No matter how hard he works, no matter how hard he tries, there has always been this insurmountable wall.
An obstacle that he just cannot overcome.
He attends every practice.
He polishes his skills with intense, hard work.
He pushes through the pain, through the straining muscles and heavy lungs.
He refuses to give up, even when they lose year after year.
Every year there is the hope - next year, we’ll get them.
There’s always a next year.
A next time…
This loss is final. The end. Their last chance, in their last year of high school, to finally snag victory-
But they couldn’t do it.
And Hajime, as the ace?
He has his chance, his opportunity to score the winning point - but he can’t do it.
His spike is picked up and Seijou ultimately loses.
The knowledge that he has held them back is almost more than he can take.
He keeps his brave face up. He barely lets himself feel - forcing himself to dry his eyes and stand next to his team while they shake hands. It feels robotic, it feels forced, but he can’t lose it here.
Not in front of his teammates. He just can’t.
It isn’t until he’s finally alone in the privacy of his room that he really allows himself to feel.
He can’t even bring himself to take off his uniform. He just collapses on his bed, breathes in deep, and cries.
No, he doesn’t cry - he bawls. He shakes, trembling, curling himself up into the tiniest ball imaginable. He can’t even remember the last time he’s cried like this. Everything hurts.
He chokes down sobs, trying to quiet himself, but it’s to no avail. He vaguely remembers that it doesn’t matter - his parents are out of town, so nobody is gonna come and find him - but it’s only a fleeting thought. He cries until his vision is fuzzy, his head hurts and his throat burns, heavy from the effort of trying to force in breaths. He’s still trembling, but he doesn’t register any of it.
All he’s thinking about are the plays.
The plays he failed to make that day.
Did he play alright? Maybe. But he can’t help himself; he sees all the ways in which he could have jumped higher, hit harder, been better-
It’s frustrating. He’s angry, he’s sad - he’s a complicated mess of emotions, none of which he can begin to understand while focusing so hard on where he’s sure he has failed.
He has no idea how much time has passed before the throbbing in his head starts to alleviate. His body starts to relax and he sighs, quietly, feeling a warmth settling into his face.
He hears a voice, but it sounds far away.
It sounds kind of like his name, but he can’t really be bothered to listen. He feels pressure on his temples, small but firm, rubbing away the tension there.
He feels like he can finally, breathe, finally move, so he cracks his eyes open. His vision is hazy, but he recognizes the person sitting on the edge of his bed almost immediately. A heavy weight settles in his stomach as he realizes he’s been caught.
He tries to sit up but his whole body rejects that idea, pain seeping through his muscles. He winces, and those hands massaging his forehead move to his chest, pushing him back down.
Hajime chances a look up and he doesn’t see Tooru looking at him with pity. No, rather, it’s something else entirely… something gentle. Something vulnerable.
Tooru bites his lip; he presses himself a little closer, a hand running through Hajime’s hair, pushing the dark strands out of his face. His thumb brushes against his forehead, before he leans in and presses a slow, gentle kiss right in that spot.
“It’s okay,” he says, and his voice is so soft. “It’s okay, Hajime. I’m here. I’ve got you…” He huffs a breath, his hand continuing to move through Hajime’s hair, massaging his scalp. The action is soothing, and Hajime finds himself relaxing, body slowly uncurling from where he’d been tightly wound on his side.
Tooru doesn’t stop there. He continues massaging his scalp, but his other hand continues his ministrations on his temples. Once he’s satisfied there, he lets his fingers continue their exploration, searching out the tense muscles in Hajime’s neck and shoulders, pressing into them until Hajime heaves out a sigh of relief.
The trembling stops. He stops thinking about what he’s done wrong. Instead, he focuses on the warm feeling of Tooru touching him. It’s the same warm feeling as he feels when they’re out there, together, on the court-
“Hajime,” Tooru’s voice breaks him out of his thoughts, “You know, it’s like you always say. There are six people out there on that court. We all played together. We win together… and we lose together.” He feels the hands halt their movements. The bed dips, and Tooru climbs in, settling in behind Hajime.
“You made me so proud today,” Tooru tells him, his breath hot against the back of Hajime’s neck. “You’re strong. You’re capable. You’re the best damn ace we could have ever asked for.”
Hajime doesn’t have to ask for it; Tooru just knows. He wraps his arm around Hajime’s waist, pressing their bodies flush together.
“Don’t ever think otherwise, and don’t try and hide from me, okay?” Tooru punctuates this with a kiss to the back of his neck. “I love you.”
Hajime’s vision blurs again, but this time he’s not alone.
He lets Tooru stay, brushing away his tears, kissing him, holding him. Loving him.
He lets Tooru stay and he lets himself feel everything that he needs to.
And the next morning, as Hajime wakes up, the warm weight at his back and the fingers tangled with his remind him that he’s not alone.
These obstacles might be a challenge, but they’re not one that he’s facing alone.