Ever since they’d been kids, Oikawa was always there.
He was there when Iwaizumi caught his first dragonfly, red faced, panting but with a wide smile on his face as he clutched the net triumphantly. It didn’t matter that he’d fallen down and scraped his knee in the process, or that he had dirt all over his new clothes. What really mattered was that they were there and they did it. The two five year olds didn’t really know it at that time, but standing there besides the pond in the late summer heat, that was the first of many triumphs that they would come to share together.
And then there was also the time when they’d first picked up a volleyball. It was Oikawa’s idea, in fact; something he’d decided to try after seeing some match on the television. Now the only experience that Iwaizumi had ever had with a ball was the football that they played occasionally with the other kids in the neighbourhood, so actually touching it with his arms and hands was an utterly strange notion to him. He wanted to give up and go back to soccer, after missing the ball for about the hundredth time that day, but how could he when Oikawa was looking at him like that?
When they won their first match in middle school, they’d stood there beside each other on the court with their teammates and listened to the cheers from the bleachers. There was a kind of joy, some kind of elation that could only be expressed when they cried out wordlessly, smacking their hands together in a high five that left their palms smarting and red.
And of course, Oikawa had been there when they had their worst moments- when they lost against Shiratorizawa, when the victories that had been carrying their team all the way just suddenly stopped, halted in its tracks by the overwhelming strength of the powerhouse. And they were there when they tried, and tried again, only to get beaten down each time. They were so close to the Nationals, but this last step might as well just have been them trying to knock over a palace with nothing but spears and sticks.
They’d shared all those memories, and Iwaizumi was pretty sure that they’d seen each other at their best and worst. They knew each other so well that sometimes Oikawa didn’t even need words to tell him how he was feeling. At that point, they were sure that the others (and maybe they themselves), were starting to wonder if best friends, was close to even describing what they had. Iwaizumi was beginning to think that there was nothing that could ever come close to changing that, because by then the thought of a life without Oikawa’s presence was something that never crossed his mind.
It was only natural then, that he was there with him when the doctor gave him the news.
Lunch on Monday was quiet.
Dinner that day was quiet too. It remained that way for the rest of the week, and might probably have continued on indefinitely had Iwaizumi not confronted Oikawa about it in the clubroom. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best place to do it, and it definitely wasn’t the right time either; not with some of the members still in there after practice.
But he was going crazy.
When you grew up with Oikawa, you quickly learned that silence was a thing of the past. The energetic guy always found something to talk about, no matter how unrelated or ridiculous the subject was. Iwaizumi had lost count of the number of times that he had been woken up in the middle of the night by Oikawa’s call, only to hear something like, “Iwa-chan, do you think aliens play sports too?” Usually he hung up after telling him to shut up and go to sleep, but sometimes he was drowsy enough to entertain his friend-
“If they did, they’d beat your ass in volleyball.”
“Iwa-chan, how mean!”
Even in class Oikawa remained a constant distraction to Iwaizumi, and up till this day he couldn’t decide whether the constant hair ruffling, pen spinning or note passing was more annoying. Despite that, Iwaizumi had grown accustomed to it, so when Oikawa began to be mysteriously absent from the lunches and dinners that they usually ate together, he realised that the silence actually bothered him a lot. More so than Oikawa.
He found him in the clubroom after practice had ended, chucking his volleyball shoes back into his locker. Matsukawa was standing next to him, saying something about the first years, but even from the entrance Iwaizumi could tell that Oikawa was pretty damn distracted.
The setter jolted at the sound of his voice, looked up almost guiltily at Iwaizumi and then grabbed his school bag. Iwaizumi instinctively moved to block the doorway and narrowed his eyes at Oikawa as he made a beeline for the door. “Will you stop trying to avoid me?”
“Who said I was trying to avoid you?” Oikawa replied, looking Iwaizumi in the eye with his usual smile. For a moment he thought that he might have been imagining things, and that maybe nothing was strange between them. But then the next thing he knew Oikawa had looked away and pushed past him. “I just have last minute homework to do!”
Iwaizumi stared at the disappearing back in disbelief, before calling out in irritation, “Since when do you leave your homework until the last minute?”
There was no reply.
“Lover’s quarrel?” Matsukawa asked from behind.
“We’re not- it’s not-” Iwaizumi spluttered. But then he stopped, the words dying in his throat. He looked hard at Matsukawa, then at Hanamaki, and his eyes widened. Oh. He scowled in the direction that Oikawa had gone and then said “I’ll sort it out with him,” before running off.
He caught up with Oikawa just outside the school gate and grabbed him by his shoulder, “You haven’t told them yet?”
“What’s there to tell?” Oikawa demanded, brushing Iwaizumi’s hand off, trying not to notice the brief look of hurt that flashed across his eyes. “They’ll find out eventually.”
