Chapter 1: Talk Through
Regarding display table
1. Sell items as labelled (cash only).
2. Add items to table as requested – do not tidy!
1. Store only one item per drawer; replace/rotate items as necessary.
2. Offer item in drawer only when opened by a customer.
3. Trade item for another on hand by said customer.
4. Store new item in empty drawer.
Regarding counter cabinet
1. All cabinet purchases will be informed of in advance.
2. Report any and all enquiries.
Store hours to be set daily as desired/required.
Building must be staffed at all times.
If Oikawa Tooru had to calculate the amount of time he spent inside this shop during his four years of employment, he would say it fluctuated between time taken to preen his personal image and time wasted on mindless internet browsing; that is to say, on some days the workday was structured, prompt, efficient – quick to start and quicker to finish – and on others (like today, for example) he drifted in and out and up and down and idly waited in between as time lagged and dragged on and on... and on.
Still, it was better than when he first started working here, when he had no idea how to follow the instruction of setting work hours ‘as desired/required’. He researched average shop opening hours and started off with a safe nine to six, taking an hour off for lunch; he couldn’t keep that up for long. After that he experimented by setting different time slots – mornings, evenings, late nights; all of that felt wrong. It was responsibility that made him feel restricted, that idea of having to work a set amount of hours every day and anything less would be slacking; Oikawa-san was called many names, but never a slacker.
About six months in he decided to take the instruction literally – he set his hours depending on his mood and condition, and around planned deliveries or purchases. It worked. So long as he was in the building, it didn’t matter if he was inside the shop or in his accommodation upstairs.
Maybe he should suggest redecorating to boost morale. The entire box of a room was made of dark wood, which bordered on cosy or cramped depending on how the day was unfolding. Thin vertical slits for windows on either side of the centred front door were made of stained-glass, pictures of rocks and rivers entwined in turquoise vines. They were pretty, Oikawa appreciated the art and splash of colour, but he would better appreciate bathing in natural sunlight instead of drowning in a pool of artificial amber from the light ball overhead.
There were only two pieces of furniture – the counter he was currently manning, and the table placed squarely at the centre between him and the door.
The table was less a careful display of products and more a mess of quirky items for sale, precariously balanced, pushed together, piled on top of one another, and Oikawa lived in fear of the day an earthquake would send this balance game crashing to the ground. It had everything from plastic figurines to out-of-season ornaments to wooden toys to glass cups – everything mismatched except for the theme which, with the sprinkles of glitter and swirls of shimmer, was clearly to do with space.
This wasn’t the selling point of the shop – it was a distraction. The real selling point was the walls left, right and behind surrounding him with drawers, two hundred and seventy-three of them on each side (he had counted). Magazine sizes, matchbox sizes, marble sizes, mug sizes, no two drawers were the same. Some had decorative metallic handles (gold with black edging, back wall, seventh down, ninth from the left), others had plain wooden knobs (swirling grains of walnut, left wall, ninth up, thirtieth from the right), there were even handles using actual objects (red reeded wreath, right wall, twelfth up, fifth from the left). He had inspected and memorised them all, and he particularly liked the one made of glass that looked like it contained liquid stardust (back wall, sixth up, ten drawers from the left) – shame it was useless though, because it was one of three that were stuck.
And then there were the items stored behind the cabinet doors underneath the counter.
The front door opened a fraction, silently – no rattle, squeak, creak, or jingle, not even a rush of air – but Oikawa was so used to working here that he could tell when someone entered without even looking. Today he was already watching the door so he could see the customer – a man, probably around the same age – pop his head in through the gap and quickly scan the shop, stopping when he met Oikawa’s gaze.
“Welcome!” Oikawa called, a little too cheerfully; this was what happened when you spent too many hours by yourself.
The man formed a weak smile, almost apologetic for the disturbance, but it didn’t stop him from stepping in and carefully closing the door; there was no click or thud.
Oikawa liked to assess his customers and guess their backgrounds. This one was just above average height wearing standard business attire for the summer season – white short-sleeved shirt, navy trousers, no jacket or tie. Unlikely a leader of any kind, he looked far too timid and hardly a person who could order subordinates around. He did seem approachable though. Probably worked in HR.
“Looking for anything in particular?” Oikawa asked. The man startled up, hovering by the wall on the right.
“Not especially…” The man paused, looking like he was wondering whether to stop the conversation there, then continued. “I usually take this road for work, but I realised I hadn’t noticed this place before. I’m sorry, if you want me to leave—”
“No, no,” Oikawa waved a hand, flashing a friendly smile. “You carry on.”
He continued to watch as the man moseyed along and browsed each of the drawers. Sometimes he paused, snagged on an invisible hook, then shaking off his thoughts he would resume his careful examination.
The proportions of the three types of clientele went like this.
Roughly nine percent walked in and walked right back out again. These people simply weren’t ready to face whatever this shop had to offer. Most of them didn’t return.
Those who entered on a whim made up ninety percent, always with the same line of reasoning: I thought it looked interesting, I heard about it somewhere, I’ve been walking past this place every day and finally decided to see what was inside. They always left with a souvenir.
And then there was the third group, the remaining one percent that included his courier (sometimes couriers) and the reason why Oikawa worked this job in the first place—
“Excuse me,” the man interrupted. He was staring at one of the drawers off center as he spoke. “Are we allowed to... open these?”
Oikawa left the counter for the first time since entering forty-five minutes ago. “You can try,” he said coming to stand beside him. “Which one are you after?”
The man pointed to a tiny drawer that looked like it would comfortably fit a deck of cards, one of nine made of metal and the only one without a handle, scuffed and chipped like several attempts had been made to open it.
(That may have been him.)
“Well, go on then,” Oikawa nudged, giving off the impression that his day was packed and time was of the essence.
The man seemed as puzzled as Oikawa had been on how to open a drawer that had nowhere to pull. Unlike Oikawa, he stared at the drawer thoughtfully for a few moments and made a move to unzip his business bag. As he started rummaging, Oikawa noticed creased bits of paper, some of which were folded at the corners, held by a paperclip.
It was the paperclip the man was after, releasing the papers from its hold as he pulled it out and – to Oikawa’s surprise – bending the wire of the outside end to form a right angle, pulling out the inside loop slightly to create a handle. The man pushed the protruding end in through the gap which just about fit with a push and thin scrape; he twisted it round, pulled, and dragged the drawer out.
Oikawa didn’t feel at all put out by the fact the man achieved his goal in a handful of seconds compared to the two hours he spent flustering around, looking for tools to open the stupid thing.
Peering inside, the man picked out the object, dropping and cradling it in the palm of his hand. It was a metallic badge in the shape of a family crest, two clover-like leaves partially overlapped, four swords protruding in the shape of a cross from both centres.
“Congratulations!” Oikawa clapped; the man jumped.
Oikawa pulled the now-empty drawer out completely and with it walked back to the counter. “I’ll need payment for that,” he said. His reminder was a touch demanding, like the man had no choice but to purchase the product.
That would be because he didn’t.
“Oh – yes, sure, of course. How much?”
“Our payment system is unique in that we don’t take legal tender for items in the drawers,” Oikawa said as he returned to his position behind the counter, threading his fingers and resting his chin on top with a small grin. “We’ll be needing something a little more... substantial. Like your soul.”
The man’s eyes widened, a look of horror flashing on his face – more from the thought of having to pass over his soul than the ludicrous idea of a stranger asking for his soul as payment.
Oikawa held the pause for a few seconds then burst out laughing, shaking his head as he straightened up. “I’m joking! Honestly, who takes that seriously – no, I just need something in exchange – anything will do. Preferably not monetary, though I won’t say no if that’s all you have.”
The man tried to make sense of what was happening and then with a look of realisation, reached inside his trouser pocket and brought out something shiny.
“Will this do?” he asked.
Oikawa plucked the item out of his hand – a metallic business card case – and gave a satisfied nod. “Perfect.”
The man stood blankly, unsure of what to do next.
Oikawa watched him expectantly. “You can go whenever you like.”
“Oh, okay. Er… goodbye then?” He walked back to the door, giving a final glance in Oikawa’s direction.
Oikawa waved. “Have a nice day!”
The man raised his hand in a vague resemblance of a wave and walked out.
Oikawa flipped the case around between his fingers as he analysed: plain, no decorations or logos, surfaces scratched with feather-fine lines as a result of regular use. It opened with a click to reveal a business card – just one – METAL RECYCLING SERVICES in red against black. On the other side was a telephone number, an address and a name – Moniwa Kaname.
“Sales rep – who’d have thought,” he muttered to himself, popping the card back in its case and dropping it clattering into the drawer.
He made his way to return the drawer to its rightful position when he turned to the door to see it open a second time.
“Suga-chan!” Oikawa called, holding up the drawer. “This just came in.”
‘Suga-chan’ – ‘Sugawara’ to most, ‘Suga-san’ to a few – was his courier who dropped in every few days. When he came bearing packages, Oikawa was to store them for safekeeping, and when empty-handed it was to relay messages or exchange news. Today he was carrying with him a box that was large enough to fit a football.
Sugawara walked up and peered inside the drawer, intrigued. “Business card holder?” he asked as he reached in, about to take it when he quickly snatched his hand back. “Oh, he wasn’t happy.”
Oikawa wouldn’t know, he wasn’t like Sugawara, sensitive to emotional energy emitted from everyday items.
Because Oikawa was human.
To backtrack on his mental retelling of his story (which he liked to imagine and embellish during his many work hours), the remaining one percent who visited the shop – Sugawara included – was the reason why Oikawa worked this job in the first place.
Because they were aliens.
Well. Some of them were. Others were only to a certain extent.
Now as a child, Oikawa had been fascinated with all matters extraterrestrial and unexplainable, beings who were clearly up there who also made their way down here, because how can such an unimaginably vast area – an endless, expanding area – not hold any other forms of life? People called him egotistic but he wasn’t so egotistic to believe that this particular rock suspended at this precise location was all there was and could ever be, that humans were the most intelligent beings around.
So he believed, and continued to believe as he grew older. There was a time his belief wavered, during high school when his popularity skyrocketed and he seriously contemplated giving up his interest to fit in with the image everyone expected from a sports star, but then his injury which caused him occasional trouble became a nagging reminder became a heated, angry warning every time he went on court to play – so the playing stopped. He immersed himself in the stars again because they never judged, never hissed or whispered that he had dulled and faded and was unable to ever become one.
It was easier at university when he could start afresh, and he didn’t have to hide the part of himself that was ‘weird’ because there were others like him, too – and then he became conservative again after university when he started working in the sales department at a major telecommunications company.
On his way home from a night out with coworkers (it had been warm, he remembered, on the cusp of spring and summer, of night and morning) something happened because he was ambling down the road one minute and then waking up on the floor the next to the sight of a stranger – a man – a well-built, attractive man – crouching over him, asking questions, if he was injured anywhere, if he remembered what had happened. Oikawa didn’t know, and after some thought they both came to the conclusion that someone must have knocked him out trying to mug him. He checked his belongings anyway, his laptop, his wallet, inside his wallet – nothing had been stolen.
They chatted for a while, they exchanged numbers (purely because the man – Sawamura – insisted; he insisted, not Oikawa as everyone liked to believe) and somewhere along the line of introductory messages and small talk, their conversation turned to Oikawa confessing that even after a year he didn’t feel comfortable at his current workplace, and Sawamura instantly replied with a job offer.
He received a message explaining the odd work conditions and less-than-ideal work environment – the job description, having to live in the building, being prepared to serve anyone even at a ridiculous hour, and zero means of outside communication while inside this one room that had no cellphone coverage, no landline and no Wi-Fi. He was a bit dubious at first when they met at the building and he inspected the rooms downstairs and up, the possible new residence comparably smaller to where he currently lived, but then Sawamura had sweetened the deal enough for Oikawa to accept – all because of his physique.
Not the human physique, although that certainly helped gain a few brownie points. No – his alien physique.
Actually, he wasn’t so alien. Oikawa tiptoed past creatures similar on his way to early morning lectures as they shredded bags and scattered rubbish all over the floor, his heart skipping a beat every time they stopped to watch him pass as they mused whether they should try to peck at him instead – the crow. Slick inky feathers seamlessly stuck out from his ashen skin like hair over his head and down the back of his neck that followed the line along the outside of his arms, mouth turned to charcoal beakish lips that was halfway between human and bird, obsidian orbs for eyes glazed and reflecting Oikawa’s form back at him. He was familiar yet nothing you would find on earth, and Oikawa longed to reach out and touch the feathered skin, except he had a feeling the move would be taken as extremely rude or personal.
And then Sawamura was talking to him, without moving his beakish mouth which meant he was talking to him in his head, explaining that he was of an ancient Avian race who took the forms of various birds. He wasn’t alone either – there were a few others like him who came to earth directly and in their true alien form, and more from his home world who took on human forms – like Sugawara – an Avian soul encapsulated in a human body wishing to experience the full life of a human from birth to death, memory of their true selves revealed as time went on.
Sawamura had stayed in his form for a few minutes then within the time it took Oikawa to blink he was back to being human.
Having proof was a nice reassurance, but Oikawa didn’t need it when he had a strong feeling that said he already knew.
“This is for you,” Sugawara said, holding up the box.
Oikawa slotted the drawer back into place. “Tell me that’s for the counter and not the table over there,” Oikawa said, lifting up the lid for inspection. Years of evenings spent scrutinising each and every artifact was long enough for him to tell the difference between what was alien and human. This particular set of items – cheap plastic and overuse of glitter – was decidedly human. “Suga-chan, the incomings exceed the outgoings and I don’t have space to store these!”
“You’ve got space upstairs.” Sugawara pointed out with a smile.
Oikawa glared. “That is not a storage room, it is where I live. Do you see that table? The one that goes practically untouched? I don’t know why you keep bringing me junk to display when we have plenty – you’re supposed to be a higher lifeform, yet here I am questioning your species’ intelligence and spatial reasoning.”
Sugawara gave him a once over with a genuine look of concern. “You’re a little tetchy today. Did something happen? I can cover for you if you need a break.”
Oikawa sighed with a shake of his head. “No, I can wait until Mr Flashy turns up.”
If he was being honest, he had been feeling like this for the past few days, with a miniscule splinter making itself home in the crook just behind his ribs, almost inconspicuous until his thoughts pulled the wrong way and reminded him of its presence with a prick of inexplicable unease. He couldn’t put his metaphorical finger to it, try to squeeze it out, so he tried the next best thing – placing his hand over his chest to see if that would magically quell the feeling. It didn’t.
He could mention it to Sugawara, and effectively Sawamura. But something about that didn’t sit quite right either.
“Take a break,” Sugawara said firmly, ignoring Oikawa’s words. “And I’ll have a word with Daichi.”
Oikawa didn’t have the effort to argue. “I’ll take this one upstairs since you’ve brought it with you. I’m sure Sawacchi has a very good reason for collecting all this.” Oikawa pulled the box out of Sugawara’s arms. “Fetch me if you need me – or give me a call if I’m out.”
Sugawara helped him out and Oikawa took the metal stairs running up the side of the stone-exterior house to the second floor, where he proceeded to unlock the door to his home and drop the box on the shoes shelf as he entered. The front door led directly into the kitchen (which reminded him, he needed to go grocery shopping), which then led out to his small room hidden behind paper screens. He stood by the doorway, torn between staying and leaving. He checked the time – five-thirty. If he left now, he might arrive at the supermarket to find items reduced, and he should also take advantage of being able to stretch his legs and get some fresh air. With that thought he stepped right back out again, his gait a little lighter as he descended the stairs.
Chapter 2: Work Through
Compared to the dim crypticness of downstairs, the upstairs rooms were a refreshing mix of bright and airy thanks to the designer’s change of heart halfway through. Beech flooring and doors for his small studio room, stylish (...faux?) marble tiles for the kitchen and bathroom, and large south-facing windows taking up more wall space than the actual walls themselves making him want to constantly stretch out on the floor and nap all day. It didn’t stop with the decor; the exterior had been inspirited with the same vitality – camellia and azalea and hydrangea were some of the flowering bushes that partitioned the building from neighbouring houses, and pine trees at each corner tidily boxed everything in.
The downstairs and upstairs felt like outcomes of a relationship breaking apart and one beginning anew, and Oikawa was confident that this was because it was exactly what the designer themselves experienced during the course of construction. He imagined in the beginning they had been wallowing in despair from being on the receiving end of an unsuspected separation, and sometime after the downstairs had been completed they had met someone – a soulmate, Oikawa decided, because he was a romantic who liked happy endings – and their relationship continued to flourish like the surrounding garden; it was the only reasonable explanation for the contradiction (or complement, depending on the point of view) in the building.
Although, as much as he moaned about the shop he couldn’t deny its perks, one of them already appreciated as he entered the shop after a quick walk down in the sweltering twelve o’clock heat despite being weeks away from the media officially declaring the start of summer. While the days gradually grew warmer, there was the occasional one where the weather decided to throw everyone off by ramping up the heat ten degrees as a teaser for what waited ahead. Today was one of those days, and Oikawa could say he was very glad for the room’s ability to automatically regulate the temperature – which he assumed was the result of alien technology hidden somewhere because to him that was the more plausible explanation than a normal person’s reasoning of there was an air conditioner concealed within the room.
Usually upon his first entry of the day, he liked to potter around, scanning the walls. Unlike yesterday when he had ample time, he wasn’t even done with the right side of the wall when he turned to see the door swing wide open.
Oikawa raised his eyebrows at his name being hollered in unison, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips which he quickly smoothed over.
Generally speaking, this shop drew in three types of customers. But as with most representations there were almost always exceptions, and in this case the anomaly showed up in the form of two people by the name of Nishinoya Yuu and Tanaka Ryuunosuke, whose repeated patron bumped up their customer status to regulars.
There were strictly two reasons for their visits.
Reason number one: the table of distractions.
When they first entered the shop over two years ago with a quick glance around and cries of “Cool!” and “Awesome!” and other variations, they stopped in their tracks when they spotted the table, dramatically confirming between themselves that the figures lined up along the front edge of the table belonged to a rare set from the television series Ultraman, and proceeded to wipe that part of the table clean. Their visits over the course of the weeks that followed consisted of inspecting and commentating on every single item on display with the odd purchase here and there. Oikawa could easily declare it was the only period of time the display table actually had a consistent flow of stock and purchase.
Naturally, talking to them over the years meant Oikawa got to know them personally whether he liked it or not, hearing about their jobs (working at concert venues, Tanaka a sound technician, Nishinoya on lighting) and their families (Tanaka had even brought his sister along once, her attitude towards Tanaka resembling Oikawa’s own sister's towards him). He wouldn’t go as far as to say he waited expectantly for their visits, but he did (though he would never admit it to them) sort of, maybe, possibly, enjoy their company a tiny little bit.
“You two again,” Oikawa sighed dramatically. “Don’t you have anything better to do than to disturb me during work hours?”
Nishinoya snorted. “C’mon, Oikawa, you really expect us to believe that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else come in – how do you keep this place going?”
Oikawa deflected the question with a wave of his hand. “I don’t own this shop, I just work here. Ask Suga-chan for the technicalities.”
“You know Suga-san won’t tell us anything,” Tanaka said, crouching in front of the central table to carry out his usual inspection. “Hey, nothing here’s been sold since we last came in.”
“Which reminds me, I have new stock,” Oikawa said, lighting up at the prospect of lumping yesterday’s arrivals onto them. He pulled out his keys, giving them a small jingle. “I’ll go and get them if you like.”
“Awesome!” Nishinoya called.
“What about – you know.” Tanaka glanced around and dropped his voice as though someone was around listening in on them; Tanaka’s caution wasn’t unwarranted, with this alien-tweaked room it was entirely possible someone was indeed listening in. “Kiyoko-san? Has she been in at all today?”
And there was reason number two: Shimizu Kiyoko, the other courier who sometimes accompanied Sugawara.
Nishinoya and Tanaka had walked into the shop one morning when Oikawa was chatting with Sugawara and Shimizu, the two standing frozen on the spot like they had spotted an alien (in a way they had, Shimizu being like Sugawara), while the three by the counter waited for them to say something, all five locked in a strange staring match. Nishinoya and Tanaka immediately walked out – to regroup, they told Oikawa later, and to confirm that the beauty by the counter (and really, how rude, because that should have been two beauties) wasn’t a figment of their overworked and overtired imagination.
After that, their monthly visits became weekly or biweekly, always in the hope that they would meet the ‘ever-elusive Kiyoko-san’, and they grilled Oikawa constantly, trying to squeeze out every last drop of the scant information he had on her. Their questions ranged from her visiting schedule (random), to her relationship status (“in one” according to Sugawara when they asked, but Oikawa suspected he only said that to enjoy their reactions), to her type (not Oikawa-san; his attempted chit-chat during their first few meetings all fell flat, after which he resorted to a more direct approach of asking if she wanted to go for coffee to get to know one another, to which she replied “no thank you, I’m fine”, and Oikawa – while ignoring Sugawara, the spectator making zero effort to contain his laughter – finally concluded she had been too overwhelmed by his scintillating personality and he had no choice but to tone down his attitude to strictly professional for her benefit.)
Oikawa refrained from rolling his eyes. “No, Takkun, she hasn’t been in today.”
Their raucous outbursts of “Yes!” and “We still have a chance, Ryu!” made Oikawa wince.
“Suga-chan already came in yesterday,” he told them. “You know he hardly ever comes two days in a row.”
“Hardly’s not never,” Nishinoya pointed out. “Today could be the day.”
“Noyacchi, I don’t know where you get all your positivity from,” Oikawa replied, shaking his head. “Anyway, let me lock up and bring the stuff down.”
Oikawa ushered them outside and locked the door, ordering them to wait as he strode up the stairs to collect the box that was still sitting on the shoe shelf. Hopefully he could get rid of this, he thought to himself, as he headed back down the stairs.
At the cry that likely reached the end of the street, Oikawa slowed his steps, frowning at the fact that the thirty seconds it took for him to go upstairs and down invited another set of visitors who were breaking their usual routine by coming here.
“Why don’t I get the same level of excitement?” he heard Sugawara say as he rounded the corner.
“Why are you here, Suga-chan?” Oikawa asked, his voice taut.
“I told you yesterday I’d speak to Daichi,” Sugawara said lightly; if he noticed the tension he didn’t show it.
Oikawa glanced to Shimizu, the demand to know why she was also here on his tongue, but at seeing her reserved demeanour he knew it would be pointless to ask.
Sugawara grabbed the box from Oikawa, pulling it out from under his arm with a swift tug. “I take it you two are here for this?” he asked, drawing their attention away from Oikawa and to its contents.
“Oikawa.” Shimizu said, coming up to him. “Can I talk to you inside?”
Oikawa blinked at the soft question he barely managed to hear and caught himself just in time from becoming a stuttering mess. He couldn’t remember when she last addressed him directly as she generally stood as a silent companion next to Sugawara.
He cleared his throat and put on the utmost air of professionalism.
“Of course – right this way.” He unlocked the door and held it open for her to go through.
She walked in without a word to Sugawara, and as Oikawa followed he felt the double stares that was probably filled with envy until the closing door cut them off. The earlier noise amplified the quiet of the room, its silence now discomfiting to his ears.
“Sawamura apologises for yesterday,” Shimizu said, her volume louder now. As per usual, her tone was void of emotion. “He also said to let him know if you run low on stock.”
“I very much appreciate that. Tell him I didn’t mean to come across as annoyed, I just wanted to keep him up to date on the shop. How is he anyway? I haven’t seen or heard from him in a while.”
“He’s doing well.”
Oikawa waited for her to continue, wanted her to because he was curious about the employer he hadn’t seen in over – he counted the months in his head and placed the number at around six months. On the other hand, he knew Shimizu as a woman of few words and was sure she would end their small talk there.
An image of the morning crow staring at him popped into his head as her watchful gaze pinned him down.
“Have you had problems with the shop recently?” She began pecking for information.
On to business then.
Oikawa held a deliberate pause for thought before replying. “Not on my end. I would say check with Mr Flashy, but seeing as he had a chance to speak to Suga-chan yesterday I’m guessing it’s also a no from him.”
She gave a thoughtful nod. “Any customers behaving strangely?”
“Again, none I’ve encountered.” Oikawa shifted his weight, crossing his arms. “Why, is something going on?”
The long pause that followed was answer enough.
“Only rumours,” she eventually said, an answer more truthful than the one he was expecting to hear where she avoided his question. “Just be careful.”
Oikawa was tempted to scrap his strictly professional attitude and tested the waters with a bright laugh and a teasing, “Is Kiyo-chan worried for Oikawa-san’s well-being?”
She averted her gaze, a faint crease between her brows. “We all are.”
This honesty was too raw coming from the mysterious woman, and rather than taking it as a cue to push on, it jerked him back.
He had always known the reason for them being here – not here as in this south-western corner of Tokyo but the big capital HERE of planet earth – couldn’t solely be to observe human behaviour. Yes, he was human, yes, he was of the lesser species, but he was a human with an active sixth sense that alerted him very accurately of Things, even if he didn’t know precisely what those Things were.
It was like when he was working out the fine points of his work with Sawamura, one of the questions Oikawa had asked was Sawamura’s decision to employ a human. Oikawa had seen all the films, had read all the books, and he knew a flag when he saw one. But the stories didn’t tend to have a responsible Sawamura, incapable of malicious deception, only showing patience and providing reassurance, trying his best to answer truthfully in a way that would satisfy and serve all parties. So when Sawamura explained that remembering or knowing your true origins made it easier to forget the human guise, and employing a human made more sense when having to interact with human customers, Oikawa decided he would believe him.
Shimizu’s comment now was a big red flag, indicating happenings he wasn’t aware of, happenings outside of his control – even possibly outside of their control. He didn’t hold it against them for not telling him the details; he worked at a shop run by aliens and alien incarnates, but he wasn’t one of them so it made sense for them to keep him at arm’s length. Of course he wanted to be a part of their secret club, so to speak, but he was aware they weren’t trying to place him in any (immediate) danger.
“Well, I’m trusting you to put up solid defences around this place – Oikawa-san can’t have his sleep interrupted by big bad aliens!” he said, making light of a darkening situation.
He heard her murmur, “If only they were that simple.”
Light burst in through the door swinging open; Oikawa whipped round, for once completely caught off guard.
“Oikawa!” Nishinoya shouted. “Give us everything in this box!”
Sugawara stood behind, flashing an apologetic grin for the interruption and a nod to the box with a thumbs up. Oikawa rolled his eyes and then gestured for Nishinoya and Tanaka to follow him. “Right this way then.”
“We’ll drop by again soon!” Sugawara called, and disappeared out with Shimizu without waiting for a reply.
After a quick transaction of Nishinoya and Tanaka throwing money at him and telling him to keep the change so they could try and catch up, Oikawa was left stuck alone with another three hours to go before temporarily being relieved from the building. He chewed over Shimizu’s words, recalling his most recent customer exchanges, and reconfirmed to himself that no one had been behaving out of place, for now, but made a mental note to keep his eyes and ears open.
Chapter 3: Semi-Human
Every day for ten minutes – during the time it took for him to walk from his apartment to Oikawa’s building with nothing but a book in hand – Semi contemplated the meaning of life.
It was human nature to ask outwardly unanswerable questions. Semi was human, so it made sense he did as humans did, even though for the last quarter of his life he had been living with the knowledge that he wasn't an original inhabitant of earth, but a temporary visitor from a distant universe.
Considering the gravity of this information, the revelation didn’t affect his life much. It didn’t make him smarter or give him special powers or reveal sought-after answers to all the mysteries. What it actually did was attract instability and a bit of weirdness, both of which he had come to take in his stride. He didn’t dislike where he was in his life right now. He just hoped there would be signposts pointing him in the right direction hinting at his destination.
Semi broke off his thoughts with a yawn. He was going from a night shift to a morning one, dropping by his apartment in between for a quick change and to down a bottle of energy drink that kicked out any left-over drowsiness. The double shift sometimes happened when Oikawa wanted to go out for brunch or catch a morning film at the cinema or run errands that couldn’t be done at night. Or when Semi forgot his schedule and agreed to whatever Oikawa said. He didn’t mind it, though it did make him wonder.
There must be more to his life than this.
Turning off the road to enter the shop, he ended his ten minutes there.
“Semi—” he heard, his foot not even in through the door before Oikawa began. “Care to enlighten me on the logic behind today’s fashion?”
Once inside, Semi looked down at his clothes, letting the door fall closed behind him. “What? What’s wrong with it?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Oikawa repeated like he couldn’t believe he had to be asked, then began pointing at him. “Typographically and grammatically incorrect English, in gold, filling up more space on your shirt than the actual material. Your trousers are too loose and do absolutely nothing to bring out your shape and – are you honestly wearing gold sneakers to match? Take everything off, Semi, you are doing a disservice to yourself and this store.”
“I’m not giving you a strip show!”
Oikawa sighed. “I’m not suggesting you do because I want to see you naked, I’m suggesting it because seeing you fully clothed in your sad state of an outfit offends my eyes.”
Semi walked up to the counter and gestured to the door with his book. “Then leave, that’s what I’m here for.”
They switched places, Semi taking the position behind the counter as Oikawa walked round, pausing at the front of the counter. “If I receive any complaints about you, I’m telling Sawacchi you’re driving away his business.”
Semi rolled his eyes and tried to bat Oikawa away. “No one has ever complained about my outfits except you. Now get out of here.”
Oikawa pressed his lips together and threw him a disapproving look that said ‘we’ll see about that’ and then turned his back to him, giving a small wave as he left.
Besides work talk, this was the extent of their daily interaction which was borderline forced. A remark on the wrongs of Semi’s fashion, a defensive reply, maybe small talk if either of them felt generous, then Oikawa would be off and Semi would be left to tend the store. Semi got the impression Oikawa kept him at a distance – not exactly ideal, but better than hostile, so Semi took what he could to get the job done.
One of which was his unofficial job where he was employed by Sawamura to mind the shop when Oikawa was out. It beat the pay of his official job, the one where he was registered with a company and paid taxes like a legitimate member of society, delivering bento in the middle of the night when it was less likely to interfere with his schedule.
And then there was his questionable undercover job of keeping an eye on Oikawa and noting any changes. Every day of the week. Every week of the month. Every month of the year. Times four and counting.
He leaned over the counter and flipped open his book – an old samurai manga he picked up at the local second-hand bookstore – staring at the page where the lines and text merged together. Usually he left his life musings outside of work hours. Today, his final thought refused to let him go as it continued to echo in his head.
At the sudden movement by the door, Semi glanced up – and relaxed to find his regular walk through.
Akaashi (human on the outside, alien on the inside, same planet, different species; Semi had known him as long as he had known about his origins) made a point of confirming Semi’s work hours and visiting only during those hours, claiming it would interfere with his work otherwise.
Not his work as a nurse at one of the general hospitals in Tokyo, which Semi still tried to get his head round because – no disrespect – while Akaashi may have been great with the practical aspect, he didn’t look like a person who was a natural at expressing empathy. He actually pointed this out once, and Akaashi – no disrespect taken – said he had never had any problems and was relatively popular with both patients and workers; Semi would believe this when he saw the proof with his own eyes.
No, Akaashi was actually talking about his second job, similar to his except Semi’s mark was Oikawa and Akaashi’s was Oikawa’s friend by the name of Kuroo (someone he had yet to meet) and where Semi’s job description ended at making vague notes on Oikawa’s moods, Akaashi’s was to give a more detailed account on the tiniest changes. Or maybe that was just Akaashi being meticulous and making his job harder than necessary.
