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Four of Us

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"So this is Miyagi?" Pedro looked out the car window, eyes at half-mast and earphones half-hidden inside his ear. His music was turned down low—had to be, or his mother would nag him about how earbuds encouraged bacterial growth and facilitated sensorineural hearing loss and that having a Cochlear implant would get in the way of his budding sporting career.

Not that Pedro was really interested in any sport outside of manga. Nothing had ever captured his interest. Right now, his mother had him signed up for tennis back in Rio, but he didn't think he would make it very far before begging his father to please reason with her and remove him from the roster.

"That's right," his father replied from the front seat, smiling widely. The taxi driver had been very impressed by his Japanese, and Pedro's bespectacled sire was still basking in his praise. Personally, Pedro didn't really see why—his father had been adopted and raised by a Japanese couple and had grown up in Sendai, meaning his Japanese was practically perfect down to the local slang. In fact, it was Pedro's grandparent's house that they were currently being driven to right now, the taxi driver humming a jaunty tune as he turned a corner. "What do you think, son?" His Portuguese was perfect, too. Pedro had grown up speaking it, and could safely say he did not know a lick of the oriental language (swear words didn't count) that his father sometimes slipped into when he lost his temper or got frightened.

"It's... nice," Pedro offered lamely, quite disinterested with the scenery. Rio was more vibrant—wild, and exciting, and alive. Sendai in November was probably the driest, most boring thing he had ever laid eyes on—nothing like the beautiful, snowy scenery he had envisioned during the plane flight. If I breathe in hard enough, maybe I'll get a nosebleed and bleed to death. He took a long, hard sniff. The insides of his nostrils felt like they were about to crack, but no blood came dripping out. Shame.

His mother was typing away on her Somy phone—probably making a list of all tasks she had to do once she got home from their family-visit in Japan. She ran a profitable makeup company back in Brazil, while her husband was an accountant. Needless to say, his family was pretty loaded, and Pedro knew that his lifestyle was bricked by a foundation of privilege. It was how his mother got away signing him up for various sports willy-nilly—the cost of professional training didn't even make the slightest dent in their family bank account.

He didn't know when she had come up with the idea of wanting her only son to pursue sports when his interests lay elsewhere—namely in books and cartoons. Sure, there wasn't much he could make out of those things, but it was still something. Something that his mother was quite adamant in ignoring, even if he purchased stacks of stacks of manga with any one of her credit cards.

Pedro turned his gaze out the window, watching the city pass by him in a blur of dull colors and grey sunshine.

Sports, he thought to himself as his father made conversation with the driver in his perfect Japanese, What a waste of time...

When they arrived, Pedro stood to the side with his mother as the driver and his father removed all the unnecessary luggage they had brought along from the boot, composing a message on his own Somy phone that he would later send to his cousin, Felipe, who was anticipating a text once Pedro got a hold of the wifi and some warm blankets. He knew from his reading that his grandparents probably slept in futons.

His grandparents welcomed him with open arms, pulling him inside and chattering to him in a language he didn't understand. For the first time, Pedro felt truly displaced, even when his mother blinked confusedly at what Pedro could infer was his grandmother asking her for a hug. He nodded stiffly and awkwardly as he was ushered to the kitchen and seated at the dinner table.

Pedro's grandmother had prepared a feast for them, and a slew of questions to follow.

As Pedro had expected, his father acted as the translator.

"Grandma's asking how school's going," his father told him, his adopted mother beaming genially at Pedro.

"Oh." Pedro lifted his gaze from his miso soup. He wasn't really fond of the taste of it, but figured it was only polite to finish all of his food. "Yeah, it's great. I have tons of friends." Not really—Felipe was family, so he didn't count, while Eliza only hung out with them so she could make goo-goo eyes at Pedro's obnoxiously handsome cousin.

"What about your studies?"

"Great."

"Pedrinho," his mother admonished.

"What do you want me to say?"

"Tell your grandma how good at math you are, son," his father insisted, giving him an encouraging smile.

"I hate math."

His mother gave him a disapproving glance, but he merely ducked his head and started eating his rice.

Japan really wasn't what he had expected. It was gloomy, cold, and made the fleshy insides of his nose feel like an arctic desert. He couldn't properly communicate with his grandparents, his mother was being his mother, and his father was too enthusiastic about his return to Japan to pay any attention to his son's growing misery.

Pedro didn't think he was the dramatic type, but he was beginning to feel sick of the place, and didn't see the point in trying to keep a front up. Why should I, when my own grandparents can't even speak to me? At least his mother's grandparents weren't out of touch and out of reach.

He finished his food quickly. "May I be excused?"

"Well, alright, son," his father replied, looking bemused. As if he couldn't comprehend why Pedro wanted to spend the rest of his night in the guest room (he'd been right—his grandparents owned futons, not beds) with the family fat cat, Momo, who would only be there because she liked curling up in his mother's futon, which was the closest to the heater.

Pedro sighed, running a hand through his messy black hair as he removed his phone from his pocket and finished that message for Felipe. He sent it off, feeling lonelier than ever when there was no immediate response. It was only natural, of course, but it only served to remind him how far away he was from the one person who he actually cared about.

Japan was twelve hours ahead of Brazil. While it was evening here, it would be morning there. Felipe was probably at school—Pedro's family had jetted off during the final month of elementary, leaving his cheeky cousin to fend of Eliza's advances by himself.

"... I need a shower."

"Meow," agreed Momo, mouth stretching wide open in a loose, languid yawn.


Mrrph. What the hell? What's this cold thing...? Iwaizumi slowly cracked his eyes open, blinking sleep away to investigate the fleshy thing that was shoved against the side of his face. It wasn't long before he figured out that it was Oikawa's foot dangling off her bed and pressed against his cheek. Even in sleep, she somehow found a way to invade his personal space. Typical.

"Oi, idiot," he grumbled out. It was way too early in the morning. "Get your foot out of my face."

He heard her stir on her bed.

After last night's Friday movie marathon (a series of alien and kaiju movies; the latter was his influence), Oikawa's mother, a pretty black-haired woman named Himari, had brought out a futon just for him and laid it next to Oikawa's bed.

"I know you're awake, dammit!"

The first thing he saw was long fluffy brown hair, mussed from sleep, then Oikawa's brown eyes gleaming mischievously as she sat up. "Good morning, Iwa-chan!"

To his annoyance, she kept her foot on his face. "I'm gonna bite you."

"Ew!" Oikawa recoiled, nose scrunching up. "Why are you always so gross?"

"I'm about as gross as you are obnoxious."

"You play with bugs."

"So do you."

Oikawa gave him a mortified look. "That was one time! Earthworms are fine because they don't fly! They're actually a little cute!"

He smirked. "So should I tell everyone in class that you like worms?"

All the girls would think she was gross, while all the boys would simultaneously lose their crushes on her. Personally, Iwaizumi didn't see why they liked her so much anyway—she was annoying, childish, and immature.

"Iwa-chaaaaan! You wouldn't!"

"I will if you don't stop yelling. What time is it even?"

She reached over to the low shelf on her wall and picked up the clock, squinting. Iwaizumi thought that she would probably need to get glasses soon. "It's seven. Okaa-san should be awake by now. Maybe she made bacon!"

"Ugh. I feel like I barely slept," groaned Iwaizumi, throwing his pillow on his face to block out the sunlight streaming in when Oikawa lifted the blinds to reveal the window above her headboard.

"Iwa-chan is always so grumpy," Oikawa mused, giving him an impish grin as she pulled him out of the futon. To her delight, he allowed her to do so, using his free arm to push himself up from the floor. "Phew! Your breath stinks!" she said accusingly when he nearly planted his forehead into her nose.

"So does yours!" he retorted, flushing. "It's called morning breath, dumbass."

"Oi, my breath doesn't stink! You're the stinky-breath bastard!"

"At least I don't think earthworms are cute, shitty brat!"

"That was cheap!"

They shoved each other aside as they raced for the bathroom on the opposite end of the upstairs hallway, Oikawa crowing in triumph when she got the honor of slamming the door in his face. He could hear her giggling as she took her time brushing her teeth and running the taps until the hot water came into effect.

"Are you standing outside?" she asked after the squeak of taps turning off. "Go away, I'm about to pee."

"Geez, at least lie about it. Gross girl."

"Your breath smells like poop, Iwa-chan!"

Iwaizumi kicked the door, making Oikawa yelp.

"You almost made me fall into the toilet!"

"Serves you right! Also, hurry up, I'm busting!"

After they had freshened up, it was downstairs for breakfast. Himari raised an eyebrow as the two children came rushing down the stairs, both of them still wearing their pyjamas. Oikawa's was a baby blue with an alien pattern, while Iwaizumi's was navy blue with a dinosaur print. It was the closest thing to Gojira at the store, he had said to her once. "Good morning, you two," she said, sounding amused. "Do you want to hear a fun fact?"

Oikawa almost hit her head on the top of the fridge while getting out orange juice. "What is it, okaa-san?"

"Hallways are not made for racing, and doors are not made for kicking."

Iwaizumi almost choked on his spit, ducking his head in shame. "Sorry."

"I'm sorry for kicking the door," Oikawa apologized, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. Iwaizumi sent her a surprised look, one that Himari thankfully missed. Then his face softened in gratitude.

Himari flicked her daughter's forehead, huffing. "You'd better not, kiddo. Iwaizumi-kun, you want your eggs sunny-side up as usual, yes?"

"Yes. Thank you very much!"

Breakfast would have been a quiet affair had Oikawa not been there. She was fond of conversation, and talked Iwaizumi's ear off about school, aliens, and whatnot. It was worth it, though—Iwaizumi liked seeing the way her eyes lit up as she talked about the things she loved, and how she beamed when she got to especially exciting topics like volleyball (and aliens).

It was Saturday today, but Oikawa was an early riser, and was barely affected. On the other hand, Iwaizumi was bit slower at getting the fuzz of sleep out of his brain, but was mostly okay by the time breakfast was over.

The last one in the house to wake was Oikawa Hotaru, her belly round with pregnancy and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "Morning, everyone," she mumbled a greeting as Himari scooped some eggs and bacon onto a plate for her eldest child.

"Good morning, dear." Hotaru received a kiss on the forehead from her mother.

"Good morning, Hotaru-nee-san," Iwaizumi added politely.

"Hi, nee-chan!"

"Hajime-kun, you're still here." Hotaru didn't sound surprised or nonplussed. She gave him a warm smile, one that made heat rise to his cheeks. "How was movie night? Tooru-chan didn't scratch you up too bad, did she?"

Oikawa huffed. "What's that supposed to mean, nee-chan?"

Iwaizumi chuckled. "Only when I tried to change the disc before the after-credits scene," he said, talking to Hotaru.

"Traitor!" Oikawa shoved her nose in the air, palming Iwaizumi's back and pushing him toward her sister. "Here, you take him. Obviously, he prefers you. Hmph." She pouted, and Iwaizumi rolled his eyes, poking her cheek.

"Don't be silly, Tooru."

Above their heads, Himari and Hotaru exchanged a knowing glance without the kids seeing.

"I don't wanna talk to Iwa-chan, he betrayed me. I'll only forgive him if he bows to me and kisses my shoes."

"As if!"

"Don't you two have volleyball practice today?" voiced Hotaru, one hand on her belly as she drank a glass of warm water. "Look at you guys—still in your pyjamas, haha."

"Cancelled," Oikawa told her. "Me and Iwa-chan are gonna go look for evidence instead."

Apparently, Oikawa had forgiven him already without him needing to grovel at her feet. Iwaizumi tossed her a sideways glance. "When did we decide this?"

"I decided this for us just then."

Iwaizumi snorted.

"Evidence?" Himari blinked confusedly. "Evidence for what?"

It was then Oikawa dropped her voice into a whisper, as if what she were about to say next was incredibly sensitive and top-secret. "For cryptids."

"Oh boy," sighed Iwaizumi. "Ever since you saw that Bigfoot movie, you haven't been the same. I am not collecting poo for you this time, just saying."

"And I'd better not be the one throwing it out after finding it in a sandwich bag at the back of the freezer," Himari added sternly, hands on her hips.

A nervous laughter streamed out of Oikawa's lips. "I-I don't know what you mean. Anyway, let's go change!" She yanked on Iwaizumi's sleeve. "Come on, Iwa-chan!"


Oikawa's cheeks were puffed out in a miserable pout as she and Iwaizumi crossed the road, bags of groceries hanging on her right arm as she and Iwaizumi crossed the road. I can't believe okaa-san would betray me like this! Hrrnngh!

"Oi." Iwaizumi gave her a side glare. "Whatever you're thinking, it's probably not a good idea."

"I can't believe okaa-san is a traitor, too!" she exclaimed, nearly swinging her bag into Iwaizumi's.

"Careful, there're eggs in there, Shittykawa!" Iwaizumi gruffed. "Look, the only reason why your mom sent us out for groceries is because she doesn't want you bring back poop into the house."

"Well, now I just don't wanna go back home." Besides, it's a Saturday! But practice is cancelled, so... where do we go?

"Your mom will get mad," her best friend pointed out.

"I don't care!"

"You will when she takes away all of your games and movies."

Oikawa gave him an affronted look. "You're supposed to be on my side, Iwa-chan!"

"Ugh, you." Iwaizumi grabbed her hand. "Fine. We can go to the shops if you just stop talking. Come."

Her expression was decidedly smug. "I knew you'd see reason."

"What did I just say about talking?"

"You don't remember? Geez, Iwa-chan's memory is really bad," she teased.

"Shuddup."

Their gloved hands remained together as he took her through the Satuday crowds of family visitors, the mall automatic doors opening smoothly for them. Inside was warm, and Iwaizumi undid his scarf and let it hang around his shoulders.

Oikawa left her scarf on, still feeling the chill from outside. Izumi Daiei wasn't the biggest mall around, but it was where she and her friends normally frequented after school and volleyball practice due to its close proximity to their residential area.

"Can we get ramen later?" she asked Iwaizumi.

"You're implying that we're going to be staying here until lunch and possibly past that," he deadpanned.

"Hehe." She stuck out her tongue. "So what if I am?"

"You're gonna regret your rebel phase when you get home. I won't be surprised if your mom spanks you like a little kid."

Oikawa looked around. "Can we get a trolley?"

"Did you hear anything I just said?" he barked after her as she trounced off to liberate her sore arm from all of the grocery bags.

Once they had acquired a shopping cart, they proceeded to fill it with their grocery bags.

"You complain a lot for someone who only carried two bags," Iwaizumi remarked as he put his four bags into the cart, cocking an eyebrow at her mock-innocent expression. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, but the rest of her face was slowly catching up in terms of color as the mall warmth surrounded them.

As Iwaizumi pulled his scarf off his shoulders and shoved it into his backpack, which was sitting on the trolley handle, Oikawa sneaked a glance at him beneath her lashes, pretending to occupy herself by taking off her gloves.

Iwa-chan is handsome.

Oikawa blinked at the intrusive thought. She shook her head, shooing away the thought. She and Iwaizumi were best friends—not that—and she was pretty sure he looked more alive when staring at bugs and Gojira than girls. Besides, she thought with a smile, Once I get to middle school, I'm sure that there'll be plenty of guys to choose from if I want a boyfriend. Volleyball would always take precedence for her, and she knew that. But a caring boyfriend was always a nice thing to have.

"Your face looks stupid." Iwaizumi's voice snapped her out of her daydream. "Are you thinking about Matsumoto Jun again? Because he'll never even know you exist."

"How rude, Iwa-chan!" she spluttered, blushing. "And even if I am, it's none of your business!"

"Yeah, yeah." He pushed the trolley along, and Oikawa couldn't help but nearly burst into giggles at the sight of him—a twelve-year-old boy looking like he was out shopping to feed his family like a salary man. He noticed her amusement. "What?"

"Nothing~ Just that Iwa-chan looks like a responsible grown-up, and not really in a good way."

His leg shot out to kick her feet from under her, but she dodged, pulling a face at him tauntingly. "Nyaah! Iwa-chan's so clumsy, he can't even catch one girl! No wonder he doesn't have a girlfriend~!"

"I cannot believe that this is the girl most guys in our class crush on. If only they knew how immature you really are," he snarked back. "And for the record, you don't have a boyfriend, so you can't talk."

"Please. It's from freedom of choice, not from lack of options."

He kicked out again, and she laughed, nearly tripping over herself trying to avoid his shoe. But she caught her balance in the end, her hand landing on Iwaizumi's shoulder as she tried to steady herself.

