is five years old when he meets his first friend.
messy black hair, a really chubby
face, and caterpillars for eyebrows.
sure he told him so, and the boy looked affronted until he looked at Takahiro
and saw his eyebrows. Or lack thereof.
wonder you want to be friends with me,” the boy told him. “You’re trying to
take some of mine, aren’t you?”
why would I want caterpillars on my face?”
just jealous,” the boy snickers. He grabs Takahiro’s hand and pumps it enthusiastically,
telling him, “I’m Issei. What’s your name?”
He pulls his arm away and shakes feeling back into it, scowling at his new
friend. “Why’d you shake my arm like that for?”
shrugs. “Tou-san does it with some of his work friends sometimes. I thought it
supposed to bow in greeting to
everything together, school and homework and play, and Takahiro wonders why he
never made friends before. Having a friend is fun.
frowns a little every time he says he’s going out to play with Issei, but she
doesn’t complain. She does ask him to have Issei over, but the other boy always
makes excuses not to go.
wonders why, but that’s put out of mind the moment they start playing.
wishes time would last forever, because Issei is the bestest friend ever, and he doesn’t want to stop playing.
year he enters middle school, Issei disappears.
never found out where he moved to.
really move though? Why didn’t he tell Takahiro? How could he just disappear?)
sad for a long time, and wrote him long letters that he never sends, because where would he send it to?
letters go in a box under his bed, getting fuller and fuller until one day, he
stops writing them.
misses him, sometimes, but then he dreams, and remembers.
is twelve when he meets Oikawa.
shy and quiet, and keeps playing with his hair nervously. Even after Hanamaki
makes him laugh a few times, his hands don’t stop fidgeting, and finally, he is
curious enough to ask why.
to play,” he whispers. He lifts his eyes to meet Hanamaki’s, fingers curling
and uncurling. “But Iwa-chan moved away and now no one will play with me.”
shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t ask, but Oikawa looks so sad and vulnerable–
do you want to play?”
takes a small, shaky breath. “Have you heard of volleyball?”
hasn’t, but he’s curious, and when he prods Oikawa for answers, the boy’s eyes
light up and the words start pouring out.
half regrets letting him talk now.
then there are setters, and they push the ball up, high up for the spikers to
hit them! Iwa-chan–” His words falter, and Hanamaki looks at him curiously, but
he presses on, voice only a little muffled, “Iwa-chan was a spiker. But now
he’s gone, and no one will hit my tosses anymore.”
shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t, but he doesn’t want to see his new friend sad.
could hit your uh, tosses?”
perks up, eyes bright. “Would you?”
mean I guess I could, but I don’t
really know how to play–”
teach you.” Oikawa tells him firmly. “You’ll never be like Iwa-chan, because no one can be like Iwa-chan, but I’ll
teach you, and we’ll be the best in Japan!”
is a bit taken aback.
(Okay, a lot.)
you aim for something a little easier?”
“That is easy.” Oikawa cocks his head at him.
“We’ll practice lots, and we’ll be the best there is.”
grins suddenly, grabbing his hand and twining their pinkies together. “I
promise we’ll make it to the top together.”
should answer to that promise, but his mind is latched on to something else.
face falls, and his fingers tighten. “He broke our promise, so he doesn’t
breath, a hardening of his eyes.
making a new promise with you, Makki, so just accept me, okay?”
Hanamaki wonders why he accepts his defeat so easily.
don’t make it to the top.
their first year, or their second, or their third.
time they part for high school, they don’t really talk anymore.
is sixteen when he joins the volleyball team, and meets Iwaizumi.
short, but hits a mean spike, quick and powerful.
decides he likes him.
their first practice, he approaches him, but it is he who speaks first.
you played with someone called Oikawa before?”
startles, because how did he know?
laughs at his shock. “We used to play together. Your play style reminds me of
how I’d hit his tosses. They were so easy to hit.”
are.” He shocks himself by speaking up. “He was the one who taught me
looks amused. “Funny, he did that to me too. Does he still give people weird
think they’re cute.”
thinks he must be, with the next words that fall out of his mouth.