“I think it’s better to tell them before, they deserve to know.”
Oikawa’s reaction caught Iwaizumi off-guard, “Deserve to know what?” He yelled, “It’s not like it matters to them! We lost in the Spring High, we won’t be playing in this team anymore!”
“But we had plans,” Iwaizumi replied quietly, catching a hold of Oikawa’s wrist firmly. “We wanted to go to the same university so that we could keep playing together. They’re going to have to know sooner or later.”
“Look, I just- I mean I don’t-” Oikawa pulled his hand from Iwaizumi’s grasp and took a few steps backwards. “I need time, okay?”
And Iwaizumi was left standing there, feeling strange inside and wondering why Oikawa looked so lost.
His phone beeped after midnight, and Iwaizumi picked it up out of habit before remembering their conversation earlier.
[Sent at 12.45am]
Iwa-chan, I’m really sorry about just now! ;-; I was being really selfish. Are you mad at me?
From: Iwa-chan <3
[Sent at 12.50 am]
I’m not mad at you, stupid. Just don’t avoid me like that again, okay? Whatever you need to say, just say it.
[Sent at 12.51am]
Okaaay! Good night!
Afternoon practice the next day started exactly on time, even though Matsukawa was a little bit late. They did their drills for spiking and serving, ran a couple of rounds around the track before splitting up into smaller teams to play each other. Nothing had actually changed, but everybody seemed a bit more serious when playing, as if their opponents were on their match point in an actual tournament. Iwaizumi knew that he wasn’t imagining it, but their team was still rattled by their loss against Karasuno. Seijoh had known that the team was a force to be reckoned with, but the thought of losing had never even crossed their mind. They all wanted to go against Shiratorizawa one more time. Iwaizumi could tell, that with every receive and every spike and every block that they did today, they were really just remembering the plays of their last match.
Oikawa was performing excellently though. Some captains might have crumbled or grew oppressive when their team had suffered a defeat and a blow to their morale, but it seemed that adversity only served to make him stronger. He worked especially hard on the first and second years, complimenting a great spike and adjusting to push their boundaries even further. He noted a particularly great save from Kindaichi, and then another spike from Kunimi. Iwaizumi didn’t have to be a genius to know why Oikawa was doing what he did. He was making sure their team wouldn’t lose again like they did at the Spring High.
“Nice receive, Watari!” Oikawa called out, adjusting his position a little bit to the right so that he could set the ball. “Last one’s yours, Iwa-chan!”
Everything was perfect; the run up timing was perfect and the set was immaculate. Iwaizumi could see the ball there, where it always was for him. His hand connected with the ball dead-on, and he felt the resistance when the ball hit the block. This was where he usually followed through, where he could see the blockers fall away when the force of the spike pushed their hands back, and he would hear the ball hitting the court.
The ball hit the court, but on the wrong side.
He stared at it uneasily. Getting blocked wasn’t something you could avoid, but how? It was their attack, one that they’d honed and practiced over the years. Oikawa’s set had been perfect too-
“Ah, sorry Iwa-chan, that was a little high. My bad.”
That’s bullshit! He wanted to say, because he knew for sure that there had been nothing different about that set. But, Iwaizumi also knew that this wasn’t the best place to make a scene. Instead he just said, “Don’t slack off just cause the playoffs are over, you dumbass.”
“That’s mean, you know I wouldn’t.”
“Say it more convincingly!”
Matsukawa and Hanamaki cornered them after practice.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Matsukawa demanded, crossing his arms like Iwaizumi often did. “You can’t say it’s nothing, or ‘I’ll handle it’ like the last time and run off.”
“It’s not like we didn’t notice anything, y’know?” Hanamaki added, placing himself between Matsukawa and the doorframe so that the other two third years were blocked from the exit of the clubroom. “Come on, tell us what’s been happening between you two.”
“Are you having a fight or something?” Matsukawa cut in, “I mean like even though you guys never told us you were together together it’s cool, we can still help you sort it out.”
“There’s nothing betw-”
Iwaizumi looked at Oikawa, and then back at the pair. “Look, I wanted to tell you guys about this from the beginning, but Oikawa didn’t want to.”
“So you two ARE togeth- geh! Shit, that hurt!” Matsukawa straightened and glared at Hanamaki, rubbing his side where the latter had elbowed him.
“Shut up and let him talk!” Hanamaki scolded.
“- I want to hear it from them, themselves.”
Oikawa interjected here with a, “You’ll hear it when we hear it from you two first.”
“It’s not like we ever said that we weren’t.” Matsukawa pointed out, and Hanamaki nodded his head in agreement. “Besides, we knew that you’d be able to tell even if we never told you.”
Oikawa couldn’t disagree with that. He shrugged and gestured vaguely at them, “True, you were really obvious with it since you were second years.”