Semi gave the man a once-over. “Have you slept? You don’t look so great.”
Akaashi lumbered up to the counter. “I napped for two hours. Interestingly, Sawamura-san and Bokuto-san shared a similar observation, their exact descriptions being ‘haggard’ and ‘peaky’.”
Bags under the eyes that looked like dead weights, washed-out skin stretched a little tight over the joints; Sawamura and Bokuto were being nice with their descriptions.
“Shouldn’t you be at home resting instead of being here?”
“I was looking to exchange information.”
“By that you mean…?”
“Have you ever felt your actions to be lacking purpose?”
Ah, Semi realised. It was one of those days.
Maybe the crack in his calm was due to a work incident or the gruelling night shift itself. Akaashi was one to keep his doubts and feelings clammed up, preferring to solve problems on his own, so on the rare occasion he did talk – to Semi of all people, who out of their circle knew the least about what was happening underneath the pretence of normalcy – it meant—
He’s been driven into a corner.
“You’re here to offload, huh.” Semi put the book faced down onto the counter. “I take it you’re not talking about your work at the hospital.”
Akaashi sighed; it sounded like he was trying to clear out years’ worth of watching and waiting with his one breath. “I understand their concerns, but I’m beginning to think my assignment may be a fruitless endeavour. If anything, he’s falling deeper into dormancy.”
What little Semi knew of Kuroo was this.
Kuroo was supposed to have restored his memories of his origins (a planet somewhere in the northern sky, whose inhabitants were like humans except their features leaned heavily on the feline side). He was ranked equal to Sawamura, a leader of sorts, which meant he had bigger reasons than ‘try a slice of the human life’ for being here. Except he didn’t just not remember (dormant, as Akaashi said), he was moving in the other direction of denying the paranormal, cutting off any line that could help to draw him back to his originally intended track.
Akaashi had been placed in charge of keeping an eye on him. Not to intervene – a violation of free will, Semi had been told – but to observe. As a fellow observer, Semi could partially relate to how Akaashi felt, even if his own frustrations seemed shallower.
It wasn’t often Semi got to hand out advice like the older-brother figure he was supposed to be, so he straightened himself up as much as he could (doing nothing to help him actually be taller than the younger) and nodded understandingly.
“Think about it this way. They wouldn’t have asked if it was pointless. They wouldn’t have asked you if they thought you couldn’t handle it. And they wouldn’t still be trying if they thought he was a lost cause.” Semi mentally added ‘probably’ on the end to cover his bases. “Have you told either of them about what you just told me?”
“I give my report as objectively as possible. Sawamura-san seems no more or less concerned. Bokuto-san offers full encouragement, as always.”
Semi had never met ‘Bokuto-san’, Akaashi’s contact with their home planet, though he sounded similar to Semi’s own.
“Maybe we should ask to swap assignments,” Semi snorted without humour. “It’s not like I’m getting far with Oikawa. We might get a better view from a distance.”
Instead of his idea being rejected, Akaashi fell quiet. The eerie, taking-Semi’s-words-literally kind of quiet as he mulled over the idea putting Semi on edge. Semi didn’t want to swap marks. Akaashi’s seemed like a lot of hard work and Semi wouldn’t even know where he should begin.
“Akaashi, I’m not being serious,” he said, just in case Akaashi didn’t get the joke. “The idea wouldn’t pass anyway.”
“Thank you, Semi-san,” Akaashi said finally, still staring distantly at the table. “I will have a word with Bokuto-san.”
“Did you hear what I just – wait, Akaashi! Akaashi!”
Akaashi had enough energy to rush out before he could be stopped, leaving Semi with the feeling that he might have started something he would later come to regret.
The afternoon sun beat down on Semi as he sat waiting on a bench. He squinted up; the sun’s rays split off the metal frame of the famous tower – the first one – against a cerulean backdrop blotched out by patches of pure white. It reminded him of his school trip to Tokyo during elementary school, looking up at the tower for the first time to realise how insignificant he felt next to its sheer size. It had been hot that day, too.
“I heard you said something interesting.”
Semi knocked his head back further to find a figure standing over him. A wide knowing grin. Sleepy eyes that masked his thoughts. Hair matching the red of the painted metal.
Semi blinked. “We could have met at the top, Tendou. The view’s better.”
“I’ve already got a bird’s-eye view,” Tendou said, shielding his eyes as he looked up at the tower. “It’s more fun seeing things off of the ground.”
Tendou had appeared in his life at the same time as Akaashi, but unlike Akaashi who felt familiar, he felt nostalgic, almost making Semi homesick for a home he had yet to remember. Semi put the reason down to being the same species of birds – the eagle, instead of Akaashi’s owl – but that thought didn’t sit right. Whenever they talked, sporadic and out of the blue, he thought he was a step closer to finding out what that feeling was, and every time they ended their session the answer slipped through his fingers along with a good part of their conversation and Semi was came out empty handed with whatever bits of words and broken sentences were left stuck on his palm.
The sun disappeared behind the clouds.
“You should know, Koutarou-kun said,” Tendou continued the conversation with his eyes to the sky. “About the swap.”
Semi tried not to groan as he remembered the exchange. “Akaashi took what I said seriously, didn’t he? What has he gone and done?”
Tendou jumped over the back of the bench – a swift motion, like invisible wings had lifted him up and dropped him into the empty space with a graceful landing. He sat cross-legged in Semi’s direction. “It’s not a bad idea. Wakatoshi-kun’s considering it.”
News travelled fast. “It’s reached him as well?”
“Koutarou-kun likes to tell everyone everything after he’s spoken to Keiji.”
“They talk every day,” Semi said flatly.
“Yes they do!” Tendou suddenly pointed at him with both hands, then began conducting an invisible tune. “Which is why we all know how Keiji’s doing. He’s going to be in for a surprise when he eventually finds out he’s become a bit of a star.”
“It must get really tiring to hear.”
Tendou hummed, half in agreement, half to the song in his head. “Everyone except Wakatoshi-kun who listens to every word.” Tendou dropped his hands and movements and returned to gazing at the sky. “And maybe me. I like hearing the stories.”
There was a touch of emotion to his tone, which Semi only recently began to recognise as envy.
“Why didn’t you come here if you like it so much?” Semi asked.
Tendou flopped down, resting his head in Semi’s lap. His smile was gentler this time and Semi restrained the urge to comb through the soft-looking hair by clasping the edge of one of the planks making up the chair. “I’m waiting for the drama to blow over.”
Semi frowned at the answer that didn’t sound like the full truth.
He decided he would leave that thought for today. “Are you talking about the snakes? Sugawara already warned me about them – not that I know what I’m looking for.”
“You don’t need to look for anything,” Tendou said. “You just carry on as you are.”
Semi released a loud moan and leaned back again. “You say that like it’s meant to reassure me that what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
He felt Tendou’s finger prod his cheek a few times. “You’re there for the experience. Don’t think too hard, Semi-Semi, you won’t get to enjoy the ride.”
Tendou roll off him and Semi watched him straighten up. “Time to go.”
“Are you going to tell me when our next appointment is?”
Semi received another smile.
“Nope! But practice guessing, and maybe you’ll become almost as good as me. I doubt it’ll be long though, Wakatoshi-kun will have something to say soon enough.”
Semi pushed himself off the bench. He knew he wasn’t that heavy, but the load of his responsibilities – known and unknown – tried to weigh him down.
“Remember, Eita-kun – don’t make a move yet!”
Semi woke with a start, light from the late-afternoon sun pouring onto his face through the open window of his room; he had fallen asleep as soon as he dropped onto the sofa after returning from his shift. The contents of his dream dispersed with each second, but he just managed to grasp hold of the last five words, setting it firmly in place within his conscious.
As he considered the words, he wondered.
“Don’t make a move on what?”
Sunday. A day where beginning and end clashed depending on whether a person liked to start their week off optimistically or clutch desperately to the hours counting down to the next full round. For Oikawa, it was another day threaded onto an extremely long string of days. The excitement of weekends had long since faded, but then so had the impending dread of a new workweek – a fair trade off in his opinion.
Sunday was also the day most selected for meeting Kuroo, to catch up over a meal and to remind himself that there were other areas in Tokyo, stylish and entertaining, besides the immediate vicinity of his home. Today they were at Shibuya, an easy one-train access for both, to lunch at a sleek cafe five minutes from the station, the room almost brimming even though they had yet to hit noon. Its popularity had less to do with the food – which tasted fine but no unique oomph to set it apart from the countless other cafes – and more to do with convenience, as could be seen from the groups huddled on the sofas bouncing off ideas, businessmen discussing meetings, and the lone customers seated at the large central table locked in a competition of who could make their one drink last longest while they typed, read, or scheduled.
Oikawa stared blankly at the window, the surrounding babbles merging into one slow buzz growing distant.
He shifted his attention onto Kuroo sitting across from him, who left his sentence hanging.
“I seem what?”
Kuroo rested his chin on his hand, quietly observing; Oikawa held the gaze.
“Lethargic. Are you exercising? Eating your greens?” His grin was teasing, his stare piercing.
Oikawa foraged through the chunks of potato and egg and chicken and avocado to the layer of salad underneath and stabbed a kale leaf to wave in his face. “Kuro-chan, what does this look like to you? Yes, I’m leading a healthy lifestyle.”
A quirked eyebrow was his response.
“A mildly healthy lifestyle,” Oikawa corrected. Under Kuroo’s unwavering one-eyed gaze, Oikawa shoved the leaf into his mouth, muttering around it, “There’s room for improvement.”
The problem with having Kuroo as a friend (besides the obvious, that he didn’t believe in aliens, a topic they only touched upon to joke but never delve into passionately since The Great Summer Debate of their second year of university) was that he brought his work to the table. Granted this was to be expected when he was a hospital dietician and their meetups took place over food, but it also meant Kuroo was quick to accurately pick up on signs of Oikawa’s current physical and mental state.
“You know you’re supposed to take breaks.”
“I take plenty of breaks. Stand instead of sit. Stretch. Wander around.”
“And eat regular meals.”
“I eat fairly regularly.”
“Doesn’t seem to be often.”
Oikawa glanced down; he didn’t think he had lost any weight.
“It’s not just about the weight,” Kuroo said, reading his mind. “Your complexion. Being edgy.” He pointed to Oikawa’s plate. “Lack of appetite.”
He had only nibbled through a third of the plate whereas Kuroo’s opposite was empty. They had been there for at least an hour so he couldn’t even use the excuse that Kuroo was a fast eater.
He exaggerated his sigh. “Change in season? The exasperation towards my co-worker’s never-changing fashion reaching breaking point? I’m just not feeling it lately.”
“Uh-huh. Remind me again when you last took some time off?”
Golden week – at his previous company. He was certain Kuroo knew and only asked to have his suspicion confirmed, that Oikawa had been working non-stop since day one.
His current workplace wasn’t to blame. Nowhere in the conditions did it state he couldn’t take time off for vacations, and he imagined if he made a request Sawamura would efficiently make arrangements for Semi, Sugawara and whoever else to split the shifts and mind the shop.
The issue was, the mere thought of leaving the shop for longer than a full day bothered Oikawa immensely – so much so that even the rare trip home meant arriving and leaving on the same day; fortunately (or not) the strenuous and demanding life of the capital was all too believable to those used to the gentler country life, and no one questioned him when he insisted he was too swamped with work to stay longer. The feeling of entrusting the shop for a prolonged period to another – and this included dependable Sugawara and persistent Semi – was comparable to leaving one’s most prized possession in the hands of a person who had the uncanny ability to misplace whatever object they were put in charge of to be lost – forever. Anyone else would consider the idea of losing a building laughable; to Oikawa anything was plausible and even the most far-fetched possibility should be treated with utmost gravity.
He did wonder when he had grown so attached to that place.
Kuroo would never comprehend the attitude he had towards his work unless Oikawa spoke the truth, which would breach everyone’s trust as well as ignite a fresh debate that could potentially lead to an unamendable aftermath. He neither wanted to be labelled as unreliable or insane, so he pushed down the urge to convince his friend for the millionth time knowing fully well that giving in to this impulse would serve only his immature need to prove his opinion right, and he reminded himself – their friendship was more important than his need to be right.
“Excessive work hours, lack of paid leave,” Kuroo continued at Oikawa’s prolonged silence. “At least your old place paid overtime and forced you to take the minimum number of vacation days.”
Oikawa narrowed his eyes. “What are you trying to say?”
Kuroo leaned back on his chair with an easy shrug. “Nothing. Whatever you think I’m suggesting is your own conscience speaking out to you.”
Oikawa used to fall for that argument when they were younger, intent on deciphering the message from his subconscious rather than the real meaning behind Kuroo’s words. Now that he was wise to Kuroo’s tricks he just brushed it aside. “Don’t try and turn it back onto me, it doesn’t work. I know you think what I do isn’t a ‘real job’, or they’re a black business, or whatever other unfavourable opinion you have, but it’s steady, the people are nice and most importantly I enjoy it, hard as it may be for you to believe.”
He just wished he could find out why he didn’t enjoy it as much recently.
“Oikawa, I don’t doubt that and I’m all for you doing whatever makes you happy. I’m just saying, can you picture yourself in the same position in ten years’ time? Or five?”
To buy some time Oikawa pushed a large piece of chicken into his mouth, chewing slowly in the pretence he was savouring the juices.
The question was hardly new, and the person who did the most asking was himself. He wasn’t lying about liking the job despite his complaining, he was practically living his childhood dream. On the other hand, how long did he realistically expect for it to last?
“It has everything I need,” he said with his mouthful and swallowed in surprise; that wasn’t what he was planning to say. “I mean – you’re sounding like my high school counsellor and you are far too young and attractive to be wearing the same worry lines as a sixty-year-old man.”
Kuroo hummed nonchalantly and reached for his glass of iced tea, swallowing down a sip. “Maybe I’ll come by yours with some food, help you keep your energy up,” he said, letting the conversation drop – for today. “Wouldn’t want you to end up looking like the people I work with. Sometimes I think they’re worse off than the patients.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I wouldn’t want you to take up what little valuable time you have on either cooking or trekking to see me.”
“I didn’t say I’d do it for free. I’ll just get you to pay for the rest of my meals.”
“We both know that’s all talk, you’ll end up trying to pay more than your share and buy me coffee on top.”
Kuroo knowingly shook his head. “No more coffee – you’re getting herbal teas from now on.”
After that, their talk deviated to recent film releases and television shows while Oikawa finished off the rest of his meal. They parted ways outside of the building and Oikawa took advantage of his remaining free time to browse the new buildings that kept sprouting up out of nowhere every time he visited.
And as he did, he remembered why he didn’t do this on weekends, feeling too old to mingle with the kids strutting around like they owned the area. It wasn’t long ago he was one of them, consuming the vigorous changes in scene whether it was fashion or music; funny how life changed when he was kicked out of the bubble into the real world.
Fifteen minutes of wandering around coming to stand among the mass waiting at the crossing was what it took to give up ghosting his old haunts and head back towards the station.
A shoulder rebounded hard off his arm; he whipped round, a glower set ready—
He nearly tripped over his own feet, body confused between the continuing the momentum forward and following the order of a current jolting through him, screaming at him to stop.
The offender – a man – threw a rough apology at him with a quick bow of the head and resumed onwards to the crossing. He eventually came to a halt, waiting where Oikawa earlier stood.
Oikawa felt an invisible tug to follow him; he cut it off, brushed it aside – until the accelerating urgency of his heartbeat successfully punched a code to overwrite the rational command issued by his brain, forced his feet into motion and his mouth to open—
Several heads turned, the man included, who turned around when he registered that Oikawa was aiming for him as he hurried through the crowd beginning their shuffle forward.
“Sorry,” Oikawa said, approaching. “I was wondering – have we met somewhere before?”
The man blinked, furrowing his brows. Oikawa used the moment’s deliberation to cast his eyes over him; tall for a Japanese, spiked black hair, features stern and composed, open-collared shirt revealing prominent collarbones and hugging his body just right to hint at well-defined muscles.
“Don’t think so, no.”
Oikawa snapped his eyes up to meet the gaze flickering between annoyed and curious.
“Are you sure? You seem... oddly familiar.”
The man opened his mouth, paused, and said, “I think I’d remember if we’d already met.”
He started to walk away, leaving Oikawa standing – for two seconds before reaching to grab his shoulder and pull him around just as he was about to step off the curb.
“What exactly do you mean by that?”
The man shrugged off Oikawa’s hand. “What?”
“What you just said, about you remembering me?”
The man glanced over his shoulder – lights still a solid green – and absentmindedly said, “Yeah, I’ll remember you as the guy who’s trying to make me late for work.”
“No, no, that’s what you’re thinking now, but before that, you specifically said, ‘I think I’d remember’ – you wouldn’t say that if some part of me didn’t catch your eye.”
That grabbed his full attention. He snorted, shaking his head in disbelief. “Wow. You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you? What’re you saying, that you’re so good looking people can’t forget you? That I should find you attractive?” He jerked back, suspicion slamming down his face at his words. “Wait, are you trying to hit on me? Is that what this is?”
Oikawa blinked at the jump in conclusion, then a smirk slowly spread across his face. “I’m sorry, which one of us is full of themselves?”
The man huffed an exasperated sigh, surprisingly unriled by the jab. “Look. If you’re upset about me running into you, I said I’m sorry. If you’re looking to pick me up, I’m not interested. Either way, I think we’re done here.”
The man aimed for the crossing a third time; Oikawa thwarted his attempt by clutching a handful of material and yanking him back as a car swerved past.
“You should watch where you’re heading,” Oikawa said, tone still light and amused. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
The man scowled like he was doing everything he could to hold himself back from throwing a fist in his face. “If you hadn’t been talking to me I’d be on the other side of the road by now,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Aren’t you the lucky one then, getting to enjoy my company for an extra minute?”
“What do you want from me?”
Oikawa turned the very good question over in his mind. What did he want? A conversation? His number? He knew what he didn’t want and that was to let the man go and mingle into the crowd, to watch him disappear without any means of tracing him.
“You were right. I found you attractive, went with my gut and gave it a shot.” Oikawa couldn’t believe himself – he knew he was desperate but it didn’t mean he should make an actual confession. He tried not to think too hard. “It is without a doubt the least smoothest way I could have gone about it so you’ll have to excuse me for sounding awkward. Believe it or not I don’t do this a lot.”
He replayed that last part and quickly added, “At all – I don’t do this at all. Actually, it used to be the other way round and people would ask – no, that’s not – ignore that, let’s just go back to the part where I confess and ask if you’re remotely interested.”
One bad trait he couldn’t shake off was his tendency to babble when he grew flustered, evidently made worse by the limited social interaction of his job as his mouth spouted out this nonsense; he made a mental note to socialise more.
The man stared at him. Tried to examine him, peel the outer layer of his words to see if there was a hidden motive underneath – save for the fact he wouldn’t find anything concealed because Oikawa meant every word.
“I’m already—” He glanced aside, the creases in his frown deepening and a dark look spreading to consume his irritation, leaving in its wake—
Oikawa so badly wanted to say regret.
He didn't need to hear the following words. The rejection could have been a truth or a lie, but based on the two-minute assessment of the man’s looks and behaviour he assumed the former – that the stunning man was taken.
But that was just it, wasn’t it? Why wouldn’t a stunning man be taken?
He heard a hollow laugh that sounded too loud, realised it was coming from himself. “Of course you are. Why did I think otherwise?”
He spun round, taking large strides to swiftly distance himself from the embarrassing encounter he didn’t know why the universe had him endure.
The splinter twisted and further buried itself in his chest.
I may have started a Tumblr?
Chapter 5: Semi-Cautious
Semi was reading his manga about to head into a fight scene when Oikawa burst into the shop with a bright smile on his face.
“You’re free to go, Semi!” He said this cheerfully.
Semi stared blankly him. Oikawa never did anything cheerfully when Semi was involved.
He continued to stare as Oikawa came round to the back of the counter and – when he noticed Semi wasn’t making a move to leave – began shooing him towards the door telling him to go out and enjoy the “glorious day” without so much as a quip on how he should make good use of his time by taking himself shopping.
And then Semi was standing outside in the dreary, colourless afternoon, staring at the closed door. After a few moments he walked away.
The next day, Semi spent his ten minutes’ walk thinking away as usual without caring about how Oikawa acted the day before, assuming that whatever had happened was now cleared out and forgotten.
He pushed open the door and his attention dropped straight to the ground.
“...What are you doing?”
Oikawa lay spread out on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.
“Mourning over my heart being pulverised into granules.”
For someone who just had his heart crushed, he sounded upbeat.
“Destiny stabbed me in the back.”
“...Oikawa, talk in a way I can understand, or try again later.” He stepped over Oikawa’s body. “Carry on lying on the floor like that and you’ll drive the customers out. Then we’ll see who’s more upset between you and Sawamura.”
He heard shuffling from behind and Oikawa sniff, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I don’t understand,” Semi agreed, and taking his position behind the counter, he saw the door close into position, the room empty besides for him.
On day three at ten to eleven in the morning, Semi used his walk up to the shop to try and understand what was happening to Oikawa. (After Oikawa returned yesterday, he had gone to the other extreme of not saying a word). Semi had never been great at guessing games or solving mysteries, and was completely useless at piecing clues together – that was if he managed to find a single piece in the first place.
So unable to come to a logical conclusion, he arrived at the shop and pushed the door handle down—
It was locked. Which meant Oikawa was upstairs.
Semi headed for the stairs, hiking up along the side of the building until he was standing, knocking at door to Oikawa’s home.
The first round of knocks were short and controlled.
After counting to ten, so were the second, but firmer.
Semi stuffed his hands in his pockets, counted to ten again, then pulled out a fist and started banging.
He tried the handle; it turned easily.
“I’m coming in,” he called, glancing around at the empty kitchen as he closed the door behind him.
He could count on one hand the number of times he had to come upstairs to get Oikawa; the time Oikawa had been ill and answered the door looking like death with immaculate hair croaking at Semi to buy him medicine and energy drinks, the time Oikawa had been trying to fix (read: swearing loudly while searching online to try and fix) a leaking fridge, and the most recent – the three days Oikawa had spent on a movie marathon to prepare himself for the long-awaited final installment of a series he was going to watch at the cinema.
Semi slid the screen door open and found Oikawa leaning against the wall with a book (manga) surrounded by stacks of more books (manga), his mouth open to bite into bread (milk bread).
“I just knocked!” Semi yelled.
Oikawa closed his mouth. His eyes darted about the room in confusion then settled back to Semi. “Yes?”
“You could’ve answered!”
“Why? You know I’m here if I’m not downstairs.”
“Only if you answer! Only if the door’s open!”
Oikawa frowned. “Of course I’m going to leave the door open, I know you’re coming.”
Semi waved his arms. “I don’t know that! People also lock their doors when they’re inside! I thought maybe you were kidnapped!”
Oikawa lowered the milk bread wearing the same delicate contempt as Semi’s home room teacher when he was eight after he insisted he couldn’t hand in his homework because an eagle swooped down from out of nowhere and grabbed his notebook.
(It was true.)
“Really, Semi. Who could possibly kidnap someone this tall?”
Oikawa stared at him for several moments then returned to his book, taking a bite out of his milk bread. “You can go home, Semi,” he said with his mouth full. “I’m not going out today.”
Semi waited, expecting him to say something – even shouting at him to get out – but there was no reaction.
He had had enough.
“I can lend you an ear,” he finally said.
Oikawa snorted. “You don’t have to pretend like you’re concerned. Or maybe your concern is only so you have something to report back to Sawacchi.” The glance he threw at Semi was cold.
Semi wasn’t surprised by the accusation. Actually, he was more surprised it took four years for Oikawa to mention something along those lines.
“I'm not that insensitive. And I speak to Sawamura as often as you do, which is practically never. And I’m betting they ask you about me, too.” Semi sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Four years is long enough for you to grow on me so that I worry about you when you’re acting out of place.”
Semi didn’t have a reason to hold anything back from Oikawa, and he knew Oikawa was one of those people who reacted better by having the truth laid out before him. Plus they were practically on the same ground – it wasn’t like he was that much more informed about Sawamura and his ‘team’ than Oikawa.
Whatever he said had Oikawa lowering his book. “Humour me then. How do you think it feels to meet your soulmate?”
“That’s… a deep question, and not what I was expecting to hear.” Semi scratched the back of his head. “You’d have to assume I believed in soulmates in the first place.”
Oikawa gasped. “You don’t?”
Tendou popped into his head; he quickly pushed the thought aside with a frown. Soulmates weren’t a good description for whatever obscure relationship they had.
His next thought jumped to Akaashi, but that was just as strange because he had zero romantic interest in him. He could admit they were compatible as – friends? Associates? He didn’t know how to accurately describe their relationship either.
He guessed Oikawa meant to ask if he believed that there was one person who was your other half to make a whole.
“Maybe,” he said, taking the easy way out. “Let's say I lean towards yes. So what, two days ago you met your soulmate?”
Oikawa deflated with his heavy sigh. “I did, and he was already with someone.” He stuffed the milk bread into his mouth, chewing at it instead of biting a piece off.
Everything about the last three days now made sense.
Semi racked his brain for an answer that might at least pull him up for air out his dullness.
“I don’t know about soulmates,” Semi slowly said, “but I’ve had those feelings where you meet someone, and they say or do something that was exactly what I needed at the time – those ‘right place, right time’ encounters. Sometimes I get the feeling they’re a one off. And sometimes when I keep coming across that person again and again I take the hint and push myself to try and get to know them.”
Oikawa shifted, straightening up a little. “So you’re saying if I meet him again it would mean we’re meant to be together and we’ll find a way?”
Semi pulled a face. “No. I don’t want to commit to an answer and be held responsible if you’re still waiting at ninety. Though I imagine there’s a higher chance of meeting him if you leave the house.”
Oikawa’s eyes grew wide. “You’re right! Forget what I said about staying in, I’m going to look for him!”
Semi didn’t think that was how chance encounters worked, and he was sure actively looking for them was a surefire way of forcing them into hiding. But getting Oikawa out of the building was better than him holing himself in, so he kept that part quiet.
At least his advice had Oikawa on his feet and making his way downstairs to open up shop.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Oikawa said as he unlocked the door.
“Take your time. But not too much time, I have work from six.”
“Yes, I know,” Oikawa said, rolling his eyes. “Wish me luck! Oh, and Semi – your polka-dot shirt would have been passable if you’d decided on plain trousers instead of the Polaroid-print monstrosity you’re wearing now.”
Semi looked down at culprit of today’s fashion downfall. “Seriously, what’s wrong with it?!”
When he received silence for a reply, he looked up at to find Oikawa was already marching determinedly down the street.
Under the dim orange glow from the lamp posts, Semi sat in the driver’s seat of his van with a clipboard in hand, squinting to make out the small font. He checked off the delivery he just finished – to a film crew at a park near Ebisu that was being used as a set for some drama – and sifted through the papers for his next location. It was a hospital, maybe ten minutes away, a newly-added customer they had already received several orders from, though it was the first time they appeared on his list.
He glanced at the dashboard; the digital clock displayed an even 20:20.
As he started up the engine and set off into the smooth traffic, his mind wandered to the conversation earlier. Oikawa had returned home with no sighting of his mystery person, but instead of being down he treated it like a challenge.
“Wonder how it feels,” Semi muttered under his breath. To instantly know the person you meet is the person you’re meant to be with during this lifetime. During all lifetimes.
Semi shook his head to physically clear out the thought.
Was it worth mentioning to Sawamura or Akaashi? Technically it was a change in status. But was the change big enough of a deal? He decided to hold onto the new development a little longer.
The drive actually took half the expected time, but with the security check, finding the right parking, asking three different receptions for directions, and trying to get hold of someone to sign off his sheet, it was close to half an hour when he finished stacking the last of the bento boxes onto the table. He collapsed the empty trays and tucked them under his arm, walking back out to the corridor and trying to remember whether he should be turning left or right—
He turned to his right to find Akaashi walking up to him.
“Akaashi—” Semi recalled the name of the hospital. “Oh, it’s this hospital you work at.”
“I wasn’t aware you made deliveries here.”
“We just started to recently. Are you working the night shift or finishing up?”
“The night shift.”
Akaashi didn’t look as worn down as when he visited the shop, but the night was still young. “Try and catch more sleep this time. How’s everything since the other day? Any progress?”
Akaashi glared at him. “Semi-san, we should refrain from discussing personal matters during work hours.”
Semi gripped the crates, the scorn from the younger firing his temper; he forced himself to put it out. “Right. Well, you can always come and see me to let off steam. Did I send you my shifts—?”
Semi, along with Akaashi, turned to owner of the voice and almost did a double take.
It was the height, and then the hair. The man towered over the people dotted along the corridor, his hair adding an extra few centimetres and styled in a way Semi didn’t even know they allowed in a professional scene like this.
“I updated the records for you,” the man said, holding out some papers at Akaashi; Semi noted the quick glance in his direction. “Don’t usually see you gossiping with a stranger.”
Semi shared a look with Akaashi, knowing exactly what was going through his mind – to reveal their association or keep it secret. This was Akaashi’s territory, so he let him decide.
“Semi-san is a friend who so happened to be making a delivery as I was passing by. We were exchanging a short greeting.” Akaashi turned to Semi. “Please don’t let me keep you from your evening.”
On that cue, Semi hitched up the trays for a better grip. “Yeah, I better go. Good to see—”
“You’re not going to introduce me to your friend?” The man’s attention fell onto Semi. “Don’t want to be rude and ignore you if you’re a regular around here.”
Akaashi’s expression hardened a fraction. Semi took that to mean a begrudging ‘I suppose I have to now.’
“Semi-san, this is Kuroo-san—”
Semi snapped his attention back to the man. “You’re Kuroo?”
The corner of Kuroo’s lips quirked up. “I didn’t know I was famous. And dropping the honorifics already – no, don’t be sorry—” Kuroo added when Semi opened his mouth to apologise. “I prefer the closed distance.”
Semi mentally swore at himself for the slip and forced himself to avoid looking Akaashi and the annoyed frown he was probably wearing. Keeping his attention on Kuroo wasn’t any better with the way he grinned like he had a secret or ten on him.
“Sorry,” Semi recovered. “Akaashi talks a lot about this place and the people he works with, and your name comes up now and again. You’re just… not how I imagined you to be.”
Instead of asking Semi to elaborate, Kuroo looked to Akaashi. “I hope you’ve been saying only good things about me, nurse Akaashi.”
Semi risked a glance at Akaashi, whose expression matched the clinical coldness of their surroundings.
“I always paint you in a favourable light,” Akaashi said dismissively. “Kuroo-san, you must be busy—”
“Funny you should say that actually, I was just thinking I could do with a break. Care to join me?”
“I have to continue making rounds.”
“Too bad,” Kuroo said; the sly smile cancelled out the sympathy in his words. “In that case, I’ll drop by your station later to confirm those changes after I see Semi out.” He looked back at Semi. “Wouldn’t be fair for only one of us to drop the ‘san’.”
He then actually winked.
Semi’s embarrassment was equal parts for himself for being the target, and for Kuroo for making the cringeworthy gesture.
A dark cloud formed over Akaashi’s face. Semi knew better than to be on the receiving end of one of those and Kuroo, he either didn’t know, or didn’t care, or – as Semi spotted the amused glint in those dark eyes – he did know and cared only about winding Akaashi up.
Akaashi’s sigh sliced through the pause. “Please let me talk to one of the other nurses and you can meet me in ten minutes. I don’t wish to keep you longer in your overtime than absolutely necessary.”
The warning Akaashi flashed to Semi as he turned to leave was loud and clear: don’t say anything that would jeopardise his work.
