Kitagawa First: So Heavy the Crown
It should've been like any other Monday. Toru and Iwaizumi should've gone about their day off from practice as they usually did. He'd brought his nephew home and the two had intended to get something to eat together.
They should not have seen Tobio, of all people, standing in the cemetery.
It was already unlike him to be away from practice with the other crows this early in the afternoon. Especially wearing an oversized jacket vaguely similar to what they wore back in middle school. The strange hoodie he wore was familiar, but somehow not quite right; it even looked a little big for him.
“What in the world is he doing out here?” Iwaizumi wondered.
“Let’s go check it out,” Toru suggested with a smile. This could be a perfect opportunity to learn something about their former junior.
He was talking, they realized as they drew close. To himself, most likely, but Toru decided to take the stealthy route to hear exactly what Tobio was saying.
“I didn’t make it to Shiratorizawa like you did… but I think I still found a good team… At least, I hope you’d like them. Shiratorizawa might be too different from when you were there anyway… I still think about what you told me, back then… how if I got really good at volleyball, someone even better would come find me. I thought I found that person in middle school where you used to coach… But I guess it didn’t work out how I hoped…”
A small pang in Toru’s stomach told him that was probably about him. He was able to look at the name on the gravestone Tobio stood in front of, though, as well as the birth-to-death dates.
Kazuyo Kageyama… 1936-2010… sounds like a grandparent. And a volleyball coach, as well? Hmm... Volleyball must simply run in the family.
“But now, I think I found someone who is like what you were saying,” Tobio continued to the gravestone. “He may not look like much. He’s short, super annoying, and kind of a dumbass… but he’s the fastest and highest-jumping spiker I’ve ever seen… And sometimes, he’s the best friend someone like me could ask for.”
His head eventually lowered, his body starting to curl in on itself like he was going to fall to his knees. The third years almost thought they were starting to hear him sniffle.
“I just wish you could meet him, and everyone else… I think you’d like meeting them all. Sugawara and Asahi and Daichi… All the second years like Noya and Tanaka… maybe even Tadashi and Tsukishima and our managers and our coach and Mr. Takeda…” He crumbled to the ground with a sob. “I just… I miss you, Grandpa. More than Miwa or our parents. I have ever since…”
That was when the name finally clicked. Kazuyo Kageyama was the old coach of the infamous local ladies volleyball team, the Kitagawa Birds, who was forced into retirement due to illness. If both Tobio and this Miwa were related to him and he taught both of them volleyball from a really young age, it would’ve made sense that Kageyama would be such a good player so early on. And since the date said he died during Tobio’s second year in middle school… that had to have hit him hard.
Possibly… hard enough to make him into what Kunimi and Kindaichi called “the King of the Court.”
Iwaizumi took a small step closer, flinching when he stepped on the grass in just the right way that would make noise. Enough noise for Tobio to flinch away from the source and twist backward to see them both standing there. And more importantly, for them to see the tears starting to dribble down his face.
“Uh-um… what are you two doing here?” he asked, trying to clean his face with his sleeve (most likely to be his grandfather’s jacket).
“We’d ask you the same thing, but we heard enough to answer for us,” Toru replied. “Please, don’t let us stop you.”
Iwa slapped him on the back of the head. “Ignore him. We were just wondering what you were doing away from your team in a place like this.” His eyes scanned the gravestone once more, guiding Tobio into a position where the three could sit together. “You never really told any of us about your grandfather back in middle school, did you Kageyama?”
The first year shook his head.
“Didn’t think so… Well, if you’re feeling up for it with your old upperclassmen… care to share?”
Tobio drummed his fingers on top of one another for about a minute, before nodding slowly.
“Alright, let’s start small. Was your Grandpa the, uh… reason, why you got into volleyball?”
Tobio looked to his grandfather’s grave. “Sort of. He and my sister, Miwa, would always tell me about how I managed to get my hands on her volleyball when I was… a baby… and how I didn’t wanna let go of it. That might’ve been where it all started, but since Grandpa is the only one I really remember raising us, we’d both usually be with him when he was coaching the Kitagawa Birds, playing with some of the ladies, helping them practice, or just passing a ball to each other in a corner of the gym or practicing ourselves with the wall.”
The small story piqued Toru’s interest. Frankly, he found the mental image adorable, seeing a baby Tobio holding onto a volleyball and somehow keeping a grip on it with hands no bigger than the end of his thumb. His memory might be a little faded, but something similar could’ve happened with his nephew Takeru. And Tobio Kageyama, not actually being an only child… He couldn’t help wondering if that sister of his looked all that similar.
Iwaizumi seemed to like how it was going so far. “Okay. We remember you wanted to go to Shiratorizawa even back in middle school. Did your Grandpa have something to do with that?”
Tobio nodded. “He used to be a middle blocker for their team. Showed me his old yearbook and everything. Probably before the current coach showed up, though.”