"For real, though," she said before Iwaizumi could try to nail her shin once more. "I do know a couple of girls who like you."

"Really?" He raised an eyebrow. "Who?"

"I'll tell you if you buy me ramen."

"Not a chance. I don't even like anyone in our class anyway."

"Ah." Oikawa threw her hair over her shoulder. "I forgot, you're only interested in insects."

"The girls in our class are annoying, more like."

"Oi! What about me?"

"Are you a girl?"

"Uh, yeah?"

"Then there you go."

"Iwa-chan! So mean!" A mock-tear gathered at the corner of her eye as she folded her arms, pouting. "You really show no mercy to my heart, do you?"

Iwaizumi's eyebrows rose. "I'm still not gonna buy you ramen, you know."

"Dammit!"

In the end, they found themselves at the ice rink connected to the mall, somehow, watching from the bleachers as skaters of all different levels glided across the ice. There was no lesson today, just kids and their parents having fun on a Saturday. They had brought their grocery bags with them, their trolley sitting outside. Hopefully, no one would take it, but even so, it wouldn't be a devastating loss.

"Y'know, Yui-chan told me that she takes lessons on Saturday mornings," Oikawa commented. "There must be lessons today, and not just free skating."

Iwaizumi made a noncommittal noise. He did not know who Yui was, but that didn't matter.

Half an hour later, free skating time was wrapping up, and Iwaizumi's bladder was about to burst.

"Toilet," he simply said as he stood.

"'Kay."

Iwaizumi had finished his business, washed his hands, and was heading out when he bumped into another boy who shared similarly tanned skin. His dark hair was spiked up in a way that reminded him of french fries in a WacDonald's packet.

They stared at one another.

"Hi?" Iwaizumi tried. "Do you need something?"

The boy said nothing, looking as if he were concentrating extremely hard. Then he sighed, pulled out his phone, and opened a translator of all things. He began to type, and then showed Iwaizumi the product of his efforts.

Do you know where black hair man glasses and green shirt are? the translation read.

Ah, he was a foreigner? "... You want to buy some clothes?" Iwaizumi tilted his head, a little confused.

The boy hesitated, then nodded, and Iwaizumi knew that he probably had no idea what he had just said.

"Right. Uh, come with me. I'll ask my friend to tag along, is that okay?"

The boy blinked, then nodded again.

The boy tailed after him like a shadow, and Oikawa was suitably surprised when he got back.

"What took you so long? Were you doing a poo? And who's that?"

"Foreigner," was all Iwaizumi said before Oikawa clued in.

"Oh, I see. Can't speak Japanese, huh? What does he want?"

"Hell if I know, but I think he wants to go shopping."

"Shopping?" Oikawa raised her brows. "Are you sure about that, Iwa-chan? Have you tried using your brain a little harder?"

Iwaizumi glared at her before turning to the foreign boy. "Hey, can you...?" He pointed at her phone, then at Oikawa, hoping the kid would get the message.

Thankfully, he did, and repeated the translation to Oikawa, whose brows knitted in concentration.

"Black hair man glasses and green shirt?" she echoed. What are 'man glasses'? "Uh, okay. Just take him to the nearest store, Iwa-chan."

"Excuse me? You're just gonna leave me to babysit him while you sit your lazy ass here and enjoy yourself?" Iwaizumi turned to the boy. "No offence," he added, even though he knew he couldn't understand him.

The foreign boy merely tilted his head, bemused.

"Mhm," Oikawa said absently, not even bothering to deny of any of that. She was facing forward, watching a black-haired boy around their age speak with the instructor as they skated together.

"You're incorrigible." With that, Iwaizumi turned around the walked off with the foreign boy in tow.

Sorry, Iwa-chan, Oikawa apologized silently, eyes gleaming in anticipation. But you didn't see the way he jumped before. She had a vision then, of a future she wanted to see—her, playing on Japan's national women's team, envious of the libero's blue uniform but not minding the red. Iwaizumi would be in the next stadium over, playing for the men's team, and they'd meet up every so often and exchange high-fives and words of encouragement littered in between banter. All while this boy—this short, black-haired boy with a scrawny frame and a haircut that looked like his mom had done it with her eyes closed—skated across the ice during his Olympics.

Watching him exhilarated her—the way he moved, the way he jumped and twirled. He was quite possibly a genius, and Oikawa was certain that she and him were birds of a feather. And Iwaizumi, too, of course. Three geniuses—three tens in a world of fives.

She wondered what his name was, or if she'd ever see him again after this.

But for now, Oikawa merely watched his impromptu, unwitting performance.


Pedro had never thought that his luck was shit until today, when his father disappeared off into the crowd without him. He had wandered around for twenty minutes before finding himself at the ice rink toilets in front of a boy who could have passed as his twin if he were Brazillian and had more gravity-defying hair.

At first, he wanted to ask him if he had seen his dad, but that sounded too childish. Why he cared of this stranger's opinion, he did not know. Maybe it was something to do with the boy being his age.

So he had asked, Have you seen a black-haired man with glasses and a green shirt?

He had no idea what it had come out as, but judging from the boy's confusion, it probably missed its intended mark.

"Screw this," he muttered under his breath as he walked beside the boy, hunching forward ever so slightly. He had even taken out his earbuds for this.

They walked until they arrived at a small clothing store, the boy giving him an apprehensive look. There was no sign of his father inside.

Pedro deadpanned at him. "No," he said. "No, that is not correct."

The boy gave a frustrated huff.

"Look, I'm sorry, but—"

The stranger pointed to himself. "Iwaizumi." At Pedro's puzzled look, he drew the word out, "I-wai-zu-mi."

Is that is name? Returning the gesture by thumbing his chest, he replied, "Pedro."

What Iwaizumi said next was gibberish to Pedro's ears, so he whipped out his phone and translator. He typed in, his shame disappearing, Have you seen my father? His name is Masahiro. Or Ronaldo. He responds to both.

At first, Iwaizumi stared blankly at the written translation. Then he beckoned Pedro to follow him.

The spiky-haired boy seemed more confident this time, which both relieved and unnerved Pedro. Relieved that he would possibly be reuniting his father soon, and unnerved at how Iwaizumi seemed to know where exactly to find him. Was the boy afflicted with some sort of ESP? Pedro had read a manga about that once.

To his surprise, Iwaizumi brought him to an information desk, speaking in rapid Japanese to the smartly-dressed woman at the counter. She shot Pedro a look of concern that he didn't like, said something to her colleague, and then spoke into her microphone.

There was a metallic whine that made both Pedro and Iwaizumi wince before the woman's voice blasted throughout the shopping mall. By the sound of it, she was repeating a phrase, but Pedro couldn't tell what it was.

Iwaizumi said something that sounded remarkably different from Japanese, and it took him a second to realize that this was the boy's poor attempt at English.

Pedro wasn't an expert himself, but he was definitely better than Iwaizumi.

"Father," Iwaizumi was saying, stumbling over himself. "Here."

"Yeah," replied Pedro, also in English. "Okay. He's coming? Here?"

"... Yes? Yes."

An awkward silence fell between them, the woman at the information desk giving them sympathetic looks.

Finally, Pedro was rescued from the cumbersome situation when his father seemingly appeared out of nowhere, looking out of breath and jogging toward where they were standing.

"Pedrinho!" his father exclaimed. "Thank God you're okay!" He drew his only son into a hug, Pedro muttering something under his breath as he was pressed against his father's sweater, which smelled like mothballs. His grandma had given it to him; it was a jumper from his college days that had probably not seen sunlight for decades until now. Then his efficiently bilingual father turned to Iwaizumi and the desk lady, profusely thanking the both of them. Pedro could see the way their eyes widened, could see how surprised they were at this tall, over six-foot tall bespectacled Brazilian man speaking Japanese like he had lived here all his life.

Plot twist, Pedro thought dryly. He practically has.

Wanting to get away from the drama, Pedro grabbed his father's arm and all but pulled him away, the man giving Iwaizumi a backwards wave.

"I can't believe you got lost," his father said as they went to the car.

"Yeah, me neither. I thought only little kids got lost, but apparently not."

He got an amused look. "Pedrinho, you are a child."

"Hmph. Whatever. I'm tired. We're going home right?"

"Yes, yes..."

"Good. Because I'll need energy for tomorrow."

"Huh?" His father gave him a glance. "What do you mean?"

"Before I met Iwaizumi," the name rolled off Pedro's tongue in a clunky manner, but he didn't care, "I saw a boy skating. It was... magnificent. I want to see it again." Iwaizumi's friend was watching him, too. She didn't want to leave either.

It was like the boy had cast a spell on them. Had cast a spell on anyone who bothered to watch him for more than a second.


"I still can't believe you left me alone," Iwaizumi said as he and Oikawa walked home, sounding genuinely aggravated. It was early afternoon.

"I'm sorry, okay?" Oikawa replied, sounding apologetic as well as exasperated.

"Are you really?"

"Well—"

"I knew it." He quickened his pace, leaving her behind.

"Iwa-chan, wait!" Oikawa caught up him, sounding more remorseful this time. In fact, her eyes were starting to get glossy. "... I really am sorry, you know."

His face softened ever so slightly, but he didn't reply.

"I saw a vision of us," she continued. "We were winners, like we're meant to be. And... I saw ourselves in a boy down at the rink. I saw ourselves with him, Iwa-chan, standing shoulder-to-shoulder."

"It was just a daydream," Iwaizumi claimed roughly. "It's not reality."

"No, but it could be. You should have seen the way he skated... it was like he was born to do it."

He gave her a look. "People aren't born great."

"Really?" Oikawa smirked. "But look at me."

"Shut up. I'm still mad. Do you realize how awkward it was? I thought he spoke English, but apparently not! He spoke a language I couldn't even recognize!"

Oikawa laughed despite herself. "Really? How did you even speak?"

"Through his phone, but the translations were barely legible! Stop laughing, Shittykawa!" He smacked her shoulder and she whined, clutching it.

"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I'm sorry I left you behind with that guy." Oikawa sighed as she fell into his side, wrapping her arms around him. "There. Do you feel better now?"

"I feel worse. You're heavy."

"Ack! Don't say that to a girl!"

Even as he sneered and she pouted, Oikawa could see him beginning to melt. She was glad. Maybe she had done him wrong, but she appreciated his forgiveness all the same. It made her want to lean into him even more and hug him as tight as possible.

But she didn't.

"Hey," Iwaizumi suddenly said, brow arching. "Where are the groceries?"

Oikawa opened her mouth. Then closed it. She looked at her arm, void of heavy bags.

There was a beat.

"Ahh, shit! Shit, shit, shit! I left them back at the ice rink! Okaa-san's gonna kill me! We're already arriving late! Iwa-chan, we have to run!"

"Oi, let go of me! Oi, shitty brat! I have nothing to do with this! I told you you were gonna regret it, Shittykawaaa!"


He lurched forward when a hand slapped him on the back. Looking up, he saw his sister, Saya, beaming at him. "You did good today," she told him earnestly. "Come on, okaa-san's making some great shirumono dishes tonight."

Hanyu Yuzuru, his bowl cut a mess from today's training, returned her sunny grin, a sports bag slung over his shoulder. "Awesome!"

Chapter Text

Pedro sat blank-faced on the bleachers, the holes of his ear stuffed by earbuds as per usual. Where is he? The boy he had seen skating a few days ago was not here—he'd recognize that mushroom bowl cut from a mile away. To his ire, he had forgotten to charge his phone last night, and could not risk pulling it out and fiddling with it if he wanted to be able to call his father to pick him up later. The car they were using currently to get around was his grandfather's, and its air conditioner was broken. Pedro was only thankful that it was not summer.

It's a school day today, he reasoned. Maybe he's busy with homework. I heard that people around here take their studies very seriously...

When the boy didn't show up after half an hour, Pedro made to get up, fed up with waiting for a boy who probably wouldn't show up.

"Ah, it's him!"

Pedro turned, eyebrow arched. A pretty girl with brown hair and wide blue eyes was pointing at him shamelessly, her other hand on her friend's shoulder and shaking him about. Oh, it's them. They recognize me, huh? Figures. "Hello," he said, abruptly stopping when he remembered the language barrier. "Uh..."

"Ah..." Iwaizumi's brown-haired friend drew out the sound.

Iwaizumi looked at a loss. "Hi," he said in English.

"Hello!" his friend repeated, also in English.

Pedro nodded. "Hey."

A silence ensued.

Slowly, Pedro sat down. To his surprise, the other two sat down beside him, Iwaizumi planting himself next to him with his girl friend on his other side.

Speaking of her, she seemed to be much friendlier than the Japanese boy, leaning forward and giving him a smile. "Oikawa!"

"Oikawa?" Pedro tilted his head. That must be her name.

"Mhm."

"Pedro. I'm Pedro."


"Whoa, your name is Pedro?!" Oikawa couldn't help but burst out, grinning even harder. "Are you from Argentina?" She had forgotten, momentarily, in her earnest, that Pedro was incapable of speaking Japanese.

Pedro blinked at her confusedly before shrugging and facing forward.

"Ahaha..." Why do I get the feeling that even if he knew how to speak Japanese, he'd still ignore me anyway? From the corner of her eye, she saw Iwaizumi turn away, a subtle smirk on his lips, which were chapped from the chill that had befallen Sendai. It was still spring, technically, but winter had all but taken over by now. "Ne, Iwa-chan, why do you look so smug, huh?" Oikawa pouted. "It's almost as if you're happy to see me get rejected."

Iwaizumi's smirk widened. "I'm just glad to know that I'm not the only guy out there immune to your charm."

"Aha! So you admit it! I'm charming!"

"At best, it was a euphemism."

Oikawa deflated, huffing and crossing her arms. "I'm ignoring you. This is me ignoring you." Hehe~! I'm charming~! I knew it, but it's nice to hear.

"Thanks, but you're doing a terrible job."

"Shut up!"

He laughed, and Oikawa's features slackened, unable to hold her mock-angry front any longer. Pedro gave her a side glance that she didn't see before looking back toward the rink, where the boy with the boy cut had finally reappeared.

"Oh!" Pedro exclaimed, drawing the two best friends' attention to him, then the rink.

"Hey, it's him!" Oikawa said excitedly, standing from her seat and leaning across the railing.

"Hm?" Iwaizumi leaned forward, not quite as ecstatic about the boy's appearance, but curious all the same. So this is who Oikawa was talking about? He was a skinny little thing, and Iwaizumi was sure that it looked as if he had more muscle in his spiking arm than the skater's pant-covered thighs.

"Watch, Iwa-chan!" Oikawa grabbed his arm, shaking him. "Pay close attention!"

"If you want me to watch, stop blocking the view then!"

Oikawa sat back down, muttering something under her breath, but her ire was forgotten as soon as the boy started to skate. It was as if the boy's feet had become one with the ice, and it was almost a struggle not to believe that it was him who was moving about and not the ice beneath him. Then there were the executions of all sorts of strange movements that had her replaying the moments over and over again in her head.

"He's good," she heard Iwaizumi remark, sounding suitably awed.

"Is that all you have to say, Iwa-chan?" she asked absently, still facing forward.

Iwaizumi frowned.

Once the boy's learning session was over, it was already dark outside, and Pedro had just finished sending a text message to his father, asking to be picked up. He was about to get started on another one for Felipe when Oikawa abruptly stood up, scooting past Iwaizumi and running down the stairs to the rink.

"Oi! Where are you going? Oikawa!"

Pedro glanced up, eyes at half-mast as he watched Iwaizumi chase after her, looking a combination of bemused and irritated. Then he stood. Does Oikawa want to talk to him? He looked at the skater, who was currently gulping down water from a canteen, seated on a bench with the laces of his skates half undone.

"Hey!" Oikawa screeched to a stop in front of the mystery boy, feeling her heart leap to her throat when he looked at her with wide, curious eyes, a smoldering intensity behind the innocent shine.

Oikawa Tooru was never the type to be silenced by a look. Not even Iwaizumi's fiercest glares could quieten her for more than a few moments.

So why...? She swallowed the lump in her throat. Why can't I say anything to him?!

"Etto..." The boy gave her a half-smile. "I've never seen you around before."

"Ah! Is that so?!"

"Shittykawa!"

Oikawa almost yelped when Iwaizumi slapped her across the back. "Ow, Iwa-chan! That hurt, you brute."

"I called you three times."