“Well, Iwa-chan, that’s your loss.”
face distorts into one of horror, and promptly throws a volleyball at him. Hanamaki
catches it with ease, smiling to himself at the answered question.
not hard to be his friend after that.
wonders if he’ll be able to keep this one friend.
Third time’s the charm, right?
friends, but not close outside of the court, and by the time they graduate and
Hanamaki chooses a university far, far away, they don’t speak anymore.
wonders what it is about himself that makes him keep losing friends.
is a bore most days, but his roommate is quiet and nice, and though his words
are too harsh sometimes, he knows he doesn’t mean to be malicious.
please. I’m trying to be cordial here.”
do not see the issue. Why do you not talk to your classmates if you want to
befriend them?” His face is as impassive as ever, though his brows are slightly
furrowed in confusion.
hesitates. “I– I’m not good at making friends.”
are on good terms with your classmates.”
on good terms does not mean they are friends!” He takes a deep breath, exhales
it slowly. “I haven’t had a single friend stick with me for long. Issei,
Oikawa, Iwaizumi – they’re all gone.”
frown deepens a little. “I do not recognise any of those names.”
I wouldn’t expect you to,” he tells him archly. “Oikawa’s a pretty good setter
though, surely you’ve played against him before?”
gives him a weird look. “I do not recall facing an Oikawa on court before.”
Hanamaki’s getting mad, because fine,
even if he had lost contact with Oikawa years before, he’s still an awesome
setter and he respects his skill and dedication. “Come on, Ushijima, you’re not
have truly never faced Oikawa on court before. I remember strong opponents. I
was in Shiratorizawa,” Ushijima reminds, as though Hanamaki could forget that
know, geez! Alright, here, why don’t I google him for you, and we’ll see if it
rings any bells.”
grabs his laptop, and Ushijima seats himself on the bed next to him, patiently
waiting as Hanamaki throws Oikawa’s name into the search browser.
scans the search results, puzzled when he sees nothing. That’s odd.
tries again, this time with the added word of volleyball, and the search churns out results with a name now, but
with nothing he expects.
gapes, while Ushijima peers over his shoulder and makes a mild sound of
surprise. “Oh. Oikawa.”
moves Hanamaki’s limp hand away, and clicks
on the first result.
stares, eyes reading, but not comprehending what he sees.
Promising Teen Severely Injured In Match
Oikawa Tooru (captain, setter) of Kitagawa
Daiichi was taken out of the third match of the preliminary matches today,
after collapsing on the court. Paramedics were called to the scene, and while
it is unconfirmed what injury he has sustained, it is apparent that he will not
be continuing the rest of the season.
UPDATE: Oikawa’s right knee appears to have
been dislocated, and all supporting ligaments are torn. His overall condition
seems to be poor, and it is unknown if he will recover.
sighs, breaking him from his stupor. “I remember him now. He was a good setter.
If he had taken care of himself better, he would have been a good asset to
whirls on him and snaps, “It’s not all about Shiratorizawa! Oikawa was injured,
and I didn’t know?” His voice breaks towards the end, and he looks at his
screen woefully. “How did I not know?”
were on the team with him?”
there should be a picture somewhere.”
wants to scream at him but then his words register. “You’re right.”
trawl through the internet, finally finding one of Kitagawa Daiichi when Oikawa
was still on the team. Hanamaki scans it eagerly, but while Oikawa is there, he
doesn’t see himself in the picture.
not in the picture.”
noticed, thanks, Ushijima.”
you were absent on that day?”
I’m never absent, I never miss practice.” The words ring hollowly in the room,
leaving a sour taste in his mouth.
where is he in the picture?
doesn’t realise he’s trembling until Ushijima puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Hanamaki, perhaps you were imagining it. There is no evidence of you being on
the volleyball team.”
that’s not possible. I have to be. I was. I know
I was. I was on the team in high school too.”
we should search for your high school team?”
is already there, Aoba Jousai Volleyball
Club typed into the search bar and pictures pulled up. But as he scans each
picture, he still doesn’t find himself, still doesn’t spot the pink tinge of
his hair in any photo.
do you recall any teammates from your time at high school?”
makes a surprised sound. “I know him. He is a strong player.”
