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Take Me Down

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The ocean was his first home and a double sided coin.

 One side was the sound of breaking waves and gentle breezes that made his skin prickle and his bangs slide against his forehead.  It was the feeling of warmth that came through his chest and spread down his arms to his finger tips.  It was comfort that eased his muscles from their tensed coils and let his breath come steady.  It was the feeling of sand in his sandals squishing between his toes and coating his ankles.  The side of home. 

The flip side was of terror and mystery that only took one wrong step, one wrong look, to steal the comfort.  It would sap away at the warmth in his limbs and change into shaking and white panic.  The other side was cold sweat in his bangs and down his back.  One step too close made his heart race and his legs freeze halfway onto the dock.  The ocean was a home but he was so very scared of it. 

While it hadn’t always been that way, Iwaizumi feared it would continue for the rest of his life.  He used to swim freely in open waters without a fear of the creatures lurking below the surface.  Before a certain event he was often found in his dingy, gifted to him on his 14th birthday, gathering fresh fish for his mother’s tank.  Now he was dragging his stiff legs backwards, off of the dock and back onto the sand where it was safe.  Now he telling himself to give it another day to try a different time but still hoping for the day when he could return out to his boat and sail to sea.

Iwaizumi longed for the openness of the sea and gentle rocking of his boat on the surface of the water but he couldn’t shake the white panic that overcame him.  He couldn’t stop thinking about the predators in  the ocean, hunting specifically for humans.  Ones whose sweet voices could entice a man to do things he never once considered before.  Such knowledge never used to bother him, he used to laugh in the face of other sailors who warned him about going out alone at his age with a handsome face.  He used to only half listen to their horror stories in the belief that they were exaggerating the details as old men often did.

  Now he knew better.  He had his own horror stories of the things called Siren. Talk of Siren were rare on their island, not because people didn’t believe in them they were a proven fact, but because talk of Siren were dangerous to those who had been exposed to them.  People like Iwaizumi.  So he turned his back to the ocean for the umpteenth time in the past three years with vows to try again tomorrow as he headed North.

His second home was a small one.  One floor and lengthy along the dirt road that had been pressed down after years of use.  It was separated from his sandy yard by a creaky damaged fence which was chipped with years of withstanding ocean swells and storms.  The house itself had been raised off the ground so that when the land below them flooded, their belongings weren’t affected. Shallow footprints in the sand made something resembling a path and led towards the stairs to his home.  The motion of opening the creaky gate of the fence and watching the sand pile up around the weakened wood was familiar enough to make the shaking of his hands finally cease. 

He stepped carefully into the footsteps already in the sand, following the makeshift path.  The stairs that led to the front door were in much better condition than the rickety fence as Iwaizumi had just repaired them.  He had spent nearly a month and a half sanding each step, each rail, each peg to perfect smoothness so his mother could stand on the wooden balcony in her bare feet.  He had also oiled the hinges on the front door so it was completely silent when he opened it. 

“I’m home,” he called as he stepped into the doorway and removed his dirty shoes.

“Welcome back, dear.” His mother answered, presumably from the kitchen if the smell of dinner was anything to go by. 

The house was warm with the heat of the stove and his mother’s gentle humming which could be heard from any room.  The comfort of it chased away the last chills of his fears that had lingered from standing on mere planks of wood above turbulent water.  He breathed in the smell of savory stock and potatoes, a hint of sea salt from outside sneaking in and fully relaxing him, as he reached for his towel that was kept on a peg by the door. 

He sat on the raised section of the floor of the hallway and dusted his feet off watching the sand fall into the lowered section of the floor by the front door.  It trapped any and all material dragged in by them coming and going, leaving their floors mostly clean and free of sand or other beach items.  He would have to sweep the area out after dinner as it was starting to pile up.  He replaced his towel when his feet were clean  and headed down the hallway and into the doorway on the right. 

“Did you get a good deal at the market today?” Iwaizumi asked as he draped his coat over the back of a chair before kissing his mother’s cheek in greeting. 

“It could have been worse,” She shrugged and Iwaizumi moved to stand by her at the sink so he could wash his hands, “I had to punch Marrien to get my fish back but I got a good deal for it.  Broke her nose too.” 

Iwaizumi snorted, lips curling in amusement and eyes crinkling at the sides as he offered his hands out for a knife and a purchased fish, “I bet she was pretty upset about that.”  He cleanly ripped the gills out of the fish before beginning to remove the scales the way his mother liked.

“I’m sure she would have been, if she hadn’t of been out cold on the ground.”  She gave him a sly look that had him laughing fully, bending over the sink and trying to keep a proper hold on his knife. 

“You didn’t stick around to help her?” He asked through his tears.  While it was no rare feat for his mother to get physical over market fish, she had always stuck around afterwards to make sure her victim was at least okay.  Even more surprising was that she and Marrien often accompanied each other to do whatever it was that his mom did in her free time.  He wouldn’t call them best friends but he would say that they had a decent relationship. 

“Oh god no,” his mother huffed while making a motion with her own knife, “her husband was there to drag her home.” 

“You’re too much sometimes,” Iwaizumi said fondly as he pulled the organs of the fish out and dumped them in the orange bucket his mother used for fish innards, she’d cook it into something delicious later.  He put the gutted fish on the tray his mother was using for them before reaching for another one, “speaking of husbands….is dad still out?” 

“You know you’re father,” She sighed, shoulders drooping, “Still thinks he can catch the thing that got you…”

“Nearly got me,” Iwaizumi corrected, although it was flat and had no power. 

