Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope. - Josh Billings
Oikawa's fourteen when his first girlfriend dumps him.
As far as breakups go it's not a bad one. Kazumi-chan cries, yes, but then she always cries at the drop of a hat. Her eyes are hauntingly beautiful even as tears glimmer at their edges, though it's an effect Oikawa's built up immunity to during the course of their six-month relationship.
Her pretty voice is punctuated by sniffles as she lists Oikawa's failings: selfish (true), narcissist (true), flirt (true), player (untrue, despite all appearances), volleyball-mad (not a minus point, Oikawa wants to protest, but she's almost shouting at this point and argument is impossible.)
“Our volleyball team can't even get to nationals,” Kazumi accuses – a digression rather than the main point of her tirade, except that her half-sobbed words, instead of floating past Oikawa with the usual ephemeral quality of soap bubbles, make something iron-cold and knife-sharp twist inside him.
The switch is so instant and total Oikawa surprises himself. One moment he's tolerating her weeping with a half-hearted sense of guilt, the next he's giving as good as he's getting, stone-smooth and sarcastic as he critiques her histrionics and the split ends in her hair and the funny way she chews food.
Within twenty seconds of this Kazumi's startled out of her crying, and then she slaps him.
Three weeks later they're friends again and swopping tips on flirting with the high schoolers from Aobajousai, but Oikawa has never been the forgetful sort. Kazumi's snipe at the Kitagawa Daiichi volleyball team, small and throwaway, sticks in his craw all year.
It doesn't help that within days of their fight he meets Kageyama Tobio for the first time.
Oikawa doesn't quite hate Tobio at first sight, but it's a pretty near thing.
By the time he sees Tobio do a serve toss, months later, undeniably in Oikawa's own style – without a single hint or tutorial from Oikawa himself – it's pretty much confirmed, pitch-black permanent-marker hatred scribbled all over Oikawa's heart.
“Geniuses should be punished just for existing,” he proclaims in all seriousness one afternoon to Iwaizumi, who looks up from his page of unfinished trigonometry homework with a baleful eye.
“That is literally so pathetic I can't even be bothered punching you,” says Iwaizumi, irritably erasing his fifth attempt at finding the value of tan(x). “Get up off my bed and do your math homework.”
“Already finished it during class,” says Oikawa with a little wave of his hand. Iwaizumi's response is to launch an eraser at his nose. “Ouch! That was unnecessary.”
“Everything you say is unnecessary,” snarls Iwaizumi, dragging Oikawa up by the collar of his school uniform, and forcing him to surrender his completed math homework.
Iwaizumi's patience exhausted, Oikawa resorts to daydreaming about outcomes ranging from Tobio falling flat on his face and looking like an idiot (not an unachievable goal) to elaborate fantasies involving Tobio's head, silver platters, and really long carving knives.
Mostly though, he dreams of winning. Against Tobio, against Shiratorizawa, against whoever it takes to keep playing volleyball.
“He can't even beat me,” says Oikawa, staring up at the ceiling of Iwaizumi's room.
He half-expects Iwaizumi to chuck a pencil sharpener at his forehead, but all he gets is a sigh and a resigned, “Hurry up and do your English homework. And of course Kageyama can't beat you. He's your twelve year old first-year kouhai, not your rival.”
Kageyama Tobio is twelve years old. Next year, he will be thirteen. That scalpel-precise lightning-quick toss will only get faster and more pinpoint.
Oikawa closes his eyes.
One day, Tobio will win; and Tobio knows it too.
But not now. And not soon.
He breaks up with Yoshie when he's eighteen, and it's terribly abrupt and kind of irritating to hear that she's fallen in love with someone else.
“What's Kawamori got that I don't?” objects Oikawa.
“Class and tact,” retorts Yoshie, “not to mention actual consideration of my feelings.”
She's the cleverest girl Oikawa's ever known, with hair like black silk and a tendency to sarcasm worse than Oikawa's own, and as he walks away from the conversation he's already feeling wistful at the thought of summer without her.
He doesn't love her though, and she's smart enough to see it, wise enough to expect more.
She's one of the best things that happened to him in high school, and long after she leaves the small details remain fond memories: her cursive handwriting, the way she used to soften into his kisses, the times they wandered around local parks together, people-watching and gossiping without end.
They break up, and like some sort of bad joke, two days later while babysitting Takeru he runs into Kageyama Tobio.
By this point Oikawa's Kageyama Tobio complex has had three years to evolve. Mostly, it's only grown larger. Defeating Karasuno High hasn't done much to deflate it at all, he realises as he offers Tobio-chan his usual customary rudeness.