But where am I in this photo?!”
aren’t.” Ushijima says, prying his hands off the laptop and shutting its cover
with a click. “Would you come with me
for a moment?”
where? For what?”
isn’t panicking, no, he isn’t. So his breathing is a little fast, but he can
slow it down – in, one two three, out, one two three, in–
gym. Shall we practice some drills?”
okay, volleyball sounds like a good idea right now.
up and follows Ushijima.
is curiously empty when they get there, and Hanamaki realises he forgot his
volleyball shoes. Ushijima waves it off, setting his phone and water bottle on
the bench. “We will not be here for long. If it is alright with you, I asked a
friend of mine to come along.”
regards him for a second, then shakes his head. “You would not know him. But he
is a setter and can help us with spiking drills.”
nods, and they begin their drills.
the tenth ball that he has failed to receive, Hanamaki’s nails dig into his
palms in frustration. Surely it hadn’t been that long since he last played?
regards him carefully, then tosses him the ball.
pretends he didn’t fumble as he caught it.)
for the intrusion.”
turns to see a light-haired guy (with dyed tips?) finish putting on his shoes
and walk over to them. He greets Ushijima softly, then raises his hand in a
half-wave. “Nice to meet you. I’m Semi.”
nods. “I’ll set for you guys in a minute, let me get warmed up.”
leaves to run laps, and Ushijima gestures for Hanamaki to throw the ball.
receives it perfectly, and Hanamaki can almost return the ball this time.
time Semi returns, he can receive the balls decently if they fall near him, but
anything too far off and he scrambles to get it. Hanamaki takes a short break, cursing
to himself as he drinks. He still can’t fathom why his skills are suddenly so
gets to spike first, the ball set in a perfectly high arc that gives him ample
time to jump. Their lone ball rolls to a stop by Hanamaki’s feet when Ushijima
passes it back to him, and Semi eyes him expectantly as he tosses the ball
and jumps, but the ball flies over his head.
jumped too early.”
know,” he grits out, retrieving the ball and moving back to the court. “One
jumps too close to the net the second time. His fingers scrape past the ball on
the third. He touches the ball on the fourth, but it hits the net.
fingernails would be drawing blood by now, if only they weren’t so short.
Ushijima and Semi speaking in low tones as he retrieves the ball, and sincerely
hopes they aren’t judging him too badly for suddenly being a complete amateur.
time he returns, Semi looks grim, and even stoic Ushijima looks a little
discomfited. Hanamaki stops and frowns at them. “What?”
sighs. “Hanamaki-san. You say you started playing volleyball in middle school,
as it stands, your skills are on par with someone who just started playing volleyball.” The setter’s eyes are confused,
his mouth set in a deep frown. “Neither Wakatoshi nor I remember seeing you on
any court at all. We have also played Aoba Jousai multiple times for us to know
if you were on the team. Are you certain you have been playing volleyball for
course!” Hanamaki insists. Of course.
remembers everything – the hectic practices, the feel of receiving a ball, the
satisfying heft of the ball in his hand right before he smashes it. He remembers
the sweat dripping down, the squeak of shoes on the wood floor, the faces of
his teammates after they lost.
longer he looks at Ushijima’s mildly worried face and Semi’s frustrated one,
the further the memories go from him, fading and slipping through his fingers
But… Weren’t they real?
Oikawa and Iwaizumi were real. They are real. It happened. All of it had to have happened.
begins to form, little tendrils weaving themselves together.
They’ll remember me. They should remember
turns away and picks up his phone, scrolling through his contacts. He hears a
frustrated conversation behind him, but ignores it, fingers growing panicked as
he doesn’t find the names he’s looking for.
Iwaizumi? Oikawa? No, no, no. Not it, not
it, not it.