They didn’t talk about how Iwaizumi had almost died three years ago and why he could no longer step foot in the ocean.  They didn’t mention how it seemed as if his father had been the one to die from the inside out after that moment.  He had devoted his life and his ship, and therefore by default his crew, to finding the Siren that had nearly taken Iwaizumi and he had vowed to kill it before it came back to finish the job.  Not that it was possible with Iwaizumi on land, Siren’s were sea bound creatures.

“…It was a close thing dear,” his mother said hoarsely. 

The confession had made his head spin with memories of sweet songs and the absolute weightlessness of his own body.  He remembered the way his body had swayed with the waves of the very ocean, how he had listed so fully to one side that he had fallen over on the deck of the ship.  He remembered gathering strength he didn’t have to stand  again and answering the call of the Siren by hooking one leg over the side of the ship and reaching down towards the dark waters where he knew it was waiting.  He could still hear the yell of his father, muffled behind the hazy tranquility of the Siren’s song as he was grabbed and pulled down into the water.  Iwaizumi felt his lungs suck in a sharp breath when he remembered the way the icy water sloshed against his face and filled his mouth.  He remembered looking into the eyes of the siren as it cupped his face, grinning something wicked before pulling him down, down, down, until his ears popped and his lungs ached.  Until he realized that he was about to-

“-Hajime?”

His mother’s hand was covering his shaking one, her other arm wrapped around his shoulders keeping him upright because he was pretty sure he had just been swaying again.   His head still spun with forced fogginess and his breath came fast, on the verge of panic.  He had to gulp down air and blink hard to keep the sting of tears off of his face. 

“Sorry-sorry mom.”  He loosened his fingers from the handle of the knife, he couldn’t gut a fish like this.

This is why they didn’t talk about it, because Iwaizumi remembered.  This is why no one on the island talked about it, you never knew who had run into a Siren before; who had been poisoned with song.  They talked about the Siren and it’s song muddled his thoughts took control of his body and left him with a strange sense of peace with death.  No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get the song from his head; it was as if it were ingrained in his very being.  It made his muscles jump to attention, made him want to find the ocean and jump back in without any thoughts of coming back up.  They talked about it and Iwaizumi died, so they didn’t talk about it.

“Don’t be, I’m the one that brought it up,” his mother said her face pinched with worry as she brushed his bangs from his face, “Are you alright?” 

“Yeah,” he lied.  Truthfully he could still feel his muscles tensing and ready to sprint those ten minutes back to the ocean.  He could still feel the muddled blanket of faux ease coating his brain and making him dizzy.  His mother hummed her acknowledgement of the lie as he led his hands to be under the faucet and she turned the tap on.  Taking the hint Iwaizumi washed his hands of fish guts and made sure they were properly sanitized before he looked to his mother for more direction.

“Stir the stew for me, love.” 

She saw through Iwaizumi’s lies and knew to give him jobs that didn’t require steady hands and also why she wouldn’t allow him to go recover in his own room.  Being alone when he was trying to recover from an episode was outlawed after the first time he had done it and ended up face down in the bathtub with no memory of going there.

  Finding a task and focusing on it though, that helped.  Volleyball was his saving grace, something he genuinely enjoyed and something that was physical enough to help work out the shaking and kept him engaged and focused well enough for him to pretend like he had never been a stupid 17 year old full of bravado. 

Since volleyball wasn’t an option in the home, he focused on the swirling colors of thick creamy broth, orange carrots, and green celery until his mind was firmly blank of anything aquatic.  He let his arm work its way around the pot, not letting go of the spoon once as he completed stir after stir; calming with each rotation.  He couldn’t tell if he wanted to stuff his face of the delicious looking strew, go to the volleyball courts at his school and work himself into exhaustion, or sleep for the next week.  Maybe he’d do all three.  Absentmindedly, he picked up the black pepper his mother kept on the spice shelf above the stove and cracked some into the pot, stirring it again.

“Set the table, Hajime,” his mother asked softly.  He hadn’t even noticed that she had finished frying the fish, how long had he been stirring? 

“Should I set a spot for dad?”  Iwaizumi asked knowing that sometimes his mom just liked to pretend he would be there.

There was a moment of silence before a quiet, “no,” but he figured that would be the answer with what had just happened.  So he set the table for two like he did most nights and helped his mother carry the food to their designated hot pads on the wooden surface. 

“Do you have practice tomorrow?”  His mother asked as Iwaizumi ladled stew into her bowl, “Should I make you two lunches?”

“I’ll just take the leftover’s we’ll have tonight,” Iwaizumi answered.

“I’ll sleep in then,”  she poured them both hot tea, “will you be home late again?”

“Yeah.”

Silence fell over them as they ate, nothing more needing to be said but both mother and son taking comfort in the other’s presence.  It was a contented silence that made Iwaizumi’s anxieties melt away and his tense shoulders relax.  It was a warmth in his chest that was completely different from the warmth of the ocean but soothing all the same.

  In the same way that the ocean was a double sided coin as his first home, his second home naturally had a negative flip side.  When he couldn’t see the ocean, Iwaizumi felt as if he were missing some part of himself, not that he knew what that part was and what it had to do with his daily life, only that he felt lost.  His routine was so mundane, so regular that he felt like he was losing himself in them.  Maybe in his younger days he would have blamed the Siren or perhaps the absence of his once devoted father but Iwaizumi knew he had felt like this long before the Siren had ever come into his life. 