Fifteen-year-old Tobio is lanky and awkward and detestably earnest as he's always been. To top it all off, he's asking Oikawa for help again, to which Oikawa can only respond with incredulity, because Tobio is an idiot of course, but you'd think that after approximately sixteen hundred incidents of Oikawa declaring his hatred and disdain, even Tobio would have gotten the hint by now.
“Why do I have to go out of my way to listen to an opponent?” he says, turning away, even though the real question inside is, why did Oikawa ever have to meet Kageyama Tobio?
It's not as if Oikawa spends time constantly wishing he were a volleyball genius. Volleyball is hard work; being captain is hard work; learning to serve was hard work. Oikawa got where he was today by putting in more effort than anyone else.
But Tobio, too, works harder than anyone else.
Just this thought alone makes Oikawa want to turn around and stomp away, as far as it takes to ensure the two of them never meet again.
What he doesn't expect is for Tobio to almost fall over in the attempt to bow to him. To Oikawa. Is this guy seriously for real?
“Please help me,” says Tobio, his eyes cast downward, and while Oikawa’s never been able to truly enjoy one-upping his former kouhai -- (not when he feels like this. Not when every victory, no matter how decisive, is mingled with the dismaying knowledge of the inevitable future) – that doesn’t mean he’s not going to grab small satisfactions wherever he can.
Takeru, of course, thinks that it’s incredibly uncool to be photographing pictures of Kageyama Tobio kowtowing to Oikawa, but Oikawa didn’t get to become the fabulous captain and heartbreaker he is by listening to his nephew’s opinions.
(Even if Yoshie is the one who dumped him, as Takeru reminds loudly.)
Tobio’s problem today remains in the same category as all of Kageyama Tobio’s problems thus far, which is to say, it falls under the label of how is this even something you need help with I knew you were a useless genius but you give me new proof of it each time.
In other words, the future with all its promise of Kageyama Tobio’s brilliance, his determination, his desire for victory, the unstoppable evolution of his ability, remains unchangeable as it ever was.
All this and still Tobio gets mental indigestion at the thought of letting Hinata Shoyo initiate a quick strike.
What kind of setter is Tobio anyway, Oikawa wants to ask, even though he knows the answer already.
(A stupid one.)
In any case, it's not entirely unpleasant to dispense to Tobio simple and completely obvious advice and watch the younger boy grimace, forced to listen in irritated silence.
Not gonna lie Oikawa loves having an audience hanging on his every last word, but Kageyama Tobio's not exactly his audience of choice.
“If you can't understand this, you'll revert back to being a tyrant king,” Oikawa says, turning away. “Let's go, Takeru.”
They walk away, leaving Tobio to brood about quick sets and Hinata Shoyo and not being a dictator and all of a sudden Oikawa finds himself humming.
Discovering Kageyama Tobio's flaws has always been a source of joy and delight.
Why is it, then, that it's a source of annoyance too?
Iwa-chan rejects him almost before Oikawa's had a chance to even ask.
Almost but not quite. By this time it's winter and university entrance exams are looming ahead; Oikawa retires from the club and spends his waking hours with highlighters and flashcards and color-coded notebooks, applying the discipline he acquired in volleyball to the less pleasant tasks of memorisation and revision.
Afternoons are always the hardest, and more than once he passes by the school gym after class, watching Kindaichi and Kunimi, Kyoutani and and Watari. The same team, and yet an entirely different one now, with Yahaba as setter.
Iwaizumi isn't going to university, and hasn't yet retired from the club; Oikawa feels small pangs of envy as he watches his best friend still playing with the team, still encouraging the freshmen, still serving, still blocking, still spiking. Still touching a volleyball.
It's not like Oikawa's quitting volleyball, but it feels kind of unfair anyway.
He tells Iwa-chan so and gets a smack in the nose for his efforts.
“Not in the face,” complains Oikawa; Iwaizumi simply gives him the usual do I look like I give a damn scowl.
They walk home from school together in the dark, the frosty air burning with cold against Oikawa's lips. Side-by-side as they've always been, for the last five years, the last ten.
Oikawa stays at Iwaizumi's place for dinner, eats from the same familiar crockery, tastes the familiar warmth of Iwaizumi's mother's cooking: grilled mackerel and red miso, simmered carrot and burdock root. He makes the same jokes and receives the usual retribution of smacks and sarcastic rebuttals; afterwards, they go up to Iwaizumi's room to play cards as they have so many thousand times.
“You should be studying,” says Iwaizumi, but doesn't look inclined to further lecture on this score; Oikawa has always been the academic one.