“I love how Akaashi manages to sound concerned and imply I’m wasting the hospital’s resources,” Kuroo said as he watched Akaashi disappear out of sight, then turned the opposite direction. “Shall we? Wouldn’t want you to be late for your next appointment.”
That was how Semi ended up with Kuroo as a guide as he made his way out of the building, in silence, which Semi was sure Kuroo was deliberately stretching out.
“You don’t have to waste your break,” Semi broke the silence with the first thought that came to his head. “I can make my own way back.”
“It goes against my generous nature to ignore somebody who needs my help.”
The phrasing reminded him of Oikawa, although unlike Oikawa, whose tone was generally one of sweet arrogance, Kuroo spoke in a clashing mix of playful and serious. Semi was beginning to understand why they were friends.
He was also trying to figure out the mystery surrounding Kuroo. Everything he knew of Kuroo had been told by Akaashi, and everything Akaashi had said made Kuroo appear stubborn and irrational. In person, Kuroo initially gave off the impression that he was so laid back Semi found it hard to imagine him arguing with anyone, but the longer they talked, the more Semi realised the different levels of amusement all came attached with the same predatory gaze masking a sharp mind that pinned and dissected.
So Semi kept his focus up ahead. Because he wasn’t like Akaashi, he couldn’t keep his emotions in check and stop them from surfacing.
“So you and Akaashi. Known each other long?”
Semi counted back the years. “Six, seven years. We met when we did some part time work together.”
“Working events. Bartending, cloakroom, that sort of thing. We worked on a lot of the same jobs during the end-of-year rush.”
“Gotta say, I’ve known him at least a couple of years and all I’ve managed to get out of him is whatever generic information you find on a resume. How’d you manage to crack his defence?”
Semi shrugged. “It’s not that hard once you know his weakness.”
“Oh? Mind sharing your wisdom?”
“Get him starving by working eight hours straight until three am, then hand him a two-day forgotten onigiri found squashed at the bottom of your bag.”
The soft chuckle that followed tugged at Semi’s lips into grinning – though he didn’t know why he was so happy to hear it.
“Thanks for the tip. Those conditions shouldn’t be too hard to meet here.”
Semi glanced up. “I just delivered you food.”
Kuroo shot him a side glance. “Yeah, but they always underorder.”
They walked through another set of sliding glass doors which Semi found to be the last one, taking him out of the overly-white, air-conditioned building into the dark, muggy car park.
“That was a lot faster than the first time round,” Semi admitted as he slowed down to a stop. He turned to Kuroo properly for the first time, deciding the night should cloak enough of his expressions.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” When Semi gave him a strange look, Kuroo added, “You know the correlation between time and having fun.”
“I’m pretty sure the speed’s to do with the floor map you have memorised.”
Kuroo sighed in mock dejection. “Usually I make more of an impression on people.”
“Because of the hair, not the company,” Semi retorted all too easily, then heard back what he had just said. “I mean—”
“No, the truth’s out.” Kuroo put a hand on his heart and a pained expression on his face. “You claimed my personality weak and made a dig at my hair.” He dropped his arm, and with it the act. “Guess I’ll have to try harder to impress you when I next see you.”
“When you next see me?” Semi asked back with a frown.
“I’m guessing tonight’s delivery wasn’t a one off, and if it’s before nine I’ll likely be around.” Kuroo checked his watch. “Speaking of the time, better head back before a certain nurse has my head. Might take your advice and grab that onigiri along the way.”
Semi shook his head hard. “He’s not desperate enough – you’re safer off running back. Without running, because he’ll consider it a hazard. Power-walk back and look sorry.”
Kuroo watched him quietly, intently; Semi began to grow a little too warm.
“I’m making it official – you’re my new guide on Akaashi. I’d say it’s a fair exchange for guiding you around the building.” Kuroo grinned – almost lazily, if it wasn’t for his gaze that retained its keen edge. “See you around, Semi.”
Semi watched Kuroo make his way back inside – and he realised too late he hadn’t replied.
“That’s Kuroo, huh...” Semi continued to watch Kuroo's form grow distant until it disappeared around the corner.
Chapter 6: Invite Through
Oikawa didn’t care that he had seen the same film three times – he would watch it again at the cinema for a fourth time regardless of whether he had to hear Semi scoff at him with a disbelieving “again?!” when he explained why he would be gone for six hours from early in the morning. In his defence, the first time was in 2D, the second in 3D, and the third nearly a month later in IMAX when the showing finally stopped being sold out. Today was him indulging, just because he could.
He waited at the counter for his order of caramel popcorn and melon soda while watching the trailers showing on one of the televisions hanging on the wall, and then dropped his gaze to the row of ticket machines underneath when a large group of junior high school kids came pouring in—
Oikawa straightened – it had to be him. That man he ran into the other day, who was wandering away from the machines as he examined the ticket in his hand.
Oikawa checked the progress of the old man serving him, tried to telepathically urge him to hurry instead of being an attentive worker and refilling the popcorn machine still a quarter full.
(One day he was going to persuade Sawamura to teach him the tricks – strictly for emergencies, naturally; he didn’t believe humans didn’t possess the ability, just that they weren’t let in on the secrets.)
He returned his attention back to the man, spotting him hovering around the portable shelving displays in front of the counter selling goods and pamphlets.
At last, the counter attendant arrived with his tray of orders, which Oikawa grabbed before it was put down, and then headed in the direction of—
He was gone.
Oikawa frantically scanned the room, hurrying as fast as the food and drink would let him without spilling to where he last sighted the man. He reached the shop, circling the shelves in case he would find him crouching out of sight and a couple more times for good measure, then headed to the queues, weaving between the people by the ticket machines, and then back to the food counter.
He dropped onto one of the cushioned blocks with his back to the huge screen blaring out a trailer, taking small sips of melon soda, gaze still flitting between the ticket check, the escalators, the bathroom – anywhere and everywhere.
Fate couldn’t be so cruel to bait him, only to whip it away. If he weighed out the good and bad deeds throughout his life, he would definitely manage to squeeze into the good. He offered help and advice. He was selfless, to a certain extent. Oikawa-san was a decent person and he didn’t deserve to be toyed like this.
An announcement blared out that tickets for his screening were now being accepted.
He waited out the ten minutes until nine twenty. Through the trailers until nine forty. And the film would be starting within the few minutes that followed, but he knew he couldn’t sit through three hours when the ‘what ifs’ would be swimming around in his head. So he continued his search. Five minutes. Ten.
Maybe the man was already inside, watching his film. Oikawa could wait it out for another couple of hours—
What was he thinking? Didn’t he remember the part where the man said he was already in a relationship? He had been so obsessed with Semi’s words of finding him as though coming across him would magically make everything work out, he had forgotten the simple truth that he had been rejected.
In which case, fate was being kind and providing a learning lesson. It was reminding him that he couldn’t get his hands on whatever he wanted.
Oikawa left his post for the bins, threw out his food and emptied the remainder of his drink, then trudged across the room to the glass doors leading to the escalators—
He paused to pull the door open, then stood rooted to the spot as he saw the man appearing from around the corner having made his way up. The man looked up, first at the room then in Oikawa’s direction; he slowed to a stop on the other side.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Oikawa breathed; it was all he could manage.
“You’re—” The man hesitated. “You’re that guy from the other day… right? The crossing? Shibuya?”
The pause was drawn out compared to the desperate rush at the crossing, and Oikawa took in a more detailed sight of the man. He was dressed casually today, a black t-shirt with a white logo ‘GZ’ ripped by claw marks, a rucksack slung over one shoulder. Dark jeans, trainers. Simple, but undeniably effective. He almost wanted to drag him to Semi as a fine example of how one should dress themselves.
The man shifted his weight. “Sorry again. About that.”
Oikawa laughed, an unnaturally high pitched sound he nearly winced at as he waved away the apology. “No harm done, really!”
He lowered his arm. Both stood unmoving. An awkward silence fell between them.
“Well. I’m gonna—” The man held up his ticket.
Oikawa caught a glimpse of the title and pointed to the man’s top. “I get it now. I take it you’re a fan?”
“Since I was a kid,” the man immediately replied with a small grin that was a touch proud; it set Oikawa’s heart racing.
“Well, don’t let me keep you any longer.” The voice inside his head yelled at him to do whatever he could to keep the conversation going. “Actually, just quickly – I thought I recognised you earlier. At the goods shop. Buying merchandise? And then you disappeared before I could say anything.”
The man paused, seemingly hesitant to reply. “I was at the cafe downstairs. And I was checking out the merch, I didn’t actually buy anything. Thought I already owned enough.”
“Like the t-shirt?”
He glanced down at his shirt briefly. “Yeah. Actually, the oldest thing I own is this—”
He pulled his bag around to show Oikawa a worn out strap hanging off one of the zipper tabs, most of the paint peeled off so it was more a dinosaur-shaped lump than a king of monsters.
Oikawa desperately pushed down the impulse to exclaim how adorable that was.
The man examined it between his fingers. “I know, it’s kind of stupid. Can’t bring myself to get rid of it though, it was the first thing I ever bought.” He frowned slightly, slinging his bag back. “Sorry, I dunno why I’m – I better go.”
As he started walking, muttering a “thanks” to Oikawa for holding open the door, Oikawa blurted, “We’ve got a figure in the shop I work at. If I remember correctly, it’s a collectible. If you want it. It might be a little worn, but” – Oikawa nodded to his bag – “that doesn’t seem to bother you. I know you just said you don’t need any more merchandise, but it’s sitting in a box collecting dust and I’d rather sell it to a fan who cares.” His voice was too loud and enthusiastic, his smile too forced and aching.
Why did he just do that? It was true, he remembered Nishinoya and Tanaka discussing it when they were combing through his inventory. It wasn’t out on the table – he thought it was too bulky and didn’t match the other displays – so he had it boxed up in his room where it sat waiting.
Waiting, for exactly this moment.
But that wasn’t the point, was it? The man in front wasn’t available to pursue, had explicitly expressed his disinterest, and Oikawa didn’t know why he had this baffling desire to know more about him, why he couldn’t stop himself from trying—
“Yeah? How much does it go for?”
Oikawa struggled with himself between casting it aside as a mistake and persisting with the conversation.
“I think it was four or five thousand.”
The man looked at him suspiciously. “And it’s a collectible? Are you sure there isn’t an extra zero on the end of that?”
“The prices are written in kanji and everything we sell is under the ten thousand mark. And the collectible part is only what I’ve been told by friends. You’d have to take a look and judge for yourself.”
The man didn’t reply right away. It took Oikawa everything not to fidget, or continue to shift positions when every position would feel wrong, and just stand and control his breathing. To breathe, full stop.
“What’s the name of the shop?”
“Oh... there isn’t one. It’s a small business. I can provide an address? I’m not sure how convenient it would be for you to get there, it’s a little further out. One line from here though.”
The man reached into his back pocket and pulled out a phone (the case of which had a black and white silhouette looking suspiciously like the same monster of his strap), tapping at the screen a few times before holding it out to Oikawa. Oikawa stared at the phone and its white screen, and then looked up at him in confirmation.
“For the address?” The man said, glancing over Oikawa’s shoulder. “The film’s about to start so—”
“Of course!” Oikawa snatched the phone off him and quickly typed the address – he paused, battling with himself on whether or not to add a number.
You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Oikawa hurriedly added his mobile number and held it back out.
“Our address. And a number in case you get lost.”
The man glanced at the screen, and frowned. “Jiyugaoka?”
“Is that too far?” Oikawa asked, heart already sinking.
“No, that’s – I’ll drop by. When are you open?”
Oikawa was about to answer with ‘whenever’, quickly stopping himself when he realised that would make him sound eager. “The hours are irregular. Just call or message when you’re thinking of coming in, I’ll make sure it’s open.”
The man nodded slowly. “All right. I’ll do that.”
Oikawa watched him continue past and across the room.
“Enjoy your film!” he called. The man looked over his shoulder and Oikawa was sure he could see a small curl of his lips before he turned round ahead to show his ticket and disappear down the corridor to the screens.
It took less than an hour for Oikawa to throw open the door to his shop.
Semi glanced up.
“Shouldn’t you be—”
“You were right.”
Semi stared at him blankly, then a grin slowly emerged on his face. “I knew it! I told you, I researched it, purple doesn’t clash with green—”
“What? Oh, for god’s sake – Semi! I told you, it’s not about the colours, it’s about the intensity! You can’t wear something dark with – that is really not what I want to discuss with you right now! I want to talk about our conversation the other day. The chance encounter. It happened. I met him.”
Semi’s happy expression shifted into serious.
“Please don’t look so overjoyed at my fortuity,” Oikawa snarked.
“You know that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get together.”
Oikawa knew. He had been tell himself exactly the same thing on the train, half forcing himself to believe it.
But he didn’t care because he had found the man. He didn’t know what was in store. He didn’t know if it would lead anywhere favourable. For now, having lived through last week’s mishap and stumbled upon today’s stroke of luck, he forgave whatever comic force was at work and allowed himself to believe.
When Oikawa opened his eyes, he was in darkness.
Not the darkness of his room at night, with red dots of appliances staring at him, orange switches of extension sockets blinking at him, a blurry haze from the lamp post on the other side of the road leaking in between gaps around his curtain, the odd headlight swiping across the bottom edge.
It was a cold darkness, utterly devoid of light.
He pushed himself off the ground, noticing the floor beneath his palm and fingertips to be cool and fluid – not wet – trying to remember what was last doing. He was on his futon in his shorts and t-shirt, blanket scrunched by his feet, unable to sleep from the sticky night that wasn’t quite hot enough for the air conditioner to be on, lying there, eyes closed – thinking. About the morning. About the man. About the meaning of his connection with that man.
So this must be—
A burst of light exploded from behind and he startled up onto his feet.
“Yes! I’m finally in!”
He stumbled back at the man – a birdman? – emitting a soft halcyon glow, his whole body covered in dark silver-grey feathers – except his head. His head was human; hair the same colour as his body spiked up to resemble – Oikawa wanted to say an owl. The birdman bent over to dust his feathers and then stopped, lifted his head to look squarely in the ey at Oikawa, iris flaming strong in gold and mouth a grin slicing across his face like he had spotted prey.
The birdman straightened up, crossed his arms – wings, Oikawa corrected – his stance proud without arrogance, flexing without flaunting.
“Hey, hey, hey! You can call me—! Wait, which name am I supposed to be using—” He fell quiet in thought, and so did the air around him, the glow diminishing; the energy and light flared up again with him snapping up his head back up. “Bokuto! I’m an Avian like A – uh, Sawamura! And… and Sugawara! And Shimizu and Semi! Hey, they all begin with an S! I’m an owl, we’re a lot cooler than those crows or eagles, or any other types of Avians – we’re the best!”
Bokuto glanced to the side, then leaned in. “But don’t tell Sawamura I said that,” he murmured.
Oikawa shook off his gaping at the familiar names. “You’re with Sawacchi?”
“Sawacchi! I like that nickname! Do I get a cool nickname?”
Oikawa stared at the man staring back at him – he could almost see his eyes sparkling in anticipation.
“Bokkun,” he pronounced slowly, for once hesitant to officialise the nickname.
“Bokkun! I like that! Wonder if Aka—” Bokuto immediately clamped his mouth shut and shook his head. “Never mind.”
After a few moments of staring at each other, Oikawa realised Bokuto was waiting for him to say something. He didn’t even know where he should begin, so he started with the obvious.
“Sawacchi showed me his true form and it’s not like yours.”
Bokuto’s laugh was full and reverberating, shaking up his soul. “We like to mix it up when we come and visit you humans,” he said, checking his own appearance, front and back. “You must’ve seen some of the pictures. You know, half human, half bird. We’ve been visiting you guys for ages.”
Oikawa scanned his knowledge and something clicked into place. “Like the myths?”
Bokuto pointed his wing at him. “Exactly like the myths! Well – no, not exactly. You guys think myths are made up, and as you can see here” – Bokuto puffed out his chest and gave it two solid thumps – “one hundred percent real! I like it this way round instead of the traditional bird-head human-body, it’s more expressive when you’ve got a human face – easier to laugh, too.”
Oikawa nodded slowly, less in understanding, more to humour the Avian. “So… are you coming to me in a dream? Is that how we’re communicating?”
Bokuto startled back, eyes wide.
“We’re at your heart centre. You don’t feel it?”
Oikawa stilled. He didn’t know what he was supposed to feel, but he had a feeling if he admitted ‘empty’, Bokuto would crash down, passed out from shock. Oikawa wished he was exaggerating, but he could recognise a fellow drama queen when he saw one.
“A dream’s a lot fuzzier,” Bokuto continued. “Really unstable. Easy to forget. It’s good when you want to have a group conversation with more than one human, or if you’re going for the mysterious vibe, but for a heart-to-heart you want to – well, be at the heart. Easy for the brain to grab hold of the information, too, if you’re in your own body instead in a shared space.”
Oikawa was still stuck at the first exclamation. “Can we go back to this ‘heart centre’ you’re talking about? What is it?”
“That’s just the term I like to use, everyone calls it different things. It’s where your soul lives – where you can come and meet your soul, if you want. But everyone else has to be invited to get in because they’re not you. I mean, not that they can’t get in – there are ways, you can always force yourself in – but it’s not polite to barge in on someone’s sacred space without an invite. I definitely wouldn’t want anyone storming into my personal territory without asking—”
“I don’t remember sending any invites to you.”
Bokuto cocked his head to the side, rubbing his chin. “You did though. You had a massive ‘keep out’ sign for a while – I should know, I’ve been visiting every one of your earth days for four years now – but you finally brought it down today, and you specifically said, ‘I forgive whatever comic force is at work’. That’s what I call an invitation.”
Oikawa thought back to when he said that, and realised he had only thought it – or had he said it out loud?
Bokuto began to turn slowly, looking up and around and down. “If I’m honest with you – and I always like to be honest with everyone – this isn’t what I thought I’d see. And it doesn’t match your profile, I was told you were… sparkly? And this place isn’t very sparkly.”
“Usually your personal space is creative. Humans are really creative. And they personalise everything, it’s actually the best part of this job! But this… well, you can see for yourself. Which is weird, because you seem like the creative type.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Unless this has something to do with – did Sawamura say – or was that Aka – oh, I can’t mention—”
“Why are you here?!” Oikawa shouted. Bokuto stilled and Oikawa had a feeling he might have offended him somehow, and that offending him could lead to a very troublesome outcome.
“Right!” Bokuto brightened, making Oikawa relieved. “I should explain – my job is to keep an eye on you and try to reach you at soul level, which I finally managed! Oh—” Bokuto’s humour sobered. “But I don’t have a message for you today. I need to speak with U – right, I can’t – I need to talk with others first. But keep this place accessible, okay? I know I’ve got a ton of energy to expend – that’s why I was specifically on your case – but it’s actually one of the few things that can drain me. That, and you are one stubborn human.”
Oikawa was trying to get his head round the jumps and it made everything obscure than clear. Why did they feel the need to keep an eye on him – because he worked at the shop? What did it mean that Bokuto kept continuing to try and enter this deeply personal space Oikawa felt no affinity towards?
“I wonder if… it’s not official… they won’t mind…” Bokuto murmured, oblivious to Oikawa’s questions, growing quieter and as his frown deepened. He suddenly shot up again, a bright smile on his face. “I’ll send my guy your way! He’s the best! And super smart, he’ll be able to tell you what you need to know.”
Bokuto crossed his wings and gave a firm nod. “I think we’re done here for tonight!”
Oikawa snapped open his eyes to the darkness of his room, feeling oddly refreshed even as he felt overwhelmed with the information he didn’t know where to begin picking apart. He fumbled for the phone he left beside his bed, pressing the button as he lifted it above his head and squinting at the glare.
Usually Oikawa brushed repeated numbers aside, but tonight he remembered Sawamura once saying numbers held powerful meanings.
“And I suppose I’m meant to take that as a sign?”
The time flipped to 1:12.
Oikawa turned his phone off, dropped his arm back down, and stared at the ceiling, too wide awake to begin falling asleep.
Chapter 7: Semi-Confused
Semi had been so engrossed in his book he hadn’t noticed the door open; he looked up to find Kuroo standing by the doorway, a tote bag in one hand.
Although Semi had been given two more deliveries to the hospital since their last meeting he hadn’t seen Kuroo around, the first being a delivery to a different wing later in the night, and the second when he was pressed for time and forgetting about his offer.
“Why do I get the feeling that’s not a good revelation?”
Kuroo released his hold on the door and walked up to the counter. “I didn’t think to connect deliveryman Semi to fashion-disaster Semi.”
Semi put his book down on the table. “I hope they’re Oikawa’s words.”
“I’ll leave you to decide.”
Semi held back the urge to roll his eyes. “Oikawa won’t be back for another hour, hour and a half.”
“I came to drop these off,” Kuroo said, placing the bag onto the counter and giving it a few taps. “Try to get some nourishment into him. Mind passing them on?”
Semi glanced at the bag. “What is it, take out?”
When he looked back at Kuroo, the grin was replaced with a blank expression. “Did you just ask a registered dietician if they brought their friend with sketchy eating habits take out.”
“Ah, I think I remember Akaashi mentioning your job. So what, you cooked these yourself?”
“Semi, please stop talking, your questions are like paper cuts to my dignity.”
An image flashed in Semi’s mind of being rounded on by Kuroo and Oikawa’s dramatics at the same time; he imagined it to be headache inducing. “All right, I’m sorry. And I’m impressed by your ability and goodwill to cook and share nutritious food.”
“It does leave a lasting impression,” Kuroo agreed, nodding solemnly; his eyes flickered down. “A little like your shirt.”
Semi followed the gaze down. “What are you trying to say about my shirt?!”
“Nothing, as long as you intended to compete with the sun when picking it out. I think the synthetic yellow’s winning.”
“It’s a nice day! Why wouldn’t I wear something to match?”
“Can’t argue with that logic. Great match to the weather – shame it’s not a great match to your hair.”
“My hair?” Semi instinctively tugged at his fringe, just making out the tip. “What does my hair have to do with it?”
“Wait, don’t tell me – you didn’t think to bring your hair into the equation when choosing colours. What about skin tone? Body type?” Kuroo shook his head with a disappointed sigh. “Rookie mistake, Semi. You can’t pick something out of a magazine and expect it to automatically look good on you.”
Semi hadn’t thought about any of those things. His priority had been to wear something that would have Oikawa stumped – not because he cared what other people thought of him and what he wore, but because he wanted to have photographic evidence of Oikawa’s dumbstruck expression when he was rendered speechless. He even thought Kuroo would probably appreciate it if he decided to send it to him.
“Here’s an idea,” Kuroo continued. “How about I help you pick out some clothes, we can both have a good laugh when Oikawa’s spluttering because you look so good, and we’ll see how long it takes for him to figure out what’s going on.”
That… sounded like a great plan. Semi had a feeling they were on the same wavelength.
“Out of the kindness of your heart?”
“My kindness knows no bounds.”
“And you’re qualified to give me fashion advice, are you?”
“You tell me.”
Semi ran his gaze down the slim-fitting maroon t-shirt that wasn’t too tight or baggy, and down further to jeans that was ripped across one knee, which Semi was sure it had been torn from use rather than bought. And then Kuroo turned with his back to him, and Semi’s eyes immediately travelled back up and over his ass – and stayed there.
“Like what you see?” Kuroo asked.
Semi swallowed. “Uh, yeah. No – no! I mean, you’re – all right.” He physically shook off his fluster with a few shakes of his head. “My standards are high. But you pass.”
Kuroo turned back round looking suspiciously smug, pulling out a phone. “Let’s make it a date then. Mind giving me your number?”
The joke loosened Semi up and made him smirk, and he took the phone off Kuroo. “Sure, a ‘date’. Does that mean instead of buying me dinner you’re buying me clothes?”
“Tell you what, as it’s our first I’ll go all out and buy you a new pair of socks. If you turn out to be really special I’ll get you the set of three for one thousand.”
Semi raised an eyebrow and glanced up from typing his number. “I’m offended you think I can’t choose my own socks.”
“I’ll take it back if you can show me what you’re wearing right now without making me laugh.”
Semi looked down at his socks that were the same colour as his shirt and then wordlessly returned the screen to the sound of Kuroo’s chuckles; he handed the phone back to him.
“How does Saturday sound?” Kuroo asked.
“As long as it’s before four.”
“Hachiko at eleven and we can grab lunch first – make a day of it.”
“I’m not special enough for your home cooked meals?”
The grin Kuroo gave him was soft and easy.
“That’s for the second date.”
Semi faltered; he reminded himself they were joking around.
“I’ll return later when Oikawa’s here,” Kuroo said, picking up the bag off the counter. “If he finds out we’ve been talking he’ll know it was my idea and we won’t be able to pull this off. So pretend not to know me, difficult as that may be.”
“Because you’re all about leaving a lasting impression.”
Kuroo pointed with a finger gun. “Exactly. Looking forward to Saturday, Semi.”
“Yeah, Kuroo, me too…” Semi trailed off as Kuroo left the building, leaving him alone and somewhat empty.
“It’s just shopping,” he announced loudly to the room and propped his book open on the counter, staring at the first frame on the page.
The bar Semi was trying to reach as he wandered through the dimming streets of a small town three stops away was called ‘Karasuno’, and it was a maze to get there. Not because the town itself was a maze, but because one missed sign or wrong turn from the directions he had memorised and he had to recount all the way from the station. In the beginning when the route was still unfamiliar he actually did return all the way to the station to start from scratch. Even after all these years he still managed to miscalculate, ruffling his hair with a frustrated sigh as he recalled the directions, checked the landmarks, and rechecked the directions he had taken.
When he was standing in front of a four-storey flat and a local shop with its shutters forever closed, a narrow gap in between looking grim in the dusk, he knew he was at the right place. He squeezed himself in the gap, sidling down a path that grew so narrow towards the end he always instinctively sucked in and held his breath until he was through to the other side, to an enclosure that was first surrounded by buildings then by a layer of plants and trees, with a small wooden Japanese-style building at the centre, the front all latticed except for the front door hidden behind a black noren curtain. As he walked up he recognised the familiar scent as elderflower, the same scent that also wafted around the shop this time of year.
The door rattled when he slid it open and he parted the curtain, ducking as he entered.
“Semi – you’re late!”
Semi checked the time as he closed the rattling door with a firm clack. “It’s not even six yet, Sugawara.”
The shop was parted evenly into three sections – the right a bar counter, the centre a pathway to another noren curtain in orange that led out back, and the left a raised tatami floor where Sugawara, Shimizu and Akaashi were seated on cushions around a thick wooden table.
“Where’s Sawamura?” Semi asked, sitting down to slip off his sneakers.
“Here.” Semi looked up to see Sawamura appearing from behind the curtain.
“Sawamura,” Semi nodded in greeting, then shifted his attention to the man following, wearing a black Japanese-style outfit often seen at izakayas and sporting a bandanna. “Hey, Azumane.”
Azumane’s smile was as tender as the small flowers outside, and genuinely happy to see him. “Haven’t seen you in a while, Semi. I was beginning to get worried.”
“Suga told you just now he talked to him three days ago,” Sawamura said disbelievingly as he took his seat at the head of the table.
“I know, but it’s nice to have confirmation,” Azumane said from behind the bar, pouring drinks. “Especially when you consider what’s been happening recently.”
Semi took the empty cushion next to Akaashi, directly opposite Shimizu who sat beside Sugawara.
Sawamura stared at Azumane. “Sometimes I wonder why you’re here.”
“That would be beacuse you dragged him here,” Sugawara reminded brightly.
Azumane brought over a tray of glasses – five glasses of iced green tea – and set them down in front of everyone.
Soft drinks were a sign of a short but important meeting. Semi was also pressed for time, his shift starting in a couple of hours, and he knew Akaashi had the night shift.
Azumane returned to his position behind the bar. He never joined in, although he was always present for the conversations.
“Thank you all for coming,” Sawamura started. “I know you’re busy and it’s difficult for you to make time in your busy schedules, but I appreciate—”
“Daichi, why do you always start so tense, we’re friends having a quick meeting. Come on, everyone – kampai!” Sugawara called out, clinking glasses with everyone as everyone except Sawamura called out a less-enthusiastic ‘kampai’ in unison.
Sawamura didn’t look so impressed. “Suga, setting the tone is important.”
“Yes, Daichi, it is,” Sugawara made a pointed reply.
Semi decided that he would cut in first. “You said it was urgent – what’s going on?”
“Sawamura-san wanted to discuss recent developments in the area,” Akaashi replied.
“Which affects you two in particular,” Sawamura added, unsmiling. “We might as well get straight to it. As things currently stand, Earth is still under quarantine, and everyone is still working towards gathering and investigating those feeding off humans, accidentally or on purpose—”
“That’s a really crude way of putting it,” Sugawara interrupted, pulling a face.
Sawamura turned to him. “How else do you want me to describe it?”
“Those inhibiting humans from expressing positive vibrational frequencies by forcing them into a habitual state of negativity, especially that of fear, as a means to amplify their mental and physical strength,” Shimizu said quietly, then took a sip of her drink.
“Thank you, Shimizu,” Sugawara said, then turned back to Sawamura. “Like that.”
“It does more accurately describe the situation than produce an image of humans being an actual food source,” Akaashi also added.
Semi also took a silent sip of his drink, watching Sawamura (whose expression was darkening) over the rim of his cup and being grateful he was sitting further away.
“As I was saying,” Sawamura restarted; everyone became quiet. “The big picture remains as is. However, I’ve been chasing rumours, and they involve the Ophidians—”
“Snakes,” Sugawara explained, looking to Semi.
“Not a technical term but – snakes,” Daichi grudgingly agreed. “Suga probably explained it to you, the Ophidians are part of the Reptilian race who are deliberately fee—” Sawamura paused to glance at Sugawara and sighed. “Who are deliberately using humans for their own gain. The first rumour was about sightings of them around my area of supervision. Specifically around this area.”
Sawamura looked to Semi as if expecting a report, and everyone else’s gaze also fell to him. Semi put his glass down. “I haven’t seen any. I don’t even know what I should be looking for.”
“They’re hard to spot with the naked eye unless you’re concentrating,” Sugawara told him. “If you’re really in tune you might notice your emotions suddenly going haywire – getting hysterical or down for no apparent reason – but that's not an accurate tell, anything could be a trigger.”
Sawamura folded his arms. “The rumour has been confirmed. What’s more, the reported sightings are increasing. It’s not the first time for this either – they were also spotted around this area five or six years ago, although they went into hiding before we could close in.”
There was a moment’s silent reprieve where Sawamura gave everyone the chance to digest the information.
Semi, in particular, didn’t know much about these Ophidians except for what Sugawara had mentioned. He tried to think of a time he found someone hovering around his home or shop, and remembered he was too busy thinking to take note of his surroundings; he made a note to start paying attention.
“On to the second rumour,” Sawamura continued. “You’re all aware the quarantine was implemented to prevent the influx of races who, as Shimizu explained, having discovered that their powers increased when they spent time among humans – more precisely humans who were emitting negative energy – began to use Earth as a type of enhancement facility. After ‘charging’ so to speak, they left Earth to exert their new strength so that they could overpower other races.
“The biggest issue we currently have regarding the quarantine is the various portals located on Earth connecting to locations that span across the galaxy. All of the known portals have been shut down and are protected by Earth’s defences, which include DTD who still oversee this area. There have been zero infiltrations and escapes so far.”
“What’s happening with the unknown?" Semi asked with a frown. "How many are there?”