He pushed those thoughts aside and ignored the feeling like he usually did before finishing his meal in three large spoonfuls.  He brought his own dishes to the sink and began washing them while his mother packed the leftovers in two plastic containers for him to take to school the following morning.  They moved around each other with practiced ease of a three year routine of washing and drying then putting away dishes.  Their hips didn’t even brush in the tight space as the both moved to wipe tables and counters.  This was part of the dull routine that made him feel lost in himself.  They did the same thing every night without fail, to the point that Iwaizumi knew if he closed his eyes and spaced off, thinking about anything and everything he could, then he would still perfectly complete the routine with a thorough sweeping of the entrance area.  It didn’t feel like anything was real and he couldn’t tell if it was driving him crazy or making him placated. 

“I have a test tomorrow so I’m going to go study,” Iwaizumi said after everything was clean.

“Good luck,” his mother grinned before brushing his bangs back and kissing his forehead, “don’t forget to shower.”

“I won’t.”

He showered first and then pulled out his textbook and highlighters.  Iwaizumi pulled his comforter off of his bed and dragged it over to the window seat where he liked to curl up before going to bed at night.  He could see the lighthouse from here and if he cracked his window the smell of sea salt would fill his lungs and calm his heart.  He watched the reflection of the stars glitter in the water of the ocean and listened to the breaking of the waves.  Before he could ever crack the spine of his textbook he relaxed against the frame of the window and fell asleep, lulled by the comfort of his two homes. 

When he woke up it was to the blaring of his alarm clock at 5am the next morning.  His neck ached from being kept in an awkward position all night.  It wasn’t the first time Iwaizumi had fallen asleep in the window seat and probably wouldn’t be the last but it definitely sucked waking up sore.  He did his morning stretches first to relieve himself of the pain, bending at the waist and grabbing his ankles until his chest was nearly to his knees.  Spreading his legs and pressing his hands to the floor, hugging only one ankle, then the other.  Stretching his back, shoulders, arms, and neck made his bones crack and shift but it was worth the relief. 

If Iwaizumi had his priorities straight, after packing a change of clothes and his school supplies, he would have gone straight to his university to do the studying he hadn’t been able to do last night instead of going to the beach.  Yet he found himself zipping up the jacket on his practice sweats and jogging south to the area where the ocean crashed over the shore.  He let his bag fall in the sand with a soft plop and he took a few steps forward until he too could sit down and let his fingers dig into the sand.  He put the weight of his body on his hands and leaned back until he felt pressure in his wrists and elbows.  The ocean wind was still cold, biting at his nose every time it blew, and the sun not quite up but throwing pink and yellow hues out at the clouds as it struggled to pop up over the horizon. 

Still exhausted from trying last night, he wasn’t up for trying to get past the middle of the dock.  Especially since he still had volleyball practice and school work to deal with and trying to overcome his fear took a lot of strength out of him in the end.  So instead he let the sound of the waves breaking, the freezing wind, and the feeling of cold sand on his hands calm him. 

Eventually his arms shook with the effort of keeping his body up and he let himself fall backwards until his head was resting on his backpack and his practice sweats were dirtied with sand.  He would end up dragging it to class with him but it was nothing new to their school as most of the kids that attended lived outside the city and dragged in all sorts of earth with them.  Some kids did it on purpose,  bringing in wads of thick wet seaweed from the ocean.  Mostly boys took the mass to the second level of the school and dropped it on unsuspecting girls that were walking into campus.  Maybe it would have been funny to Iwaizumi in middle school but they were college students now.  He couldn’t believe some morons hadn’t matured past 13. 

He let his eyes fall shut and he tuned out everything but the sound of the world around him.  Trying to let it ease away the worries of his neglected school work because he really did have a test today.  He just couldn’t work up the motivation to pull his textbook out and actually study for it.  At this point he wasn’t sure he cared if passed the class or not.  It was only a gen ed course and he didn’t even like it.  It wasn’t like it contributed towards his open major anyway.

 The only reason Iwaizumi had even come to college was because he didn’t know what he wanted to do in life, except play volleyball.  He hadn’t gotten accepted into any teams after graduating high school so his only option was higher education and his college had one of the best teams; not just on the island but nationally.  He had the opportunity to play great teams and have fun, it’s just now he had to pay money to do it. 

“Hey boss man, get up or you’ll miss practice again.”

He had apparently succeeded in shutting out the world because he didn’t even hear Makki approach him with messy steps that sent sand flinging into his face.  Iwaizumi wiped the sand from his face before opening his eyes and glaring at the other whose face was illuminated by the now rising sun.  He must have lost track of time again sitting out here.  Often times Iwaizumi lied in the sand until the sun was high in the sky, completely forgetting that he needed to be on campus hours before.  Sometimes it was on purpose but mostly he just got caught up in everything the land had to offer to him.  Almost always Makki came to collect him, having memorized Iwaizumi’s hang out spots ages ago. 

“I’m not your boss Makki,” Iwaizumi huffed as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. 

“Fine. Come on Captain you’ll be late,” Makki corrected himself as he held out a hand.

Iwaizumi accepted the hand and just as Makki was about to pull him up he caught the small lift at the corner of the other’s mouth.  In an instant Iwaizumi understood what was flicking through Makki’s mind and he gripped the other’s hand tighter before jerking his arm back and pulling the other down into the sand while he took the time to stand on his own. 

Makki had been aiming to prove his strength over Iwaizumi’s for years, ever since they entered high school together and Iwaizumi had proven himself time and time again.  Judging by the way Makki’s face was stuck in befuddled surprise, Iwaizumi would say he was still winning the unspoken battle of arm strength. 

“Come on now number 3 put your back into it,” Iwaizumi teased with his best captain voice as he grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder.