Iwaizumi deals the cards and they play slowly, as the wall clock ticks the seconds past; neither of them concerned with winning.
The moment comes when it's Oikawa's turn to pick a card; he pauses and looks at Iwaizumi's face, calm and tired from a day of lessons and volleyball, a slight furrow of concentration across his brow.
“Come to Tokyo with me,” says Oikawa.
Iwaizumi's eyes widen; abruptly he flips his cards to lie face-down on the floor. Oikawa reaches out with his hand, soft but sure, touches the line of his best friend's jaw, his cheek.
“Stop,” says Iwaizumi, and Oikawa freezes, his fingers still pressed against Iwaizumi's skin.
“I'm serious,” he says, as their eyes meet.
“I can see that,” says Iwaizumi, frown deepening.
Twelve years together, and the net result is that they know everything about each other. Oikawa lets his hand fall back.
“Okay,” he says, and even though he'd expected it, there's something spinning inside that is all nervous uncertain hurt.
It's just as well they've never needed words. Oikawa can't think of a single thing to say that would be helpful right now.
That they'll always be friends? (But they both know that already.)
That they may never be this close again? (University, Tokyo, Iwaizumi's family business, the hundred thousand small steps and large that will slowly create distance between them, until one day they can no longer read each other's minds.)
Oikawa sees the future coming and knows that Iwa-chan sees it too.
In spring he goes to Tokyo and in the summer he comes home to Miyagi, delighted to have been away, delighted to be back. Takeru is all of three cm taller; Iwaizumi's tanned brown from doing months of outdoor sport and building repairs.
“How was Tokyo?” asks Iwa-chan, when they go out together for ramen.
“I love it,” says Oikawa, already glad for the things that he's seen, the changes that university has wrought in himself, even though he regrets nothing about his past, doesn't regret a thing about Kitagawa Daiichi or Seijou or the thousands of hours he spent on volleyball. “How are our kouhai doing?”
“Defeated Shiratorizawa in the prefecturals, then lost to Karasuno,” says Iwaizumi.
“So one genius graduates from high school, and the next one dominates, huh?” Oikawa manages to say it without sounding too bitter. There's something to be said for distance and growing up.
He still remembers well the sharp in-focus desperation of wanting to win, wanting it so badly that every other desire or fear or regret paled in comparison. But he was younger then, and everything is a little bit more bearable now.
Iwaizumi hits him anyway though.
“I didn't even say anything,” complains Oikawa.
“That's what made it so weird,” Iwaizumi grumbles. “I've got a video of the Aobajousai-Karasuno match, if you'd like to have a look?”
“Please,” says Oikawa.
He watches the video recording from start to finish, even though he has no real reason to be doing it; but then Oikawa's never been good at kicking his own bad habits, to the point that he doesn't even try anymore.
So he doesn't stop himself from staying up late watching Kageyama Tobio and Hinata Shouyou's new attacks, and he doesn't stop himself from feeling all the old envy and longing.
Running into Tobio while jogging in the park the next morning though, that's nothing to do with Oikawa's bad habit, that's just karma laughing her ass off at both of them.
Oikawa panics as usual but then luckily, so does Tobio, also as usual; and it takes several seconds before they can bring out the awkward greetings.
“Oikawa-san,” says Tobio, bowing politely.
“Tobio,” says Oikawa. “Going to Nationals, I hear.”
“Yes,” says Tobio, and looks so very pleased in the usual stiff way that Oikawa wishes he could pull off doing a Iwaizumi-style smack.
(He can't though, and knows exactly why. There's all sorts of grief Oikawa has given Tobio over the years that Oikawa doesn't feel sorry for in the absolute slightest – Tobio deserved at least ninety percent of it, after all – but striking out at a twelve-year-old boy in fury, that one he can't forget, and that one he mustn't repeat. Mustn't get close to it.)
“Um,” says Tobio – he's been jogging too, and he's still breathing hard from the exertion, “Thank you for last year.”
Sarcasm, on the other hand, Oikawa's perfectly happy to keep inflicting on Tobio. “Thank you for what?” he asks. “Are you thanking me for the advice that helped you defeat us? Thanking me for losing?”
The expected frustration flares across Tobio's face, but as usual he says nothing.
Why has Oikawa always been so bad at handling Kageyama Tobio? When there are so many other things he's outgrown, so many other things he's managed to let go.
Oikawa can't deal with it, so he turns and jogs away without another word, knowing that Tobio's watching his back as he leaves.
In his third year of university Oikawa hears from Kindaichi that Kageyama Tobio and Hinata Shouyou are moving to Tokyo.