"Sorry, sorry~"

Inwardly, Oikawa thanked him. The slap was just what she needed to get the fuzz out of her brain. She beamed at the skater. "I don't come to the rink often," she told him. "But that's changed recently."

Iwaizumi cocked an eyebrow. What is she doing...? Oikawa was naturally coy, but something about this didn't sit right with him.

"You know, I'm not particularly partial to figure skating." Oikawa crossed her arms, that smile still on her face. "But you might convince me to look into it more~! What's your name, anyway? I'm Oikawa Tooru."

Oikawa had always made friends easily. Iwaizumi, not so much, and he stood to the side as the boy finally returned her smile.

"Hanyu Yuzuru. It's very nice to meet you, Oikawa Tooru-san!"

"Ah, no need for such politeness. Just call me Oikawa-chan, Yu-chan. You don't mind if I call you that, right?"

"Not at all—"

"Ex-cue-me!" Oikawa blinked when Pedro suddenly appeared next to her, his eyes gleaming.

Eh? Did he just...? "You can talk, Pedro-chan?"

Pedro ignored her, whipping out his phone. His tongue sticking out, he typed in something, eyes alight with some sort of passion that made Oikawa sweat a little. It was the look of a boy who had finally discovered something he loved, like kaiju or gundam. He then whipped around, showing his back and lifting the phone to his ear. A string of Japanese words that made little sense was all Oikawa could hear before the Brazilian boy turned back, looking triumphant. His lips moved deftly, as if reciting a phrase.

Hanyu stared at him, either awestruck or absolutely confused.

"I'm... big fan!" announced Pedro.

"Pfft~!" Oikawa giggled. "You used the wrong pronoun. You're a boy, not a girl. It's boku for you."

"I don't think he understands." She almost jumped when Iwaizumi's voice sounded at her ear, the boy having moved to her side. His hands were in his jacket pocket, and despite the walls he put around strangers, she could tell that Hanyu had intrigued him. Snared him into that spell of his.

From the way Pedro was deadpanning at them, Iwaizumi was probably correct.

Pedro did his weird turning-around-reciting-words thing again before struggling to talk to Hanyu. "Love is cool!"

Hanyu smiled, eyes alight with both alarm and confusion. "... I'm sorry, but I'm too young. It is cool, though, how people fall in love so randomly."

"PFFT!" Oikawa choked on her laughter, holding one hand to her mouth, and even Iwaizumi had trouble containing a snicker. "Pedro-chan, you didn't mean that, right?! You just met him!"

Pedro glared at all of them, throwing his arms up in frustration. "Ice! Skate! Ice!"

All of them gasped collectively. "Oooohhhh!"

Pedro nodded frantically. "Yes! Ice! Cool! Cool!"

"Ohhhh!"

"High-five!" demanded Oikawa, holding her hand out in the air. Grinning in victory, Pedro slapped it.

Iwaizumi side-eyed them, sweatdropping. "When did you all become friends so quick...?"

Hanyu chuckled. "It was a team effort." They finally locked eyes. "I'm Hanyu Yuzuru."

"Iwaizumi Hajime. It's nice to meet you."

"Ne, Iwa-chan, Yu-chan, Pedro-chan—"

"The blatant disrespect here," Iwaizumi pointed out.

"—you guys wanna go get ramen?"

"Ah, sorry." Hanyu lifted up a hand apologetically. "I have to go home soon. My sister's running late today since she has cram school, but she'll be here any moment."

Oikawa sighed. "Oh well, can't be helped. We should get some the next time we meet. Oh! We should exchange numbers!" She met Iwaizumi's eyes momentarily, and smirked. The boy rolled his eyes in return.

"Sorry, but I don't have a phone. But I can give you my landline number, if you don't mind."

"No problem~"

Iwaizumi pulled his phone out, and it was a messy swap of phones as all four of them attempted to input their phone numbers (or in Hanyu's case, landline number) into each other's devices.

"What the heck?" Oikawa muttered when she saw Pedro's phone. "This is the latest model in Japan... my phone is like a fossil compared to this..." Is he some sort of rich kid?

"Don't complain; mine's even older," Iwaizumi sniped from the side, giving Hanyu back the slip of paper that they had all written their phone numbers on for him.

Pedro cocked his head. "Yes?"

"I'm starting to believe that's one of the only things you can say without your translator."

Pedro looked thoughtful, and if they didn't know any better, they would have guessed that he was contemplating her words. In the end, he merely said, without any context, "Yes."

Oikawa hummed, contemplative. Then she tapped away on his phone.

"Oi, shitty brat, what are you doing? That's not yours, you know," Iwaizumi reminded her sharply.

"I know, I know, just gimme a sec. Ah, there it is!" Setting the translator to 'Japanese to Portuguese', she tapped in a question for Pedro. Then she gave it back, Pedro staring at the message for a little while.

The foreign boy looked up. "Idiot. Fucker. Pussy."

Hanyu looked absolutely appalled and mortified, while Iwaizumi gaped before turning on Oikawa, ready to strangle her.

"WHAT DID YOU ASK HIM, SHITTYKAWA?!"

"JUST WHAT OTHER WORDS HE KNEW! I DIDN'T KNOW HE WOULD SAY THOSE THINGS! I'M SORRY, IWA-CHAAAN!"

Pedro stared at the scene unfolding before him—Hanyu hiding his face and sinking down onto the bench, and Oikawa wailing as she tried to dodge Iwaizumi, who seemed to be trying to karate-chop her on the head. Was it that bad...?


"Hm? Figure skating?" Iwaizumi echoed as he watched Hanyu press a button on the vending machine that delivered him a small carton of soy milk. In one hand, he held a red bean drink, which he had also gotten from the machine. "I didn't know there was an Olympics for that," he admitted, slightly abashed. To be honest, he was too busy caring about volleyball and keeping Oikawa (hopefully, Pedro was okay staying with her by himself) in line to give other sports much thought.

"There is." Hanyu grinned at him. "Did you know that Sendai is known as the holy place of figure skating? At least... that's what the local news likes to call it." He took a sip of his drink. "What sport do you play, Iwaizumi-san? From the looks of it, you spend a lot of time outside, huh?"

"Volleyball. It's indoors, but Shi—Oikawa and I practice outdoors a lot."

"Uwoh? Volleyball? I used to play a bit when I was younger, but other than that, I don't know much about it. Don't you have to be tall to play it? Although I guess since we still have time to grow..."

Iwaizumi shrugged as they walked back together. "Sure, but height isn't the only deciding factor. Accuracy, speed, stamina, skill..."

When they returned, Oikawa seemed to be trying to teach Pedro some sort of hand game while an older girl stood watching, looking faintly amused.

"Saya-nee-chan!" exclaimed Hanyu.

"Ah, Yuzuru-kun!" The girl called Saya, dressed in her middle school uniform, smiled apologetically and ruffled her brother's hair. "Sorry I'm late. They handed out tests back in cram school, and we went overtime with all the questions people were asking."

"Oh~?" Oikawa butted in, an impish smile on her face. "I knew there was some sort of familial resemblance. When he mentioned a sister, though, I was expecting a mushroom haircut, too."

Saya laughed. "I can imagine. Thank you all for looking after my little brother. Are you middle schoolers, too?"

"Not yet," said Iwaizumi. "But we will be next April."

"Is that so? You must be my brother's age! He's turning twelve in December."

"Nee-chan!" Hanyu interrupted, a small blush on his cheeks. "That's enough. Okaa-san's going to get worried if we don't leave now."

"Yes, yes~!" Saya took him by the hand. "Do you have your skates? Your uniform?"

"All in my bag."

They all went their separate ways soon enough, Hanyu heading off with his sister and Pedro leaving not a moment later when his father arrived. Iwaizumi and Oikawa weren't ashamed to admit that they blatantly stared at the giant man, who stood over six feet but was dressed like a someone's teacher.

Living close by, it was but a fifteen minute walk home for Oikawa and Iwaizumi.

"It was worth it, you know," Oikawa declared abruptly, Iwaizumi giving her a questioning glance. "I mean defying okaa-san. I'm glad that she punished me for bringing poop into the house."

Iwaizumi gave a wry smile. "Only you could make that sound somewhat elegant. Just don't go getting obsessed over Hanyu-san like a crazy fan."

"I won't! What do you take me for, Iwa-chan? Bet you wish you had fans."

"If they're like you, then no way in hell."

"Don't pretend that you don't like the attention!"

Iwaizumi clicked his tongue. "Hurry up, Shittykawa, my mom's cooking agedashi tofu for dinner."

"Don't change the subject!"


"Oh...?"

"Oh...?"

From across the fence, Iwaizumi and Pedro stared at each other, the former holding a volleyball while the latter had his hands in his jacket pockets. Accompanying Pedro was who Iwaizumi could only assume was his grandmother despite the lack of familial resemblance.

Iwaizumi lifted a hand in greeting. "Hey."

Pedro nodded, but said nothing.

Shrugging, Iwaizumi continued to practice volleyball by himself, setting it up the way he saw Oikawa do it. He hated to admit it, but tossing was definitely her forte, and he had a lot more room to grow in overhand passes compared to her.

"Pedrinho!" exclaimed Pedro's grandmother, the name sounding strange coming out from her mouth. "This is Oishi-san. She raises the best chickens, and I buy them from her." She was speaking slowly, knowing that Pedro's Japanese was poor.

Curiously, Iwaizumi paused his tossing to observe the interaction. Am I right then? She's really his grandmother, even though they look nothing alike? Pedro caught him staring, and he quickly looked away before sneaking peaks from his peripheral. His dad speaks perfect Japanese, too, and knows the local slang... What a strange family.

A strange and rich family if Pedro's phone model had anything to say. Even Oikawa, who had been blessed with doting parents who in turn had blessed her with a sleek flip phone, had grudgingly admitted to him the other day that she was perhaps a bit envious of Pedro possessing the latest model.

Pedro and his grandmother disappeared into the house, leaving Iwaizumi to continue his training. It was a bit lonely without Oikawa, but she had gone out with her girl friends from class. Hanamaki, who Iwaizumi normally hung out with outside of Oikawa, was also busy helping out at his family's store, and Konawa, another friend of his, had cram school today.

Eventually, boredom took over him, and he flopped onto the grass, shivering when he felt the thin layer of frost sprinkled across the lawn soak into his jacket. Winter conditions definitely weren't the best to play in.

"Yoohoo, Iwa-chan! Why are you lying on the floor?"

Oikawa? Iwaizumi sat up to see Oikawa and a group of three girls following her around. They were from their class, but he didn't know any of their names. They were busy giggling at his unkempt appearance anyway, so it was no wonder he had never bothered to learn their names. Annoyance bubbling inside him, he asked curtly, "What do you want, Oikawa?"

"Surly as always," Oikawa commented loftily, grinning. "I just wanted to see you. I don't always have some ulterior motive."

"Are you sure about that?" Iwaizumi stood, and the three girls Oikawa held court over stepped back just a little. Though girls commonly hit their growth spurt before boys, he was still taller than all of them except Oikawa (to his dismay). "Since you're here, you wanna toss for me?"

"Sure! I'm always up for tossing, hehe~! Kagamin, Natsuko-chan, Naomin, you guys don't mind, do you?" There was a glint in her eyes—a warning that they'd better not mind or risk losing favor.

"N-no," stammered out the black-haired girl with a bob cut. "Of course not... In fact, we'll even throw up the balls for you to toss, Oikawa-chan!"

"Yeah, that's right!"

"We can totally do that!"

"Ehh?" Oikawa raised an eyebrow. "I don't need that many people to do that. Naomin, you can help, since you play basketball."

"Okay!" The girl with pinkish-brown hair nodded earnestly.

They retreated to the local park, Kagami and Natsuko sitting silently by themselves while Naomi threw the ball in a high arc in the air for Oikawa to set to Iwaizumi.

"Hrph!" he grunted when he spiked it down, the ball slamming down into the dirt and rolling away. Hastily, Kagami went to go fetch it, her eyes never meeting Iwaizumi's when she threw it to him. "Oi," Iwaizumi said, speaking to Oikawa as he threw the ball back to Naomi. "Can you toss it a bit lower? That one was too high."

"Okay~!" she replied giving him the 'okay' hand sign just in case verbal confirmation wasn't enough. "I think I know what you mean. Naomin!"

Naomi tossed it into the air once more.

This time, Oikawa's set was perfect for him and Iwaizumi shot it into the ground with even more force than before. "Yeah!" he exclaimed. "That one was good! It had the right feeling to it."

"You're so talented, Oikawa-chan!" Natsuko gushed from the side.

"You think so?" Oikawa smiled at her, and Iwaizumi had to resist rolling his eyes at how Natsuko ate up the attention.

Of course Oikawa knew that—she didn't need to say it loud for her. Iwaizumi turned away from the fake smiles and laughter. Why does she even hang out with those girls anyway? She knows that they don't actually like her. As if she sensed his unspoken question, Oikawa glanced once his way before resuming volleyball practice.

They moved on to receives next—spiking and setting meant nothing if they couldn't even get the ball up into the air, and it just so happened that Oikawa was working on a killer serve of sorts.

Iwaizumi smirked when he received her serve perfectly, the ball spinning upward. Naomi caught it with shaky fingers, unsettled by the force they were both exerting on the ball.

"I'm bored," he heard Natsuko complain to Kagami.

"Yeah, same... I though we were gonna go karaoke..."

"If you're so bored," Oikawa called, making the two flinch. "Then you can go without me."

"O-Oikawa-chan...!"

"Seriously, I don't mind." She gave them an award winning smile. "Natsuko-chan, you said you wanted to be an idol one day, didn't you? Karaoke is good practice, you know."

Natsuko lit up, though Iwaizumi could still see she wasn't very happy about the current situation. "Of course! Come on, Kagamin, let's go."

"What about you, Naomin?" Oikawa asked the girl with pinkish-brown hair. "Are you gonna go, too?"

It was almost scary for Iwaizumi—as if he were witnessing this girl's life flash before her eyes as she realized that Oikawa would never truly consider her an equal. That she would never stand on the same footing as her the way she was now. So Naomi ducked her head, nodding. "Yeah... my arms are getting tired..."

"Okay~! Then you're free to go. Don't let me stop you."

The girls scuttled off.

And Oikawa exhaled sharply. "Geez. I though they would never leave. They're not so bad most of the time, but they were really grating on my nerves today. Even more than Iwa-chan does."

"I should be the one saying that," he answered, though there was no bite to it. He threw the ball to her. "You could have just told them to get lost."

"Ack!" Oikawa frowned. "I wish, but that would just be unnecessarily making enemies."

"They don't actually like you."

"Maybe so, but at least they don't hate me. And I'd like it to stay that way." Frustration crossed her features before she served once more. Iwaizumi dug it up, but it spun off at an angle and landed to the side.

"Better," Iwaizumi encouraged before saying, "You shouldn't worry so much about your image. I like you fine as you are, so stop trying to pretend. You look hideous when you do that."

"Ouch. Maybe you like me the way I am..." she trailed off, staring at the snow in thought. Then she glanced up again, frowning. "But not everyone is like you. Wouldn't that be scary though? A whole population of Iwa-chans."

Iwaizumi served at her, and she barely received it.

"You almost hit me in the face!" Oikawa whined. "Give me a warning next time!"

"I trust your reflexes," he said coolly. "You're right, not everyone's like me. But you shouldn't put up with people you don't like if it exhausts you that much."

"I'm very good at it, though. Besides, if I ever need to recharge, I just have to hang around someone I genuinely like. That's you, by the way, in case you've worked your brain too hard today—"

"I got it, Shittykawa."

She laughed, and if he didn't know any better, he would have though she sounded relieved.

They tossed the ball around before the homework Iwaizumi knew he had called a little too loudly in his head. They were seeing each other off in his yard when the front door of the Oishi household opened up, and a frazzled-looking Pedro and his grandmother (who looked like she was having the time of her seventy-something-year-old life) walked out.

Pedro stared at them, expression flat. Then his lips began to move, but no sound came out right away. And when it did, it sounded like he was spitting out a hairball. "H... Hi."

"He did it!" Iwaizumi and Oikawa shouted at the same time, exchanging an almost frantically excited look.

"Oya?" His grandmother had noticed them. "Good afternoon, children!"

"Good afternoon, obaa-san!"

The old woman said one last goodbye to Oishi-san before turning to Pedro. "These are your friends?"

Pedro said nothing.

"Do you want to stay a little longer so you can play with them?" she tried again.