“We’re getting off point,” Iwaizumi reminded them, but before he could continue, Hanamaki interrupted him.
“Anyway, what we’re trying to say is that you can trust us, you know?” He said, his expression twisted into something between a smile and seriousness. “If there’s anything that’s not right, you can let us know and we’ll try our best to help you guys out. That’s what teammates are for.”
Oikawa looked at Iwaizumi, wondering if it really was the right time now to let them know. Their gazes met halfway, both a little bit hesitant and maybe uncertain as well. Oikawa raised an eyebrow, and Iwaizumi paused for a moment before shaking his head.
“That was really sappy of you, Makki.” Oikawa laughed, “You sure you haven’t been watching too many of those dramas?”
Matsukawa had to hold Hanamaki back after that comment, but they both seemed a tad bit more relieved to know that nothing was really out of place.
“Oikawa’s right for once, annoyingly. That was straight out of a shoujo manga or something.” Iwaizumi said gruffly, not bothering to fight the urge to smile.
“Okay, this is the last time I’m gonna try and be the helpful friend for once.” Hanamaki seethed, but there was no anger or venom behind his words. Matsukawa laughed and clapped his back, and the rest of them joined in.
Standing there with his friends and joking around, Iwaizumi felt a bitter sort of happiness. He knew that their days in the Seijoh Volleyball Club were over, and even though they still came back to help out with practice, they would never again play as that team. The three years behind them were filled with many victories and defeats and Iwaizumi wouldn’t trade them for anything else. The other three third years with him, the moments they’d shared on the court- even their defeats, they were all irreplaceable. In that one short moment of nostalgia, Iwaizumi realised that he was actually a really lucky guy.
Iwaizumi found Oikawa in the gym early next the morning, jumping serves one after another. He didn’t say anything at first, settling for watching his friend for a while. It was barely dawn; a thin layer of mist clung stubbornly to the ground, and the muted sunlight barely made it past the gym windows before dissipating, giving everything inside a fuzzy glow. The irregular rhythm of balls slamming into the ground, accompanied by the steady trill of the cicadas outside, lulled him into a sleepy daze.
After a while, Oikawa came and sat next to him against the wall, his hand fiddling with a ball.
“You couldn’t tell them either, huh?”
“Maybe after we graduate.”
The silence resumed.
Iwaizumi snuck a glance at Oikawa, wondering what those distant eyes were seeing. Even if he could read the setter better than most, there were still many times where he found himself guessing what was going inside his mind.
“It was the last one the other day.”
“The last practice, I mean.” Oikawa clarified, “We had to stop eventually for the exams.”
Iwaizumi snorted. “Like you know when to stop.”
As always, Oikawa didn’t even have the decency to at least look guilty. Instead he shrugged and spun the ball on the ground. “So much for all your talk about them deserving to know. How mean, Iwa-chan.”
Iwaizumi raised an arm to elbow him, but there was something about Oikawa’s expression that sapped all of his willpower. Was it the way his smile was wavering? Or was it because those brown eyes, normally filled with so much angry determination and confidence, seemed to be asking for help? Whatever it was, it hit him in full force, draping around his shoulders like a heavy burden and drowning out all noise with a muffled ringing. Suddenly, his tongue felt very thick and heavy and something was burning at the back of his eyes.
Oikawa was still talking, too fast for Iwaizumi to catch it all; “-you don’t have to tell them, I’ll do it- I mean, I’m the captain so I’ll-”
It felt so wrong.
He grabbed Oikawa’s shoulder and covered his mouth with his other palm. “Stop, Tooru, stop. You don’t have to be the captain anymore.”
And just with that, they fell into each other like they were children again, hands desperately gripping the back of the other’s shirt for support. The anger, frustration and hopelessness that they’d felt up till now finally boiled over and spilled onto the ground as the tears that had been held back for so long. “It’s not fair, Hajime, it’s just not fair. You’re not the one who deserves this.” Oikawa cried, his voice coming out strangled and interspersed by sniffles and sobs. “You’re always the one taking care of me, so why- why is this happening to you?” he pulled away and grabbed Iwaizumi by the shoulders, not caring that his eyes were red and puffy, or that snot was dripping out of his nose. Iwaizumi had seen all that before anyway. “And I don’t know what to do for you, and it’s selfish of me, but please- Iwa-chan-!”
Iwaizumi stared helplessly, mouth half open and shoulders shaking with his gasping sobs. A part of him wanted to be strong, to comfort Oikawa and stop him from crying, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake off the despair that kept him from finding the right words to say. Instead, he just drew Oikawa back in, finding support in the presence of his friend.
In the end, they weren’t the Grand King and his Ace anymore; they were just two children whose dreams had been crushed right in front of their eyes.