It's been a busy, drifting, changeable two years for Oikawa, of which the latest phase is heartbreak. The quiet apartment, the cafes and bookstores he no longer visits because memory is better avoided. Absence, in a way he's never experienced before.
The only place Oikawa never shared with Minori is volleyball, and he sinks into it harder than ever before, morning and evening, filling up all the spaces of his days, from the instant he wakes to the sound of his alarm clock to the moment he tumbles into bed, too exhausted to think or feel.
He practices as hard as he's ever done – not for excellence, as he did once upon a time, but for oblivion. The soreness of exertion in his muscles, the bruises that accumulate against his skin – they're a welcome distraction, a worthy tangent.
Oikawa knows this team that he's playing for, as surely as he knew Aobajousai. His outside hitters are different, his blockers are different, his libero is different. Everyone is different, but he knows them just as well, and they are his team.
He's the best setter he's ever been, and for a little while, that's enough.
They win games, and they lose games, and one day the coach tells them he's set up a practice match with a local club team.
Because it's a practice match, and two research papers are due that week, for once Oikawa doesn't check up on his opponents.
So of course on the weekend he gets to the university sports centre and finds Tobio standing there, already changed and warmed up.
What works at fifteen and eighteen years of age doesn't work so well at twenty-one. A pity, because Oikawa's first instinct as always when he sees Tobio is to pull faces at him.
Tobio is taller than Oikawa now, the beanpole figure of adolescence now grown into lean wiry adulthood, and he still bows when he sees Oikawa. “Oikawa-san.”
“And what are you doing here,” Oikawa demands, feeling all peevish and irritated where seconds ago he was still in that distant detached state in which he's been ensconced all autumn, since Minori left.
“Playing volleyball,” says Tobio, to which Oikawa just wants to snap back, don't be so literal-minded!. Why Kageyama Tobio. Why now, when there's no Iwaizumi to yell at Oikawa if he gets ridiculous? How is he supposed to control himself?
Things only get worse when the match gets underway.
Tobio has improved.
So this is how Kageyama Tobio plays, Oikawa thinks, as the first set ends and the second begins. Not the brilliant and inconsistent potential of the boy that Oikawa knew in high school, but the technique of a setter who understands his own position, his own teammates.
This is what Oikawa feared seeing for years, and now, it seems, it's taken place while he wasn't even looking.
Somewhere along the way too, when Oikawa wasn't noticing it, he became okay with this fact.
He still hates Tobio's stupid face, because who wouldn't, but the desperation and the dismay, the longing for a talent that Oikawa will never have – somewhere along the way, that faded, not to nothingness, but to a dim and faraway desire.
Kageyama Tobio wins, and somehow the fury that Oikawa was expecting to rise up within him never ensues.
After the game is over the teams shake hands, and Oikawa's prepared to walk away, close the door on that part of his life that was there for so long, but despite his best efforts he runs into Tobio in the changing room.
“What do you want?” asks Oikawa, because Tobio is positively looming and awkward and looking at Oikawa as if there are a thousand years of history between the two of them (well there are, but Oikawa would prefer to politely pretend there aren't), as if the story of their high school days isn't entirely resolved.
What else is there to resolve? Kageyama Tobio evolved, and Oikawa Tooru did not, because he could not. Oikawa's seen this coming all along.
“Oikawa-san,” says Tobio, with the half-grimace that he displays when he's trying very very hard to get out some sentence that will turn out to be laughably simple. Is 'Teach me how to do a serve toss' the only sentence that Tobio knows how to articulate without difficulty?
Oikawa must have mellowed out with the years, because he just stands there and waits for Tobio to spit it out.
Minutes later he regrets it.
“I gave him my number,” says Oikawa, into the phone. “What was I thinking. What was I thinking.”
“Maybe it was guilt for being such a useless sempai for all those years,” says Iwaizumi. He's very clearly projecting his judgy face into his voice; Oikawa can imagine the exact expression Iwa-chan is wearing right now.
“I was only a useless sempai for one year!”
“I need to get up at 4am tomorrow,” Iwaizumi yawns, “hanging up now, see you around.” The call cuts off, leaving Oikawa to glare at his cellphone.
What is Kageyama Tobio thinking?
Is Kageyama Tobio capable of thinking at all?
The first time Tobio calls, to ask him if he wants to play another game of volleyball, Oikawa's first impulse is to retort over my dead body.
Instead he says yes.
Things only get more complicated from there.