Again, the boy was silent. But then he pulled out his phone and typed something out to his grandmother. She smiled.

"I'll call your father to pick you up at six o'clock," she told Pedro before leaving. "Have fun!"

Oikawa's eyes were shining. "Pedro-chan! You really do care!"

Iwaizumi thought that his homework would probably not get done until twelve o'clock tonight, but seeing Pedro nod almost enthusiastically, he couldn't really bring himself to care.


"Tooru!" Himari rapped her knuckles on the door. "Don't stay up all night watching volleyball videos, okay?"

Guiltily, Oikawa clicked off her computer. "Of course not!"

"Hmm..."

She let out a breath of relief when she heard her mother walk downstairs.

Grabbing her volleyball, she flopped onto her bed and began to toss it to herself, not quite up for sleeping yet. Iwaizumi was probably still awake, frantically finishing his homework (she giggled slightly at the thought of his angry face as he tried to resist tearing his books apart), but she was feeling kind to him tonight, and didn't wish to bother him.

Frowning slightly, she caught the volleyball before it could hit her in the face and put it down on the floor, where Iwaizumi's futon had been last Friday night. It felt strangely empty without him. Sitting up, Oikawa took her phone from the low shelf which was attached to the wall she had the right side of her bed pressed up against.

Taking a gamble, she called Hanyu's house, her heart pounding. What if his parents picked up? Or his sister? But the thrill of her call getting picked up by the wrong person was almost worth it, and she had boredom and time to kill.

So what if they pick up anyway? she thought flippantly. It's not like I'm the type to get tongue-tied easily.

"Hello?" Hanyu's voice was crackly, but it was definitely his.

"Hey, Yu-chan, it's me!"

"Oikawa-chan?"

"Mhm!"

There was some movement in the background before he asked, "It's pretty late. What did you need?"

"Do I need a reason to talk to someone?" Oikawa asked in return, smiling ever so slightly.

"Well, I guess not. But I can't talk for long—I have to sleep soon."

"Tell me about ice skating then."

"What about it?"

"Do you like it?"

There was a pause.

"I love it. It gives me a sort of rush that nothing else does. It's something I want to become the best at." Another pause. "And I will someday."

"And that's all you need, isn't it?" she mused. "Oh, well! Let's talk about something else? Do you believe in aliens?"

They ended up talking far later than either of them would have liked, and it was their punishment in the morning when they had to be dragged out of bed for school by their mothers.

Chapter Text

"Yo, who called last night?" was the first thing Saya asked her little brother in the morning, opening up the fridge for a glass of milk. Hanyu yawned in response, making his sister smirk. "Was it one of the kids from yesterday?"

"Oikawa-san," Hanyu quickly replied before draining his miso soup.

"Oho! The pretty one?"

Hanyu blinked. "Pretty? Yeah, I guess. Ah! I'm gonna be late!"

Saya stared at him in amusement as he packed his bag. "You should have packed last night."

"I was too tired, so I went to bed."

"Too tired from talking to a pretty girl."

"Geehh... Why do you keep bringing that up?" Hanyu grabbed a protein bar from the counter before hauling his backpack across one shoulder. He struggled to slip the other strap on for a moment before heading to the front hall to put on his shoes.

Hastily, Saya trailed after him. "You're no fun, you know. Why can't you just be like a normal little brother and get all flustered when I tease you?"

"'Cause there's nothing to be flustered about," retorted Hanyu, clicking his tongue in mild annoyance when he had to redo his shoelaces. He normally just slipped his feet into his shoes, but luck was just not on his side today. He spluttered in surprise when Saya ruffled his hair. "I brushed that!"

"It looks the same, chill. Just as bird-nest-like as before." She gave him a foxy smile. "Serves you right for not being a pushover."

"... Isn't that a good thing?"

"Not for me it isn't!" Saya grabbed him by the hand just as he finished tying his shoelaces. "Hurry up, or we'll miss the bus! You know my stop is two from yours."

"Saya-nee-chan," Hanyu said abruptly. "Thanks."

"Huh? For what?"

The bus rolled up at their stop just as rain began to fall.

"You quit ice skating just so I could do it. So thanks. I won't let you down, nee-chan!"

"Ah..." Saya gave him a weak smile as they entered the bus and sat down together. "You're totally obsessed, aren't you, otouto? Don't forget, though, that ice skating isn't your entire life." She frowned. "Are you listening to me?"

"Hm?" Hanyu, who had been looking out the window, smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I saw a cat run across the road. Luckily, it's okay."

She sighed exasperatedly.


The school bell rang just as the classroom door slammed open, revealing Oikawa, who was practically keeling over and out of breath. Iwaizumi, safe in his seat, let out a sigh. When Oikawa's sister had answered the door this morning and urged him to go on ahead, he had been expecting this sight.

"Careful there," said their homeroom teacher, a nice lady called Nakamura-sensei. "Sit down, Oikawa-chan, we're about to mark the roll."

"Yes!"

Iwaizumi cast her a side glance as she sat down beside him, giving him a slightly sheepish grin.

When the first ten minute break between classes began, Oikawa unzipped her bag and dug out a bag containing a loaf of milk bread, her favorite food. There were visible dark circles under her eyes, however, and Iwaizumi's expression soured.

"You stayed up all night watching volleyball videos, didn't you?" he asked. "And if it wasn't that—no, don't tell me—alien movies you couldn't wait to watch until Friday."

"You know me well," she replied, tone playful, "But you're wrong this time, Iwa-chan."

"Oh?" Elbow on his desk, he rested his cheek on his palm.

"I mean, I did sleep pretty late—"

He snorted.

"—but it was only because I was talking with Yu-chan!"

It was as if the music suddenly came to a halt in Iwaizumi's head. He blinked, bemused. "What? You mean Hanyu-san?" She was calling him? "What did you guys talk about?"

"Oh, nothing much. Mostly about ice skating and aliens. He's passionate about his sport, and I just get him. You know what I mean?"

"Uh huh." Iwaizumi nabbed some of her bread, making her stick her tongue out at him. "He used to play volleyball when he was younger, too, actually."

"Ah, yes! He told me about that!"

Of course she had already known.

Grumpily, he set his head on the desk and turned away from her.

"Oya? Is Iwa-chan mad at me?" Oikawa leaned across the space between their desks. "Is it because I called Yu-chan and not you last night?"

"Oi! I'm not mad about something like that."

"Then look at me and say it."

Iwaizumi turned back. "I'm not mad about something like that," he repeated, and Oikawa faltered ever so slightly. "Why would I be?"

"... I was just teasing! You take me too seriously, sometimes~!"

"I have to, because everything you say sounds like a joke, so I can never tell when you're actually being serious."

"Geh!"

"What do you mean geh? It's true."

The bell for next class was about to ring when Oikawa finished her milk bread. Mouth half-full, she asked, "So does that mean you don't mind if I call him every night?"

"Uh, no." Iwaizumi's brow arched. "But why would you? You'd be like an overly-attached girlfriend. Also, no offence, but he's kind of boring."

"First of all, mean, I'm no one's girlfriend yet, and if I were, I wouldn't be clingy. So nyeehh." She pulled a face. "Second of all—what do you mean boring?"

"Because he only cares about ice skating." At her skeptical look, he added, "I've talked to the guy for about five minutes total and even I can tell that."

Oikawa settled back into her chair, lifting a finger to her lips in thought. "Still. There must be something. I mean, we're pretty obsessed with volleyball, but we're not boring." She gave him a stricken look. "Are we?"

Iwaizumi shrugged. "I bet those girls you're always with think you're boring, but they don't want to say it."

"Haaahh?"

"But I don't think you're boring. If the only thing you cared about was volleyball, then you'd be boring."

"... Do they really think I'm boring?" she muttered to herself. "No way... I have the same interests as them, too... I even learned how to put on eyeliner because Kagamin wouldn't shut up about it!" As if to make a point, Oikawa fished a makeup mirror from her bag and examined the creases of her eyes with a frown on her face.

Iwaizumi thought she had been looking a bit different recently, but knowing nothing about the intricacies of makeup, he hadn't thought too much about it. It did look good, though, and he was glad that he had most of his face buried in his arms on the table, lest she see him blush and tease him about it. "You don't need that stuff," he said eventually, looking up. His blush was gone, and his face schooled into neutrality. "It'll probably smear when you play anyway."

"So you don't think it looks good?" Oikawa pressed.

It does. "Dunno. You look the same to me."

"Pfft. Iwa-chan is such a neanderthal boy."

He scoffed. "Oh, bite me."

It was the beginning of lunchtime when Hanamaki Takahiro, a boy in another class and Iwaizumi's friend, dropped by with a volleyball tucked against his side. "Oi," he called to Iwaizumi. "You coming to practice?"

"Be there in a moment," Iwaizumi replied.

"Makki!" Oikawa grinned, waving. "Long time no see!"

The pink-haired boy smirked. "Oikawa, you wanna tag along? I've been practicing my receives. If I get at least five of your serves, you have to buy me ramen."

Her eyes gleamed at the challenge. "Come on, Iwa-chan, let's—"

"Um, Oikawa-chan?"

Eh? Whipping around her seat, Oikawa locked eyes with none another than Kagami, who was the leader of the group whenever she wasn't around. "Oh," she glanced around Kagami's form to see Naomi and Natsuko, "it's you guys. What's up?" Hmm? Natsuko-chan is hiding her face. I wonder why? She hadn't bothered to look for any of them before class or during the ten minute break times, and it was the first she saw of them today.

"We're going to the bathroom to help Natsuko-chan with her makeup," Kagami explained, ignoring how Hanamaki was making an ugly face at her from the side, Iwaizumi barely able to stifle a snicker as he swatted Hanamaki's arm. "You should come—you're the best when it comes to eye makeup."

Longingly, Oikawa turned to Hanamaki and Iwaizumi.

Hanamaki shrugged. "You can always play next time. Right, Iwaizumi?"

"Yeah," Iwaizumi agreed begrudgingly. He looked like he wanted to say more, but left it at that.

Oikawa sighed. "Okay, okay. Come, Natsuko-chan," she nudged Kagami out of the way (ignoring the affronted look that briefly crossed her face), and looped arms with Natsuko, "Let's get you fixed up."

They went their separate ways, Iwaizumi bouncing Hanamaki's volleyball aggressively against the ground. The pink-haired boy's brows rose a little higher each time it happened, but he didn't say much until they arrived at the gym, where some of their other teammates were practicing. Their school didn't have an official coach, just a club adviser, so they mostly did everything themselves.

"Well?" Hanamaki prompted.

Iwaizumi gave him a pointed look. "What?"

"Don't play dumb with me. What was that all about? Are you fighting with Oikawa?"

"No," Iwaizumi stated flatly, throwing the volleyball to Hanamaki, who caught it easily. "Look," he added roughly when Hanamaki kept looking at him in that unimpressed way of his, "It's hard to explain. Things have... changed. Ever since the beginning of the year, she's been... different."

"Well, she is a girl." They began to toss to each other. "Girls, well... you know... I mean... I don't have many friends that are girls, but they like makeup and stuff, right?"

Iwaizumi laughed, though it came out more as a snort. "You really know nothing about girls, do you?"

"Shuddup. But seriously, it's probably because you have different interests."

"We've had different interests for years," Iwaizumi pointed out. "I know way more about alien conspiracies than I want to know because of her. No, this is something different."

Hanamaki paused, spinning the ball in his hands. "Maybe... it's because you're jealous."

"Haahh? Jealous? Why would I be jealous? Of what?"

"Of who," he corrected, grinning. "I'm talking about those girls she's always with. They love to hog her attention, and you know how much Oikawa loves a good ego-stroking."

"Unfortunately. And I'm not jealous of them. I don't care if she wants to be friends with them, but they're not worth her time. They're fake," he slammed the ball down into Hanamaki's waiting arms, "shallow, and they'd leave her to rot if someone better comes along."

"Oomph!" Hanamaki grunted as the received ball slammed against his arms and spiraled upward. "Two out of three things you mentioned describe Oikawa pretty well, too, if you think about it. That's probably why they're friends."

"... I wish she wouldn't care so much. She's fine the way she is—she doesn't need to pretend."

"But does she know that?" Hanamaki cocked an eyebrow. "Tell you what—take her out for a movie or something. You guys are best friends, right? Spend a little more time with her instead of brooding in the gym and abusing my arms."

Iwaizumi rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine. She's not into movies, though, unless they have extraterrestrial lifeforms in them. But..." I know what she will enjoy.


Ah... this is boring... I feel like I'm about to fall asleep. Oikawa's brow twitched as the snake on her phone screen accidentally bit its own tail, and she had to start all over again.

"Your face is totally white!" screeched Naomi as she hurriedly wiped off Natsuko's makeup. "What were you thinking?"

"I-I thought this was how you did it!"

"You looked like Sadako," tutted Kagami as she did her own makeup, which wasn't much better than what Naomi was wiping off from Natsuko's face. She was wearing way too much blush, and her mascara was clumping.

Personally, Oikawa didn't really see the point of such excessive dolling up, especially at their age. I bet Iwa-chan's having a better time than me. Lucky. And Makki is there, too... "Ne, you guys," she spoke up. "How long are we gonna be here?"

"Probably whole of lunch," replied Kagami without looking at her. When she finally did, it took of Oikawa's willpower not to recoil and balk at the sight of the girl's face. "How do I look?"

Smiling warily, Oikawa clasped her shoulder with one hand. "There's room for improvement."

"Ugh, I knew I should have used the coral tint!"

Are you kidding? Oikawa wanted to say. Your lips are the only part of you that don't look like a hot mess.

"I'm done with the foundation," Naomi called. "Oikawa, come do the eyeliner for Natsuko-chan."

"Okay~!" Unzipping her bag, Oikawa took out the minimal makeup that she actually owned. "Hold still and close your eyes for me." Boring. Boring, boring, boring! Her fingers twitched as she started drawing wings on the creases of Natsuko's eyes, longing to set a ball. Preferably to her ace, Iwaizumi. A huge part of her wished for Iwaizumi to kick down the door and drag her out of here, but she knew the chances of that happening were closer to nil than anything else. When she finally stepped back, Natsuko's wings are impeccable, and she felt a sense of pride surge through her. "Done~!" she announced, clapping her hands together. "You look cute, Natsuko-chan. Kagamin, stop rubbing your lips for a second and come look."

"Uwohh..." Natsuko let out a breath of disbelief as she stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. "I look..."

"Beautiful!" gushed Naomi. "Right?"

Kagami nodded. "Yeah, totally. Oikawa-chan, can you do my eyeliner, too?"

"Sure." Do you want me to do the rest of your makeup while I'm at it? "We should hurry, though. I don't want to spend the whole of lunch in a smelly bathroom."

Kagami let out a laugh—high-pitched and obnoxious. "Why? Are you going somewhere after this?"

Oikawa narrowed her eyes. "If I am," she said evenly. "It's none of your business."

There was a hush, Naomi and Natsuko looking at the floor as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. Occasionally, Natsuko would look up to examine her own appearance.

"Isn't it?" Kagami challenged, and Oikawa had to wonder where her sudden bravery came from. It certainly wasn't her face, or the strange, uneven bob cut she sported ever since she tried to cut her own hair. And if it were either of those things, she would laugh. "After all, we're your friends."

"That doesn't mean we need to be with each other every day." Oikawa rolled her eyes, patience wearing thin. "In case you've forgotten, we don't exist as some sort of single entity, Kagamin."

"Well, yeah, but you always ditch us for that Iwaizumi boy! The other day, we were supposed to go karaoke, but we ended up playing volleyball instead with him!"

Watch it. "Well, I like volleyball. And I like Iwaizumi, too. He's my best friend."

"Well, we don't!" Kagami shouted. "We don't like volleyball, and we definitely don't like Iwaizumi!"

Naomi gasped. "Kagamin!"

"What?! It's true! I'm sick of her ditching us for him! It's like she's not really our friend!" Sneering, Kagami turned back to Oikawa. "It's him or us—!"

A sharp sound echoed throughout the bathroom, Kagami's squeal cut off by the utter shock of the force that had slammed into her cheek. Her legs wobbling, she fell backward.

"Wh..."

"Hey." Oikawa leaned down to look her in the eye, gaze dark. "Shut up. You mean nothing to me. If you actually think you can compete with Iwa-chan, then you're both wrong and delusional. And it's pathetic."

"Ah... ahh...!"