“Haha very funny,” Makki grumbled as he rose to his feet, dusting sand from his clothes. 

“I thought it was.” Iwaizumi grinned wolfishly showing all of his teeth as Makki tried to cover his pout, “Come on we’ll be late.”

“Don’t try and act responsible when you were the one that was going to miss practice!” 

Iwaizumi shrugged off the scolding and shoved his left hand in his pocket while moving his right to hold his bag strap steady.  Makki followed in step with him silently and they worked their way off of the beach and onto the main road.  Light from the sun had started to spill on the concrete and Iwaizumi looked back out towards the sea admiring it and longing to go back out.  Maybe someday he’d finally do it but for now he had volleyball practice and a test to fail. 

“Still can’t go out there?” Makki asked then hurriedly added, “You had that constipated wistful look on your face again,” in clarification just in case Iwaizumi didn’t know why he brought the subject up.  

“I don’t have a constipated face, idiot,” Iwaizumi grumbled as he tried to pinch the features of his face back in order.

“Sure, sure,” Makki agreed absently.

“…I’ll go someday,” Iwaizumi stated. 

He was sick of the way his legs trembled when he was near water, the way his hands couldn’t be trusted, and how his mind seemed blank and wrong.  More than anything, Iwaizumi hated feeling like someone he wasn’t.  What he was, was a fishermen’s son and an award winning sailor.  Everything he was on land, he was on sea.  He wasn’t some city dweller who couldn’t tell the difference between the bow and stern and he sure as hell wasn’t an outsider who hated the way the ocean made their skin feel.  He was Iwaizumi Hajime, ocean enthusiast. 

“You will,” Makki agreed as if it were a well known fact, “Mattsun and I have a bet going, he thinks you’ll get one foot in and never leave again.” 

“Will not,” Iwaizumi snorted, “I got my mom to take care of!” 

“I think you’ll only get a toe in,” Makki smirked. 

“Shut up,” Iwaizumi laughed as he pushed the other hard enough that he stumbled into the sand lining their path. 

“Rough play, captain!  One more and you’re out!”  Makki roared in his best referee voice. 

One rough play and you can’t let it go!” Iwaizumi groaned, running a hand through his unruly hair.

 He had accidentally bumped into another player when he had misjudged the distance he needed to jump when they were both going for a ball that could fall on either side of the court with just a push.  He had gone way too far and the resulting collision was his fault but it hadn’t been an intentional rough play, he had apologized and everything.  It wasn’t his fault the kid had fallen and gotten a bloody nose…okay so maybe it was but he it wasn’t his intention.  He reshouldered his bag and bumped his shoulder into Makki’s before sliding his arm over the other’s shoulders and pinning his neck in between his own bicep and ribcage, “Take it back Mr. Ref.” 

“Ow ow! Uncle! Uncle!”  Makki called while trying to pull his head from Iwaizumi’s lock, “I give!” 

Iwaizumi released him from the lock and immediately dodged the swipe he knew was coming.  He grinned wolfishly and grabbed the handles of his bag before raising an eyebrow and looking towards the direction of the train station.  They had about a 5 minute walk left but if they ran they could make the next train in 2.  Iwaizumi was always ready for a challenge with Makki and he knew Makki’s drive to best him was real. He didn’t wait for the challenge to be accepted before he turned around and started running for the station, the sound of Makki’s footsteps behind him; where they stayed for the next two and a half minutes.  They arrived at the same time as the train.

“Cheater,” Makki panted, “You choke me and then take a head start.  You’re a cheater.” 

“It’s not my fault you’re slow,” Iwaizumi grinned, chest heaving as he stepped onto the train. 

“You’re a bully.” 

“Yeah well this bully is going to lead practice for the next two hours.” 

“Hour and a half,” Makki corrected, “We’re late.” 

Of course they were. 

A twenty minute train ride, five minute walk, and a quick change in the locker room and they were finally ready for the practice that everyone else had started thirty minutes ago.  Luckily Akaashi was an irreplaceable vice captain and Iwaizumi didn’t have much to worry about, other than the fact that it looked like Bokuto was in one of his weird dejected moods again.  Their ace going into weird and unpredictable moods was the reason Iwaizumi was voted in as a back-up ace.  Someone to take charge when Bokuto was out of it and struggling to get his motivation back.  Of course the other players were also key roles in that but only after they had gotten their own play time in. 

“You’re late, captain,” Akaashi said turning to them with a hand on his hip. 

“Sorry about that,” Iwaizumi grinned, “problems with transportation is all.” 

“Mmm,” Akaashi knew he wasn’t being truthful but Iwaizumi wasn’t about to admit that he spent most of his mornings on the beach. 

“Haaaajime,” Bokuto was whining at him now, “We’ve been waiting so long!!!” 

“It’s been thirty minutes,” Iwaizumi huffed as he did light stretching to warm up, “Keep hitting we’ll join in soon.” 

“Are you dumb or something?”  Mattsun chimed in, wiping sweat from his forehead, “Our own dearly loved captain who struggles with the concept of practices starting time, even struggles to remember the date of his own birth?” 

“He’s definitely a little slow,” Kindaichi sighed, “Tragic.”  

“It’s gotta be all that sunshine affecting him,” Makki shrugged while shaking his head sadly, “Too much sea salt in the air.” 

“Shut up,” Iwaizumi huffed, “It is not my birthday!  We only celebrated Kunimi’s…uhh…” When did they celebrate his birthday again?  Two days ago?  Three?  

“Four days ago,” Akaashi finished, “On the sixth of June.” 