Kageyama works at a supermarket three days out of seven and plays volleyball the rest of the time. He shares an apartment with Hinata Shouyou, and between them and a dozen other OBs from Seijou and Karasuno and Datekou, by the time Oikawa graduates he finds that his social life once again revolves around volleyball.
Kageyama is playing in the V. Challenge League by then, and the gap between him and Oikawa only grows, to the point that it's surprising to Oikawa himself that he can bear it, that this is okay.
Not that it'll ever completely be okay, because once upon a time, all Oikawa wanted to do was play volleyball. And even though that want is only a memory now, sometimes that memory surges up so powerful, so sickening, that at different times – at the end of a casual game, halfway through a drinking session between friends from Miyagi Prefecture, waiting to catch the subway home together - Tobio will say something unthinkingly and at those times Oikawa sees his kouhai's long clever hands, the volleyball obsession in his sharp face, and can't do anything but lash out and stomp away.
Knowing that it's childish. Knowing that Tobio will tolerate it, because he always has.
Given that Iwa-chan isn't around these days, Oikawa actually considers himself wonderfully restrained and well-behaved, notable exceptions being when he's drunk – but then Tobio himself is a lousy, maudlin, transparent drunk who deserves all the payback he gets and then some more.
“Iwa-chan, it's an emergency,” says Oikawa, after having endured twenty minutes of in vino veritas in the taxicab home and then dumped Tobio still-fully dressed into bed with instructions for Hinata to make sure that he's alive in the morning.
“It's half past midnight,” snarls Iwaizumi's groggy voice across the phone. “I'm going to kick you in the ass three times for this the next time you come home.”
“I think Tobio has a thing for me.”
“He's always had a thing for you.”
“Not a volleyball thing. The other kind.”
There's a full ten seconds of silence and then Iwaizumi hangs up. So much for the boundless support of eternal friendship.
Oikawa doesn't fall asleep till about three in the morning.
It should be an easy enough problem to solve, but it isn't, and spins around in his head for hours: how does he get rid of Kageyama Tobio?
The strategy is simple enough. Ignore Tobio's calls, ignore his texts, refuse Hinata's invites to casual games or nabe or bowling or after-work drinks.
Try to build a social life that doesn't revolve around volleyball. Look to other hobbies, other loves: good coffee, jazz music, card games. He loves the work he does now, even when it is difficult, and that helps. He remembers what it was like to be heartbroken before.
After two weeks it occurs to Oikawa to wonder why avoiding Kageyama Tobio feels so much like being heartsick, but before he has any time to dwell on that thought he gets home from work one evening and finds Tobio himself standing outside Oikawa's front door.
Tobio's dressed in winter jacket and boots, his arms folded across his chest in either cold or impatience, and he looks at Oikawa with the same sharp clear straight gaze that he's always had.
“You wouldn't answer my calls,” says Tobio.
“You noticed.” Oikawa turns away from him and reaches for his house keys. Conversations with Tobio sometimes turn into scenes, usually Oikawa's own fault – but well, he'd rather not cause a small commotion outside his own apartment. “Can't take a hint, can you?”
“Why?” asks Tobio, as they enter the living room.
Oikawa totally regrets the day Tobio grew up enough to say things more complicated than “Please help me,” and “Teach me how to serve.”
He pours Tobio a drink of juice. He never offers Tobio that much hospitality, except that it gives Oikawa something to do, which makes the moment less awkward, and clearly he's already failed at the best option, which would have been to leave Tobio standing outside the apartment and slam the door in his face.
Tobio just stands there staring, irritating as he ever was.
“I don't feel like explaining myself to you,” says Oikawa. “Feel free to go home whenever you like.”
Tobio looks at him – eyes all clear and straightforward and fearless – and seriously doesn't Tobio ever know when to give up? “Why?”
Oikawa gives a sigh. “You're in love with me,” he says, “and you're just stupid enough that I'm sure even you don't know it yet, and you'll probably fall out of love easily enough, as long as you have the self-control to leave me alone for a few months.”
He feels Tobio's fingers close around his wrist.
“I already know,” says Tobio, and by some freak genius use of his limbs he somehow manages to get himself and Oikawa pressed against each other, pressed against the kitchen wall, and Tobio's face is far too close and the heat of him everywhere.
Naturally, Oikawa freaks out.
He doesn't get any chance to calm down because Tobio-chan, the ungrateful kouhai that he is, just grabs the opportunity to bring their mouths together and after several moments pass by Oikawa doesn't feel like stopping either.
So apparently Oikawa's not even any good at dumping Kageyama Tobio.
When they break for air Tobio says, with surprising timing and composure, “I love you.”
“I know,” replies Oikawa. “Please, for my sake, just shut up.”