“Too many to count. Which is why a lot of us, including me, are running around to trace their whereabouts and shut it down. Earth has always been one of the most organically abundant planets to exist – almost like a planetary museum – and it’s why so many portals exist. Some are natural, some are man-made, and they may be constantly open or closing periodically, but there’s just no way of telling. Naturally with the quarantine in effect the Reptilians and other races using humans as a power source want to leave the planet without accounting for their reckless behaviour. And because there’s no specific number of portals, they’re just as busy searching as we are – only they’re looking to escape.
“Which brings me to the second rumour: an undiscovered portal exists in this area. It seems the Ophidians are the ones who are in charge of sniffing out its exact location.”
“Would you mind describing the appearance of these portals?” Akaashi asked.
“The known ones are generally in the shape of gates,” Shimizu explained. “The unknown could be anything.”
Sawamura nodded. “Shimizu’s right. And although the rumour hasn’t been confirmed yet – I have a theory.”
Semi already knew what Sawamura was going to say, and if the thick and almost-suffocating air was any indicator, so did everyone else. Sawamura looked to each of them in turn and then down at the table.
“The shop contains the portal, and Oikawa is the key.”
Semi expected a drawn out silence as the information sank in – he was hoping for it because it was a lot to take in, but Akaashi didn’t miss a beat.
“It would certainly explain how the shop came into existence,” Akaashi said thoughtfully. “But I thought DTD wrote off this possibility?”
“They did. You were there – the building was checked out, and they concluded it was no different from the surrounding buildings, no trace of portal activity, no energy spikes. And I analysed Oikawa myself and – besides the strong mental rejection – he was like any other human.”
“What about that incident with Matsukawa-san, shouldn’t that have alerted—”
Sawamura’s sigh cut him off. “It should have, but I’m not surprised it didn’t. Do you know how many reports of portal sightings there are in a day? And if they’re not busy chasing those reports, they’re running after Reptilians or illegal overhead entry, and they’re already short of hands by guarding each entry point—”
“Earth should have considered introducing lockdown after they got enough help from outside,” Sugawara muttered.
“If Matsukawa had disappeared it would have been a different story. But as he didn’t, and with all the normal readings, they wrote it off as an anomaly and agreed to us volunteering to monitor any changes. Matsukawa said it himself, it could have been a point of convergence in a ley line and being a conduit he was more susceptible to Earth’s energies. Anyway, what’s done is done and I’m in talks with DTD to consider reopening the case.”
Semi thought back to the incident and asked, “Do the Ophidians know about the shop and how it came about?”
“No – their sightings aren’t concentrated. But Semi, I need you to keep your eyes open for anyone you find suspicious in the area, anyone who’s suddenly getting close to Oikawa—”
Semi nodded and grabbed his drink, taking one, two, three gulps of the liquid.
Oikawa’s two ‘coincidental’ encounters with his ‘soulmate’ that sounded too good to be true.
He should mention it to Sawamura now while they could talk face to face – who knew when he would next have the chance. Oikawa’s mystery man could be an Ophidian, might only be trying to get close to Oikawa to get to this portal that was becoming more and more likely to be inside the shop.
But Semi knew how the spark felt when meeting someone special. He assumed the humans around the table also knew how strongly instinct pulled, urging someone to do or not do something. And Oikawa wasn’t the type of person to fling himself at a random person for a lukewarm interest. If his inner barometer was telling him this ‘soulmate’ was true, then who was Semi to ruin his chances.
Semi had his own barometer. And there was a reason it pressed a down on his chest, acting as a stopper to prevent him from spilling Oikawa’s current affairs right here at the table in front of everyone.
So the solution was simple – he would make it his responsibility to keep Oikawa from harm.
“Akaashi,” Sawamura said, “stick close to Kuroo. If the Ophidians find out who he is while he’s dormant, it’s going to get messy.”
“I have been talking to Bokuto-san,” Akaashi spoke before Semi could ask for details. “Both he and Ushijima-san are considering Semi-san and I switch.”
“I know, I’ve spoken to them.” Sawamura’s loud exhale was drawn out. He looked from Akaashi to Semi several times. “Forget the assignments – you two need to work together. Find out what’s happening with Oikawa, keep an eye on Kuroo and his status, and if anyone suspicious approaches those two, let me, Suga or Shimizu know first. Bokuto and Ushijima aren’t ground crew, their assessments are incomplete. I have a feeling we’re short on time, and we can’t wait for them to make judgement calls when situations are changing by the second.”
“Four years of silence, then suddenly everything happens,” Sugawara said gravely; he grinned. “Sounds pretty exciting to me.”
“I wish I shared your carefree nature,” Sawamura said flatly.
“You should have proposed to be here as a human then.”
“We can’t all be humans. And as a leader I have a responsibility to tackle the difficult jobs—”
As they talked among themselves, Semi leaned over to Akaashi and murmured, “What does he mean by ‘messy’?”
“I will explain about Kuroo-san once you give your account on Oikawa-san,” Akaashi murmured back and shot him a knowing glance.
Trust Akaashi to pick up on the fine point.
But Semi was curious. Akaashi was one to do things by the book, and if he knew Semi was hiding something on Oikawa, he should have spoken out about this by now.
So why hadn’t he?
Sawamura pushed himself up onto his feet. “I have to head out and follow other leads, speak to DTD… Contact me for emergencies, otherwise go through the usual route of Suga or Shimizu. I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re back here again.”
He began to put on his shoes, as did Sugawara and Shimizu.
“I believe we need to make time to exchange information,” Akaashi said to Semi. “I have your shifts, I should be able to come to the shop either on the Friday or Saturday.”
They left, one by one. Semi was the last to put on his shoes, his mind not quite able to complete the simple task when it was filled with information running round in his head: the shop’s origins, the relationship between Kuroo and Ophidians, Oikawa being the centre of it all. He had a stray pieces in his hand and none of them fitted together.
What would Tendou say?
He glanced up at movement, finding Azumane approaching with an empty tray.
“You must hear a lot about what’s going on,” Semi said to him.
Azumane blinked at him then laughed weakly. “Oh, yeah. I try not to get involved – it’s all unsettling to hear. But with everything going on recently this place is completely booked, and I have to tend the bar so I can’t really get out of it…”
When Azumane’s personality was a stark contrast to Sawamura’s, it was easy to forget that he, too, was an alien.
“Why didn’t you say no if you didn’t want to be here?”
Azumane grimaced, rubbing his chin. “One of us had to come down as insurance for when things turned nasty and Daichi refused everyone else.”
Semi stared at Azumane placing the glasses onto the tray, unable to attach this newfound information to the image of the man humming happily away to the counter.
There was waiting while being preoccupied with an activity that either demanded complete focus or at least allowed drifting to and fro between said activity and what was planned – the kind of waiting that just barely kept a person together as time passed, no matter how slow.
And then there was waiting with little to no distractions, which was where Oikawa was currently at. All forms of media had lost their flavour, and not even the internet could retain his attention. As for the shop, it had been deserted. Nishinoya and Tanaka would have been a welcome distraction, but they were off working solidly for two weeks while on tour, and Sugawara and Shimizu were nowhere to be seen. So Oikawa kept wandering downstairs and up. And then downstairs because he felt like he should. And back upstairs because he didn’t want to miss the call.
And then he checked the time and found it to be ten thirty… a.m.
Opening the fridge, he looked at the gifts received from Kuroo neatly stacked with half their contents eaten, wondering if he could get away with calling a meal this early ‘lunch’.
Three modest, even knocks interrupted his thoughts and had him turning his head to the door.
Oikawa very much wanted to believe that would be him, and at the same time knew it was delusional thinking.
He went to answer; standing there was a man whose first impression was ‘worn down’ – until meeting the sharpened gunmetal of the man’s eyes.
He had a feeling he recognised them from somewhere.
“Can I help you?” Oikawa asked.
“My name is Akaashi Keiji. Bokuto-san asked that I speak with you.”
At the mention of the owl Avian, Oikawa opened the door wider.
“The one Bokkun was talking about! I hear you’re the best and really smart.”
“Bokuto-san has a tendency to exaggerate.”
Oikawa would have taken the exasperation-mingled denial for what it was, if not for the dusting of red across his face and ears. Not as intimidating as he holds himself, he mused.
“Come on in.” Oikawa stepped aside, allowing the man through. “Bokkun didn’t say – human or other?”
“Thank you – and human. However, regular interactions with Bokuto-san have triggered a fair amount of my more-immediate memory as an Avian.”
Closing the door behind him, Oikawa leaned against the kitchen counter, arms crossed. He generally considered himself a good host, but something about Akaashi prevented him from offering tea or a seat, and it wasn’t solely for the reason this Avian-turned-human would refuse both offers.
“Isn’t that unsettling? Finding out you’re not from around here?”
Akaashi looked surprised by the question and began to knead his fingers. “I suppose I had always known I wasn’t fully integrated with this world. People often treated me as an outsider and I found it difficult to relate to their conversations. If anything, I felt relief knowing what I truly am.”
Oikawa couldn’t help sense a touch of sadness betraying his words, an emotion kindled deep beneath the cold appearance.
He kept that note to himself. “I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere, or at least heard of you...”
Again, the timing of Akaashi’s reply slipped half a beat disturbing the rhythm of their conversation. “I work at the same hospital as Kuroo-san, perhaps he was the one to mention my name. He has certainly mentioned yours.”
The answer satisfied Oikawa enough, and Kuroo speaking to Akaashi was a sign he could be trusted; he made another note to cross-check with Kuroo. “And your relationship to Bokkun?”
“I’m what you might call his eyes and ears here on Earth. He is the leader of the owl species. I’m his second-in-command.”
“Oh! You seem very... dependable compared to Bokkun.”
“So I’m told.” Akaashi dropped his hands back down to his sides. “Oikawa-san, I understand you must be curious about my background, but perhaps you would like to talk about what happened with Bokuto-san. He has relayed the details of your exchange and instructed I answer your questions.”
Oikawa tapped chin in thought, glancing Akaashi up and down.
“I only have one question to ask you, and that is – what do you think it means that my heart centre didn’t look as Bokkun expected?”
Akaashi took a moment to form a reply and Oikawa could almost hear the whir of thought behind the temporarily glazed screens.
“One possibility is you have yet to create your space and it is a blank slate. Another would be you – your soul – is denying your consciousness true access. Perhaps you are not ready to face whatever it is in store for you. There is always the off chance someone has entered without your knowledge and forcibly altered its state, although if that were the case you would be more wary of new encounters and would not have invited me inside. It would be safe to say the third option can be ruled out.”
“What’s your opinion?”
“I find it extremely doubtful that someone as dynamic as you wouldn’t be creative with your space, which leaves the second option of denying yourself access. However, the information I have to arrive at this conclusion is incomplete. Sawamura-san would be able to give a more accurate prediction.”
So he was denying himself access (and why wasn’t he surprised he would make things complicated for himself?)
“Isn’t there anything else you would like to know?”
Oikawa shook his head. “I’m quite happy with that answer, so no.”
“...People generally tend to be confrontational towards information that challenges their established ways of thinking – I would have expected the same from you, or at the very least curiosity.”
It wasn’t that Oikawa didn’t have questions or didn’t demand answers.
Had Akaashi been like Bokuto, open and quick to respond, Oikawa wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting off his list. But Akaashi was more than ‘really smart’, he was shrewd – on the same level as Kuroo or Sawamura, except lacking humour and veracity, which made the measured answers hard to take at face value.
“Akaashi-chan. I’m not naive enough to think you don’t know my character, so you shouldn’t be naive enough to class me as your average person. If I was confrontational, I wouldn’t be living and working in this building talking to you. And like I said, you and Bokkun are very different. I trust Bokkun when he says he wants to be honest.” Oikawa put on a smile. “You, on the other hand, are a little more fickle. I should know, being the same type.”
The way Akaashi’s expression didn’t crack was impressive – he was definitely a person with similar skill sets.
“Are you saying you don’t trust me?” His voice was frosty.
“Oh no – if I had to choose between you and Bokkun, you would be a far more reliable choice – I’m not even sure I could trust Bokkun with buying the right groceries, let alone something as important as, say, taking care of this shop. What I am saying is you’re more likely to be selective with your answers and that sadly doesn’t give me a convincing picture of what’s happening around me.”
One buzz followed another interrupting the charged air and Oikawa dashed to his room, lunging to grab his phone left charging on the floor, pressing the green button.
“Hello?!” Oikawa answered, a little too loud.
“Uh, hi. It’s Iw – the guy from the crossing. And the cinema. Calling about the figure? I was thinking of dropping by this morning and wanted to check you were open.”
“Yes! Yes, we are definitely open! What time?”
“In about thirty... maybe forty minutes? Is that all right?”
“That is more than all right! I look forward to your visit!”
“Yeah, uh… me too. I’ll see you soon.”
Oikawa rapidly pressed at the screen, saving the number on his phone (temporarily naming him ‘Godzilla-chan’.)
He looked up to find Akaashi watching him and his overly enthusiastic display, which he should have been more embarrassed about. Not today though.
“I’m afraid we have to cut our conversation short, I have a customer arriving soon.”
“I wasn’t aware you made appointments.” Akaashi asked, doubt in his tone.
“Oh, we got talking and I mentioned a figure he might be interested in. He said he would come and take a look.”
“...I see. Then please don’t let me keep you. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind us exchanging numbers. You may be reluctant to speak to me, but I would like to leave you the option of contacting me all the same.”
After a quick and quiet exchange, Akaashi went to see himself out.
“Before I leave, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi began as he stepped outside, a waver in his voice. “I would like to correct one assessment. When it comes down to the decisive moment there is no one more reliable than Bokuto-san.”
Oikawa considered the sudden change in Akaashi’s temperament, whose quietness was now bubbling.
“Did I touch a nerve?”
The question seemed to wake Akaashi from his emotion. He gave a resigned sigh, releasing the temporary tension. “Excuse me. My loyalty to Bokuto-san gets the better of me at times, especially in this form.”
‘As a human’ was what Oikawa mentally added, and ‘loyalty’... there was another meaning behind that word.
“Actually, Akaashi-chan, I think we just need a chance to warm up to each other. Maybe we can organise something. I’ll be in touch.”
With a puzzled look, Akaashi bowed his head and began his walk down the stairs.
When the door finally opened with the man peering in, Oikawa definitely hadn’t been staring at the door for ten minutes nor wrestling with the nervous internal beats that suddenly decided to pick up in tempo.
“Looks like I’m at the right place,” the man said as he entered; his gaze travelled everywhere around the room except at Oikawa.
Oikawa may easily get jealous of other people, but he certainly did not get jealous of inanimate objects that stole the man’s attention. He spoke a little louder than usual – “Glad you made it! Did you find it okay?”
“The directions were pretty simple. Had to walk up and down the street a couple of times though.” The man turned a full circle. “This place, it’s really—”
“Whatever word you’re intending to finish with, rest assured I have heard it before.”
Cool (excited). Incredible (gracious). Mysterious (intrigued). Weird (rude). Dark (nervous). Claustrophobic (afraid). Those were the core most used adjectives, others being branched-out variations.
The man didn’t seem to hear as he took careful steps forward.
The tender word settled itself heavily in his chest; he recovered quickly, discarding his comment held at the ready. “That one is new. Congratulations! You may take something from the table as a prize.”
The man huffed a laugh, facing him for the first time since entering. “I’m only here for the figure.”
“A man on a mission can’t be swayed, I see. Give me one moment.”
Oikawa crouched to slide open the doors under the counter, the cubic space reserved solely for Important Items that a select few were given permission to retrieve. No matter how many times Oikawa begged and pleaded, Sawamura wouldn’t disclose the failsafe methods of identification that differentiated between allowing Oikawa and Semi access and denying everyone else, and Oikawa, in protest at the confidentiality, had conducted several checks over the seemingly normal wood to find – it was normal wood. One day, he told himself.
Important Items included alien contraptions shaped and bent in peculiar ways with some containing fluid of impossible colour combinations, consistency and animation (again, he wasn’t told how any of them worked), a handful of organic alien material (lumps of metals he assumed wasn’t just picked up off the side of the road, and moulted feathers that were highly valued according to Sugawara) and at the centre, where all of these undisclosed alien technologies that governments and UFO-enthusiasts would do anything to get their hands on were cast aside to create space, sat the all-important box containing the figure he was going to pass over this handsome stranger.
“I have a confession to make,” Oikawa said, closing the doors and bringing the box up onto the table. “I may have been wrong about what I said.”
A shadow of a frown appeared between the man’s eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I thought I would clean this ready for collection and when I took it out of the box I forgot it looked like the king of monsters dressed itself up ready for a disco night.”
Oikawa opened the box and carefully lifted it out to the open space beside the box.
The man stared at the figure, which was a realistic if not slightly cute version of the monster except... it was shining in gold flakes. Oikawa chewed on his bottom lip, watching the silent, unmoving customer wondering what he could say to make him feel better.
A sharp inhale, and without taking his eyes off the figure, the man asked, “How much did you say this was?”
Oikawa checked the label. “Three thousand yen. Honestly you can have it for free just for taking the trouble to come here, I don’t want you to think—”
The man’s glare aimed at him was sharp, threatening him into silence. “Do you know what this is?”
Oikawa meekly shook his head.
“They only made a small batch of these figures for this particular series. And if you see them on the market – the real ones, and this – this is definitely a real one – they go for at least—” The man paused. “At least fifty thousand. And that’s if you’re lucky.”
“Really? Disco dinosaur—”
“Godzilla is not a dinosaur!”
Oikawa stared at the man staring back at him in shock that he had made the outburst. Then a blush began to spread quick and strong across his cheeks.
“You are absolutely right, that was terribly insensitive of me,” Oikawa happily agreed, enjoying the display. “I’ll assume then that you’ll want to take him home with you, so let me pack this up and put it in a bag. Feel free to wander around the shop while you wait.”
The man grabbed the escape rope, turning his back to Oikawa with great interest in the walls. “That’ll be great. Thanks.”
As the man left his position, Oikawa made a point of slowly opening the flaps trying to look busy but really watching him from behind his fringe.
The man studied the drawers like he was seeing exhibitions, utterly fascinated with the unique shapes and materials. He squatted and squinted, stood on tiptoe to reach up and touch the handles. He made his way slowly round, from the wall on the right, to the corner, to the wall behind, slowly making his way closer to where Oikawa stood, half hoping they would bump into each other.
“Can we take a look inside these?”
“They’re not there for decoration,” Oikawa said, slotting the lid into place. “Any particular one pique your interest?”
Oikawa glanced over his shoulder to find the man pointing to a drawer at the dead centre of the wall; Oikawa’s heart jolted.
“You can try,” he answered quietly. “Although when I last made the attempt it was stuck.”
What would be the odds of this man being able to open the drawer he couldn’t look inside?
The man reached out – calmly, neither too slow nor too fast, fingers set loosely around the knob and pulling—
“Oh, you’re right.” He rattled the drawer a few more times. “Yeah, that’s not budging. What’s inside?”
Oikawa turned his back to the man couldn’t see his face. “Who knows, it’s been like that ever since I started.” The words left a bitter taste on his tongue. “Here you are. That’ll be three thousand yen.”
The man returned to the front of the counter, pulling out a scuffed leather wallet but making no move to open it. “I just told you how much they go for. You’re losing money by selling it to me for that price.”
“I don’t decide the pricing and I don’t particularly want to be responsible for having to explain to my employer why I made such a steep change. Three thousand is fine.”
“It’s not fine, not when I know it goes for a lot more. I don’t want to rip you off.”
Oikawa burst out laughing. “You have a very strong sense of fairness.”
“I want both of us to get a good deal out of this.”
It was refreshing to see in a man (the fairness, not the stubbornness, which Oikawa saw every day either in Semi or himself.) If their roles had been reversed he would quickly pay and leave before the attendant realised they could charge more, so to have the man insist was—
An idea struck.
“You said fifty thousand?”
“It could be more. I can look it up—”
“No, let’s stick to that.” Oikawa began to calculate his plan. “Minus three thousand, divide by average wage – let’s be generous and say fifteen hundred – round off to…” He looked straight at him. “You can give me thirty hours.”
“Thirty hours,” the man repeated blankly.
“I told you, we sell our products as they’re labelled. Seeing as you seem to have a problem with accepting your luck, how about you give me thirty hours of your time?”
“To work here?”
“Not work – as you might be able to tell, there’s not a lot going on. What was that word you used when you came in? Lonely. It does get a little lonely in here – your job can be to keep me company. Of course, that’s if you can get the all-clear from your partner first, I’m not sure how they would feel about you spending time with someone who made a pass at you.”
Oikawa watched the confusion on the man’s face morph into understanding and then – it was that expression again. Now that Oikawa had time he could see it clearly; his initial assessment at the crossing had been right.
“About that – I need to apologise to you.”
“I think you apologised three times already—”
“No, not that. First off, you were right to think we’d met before. I’ve come to this station a few times and wandered around this part of town so we might have passed each other on the street.”
Oikawa thought he would have noticed the man even if they had passed each other, but he shrugged it off. He didn’t tend to pay much attention to his surroundings.
“Well, it’s not your fault you didn’t remember. I didn’t either.”
“That’s not all.” The man tapped his wallet a few times, considering his words. “I think you assumed I was already with someone. And I can see why because the way I phrased it sounded like I was, but the truth is… I’m not. I wasn’t deliberately lying to you – I got out of a relationship recently and I guess I’m not over it. It was reflexive giving you that answer.”
Oikawa processed his words.
This opened up a brand new path that had been closed off to him. He didn’t care about the terrain or the risks. He would firmly set his foot down and begin walking.
“I’m sorry to hear your relationship didn’t work out. The person you were with clearly didn't appreciate your worth if they let you go.”
The man winced. “Actually, I was the one who ended it.”
“Oh, I see. In which case, it was good you ended it sooner than later.”
He grimaced. “Out of the two years we were together, I spent the last third dragging it out.”
“...You’re making it rather difficult for me to sympathise with you.”
The man laughed, sounding more relaxed than he had since entering. “I don’t need or deserve sympathy. Anyway, I didn’t want you to have the wrong idea. And, uh, I dunno if you’re still ‘interested’ or whatever you—”
From the way the man stared Oikawa realised he had jumped in too soon.
“I... was gonna say I’m not looking for anything right now.”
Oikawa forced out a laugh, light and airy compared to the weight of his stupidity dragging him down into a hole. Stupid, stupid move – “Right. Yes. I understand completely.”
“I'm not saying you’re not a good guy,” the man babbled, clearly trying to avoid the looming awkwardness ready to seize the chance of making itself known at the first bout of silence. “It’s just – it’s too soon to think about. And I don’t want to rush in when I’m not ready. Or for you to wait around missing opportunities.”
Oikawa’s laughter faded. Those were an interesting set of words for a rejection.
“Can I just clarify” – Oikawa leaned forward, resting his arms on the table and propping his head up on one hand – “if you were single without having recently separated, would you have accepted my advances?”
The man looked at him, eyebrows raised, then his eyes darted about before settling somewhere off to the side. “I don’t – maybe?”
“That’s all I need to know,” Oikawa said with a smile.
The man looked at him suspiciously. “You heard what I just said, right? About not looking for anything?”
“You were crystal clear.” Oikawa straightened into a more professional stance, looking down at the man. “Now, as much as I like referring to you as a handsome stranger, would you mind telling me your name? We are going to be spending thirty hours together.”
Oikawa could see the man was torn on which part of that sentence he wanted to object to first.
“I haven’t agreed—”
“Oh, so you won’t?” Oikawa cut him off, putting on a disappointed tone. “But I won’t accept your fifty thousand and you won’t be satisfied until you compensate for the missing forty-seven, so we’re in a bit of a standoff. I’m all ears for an alternative working solution, provided you can think of one.”
For the first time, Oikawa could see genuine frustration seeping from the man.
A beat, then—
Iwaizumi scowled. “That’s not what I said.”
Oikawa gave him his biggest, brightest smile expressly reserved for difficult customers. “I know.”
“Okay,” Iwaizumi sighed. “Let me try again – that’s not my name.”
“It is,” Oikawa insisted. “I was generous enough to round down to thirty, the least you can do for the additional one point three is let me call you by a term of endearment. I wish I could say it’s because you’re special, but I do this for everyone. Thirty hours of your time... Iwa-chan.”
There was no response for a good ten seconds until Iwaizumi dug into his wallet and pulled out three thousand yen. Instead of chucking it at him, which was what Oikawa thought he would do, he flung it out in his direction, almost hitting his nose in the process; Oikawa plucked the notes from his hand.
“Why do I feel like I’m going to regret this,” Iwaizumi muttered.
“This is why you should roll with the luck instead of fighting it. Although you really did hit the jackpot with Oikawa-san!”
Iwaizumi narrowed his eyes. “Did you just refer to yourself in the third person?”
“Iwa-chan, the most important part of that sentence was my name. Oikawa Tooru, if you’re wondering.” Oikawa held up the bag. “And here’s your very own Glitter Godzilla. When did you want to start?”
“I guess… Sunday? I have the day off.”
“Oh,” Oikawa said, his disappointment real this time. “I was hoping you would say right away.”
Iwaizumi gave him an incredulous look. “I have a job to go to after this.”
Oikawa sighed. “Sunday it is then – I’ll leave it to you to decide when to come in, although I wouldn’t mind a message indicating the time. Meanwhile, have fun with your new friend! Be sure to introduce him to all your work buddies.”
Iwaizumi stared, leaving Oikawa to wonder what he was going to come out with.
He suddenly snorted, shaking his head. “I’ll see you Sunday at ten.”
If seeing that smile, exasperated yet warm, was going to be a regular occurrence during the thirty hours, Oikawa wasn’t sure how he was going to survive.
Glitter Godzilla is an actual thing that really does cost around ￥50,000 (if you're lucky).
Chapter 9: Semi-Aware
It was during the Friday shift, shortly after Oikawa had left the day’s fashion review (“Do you play chess and checkers at the same time? No. The same principle applies to your check shirt and trousers.”), that Akaashi entered the shop. He appeared to be fresher, a condition that could work in or against Semi’s favour; either Akaashi was going to be in a good mood and easy to win over, or he was going to be overly perceptive.
“Oikawa said you paid him a visit yesterday,” Semi said, diving straight into the topic as Akaashi approached the counter.
“I underestimated him.”
Semi inwardly swore. This was more than one of Akaashi’s tired complaints – it was frustration, and from the way Akaashi glowered at the table he was blaming himself. Knowing Semi’s luck that would make Akaashi even more likely to pick apart the shaky argument Semi had prepared.
“What do you mean by that?” Semi asked as casually as he could.
“He believes I will be selective with the truth I disclose. Which admittedly is not an incorrect assumption, however I thought his curiosity would outweigh his caution. Now he will try to extract information from Bokuto-san by targeting his honesty, and Bokuto-san will crack and confess.”
From what Semi knew of Oikawa that sounded about right; from what he knew of Bokuto he wasn’t so sure.
“Bokuto’s your leader, he’s not going to be that careless.”
“You don’t know Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, one hand massaging the fingers of the other; to Semi it looked like he was trying to crush them. “One hesitant mood, one implicative push, and he could reveal everything.”
“Are you sure you’re not underestimating him?”
Akaashi’s glare was a gun against Semi’s head, daring him to test him again by repeating what he had just said.
He then closed his eyes and inhaled – exhaled.
“Maybe you are right,” he said, opening his eyes; they were back to plain steel. “My emotions are compromising my ability to think clearly.”
“I think it’s mostly stress.”
Semi had noticed it, Akaashi’s sensitivity getting the better of him and he was glad Sawamura had put them on the same case so he could at least take some of the load off his shoulders.
“As we are already on the topic of Oikawa-san, perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me the reason for your silence regarding his romantic interest.”
Akaashi may have gone straight for the kill, but damned if Semi was going to be the first to answer.
“How about you start by telling me how you found out and your reason for your silence?” Semi asked back.
“Oikawa-san relays his personal life to Kuroo-san, who for some reason occasionally shares the details with me. As for not speaking out, you are the one marking Oikawa-san and therefore know him best; I am in no position to override your judgement.”
This was Akaashi giving him a chance to explain himself (that didn’t gripe Semi at all, having the younger have the upper hand, and neither did seeing Akaashi reel off his answers without being thrown off.)
Semi knew his reason would fall weak on someone as logical as Akaashi. But it was the best he had.
“Let me tell you about Oikawa’s love life. When he’s interested in someone, he goes into this whole ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ speech, listing off their pros and cons, which I have to sit through because he tells me when I come in and am stuck with him instead of when I can make an escape and leave. If this person passes this checklist, he tests the waters, but after a short while it falls apart and I have to listen to another speech of ‘woe is me’ theatrics that lasts for one day before he’s back to his usual self. Always. Then a couple of weeks ago he runs into a random guy he met on the street and suddenly he’s convinced he’s his soulmate. Fast forward to my shift yesterday, and I could just about make out from his hyper speed talking that this mystery guy went from attached to available and they were going to be spending time together – which honestly, I don’t even know how he managed without resorting to blackmail – but besides that, I’m starting to believe he might be right about the soulmate thing.
“So Akaashi, what do you think Sawamura would do if I told him? He means well, he looks out for all of us, but we know his priorities. Which would he pick between protecting Oikawa from the possibility of a threat and allowing him the freedom to take a chance? I haven’t met this guy, but I can imagine Sawamura going after him, interrogating him dry, and Oikawa never seeing him again. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to let that happen.”
Semi took in a deep breath, then growled in frustration, ruffling his hair. “I don’t expect you to get it, you’re—”
“Inexperienced?” Akaashi cut him off sharply. He dropped his gaze to his hands which he brought closer to his chest. “I understand, Semi-san. More than you could possibly imagine.”
This was news to Semi. And at that moment he realised they never really talked about their lives outside of ‘work’, at least not like they did when they first got to know each other.
“I believe you have yet to meet Bokuto-san. Allow me describe him the way I see him; Bokuto-san is the mid-summer sun hanging high at noon, a source of concentrated power that melts all doubt and dissolves all unease until every one of your layers have been incinerated and you have been stripped to the sole substance that can withstand such heat and light in his presence – pure joy. When I see him, whether in my dreams or my sacred space, my heart fills to the point of bursting, and when we part it ruptures into vacuity. I have been told that humans have the broadest and densest range of emotions, making us both privileged and cursed to feel at such an intense and intimate level, and every meeting I have with him verifies this fact. So if Oikawa-san believes he has met a person who makes him feel like he cannot live without him, then I can understand why you would not want to take this opportunity away from him.”
Semi hesitated, wondering if his question was too probing, but then asked, “You and Bokuto…?”
“Bokuto-san has never said and I have never asked. But verbal confirmation is unnecessary when my heart already knows. He doesn’t mention this for a reason and my asking would force him into revealing something he has chosen to obscure.”
In all the years Semi had known Akaashi, he had never seen him so passionate or alive as he did talking of Bokuto right now, radiating Bokuto’s energy, the sustenance that kept him fighting under the pressures he had to endure.
But then the light shriveled out of sight to burn in the smallest corner deep within, and his appearance returned to its normal shade of grey.
“Sawamura-san would understand,” Akaashi continued, oblivious to Semi’s observations. “But you are right, he would choose to be cautious. I will respect your decision to keep this matter quiet.”
Semi barely managed to nod, not completely recovered from hearing the intimate confession. “I appreciate it.” He cleared his throat and decided to change the subject. “So. Kuroo?”
“Yes. In order for you to understand the complexity of Kuroo-san’s situation, I will share what Sawamura-san told me.”