"I'm leaving," Oikawa announced. "You two," she snapped at Naomi and Natsuko, "Don't ever talk to me again until you take out the trash."

Without even waiting for a response, she shouldered her bag and pushed the door open. As it clicked shut behind her, she breathed out a sigh of relief. What am I doing? A prickling sensation crawled up her back and clutched the back of her head and ears. It was the same kind of feeling she got whenever she was scolded by her mother, or when Iwaizumi blew his top because she pushed him too far.

Shame.

She sniffled, pushing a strand of hair out of her face before starting to run toward the gym in a blind dash.

The bell rang before she could arrive, and a voice—an angry adult voice; a teacher's voice—called her name.


Oikawa wasn't in class.

As soon as the last period ended and the entire school was dismissed, Iwaizumi hurriedly packed his things, meeting Hanamaki in the hallway.

"Yo," he greeted. "Where's Oikawa?"

"She never showed up for class," Iwaizumi told him, concern seeping into his tone. "Dammit, where did she go? Kagami-san and Naomi-san weren't there either. Don't tell me they all ditched..."

But Oikawa wasn't the type to skip class without good reason.

"Calm down," Hanamaki soothed. "I'm sure there's some kind of explanation for this. Don't get your panties in a twist."

Iwaizumi whacked his shoulder as he walked past, Hanamaki chuckling a little before following.

"Um!"

Both boys turned around.

Natsuko stood behind them, looking like she wanted to curl into herself. Her face wasn't as much of a disaster as it was this morning, and Iwaizumi noticed Oikawa's handiwork on her eyes.

"Yeah?" Iwaizumi prompted. "What is it...?"

"You're looking for Oikawa-chan, aren't you?" she blurted. "She's in the principal's office with Kagami-san and Naomi-san."

"What?!"

"Ooh, she's in trouble?" Hanamaki let out a low whistle. "What did she do?"

Natsuko looked away. "I... Sorry!" Ducking her head low, she ran off.

"Well, at least we know where to go," Iwaizumi sighed. "You can go on ahead to practice without me. I know we have a tournament coming up, so it's better if only one of us misses it."

"Mm. Later, then. Don't forget to tell me the gossip." Hanamaki paused. "And also if she's okay."

"Aa."

When Iwaizumi walked past the principal's office, the door was closed, allowing him to hear only muffled voices. But it seemed no parents had been summoned, for better or for worst, and so he sat down outside on the waiting seats, straining his ears in vain.

He had resorted to doing reading homework by the time the door finally clicked open, and Oikawa, Kagami, and Naomi all shuffled out. Without even speaking, Kagami left in a brisk pace, Naomi practically running after her. Oikawa merely stood in the middle of the hall, staring blankly at the wall. Quietly, Iwaizumi closed his book and put it in his bag. "Hey," he said, putting on his backpack. "We have practice today."

"I... don't feel like it."

Iwaizumi exhaled. "Fine." She looked at him in surprise when he took her by the hand, leading her down the hall. "Let's go to the bakery. We can get milk bread."

She choked on her next words. "Iwa-chan..." Then she laughed—it was a watery sound. "You always say that it's going to make my teeth rot."

"Which is why you'd better floss tonight."

Oikawa was unusually quiet, only offering a quiet greeting to baker when she had to. Her silence continued as they let their legs take them to the place they frequented most—the local park. During the summer, Iwaizumi would drag her there to catch a variety of insects, his favorites being beetles. They always let them go in the end, or used them as bait to catch frogs at the pond.

They found a bench to sit and eat.

Eyeing her from his peripheral, he observed how her eyeliner was smudged—observed how the corners of her eyes were red and how she bit into her food with a hidden frustration.

Without prompting, she blurted out, "You were right. I mean—I knew that we weren't really friends. And I was fine with that. But then..."

As she trailed off, he asked, "Why were you guys in the principal's office?"

"Oh. I slapped Kagamin, and now I'm suspended for three days."

"What?!"

"Yep. Okaa-san's going to kill me." Oikawa sighed through her nose, leaning back against the bench and crossing her arms. "But I don't regret. She deserved it!"

"What exactly did they do? Or what did Kagami do?"

She lowered her chin, trying to bury her face into her scarf. "She wanted me to choose between you and them."

He felt dread creep up on him. "And—"

"I chose you, obviously. But," Oikawa huffed. "She was being a bitch. So I hit her. Could I have handled that better?" She shrugged. "Maybe, but I still don't regret it. Are you going to scold me, Iwa-chan?"

Iwaizumi raised his arm. Then his fist softened into a palm which landed gently on her head. "There's a volleyball game this Saturday, between Japan and Argentina. Even if your mom grounds you, we can sneak out and watch." She gasped. "I'll buy the tickets when I get home—oomph!" He blinked once, then twice, at how Oikawa had awkwardly stretched herself across the bench to hug him tightly.

"Thank you," he heard her sniff.

"... You're gonna make my shirt all snotty."

"Mmrph. I'll wash it for you."

He heaved a sigh. "I'm holding you on to that."

Somewhere in the distance, birds chirped.

Eventually, Oikawa got off him, using the back of her sleeve to wipe her eyes. "How embarrassing," she muttered. "You were right—it does smudge. Let's go—I want to wash my face."

They hadn't even stepped out of the park when Iwaizumi said abruptly, "I lied."

"Huh?"

"When you asked me if it looked good. I lied. It... it looks good on you, Shittykawa."

He was glad that he was walking in front of her, having overtaken her in her surprise. Behind his back, her lips curled upward in a delighted smile.

"Thanks." Oikawa hurried after him. "I was kidding, actually. When I said I'd call Yu-chan every night. I just wanted..." I just wanted to see how you would react. That sounds horrible, but it's true. I wanted to see if you got jealous. I'm sorry I'm like this. "Never mind."

"Hm. Hey, Oikawa—do you," Iwaizumi cleared his throat, "do you like Hanyu-san? As in... Do you want him to be your boyfriend?"

"Eh? Boyfriend? Well... I certainly wouldn't mind it. He's handsome, don't you think?"

"Is that all?"

"He's passionate, too."

"About ice skating," Iwaizumi clarified. "No offence, but you're not even on his radar. I don't think anyone or anything is except ice skating."

"I can wait," Oikawa said firmly.

"For Hanyu-san?"

She didn't answer him immediately. "Sure," she said in the end. "For Hanyu-san."

If Iwaizumi noticed that she didn't call him Yu-chan, he said nothing.


Iwaizumi and Oikawa weren't here today, but Pedro was. Instead of being in the bleachers as per usual, he was leaning against the barrier surrounding the skating rink for an upfront view of what had to be a skating routine Hanyu was perfecting.

Sports, he had thought once upon a time, What a waste of time.

Perhaps he was merely capricious, but Pedro found himself fidgeting every time Hanyu did some sort of crazy move—he believed one of them was an axle if the minimal research he did into ice skating was any indication.

His parents would be flying home in two days. His mother was eager to return to her company, and being an accountant, his dad had some work to do in Brazil. Pedro sighed. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I don't want to leave.

His resolve was further solidified, when Hanyu skated up close to the barrier and held out a hand as he glided toward Pedro. Pedro grinned, smacked it, and let out a whoop as Hanyu continued, doing the same complicated routine over and over again.

Eventually, he had to stop, his coach warning him on overexerting himself.

Sucking on a water pouch, Hanyu once again skated up to Pedro.

Pedro quickly pulled out his phone. Nice work out there!

Hanyu beamed as he was passed the phone. Thank you, Pedro!

Pedro began to smile, Hanyu's own grin infectious. You are a very good skater, he typed in.

It probably didn't come out right, but Hanyu got the gist of it rubbed the back of his head humbly. One day, I will compete in the Sochi Olympics and win gold, just like Arakawa Shizuka did in Turin this year! Today, I am doing a routine for a small competition next Saturday, he replied through Pedro's translator. Will you come watch? My family will be attending, as well as my coach, Abe Nanami.

Next Saturday? Pedro's face fell. But we'll be flying out before then! But seeing the earnest look on Hanyu's face... He took the phone from Hanyu, typing it with a serious expression, I'll be there.

"Thank you!" Hanyu said out loud. "Your support would mean a lot."

Pedro merely nodded, the Japanese tones not as harsh on his ears anymore. "Yes."

Nanami called him back to resume practice, and Hanyu said goodbye for now.

When he got back home, his grandparents had prepared dinner and were waiting on Pedro and his father (who had gone to pick him up).

"Itadakimasu!" his father and grandparents exclaimed.

"Let's eat," Pedro and his mother said in return, both of them speaking in Portuguese.

Halfway throughout dinner, Pedro let out a small sigh, trying to calm his frayed nerves. "Mom, dad?"

"Yes?" his mother said absently, typing a correspondence on her phone. His grandparents had looked disapprovingly at her before, but now they wore resigned expressions.

"What is it, son?" his father asked.

"Please. Let me stay here with grandma and grandpa. I... I want to stay in Japan!"


"Iwa-chan!" Oikawa exclaimed, barely able to contain her excitement as she power-walked through the stadium halls wearing a hoodie depicting volleyball mascot Vabo-chan, holding two inflatable cheering sticks which had GO! GO! JAPAN! emblazoned on it. "Hurry up! Make it fast!"

"Don't run, Oikawa!" Iwaizumi retorted as he jogged to keep up with her; he was also holding two cheering sticks.

"I'm just speed-walking!"

The two twelve-year-olds pushed and shoved their way through the busy crowd, finally ending up in the cheering stands for Japan where noise and shouting boxed their ears.

"There he is!" Iwaizumi all but screeched in excitement as he pointed to a man who was part of the warming up All Japan team. "Handa Kouji!"

"Ehh?! That's your favorite, right?! You should get his autograph later!"

The first set began promptly, with Japan serving and Argentina receiving. The latter team took the first set thanks to a dark-haired superstar on the Argentina team, but Japan cut off their momentum halfway through the second set, an upset for the Argentinian cheering side.

"Yes!" Oikawa cheered when Japan won thanks to a block-out, Iwaizumi roaring along. "Come on, Japan!"

It was during the third set that the superstar ace on the Argentina team began to slip, losing more points than he was gaining. Oikawa had to wince when he got stuffed by Japan's blockers for the fifth consecutive time.

"Why aren't they subbing him out?" Iwaizumi wondered, leaning across the railing. "They should give him time to cool his head on the bench."

The whistle blew—a substitution.

"Finally," she heard Iwaizumi said, but they both blinked in surprise when it wasn't the ace who was subbed out, but the setter.

But why? Oikawa stared intensely as the new setter—an older man who seemed to be calm—went on the court, looking right at home with other players. It wasn't the setter who was messing upit was the wing spiker. So why...?

His name was announced as José Blanco.

José Blanco. The name felt weird rolling off her tongue. And yet, it was somehow fitting, too. Sitting back, Oikawa honed in on the setter, completely ignoring even the Japanese setter in favor of Argentina's new plays.

Slowly, it dawned on her. Blanco didn't stand out among all of the high-level players—far from it—and the audience's attention was focused almost solely on the Argentinian ace, who was starting to regain his groove.

The setter was the control tower. Every toss Blanco made drew out the potential his wing spikers had, maximizing their skills. Gradually, Argentina began to creep up upon Japan, eventually overtaking them in the third set.

No, she reevaluated. The star of this game isn't the ace. It's the setter.

Iwaizumi gave her a long look. "... I can't tell if you're mad or if you're just constipated."

"Gross, Iwa-chan!"

In the end, Argentina beat Japan in the fourth set, making them the overall winners of the match. As such, a fifth set was forgone, and the teams began to shuffle around to thank their cheering sections and vacate the court for the next team.

As the Argentinian team passed the Japan stands, one of its players pulling along a cart full of volleyballs, Oikawa shouted at the top of her lungs, "Blanco-san! Can I have your autograph?!"

Smiling, Blanco shifted toward them.

"Iwa-chan, the paper!" Oikawa urged her best friend, pulling a black marker out of her pocket. "Where's the paper we got before?!"

Practically glowing, Iwaizumi showed her the paper she was looking for, which had already been scrawled over. "I already got Handa's autograph on it," he stated proudly.

"Why?! That was my paper!"

"Ours. We both put in fifty yen for it."

"Argh!" Oikawa glared at him as she searched frantically for anything in her pockets, Blanco laughing good-naturedly at her predicament. In the end, she fished out a small handkerchief from her pocket, holding it out for Blanco to sign on.

"Isn't that the one you used today?" asked Iwaizumi, leaning across to look.

"It's brand new! It's not dirty at all!" she hissed back. The marker stopped squeaking, and Oikawa took a good, long look at Blanco's signature, unable to contain a toothy grin. She looked up at Blanco. "I... I wanna be a setter, too!"

At first, Blanco merely stared at her.

"Ga..." Blanco stuttered out, making Oikawa's eyes widen.

Ga...? The two kids exchanged a glance.

"Gan... da... Gan..." Blanco lifted his chin and gave them a thumbs-up, determined. "Ganbari!"

"Uwoh!" Oikawa heard Iwaizumi blurt out as both of them stared up at the setter in awe.

A moment later, he was gone, and all Oikawa had to remind her that this meeting had really taken place was her memory and Blanco's signature. Hastily, she tucked her handkerchief back into her pants pocket, determined to keep it safe forever.

"If you mess up and wash that," Iwaizumi said as they walked out of stadium, "You owe me some ice cream."

"Shut up and just gimme my fifty yen back."

Before Iwaizumi could retort, the crowd parted momentarily, allowing them to lock eyes with none other than Pedro and Hanyu, the latter holding a sports bag that likely contained his skates and other things.

"Oh! Pedro-san, you were right," Hanyu was saying as they hurried toward one another, throwing greetings all over the place. "Pedro-san thought you might be here," he said to Iwaizumi and Oikawa, a friendly smile on his face.

Iwaizumi turned to Pedro. "You're amazing," he said bluntly, giving him a thumbs-up not dissimilar to the one Blanco had given him and Oikawa not long ago.

Pedro smiled, returning the gesture.

"Yu-chan~!" Oikawa addressed him. "Did you come all the way here just to see us?"

"Actually, I had a tournament today in a rink not far from here," Hanyu informed her.

"Ah." Oikawa's face fell ever so slightly, but she picked herself up again quickly. "Do you guys want to go get lunch?"

"It's a bit late for that," Hanyu declined before anyone else could say anything. "But thank you. Maybe next time. Come on, Pedro-san, I'll walk you to the bus."

Pedro waved one last time to them before following after Hanyu.

"Che!" Iwaizumi huffed. "What did he even come here for?" He looked toward Oikawa, waiting for some sort of agreement or disagreement, but it never came. "Oikawa?"

"Eh?" Oikawa jolted, as if she had been broken out of a reverie. "Ah, sorry, Iwa-chan. I spaced out a little."

"Clearly. You're getting all... moony over that guy."

"I am not moony."

Iwaizumi gave her an appraising look before exhaling sharply. "You really do like him, don't you?"

"... Maybe a little." It'd been admiration at first, but a crush wasn't so out there. "I don't think he likes me back though." Oikawa sighed. "Oh well. I can't have 'em all, I guess."

"What does that even mean? Don't act like some man-eater when you've never had a boyfriend before."

"My heart, Iwa-chan, you're hurting it!"

"Besides," Iwaizumi went on, a little roughly, "Didn't you say you could wait?"

"... Yep," Oikawa confirmed casually. "And I meant it."

"Hm, alright. Last one to the park treats the winner to ice cream." With that, he dashed off.

"Argh! You just want me to buy you ice cream, don't you?!" she yelled after him, laughing.

Chapter Text

Kitagawa Daiichi sat further away from her house than elementary had, and as such, Oikawa and Iwaizumi had to take the bus. The sun was barely up when they arrived at the bus stop, Iwaizumi holding an umbrella (it had been forecast to rain this afternoon) and Oikawa texting away on her phone and humming a jaunty tune. The snows of late November and December had all but melted by the time April rolled around, and it was warm enough for them both to forego their school jumpers today.

The girl's uniform was sailor style, while the boy's uniform included a fashionable gakuran jacket.

"Iwa-chan, smile!" Oikawa prodded, aiming her phone camera at him.

"What are you doing?"

The camera clicked, catching him in the middle of his sentence with his eyes half-closed.

"Pfft!" She choked on a laugh. "Wow, Iwa-chan looks even more terrifying than ever—"

"Give me that!" Scowling, Iwaizumi snatched at her phone, but she darted away quickly, backpedaling.