“Today’s the tenth?” Iwaizumi asked dumbly.

“Happy 24th birthday, Captain,” Watari said good naturedly. 

“Uhh…thanks,” Iwaizumi chuckled feeling awkward that he didn’t remember his own birthday.  His mother hadn’t even said anything…although she did sleep in. 

“Well it’s not like this is an unusual thing,” Mattsun shrugged, “you forget every year.”

“Hey Hey HEY!”  Bokuto yelled over the teasing, “Let’s eat cake!”

He pulled a sheet cake up from where it had been resting outside of Iwaizuimi’s view on the side bench.  It was frosted with the colors of their school team, gold and white, and a rather unflattering picture of Iwaizumi post failed spike had been adhered to the center of the cake.  Only four candles had been stuck in the corners, Iwaizumi suspected Akaashi’s simplistic style of design choice for that.  He suspected the troublesome duo, Makki and Mattsun, for the photo but he wouldn’t be surprised if it had actually been Kunimi and Kindaichi.  He assumed the messy sprawled writing of Happy Birthday Captain was Bokuto’s hand of assistance.  It was all rather touching but at the same time…

“Bokuto its 7 in the morning, we can’t eat cake now,” Iwaizumi said as he resumed his stretching, “but…thank you.”  He avoided eye contact with anyone on the team, they made too much of a deal with birthday’s anyway, it was embarrassing. 

“Sure we can!” Bokuto chirped ready to pop the lid off the cake, “we just need a lighter and to sing happy birthday!” 

“Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said calmly waiting until Bokuto looked at him with round pleading eyes, “no.” 

“Akaaashi-“

“-I’ll toss extra to you today, Iwaizumi-san,” Akaashi said, cutting off and ignoring Bokuto’s hurt sound of disbelief. 

“Save the cake for afternoon, senpai,” Kunimi suggested with a blank face, “It’ll taste better when we can reward ourselves for sticking through morning classes.” 

Bokuto pouted but did end up leaving the cake on the bench to try and steal some tosses before Iwaizumi had fully warmed up.  Iwaizumi gratefully accepted each pat on the back, happy birthday, and word of congratulations that was offered to him before his teammates returned to the court.  With a grin he went back to warming up making sure to get his right shoulder worked since he would apparently be hitting more today. 

An hour and a half later when they were all pleasantly tired and sweaty, Iwaizumi called the practice.  The cake was strategically maneuvered away from Bokuto’s eager gaze and instead moved into a storage unit in the locker rooms where it would stay until their last classes.  It was here that Iwaizumi realized how lucky they were to have Akaashi who could handle any and all of Bokuto’s moods, even if the former said he didn’t want to be the one in charge of their hyperactive ace. 

They tore down the net and collected all the volleyballs into their designated carts before sweeping and mopping the floor of the gym.  Only after the gym was cleaned and ready for the badminton team to use did they make their way to the showers.  There was nothing worse than going to class sweaty after practice and stinking like seaweed and sweat.  The water was at least warm today as opposed to the lukewarm near cold temperature it was normally at.  Happy birthday to Iwaizumi. 

“Iwaizumi-san,” Akaashi called as they shampooed their hair.

“Yeah?”

“About the game next month…”

“I know,” Iwaizumi sighed, “I’ll figure something out.”

One of their players, Kyoutani, had been barred from practice for almost two months now, which included games.  Makki had been bumped up on the starting line to cover the wing spiker place and their success rate had also shot up. Kyoutani was a handful, a good earnest player, but a handful.  He was uncooperative, stubborn, and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind no matter how nasty the thought.  He was full of raw talent but it was hard for a setter like Akaashi to work with.  Kyoutani wasn’t someone who would sit back and accept a toss going to another player if he thought he could make the spike, which was nearly one hundred percent of the time.  Iwaizumi could generally keep him in check but he was only one man and had a whole team to lead as well.  The problem was, Kyoutani would be expecting his spot back in the starting lineup but Iwaizumi and more importantly their coach, wasn’t going to give it to him.  Iwaizumi had to figure out some way to tell the other this when he came back to practice, sometime in the next week, and still survive it himself.     

“Thank you.” 

Akaashi’s voice was quiet over the sound of the showers.  Most of it was overshadowed with the sound of someone getting snapped with a towel but Iwaizumi knew what he said.  Iwaizumi nodded his acceptance of the thanks and washed the shampoo from his hair before shutting off the water and grabbing his own towel.  With one drastic death glare at Mattsun, who was winding up his towel to snap Kindaichi, Iwaizumi stopped the fight before it started. Mattsun merely shrugged his indifference and grabbed his bathing kit before walking behind Iwaizumi towards the lockers where they could change into their day clothes. 

“You don’t have plans after school right?” Mattsun asked as he dried off, rubbing the towel over his shoulders.

“Define plans,” Iwaizumi grumbled because what he had in mind consisted of plans to him but he knew to the team, sitting on the beach and trying to gather up the courage to get in the water was not actually plans.   

“Great you’re free,” Mattsun carried on while pulling a shirt over his head, “you’re coming with us to Mike’s Bar then.”

“No.”

“I’ll meet you outside your last class.  We’ll cut cake, sing and all to satisfy Bokuto-san, and then we’ll all head to the bar.”

No,” Iwaizumi reiterated.

“I’ll let your mom know you’ll be coming home late,” Makki said as he came around the corner holding Iwaizumi’s cell phone.

“The hell you-hey,” Iwaizumi lunged for his phone. 