“Kuroo-san came to Earth for three reasons. The first – to become human and radiate energy that would uplift others. The current imbalance was created by Reptilians distorting emotional frequencies to their advantage, and we must generate energy that will at the very least counterbalance this effect. The most successful way of doing this is to become an inhabitant of this planet, which is why so many of us – you and I included – are here in this form instead of our original, such as with Sawamura-san.
“The second – to help Sawamura-san in a similar way to what we are doing now. As a leader himself, Kuroo-san has the knowledge and qualities to make sound judgements on situations that require a delicate and tactful approach.”
Akaashi paused for a moment, allowing Semi time to process. The two reasons were straightforward and he could have guessed them himself based on their meeting the other day.
“And I take it the third’s where the problem’s at.”
“The third involves the Ophidians, particularly one going by the name of Daisho.
“Eons ago, in human terms, many of the Reptilians were allied with humans, Ophidians especially – if you search the ancient histories you will find various cultures worshipping snakes as benevolent entities, often associating their power with knowledge and creation. Clearly this is no longer true, but there still remain a few adhering to this old notion, working with the humans to put an end to what is happening.
“The Ophidians were close allies of the Felidae – the feline race of Kuroo-san – and so was Daisho with Kuroo-san. But just like the other Reptilians, the Ophidians were swayed by the effects produced by the negative vibrational frequencies and gradually began to rely on humans as a power source. Battles were fought amongst races on Earth between those wanting to enslave humans and those wanting to protect them so that they could maintain their freedom. During one such battle, Kuroo-san’s blood-relative was responsible for killing Daisho’s, which became the primary reason for the Ophidians’ animosity towards the Felidae. As the Reptilians grew stronger, they began to flaunt their power and expand their territory through the destruction of other races. This sadly included the Felidae whose home planet was destroyed – although I have heard the Ophidians were not directly responsible – and the survivors have now dispersed across the galaxy living either on crafts or on other planets.
“Bokuto-san has always been very close to Kuroo-san and he took responsibility for him and his species, the ‘smaller’ cats so to speak, going so far as to persuade Ushijima-san to offer asylum. Kuroo-san then discovered that Daisho was on Earth and, despite everything that had happened, wished to speak with him in person in the hope that they could resolve their past and that he could at least urge the Ophidians to stop depending on humans; the only way he could achieve this was to come here himself. This was during the time when the quarantine was not yet fully in place and final calls of entry were being made for those willing to help Earth in their true forms. Kuroo-san had the option of coming here as a Felidae – he declined. He was determined to come as a human to stress his peaceful intentions and, as I stated earlier, to help the planet.”
“But he didn’t remember,” Semi pointed out.
Akaashi gave a nod. “That was the biggest risk, the inability to recover his memories. Naturally we all knew this, so we needed to make provisions for when such an event occurred. Bokuto-san initially offered to come to Earth and provide assistance, but Ushijima-san and Sawamura-san both rejected this idea; Kuroo-san’s act was too personal, and Bokuto-san is too powerful a leader – he had to remain outside. This was why I offered in his stead.
“So now you can understand Sawamura-san’s concerns over the recent sightings. If Daisho found out that Kuroo-san was here, he could possibly make an attempt on his life, resulting in him being removed from earth to return to his Felidaen form; twenty-seven years in Earth time is a great loss and not one he could reattempt so easily. This would in fact be the kindest option, resulted from Daisho’s thirst for revenge. Should Daisho remain calm and calculative, he may use Kuroo-san to gain information. Humans are a vulnerable species and he is a leader. It is not unthinkable.”
Semi’s mind quieted with Akaashi’s silence; he didn’t know which part he should tackle first. He almost wished he didn’t have to.
He had never really thought of himself as an eloquent speaker.
“I apologise for revealing such a large amount of information in one sitting. If you wish to continue this another time—”
“How do you do it?” Semi blurted. “How do you see him day after day knowing what you know and not force him into remembering?”
“Because that would be disrespecting his freedom of choice,” Akaashi said instantly, practically. “His choices created who he is today. You know that outside of Earth we are integrated with our soul, and to survive as a human we must make the split to create the ego. I spoke of his outward reasons for coming here, but I cannot know his inner, more private reasons, which may have formed during his time here and may even include having to forget everything he is. All we can do is wait—”
“We don’t have time!”
Akaashi didn’t respond.
In that moment, Semi wasn’t glad he hadn’t been asked to mark Kuroo from the get go. He felt like he had let an opportunity pass. Sure, he would probably have ended up following his own frustrations than orders, maybe eventually exploding and revealing everything in the process (and there wasn’t a guarantee he wouldn’t do that now), but he would have gotten closer, could have hinted, made suggestions, dropped clues on what Kuroo was here for. They were allowed to do that much, weren’t they? Didn’t Akaashi do the same for him?
But he also knew that he wouldn’t have been nearly as ready. And Akaashi made the best of the situation by using his strengths.
“What do you think I should do?” he asked, more out of courtesy than actively seeking advice.
Akaashi looked down at the table in thought. “I keep my distance from Kuroo-san because of all I know.” His hard grey eyes settled back onto Semi. “I recommend you do the same.”
Semi almost admitted “too late”.
He wasn’t like Akaashi, who kept himself in the background, making himself unnoticeable as he analysed information to produce the best outcome – it wasn’t his technique. Semi wanted to place himself at the forefront where he could get in on the action, to prove he wasn’t here as a clueless spectator.
He felt a switch flick on inside. Not a need to keep tabs or watch from a distance, but – like with Oikawa – a need to protect, like his whole existence depended on it.
And for that, he had to know Kuroo better.
“I can’t do that.”
Akaashi raised his head a fraction, looked down on Semi as he studied him, giving an order to explain himself. Semi straightened and folded his arms.
“He needs someone with him. If he was indispensable to this whole cause Sawamura would be with him personally, but we’re the ones placed in charge so we’re the ones who need to keep him out of harm’s way. Blending into the background might be what you do best, but it’s not how I work. Remember what Sawamura said? Things are changing quickly. Maybe we can’t even wait for him to make a judgement call – maybe we need to make it ourselves. But to do that, we have to know more, especially when it comes to how and what Kuroo really thinks.”
It didn’t make Semi too proud to play off the exhaustion Akaashi had towards his purpose against him, but for the sake of Kuroo, for the sake of Akaashi and his stability, he had to make himself an active player.
“Perhaps he needs stronger assistance,” Akaashi murmured. “But Semi-san, you can’t—”
“I know, I won’t say anything to him,” Semi said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll keep myself in check. And so you know – I’m seeing him tomorrow.”
Akaashi frowned in confusion. “How—”
“I’ll explain next time when we’re not overloaded. Just – pretend you don’t know. And don’t tell Oikawa, about that or about us knowing each other.”
The sigh that followed was definitely aimed at Semi. “I expect an explanation at some point, Semi-san." Akaashi pulled out his phone and checked the time. “I think we should end this for today, I will message again when I next plan on visiting.” With a bow of his head, Akaashi headed to the door.
Akaashi stopped in his tracks, half turning to look at him.
“You said you were here to look out for Kuroo. Is that a conversation you remember or what you’ve been told?”
“I made some speculations, which were then confirmed,” Akaashi replied without hesitating. “I’m afraid I don’t recall the actual conversation that took place.”
“What about me? Did they say how I fit into all this?”
Akaashi sucked in a breath, held onto it until he released it with, “No, Semi-san. They did not.”
The rattling seat gently shook Semi to his senses, the wind a touch nippy on his skin as he sat in the shade of the cramped open-sided train; it must have been at least fifteen years since he last rode one of these as it trotted along the cliff walls that suddenly expanded into the open to travel across a valley. Semi squinted at the sudden burst of colours, the bright red of the metal bridge (and Semi was beginning to see a pattern here) suspended between what he still thought looked like tufts of freshly-cooked broccoli stretching out along the sides and curving out of sight, and a sheet of turquoise mirror far below, rippling but unbroken; Semi gripped the side of the train.
“Why do you always choose my school trips as our meeting place?” Semi asked, turning round to the seat behind where Tendou was leaning out.
“Because they’re fun! And it’s nice to experience Semi-Semi’s childhood – look!”
Semi followed the line of Tendou’s finger pointing to a brown blotch gliding in the distance.
“That’s a golden eagle,” Tendou said excitedly, which mellowed just as suddenly, adding, “They’re almost extinct in Japan.”
Semi turned back to the eagle now hunched over with his head on his arms resting along the train edge, gazing dreamily at the scenery.
“Tendou, why did I come here?”
“Because you called.”
“I mean, why did I come here.”
“Because students need breaks from their studies.”
“What – dammit, Tendou, no. Why did I come here to this planet.”
Tendou’s sleepy-sly eyes turned to him. “We still have time,” he said, sounding distant. “Don’t you want to know how I’ve been?”
“I don’t have time to play one of your guessing games. I want answers.”
“Me too. I want to know what Koutarou-kun said to make Wakatoshi-kun huff a laugh – that’s practically his version of cracking up—”
Semi groaned and turned his back to Tendou, slumping further into his chair. In the distance he saw an entrance to a tunnel.
“This is a dream, Eita-kun,” Tendou said, sticking his head out from over his shoulder, face almost too close. “If you wanted solid answers you should be asking questions here.”
He felt Tendou’s arm reach over his other shoulder, tapping at his chest; Semi held his breath, then released it as evenly as possible, which was about as smooth as the train’s wheels hitching over the tracks.
“Tendou, please. I need to know – does me being here have anything to do with Kuroo?”
Tendou hummed, dragging it out. “What do you think?”
Semi threw his hands up in the air; Tendou ducked to avoid being slapped in the face. “I don’t know!”
“Come on, Eita-kun, it’s not like you to be wishy washy. What. Do. You. Thi—”
Semi felt a hand patting him on the head. “So why do you need me to tell you?”
Everything blacked out.
Semi opened his eyes slowly to darkness and an afterimage of green and red – especially red – and the curve of a lazy smile.
Chapter 10: Semi-Impulsive
The quickest route from the underground to Hachiko was via exit eight, up the stairs or escalators leading out into the open, and turning right to pass the green train carriage where, at the right angle, the statue could be glimpsed from between the strolling, standing, pacing people.
Semi didn’t take this route. Instead he opted to go through the Hikarie skyscraper, across a crossing that wasn’t the crossing but still busy enough to keep you alert, dodging the masses, under the tracks of the Ginza line to sneak around to the other end of the green carriage.
He peered around the corner.
It wasn’t hard to spot Kuroo – still a head taller even when hunched over his phone, but blending more into the crowd with the clusters of tall (and taller) non-Japanese people waiting around; he could almost pass for a model with his hairstyle and the classic look of an open navy button-up over a white t-shirt with what appeared to be the same (not-making-his-ass-look-flattering-at-all) jeans from the other day. Kuroo glanced up from his phone, looking in the other direction (likely towards the exit Semi should have been coming out of) before returning to the screen.
Semi noted the people around him, some solo, others huddled in groups, almost all waiting. Any one of them could be a Reptilian – could be an Ophidian and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them and a human. He was going to have to learn to tell them apart, maybe get some pointers from Sugawara.
A buzz came from his pocket. Without bothering to check, Semi half-jogged up to Kuroo, who spotted him and put his phone away.
“I was beginning to think you’d bailed on me.”
Semi noticed Kuroo give him a once over, and waited for him to add on a comment, only to be met with silence. “Well, go on then. Say it.”
“An embroidered eagle?”
Semi looked down at his outfit – a plain purple t-shirt, brown leather shoes, and the light-wash jeans with the embroidered eagle, its brightly coloured design reminiscent of ukiyo-e, which he had bought in high school long before he knew about his origins. He hadn’t even realised he put it on until he saw his reflection in the train window.
“It looks cool!” Semi insisted, looking up to him for confirmation.
He got a smile.
Kuroo walked past throwing a “lunch first”, and Semi followed – to the other side of the crossing, down the center-gai street – and it suddenly hit him: this could be a date. His mind was so preoccupied with everything else going on that he had ignored the possible real reason for why Kuroo was doing this. But Kuroo didn’t act any different, said nothing about what they were doing or where they were going, so Semi added a question mark next to the word.
A few minutes down along the street and the crowd began to thin down; Kuroo turned left into a shabby-looking four-storey, leading Semi up the stained and scuffed concrete stairs to the top floor. At seeing the sliding wooden doors Semi began to have doubts about the D-word, and as he entered, glancing around the simple tables dotted with businessmen on their lunch break, his suspicions were confirmed.
One point to not a date.
They took the free table in the corner, began flicking through the menu that was mostly photographs of set meals, all of them with fish.
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a traditional sort of guy,” Semi said, stopping at a page of side dishes and scanning the list, and – there, they had tuna rolls. He liked this place already. “Lucky I don’t hate fish.”
“I asked Akaashi what you liked,” Kuroo said without taking his eyes off his own menu. “This place has quality seafood and they don’t overdo on the salt.”
Semi stared at Kuroo, who didn’t seem to notice, or did, but pretended he didn’t.
Did that count as one point for a date? It probably did.
Kuroo ordered a lunch set with mackerel pike, and Semi a tuna bowl along with a side of tuna rolls, which earned him a comment of “someone who knows what he wants.”
(So Semi liked tuna; he didn’t care if people thought him weird for ordering a samey dish.)
“Okay – remind me again why you’re trying to impress Oikawa?” Kuroo asked, slotting the menu back into its stand. “You don’t strike me as a person who cares about what other people think, least of all him.”
“Impress?” Semi laughed at the word. “I’m not trying to impress him, I’m trying to floor him, it’s totally different. I survived four years of his daily commentary, I want and deserve one day where I can shut him up. Even better if it’s indefinitely.”
This time it was Kuroo’s turn to stare at him blankly.
“What?” Semi asked.
Kuroo shook his head. “Sorry, I got stuck at the ‘four years’. Let’s assume you saw him every day, that’s over fourteen-hundred days, Semi. Are you seriously telling me you had that many chances and you couldn’t pick one outfit he liked.”
In the beginning Semi had really tried to follow Oikawa’s advice, only to get something else wrong the following day. And when he tried to correct that, there was another detail he missed. It continued on for a while, until he changed tactics and started to pick up outfits displayed in stores or magazines – and Oikawa still managed to find something wrong (in the process Semi also learnt that even official examples couldn’t always be trusted.)
Taking a sip of water, Kuroo carried on. “I would’ve just hired a consultant.”
“Yeah, I realise that now. But that’s what today’s for, right?”
Semi mentally patted himself on the back for asking a question that would give a clear label on whatever today was.
“I didn’t realise I was getting paid. What’s the method of payment?”
“Doesn’t that defeat the point of the ‘kindness of your heart’?”
“Ah, thwarted by my own generosity.”
“Hey, and didn’t you mention something about socks?”
At that question, Kuroo reached under the table – Semi could recognise the sound to be a rustle of plastic – and straightened up again, holding out a blue bag.
Semi looked at the bag, then back at Kuroo. “Tell me you’re joking.”
Kuroo shrugged. “You take a look and tell me.”
Semi reached out, conscious of where Kuroo’s fingers were placed and doing everything to avoid touching them, taking the handles and opening the bag up to peek inside.
“Okay, you weren’t joking about the socks.” Semi dug in and pulled out a pair (out of three, and what did that mean?) – they were black with white paw prints. “But you’re definitely making a joke about something else. I thought the point was that they wouldn’t make you laugh?”
“There’s nothing laughable about paw-print socks,” Kuroo said, his face deadly serious. Semi wanted to know how someone who was always grinning managed to keep a straight face at this joke.
Semi dropped the socks back inside and pushed he bag as far away to the side as he could, because having it in his line of sight would make him start to question Kuroo’s motives, and he wasn’t sure he could deal with that right now.
“Well, thanks. Really.”
A gift they talked about, which Kuroo had gone and bought – times three which totalled three points for a date.
Thankfully Semi didn’t have to dwell on it any longer, the waitress choosing the moment to interrupt them with their food.
The helping of tuna was generous, and as they tucked in Semi found Kuroo had been right about the taste. Between pushing food into his mouth and savouring the taste, it didn’t take long to forget the earlier embarrassment.
“You know, I’m still surprised we didn’t meet at the shop considering you and Oikawa are supposed to be close,” Semi started up again, relaxed into his meal.
“I don’t go there. It’s not my kind of place.”
Semi chewed on the rice thoughtfully then swallowed, a small grin on his face. “Ohhh, I get it. You’re one of those people who find it creepy and get freaked out.”
Kuroo raised an eyebrow (or maybe he raised both, Semi couldn’t tell) and said, “Are you accusing someone who’s never raised their voice inside a haunted house of being scared of a shop?”
Semi tried to imagine Kuroo inside a haunted house and ended up with an image of him meandering through the dark corridors illuminated eerie green, snickering at a zombie jumping inches from his face, and strolling past slapping the poor worker on the back with a “better luck next time.”
“You though?” Kuroo continued. “You seem like you’d be the first to bolt.”
“Hah?! Is this the face of someone who gets scared easily?!” Semi scoffed loudly, then picked up a tuna roll, bypassed the soy sauce and shoved it straight into his mouth.
Kuroo didn’t know how right he was. The one time Semi had tried – a whole building complete with ten emergency exits and zombies popping up all over the place – he practically ran through it in record time, more sweat-soaked after fifteen minutes in the cool air-conditioned rooms than he had been during the four hour wait in the sweltering thirty-eight degree summer heat.
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Kuroo glanced at him quickly, flashing another one of those secret smiles.
Semi swallowed, the clump of food sliding painfully down.
Would it be stretching it if he counted that towards a date? Yeah, it would. He didn’t count it.
A bout of quiet stretched out as they ate and Semi contemplated what questions he could ask. He came here intending to ask more about what Kuroo thought – about aliens, whether he thought they were amongst them – but he didn’t feel like he could squeeze it in. And he may not have known what exactly this was, but he wanted to do everything to keep the mood going – the questions could wait until another time (and he liked to believe there would be at least one more). Not only that, he heard Akaashi’s reminder echo monotonously in his head, warning him that he shouldn’t give himself away. Questioning Kuroo on his life views during their first proper outing would send alarms ringing right away.
Conversation started up again as light chit chat, comments exchanged on the food, about local dishes they had tried around Japan and which prefectures they had visited – all clean, all casual, all the way until they finished their meals, drained their teas, and promptly walked to the counter to pay for their meals separately.
One point to not a date for an exchange that could have taken place between anyone, and another for the payment (not that he was expecting Kuroo to pay, but he seemed like a person who would at least offer on a date.) He added a third point for Kuroo not drawing out the lunch longer, which was what people usually did when they were interested in someone and didn’t want their time together to end.
What was the count now?
“So where are you taking me to first?” Semi asked when they stepped out of the restaurant, Kuroo leading the way back down. He waited for a reply, waited some more, and wondered if Kuroo had heard or if he was choosing where to go. “One of the department stores—”
“How about you ask me what I think?”
Semi didn’t get what he meant. “About what?”
“About the way you dress.”
“You said already – eagle embroidery and yellow that didn’t match my hair.”
Kuroo reached the third floor. “Objective observations.”
Semi slowed his steps. “What are you saying?”
Kuroo stopped at the landing and turned to face Semi.
“Personally, I like the way you dress. It’s cute how and where you put in the effort.”
Semi halted, three steps behind, letting his brain catch up with the words. Did Kuroo just—
“But you – you’re the one who suggested we do this. Pick out some clothes, make Oikawa speechless – those were your words.”
For the first time, Kuroo avoided Semi’s stare, looking past to the steps behind him.
“Because I was less likely to fall flat asking you out shopping than just asking you out.”
The honest response was a blow to Semi’s chest, stopping his heart for a second too long – then started up again, too fast, too strong, too out of control.
With a weak chuckle Kuroo ran a hand through his hair to rub at the back of his neck and – right there, Semi saw him from a different angle, his composure shifted to nerves.
Semi’s throat was tight as he spoke. “You were serious about the date.”
Kuroo dropped his arm and nodded – not to Semi but to himself, like Semi had just confirmed something. “And judging by that response, it didn’t register.” He turned away, about to continue down. “In that case, forget I said anything. We can still go—”
Semi leapt down in one go, half stumbling into Kuroo, grabbing two handfuls of shirt and shoving him grunting backwards into the corner.
“Semi, what’re you doing—?”
“What does it look like?” Semi hissed.
Kuroo looked down at him, the air around him subdued but for a touch of humour. “I would say ‘trying to seduce me’,” he murmured. “But you also look like you’re wanting to kill me, so I’m a little on the fence about my answer.”
“All through lunch I’ve been trying to figure out which it was, serious or joking,” Semi said quietly, on fire and not in a good way as he felt his whole face burn. “I even made a tally.”
“Sounds very technical.” Kuroo’s voice was also hushed. “Care to tell me the score?”
“How about I just show it to you?”
Semi tugged him down, wincing when their lips crashed too hard, cringing at misjudging his strength, and this location, and their choice of lunch that made the kiss whiff of fish and taste of brine, and this move wasn’t smooth, it definitely wasn’t sexy, and Kuroo was probably thinking the same thing – yeah, of course he was, pulling his mouth away—
Kuroo’s nose brushed against his, and Semi barely registered the whisper—
Semi snapped his eyes open to the sight of Kuroo – eyes closed, immersed – leaning back down to take advantage of his slack mouth, sinking slow into a second kiss.
A beat was all it took for Semi to follow suit, blocking everything out except the feel of the kiss that was all Kuroo, warm and easygoing, melting Semi one lazy stroke, one playful twist at a time. Kuroo didn’t let up on the teasing either – if anything it was worse, because Semi could actually feel the smirk spreading over his lips like a wickedly sweet balm, challenging him with a gentle jeer of well, what’re you gonna do?
Take control, that was what – Kuroo was wrong if he thought Semi pliable. Semi captured the kiss, stoked it, proked it, made it crackle between desperate gasps and overwhelmed sighs breaking up the crumbling rhythm.
He faltered at Kuroo’s hands wrapping his own, fingers slipping between his loose grip that barely had a hold on the shirt anymore (let alone his sanity), and he let Kuroo guide them to over his shoulders and around his neck. A quizzical hum escaped into their kiss as Semi felt hair brush against his skin; he had assumed the crazy style was hardened with spray or wax. He had to check, ran a hand through the soft, thick, unruly hair that was cool to touch and stupidly satisfying between his fingers – like stroking a cat, he thought, and he didn’t want to stop.
Semi tore himself away. “How does your hair look like that without using anything?”
Here was Semi Eita, asking all the important questions at exactly the right moment.
“That’s something you’ll have to find out yourself,” Kuroo said, voice raw, eyes dark and craving.
The meaning of the look was clear.
“Only if you’re satisfied with the result I gave you,” Semi just about kept up.
“Agreeing to dessert would make it a definitive yes.”
Semi widened his eyes, thinking quickly – he enjoyed the kiss, really, but jumping from that to – well, everyone knew what ‘dessert’ meant in this context, and though he didn’t not want to agree, whose place would they go to – or was he actually suggesting a love hotel—
Kuroo leaned in, his breath ghosting over Semi’s ear. “Not that I don’t like where your thoughts are heading, but I was thinking actual dessert; a quiet place not far from here, Japanese-based, mostly matcha – because you seem like a traditional sort of guy.”
Semi shot him a side-eye and said, “You did that on purpose.”
“Just wanted to test you a little,” Kuroo said, his grin lopsided and a little too wide to be provocative. “We could also go over plan B while we’re there.”
Though Semi would have liked to continue what they were doing, he figured it wouldn’t be long before someone came along to use the stairs, so he released Kuroo and took a step back, ruffled and breathless. “What happened to plan A?”
“I was hoping I persuaded you enough to throw it out.”
His dream of walking into the shop – the epitome of flawless fashion – forcing Oikawa’s jaw to drop slipped through his grasp once more.
Semi glanced at Kuroo, eyes soft and hopeful, the earlier it’s cute stuck in his head.
Just because he was shorter, Semi thought grudgingly, though that didn’t stop him from growing hot from the comment, or the invisible tug at the corner of his lips.
“This plan had better be something.”
The smile became a devious smirk. “Oh, trust me, Semi – it is.”
Semi held his tongue during Oikawa’s ‘fashion advice’ when he entered the shop at four. He silently read his book for half an hour, greeted one person who wandered in to glance around and leave, and continued his book for forty minutes until Oikawa returned to dismiss him from his post.
“Oikawa, there’s something I need to show you,” Semi said, forcing himself to iron out his shaky words.
“What is it this time?” Oikawa sighed; the sign of Semi trying to contain himself was too subtle to be picked up.
Semi pulled out a stack of ten sheets of paper sandwiched at the back of his manga. Placing it onto the table, he slid it across to Oikawa.
They were photographs taken from the first year of university, which Kuroo had pulled from some albums uploaded online, and printed off at the nearest 7-Eleven. At the very top was Oikawa posing at the camera, wearing a red jacket, red check shorts and crew-cut socks.
Semi tapped the stack. “I think it’s safe to say you’re no longer in a position to offer fashion advice.”
Oikawa grabbed the photos, expression paling at each flip. “Who gave you this.”
“Do you really need to ask?”
Oikawa’s narrowed glare wasn’t so threatening when fear was reflected. “How do you know him and what did you do to get this?”
“I bet you’re desperate to know,” Semi said with a grin. He was sure he looked really smug right about now, and Kuroo had been right, the satisfaction was on par with – if not more than – what he had been expecting.
“Tell me, Semi!”
“We met each other through work.”
Semi drew out the pause until Oikawa was demanding, “And?!”
“And I agreed to seeing him. We’re what you might call exclusive.”
Oikawa didn’t move. Semi wasn’t even sure he was breathing.
A sharp intake of breath, then – “Excuse me?!”
“Gotta go, Oikawa, can’t be late to my next job. Maybe I’ll fill you in tomorrow.” Semi gave a quick salute and strode out to the sound of shrieking, and he closed the door firmly shut to block out the sound before bursting out into laughter.
Kuroo was going to have to do damage control, there was no doubt about that. But he had already predicted it, declaring it a ‘necessary sacrifice’. Semi was going to have to repay him somehow later (and he tried not to think about the how.)
Pulling out his phone (which he actually brought with him today), he began to type out his success to Kuroo, wandering out onto the street—
Running into another pedestrian.
“Shit – sorry,” he quickly apologised. “Are you all right?”
“It’s fine,” the man said, his tone soft, his expression indifferent under his centre-parted fringe, and with a bow of his head walked past.
Semi returned to his message, typing out a string of characters when he whipped his head round, remembering that he was supposed to be cautious around this area.
The man had disappeared out of sight.
Chapter 11: Follow Through
When Oikawa used the phrase “I need my beauty sleep” it wasn’t said in an attempt to deliberately portray himself as self-important for a humorous effect, he really did need a good night’s rest – at the very least six hours, ideally eight – otherwise he became somewhere in the range of prickly and snappy, and no one, not even Oikawa, benefitted from this unsightly version of himself.
But spending the night browsing forums on people’s experiences of betrayal from their best friends, and glaring at his list of ongoing chats with the topmost message left unread at the count of thirty-seven (and rising) meant he only managed a few scattered hours of restless dozing.
Even at nine fifty – putting on his shoes with ten minutes to Iwaizumi – his spirits remained low, head dull and empty until, like a firework, the feeling of disbelief shot up within him, bursting into an angry flare that fizzled out back into tiredness. He took a deep breath, reminding himself he needed to calm down within the next ten minutes; he couldn’t let Iwaizumi see him like this.
As soon as he was downstairs and around the corner, Iwaizumi was already there standing by the door.
“I didn’t know you lived here,” Iwaizumi said to him in surprise.
There were two ways he could handle this. One was to reveal how he was truly feeling, a hot mess of upset and humiliated, and realising just how childish Oikawa could be, Iwaizumi would leave never to come back.
Or there was the option of putting on a bright smile and pretending everything was fine.
“Iwa-chan, you’re here early! You were that eager to see me?”
Iwaizumi watched him for a moment before replying. “I thought it’d be better to be early than late.”
Oikawa walked past to unlock the door. “Just because you’re early doesn’t mean I’ll shave ten minutes from your hours, you know.”
“That hadn’t even crossed my mind.” It had an undertone of frustration.
With a big push at the door Oikawa strode in, light overhead immediately switching itself on at the first sign of movement.
“I can only do an hour,” Iwaizumi carried on behind him as Oikawa took position. “I got a call on the way here asking if I could cover for a guy who called in sick.”
“I thought you would be the kind of person to prioritise a formerly promised engagement rather than casting it aside for another.”
A shadow swept across Iwaizumi’s face as he came to stand opposite, dark enough to send a chill warning through Oikawa, but he told himself that was irrational; reading his perfectly honed masks was a challenge even for people who had known him for years, and Iwaizumi had spoken to him for a total of half an hour.
“So Iwa-chan, you know your role – entertain me.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Iwaizumi snapped.
Oikawa startled – quickly made himself relax. “What do you mean?”
“You’re being a – you’re acting weird.”
Oikawa’s loud laughter smothered the whole room. “Don’t be silly, why would you even think I’m—”
“I agreed to the thirty hours, and I’ll do it – but under my own conditions. If you’re gonna be all – whatever it is you’re trying to be – I’m rescheduling.”
Iwaizumi turned his back to him, walking away, prepared to leave. Oikawa was sure he would do it, too, if he let him.
His hand was on the door handle.
Iwaizumi glanced over his shoulder. “Are you gonna tell me what’s going on with you?”
Oikawa gripped the counter edge, tapping his fingers lightly. “Are you signing yourself up as a counsellor?”
“If it’ll stop you from acting the way you are now, then yeah.”
“Fine,” Oikawa huffed, then quietly added, “I knew you were stubborn, but I didn’t think to this extent.”
Iwaizumi stared at him, determining whether Oikawa was telling the truth; he removed his hand. “I have zero problems calling people out.”
Oikawa waited until Iwaizumi had returned to his earlier position, each second of his watchful gaze adding pressure until Oikawa finally blurted, “You haven’t met him yet, but I have a co-worker whose sense of fashion is the worst.”
As soon as the words were out, Oikawa recognised his flaw and knew whatever he followed up with wasn’t going to be taken in his favour.
“And he decided to tell me yesterday that he was now exclusive with my best friend, and said best friend didn’t even have the courtesy to mention they had met, let alone that he was going on a date with him.”
Iwaizumi crossed his arms. “That’s it?”
Oikawa nodded several times in earnest. “Yes.”
They entered a staring competition. It wasn’t fair, Oikawa thought, Iwaizumi’s default setting was neutral or annoyed, unlike the charming, affectionate smiles Oikawa was endowed with – it was like a river trying to move a rock and there was no way he could win.
“Kuro-chan gave Semi embarrassing photos of me from university, which he then showed to me.”
Iwaizumi frowned and shrugged. “So?”
“So, they dug up the carefully buried mistakes of my youth for no other reason than to traumatise me for their own amusement.” Oikawa added a pout at the end for a finishing touch.
“That’s it, I’m leaving—”
“Because sometimes I tell Semi to his face that his sense of fashion is the worst and he tried to get his own back on me!”
Iwaizumi’s expression hardened, like he could believe that miserable excuse. “I’m taking it Semi’s your co-worker and Ku – what’s his real name?”
Any other time and Oikawa would have withheld that information just to hear Iwaizumi use ‘chan’, a word he was almost certain Iwaizumi had never used to address anyone, even as a child. “Traitor will do just fine – don’t walk away, Iwa-chan, I’m joking! Kuroo.”
“Kuroo’s this ‘best friend’.” A pause stretched out as Iwaizumi fell into thought, which he broke with, “How often’s ‘sometimes’?”