"Too late!" she sing-songed. "I've already sent it to Yu-chan—"

"Why that guy?!"

"Because he finally got a phone and I need a way to break the ice—oof!" Oikawa glanced up as she bumped into someone—a girl wearing her straight brown hair in a ponytail not dissimilar to her own. "Ah, sorry. My bad." So tall... She must be a senpaishe's wearing the girl's uniform.

"It's okay," the girl said, sizing up the two of them. "I've never seen you around before. You two must be first-years. I'm Izumi Takara."

"It's nice to meet you, senpai," Oikawa replied, Iwaizumi nodding along. Before they could even give her their names, however, the bus rolled up, and Takara hopped in, sliding into a seat next to another girl.

"She's tall," Iwaizumi observed as the scenery passed by them. "She could be your teammate."

"Perhaps, perhaps," Oikawa mused. "She'd be a good middle blocker. She looks like she has some muscle, too, so maybe a wing spiker?" Giddily, she busied her hands by fidgeting with her backpack, which she had set on her lap. Maybe it just came with being a setter, but she found it hard to keep her fingers still whenever she spotted some sort of new excitement on the horizon—in this case, it came in the form of one Izumi Takara. "In any case, she seems like the cold and distant type, so I'll probably have to be straightforward with her." For now, at least. She prided herself on being able to read people, but not even she could pick up on the individual tells of a person upon a first meeting. "Ne, Iwa-chan, Makki's going to Kitagawa, too, right?"

"Mhm. He has to take a different bus, though, but he'll be there." Iwaizumi glanced out the window. "At least there'll be one person I know on the team."

"Oh? Is Iwa-chan nervous by any chance?"

"Not nearly nervous enough for any of your false sympathy."

She chuckled. "Fair enough."

Kitagwa Daiichi Junior High was, naturally, much bigger than elementary school. Oikawa recognized some classmates from her school, but most of the students were strangers, even the ones in their first year.

"We have the orientation assembly first," Iwaizumi said as he flipped through the program they had both received at the front gate. "The vice principal is going to make a speech."

Orientation went by quickly, the vice principal saying things of little importance before they were all dismissed. There was a crowd of students at the announcement board, which displayed the information that all new and returning students needed to know, such as classes, cleaning times, and future morning assemblies.

"Aw, we're in different classes," Oikawa lamented when she saw that she had been placed in class 1-4, while Iwaizumi was in class 1-3. "Oh, well. Come on—let's drop our bags off and change!"

Since it was the first day, there were no formal classes—the first working day would be tomorrow.

They parted ways with a promise to meet later, Oikawa ducking into Gym 2 while Iwaizumi headed off in Gym 1's direction. Letting a small sigh, Oikawa adjusted her sports uniform—a plain white tee with dark blue shorts—one last time as she faced the collection of girls converging in the middle of the gym. Like Iwaizumi had suspected, Takara was present, speaking to a girl whose face was blocked out by another girl's shoulder.

Around the fringe of the group were some more awkward, baby-faced girls—first years like her.

One girl that had to be the libero based on her diminutive size was busy slipping on her elbow pads on the bench.

"Hey there~" Oikawa greeted one of the more nervous-looking girls. "Are you a first year, too?"

"Oh... yes..."

A sharp clap split the air. "Alright! Everybody spread out—we're not getting anything done by loitering around like this! We have first years to greet, and more holes in our regular lineup than I would like. First years, come here!"

Lots of holes in our regular lineup, huh? Oikawa couldn't help but smile. Was setter one of them? And if it wasn't, then she'd feel just a wee bad at stealing a regular spot from their current setter. "What's your name?" she whispered to the girl from before as the upperclassmen sorted out some sign-up forms. "I'm Oikawa Tooru."

"Araki Aya," the other girl whispered back. "It's nice to meet you, Oikawa-san."

"Please, just call me Oikawa-chan, Arakiya."

The girl blinked, bemused. "... Arakiya...?"

The first years were asked to line up, Oikawa mentally counting that there were three of them including her. Not very many, even though the Kitagawa Daiichi girl's team were somewhat famous for their rivalry with Niiyama Girls' Junior High. Still, though, she had faith in the skills of their current third years and second years.

"Introduce yourselves," prompted the girl who had been speaking to Takara, her brows drawn into a severe frown. Despite being shorter than most of the girls standing next to her, she held a presence that only a captain had. For a moment, she and Oikawa locked eyes, but she quickly moved past her and chose to stare down Araki instead.

Swallowing a lump in her throat, Araki went first. "My name is Araki Aya. I went to Akiyama Elementary School... I started playing volleyball in fourth grade as a middle blocker."

She had the height for it, certainly, towering even over some of the third years. The girl had to be at least five foot three, Oikawa two inches behind her at five foot one.

"Oikawa Tooru," Oikawa introduced herself next, blooming with the confidence that Araki had been unable to show. Pretending she didn't see the other girl's awed look, she went on, "I went to Izumi Daiei Elementary. I've been playing volleyball as setter since third grade." That wasn't entirely true—she hadn't actually become a setter until fifth grade, when a taped volleyball match between Brazil and Russia introduced her to it. But it was but a mere white lie, and she knew she had the skills to back it up.

"... Aihara Mao," the last first year uttered, blinking slowly like a cat. "It's nice to meet you. I went to Yukigaoka Elementary, but my family moved into downtown Sendai after I graduated, so... here I am."

"Position?" the captain asked curtly.

"Wing spiker."

"It seems we have a variety this year," Takara opined, staring at them with calculating eyes. "An earnest bunch, don't you think, Naoko-san?" She turned to the captain.

"Aa. So it seems. But of course," Naoko slid her gaze to the returning players, "that means nothing yet. We'll have a six-on-six today." Addressing the first years, she added, "I'm Makoshima Naoko. Captain. Thanks for joining."

That's it? Oikawa thought as the teams were split. Not a very charismatic captain, is she...? She ended up on Naoko's team alongside Aihara, the libero, and two second years.

"Hey there," one of the second years said, lifting a hand. "Oikawa Tooru-san, right? I'm Hirama Yui, and this is Kadowaki Sakura."

Oikawa gave them her best smile. "It's nice to meet you, Hirama-senpai, Kadowaki-senpai. If you need any adjustment to the tosses I make, just say so."

"Tosses?" Sakura interrupted, raising an eyebrow. "And who decided you're playing setter?"

"... I just assumed—"

"Sakura," Naoko interrupted, turning her head back in the middle of a stretch. "You're setter for this match. Don't forget to account for Yui's left hand."

"Yes!" Sakura smirked. "Don't worry, I won't. I spent all of last year with her stupid southpaw."

Oikawa frowned. So... she's the official setter for the team. At least for this match, anyway. "Naoko-senpai?" she tried hesitantly. "What about me?"

"Focus on receiving for now. You're in the back row."

Tch! Receiving? How am I supposed to do anything useful by just receiving? Scoffing internally, Oikawa obeyed, resigning herself in the furthest right hand corner of the court. Alright, alright... Hirama-senpai is left-handed and Kadowaki-senpai is... protective about her position. And Naoko-senpai obviously has faith in them, since Kadowaki-senpai is probably the only setter accustomed to Hirama-senpai's spiking position. Making a mental note to observe what kind of toss Hirama found easiest to hit, she took a deep breath.

Courtesy of one of the reserve players who was refereeing the game, the whistle blew.

"Nice serve!" someone on the other side shouted.

The ball was launched softly over the net, thumping on the white tap before falling down.

"Front!" Oikawa shouted, Naoko reacting by receiving it with one arm.

"Sakura!"

"On it!"

Left or center? Oikawa's thoughts ran at a hundred miles per hour as she watched both the captain and Hirama take a running start. There's an opening at the front, so

Sakura flipped the ball over the net, scoring the first point.

Ah.

Setter dump. This early? Unexpected and gutsy...

"Nice," Naoko said as Hirama high-fived the setter. "Let's rotate. Sakura, it's your serve."

"Yes!"

Sakura's serve was pretty ordinary, but there was a good amount of force behind it, and it was received in the back row, breaking their formation.

The game seemed to drag on until Oikawa was finally in setter position, the libero substituted for a reserve middle blocker in the centre with Aihara on the attacking left. Her fingers twitched in anticipation as the other team served, Naoko retrieving the ball flawlessly.

Like she had done so hundreds of times before, Oikawa raised her arms in the air. Should I try for a setter dump? No way. Then... She tossed a high ball just a little back from the net. "Ai-chan!"

"Just call me Mao!" Aihara shouted as she slammed the ball into the opposite court, hitting it straight down. "Yosh!"

"Nice kill!" Hirama and Oikawa exclaimed at the same time.

"Nice kill," Naoko echoed less ecstatically. She gave Oikawa an odd look. "Did you know Aihara-chan before this?"

"Nope. In fact, the first time I spoke to her was just then."

"Interesting." The captain turned away. "Rotate. Nice serve, Oikawa-chan."

Ah... I barely got to set at all. Oikawa spun the ball in her hands a few times to get a better feel of it. In fact, I barely touched the ball today besides some receives. Let's change that...! Starting further back, Oikawa threw the ball in the air and took a running start, leaping before she could make a foot-fault. She could feel the ball vibrate beneath her palm as it was sent flying.

"Out!" Araki called, lifting her arms up as she did so. True to her words, the ball landed outside the court boundaries and rebounded off the wall.

"Good call, Araki-chan!"

"Nice, Araki-chan!"

"Hmph," Sakura remarked, "Nice home run there."

"Tch!" Glaring at the floor and then at the back of her head, Oikawa moved forward into receiving position.

"Sakura," Naoko piped up, voice blunt. "Shut up."

"... Sorry."

The match ended with Naoko's team as the winners, and all the girls took a break at the bench, chugging down water that the coach passed out.

"You did well," the coach complimented. Amusement in her voice, she added, "I must say, though, the teams were a little unbalanced with both Naoko-chan and Sakura-chan on the same side."

"They had the ace on their side, though," Hirama pointed out, looking at Takara. "I say it evened out pretty nicely. Right, Naoko-san?"

"Hn." Naoko wiped sweat off her brown with the back of her hand. "In any case, I know who's going to be a starter and who isn't. Everyone, gather around!"

"Ossu!" they all echoed.

"Sakura-chan," started Naoko. "You'll be playing starting setter as usual."

What?! Oikawa scowled. Honestly, I should have seen that coming considering how little I got to toss... But still! How frustrating!

"Aihara-chan, you're wing spiker. Those straight-down shots of yours are impressive. I suggest improving on your line shots, though, if you want to keep your spot. Hirama-chan..."

In the end, her name was never called. The only one who made it to the starting lineup was Aihara, whose spiking skills had impressed the third years enough. Whatever frustration that had boiled her blood during the match reignited, but she kept her composure, taking in a deep breath and exhaling slowly as she slid onto the bench, pinching the bridge of her nose. Naoko hadn't given her many opportunities during the match, but it was her own fault that she had messed up her jump serve.

"Hey." Oikawa looked up to see the butt of a bottle in front of her face.

"Kadowaki-senpai?" she blurted, baffled. Oikawa took it anyway, glancing warily at the setter.

"You're not bad, you know," Sakura said nonchalantly, smirking slightly at how Oikawa practically lit up, her pent-up frustration gradually fizzling out from the attention. "You'll make a good setter in a few years. Good enough to be a regular, anyway. Can I sit?"

Oikawa smirked back. "It's not my bench."

"True." Sakura sank next to her. "You wanna know why Aihara-san was the only first year to make it?"

"You don't need to tell me. It's because she's good at what she does."

"That's true, but there's a bit more to it. It's not because she's good, it's because she's exceptional. Aihara-san is able to hit at an angle that not even our ace can do. And it's not just her. Our libero has been personally trained by her father, a former volleyball player. Takara—our ace—hits with the same force as a male player, and she's versatile when it comes to serving. She's capable of both jump floaters and jump serves."

Intrigued, Oikawa asked, "What about you?"

"Me? To be honest, I'm only a regular because of Yui."

"The southpaw?"

"Don't sound so skeptical. Just being left-handed is already a huge advantage, and she's a pivotal component in our attack formations. And as of late last year, I'm the only one who can toss to her without her going out of her way. I'm the only one who can draw out her full potential." Sakura turned her gaze to her, eyes flashing. "What about you? Are you exceptional, too?"

Exceptional...? Memories of heading to the park every day with Iwaizumi to practice her technique swam to the forefront of her mind. Not just the park—at school, she frequently played with the boys' team since the girls' team was more of a social club than anything else. "Yes," Oikawa finally said, her voice wavering ever so slightly. "I like to think that I am."

Her upperclassman stood. "Is that so? Forgive me when I say that I don't believe you."

Oikawa stiffened. "You didn't get to see me really play today—"

"Stop making excuses. I'm not the one you need to convince. This team will be nothing short of exceptional, and that's out of my control. It was a small one, but Naoko-san gave you a chance. And since you blew it, you're going to need to work twice as hard to prove it to her that you deserve a spot. Like I said—I'm just a follower. Naoko-san is relentless."

"... Right."

Practice went on until the sun began to set, which was when the entire club began packing up.

"Hey, newbie!" Hirama tossed a volleyball to Oikawa, who was closest to the basket of balls. "Put the balls back into the storeroom. It's over there."

"Okay!" Hastily, she did as she was told, casting looks backward to keep track of where Naoko was. Once everything was packed up, they trickled outside, some of them yawning. Naoko lingered at the back of the pack, staring at her phone with a frown on her face—a frown that Oikawa had come to take as her default expression.

"Um, Naoko-senpai!" Oikawa uttered abruptly, jogging after her and catching her before she could leave with the rest.

"Go on ahead," Naoko shooed the rest of them away, "I'll catch up later." When they were gone, she turned to her new junior. "Yes?"

"Why... wasn't I put on the starting lineup?"

"... You're really asking me this?" Naoko's eyebrow arched. "Didn't Sakura tell you?"

"She did. She told me that you're only after exceptional talent—"

"That's true..."

"—and I believe that I fit that criteria." Though Oikawa had some inches on her, Naoko suddenly seemed to tower over her, a look in her eyes that Oikawa could only describe as intense distaste. Hurriedly, Oikawa went on, "I barely had any chances to toss today, and I know I messed up my jump serve, but—"

"Chances?" Naoko interrupted, glowering at her. "What—do you think you're going to get chances in a real game? As far as I'm concerned, you're nothing but a brat who only knows how to talk big."

What? It was as if a rock had dropped to her stomach. Despite her silver tongue in most social situations, Oikawa found herself stuttering. "I—"

"During the second set," Naoko talked over her once more, "You tossed to Hirama in the back row. She was stuffed. What was the problem? Your toss was plenty high, and she had gotten a good running start. Not to mention, she has a high impact point that could have gone over the block."

"The problem?" She wracked her brain. Problem?! I know she got stuffed, but wasn't that just bad luck?! Everything... was fine...

"Can't think of one, can you? In any other case, everything would have been perfect... But you forget one little detail."

"Southpaw," Oikawa muttered, the fact striking her like a high-speed projectile in the chest. Shit. I can't believe I forgot!

"Right. She's left-handed. Your toss couldn't account for it, and you call yourself exceptional? Don't make me laugh. Sakura is no talent—even she'll admit that, as prideful as she is. But at any rate, she's still better than you. I don't need a setter who can't adjust to her spikers' needs."

"It was my first day!"

"I'm fully aware," Naoko said dryly. "In fact, I was actually impressed by some of your plays, especially the one with Aihara-san, who you've never met before. You already have a good foundation and the right mindset, but you know what's missing? The right attitude. Now get out of here, I have to lock up."

And that was that.

Numb, Oikawa let her legs carry her forward and out the gym. She converged with Iwaizumi at the front gates, and from there, they walked to the bus stop.

"You're quiet," Iwaizumi observed. "Did something happen? Don't tell me you're being picked on."

"No," Oikawa answered, sounding slightly dazed. "I... It's nothing. I just didn't make the starting lineup, that's all."

"Is that all? I didn't make it either. What—you didn't seriously think you'd automatically make the lineup, would you?"

She made a frustrated noise. "But I'm good! I know I'm better than their setter!"

Are you? a traitorous voice in her head asked.

I will be once I get the hang of tossing to Hirama-senpai!

Iwaizumi shrugged. "Don't get so hung up about it. If you want to be a regular, you just have to be even better than better. The captain told me that I have a good chance of making it if I improve my spiking technique." He gave her a questioning look. "What about your captain? Did she say anything?"

