, he glared at Tobio and his eyes were still the same as back then. Piercing and expecting, weren’t they?
“I still don’t care. You’re my enemy and I’m yours, what does it even matter who it was who told you? In the end, you could have ignored what I said and still would have been able to play so why do you come to me now? Shouldn’t you know better than that?”
It didn’t matter anyway how he treated Tobio. It always ended up like this. He always ended up letting his guard down for someone two years younger than him – and better. Most upsetting was the fact that he even helped that kid become a greater player than he already was. Why?
Tobio remained quiet like a scolded child. And again, he didn’t speak up. He seemed to be such a short-tempered guy these days in his new team. Why was he always quiet around him?
“…Whatever,” Oikawa sighed and waved him over. “You disturbed my concentration so I should make sure you can’t concentrate either. Come here, sit down next to me and stay until the match starts. Like that neither you nor I can focus. You brat.”
Tobio blinked a few times, obviously confused about what to do but he followed Oikawa’s orders and sat down next to him. He pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. What a child. Yet Oikawa suddenly remembered that he had often seen him sitting like this. Back when they were in one team. The same position on the side line with his gaze fixed onto Oikawa’s movements. Perhaps he had been more aware of Tobio than he thought. Perhaps he did stare back sometimes. Only to make sure he wouldn’t improve too fast too much. Of course.
“I think I understand now what you told me back then,” Tobio suddenly said, much to Oikawa’s confusion.
“Well, you did say what I told you helped you so I would suppose you understand.”
“No, not that. From a longer time ago. You said that no matter how sure you are that you are going to win, the possibility of losing is always equally high. The more you believe you can win, the more possible it is for you to lose. You told me that.”
That didn’t sound like something he would have said. Tobio probably confused something there. That was…
“When did I say something like that? Don’t be silly,” he chuckled but his thoughts spun around his head.
“That was on the day of the match against Ushijima back then. Everyone was anxious because of that but you said we were going to win for sure. …Well, to everyone else, that is. When they were gone, you turned around to me and said that. I wondered back then wh—-”
His voice was piercing through Tobio’s and the boy stopped talking immediately. With every word Tobio had said his fingers had curled around the soft fabric of his shorts a little more. It was sturdy but he felt like he could rip it apart if he just pulled a little longer. His knuckles had turned white already as he realized that Tobio didn’t forget about what happened back then. And neither did he.
When he lifted his head, a pair of eyes was staring at him. The same pair it always was. Tobio was standing next to the lockers, looking at him without saying a word. The terror crept up his back, he was shaking without control. How could he have forgotten about him? How could he have locked him inside the room with him? He made sure no one had been there anymore. Where did he come from? And why was he staring like that, as he always did, as if he had any right to be looking down on him?!
“What are you still doing here! Leave!”
Oikawa didn’t recognize his own voice anymore. A high-pitched voice mixed with despair and fear alike, with shame and embarrassment about how pathetic he looked. Giving away his weaknesses to the one person who was never supposed to know.
He didn’t move. Tobio stood right there and he didn’t move. He didn’t leave. Why?
“Go home already! Leave! Go away!”
His voice cracked as he yelled at his underclassman. As if he could look any more feeble than he already did. Quicker than he was able to react, he heard footsteps running on the floor towards him. He wanted to lift his hands up, to keep him away, to make him leave but the shorter boy was faster. A warmth enveloped him, two tiny arms slung around his neck and hugged him tightly.
Oikawa remembered that, back then, Tobio was barely taller than him kneeling down. He also remembered his heartbeat, running faster than when they were training. And he remembered Tobio’s heartbeat that was equally fast. He suddenly remembered all the things he had forgotten. He wanted to forget. He wanted to forget how he tried to push Tobio away from him but he couldn’t. It was comforting. And when he looked up, even though he was afraid of the reaction, Tobio’s eyes looked a lot different from the closer view he had.
They always seemed to be glaring, always cold but it was the opposite. Oikawa had been frightened of disappointing that he didn’t realize. He didn’t notice. How much Tobio admired and respected him. He wasn’t looking at him to mock him. He wasn’t expecting anything either. He simply admired him from afar. Oikawa felt ashamed for not noticing before. For having the darkest thoughts about someone who was still so innocent. Who was still looking with the same adoring eyes even though he was weak like that, cowered on the floor crying because he felt like everything and the world was trying to crush him with expectations he had of himself.
Oikawa remembered but it didn’t help at all. Tobio wasn’t looking at him like that any longer. And he would never. There was no reason anymore. Because after that, Oikawa didn’t treat him nicely any longer. He tried to shove that child away from him as far as possible. The fear that Tobio would use what he knew for his advantage was too strong, much stronger than the feeling of comfort to have someone who loved him unconditionally. How stupid. As if Tobio would ever do something like that. But Oikawa had been immature and he still was as he noticed that Tobio remembered just as well what happened. In the end, if he thought about it thoroughly, Tobio had all the reasons to blame Oikawa for being called a tyrant for years to come. If Tobio and him would have gotten along better… perhaps Tobio would have never started feeling so bitter. Perhaps he would have never tried to be perfect and force the others to do so either. Perhaps he would have learnt from Oikawa’s mistake instead and not pressure himself to the point where everyone else was ridiculing him for being too serious over some club activity. Perhaps… he would still look at him with admiring eyes.