Oikawa looked down at the counter, ran his finger along one of the grains. “Every day since we started working together.”
A sharp inhale of breath. “You know what I’m gonna say, right?”
Oikawa straightened up. “Iwa-chan, you don’t understand, he looks ridiculous—”
“So you’re judging someone by what they wear?”
“No! Well, not entirely, I mean, you do have to admit one’s choice of clothing is, at least in part, a reflection of their personality so it’s a factor you do have to consider—”
“What about what I’m wearing?”
Oikawa’s mouth hung open as he paused to look at Iwaizumi; he hadn’t really noticed, what with being too occupied by his emotional turbulence, but now he had mentioned it, Oikawa was looking at a forest green t-shirt with four brilliantly-white characters each taking up a quarter of a square, spelling out an idiom with a general meaning of ‘follow through with your original intentions’.
Oikawa took a moment to find the right words. “It’s a very bold statement.”
“Do I look dumb?”
“I don’t know why you’re asking—”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
“I can’t compare you with Semi—”
“You think it’s a stupid shirt.”
“That is not what I’m saying—”
Iwaizumi shot him an incredulous look and Oikawa did himself a favour and quieted down. “I think you got off easy.”
“Then what about them not telling me about their date? I think I deserve to be told that considering how it’ll affect me!”
Iwaizumi burst out laughing.
The sound was rich and earthy with glimpses of mirth, so expected from his character and yet not when he was always reserved with his expressions; Oikawa couldn’t help but stare in wonder.
“How it’ll affect you?! Come on, Oikawa, admit it – you’re more upset about your coworker showing you up than either of them not telling you about their date.” His laughter subsided into a small smile. “So they pranked you, and somewhere between the planning and execution they ended up together. It makes for a nice story, doesn’t it? And on the bright side, you get to boast you did the matchmaking.”
Of course Iwaizumi was a romantic. This didn’t bode well for Oikawa at all, testing his resolve not to forcefully push Iwaizumi along into speeding up the recovery from his breakup.
And he did have a point about the matchmaking. Oikawa would be able to hold that over them throughout their entire relationship.
“You’re passable as an amateur counsellor, I’ll give you that,” Oikawa said, putting on the grudgingness because his sense of pride wouldn’t allow Iwaizumi to know he had succeeded so easily. “But I wouldn’t test your blunt approach on other people, it’s only because I’m so tolerant that you could persuade me—”
“But enough about me. I’d much rather know more about you.”
After some prodding, Iwaizumi began to talk about his background, starting off with a surprise revelation that he was also from Miyagi and their family homes had been close to each other, though separated by a city border which pushed them into different schools. He had come to the capital for university, continuing the city life after graduation, sifting through several jobs to settle at his current workplace – a generic izakaya chain literally five minutes from the station on the east side of Shinjuku. It wasn’t an ideal career move, but it gave him the money and freedom to travel wherever and whenever he wanted. At some point in the near future he wanted to expand his territory to cover the world – until then, he would at least master all the regions and prefectures of his own country.
Hearing Iwaizumi talk of travelling made Oikawa wonder how long it had been since he last went anywhere besides Kanagawa, Tokyo and Miyagi. Probably the trip to Okinawa in his third year with Kuroo.
“Do you know where you’re going next?” Oikawa asked.
“Akita and Niigata for the fireworks – you know, two of the big three. I’ve always wanted to go.”
“I’m sure they would be amazing to see.”
It was a quiet remark to himself, a fleeting fancy enticed by temptation. None of the pamphlets with their cheap holiday deals, nor the television programmes showing off glamorous locations made Oikawa want to take time out to travel, and here he was, wanting nothing more than to sit in the sticky summer night being attacked by mosquitoes, probably on a concrete path squashed between thousands of spectators, pins and needles in his feet from being seated for three hours so they could hold onto their position with a mediocre view, watching bursts of colour reflect off the sheen of Iwaizumi’s captivated face.
“Yeah? A couple of friends – well, they’re more regulars I’m friendly with – they said they wanted to go, so if you can get someone to cover for you, you could tag along.”
Oikawa perked up at the suggestion even as he reminded himself that it was a casual offer (though how many people offered strangers an invitation to go on holiday with them?) But if Iwaizumi really meant it, liked his company enough for him to go... Oikawa would have to talk it over with Sawamura, leave this place for at least one night...
“Can I get back to you on that?” Oikawa’s question was hopeful.
“There’s still a couple of months and it’s not like we’ve started planning. Just let me know.”
Oikawa opened his mouth to ask for more details when movement from the door snagged his attention.
“Suga-chan!” Oikawa called out to the newcomer, switching over to work mode. He hadn’t forgotten about the possibility of Sugawara visiting and having to explain Iwaizumi’s presence. “Meet Iwa-chan – he’s a patron of this shop and is returning a favour by keeping me company. Don’t worry,” Oikawa looked directly at Sugawara as he spoke. “I’m keeping a very close watch on him.”
Sugawara did his name ‘Mr Refreshing’ justice with the way he didn’t bat an eyelid at the surprise guest, friendly as ever as he approached. “Iwa-chan, hm?”
“Iwaizumi.” It came out as somewhere between a clarification and correction.
“Ah, that sounds more like you. I’m Sugawara, stock-bringer and regular checker-upper to make sure Oikawa’s doing his job. I don’t think I’ve heard Oikawa mention your name before?”
“We only met recently.”
Sugawara blinked in surprise. “And you’re already owing Oikawa favours? You must have been desperate.”
Iwaizumi didn’t even flinch at Oikawa shrieking “Suga-chan!” in his ear. “I felt bad if I took advantage, so it’s more to level the score.”
“Because Iwa-chan’s a gentleman,” Oikawa stressed. “By the way, Iwa-chan, did you see the garden while you were waiting? The plants are so pretty – there’s one for every season!”
“You can just tell me to leave if want a word in private, I’m not gonna take offence,” Iwaizumi told him then nodded to Sugawara. “Good to meet you. You can be sure I won’t cause any trouble.”
“I actually believe you,” Sugawara said, holding out a hand; Iwaizumi didn’t hesitate to shake it. “Hopefully we can get to know each other better.”
They both watched Iwaizumi walk out and made sure the door was firmly closed before Sugawara turned to Oikawa.
“A handshake, Suga-chan? You were checking him, weren’t you?”
“I have to do at least that much, Daichi would have my head if he found out otherwise.”
Oikawa knew the last part was just talk. From what he knew, Sawamura was completely soft on Sugawara. “So? Did he pass your test?”
Sugawara’s ability to read emotional energy extended from inanimate objects to living beings, although according to him it was much harder when the tangle of emotions shifted as quickly as thoughts and took on extra layers depending on others in close proximity.
“If he didn’t, would that stop you from seeing him? I can tell, Oikawa. You like him.”
Oikawa couldn’t help the smile appearing on his face. “There may be a personal motive in there somewhere. But he really does owe me a favour and I can assure you this place will come to no harm under my watch.”
“You don’t need to try and convince me, he wouldn’t be inside if he had ill intentions.”
“Yes, yes, the force field or energy shield or whatever invisible barrier it is you have around this place to keep the nasties out.”
Sugawara laughed. “You’ve seen one too many sci-fi films. Not everything has to rely on technology.”
It wasn’t the first time he had been told, but every time it made Oikawa wonder what that meant. Of course every time he asked them to elaborate, they answered that it’s top secret, so he didn’t bother asking any more. He would find out though. One day, he told himself again.
“So what’s the purpose of your visit today?”
“Just the usual, wondering if you’ve noticed anyone or anything shady in the area.”
Since Shimizu’s warning, Oikawa had certainly been more careful, watching customers with close scrutiny or remembering to be aware when walking outside, but it wasn’t smart relying on appearances to define ‘shady’.
“I’ve noticed a few faces and some odd people,” Oikawa said, thinking back. “But none I would class ‘shady’.”
Take, for example, the seventy year old man who recently made himself home outside of the station with a megaphone, exclaiming aliens were among them (not untrue). Was he strange? Yes. Was he shady? Highly doubtful. Then there was the man with a buzz cut who he had seen several times walking down this street and at the nearby grocery store, so that was probably him moving in somewhere close by. He had spotted the same blonde haired woman four times at the station and in the large bookshop, stumbling and dropping all her belongings including a pile of folders, and everything in her bag when the strap snapped (and he was always one step behind whoever happened to stop by and help). And lastly a couple of men at the station glaring at the commuters pouring out of the station during rush hour one evening, who Oikawa overheard them muttering venomous comments about passersby. It made them vile people, but not shady.
But those were only a few examples. He couldn’t reel off a whole list of every person who he vaguely thought suspicious, it would probably include a decent percentage of the town.
Sugawara hummed in thought. “You wouldn’t be this uncertain if you met someone truly dangerous. Still, call me if you notice something’s wrong, even if it’s just a feeling.” Sugawara reminded. “I’ll drop by again in a few days. By the way, did you talk to Semi about this new arrangement of yours?”
“I talked to him, but I’m guessing because he’s so busy going on dates it probably went in through one ear and out the other.”
Sugawara brightened at that piece of information. “Semi’s going on dates? With who?”
“Oh, only one of my closest friends, who apparently doesn’t consider me to be the same because he didn’t deem it important enough to tell me.”
“Wait – are you talking about Kuroo?!” Sugawara’s expression was an amused sort of disbelief. “Semi went out with Kuroo?!”
“Apparently so,” Oikawa said, but he put up his hands and looked at him as if to say but who knows.
“That is definitely the biggest and most interesting news I’ve heard all day. Thanks for letting me know.”
Oikawa hesitated at the glint in Sugawara’s eye, which reminded him of the time Sugawara offered him a pack of Russian roulette takoyaki, and after Oikawa went into a coughing fit – scorching trail from his mouth to his stomach burning for the rest of the day – Sugawara admitted that all of them had copious amounts of tabasco and chili oil (secretly injected so no one would be able to tell from the colour.)
He then shrugged it off. Semi deserved whatever Sugawara had in store for him.
“Any time. It’s what true friends do.”
Sugawara sniggered and waved at him. “Don’t be too hard on either of them. I’ll see you next time.”
Sugawara walked out, leaving Oikawa in peace to wonder if he was having a quiet word with Iwaizumi outside, but the next moment Iwaizumi was walking back in.
Iwaizumi threw a thumb over his shoulder. “He seems like a nice guy.”
“If you’re on his good side,” Oikawa said cryptically, receiving a questioning look. “Anyway – Iwa-chan. Tell me more about this summer plan of yours.”
Four p.m. sharp and the door swung open.
Silence stretched out as Semi approached the counter, doing everything he could to avoid Oikawa’s stare that followed him all the way until he was standing next to him; Oikawa waited until he cracked and glanced in his direction.
Oikawa turned to him, then said as neutrally as possible, “All I will say to you is well played, and I won’t be offering my helpful advice about your fashion in the foreseeable future.”
Semi looked surprised, then frowned in suspicion. “That’s... not what I thought you would say.”
“That would be because you overestimate my predictability.”
“Look. I thought about what we did and—”
“Semi.” At Oikawa’s solemn tone, Semi stopped. “Kuro-chan is more fragile than he appears. He also does not believe in aliens. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
A short pause, followed by, “Don’t hurt him, don’t push the issue onto him.”
Oikawa gave a nod of approval. “Then that is all I have to say to you about this matter.”
After retiring for the day, Oikawa lay on his futon swinging his feet in the air, scrolling through photos of fireworks and daydreaming about watching them while leaning back into Iwaizumi with his muscular arms wrapped around his shoulders, fingers entwined; if he concentrated really hard, the sound of tapping at the windows could almost sound like the distant showers of fireworks.
But then he picked up murmurs from the television appropriately discussing this year’s rainy season along with the forecast for the next few days (unsurprisingly – more rain). He grabbed the remote, turned the volume all the way down and tried again.
Loud bangs were next to disrupt his sweet fantasy, which he could have pretended were the explosive fire flowers blooming in the night, if it weren’t for the fact he knew exactly who it was that was making the noise on this hushed Sunday evening. With a hefty sigh, he pushed himself up.
As soon as he began pulling the front door open, Oikawa said, “This is the second time in a week you’re gracing this building with your presence. I thought you said you didn’t like the way the shop felt and wouldn’t be coming to visit again so long as I lived here?”
“There’re always exceptions.” Kuroo was standing there under a dripping transparent umbrella, holding up the two bags in his hand for Oikawa to see. “A peace offering.”
“Let me guess – milk bread. As if my will not to fall for your charms will break just because you happened to have brought my favourite snack to try and sweeten me up. I’m not that cheap, Kuro-chan. And even if I was, I would expect at least a week’s worth.”
“Good thing there’s enough for two, along with your next week’s worth of meals. You don’t have to let me in, but I’ll take any empty containers off you.”
With Kuroo’s dampened demeanour and physical evidence of his effort, Oikawa couldn’t leave him stranded like a disheartened kitten. “You might as well come in now you’re here,” he said, stepping aside.
Kuroo shook off the rain from his umbrella, dropping it into the stand as he entered, heading straight over to the counter to drop off the bags. “I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting you to be this calm.”
“I’m offended that you think I’m not a master of my own emotions.” Oikawa went up boil some water because regardless of how he had been treated, he was still a Good Friend to Kuroo. “Do you want tea?”
“Only if you’re having some.”
Kuroo began to unload the contents of the bags; Oikawa felt a pang of guilt at the number of plastic boxes being pulled out – which he firmly pushed down. What Kuroo decided to do was his own affair, Oikawa did not ask him for his concern.
“Semi said you were hysterical when he left last night.”
“Oh, yes, of course, Semi,” Oikawa said, a loud clatter disrupting the quiet from him half dropping the kettle onto the stove. “I know you and Semi are exclusive now, meeting up secretly to pitch scenarios on how best to stab kind, thoughtful, defenceless, unassuming Oikawa-san in the back—”
“No, Kuro-chan, I poured my heart out to you over the Iwa-chan affair, I would have thought you would reciprocate when it came to your turn.” Oikawa reached over to the cupboard to pull out two cups. “Green or black?”
Kuroo paused in his task to watch Oikawa reach for the tin of tea. “Green. Using you to get a date wasn’t cool, and I’m sorry. But it was all my confused, love-struck mind could come up with that wouldn’t lead to a rejection. You know I wouldn’t have been able to take it, I have a heart made of glass—”
“Excuse me, Kuro-chan, those were my words, don’t steal them to use against me so I’ll take pity on you! ‘I know you’re not a scientist, Oikawa, but you must’ve been taught in school the heart’s a muscle’ – that’s what you said!”
“Good memory, bad impersonation. Okay then – say I’d come to you for your sagacious advice. Give me a percentage on the likelihood of you trying to talk me out of dating him.”
Oikawa scoffed in disbelief, shaking his head at the ceiling at the absurdity of the question. “Ninety-five.”
“And you blame me for not telling you.” Kuroo began to unpack again. “Do you want the milk bread now, or can I put them all away?”
“Leave one, half in the fridge, half in the freezer.” The kettle began to steam and Oikawa grabbed it before it reached boiling point, pouring water into the teapot. “And yes, Kuro-chan, I do blame you! I’m hurt you thought I wouldn’t offer the remaining five percent of my support. And you’re usually good at swaying me, I’m sure you would have racked it up to at least twenty.”
Rustles and clatters from Kuroo stocking his fridge took over their conversation as Oikawa waited for the tea to steep, running his gaze over the plain clay pot, to the two clay cups, one of brushstroke turquoise and the other a gritty reddish-brown with a black ceramic cat sitting at the bottom.
“Is it going to be a problem?”
Kuroo didn’t need Oikawa’s approval to date who he wanted. Oikawa knew that, but he also knew that if, for whatever reason, he asked him not to, Kuroo would reconsider. And at the very bottom of his outbursts and overreactions he was glad Kuroo had finally found someone he wanted to be with, after many a brunch discussing his lack of love life as a result of his work.
Pouring the teas and taking Kuroo’s cup, Oikawa looked down at Kuroo, still crouching before the freezer with milk bread in hand, waiting.
“No, Kuro-chan. You know I’m happy for you. Even though by dating Semi you are, by default, admitting to having awful vision and appalling taste.” Oikawa offered him his cup, which Kuroo carefully slipped from between his fingers and replaced with the crackling package of milk bread. “But I am still upset over those photos.”
Kuroo deliberately took a slow sip of his tea. “You’re upset Semi saw, but you don’t care that it’s out there on the web for everyone else to see—”
“Kuro-chan, if you can’t leave your logic outside of the door, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“But are you really sure you want to pass up on the details?”
Oikawa pulled open the bag, the thick scent of sweet cream hitting his nose, which he inhaled like his life depended on it (which it did, he had ran out of stock four days ago). He leaned back against the counter and made himself comfortable. “Leave no detail unturned, Kuro-chan. Let’s begin with the all-important question, shall we – what outfit did Semi patch himself up in for your first date?”
Chapter 12: Semi-Assertive
It was just after seven when Semi entered a pub three stops east on the express to meet with Akaashi and Sugawara, the room bustling with energy even for a Tuesday. Pub gatherings with these two were a regular thing during the first couple of years of Semi getting to know them, loud chatter and music playing a notch too high making it easy to talk about topics that would sound mental to anyone who happened to overhear.
Semi glanced around at the tables and spotted Akaashi off to the side, sitting alone. Walking up, he tapped him on the arm and said, “Hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
“I arrived five minutes ago. Semi-san, did you receive my message on Saturday?”
Straight to the point. Semi pulled a face at the same time as he pulled out the free chair next to him and sat down – he knew he had forgotten to do something. Akaashi’s polite message – There is a matter that needs addressing, please call me at your earliest convenience. – was waiting for him when he checked during the afternoon of his date, which he remembered again on the train. And again while working in the shop. And for a third time at two a.m. while reloading trays onto his van. Basically at all the times and places where making a call would be inconvenient, if not for him then for Akaashi.
“Sorry about that. What was it you wanted to talk about?”
“What we are likely to face come Sugawara-san’s arrival.”
“What do you mean?”
“It occurred to me that keeping Oikawa-san’s encounter secret from Sugawara-san, and therefore Sawamura-san, would be near impossible when Sugawara-san regularly frequents the shop.”
Semi was about to counter his remark when it occurred to him that that possibility hadn’t crossed his mind. And with Oikawa finally explaining the arrangement between him and this guy ‘Iwa-chan’, if Sugawara came in while he was there—
“He can’t have found out already,” he scoffed, though it sounded weak.
“Why else would he have called us here?”
“He would have called us to Karasuno and not a public place like this if he wanted to talk about that kind of stuff.”
Akaashi’s brows furrowed slightly. “Yes, I did wonder. Although perhaps he asked us to come here for the sake of nostalgia. Sugawara-san is sentimental after all.”
A heavy slap on Semi’s back sent a shockwave through his body and he turned to find Sugawara stick his head in between them.
“What are you two so serious about?” he asked cheerfully. “Sorry I’m late, I was running around. No drinks? I’m grabbing a beer – same for you two?”
“Whatever you are having, Sugawara-san.”
“Good man, Akaashi!” Sugawara turned to Semi with an expectant look. “Semi?”
Semi shook his head. “I’m driving tonight. Ginger ale?”
Sugawara nodded. “The very model of a law-abiding citizen. Anyone want anything specific for food? If not I’ll order something at random – don’t worry about paying, this one’s on me.”
Semi watched Sugawara head over to the bar before he turned to Akaashi. “Do you think he heard us?”
“He may not have had to.”
“Right.” Sugawara’s special knack for reading people. “Do you really think he knows?”
Akaashi looked at him as though he had asked a stupid question. “Yes, Semi-san, I do.”
So maybe Akaashi was right and Sugawara knew – it didn’t explain why they would be talking about it here. And without Sawamura? Something about the setting made him suspicious.
They didn’t speak again until Sugawara returned, handing over their drinks and taking the last spare seat opposite.
“Kampai!” Sugawara exclaimed, clinking glasses – Semi and Akaashi following suit but mellower. Sugawara gulped down several mouthfuls. Akaashi was less enthusiastic in his movement, but he contended at the same pace. Semi took a sip to stop his mouth from drying.
“So I saw something really interesting the other day,” Sugawara said brightly, putting his glass down. “Want to have a guess at what it was?”
Semi’s reaction was to glance at Akaashi who had become overly interested in his beer. He next caught Sugawara grinning at him, then at Akaashi, blatantly waiting to see who would crack first.
There was no point drawing it out. “You’re talking about ‘Iwa-chan’,” Semi said clearly to be heard above the noise. Under Sugawara’s suddenly watchful gaze, Semi tagged on a “What? I'm right, aren't I?”
“His name’s Iwaizumi, if you’re not keen on sounding like Oikawa. Tell me what you know about him.”
Semi took a deep breath and began to gradually fill Sugawara in – about Oikawa’s meeting with Iwaizumi, his conviction that the man was his soulmate, the arrangement he had devised. Somewhere around the time Semi was explaining the reason for keeping quiet during the meeting, a waitress appeared with a plateful of pizza and a basket of chips, and Semi fell quiet while Sugawara and Akaashi shifted glasses around to make space on the table.
“So that was why he was at the shop,” Sugawara said after she had left.
“Did you tell Sawamura?”
Sugawara looked at him squarely in the eye. “You know he expects me to tell him everything.”
Semi should have been smart enough to think of a backup plan. The next step would be attempting to persuade Sawamura—
“But – he has a lot on his plate and I thought I would supervise this one. So no, I haven’t.”
Apart from the part where Sugawara created a deliberate pause to watch him sweat, Semi mentally thanked him.
“Why would you keep this from Sawamura-san?” Akaashi asked the question Semi was also thinking.
“Iwaizumi was in the shop so he got through the ward – you know no one can enter the premises with even the slightest intention to do harm, physically, mentally or emotionally – and I double-checked his energy – completely clean. I can’t strike off the possibility he’s a perfect actor and the Reptilians are using him with or without his knowledge, but…” Sugawara grabbed a chip and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully. “Oikawa wouldn’t go near him if that were true. And his energy…”
Sugawara sank into his thoughts. Semi decided to pull him back up to the surface. “What about it? Is Iwaizumi one of us?”
“Hm? No, I was talking about Oikawa. I always knew he had the potential for attracting people to him, but it was as though he was suppressing it, whether consciously or subconsciously. When I saw him two days ago he was so ecstatic he practically lit up the whole room. Which I wouldn’t normally complain about, if it weren’t for the fact Ophidians are roaming around trying to find the portal, which coincidentally – or not – is in his shop. If he had stepped foot outside, they could have been at least one street over and they would have noticed, he was that much of a beacon.” Sugawara popped the rest of his food into his mouth and shook his head as if to clear a thought. “Anyway, that’s not the only news.”
Akaashi looked to Semi. “There’s more?”
“I don’t know why you’re looking at me. And you know what, should we even be talking about this here? I thought the point of Karasuno was to be able to talk without the risk of people eavesdropping.”
“When it doesn’t involve keeping tonight’s conversation hush hush from Daichi. Asahi doesn’t want to know – he doesn’t think he can lie if Daichi decided to interrogate him. Don’t worry, I would be able to tell if a Reptilian was present. And actually, Semi, this does involve you.”
Semi racked his brains. “What? What did I do?”
Sugawara turned to Akaashi. “Semi went on a date with Kuroo.”
Akaashi’s lethal glare locked onto him. “A date? I believe the term you used was ‘seeing’.”
Leaning in to Akaashi, Sugawara stage-whispered, “I think he meant ‘seeing’.”
Semi shook his head and waved his hands in protest. “No, no, no, hold on – before either of you say anything else, in my defence, I was just ‘seeing’ him until… I realised I wasn’t.”
“So how far did you—”
“Have you arranged a second?” Akaashi cut Sugawara off, his tone sharpened and iced.
Semi sucked in a breath, holding it in as he contemplated lying. “Next—”
“Semi-san, I agreed to you getting close because I thought you would be responsible enough not to overstep. It was not an invitation to—”
“Okay, okay – Akaashi, let me take over,” Sugawara said. “You have a drink of – okay, no, just... down it all.”
Semi watched Akaashi steadily drain the glass and with a controlled slam, place it firmly onto the table. “Excuse me while I go and order another drink.”
Akaashi pushed himself up and walked towards the bar.
“I didn’t think he would react that badly,” Sugawara said, following him with a small worried look, which he wiped clear when turning to question Semi. “So you and Kuroo?”
“Honestly, Sugawara, I took the date as a joke when he said it. And then it turned out to be real. And then… well, we… you know.”
“Who made the first move?” Sugawara asked. Even if he was asking to confirm Semi’s actions, at least he made it sound like he was being nosey over gossip, which made the process of retelling a whole lot easier.
“I guess… me.” Semi rubbed his face in his hands then stared over them down at his glass. “I don’t know why, Sugawara. Everything clicked into place, I couldn’t help it, I—”
Semi glanced up at Sugawara, who was wearing a sympathetic smile.
“You’re earnest, Semi. You’re not doing it to mess with Kuroo, or spite Akaashi, or anger Daichi. Of course you can’t help who you like. We’re only human.” Sugawara looked down at his own glass, his smile wilting. “Daichi forgets that sometimes. And so does Akaashi.”
Semi remembered Akaashi’s burst of passion the other day, his speech on how it felt to be in love. “He told me about Bokuto,” he said carefully. “I don’t think he forgets.”
Sugawara huffed a humourless laugh. “Oh, no – he does. Even I do. But it’s different for me because Daichi’s here. Bokuto isn’t.” He stretched out his smile again, though Semi knew it was forced. “I’ll explain another time when he’s not here. Don’t stop seeing Kuroo because of what anyone else says. If what you’re doing feels good without that voice of doubt in the back of your mind, that’s the only indicator you need.”
How had he felt when he was with Kuroo – when they had been kissing? No one else had come to mind, his mission had been abandoned; it had been him and Kuroo tucked away in a corner, confirming their mutual attraction.
Semi shifted in his chair; he grabbed his drink and gulped it down, letting the fizz sting the back of his throat.
Akaashi returned with a drink in hand – a soft drink Semi was surprised to see, indicated by the straw – reclaiming his seat. “I apologise for my outburst,” he said, then glanced at Semi. “While I still think you should reconsider your decision, it is ultimately yours to make. I trust you know what you are doing.”
Semi wasn’t sure even he trusted himself to know what he was doing, but he appreciated the thought. “Well, only half,” he admitted, “which is what I wanted to talk to you about, Sugawara. I need a definite way of identifying these Reptilians.”
The request dissolved Sugawara’s good humour into silence. He took a sip of his beer, put down his glass, leaned forward onto the table, and still not a word. Semi couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but he let him assess – he felt this wasn’t the time to rush him.
“A flashback of someone who wronged you, a looping playback of a humiliating moment, whatever makes you crave or create drama, wallow in self-pity, grow vengeful towards yourself or others.” Sugawara’s tone was level and stony. “Labelling yourself as a victim, raising yourself to self-importance, putting others to shame, classifying yourself as right and them wrong – anything that divides you from everyone else. But it’s not the most accurate way of telling, because falling into negativity is effortless, and it’s just as easy to be influenced by others feeling the same, whether their emotions are the result of stress, or illness, or bad news, or simply being trapped in an endless cycle.
“As for hard evidence, eyes are usually the first giveaway because of the number of times we have to blink. Sometimes there’s a glitch in their human form, similar to what you might see on a screen. Or you could spot a scaly patch of skin. But these aren’t signs you should actively look for – it would make you an obvious target.”
Semi waited, expecting there to be more as Sugawara took a slice of pizza. “Wait – that’s it? There’s no other way besides… emotions?”
“And instinct,” Sugawara added, his reply muffled by the food. He chewed a few more times, then swallowed. “It all depends on how well you can centre yourself. Try this – look over there.”
Semi looked to the scene he thought Sugawara was pointing at – the man behind the bar pulling a pint. Was it the bartender? Did Sugawara notice something about him that Semi didn’t? He looked ordinary – hair combed back, beard trimmed, maybe a few years older, his look a little stern to be serving at a pub, but maybe he was having an off-day. He filled the glass slowly, topped it off with a layer of foam that was just the right thickness (and Semi could do with having one of those himself if he didn’t have to work), placed it onto the counter before another younger man in a business suit, who was talking to a woman sitting next to him with a cocktail in her hand; Semi wondered if they were coworkers having an after-work drink, or if they were a couple.
“What am I supposed to be looking at?” he finally asked, returning his attention to Sugawara.
“And there’s my point – your conscious went where I directed it to go and you become involved in the action, trying too hard to search and in the process forgetting to put yourself at the centre of your life. Did you have a commentary running in your head? Something about the bartender, or the beer – maybe the customer? What about attaching personal notes? You need to become indifferent towards what’s happening, a spectator without any of the attachment, that’s when you can make a clear decision about whether or not the negativity stirring up inside is from the Reptilians, other people, or your own thoughts created out of your own experience. It’s not hard to do once you get the hang of being aware.”
“Isn’t that because you are naturally adept at reading people?” Akaashi asked. “I also attempt this technique on occasion, but fall short of succeeding.”
“In your case there’s too much going on in your head. And it’s a technique anyone can learn, not just for people with background like us. Practice, that’s all you need.” Sugawara leaned back in his chair, giving himself a short break with his drink before continuing. “There is one thing you must remember – the fear they evoke while in your presence when you don’t know who they are – the ones that feed off your memories and your deepest, darkest nooks – it’s like a flame tapering off into a forlorn smoulder, or flaring up into an angry blaze. But the fear you feel the instant you recognise they’re Reptilians is like an explosion abruptly extinguished, and they’ll know just as instantly they’ve been recognised. The trick is to not let it spike, but redirect it towards another negative emotion to maintain its strength – anger’s good because it’s such a strong emotion it can mask anything. I don’t usually recommend holding grudges, but having one experience in your arsenal that gets your blood boiling will buy you some time.”
Semi didn’t think it would be difficult for him to get angry, he already knew he had a short temper. Even listening to Sugawara talk was making him frustrated, not from incomprehension but scant explanation, like there should be a concrete method, one which didn’t rely on chances and ambiguity and guesswork.
Always with the guesswork.
Semi shook his head. “It’s not good enough. How am I supposed to keep Kuroo or Oikawa safe when I can’t even tell when a Reptilian is literally standing inches away? How can I buy myself more time when we don’t have any left? I’m not going to wait for them to strike first and counter that with something that might work. I’m going to find them first, Sugawara, I’m the predator. They are my prey.”
Sugawara sat there, again hushed and observant, and Semi was about to comment on that, too, while he was riding his temper, when Sugawara suddenly asked, “Semi, do you remember something about your past life?”
It threw Semi completely off-centre.
“No,” he answered, already losing his confidence. “Do I need to? Is that what I’m missing?”
“No, no, it’s nothing to do with what we’re talking about. Just the way you are today, you remind me of—” Sugawara caught himself.
“Of what?” Semi pressed him, and for the first time that evening, Sugawara looked conflicted.
“You remind me of when you were an Avian.”
In the end, those were the only tips Sugawara could offer. Semi reasoned to himself that it was better than nothing, which was what he had been working with up until this point. And like Sugawara said, it was a matter of practice.
And practice was what he did on the return train at the peak of rush hour, lucky enough to squeeze himself into a seat between a young man on his laptop and a woman checking her phone, and closing his eyes he feigned sleep while concentrating on his thoughts and the mass of emotions that were being emitted from all around. He didn’t know what he was looking for, didn’t know how or what he should feel, and spent the fifteen-minute ride to his station mentally humming and hawing at whether he was doing it right.