Makki laughed and skipped out of Iwaizumi’s reach while Mattsun backed him up by pulling Iwaizumi back over to where he had been standing before.  He could hear the sound of Makki typing out the message and Iwaizumi flipped around to face Mattsun.  His eyebrows were drawn low over his eyes and his lips in a tight frown.  He jerked his arm from Mattsun’s grip, pleased when the other put his palms out in defense; at least he looked irritated enough to warrant cautious behavior.

“Why the hell do I have to go to some shitty bar with you guys?” Iwaizumi snapped.  He didn’t really want to go sit in a room full of annoying college students trying to drink off Monday blues.  He just wanted to go sit on the beach, alone.

“You need to get out more,” Mattsun stated, “We’ve all noticed, you know.” 

“Noticed what?” Iwaizumi asked exasperated as he pulled his pants on, “Makki give me my phone.

“You’re distancing yourself from us,” Mattsun said as he pulled his towel over his hair, rubbing it dry.

“I am not-,”

“-maybe not intentionally,” Makki said coming around the corner with his phone while Kunimi walked past, going to his own locker, with a nod of his head, “but you have to admit you spend a lot of time on the beach now lost in thought.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with you guys,” Iwaizumi snapped, taking his phone. 

“Stop putting him on the defensive,” Akaashi sighed while moving around them to access his own locker next to Iwaizumi’s, “What they mean to say, Iwaizumi-san, is that whether or not you realize it you’re spending more and more time wallowing in your past alone than you are with friends.  You struggle with the concept of not suffering alone and often forget that we are also here to support you.  It’s rude.” 

“Yeah rude,” Bokuto echoed from somewhere in the room.

“And therefore,” Akaashi continued louder over the echo of Bokuto’s voice, “We are taking you out on your birthday so you can relax a little and maybe if we’re lucky, remember that you do in fact have friends willing to support you.” 

Iwaizumi was at a loss for words.  He wasn’t sure how to combat Akaashi’s calm words in a way that would get him out of going to the bar tonight.  He was also unsure of how much time had passed since he had actually done something with his team aside from volleyball related events.  Even at Kunimi’s birthday party he had skipped out on the later half, which would take place outside of the school grounds, to go home under the pretense of school work.  It hadn’t really been a lie but it was a kind of shitty thing to do.  It was upon that realization that the shame started to settle in.  Akaashi was right, he had been avoiding them all and for what?  He wasn’t even sure. 

“Yeah…okay you’re right.” 

The surprised faces and raised eyebrows from everyone near him told him they were expecting more of a fight from him.  Bokuto’s whooped holler of excitement followed by Kindaichi’s irritated mumbling told him that they had been looking forward to this more than he knew.  He had been a horrible friend to them. 

“Sure, Mike’s then,” Iwaizumi sighed heavily.

“I’m still meeting you outside your last class,” Mattsun said with a sniff, “I don’t trust you that much.”

Iwaizumi snorted and accepted the comment with a shake of his head.  That was probably the right move, there was no telling how Iwaizumi would feel after all of his classes.  Not to mention how would feel after failing the test he had in 20 minutes.  He still hadn’t studied.  He ignored the rest of the comments from his teammates and started to pull his shirt and jacket on before grabbing his bag.  Maybe he could do some last minute cramming before the exam.  If he was lucky the classroom would be quiet enough to concentrate in as opposed to its usual rowdy state.

“Well I’m off to cram for a test then,” Iwaizumi sighed. 

“Don’t fail out of class,” Makki whined, “We’ll have to pick a new captain.”

“Shut up,” Iwaizumi snorted, “I won’t fail the class.” 

He was all too aware of the repercussions of failing a class and since the only reason he came to college was to play volleyball, there was no way he’d actually fail the class itself.  D’s did get degrees after all.  Something told him his team understood that too as they were giving him sad sighs and wiping away fake tears while dramatically leaning on Akaashi for support as Iwaizumi left the locker room with a shake of his head. 

He walked across campus and made it to his class with ten minutes to spare.  Ten minutes to cram as much information in as he could.  He was absolutely screwed. The ten minutes of tensed silence and frantic studying from him and everyone else in the class hadn’t nearly been enough time.  He had only understood half of the questions on the exam and was only thankful that it was multiple choice because Iwaizumi wasn’t sure he could bullshit an answer on some of the bullshit that came out of mythology.  Why he would ever need to know anything about some goddess Atargatis?  It was just one of those filler classes that tricked companies into thinking you got a ‘well-rounded education’ when  in reality the school just wanted the enrollment fee for collection. 

He turned his test in early and left the classroom knowing that he and everyone else left in the classroom knew his marks would be low.  Although if he was lucky the curve would be good and he’d barely pass it.  Regardless, it was over now and all Iwaizumi wanted was  a coffee to recharge him from practice and food

The nearest Starbucks was a blessed minute from his current location on campus and he headed for that direction first.  The line was, of course, atrociously long and full of half asleep students whose chins rested heavily on their own chests with eyes half closed as they teetered in line.  The seats around the café were full of other students cramming for tests or doing homework but all of them were ingesting near damaging levels of caffeine.  Iwaizumi couldn’t wait to be one of them.

“That’s right, just off of the private ports on the South side of the island.” 

His attention was caught by the two girls conversing near him, the mention of his home area making him tune in.  They were leaned over their coffee cups seemingly gossiping but their drawn on eyebrows-definitely city slickers- were furled in worry and instead of the usually pursed shape of lips that Iwaizumi had come to associate with girl gossip, they were down-turned in unease.  The red-head on the left kept biting at her lip and the situation screamed private to him but he couldn’t help but keep listening. 

“I heard from my dad that the wreckage just washed in like half an hour ago.” 