The truth was that Oikawa had been afraid. It was not the first time someone treated him gently, not at all. But people didn’t like him when he was too serious, when he was too thoughtful, when he was like he was on court. People despised him like that. Everyone except for Tobio. He was the exact opposite. It scared him. He scared himself. Because the innocent, soothing hug Tobio had given him was only meant to cheer him up but Oikawa didn’t want it to end.
He wanted to forget that he never wanted Tobio to turn his back on him. He wanted to forget that he had feelings with no hope ever since that day. But now that he remembered, they were back and he felt like an idiot for every single one of his actions after that. If he hadn’t pushed Tobio away from him… well, he should have. They were rivals. They were playing on the same position. He needed to stay strong, to forget about emotions he would never be able to convey anyway. They were useless. He needed to focus.
“I’m sorry,” Tobio said, his voice thin, his posture unchanged. For the first time, he averted his eyes. Yes, he was the one who drove Tobio further away from him. That was good. If he didn’t feel anything for him, it was easier to crush him. To defeat him another time. Then Oikawa wouldn’t have to mind anything else than showing Tobio how much better he was, how he would never surpass him no matter how much of a natural talent he was. If only his feelings would have stopped bubbling up and giving him a stomachache, clouding his mind and confusing every thought that was running around in circles in his brain. If only.
Suddenly the feeling of warm lips on his forehead was burning up within Oikawa from back then. He hadn’t been able calm down so Tobio kissed his forehead and said that that always helped him when he was crying. So innocent and frail. He’d been so lovely. Oikawa had grown afraid of letting his feelings decide for him, of having his feelings betray his hard work and to simply let Tobio pass him. Why not? For a split second, he had considered that. Why compete any longer? Why not indulge yourself? Tobio wouldn’t judge him. He never did. Oikawa had been sure of that. And in the span of not even half an hour, he had lost. He had been so sure of himself that he had lost. Lost himself and lost Tobio. Because he had decided he wouldn’t let his feelings rule him.
“So you always go thinking you will lose? Counterproductive, don’t you think?”
Oikawa was glad the ease in his voice didn’t disappear despite his thoughts.
“No,” Tobio replied, “but I always mind not to overestimate myself so the chances of losing stay as minimal as possible.”
Grown-up. He sounded so mature. That tiny child from back then was gone, after all. It wasn’t surprising. Still, even though Tobio was so different now, Oikawa still found his feelings the same as they were before.
“Bleh, boring. You sure took to heart what I told you, heh?”
“I didn’t understand it at first but I tried to keep it in mind because it was something you told only me.”
“Did you ever consider that it was a lie? We’re rivals, for Heaven’s sake, why should I tell something really clever only to you? I wanted to discourage you, not to strengthen you.”
He looked over to Tobio. He needed to break him. Before all of the feelings Oikawa harboured for him would flow out and let him look like a fool. Push him away, far far away where he wouldn’t even dare to stare anymore.
But Tobio didn’t look shocked. He didn’t even look surprised. Nothing happened in his face.
“It doesn’t matter. For me, it was the truth. It still is. Even if you didn’t mean it. I’m not good at telling things from people’s faces so… you might be right. But back then, those words had a really big impact on me. The more you believe you can win, the more possible it is for you to lose. It was the same after you graduated. I thought I could win, all by myself. I thought I could do it. But I didn’t. I was left behind in the end. I lost because the possibility of that happening was huge. I don’t care if those words were a lie for you, they are the truth for me.”
Oikawa didn’t know what to reply. He looked into Tobio’s face and it was surprisingly mild. No grimace, no grim expression, it seemed relaxed and… content. The only thing that seemed off were his eyes. They were gentle but… sad. Would he cry? How dumb was he to be so weak in front of his opponent? He knew better than that. And so did Oikawa but that didn’t keep him from shuffling closer to Tobio and pressing a soft kiss onto his hair as he couldn’t reach his forehead. He wanted to hold him close, just like Tobio did for him back then, he wanted to calm him down and to stay with him yet he also wanted to push him away, to make him cry so he wouldn’t have to mind Tobio’s feelings anymore, so he wouldn’t have to be afraid of having his weakness exploited anymore.
He saw Tobio’s ears going red, as his face was and just when he turned towards him, Oikawa heard footsteps he knew all too well on the hallway. He slid away from Tobio and stood up in a swift movement.
“Punishment, you know. For not letting me concentrate,” Oikawa said loudly, “you have to pay the price as well. I hope you lost your cool.”
He didn’t wait for Tobio’s reply. In fact, he was afraid of what he would say. Again. As Oikawa ran up to Iwaizumi’s side who wanted to call him, he still felt a soft strand of black hair tickling his skin as he kissed his head, he still felt tiny arms hugging him tighter, he still felt all the feelings he tried to ignore and to push away and he knew that Tobio wouldn’t be the one staring anymore. It would be him.