Then he remembered the way that conversation had ended – what was it about him that made Sugawara ask? Naturally Sugawara didn’t expand on the details; Semi didn’t expect him to so he didn’t ask, knowing the answer he would receive would be along the lines of “you’ll remember in due time”. Although, Sugawara did mention that assertiveness was a trait all eagles possessed and it was the first time Semi had displayed it as a human.
As Semi scuffled out onto the platform to the escalator going up, he thought there must have been an easier way of doing this. A way Sugawara was keeping from him, along with all the other secrets Semi didn’t know about.
Maybe it was because he didn’t remember anything about his past. That had to be it, that was why Sugawara had asked if he remembered.
He gripped the handrail tighter, annoyed at the irrationality of it all. Sawamura had said they didn’t have time. It didn’t make sense for them to wait for him to remember something from his past when he wasn’t even sure if he was ever going to.
Didn’t they care? They were supposed to be watching over Oikawa and Kuroo not—
He raised his head, slowed his steps as he touched out of the ticket gates, and at the shove from the person behind, hurried to the side, pulling out his phone. Not to use – to pretend. He randomly thumbed the screen, glanced up and around.
An angry blaze, that was what Sugawara said, which he had been fuelling. But he couldn’t tell who was responsible from the sheer number of people roaming in and out and around the station, and by the time he forced his thoughts to neutralise, it was too late.
It could have been a false alarm. He wanted to believe it, that he was still too inexperienced to be able to tell, but somehow, he knew. They had been around.
Semi’s work route on Friday included the hospital, which was why he had been standing for five minutes by the reception desk, three crates stacked in his arms, waiting.
“Excuse me, would you like some help?”
Semi turned at the polite query, about to say he was fine when he came face to face with the person he was waiting for, the playful grin making his heart flutter (and there was a phrase he didn’t think he would use even in his head) – stronger than before, and mixed with nerves.
And as he drew a blank on his reply, he realised he was putting a weird kind of pressure on himself of having to up his game so Kuroo wouldn’t think he had made a mistake.
It gave him a headache.
“Just waiting for my boyfriend,” he threw out there and flinched, feeling heat rise in his face. “That came out cheesy.”
Kuroo blinked, the innocent grin twisting darker for a second. “I like the sound of that.” He nodded to the corridor. “This way.”
Semi flicked a side glance at Kuroo on the way, tried to get a sense of how he was feeling, which was quickly replaced with a touch of concern at seeing the fading grin, which dulled his features.
“Long day?” Semi asked.
“You could say that.” Kuroo looked to him, the smile returned; it seemed unforced. “I didn’t think you would take me up on my offer to guide you around.”
“People don’t usually like to disturb other people.”
Semi widened his eyes. “You should’ve said if you’re busy, I can find my own way—”
“I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make time.”
Semi didn’t ask for Kuroo solely for the reason of wanting to see him, although it was one of the main reasons; the other was to confirm with his own eyes that Kuroo was fine, and to pinpoint – eventually when he mastered the skill – how he was feeling.
“And seeing you at the end of the long hours—” Kuroo stopped in his tracks. “There’s Akaashi. Want me to call him over?”
Semi peered inside, noticing Akaashi at the far end by a middle-aged woman sitting up in bed. From this distance he couldn’t hear them, but Akaashi appeared softer than usual, responding to the woman’s conversation every now and then as he took notes.
Semi had never clearly understood the concept of coming to this planet as a human to ‘raise energy’, or whatever the official term was, because he was sure he spent most of his time being frustrated or hot headed and causing more damage than doing any good. But watching Akaashi, now walking over to the next patient – an old man whose facial lines were scored more fiercely than those menacing statues guarding shrines (though Semi swore he could see the lines fade slightly at Akaashi asking how he was) – Semi understood Akaashi was doing what he could to make their lives just that little bit kinder, a compassionate pocket of calm sheltering them from the turmoil of life.
“No,” Semi said, starting up their walk. “He’ll complain I’m disturbing him.”
Really, he wanted to avoid being caught with Kuroo and having to face the disapproving, judgemental look.
There was a build up to their silence, which Kuroo burst by saying, “Did something happen between you two?”
Semi shrugged and nearly pulled a muscle in his arm. “Nothing major.”
“Is it about us?”
Semi glanced up; he hadn’t had enough experience with Kuroo’s neutral expression to know its underlying meaning. “He didn’t say something to you, did he?”
“No, I just wanted you to admit it. Hold on—”
Kuroo backtracked leaving Semi to stare after him, only to realise he had entered the room Akaashi was in. The next moment he was walking back with Akaashi in tow, who was decidedly steelier than when he was occupied with his patients.
“I just remembered I needed to be somewhere else, so Akaashi” - Kuroo tapped Akaashi on the shoulders - “you can show Semi where he needs to go.”
Kuroo winked at Semi and strolled away.
“Does he always go around doing the opposite of what you ask?” Semi asked Akaashi, staring after him in disbelief.
“When he deems it beneficial, yes.” Akaashi sighed quietly. “Please follow me.”
The weight of the trays suddenly seemed a lot heavier.
“Sorry,” Semi said, filling the gap. “You looked busy so I didn’t want to get in your hair.”
Akaashi led him into a room; Semi placed the trays onto the empty table, handing papers over to Akaashi before unloading the food.
“I have been reflecting over what was said during our meeting,” Akaashi began, signing off the sheets. “And I realised I was in no position to criticise your judgement, especially after seeing you press Sugawara-san the way you did. It was wrong of me to assume you were not taking your role seriously.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Semi said quickly, “I should have talked to you about it sooner.”
“I have to confess, I thought it would be more practical to keep my distance, but I can see the value of becoming closer, especially when it facilitates keeping watch over Kuroo-san.”
Something about that sentence made Semi frown, rubbed his feathers the wrong way though he didn’t raise a question against it, and he wasn’t sure why he took issue. He brushed it aside, smoothing out his nerves.
“Thanks for understanding,” he finally said, closing the conversation.
It didn’t take long for him to finish up his work, and they parted outside of the room after he told Akaashi he could find his way. He puzzled over the meaning during his walk back, came up empty handed.
“Didn’t go well?”
Semi blinked up at the voice and found Kuroo out of uniform; with a glance around his surroundings he found that he was back at reception.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m done for the day. Whereas you look done with the day.”
“No – we cleared the air. I was just… thinking of something else.”
Kuroo hummed questioningly, though he didn’t ask. “I’ll walk you to your ride.”
The skies were clear tonight, which Semi appreciated as they crossed the car park over to his parking space directly under a too-brilliantly white lighting.
“We’re still on for next week, right?” Semi asked, slowing to a stop at his van and opening up the boot. “Your place?”
Kuroo was giving him the raised eyebrow(s?) again. “Did I give off the impression we weren’t?”
“Just making sure. You know. In case you were having second thoughts.”
Semi was the one having second thoughts as he shoved the trays inside in that, as the date drew closer, he became more convinced of where the date was going to end up, and the word dessert came to mind once more.
He slammed the door shut and turned – just in time to catch Kuroo threading fingers in his hair, and when Semi’s mind caught up with what was going on he felt the press of lips, surprisingly light and chase but fast falling decadent as he began to explore Kuroo’s mouth – at which point Kuroo pulled away (and Semi wondered how he had the self-restraint) (or maybe it was his unrelenting dedication to tease).
“Does that answer your question?”
“Yeah,” Semi barely managed to breathe. “Nice answer. Uh…” He swallowed and cleared his throat. “Want me to drop you off at the station?”
Kuroo pulled his hand away. “I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble at work for being late.”
This time it was Semi’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “It will literally take two minutes.”
“Which could turn into twenty, or two hours depending on how frisky you’re feeling.”
It took too long for Semi to get that implication, and when he did, he swore at himself for his stupid choice for parking that revealed too much, especially the tint of his skin. “Don’t you get embarrassed by what comes out of your mouth?”
Kuroo gave a shrug. “Clearly not as embarrassed as you going by the nice flush you have there. I’ll see you next week – or maybe earlier if you’re working again.”
He set off, leaving Semi to think of a reply – nothing came out. With a snort Semi shook his head and gave up, swinging open the car door.
With one foot inside, Semi looked up to find Kuroo turning round.
“You should try wearing red,” he called. “It looks good on you.”
Kuroo gave a half-hearted wave then his back was to him once more, striding away to disappear into the night.
Semi was going to have to learn how to make decent comebacks if he was to keep up with him.
Chapter 13: Let Through
“Your turn, Oikawa.”
“What haven’t I asked… oh, I know! What’s your favourite food?”
“Why do you always look so proud when you answer – and it’s such an old man food! Are you sure you were born in Heisei and not Showa?”
“It tastes good! What about you then? What’s your favourite food?”
“Milk bread, of course.”
“And you don’t sound proud. I guess that confirms your mental age.”
“Excuse you, Iwa-chan! It’s no different from someone answering with brioche, or pretzel, or donut!”
“Those I understand. But milk bread?”
“Have you even tried milk bread?”
“They sell them at my bakery – it tastes like normal bread. Actually, normal bread probably tastes better.”
“Iwa-chan, no, that’s not real milk bread! I'm going to bring some down for next time and then you’ll see why it’s the best food in the world.”
“What’s in this drawer?”
“A keychain of a crown.”
“And that one?”
“An old ticket stub to a volleyball match.”
“What about that tiny one in the corner?”
“Oh, I’ve never opened that one, it’s another one that’s stuck. Incidentally, that’s the smallest drawer in this room.”
“So what – people take whatever’s inside and you put something else in?”
“No, Iwa-chan – they take whatever’s inside and they replace it with something they have on them.”
“What if they don’t have anything?”
“Of course that’s not going to happen, you would have something even if that turned out to be – oh, I don’t know – a sock you were wearing.”
“That’s… kind of nasty. What if whatever they had didn’t fit the drawer?”
“That hasn’t ever happened, but in that instance I would take it and replace the item with something that does fit.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
“How can it be cheating when it clearly states in the job description that I have the authority to replace or rotate items, as necessary? I think that would be regarded as a necessary situation.”
“But what’s the point of that? How often? What do you know to replace? And you can replace it with something so long as it’s not what’s priced for the table? None of the instructions make sense.”
“Iwa-chan, I told you, it all depends on feeling! Okay, let me explain it to you one more time...”
“Oikawa, you seem smart enough so I don’t get how you think aliens would beat Godzilla.”
“I’m sorry, could you first explain to me how on earth you think Godzilla would win?”
“Easy – he would grab whatever spaceship that came hovering up to him, and crush it like a can.”
“Yes, but don’t you think aliens have technology far superior to the wired plastic saucers of the fifties, one that could rid Earth of the pest problem before they entered the atmosphere?”
“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that cheap shot and say – only if they wanted to prove to humans that they’re hostile and came to overtake the planet. Which apparently would never happen according to you.”
“How would getting rid of Godzilla prove their hostility?! People would be celebrating!”
“What the hell’s wrong with you? Godzilla’s a pet and a mascot rolled into one, people would be pissed if aliens got rid of him!”
“Iwa-chan, your perception of Godzilla is extremely skewed and I’m not sure I can keep up with your ridiculous fan-train of thought.”
“So you agree aliens can’t beat Godzilla.”
“No, I will never agree to that, and you are going to see exactly why your logic is flawed even if it means I have to spend the next twenty-three hours trying to prove it to you.”
Iwaizumi visited the shop five times after that Sunday, and ten days later the total hours remaining was reduced down to twenty. At this rate the countdown would reach zero in another three weeks and Oikawa would no longer have an excuse to see him as regularly, if at all.
They had settled into another bout of silence, a recurring status fast becoming the norm as they exhausted topics to talk about.
“How long are you staying for again today?” Oikawa asked.
“I don’t have anything planned,” Iwaizumi called from the other side of the room, looking at the drawers for the umpteenth time. “So whenever you want to get rid of me.”
Oikawa didn’t want to get rid of him, and if he could have it his way, he never would. But he couldn’t tell him that. He wasn’t even sure Iwaizumi even remembered how their first meeting panned out, with Oikawa’s confession forgotten, and here was Oikawa, his interest in Iwaizumi growing stronger concurrently with his confidence that Iwaizumi would ultimately feel the same way towards him progressively waning.
Hunger gnawed at his stomach, sending signals demanding food; one short circuited to spark an idea.
“I’m feeling a little peckish – do you want to come upstairs and have lunch?”
Iwaizumi strolled back to the counter. “If you’re going for a break I’ll leave you to it, I don’t want—”
“Iwa-chan, you said you don’t have anything planned. Or is there a particular reason you don’t want to have lunch with me?” Oikawa asked slyly, keeping his tone light.
There was a short pause where he could see Iwaizumi thinking over the offer, and Oikawa definitely wasn’t chanting a mantra of ‘say yes’ in his head.
“I guess I could. If it’s not gonna bother you.”
“Iwa-chan, we’re past being strangers now, and the only time I was bothered was when you couldn’t admit defeat on my final argument of aliens versus Godzilla.”
“You agreed that debate’s on hold.”
Oikawa gave a patronising look with his nod. “Yes. On hold while you spend the rest of your life thinking of a valid counter-argument and not being able to find one, because one does not exist.”
It was drizzling when they stepped outside. Oikawa commented while locking up that Iwaizumi hadn’t brought an umbrella with him, another valid reason for why he should stay a while longer to see if the rain would die down. There may have been a part of him which believed that if he couldn’t keep formulating valid reasons Iwaizumi would eventually leave – and never come back.
“There’s not a lot of space, but make yourself comfortable,” Oikawa said, leading Iwaizumi upstairs and inside. He opened the door to his main living space, cleared of all bedding currently folded and stored in the closet, his square table that doubled as a kotatsu in the winter placed at the centre.
“I can help—”
“I’m just reheating and putting rice into bowls. Why don’t you take a look inside that box in the corner, it has other items for the table I haven’t got round to sorting. Who knows, there might even be another surprise waiting to be discovered.”
Oikawa prepared the food to sounds of rattles and clatters, either made by him or from Iwaizumi rummaging through the box. Again, neither said a word to each other.
Maybe Iwaizumi was growing tired of him. Maybe there was nothing else left for them to say.
Oikawa whipped his head back to find Iwaizumi standing behind him, peering over his shoulder.
“Oh, no, Kuro-chan makes all these.” Oikawa quickly turned to the counter to busy himself so he wouldn’t have to think about how close they were standing. “He’s a good friend. He works as a dietician and is very attentive over how and what he cooks, often mothering me to make sure I’m eating healthily so I grow big and strong.”
“Yeah, I can see why he’d feel the need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”
Oikawa spluttered. “I am perfectly capable of looking after myself, thank you very much!”
“Says the person who eats milk bread every day.”
Oikawa picked up the bowls of rice and pushed them onto Iwaizumi. “Bread is as much a staple food as rice, which no Japanese ever complains about eating for all three meals of the day, and milk is offered daily as a nutritional supplement in school lunches.”
“So you’re admitting you’re a child,” Iwaizumi said with a grin, taking the bowls off his hands.
At the brush of their fingers Oikawa momentarily forgot how to speak. “Iwa-chan, you weren’t this mean to me up until hour twenty-five – what happened?”
Iwaizumi gave him an incredulous look. “You’re keeping track of what we talk about every hour?”
“No, Iwa-chan, I was making a joke,” he replied, lying through his teeth.
Oikawa grabbed the remaining bowls of miso-simmered sardines, sesame-seasoned pumpkins and stir-fried vegetables (and Kuroo really did meticulously plan out all his meals) and brought them over, then went to pull out a spare cushion from the closet. Once both were seated, they said their blessings and tucked into the food.
“You’ve lived here since starting at this place?”
“It’s much easier to adhere to the ‘building must be staffed’ rule when someone lives in said building,” Oikawa said, picking up food from each of the bowls and placing them on the rice. Seeing Iwaizumi lift his bowl with his brows furrowed, Oikawa quickly added, “There is nothing morally or legally ambiguous going on under this roof! You know how people are, they become paranoid and overprotective of their property. And some of the items in the drawers really do look valuable enough to fetch a hefty sum.”
More minutes of silence stretched out as they ate.
“How did you come by this job again?” Iwaizumi asked, shoving rice into his mouth.
Oikawa waved his chopsticks about nonchalantly. “It’s an interesting story actually. Someone tried to mug me in the early hours of the morning during my return from a night out, and knocked me unconscious in the process. When I woke up I met my future employer who was passing by. We exchanged numbers in case any additional information came up, one thing led to another to this job offer.” He picked up a sardine and bit into it.
“Were you working before that?”
Oikawa nodded as he swallowed. “Telecommunications. It wasn’t very interesting. I much prefer this job.”
Iwaizumi rested his wrist on the edge of the table, stilling his chopsticks. “You ever find out what happened?”
“Unfortunately, no. But it doesn’t really matter seeing as nothing was stolen.”
“I guess,” Iwaizumi muttered. “I’ve got a dumb story that involves this station.”
“Oh? That sounds potentially humorous.”
“You remember I said I’ve been here a few times? Well, it was because I once woke up at the crack of dawn on one of the front lawns of some apartment in the area. Don’t remember much of that night except heading out to an izakaya by the station – guess I had one too many drinks, wandered down the streets without knowing where I was going and passed out, I had a splitting headache and a few bruises to show for it. Anyway, I picked myself up and headed back home but forgot to check the exact location of the place, so when I came back to try and apologise to the people living there – I scuffed the lawn pretty badly and squashed some of the plants – I couldn’t find it again.”
“You’re so noble, Iwa-chan, I don’t think anyone else would have bothered.” Oikawa was certain he wouldn’t, which didn’t make him guilty at all, not one bit. “When did that happen?”
“Must’ve been about… four years ago? Maybe five.”
The number grabbed Oikawa’s attention. “Oh?” he asked as casually as he could. “What season?”
Iwaizumi looked up in thought. “Maybe around this time – it wasn’t that hot, but you could easily walk around in a t-shirt. During rainy season? But I didn’t have an umbrella… Don’t really remember.”
Oikawa’s mind wandered. Could it be that Iwaizumi was involved…?
No, that was him trying to grasp at whatever he could to bend and force the story into his own so it would seem like they were meant to be together. It would be too much of a coincidence, and from the sound of Iwaizumi’s experience it was an average person’s night out before or during the weekend. After all, the same thing had happened to him.
Their conversation died down again and Oikawa resorted to turning on the TV – the weather, and why was the news so obsessed with meteorology this time of year – so he wouldn’t have to think about the meaning of the silence or deliberately filling it in. Usually he was so happy to see Iwaizumi, could easily keep the stream of chatter. He didn’t know what was wrong with him today.
When they were done, Oikawa quickly stacked the empty bowls and took them to the kitchen, preventing Iwaizumi from doing the dishes and hearing a lot of grumbling protests for his kind act.
“Do you want tea? Or dessert? I have milk bread.”
With a snort, Iwaizumi shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’m gonna head back – the news said thunderstorms, right? You look tired out as well, you should get some rest.”
For once, Oikawa didn’t have it in himself to argue. “Consecutive days of rain do merge into one long, grey, dreary period. I’m glad I met you before the rainy season so I wouldn’t have to suffer alone.”
“I would joke about you not taking one for the team, but I’d have been lounging around at home by myself if I didn’t have to come here, so I guess I’m glad too,” Iwaizumi said with a grin; Oikawa’s heart took another hit. “And thanks for the food. Tell your friend it tasted great.”
“I’ll come with you downstairs. Do you want to borrow an umbrella? I have a spare, you can return it next time.”
Iwaizumi took one of the cheap transparent umbrellas – one of three all forgotten by Semi – and Oikawa grabbed one for himself before stepping outside.
The rain teeming it down was like static, drowning out all sound except for the heavy, unceasing tapping on the plastic sheet keeping him dry; it sounded like an urgent message sent to him in Morse code.
Oikawa inwardly laughed at that thought.
They stopped just along the edge of the property, where Iwaizumi turned to Oikawa. “I’ll message again when I’m coming in. I’m thinking early next week.”
“Whenever you’re not busy,” Oikawa said, showing him a small smile.
Iwaizumi hung back, his eyes darting away from Oikawa. “I’ve been thinking.”
Oikawa suddenly perked up. “Oh? I hope you didn’t hurt your head from it.”
“Shut up,” Iwaizumi laughed. “I’ve been thinking that once this thirty-hour deal’s over, we should still continue to hang out. Maybe outside of the shop, too. If you’re wanting to see the fireworks there’ll be plans to go over, and I can introduce you to the guys who’re coming along.”
All the moping and uncertainty and doubt of earlier disappeared. “I was actually seriously considering talking to my employer about taking some time off.”
Iwaizumi nodded slowly, a twitch at the corner of his lips that cracked his cool exterior. “All right. If we start doing any planning, I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop.” He looked up at the sky. “Looks like the rain won’t be letting up anytime soon – hope the trains are still running. See you next time, Oikawa.”
“You can always stay with me if they aren’t!” Oikawa called to him as he walked away, purposefully loud to watch Iwaizumi throw a glare over his shoulder that lost any of its hardness when accompanied with his grin.
“Of course he would find me irresistible,” Oikawa said to the rain, watching Iwaizumi’s figure grey out. He decided to return upstairs than to the shop, and turned back—
“Oh – sorry!” he said quickly as his umbrella bounced off someone else’s. He could just make out their face from behind the see-through plastic, and immediately recognised him as the man from the station, one of two with the poison tongue. His one eye uncovered by his black hair was like onyx, cold-blooded and unblinking, staring at and through him, and into his mind.
“Sorry,” Oikawa muttered, averting his gaze and taking a deliberate step back towards the house. The man said nothing, his gaze following Oikawa and shifting for a second onto the house, and then he walked off in the same direction as Iwaizumi; a flash of concern to swept over Oikawa, and he wanted to chase after Iwaizumi, give him a warning, but his feet were rooted to the spot.
He was being crazy. Yes, the man looked menacing, but Oikawa reminded himself that it wasn’t about appearance. Should he tell Sugawara or Shimizu? Maybe if he saw him one more time. He would still message Iwaizumi later and check he returned home safely. As a precaution, of course.
His internal panic had already eased by the time the man disappeared into the grey haze; Oikawa gripped his umbrella and continued to stand in the rain a while longer.
Chapter 14: Semi-Vulnerable
Before you begin, I would like to direct you to the top of the page where you will find the new rating for this fic, and then to the bottom of the tags where you will find the reason for the change.
(Also I'm sorry for the speedy mass of updates recently, I'm just one of those people who has to post a chapter once it's done to get it out of my head rather than regulate with a schedule like a normal person D: And also this chapter was written before the last one.)
Don’t want to stand you up like this, but doubt you’d enjoy food with a seasoning of whatever it is I might be coming down with. Rain check?
Semi pressed the numbers ‘906’ into the intercom followed by ‘call’. As he waited, he wondered what the tapping noise was and realised it was his own foot tapping away at the stone floor. He shifted his weight, making himself stop.
The room quieted.
He straightened up even though there wasn’t a camera for Kuroo to check through. “It’s Semi. Let me in.”
No response from the speaker, no sign of movement from the glass door. Semi was glad the building’s security wasn’t updated else Kuroo would have seen him anxiously dart his eyes from the door to the intercom to the phone in his hand that displayed the morning’s message.
The doors finally slid open and with a sigh of relief (mingled with preparation for what was to come) Semi walked through, heading for the lifts and pressing the button for the ninth floor.
After reading Kuroo’s message the first time, Semi automatically came to the conclusion that Kuroo did want to stand him up, he just didn’t want to say it directly, to his face.
He immediately struck that out. During his fifth read, he thought about replying with something along the lines of ‘hope you feel better soon’, but decided it too generic.
And throughout the day the message stayed untouched, up till the evening when he found himself making his way to Kuroo’s house having first made a pit stop at Shibuya, arguing with himself about whether a surprise visit was a good idea.
He was regretting not talking himself out of it.
Coming out into the corridor, Semi found Kuroo already there a few doors down in black t-shirt and grey sweats and leaning against the doorframe, and as he neared he could hear a faint background murmur of what he thought was probably the television.
But most of all he noticed Kuroo’s neutral expression, which made him realise he probably should have replied with something, even if it was one word of 'okay'.
“You didn’t get the message?”
Semi tried to see beyond the mask and judged he looked worn, but not off-colour or sickly. He had seen Akaashi worse off and accomplish more.
“You don’t look ill.”
“So you did get the message.”
Semi lifted up a bag. “I brought you some food. It’s not homemade – I only deliver and don’t do much making, sorry.”
A flash of surprise broke the neutral look, which transformed again into a small smirk. He moved aside. “Come on through.”
Semi wasn’t sure why he was feeling nervous about entering Kuroo’s home when he wasn’t expecting to do anything other than to eat, keep him company for a bit, and then go home. He came here to be a good friend.
Boyfriend, a small voice in his mind whispered. He was still getting used to that part.
“So you’re down with a cold?” Semi asked when through into the living room. He glanced around the place similar to his own; books and magazines tidied into a pile on the small table and a shirt slung loosely folded over the sofa were among some of the items that had been left out, though not affecting the overall cleanliness of the apartment.
“Can’t tell yet. Started to feel dull at work yesterday, but it’s no worse now so might just be from overwork. I didn’t want to risk passing it on just in case.”
Semi turned to him. “Don’t worry about that, I’ve got a strong immunity. And even if I do end up catching it, I’ll live.”
“I thought you might say that.”
“Then why didn’t you just invite me over?”
“Didn’t want to assume.” Kuroo headed to the dining table, clearing the small stack of papers and mail by shifting them onto the kitchen counter.
Semi followed, pulling out the bento boxes. “I thought you might be pick – uh, careful about what goes into your food so I got you something from one of the places I looked up that’s supposed to be good about ingredients and things like that. If that… makes sense. Also something with fish.”
He looked up to find Kuroo smiling at him, which he immediately associated with the word ‘fond’; he quickly crossed that thought out because it was a dumb thought that made him flustered.
“For future reference, I don’t mind what you get me,” Kuroo told him.
The sentence hung in the air as though incomplete. Semi’s mind decided to be unhelpful and attached a ‘so long as—’ before he firmly pushed out all thoughts associated with the conversation by asking if he could have a drink.
(And in case he came off as demanding, added the reason that the walk up had been muggy.)
Kuroo disappeared out while Semi took a seat at the table waiting for him to reappear, which he did a minute or so later with a large bottle of tea and two glasses in hand.
The meal was quiet. Semi concentrated on eating, subtly flicking his eyes up at Kuroo from time to time, who was either picking and choosing and eating, or staring off to the side at the television watching – Semi turned to check what was on and saw highlights from the day’s baseball match.
This was just a regular meal, Semi said to himself, returning to his food. Eat, then home—
“You said you weren’t working tonight?” Kuroo asked; he drank while eyeing Semi over the rim of his glass.
Semi suddenly became interested in the television again, currently displaying a score of ‘1 – 0’ to the eagles.
He tightened his grip on his chopsticks wondering who was responsible for giving him all the eagle signs. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Their conversation ended there for the entire duration of their meal.
Once finished, Kuroo told Semi to relax on the sofa, which he did, eventually, taking a seat on the left after trying to protest and being reminded that he didn’t know where anything in the apartment was. So he sat, and waited, and watched the programme switch to a rainbow-coloured studio of a variety show.
When Kuroo returned he took a seat on the other end of the sofa.
They watched the show’s introduction, the guests of the evening, and just as Semi felt that he should announce his leave, Kuroo said, “So Semi. What will you do now?”
Shit, he thought. They were doing this. “…What do you want me to do?”
“Whatever you decide.”
“I’ll follow up on what you decide.”
“I’m going to bed.”
Semi turned his head to Kuroo, who was still watching TV with his mouth curled into an amused smirk.
“What does that mean?”
“We’re speaking the same language—”
“You know what I’m trying to say—”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“Was that an invitation or do you want me to leave?”
Kuroo threw a side glance in his direction.
“Which do you want it to be?”
“But if you’re actually ill—”
“I thought you said you had a strong immunity?”
“I’m talking about not tiring yourself out!”
Kuroo chuckled. “That’s cute, Semi.” He pushed himself up. “We can keep it simple.”
He headed out. Semi assumed to the bedroom, and he mentally yelled at himself for letting his guard down, telling himself that he should have known what was bound to happen the second he stepped foot into this home.
But then, deep down, he had known the very moment he made the decision to come here what was going to happen. And what he wanted to happen.
He quickly followed, striding out and down to the door left slightly ajar, dimly lit compared to the bright light of the corridor. He was only going to confirm what Kuroo meant. It could still swing either way.
“What do you mean by—”
The single bed was empty, sheets creased and blanket scrunched to one side.
“I see you got curious—”
Semi jumped at the voice too close behind him, and Kuroo walked past towards the bed.
“Nothing that requires prep, something we can both enjoy,” Kuroo said, getting straight to the point. “I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Unless you’re leaving, in which case I’ll just take care of myself.”
Kuroo made himself comfortable on the mattress, leaning back on his arms, stretching out his legs, and the soft material of his sweats did absolutely nothing to hide the bulge between his legs.
The earlier uncertainty and anxiety, the remaining doubt that had power to make Semi run out of the apartment were all pushed out by the image of Kuroo pulling himself out of those sweats, teasingly trailing his fingers up and down (because he was definitely capable of doing to himself whatever he dished out to others.)
His jeans became a little too tight.
Semi stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “Clothes on or off?”
Kuroo put a hand over his heart. “Ouch again, Semi. I thought we were being more intimate than a five-minute frolic.”
Semi snorted as he pulled his shirt over his head in one swift motion. “Didn’t want to assume.”
He fumbled with the too-stiff button on the waistband, fumbled with the zip that caught, and caught again, until he had enough room to shove his jeans down along with his boxers and kick it o – kick it, off, off—
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
Semi hopped to tug the material over his feet, nearly lost his balance trying to do the same with the other, and threw the offending clothes to the floor, followed by flinging off his socks – in different directions.
“What’s the rush?”
He looked up to see Kuroo toss his t-shirt to one side and barely lift up his hips to push the loose elastic of his sweats over his ass, movement languid and minimal and ending with a flick of the wrist, the piece of clothing landing gracefully at Semi’s feet.
Semi snapped. With a frustrated growl, he climbed onto the bed and straddled him, gritting his teeth so he wouldn’t make a sound that revealed the small thrill he felt from the tentative rub of skin on skin, sensitive and stiff.
“You stay there and not do anything, you’re ‘maybe ill’,” Semi ordered. “I’ll do the work.”
Feeling Kuroo twitch underneath him Semi looked down, and maybe it was from his overexcited brain, but he swore Kuroo got harder.
He glanced up. “Really?”
Kuroo’s shrug gave the impression he had zero care in the world. “What can I say, there’s something sexy about a man taking initiative.”
If that was what Kuroo wanted, that was what Semi would give.
Teasing Kuroo would be easy from this position and something Semi was very interested in – especially seeing the eager glint in his eyes and the anticipating lick of his lips, and feeling the damn twitching which he was positive Kuroo was doing on purpose. He decided instead to capture Kuroo’s mouth as a distraction, then straight to wrapping a hand around them both, pumping slow and steady. He grinned into the hitched gasp, taking whatever sound Kuroo made as a small victory, licked it off his tongue, swallowed it, while Kuroo used his nails to lightly graze up along his sides, then his hands to massage up his chest, coming to rest along his neck and jaw and to draw him in deeper; Semi shivered – from the sliding touches or decadent kisses or being given control, he wasn’t sure which. Probably all.
“That feels nice,” Kuroo purred into his ear, giving his lobe a playful nip.
“Carry on or something else?”
“There’s something else?”