Where are their names?
is held out to him, a call already in progress. He looks up, connecting the
phone to the face.
sighs and presses the phone to his ear. “Speak to him.”
hesitantly places his hand over Ushijima’s to steady the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello? Who am I speaking to?”
That’s his voice, right? It is? It’s Iwaizumi?
“I think that’s my name, not yours. Who are you?”
Hanamaki.” Don’t you remember me?
“Sorry, Hanamaki-san, why are you looking
for me? I don’t recall ever meeting you before?”
feels Ushijima’s fingers tighten, and realise his hand has grown limp. He adjusts
his grip, fingers squeezing the other’s desperately. “We were on the volleyball
“I don’t think so? I’m very sorry,
Hanamaki-san. I wish I could help, but I have really never met you before.”
“That’s all right. I’m sorry I couldn’t
help. I hope you’ll have a good day.”
clicks off, and Hanamaki peels his hand and face away, panic tearing through
He doesn’t remember me? But we spoke, I
know we have, I have talked to him before…
we should ask his parents about this?”
There’s nothing wrong with me.
realises he’s in a ball on the floor, curled up and panting into his hands.
There’s light murmuring above him, but he pays it no mind, not until there’s a
hand on his back and his phone in front of him.
His voice is a croak – but why? He hasn’t been screaming, he hasn’t been crying
– oh, is he crying?
“Takahiro,” she sighs. “What have you gotten into now?”
didn’t do anything!” He protests, but then bites on his lip, because what if
that had been it? That he hadn’t done anything?
Semi begins – Hanamaki wonders why he’s still here, it’s not his problem, after
all – “Does, um, Hanamaki-kun have any medical conditions?”
“No?” She sounds confused, and Hanamaki breathes
a sigh of relief. “Is he panicking or
seems to recall untrue memories,” Ushijima puts in. “It is very confusing for
a long silence, before Hanamaki’s mother sighs deeply. “Oh. Yes. I recall that.”
it be too much to pry? Hanamaki-kun isn’t exactly, uh, responsive, and we want
to help him.”
I’m right here, is what he wants to say, but he doesn’t,
his mouth is glued shut and his memories are vivid leaves falling away in an
him? He doesn’t need help. He’s fine. Just fine.)
“No, no. It’s fine. Takahiro just isn’t
good at making friends, so he makes up his own friendships. I’m surprised to
have real people talking to me over the phone. It’s definitely a first.”
no no no no.
friendship with Issei and Oikawa and Iwaizumi had been real – they’d talked and laughed and played together–
Um, who are you?
You’re weird, go
backs, noses scrunched up in disgust, figures getting smaller as they walk
Eep, it’s the
slapping and punching, bodies slamming into him before running away.
No one will ever
be your friend!
Go away and leave
Takahiro, did you
make any friends today?
head hung, a deep blush on his cheeks. A shake for no.
a hand tousling his hair.
his fists clenched as he follows her.
next day, the same.
Did you make any
shake, a hand running through his hair, a barely concealed look of
after day after day.
She looks so tired of asking.
Takahiro, did you
make any friends today?
a falsehood, a bitter curl of his tongue.
His name is Issei.
shining memories, glistening and dripping like snow. Too bright, too vivid,
around the neighbourhood with Issei.
on InterHigh with Iwaizumi.
melt away as soon as he touches them – fragile, brittle, but strangely caustic
for something that shouldn’t exist.
thinks he feels someone shaking him, thinks he hears a voice – but the world is
is so dark in comparison to those bright, shining, stardrops.
His voice is light, a mere whisper in the wind. Yet his tone exudes of unyielding dominance – an air of someone who is used to having his way. He remains cool and unmoving, even as he feels the person next to him shift in her place.
“But I’m tired,” his partner complains, although she does slowly sit up. With a groan, she starts stretching her limbs and lets out a yawn as she stands her ground. “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”
A pause, and, “Tenten.”
Tenten releases another yawn.
Tenten huffs, runs a hand against her hair as a grin slowly forms.
“Fine,” she acquiesces, giggles when she sees his mouth twitch to a smile. “You are such a brat sometimes, Neji.”