Wreckage?  It wasn’t uncommon for pieces of ships to wash up on shore occasionally, especially since they were in the middle of storm season.  Most ships or competent captains would have taken their crews off of the sea a month ago.  Only the most experienced captains went out to get fish for the market around this time of year and their ships were sturdy enough to survive the weather they had been having.  So wreckage at this point was just plain strange.

“Get this, they think it’s the Aoba Johsai.” 

Iwaizumi’s blood ran cold and he was suddenly very much awake without the aid of coffee beans and hot water.  The Aoba Johsai was his  father’s ship.  His father who hadn’t been on shore for years, who hadn’t sent a single post card, whom they only believed to be alive because of their own hope.  His father’s ship which had only become famous due to its sudden disappearance was now rumored to have washed up? Shipwrecked? 

His legs were moving before he had ever finished processing all of that.  He bent down and pressed the palms of his hands against the girls shoulders, startling her.  She jumped turning under his strong grip and looked as if she were ready to scream when he spoke over her, “Where did you get that information?”

“Wh-who are you? Let go!”  She scrambled to get to her feet making noise and causing eyes to wander their way.  It was enough to remind Iwaizumi that he didn’t know this girl and they were in a very public area.

“Sorry,” he said quickly and removing his hands as her friend stood, “but that ship belongs to my father.  Where did you get that information?”

She looked skeptical and more than happy to leave and never look back at him but her friend seemed to take pity on him because she stepped forward and hesitantly met his eyes.  Her limbs were tense and she seemed ready to bolt at any given movement so Iwaizumi made sure to stay very still despite wanting to throttle her for a quicker answer. 

“Lil’s dad works for the harbor communication’s team,” she started, eyes darting to her friend, “they got the call and he thought Lil would want to know since she runs a blog about the ship.”

“What port?” Iwaizumi asked curtly.  If her dad was a part of the communications team then it was legit and his dad could either be okay or…well, not okay. 

“Um, Lil?”  She turned to her friend who had calmed down but still seemed reluctant to step closer to Iwaizumi.

“Some private port just a ten or so minute walk from the Akiramon train station but-.” 

Iwaizumi didn’t even break out a thank you or listen to the rest of her sentence, he just took off running. That was his station.  His ports.  His family.  His father

He never caught the warning about the storm.

The rain hit when he was halfway to his stop, pinging off of the train and running down the windows.  Steadily it grew in strength and with it came wind.  The train slowed drastically when the wind picked up and Iwaizumi hoped that it wouldn’t have to come to a stop to keep from being derailed.  It already seemed to be crawling along the tracks making Iwaizumi’s jiggling leg speed up and as they finally approached Akiramon Station. He shoved his phone and other items from his pockets inside of his waterproof bag and then shoved that bag inside his backpack.  He stood by the doors and pulled his pass card out. 

He darted from the train as soon as the doors opened, ignoring all announcements to be cautious in this weather, as he slammed his pass down on the wicket scanner and hustled to the one exit the station had.  He took the stairs in twos already getting wet from the rain that was pouring down.  As he cleared the cement walls of the exit, the wind hit him full force, shaking his balance and nearly making him fall.  He had to learn to lean significantly right before he was steady enough to run in the hard wind.  His clothes were soaked through in a matter of seconds and logically he knew it was the stupidest thing he could be doing; going out to the shoreline in a storm like this, but he was doing it anyway. 

Getting to the site took more time than Iwaizumi thought it would, he had to fight through wet sand, flying debris, and the wind suddenly changing direction and knocking him to the ground. He was wet and coated in sand but he was finally finding wreckage.  A long piece of wood half buried in the sand, something heavy and metal that wasn’t being moved by the wind.  He didn’t recognize it as part of the ship so he assumed it would be a personal affect or something. 

“DAD?!” Iwaizumi yelled, chest aching with the effort to project his voice but in the end it was lost to the wind.  Even so, Iwaizumi kept calling.  Kept screaming. Kept hoping. 

But something was wrong.  More wrong than Iwaizumi being the only human on the sand, more wrong than the way seaweed kept smacking him in the face., more so than the way that Iwaizumi had been landlocked for the past few years. The pieces of ship he was finding weren’t like his fathers.  The wood too dark, and maybe it was the water staining it but even so Iwaizumi had spent more than half of his life on that ship.  He should be able to recognize it but it looked so very wrong.  How long had it been since Iwaizumi had been anywhere near a ship?  Maybe it was a fault on his part. For not being strong enough to overcome a silly fear.      

He was close to the water now, truly a stupid thing to be doing and a dangerous place to be but he hadn’t found his father yet.  He hadn’t found anyone.  While it was true that the rescue team might have already been out and done their job, Iwaizumi didn’t have enough faith in the team for that.  He knew how slow things were when it came to getting things done on this side of the island where things were still traditional.  Where there weren’t as many city slicker luxuries with high powered electric functioning devices.  Where the people spoke with a strange twang and where most of the residents were looked down on for being native. He had no faith in a rescue team here.  So Iwaizumi searched for them trying to peer out into the water to see something.

The sight was hazy due to the sheets of rain pounding down at a diagonal slicing across his vision but he thought he saw something dark floating in the water.  His heart pounded in his chest making it ache, what if it was his dad?  He called out to it, vocals straining but nothing.  It merely floated along being pulled, pushed, and churned by the mixing currents of that the storm and docks brought.  The familiar trembling of his limbs took over when Iwaizumi realized he needed to go in the water.  Screw logic, screw danger, to hell with knowing that going in the sea mid storm could literally end his life.  That could be his father out there!