Instead of having one shaking arm bear the brunt of his weight, Semi released his hold to prop himself up evenly either side of Kuroo’s head, and he used the whole of his body to alternate between a firm, measured push and a hasty recoil; his lips traced a faint trail along the curves of Kuroo’s face in time with his hips, over, and over, until Kuroo caught him, entangling their tongues so he couldn’t escape.
Semi had forgotten the feel of pressing against another body, skin and breaths and buildup hot and clammy. He had forgotten the concept of give and take and fight and assist because he had never experienced it as a whole; in the past he was the one always giving the assist, (always beneath, always controlled, always a step behind and left to take care of himself) – always hoping the next time would be different from the ‘every man for himself’ approach to reach that point of no return.
But that had been his fault. He had been living his life content with passivity, not moved enough to want more, want better, want what he had unwittingly been searching for throughout the whole of his life.
His rhythm had picked up but with it he lost his accuracy, and the more he tried to aim, he missed.
“Need a hand?”
Semi felt rather than heard the murmur against his lips, and then Kuroo’s hand was wrapping around them both with a tight grip, the pressure just right, pulling back their pace a notch.
Semi forced himself not to get carried away. “No – you’re good.”
(So long as Kuroo didn’t do with his hand what his mouth usually did, relentlessly teasing him back and forth – and in this case back again.)
Kuroo was bigger than Semi in every physical sense of the word and could have easily wrestled control and overthrown him, but right at this moment they were equals, their rhythms slotting into one as they tried to reach their goal and – it was unnerving how compatible they were, how well Kuroo could read him knowing when and where to press and glide his fingers, how well Semi could read Kuroo and each buck and writhe so he could roll his hips into him extra hard. He liked that Kuroo didn’t shy away from showing his vulnerability, didn’t power through to conceal the reflexive twitches begging for more.
And as their pace quickened, started to break apart, as Semi closed in on his release, he realised this was what he had been searching for.
Kuroo was what he had been searching for.
A few more tugs from Kuroo was all it took to send Semi shuddering over the edge, spilling spurts of warm, sticky mess, satisfaction gradually bordering on oversensitivity, and once beyond that point approaching pain, as he kept time with Kuroo’s growing desperation—
Kuroo gripped Semi’s arm – trembled. Semi watched the fascinating sight of him closing his eyes, mouth hanging open and silently choking on pleasure, arching into Semi to draw out every ounce of his orgasm.
He dropped back onto the bed and opened his eyes; Semi couldn’t help leaning in with a kiss – short, sweet, over as quick as it began before Kuroo’s hazy mind could respond.
They drew heavy breaths from each other.
“Are you staying?”
It took Semi some time for the quiet words to sink in, too engrossed by the toasted brown eyes glazed and in bliss.
“Do you want me to?”
Kuroo released his arm, brushed aside his fringe to one side, and did the same for the other. “Yeah, Semi. I want you to.”
Semi blinked back at the direct answer.
His smile came easily.
Semi found himself out of the comfort of Kuroo’s arms, out of the comfort of indoors and even outdoors of the wet but mild Tokyo, standing on a narrow and rocky trail that descended steeply into a thick fog; the crisp, dry air burned down the passage to his lungs and into the depths of every dividing branch making his chest feel like it was on fire.
He had never seen this place firsthand and wasn’t sure it even existed, and he had never gone or been remotely interested in mountain hiking, which made him wonder why he was here in this setting.
He also wondered what lay beyond the fog – and prepared to explore.
“So you took this route.”
He spun round.
The person there – he wasn’t even a person, and Semi recognised him for what he was – an Avian. He had seen Sawamura’s true identity first hand and Tendou whip himself up into his Avian form in their very first dream. This Avian had ash blond feathers, its colour uniform over his head and resembling a style mirroring his own; the shorter feathers along his limbs were speckled with umber along the tips. The pale colours accentuated the burnished bronze of his armour resembling those worn in ancient times.
The Avian looked aside and muttered, “Shirabu was right.”
Semi found his voice. “Shirabu?”
The golden-brown glare locked onto him. “It doesn’t matter. I should have expected it of myself.”
Semi cast his eyes to the Avian’s feet (almost human if not for the toes resembling talons); the trail stopped just where he stood and there was no path to the ascent, only more fog screening the peak.
“You want to see what’s ahead?” The Avian asked.
Semi took careful steps to close their distance. “Where are we?”
“You already know.”
So this was what Tendou meant by calling him to his heart. The environment was hostile yet Semi felt more at home here than during any of his dream encounters.
“What’s the point of your mission?” The Avian asked again.
“To protect Kuroo—”
“And to help him remember.”
He stopped short of a few feet. “What?”
“A personal request in the event of a worst-case scenario – and you know the current situation.”
From this distance Semi could see inscriptions in the armour of an unknown language, all sharp angles and wavy lines that looked asemic – and somehow he felt they were almost recognizable, like he knew all their meanings.
“Why are you here now, after all this time?”
Why weren’t you there during the times I needed you, was what Semi was asking.
“Because you’re beginning to remember. And because you’re becoming emotionally involved.”
Something flared inside. “Are you here to talk me out of it?”
The Avian huffed. “I’m here to tell you you’re on your last choice. If you decide to keep going, you’re going to have to prepare yourself. We’re naturally ambitious – it’s why we’re always given the hard missions, everyone trusts us to pull through – but our strengths are our weaknesses. Assertion and aggression. Authority and arrogance. Flying and falling. Taking on a relationship blurs those barriers and we’re meeting now so you can remind yourself of what needs to be done. The final decision lies with you.”
It would have been easier if the Avian had ordered him – it would push him into accepting or rejecting, save him from having to weigh and choose and… regret.
“I thought you would tell me what to do,” Semi told him, though he was sure the Avian already knew everything he was thinking.
There was a glimmer in the Avian’s eyes. “Why would I? We’re the same entity – what you decide is what I decide and it would be stupid not to believe in myself.”
Semi opened his eyes to the darkened room, familiar even though it was his first time here. He had stiff shoulders and something hard jutting into his neck – and his pillow was gone. He propped himself up, stretching his neck and rubbing his shoulder over the borrowed, baggy t-shirt, and looked over to the man beside him, sleeping on his front while sandwiching his head between two pillows, which explained the whereabouts of his missing pillow and why the something hard, an elbow, had been digging into him.
“What kind of a sleeping position is that?” he muttered, and leaned in closer. “...Are you breathing?”
Silence stretched out – followed by a muffled snort. With signs of life confirmed Semi sat up, ruffling his hair and then pushing it out of his face.
Unlike the dreams with Tendou, this encounter with himself was crystal clear, and he finally knew what Tendou meant about the differences between the two spaces. He still couldn’t get the image of himself out of his head, the similarities of their facial features alongside the obvious differences –and not so obvious ones including the air of pride and confidence.
He looked to Kuroo again, the man – alien, Felidae – who had tasked him with the mission to retrieve his memories. Semi had no idea on how to go about it. He wasn’t even sure he had the skills to.
But he would find a way.
Gingerly he reached out, hovered his hand over Kuroo’s head, then let his fingers sink into the soft hair; Kuroo shifted – Semi held his breath. When Kuroo didn’t move, Semi stroked his hair. Again. And again.
There was no choice. And he would regret nothing.
“I’ll do what you asked, Kuroo,” he whispered, voice cracked and heart in his throat. “Just... let me be with you while I’m doing it. I like you too much to let you go.”
A break from the rain at last, Oikawa thought on his way home from the grocery store, although the heavy grey clouds hanging low in the sky weighed down his movements.
On that day Iwaizumi visited, Oikawa called later in the afternoon with the guise that he was checking up to make sure Iwaizumi managed to catch the train home, to which Iwaizumi replied that he had no problems. Oikawa assured himself that the strange man followed Iwaizumi out of coincidence, and they ended the call with Iwaizumi promising he would contact again about his next visit.
He would tell Sugawara if he saw the man a third time.
No one suspicious had been about on his outing today, though when at the supermarket wandering along the chilled section, he did spot that man with the buzz cut picking up a box of eggs; as he rounded the corner with a final glimpse he couldn’t convince himself that the man was any threat.
He decided to keep the repeated encounters to himself.
Oikawa first went upstairs to drop off his shopping before going back down to relieve Semi from his post, who reported that there had been no customers. It was the fifth consecutive day in a row, a new record.
“Semi,” Oikawa called from behind the counter just as Semi was about to pull open the door. “Do you feel like something’s… brewing?”
Oikawa decided he might as well share. “I had a couple of… encounters, shall we say.”
Semi’s look sharpened. “Did you tell Sugawara?”
“Not yet. I was putting it off in case it was a coincidence. You know what they say about the third time being the charm.”
The humour was lost on Semi. “If you’re sensing it and I’m sensing it, there’s something wrong. I’ll speak to Sugawara.” After a pause, he added, “And you need to be careful when you’re outside. Especially if you happen to be with Iwaizumi.”
“What does Iwa-chan have to do with anything?”
“You get loud when you’re excited. It’ll draw people’s attention.”
Oikawa couldn’t fault him on his reasoning. “I’ll keep your advice in mind.”
“Take care of yourself, okay. Let me know if you spot anything else weird.”
Just before Semi stepped out, Oikawa said, “I like your shirt by the way, Semi.”
Semi stood frozen on the spot; unfortunately Oikawa had missed the perfect timing and couldn’t see Semi’s reaction with his back to him.
“I think I remember Kuro-chan owning one just like it, and he has an excellent taste in clothes. The size is a little too big for you, but you pull off the casual style quite well.”
Semi practically ran out.
“You said mention anything weird!” Oikawa called before the door shut.
A shift in Oikawa’s conscious took him from lying in bed in his sticky, stuffy bedroom to the chill expanse of his heart space. The abyss he experienced last time was already lit by Bokuto’s radiant presence, and with all that had been happening around him he found the warm light to be of comfort.
“I’ve come prepared, Oikawa!” Bokuto boomed, folding his wings over his puffed out chest. “Ask me anything, there’s nothing I won’t tell you!”
If Oikawa was being honest, he had forgotten all about Akaashi and Bokuto with Iwaizumi’s visits, and it took a moment for him to recall their last conversation.
Oikawa mirrored the gesture by crossing his own arms, eyeing him with doubt. “You’ve been practicing with Akaashi-chan, haven’t you?”
Bokuto’s light immediately wavered. “No? Well. Not exactly practice.” The light began to flicker with the tap of his wing. “Maybe – no!”
With a big exaggerated sigh, Oikawa said, “You’re really not doing yourself any favours, Bokkun. All I’m asking for is some honest answers as I try and figure all of this out. I promise I won’t ask questions that are too prying, and if I accidentally do you can say outright that it’s a question you can’t answer.”
Bokuto unfolded his arms, though he was still cautious. “You don’t mind if I can’t tell you?”
“Of course not! I understand there are things you can and can’t tell me. I also understand your job is extremely demanding and you have a heavy burden to bear – I bet the others don’t really understand the amount of physical and mental effort required to do your work.”
Bokuto nodded his head frantically. “It’s true! No one understands!”
With a sympathetic smile, Oikawa said, “I thought so. Don’t worry, Bokkun, I recognise and appreciate all you do for me.”
It was a cheap trick, but Oikawa wasn’t beyond using whatever he could to try and get Bokuto to open up, even if the clue he scavenged turned out to be something small.
“Then ask away, Oikawa!” Bokuto boomed again, returning to his earlier puffed-up self. “I’ll tell you as much as I can! What do you want to know?”
“You mentioned before that you were asked to keep an eye on me and reach me at soul level. Could you elaborate a little on that?”
“Oh, sure! That’s no problem. Sawamura couldn’t access your heart centre, but he couldn’t keep trying because, like I said, it takes a lot of energy and he’s a busy bird. So Sawamura asked U – uh, the one in charge – to have me keep trying!”
Sawamura trying to access his heart centre was an interesting fact, considering he had never asked permission; Oikawa kept that to himself and pressed on. “Why couldn’t Sawacchi access my soul?”
“That’s because your block was really strong – you did not want anyone coming in. Akaashi said he literally went flying with the rebound!”
Everything about what Bokuto just said didn’t match what Oikawa had been told. Not only had Sawamura not been invited, Akaashi – who Oikawa was sure he had never met (though he still questioned that notion) – had been a collaborator, and lastly Oikawa had never seen this impressive display of Sawamura ‘flying’ across the room, which meant—
“Was this when I was unconscious?”
Bokuto suddenly stilled. “Oh.”
Oikawa waved a hand at him with a light laugh. “Don’t worry, Bokkun! I said you don’t have to tell me if you can’t!”
With a sigh of relief, Bokuto gave a weak laugh. “Yeah, sorry.”
So a yes then.
After Iwaizumi had asked him questions about the mugging incident, Oikawa tried to remember more about the before and after. At that time he hadn’t considered anything suspicious about Sawamura finding him on the street, but the more he poured over it, the more he wanted to know exactly what happened during the gap. He had to admit his imagination sometimes got the better of him, but there was nothing wrong with considering all the options.
Oikawa changed his question. “Was this around the time when I started working at the shop?”
“Yeah, that’s right! I started just as you did.”
“And why is it you had to reach me at soul level?”
“Oh, that’s just—”
Oikawa startled at the jostle on his shoulders, looking up at two dark figures whose features he couldn’t see leaning over him. Ice shot through his nerves, a chill washed over his skin, and his heart stopped – and pulsed to life into overdrive.
“No time!” The larger shadow who still had a strong grip on him hauled him up by his shirt to his feet. “There’s a fire!”
At that word Oikawa’s senses kicked into gear; he inhaled and there was a noticeable odor of charred pine drifting in from the open door.
“We know Sawamura-san,” the other said, a man who spoke quietly but firmly. “Sugawara-san is trying to get a hold of him as we speak.”
“Suga-chan?” Oikawa gripped onto the familiar name to ground himself. It could be a lie! his panicking brain screeched at him, but there was a pinch of calm remaining that told him this man showed respect; he took a chance on the calm.
“But the building, I can’t leave the building—”
“The building’s fine!” the first man yelled as the second said, “We’re evacuating you as a precaution. The fire’s under control, we have people on watch, no one will enter the building, Oikawa-san.”
“How do you know my—”
“This ain’t the time for introductions!” A shove on his back sent Oikawa stumbling into the kitchen.
“Wait! I need my keys!” Oikawa weaved around the man, pushing him aside, and made a dash for the keys that lay beside his bed. He didn’t care what happened to any of his possessions, what mattered was being the only one able to access downstairs.
As soon as he was out on the stairs he saw the area lit by a faint, flickering glow resembling what he had witnessed moments before he had been awoken, except dulled in colour and energy. The tree to the right not the left, he thought, stumbling over his footing as he rushed down.
His eyes automatically went to the front door – untouched, safe – which made him relax for a fraction of a second until the three metres of glowing orange blanketed in a translucent sheet grabbed his attention, and it dawned on him that the sheet was water creating a swirling, churning fountain that restrained the fire fighting to escape.
“Oikawa-san, don’t worry!”
It came from the man standing next to the fire, face shining from both the heat of the fire and splashes of water, his hands directly on the liquid and the source of its movement; Oikawa recognised him – the man he had seen at the supermarket earlier.
“You’re too close—” Another man waiting at the bottom of the stairs calmly pulled him onto the street; Oikawa was too awestruck by the sight to argue and let himself be led. “Like Watari said, don’t worry. It’s under control.”
A heavy crack – Oikawa ducked – and a chunk of the branch broke off, smashed as it hit the ground with a billow of smouldering ashes dissolving into the night. He took a step forward – two hands of different strengths gripped his arms and reeled him back.
“I said it’s under control, the fire won’t touch the building,” the man in the suit reassured firmly, letting him go to put his hands into his trouser pockets. He stared at Oikawa expectantly for a reply.
Having temporarily lost the ability to form words, Oikawa slowly nodded; he didn’t know why, but he believed him.
The fire pushed, thrashed, struggled, but the man was right – soon after it was on its last few breaths, exhausted and going under, the surrounding area that was aglow and alive by the flames bleached out by the unrelenting automated white of the two portable lights set up on the street.
The man working the water released his hands – water crashed down to unveil a crooked pillar of charcoal.
He turned round, breathing heavily. “All clear.”
Oikawa found his voice. “How did this happen?”
“Still lookin’ into that.” Now that Oikawa wasn’t being hauled around, he could look closely at the first man – blond hair, rugged stubble, open collar, no tie, sleeves of his white shirt rolled up; he offered a hand – Oikawa realised for a handshake and took it, bones grinding together under the crushing grip. “The name’s Kamasaki, workin’ in defence.”
“And I’m Sasaya,” the man next to him said, the opposite of his partner with his formal appearance complete with a forest green jacket and tie, and his handshake casual with his other hand still in his pocket. “A few of our men are checking out the perimeter. You don’t have to worry about the neighbours finding out, our tech’s got sound, visual – basically everything contained.”
Oikawa looked around his surroundings that looked no different. “How?”
“Broadly speaking the screen we put up absorbs everything happening inside, and it’s reflecting out what people would see without the action. Our barricade at either end of the street should prevent any civilians from walking through – not likely at this hour but you never know.”
Oikawa eyed the building. “I really don’t feel comfortable about leaving the building unattended, do you mind if I—”
“Sorry I’m late everyone – it took some time for Oiwake-san to convince upstairs about letting us take the case—”
Oikawa turned to the new voice belonging to a man jogging up to them, who then caught sight of Oikawa, and brightened. “I knew it! You’re Oikawa!”
Oikawa squinted, doubting that the man he thought he was seeing really was the man who had been in his shop a few weeks ago.
It was only natural he didn’t recognise him as ‘Metal Recycling Services Sales Representative Moniwa Kaname’, because the man before him had slowed to a purposeful stride wearing a confident smile that made him appear tall and authoritative despite being shorter in height and smaller in build.
Moniwa held out a hand as he approached and Oikawa shook it (wondering what it was with all the handshaking), almost expecting a grip as firm as Kamasaki’s; it was average, bordering on weak.
“How are you? I was really hoping to come back to thank you properly about the other day!” Moniwa glanced to the wreckage with a sorry look. “Ideally under better circumstances.”
Still unable to believe the transformation, Oikawa continued to stare. “You seem very different from when I last saw you.”
Moniwa laughed. “I’m not surprised, I – actually, do you mind if my men take a look inside your shop while we do this? They won’t touch anything, just conduct some checks for intrusions, energy – we can stand by the door if you like, you can keep an eye that way. I’m hoping you’ll agree, I don’t particularly want upstairs involved to prove to you it’s a legal requirement, and I’m sure you’ll want to return to your home as soon as possible.”
Oikawa glanced at Moniwa to Sasaya, Kamasaki, the building, then returned to Moniwa. “I’ll open up.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it. Sasaya, can you come with me and take a look inside, Kamasaki, if you could keep watch out here.”
Oikawa thought he had his nerves under control, but his body betrayed his pretence, hand trembling as he made several attempts to insert the key into the lock, the end scraping off the hole each time.
“Take your time,” Sasaya said from next to him, looking out to the street. “We’ve got nowhere else to be.”
The unexpected kind word taking him by surprise was enough for him to gather his wits – or at least some that went missing. “You’re not as scary as you look, Sasayan.”
“Sasa—” Sasaya straightened up, glowering at Moniwa and his good-natured comment of “it makes you sound approachable”. “Whatever you do, don't call me that in front of Futakuchi, jeez.”
Oikawa slotted in the key, his heart racing again at what might be awaiting him inside; the light came on as usual and he glanced around – nothing seemed to be amiss.
He leant by the door to prop it open. “Feel free to look around.”
“Be careful of the drawers,” Moniwa reminded Sasaya as he ambled past.
“No need to tell me.”
Oikawa continued to watch Sasaya, who made his way along the walls and inspected the drawers without making a move to open them. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out some kind of palm-sized device and started pressing buttons.
“I met Kamasaki a few days after I went to your shop and we got talking.” Oikawa gave him a quick glance and Moniwa said, “Don’t feel compelled to look at me for the sake of politeness, I know you want to see what Sasaya’s doing.”
With that reassurance, Oikawa gave a final look to Sasaya slowly making his way around the walls then turned to Moniwa. “It’s fine. You were saying?”
“So Kamasaki – he saw the badge I had on my bag – you remember the one from the drawer? It sounds childish, but I felt inspired by it and put it on my bag as encouragement. As it turns out the badge was one of the older designs used for his department – oh, hold on, sorry, let me give you this first before I forget.”
Moniwa reached into his pocket to pull out a shining new business card case, and from it a paper-thin sheet of metal; his last name was engraved in block letters in the bottom left corner, and on the reverse two letter Ds mirrored, separated, and umbrellaed by a larger, thicker T.
“Date Technology and Defence. We’re more affectionately known as the Iron Wall.”
Oikawa blinked at Moniwa’s attachment of the word ‘affectionate’ to ‘iron wall’.
“It’s similar to border patrol, except the borders are between Earth and the universe. Actually, it’s not so much a patrol nowadays, but a barricade. No entry, no escape.”
He had never heard of such an organisation, either publically or through Sawamura. “Is it like what they show in films? Dealing with aliens, protecting the Earth?”
Moniwa looked up in thought, half nodding his head. “I suppose it’s not far off from the truth, though we’re blander than any of the flash bang on the big screen – we prefer to be discreet and forgettable. I’m afraid I can’t go into any more detail than that.”
Something about Moniwa made Oikawa think that he wouldn’t crack like Bokuto; he probably wouldn’t crack for anything.
“I’m still trying to get my head around the fact you’re the same person as the one who came into my shop,” Oikawa admitted.
Moniwa smiled sheepishly. “I suppose I have changed since we last saw each other – anyone would after an intensive five-year training regime.”
“And you managed to complete it in a few weeks?!” Oikawa thought Moniwa must be some kind of superhuman, or… alien?
“No, no, no, they have a special training ground – no time, no aging, though you do have to pay a price to go through it – most people don’t want to make the trade. I’m sure it’s easy for you to imagine something like that existing, knowing about all the fantastic things out there.”
“I… guess so.” Oikawa hesitated, then slowly asked, “What kind of price?”
“Oh, you know,” Moniwa shrugged lightly, “just your soul.”
He shifted; light hit his face at an angle that sparked a hardened glint in his eyes, a shadow twisted into his smile, like he had endured things Oikawa couldn’t begin to fathom and any sane person would be running at the prospect, yet he had signed himself up, persevered, pulled through and most frighteningly – enjoyed the whole experience.
The idea of using his soul as payment no longer sounded so ludicrous.
“Would you like to join our team? We’re always looking for new recruits.”
Despite the heat Oikawa shivered and shook his head firmly. “No, Moni-chan. I think I’ll pass.”
Another shift in his stance and Moniwa returned to his gentler himself. “I’m sorry then, I can’t tell you – it’s top secret. You can always contact me if you change your mind, you have my card.”
Oikawa flipped the card between his fingers. “There’s no number.”
“You don’t need a number for this one, it can teleport you directly to our customer centre, though it only works once. It’s why Kamasaki and Sasaya arrived on scene so early, only theirs worked in reverse with Kunimi and Watari holding onto the cards.”
“How does that—”
“Still top secret,” Moniwa said, looking slightly devious. “I would never have guessed you were working with Sawamura though, you don’t know how shocked I was when they gave me the rundown of this shop. I’m glad they approved us working with you, it’ll make for smoother communication—”
“Futakuchi, stop playin’ around and getcha ass into gear!”
“Kamasaki-san, keep pushing, pushing, pushing and you’ll push away anyone crazy enough to want to be with you, and you’ll die all alone—”
“You wanna say that again, you little—”
Moniwa clicked his tongue. “I wish communication between those two would be smoother.” He looked around. “Where’s Aone? Aone! Aone! Is he out being the barrica – oh, there you are.”
A massive guy appeared from around the corner of the building, uniform pristine and every button done up, coming to a stop before them; his sharp-eyed glare turned to Oikawa and then to Moniwa.
“Where were – oh, you were round the back? ...No, it’s a good idea to check, you never know what you might find—”
Oikawa looked between Aone and Moniwa and confirmed that yes, Moniwa was having a one-sided conversation as Aone stood nodding or shaking his head. Was he using some kind of telepathy?
Moniwa put his hands on his hips. “I’m sorry to have to keep asking you, but could you sort those two out again, please.”
Aone gave a curt nod and marched off.
“Is he an alien?” Oikawa asked, dumbfounded by the man’s appearance.
“What – Aone?! No, no, Earth’s defence forces are all human. I know he looks intimidating, but he’s harmless – just like a giant rabbit—”
Pushing aside Moniwa’s questionable character analysis, Oikawa watched Aone push Kamasaki and the one taunting him named Futakuchi apart, coming to stand between them.
He could certainly see why he would be called an iron wall.
But what did that make Moniwa who was ordering him and everyone else…?
Oikawa turned to the sound of his name and found Semi running up to him.
“Are you all right? Some guy named Kunimi called and I got out of work as soon as I could.” Semi turned to the sight of the tree. “What happened here?”
Oikawa remembered the blaze, swallowed and pulled himself together.
“Yes, no harm done except to that tree over there.”
“We’re still investigating the cause,” Moniwa took over, holding out his hand; Oikawa realised just then that he was doing what Sugawara did with his handshakes – reading emotional layers for additional information. “Moniwa Kaname, Date Tech, I’m leading this case. I hear you already met Kamasaki and Sasaya.”
“Yeah” – Semi took his hand – “yeah, that’s right. Any theories?”
“One or two in their early stages.”
Semi nodded. Oikawa looked between them, trying to understand the unspoken conversation and grasping nothing.
“Hey,” Semi said suddenly, “I recognise that guy with the black hair, who’s he—”
“Oh, that’ll be Kunimi, the one who contacted you,” Moniwa said. “He and Watari moved into two of the rooms next door – about a month ago I should think.”
Oikawa looked in the direction Moniwa pointed at and indeed there was a three storey apartment on the side of the stairs, the outside layout similar to his own with a wall of taller bushes and pine trees in the corners; he always looked around from the top of the stairs, looked out of the window above the sink facing the apartment while doing the washing up, so he wondered why he had never noticed it before.
“Sawamura bought the building at the same time as he retained this one, Hanamaki and Matsukawa did their usual work to it.” Moniwa looked around and waved when he spotted who he was looking for. “Kunimi? Watari? Would you mind coming over for a moment?”
The two men – neighbours now, Oikawa supposed – looked up.
“Were you able to get in touch with either Hanamaki or Matsukawa?” Moniwa asked as they walked up.
“Matsukawa-san warned us about the fire,” Kunimi said, “but he disconnected immediately.”
Moniwa’s sigh was drawn out. “I’ll get our people to look into it,” he said briskly, “the more hands the bett – ah, here comes Sawamura.”
It was the first time Oikawa saw Sawamura dishevelled, the trace of panic obvious in his eyes, enough to almost make Oikawa believe he was human.
“Suga contacted me – Oikawa are you—”
Oikawa waved a hand, “Yes, yes, I’m fine, unharmed and in one piece.”
Sawamura’s face clouded over and then he turned to Moniwa. “Do you have any leads?”
Moniwa shook his head. “Nothing substantial yet—”
“Nothing this end,” Sasaya interrupted, pocketing his device as he joined the group. “Whoever did this, they targeted the tree and the tree alone.”
“That may have been their aim for tonight, but with it gone…” Moniwa looked aside in thought. “Sasaya, can you pull up Hanamaki and Matsukawa’s location.”
Sasaya pulled a face like he didn’t want to get involved. “Double act? No one’s been able to contact them since – well, for years.”
“Even our communication’s one sided, and we’re on the same team,” Watari agreed, his expression troubled.
With a resigned shrug, Sasaya added, “Completely off the radar.”
Moniwa shot him a sharp look. “We’re Date Tech and we don’t have the technology to track down a pair of clowns? I hear they keep having the last laugh – I think it’s about time we cracked a few jokes of our own. Besides, I haven’t introduced myself yet.”
Sasaya snorted. “True – on it right away then, boss.” He cracked his neck and strode off, calling, “Futakuchi! Sounds to me like you’re volunteering for some overtime, you can come with me!”
Moniwa turned to Watari. “Could you and Kunimi talk me through the mechanics of your screening system?”
“Um, sure, though it’s not so – how can I put it – mechanised. If you want to come this way…”
Oikawa was left with Semi and Sawamura, watching everyone else dotted around going about their tasks.
“I’m sorry, Oikawa,” Sawamura broke the silence. “I should have seen this coming.”
Although Oikawa had felt like Sawamura had betrayed him when talking with Bokuto, seeing him in person – and it had been a good few months since they last spoke face to face – he couldn’t stop himself from believing that everything Sawamura did was because he only had the best of intentions.
“Sawacchi. Give me an honest answer – was this an accident?”
“No,” he said, his answer immediate. “This building is targeted… and you might be, too.”
Oikawa chewed on his lip; he respected Sawamura, he really did. Perhaps it was naïve of him to believe Sawamura and his directness, but he decided that for now he would keep what he had found out from Bokuto to himself.
“I won’t leave the building,” Oikawa said, gripping his keys. “It’s my job to live here and work, and there’s nothing you can say to stop me from doing otherwise.”
“I thought you might say that, but I can’t guarantee your safety—”
“I can help,” Semi cut in. “Whether it’s coming in more, safeguarding the area – I’ll do it.”
Sawamura seemed surprised and eyed him carefully. “Let me think about that then. Sorry, I need to speak with Moniwa again—”
Sawamura walked off, leaving Oikawa to close the door as Semi surveyed the area from beside him, both of them in silence. At the click of the lock, Oikawa glanced aside at Semi and said, “Do you remember the conversation we had earlier?”
Semi shifted, took a moment’s pause by drawing a deep breath and releasing it slowly, then returned the glance. “About my shirt?”
Oikawa barked a laugh, and he felt his doubt, distrust, unease and uncertainty being dispelled in that single breath. “I think you mean Kuro-chan’s shirt,” he corrected. “The world just could not handle you looking that good, Semi, you threw it off balance.”
With an amused huff, Semi said, “Better stick to looking like a fashion disaster then.”
Oikawa turned to view the newly blackened beam that stood as a signal attracting danger. But then he cast his eyes across the scene – Sawamura and Moniwa having a talk with his neighbours, the four from the defence force on the street having a serious discussion – and the reassuring presence of Semi beside him, and strangely, he wasn’t so afraid.
“The damage is done now. May as well continue in style.”
I don't usually do long notes between chapters, but as this chapter marks the beginning of the second half of the fic (and the word 'half' here is used very loosely), I thought it would be a good time to mention a few words.
First off, a huge thank you to everyone who's been following this story so far. I was afraid that it was too 'out there' for anyone to find enjoyable, although I put it up in case anyone did find it enjoyable. I've been receiving a lot of encouragement and I can comfortably say that I'm on my way towards finishing this story...
...However, I'm going to be busier over the next few weeks so it's likely updates will slow down. This may be taken as bad or good news depending on whether you're eager to know what happens next or your inbox/feed has been taking one too many hits (sorry if it's the latter).
Also, although I don't tend to mention it (I'm always afraid I'll sound pushy or like I'm fishing so I hope you won't take it that way), I do appreciate any thoughts/comments/speculations/ramblings/questions - basically anything related to this story (or not!) If you do have the time and feel so inclined, please drop a comment here, or over at my tumblr or twitter :3 (of course if commenting's not your thing you still get equal amounts of appreciation from me just for reading♡)
On that note, I will leave you with this final chapter-related shout-out:
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LONG I HAVE BEEN WANTING TO SHARE THIS CHAPTER (hint: since Moniwa last made an appearance.)