She places a hand on his cheeks, grin going wider. She takes a long, deep breath. “Kissing Lesson 101! Let’s begin!”
Hiashi calmly sips his tea as he eyes his nephew returning home from training. The boy’s hair is a mess, his forehead protector uncannily lopsided. There is a deep cut on his lower lip, and dark specks of crimson blood stain his stark-white robes.
The Hyuuga patriarch hums.
“Neji,” his nephew turns to bow at him. “Training?”
Neji nods solemnly. “Yes, sir.”
Hiashi makes his approval known with a slight tilt of his head.
“Very good,” he remarks. “Keep at it, nephew. You are making this clan very proud.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And Neji,” Hiashi calls him before he can make his escape. “Please tell Tenten-san not to bite next time.”
Neji blushes from the roots of his hair to the tips of his toes. Hiashi smartly hides his smirk by taking another sip of his tea.
Wherein Neji treats everything as training. Even making out with his girlfriend. And Tenten humors him because she doesn’t really mind. Not at all.
Francis looked around at all the faces, not finding those caterpillar eyebrows he knew so well.
Thin lips pressing together, Francis slipped through the crowd, having to elbow a few people in the chest along the way.
He flashed apologetic smiles and managed to slip inside the building.
The voices were muffled as the door closed behind him. They reached “Three!” when Francis finally spotted that mop of gold exactly where he’d expected.
Blinking, the Englishman turned, looking briefly surprised at having been found.
“One! HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
The words were drowned out by the pops and booms of fireworks above. Arthur flinched at the noise but looked back out the window. Francis remembered hearing him say in passing that he liked watching fireworks but hated the noise.
“Too loud” was all he’d said before shaking his head and going back to his cubicle.
Some of the others liked to joke on Arthur’s sensitivity to sound by dropping things on his desk by his head and sneaking up to him just to shout in his ear. Sometimes Arthur would need to excuse himself to somewhere - anywhere - silent and recoup.
Elementary school playground bullying never ended it seemed to Francis.
He sat next to Arthur and gazed out the wide window to view the fireworks with him.
“Do you have any resolutions?” Francis asked after some minutes.
Arthur scoffed. “No one ever follows through with those.”
The smile never leaving his face, Francis said softly, “Well, I have one, and I think I shall start early.”
It looked like Arthur was about to make a crack but then thought better of it. “What’s your resolution, then?”
Francis moved closer. “To ask the man I fancy on a date.”
Eyes trained out the window, Arthur’s face burned red. “Oh?” he squeaked. He then cleared his throat, emerald eyes darting Francis’s way for a fraction of a second. “And who might that sorry bloke be?”
Francis’s smile grew. “A polished man with a bit of a rough attitude.” The smile became a smirk at how red Arthur’s face became. “But I’m not sure if he’d say yes.”
“He might,” Arthur murmured. “Might as well ask, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Francis held out a hand and felt his heart flutter in his throat when Arthur finally turned to face him and placed his hand into the Frenchman’s. “How would you like dinner tomorrow night?”
“Lovely.” Arthur said the word quickly as if to keep himself from coming up with any reasons to answer with a negative. “In the meantime… it is New Year’s…?”
“Oui, and who are we to turn down tradition?”
Arthur, other hand going to Francis’s shoulder, leaned in. Francis placed his free hand at the small of Arthur’s back and met his lips with his. Soon, they were dancing slowly, the fireworks outside firing off an irregular, staccato beat.
❝ s’in the family , m’guess ? — thick eyebrows , caterpillar - shaped moustache ? family genes are weird though , right ? like … it makes you do weird things . i mean , i spent one whole summer when i was thirteen shaving any signs of armpit hair ‘cause i was told , like , my great uncle jericho , who looked ridicu-fucking-lously like me , went insane from wearing bad deodorant . i didn’t know why i didn’t just , like , refuse to wear any deodorants instead of shaving but — you know . it’s crazy . kinda like how stark sorta adopts your moustache look . news from the street he hates you , but — you know . crazy . ❞