But he couldn’t move. He only trembled and stared unblinking at the floating dark lump in the water, not even reacting as his bag fell from his shoulder onto the ground.  The longer he looked the longer it looked like hair.  The more it looked human.  Then it looked just as if it had moved, facing upwards and Iwaizumi squinted through the sheets of rain straining to see.  The color changed from dark to a lighter shade.  A shade like skin and Iwaizumi’s legs were moving before he could think about fear, before he could think about a Siren’s song or anything unknown in the water.  His legs carried him on habit, onto the docks.  Over the water.  It wasn’t better for a view and it was infinitely more dangerous to enter water here as the undercurrents of the water were more likely to pull him down and turn him around the sharp rocks hidden under water and seaweed. 

Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to move past the halfway point of the dock.  Not forward nor backward.  He was stuck in an infinite loop of heart pounding, limb shaking, mental anguish.  Get in. Try to save his dad.  Because Iwaizumi was convinced it was a person.  It had to be. Get in. Save them. Stay out. Stay safe. Jump in. Go home.  He couldn’t get his brain to chose one.  He couldn’t bring himself to go out.  Not even in a desperate situation where someone’s life was on the line.

So he stood there soaked to the bone and shaking trying to think, trying to process past the rush of blood and wind in his ears.  Past the fear of the song and he managed to turn his head to the side to see where a long pole with a net and a life buoy were secured to the railing of the dock.  He grabbed them both acting on pure panic and instinct before running to the edge of the dock and flinging the netting out like he did as a child when trying to catch bugs in the grassy areas around the playground by the station, practicing for the days when he’d be allowed to throw for real on his dad’s ship.  The wind caught the netting on the first shot, nearly ripping it from his hands.  He was fortunate enough to be blessed with the dexterity and grip strength of an ace player and was able to keep the netting for a second try, which also failed. 

He took up the life buoy and tossed it hard into the wind.  He watched it arch and curve, bent by the winds will but still it missed its target by a few feet.  A good throw but not good enough.  So he went back to the net.  Trying and failing to get near the floating mass which sometimes disappeared underwater and made his heart drop.  Iwaizumi was absolutely convinced that it was a person, a real living person who was caught after a shipwreck and struggling.  He knew the feeling too well. With a frustrated yell he flung the netting back into the water again, reeling it in with the pole when it didn’t catch.  Three more times, two more times, and finally he caught the object.

“Just hold on!”  He was screaming trying to be heard over the roar of the wind that pushed him and made him stumble on the swaying dock. 

He pulled the netting in until he realized that pulling a tired victim in towards the docks was probably the worst thing he could do.  The current was already bad from the storm but it would be worse under the lift of the docks if they ended up getting swept in.  Even if the dock wasn’t more than five feet from the surface of the water it still had a drastic effect on the water.  Iwaizumi knew from experience.

 He was running out of options, the pole wasn’t long enough for him to keep holding onshore and if he let the netting sit for too long it would shift too much and he’d lose the person.  He didn’t really have a choice at this point so he kept pulling the netting in until he could lean over the dock and wait for the water to swell before grabbing the thick dark substance.  He yanked hard and a heavy lump of thick wet seaweed plopped into his lap.   

“Are you fucking kidding me?”  Iwaizumi cursed feeling more and more like a moron as each second passed.  He looked over the edge of the dock again to see the netting and something still trapped in it.  Not a person but more wood.  He retrieved the netting, carelessly piling it onto the dock before he flopped down backward, chest heaving and limbs quivering from the cold and exertion that he had just gone though.  All of that effort for seaweed?  He couldn’t stop the swell of angry tears in his eyes. 

Where was his dad?

It was when the water swelled to wash up on the dock that Iwaizumi knew he needed to get up.  He needed to stand up and get to his house.  He had been stupid for long enough it was clear that if there was anyone out there before they were either dead or saved previously by the crews that may or may not have come.  Regardless Iwaizumi couldn’t do anything about it now, he was far too tired to pull in the netting again let alone the weight of another person. 

He found himself grabbing at the wood instead of getting up, bringing the pieces up to his face.  They looked so wrong.  Too dark to be colored just from the water almost as if they had been painted black before being sun damaged into a lighter shade of grey.  He looked at the other lighter pieces and saw flecks of yellow still coating the side and knew this wasn’t his father’s ship which had no yellow whatsoever on it.  It was his father’s least favorite color.  Iwaizumi had been lured in by the sweet temptations of rumors and his own blind hope.  Not that it had been the first time. 

He rolled onto his side, utterly exhausted, as the water swelled again touching his limbs and making him freeze automatically in fear.  He was so close to the water.  Hell he had just dug his hand in it earlier without thought.  Maybe later he would be proud of the accomplishment but for the moment only fear struck his head.  It was instinctual and instant making his muscles lock and struggle to support his weight when he physically could not move.  Not that he didn’t try but  it ended with him biffing his face on the dock as another swell of water rushed over his feet. 

Did he even remember how to swim? Doubtful.

He dug his fingernails into his palm and forced his legs to move but between the swells, the wind, and his own stupidity he really had no chance. The netting that he had hazardously left lying around was carried by the swells tangling over his legs before the weighted ends slipped right over the edge.   Panicked, Iwaizumi tried to pull his legs back and untangle them but his hands were too cold to have any force behind them, his muscles too weak to properly protest.  When he tried to stand his legs tripped and tangled over the netting and Iwaizumi too slipped over the edge of the dock.  His head cracked against something hard making his jaw close down over the inside of his cheek. 

He hit the water and blacked out.