“So it really does run in the family,” Toru commented. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised though.”
The smaller boy shrugged. “Miwa wound up quitting volleyball after middle school. She was getting more into fashion and stuff anyways, and didn’t like how she was always being told to cut her hair. At least, I think that was the reason.”
Wow. That, Toru could get behind, no questions asked. Sure, he wouldn’t give up volleyball for the world, but he’d definitely take offense if he was always being told to do something like change his looks or cut his lovely hair. That said, it was good to hear Tobio’s sister found her own calling, even if it wasn’t sports-related.
“Kinda wish you were able to introduce your sister and grandfather to the team, Kageyama,” Iwaizumi remarked. “They sound like it’d be pretty interesting to meet them both. Wasn’t your grandfather still coaching in middle school?”
The dark heaviness returned to the young setter. “No… Grandpa was already in and out of the hospital for a long time by then; more one than the other, though. He was able to keep on a brave face for me… but in second year, after you left, he… he…” his voice started quivering, the tears starting to return with new fury. “He left us behind… left me behind… I couldn’t even cry at his damn funeral because it never really hit me! And then after he left… Miwa had to get ready to move away for university… Our parents were distant enough even before he died, and… and then my own team left me!” He wrapped himself tight in his grandfather’s jacket, hands even moving to tangle into his hair. “I was all alone… I didn’t even know what I did wrong… Why all of a sudden I didn’t have anyone anymore!… Why?... Why, why, why?!”
Iwaizumi was quick to hug Tobio from the side, glaring over at Toru until he mirrored the action. It had already been clear enough that Tobio had been holding this all in for a long time. How just losing one person -- closer to him than anyone else in the world -- made him go from a sweet and eager-to-please junior (who still reminded Toru of Ushijima in some ways) to the bad-tempered dictator whose team got so fed up with him that he was given the boot.
No wonder, Toru thought to himself, sadness and guilt pooling in his stomach again. No wonder Tobio became so self-reliant. No wonder he underwent such a change in temperament. What kind of void did middle school leave behind while no one else was able to see?
First, he lost the two of us.
Then he lost his grandfather.
Then he lost his sister.
…Then he lost his team.
He understood now, to some extent. Kazuyo Kageyama didn’t just introduce his grandson to volleyball; he was the reason why the boy loved it so much. But when he left, so did the better parts of Tobio. There was no family or friends to help him carry that weight; it was just him.
Him, and the weight that threatened to crush him, that so many were so willing to call a crown. A tarnished, broken, absurdly heavy crown that they were only beginning to realize here and now.
Until by some miracle, Karasuno and that little shrimp brought him back to some semblance of his old self. Before them, he was left with nothing and no one but himself to rely on. He carried all of that grief, guilt, and frustration on his head for the better part of two years, not knowing what to do with it or with himself.
So they let him cry. They let him drop those long years of forcing down his grief over who he loved most, in loud, chest-ripping wails. Iwaizumi ensured they both kept him wrapped up in their arms, maintaining that small reminder that he should’ve never had to endure that alone. The spite Toru felt for Tobio all that time seemed to melt as well, filling in all the blanks for why he was such a good player and so eager to please and so not deserving of such hatred. Every assumption he made was dissolved by the knowledge about a single person.
“Huh? Toby, what are you doing over there?” a new voice inquired after a time they didn’t give any thought to. “And who are your friends?”
Toru looked through blurred vision at an approaching woman. She was probably around their age, with black, meticulously-styled hair and -- once he blinked away the mist -- deep blue eyes very similar to the first year he and Iwaizumi were hugging.
“Mi -- Miwa…” Tobio managed to hiccup out. The woman held a hand out to him, something he looked at with an almost painful mix of confusion and disbelief before he took it and let her pull him up. And even then, he barely maintained his composure long enough to droop over her shoulder, gripping at her in a desperate hug.
“Shh… I know, Toby, I know…” she soothed, rubbing circles into his back. “I miss him, too… I’m so sorry, Toby…”
He stayed there a little longer before numbly stepping away, wiping his face with his sleeve again.
The Seijoh players were shattered by the look in his eyes. The way they looked so… dead, and tired.
How did no one realize he was becoming like this?
Tobio almost swayed another direction before Iwaizumi stepped in and grabbed him. “Easy there, kiddo. Just lean on me -- there we go.” He looked over to the woman with a dip of his head. “I’m Hajime Iwaizumi, and this jerk over here is Toru Oikawa. We knew Kageyama back in middle school.”
The woman seemed to scan the two of them, almost skeptical.
“We’d be happy to help you out with Tobio,” Toru offered, all too happy to take on the diplomatic duty he was so used to. “He was telling us about his grandfather, you see, and it’s clear how much has been on his shoulders since his passing. We were doing what we could as his old upperclassmen.”
“I see…” Miwa replied, turning on her heel. “Follow me. My car’s not far from here.”