"She..."

"It's not because she's good, it's because she's exceptional."

"You already have a good foundation and the right mindset, but you know what's missing? The right attitude."

Pouting, she turned her nose upward. "No!"

Iwaizumi deadpanned. "I bet she did and you're just too big-headed to accept criticism."

"Erk! Well, if she did, I didn't get what she was talking about!"

"Seriously, your ego bruises easier than a banana."

Doing her best imitation of the serious, no-nonsense captain, Oikawa flattened her hair and drawled, "You have a good foundation and mindset, but your attitude smells like ass."

"Something about that sentence doesn't sound right. Are you sure she said it like that?"

The evening bus arrived, and both children clambered in.

"I know right!" rambled Oikawa. "I mean—what's the difference between mindset and attitude, anyway?" Grumbling, she crossed her arms and slumped in her seat, glowering at the back of the seat in front.

Iwaizumi's brow lowered. "Not what I meant, but okay. Were you rude to the players?"

"I was perfectly pleasant, thank you very much."

"Then the problem lies elsewhere, and you probably have to find it yourself."

"Yeah, maybe," she replied, uncertain. "But where?"


Um... Pedro stared intensely at the worksheet in front of him, his pencil twitching in his hand. Then, under the watchful eye of his grandma, he began to do it, scrawling down the hiragana and katakana he had learned in the past few months into the appropriate blanks.

"Very good," his grandmother praised at the end of it.

Pedro let out a relieved sigh. "Thank you, sobo."

His grandmother smiled kindly. "Pedro-kun, your Japanese has improved greatly. I'm proud of you."

Well, he did have some 'experience' through watching anime, but he wisely chose not to mention that.

"Thank you," he repeated. "Can I go out?"

"Ah. Meeting with Iwaizumi-kun again, are you? Very well."

Pedro unplugged his phone from the charging port on the way out, slipping his shoes on and heading outside with one last farewell thrown over his shoulder. Hajime said that he would be at the park, and then we're meeting Yuzuru later.

Lately, they hadn't been able to hang out with Hanyu as much as they wanted (or as much as Pedro and Oikawa wanted, anyway; he was sure that Iwaizumi wasn't the fondest of the skater) due to his intensive training schedule. It was no secret among them—heck, the entire city knew at the very least (he had appeared on television a few times due to his breaking of records)—that Hanyu was aiming to compete in the Sochi Olympics and bring back gold for Sendai, the city that raised him.

When Pedro arrived at the park, music booming through his earbuds, Oikawa was setting a ball for Iwaizumi. The latter slammed it into the ground with a force that awed Pedro. He thought, momentarily, I wonder why nobody's made a manga or anime about volleyball yet? Or maybe they have, and I just haven't seen it.

"Pedro-chan!" Oikawa greeted cheerfully.

"Hey, Pedro," Iwaizumi followed up. "Right on time—my arm was just starting to get sore."

"I am hungry," Pedro announced in his best Japanese, removing his earbuds and turning his walkman (which he kept in his conjoined hoodie pocket) off. "Let's go see Yuzuru and eat."

"Anything for you, Pedro-chan~! We were just wrapping up here, anyway."

Pedro gave her a look. "Uh huh."

Together, the three of them walked to Izumi Daiei (the mall), only faltering when they passed the bakery.

"No, Shittykawa, you had milk bread before we went to the park."

"Just one loaf!"

"One of those loaves can feed a family!"

Smiling, Pedro tapped them both on the shoulder. "We are eating soon anyway."

Iwaizumi gave an exasperated huff. "Thank you."

On the other hand, Oikawa wasn't as pleased. "Ugh, Pedro, you traitor."

Pedro merely smiled.

Upon arrival to the ice rink, they caught Hanyu in the middle of one of his rotating jumps.

"Toe loop!" Pedro cried, surprising his friends. "That one's called a toe loop!"

"Top loop?" Iwaizumi echoed, squinting. "I guess I can kind of see why..."

Skating forward with his chin slightly lowered, he proceeded to do an even more complicated jump than before, making Oikawa, Iwaizumi, and Pedro gasp collectively, even when he slipped at caught himself by pushing his hand against the ice. Frustration was evident on his face, a sharp contrast to the calm disposition his coach, Abe Nanami, had.

"Triple axel!" Pedro was screeching giddily.

Eventually, Hanyu's practice ended, and he was free to leave with the rest of them.

"Ne, Pedro-chan," Oikawa asked, "What did you mean by triple axel?"

Obviously, the question's answer was beyond Pedro's level of Japanese, so he turned to Hanyu, who gladly explained. "There are a number of rotations in the air that you can do for each jump technique. The most difficult jump technique is called the axel, which I tried to do before." Sheepishly, he rubbed the back of his head. "I can only do two rotations confidently—I'm in the middle of mastering the triple axel."

"Whoa... this sounds way more complicated than volleyball, Yu-chan."

"You can't really equate volleyball and figure skating," Iwaizumi pointed out.

Pedro was practically glowing when he read the menu for the ramen stand they ended up at, practically devouring the low quality images of noodles with his eyes.

"Oh..." Hanyu blinked curiously at the menu. "I've never eaten here before."

"Seriously?" Iwaizumi said incredulously.

"Aa. I don't usually eat out. My parents aren't very rich, so most of the outside food we can afford is normally very unhealthy."

"Ramen is high in sodium," Oikawa admitted. "Not to mention the chefs normally use MSG. But it's alright in moderation. I mean, look at me, I'm the pinnacle of health!"

"You missed the bus yesterday and couldn't even make it to school before second period," Iwaizumi reminded her wryly.

"Iwa-chan! I told you not to talk about that! Also, school isn't exactly close anymore, so shut up!"

Hanyu chuckled. "Alright, alright. Which one do you recommend?"

"My favorite's tonkotsu ramen with charshu pork, and Iwa-chan likes miso ramen with karaage chicken." As if to make a point, Iwaizumi gave Hanyu a thumbs-up at the mention of karaage chicken miso ramen.

Pedro pointed at a random dish. "I want chicken katsu shoyu ramen."

"Miso and tonkotsu are less salty than shoyu, right?" Hanyu mused. "Okay, I'll take the same one as you, Oikawa-chan."

Oikawa smirked. "Good choice. I promise you won't regret it."

"He'll regret missing out on karaage, though," Iwaizumi quipped.

Being the only customers, their orders arrived quickly, and soon enough, they were all happily slurping up noodles and soup.

"Yuzuru, you eat so fast," Pedro commented in awe, his noodles lifted halfway to his mouth.

"I burn a lot of calories during training," the skater explained. "And," he added a little shyly, "I was in a rush today so I only had some orange juice and toast for breakfast."

"Did you run out of your house with toast in your mouth like an anime girl?"

"No, Pedro-kun, but that sounds fun."

"I told you, I don't like narutomaki!" Oikawa was hissing from the side as she tried to pass off the fishcake to Iwaizumi.

"Piss off! Like I want your shitty narutomaki!" Iwaizumi snapped back. "You're dripping soup everywhere!"

"Yuzuru must train a lot," said Pedro, causing Oikawa to turn to him curiously.

"You do train hard," Oikawa added. "Why? You're already so good, but you train every day... You're a genius at ice skating, Yu-chan. You don't need to work yourself to the bone."

Thoughtful, Hanyu set down his chopsticks on his bowl. "Skating fascinates me," he began. "People call me a genius, but talent or genius are something that must be honed with hard work. Even though I set aside a lot of things for skating, I love it, and I want to win at it, too. One day, I'm going to show the world something that only I'm able to do." He gave them a look. "Did you know no one's ever done a quadruple axel before? I'm going to be the first to do that. Maybe I think I'm good now, but I know I can only be better if I dedicate myself to skating."

"It's not because she's good, it's because she's exceptional."

"You already have a good foundation and the right mindset, but you know what's missing? The right attitude."

Two things became clear as day to her.

Somehow, Hanyu had become even further out of reach in the months that had passed between November and April.

And if she wanted to become a regular, she knew what she had to do.

"Talent or genius are something that must be honed with hard work."

Oikawa ate the rest of her food in quick, neat bites, Iwaizumi sending her a questioning look briefly before focusing on his own food.

Then watch me hone my genius... Naoko-senpai.

Chapter Text

"Hey, um..." Oikawa coughed into her hand as Hirama turned around, puzzled. "I heard that only Kadowaki-senpai is able to sync up with you right now, so I was wondering if you could possibly practice with me for a bit? You don't have to stay long."

Hirama Yui was a bit of a mystery to Oikawa. Unlike some of her other upperclassmen (in particular Naoko and Sakura and that strange half-Korean libero who had the eeriest smile Oikawa had ever had the pleasure or misfortune of witnessing), the lefty didn't seem to have any discernible personality or quirks besides being a southpaw. Even Naoko, whose default expression was either a frown or a bland poker face, seemed more distinct than Hirama.

"Wow," Hirama said after a long pause. She had a sleepy-looking sort of face, now that Oikawa took a closer look at her. If she let down her long hair (it was the same color as Hanamaki's, funnily enough) from her high ponytail, she'd seem a lot gentler. "You have a very intense stare."

"Eh? Really?"

"Yeah, totally. I've never seen a newbie look so desperate for practice before."

"So is that yes or no...?"

"It's a yes, Oikawa-chan." Hirama's lips quirked upward. "Morning practice is almost over, so we can practice during lunchtime. I know a good spot."

Oikawa breathed out a sigh of relief. "Thanks."

"No problem. You get a passing grade from me just for even asking. Initiative can get you a long way."


Iwaizumi found Oikawa drinking a yogurt beverage in her classroom in-between periods. "Hey," he greeted. "How was practice?"

"Pretty good. The team's intensity levels compared to the club back in elementary can't even be compared." A grin crossed her face as she put the drink down on her desk. "It's refreshing, actually. This is a team that can win, not just play. Ah, that reminds me!" Oikawa held up a hand apologetically. "I'm practicing my tosses with Hirama-senpai today, so..."

"Got it. I'll sit with my team—they've been bugging me about it anyway." As he spoke, he picked her drink up and practically drained the rest of it, ignoring some of the blatant stares he got from her classmates as Oikawa began wondering how she had to adjust her sets to sync properly with Hirama. Iwaizumi made a face. "Is this a new flavor?"

Oikawa smiled impishly. "It's mango."

"What happened to only drinking strawberry?"

"Psh," she waved her hand at him dismissively, "Strawberry's getting boring now."


The first thing that Oikawa noticed about Hirama was that she didn't like to move a lot. Now that she thought back further down the line, it was mostly Sakura who kept bringing the ball to her. When she inquired about it during lunch, Hirama smiled and spiked her toss, sending it spinning in a random direction.

"Second tempo," Hirama said when Oikawa had retrieved the ball. "I never go beyond second tempo."

"Tempo?" echoed Oikawa. "What's that?"

They sat down on the ground, not even bothering with finding a bench or a chair.

"Basically, it's the run-up time of the spiker compared to the set-up time of the setter," her upperclassman began. "At least that's how I like to think about it. Third tempo is the slowest, followed by second tempo, first tempo, and then minus tempo. No one on our team can do minus tempo, though Izumi-senpai is quite proficient with first tempo. I think it'd be easier if I show you." She stood, reaching out a hand to help Oikawa out. "Let's start with third tempo. Just set the ball, and see when I run up to hit it."

Puzzling over the concept of tempos as the pieces began to form in her head, Oikawa tossed for Hirama, carefully watching her run-up. There was nothing unusual about it—it was how she normally looked prior to spiking.

"That," Hirama told her, pointing at her, "was third tempo. Now set up another ball—I'll show you what second tempo looks like." When Hirama ran up the second time, the difference was clear, but the shot wasn't—it spun in an undesirable direction once more. "Now do you see? The difference between tempos?"

"The second time," Oikawa answered, "You started your approach as I tossed the ball, whereas the first time, you started your approach after I tossed." I see... so it's not a matter of how fast or slow my tosses are. Even so, I still have to learn how to adjust to her southpaw.

"Correct, correct." Hirama clapped softly, her eyes closed and the smile on her face like gentle sunshine.

"But why? Why don't you try first tempo?"

"Oh? That's easy—because there's just no need. I leave all attacks of the quick variety to our very reliable ace. Izumi-senpai has the power, speed, and stamina for it... I don't have any of that. I'm here because I happen to have a left hand who wants to be friends with me. Most players aren't used to my spikes, and even a soft hit can be difficult to receive due to the spin."

"What about blockers?" Oikawa pressed, eager to know more. "How do you avoid them? Just blast through?"

"Nope. Like I said, I'm not a power spiker. Our team has some very talented individuals, but we're stronger when we work together. Naoko-san can be scary," Oikawa winced, remembering the less-than-friendly exchange they'd had on the first day of school, "but she knows how to use us so we can all be scary. The answer to your question is because of Sakura-chan. She's the setter, it's through her that I'm successful. She brings the ball wherever the blockers are not—and she knows where the blockers are not because of decoys."

"So," Oikawa surmised, "Your success rate depends on the setter and your teammates?"

"Yes. It's a pretty simple concept, so I don't doubt you understand. In the end, volleyball is a team sport." Stretching, Hirama yawned. "And... that's all there is to it, isn't it? Whether you are extraordinary or ordinary... that doesn't change that fact."

"... I see." She spun the ball in her hands. "Hirama-senpai! Let's keep practicing."

"Yes, yes..." There was the shadow of a smile on her face. "You know...

"You and Sakura-chan are quite alike."


"You and Sakura-chan are quite alike."

Concern seeped into Iwaizumi's features as he gave Oikawa a side glance. She'd been oddly quiet so far, and that was never a good sign as far as she went. Just as he was about to ask what was wrong, she finally spoke.

"Iwa-chan, am I good at volleyball?"

"Huh? What kind of question is that?"

"Just answer it, please."

Giving her an odd look, he said, "Yeah, you are."

But she wasn't satisfied. He could see it in her eyes—the hunger and desperation and maybe even doubt that was creeping into her gaze. Iwaizumi wondered where it came from. Oikawa was always so self-assured when it came to volleyball.

"I practiced with Hirama-senpai all day today, you know," Oikawa said suddenly as they passed by a playground they used to play at when they were younger. The small waterway separating the path from the park babbled as shadows on the water were chased away by moonlight. "During lunch. After school. And I still can't match her with my tosses. Not the way Kadowaki-senpai can."

"She's the left-handed one, right? Of course it's going to be hard. The pyramids weren't built in a day."

Oikawa chuckled. "It's Rome, Iwa-chan, not the pyramids."

"Whatever."

"And you're right, they weren't. At least, not according to most people. There are people out there who seem to believe that aliens put them there." At the deadpan he was giving her, she shrugged. "Hey, they said it, not me. Though I'm not entirely adverse to that conspiracy, hehe~" Oikawa sobered up. "But I thought I would be able to. Set to her properly, that is. If I can't even do that, then I'm useless to the team."

He watched her carefully for a moment, waiting for something to follow. When she said nothing, he ground out, "Don't tell me you've already given up."

Oikawa's face scrunched up. "Heck no! Of course not! What's wrong with you, thinking that, huuuhhh?!"

"Don't huuuhhh me when you look like you're about to die or something!"

"I was just thinking!" Oikawa huffed. "Hirama-senpai that I was like Kadowaki-senpai. At first, I thought it was a compliment... But maybe she was dissing me?"

"Dissing you? By comparing you to a senpai who's not only a regular setter on a powerhouse team, but also the only one who can match up with her left hand? Yeah, she's totally dissing you."

"No, no, not that. Maybe I'm just thinking too hard, but... Kadowaki-senpai told me herself that..."

"Me? To be honest, I'm only a regular because of Yui."

She shook her head. "Never mind."

Iwaizumi glanced at her before facing forward once more. "I bet you're thinking that your upperclassman is below you." At her subtle wince, he knew he was correct. "You're too arrogant sometimes. I don't think you're giving your Kadowaki-senpai enough credit. Why? Is it because she's not a genius and you are?" Or think you are? hung between them but neither of them spoke a word about it. He sighed. "You're such a huge brat."

"Hey! Maybe you're just a teensy bit right, but I still view her as a hurdle to overcome! After all, I can't just ignore her—she's my competition to be the starting setter like some really annoying blocker I can't get past. But I will. I'll hit so hard that her arms break."

"Are we still talking about setting?"

"Shut up, Iwa-chan, you're distracting me and now I don't know what we're talking about anymore."