Iwaizumi had decided to sit in the backseat with Tobio, keeping him steady as he all but dozed on his shoulder. Toru rode shotgun while the Karasuno player’s sister drove them to the Kageyama household.
“I can’t believe he’s held onto Grandpa’s old track hoodie this long,” Miwa commented. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Because he and his grandfather were that close?” Toru inquired.
The woman nodded. “Even closer than I was with either of ‘em. Grandpa was really all he had, ever since… well, there was always that one thing our parents didn’t like for some reason.”
...Secretly, Toru had a feeling he knew what exactly “that one thing” was. He had his suspicions of the way Tobio behaved, almost entirely fixated on volleyball. The way he subconsciously reminded him of Ushijima. Who knows? Perhaps even the famous Ushiwaka was introduced to volleyball that early on as well, and had the same sort of mind.
“I suppose that’s simply an unfortunate truth with some people,” he replied offhandedly. “I’ll admit, I and some of our current teammates weren’t exactly fond of him in middle school. But then again, none of us had a clue about his personal life, and I’d wager Tobio didn’t even give himself time to grieve.”
“I guess I can’t blame you there. Toby never consciously dwelled on things that he didn’t think he had to, for better or worse. He wanted to be just like Grandpa, but after graduating from middle school not being able to get into Shiratorizawa, he figured volleyball was the only thing he had left.”
“And even then, he was all on his own,” Iwaizumi finished from the backseat when they stopped at the house. He even helped carry Kageyama inside. “We all knew how Oikawa gave the poor kid a hard time when he was still an eager-to-please prodigy in his first year, and even heard how his sudden change in attitude in his second year left him ostracized by the team. Though we never saw the other side of the story until now.”
He didn't even need to say it was because they refused to hear it.
After the Aoba Johsai players put the younger boy to bed, they both went to the bathroom to wash their faces of tears. On the way back down, they discovered the pictures that littered the house. A happy family that comprised of parents, a grandfather, and a little girl. But when a baby boy appeared, there was only one of all five before the parents all but disappeared. The only ones after were the two children and their grandfather.
In all of them, the grandfather in question sported a wide, proud smile. Whether it be with a far younger Miwa trying to brush his hair, tossing a volleyball with the even younger Tobio, or all three of them together, he still had that smile. A sort of light that went missing when he passed away, leaving both of his grandchildren behind.
“Your grandfather must’ve been quite a splendid role model for the both of you,” Toru said softly. “A light that even Tobio didn’t deserve to lose.”
Miwa hummed thoughtfully, leaving some tea to steep in a pot. “I don’t think Toby even realized how badly he was hurting. Honestly, I kinda wish I didn’t have to leave him so soon. If I knew how badly he was affected by Grandpa’s death, I would’ve held off on school just to make sure he’d have at least someone to be there… Maybe I just put too much trust into his teammates supporting him.”
Because Kindaichi and Kunimi thought he was nothing but a dictator at the sport. They didn’t think for a second that he might’ve just been lonely or in pain.
…Then again, neither did we.
“I don’t think you have to worry much about him now, though,” Iwaizumi pointed out. “We know we failed the poor kid, as his former teammates and as his upperclassmen, and we’re far from the only ones who did so. But I plan to make sure we fix that.”
Toru smiled at the ace’s declaration, looking towards Tobio’s room. Even if the now-sleeping boy may never really trust Toru again, at least his beloved might be able to get through to the younger setter. If they find the chance, they might even get Kindaichi and Kunimi to understand as well, and enlist their help in making amends.
“Besides, ever since joining Karasuno, we can tell he’s doing a lot better,” Toru added. “He’s… finally found a place where he fits in. And I for one doubt those crows will leave him the way we did, especially not his new little go-to spiker. Whether he finds it in him to tell them about this or not, I can at least be confident that they’ll stand with him.”
Miwa smiled at them both, finally pouring the tea for all three of them. “I’m glad for that, you two. Toby needs a lot of friends to make up for not having anyone before. Whether they know about Grandpa or not, I just want him to find a family of his own, if only to make sure it’s not just the two of us looking out for each other.”
The two young men could only stick around for about another hour, conversing with Miwa and looking after their former underclassman. They told her about each of the crows to the best of their ability, the woman occasionally throwing in her two cents about whoever Tobio actually told her about. When the sun said they had to head home, they gave Tobio one last check before they left with a final goodbye and thank-you to Miwa.
As they left, though, Toru couldn't help but take a final look at the almost foreboding Kageyama household, holding onto his boyfriend's arm. "Iwa… do you think Tobio will tell his other teammates about his grandfather? Should he?"
Iwaizumi sighed. "It would probably be a good idea, but I doubt it. He'll probably tell the little sunspot and Karasuno's other setter, if no one else, but only time will tell."
…I guess that's true, Toru thought to himself dully. Only time will tell, and trust as well…