"So you're admitting that you've been talking out of your ass this whole time?"

"I wasn't! I told you, you just distracted me!"

Iwaizumi laughed then, making Oikawa stare at him in disbelief before dissolving into muffled giggles, his laughter infectious. "You're an idiot," he told her, but there was no bite to it. "It doesn't matter if you're a genius or not." Their pace slowed, and Oikawa found herself facing him as they were bathed by moonlight. The scene felt vaguely shoujo, and she felt her face heat up though she kept her expression relatively neutral.

"Doesn't it?" she asked.

"Being a genius doesn't exempt you from hard work. If you want to be good, then work for it. That's all there is to it."

"Hmm..." Oikawa brightened. "Okay! You know, you almost sounded cool saying that."

"Hah?" Iwaizumi's eyebrow arched. "What are you talking about? I'm always cool."

Even amidst the laughter and the relaxed atmosphere, she couldn't shake the feeling of dread and spite that was slowly creeping up on her. Even if Iwaizumi said that it didn't matter, it somehow did. But did she have to worry? After all, I'm a ten in a world of fives. Like Iwa-chan and Yu-chan. Right? Hanyu was undeniably one. She wasn't too sure about Iwaizumi, actually, but they had always been a pair in her mind. So if she were a genius, wouldn't it make sense for him to be one, too?

But then, in her mind, her teammates loomed into view, the intimidating captain of Kitaichi's girls' volleyball team especially tall, her eyes blazing and frightening. Behind her stood Hirama and Sakura, a pair that functioned together like a well-oiled machine. The eerie libero with short black hair and bangs that covered her eyebrows who wore fashionably round glasses when she wasn't fighting on the court. Aihara Mao, the only first year who had made it as a regular. Obata Kazue— strong, silent, frequently overlooked, and a precocious read-blocker. Izumi Takara—the ace who not only let her title talk, but her naturally gifted height, naturally gifted physique, and naturally gifted skills, too. And behind them, the shadows of the reserve players, their passion for the sport muted and not as defined as the regulars', but still flicking like a candle in the dark.

She envisioned herself—standing at the forefront of the reserve's, but still behind even Aihara, the greenest regular. Trapped in a limbo, standing on the fine line that divided the ordinary and the plain from the exceptional and the fierce.

When had she gotten there? She had always seen herself standing among the latter, but now she had been shifted back.

"It's not because she's good, it's because she's exceptional."

What about me? she asked silently as Iwaizumi waved to her one last time after walking her back to her house. What am I then? Who do I stand with? The prodigies at the front? Or...

The next morning, she woke up extra early and biked to Kitagawa Daiichi after texting an apology to Iwaizumi that she would not be riding the six o'clock bus to school with him anymore.


Really, Oikawa should have seen this coming. On the verge of kicking the door down in frustration, Oikawa stewed in her own misery as she sat on the doorstep of the Gym 2, which was locked and would not be open until the rest of the team arrived, most likely. "Argh!" she shouted into the darkness at one point, clutching her head and rolling down the steps as well as being very glad that there was no one around to witness her tantrum. "I'm such an idiot! Frickin' locked gym! Frickin' southpaw!"

"Wow, look what I've found! An angry little first year. You know, you could get eaten up if you keep making so much noise. I hear the janitors have a secret society and prowl the grounds for naughty children during the night."

Oikawa removed her hands from her face to see a familiar pair of slanted eyes—lined with kohl to make them look more cat-like than they actually were—staring down at her with wicked amusement. Round glasses framed her heart-shaped face, creating an unfathomably pretty visage. "Uh."

"It's Yuuna, kid."

Her face went red, mortified that an upperclassman (as well as a regular on the team!) had caught her rolling across the concrete like the girl who didn't get a pony for Christmas. She sat up immediately, almost knocking the crown of her head against the soft underside of the libero's chin.

"I'm surprised," Yuuna said as she suddenly lifted her legs from the ground and held herself up with only her hands, speaking like she hadn't just done what most people couldn't achieve in their lifetime. "Nobody ever comes this early."

"What about you then?" Oikawa retorted, an uncomfortable feeling prickling the layer beneath her skin. She didn't know what it was (maybe it was how Yuuna seemed to be able to stretch like an aspiring contortionist, or how her kohl-lined eyes bore into Oikawa's soul whenever she glanced her direction) but this particular upperclassman and her eccentricities had always spooked her a little.

"Me?" She tilted her head, the action smooth and feline-like while still managing to stand on her hands. "Well, it's simple, really. After our last crushing defeat against Niiyama," here, she clenched one fist, and Oikawa's jaw slackened ever so slightly when the girl still maintained balance with no trouble, "I realized I needed to step up my game a little. Unfortunately, my parents dragged me back to Korea during the break—"

That wasn't very unfortunate at all, but Oikawa held her tongue for once.

"—so I haven't gotten to do the extra practice I want to until school started." Yuuna leaned in real close, blinking in that unsettling cat-like way of hers. "It's be lonely, you know, without company. Isn't there something terrifying? Something terrifying about setting a ball in the air, only for no one to be there to spike it?"

"Um, Yuuna-senpai—"

"Come on!" Oikawa yelped when Yuuna grabbed her hand and pulled her up, dragging her to the locked doors, where she proceeded to fish out the keys and rattle them in the keyhole. "Since you're already here, you can help me practice!"

"Wait a minute!"

"What?" Yuuna finally took back, gaze dark. "Should I lock you out here for the janitors to strip your flesh from your bones and use them in a ritual sacrifice to summon a demon that will reign destruction upon Japan and cancel the prefecture tournaments, rendering us helpless and without purpose?"

"Huh?! Excuse me?!" Oikawa yanked her wrist from Yuuna's grip and scuttled backward, holding her arms up defensively. Is... she crazy?! Oh my god, I've run into a psycho

Yuuna blinked owlishly. "What? Why are you looking at me like that? Oh, I know!" Smiling indulgently, she stood on her hands again, her bag falling with gravity to hit her in the cheek. "Is it because I can do this? It's pretty easy—you want me to teach you?"

"That wasn't what I meant at all!"

Eventually, Yuuna managed to coax Oikawa into the gym, not unlike how an eccentric old woman would draw a wary cat into her house with homemade food.

"Yuuna-senpai," Oikawa said as they warmed up with tossing to each other. "You're a libero, right? So why are you so intent on setting?"

"Overhand passes can come in handy," her upperclassman replied. "I wouldn't be able to receive Takara's jump floaters without it. But that's not all..." Yuuna caught the ball with one hand, removing her glasses with the other. To Oikawa's alarm, she tossed them onto the bench without a care. "Relax, they're non-prescription. I can live without 'em."

"And you wear them because...?"

"What else? 'Cause they look good on me. But like I was saying, there's another reason I'm practicing my tosses. You're not the only 'reserve' setter around here." With her foot, Yuuna tapped the attack line. "Liberos can act as setters, too. Tosses are valid as long as I do it behind the attack line. If I'm the one tossing, it'll give way to new combination plays." She twirled the ball in her hand. "Let's get started! We've warmed up enough. I want to actually put it into practice."

Together, they set up the net and pulled out the volleyball bin, which was filled to the brim with an assortment of school volleyballs of both Mikasa and Molten kind.

"Can you throw up the ball in a high arc for me?" Yuuna requested. "Normally, I just set as I jump, but it'll be harder if an outside force provides the ball..."

Oikawa did, and Yuuna's eyes narrowed as she jumped into the air, her fingertips reaching for the ball. She tossed it just before she landed on the opposite side of the attacking line.

"Gyaph!" Oikawa spluttered when the ball hit her in the face while she was in the air, ready to spike. She landed on her feet, rocking back and forth before falling to the side, holding her nose.

"Shit!" cursed Yuuna. "Again!"

"Let me just check if my nose is bleeding first."

"Good idea. If Naoko-san found blood all over the court, she'd probably shout at us and accidentally end up summoning a demon from hell because nobody noticed the blood on the floor and conveniently smudged it into a ritual circle during practice and then that demon would fight the one summoned by the janitor's society and the world would be doomed and we wouldn't be able to play volleyball ever again."

Quickly learning to just roll with it, Oikawa nodded. "Right." She nudged her nose gingerly. "I think we're in the clear. Let's keep going!"

They ended up taking a break after an hour, Yuuna's setting having improved over the sixty minutes that had passed. "Now I just need to do the same thing with everyone else." She let out a relieved sigh. "Maybe Naoko-san will finally get off my back about this."

"Naoko-senpai?" Oikawa let out a light chuckle as she flopped onto the floorboards next to Yuuna. "What, is she a slave driver?"

Rubbing sweat off her forehead with a towel, Yuuna hummed. "That would be accurate. She's like a balancing act. Full of drive and determined enough to pull the best out of everyone. Balancing the point between overworking us and encouraging us to do better. But most of the time, she tends to lean in one direction. And because of that..." Yuuna frowned. "There are people on our team who hate her."

"Hate her? Hate Naoko-senpai?" Oikawa could imagine why, but Naoko always seemed like the kind to command enough respect to avoid being spited. "Who?"

"Hmm, should I really be telling you this?" Yuuna smirked. "It's not like they bully her or anything. They wouldn't dare."

"Aww, Yuuna-senpai~" Oikawa rolled onto her belly, sending pleading eyes her way. "I won't tell!" That was a lie. She would tell Iwaizumi, and probably Aihara and Araki if the topic ever came up.

"Fine, fine. It's mostly the second years who feel frustrated because they're overlooked but still expected to perform at their best every time. I'm speaking as a regular here, but I get why they would feel that way." She turned her head to look at Oikawa, her cheek squishing against the cold wooden floor. "Do you hate her for it?"

"I don't... hate her. Well, I don't really like her much because..."

"She can be a total bitch?"

"Yes! No!"

Yuuna laughed. "Which is it?"

Oikawa pouted. "Yes. It's yes. Are you gonna tell her?"

"No point. I'd just repeat to her what she already knows."

"Geh?! She knows I think she's a bitch? And she hasn't murdered me yet?"

"You have a wild imagination, Oikawa-chan."

"As if you can talk!"

The sunlight filtered in through the windows. It was almost six-forty-five, and the volleyball team would soon arrive for morning practice. They continued their tossing and spiking before Yuuna declared that she was going for a water run, leaving Oikawa to practice her serve by herself.

Does that mean none of the third years hate her? Oikawa wondered as she threw the ball in the air and struck it as hard as she could. It hit the net, and she clicked her tongue in frustration before reaching for the ball bin and grabbing another one. She could safely say that none of the first years disliked her. Probably. Aihara had been given a spot on the regular lineup, after all, and Araki was too gentle to despise anyone to any sort of degree.

And from the way she spoke, Yuuna didn't seem to bear any sort of ill will toward the captain either, even if she was a little odd and had some sort of fixation with the occult.

Trying to calm herself down and rid the frustration that was plaguing her from not being able to do a perfect serve, she touched the ball to her forehead, closing her eyes. Then they opened again, and she served.

The ball felt good against her palm, and a grin split her lips as she watched the ball soar over the net and spiral toward the left corner of the court. Yes! Finally

A shadow blurred, and suddenly Yuuna was there, diving for the ball with her arms in receiving position. To Oikawa's dismay (and slight awe), her upperclassman's receive cancelled out the spin and sent it straight to setter position.

"Hey!" Yuuna called, smiling. "That was a great serve!"

"And you still managed to receive it anyway..." Oikawa turned away, sulking and refusing to be touched upon by Yuuna's positive energy.

"Well, duh. I'm awesome." Yuuna's smile turned a little sinister. "Wanna watch me get the best libero award this year? I'll crush my competition. And just for my cute little kohai. That's you, by the way."

"I figured." Yuuna wasn't so bad, Oikawa admitted. She was probably just a little misunderstood from the way that she presented herself to everyone (creepy smile, Sadako-vibes, consistent mentions of occult-related subjects).

The rest of the team arrived a little past six-forty-five, just as Oikawa was pulling her hair out of her messy ponytail and redoing it on the bench. Naoko was at the front, as per usual, scanning her surroundings with that sharp, scrutinizing stare of hers.

"Ohohoho!" Yuuna walked up Naoko bent over backwards and on all fours. "Look's like our esteemed captain has arrived! You know, I heard the tennis club girls gossiping about you the other day, Naoko-san, so how about we go set a demon on them? With a little convincing, I could get the janitors on our side."

Naoko nudged her out of the way with one hip. "How about we practice instead?"

"You already look pretty demon-like to me," Oikawa added from the bench, getting the attention from several of her teammates and a squawk of a laugh from Yuuna.

"What's this, huh?" Sakura raised an eyebrow, arms akimbo. Her orange-brown hair had changed since yesterday—she had added lightning bolt-shaped streaks through her maple-colored locks. "Since when were you all buddy-buddy with the first years, huh, Yunna Yoo?"

Yuuna Yoo? She uses her given name first? But at this point, Oikawa had given up on understanding the machinations of Yuuna and her dynamic with the team, so she just accepted it like how Einstein's declaration that light traveled in a constant speed in all frames of reference was eventually accepted by the scientific community.

"Oh, come off your high horse!" exclaimed Yuuna, lifting her legs off the ground and standing on her arms. Awkwardly, she twirled so that she was actually facing them. "She's fun!"

"I'm super fun," Oikawa tacked on with an extremely serious face, unable to suppress a wide grin when Sakura tried to disguise her guffaw as a spiteful scoff.

The team got to practice. As they were lining up for spiking drills (followed by flying receives back to the end of the line), Oikawa found herself sandwiched between Araki and Aihara, her fellow first years.

"I didn't realize you were friends with Yuuna-senpai," Aihara said, giving her a look. It wasn't judgmental, thankfully—merely curious.

"We weren't," Oikawa replied honestly. "At least, well, not until this morning."

"Why did you come so early?" interjected Araki.

Oikawa shrugged. "Just needed the practice."

"But you're already really good."

"Oh, I know that. But I can always be better, can't I?"

The line moved up.

"That was really cool," mumbled Araki.

"I know right?"

Aihara chuckled. "Oikawa, you're up. Sakura-senpai looks super annoyed."

"Ah! Sorry, Kadowaki-senpai—"

"Yeah, yeah. Hurry up already. And call me Sakura-senpai. Kadowaki-senpai sounds so weird."


By the time first period rolled around, Oikawa was practically asleep in her seat, the passion-fueled ramblings of her half-bald Japanese literature teacher lost on her. Her arm was automatically copying down the notes on the board as she all but dozed off, so she was relying on being able to go through the class content later, when she wasn't feeling dead on her feet.

The bell rang fifty-something minutes later, and the class was allowed a ten-minute break until the next period started. Just as she was about to duck her head into her arms and snore away in public, the door slid open, revealing Iwaizumi with something in his hand.

"Oi," he called to her, walking into the classroom without a care and pushing what he was carrying toward her face. "You forgot your lunch, dumbass."

"Iwa-chan," Oikawa started, feeling her face heat up in that annoying way she hated. Smirking, she took the cloth-wrapped bento from him. "Are you my mom?"

"I'm gonna kick the shit out of you."

"See, this is why you don't have a girlfriend~" She sighed happily. "But thanks. Otherwise I would have probably starved to death, and you'd cry every day because I'm not there to bring joy into your life."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night." Iwaizumi pulled a chair from a nearby unoccupied seat to sit. "How did you get to school?"

"Bike."

"You haven't ridden since you were eight."

"Well, I did fall down a few times, but I made it!"

"I wish I could have been there."

"Aw, you do care—"

"So I could have recorded you falling on your face." Iwaizumi gave her a thumbs-up, smirking.

"That's so mean!" Pouting, she continued, "Anyway, I'll probably won't be riding the bus with you from now on, in case you didn't see my text."

"No, I saw. I won't be riding the bus either, so I don't care."

"Eh?" Oikawa blinked in surprise. "Why not?"

"Why else?" Iwaizumi's eyebrow rose ever so slowly, making him look less angry than he normally did. Oikawa buried part of her face in her arms so that her cheeks wouldn't be seen. "I can't let you of all people outdo me. Some of the guys on the team show up before dawn for practice, so I'm going to, too. We can bike to school together," he added before she could talk. "At least then I can make sure you don't end up falling into a manhole or something stupid like that."

"Iwa-chan," Oikawa mock-sniffed and leaned in for a hug, covering the fact that she felt genuinely moved. "You do care. And no saying something else to prove me otherwise!"

"Get off me, Snottykawa!"